The Joyous Choir

Dark dreams lie upon the heart!
— Evocation to the Immortal Emperor

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The newly minted agents (and acolyte Hernandez) attend Aristarchus' memorial; his name is added to the Rolls of the Honored Dead. After the ceremony, the Inquisitor speaks to them and gives them their official sigils, along with instructions to use them rarely, and only when absolutely necessary. She shows them an enlargement of the micro-circuitry found in the Aristarchus' “tarot deck”. She believes that Aristarchus was deliberately targeted, either personally or in order to reach her. The micro-circuitry was of xenos origin, but the exact source has not been identified, by someone who must have known about Aristarchus' habit to buy a new deck on each planet he visited – an uncomfortable level of insider knowledge.

Interestingly, a friend of Inquisitor Skane just sent her a so-called “Harmony Meter” swiped from the Scintilla cult calling themselves “the Joyous Choir” – and the technology is similar. The Joyous Choir targets the nobles on Scintilla. Inquisitor's friend, the Honourable Laurent Strophes, is looking for his niece who disappeared on Scintilla after showing some interest in the Choir. Laurent Strophes and his daughter Julia will help the agents (and acolyte Hernandez) to pose as their guests from the minor nobility of Fenksworld, a backwater. The Inquisitor will provide them with expense accounts to cover their disguise, and presents Aenid with the Writ of Question for the mission; they have a month.

Later that night, while the team is preparing for this mission, Narthax comes to see Rollando Hernandez, insisting that what he has to say must be shared with no one. No one. He says they may be accompanied to Sepheris Secundus and not allowed to be linked with their master, to return from Sephiris Secundus, nor allowed to remain alive once they depart from Sephiris Secundus. Narthax insists that failing in this could destroy them all, and all their master works for. Hernandez promises that he will do his duty.

The next day, they make their arrival in Hive Sibellus and are greeted by Lady Julia, who call Aenid “cousin”. At this rarefied level, the Hive is quite splendid – unlike the view Aenid most often has had. It is also heavily populated, and there is always someone watching; Xanthia spots a discreet escort from Security. Julia leads them to a more private estate and into a comfortable room where Laurent Strophes is waiting. He asks for news of Inquisitor Skane, then gets down to business: his niece Saia was an obedient, easily managed girl, but given to melancholy. A year ago she encountered the Joyous Choir and joined. Julia checked out the group at the time, and declared them thick and simple-minded. Recently, Saia told them that she was about to become 'True' – then disappeared shortly after, about a month ago. Laurent Strophe had an associate “obtain” a Harmony meter and sent it to Inquisitor Skane.

Examining the Harmony meter, Xanthia determines immediately that it is psy active. A bit of experimentation shows that it reacts most strongly to Xanthia among the entire group. Julia next takes them to their assigned quarters; Cherubiel approves of the setting but proves uncooperative when Xanthia questions him for any knowledge of the Joyous Choir.

They then examine Saia's personal effects and quarters; they have been well searched already. Julia gets them all equipped as a noble (Hernandez), his bodyguards (Aenid, Calpurnia), and entertainer (Xanthia). She tells them that they will be able to meet with the bounty hunter who procured the Harmony meter, but only in the middle hive.

Julia gives them some pointers on etiquette: never slight one's ancestors or lineage unless prepared to fight over it; never find fault with or question the authenticity of someone's possessions; and a life's worth is measured by how high they live in the Hive. The current fashion involves low-light gatherings to enjoy aether-weaving fabrics. For a day, she makes them practice their roles.

The second day, they are invited to meet the bounty hunter, Vorlin Orday, in a middle hive bar called the Barking Saint. Strophe gives them directions and a map. Hernandez cannot go, as this is too low-brow for his role, but Aenid, Xanthia, and Calpurnia head out. After an hour's trip they reach the entrance to the lower hive – and for Aenid, the stink of home. They shove their way through the middle hive crowds for another hour before they reach the Barking Saint.

They walk in, through the mouth of a giant canine statue, and are greeted by a youth announcing the rules of “first drawn weapon, unworn styles barred.” Everyone in the room stares at them. Calpurnia glares intimidatingly, while Aenid approaches the bar and orders a drink. She asks the bartender about Orday, and he sends them to the back room, where a fit man is having a drink. He tells them that whatever Strophes is paying them, it's not worth the money. He is leaving Scintilla, himself.

The Joyous Choir are better connected than he had reckoned; they seem connected with the Magistratum as well as involved in drug traffic, such pharcosia, a new designer drug. They were selling to Saia, though he did not tell Strophes; it's a really expensive drug, so only nobles can afford it. The Magistratum is ignoring the situation, as well as the disappearance of nobles. He recovered a dataslate that lists corrupt Magistrates, and also contains an encrypted section he's been unable to crack open; he wants one thousand Thrones for it. Xanthia offers five hundred, and they finally agree on seven hundred; he will bring the information in three days, just before he leaves the planet. In the mean time, they send a full report to Narthax.

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