Starfinder: Dead Suns

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

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.

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Splintered Worlds

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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

View
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.

<<< >>>

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

View
Session 18
The Outcasts

The Drift

The Cult of the Devourer was headed for a distant area in the Vast called the Nejeor system to uncover the location of the Stellar Degenerator. As the crew traveled for days on end through the Drift, they could not help but occasionally stare out a view port at the strange bleakness of the transitory plane. Instead of inky blackness dotted with stars, the Drift was a mass of pink-and-purple energy that seemed to both envelop the ship and be incredibly far away at the same time, making it difficult to gauge speed and time. They caught the occasional glimpses of chunks of other planes the Drift had absorbed—a titanic but empty basalt throne carved with images of cavorting devils, a single metal gear the size of a city, a vast bridge that seems to have an ancient abandoned city built along its span, and other similarly strange sights.

Several days into the trip, the Sunrise Maiden passed close to several humongous, dark clouds that occasionally flashed with internal light. These hid the approach of another starship, which revealed itself by opening communication with the Starfinders.

“Attention, Pact Worlds vessel. This is the Azlanti Star Empire vessel Fearful Symmetry. Surrender immediately, and you will not be harmed. In fact, you will have the immense pleasure of becoming another small part of the empire’s vast populace. Refuse and we will be forced to turn you into space dust. This message will not repeat.”

The Fearful Symmetry was a sleek starship, built for as much speed and handling as a long-distance vessel of its size could manage. It was emerald green in color and etched with Azlanti symbols that evoked alertness and watchfulness. Its thrusters burned white hot as the vessel approached. The Starfinders swiftly found their battle stations to engage.

The Azlanti vessel took a heavy blow from the newly installed antimatter missile launcher, firing back with light plasma cannons and a light torpedo launcher. Then the enemy ship went on the defensive, taking refuge in the concealment of the strange clouds. When the Sunrise Maiden was out of missiles, the Azlanti pilot got more aggressive, and his gunner managed to tear a hole in the aft shields. The smoking ship kept just behind the Starfinders until its final transmission: “Long live the Azlanti Empire.” Then it exploded, causing significant damage to the Sunrise Maiden, and sending several systems haywire. The Crew exchanged concerned glances, then warily continued their trip through the Drift.

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The Vast – Nejeor System

The crew exited the Drift in the Nejeor system, a nine-planet system with a yellow dwarf sun. They had no clues as to where the Cult of the Devourer might have gone in their search. However, even a cursory scan of the system’s planets revealed that only one of them showed any signs of life: Nejeor VI, the planet they were currently closest to. It took a few hours for the Sunrise Maiden to reach the gas giant and enter orbit.

Glitch performed a more comprehensive scan of the planet and pinpointed the signs of life on a floating metropolis in the stratosphere, sitting just above the churning clouds of Nejeor VI. The city was crumbling in places, while other areas are overgrown with trees and other plants. The energy signatures that would normally come from a settlement of that size were weak and erratic. The city must have been millennia old and that age was the apparent cause of much of the decay, as opposed to it having been destroyed by some outside source.

Nejeor VI

Kusanagi could easily see that there was only one safe place where he could bring down your vessel: an emerald-green landing pad on the outskirts of the city. All other possible landing areas in the metropolis were either unstable or covered in impenetrable thickets. The Sunrise Maiden touched down on the green circle, one of a few landing pads that jutted out into the clouds in the southeastern corner of the city, but the only one still usable.

Like much of the rest of the city, the pad appeared to be made of a thick, barely translucent crystal. The majority of the pad was open to the sky; the thick clouds of Nejeor VI swirled lazily below. An archway stretched above a ten-foot-wide walkway that joined up with walkways from other landing pads, leading into what could once have been a dockmaster’s building. A holographic sign in a language unfamiliar to any of them stretched across the archway.

They took a few moments to inspect the landing pad and noticed a few scorch marks that could be from the heat of another vessel taking off or landing. It was clear that they were less than a few days old and that they were representative of the unsafe quality of Cult of the Devourer engines. They exchanged satisfied glances; at least they were on the right trail. Then the Starfinders noticed a pack of four humanoid aliens crawling over the side of the platform, primitive weapons drawn.

The natives proved to be no threat, and the Crew captured the last rather than killing her outright. Having learned his lesson on Salvation’s End, Glitch cast a tongues spell on Kima so the lashunta could question the captive. The stubborn female refused to tell them anything, insisting that they weren’t any different from the other invaders – presumably the Devourer cultists. She spat at them and loudly insisted, “Istamak will stand strong against you foul demons!” They left her tied on the dock.

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Istamak

From the landing pad, the crew entered the dockmaster’s building. The interior of the structure had been gutted long ago, and the walls were covered with murals worked in crude paint and charcoal. The images seemed to depict the sun in various positions in relation to the emerald landing pad; each of the pictures was accompanied by a number of what appeared to be tally marks. After spending a few minutes examining the murals, the Starfinders realized that they depict a kind of calendar that communicated the best periods of the year in which to harvest the green lichen that grew on the underside of the pad.

They noticed the sounds of combat outside, and looked out an empty window frame overlooking the street in front of the building. Two small groups of aliens like those that had ambushed them were fighting each other. Both groups had taken casualties and only three remained standing on each side. The more observant of the crew noticed that the aliens of one of the two sides were all wearing a prominent, though crude, symbol on their armor: an outline of a shield-like shape with an upside-down tear drop breaking through the top and a circle in the middle. The other group were dressed similarly to the ones who had “ambushed” them.

The symbol looked familiar, but none of the Starfinders could quite place it. They decided to approach the fight to see how each group reacted. Since the invaders were not attacking, each group of natives stayed focused on the clear and present threat. A short while later, those with the symbol prevailed, and the losers fled deeper into the city. One of the remaining three was severely wounded, and his comrades didn’t seem to have the skills to heal him. They seemed unwilling to possibly exacerbate his condition by moving him. Keeping a wary eye on the Starfinders, they appeared to offer a short prayer to the sky.

Kima, still under the effect of tongues picked the name “Talavet” out of the prayer, and he remembered where he’d seen the symbol before. They wore the symbol of the lawful neutral deity Talavet, the goddess of community, self-reliance, and tradition. He mentioned this to the others via telepathy, and they all wondered how a group of natives in the Vast had encountered the goddess.

They started a dialog with the aliens, who referred to themselves as “kish,” and indicated they were outcasts from those they had been fighting. The crew offered to help their friend recover from his wounds, and the kish were willing to let them try. They called Winslow over the comms, and the shirren made his way from the ship to the scene of the battle. He cast a simple healing spell to revive the fallen kish, offered an embarrassed thumbs up, and headed back to the Sunrise Maiden. The natives were impressed and suggested that the Starfinders meet with their leader.

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Cloudside Community Center

From the spaceport, it took about half an hour of walking to reach the outcast kish’s territory, a small neighborhood of dilapidated residences around a sturdy community center. The exact name of the building had long since faded away, but the space above its front doors was marked with a large and fairly freshly painted symbol of Talavet. A handful of younger kish were in the space in front of the building, playing a casual game involving a ball and pairs of vertical hoops on poles on opposite sides of the court. Dozens of other kish could be seen about the neighborhood, tending to small gardens, repairing the buildings, or maintaining weapons and armor. Many of them stopped what they were doing to gawk at the aliens as the Starfinders were escorted into the building.

The interior had clearly been recently converted into a small church, and hastily created symbols of Talavet were the majority of the decor. The kish skirmishers introduced the Starfinders to their leader Herald Tzayl, who wore an austere brown robe accented with a colorful scarf around her head.

Tzayl wanted to know more about the crew, and they explained that they were tracking down the aliens who had come to Istamak before in order to stop them. Satisfied, she agreed to answer their questions to the best of her ability. The Starfinders started simple, asking to know about her people.

“We are kish, the keepers of our ancestral land of Istamak,” she said. “You come to us in turbulent times. Those you see around you have been recently cast out from their homes for daring to speak out about Huntmaster Xavra’s desecration of tradition. And now we clash in the streets to protect ourselves. It is very sad.”

When asked about the Devourer Cultists, she explained, “They arrived in a metal cloud like yours, but different in shape and color. Theirs looked angry, as did their clothes. We welcomed them into our great temple, but they profaned the Vault of Tales and attacked us, causing many deaths and much destruction. They then returned to their cloud and ascended into the sky.”

“Can you tell us about the great temple?”

“The Temple Found is sacred to our ancestors, so we maintain it as tradition dictates. It was open to all, until recently. After the strangers left, Huntmaster Xavra sealed himself and some of his warriors within, claiming that the temple must be kept safe from other strangers. I objected to his decision, and the chieftain saw fit to exile me for speaking out. Luckily, I was not the only one to feel this way, so my neighbors joined me in my banishment.”

“What is the Vault of Tales?”

“One of the many blessed areas within the Temple Found. It is a vast collection of our ancestors’ wisdom, held within sacred crystals. I sometimes used to visit the Vault when I had deep, unanswered questions. Though there is much about the words I don’t understand, I always come away from the Vault of Tales with some guidance. That is why the Temple Found should be free for all to visit.”

“How do we get into that temple?”

“The doors are shut from within and can be opened only if Xavra allows it.” Tzayl looked thoughtful for a moment. “But I have heard the voices of our ancestors speak of another way in. Perhaps if you were to listen to them, you might benefit from their insights. But first you must prove yourself worthy enough to hear those voices yourself.”

She explained that there were two places of significance where kish went when they wanted to hear the voices of their ancestors or seek their blessings. While these were sacred ceremonies for her people, she admitted that not many kish had performed them in close to a year. Perhaps, she mused, if Xavra and his warriors had shown more devotion, they wouldn’t have been so quick to break away from tradition. She also said that she didn’t see any harm in the crew enacting these rites; after all, if they do so, they might better understand the kish community.

Tzayl described the House of Renewal as a “place of either healing or silence,” depending on the kish who made the pilgrimage. Kish went there when they were ill, physically or spiritually, and stepped into the chamber at the center of the building. If the ancestors judged the kish’s heart to be true, she emerged healed, sometimes even healthier than before. Otherwise, the pilgrim was never seen again. Tzayl also mentioned rumors that the House of Renewal had become corrupted in some way.

She explained that despite the site’s name, the Maze of Ghosts was not a frightening place. Instead, it was where “our visions of the ancestors are the strongest.” Kish who wanted to feel a deeper connection with the city’s history meditated within. Tzayl explained that if the kish’s intentions weren’t pure, the ghosts simply didn’t show themselves.

The outcast kish welcomed the Starfinders to spend their evenings at Cloudside if they wished. With about an hour of searching, the crew found a relatively clean unclaimed set of living spaces on the third floor of the northeasternmost building. The condos were spacious, and though the furniture and fixtures had been looted and scavenged centuries ago, they could tell which areas were meant to be kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, and so on. The kish provided them with crude bedrolls and pillows stuffed with some kind of animal hair.

