Dragonstar: The Serpent's Teardrop

Death Rock

Based on the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay adventure “Death Rock” originally published by Flame Publications © 1990 and collected in “Wars & Death” published by Hogshead Publishing © 1996; also inspired by parts of the Dragonstar book “Raw Recruits” published by Mystic Eye Games © 2002

Planetfall over Vera

Pilot First Class Emdar slipped his drop-ship into the pipeline, following the first barrage down towards the verdant green world. Behind him he could hear the guttural joking of the White Legion marines as they imagined the rape and pillage they were about to unleash on the unsuspecting primitives. Emdar smiled. The brutes might get their share of first pickings, but pilots like himself were going to enjoy the fruits of the noble daughters when they were reclassified as prostitutes. He always enjoyed “uplift” assignments.

The first sign of trouble came from his weather instruments. Still well above the atmosphere the readings showed tropical storm like conditions brewing exceedingly quickly over temperate regions of the planet. No new orders came through the channel though. Probably spastic primitive magical response that the Dragon Lord Bleeding Sleet would crush in an instant. Holding course Emdar braced for atmospheric insertion.

The moment his drop-ship crossed the threshold, all the hells broke loose.

Ahead of him Emdar saw strike fighters that had been dispatched to soften up landing sites torn apart by green-edged clouds that appeared from nowhere. Comm channels went mad with the screams of the dying, and the screams of commanders demanding answers as their instruments went dead. Emdar fought the urge to pull out of his dive, the threat of a dragon led court-martial far more frightening than a rough landing. He expertly maneuvered through chaotic turbulence as frigates above him began to be dragged into the maelstrom.

Suddenly a cross-wind threw his drop-ship out of it’s controlled dive. Curses rang through from the back as equipment smashed free of restraints and weapons clattered across the deck. Emdar fought with the controls, but a force much more powerful than nature tossed his ship around like a toy.

Pilot First Class Emdar screamed like a stuck whore as he, his ship, and his marines were torn to dust.

-

Briefing

The living room of the townhouse the Whisperkiss crew had been assigned seemed a whole lot smaller with Admiral Alsir standing in it. The half-dragon had been waiting there in the morning and had given a razor-tooth grin the moment the few crew members at home that day had walked in.

“I have a new assignment for you. Please, sit. Don’t let me interrupt your breakfast.”

Looking anything but “comfortable,” Elocinda, Celie, Silverhand, and Praxus perched themselves around the room. Alsir projected a 3D spinning globe into the center of the room depicting a lush, verdant planet that very likely was thriving with life.

“This,” he said, “is Vera. Or rather, it was…”

The half-dragon went on to describe the troubled history of this green planet. The system which the world was a part of was circling the drain, so to speak, around a black hole somewhere in the Serpent’s Teardrop. Being that the Teardrop separated the domain of the copper dragons of Golion from the domain of the white dragons of Altara, this meant that Vera’s system would, over the course of two thousand years, make a rotation through both domains. A civilization of sentient beings had been discovered on Vera a thousand years ago while it still inhabited Golion space, but at the time the system had been fast approaching the neutral zone between the domains. Golion leaders (of which Alsir was a member) were unable to bring the planet into Imperial control before it crossed the threshhold and so instead advised the primitive (renaissance-era) cultures of Vera to submit and surrender to Altaran forces quickly to avoid being slaughtered. The subjugation would be cruel, but with that warning it was felt unnecessary bloodshed could be avoided.

The Verans apparently didn’t listen.

Altaran specialists were treated with hostility when they first landed to assess the new world fate had brought them. They soon decided a full scale assault would be necessary to bring the planet to heel, and so an Imperial Fleet led by the dragon Bleeding Sleet and members of the White Legion was dispatched to “uplift” the world. The Altaran’s never made planetfall. As soon as their orbital guns, strike-fighters and drop-ships breached the atmosphere of Vera a magical storm of epic proportions erupted across the skies. Believing their target had only limited magical resources, the Altarans were ill-prepared for the attack. Within minutes the entire fleet, including it’s powerful dragon lord, was dragged down into the broiling atmosphere and utterly destroyed. The people and planet of Vera disappeared beneath a thick layer of dark, brooding clouds, and nothing was heard from them during the entire millennium since the attempted assault.

