Howling in shadows, living in a lunar spell
He finds his heaven, spewing from the mouth of hell

Those that the beast is looking for
Listen in awe and you’ll hear him

Bark at the moon

Our heroes are in a difficult position. They have been trapped in a buried firstcome space ship by an Efrit, which has escaped and obviously intent on wreaking havoc. Meanwhile, the moon that hangs over Melik 2 has begun to fall, and in just a week will destroy the planet. The PCs have to escape from the buried ship, warn everyone, deal with the Efrit, and find a way to stop the moon falling. The roster for today’s chaos:

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

Before we begin the description of today’s events, however, let us introduce a small example of Chekhov’s gun…

Vortex Grenade

This is an artifact, probably portal builder. The PCs found it in the space station they captured in Assager’s Ghost in the Algebar system. This station was in the possession of a mad mystic who was conducting experiments on other mystics, and after they killed him and his guards the PCs found this single vortex grenade in his equipment. This grenade is a shimmering white orb with glyphs carved on it, one raised and slightly larger. The PCs had learnt what it does: when activated and thrown it briefly opens a portal that sucks everything in close range into the portal and transports it somewhere else. This makes it a very effective weapon, and they assumed that it would open somewhere deadly, like the Dark between the stars or a sun. Adam carried this weapon, with the intent of using it only when he was desperate. Now, the PCs are desperate.

The buried ship

Oliver Greenstar chased the efrit when it fled the bridge of the buried ship, but it slammed a door shut before he could pass through, and they found themselves trapped inside the belly of the ship. They tried the doors and found a second door they thought they could hack, although they were attacked by another bokor as they searched the area. As Siladan was working his magic on this ancient door they heard a distant rumbling, which they assumed was their spaceship being stolen by the efrit. After a few minutes of frantic work Siladan broke through the door and they rushed to the rear exit of the ship, to find it blocked by a rockfall. The rumbling had been the efrit using Dr. Sinra’s last archaeological explosive to block their only exit from the ship.

Fortunately dig explosives are not powerful, and had not brought a huge wall of rocks down on them. They guessed that they could shift a gap in the wall if they spent hours working, and so they set to work digging through the wall, moving rocks back down the narrow gap in the wall and into the large cargo area. As Adam worked on this the others set about looting the Firstcome ship. They successfully pried loose the ship’s data cores without compromising them, and also were able to manoeuvre the beautiful Firstcome flyer out of its hangar and through the cargo space to the rear exit. By the time Adam dug through to sunlight, perhaps 7 hours later, they had managed to restore some dignity, get some rest, and prepare themselves for the next stage.

The disaster begins to unfold

Outside they found the half-track still facing the entrance, its machine gun untouched, and the No Satisfaction waiting in gently falling snow. Alma Sinra lay face down in the snow, unconscious. They approached her slowly, confirming she was no longer possessed before they woke her, and then moved carefully into the ship itself, expecting the Efrit to be waiting for them inside. They wondered if perhaps the efrit was already gone – the long white contrail of a spaceship, hanging in the sky far above them and glowing rose gold in the setting sun, suggested to them that they might be too late, and it had already found a way off planet.

It was not waiting for them on the spaceship, so they put in a call to Saqr on the Beast of Burden, and called their flagship down to the surface. As the Beast of Burden pulled away from the Hormous station towards atmosphere Reiko saw that the portals on the station were already beginning to malfunction, and watched in horror as station residents walking through a portal were dumped into space, wearing just their station clothes. They would walk into the empty Dark, calmly expecting to be walking in the portal’s destination, then after a moment realize that the portal had ejected them into space, begin frantically struggling, and then die. Every few minutes another person would emerge from the strange ripple of a misguided portal, and fall in a perfect arc towards the distant planet. The moon’s changing gravity was disrupting the portals in the station, and everything was beginning to fall apart.

When the Beast of Burden reached atmosphere they flew the No Satisfaction to dock, and took their flagship to the exploration settlement they had visited on the way to the research site. They wanted to collect the expert on Firstcome languages, Argent Flame, to help them. Although Adam had burnt the horrific book that had held the secrets of the ancient ritual that had frozen the moon in place Oliver had stolen a few pages, and they now had the data core from the ship and all the writing in the ritual circle and on the walls of the rooms of the buried ship. They intended to ask Argent Flame to help them decode it all, and see if they could bring together some kind of counter-ritual that Saqr, Oliver and the mystics on the Beast of Burden could perform to reverse the falling moon.

On the way to the exploration settlement they called their employer, Aaryan Sin, at Terminus Island, and warned him of the falling moon. They told him that as soon as they had picked up Argent Flame they would come and get him. Then they called Argent Flame on her tiny radio set. She answered quickly and told them that something terrible had happened. The Order of the Pariah troopship, Judgement of the Dancer, had landed at the exploration settlement and for some reason they had begun shooting each other. There was a gun battle happening in the exploration settlement between factions of the Order, and she was trapped in the medical bay.

