Starfinder: Dead Suns

Session 14
Pirates of the Diaspora

Absalom Station

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

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

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

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The Diaspora – Field of the Lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bone ships?” prompted Galakrond.

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

“Which way’d they go?” asked Glitch.

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

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

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

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

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The Diaspora – Asteroid K9204

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Splintered Worlds

View
Session 13
Game Over

(Piano Instrumental)

Sadly, no trace of them was ever found…

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Splintered Worlds

View
Session 12
Office Space

Brilliance

And then the starfighter turned away, heading back for the solar space station. The crew did not question this turn of events but instead began the calculations for the trip back home through the Drift.

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Absalom Station

Back at the Lorespire Complex, Historia-7 eagerly awaited them, exhibiting the slightest slip of happiness. She had already prepared a team of Dataphile operatives to decode and record the contents of the stolen files. They set to work immediately while she debriefed the crew and forwarded a message from Envar Tamm to each of their comms. It was a digital invitation to the young socialite’s 24th birthday party, described as an all-inclusive trip to a pleasure yacht in high orbit over Verces, with a note that read: “Join me for an encore performance of our glorious victory!”

As Historia-7 finished her debriefing, she began to receive the first hints of decoded data from Ilia Tamm’s files. “The mission is a success, and you are to be commended. All of you deserve some time to rest before your likely return to a more typical Society assignment.”

Historia-7 momentarily paused after making her declaration. The android’s eyes stared off past her data visor, as though she were contemplating some additional information. “Interesting … This data you’ve uncovered is … very … interesting. For now, I’ll ask you to depart. I need to summon Zigvigix of the Exo-Guardians. It appears one of his recent offers now aligns with what this data may require us to do. How … unfortunate.”

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A couple of days later, the crew received a summons from a Starfinder leader they hadn’t yet worked for. Kusanagi was handling some personal business, but when the others arrived at the Lorespire Complex, Venture-Captain Naiaj watched a map holographically projected onto the spherical wall of the dimly lit chamber. This meeting room was aptly named the “Starscape Chamber” and hosted various important strategic meetings for the Society. The pale bleachling gnome slightly nodded a greeting, hardly looking away from the stellar map.

“Thank you for meeting with me on such short notice,” she said, as she finally turns away from the map. “As you know, the Starfinder Society lost not only many agents but also a great deal of equipment in the Scoured Stars incident. Since then, we’ve been dealing with a shortage of guns, ammunition, armor, tools, and provisions. Over the past four months, the Society has recovered to the point that we are able to start replacing some of the equipment we lost. While we are explorers, right now, battle-ready firearms are sorely needed.”

Naiaj momentarily turned to face the map and made a request: “Starscape, show me Nightarch.” The map on the wall zoomed in on one of the outermost planets of the Pact Worlds, showing a gloomy, air-sealed settlement on the small gray planetoid identified as Apostae. “After calling in a lot of favors and holding lengthy negotiations, we managed to secure a deal with the drow of Apostae to obtain a shipment of weapons. House Zeizerer arranged a deal between the Starfinder Society and House Xicton, a lesser drow house with a solid track record on sales. I personally oversaw the negotiations, and only recently returned to Absalom Station to deposit the down payment owed to House Xicton.

“My intention was to send you to Nightarch, the drow’s surface settlement on Apostae, to guard this delivery. However,” Naiaj paused briefly, staring blankly at the map on the wall before continuing, “I just received word that the weapon shipment has been stolen. According to my contacts in Nightarch, the thief is a minor noble of House Zeizerer named Villyth, who went rogue and stole the weapons. We do not know her motives or the current whereabouts of the shipment, but I’m sending you to Nightarch to find the weapons and bring them to Absalom Station. As you may have heard, the interhouse politics of the drow are lethal and treacherous, and you will find only trouble if you start searching blindly. For this reason, I’ve arranged for you to meet with Ceobarn Zeizerer, who represents House Zeizerer in this specific matter. You are to discuss how the Society can get its shipment back without causing a diplomatic incident.

“Your shuttle is ready, so I expect you to get your things and get going as soon as possible. If you have any questions, now is the time to ask.”

“Why are we buying guns from drow?” asked Boske.

“Like it or not, Apostae is not only a member of the Pact Worlds, but also the weapon capital of the solar system. Their firearms are high-quality and come at reasonable prices. Despite their fearsome reputation, drow are generally as good as their word when it comes to selling and trading weapons.”

“Who is Villyth Zeizerer?” Twitch wanted to know.

“She is a minor noble in the hierarchy of House Zeizerer. I understand that she is something of a rebel, and as far as I know, her actions were not sanctioned by her house.”

Porunga nodded. “What can you tell us about House Zeizerer?”

“They are the most powerful drow household on Apostae, controlling the major surface settlement of Nightarch. They are demon-worshipers and arms dealers like the rest of them, but as far as drow houses go, they are quite reliable because they have a reputation to uphold. Complications like this are bad for the business. Our representative with them, Ceobarn Zeizerer, has always been blunt and up-front with me – how I prefer to handle most of my social interactions.”

“What about Nightarch?” asked Twitch.

“It is the largest settlement on the planetoid’s surface, and a major spaceport with bustling markets dealing in all kinds of weapons. Because House Zeizerer controls the city, you’ll be meeting with their representative Ceobarn first.”

The crew did some asking around and research on their own to get a better sense of the drow city they’d be entering. They learned that Nightarch was a metropolis of over 1.2 million inhabitants, most of whom were drow elves. Their society was traditionally matriarchal, but contrary to popular belief, the gender divide was not backed by law; rather, it was a holdover from pre-Gap times. A drow man with enough contacts, cunning, and wealth could rise to positions of leadership, rivaling drow women in power.

The city had a sizable orc and half-orc population, but they were treated as second-class citizens at best, and slaves at worst. Most orcs and half-orcs were destined to live and die as mercenaries, or, as some drow houses preferred to put it, cannon fodder.

Weapons were Nightarch’s main export, and many drow houses were involved in arms trade. What most people didn’t know was that there were thousands of miles of tunnels and numerous vaults of alien technology beneath the surface of Apostae. Many weapons designed in Nightarch were reverse-engineered from this technology.

Of the many bizarre technologies that drow were known for, fleshwarping was perhaps the least understood. It involved mutations and magic to transform a humanoid creature into a hate-filled abomination. While originally a punishment, a more refined form of fleshwarping could be used to create augmentations which – while gruesome to behold – greatly enhanced the individual’s physical qualities. In the most drastic cases of fleshwarping, the target often suffered from incredibly reduced intelligence, limiting the creature’s tactical acumen.

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Apostae

An otherwise empty shuttle took the crew on their weeklong journey. As the shuttle approached the dull gray planetoid, several fighters emerged from a hulking capital ship identified as part of the local fleet defense: the Blood Armada. These fighters whizzed past like a swarm of angry wasps. The navigation computer let out a blaring alert as the capital ship scanned the shuttle, but soon after, the alert ended and the fighters flew back to the massive carrier. The shuttle descended into low-orbit, and several small settlements with sealed atmospheres came into view.

Further out, beneath clouds of dust, several mile-wide blast doors, many large craters, and miles-deep crevices could be seen across the planetoid’s surface. The shuttle soared closer to Apostae’s surface, fast approaching the dark city of Nightarch. The eponymous arch and various tower houses could be seen within the city limits. Nightarch’s vast spaceport was alive with hundreds of blinking red and purple lights, which guided the shuttle into the gloomy capital of the drow.

When the crew stepped off the shuttle, two drow guards working for House Zeizerer escorted them through a labyrinth of air-filled, enclosed tunnels to Mileshadow, a tall corporate building owned by House Zeizerer. On the top floor of the building, the guards led the crew to the office of Ceobarn Zeizerer. According to a biographical article Twitch found on the local infosphere, Ceobarn was an intelligent inventor and scientist who had risen through the ranks despite his gender. The author made it seem that this was not only because of his talent but also because he was a masterful manipulator who had managed to make himself irreplaceable.

The guards opened the door to a spacious office on the top floor of the tall building, and without even a hint of emotion, one drow barely muttered, “Wait here.” The green-tinged windows in the room offered a majestic view over the gloomy Nightarch. Several statues and holographic devices depicting grinning fiends sat on shelves on the walls and on a darkwood desk at the far end of the room. A curious fixture reminiscent of a demonic spider looked down from the ceiling with many glistening eyes.

There was no one in the office, and the house guards left the crew to wait in the room. Studying the statues and holograms, Porunga recognized different aspects of the demon lord Abraxas. The crew decided to wait patiently and not touch anything.

After five minutes, a wall panel at the back of the office slid open, and a middle-aged drow walked in and settled into a red armchair behind the desk. He gave a nonchalant wave of his hand, and the demonic statue in the ceiling started shedding a purple glow, illuminating the room. “I am Ceobarn Zeizerer,” he said without preamble. “You are Naiaj’s Starfinders, correct? I heard about the shipment. A most unfortunate setback. Villyth has always been a troublemaker.” After a brief silence, he spat, “But it is not our fault. House Zeizerer officially disowned her months ago. Why should I help you?”

The crew made a variety of arguments, from hits to House Zeizerer’s reputation, to reprisal by House Xicton, but Ceobarn was deaf to these pleas. Porunga’s comment about looking weak in the eyes of their patron demon lord Abraxas got the drow’s attention. The vesk also pointed out the benefits of establishing a long-term working relationship with the Starfinder Society, if only he would help out. While Porunga was handing over a several-hundred-credits bribe, Twitch noticed the search term “Villyth Zeizerer” on Ceobarn’s computer screen, suggesting he was not as indifferent about the rogue noble as he claimed.

