Sword & Spoken Word

Private Journal of Harlan Autumnhall, #14

Dear Anastasia:

I’ve put off writing this for a long time. Sometimes, events happen so thick and fast, come so unexpectedly, that it’s hard to find the time to commit them to words, let alone the words to commit them to.

Short version, then:

  • Our expedition to slay the Ork Warboss was successful, with the help of a band of Eldar exodites whom I still do not trust at all.
  • Someone else on the planet had other ideas. On our way back, a… rift… opened to the immaterium, in high orbit around the planet. A deliberate invocation. You can well imagine what emerged.
  • We were days away. Our only recourse was to issue orders to the House Forsellis cruiser by astropathic link. I persuaded Selene to order a single lance strike on the most probable source. It worked.
  • Losses were terrible. Seldan Forsellis, his other two daughters, half of the colony population, the Navy light cruiser “Aegis” lost with all hands.

I’ll try to write this into a proper letter later. We’re rebuilding. It’s like rulership is a pattern. First you send in the soldiers, then the engineers, then the bureaucrats with mops.

And somehow, you assemble it into a coherent narrative afterwards.

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A Letter to Lady Elizabeth Orleans

Dear Elizabeth:

I’m going to have to postpone our meeting, possibly cancel it altogether. Some things have come up and I may have to leave Footfall suddenly on some business unrelated to ours.

As for our business, the bearer of this letter is my man “Spectre”, and he is empowered to discuss details.

The other thing is a gift, of sorts. I know I’ve thanked you already for your help in saving Damaris from the Orks, and your assisting in rebuilding after the Rift Disaster, but this is a little more… personal.

I’d hoped to present it in person, but I’ll just have to settle for Spectre’s description of the look on your face.

Anyway, Selene should be arriving soon, and you two can work out of the rest of the Damaris stuff. You girls try and get along now. I realize you have good reasons for not trusting the church, but she has good reasons for needing a stable Damaris… and so do you and I. It hasn’t been easy recruiting colonists to repopulate a world that has suffered a daemonic incursion, and despite Brother Alric’s best efforts, we will be behind the curve for years to come.

I’ll try to see you again before I leave, but that might not happen, and if it does, I’ll probably drop in quite unexpectedly. Leave the light on or something.

Love, Harlan.

P.S. Your suggestion made me smile, but, on reflection, the reference is a bit too obscure for people to get the joke. I think I’ve decided to go with “ISV Attitude Adjuster”.

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Selected Writings of Harlan Autumnhall, #1

Introduction to “Divination and The Eldar”, by Harlan Autumnhall (excerpt)

It is not to be thought, however, that merely because the Eldar are master of the arts of divination, that they have mastered it in all its forms, or that they “know” the future.

In truth, the reliance of the post-Fall Eldar upon divination has brought as much confusion as wisdom, and has limited as much as it has empowered.

As a culture, most Eldar no longer believe in the connection of cause and effect. While Mankind sees divination of the future as the art of revealing things that may be, and thereby empowering the diviner to wisely choose between them, most Eldar believe that it reveals what shall be, and that choice and empowerment are equally illusions.

Eldar “Farseer” techniques never reveal more than one path or possibility, and while the wytches themselves take this as proof of their dogma, it is equally arguable that they simply foresee their own unwillingness to make a choice.

Not the lowliest wretch in the penal battalions of the Astra Militarum, or the most wretched slave of Chaos, or the even the neurologically neutered Tau, could ever be less free than the mightiest Eldar. They live in utter submission to their least vision or forecast, seeking only for the path they must, no, that they will walk.

When asked why they seek to see, if the path is inevitable, they merely reply that it was inevitable that they should seek, if they can be made to understand the question at all. When told that this is unfalsifiable, they merely reply that it was inevitable that it should be so.

Perhaps this cowardly philosophy, if it can be called such, has its roots in the history of the Fall, for only in a universe without cause and effect, a world without guilt or responsibility, can the vile aliens’ hands be free of an ocean of blood.

