"Behind every smile, there hides treachery. Beneath every pillow, there lies a dagger. Within every flowing cup, there waits poison."
- —from the Psalms of Suspicion
Aurum, also known as the "Golden Planet", is a Feral World within the Orpheus Salient of the Jericho Reach. It is currently undergoing integration into the Imperium through recent contact with the forces of the Achilus Crusade.
The planet has two main continental landmasses. Each are dominated by arid plains and rain forest zones surrounding a chain of large mountain ranges.
The equatorial regions are made up of bands of deserts. The world also possesses relatively small polar oceans.
Aurum is also rich in promethium, natural resources, and the rare Decavane Crystals which can be used to improve the performance of Imperial weapons. It is overall strategically well-suited to the needs of the crusade.
Aurum derives its name from the golden glow that suffuses its atmosphere. If it contained so mundane a resource as actual gold ore, it would be of interest only to reckless Rogue Traders willing to risk the untamed Jericho Reach to exploit it.
However, Aurum is rich in a far rarer and more immediately useful resource than metal. The unique amber colour suffusing the sky and tinting the planet originates from its rare Decavane crystals.
Decavane crystals can hold an exponentially larger power charge than standard crystal batteries, making them highly valued for the manufacture of alternate weapon patterns and other military equipment.
The relationship between the crystals and Aurum's environment, if any, is unclear, but it is obvious the planet is exceptionally resource-rich and fertile. Nearly every form of flora prospers when introduced to the rich soil, and herd animals mature quickly and free of illness.
Even the native Human population has grown strong and able on this unusually healthy planet, although the native predators are equally flourishing and the Aurans must strive constantly to perfect their martial skills to keep pace with them.
Some have theorised that the Decavane crystals emit a subtle, beneficial energy field, while others propose that they are the effect and not the cause of some undiscovered property of the planet. Until the natives allow the Adeptus Mechanicus to perform detailed research, Imperial scholars can only conjecture.
For their part, the Aurans attribute their planet's benevolence to the "Soul of Aurum," a male personification of the planet's will. This "Soul" actually has striking similarities to the story of the God-Emperor -- from His creation of 20 sons and their armies to a betrayal by His most beloved child.
Their religious parables likewise show roots in the Imperial Creed. The original date of Human habitation can only be guessed at, but the Low Gothic dialect and various cultural artefacts present on Aurum clearly indicate an Imperial history.
Since 783.M41, the Imperium has had a presence in Haistand, which passes for Aurum's capital city. Small groups of diplomats and missionaries have resolutely persisted in their efforts to forge a lasting alliance with the natives.
Both the previous and current Caele allowed Imperials to land, but not to venture beyond Haistand. Over the last few standard years, the missionaries have observed an unusual number of disappearances; these events are doubly suspicious because the populace, and the Caele in particular, meet inquiries with stony silence.
"Her body was found in the mission, with her own dagger through her chest. The locals were eager to call it a suicide due to a weak spirit. She may not have been a Sister of Battle, but no loyal member of her order would throw away her life."
Inquisitor Quist would end her report as follows:
- 787.M41 - First contact made by Imperial Navy survey team. Reception is neutral. Post-contact analysis reveals extreme resource value of planet. Aurum is made high priority for re-indoctrination.
- 789.M41 - Larger contact envoy sent to Aurum, including Adeptus Ministorum and Adeptus Administratum representation. Negotiations quickly deteriorate, although adepts confirm Imperial cultural roots before being forced to leave planet.
- 791.M41 - Captain Laurel Mattheos of the Imperial Navy and squad of armed crewmen force contact. Contingent is unexpectedly well-received. Reach agreement to allow Imperial presence in capital city of Haistand.
- 798.M41 - Captain Mattheos killed in action, negotiations resumed by Rogue Trader Diaz Lan. Reach agreement to allow small military outpost for protection of growing non-combatant population in Haistand. Construction begins on "The Aspirance."
- 802.M41 - Rogue Trader Diaz Lan repeats contact. Negotiations fail to allow Imperial presence to extend beyond Haistand.
