At dawn of the next day, Aristarchus was tired, but eager to travel.
Most of that day’s trek across the Shale Wastes passed uneventfully. Tybs, however, learned that Aristarchus’ beautifully crafted tarot deck was actually a “touching and generous gift” from Abbot Skae – the missionary in charge of Stern Hope.
Additionally, the party spotted some of the reptilian Shale Crows, a native, eyeless species of carrion-eating bird. Lately, the Shale Crows have been restless and have even taken to attacking men. Aristarchus considers them unsettling: “No eyes in the damn things, no eyes at all.” The Ashleen see the Shale Crows as a bad omen.
From then on, it was easy to notice that there was always at least one Shale Crow following the party across the wastes.
Near the end of the day, the acolytes came across a damaged settlement – the occupants long dead. Many of the corpses had deep cuts and bruises, but most curiously, many were missing eyes. As darkness was falling quickly over the moonless Iocanthos, the party made camp for the night.
During the night, scuffling was heard outside. Upon investigation, the acolytes found one of the bodies of the eyeless Ashleen standing, staring right at them.proved quick to dispatch of the “foe”. Aristarchus, strangely, dismissed their concerns, saying that they were simply afraid of the night and shooting at nothing but shadows and darkness. He quickly returned to a restless sleep, clutching his tarot deck.
On the second day, the party encountered a strange figure on a rocky outcrop. Before they could get close enough to investigate, the figure seemingly disappeared, leaving only a scorched image on the dusty ground. Aristarchus – as a relative of Saint Drusus – took great meaning from this symbol; an image of Saint Drusus’ 2nd Army Group.
That evening, the party arrived at Stern Hope, greeted by brothers Severus and Lamark. They settled in at the Crying Clota – a ramshackle inn and tavern.
The next morning, an extremely worn out Aristarchus took the party to an audience with Abbot Skae. There, Skae described some of the phenomena and offered Brother Lamark as a guide for the day. The party toured Stern Hope, engaged in many discussions with the pilgrims – especially the Ashleen – as well as partaking in small amounts of trade.
Specifically, some Ashleen tell the acolytes that this hill is a cursed place that was once the site of worship of “old and terrible gods.” They had hoped that the cathedral here would bless this land, but the phenomena, the Shale Crows, and all of the eyeless bodies have them worried.
Inside the cathedral, the acolytes saw an immense stained-glass image depicting Saint Drusus. In the image, Drusus stands triumphant over a shadowy, eyeless figure in a field of golden flowers. Additionally, it appears as though dark-coloured birds are fleeing from the scene of his victory.
Upon returning to their lodgings that evening, Aristarchus was nowhere to be seen. Seemingly, he had been in an audience with Skae for the entire day.
The next morning – the day of Saint Drusus’ Feast and the consecration – there was evidence that Aristarchus had returned to his room sometime during the night. Still, he remained missing at breakfast. Soon, cries of excitement were heard around the camp as Warchief Kos’ke and his retinue – including the elder Esha Raine – had arrived.
These massive, well-armed barbarians rode in on their Dustdogs – large bi-pedal creatures accustomed to the harsh wastes of Iocanthos. Immediately, the procession headed toward the cathedral where the morning rituals were soon to begin.
Aristarchus also finally appeared, looking disheveled and exhausted. He claimed that his nights were now sleepless and that his cards were displaying odd visions. He apologized that he would be unable to attend the morning’s ceremonies but he would try to rejoin the acolytes after some much-needed rest.
Abbot Skae greeted the acolytes at the cathedral doors and showed them to seats at the front of the congregation – opposite of Kos’ke, Raine, and their retinue. Surprisingly, Aristarchus rejoins the party just in time for the ceremony.
As Skae’s sermon reaches a fever-pitch, Stern Hope is attacked by fanatics. Kos’ke and his party head to quell their now-stampeding Dustdogs and to ready them for battle.
The acolytes immediately set out after a group of bomb-carrying warriors headed straight for the cathedral. Tybs – cigarette hanging from his lips – takes a single well-aimed shot, piercing the improvised explosive device and taking out the crowd of raiders.
Next, the party headed to save a group of Ashleen women and children from the rampaging fanatics hacking their way through the tents. Their early efforts are useless – many of their shots miss or only graze the assailants. Tybs’ gun jams at an incredibly inopportune moment. The fanatics hack and slash their way through a few unlucky Ashleen.
Amidor launches himself into the fray in an attempt to save the children. Grax – in his attempts to focus his powers – rips open the immaterial worlds and unleashes a horde of warp phantoms.
The children scatter in fear, many of the fanatics are terrified, and Tybs falls temporarily unconscious from the horrific sight. Eventually, Amidor, Grax, and Tybs clear out the remaining raiders.
Kos’ke and his now blood- and dust-stained warriors have turned the tide of battle. They rejoin the acolytes and head to the cathedral doors where an odd scene is developing. A fanatic has been captured – clearly insane. Esha Raine tries to convince Skae and Aristarchus that the man is crazy and is being driven by some obscene force. Before any real discussion can take place, Aristarchus executes the prisoner and attempts to brand Raine and her group as heretics as well. His voice is harsher that the party has heard thus far.
Kos’ke, Raine, and their warriors depart the camp, frustrated, and proclaim that “I see now that you are damned and the crow sits on your shoulder.”
The acolytes spend most of the day surveying the camp’s damage and wounded. Roughly an hour before the true consecration ceremony is set to begin, a gravely-wounded Abbot Skae emerges from the cathedral – bloody, battered, and weakened, Aristarchus and the acolytes rush to his side. He blames his attack on a dark figure – possibly a woman.
Aristarchus is furious. He is convinced that Raine is the perpetrator. He now demands that the acolytes head to her settlement in the hills and arrest her. He is convinced that Raine is a witch and a heretic and that the acolytes must now “truly prove their worth to the Holy Inquisition.”
The journey will take three hours on foot or one and a half hours if they were to use their flatbed truck. The party must now make a decision on how to best reach Raine, Kos’ke, and their warriors.