This is the fourth instalent of the Crown of Bones Inquisitor campaign, and it’s another annex mission (similar to last week’s Sundown on Skathi) between two new warbands in the campaign lead by rival Inquisitors.
In this scenario, both warbands are looking for the source of the encrypted message that catalysed the Crown of Bones investigation, and they have traced it to an abandoned astropathic spire in the middle of nowhere. They quickly realise the spire isn’t as abandoned as they’d hoped…
setting the scene
Both warbands are looking for an astropathic spire in the dusty hinterlands of Gehanna, far beyond the walls of the House Dacien estate. It is the original source of Navigator Silvius’ distress message to the conclave, and the astropathic matrix inside the spire will likely hold more clues to the investigation.
However, a gang of thugs belonging to the crooked Lucile Rogue Trader Dynasty have already moved in and are looting everything in sight. They’ve not expecting company, but they’re well-armed and have set up defenses in case of surprise visitors.
Dust storm: Wind howls across Gehanna’s innumerable wastelands, and dust storms are frequent. All negative modifiers to ranged attacks are doubled, and Initiative checks are required to spot anyone over 12″ away. The tempestuous weather muffles sounds too, and all hearing distances are reduced by half.
The spire itself is in the middle of nowhere and tall enough to pierce the dust clouds (not pictured, I ran out of building blocks after the first storey). It’s surrounded by the rusting vestiges of supporting structures and strange rock formations.
There are four members of the Lucile thug squad – two on the stairs and balcony, one inside salvaging cables, and one loading servitor named Clamps moving crates onto the truck.
Firstly we have a newcomer to the subsector, Inquisitor Aubray Holt, accompanied by his proselytising keeper-of-the-faith Father Sebastian Patroneus. They’re joined by a recent convert to the Imperial Creed, a heavy stubber-weilding cultist named Grapthar.
Holt holds strong Amalathian beliefs – it is the Inquisition’s sacred duty to let nothing threaten the status quo, the holy Imperium as laid out by the Emperor himself, that has lasted across the millennia. These particular beliefs inspired Navigator Silvius to contact him directly, informing him of the astropathic matrix within the spire.
Silvius told Holt of a threat to House Dacien – a radical splinter group lead by heir-apparent Mistress Dacien. Silvius alleges that she is in league with the Lucile Dynasty, getting them to do her dirty work. Silvius believes she is trying to gain access to the matrix so she can fabricate astropathic messages and bring ruin to House Dacien – a vital Imperial institution – and that this is a threat worthy of Holt’s attention.
Given no current reason to suspect anything, Holt’s mission is clear – destroy the astropathic matrix to prevent it falling into enemy hands.
Secondly we have Inquisitor Vanth, a legendary and/or reviled name in this part of the galaxy. He is a radical Xanthite Inquisitor of the Ordo Malleus who has crossed swords with more young righteous upstarts than he can keep track of. He is only saved from the noose by a combination of manipulations, schemes, charisma, and exceptional results.
He is joined by two of his hand-picked bodyguard – the talent field medic Sergeant Honeis and the nigh-unkillable bionic warrior Corporal Topaz.
Vanth considers himself above chasing leads like other investigators. He prefers to go directly to the source and extract everything he needs to know. In this instance, he has tracked the origin of the encrypted distress call and will commune directly with the astropathic matrix.
Using his considerable psychic powers, he plans to scrape the matrix of any psychic residue left by its previous users and capture echoes of messages past. It’ll get him closer to the Crown of Bones, a useful tool in his master plan.
Vanth and his guard set up at the far end of the board, slightly closer to the spire but with lots of open ground. He’s relying on the dust storm masking their approach.
Holt and his companions deploy at the opposite corner near some structures that Grapthar can use as a vantage point. Holt has plenty of open ground to cover too, but isn’t concerned about masking his approach.
They had been travelling for hours. With the thick fug of dust and featureless terrain, it was easy to convince yourself you’d been walking on the spot.
Corporal Topaz glanced over at his master Vanth, who was studing his auspex carefully. Almost in response Vanth looked up, drawing the gaze of his two guardsmen to the wall of dust where the sky should be.