- 809.M41 - Rogue Trader Diaz Lan re-opens negotiation on previous topic. Attempts to win support by participating in local combat games. Departs planet in critical condition from reptile bites.
- 816.M41 - Rogue Trader Diaz Lan repeats contact. Aurans rebuff Lan and refuse to honour future negotiations with him on grounds he is "not a Man."
- 817.M41 - A Deathwatch Kill-team is brought to Aurum aboard Diaz Lan's ship, the Horizon's Pride, in an effort to broach Imperial Compliance with Caele Rylus Darkscourge in the capital of Haistand.
Eventually it was learned that the mutilated corpses of Imperial agents on Aurum were the work of Genestealers: a deadly, four-armed strain of Tyranid capable of turning other species into their psychically-dominated minions, and hosts for hideous offspring.
In many cases the dead were simply victims of a Genestealer's ingrained drive to kill. However, others -- like Sister Rachayel -- forced the creatures into confrontation by actively seeking them out.
The Genestealer infestation centres in the settlement of Grensvayl, about 200 kilometres from Haistand in the canyon farmlands. The first infection was over a solar decade ago, giving the brood time to spread through the town's population.
For most of this period, Haistand remained ignorant of the infection. However, as Grensvayl fell out of contact, Rylus Darkscourge finally sent a war party to determine the cause. The result was disastrous.
While Rylus did not know the Imperium's name for these xenos predators, he had seen them teeming in the infected settlement. He and those within the circle of knowledge dubbed these mantis-like creatures "Malissectors."
They understand that the monsters infect, and worse yet enslave, his people. In Auran culture this is a sign of impurity and weakness in the victims: that their bodies and minds could not resist domination.
Rylus and his people see the infestation as their own failing. The Caele has worked hard to conceal the Malissectors from the off-worlders so as not to show weakness to an enemy.
Combat is an Auran way of life, encompassing all ages and genders. In the planet's past, scattered tribes warred for dominance. The tribes have been united for several Terran centuries, but the planet's deadly predators ensure that martial prowess remains a necessity.
As a result, while the Aurans do farm the fertile land and raise herd animals, traditional hunts remains a staple of their culture. The society has not yet developed currency; they still rely on a barter system.
The traditional Auran greeting is to touch one's weapon's hilt to the other party's shoulder. Non-lethal martial challenges are used to solve nearly any disagreement, from domestic quarrels to trade disputes. If a matter escalates to a serious grudge, the natives have a tradition called "splitting the rock of grievance."
Aurum's extensive plains make wood an uncommon commodity, and it is unclear if metal ore even exists on the planet. The natives show a relatively advanced understanding of farming and medicine, but their implements tend to be made of rock and bone.
Though every Auran is trained in the ways of the warrior, nearly all have a second occupation as well. For most this is farming or hunting, for some it is lorekeeping. In the latter case, the Auran keeps the oral histories and legends of the Auran tribes, giving him a deep base of knowledge to draw upon.
Rites of Proving
In Auran culture, positions and titles are give to those who prove themselves within the eyes of the community. The nature of a warrior's proving varies with the standing he is vying for in society. Of these trials, the most honored is the Divested Hunt.
This ritual sends a group of warriors to the Reaving Canyons, where some of the planet's most fearsome predators dwell. Using only their skills and the ritual Auran weapons that are a part of the ceremony, they must slay a Diablodon, the king of the planet's midasaur strains.
The rules of the Hunt are simple and immutable. Bring nothing with you into the canyons. Take no aid from anyone but yourselves. Return with a trophy -- at least the head -- from an adult Diablodon, and swear an oath that you took its life.
Upon returning to the gate that stands between the canyons and the farm fields, two youths on theratryx will be awaiting the warriors. One will race to Haistand to tell the news, while the other leads the victorious warrior back to the capital.
The Divested Hunt is a rare occurrence, and locals pay especially close attention to off-worlders when they return than when they arrived (particularly if the victors display the head or similar trophy of a Diablodon).
