It is the 41st Millenium. A time of fire and skulls and, for some reason, orks. The Imperium of Man faces insidious threats from the forces of Chaos. These evil gods live in another realm and corrupt the minds and bodies of mortals who serve them. Only the Holy Inquisition, and roughly 20 different branches of the military, stand between mankind and the evil forces of disorder. One such inquisitor is the radical Farael Badus of the Ordo Hereticus or “Order Heretics” in case you don’t speak Space Latin. He employs his various agents to root out evil from within the Imperium. The adventure begins with a meeting of Inquisitor Badus and his agents aboard the stealthy black Inquisition scout corvette, The Righteous Fury of Santana, named after the martyred inquisitor Carlos Santana.
Zack: Steve, are you ready for a future where there is ONLY war?
Steve: It’s where we’re headed, man. Have you been watching the news?
Zack: Somebody needs to ask one of the candidates what their position is on turning criminals into living robots. And turning the skulls of heroes into robots also. And then also probably being against the whole concept of robots, because you know there is going to be an uprising at some point.
Steve: Once North Korea shoots one more rocket into the Sea of Japan it’s all going to be over. Everything will turn into rows of infantry running at each other in the open while churches on legs walk around among them blasting away with five-barreled cannons and black hole missiles.
Zack: As long as I get a chainsaw axe and a skull to fly around with me, I’ll be okay.
Steve: At least coroners will have it easy and can just put down “cause of death: war” on every death certificate.
Zack: Speaking of death and war, we should introduce your character as one of the agents of Inquisitor Badus.
Steve: Right, I am playing Icarus Toughman, a veteran Imperial Guardsman from Catachan. That’s the jungle planet full of monsters and all of their guardsmen have huge, sword-sized knives and red headbands and gigantic muscles. Basically they all look like Rambo or Schwarzenegger in Commando.
Zack: So you’re playing a Warhammer 40K version of a barbarian.
Steve: Icarus Toughman is no barbarian. He carries around a huge belt-fed machinegun. Barbarians don’t have machineguns.
Zack: Our story begins in orbit above an ugly planet of browns and reds, its atmosphere swirling with mustard yellow cyclones of toxic pollution. You are standing in the conference room aboard the Santana with your fellow agents. The doors open and Inquisitor Badus comes clomping in wearing his gilded powered armor, skull-encrusted mitre, and ermine-lined cape. He is holding a giant book. He is always holding a giant book in one hand. You’re not even sure that hand works, it might just be a shelf for his huge book. He steps up to his pedestal and the robot toucan on his shoulder looks around with glowing red eyes.
Steve: This guy is making a lot of choices about his look.
Zack: This is the 41st Millenium, Steve. A time and place where people pray to a doorknob to turn with no understanding of how it works and then spend 100 years making golden skulls to put on the doorknob. Style is everything.
Steve: Got it. Function follows form, if there is even a function at all.
Zack: Inquisitor Badus clears his throat. A loud speaker’s microphone pops up from the front of his armor and his words come out amplified and distorted to sound more powerful and sinister.
Steve: Much like Jigsaw from the Saw movies.
Zack: “Greetings, agents. A new threat has been detected on the planet of Cystobleak V. There has been a disappearance in the planetary governor’s household. Governor Pomplous’s prized Zorthian stalking lizard, Gary, has been abducted. The deranged criminals who took this regal reptile attempted to cover their theft by leaving a Zorthian sleeping lizard painted with stripes to resemble Gary. Normally, I would not concern myself with the disappearance of a single beast, no matter how venomous its sting-quills nor how slavering its jaws, I would simply order Exterminatus for the planet and carry on with my holy work, but Cystobleak V is vital to the Imperium. It produces almost all the body bags for the entire sector. We cannot have it fall to chaos.”
Steve: I’m surprised they use body bags at all.
Zack: “Body bags are vital to good hygiene. If we simply left the huge piles of corpses everywhere to rot then we would have epidemics of cholera and typhoid and those two diseases are strictly exported by the diarrhea world of Rectus II.”
Steve: Their Imperial Guard regiments are the worst. I served with the 222nd Brown Hussars. No matter what orders they are given they’ll always “be out in a minute” and they kept lighting matches which gave away our position.
Zack: “Against my better judgement, I am placing Icarus in command of the expedition to retrieve the governor’s Zorthian stalking lizard. He will be accompanied by one other agent of his choosing. The rest of you will continue your miserable training and probably have nightmares because we’re still carrying around that demonic sword that killed 10,000 children.”
