The Murder of Crows

Iocanthos - The Crow Father

Having escaped the Pilgrim’s Folly, their pursuit of the Enunciator, and the need to find medical treatment for Lazarus takes the Acolytes to the desert world of Iocanthos. They land in Port Suffering where they deliver Lazarus into the care of local medicae facility, the Alms House. There they meet Sister Xanthe, a Sister Hospitaller currently exiled from the Sororitas Abbey of Dawn and sent to oversee the Alms House as a ‘punishment’ following her continued ‘transgressions’. She agrees to accompany the acolytes while Lazarus recovers under the care of the medicae staff, using her knowledge to act as a local guide. During their stay in the Port, the acolytes are attacked by a group of thugs from a local clan, the Ashleen. The acolytes are also accosted by a crazed man who screeches about ‘the Crow Father, dancing at the threshold’. As instructed by their Inquisitor, the acolytes ask Sister Xanthe to take them to the seer Aristarchus. Aristarchus is a member of the Scholastica Psykana and a widely famed reader of the Emperor’s Tarot, known for the accuracy of his divinations. He is also a known ally and agent of Inquisitor Kaede. They learn from him that building materials (including ore) have been imported to the planet in large volume due to the construction of a new Cathedral in the settlement of Stern Hope. The seer has received a gift of thanks in the shape of an ancient set of the Emperor’s Tarot, apparently an heirloom from Aristarchus’ familiar ties to St. Drusus, from the leading member of the Ecclesiarchy at Stern Hope, Missionary-Abbot Orland Skae. The seer asks the acolytes to assist him in investigating reports of strange psychic phenomena that seem to centre around the cathedral and its construction site. There is no time to lose as the cathedral is due to be consecrated in a few days time.
Cole and Serverus secure a battered old flatbed truck for transportation, and the party head into the desolation of the Barrens as they journey towards Stern Hope. They have an eventful journey, including encounters with dead men that walk, eye-less predatory birds known as ‘Shale Crows’ and witness many signs and portents that all is not as it should be. Aristarchus grows increasingly animated by his Tarot divinations, claiming it truly is a time of miracles. It is during this journey that Praetorius and Xanthe strike up a relationship.
They arrive at Stern Hope where the acolytes continue their investigations into sinister goings on relating to the construction of the cathedral. They stay in the Crying Clota Inn. They meet senior members of the congregation, including Brothers Lamark and Severance and finally have an audience with Missionary-Abbot Skae himself. The Abbot asks the acolytes to route out and purge any evil that may have afflicted his congregation.
Brother Lamark leads the acolytes into the hills to investigate the sightings of strange lights and bodies that had been discovered there. They are attacked by a huge carnivorous Hexalid. It had clearly been dead for some time yet had somehow been reanimated. After a brief struggle, Mira clamps the beasts mouth shut with a sword while Cole blows its rancid skull apart.
Aristarchus is consulting his tarot more frequently, and appears haggard.
The Warlord Seth’s fanatical cult-clan the Voicers attack Stern Hope, intending to stop the consecration of the cathedral. The acolytes rally the defenders, including the war chief Koske and his men, and defeat Seth’s crazed zealots. During the fight, Cole becomes embroiled in a close quarter knife fight while protecting some civilians. He also inadvertently obliterates several Voicers with a fumbled pipebomb. Serverus defends the settlement’s Generatoria, shredding a number of the enemy using one of their own vehicle mounted heavy stubbers. Mira blows the Voicer leader’s head apart with a well placed round of high explosive. The remaining attackers flee.
However, one of the Voicer’s is captured. Aristarchus and Skae have a heated argument with Esha Raine, the Ashleen tribe’s Death Singer, regarding the significance of the attack. She believes it is a dire omen. Aristarchus executes the prisoner and he and Skae decree that the consecration will go ahead. Esha curses them and leads her people, and Koske away from Stern Hope.
An hour before the ceremony, Abbott Skae staggers from the cathedral spattered in blood. He says that he and Brother Severance were attacked by a dark shape in the form of a woman. Brother Severance is dead, his eyes have been torn out.
Aristarchus is furious and declares Esha Raine to be a witch. He commands the acolytes to arrest her.
Xanthe receives a vox from the Alms House regarding Lazarus’ care and returns to Port Suffering.
The acolytes journey through a raging dust storm to reach Esha’s steading.
