With a destination in mind and a route planned out, the D’Stayns loaded themselves, the surviving Black Lancers, and as many Reavers as they could into their Thunderhawk gunship and a pair of Arvus lighters and flew away from the wreckage of the Unfailing Allegiance and the Red Haze to a higher location in the space hulk. When they were unable to travel further with spacecraft, they unloaded their Chimeras and Vesper’s Sentinel walker and proceeded on foot.
An hour or two of walking brought them along the edge of what would be the remains of the Pit of Despair, a Chaos slaveship that Brother-Sergeant Lazarus had explained had been part of the reaver fleet that the Allegiance’s battlegroup had attacked. When the Allegiance and the Red Haze jumped to warp following their impact, the Pit of Despair was caught up with them. Brother-Librarian Gideon had said that he sensed a great multitude of dark warp energy from where the Pit of Despair had lain but the Space Marines had never been able to investigate.
Cautiously the D’Stayns continued on. Sharp-eyed members suddenly noted a trio of dark shadows skipping up to their lines followed by gutteral voices. Most of the company missed the shadows sliding into their midst and focused instead on the half dozen Orks charging around the corner. Vesper opened fire with her walker’s lascannon, forcing the startled Orks under cover. Eurydice (much to her distaste) tried speaking to the cornered Orks, who explained that they were hunting “spookies,” not “humies.”
At that moment, the three shadows suddenly manifested as twisted shapes vaguely resembling brutalized human figures. Two of the shapes leaped into the bodies of two of the Black Lancers, who screamed in agony….then began firing on their own fellows! The third shape reared up before Meretek, who barely kept his wits and lashed out with his power axe. The weapon passed through the spectre without harming it. The dark thing screeched and Meretek felt pain throughout all his organic parts.
Seeing one of the Black Lancers turning his flamer on the other mercenaries, Vesper turned her lascannon on the Lancer. As the man’s body vaporized, the possessing spirit turned on her, its dark thoughts ripping into her mind and unlocking fears she didn’t suffer from until now. Vesper screamed, firing ineffectally at the creature. The Orks rushed forward, firing strange-looking “snazzguns” at the spectre. The beams of energy seemed to hurt it…and finally kill it. Eurydice grabbed one of the weapons, heedless that she was dragging its wielder along the ground with her and fired at Meretek’s foe, sending it back into the warp. The other Orks blasted the second possessed Lancer, their energy beams killing the spectre and only mildly burning the human host.
The Orks were quick to explain that they were part of Zogstuf’s mob and that they had no quarrel with any humans on the hulk. They were just making sure none of the “spookies” got past the barriers the Greenskins had constructed to contain them. This fit with what Kas had told Vesper before and (with reluctance) the D’Stayns let the Orks go.
The party continued on, eventually coming to the hull of a large transport ship. Morgan was able to find an access hatch (without really realizing it), allowing the group to venture inside. Much of the ship was dark and without power, but Meretek followed his internal auger scans toward to the warp engine. Even the engineerium was only minimally crewed by mindless servitors and only the barest amount of power. However, Imperial hymns echoed throughout the ship and religious iconography decorated every wall and door.
During the trek, Pulveria found herself relegated to the rear of the company, her attempts to ‘help’ Vesper with her sudden phobia of the dark unappreciated. While back there, Pulveria felt a light brush against her mind and a gentle beckoning. Turning she ‘saw’ a lithe humanoid figure clad in multi-colored, skintight clothing of varied patterns. The figure’s face was concealed behind a hood and mirrored mask. When Pulveria tried to contact her companions, she found her telepathic link blocked by a much stronger mind. Her allies were drifting away, leaving her alone with the stranger.
The alien thoughts reached to her again, asking pleasently whether the D’Stayns had learned about the twin-headed serpent yet. Pulveria was evasive. Unperturbed, the stranger noted that the D’Stayns obviously had not found the “Star Forge” yet. He (or she?) then mentioned that when the D’Stayns come across the “warp gates,” they would need to be protected. The stranger also asked that his (her) “brethren” would need help from the D’Stayn. Finally, he (she) mentioned that an encounter was upcoming and that diplomancy might be the best route. And with that, the stranger stepped back into the shadows and was gone.
Pulveria tried to explain some of the conversation to her companions but most had trouble following what she was saying. In the meantime, Meretek’s augers were picking up a large number of lifeforms up ahead. Sending a handful of the D’Stayn officers and a few Black Lancers to scout, the group found themselves into the ship’s warp core where several dozen hideous mutants clad in robes decorated with a flame motif were standing across from Lord-Captain Casimir Fortunado and his entourage, which included a number of colorful characters plus a contingent of Skitarii warriors (the elite soldiers of the Mechanicus on Mars) and armored female bodyguards.