Steve: So give me the run down on who I can take on this mission. Let’s have the menu.
Zack: Fetus Maletus, the floating fetus with metal tentacles who worked for the Mechanicum. He can unlock doors and cheer up machine spirits, but being a sentient fetus, he’s not much fun to hang out with.
Zack: There’s Brother Hammael of the Second Founding Dark Angels Chapter the None More Black Angels. The weird part? His armor is actually green, not black.
Zack: There’s also the Navigator, Withnael Libertinius, who dresses like a French aristocrat and acts like a dandy, but if he removes his powdered wig the eye in his forehead will kill you.
Zack: Finally, there is the cop from the Adeptus Arbites, Animae Fabuloso. She brings law to the lawless, wears a standard issue catsuit, Judge Dredd helmet, stilleto-heeled war boots, and wields a flamer and a whip. Bossy doesn’t even begin to describe her, but on the upside, her booty, unlike her faith, is very shakeable.
Zack: Or you could take a combat servitor with two heavy weapons of your choice.
Steve: Double multi-meltas. But I’m not taking the combat servitor, I’m taking Animae Fabuloso to have a hot babe with me on the mission. Sex appeal can open doors.
Zack: “It is decided!” booms the voice of Inquisitor Badus. “Take the shuttle to the capital city of Skeleton Beach beside the sea of poison foam. There you will meet with the governor’s butler. You have two days to find the lizard before the Tyranids invade this system and devour everything and everyone.”
Zack: He bangs his gauntlet on the podium and clomps out of the conference room. The agents you did not choose depart with the sullen expressions of kids who didn’t get picked for dodge ball, leaving you with Animae Fabuloso. With her giant boots she is almost six inches taller than you. She gives you an icy stare.
Steve: I stare past her, out the window, thinking of all my buddies that died face down in the muck. It wasn’t my war, but they made me fight it. Johnny Imperium. Sent me to that stinkin’ jungle to fight the greenskins. So I fought. And I killed. And I mutilated. And I can’t turn it off. I’m not even sure I want to anymore.
Zack: You and Animae Fabuloso load your prodigious equipment into one of the Santana’s planetary shuttles and set off for the surface of Cystobleak V. A servitor pilots the shuttle down through filthy yellow clouds that spill out corrosive rains. The lights of the vast hive city of Skeleton Beach appear from the blighted landscape. The chemical-bleached bones of trillions of beasts form the coast of a bilious sea.
Steve: “It’s a pretty romantic view from up here.”
Zack: Animae Fabuloso speaks in her space Eastern European accent. “Yes it reminds me of childhood growing up in executioner pit where bodies are dumped in Perditius Hive. These were simpler times.”
Steve: “I grew up in a death jungle. It was kill or be killed. So I killed. It’s all I know.”
Zack: The shuttle pierces through the smoke from countless body bag manufactorums and makes its final approach to the space port. It lands amid a spray of downwash and a baggage servitor trundles out into the rain that sweeps the landing pad.
Steve: I never know if I’m supposed to tip these guys.
Zack: You are greeted inside the terminal by a small contingent of Governor Pomplous’s house guard and a man in full frippery who introduces himself as Comptroller Clavius.
Steve: “The name is Toughman. But I’ve gone by other names. Murderer. Killer. Assassin. Hero.”
Zack: Fabuloso introduces herself with a whipcrack which sets Clavius’s handkerchief fluttering. “Oh my! You two are very real! And the muscles, I love them! We welcome the assistance of the Holy Inquisition in this critical matter. Come, come, I have quarters you may use during your investigation.”
Steve: Nothing too fancy, I hope. All I really need to be comfortable is some dirt soft enough to dig and a good knife that won’t break on a giant bug’s exoskeleton.
Zack: Gilded hover carriages whisk you away to the upper levels of the hive. Clavius shows you to an apartment overflowing with finery. “We simply must find out who has absconded with Gary. The governor has not been the same since his pet was replaced with the imposter.”
Steve: Are we going to get to meet with the governor?
Zack: “Oh, my, well I am adjusting his schedule, but I am afraid he is very busy with, erm, seminars and, oh, some meetings with manufactorum heads from Sepultura Hive.”
Steve: How about this creature they replaced Gary with? Can we see that?
Zack: “Oh, deary me, yes. Of course. Right this way.”
Zack: He leads you and Fabuloso through chambers full of people in fancy costumes dancing, smoking drugs, feasting, and doing sex business behind paper screens. Occasionally you see silhouettes or hear sounds that don’t seem quite human.