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House of Renewal

A set of wide semicircular steps led up to a pair of doors in the front of the one-story building, which once was painted light blue but was now dingy from age. A half-destroyed holographic sign hung above the entrance, and a symbol of a semicircle above a straight line had been crudely painted across the doors. From there, it was clear that the rear of the building had collapsed in some places. Galakrond led the way inside.

The walls of the entry room were lined with broken, dusty, and moldy furniture. Opposite the pair of double doors that led outside, a window in the wall was closed off by a slab of opaque material. A smaller door opened in the eastern wall near the window. Murals depicting kish with broken limbs and dark halos above their heads covered the walls. Two kish warriors not affiliated with the outcasts rose from behind cover to attack, but they were swiftly defeated.

Galakrond couldn’t get the window open, so the Starfinders went to the eastern door. The hallway beyond once led farther into the building, but ten feet in the ceiling and walls had collapsed, making progress impossible without working for days to clear the rubble. A door to the north opened up to reveal a walk-in supply closet. Dusty shelves holding the occasional empty box line the walls, and it appeared as if very few people had been there in quite some time. They gave it a cursory search it but didn’t find anything.

To the south, they found the reception station. The western side of the area was occupied by a tall desk built into the wall, half of which was under the large window blocked by a panel of opaque crystalline material. There was another door to the south, and stylized eyes painted on the walls.

Past the southern door, they found a mural gallery. Two rows of lockers made from a ceramic-like material occupied the western end of the room, while the lockers that lined the walls of the eastern half were covered with murals depicting sick and injured kish being bathed in a greenish light and stepping away completely healed. Other more beatific-looking kish looked down from the top parts of the walls and the ceiling. Fresh charcoal drawings covered the door to the northeast, while the southeast corner of the room is filled with a large mass of rubble.

Glitch moved to the northeast door to get a closer look at that part of the room and ran afoul of a trap that pierced his furry hide with countless needles. Despite the pain, he saw that something had been scratched on the door. It crudely depicted a humanoid figure that vaguely resembled a kish with its face covered in a mass of black lines. While he was recovering, the others cleared a side door that led outside, providing the crew an alternate exit.

There was no remaining sign of whatever had originally occupied the room past the trapped door; it had been cleared of all furniture and decorations, save for a simple square cloth mat measuring four feet to a side. The walls, floor, ceiling, and even doors had been painted an inky black, and a pair of two-headed formerly-kish abominations lurked within. The creatures hit hard, but were still quickly bested.

An east-west hallway awaited the crew through the exit from the black-painted room. Three doors to the north opened into rooms with walls that, though dirty, were a soothing aquamarine color. Remnants of comfortable-looking furniture poked out from the rubble of the northern walls. The dusty floors and lack of murals hinted that no one had stepped foot in here for some time.

They found a large chamber through a door to the south. There was an air of solemnity in the austere room. A capsule five feet in diameter and eight feet tall sat on a ten-foot-square platform in the center of the chamber. A six-foot-tall door opened into the capsule. It was made of some kind of shiny metal, and dozens of wires, cables, and tubes sprouted from its surface. Many of the wires ran to a freestanding wheeled console nearby. A small shrine covered in dried flowers and small wooden icons stood against the western wall. Another door exited to the south.

Glitch cast comprehend languages, but he wasn’t able to determine the specific purpose of the machine. The crew put one of the bodies into the capsule and the machine activated, but there was no apparent effect. After a few minutes, Glitch used the console to end the “treatment.”

They found a flat, triangular crystal resting among the offerings on the shrine, and the tech-savvy Starfinders recognized it as a data storage device. Accessing the device required touching the crystal in a number of specific places, which they quickly solved. Much of the data was corrupted beyond repair, with the exception of a single voice message in Kishaleen. Glitch translated.

The voice in the message was deep and gravelly. “Greetings. This is…” There was a loud burst of static. “…head of security at the Foundry. We recently had a few pieces of classified…” There was another burst of static. “…and we are investigating the possible compromise of all methods of entry and exit in our facility. As far as I can tell, the series XLT-88 digital lock on our security entrance hasn’t been tampered with, but the manual I have here states that the lock can be placed in standby mode and accessed with an admin keycode. Of course…“ Static again. “…but the director and I would like to know how many of your employees have access to this keycode. We are not accusing you of any misdoings, but we do need to leave no stone unturned. Please respond at your earliest convenience.”

They surmised that the Temple Found that Tzayl had told them about and the Foundry mentioned in the message might be one and the same. The metadata of the message contained a partial router address, identifying the server through which the message was sent. By examining a similar message, they thought they should be able to pinpoint the server exactly.

South of the capsule chamber, they found a room choked with rubble, as most of the ceiling has collapsed, forming an impassible mound. Crushed office furniture poked out from under the debris, and the floor was thick with dust and grime. Back in the east-west hallway north of the capsule chamber, they found another small room. Apart from debris from a collapsed ceiling, it seemed empty, though the thick layer of dust on the floor appeared to be have been recently disturbed. Looking more closely, they noticed that an image of a kish face had been traced in the dust. It seemed to them that the face was meant to look sad and that this was a sort of farewell note or apology.

Unsure what to make of this, the crew decided to press on to the Maze of Ghosts and see if they could find any more clues that could gain them access to the Temple Found, where the Devourer cultists had gone.

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The Ruined Clouds

View
Session 19
Data Swarm

Istamak – The Spires

From the House of Renewal, the crew made its way toward the Maze of Ghosts. Their route took them through several skyscrapers south of the city’s park. These towering edifices stood up to eighty stories tall and appeared to have been left relatively untouched by kish. They discovered why when they reached the center of the former business complex and a winged beast with a deep pink coloration and multiple eyes descended from above!

The sharpwing dive-bombed Kusanagi a few times, but the android proved a difficult target to hit. When it had taken a few shots, the beast landed right in front of Kima and tried to tear the lashunta apart with beak and claw. It was not up to the task, and the Starfinders slew it moments later. They decided to hurry on lest anymore winged threats decided to try for a snack.

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Maze of Ghosts

According to Tzayl, the kish “communed” with their ancestors by briefly turning on the power to the displays and walking through to listen to the holograms’ “wisdom.” As the answers a pilgrim received were often cryptic or indecipherable, the Maze of Ghosts was only for the deepest questions posed by the most devout kish.

The front entrance of the building had been sheared away by some ancient calamity, revealing metal structural supports, pipes, and bits of wiring. The ground was littered with rubble, some of which had been removed to clear a small path into the structure.

Galakrond led the way, and came under attack almost immediately. Hanging from exposed metal bars, a large constrictor-like serpent banded in orange and black scales bit the vesk and wrapped around him, crushing him tight. The crew found it difficult to attack the beast in the cover of the walls. This was further complicated when the serpent pulled Galakrond into the wall with it, but the Starfinders managed to prevail. The soldier requested a few minutes to catch his breath and tend to his bruised ribs.

Past the entryway, a small booth with a large open window stood against the western wall. A doorway to the north was blocked by a thick, translucent shutter made from some kind of synthetic crystal. The sturdy shutter blocked access to the rest of the building, and there was no obvious way to open it or access a mechanism to open it.

A large sign under the window of the ticket booth that featured the words “Istamak Historical Museum” – legible courtesy of Glitch’s comprehend language spell – and listed the prices of admission, hours of operation, and similar details that no longer mattered.

As with many other portions of the city, the kish had decorated the interior of this building with charcoal and their own paints, creating murals that tell their version of the story of this place. The murals depicted humanoid figures looming over the buildings of a city; these titans seemed to be looking benevolently down at the city’s inhabitants.

The crew examined the mural and deduced that the towering figures were meant to represent the kish’s ancestors as they watched over the city and its current inhabitants. They also noticed a number of nearly hidden indicators in the drawings that point toward a disguised panel in the wall near the ticket booth. The panel swung open easily, revealing a large breaker switch.

Flipping the switch powered up the building, opening the shutter and activating the holographic displays. In addition, a welcome hologram activated, showing a sweeping panoramic of the city; the image depicted how the city must have looked in its prime, but seemed to be full of glitches. A voiceover (translated by Glitch) accompanying the image was audible, though only a few fragments were understandable between crackling bursts of static.

“Welcome to…” The audio became garbled. “…Istamak, shining city of progress! Come…” Static obscured several patches of the next few sentences. “…to witness… living history…” The music playing under the words increased in volume for a few moments, drowning out some of the voice. “Don’t hesitate to ask questions … and come again soon!”

Past the open shutter, the murals continued in the next room, this time showing smaller figures in the streets of a stylized city. The figures looked in reverence toward a large archway to the west leading into a wide, dark hallway. There was a small counter in the northwestern corner, and a number of dusty shelves and empty hooks occupied the eastern side of the room. The crew found a fully charged holoskin lies in the dust on one of the shelves, collected it, and continued into the building.

Animated holographic displays along the walls of the next section of the twisting hallway depicted the planning and construction of a huge city among the clouds: alien architects manipulating three-dimensional electronic blueprints, an important-looking figure standing on an open-air cloud barge and pulling a lever that starts large construction machinery in the background, and a handful of industrial painters putting the finishing touches on a building.

A large touch screen was mounted in front of each display, and Galakrond experimented with the user interface. The touch screen in front of each display, when pressed, caused the displays to freeze up and emit a string of garbled speech that was beyond translation. The images often blurred and jump without warning, as well. Of greater concern, however, was when one of the holograms left the display and moved to attack the vesk!

The living hologram looked and spoke like an important government official, referring to the crew as “vagrants” and “interlopers intent on befouling our fair city!” The hologram was as difficult to harm as a ghost, but eventually, they sent the malfunctioning manifestation of AI back into hiding. After several tense moments when nothing more happened, the crew continued along the hallway.

The next portion of the hallway featured animated holographic displays of manufacturing and other industrial work: a miniature version of a gas-mining vessel scooped up clouds, an alien in a jumpsuit stood at the console of an automated production line, and another sat at a large workbench performing delicate repairs on a small technological item, his face comically distorted by a large magnifying mirror.

The touch screen in front of each display activated the holograms’ artificial personalities, though a glitch caused each touch screen to activate the same speech in Kishaleen. It sounded like propaganda that touted the strength of the kishalee people, especially when they worked together to overcome certain obstacles – a thinly veiled reference to other cultures and civilizations.

The holographic displays in the next section of the hallway depicted performers and creators of various forms of art. A trio of aliens in formal costumes leaped and spun gracefully on a stage, another alien sat in front of some kind of instrument and tinkered away at the keys as if trying to perfect a melody, and a group of patrons stood in an art gallery admiring a sculpture of metal and glass. The touch screen in front of each display activated the holograms’ artificial personalities, but after centuries, they were all surly and offered only scathing criticism of the Starfinders’ hair and wardrobe choices.

The crew next came to a T-intersection. The display at the left end of the hallway featured an official-looking room with a podium in the center. A handful of aliens in crisp suits could be seen in the background; some appeared to be discussing the contents of a document, while others were examining charts and figures. A couple of banners embossed with stylized symbols fluttered in a nonexistent breeze above it all.

