The idea with Haven and the five Steadfasts was that, to get what they wanted (Tarn, kidnapped by the mysterious Accelerated), the PCs would have to bribe, manipulate, or persuade enough members of the Haven Council to vote in a leader who would be more cooperative than Leisha Camdeni (a character based loosely on the protagonist of the amazing novel, Beggars in Spain). When the arc began, I made a record of how each Steadfast leader felt about Camdeni (e.g., -2 for dislike or +4 for strong approval) and then tried to keep track as to how much the PCs actions influenced these attitudes. Success would require the PCs to develop some understanding of how to play the various Steadfasts off against each other. In order to make this feasible, I gave each First and their Seconds a list of goals, secrets, etc. so the PCs could investigate and formulate a plan.
All in all, I think it worked out pretty well and was a good way to stretch a little creatively.
After a dangerous series of jumps into the heart of the Arkanian Nebula, The Flaming Halo has reached the atmosphere of a veritable lost world. Originally a colony devoted to altering the essential features of humanity, the planet of the Altered has been cordoned off for centuries and intentionally erased from historical knowledge. But reaching the planet may prove a trifle compared to the difficulties that lie ahead . . .
The Flaming Halo plunges into the atmosphere of the lost Arkanian colony, fleeing several sets of strange orbs. Through pure speed and clever manoeuvring, Lucif manages to avoid coming into contact with most of the orbs—but the one that does hit seems to attach itself to the hull of the ship and drain power. Next to Lucif in the cockpit, A’tel and Arresta examine sensor readings and try to find a safe location to put the ship down. During an intense barrel roll, Daal collapses to the ground, barely managing to advise his companions to scan for an IMF energy signature before he passes out. Arresta scans for IMF energy and finds massive readings several kilometres distant. As the orbs approach for another attack run, Lucif orders his passengers to grab their gear and head to the escape pod.
A’tel secures Daal in the escape pod while Arresta races to her quarters to seize her equipment, including the field kits for her companions. Reaching into her trunk, she finds a damaged flimsy containing a letter from her husband, in which Stefan declares his love for his wife, but reveals that his headaches (which he does not know were caused by Creen) have worsened and he intends to undergo exploratory surgery on Rhinnal while Arresta is away ‘visiting her uncle’. He asks for his wife’s forgiveness for the lie, but pledges his devotion to her and their daughter. Arresta is devastated and, sharing the letter with A’tel, asks him to help her hunt down Creen at some point in the future. The former Jedi agrees without hesitation.
As Lucif prepares to set the ship down, he has Arresta retrieve a bag of gear from his quarters and, while he uses expert flying techniques to keep the orbs off of their backs, has her release the second empty escape pod on his signal, distracting one set of pursuers. Flying over desert terrain, the crew spots two ships: the Sun Runner II and a Jedi starfighter, presumably belonging to Tarn Tamarand. Noticing that both ships are covered in the strange orbs, Lucif theorizes that the orbs are attracted to energy and tries a risky manoeuvre: he cuts the ship’s power and brings the ship in manually, skimming it across the desert floor like a stone. It’s an excellent controlled crash, and the ship takes little damage in the process.
After the landing and a tense few moments of waiting, they realize that the orbs are hovering just a few meters above The Flaming Halo. They decide to leave Daal behind in the escape pod to examine the other ships. The atmosphere outside is breathable and normal gravity, but blistering hot, with hard, cracked terrain making for an unforgiving landscape. During the walk, Arresta informs Lucif that when they finish their business on this planet, they will be making their way to Rhinnal with all possible speed – she even offers to discuss covering the expense of his lost escape pod to secure his compliance. He agrees.
