Valdane's Chronicles

Nightmares Remembered - Part 1

Beneath the House of Pyre

Using Anzaforr’s lighter, the acolytes, Morrinoe, and the hired mercenary Jaspar enter Thaur’s atmosphere. Gazing through the shuttle’s viewports, a few of them catch glimpses of the planet’s dense forests and distant obelisks and towers of bone.

Recognizing the towers from the hallucinations brought on by the relics, the acolytes shudder, dreading the bizarre fate that awaits them planetside.

Eventually the craft sets down in Port Restful, one of Thaur’s few spaceports. Port Restful is a simple clearing approximately three kilometres across in an otherwise forested area. Compared to Port Gyre, Port Restful is almost shockingly primitive. It consists of a handful of levels, with basic, functional landing platforms of cracked and blackened plascrete struts rising off the ground – most are poorly maintained or showing signs of neglect. A few pads consist simply of patches of compacted, scorched dirt, although there are minimal prefabricated lodgings on-site.

Handfuls of labourers come and go, with seemingly no sense of order or organization.

The acolytes make their way into the port, noticing that even here, many of the buildings and perimeter walls are made from human bones.

Near the port’s exit, Tybs notices a phalanx of individuals in somber dark tunics emblazoned with an emblem of a skull and a rose. The group are watching the newly-arrived acolytes and are are clearly armed, with hints of flak armour visible beneath their decorative uniforms. Several of the group are brandishing unusual, crossbow-like weapons. Amador deduces that they must be the Mournful Guard, Thaur’s planetary enforcers.

The party attempts to blend in to the other groups of travelers and leave the port unnoticed. Morrinoe quickly skulks off to the shadows of the port’s outbuildings.

Almost immediately, the Mournful Guard dismount their large equines and a vox-amplified voice issues from beneath the helmet of the lead warrior informing the party to lay down their weapons. By the order of the planetary governor – the Lord of the Wake Jeronius Pyre – the acolytes have been suspected of interplanetary smuggling.

The acolytes attempt to explain that they have actually arrived to stop Thaur’s smuggling problem and to destroy a powerful cult. Surprisingly, they convince the Mournful Guard to let them keep their weapons – although turning over their ammunition – and to take them to Lord Pyre.

The group mounts up upon the Mournful Guards’ heavy, open-topped wooden carriage and depart for the Palace of the Wake. Shortly down the road, the acolytes see the monolithic structure. The immense palace towers over the surrounding woods, and is constructed of stone blocks hewn from local mines. In more recent years, areas of the edifice have been shorn up with rockrete or even ceramite. Mostly, however, the palace looks as it did millennia ago. Like most of Thaur, the architecture includes human bones and even full skeletons with a quantity much higher than typical of Imperial architecture. Much more curious, however, is the inclusion of strange, black stone with an oily sheen. Uziel notes that this is the same material that they have seen and recovered on Desoleum. However, Grax notices that unlike the artifacts, these examples bear no psychic resonance.

The palace is like a solemn cathedral and the grounds around the edifice are decorated with macabre statues. Simple burning torches provide meager illumination. The smell of musty, damp undergrowth permeates the senses.

The acolytes are led inside to a simple stone room furnished with wooden tables, chairs, and benches. They are served a variety of refreshments while they wait for Lord Pyre. Eventually, a man clad in ornate black and crimson robes adorned with bone and gold enters the chambers. The Guards great Lord Pyre and depart the room. Pyre himself is ancient, resembling a walking corpse more than a living man.

Through a lengthy conversation, the acolytes brief Pyre on the situation affecting his world. Although Pyre suspected that his order – the Eulogus Askelline – is ripe with factionalism and differences of philosophy, the idea of heretical cults operating in his midst is unacceptable to him.

However, the acolytes find out that the Inheritors are likely the Children of Inheritance, an oft-rumoured offshoot of the Eulogus Askelline that Pyre believed was just a myth. Furthermore, they determine that the “Arch Rector” described by the Heretek in the previously discovered dataslate recording is likely Arch Rector Carolus Renthear, a powerful member of the Eulogus Askelline that has withdrawn from sight and shirked his responsibilities in the recent years.

