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Vervai "King" Skull
Iocanthos is a lawless Imperial Agri-World in the Calixis Sector's Golgenna Reach Sub-sector in the Segmentum Obscurus. Iocanthos is dominated by warlords and their huge armies, which clash across its jungles, forests and plains. The planet’s importance in the Calixis Sector is defined by the fact that it is one of the few places in the Imperium where the Ghostfire flower can grow. Ghostfire pollen can be refined into the combat drugs used extensively in the Penal Legions of the Imperial Guard.
Iocanthos’ warlords (usually styling themselves “vai” or tribal prince) battle constantly for control of the Ghostfire harvest. The Ghostfire crop cannot be cultivated normally and so once a patch of it is harvested another one must be found. The warlords’ armies are therefore constantly on the move, travelling in enormous hordes across Iocanthos’ main continent and clashing violently wherever they meet. Iocanthos’ wide plains, dense, dark forests and forbidding mountain passes are studded with old battlefields where burned-out vehicles and age-bleached skeletons abound.
Every five years, a taskforce of Administratum officials descends onto Iocanthus to gather the planet’s Ghostfire tithe. The warlords exchange their harvests of Ghostfire pollen with the Administratum in exchange for weapons, vehicles, fuel, clean water and other essentials. The warlord who hands over the most Ghostfire pollen is considered the Planetary Governor and claims the lion’s share of support from the Imperium and the title Vervai (literally "prince of princes" or "king"). The title brings with it immense prestige and confirms the warlord’s position as the most dangerous and skilled on Iocanthos. The current Planetary Governor is "King" Skull, a terrifying warrior at the head of an enormous and supposedly invincible army of madmen and killers. The warlords of Iocanthus are also required to hand over their psykers as well as the Ghostfire harvest, but these are taken from them not by the Administratum but by nameless grey-uniformed men who herd the psykers onto their sleek Black Ship and take their leave.
The Administratum fully accepts the situation on Iocanthos. The Ghostfire pollen is harvested very efficiently because so many warlords’ armies battle to find every last blossom. Were the Administratum to take over Iocanthus themselves the planet would first have to be conquered by the Imperial Guard at enormous expense and the Administratum themselves would be hard-pressed to match the vigour with which Iocanthos’ warlords hunt down every Ghostfire flower. They therefore leave the warlords to do the hard work, safe in the knowledge that none of them can rebel against Imperial authority lest their supplies of guns and fuel be cut off.
Iocanthos was taken by General (Saint) Drusus’s 2nd Army Group during the Angevin Crusade that has spread throughout the sector. As the planet lacked any significant technology, Drusus’s forces defeated the indigenous people, known as the Ashleen, in a single week of bloody fighting. Drusus later remarked in his memoirs that the only memorable aspect of the planet was the vast fields of wild flowers which resembled “Shimmering fields of rippling explosions, caught at that fleeting moment between beauty and destruction” . As ever, the general was perceptive as the Ghostfire would become central to the world’s future.
In times past, Iocanthos served as a penal dumping ground for undesirables that the Scintillan authorities for various reasons didn’t wish to execute or expatriate further afield. Such exiles were given minimal supplies and allowed to thrive or falter without further interference. The current population is largely a mixture of their descendants and the native Ashleen.
Port Suffering, the largest permanent settlement on Iocanthos, is a sturdy fortified town that serves as the base for Imperial operations on Iocanthos. The town’s largest and most important feature is its spaceport, an expanse of rockcrete broken by docking clamps and refuelling ports that can accommodate the landing craft that deliver supplies and pick up Ghostfire shipments. Equally important for the people living in Port Suffering are the huge freshwater tanks beneath the town. Freshwater is very valuable on Iocanthos, and Port Suffering not only has its own supply brought down on Imperial ships, but can trade its surplus water to the warlords (mainly for guarantees that the warlords will not attack the town). Port Suffering’s architecture is based around a standard hab-block pattern since most of its buildings, from the chapel to the accommodation blocks, were dropped from spaceships directly to the surface when the town was first founded as an Imperial trading post. Its dry, dusty streets and prefabricated rust-red buildings are home to a community mostly geared towards maintaining the spaceport and ensuring that the port remains self-sufficient.
