Starfinder: Dead Suns

Session 8
Practical Xenocide

Struggle’s Scholar

When the crew used the beacon’s coordinates and instructions to drop out of the Drift, they found themselves a few hundred yards from the disabled Struggle’s Scholar. The heavily damaged kasathan transport ship floats in empty space, dark but for a slowly flashing orange light at its aft. Just a few miles away from the ship, a massive storm dwarfed the vessel, blue and gray etheric clouds warping the field of stars behind the ship and flashing internally with jagged streaks of light. For all its violence, the vast storm was silent, and it loomed larger with each passing second. It was clear that the storm would overtake the Struggle’s Scholar, destroying the ship long before the Starfinders could restore the vessel to working order or even tow it out of the way.

The Honorbound floated nearby, and Captain Yuluzak hailed them on comms. He explained that he sent his crew on a boarding action, leaving only himself and the doctor aboard the vesk ship. The boarding party came under attack and stopped responding to hails. He feared the worst but hoped that Galakrond’s challenge of physical combat was not a boast. The Starfinders were his only chance to salvage the mission.

Twitch used the the ship’s computer to scan the Struggle’s Scholar. He was able to get the basic internal map of the ship, with outlines of every chamber. The Struggle’s Scholar is an older model of kasathan starship known as an Idaran Centuria, its curved hull representative of kasathan design standards. Each room is 15 feet high with walls made of starship interior material and steel doors. The ship has enough power to provide both basic life support and normal gravity. According to the scan, only low-power emergency lighting illuminates the ship. He also noted the presence of notable power spikes in the captain’s quarters, engine room, and bridge.

It was a simple matter to attach to the Struggle Scholar’s airlock, which had an internal access door to the fore. Loose netting floated in the gravity-free chamber. A warning light above the interior door flashed every few seconds, periodically bathing the room in a dim orange glow. A small panel next to the door flashed orange in time with the warning light. Kusanagi used the panel to close the main airlock door, which caused the room to automatically pressurize. Artificial gravity then began to kick in gradually, and as air filled the room, a blaring alarm could be heard, timed with the light. After thirty seconds, the alarm and light stopped flashing, and a horrifying screech echoed past the sealed forward door. Signaling the others, the android used the panel again to open the interior door.

Beyond, a gruesome trail of blood ran across the floor of the ten-foot wide hallway that ran horizontally across the ship; at each end of the hall were metal access doors leading to the forward and aft. A shorter hall led to a forward door, with two doors halfway up that hall exiting to the port and starboard. The wreckage of a double-barreled weapon turret limply hung from the ceiling, just to the left of the airlock door. Two vesk corpses lay there, apparently having been gunned down by turret fire.

Galakrond stepped into the corridor and a turret dropped from the ceiling to shoot him, as had almost become protocol for this sort of exploration. It apparently spent its last round on the effort, as only clicks issued from it after the first shot. Kusanagi crept along the starboard side of the corridor, following the blood trail to an open door on the forward side. Within, the operative saw the signs of struggle throughout the room. A single bed in the forward-port side of the chamber was torn, with its comforter halfway on the floor. A nearby bed table and desk were in similar disarray, covered with shattered glass and hunks of broken ceramics. A pool of blood covered the nearby floor near the door.

A strangled vesk corpse and a lifeless kasatha in a suit of battle harness powered armor lay on the floor. The armor was unpowered – a cable on the floor led from a starship battery pack to the base of the suit. It appeared to have been disconnected. Kusanagi returned to the others to report his findings.

They decided to try to reach the bridge, the most logical place for them to find the information on Sangoro’s Bulwark. They paused to check out the engine room, through a portside door. Cracks marred the surface of the chamber’s portside wall. A constant thrum of power was audible within the area, clearly emanating from an immense engine embedded into the forward wall. A standalone control module sat opposite the entrance, but the thick cable that should connect it to the humming engine was irrevocably split. Three rectangular stacks of batteries filled the southern end of the engine room.

The engine enclosure in the forward section of the room was missing its front panel, and a maze of crisscrossing wires connected to various terminals. Aft of the control module, several dead, brick-sized starship batteries were stacked on metal shelves. The topmost row was hooked up to an exposed power terminal labeled “Bridge” with a black marker. Another power terminal was labeled “Mess,” and it seemed to have power running to it.

As near as they could tell, someone appeared to have patched what they could and diverted remaining power to the ship’s life support systems and most of the ship’s internal doors. Connecting a charged battery pack to the associated terminal would presumably unlock the associated door. The patchwork of rerouted wires would take even an expert more time than they had to reverse-engineer; they recognized the futility of attempting to reroute power using the existing wires. They had power to the mess, which seemed to be between them and the bridge, but they would need another battery to then access the bridge itself. Kusanagi mentioned the battery he’d seen near the battle harness on the kasatha corpse in the captain’s quarters.

No sooner than he said that than a four-armed kasathan driftdead floated through the wall to attack Twitch! A brutal melee ensued, as the incorporeal creature resisted even their energy weapons, but despite the harm it inflicted with its vicious claws, the crew managed to defeat it. Winslow was particularly instrumental, harming the undead while also sending healing energy to wash over his companions. They took a break before continuing their exploration.

Galakrond fetched the second live battery from the captain’s quarters and Twitch connected it to the terminal marked “Bridge.” They headed forward into the mess hall, which resembled a charnel house. The remains of two dead kasathas were piled in the forward-portside corner, surrounded by knocked-over chairs. A ceremonial table setting in the center of the chamber was spattered with blood. The stench of decay was palpable in this room, and even the sink along the southern wall was coated in a dark-red shade. Storage containers filled the eastern side of the room, each similarly spattered by gore. An impressive set of double doors barred passage to the bridge.

Winslow and Boske went to inspect the corpses, while Kusanagi approached the door to the bridge. All three were attacked by something that burst from the corpses as they drew near. They prevented the alien larvae from burrowing too deeply into their flesh, even as they came to the sobering conclusion that the driftdead was likely not the last of their problems. Galakrond produced a pair of healing serums from the storage containers, and the party continued to the bridge.

The ship’s bridge was alight in red warning screens. The nearing ethereal storm loomed beyond the forward viewing platform, while the ship’s failing power caused each station’s panels to flicker intermittently. A battered captain’s chair oversaw two tiers of descending operations panels. The seat appeared to be occupied by the corpse of a kasatha.

Kusanagi noticed that something seemed to be wearing the body of the pilot. He warned the others and the creature spun around in the chair as Galakrond approached. The four-armed alien was a xill, and it bit the vesk only once before it was cut down by the crew’s combined efforts.

With the alien defeated, they scoured the bridge for the data they needed. It was heavily encrypted, but they both downloaded it onto multiple computers in their possession and physically removed the hard drive from its damaged casing in the bridge’s command console. A silk kasatha mouth scarf rested at the feet of the ruined pilot’s body. They brought the fallen man to the main cabin where they began to collect the other bodies, vesk and kasatha. With one of the Honorbound crew still unaccounted for, the Starfinders methodically searched the rest of the ship.

Opposite the captain’s quarters, they found four beds filling most of the tidy crew quarters. Each bed was neatly made with a prominent item placed atop its center. Above the beds were tightly sealed storage compartments. A single-tier metal shelf curved around the southwestern wall, its surface pristine but entirely empty. The culturally sensitive crew knew that the items placed atop the beds were each part of a kasathan tradition for those who were making a journey from which they didn’t expect to return. The kasatha crew members had left personal items on each of their beds, as gifts to those who survive them and continue to create future history. The crew collected the items, including a datapad which they restored to power and unlocked. It contained the most recent personal logs of one of the kasatha named Teliu.

I am worried about Yotto. She is furious about what happened at the Bulwark and seems to be withdrawing more and more – she didn’t even attend this morning’s spar. Instead, I battled against Blue Sky-101, who is a skilled opponent but lacks the same vitality and understanding of honor. I thought Yotto would at least work some of her anger out by taking baton to bot. Perhaps it is her youth getting the better of her. I will give her a few days to restore her balance.

The loss of Yotto is unbearable, and to make matters worse, the damage to the ship was more extensive than we thought. The captain sent out a distress beacon in the Drift, but it is too dangerous to stay in this minefield, so we have returned to the Material Plane. When we return to the Idari, I hope the adata will accept Yotto’s body and grant me dispensation to query her soul. I’d like to speak with her one last time – and ask her why she was in the cargo hold when we were hit. For now, I have shrouded her body and placed it in the sparring chamber.

At first, I thought it was a dream – a nightmare. I walked into the sparring room and there was Yotto, but… changed. She swung at me from across the room, but I felt her hand rip through me as though I were made of paper. I tried to subdue her with the sparring equipment, but my blows simply passed through her. It took all of us armed with force batons to eventually lure her into the captain’s quarters, where the captain sacrificed herself to trap Yotto – or whatever she has become – within her suit’s force field. Kela has rigged one of the ship’s batteries to amplify the field and keep the creature contained, but we may soon be faced with fighting this thing for our lives.

As our forebears faced the dimming of Kasath’s sun, so do we know that our ship’s power reserves near their end. Traska has encrypted our ship’s log, and tonight we will gather in the mess to partake of our final meal. We have placed our sacred items atop our beds, as tradition requires. I hope those items, as well as something of the captain, our pilot, and even Blue Sky-101, find a safe return to the Idari should we not. Eloritu guide us.

- Teliu Davead Mord of Clan Ferrous, House Elwood, truth-keeper of the Ferrous Stone

Crossing to the port side of the ship, they entered the aft chamber to find the sparring room mentioned in Teliu’s logs. Just inside the doorway, the entry floor was caked with blood, and several batons and shuriken were scattered throughout the room. A simple sparring mat covered much of the center floor. An alcove along the eastern edge housed a weapon rack filled several kinds of batons and a dozen fine shuriken. On the opposite wall was a pad of self-healing foam with colorful abstract targets painted on it. A four-armed metal robot stood in the southwestern corner of the chamber. An open panel on its back appeared to be where a battery had been stored, but it was empty.

They noticed a holoprojector in the ceiling with a carbonedge shuriken lodged in it, and Twitch was able to repair it enough that it replayed a crew member’s brief fight with a driftdead – presumably Yotto. The holovid of the skirmish was grainy, and it cut out periodically before ending when the living crew member threw a shuriken that passed through the driftdead and hit the projector. They collected the weapons and finished their exploration across the hall.

The northern wall of the final chamber was so forcibly compacted to the south that the chamber extended only about ten feet from the door. Several person-sized crates were fused into the distorted hull, obviously melted by extreme heat. Space was visible from between several gaps in the northern wall, accented by the occasional shimmer of a force field. They figured that it was a cargo bay before the Struggle’s Scholar collided with magma-filled asteroids in the Drift. It looked like a few containers had been sucked into the larger openings, their metal melting into that of the hull and fusing them in place. The body of the final vesk crew member lay there.

Searching the cargo bay, they found that one of the fused cargo containers housed a macabre set of limbs: the right arm and leg of an android. The limbs apparently managed to avoid getting sucked into the vacuum along with their owner. They also identified a pattern of android fluids and alien blood spattered along the edges of one of the force field–protected holes into space – surmising that an android and an alien of some sort had been sucked out into space. From a panel near the door, they identified that the field had last been lowered using the authorization of a crew member named Blue Sky-101. Winslow identified the limbs as being torn off by a creature with vicious claws – probably the xill.

They managed to get the bodies and possessions of the fallen back aboard the Sunrise Maiden. Sending word to the Honorbound, they powered their Drift engine before the etheric storm finally consumed the area. The last sight they saw before heading into the Drift, was the Struggle’s Scholar breaking apart as the storm overtook it. The vesk bodies were returned to the Honorbound. Their captain, though saddened, appreciated the gesture. With this last bit of business concluded, they set a course back home.

<<< >>>

Absalom Station – Exo-Guardians Headquarters

Zigvigix was extremely appreciative for the shred of hope that the retrieved data represented. The tale of the Struggle’s Scholar’s fate disturbed the Exo-Guardians faction leader. Zigvigix promised to deliver the remains and personal belongings of the Struggle’s Scholar’s crew for proper last-rite ceremonies. The Starfinder Society maintained active files on each of the crew members, and Zigvigix confirmed that every member had requested burial of their bodies or their final possessions returned to the Idari – even the android, Blue Sky-101. Zigvigix then told the crew that they would send the damaged data to the Dataphiles in the hopes that Historia-7 might be able to parse the information and recover any word about the fate of Sangoro’s Bulwark.

Before dismissing them, Zigvigix offered a personal thanks for their part in the mission. “This is the first shred of truly good news that the Exo-Guardians have had in a long time! My many thanks for all you have done in securing this important data. Now, there is another important matter I wanted to bring up.

“Prior to the Scoured Stars incident, I was part of a group of loyal friends, like the team you’re all a part of. Right before that dark event, I bought some tickets for my friends and me to a major upcoming concert. It was going to be our big outing—a capstone to all our missions together. Now, all my friends are trapped or lost in the Scoured Stars, and who knows how long it will take before we find out what happened there. The concert is coming up in a few months, and I wanted to extend an invitation. No promises or anything; you might be on assignment, and field missions take priority. If you are free, though, I would be honored if you would join me at this concert. Think of it as a remembrance for my lost comrades and a celebration of a new generation’s camaraderie.

“Oh! I just realized that I should invite Historia-7 too! Okay, well, thanks again. I should get going!” With that said, Zigvigix eagerly limped away, leaving the crew to enjoy their success.

<<< >>>

Absalom Station – Lorespire Complex

A couple of days later, the crew received an incoming call from Chiskisk, summoning them in for a briefing. Once they had settled in, the shirren explained the development. “There is some good news regarding the research into the symbols you found on the Drift Rock. The Starfinder Society’s linguistic database recognized many of them, because this is not the first time they’ve appeared post-Gap. The bad news is that the source is… highly unreliable,” Chiskisk noted, as segments of their chitinous body scraped together in agitation.

“All that we have about these earlier texts comes from Halkueem Zan nearly three centuries ago, and it seems that no published studies of those texts have appeared since. According to these records, Zan’s original findings were donated to the Qabarat University of Xenoarchaeology and Xenoanthropology on Castrovel shortly after his—” the shirren paused while contemplating how best to phrase the sentence. “—disruptive expeditions.

“Fortunately, the Society has numerous alumni from that university, and I can readily secure you a contact there and forward my personal recommendation to a few faculty members. Perhaps they can show you Zan’s notes and even take you to the original site so that you can search for more clues about whatever this Drift Rock once was.”

No one had heard of Zan, so Kusanagi asked what was known about the man.

Chiskisk replied, “As you know, the Starfinder Society is an organization dedicated to uncovering the secrets of the universe and its past. As in any pursuit, a sensational hero can attract new recruits, and a buffoon can tarnish the whole field. Halkueem Zan was both. He traveled throughout the Pact Worlds making a name for himself as an explorer and archaeologist, but his techniques were utter rubbish. He was a looter with a good press agent, and he published lurid gibberish like ‘Pyramid People of Ukulam.’ His articles were popular with the public, but for every diligent explorer they inspired, another two were unscrupulous treasure hunters who just wanted to blow things up and call it archaeology.”

“So, he was a Starfinder?” asked Boske.

Chiskisk shuddered visibly. “No. Zan did most of his work at about the same time the Starfinder Society formed, but I don’t believe he was ever associated with us.”

Galakrond grunted. “What happened to Zan on Castrovel?”

“Different planets have different regulations for explorers. Zan wanted to explore a site on the restricted continent of Ukulam, but when the authorities denied him passage, he went anyway. I believe they confiscated most of his findings, and the whole incident spurred a decade of restrictions on offworld explorers.”

“That’s great,” said Twitch, his tone bored. “So, who’s our contact?”

The shirren nodded and tapped a few keys. “There is a postdoctoral student named Whaloss who has worked with the Society in the past. I’ll ask him to greet you when you land in Qabarat.”

Chiskisk believed that this was a strong lead, and because the crew had so far been at the forefront of this investigation, the shirren believed it was only proper that you have the right of first refusal to visit the university and learn more. In fact, they preferred that you do so, as thanks to the broadcast of the Drift Rock exploration, it was only a matter of time before someone else beat the Society to the prize. The shirren also sent the crew a digital copy of “Pyramid People of Ukulam,” which was a tawdry travelogue that lauded the author’s bravery as much as it described the culture that built the sites using ample nonacademic language such as “exotic,” “savages,” and “time immemorial.”

As a final note, Chiskisk said, “I know you’ve been running nonstop for us since you got back from the Drift Rock, so if you agree to pursue this lead, I’ve also authorized a stipend of 1,000 credits for the team.” No one argued.

<<< >>>

Castrovel – Qabarat

The crew traveled to Castrovel aboard the newly repaired Sunrise Maiden. Beyond dealing with a few fans of their recent celebrity on the way to the spaceport, their voyage was speedy and largely uneventful, taking only a few days using Drift travel.

Castrovel was a vibrant planet of sparkling blue oceans, continents blanketed in vividly green forests, and swirls of clouds. As the Sunrise Maiden entered the atmosphere near Qabarat, the city-state’s aviation authorities hailed the starship, asked for identification, and directed the crew to one of the landing pads at the city’s spaceport, Ship’s End. As a matter of course, a guard and a customs official briefly interviewed them about their business in Qabarat, whether they had local contacts, the expected duration of their stay, and whether they were importing any foreign life-forms. They were also informed that carrying personal weapons was not illegal in Qabarat, merely frowned upon. After the customs process, the officers issued the crew travel papers to keep with them for the duration of their stay.

