|Saga of the Shutakis Tear
The incredible tale actually began 10 years earlier, when the Known Worlds were rocked by the terrible Emperor War.
During this dreadful conflict, major Jonathan Cavius of House Hawkwood´s fleet, pursued a Decados scout ship into De Moley space. During the final showdown, a badly damaged Vau ship suddenly exited the system's jumpgate, transmitting a terran SOS and several other different distress codes.
Major Cavius immediately blew off the chase and went to investigate the crippled vau ship. He docked with the vau ship and was allowed onboard. The few vau survivors were trapped in an escape pod that had failed to jettison. Among the survivors was a vau mandarin.
The vau only needed minor assistance from the humans in getting to the bridge to conduct repairs. The vau seemed very scared though and carefully sealed the lower compartments of the ship.
To repay Cavius the vau mandarin gave him a seal of gratitude, which he could exchange for favours on any vau world.
When hearing of this encounter, House Hawkwood immediately sent emissaries to the Vau, asking for help in the Emperor Wars. An allied al-Malik ship called the Ahrbahtra carried the emissaries to Vril-Ya. Among them were Major Cavius, Sir Mahtab al-Malik (An ally and the owner of the ship.), charioteer Talay He-Chun and the Ur-Obun advisor Salah-eh-Din Ven Lahjal.
The Vau agreed to help a Hawkwood fleet pass through Vau space so that they could attack the Decados world Cadiz. But the Vau also wanted to show major Cavius a greater gratitude and secretly gave them a jumpkey with the coordinates to a lost world and clues to a Philosophers Stone hidden there. Strangely, the jumpkey was disguised as a filled jumpcross in two halves, so that it would avoid attention.
The Vau also improved Mahtab´s starship and renamed it Rog´itloi (”The first to arrive.”)
The Rog´itloi and her crew visited the lost world of Beacon and found the Philosophers Stone known as the Shutaki's Tear, worshipped by the primitive human culture that had survived there. Unwilling to grant the foreign angels access to the holy artefact, the Known Worlders had to sneak in and access it in secret. However, while the great anunnaki artefact had an immense power it also proved to be uncontrollable. When touching it they received visions that greatly changed their lives.
They eventually returned to the Known Worlds, keeping their discovery a secret. Talay kept one half of the jumpkey and major Cavius the other.
The wise Salah saw the dangers in the untamed Philosophers Stone and started to search for Second Republic information about it and ways to control it better. His journeys took him to Byzantium Secundus and to Pentateuch. He found clues to the long lost Lens of Saint Nathaniel, which they needed to tame the Philosophers Stone. Since the Lens could be found in Decados space he shared the information with Mahtab in hope that he would come across it during his raids. Salah also found clues to another anunnaki artefact called the S'srota, which according to Second Republic scriptures was the identical twin of the artefact on the lost world. Salah understood that these items had been separated long ago but were meant to be together. During his travels and searching Salah attracted the attention of the Inquisition, House Decados (who had been wondering about the deal Cavius seemed to have struck with the vau.) and the Sons of Mortos the Devourer, who were feared antinomists. The Inquisition soon discovered Salah's unlawful delving into forbidden and heretical tomes and sentenced him to death. He died on Pentateuch leaving only a secret letter to his wife and children.
Talay the charioteer soon went mad after the contact with the Philosophers Stone and started to talk of blasphemous things. He was hidden from the eyes of the Inquisition by his relatives in an asylum on Bannockburn. His half of the jumpkey was years later stolen by a scraver and sold to the unscrupulous lord Owen Hawkwood of Leminkainen. The scraver also told the Hawkwood lord who the owner to the second half of the jumpkey was.
Major Cavius, who had now seen the Light of the Pancreator, deserted from the Hawkwood fleet and became a village priest in the uncivilized outskirts of Cadavus. He and his half of the jumpkey literally disappeared on this backwater world.
Mahtab al-Malik continued to fight the hated Decados. His ship soon became a legend among his people and a name of fear among the Decados for it's speed and unexpected attacks. Among his spoils of war was the Lens of Saint Nathaniel, which he knew Salah was looking for. He gave the Lens to Salah on Pentateuch.
However, the church finally learned of the ships rumoured vau modifications and declared it unclean. To get the ship out of the reach of the Inquisition, Mahtab hid it on the moon of Sheloiinnahi, orbiting Rahimat´s Eye, the fifth planet in the Shaprut system.
Mahtab then returned to his duties on Istahkr but soon felt the calling of his ancestors. He left his life behind and entered the Afid desert in search of the Third Mountain as an ascetic hermit.
But as the wheels of time turned, the calling of the Shutaki's Tear would once again unite the jumpkey halves and open the night road to Beacon. Many now searched for the jumpkey, the lost world and the Philosophers Stone (Owen Hawkwood, Natasha Decados, the Sons of Mortos).
The old saying;”beware of a Vau bearing gifts” had seemed to come true.
Sir Charall Hawkwood was the younger brother of Owen Hawkwood and his partner in the quest for the second half of the jumpkey. According to the mad charioteer Talay, the owner of the other jumpkey half was a major in the Hawkwood navy called Jonathan Cavius. This major had however deserted during the war and had never been seen since.
During their investigations a quarrel ensued between the Hawkwood brothers and Charall's over-ambitious brother betrayed him, leaving him stranded on Gwynneth.
While seeking a way home, fate or the intervention of the empyrean led him to Natasha Decados. She gave him the quest to find an outlaw priest by the name of father Jonathan Cavius and bring his holy jumpcross to her. Natasha told Charall how the humble father Cavius had served as a priest on the backwater world of Cadavus. However, his poor flock of simple farmers had been taken as slaves by the Chainers and sold to the Imperial Fleet as cannon-fodder. The fleet had in turn deployed them deep within the feared symbiot territories on Absolution. Miraculously, some of the simple villagers had proven resilient and together with father Cavius, had managed to flee Absolution and break the quarantine in the Stigmata system. Feared to be symbiot infiltrators they were now hunted by the imperial fleet, the Al-Malik fleet and various bounty hunters.
Natasha did not care about the outlawed priest, but simply wanted the jumpcross. She promised Charall a handsome reward and provided him with means to leave the system in the form of a ship and a retinue of followers who could help him.
the Brother Battle monk Joseph Sanguinus,
the daredevil Chief Charioteer Jason Sanders,
the Escatonic Order priest from Velisamil brother Simon Ven Lahjal,
the a reckless ex- space marine Reuben McBride,
and the strange Carnivaler Guildsman Jeron.
Together these heroes suffered many adventures, as the quest took them to many dangerous planets and gave them many enemies among the houses, churches and guilds.
The heroes investigated the last clues left behind by the escaped slaves on Criticorum. Hidden among the underbelly of the great city Acheron, they found Thomas Deluga, another escaped slave from Malignatius, who had also fled from Absolution. After having tried various exorcisms, the heroes deemed this ex-symbiot scum to be clean and persuaded him to join their search. For the firebirds offered, Thomas was more than willing to hunt his former brothers in slavery.
The heroes finally intercepted the renegade slaves in the Aylon system. Now fully transformed into symbiots, the former slaves had commandeered a lumbering Prospector mining ship and eluded all Imperial and al-Malik patrols. After some combat, the cross was retrieved from the symbiot monsters. The last poor villager who was fighting the symbiot infection told them that this had been given to him by the dying father Jonathan Cavius, who had been their protector. The jumpcross was some sort of clue to a great secret. He also warned them about the treasonous Natasha Decados, who had already betrayed the runaway slaves once.
Upon hearing who father Cavius had really been, Simon Ven Lahjal realised that this had been his dead and disgraced father's companion to the lost world. Not trusting Natasha Decados, he and Charall decided to find the lost world themselves and set out to find more clues.
In order to find all clues, the heroes had to speak to Mahtab al-Malik, who was now the only sane survivor of the expedition to the lost world. However, when confronting his relatives of Istakhr, the heroes found that Mahtab had disappeared into the desert to live as a hermit – seeking the Third Mountain of enlightenment. While visiting the Al-Malik courts on Istakhr, brother Simon received a strange vision while meditating and knew that his search for his father's legacy was rightful. The heroes also bumped into Owen Hawkwood and a race began to find Mahtab in the endless desert.
A wise hermit and seer of the desert called Muhrhazar the Dreamer turned out to be Mahtab. Never talking about himself as Mahtab, Murhazar revealed that the treasure they sought was very dangerous and that they needed the Lens of Saint Nathaniel held by Salah Eh-Din Ven Lahjal on Pentateuch as well as Mahtab's legendary ship Rog'itloi and its starcharts to navigate the unknown system. Murhazar also gave ominous predictions about their future. Lastly Murhazar revealed that the jumpcross they possessed was in fact one half of the jumpkey they sought.
Shaprut & Pentateuch
Leaving Mahtab behind to live out his days in the desert, the heroes located the vau-altered ship Rog'itloi on a remote moon in the Shaprut system.
With the help of a Li-Halan manja cultist on Pentateuch, they also managed to locate the few clues Simon Ven Lahjal's father had left behind in the form of a letter describing his last days, a vau crystal disc and the Lens of Saint Nathaniel.
While talking to the dead Li-Halan ancestors, the heroes were also given predictions about their fate. Traitors were in their midst and their very souls were in danger.
When infiltrating the Sons of Mortos the Devourer, who had information about his dead father, Simon barely escaped their soul snares. However, the antinomist ritual he infiltrated tainted his soul forever.
On the magic world of Pentateuch, Simon also heard the last words of his father in the magic Sirocco Wind, warning him about the darkness now growing in his heart and to beware of vau bearing gifts.
In the haunted Saint Horace library of flooded Byzantium Secundus the heroes located one of the heretical tomes that Salah had sought – Eleonora Baxter's Atlas to Beacon. It held vital information about the lost world of Beacon and its star system.
Following the clues of Simon's father, Simon's strange Vision on Istakhr, the heroes journeyed to Madoc, an ocean world controlled by the mighty Merchant League. It was here chief Charioteers Jason Saunders made the huge mistake of suggesting the heroes buy large amounts of whale oil and sell this on Madoc. This resulted in the total bankruptcy of the heroes.
In the deep oceans of Madoc they made contact with the strange aquatic Oro'ym aliens, whom were under siege from Scravers looting their ancient cities. Zorin Blackwood, a renegade member from the Supreme Order of Engineers joined their ranks during the chaos in the underwater city.
A dying Oro'ym priest of an ancient anunnaki temple recognised Joseph Sanguinus as the new guardian of the powerful S'srota artefact and gave this to him.
Now, equipped with the enigmatic ship, the Lens of Saint Nathaniel, one half of the jumpkey and the twin artefact of the Philosophers Stone on Beacon, only one thing remained: - Owen Hawkwood's half of the jumpkey.
Leminkainen & Criticorum
Reaching the brother's homeworld of Leminkainen, the heroes heard the news that Owen Hawkwood's ship had suffered a tragic accident in Decados space and had crashed in the Severan jungles without any survivors. Knowing that Owen had been looking for Jonathan Cavius, the heroes did not believe this to be true. Also, clues found on Criticorum indicated that a Nuriev Decados, husband of Natasha Decados, had lured Owen to Severus – the House Decados homeworld.
On Cadavus, one of Jeron's many strangely influential contacts, Nikita Decados, provided them with information that Owen was held by Vacul, Natasha Decados foul and dangerously insane brother. For this information Charall had to repay Nikita with one amorous night in her luxurious bedchamber – and a drop of his blood taken during their lovemaking. Charall was later told that Nikita used to clone brainless copies, as living statues and memories of her beautiful lovers.
Using Vacul's weakness for high stake gambling, the heroes bravely managed to enter his dread keep as guests. Using devices cleverly hidden by Nikita's surgeons in their own bodies, the heroes finally found Owen in the lower halls of the keep. Keeping him immobilised but barely alive, Owen's body had been cruelly spread out over a great operating table. Organs still attached to his body and contained in various Petri dishes and intestines wrapped around ornaments, the heroes felt only despair and sadness for the poor man. Begging them to end his life, Owen also bade his brother's forgiveness and told him where he had hidden his half of the jumpkey before capture. With tears in his eyes Charall Hawkwood said goodbye to his older brother and shut down the foul life supporting system. He swore before the Pancreator to avenge his brother and bring death to House Decados.
When blasting their way out of the Cadavus system, the heroes encountered Natasha Decados' ship at the jumpgate. Thanks to the daring piloting skills of Jason Saunders and their superior ship, the heroes managed to escape the vengeful Decados matriarch.
With both halves of the jumpkey, the heroes could finally make the jump to the lost world of Beacon, nightwise from Aylon. However, Simon urged them to consult the unholy book, Surveid Vikira on Kordeth – as his father had recommended. The book allegedly held information about how to control the terrible powers of the Shutaki's Tear and the S'srota.
Daring the dangers of the hostile ukari subterranean homeworld, the heroes consulted the wise taudwon of the psychic warriors. After having passed the tests of War, Vigor, Darkness and Mind, they were allowed to read the relevant parts of the Surveid Veikira, which detailed several anunnaki artefacts.
After this ordeal the ukari taudwon gave them baa'mon tattoos on their forearms and they were strangely enough given audience to the great Nadakira of Kordeth.
The Nadakira asked the heroes to bring word to their lost brethren on Beacon and made a strange statement about their purpose in the universe:
“You have been chosen to speak to the Gods.
You will be summoned to the ashen world under a faded sun,
And hear about the coming War in Heaven.
Your minds will be freed and your eyes opened.
You will be your own masters and your gaze will be into the future.
Your ears will hear the coming thunder,
And your lips will herald the words of the Sons of Krillos.”
The taudwon of the Nadakira also prophesised their future:
“You are hunted, you are the prey and many more will join in the hunt.
Some seek your lives, others your possessions or even your protection.
You will be farmers of a new field.
Many will sow there, but does the field wish to be ploughed?
A great conflict will arise over the prize.
All shall perish and none shall win,
if personal interests are not set aside.
Traitors will come from within and from without.
It will be friends and foes.
It will be sires and serfs.
It will be the Sun and the Earth.
The path is hard but can be ignored,
but only by destroying a key.”
Back in Aylon space they encountered more problems.
While preparing to jump Jeron and Jason Saunders suddenly revealed their treason by sabotaging the Rog'itloi's jumpdrive. Jeron was in fact an al-Malik noble in disguise and not a Carnivaler Guildsman. With sufficient funds from his family he had bought the charioteer's loyalty in exchange for copies of all jumpkeys found. As the al-Malik fleet moved in to take care of the immobilised Rog'itloi, all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Now the heroes knew why Jeron had such an extensive network of powerful contacts.
Enraged by the treason Charall Hawkwook challenged everyone he could find to a duel. However, duelling was not, and never had been, the way of the al-Malik.
Plagued by his conscience, Jeron later pleaded to his family to make the discovery a joint venture between House Hawkwood and House al-Malik. Fiefs and part of any treasures for Charall Hawkwood, while planet ownership would go to House al-Malik. The family agreed and surprisingly proposed the Rog'itloi and its crew to continue its investigation (the al-Malik controlled all neighbouring systems to Beacon anyway).
Therefore, once again, the Rog'itloi prepared for its jump to Beacon.
The ship, once modified by the enigmatic and technologically more advanced vau, had already proved to be full of surprises. Now, it demanded the vau disc and cryptic passwords to activate the jumpdrive.
When finally reaching the Beacon system, the heroes slowly made their way toward the only inhabitable planet.
Except for Cavius and his associates, Beacon had not been visited by Known Worlders since the Fall, 1000 years ago. Accidentally uprooting an ancient sun-worshipping culture in the strange world of Beacon, the heroes found more than fame and treasure. Beacon had been one of the places where the Prophet, Zebulon himself had received one of his great vision. Here, in a great pyramid, they discovered the strange Anunnaki device, which had given the world its name and continued to transmit its ancient signal out into the vastness of space.
Finally, although knowing the dangers from the readings of the Surveid Veikira, the heroes laid their hands upon the Shutaki's Tear. Some experienced nothing, others received powerful visions. Joseph Sanguinus and Jeron were however touched more deeply by a strange entity. Jeron's head was filled with the confusing multitudes of data, codes and mathematical formulas. Over the next couple of months he also found that psychic powers had awoken in him. Joseph claimed an Empyrean Angel had spoken to him and warned him not to unite the twin artefacts. They were a terrible weapon and had intentionally been separated in the ancient past. The angel spoke of dangerous times to come, but also of the greatness of men. A quest or calling was laid upon Joseph and Jeron to search for their new-found god and preach a new gospel. A gospel that would make men free from the restraints of the church and nobles, who had crippled mankind's ability to quest and search outwards for spiritual fulfilment and strength before the coming War in Heaven.
However, the psychic god-king Ogotai of the mighty Ogosan Empire, who was twisted physically and mentally by the Shutaki's Tear, betrayed them, stole their ship and destroyed the jumpkey to Beacon. Overwhelmed by enemies, the heroes had to ally with the rivalling city states to topple the foundering ancient empire. When reaching the great anunnaki pyramid again, the heroes found that the Ogotai had taken the Shutaki's Tear from its resting place. It was nowhere to be found.