The town’s population is broadly Emperor-fearing and law-abiding, and they attend the town’s chapel and send their children to the seminary school run by Preacher Goudt. The largest building in Port Suffering is the Administratum counting-house where the town’s small body of adepts calculates the projected Ghostfire crop and receives envoys from the various warlords. The under-consul in charge of the counting-house, Adept Sabetha Kosloff, serves as the de facto mayor of Port Suffering, sometimes against her will as she is not very good at dealing with townsfolk and would rather stick to ensuring that the Emperor’s forms are correctly filed. Other important citizens include the sharp-tongued but compassionate Sister Xanthe, the Sister Hospitaller who runs Port Suffering’s hospital along with a small staff of inexperienced laymen. Unkind rumours suggest that Sister Xanthe was given her thankless post as a punishment by her Canoness at the Abbey of the Dawn.
Port Suffering’s walls are always manned by the citizens who serve in the Port Militia. The town’s greatest protection, however, is the fact that it is considered neutral by most of Iocanthos’ warlords. If Port Suffering was to be attacked, the more powerful warlords would lose their supply of weapons, freshwater and fuel from the Imperium and what little structure that exists on Iocanthos would fall apart. Some lesser warlords eye the support received by the more powerful with jealousy, however, and endlessly plan to launch devastating raids on Port Suffering. Should this ever happen, the stoutness of the town’s defences and the dedication of its well-armed but inexperienced militia will be sorely tested.
Levies of King Skull the MagnificientEdit
King Skull, as Vervai, is the most powerful man on Iocanthos and styles himself on the legendary warrior-kings from the planet’s history. In truth, the great ages of martial kingship are long past, with the old traditions have been bastardised into the modern, ruthless business of controlling the Ghostfire commerce.
Nevertheless, King Skull’s army is many millions strong and dominates huge swathes of Iocanthos’s main continent at any one time. Skull himself is a tall, saturnine man clad in elaborate black steel armour, wielding a huge spear with a head cut from the flint of Iocanthos’s highest peak. “Skull” is clearly a deliberately assumed name -- the Vervai’s tribal banner is a bleached human skull -- though there is little clue as to his real name, as his origins are very obscure and are the subject of considerable speculation. Some say he is a deposed Imperial noble who fled to Iocanthos to avoid some scandal or tragedy, others that he is a dangerous fugitive criminal who found his true calling among the warlords and madmen. Most rumours centre around his supposed capabilities in battle. Skull is undoubtedly a tenacious warrior, but tales whispered in Iocanthos’ frontier towns hint at far more, such as allegations that he drinks blood to gain strength from his enemies, or is a powerful witch who can summon mighty storms of black lightning down on his foes. Skull’s rule is based on the immense loyalty the core of his army feels towards him. Warriors must first prove themselves in battle before they are ever armed with the weapons and equipment that Skull acquires from the Imperium in return for the Ghostfire harvest. As they demonstrate prowess in battle, they are further armed and drawn towards the core of battle-hardened, well-equipped veterans of the Harrowguard who surround Skull himself. Skull leads these warriors into battle personally, and the sight of his black-armoured form is enough to demoralise those unfortunate enough to meet the Harrowguard in battle.
Life in the HordeEdit
King Skull’s army welcomes all as long as they are willing to fight their first battles armed with little more than sticks and stones. Skull deploys huge numbers of new, expendable troops to swamp the enemy while the elite Harrowguard function as shock troops. Skull’s army in battle is a terrible thing to witness, with swarms of madmen hurling themselves upon the enemy while the better-armed sections of the army fire volleys of Lasgun shots into the shocked enemy or charge alongside the Vervai himself.
Skull’s army travels on a number of huge, smoke-belching vehicles. The Throne is Skull’s personal transport, which was once a huge-tracked mining vehicle, refitted to function as a mobile throne room and prison for captured enemies. This sootstained monstrosity is festooned with captured banners and other trophies, and Skull himself sits on a throne platform suspended over hundreds of cages where his prisoners languish. Skull sells these prisoners back to their families or comrades in exchange for Ghostfire pollen or offers them a place in the ill-armed hordes of his army. Those who are good for neither Ghostfire nor fighting are left to rot, their sobs and screams accompanying the Vervai everywhere he goes. Another mobile landmark is the Sanctum, a tower supported by a raft of lashed-together Chimera vehicles. It is home to Gurgerin, the Vervai’s advisor and, it is widely assumed, a sorcerer whose divinations are essential to Skull’s plans. The Sanctum is a stone tower pulled from some long-forgotten mountain ruin, said to be full of bewildering and grotesque experiments (or captive aliens, shambling Warp monstrosities or a cabal of the Calixis Sector’s rich and powerful, depending on which stories you believe). Gurgerin, a man of extremely advanced age with tiny glinting eyes like specks of flint, can sometimes be seen on the Sanctum’s uppermost battlements watching the vast throng of the army marching beneath him. Several other massive vehicles, used either to house the Harrowguard or to transport the precious Ghostfire crop, travel alongside the army, often hung with trophies or the weathered corpses of particularly hated enemies.
