“Choices are the hinges of Destiny” – Pythagoras
Parvan Star System; Malaval, Throneworld of House Esmer; South Eastern Continent; Whisper Green Provence; 5041.119 I.E.
With equal parts reverance and trepidation infusing his scaled breast, Lord Koldrynth Sonear Di’Shio entered the Nave of Withered Trees. The massive gilded doors of baroque carved darkwood and adamantine slid silently closed, sealing the vestibule behind him. The pathway beneath his talons, fashioned of loosely interlocking flagstones of green jasper and jade, was worn smooth by the passage of thousands of bare feet, and marked the aisle leading up into the Sanctuary. Koldrynth breathed in deeply and began making his way up the aisle, his steps deliberately measured and even, the silk of his robes whispering softly against the stones of the path and dried leaves that crunched quietly beneath his scaled feet. As he paced forward, he used the golden length of his staff of office to tap a rhythmic counterpoint to his steps, his entire approach formal and ritualized. The sharp taps echoed faintly through the vast space, largely swallowed by the arched ceiling dozens of yards overhead. A glorious starscape was projected on the roof interior far above, slowly swirling as if viewing the Serpent’s Eye from an observation point outside the galaxy, shining through the stone branches of the petrified trees that filled the Nave. As he wound his way steadily toward the Sanctuary, Lord Koldrynth strove to ignore the warnings streaming in from his implants, informing him of the dozens of infrared targeting lasers trained on his person, invisible armed drones tracking his progress. After several minutes of pacing, he came to a stop at the far edge of the stone forest, a bare mossy hill rising before him, simulated star field slowly turning above, the path ending at the base of the slope. Ahead of him knelt a score of artfully maimed fey dressed in the simple garb of servants. They faced the hill with heads bowed, and eyes averted, not acknowledging him. To be ignored by such anywhere else would have enraged him, but not here – in the Nave even he was nothing. Here, even Lord Koldrynth Sonear Di’Shio, Eater of All, carefully knelt and bowed his horned head in respect and waited patiently. After a time, a ridge of the hillock split open, revealing a yellow and amber eye the size of a serving platter. The eye blinked slowly then focused on him, gold highlights flashing as it’s huge iris spun and pulsed, fixing him with a gaze that was palpable. A voice filled the space, rich and huge, each syllable falling on its listeners like a blanket of earth on a grave. The fey servants flinched silently at its sound. Koldrynth did not, although his heart-rate sped up uncomfortably.
“Favored Koldrynth. You may speak.” Lord Koldrynth bowed deeply, pressing his ridged skull to the flagstone, then responding in respectful tones.
“Worshipful Duchess, True Blood of Esmer, we have lost contact with the agent placed to observe the Sathoni researcher.”
A low rumble filled the Nave as the ‘hill’ shifted, moving, revealing itself to be a moss covered green dragon of vast proportions, head lifting on it’s hugely muscled neck, swinging both huge eyes, now lit from within by amber fire, to pierce the abased speaker. Small dribbles of dirt and moss fell from the dragon’s head as its jaws opened, showing yellowed, curved teeth the length of swords. Wisps of poisonous fumes seeped from it’s maw, fouling the air. The servants fell on their faces, covering their heads with arms and hands if they still possessed them, silently wailing in fear.
“Explain.” Came the voice, the command cracking the air, sending ravens who had been roosting in the stone trees to cawing, frightened flight. Lord Koldrynth answered, striving to keep his voice calm and his words clear.
“His last communication indicated that the research vessel had been sabotaged. A virus had been placed in the starcaster astronav, causing a mis-jump. The ship survived, finding itself deep in Domain Osorus. They were enacting repairs and determining their next course of action. That was twelve days ago. We have not heard from the agent since.”
“Contact him via ansible immediately.”
“Worshipful Mother, we have attempted this already. His ansible no longer exists. Attempts to contact him directly have also failed. Divinations indicate that he has been terminated.”
A roar shook the Nave, startling drone and servant alike. Overhead, the projected starscape flickered as the colossal hall shuddered and hidden weapon emplacements whirred to action, ready to decimate all who had foolishly angered their draconic mistress. Even Lord Koldrynth’s heart skipped, for a brief moment the terror of his mother’s wrath gripping him. His voice shook as he strove to be heard over the ringing of his ears.
