Rogue Trader - Orthesian Legacy
On Vaporius, the barren desert world controlled by mysterious Priest-Kings, the Dynasty secured a lucrative trade agreement with Ansai, the Priest-King of the glass city of Lah’ndan
The Heathen Stars were named in part because of the lost human colonies first encountered there; worlds that had wandered from the Emperor’s light and sometimes stumbled into dark places. Far from the edges of the Imperium, across the wasteland of the Expanse, often these worlds were left to fester free from Imperial justice or intervention. Sometimes the Ministorum would send missionaries and pilgrims to these places intent on turning their populations back onto the path of the faithful, but success in such endeavours has been slow. One such lost world of men is Vaporius, a parched desert world ruled over by the divine mandate of the Priest-Kings. Little contact has been made with this dry world mostly due to its distance and isolation from the Imperium. However, what has filtered back to such places as Footfall and Port Wander points to a primitive and backward society with naught but sand, dehydration, and death. Those that dig deeper hear other, more interesting rumours that say the waters of Vaporius are precious for a reason, and a rare treasure worth crossing the Expanse to plunder.
Rise of the Priest-Kings
The origins of Vaporius are not known to the Imperium, though it is likely that in a time of expansion millenniums past it was settled by colonists pushing forth the boundaries of mankind’s dominion. Over the centuries, however, isolation, the harsh environment of their world and the nature of man himself has seen their society degenerate into a feudal world of harsh laws and strict obedience to so-called divine rulers. This rigid caste system is based on the distribution and use of the world’s precious water supplies. On Vaporius a man’s worth is measured in water, and water is distributed only by the will of the Priest-Kings.
The Keepers, ancient adepts of wisdom and law, tell tales of the coming of man to Vaporius and the rise of the Priest-Kings. It is said that in the time before time, man landed in the desert and tried to turn this world green. Even today, they say travellers can see evidence of this folly from the petrified desert forests to the vast trenches where rivers were meant to have flowed. The failure of these first men was not because their technology was flawed or even that they lacked the will to change the red deserts, but that they failed to understand why Vaporius was a desert and where the water had gone. For centuries, the first men toiled and failed, were born and died, their bones parched by the great suns of dawn, noon, and dusk. Over time, their machines broke down, and they were forced to live as nomads wandering from the sun-washed mountains to the poisonous cyan seas.
It was during this age of death that the first Priest-Kings rose to power. Born of the first men, the Priest-Kings looked different to their parents; taller, with distinctive features some would describe as feline and liquid blue eyes. They also had a gift, the gift to find water beneath the desert and call it forth. How this was possible, or why, are not things that are remembered or asked by the inhabitants of Vaporius. It quickly became enough that these sons of the first men could create life where there was none and those that could not flocked to their sides. It also became rapidly apparent that the springs did not maintain themselves, and each required a Priest-King to keep it flowing. Great cities of glass, tile, and copper (one of the few metals on Vaporius) grew up around the places where a Priest-King would call forth water and make his home. These cities were both places to live and monuments to the glory of the Priest-King and his spring.
Today, centuries after the rise of the Priest-Kings, their power and lineage are maintained through careful breeding and the attention of ancient royal families. Conflict between the Priest-Kings is rare, given the distance between the cities and the lack of resources to fight over. Recent events have strengthened the alliances between the cities, namely the coming of missionaries to Vaporius from beyond the sky, preaching the notion of a divine being more powerful even than the Priest-Kings. This is something that could shake the foundations of their world and concerns the Priest-Kings.
Vaporius is one vast desert, broken up by continent-spanning mountain ranges, gigantic parched basins filled with dust and sand, and a handful of dead seas, too salty to support any life. Survival only seems possible near the springs and within the thrall of the Priest-Kings. However, there is more life out in the desert than explorers might expect. Key regions of Vaporius include:
The Cities of Glass
Numbering in the hundreds, the glass cities of the Priest-Kings litter the desert like discarded jewels. Always hundreds of kilometres apart (lest the influence of one King clash with another), they are linked by wellworn tracks and caravan trails across the dust plains. Grand in spectacle and epic in design, the cities are mostly self sufficient, organized around the great divine wells at their centres. Farms are fed by a latticework of aqueducts and canals, while deep pits and cool caves hide the glass foundries and copper forges from the sun. Over time, different cities have begun to create their own goods, promoting trade between the Kings, such as the weave-cloaks of Vyr or the wind-gems of Atar, but for the most part they remain isolated.
