Meanwhile, on the Bench: Chrono-gladiators

The station-complex of Mercy holds many secrets, accommodates many factions and houses many attractions to the denizens of the Nomad Stars. One such attraction is the infamous Bazaar Arenas, home to all manner of blood sports and high-octane races round its treacherous circuits.

In addition to xenos-beasts, execution victims and gangers trying to prove their worth, the arena fights are dominated by merciless Chrono-gladiators of the Death Clocks guild – cybernetic pit fighters with implanted weapons, vat-enhanced muscles and injectors filled with cocktails of lethal combat drugs. All have a death switch installed – a ticking time bomb attached to the heart that is only set back by the act of slaughter.

For a Chrono-gladiator, death is life.

With an imminent new Rogue Trader game starting up, and a number of games already set on Mercy, I wanted to assemble some members of the notorious Death Clocks guild. Partly to swell the numbers of interesting villains to throw at parties when they go dredging through Mercy, partly because I wanted an excuse to make some super-weird kit bashes.

I didn’t have any goal in mind other than to make half a dozen Chrono-gladiators with unique weapon sets that both highlight their martial prowess and their penchant for style over substance. They’re deadly killers for show, but what use are your showmen if they’re too good at killing?

I also had a strict ‘no new parts’ rule (which I think I’m going to need to start enforcing a LOT more in the new year…), so everything was assembled from bits I already had lying around in my box.

I had quite a few Dark Eldar weapons kicking about from boxes of Warriors and Wyches from assembling my Blood Bowl team, many of them looking suitably bizarre, gladiatorial or downright nasty – perfect for a bunch of cyber-goons.

This first chap was assembled with Wych legs, an old school Space Marine torso, an Ork left arm, a Dark Elf shield and a long chain-whip-sword-flail thing from the Wych box set. It was all finished off with a Skitarii captain’s head to give it a lovely tech-feel.

The bionic arm is actually a bionic leg from Anvil Industry. The current pack I bought is at time of writing no longer available, it seems they are undergoing a bunch of revamps to their old stock. Exciting news! There’s definitely going to be an order put in again next year.

This guy needs some filler work, and some small odds and ends to blend the parts together, but overall I’m pretty happy with how he turned out.

This guy was very much an exercise in answering the age-old bits-box-rummaging question; “What the hell can I use *this* part for?”. I had a collection of Khemri bits from Emperor-knows-where and have been looking for an excuse to use them for some time now. I’m a big fan of their Egyptian aesthetic, and find it suspicious that they’ve dropped off the Age of Sigmar radar entirely…

The body and legs were from a plastic Chaos marauder, bionic arms and legs from the Anvil bionics pack again, and a head from a Skitarii. I love how the power khopesh came out, and I think he’s a firm favourite. A bit of blending work to be done, but considerably less than the first chap.

This bundle of joy is perhaps my favourite pose, using a hooked net from the Wych box set and an original metal Necron Flayed One hand (or it might be from a Necron Lord, not sure…). The legs are from the Wych set again, with a Catachan body and another Skitarii head.

I’m looking forward to releasing this guy on my players the most, as a combination of a stunning, entangling net and poisoned armour-piercing claws sounds like a truly horrifying combination for any poor sod who gets in its way.

For the last angryboi in this batch I wanted something a little less dynamic, a little less subtle. Sometimes you just need a guy with a skull for a head and chainsaws for hands, y’know?

There’s nothing particularly exotic about this build – Space Marine torso, Ork arms and snipped-down Ork choppas for hands, Chaos Marauder legs, an Anvil bionic foot and the skull is from a banner topper.

I like how they all came out, and despite the varying appearances I think they will work well by themselves or as a group. We’ve already had a trial game with the Khemri shield and he was suitably brutal, so I’m looking forward to tidying these guys up and adding them to the painting queue.

Meanwhile, on the Bench: Ash Garrison Enforcers WIP

The planet of Syracuse is the biggest, most sprawling planet our plucky Dark Heresy acolytes will have been to so far in their illustrious crime-fighting careers. It is here they will finally meet their Inquisitor (after 4+ years of real life campaigning) and mingle with other acolytes of the Onus Region Conclave. They will receive their orders, be given a direction and then sent off to the arse end of the planet, Syracuse Magna, to pursue a lead on the potentially apocalyptic Samarra Dynasty.

We’ve already seen one of the factions of Syracuse magna, an organised crime syndicate called The Undertow, and now we’re having a look at their lawful (if not moral) counterparts, the Ash Garrison Enforcers.

A ‘Remedial’ team armed with lasguns with a long rifle or grenade launcher specialist attachment

Ash Garrison Enforcers

On the rest of Syracuse, the Ashigaru PDF, or Ash Garrison, comprise of mercenaries and family members of the Great Houses, refining their martial skills with polearm and lasgun to serve in the largest standing army in the Onus Region. The Ash Garrison are called upon as loyal foot soldiers to tackle uprisings, gang warfare or noble squabbles, and some are shipped off to deal with far away threats where their combined arms tactics of rifle and spear makes for a formidable threat against any foe.

They are intended to support the local laws of Syracuse Magna, maintain order and deal with such common crimes as murder, smuggling and extortion, while the Adeptus Arbites (in theory) deal with crimes directed against the Adepta, such as petty heresy, slaving and corruption that contravene high Imperial Law.

In Syracuse Magna, the Provincial Enforcers are divided, corrupt and unsubtle agents of punishment and social control, and most are little more than state-sponsored extortionists. Their power is granted by the Daimyo and the Quorum, and by extension, they are sanctioned by Magna’s dissolute and corrupt nobility. At their core are the Mandato, a feared secret police force of torturers and killers that exist purely to maintain the Daimyo’s power.

Clad in vulcanized storm coats and conical helmets to deter the worst of the weather, the Ash Garrison are well-equipped and brutal in approach. They operate in 4-man teams, either ‘Disciplinaries’ with stun sticks and laspistols or ‘Remedials’ with lasguns. Remedial teams can be accompanied by either a grenade launcher or hunting rifle.

A four-man “Disciplinary” team armed with stun sticks and lead by a fearsome Mandato officer

Creating the Ash Garrison

The concept art folder and mood boards I had assembled for Syracuse are extensive, and in my travels I stumbled across this rather excellent piece by Keith Thompson and knew I wanted to recreate that flavour in my own foot soldiers.

Doing some digging around, I found these rather excellent heads and shoulder pads from Puppets War that I tacked onto another order, with little thought as to how I was going to assemble them later. Like a big dumb idiot I didn’t order enough shoulder pads either, so although the intention was for big samurai-style shoulder pads on each style, I didn’t read that “x10 shoulder pads” meant literally that, and not “enough shoulder pads for x10 models”. So, lopsided shoulder pads were going to have to happen.

One of my real life comrades was putting an order into Victoria Miniatures  and I figured that was a great opportunity to bang the last nail into the coffin of this project, and had a quick browse through their wares. After taking a few quick screenshots, I bashed together this image to give me an idea of what my Enforcers were going to look like.

I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to get the shoulder pads to work with the moulded capes, but that was a problem that Future Me would deal with. I’m a big fan of the Shogun: Total War games, and have always had a soft spot for the Matchlock Ashigaru units for their aesthetics, so I was going to try and capture that as best I could.

I was 99% convinced I was going with back banners as well, then remembered my utter contempt for painting freehand back banners, and justified it by saying that the Magna Enforcers weren’t as fancy as their upmarket noble brethren in the posher provinces, so wouldn’t have back banners.

