Saturday 22 August 2020

Rogue Trader, Season 3: The Ties that Bound Us, Part 2: Descent

Rogue Trader: A quest for profit in the grim darkness of the 41st millenium. But dying in mediocrity and misery is for poor people and losers, and a Rogue Trader's retinue is anything but.

It's Always Heretical in the Kronus Expanse is bought to you by:

Lord-Captain van Hohenheim - Rogue Trader. Hero. Protein shake advocate. The last of his line, and currently searching for the one thing that obscene wealth cannot easily procure, nor his now prodigious strength wrest from the world by force: Love.
Magos Abigail von Thannhausen - A Magos Explorator-biologist, chymist, and practicing genetor, and most definitely the heart of the command staff. The Lord-Captain's wingwoman in his ongoing romantic forays.
Archaius Wash - A sector-renowned pilot of anything with wheels, wings, or a gellar field, and peerless swordsman. Often seen approaching the speed of sound, by virtue of his jetpack, but soon may be heralded by bombardment from a multi-melta. Recently diagnosed with crippling brain degeneration.
Sebastian LaMarck - Rarely heard or seen, but his presence certainly felt, our Spymaster and reigning king of Human Resources and Administration. By him, every command given by the Lord-Captain is magnified.
Winter York - Astropath Transcendant. Unsurpassed willpower and a surprising visual acuity for someone with no eyes. Three time recipient of the Death's Door award. Notorious advocate of psychic power pissing matches, and quickly becoming a household name with regards to treachery, deceit, and a lack of moral character. Also your glorious narrator and remembrancer.

During the flight to Descent:

- Wash had a talk with the Magos; during the fight with Piety (his ex), Magos said that she didn't deserve Wash. Wash grew up on the death world Haddrak (no relation to Hadarak Fel) -- a planet of poisonous things, and things evolved to eat them. (The Haddrack Constrictor is the only creature in the galaxy that can eat the Catachanian Horned Toad whole.) He was not the "ball of sunshine" he is today. When he got off the planet, Piety showed him the joys of life, and he still loves her; so he would appreciate it if we didn't trash his dead wife.

- The Lord-Captain got a grim prognosis. His doctor, Grizzly Kevin, advised that a diet was necessary, and forbade the consumption of amasec. As a result, he was on five tequilas at any given time during the piloting process. This explains a lot of things.

- I've been going on hunting expeditions, with a servitor-horse. My quarry is... obvious. To prevent his escape, I've asked Sebastian to implement face-checks on any exit points from the ship, and have taken to wearing a death mask; I've started with a cast of a digital homogenization of all Kevins. I hope to expand the collection.

- Wash has accosted me during one of my hunting expeditions; given that half his brainpower is outsourced to that device he's hooked up to, he actually doesn't detect as brightly as he once did on my mind radar. More to the point, he wants to know how posession works, and if it's possible to de-possess someone. Doesn't take a I confirm that removing a possessor is possible, but (incorrectly) that once de-possessed, a victim would probably be on the priority list. Depossession could be done by any psyker with a number of circles, incense, and sacrifices. I'd be willing to YOLO it as-is.

- I also followed up on what I found in Wash's mind; I've also accosted the Magos in her work, and offered psychic training to the Magos.

- On her side of things, the Magos has been getting messages from the Orders Famulous regarding her picks of matchmaking for the Lord-Captain; alas, all rejections, and templated rejections at that.

In the present, we're staring at the silvered, machined skull face of Skekris.

We talk to Skekris through gritted teeth. He actually needs us to investigate an archaelogical dig; frankly, of the three candidates who were suitable for the role, we (the Lord Captain) was the easiest to blackmail and coerce into service.

The Lord-Captain puts Skekris on hold for a hot moment. He has a raging murderboner right now, but I suggest we turn it into an Espionageboner, frame him for trading in xenos artefacts and.... other crimes which will land him in hot water with the Lathes. He takes it on board, and resumes the call.

The Lord-Captain is willing to comply, on two conditions:

- Mechanical upgrades for a member of the crew; specifically, Wash. We want to fix his neural decay.
- (Copies of) Hohenheim's stolen memories.

Skekris is unwilling to make promises at this particular juncture, but he'll think about it. The memories were not stolen outright, merely copied, but can be re-provided. Wash's decay can't be halted, but can be slowed with a superior neural processor.

Skekris ultimately agrees; we will need to meet with him at a Lathe world to fulfil the additional agreements. He sends us the coordinates, which surprisingly match one of Wash's old flight routes and we head on down to the planet.

On the way down, we catch plenty of scenery; Descent isn't so bad; it's like Scintilla, except carved from stone, instead of rock-crete. Plenty of alpine forests. We head towards a huge mesa with a small settlement atop it; Wash easily sticks the landing at the spaceport, and we exit. Everything is in remarkably good condition for a planet that vanished into the warp two decades ago. The air is bracing, but fresh.

We're met by Skitarii guards not far from the landing page; their guns have actual wood finish, which I don't really understand the choice of -- for a sect obsessed with the superiority of machines and steel, it's a peculiar that they should furnish their guns with the flesh of a tree.

We enter the ATC building, and sitting next to a table, we meet a magos with a metal skull-like face. Skekris, in the flesh. Steel. Whatever. With six more skitarii backup dancers. We all restrain ourselves from immediate and dangerous violence. Skekris bluntly calculates the chances of hostility at 87%.

Skekris gets to the point; Descent has only recently (I.e. within the last 3 months) returned to realspace; as the only known living denizen of Descent, Wash is being asked (told) to provide navigational assistance.

Wash agrees, but first he needs to "petinkle". Skekris begrudgingly gives us an hour to make ready before we set out to a dig site.

Wash wants to step out; the Lord-Captain accompanies him. I decide to remain in the room with Skekris, and polish my shotgun.

Wash, obviously pursuing a personal matter, heads for the town hall with the Lord-Captain and one of the Magos' servo-skulls in tow. He nudges the door open with his melta gun, and enters. It's dark inside, being early morning, but nothing that the Magos' servo skull can't fix.

There's... stuff on the walls. Nails, scraps of things. On the floor, bloodstains and ivory bones. Pentacles scratched into the floor. A massacre happened, years ago. The hall is at stark odds with the world outside, and the only part about this that bothers Wash is the contrast. His curiosity slaked, he makes his way back.

I idly telepathically scan the skitarii while I wait; it's kinda like watching paint dry, there really isn't a lot going on in there, but there's a slight distraction on the periphery. Skekris is basically a closed book, I can't see much, if any, neural activity going on. He must be exceptionally mechanical.

After the others check out a bookstore on the way back, and cucking a warp demon, we're ready, and we head off. To kill time, the Lord-Captain gives Skekris a book about mechanical drills; the third page has a penis drawn on it, and the Lord-Captain manages to derive enjoyment from the act, even if Skekris appears to no-sell the childlike jab. It's an act that leads me to a bit of a realization; as much as I hunger for vengeance, it feels a bit hollow if the one I'm taking vengeance on has the emotional range of a literal vegetable, and can't actually feel distressed about the reversal of fortune. I might actually have no chance but to... Emperor preserve me, forgive him.

 It's a bit of a walk to the coordinates of the supposed archeotech, but we're escorted by the Skitarii, who kind of loom over us. For those of us from a forge world, it's a somewhat comforting presence. Wash leads the way easily, with the confidence that comes from having lived here; even if the streets are now deserted. We haven't seen a single dead body.

Skekris, of all people, strikes up conversation with Wash en route -- Wash is "missing an implant". The implant that the Magos extracted. This gets all our attention -- we've long suspected that Skekris was responsible, and that the electronics that the Magos extracted from his skull were some sort of dark machination.

Skekris is surprisingly informative; the implant reinforced engrams, and prevented neural decay. I pointedly ask what engrams needed reinforcing to start with. He ignores it, but I think I can guess. The question is why Skekris wanted memories of this planet and his pre-Hohenheim history repressed.

We reach the mine; it's deserted, same as as everything else, and feels somewhat surreal. There's still no bodies around, it's like everyone just decided to... go away.

As we enter, I don't detect any daemons with a mental ping, but as it starts to break the surface of the ground in front of us, I do spot a four-fingered claw as it punches up through the ground from below; Wash knows what it is, it's a Behemoth; an apex-predator, burrowing Xenos native to Descent. It's a fight!

As one of the few not surprised by the Behemoth, I step up and give it two barrels; it all bounces off the hard chitin armor. In response, the Behemoth goes for Wash, and slashes him viciously; his power armor takes the brunt of it, but it definitely hits flesh. I would have been offended if I had considered it possible to be insulted by a mindless animal.

Skekris remains calm, and without removing his hands from his robes, sends bolter rounds over Wash's shoulder from his own shoulder-mounted bolter, and into the Behemoth, carving a neat hole in its' shell.

Wash, now no longer surprised, acts; forgoing the bother of retreating to make use of his multi-melta, he instead decently lacerates the Behemoth with skill. I try again with the shotgun, but despite a splendid shot on the beast, I cannot get through that chitin -- the shotgun was a good investment in general, it's simply that my tactics are lacking. I drop the shotgun and prepare a krak grenade.

The Magos opens up on the Behemoth with all of her (considerable) firepower, and sinks a good hole in the carapace with her plasma cannon. The Behemoth responds by getting angry, a worrying prospect.

The Skitarii do something approaching their job, and pepper it with las to minimum effect. Skekris is more useful, and puts more bolter rounds into the creature and it flinches; the Lord-Captain finally gathers himself, draws his axes, and steps up to the plate; his opening swing is singular, but punishing; he almost takes a leg off the beast right then and there.