That is not to say that the reception is warm; the Aurans still keep their distance, and seem generally undecided whether they should attack or cheer. Regardless, the caele will await any offworlders who complete the Hunt in his homestead, and welcome them back with sincere praise and congratulations.
Splitting the Rock of Grievance
A form of duel, this ritual begins by presenting the other party with two pieces of a quartered stone. Each man then uses their pieces to delineate two corners of the boundary in which they will fight.
Most combats are to the first blood but the victor always has the option to shatter the loser's skull. The skull is then also quartered and left by each of the stone markers for one week.
The tribal capital of Aurum towers on the border between the planet's canyon savannahs and its fertile mesas. Haistand rests on the flat top of a great cliff, where time has tightly packed more stone and wood structures into the same space. A wide road winds up the cliff-side to accommodate a steady stream of natives from the outlying lands.
The few space-worthy shuttles that arrive set down in a wide circle where the rich brown soil is exposed. This primitive landing pad at the edge of town is the only accommodation made for off-worlders.
Haistand was founded far back in the planet's history as a place for trade between the nomadic tribes of the savannah and the tribes living permanently in the green canyons. As the tribes began to unite into larger groups, Haistand turned into a centre of trade and politics.
Millennia later, Aurans still look every inch the part of a warrior people. They stand taller than average Humans by nearly a head, and their bronze-skinned bodies are lean and fit.
They mastered agriculture several Terran centuries prior to the 9th century of the 41st Millennium, but combat prowess is still essential for survival and is a skill that their culture values highly.
Similarly, their goods and clothing still follow the traditions of their predatory ancestors. Common Auran garments are cut from skins and hides, while interlaced reptile scales form the common basis for armour; their implements of crafting and war are largely bone.
Most of the planet's fauna is reptilian, including the unusual saurian strain dubbed "midasaurs." These creatures have incredibly resilient scales that glitter with streaks of gold in Aurum's sunlight.
The primary herd animal is the argrax, a slightly less temperamental strain of grox whose larger relatives remain wild on the plains, and are often hunted for food. The primary mount and beast of burden is a sleek bipedal lizard called a theratryx.
The Auran reaction to Space Marines varies. In Haistand, their iconic power armour is not a legendary profile, but a point of curiosity. Natives of all ages and genders show an obvious interest in this new breed of off-worlder, but no fear.
Haistand's buildings are mostly of primitive but sturdy masonry, and their ceilings are high enough to accommodate most Space Marines because of the natives' natural height. Residences and shops crowd each other and the busy streets, which throng with carts, livestock, and pedestrians.
The Snaking Ascent
The road hewn into the cliff that Haistand rests atop is wider than any street to be found in the city. It sees a steady flow of traffic from sunrise to sunset, and must accommodate caravans of traders and argrax herds being driven to and from market.
It takes approximately 30 solar minutes to climb the zigzagging path to the city hundreds of metres above. Two ancient columns mark the entrance to Haistand, taller than any structure in the city. These remnants of the planet's lost ancestry each bear a single eagle.
The buildings closest to the city's entrance are residences, stacked two or even a perilous three stories high. The buildings along the outer perimeter are riddled with windows -- some open and some curtained by animal hides.
This section of Haistand is home to many of the city's tradesmen and guards, as well as providing temporary lodging for local travellers.
The Word of Faith
The building itself is not much to look at: a converted single story residence with a meticulously maintained Aquila painted above the door.
When the Deathwatch arrived and venture in sight of the mission, they witnessed first-hand the difficult task the Ecclesiarchy had before them. Indeed, Father Marius stood on the steps, doing his best to minister to the disdainful populace.
The Old Religion
Not far from the Word of Faith stands a much older site of worship. This nameless temple is a stark contrast to the struggling mission. It dates back to Haistand's founding, representing the native religion.
If the Aurans' command of Low Gothic was not evidence enough that they must once have been under the Imperium's banner, the tribal altar erases any doubt. The frieze above the entrance features a weathered line of carved warriors.