Imperial forces quarantined Vera, setting up defensive satellites that also researched and inspected the cloud cover. For one thousand years scientists tried to gain an understanding of the immense forces that had risen up in the planet’s defense, but the lethality of the chaotic clouds (and the fact that no probes survived to get planet-side) made their goal near impossible. As Vera’s system approached Golion space, preparations were made to pass the torch off to Golion forces. Some in the upper ranks of the copper dragons had high hopes that the planet’s return to their space would yield more positive results. But the cloud cover held. As did the Imperial order of quarantine.

Alsir, on the other hand, had his team of increasingly effective “deniable assets” and soon decided that if anyone was going to figure out how to get down to Vera’s surface and break the isolation, it would be this team. Grinning at them in the living room of their town-home, he laughed off Elocinda’s reservations.

“When did we become so expendable?” asked the drow.

“My dear,” responded Alsir, “you always were…”

-

On the value of theological preparedness

After the briefing Alsir stepped into the hallway and disappeared, his white robes blending in with the surroundings in an instant. The team was left to discuss their approach to this new conundrum, and try to make it planetside on Vera in one piece. Silverhand pointed out that killing a dragon was beyond a handful of arcanists to which Elocinda added the defender of Vera must have been god-like. Accessing the data disk Alsir had left behind, the drow soon discovered that the inhabitants of the planet had, in addition to worshipping a standard complement of the Twelve gods, worshipped a world based deity named after the planet. This “Vera” was worshipped planet-wide and often depicted as a young celestial woman. Considering that this deity was somewhat more specific than the usual pantheon the Empire recognized, Elocinda thought to go speak with local theological specialists. However Praxus pointed out, in his grumpy and belligerent fashion, that the problem of Vera’s quarantine hadn’t been solved in a millennium and that they weren’t likely to learn more on the Mithral Star, light years away. They should just approach Vera and see what they could learn. Silverhand agreed and added that of all the research available, that on the quarantine satellites was liable to be the most useful.

The journey to Vera on the Whisperkiss took a standard week, the crew taking the time to bone up on the planet’s slim data file and get some rest. Their last starcast took them within an AU of the planet in what appeared to be a pretty unremarkable system. A standard complement of gas giants, a decent asteroid belt, some small mining operations. The only really unique feature was Vera itself.

Protected by three heavily armed satellites, Vera was the second planet in the system. Initially unremarkable in size and shape the crew were quickly able to make out that the entire planet was covered in rolling brownish clouds. The faerie Celie sensed the magical, elemental nature of the clouds, but rather than risk the Whisperkiss in an early assessment she decided to send her loyal elemental construct to scout the situation. It approached the atmosphere of Vera and studied it for a brief time before reporting back to her. By the looks of things the clouds were made of uncontrolled, chaotic elemental energies, and unless something directed them or changed drastically, the mess could be navigated by a skilled pilot.

Seeing as neither of the skilled pilots in Alsir’s little group had been available for this assignment the party decided to wait and learn more. They were hailed by Commander Djonz, a black bearded dwarf and senior officer of the Golion quarantine forces above Vera. Seemingly unconcerned with the ship’s fate he simply demanded they do whatever they were going to do quickly so as not to disturb his shortly scheduled nap. He gave them tacit permission to approach Vera’s upper atmosphere, but warned that if they passed below the cloud cover they would be breaching the quarantine and would be shot down if they tried to leave the planet thereafter.

-

Welcoming committee

In the bridge of the Whisperkiss the crew cautiously considered their options. Celie decided, given the elemental nature of the clouds beneath them, to summon forth a spirit of the cloud cover and ask it’s assistance in landing on the planet below. With surprising ease she tapped into the font of power, and within moments a truly massive elemental resolved itself on the bridge. Wind whipped around it holding together plumes of water, jets of fire, and swirling dust. Holding the shape of a gigantic brooding human it glowered at the tiny faerie, but quickly answered her every question.

“May we land on Vera?” she asked.

“YOU WERE EXPECTED,” it replied with a slow nod.

Taken aback Celie asked by whom. It responded that Vera had known of their coming, although it didn’t seem to clarify between Vera the planet or Vera the deity. When asked if Vera would return it said it did not know where she was, but it did agree to direct the Whisperkiss to the planet’s surface.

Once the elemental had vanished the crew saw a funnel, like the top side of a tornado, opening up in the clouds before them. Praying they would be allowed to leave once their task was accomplished the crew asked Whisperkiss to follow the elemental’s lead. The broiling dark clouds closed around them like an inky tunnel with no end in sight. The vapors only seemed to twist away from in front of them moments before they would have plowed through, the path ahead leading around the planet before dropping them out of the clouds and over a barren wasteland.