As if responding to his master’s will, a black shadow pierced the gloom ahead. A tower in the distance – tall enough to pierce the clouds. This was the spire they were looking for, exactly where Vanth said it would be.
Vanth briefly consulted his auspex again. He sent curt, practised hand signals back to Topaz – five individuals, two of them in patrol pattern. Advance carefully. Attack on his mark only.
Topaz nodded and signalled for Honeis to follow. They pressed ahead through the dust, reaching the base of the spire quickly and quietly.
On the opposite side of the spire, Inquisitor Holt and his team moved into position. Thanks to Navigator Silvius’ tip off, he knew to expect company at the spire.
He ordered Grapthar onto a nearby vantage point to provide cover. He was under strict instructions not to fire until Holt gave the word. Grapthar looked disappointed, but understanding.
Holt had no intention of sneaking around. He was in control of the situation and the spire was rightfully his. He would give these goons an opportunity to walk away, or suffer the consequences.
Father Patroneus beside him had his book of prayers in one hand and power sword in the other. Holt knew he’d been ready for violence from the moment they left, but he still wanted to check as a formality.
“Ready?” Holt asked. Patroneus shot him a look. He was ready.
Holt and Patroneus stride forwards. The dust clouds seem to part around the spire, and they step into the eye of the storm.
There are a handful of salvagers here – two on watch, while a heavily augmented invidual on the ground loads crates onto a truck.
“Looters of the Lucile Dynasty!” Holt booms, “cease your actions and walk away, this is your only warning!”
The looter with the bandana and bionic arm, Rockatansky, points his lasgun lazily at these newcomers.
“We don’t want no bloodshed, but we’re real good at bloodsheddin’.”
The looter in the helmet, Fetch, touches the vox-bead in his ear, speaking in voidcant and alerting the third looter inside the spire. He shoulders his rifle at Holt, and backs up his compatriot.
“That’s right,” Fetch yells, “Walk away old man, this ain’t anything to do with you.” The third looter, Zaal, appears from inside the spire, shotgun raised.
Father Patroneus splutters in outrage. “How dare you raise your weapons at an Inquisitor?”
In response, Holt raises his rosette above his head. “I am Inquisitor Aubray Holt! Your presence here is unsanctified. Remove yourselves or suffer the consequences. This is your only warning.”
With a note of panic in his voice, Rockatansky raises his rifle and shouts back “One more step and I’ll shoot!”
Both holy agents keep striding towards the spire, unphased by the looters’ threats. The Lucile rent-a-thugs seemed to be losing their nerve, it was time to act.
Holt bellowed, cutting through the howling wind. “Grapthar, now!”
Vanth and his team had made excellent progress. Topaz was scouting ahead while Honeis covered the rear. His auspex was reading some kind of congregation on the far side of the spire, but the reading was too obscured by the weather to make sense.
The sound of gunfire penetrates the shrieking gale. Heavy calibre, automatic gunfire. All three of his team instinctively press against the spire, trying to make out its origin.
Topaz and Honeis sweep the horizon with their lasguns while Vanth tries to hone in with his auspex. The machine spirit was not cooperative.
He signalled at his team: We’re not alone – the plan has not changed.
Grapthar’s heavy stubber roars, spitting a stream of lead towards the spire. He rakes it back and forth across the balcony, laughing maniacally, and catching all three Lucile looters in the barrage.
They dive for cover, but not before a searing hot round tears a chunk out of Fetch’s arm. His lasgun goes clattering to the floor, sliding off the balcony and onto the dusty ground below.
Father Patroneus presses the button on his book to auto-turn to the correct page for the ass-whooping he’s about to hand out.
He strides towards the spire under a hail of gunfire, his booming voice drowning out the throaty rattle of Grapthar’s weapon. He invokes Word of the Emperor, venerating faithful service above all else, stunning Rockatansky in his tracks.
“Clamps, get ’em!”
Clamps enters the fray. Clamping his clamps, Clamps charges towards Father Patroneus. He’s sluggish to attack, but he’s more than capable of rending limbs from torsos with a flick of his magnificent squeezers.
Patroneus dodges a few of his clumsy attacks, but can’t land a return blow with his power sword. Holt steps in, his neural whip crackling.
