Dragonstar: The Serpent's Teardrop

On the Edge of Night

Inspired by the adventure “On the Edge of Night” from the “Star Trek: TNG” Roleplaying Game book “Planetary Adventures” published by Last Unicorn Games © 1999. Also inspired by the adventure “Fright Night: Ghost Ship” published by Hogshead Publishing © 2005.

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Nightmares

Near the joint between asteroid and aft hull of the Mithral Star a spire rose above the cold plated decks and the pitted rock. Climbing like a talon, the black tower glistened with lit windows and bristled with defensive guns. At its base was housed the cathedral-like bridge of the gargantuan ship. But the upper reaches of the spire were reserved for its admiral.

Alsir’s quarters were as befitted a half-dragon of his rank. Opulent carpets and gold-trimmed furniture decorated lengths of empty corridor and unused lounges. Massive ancient tapestries depicting ancient legends from hundreds of planets hung in stasis fields that protected them against decay. In each office stood rows of artifacts; suits of armor from fallen foes, archaeological wonders from before the Imperium, the mounted heads of fantastic beasts from across the galaxy. Chambers within the admiral’s rooms could have been torn from gaudy palaces and hosted sumptuous feasts or the celebrations of hundreds of people. And yet, for all this excess, the majority of the spire was only ever seen by the empty electronic eyes or walked by the silent mechanical feet of its army of maintenance robots.

In a simple chamber not far from the bridge of the Mithral Star Alsir slept. He slept suspended in a viscous amber liquid that cradled him like a womb, arcane nanoswarms and secret chemicals easing the troubled sleep his human half required. Beyond the protective liquid, runes and powerful fields integrated with the tank made an impregnable shell, the admiral completely protected, removed, invisible to the outside world.

Except for one, small, near invisible path.

One hidden port in the walls around Alsir was open. One door that could be unlocked with a particular psychic imprint. When that door opened, Alsir’s dreams suddenly turned to nightmares.

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Her cabin had barely been lived in. Only the slightly rumpled sheets on the bed showed any signs of habitation. Sitting cross-legged on the floor she slowly removed her own mental shields and began the arduous process of finding his mind. The process was calm, methodical. Something she had done a thousand times before, though nearly no other human in the entire galaxy could accomplish the same over such distances. Her companions stood back near the door, somehow always afraid of her silence.

Suddenly the golden glow from her cabin window snapped to black. Her eyes opened, focusing in mild confusion on the scattered light of cold alien stars. A companion exclaimed, a shudder was felt. Then, from the darkness between the stars, a cold slithering feeling slipped across her mind.

Her scream coincided with an explosion at the cabin door. The soulless face of the window splattered with red…

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Alsir awoke, standing and trembling on the soaked carpet of his cabin. Blood trickled down a hundred cuts across his shoulders, and his clawed feet cracked the shards of tank below his feet. For a moment he paused, his eyes locked to the tableau of stars beyond his cabin window. Then in a blur he launched himself out of the cabin, a clawed hand snatching a data crystal from a nearby display as he vanished into the quiet corridors and from the cold eyes of the maintenance robots dispatched to clean the remains of his sleep tank.

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Guard Duty

Galen did it again. Finding himself in the brig, the human was once again retrieved by Alsir’s confidant, Issemene. Only this time the albino didn’t return Galen to the crew’s townhouse in the Mithral Star’s asteroid city. Walking briskly through the busy market, shoulders bouncing off the myriad buyers and sellers, Galen struggled to keep up with the short woman, each confused question from his worried mouth answered only by stony silence. She led him to the Drop and then quickly down to the passenger level of the Star, grabbing tickets on an outgoing freighter. Worried that he’d been marked for deportation to far flung mining colonies Galen began to quietly plead with Issemene, but well aware of her psychic prowess he didn’t test her limits by trying to escape.

Four days later the transport arrived at a hub world within the realm of the white dragons, Altaran space. Sweating profusely the now subdued Galen glumly followed Issemene through the angular, cold corridors of the terminal, his melancholy lifted when he realized they were not going planet-side, only transferring to another ship… the Elim’s Journey.

