Ukulam – The Stargazer
Once the crew had regrouped and tended to their injuries, Kusanagi suggested they circle around to the far side of the statue to avoid the sniper who seemed to be in the head. Searching for an entrance to the structure, they noted an opening between the feet. Galakrond led them inside. Corroded pipes hung down from the ceiling above a broad basin in the center of the entry chamber. The stone walls were slick with moisture and bore carvings of tattooed elves in states of undress as they washed themselves. The domed ceiling depicted hundreds of stars connected to form scores of constellations.
Winslow noted the ritual significance of the place, which the Elven writing referred to as the Stargazer. The Oatia elves considered it a sacred space, and cleansing oneself of terrestrial inﬂuences was a necessary exercise before traveling deeper inside the monument. Galakrond decided to respect the ritual of the Oatia elves by washing his hands and head within the pool. Winslow nodded in approval and followed suit.
While the others waited, Twitch informed them that the constellations on the ceiling included both ones commonly taught on Castrovel as well as numerous esoteric designs. The crew ascertained that many of the constellations were known to modern scholars but only thanks to advanced telescopes and faster-than-light travel. That the Oatia elves had identified them suggested they had had extraordinary astronomical equipment, supernatural techniques for surveying the sky, or some other means of seeing far beyond the Pact Worlds system.
Galakrond finished up and led the way into the next chamber. The walls in the long gallery depicted elves using needles to tattoo one another with constellations, geometric designs, and strange runic patterns. Rows of tall stone benches lined either side of the hall. Carved along the ceiling were twelve stylized elven figures, heavily tattooed, adorned in different ways, and marked with starbursts on their foreheads. A pair of cultists lying in wait opened fire with scatterguns, but the crew made short work of them. The vesk looted the bodies before continuing forward.
They found the shirren sniper Salask in a domed room with numerous open skylights and windows. The design of the chamber created a steady ﬂow of outside air. A ring of slime mold formed a misshapen circular pattern on the ﬂoor. As a true believer in the tenets of the Devourer, Salask refused to back down even against overwhelming odds. She was swiftly defeated and bound.
When questioned, she was reticent to talk about Tahomen’s specific plans. All she knew was that Tahomen saw something in the broadcasts from the Drift Rock that he thought had some connection with the Temple of the Twelve, and he believed there was more to learn from the ancient elven temple city. Because she had busily traveled back and forth to harry the crew, Salask had not seen the temple; she just knew that Tahomen believed it holds grand secrets that will speed the bloody end of the galaxy.
Twitch hacked Salask’s comm unit, which had several logged communications with another unit. These conveyed updates about her movements through the jungle and ways in which she had harassed the crew. She also had an extensive number of recorded broadcasts of Eoxian “reality” programming and blood sport, favoring productions by the elebrian celebrity Zo!, including an entire season of the viscerally grotesque Survival Deathmatch Extreme!
After a brief discussion of what to do with the prisoner, it was agreed that she would be left bound with her sword and her rations, so that if she had a chance of survival, but could not harass the crew from a distance anymore. Kusanagi climbed a much steeper staircase that branched off the main stairs and led to a 60-foot-long series of ladder-like handholds that ascended to the upraised palm of the Stargazer’s hand. The slightly cupped hand had lost its delicate guardrails long ago, but there was still space to stand there. Galakrond joined him atop the hand, and the Starfinders noted a pair of ksariks circling the perimeter of the ruins.
They let the others know, and sure enough, the creatures were waiting to attack when the crew exited the Stargazer. Galakrond took a beating, but otherwise the plant creatures were defeated efficiently. The crew continued their journey.
Ukulam – Loskialua
The closer the crew got to the Temple of the Twelve, the more noticeably steep the trek became. By the time they were within a half day’s travel from the site, the jungle thinned out slightly and the ground arose, giving way to a stretch of verdant, rolling foothills crisscrossed by meandering creeks with sources in the striking peaks of the Singing Range to the north and west.
They reached the ruins of what Halkueem Zan had called the “Forsaken City,” but millennia before, these ruins were Loskialua, a small elven settlement. A graveyard of pyramids that rose between two and twenty-five feet in height studded the landscape. With hundreds of structures, Loskialua represented a rare archaeological treasure that would require years of dedicated fieldwork to excavate and document. Of greater interest to the crew, though, was the intact temple and observatory – the Temple of the Twelve – perched hundreds of feet up the side of Alhuenar Spire, one of the Singing Range’s highest mountains.
Standing imperiously on a promontory partway up the mountainside was a temple of elegantly sculpted stone with a single domed tower rising from its center. Expanses of the structure’s weathered exterior bore scores of tall, glass-paned windows that caused the facade to shimmer in the sunlight. Wide stairs were carved into the rock face, winding back and forth as they ascended to the temple from the ruins below. The greater temple complex had once included numerous smaller outbuildings, but these had largely collapsed over time, being of less durable construction than the temple itself.