“Blessed Duchess, Chosen of the Reaper, please hear me. We know the vessel’s location as of a week ago. We can still re-acquire them.”
“Fool.” Came the angry reply, a clawed foot stamping in irritation on a slower moving servant, an elf whose eyes had been replaced with exquisitely carved emeralds. “The loss of that agent represents two years of careful planning for naught! We are hardly the only stalkers in this hunt! The sabotage of the starcaster proves this. This is a grievous setback.”
Lord Koldrynth attempted to press his head further into the flagstones. “What are your wishes, Revered Lady?”
The dragon chewed thoughtfully on the legs of the crushed servant for a moment, oblivious to its feeble flailing and ragged screams. “Gather your more competent siblings. Take a fast warship from our personal fleet and go with all speed to the research vessel’s last coordinates. Ascertain its current location. I will contact you with further instructions.” It tossed the remains of the servant to the floor of the Nave, where the survivors quickly gathered it up, dragging it off for delivery to the house necromancers.
“Do not fail me in this, Koldrynth. Do not force me to choose a new Favored.”
“N..No, Exalted Mother. I shall not fail you.”
Lord Koldrynth Sonear Di’Shio, Eater of All, quickly rose to his feet, and retreated as fast as ritual permitted, never turning his back on his mother, not actually fleeing until she was no longer visible in the depths of the petrified forest. He did not wait for the vestibule doors to fully open before hurrying through them, as behind him in the Nave of Withered Trees, Hall of the Lady verus sanguis, Duchess Reythliivmaar of House Esmer, Chosen of the Reaper, machinery hummed into wakefulness and gigantic holographic computer displays began to flicker to life.
Bishop-1, Dr. Eon Rose, Lord AcRei Burü C’Ge “Pei’Fa,” Lord Rwvyan Nenoic, and Lady Kotonaru.
With Special Guest:
Reignbowinthedark as Ellywick K. Frothelthimble.
Unable to Attend:
Ditak Kirrin, Dr. Nodagil Maaran, Ereyie Wel, Lord Serpentce Z’Entropyse Augenmanthias, and RC-880 “Durendal”.
Executive Officer’s Log, RES Speaks Softly, 5041.118.0630 I.E.; Monscrome; Rwvyan Nenoic recording.
Crew was given shore leave while repairs were performed on the ship. The Political Officer returned to the ship too intoxicated to walk, and had to be put in bed. There was a small altercation, and some administrative action was required. End entry.
Personal Log, 5041.118.0630 I.E.
Today was a total clusterfuck. Every time I think I’ve got this gig figured out, the universe takes a giant crap, usually on my head. First of all, that insufferable prick Serpentce (if you’ve hacked my log, you utter bastard, just remember that a vasectomy means never having to say you’re sorry…) complained about Yevon and the Captain relieved her of duty, pending an investigation. That means Durendal and I have to pull double duty until this shit gets straightened out.
We stopped off at Persilom, which is supposed to be a shit-hole. However, now five million people live there, and there is a tremendous Mazorgrim presence. That was tricky. We managed to get out of there in one piece, and even bought some X-Crawl videos from the new season.
When we got to Monscrome, the Captain made arrangements for us to get the repairs we need. At least we managed to restock medical and our weapons supply from that destroyer. Plus the gym equipment. I don’t know what Yevon would have done wither her free time if I hadn’t grabbed the gym equipment. Anyway, the Captain told me to give the crew some shore leave. I made up a schedule and some folks headed out onto the strip to do some sightseeing. I thought that was the end of my responsibilities for the day, but NO!
I just happened to mention to Yevon that Samai, Ditak, Pei’Fa and Ellywick had gone out together, and she gave me to understand that this was possibly not a good decision. I decided to go after them, with Bishop-1 and Yevon as backup. When we got to the main concourse where the clubs were located, we saw one bar with a line, and there was clearly a riot going on inside. We figured that out from the arrival of the local constabulary, decked out in riot gear. As we prepared to dive in looking for our people, Pei’Fa made it out, carrying Samai, who was kicking and flailing. Ditak was passed out drunk and over his shoulder, and Ellywick trailed along behind. Samai and Elly knew they were in trouble when they saw Yevon and me standing in front of them.