The cruise liner was making a brief stop on the white side of the teardrop border zone then heading back towards Golion space. Apparently the insufferable Cardinal Rags was still on board the luxury liner and Issemene had business with the halfling. Galen had been carted along for protection and his intimate knowledge of the ship itself. Barely able to contain his relief (and certain Issemene had kept quiet to purposefully put him through hell) Galen spent the next few days enjoying himself as the liner took its time on the way home.

As one of his few duties Galen was requested from time to time to watch over Issemene if she needed to drop into a deeper psychic trance. Walking nonchalantly down to Issemene’s cabin, slightly late, on one such occasion, something very troubling occurred.

Which version of the very troubling depends on which when he walked in…

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Rescue Mission

Just over a week since Galen’s departure, the elf Silverhand was abruptly woken from a restful sleep by the insistent alarm on his datacom. Blearily answering he very quickly snapped fully awake as Alsir’s bleeding visage appeared over the com and demanded the elf’s presence on the bridge of the Mithral Star. Fully aware that this breach of their “deniable assets” relationship meant the situation was dire, Silverhand ran for the nearest turbolift.

On the command platform of the cathedral-like bridge, Alsir paced like a madman, his naked scaly body covered in bloody scars. At Silverhand’s approach he whipped around and cornered the elf with alarming speed, forcing a data crystal into his hands and demanding that he “find her” immediately. Without much more the half-dragon turned back to his concerned crew, leaving Silverhand to figure out who precisely he needed to find.

Aware that time was of the essence Silverhand immediately pinged the other members of Alsir’s “deniable assets” and asked them to meet him at the Whisperkiss for an emergency assignment. The human David and the faerie Celie were both available and onboard the Mithral Star and so joined the elf not long after his call. They studied the data crystal that Alsir had entrusted to them, finding a disturbing and many-layered recording saved on the device. Much of it had been encrypted so heavily that it could take months to decode. But a particular segment had been unlocked for their viewing…

Her cabin had barely been lived in. Only the slightly rumpled sheets on the bed showed any signs of habitation. Sitting cross-legged on the floor she slowly removed her own mental shields and began the arduous process of finding his mind. The process was calm, methodical. Something she had done a thousand times before, though nearly no other human in the entire galaxy could accomplish the same over such distances. Her companions stood back near the door, somehow always afraid of her silence.

Suddenly the golden glow from her cabin window snapped to black. Her eyes opened, focusing in mild confusion on the scattered light of cold alien stars. A companion exclaimed, a shudder was felt. Then, from the darkness between the stars, a cold slithering feeling slipped across her mind.

Her scream coincided with an explosion at the cabin door. The soulless face of the window splattered with red…

Silverhand felt that he recognized the cabin décor in the recording and soon remembered the Elim’s Journey where the team had captured Kondor Gims and the ork Bors. He also had the recording enhanced so that he could see the reflection in the outer window of the cabin door. With sinking hearts the team recognized Galen muttering something about “freaky psychic bullshit” before the explosion ended the recording.

Theorizing that the recording was a psychic transmission from Alsir’s confidant Issemene, and that Galen had been assigned to her, David and Silverhand went to make use of the best 3D holo room available to civilians on the Mithral Star... at the Siren’s Brothel. They played back the recording with extrapolated 3D data and were able to determine that Issemene had been hit by shrapnel in the explosion (causing the blood splatter) and that Galen had seen something that scared or surprised him in the hallway just nanoseconds before the blast. The human had dove into the bathroom, so the team kept their fingers crossed that he had survived.

Using the image of stars available through the hull window in the recording, plus a detailed plan of the Elim’s Journey’s route, the Whisperkiss was able to estimate where the psychic recording had taken place. On closer examination it appeared that the cruise liner had dropped rapidly out of astral space after crossing into an uncharted tendril of the Dark Zone nebula. This tentacle of gasses and space had up until now been considered harmless, but because of its proximity to the dangerous nebula above it, the possibility existed that the liner had been attacked by the evil denizens of that haunted realm. Preparing themselves for the worst, and hoping to avoid a similar fate, the crew of the Whisperkiss plugged in the coordinates just outside the nebula’s tentacle, and slipped away from the Mithral Star before most of its residents were up for breakfast.