With the aid of the ukar that had remained hidden on Beacon's frozen nightside, the heroes managed to repair their ship they had taken back from the Ogotai. While the Rog'itloi still held the coordinates of the entry jump, the key to exit the system had been destroyed by the Ogotai. The heroes therefore had to start searching Beacon, as well as abandoned mining and research colonies of the system for other jumpkeys. They visited haunted ruins of lunar mining towns filled with the frozen corpses of abandoned miners and their families, research facilities for strange cybernetic experiments and derelict spaceships drifting in the coldness of space. While investigating the strange exiled technocracy of Beacon, known as the Gatekeepers, who had left the system with 40 city sized ships to search for the anunnaki, the heroes found clues to jumpkeys located on a dusty mining planet called Scratch. The keys were held by a deceitful AI mining facility that felt threatened by the humans returning after so many years and gave up a hard fight.
The new jumpkey did not deliver them back to the Aylon system, but instead to the symbiot infested world of Abydos. Before rousing too much attention the heroes managed to make contact with Vuldrok barbarians raiding the system. These barbarians claimed the Abydos system bordered the Vuldrok Star-Nation and did not fear the weogsynu (Weed-Demon-People) whom their priests and runecasters had defeated long ago.
Following the barbarians to the Vuldrok world of Hargard the heroes heard rumours that the mysterious Vuldrok runecasters somehow had prevented the symbiots from easily entering their systems, also that the same runecasters claimably had reverted symbiot infestation in victims. These were amazing tales not believed to be true.
At the mercy of their Vuldrok benefactors, the heroes soon noticed that the Vuldrok were not a united people, but several thanes from several warring nations. Thane Sigfaddir Firestorm did not wish to keep the agreement of his brethren and attacked their ship, forcing it to crash on Hargard. Their freedom and their crashed ship was taken from them by Thane Sigfaddir. Serving for a while as thralls to the Vuldrok, the heroes finally managed to find an ally in the rivalling Thane Angwulf who got his family murdered by Thane Sigfaddir. Using the heroes as crew and especially Jason Saunders as his co-pilot of the Valkyri, the now landless Thane Angwulf took them away from Hargard. Not knowing where to seek his fortunes now, Thane Angwulf was persuaded to accompany the heroes to Byzantium Secundus, in return for their protection against Noble or Imperial forces.
When entering the Known Worlds Jason Saunders had the necessary jumpkeys to take them to Byzantium Secundus. This also suited most fractions better than returning to the al-Malik ships waiting at the Aylon jumpgate.
Upon hearing about their discovery, the Phoenix Throne received them as heroes for having brought another world into the Empire. Emperor Alexius himself received them and the exiled Vuldrok ambassadors.
Emperor Alexius also offered them Imperial titles to avoid the scrutiny and pressure of their houses and guilds, which the heroes accepted. Sir Charall was made a Questing Knight, while Jason Saunders and Zorin Blackwood became Imperial Cohorts.
Saga of the Vau Gift
While the citizens of the Empire celebrated the discovery of a Lost World, great political arguments erupted in the courts of Byzantium Secundus. Who had claimed Beacon? Arguably, it seemed to be House al-Malik, but House Hawkwood and the Empire also claimed its rights along with several minor houses who once had holdings on Beacon. Even the Universal Church and the Merchant League claimed their rights and petitioned the Emperor to intervene.
In the end, House al-Malik received ownership of Beacon, while Sir Charall and the Empire were granted several fiefs. The Charioteers Guild were given sole rights to trade with Beacon for a period of 10 years and an Imperial Governor was placed on Beacon to oversee the rights of all parties. Enigmatically, Emperor Alexius appointed Sir Charall to be the governor of Beacon.
As the political intrigues built up, the years passed by. For some of the heroes the time simply flew by. Others were plagued by boredom, while some found their lives changed forever.
Jeron al-Malik discovered that some sort of psychic ability had awakened in him after the communion with the strange deity. Also the fate of his bloodline proved to have been set afire by the revelations on Beacon. Confused by his new insight and the strange numbers and codes that kept plaguing his mind, he set out into the Afrid desert to seek the Third Mountain, as many of his house had done before him.
Jason Saunders trafficked the new route to Beacon as an Imperial pilot, together with the renegade Engineer Zorin Blackwood and sometimes flew private trips for Governor Charall Hawkwood. However, they soon became bored. Staying longer and longer with his now rich family on Byzantium Secundus, Jason feared to loose his grip on the star-lanes.
Acting as bodyguards to Sir Charall Hawkwood, Reuben McBride and Thomas Deluga were kept busy on the troubled world of Beacon.
Troubled about the dual messages about the purpose of the Shutaki's Tear and the S'srota, Simon Ven Lahjal continued to study all scriptures about them, as well as continuing his search for the dead Ogotai's final hiding place of the Shutaki's Tear.
Joseph Sanguinus took his old noble name of Tadjiro Li-Halan and plied the Known Worlds to spread his gospel. So greatly was his faith touched by the Shutaki's Tear that he abandoned all other causes. Abandoning the Brother Battle order and its secrets was not seen favourably upon by his masters who soon put a price on his head. His nearly magical voice could enthral masses and his great sermons on Criticorum, Byzantium Secundus, Artemis and Pentateuch soon attracted the attention of the Holy Synod, which became very worried about this seemingly heretic gospel. After having been denied entrance by the Church to Holy Terra, the birth-system of humanity, Tadjiro was heart-broken. Not caring about his own personal safety and ignoring the warnings of the church and rumours of Inquisitional investigation, he prepared himself for a final sermon on Istakhr where his followers had gathered in their thousands to hear his words.
Sir Charall Hawkwood soon discovered that he had taken a larger bite than he could chew. His own family demanded him to divide his fief amongst their most influential and return to their house. Church missionaries and fanatic Temple Avesti had descended upon the Incarnates who still held this heretical faith in the city-states of Beacon. The church were also angry about the mysterious disappearance of the ukari heretics form Beacon's darkside. Taxation had been cumbersome for the already culture shocked Ogosan citizens, and the religious as well as technical changes to their society threatened to destroy them. The great Ogosan Empire crumbled with internal strife and people died every day as an effect of the hostilities that were out of control. The political interest of both Houses Hawkwood, al-Malik and the Empire threatened to tear the governorship apart, while Scravers somehow managed to slip into the system to plunder as much as they could and search for the fabled Nygaru Fleet.
On top of all this House Decados claimed to have an heir to the fiefs and governorship on Beacon. Together with Nikita Decados, Sir Charall had evidently produced an heir in the form of a young boy called Dmitri. Understanding that Nikita somehow had used the blood stolen from him, Sir Charall objected in the Regal Court of Byzantium Secundus. However, backed with genetic proof and clever Reeves guildsmen, the nobility of the Known Worlds had to admit that House Decados' claim was legitimate.
His own life and that of his fiancée, Lady Pandora of House Justinian, were now in serious danger. With Charall dead or blackmailed, Hose Decados would have access to Beacon.
The ukari taudwon's prophecy seemed to have come true.
Desperate for help to solve the Beacon conflict, Sir Charall ventured to the al-Malik court on Istakhr to plead leniency on their new world. Jason Saunders, Zorin Blackwood, Reuben McBride and Thomas Deluga were part of his retinue to Istakhr, but in the palace they also reunited with Tadjiro the Messenger, Jeron al-Malik and Simon Ven-Lahjal – whom all by coincidence were on Istakhr at the same time. Tadjiro had come to preach outside the Church of St Horace where his followers had gathered. Jeron who had returned crazed from the desert and Simon both had seen visions of a friend dying and humanity fighting each other while some great evil came closer.
That same day Tadjiro held and enchanted speech and thousands upon thousands came to hear his words. The heroes finally understood how dangerous his powers were turning out to be. Jason was warned that same day by an old Charioteer friend that the Slayers Guild had been set upon him by the Charioteer Guild for his treason.
That evening, ukar assassins struck at Tadjiro, who was mortally wounded. However, the S'srota mysteriously healed him. While lying in a coma, Tadjiro saw strange visions and a gargoyle (the S'srota?) giving him a holy quest:
“Men and women fight each other around a camp-fire, while glowing eyes wait patiently in the encroaching darkness, devouring anyone stepping to far away from the light.
- Your time has ended. You must now seek the new guardian of the S'srota. It will be one of the hated. The dark spawn of Nidderak. Ironically the light has found even him, making his powers great. I summon you and you must prepare for the journey to me. Fate will lead you to the seven treasures of the R'galazd that are needed for the War in Heaven.
Kor'hun - The Whisper
Voleruk - The Word
Sonakai - The Newborn
Velemun - The Lens
Tachmai - The Sword
Tjama - The Pathfinder
Reota - The Chariot”
Believing Tadjiro to be dead, the inquisition that had newly arrived to Istakhr departed again and the recovering Tadjiro was kept in hiding.
Upon hearing about the incident on Istakhr, Emperor Alexius immediately summoned them to Byzantium Secundus.
On their way to the Emperor's court on Byzantium Secundus, the heroes visited Kordeth to once again consult the Surveid Veikira about the treasures Tadjiro, Simon and Jeron now desperately sought. From the Nadakira they heard cryptical words about how the Beacon ukari had been evacuated to the lost ukar world of Usturak.
The Nadakira then painted a strange rune on Tadjiro's and Jeron's foreheads, which immediately disappeared. Claiming that he had opened their inner eye, the Nadakira then added that he knew nothing of the treasures they sought, except for The Reota (The Chariot). The chariot could be found hidden among the stones of the sons of Krillos.
“You must ever be watchful for their words.”
Saga of the Via Barbari
Seeing the trouble his Imperial Knights and Cohorts were in, Emperor Alexius felt compelled to remove them from danger and the limelight of the political arena. He therefore gave them a quest:
“Travel the jumproads of the Kurgan and Vuldrok barbarians and see if they are connected to each other.”
Rumours brought back by other questing knight claimed that this was the case, as Kurgan slaves had been encountered amongst Vuldrok. But where was the connection? Where there more than one? Was there a risk of the Kurgan Caliphate and the Vuldrok Star-Nations uniting if the Empire provoked them?
The heroes accepted the quest and a weary Sir Charall even gave his fief on Beacon to the Empire to hopefully remove himself and his fiancé from danger. This of course much angered his house and most certainly House Decados.
Facts and clues about barbarian space could be found in the lost Via Barbari, a tome written by two of Emperor Vladimir Alecto's finest knights, Darius Alecto and Lucien Hawkwood, who had fled from Vuldrok captivity. The first mission was therefore to find this tome and later to enter Kurgan space via the Hiran front with the help of House Hazat.
After the audience with Emperor Alexius, Jason Saunders and his family barely escaped the first attack of the feared Slayers Guild. Jason immediately placed his family under Imperial protection and departed to draw danger away from his loved ones.
In the libraries of Llanfyrth on the magical Hawkwood world of Gwynneth, the heroes found information about the two knights.
The two half-brothers Darius Alecto and Lucien Hawkwood had lived more than 500 years ago, during a time when the mighty Vuldrok made many devastating and crippling incursions into the sundered Known Worlds. The two inseparable brothers fought the powerful Vuldrok in the terrible battle of Somme, where Lucien was captured and brought back to Vuldrok space beyond the jumpgate.
In order to find his brother, Darius let himself be captured during the next Vuldrok raid. He endured four years of slavery before locating his brother. According to legend, the brothers came to serve under a Vuldrok thane and were eventually granted freedom for their loyal services.
Their knowledge about the Vuldrok was passed on to Vladimir Alecto and the two brothers participated in the battle of Leminkainen, where King Froljir the Ill-Fated and his Vuldrok armada were finally defeated.
After Vladimir's assassination, House Alecto was hunted to extinction by its enemies. Darius met his bane in the form of Ronaldo Ruez de Hazat.
Lucien buried his brother on their homeworld Gwynneth, together with the treasures and knowledge they both had hoarded in Vuldrok space. In order to prevent Decados, Hazat and Van Gelder enemies to get their hands on the treasures, Lucien hid everything well.
The heroes' investigations led them to the ruins of the brother's estate in the troubled lands of Tolth, where rebels fought the cruel Hawkwood tyrant ruling the lands. Having heard that an old Chorali statue still stood in the ruins, honouring Darius, the heroes managed to sneak past a battle being fought between rebels and muster mercenaries.
Cleverly solving the riddle of the statue, the heroes sung the correct tune that opened the secret entrance to Darius' deadly tomb. Competing with a ruthless scraver, the heroes survived the deadly traps of the tomb and found the remains of the dead knight among countless Vuldrok trinkets and souvenirs. The tomb also held the Book “Via Barbari”, as well as a cursed sword, that the holo-image of Lucien warned the heroes not to touch.
“From Wolf's Lament comes the great sword.
The fierce nature of the shadow beasts will merge with you.
Heeding their call, using their senses is a blessing,
as well as a curse I didn't wish upon my brother.”
Of course, Charall could not resist the powerful wireblade and was injected from the hilt with nanites that would slowly change him in the days to come.
The Via Barbari held much valuable information about the freedom-loving Vuldrok, such as:
The main tribal nations, the Drenjar, Lakol, Zetol, Maghtaw, Rekogold and Skey
The Vuldrok deities, holy days, superstitions etc
The Vuldrok worlds and some other lost worlds
The secret Darkwyrm shipyards
The powerful, mysterious and feared Vikti runemasters
The warlords, thanes and the Allthing
The basics of the language
The weapon arsenal, such as blaster axes, mind-linked berserkers, military tactics etc
The many Kurgan thralls from the conquered Kurgan worlds
With their newfound information the heroes started to negotiate with proud House Hazat for entrance to the war zone of the previously Kurgan Hira system. They travelled with the “ISS Warhorse” to the Tuzla Moonhaven owned by the matriarchal Xanthippe battle order to barter for passage into the Hira system. Having lost an arm to the monofilament cutting wires of Darius' tomb, Charall was presented with a bionic arm by the strange House Skellit, who had migrated out of Kurgan space, in return for servitude to House Hazat. At the Tuzla Moonhaven, an escatonic priest told them that the forbidden theurgic ritual known as The Whisper was known by a famous Xanthippe oracle living deep within the bowels of the airless moon. Simon was of course immediately aroused, as this was one of the R'galazd treasures fate was supposed to lead them to.
However, a group of Avestites also sought the oracle, suspecting her of conducting sathra rituals.
A race against the hateful Temple Avesti finally brought the heroes to the halls of Antonia the Oracle. With a strange laugh, she taught Simon the strange theurgic ritual, enabling him to hear the whispering voices of the anunnaki/empyreans/demons in their old ruins or at their jumpgates. The ritual would also allow him to speak to these deities and attract their attention. However, Antonia warned Simon that this was not done without risk. The Whispering would not only attract the forces of light, but also the forces of darkness.
Tadjiro was concerned by this new ritual and warned Simon several times how this closely resembled the forbidden teachings of Sathra and the heretic Satari communions of the ancient Obun.
Before they left, Antonia added another prediction to their already lengthening list of prophecies:
“The Ecclesiastical Court for Simon, Tadjiro and Jason
Heresy and sathraism
A broken mind for Jeron
Insanity and psionics
Death for Sir Charall
Blood and a Mantis”
Eluding the avestites, the heroes bartered for passage into the Hira system onboard the “ISS Alhambra”. However, as soon as they jumped into the Hira system, the ship passed through a field of debris that made its shields flitter. In such a vulnerable state the Alhambra was no match for the kurgan Mujaheddin warships and their heat cannons waiting for them. Only the arrival of captain Antonio Huarez Castillio de Hazat onboard the warship “Il Toro” saved the day.
As they were delivered to the war-torn planet Hira, the heroes learnt much about the system and how House Hazat slowly had taken the war back to the Kurgans, and finally had control over the majority of the system.
Requesting to land as close to the Hazat/Kurgan border as possible, the heroes were dropped along with Hazat troopers in the war zone. Fighting their way through blasted ruins, fanatical combatants and constant shelling, the heroes encountered stocky rukhish soldiers, The Blessed (psychic warriors), Brother Battle squadrons and several panicked civilians in a world turned into hell.
By moving north and saving a kurgan pilgrim's daughter from being raped by Hazat soldiers, the heroes gained the gratitude and trust of some Kurgan pilgrims. In gratitude, Kebillah the pilgrim took the heroes northward to the holy Mongke Yildiz observatory, where the eye of the Star-Maker could be seen far away in the form of a holy nebula with a proto-star. Informing the heroes about the holy hadji (pilgrimage) the pilgrims offered a place for them in their caravan. The ancient pilgrimage route was traditionally protected by all Kurgans and passed through all the Kurgan worlds, until it reached Irem – howeworld of the Caliph. Seeing this as a perfect opportunity to travel the Kurgan jumpweb unnoticed, the heroes joined the caravan. They were given the ordu kafiri markings to symbolise their conversion from pagan beliefs.