A quick glance shows that the Jedi starfighter is empty. Lucif manages to force open the personnel hatch of the Sun Runner II, but they find all of its systems are shut down and it’s occupied only by a medical droid nicknamed Scraper. Upon questioning, it displays two holovids recorded by its photoreceptors: the first depicts a battle taking place just outside the ship, but the image is so blurry that they cannot make out any details. The second shows Jocasta escorting a repulsortube which houses the body of her deceased Arkanian advisor Kronos. Back outside, a few tentative attempts are made to remove the orbs and their tendrils from the ships, but neither ordinary blades nor A’tel’s new lightsaber have any effect.
As darkness falls, the blistering heat turns into freezing cold and the adventurers return to The Flaming Halo after having convinced Scraper to come with them to tend to Daal. The droid is very keen on doctor-patient confidentiality, but it does imply that Daal has long been suffering from a serious condition. Later, A’tel talks to Arresta about his plans now that he has left the Order. He indicates that he is not yet certain what path his future will take, but that he can no longer support the direction that the Jedi council has taken.
The next morning, the trio begins a systematic search of the area. They realize that their communications devices will not function within a particular area. Once they have that sketched out the circumference of the interference field, they begin a methodical grid-like search. After several hours of searching in the heat, Arresta notices something odd – Lucif taking an odd detour away from an area he was searching. When he fails to recall this, she investigates. To the eyes of her companions she begins to sink into the sand, but she seems unconcerned. They toss her a rope and see her slowly disappear from sight. It takes Lucif and A’tel several tries to overcome the neural dissuasion field before they are able to follow in Arresta’s path.
To Arresta’s eyes, it seems like she is travelling down through solid rock, before entering a long period of darkness and then slowly realizing that a bright light is below her. After her eyes adjust, she finds herself in the central square of a massive underground city, made up of ice-white flowing architecture, complete with fountains, long pedestrian thoroughfares, and a cavernous ceiling that is holo-manipulated to appear to be sky. Hearing voices nearby, but seeing no one, she walks to the entrance of a large, circular auditorium that overlooks the square. She hides there and waits for Lucif and A’tel join her.
None of the three are able to make out the language spoken, so they decide to investigate further. A’tel hangs back while Lucif and Arresta move into the auditorium, where they find themselves in the middle of a public forum – with five central figures having a debate in front of a large number of observers. With Lucif at her side, Arresta calmly walks to the center of conclave and asks for aid in finding her missing “friends,” Tarn and the Sun Runners. Those assembled react strongly to the presence of newcomers, and the crowd rumbles with surprise. The five central figures engage in some sort of debate, and even though Arresta and Lucif cannot understand it, they can discern definite alliances and factions.
One of the figures, a woman who appears to be in her thirties with short black hair, presses a strange pattern on the sleeve of her shirt and begins to speak Basic. She names herself Leisha Camdeni, Speaker of Haven and First of the First Steadfast. She flatly informs Arresta and Lucif that Haven cannot help them and that they are forbidden from leaving the city. The conclave comes to an end and those present file out, with the First of the Fourth Steadfast (a tall, striking woman wearing a clinging gown) sending an aide to speak with Lucif. The aide names himself Sangla’Annex and says that his First would like to speak to Lucif in “more intimate surroundings.” Meanwhile, Arresta notices that the First of the Fifth Steadfast (a grey-haired, hard-faced man) gave her a significant look as he left. Outside, A’tel befriends an adolescent named Triv, who belongs to the First Steadfast.
After spending most of the day canvassing the city and gathering information, A’tel, Arresta, and Lucif reunite in the square to trade information and come up with several intriguing facts about Haven:
- • The city is currently divided into Five Steadfasts – down from an original number of 60. Each Steadfast appears to embrace a particular set of values and is lead by a “First,” who functions as their representative in the Haven Conclave. Leadership of that council, the position of Speaker, is determined by the support of three of the five steadfasts.
- • A sixth thoroughfare leading away from the square leads to a steadfast abandoned in recent memory. At the far end of the steadfast lies a massive metallic door, barred by strange energy barriers. Odd feelings of a pulsating darkness on the far side arise in those who go near the door. Inhabitants of Haven, who call themselves Altered, refer to it in the vaguest terms, and call it “The Excess.”
