The Shilwulf Dynasty
Chapter 07 - Dinner With the Governor
|Present Location:||Preparing to meet at Governor Dunkirk’s mansion|
Hob’s fierce growl echoes throughout the lander bay as he struggles to free himself from his tenacious assailant’s grasp. Despite his valiant effort, his foe’s strength proves to be too great even for a seasoned warrior such as himself. He roars once more, unwilling to go down without a fight even in the face of the overwhelming odds against him.
Octavius sighs. ‘I sincerely doubt that you will be defeated by a piece of dress attire, least of which a necktie.’ He stands with his arms straight out while an attendant finishes brushing his long, high-collared officer’s coat.
Seneschal Devalt stands nearby, by comparison the epitome of graceful composure. His calm demeanor makes it seem as though he wears his perfectly tailored tuxedo everyday. While the attendants cast worried glances in Hob’s direction, Devalt merely rolls his eyes at the Mortressan ape’s growls and snarls. His diamond cufflinks sparkle as he takes the polished silver chrono from his besom pocket and casually glances at the time.
’Couldn’t help but notice you’re not wearin’ one, sir.’
‘Hob, I am the rogue trader of the Shilwulf Dynasty, I-’
’Om’mak,’ the bodyguard says emphatically, momentarily forgetting his futile battle as he stares past the Lord Captain.
Slightly annoyed at being interrupted, Octavius turns to follow his gaze toward the distraction and finds himself speechless.
Anna’s floor-length evening gown shimmers and moves like liquid, hugging her slim torso before flaring slightly at the hips. As she walks toward the rogue trader, the small crystals sewn all over the surface of the gown twinkle like dew drops as they catch the light. Free from their usual braid tonight, her long red curls cascade over her bare shoulders.
‘Thank you for the dress, Lord Captain. May I say that you all look very handsome this evening.’
Regaining his composure, Octavius gives her a gentle embrace. While the bodyguard and seneschal are both quite striking in their attire, tonight no man can outshine the rogue trader.
The veritable wall of Imperial Navy medals pinned on the left breast of his coat jingle softly as he holds his arm out for the doctor. The sapphire eyes of his wolf head pauldrons glint almost as though they are alive rather than cast from pure silver. As Anna accepts his proffered arm, gesturing toward the open door of the waiting Aquila lander.
‘If everyone is ready, let us be on our way.’
They find Janus already waiting aboard the vessel that will take them to the surface of Tanstar. Also dressed for the evening, he wears black formal robes, his thin hair slicked back away from his gaunt face. He taps his foot anxiously, likely not looking forward to his second trip planetside in as many days.
‘Must have taken ’em most of the evenin’ to get you ready, Devalt,’ Hob chides as they take their seats. ’What’d you use on your hair, axle grease?’
The seneschal pauses, tilting his chin up like a wolf sniffing at the air. ‘Likely less time than it took them to wrestle you into a bath and scrub the filth off of you.’
Hob renews the fight with his tie as the lander departs the Hymn. Every so often the others hear a quiet snarl coming from his seat, but for the most part he seems to have finally made peace with his fate.
’What’s that?’ the seneschal says, holding his hand up to the com-bead his ear. ‘I see. Do as they instruct.’
‘Is there a problem?’ Anna asks.
Devalt looks up from his data-slate. ‘Hmm? Oh, it’s nothing. They diverted us to the public spaceport.’
‘You can’t be serious?’ Hob rumbles.
‘Is that unusual?’ Anna asks.
‘Damn straight it is. Tell ’em to save that for the local swine.’
‘Surely you don’t think I would be unprepared for such an occurrence?’ the seneschal says with a confident grin.
‘The flight down will be brief, we should establish the mind link before we land,’ Janus suggests.
‘Mind link?’ Anna asks.
‘I will provide a way for us to communicate through thought instead of using the com-beads.’ Janus senses her concern even before it registers on her face. ‘I won’t be reading your thoughts. I’ll merely be acting as a conduit for telepathic communication between all of us.’
She tries to relax but finds it to be a difficult task. A slight pressure begins on the front of her brain, not painful but noticeably uncomfortable, like a sudden headache is coming on. Placing her hand on her forehead she can feel a thin sheen of sweat on her skin.
