And if you die by your own hand
As a suicide you shall be damned
And if you try to save your soul
I will torment you, you shall not grow old
With every second and passing breath
You’ll be so alone, your soul will bleed to death
Moonchild, hear the mandrake scream
Moonchild, open the seventh seal
Moonchild, you’ll be mine soon child
Moonchild, take my hand tonight

Our heroes have arrived at the Melik system, where they stop briefly at the famed Hormous station. For a day they explored its mysterious portal wonders, wandering around the white-washed halls of the ancient portal builder station and enjoying the mysteries of its many interconnected sections, before they received a message with an offer of work. A man called Aaryan Sin sent them a video message, telling them he needed the help of “Amadi’s combat archaeologists,” and inviting them to visit him on the surface of Melik 2, at the island called Terminus. To sweeten his offer, he was willing to pay them 1000 birr to transport some basic cargo to the base, where they could discuss – and refuse – his job offer if they wished.

The roster for today’s mission:


  • Adam, gunner and acting captain
  • Oliver Greenstar, colonist
  • Siladan Hatshepsut, archaeologist and data djinn
  • Banu Delecta, doctor

Terminus island

Terminus is the only permanent non-native settlement on Melfik 2, and serves as the main supply and support base for researchers working all across both hemispheres of this strange planet. It is located at the furthest reach of the shadow of Melfik 2’s largest moon, on the equator, so enjoys the warmest weather that can be experienced within close reach of the dark side of the planet. Melik 2 has a strange celestial phenomenon, a massive moon half the diameter of the planet that is locked into a geo-stationary orbit with the planet, so close that it blocks much of the sunlight to one half of the planet. As a result one half of the planet is permanently in shadow, seeing sunlight only for a few hours at dawn and dusk, and the entire planet is very cold because of the lost energy. The planet’s original Firstcome inhabitants have regressed to a near-neolithic existence, likely under the catastrophic effect of the looming moon, and live in scattered islands on the sunward side of the planet, or remote and isolated communities in the ice of the night side. Because the planet was originally a Firstcome settlement there is much research here, with archaeologists and scientists attempting to find ancient ruins to investigate; and the looming moon draws the attention of physicists and biologists eager to learn about its influence. However, Consortium rules prevent direct interference in the lives of the natives, and so only one permanent settlement exists, the hard-scrabble island of Terminus.

The PCs flew in on their shuttle, the No Satisfaction, leaving the Beast of Burden in a nearby orbit to monitor their situation. No ships above class 2 are allowed to enter the atmosphere of Melik 2, and all movement around the planet is restricted to ground vehicles and native mounts, a kind of huge bison-like creature called a Hovva. This restriction is partly intended to protect the natives from interference, and partly intended to prevent accidents – under the influence of the moon’s gravity the smaller graviton projectors of class 1 or class 2 ships can be unstable, so flight is limited. This was clear when they arrived at the Terminus airstrip and found it deserted, with only a few crates to break the vista of mud-and-snow, and no one to meet them. As they waited on the desolate, frozen, windy landing strip a small crew of men arrived to being unpacking crates, and a petrochemical-powered vehicle rolled up to their ship. A middle-aged, brown-skinned man hopped out and introduced himself as Aaryan Sin. He was a cheerful, relaxed and voluble chap, welcoming them all with broad gestures and a loud voice, and inviting them all into his undersized vehicle. He gave instructions to the surly stevedores, and they headed into the settlement over bumpy, poorly-maintained roads.

At the settlement Aaryan explained himself and his situation. He was a long-term friend of their patron, Drefusol Amadi, and was thrilled to have them in his system – he had run into a small problem recently with which he could use their help. Aaryan was a fixer, a man who organized porters, security, transport and guides for researchers working on Melik 2. Recently one of the teams he had been supporting had gone missing, and he needed someone to go and find them. They had been out of contact for three days so he had activated their insurance clause, which meant he could pay the PCs 10,000 birr upfront to help find them, and 15,000 more if things turned dangerous. He expected that the research group was already dead, but he wanted the PCs to find out what or who had killed them, and if necessary bring them to justice. If it was something sinister, such as a Firstcome remnant, they were to kill it if they could and split any treasure with Aaryan. Aaryan gave them a brief overview of the research team – a leader, two students, three labourers and a data djinn – and their coordinates. Since he suspected that they might have been betrayed by competitors, and had some cargo to deliver, he would like them to first visit a research base, located three days’ journey by boat and Hovva from Terminus, and three days’ Hovva ride from the research team’s last location. He would like them to spend a night there investigating the activities of possible rivals, then go and find the team. Since the insurance clause had been triggered, they were able to use their spaceship for the mission – a rare benefit for anyone on this planet. Aaryan warned them that graviton projectors would not work well, and they would not be able to use advanced communications in the shadow of the moon – most people used radio. He gave them a simple radio set and loaned them a half-track, to which Adam attached the group’s machine gun, and they were ready to go.