The verdant world Alsir had described was long gone. Below the Whisperkiss was a dry, rocky plain with the occasional scrubby vegetation. Surprisingly the daylight was decent below the clouds, taking on the hues of an overcast but otherwise warm day. But nowhere could be seen signs of civilization or any sense of a living world. Silverhand carefully viewed the astral energies inherent around them and determined there was little life to speak of in this desert. And any magic the world had once possessed was clearly embedded in the clouds above.

As they traversed the depressing landscape, Whisperkiss suddenly reported a brief blast of electromagnetic radiation some two hundred clicks to the north. Considering this a sign of habitation the crew changed course and found themselves flying deep into an impressive but equally dry mountain range. They saw some signs of survival amongst the rocks, but still no cities to speak of. Only once they crossed a large valley did they see a rudimentary road that led to the source of the earlier EM blast. High atop a pinnacle of rock perched a primitive building, castle like in appearance with four sturdy towers. As the party’s ship circled the place they found themselves under the pitiful fire of some early gunpowder type weapons that generally missed by a long shot given the craft’s speed.

After a quick discussion the Whisperkiss was turned back around and landed in the valley below the pinnacle so that the party could approach the building on foot. Kitting themselves out, Praxus, Elocinda, Silverhand, and Celie left the protection of their spacecraft and began to march up the mountainside, following the road they’d seen. Celie scouted ahead with her construct, while Elocinda’s spider-droid roamed their flanks. Before long the elemental and the droid reported seismic activity that resolved itself into humanoid sized lifeforms burrowing through the rock towards them. Believing these were not related to the inhabitants of the castle the party drew their weapons and prepared themselves for the creatures’ arrival.

Bursting through the hard, rocky ground near the feet of the crew, ten giant ant-like creatures with massive cutting mandibles threw themselves into a maddened attack on the party. Always quick on the draw, Elocinda shot the antenna off of one of the ants, intending to blind or disorient it. Silverhand positioned himself close to the towering Praxus and had his nano-swarm spike the large warrior’s adrenaline levels. Drawing and extending his plasma polearm, Praxus shrugged off some bites then swung a wide arc and cut three of the creatures cleanly in half. Celie, despite the difficulty of glamoring such single-minded attackers, was able to fly out of their reach and cause two of the beasts to tear each other apart. Elocinda, cornered by three others, rolled away and came up shooting, but the snapping mandibles charged her and one got a hold of her arm, cutting it nearly to the bone and trying to drag her down. A point blank shot to its head glanced off it’s chitinous armor, so the drow drew a steadying breath, closed her eyes, and suddenly blinked across the battlefield to back up Praxus’ left flank. Silverhand, currently working on trying to control one of the ants with some creative nano reprogramming of it’s neurons, split his nanoswarm to assist in healing the drow’s arm. Praxus messily ended two other ants with his polearm, and then, just as Silverhand had control of the last ant’s brain, Praxus smashed it’s skull to a sticky jelly. Three other ants survived, charging back towards Elocinda after the drow had teleported from their grasp, but Celie summoned another elemental from Vera’s clouds which arrived like a massive dirty raindrop that resolved into another brooding anthropomorph. In seconds the giant ant creatures rethought their strategy and retreated into their burrows.

As the party dusted themselves off from the rough welcome, Whisperkiss chimed in on the comm channel.

“Uh, what did you just do? There’s a massive build up of individual seismic anomalies in a hundred-mile radius of your location. Did you piss off the locals?”

-

Eyrie

The hike up the mountains was otherwise uneventful, and as the party crested a ridge the rocky pinnacle topped by the building appeared before them. Celie noticed movement on the towers, and also a face peering out of a small cave over the bridge that was part way up the rock face. As they walked closer Silverhand checked his data comm for symbols of Vera and found a common halo image had been usually associated with her. With his nanoswarm he was able to reflect light above the party into the shape of a halo with the intention that this would act as a symbol of peace to the locals.

Their arrival at the end of the precipitous bridge was initially met by coarse demands for their name and business. As Silverhand tried to explain that the party was there to help, the guardsman behind the gate, a rough-hewn fellow in a tattered trench-coat and holding a primitive automatic rifle, suddenly exclaimed “Cor! It’s you, innit” Without any further explanation he opened the portcullis and ushered them into the mountaintop fortress. Practically tripping over his words he led them swiftly past a well in the center of the cavern to a switchback staircase cut from the interior of the rock.

The structure, it was described, was a Monastery dedicated to Vera and built by the dwarf Yazeran centuries ago. Named Eyrie, the building and the institution had stood the test of time as the planet died around them. Although pockets of civilization still existed here and there, Eyrie was one of the few places of learning that had avoided the worst of post-apocalyptic survival clichés.