Strike after strike after strike is landed on Clamps, his augmented body shrugging off the damage like rainwater. His unaugmented mind however couldn’t shrug off the bio-electrical discharge from Holt’s neural whip.
His tiny lobotomised brain is overloaded. He goes stiff as a board and topples over, a bluescreen error message flickering in his eyes.
Vanth had been watching this entire exchange from behind cover. He knew every Inquisitor who operated in this region, and this wasn’t one of them.
Topaz was crouched in front of him. He had watched everything too, and had calculated the chance to engage against armour was high. His meltagun was raised.
“It’s considered bad form to melt other Inquisitors,” said Vanth, “So much paperwork.”
Topaz lowered his meltagun.
While this new Inquisitor and his allies were busy dealing with the loader-servitor, Vanth and his team slinked up the stairs. The looter at the top was preoccupied too, and a distracted mind is an unguarded mind.
With little effort, Vanth cast Terrify on Rockatansky. He forced visions of utter dread into the thug’s unprepared psyche, a phantasm of the spire bearing down on him, punishing for something he shouldn’t have stolen. Rockatansky flees in terror, bounding down the stairs and vaulting the railing, sprinting towards the getaway truck.
From his position on the balcony Vanth addresses the newcomers, gauntleted hands resting on the railing.
“Do you require any assistance, Inquisitor Holt?”
Holt turned away from the squirming servitor on the floor to see a robed figure on the balcony above him, flanked by two veteran guardsmen. He’d never met him before, but he’d read about him in many a junior Inquisitor’s final transmissions. The scarred, bald head. The sword that glows with a baleful light. The look of utter arrogance. Inquisitor Vanth.
“Things are in order Vanth,” Holt replied, “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“Indeed Inquisitor,” Vanth enjoyed making a show of knowing his opponent, even if he only knew them by overhearing their name a few moments ago. “We are here to investigate the source of the distress message, which I and no doubt yourself received. You, unlike the other fools, did not attend the coordinates and instead came straight to the source. Good.”
Holt was on the back foot. Was he being sincere, or is this a trick? He changed tack.
“There was distressing news of looters and I had to get involved.” Holt gestured to the wounded servo-loader on the ground. “Friends of yours?”
“Goodness no. These peons serve the Lucile Dynasty and are of little concern. Do you require any assistance in dispatching them? It seems that one is causing you quite the struggle.”
“A minor concern!” Holt found himself flustered at the veiled insult. The reports were right, he had a way of getting under your skin.
“If there are any more, we shall take care of them.” Vanth spoke in a tone that suggested a teacher disappointed in his pupil. He turned to rejoin his team further along the balcony, moving round the spire and out of sight.
Holt turned round to Father Patroneus, who was still struggling with Clamps. “Are we done?” He spat.
“Duty calls, my lord!” Patroneus responded with a jovial lilt, before plunging his power sword straight through the eye-socket of the malfunctioning Clamps.
Fetch and Zaal took cover inside the spire’s astropathic matrix chamber. Fetch had practically done a lap of the balcony to avoid the gunfire, and Zaal was crawling across the floor clutching a bloody leg.
Exercising some seniority, Fetch relinquishes Zaal of his shotgun. It wasn’t a weapon of choice, especially not in these kind of dusty conditions, but it was better than a broken neck or a rump full of bullet holes trying to retrieve his own weapon.
The shooting stopped, and they could hear the sounds of bravado outside. It seems this stew has another cook. Time to get out of the kitchen.
He poked his head outside the chamber. Both warbands were converging on the spire, but only one of the exits was blocked.
He touched the micro-bead in his ear. “Rockatansky, bring the truck round back. We’re leaving.”
Vanth wasn’t sure what’s Holt’s goals were here, but it was surely to do with the matrix. He needed to get there first.
He quickened his stried and arrived at chamber, just in time to see a pair of figures leave through the opposite doorway. They were immediately followed by a blast of heavy stubber fire from Holt’s gunman.
Good, he thought. The vermin are taking care of each other.
Grapthar clanked up the stairs ahead of his master. He was hopelessly out of breath. The dust was awful in his lungs and his clothes chafed terribly. He was sweaty, tired, and hurt. He was having the time of his life.
His Inquisitor had ordered him to take up a forward position, so he had turbo-hobbled towards the spire during the exchange with vanth. He had finally pulled himself up onto the balcony when he heard a noise next to him.
