The "Faceless Trade," as it is known in the Askellon Sector of the Segmentum Obscurus, is an illicit market in xenos artefacts and goods. Any caught engaged in it in any capacity at all, whether buyer, seller, supplier, or broker, is guilty of a crime usually punishable by death or worse.
The trade in these and other proscribed items is rarely spoken of openly, and so is known by a thousand euphemistic titles the galaxy over, such as the "Cold Trade" of the neighbouring Calixis Sector. The Faceless Trade is a reference to the fact that none ever admit to engaging in it, yet it continues nonetheless. The scale of the trade varies enormously, and Ordo Xenos Inquisitors have long suspected that the sector lies at the heart of a network that stretches far out into the trackless Wilderness Space surrounding it, exploiting stellar charts that may even pre-date the Imperium.
What abominable alien empires might be marked upon such charts remains a secret known only to the most senior of the Faceless Traders, and Ordo Xenos Inquisitors estimate from recovered examples that several dozen uncatalogued sources exist. These range from technological relics of unfathomable function wrought from gleaming alloys to primitive icons carved from stone and stained with the blood of aeons of sacrificial offering.
Some are plainly mechanical, while others can only be appreciated as art. Some are clearly weapons, while others are imbued with xenos-born psychic taint so heavy that to touch them is to invite insanity. Many are small in size and might even be worn openly as jewellery, eliciting a thrill of transgression in the wearer, although risking death should an agent of the Emperor knowledgeable in such matters lay eyes upon them. Others take the form of armaments of wildly exotic form and function, the wielding of which may be as dangerous to the bearer as to his enemies.
No Inquisitor can say how many private collections of xenos artefacts exist across the Askellon Sector, but some place it at several thousand at least. Such an estimate is based on a combination of pre-cognitive projection, readings of the Emperor's Tarot, and evaluation of investigative archives. The majority of these collections are likely to be little more than a dozen objects secreted away and viewed only by the owner and his closest associates.
Others, however, might be far larger, taking the form of vaulted mausoleums within which might be housed many hundreds of utterly priceless and damnable objects. Access to such places is likely to be determined by status and bloodline, with only the most highly-ranked of the Lords of Askellon permitted even to know of their existence, let alone to view their contents.
Many such items might appear at first glance as entirely innocuous and harmless. A tiny bauble wrought in the form of some long-extinct alien beast once handled by a sentient being might function as a beacon which its creators can detect across light years of space, causing them to home in on a potential food source. Items worn as jewellery have on more than one occasion been known to meld with the wearer's flesh, insinuating into the body before changing the wearer into some hideous simulacrum of the species that created it. Others might be hives for ravening alien viral strains that, when inadvertently activated, could wipe out entire planetary populations.
This danger goes a long way to explaining something of the astronomical value certain individuals place on items brought before them by the Faceless Trade. Life at the highest echelons of the sector's aristocracy can lead some especially bored noble scions to seek out the most outrageous pastimes; in many cases, the more dangerous to themselves and to others, the better and more valued it is.
In many cases, however, it is the simple fact of transgression that makes such items so desirable. A noble scion might deliberately stand before a thousand lesser-ranked sons and daughters of the aristocracy openly carrying an item as valuable as some entire planets. Every noble in attendance would know of the crime and be utterly stunned, even seduced by the display, yet none would utter a word, to the bearer or to any figure of authority.
Such things are part and parcel of life on the very edge of the Pandaemonium for the lords of the sector, and as long as they crave the fruits of the Faceless Trade, there will ever be smugglers, brokers, and traders willing to charge them for it. The Trade Sable, the Cerulean Pact, the Edge Syndicate, the Ivory Masks, and others black market groups deal in satisfying this craving. Bartering with alien races and excavating lost ruins, they make available many items that should have been safely lost and forgotten.
Faceless Trade Organisations
The Cerulean Pact
This smuggling group originated as an ancient agreement amongst several explorers who discovered a cache of items of possible xenos nature, all adorned in deep blue colours. Sensing profit, they gathered them for sale across the sector. Riches abounded, but within a generation all of those involved were mysteriously slain.
By then, though, the group was well-established in the Faceless Trade. As Terran centuries passed, the original meaning was forgotten, and trade in any items deemed not just illegal but dangerously forbidden was often called a Cerulean Deal or "blue bartering." Few, if any of those currently conducting such forbidden trading know of the origin of the name, but still dab dark blue marks inside their wrists as a way to identify each other.
The Order of the Toothed Gears
Few know much of the origins of this Faceless Trading group, for it maintains high levels of secrecy. The Order appears to be primarily composed of exoteks and outcast Tech-priests, and is obsessed with alien technologies. While most Faceless Traders dabble at some level with such devices, the Order's members go beyond mere trading and delve into blasphemous levels of study and veneration, leading some Inquisitors to brand it more a cult than criminal enterprise.
Toothed agents scour the fringes of Askellon for the latest finds, while in turn selling or bartering away uninteresting items to eager collectors. The senior leaders often replace body parts with xenos mechanisms or implant alien power sources into their flesh to support inhuman weaponry, but also trade in proscribed knowledge of their finds with those uncaring of the source. While not as widespread as the Trade Sable or as vicious as the Edge Syndicate, the Order is rising in power as more and more caches of impossibly ancient xenos devices are unearthed across Askellon.
- Dark Heresy: Enemies Without (2nd Edition) (RPG), pp. 20-21