They guessed immediately what had happened. The Order of the Pariah, who they suspected had killed all the priests of the Church of the Icons on Hormous station, had come to the planet to find out whether the Efrit had escaped, or perhaps to rescue their agent Muhammad Ibn Har. When they arrived at the exploration settlement the Efrit had been waiting for them, had possessed the most powerful member of the group and enslaved some other soldiers, and now was trying to take over the ship. They now had a chance to kill it, if they could surprise it during its battle with its own kind.

Fighting the Order of the Pariah

The Judgement of the Dancer sat steaming in freshly-melted snow and mud at one end of the settlement, a lean black terror against the grubby simplicity of the settlement. A squad of soldiers had taken cover behind cargo crates, and were firing at another tumbled mess of crates where some other soldiers appeared to be hiding and firing back. The PCs flew the Beast of Burden in, dropped off Adam to rescue Argent Flame, and entered battle.

Unfortunately, this battle was one of the most dismal, embarrassing, chaotic and ridiculous battles I have ever seen my group engage in, and it is an embarrassment to report it. Oliver Greenstar spent his time attempting to negotiate with the efrit, to no benefit, while Reiko Ando and Dr. Delecta presented themselves as rocket launcher fodder and everyone abandoned Adam to face the Efrit by himself. The efrit had possessed the troopship’s leader, a monster in animate armour with a gravitic hammer. This monster smashed Adam into the dust with one blow from that hammer, then fled to the spaceship to escape. Oliver finally got his act together and shot the beast with the Beast of Burden’s accelerator cannon, which should turn any living human being to ash, but the animate armour has mysterious glyph protection, and the efrit rode out the damage without taking even a bruise. The fight came to its bitter end with Adam, on his last legs, badly injured and strung out, charging forward to throw the vortex grenade at the efrit. This landed right at the beast’s feet, the portal opened and the efrit was sucked in. In the moments that it was open and they could see through, Adam looked carefully to see where the beast might be dumped …

… and was horrified to see that the vortex grenade opened a portal to their own space station. The portal slammed shut a heartbeat later, leaving the efrit stranded in their space station back in the Algebar system.

The mystic must have reprogrammed the grenade and planned to use it as his own emergency escape device, capable of teleporting him back to his home from anywhere in the Horizon. The PCs had assumed it was a weapon, and did not realize it had been redesigned to be used as a glyph of recall[1]. Now this hideous beast, in possession of one of the Order of the Pariah’s elite troops, wearing animate armour and carrying a gravitic hammer, was waiting for them in their station.

But at least it wasn’t trying to kill them now. They took control of the Judgement of the Dancer, and set about finding the ritual that would reverse the falling moon.

A ritual of life

After just one day of research, during which increasingly serious gravitational disruptions began to wreak havoc across the planet, the PCs found the ritual they would need. It would be a ritual of life, on an island in the sun on the sunward side of the planet, in which the mystics from the ship and all the PCs would engage in an orgy of frenzied coupling with the devotees of Ahlam’s temple that they had met at the exploration settlement. If they could conduct the ritual correctly, and one of them or the devotees of Ahlam’s temple could conceive a child, then that spark of life, arising in the sun on the far side of the planet from the horrific ritual of death in the dark soil of the moonward side, would serve to reverse the falling of the moon. It would be locked into a closer orbit, but it would no longer be falling[2].

For a whole day they danced and prayed and chanted and drank and fucked, and at the end of the day the moon stopped its slow, spinning fall. A sunchild had been conceived, to counter the evil that had entrapped the Efrit, and disaster had been averted.

The next day, ashamed and exhausted, they took their new Pariah ship and the Beast of Burden, made their farewells, and headed to the stars. Behind them the world was wracked by storms, earthquakes and disaster as the moon took up its new orbit, circling the planet like any normal moon and leaving in its wake a trail of destruction and ruin. They had stopped the evisceration of a planet, but the cultures that had grown up there over 1000 years in the shadow of that moon were now doomed, their way of life torn apart as they fell into the thrall of that falling moon[3].

 

 


fn1: This was my plan all along. I had expected them to use this on some elite squad of soldiers at this point, only to have them teleport back to the space station at Assager’s ghost and take control of it. I did not expect them to teleport an Efrit back there!

Fn2: I used an accrued success mechanism to resolve this: the group could make a research check every 8 hours and once they reached 10 successes they had the ritual. Once they got the 10 successes the PCs could make up the ritual that they would need to enact, but for every failure or every time they prayed, I could insert some complication or evil detail into it. They rolled no failures and did no prayers, so they got to completely control the ritual. And of course, being players, this is what they chose …

Fn3: This is a riff on the title of a session write up from a previous campaign, where I was a player, In the Thrall of the Failing Moon.