Just need a few servo skulls and some Imperial Eagles and you’re away

And then the parts arrived! I had to be strong-willed to not dig in to these as soon as they arrived, as I had a bunch of work I needed to do for Mother of Mercy. With that out the way and some suitable recovery time later, we’re back in the action and assembling cool models.

Is there a better sight?

For their bases, I wanted something a little less dingy than the Undertow, but still equally run down. I opted for a pack of the rather splendid Sector Imperialis bases from Games Workshop, justifying it that I could use the 40mm bases for Inquisitor as well. With the addition of some broken lollipop sticks for wood, and some water effects after they’d been painted, I was hoping to go for a run down manufactorum or derelict fish factory look.

Assembling the masses

Putting the majority of the Ash Garrison together was surprisingly simple. The Victoria parts, as disparate as they were considering I ordered the most awkward combination, went together rather pleasingly. I made a note to pin them through their toes to their bases, as as bouncy as resin is, I didn’t have much faith in my superglue keeping them attached.

The arms and guns slotted together quite nicely, although in once instance I wasn’t entirely sure how the pose of a pair of arms was intended, as it never seemed to match up to the weapon or body whatever I tried. Cue hacking, filing and putty-work and it didn’t matter – it bends to my will.

The first model assembled

Initially none of the models had shoulder pads or thigh guards. I knew this was on the cards, but I didn’t want to start carving parts of my minis away until I had put together the whole team and figured out how I was going to approach this. As I was building them, I knew I wanted to have a range of weapons (similar to the Undertow) for different circumstances and challenge levels, and that was how the idea of different fighting teams came about.

The Disciplinaries were a pain in the butt. As rad cool as the stun sticks from Victoria were, they were extremely bendy and many needed a date with the hair dryer to get them looking less like boomerangs. On top of that, the handles are very thin – not thin enough to be able to remove and replace with a length of brass pole or paperclip, but not thick enough to be able to pin in place. Most had to deal with having a fraction of a millimetre drilled into the hand and base of the shaft and hope I don’t drop them in the future.

And weirdly at this point I  began to notice that many of the left arms didn’t have the little extra shoulder pad, it seemed the ‘melee’ arms were missing them, but the rifle arms all had them. I resigned myself to knowing I was going to need to get the putty out again before this project was over.

After assembling all the bodies, I realised I was going to have to figure out a way of attaching the shoulder pads and doing a little extra on the bodies to being the whole aesthetic together. The masochist in me wanted to sculpt an entire armoured skirt over the trench coat legs, but if I had already trimmed the back banner plans from my list, then this “good idea” could also go and sit in the garbage where it belonged. Nope, I needed a more cunning, time-sensitive solution to this plan.

Very cunning

Cue montage. I snipped a bunch of thick plasticard down into strips and stuck them together with plastic glue, taking care to be liberal with the application but leave one side as mar-free as possible. It all needed to be bonded together for when the inevitable hacking and shaping was to take place, but it still needed to be pretty at the front.

Once it had dried it was a fairly simple, if time-consuming, process of slicing off the desired amount of thigh guard and filing the back down into shape so it would fit against the model snugly.

The first attempt

Although it took a bit of time to prepare each thigh guard, I was happy that the time was well spent, as it allowed me to maintain a consistent look across all the models without hours spent prodding and poking. It was also nice to not have to be concerned about the time-sensitive drying process of modelling putty, which is always a turn-off for me as I know if I have to put the project down (for such weaknesses as human food or waste expulsion) I might come back to a hardened putty and have to restart the process from scratch.

I was happy with the thigh guards – they helped draw the aesthetics together of weird future trench soldier and feudal Japanese plate armour. I wasn’t overly sold on the theme until I started to see several of them together, and along with the cute pointy hats from Puppets War I was really starting to enjoy how they were coming along.

Another issue present was the shoulder pad conundrum. It turned out it wasn’t much of a conundrum, I just didn’t want to address the obvious solution – cutting and filing down parts of the cloak to allow the shoulder pads to fit on the arm more snugly.

Big vulcanised coats to protect them from the shitty rain

Some went on better than others and some needed more encouragement. They all went on eventually, and I think it works as a blend of 40k and ancient east asian aesthetics. I was beginning to feel thankful for my shoulder pad ordering blunder at this point, as I was enjoying the single pad far more than when I draft-built some with both shoulder pads. It gave the models more freedom for poses, and gave it this wonderful lopsided asymmetric look that 40k is infamous for.

Launcher? I hardly knew ‘er

After assembling two thirds of the squad as stun stickers and lasgunners, I knew I needed a bit of variety and specialisation in there. Something to change up the game when they entered the field – some support weapons and an officer class.

The first (an easiest) was a trusty grenade launcher from the plastic Cadians kit. I’m not sure a project goes by where a grenade launcher isn’t added to a group of gangers, house guard or police force, they’re just so pleasingly versatile in the game. From a game balance perspective, these guys would only start turning up later in the escalation of violence. Initially all the Ash Garrison would be armed with flashbangs and smoke grenades, but as the riots step up, they’ll start issuing choke and frag grenades along with the launchers to help break up crowds.

“Boom. Headshot.”

The next specialist was a tricky one to decide on. I liked the idea of a suppressive weapon (like the heavy stubber of the Undertow) but decided against it as it would cheapen them when they did arrive. Flamers were out as well, as that was covered by the Undertow, so I had a dig about in my bits box and found a cool sniper rifle, again from Victoria but something from a previous order. I liked the image of the run-down rain-slick streets of Syracuse Magna being watched over by eagle-eyed snipers from different factions, daring the other to make the first move.

Part of me wanted to do something different with this guy, perhaps add some more camouflage, strip back their armour, make them appear more like light infantry. I decided against it in the end, partly because a) I was feeling hecka lazy and b) I wanted the models to be representatives of character the players would fight on the tabletop.

“Snoipa’s an honest job mate”

These were supposed to be specialists attached to riot squads rather than the pissing-in-bottles snipers that would haunt the doglegs and alleyways of Magna. They wouldn’t need models because, in my head, you would never get close enough to fight them on a battlemap. Those kinds of combats would be handled narratively, with just an indication of where the snipers were. I needed models to represent close-up brawls and add an element of visual wonder to our games.

The final model that needed to be assembled was some kind of leader. I had already established the Mandato, a secret police of torturers and assassins, but had no intentions to have models for them. After all, they wouldn’t be very secret if they had a battlefield presence would they?

I was struck with the overwhelming to try and convert a proper Oni/Samurai helmet. The Ashigaru conical helmets were fine for the footsloggers, but I wanted something impressive for the leader. I initially started looking for a daemonic/chaos head that could become a mask, but found the horns from a beastman and the head from a Tempestus Scion far quicker.

With a little bit of tubular plastic snipped from the end of a paint brush protector, the Mandato field officer had his helmet. While he stood, he would confer bonuses to his minions to help them avoid pinning, so he’s one to try and take out early into a brawl.

Wrap up and painting

I was dead chuffed with how they all came out in the end. From a piece of concept art and a very shaky photoshop mashup that I wasn’t convinced would work, to a bunch of converted minis that I like so much I’m looking for excuses to make more of them in the new year.

I’ve covered a bunch of different elements, giving them a variety of tools to help even the odds in battle, and injected some character into the different kinds of squads.

As for painting, I’m going to be leaning heavily on some Shogun Total War Ashigaru colour schemes, picking out a few that look good in green and beige. I have some Silver Tower minis to polish off first, but with the whole squad currently undercoated and drying as we speak, it won’t  be long before we see some painted minis on the Dreadquill news feeds.