It's my turn again; I send a prayer to the Lord of Terra, "Kobe", and yeet my grenade into the hole in the Behemoth's shell; it goes off, and leaves the beast decidedly worse for wear. He's easy prey for the Lord-Captain, who just... walks through the Behemoth with a twirl, axes spinning, and emerges from the other side of the roughly divided monster, covered in gore. His hat, an old terran Yankees "snapback" is spotless. He wipes himself off with a towel and suggests we move on.

We find an elevator; we board it, and ride it down into the depths. It's a long elevator ride. Skekris, again more chatty than I expected him to be, watches the Magos do her thing with Wash's wounds, and comments that her talents may be of use in the Legio Cybernetica. The Lord-Captain laments that he's surrounded by traitors. While I deserve all the flak I get over it, I cannot say the same of the rest of the command crew.

The elevator comes to a halt. There's digging equipment all over, covered in a fine layer of dust due to disuse. The magos and I spot the first body we've seen on this planet; it's lying in the shadows next to some of the digging equipment. He's dessicated. His clothes are tattered, and indicate he was shanked to death. His namebadge reads: Antonio. He died reaching for the elevator, whatever caught him got him from behind.

As we advance into the tunnels, the temperature drops; the tunnel gets rougher, and there's more abandoned equipment. A large excavator is occupying much of the tunnel, making access difficult. On the other side of it, there's a foreboding thing that everyone is likely interested in; a vault door.

The Lord-Captain knocks on the door; it echoes, but nobody answers. He looks at the Magos, who gives him a look as she uses the handle to open the door all the way.

Inside, it's a large cavern; at the center-rear of the vault is a large dais, with a carved human-like hand holding a gigantic crystal. There are piles of rubble around the vault, no shortage of loose stones. Towards the rear, there is a ladder sticking out of a pile of rubble.

I cast a few pebbles ahead of us, in case there's another invisible field. They skip across the floor, unimpeded, and I'm satisfied that it's safe to enter.

The crystal reminds everyone else of a crystal spire on the planet next to Verloren, which I never got to actually see, having been otherwise occupied at the time; I'm especially keen on it when I learn that it shows visions of the past; it warrants research, and ill-advised investigation techniques that scholars frown upon.

The Lord-Captain checks out the pots in the back. He finds vinegary... substance. I want to check out the crystal. Surprisingly, Skekris also wants to look at it; he moves a little faster, and I start power-walking to catch up. The bastard starts levitating with magnets and I'm forced to move at an indignified jog to keep pace.

We both get to the crystal. I see flashes of something, but it won't let me look at it properly. In the hand that holds it, there's a socket that's roughly fist-sized and spherical. Like that metal sphere that we found earlier.

I ask everyone else about it; Wash has the feeling that something daemonic would happen if we socketed it in; I propose we prepare for a quick exit and save such a dangerous action for last, once we've acquired everything of value.

Meanwhile, the Magos is exploring the ladder in the rubble; it leads down to something metal and green; close examination reveals a manufacturing mark; a two-headed aquila holding thunderbolts. The Lord-Captain comes over, and upon discovery of the hatch, begins frenziedly excavating rubble around it. The Magos finds a manual release, and the hatch makes a hissing sound as it opens.

Skekris turns at the sound, and I realize they found something good; I try to distract Skekris by turning back to the crystal and shouting "what's that?" He bites, and is de-distracted, hopefully buying time for everyone else to identify what they found, and should the Lord-Captain see fit, keep it for himself -- not so much out of greed, but out of his intense academic interest in archaeotech; between the amasec, bloodlust and his other improprieties, it's very easy to forget that the Lord-Captain Van Hohenheim is actually quite the scholar. Almost exclusively in a rarified field, but a scholar nonetheless.

The Lord-Captain rips the hatch open and jumps in; it's a cockpit with a command throne. Conclusion: It's a Knight Titan. Erections are obtained all around.

As he emerges, wild-eyed and frenzied with excitement, Skekris finally notices the socket in the stone hand; a mechadendrite extends, and the end flows like mercury into a metal sphere fit for the socket. I'm torn between stopping him violently and not getting murdered by his Skitarii when he plugs in; the crystal floats up, and I allow myself to be pulled in it.

I gaze into the crystal, and it swirls, until I'm engulfed in a sea of stars; I see Descent, this chamber. There's less corpses in it this time, though. I see a group of people standing on the dais, one of them takes a crystalline sphere out of the socket that Skekris just plugged into.

Then, one of them tries to hide it, and the violence begins; someone escapes out the door, and it closes. I suspect it's obvious what happened to Antonio a few minutes later. I feel the tug of another will, pulling the mirror's focus; I zoom out and focus on the town; a crash in the distance, I see people going from house to house, dragged into the town hall. Regular mayhem.

Amidst it all, I see a familiar man -- Wash; a glimpse of him with a woman. But he's younger, a different man. He still has his own jawbone. That, too, passes and I'm torn away from Descent.

It pulls further and further away; I see The Maw, the focus moves through the clouds around it, and then coreward, to a sector of space I've never gone to. It focuses on one place, and then the stars move. A supernova billows, forming a star. And then I see... the point. Not a silver ship, a vessel cruising into view, The Fortune's Favor, the van Hohenheim dynasty's grand ship, with which I am intimately familiar. A Young Van Hohenheim stands on the bridge, arms crossed, and cocky. The ship is attacked by lancers. I see death, destruction, and silver; a silver ship that bombards the Fortune's Favor, before it vanishes, jumping back into the Maw.

The vision zooms out a bit, just enough for me to identify where it might be. And there, I'm clearly meant to take my leave. But I remain. The silver ship is of interest; it's human marque, but sleek and refined, instead of ornate and baroque. Golden Age shit. I follow it, and it re-emerges; I see it in dilated time - it lingers for years, slightly coreward of The Maw. It attacks ships that happen to cross a particular area of space, some sort of sentinel.

I return to the present. I look at Magos, and the unreadable skull-face of his looks back at me.

"What did you see?" I ask.

"What did you see?" Skekris asks.

"A man I betrayed. You?"

"What I was looking for."

Irritated at losing the joust, I ask the Lord-Captain if he remembers being attacked by a silver ship long ago. He's baffled about how I know about that, and I start to show him the vision telepathically.

But before we get too into it, Wash hears a voice. Piety. He refuses to turn around, to be the victim of a cruel "made you look".

But Skekris, thankfully, is both able to see her, and ignorant of any ongoing mind games; he hails her, and demands she identify herself. This means it's not just Wash, and she's really here -- I snap the Lord-Captain out of it, and we prepare for a fight.

I take up position next to Wash, and he mutters a plan to me -- he wants me to send him into her mind. He wants his wife back. I nod, and say I'll try.

The opening notes of this ballad are pretty tame; the Skitarii open fire, but Piety just walks around everything. Skekris finally withdraws his hands from his robes, to reveal a gun; he fires, and Piety waltzes around it just the same, but unlike the Skitarii, it turns the adamantium vault door a ruddy red with heat. That is one hot gun.

The Lord Captain, behind Skekris, begrudgingly admits that for the time being, they are allies. He commands the Magos to fire up the Titan. She quickly figures out how, but they need a pilot; it's a pitch-up between willpower and technical expertise in piloting things, but she ultimately calls Wash. Torn between his wife, and the call of duty, he answers duty, and sprints up the rubble to the ladder.

It's my turn. For the first time in a great many years, I sit down and take a meditative stance like I'm actually supposed to, and apply my unfettered, but still controlled power to Piety to try and make contact. But she's like evil smoke, I just can't get anything out of it; I can't even see what Piety used to be. I spend my turn wrestling with it, trying to find a way in.

Meanwhile, a skitarii makes a bold attempt to try and engage Piety in melee combat with a shock baton; she takes his arm off at the wrist, and punches a hand straight through it's chest, killing it instantly.

Then she casts her gaze towards the Lord-Captain, and he's subject to a haze of compulsion; to turn and kill everyone around him. In his hands, his axes feel like they agree, growing warm. But the Lord-Captain is resolute; he shakes it off, and denies the bidding of Piety. But then another voice echoes from the void, calling him to crush, maim and kill his choice of targets. This is much more agreeable to the Lord-Captain, and he freely descends into bloodlust, and with only the slightest regard for Skekris, charges straight in to engage Piety; she evades his axes, but he promises that he's "coming for your hammies".

The Magos, having slathered the cockpit of the Titan with sacred unguents and prepared it for operation, emerges briefly to lob shots in the direction of Piety without hitting her employer; she manages to land a glancing hit; and it is glancing, barely grazing her shoulder. While this would be enough to incapacitate most mortals, behind what is a very thin layer of skin is nothing but solid purple meat; there is definitely nothing human about Piety now.

I focus my powers further. I ask the smoke what it would take to give Piety back to Wash; long story short, it's not on the cards, for any price. And I really do mean any -- I'd trade a future favor with horrors of the warp if it'd bring back the woman Wash loved.  But rather, she is extremely confident and insists that she will take Wash instead. I speak not with a woman, nor a single entity, but an extension of a greater power. She is the Warp. I see that there's truly nothing left of her, and resign myself to a solution of violence; not the first, but for the first time in a very long time,

And then, the unthinkable happens; the manipulator is manipulated; flow is reversed, and I find myself incensed with fury. I telepathically inform Piety that "I'll show her the fucking warp", hang up, and begin cranking power to attack my nearest hated enemy.