Huddled onboard a crowded pilgrim ship, the heroes headed for the gate and the Khayyam system. However, in deep space their pilgrim ship suffered severe engine problems and was abandoned by the fast moving caravan. It moved into the asteroid filed to hide and repair, but was soon spotted by the Hazat warship “Il Toro”, which closed in to destroy it. In the last minutes the pilgrim ship was saved by Tengri-Igren ships camouflaged as asteroids. The many slow moving ships managed to drive off the Il-Toro. The scary and Changed Tengri-Igren space nomads were devout followers of the Caliph and the Star-Maker. Onboard the Tengri-Igren ships, the pilgrims and the heroes snuck out of the Hira system through the jumpgate.
In the Khayyam system, the Tengri-Igren stopped at several secluded outposts on asteroids and moons. On the largest of these, the heroes met Juma Mushir, a fat member of the Ordu Kibituk (traders). In return for Zorin Blackwood's engineering services and help in finding spare ship parts in the markets, Juma promised to take them to Khayyam. Shaydekh el Tuqiyya of Hira, a fellow pilgrim the heroes had previously met, also joined them together with his dull-witted servant, Yussuf the Stutterer.
The first stop of Juma's ship was back at the jumpgate. Upon the request of Nazim, an elderly Ikhwan-i-ghamiz (astromancer), the ship floated for a day outside the jumpgate. With Nazim's strange listening device and Simon's Whisper ritual, they heard faint, alien voices from the gate, as well as tormented, eerie, screeching noises. Nazim told them that this region of space was rumoured to be haunted by a void kraken. Many stories abounded about the ancient and mysterious Muir race and drifting ships filled with lifeless husk crews.
As they finally made their way inwards to Khayyam, Juma's ship bumped into a Khayyam Federation patrol, which guarded the newly autonomous system from caliphal retribution. Charall was subjected to Satais Lesser Pleasure Touch by the female officer and acted like a drooling, stuttering, love-stricken fool in her presence.
Finally on the great industrial world, the heroes were given a chance to visit the traditional pilgrim sites, such as the birthplace of Heru Abdalim (St Horace). Amazingly enough, Simon managed to buy a pristine copy of Horace's long lost, priceless Book of Revealings, at a bargain price in the markets. On Khayyam the heroes delved into more details about the Kurgan culture and its powerful Caliph who ruled as the sole spokesperson of the All-Maker. They soon found several parallels in the two religions that were sadly opposed to each other. They also found incredible compassion and freedom among the Kurgans whom all Known Worlders believed to be murderous barbarians. Unbelievers were even tolerated, but could hold no power or land. They also learnt that the worlds of the Kurgan Caliphate were linked in a great chain, which was travelled by the pilgrims to honour the All-Maker, the first Caliph and the mystical female known as Satari. Historical records revealed how the Vuldrok had conquered the kurgan worlds 500 years ago from beyond the Irem jumpgate (Caliphal homeworld). This time coincided with the Via Barbari, a time when King Froljir and the Vuldrok were at the height of power. His daughter Freya Firestorm was still one of the most renowned Vuldrok warriors who had crippled the young Caliphate. Evidently the Vuldrok conquerors had united the kurgan worlds and thus was the Caliphate created. Forbidden secret historical records on Khayyam also claimed that the Kurgan worlds and the kurgan culture was actually created by a ruthless owner of a mega-corporation called Bjorn Egon. The texts spoke of generations of workers culture-conditioned to become the pawns of his secret pleasure worlds. Even after they had been discovered by the Second Republic, the kurgans could not change their colourful culture and even strengthened it after The Fall.
The heroes prepared to travel to the next kurgan world Al Fashir, but couldn't find anyone who would take them. Juma finally helped them get into contact with another Ordu Kafiri (unbeliever) called Amon-Ra. Amon-Ra was a strange captain from the Lost World of Heaven's Ridge whose strange black ship “Nugatla” had a gargoyle attached to its stern. His ships had many anunnaki-linked symbols and a clearly heretical AI that whispered darkly to him in the Xoglasi tongue shared by the symbiots. Cloaked in many anunnaki mysteries, his people seemed able to manufacture these great ships and remained autonomous from the Caliphate.
Amon-Ra agreed to take them to Al Fashir in return for their services. He needed their muscle to retake a gen-lock key and a star map from his enemies. These would in turn lead him to a great treasure that the heroes were allowed to share with him. The heroes agreed and soon found themselves robbing a Khayyam senator of his gen-lock key during his son's wedding.
Together with Amon-Ra the heroes fled the system with the gen-lock key, which Jason and Zorin could identify as an airlock key.
In the Al Fashir system, Amon-Ra set a course for the dense Zamzara asteroid field. Here, in the great hollowed out Anzachs asteroid (referred to as Anthrax), resided the terrible Aguz pirates led by the Ilkhan Jabbahr. Hiding the ship nearby and approaching in spacesuits, the heroes managed to sneak into the great asteroid city-state. After sneaking around in the pirate city, enduring zero-gravity fighting and racing miner bikes across the asteroid surface, the heroes manage to steal the star maps Amon-Ra sought, as well as jump-coordinates to the Beliah system from the Ilkhan's AI think-machine. During their ordeal on Anzachs, the heroes noticed that Charall has changed noticeably. Whenever using the Sword of Fenris found in Darius' tomb, he became more and more aggressive and blood-thirsty. The nanites burned in his blood and seemed to be changing him. Charall did not notice these changes, but instead boasted about his heightened senses.
Guided by the strange, coded star-maps, Amon-Ra set course for a location far beyond the Al Fashir jumpgate. This took the Nugatla to the very brink of Kanun Khudan, the land of Dark Gods ruled by the cunning and twisted Erlik Khan, a place known as the Darkness Between the Stars to Known Worlders. The heroes feared for their very souls as they approached the Purga Buran (Black Freezing Wind or Ghost Wind) generated by the endless black serpent Mughai, steed of Erlik Khan.
Suspended in the void, they found a Void Monitor, a huge Second Republic ship/station meant to go deep into or cross the great voids between the stars. The RSS Yoshima was the great treasure Amon-Ra sought.
With the gen-lock key the heroes boarded the dead ship and started exploring the endless decks. They soon found great treasures such as Second Republic weapons, rare drugs, science files and a copy of the complete Republican Jumpweb that existed before The Fall. They also found a strange, fungus infested ship docked to the RSS Yoshima. The logs stated that this was a long lost sleeper ship from the First Republic found out in the void. A true relic, which proved to hold something dreadful. The heroes never discovered what had been unleashed from the Sleeper ship, but soon found the Yoshima to be haunted and dangerous. Doors opened and closed, atmosphere was replaced by vacuum and husks billowed out from the crew compartments. In a moment of terror, the Nugatla had been cast loose and abandoned them as the haunted RSS Yoshima powered its engines and plunged deeper into the void with its new prey.
It was the dull-witted stuttering Yussuf that saved the day by being unaffected by the evil of the void. He managed to get them all to the life rafts and away from the haunted ship. The Nugatla picked them up in space and raced back towards the light of Al Fashir's sun.
Amon-Ra paid the heroes and dropped them off on the desert world of Al Fashir, where they continued their Kurgan pilgrimage. On Al Fashir they visited the famous brothel were the holy Satai herself had worked as a prostitute before her enlightenment.
The heroes involuntarily got involved in a showdown between Shaydekh the pilgrim and a local rebel called the Akhar Kafiri. Shaydekh turned out to be an Imperial spy looking for another renegade Imperial spy in Kurgan space. Sergei, the renegade spy had once been a Decados kossack (elite soldier) and held much information about the Known Worlds. He had been feared lost or even to have sided with the Caliph. Instead, Shaydekh had now found that the spy had become one of the greatest rebel leaders of the Usurpers, fighting the Caliph. However, the renegade spy held no love for the Empire either and immediately tried to kill Shaydekh. After having his Usurper terrorist cell destroyed, the Akhar Kafiri fled and vowed to destroy Shaydekh and the heroes.
Avoiding all ensuing conflicts the heroes managed to barter passage aboard the ukari freighter “Anikruntra's Hammer” heading for Beliah – the next world of the Kurgan hadji.
The dusty, mars-like world of Beliah had a dense gravity and a mainly subterranean population who fought endless battles over mining shafts and resources.
When hearing that the heroes had met the Nadakira of their lost brethren, the ukar invited them to their cities. The heroes spoke about the Nadakiras attempts to re-unite all lost ukar and deliver them to freedom. When they were finished, the local taudwon wrote ancient runes around them and claimed that he saw that they were heralds of a new time to come for all ukari. He also told them that they would meet with an ancient enemy of the gods. He warned them not to fight this enemy, but to witness it and herald its coming. Finally the taudwon saw that an enemy that coveted the S'srota had followed them and warned them about its powers.
When speaking about the treasures of the R'galazd, the taudwon revealed that he knew what a velemun was. Velemun were rare psi lenses crafted from the strange implastrite material found on Beliah. Such a lens would help to heal Jeron's broken mind. Ukar guides took the heroes to the desolate implastrite extrusion fields at the northern pole of Beliah where special ukar psi smiths crafted a psi lens for Jeron, which fully awakened his newfound psychic powers.
In the icy cold deserts of Beliah, Tadjiro also found himself surrounded one night by ominous shadows that loomed over him, whispering:
“It is here. We have found it. The Master must know”
Before leaving Beliah, Shaydekh found more clues to the Usurpers and the Akhar Kafiri (Sergei) on Beliah. After routing the rebels, the heroes found several bio-files about a kurgan Sheyk (provincial leader) and his closest men who served as his doubles to lure enemies. An encrypted message, a date and space coordinates were also found.
The ukar then granted them cabins aboard another of their freighters destined for Irem – centre of the Kurgan Caliphate.
While travelling to the Beliah jumpgate the ukar freight ship was attacked by a small but fast ship. A person referring to himself as the Oruga Khan was onboard and managed to attack Tadjiro and the heroes with his powerful psychic abilities. However, Jeron managed to ward of the attack with his newfound psychic powers. The ukar cannons finally drove off the Oruga Khan.
As the ukar freighter exited the Irem jumpgate, the heroes understood why the hadji (pilgrimage) had such religious effect upon the pilgrims. Covering most of space in the Irem system was the great Simurgh-Nebula RAS-333W89 that they had seen from Hira in the Mongke Yildiz observatory. Hidden in the great purple clouds was a great proto-star that symbolised the All-Maker, the Maker of Stars himself. Truly a magnificent sight, the nebula also linked two systems in the jumpweb to each other in real physical space. This had never before been seen in the entire human-known jumpweb.
While travelling to Irem, the heroes finally managed to decipher the encrypted message found with the Akhar Kafiri's men on Beliah. It contained details about an abduction of the powerful Sheyk Fazil Al-Jabira. The sheyk, a friend of the Caliph and a member of the Kuriltai, was currently on a pleasure cruise to the planet Cambdu. The coordinates and date pointed to this event. As the heroes were close to the planet Cambdu, they persuaded the ukar to change their course and intercepted the pleasure cruiser.
Arriving in the nick of time, the heroes found the pleasure cruiser commandeered by the Usurpers but managed to sneak onboard through the smaller airlocks. Freeing the hostage Kurgan soldiers the heroes managed to overthrow the Usurpers and the Akhar Kafiri (sergei) himself. Sergei and his men fled to the snow-covered moon Ophir, where a standoff took place between Shaydekh and Sergei. In a magnificent snow-battle Shaydekh was killed by the cunning ex-kossack, who in turn fled with a hidden ship when a kurgan lander with reinforcements arrived.
In gratitude the Sheyk brought the heroes to fabulously beautiful Irem to live in his palace as honoured guests. They travelled the artistically terraformed world and their heroic deeds and tales of their homeworlds were noted by the Sheyk's scribes. The heroes were also rewarded greatly for saving the Sheyk's life. Charall was once again tended by doctors from the strange House Skellit, who found that the nanites indeed had become an integral part of him. Unless there was some counter-nanites in Vuldrok space, the effects would worsen with time.
During the great carnival celebrating the birthday of the Caliph, the Oruga Khan struck again by luring some of the heroes into shadowy alleys, believing that they had met old friends. Once again the prowess of Tadjiro's theurgic powers and the psychic powers of Jeron managed to keep the foul demons of the Oruga Caliph at bay. Before their enemy fled, the heroes discovered that Oruga Khan also served Mortos the Devourer. The dark deity seemed to throw all its followers at them in its search for the S'srota.
As the Ikhwan-i-sihr (Caliph intelligence) was attracted to their battle in the capitol, the heroes found it necessary to leave Irem. Still trying to find the link between the Vuldrok and Kurgans, they were given documents about the ancient Vuldrok foe. The Sheyk knew that emissaries to the Vuldrok departed from the kurgan world of Rukh to the neutral worlds of Epiphany and Antioch. Therefore, the Sheyk granted them passage onboard one of his ships travelling to Rukh and several contacts to use on Rukh.
The heroes landed on the strange world of Rukh, which seemed to have been designed by the anunnaki to be one great chemical factory. Entire continents seemed to have been grown from large cellular organisms and its indigenous lifeforms were all insanely large. While travelling overland to one of the Sheyk's contact, their Kurgan transport was attacked by Vuldrok raiders. Although the Vuldrok managed to capture the fierce rukhans, the heroes put up more of a fight than anticipated. Instead of hauling them onboard as captives, Starthane Morgan Fireblade instead offered them to be part of his crew. He desperately needed an engineer and a co-pilot for his ship “Sunscreamer”, as well as other able bodied crewmembers. Seeing a chance to pass into Vuldrok space, the heroes accepted and departed with the ex-Decados Vulture class starship.
Wishing to return home with their plunder as soon as possible, the Vuldrok repaired their ship under the guidance of Zorin, and blasted out of the jumpgate and away from the Kurgan search patrols.
As soon as the vuldrok ship had jumped to the no-man's land of the Sky Tear system, a derelict Imperial Lander was found drifting in space. It held the dying remains of Imperial marines, who had been on a secret mission, deep into Barbarian Space. Upon seeing the Imperial Phoenix on Charall, the commander warned them of a great danger in the system and begged them to pass a letter on to the Imperial Eye. The dying words of the commander also hinted that something was hidden upon the bodies of the marines. Searching the strangely diseased bodies, the heroes found a memo-stick imbedded in the commander's flesh. As the marines seemed to have been killed by a great enemy wielding terrible bio-weaponry, the heroes discarded the bodies into space.
The memo-stick contained a vau recording of several vau ships around two small artificial suns. Had the vau somehow created new suns? However, the experiment failed and the suns exploded in mini-novas, destroying the closest ships. Was this the information the marine commander wanted the heroes to pass onto the Imperial Eye? Or was there something else?
Not more than a couple of hours later, the “Sunscreamer” was attacked. The attack was initially not detected, but suddenly the ship had a hull breach and several shield generators, star fuel and a distortion stabiliser were missing. Only, Tadjiro had noticed how time had seemed to slow down while mysterious, tall grey humanoid aliens boarded the ship and stole what they needed for their presumably damaged ship.
As no sign could be found of the enemy afterwards, the crippled Vuldrok ship had to set its course for the planet Sky Tear to find repairs. A place held in reverence as well as fear by the Vuldrok. The source of their famous Berserker's strength, as well as a place that drove all humans mad.
The new rimvolk were given the task to find new shield generators, a distortion stabiliser for the jumpdrive and more starfuel on Sky Tear to prove their worth. After moving about the Vuldrok and Kurgan "rulers" of Sky Tear, as well as its mad and often dangerous population, the heroes found what they were looking for. But it had a price. Kurgan governess Asheti of Basan provided them with the planet's only spare distortion stabiliser only if they went into the night lands of Omega 6 and stole the Eye of Cha'Vanc artefact from the evil denizens there.
In Omega 6 the heroes encountered pack spiders, foul antinomists, psychotic darkness denizens of Scythia, sanity depriving fungal muazi aliens and the husk legions of the undead Caliph Apis el Shadai. During their ordeal they came face to face once again with the Oruga Khan. Ironically they had wandered (or been drawn...) directly into the heart of darkness and to the Oruga Khan's master the Caliph. But with the help of the strange Tinker-Thing and by freeing and mentally healing a powerful imprisoned psychic - The Jailor - with the S'srota, the heroes managed to steal the Eye of Cha'Vanc and return to Asheti.
When tapping into their minds, the Jailor gave them cryptic clues where to find the seven treasures they were looking for.
Despite Asheti's treason the heroes managed to shoot themselves out of her palace and limp away from Basan in their tattered Lander. After a brief skirmish between the Sunscreamer and a Kurgan cruiser, the heroes were picked up in Sky Tear's orbit.
While later repairing the ship, hidden out in one of the system's asteroid fields, the heroes also found hidden sensor arrays and strange deviating behaviour from the Sunscreamer. None of these myseries were solved.
At the gate awaited another surprise in the form of the Oruga Khan's ship, demons from the Darkness between the stars and a kurgan patrol ship. Barely escaping these three, the Sunscreamer managed to shoot through the gate on its way to the Fingisvoold system and what should hopefully still be Star-Thane Morgan Fireblade's holdings on the moons of Yldra. Zorin and Charall were affected by a Wasting curse and a terrible craving that couldn't be sated began to waste away their bodies.