The Sky Mountains
Like broad scars across the land, the mountains of Vaporius crisscross the plains and divide the world into vast dust bowls. The mountains are also strangely devoid of settlement, and in all the history of Vaporius, no King has ever created a city in their shadow. Keepers say that this is because the mountains hold no water beneath their rocky roots, and the ground is hard and unforgiving to the hand of man. Others, however, whisper that this is not the case at all, and in fact it is because the mountains are filled with monsters made of rock that crush the strongest men to paste.
The Dead Seas
Brilliant turquoise and cyan seas dot the surface of Vaporius like tiny puddles of rain. From a distance they appear inviting and cool, a welcome respite from the endless leagues of desert. However, they are dead places, their waters toxic to life and their touch caustic to flesh. Travellers deliberately avoid these places, where a sudden wind can bring about a burning and blinding acid rain.
The Ocean of Dust
Beyond the Sky Mountains, the glass cities, and the sandy plains stretches the Ocean of Dust, a seemingly endless valley hemmed in on all sides by towering cliffs. As the Keepers tell it, the Ocean of Dust was once a true ocean, much like the dead seas, and the first men even fashioned boats to sail across it. What they found and why the sea vanished remains a mystery, as travellers do not venture into the ocean, for there is nothing there but death and thirst.
The Temple of the First Men
Legends speaks of the ships the first men used to sail to Vaporius and of the first great temple they built to honour their gods. Even the Priest-Kings send out expeditions from time to time, chasing rumours of this place, tempted by stories of ancient technology and off-world wealth. For travellers to Vaporius the temple could prove quite a prize, if even half the stories of its wonders are true.
The Thralls of Vaporius
Most of the inhabitants of Vaporius are loyal servants of the Priest-Kings, tied to them by bonds of service and survival. At first glance, they are much like the humans of any Imperial world, though closer inspection reveals their distinctly feline features and deep-set cyan eyes, adapted for the harsh brightness of their world. Vaporians are also typically hairless, their bronzed skin smooth and unblemished. Of course, they seldom show their skin outside, favouring robes of manyhued
glass beads over shimmering cloth, which glitter and tinkle as they move.
At the top of Vaporian culture stand the Priest-Kings and their royal families. Seldom seen outside their grand palaces, and almost never outside the boundaries of their cities, the inhabitants of Vaporius view them as no less than gods, divine beings with power over water and thus the ability to grant life or death. The truth, however, is more sinister, and if one were to sneak into the glimmering halls of the King they would come back with visions of debauchery and sadism, where the noble-blooded, possessing ultimate power over their cities, give in to the worst of humanity’s vices. Some Imperial visitors, travelling incognito to the glass cities, have brought back even more disturbing stories and theories about the nature of the Priest-Kings. One such tale is from the Navigator Elyee Vil, who went there aboard the far trader Spirit of Humility. A keen psychic sensitive, Vil came to believe the Priest-Kings were psykers, with some kind of power over the waters of Vaporius, which were themselves somehow sentient. Worse still he found their psychic taint in every living soul within the glass cities, leading him to believe this was how they somehow held the whole world in under their spell.
Below the Kings are the Thrall Castes. These can be roughly broken up into five groups: Cutters, Shapers, Scavengers, Breeders, and Water Children. Cutters are the soldiers of Vaporius, robust men and women chosen for their size and aggression. For the most part they act as an internal police force, though they can be gathered together to protect
the city borders. Shapers are craftsmen and women, working mostly in copper and glass but also cloth, reed, limestone,
and bone. They have a respected position in the cities, where their skills are valued by the Priest-Kings. Scavengers are the recyclers of the cities, ensuring that nothing is ever put to waste. Like the rats of ancient Terra, they scurry below the streets collecting and cataloguing the detritus of the people. Scavengers are also the first to be called upon when an expedition beyond the city walls is required. Breeders are the farmers of the cities, growing crops and tending to the small lizards and birds brought to Vaporius by the First Men. Finally there are the Water Children, sacrifices reared by the city and offered up to the Priest-King so that he may keep the spring eternally flowing. How they perform this task or why the King needs them is unknown, but to be a Water Child is to live a life of privilege and comfort—at least until they reach maturity and are called to their King.
Though the Kings and the thralls of their cities never admit it, there are those that live outside the dominion of the Priest-Kings. They are known as the Sandmen, and can primarily be found in the Sky Mountains, if they want to be found at all. How they survive is not known, though rumours talk of vast limestone caves in the mountains, and deep wells free of the taint of the Priest-Kings. If the Sandmen have a goal it is also unknown, though they are sometimes seen at night watching the cities from afar.