The Weeping Halls
The Commodity Stalls
The majority of the Halls’ inhabitants appear inured to the endless rain, and they work beneath it without comment, as oblivious to the constant drenching as the stone walls. Most trade stalls here are scarcely a step above an underhive flea market; the vendors are a collection of scavengers, craftsmen, and mediocre technomats who operate on a barter system.
Clouds of vapour billow from enclosed forges where men smith weapons and armour; off-world trinkets and technology are displayed beneath waterproof glass; strange, almost-appetizing smells waft from covered pots. The poorest stall is just a rain-soaked man waving hand-stitched curse bags, while the most opulent occupies a crypt-like obsidian structure protruding from the wall. Steam rises off the dark surface from without; within several vapour lamps fill the space with dry warmth, making it one of the few respites from the relentless damp.
The promise of undiscovered treasure draws an endless line of fortune-seekers to Sacgrave, and its inhabitants are more than willing to capitalise on it. The Weeping Halls are packed with hovels, tents, and other dwellings constructed out of whatever material their owners could find. Many make use of niches and caves carved into the basalt walls, barring the entrances with adamantine hatches recovered from wrecked ships. Nearly every dwelling, stall, or doorway is festooned with strange sigils and charm symbols. Some are gracefully etched in gold and silver, others in multi-hued paint, while some have been crudely hacked into a surface or even primitively painted in crusted blood. These are signs and totems extorting the favour of the Dark Gods or imploring them for mercy, even imbuing the occupants with a measure of their power.
The Slave Columns
The other local enterprises are diffused throughout the sprawling halls, but the slave trade all concentrates in one mournful centre of despair and blood. The Slave Columns are five massive basalt pillars that have survived the stresses of time and war. Each of the rough columns is over ten metres in diameter and they are spaced in a wide line. The slaves—prisoners from enemy warbands, criminals, those who made poor wagers, and chattel brought for trade—are chained neck to neck in a continuous human snake that winds between four of the pillars.
The fifth column is different. Instead of a mass of humanity, dozens of caged creatures ring the dark stone. Some hold mutants from Sacgrave’s warp-ravaged exterior, while others hold Death world predators and the kinds of twisted beasts that only a Chaos-infused rift like the Screaming Vortex can spawn. Hound Triplods, Heratex Blood-spines, and all manner of other terrifying creatures can be purchased here, for a price. Some of the beasts also get sent to the Shearing Pit for blood sport.
Except for the growls, hissing, and spine-chilling howls from the cages, the Slave Columns are a quiet affair while bargaining takes place. Hard-eyed men listen to the buyer’s specifications and then softly haggle over the price for a number of “links” fitting the profile, or grade potential merchandise by inspecting teeth and feeling muscle. However, when a sale is made, the Weeping Halls suddenly fill with the sound of moans and scraping metal. Only the most impatient slaver bothers to retrieve individual slaves from the continuous loop of living merchandise. Instead, with shouts and cracking lashes, they set the great chained beast into laborious motion. The slaves wind through the columns, stumbling, splashing, and scraping, until at last the desired portion of the train reaches the column master. Then calm descends until the next deal is made.
The Shearing Pit
The Pits are a simple collection of stone slabs, some protected by awnings, most exposed to the constant rain, occupying a long thoroughfare off the Weeping Halls. At the far end, near a sheer basalt wall, is a crater blasted into the road-way. Long ago an Eldar beam weapon shattered the stone and fused it into a pit. The “Shearing Pit’s” edges are still lined with jagged and broken shards from where the intense heat fused the rock to glass.
With the Shadow Liege’s tacit approval, various violent individuals, mercenaries, sell-swords, and warbands set up camp here. They are joined by some of the rougher inhabitants of the Weeping Halls, as Vycraft provides a steady supply of drink to those who linger, as well as a constant opportunity for blood sport in the Shearing Pit.
A healthy distance away from the stone slabs and the Shearing Pit is a curious collection of six corroded fifty-gallon promethium drums ringing an ornate and truly ancient lightning rod. The rod is twenty metres high and almost a metre in diameter. Leering human faces and squat, feral quadrupeds chase one another up the metal column. The drums are full of a locally brewed amasec, as strong and rough as cleaning solvent.
Thick, luminescent bolts of lightning strike the rod every so often. When this happens, the occupants of the Pits shy away from the deafening blast and blinding flash of light. When it fades, there is a rush to top off mugs with the freshly heated brew, followed by a raucous toast “to the Liege’s health!” On occasion, some poor fool strays too close to the device when a bolt hits and the electricity flash-chars him into a smoking chunk of meat. In this case, the inhabitants laugh derisively at the dead’s misfortune and the Liege’s Ogryn slaves haul the body off to the beasts at the Slave Columns.
Vycraft’s Ogryn keep the drums filled with amasec, and he sends broken or rejected slaves from the Columns to fight to a bloody demise in the Shearing Pit. Occasionally one of the mercenaries takes up a challenge of combat in the Pit as well, fighting either slaves or other warriors. These fights are always to the death, either on the blades of the foe or the jagged shards lining the edges, and the bottom of the pit is a constant inch-deep soup of blood and viscera.
For Vycraft, the Shearing Pit and its attendant facilities provide an invaluable purpose. The drink and bloodsport placates some of the most dangerous individuals in his realm, ensuring they do not become restive and turn to combat him (and perhaps even engendering a feeling of gratitude).
The Mercenary Bands
Groups of warriors for hire are easy to spot in the giant corridors. They range from handfuls of brawny men with iron daggers to well-organised mercenaries with flak armour and las pistols.
These groups do some business as bodyguards for the fortune seekers, but their primary employment is in the constant territory wars between Sacgrave’s inhabitants. The Liege sees to their basic needs, and in exchange they protect the Halls from the Scabscale Abominations without and go to war with anyone who challenges the Liege’s rule. The large majority of the mercenary bands are human, but not all. A tangle of knotted ropes and debris hangs from arches and shattered balconies high above the main floor. Here, several Kroot make their home, and their services are also for trade. The Weeping Halls are completely devoid of greenskins; it is a rare to find both Kroot and Orks in one location in the Screaming Vortex unless they are at war. The racial enmity bred on Berin and Asphodel sees to that.
Both the most feared and most recognisable of the human mercenary groups are the Levincenders. Their founder bargained for the services of a Tech-Priest, who built two dozen mysterious apparatuses that define the group. Each device is dozens of metres of coiled alloy that the Levincenders weave around their bodies, fastening the emitter-tipped ends to their hands. With practice, one can use this electromagnetic array to siphon energy from the Halls’ frequent lightning strikes and redirect it like a weapon. What no one—including the Levincenders—knows is that the coils generate a low intensity feedback that slowly poisons the wearer. The life expectancy of a Sacgrave mercenary is short, so no one has yet to notice that none of the Levincenders live more than a decade. The group’s members play to their reputation, covering their bodies in flickering electoos of lightning bolts.
The Liege’s Fortress
The current ruler of the Weeping Halls, the Shadow Liege Vycraft, enforces his rule from his “fortress.” He stays just across from the Shearing Pit, in a series of enclosures made from salvage taken from the hull of his wrecked voidship. The re-assembled salvage is a makeshift villa of gothic arches and broken gargoyles. However scrap-shod the appearance may be, the ominous snouts of heavy bolter turrets remind the inhabitants of Vycraft’s authority.