Thankfully, the acolytes’ cargo lander punches out through Zetah VII’s atmosphere, making a desperate escape from the doomed world. Dodging flak and the enormous, building-sized rounds punching through the sky, the vessel eventually makes it to the Imperial Navy battle lines.
Immediately upon the return to The Reliant Dawn, announcements sound to prepare for a warp jump. The crews are panicking in the flight bay, closing the blast doors, and quickly securing gear and shuttles. Moments later, an inhuman scream echoes through the cavernous chamber as The Reliant Dawn translates into the immaterium; an ominous sign for the travels to come.
The few refugees who made it to the ship are taken away to what can only be assumed is forced servitude in the belly of the battle cruiser. Other, more resistant individuals are executed on the spot.
The acolytes are told to expect a few weeks of warp travel in which they can recuperate. Heading up the stairs and into the general quarters, the acolytes are stricken by how many of their fellow comrades are missing.
The acolytes spend some time recovering from their injuries, requisitioning new gear, gambling, and trying to rest their weary minds. Eventually, an older figure informs the party that they have arrived in the Askellon Sector and are to transfer off of the ship and onto Desoleum, a “miserable hiveworld”.
Corvath pilots them down to planet’s surface and leaves them at one of the main hive’s multiple spaceports. Almost immediately after they arrive, the acolytes notice how visible each Desoline’s oath cog is. Some are a very simple wheels, others are bizarre, complicated, geared devices like snowflakes of brass and wire. The sizes and intricacies appear to correspond with rank and social standing.
Finding travel arrangements, the acolytes head to the strangers quarters within Desoleum City and find themselves some inconspicuous lodgings. The acolytes spend a solid few days becoming accustomed to this area of the main hive and acquire food, bedding, and extra pieces of gear.
On their twenty-seventh evening on Desoleum, a knock comes to acolytes’ hab-door. A young looking man, in dark, heavy robes hands over a piece of parchment. It features a date, time, and place: tomorrow afternoon, the mid-hive market district.
At the market, a false rain falls over the tents and stalls. Under a steel sky, the rain is disconcerting. The location is a small, street-facing tavern. Now soaked, the stall is warmly lit from within.
Eventually, a hooded man approaches from the crowd. Under his robes, he is armoured and armed. His gait is familiar. As he approaches the light, his face is revealed. It is Valdane, strangely without escort. He sits at the wet, wooden bar without paying the acolytes notice, and begins to speak.
“There are increasing reports of horrible deaths within the hive’s upper levels, with odd items of a possible xenos or archaeotech nature found with each corpse. We assume that they are related to the late Archibald’s wares. Fellow nobles have related that these deaths were preceded with bouts of erratic and troublesome behavior. Many now worry that a lesser hive noble named Lans Guljian has exhibited many of the same behaviours.
Investigate the deaths and possible connections to any illicit artifacts, determine if they are related to Archibald and Sorgoth’s hellish consortium, and terminate their distribution in the Hive. Recover and contain any items uncovered, lest they corrupt others. Desoleum teeters on the blade’s edge of damnation, and one further heresy could topple the entire hive into the abyss.”
After gathering a few rumours, the acolytes hear that Guljian hasn’t been seen in public for weeks and that he even refuses visits from family, friends, and business associates.
The acolytes fabricate a cover story: they represent an upstart Rogue Trader, Magnus Locke, who is wishing to pursue some very lucrative business opportunities. Using this story, they convince Guljian’s servants to let them into his manor.
After waiting a short period to be escorted to Guljian, the servant returns, agitated, and explains that Guljian can not take any guests. Moments later, a chilling scream sounds from upstairs. Guljian’s study on the third floor is a scene of chaos: embossed books and fine quills are strewn about haphazardly, while parchment, ink, and a lamp have been knocked from the desk, leaving only a small black orb sitting atop it. Kneeling on the floor, Guljian screams and babbles incoherently as he claws at his own face—his lips are ripped to tatters, and blood streams from numerous cuts and tears across his face. Lying near him is a bloody letter opener and two pulped white globs—his eyes.
Amador restrains Guljian and provides some medical attention. Tybs searches the room and finds a few incoherent journal entries regarding “forgotten kingdoms and cyclopean cities”, Guljian’s new acquisition, and “the pale children” at the “wheel that wails.”
Upon consulting Guljian’s bodyguard, it becomes clear that the noble had recently acquired the orb from a gang at the Screaming Wheel, a mid-hive cantina. Since obtaining the orb, Guljian’s behavior has changed wildly. During their conversation, Guljian begins speaking in an alien tongue and then promptly dies.
Uziel picks up the orb, a perfectly smooth black sphere, heavy and cold to the touch. After touching the artifact, he has an intense vision of a vast and barren alien landscape, studded with massive and bizarre structures. Grax senses the stink of the warp clinging to the object.
The acolytes decide to find the Screaming Wheel and the gang who sold the object. Inside the poorly lit, smoke filled cantina, the acolytes encounter a vicious and crazy gang, dressed in fineries that would more likely be found among apex nobles. After charming the gang leader, the acolytes discover that the true source is a dealer named Zax Holthane. His area of operations is Three Stakes’ Rest, located in a decrepit and run-down area close to the lower hive.
Once again parading themselves as the envoy of Magnus Locke, the acolytes track down Holthane and start a business relationship. They make a small, initial purchase of mummified xenos hand. Remarkably, the hand twitches and reacts to Uziel and the orb’s proximity. The hand’s shipping crate is stamped with the seal of the Porty Gyre Auctoriate Porteus.
The Auctoriate Porteus serves as the voidport’s administrative authorities, controlling the flow of goods in and out of Desoleum. Holthane remarks that he has a contact on the inside who he uses to doctor paperwork.
Holthane and the acolytes set up a second meeting a few weeks from now and head off to the port, attempting to track down the Auctoriate insider.
At the Auctoriate, the acolytes find and question a young Adept. They learn that there is a large amount of corruption in the port, but one Prefect, Gaius Anteshern has recently been bragging about a large transaction. He’s been throwing around Desoleum Script at local taverns and gambling halls.
The acolytes eventually find Anteshern at his favorite gambling hall and “detain” him for questioning. Dragging him into a dark alley, the acolytes beat him into divulging his secrets.
Anteshern has altered the documents of a shuttle, Arvus Lighter 341 Beta-Sky, for Holthane numerous times – the last time was five months ago. The records he doctors indicate that it arrives with a different Warp-capable voidship each time. As a result, he has no clue as to how the goods—whatever they may be—are actually brought into the system.
A stranger came to the port with his retinue just few weeks ago, offering a huge payment in exchange for obscuring the shuttle’s origin again. The stranger had obtained Anteshern’s name directly from Holtane and was wearing hooded red robes and had a large number of bionics.
The acolytes assume that this stranger may be the Tech Priest and his retinue that they had encountered at the checkpoint leading into the port only a few hours ago.
From Anteshern, the acolytes are sure that a potentially sensitive and highly valuable shipment is arriving in only a few hours. Now, they must find 341 Beta-Sky and the location of its arrival among the thousands of Port Gyre’s landing pads.