Mission Briefing

 
Mission Briefing

Watch Captain Erik Bloodaxe stands as the Kill-team enters. He greets each member with a nod as you come through the doorway and spread through what little space there is. With half the room taken up by Bloodaxe's sleeping slab and desk, it's a tight fit for five battle-brothers.

When the last member squeezes in, Bloodaxe punches a control rune inlaid in his desk and the door slides shut.

"I do not doubt that by now, you have all heard the Rogue Trader Diaz Lan is here at Erioch once again. And no doubt you shall be as disappointed and wounded as I to learn that Lan did not come simply to seek out the pleasure of our company, excellent though it may be. It seems the Achilus Crusade has need of our particular talents." He leans forward, bracing himself against the desk, which creaks beneath his bulk. Even without his armor, even by Astartes standards, Bloodaxe is a big man. In his younger days, he was notorious for taking on the more vicious specimens of Fenrisian fauna unarmed and unarmored. The deep scars across his face might be evidence of this, but just as easily they may come from any of the numerous battles he's fought in his time.

As Bloodaxe fiddles with some controls, the lights dim to a dull glow and a panel at the desk's center slides back to reveal a hololith. A wavering image appears, dancing like a candle flame. With a curse, Bloodaxe pounds his fist against the desk until the image stabilizes, resolving into a slowly rotating globe. It shines a soft gold, caramel inlaid with sugar fleck cloudlets, deep blue marking the polar seas.

"Aurum. The Crusade has had its eyes on this world for decades. More to the point, its extensive promethium fields and decavane crystal deposits. But the natives are too proud and too independent to simply consent to integration into the Imperium. It has only been recently that the ferals have allowed Imperial servants permanent status on the planet, and even now the Missionaries and the token squad of Guardsmen are confined to the capital city."

He leans back, crosses his arms across his chest. The suffuse glow from the hololith turns the red of his beard a sickly orange.

"It is a strangely. . .robust world. All the men are strapping and the lasses buxom, that sort of thing. Good warrior people. They have to be, to deal with the predators they share the place with. Aurum is no Catachan, but it has its dangers. Which brings us to your mission. . ."

Aurum winks out, replaced a moment later by a grisly scene. Stretched out across the ground, a human skeleton, picked clean except for a few scraps hanging from the bone like loose threads from an old shirt.

"There has been a rash of deaths these past few months, or Aurans and of our people. The Aurans blame it on the predators, but as fierce as they are, no beasts native to the world are known to be this vicious." The image morphs into a similar grisly tableau, though in this one you the shredded robes of a Ministorum lay servant are clearly recognizable.

"The Aurans are dismissive of it all; likely they thing one is not worthy of living if one cannot watch one's step. And I am inclined to agree with them on that. But this latest death is different."

The image advances once again, this time to the head of a young woman, her hair cropped close in a vaguely martial style.

"Sister Rachayel, of the Adepta Sororitas. She was assigned to watch over the missionary priests. And a few weeks ago she was found dead. An apparent suicide." Bloodaxe presses a rune and the hololith shuts off, retreats back into the desk. The lights come back to full illumination.

"The alleged suicide of a Sister is not to be taken lightly. If it is true, whatever could drive such a devoted servant of the Emperor to such a rash act must be dangerous indeed. And if not, there is something more sinister afoot. Lan and his Crusade handlers believe that there is a xenos threat behind these killings. We agree. Your task is to find it and purge it before it can do any more harm. Beyond that, you must do everything you can to convince the Aurans to join the Imperium. They are a warrior people, so appeal to that. I am told they place great stock in ritual combat, so crack a few skulls if you really have to. Just get them to bend the knee and say the Imperial Creed."

He sweeps his gaze over the Kill-team. "Lan has more to brief you on before you go. He's waiting for you in the observation deck of live fire range alpha. So, unless you have questions of me, brothers, look to your battle-gear and say your prayers." He looks at each of the Kill-team in turn, ready to answer any questions they might have.

Brother Camael folds his arms halfway into the briefing, but says nothing. A Blood Drinker - one of the more obscure Chapters that derive their gene-seed from the line of Sanguinius - Camael's pale skin and black hair make him easy to pick out of any crowd. His features are beatific and serene, belying his reputation for unrestrained ferocity.

When Captain Bloodaxe has finished, Camael clears his throat and raises his voice. It is smooth and deep, tightly controlled.

"I have no questions, Brother-Captain. Purge the alien, convert the ferals. A straightforward mission."