Beyond the legacy of the surviving monastery, Yazeran had apparently left behind a prophecy. It was claimed that four strangers would come in Eyrie’s hour of greatest need, and they would either heal the world, or destroy it. Johann, the guardsman who escorted them, was obviously of the belief that the crew of the Whisperkiss were these fabled four, and though almost falling over himself with nervous energy he quickly escorted the party up past sealed tombs to the courtyard of the monastery and then to the offices of it’s Roostmaster, Gregor.

Gregor was a befuddled and elderly gentleman with a warm smile and an easily lost train of thought. Welcoming the party he ordered that tea be brought and asked that they all sit (though his offices only contained the one chair that he was already sitting in). He rambled on for some time, and amidst the repetition and confusion it became clear that Yazeran had indeed foretold the party’s arrival, even describing the four of them in some shallow detail. Gregor handed over to them a letter and a strange hexagonal playing card instructing them that it represented a test of sorts, to see if they would be the saviors or the destructors of the planet. The letter, penned by Yazeran himself, was on a clearly ancient parchment with strange hexagonal watermarks and read:

Greetings honored Roostmaster, whomever and whenever you may be…

I am old and weak and I sense that this is my final illness. Soon the Mason will come to seal me in my tomb, back to the Element from which I sprang. I have given him my seven silver shillings as is his due.

If you are reading this then the vision Vera granted me has come true. Her lakes lie dry, her forests dust, and the evil we sought to hold back has still managed to worm itself into the world.

And I foresaw four travelers. Though long since thought extinct I’m sure one of their number was an elf with skin of night. She carried pistols at her hips and a sneer upon her mouth. Behind her hovered a mythical faerie, an outward beauty masking troubles within. There was also an elf with arm of silver and soothing words. And a fallen knight, bleary eyed and angry, though not forgotten by his lord.

They will come, probably within hours of you finding this letter.

They will come to Eyrie in it’s hour of greatest need.

They will come, but whether they come to heal or to destroy, I do not know.

Heed them, help them, but suffer no wrongdoings from them.

This is the only way.

My hope is that they have the kindness to restore Vera’s heart. But as I know not their intentions I would hide her heart and give to them a quest. The first clue in the quest lies before you. To find the second clue wait until the dinner hour and seek where my line runs true. Each clue will lead to the next, and all lie within the walls of Eyrie, protected by their careful placement and the promise of secrets.

If they find her heart, may Vera protect them.

Yazeran.

-

The Hunt Begins

Gregor summoned a skinny teenage initiate monk by the name of Dieter to show the party around and assist them as much as necessary. With that the elderly Roostmaster retired to his chamber without giving the party an official seal of approval. It seemed that the uncertainty about their motivations in the prophecy was taken quite seriously. With nothing much to go on the party followed Dieter to their assigned guest room and took time to examine the letter and the playing card they had been given.

The card was of a simple hexagonal design representing what appeared to be an Ace of Staves. The border of the card held the cryptic phrase “Only whole when one is over” but otherwise offered no clues as how to proceed. The letter seemed quite straightforward, and they all agreed that the fulfillment of this prophecy was probably going to be their ticket off of Vera. The question remained if they would be able to find the end of Yazeran’s quest before the “seismic disturbances” arrived at the monastery and began what was assumed would be an all out assault.

Praxus, concerned with the primitive defenses of the monastery and the veracity of the bugs that had attacked them earlier, sought out the keep’s guard captain, Scar. The weathered and recalcitrant man held court in a stocked guard room, his left forearm missing and replaced with a club. He warily admitted that the firearms were few and far between in Eyrie, but also seemed unwilling to trust Praxus’ judgment of a possible approach by the giant ant creatures. His wording and coarse attitude seemed to lend credence to the fact that the inhabitants of Eyrie simply didn’t trust their potential “saviors.”

Back in the guest quarters the faerie, Celie, contemplated how the group might best proceed in figuring out the monastery’s secrets. Retiring behind a curtain she drew upon darker elemental powers that she usually avoided and from the rough mattress arose a shadowed skeleton, eyes blacker than coal. The temperature in the room dropped immediately and shivers ran up the spines of all those present. Though only Celie could see it, all the party felt the presence of an Elemental of Death. Unfazed that it’s summoner was a diminutive faerie, the elemental asked what was required of it. Celie asked that it find the spirit of Yazeran such that the group might speak with him and discover what was required of them. With a subtle nod and a not-so-subtle disappearance, the elemental left to carry out her command.

