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Alright, lets see how this goes. I hope you all enjoy.

A briefing dataslate was, Reimu would always think but never voice in front of her old superiors, nine times out of ten just a way for someone who loved the sound of their voice to fill any time they found themselves without a captive audience. They’d invariably be infested with details not pertinent to whatever her task actually was, and even before she'd officially graduated, she'd long assigned one functionary or another to pre-read and summarize them for her, and allow her to spend the time doing something more productive, like rearranging her shelves or shoring up her Regicide skills. Almost invariably the summary document would be little more than a couple of paragraphs, and maybe a five-minute chart of some organizational structure or political situation that the original author had decided needed to be a fifty-minute novella. Brevity was, in many cases, the soul of wit, and finding someone who could happily read a dozen pages of self-important drivel and yet wouldn’t produce her own had personally been one of the crowning achievements of her early inquisitorial career. The woman in question was ever skilled at summarizing important details, and Reimu was yet to find a case where her adjusted text would contain something she didn’t need to know.

So she’d been rather unpleasantly surprised when the slate Kosuzu had handed back to her, with the face of someone who knew full well she may as well have set a ticking time bomb to explode on some other poor functionary, had been only slightly amended, with all six omissions each being described as briefly as possible, like someone attempting to right a sinking watercraft with a teacup. ‘Omitted, two paragraphs, ass-kissing” was the fourth of these footnotes, and Reimu took that as a pause to collect her thoughts, and massage away a bit of her growing headache.

She’d been introduced to the rogue trader who was supplicating her aid during her apprenticeship, and an unfortunate coincidence of who some of her earliest acolyte recommendations were and who her teacher was had caused said rogue trader to assume a kindred spirit, and see her as a fledgling Inquisitor to be at her nigh-beck and call. Still, it did not hurt to have the favor of a Rogue Trader house, or a Navigator house for that matter, and they were both, so Reimu would bite her tongue and bear dealing with her occasional whims. Her teacher with likewise tastes had managed no small amount of boons from the relationship, and as far as corruption went, House Komeiji was about as good as one could hope for - the sort that cared about exactly one sort of indulgence, and would thus reliably do whatever best served that singular goal and be a dependable ally otherwise. Though, looking at the dataslate, Reimu frankly couldn’t tell how much of it wasn’t infected by that singular obsession.

The Gensou Cluster.

A small group of knight-world systems, all within sublight distance of each other. Cut off from the larger Imperium for Emperor-only-knows-how-long, and having largely regressed outside of their titular weapons by the time Komeiji had found them. Each one brimming with hulking mechanical warriors - early estimates had multiple houses at five-hundred or more easily - and many other valuable quirks aside. A good number of those quirks were the multiple abhuman populations, some bordering on endemic - and therein lay the reason for all three preceding omissions in the revised dataslate, supposedly gushing at length about fluffy tails and amazing wings. There had long been rumors about the Komeiji’s fascination with bestial abhumans and mutants, but while those traits didn’t emerge in any child of the dynasty (official or otherwise, despite Reimu’s oncetime assignment to go bastard-hunting), rumours would be all they amounted to.

Komeiji’s efforts were to re-integrate the cluster as a whole into the Imperium - such a feat would easily send their reputation skyrocketing - but, well, to describe the relations between the worlds within as ‘frosty’ would be the Understatement of the 42nd Millenium. The rogue trader had been as brief as she reasonably could - if only to babble more about different styles of rabbit ears - and Kosuzu had been even more so, but still Reimu had to scroll the dataslate’s screen multiple times to get past all of the sordid affairs. That, plus a number of concerning matters occurring as Komeiji had been investigating, had led to her contracting her longtime friend Inquisitor and her graduated apprentice, in hopes of a hand with similar proclivities in dealing with the issues present and inevitable.

There were two issues which the Rogue Trader had recommended needed that hand of an Inquisitor, each on a different system. The first was in the Koumaris System, a system quite culturally distinct from the others. Or, rather, it might be better to say the others were culturally distinct from the larger Imperium, and Koumaris was the one that had best preserved the parental culture, to hear Komeiji tell it. She suspected that the initial colony-ships had been from entirely separate areas than the rest of the cluster, and Reimu could believe it from the recount of events that placed Koumaris aggression roughly around the start of the inter-system conflict.

The house with solitary dominion over the world, House Scarlet, had fragmented between its two scion sisters upon their father’s death; and the only reason they hadn’t started tearing at each other’s throat was the other systems looming over them. Now, a plague had been spreading, withering crops, rendering many weak and infirm, and further straining the already teeth-clenched co-operation the sisters had been managing, each both seeking to protect their loyalists and look to all the world to be the savior of Koumaris. A third party intervening, Satori reasoned, would be the best way to start repairing the burned bridges, giving the twin princesses either a mutual benefactor or a mutual enemy to re-unite around, but she suspected a very thoroughly vague and very thoroughly emphasized ‘more’ behind the plague. It didn’t take a telepath to figure out what - who - she was implying was involved in the disaster, and Reimu had requisitioned as many imperishable rations and medical supplies as she could pull without having to hold an agri-world at gunpoint.

The second issue was arguably less immediately concerning, and at the same time filled Reimu with a sinking feeling of dread. The difference between a knife stabbed into her thigh and an axe hanging over her neck, essentially. Lapin was the only system Reimu had heard of where there was a single easily-habitable planet with the majority of the population on it, and yet the title of ‘Prime’ was instead given to said planet’s moon. The planet itself was where the Knights were forged, and yet the actual rulers of Lapin wouldn’t ever set foot on it, lest they be branded impure and cast out. The only reason Reimu could see this system didn’t immediately swallow up its impertinent highborn was an unfortunate skew against the larger demographic.

The majority of the population were leporine abhumans that the systems of both their Knights and others would supposedly refuse to let pilot the ships, meaning the only people within the system who could protect them from being crushed by the foot of distant dictators were the significantly-less distant, and thus at least more responsive dictators of their own preserved upper caste bloodlines. Reimu wondered, idly, if there were any other systems where the number of Imperial Knights was greater than the number of pilots.

All of that, while interesting, had precious little to do with why Satori - and thus Reimu - had been concerned with Lapin. The lunar rabbits were - according to the paragraphs Satori had written about them that did not contain the word any synonyms of the word ‘fluffy’ - nearly or even all telepaths. It appeared that an essentially religious focus on ‘purity’ in the Lunar Capital had worked to make it so that there were, miraculously, no major incidents from this in millenia, but the recent psychic empowerment had turned the moon at least briefly into a second beacon unto the warp, at least well enough to attract the Komeiji’s attention. And while a prideful Navigator house they may be, Satori had been explicit that spotting what she dubbed the ‘Lunar Flare’ was hardly a feat of note, and mentioned that the timing of the plague on Koumaris aligned very well with the Flare. Moreover, the increase in psychic power had shifted the balance of power and sparked tension for a new rebellion against the twin princesses(who were, at least, much more closely-knit than their Scarlet equivalents). Satori feared that the society that would emerge when they were dethroned would briefly, obliviously, stand free and then promptly doom the entire cluster to fall into Chaos hands. Or worse.

With those two problems still looming over her, the sister contacted her mutual suspected animal-frakker in Reimu’s old teacher, and hoped she and what she assumed was still her apprentice could do a two-for-one deal. Unfortunately, Inquisitor Ibaraki Kasen - as at least a nominal equal, Reimu had happily dropped any pretense of needing to tack a ‘lady’ on to any of her ex-superior’s names - had been too busy, needing to carefully oversee her current operations, and thus had charged the recently-graduated Reimu to go in her stead, at least to stem the tide until help could arrive. Her teacher had long appreciated Reimu’s instinct, and had in lieu of any other quick responses left Reimu the responsibility of picking which leak to plug first.

Though, there was a third option that Ibaraki raised. Two for two on finding looming disasters in the Cluster, Satori had picked a third system to head to next, and fully expected to find more trouble there, judging by how they had not capitalised on the other world's unrest. The world she’d picked, Tenma, was largely because of her own proclivities, being excited by the prospect of not one, but two large species of abhuman available there. She did offer to meet them there, where she could surely give the latest information and detail about the system’s woes. And if so little of the dataslate could be edited out, there were surely other details of the aforementioned system’s situations that she had tossed aside like ballast to gush about fuzzy mutants some more.

Such as it was, Reimu had been assembling her own forces pending a proper assignment, meaning that what remaining blockers had been on her requisitions due to lack of urgency were now free for her to bulldoze through. It was by her reckoning a decent force she’d managed to muster, though not too large for her to handle, and in any case she’d been able to borrow a good number of Kasen’s military officers to help smooth things out. She could pick any of the three options, with her goals being the same either way; to resolve the immediate issues, and take whatever moves were necessary to assure that diplomacy went smoothly and the systems were integrated properly into the Imperium. Satori had laid the groundwork; she was to provide the solid, open trade routes and the ephemeral, covert Inquisitorial web that would hold it together.

And, if not… well. She was a full-fledged Inquisitor, after all, and there was no love lost between any individual system and its neighbors. Satori had taken her pick of the worlds’ inhabitants; even if she wanted to collect more, she had known full well what could happen by contacting an Inquisitor for this task, and openly accepted their judgment.

It was not a task Reimu was taking lightly, dataslate trimming notwithstanding. She knew full well that this was not just some big debut task; millions of lives were at stake here, and each world she could recruit would be five she’d save across the galaxy. Lapin Prime alone, for having the moonfull of psykers, could drastically advantage the Imperium, even if only as psychic grist for that most Holy of mills.

And so, after much deliberation, and in the midst of what was now her third complete read of the damnable block of the violet-haired trader’s similarly purple prose, she closed her eyes, and made her choice.

[ ] Go to Koumaris. Their people were most in need as far as she knew, and a disease was ever happy to spread if left unconfronted.
[ ] Go to Lapin. That was a powder keg waiting to blow, and leaving that too long was just asking for trouble.
[ ] Go to Tenma. There’s more to be learned here, of that she was sure, and she had a feeling that system had its problems as well.
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[X] Go to Lapin. That was a powder keg waiting to blow, and leaving that too long was just asking for trouble.

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>A good number of those quirks were the multiple abhuman populations, some bordering on endemic

>gushing at length about fluffy tails and amazing wings.

>a plague had been spreading, withering crops, rendering many weak and infirm,

>she suspected a very thoroughly vague and very thoroughly emphasized ‘more’ behind the plague.

>The lunar rabbits were . . . nearly or even all telepaths.

>The animal frakker rogue trader/navigator mutant has been collecting abhumans from multiple "non-sanctioned" species.

>Said mutant was too busy indulging in her vices to properly brief on what is going on on Tenma.

By the Throne.
This isn't a powder keg, it's an Emperor-damned WARP STORM.

Let's run the simulations.

Easiest to reintegrate due to their culture.
Having highborn bicker over their hive is nothing new, but what is interesting is that there is only one dominant house on the planet to begin with.
A plague is worrying, a suspected Nurglite one is a priority threat.
It doesn't sound like an active Chaos incursion yet, but hives and cult activity unfortunately go together like a heretic's skull and a bolter round.
Still, active Chaos corruption is a real possibility and one we cannot simply ignore.
But I swear by Him on Terra, if this unfortunately named house "Scarlet" is a nest of Khornate bloodsuckers, we are turning this ship around and readying the Cyclonic Torpedoes!

So, you're telling me there is a planet full of not only hitherto unknown abhumans; but all of them (or at least the lunar subspecies?) are unchecked PSYKERS!?
If their psychic emanations were enough to light a beacon in the Warp, however briefly, who or what else would have seen it as well?
It is a miracle in itself that this rock hasn't become a Daemon World yet!
As we don't have a whole regiment of psychic nulls at our disposal, the only recourse has to be to subjugate or purge at least half of the population.
I am loathe to waste so many valuable resources for the Throne; but the amounts of psychic resonance involved here could prove damning for not just this backwater cluster, but the larger Imperium as well.
At least the situation doesn't appear at its breaking point yet, from the intel available.

Damn Komeiji, too busy chasing tail to properly report on a possible threat.
Still, Ibaraki wouldn't raise the issue if she didn't also believe there to be trouble brewing.
As an Inquisitor of some experience, I would trust in her judgement.
Regardless, we have no intel, while we do have intel of two real, possibly sector-damning issues.
In fact, the fact she simply moved on from a world at risk of Daemonic incursion might require some investigation into Komeiji's... priorities in the future.
That aside, we shouldn't be quite so callous and ignore known threats for a possible one.
We also have some presence currently stationed there, even if it is Komeiji herself.
As a result, we should leave her to assess the situation there while we try to save this sector from imploding.