Mother of Mercy – Inquisitor Open Event 2017

Old Mother One-Eye staggered across the conduit platform clutching her dueling wounds. Thin trails of silvery blood seeped between her skeletal fingers, hanging in the air like oil on water.

Her warp portal lay in ruins, carved apart by lance fire from an orbiting voidship. Sickly green lightning arced from the remains of the obsidian pillars that held the portal in place, the impotent rage of the warp venting harmlessly into the dissipating storm high above.

She spat a thick gobbet of black phlegm onto the floor and let out a furious, ear-splitting shriek. The servants of the corpse-god had broken into her home, butchered her children, destroyed her work and secured themselves a fate worth than death.

“Fools!” She cried out, summoning the remainder of her will to push her words into the souls of every being that sullied her home, “Can’t you see what you have done? You have doomed us all! Only I have the power to protect us from my master! You blind, misguided fools!”

Pale green spectres danced around her like a children’s playground game, taunting and mocking. The asteroid shook violently, a hungry stomach anticipating a meal. Warp fire poured from the void in the centre of her forehead as she lashed out at things imperceivable to the mortal eye.

Interrogator Dune slumped against an oily metal ladder. He was as battered and broken, forcing himself onwards despite the daemonic venom coursing through his veins. Above him was the platform the conduit was operating from before it was annihilated by lance fire and a strafing run from an inquisitorial Valkyrie.

He couldn’t take her alone, and the other agents he had encountered couldn’t be trusted to back him up. His splinter pistol was running low, and would it even do anything? He had watched a trained assassin try to take her out, only to recoil in terror and flee for their life.

His hand rested on his belt in exasperation, feeling a familiar shape on his fingertips. Realisation slowly crept across the scars of his face. The gift from his master!

He snapped the psyk-out grenade from its webbing and felt its weight. This had been given to him when he attained his rank, and carried it with him for over a decade. He muttered a prayer of thanks under his breath and activated the fuse rune.

With the last of his strength he pulled himself from the support of the ladder and into the open for a clear throw. The storm raged overhead. The witch was surrounded by warp lightning, screeching in anguish. Chaos spawn bore down on them.

He roared, drowning out the storm; “Mother One-Eye! You have been weighed, and you have been found wanting!”

And the grenade left his fingers.

++++++++

Debriefing

Mother of Mercy was a 1-day 54mm Inquisitor open event held at Warhammer World in Nottingham on November 18th 2017 and ran by the Conclave Inquisitor community.

It followed the potentially calamitous events of a powerful witch trying to cut off two co-dependent sectors from each other with great warp storms. It was set on the station of Mercy, an archipelago of asteroids and docking platforms lashed together with great chains, far away from help or support of the character’s usual network of spies and agents. You can get the whole brief that was handed out to the players on the day here.

Over a dozen people gathered on the day  with beautiful painted warbands, some made specially for the event, and the whoops and hollers of the day attracted dozens more to our tables to stare at the funny sized models and the giant scratch-built 54mm valkyrie. Thanks to the efforts of one of our community we also had leaflets to hand out to onlookers about the game and how they could get involved. If even one person discovered a new passion for the quirky narrative skirmish wargame then it would have been a success.

The day was spread across four of Warhammer World’s “feature boards”, set amid the noisy backdrop of their annual 40k Doubles tournament. It worked out well, with three boards being used for games and the final board being used as the inevitable ‘overflow’ at these kinds of events – a storage for spare models and collections of character sheets.

Next time I’ll make sure not to double book during another busy event so we can snag a few of the ‘plain’ boards. We had the perfect number of people this time, but it would have been nice to have some backup boards to run some extra games on for latecomers.

The day was run across 3 games: two smaller games and a finale on the epic mining facility board. That is a schedule that has worked well for these events in the past and I didn’t want to mess with it. One element that is always a conundrum is how to run the finale game. In some events we’ve had a mega-board with every player present, in some events we’ve had no finale at all,just another opportunity to score points or victory tokens and have a wrap-up in the bar afterwards.

This time I wanted to trial something a little different, using elements I’ve pinched from previous events. Throughout the day, players fought to complete universal primary objectives and were given secret secondary objectives to attempt as well, scoring you Victory Points that would affect whether your warband made it to the finale board or not. Anyone who didn’t make it to the finale board got to play on a satellite board for either control of a valkyrie or the targeting systems for an orbital lance weapon. The idea being you could still affect the finale even if you weren’t placed on that board.  Sprinkled in as well were some resource cards to shake up the early games, such as affecting deployment or rival warbands equipment.

Learning points

It worked well for the most part, and although the feedback we received afterwards was very positive it did highlight some flaws in the formula that would need to be addressed before running a similar event;

  • There was not enough ambiguity. Inquisitor thrives in the uncomfortable grey areas between right and wrong. When writing this event, I concentrated too much on what I wanted to happen rather than present a situation and ask people to pick sides. During many of the warm-up missions, warbands often discovered they didn’t really need to fight over the objective, and many games almost ended up with a mutual stalemate.
  • There were not enough bad guys. Linked to the first point, but I had hoped there would be more outright villains turning up on the day to counteract the lack of ambiguity. In retrospect I should have put out a casting call for baddies to attend the event as well, rather than relying on people mulling over the (not very tricky) moral conundrum of whether to save the sector or not.
  • The finale formula needs reworking. The principle of earning points to a finale board is sound, but the satellite boards finished up much quicker than the overall finale, leaving many feeling a bit let down. One of the suggestions would be to have three simultaneous finales at once, three maguffins that must be stopped to ensure victory, rather than one big maguffin and two helper boards.
The agents who made it to the finale

Final thoughts

All in all I had great fun running the event, and I’d like to think people who attended had fun as well. There are hundreds of pictures still being edited ready for uploading and I’ll be doing breakdowns of some of the scenarios and characters over the coming months to fill these hallowed Dreadquill halls.

Thanks to everyone for coming and keeping the hobby alive, and here’s to seeing you all at the next one!

+++++++++

The explosion had knocked Dune unconscious. The last thing he remembered seeing was the form of Old Mother One-Eye being catastrophically ripped apart in a fury of psychic energy.

He was covered in dust and ash and the lair filled with the shouts of survivors. The air was calm, and although heavy with soot, seemed far easier to breathe in.

It was done. The sector had been saved. The Throat would remain open for humanity to come and go as it pleases, just as the God Emperor intended.

He coughed a mix of blood and ichor onto the metal platform and tried to pull himself up, but his strength had left him.

Stood above him was a blurry figure. Dune’s eyesight hadn’t fully recovered yet, but even blinking through tears and ash he could recognise the silhouette of that damned hat anywhere. The figure extended a hand.

“Howdy!”

Mega Box o’ Bits ebay lot

It’s time to sell off one of my mega box of bits on ebay! (link)

I simply don’t have the space or inclination to hoard any more bits than I have at the moment would much rather they went to someone who can make use of them rather than a dumpster.

The whole haul.
All this stuff has been accrued over 25+ years of hobbying, some parts are well loved, and some parts are still new on the sprue. I like to think I have a decent eye when it comes to identifying models, but even some of these bits baffle me. If you need clarify on anything in this big ol’ box of stuff then just give me a shout!

This list is FAR from exhaustive, but from what I can make out from rooting through the box, we have components from:
  • Imperial Guard/Astra Militarum
  • Warhammer 40,000 Space Orks
  • Orcs and Goblins
  • Heroquest
  • Space marines
  • Chaos space marines
  • Eldar
  • Dark Eldar
  • Tyranids
  • Undead/Vampire Counts
  • Some Forgeworld bits and pieces
  • Dwarfs/Dwarves
  • Lord of the Rings Goblins of Moria and High Elves/Elfs
  • Scenery/scatter terrain
  • Various 1:72 historical and WWII/WW2 figures
  • Lizardmen
  • Some scale parts for a WW2 tank and plane
  • Mantic Avatars of War elf archers on sprues

The Mega Box of Bits ebay lot is available here, and it ends Sunday night (tonight) at 8pm .

