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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.