Koto and Scrapnik showed up right about then, and we all made our way back to the Speaks Softly. Apparently, Ditak got toasted and bought drinks for the entire bar. Samai posed him for funny pictures with a variety of patrons. Eventually, someone said something insulting to Samai which started a fight. They are extremely lucky that Pei’Fa was there to extract them.
We managed to get everyone back to the Speaks, and Pei’Fa took responsibility for Ditak. The girls headed off to bed, and I went to check on Ereyie, Zanven and Nodagil. That’s when I found out the boys weren’t back yet. I tried calling them on their comms, but no answer. Fuck.
After some consideration, I rousted Elly out of bed and asked her if she could track their comm units. She said it was possible but difficult, so I went and asked Serpentce to help her. He was actually very pleasant about the whole thing. It’s possible he was on drugs, or a shapeshifter, but I was too concerned about my missing crew to fret too much about it.
Elly and Serpentce managed to track down Zanven’s comm unit. It was quite far away, so I asked Koto and Pei’Fa to go along. When I went to tell Yevon what we were doing, she volunteered to go as well. We traveled over an hour by rail, and our destination was a pretty run down part of the station. Eventually, we made our way to a small clinic/guard post. Zanven and Nodagil were there. Both had been robbed and badly beaten. Neither of them had any identification, and they were both still unconscious. Security was very glad to see us, since they now knew what ship to charge for the medical care.
We needed them awake so we could get them back to the Speaks. Once we got them up and moving, we asked when they last saw Ereyie. Zanven answered that he was with them the whole time. He and Nodagil recounted that they made a deal to trade some things for items that he thought would be more valuable to the ship in our travels. I suspect he wanted to unload the drugs and pick up something that would get him in less difficulty if someone (like myself) found it. They got to the meet, but the other party didn’t show up. Instead, they were jumped and beaten by a gang. Nodagil was particularly angered by the theft of his family pin.
After dropping them off at the Speaks, and ordering them to stay there, we headed back to the coordinates of the meet to see if we could find a trace of our wayward pilot. The coordinates were even further from the main concourse, and in an even worse part of town. We found the spot easily, but there was no sign of Ereyie. Frustrated, we got back on the rail, and a rough looking human man boarded the car with us. There was something about him that drew our attention. Suddenly, we realized that he was wearing Nodagil’s pin. Pei’Fa grabbed him and slammed him against the wall.
It didn’t take long for him to tell us what happened. He and his friends were hired to capture Ereyie. The kitty was to be turned over unharmed, but they had leeway regarding their treatment of his companions. It took slightly longer to convince him to tell us where to find the people who hired him. Once we had that information, we took the pin and left him on the train.
We ended up at their ship, the Unspeakable Clarity of Purpose, and we knocked politely. There was some playful banter, and then Koto got serious about the negotiations. It turns out that Ereyie had a bounty out on him under another name. A gang known as the “Cold Roses” in Noros territory originated the bounty. The Cold Roses are part of the Black Hole Syndicate. Koto managed to strike a deal with the bounty hunters, offering 40,000 credits to let us take the kitty on the spot. She used her abilities to access Ditak’s credit chip, which was the only way we were coming up with that kind of cash right that moment. They brought Ereyie out, unconscious and wrapped in a containment cocoon.
We raised a few eyebrows on our way back to the Speaks, but we did get back safely. I didn’t have to wake the Captain, and we were all back in time for breakfast. The Captain stopped by the dining hall, and couldn’t help but notice some bumps and bruises. However, everyone, including Yevon, insisted that nothing happened, and he left it there.
Later I had a short meeting with the principal offenders. I reminded them that the order of the day had been discretion, and that someone was trying to kill us. Then I commented that they seemed to be confused about the concept, and put everyone at risk. They assured me that it wouldn’t happen again. Elly was, as usual, downright cheery. On the way out she said, ““Well, I guess the take-away here is that there’s no team building exercise like shared trauma!” I decided to leave it there, at least this time. I’m not sure why Pei’Fa put Ditak in Zanven’s bed, or dressed him in Zan’s clothes. There are some mysteries that are beyond me. I hope that I’ll be able to get some sleep now.