The PCs agreed to the mission, and set off for the nameless exploration settlement that Aaryan directed them to.

The exploration settlement

They arrived at the exploration settlement within an hour, and were greeted by its manager, Col Maggarh. The settlement was a ramschackle collection of huts and warehouses, with about 70 residents of whom only about 40 were regulars, mostly bodyguards, porters and courtesans. They checked into the only hotel, a small series of capsules called the Ice Rose, and ventured out to the local tavern, the only watering hole within 1000km, an old but well-kept place called the Ice Louse. This tavern was some kind of converted warehouse, warm and decorated with idiosyncratic tables of driftwood and polished bone. Here they separated, with two members of the party heading to the local Ahlam’s Temple conveniences while two remained in the tavern to socialize and learn rumours.

They did not learn much, but it was enough. No one knew much of the group they were chasing, but one of Ahlam’s courtesans recalled one of the group, a Muhammed Ibn Har, spent a lot of money at the Temple, even though he was just a labourer. Others reported that the team’s leader, Alma Sinra, was extremely secretive about her mission. While they were here they also learned that most of the natives in the area were friendly and not dangerous, and that there had recently been some gravitational disturbances. These disturbances were so bad that the exploration settlement’s earthquake warning alarms – which are triggered by graviton waves – had been going off without cause, annoying the camp and creating conflict between the researchers and Col Maggarh, who did not want to repair them until he was paid.

While they were dressing in the rest rooms of Ahlam’s Temple, Oliver Greenstar and Siladan saw a disturbing news item on the public news channel. A few hours earlier someone had discovered that the entire complement of Church of the Icons monks on Hormous station had been murdered. Someone had infiltrated their rooms and murdered them. The news did not reveal exactly when or who had done it, only that investigations were ongoing. Why would someone murder peaceful monks, whose only job was to maintain constant prayer at their strange and unorthodox shrine? Most likely it was just some internal religious conflict, but it was still disturbing news. Something about the circumstances of this mission made them all jumpy.

They also met a woman, Argent Flame, who was a specialist in Firstcome languages. Adam invited her to visit their space station, and investigate its rich (but disturbing) writings. She agreed, though they did not settle on a time. The next morning, they all headed to the research team’s last known location.

The crash site

As they approached the coordinates they had been given a thick mist lay across the landscape, giving them only fleeting views of a small expeditionary camp. As they flew towards it Delecta activated her proximity sensor and identified eight shapes milling around pointlessly near the landing site. They came to a careful halt a short distance from the camp and rode the half track down the ramp towards the camp, coming to a halt a short distance from the milling figures. In the thick fog the half-track’s headlamps only reached 20m before the scattered light became blinding. Oliver Greenstar stepped out of the half-track and moved forward, covered by Adam’s machine gun, and Siladan moved the half-track forward slowly, its ancient petrochemical engine growling and coughing in the cold.

After a short distance they found the body of a dead man, badly disfigured. As Oliver approached the body, a gang of huge scavenger-beasts scattered and ran away – the source of the eight points on Delecta’s proximity sensor. They had obviously been eating the body, which was torn apart and scattered over the frozen ground. Beyond it the temporary accommodation of the research base loomed in the mist, three auto-erecting prefab buildings. Dr Delecta exited the half-track and checked the body, but her university education and residency in a swish plastic surgery in the upper levels of Coriolis had not prepared her for this kind of wreckage, and she could not sort through the gore to identify how the poor person had died. They identified the body as Mohammed ibn Har, the man who had been splashing his newfound cash at Ahlam’s Temple, and when they searched his body they found a strange, small tabula that was too thin and too small to be normal.

The tabula’s battery appeared to be drained and the camp was deathly silent, so they decided to explore the buildings and see if they could charge the tabula or find other evidence of the activities of the camp. Adam remained on guard duty in the half-track, machine gun at the ready, as the team fanned out to check the accommodation. Dr Delecta searched the labourer’s accommodation, finding ibn Har’s bunk and looking for evidence of spying, but was attacked by one of the strange scavenger dogs as she searched. It attacked her from behind, its vicious bite failing to break her armour, and she ran outside screaming. The beast followed, a huge ragged six-legged furry slug of a thing, the size of a dining-room table and made entirely of claws and thick, stinking fur. As it burst out of the door, snarling and breathing noxious rotten-meat breath, Adam hit it with the full force of the machine gun and smeared across the accommodation walls. Somewhere far away the other dogs wailed and ran away. Delecta retreated to the safety of the half-track, chastened.