What if I mess this up? I could get us all killed. Maybe I shouldn’t have come along, I really-
+Relax, Annatolla+ she hears Janus’s voice but it seems different somehow, unusually soothing. +Don’t resist and the pressure will fade+
+I don’t know how+ As the pain begins to increase, a feeling of trepidation grips her. Her breathing becomes more rapid until it feels as though she might hyperventilate. +I’m sorry, I can’t. I don’t understand-+
+Annatolla+ Octavius’s voice drifts through her mind. +Do you recall the evening we strolled along the canals on Venesia IV?+
+Of course I do+ Her thoughts drift back to that beautiful summer evening, the bright stars reflected in the inky waters of the canals. Gondolas drifted by as the two of them walked together, wanting for nothing more than the pleasure of each other’s company.
+Such a wonderful night+ the Captain remarks.
Lost in nostalgia, it takes her a few moments to realize everyone is staring at her.
+Did it work?+ she thinks sheepishly, realizing she fell for the Lord Captain’s clever diversion.
+Yes+ they reply in unison.
When the Shilwulf retinue steps off the Aquila onto the public space port’s landing pad, they find a chauffeured luxury ground car sits awaiting their arrival.
‘How did you know?’ Anna asks the seneschal, her eyes wide with amazement. Devalt simply shrugs nonchalantly.
After a short drive, the car pulls through the open gates of the governor’s estate and onto the long tree-lined drive leading up to the mansion. Dusk falls over the meticulously manicured grounds, the brightly lit estate shining like a beacon.
The driver stops at the front steps where a waiting valet opens the door for the car’s occupants. He bows slightly, motioning toward the magnificent stairway leading up to the front door. Fireflies dance around the numerous lumen globes lining the pathway, the scents of jasmine and honeysuckle riding the cool evening breeze.
The tall mahogany doors of the house stand open, allowing orchestral music and the inviting aromas of several foods to greet the arriving guests. Two guards flank the doorway, dressed in immaculate golden ceremonial armor and armed with matching golden las rifles.
‘Is that armor real?’ Anna whispers to Octavius.
’It’s real gold, Doc,’ Hob snickers. ‘Not sure I’d call it real armor.’
A slight tumbling feeling begins to gnaw in the pit of her stomach. Such ostentatious displays of wealth have always made her uncomfortable, and they haven’t even made it past the front door.
‘Good evening, Lord Captain Shilwulf,’ the doorman greets them as they approach, taking the invitation from Octavius with a white-gloved hand.
Devalt lets loose a low whistle. ‘Looking good boys. That armor sure is pretty.’
Anna glances back and sees a smirk on Hob’s face. It’s rare occasion when the burly Mortressan graces anyone with a show of emotion. Knowing him as well as she does, anything resembling mirth is a certain indicator of trouble to follow.
‘I don’t believe I’ve ever seen shinier las guns,’ the seneschal continues. ‘Are they just for show or do they actually work?’
Her ears twitch at the sound of Hob’s deep chuckle rumbling behind her. She glances nervously at Octavius.
The Captain clears his throat, turning slightly towards them. ‘Gentlemen, we are honored guests here. Please do not pick a fight with the guards and keep your comments to yourselves. I am looking forward to a quiet evening.’
Like chastised children, Devalt and Hob respond in unison with a dejected, ‘Yes, sir.’
The doorman smiles politely as he escorts them into the foyer, where Anna can’t help but gape at the opulence of the grand hall before them.
The vast marble floor is polished to a mirror-like sheen, reflecting the crystal chandeliers above that blaze with light and sparkle. Large frescos span the width of the ceiling depicting various aspects of agricultural life in grand splendor. It seems nearly no surface has been spared from gilding, from the intricately tiled arches overhead to the very chairs the guests sit upon.
‘Announcing the arrival of Lord Captain Octavius Shilwulf, rogue trader of the Shilwulf Dynasty, accompanied by Doctor Annatolla Marastraza ’ the man announces. Pausing slightly before continuing, he casts a wary glance at those standing behind the rogue trader and doctor. ’And guests.’
Anna’s grip tightens around Octavius’s arm when everyone in the room, even the governor himself, turns to watch them enter.
’Don’t worry,’ Octavius whispers with a chuckle. ‘It is a rare opportunity to see a rogue trader in the flesh, even more so on a planet with no extraordinary exports.’