When jumping through the gate the Sunscreamer experienced an overload of the jumpdrive. As they passed from the Epiphany system to the Fingisvold system it happened once again. Sir Charall and Zorin also found that they suffered from an insatiable hunger after their encounter with the demons summoned by the Oruga Khan. They slowly withered away, despite eating constantly.
Together with Star-Thane Morgan Fireblade, the heroes made their way to the Worlds of Yldra, a system of inhabited moons and rings of the gas giant Yldra. Sneaking in as cargo of a great hauler, the Star-Thane found that his suspicions of treason were true. His space station Aldborg had been taken along witht he rest of his ships. Rallying his last few remaining loyal men, including his Skjaldborg, the Star-Thane began working to regain what was his.
With the help of the heroes, former allies, a thrall that could double as the Star-Thane and the guise of a crippled Sunscreamer, the Star-Thane managed to lure out the ship of the new master of Alborg and while sneaking in with a small attack force to defeat him. Morgan found that the Zetol minor lord was only a pawn and accomplice to his real enemy Fangir Firestorm of Hargard - one of two hated brothers who had fought Morgan in the latest war. With the aid of Berold, an old adjutant of Morgan's, Fangir had stolen his ships - including his flagship the dreadnought "Whakinyan's Wrath"- and now departed.
From the maghtaw of Yldra the Star-Thane learnt that a ship had used the Sunscreamer as a jumptug these last three jumps. This meant the mysterious cloaked ship either had problems with its jumpdrive or didn't possess the correct jump coordinates. Could it be the same mysterious cloaked ship that stole from their ship in the Sky Tear system.
The Maghtaw also helped the heroes analyse the Vau recording, finding that the recording actually held information about Vau ships accidentally teleporting before the small experimental sun was destroyed. Had the Vau mastered travel without gates?
On Dustheim, one of the world of Yldra, the Jailor chose to the leave the heroes and thanked them by gaining insight in the future and giving them further details about the seven treasures they sought. He also revealed that an eighth treasure Volkuun - the Messenger, herald of the War In Heaven, was already travelling with them.
After speaking to the Skey people of the moon Kurmda's Anvil, the heroes learnt many new things about the Chariot treasure and Skey history.
Trying to find out where Fangir was, Morgan ventured to Fingisvold. There he reported to his loathsome lord, Thane Sigurdur Dragonslayer who stripped him of his title and gave him 101 days to regain his fleet. At a temple Zorin and Charall learnt that they could maybe find clues to their wasting curse in the Great Library on Wolf's Lament. Despite how much they ate, their bodies kept shrivelling away and the hunger tore at their minds.
Morgan then challenged Fangir who was a guest at his foe Amara Ironblade but gained nothing but insults and a dead bodyguard. Berold the traitor was however captured in Cap'n Jack's Republic with the help of the heroes. He was brought to the Sunscreamer and interrogated, revealing that Fangir was arming Morgan's ships and preparing for something in the Wolf's Lament system.
After the heroes and Thane Morgan Fireblade jumped into the Wolf's Lament system they heard a distress call from the freighter Beowulf. It was attacked by seemingly invisible attackers. The Sunscreamer raced to its aid, but found only wreckage and no attampt to salvage the drifiting cargo. A meaningsless attack.
Soon after, two warships in the vicinity were also destroyed. Once again by very fast and powerful attackers that were reported to be invisible.
Guessing that the Sunscreamer could be next, Jason Saunders hid it behind one of the moons of a gas giant.
After a day in hiding, the Sunscreamer continued to the Tirrka colony moon of Hamund's End, where Thane Morgan had kin. The colonists were warned about the strange attackers before the Sunscreamer continued towards Wolf's Lament.
When the Sunscreamer finally landed in the friendly port of Vanaheim on Wolf's Lament, Thane Morgan engaged in political matters, while the hereos set out to find a cure for Zorin and Charall among the tempels. A mad priest told them to consult the dangerous and mysterious Tundra Wolves for a cure. After speaking to the small but resourcul sentients known as Ishkin, Zorin and Charall met with the scary and unnatural Tundra Wolves. Their bodies were cured, but used as vessels for the Tundra Wolves to commune with their dark gods. A grim pattern was clawed into their chests.
The heroes also investigated the strange riddle found on the disk given to them by the Tinker-Man on Sky Tear. They found cleverly hidden coordinates to something on the outskirts of the Wolf's Lament system. During their investigations they also aroused the attention of undercover Scravers, who were searching for Admiral Morgans Lost Fleet.
At the location indicated in space, the heroes found a derelict shuttle with a dangerous computer virus and message written upon its hull. Together with the information on the disc, the heroes now had the entire coordinates for the Lost Fleet.
On their way to the location of the Lost Fleet, the Sunscreamer intercepted a distress call from the colony moon of Tirrka. When they arrived they found the entire colony slaughtered. The dread symbol of the Rweng was written upon the central building and corpses piled around it. The sole survivor of the colony was Aili Moonwater, sitting in shock by the new dug grave of her young daughter. Thane Morgan brought Aili to the ship and left the accursed moon as swiftly as possible. Aili soon came out her shock and swore before the ship's shaman to avenge her daughter and pledged herself to Dafar as a Feykrighs. The crew members of the Sunscreamer soon also discovered Aili's strong psychic powers, which she seemed unaware of.
Amid an asteroid field the heroes found the remains of Admiral Morgans Lost Fleet. Gaining access to them proved hard, as they were guarded by active mines and scraver traps that engaged turrets, opened airlocks suddenly, poisoned the atmosphere etc. On top of this, the ancient republican troops had purged the ships of all data and heavy weapons, making them dead in space. Thane Morgan left behind a small group (the heroes) to guard the ships as he went back to Wolf's Lament to enlist crew and hire the services of the Maghtaw to refurbish the ships. Soon the scravers arrived and began battling for the ships. But, the heroes managed to hold them at bay until Thane Morgan returned.
Having also learnt that Fangir was laying a rightful siege to a colony moon ruled by one of his rivals, Thane Morgan chsoe to intervene. Seeing the many ships on his sensors, Fangir chose to break the siege and flee to the jumpgate.
Meanwhile, the heroes had, together with a maghtaw, blocked the signals to the gate, preventing Fangir from fleeing. While inside the jumpgate, Charall involuntarily acted as a gateway for a terrible demon that entered through the scarred symbol put on his chest by the Tundra Wolves. Only with the ship cannons did they defeat it - or did they?
When Fangir's fleet arrived it found itself trapped in the Wolf's Lament system. A great battle took place between Thane Fangir and Thane Morgan. The heroes in command of the Sunscreamer soon found that their ship computer assumed total control. At the very end the dark Decados secret was revealed. The ship computer was actually a war crippled captain - Dmitri - who had been brainwashed, maimed and operated into the ship. Killing the poor man was the only way to regain control over the ship again. In a last attempt to avenge himself, Dmitri tried to kill the Mantis Lord on the bridge, revealing to all that Derfeld LeBon actually was Vladimir Razin Decados.
But the Sunscreamer soon had more problems. As it joined in boarding Fangir's crippled Dreadnought, Jason Saunder misstook Fangir and his Skjaldborg who had secretly fled his ship, for returning wounded crewmen. After having killed several Vuldrok, Brother Joseph and Vladimir Razin Decados, Fangir had assumed control of the Sunscreamer. At first Fangir tried to flee, but the heroes managed to alert Thane Morgan to what was happening. Over the radio, for all to witness, Morgan challenged Fangir to a duel. In accordance to Vuldrok law, Fangir could not refuse a third time. If the matter was taken before the Allthing he could be disgraced. Far from his allies, Fangir therefore chose to fight Morgan on Raven - before the Great Allthing.
Brother Joseph and Vladimir Decados had at first assumed to be dead. But when their bodies came into contact with the S'srota they came to life again - just as the S'srota had somehow saved Brother Joseph on Istakhr. This time something was different and the two men had somehow changed. A strange calm was about them and their were turned inward, to some secret mission or purpose in life.
When on Raven, Fangir tried to avoid the duel and appealed to the Great Allthing. This did however not please the assembly, who set a date a month ahead for the duel. The victor would win either Morgan's ships or Fangir's fief on Hargard.
While awaiting the duel, Morgan worked on his political allies. The heroes found time to consult the Vitki - runemasters - who were said the control one of the seven treasures - The Chariot (Reota). In the mysterious Ur forest of Myrrdwood, the heroes encountered apparitions of people they would meet as well as a powerful Vitki. They were given the task to bring him a Blood Rose from the moon of Grymkalla in the Frost system in return for the powerful Reota rune.
Brother Simon also befriended the long secluded Obun - Svartfolk, who held many answers to the Ur ruins on Raven in their library. Simon promised to act as a bridge between the Raven Obun and Velisamil, by returning with word of their existance and copies of their most valuable books.
Finally it was time for the duel between Thane Morgan Fireblade and Thane Fangir Firestorm. Before it took place, Morgan let the heroes choose one of his ships as a reward for helping him so far. They chose the Sunscreamer, despite its rumour of being haunted.
The duel itself raged across the plaza and up the stairs of the Great Allthing before Fangir was slain and Morgan badly wounded and poisoned. Exiting hours passed before Morgan's life was saved. By that time Brother Joseph had converted many Vuldrok to his calling and signed them aboard the Sunscreamer as zealous crewmen. Brother Joseph had become a new prophet of a newfound faith. His blasphemous step away from the Universal Church was complete.
He was now Joseph the Messenger.
Weary of travelling the barbarian worlds, the heroes longed to return to the Empire. After Thane Morgan Fireblade had rewarded the heroes for aiding him in retaking his ships, his title, finding the lost fleet of Admiral Morgan and defeating Thane Fangir, he promised them that he would open a jumproute for them to the Empire from Hargard. As Thane Morgan was going there anyway to claim his new fief (Fangir's fief, which the Great Allthing granted to the victor of the duel) he suggested they join his fleet.
However, on the way to Hargard, Thane Morgan wanted to stop at Frost for a meeting with Greolf the Grim, his former adversary, who now wanted to parley with him and try to buy him over to his unified Vuldrok view. Seeing the wisdom of strength in numbers, as well as having heard mysterious rumours from the Maghtaw about a strange self aware ship that was looking for Jason Saunders in that system, the heroes accompanied Morgan to Frost. Also, they were eager to earn the Reota rune from the Vitki by finding him the Blood Rose on the moon of Grymkalla in the Frost system.
When the fleet entered the Frost system, the heroes split away and headed for Grymkalla, a small but habitable moon circling a dusty, dead mining planet. The moon itself had once been a luxurious game reserve, but was now overgrown with dangerous wildlife and vegetation. Using a local guide, the heroes pushed into the wild mountainous regions and unwillingly got the attention of a grakaal (Grackle Fox). Fleeing the Grackle Fox that hunted them, the heroes stumbled upon a young boy being hunted by a gruesome beast that evidently was a symbiot. Not hesitating, the heroes killed the symbiot to save the boy. Too late they realised their mistake, as the boy had been the younger mundane brother of the symbiot. Soon, drones from a secret and renegade Phazul symbiot hive attacked them from all fronts. When the end was near, Razeel, the symbiot leader appeared and spared them, but took them prisoner back to the hive. He there explained that he had seen them in a vision and tried to explain to them that they, among other symbiots, did not believe in forced conversion. He had also seen that the mundane child would leave with them. The child had been subjected to a null field but survived. He was forever immune to symbiosis and had some obscure task to fulfil somewhere else. Seeing the pattern, the heroes understood that this boy was another of the seven treasures, Sonokai, the Newborn. The heroes learnt many fascinating things while being guests/prisoners of the hive, until the hive's prime breeder Phazona tried to convert Jason Saunders in secret. She did not share the hive leader's view of conversion and this triggered a long brewing conflict in the hive. With the aid of some friendly symbiots, the heroes barely managed to flee the savage mountains that were wracked with fury and conflict. Along with them came the mundane child Mi'kur, whom Aili immediately bonded with.
As they rendezvoused with Thane Morgan and prepared to jump out of the Frost system, their ship was once again piggy backed by the mysterious stealth ship. This time however, the heroes noticed the slight signs. When investigating from the hull, they found an immense and alien ship that piggy-backed on the Sunscreamer in order to use its jump coordinates. When trying to plant bombs on the ship, Vladimir Razin Decados and Nomi Silverlight were captured by great blue skinned humanoids. After suffering brutal treatment, the leader of the strange aliens managed to bridge the language barrier with alien technology and brought them to his homeworld, stowed away in his own mind. He told them that they were the Anukai. True and original humans and servants of the Shadow Court. They had been sent out to scout these worlds for their master to conquer. He warned them about a great war to come and judging by what he had seen, he deemed the humans to have little chance. But after having seen images of the Empire and the Vau, the Anukai leader understood that this was only a smaller part of human and civilised alien territory. He then claimed he wanted to defect, but was in risk of being killed by his own self aware ship if he attempted it. With the aid of the heroes the anukai leader managed to leap onboard the Sunscreamer, while the fleet of Thane Morgan drove away the large and superior alien scout ship. But as soon as the scary alien leader set his foot in the cargo bay of the Sunscreamer, Aili recognised the aliens that had killed her daughter and her people on the moon of Tirrka. With her awesome mental powers she attacked and mortally wounded the Anukai leader before anybody could stop her and calm her down. The dying Anukai revealed that he also had the power of the Voice and gave Joseph the Messenger the Voleruk, the power word that activates ancient technology. This was another of the seven treasures. Just as he died, the Anukai leader smiled and said that with warriors such as Aili, humanity might still have a chance.
On their way to Hargard, Thane Morgan's fleet had to jump through the system of Khotan. Khotan was not a Vuldrok world, but offered some opportunities to buy weapons and slave labour that he could free unto his fief on Hargard. Accompanying Thane Morgan to the more low tech world of Khotan, the heroes met with the ruthless tyrant Barak Din of the Gonjeen Republic. But during the negotiations to buy arms, Jeron Al-Malik, Aili and Mi'kur were kidnapped. Suspecting the regime, as well as rivalling city states, terrorists and rebels, chaos erupted as the brutal police force tried to make strikes and arrests to impress the Vuldrok. It ended in flight from the Gonjeen Republic, aiding a rivalling regime to free slaves. After investigations and parleying with other city states, the heroes finally managed to follow the mysterious leads to the secret free state of Freehold. Here ancient intelligences from the underworld had recognised Jeron al-Malik as the heir to the only royal family that tried to uphold and rebuild a republic. After having communed with these strange intelligences, Jeron and the others were freed again.
By switching sides, Thane Morgan missed his opportunity to buy cheap arms, but instead could muster labourers and farmers for free from the Sovereign Sky Republic.
Before reaching Hargard, Thane Morgan rendezvoused in secret with new allies on the outskirts of the system. House Ramakrishna offered their technical support in exchange for monopoly on trade in his ports. Two other small thanes offered their help and allegiance, as they were hated enemies of Fangir's powerful brother Thane Sigfaddir Firestorm.
Landing in secret with a survey team and the heroes, Thane Morgan began to inspect his new fief. All was not well, as the powerful neighbour Thane Sigfaddir had emptied the land of everything valuable. An attack seemed imminent. Sigfaddir only needed an excuse.
The heroes helped Thane Morgan to parley with the locally freed slaves who lived in the neighbouring Bishopry of Ostmark. Blinded by the words of Joseph the Messenger, Bishop Roland promised to aid Thane Morgan with information and cooperation through the many slaves that had squatted on Thane Morgan's abandoned lands.
Thane Morgan finally officially landed in great ceremony. Immediately a strange order issued from his then defecting generals who ordered his troops to attack Sigfaddir. Sigfaddir defeated the armies of Thane Morgan and complained to the Allthing of Hargard.
Being free to do their own investigations, the heroes began searching for the new guardian of the S'srota. They had been told it would be a Spawn of Nidderak, and the mysterious octopoid Nizdharim aliens seemed to fit the description. But against their will, the heroes were drawn into the conflict between the sinister Nidderak worshippers among the Nizdharim and the splinter colony worshippers of Nao. On top of all this, The Oruga Khan and his Mortos followers surfaced again. Allied with the antinomist cult of Nidderak he had captured the new guardian of the S'srota, Zugaloth, the Witness of Nao, and held him prisoner as bait. Walking freely into the trap, the heroes battled both the Oruga Khan, the antinomists and the Nizdharim. But they were aided by the Nao Nizdharim and eventually managed to free Zugaloth, the new guardian of the S'srota. But in the conflict, the Oruga Khan had taken the guise of Zugaloth and had been given the S'srota. In the chaos and destruction, the Oruga Khan managed to flee with his long coveted prize.
