“To our eyes, human existence is filled with hopes, desires, nobility and weakness. To see mankind through their eyes is to see the corn waiting for the reaper’s scythe.”
-Inquisitor Herrod, A Discourse on the Enemy Beyond.
The Acolytes explore some of the Mara Arbites surface complex, which consists of a tall fortified wall surrounding three structures- the towering command fortress, a hanger/defense laser housing, and a landing pad/control center. They inspect a well-maintained lander on the landing pad (that the team suspects belongs to one of the competing factions) and Hadrian (with Quint’s assistance) is able to bypass a booby-trapped security lock and reprogram it with their own code in the hopes of keeping the lander for a later escape from the planet. They also explore one of the surface structures and are puzzled to find evidence of recent occupation, but no one can be found.
There is definitely a strong malignant Warp presence on the planet and the feeling grows stronger by the moment. Lazarus and Kessa inform the others that the Warp is bleeding into reality and there is even some visual manifestation of this when the party observes strange near-transparent eel-like creatures flying in and out of the walls, ceiling and floor; they appeared to be surrounding the group and Mir orders everyone to exit the area by taking a stairwell to the sub-surface levels of the prison complex and closer to their goal.
The complex’s sub-surface levels are a dark maze of corridors and rooms lit only by the occasional faint or flickering lumen globe. Ice covers everything and damage from past conflicts and deterioration from ill-maintenance is visible in the abundance of hanging wires, ducting and damaged panels. All is not as it seems- the corridors and rooms seem to be constantly shifting after the group passes through and they often catch glimpses of things in the corner of their eyes moving away. The veil between the Warp and reality grows thinner the deeper they travel. No map could navigate this twisted hell and Arbitrator Lysandros’ experience with being stationed at similar facilities proves valuable in general navigation to lead them in the right direction.
After a time, the party enters an octagonal room containing nine bodies of people that appeared to have died of self-inflicted gunshots. At this moment, the madness of Mara finally takes one of the Janissaries and he starts using his flamer to douse members of the party- setting Red, Hadrian and one of the Janissaries on fire before being dispatched by a headshot from Quint’s dueling pistol. Only Red and Hadrian survive the promethium inferno and despite being exhausted from the intense heat and smoke, the group wisely decides to continue on deeper into the complex without rest. Only a little over half of the original group remains at this time.
Continuing still deeper in the dark twisting ice and frost-covered corridors, they arrive at a area that appears to be the scene of a recent firefight- shell casings litter the ground and las strikes and bullet impacts can be seen in abundance. Present are two bodies- one is a powered armored tech-priest that appears to have suffered from a teleport mishap that partially merged his body with a piece of machinery and the other is a decapitated adept in the high-ranking robes of an Administratum official. There is a strong sense of predatory Warp-taint in the area but Mir decides that gathering information is vital and orders the group to remain alert while Hadrian attempts to decrypt the contents of several data-slates found on the adept’s body.
Mir’s order to have the party wait until Hadrian de-crypts the data-slates proves to be potentially deadly when two powerful daemons materialize into reality and attack the party. Kessa is seriously wounded in the fight and one of the daemons even comes close to slaying the daemon-hunting Crusader Mir before it is dispatched. While a few remain to fight and banish the daemons back to the warp, most of the group flees in terror- their minds slowly breaking from what they have witnessed thus far on Mara.
At the conclusion of the battle, all the members of the party re-group and Lazarus uses his psychic healing to augment the medicae treatments of Hadrian and Uriel. Hadrian also finishes decrypting the data-slates and their contents contain information they already possess (planetary information on the planet and the complex) but there are several notes addressing someone named Herrod.
Continuing deeper into the sub-levels of the prison complex, the group continues to hear and see strange things. Mir notices that Kessa appears to go into a trance periodically and upon questioning, she relates that she is astropathically keeping their masters updated on their progress. One of these trances appears to be taxing to Kessa when she is seen with blood weeping from her empty eye sockets. Not trusting Kessa, Mir accepts the psyker’s explanation for the moment but orders Lysandros to keep an eye on her.
The horror of Mara suddenly takes an unexpected twist when the group passes by one of the prison’s underground Imperial Chapels. This long abandon place of worship has new occupants- ones that are very interested in the Acolytes and have a vendetta with some of them. Standing at the befouled altar with the severed head of Rasar, Tomas of Shale, Priest of the Crow Father (who the Acolytes believe was killed at the House of Dust and Ash) confronts the party- telling them that his master told him where they would be and he has been waiting for them so he may take their souls.
A fierce battle breaks out between the Acolytes’ group and Tomas and his cultists. Psychic and sorcery powers, and their accompanying phenomena powered by Mara’s close proximity to the Warp, prove to be the main factor in this battle. Tomas uses his power to transfix Mir to a state of helpless daydreaming while the cultists attempt to shoot to death the seemingly impervious Crusader. The rest of the cultists engage the rest of the Acolytes backed by Tomas’ sorcery and while the cultists prove little match for the Acolytes, it is the psychic phenomena that is manifested with the use of warp-fueled powers that causes the most danger. Both parties are battered against the ceiling and floor as strange back-to-back reverses in gravity affect the area. Many are seriously wounded and unconscious. Even Mir lays against the ceiling transfixed as the life is slowly taken from him.