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The Dark Between the Stars

On the edge of the Dark Zone nebula the Whisperkiss sat silently. Gazing out of the cockpit, Silverhand, David, and Celie wondered if only natural gasses could be responsible for the inky depths that obscured the stars beyond them. This tendril of the Dark Zone was terrifying enough. But above them, the entirety of the sky was pitch black. And to make matters worse, their additional senses told them of more trouble ahead. Silverhand assensed the eddies and flows of astral space ahead of them and corroborated what the Whisperskiss’ sensor package had explained. Space in the tendril was fractured, pockets of high-radiation drifting between differing magical anomalies. Starcasting through that maze would be impossible, at least without knowing where one was headed, so David plotted the Elim’s Journey’s last known heading and plunged ahead with the fusion drives. The ride was rough, turbulence between the pockets of mismatched space causing untold strain on the small freighter’s engines. The human tried to keep the ship on a smooth course, but the movement of those pockets around him made it a very tough job.

Thirty minutes into a white knuckle ride the sensors on the Whisperkiss finally caught a whiff of their prey. A large object consistent with the Elim’s Journey lay directly ahead, adrift in space. Before long they were able to visually confirm the position and condition of the luxury cruiser. Dark and quiet, it lay amidst moving pockets of irregular radiation, it’s grand lobby window shattered and slowly venting the ship’s contents to the void. Interior integrity still held in other parts of the ship, but the fate of Issemene and Galen was beginning to look grim.

Suddenly the Whisperkiss rocked as if slammed into a brick wall. David cursed, fighting with the controls as the hull around him shrieked from the strain. Bouncing between two pockets of mismatched space the freighter was almost torn in two before the pilot was able to tear it free and, with a last gasp from the fusion drives, send it on a course for one of the aft landing bays on the Elim’s Journey. Fuses and other safeties had blown throughout the ship’s systems and would require significant repair before it would be able to fly again. As the crew watched the corpse like hull of the cruise liner approach, the idea of spending many more hours onboard sent shivers down their spines.

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Ghost Ship

The interior of the Elim’s Journey was quiet. After some trouble negotiating the landing bay (without a pressure suit small enough for Celie to wear, and some trouble getting her elemental magic to work in the vacuum) the rescue party stood in the apparently deserted hallways of the mall level of the luxury cruise ship. Emergency lighting was on, and a thin atmosphere remained, yet no bodies, living or dead, presented themselves. The wireless Local Area Network on board the ship was also down, so with little to no information the team decided to head towards engineering and either use the emergency generators to power up the computers, or fire up the ships massive astral drive for full power. They walked cautiously through the abandoned mall, the few signs of disturbance (shattered glass, some bloodstains) all the more eerie for the lack of bodies.

Suddenly the lighting overhead flickered on as if under normal operation. While unnerving in itself it took a few moments for the real impact of the flicker to dawn on the party. There was no power running throughout the vessel. Nothing should have caused the lights to turn on.

Then a scream shattered the silence. David whipped around and drew a bead on a lower level of the mall somewhere behind them. But saw nothing.

Deciding to push on, concerned about being distracted, the group eventually made their way to the entrance of the Lucky Skull casino where Elocinda had successfully goaded Cardinal Rags on their first visit. The large gambling den was dark and quiet, apparently deserted. Then, on the edge of hearing, the trio heard someone talking in a room to the side of the casino. Approaching cautiously they saw a light on under one door (yet another impossibility) and when David called out to the occupant, a surprised and surly casino employee with no apparent knowledge of the ship’s current state told the party to clear off. David swiftly opened the door… to find a dark and empty room beyond.

And the strangeness didn’t stop there.

Convinced they were being duped or distracted Silverhand continued to advise pushing on. They found their way to the emergency stairwells and dropped quickly towards the bottom level and the engineering section. Part way down it became obvious that some massive damage had destroyed the lower edge of the stairwell on this side of this ship and so they had to cut across one of the cabin decks. As they walked carefully across the dark and quiet corridors there was a sudden explosion of light and noise. People, apparently passengers, suddenly appeared around them, everyone panicking as if a catastrophe was just around the corner! Silverhand and David were separated in the crush of people, but managed to slide themselves to the sides of the corridor and let the crowd move around them. Celie tried to get the attention of wild-eyed passengers, hoping to calm or bespell them and figure out what was going on. She was just batted away, the fear gripping the crowd far too tightly for her to be noticed.

