Dark Pursuits

Desoleum, Day One

From the personal journals of Loxiliana Tiel vi'Ortega

There’s a particular stench to hive worlds. It’s similar to the constant lived-in aroma of a starship’s centuries-recycled air, but with a sense of despair to it that steals past any kind of rebreather, sacred censer or filter; I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.

The almighty =I= has deigned to send us to Desoleum, in search of artifacts of a possible malefic or xeno origin. Neither is exactly the bailiwick of our benefactor’s cabal of course but the rumours indicate that the artifact has had a profound affect on those using it, which does bring it somewhere within our lines. Or so I’m led to understand, it’s not as though I’ll ever be given a straight answer in this line of work. I have been given a pair of acolytes to work with though; a slip of a girl encumbered by ill-fitting militarum tempestus carapace and a rather intimidating rifle, and a brute of an armoured savage that appears to have been caught quite literally red-handed at something or other.

As expected of me. I took charge of the situation and led us up into the apex of the hive, seeking out rumours of a noble believed to be corrupted by one of these artifacts, one ‘Lans Guljian’. Not a line I’m familiar with, but hives to tend to leave minor breeding like rabbits and splitting their dynasties in internecine little conflicts… Anyway, we made our way up to the hive’s upper levels. To my surprise the air was actually somewhat tolerable. I’ve had good luck posing as a debt collector when trying to find out about the goings-on of nobility; everyone loves gossip about their betters, and where better to get it from than the agrieved shylock who just wants to collect her pound of flesh? The walking armory and the slouching armour made for useful props in this regard, quickly gaining me the knowledge of the Guljian demesne, one Hesenstanz Manor. He had apparently become something of a recluse in recent months, refusing guests and emerging from within the residence only to scurry down to the lower levels. In my experience that indicates either an infatuation with some low-born joygirl or a crippling addiction to something that the up-hive drug peddlers wouldn’t touch: neither of which ever bodes well.

We made our way up to the Hesenstanz Manor, using the shylock cover to browbeat the house’s doyen into allowing us to meet his master inside the dishevelled manor, though an armoured figure watching us from the balcony with all the pomp and grace of an Imperial Navy captain made clear that despite appearances, he was still a nobleman of at least some power and wealth enough to maintain a household. A bare few moments after arriving inside, the silence within was rent by the frantic screams of a man in pain; the entire household began charging up and down staircases to enter a library on the second floor, allowing us to follow along behind without hassle. The ink-stained girl elected to remain in the guest room, while the large brute charged along after me, the shifting metal plates of his armour making a furious clanging noise. We burst into the librarium together, just in time to see the lord of the manor screaming on the floor, a brass letter opener clutched tightly in one hand and the pulped remains of his eyes on the floor before him. Inured to such sights I took no note of it, but a scullery maid began to make an utter mess of her work on the floors, heaving and dry retching quite horribly. A fist-sized orb rested malevolently on the writing desk behind him.

In my experience, if someone’s just clawed out their eyes there’s generally something they didn’t want to see anymore; acting on a hunch, I covered the orb with a cloth to prevent anyone else gazing on it, and ordered the red-handed warrior to prevent Lans from injuring himself further; the ink-swiller looked like a hypochondriac and seemed likely to have a medkit, so I rushed back down the stairs to collect her, cursing myself for not ensuring that the team was equipped with microbeads…

If it’s best not to let the unwary look at a potentially deadly relic, it’s better still not to allow them to touch it. While the brute struggled to subdue a civilian several decades his elder, I dramatically swept his table clear of possessions, taking advantage of the chaos to pocket the orb in its (hopefully) protective cloth, tucking it away in my backpack for later investigation.

The tax collector’s deft fingers proved to be at least moderately skilled at the medical arts with my oversight, and we quickly patched up the worst of the lordling’s self-inflicted wounds.
Under the influence of a sedative he returned to something approaching sensibility, babbling about a pale child from wailing wheels before having the poor taste to die. Our efforts to save him for further questioning proved fruitless, though the extent of his wounds should not have slain him. Worryingly, it was almost as though his brain had simply shut down. I despise relics like this orb, they have nothing of the Emperor’s munificence in them, only dark and twisted powers….

Rather than have to explain ourselves to the local Arbites, we elected to make discretion the better part of valour and retreat outside, after a quick perusal of the room revealed a broken oath-cog (A form of identity wand used locally as both a signifier of contracts and identity and for access to secure chambers, according to the mousy girl) and the lord’s personal journal. With a shrug to the bodyguard we departed the manse and I started looking through the journal, discovering raving entries about ‘towers of bone’, forgotten gods, and lost palaces. Showing the entries to the purse-watcher didn’t reveal anything, so I delicately passed the stone over the brute to look at, reasoning that the worst that could happen is he carves his own eyes out. He found the orb itself to be perfectly smooth, heavy and cold to the touch, with a strange tendency to slide rather than roll if placed on an inclined surface. Clearly an odd bauble, but not showing any immediate danger, I shrugged and stowed it back in my pack.

After demanding that we travel back to the mercantile district to acquire micro-beads (And ensuring their machine sprites were paired to the correct vox-channels) and some items for modification of gear, I found an appropriately pleasant hotel and booked it out for several days. Feeling suddenly quite overcome with fatigue, I bid the others a good night and turned in after a short read through the devotional psalms stored in my personal dataslate.

I don’t typically remember my dreams, but this one I believe will stay with me for years to come. Vast barren landscapes stretched before me, dotted with vast alien structures unlike any I had known. Despite the knowledge that I was dreaming, I felt a dread certainty that to remain there too long would cause me permanent harm. No matter the direction I traveled, the scenery refused to change, filling me with an overpowering fear that I could never escape! Clawing my way back up from the dreams hours later, I found myself covered in sweat, an Imperial rosary’s pointed wingtips digging harshly into the flesh of my palm where I had clutched it all night.

Pushing the fear back down into the tiny cage where it belongs, I reconvened with my acolytes to discuss our next move. Absent of any other leads, we chose to pursue the only one open to us, a gang of local noble toughs calling themselves the Babyfaces, known to ply a cantina in the Main Hive known as the Screaming Wheel as their place of ‘business’.

I will not speak of the happenings in the cantina, save that I believe the orb is doing something to infest my mind with visions, and one of the spyrers revealed that he had been acting as a middle-man in the trade of artefacts between the slain Lans and a trader going by the name of Zax Holthane, operating out of a decrepit section of the hive known as Three Stakes’ Rest.

I have a power-sword though, so that’s something.

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