The conversation was becoming heated, as it sounded like the mutants were planting melta bombs on the ship’s warp core while Fortunado insisted that killing everyone aboard the hulk was not part of the agreement. The mutants were insisting that the hulk was infested with “heretical” and “Chaos” taint and needed to be purged. Fortunado was angrily demanding that the mutants restrain themselves until after his people had approached the other factions to determine if they were indeed tainted. The situation was obviously tense with both sides close to drawing weapons.
Pulveria suddenly sensed another psyker attempting to mind scan her party. Drawing on her own power, she deflected the attempt, locating the psyker as another astropath situated on the opposite side of the D’Stayns. He crouched there, a long-las rifle in his hands, momentarily disoriented by Pulveria’s counterattack. Then he concentrated and one of Fortunado’s companions glanced up at the D’Stayn group. With a quick gesture, he motioned for two others to break away and head up toward the D’Stayns’ position.
The D’Stayn party scattered, trying to avoid being spotted, but Tryft and Pulveria was cornered by a stocky voidfarer armed with twin hand cannons. While the man and his Skitarii contingent held them at bay, Tryft subtly signaled the nearby Lancer grenadiers, who launched a series of blind grenades into the mutants and Fortunado’s group. The distraction worked, as the gunman hastened to rejoin his Lord-Captain.
The confusion of the smoke caused the mutants to open up on Fortunado’s group with flamer weapons…as well as sorcerous fire and force. Fortunado’s Skitarii warriors formed a screen to protect the rest of Fortunado’s band and, unhindered by the blinding smoke, began methodically gunning down the mutants. Fortunado himself was being shielded and dragged away by his female bodyguards, much to his loud protestations.
Tryft, Eurydice, Morgan, and Pulveria scurried down to join the fighting, planning on taking out whoever they could and working things out afterward. Meretek made a beeline toward where he had last seen the melta bombs, hoping to disable them before they could set off the warp core. One of Fortunado’s companions, a woman in Ecclesiarchy robes and with heavy bionic augmentation, came alongside the D’Stayns. Recognizing Eurydice’s armor as one of the Adeptus Soriatas, she assumed the D’Stayns were Imperial reinforcements sent to help Fortunado’s group. Given the mutants’ intent, Eurydice did not correct her just yet.
Meanwhile, Vesper had gotten bored and taken a team of Black Lancers in a wide arc that brought her on the opposite side of the warp core chamber…right behind the astropath sniper and his Mechanicus guards. She took a shot at the astropath who swiftly dodged while his Skitarii opened up on Vesper and her team. The astropath then telekinetically plucked Vesper up and hurled her over the edge.
Vesper tumbled through the air, colliding with the warp core shielding (denting it slightly), and crumpling painfully on a metal walkway. Dazed, she still managed to take a potshot at Fortunado, only to have one of his bodyguard intercept the shot with her own body. Fortunado appeared genuinely horrified at his bodyguard’s injury, shoving her to one side in order to keep her out of harm’s way.
Pulveria, unencumbered by the smoke, plunged into the mutants’ midst, using her psychic scream to knock out the mutants still trying to activate the melta bombs. She then telepathically called out positions to guide her allies’ weapons fire into the worst of the mutants, especially the small collection of sorcerers throwing fire and force blasts in random directions. Tryft killed several with well-placed grenades and Pulveria finished off the rest with a few swings of her force staff.
When Fortunado emerged from the smoke at last, Morgan called him out, challenging the Rogue Trader to a personal duel. Fortunado, prideful that he was, accepted, ordering his companions and bodyguard to stay back. Drawing an ornate power sword of exquisite make, he saluted Morgan and lunging. The two went back and forth for several passes, neither able to draw first blood. Finally, Morgan feinted an overhead slash then slapped Fortunado’s legs out from under him with a casual swipe with her power fist. Fortunado hit the floor hard and Morgan was quickly over him, her sword raised menacingly.
At that moment, Tryft and Vesper spotted Fortunado’s astropath taking careful shots into the smoke. Vesper fired at him but missed. Tryft followed up with a precision shot that drilled the psyker through the chest, wounding him badly. Fortunado saw what was happening and swiftly told Morgan: “If you call off your men and spare my friend’s life, I will accept defeat and cede all rights to the space hulk to you and your Dynasty. Please.”
Taken by surprise, Morgan quickly agreed, ordering Tryft and Vesper (and everyone else) to stand down. The fighting drew to a close as the last of the mutants were killed and Meretek gained access to the controls of the warp core and shut the engine down.
Fortunado gathered together his companions and surviving troops and officially gave his surrender to House D’Stayn. He asked for (and was granted by Morgan) safe passage back to the surface of the hulk where his lighters and shuttle waited. Vesper, perhaps in an attempt to make up for her earlier aggressiveness, extended an offer of alliance between the two Rogue Trader Houses. Fortunado seemed reluctant, mentioned that concessions would need to be given for any alliance to be made between their Houses. He looked meaningfully in Tryft’s direction as he said this.
And with that, the Fortunado party departed, leaving control of the space hulk to House D’Stayn.