"Every crewmember examined, every cranny searched, every nook turned upside down, and not one whiff of heresy. It appears to me, My Lords, that you stumbled upon a lone rogue heretek and rid the Universe and my ship of his foul existence."

Trader Lan pauses, sips from his goblet. The emeralds around its rim glitter in the light of Aurum's sun that streams through the armorcrys window. The sun is a pale yellow, a sliver of it visible past Aurum's slow occultation. Cloudlets swirl in the planet's sky, their dark hue indicating one of the infrequent rain showers is falling on the plains. On the edge of the storm, a sullen ember burn marks the the area the Mechanicus explorators have marked down as volcanic.

Not four hours ago, the Horizon's Pride left the Immaterium, returning to the solid comfort of real space in orbit around Aurum. While the crew scurries about the lower decks preparing a lander to convey the kill-team to the surface, Lan invited the Astartes to a final meal. Much to the pleasure of Eldgrim, Lan appears not to have succumbed to the pretension of dainty dining, piling his table with succulent roast grox and exotic game birds from a dozen worlds, and spirits of every color and strength to wash it down.

"For your service in this, My Lords, I'll be forever grateful. And when I am gone, my heirs will carry on that gratitude. But I confess, this cold trail fills me with trepidation. It almost seems that there should be something more to it. Attempting to sabotage this mission to Aurum seems beyond the designs of a lone madman. . .

Lan sighs. "I suppose the Ordo Hereticus Inquisitor will get to the bottom of it," he says. "I had the astropath send a request for one as soon as we broke into real space. Still, it is troubling." He shakes his head. "But enough of that. Soon the bold Astartes will descend on Aurum and do what I and dozens of others could not: bring those bloody natives to heel." He raises his goblet in salute. "To you all, My Lords. May the Emperor watch over you."

Being no stranger to celebratory banquets, Camael is perfectly at ease with the surroundings - and Captain Lan's gratitude. The Blood Drinker raises his goblet with a graceful hand to acknowledge the toast.

"The Emperor protects."

A vox summons breaks through the clatter of utensils and the clink of glasses. The landing shuttle awaits the kill-team in the bay. After gathering their battle-gear and making any personal preparations they deem necessary, the battle-brothers descend by lift into the wide docking bay. Brigadier Heth stands at the foot of the lander's ramp, his battered duffel thrown over his shoulder, wearing a Cadian trooper's garb and a wide grin on his face.

"Well, my Lords. Here we are. It'll be good to have a proper posting once again."

Minutes later, kill-team strapped in and buttoned down, the lander plunges down through Aurum's atmosphere. Golden clouds whip past the viewports, shot with flaming threads by the craft's reentry. The cloud cover breaks abruptly, and as the shuttle banks the ground looms into view. The distant surface resolves into plateaus and mesas, deep canyons gouged into the surface like wounds from a chain axe. Green carpets all but for the tops of the highest mesas and mountains, where the air is too thin.

Descending further, you see the stone spires of Haistand, the planetary capital. The city is hewn into a cliffside, a stone ramp zig-zagging from its gate down to a clear cut circle of brown, the primitive landing pad the only apparent Imperial influence on this world.

Your craft comes to a jarring stop, the pilot apparently late in applying his retrothrusters. Air seals pop and hiss as the lander equalizes pressure with the outside. An earthy odor fills the cabin as planetary atmosphere mixes with the canned and recycled air of the ship. Acute Astartes senses dissect and analyze a myriad of scents--the prickle of pollen from blooming flowers, the cool odors of flourishing greenery. The smells of life. And death too--iron tang of blood from some predator's kill out in the jungle. Fetid rot of wet leaves and stagnant pools of water.

Outside, Haistand looms like a cathedral. A steady trickle of natives wind their ways up and down the path to the city, some of them leading teams of strange reptilian beasts of burden.

Brigadier Heth whistles at the sight. "Long way up. The Guard post is in the second tier of the city, I'm told. Caele Darkscourge dwells in that tower there," he points out a narrow stone monolith, jutting above its neighbors and capped with an ornate spire.

"Shall we be off, my Lords?"

