The Kill-Team travelled to Karlack aboard Inquisitor Quist’s modest by highly customized void ship. The Angelus Invictus had no doubt served as a transport for the Deathwatch in the past, the accommodation’s provided to the team being retractable slabs built into the walls, equal in size to the stone plinth’s used at Watch Station Erioch.
The approach to Karlack is unique within the Jericho Reach. At the heart of the Crusade’s military power and the center of the Iron Collar that defends Imperial possession of the warp gate, the fortress world’s perimeter is littered with defenses. The first layer of fortified space is a sphere of mechanized battle stations, their augur arrays constantly scanning the void. A few track the Angelus Invictus with their plasma batteries as it passes. Next, on the outskirts of the occupied ring, are the massive space docks where Adeptus Mechanicus adepts repair and slowly construct new ships for the Imperial Navy. These jagged spires and gargantuan platforms berth everything from gleaming new fighters to the war-ravaged skeletons of cruisers who survived battles their crews did not. Supply stations, more advanced sensorium arrays, and voidfaring troop barracks orbit closer to the faded greyish-green planet. Karlack’s sky and atmosphere are thick with the smoke of industry and clouds of dirt thrown up by the ongoing construction. Once you clear the brackish cloud layer, the landmasses are patchworks of bare earth, dull armored fortifications, and the occasional stretch of green farmland where fast-growing crop strains are continually planted and harvested for processing into rations.
Tens of thousands of troops and transports stage from Karlack at any one time, regiment upon regiment preparing to replace the losses of an especially bloody battle in one of the Crusade salients. However, in addition to the many bases and emplacements in its orbit, the planet also requires a large permanent garrison for defense and maintaining order. Such troops occupy hundreds stations across Karlack, but the largest, first, and most important of these is Citadel Primaris. Citadel Primaris towers like a mountain above a plain of levelled earth. Observation decks and weapon emplacements jut from the sloping walls at regular intervals. The Angelus
Invictus lands on one of the immense duracrete pads between a Valkyrie transport and a huge Marauder bomber. Inquisitor Quist presents her rosette to the straight-backed guards at the main gate, and the Kill-team proceeds inside. A large gravel yard lies beyond the high walls, where several squads are drilling under the watchful eye of a Commissar. Before Quist and the Battle-Brothers can even cross the yard, a man in a General’s dress uniform emerges from one of the tall bastions, flanked by a dozen guards in black flak armor. The man is Lord General Castus Iacton. The General quickly greets the team before ushering them into his ready room. Recognition sparks in his eyes as Quist explains who she is and why she has come. “Inquisitor Quist, I was beginning to wonder if you were ever going to come. Your colleague left this behind, with the strictest orders that I was to deliver it to you only.” He walks to a small adamantine vault edged with gold filigree, and aligns several dials. The door swings open, and he withdraws a lacquered box. It is etched with ornate designs, and held shut by a series of warded locks even more diabolical than the one on his safe. He carefully presents the box to Inquisitor Quist.
The Inquisitor spends a moment scrutinizing the interlocking chains and coded wards. Then, she slides a chain aside to reveal a circle of runes with the Inquisition’s symbol in the center. She depresses the symbol and the runes light up in an amber glow. In mute fascination the Battle-Brothers look on. Buried within the chain links and carved into the locks are partial icons, like pieces of a puzzle. In a very deliberate order, Inquisitor Quist rotates the fastenings to align the symbols. As she forms each one: a skull, a leering face, a sword, the amber runes turn green. At last only one remains. She pauses for a few seconds, squinting at the box as though to clear her vision. She rubs her temples and aligns the two halves of an Aquila. The final rune turns green. As Quist lifts the lid her breathing is noticeably erratic. She sways slightly. The box tumbles from her hands as she falls to the floor, color quickly draining from her face. The unlocked box lies beside her, open lid showing nothing inside. Inquisitor Quist is quickly administered to by Brother Wagrus. His presence barely saving the Inquisitor from death. Unconscious she is taken to the medicae facilities in the fortress.
Questioning Lord-General Iacton brings to light several new pieces of information. Inquisitor Vincent left Citadel Primaris (around the date of his letter to Quist). When he departed, he left the box in his quarters. The Inquisitor claimed to be here to staunch the
Flourishing Cold Trade of xenos relics in Kar’thir, but the Lord General knew he spent a great deal of time on other more secret matters. Finally after a few minutes of questioning Iacton says – “Isn’t there some report you can retrieve? I told all this to the other Space Marines just last week!” After staring blankly for a few moments, the team inquires of the Lord General “Other space marines?” It appears that Black Templars asked Iacton many questions about Inquisitor Vincent, and investigated the Inquisitor’s quarters, which had been left undisturbed since his departure. It was actually their suggestion that he move the box from Vincent’s room to his vault. Once the other Space Marines had finished their investigation, they departed; Iacton believes they may have had a few documents in their possession. Their transport’s trajectory suggested they were headed elsewhere on the planet. A quick journey to Vincent’s quarters was undertaken.