As the party awaited the outcome of this early attempt they re-read the letter that had been provided them and imagined that the dinner hour may reveal some surprises. They were shown the statue of Yazeran in the monastery’s courtyard and began to examine it, including the eerily accurate bas-relief of themselves that had been added to the statue’s base some centuries prior. Silverhand had his nano-swarm dive into the statue to look for anything of note, but despite figuring out that it had been patched and repaired a lot, there were no exciting revelations. Silverhand did, however, note that the statue held a bronzed plumb-bob, and considering the words of the letter he imagined that the “line” they would be shown at the dinner hour would be related to that measure of engineering accuracy.

The dinner hour approached and monks from all around began congregating in the Great Hall that opened onto the courtyard. Most payed little heed to the Whisperkiss crew save for a few suspicious glances. Their feelings were not helped when a black cloud swirled into existence in the center of the courtyard and resolved itself as Celie’s Death Elemental. Dieter, the initiate, shrieked and ran from the group, though a quick word from Celie dispelled the elemental and a quickly dispatched nano-swarm from Silverhand knocked Dieter out cold before he could spread panic. The elemental claimed that Yazeran refused to communicate with the living, so sadly all the episode had managed to gain was more closed doors and nervousness from the locals.

As Silverhand revived Dieter and managed to calm him the young initiate glanced over the elf’s shoulder and was suddenly struck dumb with awe, his eyes widening. Looking back towards the statue Silverhand saw the thick clouds above Vera opening, something the young Dieter had never seen in his lifetime. Perfectly aligned with the cloud break was the system’s sun, it’s evening rays casting long and deep shadows across the courtyard. Silverhand immediately ran to the statue of Yazeran and followed where the shadow of the plumb-bob fell. At that point on the wall of the Great Hall the party discovered a loose stone, perfectly fitted to the surrounding construction. Pulling it out they found a small crevice in which rested a decaying but still surprisingly intact hexagonal playing card much like the Ace of Staves they already held.

This new card depicted seven swords above an anvil and was bordered by the phrase “Seek the source find the cause.” Elocinda sent her droid down the monastery’s well to examine the water source, although nothing out of the ordinary was detected. Celie imagined that the anvil would indicate the monastery’s forge was involved, but the empty workshop yielded no clues even to Silverhand’s nano-swarm. A large and strangely happy blacksmith by the name of Klaus poked his head in as the party nosed about and offered that they join him at the evening meal. Discouraged from their lack of clues the party agreed and entered the Great Hall to the stares and quiet rumblings of all the assembled monks.

Determined to start getting some real answers Celie, Elocinda, and Silverhand approached the head table and began speaking with Gregor again. While generous and kind in his words, the elderly man seemed to have no real answers for the party and, even when a glamour was cast upon him, had no more clues to offer. Elocinda began demanding that the guardsmen prepare for an attack, but her attitude rubbed Scar the wrong way and the captain outright refused to believe any of them, in part due to the prophecy. Elocinda stormed off muttering that the residents here were “a bunch of people who don’t want to help themselves” while Silverhand tried to patch up by diplomatically offering his skills with prosthetic limbs to Scar. Celie finally cornered and glamoured Gregor’s second in command, the Flagmaster Norbert, who had been surly and suspicious throughout. Under the spell he claimed to have none of the cards or clues the party sought, but did know that the cards had probably been handed down from master to apprentice over the years, and due to vows of secrecy none of the monks would willingly reveal their cards until directly questioned in private.

-

On the value of handling things delicately

During the interviews in the Great Hall the armored Praxus had instead begun searching and researching the physical environs. He examined the statue of Yazeran again, then finding nothing descended the monastery’s stairwell and began to catalog the tombs that extended from each of the three landings. Buried in his work he ignored the antics of his compatriots above.

Elocinda and Celie, reconsidering their earlier clue in light of Norbert’s revelation, decided to waylay Klaus the armorer as he returned to the workshop after dinner. Casting a charm on him Celie was easily able to ask him if he possessed any playing card or related item that was passed down to him by his predecessor. The large man guffawed, but under the little faerie’s spell he could not lie and handed over half of a desiccated playing card showing a well and a cup. Concerned that this was only half a card, the group nevertheless set about finding the next piece. Praxus, already down the stairwell, decided to revisit the well that Priscilla had earlier examined. Using cable he brought from Whisperkiss the warrior was able to lower himself down the well. Using intuition the droid had not possessed he examined the rock faces around him and soon discovered a loose stone much like the one at the Great Hall. Behind this stone rested another card, the knave of cups, showing a drunken monk in a barrel and surrounded by the phrase “Tallest and shortest provide the range.”