Basically, it's all bad.
We have a planet that might be experiencing Daemon taint and one that will experience it.
I would say dealing with the possibly active corruption takes precedence, but those Scarlets better beware if this is just some mundane cough.
As unlikely as it is to be one, considering the timing coinciding with those damned abhuman psykers on Lapin turning on a bug light in the warp.
Speaking of bugs, Emperor be praised if that didn't attract a Tyranid Hive Fleet all on its own!
We can only hope that setting Koumaris straight will provide us with enough (Knight) reinforcements to properly deal with any problems on Lapin.

[X] Go to Koumaris. Their people were most in need as far as she knew, and a disease was ever happy to spread if left unconfronted.
-[X] Send Komeiji a strongly worded Astropathic message "urging" her to compile a report "at her earliest convenience" on whatever issues are affecting Tenma that caused her to ignore two planets experiencing very credible threats.
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[X] Go to Koumaris. Their people were most in need as far as she knew, and a disease was ever happy to spread if left unconfronted.
-[X] Send Komeiji a strongly worded Astropathic message "urging" her to compile a report "at her earliest convenience" on whatever issues are affecting Tenma that caused her to ignore two planets experiencing very credible threats.
yeah what that guy said
bonus points if we get to press the button that says exterminatus on it
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[X] Send Komeiji a strongly worded Astropathic message "urging" her to compile a report "at her earliest convenience" on whatever issues are affecting Tenma that caused her to ignore two planets experiencing very credible threats.

If Reimu had any concerns that the lacking amount of omissions from her briefing were a sign that her secretary was losing touch, they would be dashed when she began communicating an even more abbreviated version with some of her new advisors. A couple of military experts, experienced in the workings of War and Warp yet new to her inquisitorial employ, had assumed the skittishness of the Rogue Trader to be sourced from cowardice or perversity, and Reimu had found herself having to mollify them on certain parts of the relationship. Though, there was much they clearly weren’t ready to be disclosed, and Reimu wondered how much they really knew of what they were signed up for.

Firstly, the particulars of her somewhat inherited inquisitorial stance on the Komeiji. Like many Inquisitorial factions, the Ordo Minoris in which Reimu had been involved during her learning years ultimately saw the Imperium’s state as one of constant decline, with the general state of the past being an ideal state to recreate, even if that wasn't realistic. Unlike many, however, they did not see any given deviation of the present as one of decline and instead sought to preserve any aberrations of both past and present however they could, even if that was only in hibernating sarcophagi. After all, any random abhuman species or piece of archaeotech could turn out to be the next Ogryn, and circumstances could always change to make one or another invaluable. Maybe the animalistic augmentations the purple-clad hag was so fond of could be the perfect thing to deal with an aggressive xenos species, or maybe some seemingly innocuous scroll of a psyker’s party trick could be the point on which a whole segmentum’s fate would turn. And fates had turned all the more rapidly in recent years, with the rumbles of awakening Primarchs and other news great and terrible, so the turbulent beginning of the 42nd Millenium had largely just steeled their resolve.

The secret sanctums each of her superiors maintained were named in ancient upon ancient languages, never to be spoken outside of their walls. Senkai. Mayohiga. Ushirodo no Kuni. Aside from the dissonantly beautiful habitation wings of each sanctum that the Inquisitors maintained for their staffer’s comfort, they were haunting places, lined with slumbering beasts, men and machines of times long, long past. Supposedly the sarcophagi were of the same make as those used to empower dreadnoughts, their STC taken from a monastery-world long lost to Chaos; their sole surviving whole model was slumbering in a cargo hold deep below Reimu’s feet.

She’d seen both the worth and folly of their stance, as had at least one Inquisitorial Lord, who tentatively sanctioned their actions and yet watched them all like only an Inquisitor among Inquisitors could. She had been the creepiest person Reimu had ever met, of any species or design; speaking of the most utterly brutal punishments, horrifying nightmares made flesh, and harrowing experiences in the same tones as a mother would scold her child about staying up too late. She made the blank that Reimu had recruited seem like a model member of society, and the so-called ‘Judge of Hell’ was nominally just a normal Terran noble.

It was through this aligned hopeful attitude to abhumans that the relationship with House Komeiji had been conjoined. The Komeiji had long been open supporters of such a doctrine, perhaps unsurprisingly, considering their own familial mutation that made them stand out even among Navigators. The like-mindedness of her teacher and House Komeiji had proven to be beneficial for both party’s aims; allowing Komeiji to dial back and yet progress their rhetoric and still enjoy a level of Inquisitorial protection, and allowing giving Kasen a more official avenue to prove the benefits of her cloistered treasures and access to the vast funds of the noble house. In particular, Reimu saw the unsanctioned matter of the various abhumans as largely moot; Kasen had pulled those strings before, and she was likely preparing to have the option open to do it again even as she wrapped up her other matters.

Very little of this information were matters Reimu felt she could disclose to her new subordinates. Fortunately, the details of the report Reimu’s own attempt at summarization had initially neglected were more easily disclosed, and helped to ease their concerns, at least about Komeiji’s character. First and foremost was that the dataslate had been penned right as she was preparing to leave Lapin; the lacking report on Tenma’s details were only attributable to her haste in sending a response before she could get there herself. Second was the tacit point that this was the sort of behavior her teacher hoped of the Rogue Trader; in especially tenebrous situations, it was better to call them ASAP, focus on light gathering of various rarities as much as she could, and then step aside and be on call to deal with the issues if requested. It suited relatively well with both parties’ proclivities, and ensured in the worst case that a modicum of the valuable pieces would still be preserved.

Third, and finally, was the fact that the Lunar Flare had, seemingly, silenced the guns of the Gensou Cluster; whether systems spoke through communicators or cannonfire, nearly all other systems had ceased their contact with Koumaris and Lapin. The fact that she was two for two on finding problems had convinced Satori that there were likely far more issues, and she couldn’t even be sure that she’d found the worst of it yet. Satori detailed that she should have ended up on Lapin by their warp-navigation, but found herself on Koumaris instead; she opined that other threats drawn by the Lunar Flare were likely much the same (the idea that a Komeiji Navigator had made even a slight mistake never crossed her mind), and inflicted themselves on other worlds first. Thus, Reimu had to her name possibly the most expensive sublight scouting force one could possibly afford.

This went at least a ways to mollifying their admittedly valid concerns, and she’d nonetheless agreed that opening communications with Komeiji as soon as reasonably possible was a priority. With that settled, she could at least breathe a sigh of relief for now. She’d been frankly caught off-guard when they’d raised their doubts; she was too used to people nodding along at the Rogue Trader’s antics from the longstanding relationship between her and her master. She’d have to steady herself; many of her staff came highly recommended, but were nonetheless new to the quirks of her organization and associates, and she knew this would not be the last time that she would have to detail something she’d taken as a given.

(Previous vote is still ongoing, but while I’m waiting to write that, I might as well answer the inherent questions prompting the bonus option people are making and now taking. And hey, it lets me detail some more backstory stuff!)
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>>69336 here.

That clears up a lot.
I was already wondering about Reimu's stance as an Inquisitor, figuring I'd ask down the line.
Not like I'd had her pegged as a hardline puritan anyway considering her teacher, but neither had I thought her an extremist radical.
Her stance, or at least her teacher's, reminds me of a somewhat milder Recongregator.
The type that isn't afraid to think outside the box or accept innovative solutions.
I wonder what her stance will be on any "extreme measures" that might become inevitable.
Hopefully it will not come to that, of course.

I realised that Komeiji's lack of a report on Tenma was due to there not having been an opportunity to compile one yet, but I was more appalled at the seeming callousness of her moving on from such serious circumstances.
Of course, she's just a singular Rogue Trader, she's not expected to single-handedly stop a (possible) chaos incursion.

The implications of the Lunar Flare are extraordinarily worrying, however, and I can only hope we manage to pacify both the cause and any potential reverberations in time.

Small aside, but I quite enjoyed the (perhaps somewhat unintentional) implication that anon are a collection of Inquisitorial aides and counsel.
In fact it's left me positively giddy, as I haven't personally engaged in any 40k storytelling (roleplaying or writing) in a very long time.
Part of me is surprised that these experts would be so bold as to openly question their Inquisitor to the point of requiring mollification.
Really speaks of Reimu's character, such lip against another Inquisitor could've very well rewarded them with a bolter round between the eyes.
Perhaps she even appreciates people speaking their mind, some few more hopeful souls from her fresh cadre might think.

(Just to be clear though, I didn't mean to say that I want anon to be a real presence in the story or anything, I just found it amusing. Allow me to indulge one final time.)

"Your most gracious elucidation of our outstanding concerns reinforces my belief in my previous recommendation to first resolve the issues on Koumaris; any forces we can requisition from the planet afterwards will bolster whatever action you decide to take following that, Milady Inquisitor."

Because even the most outspoken of counsel to the most patient of Inquisitors is gonna be kissing at least a little ass when said Inquisitor is standing right in front of you in full power armor after you just gave her a lotta lip for a guy within boltgun distance.
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The Sages Reimu's old superiors don't conform perfectly to any of the various inquisitor factions (because they're basically meant to copy Gensokyo's purpose into 40k as best as can be reasonably achieved) but I feel they're somewhere between Recongregationists, Xenos Hybris, and Xanthists, and a fairly 'passive' version of such a mix. Probably get along smashingly with Trazyn if they ever met, though.

As for Reimu's stance... inheriting it is meant to reflect on her canon character, and the specifics of her actual actions preceding Gensou are deliberately still unclear, but... this is a CYOA. Her inherited patterns are still ingrained, but they're not necessarily binding or free from changing... The only particular stance is that she'll be playing somewhat cautiously in terms of expending everything at once, so the decisions will largely revolve around which card to play in her deck. And her nominal goal in the cluster is re-integration, so she won't be too quick to shoot questioning subordinates(at least when she's not sure how many she actually has to spare) or uppity nobles who just don't know better.

Re: the Anon Aides, I just thought it was a fun way to bounce off the in-character-sounding discussion. I might keep going with it where we can; inevitably Reimu will be operating with only variations of canon characters or in situations where the aides could not logically contribute, but they're a fun way to add things like comments and frame a bit of backstory that readers are curious about. Moreover, I do not consider myself a particularly in-deep loremaster of 40k, and I fully expect someone to spot at least a few things I imply without realising, or a few lore errors I make unwittingly.

And to be fair to the poor Anon Aide, they're not questioning her directly. I can totally imagine some new firebrand officer still riding the high of being picked to join the Inquisition getting lathered up at the thought of a Rogue Trader leaving a ticking time bomb basically untouched, only to find out to their dawning horror that that was what their Inquisitor wanted the Rogue Trader to do.
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[X] Go to Koumaris. Their people were most in need as far as she knew, and a disease was ever happy to spread if left unconfronted.
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[X] Go to Tenma. There’s more to be learned here, of that she was sure, and she had a feeling that system had its problems as well.
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[X] Go to Koumaris. Their people were most in need as far as she knew, and a disease was ever happy to spread if left unconfronted.

She considered her options.

Lapin would be a problem, for sure. But just because it would be a problem didn’t mean it yet was.

Through one way or another, it didn’t seem like there was open conflict on the planet yet. And the population they had was yet stable, so perhaps they had some method of containing their psykers that Satori hadn’t been able to tease out of them.

And if they had some way to redirect incoming warps, like Satori had suggested, the most likely threat was not an enemy within, but an enemy without. Something else that could capitalize on establishing a hold in realspace nearby, and invading the conventional route.

So the potential Nurglite plague was the first priority, at least to ascertain if it was or wasn’t one. Nurgle didn’t have to invade with his whole forces; he could just throw enough lumps of plague and rot at the planet until something survived the point-defense to worm its way in. If it wasn’t related to Nurgle, they could just leave the medical supplies there and move on to Lapin. And however the dispute between Lapin would go, if they were able to requisition a few more Imperial Knights that would at least force the factions to re-do the brutal math of the uprising.

She made a quick note to sharpen quarantine and hygiene discipline on the way. The ships needed to be spotless at least if they were entering a potentially Nurgle-infected zone, and it’d also undoubtedly help make a good impression on the highborn.

