Sword & Spoken Word

Private Journal of Harlan Autumnhall #10

A box? A fucking box?

Is Seldan Forsellis out of his tiny mind?

After all this trouble, all this nattering about how we have to protect this thing at any cost, about how this is the “primary asset”, it’s a fucking box that no one can open?

I’m sorry, Anni. I’m not making much sense, I know. I’ll start at the beginning.

Seldan’s been going on about this “primary asset” for weeks. It seemed to be the major reason why he wanted to protect Damaris at all. Now he wants to evacuate it if it can’t be protected where it is.

After a little bluffing on my part, he took me to see it. It’s just a box. Worse, it’s a Yu’vath box.

The Angevins may have wiped them out, but even their leavings are bad news. They were Warp worshippers, aligned to Chaos or something closely equivalent. That could be an empty box. Or stasis casket containing one of their “Bone Warden” constructs. Or some more unholy and dangerous thing.

It’s certainly of unknown value.

Why?

Is there something he’s not saying?

Addendum:

I see. Not what is in the box, but that the Eldar want it, desperately. It appears the coldtrade network is based on this.

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Private Journal of Harlan Autumnhall #9

Dear Anastasia,

I’ve let another asset slip through my fingers. Phineas Ardentus is dead.

But not without giving up some secrets. I’ve found some new uses for certain toys, you see.

Forsellis.
Vostegaarde.
BlackBriar.
Lemaign.

This web has names now, faces. And I cannot help but notice that those names were all attached to girls who were most carefully paraded beneath my eyes at my inauguration.

Saara. Petra. Charlize. Mariele. Claudine. Simone. Selene. Sibelle.

It makes sense now. The potential. The alliances. The politics of marriage. Because I bear the last name on the list.

Autumnhall.

The name of the kingpin. Apparently, I am the young prince now, poised to inherit his father’s empire. Or to be used to control it.

Four Warrant Houses with sources of illicit alien artifacts. One wealthy merchant with the connections to move them quietly. A thousand and one dealers and distribution channels.

And a single mastermind, controlling all of it. A quiet House that appeared to be nothing more than a large investment bank. Scholarships. Hedge funds. Ways to clean money, dodge the Inquisition, the Imperial Tithe.

Inquisitor Volgin asked for me. He’s either very clever or very stupid and lucky. Does he know what sort of animal is on the other end of the tail he holds?

Now what to do? I could dismantle this thing, feed them all to the Lord Sector. Or try to run it myself. Or wash my hands of the whole mess, run off to make my fortune exploring Rune, come back and marry Felicity Lockhart. Or Elizabeth Orleans. Or even that gossip-column girl, if I wanted an entertaining scandal.

It’s strange to have this much freedom after spending a life locked in battle with father. I’ve been biding my time, trying to learn more before acting. Now I have enough.

Except that I am…. curious.

What is “the Artifact” that Seldan wants to extract from the Damaris’s surface?

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Transmission Intercepted on Demaris

FIrst Voice: “Hey, sumwun get da Kaptin.”

Second Voice: “No.”

First Voice: “Shuddup you git. ’E needz ta send some boyz down here. Da air pumps is on fire.”

Second Voice: “E can’t.”

First Voice: “Wut? Dere’s smoke everyware. Why not?”

Second Voice: “Cuz da Kaptin is on fire.”

First Voice: “OOoooo… errr…. sumbudy git to da barrix and tell da boyz to cum here and put dese fires out?”

Third Voice: “No.”

First Voice: “Why not?”

Third Voice: “Cuz da boyz is on fire.”

First Voice: “Wut? All of dem?”

Third voice: “Well…. lots.”

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Private Journal of Harlan Autumnhall #8

Dear Anastasia,

You’d like Lyra. Tiny, cute as a kitten, bouncy and friendly and cheerful and just a bit naive. Not as serious as you. Not a worrier. You’d like her.

The Orks, however, did not.

We trailed, masked by ancient stealth machinery, through the curtain of Ork asteroids. Sweating in silence as rocks tumbled past the great dome, balanced on their pillars of hydrogen fusion fire. Somewhere behind me, a voidsman muttered prayers to the Emperor. I did not pray. I never pray. Every moment I breathe is a gift, a blessing, not a possession, not something that I own and might fear the loss of.