Their Castrovelian contact Whaloss was waiting to meet them just outside the spaceport. Even for a damaya, he was tall and thin, almost to the point of seeming gaunt. His clothing was a stylish blend of local silks, though the overall ensemble showed considerable wear, as though he had relied on this nicer outfit for formal meetings for many years. Nonetheless, he positively beamed with antennae-twitching excitement to meet the crew and show them around Qabarat. As an advanced student of xenoarchaeology, he had collaborated with members of the Starfinder Society before and he was eager to hear about their recent findings.

Whaloss hailed a robo-taxi to carry the group into the heart of Qabarat and the university. As the taxi wended its way deeper into the city, trees gave way to elegant towers of carbon fiber, glass, and steel, each artistically sculpted to create a stunning forest of dazzling skyscrapers. The Qabarat University of Xenoarchaeology and Xenoanthropology was just north of the downtown commercial district and consisted of about ten buildings scattered over a campus of groomed lawns and gardens.

<<< >>>

Qabarat University of Xenoarchaeology and Xenoanthropology

While talking about their discovery, Whaloss admitted that he did not have the background to decipher the Drift Rock’s writing and technology, but he offered to introduce the crew to Professor Muhali, the head of the linguistic anthropology department. Her office was in the Alsima-Karei Hall, an eight-story building whose lobby is currently home to a small pack of journalists insistently trying to convince a receptionist to let them upstairs. Whaloss said that he was unfamiliar with any news that would warrant this level of attention.

Galakrond asked one of the journalists what was going on, and the fellow told them that Dr. Ailabiens 21:2 had given an incendiary lecture that some interpreted as a defense of violent xenophobia. The media was there primarily to secure interviews and comments from ranking academic staff.

The receptionist – Ikimsi, Whaloss supplies – was clearly out of his element dealing with the media. It was all he could do to keep them at bay on the ground floor while paging for support from the university’s publicist or deans. Lest the journalists try to piggyback on the crew’s access, Ikimsi was unwilling to let them upstairs until he had control of the situation downstairs.

The vesk tried intimidating the mob, while Twitch tried to fake a news story about an alternative source speaking out about the lecture. Kusanagi asked Whaloss if he could be disguised as someone important to scatter the journalists – a suggestion that was met with a firm denial on the lashunta’s part. It was Winslow’s calm and measured arguments, even in the face of belligerent shouting, that ultimately pacified the swarm and granted peace to the beleaguered Ikimsi.

Once the journalists are no longer clamoring to get upstairs, Ikimsi was amenable to hearing why you would like to meet with various professors upstairs, noting that Professor Muhali was currently very busy. They explained their reasons and since they had helped him with the media, Ikimsi rearranged the professor’s schedule for the day and created an official appointment for them. Whaloss led them to Muhali’s office on the fifth floor.

As the head of the linguistic anthropology department, Professor Muhali had one of the nicer offices in Alsima-Karei Hall. Her door was unlocked, and she accepts the crew in after they were introduced by Whaloss. This office was clean, roomy, and orderly. A large desk stood imposingly before a broad window that offered a charming view of a nearby park, and a small table in one corner had a quartet of chairs arranged evenly around it. Near the door was a wide examination table covered with broken fragments of stone, many of which bore incomplete words or letters written in a spiraling text. Several tiny fountains throughout the room burbled soothingly and shimmered with soft light.

Professor Muhali was fairly stern, having wrestled with offworld authorities to secure excavation permits, cut through red tape, and debunk fraudulent ideas vigorously defended by stubborn fools. She was dark-skinned for a lashunta, with pale green facial markings and purple hair cut in an asymmetrical style. After introductions, Muhali said that she had spent the past several hours corresponding with colleagues and devising ways in which to resolve the scandal Ailabiens 21:2 had started.

“One of my colleagues, Ailabiens 21:2, gave a rather incendiary public lecture last night in which he examined a war from nearly a millennium ago and used the cultural fallout from it to rationalize the genocide of the formian species. Even before the lashunta city-states and formian Colonies signed peace accords thirty years ago, such brutal conclusions would have been dismissed. Now he is fomenting hate crimes under the guise of ‘pure logic’ and anthropology. This is not what the university stands for, but it’s what the public now believes. I’ve placed him on academic leave and restricted his access to university resources until we can clean this up.”

With the media and university deans breathing down her neck over the incident, Muhali was largely uninterested in working on anything else, even as a favor to the Starfinder Society. Twitch cut right to the heart of the matter with a simple question. “How can we help?”

Professor Muhali sighed and delicately massaged the bases of her antennae. “You’re persistent. Maybe that could come in handy. What the university needs right now is to smooth this over quickly, and Ailabiens 21:2 is not listening to anything I say. He has not quite violated enough protocols to be dismissed; firing him would otherwise be good for optics. I think the media would settle for a public apology. If you can convince him to do that, I should be able to handle the rest.”

The crew agreed to try to defuse the scandal by convincing Ailabiens 21:2 to apologize. Whaloss took them to the professor’s office and while they were walking, the lashunta briefed them on the controversial doctor.

“Ailabiens 21:2 is an accomplished xenoanthropologist. Although his academic peers cannot doubt the contemplative’s knowledge of the subject, his own publications tend to receive mixed reviews due to the utterly sanitary impartiality and lack of empathy with which he approaches his work and subjects. This extends to his interactions with his coworkers and students, whom he boorishly psychoanalyzes to their faces as though he were performing a favor. For his part, Ailabiens 21:2 boasts of his emotional detachment with hypocritical pride, claiming that his objectivity makes him a superior analyst.

“Despite his uncouth demeanor, few have read as many articles and files as he has, and he commands an unrivaled mental catalog of the university’s collections. He reviewed Halkueem Zan’s confiscated notes a decade ago, dismissing it as drivel. Even so, that makes him one of the few who has personally read the explorer’s notebooks, few of which are properly digitized.”

The office of the academic Ailabiens 21:2 was a model of disorganized chaos, containing a mishmash of texts and cultural artifacts from across the Pact Worlds and beyond. When they arrived, they found dust, debris, and discarded papers littering the floor of the disorganized office. The contemplative floated above it, apparently nonchalant about the filthy floor, which crunched noisily under the crew’s feet. A single chair stood in the corner, and the desk and shelves were crowded with books, scrolls, statuettes, and loose computer hardware.

Whaloss introduced the crew to the professor then excused himself. With little else to do with his time, Ailabiens 21:2 was willing to entertain visitors, communicating almost exclusively through telepathy while doing so. The crew started by asking him about his lecture and why he thought people were offended by it.

Offense indicates a narrow perspective in the listeners. I analyzed ancient lashunta armies’ strategies against their formian neighbors and concluded that the former’s conditioned sentimentality inhibited more effectively destructive actions against their long-time enemies. The audience found my conclusion upsetting. Ailabiens 21:2 bobbed thoughtfully before adding, Other species are endlessly fascinating.

They discussed the subject for a few minutes, unable to pierce Ailabiens 21:2’s certainty that he was correct. Galakrond started a tangential conversation by agreeing that the contemplative’s argument did make rational sense and aligned with a lot of what he’d been taught about military tactics on Vesk Prime. This pleased Ailabiens 21:2, who began to consider possible overlap between the history of the Veskarium and that of Castrovel. Kusanagi brought the conversation back on track by asking about Zan.

Halkueem Zan, I presume you mean. I reviewed the entirety of Zan’s original notes early in my time here as faculty, and to my considerable knowledge, only Doctor Solstarni has studied them more recently. Zan’s methodology was imperfect, catering to an uneducated reader’s lexicon, fetishizing the ‘exotic,’ and conveying a pathological love of his self-image as an adventurer—likely to earn money or as an elaborate mating ritual. As a result, his work is scientifically wanting and his conclusions doubtful. Nevertheless, his notes provide enough detail to hypothetically retrace his steps.

“That’s great,” said Winslow. “Can you get us Zan’s notes?”

Normally, I could, but I am currently on probation due to the weak-willed public’s inability to process the logical arguments I posited in my recent lecture. Until I am reinstated, I cannot assist you.

“All right,” said Boske. “How do we make that happen?”

Professor Muhali has suspended me, and barring the unlikely intervention by a dean, only she can undo this. Your convincing her to do so would allow me to help. If you also repair the damage she has dealt, you shall have my undivided attention.

It was clear that Ailabiens 21:2 was utterly confident that he had done no wrong, and that his academic conclusions were valid. Even so, the crew managed to convince him that upsetting others was wrong and that it was definitely a bad career move. Despite his frustrating insensitivity, the contemplative found the prospect of making an apology less degrading than enduring his academic suspension. He was willing to make this gesture in a convincing manner so long as the crew convinced Professor Muhali to make three concessions: cancel Ailabiens 21:2’s academic suspension, restore his access to the university’s restricted collections, and pardon the whole incident in his tenure review file. They agreed to try.

When presented with the contemplative’s conditions, Muhali grudgingly agreed that she would reinstate his status and library access in exchange for a public apology before the media. But she balked at the final demand. They managed to convince her that Ailabiens 21:2 had intended no harm and that this would swiftly bring an end to the whole affair. As such, Professor Muhali accepted all three concessions.

With his library access restored, Ailabiens 21:2 swiftly checked out Halkueem Zan’s original journals – a combination of image files in a long-obsolete format and physical notebooks that wouldn’t require battery power during an extended expedition – and sets to converting and digitizing them. The contemplative informed the crew that the process would take approximately 8 hours, after which he would be able to provide them with a fairly complete copy of the reckless explorer’s original account.

With the dispute resolved, Muhali agreed to examine the language records that the crew had found on the Drift Rock. She soon recognized them as belonging to a non-Elven language group found in association with the few known elven sites on the continent of Ukulam to the west. Hoping to draw upon specialized knowledge of her colleague Dr. Solstarni, Muhali attempted to contact the kasatha in her office, at home, and through her personal comm unit. Even Muhali’s attempts to contact the professor’s friends and family turned up no results, making the lashunta concerned. She pulled a spare key card to Dr. Solstarni’s office from her desk and asked the crew to accompany her to see if there was any sign of where her colleague might be.

The door to Dr. Solstarni’s fourth-floor office was made of a heavy wood composite. The office itself was in disarray, with cabinet doors ajar, several stone artifacts scattered across the floor from open archival drawers, and a traveling bag open and half-packed. The computer on the desk at the far end of the room was dark, but a diode at its base blinked regularly.

Dr. Solstarni was an archaeologist specializing in archaeoastronomic validation: the study of how ancient cultures viewed the cosmos and expressed those observations in their architecture, artifacts, and writings. Her office contained an assortment of outdated astronomy tools from sundry planets. Professor Muhali noted that the disarray was not typical for the kasatha, and even at a casual glance, it appeared that someone was packing quickly and erratically – perhaps even ransacking the room. Suspecting criminal activity, Muhali excused herself to contact local police to file a missing persons report, but she encouraged the crew to investigate to see what clues they could uncover.

No one could get anywhere with Solstarni’s computer, but searching the office produced a couple of clues. One of the cabinets was ajar and contained Dr. Solstarni’s field suit, though it had fallen from its hanger. It looked like someone had hastily attempted to grab the suit off the hangar and knocked it to the floor. Kusanagi also noticed a slight dent in the carbon fiber cabinet where someone had collided violently with the furniture in a short fight.

They also found a printed message just behind the open cabinet from someone called Eyrub Paqual. It appeared to be an invitation for Solstarni to meet with him at a cafe called the Five Arches in Qabarat’s Gateway District 2 days prior to appraise several artifacts he had recovered. Solstarni had apparently printed the message out, perhaps intending to pass it by her colleagues to see if they had been likewise contacted.

While the search continued, Twitch set about researching Paqual, finding a series of articles about elven ruins he had published over the past six years. At first blush, he appeared to be a moderately well-established academic. However, most of his articles had appeared in poorly vetted journals or cited him as one of numerous secondary authors. The mechanic also detected inconsistencies in Paqual’s online bios and records, suggesting he might be entirely fictitious.

Finally, they found some printed scans of Halkueem Zan’s notebooks marked in red pen. These appeared to be copies Dr. Solstarni annotated by hand, and the notes included some unique conclusions that appeared sufficient to help the crew chart a course from Turhalu Point to, as Zan described it, the “accursed pyramid city of Loskialua.” Dr. Solstarni helpfully wrote that this regarded what was now known as the Oatia culture, a poorly understood dynasty of elven immigrants to Ukulam.

As they were concluding their search of the office, a Qabarat detective called by Professor Muhali arrived to survey the situation. He took basic statements from the crew and did a sweep of the room, uncovering a few things that the Starfinders had not. The building had security cameras in its hallways and at the entrances, but there weren’t any inside individual offices and classrooms.

At the detective’s instruction, the receptionist Ikimsi reviewed the video logs to see that a trio of korasha lashuntas carrying heavy backpacks and wearing uniforms had entered the building two days before in the late evening – after all reception personnel had left. They then took the stairs up, but there seemed to be no footage of them on other floors or even leaving the building.

The uniforms were identified as those of the Gateway District’s Port Authority. The investigators also noted that there are inconsistencies in the footage on several floors, including the fourth floor, where Dr. Solstarni’s office was, suggesting that someone had hacked into the building’s security cameras and looped footage of empty hallways to hide whatever they were doing.

Additionally, the detective got a system administrator from the university to get into Dr. Solstarni’s computer. They reviewed recent functions and Dr. Solstarni’s correspondence. Her personal calendar noted that she was scheduled for a research sabbatical in approximately two months, as approved by her department head, Muhali, and the authorities in Turhalu Point on the east coast of Ukulam. However, one of the recent files on the computer was a letter from Professor Muhali granting Dr. Solstarni leave to depart two months early to take advantage of special conditions in the field, signed two days prior – the same day as the apparent abduction. Muhali confirmed that she had supplied no such letter.

The computer also contained a series of messages exchanged between Dr. Solstarni and Dr. Eyrub Paqual regarding Solstarni’s research into the ancient elven settlements of Ukulam. The exchanges began fairly cordially as Paqual and Solstarni discussed minor details of interest from the minimal research published about these sites. As the discussion continued, however, Paqual grew more insistent and as the printed message they’d found suggested, he had attempted to cajole the kasatha to meet with him at the Five Arches to appraise several artifacts he had recovered. Solstarni had refused, citing a busy schedule.

Based on the evidence, the detective suggested that the best course of action was to follow up on the connections to the Five Arches and the Port Authority. Based on the nature of the suspects, the officer suspected they might hide at the first sight of law enforcement. The officer was amenable to providing the crew short-term deputation to investigate the situation further, but he did so under the conditions that at least two of them wear bugs to provide surveillance and that they allow a pair of officers to shadow them at a considerable distance in case of trouble. Concerned for her colleague, Muhali encouraged the Starfinders to pursue these leads. They agreed.

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Qabarat – Five Arches

The Five Arches was located off the beaten path in the Gateway District near the east end of the city. According to its advertisements, the establishment was “a café dedicated to serving the discerning palettes of a dozen worlds.” According to online reviews, it was an eclectic dive with wildly variable food and drink quality combined with bizarre food pairings for the daily specials.

The android proprietor Uilee purportedly ran an efficient business marred only by her insistence on developing new recipes that her muted sense of taste could not properly judge. Even so, she apparently delighted in creating “authentic” offworld cuisine that was utterly inconsistent. Fortunately, she made plenty of income from the various low-key criminals and gang members who knew to skip the menu and just order drinks. They all knew and honored the unwritten policy to take all fights outside. Overall, the reputation suggested it was not a place that right-thinking individuals frequented willingly.

The Five Arches was readily apparent from the street, thanks to its glaring neon sign suggestive of the numerous portals in the district. A riot of different worlds’ souvenirs plastered the interior’s walls, and each table, booth, and bench bore the name of one of the Pact Worlds’ planets or habitable moons. About a dozen patrons nursed drinks alone or in pairs. The daily special was an unidentifiable avian cutlet smothered in a fig-like fruit compote and served alongside a mashed bitter tuber from Triaxus.

A shady-looking lashunta calling himself Twonas En sized the crew up as potential offworld customers and invited them to talk. Winslow spun a tale about needing someone to move some drugs, and offered the fellow a couple thousand credits for the deal. Greed encouraged En to accept and he led the crew to a small warehouse nearby where two of his associates waited. Out of the public eye, the crew tried to arrest the three men, who reached for guns. En was gunned down by Boske, but they managed to take the other two smugglers alive. They swiftly looted the bodies before the police backup arrived.

When awakened, the surviving lashuntas admitted that they helped a male korasha lashunta named Eyrub Paqual secure travel documents for fifteen individuals, permitting them to use local portals to reach Turhalu Point. Most of the visas were counterfeit – including three fake IDs for Port Authority employees to help move the group’s equipment – though the smugglers had had to make only some minor adjustments to the legitimate academic visas that Paqual and his ill kasatha colleague had. The smugglers also shared that they had doubts about Paqual’s identity, suspecting he was using an alias to avoid suspicion. Ultimately, his money was good enough that the smugglers hadn’t minded. Because their role focused more on securing paperwork and conveying the group’s equipment through customs without scrutiny, the smugglers were not familiar with the group’s exact composition. They did, however, know that Paqual was shipping a considerable number of firearms and heavy gear, most notably a shirren-eye rifle and a sizable comm unit that was disassembled into three bulky pieces. The smugglers had also secured special permits for transporting fungal spores. The interrogation concluded, the crew turned the smugglers over to local police.

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Qabarat University of Xenoarchaeology and Xenoanthropology

Returning to the university, the crew met back up with Ailabiens 21:2 to secure the digitized documents the contemplative had promised. The professor noted that there appeared to be some gaps in the records, either because Zan had been negligent in documenting part of his journey or because someone else had removed some documents. Ailabiens 21:2 annotated the records as best he could in the short amount of time he’d had, identifying what he believed were the most relevant parts. These records – both text and audiologs – contained several key warnings and landmarks described in Zan’s judgmental verbiage.