Wash, realizing that I'm not sending him in, descends into the Titan, and jacks in with his MIU. The world vanishes, and he beholds an island in the darkness; a red carpet, flanked by a score of knights; at the end, a wooden throne.

Then a voice rings forth:

"Tell us, these things three: Have you served your leige, despite danger to yourself? Have you acted in honor, despite the cost to yourself? Have you fought for humanity, and will do so until your death?"

Wash, without deceit, answers in the affirmative. Barring his fondness for responding to verbal jousting with the fool's response, he is easily the most honorable among us, narrowly beating the Magos who loses points for non-consensual surgery and a materialistic approach to the components that make up a human corpse.

The blades barring his way are lifted, and clear the path to the throne; a man sits the throne, clad in silver armor. As Wash gets closer, it transforms into a flight marshal's uniform.

The stranger stands to face Wash, asking who he is, getting a simple answer:

"I am Wash."

The Flight Marshal explains. "This Knight does not have long. We are the last of House Engels."

Wash answers: "Then it shall end in glory."


Wash does so, and the Flight Marshal speaks: "Archaius Wash, you will carry our torch into the dark. Rise, Sir Archaius Wash."

The knights salute, and the world falls away.

The ground trembles, and rubble falls away as the Knight Titan stands tall once more; an awesome sight, and certainly not one expected here, in this vault below the earth of a planet long since removed from reality. The Magos clings to the top of the mech by virtue of her electromagnets, and gets an impressive view of the battlefield. Wash looks down upon Piety and the Lord-Captain, and carefully knocks the Captain away.

Wash is at the helm and he's running hot -- a parting gift from the machine spirit of the Titan, it's done something to repair the damage to his brain, and for the first time in a while, he's refreshingly clear-headed.

"Piety, I'm sorry; you have to go."

The Titan brings it's Reaper chainsword down, and misses Piety just barely, separating her and the Lord-Captain. But the gauntlet, such as it is, is thrown down.

Skekris is basically drooling coolant from his Vox grille; he commands the Skitarii to eliminate the entity, and secure the Titan.

Piety's skin ripples, and tears as she emerges and expands, growing to an improbable height, a gigantic purple daemon; she's not nearly as tall as the titan, but for someone who was human sized a moment ago, shes now an order of magnitude larger.

Riding atop the mech, the Magos "unleashes bullet hell" upon Piety, doing some damage, but Piety's still going strong. Considering that the Magos can and has turned several men to mince within seconds of engagement, and that was prior to her mounting a plasma cannon on her back, it illustrates how inhuman daemons really are.

The Lord-Captain makes good on his promise, and finally faced with a target that he can really go to town on, he cuts loose, a whirring dervish of chainaxes, decimating Piety's hamstring, down to the bone.

Skekris opens fire again; this time, thanks to the increased size of the target, his gun strikes true, and rips a line up Piety's leg, explosions following it. The Magos identifies the weapon; it's a literal classic "martian ray gun". Archaeotech in of itself, the Mechanicus certainly likes to keep the "good stuff" in reserve.

Wash, no longer needing to worry about stepping on the Lord-Captain or smiting him accidentally, brandishes the Knight Titan's Reaper chainblade, and smites Piety good and proper for a ludicrous amount of damage; Piety can shrug off a lot, as it turns out, but a chainsaw taller than she is is extremely hard to ignore.

And then it's my turn. Thanks to chance alignment and a more pressing threat, nobody's noticed that my nearest hated enemy isn't Piety, but Skekris. While he's immune to my psychic manipulation attempts, he is not immune to more base threats like telekinesis. My wrath manifests, and the stone around us begins to weep blood from the seams; the carvings on the walls, reliefs of people, weep blood, and flexing maximum power, I reach out and seize what little flesh Skekris has left -- his brain. He clutches his skull and collapses; it's hard to tell if the blood's coming from his mask or what orifices remain behind it. It's not immediately lethal, but he's down. Unfortunately, the miracle of violence that was a *minimum strength* Psi-rating 9 telekinetic crush is also an incredibly swift action; I've still got plenty of time to sling a krak grenade underneath him, and Skekris is transformed; he's no longer so much Skekris as he becomes Skekwas.

The Skitarii suddenly lurch to a halt, their master lost, and things seem like they take a drastic turn for the worse.

Piety turns to the one who has hurt her the most so far -- Lord-Captain Van Hohenheim. Her talons slice a glittering arc through the air, and the Lord-Captain's leg sails off in an arc; we all watch as our leader falls to the ground, blood spraying to cover six metres of the ground around him.

She turns her gaze on the Titan's cameras, the unspoken message clear.

The Magos spares a moment to assume control of the Skitarii before unloading her guns on Piety in a furious rage over the defeat of the Lord-Captain.

In the cockpit of the Titan, Wash takes a deep breath. "Goodbye, Piety."

He inverts the chainsaw, and drives it vertically down into Piety, slicing her in two; her purple flesh splits and dissolves, fading back into the warp from whence we came, screaming the whole way.

It's victory, but at what price? We rush to the Lord-Captain's side, and the Magos does what she does best, stabilizing the mortally wounded man; he's lost a lot of blood, but the Magos is willing to bet that he'll make it. I message the ship and call for a medevac, ASAP.

The Lord-Captain blearily mumbles that he wants Skekris to know that he forgives him. I nod, and say I'll pass it on, looking to what's left of Skekris.

But before I can go finish off what little is left of him, and scavenge whatever surviving loot there might be off his corpse, Wash stops me, holding me at Titan-Gunpoint; I just killed a loyal servant of the Imperium, and for what purpose? The easy (and true) answer is that I literally didn't mean to -- I was compelled. But this is mind-taking country, not skull-jacking country; Winter York compels other people, not the other way around. And so I simply shrug. An opportune moment.

Wash, through the vox, challenges my allegience and loyalty -- to whom do I swear fealty? I'm not sure where he's going with it, but I point at the Lord-Captain. Wash sighs -- something higher?

Confused, I point up at him instead. He indicates the symbol of the aquila -- the Imperium. I immediately point back at the Lord-Captain, and remain pointing at him no matter what Wash says.

Meanwhile, since I've been relieved of basically any role requiring trust, the Magos spares a moment to check the rapidly fading life signals from Skekris, who somehow hasn't died. I guess the Mechanicus makes 'em robust.

The mask of Skekris falls aside, and the Magos recognizes who died. Magos Calederoth, whom she had previously seen around and about the Lathes. Someone who was in charge of interrogating Wash after an incident at the Lathes.

But also a man who had been in the same room as Skekris. A body double, or a puppet. Of course he wouldn't come down here to somewhere we could kill him, in the actual, personal, flesh.

Before we can start talking philosophy, the ground starts shaking. The ground feels immaterial. We realize that the planet is returning to the warp.

The Magos calls for the Skitarii to grab not-Skekris and the Lord-Captain. I grab anything that is dropped and could be loot, and we bail out asap.

We are hailed by Sebastian as we approach the surface; the Mechanicus are bailing out of the system, having got what they wanted. That's fine, we just need out asap.

The medevac I called for arrives, and gives us a lift to the gun cutter so that we can recover that as well; we barely take off before the planet fades away, and our ships leave a rapidly vanishing gravity well, seven skitarii richer and carrying the fallen bodies of our Lord-Captain and a doppelganger with us.

Skekris has not only remained a step ahead of us, we don't even know what he's after. Where I hoped to plant ammunition against him, I may have inadvertantly given him even more ammunition against me.

At least he'll have to get in line behind a whole lot of other people if he wants me dead for the treachery which is quickly becoming my trademark.

Saturday 8 August 2020

Rogue Trader Season 3: The Ties That Bound Us, Part 1: Incursion

Rogue Trader: A quest for profit in the grim darkness of the 41st millenium. But dying in mediocrity and misery is for poor people and losers, and a Rogue Trader's retinue is anything but.

It's Always Heretical in the Kronus Expanse is bought to you by:

Lord-Captain van Hohenheim - Rogue Trader. Hero. Protein shake advocate. The last of his line, and currently searching for the one thing that obscene wealth cannot easily procure, nor his now prodigious strength wrest from the world by force: Love.
Magos Abigail von Thannhausen - A Magos Explorator-biologist, chymist, and practicing genetor, and most definitely the heart of the command staff. The Lord-Captain's wingwoman in his ongoing romantic forays.
Archaius "Boosto" Wash - A sector-renowned pilot of anything with wheels, wings, or a gellar field, and peerless swordsman. Often seen approaching the speed of sound, by virtue of his jetpack, but soon may be heralded by bombardment from a multi-melta.
Sebastian LaMarck - Rarely heard or seen, but his presence certainly felt, our Spymaster and reigning king of Human Resources and Administration. By him, every command given by the Lord-Captain is magnified.
Winter York - Astropath Transcendant. Unsurpassed willpower and aspiring champion of markswomanship, despite the obvious handicap of being blind. Three time recipient of the Death's Door award. Notorious advocate of psychic power pissing matches, more machine than woman at this point, and endowed with wings. Also your glorious narrator and remembrancer.

Wash awakens in the sickbay, alone. He's fully dressed, and his weapons are not far away. The lighting is a ruddy red, emergency lighting. Power's out.

Wash makes to leave, and spots a bolted-shut casket, labelled "Magos' Genetic Experiments, Do Not Open". Wash strongly considers opening it, but his concience finally convinces him to leave it be, and exit the bay.

More red lights means no power; he wants to go check out the Genitorium. The rail car isn't running, so it's a walk.

