And then the starfighter turned away, heading back for the solar space station. The crew did not question this turn of events but instead began the calculations for the trip back home through the Drift.
Back at the Lorespire Complex, Historia-7 eagerly awaited them, exhibiting the slightest slip of happiness. She had already prepared a team of Dataphile operatives to decode and record the contents of the stolen files. They set to work immediately while she debriefed the crew and forwarded a message from Envar Tamm to each of their comms. It was a digital invitation to the young socialite’s 24th birthday party, described as an all-inclusive trip to a pleasure yacht in high orbit over Verces, with a note that read: “Join me for an encore performance of our glorious victory!”
As Historia-7 finished her debriefing, she began to receive the first hints of decoded data from Ilia Tamm’s files. “The mission is a success, and you are to be commended. All of you deserve some time to rest before your likely return to a more typical Society assignment.”
Historia-7 momentarily paused after making her declaration. The android’s eyes stared off past her data visor, as though she were contemplating some additional information. “Interesting … This data you’ve uncovered is … very … interesting. For now, I’ll ask you to depart. I need to summon Zigvigix of the Exo-Guardians. It appears one of his recent offers now aligns with what this data may require us to do. How … unfortunate.”
A couple of days later, the crew received a summons from a Starfinder leader they hadn’t yet worked for. Kusanagi was handling some personal business, but when the others arrived at the Lorespire Complex, Venture-Captain Naiaj watched a map holographically projected onto the spherical wall of the dimly lit chamber. This meeting room was aptly named the “Starscape Chamber” and hosted various important strategic meetings for the Society. The pale bleachling gnome slightly nodded a greeting, hardly looking away from the stellar map.
“Thank you for meeting with me on such short notice,” she said, as she finally turns away from the map. “As you know, the Starfinder Society lost not only many agents but also a great deal of equipment in the Scoured Stars incident. Since then, we’ve been dealing with a shortage of guns, ammunition, armor, tools, and provisions. Over the past four months, the Society has recovered to the point that we are able to start replacing some of the equipment we lost. While we are explorers, right now, battle-ready firearms are sorely needed.”
Naiaj momentarily turned to face the map and made a request: “Starscape, show me Nightarch.” The map on the wall zoomed in on one of the outermost planets of the Pact Worlds, showing a gloomy, air-sealed settlement on the small gray planetoid identified as Apostae. “After calling in a lot of favors and holding lengthy negotiations, we managed to secure a deal with the drow of Apostae to obtain a shipment of weapons. House Zeizerer arranged a deal between the Starfinder Society and House Xicton, a lesser drow house with a solid track record on sales. I personally oversaw the negotiations, and only recently returned to Absalom Station to deposit the down payment owed to House Xicton.
“My intention was to send you to Nightarch, the drow’s surface settlement on Apostae, to guard this delivery. However,” Naiaj paused briefly, staring blankly at the map on the wall before continuing, “I just received word that the weapon shipment has been stolen. According to my contacts in Nightarch, the thief is a minor noble of House Zeizerer named Villyth, who went rogue and stole the weapons. We do not know her motives or the current whereabouts of the shipment, but I’m sending you to Nightarch to find the weapons and bring them to Absalom Station. As you may have heard, the interhouse politics of the drow are lethal and treacherous, and you will find only trouble if you start searching blindly. For this reason, I’ve arranged for you to meet with Ceobarn Zeizerer, who represents House Zeizerer in this specific matter. You are to discuss how the Society can get its shipment back without causing a diplomatic incident.
“Your shuttle is ready, so I expect you to get your things and get going as soon as possible. If you have any questions, now is the time to ask.”
“Why are we buying guns from drow?” asked Boske.
“Like it or not, Apostae is not only a member of the Pact Worlds, but also the weapon capital of the solar system. Their firearms are high-quality and come at reasonable prices. Despite their fearsome reputation, drow are generally as good as their word when it comes to selling and trading weapons.”
“Who is Villyth Zeizerer?” Twitch wanted to know.