The younger of the two Scarlet sisters finished her mouthful before speaking. “It’s called the Baku’s Mark-”

“It’s called Ochre-and-Ichor.” Her sibling corrected, earning a glare from across the table. The elder sister paid it no heed, sipping at a glass of wine and murmuring appreciably about the taste. Neither sister seemed fully-grown, and were supposedly late bloomers as well, leaving them looking almost childlike. Remilia Scarlet was nonetheless much better at seeming beyond her years, at least when she didn’t get caught up in arguing with her sister. She was in an exquisite pink dress, all frills and furls (particularly around the chest to make ambiguous how far along she’d most likely not developed) and yet she was completely sleeveless, instead donning beautiful rings on her fingers. Sprouting from her back were two metallic wings, bringing to mind for Reimu the image of a Pteraxii, though these seemed smaller, and exquisitely ornate - perhaps some kind of ornamental garb.

The younger of the two sisters took another bite of her sausage, her scowling unabated. Flandre Scarlet had chosen what was clearly a dress uniform, blood-red with white trimmings. Though she was, ever-so-slightly, the taller of the two sisters, it was still a little too big for her, perhaps a hand-me-down or piece of inheritance with the signs of almost-unnoticeable stitchwork around the cuffs. She had her own attachments into her back, though hers were less like traditional wings, instead being little more than two frames with octahedral flasks hanging off them. Each time she moved, a dark liquid sloshed within the coloured glass. She’d tucked into the feast with gusto, and was proving the more openly combative of the two.”Sis, you not-gonna deny the similarities between the symptoms and the ridiculous look of those dream-eaters-”

Remilia clicked her tongue, interrupting again. “I am not denying it. I am simply not implying a connection; the Lapinites would never use something like a disease as a bioweapon, if only because they’d consider it ‘impure’ by default. They’d certainly never design a disease to look like any of their noble’s regalia.”She took another sip of her glass. “If this was intentionally designed to look like a Baku, the goal of such a design choice would be to turn us against them. So, assuming it is, you should be rattling your saber at literally anyone else, Flan.”

“Better to rattle the saber in the wrong direction than sit on your hands and do nothing about it!” Flandre snarled. “By the time you decide to make your oh-so-careful conclusions, half the planet will be dead!”

Remilia growled, an effect Reimu had to conclude was a sincere attempt at intimidation, if one rather lacking in self-awareness. “And if you go off in a pointless war just for action’s sake, the other half will follow suit! Do you never think things through, you beastly woman?”

Reimu rolled her eyes as the two sisters exchanged glares. It was all too typical, to have the world falling apart around them and the highborn squabbling about who had the worst idea, rather than coming up with a communal solution. She found herself looking out the window of the deck, looking miles below to the surface of Koumaris Prime. Still, meetings like this were necessary, to get whatever information the local nobles knew, and get the score straight.

It appeared that the two sisters had split over ideological divides, and traditions had sundered the rest of the land in turn. Remilia was the rightful heiress, by any measure; but unlike most Koumaris fare, she did not treat diplomacy as something that happened solely after you’d run a battalion of Knights through the enemy’s capital. She fancied herself as more a mastermind-type; to her, war was something to be committed to sparingly, and only after you’d performed as much reconnaissance, subterfuge, and sabotage as you could.

Flandre was much the opposite. She was a much more classic Koumaris ruler, a firebrand who saw tactics off the battlefield as a sign of weakness. She wasn’t unfamiliar with dirty tactics, but she saw them as something far beneath her - if she found a spy within her ranks, her solution would not be to send her own spy in return, but instead return the intruder to the sender, thoroughly disassembled in helpfully-labeled boxes.

They’d split, and their forces had split between them. Flandre had edged out her sister in collecting military officers, gathering on the south side of the planet, but Remilia had more of basically everything else, and a larger share of the usable land in the north. And now, with the ongoing plagues, most of their important functionaries and themselves had retreated into spacecraft, hovering over each pole. The younger sister, if she wanted her big standoff, would have to pick her moment extremely carefully, as Remilia would win the long game.

The difference could be spotted even among the company each sister kept. The eldest’s silver-haired bodyguard pulled off a fairly convincing simulacrum of an unremarkable maid, perfectly still and composed. But Reimu knew an expert killer when she saw one, and the defensive jerking Flandre underwent whenever she made any sudden movements told the rest of the story. Meanwhile, Flandre’s bodyguard was a giant redhead, stifling an occasional yawn with her hand and salivating over the highborn’s food. She stood out like a sore thumb, but she moved with unerring ease even in what looked to be fairly heavy armor, and the fact she fitted the meeting’s nobility so poorly was clearly testament to her abilities in areas Flandre valued more.

The young inquisitor almost found herself thanking the Emperor for Nurgle’s suspected presence, of all things. As far as chaos gods went, he mixed poorly with either ruler, and thus likely poorly with their armies, as well. One had to count their blessings where they could be found, even if those blessings were just in the form of less inconvenient curses.

Reimu cleared her throat, before the conversation got too far out of hand. “Quite frankly, whatever it’s called is the least important detail right now. What we need to know is the symptoms and transmission vectors.”

A tomboyish voice spoke up from her left. “Because if it’s a disease we’ve already come across, we’re going to use the Imperial designation for it. So settling the name matter can wait at least until we know for sure it’s something new, ze.”

Reimu nodded appreciably at her companion. The young black-clad tech-priest hardly seemed to fit the mold associated with the term, still seeming more human at heart than the average cog boy and being rather un-augmented in appearance, only a single eyepiece and the occasional sign of a small cogitator cresting her golden hair belying her true nature at most times. This wasn’t because she necessarily was more attached to her flesh than the normal tech-priest (though Reimu would note her reputation as a heart-breaker seemed to bely a reliance on at least certain parts) but rather because of her frankly unrealistic expectations in terms of the quality of pieces to graft into herself. Reimu presumed that had something to do with that “da ze” thing she did - maybe a speech impediment from a faulty cogitator. Or maybe she did it just because she could - not like she’d ever expect to get a straight answer, as Marisa was a habitual liar at the best of times.

Remilia nodded. “It’s primarily a fungal infection. Large, black mushrooms start growing in the body, growing along blood veins. It causes necrosis in the skin, and eventually the mushrooms themselves break through, making large bulbous growths. That’s the Ochre. The Ichor is -“

“Pus! It’s just pus, sis.” Flandre interrupted. “The mushrooms have this discharge that makes the parts of your skin that don’t rot swell up with these massive whitish boils, bigger than my fist. I even saw one person with a boil bigger than Meiling’s fist once.” The young woman shook her fist to demonstrate, and the giant behind her - presumably Meiling - did the same. “The combo of the black mushrooms and the white boils look like the Baku uniform, so that’s why we’ve been calling it that.”

Reimu hissed between her teeth. Seeing something like the light of recognition in her eyes was all the encouragement Flan needed. “It’s… it’s apparently really, really painful. Like, the doctors were saying that patients were asking them to kill them rather than try to help them. But then they go crazy from the pain and want to spread it!”

Remilia nodded, grimly. “If they’ve been sick long enough, they start to hallucinate or something. Start attacking other people to spread their disease through them. Bite their moldy fingernails into crude claws and go running at you. And they run and attack like it doesn’t even matter they’re in agony.” She shivered. “As for treatment… We've had occasional successes, but nothing sustainable. If you chop whatever was scratched off right as they get scratched and then cauterize the wound, then they’re fine, but that’s… just as impractical as it is extreme.

She sighed. “We tried loading up one of our criminals with enough antifungal medication that they could kill a squatstool by breathing on it. It did help… but even if it killed the fungus, it killed the criminal too.”

Flan scowled at her. “That better not be a true Koumaris citizen who decided to protest your underhanded-“

Remilia cut in on her again. “No, one of those ‘the disease is divine punishment’ lunatics. Not a rebel for your childish endeavors, if that’s what you mean. For all your talk of fire and brimstone, they certainly seem to be fine scratching their rears watching other people suffer up north.”

“Oh, I’m sure they have nothing on your-“

“If I may interrupt?” Spoke a gentle voice from Reimu’s right. The green-haired Sororitas’ eyes were locked on Remilia, wearing that disarming smile that set Reimu’s nerves on edge. “Do you mean to say there are people who are calling the disease a curse from above? That bodes rather ill.”

Kochiya Sanae was, by Reimu’s reckoning, a rather unusual-looking Sister of Battle, one of pristine white armor and blue trappings, with snake and frog iconography adorning her clothing. She was also at least somewhat unusual tactically for a Sororitas, in that she at least somewhat believed in diplomacy, and would try to convert those who weren’t immediately hostile. Her Order deified a story of a Saintess, through her words, converting a daemon prince back to the Emperor’s side, if only to die gloriously together. They thus believed that anyone and everyone could serve the Emperor, provided they were willing to listen. That made them rather amenable to the Ordo Minoris Reimu was still, she supposed, a part of. Of course, those who did not prove willing to listen intently were then fired upon, had their ears cut off, and fed to holy serpents, and Sanae in particular seemed to take a rather unholy amount of satisfaction from the act. Still, when she was acting the missionary (and you hadn’t seen the face she made when watching someone getting crushed in serpentine coils) she was a model figure of the loving embrace of the Emperor, and that had helped in more than one case Reimu could recall.

Remilia shrugged. “Blessing, curse? Frankly, I can’t make heads or tails of them. They seem to believe O-&-I is both our curse and their blessing. Making House Scarlet vulnerable to being toppled, as punishment for the misdeeds of the princess.” She cast a venomous glare across the table, making it clear who she suspected was being blamed.

Flandre returned it with one of her own. “How did that last rambling lunatic go…? Ah yes. ‘The blessing of our blighted blood makes us exempt from the dhampirs’ tithe. They shall defy the cycle no longer!’” She grew a small smirk. “Naturally, I haven’t the foggiest what they mean by ‘the cycle’. Maybe you’d know, sister?”

“The cycle of Death and Rebirth.” Reimu’s voice caught whatever retort Remilia was about to give. “Which means it’s plague cultists.” She closed her eyes, thinking for a second. “I won’t say it’s the best-case scenario, but it’s about what we expected, and prepared for.”

Remilia raised an eyebrow. “I’m glad to hear that you’ve prepared for it. What… exactly are we dealing with, here? If they’re cultists, what are they worshiping?”

Sanae looked at the young girls, her smile falling to a serious expression. “Daemons. They seek to corrupt the hearts of mankind, and bend them to their will. They whisper into the hearts of mankind, slither into their dreams, promise them many boons… and corrupt them, inside and out, until they’re hollow shells of themselves. Or worse.” She sighed, looking down at the table.. “...Perhaps those who keep their minds can yet be saved, and perhaps the others don’t know what they’re dealing with… but daemons have many tricks to conflate service with succor.”

Both sisters looked at each other, concerned, suspicious. “Is… is everything going to be okay?” Flandre asked, turning back to Sanae. She was trying to maintain her composure, but she couldn’t quite contain a tinge of childish fear in her voice. Remilia looked… pensive, clearly deep in thought.

Marisa clicked her tongue. “If you want to save Koumaris, we’ll need your full compliance. The forces of our Sororitas here will help shore up any places where your scripture’s gotten a bit off track. After all, worship of the Omnissiah - of the Emperor - is the best way to reinforce your soul against the temptations of Daemons.”

Reimu looked down at the world again. It didn’t look infested from this far above, which was a good sign. “As for the more direct problems… we’ll have to infiltrate and tear out the heart of their operations. And we need to execute this quickly.” She nodded. “If they’re only just starting to get aggressive now, we may be able to cut them off before something really troublesome gets here. So, we’ll need your Knight forces to engage them, and we’ll snoop around as a small force. You specialize in Knights on Koumaris, right? How good are your small-arms?”

Remilia shook her head. “The Imperial Knights are our backbone - we’ve never had great small arms weapons. Not compared to our neighbors, at least.” She gestured at the two bodyguards. “When we have to fight in small situations or avoid drawing attention, it’s usually with highly-trained individual specialists like Meiling and Sakuya. Or you could just stomp on dissenters with an Imperial Knight, but I think we’d all agree that’s inappropriate, yes?” The end of the question was pointed across the table, causing her sister to scowl.

“What are you implying, Remi? I’ve never done anything of the sort.” She looked back at Reimu. “If it comes to large-scale fighting, we can each protect our halves. But neither of us are able to fight well without our knights… and what we do have for individual fighters who are infiltration-ready are… well, our bodyguards? And I’m not letting Sakuya come anywhere near me to skulk around..”

