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The Cauldron: a start on a novel


Well, that was fun
Staff member

This is part worldbuilding exericse for gaming purposes. My method this time is to do it by slowly writing a novel. Here's the first bit so far. I'm going wiht the outline of lots of disparate groups with their own plots, which allows me to develope various aspects of the world, and slowly bring them together later (I have a vague overall outline).

The setting is a big area of space, many millenia in the future, called The Cauldron. Think Game of Thrones in space.

A thousand years after the First Union things have reverted back to an insterstellar feudal system.

Religion/theocracy (real gods, but they turn out to be demons); Brothers of the Sapphire Star

BotSS is like the Roman Catholic Church, its own state, but powerful because the dukes are religious, can excommunicate, Inquisition, extremely influential and rich, Ministers everywhere, ruled by Matriarch, big on heresy etc. There’s a Minister in every court.

A dozen or so “houses” (star systems/mini empires) vying for control of The Cauldron. Various alliances of houses makes for three main sides. Eventually enemies will unite to fight external threat of demons after at least one house is completely wiped out.

Major spacelanes craved out by Trailblazer Heavy (equivalent to motorways). Much slower to travel not using spacelanes.

Count Jervasos of Concordant renounces the gods as demons. Sapphire Star sends Crusade and Inquisitors. Siege by the forces of Duras. Sapphire Star has no army of its own but commands other factions to send armies and sends its Ministers along as “advisors”. Concordant is destroyed, sparking the great war.

There’s rumours that the Sapphire Star has been discovered. Laughter, as it’s a silly legend about the creation of life in the universe. Maybe it’s a person? (it is).]

A Fatal Discovery.

Annalist Willem turned the page, grunting as a drop of foul-smelling water landed on the ancient text. He glanced up at the rusted pipes, part of a centuries-old coolant system. The lower chambers of Trissic Avn University were hundreds of feet below the surface of Lambda U, far from the gilded libraries above. These texts hadn’t been read by human eyes in a thousand years.

The annalist’s finger traced the antique script, penned by chroniclers long-forgotten. He muttered aloud under his breath, struggling to make sense of the unusual calligraphy. It was written in an old dialect, as far from Cauldron Cant as could be.

“Sapphire… Star…” His eyes widened. Hurriedly he reread the paragraph he had just finished. Yes, he’d read it correctly.

Slamming the book shut, Willem stood, almost frantically. He glanced around, and hurried out of the room, the book clutched to his chest with both arms. Down the old hallway he ran, up the steep, metallic, quarter-mile staircase, stumbling and almost falling to his death at least twice. Up, higher, into the light, where rusted coolant pipes did not drip.

He burst into the Chief Annalist’s elegant study, slamming the ancient tome down. Dust flew everywhere, and the Chief Annalist coughed, stepping back. Sunlight filtered through the holoblinds, creating long beams of floating radiance.

“Willem”, the man said, frowning. He looked down at the book on his desk. “Is that from the archives? I thought you were assigned to 73rd Millenium Durasian agriculture?”

“Yes, my lord,” replied Willem. He cleared his throat. “I came across this while researching the … never mind. Look!”

He stabbed his finger down at the page. The Chief Annalist peered downward, then balanced a pair of vintage spectacles on his nose. An affectation.

“What is it, Willem… oh.”

There was silence for a while.

“My lord, this changes everything”, Willem stated.

“Yes, yes. I suppose it does. Unfortunate.”

Willem stared at his superior and frowned.


“Unfortunate that you saw it.”

“What do you mean?”

The Chief Annalist touched an intercom toggle. “Gentlemen, you’d better come in.”

Willem looked around, confused. “What’s going on? Who was that?”

The heavy door slid open, and two Ministers of the Sapphire Star entered, their long robes trailing.

“Huh? Ministers? What are they doing so far from Minotaur?” Willem asked, confused, stepping back nervously. Ministers had a reputation.

One of the Ministers looked at the Chief Annalist, who nodded his head. The holy man made a gesture with his hand, and suddenly Willem was struck by a wave of intense fatigue.

“I don’t feel so…” he managed to mumble, before crashing, unconscious, to the ground.

A Desperate Measure.

The small, worn-out freighter rocked violently as a missile exploded nearby. Perias grimaced, and shouted over his shoulder.

“Aaric! If you don’t patch up that coolant leak in the next 30 seconds, we’ll be Ogron chow - if we’re lucky!”

“They’re not going to eat us,” Enna retorted smoothly from the co-pilot’s seat as she punched in some new co-ordinates. “They’re slavers, not cannibals.”

“Does it count as cannibalism if an Ogron eats a Human?” he shot back. “Hold on!”