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Private Journal of Harlan Autumnhall, #13

Dear Anastasia,

I surprised myself today.

I had two secrets. The first you know. The second you would know if you if I could deliver these letters, and you could read them.

I thought I do anything, kill anyone, to keep those secrets. I believed that.

But today, I told Nochellie Von Nostra one of those secrets, because it was the only way to save her life. I had to tell her, and Kylie Nakamura, and Lyra as well.

You see, we were in a damaged section of the Eldar webway, and there was a daemon, and…

… you know what? Nevermind. It’s all a bit… out there. And it doesn’t actually matter.

I had to do something. And you know what I did. I mean, you don’t know. But you… know.

Somewhere, somehow, invisibly, gradually, over the two years we have lived together, laughed together, fought for survival together, and everything in between, she turned from someone I would kill to protect my secrets, to someone I would sacrifice those secrets to save.

And Lyra, from a child to almost a woman now. No more jam on the Rose Primarius. No more stuffed animals.

She saved us all, in the Webway, in the Immaterium. She radiates warmth, light, hope. Had she not stepped through that door with us, we would be dead in that freezing darkness, those black and dead tunnels outside the world.

Soul of Fire, the xenos prophet named her. Is it her? Or is it… Him?

I have only a moment to record this. The Daemon we faced there, words cannot describe it, a nightmare vision of infinite suffering, a sort of “pain golem” crafted to some awful purpose by the Ruinous Powers…. I fear I may be injured in some subtle way…

The medical systems have proclaimed me whole but in shock, pumped themselves dry of ultramorph, warning glyphs in my display, and yet my hand screams as if still in the fire. But the armour is without scratch or blemish.

I must stand here silent until the navy shock troops withdraw. Kylie is clinging to me, pretending fear. In truth, she is holding me upright. Good Kitty. Faithful Kitty. Kitty who literally followed me into Hell. I mus’ get her ’sumfin… nice….

…. ooh, theeeeeeeeeeere’s the morphine nowww… pain’s….gone. g’night, Anni. Love you.

{Recording includes several minutes of random background noise before cutting off.}