They approached the display they spotted a sparking projector and surmised that the flickering images and rogue AI were likely due to this faulty device. They hadn’t time to ponder it long before the living hologram reappeared out of the wall and resumed its attack. It was swiftly defeated, and the crew pondered attempting to repair the projector and ending the “curse” that Tzayl had mentioned. They decided against it in favor of more expediently completing their objective of finding whatever the Cult of the Devourer had learned on Istamak.

The holographic displays at the right end of the hallway were dark but had been replaced with murals depicting aliens in solemn poses, their heads looking up toward the sky and their bodies lit from within. A small shrine in the center of the murals was covered with tiny effigies crafted from wire and metal.

The kish had turned this darkened corner of the museum into a shrine to the kishalee depicted in the holograms in the other displays, turning them into saint-like figures. After walking through the main gallery, kish pilgrims arrived here to place little dolls meant to represent themselves here to be blessed by their ancestors. Another flat, triangular crystal lay among the offerings on the shrine. Within a minute or so, Glitch had accessed the data, containing an audio file.

The message began with a loud burst of static, followed by a feminine voice. “…chief technology officer here at SecuriTech. Our customer service representatives received your message regarding your…” Another burst of static ensued. “…and I want to assure you that we take your security issues with the utmost seriousness. After all, you are our biggest client.” An awkward chuckle was distorted by audio artifacts. “A copy of the admin keycode for your lock—for all the locks we install—resides on a server within the Foundry. This server cannot be accessed except from its physical terminal, and only SecuriTech’s chief executive officer, a few key members of our team, and I have access to that terminal. In addition, I checked the logs this morning, and no one has accessed your file in almost a year. And that was for normal…” The message ended with a final burst of static.

The metadata of the message contained another partial router address, and combining this with the one they’d found at the House of Renewal, the crew was able to pinpoint the physical location of the server that originally processed the messages. This computer was located in the SecuriTech building found in the northwest part of Istamak, in a section of the city known to the local kish as the Broken Lands, a small chain of islands floating separate from the metropolis proper.

The crew made their way through the city park, managing to avoid any encounters with the local fauna, but determined that their two jump jets wouldn’t reasonably get everyone across and leave sufficient exit options in case things went sideways. After some discussion, they decided to head back to Cloudside and see what Tzayl could tell them about the Broken Lands.

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Cloudside Community Center

The leader of the kish outcasts told the crew that the area was very dangerous and that only foolhardy kish youth wishing to impress a potential mate made the perilous journey across the shattered hunks of land. Her people believed the buildings in the Broken Lands were “angry,” and Tzayl shared a tale about kish entering them and never being seen again. She didn’t know much else, but she noted that she would love to hear of their adventures, should they return. Additionally, she offered the Starfinders a 50-foot length of titanium alloy cable line and a grappler.

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SecuriTech Offices

They crossed the floating bits of rock to a larger one upon which sat the SecuriTech office. A smooth path ran past an overgrown lawn to the entrance of the drab building. The knee-high blue-and-green grass smelled sweet, like honey warming in the sun. The structure’s walls were shot through with barely perceptible white filaments webbing across the entire surface. None of the crew could tell what the filaments might be, but it appeared that they were acting as a kind of structural support, keeping the walls of the building from collapsing in on themselves.

Though the front doors were unlocked, the many filaments running through them and the adjacent walls made them effectively stuck. While Galakrond started trying to wrench the front door open, the crew was approached by a pair of large, floating, living sacs of gas that vaguely resembled jellyfish.

The creatures lobbed hardened pellets of minerals at the Starfinders, who returned fire. When one of the blobs was hurt too much, it merged into the other, creating a larger version of the aberrant creature. When the combined alien had had enough, it floated away and down below the side of the floating island. The crew let it go and returned their attention to the door, which Galakrond tore open moments later.

Except for the carpet of pale white mold covering everything, the entry room appeared to have been untouched for millennia. Five heavily padded chairs sat against the western and southern walls. A bed of mushrooms grew on a large, four-foot-high, L-shaped desk across from the main entrance, next to a small cabinet. Several datapads had been swallowed by the mold, as were the snacks and liquid refreshments that would have been available on the small cabinet. Another door led north.

Finding nothing of interest, the crew forced open the northern door to find a long hallway running east-to-west. They approached the nearest door to the north and forced this open as well. Beyond, they found a spacious room that looked like a wide swath of small, gray hillocks covering what might have once been a collection of desks and chairs. Another door exited the room to the south (the same door they’d seen farther east in the corridor). There was an open doorway to a smaller room to the northwest, and a short hallway led east past two other doors.

The open northwest room was as covered in mold as the rest of the building, but the smell there was somehow even worse. A foul, rotting odor wafted from what appeared to be an open unpowered refrigeration unit. Rotting cabinets hung on the walls, and parts of a small, round table peeked out from under a mound of mold. The room was a riot of mildew and mushrooms.

They swiftly left and headed to the east, where they found a pair of executive offices. Each of these offices had a desk and some chairs and both were covered with mold. In the southern office, they discovered a smooth purple glove of storing tailored for kishalee hands.

The two other doors on the south wall of the hallway opened into what appeared to be meeting rooms. Most of each room was occupied by an oval table surrounded by six chairs. The dilapidated remains of audiovisual equipment lay on the table, coated in a thin film of mildew. Light filtered in through a large, south-facing window covered in the fibrous white tendrils.

Finding nothing of interest in either, they took the northern turn at the eastern end of the hall and found another door. Galakrond opened the door to a room containing three tables; one of the tables had a large white patch about two feet in diameter. A roughly square hunk of metal, plastic, and crystal sat in the center of the open space, its sides covered with alien symbols and bits of circuitry. The mold covering the walls seemed to be moving ever so slightly, as if a faint draft were blowing, though the air was still. Another door led to the south.

The last door opened into the server room. The walls, ceiling, and floor of the chamber were coated with a thick layer of mold, with thousands of pale white filaments poking out like tiny fingers. However, the two rectangular objects in the center of the room were free of mold. The crystalline devices were marked with sharp-edged designs, and each had a dark computer console built into one side.

The router address the crew had discovered matched the one assigned to the northern server, which was also written on the outside of the device. They also noted that the southern server had no router address, meaning it could be accessed only via the console; this one likely had the most sensitive information stored on it. Neither server appeared to have any power, and their consoles were dark and unresponsive.

Glitch cast a spell to recharge the southern server and got to work hacking to gain access. In under a minute, the technomancer found and retrieved the admin keycode for XLT-88 digital lock to the Foundry’s security entrance. Basically, a certain combination of keys pressed simultaneously would put the digital lock into a maintenance mode, making it possible to disable the lock without knowing the current keycode.

No sooner had he reported his success than the filaments on the walls began to ripple as if caught in a strong breeze. They quickly coalesced into a swarm that blocked the exit from the server room and enveloped Galakrond and Kima, who were standing guard.

The crew had no reasonable way to deal with the thousands of organisms that made up the writhing swarm, and so they lured it into the server room and fled past it and out into the hallway. They could run much faster than the swarm could move. Glitch was the first to make it back outside, but he quickly cursed his luck when a sharpwing came swooping down to try to eat the lone ysoki. The others made their way out and helped finish off the beast before the crew made good their escape.

They had the key to the back entrance of the Temple Found, but they thought it best to return to Cloudside to rest, plan, and prepare.

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The Ruined Clouds

View
Session 20
Found

Cloudside Community Center

Herald Tzayl was very interested to hear the tale of the crew and their experiences in Istamak. The Starfinders wove a tale of battling cursed kish in the House of Renewal and the assault of the hologram-spirit in the Maze of Ghosts. The outcasts were most interested in the “living building” in the Broken Lands that tried to devour the crew once they had acquired the key to the secret entrance to the Temple Found.

As the story came to a close, one of the outcasts brought forward a pair of simple-looking gray boots lined with fur. Glitch noted that the gift possessed a minor enchantment and suggested that they would be best suited for Galakrond. Afterward, the crew settled into to sleep.

<<< >>>

Glitch and Kima did not feel well the next morning, and they returned to the ship so that Winslow could take a look at them. The shirren determined they had been afflicted with a disease – likely from the white mass that occupied the SecuriTech offices in the Broken Lands. A few spells later, and the Starfinders were feeling much better. The crew then made their way to their final destination on Istamak.

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The Temple Found

The kish of Istamak had imbued the structure with heavy religious import, as over the millennia it remained the most intact building in the city. They understood the Foundry had been important to their ancestors, though they didn’t know the exact reasons why. Because of a damaged exterior sign, the building had become known as the “Temple Found.” Until recently, any kish could enter the temple, explore most of its interior, and commune with the ancestors by examining the Foundry’s many surviving data files. Some areas (such as the basement) were considered off-limits due to dangerous energies or creatures that had made their lairs there. However, after the Cult of the Devourer took advantage of the kish’s hospitality, ransacked the Temple Found for information, and attacked the kish – killing a few and wounding more than a dozen before leaving – several kish believed that it was time for a change in the rules of access.

Chief among this outspoken group was Xavra, a huntmaster in the service of Istamak’s leader. He began to demand that the Temple Found be closed off to all but those who had proven themselves worthy, especially excluding any further outsiders. He had swayed many to his position before another member of the leader’s council – the curate Tzayl – decried this proposal. Tzayl and her supporters were subsequently banished, and Xavra took his warriors into the temple, closing and barring the doors behind them to force the issue. Xavra held the upper hand; he had brought enough food and water with him to remain locked up in the temple for several weeks. Even so, he and his soldiers were fanatical enough to starve themselves to death to prove their point.

The main entrance to the Temple Found was located in the center of the building’s northern facing. The front plaza featured an elaborate fountain with a hammer-and-anvil motif. The fountain no longer sprayed water, but the kish believed the rain it gathered had healing properties – explained by a number of images painted on the side of the fountain. The large front door was also emblazoned with blacksmith imagery and was free of kish graffiti. It was quite thick, sturdy, and quite thoroughly locked. It would take days of work with industrial tools to cut through the doors.

Fortunately, the crew wasn’t going in through the front.

Weeds poked through cracks in the ground in the long, narrow courtyard shadowed by large, blocky buildings. A broken bench sat next to a simple but imposing metal door with no visible handle or hinges. A sign was affixed to the door above a digital keypad. The sign read “Security Only” in Kishaleen, and the keypad features other Kishaleen symbols that roughly corresponded to numbers. They input the “maintenance mode” security code and entered the building.

A faint layer of slime covered every surface of the connected chambers past the entry hall. The largest open area contained a set of empty lockers, one of which seemed likely to have once held a collection of guns and ammunition. Bits of metal and plastic were scattered everywhere. One side room contained a small, round table, another a metal desk, and a third, a few rows of chairs and a podium. A door led east.

As they moved in to search the area, they noted an ooze that appeared to have incorporated a number of technological items into its form to create a hermit crab-like shell. This scavenger slime appeared to be armed with a number of weapons, including a functioning artillery laser! The slime blasted Galakrond a few times before the crew managed to put it down. The vesk requested a few minutes to recover, while the rest of the crew pulled the functioning weapons and other tech out of the mess of the corpse.

