The sense of accomplishment and victory over finding the mortal remains of Nicodemus Keefe was palpable throughout the Ironmine Syndicate. Apart from the obvious fame and prestige that it was bringing them, and the now apparently unreserved support of the Order of the Hammer in funding their expeditions, it also meant that they finally had that thing they had been missing for far, far too long: some money to go shopping with. Upon returning to Lucin’s Breath, the Inner Council all split up to tend to their own personal enterprises before deciding on their next port of call.
Eckhart was approached by Lieutenant Vasquez, who had assumed the role of interim-Seneschal and Dynasty minder while they were out on mission as the only high ranking original personnel left to the Dynasty at the moment. Her investigation had turned up how Winterscale’s Realm was near to bursting with mercenary groups interested in signing on with successful Traders and Pirates as a freelance army, and thanks to the fame from rediscovering the body of a sacred figure to the Imperium, they were at no shortage for those interested in throwing their hat in with him. Eckhart recognised in Vasquez the desire to avenge everything she had lost at the hands of Fel, and as his revenge against Winterscale no longer seemed to be possible, he resolved to help her deal with her rage in the most Imperium-approved manner possible: Bloody vengeance.
Caine, through a combination of intimidation and friendly smiles managed to ingratiate himself even further into the Cult of the False Dawn, and managed to track down that bizarre amulet he had been given that seemed to effectively block psychic powers practiced by his Astropath. Working amidst the friendly heretics was the horrible wreck of an Adeptus Mechanicus Magos named Hulgast, who had been obsessively cobbling together the tiny amulets packed with dense, arcane circuitry. At first sight, Caine reflexively brought his claws up in an attempt to kill the Magos, an act that the man seemed to take in stride. He explained that the devices were complicated life sustainers that sealed a bit of his “cursed soul” inside of them, and extended his horrible affliction to any that would come in contact with it. Enduring his sombre and self-pitying prose for more than half an hour, Caine procured another amulet and presented it to Captain Hos, who believed that the Magos was referring – obliquely – to being an Untouchable, and that he had somehow attempted to extend that protection to others. He also resolved to buy the Magos the supplies he needed to expand his manufacturing capabilities, as there would be many willing to pay an exorbitant amount for such a treasure.
During his time away, the contingent of Tau that Shase’la left on Lucin’s Breath had been successful in finding someone capable of secreting his people away to a relatively safer part of the galaxy. Meeting with this Rogue Trader, she relayed to him a tale of how many small Xenos races, driven to near-extermination by the Imperium, had banded together to form a small Empire that was fiercely anti-human, but she believed they would no doubt welcome the presence of the Tau among them. Her plan was to give the Tau a transport which they could claim to have stolen, and then enter the system and be taken in as refugees. Despite her belief that this would work, she was up front about how there would be no way of knowing for sure as humans were not welcome, nor would she imagine they would be allowed to leave. Nonetheless it was an option. Asking what she expected in return, Shazzy was told that she wanted nothing, as she was simply jaded from decades among the Imperium, and believed that the Tau’s attitude left them the rightful inheritors of the Galaxy. Though he had questions as to why the ruthless Aspyce Chorda would be willing to espouse such views, he nonetheless promised to consider the offer.
As the crew made friends and alliances, “Captain Ironmine” and Jian continued in their quest to track down the remaining relics of Saint Cognatius. The information from Keefe’s relics had narrowed down the search to a region of space on the far side of the Expanse, and it was hoped that the other three Disciples might be able to further refine their search. The last resting place of all three was thought to be known, but Genevieve Almace was by far the closest and despite rumours that she had fallen in battle to the Ruinous Powers on that planet after being abandoned, the Captain was confident that they could handle an incursion into such a place. Equipping their men with weapons blessed by the Ecclesiarchy, they lay in a destination for Loretta and the next Disciple to be uncovered.
The journey through the Warp was pleasantly calm, and upon arrival at the planet despite a worrying psychic resistance the world itself appeared lush and verdant. There were no signs of battle or strife, and the conditions were even perfect for a later colony to be founded there. The Sensorium officer very quickly picked up on what appeared to be an Imperial lander on the surface of the world matching the description of Almace’s vessel. Caine immediately seized on the unlikeliness of locating one ship so small on a planet so quickly, but there was nothing more to be gained from orbit and the Dynasty along with armsmen equipped with blessed bolters descended on the world. Worried for his safety, Caine insisted that Captain Hos wear one of the null amulets they had acquired and, despite the pain it caused his nascent warp senses, he agreed. The Lander itself was in as pristine a shape as the world they found themselves on, and the men split up to secure the area.
