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Planetfall

 
Camael barely glances at the proffered weapons; he has no interest in the artifacts of a feral world. Having said his piece, the red-shouldered marine turns from the merchant and takes several long strides along his previous path - only stopping once he realizes that the apothecary is still engaging with the civilian.

Brother Androcles

"Well, brothers, I believe we have found our first clue..." Androcles vocalized over the comm frequency only before removing his helmet as well. He had liked the stout, strong stock of the Aurans and actually approved of their reception. Too many times had he been bowed and scraped to. To be responded to with almost what seemed like a challenge, to have to prove to these natives the worth of a space marine, was actually fairly refreshing for him. He had glanced across every face briefly as they climbed toward the top of the mountain, but the merchant's wares had then distracted him. His eyes narrowed and he examined the daggers from where he stood, loathe to touch them, but recognizing them for what they were.

"These are foul things you sell, merchant. Evil, corrupted products of an inhuman xenos race. Worked with skill by your craftsmen though they are, I would suggest pitching them into the nearest pool of prometheum and being rid of their taint." Androcles said, controlling the disgust in his voice to a bare minimum and instead coming across as sincere. "Heed my warning." he finished with a nod and then began walking ahead to join the others.

"Before you do, though," Eldgrim said, having an idea, "Could I just examine one of those up-close for a second?" He had almost forgotten about the necklace he wore and how, among the wolves' teeth he had strung on it, there was also part of a genestealer's claw. He figured it'd be worthwhile to compare the two and see if they were from the same kind of creature.

Beyrr raised an eyebrow, puzzled by Androcles' insistence, but soon enough the smile returned. "Of course, of course!" He holds up one of the daggers for Eldgrim's inspection, slowly turning it. The fragment on Eldgrim's necklace is of the same chitinous material. The specimens appear similar, both from the crushing pincers of a purestrain genestealer. Given the primitive nature of their weaponry and armor, that Auran warriors were able to kill such a terror and claim its claws as weapons speaks much of their valor and skill.

"I have two more, if that will make for a fair trade," Beyrr says. "They are fine weapons, yes? The Caele himself will do you honor when he sees you bearing these!"

Artemis had nothing of value he could part with, but looked at the blades. While he had a similar revulsion against the blades as Androcles, a detailed analysis of the blades can be useful in determining if genestealers did arrive on Aurum. Perhaps the blades were smuggled in from the other travelers to the planets, such as from Lan's previous visits. Perhaps with a proper analysis, an effective toxin can be generated if such a foe does exist in the jungles of Aurum. The Imperial Fist stared at the crude carvings on the pomels of the blades. An idea struck him.


Pulling out from a pouch, Artemis pulled out a finger bone of Brother Issiac, a fallen comrade in the Imperial Fists, and shown it to the merchant. The half completed Ossific relic was covered with several impossibly tiny inscriptions, with the details of the the deeds Issiac accomplished before dying by the hand of Tyranids. I notice that these blades are only slightly adorned. Perhaps, if on it was inscribed with inscriptions of valor to the emperor, the blade's value could be increased. I have nothing i wish to part with, but if you give you a week or two i can inscribe on one of the blades..."enchantments". Perhaps that could be a fitting trade, do you not think so?

Beyrr ponders a moment, then shakes his head. "Your arts are great, white helmed one, I can see that. Of your tribe's great valor, we have all heard. In such things the Caele is wise and he believes, and so I believe as well. But the valor of you would mean little to us. A dagger already inscribed with great deeds will mean nothing to a warrior. Where then will he mark his victories, if they are already covered with another's?"

Sighing, he folds the daggers back up in the cloth and secrets them away in his robe. "Of this, I am disappointed. But should you change your mind, Beyrr is always waiting." The smile returns, and Beyrr bobs his head before retreating back into the milling market crowd.

The Astartes move on towards the city's peak.

***

The traffic lessens nearer to the tall tower, the wide streets mostly empty. Brigadier Heth takes a side road for the Aspirance, the small Guard barracks.

"The Emperor watch over you, my Lords. Don't hesitate to call on me or my men if we can be of any assistance."

The Marines pass beneath a high gate, heavy wooden doors thrown inward. Archers man the walls, watching the Marines with wary eyes. Inside there is a small courtyard, the Caele's tower jutting from its center like a great stone tree. To the left, a company of Auran swordsman cut and thrust to the shouted commands of a grey haired woman, while an elder male oversees some archers at target practice. Nearby, two men strain to haul water from a well.

Two warriors in glittering red scale armor stand guard at the entrance to the tower, barring the way with crossed bone spears. They wear long swords and knives at their waists, and beaded circlets ring their foreheads.

"Astartes," one says, his Gothic thickly accented. "The Caele expects you." The spears come up, granting entry to the inner chamber.

***

The Caele's receiving room is a modest affair, a few simple chairs ranged around a round table. A dark haired man of aquiline face and a young woman with fiery red hair and faint scars around her cheeks, stand across the table, poring over what looks to be some kind of map. They both look up at the Kill-team. The woman quickly rolls up the map they had been studying and thrusts it through her belt.

"Thank you, Alkedre," the man says, his Gothic a nearly flawless approximation of a Ministorum cleric's careful tones. "That will be all for now."

