After a short stint on Desoleum, the acolytes have spent the better part of the last six months aboard the Reliant Dawn. Besides the odd journey planetside to Juno, the majority of their days have passed sliding in and out of the Warp, making unknown stops throughout the sector.
The acolytes have spent this time well, seeing to their equipment and tools, honing their trades, and brushing up on the art of killing.
After all this time spent in the Warp, it was almost possible to grow accustomed to travel through the Sea of Soul – as much as could be expected at least. The shivering of teeth, the headaches, the unease – still present, but the acolytes had finally been able to push them to the back of their minds. Then – there was that shuddering halt, the pressure wave, the voices in the bulkheads.
A change of course – sudden and terrible.
It wasn’t long before the warband was called to arms. A briefing. Another briefing. Always another briefing.
Valdane wasn’t alone this time – with him, a few figures crowded around the briefing table. Notably a younger man, clad in embossed leathers took front and centre stage. Although his garments were not as ornate as Valdane’s robes, he wore the rosette the same as the acolytes’ master. Another Inquisitor.
Valdane called him Elbraith.
Two others were with the Inquisitors.
The first – an aged man with an excess of scar tissue covering his face. With an odd gait, he approached slowly, balancing himself on his walking cane. His scowl was the only greeting the acolytes received.
Lastly, a Tech-Priest clad in the crimson robes of the Mechanicus Priesthood stood in the corner of the room. With masterfully crafted bionic limbs he handed the Inquisitors all kinds of dataslates and spools of information
They all look concerned.
Valdane was the first to speak, relaying that a message had been recovered from Thaur. Elbraith interrupted him.
“The dead walk. The remnants of the Eulogus Askelline call for aid.”
And so it was revealed – the rumoured geological incident was just a charade. What was once believed throughout the sector was no longer. Thaur was completely lost.
Over the next two hours, the acolytes would find out the truth.
Valdane and Elbraith exchanged stories of xenos artifacts, bizarre cults, and daemonic summoning. They described the day that left a multitude of dead, dying, and insane strewn around and throughout the Great Ossuaria and the monument of Saint Merusaad.
They described the rise and defeat of the daemon Sufvaeras. Tsyniak. The Crow Father.
The two others in the room confirmed the stories – survivors of the Battle of Thaur and the ensuing orbital bombardment.
The acolytes learned that in the months following “the incident”, and after much debate, it was decided that the risk of Thaur’s corruption spreading to the rest of the sector was simply too great.
Commodus Elbraith, the young Inquisitor before you was responsible for the inquiries and trials that followed. With a few others of his order, Elbraith and the Ordo Hereticus unearthed a number of new Sufvaerian cults as well as numerous cells of the Faceless Trade attempting last minute exfiltration of xenos relics – including some of those used in the Inheritors’ blasphemous summoning.
With so many new conspiracies discovered, the fires of the Inquisition were brought to Thaur and many were put to the torch – most notably those unfortunate few who witnessed the daemon’s summoning and Arch-Rector Renthear’s unholy sermon. In the ensuing purges, many catacombs and mausoleums were destroyed, including the Great Ossuaria and the monument of Saint Merusaad – the site of Sufvaeras’s emergence.
Lastly, Elbraith turned his gaze to the Eulogus Askelline, killing many of their order. If not complicit in Thaur’s downfall, they were at least incompetent enough to let it happen.
After the fires settled, the planet was quarantined. Thaur was declared prohibere est and placed under Inquisitorial quarantine. A cover story was fabricated, lest Askellian society learn the horrible truth.
New orbital defence platforms were built to prevent any departures and to stop any inbound visitors from ever stepping foot on the world again.
Now, almost eleven wretched years later and against their better judgment, the naval detachment overseeing the orbital defenses intercepted a small shuttle after scanning and finding no life signs aboard.