The spacing suggests that once the figures numbered twenty, although two of them have been defaced into only vague outlines. The warriors bear such distinctive features as a cyclopean eye on one and wings on another.
Entering the temple, one can see a dozen or so Aurans in quiet prayer, with no apparent priest. One wall displays a well-maintained mural of a golden hero wrestling a four-headed dragon.
The war grounds were constructed to rally vast numbers of troops from the planet's diverse tribes in wartime. The establishments of Haistand's most renowned armourers ring the district. At present the grounds are an expanse of open ground in the packed city.
The city protectorate who practice here occupy only a minute fraction of the total area, and patches of grass have crept onto the cleared earth with no feet to trample it.
The sparring warriors give any Space Marine battle-brothers present curious glances before quickly and deliberately ignoring them, avoiding eye contact as best one can with a Space Marine helmet. If the battle-brothers approach, the Aurans do not acknowledge them until directly or addressed.
When this happens, Shieldmaster Zayr the overseer of the war grounds, takes over the discussion. He steps to the front of the group and replies to the Kill-team with curt responses and a hostile gaze. His answers are uniformly unhelpful, obviously meant to discourage further conversation.
In particular if the topic of Sister Rachayel or the other killings comes up, Zayr resolutely maintains that the Imperial regime is simply over-reacting to the planet's violent predators. His words and attitude convey a sense that the Imperium is not mentally equipped to deal with the danger of life on Aurum.
The dozen Imperial Guardsmen tolerated in Haistand have dubbed the two-story structure afforded them for barracks and administration "the Aspirance."
The stone building sits on a corner of the war grounds, where their members are permitted to drill (usually openly scrutinized by the natives). The Aspirance is Brigadier Heth's headquarters.
According the guardsmen's accounts, the previous assignee to the post slighted one of the nearby native warriors with a careless remark. He compounded the mistake by accepting the resulting challenge to battle -- with lethal results.
Some of Heth's men have been stationed on Aurum for solar decades; they freely describe their experiences and answer questions. They have also witnessed the same strange occurrences that Sister Rachayel reported.
One of the soldiers spoke of winds from the north sometimes carrying an odour that he cannot quite identify, but associates with industry and Hive Worlds. Many of the guardsmen have sometimes seen an odd glow in the western sky at night, when all should be dark.
While the militia at the war grounds has never been friendly with the occupants of the Aspirance, mutual respect was burgeoning until mutilated bodies began appearing. Since then, the relationship has been curt and guarded.
Hall of Victories
The hall is the largest building in Haistand, and one of the few made entirely of wood. The polished structure is well-maintained, but currently empty. It is only used for the Caele's ceremonies. In previous generations, this meant celebrations before or after battle.
However, as the tribes of the planet have made peace, its purpose has evolved to hosting holiday celebrations and feasts for visiting tribal leaders. An empty stone amphitheatre stands immediately adjacent to the hall.
These haphazard rows of carts and baskets are the heart of Haistand. The city evolved as a place for the barter society to meet and trade. The goods exchanging hands are representative of the feral worlder's day-to-day life.
Baskets of produce and grain from the agricultural mesas crowd the narrow walkways. Bladed weapons are displayed plentifully beside ornaments of bone and glittering gold crystal.
Perhaps the most interesting sight is the hanging carcasses of giant, predatory lizards several times the size of a Human. The skins and freshly butchered meat of various midasaur strains fills the nearby air with the scent of blood.
One particular merchant, a relatively short man by the name of Beyrr, took an extreme interest in the power armour of a Deathwatch Kill-team, even going so far as to chase after them through the streets.
Beyrr pleaded and bargained for them to trade him their "fabulous thinstone armour" (naturally completely ignorant of the personal bond between an Adeptus Astartes and his armour and their lack of interest in material goods).
He offered such exchanges as a herd of the local lizard livestock, his own personal residence in the overlook, and axes edged with the diamond-hard fangs of a Diablodon.
When all else fails, he makes a more desperate bid. He surreptitiously produced a wrapped object from under his vest. Within the leather folds was a very unusual knife.