Seth the VoiceEdit
One of the largest and newest armies of Iocanthos is that led by Seth the Voice, self-styled Prophet of the Emperor and figurehead of an apocalyptic splinter cult of the Imperial Creed. Vai (“prince”) Seth is almost certainly an ex-Adept, probably from Port Suffering’s Administratum contingent, who became convinced that the God-Emperor was granting him visions that demanded he immediately take over Iocanthos. Since then, through force of personality and by tapping into Iocanthos’ need for religion and redemption, Seth has forged a ragtag but huge army with which he is challenging the most powerful rival warlords, especially that of the great Vervai.
Vai Seth himself is a slight, balding, bespectacled figure in white robes. He travels in a battered old scout vehicle converted into a mobile pulpit from which he can preach. And preach he does, almost constantly, his voice transmitted by bulky Vox-units carried by his devout followers. The passion with which Seth exhorts the people of Iocanthos to claim the planet for their Emperor is genuine and convincing.
Everywhere he goes he gathers more souls for his army, be they drifters looking for a purpose or hard-bitten mercenaries searching for a way to redeem themselves of their many sins. Seth is not a soldier, but he has a gift for getting others to fight for him that is so profound that it might as well have been granted by the Emperor Himself.
The Army of the VoiceEdit
Vai Seth’s army is ill-equipped, undertrained and frequently starving. It is, however, uniquely motivated, for all its members believe that fighting for Seth will grant them a far better afterlife than is awaiting all the galaxy’s other sinners. The Army of the Voice, uniquely, has no problem getting new members to replace its frequent losses, as even defeated enemies are sometimes swayed to join by Seth’s impassioned preaching. The army travels on many hundreds of vehicles, most of them looted from enemies or donated by recruits, and as a result it is constantly in the throes of a critical fuel shortage. Capturing more fuel is essential to the army’s continued existence.
The men and women of the army are as varied as the sins they are trying to cleanse, but they all wear white robes, or at least they did when they joined up, for the constant travel and fighting means that most of them are actually dressed in dirty greys. Some are armed with Lasguns and other reliable weapons, but most have the hunting rifles or Stub Pistols they were armed with when recruited. The most experienced fighters, normally ex-mercenaries or recruits from other warlords’ armies, are referred to as Seth’s “Saints” and are the focal points of the army, instructing the enthusiastic, but often clueless, faithful in the best ways to avoid dying too quickly. In spite of the army’s inexperience it is a formidable military force. As well as having the numbers and the determination, the effect of Seth’s own presence seems to demoralise enemy troops and even cause them to flee or mutiny. Mercenaries in particular are a superstitious lot, and even an experienced killer can baulk at the idea of killing a man who so convincingly claims to be a holy man ordained by the Emperor’s will.
Abbey of the DawnEdit
The Abbey of the Dawn is the Adepta Sororitas' main training facility in the Calixis Sector. A spectacular fortress of pale yellow ouslite built into the knife-like slopes of a dark flint mountain, the abbey is the most secure place on Iocanthos. Its location means that, while it is close to the astrocartographic heartland of the Calixis Sector, its immediate surroundings are bleak and rugged, and the abbey’s Sisters are cut off from the corruptive influences of the outside world.
The abbey’s purpose is to train initiates into fully-fledged Sisters, who then go on to perform devotional works across the Calixis Sector and beyond. The abbey is run by Canoness Goneril, who leads the Lesser Order Famulous of the Opening Eye. The Opening Eye’s purpose is to offer counsel to the Calixis Sector’s powerful noble families. Most novices at the abbey are trainees of the Opening Eye and are schooled in a variety of subjects from Imperial history to theology and sector economics. Most importantly they are trained in the strength of mind to resist the secular temptations that are a constant threat to the Sisters Famulous. A Sister Famulous must be disciplined and incorruptible as she is sent out to fend mostly for herself, and is surrounded by the sometimes morally questionable nobles to whose house she is attached. Canoness Goneril has her Novices undergo a strict regime of fasting, prayer, lectures and theological study. She stops short of outright cruelty, but life is far from easy for a Novice of the Opening Eye. Goneril’s Mistress of Novices, the formidable Sister Gert, is a physically intimidating reminder of a Sister’s duty to obey her order at all times.