Inside, they found but a single message from the Eulogus Askelline – Thaur’s ruling body – a call for aid. Supposedly, the Eulogus say the dead have risen on Thaur and have begun attacking the planet’s dwindling populations. There’s fear among the Ordos that such events are an omen – precursors to another full-scale daemonic incursion. It’s clear that the message cannot be ignored.
Valdane briefs the acolytes that they will be dispatched to the surface to make contact with the Eulogus at the Palace of the Wake. Then, they will investigate their claims and destroy whatever malign forces conspire against them.
Elbraith explains that should these recovered messages be an attempt to break quarantine, the acolytes have full sanction to silence the Eulogus once and for all.
The acolytes spend a full day to prepare – arming themselves for their journey and attempting some rushed research about Thaur’s daemonic threats. Even with the aid of Graxon Pol and Amador, they are unable to discover much.
The journey to the surface is quick – and besides a few tense moments crossing the threshold of Thaur’s orbital defenses – mostly painless. By now, Corvath and the Cutter are one, the large craft being an extension of his own body.
Corvath drops the acolytes at what’s left of Port Restful – one-time Thaur’s main space port. Even in its prime, Port Restful was but a simple clearing no more than three kilometers across in an otherwise forested area. Now, much of it is overgrown, with thick roots tangled over the landing fields.
The once four-metre high wall of human around the port is now nothing but ruins. A handful of rusted landing platforms of cracked and blackened plascrete struts rot in the damp undergrowth. The minimal prefabricated lodgings on-site are dilapidated with many having already collapsed.
Still, Corvath finds a place to half set the Cutter down.
Strangely, there’s no one to great the party. Even the forests are quiet and still.
In the distance, thunder sounds from dark clouds. Corvath explains that storms are coming in and he’ll soon have to depart. That being said, should the acolytes need him, he’ll return as soon as possible.
The acolytes attempt to scan all radio frequencies and channels. They find no sign of any active communications. As such, they depart for the Palace of the Wake – the historical seat of Imperial power on Thaur.
Like Port Restful, the road to the Palace is overgrown with tangled roots and dense, damp undergrowth. The journey is slow, but steady.
Eventually, the acolytes pass massive burnt out pits full of ash and mud. Rusted sigils of the inquisition mark the sides of the roads. The acolytes quickly realize that the ash pits are the remants of Elbraith’s purges – giant piles of burnt flesh and rendered fat.
Not willing to open their minds completely, Koth and Ishamael still feel overwhelming waves of fear, death, and sadness.
The party presses on, unwilling to linger around the pyres. Through Thaur’s dense, dark forests, they navigate around ruined crypts and rotted mausoleums. With no one to tend to the small graves and shrines, Thaur’s wilderness has rapidly reclaimed the land.
As they continue their journey, more distant thunder sounds, as if echoing the acolytes’ footsteps. Additionally, over the last hour a cool wind has risen – bringing the smell of musty undergrowth out of the forests.
Eventually, through a clearing, the acolytes find their goal – the Palace of the Wake. The immense palace towers over the surrounding woods and is constructed of stone blocks hewn from local mines. Appearing mostly abandoned, many of the palace’s outer walls have collapsed, revealing the chambers within. Still, however, the palace looks as one can only assume it did millennia ago. Ever present in the architecture is the inclusion of human bones and even full skeletons with a quantity higher than typical of Imperial edifices.
The palace is like a solemn cathedral, and the unkempt grounds around the edifice are decorated with macabre crumbling statues, many of which also incorporate actual bones.
The only recent addition to the structure is a crude palisade and wooden wall. Along its edge, bodies lay impaled and still. A handful of black-robed figures shuffle back and forth, clearing the corpses from the walls and depositing them upon a cart drawn by a large equine beast.
As the acolytes approach, the robed figures look on in awe. Panicked, one of them runs inside. He returns a few moments later with even more people by his side. At the head of the group, one rushes towards the warband, looking relieved.
He greats the acolytes as Lord Calziel, Assumed Keeper of the Eulogus Askelline. He explains how glad he is that the acolytes have answered their calls.