Upon seeing the proof before him, Pyre is deeply troubled that the very man set to lead the celebration in the name of Saint Merusaad might actually be a powerful, heretical cult leader. Although he once believed that Renthear’s retreat from the order was simply a result of being passed over as Lord of the Wake, Pyre knows now that the truth is much, much more sinister

It is obvious to all that the next morning’s ceremonies being led by Renthear are the likely target of the Inheritors’ planned sacrifice. Pyre pledges all the help he can, providing the acolytes with transportation and a squad of his personal cadre of Mournful Guard.

The group soon departs, seeking to close the distance with the Great Ossuaria where the tomb of Saint Merusaad and tomorrow’s ceremony is to be found.

After some time they spot a small settlement. It seems as if this is Afterlife, a common stopover point for travelers on the road from Port Restful to the Great Ossuaria. Now nearing nightfall, the group decides to secure lodgings and nourishment.

Strangely, they acolytes learn that everyone in the village believes themselves to be dead. Before staying the night, the party takes some time to reconnoiter the bizarre settlement, watching the villagers go about their lives in an odd, dreamlike state. Although still out of the ordinary, the villagers seem nice enough and the amenities are cheap. Tybs orders Jaspar to post up as a sentry and to inspect the town for any mysterious happenings. In the local tavern, Uziel overhears that the Eulogus Askelline have recently barred entry to all nearby catacombs as a preparation for tomorrow’s events.

The next morning, the party rejoins Jaspar and the Mournful Guard and continues their journey to tomb of Saint Merusaad. Towering above the trees on the horizon, the bone-work structures of the Great Ossuaria looms over them. Stretching further than they can see, these massive edifices to the memory of the Askellon Sector’s great and powerful are, to all appearances, made entirely from human bones. The structures depict a variety of styles, due to the whims of their creators. Some resemble Ecclesiarchy cathedrals, while others seem to be senseless jumbles of bone, the creation of some mad architect. According to the now absent Morrinoe, somewhere beneath it all is their ultimate destination.

A massive throng of pilgrims and worshipers crowds the streets heading towards the gigantic, bone-wrought complex, and getting close to it, let alone inside, seems to be difficult for even the most devoted. In the distance, a choir of Eulogus Askelline chants a plainsong hymn, laud hailers amplifying their words of veneration so that they might be heard across the plaza and echo throughout the tombs.

Uziel scans the crowd, unsuccessfully looking for any signs of the Inheritors. Eventually the Mournful Guard informs the group that an entrance to the catacombs lay close by.

Down an adjacent path, the Guard lead them to a small crypt overgrown by moss and vines. The building is a single-level structure of rectangular shape and constructed almost entirely from human bones. A wrought-iron and wooden door appears to be the only entrance. Out front, two members in robes of the Eulogus Askelline stand waiting. Seeing the group arrive, one of them enters the crypt and locks the door behind them.

The group approaches the lone figure and asks to gain entrance to the tunnels below. In an instant, the member pulls out a frag grenade, cursing the “unbelievers”. He pulls the pin and steps towards the group. Tybs quickly unholsters his sidearm, blowing apart the disguised cultist’s face.

With just a split second to react, Grax uses his telekinetic powers to toss the grenade away to a safe distance. Without having had a chance to prepare himself, the warp energy ripples back through him, its tendrils lashing at his mind and striking at his fragile mental defenses.

Finding a heavy iron key on the heretic’s shattered body, the group enters the crypt. Surprisingly, they find an empty room occupied only by several coffins constructed from polished bone. Uziel’s auspex recognizes a sonic dead-zone, but the acolytes are unable to locate any kind of hidden switch or entrance. Tybs lights an Lho stick, hoping for the smoke to find some kind of secret passage. Slowly but surely, the sweet-smelling smoke drifts towards one of the coffin lids. Inside, a set of bone stairs descends into the tunnels.

Descending the passageway, the group finds a spacious nexus carved into the bedrock and initially lit by torches ensconced at regular intervals. Already, a myriad of tunnels branch off in dozens of directions. Past this chamber, light appears to be sporadic at best while some other tunnels remain in darkness. Many of the tunnels are cramped, with no room for more than one abreast. In others, the ceilings are only shoulder height.

Using Uziel’s auspex, Grax’s psyniscience, Tybs’ navigation skills, the Mournful Guards’ own knowledge, and Amador’s study of the recovered map, the rag-tag squad proceeds down a tunnel that they assume will take them to the Inheritors’ ritual.

