The journey to Cel takes only a week, as the favourable tides of the Processional push along the Rogue Trader’s vessel at a blistering pace. Along the way, the acolytes get acquainted with their temporary home – exploring the vessel’s few markets and conversing with the ship’s crew.
They learn that Cel is an agri-world with a standard level of technology. Although Cel’s main tithe production is focused on refined grain, it also holds meager promethium reserves. The planetary capital is a coastal city named Lordsholm – home to Cel’s only means off-world, the Avalos Spaceport.
For most of the journey, the acolytes keep a relatively low profile aboard the ship. However, realizing that other merchants making stops on Cel may potentially spread the Genestealers further throughout the sub-sector – or beyond – the acolytes decide to use Valdane’s inquisitorial authority to gain an audience with the Rogue Trader.
The acolytes explain that Cel is now under inquisitorial quarantine, preventing him from landing goods or personnel or from picking up any new cargo. The captain is adequately convinced, even agreeing to inform other passing vessels of Cel’s status.
Emerging from the Warp, the acolytes are told to expect a few more hours before they reach their destination. They spend the little time remaining to store their gear aboard their Cutter and to make their final preparations. Corvath runs through his final checklists before they depart.
The journey down through Cel’s atmosphere is relatively painless, but as the acolytes breach the cloud cover and fly over Lordsholm, it’s clear that there is something afoot within the city. Pillars of smoke reach up into the sky like outstretched talons. Small fires dot the cityscape.
The acolytes also see how the crisscrossing canals of the city divide Lordsholm into four main districts.
First, to the southeast sits Portica – a hub of roads, mag-rails, and docks where Cel’s goods enter the city on route to the factories or leave the planet through the Avalos Spaceport. Close to the sea and lost in the cold and damp fog, the acolytes can barely make out much else. However, the large, walled Planetary Defence Force base remains visible, silently defending Lordsholm’s numerous rail yards and massive storage facilities.
The second district, Calistria, makes up the bulk of the western reaches of the city, spilling out across Lordsholm’s canals and onto Cel’s mainland – having the appearance of a hive spread outwards rather than upwards. Approaching the city closer now, the acolytes see that Calistria’s twisting streets, hab blocks, and large open air markets are rife with small riots and fires raging unchecked.
On the northern side of Calistria is the Fabrica district, sitting deep in the centre of Lordsholm. Hidden by a pall of smoke and ringed by dozens of foul smelling canals, Fabrica is filled with various factories, mills, and manufactorums. Fabrica is the grinding, hammering heart of Lordsholm’s industry, connected to the rest of the city by a handful of arteria bridges.
Lastly, the Magistria district sits at the northern reaches of Lordsholm, atop the cliffs overlooking the bay. Sectioned off from the city by wide canals and high walls, Magistria is the home of Cel’s noble houses. Even from a great height, the acolytes make out its main landmark – Thorsholt Manor, a sprawling mansion compound surrounded by numerous outbuildings, parks and gardens. Near the outer gardens of the manor is the House of Echoes – the Astropathica – a gothic tower hanging precariously over the edge of the cliffs. It is here that the acolytes believe that they will find Cel’s Astropath Ascendant, Elsharna.
Believing that the unrest seen in Calistria below may be a symptom of the Genestealers’ presence, the acolytes direct Corvath down to land as close as possible to Magistria and the House of Echoes. The Cutter swoops low over Calistria and into Portica, finally finding a suitable landing area among the storage yards outside of the PDF base. Across the canals from Portica’s rail junctions and storage yards, the acolytes glimpse the fires burning in Calistria and hear the occasional rattling pops of gunfire.
Immediately, the Cutter is surrounded by a platoon of Lordsholm PDF. The acolytes quickly explain their business and request transportation and a vox line to the House of Echoes. The young officer in charge is skeptical, but ultimately concedes, looking not to obstruct the authority of the Inquisition.
Furthermore, the acolytes question him regarding what they had seen while passing overhead. The officer is hesitant to reply, but ultimately explains that the unrest is merely a series of small demonstration by Lordsholm’s workers. Unsatisfied with the soldier’s answer, Ishamael reaches into the man’s mind. Prying the answers free, he learns that most of the PDF believes that the unrest is much worse then they’ve been told. For some reason, they have been instructed to downplay the violence, although they are anxious regarding the current situation.
The acolytes vox ahead to the House of Echoes and reach the tower’s head of security. The officer is a monotone, emotionless man, speaking in a bizarre manner. Although difficult to understand or converse with, the acolytes determine that the House of Echoes is under lockdown, accessible only with permission from the planetary governor, Lord Governor Perian Thorsholt.
Further complicating matters, Thorsholt is currently hosting a grand celebration in honor of his third niece’s marriage on Desoleum. As such, he is presently entertaining Lordsholm’s nobility at a banquet and ball within Thorsholt Manor.
With no time to waste, the acolytes decide to head to the banquet and to question the Lord Governor. Thankfully, they convince the PDF to issue them with a vehicle and driver.
Following Portica’s winding roads and bridges, the acolytes eventually reach level with Magistria’s cliff top home. Passing through the district’s gates, Thorsholt manor is in sight, a sprawling, stately home located at the highest part of the sea cliffs and looking down across the entire city. The Manor is massive, stretching off in hundreds of metres in either direction – a mass of soapstone-coloured buildings and atriums surrounded by a number of assorted outbuildings. Enclosed by white marble walls, the manor’s wide-open gardens and lawns cover several acres. At the main entrance, many autocarriages are in the process of unloading groups of finely dressed passengers.