The crowd gives polite applause before returning to their own conversations, much to Anna’s relief.
‘I got the left, you take the right,’ Hob says in a low voice as the retinue makes their way into the room.
‘But the left has two more guards,’ Devalt whispers back.
‘No offense, you’re just gettin’ a little slow.’
‘A little slow?’
‘See? You’re confused already.’
‘Bah, if those pretty guns work it won’t be an issue. I’ll just take a few from your side while you’re busy gutting the others.’
’We’ll see ‘bout that, one eye.’
‘No cheating like last time. It doesn’t count if you use the Captain’s power sword.’
Like last time? Anna thinks in disbelief. The conversation is getting out of hand, growing louder as it becomes more heated. She casts a nervous glance back at the two of them, her concern growing even more when she sees they’re completely serious.
‘That wasn’t cheatin’, that’s standard procedure,’ Hob growls. A few nearby dignitaries glance their way with slightly alarmed expressions.
Octavius clears his throat once more, this time not bothering to look back. Much to Anna’s relief the bodyguard and seneschal grow quiet.
’I’d just compel every guard to shoot the man to his left,’ Janus says cooly.
‘Now that’s cheatin’.’
‘Annatolla,’ Octavius says as he hands her a glass of champagne. ‘Why don’t you enjoy the music while I attend to the very boring business of introductions?’
While reluctant to leave the safety of his side, Anna is certain she won’t be any more at ease in the diplomatic fencing that was about to begin.
‘As you wish, Lord Captain.’
The rogue trader’s eyes twinkle as he watches her walk away, but whatever thoughts may be dancing through his mind he keeps to himself.
‘Janus and I shall go make formal introductions to the governor,’ Octavius begins. ‘Hob, dance with Annatolla until I get back.’
‘Sir? Uh, can’t Devalt do that?’
‘The seneschal has another matter to attend to. The governor will not be foolish enough to attempt to kill a rogue trader so openly.’
‘But-’ The bodyguard looks around, feeling very much like a trapped rabbit with nowhere to run.
Octavius arches his brow. ‘Do I really need to order you to dance with a beautiful woman?’
‘No, sir,’ Hob replies, throwing a glare at the chuckling seneschal as he walks by.
’Shouldn’t take me more than thirty minutes, sir, give or take,’ Devalt says in a low voice.
‘Of course,’ Octavius says sipping his champagne. ’I’m certain you’ll be back in time for dessert.’
Hob enters the adjoining ballroom, catching a hint of Annatolla’s familiar scent. A second later he spies her standing near a marble sculpture, speaking with one of the powder-faced high society types. He is the first to admit that social interaction is not his forte, he would much rather be on a battlefield than here right now. Still, he feels a small twinge of jealousy at the ease of which the doctor interacts with others.
Many times he’s watched her from the shadows, confident of her complete ignorance to his presence. It’s during these times as she goes about her daily life that Hob garners a glimpse into how normal people exist. He grunts once quietly to himself at the thought. Normal is something he left behind long ago. For a few moments more he watches their exchange, thinking that perhaps Annatolla is actually enjoying herself.
Off the hook this time, he thinks with relief, until he notices her begin glancing around nervously. He sighs. Damnit.
‘Perhaps you would allow me to show you my private collection,’ the socialite says as Hob silently swoops up behind the doctor.
’She’s taken.’ Two simple words, but apparently more than enough to encourage the young man to hastily excuse himself and make his escape.
‘Thanks for the rescue,’ Anna says gratefully. ‘I didn’t think he’d ever shut up.’
’Cap’n told me to dance with you.’
‘I wasn’t aware you indulged in such fanciful things,’ she smiles as they walk onto the ballroom floor.
’I’m full of surprises, Doc.’
’Aren’t you concerned about all of these guards?’ she asks as they begin to twirl around the room. Anna glances apprehensively at Dunkirk’s numerous security forces stationed throughout the mansion.
‘The ones in the useless gold armor and dress weapons? Not really.’
‘But we don’t have any armor or weapons of our own.’ Though Hob, Devalt and Octavius are extremely skilled soldiers, the thought of the three of them facing a roomful of guards makes her stomach flip.
‘You don’t. Me and the seneschal have body gloves on and I can grab the Cap’n’s power sword.’
‘Body gloves?’ Anna asks, a quizzical look on her face.
He nods. ‘Thin enough to be worn under clothes but enough to give us an edge.’ Noting her troubled look he adds, ‘Doubt we’ll need to fight, Doc.’
As the two of them continue to dance slowly, a photographer makes his way over.
‘Compliments of Planetary Lord Governor Tolvos Dunkirk,’ he says, motioning for them to pose.
Anna rests her head on Hob’s chest and as the flash fades away, the music comes to an end seemingly all too soon.
‘Thank you for the dance, ka’le.’
A frown crosses Hob’s face as he looks down into her emerald green eyes, realizing they are filled with absolute trust in him. As he wrestles with an old familiar feeling tearing at his chest, it barely registers that their embrace has continued for too long.
Tell her. Now, damnit.
‘Mind if I have the next dance?’ a voice interrupts, suddenly bringing him back to reality. The Captain looks at them warmly as if nothing is amiss. Hob glances at Anna one more time, his confession perched on his tongue, before turning and walking away.
Octavius feels Anna shudder slightly as he slips his right arm around her waist. Despite his leather gloves, he senses her reflexive aversion for his cybernetic limb. Though he’s always taken measures to limit her exposure to its cold touch, they both realize that on some occasions contact is simply unavoidable. To his relief, she presses snugly against him as they begin to dance.
‘This is why I want you to be with me, Annatolla. I want us to experience this life together. I realize extravagance makes you uncomfortable but there’s so much to see in this universe, and I want to see it with you.’
‘This really is wonderful,’ she replies. ‘Thank you for everything.’
The two of them fall silent as they drift around the room like leaves on the wind. Though it’s been almost ten years since they’ve shared a dance, tonight it feels as though time has no meaning.
‘There is no need to thank me, Annatolla,’ he says, gazing deeply into her eyes. ‘You are a part of the dynasty now, I will always provide for you.’
Caught up in the moment, everything around them begins to fade into the background. As the song winds down, Octavius finds himself leaning down toward her inviting, slightly parted lips.
‘Announcing the arrival of Head Quartermaster Charles Alexander Peskin,’ the doorman’s voice booms through the grand hall. Anna’s head snaps toward the entrance.
’That’s him,’ she gasps quietly.
The Lord Captain stands tall once again and, though he looks perfectly calm as always on the exterior, his fury for Charles Peskin is rekindled.
+Want me to detain him, sir?+ Devalt says as he descends the grand staircases in the main room.
+Negative. Let’s stick to the plan and see how the evening plays out. Janus, are you picking anything up yet?+
+No, Octavius. He seems wise enough to keep his distance from me+
To Anna, Janus’s mind voice seems much more powerful than the others. Her head throbs slightly as she sways unsteadily on her feet.
‘Annatolla?’ the Captain asks.
’I’m fine,’ she says, putting her hand up to her temple. ‘Just not quite used to it yet.’
+He’s lookin’ pretty cocky+
The quartermaster walks through the room with an overly confident swagger in his step, nodding and flashing a broad smile at Octavius as he walks over. Hob’s deep growl rumbles in their heads as he appears protectively at the rogue trader’s side.
+Easy+ Octavius cautions.
‘Good evening, Lord Captain. And to your lovely companion as well,’ he bows slightly toward Annatolla.
‘Quartermaster,’ Octavius acknowledges politely.
‘My apologies for having to cut our conversation short yesterday,’ Peskin beams smugly. ‘I suddenly felt the need to grab some fresh air.’
‘I feel the same way sometimes,’ Octavius nods in agreement. ‘And I must admit I envy your exit strategy. Though I do wonder if it would work as well from inside a properly shielded holding cell?’
As he ushers Anna toward the governor’s table, the rogue trader pretends not to notice Peskin’s smirk quickly fade at the sudden thought of inescapable imprisonment.
As the retinue takes their seats, Dunkirk’s grizzled bodyguard immediately bristles at Hob. The two men square off across the table, locked in some sort of territorial staring competition. Though the governor’s guard has two large-caliber guns holstered on his hips and Hob is unarmed, he eventually concedes under the Mortressan’s gaze.
‘Lord Captain,’ Dunkirk nods cordially. ‘I am so happy you could join us for our celebration.’
Even with Peskin sitting beside the governor with the air of a man above the law, dinner itself proves to be delicious but uneventful. As the evening winds down, the retinue finds the banquet hall devoid of nearly everyone but themselves and the governor. Though Dunkirk’s bodyguard and Hob started off at odds, it would seem they at least share the same sense of complete boredom at the banter between their employers.
‘I must admit I’m quite honored that you and your friends accepted my invitation. Your company has been most pleasant.’
‘Know that we have thoroughly enjoyed your hospitality,’ Octavius smiles graciously as he sips wine from his goblet. ‘Given what we know, I half expected you to order your guards to take us into custody.’
‘Well the night is still young, and planetary governors have been known to be foolish from time to time.’
’I’m not too concerned,’ the rogue trader confesses. ‘After all, anyone who could successfully establish a cold-trade export in a system with a naval depot is no fool. Attempting it in the first place may not have been the wisest decision, but so far it seems to be working well for you.’
‘The feat isn’t as monumental as one might think, Captain. We are mainly an agricultural economy, the Navy is far more interested in our imports rather than exports.’
Octavius nods, pausing slightly as he puts his goblet down on the table gently. ‘Unfortunately for you and your co-conspirators, I’m going to have to put an end to your side-business.’
Peskin shifts nervously in his chair, his eyes darting between the governor and the Shilwulf retinue, but makes no other moves.
‘Lord Captain, surely you aren’t suggesting I should be arrested,’ Dunkirk chuckles. ‘Were the citizens to find out that their governor was implicated in such unseemly business it would at best cause discontent and at worst cause outright rebellion.’
’You’re right about that,’ Octavius agrees. ‘Were I to arrest you it could possibly stir up unnecessary unrest.’ He glances at Hob whose gaze is firmly fixed on the governor. Dunkirk doesn’t miss the implied threat.
‘True, you could have me killed right here on the spot. However, I doubt you or your friends would survive the resultant barrage of las fire from my guards.’
‘Perhaps, but perhaps not. I can be quite convincing sometimes. I could give a most colorful speech that paints you as a traitor to the Imperium, something involving heresy and harboring xenos relics,’ Octavius waves his hand dismissively about the further details. ‘Once that’s out there I think enough of them would change allegiance at the slightest hint that heresy is involved.’
‘You are quite right, Captain. I have no doubt that you can be most charming. Sadly, it would take less time for me to give the order to kill you than it would for you to orate your masterfully crafted speech. Not to mention I suspect killing a planetary governor, no matter how righteous the cause, would close certain doors for you.’
Octavius snaps his fingers and shakes his head in mock disapproval. ‘Quite right, sir. Ending your life definitely doesn’t seem like the wisest course of action. I truly hope we can come to a better solution to our problem.’
‘If I may be so bold, perhaps you are looking at this situation in the wrong way. Instead of trying to shut down our illegal yet highly profitable operations here, you could become a participant yourself. Surely your Warrant of Trade offers you some measure of protection in such an arrangement?’
Octavius steeples his fingers, tapping them against his chin in thought before finally shaking his head. "Were we in the Koronus Expanse I might consider your idea. However, it would reflect poorly on the dynasty if the Navy were to find out we allowed such a heretical operation to continue.’
The governor frowns. ‘Well, I’m not too keen on losing my income. I still have a far way to go to expand my estate to something befitting my station.’
‘An unfortunate circumstance, but one I’m afraid you’ll have to live with,’ Octavius explains. ‘Unless you fancy facing heresy charges. I’m certain a man of your intelligence can come up with an alternative means of income.’’
‘A very good point, Lord Captain. It would be quite an ordeal for me if the Navy were to find out about our operations here. So perhaps I could trouble you to explain why I simply just don’t have my guards do away with you?’ Despite the venomous look in the governor’s eyes, his tone of voice seems genuinely inquisitive and non-threatening.
’It’s no trouble at all, Lord Dunkirk.’ Octavius settles back in his chair with his goblet of wine. ‘You see, my ship is equipped with a lance that, at this very moment, is aimed at this illustrious estate. If we were to be killed by your guards, it would indeed be most unfortunate.’ He sips his wine casually, as if they are discussing nothing more than the most recent weather conditions. ‘I forget the exact figure, but everything and everyone within a few kilometers of this spot would be broken down into their component atoms.’
Dunkirk nods solemnly. ‘Indeed, that would be most unfortunate. However, although you would succeed in vaporizing the city and its innocent inhabitants, I’m afraid you’ll find my estate quite immune to your ship’s weapons.’
A pleased grin appears on the governor’s face as he looks across the table at the rogue trader. He signals his guards to surround the Shilwulfs and ready their weapons. ‘Have you any last words?’
Letting loose a vicious snarl Hob leaps up, causing Dunkirk’s bodyguard to draw one of his sidearms. Anna gasps in shock as their pleasant dinner turns into a desperate stand-off within the space of a heartbeat. She glances at Octavius as he checks his pocket chrono, amazed that he’s just sitting there completely unconcerned that eleven guns are trained on them.
‘Ah, you mean the void shield you have protecting your mansion?’ the rogue trader asks. ‘Yes, about that-’
His sentence is punctuated by a muffled explosion originating from somewhere beneath the hall. ‘I believe you’ll find your shield to be quite disabled, governor.’
Dunkirk’s face grows white as a sheet, beads of sweat forming on his brow. He glances nervously at his bodyguard. ‘Check it.’
Still keeping his gun aimed at the seething Mortressan, the guard contacts someone on his com-bead. The governor, clearly growing more anxious with each passing moment, is now sweating profusely. His bodyguard nods at the unheard voice on the com as an alarmed expression crosses his weathered face.
‘The shields are down, sir. It would seem there was an explosive device attached to the generator.’
The last remnants of Dunkirk’s facade of indifference fall away, his expression giving way to awed disbelief. The rogue trader holds up his left hand, revealing the small brushed-steel device he had been keeping concealed in his pocket all this time.
‘My seneschal took the liberty of inspecting your security systems.’
‘What are your terms?’ the governor asks, motioning for his men to stand down.
‘We will require you to surrender the Ancylus and her crew. I believe that is the name of the ship you use to transport your special exports?’
‘In addition, we will be deploying a team of our tech priests to destroy the entrance to the xenos site.’
‘And what will you do with me?’
‘You, sir, are free to go about your life almost as if we’d never been here. Of course, we will be forced to take Peskin into custody.’
The quartermaster quickly stands, his chair clamoring to the floor behind him. In the blink of an eye, he reaches into his billowing robes and produces a perfectly smooth silver sphere.
‘No,’ Octavius says calmly as his right arm flies to Hob’s chest in a blur of movement. If the arm were not cybernetic, it is doubtful the rogue trader would have been able to prevent the giant from launching over the table at the quartermaster.
‘Keep your dog on its chain, Shilwulf!’ Peskin yells as his eyes fix on Hob. ‘You won’t burn me on a pyre, I’ll kill us all first!’ With that, he flicks his thumb along the sphere’s side. The orb begins to emit a whine shortly before it begins to glow.
Everyone but Janus stands. While Hob and Devalt search for an opening, Anna looks on helplessly. The Lord Captain merely places his hand on the hilt of his power sword before casually leaning forward and placing his empty wine goblet on the table.
’It’s an unfortunate necessity, Mr. Peskin,’ Octavius explains as he meets the heretic’s nervous eyes. ’We’ve already put out word that you are under arrest. What do you think will happen to you when the Navy becomes involved?’
The quartermaster, sweating profusely, remains silent.
+I can’t get behind him, Captain+ Devalt growls.
‘However, this situation does not have to end in your death,’ the rogue trader continues. ‘We can make a public showing of your arrest and take you aboard the Hymn. If you prove yourself useful, we could find a place for you on our crew.’
‘How do I know you won’t kill me?’ Peskin sneers.
‘You don’t,’ Octavius says honestly, ‘But it is your only chance to survive. If you use that xenos device, whatever it may be, you’d still have to manage to dodge the Hymn’s lance strike. Fancy xenos trinkets or not, that’s a guaranteed death sentence. However, if you come with me peacefully there’s at least a chance you’ll survive.’ He pauses, giving Peskin enough time to digest his offer.
+He’s very emotional and unsure of what to do+
‘At the very least, you seem to have a knack for figuring out strange technology. When I said we might find a place for you among our crew I meant as part of the leadership not the menials. We’re heading into the Koronus Expanse soon and will likely have need of skills such as yours.’
‘What say you, Mr. Peskin?’ Dunkirk asks. ‘Shall I have my guards put this scoundrel and his staff to the sword? Or will you trust him to keep his word?’
+The governor is bluffing+ Janus reports. +He’s about to tell his guards to execute the quartermaster. Hob, get ready. Peskin isn’t completely sure what that orb does, but I’m certainly not keen on finding out+
For a few tension filled moments the hall is completely quiet. Finally, Peskin sighs deeply.
’Emperor’s bowels,’ he says, shaking his head in resignation as he deactivates the device.
A few days later…
Devalt sighs. Now going on the fourth hour, overseeing the crew transfer from the Ancylus is not his ideal way of spending an evening. Herded by the Hymn’s arbites, thousands of menials make their way into the repurposed cargo area where they will be assigned to their new stations aboard the Hymn.
The miasma of the unwashed masses manages to fill the spacious chamber. The ship’s recirculated air proves to only combine the malodorous smell of the Hymn’s own crewmen with that of the new conscripts. Though many look confused as to what is going on, the majority seem completely disinterested. It doesn’t really matter on which ship they serve, their view stays pretty much the same.
Janus sits nearby looking completely relaxed, his mind open and gliding freely over the horde. So far there have been no serious plans for mutiny among the Ancylus crewmen, but the Lord Captain thought it best to make certain before sending them to the low decks.
‘Finally, the last of them,’ Devalt mutters. ‘Then we can get underway to Omnicron.’
Janus simply nods. It is his honor to do what Octavius asks of him, but after hours of touching on the dull minds of the multitudes he’s quite ready for a break himself. Then, unexpectedly, he senses something.
The astropath stands, walking to the edge of the balcony he and the seneschal stand upon. To nearly anyone else, it would seem as though he were doing nothing more than gazing at the crowd, but Devalt knows something is amiss.
‘You got something?’
‘I am uncertain,’ Aldos rasps. ‘There is…a presence. A mind, unlike the others. Undisciplined but aware of its own power.’
‘Well I hope we can find them quick-’
Janus winces as a pulse of mental energy surges through his mind a second before the crowd below parts like a river around a boulder. From their vantage point, both men are afforded a clear view of the center of the newly formed void. Standing at its center, a tall woman a woman faces off against a group of three large males.
‘I told you to back off,’ she warns.
Her black bodyglove clings to her lissome physique, her leather knee high stiletto boots serving to make her athletic legs look even longer. The armor’s collar is turned up and unzipped slightly at the top, revealing ample cleavage. Though her stone cold dark eyes convey the message of don’t frak with me, it would seem the thugs standing before her aren’t intelligent enough to realize they should be intimidated.
‘Look, all’s I’m sayin’ is we could show you a good time, baby,’ the leader says, met by a chuckle from the other two. It looks like his nose has been on the receiving end of far too many fist fights, and his friends don’t look like they’ve fared much better. ‘You just gotta give us a chance.’
‘I doubt you could show anyone the door much less a good time,’ the woman replies, her words dripping with venomous sincerity. ‘Now back off boys before you get hurt.’
Her ruby-colored lips twist into a cruel sneer in response to the scowl the thugs throw her way. Judging by the woman’s well-kept appearance, it’s obvious she isn’t just one of the menials. Even her posture is different from the thousands of others that share this chamber, exuding the vibe that she’s genuinely hard as a coffin nail.
‘That one,’ Janus rasps. From his long sleeved robe a long, bony finger appears, pointing in the mysterious woman’s direction.
‘Her?’ Devalt asks, unimpressed. ’What’s she-’
As the thugs begin to approach, she holds her hand up, palm flat. ‘I warned you,’ she says simply.
In an instant, a ball of flame appears just above her palm. With a fluid flick of her wrist, the fire shoots toward her foes, smacking the leader squarely in the chest. Knocked off his feet, the man screams as his clothes burn, the unmistakable stench of charred flesh wafting up to the seneschal’s nostrils.
‘Pyromancer!’ Aldos screeches, his brow furrowing in anger.