"I suppose some things about humanity never change," Eldgrim said as the Brigadier pointed out the tower, "the one in charge gets the biggest house." He quickly checked that his gear was all settled and that he hadn't left anything behind. Thankfully, the horn of Fenrisian ale he'd brought was still securely strapped to his belt.

"Well, we don't want to keep them waiting, do we?" he said.

The snaking ascent to the city is steep, but the kill-team has no trouble. Heth too seems up to the task, in spite of his age. The battle-brothers need only shorten their strides a bit for him to keep up. Many of the natives stand aside for the Marines, staring in curiosity. None of them show fear. Indeed, they appear to regard the Astartes as equals, holding their heads high. There is none of the shrinking awe so common among Imperial citizens. A few of the men nearly stand of a height with the battle-brothers. Nearly all the natives, even the women, carry weapons, swords of bone and bows of antler and sinew.

Inside the walls, the foot traffic thickens. The roadway widens into an open market, filled with merchants shouting above the din of dozens of people. A brown haired man standing on a crate above the crowd cups his hands and shouts something at the Astartes. He weaves through the press, nearly toppling a teetering pile of pottery.

"Ah, this I have heard of," he says, his Low Gothic thickly accented but understandable. "Thinstone armor! Yes! For what do you want? Forty head of argrax Beyrr has. All yours for thinstone armor, yes?" He bobs and weaves excitedly, nodding eagerly at the Space Marines.

Camael keeps his helmet off as he moves among the population, gazing around with polite curiosity. He takes particular note of the physical gifts of the locals.

"There can be little doubt that this would make a fine recruiting world."

So absorbed is he in the business of his observation that the Blood Drinker fails to notice the merchant until he is upon them. He cannot help but frown.

"Our armour? No. Most assuredly no, good sir. This armour is more than ceramite and metal, it the soul of an Astartes and his most prized possession. We will not sell it for any price." With a glance at the Brigadier, Camael continues. "Perhaps we should get this man in touch with the rogue trader, Brigadier Hesh? Surely he has carapace armour for trade."

Eldgrim was taken by surprise by the merchant, but quickly recovered and nodded at Camael's reply.

"Sorry lad, I can understand why you'd want our armour, but asking us to sell it is like asking us to sell our sword-arms." Eldgrim explained with a smile.

Beyrr, the merchant, grins, a knowing glint in his eye. "Ah, yes. For my paltry offer I am sorry. Forty argrax are far too few for magnificent armor. Other wonders I have--spices from the Fragrant Plain. For one pinch you may have a house in the shadow of the Caele's tower! For your fine ladies back home, necklaces of diablodon scales! Or. . .no, wait!" A brief frown flickers over his perpetually cheerful expression. "For mighty Astartes warriors, I have something special."

He retrieves a small cloth bundle from his belt. Unrolling it, he reveals a pair of bleached bone daggers, six inches long and slightly curved. Their grips are wrapped in some dried scaly material, and the pommels have been carved into the likeness of snarling Aurun predators.

"In all Aurum there are no weapons like this," he says, beaming with pride. "A fair trade for armor, yes?"

Artemis's face flinched when seeing the daggers. A painful memory, of a bloody chapel, and the death of many of his sworn imperial fist brothers, all mortally wounded, moaning in pain. Luckily the emotion did not show through as it was hidden under his helmet. The blades did not look like it was made with simple bone, or stone or metal...but looks uncannily familiar.

He turned to his brothers, and realized that Androcles also recognized something wrong with the weapons. Quietly through the Astartes vox channels to prevent the merchant or Brigadier Heth to notice his suspicions, he told his kill-team I may be mistaken, but those blades look like they was carved from the talons of a tyranid creature.

The apothecary turned back to the merchant, and asked in predatory tone,
As my brothers have mentioned, our "thin-stone" armor is not for trade. However , those do seem to be exceptional looking daggers. How have you come upon these daggers Beyrr? Did you see the beast which which this was made from?

"Ah, the white helmed one is wise, like white haired elders." Beyrr smiles. "For these I traded two suits of fine scale armor. Foolish, you might say! But these can cut through anything, even great Diablodon's scales. I have not seen the beast, but that is no strange thing. Many beasts live out in the jungles which no man has ever seen."

Still smiling, he shakes his head. "For a merchant sources are sacred! I cannot reveal with whom I traded for these!"


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