The room is a converted office, with an unmade and largely unused cot in one corner. The small, disorderly room could easily be mistaken for the home of a lowly scribe. Parchment litters the desk and the cot, books lie open—each with a dozen page markers in it, and stacks of journals tower perilously on every flat surface. Several of the drawings depict geometric symbols of xenos origin. Searching the room the team found an Artifact Manifest describing ruined fragments of the alien technology Vincent encountered on Karlack. One of his research journals is also found to be missing a page. The journal’s title page reads “Beneath the Cenotaph.” The book is full of hand-written observations, sketches, and theories about the ancient history of Kar’thir, where the Cenotaph of Achilus resides. Vincent’s notes suggest that the indigenous city may have been built on the ruins of a civilization that pre-dated human settlement. Torn scraps of parchment are also found behind a desk, that when assembled read: No door that we would understand leads into the city. This key will afford you entry.
It is decided that Inquisitor Quist needs to be questioned, but as she is still under medical care and not expected to gain consciousness until the morning the team is given quarters for the night. Not long after arriving at said quarters, they are approached by a native servant holding a perfumed envelope bearing the seal of a sleeping felid. The servant awaits a response as the team reads the missive:
Esteemed Warriors of the God-Emperor, You would do me great honour if you would meet with me at the summit of this magnificent Imperial castle. I know that men of your importance are always short on time. I promise you brevity, and an unparalleled knowledge of the places, people, and history of this humble planet.
Your faithful servant,
Prince-Prefect Allewis LXXXIII
The Prince’s receiving room is decorated with off-world luxuries and a large silver crest of a sleeping felid hangs prominently on the mantle. “Welcome, welcome fine visitors.” The Prince-Prefect ushers you into a richly appointed room that belongs in a noble’s hive spire, not a fortress. The exterior balcony provides a sweeping view of the murky sky and bare earth outside. He gestures at a side table obviously prepared by a shrewd diplomat versed in the Adeptus Astartes. A basin of ice holds large, sturdy goblets of wine sized so that even power-armored hands can grip them. The accompanying delicacy of Bekrin otter has been seared on large skewers making it equally easy to partake of. “Now, the Adeptus Astartes only call when something important is afoot. How can Karlack’s Prince-Prefect assist you?” Soon it become apparent that the Prince wishes the team’s assistance in acting as an intermediary with General Iacton over the issue of the latest muster of the Karlack 1st, in exchange for whatever aid he might be able to extend during their stay on Karlack. Taking the Brothers to an attached veranda he points out the 1st far below on the mustering ground going about its drill. Even from there the team could tell that this muster was scraping the bottom of the barrel. The men still wear their woven native clothing; many are boys too young to even undergo Space Marine trials, while others are so old and sickly they seem unlikely to survive the space voyage to their first deployment.
While observing the Karlack 1st the Kill-team witnesses a truck roll up to the far side of the grounds and disgorge a squad of guardsmen. At least they appear to be wearing uniforms similar to the Karlack 1st. These men, however, start shooting into the assembled Karlack 1st and start making their way to the fortress doors throwing grenades as they go. The team notices that they are all carrying explosive charges as well. As the Prince-Regent exclaims “They are here to get me!” Astramael leaps into the air and descends on his jetpack to the carnage below. Brothers Cadmus, Johansson and Wagrus quickly move to the edge and start ranging shots to the terrorists far below, all the while doing their best to not hit any real guardsmen they recognize in the melee. Brother Astramael does great damage descending as an avenging angel of the Emperor, and despite nearly being blown up by a thrown charge he and his brothers make short work of the attack. The Prince is quite impressed with their display of righteous power and thanks them for ‘saving’ him.
The team returns to their quarters to await their hoped for meeting with Inquisitor Quist. Unfortunatly morning does not bring any change in the Inquisitors condition and the team sets about following the supposed Black Templars to the city of Kar’thir. About this time they also receive a message, relayed by the Inquisitor’s assassin, from one Mediator Dyne intended for Quist. The mediator is one of Inquisitor Vincent’s team and he is requesting a meeting in Kar’thir at Taeg Manor.