Brother Artemis Marr ruefully looks up from the hololith and stares at the Blood Drinker. While Cameal's skin was pale , Artemis's brown tanned skin glowed yellow in the dim light of the desk. He's a rash one thought Artemis. He have seen many a young marine die from too much pride. Artemis sighed. Since Artemis had never encountered a Blood Drinker before arriving to the Death Watch, he decided not to give voice to his thoughts just yet, and would rather give Brother Camael the benefit of the doubt, at least for now.

Captain Bloodaxe, what makes this Rouge Trader Lans, and his handlers believe that the alleged suicide of the young lady from the Adepta Sororitas had anything to do with the other deaths? Were the other deaths considered suicides as well? Also, why would the crusaders believe it was a Xenos incursion when the locals believe it is an indigenous predator? , Artemis finally asked in a somber deep bass voice.

"Hah, you're certainly tempting fate there, Brother," Eldgrim said to Camael, his wild mane of long, dark hair moving slightly as he shook his head, "if history has taught us anything, it is that the missions that sound straight-forward are most certainly not." Next to the Blood Drinker, Eldgrim looked nearly feral, but like all of his Chapter took pride in that appearance. A few braids in the more unruly parts of his hair to keep it out of his ice-blue eyes were the only sign of practicality to it while his beard was kept short (though he'd made a personal promise to just let it grow once it started to go grey) to avoid getting in the way of his helmet's environmental seals.

His armour was likewise tribal in appearance, festooned with the various personal touches those of his Chapter make - a simple bracelet of Fenrisian wolf's teeth around his right wrist, a necklace of ork teeth and part of a genestealer's claw, and the pelt of a Fenrisian wolf draped over his armour's power pack like a cloak (apart from one small gap over the pack's cooling vents at the Iron Priest's insistence).

Brother-Sergeant Androcles

Where Camael was fair and Eldgrim was dark and wild, Androcles was an opposite to both. He was both tan and blonde, with hair cut short and as manageable as possible and a face so clean-shaven it looked laser assisted. He was handsome for a space marine, with a strong jaw, high cheekbones and intense blue eyes. His countenance was marred only by the pair of silver service studs punched into his skull above his right eyebrow. Unlike the Space Wolf next to him, Androcles wore only a simple blue robe with the inverted Omega symbol of the Ultramarines on the front that fell to his feet but left his arms bare, knotted at the waist with a gold rope. He had finished his bolter rituals and armor maintenance earlier and had left his equipment in its honored shrine in the barracks. The only piece of equipment he carried with him constantly was his chainsword, to symbolize being ever-vigilant even in their headquarters -- always ready for war.

"The Sisters are not prone to suicide. I doubt anything short of the word of the Emperor himself commanding it to be so would make them. They wish to die in His service, as we do. Our lives our not ours to take." he said adamantly. "The Rogue Trader is wise to suspect foul play, though we can't be sure of many of the details until we examine the planet for ourselves. A straight-forward mission or not, I find myself sharing Brother Camael's eagerness to begin."

Bloodaxe nods at Androcles, then turns to face Marr. "Brother Androcles has the right of it. Sisters are not ones to take their own lives lightly. The unwillingness of the natives to investigate these deaths has led Lan to believe they are concealing something. We suspect that she stumbled upon whatever that was, and paid for it with her life. . .or worse, was compelled to take her own."

He grows uncharacteristically somber. "As for why we suspect xenos rather than a native beast, even the local apex predator, the diablodon, does not flay its victims down to the bone. The predators here are vicious but not that calculating. One would expect to see bones cracked to splinters, marrow sucked dry. Further, the local Ministorum priest has given his utmost assurance that the Ruinous Powers have not corrupted any of the Aurans. We are inclined to agree on that; the Aurans did not fall to Chaos during their long isolation from His Holy Majesty's light, there is little chance of that occurring now under the watchful eye of the Ministorum.

"As for what is lurking there. . ."
Bloodaxe shrugs ". . .we cannot be certain. Orks, possibly. This kind of subtle attack is beyond most of the them, but some clans have a penchant for guile. Dark Eldar engaging in one of their depraved pain rituals, maybe. We cannot be certain on the threat's exact nature. As Brother Camael says, purge the alien. But you must find the scum first, whatever it is."

Hearing nothing more from the Kill-team, Bloodaxe grunts with satisfaction. "Very well, then. See to your equipment. I have sent word to
Deathwatch Forge Master
Mac Zi; he shall give you whatever you need. . .within 'reason'."
He grumbles about other Watch Captains monopolizing the requisitions, but quickly rights himself. "But I have every confidence your skill shall be sufficient to see this through. Good luck, Brothers. Dismissed."