“Very well. It is true that Villyth’s actions are bad for business and she must be stopped,” the drow conceded. “On behalf of House Zeizerer, I grant you twenty-four hours of diplomatic immunity. Use this time to retrieve the weapons using whatever means you deem necessary. Here’s a document that proves you’re acting on my authority. If the situation requires it, kill Villyth. But rest assured, if you abuse the power I bestow you, there will be consequences. The drow never forget.”

After pausing for a dramatic moment to let the threat sink in, he continued. “I know Villyth well enough to know that she has guards and other defenses. The more you know, the less likely you are to walk into a trap. So use your twenty-four hours wisely. Remember that before the time is up, you must locate the weapons, plan your heist, travel to the location, get the weapons, and most importantly, get off my planet!”

The crew split into two teams to determine the location of the stolen shipment. The Boske and Porunga would hit the streets, trying to track down and interrogate an informant whose name they got from Ceobarn. Twitch would scour the infosphere for telltales that would point them in the right direction. The vesk were in the middle of their interrogation when they got the call that the ysoki had the intel they needed. They spent a few more hours securing the floor plan and guard posts of the warehouse where Villyth was keeping the guns. Then they rented a vehicle and headed to the location.

Villyth’s warehouse was located within a vast pressurized dome, which contained several other buildings. The location had a spacious office complex on the ground floor, and a 10-foot-high chain-link fence surrounded the building, with twenty feet of space between the fence and the outer walls. They decided to try to get through the locked cargo doors, hoping to slip in and take the guards by surprise. Unfortunately, none of them had Kusanagi’s skill at stealth, and the guard at the front door overheard them approaching the side of the building.

Boske’s gunfire alerted anyone who might be listening that trouble had come knocking. The first guard fell, and the crew entered the building after Twitch got the side doors open. A second drow guard came around the stairs and took another bullet from Boske’s big gun. She lobbed a grenade, but would have been better served running away. The scaly soldier led the charge up the steps and into an open area. Then all the lights went out and even their infrared sensors couldn’t pierce the magical darkness.

A madcap and often blind chase ensued, with the remaining two guards engaging in urban guerilla tactics. Boske and Twitch were deafened by headshots from the drow sonic rifles, but in the end the only surviving guard fled over the fence behind the building. The crew grudgingly stopped to rest and recover their hearing, assuming that reinforcements were probably on the way.

Afterward, they performed a quick sweep of the offices and labs, picking up anything of value that wasn’t nailed down. Twitch synced the security computer to his mechanic rig, deactivating the security measures in the warehouse and turning on the lights. Boske had hacked the elevator, and the crew descended to get the Society’s guns.

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Splintered Worlds

View
Session 11
Cheap Sunglasses

Castrovel

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

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

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Absalom Station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Brilliance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then a pair of solar elemental materialized in the laboratory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It faced them down undamaged and apparently without fear.

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Splintered Worlds

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Session 10
Astral Revelations

Ukulam – The Stargazer

Once the crew had regrouped and tended to their injuries, Kusanagi suggested they circle around to the far side of the statue to avoid the sniper who seemed to be in the head. Searching for an entrance to the structure, they noted an opening between the feet. Galakrond led them inside. Corroded pipes hung down from the ceiling above a broad basin in the center of the entry chamber. The stone walls were slick with moisture and bore carvings of tattooed elves in states of undress as they washed themselves. The domed ceiling depicted hundreds of stars connected to form scores of constellations.

Winslow noted the ritual significance of the place, which the Elven writing referred to as the Stargazer. The Oatia elves considered it a sacred space, and cleansing oneself of terrestrial influences was a necessary exercise before traveling deeper inside the monument. Galakrond decided to respect the ritual of the Oatia elves by washing his hands and head within the pool. Winslow nodded in approval and followed suit.

While the others waited, Twitch informed them that the constellations on the ceiling included both ones commonly taught on Castrovel as well as numerous esoteric designs. The crew ascertained that many of the constellations were known to modern scholars but only thanks to advanced telescopes and faster-than-light travel. That the Oatia elves had identified them suggested they had had extraordinary astronomical equipment, supernatural techniques for surveying the sky, or some other means of seeing far beyond the Pact Worlds system.

Galakrond finished up and led the way into the next chamber. The walls in the long gallery depicted elves using needles to tattoo one another with constellations, geometric designs, and strange runic patterns. Rows of tall stone benches lined either side of the hall. Carved along the ceiling were twelve stylized elven figures, heavily tattooed, adorned in different ways, and marked with starbursts on their foreheads. A pair of cultists lying in wait opened fire with scatterguns, but the crew made short work of them. The vesk looted the bodies before continuing forward.

They found the shirren sniper Salask in a domed room with numerous open skylights and windows. The design of the chamber created a steady flow of outside air. A ring of slime mold formed a misshapen circular pattern on the floor. As a true believer in the tenets of the Devourer, Salask refused to back down even against overwhelming odds. She was swiftly defeated and bound.

When questioned, she was reticent to talk about Tahomen’s specific plans. All she knew was that Tahomen saw something in the broadcasts from the Drift Rock that he thought had some connection with the Temple of the Twelve, and he believed there was more to learn from the ancient elven temple city. Because she had busily traveled back and forth to harry the crew, Salask had not seen the temple; she just knew that Tahomen believed it holds grand secrets that will speed the bloody end of the galaxy.

Twitch hacked Salask’s comm unit, which had several logged communications with another unit. These conveyed updates about her movements through the jungle and ways in which she had harassed the crew. She also had an extensive number of recorded broadcasts of Eoxian “reality” programming and blood sport, favoring productions by the elebrian celebrity Zo!, including an entire season of the viscerally grotesque Survival Deathmatch Extreme!

After a brief discussion of what to do with the prisoner, it was agreed that she would be left bound with her sword and her rations, so that if she had a chance of survival, but could not harass the crew from a distance anymore. Kusanagi climbed a much steeper staircase that branched off the main stairs and led to a 60-foot-long series of ladder-like handholds that ascended to the upraised palm of the Stargazer’s hand. The slightly cupped hand had lost its delicate guardrails long ago, but there was still space to stand there. Galakrond joined him atop the hand, and the Starfinders noted a pair of ksariks circling the perimeter of the ruins.

They let the others know, and sure enough, the creatures were waiting to attack when the crew exited the Stargazer. Galakrond took a beating, but otherwise the plant creatures were defeated efficiently. The crew continued their journey.

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Ukulam – Loskialua

The closer the crew got to the Temple of the Twelve, the more noticeably steep the trek became. By the time they were within a half day’s travel from the site, the jungle thinned out slightly and the ground arose, giving way to a stretch of verdant, rolling foothills crisscrossed by meandering creeks with sources in the striking peaks of the Singing Range to the north and west.

They reached the ruins of what Halkueem Zan had called the “Forsaken City,” but millennia before, these ruins were Loskialua, a small elven settlement. A graveyard of pyramids that rose between two and twenty-five feet in height studded the landscape. With hundreds of structures, Loskialua represented a rare archaeological treasure that would require years of dedicated fieldwork to excavate and document. Of greater interest to the crew, though, was the intact temple and observatory – the Temple of the Twelve – perched hundreds of feet up the side of Alhuenar Spire, one of the Singing Range’s highest mountains.

Standing imperiously on a promontory partway up the mountainside was a temple of elegantly sculpted stone with a single domed tower rising from its center. Expanses of the structure’s weathered exterior bore scores of tall, glass-paned windows that caused the facade to shimmer in the sunlight. Wide stairs were carved into the rock face, winding back and forth as they ascended to the temple from the ruins below. The greater temple complex had once included numerous smaller outbuildings, but these had largely collapsed over time, being of less durable construction than the temple itself.

The crew noted static over their comms that rendered them completely useless by the time they reached the base of the path to the temple. The elves had carved a staircase into the steep slope leading up to the site. Halkueem Zan had called this pathway the “Stairs to Eternity.” The crew encountered a young mountain eel devouring a cultist partway up the path. Though its paralyzing gaze stopped Boske in his tracks for a long moment, the beast was taken down quickly.

On the north side, a series of weathered pillars arced around the entrance of the temple, marking a curving border around a small plaza. A steep, narrow trail left the plaza from the northwest, winding more than a mile up the mountainside to the temple’s main observatory. A figure stepped forward and motioned for the crew to halt upon the stairs before he solemnly greeted them in Elven and ordered them to turn back. The man appeared to be an elf, though Winslow noted that he seemed to be undead. The vesk translated for the others, and Galakrond asked the guardian his name.

“I am Panelliar, Sun Spear of the Inscrutable. It is my duty to guard this place against those who would despoil or misuse my people’s discoveries.”

“That’s not why we’re here,” said the vesk. “We’re here to stop cultists from doing that. Have you seen anyone else?”

“Centuries ago, a child of Golarion came. He sought the secrets beyond for his own glory, so I turned him away with violence. A band of lashuntas and an unfamiliar alien arrived recently. I recognized them as pawns of the Star-Eater, and although I turned them away, the leader’s conviction and magic were strong; I relented.”

“Magical compulsion?” guessed Winslow.

“Any way we can convince you to let us pass?” asked Boske.

“The speaker for the Star-Eater does not wish to allow you to enter, and by his will, I must insist. You are not welcome here.”

Reluctantly, the crew engaged the ancient elven guardian. He sparred with Galakrond using a solarian enhanced spear for a few moments before moving into position and unleashing a supernova revelation. The wave of fire washed over most of the crew and the heat was so intense that it killed Ralkawi, the cultist that they had saved from the ksarik spores. Panelliar fell shortly thereafter, a hole through the chest plate of his ancient elven battle armor, courtesy of Boske. Winslow provided magical healing and everyone took a few minutes to rest before they entered the temple.