Its handle was common carved stone, but the blade was a large, curving talon of sleek charcoal black chitin. Unbeknownst to the merchant, it was Tyranid in origin. He swore the blade was extremely rare and could cut through anything. He even promised four in exchange for one of their suits of armour.
When questioned, he was not immediately forthcoming to the source of the weapons. Eventually persuaded, however, he revealed that a man named Heydal traded the set of talons to him. However, this was many solar months ago and Heydal does not live in Haistand, presumably having moved on.
The Caele's residence sprawls along one of the cliff edges. The main structure is three stories high and ancient, dating beyond the memory of any living Auran.
It has a flat roof and striking granite columns at the entrance. Time and the elements have eroded the columns, but large swathes of their original inscriptions remain visible.
They portray overlapping ellipses, angles, and vectors. Those with a knack for astronomy can recognise the images as star charts of the systems closest to Holy Terra.
Smaller stone annexes connect to the large house by gravel paths. The complex includes a small pen for theratryx mounts, and a large garden of hanging plants. A few warriors come and go from the main building, but they seem to be on errands more than patrol.
The homestead's rectangular roof terrace has little ornamentation or appointments, but it does provide a perfect view of the green-stepped farmlands below and the sprawling grasslands bathed in the light of the planet's golden sky. The floor tile shows a worn geographical etching of the surrounding land, with Haistand in the centre.
While homes can be found on nearly every street of Haistand, they are most concentrated at the Overlook near the city's entrance, and at the far side. The opposite end of the city contains many smaller dwellings of the farmers who own or work the local lands.
They live within the city for convenience and protection, and make the trek down a small network of trails on the cliff's other side that lead to the fertile farming canyons.
Some one hundred and fifty kilometres from Haistand, the town of Grensvayl was once no different from the hundreds of other agricultural settlements that dot Aurum's fertile mesas. The town was built where the Espri River splits into 3 branches, providing natural irrigation to a large orchard on the eastern edge of the town.
Indeed, there was once a time when the Commerce Aisles of Haistand spilled over with red pears and handfruit from the Grensvayl orchard.
Then the Hereteks of Samech came to plunder Aurum's Decavane Crystals. The Dark Mechanicum of the Jericho Reach's most infamous Forge World have a fascination with xenos specimens. Over a solar decade ago, they brought several Genestealers with them as tools of misdirection and destruction.
Their plan had both a short term and a long term goal. For the first few solar years of the heretical machine cult's occupation, the Genestealers did what they were born to do: destabilise and thin the enemy ranks.
Their nightly depredations created such an atmosphere of paranoia that a few strange noises or lights from the cliffs seemed just another eerie mystery. Certainly with rumours of lurking monsters, the inhabitants felt little desire to poke around in dark caves.
In the long run, the Dark Mechanicum hoped that the infection would spread, leading Hive Fleet Dagon to Aurum and denying this prize world to the Imperium. This fate could still come to pass.
Their scheme went smoothly -- at first. The dark magi did not count on the Caele being so quick to react to the odd behaviour of Grensvayl's population. After several unsuccessful attempts to cleanse the settlement, Rylus instituted the fiery quarantine which has stood to this day.
While not their ideal outcome, this served the dark magi well enough, as it allowed them to continue their mining unhindered. However, as the years marched on, the number of Purestrain Genestealers increased and the supply of other living beings diminished.
Like most Tyranid organisms, Genestealers can subsist on nearly any type of biomatter, but their instincts drive them to hunt animal prey first. The creatures grew ever more predatory and clever as they grew more desperate.
Eventually they found a way into the mining caverns, putting a bloody and premature end to the Decavane Crystal collection.
Below are some of the most prominent attempts made by the Genestealer Cult to break out into the wider population of Aurum prior to Grensvayl's destruction:
- 806.M41 - Only a few solar months after the Caele sealed off the ravine, a group of infected warriors found an opening where the river used to flow out through underground channels. Fortunately a perimeter sentry spotted the infected warriors as they started to cross the plains. The sentries were able to put the hideous beings down, but at a great loss of life. They promptly sealed the egress points of all three river forks as well.