As you take your, you hear Bloodaxe cursing the machine spirit of some errant device, threatening to smash it to bits for noncompliance. The door slamming shut cuts him off mid rant.

***

Air seals hiss as the door to training range alpha pops open. A gust of frigid scrabbles out the half open, setting the torches lining the hall dancing. You must step carefully across the metal platform, as the grating is thick with ice.

The door seals shut automatically. Down below, ghost outlines of power armor flit through the thick snow. A chatter of distant bolter fire and muted muzzle flashes tell of a sporadic gunfight somewhere beyond vision.

Diaz Lan stands at the platform's edge, huddled in a thick cloak that nearly swallows his slight frame. He turns, tossing a few ice crystals from his silvery hair. He inclines his head and bends ever so slightly at the waist.

"My Lords. Thank you for seeing me." He straightens, looking each of you straight in the eye. Lan has dealt with Astartes before, and if he is at all intimidated or awed, he hides it well. "I'd offer you a seat or a draft of amasec but I'm a bit short staffed, at the moment," he says, shivering and pulling the cloak tighter. "Not to question your hospitality, of course."

He begins to pace, probably more for the added warmth than out of agitation. "I trust Watch Captain Bloodaxe has already informed you of the Crusade's need? Unless you have further questions, we had best get underway."

Brother Camael spends several minutes in the armory, considering his options. This is the only time that the Blood Drinker ever takes to consider the future, and he is sure that if his Chapter brothers were to catch sight of him weighing the benefits of a hand flamer over a bolt pistol, they would scold him mercilessly. With a sigh, he opts against the flamer and takes a few clips of high-penetration rounds on his way out.

His helmet tucked safely under one arm, Camael raises his free hand to greet the rogue trader. Small niceties that were often overlooked by other chapters were considered good manners by the sons of Sanguinius. He smiles at the man, instantly approving of his directness. "Emperor keep you, Trader Lan. No questions. I see no need to keep you standing here in the cold longer than is necessary."

Brother-Sergeant Androcles

Back in the communal barracks, a row of small alcoves held each battle brother's armor when it was not in use. Androcles had stood before one of these alcoves with a small pack of tech adepts flitting about him like a swarm of honey bees. They intoned the appropriate hymns and litanies of activation and protection as Androcles looked upon the double-headed eagle that dominated the space above his armor rack and repeated his oaths of service and fealty to the Emperor and the Primarch. The adepts fitted his armor to the black carapace piece by piece, starting with his boots and working upward, breaking the droning words of the litanies every so often with the whine of a power tool. The armor was Mk. 8, given to him from the armories of Macragge, painted over black in the Deathwatch livery with one arm glowing silver and the pauldron on the opposite side bright with his blue, Ultramarines chapter markings. Affixed to that side with dark red wax was a fluttering purity seal scroll written with the Litany of War.

"My name is Androcles. I am a space marine of the Ultramarines chapter, the chapter of Guilliman. I honor the Emperor and the Primarch. I trust in my brothers, who march beside me. I trust in the armor of my forebrothers, whose spirits give my ceramite resilience. I trust in my bolter and chainsword, with which I will bring swift death to the enemies of Mankind. I trust in the Codex, from which victory flows." he proclaimed as the worker bees finished.

Androcles lifted his arm and looked at his armor-encased fingers, opening and closing his hand. He rotated his shoulder joints, making sure that everything was proper and he had full range of motion before nodding his assent for the tech adepts to go about their business elsewhere. Then he joined the rest of the Kill Team in the armory, holding his helmet under one arm. In the Ultramarines, one was assigned battle gear as soon as one became a space marine. They were stamped with your seal and you were expected to carry them, look after them, and die with them in your hands. When he was seconded to the Deathwatch, Androcles had to leave his weapons behind as technically they belonged to the chapter and not him. He was assigned new weaponry from the Deathwatch armories as soon as he had arrived, and he had spent precious time making them extensions of his own arms. The chainsword he was allowed to carry outside of the armory, but the rest of his weapons he had to requisition from the master of the forge before each mission.

