Of Machines and Mutants

Omnissiah grant,
and descend the knowledge now cast from us into the realms beneath,
and before the fiery flame shall devour it,
that Thy wisdom may not leave us eternally,
Laxo sapientia iam sanctus
O Lord of Machine,
No death, no life can conquer thee
Who liveth and reigneth unto the Ages of the Ages.
— Adeptus Mechanicus Rite of Ending (spoken when a machine cannot be repaired)

Aenid goes undercover to talk to the serfs. After a long stint of back-breaking labour in the mine, she gets friendly enough with some expatriates from Scintilla's hives to learn a few things. First, as she heard earlier, they confirm that it was Assod Morir who started moving to terrorism in the original rebellion – losing the popular support and signalling the brutal quelling of the first Broken Chains rebellion. The new rebellion wants nothing to do with the serfs; it seems composed entirely of mutants who want to seize the entire planet for mutants. They mention that a big mutant who is one of Morir's lieutenants, Throgel, is known to have metal skin now and to be very resistant to high temperatures. Finally, the serfs whisper that the Adeptus Mechanicus have returned, so they may be supporting the new rebellion as they did the previous one… Aenid hides her surprise and returns to Precinct 14.

The acolytes, Sanctus Machina, and Baronet Riksdag have a palaver. Calpurnia reveals the true identity of Baronet Riksdag as Baron Ulbrexis, and the details of the mission as given by the Inquisitor. She then asks Sanctus Machina about the Adeptus Mechanicus' involvement, but he has no light to shed.

The Baron explains that it was him who got the Adeptus Mechanicus to show interest in his plans to modernize the mine and improve efficiency. The Harrow mine's production shot up by 3,000 percent, but the Queen refused to get involved and the Council of Nobles turned against Ulbrexis. The Adeptus Mechanicus left the planet, refusing to get caught in the middle. Ulbrexis then saw no recourse left but to attempt a rebellion to attract Imperial attention, but failed. The machines brought by tech priests were destroyed and the rebellion quelled. The Baron swears that he killed Assod Morir himself.

The acolytes ask some questions about the Council of Nobles and Queen Lachryma; Ulbrexis-Riksdag says that the Queen seems, from the recent descriptions, to have withdrawn from political life and leave all decisions to the Council.

They discuss possible motivations, as well as their previous encounters with the Order of the Serrated Query. When they talk about contacting the mutants of the Hard Vaults, Ulbrexis mentions that the mutants come all the way to the surface one night a month in order to trade deep-vein ore for food, medicine, and so forth. The next such trade night is expected for two nights hence.

The vox unit chimes, and Proctor Rotlan informs the acolytes that Captain Hernandez wishes to talk to them. Calpurnia, Aenid and Rollando go meet with Hernandez, who wants to know if they have made any progress on their “specialist” business. He casually mentions that he has a peasant uprising to put down outside today before getting back to the mine. “What, the tech priest's blessing of the tools?” Calpurnia asks. Hernandez is shocked to realize that Sanctus Machina is a tech priet (he's not a quick thinker) and runs to interrupt the ceremony.

Aenid warns Sanctus, and Calpurnia channels Narthax as best she can to intimidate Hernandez into backing off because of the paperwork involved. He relents but orders Sanctus Machina not to give any blessings until he's received explicit instructions from the Queen. As soon as Hernandez leaves, Sanctus deputizes an awe-struck peasant to dispense the blessings and gives him a vial of holy oil to annoint the tools with.

Since they have a couple of days to kill and orders to stay away from the serfs, they decide to go check out the mine tunnels. In this oppressive, claustrophobic environment, everyone but Aenid is uncomfortable. Baron Ulbrexis takes them down to a former hidden headquarters of the Broken Chains. They are deep below the normal working levels when Sanctus spots the glint of metal in a side corridor. He points, and they go explore – finding a broken-down tunneler. It was used to dig secret tunnels below the mine shafts during the rebellion. Sanctus gives the last rites to the poor tunneler to send its soul on to the Machine-God.

After about two hours of walking, the Baron stops in a natural cavern and goes over to a support beam, activating some sort of secret switch. A passage opens into a wall with some a ladder going up. The Baron says there is a hatch at the top and only space for three people, so Aenid, Calpurnia, and Sanctus Machina head up the ladder. They hear music coming from above, and Aenid recognizes a vox recording of a famous symphony. She cautiously opens the hatch with one hand, and her shotgun in the other.

She peers inside – and finds not a small cramped room but an immense room open to the stars! The very angles and geometry of the room make Aenid queasy and she sees seven misshapen people clad in brown robes are sitting around on broken furniture, drinking beer and listening to an old vox unit. Aenid creeps down a bit, gives hand signals to her companions. Calpurnia whispers a warning for Rollando on the vox box, and all four sneak into the room. (The Baron cannot go up the ladder because of his missing leg.)

They hide and look around – and realize that the hatch they came through is nowhere to be seen! The suspects are 30 or 40 feet away, and have spiked clubs and a few autoguns. The intricately carved columns around the room bear glyphs that make everyone queasy, just like in the Temple of the Joyous Choir in Ambulon…

The acolytes take aim and shoot five of the misshapen mutants before the targets even have a chance to throw up their arms and try to surrender. Rollando shoots a sixth in the leg, and Calpurnia orders the two survivors to move away from their weapons. Asked where the exit is, the mutants indicate one of the rooms. Sanctus Machina inspects the area they pointed to and after lengthy efforts, finds a spot where you he can move right through the rock – a very unsettling effect. He sticks his head through; it feels like very thick mud and he cannot see anything. Calpurnia notices that this spot shows the same discolouration as the rock pillars shaped by Broken Chains mutants in previous attacks.

Calpurnia grabs a rope and crosses over through the fluid rock. She finds herself on a ledge of rock in another part of the mine. After ascertaining that the spot is safe, she secures the rope and signals that the coast is clear. The rest of the group crosses over with the prisoners. Calpurnia calls the Baron and they all head up to the surface to meet back at Precinct 14. Calpurnia sends Aenid to enlist Proctor Rotlan's help in sneaking the prisoners past Movern Hernandez.

The two prisoners reveal, under Aenid's interrogation, that they have been with the Broken Chains for about a year and have been assigned to guard this base (the strange room) by Assod Morir for about a month. Before that, they had had a falling out with the mutants of the Hard Vaults after blaspheming against the Emperor and been thrown out. They say that the “immortal” Assod Morir is the one with the power to shape rock; he has been killed and risen again at least four times, and he has sworn never to die until his kind rules the stars… They deny that he can be anything but a mutant – even cowed, they say that their faith in Assod Morir will carry them through “for they are true.” Aenid immediately recognizes the same words used by the Joyous Choir. Assod Morir and his lieutenants Throgel and Raze are said to commune with the Great Mutant Unconscious.

Sanctus Machina sends a request to Queen Lachryma to be authorized to bless the tools – and gets a stunningly rapid denial within half an hour.

The next day, Calpurnia, Aenid and Rollando go present their respects to Baron Alswere, who currently controls the Harrow mine. He has about one hundred men-at-arms and a medieval-looking castle, living a comfortable lifestyle compared to the serfs, but far less than in Icenholm. He is proud of his involvement with the previous rebellion, where he was a knight to the traitor Ulbrexis and reported the traitor's activities to the Queen and the Council of Nobles. He also shows them the original writ from the Queen forbidding the Adeptus Mechanicus from interfering with any activities on the planet.

The acolytes take their leave and prepare to meet the mutants of the Hard Vaults later that night.

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