Starforged is one of my favorite tabletop RPGs, so of course I had to celebrate the release of the (gorgeous) hardcover with a story giveaway. This story was written for @phiL0co and features my interpretation of his original character, Tholgir, as well as his pick of the assets — the sprite. (The sprite may have stolen the show.)
Tholgir drummed his fingers against a bright red rock, the morning air already warm from the young sun. It would be easy enough to walk into the derelict transport turned planetside compound–he could just walk in the front door and demand to see Lux, the Chaos being that ruled the desert planet known as Desolation.
No, the difficulty was that the entrance was flanked by two guards carrying plasma rifles, and the dark opening was warded by the flickering red-black of Chaos magic. Those guards would let him enter, but only if he turned over his war hammer. And if he turned over his weapon, he would be at an untenable disadvantage in his attempt to free this sector from Lux’s chaotic control.
He stared at the ship perched on the edge of cave ridden cliffs. He needed another way in, a path where he wouldn’t be noticed.
Tholgir reached into his leather satchel, his hand cupped. “Come here, little one.”
A creature shook crystalline wings until they chimed, then climbed onto his palm. The sprite was barely longer than his hand, and cast silver light dancing across the red rocks.
“I need you to find another door into the ship there–a human sized door,” Tholgir said to the small creature. “Be careful, little one, there is a Chaos being that would smash us both if it learned why we are here.”
The sprite trilled in agreement, then slowly shifted its four crystalline wings until they perfectly matched the red sheen of the sand that drifted across the expanse. As it flitted across the desert towards the hulking ship, the flashing red appeared no more than a tiny gust of wind.
Tholgir sat back and pulled out some jerky to eat while he waited. If he had to, he’d go in after the sprite through the front—the sprite was his closest, truest companion. He hoped he wouldn’t have to, but he started planning for it anyway. Worrying didn’t butter the milk, but it never hurt to have a plan.
The sprite darted around the ship. It was very vexing that humans were so very loud and large. There were plenty of spaces for a sprite to climb into the ship. The portholes and docking bays had all been barricaded with thick metal, although very shoddily done in the sprite’s opinion. It could easily creep into any of the many holes.
The ship was very large and the sprite was very small, so it took the creature hours to fly across the entire surface of the rusting ship. The longer it flew, the more the sprite chattered to itself. The humans who barricaded the ship were annoyingly thorough. Nothing human sized could come in or out except by the front. It considered a moment, then slipped into the ship itself through a small hole.
It flew low to the metal floor. Humans were bad at looking down, and as one passed, the sprite dropped to the floor, blending with the shimmering red sand that lay in drifts along the floor.
It quickly mapped the interior of the ship, hiding as humans walked past. The humans bothered the little creature. They moved strangely, even more strangely than humans usually did. They stood perfectly still when not in motion. It was pondering this so intensely that it did not slow as it rounded the corner. It nearly collided with a human guard, its clothing and skin hanging in tattered shreds. The movement of the sprite caught its eye, and it stomped down a boot towards the creature. The sprite tried to dash out of the way, but the edge of its wing was caught by the boot, grinding it into the metal of the ship’s floor. Satisfied, the dead thing stomped away.
The sprite keened to itself. Its wing was merely bruised, not broken, but this would make flying more difficult. And dead things! It hated the restless dead. It continued more cautiously, scurrying along the floor to save its wing.
Through one huge room and down a long corridor, it found the Chaos being. The sprite only needed one glimpse of the red-black thing before turning and scurrying as fast as it dared.
As it fled, it turned down a new corridor, darker than the others. The difference was slight–a human certainly would not have noticed–as it was merely that the light did not leak in through the barricaded docking bay. The sprite slipped out through the dark hole and found itself in a cavern. This was not a human sized door, but perhaps this might become one with some little effort. It rubbed its wings together, quite pleased, and began to trace its way out through the caverns.
Tholgir scowled when he saw the sprite dragging its wing on the ground. Whoever (or whatever) had dared to hurt the creature would pay dearly. The sprite shook off his attempts to see how bad the injury was, clearly annoyed by his inability to focus on the matter at hand.
The sprite carefully explained in thoughts and images what it had found. “And the only way in is to cut an opening, hope they don’t hear me, find my way past however many restless dead . . .” He sighed. He should have noticed that the guards at the front were too still for living beings, but doubtless the Chaos being had put the two most presentable out front, pretending normalcy for the living who had to treat with it. “No, I’m not mad at you, little one—never at you. It is merely the situation is bad all around.”
He waited until full dark and then set on a roundabout path to the bottom of the cliffs, to the tunnel that the sprite had found. It was a human sized tunnel, although barely. He had to crouch most of the way and scraped his shoulders at the smallest point.
Then it was a tense few minutes as he slowly cut through the weld on the old docking door. He slid the door open, whispering injunctions for the sprite to wait for him.
His feet crunched softly in the glinting red sand that coated the ship floor. It was dark, although the corridors were faintly lit by a yellow glow. The reactor must still be active enough for the ship to draw emergency power.
There was a guard standing against the wall, perfectly still, without any of the small repositioning of a living man.
Tholgir swung his hammer. The dead man was slow to move, and Tholgir smashed both his kneecaps, the bones crunching. The dead creature fell to the ground, and Tholgir started down the corridor.