The crew noted static over their comms that rendered them completely useless by the time they reached the base of the path to the temple. The elves had carved a staircase into the steep slope leading up to the site. Halkueem Zan had called this pathway the “Stairs to Eternity.” The crew encountered a young mountain eel devouring a cultist partway up the path. Though its paralyzing gaze stopped Boske in his tracks for a long moment, the beast was taken down quickly.
On the north side, a series of weathered pillars arced around the entrance of the temple, marking a curving border around a small plaza. A steep, narrow trail left the plaza from the northwest, winding more than a mile up the mountainside to the temple’s main observatory. A figure stepped forward and motioned for the crew to halt upon the stairs before he solemnly greeted them in Elven and ordered them to turn back. The man appeared to be an elf, though Winslow noted that he seemed to be undead. The vesk translated for the others, and Galakrond asked the guardian his name.
“I am Panelliar, Sun Spear of the Inscrutable. It is my duty to guard this place against those who would despoil or misuse my people’s discoveries.”
“That’s not why we’re here,” said the vesk. “We’re here to stop cultists from doing that. Have you seen anyone else?”
“Centuries ago, a child of Golarion came. He sought the secrets beyond for his own glory, so I turned him away with violence. A band of lashuntas and an unfamiliar alien arrived recently. I recognized them as pawns of the Star-Eater, and although I turned them away, the leader’s conviction and magic were strong; I relented.”
“Magical compulsion?” guessed Winslow.
“Any way we can convince you to let us pass?” asked Boske.
“The speaker for the Star-Eater does not wish to allow you to enter, and by his will, I must insist. You are not welcome here.”
Reluctantly, the crew engaged the ancient elven guardian. He sparred with Galakrond using a solarian enhanced spear for a few moments before moving into position and unleashing a supernova revelation. The wave of fire washed over most of the crew and the heat was so intense that it killed Ralkawi, the cultist that they had saved from the ksarik spores. Panelliar fell shortly thereafter, a hole through the chest plate of his ancient elven battle armor, courtesy of Boske. Winslow provided magical healing and everyone took a few minutes to rest before they entered the temple.
The ornately carved wooden doors leading into the temple had just barely survived the ages intact. They were unlocked, and Boske kicked them in easily, alerting anyone who might be inside to the presence of newcomers. From its ﬂoor to its curved ceiling thirty feet above, this entry hall was covered in sweeping arcs of constellations marked with delicate lines and numbers at regular intervals. A series of short climbing pitons stuck out of the ground near the center of the room, where embedded ﬂoor scythes had been placed to slash at the unwelcome.
While the others examined the constellations, Kusanagi scouted ahead to the right. Three wooden doors lined the west wall of the gallery there. The curving interior wall depicted the night sky and its stars. A three-foot-tall octagonal stone platform stood in the middle of the hall, and the android noted a trio of cultists that had taken cover along the wall. He reported back to the others, and the crew attacked without preamble. The lesser cultists fell quickly, but their leader forced a chase around the back side of a central chamber where Dr. Solstarni lay bound. They managed to defeat the lashunta cultist before she could detonate the explosives that she and her cultists had placed on the ceiling.
The southernmost point in the temple was a high-ceilinged sanctuary with tall, narrow windows filled with foggy, discolored glass. The vantage point jutted out over the cliff below, overlooking the stairs carved into the mountainside and the ruined settlement below. The kasatha archaeologist abducted from the university in Qabarat, Dr. Solstarni, was fettered here and looked up at the Starfinders in great relief. They released her and asked what she knew about the remaining cultists.
“The so-called Eyrub Paqual was a ploy, as I suspected. The man behind my abduction is a lashunta called Tahomen, who leads a significant Cult of the Devourer cell. From what I gather, he learned of ancient texts associated with the explorer Halkueem Zan’s travels here and attempted to recruit me to travel here and decipher anything we found. What I’ve learned is that the Oatia elven culture found the cosmos utterly fascinating, at first worshiping Desna before fixating on several alien entities and celestial features to worship – especially a constellation of twelve stars, which might be strictly symbolic. He knocked me out after I ceased cooperating here, and I suspect he learned something more in the temple’s inner sanctum.”
She gestured to a door on the south facing of the central chamber of the temple, and the crew moved to investigate. Once a freestanding shrine dedicated to Desna, the butterﬂy-shaped structure became the inner sanctum of the temple to Ibra later built around it. Even an untrained viewer could tell that the construction styles of the two phases were quite distinct. The astronomers of the Temple of the Twelve had stored the records of their greatest discoveries here, and the sanctum was filled with physical books and scrolls. A spiral staircase to the north climbed to the temple’s observatory tower high above the ground ﬂoor.
No sooner had Galakrond set foot inside than a pair of elven statues flanking the entrance animated and attacked. No one had any ideas about the nature of the magical constructs, but they didn’t last long against the crew regardless. With the guardians defeated, some of the crew looked around with Dr. Solstarni, while others defused the explosives.