Steve: Whispering to Animae, “This place give me the creeps.”
Zack: She gets a gleam in her eyes and says, “Agree. I want to whip all the bad people. For Emperor.”
Steve: Yeah, right, for the Emperor. What other reason is there?
Zack: Clavius leads you through the parlors of decadence and into an area that is more austere and wide open and reeks of animals. He offers you nosegays and holds his own handkerchief over his face in disgust.
Steve: I was born shooting shotguns up the butts of giant bugs. This smell here is like perfume.
Zack: “Yes also I am raised on corpse pile,” agrees Animae.
Steve: We have so much in common.
Zack: The Zorthian sleeping lizard that someone tried to pass off as a stalking lizard is asleep in a huge cage between cages containing a six-armed gorilla and something that looks like a cross between a giant bristle worm and a pile of snot. The lizard is about the size of a horse. It has gray scales that have been painted with zebra-like stripes. The stripes are wearing off.
Steve: I’m going inside the cage.
Zack: “That is not advisable! The, eh, ah, sleeping lizard, erm, still has jaws that can– oh, you’re just going straight in, aren’t you?”
Steve: I want to take a sample of the paint. Maybe we can chemical analyze it or something to find out where it came from. While I’m scraping off some paint into one of my ammo pouches, I’ll ask, “So this is a pretty big creature. Do you have any security camera footage of someone bringing it in?”
Zack: Unfortunately, no, there was an outage in the security system that night and none of the detectors or vid capturers were working.
Steve: That’s a place to start. Who was in charge of security that night?
Zack: He seems uncomfortable with the question. After a moment of seeming to consider his answer, he says, “Erm, uh, it rotates. There are several house captains. I would need to check the schedule with the archives. They are in the down hive sector.”
Steve: We’ll check the archives. I don’t want him interfering.
Zack: He gives you the address of the archives. It is far down the hive spire. He explains that all information is constantly collected by servitors using typewriters built into their chests to type out transcripts onto huge rolls of parchment. This is then sent down to the archives where it is etched into leather and placed in massive books. There are thousands upon thousands of these books stored in the archives.
Steve: I fought my way out of the belly of a Jumanjian Jelly Tiger, I’m not afraid of a library.
Zack: You and Animae arrive in the down hive section containing the archives. Huge doors open with a hiss of hydraulics and you enter a gloomy vault with ceilings a thousand feet high and miles upon miles of books. Nearly-blind albino librarians shuffle among the stacks of tomes. Servo skulls flit about, carrying candles to light the way.
Steve: Is there like a mall directory?
Zack: There are signs pointing the way to Archive Alpha, Archiva Beta, and Archive Omega. The only information you have is the date of the abduction, about three weeks ago, and that Archive Omega contains the book. That archive seems to be about 25 square miles of books.
Steve: Someone needs to introduce these people to microfiche. Alright, well, a Catachan hates to ask for directions, but I think we need to get the help of one of these librarians.
Zack: It’s harder than you’d think. They are almost like robots in their singleminded purpose. Animae finally has to crack her whip right in the face of one of the hunchbacked old librarians to get his attention.
Zack: “What? Oh, yes. You are not with the brotherhood of archival eunuchs. What did you need?”
Steve: “They cut your jimjams off? And I thought the commissars were cruel. We’re looking for the schedule records or something to find out who was in charge of the security detail a few weeks ago in the governor’s palace.” I show him the slip of paper.
Zack: “That’s odd. Omega is where books are quarantined for security reasons. Often they contain references to events the governor would like forgotten.” He pulls out some sort of mechanical computer. It clicks and ratchets and prints out a slip of paper. “Yes, hmmm, it’s in the Book Sump. You’ll need to take some climbing equipment and candle skulls.”
Steve: I don’t like the sound of a book sump, but I can climb a sheer rockface coated in ork guts. Tell us where it is.
Zack: He summons several more candle skulls that float around the three of you. The librarian shuffles interminably through towering stacks of books and to a place where it seems as if a sink hole has devoured a large section of the library. Some of the skulls float down into the dark pit, illuminating that it is a couple hundred feet deep and lined with stacks of more books encruseted in what look like barnacles.
Steve: Climbing down.
Zack: Agility score?
Zack: That’s pretty high. I’m going to say you and Animae manage to climb down into the sump without incident. Just as you reach the bottom, you hear the librarian shout, “Beware the sump mutants!”
Steve: I am always vigilant. Gonna take out my shotgun and huge knife, just to be ready.