The ornately carved wooden doors leading into the temple had just barely survived the ages intact. They were unlocked, and Boske kicked them in easily, alerting anyone who might be inside to the presence of newcomers. From its floor to its curved ceiling thirty feet above, this entry hall was covered in sweeping arcs of constellations marked with delicate lines and numbers at regular intervals. A series of short climbing pitons stuck out of the ground near the center of the room, where embedded floor scythes had been placed to slash at the unwelcome.

While the others examined the constellations, Kusanagi scouted ahead to the right. Three wooden doors lined the west wall of the gallery there. The curving interior wall depicted the night sky and its stars. A three-foot-tall octagonal stone platform stood in the middle of the hall, and the android noted a trio of cultists that had taken cover along the wall. He reported back to the others, and the crew attacked without preamble. The lesser cultists fell quickly, but their leader forced a chase around the back side of a central chamber where Dr. Solstarni lay bound. They managed to defeat the lashunta cultist before she could detonate the explosives that she and her cultists had placed on the ceiling.

The southernmost point in the temple was a high-ceilinged sanctuary with tall, narrow windows filled with foggy, discolored glass. The vantage point jutted out over the cliff below, overlooking the stairs carved into the mountainside and the ruined settlement below. The kasatha archaeologist abducted from the university in Qabarat, Dr. Solstarni, was fettered here and looked up at the Starfinders in great relief. They released her and asked what she knew about the remaining cultists.

“The so-called Eyrub Paqual was a ploy, as I suspected. The man behind my abduction is a lashunta called Tahomen, who leads a significant Cult of the Devourer cell. From what I gather, he learned of ancient texts associated with the explorer Halkueem Zan’s travels here and attempted to recruit me to travel here and decipher anything we found. What I’ve learned is that the Oatia elven culture found the cosmos utterly fascinating, at first worshiping Desna before fixating on several alien entities and celestial features to worship – especially a constellation of twelve stars, which might be strictly symbolic. He knocked me out after I ceased cooperating here, and I suspect he learned something more in the temple’s inner sanctum.”

She gestured to a door on the south facing of the central chamber of the temple, and the crew moved to investigate. Once a freestanding shrine dedicated to Desna, the butterfly-shaped structure became the inner sanctum of the temple to Ibra later built around it. Even an untrained viewer could tell that the construction styles of the two phases were quite distinct. The astronomers of the Temple of the Twelve had stored the records of their greatest discoveries here, and the sanctum was filled with physical books and scrolls. A spiral staircase to the north climbed to the temple’s observatory tower high above the ground floor.

No sooner had Galakrond set foot inside than a pair of elven statues flanking the entrance animated and attacked. No one had any ideas about the nature of the magical constructs, but they didn’t last long against the crew regardless. With the guardians defeated, some of the crew looked around with Dr. Solstarni, while others defused the explosives.

Many of the pre-Gap books were legible, albeit barely intact. Tahomen had been sloppy in returning documents to their proper places, allowing the crew to uncover the same information that he had. Most of the texts were in Elven, though some were in Celestial, Draconic, and an archaic version of Castrovelian that was very difficult for a modern speaker to parse. However, with Dr. Solstarni’s assistance, the Starfinders learned that the Oatia elves were a philosophical offshoot that had spurned their Sovyrian kin and sought a new life of cosmic contemplation on Ukulam, thousands of years before the Gap. Their techniques had quickly improved, and through a combination of telescopes and divination magic, the elves had discovered a strange constellation of twelve stars that formed a perfect circle in the sky. The more they had studied the constellation, the stranger their dreams had become, and powerful scholar-priests had begun recording the odd language they saw and heard.

As the elves’ knowledge of and exposure to the galaxy had expanded, they’d parleyed with increasingly bizarre and powerful alien minds, most notably a powerful being known as Ibra – especially noteworthy because the elves’ records suggested that Ibra may not have been a deity at the time. Through Ibra’s teachings, the elves had studied the mysterious circular constellation, learning that it was not a natural feature but the construction of an impossibly ancient and highly advanced species untold light years away. The scholar-priests sensed that the ring pulsed with an unnatural energy, which led them to believe it to be a gateway of some kind. The elves called it the Gate of Twelve Suns, and they renamed their temple in honor of it.

There were a few theories, but the most popular hypothesis was that the Gate of Twelve Suns represented such power that it could only be (or serve as the portal to) some cosmically powerful superweapon. One of the scholar-priests even posited the existence of a so-called “Stellar Degenerator,” which could drain all energy from a star, turning it into a hypothetical stellar remnant called a black dwarf. Unfortunately, there’s no definitive note of where the Gate of Twelve Suns was – as if identifying its location had been taboo to the elves.

As interpretive disputes broke out among the elves, they had agreed that from the confines of Loskialua, they could never confirm their theories, much less attain enlightenment through discovery under the inspired guidance of Ibra. They had packed up what they needed, and then they had performed a ritual that the texts referred to only as “the Celestial Voyage.” The implication was that the elves had traveled to another system, though whether they succeeded or failed was uncertain from these records.

Armed with the knowledge of what Tahomen had found and the threat it could represent in the hands of the Cult of the Devourer, the crew finished up treasure hunting and exited the temple. As they stepped outside, the cult leader Tahomen and his two surviving cultists descended from the mountain. The cult leader engaged in some mocking banter as his subordinates set the heavy comm unit components down. Then he pulled out and activated a detonator.

Nothing happened.

He clicked the button another couple of times in confused irritation before throwing the detonator aside in disgust and growling at his underlings to attack! The cultists fell swiftly, but Tahomen’s magic carved painful gouges in the crew’s flesh before he was dazed and laid low.

With Tahomen defeated, the Starfinders inspected the comm unit his team had carried across Ukulam. The system was massive, only capable of being moved by several strong people once it had been broken into smaller components. Even with the comm unit disassembled, Twitch booted up the system’s computer and accessed its unsecured communications log. Tahomen had dutifully purged his correspondence history leading up to this expedition, but the ysoki could still determine that the comm unit had logged a call and significant data upload about three hours earlier.

To access more information, Twitch hacked the comm unit’s computer. Once he had access to the system, he could read Tahomen’s recent communications. The correspondence relayed many of the same conclusions the crew had learned in the inner sanctum, but with more sinister certainty: Tahomen posited that the 12-star constellation – the Gate of Twelve Suns – opened to a demiplane that hid an unspeakably powerful superweapon. The cult leader believed that the Drift Rock was a tiny fragment of this “Stellar Degenerator,” broken off when a portion of the demiplane was torn away and added to the Drift as a result of Drift travel. Tahomen had also recommended that the Cult of Devourer apply as many resources as possible to find the Gate of Twelve Suns – and the Stellar Degenerator – before anyone else could. In addition, the Starfinders learned the approximate coordinates of the location Tahomen had transmitted his messages to: a stretch of several hundred asteroids in the Diaspora.

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Qabarat

Having thwarted Tahomen and his Devourer cult, the crew was compelled to expedite their return to civilization. Having used up their environmental protection on the trip across Ukulam, they traveled by night on the return trip, sleeping in their tents which offered protection – if not comfort – from the oppressive heat.

Professor Muhali was relieved to see her colleague in one piece, and university officials offered each of the crew admittance and free tuition to the school for up to three years in thanks for their service. Alternatively, they offered a “research grant” of a thousand credits from the university in lieu of a scholarship. Most of the crew opted for the latter.

Finally, they sent a message to Chiskisk in advance of their return to Absalom Station, as well as requests for upgrades to the Sunrise Maiden that Twitch wanted to add before taking the ship out on anymore missions.

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Temple of the Twelve

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Session 9
The Jungle

Qabarat Port Authority

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

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

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

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

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Ukulam – Turhalu Point

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

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

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

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

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Ukulam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ukulam – “Rune Obelisk”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ukulam – “Plague Warden”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Temple of the Twelve

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Session 8
Practical Xenocide

Struggle’s Scholar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RECORD 1
I am worried about Yotto. She is furious about what happened at the Bulwark and seems to be withdrawing more and more – she didn’t even attend this morning’s spar. Instead, I battled against Blue Sky-101, who is a skilled opponent but lacks the same vitality and understanding of honor. I thought Yotto would at least work some of her anger out by taking baton to bot. Perhaps it is her youth getting the better of her. I will give her a few days to restore her balance.

RECORD 2
The loss of Yotto is unbearable, and to make matters worse, the damage to the ship was more extensive than we thought. The captain sent out a distress beacon in the Drift, but it is too dangerous to stay in this minefield, so we have returned to the Material Plane. When we return to the Idari, I hope the adata will accept Yotto’s body and grant me dispensation to query her soul. I’d like to speak with her one last time – and ask her why she was in the cargo hold when we were hit. For now, I have shrouded her body and placed it in the sparring chamber.

RECORD 3
At first, I thought it was a dream – a nightmare. I walked into the sparring room and there was Yotto, but… changed. She swung at me from across the room, but I felt her hand rip through me as though I were made of paper. I tried to subdue her with the sparring equipment, but my blows simply passed through her. It took all of us armed with force batons to eventually lure her into the captain’s quarters, where the captain sacrificed herself to trap Yotto – or whatever she has become – within her suit’s force field. Kela has rigged one of the ship’s batteries to amplify the field and keep the creature contained, but we may soon be faced with fighting this thing for our lives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Absalom Station – Exo-Guardians Headquarters

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

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

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

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

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Absalom Station – Lorespire Complex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Castrovel – Qabarat

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

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

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

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

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Qabarat University of Xenoarchaeology and Xenoanthropology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Qabarat – Five Arches

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

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

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

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

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

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Qabarat University of Xenoarchaeology and Xenoanthropology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Temple of the Twelve

View
Session 7
Acceptable Losses

Akiton – Tasch

The customers started to flee through the entrance, while the bartender rushed out the back door. Philt and his bodyguards ducked out alongside the other citizens, but the shirren representative took a moment to wish the crew “the best of luck” and reminded them that he expected Talbot to be delivered soon. Not wishing to start killing locals for believing in false miracles, Kusanagi moved to the door where the bartender had gone and waved the others to follow him into the back room. They found themselves in a storage room that contained spare boxes, tables, chairs and crates of alcohol. There was another door on the east exterior wall, which was locked. While Twitch examined the locking mechanism for the outer door, Galakrond helped Winslow move the besotted Boske into the back room.