The eastern door opened on a stairwell that made a wide circuit downward, terminating in another unmarked door. Past this, they found a large storage chamber. The southern half of the spacious chamber was divided into two metal containers that stretched up to brush the ceiling. Large corrugated doors on the containers’ fronts had been painted with crude symbols that appeared to be kish warnings about punishment for seeking forbidden knowledge. The area opened into a hallway to the west, but the crew first moved to inspect the containers.

Galakrond heard unsettling noises from inside, some combination of an inferno, a flood, a tornado, and an earthquake. Curiosity got the better of him and he pulled the corrugated door up to reveal a pair of large elemental creatures – one of earth and stone and another of water! The crew engaged with these creatures and had just defeated them when a fire elemental blasted through the door of the other container to attack. An air elemental flew out after it and both continued the assault. The Starfinders had a harder time with these creatures but managed to defeat them without anyone taking any serious harm.

They found an x-ray visor in one of the containers, but the device had been built for the multiple eyes of a kish. It would require modification to function for two-eyed beings without the user suffering sickening headaches. They stowed the visor and continued into the western hall.

Six nearly identical offices had nameplates attached to the wall outside each. They appeared to have been converted into meditation cells by the kish, each containing a simple woven mat and several crude bowls coated with dried-up paint. The walls were a confusing riot of colors and shapes, and the southernmost office contained the body of a kish warrior. The corpse was burned in places, and two of its limbs were clearly broken, but upon closer examination, the cause of death seemed to have been drowning. It looked like the poor wretch had fallen afoul of the elementals.

Continuing west, they found over a dozen standing desks filling another large chamber, many of which had been heaped with dried flowers, decorative bundles of grass, and other homemade trinkets. Though worn in many places, the faintly checkered carpet still looked high quality. A large locked door led to the west, and a red door stood in the northern wall. More immediately pertinent, however, were the kish warrior and her animal companions, a pair of eohi!

The crew engaged with the hostile alien, but very quickly Kusanagi found himself outmatched. The kish warrior hit him in the head – hard – and a second blow rendered the android bleeding out on the floor of the office space. Kima maneuvered to engage and eliminate her while Galakrond tangled with the eohi and Glitch rushed over to force-feed a potion to the dying android. A few tense moments later the threats were down and the Starfinders took a long moment to recover, Kusanagi downing a couple more potions.

The door to the north opened on what appeared to have once been a reading room. A ten-foot-long table ringed by chairs occupied this chamber. The table was scored by hundreds of shallow gouges, seemingly at random. On the northern wall, a metal shutter closed off a five-foot-wide window. There was a small sign on the shutter which read “Will Return Shortly” in Kishaleen. They searched the small chamber and found a secret door near the shutter, got ready and went through.

Shelves holding a staggering array of datapads lined the walls and stood freely around the chamber. A small desk sat in front of the backside of the shuttered window adjacent to the secret door, which served as the room’s only entrance. A balcony holding even more shelves stretched across the eastern, western, and northern walls, and there they found Xavra flanked by three kish warriors.

The zealot immediately launched into a tirade in vulgar Kishaleen, which most of the party could basically understand. “I knew the ancestors would send further demons to test us. We were too weak and trusting at first, and many believed that you weren’t demons but messengers. But why would the ancestors send such strange and foul creatures as peaceful emissaries? And what news did you bring? Nothing besides death of good kish, defilement of our sacred spaces, and corruption of some of our finest minds. You clouded their eyes and made them think our way of life wasn’t under attack. I could see, though. I knew. When I send you back to the ancestors, you can tell them Xavra knows and he stands strong. I will always stand strong!”

Kusanagi, who had not bothered trying to learn the local tongue understood not a word of it and was the first to fire, flying to the top of one of the nearby stacks. His shot flew wide, and Xavra returned fire. The crew immediately made their way onto the balcony by various means, which irritated Glitch a little, who had hoped to blast the kish with his latest attack spells. Things looked dicey once Xavra unleashed a solarian zenith power to slow half the party, but by that time it was too late. Galakrond’s final doshko blow brought the huntmaster down and finishing off his lackeys was a simple exercise.

With Xavra and his warriors defeated, the crew was free to explore the secured records room. The datapads contained a multitude of technical documents. Unfortunately, the once-tidy system of organization for the library was now in shambles. Glitch found and hacked the librarian’s terminal, accessed the main filing system and discovered the location of the Stellar Degenerator datapad. However, when the crew went to that particular shelf, they find a datapad about quantum fluid dynamics instead. On a hunch, he looked up where the quantum fluid dynamics datapad was supposed to be located and examined that shelf. There, they found the actual location of the report on the Stellar Degenerator.

The report contained the information about the Stellar Degenerator’s history and eventual storage.

Thousands of millennia ago, an ancient race known as the kishalee had crafted technological wonders and flew among the stars, seeding colonies all across the galaxy. One such territory was on the planet Nejeor VI, a gas giant with virtually inexhaustible natural resources. The kishalee built floating cities among the clouds, the grandest of which was Istamak. Colonists came from far and wide for a chance to live in this shining metropolis, ready to work on the gas-mining platforms or study the planet’s unique weather patterns.

Then the kishalee’s war with the sivvs began. It raged for centuries, and the resources of Nejeor VI were vital in keeping the kishalee fighting. A weapons-research facility and factory called the Foundry was built in Istamak in an effort to find an edge against the sivvs that could end the hostilities. The sivvs created their own superweapon first – the Stellar Degenerator – but kishalee agents ended the war by capturing the weapon before it could be fired. Bankrupted by the creation of a weapon of system-wide mass destruction, the sivv civilization collapsed soon thereafter. The kishalee then turned many of their civilization’s resources to studying and understanding the Stellar Degenerator. The Foundry was sent vast information about the weapon so it might participate in the study and analysis of the doomsday device.

In time, the kishalee decided that they currently had no need for the Stellar Degenerator’s massive destructive power, so it should be hidden away, in part to store it for future use and in part to keep it out of the reach of any other enemies. The best and brightest kishalee technomancers created a demiplane in which they would store the weapon—a place accessible only through a titanic structure called the Gate of the Twelve Suns, which was constructed far from the Nejeor system. The study of the Stellar Degenerator in Istamak came to a close, and all information on it was archived within the Foundry.

Years passed, and the kishalee came into conflict with other species. Though the Stellar Degenerator could destroy the home system of any opposing force, the kishalee used it only once. So horrifying was the terrible, dark fate the Stellar Degenerator imposed by cursing worlds to sit in dark orbits around a dead sun, the kishalee never again called upon the superweapon after its sole wartime use.

Though dominant for thousands of years after the war with the sivv, the kishalee civilization eventually deteriorated. For unknown reasons, its government slowly collapsed, and the citizens of Istamak were cut off from others of their kind. Regular supply runs that were vital to the city’s survival stopped arriving, and the kishalee of Istamak were forced to fend for themselves, tearing down buildings, turning the empty city blocks into farms, and learning to hunt both native fauna and species imported to the planet. Over the centuries, these kishalee had apparently gradually degenerated into a less civilized, less fragile version of their species – the kish – and in the process forgot much of their people’s history and achievements and understanding of the scientific wonders they lived among. Knowledge of the Stellar Degenerator and the Gate of the Twelve Suns was just a tiny fraction of what was lost.

But nothing stayed lost forever.

The datapad contained a warning that all research into the subject of the Stellar Degenerator had been terminated. It also held the coordinates of the Gate of the Twelve Suns – the artificial megastructure deep in the Vast that acted as the entrance point to the demiplane holding the Stellar Degenerator – which was enough to allow the crew to plot a course there. The Gate of the Twelve Suns consisted of a dozen stars arranged in a circle, each orbited by a single planetoid; the devices that controlled the gate, further examples of advanced kishalee technology, were located on these planetoids. From the datapad, the crew gathered that only a small crew was required to operate the gate.

The Starfinders knew they were approaching the end of their journey.

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The Ruined Clouds

View
Session 21
A Perfect Circle

The Drift

Having learned about the existence and location of the Gate of Twelve Suns, the hiding place of the Stellar Degenerator, from the floating city of Istamak, the crew decided to make preparations before heading to the Nejeor system. They returned swiftly to Absalom Station to exchange credits for better arms and armaments for themselves and their ship. This accomplished, they set a course through the Drift in pursuit of the Devourer cultists who had found

When they approached the end of the trip, the Sunrise Maiden passed through a nearly invisible cloud of dust. Glitch noticed something strange happening to the computers and with a quick check realized that they were being hacked – from inside the ship! A moment later, a strange being materialized as though stepping out of the bulkhead onto the bridge. The technomancer recognized it as an anhamut inevitable, an outsider tasked with protecting explorers of the galaxy.

“In-in-in-interlopers! You will cease your transgressions and r-r-r-return to your place of origin or be d-d-d-destroyed!”

After this strange proclamation, the inevitable attacked! It favored its sharp-edged nanite blade, but also blasted Kusanagi with an electric discharge. Galakrond and Kima pinned the outsider to the wall, and the crew managed to defeat it before it caused any serious harm. But as its body lay cooling on the floor of the bridge, they wondered why such a being would attack in the first place. Setting the mystery aside, they continued their journey through the Drift.

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The Nejeor System

When the crew emerged from the Drift, they were still nearly a day’s travel from the Gate of Twelve Suns. As they approached, it was obvious even from a cursory scan that the system was not a natural phenomenon. A perfect circle of a dozen stars appeared stationary with respect to one another, maintaining a perfect gravitational balance. Glitch performed a deeper probe of the system to gather more information.

Scans revealed that a single planet orbited each star at exactly the same distance. The planets had roughly the same diameter, mass, and rotational period. Even stranger, each planet’s orbit was synchronized with all the other planets in the system so that every so often they all faced the center of the circle of stars at the same time.

The gravitational forces exerted by the twelve stars was in a delicate balance, achievable only with exacting measurements and more than a little magic. These forces made navigating through the system very difficult and using a Drift engine within the system impossible. The safest time to attempt to reach one of the planets was when its orbit reached the point farthest from the center of the system, though it was by no means simple. In addition, eleven of the planets were lifeless hunks of rock with no atmosphere; only one appeared able sustain life – it was, in fact, teeming with it. A single intact structure was detected on that planet’s surface.

The occasional burst of gravitational energy emanated from each planet as it reached the point in its orbit where it was closest to the center of the system. The energy came from a hole in each planet’s crust at the equator that seemed to reach straight down to the planet’s core. The Starfinders deduced that the release of this energy likely kept the system stable and surmised that, if focused properly, the energy could be used to open a large portal to another plane.

Deep scans of the system’s planets revealed small cosmic strings – one-dimensional “defects” in the fabric of space that produced gravitational waves – mystically contained within each planet’s core. These cosmic strings were maintained by massive technomagic devices kept in working condition by armies of maintenance bots.

