The Cathedral of St. Drusus

True faith is blind and justified!
— Evocation to the Immortal Emperor


Quaesitor Aristarchus and his assistants roll on through the camp. They meet a man with the clerical robes of the Ecclesiarchy, carrying a lantern, waves to them and approaches. He is Brother Lamark, who transmits Abbot Orlan Skae regrets but welcomes them. Xanthia asks whether they can go into the cathedral at once but Brother Lamark is hesitant to disturb Abbot Skae to let them in. He offers to take them to their accommodations, the rickety two-story guest house, which they will have all to themselves.

They check their quarters for any listening devices, they clean up using the water sparingly. Imperial Psyker Neonate Xanthia and Arbites Aenid Fraal then head out to check Stern Hope camp. As they open the door, they face a crowd of perhaps forty or fifty people who fall to their knees, asking for the Emperor's blessing. To help Xanthia and Aenid get through, Teniente Rollando Hernandez generously provides a fluent, eloquent blessing that suitably distracts the crowd.

The place looks a lot like a refugee camp. It's clear that the locals are quite dedicated to the Imperial Cult, and they have very limited access to technology. There are a few permanent buildings of note, including the Guest House, the Priory where the abbot stays (a prefab building), a Genatoria housing the generator, an open area for the warriors of the local tribes to assemble in, and the spectacular cathedral of St. Drusus.

The cathedral appears complete from the outside. It is guarded, but it looks fairly easy to sneak in, so at Xanthia's behest, she and Aenid go in. The interior is not lit, so they cautiously use their flashlights. The cathedral may not be the equal of those found on places like Scintilla, but it's quite impressive for a frontier planet. It looks finished on the inside as well.

Back at the Guest House, Commissar Calpurnia Jemadar cleans her weapons and Hernandez checks the roof for security. They hear moaning from Quaesitur Aristarchus' room so they rush to check on him; Calpurnia opens the door and sees Aristarchus fitfully thrasing in bed. She softly calls his name to wake him up; he bolts out of bed, quick as lighnting, pointing a laspistol between her eyes. When he realizes it's his assistants, he looks sheepish and puts the weapon away. They offer assistance and he accepts a bit of amasec which Calpurnia gets from Xanthia's luggage.

Aenid and Xanthia return and everyone swaps information, then they go to bed and are not troubled any more except by Aristarchus' restless mumblings and moanings.

In the morning, they go meet Abbot Skae, who tells them that tomorrow is St. Drusus' Day, and they hope to consecrate the cathedral. He implores them to protect the site from the mysterious evil goings-on that have been plaguing the area at night: sickness of the local clans' horses, disappearance of some tribesmen and pilgrims, sounds of laughter and wingbeats, bones of dead men pickked too quickly and too cleanly, etc. From the description, it appears that the tattoos they observed on the walking dead man a day out of town match those of the local tribesmen.

Abbot Skae takes them to visit the cathedral and they get to admire a portrait of St. Drusus surrounded by birds and half-crushing shadowy figures. Calpurnia asks the abbot for more information about the life and times of St. Drusus; they learn that he only spent a couple of weeks on the planet, rapidly pacifying Iocanthos and converting the tribes to the Imperial Cult. He crushed an army of native worshippers of a pagan cult here on the site that was selected for the cathedral.

The only thing that gives any notoriety to the planet is ghostflower pollen, which is used to make the combat drug frenzon. The natives collect the ghostflower pollen and trade it to the Imperium for goods; the leader of the tribe that collects the most pollen on a given year is named governor for a year.

Most, but not all, of the disturbances have taken place outside of town, but three weeks ago Malthus the stonemason disappeared, and a few nights ago a wall in the cathedral started bleeding. They go question Malthus' wife; he and his wife were off-worlder pilgrims who had come here to work on the cathedral. Malthus had been greatly annoyed in his work by the flocks of shale crows that had converged on the construction until its completion.

At this point, they see a cleric of the same order as Brother Lamark running for the priory, so Calpurnia hurries after him to discover what the matter is, and the rest follow. Abbot Skae says he was about to send for them: there has been a murder. They hurry to the tent of one of the local workers and find Brother Lamark speaking in low tones with a man covered in blood. When they peek inside the tent, they see that is it awash in blood and body parts: someone was hacked to pieces with an axe that was left lying in the blood. Shale crows are perched nearby and seem to be attentive, even though they are eyeless. This is the first disturbance to take place in daytime.

Aenid listens to the bloodied man's whispers; he keeps repeating, "It wasn't her," over and over. Xanthia and Aristarchus (who arrived with the abbot) check for indications of psychic powers but find none. Hernandez sees one of the people he blessed earlier, trying to talk to him. He follows the man, who tells him in hushed tones that this place used to be, long before the arrival of the Saint, consecrated to pagan gods and that terrible things happened here. He knows little about the tales, but he says that Deathsinger Esha Raine will be here later that day, accompanying Warchief Kos'ke and the local tribesmen who come to witness the consecration of the cathedral.

The prisoner and murderer is taken to a room in the Guest House for the Inquisitorial team to question him. Aenid and Calpurnia team up to interrogate him, trying to get him to say more than, "It wasn't her." Aenid recites a litany and gets his attention; at the end of the prayer he looks straight at her and says, "The dancer in the dark." He then throws his head back, dislocates his own jaw with an inhuman scream, his nose and ears start bleeding and his eyes burst before he dies. The blood pools around his head in the shape of a shale crow. But faith in the Emperor sustains Aenid and Calpurnia, unshaken even by this horrible sight.

The incident is reported to the abbot, who comes to examine the damage with Quaesitor Aristarchus. The team informs them of everything they have learned; Xanthia notices that the abbot reacts a bit when he hears "the dancer in the dark" mentioned; he says it is one of the local mindless superstitions. Calpurnia asks about the schedule for the day of consecration; the tribes are to arrive at sundown tonight and the next day will be filled entirely with prayers with the solemn blessing being given at night. For now, they still have several hours before dark.

Aenid decides that they must examine the surrounding hills where so much of the disturbances and disappearances have taken place; Xanthia and Calpurnia agree to accompany her while Hernandez, who now feels a certain connection to the inhabitants of Stern Hope, will stay to speak to people and guard Aristarchus.

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