For I am already dead.

Men whispered, though kilometers of hard vacuum lay between us and the alien. They did not want to speak. They scarcely dared to move. I saw a seasoned ex-Lieutenant of His Holy Navy jump when I raised my voice and gave the word. A single word.

Now.

The Choir circled her, eight ranking adepts of the Astra Telepathica, the fat one who is forever muttering to himself, the hulking brute who scourges himself with whips to make the power come, the pretty one with her miraculously whole eyes and the brand of Inquisitorial sanction burned into her forehead. Their hands joined, their voices raised. Reality rippled about them like a curtain of steam.

And the child raised her arms and heaved, as if hauling herself upward, and hung suspended in the air, swaying slowly back and forth in some unseen ripple of the warp. Reality bent toward her, a thin skin stretching over the vast ocean of raw energy. I felt it tug at me, drawing, wanting, beckoning. Calling.

I wanted to join my voices to theirs, but I did not know the words. From somewhere, impossibly far away, Brother Alrick sung the Rune of The Emperor’s Creed, a counterpoint to the Astropaths’ chanting. His words of holy light cut through each pause, shattering the dark whispers that gathered at the corners and edges of their voices, in the silences of their song.

Flames whirled in the air about Lyra, danced upon her skin. Patches of her pink dress crumpled into white ash and fell away, costly Illyrean Moth-Silk vanishing like touchpaper. And she heaved again, the unseen link dragging the circle of Astropaths to their knees like a chain of fallen dominoes. Blood began to trickle from the fat one’s nose. The pretty one’s face froze in an expression of awe or ecstasy, weeping as if she beheld the most beautiful thing in the universe, and never would again.

Lyra giggled, high and thin and pure, like a little girl at play.

Moving as one in a dream, I bent half an ear to the faint chatter of the vox. Orkish voices screaming reports of fires breaking out. Voidsmen reporting torpedo traces as weak-minded gunners on Ork vessels began to open fire upon each other.

We hung silent in the gulf of the void, tumbling in the wake of the Orks as they tore each each other apart. And all through it, Lyra laughed.

When finally her feet touched the deck again, I saw what I had known to look for… the fear in the eyes of hardened men. The averted gaze, the slightly withdrawing step, the pale faces and clenched hands. I’d seen it before.

I would not have that. She’s just a little girl. A little girl with a precious gift. Not an animal. Not a monster. With two long, deliberate steps, I reached her side.

And I swept her up in my arms and kissed her full on the lips, in front of the bridge crew and senior staff. And I carried her exhausted body down the stairs to the command suite, and made her a hot fudge sundae.

And Dr. Prescott dressed the burns on my arms and neck from where I touched her.

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Funerary Service for the Men of the ISV Beacon of Faith (Excerpt)

Any man, when pressed, might struggle to survive, to preserve his own existence. But when the five thousand men of the ISV Beacon of Faith pressed by the enemy, when their strength was overcome, they chose not to struggle for their own survival, but for ours. They chose to be a Beacon of Faith indeed, and purchase the lives of others with their sacrifice.

There is a special sadness that accompanies the death of a serviceman, for we’re never quite good enough to them-not really; we can’t be, because what they gave us is beyond our powers to repay. And so, when a serviceman dies, it’s a tear in the fabric, a break in the whole, and all we can do is remember.

It is, in a way, an odd thing to honor those who died in defense of the Imperium, in defense of us, in wars far away. The imagination plays a trick. We see these soldiers in our mind as old and wise. We see them as something like High Lords, grave and gray haired. But most of them were boys when they died, and they gave up two lives — the one they were living and the one they would have lived. When they died, they gave up their chance to be husbands and fathers and grandfathers. They gave up their chance to be revered old men. They gave up everything for humanity, for us. And all we can do is remember.

- Funerary Address by Bishop Mikael Arint of Demaris

Somewhere in the universe, a coin flip lands on its side.
Somewhere in the universe, a drop of water saves a life.
Somewhere in the universe, a pebble turns away a landslide..