Upon their arrival, there is an uneasy standoff with Koske’s men who refuse to let Esha be taken. Cole draws his pistols and guns Koske down. A gunbattle ensues. Serverus rams the truck into several foes. Mira puts a bullet through Esha. As the firefight rages, the dust storm hits with a vengeance. It brings with it echoing laughter, baleful sickly lights and flocks of taloned Shale Crows that swoop down and attack.
The acolytes survive the attack and recover a book from Esha’s bleeding corpse. It tells a tale of Saint Drusus battling a daemon-possessed cult leader on the very hill upon which the cathedral has been built.
The acolytes received a garbled vox message from Aristarchus, saying that Skae had taken him into the cathedral where he had seen a vision of Saint Drusus, and that he could be a vessel for the Saints blessed rebirth.
Unable to hail the Seer, the acolytes made haste back to Stern Hope.
They find the settlement ominously deserted but for a score of bodies that appear to have committed suicide. A dim haze illuminates the cathedral.
At the foot of the stairs lies the body of Brother Lamark and several junior clerics. They have all had their eyes removed. With his dying breaths Lamark tells the acolytes that Skae has everyone in the cathedral and is ‘waiting to be freed and to feed’.
Inside the cathedral they see Aristarchus standing atop the alter at the cathedral’s centre, the cards of the emperor’s tarot orbit in the air around him, each one burning ghost white, almost too bright to look at. In the harsh flickering glare they see that the pews are filled with the people of Stern Hope, men, women, children frozen, standing as if to attention, eyes wide in terror, tears streaming down their cheeks and their mouths whispering words that are not their own. The domed space of high ceiling boiled with a tangle of seething darkness as the warp bled through.
The acolyte team confront Skae. The preacher has been possessed by the Daemon Prince Tsyiak, The Crow Father. In a distorted gurgling voice, the thing that was Abbot Skae says, “I’m glad you could make it, my friendsss.” The Abbot’s body shuffled forward and fixed them with burning white eyes. “Behold! A miracle of faith! Behold! Saint Drususss is returning to usss!”. The Skae Thing barks guttural laughter, “Sssoon I shall be free, oh not in thisss pretty fragment of meat, but in a form imperishable! And all thanksss to these witless foolsss and their faith! They came scrabbling in the dirt for a saint and found instead a god! Foolsss they were – easssily blinded, one by ambition and one by pride, and what shall I blind you with I wonder… Now, come forth and receive my blesssssing!”.
A deadly and fatal battle ensues.
One by one the acolytes are bested, have their eyes ripped out, and are torn to pieces by the daemon, until only Mira remains. As the fell creature begins to dismember her it gloats about the coming of a ‘Dread Pearl’ that will allow it to cross the boundaries of realspace and the Warp.
Unbeknown to the acolytes, their master, the Inquisitor Vownus Kaede had been monitoring their progress remotely from the distant Bastion Serpentis upon a Scintillan moon, covertly directing their efforts via his agent the Sister Xanthe, to draw the daemon out. The Inquisitor had a strike team of Deathwatch Adeptus Astartes waiting in low orbit above Stern Hope, and upon hearing the daemon finally reveal his eldritch plans he gave the order for them to destroy the creature.
The Deathwatch team, led by Marcus Arrelius, descended upon the cathedral and assaulted the Crow Father with all of the Emperor’s might. After a bitter and terrible struggle, the daemonhost Skae was finally slain, and the daemon cast back into the warp.
Or so they thought. For in the daemon’s final desperate throes it lashed out psychically, searching for a new host. It latched on to Mira’s soul as she lay dying, and tried to force itself upon her. But the training Mira had received as an assassin had conditioned her mind as much as it had done her body. The daemon pushed inside her physical body, but her strong mind and forceful will refused to be overcome. And so assassin and daemon fought unobserved for control of the unconscious body that lay broken on the cold cathedral floor.
The tattered and torn bodies of the fallen acolytes and decimated congregation of Stern Hope were recovered and delivered to the Abbey of Dawn for urgent care under the supervision of Sister Xanthe. The Sisters Hospitaller worked fervently, but were unable to save many of those injured, including the acolyte Guardsman Praetorius and Brother Lamark , for the wounds they had sustained were so grievous. However the Sisters were able to stabilise the critically injured Cole, Serverus and Mira, and their unconscious bodies were repatriated to the Emperor’s Grace for return to Scintilla and full medicae care.

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Skampaw

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