Zack: A long, book-lined tunnel stretches before you. Side tunnels intersect at sometimes odd angles. You can hear things moving in the gloom, skittering and yipping like raccoons, only imagine what a Warhammer 40K raccoon looks like.
Steve: I’m picturing the Resident Evil skinned zombie dogs.
Zack: “These numbers on books,” says Animae, pointing to the spine of some of the nearest books. “We get close.”
Steve: Good, because I got a baaaaaad feeling about this.
Zack: The tunnel leads to a small, round chamber. You can smell the tang of promethium in the air and see that someone has taken down and burned a book in the middle of the room.
Steve: I’m sure it’s not the book we were looking for.
Zack: It was.
Steve: Well, this was a waste of time.
Zack: As you turn to leave, you find your way barred by several shaggy mutants. Their bloated bodies bulge through filthy librarian robes. Something seems off about them, other than their DNA, and you realize they are strangely well-armed. And about to attack.
Steve: Now you’re speaking my language. How many?
Zack: Five. Three have lasguns. Two have chainswords that buzz as they move into the room.
Steve: Going to blast one of the lasgun-armed mutants with my shotgun and then charge straight into melee with one of the chainsword dudes.
Zack: It’s pretty close quarters, so you successfully shoot one of the mutants carrying a lasgun. Although the shot seems to inflict an unsatisfying amount of damage to his body, it does knock him over and blast the gun from his hand.
Zack: You’re going into melee, so the others will act before we resolve that. Animae blasts her flamer down the tunnel, incinerating countless books and sending both of the other lasgun wielders running for cover with some singed pustules. She prepares to melee the other chainsword mutant.
Zack: Now your melee.
Steve: Here is what I want to do and you can decide how it works: I want to parry with my knife and make an opening for me to headbutt the mutant.
Zack: I like it. Gutsy parrying what amounts to a chainsaw with a machete. Alright, you successfully parry. Your blade strips some teeth of the chainsword before your knife is torn from your grasp. You use that second or so of time to deliver a brutal headbutt to your foe. Once again, the impact is unsatisfying, but it’s enough to knock the mutant over.
Steve: Picking up my knife and driving it into his throat.
Zack: You fall upon him and brutally kill the mutant. Las gun shots start to flicker through the smoke from the books Animae torched. You’re trapped in a cul-de-sac and there is virtually no cover.
Steve: How is she holding up.
Zack: She yanks the chainsword out of the mutant’s grasp using her whip and sets the mutant’s head on fire with a short gush of burning fuel from her flamer. No time to celebrate. She’s in the same predicament as you: pinned down by lasgun fire with almost no cover. You each take a grazing hit.
Steve: Charging them. “Die mutant scum!”
Zack: Charging into the swirling smoke and straight into the lasgun fire, you are shot twice. One is a normal wound to your torso. One is a critical hit to your arm.
Steve: Oh, no, not the Dark Heresy critical hit tables.
Zack: Consider yourself lucky I only rolled a 4. One of the lasbolts hits your arm and you immediately start puking from the energy that surges through your body. You’re stunned for one round, doubled over, and that arm goes completely dead and useless for several turns.
Steve: Well I’m finished then. I’m standing there puking right in the middle of where they’re shooting.
Zack: Yeah, you would be, if Animae didn’t run through with you like a badass bitch. She whips one of the mutants around the neck and incinerates the other with her flamer. You wipe away puke and stand up as she is finishing off the last of the mutants.
Steve: Dang. Rambo losing his lunch after a flesh wound is not going to charm her pants off.
Zack: The mutant you blasted with a shotgun is starting to move again. Apparently he isn’t dead yet.
Steve: I’ll grab my shotgun and walk over to finish him off. But I want to see if he knows anything about who torched the book first.
Zack: He groans as you prod him with your shotgun. Even for a mutant he is ugly, with a face that seems misshapen, as if eyes are peering out from within bloody sockets. What’s your perception?
Zack: You realize that there is blood in strange places on this guy that don’t seem to correspond to your shotgun blast. He’s wearing a mask of mutant skin!
Steve: Tearing off the mask.
Zack: You pull off the sticky mutant flesh and reveal a human face beneath. The man looks at you angrily.
Steve: “Who the hell are you? Why did you burn the book? What does it feel like to wear a mutant face like a mask? That has to be gross, right?”
Zack: He might just answer some of those questions… NEXT TIIIIIIIME!
Steve: I hate cliffhangers!
Zack: Oh, get over it. You only have to wait one day.
Steve: See you tomorrow, folks.