Aboveground Silverhand asked Dieter who may be in charge of wine casks and was told that Norbert had the only key to Eyrie’s wine cellar. Unconcerned with such primitive devices Silverhand had his nano-swarm pick the lock and then also infiltrate and report back on the contents of the dusty casks within. As the readings came back negative Elocinda decided enough was enough and stormed off to demand more cooperation from Gregor. Praxus, on the other hand, went directly to Norbert with the hopes he might hold the next clue.

Norbert, quite recovered from the earlier spell cast upon him, was as recalcitrant as ever. After some minor prodding he did point out that other beverage functions in the monastery were carried out by Dahlbert the brewer above the forge. As Silverhand and Celie had already gone to the forge Praxus passed the word by radio. The elf and the faerie were in Klaus’ workshop and had found the armorer in the midst of a drinking competition with Scar, Johann, and other guardsmen. In seeing the drinking tankards they had also guessed a brewer would be where the next clue lay, so Praxus’ revelation was little surprise. Up a rickety ladder to the workshop’s second level they found Dahlbert in a complete stupor, a condition easily fixed by Silverhand’s nano-swarm. Surprised at his sudden sobriety, and quickly charmed by Celie, the monk agreed to give them the next card, although he asked to finish his drink first. With a flourish the monk took a swig to polish off the tankard in his hand, then smashed the tankard on the workbench in front of him. Hidden in the base of the tankard was the next card in the party’s search.

As Whisperkiss reported the seismic disturbances closing on Eyrie and Elocinda worked herself into a fury at the monks’ distrust, the rest of the group took a look at their next clue. This card depicted seven coins and had “Staff of life rod of iron” printed on its border. The initial thought was that the coins referred to a treasury, but Silverhand thought of the letter from Yazeran and recalled that the monks paid seven coins to their stonemason while on their deathbed. Dieter confided that the last stonemason of Eyrie had passed away without an apprentice so the party took to the catacombs, using Praxus’ cataloging and Silverhand’s nano-swarm to narrow down the caskets until they found the remains of the stonemason. Rather than desecrate the tomb Silverhand had his nano-swarm search it and then reconstruct the card they found in there in perfect detail. The resulting piece showed crossed flamberge swords above a symbol of a triangle and figure-eight. The caption on this card read “Atop the mountain comes the dawn.”

Silverhand once again thought Yazeran’s engineering skills were referred to by the triangle, but Celie recognized the strange swords as matching two ancient pieces she had seen hanging in Klaus’ smithy. As Whisperkiss announced the arrival of the “seismic mass” at the base of Eyrie’s pinnacle the group burst again into the workshop and tore the flamberge’s from the wall. Praxus snapped the end of both swords, finding yet another card rolled up inside. This one depicted a knight standing on a pedestal and read “Flag not the weary will conquer.” Thinking this related to Norbert’s position as Flagmaster the party roused him from bed and demanded he help them find the next clue. As the Flagmaster had repeatedly denied, even under Celie’s glamour, that he held a piece of the puzzle, he found their intrusion to be aggressive and proved hostile during the discussion. Elocinda, frustrated and expecting an impending attack by the ant creatures, drew her sidearm with the intention to shoot Norbert in the legs and get some hard answers the old fashioned way. In the nick of time Celie flew into the drow’s face and dazzled her, calming Elocinda’s nerves and stopping her trigger finger microseconds before it would have contracted. Norbert, aghast and terrified, ran from the room calling hoarsely for help.

Silverhand quickly followed the Flagmaster and managed to convince him that Elocinda’s actions and attitude were born out of frustration, and Norbert shared that the monks were understandably edgy because the prophecy clearly stated the party could be there to help or destroy them. So far, he pointed out, the party’s aggressiveness and armaments made the locals nervous that destruction was their goal, and the monks could only hope that the quest Yazeran had set would separate saviors from villains. Calmed by the smooth talking elf, Norbert then admitted that he recognized the knight figure on the previous card as one that matched a large chess piece in Eyrie’s treasury. Retrieving it he passed it along to Silverhand who found what appeared to be the last card in the overly large hexagonal base. The three of staves.