Returning in dismay to Thane Morgan's fief the heroes came just in time for Thane Sigfaddir's surprise attack. Avoiding submarine storm troopers and air bombardment, the heroes managed to reach their shuttle at the besieged space docks. Among the fleeing ships was a Freak Show holding a captured Oro'ym called Tjama. Realising that this was the Pathfinder, the seventh treasure, Jason Saunders freed him and brought him aboard the shuttle. Dodging atmospheric fighters, the heroes scrambled to the Sunscreamer. As Sigfaddir's ships converged on Morgan's, other ships came into low orbit as well. Being allies, witnesses, peace keepers or just fearing that their own fiefs might get caught up in the fray. Over fifty ships were opposed in a complicated stand-off. Then threats and hostile manoeuvres turned into accidents and ships began to fire on each other. In the battle Jason Saunders spotted the Rog'itloi, their old Vau modified ship that had been stolen from them by Thane Sigfaddir when they made their way home from Beacon. Lured by revenge, Jason began chasing the smaller and faster ship among the battling titans. But in the end he managed to get a grip of himself in time to notice the Oruga Khan's ship and an escort ship fleeing Hargard on the other side of the planet. When pursuing, they received the aid of Zugaloth. After a brief battle, the Oruga Khan's ship and the escort ship had been subdued and the heroes boarded them. Finding dead crewmen and husks attacking them, the heroes found their way to the passenger room where the dead body of the Oruga Khan sat impaled by a support beam. Joseph the Messenger retook the S'srota, while the heroes wondered why it had been so easy to defeat the Oruga Khan. The answer to their mysteries came when Brother Simon tried to cleanse them of evil and found a dark taint in Josiah. He had brought something dark and sinister back with him from the ship. But what was it?
The battle over Hargard was resolved by House Ramakrishna and Eldrid the Wise intervening and putting an end to it. This resolved the issue between Sigfaddir and Morgan - for the moment. They were forced to an uneasy truce by the great Allthing.
Zugaloth was given the S'srota and managed to unite his splinter colony under a new “song” and bound them somehow together. He called them the Fourth Race. An untainted race, not governed by the Shadow Court like his cousins. He then departed for fabled Akata, and ancient colony of Nizdharim and Oro'ym which he was destined to find, according to his visions.
With the departure of the S'srota, Joseph the Messenger became weaker and weaker. Having lost his life at the space battle between Fangir and Morgan, the S'srota was all that kept him alive. Tjama the Pathfinder gathered the seven treasures and led them to the Hargard gate, which he had seen in a vision and was searching for. With the aid of Brother Simon and the weak Joseph, who wielded the Whisper and the Word they entered the gate and opened a Gateway Chamber. Here they met something that must have been an Empyrean Angel, who told them that they had succeeded in finding all the treasures. Now he would send some of them to the worlds ruled by the Shadow Court, so that they could witness the growing darkness and bring back news of its coming as well as its weaknesses. They would be Champions of Light. He/it instructed them to activate the Gateway Chamber with the Reota rune. This immediately transported them to an abandoned system that once had been a very important Annunaki world. A strange ship was on its way to pick up the Sword (Aili), the Newborn (Mi'kur), the Pathfinder (Tjama) who would wield the Word (Voleruk) and the Lens (Velemun). As gratitude for their help to fight the coming darkness, the Empyrean Angel marked everyone with the protection of the Lightbearers and gave them a Time Tear, a mystical artefact that would enhance whatever skills they were good at to miraculous proportions. With last farewells the treasures departed and Jeron al-Malik was told that the jump coordinates he had in his head would open a gate somewhere, which would one day summon back the Champions of Light with their words of warning.
After this the heroes exited the gate to find the entire exodus fleet of Zugaloth's Nizdharim waiting to jump. They offered to take Joseph the Messenger with them, as the proximity of the S'srota was the only way for him to survive. Joseph agreed and departed to unknown space with the Nizdharim.
The heroes gave a last farewell to Thane Morgan Fireblade and were then sent through the Hargard gate.
Back to Leminkainen - Back to the Known Worlds – Back to their Emperor.
Murder on the Neptune Express
Upon their return to the Empire, the heroes were briefed officially and unofficially by the Imperial Office and the Imperial Eye of their discoveries and experiences in barbarian space. After this, they were welcomed home as true heroes by Emperor Alexius himself. Every planet and every noble house learnt of their exploits through cunning imperial PR and magic lantern shows (starring more handsome actors as the heroes of course….). Life turned into a never ending series of parties, banquets, inaugurations, grand opening ceremonies, which the heroes had to attend. After more than two months in the limelight the populace began to loose interest in the heroes, and the Imperial Office sent the heroes on a last PR coup – a voyage with the newly refurbished luxury liner “Neptune Express” to the carefully guarded Holy Terra system.
After a grand departure ceremony the heroes and the extremely VIP list of noble, church and guild passengers began their tour of the Holy Terra system. But things soon turned out to be everything else than leisurely onboard the luxury liner. 3 rd Republican agents mingled with church kalinthi agents and Hidden Martyrs, which led to murder, investigations and accusations. Rumours of proscribed but powerful secrets and second republic technology onboard triggered a covert treasure hunt. Mixed with the sightings of the ghost Missy Sadness who brought ill forebodings, a confused and amnesiac golem posing as one of the maintenance crew, incognito boarding of high ranking members of the Supreme Order of Engineers and an assassin from the Slayer's Guild who was after Jason Saunders – the trip began to get interesting.
But when the ship's dark past with the unreformed House Li Halan was uncovered along with evidence of key antinomists onboard, the terrible truth of the voyage became known. Just as 800 years ago, the ships passengers and crew were about to be sacrificed to a demon sultan while in orbit around Neptune.
Aided by the visions of Missy Sadness, the memory of golem captain Achilles recovered from the closed holo-deck and the destruction of Draconian Cross nodes hidden onboard the ship, the heroes managed to save most of the passengers and banish the demons that came out of the storms of Neptune. When the church ships of Holy Terra retreived the crippled luxury liner and picked up the survivors, there was no sign of the antinomist's Henchman and Marquis Luca van Gelder, whom had robbed the heroes of an old cybernetic think machine implant.
While recuperating after the terrible ordeal onboard the Neptune Express, the heroes became involved in prolonged and ugly legal actions regarding the ownership of the Vuldrok liberated ex-Decados ship, the Vostok a.k.a. Sunscreamer. As the ship conveniently also had been stolen from the heroes (read: sold by Jason Saunders) before the Reeves Guild could begin their proceedings, an informal death threat lay over the heroes for the loss of one of House Decados’ experimental (and possibly blasphemous) war frigates.
When hired Decados thugs came to deliver a lethal warning, an old acquaintance of Jason Saunders, Charioteer Tantakir Gatt-Koun, came to their rescue. In Tantakir’s ship, the Godfire, they blasted out of Port Authority and away from Byzantium Secundus. In return for having helped them, Tantakir persuaded the heroes to help him find a great treasure that had been stolen from him and a friend of his. This treasure consisted of a very special jumpkey – a repeater key - which could repeat the last jump coordinate sent to a gate, as well as a philosopher’s stone that could instantaneously move anybody across a whole planet. As these artefacts were held by a dangerous and evil freeman by the name of Aldo Grimes, Tantakir needed the heroes help. In return for helping him, they were entitled to equal shares of Aldo Grimes’ ship and cargo value, as well as keep the mysterious artefact. These treasure caught the interest of Jason Saunders, Nomi Silverlight and Thomas Deluga. But also Tantakir caught the interest of Brother Simon who had seen him in his strange vision where he encountered Vau and his dead father.
Despite warnings from Brother Simon and Sir Charall, the heroes agreed to assist Tantakir and set a course for the system jumpgate.
Aldo Grimes homeworld and base of operations was Leagueheim. According to Tantakir, Aldo and his ruthless crew of smugglers and freeman chainers hid their goods in an abandoned factory in one of the Pollution Zones. Risking all kinds of radiation, dangerous chemicals and mutated Leagueheim lifeforms, the heroes sneaked into the huge abandoned factory complex searching for their quarry. They soon discovered that the factory complex no longer served as Aldo Grime’s base, his band of smugglers had moved on. Instead they found a hidden but abandoned sathra temple, built in the bowels of the complex. Most probably this heretical temple had been used by the Republican factory owners more than 900 years ago, but evidence showed that it had also been used much more frequently. A mysterious drawing was found next to Aldo Grime’s insignia on the wall. At this point Tantakir revealed that he knew that Aldo was a spy sathraist from a lost world, a dangerous and evil sathraist, owning the jump coordinates to lost Paradise (House Justinians lost homeworld). The signs must therefore be a clue to his followers and fellow spies from Paradise where he had moved on. This incited the interest of Sir Charall Hawkwood who dearly wanted to find the lost world of paradise for his beloved Pandora Justinian. Studying the double jumpgate symbol and the three tiered tower part of the symbol, the heroes suspected that the clue pointed to the New Cathedral on Pandemonium, and the only known system with two jumpgates. This fit nicely into Aldo Grimes’ description, as he was known doing runs to Pandemonium under the protection of House Decados.
As Tantakir had no jumpkey to Pandemonium, passage was found thanks to Baron Vladimir Decados on a Decados galliot from Cadavus, and the Godfire parked in Escoral spaceport on Kish. After jumping it became obvious that something was wrong with Baron Vladimir Decados. Since his contact with and his miraculous restoration from death by the philosopher stone the S’srota, he had changed. His psychic powers tended to grow and overload after each jump. Remembering the words of the strange creature claiming to be an Empyrean Angel in the Hargard system, Vladimir knew that his soul had somehow been ignited and would gather energy for ascension. This however would be impossible for a mere human and would result in his destruction. But the question was, would he take all the other with him as his powers grew more and more dangerous?
After arriving at the Hub, the heroes soon got involved with the local aristocracy and their strange inter-House bonds. They experienced firsthand the desolation, chaos, hopelessness and panic of the dying world, while looking for more clues to Aldo’s whereabouts.
In the hub, Brother Simon bumped into a cartophylax who had known his Obun foster father, which soon led to another symbol clue atop the new Pandemonium Cathedral. It was clear that Salah ven Lahjal also had been involved in these strange clues and the Aldo Grimes business. After also hearing that Aldo and his men were untouchable, enjoying the protection of House Decados for doing all the dirty delivery runs that House Decados didn’t want to be associated with, the heroes began to suspect that everything was not right with Tantakir’s story. At this point the nervous Charioteer was pressed until he revealed that both he and Aldo were sathraists and indeed both sought the way to Paradise. The artefacts were of lesser importance and could be kept by the heroes. The entire affair with the Decados hired thugs on Byzantium Secundus had been a ruse, thugs hired by Tantakir so he would get the opportunity to help the heroes escape. Despite being angry that Tantakir had used them, the heroes still agreed to continue their manhunt, as they had learnt that Aldo was real scum and there was a chance to share the treasures and the rights to the jump coordinates to a lost world.
When they finally located Aldo’s stronghold outside the Hub and saw firsthand his ship’s return to Pandemonium, the heroes executed an attack on the stronghold. They found no artefacts, instead a drugged Aldo connected to some weird kind of device enabling him to somehow experience sathra. When questioned about the symbol and the artefacts, the raving Aldo told them that they were walking Twylau’s Trail and that it would lead to Heresy and Death. In the nervous moments of questioning a drugged and incapacitated prisoner, Aldo Grimes was killed (some would say executed) by the heroes who were spurred on by Brother Simon who fearfully suspected foul antinomy at work. For his actions Brother Simon was later reported to the Escatonic Order chapter house and was assigned a duty of penance for his lust of killing. His hubris would haunt him until he spared an enemy.
Suspecting that once again Tantakir hid something from them, the heroes put more pressure on him. This time Tantakir revealed that the clues they were looking for weren’t actually jump coordinates to Paradise, but a hidden trail of clues left by hidden sathraists. Tantakir explained that he had been contacted by the Veiled, (sathraist spies and infiltrators living in the Empire) who served the Hidden (hidden sathra communities on lost worlds). They had claimed that it was vitally important that the heroes walked Twylau’s Trail. Thousands of lives depended on it. As a reward, Tantakir (Being a Touched – isolated human having experienced and become dependant upon the sathra effect) would be granted access and membership into the Hidden and their powers.
Twylau’s Trail was an ancient trail of clues, originally left behind by the legendary sathraist Twylau of Sutek. The trail supposedly led to a lost world of the Veiled. The trail is moved or re-arranged every three or four centuries with new clues and directions to throw off the ancient enemy of the Hidden – the Church.
Enraged by this revelation, the heroes were ready to turn their back on Tantakir and the whole trail. But the mysterious involvement of his dead foster father had aroused Brother Simon’s attention. (Salah had been on some kind of personal quest or obsession after his encounter with the Vau and the Shutaki’s Tear. He had been captured, convicted of heresy and burnt on Pentateuch some 15 years ago). Also Jason had been enchanted and tempted by the legendary powers of sathra and the prospect of finding a lost world. So, through persuasion, greed and lust for knowledge the heroes decided to keep on following the strange clues left behind by the sathraists.
The next step of the Trail was interpreting the strange clues atop the Pandemonium Cathedral. Through interviews with House Li Halan and Brother Simon’s studies in the last remaining library of Pandemonium, they soon understood that the symbols were Li Halan pictogram pointing to Kish and the notorious pre-reflective sathraist prince Yasao Nan-chen Li Halan.
But before they could leave, Baron Vladimir and his retinue were punished verbally and socially by Count Enis Sharn, for their interference in House Decados affairs and the killing of Aldo Grimes. As a result the heroes were transported by slow and dirty cargo ship to Kish. With them travelled the resourceful Pandemonium scout/trouble shooter Chandar Kartash, who had sworn allegiance to Baron Vladimir Decados in return for passage off Pandemonium.
On their way to the jumpgate, the cargo ship was attacked and boarded by the notorious pirate Beliah “The Devil” Black. When subjected explosive decompression during this attack, Marcellus and Chandar were gravely wounded, resulting in the loss of eyes and terrible body damage. Zorin and some of the crew managed to flee in badly damaged shuttle, but the rest of the heroes were captured. Beliah was not very happy with the death of his partner Aldo Grimes and after some interrogation and torture of the heroes soon understood that they were on Twylau’s trail. Under torture Tantakir also revealed that the heroes were somehow special – or at least one of them was – and that they were sought by the Veiled. Being a corrupt sathraist like Aldo, Beliah decided to use the heroes in order to follow the trail himself.
In the confines of their horrible little cell, Tantakir revealed even more –the Veiled wanted Brother Simon specifically to follow / be tested by the trail.
Defenceless, clad in poor pilgrim clothes and somehow injected with something that would kill them in 48 hours if they did not return to Beliah Black, the heroes were dumped on Kish by Beliah Black. They studied Yasao Nan-chen Li Halan’s history and found several references to the Li Halan glyphs they had seen on the Pandemonium Cathedral. The clues pointed to the small desolate world Akasha in the Kish system.
During their studies they attracted the attention of an old librarian. The mysterious librarian loaned them several forbidden tomes detailing sathra history, hidden sathra cultures and cosmology. The heroes began to understand that Twylau’s Trail was more than a chain of clues leading to hidden sathraist, it led to understanding of sathraism, baptism into sathra, awakening of the inner flame and attention from the Veiled who could chose to invite them into their society.
Were they willing to do all this?
The old librarian also claimed to have known Salah ven Lahjal, stating that he was a devout trailwalker. Was the librarian one of the Veiled set to watch over the trail?
But already next day the librarian was found murdered and the blame was somehow put on the heroes who had to make a hasty retreat. Someone else – apart for the heroes and Beliah Black – was also on the trail. And they did not seem to have good intentions.
Fearing that Beliah Black somehow had injected them with a micro charge in their necks or even worse – some kind of time triggered disease, the heroes paid a special visit to a creepy pathologist before they left. He found some strange kind of parasite in their system, seemingly adapting to their cells and merging with them. He knew of no way to remove it. In secret, Jason Saunders purchased the deadly viral strand of Severan Gut Rot along with its cure. Not telling anyone else, he infected himself to become a spreader of the dreaded disease when returning to Beliah Black’s ship The Devil.
The desolate world with its barely breathable atmosphere was only home to a few smaller guild operated mining operations. But as the Li Halan prince had cruelly hunted his victims in the Needle Canyons of this world the heroes and Beliah’s men began their search of this area. They soon found deserted sathraist dwellings that had been built long after the Li Halan prince’s cruel games. The settlement had however been cleansed by Brother Battle 400 years ago. Among the remains the heroes found recently made offerings from other trailwalkers and a booby trap from their unknown trailwalking competitor. They also found another strange clue in the form of the inverted symbol of the Temple of Anikrunta.
During their retreat through the misty and eerie landscape the Gut Rot disease began to set in. The affected pirates became weaker and more panicked until the heroes could overcome them during an attack by indigenous lifeforms. Not daring to confront Beliah Black’s larger plague-ridden ship, the heroes took the shuttle and left for Kish. On Kish they took Tantakir’s ship out of its dock and as they were about to depart found themselves targeted by sabotage. Crash landing in the marshes of the southern polar sea, the heroes had to spend more than a month on Kish to repair their ship. When investigating who the saboteur could have been, the heroes mysteriously lost track of the perpetrator on the security camera recordings.