On the brink of defeat, the Acolytes and their Janissaries are able to launch a desperate counter-assault that terminates Tomas and the rest of his cultists. But with the battle over, the team is surprised to find that there is no sign of Tomas and his minions, and the only evidence of a battle even taking place are the wounds that the team bares and the shell casings and damage caused by their own weapons.
A few hours after this battle, the group hears the sounds of an intense firefight taking place and when Quint scouts ahead to investigate, he finds a large group from the Amaranthine Syndicate in battle against a rag-tag mob of black-robed individuals supported by minor daemonhosts called Dybuks. Quint is surprised to see that the Amaranthine Syndicate group is being led by a man and woman and he recognizes that the man is a person he met a few years ago named Master Nonesuch during the auction of Haarlock items at the House of Dust and Ash. Not wanting to get involved in the conflict, Quint merely observes and sees the Amaranthine Syndicate annihilate their opponents before continuing deeper into the complex. Quint decides not to follow and goes back to the group to report.
The group finally makes it to the Panopticon section of the prison and amongst the rows and tiers of empty cellblocks they observe a lone man disappear into one of the cells. Interested in locating the man, the group gives pursuit only to be attacked by mobs of ghostly inmates. Lysandros again brings the Emperor’s judgment on some these figures before he is knocked unconscious in the ensuing melee. Red single-handedly stands firm against a large majority of one of the mobs, sustaining several injuries before dispatching his foes. The rest of the group does their part dispatching the rest of the apparitions but sadly Sgt. Makrade is torn apart by the ghosts and only Cpl. Sufal remains as the last surviving Maccabean Janissary.
After tending to their wounded, the party locates the mysterious figure in a makeshift living space in one of the prison cells. The man introduces himself as, Eramus Haarlock’s Navigator, Nostromo, and he tells the Acolytes that by order of his master, he has been waiting specifically for the Acolytes for the past several months (though he gives the Acolytes a current date that is several hundred years past) so that he may act as their guide to the Blind Tesseract. He also tells the Acolytes about the campaign of fratricide that Eramus committed against his relatives in response for their killing of his wife and child, which resulted in him being the surviving heir to the Haarlock’s powerful Warrant of Trade. Eramus used his vast power and wealth to learn of the Blind Tesseract and entered it in an attempt to bring back “what he desires the most” but he has not returned. Nostromo is clearly insane, but Red believes that the man truly intends to help them so he accepts the Navigator’s help.
Nostromo explains that in order to navigate through the ever-changing and twisting corridors of the Mara prison complex, and open the “Door of Darkness” of the Blind Tesseract, the Acolytes need three elements- a Guide (which Nostromo will act as), a Pattern (which the Acolytes do not possess but believe that the Greyskin Psalter that is in the possession of one of the rival groups is a possibility) and a Talisman (which the Acolytes possess in the form of the Keystone from the Steel Clock). The Acolytes decide that they must seek out these rival factions and see if they can obtain from them the elements that they are missing- most likely these rivals will be seeking the same from the Acolytes. Indeed, Nostromo confirms that he has seen some of these rival groups navigating the corridors of Mara.
Nostromo takes over the task of guiding the party deeper into the complex and the veil between the Warp gets noticeably thinner and thinner. Voices and screams echo through the corridors and a strange buzzing noise of unknown origin starts to fill the cold silence. Kessa’s mental state is deteriorating the further down they go. What started as the occasional lapse in composure has escalated to fits of screaming terror, babbling about the buzzing and a weeping helplessness. Lazerus has chosen to comfort Kessa as much as he can to no avail and he and Cpl. Sufal take turns carrying Kessa when she no longer walks on her own.
Hours after traversing the constantly changing corridors, rooms and stairwells, the Acolytes find a mercenary reclaimator named Kort Luther (who they free from a collapsed beam that has him trapped). He tells the party that he was hired by merchants from the Amaranthine Syndicate and that the group’s leaders, a man named Master Nonesuch and a woman named Miss Book, are utterly ruthless and he does not believe they are human. Not interested in working for suspected Xenos and their quest to locate ancient technology, Kort fled and was trapped by the collapsing beam and left for dead. While he tries to convince the Acolytes to return to Mara’s surface to flee the planet, Mir displays his Inquisition Sigil of Inquiry and uses his authority to “convince” Kort to stay with the group in service.