Meanwhile, on the Bench: Graveyard scenery

This week I’ve been cracking out some seasonal terrain for my good chums over at Hobgoblin 3D, namely a combination of their Graveyard of Grizliness bundle and the Abandoned Mausoleum kit.

Hobgoblin produce some great models for you to 3D print at home, and although they started out as pure fantasy terrain, they’re starting to branch out into more genre-neutral sets. This is very bad for a sci-fi nerd like myself, as I no longer can continue to make excuses as to why I can’t pick up their sets for myself.

Nyaaa!

Spooky ghoul from Mantic games for scale here, as these pieces are the largest single-piece 3D printed models I’ve painted to date. I’ve no idea how long these would have taken to print, I just get the luxury of painting them without the headache of operating a 3D printer!

The archway in the middle was supplied in four parts admittedly, but they went together very easily and they form a single solid unit when assembled.

Nyaaa!

I’ve painted quite a few bits for Hobgoblin over the past year, but their most recent sets have been the closest thing to tempting me to getting a 3D printer for myself. This set in particular is perfect for the grimdark setting most of our games are set in.

I can just imagine an entire graveyard board scattered with ornate railings and broken gravestones and a big shootout between cultists (up to no good in a graveyard, obviously) and some Acolytes.

Nyaaa!

It wouldn’t be Halloween without pumpkins! I particularly liked the ‘carved’ pumpkin base, there’s lots of nice details on it, and the candles inside the jack o’ lanterns are particularly pleasing.

Nyaaa!

You couldn’t have a graveyard without gravestones could you? There’s a nice variety here, and the nice part about owning the kit is you can print off as many of each as you need, rather than being limited to the ones you buy. Although they look quite nice I wasn’t a fan of the broken headstone pieces, they were a bit too fiddly to paint (and I’m about 70% sure I lost a piece in the painting process).

I can see the appeal, but for me they’d be better off as part of a diorama or scatter piece, such as the pumpkins above or the open graves below.

Nyaaa!

Open graves! I think I had the most fun painting these. They tell a great story and wouldn’t look out of place in just about any different setting. If I had given myself a bit more time, I would want to experiment with some water effects pooling in the open grave and making the mounds of earth around it all soggy. I mean, when else is the best time to go gravedigging if not in the rain?

Oh yes, and it has another adorable feature;

Let there be light! There’s a hollow inside the lantern for an LED and button cell for extra spoopiness, or if you’re cheap like me, a phone light concealed under a sheet of A4.

Nyaaa!

And finally the Mausoleum kit. What a piece! Any doubts I’ve had in the past about 3D printing vs injection/cast moulded pieces have been dashed apart. This is a rather excellent construction that really lends itself to the 3d printing process.

It comes six parts – an upper and lower section of the building so you can remove the top to access minis inside without disturbing your scene, two doors and two hinge pieces (not pictured because I’m a doofus and lost them). The two hinge pieces are glued to the bottom of the door when it is assembled in the building so it doesn’t fall out of its socket.

I hear tell rumours in the tavern that the team might be building an insert for this building with a hex/square grid on it for proper roleplaying compatability, so watch this space for more!

I thoroughly enjoyed painting this kit, and outside of drying times took me far less time than other kits to get tabletop ready. A few choice washes and different coloured drybrushing can go a long way into getting your spooky quota up for your games.

The Imperial Condition: Tales of Onus

High Marshall Werthing’s hard features showed signs of concern. There were a lot of resources going into this project, and very little to gain even with a perfect outcome.

“How is our subject, Magos?” She asked the person sharing the observation module with her. She knew his augmented audio receptors would pick up the quiver of trepidation in her voice, and hoped he was still human enough to ignore it.

Magos Byrdsong gestured at a nearby dataslate and the observation room was filled with dribbling green infostreams. His perfect gene-sculpted features pulled a number of exaggerated expressions and his luscious vat-grown hair billowed as though he was underwater. He had spent centuries sculpting his likeness into the perfect human form, but Werthing had never met anyone so unnervingly inhuman.

“In layman’s terms, the subject is exceeding simulated predictions.” The Magos spoke in lilting harmonies from several artificial voice boxes.

“What about non-layman’s terms?” Werthing responded.

He turned to look at her, tearing his eyes away from the subject in the adjacent conditioning theatre. She swore she made out his ice-blue eyes rotate and dial in on her like a camera lens.

“Tissue scrubbing protocols are at 97%. Electro-purification has been 82% effective and the visual and aural memories have been cleansed down to a tolerance of 1 in 32 pico-units. Frequency blockers have been installed, resulting in 44% less negative feedback from aetheric trauma. Mental conditioning is also at peak performance; will and resilience are up 14%, but this may come at a cost to the subject’s hazard perception.”

Magos Byrdsong gauged Werthing’s reaction, deeming her non-responsivity to such impressive figures as incomprehension. “The subject has been purged of taint and measures taken to improve resistances to it in the future. Without further field testing, we cannot say what long term effect this will have on their mental condition.”

Arcs of lightning dance around the conditioning theatre, striking a throne in the centre of the room. The observation module flashes a dark blue through the tinted windows in time to the rampant energy surges.

“What about physical condition?” The High Marshall continued her inquiries. She didn’t need to understand it, her rank only demands she know it.

The lightning cut out. Copper restraints snapped open and the subject collapsed from the throne into a smoking heap on the theatre floor. With a subtle gesture from Byrdsong, the conditioning theatre is flooded with amber warning lights. A pair of combat servitors rise from the floor of the theatre on hydraulic lifts.

With a second gesture, something small and metal tumbled from a repository in the ceiling – a rusty scalpel. With a shaky hand, the subject gingerly picked the scalpel up from the floor, blood and filth soaking their matted hair.

With a third gesture, the combat servitors powered up, their implanted weapons spinning and whining so loudly Werthing could hear it through the armoured observation screen. Byrdsong looked back at the High Marshall, a perfectly calculated grin of pleasure splashed across his immaculate features.

“This is the part I’m most proud of. Let me demonstrate.”

+++++++

Tales of Onus is a section for short stories from the Onus Region, a place our roleplaying games are set, including a 4+ year campaign of Dark Heresy. There are so many stories that don’t get told during the course of a gaming session, so a select few are written up to be enjoyed here.

You can find rules for submitting your own characters for Imperial Conditioning here.

Meanwhile on the Bench: The Undertow

Blackmail, extortion, smuggling and unadulterated violence are all part of everyday life for the unfortunates living in District XIII in Syracuse Magna. When corruption in planetary authorities runs all the way to the top, the only way to get what you need is at the barrel of a shotgun.

The whole painted gang

Next stop for our merry band of Acolytes is Syracuse, ‘the Grey Halo’, a tidally locked planet where only a thin band of habitability exists around its circumference, sandwiched between two extremes of temperature. A hive city exists in this habitable zone, a complete ring of urban sprawl that stretches from pole to pole. Unfortunately for our Acolytes, they’re not going to the nice part of town.

We’re off to Syracuse Magna, a semi-independent section at the bottom pole that for centuries has been in inexorable decline and decay. Corruption and dilapidation are the order of the day, the petty nobles bickering and squabbling over scraps while the rest of the citizenry band together to make the most of what little they have. One such band of economically-minded citizens are the Undertow, the city’s largest organised gang, and one of three factions taking part in the Syracuse Magna campaign.

