At Port Wander the Emperor’s Bounty prepared to head into the Expanse once more. Even so, the Explorers realized that casualties in battle after battle had taken their toll. After having hired on new voidsmen at Phetus Prime and Port Wander, nearly 25% of the ship’s complement consisted of new crewmen. Thus, in order to help break in his crew, Lucius made number of discreet inquiries at Port Wander indicating that his ship might be available for a short-term endeavour, if the price was right. Just such an opportunity appeared to present itself when Lucius was approached in by individuals claiming to represent a private archeological expedition in the Expanse.
The endeavour itself seemed straightforward: conduct a supply run to the expedition’s worksite on Egaria Omega, with payment being offered as a modest stake in the expedition’s outcome. The expedition’s representatives informed Lucius that the expedition did not enjoy the services of an Astropath, and thus would not be expecting his ship’s arrival. The Explorers were thus presented with a Letter of Introduction to ensure that they would be accepted for who and what they were- trusted partners to be treated with respect.
With letter in hand and supplies loaded in the Bounty’s hold, the Explorers departed Port Wander. After an uneventful two-week journey in the Warp the Emperor’s Bounty translated back to realspace in the Egaria Abundus system. The Explorers had been instructed not to hail the planet (something about suspected Xeno activity in the area), and thus Lucius, Fabian, and Lorayne, along with a squad of Zaythian guardsmen, made their way to the surface in a gun-cutter.
Bathed in the weak light of its dying star, the world of Egaria Omega was a windswept hellhole of a planet… but then again, no one ever got rich in the Expanse without visiting a few hellholes. The instant the Explorers walked down the gun-cutter’s ramp and set foot on the world, a cold wind seemed to blow right through them. But something more than just the cold seemed to assail them. It was almost like a feeling that they shouldn’t be there, as if they were intruding on lands long ago claimed by something far older than the human race. Echoes seemed to whisper on the wind just beyond hearing, sending a chill not just through the body, but through one’s very soul. The towering white spires of the dead Xeno hive towered nearby, the randomness of its alien architecture seeming to defy all human logic.
The Explorers were greeted by a squad of armed guards- experienced mercenaries, judging not only from their battlegear (which was formidable) but more importantly from the relaxed yet wary manner in which they observed the newcomers. The leader, a hard-eyed man identifying himself as Captain Bren, sent one of the guards went to fetch the Overseer. Within a few minutes Overseer Leerus arrived and introduced himself.
Leerus was just the sort of man one might expect to find running a possibly-legitimate archeological expedition in the Expanse. Imposing and powerfully built, if running a bit to fat in his late middle age, Leerus’s formidable appearance was accentuated by an impressive-looking military-style uniform. Leerus immediately took a haughty and proud demeanor while addressing the Explorers, and asked to know why they were distracting his men from their work.
Lucius presented the Letter of Introduction to Leerus and waited as the Overseer’s eyes scraped their way down the document, his expression seeming to darken noticeably at the end. Leerus curtly informed the Explorers that since they were now stakeholders they were welcome to tour the expedition’s facilities until the cargo transfer was complete in approximately 12 hours’ time. With no further formality Leerus turned and walked away, while the guards resumed their posts. Only Captain Bren paused for a moment, admonishing the Explorers in a menacing tone not to cause any trouble, before he too walked away.
As the Explorers entered the camp they were greeted by the sight of dozens of workers- approximately 300 souls all told, not including servitors- hauling large amounts of spoil and heavy equipment around. The mercenary guards, approximately 100 in number, also formed a ubiquitous and heavily armed presence. Indeed, the men patrolling the compound’s high quickcrete walls seemed to be equally focused on watching the workers as they were on watching the perimeter. That the workers were being treated poorly was immediately obvious, and throughout the dig there was a general air of tension mixed with despondency.
As the party climbed down the gantries and entered the dig proper, Fabian noted one of the xenoarchaeologists, a slight, unkempt middle-aged woman, uncovering a small, crystalline shard which she immediately secreted in a nearby satchel, looking around nervously as she did so. Curious, Fabian approached the Adept and asked what she was doing. The Adept, who was named Zpha, admitted that she had been hiding such small discoveries for some time- but not for her own benefit. She explained to Fabian that she had come to believe that the shards were cursed in some way, and linked to the recent disappearances of several members of the dig, including Stahk, the Overseer’s deputy. Having recognized a kindred intellectual spirit in Fabian, Zpha confides that she has found several such shards and begs Fabian to rid her of them, telling him where to locate the hidden crate where she has placed them.