Siladan found Dr. Sinra’s office and accommodation. He found a map that showed where the dig site was, but seemed to indicate that there was a strange geological structure between the camp and the site, though he could not understand from the map what it was. He searched her research tabula and learnt the reason she had come here: she had learnt rumours of a crashed Firstcome ship, probably from the Emirate planet, and had come to investigate it. She seemed averse to writing down details, so he could learn nothing about how she had discovered its existence or what she was looking, except that a native had stumbled upon a fresh rockfall that revealed the ship, and someone had alerted her to it. This seemed very suspicious to Siladan, but he could not pin down why. He dug around in the research room and found a charger, which he modified to fit into ibn Har’s strange tabula, but was surprised to discover, when he tried to activate it, that the tabula was not drained. Rather, its battery had self-destructed and melted much of the inside of the tabula, apparently intended to render it inoperable. Siladan fiddled, and was able to liberate an undamaged memory chip. He linked this up to his own tabula, and discovered that the strange tabula had been used only once, and for one purpose: to send a tight-beam burst on a highly advanced communications system directly to the Order of the Pariah troopship, the Judgment of the Dancer, which was docked at Hormous station. The message was a single, ominous phrase:

The worst has happened. Activate all measures immediately.

It appeared that Mohammed ibn Har had been working for the Order of the Pariah. Something must have happened at the dig site, and he had fled back to the camp to release this message. What were “all measures”? And what was “the worst”?

Adam grunted. “I’m getting sick of careless archaeologists,” he muttered, and they boarded their ship to head for the dig site.

Behind the seven seals

The dig site was just 2 km from the camp, but they were glad they flew there. Beneath the No Satisfaction they saw a huge expanse of broken and tumbled ice, that would have been almost impossible to navigate with their half-track and which looked dangerous even for a small team on foot. They skipped over it and landed within a short distance of the dig site itself, again rolling down the ramp from the ship in their coughing, roaring old half-track, which crawled over shallow snow and gravel to a small hillside, where a recent rockfall had revealed a narrow cut into the hill. A single long-lasting expedition lamp cast a smouldering, sulphurous glow over the outside of the cave. They had found the dig site. The ship must be behind the rock fall. What icy aeons had encased this ship, and what had the ship been carrying? There was only one way to find out, so they drove the half-track close to the hole, parked it with the machine gun facing the hole, and exited into the chilly, filthy planetary air. As they walked towards the hole in the rockfall they received a message from Saqr, on the Beast of Burden. It had been hanging in orbit above Melik 2, in a position from which they hoped to be able to receive broadcasts, but Saqr’s message dashed those hopes, and brought far worse news:

Adam, team. I’m sorry but there is gravitational disturbance up here and the Beast’s graviton projectors aren’t working well. I am returning to Hormous station to check them, and for safety. Also, I know you’re not going to believe this but please do. I think the moon has begun to fall towards the planet. I think you should come back, because my calculations are it will destroy the planet in a week if nothing changes. Whatever’s going on down there, please figure it out and get out soon. If I don’t hear from you within 12 hours I’ll come looking. Somehow.

Something terrible was happening, and after the news at the research base the PCs had a good idea of what. Whatever was happening in orbit was connected to whatever this archaeological team had been doing in this hole in the ground. They had no choice but to continue, even as the moon began to fall.

They crept through the narrow culvert and into the bowels of the ship. First they entered a large, empty cargo hold. They searched it and found two strange sarcophagus-like stasis pods. Both were empty and closed, and were not connected to any power source. They appeared to have been simply cargo. Both were of amazing beauty and probably great worth, just sitting there untouched in the first, most easily-accessible room of the ship. Why had the dig team not taken them?

The cargo hold was maybe 40m in diameter, its inner side holding two large doors. A firstcome symbol had been painted on both doors in bold, strong strokes of red paint that had not faded in however many centuries the ship had rested here. They could not read the symbol, but it seemed freighted with menace. The right hand door was locked, but the left hand door had been hacked using a common archaeological device, which was low on batteries but still active. They pushed the button, slid the door open and stepped inside.

Beyond this door was a 15m long, 10m wide hangar. It held a single Firstcome flyer, a beautiful example of its kind, splendidly worked in strange metals with beautiful designs etched in its slim and stylish form. It was clearly a very high quality, and extremely rare specimen of its kind, probably priceless on the antique market. They stared at it in stunned silence, until they noticed a blood stain on its bow, and a body lying in a pool of blood on the ground. Approaching carefully, they identified it as one of the expedition’s students, Jiwanna. She was a 23 year old third year master’s student with a stationary background, obviously attacked by something that had bitten her throat and back. She must have fled here but succumbed to her injuries, falling on the front of the flyer and then dying in the dark, cold of the ship’s bowels.