Since catching the modelling bug for our campaigns (I honestly don’t know how it has taken me so long), Syracuse was always high on my list for having models for each of its factions. One of the exciting things (for me) is that these guys will provide an interesting change of pace for the players, as for the last two years we have fought servitors, assassins, heretek automata, xenos creatures, giant local fauna and genetic abominations.

The Undertow don’t have any fancy special powers, and their gear will barely be worth the rusty metal they’re forged from, but a combination of guerrilla tactics, ambushing, flanking, hidden snipers, punji pits, makeshift booby traps and lots and lots of firebombs will make for an interesting tactical challenge for our players.

All the models were one piece, minus the heads

I needed about a dozen, and the Kolony Feral models from Pig Iron miniatures fit the bill perfectly. They were ragged and grotty but not overwhelmingly chaotic or mutated, so you could still believe they were human underneath their protective rags.

I wanted them to look likely they were hanging out down at abandoned docks and near filth-strewn canals, so it was time to break out the balsa wood!

I think I’ve owned this balsa wood for ten years…

I enjoy a good urban sprawl base, but urban environments come in many shapes and sizes! The first challenge I noticed was that all the white metal minis had pre-cast bases, which presented a big issue if I wanted to mount them on balsa wood dockyards. I debated changing tack for something a little less woody, but decided in the end to commit to removing over a dozen pairs of boots from their pre-cast bases and filing them down to fit. Who needs fingertips anyway?

A decent fit, and pretty sturdy once pinned

The second issue that I hadn’t foreseen was more of an aesthetic choice. As much as I love these minis for exactly what I wanted them to be, I was a little disappointed at the weapon sculpts. I had a very strong aesthetic in my head, and the (again, pre-cast) guns were very lacklustre, and nowhere remotely to the scrappy gutter-forged shotguns and rusty revolvers I had in mind.

With my fingertips barely recovered from de-basing all of them, I set about with pliers and files to forcibly remove the default weapons for all these poor minis, trying to leave as much of the original hands behind as possible.

Cut cut snip snip ouch ouch bleed bleed

I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to fit any weapons in there but I was very much committed at this point, I had to make it work somehow! Luckily a couple of the ‘Specialists’ models didn’t need any work doing to them, I quite liked the bandaged sniper rifle and the makeshift flamer (although the missile launcher thing and heavy machine gun absolutely had to go), and the ‘Feral Blades minis’ were pretty much good to go out of the box.

Changing the launcher for something a little scabbier

The launcher and heavy machine gun were snipped apart and the bits box was raided for something suitably shoddy. I wanted them to be simultaneously deadly but unappealing to players. Poor quality heavy weapons that when used correctly and/or in appropriate numbers can really wreak havoc, but are so unwieldy, unreliable or dangerous to operate that they would never bother looting them from the Undertow corpses.

The flintlock pistol of Quovandius from the 54mm Inquisitor range had this weird archaic strapped-together look that suited me just fine, so the launcher was hacked down to its supports, sanded down and the gun glued on.

Dakka dakka dakka

The heavy machine gun was a lot of fun to build. I had nothing in my bits box that looked even remotely like what I envisioned in my head – something akin to the Crank Cannon from DH1ed’s Inquisitor’s Handbook. Something loud, rattly, shooty and, with any luck, killy. After hacking apart the poor gunner’s body to free him from his weird heavy weapon, the cannon was assembled from a heavily cut down Ork Shoota and the barrel of an Empire repeater handgun.

#Squadgoals

The rest were coming together rather nicely. The combination of raggedy bodies and scrappy wood bases were giving the rain-slicked, grimdark feel I was hoping to achieve already.

Crappy shotguns ahoy!

Once the models had been hacked apart, attaching the shotguns was surprisingly simple. I was immediately reminded why I prefer working in resin than white metal, as the shotguns were so pliable to my commands and made the minute adjustments required to make them fit into the empty hands oh-so much simpler.

They fit almost too well in some cases

The shotguns had a mix of straps and bayonets, so it took a bit of jiggling to work out which combinations of weapons fit best into which hands. Many of the minis were carrying machine pistol-type things, so their hands were very close together. I *think* I just about got away with it on examples like the one above, but in some cases I had to admit defeat and change up the formula.

This guy was last in line for the weapon handouts

I wanted a mix of weapons rather than just shotguns. Dark Heresy has a very versatile combat system, and not only did I want a range of weapon options to throw at the players, but incrementally bigger and badder weapons to upscale the difficulty as the campaign goes on.

My second favourite kind of cocktail

The humble firebomb – cheap, lightweight, zero skill requirements to use and utterly devastating with the correct application. One firebomb can scatter a formation of battle hardened Acolytes, force them into cover or break their aim. Half a dozen firebombs tossed at Acolytes in quick succession can VERY quickly see people passing out, limbs cooking to a crisp and Fate Points being burned. It ignores armour, prevents you from doing anything while you’re on fire and regardless of any other effects, makes you slowly pass out from heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation, so you’re more likely to pass out first and then burn to death.Totally, utterly hilarious.

The completed bomb chucker

When it’s time to up the ante again, that’s when this launcher fellow will come into play. Very much like his firebomb-hurling brethren, he’s got a lovely big bag o’ bombs that he can lob up and over things from a very safe distance away, hopefully causing consternation among our Acolytes who might be getting a little cocky towards the end of the campaign.

You’re legally required to have at least one two-handed weapon thug in every gang

With a trim of their bases and some choice head decisions, the gang was ready! I wasn’t a fan of their overly-hunched poses, so many of their heads were pinned back a little big, so their necks needed some filling with green stuff.

Necromunda Scavvy Gang anyone?

With them finished and basecoated, it was time to apply a lick o’ paint. I had challenged myself to use the JGIDD method of painting (Just Get It Done, Dickhead) for these guys, as although I love pouring dozens of hours into my models, I had 13 mooks to paint and finish before either of the other two factions turned up, another two dozen models potentially! I needed something lean, mean and green.

Ready to hit the town

I already had the colour scheme in my head, they wore heavy green overcoats and muted tanned undergarments, so the hardest part (deciding on colours!) was over. I wanted them to look unified, as I’m a sucker for gang colours on fleek, but also subtly different from one another. Kinda like they all shop at the same dumpster, but add their own fashionable flair to their mook attire.

All the base colours were painted on – a dark green for the overcloaks, a tan leather for sleeves and face protectors, a pink flesh tone for any exposed hands, dark grey for the trousers/leg garments, a dark brown for the boots and a lighter grey for straps, bags and miscellaneous pouches. The guns were painted a dark rusted metal then stippled with a lighter metallic colour. The entire mini was then given a heavy brown wash and left to dry.

How’s that for a plot hook? ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

The overcoat was then drybrushed a mossy green with a final dainty drybrush around the hems and edges with a pale green. Every other colour was then simply highlighted again with the same colour used for the base.

Everything was done as quickly as possible to have them in a ‘ready’ state that I could come back to if I felt like it in the distant future. After the last debacle with getting models ready for game day, there’s nothing worse than spending the time to prep them, only to have it half finished for their big moment.

The Pew Patrol

The bases were drybrushed a series of lighter browns and the shoes tidied up afterwards where I had got a bit overzealous with my brush. The bases were looking a little plain, so I got some of Games Workshop’s rather excellent blood effect paint and splashed it liberally about hither and thither with a combination of paintbrush and cocktail stick. Anyone with bayonets or blades got a little dab as well to help make the weapons pop a bit more.