Two of the looters emerged from inside, one wounded, and he savoured the shocked looks on their faces. He found his second wind immediately, squeezing the trigger on his heavy stubber that was barely even been pointed at them.
He wielded his weapon like someone powerhousing their patio. Heavy calibre rounds exploded off the floor and walls in a deluge of bullets. He wasn’t even sure if he’d hit them.
What he did know is by the time his gun clicked empty they had disappeared, replaced with the sound of an engine speeding away into the storm.
Vanth approached the astropathic matrix. It was cold, despite the baking heat, and covered with a fine layer of dust. Several panels had been prised off and components crudely hacked from the mechanism, but nothing valuable. He could feel its true value – it still hummed with psychic resonance.
He stretched out a hand. Astropathic messages were particularly hard to scry. They communicate in riddles at the best of times. This was like searching for a book in a ruined library with the words scrubbed off the spines.
An irritatingly familiar voice boomed across the chamber. “What are you doing Vanth?”
Holt was standing in the entrance on the far side of the chamber. Vanth could feel the heavy boots of his companions behind him taking up firing positions. He tried not to let Holt hear the irritation in his voice.
“This is the source,” Vanth growled back, “I’m attempting something incredibly delicate. Have you ever accessed such an arcane device before?”
“I’ve had no need,” said Holt with a wry grin, his inferno pistol outstretched, “and nobody will soon!”
The melta beam seared through the matrix, vapourising and liquidising anything it touched in equal measures. There was soon little left except bubbling pools of crystal and fragments of machinery.
Silence. Bated breath.
Both warbands stood across the chamber from each other, weapons levelled, daring the other to fire first.
Vanth broke the quiet with a disappointed sigh. Perhaps there was something still salvageable.
“Was that… necessary, Inquisitor?”
“Yes,” proclaimed Holt, a righteous grin plastered across his face. “To keep the status quo and stability of the Imperium!”
Vanth’s temper was bubbling to the surface. “You understand these arrays are for communication? Without them we can’t possibly operate as an Imperium, let alone find what we’re looking for in this Emperor-forsaken armpit of the sector!”
“Some communications are best not getting out.”
“The communication has already got out!” Vanth retorted. His anger was audible. “And it has caused half the sector’s Conclave to go running after some insane Navigator Household like headless chickens! The damage was already done! At least one of us was trying to mitigate further catastrophe!”
Holt simply smiled. He turned and walked from the chamber, his companions covering their exit. He was happy to leave without bloodshed, and the thought of the infamous Vanth rummaging around in the ruin of Holt’s own making gave him a flutter of pride.
He had done the Imperium a great service today.
In the post-game debrief, we talked about what the Inquisitors would do next. Holt was happy to leave Vanth in control of the spire, as he considered his work complete there.
We reasoned that Vanth wouldn’t give up there, and has utilised every tool in his arsenal to glean what he can from the astropathic matrix. No other warbands were threatening his position there, so he was happy to set up a forward base and study the remnants further.
He discovered that the matrix contained a distress message and timestamp sent by Junior Navigbator Silvius to the conclave, as expected. However, it also contained a myraid of other astropathic communications, their data inexpertly purged.
It apepars that Elder Koronis, the current head of the house, is missing in action. Novator Hypatos, the current heir, had been acting as a mouthpiece. Hypatos hasn’t been heard from in months, ever since he met with representatives from the Lucile Dynasty to make an artifact sale on the ghost ship Ius Soli…
Inquisitor Holt destroyed the matrix, exactly as Silvius requested. He was awarded the Resource for completing his mission.
With some clever roleplay and some excellent Sagacity and Willpower checks made after the game, Vanth was still able to gain some information from the matrix. How he uses that information in the future remains to be seen…
Some great roleplay with a dash of violence made this scenario one of my favourites yet. We’ve had two ideologically-opposed Inquisitors meet and exchange unpleasantries, and despite the skirmish with the Lucile thugs, neither of the warbands came to blows with each other. Since Holt literally blew up Vanth’s plans in front of him however, they might not be so amicable if they cross paths again in the future.
Holt is going to get a nasty shock when he finds out he’s been played by Silvius…