Meanwhile, in the Enginarium, the rest of the command crew comes to; the engines are silent, and the place is abandoned. I conclude that things are bad, but not so bad -- the engine is here, and I'm not exploding like the explosive canary I would be if I were naked in the warp, so it's not totally FUBAR.

I scan for minds; I have a range of 1km, out of the ship's total 1.5km length, and I'm picking up exactly four souls, and they're all familiar. One is me. One is very close to me, and surprisingly strong, one of them is weakly psychic and also very close. I'll figure that out later. For now, we need to regroup with the fourth mind, heading for the Generatorium.

Meanwhile, Wash is walking along; he's passing through habs. He feels inclined to check one out; it opens easy enough, and it's... spartan, but there. He moves onto the Generatorium, and makes his way in. It's quite deserted.

In the drive-core room, he sees a bundle of red robes and metal. It sure is magos-heavy. He drags it out, and from the namebadge, it's Nox.

As he's sorting through the body, and failing to salvage a flashlight, we finally get there, after having climbed up way too many flights of stairs. We catch each other up, and I finally bother to check for the Gellar Field; I cannot hear it, and I start whispering to talk.

The Magos checks Nox's body; he got fucked up. Something with claws that could slice steel.

We manage to reboot the generator, bringing it up from 10% to... more. We can't crank it any higher, there's problems. But we're able to bring more things online, like the Gellar Field.

We take the lift up to the field generator; it's... scuffed. Whatever happened to Nox, happened to the walls of this elevator.

The chPiety is as deserted as the rest of the ship. As we're looking for the ignition rune, something emerges from hiding.

It's androgynous, and moves sinuously; it has one boob, and not center-aligned. It's horrifying. The magos, the Lord-Captain, and I are stricken by fear; I get 2 insanity points and pass out. The magos gets four, and starts vomiting uncontrollably. The Lord-Captain manages to pass out in a dignified way.

Wash, unfazed by the Daemon, gives the Daemonette "the business" with his multi-melta. (At which point, our DM realizes that he never should have let him have it.)

We come to and stop vomiting respectively, slightly hot from the backwash of the Melta. The Gellar Fields are back up, and things might just be okay now.

Then we took the tram up to the command deck; as we hit the last rail junction, we come to a halt; the line's been shredded up ahead.

We get off the tram and take the stairs; we reach the observation deck, and find a horripilating sight; dozens of Kevins, slain where they stood; all of them in clusters, obviously defensive wounds as they covered someone's escape. Leading all the way to Sebastian's room.

We enter his room. Or, at least, we try to -- we anticipated traps after the last time someone tried to enter his room and ransack his things without permission. It's quite the trap; his chPietys are entirely gone, and we just step into hard vacuum.

Fortunately, those of us who don't need to breathe (Wash, thanks to the power armor, and Abigail, who is more machine than woman) have the reflexes to catch those of us who do, and pull us back in the door and reseal it.

We circle up to the next floor, the meeting room, and it's glass floor; Sebastian's quarters are totally gone. A big giant silver chain hangs limply in space; it's got a gigantic silver fish hook on it, and from it hangs the iced-over body of Sebastian.

The bridge. We need to get to the bridge.

It's more of the same when we get there; dead Kevins, all in defense. Wash vaguely knows all of them. Wash leans over a terminal and rattles some keys. To no effect.

We hear the metallic ping of something being flicked up and down. A coin, from the upper deck of the bridge. We hustle up there, and who we see sitting in the command throne is a woman, reclining in a slinky dress. The coin-like sound is coming from a ring that she's flicking.

"Hey hun," she says, looking at Wash.

Wash knows who this is, but is extremely skeptical that she is who she is. Judging by the talk, she's his ex-wife, Piety. I barely keep up with the check-and-response, but it's clear she shakes out. Which is disturbing, since the read I'm also getting is that she, and Wash's entire home planet, Descent, was obliterated.

And I thought I had skeletons in my closet.

Wash asks us to step out of the command deck for five minutes. Piety insists that we do not. I insist that we will. It feels like an alien psyche knocks into mine, and I'm knocked back a step.

Wash makes a counteroffer; if she gives him five minutes alone with her, he'll kill us himself.

We tentatively roll with it; the Magos stays behind, but me and the Lord-Captain step out for a moment.

And Wash attempts a sacrifice play by blowing out the void-glass of the bridge, and venting atmos. Piety does not like it.

The Lord-Captain demands that I undo the breaking of the glass; I gladly comply, and stretch my now impressive Psy Rating VI to Psy Rating IX (Effective Willpower: 120), trying to grab all the glass and pull it back into the window. Unfortunately, fortune is not with me, and it feels like my telekinesis hits a mirror, giving me backlash for 12 damage.

The Lord-Captain calls for a voidsuit.

Meanwhile, Piety transforms; no longer human, an outright daemon. Wash can barely fend her off as they exchange banter and roll through Wash's more recent past.

"A space marine? How gauche." - Piety

"I'm pretty sure he's ambidextrous." - Wash

The Magos, not having much success with riddling Piety with the now considerable amount of firepower she has bolted to her, faces the true power of a daemon of the warp, who ignores all her metal and armor, and slices her clean in half with a wicked talon for a fingernail.

The Lord-Captain is suited up by now; I grab an Oz tank and let him into the bridge, closing the door after him because I can't wear a voidsuit anymore.

I try to hijack the Magos' upper torso with Dominate... but as we incidentally discussed earlier, the Magos is entirely immune to the effects of psychic control. So I settle for telekinetically gripping Piety for 20 damage; it's a godlike manifestation of my power, but I, too, underestimate the strength of a Daemon in it's element -- unnatural strength and agility. Even eleven degrees of success can't hold it down.

And then the toll of the fight hits me back, and straight out of time. (4 insanity)

Meanwhile, the Lord-Captain concieves his master plan; he sits the Command Throne, and the ship springs to life at his word.

Piety screeches as she stretches to infinity, and laments how nearly total her control over Wash was as she's torn away.

Once we're all back in the Real, we all regroup on Wash, who is now in a concious state.

The Magos gives it to Wash straight. He's got brain damage. And not just any brain damage; neural decay. If we'd let it go on any further, the decay would eventually take basically everything. A horrible way to go. But, since the Magos got de-rezzed first, she had time to perform some surgery on Wash; she's patched some of the damage with a MIU and a neural compensator.

In short... well, it's not a fix. But it'll buy Wash time that he really doesn't have.

As we contemplate Wash's immediate future, we get signal -- a transmission from the Mechanicus.

Long story short: our presence is demanded ASAP, and the Mechanicus are calling in the Lord Captain's marker, threatening to have his Warrant revoked.

Coordinates are attached and decoded, but Wash already knows where they point to - Descent. Wash's homeworld.

The journey takes us about a month of real-time, as we pass by Port Wander. With Wash out of action, it falls to the Captain to pilot his ship. Poor Wash feels the ship groaning as it hits what can only be described as a "sick drift" through an asteroid field; the crew are wailing in despair, and our resident death cult is hyping things up for "The End".

And so the Absolute Ambition emerges back into realspace backwards, but intact. Waiting for us over the planet is the Monitor-class Mechanicus ship, Thule's Last Theorem. Named for Magos Paracelsius Thule, a controversial figure in the Explorator fleets, and depending on who you ask, absolutely bug-fuck insane.

The ship hails us, and the owner comes on screen. Skull-faced. Arch-Magos Skekris.

That Asshole.

Next up: Descent.

Saturday 1 August 2020

Rogue Trader, Season 3: Coming in from the Cold (Epilogue)

 Rumors of my death have been... greatly exaggerated.

The Lord-Captain, freshly cleaned twice and back in his usual finery, is interrupted by a warning about Wash's hospitalization. As he rushes to the medicae bay to see what's going on, he learns the depth of Wash's brain problems. He tries to summon Sebastian and Winter, but only gets static from Winter. Sebastian knows why; an explosion near the barracks.

He makes haste to the barracks, along with Abigail, and sees the results of our fight; a large scorch mark where the grenade went off, and no small amount of blood splattered everywhere. The dent in the bulkhead. And me in the middle of the scorch-mark, unconcious. But for all intents and purposes, perfectly healthy.

The next thing I know, the Lord-Captain has slapped me awake. I sit up, and I'm... whole. In my pocket is a paper note that crinkles. I pull it out, and it's a neatly folded paper that just reads:

You owe me.

I curse him, and crush it in my fist. I put out an APB on him via Sebastian. Dead, not alive.

The Lord-Captain notices the locked barracks, and demands them to stop being closed, despite my recommendations otherwise. They open up, and the room inside is quite red. A train of murder-servitors sheepishly roll past him and out of the door, covered in gore and not meeting his eye. The Lord-Captain gives me a look.

I said I was tying up loose ends. I had it under control. Except for Niall.

The Lord-Captain informs me my revenge hunt can wait. Wash has brain problems, and my talents for getting inside people's heads are needed. We can talk about this at a later time.

I'm taken to the medicae bay where I see Wash on the bed. I put my hands around his head, and linking the Lord Captain and Abigail to me, dive in.

What dreams of madness await us inside the head of Archaius Wash?

Rogue Trader Season 3: Coming in from the Cold, Part 2: The Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal

Rogue Trader: A quest for profit in the grim darkness of the 41st millenium. But dying in mediocrity and misery is for poor people and losers, and a Rogue Trader's retinue is anything but.