Unsure how happy I am with the water effects

The final part was to do something with the bases to make them look more like they were standing on the side of a dock rather than just on some scaffolding. Water is going to be a big theme for this campaign, so I needed my baddies to be suitably moist.

I picked up some Woodlands Scenics Water Effects to have an experiment. I am loathe to use resin, and I had tinkered a bit with PVA effects in the past, but I had read good things about this particular product. I wanted a semi-submerged look, and this one would apparently fit the bill.

I don’t think I made my layers thin enough

Gosh, I was not prepared for how thick it would be. It was like spooning hair gel onto the bases, not the smooth flow that you get from PVA glue. Applying this substance to my models was a nightmare, as it went everywhere I didn’t want it to go, and it didn’t settle anywhere like water should, but rather stuck to all the raised areas I couldn’t get a pokey stick into.

After much swearing and sticky fingers (phrasing?) and leaving the first thin coat to dry, I was pleasantly surprised with how it came out. Surely fine to spoon another one on, right?

Maybe their gang hideout is the abandoned glue factory?

I don’t know if it was an inappropriate use of the product (I found a more pourable version after I had already bought and committed to this one…) or I wasn’t applying the layers thinly enough, but I’m a little annoyed that it didn’t dry as clear as I had expected. It’s not the end of the world, just a learning experience for next time.

The whole gang

All in all I’m very pleased with how they turned out! It’s very rare I get an entire project done in two sittings, and the painting (which normally takes me the longest) was done and dusted in about two evenings. Lessons learned, fun had, and models ready to kick some Acolyte ass!

Meanwhile, on the Bench: Hieronymous Vyle

Our Dark Heresy group was coming to the conclusion of an important chapter and the beginning of the end for the campaign. We had spent the best part of seven sessions on the planet of Brimstone, a planet of our own devising in our little patch of space, the Onus Region.

The planet was a planned stop-off for the Acolytes to tie up some loose ends from a previous mission, specifically tracking down and stopping the Arch-Heretek Hieronymous Vyle, from enacting any more atrocities against the Imperium of Man. He is a master geneticist, genius cryptographer and bitter rival of the Adeptus Mechanicus as an organisation, believing they are too short-sighted and wrapped up in bureaucracy to achieve any meaningful progress.

The finished product!

His plan was simple: flee the purge of the Kreato Affair to the quiet, technologically backwards planet of Brimstone – the last place the Inquisition would think of looking for a radical techpriest. There he would work on his Symbiote – his Magnum Opus – to strike back at the Adeptus Mechanicus for what the crimes he believed to be the most heinous; conservatism and myopia.

The Symbiote was a poor man’s take on the Obliterator Virus, and worked by fusing to flesh and metal, taking over the host body and forcing it to undergo transformations and binding it through synaptic link to its master. I’ll be doing a piece on Vyle’s Symbiote another time as it deserves its own article rather than being strung along with their boss.

The incredibly tidy work bench

Vyle never had any artwork for him, nor did he have much of a description when the players met him almost three years of real time ago, before he escaped and set up on Brimstone, so I had a blank canvas to work with. I had also developed a spin-off cult for a Necromunda gang called the Scions of Vyle, so I had a starting point for aesthetic – drab green robes and polished bronze.

I needed a suitably eerie, icky model to use as a base, and the ‘Tech Master Baltazar’ from Hitech Miniatures fitted the bill perfectly. I loved the idea of this eerie, decrepit lump of flesh being propelled along by these weird spidery legs and covered in mechadendrites. Time to blow the dust off some of my guitar cabling.

The kit arrived and I was pleasantly surprised with its quality, requiring very little trimming to remove flash or mould lines at all. My only gripe was that the back and base of the walking unit were flat and featureless, so the further off the base I wanted to pin it, the more obvious it would be that someone just stopped modelling anything underneath it. I also had my concerns about pinning the incredibly fiddly legs to the walker and to the base without damaging both. I build my minis to be played with, so they need to be sturdy.

A convenient raised lump to pin Vyle to

A fish around in my bits box turned up some more Cities of Death terrain tiles, and one had a very convenient raised skull in the centre. When mounted at a particular angle, I could have a single massive pin that ran from the body through the base, and raised just enough from the ground to give the appearance that it isn’t touching.

Dry fit, testing different angles
A better look at how he is angled slightly forward

After feeling confident in my massive pin job, I didn’t feel so bad about not pinning the legs. They weren’t structurally integral, so I thought I would do my fingers some favours and avoid pinning them, just a copious amount of superglue in the recesses.

Already looking like a PC’s worst nightmare

Another pleasing aspect of the model that I hadn’t noticed in the thumbnail on the website is that it has an odd number of legs – three on one side and two on the other. It gave it this wonderful lopsided look that to me, epitomises Adeptus Mechanicus high fashion.

Base was trimmed with heavy clippers and a sharp knife. Blood was shed.

I wasn’t sure what equipment I wanted to give him at this stage, rule of cool was going to guide my hand. The only thing I knew I wanted to definitely have was a big tank of horrid goo strapped to his back that he could squirt at foes – perhaps a kind of super-concentrated liquid Symbiote? Either way, it would be miserable to anyone who was caught up in it, doling out toxic damage, corruption points, infection and maybe even mutation. A GM can dream right?

A quick kitbash of the tank and the hose

I have a bunch of tanks lying around of flamers from various vehicle kits, I’m not sure exactly what this one was from – a sentinel perhaps? The nozzle and mechadendrite was from a Forgeworld Mechanicum servitor I had bits-ordered some time ago to pump up the amount of Mechanicus bits in my collection. This arm I tried to just bend with copious gentle rubbing between forefinger and thumb to built up a bit of heat. This was my second attempt, the first ended pretty snappily.

A dry fit of the backpack on the model

I positioned it on the back of the model to see how much it changed the silhouette, and I could already see my multi-limbed metal bastard coming together. I wouldn’t attach this just yet, as it would form the ‘outer’ rim of details, and would just be a pain in the ass to work around at this point. It gets to sit on the side while I work on other gribbly bits.

Trying to replicate the lopsided aesthetic

The first round of ‘inner’ mechadendrites was an exercise in patience and bending. There were a conspicuous number of ‘holes’ in the model where it looked like limbs could be attached to, and were already the perfect width of a paperclip, so pinning things into them was a dream. With one on the left side and two on the right, it seemed natural to fill them all with mechadendrites.

What magnificent squeezers

Dark Eldar Talos bits stand in, once again, for brilliant biomechanical parts for edgy AdMechs, and a couple of their pinchers would work very nicely to manipulators. Vyle’s real, original hands are too busy operating dataslates and poring over files and reports, he has all his other extendo-limbs to operate heavy machinery and backhand rude PCs who interrupt his Machiavellian schemes.

All the tools a growing boy needs

I debated over what ‘ends’ to give his mechadendrites, as I had many blades, saws, injectors and guns to choose from. Although he would be an able combatant, I wanted his tools to be just that – tools first. Manipulators and medical instruments would be fished out from various places, including more Forgeworld Mechanicum and Dark Eldar bits.

Custom made to fit the model’s “arm sockets”

The mechadendrites themselves were from the Inquisitor-scale Delphan Gruss model, of which I had a few tubes handy. Normally I prefer working with resin over white metal, but these had the malleability I was looking for to get plenty of bends without singeing my fingers with a hair dryer. A tip to budding Mechanicus modellers: always give your tentacles two bends at different angles to give them a more realistic feel – a bend along a single axis doesn’t look great.