Approaching the center of Kar’thir, the Cenotaph of Achilus looms tall. The Cenotaph is a gleaming monolith of black marble, built in the center of a sprawling feudal town. It dwarfs the muddy wooden buildings that huddle like supplicants around its base. Large swathes of bare earth scar the settlement and its adjacent lands; some of them hold the skeletons of abandoned construction. Large cargo haulers rumble down other dirt paths, throwing huge clouds of dust into the air. This towering black monument entombs the Crusade’s first Lord Militant, Tiber Achilus. Built upon the ruins of an ancient Imperial temple, it has become the spiritual heart of the Crusade in many regards—with all the curses and commendations that entails.
Skipping the landing pad on the edge of the city, the team has themselves disembarked in the Foreigner’s Triangle near the city center. Travelling to Taeg Manor the team has a chance to mingle with the inhabitants. They learn a few things of indeterminate veracity:
• “Everyone knows there’s something wrong with the oceans below. There was an ill wind blowing from the south the day my wife bore our still babe. It was the cold breath of the reapers that live on the ocean floor, coming to take our poor child.”
• “Have you come to avenge Baron Taeg? His spirit rests ill, I tell you. His shadow moves back and forth in the halls of his old estate, and I’ve seen the lights flickering late at night from the road outside.”
• “Eternity Charms are nothing to be concerned with. They’re just harmless little reminders that good works can be immortal. Worse things change hands in Kar’thir. The Transpired Circle come like vultures to pick the ancient bones clean. The tales of what they find in the mud and rocks are so nightmarish I couldn’t begin to tell you what’s true and what’s not. But if you want something to look at, how about a nice, safe Charm? I’ll give you a good price on this one.”
• “What sort of miracle or menace has brought the holy Adeptus Astartes to us twice in so little time? I think I’d best be strong in my ignorance—better not to know. But sure as I stand before you blessed warriors now, there was another group here in the Pavilion just a few days ago. They didn’t stop to bless us with their words as you have, just went right to the Cenotaph there.”
Arriving at Taeg’s manor the team encounters Mediator Dyne. He wears simple local robes with a draping hood to keep his cranial implants from attracting attention. Dyne is extremely pleased to contact allies he can reveal himself to. He offers his assistance on the Kill-team’s task unconditionally, and requests their aid with his duty. He has uncovered that the merchant Alexei Drahj is using Kar’thir as a hub for smuggling xenos artefacts. He has the channels to arrange a meeting by posing as a prospective buyer. However, without the rest of his cadre, he lacks the firepower to bring the well-protected criminal to justice. Dyne asks if the Battle- Brothers are willing aide him in this matter. The team accedes to this request and then asks about Inquisitor Vincent. For two years Dyne has investigated the “Cold Trade” of xenos artifacts in Kar’thir. Much of the last year has been spen waiting for his master to return – a possibility that has grown ever more remote. According to him, Vincent uncovered the location of the ruins beneath the sea just before he disappeared. He gathered his cadre to make some final preparations in the southern islands, and intended to then head for the sunken city. Dyne remained behind as he was close to rooting out the artefact traffickers. He never heard from the cadre again. He also knows that Vincent spent a great deal of time in Kar’thir studying the Cenotaph, but can only conjecture what connection it has to the xenos structures in the southern ocean.
Following the clues the Kill-team decided to head to the Cenotaph of Achilus. After passing through the pavilion in front of the cenotaph the Brothers made their way up to the obsidian monument. Doors that were supposed to be sealed stood damaged – an immediate sign that something was amiss. A large breach exists in the panels, easily wide enough for a Space Marine to enter. Within the tomb’s interior is a drastically different environment from the outside. The unexposed sides of the black marble retain strange golden markings that glitter in the low light. A giant white likeness of the lost Tiber Achilus stands in the monument’s hollow heart, equally empty. The original Lord Militant was lost to the warp, and the stone effigy serves the place of a coffin. The opening drops into the nave of a crumbling Imperial cathedral. The wooden pews have long since rotted, and any ornamentation been stripped by scavengers, but statue fragments and faded patches of murals remain. The Battle- Brothers find themselves facing fragments of their own likenesses: Space Marines in old marks of armour carved into the support pillars. However, the tunnels continue. The walls of multiple altar niches and the apse gape open, revealing that an even more ancient site exists behind the Imperial construction. All of the chambers beyond are walled in the same sleek black material that forms the Cenotaph itself.