The mechanic got the door opened about the same time as a grenade disintegrated the door near the vesk bodyguard. Twitch found himself face to face with a ysoki with a laser pistol. Meanwhile, a four-armed shobhad and another of the ratmen had taken cover in the common room of Digger’s Dive. Galakrond felt his mind come under attack, but planted himself firmly in the doorway between the bar and the back room. The soldier’s eyes widened and he jerked his head back out of the way when he saw the drunken Boske aiming a zero rifle in the direction of the bar. Astonishingly, the sharpshooter managed to hit his target, the large shobhad who seemed to be the leader of the aggressors.

Kusanagi moved to support the vesk, while Winslow and ARTE assisted Twitch with the ysoki gunslinger at the back exit. The fighting effort was complicated by the fact that the crew were still trying not to kill anyone, but they managed to incapacitate Talbot’s defenders and escape to their vehicle outside.

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Akiton – Tasch Thasteron Mine

Tasch’s thasteron mine was built into a red rock hillside. It had been excavated by powered mining equipment that had since been repossessed or sold. A metal track ran throughout the mine, meant for automated mine carts. A string of overhead lights provided dim light. As they entered, a sloping ramp descended to the west, made of hard-packed red dirt that showed signs of heavy vehicle traffic. The ramp opened into a large square chamber with rough walls. A metal track ran along the ground from a passage in the west wall and then turned north, ascending a five-foot ramp and then running along the north wall until the track terminated. A pair of metal lockers stood in the southeast corner, and a heap of ore is piled to the southwest.

The ore was unrefined thasteron, the lockers contained a medkit, some tools, and an old credstick, and the vesk found recent tracks in the red dirt, matching the timeline of Talbot’s arrival on Akiton. Galakrond took point to scout the mine tunnels, and to the west he came to a T-intersection. To the north, a passageway led deeper into the mine, but was covered with thick, trackless dust and failing lights that implied no one had been down them in some time. He headed several yards to the south until he came to an intersection of several passageways with a square ceiling support. The passage to the south terminated in unfinished construction. A little past that, a passageway to the east led into a rectangular chamber with rough-hewn walls.

The vesk returned to the entry chamber and reported to his companions, who followed him to the rough chamber to the east. A metal mine-cart track ran parallel to the passage and entered the room before ending abruptly. A mine cart in an obvious state of disrepair lay adjacent to the tracks, and tools covered a table against the east wall, while a pair of metal lockers stood in the southwest corner. The lockers contained mining uniforms and binders of material-safety data sheets for explosives. The referenced explosives must have been removed when the mine shut down.

The crew turned their attention to the western passage, Galakrond still in the lead. No sooner had he stepped past the square ceiling support column than a mounted laser rifle emerged from a sliding panel and shot him. The weapon retracted back into the ceiling as he stumbled backwards – surprised, hurt, and a little angry. The crew took a minute to try to find the trap’s trigger, but no one could find anything. They tossed thasteron ore past the support, but the rifle did not fire upon it. Then Twitch sent ARTE forward. The drone was utterly destroyed when the rifle hit a critical system. The Starfinders exchanged glances and decided to wait and give Galakrond a chance to recover before pressing forward. When they advanced, the vesk managed to evade the laser and the others followed him across, though Kusanagi sprinted past the crew and into a new chamber.

The passage headed west and then turned north into a T-shaped room. The ceiling was cut to fifteen feet in height, and permanent light fixtures set in the ceiling provided brighter light. The minecart tracks that ran throughout the mine hugged the south wall, turned north, and ran along the west wall before coming to a dead end at the north end of the room. A single mine car stood on the tracks, and across from the cart was a small office fashioned from two out-of-place plastic walls set into the stonework. An open door provided access to the room within a room. Of more immediate concern were the three armed miners and the figure that crouched in the mine cart. Kusanagi recognized the man from the dossier photograph – Reynald Talbot!

The miners opened fire, and the android immediately recognized his mistake. The others rushed forward to assist Kusanagi, but Talbot himself proved the biggest threat. The former Starfinder set the cart in motion and took a carefully aimed shot at the operative, wounding him deeply. Kusanagi retreated and tried to fight back, but his shot only destroyed one of Talbot’s illusory duplicates. Galakrond engaged the miners, hoping to form a bulwark so the others could deal with the primary target. Boske jumped into the moving cart, but only managed to destroy another illusion. Winslow kept insisting that no one be killed, but the opponents proved resistant to his magic and his aim hadn’t improved since the last time he’d been in a firefight. Twitch, still a little despondent about the loss of ARTE, focused on the miners rather than Talbot.

Kusanagi fell to Talbot’s second shot, and Winslow revived him moments later. The thief and Boske zoomed past the rest of the crew, and Talbot leapt out of the mine cart at the intersection, fleeing toward the mine exit. Kusanagi gave chase, and so did Boske after he managed to get off the still-moving cart. The android took cover by the mine entrance, where he saw Talbot near the crew’s rental vehicle. It was clear that the man meant to steal the buggy to make good on his escape, so Kusanagi took aim and took his last shot.

Talbot was surprised to be shot, taking cover and firing back. His laser dropped the android again, who fell to the dirt. Boske trotted up just in time to see Talbot starting the vehicle. The vesk struggled for a moment with the choice between shooting at the target or saving his companion’s life. Then, with a curse, he fed the android a healing potion as Talbot gunned the engine and sped away. Boske helped Kusanagi limp back to the others, who had finished the fight against the determined miners. One of the men had been killed in the chaos, but the other two had been incapacitated instead.

The crew called Philt to let the shirren know that Talbot had escaped and might come back through Tasch. The AbadarCorp representative sounded annoyed but thanked them for the tip. A couple of hours later, they called back to report that they had managed to capture Talbot after all. The crew asked for the charlatan’s stone, but Philt refused, saying that they were taking it for study. The shirren was unmoved by Winslow’s plea to reconsider, and advised the crew that the Starfinders could file a petition with the corporation for the item’s return at a future date.

Dejected, the crew walked back to Tasch, then caught a ride back to Maro and the spaceport where the Sunrise Maiden waited to take them back to Absalom Station. When they reported the failure, Venture-Captain Arvin was unhappy, but he did not lose his temper. Instead he accepted the report, and with a sigh offered that everyone, himself included, needed to try harder if the Starfinder Society was going to survive.

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Absalom Station – Downlow

A day after their return to the station, the crew came to the Exo-Guardians’ new headquarters, a recently renovated warehouse, where head of the faction, Zigvigix, had summoned them for another mission briefing. The augmented host shirren watched a bustling crew move office equipment from several large pallets into a large warehouse, while other workers welded scrap metal to gaps in the warehouse’s walls. The shirren occasionally directed a crew member and made a note on a datapad. Zigvigix noticed their new guests and turned to telepathically project a greeting.

Zigvigix wore a set of shoulder speakers that blasted out sugar-pop music from the band Strawberry Machine Cake. They bounced in place along to the music, smiling at Twitch in particular. “Welcome back! Isn’t this song the best? I’ve been playing it on loop for hours!” Behind the excited shirren, several grizzled-looking station workers, each carrying a side of a heavy-looking holotable, rolled their eyes.

“Thanks for coming – I hope you’ll understand if I keep this brief; we’ve got a lot of work to do to get our new headquarters up and running, and you are on a short timetable. A ysoki salvage barge named the Clutter Collector, captained by a ysoki named Winks, picked up a distress-beacon transmission in the Drift. Winks didn’t have time to check it out, but she sold the data to the Society when she reached Absalom Station. How nice of her!

“Well, it turns out that this beacon came from the Struggle’s Scholar, a kasathan ship that…” Zigvigix paused for effect as their antennae wiggled excitedly. “…escaped from Sangoro’s Bulwark! If you don’t know, the Bulwark was the old base of operations for the Exo-Guardians. Now, First Seeker Luwazi wisely grounded us from investigating the Bulwark after all contact was lost with it shortly after the Scoured Stars incident, but we can’t pass up this opportunity to learn what happened there. We might even be able to find the coordinates to our missing headquarters. Wouldn’t it be joyous to have a large fortress to play loud music in?” Twitch was the only one to agree.

Zigvigix handed over a datapad. “Here are the coordinates of the distress signal. It is unlikely any of the crew survived, or they’d be here by now. So be on the lookout for bodies. Since the crew is mostly kasathas, it would mean a lot to their extended families if you could bring back their remains or keepsakes to the Idari! Otherwise, salvage any data you can – especially the ship’s log – as it could tell us what happened to Sangoro’s Bulwark. This datapad also holds a one-time-use decrypter that will let you decode the Exo-Guardians ciphers used on the distress signal. Good luck!”

Rather than borrow a Starfinder ship for the mission, the crew opted to take the Sunrise Maiden. While they prepared the ship, the crew did some infosphere research about Sangoro’s Bulwark. A vesk named Sangoro had founded the Exo-Guardians, which was an especially unusual fact, given the long hostilities between the Veskarium and the Pact Worlds. Many Starfinders initially did not trust him, even after he had provided the Society with a huge fortress on a remote planet to operate out of. Sangoro later dedicated himself and his followers to protecting the Society from external threats, forming the Exo-Guardians faction.

