Saturday, 15 August 2009

The Space Squids Part 4: Three Chaplains II

When last we spoke, you learned of the history of Krinngrim, the recruiting ground of the Emperor’s Shields, back when the Shields still lived to require recruitment. When the Krakens of Greyjoy rose from the ashes of that proud chapter, Rekassson had assumed they would return to Kringrimm for their initiates.

The Apostles of Minthras had other plans. Not content with the almost total destruction of the Shields at Raxos, the Apostles’ battle barge Salted Wounds (formerly Terra‘s Hope) and her escorts entered the Krinngrim system and, easily evading the defences mustered by the Chapter serfs still present in the Oronoi fortress monastery, detonated virus torpedoes in the planet’s upper atmosphere. The resulting rampage of genetically modified pathogens failed to annihilate the Krinngrimi, but the planet’s population was reduced to less than 7% of its previous size (the indigenous flora and fauna proved too alien to be affected), and was no longer capable of providing recruits in sufficient quantities for the Krakens to consider.

Instead, the nascent Chapter turned to Four Feathers, in the Greyjoy subsector, for warriors with which to build their strength. Four Feathers is a world of almost 90% ocean. What little landmass there is, beyond a few scattered archipelagos, can all be found in the same hemisphere; four small continents, each roughly the shape of a bird’s feather, hence the world’s name. On three of these continents, each high in the Northern hemisphere, Imperial colonists live simple lives, herding groxes or farming the land. On the equatorial continent of Cauda, however, the situation is very different.

When the first colony vessels tore their way into reality above Four Feathers, attempts were made to settle each of the four continents. On the other three continents, the newcomers found wide grasslands and gently sloping foothills; still, deep lakes; and expansive deciduous forests. On Cauda, the interlopers discovered exactly two things; fungus, and rain.

The rain was mainly annoying. The fungus, by and large, was deadly.

The colonists found themselves under attack from every conceivable direction. Toadstools the size of skyscrapers rained down acidic spores. Jet-black mushrooms as big as tanks exploded on contact, releasing their own clouds of spores, that if inhaled would hollow out a man in days. Creeping moulds, attracted to the warmth of human flesh, covered men as they slept, pouring into their lungs and sprouting from the corpses that resulted. Hallucinogenic fungi burst from gaps in rockcrete floors, driving colonists to madness, or created pits in the mushroom forests, into which the foolhardy would fall, to be digested only fractionally faster than they starved.

Not one of the original colonising party escaped alive, although they were successful in voxing their fellows, warning them never to approach Cauda. For several years, this directive was obeyed, but ultimately Cauda suffered the same fate as any stretch of land totally unsuitable for human habitation: it became a penal colony.

For thirty years the most objectionable scum from the three temperate continents were dispatched to Cauda to live out their days surrounded by carnivorous fungi, forced to decide between a lifetime within the stockade, or a brief, agonising death outside. But just as no stretch of worthless and remote land can avoid having a prison built atop it, no remote prison can avoid a revolution indefinitely. At best, they can hope to put down that revolution as quickly and bloodlessly as possible (the former being vastly more important than the latter, of course), but when the moment came, the authorities of the various prisons that collectively had become known as the “Gulag Peninsula” (located as they were on a narrow stretch of land jutting out from western Cauda into the Soothing Sea) failed to rise to the challenge. The story of Tanhoi's Rebellion (named after the political prisoner and former PDF Colonel whose tactical genius turned a series of riots into a full-blown military campaign) would be worth several posts in itself, but for now suffice to say that within a year of the initial food riot at Fort Jade, the entire series of detention facilities had fallen into rebel hands.

As is so often the case, however, winning the war proved to be the beginning of Tanhoi's problems, not the end. The rebels might have defeated those troops stationed on Cauda by the other continents, but there was no question that attempting to take the fight to their enemies would have been suicide; their numbers were small, and their access to transport smaller still. That same scarcity of vehicles capable of leaving Cauda also made the proposition of mass evacuation untenable. Eventually, Tanhoi decided on a strategy of fortifying his landing pads, and what few ports had survived the fungi and the fighting, in order to prevent retributive attacks from the other continents, and used what few spacecraft he had to contact nearby systems, letting them know Four Feathers has a new state, independent from its fellows but still unswervingly loyal to the Emperor. This last move was particularly shrewd, a rebellion on the level of Cauda's would not be likely to attract the attention of the Adeptus Astartes, but Tanhoi's act of diplomacy effectively removed the threat forever. It also allowed limited trade to develop between Cauda and the neighbouring systems, allowing much-needed building materials to reach the Gulag Penisula, in exhange for powerful acids useful for industry, and for dangerous fungi desired by idiot noblemen.