Descending the team finds an empty mausoleum. Among the ruined furniture most everything has been looted generations ago. A sound is heard in the distance that of metal tools working in the dirt. Silently approaching the team discovers three men in local clothes. They are using spades and shovels to dig underneath the rubble. A scrap of conversation is heard: ““Don’t you think if they’ve spent all this time down here they must know the place better than us?” Another voice replies, “Didn’t say they don’t. Just saying I don’t want to gamble they’re the types to share.” They freeze the moment the notice the Battle-Brothers. One of the men lobs his shovel at the team before turning to run deeper into the rubble. Another brandishes his pick and tries his best to look menacing. The last falls to his feet and begins praying to the Emperor for forgiveness. After securing the local men the team learn that this was the third time they had been into the Cenotaph. Mostly just digging up Eternity Charms, but there was an unusual item – a strange staff with branching crescent blades – which they sold to Alexei Drahj. The men are sent packing after vowing to never enter the ruins again.
Moving further into the rubble the team comes upon twin tunnels that wind back from two of the altars. Their walls covered in remarkably preserved images. While the familiar vertical strips of geometric golden script do occur at regular intervals, it is carved reliefs that dominate the passage. The imagery varies: landscapes with geometric structures, odd skeletal faces, and sarcophagi. A circular panel ringed with glyphs depicts a series of structures beneath a horizontal line. This could be interpreted as the level of the ocean above the buildings. Closer look detects a recurring mathematical them in the symbols around the relief, suggesting map coordinates. However, without a cipher key, no further decryption is possible.
The carved tunnels unite in a small vestibule which opens up to an immense man-made chasm. This opening is 30 meters wide and appears to stretch down into the ground for hundreds, if not thousands of meters. Deep below a warm light glows faintly, and soft voices echo.
Taking what precautions they could, the team slowly descended into the chasm. After descending about half the distance to the light they see figures gathered below, dressed in the simple wools and cotton weaves of Kar’thir’s residents. Rising above them in the center of a room is a crude statue. Its metal body is humanoid but vaguely defined—either deliberately or due to poor craftsmanship. Only the head is clearly fashioned and painted; it depicts a stark white human skull. As they close the distance the start to hear pieces of a vibrant story of generosity and benign deeds performed by beings referred to as the Undying: “And then the Undying said to the farmer: ‘I see that you have learned well the lessons we have taught. Your crops flourish in the drought while those of your neighbors wilt. I shall grant your request.’ The farmer fell to his knees in thanks as the Undying floated gracefully to his ailing child. The Undying laid his cool hand upon the boy’s brow. The sickness left his body, and he was whole again.”
Outraged at this heresy, Brother Astramael descends on wings of fire to smite the heretic. And lands among the gather throng of seventy or so congregants. Killing many he is soon joined by Cadmus, Johansson and Wagrus in destroying the ill armed heretics. Blood and body matter fly as the Emperor’s justice is meted out with merciless measure. The cultists used some sort of lightning projector from alcoves set 20 meters in the air, but they did much more damage to the cultists fighting on the floor then the Space Marines. Soon only the cultist’s leader remained, the rest of the heretics dead or fled. After having tried to kill himself in any fashion he could (knife, beating his head against Astramael’s chest and finally trying to break his own neck by thrashing wildly) the leader refused to answer any questions. Even under duress. Brother Wagrus believes he can concoct something when they return to Taeg house that would force a confession from him.
Following the passage the few cultist’s who escaped used to do so, the team proceeded upwards. For a few hundred metres the walls are smooth, as though cut with the same technology that built the ruins. However, after that the walls become uneven, braced by rotting wooden struts and frequently twisting around rock formations. It would have taken generations to tunnel this far at Karlack’s current technology level. The Battle-Brothers finally emerge. Even before you see the light of the exit, your Auto-senses alert you to the stench of rotting flesh and excrement. You may wonder what sort of charnel house lies ahead. However, when you step out of the tunnel, the only dead you see are the skins of animals. You are inside a tannery, where hides are splayed in the various stages of curing. A pair of young boys toil over the reeking vats.
The boys are found in a state of utter confusion and terror at the Space Marines appearance. When asked they tell the team that the leader of the cultists is the owner of the tannery, a man named Oldreg. They appear to know nothing about his activities outside the shop, or even of the existence of the passage. Oldreg’s rooms turn up several hand written stories similar to the one that was overheard in the chasm, and several Eternity Charms. Each of the boys also has an Eternity Charm given to them by their master. As they cannot read, they have no scriptures, but innocently confess that Oldreg has told them many fables of the Undying. As the team prepares to leave, Wagrus points out that the children are heretics now as well, having heard the blasphemies about the undying. Astramael inquires as to what to do and Wagrus promply takes the boys out behind the tannery. Two bolt pistol shots are heard before he returns to the rest of the team…