While they were considering this, a trio of ships approached from the vicinity of the life-bearing planet: one large ship and a pair of escorts speeding alongside. All sensors indicated that they were on an intercept course! The comm channels screeched to life, and a gaunt man leered toward the camera lens. His skin was dark but was made nearly iridescent by a swirl of glowing nanites. Long, silver dreadlocks and an unkempt charcoal-colored beard framed his face. The distortion of the lens put a shade of menace to the man’s movements and appearance.

“Are you ready for the end?” The question hissed out from a mouth of brown crooked teeth; a yellowish, soapy spittle flew forth with every syllable uttered. “I am the agent of oblivion! I am the fang of the Devourer! I am the herald of annihilation. I will sing when your bodies – then only shells – drift and twirl through the void, charred amid the tangled wreckage of your ship, and your journey to nothingness is nearly complete!”

The crew engaged with the Devourer ships, focusing on the large one, which scanned as the Singularity. The Sunrise Maiden took a beating from various missiles and laser fire, but the newly upgraded shields were up to the task of protecting the hull from the majority of this abuse. The Singularity was slower, and after they had scored a few telling shots through its shields, the crew shifted focus to target the smaller ships.

The cultists tried to use this to lure the Starfinders into firing arcs, but the canny adventurers weathered the storm. After the first escort ship was disabled, the crew turned back to the Singularity and ended the fight. The other escort ship bugged out, and the Starfinders might have given chase but for an unusual transmission they noted coming from the Singularity.

“Our ship’s been pushed through the Blood Door, boss. The interlopers are tougher than I thought—may the Devourer consume them! I’m sending out a long-distance transmission for more choirs to come, slit their throats, and feast on their remains!”

Glitch informed the others that “pushed through the Blood Door” was a Devourer idiom for being killed, and further pointed out that simply destroying the Singularity would not stop the message from getting out. He suggested they board the Devourer vessel and gain control of its communications. Then they could fake an “all clear” signal, which should hopefully prevent more cultists of the Devourer from arriving.

Kusanagi lined up the Sunrise Maiden with the enemy ship’s airlock and secured the umbilical. The Starfinders overrode the cargo bay airlock security and entered the Singularity. There, the Jangly Man awaited them, having taken cover behind a storage crate. Galakrond charged forward to strike the Devourer cultist, who recoiled before activating some technological attack, and shouting “Get ‘em!” Moments later, four incorporeal shapes emerged from the walls or floor to engage each of the crew members. These oblivion shade spawn, emboldened by the Jangly Man, struck hard and started to disintegrate the Starfinders.

Fortunately, the crew were able to take control of the combat after Kusanagi slew the Jangly Man. Clearing out the shades took little enough effort, and the Starfinders rushed to the bridge. Once there, they hacked the system and sent an “all clear” signal that piggybacked onto the other transmission, ensuring that no other cultists of the Devourer receive the Gate of Twelve Suns’ coordinates.

Exploring the Singularity, the crew found that the vessel’s power core is essentially damaged beyond repair, rendering the starship useless. In addition, they discovered an audio message in the ship’s logs. The woman’s voice on it was authoritarian with a hint of an electronic rattle.

“If we can get the last console online, the weapon will be within our grasp, and soon the end of all things will follow. Unfortunately, the control board is shot. Zaz has no idea how to repair it, but Eltreth has told us where to find spares. Take the Singularity and patrol the system in case that inevitable managed to send for help. Bring some of Malice’s children. I will contact you again to return to the control center when we have the control board.”

Apparently, the inevitable they’d encountered had run afoul of the cultists and perhaps been exposed to their corrupting influence. They were all certain that the voice belonged to an android, and Kusanagi rolled his eyes when his companions looked at him half-expectantly. He then plotted a course to the living planet.

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The Thirteenth Gate

View
Session 22
Control Center

Nejeor – Gate 1

It took a couple of hours to enter orbit around the planetoid, which was made difficult by the gravitational fluctuations throughout the system. The unnatural forces threatened to tear the ship apart, but Glitch’s calculations helped Kusanagi navigate the dangerous space with ease. Once they were safely in orbit, they performed another scan of the surface to see what they were in for.

The planetoid had an oxygen-rich atmosphere and dynamic weather patterns. It supported one large ocean and a few small continents, whose biomes ranged from temperate plains to steaming jungles to polar ice caps; signs of life could be found all across the world. All of this normalcy seemed to be maintained by technomagical ley lines emanating from tall antennae that encircled most of the planetoid, as the world’s strange interior and the huge bore that ran through the center would most likely render the surface unlivable.

The Sunrise Maiden’s scanners also revealed a number of ruins scattered across the planetoid’s surface and a single intact structure on the equator. The buildings were thousands of years old, and the intact structure stands in the middle of a dense jungle. The only safe place to land a starship was on a landing pad – no more than a deteriorating slab of an ancient concrete-like material – in a clearing half a mile away.

As the crew breached the cloud cover and made their landing approach, they caught glimpses of the planetoid’s surface. They spotted a stampede of wild, horned quadrupeds kicking up dust across a grassy plain. They skirted the edge of a mountain range and watched as an avalanche swallows a copse of tall trees. They passed over the canopy of a jungle, spooking a flock of brightly colored, double-billed birds. As they approached the landing pad, they saw a crude trail burned in the brush leading in the direction of the control center.

As they stepped out of the Maiden, the crew noted a very wide path through the jungle. The densest parts of the foliage had recently been cleared with fire, explosives, and sharp instruments. Walking the half mile to the control center looked simple enough. They noted that many of the nearby plants were poisonous.

As the crew moved through the jungle, they heard screams and howls in the distance from the local fauna. Occasionally, carnivorous plants made half-hearted attempts to grab at the Starfinders with a green tendril, but they were easily avoided. After about five minutes of walking, the crew stepped into a swampy clearing. Several inches of rainfall had collected in this natural depression within the jungle, making the ground damp and squishy. Bits of broken pavement jutted from the mud at odd angles, remnants of the service road that once connected the landing pad to the control center.

The nearby trees swayed as something very large barreled its way out of the jungle. Branches snapped and foliage is scattered about as a large, bulbous beast with two mouths, each one dripping with slimy green saliva, burst into the clearing. The creature walked on a handful of small legs, and two massive clawed arms jutted from its torso. Its thick tail flailed violently about, and both its mouths each let loose deafening roars as it charged forth.

It got one bite on Galakrond before the crew put it down.

Half an hour later, the Starfinders all got the sense that they were being watched. A moment later, an androgynous human with a shaved head covered in scars dropped out of the foliage overhead. It had only hollow holes where its eyes should be, and a pair of fanged mouths open on its palms. A grayish haze tinged with crackling red lightning floated above it. The atrocite shouted into their heads, ”DIE!”

The flying outsider proved a challenge, since half the crew’s strengths lay in melee combat. It also seemed to be protected by a displacement illusion. Kusanagi scored the first significant hit against the creature, and it focused its void bolts at the android. The second one sheared off the operative’s right arm above the elbow, and the Starfinders scrambled to finish the fight before it could kill one of them. After a brief discussion about what to do with the hand – Kusanagi didn’t much appreciate his companions’ jokes – and some time to rest, they continued on.

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Control Center

Eventually, the path through the harsh jungle turned into the remains of a battered road leading to a large bunker-like structure. As the crew approached, they saw that more of the jungle had been scorched here, most likely the result of a large explosion that had blasted a hole through the wall of a one-story building. They heard sounds of cruel laughter from inside. The remains of a large double door lay broken on the floor, while a couple of bizarre-looking chairs or couches sat mangled against the north wall. Two short sets of steps led up to a raised section of the room, from which a double door exited to the north. A smaller door stood in the southeast corner.

Three cultists inside the wrecked lobby had captured a furry, three-legged beast the size of a small dog with a spherical head on a skinny neck. They were teasing and torturing it on the far side of the room, laughing and shouting cruelly as they battered the creature. They were so focused on it that they didn’t notice the crew’s approach until it was too late for them.

Three ancient kishalee hoverbikes leaned against the wall in one corner of the room. Two of them were still operational, but the third was critically damaged by an explosion. Within the closet on the southeast side of the room was a stand with four space suits constructed for kishalee anatomy. Galakrond took the golemforged plating off the largest of the three cultists and replaced his armor with it. They piled the rest of the cultists gear on one of the doors, and continued into the building.

To the north, they found a corridor that served as the spine of the control center, connecting the various chambers in the building. Except for a few smears of grease and tracks in the dust, it was relatively free from the predations of the cultists. They entered the nearest door across the hall, and found a computer lab. The large chamber was lit only by the bluish glow of a single monitor across from the southern door. The other computer consoles that lined the walls were dark. A circular platform of some unknown technology was affixed to the floor in the center of the room. The view outside a window in the western wall was completely obscured by thick jungle foliage.

Glitch got to work hacking the system and almost immediately set off an alarm countermeasure. It took him a couple of tries to shut it down before he could get back to the business of accessing the terminal. Once he had it, he powered up the lights and the other computers in the room. The platform near the center of the room also flickered to life as a luminescent holographic projection manifested above it.

Within seconds the light coalesced into a tall, regal humanoid form that resembled the images of the ancient kishalee found on Istamak. The figure was dressed in garb that appeared to be a mixture of military and scientific outfits that seemed to disappear into the glow of the circular dais at the figure’s feet. The holographic figure stretched out an arm and started speaking with the strange, spidery syllables of Kishaleen with the rapidity of purpose, though her expression remained fixed and stoic. Galakrond and Glitch explained to the others that it was greeting them and with some urgency.

“He has gone mad. His programming had degenerated and he kept raving about something called the Star-Eater. I confined him due to these critical errors, but now he is out, and I am in here! He and those who helped him must be stopped.” There was a brief pause. “From your attire, I assumed you weren’t allied with those cruel marauders. Please tell me you aren’t with them.”

As if on cue, the door to the hall opened and there stood a foursome of cultists, three rank-and-file led by a half-orc with a sniper rifle. Galakrond rushed to block the doorway, and a messy melee began. When the sniper rifle failed, the half-orc pulled a knife and tried to stab the vesk to death. He defended himself from the barrage and the crew started to make some progress against the cultists. It was painful, but they managed to win, limping back into the computer chamber to recover from the effort.

The hologram, assured by the fight that the Starfinders were there to stop the cultists, introduced herself. “My name is Osteth. I was once one of the many kishalee scientists who monitored this entire system, protecting its secret. Long ago, I had a physical form, but in order to maintain these computers past our civilization’s fall, another engineer and I created digital versions of our consciousnesses to serve as custodians for eternity.”

“His name is Eltreth,” she continued. “We have operated here for millennia, keeping this place functional and its terrible secret hidden, until a couple of centuries ago. Without warning, he began to display signs of instability and critical errors. He became convinced that he was the tool of some being called the Devourer. I believed it to be just some sort of manifestation of degradation in his core programming, and I sequestered him to these servers before he could cause any damage. I had hoped he could be repaired, but recent events have changed my mind.”

“The cultists arrived,” said Kima.

