It was not pleasant.
For what could have been hours, days, months or longer, the Inner Council of the Hos Dynasty languished in darkness. Confined in narrow cells, paralyzed inside of sensory deprivation tanks. Their only reprieve is when they were silently wheeled out and turned over to the hands of the Eldar torture technicians. Their interest was clinical and detached, they asked few questions, and seemed to barely give care to the answers – their goal was seemingly only the cause of pain.
Eventually, they were subjected to the “great hunt”. The new prisoners were released into a simulated environment, where they would be hunted by others. The Dynasty naturally sought each other, but found that as part of their torture, their voice, face, and all distinguishing features of their bodies had been removed. New faces stared back at them from the stagnant pools of water, and voices that they did not recognise echoed inside of their ears. The lost limbs of Hos and Eckhart had been regrown, and any cybernetic enhancement was stripped out. Released into the arena, Hos was swiftly hunted by a voracious and wild Kroot, with Eckhart succumbing shortly afterwards to the same foe. Jian engaged a group of humans who were hunting the new arrivals for sport, and despite being unarmed managed to make quite a good showing for himself before being brought down and knifed in the swamp.
Death itself was not a release though, as the Eldar captors refused to allow them any escape – merely regrowing their bodies and again changing their appearance. Once released, they found themselves inside of a primitive holding facility that appeared to be some sort of converted storage facility. Left to their own devices, Jian, Hos and Eckhart were able to reconnect along with Vasquez, Dalia and several other Hos Dynasty members, but there was no sign of Arch-Militant Caine in this facility. Hos attempted to contact the outside world for negotiation or some sort of face-to-face meeting, but inside of this prison, the Eldar seemed content to ignore the prisoners to their own devices. Their next meeting was an attempt to find the Kroot that had slain both he and Eckhart, but the Xenos proved unwilling to meet the Captain and broke his arm when he attempted to force a confrontation with their Shaper.
Eckhart in prison seemed almost like a broken man. With the possibility of killing Winterscale now denied to him, and a strange implanted device inhibiting his psychic powers he was left unsure of himself and without the fire of revenge burning inside of him, he would have seemed lost. Were it not for the presence of Vasquez and the few other Death Bastards to survive imprisonment, he likely would not have responded to any stimulus at all. Though he still accompanied the Captain as a bodyguard – his combat skills honed through the years of combat they’d faced – he barely spoke a word to anyone.
Jian met the situation with his usual method of unrelenting angry piety. His tour revealed that the facility was populated with several dozen broken humans, left to mull on the horrors inside of their own head. He attempted to set up some crude shrines to the Emperor, but was met by the Brotherood of the False Dawn, who attempted to “convince” him to meet with their leader through a strong-armed escort, and explain to him that they had found “other” Gods to worship in this facility, as well as several other phrases that used literal air quotes that left him no doubt as to their heresy. Quietly listening to them, he responded in his own succinct manner by ramming the speaker’s head into the wall to break his neck, and squared off for a fight. The others merely laughed, and he felt a pain inside his neck before darkness overcame him, and he sank to the ground.
There was indeed one rule in the facility, and it was that no one could take a life but the Eldar, though non-lethal violence was perfectly acceptable. Jian was relegated to another session of torture, and his victim resurrected through the perfidious Xenos science. Hos in the meantime had met up with a group of Xenos that were willing to listen – a small cadre of Tau that had originated from the opposite end of the Galaxy and were captured by the Eldar and imprisoned in their own game. They expertly set his arm and informed him of the only way they knew to get out – to impress the Eldar in their various bloodsport arenas and win a mysterious tournament that would allow them to be purchased as fighters, bodyguards, or perhaps merely subjects for the visiting slavers of various races, but was at least an escape. The next such bloodsport would be against an “Omega” level slave, a creature of such terrifying power it was kept separate from the rest of the population. Naturally, Hos seized at the chance to prove his worth.
Once Jian had been returned, volunteers were sought to entertain the crowd. Seven were permitted to join, and with Jian freshly returned to them the remaining Inner Council met and when the time came, joined up with a small group of the Tau, including the one they had nicknamed “Shazzy Law”, after finding his actual name too confusing. Hos took this moment again to attempt to negotiate with their captors as they were armed for battle, but quickly backed down when he realised they would kill him if he did anything but arm himself. Their gear was of good quality, and seven fighters entered the arena watched by thousands of Eldar in the surrounding area. Shortly, the opposite gate opened but no creature appeared to step through – until one of the Tau was brutally ripped apart by an unseen foe. Jian was the next to fall, and eventually sharp eyed observation revealed a swift moving creature camouflaged expertly in the ground. Law managed to get a clear view of it, and grimly informed those involved that it was a Tyranid Lictor – a chameleon-like nightmare creature that had plagued his own people, and was almost impossible to put down. Drawing its attention, he also fell to the thing’s nightmare talons, but had provided enough clues that the remaining members were able to concentrate enough firepower on it to drop it, and put the creature down.