It's Always Heretical in the Kronus Expanse is bought to you by:

Lord-Captain van Hohenheim - Rogue Trader. Hero. Protein shake advocate. The last of his line, and currently searching for the one thing that obscene wealth cannot easily procure, nor his now prodigious strength wrest from the world by force: Love.
Magos Abigail von Thannhausen - A Magos Explorator-biologist, chymist, and practicing genetor, and most definitely the heart of the command staff. The Lord-Captain's wingwoman in his ongoing romantic forays.
Archaius "Boosto" Wash - A sector-renowned pilot of anything with wheels, wings, or a gellar field, and peerless swordsman. Often seen approaching the speed of sound, by virtue of his jetpack, but soon may be heralded by bombardment from a multi-melta.
Sebastian LaMarck - Rarely heard or seen, but his presence certainly felt, our Spymaster and reigning king of Human Resources and Administration. By him, every command given by the Lord-Captain is magnified.
Winter York - Astropath Transcendant. Unsurpassed willpower and aspiring champion of markswomanship, despite the obvious handicap of being blind. Three time recipient of the Death's Door award. Notorious advocate of psychic power pissing matches, more machine than woman at this point, and endowed with wings. Also your glorious narrator and remembrancer.

We're on-planet, walking down into the dig site; a chamber was uncovered in the depth, and it warrants looking at.

It's not shallow; walls have been uncovered. The place is oddly geometric, lots of perfectly symmetrical surfaces, angles and straight lines.

Nial says that the Lord-Captain has not been introduced to him yet, and asks if we know; I say yes, and that he sent us in his stead, it does not require his personal attention.

Wash tells him he's a "shooter man", concealing his role as pilot, and thanks to the power armor, his identity.

There's a command tent set up just inside the dig; several ex-guardsmen are lounging about in Casque livery. Niall enters and gets a standing salute from all of them.

He introduces us to:

Sergeant Ostia
Comms specialist Adrick
Kurtis (demolitions) and Nicolai (heavy weapons)
Reaver and Kelsig
Medicae Rolf
Grenadier Furlogh

We're introduced in turn; I'm introduced as an ex-Casque member to some tittering.

Kurt is doing his usual thing, turning a small hole into a large hole, and he found a concealed chamber. We talk a bit, try not to laugh as the Lord-Captain's fitted with a suspensor rig to haul a cargo crate, and we head on in. The Casque are sweeping ahead of us and bringing up the rear.

At the end of the corridor, we reach a large, circular chamber. It's got a hole in the wall, which leads to a pitch-black, 98m drop. The Magos goes first, using her maglev to descend gently and report it's depth. She lands in a tunnel, which has a small river flowing through it; we head up to the source, and find something peculiar.

It's a literal wall of still water. The river is trickling out from the bottom of the wall. The Magos experimentally tries to poke the water with her axe, but it's extremely hard to even approach it, and progress eventually slows to a vibrating halt. I flick a shotgun shell at it, and it slows to a crawl, eventually coming to a dead halt in midair.

We check out the other end of the underground river; it ends in a waterfall off the edge of a cliff.

I propose that everyone wait up on the ropes or in the chamber above before we go trying to bust the forcefield. Just me, Kurt, the Magos and Wash go back to the forcefield.

Kurt tries to probe me for more information about me and Nial; I don't really feed him any information.

I try touching the shotgun shell with my hand; I meet the same resistance the Magos did, and I feel the vibrations in my hand. I try to pull it out, and it's extremely hard, it feels like my joints are extending. I use my telekinesis to hold my hand together as I pull it out.

It's Wash's turn to try and get through; he starts melting a channel through the rock around the forcefield with his melta gun. He's blasting away with no thought to ammo efficiency. As he melts away, I hear a distant cracking sound. I ask Wash if he heard it; he didn't, he couldn't hear a damn thing over his multi-melta. I replay the sound for him via telepathy.

"Cave in!" he shouts. We all bail out ASAP.

Not long after we get up the way we came in, a torrent of water rushes past; it quickly abates, becoming a trickle. We head back to the source to see what it's like.

The channel that Wash was melting away is filled with rubble as the rock gave way and let the water all flow out. This means we can consequently get into the chamber beyond.

The mysterious forcefield is still there, holding a chunk of water just like the shotgun shell; closest to the invisible wall, the water is perfectly still, and further away, it's like it's melting, trying to flow in strange ways. We cordon it off; last thing we need is someone walking face-first into it, they'll probably rip their eyeballs out trying to free themselves.

The chamber itself is vast and tall, with a number of statues of weird, bird-like lizard people. In the middle of the room is a raised platform; small statues on little platforms flank the approach to a sarcophagus.

Wash is extremely distrustful of the statues and remains on guard to destroy them if they make a move.

On the central platform, we investigate the plinths; Niall knocks on them, getting solid sounds. "Kevin" Van Hohenheim knocks on the plinths on the other side, and finds a hollow one; he smashes it open with his bare fists, possibly breaking them in the process. Inside, he finds unguarded treasure -- a Macuahuitl, stone knives, a glass eye with a strange pattern, and a small, silver sphere with fine engravings on it.

Meanwhile, at the sarcophagus, the crew prepares to crack it open. With impeccable care, the Magos lifts the lid off the sarcophagus; inside is a mummy, accompanied by a tasteful scattering of gems. And in it's hands, clutched to it's chest, is something small and weirdly crystalline.

Niall is extremely interested in it, and tries to get it out without damaging the mummy; I use my telekinesis to do it, and pull out a small vial, containing three grains of what looks like large sand. Niall is extremely interested in it, and when I give it to him, he secrets it away in a secure pouch on his person. I ask why it's so important to him and what it is; it's a "planet's ransom", but he doesn't want to specify what it is, simply insisting that it's 'freedom' for the Casque. I telepathically knock on Wash's mind and show him a picture of the vial.

All of a sudden, he's at home, in his bedroom. He's not wearing armor. He's not jacked anymore. He's back on Descent.

He can smell breakfast cooking. He goes out to the kitchen, and sees a familiar figure, she's cooking grox bacon. She turns around, and Wash's last day on Descent flashes through his mind, before all of a sudden, he's back in the cave.

He mumbles something about bacon. I ask him "what bacon". Wash gets his shit together and demands to know what it is that I just showed him. I don't know. He wants to destroy it, and so I refuse to tell him where it is.

Wash immediately turns around, and after getting a clue from the Magos, confronts Niall, lifting him up by his armor and intimidating him.

Niall's not shaken, but he is eventually convinced to tell us what it is. These xenos had incredible control over the flow of time. The grains in the vial are literal moments of time. Worth a fortune to the right buyer on Malfi, and presumably not the first vial the team's found.

Wash is appeased by the explanation, and lets Niall go, and everyone calms down. I propose that if the vial's so important, we should wrap this op up and get moving ASAP; we can always come back later for the prefabs and other stuff that needed removing.

Everyone agrees, and over the day, we start hauling what we can off the planet within the day, to depart tomorrow morning. I radio Sebastian to prepare a barracks for the Casque and their men, and I telepathically ask the Magos to ready some murder servitors near the room. It's time for a Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal.

The Casque's command tent is host to a small party and a toast; to the Casque's newfound freedom, Niall's unwavering leadership. The subject of my past as one of the founding members of the Casque is bought up. The precipitous mission where everyone else died. The Lathes is mentioned; I suggest we don't talk about it since there's an associate of the Lathes here in this very tent, and successfully quash reminicsing about the past. Niall grits his teeth when he thinks of who might have betrayed them; the pilot and/or the skull-faced magos who orchestrated the op. He curses that the rest of the Casque got made into servitors. I promise him that the current Casque will not share the same fate; they shall be free.

We wrap it up for the day. I inform Niall that there's fixings and supplies for a further party for his men on the ship, in the barracks; I joke about putting it on his tab, since he'll be, in the near future, very wealthy.

Wash, for his part, has not been feeling so well; he didn't even fly the gun cutter up to the ship himself. Turns out that since the statues in the temple, he's been having some sort of neurological problem, a headache that's only been getting worse.

As Abigail goes to put some censers and holy oils around his bed to try and help him get better, she discovers Wash on the floor, unmoving and immobile, the silver orb we got from the ruins not far from his limp hand. His vital signs are strong, but his brainwaves are fading fast. ("A fool and his brainwaves are easily parted." - DM) She immediately calls for a medicae team to help him to the medical deck.

Meanwhile, my betrayal is coming to fruition. I lure Niall back out of the barracks, later at night. I ask if he's holding onto the vial personally, to which he confirms. I give the signal to Sebastian to lock the doors of the barracks for the Murder Servitors' entrance, and attempt to Compel him to "give it to me."

It fails, and Niall doesn't realize he just avoided getting compelled, insisting that he holds onto it as he realizes I'm not entirely on his side, but for reasons of potential profit and greed. I brandish my shotgun. I'm not asking.

He refuses me again, and I shoot at his legs. Somewhere in between me pulling the trigger and him getting kneecapped, he vanishes, leaving only a floor full of buckshot.

I hear the sound of a bolt pistol being chambered, and hold my hands up, throwing the gun away.

Niall doesn't understand my betrayal. He's a loose end, I say. Niall doesn't have much to say to that, except regret that it came to this.

While we were talking, I was taking aim, and charging up a full-power telekinetic bolt; it's accompanied by daemonic whispers of uncomfortable truths and secrets; Winter hears a whisper on the wind: "He looked up to you." Inside the barracks, men began to scream as they're exposed to the whispers too. Or maybe the murder servitors finally entered the room.

Niall, for his part, maintained his composure, and dodged the bolt just barely; it smashes a massive dent in the bulkhead. I make a sleight of hand check and spin around, drawing my Wick-pattern slug pistol.