“She is a minor noble in the hierarchy of House Zeizerer. I understand that she is something of a rebel, and as far as I know, her actions were not sanctioned by her house.”
Porunga nodded. “What can you tell us about House Zeizerer?”
“They are the most powerful drow household on Apostae, controlling the major surface settlement of Nightarch. They are demon-worshipers and arms dealers like the rest of them, but as far as drow houses go, they are quite reliable because they have a reputation to uphold. Complications like this are bad for the business. Our representative with them, Ceobarn Zeizerer, has always been blunt and up-front with me – how I prefer to handle most of my social interactions.”
“What about Nightarch?” asked Twitch.
“It is the largest settlement on the planetoid’s surface, and a major spaceport with bustling markets dealing in all kinds of weapons. Because House Zeizerer controls the city, you’ll be meeting with their representative Ceobarn first.”
The crew did some asking around and research on their own to get a better sense of the drow city they’d be entering. They learned that Nightarch was a metropolis of over 1.2 million inhabitants, most of whom were drow elves. Their society was traditionally matriarchal, but contrary to popular belief, the gender divide was not backed by law; rather, it was a holdover from pre-Gap times. A drow man with enough contacts, cunning, and wealth could rise to positions of leadership, rivaling drow women in power.
The city had a sizable orc and half-orc population, but they were treated as second-class citizens at best, and slaves at worst. Most orcs and half-orcs were destined to live and die as mercenaries, or, as some drow houses preferred to put it, cannon fodder.
Weapons were Nightarch’s main export, and many drow houses were involved in arms trade. What most people didn’t know was that there were thousands of miles of tunnels and numerous vaults of alien technology beneath the surface of Apostae. Many weapons designed in Nightarch were reverse-engineered from this technology.
Of the many bizarre technologies that drow were known for, fleshwarping was perhaps the least understood. It involved mutations and magic to transform a humanoid creature into a hate-filled abomination. While originally a punishment, a more refined form of fleshwarping could be used to create augmentations which – while gruesome to behold – greatly enhanced the individual’s physical qualities. In the most drastic cases of fleshwarping, the target often suffered from incredibly reduced intelligence, limiting the creature’s tactical acumen.
An otherwise empty shuttle took the crew on their weeklong journey. As the shuttle approached the dull gray planetoid, several fighters emerged from a hulking capital ship identified as part of the local fleet defense: the Blood Armada. These fighters whizzed past like a swarm of angry wasps. The navigation computer let out a blaring alert as the capital ship scanned the shuttle, but soon after, the alert ended and the fighters flew back to the massive carrier. The shuttle descended into low-orbit, and several small settlements with sealed atmospheres came into view.
Further out, beneath clouds of dust, several mile-wide blast doors, many large craters, and miles-deep crevices could be seen across the planetoid’s surface. The shuttle soared closer to Apostae’s surface, fast approaching the dark city of Nightarch. The eponymous arch and various tower houses could be seen within the city limits. Nightarch’s vast spaceport was alive with hundreds of blinking red and purple lights, which guided the shuttle into the gloomy capital of the drow.
When the crew stepped off the shuttle, two drow guards working for House Zeizerer escorted them through a labyrinth of air-filled, enclosed tunnels to Mileshadow, a tall corporate building owned by House Zeizerer. On the top floor of the building, the guards led the crew to the office of Ceobarn Zeizerer. According to a biographical article Twitch found on the local infosphere, Ceobarn was an intelligent inventor and scientist who had risen through the ranks despite his gender. The author made it seem that this was not only because of his talent but also because he was a masterful manipulator who had managed to make himself irreplaceable.
The guards opened the door to a spacious office on the top floor of the tall building, and without even a hint of emotion, one drow barely muttered, “Wait here.” The green-tinged windows in the room offered a majestic view over the gloomy Nightarch. Several statues and holographic devices depicting grinning fiends sat on shelves on the walls and on a darkwood desk at the far end of the room. A curious fixture reminiscent of a demonic spider looked down from the ceiling with many glistening eyes.