Wildlife: “Castrovel crawls with vermin and beasts of all kinds. Thunder-bellied behemoths clear paths through the jungle while bellowing madly. More vexing, though, are what we’ve come to call stingbats—some hellish cross of monkey, bat, and scorpion that travel in troops and harass us regularly. I fought one off as it attacked a porter and shot another as it fled, and from then on they targeted me. It’s as though they can sense strength, yet resent it.”

The Rune Obelisk: “A dramatic spire barely rising above the tree line was the first of our great landmarks. Each side of it was once engraved with untold wisdom, but only the sheltered runes near the base have survived the ages. The plants here grow thicker, as if feeding upon some gifts left by the ancient elves – sacrifices of flesh and blood, no doubt.”

The Plague Warden: “This massive stone figure is a reclining elven form covered in weathered boils. I suspect it is an effigy that served ritual purposes, such as absorbing the illness of some great king so he might live forever.”

The Forsaken City: “The city in the foothills is a forest of small pyramids overgrown with vines. As with the funerary monuments of lost Osirion, it might be this was not a place of the living but a realm of the dead. Initial excavations uncovered multiple stone tiers of fine architecture – displaying skill truly more advanced than the builders’ primitive contemporaries.”

The Stairs to Eternity: “From the Forsaken City rises a staggering, weathered staircase carved into the mountain beyond, evoking mystical contemplation in all who would climb it. Beyond stands a great temple whose haunted guardians feasted upon my comrades, forcing us to flee the savage sentinels.”

Collectively, Halkueem Zan’s records, as annotated by Ailabiens 21:2 and Dr. Solstarni, provided a fragmented course that the crew could follow from the coastal outpost of Turhalu Point inland to the “accursed pyramid city of Loskialua,” which Zan claimed to have discovered. Since following Zan’s path would most likely also lead to the crew recovering Dr. Solstarni, Professor Muhali was more than willing to provide travel visas to Ukulam. They settled into their motel for the evening, planning to leave the next morning.

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Temple of the Twelve

Session 9
The Jungle

Qabarat Port Authority

Qabarat conducted trade by land, sea, and air, and like many other settlements on Castrovel, it also maintained a number of magical gateways known as aiudara or “elf gates.” These were not large enough to sustain heavy traffic, so the local port authorities managed use of the gateways to prioritize shipments from those who paid a premium for instant transportation. Most of these portals were in Qabarat’s Gateway District, a smaller area along the city’s eastern side, where use of the portals rarely interfered with the busy harbor and spaceports.

The crew flagged down a port worker fairly easily and secured some time with a manager in half an hour, since the police called ahead on their behalf. Gate Controller Raiyiri, a female damaya lashunta, was very professional and found the idea that uniformed employees of the Port Authority might have broken into the university a disturbing one. She quickly pulled up the assignment logs for the prior three days and confirmed that no employees were sent to the university. Furthermore, she knew that few people traveled to Turhalu Point, which was a largely decommissioned military base that served as a research station.

Based on their information, there was only one group that fit the description: a team of fifteen carrying laboratory equipment, cryogenically frozen organic compounds, and specialty foodstuffs with authorization from the Qabarat University of Xenoarchaeology and Xenoanthropology. According to the records, customs confirmed the contents of all of the crates, though the documentation was too sparse for Raiyiri’s liking. She also showed the Starfinders the passenger data, which indicated that the group consisted of a kasatha, a shirren, two humans, and eleven lashuntas.

Travel to Ukulam required official authorization, and there was little regular transport between Qabarat and Ukulam. In addition, starship landings on the continent were tightly restricted due to its status as a wilderness preserve, so the crew couldn’t simply hop across the planet in their own ship. However, since they had acquired visas from the university to visit Ukulam, they could use Qabarat’s aiudara to reach Turhalu Point without losing significant time in transit. The eastern coast of Ukulam was hours ahead of Qabarat, making it a completely different time of day when they arrived.

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Ukulam – Turhalu Point

The station at Turhalu Point sat at the tip of a broad peninsula covered in rolling plains and expanses of tall, pale-green grasses that shimmered with violet hues in the wind. Short-lived blooms of magenta fungus towered nearly twenty feet over the landscape, though many had begun to wilt and others were marred by bite marks of half a dozen sizes. Trumpeting calls echoed across the plains as immense, six-legged creatures with long, swooping necks trekked steadily across the grass toward the western jungles. Beyond rose the Singing Range, its peaks barely visible through the haze.

Once one of Qabarat’s minor military outposts on Ukulam, Turhalu Point had been decommissioned for more than twenty years. It still maintained a token security force to keep the wildlife at bay, but industrious researchers had converted most of its gun turrets and bunkers into greenhouses and biology labs.
Among the researchers was Dr. Khair al-Nuaf, one of the ranking human scientists and a grant beneficiary of the Qabarat University of Xenoarchaeology and Xenoanthropology. Having received the school’s recent call for assistance, he was nearby to greet the crew when they arrived.

He not only informed the Starfinders that Eyrub Paqual and his group came and departed into the wilderness a little more than day before, but also conveyed what he learned of the other group, which consisted largely of armed lashunta mercenaries. Based on what he’d overheard, they were headed toward some elven ruins to the northwest to perform archaeological survey work with the oversight of Dr. Solstarni, though the kasatha appeared to be groggy and perhaps ill.
The research outpost had numerous maps of the region and survey data from aircraft that had flown over most of the continent, so based on the crew’s anecdotal notes and the maps created by Halkueem Zan centuries ago, Dr. al-Nuaf estimated that the journey to the abandoned city would take about 10 to 12 days of steady travel on foot. He advised you that their route should lead them first through the fairly sparse lowlands around Turhalu Point, into the dense subtropical rain forests to the northwest, and finally into the foothills of the Singing Range.

The university had instructed Dr. al-Nuaf to assist the crew further by providing additional gear requisitioned from his project’s inventory. This included a scratched-up suit of armor, a couple of weapons, antitoxin, and sprayflesh. He also supplied them with field rations, standard ammunition, and access to the outpost’s recharging stations. Finally, Dr. al-Nuaf provided those who didn’t have them with a mass-produced tent. They rested the night at Tuhalu Point, setting out the next morning.

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Turhalu Point’s security forces were willing to drive the crew about ten miles outside the outpost, but from there, they were on their own. Strict guidelines controlled vehicle traffic in that part of the reserve, so they had to proceed on foot. Loskialua lay approximately 120 miles west-northwest of Turhalu Point through a trackless expanse of subtropical forest. Winslow established a mind link, and Boske orienteered, using his talents as a bounty hunter to track Eyrub Paqual and avoid getting lost.

It took about two days to traverse the grasslands surrounding Turhalu Point. The journey was not difficult, but the grasses were in a tall, seasonally dormant state that attracted few grazers to crop the vegetation. As a result, the grass ranged in height from three to eight feet tall, making it difficult to watch for wildlife. Nevertheless, the crew faced few dangers until they reached the edge of the jungle on the third day of travel.

Dozens of huge beasts leisurely patrol the area through which the crew needed to travel, knocking aside smaller trees and trampling the cultists’ spoor as the immense creatures sniffed out delicious fungus. Winslow told the others that the beasts were known as yaruks, and they could be extremely dangerous if threatened. The creatures were fairly calm at the moment, so they thought they could weave among them by keeping their distance and not making any threatening moves – much like a variety of other native creatures were doing.

They had safely maneuvered among the yaruks for about twenty minutes when they heard the crack of a rifle, and one of the largest animals reared up in pain and bellowed a distress call. Kusanagi and Twitch happened to be looking northwest and noticed a suppressed muzzle flare on a high vantage hundreds of feet away. Some of the beasts began to bolt away, while others rallied to the wounded one’s defense.

What followed was a mad chase through the trampling titans. Boske called directions, Galakrond opened fire to dissuade nearby beasts from getting closer, and Winslow distracted them with magic. Kusanagi, Twitch, and his rebuilt drone LACIE physically maneuvered to stay ahead of the madness, even as trees were toppled before the crew and splintered overhead.

Fortunately, before anyone was crushed to death, the crew reached an ancient stone bridge crossing one of the river tributaries that flowed through the jungle. The bridge easily supported the humanoids, but once they were across, an angry yaruk pursuing them got only a few steps across before collapsing the old elven architecture. The rest of the moot considered pulled up short, and the group gradually dispersed after another minute of aggressive posturing. Beyond the bridge stood the landmark identified by Halkueem Zan as the “Rune Obelisk.”

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Ukulam – “Rune Obelisk”

The elven Oatia culture created a few lasting architectural works during its occupation of eastern Ukulam, including the nearly three hundred foot tall structure. After millennia of erosion, when Halkueem Zan found this site, he believed it was a mighty monument. The area surrounding the Rune Obelisk was uneven, where soil deposition and plant growth have covered most of the building foundations that surrounded the site. Even so, the stubborn trees that grew sparsely there had displaced many stones with their roots, leaving carved blocks scattered haphazardly around the area.

The crew noticed clusters of blue-striped orange fruit ripening in the canopy above, and a number that had fallen from the branches above to the ground. They identified these as ralyrian figs, one of the more prolific fruiting trees in Castrovel’s northern hemisphere and a staple food for many forest creatures. Wild ralyrian figs were said to be rather tart but safe to eat.

Strange alien creatures clambered through the forest’s understory, sometimes just bobbing their heads while inquisitively watching the Starfinders. Other times they actively warbled a warning call that sounded like “kau-kar-eeee-keeee,” threw fruit at the travelers, or even crept close enough to touch someone’s leg or snatch a loose trophy before scampering away to the screeching adulation of their comrades. These creatures were known as kaukarikis, inquisitive pests named after the sound of their warning vocalizations in the presence of threat. Also known as “stingbats” – as referenced in Halkueem Zan’s notes – their tail was tipped with a venomous stinger.

Winslow hung figs from his belt, which the creatures delighted in stealing. However, when the crew was within sight of the obelisk, the kaukarikis escalated their teasing and began chasing one another through the trees. Then four of them descended to attack as their peers screamed encouragement from the branches. The flighty beasts were no match for the Starfinders, and the first wave of kaukarikis was slaughtered, the others became more skittish and screeched angrily from a safe distance. The troop remained in sight, however.

Just before the creatures had attacked, the more observant among the crew had noticed one of them stowing something shiny in the hollow of a tree about twenty feet up. Boske started to climb the tree, but Kusanagi’s jump jets got him there first, to the vesk’s annoyance. There, the android found three serums of healing, which he retrieved and distributed.

The Rune Obelisk rose above the jungle, just as Halkueem Zan’s notes promised. It was an immense pillar of stone, approximately fifteen feet wide with an X-shaped cross section that provided climbing plants excellent purchase. The flora included a network of green vines, several brilliant fuchsia bromeliads, and a host of violet flowers.

Winslow noticed something hiding among the leaves at the obelisk’s base, recognizing a vracinea – one of many plant predators that evolved in Castrovel’s jungles. The sight of its blossoms was said to lure victims closer, and its paralyzing scent could immobilize them. Before he could communicate the threat to the rest of the crew over the mind link, Twitch walked right up to the flowers, apparently proving the lure rumors true. Boske went to fetch him, but when he caught the flowers’ scent, he stood paralyzed. Galakrond approached next, but was likewise immobilized by the paralyzing scent. The others kept their distance, still not seeing the threat. And then the plants moved, revealing that they were the threat!

Boske was bit a couple of times by the vracinea’s sharp teeth, unable to escape his paralysis. Galakrond and Twitch managed to free themselves of the plant’s influence and started aiding the others in an assault. It didn’t take long to take the creature down after that, though Boske bled freely from several wounds.

After a few minutes of rest and study, the crew hypothesized that the inaccurately named Rune Obelisk was actually a massive post that had supported a now-missing observation deck. A few Elven letters were visible through the climbing vines, but deciphering anything substantive required cutting down the clinging plants. The vesk got to work, and after they’d cleared one section of the wall, they managed to decipher the writing. What survived of the Elven inscriptions warned visitors that they approach “Loskialua, monastery of starsong, embassy of the spheres, and Temple of the Twelve.” Fragmentary notes also included mentions of paying respect, messengers from beyond, an academy, and “interpreters of the beacon.”

About thirty feet south of the obelisk, the crew discovered what they presumed to be the remains of one of Paqual’s group. There was no body, but they did find a torn and useless estex suit, a gnawed frostbite-class zero rifle, and a silvery credstick. Boske suggested that they remained a couple of days behind their quarry.

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The kaukarikis’ antics aside, much of the next day’s travel passed without incident as the terrain gradually began to slope upward. Around mid-morning the crew caught sight of a colorful creature a little more than a hundred feet away. Winslow identified it as a ksarik and informed the others that the plant creature originally occupied a niche between decomposers and scavengers, before adapting to sniff out carrion and digest every piece of a rotting corpse. They were said to be able to spit acid and launch thorns that exposed those hit with carrion spores.

When the ksarik noticed the crew looking at it, it galloped away through the trees. As the day progressed, it became bolder, wriggling its feeding tentacles curiously and even gurgling audibly. Shortly thereafter, it fired a thorn dart at one of them before lumbering away. When it came back twice more that day, the crew returned fire, but each time it fled before they could do much to it.

On the following day, the ksarik appeared only once before it headed northwest. Near the middle of the day, their path took them into a clearing. They heard a hoarse moaning coming from one of the few nearby trees. The crew moved to investigate, finding a wounded and sickly korasha lashunta woman. It was clear to Winslow that she had been infected by carrion spores from the fragments of the ksarik thorn dart he found in her leg. Despite her protests, he started to treat her, only to be interrupted by the return of the ksarik!

The crew moved to engage, and the beast lobbed a couple of thorn darts at them before they managed to take it down. Boske helped Kusanagi up from the ground where the android had fallen when he lost control of his jetpack maneuvering between trees. The crew set themselves in guard positions while Winslow continued his work. The lashunta woman decided that she was willing to accept the shirren’s help rather than stubbornly die. She said her name was Ralkawi and that she had joined the Cult of the Devourer to eliminate a string of bad personal and financial choices that left her bankrupt and alone. She admitted that she was among the least pious of the cell.

The crew asked Ralkawi if any other cultists had been left behind, and she admitted that at least one or two had fallen to Ukulam’s dangers. The leader Tahomen, was a true believer, and whatever he thought he would find on Ukulam was not a good thing for the rest of creation. Ralkawi said she’d be more than happy to join the expedition since the crew seemed content to spare her life, and Winslow insisted upon it. Galakrond grumbled but then helped Twtich modify the doctor’s stretcher with a wheel fashioned from the trunk of one of the many trees. They gave the lashunta the armor acquired from Turhalu Point, since her environmental protection had run out. Then they continued on as far as they could for the day.

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On the morning of the seventh day of travel, wriggling, maggot-like ksarik seedlings burrowed their way out of Ralkawi’s abdomen. The pain on her face was apparent, but she managed to survive the exodus. The vesk stomped the seedlings into oblivion and Winslow treated the injury. Afterward, the lashunta admitted that she felt much better.

As they set out, the wind shifted direction, carrying with it a tangy scent. Looking to the foliage-obscured sky, the kaukarikis fell silent before yapping warnings to one another. They dashed upward toward bucket-sized flowers a hundred feet above and wrapped themselves in the petals, practically disappearing from sight.

Looking upward at the creatures’ odd behavior, the crew noticed fluffy pink clouds floating gently above the trees and recognized the signs of the imminent approach of one of Castrovel’s notorious moldstorms. These were said to be short-lived events in which several types of giant fungi all released their spores at once. In smaller quantities, these spores were harmless, but moldstorms could clog creatures’ respiratory systems and even take root in living tissues, breaking down flesh and inhibiting neurological systems.

Working swiftly, the crew and Ralkawi built a superior temporary shelter, which protected them all from the effects of the mold. They lost half a day’s worth of travel, but were not exposed to the diseased spores. When they emerged hours later, they saw that the moldstorm had left the landscape coated with fluffy tufts of pinkish spores like a dusting of snow, accumulating in waist-high drifts as the wind blew through the forest. The spores quickly lost their harmful potential after the moldstorm ends, and the kaukarikis took that as their cue to stop harassing the crew and return to their territory.

As you were setting up camp for the night, a large reptile crashed toward them, its scales covered in mold. The creature’s roar unsettled Galakrond temporarily, but in its maddened state, it was no match for the seasoned crew. Afterward, they provided Ralkawi with the chewed zero rifle that they’d found near the Rune Obelisk.

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Ukulam – “Plague Warden”

On the eighth day of the trip, the trees thinned ahead, forming a broad clearing centered on an immense stone statue of a reclining elf whose skin bore dozens of raised markings like painful welts. The figure rested on one partially buried elbow while extending its other hand toward the sky. The elf’s simple robe and hair were both sculpted of heavily weathered metal that had corroded entirely in places. Numerous crumbling outbuildings ringed the clearing, where only mosses and a few stubborn, stunted trees grew.
To the explorer Halkueem Zan, the immense statue had depicted a sickly elf wasting away from an unknown disease, leading him to dub it the “Plague Warden.”

Untold ages had reduced the buildings to low walls and buried foundations, with only a few fragmented walls standing more than four feet in height. The more complete structures had trapped millennia of sediment and runoff, forming a spongy floor of silt and moss, but none of the buildings had roofs any longer.