In the three millenia since Tanhoi first raised his flag over Fort Jade (now Cauda's capital), the descendants of the former convicts have fought for survival against the deadly fungi that surround them, scratching out a living on this death world-within-a-world. As with all such places, existence is often brutish, painful, and short, but the Caudans take a fierce pride in their ability to maintain civilisation in conditions that would destroy their neighbours within days. The Caudans still live in the former detention blocks to this day, building them ever higher to escape from the canopy of acid toadstools, and using flamer teams to clear encroaching mold on a daily basis. Life within these huge rockcrete towers is relatively safe, but sealing themselves off within them entirely would doom the Caudans to a slow death by starvation. Large convoys of loader vehicles must be regularly dispatched to acquire barely-edible mushrooms from scattered processing plants deep in the fungus jungles. It is these voyages that claim the most lives, and their extreme danger means that participation on each is determined by lottery. This has been the way of the Caudans ever since the days of Tanhoi; indeed he himself eventually met his fate on such a journey, his body crushed by the tendrils of a redlace madcap from which he was trying to extricate his vehicle.

No Caudan is considered pas their childhood until they have survived ten convoys. After their thirtieth convoy, they become full Caudan citizens. Another thirty, and they are deemed to have done their duty, and are no longer required to enter the lottery. Not one citizen has taken advantage of this rule for more than three hundred years. On Cauda, you run the convoys until you die, one way or another; it is a simple point of pride.

The comparatively small population of Cauda makes their organisation into the large, unwieldy regiments of the Imperial Guard impossible, but their extreme hardiness and dedication makes them ideal recruits for the Adeptus Astartes (the sudden change of Four Feather's tithe grade to Adeptus Non deeply pleased the other continents, finally bringing planetary reconciliation). From a facility built upon a small island in the Soothing Sea, Kraken serfs assess the local population for likely recruits, helping to bring the Space Squids up to operational strength as quickly as possible.

At first, there was no sign of any problem. The initiates proved genetically suitable for implantation, and the number who died in agony from organ rejection was judged within acceptable bounds. As the ranks of the 10th Company (a rather incongruous name at that point, of course) began to swell, however, Chaplains Tolosson and Orfirsson noted their recruits were proving unreceptive to their teachings. To the Caudans, the world was nothing but chaos and change. Spending their lives fighting fungus that could crawl across leagues a day, or blow in on storm winds to kill men in moments, building their towers ever higher, and engaging the twin lotteries of first being selected for the convoys and then surviving them intact, had left the people of Four Feather's most brutal continent convinced that stasis and inflexibility were impossible and foolish, respectively. For them, the Emperor did not sculpt, he destroyed, and rebuilt what he had swept aside in new and better ways, over and over and over again. To leave something the same forever, to carve its shape once and leave it for the ages, was to invite defeat.

In the first year of the chapter's existence, as Rekasson hid away from his fellows, considering his vision for the future of his warriors, Tolosson and Orfirsson browbeat their new recruits into accepting at least some of their version of the Imperial Creed, continuing the traditions of the Krinngrimi followed over hundreds of years. There was never complete acceptance, but the initiates, and later full-blown battle brothers, from Four Feathers allowed the two chaplains to lead them in their devotions, and to see to their spiritual well-being, which seemed enough. Given the near-total destruction of the Emperor's Shields, however, it was deemed critical to build up the Astartes equivalent of an officer's corps as quickly as possible. So it was that within five years each of the fledgling Companies (some of which could field no more than two full squads at this point) of the Krakens of Greyjoy had its own Captain. The first new Chaplain, chosen from the ranks of the Krakens to attend the needs of the Third Company (Tolosson and Orfirsson taking the First and Second, respectively) was named Noro Tegatchi, and it was with his first forays into life in the Reclusiam aboard the Intractible that the story of the Three Chaplains really began.

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