- • Altered in the city refuse to speak of other inhabitants on the planet, although references are made to “The
Accelerated”. It appears that many former inhabitants of Haven have gone to join this other group.
- • The Altered do not appear to need sleep and they consider themselves to be more highly evolved than other races.
- • No one will acknowledge any awareness of Tarn or the crew of the SunRunner II – although they do reference a Captain Jorus, whose ship is the only officially authorized outsider vessel and which lands on this planet approximately once every solar year. It is scheduled to do so again in 37 days, and its previous visit brought the stowaway Triv.
The three adventurers also compile the information they’ve managed to gather on the five steadfasts and their leaders:
- • The First Steadfast: Led by the current speaker, Leisha, the first steadfast appears to embrace order. She is against allowing the newcomers to leave, but she betrayed recognition the first time the name “Jocasta” was spoken in her presence. She appears concerned at losing more of her population, which she refers to as “The Dwindling.” She has adopted the orphan Trev. The First Steadfast currently has no Second, but Triv hopes to someday take that position.
- • The Second Steadfast: Led by a woman named Praxeus Domanidrus, this group appears most interested in scientific and scholarly endeavours. Arresta consents to an examination – one that excludes any tests that cause pain – and notices that the woman appears highly interested in understanding other species and technology like that brought by Captain Jorus. Praxeus’ Second, a man named Iagos Aurellius, acts as her liaison, setting up tests, etc. The adventurers discover that Iagos is secretly the occasional lover of the leader of the Fourth Steadfast. Arresta and Lucif later theorize that a potential way to motivate Praxeus to aid them is to allow her to run tests on A’tel, as she seems unfamiliar with the concept of the Force.
- • The Third Steadfast: Led by a man named Eron 14 and his second, Eron 15, this group is obsessed with “the Dream” – a state in which they are hooked up to machines that allow them to experience intense sensations. Eron 14 seems to spend little or no time outside of the Dream, and supports Leisha Camdeni reflexively. When A’tel uses the Force to better understand this state, he finds it a horrifying conglomeration of primal sensations. By allowing the experience, Eron 15 states that A’tel is now indebted to him. Further conversation leads A’tel to believe that Eron 15 may be interesting in leaving the planet aboard a starship.
- • The Fourth Steadfast: In this female-lead section of the city, indulgence and pleasure are at the forefront, as Lucif discovers by bedding Sangla’, the First of the Fourth Steadfast. Sangla’ indicates that she would be open to helping Lucif and his friends in the Conclave, if they can convince one of Leisha’s supporters to switch allegiance. Other members of the fourth steadfast get Lucif to demonstrate his skill at martial arts and he is revealed to be far more skilled than they--easily breaking the nose of his opponent. He learns that violence is almost unknown in Haven, but that an underground ring exists in the Fourth Steadfast because it offers a visceral thrill. However, the city inhabitants are neophytes when it comes to combat because interpersonal harm is nearly impossible as everyone wears what they call “N-Fields”, personal energy shields. The Second of the Fourth Steadfast is a young, attractive man named Sangla’Annex. His role seems to be to scout new prospects for Sangla’s lascivious tastes.
- • The Fifth Steadfast: In this steadfast, the leader, Mazrim, talks frequently of courage and honour and it is revealed that his goal is to become Speaker. He would not consider violence, but would be more than willing to take his chance to advance if he can secure the needed votes. He has the support of the Fourth Steadfast and believes the Third Steadfast might be persuaded to switch sides. He is intrigued when Arresta mentions Kronos to him – and indicates that it would be very embarrassing for Leisha if evidence could be produced that Kronos had returned. Mazrim does not appear to have a Second.
After a night’s rest from their investigations, Arresta, Lucif, and A’tel awake to face a new day and the continuation of a novel task: finding the levers of power in an alien world, where intrigue counts for more than blasters.