Brother Lamark and the acolytes immediately set out from Stern Hope in search of Raine, Kos’ke, and their men.
Darkness falls quickly as both the night and a great dust storm descends over the region.
Eventually, down a side gorge, the party finds a small settlement currently inhabited by Esha Raine, Kos’ke, and their warriors. Although tensions are high, the acolytes diffuse the situation. Raine tells the acolytes that she has something quite important to show them.
As they head to the entrance of the main dwelling, the dust storm returns with a fury – followed by echoing laughter and sickly lights. Two flocks of Shale Crows descend from the sky to attack Raine and the acolytes. With a quick, fierce fight, Kos’ke and the acolytes drive the crows away.
Raine retrieves what she was after; an ancient book of Ashleen history. Thankfully Lamark can decipher the odd runes and archaic language. The book tells of Saint Drusus’ battle with a daemon-possessed cult leader during the conquest of the planet – viewed through the eyes of the Ashleen as a mythic hero-tale. The account refers to the battle taking place on the very hill on which the cathedral has been built. The cult was founded on lies and deceit and delighted on turning brother against brother. The cult’s high ceremonies and sacrifices occurred around dusk on a day after its followers were forced to battle each other to show their worthiness to serve.
Raine and Kos’ke tell the acolytes that they must go warn their tribes. Before leaving, she gives the acolytes one last piece of knowledge: “The old widow’s tales from before the saint came said that the only thing the Crow Father feared was the agony he most loved to inflict… but what that might be I cannot say.”
The party quickly returns to Stern Hope to attempt to halt the ongoing “consecration” ceremonies. Along the way, they encounter Nathaniel Uziel. Lost in the dark and the dust storm, Uziel was hoping to make it to Stern Hope to aid the acolytes in their investigations. After they fill him in on the horrific details of what they’ve uncovered, the party finishes the journey back.
Upon arriving at Stern Hope, they immediately realize that something is horribly wrong. There are no guards at the gates, or, for that matter, along the wall. A strange, dim haze hangs over the cathedral. The population is also ominously missing from the pitch-black camps.
Uziel scans the cathedral with his Auspex and determines that there is a strange energy field inside, as well as hundreds of lifeforms. Grax reaches his mind inside the building and encounters an unrelenting evil. They determine that they must act at once – but it may be already too late.
With the acolytes on the back, Lamark drives their truck straight through the cathedral doors. Inside, Aristarchus stands atop the alter, the cards of his Emperor’s Tarot orbiting around him, each one burning ghost white, almost too bright to look at. In the harsh flickering glare of the cards and the headlights of the truck, the acolytes see that the pews are filled with the people of Stern Hope; men, women, and children frozen in fear, tears streaming down their faces, and their mouths whispering words that are not their own. The domed ceiling boils with a tangle of seething darkness as the warp bleeds into reality.
The acolytes take action and spread out. Uziel throws a stun grenade. The harsh blast and burst of light illuminates another terrifying image. Abbot Skae – corrupted and possessed by the Crow Father – charges right at them. Before he can truly react, Tybs drops to the ground in excruciating pain. With his distorted, spasmodic limbs, the Skae-thing slams his weight into Tybs’ shoulder.
The other Acolytes attempt to fire at the daemon. Grax assails the Skae-thing’s eyes in an attempt to blind it. With a lucky shot, one of the the eyes is ripped from the daemon’s face.
Immediately, the Skae-thing leaps after Grax, ripping open the psyker’s kneecap and sending him flying into the pews. The other acolytes panic and fire widely – thankfully missing their comrades with any errant fire.
Grax reaches out through the warp again, hoping to finish the beast. The warp boils and rips through his mind, throwing him a dozen metres into the air. Landing awkwardly on one of the pews, Grax is knocked unconscious.
Uziel – feeling the might of the Emperor flowing through him – lines up his sights on the Skae-beast, unleashing a volley of fire directly into its twisted, horrific visage. Skae’s head bursts open, spilling a black ichor across the floor. Stumbling backwards in agony, Skae falls into Aristarchus’ psychic field and tarot cards, ripping apart the warp mass above and blowing a wave of psychic energy across the cathedral. Both Aristarchus and Skae are wiped out in the blast and immolated by bale-fire.
The pilgrims of Stern Hope break out of their trance, horribly traumatized and physically wounded by what they have witnessed.
Among the ruins of the altar, Amador finds a single, damaged tarot card. Upon close examination, he determines that the card has been built using xenos technology. The heretical deck is a blasphemy to the Ecclesiarchy, Astra Telepathic, and Mechanicus alike. It is the only remaining piece of evidence.
In the daemon’s final moments and the ensuing psychic explosion, astropaths throughout the system are knocked unconscious. Imperial authorities quickly backtrack the source to Iocanthos and rapidly dispatch inquisitorial aid. The convent of Adepta Sororitas also arrive at Stern Hope to tend to the wounded and to stabilize the situation.
Thankfully, due the the acolytes’ actions, the Ashleen do not turn their backs on the Imperial Creed. Instead, Raine serves as a new spiritual leader, merging the two communities. The acolytes also become part of the Ashleen oral history and mythic hero tales.
Upon returning to the Reliant Dawn, the acolytes are questioned at length about their mission and Aristarchus’ fall. Valdane congratulates the party but is clearly upset about Aristarchus’ fate. Valdane confiscates the damaged tarot card and vows to determine the xenos technology’s source.
After a few weeks of debriefings and quarantines, the party is moved to an acolyte-only deck of the Dawn.