As the crew passed the outbuildings and entered the clearing, a sticky strand from above encased Winslow, drawing everyone’s attention to the previously empty sky. There floated a huge tentacled creature, its aerial camouflage fading to reveal its blue bulk!

The sky fisher reeled Winslow upward and took a bite out of him! The shirren felt weaker and recognized that the aberration must be venomous. He scrambled in his pack for antitoxin and injected it into his leg. The others started firing at the creature from the ground. And then they heard the crack of a sniper rifle a moment before a bullet impacted Twitch’s energy shield. It had come from somewhere near the elven statue, but the crew could see no sign of the hidden sniper.

“Think we’ve found more of the cult,” said Ralkawi. “Probably Salask, Tahomen’s marksman.”

Kusanagi was fished upward next, but he broke free and used his jump jets to arrest his fall. A tense thirty seconds passed before the crew’s gunplay managed to bring the sky fisher down. Unfortunately its fall also meant Winslow’s. The beast crashed down atop the doctor, crushing him. While the others took cover from the sniper, Galakrond lifted the sky fisher’s dead bulk to find Winslow unconscious. He fed the shirren a healing potion then carried him over his shoulder and into the jungle where the others waited.

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Temple of the Twelve

Session 10
Astral Revelations

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.

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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.

Nothing happened.

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.

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Temple of the Twelve

Session 11
Cheap Sunglasses


The Cult of the Devourer was actively searching for the Gate of Twelve Suns and the Stellar Degenerator – an ancient alien superweapon that would devastate the Pact Worlds and countless other star systems if it fell into the cult’s hands. Although the crew defeated Tahomen and his Castrovelian cult cell at the Temple of the Twelve, they also learned that the cult leader had already shared his discovery with another Devourer cult in the Diaspora.

Upon their return to Qabarat, they found a message from Chiskisk wanting to know the results of their expedition to Castrovel. The host shirren’s signature refined enthusiasm transformed into anxiety and near panic at the prospect of the Cult of the Devourer finding a weapon like the Stellar Degenerator. Chiskisk encouraged the crew to return to Absalom Station to get the Sunrise Maiden refitted while other Starfinder Society resources tried to find the cult’s base in the Diaspora. It was important for the Society to determine just how much information the cult had and how its members might be planning to act on it.

<<< >>>

Absalom Station

A number of things changed for the crew when they returned to the Lorespire Complex. Radaszam, leader of the Acquisitives offered Galakrond a position on another Starfinder crew in need of an agent of his talents. The vesk mercenary agreed, and left the crew to pursue more martial tasks. Radaszam explained that as the Starfinders monitored their teams, sometimes agents were reassigned as befitted their experiences. He then introduced the crew to Porunga, a vesk priest with crusader chaplain experience.

The crew hit it off with the new agent, Winslow reacting with some relief. He had been offered a position running a trauma wing in the Lorespire Complex, but he had decided he preferred to stay with the crew instead. However, he explained that he would take a less active role in the field, instead remaining with the ship while the others were out on a mission. He was concerned that his morality might actually imperil the crew’s safety, so he would be there to patch them up when they returned to the ship. Porunga’s talents as a mystic healer would fill the gap that would otherwise have existed with Winlsow’s semi-retirement.

Twitch made the arrangements to improve the Sunrise Maiden, and while the crew waited for the upgrades to be completed, they were summoned by another Starfinder leader. The efficient hum of machinery filled the Archive’s Cortex. Projected images and text flitted across multiple screens positioned around a raised swivel chair occupied by Historia-7, leader of the Dataphiles. The android swiped a finger to clear the feed and spoke without preamble.

“My sources indicate that you are the most efficient and capable team the Starfinder Society currently has for my mission. I sincerely hope you do not prove this claim erroneous. I recently detected a discrepancy in the Society’s data logs. As you may be aware, my primary objective has been decoding information regarding the Scoured Stars incident. Before the incident, my predecessor, Historia-6, and other Society members extensively investigated several corporations as well as the Scoured Stars system. Much of their knowledge was lost to us. A recent ally that you helped recruit, the skilled hacker Ceren, uncovered multiple data links from what remains of my predecessor’s research leading back to a corporation known as the Arch Energy Consortium. When I compared these findings to our records, I found no mention of this corporation, and all data related to Arch Energy Consortium was somehow deleted from our records. My worst-case scenario is being realized: our data has been tampered with.”

Historia-7 unhooked the neural cables from her neck and massaged the attachment sites. “I require additional information about this corporation. Arch Energy’s CEO, Ilia Tamm, has enough security resources and paranoia at her disposal to make a direct infiltration inadvisable. The weak link in this proverbial firewall is her son, Envar Tamm. His proclivities make him very suggestible, and I hypothesize that resourceful individuals could convince him to provide the information I seek.

“Envar routinely attends gladiatorial fights on Arch Energy’s corporate space station, Brilliance. It will take you some time to reach Brilliance from here. During your journey, I want you to create false identities. Meanwhile, I’ll make sure that you’re entered into one of these gladiatorial matches as contestants. From there, you’ll need to get Envar to grant you access to his mother’s computer records. Acquire any data related to the corporation’s board of directors. Above all, this mission demands subtlety, as Envar has quite the media presence.”

Historia-7 provided the crew additional information about the mission in response to their questions. “Arch Energy is a minor subsidiary of Resurgent Technologies, which is a larger Aballon-based corporation. Analysis of Arch Energy’s finances suggests its CEO wants to keep it that way. Ilia Tamm has made multiple business decisions over past fiscal cycles that stunt company growth. I therefore conclude that the company is a front – for what, exactly, I don’t know. I suspect that Resurgent Technologies is still unaware of this.”

“Why is Envar our way in?” asked Kusanagi.

“My research led me to discover that Envar has an addiction to transdimensional pesh, and while he’s impaired he may be highly suggestible. Additionally, Arch Energy PR constantly edits his info feed, suggesting he may already be prone to leaking sensitive information to the infosphere. This is an unenviable task, and I fully intend to ensure that Envar receives the help he needs – after we get our data.”

“Where will we find the information you’re after?” asked Boske.

“Once you gain access to Ilia Tamm’s computer, a capable computers expert should be able to locate the appropriate files. I am not entirely sure what you will find, so download anything secure and return it to me. If you are unable to extract the files on-site, removal of the computer’s storage module will suffice, but it will alert Tamm to the security breach.”

After they were dismissed, the crew performed some perfunctory infosphere research and asked around about Envar Tamm, the CEO’s only child. He was chief procurement officer of the Arch Energy Consortium, a corporation that manufactured and distributed solar batteries. Envar was a minor celebrity who relied on his money and connections rather than actual talent to remain in the spotlight. He disliked being bored and apparently sought the company of exotic or famous individuals.

Envar owed his position within the company entirely to nepotism, and while he had an elevated level of security clearance and a matching salary, his mother employed a host of assistants to limit his influence on the corporation – and her bank account. On Brilliance, however, Envar usually traveled unsupervised. Ilia Tamm and her public-relations team tried to cover up Envar’s addiction to transdimensional pesh, but leaked videos of Envar’s drug-fueled antics occasionally slipped through the cracks. One of the more popular videos depicted Envar nearly crashing a solar yacht in an attempt to impress the shirren icon Magisterial Chef Ghornak Ryzcech during his visit to Brilliance.

Finally, they uncovered the fact that Envar owed a substantial amount of credits to the ysoki gangster Razor, the leader of a crime organization funded largely by the drug trade. Razor was known for her brutal methods of extracting credits from those reluctant to pay. She often uses gladiatorial matches to recruit hired muscle, and she planned to attend the event on Brilliance, intending to collect Envar’s debt after the fight.

The crew relied on Kusanagi and Twitch to craft false identities using their prolific computer talents. Porunga, as an albino vesk – a rarity – was the most difficult to disguise. Still, they hoped they would be able to keep their heads down during the mission and avoid tipping the Society’s hand. Leaving Winslow to make sure the Maiden’s upgrades would be completed in a timely manner, the crew borrowed a Society Drake and headed out.

<<< >>>


Brilliance was a sizable space station closely orbiting the Pact Worlds’ sun. Its upper level boasted retractable shields that allowed safe observation of solar activity and the absorption of solar energy, while its lower levels contained laboratories, offices, workstations, and recreational areas including an auditorium, cafeteria, and gymnasium. Brilliance’s lowest tier provided docking for craft ranging from tankers to solar yachts.

A female korasha lashunta customs officer recorded the crew’s alias names and images on her computer, and security recognized them as attendees to the gladiatorial bout. The match was set to begin almost immediately, and the guards quickly shepherded the Starfinders to the location of the impending fight.

According to their research, the immense auditorium was usually used to broadcast entertainment and training transmissions to Arch Energy employees. One of Envar Tamm’s few tangible company actions had been to convert the area into an arena for gladiatorial bouts. Giddy to host his favorite blood sport, Envar had spared no expense in furnishing the auditorium for the matches. Arena guards directed the crew to the southern entrance of the arena, explaining that they were set to fight an alien creature imported at Envar’s request. They had a few minutes to prepare for the fight before the guards ushered them into the arena.

The ceiling of the auditorium was made of artificial transparent sapphire, providing a stunning view of space. The glare obscured the faces of the roaring crowd crammed into bleachers towering above the floor. Overhead, six suspended holoscreens looped images of the arena. Metal pillars rose like jagged teeth from the bloodstained arena floor, and an announcer’s voice boomed, “Are you ready for some carnage?” The crowd echoed the refrain as the silver metal door to the east grinds open.

A team of two male korasha lashuntas and a female vesk armed with stun guns guided a harnessed and chained beast through the metal door at the north end of the arena. Porunga communicated what he knew about the creature – a “crest-eater” – to the others over the mindlink he had established in the warm up area. Its bite was venomous, and it could also spit venom about thirty feet! The handlers latched the harness clips onto either side of the door before hastily retreating. Once far enough away, the handlers remotely unlocked the clips, giving the crew a few moments to warm up the crowd and prepare before combat began.

Remembering Historia-7’s entreaty to impress Envar, Twitch and Porunga engaged in impassioned speeches like those they had seen on professional drama-sports on Absalom Station. Unfortunately, they got a somewhat lukewarm response. Kusanagi took a more direct approach, firing up his jetpack and alighting atop the nearest pillar. Simultaneously, Boske lobbed a series of star-knives up the side of another pillar, then rapidly climbed up the impromptu handholds to gain the top. He raised his heavy gun high and roared about the time that Kusanagi turned on his active camouflage and disappeared from view. The crowd went wild!

From their perches atop the pillars, Boske and Kusanagi opened fire. The crest-eater spat venom on the android, but he resisted the debilitating effects. After that failure, the beast rushed LACIE and took a bite out of Twitch’s drone before being put down. All told, the gladiatorial fight had lasted fewer than thirty seconds. Moment’s later, the crew met their target.

An attractive, muscular korasha lashunta with reflective glasses strutted through the northern door. He casually walked over the remains of the defeated crest-eater, stepping over the carcass with a skip. He lowered his sunglasses to reveal dilated pupils and flashed a toothy grin. “Stellar,” the man slurred. He glanced at the floor and his smile changed to a look of disgust. He then took an exaggerated step over the bare ground as though trying to avoid an object there and tripped, falling face-first into one of the metal pillars on the arena floor. He immediately sprang back up and dusted himself off.

“You killed two of those things? That’s amazing!” The man held out a hand in greeting. “I’m Envar – Envar Tamm, you’ve probably heard of me. I know, I know, I’m way more handsome in person. It’s a pleasure to meet me, I’m sure. Now, tell me all about you; I want to know all about my new best friends.”

They muttered a few vague introductions, and Boske was the first to make an impression upon Envar when the vesk took a selfie of himself with the lashunta. “Thish guy getsh it!” said Envar, taking his own selfie with the arena “champions”. After the introductions, Envar announced that he wanted to take the crew on a tour of Brilliance. He casually stated, “While you’re here, do you wanna check the place out? My personal tour covers all the hot spots. If you want the VIP treatment, come with me.”

Envar led the group out of the auditorium and down a hallway to the elevator. A holo-projection of Ilia Tamm popped up in the hallway as they passed, reciting a canned message: “Security is important to Arch Energy. Remember to reset your computer passwords once a week. Use a 16-character password that does not contain any recognizable words or patterns to increase its security.”

The lashunta rolled his eyes at the projection and sighed, “I told you, Mother, I can’t remember all those letters and numbers. That’s why it’s still – Wait, where’d she go?” The crew tried to get his password out of him, but the stoned young man was way too distracted.

The tour began at one of Envar’s favorite spots, the afterhours lounge on the second level of Brilliance. The group entered a gray metal elevator with a glass window that allowed them to watch employees at work as they descend to level two. A holoprojection of Ilia Tamm announced each level as they passed, and a chime sounded as the glass doors slid open to reveal a dimly lit hallway ending in glass double doors emblazoned with a crescent sun and the word “Eclipse.”

As they approached the doors, another holo-projection of Ilia Tamm appeared and announced, “Your rest cycle and mental health are important to your productivity. Please enjoy your recreation time responsibly during your non-contracted hours.”

A small foyer led to a large open room furnished with hovering black marble tables and dark-orange leather booths. A semicircular bar occupied most of the north wall, its multiple tiers backlit in blue and purple neon where glowing, flaming, and frothing drinks were served. A small holoscreen above the host stand in the foyer broadcasted an image of a scowling shirren in a white chef’s hat accompanied by the text “Chef Ghornak personally endorses Eclipse with a five-nova review!”

A male android clad in a white suit and orange tie greeted them from behind the podium and offered to check their coats and weapons. While everyone handed their possessions over, Envar boasted that his “friend” Magisterial Chef Ghornak Ryzcech had featured the Eclipse Lounge on his reality broadcast and provided his own downloadable hospitality interface for all android employees.

The android host rolled his eyes and comments, “It’s completely degrading. Sadly, anticorp hacktivists got their hands on the program, and now I have an excuse to be rude to customers. Oh, my apologies, may I offer you a hot towel?” The android then beckoned for you to enter the lounge.

Behind the glass doors, an all-android wait staff catered to customers in the Eclipse Lounge. Tolara, a kasatha bartender with two additional cybernetic arms, mixed and served drinks to patrons with all six arms. She turned to the group and asked, “Would you care for a cocktail, or perhaps service at our premium gas bar? We carry oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen – whatever suits your pleasure.”

Everyone ordered and the crew listened as Envar regaled them with rambling tales, including, but not limited to warnings about space worms that created black holes in the hallways sometimes. The lashunta also offered them pesh before realizing that he had smoked it all during the match. It seemed that the crew was in for a long night tolerating the inebriated young man, but Boske continued to make a good impression with his scotch-bread “invention.”

A few minute later, a female ysoki entered the club with two vesk bodyguards, all armed. She walked right up to Envar before glancing at the crew. “Move if you don’t wanna be collateral, smooth skins,” she squeaked. Then she turned to Envar and demanded to know where her creds are. Envar, still in the throes of transdimensional pesh, squealed and tried to pet her, exclaiming, “Aren’t you sooo fwuffy!” The ysoki was unimpressed and immediately ordered her bodyguards to seize Envar.

The crew intervened, trying to talk the ysoki – the drug-dealer Razor – down. Porunga tried to convince her that she could have Envar after the crew was finished with her, but no one ever addressed the money Razor was apparently owed, so she quickly lost patience and ordered her goons to attack the crew, too. Even without weapons, the crew held their own against the mercenaries, and LACIE’s artillery laser did most of the work of putting them down. With her mercs down, Razor pulled a smoke grenade from her cheek pouch and made good on an escape from Eclipse.

During the confusion, Kusanagi had convinced the addled Envar to hand over his comm unit. He quickly forwarded everything he could over to Twitch, who had gone into the back to access the control computer for the club’s fire-suppression system. The fight ended before he could assert control, and a pair of security officers came out of the back office and ushered him back to the front.

Security briefly questioned the crew about the incident, although a review of security-camera footage confirmed that they had acted in defense of Envar. The officers filed a report but assured them that they would take no action against the crew. As they were about to leave, one the guards looked a bit more closely at Porunga’s credentials and started to question the vesk. Envar interrupted, “They’re famous professional gladiators. They need some downtime from the spotlight, so they had to put on these awful clothes and pretend to be someone else. Would you want a media drone following you to the bathroom?” Security seemed to accept this explanation and bid everyone a good night.

After the chaos died down, Envar decided that something “a bit more relaxing” was in order. He took the crew to the sixth floor of Brilliance, the solar observatory. While on the elevator, Envar enthusiastically gushed about the magnificent view of the sun and mentioned that he was glad they’d have the place to themselves, since the scientists who usually worked there were a real drag.

The elevator doors slid open to reveal a chamber with golden-hued metal floor and walls. Plasma screens on the south wall stretched from floor to ceiling and displayed crisp, breathtaking images of space. A fluorescent mural on the floor depicted the stages of a solar eclipse. Two silver doors to the east and west led farther into the observatory.

When the crew entered, Envar stared intently at the screens on the south wall and murmured, “I can see, like, the whole universe from here.” The lashunta stood mystified in front of the screen for a long while before Porunga stirred him from him reverie. Retinal scanners affixed to the east and west walls allowed the doors to slide open when an authorized person presented his key card. Once snapped out of his fugue, Envar proceeded to the west, opening the area with his key card and retinal scan.

Arch Energy Consortium scientists observed and recorded solar phenomena in the chamber to the west. The sun blazed above the transparent, domed ceiling of the gold metal laboratory. An enormous gray-and-silver telescope was mounted near the western wall and pointed up toward the ceiling. A half-circle desk and associated chairs rested near the northwestern wall. A dark-silver control station in front of the northern wall housed twin computer terminals. A set of silver shelves jutted out from the northeastern wall, displaying various scientific instruments and tools.