Clank clank thump scrape

I couldn’t find anything else to add to the model without making it look too busy, so I started mounting the ‘outer’ layer of mechadendrites. These consisted of the goo-squirter I made earlier, and the heavy mechanical arm that came with the model. I wasn’t a particular fan of the big round claw it came with, so I wanted to change that out for something a bit more subtle. One of the power blade utensils from the Delphan Gruss kit fitted the bill perfectly.

His power blade extends quite a way from the model

Having the arm stick out to the far left was a dangerous move, as it had the potential of unbalancing the silhouette of the model too much. With the addition of the backpack and goo-squirter on the other side, it balanced very nicely.

The ‘outer’ layer of ‘dendrites work well#

I was quite proud of this, given it took me only half an evening. Normally I navel-gaze on large projects like this due to having too many options, but with the Big Day rapidly closing on me, time was not a luxury I had. He needed to be finished, primed and based in less than 24 hours!

Could’ve done with more bend in the resin one

There was still something missing, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. The backpack stuck out from the back of the model and didn’t sit particularly well. I figured it was so he could jettison it quickly if needs be, but just by itself didn’t look integrated into the rest of the model. A quick rummage through the Dark Eldar section of my bits box again pulled up one of the bio-injector spines from the Talos kit again, which fit far too well.

Ever looked at a model and thought “Now there’s a guy who needs more spine”?

It was ridiculous and over the top, but it had that back banner aesthetic that I’m very fond of in my 40k imagery. It also helped tie in the whole ‘weird science’ vibe I was going for, as I had planned on painting it a similar flesh tone to the rest of his body. Is it his spine? What are those weird injectors and vials for? Spo0oky.

Is it dumb? Yes. Is it perfect? Also yes.

I was dead happy with it at this point. It was suitably imposing (mounted on a 54mm base) so it was clearly a centrepiece, and had all the aesthetics to tie it in with the existing Vyle models while also standing out from them. I knew I wouldn’t get enough time to paint it up fully for the game, but I would have just enough time to base him and wash him, so at least he would be coloured for the Grand Finale.

You would need a lot of apples a day to keep this doctor away

Finally we have him standing next to one of his minions, a Scion of Vyle. His base is going to be populated heavily with these guys, along with some Symbiotes in various stages of maturity.

“Wow I really look forward to not dying in one game, how about you?”

Dead chuffed with how he turned out, and set a scary precedent for the concept of making models for all my bad guys. Scary because this particular bad guy was never intended to make it out alive, so I was hoping he put up a spectacular fight before going down!

Luckily he did, and the finale was epic and tense – a battle through an underground evil lair, culminating in a shoot out in a missile silo minutes from blast-off and a duel on a snow-spattered mountain top for control of the last ship off the mountain while the base undergoes a self destruct sequence in the background.

But that’s another story for another time.

Siege of Sky Stone Peak: Tales of Onus

Every morning a longhorn wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest panthera or it will be killed. Every morning a panthera wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest longhorn or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a longhorn or a panthera. When the sun comes up, you better start running.

It was an old proverb, but Imani knew it well. He wiped something hot and metallic out of his eyes. It could have been blood; his or a clansman, or it could have been whatever passes for blood among the Siad Ruh. It didn’t matter, he could see again, and he staggered to his feet with the help of his hunting spear.

It was dawn, and although it had been light for several hours, the sun was only just beginning to creep out from behind the jagged mountains ahead of them. The largest, Sky Stone Peak, and the fortress that dwelled beneath it, was their goal. The Siad Ruh came from here, and it was down to these few hundred souls to stop them.

Another lumbered towards him, its face a horrid, twisted death mask, leathered by the heat. It moved in a sickening fashion, like its leg was broken but couldn’t feel it. One arm was a wicked hook of metal and flesh, somehow growing from the elbow where its hand should have been.

Imani gulped down his exhaustion and hurled his spear. It sailed through the air, puncturing its brittle chest. The thing staggered but kept coming, hook held high, scrambling up the scree of the outcrop Imani stood on. He glanced at the flintlock in his other hand that the offworlders had given him. With all his faltering strength, he levelled the pistol at the charging abomination and yanked the trigger with two fingers.

For a fleeting moment, he held the power of a volcano in his hand. It bucked hard, wrenching from his grasp. A tongue of flame roared from the gun, accompanied by an explosion of light and smoke.

The shot punched through the Siad Ruh’s shoulder, exploding it like rotten fruit. A split second later, the ragged shards of dried flesh and metal bone ignited. The fire spread in an instant, immolating the unholy creature like wildfire. Fiery chunks sloughed from its frame like wax. The worst part was it’s utter silence, still as the grave, as it cremated in front of him. The only sound was the hissing and crackling of burning skin.

He gasped for air. The smell of rancid cooked flesh filled his nose and mouth. He looked around, trying to take stock of the carnage. He and several hundred others had marched the length of the capital heartland for this moment. A scant few hundred Thole clansmen from all across Brimstone, displaced and desperate, their families butchered and their homes burned by the Siad Ruh. Many of the enemy had taken the forms of those they had killed, but he knew it wasn’t them. Not any more.

They stood on the lip of a dried riverbank, the great, featureless steppes stretching out in front of them. The sun was low, but its heat could already be felt, and the long morning shadows were ebbing away under blood and sand. Between them and Sky Stone Peak was a carpet of Siad Ruh, tumbling from their rocky hiding places and pulling themselves out of the ground.

To the right, the King and his serpent-helmeted Royal Guard held a line, firing down into the morass in well-practised salvos that sounded like rolling thunder. To his left, dozens of armoured Panthera guard were advancing forwards in phalanx, shields locked, breaking only to strike out with their deadly claw-staffs. With Imani, in the centre, were the Thole faithful. Over a hundred clansmen from as many different clans, giving their all in defense of the Heartland.

Several Siad Ruh broke through the central line of the faithful and lumbered up the ridge towards him. Imani fought back the self-doubt that had been creeping, summoned all the courage he had remaining and bellowed a war cant in his clan tongue, followed by a rallying cry.

“Sons of the Dragon! We sing with fire!” He staggered down the loose rock as best he could, pistol raised. He was within striking distance of the nearest creature, let out another roar and squeezed the trigger.

It clicked impotently in his hand. He stared at it in disbelief. One of the beasts was on him now, a pair of sickle blades raised above its head. Imani raised his spear weakly in response.

The creature’s head separated from its body with enough force to toss it over the fighting and out of sight. One of Marshall Tusker’s Panthera Guard stepped into view, shoulder barging another back down the ridge where it was set upon by the faithful. The Panthera Guard was a mountain of a main, glistening in the dawn light with sweat and blood.

From behind his lion mask, he called out to Imani. “One shot, brother!”

As the lion-headed man returned to his shield wall, Imani looked about him in horror. They were less than half the number they were when they arrived, and the tide of Siad Ruh seemed to be only growing. Their task was never going to be easy, and he wasn’t sure he expected to return from it – lure the creatures from their lair so the offworlders can sneak in and destroy Sky Stone Peak. He prayed they were moving swiftly, and making good of every moment bought with Thole blood.

A thousand curses on the noble houses, this was their fight too! If only-

His thoughts were cut short. The shriek of a thousand banshees filled the air, followed by a thunderous blast and a tidal wave of flame. The sea of creatures in front of them turned to fire, as though a hundred volcanoes had erupted beneath them. The explosion was immense, knocking most of the faithful to the ground. Something had immolated legions of the Siad Ruh, and Imani was sure they were next. He looked around, panicked.

