Into the Void

Without Him there is nothing!
— Evocation to the Blessed Emperor

The Sabre heads back to Magoros Prime, which is still choked with dust clouds. Every once ina while the clouds part enough to allow a view of the Egaran ruins. There is one energy signature in the northern continent, interfering with the swirling of the cloud patterns in the area. Aenid realizes the entire landmass is a hive structure — an alien hive. The energy beam from Magoros Secundus also points to this area.

Explorator Aleph 859 decides to accompany the acolytes to the planet surface; he says that because of something he calls "electromagnetic interference", the machine-spirits of the shuttle cannot approach any closer than a few kilometres from the site without risking grave injury; they will have to walk for the last few kilometres. They will need filter masks and sand suits.

After a short mass and blessing from Sister Talkos, they get in the shuttle and head down planet-side. The descent is rough, and at the last moment something impacts the side of the craft. Upon landing, Aleph 859 inspects the damage while the acolytes get ready; the wind is howling and the sand storms buffet everyone. They tie themselves to a single line for safety, for fear of losing someone.

Explorator Aleph shows them the damage he discovered: a hole, several centimetres across, going all the way through the wing. He believes it was caused by an autocannon shell — something is active down here. They wait the fifteen minutes it takes him to repair the damage, unwilling to split up the group.

Not too long after they start on foot, Rollando notices an Ork skeleton mostly buried in the sand, picked clean even of teeth. They continue on until they reach the alien city-maze; the architecture is disturbing, unsettling in the way it flows and unfolds. Rollando is getting a little winded.

Suddenly, Aenid notices the clatter of slug weapons, dead ahead. They approach cautiously, start hearing grunting, hollering, and the sounds of lasguns and plasma pistols as well. Aenid untethers herself from the group and sneaks ahead to scout, although of course the visibility is very limited in the permanent sand storm. She finds at least a dozen Ork corpses and half a dozen human corpses, as well as smaller Ork-like green-skinned creatures scuttling about and picking the corpses clean of valuables. Aenid retreats to give a sit rep; the human corpses were not wearing any distinctive marks or uniforms. A good-sized battle is still going on ahead.

They decide to flank the battle, and start approaching a crystalline structure four times higher than the surrounding structures. Aleph 859 believes the crystals may be some kind of power conduit, but they will need to go inside to learn more. Once again Aenid scouts ahead, going under a shadowy dark archway; the others see her swallowed up by the deep darkness.

In a blink, Aenid finds herself transported, swimming as a giant through Magoros system — and receiving information on everything in the system at once. She can move forward and backward in time to see the Righteous Path erupt in-system from the warp, tumbling and smashing into an asteroid in the Halo Shards — which she can now locate in present time.

She stumbles back out of the building, slightly stunned — and as she emerges, the full force of the experience finally hits her. Her agoraphobia kicks in as she has never been in such widely open space, and she curls up into a ball. A moment later, as the acolytes rush to check on her, something smacks into the side of the building: it's a bullet from one of the Orks' big sluggers. Fifteen Orks run forward, charging!

As a bullet ricochets off Rollando's armour, and the din of battle brings Aenid back to her sense. Mecha-dendrites suddenly spring from Aleph's back and discharge a bolt of electricity at the enemy. Calpurnia and Rolland blow a couple of Orks away before they engage in melee.

Calpurnia and Aenid are hit, but Aenid shrugs it off although Calpurnia is wounded. Aleph's mecha-dendrite fry off an Ork, and Rollando draws his sword to cleave another one. Another blast from Aleph destroys another Ork, but they retaliate by hitting with power axes. Another blow from Rollando kills one more. Aenid in turns draws her sword and skewers another Ork. A few more moments of wild melee leaves a large number of dead Orks around the group. They hurry back to the shuttle, where they find a horde of the smaller green creatures painting glyphs and trying to pry off pieces of the lander, to Aleph's horror. The lander will have to be entirely reconsecrated and resanctified, he says, and everyone in the group will have to be purified from exposure to foul xenos machine spirits.

A new problem arises: only Aenid has the location of the asteroid they are looking for, so she needs to be allowed onto the bridge to speak with the Navigator. The Sabre is headed in the direction of the Halo Shards, and Aenid is anointed with sacred oils and unguents before the Seneschal escorts her, under blindfold, to the bridge. She receives strict instructions that she must not move unless she is told to, nor speak without being spoken to. She is strapped to a gurney for the journey to the bridge, and gets scanned several times.

At last, she hears Seneschal Estigos tell her that they are in the final lift to the bridge. The lift opens and the Seneschal takes three steps in, then introduces Aenid as "the one sent for." A voice in her mind announces as the ship's Astropath, who will facilitate the exchange between her and the Navigator. The next moment, Aenid finds herself reliving the experience of the Void, but she takes comfort in the reassuring presence of the gurney and blindfold helmet. At last, the Astropath thanks her and tells her that the Navigator has the coordinates she needs. Seneschal Estigos takes Aenid back to her companions.

The Sabre heads for the frozen asteroid in the Halo Shards, which seems to have attracted several vessels to crash there over time. One is embedded head-first into the asteroid: it's the Righteous Path. Junior Purser Darl would like to accompany them in the lander, although she is still too weak to go any further. Aleph 859 says he can take them within 300 yards of the ship. A big hole is gaping in the side of the ship, and the artificial gravity will not be working, so they will need some equipment to get around.

They land in the starlit darkness, the Flickering Eye partly blocked off by the jutting silhouette of the broken rogue trader. The Righteous Path was now beautiful, although it is now ruined. The acolytes start their long slow exploration. After a long time, they get to a bulkhead that actually closes behind them, the first powered section they have found. Once past it, they start hearing the hum of machinery, lights turn on, and breathable air start pumping in! The Sabre calls in to check on the new anomalous readings. After a few minutes, their suit sensors report that the air is dense and warm enough to breath. Rollando tentatively cracks his faceplate open, and breathes in. The gravity suddenly turns on and they fall to the floor, sideways.


At the end of a corridor, a set of very ornate double doors with a seal of the Emperor's Ascension stand. They make the sign of the Aquila and approach slowly. Rollando and Calpurnia remember that this is a reproduction of the fresco that leads to the Emperor's Throne. They are unable to find a way to open the doors, but after enough searching they do find and access the formerly lavish bridge. Human remains are strewn about, and everything is thickly covered with dust. In the Navigator's well, Aenid finds around the Navigator's body an actual Inquisitor's rosette.

They also find the main bridge cogitator, and Calpurnia manages to activate it. On a small screen to one side, a single word appears: "Identify." She presents her signet ring of the Inquisition, but it answers "Clearance insufficient" and shuts down. Again, when Rollando presents his writ of authority. But Aenid presents the rosette — as the ranking legal expert, she decides they are currently outside the Empire and this does not count as impersonating an Inquisitor — and the cogitator accepts the input.

A report flashes by, confirming that every system on board is crippled except for a reading "Vault integrity intact." At this point, their vox units come to life and announce that a ship is rapidly approaching: the Fell Hand.

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