The enormous telescope mounted to the floor in the southwestern corner was positioned to view the sun through the lab’s protective shielding. To the northwest of the telescope, a holoscreen hung above a round metal table surrounded by hovering chairs. The computers in the northern control panel controlled the various layers of shields surrounding the observatory, including a dimensional shield and airlock.

As they began exploring, Envar approached the telescope. A holo-projection of Ilia Tamm appeared near the telescope and announced, “Guest safety is important to Arch Energy. Only authorized personnel may enter this restricted area.” Envar shrugged and sauntered over to the control panel and lounged in one of the hovering chairs within the console area, spinning it and giggling. “Mother,” he addressed the projection of Ilia, “you never let me play this game when I was a kid. Finally, I’ll get my high score! Check this out!” Envar mashed the buttons on the control panel. A loud droning sound filled the room, and the floor vibrated. The sun above appeared brighter as a shield lowered.

Then a pair of solar elemental materialized in the laboratory.

The outsiders looked similar to fire elementals, but no one was familiar with this particular variation. Still, everyone assumed they would be immune or at least resistant to fire, so they didn’t reach for laser weapons. Boske got a little burned, but his were the only injuries sustained as the crew swiftly dispatched the threat. Twitch approached the controls and closed the protective shield that Envar had lowered. The lashunta gave him a toothy grin and congratulated the crew on a job well done. He went on to post an infosphere-wide update, along with a selfie of himself and the crew that read “Envar and friends 1, Sun 0.”

Envar then felt that it was prudent to leave the observation deck, but he suggested that the crew check out the shelves in the laboratory and in the storage room next door and take any stored equipment as their rightful rewards. As a ranking member of Arch Energy, he informed them that he was legally allowed to offer these goods, so they wouldn’t be breaking any laws. The Starfinders shrugged and collected their SWAG.

After they finished exploring the solar observatory, Envar told them that his official tour was almost over. He’s included everything except for the “boring levels” and asked if there was any location they would like to see before the tour ended. Unanimously, they suggested Ilia Tamm’s office. Envar brightened. “I’m the only other employee who has access. Mother’s office is really plush. I go there sometimes to get away from it all… I mean, when she’s not around.” He checked the time on his comm unit. “Like now!”

Ilia Tamm’s office was located on the third floor of Brilliance. As the crew exited the elevator with Envar, a pair of vesk in security uniforms entered, but after scanning their credentials, they gave the lashunta an indifferent nod. A locked plastic door barred entrance to Ilia’s office. A keypad and a plate for swiping a key card were just to the right of the door. Envar happily provided his key card, but the dual-authentication setup struck Twitch as curious. The ysoki tinkered with the controls and discovered a silent alarm that would trigger if the right code was not typed along with the key card swipe. A few moments later, he’d disabled this security measure and the crew entered the office.

The rectangular room was starkly different from the typical gold-and-silver metal decor found throughout the rest of Brilliance. Darkwood credenzas and bookcases complemented the wood-paneled walls and tan wooden floor here. A model of the Pact Worlds system, sculpted in gold and silver metal, hung from the ceiling near the center of the room. Framed parchment maps from some ancient era adorned the walls. The lone visible piece of modern technology was a silver computer console affixed to a darkwood desk on the eastern side of the room. A private climate-controlled and air-sealed balcony overlooked open space to the north. Racks lined with dusty bottles stood along the western wall of the office, watched over by an oil painting of a graceful lashunta woman reaching up toward a radiant sun.

“I commissioned that painting for Mother,” Envar confided. “Pretty proud of it. I’m glad she likes it enough to display,” he added a little wistfully. A moment later he blinked and smiled. “Take a look around! See if she has any decent games on that computer!”

While Twitch attended to the computer, the others looked around the rest of the office. Most of the books on the shelves were works of fiction from bygone ages, and the wine bottles in the racks were priceless relics of decades- and centuries-old viticulture. Kusanagi casually unlocked the desk drawer and withdrew a high-density datajack. Porunga pocketed a psychic booster he found on a credenza.

The computer required a two-factor authentication to access: the key card that Envar had provided and a password. They didn’t have the password, but in the information taken from the lashunta’s comm unit, Twitch found the answers to the security questions to reset Ilia’s password. With these two things in hand, he was able to access the secure files without much trouble.

At a glance, Arch Energy was essentially a front that funds clandestine meetings between the members of its board of directors, each of which was hidden by a false identity. The data would require a dedicated team of data analysts to properly pry any major secrets from. Clearly, this was the data Historia-7 was looking for. He downloaded the files to his rig, the logged out. “No games, man. Just work stuff,” Twitch reported to Envar.

“Figures,” said the lashunta, dejected. “C’mon, guys. Let’s get outta here.”

Envar escorted them back to their ship, making it clear that he was really glad to have met them all. He appreciated them taking the time to take the tour and party with him. The crew got the impression that despite his wealth and connections, Envar’s lifestyle left him few enough chances to make any real friends. He assured them that he would be sending them a present crafted from the bones of the crest-eaters they had defeated in his arena. With that, he bid them farewell.

Shortly after the crew’s starship detached from the station, a pair of Brilliance security fighters approached, weapons hot! The Drake was a sturdy ship, but a bit more unwieldy than the Sunrise Maiden. Still and all, they managed to keep the shields up enough to avoid much damage to the hull while they focused their attention on disabling one of the two fighters. As it powered down, the crew turned their attention to the remaining Brilliance ship.

It faced them down undamaged and apparently without fear.

<<< >>>

Splintered Worlds

Session 12
Office Space


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.

<<< >>>

Absalom Station

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.

<<< >>>

Splintered Worlds

Session 13
Game Over

(Piano Instrumental)

Sadly, no trace of them was ever found…

<<< >>>

Splintered Worlds

Session 14
Pirates of the Diaspora

Absalom Station

A few days after most of the crew had left for Apostae, Kusanagi was summoned to the Lorespire Complex by Chiskisk. He was a little surprised to find Content Not Found: galkarond already there, as well as two new faces, a ysoki and a lashunta. The android was introduced to Glitch and Kima, and then Chiskisk got down to business. The Starfinders had determined the approximate location of the Devourer cult’s base in the Diaspora: somewhere in a treacherous stretch of several hundred asteroids known as the Field of the Lost.

Fortunately, a reliable Drift beacon floated just outside this region of the asteroid belt, but without an exact location, the crew needed to search the Field of the Lost for clues to find the Devourer cult base there. Kusanagi asked about the others, but Chiskisk said they would be out of contact for at least another week and a half, and they felt it would be best to send a team to the Diaspora immediately.

The Sunrise Maiden was freshly retrofitted, and Winslow greeted his companions and the newcomers as they came aboard. Once everyone was settled in, they set a course for the Drift beacon Chiskisk had identified.

<<< >>>

The Diaspora – Field of the Lost

As they came out of the Drift, a bleak sight greeted them through the starship’s viewscreen: irregular chunks of rock and ice and occasional ominous fields of green and blue floated through an empty void, with a vast field of stars for a backdrop. Glitch initiated a scan of the area and noticed a few peculiar blips on the starship’s instrument panels that indicated irregular movement in the vicinity – another ship lurked nearby. The ysoki recognized it as a Nebulor Outfitters Starhopper, a model commonly affiliated with the Free Captains of the Diaspora – pirates. He hailed the ship and nodded to Kima as a human woman appeared onscreen.

“Ho ho! They hailed us!” said the woman, sounding delighted. “Well, I’m Captain Alera Okwana. What would ye like ta say, then?”

“Greetings,” said Kima. “We are a scientific vessel passing through this sector. We have nothing of value, and we have no quarrel with you. We will, however, defend ourselves.”

The pirate captain seemed to consider this for a moment before smiling. “Science equipment’ll prolly fetch a tidy sum, I wager. So be it. Defend yerselves!” She terminated the transmission.

The enemy pilot was no match for Kusanagi, and despite a couple of flyby strafing runs, the pirate starship was soon smoking, while the Starship Maiden’ shields hadn’t even been breached. Kima accepted another hail from Captain Okwana.

“Guess that weren’t no bluff!” she said with a laugh. “We’d like ta go ahead and request parley now, if’n ye’d be so kind. Come aboard me ship and we’ll discuss terms.”

“Very well,” said Kima. “Prepare for docking.”

As the crew came aboard the Rusty Rivet the four pirates assumed nonthreatening poses. In addition to the captain, here was an android engineer, a korasha lashunta, and a vesk. Okwana introduced them as Q4, Korrina Noh, and Zekanoya Spikesmasher respectively. “How may we be of service?” she asked.

“We’re looking for a Cult of the Devourer base that is supposed to be somewhere nearby,” said Kima.

“Yeah, there are cultists out here. Crazy buggers – I suggest giving ’em a wide berth if you come across any. They got a hole on a nearby rock where they get together and do whatever it is cultists do. They call it the Star-Eater’s Spine, or something equally stupid. Come to think of it, those bone ships were headed in that direction.”

“Bone ships?” prompted Galakrond.

“Yeah, a couple of nasty-looking bone ships. Big bruisers, and frankly above my pay grade, ya know? But they didn’t care about us little old pirates, so we just shadowed ’em for a bit. They did whatever business they had here and went on their way.”

“Which way’d they go?” asked Glitch.

“We think the rock they hole up on is one we call K9204. I’ve never been there, so I don’t know if there’s a base there or not, but I can point you in the right direction.” Captain Okwana punched some commands into the Rusty Rivet’s computer and brought up a navigational chart of the region, which she copied onto a datastick and handed to the ysoki. The chart showed the route to the asteroid.

Kusanagi exchanged glances with the rest of the crew. “Okay, now what do we do about the pirates?”

“I have a suggestion as to that,” said Okwana. “Way I see it, you beat us and got us dead to rights. I admit that. But there’s no reason we can’t be friendly-like. I’ll give ya a thousand credits apiece to let us and the Rivet go. You go your way, we go ours. Everybody’s happy and nobody dies, yeah?”

The rest of the crew was agreeable, and Kusanagi just shrugged. They took the credits and left the Rusty Rivet behind. Glitch lay in the course for the Star-Eater’s Spine.

<<< >>>

The Diaspora – Asteroid K9204

An hour later, the Sunrise Maiden arrived at the small asteroid, officially designated K9204. It was less than a mile in diameter and was made up of treacherous rock- and ore-infused terrain. Jagged cliffs covered the asteroid’s surface; in fact, there was only one relatively open area of any size on the entire asteroid. The planetoid was dense enough to provide low gravity and their scans indicated that it was enveloped with a thin atmosphere.

Kusanagi flew to the only open area on the asteroid large enough to accommodate a starship. Deep grooves and scorch marks in the rocky ground showed that other starships had landed and taken off from the area repeatedly, though no such ships were present. The Devourer cult base was nowhere in sight; the crew would have to explore the asteroid’s sole navigable area.

There were two wide paths heading deeper into a cavernous area on the asteroid’s surface, and the crew chose the one on the left-hand side. Nestled between a sheer cliff and a small, narrow rock formation, the ground there sloped at odd angles. To the north was a small field pocked with shards of metal, their sharp edges gleaming. To the west, a steep incline led upward to a cave-like structure.

The crew inspected the shards, determining them to be composed of cold iron. Galakrond and Glitch each collected one, cutting their hands on the sharp edges before wrapping one end up to be held safely. In a pinch, the vesk figured it could be used as an improvised weapon. They also noted a silvery glint on the ground among the metallic shards, which turned out to be a dented silver amulet with an oval pendant and a red stone embedded in its center. Glitch identified it as an unholy symbol of the Devourer.

Proceeding forward and upward, they came to a split in the path. To their left was an expansive alcove devoid of the silvery ash that was prevalent elsewhere on the asteroid. Upon closer scrutiny, it had the appearance of a gruesome graveyard. Several discarded corpses lay there – some that looked just a few days old, and some that were rotting with the telltale signs of weeks, if not months, of decay. Kusanagi examined the corpses, discovering that they had been killed in a methodical, ritualistic manner before being flayed and implanted with something after death. Sifting through the corpses was gruesome work, but the crew discovered a few items of value among the dead. These included an onyx-and-ruby ankle bracelet, a glove of storing, and credsticks containing hundreds of credits.

On the path to the right, thin rock formations curved almost elegantly to form the rough shapes of caves and tunnels, with piles of silvery ash nestled against them like snow drifts. The ash piled against the rock faces was much more uneven than elsewhere on the asteroid, ranging from a foot deep to four or five feet deep. The crew began to sift through the ash, and found a couple of large humanoid bodies. They appeared to be Sarcesians, and nearby, they found a pair of rifles, dueling swords, and credsticks that must have belonged to the aliens.

No one had any theories as to what had brought the Sarcesians to the asteroid, but they also didn’t have much time to consider it as they came under attack from three winged creatures that burst from the silvery ash! The skreelings surrounded Galakrond and managed to get through his armor with their slashing claws. This opened wounds in the vesk that bled freely. The crew managed to pick a couple of the creatures off, and without the benefit of surrounding their quarry, the aliens proved much less dangerous.

After the last one fell, the crew discovered a partially intact skeleton in a sitting position near the back of the rock formation. Across its lap was a thin, jagged, and rusted piece of metal. Emblazoned on it, in Castrovelian, were the barely legible words “Imura Excavations.” Behind the skeleton, they found four bars of pure silver ore, worth thousands of credits.

The crew barely had time to appreciate this valuable find as a shot rang out, and Kima was struck by a sniper’s laser! The shooter was using active camouflage to remain hidden, but they thought it was positioned on the cliffs above. A mad chase ensued as the crew took cover and Galakrond climbed the uneven natural steps to the top of the cliff only to have the sniper flee down the other side. Once he pinpointed the shooter, Glitch unloaded on it with magic missiles, while Kusanagi and Kima herded it back to the cliff side.

After a harrying thirty seconds or so, the sniper fell, and when its camouflage wore off, they found it to be another Sarcesian. Why it had attacked them, they couldn’t say, though if skreelings were around, there might also be a skreesire, the poor creature might have been under the influence of that monster’s magic. Near the pile of silvery ash at the foot of the cliff, they found a months-old human corpse in tattered black and red rags. The iconography on the corpse’s clothing included symbols of the Devourer. On one of its bony fingers was a filthy ¬_ring of sustenance_.

Continuing west past the rocky formations, they came to an isolated grotto dotted with more piles of silvery ash. To the northwest, a low shelf of rock dammed a pool of thick greenish liquid. A humanoid body in torn robes with one arm chewed off was ominously propped against the ledge. As they drew near, Galakrond heard a mighty telepathic screech in his head, but suffered no ill effects. He mentioned this to his companions, who paused for a moment before continuing on.

Then Kima heard a screech and felt compelled to approach the green pool. When he drew within ten feet, a fanged maw breached the surface of the pool and a tentacle lashed out to grab hold of the lashunta! The skreesire focused its attention on the solarian while the others did their best to bring the monster down. The aberration was so fixated on crushing Kima to death, that it didn’t take long for the rest of the crew to mortally wound it. It sank back into the green pool and out of sight.

The body propped against the ledge was wearing a Devourer unholy symbol around its neck, depicting a black hole with a red center. The corpse was very fresh, likely only a few days old. Beside it rested a satchel containing a hefty collection of various rare coins.

The crew searched the rest of the grotto and found a trapdoor in the ground hidden beneath the pile of silvery ash in the middle of the chamber. It opened into and underground tunnel. They had found the Star-Eater’s Spine, but Glitch mentioned that he had burned through most of his spells already. It was his first time in the field, he sheepishly admitted, and he’d been a little overzealous. The rest of the crew were understanding and they decided to bring all the loot back to the Sunrise Maiden and get some sleep before descending into the base of the Devourer Cult.

<<< >>>

Splintered Worlds

Session 15
Chasing the Dead

The Diaspora – Star-Eater’s Spine

The dark and oppressive tunnel below the asteroid’s surface gave way to a severe airlock chamber crafted of metal and concrete past an open outer door. A wide sliding door stood closed in the far wall of the room, rust dappling its edges like rotten lace. A single light above the doorway flickered weakly.

As the crew approached, spores burst forth from vents on either side of the door, bypassing their armors’ environmental protections. Kima and Galakrond resisted the effects of the magical spores, but Glitch and Kusanagi found their thoughts sluggish. As such, it took the crew some time to cycle the airlock and get through the inner door.

Riveted walls of steel around the airlock hatch extended into a cavernous gloom. At the chamber’s center stood a wide computer console that practically stretched to the ceiling. Rows of grimy buttons framed its blank display screen, from which emanated the faintest of glows. They spent some time failing to hack this computer before it occurred to them that any information about where the cultists went and what exactly they might have learned on Castrovel would be located in a larger computer system.

Past the operations terminal, half a dozen tiered pillars were interspersed throughout a wide hallway, which ended in a concave wall made of plated steel. A strange pile of body parts and viscera lay next to the easternmost pillar, and the faint scent of ozone hung in the air. The mass of gore appeared to be the remains of some manner of undead humanoid. It was difficult to discern the exact features, however, because the corpse had been cut into little chunks. Galakrond sifted through the pile of gore and found a patch stitched with the insignia of the Corpse Fleet, the exiled remnant of the Eoxian Navy. It seemed that the undead rebels had preceded the crew in infiltrating the Star-Eater’s Spine.

Glitch hung back while the other three advanced down the hallway. About the time they reached the center, a latticed wall of laser beams stretching from floor to ceiling and wall to wall separated those in the hall from their ysoki companion. Then the wall moved rapidly to the west and the trio of Starfinders scrambled to evade.