The hologram nodded. “Several days ago we were invaded by that group of raiders. Some of them looked much like yourselves, but others were like figments, strange dark apparitions with no true form. The raiders call themselves the Desperate Hunger and are led by an android woman named Null-9 – I discovered this as they blasted their way into this facility spouting paeans to this Devourer and caught me off-guard. Before I knew it, they had freed Eltreth and forced me into his prison. Luckily, I was able to place some roadblocks in their path to slow them down, but they cannot be allowed to access the Stellar Degenerator.”

“How many were there?” asked Galakrond.

“More than a dozen main members, some number of shadow creatures, the android, and a couple of smaller creatures like you,” Osteth pointed at Glitch.

“Okay, so what have you done and how can we stop them?” asked Kusanagi.

“The many maintenance robots that perform the physical tasks of this system have always been semiautonomous, but ever since I locked Eltreth away, I have been striving to uplift the robots to full sentience so that they might continue should something happen to me. When it looked as though Eltreth would be freed, I uploaded as much independent programming as I could to their processors. It will take Eltreth some time to regain full control over those robots. In addition, I generated a pulse of electricity throughout the terminals in the operations room, making sure the demiplane containing the Stellar Degenerator could not be easily accessed.

“Truthfully, I fear the Desperate Hunger will be stopped by nothing short of death. Though it pains me to say so, I must trap Eltreth again and destroy his programming for good. What I thought was a mere degradation was but utter corruption borne from powers I do not understand. If you know of any other way, please tell me.”

The crew had no suggestions. “How do we free you?” asked Glitch.

“You cannot do it from here. You must access the sequestering subprogram from the main operations room.” Osteth brought up a map of the control center and points out a large chamber down the hall. “This should initiate an exchange of my core programming and Eltreth’s. Beware, though. Eltreth has probably installed countermeasures.”

The crew made their way down the hall and decided to check the door before central operations. The rectangular chamber had various illuminated panels and monitors along its walls. Some showed what looked like the schematics of the entire structure, while others seemed to show the interior of the planet. In the latter images, squads of robots skittered along the technology-studded walls of a massive tunnel. A circular platform stood in the center of the room, projecting a hologram of a tall figure clad in white robes. The figure gestured at the various screens, seemingly attempting to direct the robots in their tasks.

When it noticed them, it said, “Oh, thank the First Cause! I thought I was going to be stuck with these lunatics forever. You are here to help, yes?”

The crew exchanged uncertain glances and Galakrond said, “You Eltreth?” At the hologram’s curt nod, the vesk continued. “The other hologram said you were on their side.”

Eltreth rolled his digitally emulated eyes and said, “Well, of course she said that. They’ve corrupted her programming. I barely managed to escape and trap her so I could try to salvage this clusterf- Look, can you help or not? I could use a hand reprogramming these crazy robots.”

Glitch looked at the others who shrugged. The ysoki entered the room and moved up to a terminal. He frowned when he saw that the computers had only holographic interfaces, not physical ones. They could only be accessed by someone with a rig that would work remotely and wirelessly. He looked up at Eltreth in confusion, but the AI was glaring at the rest of the crew who continued to wait in the hall.

“None of you know how to program?” They shrugged apologetically – bust mostly, suspiciously. Eltreth threw up his hands and said, “Fine!” In a blink, the room filled with deadly arcs of electricity.

Glitch survived the blast and noted with a grunt that the computers were also fried. He limped back out into the hall and muttered, “I could use a few minutes.”

“Guess Eltreth is the crazy one,” said Galakrond. Once the ysoki had recovered, the crew continued to confront the AI.

The door opened onto a raised platform that overlooked various panels alight and abuzz with digital activity. Screens flickered with schematics of the many pieces of technology that controlled the kishalee megastructure, while others showed views of legions of small robots repairing and maintaining massive mechanisms. The shadows moved strangely, seemingly having a life of their own. A circular dais occupied a second raised platform in the eastern end of the room, where Eltreth was manifested.

Four oblivion shades and a couple of Desperate Hunger cultists also occupied the chamber, and they grinned madly as the crew entered the chamber. The crew were in for a tough fight, between the spells of one of the shades, the sharp blades of the cultists, and the nattering of Eltreth throughout the entire affair. Kima lost consciousness from his wounds or a crucial few seconds, and Kusanagi was locked down for half a minute by a hold person spell. Even so, they rallied and defeated the cultists and their incorporeal allies.

Glitch engaged in a hacking battle with Eltreth, who was rewriting code to create countermeasures on the fly. One of the terminals exploded during the course of the effort, but the ysoki persevered and swapped the corrupted AI for his counterpart Osteth. Once the control center was secured, she expressed her gratitude.

“Thank you, travelers. With Eltreth returned to his containment, the Gate of Twelve Suns is one step closer to being safe from the predations of those marauders. Now that I have access to the gate’s full sensor suite, I can detect that some of them are still within the system. They are within the core facility of Gate Two’s controller moon, an underground facility where my colleagues could adjust the gravitational pulses emanating from the planetoid’s center when necessary. Since my inception as an artificial intelligence, physical presences have been unnecessary in those facilities, with the exception of standard maintenance bots, of course.”

Osteth’s form flickers for a moment. “It seems as though the marauders have briefly commandeered some of those robots to help them in their quest. I am completely locked out of those bots’ programming, and it is only a matter of time before our enemies retrieve an intact control board required to repair the controls that open the Stellar Degenerator’s demiplane. You must stop them!” A frown creased the hologram’s face. “But first, there are still cult forces here in this building!”

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The Thirteenth Gate

View
Session 23
Against Oblivion

Nejeor – Gate 1

The crew crossed the hallway to the doors of the chamber where Osteth had said the last of the cultists in the facility still lurked. They entered to find an ancient workshop containing a cluster of workstations, crates filled with castoffs of kishalee technology, and piles of tools, most alien but a few similar to designs used by Pact Worlds engineers. A pair of unusual robots lay lifelessly on the main worktable near the center of the room, but two appeared to be functional. Additionally, the room was occupied by a ysoki in a yellow jumpsuit and what appeared to be her drone.

“Who the hell are you?!” she shrieked, whacking the drone on the head before tapping a few keys on her arm rig. The robots spun around, their reticules going from blue to red.

“We can talk this out,” said Kima, raising his hands, palms forward. In response the ysoki shot him.

The crew advanced on the woman and her robot backup, Galakrond leaping atop the table to engage her and the drone. The solarian backed him up, while Kusanagi and Glitch attacked the modified maintenance robots. While she scurried away, defending herself from the vesk’s sword, her constant prattle turned grim and defeatist. “Ya really done it now, Xix. Didn’t think the ol’ void would come callin’ so soon,” she hissed through clenched teeth.

“Should have surrendered,” said Galakrond, not letting up.

Moments later, the robots and drone lay in pieces and the ysoki’s lifeblood stained the workshop floor. The crew looted the body and the room, then returned to central operations where Osteth awaited them.

“My new friends, with much time over the past few days in my confinement to think, I have come to a difficult conclusion. The Stellar Degenerator must be destroyed. Even if this Cult of the Devourer were defeated this day, there is no guarantee the location of the Gate of Twelve Suns will stay hidden. The sivv superweapon cannot be trusted with any people, no matter how peaceful and well intentioned they might be.”

She grew somber for a moment. “Though the events happened before I was born, I heard tales of when the kishalee used the Degenerator to ‘pacify’ a terrible enemy that threatened us with obliteration, and the results convinced my people to hide the weapon away.”

Osteth’s image disappeared, and the entire room was filled with a holographic display of an unknown solar system. Her voice continued. “Some were killed instantly, caught in the energy transference beam when the Stellar Degenerator turned their sun into a black dwarf.”

The hologram showed a ray of light streaking in from outside of the system and hitting the sun. This tether pulsed with energy, tearing apart starships and even moons in its general vicinity. “Those were the lucky ones. Within a week, temperatures across the system dropped to below freezing, and with no sun to sustain it, plant life began to die shortly thereafter.”

The sun at the center of system shrank and grew dark. Digital displays appeared near each of the system’s ten planets, showing the decrease in temperature and light levels. “Hundreds of millions eventually starved to death or were killed in skirmishes over food.” Another numerical display showed a rising death count. “The mass of the black dwarf wasn’t enough to keep its planets in orbit, and eventually, they started to drift outward, spinning erratically into the inky depths.” In the hologram, the orbits of the system’s frozen planets wobble, and the farthest world disappears off the map. “A terrible way for a people to go extinct.”

The lights in the chamber returned to normal as Osteth reappeared on her dais. “So you can see why the Stellar Degenerator must be destroyed. But to do so, we must first open the gate.”

Osteth reiterated that the remainder of the Devourer cultists must be stopped, but she also said that the crew should retrieve the control board those cultists were seeking. With the missing piece of equipment, Osteth could activate the Gate of Twelve Suns and release the Stellar Degenerator so that it could be destroyed once and for all.

<<< >>>

Nejeor – Gate 2

Several hours later, the Sunrise Maiden entered orbit around the second gate planetoid. Scans showed that it had no atmosphere and showed no signs of life. There were no obvious kishalee-made buildings like those on Gate 1’s controller moon, but there was a metal hatch – large enough for their starship to fly through – in the planet’s surface near the equator, similar to where the control center on Gate 1’s controller moon was located. Further scans revealed an underground complex (with a breathable atmosphere and full gravity) located deep within the planet.

The hatch began to open as soon as Kusanagi flew their vessel toward it, revealing a tunnel illuminated by strips of lights. It takes a couple of hours to traverse the tunnel to a spot where it branched off into three sets of hangar bay doors. A red light glowed above the center door, while green lights shined above the other two. As the android brought the Sunrise Maiden near leftmost bay doors, they opened to reveal an empty hangar.

A few particles of dust swirled within the cavernous hangar bay. Its walls were made of a smooth, unknown metal without a trace of rivets or seams. Opposite the ship doors they could see a smaller pair of convex doors. The large hangar bay doors remained open until the Sunrise Maiden settled onto the floor. At that point, the bay repressurized and filled with a breathable atmosphere, which took approximately fifteen minutes.

The crew made ready and exited their ship. Approaching the convex doors at the far end of a hangar bay cause them to open automatically, revealing a thirty-foot-diameter elevator car. Each of these hover lifts had simple controls on the inside: two blue lighted buttons aligned vertically. Pressing the lower button caused the lift to glide downward about 200 feet. After about 90 seconds, the lift arrived at the bottom of the shaft, and the doors opened.

Smooth, gray walls and bright lighting accentuated the lack of corners in the entryway with a thirty-foot-high ceiling. The chamber opened onto a larger area just opposite a set of convex elevator doors. The chamber was carved into the solid rock of the planet and reinforced with sheets of a nearly indestructible kishalee alloy. It gave the impression that the facility had been built only a few decades ago instead of thousands of years. The only tipoff to the facility’s age was the stale taste of the air.

Of more immediate concern, however, were the Desperate Hunger cultists that lobbed grenades into the lift as soon as the doors opened. An oblivion shade spawn retreated away and to the north, and a running battle ensued. The cultist soldiers were felled swiftly, but they were reinforced by elites with disruption grenades and pistols.