It's a moment's difference, but I'm faster. I hit him neatly in the chest, but he stays standing thanks to his flak armor. In hindsight, a grave mistake -- I should have just sprayed him until he was meat, never mind the expense of the amputator rounds.

I'm not so lucky; he fans the hammer and his bolt pistol punches a solid hole in my gut, and left arm; the damage is catastrophic and it's blown clean off by his bolt pistol. What's left of it falls to the ground... and lets go of the grenade I primed behind my back.

There's a moment of clarity, and then it goes off, and we're both engulfed in shrapnel and fire.

The thing about almost dying not just once, but three times, is that you gain a feel for it; you can tell if this is "the one" or not. Well, short on the Emperor's favor, and tragically outgunned, I'd flirted with death several times previous, but this time, it was time to commit to the relationship.

My only regret was that I couldn't avoid destroying the valuable vial of time-sand in my quest for destruction.

Saturday 11 July 2020

Rogue Trader Season 3: Coming in from the Cold, Part 1

Rogue Trader: A quest for profit in the grim darkness of the 41st millenium. But dying in mediocrity and misery is for poor people and losers, and a Rogue Trader's retinue is anything but.

It's Always Heretical in the Kronus Expanse is bought to you by:

Lord-Captain van Hohenheim - Rogue Trader. Hero. Protein shake advocate. The last of his line, and currently searching for the one thing that obscene wealth cannot easily procure, nor his now prodigious strength wrest from the world by force: Love.
Magos Abigail von Thannhausen - A Magos Explorator-biologist, chymist, and practicing genetor, and most definitely the heart of the command staff. The Lord-Captain's wingwoman in his ongoing romantic forays.
Archaius "Boosto" Wash - A sector-renowned pilot of anything with wheels, wings, or a gellar field, and peerless swordsman. Often seen approaching the speed of sound, by virtue of his jetpack, but soon may be heralded by bombardment from a multi-melta.
Sebastian LaMarck - Rarely heard or seen, but his presence certainly felt, our Spymaster and reigning king of Human Resources and Administration. By him, every command given by the Lord-Captain is magnified.
Winter York - Astropath Transcendant. Unsurpassed willpower and aspiring champion of markswomanship, despite the obvious handicap of being blind. Three time recipient of the Death's Door award. Notorious advocate of psychic power pissing matches, more machine than woman at this point, and endowed with wings. Also your glorious narrator and remembrancer.

It's been a long time. Three years since the Dread Pearl.

Our settlement, Verloren, has grown; cities have sprung into existence, and the Lord-Captain's personal residence, Meridian Prime, has been established; it's been extensively furnished, including a round table with a slightly more prominent seat, and statues of the Lord-Captain are prominent and (somewhat) tasteful; among them, a statue of him in a thoughtful pose, a statue of him wrestling an oncoming Ork that bears a strong resemblence to Hadarak Fel (spitting sound), and a statue of him holding the world aloft, supported in turn by statues of us.

Our (the Lord-Captain's) wealth has expanded; we made full use of the bounty provided by the Dread Pearl, which has swelled the dynasty coffers, and almost as importantly, Hadarak Fel (spits) has not been heard of since -- with any luck, he didn't make it out, but knowing that weasel, he certainly did.

In terms of health, the Lord-Captain has never been better; now accustomed to his new muscles, which have been evened out by judicious use of premier vat-grown muscle, his strength is rapidly approaching the realm of legend, putting him on a truly galactic stage; by contrast, the Lord-Captain's personal life is... not quite falling apart, as that implies there is something to be salvaged, but there is definitely something left to be desired. As fantastic company the command crew is, dating options are exceptionally thin on the ground, and being the last of his line in a profession which carries no small amount of personal risk makes for some tremendous dynastic pressure to produce an heir.

To this end, the Magos, working her own family's prominent connections, is playing Wingwoman, helping to arrange suitable suitors:

This is a quest not helped by the Lord-Captain's reputation as the "Mad Captain", so it's an uphill battle.

Sebastian, ever diligent, has ensured the day-to-day function of the dynasty, and in his spare time, focused his Verloren-based efforts inwards. Thanks to him, what areas of Verloren are civilized are heavily bugged and monitored, generating a steady stream of intel for a man with his thumb gently-but-firmly on the pulse of a new settlement, and a new genatorium means power supplies going forward will be ample, and bountiful enough for something anti-orbital. In case of an emergency, of course.

In the Magos' spare time, when she hasn't been meddling in the Lord-Captain's love life, or performing any one of the countless surgeries on myself, she's been working on isolating the genetic sequence that has rendered our Lord-Captain so... vascular. She's succeeded, but the development process was a bit hit-and-miss, and initial experimentation has resulted in a small squad of Kevins who have set up a full gym in the prow, pumping iron 24/7 and spotting each other. 

Wash, having made an excellent name for himself during the Dread Pearl Incident, has also made leaps and bounds; his skill and reputation as a pilot has given him the pull to establish a team of crack interceptor pilots, forming the first Verloren air force. When he's not out-flying his trainees, he's beeb working on personal improvement; he's made excellent use of the Hohenheim Gym, and has seen similarly remarkable gains. He also made significant material gains; his latest acquisition has been a multi-melta, the logistics of which he's still figuring out how he'll commit to.

And then there's me -- by the Will of the Emperor, I survived our encounter with the Eldar on the Dread Pearl. While I certainly lost the battle, I have made a very strong argument that I won the overall war with the space elves; after all, I'm still here, I can stand under my own power, and I can boast about it. Meanwhile, brave sir Eldar bravely ran away, only escaping Wash's relentless pursuit thanks to his backup dancers.

Survival has come at a cost of some of what humanity I still possess -- once again at death's door, I've received extensive skin grafts, new skeletal prosthesii, and a lot of physiotherapy. But in the time where I wasn't in surgery or recuperating, I've been brushing up on some of the fundamentals; and in so doing, have sharpened my skills.

A rendition of the physiotherapy process, as provided by the Magos herself.

In anticipation of a full return to combat power, I've procured a twin-linked pump shotgun; sixteen shells, ten kilos, and enough firepower to eviscerate any xeno at close range, until I need to reload which will take me a good half minute. My diminished condition means that I cannot make proper use of it, but close proximity and the extra buckshot should make up the difference until I get my gunplay back together.

But in the meantime, we have business to attend to. As the ship's radio, I get a transmission; it's for me. An old friend wants to catch up, and he's calling in a debt owed. But I change it, and now it's a different message, for the Lord-Captain. A 44 Quintillion Throne, 298 year old debt at Space PF Changs'. All to get the ship to the planet where I need to have a chat with someone from my past, who dared to bring up old debts.

The faked message. The debt is accurately calculated, and even the Administratum would sit up and take notice of such a number. A debt this large could leverage anything.

It turns out to be my ex-CO, Lieutenant Nial of a mercenary outfit named the 13th Casque (formerly Sergeant in the 589th Scintillian Fusiliers, in which we served together), who has been caught up in the cold trade -- while running security for a client with a xenos dig site out in the expanse, he realized that the Inquisition might have the Casque's ships marked. He wants us to help transport artifacts out of a dig site, with the reward being the dig site.

I agree to convey the mission to the Lord-Captain, and warn Nial to keep his damn mouth shut. He agrees, and parts ways for now, awaiting my signal. I catch up with the crew, who have resolved the fictitious debt issue, and are seated at a table in PF Changs; the air is decidedly frosty, and I present him with the job -- we're going to the dig site to clean up evidence of the Casque's involvement, taking away the last shipment of artifacts which they cannot move themselves without being spotted, and cannot otherwise profitably dispose of them.

Out of character, it was noticed that the terms of the agreement which Nial provided, and the terms which I relayed to the Lord-Captain, are very much different, and will almost certainly cause strife. It was a genuine accident on my part, but one that I will not only commit to, but make full use of.

The Lord-Captain is displeased with my deception in bringing the whole crew to Malfi, and questions my loyalties, but grudgingly accepts that there might be profit in the matter, and so my execution is stayed, pending the results of the business venture.

He gives me a day to get my shit together, and after I pick up Nial, we head out. I put Nial in third-class. He sounds like he expected more from a former subordinate who owed him her life. I remind him that he's the one who's trying to dredge up my past. He's lucky he's not dead.

We spend 25 days in the warp; and 109 days in real-time. We arrive at the destination; it's not on any naval charts. They only knew it was there because an Admech beacon reactivated around 4 years ago. The Lord-Captain is still pissed with me, and pointedly waits for me to start calling the shots; with him disguised as a (very vascular) standard Kevin, a few regular Kevins, and Nial, we head down to the surface with the gun cutter.

We find the dig site with Nial's guidance; there's not much left, just a few miners left, Casques on sentry duty, and a few prefabs in the process of being dismantled. Here, Nial changes; he stands up straighter, and gets into his element as an officer; this is his turf.

There's more Casques here than I thought -- he didn't just rebuild the outfit, he's strengthened it. When the time inevitably comes for me to throw him under the bus, I'm going to need to put in some work to make sure he doesn't drag me with him.

Friday 10 July 2020

Rogue Trader, Season 3: You Can(not) Profit

"I need to tell you something. Please listen, and try *not* to panic. You've been recovering from the Dread Pearl incident for... quite some time. Yes, yes, I know -- you want to know how long. I'm afraid it's been... three years."

It's the Imperial year 40,296 -- three years after the Dread Pearl incident.