Many of the pre-Gap books were legible, albeit barely intact. Tahomen had been sloppy in returning documents to their proper places, allowing the crew to uncover the same information that he had. Most of the texts were in Elven, though some were in Celestial, Draconic, and an archaic version of Castrovelian that was very difficult for a modern speaker to parse. However, with Dr. Solstarni’s assistance, the Starfinders learned that the Oatia elves were a philosophical offshoot that had spurned their Sovyrian kin and sought a new life of cosmic contemplation on Ukulam, thousands of years before the Gap. Their techniques had quickly improved, and through a combination of telescopes and divination magic, the elves had discovered a strange constellation of twelve stars that formed a perfect circle in the sky. The more they had studied the constellation, the stranger their dreams had become, and powerful scholar-priests had begun recording the odd language they saw and heard.
As the elves’ knowledge of and exposure to the galaxy had expanded, they’d parleyed with increasingly bizarre and powerful alien minds, most notably a powerful being known as Ibra – especially noteworthy because the elves’ records suggested that Ibra may not have been a deity at the time. Through Ibra’s teachings, the elves had studied the mysterious circular constellation, learning that it was not a natural feature but the construction of an impossibly ancient and highly advanced species untold light years away. The scholar-priests sensed that the ring pulsed with an unnatural energy, which led them to believe it to be a gateway of some kind. The elves called it the Gate of Twelve Suns, and they renamed their temple in honor of it.
There were a few theories, but the most popular hypothesis was that the Gate of Twelve Suns represented such power that it could only be (or serve as the portal to) some cosmically powerful superweapon. One of the scholar-priests even posited the existence of a so-called “Stellar Degenerator,” which could drain all energy from a star, turning it into a hypothetical stellar remnant called a black dwarf. Unfortunately, there’s no definitive note of where the Gate of Twelve Suns was – as if identifying its location had been taboo to the elves.
As interpretive disputes broke out among the elves, they had agreed that from the confines of Loskialua, they could never confirm their theories, much less attain enlightenment through discovery under the inspired guidance of Ibra. They had packed up what they needed, and then they had performed a ritual that the texts referred to only as “the Celestial Voyage.” The implication was that the elves had traveled to another system, though whether they succeeded or failed was uncertain from these records.
Armed with the knowledge of what Tahomen had found and the threat it could represent in the hands of the Cult of the Devourer, the crew finished up treasure hunting and exited the temple. As they stepped outside, the cult leader Tahomen and his two surviving cultists descended from the mountain. The cult leader engaged in some mocking banter as his subordinates set the heavy comm unit components down. Then he pulled out and activated a detonator.
He clicked the button another couple of times in confused irritation before throwing the detonator aside in disgust and growling at his underlings to attack! The cultists fell swiftly, but Tahomen’s magic carved painful gouges in the crew’s flesh before he was dazed and laid low.
With Tahomen defeated, the Starfinders inspected the comm unit his team had carried across Ukulam. The system was massive, only capable of being moved by several strong people once it had been broken into smaller components. Even with the comm unit disassembled, Twitch booted up the system’s computer and accessed its unsecured communications log. Tahomen had dutifully purged his correspondence history leading up to this expedition, but the ysoki could still determine that the comm unit had logged a call and significant data upload about three hours earlier.
To access more information, Twitch hacked the comm unit’s computer. Once he had access to the system, he could read Tahomen’s recent communications. The correspondence relayed many of the same conclusions the crew had learned in the inner sanctum, but with more sinister certainty: Tahomen posited that the 12-star constellation – the Gate of Twelve Suns – opened to a demiplane that hid an unspeakably powerful superweapon. The cult leader believed that the Drift Rock was a tiny fragment of this “Stellar Degenerator,” broken off when a portion of the demiplane was torn away and added to the Drift as a result of Drift travel. Tahomen had also recommended that the Cult of Devourer apply as many resources as possible to find the Gate of Twelve Suns – and the Stellar Degenerator – before anyone else could. In addition, the Starfinders learned the approximate coordinates of the location Tahomen had transmitted his messages to: a stretch of several hundred asteroids in the Diaspora.
Having thwarted Tahomen and his Devourer cult, the crew was compelled to expedite their return to civilization. Having used up their environmental protection on the trip across Ukulam, they traveled by night on the return trip, sleeping in their tents which offered protection – if not comfort – from the oppressive heat.
Professor Muhali was relieved to see her colleague in one piece, and university officials offered each of the crew admittance and free tuition to the school for up to three years in thanks for their service. Alternatively, they offered a “research grant” of a thousand credits from the university in lieu of a scholarship. Most of the crew opted for the latter.
Finally, they sent a message to Chiskisk in advance of their return to Absalom Station, as well as requests for upgrades to the Sunrise Maiden that Twitch wanted to add before taking the ship out on anymore missions.