Another dead creature came towards him. It hung together like a hideous mockery of humanness. Whatever it had once looked like, it was now a ruined lump of flesh. It swung at him with a short sword, its bony fingers slipping along the hilt. Tholgir blocked its blows easily. He was so caught up the melee he didn’t notice the dead man behind him, dragging itself along by its arms.
Tholgir smashed away the sword of the creature in front of him, then smashed at its eyes. It staggered back. It didn’t see, exactly, but it did rely on its eyes to locate adversaries. Tholgir readied himself for another blow, but strong, dead hands gripped his ankle. He kicked backward with his other leg, his boot connected with a meaty thud. He staggered forward.
But the creature before him had more of a spark, though its body was more advanced with decay. It sent a keening wail down the hall, summoning other dead things.
Tholgir shoved past it, starting down the hall. If fortune favored him, he might still reach the Chaos being quickly. If he could kill or dispel it, the dead things would lose focus.
He started jogging down the corridor, until he came to a large open area that might once have been a greenhouse. It smelled slightly of dead plants, mingled with the metallic of the desert sand and rotting smell of the restless dead. It was a burnt husk littered with debris and broken conduits.
He glanced around the room. There were at least five dead things. Some had once been men, some women. One had already turned towards him. Surely he was fast enough. He broke into a sprint, heading towards the opposite side of the greenhouse and the corridor that would lead to the Chaos being known as Lux.
Out of the darkness more figures loomed, glistening bone and glistening eyes focusing on him.
His heart sank. He could not fail, but he could not fight this many. He had to retreat, or he would join the ranks of the restless dead. He pivoted, running back towards the place he had entered. Three of the creatures had converged on the passageway. He had caught Lux’s attention, and it was now actively directing the dead.
As he ran he looked along the top of the doorway, hoping that at least one conduit was unbroken. Pipe glinted copper, and he prayed that it was still powered. The dead things lurched toward him. He waited one breath, two, until all three creatures were nearly touching him, then swung his hammer at the pipe above. Pressurized coolant hissed out, forming a thick cloud as it met the air.
He pushed past the creatures and ran back, not stopping until he was safely in the maze of caves and had collapsed the tunnel behind him.
The sprite scolded him in trilling tones, projecting worry as he sat in the tunnel and drank his canteen dry. He waited until the sprite subsided. “I don’t suppose you can find another way in?”
The sprite chittered to itself. It had found a human sized door and the human had wasted it by being loud and big. Humans were bad at very easy things like being quiet and good at very hard things, like opening ration pouches. The sprite made a quick circuit of the ship. It was just the same as before. The sprite sat in a shady place and considered, carefully grooming its injured wing. Perhaps the reactor core that powered the engines had been pulled out. Perhaps there was a service door for the reactor core that now opened out. It was very little to go on, but the sprite had nothing else.
It slipped along the round lines of the ship until it reached the reactor. The outside was still there, although mangled and twisted. But perhaps the core was gone. Humans highly prized those cores. The sprite scampered up into the core. It saw only darkness, not the faint glow of an active core. It slipped inside, but the moment its foot touched down a horrible shock sparked through the sprite, flinging it backwards. It lay stunned for a moment. The core was very much present and had just enough power to stun a sprite or kill a human.
Defeated, it flew back to tell the human the bad news.
It explained slowly in thoughts and images, its wings drooping.
Tholgir leaned his chin in his hands. “So the reactor core is still active. It must be, for the emergency lights to be lit. And if there is power . . . well, the fuel is surely drained from the ship but the core itself is probably enough by itself.”
He waited until full daylight had come again, the sun bright in the sky. Hopefully the bright light would dull the senses of the dead. He made his way to where the reactor was, at what had been the rear of the ship, staying under the ship itself to avoid detection. He moved swiftly, with as much caution as he could, although the sprite clearly disagreed.
Under the core, he began to search for the cooling system and the regulator. It was finicky work, for he had no proper tools and the Chaos being had ripped out the insulators. One wrong touch and the core would ground itself, sending energy arcing through him, stilling his heart.
He found the cooling system, and quickly cut it, letting the fluid drip onto the glinting sand. He couldn’t find the regulator. It should be in this area. He glanced up to see two of the dead limping towards him, bringing plasma rifles to bear.
“Find the regulator,” he whispered to the sprite as he carefully extracted himself and picked him his war hammer. He slid under the exhaust to come around behind the dead.
The sprite rattled its wings and began crawling over the reactor. It wasn’t quite sure what a regulator was, but it had an image from the human. It methodically traced back and forth, even as plasma discharged against the side of the ship. If the human could have been quiet the human would not be out there fighting horrible dead things and a sprite would not be trying to do ship things.
Ah, there was the piece. It trilled with satisfaction. It was on the other side of the core. Humans. The sprite tried to pull at the wires, but they were big and stiff. Before it had unplugged one, Tholgir was back, breathing heavily.
“Good work, little one,” he said. He yanked out the regulator and scooped up the hammer and sprite, the sprite giving an indignant hum. He ran from the ship. Several hundred paces later he looked back, just in time to see the ship exploding, the fireball rivaling the brightness of the sun. It was beautiful and horrible.
Tholgir said the rites for the dead. Perhaps the Chaos being was banished, perhaps he had merely set it back momentarily. At least now the dead could rest.