They also alerted House Li Halan to the whereabouts of Beliah Black and then held a low profile. They had plenty of time to study the next clue, finding it pointing to Criticorum, where the only other existing temple of Anikrunta outside Kordeth (erected during the Ukar occupancy of the planet during the Ukar war) bore that inverted symbol.
Landing in the metropolitan city of Acheon, the heroes soon found more clues on the ruined remains of the Temple of Anikrunta. But on Criticorum everything took a more deadly turn. Marcellus, who had previously been a diplomat to the world, found clues to the disappearance of his twin brother Remus. Remus had in secret wed an ukar terrorist – Sinris vo Lajuk - whom contacted Marcellus. Remus had been captured by the Invisible Path terrorists of psychic supremists. The heroes also found out that Chandar wasn’t who he had claimed he was. Instead he was infamous al-Malik major Majid Salochin, who had been accused of treason after the House Decados attack and occupancy of Criticorum during the Emperor Wars. Majid claimed he was innocent and had emerged from hiding on Pandemonium when he recently had learnt that his wife Safira wasn’t dead, but in the hands of a psychic coven. After some investigation, this coven soon proved to be the Invisible Path.
Trying at first to impress the Invisible Path and obtain information about Remus and Safire, Sir Charall Hawkwood was duped into delivering special goods to the Royal House Embassy complex known as the Guesthouse. This proved however to be a bomb that killed an unlikely and forbidden couple of Hawkwood and Decados lovers - Lady Elanya Decados and Brian Hawkwood. The search for information soon turned into a deadly cat and mouse chase with the Invisible Path where Vladimir and Charall were captured to be used for sinister plans by the Invisible Path. With the careful aid of the rivalling Favyana psychic coven and the al-Malik secret police – the Mutasih, the heroes joined in a raid upon a secret Invisible Path stronghold. After fighting deadly psychic warriors, they freed Charall from the sinister brainwashing and understood that this had been the fate of both Remus and Safira. The two could however not be found and they were told that the Lux Machiel had taken them with him when he fled. They eventually also found Baron Vladimir who had been inserted into some arcane tech device to incorporate him into the Overmind Project. The true purpose of the nefarious Overmind Project was never revealed and the machines destroyed. But the heroes shuddered at the memory of the tales that the great Psychic known as the Jailor had told them after they freed him on Sky Tear. He had come from a world known as Kun Lun. A world ruled by psychics and secretly governed by a terrible collective urge entity known as the Overmind.
All the heroes were equally shocked when they learnt that Brother Simon had been somehow replaced by a zealot church metonym (face changer) who tried to pump them for information about the next step of Twylau’s trail. As the metonym escaped, the heroes rushed back to their quarters to find a sedated Brother Simon close to assassination. Once again the metonym eluded them. They understood now that this was the other trailwalker - the same person that had sabotaged their ship on Kish. This trailwalker most probably sought the Hidden in order to destroy them.
After interrogations by the Mutasih (for their strange involvements in the Invisible Path affair and the rumoured sightings of the traitor Majid in their company) and far too many questions from the Imperial Consulate (for terrible expenses in the name of the Phoenix Throne) and Houses Hawkwood and Decados (for suspecting Charall delivering a bomb device at the Guesthouse just hours before the murder) and the Church (the metonym having planted tales of their heresy) the heroes got themselves a respite through expensive Reeve lawyers and decided to make a run for it. With the Godfire impounded, they fled with Tantakir’s sathra friends onboard the Silver Adder. Determined that the next clue of Twylau’s Trail would be found with the roving Guild Armada, they departed the Criticorum system as suspects and/or fugitives.
Finding the Guild Armada currently mining, ship building and contracting for House Decados in the Malignatius system, the heroes posed as a Juandaastas lord and retinue looking for business. After traversing the vast armada of shipyards, refineries, laboratories and factories, the heroes found the next clue to the puzzle to be an old starship. It had once been a sathra ship until its crew were executed and the ship de-commissioned. New clues could however be found on its hull, pointing to Saint Muriel, a local saint of Cadiz. During their brief visit it became clear that the metonym was already ahead of them and had visited the Guild Armada. Also Beliah Black and his new crew and new ship, was on their trail and waiting for them in the Malignatius system (Malignatius and Leagueheim being the only parts of Twylau’s Trail that had been known to him through legend and purposefully spread rumours). Stealthily he followed them to the jumpgate and with his sathra pilot managed to trail them to the Cadiz system.
After landfall the heroes made for the giant city complex of Ellibyrge to do some research on Saint Muriel. They quickly found that the old sathra ship and its captain had been involved in the saint’s breaking of the Cadiz famine after the fall of the Second Republic. New clues were hidden upon her Hironem-made statue which could only be seen by the indigenous Hironem capable of seeing the invisible and mysterious energy - S’su. A symbol of S’su energy depicting the Vau glyph for Maintou coincided with the rumour that the sathra captain had delivered food for the starving populace of Cadiz from a hidden world nightside of Manitou. As this was discovered the metonym was once again spotted but eluded them. Had she obtained the same clue or at least understood the Hironem’s part in its discovery?
However, the heroes soon found themselves invited to the local Decados Manse, only to discover that Baron Vladimir Decados was actually the ruler of a vast estate around Ellibyrge. In his absence his two untrustworthy brothers ruled in his stead. They were slightly disappointed in the Baron’s return and soon the heroes found themselves involved in House Decados politics, involving slander of Sir Charall and much duelling, as well as Duchess Salandra Decados wanting Baron Vladimir to choose sides – her or prince Hyram as the new House leader. Choosing not to decide at the moment, Baron Vladimir and the heroes departed Cadiz.
On their way to the jumpgate, the heroes were ambushed by Beliah Black but managed to get away with only colourful on-screen threats. Fearing that he would trace them through the gate, the sathra captain, Tantakir, Jason Saunders and Brother Simon tried to hide their traces in sathra space. This led to foul encounters with dread beasts and something evidently trailing Brother Simon in the likeness of his long dead foster father Sala ven Lahjal.
As Marcellus also had been posted on the backwater and isolated world of Manitou as a diplomat, the heroes sought out the minor house Juandaastas for assistance. From the spaceport they sent the message to the Vau that they had promised the dying Anu’kai captain, telling how the Cha’vanc had awakened and that the War in Heaven was coming. There was of course no reply from the enigmatic Vau ships in orbit.
They heroes soon also discovered that a sathra temple and a cult of sathraists existed in the very capitol city of Byblos. When they turned to the sathraists with their clue, they soon hinted that Trailwalkers sometimes came to Manitou. They target obvious - the haunted old sathra chapel now situated in forbidden Vau lands. With the aid of the sathraists, the heroes mounted an expedition to the haunted monastery, taking advantage of the special Vau holy day, when sentinels withdrew from the coast.
However, during their short visit the heroes obviously managed to create many enemies. The first being Alonzo Torquemada San Ortiz de Hazat over an old incident involving his young daughter and Marcellus Juandaastas. The second fraction were the dangerous Invisble Path, whom the heroes had trailed to Manitou. After their first confrontation the heroes amazingly managed to free Marcellu’s long lost and brainwashed brother Remus, whom they quickly whisked away off world to safe de-programming. Even Majid managed to find clues to his wife who had suffered the same fate. The third fraction was the zealot church bishop and his troublesome and newly arrived Brother Battle missionaries; Sister Magdalena and Brother Maximilian, who mounted their own expedition to destroy the temple. On top of this, scravers sought to use the holy day revealed by the heroes to plunder the temple and mounted a third expedition.
Just as the heroes were about the leave, a strange Vau shuttle descended from orbit and a mandarin with his retinue of soldiers and workers exited to study the heroes. The mandarin never spoke, only referring to data displayed on his oriel. Then, without a word ever being uttered, the Vau departed again, leaving frustrated heroes and inquisitive townspeople behind.
Then the chase across the open seas for the temple in the forbidden Vau lands began. Storms, sabotage and stealthy approach finally allowed the heroes to reach the temple first. In the abandoned scary sathra temple, the heroes managed to secure another clue by accessing the link to sathra space that it somehow created. This clue pointed to the world of De Moley – grim homeworld of the hated enemy of all sathraists – the Brother Battle Order. But in the process of uncovering the clue, they were slowly and stealthily attacked and drained of their lifeforce by a terrible and ancient being that had slipped into the world through that very same link.
In the end the Brother Battle and their troops arrived and managed to capture the heroes after some terrible fighting and the destruction of the sathra temple. After being brought back in chains and in shame to Byblos to be judged, the heroes were unexpectedly freed by the free people of Byblos who objected to the church oppression. Violence erupted in Byblos that day as the Brother Battle and their troops attacked the sathra temple in desperation together with the metonym Glams Darvo whom had replaced the sathra High Navigator to lure the heroes into a trap. It was soon followed by an uprising of townspeople attacking the church in return. Even the Invisible Path sent out their huntsmen on the streets to find the heroes and Beliah Black had arrived with his new ship to seek out the hated heroes.
Byblos was boiling with intrigue and violence and heroes were in the centre of it all.
Not wasting any more time the heroes fled Manitou. With the aid of a strange sathra group rite that somehow blinded orbiting ship sensors, the heroes managed to break the blockade. In the chaos Valdimir Decados’ more brutal brother Radovan confronted them in his ship in order to destroy Vladimir, so that he and his brother Ivan would be the Barons of Elibyrge. Because of the sensor blackout, the heroes managed to lure the attacking ship close to Beliah Black, so that Radovan’s ship was destroyed instead of the heroes’ ship. Sneaking out with minimal systems activated, the heroes slipped out of the Manitou system and set a course for De Moley.
When arriving to the De Moley system, the freighter on which the heroes posed as pilgrims, was boarded and searched by Inquisitors. After some curious secret interrogations of Tantakir, the Inquisitors suddenly left the ship.
When arriving to the planet, the heroes witnessed an invasion armada of Brother Battle ships leaving De Moley, their intentions to invade the world of the Hidden sathraists which was close to discovery.
Slipping in as pilgrims, the heroes managed to infiltrate the desolate and hostile world of de Moley and sneak around Ruad Monestary for clues during the visiting hours. A young guide even managed to uncover all kind clues to the old sathra graves of the world’s original inhabitants, whom had been slaughtered by the Brother Battle during the genesis of the Order. But as the heroes solved the riddle of the last sathra king’s grave, they found themselves betrayed by their young guide. As Brother Battle legionaries rushed into the desecrated heretical tomb, the heroes amazingly stumbled upon a secret tunnel leading to ancient sathra relics and to other hidden tunnels of the original sathra fortress. Using these tunnels the heroes managed to flee Ruad Monastery. But not before accidentally witnessing (and recording) a secret ritual of the Brother Battle, where the battle monks paid homage to Zakhayelos, Lord of Hosts. Knowing that this was inflammatory information, the heroes fled the town across the barren, wind-whipped crags of the world to a distant league mining outpost. Despite their attempts to evade Brother Battle Legionaries searching for them, the heroes were finally cornered by two church inquisitors and their men. But as the heroes prepared for painful torture and death, they saw the Inquisitors betray their men to steal away the heroes in their ship. The Inquisitors were in fact members of the Veiled, sathra agents hiding in society, which had been searching for them. With their new allies, the heroes managed to slip out of the clutches of the Brother Battle and fled the system.
The next clue – and their proof to their newfound allies that they were dedicated - was said to be found in sathra space and it became Brother Simon’s task to find it as they exited the de Moley system through the jumpgate. Reluctant at first, the fledgling sathraists finally agreed to the search. Slipping into sathra space during the jump, Simon encountered the dread beast-shadow of Aldo Grimes who wanted revenge for the death of his physical body. As he battled Aldo he found the Time Tear given to him by what he believed to be an Empyrean Angel to be of great use. With it he was close to invincible and banished the foul Aldo thing which was in league with dark forces.
Simon also encountered the mental remains of his foster father Salah ven Lahjal, who had hidden in timeless saatari. Before helping Simon find the next clue of Twylau’s Trail, Salah told Simon of his strange quest imposed upon him by the Vau. To find the Hand of the Weft. An artefact with great power to alter and/or influence the Weft. The Vau had seen that his destiny was linked to it. But despite all his years of searching he had never understood that it was right in front of him. Salah understood now that Simon was the Hand of the Weft. He told Simon to confront the Bintaru monks of Velisamil who had given him over as a toddler to Salah. Surely they hid something about his heritage. Salah then spent the last of his essence to bless his foster son and send last greetings and farewells to his wife and the rest of family. After this Salah was no more.
The clues found in sathra space were two symbols. One was a combination of the symbol of Anikrunta and that of Velisamil. The other a collection of diamond shapes. After some study Brother Simon found the combined symbol to be the ancient symbol of Vhem, an old Obun deity. Therefore, all roads pointed to Velisamil.
After having blown their cover the Veiled agents smuggled the heroes via Cumulus Spacestation in the Byzantium Secundus system to a Hawkwood ship destined for Velisamil. The heroes arrived to beautiful and tranquil Velisamil openly and in silence. They visited Simon’s foster mother to deliver Salah’s last message and found that the Vau had been there searching for Salah. When the Vau had discovered that Salah was dead they had seemed disappointed and handed over a strange key-like device together with a riddle to the widow. This key and the riddle now passed over to Simon.
When confronting the Bintaru priests, Simon only learnt that he was of a human bloodline equivalent to the believed to be extinct Venlinni - obun touched by the Lightbearers to be guardians/advisors to their people, with a greater aptitude to understanding Saatari. Obviously the Lightbearers had left many Venlinni in many different species behind. The only clue to his origins lay with the name of the Muster Chainer from Bannockburn who had dropped Simon in off at the monastery under orders from Simon’s real parents who had been killed.
Brother Simon also found himself invited to the Umo’rin of Velisamil and was given great honorary titles and rewards for his gift of knowledge regarding the sundered Obun. The Umo’rin also showed him the secretly built starship that with Simon’s jumpkey to Sherkaven was setting out to discover the fate of their lost kin there.
When following up the lead to Twylau’s Trail, the heroes learnt that an ancient Temple of Vhem – THE Temple of Vhem – bore the very same symbol Simon had seen in sathra space. High up in the mountains the heroes finally managed to locate the ancient Temple of Vhem and was let in by the friendly monks. Carved upon the walls of the temple said to have been built by the Lightbearers themselves, the heroes saw more of the diamond symbol clusters. These represented the ancient Intelligences (worlds of the jumpweb). One of these Intelligences had the exact number of diamond symbols and held the classical occult symbols of the systems in the jumpweb. Piecing together earlier clues and hints left behind by the Veiled, the heroes understood that the next step of Twylau’s Trail lay in the Gwynneth system. A curious symbol crowned the Gwynneth symbol however.
The heroes arrived in the Gwynneth system to find the Brother Battle ships to have joined those of the infamous Duke William Rochford Hawkwood, led by the famous Hawkwood Admiral Marcus Atreus. Landing safely in the Juandaastas holdings of Rangor, the heroes quickly learnt that the strange symbol found at the Temple of Vhem happened to be the symbol for a dread monster scourge in Fordan. Slipping in with sea gypsises, the heroes found that the beast scourge was only a lie devised by the Veiled in order to test those coming as true seekers of Twylau’s Trail. But the Hawkwood troops were vigilant and attempted to ambush the heroes. Thanks to their wits and the help of the Veiled, Nicodemus, stationed there to test them, the heroes managed to slip away through subterranean tunnels haunted by lumbering rock trolls. Fleeing Gwynneth, the heroes rendezvoused with a Veiled ship in the outskirts of the system. The crew told the heroes about numerous raids upon sathra branches hidden in the system. If they didn’t already know, the Brother Battle and their Hawkwood allies were getting very close to the Hidden.
Then all was revealed. The Hidden had a colony on Scorpius 2, a small world circling the distant blue giant sun of the binary Gwynneth system. This part of the system had a second, unknown jumpgate, known as the Backdoor, which the Hidden used. Now the colony was threatened, as church spies had discovered the exit point of the gate in the Shaprut system. The last hope of the sathraists now lay in their Gatemasters, people with uncanny abilities to manipulate sathra space, to force a new route from their hidden gate. This could only be done if seven Gatemasters combined their efforts to defeat the gate. It was therefore paramount that Simon win sympathy for their cause and be taken to Scorpius 2. But with their gate entry point under siege in the Shaprut system, the sahtraists now had to travel the long way in system, from solar system to solar system. This trip took more than two months and forced the ship to power down in order not to attract krakens or salamanders when passing along the Paracelsus Belt. The heroes were therefore medicated and placed in suspended animation in cryotubes.
A scout team found the powered down sathraist ship drifting through the system. It had been subjected to what the sathrasist referred to as Void Attacks by either kraken or salamanders – or both. But the heroes were alive and were awakened and introduced to the fragile sathraist colony on Scorpius 2. They saw a rich but small culture, hiding away on a distant world after the sun of their own homeworld had gone nova. Simon was immediately put into training to aid the Gatemasters, an assembly of people of all ages, to force a new route of escape for the sathraists. They could see thousands of ships reading to leave for the hidden gate.