‘Shit,’ Devalt growls before jumping over the handrail. He signals the arbites to back away and concentrate on keeping the crowd under control. Even more overpowering than their reeking body odor is the scent of panic already beginning to travel swiftly through the crowd.
That’s all I need, these idiots to start stampeding like a herd of stupid grox. He draws his inferno pistol and takes steady aim at the fire-flinging psyker as he cautiously approaches.
The thug’s friends manage to drag their comrade off to the side, medicae nurses rushing in to administer care. Devalt doesn’t really give a damn about the scorched man, however, he has much bigger problems to deal with.
Just had to complain about what a boring day it was, didn’t you? he chastises himself.
The woman turns her gaze on Devalt. ‘I gave him fair warning,’ she shrugs. ‘What are you going to do, arrest me?’
‘Or I could just put you down,’ the seneschal counters. ‘Save us all the trouble.’
She frowns, her lower lip jutting out in a mock pout. ‘That would be a tragic waste of my many talents, sweetheart. Talents, I’m certain, your Lord Captain would find most useful.’
’Don’t think he has much need for joy girls, lady.’
She throws her head back, laughing heartily. ‘You have a sense of humor, I like that.’ Her face grows serious when Janus shuffles up next to Devalt.
‘Pyromancer,’ he repeats accusingly. The astropath’s breath rattles loudly in his chest, as if it took great effort to arrive so quickly.
‘If the price is right I can be whatever you like,’ she offers. ‘I just hope you’re prepared for things to get a little…hot. If it makes you feel any better, though, I have my sanction papers.’
She slips a hand behind her, smirking when Devalt reaffirms his grip on his pistol. Slowly she brings her hand back into view, a folded piece of parchment held between two of her fingers. The seneschal carefully inches forward, reaching out to take the papers. He quickly glances through them, satisfied only when he sees the official seal of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica.
‘What should we do?’ he asks. ‘Your call on this one, Aldos.’
The astropath’s face wrinkles into a scowl as if fighting some sort of internal battle. He whispers to himself, his argument unintelligible to anyone else but him. Finally he nods.
‘All right, lady. You can speak to the Lord Captain, but I even get a hint that you’re going to try anything,’ Devalt warns.
’Don’t worry, I have no intention of harming you or the rogue trader. Let’s just say my interest lies in bettering my situation rather than burning it to the ground, at least for now.’ She flashes a smile, revealing perfect white teeth. ’I’m Erata, by the way. Erata Exussum.’
At this point in the story, things were progressing nicely. Rogue Trader was quite the paradigm shift from a mostly Dungeons and Dragons centered group. My original plan was to keep Octavius as an NPC Captain for a while to direct the PCs’ actions, and to kill him off when I thought the group was ready for the responsibility of running the Shilwulf Dynasty. But the group caught on far quicker than I thought they would.
They even tried to squeeze some profit factor out of the deal. Sure they didn’t take up the Xenos trade, but they captured a ship and had one of their ships pick up the trade run delivering agricultural equipment and picking up food.
At the table, Octavius lied to the governor implying that he’d enter the Cold Trade, but then later blew up the entrance to the native’s “holy site”. We didn’t want Octavius to lie here so instead we had Thurman blow up a void shield. During the table’s exploration of the holy site, Thurman Devalt lost his arm from an automated plasma turret. We’ll have to take his arm away later since it turned out to be important in character development. And instead of surrendering, the explorer’s executed a teleportarium ambush and slaughtered the bridge crew of the Ancylus.
We may put in the bridge combat scene later, but Snowmoon is pretty sick and tired of writing Tanstar stuff and wants to move on to uncharted territory. This was the last bit of “old stuff” pillaged from her first few attempts at fiction.
Just as I always envisioned Hob as a sort of bad ass amalgam of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, Riddick, and Brock Samson, Thurman Devalt always struck me as the quintessential James Bond (definitely the Daniel Craig version). The seneschal has a way of going behind the scenes and making things happen, whereas Hob always takes a direct in-your-face approach. Two very different characters, both amazingly fun to write for.
In contrast, we now have Erata joining the story. Every time I think of her, the image of the title character of Æon Flux immediately springs to mind. Tall, beautiful, graceful, and deadly – but with a lot more going on beneath the surface. I look forward to exploring this character further and hope I do her justice on the page.