Where the elites stood guard, the ceiling arched up to about fifty feet, and at its apex hung a glowing crystalline pyramid that shed bright light on the room below. An array of upended tables and sturdy crates formed a makeshift barricade, blocking off much of the northern portion of the area, including a pair of shiny convex doors. Wide passages led east and west, and a wide set of stairs led down to the south. A declining ramp was separated from the stairs by a low metal partition.

When the first elite cultist fell, it rasped, “Warn … Deldreg….” The other fled south down the ramp and out of sight. Kima held up a hand before evoking solarian magic to infuse the crew with celerity before giving chase. At the bottom of the ramp, he came to a wide junction. Hallways led off to the east and west, while a large gray double door led to the south. Sections of the floor had long gouges in them.

Encased within a suit of battered powered armor, a scarred and gnarled dwarf stood in the center of the junction. He ground his teeth on a frayed cigar, and bits of tobacco rolled down his unkempt beard. An advanced X-gen gun was mounted on his shoulder, ready to unload a spray of death.

“You ready to dance?” The dwarf’s voice grumbled, a hint of dark humor dripping from the question. “Ain’t seen nothing but hunks of metal, weird plants, and people made of light since we came to this system, and Ol’ Deldreg’s been just aching for a dance.”

The dwarf never had a chance to take even a single step as Glitch’s spell-infused grenade injected nanobots into him that scrambled his mind. He could only babble incoherently as Kusanagi and Galakrond joined the fray to take him down.

After a brief rest to catch their breath, the crew turned toward the eastern hall. The first door to the north had the same triangular touch pad as other doors, but it didn’t open when the pad was touched. It blinked red instead. Glitch removed the touch pad’s cover and rewired it to get the door to open. The circular chamber within had stark white walls that were occasionally broken up by rectangular outlines near the floor and a few feet off the ground. The overhead lighting buzzed incessantly, and no sooner had the door opened than a gaunt undead lunged for Galakrond’s throat.

The marooned one’s grip was overpowering and all the vesk could do was struggle to escape from the cruel undead hands for the first few crucial moments of the fight. Fortunately, the rest of the crew was able to batter and blast the undead enough to distract it, and moments after Galakrond managed to free himself, the wretched creature lay dead on the floor. The crew took a moment to let the soldier recover, and he downed a potent healing potion to soothe the pain in his throat.

The next door in the hall was not locked. Looking in on the room from the hallway, the crew could see that it was dark except for a small red light blinking on a standby control panel on the far wall. As soon as they crossed the threshold of the doorway, a motion sensor in the ceiling activated the lights. Two clear surfaces covered in alien writing hung on the walls near the door, and a computer terminal stood on the opposite end of the room. The main features of the room were two opaque cylindrical fields of energy near the walls, each about ten feet in diameter.

The writing referenced both gravitational equations and biological processes. The notes were unfinished, though, so Glitch crossed the room to the terminal. Examining the computer, he determined that the cylinders of energy were acting as stasis fields for two living creatures. Probing a little deeper, it seemed that they were large monstrous humanoids with bladelike arms. No sooner did he report this to his companions than the terminal went dark and the stasis fields failed. “It wasn’t me!” insisted the technomancer. “Sabotage!”

When Glitch caught sight of the creatures for the first time, his eyes widened and he rattled off what he knew about them. Known as psitheers, these insectile humanoids had a hive-mind intelligence that aided them as they stalked their prey. Their arms ended in vicious bladelike appendages that could cause terrible bleeding. Moments later, the crew got some firsthand experience.

The creatures’ bladed arms were wickedly sharp, and in moments both Galakrond and Kima were in serious trouble. The lashunta lost consciousness from his wounds and blood loss within the first thirty seconds, and the rest of the crew scrambled to compensate and try to rescue him from dying. It was a near thing, but Glitch managed to get a potion down the solarian’s throat after Kusanagi managed to take the first psitheer down. Kima lay still and drank a more potent healing draught before regaining his feet and helping Galakrond finish off the second. After this harrowing encounter, the crew returned to their ship to rest and receive Winslow’s healing ministrations.

<<< >>>

The chamber at the end of the hall appeared to be an ancient armory, thoroughly ransacked. The eastern and western walls of the long room were lined with empty weapon racks, while the outlines of suits of armor could been seen inside of broken display cases along the northern and southern walls. The drawers of the two workbenches in the center of the chamber had been pulled out and their contents – empty cans of oil, tiny screws, and other bits of rusty metal – were scattered across the floor.

A small compartment in the eastern wall hung open, which inspired the crew to search for other such hidden compartments. They found three, each of which contained some piece of kishalee weaponry. They collected these, then returned to the junction and continued to the west.

The spacious chamber contained three tall racks holding various powered-down robots. Located in a central position, a freestanding control panel blinks serenely, at which stood another ysoki flanked by a pair of human cultists.

“Oh, hey. Huh,” drawled the ysoki.

“Should we kill them, Zaz?” asked one of the cultist.

“Yeah, uh. Get ‘em, boys.”

Glitch rushed forward and took a shot at the other ysoki, who activated his jetpack and fired back. While the technomancer and Kusanagi engaged the enemy ratman, Galakrond and Kima squared off with the foot soldiers. The solder and solarian finished their work first, and before Zaz could flee, the crew took him down. This left only one chamber remaining, and so the Starfinders made their way to the southern double doors.

This room buzzed with activity. Three control panels stood at the far end of the room opposite the double doors. The panels flashed with multicolored lights and occasionally beep. The southern wall contained a large window, with some kind of shimmering containment field in place of glass. The vast bore that pierced the heart of the planetoid could be seen through the window. The walls of that massive cylinder were veined with strange conduits and studded with peculiar technology; countless maintenance robots, many so far away as to seem like mere insects, crawled over the various sections of the machinery, occasionally lit by a random spark of electricity. Monitors lined the walls inside the room, showing close-ups of the robots working within the bore. One video stream tracked the progress of four such constructs, one of which was carrying a grayish rectangular object; these robots seemed to be flying at all possible speed toward some point.

The android Null-9 paced between the control panels and the containment field. Though her eyes were cold and her movements regimented, she was almost trembling with anticipation. A moment after the crew entered the room, she addressed them with a flat voice that had a hint of metallic rattling.

“You are too late, meddlers. The end is nigh. I will prevail. I am the chosen of the Devourer, and you are just insects—insignificantly scrambling about ignorant of utter certainty.” With that, she raised her weapon to open fire.

She was no match for the Starfinders.

A few seconds after she’d fallen, a foursome of maintenance robots – one carrying a dull gray metal object – arrived. They were just as handily dispatched, and the crew took a closer look at the robots’ package. It seemed nothing more than a sheet of dull gray metal and ceramic about three feet long and one foot wide. A closer examination of the board revealed that it was traced with unusual circuitry that formed various triangular patterns. This must be the control board that Osteth had told them about. Securing their prize, they returned to their ship and flew back to Gate 1.

<<< >>>

Gate 1 – Control Center

Osteth was pleased to see the crew again and thrilled when they reported that they were able to stop the Devourer cultists and bring back an unbroken control board. By inserting the control board into a slot she indicated under one of the central operation’s terminals the crew had repaired the computers that could open the way to the Stellar Degenerator. Osteth repeated her insistence that destroying the superweapon was necessary, and said she would wait upon their order to initiate the process that would access the demiplane. She explained that it would need to be done when the controller moons reached the innermost points of their orbits, which happened once a day.

It occurred to the Starfinders to talk to Osteth about how they might be able to destroy the Stellar Degenerator. The AI admitted that it would take an act of devastating power, likely more firepower than the Sunrise Maiden could bring to bear. Osteth had an idea that the Stellar Degenerator might be piloted into one of the gate’s twelve suns, but someone would need to board the superweapon, which likely had ancient security measures still in place. She is unsure how such an event would affect the rest of the system, and she was fairly certain though that it would probably end in the death of whoever was at the Stellar Degenerator’s helm.

They decided that they would cross that bridge when they came to it. In the meantime, they thought it best to open the gate to get a look at the Stellar Degenerator to see what they might learn about it. When the crew gave the order to open the demiplane a look of concern crossed Osteth’s face.

“My friends, something is terribly wrong. Thanks to the gate’s advanced age, several microprocessors across the controller moons’ core facilities are failing. Unfortunately, I have already initiated the subroutine to open the demiplane. My calculations predict that unless something is done in the next few minutes, a catastrophic chain reaction will destabilize the system’s twelve cosmic strings and cause each and every one of the suns to be pulled into the center of the system. Such a collision would result in a massive supernova … and the Stellar Degenerator would remain within its demiplane!”

The consoles around the room began running a series of simulations at rapid speed, all of which ended with flashing red screens – except for one. “Yes. I think I have it. If I split my consciousness across the twelve controller moons, my own programming could provide the necessary corrections for our plan to proceed. But I will not be able to pull myself back together. It will be the end of me. Permanently.”

Osteth nodded. “This is the only choice. The rest will be up to you. You must promise to destroy the Stellar Degenerator, no matter what happens!”

There wasn’t much time for goodbyes as the holographic form dissolved into lines of code and the consoles surrounding the crew began to glow blue. Several monitors began showing views of the interior bores of the other controller moons. Traces of the same blue light limned the circuitry along the walls and the army of maintenance bots. A moment later, the building shook and all the monitors switched to perspectives from the planetoid’s surfaces pointing toward the skies. In each, different angles of a colossal tear in space forming could be seen in the distance. The fiery red of the planar gate contrasted with the inky blackness of space in a display that was both beautiful and awe-inspiring. This all happened within the span of twenty minutes.

Looking at the consoles, the crew could see readings about the phenomena. The circular opening to the Stellar Degenerator’s demiplane had a diameter of half a million miles and was stable. The massive vessel within has a conical shape and was mostly built from a material the Starfinders had never encountered or heard of (though parts of it are encased in rock, as if it were built into an asteroid). The superweapon itself was over one hundred thousand feet long and had a mass of over fifty thousand tons. It gave off a faint energy signature, not much more than a docked starship, and it had a small amount of its own gravity.

As they stared in awe at this marvel of terrible might, warning lights began blinking frantically across the central operations room. The automated defense systems had detected a fleet of starships entering the area! A glance at the readouts confirmed the worst: an armada of Eoxian-style vessels ranging from speedy fighters to lumbering capital ships were only a few hours away. The Corpse Fleet had tracked the crew to Nejeor and were ready to claim the Stellar Degenerator for themselves!

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The Thirteenth Gate

View
Session 24
Boarding Action

Nejeor – Gate 1

Dozens of Corpse Fleet warships had invaded Nejeor space, and they were accompanied by a flagship that had to be at least six miles long, larger than any starship the crew had ever seen! They were heavily outgunned, however, the nearby computers also indicated the activation of a number of automated defenses placed all around the Nejeor system. These seemed to be keeping the Corpse Fleet at bay for the time being, and the undead might even be distracted enough by the barrage that the Starfinders were not completely doomed.

While it would have been possible to stealthily evade the fray long enough to enter the Drift and escape, that would leave the Stellar Degenerator in the hands of the Corpse Fleet. The Starfinders knew that the undead would have no compunctions against using the superweapon on the Pact Worlds’ sun and other systems beyond. The crew had not forgotten their promise to the artificial intelligence Osteth to destroy the Stellar Degenerator.