Armed with seven and a half cards the party tried to make sense of the puzzle before them. If they arranged most of the pieces in a rough circle (as shown in the watermarks on Yazeran’s letter) they eventually found that the first word of each card’s caption would line up to form the sentence “SEEK ATOP THE TALLEST FLAGSTAFF.” With time pressing, Celie immediately raced skyward, calling down an elemental from Vera’s clouds to assist her. The tallest flagstaff above Eyrie was, not surprisingly, above Norbert’s offices. However, despite much searching and even having her elemental break open the flag’s pommel, nothing of note could be found. Praxus, at the other end, heftily drew the flag out of it’s holder and searched the ground around it while the rest of the party ransacked Norbert’s unused flag collection.

As she began her descent from the flagpole Celie looked out across the dark mountains around her. Despite the night, she could see shapes beginning to flit across the ridges. An enemy was on the doorstep…

-

Showdown

Frustrated and running out of options the party again confronted Norbert. With Silverhand’s assistance they were able to determine that the flagstaffs had been replaced over the years and that the pommels had often been recycled for scrap metal. No-one had, according to the Flagmaster, ever reported finding Vera’s heart in a repossessed pommel so the group guessed that the pommel that had originally held the item they were seeking was still waiting to be used. On Norbert’s advice they raced across the courtyard towards the workshop to hunt for the used pieces.

Aroused by Norbert’s earlier cries and the noise generated by the party, monks and guardsmen had filtered out into the courtyard and looked in askance at the strangers. Weaving past them the group almost made it to the workshop before the attack they had been afraid of begun. Out of the darkness, on buzzing membrane-thin wings, two ant like creatures dive-bombed the courtyard, one of them snatching and wounding a by-standing monk. Glad to finally get some action, Elocinda and Praxus drew their arms while Celie and Silverhand burst into the workshop. In the courtyard, laser pistols and assault rifles made short work of the first invaders, but the buzzing in the air and the rumbling Whisperkiss reported in the ground meant that had just been the beginning.

The battle for Eyrie, and for the fate of Vera as a whole, raged through the night. Klaus the armorer, at first angry and confused, quickly stepped in to help Silverhand and Celie search through the discarded flag pommels. Scar, now faced with a real enemy, sounded the alarm and soon had his guardsmen battling from the towers. Elocinda and Praxus made it to the northwest tower, and as the burly knight reigned fire from the parapets, Elocinda dropped grenades down outcropping privy holes to knock clambering ants from the cliffside. Unable to wrench apart the rusted pommels Celie made her way skyward, calling down more elementals from Vera’s clouds, but was soon dodging two veracious flying ants. Praxus’ helmet was smashed by a dive-bombing enemy, but after shrugging it off he simply dropped the offending creature with two controlled bursts from his rifle. Elocinda fought from the overhanging bathroom, blowing heads clean off as the ant creatures tried to clamber through the privies. All the while Silverhand had his nanos tear apart rusted metal pommels as Klaus hammered away at others.

Suddenly someone hit the jackpot. There was an explosive blast of light from the workshop, and once the dust settled and ringing ears quietened, a glowing prism was found floating between Silverhand and Klaus. Awed that they had finally found what was purportedly the heart of Vera, Silverhand drew close. The object was hard to look at directly, but gave off an intense magical aura that had been surprisingly undetectable up until then. However, despite having found the object, Silverhand suddenly realized he had no idea what the party was supposed to do with it.

In the skies above Eyrie, Celie found herself hounded by the two flying ants. As she dodge one, the other slammed her bodily into a wall, it’s chitinous head almost squashing her flat against the stones. Bleeding and dazed the faerie dived away from the pair and called upon the elements trapped in Vera’s clouds again. Lighting arced across the night sky, joining Praxus and Elocinda’s deadly barrages and frying the creatures in an instant.

Silverhand, convinced that Vera’s heart simply needed to be put back somewhere it belonged, recalled Whisperkiss’ report of the EM pulse when they’d first detected Eyrie. On request the soulmech began narrowing down the precise location of the blast and immediately responded that it had come from somewhere below the courtyard. Silverhand made a break for the switchback stairs, thinking the well may be the answer. Elocinda followed soon after while Celie kept battling the ant creatures in the air with the support of Vera’s cloud elementals. As the faerie dodged and weaved across the night sky she took a glance at the tower that Praxus had been firing from, but only saw a worrying glow.