At the edge of the Thorsholt Manor grounds, the acolytes find the House of Echoes – the tallest structure in all of Lordsholm.
Exiting their vehicle at the manor’s cobblestone forecourt, the acolytes are greeted by additional members of the Lordsholm PDF. The acolytes learn that the Lord Governor is currently in a private banquet upstairs with his court. However, the troopers assure them that the Lord Governor will be down later kick off the evening’s other planned festivities.
Regardless, the acolytes convince one of the PDF troopers to lead them into the main gala.
Inside, the acolytes find the manor’s numerous ballrooms and chambers packed to the brim with various nobles and distinguished guests. The manor is the very definition of decadence, with paintings, tapestries, sculptures, and other works of art covering every surface. Even finely gilded servitors walk past carrying trays of refreshment. The assembled crowds give the clearly under-dressed acolytes many bemused glances.
Ignoring the onlookers, the acolytes head up to the Lord Governor’s feast, finding the banquet chambers guarded by two members of the Lordsholm PDF – young officers clad in their finest dress uniforms. Ishamael reaches into the soldiers’ minds, convincing them that the acolytes have been assigned to relieve them. The officers seem thankful and head off to enjoy the festivities.
Hoping to maintain some degree of subtlety, Ishamael heads inside while the others wait in the hall.
The huge banquet room is just as opulent as the rest of the manse – with gargantuan chandeliers hanging from the rafters high above. The centerpiece of the room is an exquisite wooden table seating upwards of fifty guests. To the side of the chamber, a group of servitor musicians play sweet and soft compositions. Small servo cherubs flutter around ceilings.
The Lord Governor, a rather rotund man, notices Ishamael arrive and pleads for him to take a seat with his other guests. Immediately, servants start to arrange a new place setting at the far end of the table while a few of the guests mock his clothing.
Ishamael expresses the need to privately discuss some urgent matters, but Thorsholt refuses to leave the party. Knowing that time is of the essence, Ishamael sends a barrage of telepathic imagery into the governor’s mind. Thorsholt is shaken, excusing himself to a private conversation at the side of the room.
Ishamael demands for a place to speak privately, explaining that he and his colleagues are representatives of the Inquisition. The Lord Governor directs him to his private study beyond the banquet hall. Ishamael voxes his comrades to join him.
Immediately, they attempt to warn the Governor of the potential true nature of the unrest.
Thorsholt is dismissive, continuously blaming the agitation a few “rabble rousers” from the working classes that are unhappy over new economic agreements. He states that it’s nothing more than a few “uppity peasants” and some infighting in the slums. Furthermore, Thorsholt states that the PDF will have the situation under control in a few days time.
Again, the acolytes express the concerns of both the PDF as well as Cel’s Astropath Ascendant, Elsharna.
Thorsholt mocks their worries, blaming the disruption of astropathic communication to Myros Kappa on a recent flare in the Pandaemonium. Regardless, he gives the acolytes access to the House of Echoes in order to unburden himself from their company.
Realizing that Thorsholt may be less competent than he attempts to appear, the acolytes leave, seeking proper answers from Elsharna.
The acolytes find the House of Echoes more heavily guarded than the rest of the Magistria. The troops here are well equipped and well-armoured, but clad in long, layered robes. They offer no emotion upon the acolytes’ arrival, merely looking in their direction with lifeless faces. One of the PDF escorts informs the acolytes that these soldiers are The Hollow Guard, the House of Echoes’ mind-cleansed honour guard.
With Thorsholt having sent orders ahead, the acolytes easily gain access to the tower. The interior is strikingly similar to the astropathic choir chambers on Juno – with comparable art and motifs decorating the walls.
As the acolytes enter, Elsharna is already waiting in the atrium. Heading to a sitting room, she explains that the unrest is unlike any she has seen before – claiming that many of the debauched have been preaching blasphemous gospel in praise to the “Sky Father” and the “Lord of Blood and Darkness”. Although Elsharna does not understand their words, she believes that some dark force is guiding their actions. Furthermore, every day, more join their cause – including even some members of the PDF.
Ultimately, Elsharna is glad that the acolytes have arrived, but fears that it is still not enough to stem the quickly growing violence. She expresses the need to get out a real distress call, in order to fully inform the Imperium and the Inquisition that Cel is at oblivion’s edge.
Suddenly, a massive explosion in the courtyard outside rocks the House of Echoes. The blast is followed soon after by automatic weapons fire.
The acolytes run to the closest window to find that a piece of the manor’s walls have been destroyed and that an attacking force is pouring through the breach. The enemy combatants are well armed and organized, crushing the few ceremonially-clad PDF responders.
Eventually, more PDF close in to slow the assault, but it’s clear that a vanguard force has already made it through the perimeter.
Elsharna believes that these rebels have attacked in force knowing that the Inquisition is present. Again, she states the need for a distress call, lest the manor compound – and Lordsholm itself – be overrun completely. The acolytes agree.
Knowing that Elsharna will need time to prepare a message powerful enough to push through any Warp disruption, the acolytes and remaining Hollow Guard prepare a defense. Calidus heads upstairs for a better vantage point of the breached walls, while Taeric, Ishamael, and Caradoc prepare for the vanguard’s assault.
The gunfire outside gets closer and closer while the acolytes take position. However, before they truly ready themselves, the House of Echoes’ heavy wooden doors buckle inwards.
A cursing, screaming horde pours into the building.