The woman nods, light from the upper windows flashing across the ruby scales twined through her long hair. With a slight inclination of her head towards the Astartes, she turns on her heel and leaves by a side door.

"They are my Space Marines, and they shall know no fear," he says, smiling almost sheepishly at the quotation. "Forgive me, I have developed a certain fondness for the literature of your Empire. The deeds of the Astartes are a particular favorite. I am Rylus Darkstar, Caele of Aurum." He raps the pommel of his sword against the table, the traditional greeting of Aurum. "I know enough of your tribe that you would not have come without good reason, Astartes. What is it?"

Brother Androcles

Androcles' relentless, but unhurried march brought him swiftly toward the Caele's tower. His helmetless head panned back and forth to take in the crowd, but more importantly the training soldiers as he paused by the well where the men were straining to lift up the bucket. With one hand he reached over their heads and took hold of the rope, and with a simple flex of his gene and armor-enhanced musculature pulled the bucket all the way to the top for them. It swung and sloshed a little until they managed to pull it onto the well's stone lip. All the while, Androcles observed the drilling soldiers with interest. They were well disciplined and knew their weapons, primitive as they were. This world's worth as a recruiting world was getting more evident to him all the time. Perhaps when the mission was over he would draft a report to his superiors on just that subject and they could decide what to do from there.

Nodding respectfully to the two men at the well, Androcles rejoined the group heading toward the Caele's tower and followed them in past the red-scaled guardsmen. It looked to be made from some sort of large animal, as he supposed most of their weapons had been as well. Metal didn't seem to be an abundant resource on Aurum, or perhaps the natives just hadn't learned how to refine it yet.

When they finally met the Caele, Androcles strode forward with deep thumps of his boots. He drew his chainsword with well-practiced movements, looking for a moment as if he might actually cut down the man where he stood. Before the threat could completely resolve itself, however, the Ultramarine flipped the sword and caught it by the toothed blade. Reaching out with the hilt of the weapon, he tapped it on Darkstar's right shoulder in the traditional Auran greeting they'd read about in the mission dataslate. "The Emperor protects, Caele Rylus Darkstar. I greet you in the way of your people to show our respect for your house and your hospitality." he said with a tone of sincere formality before resheathing his weapon and cracking the smallest of smiles of amusement. "I believe you know why we've come."

Rylus returns the smile, though the weariness in his eyes belies any amusement. He is a tall man, robust and broad shouldered. Silver lodes wind through the coal black of his hair. "I suppose I do. Why else do Imperials come to Aurum?"

He circles around to the other side of the table, his movements the fluid and controlled motions of a trained fighter. Crossing his arms, he leans against the table's edge, looking for all the world like a man at ease rather than the ruler of an entire world.

"You want us to join your Empire, pledge fealty to your Emperor. I don't know what you have heard, but we are not so against this." He turns his head, nodding towards the wall there. It is dominated by a bookshelf, packed with old tomes and more modern filmbooks and the like. Codices, a dogeared copy of the Infantryman's Primer, xenos bestiaries and manuals of daemonic threats.

"I have learned some things about the Universe beyond our skies. It is a dangerous place, full of terrors. Some of my people believe these are just myths, lies to win our allegiance through fear. But I believe. Why else would your Emperor need such mighty warriors as yourselves if these threats did not exist?"

He uncrosses his arms, bracing his palms against the table's edge. "But I have heard too, what has happened to those worlds who accept your offer. They may be safe, guarded from the horrors beyond by your Emperor, but I have heard of people broken and bent, worlds sucked dry of their very life blood."

He stands, meeting the eyes of Androcles. "We Aurans have our honor. We have our ways. I will not bend a knee to your Emperor if that will be the fate of my world and my people. So far, no Imperial has given me such an assurance. I understand, they haven't the authority to promise something as that. Can you?"

Standing to one side of his Kill Team's leader, Brother Camael keeps his silence. His helmet being held by magnetics at his waist, the perfect features of the Blood Drinker are exposed. He finds himself forced to keep his expression carefully devoid of reaction. The Caele was right on all counts. All that remained was to fix his perspective.

"There are ways in which a world might be protected, Caele Darkstar. If a planet's inhabitants are found to be particularly virtuous, that world may fall under the jurisdiction of the Ecclesiarchy - we call them cardinal worlds. They are made into centers of learning and culture, their natural resources exploited, but not with the casual abandon than you fear.

Such world are, I think my battle-brothers will agree, the safest and most prosperous worlds in the galaxy."

Safe, thought the Apothecary. He suprressed an urge to grin, and kept his as cold and emotionless as a stone. True under the umbrella of the Ecclesiarchy, the planet of Aurum would be given the protection from Xenos and Chaos. However, after the indoctrination of Imperial cult, the current culture of Aurum may become extinct. However, that is sometimes the price of returning to the fold of the Imperium.

Sunlight from the window gleamed over Artemis's darkly tanned skin, picking out scars and scratches from numerous battles. The marine stared intently at the Caele. Despite the hope that was born from seeing the discipline from the troops in the court yard, Artemis slightly disturbed about the events at the market. If this planet is harboring genestealers, the fight for this planet might be difficult and may in the end, be for naught. However for now, Artemis decided he shall wait and see how the Ultramarine and the Blood Drinker handled the matter at hand.




 

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