- 810.M41 - The first sizeable generation of Purestrain Genestealers matured in this period. One night they made a coordinated push through the fire perimeter. Though badly injured, the creatures still nearly overwhelmed the sentries. Only a few Auran warriors survived the bloody night.
- 815.M41 - One of the xenos, possibly the Genestealer Patriarch, had grown in power and cunning over the years. It manifested psychic powers and managed to mesmerise one of the sentries into letting it pass through the barrier. Fortunately other warriors witnessed its escape and managed to bring it down.
- 817.M41 - Karthas persuades Rylus Darkscourge to attempt an extermination of the "Malissectors" of Grensvayl one last time. He leads a war party into Grensvayl with disastrous results. Later that same solar year, a Deathwatch Kill-team finishes what he started, wiping Grensvayl off the face of Aurum.
Within the Reaving Canyons, the most dangerous predators Aurum has to offer can be found. Access to it by Aurans is found through the winding farmland of the capital of Haistand, the entrance fissure clearly marked by talismans of protection and splayed Human skeletons that warn of the danger.
Just past the threshold stands a weathered stone plinth that, during the Divested Hunt, will rest a selection of worn but reliable Auran weapons: the implements of the hunt. Usually at least three of each weapon type are available in the primitive arsenal.
The terraced path is narrow as one enters the network of canyons. From here, Aurum's lauded virility is obvious: grasses grow on sheer slabs of stone; climbing plants flourish as they cling to the rocky walls. A canopy of trees lining canyons' summit mostly blocks the amber sky.
Within the shade the vegetation is not tall but dense, and it rustles constantly with the movement of unseen creatures through it. Not long after the entrance disappears from view can muffled reptilian shrieks be heard echoing through the lush maze, the calls of its many inhabitants.
Even as the passage widens, it is still only wide enough to accommodate two Space Marines at a time.
Where the terrain first differs, it becomes an open pit of high golden grasses, where many wild theratryx nest. Here, clutches of eggs peek out of pebbled mounds at the centre and around the circumference of the uneven ring. The bright, scaly shoulders and heads of theratryx parents are often visible as they prowl through the grass.
Branching paths lead to the east and west on the other side of the nesting ground. The western passage climbs upwards to an open plateau where the sky teems with winged reptiles.
Called Sky Reavers, their screeching cries increase the closer one draws near, but they are scavengers who prey on weak, single targets. They will not attack a large group unless provoked. The opposite side of the plateau overlooks the broiling red Deadlands hundreds of metres below.
The eastern path leads into a damp, dim tunnel through the earth. Over time the trees on the cliffs above have worked their roots through the rock and soil here, and centuries of dripping water and slow growth hollowed out a misshapen cavern between the tangled roots.
The passage is forty metres long. It is short enough that light enters dimly from both sides of the passage, as warriors work their way through the tightly packed roots, they occasionally have to push or cut one aside.
Such caves are at risk of collapsing if too many roots are removed, burying the unwary alive. If lucky, a given tunnel leads out of a cliff face at the edge of the Deadlands.
This red gorge stands out on the golden-green surface of Aurum like an inflamed wound. Mantle plumes bring magma close to the planet's surface, scorching the ground and regularly venting hot gases.
The poisoned air and shocks of high temperature keeps anything from growing in this fissure, earning it and the surrounding plain their attribution in the Auran language.
Soon after one enters the Deadlands, the effects of the harsh, acidic air become apparent. Even a Space Marine, with their Oolitic Kidney and Multi-lung, are at risk of suffering fatigue, made only harder without a functioning Mucranoid to protect them from the oppressive heat.
Venturing deeper into the broken ground, one can hear the sounds and see the silhouettes of midasaurs moving through the thick fumes. The sulphuric stench becomes punctuated by the even more stomach-churning scent of rotting flesh, issuing from a broken shelf of rock.
- Deathwatch: The Emperor Protects (RPG), pp. 8, 11, 15-22, 27-30, 32, 36, 39