Remilia nodded. “And I don’t trust your meathead of a guardian not to break something important bumbling around the north.” She smiled weakly at Reimu. “We’ll happily provide the distraction, but… I hope you have more covert operatives.”

Reimu… took a moment to consider.

Her standard force was sitting right beside her, but that didn’t mean it was her only force. It helped to keep a few people on the sidelines - specialists, of all shapes and stripes. Counting either one of the bodyguards as four… One more of her specialists would be a good round number to make it a solid five. And she could think of a few people who might be the right fit for the job.

[ ] It’d be risky having her fall ill and have to recover before they went to the psyker-infested Lapin Prime, but Reimu did have a Blank in her employ. She was a good frontline fighter, and it never hurt to have someone who could so completely shrug off the work of Daemons on hand when dealing with their cults.
[ ] Perhaps the young lady Psyker she had in her employ could be a good choice? She might be able to befriend the scarlet sisters as someone roughly their own age, and her telekinetic abilities would keep her safely away from combat.
[ ] Then again, she did have a slumbering dreadnought in the hold. It would not, under any circumstance, be a stealthy choice, but having living, moving cover that could match an Armiger was nothing to sneeze at.

As she made her choice, she looked down, to see the sisters bickering again. She sighed. She had to take control of this conversation if she wanted to get anything done.

“If you two are quite done arguing…”

{ } “...What is a ‘Baku’?” Satori hadn’t mentioned anyone by that name on Lapin.
{ } “...What’s the dhampir’s tithe?” She could make an educated guess, but it never hurt to know what exactly heretics chose as their fulcrum point.
{ } “...Do you know why Inquisitors use Hellpistols?” These two could barely go five seconds without getting snippety at each other. It was time to firmly get them to stay on track.
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Bickering nobles, what else is new.
Ideally we get them both on our side in the end, if we can get them to stop squabbling they could keep each other in check and the Emperor would smile upon such a strong united front.

If it comes to it that we have to pick a side, it'd be hard to say which is preferable.

Remilia would be immediately amiable; playing sycophant to the Imperium would be the best way for her to stay in power.
She wouldn't be the the first planetary governor to do so, and definitely not the last.
However, her skillset does pose the highest amount of insidious risk.
If she decides to turn traitor, her penchant for cloak-and-dagger would prove quite the annoyance to rub out.

Conversely, Flandre is less likely to be immediately agreeable; a hot-headed warmonger doesn't really scream subservient.
But that type is historically rather easy to manipulate, so she could prove to be a good puppet, or alternatively an attack dog.

By the Omnissiah, tech-hoarder cogboy Marisa is something I didn't know I needed, but it is so good on so many levels.
It's honestly a perfect fit for her, though a tech-priest that is a habitual liar (at the very least) is the most heretekal thing I've ever heard.
Willingly disseminating false information would make a magos weep in Binary, I'm sure.
So, yeah. She's perfect.

SoB Sanae is also absolutely great, surprisingly amicable for Sororitas standards, but that first her just as well.
Especially when you combine it with that mention of her still having that on-brand Battle Sister brutality lying below the surface.
That her Order espouses redemption for all is well and good, but having them built around a story that features a redeemed daemon prince probably has left quite a few Inquisitors screeching in the past.

All in all, I absolutely LOVE your characterisations.
Everyone's 40k version is a very appropriate fit to their character and this little bit we've had of everyone so far has me wanting more.
And this is just the first two (and a half) posts!
I am very much looking forward to what you do with the other cast.

Anyway, enough ranting. Let's get on with the actual choice here.

We're sending a small squad into a cult base with all but confirmed active daemonic influence.
That's not to say it will have escalated to a full infestation or worse, but the risks need to be kept in mind.
We have an inquisitor, a tech-priest, a Sororitas, and either an assassin or a bruiser.
Well-rounded, and both Reimu and Sanae are probably the two most trained to combat the agents of the Ruinous Powers amongst the group.
Also, Marisa will likely also prove useful, her auspexes can help scanning for fungal spores and the like to clue us in on the disease or possibly guide us through the base towards places of import.
That means our choice of 5th is relatively free from a tactical standpoint, so instead it'd probably be better to base the choice on the utility they would bring to the table.

The blank is immediately obvious, cutting the connection to the Immaterium when daemonic forces are involved has pros that really don't need pointing out.
However, we only have the one, and she is absolutely VITAL for our future operation on Lapin.
So vital, in fact, that I'd rather keep her in reserve for that moment.
Still, having her on standby would not be unwise.

Bringing a psyker to a situation like this is both extremely risky and very valuable.
Psykers are unstable at the best of times, having them get close to daemonic influence would have commissars a Segmentum over start nervously palming their bolters.
Still, the connection to the Warp could provide useful insight or other utility on the ground, whether that is locating hotspots or possibly providing ways to deal with any Chaotic energies or artifacts that don't translate to shoot it until it stops being bad.
However, she'd need to be kept on a very short leash because of the risks involved. Nobody likes a Daemonhost.
Also, there's the thing of her possibly hitting it off with the Scarlet sisters, that'd be nice, but it's ultimately not as important.

The dreadnought speaks for itself.
Forgo any notion of sublety for overwhelming force.
A true trump card; a unique pattern that likely nobody but the Inquisition would know of.
Also, the veteran entombed within would no doubt be a valuable tactician on the battlefield.
I think we should stick to a relatively stealthy approach for now, otherwise we might spook the cult into going to ground before we eliminate the leaders and any sources of daemonic taint.
Afterwards, of course, we can root out the vile heretics with wild abandon.
However, having it ready to deploy in case there are serious complications with the mission could prove useful.

And that brings me to a few questions:

First, are we bringing any regular troops or is it just the Inqusitorial warband?
I was considering asking for a chirurgeon to accompany regardless of that, but after thinking it over it's not likely any we could assign to the mission would be prepared for disease of Nurglite origin anyway.
It'd also bloat the squad.

Secondly, do we have multiple ways to deploy troops on the ship?
I assume we have at least one shuttle or valkyrie, otherwise how would we get off the ship.
But I'm basically asking whether we can have a back-up squad ready to deploy in case of a pinch.
If so, we can load the specialists we didn't bring (plus maybe some regular troops) in case things go wrong.
Well, I don't think a dread would fit on a standard valkyrie anyway. Maybe a Sky Talon. Do we have a Thunderhawk?
Of course, ready to deploy doesn't mean instant reinforcements as they still need to transit, but preempting any preparations and thus saving time could mean the difference between life and death.

Putting it all together, I would say the psyker is the best choice.
We'd like to keep it at least relatively stealthy to start out with and the Null is too valuable to risk.
However, if possible we should have both the blank and the dreadnought ready and waiting in a transport, with maybe a smattering of regular troops.

[X] Perhaps the young lady Psyker she had in her employ could be a good choice? She might be able to befriend the scarlet sisters as someone roughly their own age, and her telekinetic abilities would keep her safely away from combat.
-[X] On a short leash; considering the circumstances of the mission her usefulness is marred by the risk of corruption or, Emperor forbid, possession.
If possible:
[X] Have the other specialists ready to deploy in case reinforcements are required, one does not take chances with the Ruinous Powers.

Now for the second choice.
Thankfully there's a lot less to say here.

Childish bickering aside, both sides have at least shown themselves to be amenable to actually fixing this crisis; differences in method aside.
We could put our foot down, but with regards to their being relatively agreeable towards us we should avoid souring the collaboration unless necessary.
Focusing them on the issue will do for now, and maybe collectively fixing this will mend their relationship.

The Baku question is actually important, but low priority.
We have an issue to deal with on this planet first, but we should remember to ask it later as any intel on Lapin will go a long way.

Asking about the dhampir's tithe will actually give us insight on the cult.
Pretty easy to see why knowing more about your enemy is a good thing.
Even if we can hazard a guess it's better to confirm.

Like I said we should at least try to play nice at first, resorting to intimidation with the Hellpistols bit could bite us in the ass down the line.
However, that is not to say that we shouldn't if they continue to test our patience.

So, I say we ask the prudent question concerning the tithe, resort to mentioning Hellpistols if they still require a reminder of just who is sitting at their table, and shelve (but definitely do not forget) the question of the Baku.

{X} “...What’s the dhampir’s tithe?” She could make an educated guess, but it never hurt to know what exactly heretics chose as their fulcrum point.
If they still persist in their childish diatribe:
-{X} “...Do you know why Inquisitors use Hellpistols?”
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[X] Perhaps the young lady Psyker she had in her employ could be a good choice? She might be able to befriend the scarlet sisters as someone roughly their own age, and her telekinetic abilities would keep her safely away from combat.
-[X] On a short leash; considering the circumstances of the mission her usefulness is marred by the risk of corruption or, Emperor forbid, possession.
If possible:
[X] Have the other specialists ready to deploy in case reinforcements are required, one does not take chances with the Ruinous Powers.
{X} “...What’s the dhampir’s tithe?” She could make an educated guess, but it never hurt to know what exactly heretics chose as their fulcrum point.
If they still persist in their childish diatribe:
-{X} “...Do you know why Inquisitors use Hellpistols?”
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Think of it like picking the active party for the main fight in a videogame, while the others are on reserve/watching our flanks/dealing with the grunts. We have plenty of forces, and if fights are going on in the back they'd logically be participating, but the story at least for now is going to focus on the main team and what they're doing specifically in their infiltration. More like a Kill Team, if you've played that.

So just pick who and what you think is most appropriate, and most interesting.
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>>69345 here.

Cool, knowing that I don't have to account for the background stuff simplifies it a lot.
My choice for the psyker hasn't changed for reasons already given, but you can basically cut all the chaff attached to it that I wrote.

I'm also still for asking after the dhampir thing, any info is good unless they really can't stop for five seconds to answer questions; which is why I'll leave that extra hellpistol bit attached in case it becomes necessary.

So, just to reiterate:

[X] Perhaps the young lady Psyker she had in her employ could be a good choice? She might be able to befriend the scarlet sisters as someone roughly their own age, and her telekinetic abilities would keep her safely away from combat.

{X} “...What’s the dhampir’s tithe?” She could make an educated guess, but it never hurt to know what exactly heretics chose as their fulcrum point.
If they still persist in their childish diatribe:
-{X} “...Do you know why Inquisitors use Hellpistols?”

Not a new vote, of course, just cleaning it up a bit to make it easier to read.
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[X] Perhaps the young lady Psyker she had in her employ could be a good choice?
-[X] On a very short leash, no risking corruption of possession by some Nurglite horror.

{X} “...What’s the dhampir’s tithe?” She could make an educated guess, but it never hurt to know what exactly heretics chose as their fulcrum point.

Along with:
{X} “...What is a ‘Baku’?” Satori hadn’t mentioned anyone by that name on Lapin.
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[X] Perhaps the young lady Psyker she had in her employ could be a good choice? She might be able to befriend the scarlet sisters as someone roughly their own age, and her telekinetic abilities would keep her safely away from combat.
{X} “...What’s the dhampir’s tithe?” Reimu could make an educated guess, but it never hurt to know what exactly heretics chose as their fulcrum point. She muttered a direction to one of the servers, the woman scurrying away.

Remilia took a moment to consider the question. “It’s a few key traditions considered summarily, and a vital part of Koumaris’ infrastructure. You are aware that most of the Gensou Clusters’ residents are… only derived from the standard human template, right?” She sipped her glass. “Koumaris’ residents are mostly the Planetary and Lunar Rabbits, The Tengu of Tenma are entirely abhuman, and the less said about the hellscape that is the Chikushou system, the better. See, that causes a variety of problems when someone goes and gets their liver blown out or something; organ donation is a nightmare.”

Flandre nodded. “The half-beasts can’t survive having one species’ organs placed within another. On Tenma a wolf can’t even donate to a crow, and there’s various issues to varying degrees on numerous planets.” She grinned. “But Koumaris? Not only are we all true humans, we’re a special case. A Koumarine’s organs could go to a Lesser Rabbit on the Lapin planet, a Wolf on Tenma, and a Lapinite noblewoman, and all three would have their bodies accept it flawlessly. Sometimes they even work better for their recipients than they did for their donors.”

Marisa’s eyebrow raised. “A whole system of perfect donors? That does sound incredible, ze.” She furrowed her eyebrows. “...does that mean cloning technology doesn’t exist in the cluster?”