As they fanned out, one of them almost without warning turned his bolter on Jian and attempted to slay the Missionary on his approach. Fortunately he had – as ever – been suspecting treachery and killed the man, only to find his body horribly mutated upon death. On board the shuttle, the body matching all descriptions of Genevieve Almace and thirty women and men clad in crusader gear sat as if asleep inside of the landing shuttle. They read as alive to Shase’la’s and Caine’s scans, but Eckhart could not pick up any activity from their minds. Without warning, Caine, Shazzy, Eckhart and Jian each felt as if a warm, stinking breath was laughing on them, and then found themselves transported into an old-style concrete and steel prison. Still equipped with all their weaponry, the walls stood no chance for them, whereupon they met a now-living Genevieve Almace who told them that they had been trapped here and to seek an escape from their Daemonic captor, as she was fated to do battle here until her foe was defeated. Though Jian was initially willing to fight alongside the Disciple, as an army of daemons slowly overcame the walls of their prison the four again found themselves moved without their consent to a new location.
They first found themselves in a library, filled with scores of books on history and war for both the Imperium and the Tau, and an instruction that they had to find their race’s greatest shame among its walls. Their host was a being shaped like a human, but with blank, putty like skin that healed itself immediately upon Eckhart trying to kill it. Suspecting this was some sort of insane, riddle bullshit Shazzy hypothesized that their sin was being alive and the four found themselves in a garden being served a variety of fine dishes and told they could not leave until they had consumed all of them. Naturally destroying these foods, their faux-server departed to get more, and when followed led them to an abattoir where daemons harvested the flesh from various races that were chained there, and turned them into the elegant creations from the hall. Burning the prisoners and the daemons alike, they were freed from this chamber as well and sent on to the next challenge. However, as reality began to blur and change, Caine abruptly vanished from around them as, in the “real” world, Captain Hos took this moment to split the null amulet over his neck and snap him out of reality.
They then found themselves in Holy Terra itself, as an innumerable crowd gathered to listen to a man preaching from a far-away pulpit, his voice amplified to spread across the masses. Jian recognised this as a speech given by Goge Vandire, and they resolved to expose and assassinate the aged heretic to escape this challenge. Making their way towards Vandire, Jian activated his own laud-hailer and was attacked by the Brides of the Emperor bodyguard, yet refused to engage him and continued to argue against the insane heretic. Eckhart and Shazzy made their way through the Ecclesiarch’s temple to try and assassinate him, but found themselves confronted by another retinue of bodyguard whose faith powers protected them from Eckhart’s sorcery, and weapons proved more than a match for Shazzy’s battlesuit. As the Tau destroyed the seals inhibiting Eckhart, the Sisters destroyed his battlesuit, but not before he and Eckhart managed to destroy the shields blocking him, and he was able to subdue the combatants. As for Vandire, with Jian out-debating him, he began to revert to a purely daemonic form which the crowd and the surviving Brides turned on, and they were free again.
The darkness they found themselves in with Almace had the Disciple reveal that they could now escape, and that she would fight against the daemonic hordes to buy them some time. She insisted that they had to run from this battle as it couldn’t be won, which though Jian and Shazzy saw the logic of, Eckhart had suffered through enough sanctimonious sermons to recognise it for a lie, and stabbed the apparition revealing her to be yet another daemon trying to trick them. With that, the “true” Almace appeared to set them free, telling them that there was a doomsday weapon she had tried to activate on board her shuttle, but died before she was able to. She and the spirits of those loyal to her would protect the group when they returned, and they need only activate the device in order to affect an escape, and deny the daemons a further victory.
In reality, the three found themselves awake and aware, and the comforting illusion of the idyllic planet stripped away. The troops that had come with them lost their mind and souls, screaming to the skies or, if they were lucky, turning their weapons on themselves. The Syndicate members found themselves horrified to the core by what they saw, but nonetheless gathered everything of value, and though Hos ordered anything retrieved of value, Jian, Caine and Shazzy all decided to activate the doomsday device – with Jian taking time to grab any relics of Almace and Cognatius he could find – and they barely made it off world before the virus bomb obliterated everything on the surface, and the daemonic taint below.
With two disciples located, their relics recovered, and their souls probably safe, the Syndicate made for the Warp to return to Lucin’s breath, and plot their next move…