But during preparations the Church and Hawkwood fleet made a surprise attack on Scorpius 2. Having dared the void the fleet had not passed as predicted along the Paracelsus Belt and had hidden their approach by unknown technical or occult means. Intense orbital bombardment was followed by troop dropships and a battle of the skies and orbit of Scorpius 2. Putting all their effort in getting the last refugee ships away, the sathraists stalled to win time. The heroes and Brother Simon were however surprised by the attack and trapped on the planet. Thanks to an odd Anunnaki artefact known as a sathra stone, one of the prominent Gatemasters managed to somehow transport the heroes to a ship that waited beyond one of the planet’s moons. The feat nearly cost him his life.
Rushing for the gate with the enemy fleet in pursuit, the Gatemasters prepared themselves to force the gate. Venturing into the gate they delved into the very meta-physical core of the gate and plied for jumproutes they could re-open. When doing this they encountered the terrible guardian entity called Shimu, who killed two of the Gatemasters. But the effort was a success and the Gatemasters managed to steal coordinates for an unknown system from the reluctant gate. Loosing no time the Gatemasters transmitted the coordinates and began jumping the refugee fleet while leaving the gate. Wave after wave of ships jumped away just as the church and Hawkwood fleets descended upon the sathraists. But just as the Gatemasters ship was about to jump away with the last refugee ships, their jumpdrive was hit, leaving them behind -stranded and with the enemy fleet upon them.
Surrender was the only viable option as countless refugee lives depended upon it. Pleading for mercy for the “innocent mislead serfs” onboard, the Gatemasters were given word of their protection from Admiral Atreus. As capture was no option for the Gatemasters themselves, they chose to take their chances to transport via the sathra stone through the Void to the gate chambers. The heroes, not daring to take such high risks, chose to surrender and plead for mercy.
In defeat and in shame, the heroes and the other sathraists were paraded on Gwynneth and Byzantium Secundus before ending up in the Imperial Prison.
Long court proceedings – both in the Eclastical Court and then in the Imperial Court – followed. Despite the strange withdrawal of the Brother Battle accusations against the heroes (coincidentally at the same time they received recordings of dubious rituals at Ruad Monastery) the church were fervent in their accusations of Sathra Heresy and abomination (hidden psychic powers). Houses Hawkwood, Decados and al Malik also wanted the heroes’ heads for murder (Charall and retinue), usurpury of title and abomination (Vladimir) and High Treason (Majid). Much money was spent on skilled Reeves and the accusations of Imperial Treason were soon rejected. But because of the delicate nature of sathra heresy, the Imperial Throne did not intervene or dare clash with the church.
Therefore, most of the heroes received death sentences for Heresy, Witchcraft and abomination and the involvement in the murder of the famous couple, Lady Elanya Decados and her lover Brian Hawkwood. Only Jason Saunders and Thomas Deluga escaped death with sentences such as a life time repent and isolation in a Sanctuary Eon monastery on Artemis and life imprisonment on the airless prison moon of Tartarus in the Byzantium Secundus system.
The heroes were given four months to set their affairs in order before their much anticipated public execution….
Saga of the Hegemony Envoys
Just a few weeks before the heroes were to be publicly executed; reports of strange Vau incursion into the Empire began to reach the Throne. Evidently, Vau emissaries were showing up on several worlds handing over direct and personal invitations to the Hegemony to select citizens of the Empire. Not since Ambassador Benjamin Verden, fifteen hundred years ago had the enigmatic Vau invited anyone into closed Hegemony space. These cryptic invitations had been given to both clergy, noblemen and guildsmen alike.
So, one rainy and bleak morning on Byzantium Secundus, the Imperial Eye brought the heroes to an unexpected and ruthless interrogation, focusing on their relations to the Vau. The heroes only revealed the cryptic message given to them by the dying An'ukai captain that they had to warn the enigmatic and secretive Vau about the returning War in Heaven and that the Cha'vanc had awoken.
After the gruesome interrogation the heroes were told that they would be given an unexpected and short leave from prison. In this time they could earn their freedom if the acted correctly. With no other explanation the heroes were let out onto the protected enclosure of the Nihil prison. They could hear masses of people outside and saw guards looking out over the walls.
Suddenly the great gates opened and a procession of Vau warrior entered together with small flying probes to secure the area. After them followed a Vau mandarin surrounded by scurrying workers. It stopped in front of the heroes and checked its strange oriel. When it was content with the glyphs it displayed it handed over a small cube to Brother Simon who was the only one daring enough to accept it. Without a word the Vau then turned and left - leaving the heores baffled.
When the cube was investigated it opened like a flower and three dimensional phantasmery image of a mandarin appeared speaking words of welcome:
"Greeting and most auspicious occurrence to you and yours. I am Yoma Zahl Vord'rum. You are hereby invited to join a delegation of your own kind on the star orb of Vril-Ya. This invitation may be presented to any Imperial official, who is under orders from the Throne to then ferry you immediately to that destination.
You will there partake in an ambassadorial event for your benefit, all in accordance with the strictest interpretation of auspice, governed by the Council of Worthies, for maximum harmony and knowledge. Your presence is necessary for the proper functioning of this event. Your absence will sorely try matters between our kinds.
I emphasize this: there has been no mistake in your choosing.
I thank you for your participation in this unprecedented opportunity. unheralded but greatly required. May the River of Time deliver you to proper shores."
Suddenly the death sentenced heroes were once again at the centre of attention. Now it would be embarrassing in deed to execute the invitees the Vau had requested. The invitation clearly stated that the people chosen were not to be hindered or replaced in any way lest the Empire suffer the wrath of the Hegemony.
Instead the heroes were rushed off to Imperial Eye quarters. As they had been condemned men, they were told to blindly comply with all Imperial instructions and undergo cybernetic surgery to prepare them for this ambassadorial mission, lest they be thrown back into Nihil Prison. The heroes heartily agreed – what else could condemned sathra heretics do! So they were put under the cyber surgeon’s knife and provided with various high tech espionage implants.
Directly after, without any other preparations, the heroes were taken aboard an Imperial experimental Stealth ship. There Emperor Alexius Hawkwod himself met with them incognito. Explaining the importance of their mission he wished them good luck and promised a full pardon if they returned successful. If they however strained the relations with the Vau further, Emperor Alexius promised them they would live out their lives in Pain Amplifiers.
the cvryptic message given to them by the dying An'ukai captian that they had to warn the enigmatic and secretive Vau about the returning War in Heaven and that the Cha'vanc had awoken.
After the gruesome interrogation the heros were told that they would be given an unexpected and short leave from prison. In this time they could earn their freedom if the acted correctly. With no other explanation the heroes were let out onto the protected prison enclosure. They could hear masses of people outside and saw guards looking out over the walls.
Suddenly the great gates opened and a procession of Vau warrior entered together with small flying probes to secure the area. After them followed a Vau mandarin surrounded by scurrying workers. It stopped in front of the heroes and checked its strange oriel. When it was content with the glyphs it displayed it handed over a small cube to Brother Simon who was the only one daring enough to accept it. Without a word the Vau then turned and left - leaving the heores baffled.
When the cube was investigatd it opened like a flower and three dimensional phantasmery image of a mandarin appeared speaking words of welcome:
"Greeting and most auspicious occurance to you and yours. I am Yoma Zahl Vord'rum. You are hereby invited to join a delegation of your own kind on the star orb of Vril-Ya. This invitation may be presented to any Imperial official, who is under orders from the Throne to then ferry you immediately to that destination.
You will there partake in an ambassadorial event for your benefit, all in accordance with the strictest interpretation of auspice, governed by the Council of Worthies, for maximum harmony and knowledge. Your presence is neccessary for the proper functioning of this event. Your absence will sorely try matters between our kinds.
I emphasize this: there has been no mistake in your choosing.
I thank you for your participation in this unprecedented opportunity. unheralded but greatly required. May the River of Time deliver you to proper shores."
As soon as the message had been viewed the Imperial Eye once again seized the heroes. They could tell them that the Vau had appeared before the Throne less than a month ago to inform the Emperor about their intentions and then begun inviting envoys. 22 envoys wqith retinue so far. As the Emperor doesn't dare to anger the powerful but secretive Vau he has guaranteed all envoys passage to Vril-Ya - including the death sentenced heroes. In their case they have no choice. Obey the Emperor, peform their duties as envoys and they MIGHT get pardoned.
With no other choice than agreeing to these terms, the heroes were quickly equipped with cybernetic recording instruments and shipped of to Vril-Ya on the starship Nocturnal. On the way they were briefed about the Vau, their culture and all known encounters. The information was nearly non-existent and mostly confusing. Very little was known of the Vau or their closed Hegemony of worlds. A list of the other envoys were presented and some names were familiar - Jeron al-Malik and Marquis Luca van Gelder. The heroes were also told of strange sightings of presumed An'ukai scout ships in the Empire and a great battle in Vuldrok space.
Were the superior An'ukai and their unknown dark masters invading? Was it this that was rattling the powerful Vau into finally opening their borders to humanity?
The Imperial stealth ship brought them at highest speed and without interference to Vril-Ya, ambassadorial border-world of the Hegemony.
During their crossing of the Jumpweb, the Imperial Eye provided the heroes with secret dossiers on the Vau (sadly containing far too little information about the enigmatic Vau and their closed worlds), secret reports of Vau incursions and attacks during the Emperor Wars and a special recent report on unknown stealth ships being fruitlessly attacked in the Vuldrok system of Fingisvold. These types of ships had reputedly also been sighted in the Leminkainen and Criticorum system of the Empire!
It seemed to be the same type of mysterious Ann’ukai ship the heroes had described upon their glorious return from Barbarian Space. Were the superior An'ukai and their unknown dark masters invading? Was it this that was rattling the powerful Vau into finally opening their borders to humanity?
Something was clearly happening……
Directed by Vau flight control, Imperial ships had been dropping off invited citizens at Verden City over the last two weeks. The heroes were the last to arrive. On Vril-Ya the heroes saw the magnificent and gravity defying Tower of Heaven which seemed devoid of entrances and off-limits to non-Vau. Citizens of the Empire were only allowed to land and live as ambassadors on one single island of Vril-Ya. The rest of the world was off-limits and attempts to visit these parts penalized by death. The Vau themselves reputedly came and went somehow into the Tower of Heaven, but were extremely rarely seen anywhere outside it in Verden City. Ambassadorial duty in Verden City had therefore – until now – been identical to political suicide and a good way to stow away and forget troublesome dignitaries.
At Duchess Elmira Dolomea Hecuba Hawkwood’s ball in honour of the Vau Envoys the heroes met the other invitees. Some were from the guilds, churches and noble houses. Others were shockingly enough freemen and even aliens of the Empire. But the envoys were even more shocked to see that the Vau had also invited non-Imperial citizens such as barbarians from the Vuldrok Star-Kingdom, the Kurgan Caliphate and several other Lost Worlds. Even a notorious Hidden Sathraist from Madoc and an escaped Severan slave had been shuttled to Vril-Ya. All had some special and often mysterious detail of their person or background that somehow linked them to the Vau. What were the Vau up to?
But amongst the envoys were also some familiar faces.
Their old friend Jeron al-Malik
The mysterious traveller know as Amon-Ra from Heaven’s Ridge (See Via Barbari adventure)
Their despised enemy Marquis Luca van Gelder (See Neptune Express adventure)
At the ball it became very clear that the heroes were openly despised by many of the Imperial envoys and their retinues. Also some hostilities could be felt between some of the envoys because of their backgrounds and cultural differences.
But the grand ball came to an abrupt end when skulking, nervous servants left big suspicious trays of food at the big buffet tables and took off in a hurry. Suspecting this was some kind of trap the brave heroes shouted warning and rushed the plates out of the room and into the gardens. Here they exploded and released hundreds of small poisonous Assassin Drones that began to zip around seeking living targets.
Chaos and confusion began as people screamed and began to die. As most of the guests had been indoors and the Assassin Drones had been released outdoors, the envoys barricaded themselves in Duchess Dolomea’s Palace. Some Assassin Drones slipped in through doors and windows however, and it was a nervous and terrifying hour of silence, broken by occasional screams as people tried to sneak out into the safety of Verden City.
During the chaos it became clear that someone had taken the opportunity to murder the Kurgan Caliphate envoy. This was however only the escort decoy and the heroes managed to save the real Kurgan envoy from the Assassin Drones and flee the palace.
In the end, the Vau sent a great energy pulse from the Tower of Heaven which disabled the remaining Assassin Drones, but not before it had become clear that one fourth of the envoys and their retinue had been murdered.
Servant culprits were taken alive and proved to be religious zealots, crying, screaming and declaring that the Vau were evil and terrible omens predicted humanity’s destruction at their hands. It soon became clear that someone else had used these zealots and smuggled them to Vril-Ya. But who these secret antagonists were was never revealed.
Before the incident could be further investigated the Vau summoned all envoys to Verden City’s spaceport. There, without much ceremony Mandarin Slee’wau Vim Tleptha’al greeted the envoys and thanked them for coming. His warriors quickly and efficiently then picked out all spies and unwanted and politely escorted them away. They also scanned and found unwanted equipment, such as the heroes’ cybernetic implants, which they removed quickly and painfully. After this Slee’wau split up the envoys in three groups destined for the three Hegemony worlds of Shaduveen, Apshai and Manitou and let them board shuttle barges awaiting them. The shuttle barges then rose silently and effortlessly into orbit where they were towed by Vau warships to the system gate.
The heroes landed unceremoniously in the grasslands of Shaduveen and were greeted by Yonn Gwin Ko’anti, a human from the Vau Hegemony. After having fitted them with alien nano tech sheaths for their protection (environment protection, poison filter, translator etc) Yann told them about his homeworld Gwindor which was part of the Hegemony and humanity’s short history in the Hegemony after their colony had been abandoned and forgotten during the Diaspora in fear of Vau retribution. But before telling them too much about his people – the Gwindor – and the Vau Hegemony, his masters had another plan for them. They were to travel freely through the tamed lands of Shaduveen and experience the world and its Hegemony citizens firsthand and in their own time. They should head for the floating city known as the Palace of Fortuitous Chance where Yoma Zahl, their host, would formally receive them.
The heroes did what Yonn asked of them and met many of the strange creatures that are citizens of the Vau Hegemony (such as the proud Manshogo hunters and the crustacean Velek labourers), visited villages and towns, saw strange animals and plants. Nowhere did they meet violence, only wonder and curiosity. On their brief travel they saw peaceful Vau society, Vau tech foundries, nano-tech “foldable” buildings and many other amazing things.
But at the floating Palace things started to get strange. Soon after their guide, the Vau Mandarin Yoma Zahl had started his tour of the wondrous palace, he was attacked by escaped starved alien animals in the palace zoo. After the severely injured Yoma Zahl’s sheath wrapped him in a protective cocoon, Vau soldier caste rushed in and misinterpreted the situation. The heroes and the other envoys were soon hounded through the palace, which seemed to shift by its own accord and bend reality in an uncanny way. After a while the envoy – and old enemy rival of Brother Simon and Charall - Luca van Gelder had solved the riddle and disappeared laughing into a wall. It turned out that the palace was somehow fused to/part of an ancient Anunnaki artefact known as the Klur-vela which controlled everything by altering the Weft/sathra space in such a way that it affected the real world. Luca simply understood that his Sathra gift of the Whisper worked formidably in the palace and set out to find some answers at the Core, leaving behind his rivals and enemies. When this also became clear to Simon ven Lahjal he used the cryptic key that his mother had been given by a Vau mandarin after his father, Salah’s death. The key took Simon and the heroes directly to the core and the muted, maimed creature/thing that sat there. At the Core they encountered the Elabi, the Vau splinter group that had sabotaged Yoma Zahl’s experiment with the Known Worlders and which now persuaded them to escape into the Hegemony with them. All was not as their hosts tried to make it appear. The heroes were simply pawns or an experiment in the age old game to control all life and all reality known to select few supreme Vau rulers as the Grand Plan.
Not knowing what to do, the heroes joined the Elabi and escaped the floating palace by jumping down into the marsh waters several hundred meters below – thus causing one of the greatest Vau – Human incidents since those chaotic and sad first contacts more than two millennia earlier.
After hiding in the marshes, avoiding Vau patrols and Manshogo bounty hunters, the heroes and the Elabi made their way to Kushtar Void Node (spaceport). Hiding them in unscreenable life cocoons in contaminated food cryo bins, an Elabi sympathizing naval captain smuggled them out of the Shaduveen system in a Vau warship. While joining in the 2 month hunt for the heroes and lockdown of the Border Worlds, the Vau captain took them deeper into the Vau Hegemony.
During the two month long cryo sleep in the life cocoons, the more occult sensitive (sathra space sensitive) heroes Simon, Nomi, Vladimir and Marcellus had strange dreams or visions of a radiant angel speaking to them.
“Beware of the False One. The Nameless Child, born out of Nothing. He seeks to use you for his evil purposes. But you hold the Key to his destruction, although he will not know it.”
Finally the heroes woke up on a grassy lawn on the beautiful and tranquil Rimworld of Nar-al.