There was a momentary look of alarm on Remilia’s face, but she eventually managed to pull herself together. “I… If you’re suggesting there is such a technology, that could be a disaster for Koumaris economically.” She looked out. “Koumaris is the highest-population system in the Gensou Cluster, and our population is continually expanding. That means our own resources can very easily be strained to the limit just sustaining ourselves, and we end up needing to trade for basic food with other planets.” She gave a devious grin across the table. “But we have only one resource we have to spare.”

Reimu met her devious grin bluntly. “...So the dhampir’s tithe solves both problems at once. You cull your population and trade the organs to other planets for other resources.”

Flandre nodded. “Yeah, that’s half of it. We expect our law enforcement to hand over a certain number of criminals each month for organ donation. Though only criminals, mind!” She clarifies hastily. "...Well, if there's enforcers that are consistently underperforming, the enforcers make up the shortfall. We do have one of the harshest penal systems in Gensou, but as a result, we also have the nicest cities for the productive members of society.”

Sanae tutted. “Is there any levels of this? You’re not about to tell me someone who steals a loaf of bread gets disemboweled for his trouble, are you?”

Remilia shrugged off her concerns. “The quota does have an upper cap, and to the best of our abilities we average out across sectors. If you’re just a pickpocket, chances are you’ll be fine unless we’re desperate. Especially if you volunteer for the second part of the tithe, the blood donation.”

Flandre nodded, spreading her wings. “House Scarlet has a disease in our genes… one that causes blood to essentially decay in our bodies at a rapid pace. These wings have an inbuilt function to store blood and give us incremental transfusions across the day. If we didn’t use these wings, we’d be passing out from blood loss before we got to our beds.” She scowled. “And it’s not like our medical beds are especially pleasant, either. We’ve been reliably informed that they look like coffins, but they’re ironically the only reason we’re not dead by the morning.”

Remilia scowled, nodding. “Apparently the whole practice makes us resemble some kind of ancient beast of Old Terra called ‘dhampirs’, hence the whole procedure being called the 'dhampir's tithe'. Imagine! The noble House Scarlets being some kind of evil blood-drinkers! Who could even conceive of such an insult!” She took a moment to take a deep breath, composing herself. “...I’m sure you can see rather quickly how Ochre-and-Ichor is even more devastating to Koumaris than it would be to any other planet. We depend on healthy bodies across our population, not just in our military force. We’ve been operating under the assumption that whoever the disease is from, it’s definitely a bioweapon - it’s too spontaneous, and the disease seems to almost be designed to make House Scarlet vulnerable.”

Reimu nodded in agreement. If only they knew. She paused, examining their wings more closely. It was pretty clear that Remilia’s miniature wings were much, much lower-capacity than Flan’s hanging crystals. The difference between a military and ceremonial model? Possible, but they did call them wings, and Flandre’s didn’t even seem to give a suggestion of that.

Noticing Reimu’s close scrutiny, Flandre pulled them behind her. “It being a bioweapon is one of the few things that me and sis agree on. Our tech-priests have determined the mushrooms aren’t closely related to any recorded species, either. Guess it being from daemons explains it.” She shuddered. “We’ve both agreed to only take blood from our soldiers offworld, because who knows what could be in anyone’s blood from the surface.” The younger sister sighed.

Remilia nodded. “And neither of us consider the other the culprit of the plague, either. I’d never think of doing something so self-destructive, and my sister would never think of doing something so underhanded.”

Reimu nodded, turning her gaze once again to the planet. “So, what are the worst-hit areas?”

Flandre put up a finger, looking serious. “The first and most ingrained place is the capital on Remi’s side. That’s where the plague-ridden are at their most numerous and infested. I believe your friend the Rogue Trader compared the capital to ‘A small hive’?” She shrugged. “Tall towers, floors upon floors upon floors; chances are they’re festering in the sewers down there. Not surprising Remi’s delicate approach isn’t working there.”

Remilia slammed her glass on the table, all the wine landing neatly back inside it. Clearly it was her preferred method of punctuating an objection. “Ex-cuse you, Flan. You’re forgetting to mention the first cases were found in a small town called Blacklily, on your side of the planet, and the whole place is infected there. If this is a bioweapon caused by some daemon, you’d assume the source would be near Blacklily, wouldn’t you?”

Flan growled, managing a much more feral timbre than her sister’s earlier attempt. “The highest number of victims is on your side. Are you just going to let all those people suffer, Remilia?”

“Better to cut off the head rather than just where they’re most concentrated. Or did you learn nothing from-”

“Enough!” Reimu’s gauntlet slammed into the table, causing both sisters and most of the plates to jump. She groaned, pulling her hand over her face. “We’ll go to both places. And as the commander of this fleet, I will decide the order. All you two brats need to do is inform us of the areas in your own territory worth consideration, and provide your Knights to back us up.”

She was just debating pulling out the hellpistol and giving them both a stern lecture on an Inquisitor’s priorities when there was a knock on the door. A very familiar face poked her nose through, looking nervously into the room.

Reimu put on a gentle smile. “Ah yes, come on in. I’ve been expecting you, little one.” She turned to the two Scarlet sisters, still seeming rather shocked. Flandre had a look with a mixture of rage and awe, and Remilia was mouthing the word ‘brat’ still, trying to process being called such a demeaning term. The redhead giant was slack jawed, and the look the ‘maid’ was giving was positively venomous.

She gestured to the door, ignoring the assorted Koumarine expressions. “Now, if you’re both quite done bickering… Ladies of House Scarlet, I’d like you both to meet the strongest Psyker in the fleet. Alice, would you like to introduce yourself?”
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The spinning pirouettes of the dancers were mesmerizing, even Reimu had to concede. Still, it was only an intricate performance, and no Inquisitor worth her salt would let mere intricacy distract her from judging her cohort. She glanced over at the two sisters, gauging their reactions.

Flandre was positively spellbound. Her eyes were absolutely transfixed by the display, her jaw hanging open in a loose grin of awe. Her bodyguard’s eyes were similarly transfixed, though she seemed to focus more on the gleaming steel of their lances than the dance itself. Rightfully so, Reimu noted; she’d spotted that quickly.

Her counterpart was seemingly forgoing any assessment of the potential threat to instead continue glaring daggers at Reimu for the previous slight. Reimu wasn’t even sure she’d blinked in the time since the dancers had begun. Remilia, meanwhile, was almost as enraptured as her sister, but with much, much effort, she managed to tear her eyes away from the dancers.

Or, rather, away from the puppets and straight at the puppeteer. The young blonde girl was maybe Flandre's age, and cowered behind Reimu’s chair at the look. The blue of her clothes and ribbon contrasted all the more strongly with the red-dominant attire of those nearest to her in age. A breathing apparatus covered the lower half of her face, and she couldn’t seem to meet anyone’s gaze. Practiced instinct brought Reimu’s hand back, and the young girl took it, clinging to it like her life depended on it.

It made perfect sense to keep a powerful and sensitive psyker on a short leash, and when they’d been discussing it, her advisors had been clear to do so. Really, though, Reimu’s biggest problem was rather the opposite - she was often nearly underfoot, and Reimu tended to attract a lot of the fire. At least she was just as happy to hide behind Marisa’s powerful tech, or in the warm glow of Sanae’s Flamer.

As the dance of the puppets finished, they made a bow, and Flandre burst out into applause, with the others joining in with a more restrained tempo. A few of the dolls landed on the table, defensively in front of Reimu - and thus Alice. Here, it was easier to see that there were mechanical parts - clicking limbs and a spinning key in their backs, though the latter was rather vestigial in the hands of the Telekine. She heard Alice mumbling into her mask, and the vox-speaker on the frontmost doll crackled to life.

“Thank you for watching our performance. We do it in honor of our princess, Lady Alice Margatroid.” The frontmost doll took a bow. “I, Yumeko, and the Makai Royal Guard, stand ready to assist with the defense of your planet.”

Remilia raised an eyebrow, steepling her fingers. “I see. You’re… clearly all rather skilled at intricate formations.” She eyed the lances the dolls were carrying. “Am I… correct in assuming that those are not mere ornamental weapons?”

The head doll nodded, with two of her associates spearing some of the food on the plates to make her point. “Quite so, Lady… Remilia, was it? Our lances are the pride of our army. We need no more than one of our cunning maneuvers to flay a krootox to its very bones!” Reimu stifled a chuckle, rolling her eyes. That wasn’t exactly true… but it was far less false than it had any right to be. And it wasn’t like these girls would have any idea what a Krootox was, anyways.

“That… is SO COOL!” Flandre hopped up onto her feet, running over to examine the dolls more closely, with Meiling in hot pursuit. “How do you do that?! How do you-”

Marisa chuckled. “Best keep your distance and let her approach you, Scarlet. Alice and her guards can get a little jumpy at times.” Sure enough, the dolls had pointed their lances in Flan’s direction, and Alice had cowered even further behind the Inquisitor. “Their flight is provided by young Alice. She’s a Telekine - a psyker who can move objects with her mind, ze.”

The younger of the Scarlets sagged, clearly disappointed. Remilia chuckled, considering the young Psyker’s potential. “...I see. The only psyker groups with any notable presence in the Gensou Cluster are the telepaths on Lapin. If anyone else has psykers with abilities like that, they keep them to themselves.” She chuckles. “Such a singular existence here is quite interesting. You must be quite talented, Alice. And your Guard is one-of-a-kind, I’m quite sure.”

As the three girls began to converse, with the intermediary of the Yumeko-doll, Reimu stood up and stepped away from the table, looking out to the city. Blacklily and the Royal Capital… both were likely key centers of cultist activity… and she’d naturally have to decide which to go with first.

She didn’t turn around when she sensed the maid approaching. “If you’re going to try and threaten me, don’t bother. We both know you can’t afford to attack the only ally you have against this plague.”

There was a scoff from the maid, edging closer. “Nobody speaks to my lady or the young mistress that way. Nobody.” In the reflection of the glass, she could see the deadly glare of the maid. “They are the noble House Scarlet, heritors of Koumaris, and I will not stand for them to be insulted.”

Reimu turned around, staring at her evenly. “They could be the rulers of the entire cluster and I’ll still call them what I like. The powers of the Inquisitors are designed precisely to go over the heads of squabbling bureaucrats, regardless of the specific station or position.” She folded her arms. “After all, there are decisions no planetary governor could stomach, if only to preserve their own interests. If the daemons on Koumaris manage to extend a tendril to Lapin, forget the Gensou Cluster - the whole galaxy could be endangered.”

She looked at the planet, disinterested. “I don't have the time or the inclination to humor two sisters who can't go ten seconds without starting a slapfight. If you want me to respect House Scarlet, you should be doing what you can to guide them towards seamless cooperation with us and each other.” She crossed her arms, lowering her voice to a mumble. “And that goes for you too, Redhead.”

Meiling, who was politely observing the three girls talking, gave a guilty glance in Reimu’s direction. The maid irritably sheathed her knife, scowling.

The young inquisitor nodded, looking back at her. “Sakuya, was it? Tell me about the Capital situation. Surely you have the best knowledge of it?”

The maid nodded, clearly still stiff in her words. “Second only to my lady herself.” She thought back, idly tapping the hilt of one of her daggers. “The… you called them plague cultists? Have taken over the underlevels, particularly the sewers. They’ve created and defended several makeshift dams in the sewers. We suspect their goal is to contaminate the water supply, and we’ve done our best to mitigate the risk, but the simple truth is that our sewers were not made for armigers to walk through them.” The last part took physical effort for her to voice. “We… would greatly appreciate your assistance.”

Reimu nodded, glancing back at her. “What about Blacklily? I assume it’s a problem that’s similarly difficult to solve?”

Sakuya folded her arms. “Though less obviously so, yes. It’s actually the ancestral home of an old Knight House that was eventually crushed under the boot of House Scarlet. While the military that used to serve that house ended up betraying them when their coffers were emptied, considering that’s the source of the disease, it’s natural to assume that there are at least some loyalists there. And no self-respecting Koumarine nobility wouldn't have a suite of hidden passages all under the town... We were thinking they wouldn’t have had the resources to bio-engineer this weapon; but some otherworld influence would definitely explain it.”

Reimu sighed. “Of course some idiotic lordling’s toady would…” She shook her head. “So, the Royal Capital probably has the highest number of cultists, and is poised to take even more power. On the other hand, Blacklily is the source, and thus probably has any of the daemons who’ve made themselves manifest.”

After a moment's thought, Reimu turned, walking back to the trio of girls. “Alice? Feel free to keep discussing things with the ladies of House Scarlet for a while, but it’d be best not to stay up too late - we’ll be heading out in the morning.”