The Pride of Scorpio swung into a tight arc, narrowly evading a steam of ion particles from the massive pursuing ship. The Ogron slaveship was a giant slab, a hundred times or more the size of the Scorpio, which fled before it like an insect escaping a giant sandworm.

“We can’t outrun them. Octanis is five days away. We need another plan” called Kasnir from behind them. The medic was looking haggard, the stress of the relentless Ogron pursuit wearing on him. “I have an idea.”

“Well, don’t keep it to yourself!” Perias yelled. “They’re only two beats behind us! We’re within grappling range!”

Even as he spoke, a massive harpoon shot out from the giant Ogron vessel, attached to a nigh-unbreakable tritanium chain. A couple of those embedded in the hull would allow no escape.

Kasnir cleared his throat. “Well… I was thinking about Murray’s Folly.”

Perias snorted. “In the Burn? Are you suicidal? When I said I wanted to escape, I didn’t mean I wanted to escape this life.”

“Wait,” Enna said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “They won’t be able to scan us in there. I think he’s on to something.”

“I think he’s on something,” Perias muttered back.

“I mean it. The Ogrons will never chase us into the Burn.”

“That’s because they have sense! Which bit did you forget - the massive black hole, the zero visibility, or the ghosts?”

Kasnir called from the rear of the cabin. “It’s that or life on an Ogron slaveship. Besides, Aruga did it last year when he won the Cross Burn.”

Perias sighed. “Aruga’s a Bragi. We’re not. But fine.” He yanked the ship onto a new course, throwing Kasnir into a supporting strut. “But when it goes wrong, I’m blaming you.”

The Pride of Scorpio entered a wide arc towards the Burn, that multi-parsec area of intense radiation which surrounded the black hole of the same name. The ship’s alarms all started pinging as the hull was assaulted by deadly cosmic waves, and Kasnir rushed to a wall cabinet.

“These injections will stave off the worst of the radiation… for a bit.” He pulled out a syringe. “Hold out your arm.”

Perias grimmaced. “Quick, then. I can’t fly this thing one-handed.”

Kasnir quickly administered the drug to everybody on the flight deck, before disappearing below to do the same for the others. The small ship slowly penetrated the Burn, its scanners bleeping warnings.

As they pushed through the nebula, the gases obscured anything beyond a few hundred beats. The ship was eerily quiet; as if by some unspoken agreement the crew lowered their voices and kept communication to a minimum. Everybody could sense the presence of that monstrous black hole, just waiting to devour them forever.

“We’re blind. But so are they,” Enna said. “Now, to find Murray’s Folly. If I got our vector right, it should be visible…. right about…. now!”

Ahead of the Pride of Scorpio, a large, metallic structure loomed out of the nebula. Murray’s Folly, an ancient, abandoned space station. Once it had been tasked with a massive mining operation in the rich gases of the Burn, but it had lain empty for decades.

“No need to go on,” Perias muttered. “Just moor up alongside and we’ll wait the Ogrons out.”
 “Agreed,” Enna replied. “I’ve heard enough about the ghosts of the Folly.”

A sudden commotion came from behind them; a scream and a crash. Enna stood up, startled.

“What the kruk was that?”

Aaric appeared in the doorway, his overalls ripped, blood running down from a cut on his head.

“It’s Kasnir! He…. “ his voice faltered. “Sannah… he….”
 “What about her?” Perias demanded. “Where’s Kasnir?”

“She… he…. Kasnir had a knife and he…."
 Perias leapt to his feet and flung himself through the doorway, sliding down the ladder to the cargo hold below. He emerged in a scene from a nightmare. Sannah, the Chanter’s ‘acquisitions expert’ lay on the deck in a pool of blood which welled from a gash across her throat. Kasnir crouched in a corner, a wild look in his eyes, a knife brandished before him.

“They call… they call! They demand sacrifice!” he whimpered.

Perias looked in horror at the scene and reached for his pistol. It wasn’t there; he’d left it in his cabin. As Kasnir slowly stood and advanced with the dipping blade ahead of him, Perias fumbled about and grabbed a crowbar, his gaze never leaving the crazed medic. He was sure he could see the image of a black hole in the crazed man’s eyes.
 “Kasnir… what have you done?” he whispered.

“You don’t understand… they made me do it. They demanded blood!”

“Who did? Who made you do it?”
 “They’re here. They’re here!”

Kasnir lunged forward with the knife and Perias stumbled back, tripping over a thick cable which snaked across the untidy hold. Kasnir gave out a cry somewhere between anguish and triumph and leapt at the pilot, the knife stabbing down.

A sudden flash of blue light, and Kasnir was flung back, as electricity crackled around him. He slumped to the floor, unmoving. Enna stood in the doorway, an electro-arc in her outstretched hand.

“Quick! He’ll only be out for a minute. Get him somewhere secure!”

Perias climbed to his feet.