The fortress Sangoro bequeathed to the Starfinder Society was the only structure on the planet. It was a massive edifice left by some forgotten race, with extensive underground tunnels and storage vaults. The Exo-Guardians kept a large stockpile of equipment within the Bulwark, letting field agents on missions in the Vast access necessary items without traveling back to Absalom Station. Because of the importance of these resources, the exact coordinates of Sangoro’s Bulwark were kept from most Starfinders, and ships traveled to the location only by using encrypted flight plans.

Shortly after the Scoured Stars incident led to the disappearance of most Starfinder Society field agents and leadership, an unknown force overwhelmed Sangoro’s Bulwark, and – until Winks’ information was acquired – there had been no survivors or distress calls. With this attack, the Society’s data archives had lost all information on the exact location of Sangoro’s Bulwark, with even nominated First Seeker Luwazi Elsebo bereft of such knowledge. Only the Society’s amalgam digital consciousness, Guidance, might know the location, but it had ignored all requests to provide the data.

Finally, some rumors from the few Starfinders who visited the Bulwark before the fall reported that the Drift and Material Plane space surrounding the area was prone to strange events. Exactly how these dangers manifested varied by each rumor, but it appeared the space surrounding the Bulwark’s home system is prone to odd interplanar abnormalities. Starships were advised to carry powerful scanners to identify potential stellar hazards and bleeding between the planes.

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The Drift

According to their calculations, it was going to take a little over three weeks days to make the journey through the Drift to the distress-signal location provided by the Clutter Collector. The Maiden departed alongside another Starfinder Society starship, a bulk freighter called the Promise of the Future. While the freighter’s captain was too busy to communicate with them, a Starfinder team onboard the Promise willingly chatted. These passengers were kalos, aquatic monstrous humanoids native to the Brethedan moon of Kalo-Mahoi. This group, calling themselves the Manta Corps, formed a tight-knit party that the Starfinder Society often senT on missions of importance in underwater locales.

Members of the Manta Corps included Deepspeaker Alluguoth, a soft-spoken kalo who appreciated wisdom and information. Mantarider Ushuul was a headstrong soldier who fought with an automatic machine gun. He liked showing off his weapon, named “Muncher,” even via grainy video transmissions. Mantarider Suulhu-Huur was an enthusiastic melee fighter who wields an energized trident. She offered to spar with the crew, should they ever meet in person. Finally, Wavetreader Vhoosh, the quietest member of the group, was most interested in hearing about the crew’s combat exploit – specifically, what impressive kills they had accrued.

The Manta Corps eagerly trade stories with the crew but refused to speak about their classified mission. The freighter kept communications open with the Maiden for as long as it could, though it split paths with them after only two days of Drift travel, slipping out of communication range.

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As the crew closed in on the location of the Struggle’s Scholar’s distress beacon, they detected a large field of roughly two dozen asteroids surrounding the source of the signal. They recognized these as chunks of obsidian likely native to the Elemental Plane of Earth and ripped here thanks to the use of a Drift engine. A closer sensor scan indicated that the interiors of these asteroids held molten stone and were quite volatile.

While they pondered this, a vesk starship, the Honorbound, approached the opposite side of the asteroid field, heading toward it at top speed. The Honorbound was ablaze on either side with three bright-red thrusters, which were reminiscent of the energy blades of a plasma doshko. Boske and Galakrond mentioned that these features were a representation of the symbol of Damoritosh, the vesk god of conquest, duty, and war. The vesk ship began to slow shortly after the crew had detected it.

The captain of the Honorbound, a jovial vesk by the name of Yuluzak, initiated communication after a few minutes of silence. He greeted the crew in Vesk, noting the old-fashioned model of their starship. Captain Yuluzak willingly provided a brief summary of his ship: a vesk salvage transport scouring the Drift for finds important to the Veskarium. He admitted that his directive was not the most glorious or honorable of missions, but the threat of the Swarm demanded the Veskarium investigate all avenues of advancement to prepare against the next invasion. Yuluzak was eager to hear the crew’s history, as well.

When the Starfinders proved reticent, Captain Yuluzak turned the subject over the right of salvaging the distress beacon. The Honorbound was mandated to find anything of potential interest to the Veskarium, especially information on Pact World and kasathan starships. Having already determined the source of the signal, Captain Yuluzak regretfully informed the crew that he could not simply allow them to proceed with their own salvaging mission. The vesk captain casually proposed that the Honorbound and the Sunrise Maiden could engage in honorable starship combat to determine who had rights over the beacon. To expedite matters, Yuluzak offered several rules of engagement by which he swore to abide.

  • The combatants would not intentionally target the life support systems of their enemy.
  • The combatants would abstain from targeting the rear arc – warriors should face the enemy head on.
  • Combat would be over once an enemy starship is crippled.
  • Each captain could surrender at any point during the duel.

The captain disregarded Galakrond’s attempt to offer an alternative to single combat, and lost some of his good cheer when the soldier called him a coward. Winslow swiftly stepped in, agreeing to the terms. Captain Yuluzak nodded tersely then signaled his intent to begin the combat.

“Get on the turrets,” Kusanagi advised his vesk companions. “I’m going to try to keep our aft facing them.” The others agreed that this was a solid tactic, and it seemed that the Honorbound was serious about not firing into the Maiden’s rear arc. The Captain got on the comm, to begrudgingly admit to the cleverness of the strategy.

The crew used their ship’s superior speed and maneuverability to take every advantage they could, keeping the volatile asteroids between themselves and the Honorbound. Still, maneuvering in space was tricky, and the vesk starship managed to get a missile launched toward the Maiden’s starboard arc. Kusanagi got the ship maneuvered so that the missile would strike the aft arc, giving the gunners the opportunity to shoot it down with the flak thrower before impact. Unfortunately, the small projectile proved difficult to hit, and the hull rocked with an explosion that eliminated the shields in the rear of the ship.

Twitch and Winslow went into damage control mode, restoring and rebalancing the shields. The crew knew they were outgunned, but they continued to execute their strategy as best they could. The strain got to Kusanagi, who made a minor miscalculation and opened the Maiden’s port side to further missile fire. After another direct hit from a missile plus a light particle beam set two more systems glitching. The ship could not take another hit without being crippled, so they opened a comm channel and offered their surrender.

Captain Yuluzak congratulated them, impressed by the fight they put up. In appreciation of the crew honoring the rules of engagement, he offered to send them a trophy. When they accepted, the Honorbound jettisoned a cargo pod containing a set of vesk overplate armor and a tactical reaction cannon. The vesk captain then indicated that his ship would investigate the beacon and that he intended on sending a follow-up signal to you if it turned out that the Struggle’s Scholar was of no use to the Veskarium. About half an hour later, the Honorbound left Drift space for the Prime Material Plane.

While Twitch and Winslow started ship repairs, the others maneuvered the ship to extract precious minerals from the nearby magma asteroids. As they were finishing up, they were surprised to receive a distress signal from the Honorbound, requesting immediate assistance with salvaging the Struggle’s Scholar. It included coordinates in the Prime Material Plane as well as the original distress beacon recording:

ATTN: This message is confidential; if you are not the intended recipient, _ABSALOM STATION>>EXO-GUARDIANS_, please delete this message immediately.

MESSAGE: This is Remahd, captain of the Struggle’s Scholar. Most of my crew and I escaped Sangoro’s Bulwark with our lives, but upon entering the Drift, we collided with some extraplanar material. Soon after, we lost a crew member, as well as control of our primary engine. We have managed to patch our Drift functionality enough to drop out of this dangerous field and into normal space at the enclosed coordinates. Please send assistance as soon as is feasible – without our engine, our power supply is diminishing rapidly. In the event you are unable to reach us in time, I have heavily encrypted vital information meant only for the current head of the Exo-Guardians and locked it in a hard drive on the ship’s bridge.

The crew exchanged concerned glances, then set the coordinates and prepared to leave the Drift to assist the vesk.

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Temple of the Twelve

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Session 6
The Fugitive

Starship – Sunrise Maiden

The ship was a Thaumtech Cairncarver, a small light freighter of Eoxian make – a model affiliated with the Corpse Fleet. Was Gevalarsk Nor trying to eliminate the crew with the officially expatriated organization, or were the rebels trying to cause trouble for Eox, the planet that had disavowed them? The answer was uncertain, but one thing was clear, it was time to find out how the Sunrise Maiden handled itself in combat.

Kusanagi assumed the pilot’s seat, with the vesk as gunners, Twitch in engineering, and Winslow as the science officer. The doctor’s initial scan of the enemy starship identified it as the Iron Rictus and he relayed its defenses and capabilities to his companions. The android proved a better pilot than the Eoxians had, and after an initial blast up the aft from a plasma torpedo, he took pains to stay out of the Rictus’ front arc. Boske couldn’t get a handle on the firing system for the first few shots, and although Galakrond had better luck, he was manning a less powerful gun. The crew of the Rictus had no trouble refreshing their shields faster than the vesk could bring them down.

Initially, Clara-247 had acted as captain, offering encouragement to the Starfinders as they engaged with the enemy ship. After a time, it became clear that her talents would better aid the crew as a second engineer, increasing the Maiden’s speed while Twitch focused on maintaining her shields. Finally, Boske managed to get a solid shot on the Eoxian ship and the crew cheered as they saw the particle beam score the Rictus’ hull. The Corpse Fleet went on the defensive, trying to use their guns’ greater range to their advantage and get the Maiden in their front firing arc, but Kusanagi continued stay on the enemy’s sides.

In the end, though the Rictus’ gunners were plenty competent, their coilguns barely managed to singe the Maiden’s hull before several of the Eoxians’ systems were glitching or malfunctioning. Kusanagi brought the ship up along the enemy’s shieldless port flank and in a classic broadside, the vesk’s final volley disabled the Corpse Fleet vessel. A few moments later, the ship exploded – the Eoxians had apparently opted to self-destruct rather than face capture and interrogation. Unsure what to make of this, the crew continued toward Absalom Station.