An Elabi elder, Sobora Gwin Varagum, briefed them of the details of their escape, the fate of the other Shaduveen envoys and the fact that their original host Yoma Zahl remained curiously inactive in his search for them. Sobora also told them of the twin oracles of Sham’fadi whom had predicted their coming and now wished to speak to them. Meeting with the strange reptilian Fah Selani bond pair, the heroes witnessed the oracles perform a ritual that was curiously similar to the ancient Saatari rituals of the Obun and the Sathraists. An ancient being referring to itself as Akoin then spoke to them from beyond the Veil of Reality and warned them of a great War in Heaven to come while showing them visions of war, destruction, slavery, demon-like aliens and Vau fallen to evil. Akoin told them that Vau crafters had created a powerful artefact which would cause these events to come to term. It already left its mark in the Weft (sathra space) and would twist and corrupt it in an attempt to control it. Forever blinded to the workings of the Weft by their old masters, the Vau in their hubris still sought to control it and understand it better. In their folly the Vau had instead created a weapon that would destroy the Weft. Only the Hands of the Weft (those capable of influencing/changing sathra space) could according to Akoin destroy the artefact, but only its creator knew how this could be done. If the heroes succeed in finding the master Crafter and destroy the artefact, the veil of hubris would be lifted from the Vau and they would be eternally grateful. Akoin then left the possessed oracles with the final words that the heroes should seek a direct link to it in the ruined Halls of Manquar – where the borders of reality were thinnest. There it would prepare them and equip them for the task.
Reluctantly and fearing a grand misunderstanding, the heroes agreed to help the now ecstatic Elabi, whose guardian angle finally had revealed their true purpose. The heroes were given new superior armour sheaths with fake ID transponders, weapons, Vau money dispensers and a Childrens Learning Cube to better learn about the Hegemony culture and its many races and worlds. Naturally, Jason Saunders nearly wet himself when he found a holographic Hegemony jumpmap in the Learning Cube.
Posing as tomato traders (human introduced tomatoes, especially from Gwindor, were to Vau both an intoxicant and an aphrodisiac) the heroes left the Nar-al system with the Elabi onboard the trading vessel Velu am’tash “the Continous Occurance”.
Taking his cover very seriously, Jason Saunders soon became a tomato expert and learnt to recognise the more than 200 varieties of tomatoes onboard as well as how to tend them.
Vladimir on the other hand realised that the chaotic growth of his psychic powers (His doomed ascension process triggered by the S’srota – See Via Barbari adventure) seemed to escalate when jumping. Fearing that he would indeed destroy himself with these powers (not to mention the ship when his psychic spasms were triggered) the heroes began placing him in life cocoons during jumps.
Travelling at speeds faster than normal Imperial ships, the Velu am’tash soon reached the Coreworld Mashk’pa. The heroes and their Elabi co-conspirators met with local Elabi who updated their ships with full Hegemony jump clearance and more information on the Crafter mentioned by their guiding spirit. The crafter responsible for the creation of the dread artefact was called Vayona Vonn. Vayona and her clutchmates were unstable geniuses and the result of breeding programs where Weft sensitive genes had been attempted to be reintroduced (the Progenitors/Anunnaki having stricken the Vau of Weft sensitivity in order to protect them when they left several thousand years ago). The creation of the artefact was completed despite the Vau Council’s last minute orders to abort. As punishment the Vau crafter and all her clutchmates had been exiled, her whereabouts unknown today. A manshogo warrior, Bazra Shog Bau’r, who guarded the facility that was destroyed by Council warriors, seemed to have survived and now hid as an outlaw in the manshogo system of Otul. Evidently he was still in contact with the exiles. If the heroes and the Elabi could find Bazra he could tell them where to find Vayona.
While upgrading the ship the Elabi also offered professional medical care to try to find the strange alterations/infection done to them by the feared pirate Beliah Black (see Twylau’s Trail adventure). They found that strange parasite genes had nestled in their tissue, but remained inactive apart from producing distinct pheromones that was excreted through their sweat, breath and urine. It had a strange life cycle and it was unknown whether it would evolve further. In any circumstance the parasite genes could not be removed as they had somehow left blueprints of themselves in their genome and were reproduced by their bodies if they dropped to certain level. An organic tracking device or something more sinister to come?
The Vau doctors also noted Vladimir’s extraordinary condition and saw the certain fate of him overloading and sufferer lethal brain haemorrhages. They offered to “neuter” his psychic abilities forever to save him, but he refused (the second refusal).
On their way to the famous ruins of Manquar, the heroes witnessed the opening of the new buildings made out of the new fantastic Kur’pla material, which curiously seemed to hold or generate much psychic energy, unfelt by the occult insensitive Vau. But the heroes soon had other troubles dodging cunning manshogo bounty hunters and the powerful and efficient robotised Protector sentinels of the Coreworld.
Finally they reached the famous Progenitor (anunnaki) ruins known as the Halls of Manquar. In the ancient, worn stone ring (identical to the stone ring the heroes visited on Raven in Vuldrok space) Akoin manifested and told them that they now had Touched. It would now be easier for Akoin to find them and protect them. With his newfound and growing Oracle powers Vladimir managed to gleam visions of their coming quest, amongst these the new buildings of Kur’pla that were being built across the Hegemony and a strange, huge Vau warrior manifesting out of thin air. But before Akoin was finished with them, Simon was possessed by something else from sathra space. A powerful presence invaded his body and made him attack Akoin. After the heroes had managed to contain Simon and banish the thing that possessed him, a strangely wounded Akoin left an anunnaki sheath of nano-tech to protect Simon. Simon wore this ancient artefact like a strangely ornate metal collar.
The heroes and the Elabi set a course for the Protectorate systems of the martial aliens known as the manshogo. Despite encountering a proud and fierce warrior culture and many machines of war, the heroes were still treated with respect. In the Otul system they made contact with some of the countless, disorganised rebels that objected to the Hegemony rule/partnership. The rebels agreed to take them to Bazra whom they knew hid in the remote and hidden spaceport of Driftwood in return for the heroes helping them smuggle illegal weapons to Driftwood. The heroes agreed, unknowing that their enquiries had attracted the attention of the United Castes that officially ruled the manshogo worlds.
Driftwood turned out to be a gargantuan ancient space hulk of unknown origin. Only parts of it was pressurised and altered/inhabited by the manshogo rebels. Agreeing to meet them in a remote part of the space hulk, Bazra exchanged information with them over the radio. He told them that he and his troops had protected Vayona’s lab from outside attacks as well as attacks from the lab itself. Vayona and her clutchmates were different as they could see the working of the weft, although not influence it themselves. Vayona had a very distinct mark as she lacked an eye socket completely as a birth defect. Other alien races helped in the development of the secret artefact, which Bazra was sure was a weapon. Even a closely guarded scientist from the incarcerated aliens known as the Lun’grar assisted Vayona. After having been ordered by the Vau High Council to shut down the project, Vayona persisted and finalised the development anyway. Two months later Vau warrior by the thousands attacked the lab. Everything was destroyed, including the artefact in the lab. Bazra only survived by placing himself in a death trance after having been severely wounded. Lately, Bazra had met with a young manshog serving in the Vau Border Watch, who claimed to have met Vayona on Velieka. Although not knowing who it was, the young manshogo warrior described the strange one-eyed Vau mandarin as a wandering oracle carrying the Glyph of Reprimand upon her. She gave the manshogo bad dreams and ill omens by just looking upon her. She and her aged worker clutch mates were closely guarded by veteran warriors and a Vau mandarin called Vulasin cor Lum.
Just as Bazra was completing his story, United Caste warriors in big combat space suits began attacking the inhabited parts of Driftwood. Choosing to sneak in via the uninhabited part of the space hulk, the attackers came across the heroes who were meeting Bazra. Scattered and trying desperately to survive the raid, the heroes tried to make their way back to their ship. But foul experiments of a bio lab were also released, causing a viral plague of zombie-like or symbiot-like monsters that spread through Driftwood. Simon’s new anunnaki sheath soon proved to be invaluable protection against both firearms and monster attacks. As this outbreak crippled both the United Castes attackers and the rebel defenders, the heroes managed to sneak out with a shipload of refugees.
The Vau Colonies
After the violence of the manshogo worlds, a long and often uneventful search of the Vau colony worlds began. Although these worlds had long been a part of the Hegemony, auspice had not yet allowed them to be heavily colonised. The first stop was naturally Velieka, where Vayona, her clutchmates and her guardians had last been seen. But the trail was already cold on Velieka.
Following a trail of witnesses and people whom had hosted the strange oracle the heroes learned that the Vau oracle never stayed more than 2 nights in one place, 2 weeks in one territory and 2 months on one planet. She moved stealthily and she and her retinue often left her temporary hosts unnoticed and without word. Vayona could also seemingly hide from the Weft and thus not be detected or her travels anticipated by oriels. As a result of her strange prophecies (delivered without a Valukesh ha’eni which she was forbidden to carry) the mysterious oracle had a band of followers who trailed her and tried to find out where she would next appear.
Their 2 month search for Vayona allowed them to visit several Vau worlds such as Nam’Sluova, Sem’fruag, Mizra, Lush’aba, Slaarn, So’la and Vula’hesht Samveen I and II. These worlds were all in themselves fantastic and mysterious as the Vau had not terraformed them at all (Vau choosing to terraform only Coreworlds, and then only sparingly or not at all). In some systems they bumped into Vau routine controls, in one instance they were boarded but then left alone after a Vau oriel mysteriously changed its glyphs.
During their search Simon often heard the voice of Akoin urging them on or helping them solve clues to Vayonas whereabouts.
In the end they confronted an aged Vau worker by the name of Sebau, whom the Followers had pointed out had had a particularly close encounter with Vayona. The elderly worker told them how Vayona had opened up and told him about her hubris and her sin. How she had created a great creature of intelligence, the Slan’Zhor. The Slan’Zhor was a Great Intelligence - an Usa’mil - and it had been created in accordance with ancient instructions left behind by the Architects. Despite the warnings of the Architect Voices/Echoes and inauspicious omens Vayona had completed the creation. The Slan’Zhor could control the Weft and was able to move in and out of it at its own free will, affecting all things dependant, bound or enthralled by the Weft. It could hear and see everything and kill across the El’Zweldar (jumpweb) in an instant. It was a god of the Weft and controlled by the Vau. Physical armies and weapons were no match for it. Seeing some kind of danger or flaw in the Grand Plan, The High Council tried to terminate the project and later supposedly killed the Slan’Zhor before it had matured or fully developed. But Vayona feared the Slan’Zhor somehow had survived and she now hid from it by moving constantly. But as Sebau began to speak of the reasons why the Slan’Zhor searched for Vayona and its inherent Architect designed weaknesses, he began to scream in pain and hemorrhage. In less than a few seconds he fell down dead at their feet. With these new clues the heroes fled the enraged followes of Vayona who blamed them for the death of Sebau.
The final leg of their search of the Hegemony colonies took the heroes to the strange world of Nam’esht. While in mid-jump to Nam’esht Simon briefly felt the sensation of having been possessed again. The only noticeable clue was the Obun word “Teranhi”, written by his own hand. Understanding that this was vital Simon underwent the old Obun memory ritual of Teranhi in order to re-live past experiences with great detail. While deep within the memories of his life, another ancient being slipped through from sathra space. It warned him of the great Usamil, the Slan’Zhor, telling Simon that he carried the Slan’Zhor with him and that the terrible entity was too strong to oppose openly (which it had tried in the Halls of Manquar). Visiting Simon in his Teranhi trance was the only way to speak unnoticed to him. The entity then explained to Simon how the Slan’Zhor had duped the Elabi and heroes into aiding its search for its maker. Its powers were great and couldn’t be opposed by mortals. Already it had spread its consciousness throughout the Weft of the Hegemony. It had also through deception enabled great artefacts (buildings) of the new amazing Kur’pla material to be built throughout the Core worlds to siphon raw life force from all things in the Hegemony. It was but a small step away from being a true god and very, very angry about the betrayal by Vayona and the High Council all those years ago. Simon now understood that the voice of the ancient being Akoin in fact had been only the Slan’Zhor and that the artefact he was carrying was a small but physical part of it. This was the reason Sebau had died at their feet. He had been killed by the invisible nanite parts of the Slan’Zhor.
Instructing Simon not to reveal that he was aware of the Slan’Zhor, the ancient being instructed him how the entity could be destroyed.
When Simon came out of the Teranhi trance he kept his word and did not reveal the Slan’Zhor to the Elabi or any of the other heroes.
In the Void Node of Nam’esht the heroes overheard a message to their Elabi captain, clearly ordering him not to destroy the artifact which could instead be used to destroy the Weft which has controlled them for eons and setting everybody and everything free. Understanding that this would destroy the entire jumpweb forever and sundering all worlds from each other, the heroes fled from their former Elabi allies.
Amidst floating trees, landmasses and palaces they finally found Vayona Vonn after having fought their way past Vulasin cor Lum. Vayona was being hosted by a Vau artificer known for his amazing automaton constructs. As soon as Vayona was confronted by the heroes she understood why they had come. After telling them that they had brought death to her door and doom to all sentients a huge Vau warrior materialized out of thin air with the word “Finally, I have found you….mother.” From the fateful conversation that arose, the rest of the heroes finally understood that they and the Elabi had been duped and used by the still existing, ever present and omnipotent Slan’Zhor to find its maker. Vayona was the only person capable of removing the flaws built into the Slan’Zhor that prevented it from maturing fully and attempting to master the Weft and thus all of reality. It demanded to be made whole, complete. It was its right and the duty of a mother.
But Simon had left clear clues of their whereabouts, and just as the other ancient being had foretold, the Vau had been trailing their search and homed in on the Valukesh ha’eni disturbances the manifesting Slan’Zhor caused. True to their calling, the heroes attempted to fight the Slan’Zhor which proved only to be futile attempts, not even worthy of the Slan’Zhor’s attention.
But as Vau warships descended upon the artificer’s palace and Vau warriors rained down from the heavens, Simon instructed Vladimir to use his new and unstable psychic powers to drain the Slan’Zhor’s energy, even though this might kill him. The Slan’Zhor laughed at Vladimir’s attempt to steal its energy. But it soon noticed that the ascension process accidentally started in Vladimir by the S’srota (See Saga of the Via Barbari) enabled him to drain unlimited amounts of energy. It now began to fear for its existence but couldn’t harm Vladimir. Instead it began to bargain for its life, offering and giving Vladimir unlimited psychic power and a role in his plans to rule the universe. But Vladimir himself understood what Simon now was telling him. As time seemed to stop around him he glimpsed into the fabled Vau concept of Samos time and saw several possible paths from this moment. All but one led to disaster and terrible suffering in the War in Heaven, apart from one, which led to his own death. He already knew that that his ascension would fail as he was a mere human. By stealing the Slan’Zhor’s energy he could destroy himself before that time and take the terrible being with him. Vladimir decided it was a grand and heroic way to die and atone for the sins of his life.
Once the Slan’Zhor was weakening it attempted to flee into sathra space, but now the old key given to Simon’s father by the Vau so long ago, enabled the other ancient being to interfere. Simon entered sathra space and together with the ancient being they prevented the Slan’Zhor from escaping Vladimir’s energy drain into sathra space.
In the end Vladimir was in great pain and the now diminished Slan’Zhor fled to Vayona, its mother, weeping and pleading to be saved. But Vayona held it tightly and stepped in the artificer’s plasma oven with her last words ringing as a curse.
“Cursed be the day when the Architects created the Weft. They gave little else than a fantastic prison of lies and illusions that they could move us in and out of. Now, the jailors are gone but their prison remains. Their gift to us. Their curse upon us.”
With her, the terrible Slan’Zhor was finally destroyed!!
Feeling his task done, and unable to keep the tremendous amounts of energy contained any longer, Vladimir Decados died in a great burst of energy, forever to be remembered by the Vau as “The One who Relinquished his Whole for the Safety of the Hegemony.”
All across the Hegemony the great new Kur’pla buildings crumbled.
After the great events in the colonies, the Vau brought the heroes to the Core world of Sab’Wa to recuperate and to be rewarded. The Vau plans within plans were revealed and it became evident that they had been aware of the terrible Slan’Zhor’s existence. But the only way to destroy it was in alliance with other ancient beings and through the hands of someone who could touch and influence the Weft – someone with sathra powers. Seeing in the Weft that the young Obun that had saved a mandarin from the Slan’Zhor attack in Imperial Space during the Emperor Wars would be tied to the Hand of the Weft (Simon’s father Salah ven Lahjal) they had given him the key to the Slan’Zhor. Nobody knew that this tie had instead been Salah’s foster son Simon.
The Vau naturally denied any knowledge of a Grand Plan to control all things, a ruse and lie of the Slan’Zhor….but the heroes wondered what the truth really was.
The Vau also promised to let the heroes return to the Empire, with their warmest recommendations and some much appreciated gifts.
But of course, other troubles were brewing on the horizon…….
HERE THE SAGA CONTINUES