Galakrond and Kusanagi rushed back out before laser wall came back east, but Kima was too slow. He was burned by the beams and found himself cut off again. Instead of facing the murderous lasers again, he made for the doors to the north of the hall and burst through them into another darkened hall. The lasers persisted until Glitch and Kusanagi managed to finally hack the terminal and shut it down. All agreed that they should take a few minutes to rest before continuing.

When they did, they found a cloying gloom filled the long, claustrophobic hallway where Kima had sought refuge. A red light on the western wall blinked slowly, giving the scene a sinister atmosphere. Several closed doors on the north wall opened into a series of connected living quarters. In each, minimalist sleeping pallets lay on the severe metal floor, and simple shelves and dressers served as furniture.

In a locked dresser, they found a pair of injection gloves and 2 doses of a substance labeled “insanity mist.” They also found a security key card, that Glitch mentioned would have been helpful when dealing with the operations terminal. The easternmost of the rooms opened up into an armory. Three largely empty rows of shelves lined the northeastern side of the wide room. Here and there, a drooping suit of armor hung from its rack. A pair of patrol-class security robots activated as the Starfinders entered the chamber, but they were swiftly overcome. They left several suits of broken armor where they lie, planning to pick them up on their way out of the base.

Back to the west, they came to an area divided into two wings. The eastern side was filled with round metal tables and chairs, while the western chamber contained several pantry shelves as well as four flat, utilitarian stove units with attached faucets. The pantry shelves mostly held dry and preserved foods. The nature of the supplies here was odd, with extremely spicy options mixed with bizarre strains of fruit and vegetable preserves. They continued through an exit to the south.

Looming over the west side of the sterile room beyond were floor-to-ceiling computer consoles that swallowed the entire wall with dizzying displays of darkened screens, inset buttons, levers, and switches. A squat, bony, reptilian creature was slumped over in a congealed puddle of blood in front of the consoles. Another, more lively specimen lifted its head and barked in challenge as smoke billowed from its eye sockets.

The alien lizard barely got a single tooth into anyone before it was put down. The crew considered the large computer momentarily, but then decided to see if they could find any other items in the base to help them bypass its security measures. They headed out the southern exit into another mess hall.

The kitchen and dining area they found seemed as if they had been abandoned in the middle of a meal’s preparation. Pots of meat slurry and festering dairy sat on the stoves to the west, and metal cups full of some sludgy, long-turned beverage sat on the tables to the east. Tiny flies buzzed about the entire scene, flitting from place to place among the rotten smorgasbord. Glitch was sickened by the stench, and the crew swiftly moved on.

They found additional living quarters and searched them, finding a datapad and a credstick containing over a thousand credits. East of the southern set of barracks they found an arsenal similar in design to the armory on the north side.

Three rows of mostly bare shelves stood along the southeastern end of the wide room. Here and there, a dilapidated pistol or longarm sat on a dusty shelf. Three humanoid robots stood near the north wall; each was hunched over and covered in scorch marks, occasionally emitting puffs of sickly gray smoke. It appeared that the constructs had been taken down with laser fire, sometime within the past week. They bagged a number for broken guns and returned to the datacore.

The massive computer had a voiceprint password, so Glitch turned his attention to the datapad they’d found in the living quarters, hoping to find an audio file they could use. Among the mundane data files, electronic messages, gaming applications, and other files on the datapad was a single video file labeled “Do Not Delete.” In the video, a verthani and a gnome were sitting cross-legged on the floor inside one of the base’s living quarters. Both were dressed in robes and wearing unholy symbols of the Devourer, and the verthani is teaching the gnome to sing a paean to the Devourer. Throughout the song, both cultists repeat the phrase “Nyara knows!” over and over.

This phrase triggered something in the mainframe, and the Starfinders were able to access the datacore. There were three data modules of interest, labeled “Activities,” “Intelligence,” and “Sacred Lore.” They accessed the Activities module first, since Intelligence and Sacred Lore were protected by security countermeasures.

The Activities module stated the mission of this sect of the Cult of the Devourer in no uncertain terms. The denizens of the Star-Eater’s Spine were devoted to poring through the prophecies in a sacred but cryptic tome called The Entropy of Existence and Glorious Rise of the Void. The data contained the cult’s analysis of some of these divinations, including one prophecy flagged as high-priority. A link pointed to the location of this high-priority prophecy in the secure Sacred Lore module.

The cultists had focused on this one prophecy in particular because they thought it the most likely candidate for them to bring to fruition. From the data, it appeared the cultists interpreted the prophecy as referring to some sort of weapon – one powerful enough to serve as a “key” to untold destruction – but they had deciphered little else. In addition to the cultists’ obsessive work to understand more of this prophecy’s latent instructions, the module details the terrible, ritualistic tortures the cult enacted to try to pull further clues from those lines.

Following the breadcrumbs, the crew accessed the Sacred Lore module. It contained reams of information about the cult’s profane belief in the Devourer, the assured entropy of the universe, and the cultists’ unholy roles in bringing about the end of existence for the glory of their dark religion. In addition to general religious dogma and near-mad ramblings, the data module also detailed the Star-Eater’s Spine cult’s fascination with an ancient elven soothsayer named Nyara, outlining her history.

Centuries ago, an evil and malicious elven mystic named Nyara had lived a depraved existence on Castrovel. At the time, the Cult of the Devourer was merely a shadow of a threat to the civilized species of the galaxy, but Nyara discovered in the dogma of the Star-Eater the nihilistic ambition for which she later became known. Nyara fed off the pain and suffering of those weaker than her, and she slaughtered hundreds and quickly rose through the ranks of Castrovel’s Star-Eater cult. As the number of atrocities she committed in the Devourer’s name mounted, Nyara came to believe that her uncaring patron would visit a terrible fate on her soul should she not work to further the total destruction of existence that the Devourer so coveted.

Committing herself fully to the Devourer’s entropic cause, Nyara began a career in dark soothsaying. Her killings became ritualistic rather than indiscriminate, and she drew prophecies from the very blood of her victims. Nyara spent her long elven life span extracting the terrible secrets underlying creation and extrapolating innumerable doomsday futures. Before her death, Nyara recorded her most profane divinations in her magnum opus, a tome called The Entropy of Existence and Glorious Rise of the Void. This work, though obscure to the galaxy at large, is considered a key unholy text to many Devourer cults. Its dark prophecies span countless realities, including dozens of ways that the multiverse and all its planes of existence might someday come to an end.

The data includes a computer-generated hologram of Nyara recounting some of her most enigmatic prognostications, as recorded in her most infamous book. One of these predictions is flagged as high-priority; they accessed the prediction, and a hologram of Nyara recited, “In the maw of the Twelve lies the Key. Forsooth, shall all be undone. When the knee meets the gorge, so far. The widening gyre implodes – magnificently.”

Finally, the crew accessed the Intelligence data module, which contained records of all of the communications between the Star-Eater’s Spine and the Devourer cult on Castrovel. Although it appeared that the cultists had tried to erase this data before they deserted the base, the Starfinders were able to recover most of the communication logs for the base’s comm unit. These captioned recordings document the Castrovelian cult leader Tahomen’s boastful crowing about his cult’s activities at the Temple of the Twelve, including a premature claim of the cult’s humiliating defeat of the crew.

The last communication log took on a triumphantly gleeful tone. In it, Tahomen reported that information in the temple’s inner sanctum had revealed the location of the “key” emphasized in Nyara’s prophecy. In the final line of the recording, Tahomen jubilantly stated, “Our future awaits, far beyond the confines of the Star-Eater’s Spine! You must fly, my sisters and brothers! Fly to (garbled static), where the Key awaits…” The recording then ended. The Starfinders sighed heavily.

It was obvious that the name of the location the cultists fled to had deliberately been deleted and then meticulously scrubbed from the system. The electronic signature of the hacker who performed these tasks was unlike any of the digital footprints left in either the datacore or the computer terminal near the entrance. However, there were clear signs that the data was deleted just a few days before – sometime after the cultists had abandoned the Star-Eater’s Spine, given physical clues left behind at the base, such as the state of the mess hall.

The evidence suggested that the Corpse Fleet was aware of the Stellar Degenerator and were investigating what the Cult of the Devourer had discovered, as well. Having exhausted all of the leads in the base, they collected the loot they’d found and returned to the Sunrise Maiden.

They had barely left the surface of Asteroid K9204 when a pair of Death’s Head Necrogliders showed up on their scanners, with weapons hot. The tiny interceptors were nothing like a match for the upgraded Starfinder ship, and they were disabled in short order. The crew managed to wrangle the bone trooper pilots on board their ship and question them. The prisoners denied their membership in the Corpse Fleet, though their uniforms and the markings on their ships belied the claim.

When coerced, the pilots confirmed that the Corpse Fleet did visit the Star-Eater’s Spine and that they had been ordered to attack anyone leaving the base. Neither pilot had any knowledge of the Corpse Fleet’s goals in investigating the cult base, and they didn’t know the ultimate destination of either the Corpse Fleet or the Cult of the Devourer. The crew left the Corpse Fleet pilots in their disabled ships, then placed a call to Captain Alera Okwana with a tip about easy salvage, then returned to the Drift beacon to report back to Absalom Station.

<<< >>>

About eight hours later, they received a pre-recorded reply.

“Greetings, my friends. It is a grave matter, indeed, that the Corpse Fleet seems so intent on keeping you from following the Cult of the Devourer’s trail, even to the point of attempting to eliminate you,” Chiskisk began, their antennae folded pensively. “I presume that means they are now searching for the Stellar Degenerator as well. The Corpse Fleet is not to be trifled with, and its schemes perpetually frustrate the Eoxians here on Absalom Station. The Eoxian delegation diligently reports the efforts their planet undertakes to curb the Corpse Fleet’s activities, but they never seem to make a dent in the threat.

“Given your run-ins with the Corpse Fleet of late, I have kept my antennae in the air. My contacts in the Eoxian embassy here on the station have worked with a bureaucrat and historian in Eox’s Ministry of Eternal Vigilance named Waneda Trux. She is posted in the city of Orphys and handles reports about Corpse Fleet activity on Eox. According to my contacts, Ms. Trux recently received some indications that the fleet’s agents are up to something – perhaps recruiting for a big mission or gathering resources. It’s unclear. But following any leads that Ms. Trux has gathered could very well reveal the Corpse Fleet’s plots for the Stellar Degenerator and, if we are lucky, the coordinates where the cultists from the Star-Eater’s Spine fled to.

“Waneda Trux’s office is located in a district of Orphys called the Splice. I have informed her that you will be arriving soon. I will not misrepresent Eox – it is a dead world, and it will not be comfortable, even for representatives of the Starfinder Society on official business. But Eox is a member of the Pact Worlds, so one can expect a certain amount of civilization.”

Chiskisk cleared their throat with a metallic rasp and continued. “I am sure I do not need to remind you, but this mission is of the utmost priority. You must meet Waneda Trux and find the location of this Stellar Degenerator. You must keep it out of the hands of the Corpse Fleet and the Cult of the Devourer. Everything could be at stake. End transmission.”

In addition to the message, the crew found 2,500 credits had been deposited in each of their accounts for their ongoing efforts in the investigation. With direction from their leadership, the Starfinders set a course through the Drift to Eox.

<<< >>>


Eox was a dead world, with no seas or oceans, and what was left of its thin atmosphere was toxic, radioactive, both, or worse. As the Sunrise Maiden approached the planet, the crew was contacted by Eoxian Space Defense officials on the ancient orbital defense platform called the Sentinel, who requested identification and their destination. Fortunately, Orphys had its own small spaceport, so the crew was directed there. Once they passed through customs and immigration under the watchful eye sockets of undead officials, they were free to enter the city. They made their way straight to the Ministry of Eternal Vigilance in the Splice.

Orphys was one of Eox’s great necropolises, but the Splice was one of the city’s most unappealing districts. Largely industrial and utilitarian, the Splice was home to several necrograft factories, which lay the unpleasant reality of this technology’s fabrication bare. These factories were large, dirty, and unsightly. Most of the fusion of undead flesh and technology required to create necrografts took place inside the factories, but other rather morbid processes also happened on these facilities’ open-air grounds. This included the cultivation of massive amounts of vat-grown, genetically synthesized living flesh as well as the transportation of this unpleasant crop via flesh elevators up into the factories.

Beyond the necrograft factories, the Splice was also home to rows of slum-like abodes where some of Orphys’s poorest and politically disfavored citizens lived, including those few living species who have agreed to work for the Eoxians – often in the nearby necrograft factories – in exchange for the gift of undeath once their mortal forms have weakened. Of course, where there was a population, there were also businesses to serve the residents, and the Splice was no different. However, local law enforcement rarely turned its attention toward the hardscrabble district, so many of the Splice’s business proprietors were known to be shady, even by Eoxian standards. Visitors were uncommon in the Splice, and amenities for the living were scarce enough to be nearly nonexistent.

The Ministry of Eternal Vigilance sat on Carpalspur Street, nestled between necrograft factories and shops. Compared with other government buildings elsewhere in Orphys, the ministry was remote, run down, and politically ignored for the most part. The crew came to a wide, two-story building of black and rust-dappled gray that stood out from the other dilapidated structures on the densely packed block. A holographic banner above the sliding double entryway displayed the words “Ministry of Eternal Vigilance” in Common and Eoxian. A smaller sign on the front doors declared that the office was open for at least 12 hours every Pact Standard day, even if the stench from the nearby necrograft factory and the building’s lack of windows and architectural accouterments were less than inviting.

The ministry’s ground floor contained a large waiting room with rows of rusty and, in some cases, lopsided hover chairs. A tall, boxy machine in a corner dispensed numbered tokens. Beside the machine, projected in a hologram on the wall, were instructions for reporting Corpse Fleet activity to the ministry. A wide front desk with a teller-like window faced the lobby at one end, with a holographic numerical display. Behind the front desk, stairs led to the second floor, though they were roped off with industrial-grade silver tape labeled “No Public Access.”

There were only two people present on the Ministry’s first story: a shabby human man sitting in the lobby, and a female ghoul sitting behind the front desk, absently entering information from an enormous stack of papers into a computer terminal sitting on the desk. According to the holographic instructions in the lobby, visitors should take a numbered token from the machine in the corner and have a seat. When their number was called, they should check in at the front desk, where a ministry official would assist them. The crew took a few numbers then had a seat next to the man waiting to file his report.

While they waited, they engaged the human man in conversation. His name was Shan Goulding, and he was a worker in the Fleshworn Fabrications necrograft factory as a line inspector, examining cured pieces of vat-grown flesh to ensure that they fit the specific sizes and shapes needed for creating ocular necrografts. He was hired by a bone sage who was partial owner of the factory; once Shan completed 3 more Eoxian years (15 Pact Standard years) of service, the bone sage had promised him the gift of immortality as an undead ghoul. Shan was locked in a bitter feud with a half-elf line inspector named Frenzel, and he admitted that he was planning to report his rival for secretly being a Corpse Fleet agent.

It was pretty clear that the half-elf was not, in fact, Corpse Fleet, but Kusanagi thought he might be able to commiserate with Shan to get a bit more information out of him. The man revealed that a flesh brewer at the factory, a corpsefolk – an undead zombie that retained its intelligence and personality – named Voxel also hated Frenzel. Shan further explains that, if they ever needed anything from the factory, they should talk to Voxel and tell him Shan sent them.

Several more minutes passed in silence as the ghoul at the front desk continued doing whatever it was that didn’t involve tending to those in the waiting room. Eventually, Kima lost patience and approached the desk to speak with the undead woman. She only pointed at the instructions without looking up at him until he mentioned that Chiskisk had sent them.

“Ah. The Starfinders. The bug sent you, huh? You know the stuff people report to me is mostly garbage, right? Petty, stupid complaints about the neighbors or outright lies about rivals and enemies, and none of ’em have nothing to do with the Corpse Fleet.

“Still, once in a thousand moons, we actually get a legitimate lead or two. When that happens, I forward the reports to the government, who passes them on to the authorities and the Pact Council and
all the Pact Worlds, or so I’m told. This time, I’m giving ’em to you too. You want to use ’em to go after the Corpse Fleet, be my guest. Literally, since I was instructed to set aside a room upstairs for you. It’s yours for as long as you’re here, as an office and as a bedroom, since you lot still need sleep, I guess. But don’t rush your business on my behalf; I just love strangers – especially living ones I can’t eat – staying in my office, particularly when my boss is pretty much forcing me to play host.” Waneda smiled disagreeably, revealing sharp, scraggly teeth and a long, curling tongue.

“I’ve got two reports that came in during the last week,” Waneda explained. “They’re the only ones with any merit at all recently, to be honest with you. The authorities might get to investigating ’em soon, but I’m willing to bet your business is more urgent.”

Report Filed By Voxel Darksend; Necrotype/Species Corpsefolk (elebrian)
Address 43 Sethrot Commons, Upper Vamsbank, Orphys
Occupation Flesh brewer; Employer Fleshworn Fabrications
Available for Follow-Up Interview? Yes (at work only)
Filing Date 4 Kuthona 317 ag
Recorded By Waneda Trux, Director

Incident of Suspected Corpse Fleet Activity “Sometime between the hours of 11:30 and 13:00 yesterday (3 Kuthona), an entire vat of flesh disappeared from FWF’s flesh yards. Upon discovering the flesh was missing, I found a badge with the Corpse Fleet’s insignia next to the empty vat. I also recorded a digital photo of the badge’s location. It seems pretty obvious to me that the Corpse Fleet stole the vat flesh for some unknown purpose.”