Lord-Captain van Hohenheim has returned, wealthier still, to Verloren. From here he has commanded people to manage the expansion of his colony world and most importantly his own personal estate on the planet's surface, Meridian Falls.

His research into the silver ship that took his family and his flagship continues, throwing up the occasional old voidfarer's tale about phantom vessels along the borders of the Calixis sector.

Being the last of his line has been on the Lord-Captain's mind lately, and he has taken steps to remedy this by making inquiries about potential bachelorettes in noble Calixis families. This has met with several complications - tales of the "Mad Captain van Hohenheim" are apparently rife within the Orders Famulous in charge of making these matches. Additionally, and much more disturbingly, the Magos has somehow caught wind of this and for what are surely her own abnormal reasons has embarked on her own endeavour to provide the Lord Captain with a suitable partner.

Winter York emerged from the Dread Pearl Affair in a sorry state - this is not particularly abnormal for her, but the unplanned and premature detonation of several grenades on her bandolier confined her bed and then wheelchair rest for the better part of 18 months.

Having lost her arm, leg, and most of her skin to the explosion, Winter has gently led through the rehabilitation process by the caring* touch of the Magos, who replaced the missing limbs with chromed, skeletal bionics, and the skin with vat-grown replacement tissue. Her time confined to the wheelchair has given her time to read, reflect, and develop her telepathy and telekinesis skills to new and even more dangerous heights.

"Why were we born? Just to suffer? Every night, I can feel my leg... And my arm, even my fingers... The dynamite body I've lost... The boobs I've lost... won't stop hurting... It's like they're all still there. You see it too, don't you? I'm going to make them give back my good looks!"

Season three is just beginning. The Emperor's favor will see us through these times of strife, and I'm running out of credit with the Big E.

Part I: Coming In From The Cold
Part II: The Ties That Bound Us
Part III: Proditum Memorae
Part IV: For Those Who Went Before
Part V: Reckoning

Saturday 10 August 2019

Inquisition Team 13: The Origin

The Inquisition of Karnath: In the years following the war, the power of the Inquisition was readily tapped with the power of Gold. The King has seen fit to change this, and the Inqusition is now short of reliable inquisitors.

Inquisitorial Team Thirteen is:

Cage - Tall, imposing, and denser than the dark alloy the warforged is made of. Has trouble opening doors unassisted. Best classified as a monk. Your narrator!
Lars Ceny - An elven rogue drawn to the Inquisition by the lure of mostly-legal gold.
Severn - A walking enigma of a wizard; arguably the most normal member of the team.

We are Karrnathian Inquisitors. Or so we'd like to say; we were actually just assistants to one. Unfortunately, we picked a bad time to be employed in the Karnathian Inquisition -- while bribery was rampant, we didn't get to taste any of it. However, being too new to possibly be worth bribing, we also escaped the mass purge that followed.

Lars Ceny, Cage and Severn -- a team now known as Group 13 -- were summoned by Superior Glockta. Glockta is a war veteran, who was a prisoner of war and looks it.

DM: "He walks with a limp."
Severn: "A limp what?"

We're tasked with investigating who or what has been killing the King's Men in the town of Bastion. We need to go out, find him, get a testimony and witness, and 
Bring it back to Glockta. Our contact is Brother Longstep.

We're given 20 G for expenses.

We travel out to Bastion at the break of dawn, and arrive around noon. After orientating ourselves, we start looking for Brother Longstep. We start with the inn. It's certified by the dragonmarked houses, so at least it's something. It's staffed by two halflings, Brian and his wife, who are happy to point us to Brother Longstep (In the "big house"), and rent us two inn rooms for 1 S each.

We knock on the door, and are greeted by the quietest, and slowest old man ever. He's glad to let us in and (eventually) introduce us to Longstep. We're introduced to a squat, fat halfling who is spittling fat and goose as he eats with one greasy hand, and dictates something to his assistant gnome.

He introduces himself. He offers a greasy handshake, which Lars gladly, and firmly, takes. Lars licks his hand afterwards, which elicits a reflexive heave from myself, despite not having a stomach. He wants to know who we are, exactly, and why we're here. We announce that we're the inquisition, and he's pleased we came so quick -- it's only been 3 days. We get his account of things -- peasants have been dying, and while one or two could simply be attributed to them forgetting they need to eat, three is too much, and four is absolutely unacceptable, it cuts into taxes too much.

Ella Gnomey, his aide, has more specific information, a list of who died, where they lived and their families, and more information. The victims were all found in the woods, which are known to be somewhat unsafe, given the lack of town guards, and they were otherwise perfectly healthy, if a little worse for wear due to being left outside. I acquire a copy of the list.

Some of the corpses have been taken to the nearby Garrison Ford for recycling in necromancy, but the others were too decayed to be of use and so were just buried.

We start with Karl. Outside his house, there is a pig. Lars thinks it bears a resemblance to an orc; if he is, he easily resists my questioning:

"Are you an orc?"

With inconclusive results, we add him to the list of suspects. If all else fails, we can nominate him as the culprit, only for him to fling himself into a fire on the way back.

We talk to Karl's family; he was a good lad, he ate his vegetables, did the fields. He was young and full of energy. He was likable, and could have had his pick of wives, but was waiting for The One. In short, he had no enemies; he simply walked out one night, and never came back. He begins to tear up, and I comfort him with a rythmic pat on the shoulder. Pat. Pat.

We head back to the inn for the night and grab drinks; another two silver for drinks. The innkeep asks after Longstep; we inform that he's probably not hungry. Brian remarks that nobody's seen Longstep for a while, but he has a juicy rumor for us -- after Longstep's wife died, he seems to have gotten a little woman-crazy, and was seen with a female wizard. Hot like a fireball with legs that went all the way up, here and gone two days later. Longstep didn't talk about it, and hasn't been seen much since. The innkeep loves his wife, but just between him and us, wouldn't mind getting that hot wizard's address. I promises to deliver if at all possible, and this earns me a drink on the house. Which I drink.

The inn begins to empty as people go to bed. We are now in "Prime Sneaking Hours", and Lars sneaks out to go loiter around Longstep's house. Aside from a desire to to break in, nothing of note, so we go to bed; I am sharing a room with Lars, but at Lars' insistence, have to stand in the corner and face the wall.

As I stand in my corner, I hear rattling and movement from Servern's room. I go to investigate, and tell him he should be sleeping. I find him at the window, with an incredibly attractive woman on the other side... the bat wings and horns on the succubus probably help her stay afloat outside our second-floor window. She sees me, and vanishes as I reach out a hand:

"Wait. I need to know your address."

The succubus wanted Servern to go outside. Probably a bad idea. I remind him to remain pure of thought.

The next morning, nobody has been succed. We need to find the Succubus' summoner; we contemplate luring the succubus with bait comprised of Lars and a copper dreadful or other erotic literature concocted by myself, to defeat it directly; but us attempting to fight the actual succubus head-on will go poorly, as we have no non-magical weapons.

Lars has a hunch -- Ella Gnomey might be our suspect. We go pay her another visit. The butler's showing us in, and Servern detects magic as we go; there is a *shitload* of magical items, including a painting, and a table with abjuration on it. Even the Butler is magical.

We get Ella alone, and inquire about Brother Longstride's new squeeze. That's a weird one; Longstride's ex-wife died a couple of months ago, a wizard named Jerad showed up, and after he left, the new girlfriend showed up. Coincidentally, the Butler, despite being old, is not old, but new -- he has only been here for a month or so.

We ask her to show us around the victims' houses. She loudly proclaims that she cannot, but she will show us on the map the best way to get to each of the houses. In the marks she leaves on the map, Lars realizes she's slipped us a message on our map: Check The Basement.

We head back to the inn and outline our theories: Ella is innocent, the magic she's surrounded by is natural to her dragon mark. But the butler... he's surrounded by a thick old illusion spell. He's either responsible, or knows something.

Night falls, and we set out to Longstride's mansion basement.

We descend, and find lights on in the basement. We all peek around the corner. There's a circle there, with a man split open in the middle; his guts are everywhere, but we sure as hell see that heart still pumping. He's not young, rather old; could be the "old" butler.

Whoever he is, we're pretty sure there's nobody home. His life sustains the magic circle; killing him will probably break the circle, and free the succubus to do whatever she pleases.

We're in agreement of ending the battery's life. I reveal my true function; a poisoner with a built-in poisoning kit, I puff poison over him to do the job, and Lars physically breaks the circle.

Almost instantly, we hear breaking glass above, and the sound of a fat halfling being succ'd to death. We sneak upstairs and take a peek. The succubus is hunched over Longstride and is literally sucking him dry. Her horns are definitely longer than when we last saw them, and Longstride is looking a little withered.

She finishes the job, rips his head off and not noticing us, jumps out the window. There is a potential problem in having a succubus on the loose in general, but she'll probably go home rather than hang around and terrorize the town. Either way, out of scope for our team, and so Not Our Problem.

We go find Ella Gnomey; she's curled up on her bed, stricken with terror, but we manage to convince her everything's okay. Turns out she didn't actually know much, just that she wasn't to go into the basement. This is fine -- according to paperwork we fill out, she is a credible witness who saw everything. We recommend that she continues to stay out, as well as out of the Lord's chambers, and hire a good cleaning team.

Severn and Lars also designate most of the magical items in the house for recovery; they need to be scanned for "Demonic taint".

Some days later, we're back at home, and we finish our report. We have Exceeded Expectations on this case, pleasing an unknown number of superiors, and our reward is a promotion; there is one Inquisitor position officially available, and if anyone asks, two of us are mere adepts, but we will be collectively appointed this position.