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The Story So Far, Major Subplots.
  • Harlan Autumnhall appears to be investigating the identities and motives of the Eldar pirates who attacked the ISV St. Cordellia and killed his family. With the assistance of Lady Elizabeth Orleans, holder of an Imperial Warrant (despite her sex), who is well known for her successful campaigns against the Eldar, he has identified the group responsible, and gathers intelligence about their motives and how best to move against them.
  • Harlan Autumnhall has said little or nothing about what exactly happened aboard the St. Cordellia, and has successfully secured all surveillance and flight recorder data. While he has shared some of this evidence with those assisting him, there are unexplained gaps which he refuses to talk about.
  • Brother Alrick does not discuss his past, but hints have emergence that he was not always a priest, that his hatred of Chaos runs unusually deep, beyond the doctrinal and into the personal, and that certain members of the Inquisition would like very much to speak with him.
  • Selena Veltenstone was a mining slave on Spheris Secundus before she was discovered to have psykic gifts and shipped off to Earth. She is unusually cagey, especially given her bubbly and open personality, about what exactly happened there.
  • Selena Veltenstone wears a pedant given to her by a mentor, Chief Astopathic Listener Yrastien Brahms, which appears to be made of a strange, psykically reactive material. Harlan Autumhall wears a sword of the same material, which functions much like a psyker’s weapon despite his lack of any such gift. Brahms himself, the source of both artifacts, was killed in a naval action before he could explain their provenance or significance.
  • Nochellie Von Nostra is going to significant efforts to track down and speak to certain specific individuals scattered across a wide range of planets, but has not explained who they are or why she seeks them out.
  • Nochellie Von Nosta displays precognitive abilities unusual for a Navigator, but more typical of a psyker who has studied divination. Her house was very keen to retain property rights to these “insights” in her contract with Harlan Autumnhall.
  • Spectre appears to have some sort of prior relationship with a Calixian noblewoman with whom he is very much infatuated…. and a deep antipathy for her husband.
  • Many Calixian noble houses and Warranted houses have displayed a keen interest in establishing matrimonial ties with the new (and extremely eligible) Warrant Holder Harlan Autumnhall. The most likely prospects appear to be any one of the three daughters of House Forsellis, or possibly Felicity, daughter of Rogue Trader Synbar Lockhart.
  • While working against House Ardentus, Harlan and his crew infiltrated the operation of a Calixian pirate named Castillo, one of the House’s criminal contacts. After retrieving for him a stolen starmap, Nochellie discovered it to contain a navigable Warp route to Rune, far out in the Halo Stars, beyond the reach of the Astronomican. Harlan returned a false copy of the map to Castillo, with the intention that following its distorted path would lead the the pirate’s death. The true map he kept for himself.
  • While putting down the genestealer infestation on Heptapyrgion, Magos Holt discovered that the prison was built on the wreckage of a pre-Heresy spacecraft. After looting much valuable arecheotech for his employer, Holt was able to derive a working trace of the vessel’s last known port of call, in the Koronus Expanse. Perhaps more rarities may be found there.
  • The Damaris colony is built around the site of a secret excavation of Yu’vath artefacts. While most of the items have been removed years ago, one object remains…. a shielded casket built into the walls of the volcano itself, with a powerful containment field. Its contents are unknown, but it is known that the Eldar are desperately seeking whatever lies within.
  • While tracking the movements of Orkish troops across the surface of the colony world of Damaris, Harlan and his crew found the remains of an ancient Eldar colony, complete with a dead Webway gate. Slaughtering the Ork force revealed what they came to find, a dissident Ork psyker given to insightful, but incoherent, precognitive pronouncements. Apparently, “the Black Circle” is coming to Damaris, whatever that might mean.
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The Story So Far, Part Two

At the gala following his grand ceremony of ascension, Harlan discussed much business with other noble and Warranted houses, and learned that his erstwhile target, Phineas Ardentus, had been in involved in a “Cold Trade” network with Harlan’s own father, smuggling xenos artifacts into Imperial space from the Koronus expanse.

Gathering information by bluff and pretense, Harlan and his crew identified the major players in the conspiracy, and helped create both the appearance and the reality of enemies, both of the criminal and law enforcement varieties, closing in on House Ardentus.

Harlan then offered him sanctuary aboard his spacecraft as the expedition headed for the Koronus Expanse. Once on board, Lord Ardentus was not heard from again.

In the Expanse, the crew took on supplies at Footfall Station, and departed in the company of another Rogue Trader, Seldan Forsellis, to investigate a colony, Damaris, founded by the Forsellis Clan which had dropped out of contact in recent months.

Arriving there, they found the planet suffering periodic Astropathic blackouts, and threatened by a massive Ork presence in the outer asteroid belts. After running naval battles with the Ork fleet of converted asteroids, the Orks have made planetfall and laid siege to the colony itself.

While successful in inflicting many times their numbers in causalities upon the Orks, the Imperial defenders are vastly outnumbered and in danger of being worn away by attrition despite their superior tactics and firepower.

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The Story so far...

Our tale began with Harlan of House Autumhall, who discovered he was heir to an Imperial Warrant of Trade only when his father and entire family were killed by Eldar Corsairs, who boarded a commercial pilgrim vessel bound for Terra. It is unknown how Harlan himself survived.

Harlan the Rogue Trader is a man of mediocre charisma, but great cunning and ruthlessness, preferring to dispatch his enemies with trickery in preference to fire and steel.However, his skill with the sword is uncanny, defeating Ork Warbosses and Tyranid Genestealers with relative ease. To engage him in close quarters combat is to die with one’s blade unblooded.