Report Filed By Gretal Rapinder; Necrotype/Species Bone trooper (elebrian)
Address 5236 Bareknuckle Way, Splice, Orphys
Occupation Navy trooper (retired); Employer 5th Squadron, Eoxian Navy
Available for Follow-Up Interview? Yes
Filing Date 6 Kuthona 317 ag
Recorded By Waneda Trux, Director

Incident of Suspected Corpse Fleet Activity “On or around 00:00 on 4 Kuthona, my flatmate, Harvinne Nessex (also a 5th Squadron veteran), left our residence, saying she needed to purchase new outerwear – a curious task, especially considering the late hour. In any case, she never returned to the flat. This morning (6 Kuthona), I entered her quarters and discovered that most of her belongings were gone, but I found a scrap of paper on the floor that looks like it fell out of her journal (Harvinne keeps a real paper diary that she actually writes in with a stylus). On this scrap, Harvinne wrote about her disillusionment with current Eoxian policy and her intention to join a contingent of the Corpse Fleet that is currently operating in Orphys. I believe that Harvinne has left the Splice to enlist in the Corpse Fleet.”

After the crew had reviewed the reports, Waneda said, “You should probably look into both of these as soon as you can. The flesh brewer works at Fleshworn Fabrications. He said to ask for him at the factory’s back gates, which are right across the street from the ministry. That delightful stench you smell is from the flesh vats in the factory yard. I suppose you don’t like it much but it just makes me hungry. The retired trooper lives down the way. She’s retired, so she should be available whenever – what else is she going to do? Oh, and there’s one more thing before you go.”

Waneda informed the crew that Ambassador Nor had compiled a dossier of known Corpse Fleet agents currently active on Eox. “I don’t how this background material will help you, but Ambassador Nor insisted you have it,” said the ghoul as she passed it along. The information in the dossier was difficult to parse without much context, but it did include the names of the following Corpse Fleet agents: Rialphus Evanko, Zeera Vesh, and Woan Watten.

The crew thanked the surly ghoul then left the ministry building. They decided to visit the necrograft factory first, and made their way to Fleshworn Fabrications. Tall metal walls behind a chain-link fence and wide, looming security gates marked the industrial facility. Inside the gates was a massive metal-and-concrete platform resting at the bottom of an enormous elevator shaft. The edges of circular pools or vats containing some strange undulating substance were barely visible behind the fence, sunk deeply in the ground. A sign that read, “Attention visitors: Call for agent,” hung above an intercom on one side of the back gates. They used the comm unit to summon Voxel Darksend.

A booming voice answered, and once the crew identified themselves as having come from the Ministry, Voxel hurried over to open the gates, saying, “Finally! It’s about time the Ministry sent somebody! You have no idea how much I’ve needed you to tell my bosses that I didn’t steal or lose the missing flesh. Well? What are you waiting for? Get in here!”

Voxel was fairly coarse and abrupt, and he simply wanted the crew to prove that the missing flesh had been stolen. Voxel didn’t care much about bureaucracy or the political arrangements between Eox and the Pact Worlds regarding tracking the Corpse Fleet. He assumed that the authorities had sent the Starfinders, and insisted on calling them “cops” or “agents.” The crew did not correct him.

As soon as they walked into the flesh yard, Voxel insisted on showing them the relevant vat, which was still empty from the recent theft. He also showed the crew a photo on his datapad of the badge he found next to the vat immediately following the theft’s discovery and even produced the badge itself. Galakrond confirmed that it was definitely a Corpse Fleet insignia. Kusanagi suggested searching the damaged vat itself, but Voxel balked, citing safety regulations and despotic supervisors. Glitch offered to repair the apparently busted control module and fix the broken mechanism, and Voxel agreed that if that were accomplished, he saw no reason to stop them from investigating the vat.

It didn’t take the ysoki long to work his magic and get the vat fixed up. Kusanagi descended to execute his search, and in the bottom of the vat, he found some curious bone spur-like shards among the scraps of synthetic flesh that remained in the vat. He bought the shards back up and showed them to his companions. The crew determined that the bony spurs were likely osteoderms shed by an undead creature known as a marrowblight.

Voxel didn’t know anything about such creatures nor why one would be interested in the factory’s flesh. Before the crew left, he requested they sign an affidavit that he could should his superiors stating that the Ministry had confirmed the Corpse Fleet was responsible for the missing flesh. Once they had done this, he smiled gratefully and handed them a few frag grenades from his personal stash for their trouble.

The crew made their way over to the pensioner’s flat, which was only a block or so away. The narrow sliding door to this residential building bore the tarnished metal numbers “5236,” with the final digit drooping to the side. The door was slightly dented and hung partially ajar, clearly having been forced open. The sound of rasping voices shouting angry taunts could clearly be heard coming from inside the residence, and so the Starfinders wasted no time kicking in the door.

Within, three ghoul soldiers were kicking a bone trooper who had fallen to the floor. The ghouls whirled on the crew, but they were wildly outmatched. After the first fell, the other two fled into the streets, and the Starfinders let them go. The woman Gretal, who had filed the report, expressed her thanks for their help. The bone trooper was concerned about brewing Corpse Fleet activity in the area. She was also a little shaken in the knowledge that her trip to the Ministry of Eternal Vigilance has become public knowledge and that soldiers in her former squadron had taken such offense to her report. A loyal citizen, Gretal simply wanted to do right by her planet’s legitimate government and military, which required her to report her suspicions about her flatmate Harvinne.

In gratitude for their help, and also to help the crew in their future endeavors, Gretal gave them a haste circuit armor upgrade from her time in the 5th Squadron. “I was hanging on to this as a souvenir of my time in the service,” Gretal said. “Honestly, though, I have no use for it anymore, and it will likely help you more than it would ever help me. But let it be a reminder – not all of us who’re dead are bad!”

Although the bone trooper’s appearance was rather unsettling, she was relatively friendly toward the crew. Without much prompting, Gretal unlocked her flatmate’s bedroom and gave the Starfinders the journal page she had mentioned in her Ministry incident report. The bedroom contained no additional clues, but upon examining the journal scrap, they learned that Harvinne had planned to meet with something called “the marrowblight” before taking up her illicit commission in the Corpse Fleet.

The crew exchanged glances. Tracking the marrowblight was clearly their next priority.

<<< >>>

Splintered Worlds

Session 16
Closed Casket

Eox – Orphys

The crew decided to see what weapons and armor they could find in the Splice before attempting to hunt down the marrowblight. Windows covered with mealy boards and one lopsided automatic door adorned the outside of the dingy one-story building beside the Ministry of Eternal Vigilance. Above the entrance was a hologram of a bizarre, ostentatious hat made entirely of tiny bones and the words “Bonesmith’s Boutique: Merchandise You Can Trust!” According to the infosphere, this rather disreputable business sold a motley assortment of weapons, armor, and sundry supplies.

The boutique was named for its proprietor and sole employee, Bonesmith Jaklyn. She was behind the front desk wearing an elaborate pirate-styled outfit and the same strange hat depicted on the sign outside. When the bone trooper saw the crew, she opened her mouth wide – the skeletal equivalent of a smile – revealing several golden teeth. “Ah, breathers!” Jaklyn exclaimed, using a common Eoxian term for living individuals. “Welcome to Bonesmith Jaklyn’s boutique! We’ve got everything your little beating hearts might desire – and probably more!”

She actually had every item the crew requested in stock, although she initially asked for twenty percent more than they would have expected to pay. Kima engaged the Eoxian shopkeeper in conversation, discussing bringing in steady business, and even offering to do a feature of the shop on his vid show. Jaklyn warmed to the lashunta’s sales pitch, and not only did she do away with the upcharge, she offered him and the crew a storewide discount! Once they had completed purchases and outfitted themselves, they headed back into the streets of Orphys.

Kusanagi sensed right away that something was wrong, and a moment later a pair of nihili dropped from the walls flanking the doors to Bonesmith’s Boutique. The android threw himself forward into a roll and crossed the street, pulling a pistol as he went. Seeing this, the others likewise reached for weapons. Glitch joined the operative across the street and lashed out with magic. Galakrond could feel the undead creatures’ gravity aura crushing his lungs, but he and Kima stood their ground and shortly the undead fell to the street. The crew found a pair of credsticks containing thousands of credits and quickly surmised that the nihilis had been hired to attack them. Clearly, they had drawn someone’s attention.

<<< >>>

The Marrowblight’s Hut

A couple of hours after they left the safety of Orphys’ atmosphere dome, the blasted landscape of the wholly devastated and undead planet gave way slightly to a carefully cultivated area surrounding a dilapidated hut. The displays were almost garden-like in their precise arrangement – thin, pliable bones weaved intricate patterns in clumps that might otherwise be living bushes, and flutes of skin and cartilage might have been mistaken for flowers were it not for the disturbing shapes and absence of brilliant colors. Beyond the “garden” sat a bizarre, circular hovel apparently made from stretched, cured skin wrapped around a frame of massive bones. A front door hewn from sickly wood stood ever so slightly open.

The crew circumvented the worst of the “bushes” in their approach to the door, but as soon as they stepped into the open yard, a fleshy mass they had mistaken for the ground jerked into motion! Massive horns atop the ellicoth’s head gored Galakrond before the crew could react. Worse, when the vesk soldier advanced, his armor’s Geiger counter spiked and he practically choked on the radiation emanating from the gargantuan alien.

The Starfinders began their assault, Glitch and Kusanagi keeping their distance while Kima joined Galakrond in melee against the great beast. The vesk was struck by the ellicoth’s trunks and the alien seemed to siphon his life to heal its own injuries. Between the radiation and the ability to recover from wounds, the crew got a little nervous, especially after it rampaged to gore both of the melee combatants at once. In the end, however, the Starfinders attack overwhelmed the ellicoth, which fell heavily to the ruined ground. The crew retreated to catch their breath and drink serums of healing to recover from the effort of felling the enormous guardian.

Rather than close with the radioactive corpse, the Starfinders went around the side of the flesh-draped hut and made their own entrance! Within, the shack was threadbare and devoid of any items of obvious value. Dusty and brittle furniture littered the floor, and the marrowblight attacked from behind this meager cover!

Galakrond closed and came under attack from the marrowblight’s claws and spurs. He weathered the onslaught, and shortly, the crew’s overwhelming counterattack set the undead creature back on her heels. They demanded her surrender, and she tossed her weapon to the floor, raising her hands above her head.

The marrowblight, Xerantha Mortrant by name, confessed that she had been colluding with the Corpse Fleet for a long time. She admitted to meeting with Captain Zeera Vesh, who was on the planet recruiting for some massive push out to some undisclosed location in the Vast. Xerantha denied sending the nihili assassins after the Starfinders, suggesting that might have been Vesh’s move. She added that they could find her in a canyon nearby known as Skullcap Gorge. When she described the place, they realized that they had passed it on the way out to the marrowblight’s hut. They left Xerantha in her hut and headed out to confront the Corpse Fleet captain.

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Skullcap Gorge

The desolate Eoxian terrain turned macabre as the sloping land descended into a gaping canyon that stretched for dozens of yards. But instead of sheer cliffs of rock, towering piles of bones and skulls of all sizes and shapes formed the walls of the gorge. At the ravine’s eastern end, a wide pool of bubbling green acid abutted a sheer cliff. Several flat, stepped rocks next to the pool approximated a stairway climbing to the top of the cliff.

They entered the canyon from the west; the enormous walls of bone to the north and south were fifty to sixty feet high. When the crew was about halfway between the acid pool and the western edge of the gorge, a figure at the top of the “steps” stood and called out to them. “Petty, foolish, irritating Starfinders! All of the effort I spent to weave this deadly trap, and for what? To have you bumble through, unharmed and yet still so ignorant? Allow me to enlighten you. I am Captain Zeera Vesh, esteemed officer of the mighty Corpse Fleet – valiant navy of the true Eox – and you will go no farther. You’ve meddled enough in our plans. Now, I shall succeed where my lackeys have failed. I shall destroy you and bring glory to the Corpse Fleet once and for all!”

While her diatribe had distracted them, half a dozen bone troopers had closed the trap from the west, pinning the crew between them and their captain. Kusanagi engaged Vesh while the others set to work against the Corpse Fleet soldiers. Explosions from infused grenades, supercharged weapons, magic missiles, doshko and solarian blades, and plenty of blaster fire filled Skullcap Gorge with enough noise for two full battalions hard at work trying to kill each other.

The android quickly decided that he outmatched against the Corpse Fleet captain, who seemed to have had the same operative training as himself. He engaged his cloaking field and was dismayed that Vesh seemed to be able to see right through it! He retreated down the stairs toward his companions, and as the number of bone troopers dwindled, they moved to assist. In the end, Zeera Vesh faced off against Kima and was found lacking. Her body crumbled to dust and the crew wasted no time kicking the ashes into the nearby acid pool. They collected her belongings and the items of value carried by the bone troopers, then returned to Orphys and the Sunrise Maiden.

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Eox, Orbit

Captain Vesh was carrying a secure computer data module, and once Glitch ported it into the ship’s computer he was able to hack the system and access the information within. The module contained the data that was deleted from the datacore in the Star-Eater’s Spine, which revealed that the Cult of the Devourer left its Diaspora base to search for the Gate of Twelve Suns in a distant star system called Nejeor, based on the cultists’ interpretations of Nyara’s prophecies.

Nejeor’s coordinates put the system somewhere in the Vast, aligning with what Xerantha Mortrant had told them. The electronic signature on the data matched that of the hacker who had scrubbed the files from the cult’s computer system, confirming that the Corpse Fleet had visited the Star-Eater’s Spine, accessed the datacore, and learned that the cult was searching the Nejeor system for the “key” to the alien superweapon.

They sent transmissions to report their findings to the Ministry of Eternal Vigilance, the Eox veteran Gretal Rapinder, and also Chiskisk, back on Absalom Station. A few hours later, the shirren responded, thanking them for their efforts, letting them know that additional credits had been added to their accounts, and directing them to plot a course to Apostae. There they would find fellow Starfinders in need of rescue from a dark elf who had double-crossed the Society.

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Apostae, Orbit

The drow hadn’t seen the Sunrise Maiden coming. Given Villyth Zeizerer’s recent defeat of a trio of Starfinders sent to retrieve some weapons she’d stolen, she had been overconfident when she demanded ransom from the Society. Unfortunately for her, she had captured some good friends of the crew. The Starfinder ship swiftly rendered the dark elf vessel inoperable, and they moved to board.

They found several half-orcs and dark elves waiting with weapons drawn when they breached the airlock, but a well-placed spell grenade by Glitch thinned the enemy numbers by half. Galakrond and Kima moved to engage the survivors while Kusanagi chased the leader and gave her a bleeding wound. Villyth quaffed a serum that rendered her invisible, and slipped past the crew and into the airlock between the ships. They gave chase, but she had locked them out of their own ship!

Then Winslow, warned of the invisible drow from the chatter over comms, rendered her unconscious with a simple mind thrust. The shirren gave his companions a thumbs up as he reopened the airlock, and they took Villyth prisoner. They found their fellow Starfinders locked in an upper chamber of the dark elf ship. Boske, Porunga, and Twitch were gratified to see their friends’ faces, and happily came back aboard the Sunrise Maiden.

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Splintered Worlds

Session 17
Augmented Reality

Salvation’s End – Orbit

The crew was on the Exemplarion, the personal starship and luxury space-yacht of an Eoxian celebrity, having just arrived aboard a far more modest Starfinder starship. They had had a brief window to tour the larger craft’s six decks, casino, spa, trio of restaurants, and other extravagant amenities that accommodate the hundreds of guests on board. After a while, one of Zo!’s skeletal assistants intercepted them and escorted them to the production studio on Decks 4 and 5.

The studio was a large, multi-tiered auditorium with an immense window that looked out over the moon known as Salvation’s End. Dozens of professionals rushed about the studio, adjusting lights, testing holographic displays, pulling clothes from wheeled wardrobes, cleaning the hundreds of tiered seats, and more. The elebrian media mogul Zo! sat on the stage with the Starfinder Society’s First Seeker, Content Not Found: uwazi, animatedly telling a story while Luwazi marveled at the ongoing activity. When the First Seeker spotted the crew, she waved them down the aisles to join her and Zo!. Assistants immediately rushed out with additional chairs to accommodate the Starfinders.

“Yes. Yes! You’re everything I was hoping for,” exclaimed the undead showman while looking over the new arrivals. “Oh, Luwazi, you’ve truly outdone yourself. They’re so exciting, so energized, so–”

“–alive?” finished a ghast woman wearing well-tailored clothing as she stepped onto the stage. Zo! frowned at the blunt observation, muttering an introduction to Wazasha Kevir, his associate producer. He looked like he was about to say more, but Luwazi intervened.

“Starfinders, no doubt this is all happening a little fast, so let me explain. After the Scoured Stars incident, the Society struggled to support new expeditions. I reached out to numerous people and organizations for grant money, and our host was eager to help. He financed more than a dozen missions, including the one to Salvation’s End. There was one big catch.” Zo! visibly bounced in his seat with excitement as Luwazi continued. “If we found anything especially exciting, we’d need to cease exploration long enough for him to get a film crew out there to document whatever we found next. Well, Salvation’s End may look like a moon, but our initial survey of it found there’s something built inside – the whole thing might be artificial. That qualifies as especially exciting, but that was also several months ago.”

The skeletal mogul waved his hands. “Oh, but Luwazi, I couldn’t just send a single crew. No, the Starfinder Society’s greatest triumph deserves far more production value.” He hopped up from his chair and gazed out at the moon as he paced and gesticulated. “Imagine: heroes from the Pact World, a mysterious planetoid, untold secrets, limitless adventure – all broadcast before a live audience in our greatest production yet!” He spun to look back at the group, his lipless mouth smiling gleefully. “Live Exploration Extreme!”