Perhaps it is because someone believed hard enough.
Perhaps it is because, secretly, destiny can be fair.
Perhaps it is simply because the universe is a vast place, and anything can happen.

Yesterday, I was very cold.
Yesterday, I was alone, and I despaired.
Yesterday, I wanted to run away.

Today, I am going to believe hard enough.
Today, a pebble will stop a landslide.
Today, I am not going anywhere.

- Inscription on a monument (author unknown)

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Private Journal of Harlan Autumnhall #7

Dear Anastasia,

I’m late in writing this, but it’s turning over in my mind, and I cannot sleep.

I’ve been to the Edge, and looked out across the Void, at cold clear stars far beyond our reach.

It’s strange… the Maw is no different from anywhere else, in the fabric of real space. The Nails has excellent telescopic gear, anciently manufactured in the workshops of Mars. mounted high on the great dome. I looked across the Void, and saw… nothing. Clear space and distant stars burning.

It is only in the churning chaos of the Warp that the way is blocked.

Point your prow at the Rifts of Hecaton, burn your engines at crushing acceleration, and in a thousand years or ten, you will be there, safe from warptides, heedless of Terra’s dwindling beacon. But those thousands of years block us just as effectively as the churning of the Warp.

The ancient flame of Rune seems so close that I could almost pluck it from the lens, cup its light within my hands.

Sometimes our very powers cripple us, leaving us shackled to whatever shortcut or ease they furnished us with.

I came here to seek my fortune, not in golden Thrones, but in some sort of place, something to be if I cannot be what I was. And there are thrones enough here within reach, of gold and glory both. Perhaps I will somehow be able to unpick the impossible knot, reclaim what I was, hear your voice again. Few things are impossible to a man with freedom, power, and time.

So why risk it all for… what?

An uncertain map to the unknown? With no promise for the end, but the uncertain observation that others desired it? A tiny point of brilliance a thousand lightyears away?

But that point in the telescope pulls at me. If I go here, if the map is true, if I and my crew survive the fickle Warp and a thousand dangers of voyaging beyond the great beacon’s light, I will be the first human to see it close. I will have traveled further from humanity’s cradle than any man in recorded history.

Have I caught the explorer’s disease? Is this what drives men into the black? The simple burning need to know what is there, to see it?

My Navigatrix says this can be done.

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Private Journal of Harlan Autumnhall, #6

Dear Anastasia,

The man Phineas Ardentus is a guest aboard my ship. At least, that’s what he thinks. Trouble is, now that I have him, I’m not sure I want to give him up. I don’t quite know why.

Lyra is soft-hearted and doesn’t want his kids to lose him. Maybe it’s that.

But father would have said that one does not destroy a resource that may be of further use unless it becomes a liability.

And I’m guessing there with a good percentage of father in whatever mix they…. no, won’t say that. Not even here. I never told the real you, and I’m not about to commit it to paper.

But I’ve got him, and I’ll figure something out, I suppose.

Anyway, I’m on Footfall (that’s the station on the far side of the passage out of Imperial space), and a fellow Rogue Trader named Seldan Forsellis wants my help rooting out some Orks who are threatening his colonies. Thing is, I’m not sure it’s Orks. Might be a trap.

For him.

I’m not sure I can commit my men to battle this soon. They are slightly underequipped, and haven’t had the kind of training time really necessary to forge them into a cohesive fighting force.

They are ex-convicts from the ass end of space, tough as a Space Marine’s boots. But they are not trained to fight as a unit. I have ex-Imperial Guard, I have ex-Navy, I have a Sergeant at Arms who scares the most hardened convicts, and a Master at Arms who scares even him. I’ve beaten them black and blue with training swords, earned their respect. They’re working hard.

But it’s not enough time. This is training. Teambuilding. Not miracles. No magic.

I’m not strong yet. Not even as strong as when I had a Navy frigate in my pocket on Heptapyrgion. I have the metal, but I will need more time to beat it into a sword.

I will be have to be smart about this.

Love,

Harlan.

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Report of Por'Vre Sa'cea Harish

Aun’el Ho’sarn Zen’zeramacht:

Your instructions have been carried out.