As they take their first steps, an overwhelming sense of dread overtakes them. Later, certain tunnels seem to rip the breath from their lungs while others produce eerie winds, extinguishing some of the few remaining light sources.

At one point, the group notices a bizarre, humanoid figure cloaked in shadows seemingly melt through the walls as if moving down some invisible, otherworldly corridor.

Knowing that they are truly heading deep into the unknown, Uziel maintains constant watch of his auspex, looking for any bizarre signatures. Eventually, it detects a few energy fields at a junction ahead – possibly life signs.

In the pitch black and distressing silence, the group decides that they are likely approaching some kind of ambush. Uziel wishes to preemptively strike at their foes with the use of heavy explosives but the Mournful Guard argue that it would be sacrilegious to defile these holy tombs in such a violent manner. Eventually, they decide that the Mournful Guard will use their knowledge of the tunnels to flank the Inheritors. Upon their signal, the acolytes will rush the position as well, hoping to overwhelm their foes.

The Mournful Guard depart into the darkness while the acolytes begin a long, agonizing wait. Through the silence, they begin to hear some faint thumps followed by the sound of crackling. Not knowing what they’re hearing, the acolytes and Jaspar continue to wait. Soon, the silence is broken even further by frantic gunfire and screaming. The group rushes ahead to find that the Mournful Guard alone have overwhelmed the cultists with shockbows and a vicious assault with shock mauls. One of the Guard lays dead, another gravely wounded.

The Marshal expresses his displeasure that the acolytes did not respond to the attack in a timely manner, resulting in the death of his charge.

Thankfully, the Guard managed to take two of the cultists alive. Grax quickly begins his psychic interrogation, taping into the heretic’s mind. Wrenching answers out of the cultist’s crumbling sanity, he learns that the ritual is already well underway. Further more, he learns that the Inheritors on Thaur number in the hundreds and that the cultists believe that there is no chance of stopping them now – Izumat awaits.

With obscene psychic energies, Grax obliterates the Inheritor’s skull, peppering the crude stone walls with brain matter.

Suddenly, two more energy signatures are detected, approaching rapidly from a side passage. The group prepares an ambush, hoping to catch their assailants off guard. Instead, the group finds two Ossuarian Custodians – sacred guardians of the catacombs – responding to the noise and violence.

Having been informed by Lord Pyre of the developing situation, they had been placed on high alert. The Custodians agree to aid the acolytes, pushing deeper into the tunnels to find their prey.

Eventually, the rough-hewn rock and piled bones give way to walls of smooth black ridges, like the inside of some great serpent’s rib cage. The material, while appearing like polished stone, is oily to the touch like many of the artifacts the acolytes have seen.

The tunnels here are much larger and are barren, almost pristine. There’s a bizarre sense of wrongness to it all. Occasional statues and runes decorate the walls, depicting vague forms, perhaps humanoid.

The Custodians notice that their ornate death-masks have begun weeping blood.

The acolytes encounter another bizarre, almost-human figure, passing from one wall to the next. Uziel opens fire, fruitlessly attempting to harm the being.

Eventually, the strange ebon tunnels open up into a large chamber, lit by sputtering torchlight suffused with an unnatural glow. Well more than two score of robed figures chant in an unholy tongue around a vast pool of liquid. The fluid seethes and twists with unnatural energies, its viscous, purple waves flecked with countless tiny points of light. As their profane words echo throughout the chamber, the flickering light casts brief shadows of inhuman faces on the chamber walls and the waters churn, almost spilling over the edges of the pool before coming back down with a soul-shaking crash.

Grax attempts to project a telekinetic dome, but fails to conjure the crucial defensive magicks in his still weakened mental state.

Then, as the chanting reaches a fevered pitch, a man in dark and ornate robes screams out a final entreaty, breaking from the unholy tongue into Low Gothic, imploring Izumat to awake. The pool of Warp-tainted liquid surges once again, splashing over the edges and onto several cultists, who perish in hideous agony as their forms horribly twist and mutate. From within the writhing, purple Blood of Izumat, reality tears open with a sound like a thousand voices screaming just beyond perception. The waters crash down, slowly ebbing back into the circle. From the pool, a billowing figure of inky shadow emerges, its face a dread visage burning with twin points of violet fire.

In a voice that should not be, the thing speaks: “I return.”

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