While they did, the space goblin Roger turned one of the vidscreens to a news channel, and his eyes widened when he saw the latest story. “Uh, guys? You might want to see this.” The others turned additional screens on and saw what the scavenger was talking about. News of their efforts on the Acreon and Drift Rock had preceded them to Absalom Station. Their images appeared on countless news outlets, featuring footage of their exploration of the derelict ship and the mysterious asteroid. A broadcast by Sooth Saiyan complained that the recording had been edited and didn’t tell the whole story, and the Starfinders noted that there were no shots of the crate Nor had requested they recover, but most other reports didn’t seem to care. The crew appeared to have become minor local celebrities – at least while the buzz lasted.

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Absalom Station – The Docks

Their newfound popularity earned them priority docking from Absalom Traffic Control and temporarily waived docking fees. Once they disembarked, a small crowd of onlookers and reporters quickly tracked them down, asking for statements, autographs, and confirmation of conspiracy theories. The crew plus two engaged with the press and their new fans briefly, but begged off providing many details until they could fulfill their role in the arbitration effort. Station security cleared a path so the Starfinders could make their way to the Eoxian embassy. They told Clara-247 and Roger to take rooms at the Moons of Sleep until they were finished speaking with the ambassador.

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Absalom Station – Eoxian Embassy

Once they were in Nor’s office, he congratulated them on the success of their mission. The ambassador apologized for airing the footage without asking, but he explained that he’d hoped the stunt would prove to be good publicity for both Eox and the Starfinders. And it appeared that his gambit had paid off. Even though he had recorded their activities on the Acreon and the Drift Rock, he still wanted to hear their report firsthand. They filled in some of the blanks, including the encounter that resulted in Clara-247 switching sides from hired assassin to ally of circumstance. After their report, Nor thanked them for delivering the crate as requested and upheld his end of the bargain, transferring 1,100 credits – 500 more than originally agreed upon – into each of their accounts as payment for the task.

The ambassador also offered to help piece together any of the clues unearthed on the Drift Rock that the crew hadn’t been able to interpret. He did not recognize the alien language, but he was able to decipher the complex alien computer code found in the Drift Rock’s ancient control room. The equipment in the control room seemed designed to operate minor subsystems of some larger structure or device, though the control room was obviously no longer connected to that structure. The exact nature of the missing structure remained a mystery, though references to systems such as “Backup Power Transmission,” “Maneuvering Thrusters,” and “Auxiliary Fire Control” hinted that it may have been some sort of space-based weapon system. In addition, the data revealed that these systems and the control room itself were incredibly ancient – possibly even millions of years old.

In fact, it appeared that the Drift Rock was not just an asteroid that was repurposed as a control center, but that it was a part of the larger structure that was designed and artificially constructed at the same time as the machinery and controls there. And if all that was true, then the Drift Rock represented a find of major significance, for not only is it a piece of heretofore-unknown technology of exceedingly advanced age, but the larger structure it was once a part of may still be somewhere among the stars, just waiting to be discovered!

Finally, Nor asked the crew their opinion about which organization should be granted ownership of the Drift Rock – the Hardscrabble Collective or Astral Extractions. The crew had discussed this on the trip back from the Acreon. Galakrond and Twitch had abstained, but Winslow had been adamant that the Hardscrabble Collective deserved the Drift Rock, and Boske had agreed with the shirren. Kusanagi had debated back and forth, but eventually came to the same conclusion, in no small part because Astral Extractions had already ordered one Starfinder killed, and he didn’t feel right rewarding that behavior. The android told the ambassador the crew’s decision. He thanked them for their efforts, and they parted amicably.

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Absalom Station – Lorespire Complex

The crew reported in to Chiskisk back at the Starfinder headquarters, and told them most of what they had learned out in space and from the ambassador. They left out any mention of the crate that Nor had asked them to bring back, feeling that discretion was better … for the time being. The nature of the device puzzled Chiskisk, but the Society was still shorthanded and in need of the crew’s services on other tasks. The shirren host said they would submit the footage along with the crew’s report to the Dataphiles, who had access to the Society’s detailed databases, and could search for any prior appearances of the language on the Drift Rock’s displays. At Kusanagi’s recommendation, Chiskisk agreed to reach out to the Hardscrabble Collective to facilitate additional information gathering from the Drift Rock itself.

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Absalom Station – Moons of Sleep

The crew were a little surprised to find Clara-247 and Roger waiting in the bar. The android woman reminded them that they had taken most of her stuff and her petty cash, so she hadn’t had a lot of other options. Roger glumly reminded them that he’d lost all of his companions on the Acreon and didn’t have much idea of what to do next. The crew suggested approaching the Starfinder Society, since the Acquisitives were still on a recruitment kick. The goblin exchanged a glance with Clara-247, and they mumbled noncommittal answers. A bit of gear was exchanged, and the crew wished the pair well.

Galakrond found the noqual recovered from the akata cocoons aboard the Acreon in the warehouse that Nor had indicated. Pleased, he started the effort of selling off all of the loot the crew had taken that they weren’t going to keep. The crew took some leisure time, spending a portion of the thousands of credits their first Starfinder mission had earned them.

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Absalom Station – Lorespire Complex

A few days later, they received a message from Venture-Captain Arvin, summoning them for a briefing. They made your way to his office, and the doors slid open with soft pneumatic hiss. Inside was the well-lit and blue-carpeted office with which they were already familiar. Arvin sat behind his desk, eyes riveted on a glassy display. After a heartbeat, he glanced toward the open door and motioned everyone to enter.

“Apologies, please come in. Be seated if you like, although this shouldn’t take long.” Arvin tapped a button on a console and murmured to a digital assistant, “Croyd, put everything on hold for a few minutes. If anyone calls, please explain I’m in mission briefing and I’ll get right back to them.” He then darkened the display to give the crew his full attention.

“Right. I have an assignment for you. This one is a little a different than others you might have received.” He paused before he explained, “It’s an internal matter. You’re probably aware that after the Scoured Stars incident many of our colleagues elected to leave the Society. That is unfortunate, but not surprising. We hate to lose good field agents, but no one is conscripted into our ranks. Normally we wish them well and that’s that. In this case, the defector, former field agent Reynald Talbot, stole an artifact from the Lorespire Complex before departing. Theft is where the Society draws the line; I need you to get that artifact back.

“Unfortunately, Talbot left weeks ago and we only discovered the theft in the last 24 hours. We launched an immediate investigation to determine the identity of the thief and their last known whereabouts. It’s our bad luck that Talbot was smart enough to get off the station and head to Akiton, where there’s no central government or law enforcement to easily call upon. I need you to track him down and recover the artifact. We know Talbot caught a shuttle to the Akitonian city of Maro, so that’s a great place to start. The Society will, of course, cover your travel expenses. Any questions?”

“What is the artifact?” Twitch asked.

“Good question, but the answer is complicated because it’s actually two questions: what the artifact is and what Talbot thinks it is. We’re operating under the assumption that Talbot thinks he’s stolen an object from old Golarion called a philosopher’s stone. Legend has it that the stone could transmute matter, among other properties. What Talbot actually stole was recently re-cataloged as a charlatan’s stone. It does something similar, except the effect is a potent illusion and only temporary. We think ancient con artists used to make false gold.”

“Did he act alone?” asked Kusanagi.

“We think so. He’s smart, capable, a bit brash, and a reasonable field agent. Talbot is also self-entitled and ambitious. After the Scoured Stars incident, he expected to be promoted to venture-captain, but the Forum felt he needed more time. He got angry. We think this theft is retaliation.”

“What should we do with him?” asked Galakrond.

After a meaningful pause Arvin said, “I want the stone back. Talbot’s not worth the expense of dragging back here, so you can do whatever you think is necessary with him. That said, you don’t have a license to go on a mass killing spree. Don’t make the Society look bad. It might be tough to do on Akiton, but don’t take that as a challenge.

“As for why we’re bothering to go after the stone, we need to make a statement. Rumors of the theft are already circulating through the Society, and it’s important to send a message that we’re not going to tolerate that type of betrayal. Also, if we don’t react, we convey that our work is not very important because it’s not worth defending. That said, the charlatan’s stone is not worth dying over, so be careful.”

There were no other questions, so Arvin offered one final piece of advice. “Akiton has a thin atmosphere, and we don’t have the luxury of giving you weeks to get used to it. It would be smart to make sure you some way of coping with it, or some armor. Any armor, even the lighter sets, offsets the difference.” With that, the Venture-Captain dismissed the crew.

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Starship – Sunrise Maiden

While the crew prepared to leave, they did some research on Akiton. The Pact World was smaller than the Golarion standard with one-third gravity and a thin atmosphere, as Arvin had mentioned. This meant that non-acclimated beings, like the crew, could jump about three times as high and carry three times the normal weight. Likewise, without environmental protection, they would run the risk of becoming fatigued by the oxygen-light atmosphere. You also learned that Akiton had suffered an economic crash when the revelation of Drift technology rendered the numerous pre-Drift fuels mined on the planet virtually worthless.

Akiton was generally lawless, except for whatever laws a local authority might impose. Akiton survived on trade and commerce, and strangers tended to find loyalty hard to come by, especially in the big cities. Newcomers were consequently likely to be observed and watched, especially if an organization believed it could take advantage of the strangers. If Talbot acted or did anything at all out of the ordinary, someone was likely to have noticed. To avoid being found, it was unlikely he had stayed in Maro for more than a few days.