At the far end of the room they found another door with the same disturbing symbol carved on it. This door, too, had been hacked with a common archaeological device. They slapped the button and stepped through into a room of darkness and horror.

It was 40m wide and about 30m deep, an octagonal shape. There were no lights or energy in the ship, so they could only explore it using their suit lamps, narrow beams of forlorn blue light that only showed them small parts of the disturbing scene at a time. The first thing they saw was a dead person, preserved by an aeon of frozen dry air, their skin dry and clinging to their bones. The person was wearing a ceremonial robe and lying in a circle that appeared to have been hastily painted on the floor, a silver knife lying by their side and a thin film of dessicated dried blood surrounding their body. The painted circle was part of a larger arrangement, two circles that touched it on opposite sides. These two painted circles were filled with Firstcome writing, hastily scrawled in large, messy, sweeping patterns between the circles. They followed the circles around the room, peering into the gloom with the weak blue light of their suit lamps and confirmed their worst fears: a ritual had been enacted here. Two huge circles had been drawn on the floor, linking together seven smaller circles and filled with ancient writing. In each of the seven smaller circles a single robed person lay dead. In one circle was a book, full of Firstcome writing, that appeared to be made of some kind of cured flesh bound between two plates of bone from some kind of large animal. The ritual must have been enacted hastily, because the room had once been a kind of rest room or ready room for nobles, but all the furniture and items in the room had been torn up and hastily thrown against the walls to make space for the circle. The PCs guessed that the ship had crashed and whoever was in the ship had hastily moved everything in the room aside to make space for the ritual. Why?

There was a large door on the far side of the room, again painted with that strange symbol. The two doors that opened in the room from the direction they had come were not painted with the same seal. This seal was only painted on doors on the face that pointed towards the ship’s only viable exit. Why?

As they were pondering this the party were attacked by Bokor. Thin, shadowy beasts emerged from the second door on the wall next to the door through which they had entered, and tried to kill them. There were four of them, almost completely insubstantial with their hunger, reaching desperately for the only warmth they could hope for in this Icons-forsaken ship. The PCs fought the starved shadows off easily, killing them quickly without injury. When they searched the room the Bokors had come from they found the other two labourers from the dig crew. They must have entered this room and been ambushed by the Bokors. Perhaps the Bokors had been sealed in here and the labourers had opened the door? In the main room they found the body of the dig crew’s data djinn, Azzar Akter, a 25 year old man. All of them had been killed by the Bokors. It was tempting to think they had been ambushed here and fled, but where was Sivada, the other student? And where was Alma Sinra? The door on the inner side of the room, protected by its seal, had the same hacking device attached to its control panel. They activated it, and stepped through.

Inside was a small ante-chamber, separated from the ship’s bridge by a glass door, on which the same seal was painted. The remaining student, Sivada, lay dead on the floor in the middle of the room, and Alma Sinra was prowling around the bridge, looking ragged and haunted. A sarcophagus lay open in the bridge area. As they entered Sinra ran to the door and yelled at them,

Don’t go back! Die in here with me!

Then suddenly her expression changed, becoming wild and frenzied. Her whole body, short and frumpy from years of deskwork, shook with rage and anguish, and then she screamed a super human scream of rage that could never come from a woman of her frame. She hit the door button, and it slid open.

Moments later, a strange shadowy form slid across the space from the door, and took control of Dr. Delecta. She opened fire on Adam and turned to run for the next door. By now the PCs were used to this kind of thing – they had seen djinn[1] before on the Orun 2 – so they tried to tackle her. Two of them failed, but Siladan beat her down with his halberd. He knocked her down, and Adam grabbed her and dragged her towards the sarcophagus, hoping to stuff her in and seal it before the djinn could escape. He wasn’t fast enough, and as he was trying to push her in a dark shadow slid out, took control of poor confused Dr. Sinra, and fled for the door. She turned towards them and hit them all with a blast of Mystic power that completely floored them, smashing them with a wave of panic that threw them all away from her. As they cowered in the corners she hit the door open button and ran outside before anyone could stop her.

By the time they recovered the Efrit was gone, the last door closed behind it and sealed against them. Whatever madness had possessed it over the past aeon was now free on Melik 2. And the moon was falling.

They had failed.

fn1: Actually this beast is an Efrit, the elite of Djinn, and makes the djinn they met in the Orun 2 look like small fry. Big trouble here, and it’s only getting worse!