“Secure? We don’t have anywhere like that.”

“The airlock!” Aaric called out. The mechanic pulled a heavy lever, and the interior airlock door swung open. “Quick, drag him in here!”

The three of them manhandled the unconscious medic, and laid him unceremoniously on the floor of the airlock. Aaric swung the door shut with a heavy clang, and pulled the level down into the “locked” position. Perias ran to Sannah.

“She’s still breathing, but she’s bleeding out. What do we do?”

Enna glanced around.

“Well, our medic’s gone insane, and we’re five days from civilization. Put her in a cryo-pod. That’ll keep her alive until we can get help.”

“And what about him?” Aaric asked, gesturing towards the medic, who was beginning to stir.

“The ghosts have him. There’s no hope for him. He’s one of the Burned now.”

The Pride of Scorpio sat motionless in the Burn, attached to the massive space station, it’s crew silent.

Far outside the nebula, the massive Ogron slaveship slid off into the night, in search of easier prey.

Code of Honor.

Tartarus rotated slowly in void, far above the lush, green Clarke’s World. The biggest space station in the Cauldron, and home to seven million souls, on Tarturus anything could be bought, anyone could be hired, and no cargo was off-limits. Great starscrapers jutted out above and below the main docking ring, each dozens to hundreds of floors tall, and able to house tens of thousands of inhabitants.

Din Scarra, the first son of of the crime lord Bilda Scarra, looked out through the great circular window which adorned the wall of one of the exclusive nightclubs high up in the luxurious Nanxiong starscraper, known for its casinos, restaurants, and lounges. His expensive suit and exquisite taste in wine marked him as dilettante playboy; but Din was a fiendishly clever young man with high ambitions.

The view was magnificent. Hundreds of ships could be seen approaching or leaving the station; ships as small as shuttles and tiny freighters, and ships as large as the great Trailblazer Heavy vessels which carved out trade routes throughout the Cauldron.

Not far from him sat Mion, his younger sister. A jagged scar ran across her face, and knives festooned her. Mion was a psychotic and vicious woman who spoke very little and was rarely far from her brother’s side.

“She did what?” demanded Din, turning away from the window and angrily throwing a holosheet down on the table. The face of Jane ‘Jackhammer’ Davies, unofficial Cauldron heavyweight champion, stared back at him from the holo. Gromov, the besuited henchman standing in front of Din, shook slightly.

“She took him down in three rounds. I’m sorry, Din.”

“I thought I told you to make sure she went down in six. What happened?”

“I did. I mean… errr….”

“You clearly didn’t. And now how much have I lost?”

“Two million jots, Din. I’m sorry… I ….”

“You just cost me two million jots. You useless piece of…”

Mion stirred; Gromov stammered, and backed away nervously.

“And where is she now?” Din asked.

“Umm… well… that’s kind of the problem. She… uhh… she’s missing.”

“Of course she is.”

“I can find her, Din. I promise!”

“You will. Or you’ll be answering to Mion.”

Mion moved again, a hand resting on a blade, her eyes locked on Gromov’s. The henchman gulped, the fear apparent on his face.

“Twenty-hour hours. I want Jackhammer Devries here in twenty-four hours, or Mion gets to have her fun. Is that understood?”

“Yes, Din. I’m on it. Right away. I’ll find her, you’ll see.”

Gromov fled the club, disappearing into the crowd. Mion sighed in disappointment.

“Don’t worry, sister. If Devries has any sense, she’s left the station by now. She’s too well-known to hide. You’ll get to have your fun with poor Gromov. Then maybe you can find that insolent fighter for me.”

The Pirate’s Nest.

MANNY DOR and CAITLIN LARSSON on the Underdog (ex navy frigate). They are pirates. Returning to their base, which is a hollowed out asteroid; other pirates live there. SIREN GALLANTE runs the Pirate’s Nest.

Siege of Concordant.

Duras’s 7th Fleet is blockading Concordant at the behest of the Brothers of the Sapphire Star. The fleet is commanded by BARON MAGHA, accompanied by GRAVE PIKE, a Minister. Like WotBS, notice on door saying somebody has been taken into custody by Ministers. On the planet, the city Aninem is surrounded by Duras forces. A pair of of teenagers JARNE and ALIVIA are trying to escape, disguised as enemy troops and manage to slip out. Aninem is destroyed behind them, and the planet occupied by Duras forces, as they stow away on an Ivvin Tor support vessel leaving the region.

Trailblazer 9 Heavy.

Jane ‘Jackhammer’ Devries has joined the crew in order to escape the Scarra retribution.
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Dances with Gnolls
Pretty cool so far. The conspiracy around the BotSS and Murray's Folly seemed like good hooks to my personal tastes at least.

COMING SOON: 5 Plug-In Settlements for your 5E Game