Finally, they gleaned that wealth was hard to come by on Akiton. If Talbot had fled to the red planet, he had done so for a reason. It was likely the ex-Starfinder had a plan, and that plan involved gaining a large number of credits. Given Akiton’s unstable economy, such a surge should be identifiable for those who “follow the money.”

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Akiton

A few days later, the Sunrise Maiden entered the orbit of their destination. Outside the observation window floated Akiton, a world the color of blood, rust, and red clay. A thick shell of white capped both poles, and the starship descended toward the planet. A barely perceptible shift in gravity occurred as the Maiden’s artificial gravity began to lessen and the planet’s natural gravity began to take hold.

From suborbital heights, a handful of small towns, large complexes, and industrial sites that spewed noxious fumes into the thin atmosphere surrounded the trench city of Maro. A spidery web of dirt roads scratched into the rust-colored ground by regular traffic connected these sites to the metropolis.

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Akiton – Maro

Maro, the so-called City of Lights, came into view as the ship began its final descent. The city occupied more of a vertical space than horizontal, built into a six-mile-long section of trench that was half as deep and a half mile wide. Entire neighborhoods and business districts were built into the walls, accessed by patio entrances. Lights, neon signs, and holographic advertising bejeweled either side of this urban canyon, while an active spaceport and industrial zones occupied the ground level. As they landed, they did so beneath the backdrop of an immense mural of brightly glowing neon-green graffiti that read in Common: “Git Out! Planet’s Broke!”

Their goal in the city was to determine where Talbot had hid out after his arrival on Akiton. Twitch had Kusanagi help him try to find the money trail. Given Talbot’s time of arrival and the specific shuttle he’d flown in on, they had a solid starting point. They didn’t find any particular trail leading to the ex-Starfinder, but they did discover a strange anomaly. AbadarCorp, the largest corporation in the Pact Worlds, had recently purchased a large amount of Drift engine fuel from the nearby small mining town of Tasch. While the discovery of Drift engine fuel on Akiton was impressive, the fact that the AbadarCorp fleet that had purchased the fuel was two days overdue for departure suggested something was likely amiss with the delivery.

Meanwhile, Boske – a professional bounty hunter before he’d become a Starfinder – sought out his usual sources of information while trying to track the fugitive. He spent a few hours plying his trade and was able to discover that Talbot had departed Maro for Tasch, which was only a few miles outside of the city. The crew theorized that Talbot had used the stolen charlatan’s stone to (temporarily) convert thasteron into “Drift engine fuel” and made the sale to AbadarCorp. But it appeared that the fuel may have already reverted back and the corporation was aware.

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Akiton – Tasch

The crew rented an elongated dune buggy on the Starfinder’s credit to transport them from Maro into the red dunes of Akiton’s surface, a journey of only two hours. A long dusty road, lined with single-story dwellings, ran through the town of Tasch, and several powered vehicles rested chained to their owner’s homes. A small general store stood near the center of town, illuminated by flickering white lights. Another building, full of locals, hosted a signpost that reads “Digger’s Dive” – clearly the town bar. Although the sun beat down on the desert town, its citizens meandered around the bar in good cheer. Most were ysoki or humans, with the occasional lumbering four-armed shobhad mingling among them.

Their first course of business was finding where Reynald Talbot was. The inhabitants walking the streets were too busy for idle chatter, but they suggested that the crew take some time to stop by Digger’s Dive if they were just passing through the town. Mentioning Talbot provoked a cheer from the townsfolk – clearly, this was not a great place to talk badly of him. Uncertain about the unexpected development, the crew made their way to the bar.

Digger’s Dive was a single-story structure built using imported wood. There were no windows, but there were small rectangular openings in the exterior walls at ceiling height to allow for ventilation. The front entrance was a swinging waist-high wooden half-door. Faint electric lights dangled from the fifteen-foot-high ceiling, while the open sky was visible from cracks between the planks that served as a roof. The floor is solid wood, and the interior walls and ceiling supports were mud brick, the latter being carved in a rare attempt at ornamentation.

The tavern was divided in two halves by an energy field with an opening on the northern end. The bar lining the southern wall was open to either side, with a wall of half-empty bottles behind it. The tables were wooden and makeshift, but solid. The east end had a square wooden platform about a foot above the floor. A door sat ajar on the southern wall on the west end of the common room, and a single closed door provided an exit behind the west end of the bar.

Several miners and their families occupied the bar, where a sharp-tongued ysoki woman named Podswald slung drinks. Her mixing – at best – consisted of combining only two liquids and nothing more. Twitch climbed on top of ARTE to see over the bar and ordered a drink. Before he could reach for his credsticks, a local offered to pick up the tab, thanking Reynald Talbot for the extra credits. The rest of the bar cheered enthusiastically. Twitch exchanged a glance with his companions, then casually asked the barkeep about Talbot.

Podswald readily talked about Reynald Talbot, the town’s savior, and his miraculous means to transmute thasteron into a more marketable fuel. The miners had started excavating thasteron again for Talbot to transmute, which had already resulted in a lucrative sale to AbadarCorp. The sale benefited not only Talbot, but the entire town. Most of Tasch’s citizens had belonged to jobless families thanks to the thasteron bust, but now had some hope for the future. Consequently, many of Tasch’s citizens were out celebrating. The miners seemed to be unaware that anything could be wrong with Talbot’s “transmutation process.” Fortunately, they were all too happy to let the crew know that Talbot was likely in the nearby thasteron mine outside of town.

Boske ordered eight shots of scotch and dropped a small piece of bread in each. When the barkeep asked if he was going to pass them around, the vesk grinned and proceeded to knock all eight back himself. A minute later, he began to sway in his seat before falling to the floor of Digger’s Dive. A sympathetic cry came from most of the patrons, and Winslow grumbled to himself as he started tending to his drunk companion.

Shaking his head at the commotion, Twitch asked if any representatives of AbadarCorp were still in town. Podswald nodded and gestured to a long table in the southwest corner of the common room. There sat a shirren and a pair of hulking vesk that seemed to be bodyguards. All three wore dark armor trimmed in silver. The crew were a little surprised that they had not noticed the trio before then. We should talk, the shirren telepathically projected to Twitch. The ysoki nodded and made his way over, accompanied by Galakrond and Kusanagi.

Greetings. I am Philt. I assume you’re familiar with AbadarCorp, the shirren said in their minds.

They, of course, were. AbadarCorp was hands down the largest, wealthiest, and most influential corporation in the Pact Worlds – in no small part because it was also the church of Abadar, god of civilization, commerce, and wealth. In addition to the manufacture, transport, and sale of a wide variety of goods both magical and technological, AbadarCorp also provided a multitude of other services, including banking, financial, labor, legal, shipping, and utility services. Most of the crew’s financial accounts were held by AbadarCorp.

When they nodded, Philt continued, his mental tone casual. Anyway, I represent the corporation. My fellow agents and I overheard you talking about Reynald Talbot, and AbadarCorp wants to know your interest in the man.

Twitch held up his palm and activated the Starfinder Society subdermal graft. Talbot stole something from our organization. We are here to recover it, he responded.

I see. Then it seems he has wronged us both. Talbot approached corporate buyers in Maro with a new, alternative fuel for Drift engines. The fuel was purchased for analysis, and if it had checked out, it would have been evaluated as a new commodity on the galactic markets. To our chagrin, the fuel reverted to common thasteron not long after the AbadarCorp ships made to depart Akiton’s orbit. The fuel was purchased on good faith and AbadarCorp does not tolerate outright fraud. We’re here to collect him for proper punishment.

Our goals appear to align, projected Kusanagi. Perhaps we can retrieve our stolen property and remand Talbot into your custody … somewhere outside of Tasch.

An interesting proposal, Philt mused. We would prefer Talbot alive, if possible

That is our preference, as well, Winslow projected from where he was tending to Boske. We will bring him back to face justice.

Philt inclined his head. Very well. We will leave things in your hands.

Having learned Talbot’s location in the nearby thasteron mine and having peaceably dealt with AbadarCorp’s delegation, the crew exchanged satisfied looks, preparing to set out. Which, of course, was when the universe threw them another curveball.

A deep booming female voice echoed from outside the front of the bar. “Intruders! We know you’ve come to Tasch in search of our savior. I give you this one chance. Lay down your weapons and leave our town. You will not disrupt the salvation of Akiton, not when Reynald Talbot has come so close to saving our world! You have one minute to decide.”

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Temple of the Twelve

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Session 5
Drift Phantoms

Drift Rock

The bullet grazed Boske’s arm. The crew looked toward the ceiling where they saw five heads looking around the side of a stalactite. They poured into the room and opened fire, taking out most of the holographic clones before hitting the actual attacker. She got one more shot in before falling unconscious, escaping death by virtue of Winslow’s non-lethal mind thrust. Kusanagi, who had continued walking along the ceiling collected the assailant – an android female, by the look of her. Galakrond put her in restraints before collecting her weapons and other gear. Twitch reminded the vesk to leave the armor so they could communicate with their captive in the vacuum of the Drift Rock.

After some discussion, the group decided to question the android later, leaving her bound and connected to a cable, floating in space. Galakrond took her to the tunnel exit and noticed something unsettling: the Hippocampus was gone. More than a little concerned, he quickly returned to the others to let them know. A brief argument erupted, and the space goblin Roger was accused of hiding other members of his crew. He insisted that there had only been the three, and he was the only one alive. Kusanagi suggested they call Ambassador Nor to report this development.

Nor told the crew that station authorities only agreed to loan the shuttle to take them to the Acreon, not bring them back. Concerned that they might discover something dangerous on the ship or the asteroid that could threaten the entire station if they brought it there – the same reason they quarantined the Acreon in the first place – the authorities decided to wait and see what, if anything, the crew found first. If there were no problems, they could always send the shuttle back to pick them up. Until they completed their investigation, they were stuck on the Drift Rock. The ambassador apologized for having failed to mention this condition, but he assured them that his people would ensure that none of the items the crew had stored on the ship would be disturbed.