We are now collectively Inquisitor Thirteen. How unexpected.

Addendum: According to out-of-game knowledge, the succubus was indeed under specific orders; don't harm Longstride, and obey his every order. However, he had no malicious intent; he simply did not specify any orders regarding the citizenry, nor did he connect their deaths with his succubus, so she was free to feed on the men of the village at will. In short, a bunch of people died because a fat, thirsty thot of a halfling wanted a demon girlfriend.

Saturday 4 May 2019

Legend of the Five Rings, Episode 2

Legend of the Five Rings: Set in a location which is startingly similar to feudal Japan, a bunch of weebs play at samurai.

Legend of the Five Rings is bought to you by:

Ken - Mantis Clan face and master of words. A ladies man trying to save himself for one particular woman; the duality of man embodied.
Togashi Chiho - Dragon clan monk of the Togashi order; filled with Wisdom. Required to check her fists in as lethal weapons.
Mirumoto Same - Dragon clan duellist; according to him, the best in the land, the trouble is not killing everyone in his way. A distant relative of the Jade throne, and also your narrator!
Yogo Asuka - Scorpion Clan Shugenja.

Before we all arrived: Yogo Asuka of the Scorpion Clan was seconded to the Crab Shugenja, Suzune. The Crag Shugenja are uncommonly forthcoming with their mystic skills -- all the better to arm people with knowledge to fight yoma, we suppose.

She was witness to the arrival of the Mantis delegation and the Dragon delegation, and sized us up.

She's awoken in the early morning by Suzune; there's been an incident. The murder.

The Crane are flipping out, slinging accusations, and calling for the Mantis delegation to just commit seppuku (if those gaijin even know how)

Asuka calms them down, informing that it's unbecoming to sling accusations before any testimony is laid. They accept this chastisment gracefully.

Ken leans into Nogomi, reckons it's time to leave and do a headcount of the crew. Nozomi announces the Mantis to be blameless, and that they will retire.

As they're about to go, there are footsteps; Shingen and his yojimbo arrive, heavy of tread as they are large in stature. He's livid, and asks Ken if the Mantis did it, to which Ken (eventually) directly says no.

Shingen calls us all to the conference hall immediately.

We all traipse back into the dining room; no food this time, just business. It's 7am.

In short, it's not good for the Mantis clan so far; it all seems to be against them. Ken admits the blade used looks like a mantis blade, certainly.

Crane Daidoji's assistant, Doji, testifies -- in the early morning, two hours prior, he saw someone in Mantis robes vanish around a corner.

Ken challenges this; was he sure he saw someone in Mantis colors, at that hour of the morning?

I think about the murder scene; I was looking for blood splatter, but on second thought, there wasn't that much, and the whole scene was odd.

The aide explains it with his lantern, but Ken continues to cast doubt on it; he insults the aide, offering him spectacles. Everyone tries to conceal their humor.

I want to tell Ken that I believe he didn't kill Daidoji, but there was no need to prove it by killing a man right here and now.

For context, while Mantis and Dragon both wear green and yellow / gold, Mantis is primarily green with gold trim, and Dragon is primarily yellow with green trim.

The aide continues to be insulted, and demands a duel to satisfy his honor. Asuka tries to calm him down, but to no avail.

Ken lacks a daisho, but accepts anyway, opting to duel with just a wakizashi.

The Cranes ask Crab Shingen permission to use the courtyard for the duel, and he agrees; we all traipse back out.

I comment that Daidoji's not even cold yet, and here we are, spilling even more blood. It's too early for this shit.

Asuka slips away with Shizune to go examine Daidoji's corpse.

Meanwhile, everyone's prepping for the duel.

Kakita moves first with a lightning fast strike; Ken's almost caught by it, and drops his wakizashi, only to pull a flaming katana out of thin air and slashes at Kakita with it.

The Mantis delegation's seen this party trick before, but everyone else sure hasn't.

Unfortunately, the stress of summoning it has left Ken off-balance, and Kakita has his opening. He darts past Ken, and whirls; a thin slice glides up across Ken's chest.

A single drop of Ken's blood pools at the tip of Kakita's blade and falls to the ground; he is the winner.

I begrudgingly applaud his victory. Show-off.

At the murder scene, Shizune breaks taboos and rolls Daidoji's corpse over; there's an amateurish cut on the neck, likely the cause of the bleeding... and the wound on the back hardly bled at all. Odds are good the knife was planted post-mortem.

Also, the blood's super dry -- certainly not just two hours old, probably from after dinner the night before. So there's definitely a setup somewhere.

They go find the guard on duty at the gate last night, and Asuka inquires as to who he might have seen last night.

The guard obviously saw Daidoji and Doji come in. A few aides, but otherwise nobody of note.

There is the servant's door, but... only servants would use it!

Asuka sees fit to question the servants; with some difficulty, between all the kowtowing, but they claim they've not seen anyone, at least. Nor did they hear any signs of a struggle.

After the duel, an apology has been meted out. Ken asks if I'd have won the duel; I declare that I would have. But on a related note, is the Mantis clan missing anyone?

Ken confirms that they are indeed missing one man -- he is not a dishonorable assassin, however. I counter -- he may have been mugged for his clothes and weapon, and framed.

Shingen calls us back to the conference hall, but I'd really rather not. I ask my lord for leave to go investigate the missing Mantis Man.

In the hall, Shizune and Asuka report their findings. This clears anyone who has external witnesses after dinner, which would be Ken, Chiho and I.

Unfortunately, the same is not the same of anyone else in the Mantis clan. Ken is to return to their lodgings with the rest of them, and report to the hall again in half an hour to team up with us.

The Mantis clan returns to their lodgings, and find a very sheepish Daigo wearing a kimono that's clearly not his. He can explain everything. His room was ransacked, his robes and knife were stolen.

Ken asks what exactly he was doing last night. Or rather, who. Daigo whispers his answer.

Yasuke Shingen's daughter.

He regroups, and gives us the short version -- the missing man has been found, and definitely didn't commit the murder, although his things were stolen.

Asuka wants to question Kakita. I hail a nearby servant, and ask him where "the effeminate man with a sword" is. Kakita was walking out of the castle a few minutes ago, so we go track down Kakita -- Kakita Isamu.

We question his whereabouts; he didn't see or do much, simply noted that a missive had been delivered to Daidoji prior, and he retired to his room next to Daidoji's. He's not a deep sleeper, and a warrior to boot; I'd expect that even here in Rokugan, a fight on the other side of the wall would be noted. So there definitely wasn't a fight.

Asuka and Kakita speculate as to the content of the missive; matters of commerce, he didn't really note it.

Anyway, the list of suspects is getting narrower; someone whom Daidoji was familiar with, and so didn't struggle against them. Sounds like Doji to me, but character testimony says he's 100% loyal, so we need a bit more than a wild guess.

I vote to search Doji's room. It's not exactly honorable, but to borrow more wisdom from Togashi-Dono: "If a Bear shits in the woods, and nobody is around to see it, did it happen?"

Doji's room is on the other side of Daidoji's room, and we head there.

I knock gently on the wooden frame of the door. "Excuse me, housekeeping des~"

There's no response, so we head on in.

Asuka searches for secret compartments; she doesn't find any, but she does find a bloodstain by the futon. We look at it further, and find the pillow is thicker than usual -- it contains a bloodstained green-and-gold robe!

We convene and sort out the chain of events. After the show at dinner, Daidoji returned to his room to prepare a letter. But Doji saw that, and felt that the Crane shouldn't compromise; so he left, and stole from poor Mantis Daigo to acquire a mantis robe and knife; he approached Daidoji, and killed him with a cut to the neck. The murder committed, he planted the knife, and stowed the robes in his own room for future use to park the bus.

It's unlikely he was set up -- whoever hid the robe did so in his pillow, but if Doji ever went to sleep, he'd notice it immediately.

We take the evidence to Shingen; everyone else lays out the story, with Shizune backing them up; meanwhile, I fetch Doji, on the pretense that we need him to visually identify the culprit. I bring him to the room, accompanied by Kakita, and show him a mirror with the bloodied green and gold robe. He demands to know the meaning of this.

Shingen informs him that the truth is out -- he should confess. But he continues to deny it, demanding to leave. I ask permission to cut him down if he runs, and am granted it.

We further pressure him to confess, but he resists. Ken-san needles him, and he breaks down -- "I WOULD HAVE GOTTEN AWAY WITH IT IF YOU HADN'T FOUND-"

Kakita can't believe what he's hearing. Shingen tells the Crane to get out by sundown, and stay gone. Doji tries to run, and I let him... but Kakita doesn't, and takes his head.

Kakita falls to his knees, and begs forgiveness and permission to kill himself. Shingen denies his request and tells him to get the fuck out.

At dinner, we celebrate the new trade deal. Our lords get sealed letters during dinner; they all look at us and tuck the folded letters away. Mysterious.

After dinner, our respective lords inform us that we've been summoned; we're lead to a shrine. Only we are to continue; our lords remain at the threshold.

We advance further; in the main building is a lantern, and we see the silhouette of someone reclining.

Our guide, Miho, carefully slides the door open. Inside, garbed in huge, sumptuous and lavish robes, embroidered with Chrysanthemums and bamboo shoots... one of the three royal families, the Seppun! I hit the deck, as does Togashi. Asuka's still figuring it out, and I pull Ken down quickly.

She bids us to rise, addressing me as "Cousin".

"I am Seppun Yumiko. And I have a job for you."