Several months after he was rescued from the drifting wreck, Harlan received an invitation from Inquisitor Volgin of the Ordo Xenos, who offered to free his inheritance from Imperial red tape and support his ascension to the title in exchange for a few small favours.

Harlan began to hire staff, including the youngest High Astropath on record, Lady Selena Veltenstone, also known as “Lyra”, a graduate of the training program on Terra at the mere age of twelve years.

Lyra the Astropath is a child prodigy, a genius scholar who remembers with perfect clarity every single thing she sees or hears. She is blessed with the rare gift of Pyromancy, the ability to burn the Emperor’s enemies with a touch or even a glance. For all this, she is still a teenage girl, prone to childish fears, and bursts of exuberance.

His first task took him to the prison planet of Heptapyrgion aboard a commandeered frigate of His Holy Navy. Discovering the prison in a simultaneous riot and genestealer infestation, he rallied the combined navy men, guards, and uninfested prisoners to purge the infected, coming away with a loyal indentured, crew, a goodly haul of archaeotech loot from the depths of a crashed derelict, the services of a missionary priest of the Imperial cult, one Brother Alrik

Brother Alrick the Missionary is jovial, hard-drinking and an easy conversationalist, but does not discuss his past. While most are driven by a fanatical hatred for the Emperor’s enemies, this emotion is eclipsed in Brother Alrik by an even more fervent love for even the humblest of His servants, and indeed for humanity. He is a terror in battle, wielding chainsword and flamer to great effect, but his true strength is the devotion and fervor he inspires in even the most hard-bitten and cynical bodies of fighting men.

… of Magos Holt of the Machine Cult…

Alexandr Holt the Techpriest Explorator is ruthless, violent, and borderline autistic, understanding little of politics or social graces, and caring even less. Technically brilliant and terrifying in battle, Holt nonetheless frequently strains his master’s patience, and perhaps even sanity, with his desire to murder every problem with superior firepower, and his blissful unawareness of the long term consequences of such tactics.

… of a shady underworld figure, a former prisoner known only as “Spectre”.

Spectre the Senescal is subtle, secretive, and affects a facade of groveling obsequiousness which does little to prevent him from stealing anything that isn’t nailed down. If it IS nailed down, he will pry it up, steal it as well, and then take the nails, too. Harlan turns a blind eye to this so long as Spectre steals more FOR House Autumnhall than he steals FROM House Autumnhall.

Returning to Scintilla, Harlan undertook Inquisitor Volgin’s second request, to undermine and subtly destroy business Magnate Phineas Ardentus. While quietly maneuvering to undermine Ardentus’s support and interests, Harlan underwent a grand ceremony of ascension to his title, purchased a voidcraft, and hired a Navigatrix, Lady Nochellie of House Von Nostra.

Lady Nochellie Von Nostra the Navigator is a woman of strange precognitive gifts and many secrets. In addition to her duties aboard ship, she serves Harlan as a close advisor on matters pertaining the Warp, and even by his side in combat, augmenting her strange powers with expert use of her extensive collection of exotic firearms.

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Harlan Autumnhall's Notes on Dakkakles

“Man with Two Faces” – obvious, mustn’t let him elaborate on this, though.

“A third face is coming, bloodier, more cunning”. Troubling. Will I have to do the… thing… again? Once was risk enough. Or does he mean another one?

“Priest with Hands of Blood” – Brother Alrick. Blood on the hands frequently a human metaphor for guilt, murder, a death toll…. same for Orks?

Never asked about his past.

“Lady with a Thousand Eyes” – Nochellie. Related to operations of the Von Nostra clan? Agents/spies?

Nochellie is looking for people on various worlds… asked for a detour once. A thousand of them? (Would take forever.)

DK: “You will kill him.” Nochellie: “Or he will kill me”. DK: “That, too, is an outcome.”

Does N. have a target? I may have to resort to dealing with her as I dealt with Spectre. But she might understand the nature of it… dangerous.