The crew decided to go ahead and interrogate their prisoner. The recording drone continued to follow its apparent programming to stay with the majority of the investigators, so Kusanagi and Galakrond woke the android woman up. She introduced herself as Clara-247 and admitted that she had been hired to kill whoever came snooping around the Acreon, but she didn’t know who her employer was, since they had used shell companies to hire her the previous day. She also said she didn’t know anything else about the derelict ship or Drift Rock other than the rumors circulating Absalom Station.

Clara-247 claimed that she wished the crew no further ill will; she’d had two chances to take them out and failed both times, so she was willing to let bygones be bygones if they were. After all, she would need a ride back to the station with her ship destroyed, to which Galakrond muttered under his breath about needing a ride themselves. She even offered to help them explore the rest of the Drift Rock, but they declined, deciding to leave her floating in space, bound to a tether.

The crew regrouped and returned to the cavern where they’d encountered the void zombie. Sticking with their original plan of exploring the “natural” tunnels first, they headed south around a dogleg and into another cavern. One other tunnel exited to the northwest, and an incongruous door, more akin to what one would expect to find on a space station, stood in the south wall. Of more immediate concern, however, were two more void zombies – former crew members of the Acreon. The undead had apparently not noticed the crew’s approach, since they ran dark – relying on natural or technological darkvision – and silent by virtue of the vacuum. Despite the advantage of surprise, Boske had his blood drained by feeding tendril a couple of times before the crew managed to drop the creatures.

After collecting a pair of guns floating in the chamber and a credstick still in a pocket, the crew took the last natural tunnel. At the end of it, they found a chamber similar to the other excavated caverns within the Drift Rock, with corridors to the north and west that were finished and paneled. A ghostly astronaut wearing an old-fashioned space suit with a cracked helmet turned toward them with malicious intent. “Driftdead,” said Winslow. “Undead, incorporeal outside of the Drift. Bullets are useless unless they’re magic.” Boske stabbed Galakrond in the back of his armor. “Oh,” added the shirren, “and a confusion aura.” He dazed the addled vesk to prevent him from trying to hurt anyone else.

The driftdead extended a hand toward Kusanagi on the ceiling, and reality tore open near him. The android narrowly evaded whatever the creature had intended, and a game of cat and mouse began. The extraplanar undead latched onto Twitch, chasing the ysoki around the cavern and through the tunnels, floating through the floor and the walls to get to him. It took over a minute, some mystical healing, and a lot more ammunition than they liked, but the crew finally managed to bring the driftdead down.

The northern passage ended after about fifty feet, where the ceiling has collapsed in a wall of fallen rock. The short western corridor connected back to the chamber where the crew had encountered the first void zombie. They sent ARTE down the northern corridor from there, and the little drone reported back that it was a perfectly hallway for about a hundred feet until it ended at a hole facing the void of space. There only path forward was through the strange door to the south.

It opened into a five-foot-wide hallway that came to a T-intersection after about twenty feet. To the east, ARTE reported a chamber whose various lights and controls on the machinery provided dim light. The chamber seemed torn between two worlds – its southeastern half was an unfinished rock wall, while the northeastern portion of the room was finished with the same ceramic-metallic plating found elsewhere. To the west, the stealth drone found a ten-foot-wide hall in stark contrast to the caverns elsewhere inside the Drift Rock.

The chamber looked more like a room on a space station or starship. Rather than the unfinished rock of the asteroid, the walls, floor, and ceiling were all clad with finished sheets of the polished, metallic substance, along with components of unrecognizable equipment. Panels on some of the walls flashed with lights and mysterious symbols, and an almost infrasonic hum of unseen machinery pulsed through the walls. A damaged security robot patrolled this corridor, and the crew moved to engage the sentinel. It did not last long.

While Boske and Roger discussed how many credits they could get selling the disabled robot as a curiosity to some scholar or collector, and Kusanagi, Twitch, and Winslow puzzled over the machinery and strange alien symbols – coming to no concrete solutions – Galakrond found a concealed hatch on the lower portion of a wall panel in the northwest corner of the chamber. It was barricaded from the inside, but this proved to be a minor inconvenience. It was obvious that the small chamber was once a storage area for spare parts and small maintenance and repair robots, but the crew found it empty save for a dead body and its possessions.

They recognized the dead woman here as belonging to the driftdead. Winslow noted that numerous wounds were visible, but the cause of death appeared obvious: a self-inflicted wound to the head. The body still wore an estex suit with a force field upgrade, though the battery was depleted. It also had a pair of spell amps of lesser restoration in a pocket, which Winslow used to restore both vesks’ strength. The doctor also picked up an empty static arc pistol on the floor next to the woman’s outstretched hand. Twitch found a datapad and popped in a new battery to access the device. It contained the owner’s final message.

In a recording, the woman identified herself as Moriko Nash, the captain of the independent starship Sunrise Maiden, and briefly related her discovery of a strange asteroid in the Drift. She landed her ship in a cavern on the asteroid and began exploring other chambers inside it, but she was attacked by a terrifying monster that seemed to consume life energy and could walk through walls. Wounded and unable to escape the monster, Moriko managed to modify her armor’s force field to extend in a bubble around her, as the monster seemed unable to pass through the force field. Nevertheless, she realized her force field would eventually run out of power, and the monster would finally be able to reach her. She ended the recording with the following.

“I think I’ve come to terms with it. I won’t survive, but at least I’ve explored strange worlds and seen wonders I would never have dreamed of as a child. I guess everything comes to an end eventually. I’ve always been the master of my own fate, and I’m not going to change now.” Captain Nash held up a pistol. “When my force field goes down, I’ll fight. But I’m saving my last charge for myself. My life, my death.

“This is my last will and testament. To whoever finds this recording, I leave the Sunrise Maiden to you. It’s a good ship, and no matter where I’ve gone, it’s always brought me home… until now. If you treat it right, it’ll do the same for you. Leave my body where you found it – we came from the stars, and to the stars I’ll return – but the Maiden deserves to keep flying.” Nash took a deep breath and ended the recording.

Kusanagi recognized the Sunrise Maidenas the name of a starship that had been reported lost in the Drift in 242 AG. The ship and its crew had never been found, but perhaps the crew could find their own way off the Drift Rock after all. Galakrond respectfully returned Nash’s body to the sealed bolthole that she had chosen for her tomb, and the crew headed back down the hall to the west.

Twitch’s first attempt to access the control panel ended in a severe electric shock, but after Winslow spotted and disabled the short-circuiting components, the mechanic was able to gain access to what was left of the system. Understanding the alien programming proved to be an obstacle beyond any of them, however. Wounded and tired from their exertions aboard the Acreon and the Drift Rock so far, the crew decided to return to the derelict ship and rest a while before risking an encounter with the creature that had inspired Nash’s end.

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The Acreon

Clara-247 talked the crew into letting her help, to earn her passage back to Absalom Station. They gave her pistol back and Kusanagi’s second skin¬, since he had taken hers. To her credit, she didn’t complain. The crew settled into their usual downtime routines for a few hours. Winslow drew strength from his connection to the life force of all things. Twitch made modifications to ARTE. Boske and Kusanagi ran wind sprints down the halls of the ship. Galakrond altered his armor and conscripted both Roger and Clara-247 to help him test it out. Eventually, the crew and their conscripts settled down to rest.

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The Drift Rock

The door exiting the ancient control room opened into a corridor that terminated in double doors to the east. The crew took a collective breath before pushing these open. With its vaulted sixty foot ceiling and smoothed stone floor, the sprawling cavern beyond had the appearance of a primitive shuttle hangar or landing bay – an impression reinforced by the presence of a starship taking up the majority of the space. Only the western wall was finished with the ceramic-metallic plating found elsewhere in the complex; the remainder of the cavern was hemmed by natural rock walls. Huge doors stood in the eastern wall of the chamber – doors easily big enough to accommodate the starship parked in front of them. Of more immediate interest, however, were the two human bodies splayed on the floor just inside the western doors, their internal organs spread artfully on the floor around the corpses – the last two crew members of the Acreon.

“It’s vulnerable to electricity!” said Winslow to the confusion of all. “The garaggakal!” the doctor elaborated then lifted his arc pistol and shot at something lurking under the ship. Ah! More snacks! came a voice in everyone’s head just before a winged horror emerged and rushed the crew!

Things moved very quickly after that. After taking a few shots from the crew, the garaggakal retreated into the air, leeching Winslow’s life as it went, which appeared to revitalize it. The shirren held out his arc pistol to Kusanagi, who was a much better shot, and the android advanced into the hangar. His first shot was well-placed, and the doctor’s assessment of the outsider’s weakness proved accurate – the electric shot caused it to spasm in pain. It flew around the side of the starship, absorbing Kusanagi’s life force as it fled, but that didn’t save the alien for long. Superior numbers won out, and the garaggakal fell lifeless to the hangar floor a few seconds later. It was finished.

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The Sunrise Maiden

The Maiden was a Sanjaval Vagabond, a common if somewhat outdated model of starship known for its toughness and dependability. And according to Moriko Nash’s recorded statement, she now belonged to the crew. They loaded the security robot and several unusual art objects that Boske had found in the hangar-cavern into the cargo hold, where they found additional trade goods worth another couple thousand credits. They settled into what had become their usual roles on the ship with Clara-247 and Roger as passengers. Then, they opened the hangar doors, fired up the ship’s power core, warmed up the thrusters, and took flight, bound for Absalom Station.

Unfortunately, another ship was lying in wait, ready to attack as soon as they were clear of the asteroid!

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Incident at Absalom Station

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