The three young ladies turned to her. At some point, the sisters had managed to convince Alice to let them hold a doll each, and both looked rather pleased at having done so. Remilia belatedly realized what she was doing was rather undignified, and tried to carefully place her doll surreptitiously back on the table.

Flandre didn’t seem to care, all but squeezing the life out of her doll. “Oh, but these dolls are so well-made! I think Suki here is my favorite.”

Alice spoke up, for once not through one of her dolls. “U-ummm… Her name is Yuki… please stop calling her Suki…”

Remilia finished unsubtly putting down her childish indiscretion, and cleared her throat. “Right, uhm, yes… does that mean you’ve decided on a location to begin with?”

Reimu nodded. “Yes, and I hate to cut the meeting short, but there’s much planning and preparation to do, and the sooner we leave, the better. We’ll organize troops to visit and start containing both areas, so we’ll need your Knights ready by the morning as well. As for our core team, we’ll start in one area, and move to the other once we’ve cut out the throat of the threat.”

Flandre nodded, stiffening up a bit. “We’ll have our Knights and bodyguards ready to assist you. Will you start with the Royal Capital, or with Blacklily?”

[ ] “The Royal Capital takes priority.” Extricating cultists from even a ‘small’ hive was going to be a nightmare, and if they managed to sink their claws in, they’d be dealing with pockets of resistance for years to come. Nevermind the risk of them establishing a second ingress point right under the capital.
[ ] “Blacklily. We’ll take this out at the source first.” The worst of Nurgle’s beasts would be in there, and if they left it too long, something truly wretched could come through, and singlehandedly doom the planet. And knowing more about this dead Knight House would help shed light on the specific ideological form of these Nurglite worshippers.
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The choice here is between preventing them from taking more ground and trying to reclaim ground quickly. If we go for one, the other has time to grow roots (further, in Blacklily's case.)

What we have to consider here is what the worse outcome is. If we go for the capital first, we clear out swathes of cultists before they can start getting really set up, but Blacklily is sure to boil over even further. It already probably has some issues that are begging to be addressed, and if they are allowed to fester it'll get dire.

Conversely, if we deal with the bigger threat at Blacklily, it's probably going to "only" be a "few" daemons, but the capital is going to lose the potential part of being a potential problem. It might not immediately end up as bad as the source, but if things go poorly it might be able to expand even further, bringing us right back here except with depleted resources.

The real question this all hinges on is "how bad is Blacklily?" If it's anything less than imminent apocalypse, preventative measures are probably more helpful. I'm going to err on the side of optimism, but I'm open to debate.

[ X ] “The Royal Capital takes priority.” Extricating cultists from even a ‘small’ hive was going to be a nightmare, and if they managed to sink their claws in, they’d be dealing with pockets of resistance for years to come. Nevermind the risk of them establishing a second ingress point right under the capital.
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First of all, Lolice as a telekine psyker is the best thing.

Highborn genetic defects are nothing new, at least chronic severe anemia isn't that bad compared to some other things.

Even if it reminds me of the Red Thirst. At least they were rather candid about it.

This tithe will likely not be able to continue when they have properly reintegrated into the Imperium, those human resources shall go into Astra Militarum tithes.

Now, on to the choice.

Choosing between two evils but both evils are Daemonic corruption.

Frankly, I haven't decided yet.

Stamping out the capital's insurgents will indeed save more people immediately, also likely freeing up resources to march on Blacklily.

However, Blacklily is likely already experiencing actual Daemonic incursion. Leaving that to fester and escalate could doom the world rather than "just" a hive.

But as mentioned, if they manage to open another portal in such a place it would be damning.

If psykers really are that uncommon here (except on Lapin), I wonder how fragile this cult and plot might actually be in practice.

Of course, the Plaguefather might just bless his vile minions with powers beyond their norm, but if there really aren't that many sorcerors we might be able to cut the flow faster than expected.

Unless there's a lot of daemonhosts. Nobody likes daemonhosts.

And thus we come to the choice: cut off the head or the tumor that's going to metastasise on its own?

I'm really not sure.

Like I said, saving people now (by going to the capital) could doom the world in the end, so is one (important) hive worth the planet?

If that was all of it, the pragmatic choice would be Blacklily, but like I also mentioned removing the taint from the capital would likely allow more resources to be funneled into a siege.

A siege that would most likely have become more difficult due to worsened conditions in Blacklily.

At least both sites will (or attempt to) be quarantined, that lowers the odds of the cultists in the capital to enact their plan, if only somewhat; but it does little for Blacklily.

I need to think on it more, perhaps discuss with anon in the thread if people are down.

I will add one thing we could do for the capital choice: station the dreadnought and the null at Blacklily with whatever troopers we send that way.

We'd have our own eyes on the situation there to keep us posted and those two are more useful there than in the capital.

But yeah, I'm not convinced either way yet. Withholding vote for the moment while I think/debate.
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[X] “Blacklily. We’ll take this out at the source first.” The worst of Nurgle’s beasts would be in there, and if they left it too long, something truly wretched could come through, and singlehandedly doom the planet. And knowing more about this dead Knight House would help shed light on the specific ideological form of these Nurglite worshippers.
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The more I think on it, and the more I read these comments, the more I’m convinced that Blacklily is the better option here. There’s a couple of primary reasons for my stance. First, as a couple of people have pointed out, It’s likely the source of the plague and the most difficult problem to deal with, and I’d much rather not leave that tumor to fester into something more… cancerous, if you will forgive the joke.

My second reason is a problem that no one else seems to have thought of. I’m not the most familiar with 40k lore, so forgive me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t a higher concentration of Warp or Chaos presence mean more risk of psykers getting corrupted? Even if we do have Alice on a short leash(which sounds like it won’t be that hard to accomplish), I’d much rather take her through two less corrupted places than one more corrupted place. At least in the former we have a better chance of stopping the corruption in the first place, and I’d much rather have the our most powerful psyker for future operations than not.

With all that said…

[X ] “Blacklily. We’ll take this out at the source first.” The worst of Nurgle’s beasts would be in there, and if they left it too long, something truly wretched could come through, and singlehandedly doom the planet. And knowing more about this dead Knight House would help shed light on the specific ideological form of these Nurglite worshippers.
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I just discovered this quest, but I wanted to say that your writing is phenomenal and I love the way you fit the characters into the 40k world. As for the choice, I also believe that Blacklily is the better option. The cultists may cause great damage to the hive, but a sufficiently powerful deamon can doom the planet, if not the entire sector due to the frankly suspicious amount of psykers in the lunar capital.

[X] “Blacklily. We’ll take this out at the source first.” The worst of Nurgle’s beasts would be in there, and if they left it too long, something truly wretched could come through, and singlehandedly doom the planet. And knowing more about this dead Knight House would help shed light on the specific ideological form of these Nurglite worshippers.
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>>69353 here.

Having thought it through and reading other anon's thoughts I have to agree with Blacklily being the better choice for the planet as a whole.
Leaving the capital to fend for itself for the moment certainly isn't the popular choice (as in, what the populace would think they'd want) nor will it ingratiate us with Remilia, but making the hard choices is what Inquisitors do.

On the bright side, we're sending troops to both sides.
This means we can have people actually (relatively) experienced with situations of a daemonic nature on the ground in the hive, containing the threat.
Perhaps, instead of sending any of the warband (except maybe the dread?) we can send some of Reimu's advisors to the capital with our troops to take command of advise the containment efforts. (Remilia is already not gonna like this, better to not piss her off further by completely overruling her in her own domain.)

The two big risks with this route were already mentioned:
- The cultists succesfully contaminate the water supply.
- The cultists open a(nother) portal under the capital.

Now, any physical daemonic presence at Blacklily isn't actually confirmed, but it's very likely at this stage.
But hopefully it's just Nurglings and some Plaguebearers for now, with maybe a Beast.
Anything beyond that could constitute an invasion force that we'd have seen signs of by now.

And if the hive falls...
Well, better to have to purge a small hive than a big one.

Pragmatic: truly an Inquisition™ moment.

[X] “Blacklily. We’ll take this out at the source first.” The worst of Nurgle’s beasts would be in there, and if they left it too long, something truly wretched could come through, and singlehandedly doom the planet. And knowing more about this dead Knight House would help shed light on the specific ideological form of these Nurglite worshippers.
-[X] Have some of the advisors more experienced with matters Daemonic assist with the containment of the situation in the Royal Capital.

Men better not hit the purge button to soon or we'll purge their heads from their bodies.
(That hothead that got told off by Reimu earlier comes to mind.)

Frankly both options are bad for lil' Alice, but which situation is worse is hard to say.
If she gets too shaken up from getting taken into the eye of the Warpstorm, we'll have to go without her to the Capital.
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I know both options are bad for Alice. But as I said, at least going to Blacklily gives her better odds of not becoming corrupted in the first place, and hopefully then the bigger factor with this option, time spent in the vicinity of the warp, can be mitigated by being careful. Besides, as I mentioned, I am much to paranoid to leave Blacklily alone for longer even if Alice wasn’t a factor.
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[X] “Blacklily. We’ll take this out at the source first.” The worst of Nurgle’s beasts would be in there, and if they left it too long, something truly wretched could come through, and singlehandedly doom the planet.
-[X] Have some of the advisors more experienced with matters Daemonic assist with the containment of the situation in the Royal Capital.

“Blacklily. We’ll take this out at the source first.”

Remilia immediately grew a smug grin. “Of course. See? I told you Flan, Blacklily is the more important issue.”

Reimu waved off her triumphant smirk. “Don’t look so pleased with yourself. It means there’s a damn good chance that at least some of their Royal Capital plans will be developed, and that this will devolve into very, very messy street fighting.” The elder sister’s grin duly faded as she considered the implications, slowly replaced by a smirk on the younger as she realized she was much more inoculated from losing any face. The maid’s glare only got more venomous.

She turned to her two closest subordinates. “Send the dominant force of the Skitarii down to help with the Royal Capital. Especially those who have the ability to run without an external water source for extended periods of time. Focus on quarantine of still-clean areas and disabling public waterworks. Back them up with the Hospitaller and whoever else you can spare of the Sororitas without directly affecting combat readiness, especially those who are good at sniffing out Daemonic influence - I’d like to send more of them to help take care of those who can still be saved, but we need the ground trooper Sisters to help with Blacklily, and chances are we won’t exactly need experienced eyes to spot the daemons there.” Both of them nodded, Sanae already reaching for a combead to relay the order.

Her gaze returned to the two sisters. “I expect both of your forces to be outside their battlefields by tomorrow. One of my specialists - a miss Komano Aunn - will be taking care of the macro-tactics in my stead, so you may see her join either of your retinues. She can act fully in my stead, and I expect her to be treated as such.”

In most cases Reimu had a reputation among Inquisitors for a fundamental aura of honesty, with no-one able to keep a lie going around her for long - least of all herself, hence her close association with the tech-priest now summoning up her Skitarii. With that said, Komano Aunn was one of the few genuine tricks Reimu was reliably able to pull on anyone, largely because there was nothing dishonest in her description. Aunn was good at the macro-organisation of deciding which general would have what based on whatever high-level plan Reimu gave her, which gave Reimu the time to dive into ground-level missions without things falling apart around her. She was also perfect for intervening in some big factional infighting. People would inevitably believe that with the description Reimu gave, whoever Aunn accompanied had earned the Inquisitor’s favor and her eye, and would thusly both be self-assured in their position and unlikely to cause other mischief. And if asked by said acolyte to keep the secret of her exact deployment, few were dumb enough to even consider bragging about the earned favor - and thus revealing the deception; that there was likely an Aunn at the other side’s table as well.

The twinned Psyker - using the plural was debatable - had been Reimu’s oldest ally, even before she was officially recruited into the Inquisition. Her stony, but vaguely canine mutations had made the following recruitment easy to agree to for Kasen, and their same disposition made them easy to pass off as unusual augmentations. And once Satori saw Aunn (an Aunn, more specifically) Reimu was promptly declared a kindred spirit, and that whole mess began.

Both of the sisters nodded in agreement, and Alice gathered up her dolls. Remilia spoke first. “It appears this meeting is at a close, then. We’ll be coordinating the battles from our capital ships - we’ll make sure your Aunn and any other tacticians you send are well received and await their instructions.”