And in an instant, it was over. The corridor was again cold, dark, and empty. No trace of any passengers remained.

Hearts thumping, the party tried to shrug off the disturbing occurrences and made for the second stairwell and the engine room. They arrived without any further mishap, although in the cavernous engine room they were startled and horrified to witness a crew member plunging to his death directly before them and then vanish, leaving only an old bloodstain where he had landed. Unnerved, Silverhand fired up the back-up fusion generators to get ancillary power running throughout the ship. Finally, with comms online, they were able to get a hold of Galen and used a powered crew hovercraft to rush up to Issemene’s cabin.

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Rescued

Issemene was out cold, and Galen was at a loss as to why he and the psychic were the only remaining people on board the massive ship. His recollection of the accident the rest of the party had witnessed through Issemene’s psychic alarm was hazy. What he was sure of was that Issemene, while concious, had been an extreme danger. She had been mentally traumatized by whatever had attacked them from the Dark Zone and as a result had lashed out at anything around her. She’d been incoherent, had rambled nonsense, and had tried to hurt herself and others, so Galen had anesthetized her. She’d be out for a few more hours, then would probably need to be put out again until professional healers could try and help her.

In the mean time Silverhand had his nanoswarm stitch up the psychic’s wounded shoulder and the crew decided, with their primary goal complete, to get back to the Whisperkiss and work on fixing its fuses so they could leave. Racing along the deserted corridors on the borrowed hovercraft they were startled by and almost ran in to a gorilla shaped monstrosity with a tentacled face, it’s guttural roars cutting short as it disappeared behind them.

Although the need to escape the derelict overruled most every other instinct, the party had begun to come to some conclusions as to the fate of the vessel. It appeared that, whether by chance or design, the Elim’s Journey had dropped out of astral space in the midst of these pockets of unstable energy. Almost immediately thereafter the vessel had been boarded and attacked by creatures of the Dark Zone, creatures who carried off almost every living (and un-living) sentient being on board. The vessel itself, apparently left with all its riches intact, was now adrift amidst bizarre magical and mundane energies. And the worst of these appeared to bend or break space-time, shuffling pieces of the past through the present and causing no end of confusion.

To highlight the point, Silverhand and David went on a scavenging trip to find the fuses needed to repair Whisperkiss. They cautiously crossed a deserted hanger and searched the merchant vessel left within, soon finding the pieces they needed. However, as they exited, they found the hanger all of a sudden very much inhabited… by another gorilla shaped monster. After dispatching their foe David thought to call Galen back at the Whisperkiss to report their return and instead was put in touch with Galen moments before he arrived at Issemene’s cabin before the attack. The confused conversation was cut short as whatever temporal cloud they were trapped in moved on, and the creature they had killed disappeared leaving behind only a greasy stain.

Repairs back at the Whisperkiss still took some time, the concerned Galen hurrying to finish but also asking to be notified if Issemene woke up. When the albino did finally stir, groggy and disoriented, all she mumbled was “stop me… he… found me…” before drifting back into her unnatural slumber. Silverhand took this as a cue that they should use the dangerous temporal clouds to contact the Issemene in the past before she made whatever psychic blunder caused the attack on the cruise liner. This hypothesis caused no small amount of argument, as Galen stressed Issemene’s off-kilter mental state and David pointed out their primary mission was complete and should not be jeopardized. Silverhand wouldn’t budge, the weight of the many thousand passengers of the Elim’s Journey pushing him to make hurried calculations on the validity of his plan. Now understanding the nature of the “bubbles” surrounding them he was able to plot the paths of irregular space and estimate how, when and where it would be possible to interrupt Issemene’s disastrous communication. Galen, sullen and insistent that they leave commented that Silverhand’s calculations were “professionally optimistic.”