The ghast Wazasha clapped politely before interjecting. “To translate, you’re scheduled to explore part of Salvation’s End accompanied by a professional camera crew and production team, led by me. You will find exciting things and be thoroughly entertaining.”

Luwazi explained the Starfinders’ stake in Salvation’s end and what they had encountered so far. “I hired a team to perform a surface survey, and it was they who discovered a hatch that led much deeper into its interior. We also know that a tribe of goblins calling themselves the Exhaust Drinkers lives on the surface, and we’ve clashed with them in the past. Most recently, we undertook a concerted effort to clear the tribe out from our landing facility on the moon’s surface. The moon’s gravity will feel about normal, but we’ve detected that the gravity is artificially maintained and even seems to reorient itself in some areas.”

Wazasha glanced down at her wrist-mounted holoscreen and announced that the show was an hour away from starting. She ushered the crew out of the auditorium toward a dressing room for further instructions. There she reviewed the assignment and confirmed that the Starfinders had the supplies they thought they might need. In this venture, they wouldn’t just be holovid stars; they were performing for a live audience of passionate fans able to contribute to whatever incentives Zo! concocted during the event. Although the Starfinders’ only obligations involved exploring the designated portion of Salvation’s End and not killing the production crew – or getting them killed, Wazasha clarified patiently when they asked – they stood to reap considerable social rewards if they put on a good show and pandered to the crowd. Before continuing the briefing, Wazasha called in a squad of makeup artists to ensure that the crew would be looking their best.

Two teams would be accompanying the Starfinders as they explored Salvation’s End. The first was the production team – consisting of two ghouls, two androids, and a hexapodal robot – that carried refreshments, portable seats, makeup, the bubble projector for The Booth, a pair of heavy-duty broadcast relays, and other equipment necessary to keep the operation running. The camera team consisted of ten ghouls bristling with holocord cameras, boom microphones, reflective screens to amplify natural lighting, and other equipment for properly recording the Starfinders’ exploits in several multimedia broadcast formats.

Like many reality shows, one of the crew would be periodically sequestered to speak candidly about recent events and (especially) other people on the show. Wazasha explained and demonstrated the Booth – the hexapodal robot could plant itself on the ground and unfold its top like a box, deploying a seat in front of a two-panel screen to create a visually neutral backdrop. At the same time, the robot deployed a pair of tiny hover drones equipped with cameras as well as a slightly opaque, noise-cancelling bubble to provide some privacy. The ghoul ushered each of them inside with her, at which point she asked a few basic introductory questions – some open-ended and others provocatively pointed to elicit a raw, emotional response.

After the briefing, it was clear that the ghast associate producer had a dry wit and largely professional demeanor. Occasionally, her two-foot-long tongue hungrily slipped out of her mouth or interfered with her speech, and she irritably recoiled it back into her mouth before continuing. She preferred to speak directly and it was clear that she wouldn’t coddle actors who couldn’t handle show business.

Once they were ready, Wazasha ushered them into a clean shuttle for the 15-minute voyage to the false moon’s surface. The camera crew and production team were waiting, while Zo!’s special effects team played an opening montage to build the audience’s excitement. The crew followed along on the local infosphere (connected to the Exemplarion), even seeing the overly dramatic renditions of their personal bios to introduce viewers to the show’s stars.

Kusanagi – This mysterious masked operative previously earned some small notoriety exploring the Drift Rock back on Absalom Station!

Galakrond – Another Drift Rock veteran, this strong, silent vesk mercenary wielded the signature weapon of his people to protect his teammates!

Glitch – This plucky ysoki master of magitech is a newcomer to the crew who has already proven his worth as the Tiny Technomancer!

Kima – A rising star with his own online series, this lashunta solarian has joined the crew, hoping to elevate their collective brand to new heights!

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Salvation’s End – Surface

Several other Starfinders were retrofitting the dock into a more permanent structure, and some of the Society repair crew casually explained that the location might become a new lodge depending on their findings. The repair crew guided them to a heavy hatch deeper in the facility, beyond which lay dark tunnels that led deep below the surface.

A network of service tunnels crisscrossed this outermost subsurface layer, providing avenues for repair drones to service the simulation chambers deeper inside. However, as the crew explored – and voiced their thoughts aloud, as Wazasha prompted – they found broken and incomplete robots and drones of unknown design at irregular intervals along the worn steel hallways. Almost every light fixture was broken or malfunctioning, making the fifteen-foot-tall tunnels dark but for the occasional, haunting flicker of light from the distance. In the few places where it seemed signage once hung, someone had purposefully defaced or removed the analog signs and torn out any digital displays.

The technological elements in these tunnels seem to be roughly comparable to Pact Worlds’ technology but are of a design never before documented. They examined the geology of the moon in the places where the tunnels were damaged and the surrounding rocky matrix is visible. The rock appeared to be natural, but there were signs of warping and buckling as though the moon had periodically experienced heavy forces such as strong gravitational forces or the large-scale movement of something large toward the moon’s core.

Farther down the tunnel, they also find a midden containing both refuse and excrement. The trash consisted largely of low-value technological scraps that might have been attached to something more valuable. The ample excrement appeared to have come from goblins. Some omnivorous creature about the size of a vesk was the source of another pile. The crew estimated that several creatures had visited the midden within the past hour, and could confidently follow the goblin tracks further down the tunnels.

The crew hadn’t traveled far when an explosion shook the walls and echoed from ahead. The camera crew fanned out to record their reactions. Wazasha prompted them, asking whether random explosions were the sort of event that made Starfinders curious. Although the circumstances seemed staged, Wazasha seemed as unsure of what might lay ahead as they were.

Ahead, the walls had shattered outward from an older explosion, leaving an open space that was partly collapsed along the edges. Due to the poor lighting conditions, the camera crew turned on an array of bright set lights that several ghouls turned toward the action. Something big reflected the light. As the crew drew nearer, they saw something that resembled a large, six-legged armadillo with compound eyes, iridescent banded armor plates, heavy digging claws, and a pair of rasping tongues.

The spicodranth’s scales reflected Galakrond’s laser fire and nearly blinded the vesk. The rest of the crew advanced on the creature while the undead camera crew maneuvered to find the best angle to capture the action. A trio of goblins emerged from the tunnels and began firing at the Starfinders. After the spicodranth fell, two of the three were handily defeated, leaving only a single goblin flanked by Starfinders. Kusanagi’s shot took out the last.

Wazasha pulled the android into the booth, looking slightly perturbed. She reminded him that they had agreed to try to capture and question any of the Exhaust Drinkers they encountered, and she pointed out that the audience had not liked Kusanagi “executing” the clearly outclassed creature. He shrugged and offered no further explanation for his actions.

The crew made their way up through the section of tunnels that the goblins had opened with their recent explosion. The camera crew filmed the proceedings, and once the Starfinders were above, several ghouls fired grapplers and adeptly hoisted themselves and their equipment up. The region beyond was a large cavern that sparkled with phosphorescent fungi whose caps spanned as much as ten feet in diameter. The goblins’ explosion from below had buckled the cavern floor here, leaving a concentric impression in the ground where there appeared to have just been unaffected stone before. These buckled rings were about a foot high.

Of greater note, a group of dwarves watched the Starfinders and accompanying undead horde curiously. A woman among them stepped forward to address them as the ghouls eagerly filmed the exchange. Glitch cast a tongues spell on himself to overcome the language barrier, and the dwarf introduced herself as Ylga Tulgarst, daughter of Ulfrodi. She claimed to speak for her clan. The ysoki struggled with the exchange, making the dwarves more nervous, before Galakrond discovered that Ylga understood Draconic. He then began translating for Kima.

Ylga told them that the Marbleheart clan was large, but had split into smaller groups to seek the surface more than a century ago, from a time before her memories. She now led a band of forty-three dwarves, though they were down to twenty-nine after the orcs and earthquakes returned. The Starfinders asked about the orcs, and Ylga explained.

“The orcs fought us for centuries, but they fled upward long ago. I heard stories of their towering forms, green skin, and rage as a child, but we only saw them for the first time a few hundred forge-days ago. They are shorter than I imagined, but just as cruel. Also, they jabber in a language unknown to us, even though I learned the orc language as part of my warrior training.”

The crew assumed that the dwarves had mistaken the goblins for orcs. Additionally, they estimated that Ylga’s forge-days, were roughly a 24-hour period – how much time passed between the time a smith heated a forge for work and the time she returned after rest to restart the process. As such, they calculated that the strange orcs first appeared about a year ago.

When asked what her clan was doing in the tunnels, Ylga said, “We have always lived below ground, but a generation ago my ancestors answered Torag’s summons – a tremor that called on our people to seek what lies above in the Quest for Sky. There we shall do our god’s will on Golarion’s surface.”

The crew exchanged glances. It was common knowledge that Golarion had disappeared during the Gap – leaving only Absalom Station orbiting in its place. Glitch mentioned in an undertone that Torag was a major dwarven deity who had also disappeared during the Gap. The Starfinders decided not to mention either of these things just yet and accepted Ylga’s invitation to return to the dwarves’ camp and speak with their head priest.

As they traveled to the Marbleheart camp, Ylga told the Starfinders more about her people. With its large baggage train, host of children and elders, and trek upward through unfamiliar tunnels, the dwarves’ Quest for Sky had never been an unbroken voyage from one point to another. The dwarves had periodically settled down for a year or more to gather resources, rest, and allow scouts time to blaze the next trail. Ylga’s band of the Marbleheart clan had built its current settlement more than a year ago, but the dwarves had holed up rather than travel further due to the “orc” raids that had slain many of their clan. As a result, the dozen stone buildings had reinforced doors, arrow slits, and other modest fortifications in the event of another attack.

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Marbleheart Camp

When they arrived, the settlement was in distress, and Ylga was quick to ask a nearby dwarf what was wrong. The goblins’ latest explosion resulted in burst pipes and additional tremors. Less than an hour ago, a fissure split down the middle of the settlement’s cavern, dropping a massive chunk of stone to crash into the Temple of Torag’s facade. The few dozen dwarven survivors were struggling to break through the boulder or one of the reinforced walls to get inside, where their chief priest Holsin Nolskrit was trapped!

Ylga quickly introduced the Starfinders and coordinated the dwarves in their rescue effort. After some examination, she determined that there were two likely ways to get in and help Holsin: remove the boulder or send in a small group through the fissure. Several dwarves determined that the fissure’s trajectory should lead to its intersecting with the temple’s rear rooms, but the trench had partly filled with an unknown, viscous fluid.

The ghast Wazasha let the crew know that the audience was voting on what they should do next, then pulled up a holographic display from her wrist computer to show the votes as they were cast. Every time the dwarves identified one option’s difficulty, painfulness, or uncomfortable circumstances, the voting for that option surged. Ultimately, the audience voted for the Starfinders to clamber through the strange fluid-choked fissure to sneak into the temple from behind.

The oily fluid seemed to be a synthetic lubricant, much as would be found in a mechanical engine or hydraulic system. The substance wasn’t directly harmful to the touch; however, anyone marching through the fissure will become slathered in it and probably have trouble moving without falling over. The Starfinders used a combination of magic, technology, and brute strength to climb through the fissure above the fluid, making their way to the back rooms of the temple. As they traveled down the fissure, several tiny camera drones followed along to record your actions.

They found Holsin in the front room of the temple, surrounded by what appeared to be globules of autonomous fluid. The crew handily dispatched these strange technological oozes and Galakrond gave the dwarf a healing serum to mend his wounds. The dwarves outside the temple managed to remove the boulder and free everyone shortly thereafter.

Holsin was thankful for their aid and very disturbed by the cave-in that had nearly killed him. Despite his tireless piety, it seems that Torag was angry with the dwarves. He was open to discussing his concerns and theories with the crew, including his suspicion that the dwarves are near the surface. Wazasha encouraged the crew to keep the old dwarf talking.

For generations Holsin’s people had climbed higher and higher in the Darklands, following Torag’s prophesied tremor that began the Quest for Sky. Ever since, Torag had rumbled periodically, coaxing his people to ascend. Now Torag’s miracles had become less powerful, which Holsin believed was because the god’s power was diluted by the influence of surface faiths with which he must contend. The “short orcs” had also returned with magic wands from the surface to fight their age-old enemy. Furthermore, the orcs had used vile surface magic to channel the sky-realm’s toxic air into the caverns and kill the dwarves. If the dwarves were to survive and reach the surface – Holsin believed that they were so close – someone able to survive the poisons needed to travel into the deadly fog and clear the tunnels.

Wazasha didn’t have to tell the Starfinders that the audience demanded they be the dwarves’ saviors.

The tunnels extended only another mile up, but after traveling half that distance, the air became visibly cloudy until, the haze obscured all distant objects and terrain, giving the caverns a spooky and menacing ambiance. Skulking in the haze, the crew saw a handful of goblins, including one wearing what appeared to be a piecemeal set of powered armor. Big Genius Polbak – loudly referring to himself in the third person – ordered his subordinates to attack!

The goblins were no real match for the Starfinders, and because they knew the audience would love the loud-mouthed leader, they left him alive. With the goblins defeated, the crew explored the cavern and found a large adamantine door. The goblins’ tools, explosives, and other gear was scattered haphazardly about, available for them to use in opening the door. With applied engineering and strength, it didn’t take long to accomplish.

Once the door was open, Wazasha urged the Starfinders to let a few of the camera crew enter first just to get a good reaction shot. The door exited onto an elevated walkway that ran along the length of a horizontal cylindrical space several hundred feet in diameter and extending as far as the eye can see to the right and left. At several points along its visible length lay heavy doors like the one they had opened. Most notably, though, they spotted a digital terminal near their door, its display glowing with strange alien text that quickly cycled through various forms before stopping on Common. It read:

Simulation #20,553
Dwarven Quest for Sky
Planet Golarion
Circa -4,900 Absalom Reckoning (simulation local calendar approximation)
Status: Simulation ongoing.
ALERT: ERROR! Immediate repair required.
ERROR! External influence detected.
ERROR! Control measures enacted.

The crew exchanged wide-eyed glances while the cameras zoomed in on the screen. The Quest for Sky was a simulation that had been running for who knew how long. At a second glance, they saw that each of the doors along this massive gallery have a similar terminal next to them, suggesting there were untold numbers of other simulation chambers sustaining other artificial worlds within the moon. This was a huge discovery.

As the chamber’s sensors detected the toxic gas and began venting it out of the Quest for Sky simulation, Wazasha signaled the crew to let them know that this was a perfect cliffhanger to stop filming. She asked that the Starfinders quickly assemble for one final action shot, instructing them to pose together like victorious explorers as the poisonous fog billowed past them. The camera crew snapped dozens of pictures for promotional purposes.

Wazasha ushered each of the crew in turn into the Booth to get their impressions and theories about the nature of Salvation’s End as a massive simulation machine. They offered their thoughts until the ghoul was satisfied that she had what she needed.

Just after the camera crew took the last set of pictures, Wazasha asked aloud, “How about we hear how they’re wrapping up the event in the studio?” She pulled up a program on her wrist computer, which played the live audio feed with Zo! shouting excitedly.

“What a discovery! What a destination! What a band of unlikely heroes! What could lie deeper in Salvation’s End? Find out on the next episode of Live Exploration Extreme! when the Starfinder Society returns to–”

“What?” shouted Luwazi with alarm from near Zo!’s microphone. “That was not part of our deal, Zo! You can’t just add a sequel when we haven’t–”

Zo!’s voice insistently cut back in. “Ha ha! And now a word from our sponsors!” A booming add for Nova Solutions blared out of Wazasha’s computer before she closed the program, rolled her eyes, and ordered the teams to retrace their way to the surface.

Wazasha told the Starfinders that Luwazi Elsebo wanted to give them a proper debriefing before deciding whether to send them deeper into the unknown. Furthermore, there was still the question of what to do with the Marbleheart dwarves. The gaping hole through which they had arrived and the open door into the simulation control chamber shattered the artificial existence in which the dwarves had lived for at least a century, and the existence of a larger galaxy beyond their tiny world might inspire some to travel the stars. For others, the stress might be too much without patient mentors to guide their path. It was clear, though, that given the malfunctioning machinery, remaining in the simulation wasn’t a viable option.

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Back on the Exemplarion, Luwazi seemed somewhat frazzled as she met with the crew to hear their un-glamorized accounts of the expedition. She reported that Zo! was desperately trying to negotiate for additional filmed excursions, but so far she had left him with a curt “We’ll see.” Prior to dismissing them, Luwazi asked for the crew’s thoughts on whether Live Exploration Extreme! should return for another episode or not. Considering the amazing discovery and all the good publicity it would likely earn the Starfinder Society, the crew were agreed in their recommendation that she should at least consider it.

The crew also recommended the Society take point on relocating the Marbleheart dwarves and integrating them into modernity. This humanitarian effort would likely also earn the organization some good publicity while also rescuing what was left of an entire civilization trapped for centuries out of time and tricked into pursuing something impossible by unknown parties for an unknown purpose. Luwazi agreed with the recommendation and started the process of creating the Marbleheart Initiative.

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Absalom Station

You arrive back at the Lorespire Complex shortly after the live broadcast of the show reached the Pact Worlds. They found themselves invited as guests to a host of programs, game shows, nightclubs, and other events – again for Galakrond and Kusanagi. The fame was short-lived, which was just as well. They were contacted by Winslow, who reported that the Sunrise Maiden had been retrofitted under Twitch’s supervision.

They were ready to continue pursuing the Stellar Degenerator in the Nejeor System.

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The Ruined Clouds