Near the complex’s Generatoria, the party finds that someone has set-up a defensive perimeter in the area, complete with Chaos runes scribed in blood to ward off Warp predators. Further investigation proves that the stronghold is the base of a sect of the Chaos cult, the Pilgrims of Hayte, and they soon attack the party in response for the intrusion. The cultists have a strong defensive position and are supported by three daemonhosts. Their leaders were also present and both are powerful sorcerers that wear the face masks of animals- one wears a heron mask and the other a brass mask of a hound. Some of the party fought with Heron Mask over a year ago on the planet of Quaddis during the Festival of Tattered Fates but he escaped with the remains of a servant of Haarlock called the Widower.
Again, Heron Mask flees the battle with two of his minions while the other sorcerer remains to fight. The fighting was a brutal affair and many of the team are taken out by the Hound’s pyromacy spells. Quint, Hadrian, Mir, Uriel, and Lazarus were all unconscious by the end of the battle and the rest were heavily wounded. Interestingly, the savior of the party ended up being Cpl. Sufal, who was finally able to kill the hound masked sorcerer with a volley of Hellgun fire. His faith in the Emperor has been holding strong throughout this endeavor, despite the loss of his comrades.
Continuing deeper underground, the group comes face to face with another faction seeking the Blind Tesseract- Inquisitor Herrod and his retinue from the Tyrantine Cabal. A noted swordsman, who was thought to have perished at the hands of deadly Nurgle daemons called the Vile Savants, Herrod is very much alive, though his reconstructed body is now more machine than human.
Displaying their Inquisition credentials, the two parties decide to parley and come to an agreement to assist each other in their investigations. Both are seeking the Blind Tesseract and information on Eramus Haarlock, though the Tyrantine Cabal’s interests concern the links to the Tyrant Star. Herrod possess a Pattern (one of the daemon mirror fragments that his acolytes took from Red Cell on Sinophia, which is a point of contention between both parties) and added to Red Cell’s elements, the way to the Door of Darkness can be opened.
Together, the teams proceed deeper underground and it appears that, due to the sporadic mix of rough cut tunnels and partially completed construction, they are far below the planet’s surface and nearing the mines. The barrier between the Warp and reality grows yet thinner with sections of the complex phasing in and out during the Acolytes’ passage. With Nostromo as their guide, the parties are able to navigate the way and avoid potentially treacherous unstable Warp-terrain (though the Acolytes are horrified at one point to see Kort age in seconds before their eyes and turn to dust) and fight more Warp-horrors; though the combined power of the two Inquisition teams is more than adequate to dispatch these foes. Additionally, Nostromo leads them to a strange device built by Haarlock called the Clockwork Augur, which Hadrian and Uriel are able to analyze its data to get an idea where the “Door to Darkness” is located.
After Hadrian restores power to a cargo elevator, the two parties descend deeper into the mines and hours of travel finally bring them into contact with the band from the Amaranthine Syndicate. From positions of cover with covering lanes of fire, Master Nonesuch attempts to negotiate with the Acolytes- explaining that they want to take Nostromo and will return him when they are finished. Both Mir and Inquisitor Herrod are not willing to give up their guide and, since the Amaranthine Syndicate is not interested in surrendering, negotiations break down and battle commences.
This would prove to be the toughest battle yet on Mara as the Amaranthine Syndicate’s men are well-trained and equipped and both Master Nonesuch and Miss Book are armed with deadly anti-mater weaponry. Both Herrod and Mir carve a trail a death with their power swords but the Amaranthine Syndicate provides equal response- slaying and wounding acolytes. Master Nonesuch manages to slay Nostromo and the Acolytes watch horrified as Nonesuch uses a tendril to suck up all of the Navigator’s brain matter before fleeing by stretching his body into an air vent. The Acolytes soon find that Miss Book and Nonesuch are not human because they can sustain tremendous amounts of damage and their bodies appear to be made up of an intertwined collection of worm-like creatures.
During the battle Kessa’s mind finally breaks and she dies by ripping her face off and releasing three of the dreaded Warp Predators, the Psycheneuin, which stalk the parties but are hindered due to the presence of the Untouchables amongst them. Miss Book ends up fleeing by escaping through a vent and the Acolytes take the last surviving enemy prisoner.
Without their guide, the parties are left with using their skills and the data collected from the Clockwork Augur to locate the “Door to Darkness.” The path is a treacherous one without their guide and their minds are exposed to yet more horrors that threaten to take all of their sanity. Hours pass before they arrive at their location- a steel gantry spanning a shaft descending into darkness. Surprisingly, Nostromo is waiting for the Acolytes and states that he was not killed but has been waiting for them here since he fled the battle. He tells the group they must make haste because Nonesuch and Book have already gone through. Unsure of what to make of the Navigator’s appearance, the Acolytes listen to him as he explains that the Door lies below in the shaft and that he can proceed no further. He gives them more cryptic advice before fading from view.
Unsure of what awaits them, one by one the Acolytes leap into the shaft and plunge into darkness…
- GM’s Note: This mission was ran with modifications from Fantasy Flight’s “Dead Stars” book by Alan Bligh and John French. It can be found here: