The Cult of the Devourer was headed for a distant area in the Vast called the Nejeor system to uncover the location of the Stellar Degenerator. As the crew traveled for days on end through the Drift, they could not help but occasionally stare out a view port at the strange bleakness of the transitory plane. Instead of inky blackness dotted with stars, the Drift was a mass of pink-and-purple energy that seemed to both envelop the ship and be incredibly far away at the same time, making it difficult to gauge speed and time. They caught the occasional glimpses of chunks of other planes the Drift had absorbed—a titanic but empty basalt throne carved with images of cavorting devils, a single metal gear the size of a city, a vast bridge that seems to have an ancient abandoned city built along its span, and other similarly strange sights.
Several days into the trip, the Sunrise Maiden passed close to several humongous, dark clouds that occasionally flashed with internal light. These hid the approach of another starship, which revealed itself by opening communication with the Starfinders.
“Attention, Pact Worlds vessel. This is the Azlanti Star Empire vessel Fearful Symmetry. Surrender immediately, and you will not be harmed. In fact, you will have the immense pleasure of becoming another small part of the empire’s vast populace. Refuse and we will be forced to turn you into space dust. This message will not repeat.”
The Fearful Symmetry was a sleek starship, built for as much speed and handling as a long-distance vessel of its size could manage. It was emerald green in color and etched with Azlanti symbols that evoked alertness and watchfulness. Its thrusters burned white hot as the vessel approached. The Starfinders swiftly found their battle stations to engage.
The Azlanti vessel took a heavy blow from the newly installed antimatter missile launcher, firing back with light plasma cannons and a light torpedo launcher. Then the enemy ship went on the defensive, taking refuge in the concealment of the strange clouds. When the Sunrise Maiden was out of missiles, the Azlanti pilot got more aggressive, and his gunner managed to tear a hole in the aft shields. The smoking ship kept just behind the Starfinders until its final transmission: “Long live the Azlanti Empire.” Then it exploded, causing significant damage to the Sunrise Maiden, and sending several systems haywire. The Crew exchanged concerned glances, then warily continued their trip through the Drift.
The Vast – Nejeor System
The crew exited the Drift in the Nejeor system, a nine-planet system with a yellow dwarf sun. They had no clues as to where the Cult of the Devourer might have gone in their search. However, even a cursory scan of the system’s planets revealed that only one of them showed any signs of life: Nejeor VI, the planet they were currently closest to. It took a few hours for the Sunrise Maiden to reach the gas giant and enter orbit.
Glitch performed a more comprehensive scan of the planet and pinpointed the signs of life on a floating metropolis in the stratosphere, sitting just above the churning clouds of Nejeor VI. The city was crumbling in places, while other areas are overgrown with trees and other plants. The energy signatures that would normally come from a settlement of that size were weak and erratic. The city must have been millennia old and that age was the apparent cause of much of the decay, as opposed to it having been destroyed by some outside source.
Kusanagi could easily see that there was only one safe place where he could bring down your vessel: an emerald-green landing pad on the outskirts of the city. All other possible landing areas in the metropolis were either unstable or covered in impenetrable thickets. The Sunrise Maiden touched down on the green circle, one of a few landing pads that jutted out into the clouds in the southeastern corner of the city, but the only one still usable.
Like much of the rest of the city, the pad appeared to be made of a thick, barely translucent crystal. The majority of the pad was open to the sky; the thick clouds of Nejeor VI swirled lazily below. An archway stretched above a ten-foot-wide walkway that joined up with walkways from other landing pads, leading into what could once have been a dockmaster’s building. A holographic sign in a language unfamiliar to any of them stretched across the archway.
They took a few moments to inspect the landing pad and noticed a few scorch marks that could be from the heat of another vessel taking off or landing. It was clear that they were less than a few days old and that they were representative of the unsafe quality of Cult of the Devourer engines. They exchanged satisfied glances; at least they were on the right trail. Then the Starfinders noticed a pack of four humanoid aliens crawling over the side of the platform, primitive weapons drawn.
The natives proved to be no threat, and the Crew captured the last rather than killing her outright. Having learned his lesson on Salvation’s End, Glitch cast a tongues spell on Kima so the lashunta could question the captive. The stubborn female refused to tell them anything, insisting that they weren’t any different from the other invaders – presumably the Devourer cultists. She spat at them and loudly insisted, “Istamak will stand strong against you foul demons!” They left her tied on the dock.
From the landing pad, the crew entered the dockmaster’s building. The interior of the structure had been gutted long ago, and the walls were covered with murals worked in crude paint and charcoal. The images seemed to depict the sun in various positions in relation to the emerald landing pad; each of the pictures was accompanied by a number of what appeared to be tally marks. After spending a few minutes examining the murals, the Starfinders realized that they depict a kind of calendar that communicated the best periods of the year in which to harvest the green lichen that grew on the underside of the pad.
They noticed the sounds of combat outside, and looked out an empty window frame overlooking the street in front of the building. Two small groups of aliens like those that had ambushed them were fighting each other. Both groups had taken casualties and only three remained standing on each side. The more observant of the crew noticed that the aliens of one of the two sides were all wearing a prominent, though crude, symbol on their armor: an outline of a shield-like shape with an upside-down tear drop breaking through the top and a circle in the middle. The other group were dressed similarly to the ones who had “ambushed” them.
The symbol looked familiar, but none of the Starfinders could quite place it. They decided to approach the fight to see how each group reacted. Since the invaders were not attacking, each group of natives stayed focused on the clear and present threat. A short while later, those with the symbol prevailed, and the losers fled deeper into the city. One of the remaining three was severely wounded, and his comrades didn’t seem to have the skills to heal him. They seemed unwilling to possibly exacerbate his condition by moving him. Keeping a wary eye on the Starfinders, they appeared to offer a short prayer to the sky.
Kima, still under the effect of tongues picked the name “Talavet” out of the prayer, and he remembered where he’d seen the symbol before. They wore the symbol of the lawful neutral deity Talavet, the goddess of community, self-reliance, and tradition. He mentioned this to the others via telepathy, and they all wondered how a group of natives in the Vast had encountered the goddess.
They started a dialog with the aliens, who referred to themselves as “kish,” and indicated they were outcasts from those they had been fighting. The crew offered to help their friend recover from his wounds, and the kish were willing to let them try. They called Winslow over the comms, and the shirren made his way from the ship to the scene of the battle. He cast a simple healing spell to revive the fallen kish, offered an embarrassed thumbs up, and headed back to the Sunrise Maiden. The natives were impressed and suggested that the Starfinders meet with their leader.
Cloudside Community Center
From the spaceport, it took about half an hour of walking to reach the outcast kish’s territory, a small neighborhood of dilapidated residences around a sturdy community center. The exact name of the building had long since faded away, but the space above its front doors was marked with a large and fairly freshly painted symbol of Talavet. A handful of younger kish were in the space in front of the building, playing a casual game involving a ball and pairs of vertical hoops on poles on opposite sides of the court. Dozens of other kish could be seen about the neighborhood, tending to small gardens, repairing the buildings, or maintaining weapons and armor. Many of them stopped what they were doing to gawk at the aliens as the Starfinders were escorted into the building.
The interior had clearly been recently converted into a small church, and hastily created symbols of Talavet were the majority of the decor. The kish skirmishers introduced the Starfinders to their leader Herald Tzayl, who wore an austere brown robe accented with a colorful scarf around her head.
Tzayl wanted to know more about the crew, and they explained that they were tracking down the aliens who had come to Istamak before in order to stop them. Satisfied, she agreed to answer their questions to the best of her ability. The Starfinders started simple, asking to know about her people.
“We are kish, the keepers of our ancestral land of Istamak,” she said. “You come to us in turbulent times. Those you see around you have been recently cast out from their homes for daring to speak out about Huntmaster Xavra’s desecration of tradition. And now we clash in the streets to protect ourselves. It is very sad.”
When asked about the Devourer Cultists, she explained, “They arrived in a metal cloud like yours, but different in shape and color. Theirs looked angry, as did their clothes. We welcomed them into our great temple, but they profaned the Vault of Tales and attacked us, causing many deaths and much destruction. They then returned to their cloud and ascended into the sky.”
“Can you tell us about the great temple?”
“The Temple Found is sacred to our ancestors, so we maintain it as tradition dictates. It was open to all, until recently. After the strangers left, Huntmaster Xavra sealed himself and some of his warriors within, claiming that the temple must be kept safe from other strangers. I objected to his decision, and the chieftain saw fit to exile me for speaking out. Luckily, I was not the only one to feel this way, so my neighbors joined me in my banishment.”
“What is the Vault of Tales?”
“One of the many blessed areas within the Temple Found. It is a vast collection of our ancestors’ wisdom, held within sacred crystals. I sometimes used to visit the Vault when I had deep, unanswered questions. Though there is much about the words I don’t understand, I always come away from the Vault of Tales with some guidance. That is why the Temple Found should be free for all to visit.”
“How do we get into that temple?”
“The doors are shut from within and can be opened only if Xavra allows it.” Tzayl looked thoughtful for a moment. “But I have heard the voices of our ancestors speak of another way in. Perhaps if you were to listen to them, you might benefit from their insights. But first you must prove yourself worthy enough to hear those voices yourself.”
She explained that there were two places of significance where kish went when they wanted to hear the voices of their ancestors or seek their blessings. While these were sacred ceremonies for her people, she admitted that not many kish had performed them in close to a year. Perhaps, she mused, if Xavra and his warriors had shown more devotion, they wouldn’t have been so quick to break away from tradition. She also said that she didn’t see any harm in the crew enacting these rites; after all, if they do so, they might better understand the kish community.
Tzayl described the House of Renewal as a “place of either healing or silence,” depending on the kish who made the pilgrimage. Kish went there when they were ill, physically or spiritually, and stepped into the chamber at the center of the building. If the ancestors judged the kish’s heart to be true, she emerged healed, sometimes even healthier than before. Otherwise, the pilgrim was never seen again. Tzayl also mentioned rumors that the House of Renewal had become corrupted in some way.
She explained that despite the site’s name, the Maze of Ghosts was not a frightening place. Instead, it was where “our visions of the ancestors are the strongest.” Kish who wanted to feel a deeper connection with the city’s history meditated within. Tzayl explained that if the kish’s intentions weren’t pure, the ghosts simply didn’t show themselves.
The outcast kish welcomed the Starfinders to spend their evenings at Cloudside if they wished. With about an hour of searching, the crew found a relatively clean unclaimed set of living spaces on the third floor of the northeasternmost building. The condos were spacious, and though the furniture and fixtures had been looted and scavenged centuries ago, they could tell which areas were meant to be kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, and so on. The kish provided them with crude bedrolls and pillows stuffed with some kind of animal hair.
House of Renewal
A set of wide semicircular steps led up to a pair of doors in the front of the one-story building, which once was painted light blue but was now dingy from age. A half-destroyed holographic sign hung above the entrance, and a symbol of a semicircle above a straight line had been crudely painted across the doors. From there, it was clear that the rear of the building had collapsed in some places. Galakrond led the way inside.
The walls of the entry room were lined with broken, dusty, and moldy furniture. Opposite the pair of double doors that led outside, a window in the wall was closed off by a slab of opaque material. A smaller door opened in the eastern wall near the window. Murals depicting kish with broken limbs and dark halos above their heads covered the walls. Two kish warriors not affiliated with the outcasts rose from behind cover to attack, but they were swiftly defeated.
Galakrond couldn’t get the window open, so the Starfinders went to the eastern door. The hallway beyond once led farther into the building, but ten feet in the ceiling and walls had collapsed, making progress impossible without working for days to clear the rubble. A door to the north opened up to reveal a walk-in supply closet. Dusty shelves holding the occasional empty box line the walls, and it appeared as if very few people had been there in quite some time. They gave it a cursory search it but didn’t find anything.
To the south, they found the reception station. The western side of the area was occupied by a tall desk built into the wall, half of which was under the large window blocked by a panel of opaque crystalline material. There was another door to the south, and stylized eyes painted on the walls.
Past the southern door, they found a mural gallery. Two rows of lockers made from a ceramic-like material occupied the western end of the room, while the lockers that lined the walls of the eastern half were covered with murals depicting sick and injured kish being bathed in a greenish light and stepping away completely healed. Other more beatific-looking kish looked down from the top parts of the walls and the ceiling. Fresh charcoal drawings covered the door to the northeast, while the southeast corner of the room is filled with a large mass of rubble.
Glitch moved to the northeast door to get a closer look at that part of the room and ran afoul of a trap that pierced his furry hide with countless needles. Despite the pain, he saw that something had been scratched on the door. It crudely depicted a humanoid figure that vaguely resembled a kish with its face covered in a mass of black lines. While he was recovering, the others cleared a side door that led outside, providing the crew an alternate exit.
There was no remaining sign of whatever had originally occupied the room past the trapped door; it had been cleared of all furniture and decorations, save for a simple square cloth mat measuring four feet to a side. The walls, floor, ceiling, and even doors had been painted an inky black, and a pair of two-headed formerly-kish abominations lurked within. The creatures hit hard, but were still quickly bested.
An east-west hallway awaited the crew through the exit from the black-painted room. Three doors to the north opened into rooms with walls that, though dirty, were a soothing aquamarine color. Remnants of comfortable-looking furniture poked out from the rubble of the northern walls. The dusty floors and lack of murals hinted that no one had stepped foot in here for some time.
They found a large chamber through a door to the south. There was an air of solemnity in the austere room. A capsule five feet in diameter and eight feet tall sat on a ten-foot-square platform in the center of the chamber. A six-foot-tall door opened into the capsule. It was made of some kind of shiny metal, and dozens of wires, cables, and tubes sprouted from its surface. Many of the wires ran to a freestanding wheeled console nearby. A small shrine covered in dried flowers and small wooden icons stood against the western wall. Another door exited to the south.
Glitch cast comprehend languages, but he wasn’t able to determine the specific purpose of the machine. The crew put one of the bodies into the capsule and the machine activated, but there was no apparent effect. After a few minutes, Glitch used the console to end the “treatment.”
They found a flat, triangular crystal resting among the offerings on the shrine, and the tech-savvy Starfinders recognized it as a data storage device. Accessing the device required touching the crystal in a number of specific places, which they quickly solved. Much of the data was corrupted beyond repair, with the exception of a single voice message in Kishaleen. Glitch translated.
The voice in the message was deep and gravelly. “Greetings. This is…” There was a loud burst of static. “…head of security at the Foundry. We recently had a few pieces of classified…” There was another burst of static. “…and we are investigating the possible compromise of all methods of entry and exit in our facility. As far as I can tell, the series XLT-88 digital lock on our security entrance hasn’t been tampered with, but the manual I have here states that the lock can be placed in standby mode and accessed with an admin keycode. Of course…“ Static again. “…but the director and I would like to know how many of your employees have access to this keycode. We are not accusing you of any misdoings, but we do need to leave no stone unturned. Please respond at your earliest convenience.”
They surmised that the Temple Found that Tzayl had told them about and the Foundry mentioned in the message might be one and the same. The metadata of the message contained a partial router address, identifying the server through which the message was sent. By examining a similar message, they thought they should be able to pinpoint the server exactly.
South of the capsule chamber, they found a room choked with rubble, as most of the ceiling has collapsed, forming an impassible mound. Crushed office furniture poked out from under the debris, and the floor was thick with dust and grime. Back in the east-west hallway north of the capsule chamber, they found another small room. Apart from debris from a collapsed ceiling, it seemed empty, though the thick layer of dust on the floor appeared to be have been recently disturbed. Looking more closely, they noticed that an image of a kish face had been traced in the dust. It seemed to them that the face was meant to look sad and that this was a sort of farewell note or apology.
Unsure what to make of this, the crew decided to press on to the Maze of Ghosts and see if they could find any more clues that could gain them access to the Temple Found, where the Devourer cultists had gone.