Hanbal felt a terrible sense of foreboding. Here they were, about to spring their trap to take out the Witchsmeller Sister Mariam, about to storm the Golden Griffin at Neoptra spaceport on Coriolis, and now their Legion back-up was gone. Reports of fighting in the Cellar, sporadic incidents around Coriolis and a battle at the Lift in the Core, sparked the start of what would become known as “The Three Day Coriolis Insurrection”, and all Legion forces were scrabbling to resist.
They were on their own. This assault would inevitably be a tough battle, and what had the Legion done to earn and keep their loyalty? Ajit Mehr, a long-standing Legion assassin, complained that he’d never seen a single Birr in payment. Norsa was chafing under the Legion’s yoke, and had never been happy with the situation. Ozgare held no great love for the Legion, but his hatred of the Order of the Pariah kept his desire to kill the Witchsmeller smouldering.
But there was a way out: they could just run, get to the Corsair and flee Kua in the confusion caused by the fighting. Mariam had told them to go.
“This isn’t a dictatorship,” Hanbal said over their comms network. “I’m not going to order the assault if we aren’t all in. If we want to run, we can run. But if we run we will have to keep running, as both the Legion and the Zalosians would be after us.”
After some debate, Ajit finally summed up the reluctant conclusion they were reaching: “okay, let’s get this done” he said.
Glancing through the window in the airlock they could see the Griffin’s cargo bay doors, open wide enough for one person to squeeze through with its up ramp extended. Ajit dashed across the hanger, followed by Ozgare. A Zalosian acolyte burst through the Griffin’s cargo bay doors, weapon in hand and explosives strapped to his chest. Ajit fired, three quick shots from his rifle. As the attacker fell discus-shaped grenades flew from the cargo door, blowing Ajit from his feet. Ozgare dragged him to cover as Hanbal approached the ship from the other side, covering the gap with his gun. The Zalosian who reached out to throw another grenade was immediately dropped and Hanbal dived for cover as the grenade went off in his victim’s hand.
Dusting himself off Ajit reached the side airlock, out of view from the cargo bay doors. Covered by Ozgare he jacked his tablet into the ship’s interface, and battled to take control of the ship’s systems. As he did so another wave of Zalosian Covenstead acolytes rolled upon them: Ajit shot one at close range; Ozgare took a wound to his legs as shots came from under the ship itself; Hanbal fired at a zealot bearing down on him, wounding the man but not stopping him detonating his explosives. The blast threw Hanbal from his feet, one of which took the brunt of the blast, bones breaking.
Norsa finally arrived and moved immediately to the cargo doors as they started to open. Seeing Mariam dressed in ornate animate armour and glowing with a weird energy he threw his blade. Even with only one arm the Nekatra put enormous strength into the effort but it skipped off the Witchsmeller’s shoulder. It landed with a metallic thunk by her right foot. Mariam looked down at it. The blade hopped impossibly into the air and flew towards the Nekatra, embedding itself squarely in his thigh. With a roar of pain and anger the beast fell, his blood once again spilling viciously.
Again Ozgare came to the rescue, and used all his strength to drag Norsa into cover. He patched the wound and stopped the bleeding, and again Norsa’s life was saved by one of the Corsair’s crew.
Ajit finally took expert control of the Golden Griffin’s systems and sealed the doors to the cargo bay. Mariam was trapped but there was a surge of radiation, her animate latticed armour building to a huge detonation…
“I like you.”
The telepathic words echoed inside Ozgare’s head. “I don’t want you to die. Leave now, before my armour explodes. Go.”
Ozgare quickly told Hanbal and the others, and they debated what do to while they were in a bit of a stand-off with Sister Mariam. Time passed. The radiation wasn’t surging any further, but it was still there, the armour still primed to explode.
And then something they hadn’t expected at all…
“If you help me I’ll de-activate my armour. Save me and save yourselves too. I’m finished with the Covenstead and war. I need to escape Coriolis, there are deeper things afoot, and I need your help…”
“I am not a Witchsmeller…”
Now this seemed a bit much. If it looks like a Witchsmeller, if it’s wearing animate armour, if it’s ordering Zalosian acolytes around, then it’s probably a Witchsmeller. And Ajit said so. But the others were ready to listen, at least in part because they didn’t want to die fighting Mariam, or die in the explosion running away from her.
“I am from Ahlam’s Temple, and have been observing the Covenstead from the inside, for which I had to be undercover. I now need to get to my Academy on Menkar. Perhaps you can take me there and escape the fighting.”
None knew much about Ahlam’s Temple, other than by reputation: an altruistic society that provides educational and medicinal services and advice; a society of people who placed the well-being of the Third Horizon above everything else. If Mariam was telling the truth this might be a way forward, a way out of the dangers they faced on Coriolis. They agreed.
Six hours later: the fighting across Coriolis was as fierce as ever, but the Legion were holding their positions and slowly gaining the upper hand; Ajit had fired up the Griffin and hacked it to launch and fly away from the station; they alerted the Legion fleet that the Witchsmeller was trying to escape in the Griffin; and launched the Corsair and were headed full-throttle towards the portals with Sister Mariam aboard.
But she wasn’t the only new passenger. Abdelacar and Sara Qajar (“my chaperone, as Jubal doesn’t really trust me…” said Abdelacar with a little grin) were aboard, to reassure themselves, on Jubal’s behalf, that his ongoing investment in the crew of the Spectral Corsair is still a wise one…
“We may be unwelcome,” Sara told them with a grin, “but looks like you’re stuck with us…”
View from the GM’s Chair:
This scenario, the final part of Episode 1, was intended to take the Sister Mariam and Coriolis Insurrection part of the story to a point where the players could decide what direction they wanted to take, and what kind of game they wanted to play. It wasn’t helped by the fact that only four of my six players were available, but as two would be going off to university I decided to run the game as I’d planned anyway.
The denoument, that they have chosen to believe Sister Mariam and have agreed to take her across the Horizon to Menkar (a long way away from Kua), has put them back on a track where they get greater latitude as players to decide the path they want to take as part of the longer journey (as was the case for the first campaign). I think my group prefer that to the potentially more directive style and feel of a Legion agent campaign, where it’s easier and more likely that they will get told what to do from one scenario to the next.
Also, I need to fess up to the fact that this outcome wasn’t planned. I’d set the scenario up to offer the players a choice of holding to the Legion, or making a run for it. But during the game the players didn’t seem to like either option as they saw it, and were so focussed on the upcoming fight that they didn’t come up with an alternative. And then I had a Eureka moment: I remembered my chat on The Coriolis Effect about Ahlam’s Temple (blog post on the site somewhere….!) and that was the perfect fit: every detail and every question I had in my mind suddenly had a really obvious and sensible answer, and so Sister Mariam, undercover agent of Ahlam’s Temple, was born (or is she…?)…