The {Thief Merchant? Seller of Brigands?} Har’lan Au’tum’hal has been gifted with a Hunter Cadre of four-eights Shas and several engineers. {Boots of the Warrior Caste?} has accompanied them as a {Gifter of Tongues?}.

Each has its instructions, according to its duty.

In answer to Your query, I do not think we can assume the Har’lan is wholly {naive? oblivious? unenlightened?}

It is powerful in a society where selfish {untranslatable, resembles the number "1"} engage in destructive struggles. It will believe we have hidden motives and goals. But it will not know what they are.

- Por’Vre Sa’cea Harish

Por’Vre Sa’cea Harish:

Our victory is inevitable. Its very acceptance of Our offer is the victory of the Greater Good which We desired. It implicitly admits by this action that the benefits of cooperation outweigh the risks.

It will spread this truth within the hu’mans. The other tasks are useful, but unnecessary if this victory is achieved.

- Aun’el Ho’sarn Zen’zeramacht

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Intercepted Intelligence Report

Patron:

While my role is to report facts, not to analyze them, I fear that from the tenor of your most recent instructions, I may have failed to convey my previous observations in such a way as to make the implications clear.

I am neither placed to examine the… special… components of the Take The Nails, Too , nor trained to make any sense of what I might see.

This is not necessary.

I sent you the transcript of what Lord Autumnhall said to the Tau. This is explanation enough, if we look carefully.

It was no idle boast, what he said. The man is a master swordsman of almost inhuman skill. He defeated a genestealer in close combat. Even with that Astartes Deathwatch Marine standing next to him, he may well have been the deadliest man in that room. And one must understand his answer to the question in light of that.

When he said that the gun may have range, but a fight does not always start at range, that is all we need to know. Harlan Autumnhall is a man who trusts himself, trusts his skills, not tools or firepower. He is a man who wishes to be close to his enemy, to overpower him with his skill, his speed, his ferocity.

And so it will be with his craft. Whatever it was that made it disappear from the Navy’s augur, this thing is not for fleeing, nor for hiding. It is for striking from the range of a blade.

- Your Watchful Eye

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Transcription: 6th Autumnhall Investiture Triumph
The Words of Cardinal Torasi Ignato

Faithful souls, we are gathered here on this day to bear witness to the ascension of a holy herald and emissary of our most Divine Lord. We pray that the Emperor grant gravity to his voice, righteousness to his insights, and strength to his hand.

Sir Harlan Thaddeus Autumnhall, the first of your name, Lord of Aquitaine and faithful servant of The Emperor – are you willing to take the oath?

Resp: I am willing.

Act: The claimant is anointed with blessed oil.

Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the realms you claim in the name of The Emperor?

Resp: I do so swear.

Will you, to your power, cause law and justice in piety to be executed in all of your judgments?

Resp: I will.

Will you maintain the laws of The God-Emperor and the true profession of His Gospel?

Resp: I will.

Will you maintain and preserve, inviolably, the settlement of His Church, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in His Lex Imperialis?

Resp: I will.

Our gracious Emissary, to keep Your Eminence ever mindful of the law and Gospel of God as the Rule for the whole life and government of Imperial Servants, we present you with this book, the most valuable wisdom that this world affords. Here, within, is Divine Enlightenment.

Act: The Lex Imperialis is given to the anointed.

Behold, O Emperor, our seeker, and look upon the face of Thine anointed. For one day in Thy courts is better than a thousand in darkness.

Almighty Emperor, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts with righteous fire, that we may perfectly serve Thee, and worthily magnify Thy Holy Name.

Let us pray.

O Emperor, who providest for thy people by thy power, and rulest over them in stern discipline, grant unto this Thy servant Harlan Thaddeus Autumnhall the spirit of wisdom and government – that being devoted unto Thee with his whole heart he may so wisely govern – that in his time, by sword and spoken word, Thy Church shall prosper by the blood of its enemies, and Imperial devotion may continue – and that so persevering in Your Righteous Wrath unto the end, he may by Thy fury come into Thy everlasting domain.

Amen.

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