“Girl with Soul of Fire”(Lyra) – Don’t let the obviousness blind me to hidden meanings. What does the soul mean to an Ork?

“Black Circle is coming”

  • Circle sometimes means a group of people (implies cult or conspiracy)
  • Literally a disk? Lyra suggested an eclipse…
  • Moving warp storm? I have suggested before that the periodic Astropathic silences were the tendrils of a spiral warp storm sweeping the system. (If so, we may need to make a quick exit. Could Dakkakles have lured Snokgritt here to trap him and his Waaaagh in the system?)

“here to get our hits in”?

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Private Journal of Harlan Autumnhall #12

Dear Anastasia,

Today, I spoke with an Orkish seer… Dakkakles, the Green Sage.

I had never thought of the creatures as anything but brutal and dangerous, or failing that, laughable… a sort of comic relief in a grim and dark universe, albeit a joke with a nasty finish.

But in this grotesque beast, I saw something sad, almost pitiable… a fogged mind, struggling to break free of its Orkish nature, like a gifted void pilot born in an age of stone axes, always yearning for the unreachable stars.

I cannot help but think that the Orks are not so much a brutal and unrefined race as a fallen one, a weapon that has lost its hilt, pointlessly warring forever because the creator or subspecies that gave it thought or purpose is now forever lost.

Orks will tell you that “Orks is made for fighting and winning”. What if that were not a metaphor? What if Orks were indeed made for fighting, by some other vanished master? A biological weapon crafted by some greater species., or a specialized caste of a now-vanished race?

If so, Dakkakles is certainly a throwback to some shred of wisdom or foresight. He is certainly a powerful psyker with the gift of foretelling… he knows things he could not otherwise know.

His clan-kin came to the ancient Eldar site to slay him and his followers, but he did not flee. Perhaps his gift extended to knowing I and my crew would be there to intervene. Perhaps he has merely seen his own death, and it is on another day.

I must gather whatever I can of his mutterings, try to make sense of them. Lyra distrusts the precognitive arts, but I could hardly share her skepticism, now, could I? After all the… well, you know.

I shall have to see if I can get him and his “weird boys” to a safe place.

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Private Journal of Harlan Autumnhall #11

Dear Anastasia,

It seems I am not a warrior. I thought I was, because I can fight, and fight well. Chalk a ten meter ring around me and any ork, or man, and only I will leave that circle alive.

But a duelist is not a warrior.

I have learned this over the past weeks. So little of fighting a war is actual fighting. So much is logistics, intelligence, supply, morale and inspiration. After only a few days, I was no longer surprised to learn that an army requires two non-combatants for every soldier.

It is well that father taught me that no effective leader is ever too good to get his hands dirty.

When Brother Alrick found me yesterday to report, I was elbows-deep in grease, helping a Tech-Adept repair a tank engine. They will never love me as they love him (the man has a gift), but I have earned their respect and loyalty with many such displays, from the desperate battle on Heptapyrgion to personally teaching the close combat training to pitching in each day on Damaris.

It’s not all affectation, though. We need every hand. Even the most senior commanders are looking haggard. We’ve all missed meals, sleep. We try to rotate the men in and out of the line, but they are tired, too, from constant vigilance if not from fighting.

We win every fight. In the void, on the ground. The orks come flying at our guns as if there is no tomorrow, and for most of them, there isn’t. We kill twenty orks, forty, fifty, for every man lost or even wounded, but I still fear we will win every battle and lose this war.

There are so many of them. We butcher them and they just keep coming.

They are not fearless. I have seen them flee. I have seen them scatter from onrushing tanks, I have seen them rush about aimlessly in blind panic when the railguns open up. I have even seen them try to surrender. And cut them down with my blade as they threw their weapons down.

They do value their lives. They are brave beyond reason, not because they are brave, but because they are foolish. It does not occur to them that they can lose, that they can die, until their numbers are broken.

We will have to break them, and break them hard, or we will lose the colony.

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