There was no one in the office, and the house guards left the crew to wait in the room. Studying the statues and holograms, Porunga recognized different aspects of the demon lord Abraxas. The crew decided to wait patiently and not touch anything.
After five minutes, a wall panel at the back of the office slid open, and a middle-aged drow walked in and settled into a red armchair behind the desk. He gave a nonchalant wave of his hand, and the demonic statue in the ceiling started shedding a purple glow, illuminating the room. “I am Ceobarn Zeizerer,” he said without preamble. “You are Naiaj’s Starfinders, correct? I heard about the shipment. A most unfortunate setback. Villyth has always been a troublemaker.” After a brief silence, he spat, “But it is not our fault. House Zeizerer officially disowned her months ago. Why should I help you?”
The crew made a variety of arguments, from hits to House Zeizerer’s reputation, to reprisal by House Xicton, but Ceobarn was deaf to these pleas. Porunga’s comment about looking weak in the eyes of their patron demon lord Abraxas got the drow’s attention. The vesk also pointed out the benefits of establishing a long-term working relationship with the Starfinder Society, if only he would help out. While Porunga was handing over a several-hundred-credits bribe, Twitch noticed the search term “Villyth Zeizerer” on Ceobarn’s computer screen, suggesting he was not as indifferent about the rogue noble as he claimed.
“Very well. It is true that Villyth’s actions are bad for business and she must be stopped,” the drow conceded. “On behalf of House Zeizerer, I grant you twenty-four hours of diplomatic immunity. Use this time to retrieve the weapons using whatever means you deem necessary. Here’s a document that proves you’re acting on my authority. If the situation requires it, kill Villyth. But rest assured, if you abuse the power I bestow you, there will be consequences. The drow never forget.”
After pausing for a dramatic moment to let the threat sink in, he continued. “I know Villyth well enough to know that she has guards and other defenses. The more you know, the less likely you are to walk into a trap. So use your twenty-four hours wisely. Remember that before the time is up, you must locate the weapons, plan your heist, travel to the location, get the weapons, and most importantly, get off my planet!”
The crew split into two teams to determine the location of the stolen shipment. The Boske and Porunga would hit the streets, trying to track down and interrogate an informant whose name they got from Ceobarn. Twitch would scour the infosphere for telltales that would point them in the right direction. The vesk were in the middle of their interrogation when they got the call that the ysoki had the intel they needed. They spent a few more hours securing the floor plan and guard posts of the warehouse where Villyth was keeping the guns. Then they rented a vehicle and headed to the location.
Villyth’s warehouse was located within a vast pressurized dome, which contained several other buildings. The location had a spacious office complex on the ground floor, and a 10-foot-high chain-link fence surrounded the building, with twenty feet of space between the fence and the outer walls. They decided to try to get through the locked cargo doors, hoping to slip in and take the guards by surprise. Unfortunately, none of them had Kusanagi’s skill at stealth, and the guard at the front door overheard them approaching the side of the building.
Boske’s gunfire alerted anyone who might be listening that trouble had come knocking. The first guard fell, and the crew entered the building after Twitch got the side doors open. A second drow guard came around the stairs and took another bullet from Boske’s big gun. She lobbed a grenade, but would have been better served running away. The scaly soldier led the charge up the steps and into an open area. Then all the lights went out and even their infrared sensors couldn’t pierce the magical darkness.
A madcap and often blind chase ensued, with the remaining two guards engaging in urban guerilla tactics. Boske and Twitch were deafened by headshots from the drow sonic rifles, but in the end the only surviving guard fled over the fence behind the building. The crew grudgingly stopped to rest and recover their hearing, assuming that reinforcements were probably on the way.
Afterward, they performed a quick sweep of the offices and labs, picking up anything of value that wasn’t nailed down. Twitch synced the security computer to his mechanic rig, deactivating the security measures in the warehouse and turning on the lights. Boske had hacked the elevator, and the crew descended to get the Society’s guns.