The Abbey of the Dawn is also home to a Mission of Sisters of Battle from the Order of the Ebon Chalice, who are led by Palatine Rhiannon. The Ebon Chalice is based on Terra, and the Battle-Sisters at the abbey, even if they have only glimpsed the spires of the Imperium’s holiest world, are regarded with something like religious awe by the Novices. Their duties include maintaining the Sororitas honour guard at the Cathedral of Illumination on Scintilla and guarding important Ecclesiarchy Adepts who visit the Calixis Sector. Both Canoness Goneril and Palatine Rhiannon are adherents to the long-standing agreement between the Adepta Sororitas and the Ordo Hereticus, and would willingly lend the Battle Sisters’ martial prowess to an Inquisitorial operation should it be needed. Lord Inquisitor Anton Zerbe of the Calixian Conclave does not take this agreement lightly and will not permit the Sisters of the Ebon Chalice to be sent to battle by an Inquisitor unless it is absolutely necessary. Though they number only around fifty, Rhiannon’s Sisters of the Ebon Chalice are the most elite and dedicated mortal troops in the Calixis Sector.
This is the rugged interior of Iocanthos, bounded to the south by dense forests and the sea, and to the north by the jagged flint mountains. The Badlands are an endless sweep of plains, scrub and steppe where most of the Ghostfire crops can be found and where the warlords clash. It is dotted with battlefields, some of them no more than a tangle of recently slain bodies and others titanic fields of bones and burned-out wrecks. A fortunate and hardy individual can make a good living scavenging these battlefields to find valuables and weapons to sell. Iocanthos’s folklore is full of the tales of the sticky ends experienced by such scavengers, from dread curses to old-fashioned walking dead, and most normal folk stay away from these battlefields.
Departmento Cartographicae Planetary DataEdit
- Galactic Position: 103/22/CS/SE.
- Planetary Governor: Vervai ("King") Skull.
- Government Type: None/Tribal.
- Adept Presence: Very low. Adepta Sororitas (Commandery at the Abbey of the Dawn), Administratum (Port Suffering).
- Climatic Phenomena: Frequent dust storms.
- Geography: Four main continents and extensive island chains. Only the largest continent is populated (mountainous/rocky, dense southern forests. Largely arid climate with frequent dust storms). Very few sources of fresh water.
- Economy: Local currency known as "soules". On Iocanthus many believe their money is forever stained by the blood of mercenaries, giving rise to the idea of trading in soules of fallen warriors.
- Water Supply: Very few sources of fresh water.
- Principle Exports: Iocanthos’s only meaningful export is Ghostfire pollen. The Ghostfire harvest is essential to the existence of Imperial Guard Penal Legions in the Segmentum Obscurus. The blunderbusses made on Iocanthos are worthy of note for the sheer size of the barrel and its seemingly indestructible ability to fire anything placed into the barrel. It is unsurprising to know that they are also called Scrapper Cannons locally. The Iocanthus blunderbuss has a notoriously short range but a very wide arc. Anything unlucky enough to be standing two metres in front of a fully loaded "scrapper cannon" will most likely be turned to mush.
- Principle Imports: Fresh water is a vital import.
- Conflicts: Iocanthos’ warlords (usually styling themselves “vai” or tribal prince) battle constantly for control of the Ghostfire harvest. The Ghostfire crop cannot be cultivated normally and so once a patch of it is harvested another one must be found. The warlords’ armies are therefore constantly on the move, travelling in enormous hordes across Iocanthos' main continent and clashing violently wherever they meet. The planet's wide plains, dense, dark forests and forbidding mountain passes are studded with old battlefields where burned out vehicles and age-bleached skeletons abound.
- Military: Massive armies in service of warlords. Large mercenary presence.
- Contact with Other Worlds: A great many stable warps routes can be accessed from Iocanthus, leading to worlds such as Dreah, Scintilla, Luggnam, Sephiris Secundus, 41 Pry, Zillman's Domain and Heed.
- Tithe Grade: Exactus Median.
- Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 300-302, 363
- Fantasy Flight Games The Calixis Sector