Flandre nodded in agreement. “And I’ll make sure Meiling’s ready to receive you the moment you touch down at Blacklily. Let’s teach these daemons that Koumaris is not theirs to take.” The grin she gave toed the line between that of a mischievous child and the type of Commissar who believed in ‘sending them off with a smile’. Reimu just nodded stiffly, and swept away to make her own preparations.

“You know,” Reimu said, making sure to include as much reproach as she could in her tone, “You don’t need to constantly gun the engines like a madwoman, Marisa.”

The pilot chuckled and turned her head back to her, seemingly paying no attention to the direction they were actually going. “But where’s the fun in that? Trust me, the Blazing Star’s enjoying this as much as I am.”

Reimu sighed. “Do you think the machine spirit will enjoy it if Alice throws up on the deck? Slow down, for god’s sake.” That did bring an appropriate look of concern, and Marisa dutifully slowed down, at a gradual pace so as not to produce another lurch. Reimu flicked the little monitor she had to the passenger’s compartment to inspect the troops.

Aboard Marisa’s personal Stormraven, it was a fairly even mix of Mechanicus and Sororitas forces. A set of the heavily-augmented Skitarii sat on one side, one giving her a weak thumbs up to show their approval more explicitly than what remained of their faces could allow. The other side was a near-matching set of Sororitas, each determined to seem less phased by the mission than their borderline-faceless counterparts, ending with Sanae trying to comfort a queasy Alice. The young girl’s appearance was… rather amusing, to be blunt. As much as it was… not exactly hard to get guardsman armor that’d at least reasonably fit a girl in the start of her pubescence, Reimu had instead managed to get some Votann void armor for better protection of the Psyker. The little head poking out of the armor was rather hilariously dissonant with the rest of it, but it kept her safe, and that was most important. Every now and then, her eyes would flicker to the cargo crate where her dolls were kept.

Reimu had never been one to command a mission where she couldn’t see where they were going, so she was in the dorsal cockpit, manning the twin lascannons. She looked out at what she could of the grounds, examining the lands of Koumaris before them. The conifer forest they were passing over was technically green, if only because of it begrudgingly accepting that it couldn’t be pure black, and must make at least some attempt to resemble normal vegetation. Thick mist hung low and heavy, obscuring much below the tree-tops. It was thus not hard to spot their destination even now, a pale and sickly green in the midst of the rolling treetops of darker and gloomier hues.

“My word. It’s a dreadful stain on our forests, isn’t it?” Reimu looked down at the monitor again and changed the image. The gloomy face of Koumaris’ head techpriest was watching her own monitor, her striped purple robes draped over her body.

Reimu found herself cocking an eyebrow. “Odd thing to worry about for a tech-priest, Miss Knowledge.” The woman waved her off, her arm revealing a small array of tubes connecting her and her chair. “You don’t exactly seem like the type to get around and see the sights.”

Patchouli Knowledge rolled her eyes, the augmetic one at a slightly slower pace than the real one. “A plague is the last thing I want on Koumaris. My flesh is even more of a waste of carbon than the empty safebox Meiling calls her skull.” She broke out into a fit of coughing, causing a black-and-red pteraxii to scurry to her side in aid. “...First thing I’m requisitioning from the Imperium is the best STC you have for augmetic lungs and a toxiphage.”

Marisa stuck her hand up, anticipating a question from her gunner-slash-commander. “I’m sending her the combat data from our skitarii. I don’t want to have to keep coming back here every few months if the cultists spread out, so giving them the knowledge to fight their own battles is a big boon to us.”

Reimu raised an eyebrow, before turning back to the screen. It was more than she would have given beforehand, perhaps using it to negotiate more, but deals could always be made retroactively. “While we’re flying, then, can I ask for a few more details?”

Patchouli nodded, lifting a dataslate with a mechadendrite. Her eyes split, one reading the dataslate’s contents and the other still focused on looking at Reimu through the monitor. “...If it’ll help you clean up this mess, please do. Spaceship air is only making bad lungs worse, here.”

Reimu lifted her eyes up to survey the growing patch of Nurgle greenery in front of them. “You’re the chief tech-priest on Koumaris, yes? And the Mechanicus here are considered neutral to any house disputes between or within Houses?” Apparently, that at least nominally held true even to this day, though the fact that the tech-priest’s ships largely mingled among Remilia’s fleet gave considerable cause for doubt. “Were you familiar with the House that used to live in Blacklily?”

The tech-priest glowered. “Though I wish I was less so. They’re technically still deep in the red with us financially. Should’ve carved out their useless brains and made them servitors when I had the chance.”

Reimu raised an eyebrow. “They shortchanged the Mechanicus? Rather bold for anyone, really, all the more so when they’re a Knight house.” She briefly switched her comms to internal. “No exposed skin, we’re nearly there now.” There was a series of shuffling noises below her, and a metallic clang as, presumably, one of the Sororitas dropped their helmet. A problem for Alice or the Skitarii to solve.

“The previous generations were fine, but the sisters of this generation were both utterly terrible with money.” Patchouli scowled. “The younger was an insane spendthrift who wasted her money on more jewelry she could wear in her life, and went through a century’s savings in only a few years. And the only reason she didn’t spend more is that her older sister was money mismanagement incarnate, and made several dozen ventures for new sources of income with nothing to show for it. Not surprising that they collapsed quickly.” She managed a wheezy chuckle. “Remilia really gave them the runaround - she sold the ‘fashionista’ a whole bunch of Scarlet family heirlooms at great cost, and then when she inevitably began to default, she managed to take them all back and more at a steal. Set the Scarlets up for several lifetimes at no long-term cost, even if Flan hated using family heirlooms like that. But then, she’s never appreciated truly cunning maneuvers.”

Neutral party, right. Reimu could see Marisa counting on her fingers, and couldn’t blame her - this’d be, what, the fifth pair of sisters somewhere important in the Gensou Cluster right now? Komeiji, Komano(?), Scarlet, the ones on the moon, and- wait, worth checking actually.

Reimu looked back at the monitor. “What about these sisters? Are they still out and about?”

Patchouli shrugged. “I know as much as you do on that front. They were alive when Remilia spared them, and we didn’t make them into servitors on the assumption that those most likely to donate to help them with the funds would find appreciation for their whole bodies.” She sighed. “Perhaps this could have been avoided if we were more… direct in seeking recompense. Or perhaps this was caused by some spoiled maids who didn’t understand the connection between the opulence they were experiencing and why everyone hated them.”

Reimu sighed. “Well, that’s something. How were they as Knight pilots?”

This clearly took a bit more thought. “The younger sister was almost unmatched when it came to fighting dirty, and was always very aggressive when fighting. The elder… I don’t have much data on her piloting skills, but if the younger was doing the fighting… that implies little good about her.” She narrowed her eyes. “If it turns out they’re responsible for this, give them an extra shot for me, will you?”

Reimu didn’t respond to the request directly. “We’re coming into Blacklily now. Sorry to cut this conversation short - feel free to reopen it if you spot something important in the Skitarii data.” With one last nod of approval from the tech-priest, Reimu terminated the connection, and promptly opened a new one. “Flandre - how’s the initial assault going?”

The image of a knight’s cockpit flashed up, revealing a scowling Flandre. “Nowhere near where we were hoping for. We’ve been bombarding them at range, but we’re struggling to make any progress. Lots of little blobby things, and we haven’t got the small-arms to take them down cheaply. So me and my knights are spearfishing and churning the earth to take them out, rather than risking them climbing up on us. Then there’s the cultists themselves, who are… suspiciously well armed for what should be a bunch of destitute peasants.” She gave a desperate look. “Please tell me your troops are getting close.”

Reimu nodded, giving a reassuring smile. “They’re just behind us. Guessing those are what we call Nurglings. Don’t worry - as long as your Knights can take a bit of heat around the legs, the Sister’s flamers wil take good care of them.”

Flandre nodded in relief. “Tell them to expect heavy resistance. If this is the Baku’s Mark, it’s changed the people here, in a really weird way.” She shuddered. “Seems like they’ve grown into hunchbacks or something like that, and it looks like there's more pointing bits moving around than they should have hands. Haven’t exactly had time to look at it closely myself yet, what with keeping them away, and Meiling’s been hanging back to wait for you, so nobody’s gotten close enough to check.”

Reimu sighed. “Right. Where does the corruption seem most concentrated?”

Flandre pointed at something Reimu couldn't see from the camera angle. Maybe a map, or out her viewports. “There’s a big block right in the town center, but the old mansion’s in a pretty sorry state as well. Probably means the real mess is in the tunnels, and it’s just cropping up where they meet the surface.”

Reimu took a moment to consider. Entering through the mansion would probably be easier to find a way into the secret passages, and her instincts told her the portal was probably closer there, but it’d also be much harder to get into in the first place. On the other hand, the town would be chaotic street-fighting all the way through, with Knights rampaging around them, and it’d be easier to get ambushed, but the fog of war would make it easier to slip into the darkness, and harder for the Nurgle worshippers to devote their focus into them.

[ ] “Tell Meiling to meet us near the town square…”
[ ] “Tell Meiling to meet us near the manor…”

{ } “...And get your forces ready to join us there. Let's find out how good Knights are at picking locks.
{ } “...And get your forces ready to make one hell of a distraction on the other side. We’ll take a stealthy route.
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[X] “Tell Meiling to meet us near the manor…

{X} “...And get your forces ready to make one hell of a distraction on the other side. We’ll take a stealthy route.”

I feel like this is the best overall option. With the portal likely being close to the manor, going there first will allow us to end this as fast as possible. At the same time, I don’t want to pointlessly sacrifice our troops, and Flandre will no doubt appreciate being able to pound some skulls in. And if a couple of her troops die in the process… well it doesn’t exactly cripple our operations.

As an aside, I looked up the Stormraven ship because I didn’t know exactly what it was, and for a few seconds, wondered how Marisa got her hands on something typically reserved for space marines. Then I realized she likely did not use any legal measures in the process of acquiring it. Let the Imperium pray to the God-Emperor her and Trazyn never meet.
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[X] “Tell Meiling to meet us near the manor…

{X} “...And get your forces ready to make one hell of a distraction on the other side. We’ll take a stealthy route.”
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Once again your ability to insert touhou characters into 40k in a way that somehow makes complete sense amazes me.
I've always been an Aunn fan, but leaning on the maybe/maybe-not twin thing is pretty interesting.
Also techpriest Patchouli was something to be expected considering Marisa's own situation, but I wasn't expecting that Warugaki art to show up. Incredibly appropriate.

The Yorigamis being the source of a noble house coming to ruin is also very appropriate.
They're probably still alive, so we'll probably see a pair of bloated figures lade with "blessings" before long.
Them being Nurglites makes sense with the whole pestilence thing, but I could've seen them as Slaaneshi or even Tzeentchian as well.

My choice for entry point is honestly pretty set.
Reimu's instincts never lie, so even with the stronger expected resistance we should indeed hit the manor immediately.

As for Flandre's forces it can go either way.
Having them back us up at the manor means we can punch through any initial resistance and also have an easier time with exfiltration with our entry point being actively held and secured.
On the other hand having the knights raise hell elsewhere could distract the cult long enough for us to efficiently infiltrate and pincer their forces.
The faster we exorcise the source of the taint the better.

So, yeah. I'm still kinda on the fence for the latter, so I'll refrain from voting there for a moment while I mull it over some more.

[X] “Tell Meiling to meet us near the manor
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She’s an Inquisitor’s chief Mechanicus. I don’t think she needs too many five-fingered discounts for tech that suits her (…though I’m sure she still helps herself to some). And the grey knights used them even before the space marines did, so I’m sure there were plenty in the Inquisition’s employ.

Not to mention, they’re part of an ordo that’s all about hoarding rare good shit. Marisa’s probably helped herself to a fair few unusual goodies from the Sanctums.
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>>69374 here.

I'll just lock in the secondary part of my vote just in case.

Even if it's the same as all the other votes.

Solidarity and all that.

{X} “...And get your forces ready to make one hell of a distraction on the other side. We’ll take a stealthy route.
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[X] “Tell Meiling to meet us near the manor…”
{X} “...And get your forces ready to make one hell of a distraction on the other side. We’ll take a stealthy route.”

Flandre sighed as soon as she heard the directive.

“Ugh, you’re going the stealthy route? Laaame.”

Marisa gave a dry chuckle. “This of it this way, Flan: the more hell you raise on your side, the better we’ll have it on ours.”

That did bring a grin to the young lady’s face, and she cracked her knuckles.