“It’s the lady of the shouting mountains!” He heard someone cheer. He spun about, trying to find this sorcerous woman the Panthera Guard were shouting about.

Stepping out of an adjacent riverbank came a hulking beast of blue metal, walking on two legs like a man, but five times as tall. A box on its back was smoking, half filled with red arrowheads. Its hands were weapons of steel from which fire and fury poured. It made the noise of the whole Royal Guard salvo with every heavy metal footfall.

“It doesn’t look much like a lady!” Imani shouted, a mix of relief and sheer terror.

“It’s a lady on the inside!” Someone shouted back. Imani paused. That didn’t make any sense either. Whatever the case, Imani redoubled the grip on his spear and watched the metal beast for its next move.

It hunkered down, and prefaced by the banshee wail, the rest of the arrowheads flew from their quiver, propelled through the sky by long trails of fire. When they struck the Siad Ruh horde, it swallowed hundreds of them in the conflagration.

The smoke slowly cleared. The Thole were coughing and spluttering from the sand and dust that had been thrown up. The lady of the shouting mountains was nowhere to be seen, but her throaty growls could be heard rolling across the ridge.

Imani looked out across the throng of dead and burning Siad Ruh that now littered the steppes. The Thole were regrouping, looking around for leadership. In the distance, Imani spotted a large, heavy figure standing on a column of stone. It was wide and its head set in the centre of its chest. Its body rippled, like it was changing while Imani watched it. It was moving its arms in erratic motions, but the shambling Siad Ruh were moving completely in time with it. It must be a leader of some sort – the head of the snake.

Although the numbers were still greatly in their favour, the Siad Ruh were disparate and scattered. Now was the time to strike.

He grasped his spear firmly in both hands, set his sights on the leader beast, and started running.

+++++++

Tales of Onus is a section for short stories from the Onus Region, a place our roleplaying games are set, including a 4+ year campaign of Dark Heresy. There are so many stories that don’t get told during the course of a gaming session, so a select few are written up to be enjoyed here.

This is a short piece to run parallel with an ongoing campaign on the planet of Brimstone. One day the GM’s campaign notes will get written up and/or its material disseminated here. This is not that day, however, so short stories and out-of-context snippets are the order of the day.

For a little more context, this is Lady Patience.

The Gelt Journal – Part 8: Waxy rags

Gossamer strands of smoke had snuck underneath the heavy doors of the chapel and probed the air like a tangle of grey vipers. The scent of burning solvents was heavy on the tongue.

“Fire!” Leora snapped into action, “Rebreathers, now!”

We scrambled for air purifiers while Crisis bundled the map up and stuffed it into one of his voluminous pouch. Mine was a form-fitting Arbites-issue rebreather with a backup tank, good for a few hours of light activity. Proteus had a pair of waxy rags that he stuffed up his nostrils, which I was later informed was charmingly known as a ‘hive-issue rebreather’.

Leora and Mur unbarred the massive door to the chapel while I instructed the rest of us to check our ammo. I flicked the activator on the lamp pack of my autorifle and signalled ready.

It opened with the groan of old iron. Smoke rolled in across the ceiling like a bubble had been burst. There was no change in heat, so the fire must have been some distance away. We filed into the East wing of the estate, the authoritative end of my autorifle leading the way.

It was a wide, straight corridor that lead directly from the chapel to the manse, liberally decorated with person-sized oil portraits and marble busts with noble brows and heroic jawlines. They all bore the same surname: Rauth.

I stopped to examine one of the paintings; perhaps there were clues or hidden signs of heresy in the lineage – even the best painters in the Imperium cannot completely conceal the degradation of mind and corruption of soul. Leora was making notes of names and faces, while Crisis and Mur took over navigation, the prisoner still slumped over his shoulder. I heard the soft click of a flick knife.

“Don’t bother,” Mur called back withoutbreaking stride, “the only person alive that painting’s valuable to is the one we’re going to capture, interrogate or kill. Preferably all three.”

I looked over my shoulder. Proteus was balanced on a marble bust, knife in hand, poised to cut a portrait from its frame. He sneered in grudging agreement and slid down from his vantage point to rejoin us.

We reached the end of the East wing, punctuated with a heavy panelled oak door inlaid with gold filigree in the shape of the Rauth family crest. Smoke poured from inelegant seams that had been warped by heat, and the brass orb handle was warm to the hold my hand near.

Those with rifles shouldered them and I signalled to Crisis to get the door. He wrapped a rag around a pollution-scarred hand and grasped the handle. With a gestured countdown he slammed the door with a might that belied his size and we slipped into hell.

First came the heat. It washed over us like a wave of fire, stealing our breath and watering our eyes. Every nerve screamed in protest and it was everything I could do to fight the base survival instinct to flee from such a primal terror. It singed our flesh and baked the sweat from our skin.

The manse was a roaring inferno. What was once a grand multi-storey entrance hall was now a cathedral of fire, flames licking across every balcony, pillar, marble gargoyle and self-aggrandizing statue. This great chamber would have been a monument to the family’s wealth, heritage and power, made from the rarest and privileged materials available to the lineage. Everything was being consumed. If Rauth was here, he was long gone now.

We fanned out to check corners and exits and quickly realised the futility. We were red-faced and bathed in sweat, desperate for a lead. Between the crackling of burning heritage and the tumbling of masonry, I could just made out the snap of gunfire through the open entrance of another hall to the west. I tapped my comm-bead twice for attention and jabbed with my arm towards the sound of conflict.

The next hall was equally impressive, a multi-tiered open-plan chamber strewn with collapsed pillars and broken marblery. A small squad of Latirian Guardsmen were sweeping through, blackened and bloody, laying down las-fire at a balcony on the second storey high above our heads. The returning fire was sporadic and inaccurate, but enough to keep the Guardsmens’ heads down.

One of them spotted us enter, and although their targets were obscured to us by the balcony above our heads, he cupped his mouth and bellowed “Take cover!”

I believe that’s what he was shouting. We couldn’t hear him over the sickening sound of structural integrity failing. With a series of cascading crunches and snaps, laced with the terrified screams of the falling, the entire balcony above gave way, taking at least half a dozen of Rauth’s House Guard with it. It fell to earth like a meteor, engulfing in a fireball and splashing flaming wreckage across the marble floor.

One of the burning wretches stumbled from the conflagration with the same high-pitched squealing as a crustacean in a crock pot, and the Latirian Guard took no pause to finish him off.

The fire roared on and as cinders fell about us, the lieutenant approached us with a black look, both figuratively and literally.

“That was the last of ’em in here!” He yelled, projecting his voice far above the hellscape around us, “Have you located the target yet?”

I shook my head. He rolled his eyes in exaggerated disbelief. “Get a fucking jog on will you? We charge by the hour!”

I will always be reminded of the priest from my Schola days, an ex-Guardsman doling out spiritual advice to the young officers and storm troopers. His favourite was “without the dark, there can be no light.” I always thought it was a poignant message about the necessity of sacrifice of men for mankind, or that we must sometimes do terrible things to preserve what is good and pure. Now I see he was simply referring to the Imperial Guard’s black sense of humour.

The Latirians filed out of the hall and I scanned the comm channels for chatter while looking up at the world burning around us. The Guard’s frequency was staccato bursts of shouting, it sounded like they had almost taken the courtyard. Time for a rallying speech.

I turned to address the cell. “FAN OUT! THERE M-”

I was interrupted by the sounds of desperate, hammering fists on a locked door near us, followed by a choked, despairing voice:

“Help! Help us please! By the Emperor, somebody save us!”

 

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First – The Gelt Journal: Prelude