Obviously not able to fully convince the crew Silverhand made the decision to wake Issemene and gather what opinion or information from her that they could. In his makeshift medical bay at the back of Whisperkiss he concocted a counter-agent to her anesthetic and began the process of bringing her around.

Suddenly, the Whisperkiss went dark.

Without even emergency lighting the interior of the ship was pitch black. Silverhand tried to adjust his night vision to pick up anything, but before his rods and cones could compensate a gun was pushed into the back of his head.

“Don’t wake her up” whispered Galen.

The human pilots earlier insistence had taken a deadly serious tone, but unfortunately for him the action of pulling a weapon on his teammates was greeted with action rather than shock. Silverhand continued to administer the counteragent, convinced his actions were correct. The faerie, Celie, horrified at Galen’s out of character aggression, immediately cast upon him a powerful glamor that forced him to regret his action and lower the gun. Seconds later, Silverhands drug did the trick and Issemene shot upright, fully awake. The albino immediately grabbed Galen by the throat, and with one flash of her furious eyes seemed to expel a red glow from the human’s head. Galen collapsed and Issemene extinguished the red light in an explosive psychic blast.

David helped the groaning pilot to his feet. “Get this man a whiskey” he muttered.

Once the dust had settled it became apparent that Galen’s earlier eagerness to leave and keep Issemene out cold was because he’d been possessed by some kind of psychic entity of the Dark Zone. The being had possessed Galen with the hopes it would be “rescued” and taken away from the horrors that ruled the black nebula above. It also knew Issemene would be outstanding bait for a rescue party and so kept her protected from the other Dark Zone creatures, although also heavily sedated so that she couldn’t drive him out of his host.

With that mystery settled, Issemene also agreed with Silverhand’s plan of preventing her from trying to make psychic contact with Admiral Alsir. Unbeknownst to her, the Elim’s Journey had just passed in to this tendril of the nebula and as a result her contact had drawn the unwanted attention of a dangerous and powerful brainstealer dragon known as Myth. In mere nanoseconds the dragon’s power had been able to tear the Elim’s Journey from astral space and send it’s minions to capture the entire population. Unable to have these countless lives on her conscience, Issemene was convinced that if a temporal cloud could displace her to the moment before her earlier self made contact, she could convince herself to not make that fatal mistake.

Silverhand immediately put his calculations to work and plotted the course of a cloud with the right signature. Galen, recovered from if not chagrined by his earlier possession, hacked into the emergency powered mainframe of the Elim’s Journey and began moving it into the correct place for the cloud to impact. Silverhand and Issemene used the hovercraft to return to her cabin and await the moment of truth, while Davie, Celie, and Galen took the Whisperkiss to a supposedly safe distance.

Unsure of how the “repair” of the two timelines would impact them, Silverhand said some perfunctory goodbyes as David narrated the cloud’s approach in the Whisperkiss’ sensors. Suddenly, with nothing in the way of fanfare, the cold dark cabin that Silverhand and Issemene stood in was bathed in light and warmth. The earlier Issemene stood before them, moments away from sitting down and attempting to contact Alsir. Silverhand spoke quickly, as the albino’s eyebrows rocketed upwards in surprise.

“Myth will see you!” he cried.

After a beat both Issemene’s turned to look at him.

“I already told her everything,” said the future Issemene, “you see, I’m a psychic.”

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Back to the Future

David, Celie, and Galen watched the Elim’s Journey disappear in the blink of an eye, but despite their fears the temporal healing did not immediately wipe them from existence. Still within the Dark Zone tendril they made very quick preparations, then rode the turbulence out of the fractured space as quickly as they could. Able to starcast back to the Mithral Star once beyond the borders of the tendril they arrived to a bizarre and unexpected welcome…

Their compatriots from this “future,” Issemene and Silverhand, had also survived. And yet in some kind of temporal paradox, their old selves lived on, never having been called to go rescue Issemene from the cruise ship. As a result Issemene, Silverhand, David, Celie, Galen, and Whisperkiss all had been duplicated. It seemed that no matter how good science became at understanding and manipulating the space-time continuum, the winds of magic would continue to throw wrenches in the works….

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