“We-ell, they seem fine using their fodder to distract us for now because we can’t take advantage of our units… but they do seem to have some knights of their own in reserve. Maybe by the time your forces get here and help us clean off the rebel civs, their knights will come bounding over to meet us?”

Reimu nodded. “Sounds like a plan. Be ready, they’re likely to have weapons you’re not familiar with fighting. Entering the engagement zone now.” She signed off, flicking the comms to internal. “Get ready everyone, might get bumpy.”

The forest beneath them gave up its last gasp before letting out into the town of Blacklily itself. While the world as a whole didn’t have many signs of Nurgle’s rot, Blacklily was undeniably stained with his unholy influence. The town’s structures were in shambles, undermined and yet supported by sinewy fungal growths and twitching wormlike tubing piercing through the walls and roofing like thread, holding the structures in some semblance of standing. Where the roofs had caved in regardless, mushroom caps now provided some semblance of shelter. Trees went from standing solemn and tall to twisted husks, some few lucky enough to simply be dead while others bearing fangs and twitching tentacles. Any still water was sickly and green, burbling from unseen infected wildlife beneath the surface.

Flandre’s Knights were holding their ground on one of the few pieces of land not yet infected, their backs to a riverbank of somehow-yet-clean water - likely a very deliberate choice to protect downstream settlements. It was impossible to mistake where Flan was - the Levateiin, her Knight, stood proud and defiant, front-and-center. Hers appeared to be a Knight Valiant, a hulking beast optimized for close combat. equipped with a tri-flamer to incinerate whole battlelines of daemons and heretics, along with a harpoon crackling with electricity, spearing any optimists who tried to close the distance on their own and rending them into small chunks of crackling flesh.

There was visible shock and surprise from Nurgle’s forces as the Blazing Star streaked through the sky above them. Reimu grimly grabbed the controls of her turret, firing a volley at the lines of Nurgle’s forces and breaking the battleline of the human heretics into disarray. The previously dormant knights behind them - clearly showing the undeniable marks of chaos, but seeming to want to wait until their counterparts tired - started to lift their guns at the Stormraven, but Marisa easily swerved around their first few shots. She passed between a frighteningly tight gap between two of the machines, enough that Reimu was stunned that neither of the Knights traded paint with their craft.

As the Stormraven passed out the far side of the battlefield and began a turn, the Knights trundled around to get a bead on their target. It was a testament to their pilot’s inexperience with small and flighty craft, and a massive mistake tactically. Reimu raised her comms, yelling into the microphone. “Now!”

As they committed to facing away from the battlefield, the bulk of Reimu’s forces broke through the mist, transport craft and artillery vehicles eagerly joining the battle. A storm of fire, las, and bolters tore the remaining daemonic frontline to shreds. One of the heretic’s Knights fell before they even realized that there were more reinforcements coming.

Marisa cackled, spinning around and buzzing the towering Knights yet again. The Blazing Star weaved into the Imperial forces, vanishing into the fog of war. “I believe we made quite an entrance there, da ze! Should give everyone some time to get set up before their troops get a sure footing again.”

Reimu couldn’t help a small grin forming. One Stormraven flight had probably just saved several battalions of Imperial forces. “Looks like they’re already beginning to panic and rout. Everyone okay? Still keeping your lunches down?”

Sanae’s voice crackled. “All good here! Even Alice.” Reimu could hear a cheer from the Sisters below her.

The Inquisitor nodded. “Then get ready to disembark. We’re going in.”
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The noble mansion, that likely once stood tall and proud, now slumped and sagged from its rotted wood. From a distance, its silhouette looked more like a rocky outcrop than an actual building, and it was only as they got close that the broken structure started to resemble an actual residence.

They met up with Meiling just a short distance into the woods surrounding the manor, examining the walls. She carried no visible weapons at first, but it was clear on closer inspection that the gauntlets of her heavy armor were powerfists, ready to pound into anything that dared get closed. She turned and waved as they approached without being contacted, despite their best attempts to stay stealthy.

“Welcome to the Yorigami estate, noble Inquisitor. Hope you’re ready for a fight.” She clanked her fists together, smiling.

Reimu nodded stiffly. “We quite definitely are.” She turned to look at her troops. They mostly carried small but powerful weapons, with the exception of a couple of Skitarii snipers and heavy-weapons Sisters. These troopers long over the phase where the privileges of an Inquisitor’s strike force would wow them, and handled their weapons with practiced ease. Alice’s drone-dolls hovered around her, equipped as always with a set of small, gleaming lances.

Marisa was carrying two weapons, though one could be forgiven for assuming otherwise. The plasma gun she was carrying would seem to most to be her weapon of choice, as obsessed as she was with the brightest and shiniest of shots. The octagonal structure she kept on her waist wouldn’t pass most people’s attention as anything other than an unusual auspex or a coggirl’s trinket, especially if they didn’t know what a Digital Weapon was. Her helm was drawn low over her face, looking out at the battlements of the mansion, as she and some of the skitarii chittered to each other.

Sanae’s weapon choices were more optimized for close combat. A heavy shield, bearing the mark of snake and frog, and the small wooden staff she usually carried for daemonic forces, elegantly carved and split in twain to hold a page of the Sister's scripture. It didn’t look like it was more than a ceremonial piece, but it was an ancient holy weapon only few members of their order could wield. When up against daemons, it cut through them like they were no more than mist.

Reimu took it as no small point of pride that her weapon of choice was no less effective than the holy relic. She’d been carrying Gohei since the early days of her inquisitorial apprenticeship, a nemesis force weapon made to her specifications by some of Kasen’s finest craftsmen. It was a halberd smaller and thinner than those normally used by Grey Knights, but no less deadly in her hands. The jagged, thin material trailing off it could crackle with psychic power at less than a thought, and carve a swathe through anything that decided to try her patience.

Aside from that, she was also well-equipped for longer-range battles. She’d left her ‘diplomatic’ hellpistol back in the Blazing Star, but carried a bolter on her hip, in case of a longer range battle. The orb she carried to protect her from psychic interference was presently embedded in her chestplate, serving as a bastion to protect her from less conventional attacks.

She surveyed the battlements. “What can you tell us about the defenses?”

“Well, the wall’s a wreck. Reckon one good blast could tear us a hole right through, but we could also scale the walls pretty quickly - some parts have basically just collapsed into hills, you could wheel a cart up them.” Meiling frowned. “But there’s something else. Whatever those people have going on… it’s freaky. I’m listening to them patrol, but it seems like a lot of them have two voices for a single set of footsteps.” Reimu raised an eyebrow - this was a long distance to be hearing something so far away from, but perhaps she had some augment or talent for it. “One of your cogboys got some binoculars?”

Marisa offered a small screen forward, her face grim. “Our sniper’s getting a close-up now. Whatever this is, it’s definitely unholy.”

Reimu looked at the machine, and her heart leapt into her throat.

The heretic they’d settled on appeared to have once been a young woman, perhaps a maid by her uniform. Her eyes were crazed, and every time she opened her mouth, froth and drool would spill from it. But Reimu barely gave her a second thought.

Her eyes were locked on the other figure. Sprouting out of the maid’s back and hanging loose over it was an emaciated, pale torso, with its own pair of arms and a head trailing dark-blue hair. A loose, patchwork shirt hung over the second body, and the second face was only vaguely recognisable as feminine beneath its sallow skin and sunken eyes. Both bodies carried guns, albeit not much more than rusted guardsman’s laspistols.

Reimu hissed between her teeth. “Some kind of daemonic mutation, perhaps resulting from possession. Anyone in that state is long beyond saving.” The skitarii sharing his vision turned to look at some of the other patrolling guards - while the men had the horrific disease that had initially drawn their attention, many of the girls manning the walls had similar mutations sprouting from them, though some were less developed, only having one true extra arm and their torsos being fused together. Whether the further splits were because of time or some other condition, she couldn’t tell, and she didn’t want to find out. While the front faces were all different, the back faces were nearly identical, hollowed, vaguely feminine husks with coursing blue hair. “Don’t take any chances - when engaging those targets, keep firing until both bodies take lethal damage.”

Meiling shivered. “That’s… terrible. Who would do such a thing? Those poor girls…”

Marisa chuckled. “Welcome to the world of heretics, Meiling. It only gets worse from here.”

Sanae looked up at the barracks. “Well, what’s the plan? Are we scaling the walls, or are we punching through them?”

Reimu shook her head. “Have to climb the walls, we don’t have anything that can bust through that rock without-”

Meiling chuckled. “Oh, trust me. One good punch on that crack there-” She pointed at a powerfist-covered finger at a large, crumbled part of the architecture. “And we’re in. It’s a lot closer to the mansion, too.”

Reimu surveyed the area. The two crumbled ramps were both at far sides of the semi-clearing of open ground, and a long way from the walls of the manor itself. If they were careful, they’d be able to get in without being noticed, but if they were spotted, it’d be a fraught struggle to get across the courtyard from either point.

On the other hand, the wall Meiling had indicated was more central, its ancient construction clearly crumbling. It did look like one good hit could break it to pieces, if delivered by someone sufficiently powerful, and a powerfist-wielding giant woman certainly qualified. They could trace along the walls from the ramps to sneak in much closer to it, and if they did get through, they’d likely catch the enemy forces by complete surprise, and they wouldn’t be exposed for anywhere near as long. With that said, they’d pretty much immediately be spotted once they were through, and they’d have to constantly watch their backs for attacks. As it usually did, it fell to Reimu to decide.

[ ] “No, we’ll try to stay hidden for now. We’re going up the ramps.” Who knew what was on the other side? Better to try to play it safe.
[ ] “Meiling, are you sure you can punch a hole through that wall?” Strike hard and fast enough and they could be well-established inside before anyone even knew what was happening.
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[X] “No, we’ll try to stay hidden for now. We’re going up the ramps.” Who knew what was on the other side? Better to try to play it safe.

Stealth is the vital part of Metal Gear Online for all players.
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Shion has (not-quite-)perfectly possessed the people, huh?
What a miserable fate; purging them will be the greatest mercy.

Both options are fine, but the risk of getting spotted while spread out and getting picked off is worse than having to deal with sporadic attacks after the shock of our entry wears off.
Besides, we have a techpriest that is bordering on (if not is) magos-tier and her contingent of skitarii; her/their high-grade auspexes will help a lot with spotting and preparing for any ambushes or rushes.
Just make sure the relevant techboys are sufficiently spread throughout the group (or if it is just Marisa: her near the middle), to keep the scan range roughly even.
Or focus the scans on covering our six, we'll be pushing forwards mostly anyway.

[X] “Meiling, are you sure you can punch a hole through that wall?” Strike hard and fast enough and they could be well-established inside before anyone even knew what was happening.
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Huh. I'm surprised that Marisa's plasma gun cat be used to punch through that wall. But then again, that's probably best saved for actual enemies, rather than risk overheating it just to blow a wall open.

Given that our party were not suffering from any aftereffects of reality getting torn a new one, I think it's safe to say that nothing too horrible has been summoned yet, which is good.

In regards to the choice, I am rather torn. On one hand, successfully sneaking in will allow us to catch them unawares, so they can't pull whatever emergency sorcery or deamon summoning the might be able to do. However, given the ...unique physiology of the guards, it may be rather difficult to actually succeed in that endeavor.
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>>69386 here.

Yeah, I forgot to mention the fact that the guards quite literally have eyes on their back; making infiltration harder and thus making sneaking in more risky.

Thanks for bringing it up, it's pretty important.

For what it's worth, blitzing them now might also prevent any emergency magical measures they might resort to through sheer shock and awe.
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So, admittedly I’ve been waiting a bit to post because I felt like I didn’t have enough information to make a good judgement call and I figured I’d wait for some of your responses to see what you guys think. With that said…

[ X ] “Meiling, are you sure you can punch a hole through that wall?” Strike hard and fast enough and they could be well-established inside before anyone even knew what was happening.


You brought up a good point with the guards being essentially Siamese twins fused at the back, but I’ll do you one better. Because I suspect this not-so-Perfect Possession isn’t an ability Shion normally has, but rather a sorcery granted to her by Nurgle. If that’s the case, then it’s possible that she has some kind of unique vision field that would allow her to see the whole mansion… which would include us the moment we stepped inside. Stealth would be a rather redundant idea if one of the main perpetrators already knows you’re there. The only reason I didn’t just pick this immediately is that I’m not certain of this fact.
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[X] “Meiling, are you sure you can punch a hole through that wall?” Strike hard and fast enough and they could be well-established inside before anyone even knew what was happening.
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