Putting his pride aside, Praxus had muttered a rusty prayer to a god he’d tried to avoid for years. Despite his lack of faith the prayer was answered and astral energy coursed through the knight’s body, turning his eyes to fiery gold. He rose from the ichor splattered stones of the tower then, in a burst of speed, flew like a burning angel down the stairwell. Bursting past Elocinda he arrived by Silverhand’s side, just as the elf got word that the source of the EM pulse had been halfway up the well, somewhere deep in the rock face. Without wasting a breath Praxus grabbed Silverhand by the scruff of the neck and carried him up the well, his armor shredding the stones on either side in a shower of electric sparks.

Elocinda, now alone at the base of the stairwell, muttered a curse as ant creatures burst through the rock floor by the well and began to chase her. Shooting behind her the whole way, she began running back up the stairs, hoping that Praxus’ crazy flight was actually for good reason. Celie, aware that her compatriots were near the well and probably under attack sent elementals down the stairwell while she flew down the well shaft from the workshop. Thankfully she amended her instruction to the elementals from “deal with anything not human” to “deal with anything with more than four legs” before they got to the drow…

The faerie almost ran in to Praxus and Silverhand coming up the well as she flew down. They arrested their flights about half way between the cave below and the workshop as Praxus scanned the walls around him on Whisperkiss’ instruction. Not seeing anything immediately he drew his plasma polearm and, leaving the shaft contracted, began hacking at the walls around him. Smashing away the ancient stone he soon found a small cave concealed for centuries. Without much effort he cut away enough rock to throw Silverhand through onto the rough ground.

Still being pursued despite help from the elementals, Elocinda turned on the last landing and sprinted up the steps towards the open courtyard. Mere inches from making it, mandibles snatched at her heels and dropped the drow heavily onto the stone steps. Spitting blood from a split lip she turned, firing point blank at the armored heads of the ant creatures, but as the first tumbled away, smoking holes in their heads, others quickly took their place, pinning her down.

In the cavern Silverhand, Celie, and Praxus could hear the rage-fueled screams of their injured teammate. Hurriedly they examined the small area, finding a smooth section of wall of a size and shape akin to a tomb. Silverhand reached out, and at his touch the “tomb” slid open with a hiss, it’s interior lit by a cold blue light. Inside, apparently preserved by technology far beyond what the Verans had ever achieved themselves, was what appeared to be a young woman, unclothed and with her empty chest peeled open to reveal a honeycomb like interior. At first awestruck, the group quickly recovered and Silverhand intuitively placed the glowing prism, the heart, into the woman’s empty chest.

The scream that followed was as if a thousand voices cried out at once, deafening all who heard it though it did not pass from any lips. The woman sat up, her eyes on fire and her whole body glowing like a golden ember. Silverhand collapsed to his knees and Celie flattened herself to the wall as Vera arose from her tomb.

“What have they done to my world!” cried the goddess.

Mumbled answers didn’t seem to reach her as she marched towards the opening in the well, only stopping to tell Praxus to bring the fight to the ants. As the knight dropped readily into the well the goddess shot upwards, flying like a burning meteor towards the clouds.

In the stairwell Elocinda kicked and clawed as the giant ants began to drag her downstairs. Her laser pistols fired continuously, but the swarm seemed like too much. Cursing the apparent suicide mission Alsir had sent them on, the drow almost gave up hope… then suddenly the ants above her were torn apart. At the top of the stairwell, Scar and his guardsmen stormed in, assault rifles blazing, and dragged the wounded drow to the safety of the courtyard.

-

Goodbyes

The explosive departure of Vera seemed to cut the single-mindedness from the giant ant attack on Eyrie. Though the night was long and bloody the monks, guards, and the crew of the Whisperkiss soon found themselves victorious. Above them the clouds receded, bathing the planet of Vera in it’s first real sunrise in over a thousand years.

Silverhand found himself applying his medical skills all night long, and eventually received gruff agreement from Scar to replace his arm. As the rest of the Whisperkiss crew packed up to leave, Silverhand made a announcement that he intended to stay. Feeling attached to the planet, especially having been witness to the rebirth of it’s goddess, he felt his skills in mediation and politics would be able to ease this world’s inclusion into the Dragon Empire. “How does one relegate the resurrection of a deity to a file?” he asked.

Surprised, but not offended, Elocinda, Praxus and Celie boarded their ship and opened a channel to the satellites in orbit above them. The dwarf, Djonz, seemingly more grumpy now that his once quiet quarantine assignment would change, gruffly agreed to let them off-world seeing as they’d apparently been responsible for Vera’s return. Relieved and worn, the three settled back for the week long starcast to the Mithral Star.

And below them, as the Whisperkiss rose towards the glowing horizon, a solitary daisy poked through the dry dust and opened it’s face to a brave new world…

-

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