The Explorers continued to explore the digsite until nightfall, meeting with several other noteworthies such as Rhiner Gelt, the burly leader of the indentured workforce, and Tech-Adept Oddoyle, an outcast from the Calixian Mechanicus. Fabian realized that Oddoyle’s thoughts on matter research surely classified him as heretek, yet he was also armed with an item that Fabian had only seen a few times before- a Graviton Gun, which Oddoyle referred to as his “Odic Accumulator.”
Suddenly, a guard in one of the gun towers opened fire with a burst of heavy bolter rounds. A moment later another tower opened fire, and then another, amd within moments all the gun towers were blazing away into the wastes. The perimeter containment fields flared into life as half-seen bodies began to throw themselves against the invisible shields. Overseer Leerus bellowed for all the guards to man the defenses, but the attackers were already breaking through the containment field by sheer weight of numbers, clawing over the bodies of their dead in their eagerness to kill the humans. Even as Leerus desperately ordered the workers to be armed, a howling tidal wave of scything, gore-stained Rak’Gol warriors began to pour over the perimeter wall. Each Rak’Gol was a towering, eight-limbed monstrosity, and in the space of less than two minutes nearly all the humans in the Omega Dig were either torn limb from limb or cut down by the aliens’ brutal projectile weaponry.
Lucius tried to raise the Emperor’s Bounty on vox, and received only static. Clearly, they were being jammed. Now, a tight knot of only some fifty humans were still alive and fighting: Lucius, Fabian, Lorayne, the Zaythian troopers, Overseer Leerus, Captain Bren, a dozen remaining mercenaries, and a handful of civilians including Zpha, Rhiner Gelt, and Tech-Adept Oddoyle. Lucius realized that only one avenue of escape still remained- the nearby portal into the maze-city itself. With a final volley of covering fire to keep the Rak’Gol at bay for just a moment longer, the civilians ran into the city, and the Explorers followed a moment later.
Once past the portal, the survivors immediately erected a makeshift barricade from the random gear that had been left strewn about from the Omega Dig’s previous attempts to enter the city. Curiously, however, the Rak’Gol did not press their attack, nor could any sounds at all be heard from past the barricade. The only sound seemed to come from the city itself, a faint, ever-present atonal keening just at the edge of hearing.
The city itself conveyed a sheer sense of scale that left the humans feeling like insignificant trespassers. Passageways reared a hundred meters or more into the air, intersecting with each other at sharp angles so that turning a corner resulted in yet another impossible vista. The walls themselves were studded with thousands of small openings through which a man had to stoop to pass, each revealing a myriad of chambers. These may or may not have been the abodes and working spaces of the city’s original builders.
The entire maze-city was constructed from some manner of translucent stone which glowed with light transmitted from throughout the entire structure. Even at night a light source was not needed to move around. Yet the Explorers began to notice an odd sense of disquiet in this place. The more they explored the passageways, the more their senses became unsettled by the bizarre geometries. Attempts to actively memorize the lay of the land resulted in the onset of nausea.
After three hours the Rak’Gol had still not pressed their attack. Just when all had calmed down and some of the survivors were trying to get some rest, a scream echoed from one of the passageways. The Explorers rushed to investigate, and found one of the indentured workers standing a the long-dead and half-eaten human body. The body was identified as one of the first workers to have disappeared when people started going missing several months earlier. The body had been mauled severely, and what remained of the face was locked in a rictus of utter horror. As the Explorers investigated the scene Lucius thought, for just a moment, that he saw a humanoid form retreating into the shadows on one of the upper levels, but when he looked again, the shadow was gone.
A moment later Overseer Leerus came into the chamber, and upon seeing the body went as white as a sheet. Leerus stated that the worker had clearly been a victim of one of a Rak’Gol scout, and he ordered one of his guards to burn the body with a flamer, explaining that he wanted to avoid any contamination due to alien microbes.
As dawn broke the star’s sunlight filtered throughout the city, and the structure took on a truly eerie, alien beauty. The Explorers also realized that Leerus and the surviving guards had struck off on their own in the night, leaving the Explorers and the survivors of the dig site to their fates.
Unknown to the Explorers, another party had arrived at Egaria Omega at the same time as them, though for a very different reason. Lucius had again spotted the figure hiding furtively in the shadows, and after a running chase through the depths of the maze city, finally cornered their quarry. The stranger was clearly an Eldar. She was tall and lithe, and clad in a ragged travelling coat with dozens of small animal bones dangling from it. Her face might have been called beautiful, were it not for the utter scorn radiating from her dark eyes and curled lip. After looking at each of the Explorers up and down as if they were something she’d just trodden in, she spoke:
“Fools,” she said in a lyrical, yet otherworldly voice. “This place is damned, and so too are you. You will release me and leave, or you will die.”
Before anyone could answer, the howling of the Rak’Gol resounded the lengths of the maze city. The Eldar merely cocked her head, and looked at each human once more.
“Or perhaps we shall all die.”