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:
Comms specialist Adrick
Kurtis (demolitions) and Nicolai (heavy weapons)
Reaver and Kelsig
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.