The Spectral Corsair raced towards the Portal, and the flotilla following the ceremonial trial ship ‘Almuhaq’ and her Class II Wolfhound escort. As they flew through the black 8 Bit took the Corsair’s transponder and rigged it up in one of their escape pods – a lashed-up cry baby to divert the Zalosian authorities away from them, if they need it. Their plan: fly ahead of the drone, attempt a barn-swallow, drop the cry baby; and run like the very Icons were on their heels.
On arrival with the flotilla Ajit Mehr spent a fruitless number of hours trying to scan down ships in the vicinity but the Icons had turned their faces away, and he was pretty ineffective. Efforts to find other observers who were against the trial proved pointless as well, and they drew the attention of the Wolfhounds. It was Leo Valdez’s ability to talk the Zalosians down that saved their bacon, and the enemy bought the line that the Corsair’s comms systems were suffering technical trouble.
When Almuhaq launched the drone, ‘Throne of Shahada’, towards the portal it was immediately obvious that it was way too big for an easy barn-swallow -or any barn-swallow – and moving very, very, fast indeed. 8 Bit over-charged the ship’s engines and Hanbal piloted like a demon, and they quickly broke from the flotilla and pulled up alongside the drone. It’s spinning motion made docking a total bitch, but again Hanbal pulled it off and the Corsair only took a light amount of Hull damage, as the spinning arms snicked and flicked her hull. The two vessels were locked in an unholy embrace, spinning around one another in a dance of death, heading straight into the portal to Zalos B, the star better known as Zahedran. The time was upon them to get aboard, but the clock was ticking…
Ajit hacked the airlock and Karter was through. Inside the drone they found a wide circular sanctum, and what seemed to their un-cultured eyes to be a Portal Builder construct, all moss-hewn ancient stone and calcifying roots. Seemingly, the drone must have been built around this edifice, as there was no way to get that edifice in now… Within the construct they found a bewildered but conscious Alina, held captive inside a glowing green orb of pulsating energy. Karter shot it, but the energy orb took the shot and channelled it inwards at Alina: the bullet went through her chest. She was hurt, but survived the shot. From then, Karter chose to try and pull her from the energy’s grip instead, with Ajit’s help. But the energy fought back, and every time they reached in to grab Alina they were blasted with a mind-sapping energy surge.
Elsewhere Hanbal, 8 Bit and Valdez all came under attack from shimmering spirit wraiths, swirling black entities that sought to smother them and suck the life from them. Valdez fell from his wheelchair, broken with a wheel detached and bouncing away, but they all managed to defeat their assailants.
On board the Throne of Shahada, as if the energy orb wasn’t trouble enough, the walls came alive as the Sentinel charged with protecting the sanctum came to life, to defend it from the intruders. A tough fight saw Karter and Ajit finally free Alina from the orb, but both fell broken in spirit and mind. In the fight they had been swiped by the Sentinel: Karter took a bad hit to his leg, a strange root-like tentacle, neither stone nor wood, gripped him, infecting him with some unnatural force that made the leg feel like it was turning into wood. Mehr avoided what would have been a terrible fate, by a last moment desperate grab, grasping the tentacle whipping through the air in search of his eye. 8 Bit rushed to help them escape, as Valdez crawled and Hanbal took the controls, to break the dock as soon as they could.
But they had been chased. As they tried to escape a Wolfhound Interceptor appeared and fired off her missiles. The Corsair was badly battered, hull plating shearing and buckling under the onslaught: but the Deckhand was with them, and it was only the Icons’ intervention that saved the ship. It gave Hanbal the chance to undock and free the Corsair from the drone, giving them room to manoeuver. But the portal was bearing down on them, and the Wolfhound was unleashing more missiles, more than enough to finish the Corsair this time. With no choice left, Hanbal rolled the Corsair into the portal, hull creaking and groaning, surely unable to take one more hit.
8 Bit dragged Ajit, Karter and Alina back from the drone. But he was too late as Hanbal saved them all by taking the Corsair into the Portal. Hanbal dragged Ajit into a stasis pod, and both were safe when the Portal’s energies engulfed them all and embraced the ship into Portal Space. But 8 Bit was too slow, and he, Valdez, Karter and Shikoba the cat were late getting into stasis. They all felt the power of portal space.
Karter was lucky and doesn’t seem to have suffered for his brief exposure.
Valdez emerged from stasis with a feeling of dread and emptiness: life suddenly seems to hold little meaning for him anymore, and this lack of meaning has made him fearless, no regard remaining for his own safety, for his own future – for in his eyes he has no future.
8 Bit must have seen something as he put the cat into stasis. He awoke with a deep and terrifying fear of small furry animals.
But they eluded the Zalosians, who flew off chasing the cry baby. So now, with their new transponder and identity maybe they can get themselves out of Zalos, set a heading for Mira and back on track for their mission, the reason they came here in the first place….
View from the GM’s chair:
This scenario ran pretty well, with very few unexpected twists and turns for me as GM. I’d left it pretty open for the players to work out how they wanted to try and mount the rescue attempt, although had anticipated that they would want to join the ceremonial flotilla. I also recognised a likely situation where they might have ships (enemy, potential enemy or neutral) on many sides so I’d created a square space grid, to replace the American Football gridiron style offered in the book (which obviously works well if you have just a few ships coming at each other head on). And this worked a treat for that sequence – I’ll use it from now on for any space combat situation.
This was also the first scenario where I’d gone big with effects that damage Mind Points (mainly the energy orb holding Alina) and it seemed to work well, offering a different dynamic although still a potentially fatal one: if Karter or Ajit had been left unconscious with the Sentinel it was going to wrap them up in its unnatural roots and slowly drag and absorb them into its being. Oooh, not nice.
I also had anticipated that they might end up experiencing at least a short spell in portal space – but not had the chance to do any real thinking on how I’d play the effects of it. The rules in the book are not really clear, and have left me with the impression that:
- There’s only a 2 in 6 chance of actually having a bad trip if you’re in portal space (although I’ll ‘fess up to say I now can’t find the bit that said this) – but in any case, for me and in my version of The Third Horizon this is woefully low: being in portal space while awake should nearly always (if not always) be a “very bad thing”;
- The rules for any Mania that you might suffer are thin and a bit limited.
So I made them make an EMPATHY roll to resist the influence of portal space, then a Mania roll once they failed (a bit like FORCE rolls to resist the impact of explosive decompression and an immediate crit when you fail). This worked well enough in this instance, but I think I’ll work up some House Rules of my own to cover it.
Watch this space!