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.