While studying the displays, they recognized an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. By infiltrating and seizing control of the Corpse Fleet flagship, they could steer it into the portal to collide with the Stellar Degenerator and destroy both.

An alarm interrupted deliberations and the security monitors showed a group of eight corpsefolk marines taking position in the entryway of the control center building. The crew exchanged weary glances, then made their way to the hall to engage the Corpse Fleet invaders. The undead opened fire as soon as Galakrond opened the door, but the vesk’s pilfered new armor protected him from the worst of it and he soldiered forward. A flash grenade stole blinded Galakrond, rendering him mostly harmless for crucial moments.

Kima advanced to support the vesk and engaged with the nearest marines, while Kusanagi struck from the safety of the hall and Glitch peppered the undead with destructive magic. The solarian found himself surrounded, and leaned into being the focal point, summoning a black hole to pull all of the Corpse Fleet soldiers next to him. This allowed Glitch to evoke a devastating wall of fire that burned every single one of the undead, and weakened them enough that the rest was mere cleanup.

While the Starfinders recovered from the encounter and took any useful items from the bodies of the fallen soldiers, it occurred to them that the undead must have arrived on the controller moon with a ship. Once they’d rested, they set out to search the jungle for the vessel, finding it about half an hour later. It was a Blackwind Sepulcher model, far less impressive than their own ship, but it did give them an idea.

They boarded the Corpse Fleet vessel and found a single cybernetic zombie wired into the controls. The animate did not so much as react to the Starfinders’ intrusion. Letting it be, Glitch hacked the console to unlock pilot controls and Kusanagi flew the ship over to where the Sunrise Maiden was docked. Then the crew set to work, swiftly removing pieces of the undead starship and hastily bolting them to the outside of their own. They also slopped on black and red paint on the exterior, and turned off life support, relying on their armor’s environmental protections. Their camouflage completed, they lifted off from the controller moon.

<<< >>>

The surrounding space was constantly illuminated by flaring beams of energy that lashed out from the system’s controller moons, and gouts of incandescent flame pulled from the suns by gravitational pulses. The ancient weapons were wildly inaccurate and fired haphazardly, often fading out before reaching their targets or detonating in apparently empty space, but even so, the Corpse Fleet armada was beginning to show signs of extensive damage. The largest of the Corpse Fleet vessels was enormous—bigger than many space stations. It was surrounded by explosions and debris, both from its own hull and from the escort ships that had been destroyed protecting it, forming a cloud that blocked most efforts to get a clear image of its exact shape. However, blasts from the massive ship’s powerful weapons clearly marked it as the most effective member of the armada.

The crew risked a quick scan to see what they could learn before attempting to approach the massive Corpse Fleet ship. This massive vessel was called the Empire of Bones, and it was bigger than even a colossal starship. It was practically bristling with capital weapons, and like most Corpse Fleet starships, it didn’t contain any atmosphere.

The many explosions of the ongoing battle were partially clouding the Empire of Bones’ sensors, and many of its weapons were trained on the ancient kishalee defenses. It might be possible to slip in closer to the vessel and board it without those on board noticing. The Starfinders figured that they could land the Sunrise Maiden on the Empire of Bones’ hull and it would remain undetected for an extended period of time. Hopefully, long enough for them to seize control and aim it at the Stellar Degenerator.

The only other ships currently in the Starfinders’ path were four Crypt Wardens spaced roughly evenly between the them and the Empire of Bones. The crew exchanged glances, then began the approach.

As they drew near the first Crypt Warden, they received a challenge communication from it. They had anticipated this complication, and enacted their plan to get through. Galakrond was at the helm, piloting the ship, and he tried to emulate the flight pattern of the armada’s ships. Kima was on weapons, and he fired at the kishaleen defenses, making it appear as though they were trying to protect the nearby Corpse Fleet vessels. Glitch was in engineering as usual, and he created a fake malfunction in the communication system. After all these precautions, Kusanagi transmitted a garbled response that the crew hoped would pass as a legitimate Corpse Fleet identification.

The first Crypt Warden continued on its way, and so the crew continued forward. Twice more they met with success, and flew on past the Corpse Fleet ships. The final undead vessel was particularly suspicious, and initiated a scan of the Starfinders’ starship. Glitch quickly set to work dampening the crew’s vital signs, to prevent the scan from picking up any signs of life one what they were pretending was a vessel piloted by the undead. The ruse succeeded, and they sighed with relief as the final Crypt Warden flew away.

<<< >>>

Empire of Bones – Hangar Country

They mag-locked the sunrise maiden near an open hangar bay and spacewalked to a nearby airlock and entered the Empire of Bones. Kusanagi offered to scout and activated his cloaking field before advancing into the hangar bay.

During his swift recon, he noted that dull red lights illuminated the massive chamber. A heavy crane arm dangled from tracks on the ceiling, and empty racks for small fighter ships lined the fore and aft walls. A nearly invisible force field covered the gaping hole in the starboard end of the room, while two large doors exited to the port. In addition, there was a large window to the port looking into an enclosed room. He paused briefly to get a look inside the room past the window.

The long, narrow chamber was crowded with controls, monitors, and readouts that covered the walls and even the ceiling. Colored lights blinked and flashed adjacent to numerous switches and keypads. Doors exited to the fore and aft, and two cybernetic zombies were physically wired into the control panels. He assumed the controls inside operated the crane and other hangar mechanisms, then continued his circuit.

The floor held a dozen iris hatches, each fifteen feet in diameter. Most of the hatches were closed, but one toward the fore end of the bay was open. This hatch contained a threnody-class assault aircraft, and a corpsefolk marine appeared to be performing some sort of maintenance inside the closed cockpit. The android returned to the airlock to report his findings.

The crew thought to circle around the backside of the aircraft, hoping the undead would have a harder time seeing them, but they failed to cross to that point before they were spotted. The engines whirred and the assault fighter engaged the Starfinders. Galakrond and Kima advanced on the ship to try disabling it to get to the undead pilot.

Meanwhile, Kusanagi and Glitch sprinted across to the aft door of the control room, finding it locked. Once they bypassed this, they entered the room and began hacking the controls. The pair were blasted by a death ray that filled the entire room, and they swiftly exited, rejoining the fight against the pilot after the Threnody was brought down.

They determined that the trap had not reset, but they worked quickly all the same collecting as much information as they could from the system’s computers. The consoles were designed to track the fighters stored in the hangar bay, and they didn’t have access to local security or provide maps of the interior of the Empire of Bones. They noted that a message had been logged regarding their intrusion into the hangar bay, but as of yet, there was no ship-wide alert to your presence. They also found and downloaded a local map of hangar country to their own datapads, but much of the map showed no information beyond describing particular areas as “secure sites.”

The section security post was most likely to be one of the secure sites listed on the map. The other secure sites were likely areas with valuable or fragile equipment or personnel but weren’t directly necessary for the zombies to perform their fighter-monitoring duties. Not having a full map of the Empire of Bones on minor computer systems was a security precaution. This arrangement was fairly common in strict military groups and paranoid mercenary organizations. Since the rank-and-file crew members don’t need the full details of every section of the ship, such information was available only on a need-to-know basis. Any senior officer or security officer at a security post was likely to have access to more complete ship records.

In summary, if the crew was going to take control of the Empire of Bones, they knew that they had to find information about the layout of the ship and how to get to its bridge. Secure sites seemed like a great starting point to gain more intel about the vessel’s security and plotting a path forward.

They made their way down the portside hall until they came to the nearest door of one of the “secure sites.” Kusanagi bypassed the control panel to unlock the door and Galakrond stepped inside. A metal podium with numerous controls on it stood in the center of the room. Padded, vertical beds with numerous straps and restraints filled the space, most with numerous stains and small tears in their padding. Each bed sat beneath a bright spotlight from the ceiling, which illuminated the room brightly. Four large vents were visible in the ceiling, and an undead drow stood in the middle, gazing calmly at the intruders.

“Well, come on, then,” he said without intonation. The vesk was only too happy to oblige, and a moment later the door closed and locked once more, leaving Galakrond separated from his companions.

But only for a moment, as Kusanagi once more overrode the lock on the door and it reopened.

“Shit,” muttered the nihili. Moments later, the undead was no more.

When they searched the room, they found something within a compartment within the central podium. It was the same size and appearance as a humanoid finger bone. This small key had a micro plug that can be inserted into any of the computers onboard the Empire of Bones, datajack augmentations, or handheld computers such as datapads. When plugged in, a key attempted a handshake protocol with the device, looking for the receiving program that trial and error determined existed only in the Empire of Bones’ security terminals. When it connected, the key transmitted encoded information to that receiving program, helping the user gain access to sensitive information on the terminal.

Glitch theorized that with more of these security keys, their chances of overcoming the system’s defenses would only increase. He urged the others into seeking them out, starting in the other “secure sites” of hangar country. Moments later, the crew heard something advancing from the hall, shortly before a foursome of security robots appeared outside the chamber door. The robots were no match for the Starfinders, but they did suggest that they couldn’t simply sit around in one place for too long.

They continued to the next “secure site,” a short distance down the hall. The room had only a single door in the aft wall. A small dais in the center of the room was raised up a few feet, and pillars lined the walls. Each pillar supported a display, all of which showed collections of video streams of hallways, hangar bays, rooms, and other locations within this section of the Empire of Bones. They had found the security post, and leaning casually against the fore wall opposite the door, they saw the security officer.

“So. You imagine you can take the ship, is that it?” she rasped.

“Something like that,” said Galakrond. “Who are you?”

“Malakar. Remember it. You will all make excellent subordinates. After you’re dead, of course.”

She raised a gun, but Kusanagi was faster, dashing into the room as a pair of grenades hidden by the door went off. The crew was staggered by the unexpected explosions, but they recovered swiftly and pressed the fight. Galakrond struck next, and Malakar backpedaled, shooting him with a lightning blast.

“I noticed you’re not particularly well-protected against electricity,” she said, tapping a nearby screen that showed the vesk getting fried by a robot.

Kima moved toward a flank and brought his solarian blade to bear. Malakar nodded in respect and said, “You might make a good lieutenant once I’m in charge.”

“Really? A lieutenant?” said the lashunta.

“Sure,” she said. “If you talk a little less.”

“You really don’t know me, then,” said the solarian with a grin.

Glitch thought to end the fight with another wall of fire, drawn into a circle so tight that it seemed to be a column of flame centered on Malakar. Unfortunately, her spell resistance caused the heat to wash over her harmlessly. The ysoki cursed, but he needn’t have worried. The undead security officer, for all her grand proclamations, did not last the span of two more heartbeats.

They found another emergency security key on Malakar’s corpse, but even with the two keys and the former security officer’s biometric hand scan, Glitch insisted they were going to need all the help they could get bypassing ship’s security. He advised the crew to seek out any remaining security keys in the immediate area before he attempted hacking the security console. The others agreed.

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Empire of Bones

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