Firstly, Androcles reclaimed his bolter and bolt pistol. The bolter was modified with a preysense sight, allowing him to track even the most treacherous and slippery of the Emperor's enemies in pitch dark. It also had a mono-edged bayonet attached to the underside of the barrel, for he had found it useful to have a close-combat weapon ready in the case of a charge, when perhaps he didn't always have enough time to reach for his chainsword. Along with the weapons were several clips of various specialized ammunition so that he would be ready for any eventuality. Next, he requisitioned a flamer as a backup weapon and slung it around his shoulders with a heavy, leather strap. So often the enemies of Man were legion, so the cleansing flames of the weapon were useful in finding and purging all of them. Finally, he received the standard issue grenade dispensers and equipment, which he secured at his belt.

Fully equipped, Brother Androcles joined the rest of his brothers and the Rogue Trader at the firing range. Diaz Lan looked uncomfortable in the cold, but in his armor Androcles barely registered the temperature. "Diaz Lan, I am Brother Androcles. This is Brother Camael, Brother Eldgrim, and Brother-Apothecary Artemis. We will no doubt have questions as to the specifics of the operation, especially about the circumstances of Sister Rachayel's death, but I believe there will be plenty of time for that once we're underway. The Watch Captain has briefed us on the parameters of the mission already." he explained quickly. He knew that Brother Artemis would want to question the Rogue Trader at length, but the more time they spent in the Watch Station the more time the xenos on Aurum had to conceal their presence and pursue their plans. With the intricacies and unexpectedness of Warp travel, who knew how long it was going to take them to finally get there, even in the Rogue Trader's no doubt ancient and revered vessel.

"Indeed." As Lan moves to vacate the platform, detonating melta charges rattle the range and fill it with a near blinding light. Lan turns to see the drilling Kill-team, momentarily visible from the deadly illumination, blasting away at an indistinct foe. Lan watches them until the residual glow fades and they once again disappear behind a howling wall of artificial snow.

"Let's be off, then."

Lan leads the way. His familiarity with the twisting corridor's of Erioch is no surprise, as he makes frequent visits in his role as Deathwatch liaison for the Achilus Crusade. The Kill-team's armored soles ring against the stones like tolling bells, echoing down the torchlit halls. As you pass one of the many chapels and votive niches, you see Battle Brother Richter, a fellow recent arrival to the Deathwatch, knelt in prayer to one of the saints.

At length, you enter a wide docking vestibule. Through the armorcrys panels lining the wall, you can see Lan's ship, the Horizon's Pride. An ancient and storied craft, by Lan family tradition its battle scars are covered by copper laurels; after centuries of combat, the trophy vines cover almost every surface of the hull, like a creeping growth of Catachan strangler vines.

A contingent of the ship's crew waits at parade rest, looking like a well drilled Imperial Navy contingent. The air is thick with incense from the small squad of Techmarines, diligently performing the rituals that will allow the docking arm to properly disengage once the Kill-team has boarded.

Lan shouts orders at the crew, who scurry to obey, then leads the Kill-Team onboard.

The interior is just as opulent as the outside. Your eyes cannot find a centimeter of surface that is not encrusted with gems or gilded.

Lan leads you through the ship, high passages teeming with crew and some rather shabby looking servitors. You pass one that walks with a halting gait, its footsteps leaving a trail of black lubricant on the plush carpet, much to Lan's chagrin.

"I'm afraid we lost one of our enginseers recently," Lan says, as the servitor jerks and stumbles by. "The rest are hard pressed enough to keep the ship's machine spirits appeased, let alone take care of the servitors." He sighs, is about to say something else when a muted rumble comes up through the floor.

"We're away. We'll burn out to a proper point and then it's into the Warp for a month. I've appointed a stateroom for each of your comfort during the voyage," Lan says. "I keep them for Administratum functionaries and the like. Quite well furnished., though I understand many Space Marines prefer more austere quarters. Unfortunately the crew barracks are full, but if you wish it I could arrange billets in some of the brig cells. They are quite comfortable, as prison cells go, and mercifully empty at the moment. We'll even keep them unlocked." Lan smiles softly, to be sure the Battle-Brothers don't take him serious.

Suddenly he cocks his head, pressing a hand to his ear, no doubt to a hidden com bead. "I'm afraid I'm needed on the bridge. You have free passage of the ship, my Lords. If you require anything, vox one of my crew or myself. The quarters I arranged are this way," he points down the corridor, "or the brig, if you prefer it, is down one level." To illustrate the point, he presses the emerald eye of a statue and a door slides open, revealing a utilitarian steel staircase at odds with the other surroundings.

"Again, I thank you, my Lords. And the Crusade thanks you." He turns, a swirl of cloak, and marches down the corridor, leaving the Kill-team to their own devices.




 

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