The acolytes quickly begin their questioning.
Calziel explains that the dead do indeed walk upon Thaur – as horrible, foul creatures from the Warp. At first, there was but one or two of the risen each season. They were quickly put down by the Mournful Guard and the lands were reconsecrated. The Eulogus viewed these initial events as punishment for their failings.
Then, each year the dead’s numbers grew.
Calziel explains that the handful of remaining scribes and Mournful Guard at the palace have been lucky. He claims that they are far from the origin of this evil and that many Thaurians have not been as lucky. In the last few years, the dead have overrun many other settlements.
Still skeptical, the Acolytes press Calziel to explain the origins of these creatures.
The Lord explains that but one man is responsible for the evils plaguing Thaur – Warden Corren, a one-time outrider of the Mournful Guard. He was the first to tell the Eulogus of the dead.
Calziel claims that Corren and some other corrupted members of the Mournful Guard disappeared when the Inquisition first came to Thaur – travelling deep into the wilderness to form a cursed settlement and to practice their foul Warp magick.
The settlement is known to locals as Hope’s End – once a trading post, but now a blasted hamlet full of conjurers, witches, and the damned. It is rumoured that all of those who escaped the Inquisition’s retribution have landed there. The Eulogus even sent a party there almost two years ago to destroy Corren and his heretics, but they never returned.
The acolytes take a few moments to take in all of this information. Then, they form a plan – they shall wait at the palace and catch a glimpse of the dead themselves. They take some supplies and men from the Eulogus and settle in for the night.
By morning, with no signs of their unholy foes, the acolytes change their minds. Instead of waiting, they will take the fight to Corren.
As they debate the logistics of their plan from atop the parapets, the acolytes notice a scattering of ashes falling from the sky like a black rain. Seeing this, many of the Eulogus begin to weep, falling to their knees, turning their faces to the sky, and allowing the ash to cover their faces.
In the distance, pitch-black clouds cover the horizon. Purple flashes of lightning streak through the skies. Thunder echoes across the land. Soon, the ash is followed down by a light rain, streaking skin and clothing alike with black and grey stains.
Caziel explains that the Ashen Rains are early this season, surely an omen that the acolytes’ arrival is blessed by the Emperor himself. He explains that when the Inquisition quarantined Thaur, the many shipments of Askellon’s blessed dead stopped arriving. Then, after two long years, the Emperor showed his light and the dead begun to find the Eulogus again. These dead fill the skies above their lands, and once full, a great storm envelops the world. It is the will of the Emperor himself – his tears bring his servants to rest – and those buried under Thaur’s surface rise to the surface and be remembered again.
Although Ishamael questions the Eulogus’ logic, he does not debate Calziel for long – hoping not to anger the governor. Instead, the acolytes convince him to lend a few horses and men for their journey. Reluctantly, Calziel agrees.
The acolytes soon depart.
The journey to Corren’s commune is long and will require more than a day’s travel. Possibly even two. Either way, navigation through Thaur’s overgrown woods and tangled roads is difficult. It takes great care to avoid getting hopelessly lost. Taeric does his best to find a clear route, but the party often has to double back or retrace their steps. Still too much time is lost – their only hope is to stop at Afterlife, a settlement found along the way.
Thankfully, they seem to stay ahead of the black rains, only feeling their dark, wet touch in the brief moments they stop to rest or to turn around. They try to keep as much distance between themselves and the dark, lightning-streaked skies behind them as possible.
Eventually, the party stops, coming across a black mound laying across the road. What looks first like dirt and rot reveals itself to be dirtied leather robes – the remains of a Mournful Guard outrider. The man’s body is bloody and contorted.
Taeric and Theo examine the corpse. It Is recent – although some of it appears to be torn apart or partially eaten.
Sharing uneasy glances, the acolytes show the man’s wounds to their comrades.
The party continues on.