The cheering from the crowd was disappointed, but nonetheless victory was theirs. The dead were carted off for the unholy resurrection, and Law informed the group that the winners traditionally got to demand one favour to their captors, though unreasonable requests were often met with derision and/or torture. Hos demanded the return of his entire crew, and shortly upon returning Caine had come back to the fold as well as the remaining captured Hossian members. Along with their victory, a man approached them on behalf of Captain Anya Shen – a slave-trader now imprisoned inside of the facility as the result of the shifting fortunes of the Eldar. She had a large number of her former crew with her, and requested a private meeting with Hos that he refused, counter-proposing that she meet with him surrounded by his crew. The offer was ultimately refused, but she sent her former first officer Marco Malleyn to liaise with them instead. He spoke of that if the party could indeed do well enough in these events to earn entry into the “Tournament of Champions”, then they would be able to force an escape from the facility.
Interested, but unconvinced of the sincerity of these words, Hos instead took to rallying the inhabitants of their prison to his cause through oratory, in the hopes that someone would know of any information missed. The Kroot again rebuffed any attempts to see their Shaper, with increasing force this time. Henara Tiris, leader of the Cult of the False Dawn, also took this opportunity to meet with the Captain saying that she too had a way out of the prison, but would like a chance to speak with the Rogue Trader and his crew in private, and have them listen to her sermons. Jian categorically rejected this offer and, rather disconcertingly, Eckhart could neither see nor hear this woman. Caine was willing to go along confident that he would be able to resist any temptation, but was convinced to stay behind by the others. This action would come back to haunt them when, during one of their inspirational gatherings, a group of her cultists walked in and detonated a series of toxic bombs that maimed or killed many present, at the cost of their own lives. Henara again invited everyone to a sermon, and explained the bombs as proof that she had secret passages out of the prison granted to her by the Gods. Again, there were no takers.
After another unknown length of time spent waiting and skirmishing with the False Dawn, another Omega fight came up and the reunited Inner Council, two Tau and Marco – who had forced himself in with the group – volunteered for this one as well. Eckhart asked if they could turn off his psychic blocker for this fight, and was surprised to find his request granted. The arena cage was smaller this time, and their opponent was a headless suit of armour, glowing from within by an un-real light that threatened to consume them. Summoning up his power, the Astropath unleashed a series of devastating Force Shards on the foe, only to find it – rather unsurprisingly – immune to his force. Jian charged in, but upon striking it was lashed by a bolt of force from the foe. It then counter attacked with an energy blast of its own that blasted a section of the arena, but fortunately caused no damage. Their ranged weapons were primarily handled by its force field, and those few attacks that got through seemed to cause minimal damage. Unwilling to back down, Caine directed a withering barrage at the thing, and though he took a powerful blow in return managed to bring down its shield, at which point it had little chance of survival against the massed attacks.
With two victories under their belt, their entry in the Tournament of Champions was assured. Eckhart, Jian, Caine, Hos and Law all earned an invitation, as well as two of the burly gladiators that had fought Jian back during their arrival. Each was allowed to bring one warrior along with them, with Jian opting to bring Captain Shen at her request, Eckhart choosing to bring Vasquez, and the remaining three each bringing one of the Tau. The gladiators each chose one from their number, and the fourteen were so entered into the tournament. Shen informed them that the challenges would be seven rooms they would have to pass through, that were randomized and updated, but one in particular she was familiar with and could make her escape from. Entering the first room, they found themselves in a lush paradise-like garden with gentle running streams, beautiful flowers and a peaceful light beaming down from above.
Before moving through, an Eldar voice in both Gothic and Tau informed them that this was the ultimate tournament where their worth would be decided, and death here would be the only release they were promised – there would be no resurrection. One of the Gladiators seemingly lost their nerve at this pronouncement and swiftly took his own life. The remaining thirteen steeled themselves, and as the door opened upon this veritable garden they quickly sought to move through it to the door opposite for the next chamber. Their travels were quickly interrupted as they found that that the room was filling with a hallucinogenic gas, and many of them were lost inside their own minds for a time as the vegetation slowly blackened and the room began to lose its paradise-like qualities. Most managed to fight it off with time, but one of the Tau succumbed completely to the gas and was violently resisting attempts to leave. The remaining thirteen had all reached the door, but Shen said that it would not open until all were gathered for exit – or dead. Regretfully but decisively, the members executed the delusional Tau who could not be reasoned with, and escaped the room before the now acidic air overwhelmed them.
They found themselves in an antechamber where the same voice mocked them upon completion, and the next room revealed itself: A maze of twisty passages, all alike. The surviving dozen readied themselves to solve yet another Eldar room and make their way to what was not just survival, but hopefully their redemption…