They knew the Choral Station was there, somewhere: they had heard its hymns praising the Icons; they had heard its death dirges and laments; they had heard it fall silent. But it was still there, somewhere in that great asteroid belt, the Devil’s Field. And they knew something had killed it.
But they were almost penniless. They knew they had the chance to fly from Havilah to the portals and jump out of Zalos, but with little money could they even afford the jump fees? And staying in Zalos any longer than absolutely necessary was a definite no-no.
So Valdez gave the order, Hanbal set the course and 8 Bit fired up the engines. Ajit, Ozgare and Karter cleaned their weapons and readied themselves for battle. As the Corsair flew through the dark the Icons reclaimed two more of the kittens so recently born to Shikoba, leaving just six snuggling with their mother. Offerings and prayers to the Dancer and the Lady of Tears seemed to fall upon deaf ears. What did this misfortune mean? No one could tell.
It took three days of careful navigation and sensor sweeps to find the station, a sphere with twelve irregular spines and six docking stations. Ajit’s skill with the sensors told them there was some latent power in the core of the station, and that two ships were badly docked, almost crash landed against the station. Otherwise all seemed still and quiet.
An automated defence system warned them not to approach, but the missile volley it tried to launch was bereft of ammo, and their approach was otherwise unhindered.
“Help me! I am Tayisha and am a prisoner. Someone – a Witchsmeller – is trying to kill me. Help me please! For the love of the Icons!”
The words rang through Ajit’s head, but no one had spoken. Was someone alive aboard the station? How were they talking to him? He tried to speak back, but there was no response…
They docked, and cycled an airlock, to find themselves inside the giant sphere of the station, held together with a spider’s web of girders, beams and scaffold. The core of the sphere was a battered and ramshackle cylinder, fifty meters from end to end, and held securely in place by the lattice of steel and cables. Spears of bright light pierced the chinks and gaps in its structure, and lanced through the dusty murk of the station’s sphere. The zero-G and the fetid space vermin called Alfaragh Ealaqa (space cockroach) filled the sphere, and hampered their efforts to reach the cylinder. The larvae-like Ealaqa, equipped with wing-like fins that swished to help them zip around the zero-G with ease, attacked if the crew came too close, but also told of the likelihood that the much more dangerous adult of the species might be hiding in the deep shadows.
Despite these challenges they breached the cylinder to find, with much relief, that this part of the station was well-powered and grav generators were in full effect. This cylinder had a power source burning brightly down its centre, and they walked in comfy 1G across its inside surface.
“Over here! Help meeee!”
This time the voice wasn’t in Ajit’s head – they all heard it. One end of the cylinder was set aside as a gigantic cage that stretched around the circumference of the cylinder. Inside were many people: three powerful Nekatra; one Skavara; seven adult humans and four young teenagers. One of these, a girl of maybe 13 or 14 years, was shaking the bars and screaming for her life: Tayisha.
She was a prisoner. But she was also a Child of the Catacomb, a Zalosian mystic who escaped the hold of the Witchsmeller Covenstead and was on the run for her life. She knew a Witchsmeller was after her. And she knew one of the other prisoners was that Witchsmeller, but not which one…
Valdez, using his lie detector, asked each prisoner in turn, trying to detect the Zalosian zealot. He cleared the Nekatra first, and seemingly built up a rapport. Could these powerful semi-intelligent beasts be trusted, really be allies for Valdez and the crew? But they chose to trust them, despite the risks. Then they tested the other teenagers, and they were set free.
Suspicion fell upon the lone Skavara, and Ozgare marshalled the power given him by the Icons to read the creature’s thoughts: it was clear she was from the Covenstead, but she claimed to speak for the Witchsmeller, and not to be the Witchsmeller herself.
The Skavara offered them a deal: kill Tayisha immediately, here and now, and the Witchsmeller would guarantee their safety and free passage out of Zalos; or die on this station like heretic dogs. There was no decision to be made: the Witchsmeller was not to be trusted and they were not going to kill the girl.
Ajit, who had been covering the group from the far end of the cylinder, didn’t see the adult Ealaqa until way too late. He was floored by the thing that was all legs and wings, spikes and spines. He was downed before he knew what hit him, and it was only the unerring accuracy of Karter’s shot that saved his life from the beast.
But in the commotion they lost track of the freed prisoners, and the teenager Dassam, the youngest Witchsmeller ever anointed to the order, communicated with his ship, Weeping Willow, and the Golim that resided there.
Ajit, making his way back to the Corsair to lick his wounds, spotted the Golim, and the Witchsmeller, and the animated armour that almost crawled from its package to embrace Dassam. A thermal rifle blast – that would have killed Ajit had it hit – seared past his head, and he fled, finding refuge on the other docked ship. It welcomed him like an old friend, and protected him from the Zalosian assault.
Those in the cylinder prepared for the Witchsmeller onslaught, and the Nekatra showed their faithfulness by offering to fight alongside the crew of the Corsair, to death or victory.
But the fight for death or glory didn’t happen. 8 Bit, having stayed aboard the Corsair with Alina, blew the emergency docking charges and the ship undocked, tearing itself away from the station and taking much of the airlock with it. The vacuum of the dark between the stars immediately sucked Dassam to his death, but the Golim wasn’t so easily defeated. But even a Zalosian Golim is no match for the heavy cannons shifted by the Corsair, and was cut to pieces by a well placed volley.
The Witchsmeller and his minions were gone (as Ozgare, infuriated by the Skavara and incensed by his traditional enemy, killed the creature), but the crew and prisoners in the cylinder were trapped, as the rest of the station was decompressing.
But, a clever and patient plan saw them all rescued, and the two ships fled the dead Choral Station, but not before they recovered Dassam’s body and his battered animated armour. There was much debate and acrimony about what to do with it, but ultimately it was handed to Ozgare, to repair and try to learn how to use.
Tayisha, on her ship Black Griffin, with Ajit and most of the prisoners, led the way to the portals, and by some unfathomable method saw both vessels waved through to Mira – the Spectral Corsair and her crew were finally free of Zalos, with three Nekatra allies aboard… They set course for Trigon, to rendezvous at Samar’s Hamam, sad in the knowledge that Ajit had agreed, after a heartfelt request from Tayisha, to stay with the Child of the Catacomb and see her safe before leaving her and the Black Griffin.
But this sadness fell away as they stepped into the welcoming arms of Samar and her people, and the rest they knew they had earned. Finally, they were safe…
View from the GM’s Chair:
The Tayisha situation allowed me to explain why Ajit Mehr wouldn’t be with us for a few games (as the player has returned to university), which worked out well: the dice dictated who received Tayisha’s telepathic cry for help, and they pointed to Ajit.
This also led to me making a quick new Mystic Talent, of Telepathy, for Tayisha, so she could speak to the crew of the Corsair and draw them into the Choral Station. I’ll write this up soon and post it here.
I also agonised over whether or not I should throw in a suit of Zalosian animate armour, as detailed in the Coriolis supplement ‘Artefacts & Faction Tech’. Not only is the suit very tough indeed (even though 8 Bit’s quick thinking saw the Witchsmeller dead without a fight) it’s also an excellent bit of loot for the crew. I didn’t make it easy for them, but 5 6s on the sensor roll to detect Dassam’s body near the station was by far good enough. So they have the armour. But it’s not normal, it atunes itself to its wearer, and Ozgare – who finally took possession of the suit, after some wrangling – won’t find using it all plain sailing! Not to mention, it is going to draw attention wherever it goes!
There is more to this campaign than meets the eye – and that I can safely relate here without the players getting hints I don’t want them to have – but their mission continues, and they still have 6 Icon kittens on board…