In the second preview of the Seren System, we take some time to explore the moons of the various planets, an asteroid field that was once a mighty planet in its own right, and a series of planetary bodies that influence life in the system. All of these will be explored in more detail in Sailing the Starlit Sea.
Khazal'darak is well-known for its harsh environments and hardened natives. Few can survive for long among the molten plains and ashen deserts that dominate much of this world. The planet’s sole moon is another story. While still harrowing , this moon provide a decidedly more stable environment than its home planet.
Also known as the Crimson Eye, Vrin'dra is a moon of red dust and rocky plains. Canals cross the surface of the sphere, guiding water from the core to a number of major cities. Vrin'dra's atmosphere is remarkably thick and humid yet generally clear, and protects the moon from the harshest effects of being so close to the sun. Vrin'dra also has an extensive subterranean environment brimming with fungal life and diverse cultures.
Legends speak of portals that allow travel between Eorthe and its two moons. According to these tales exotic cultures dwell on both spheres, though all of these stories agree that these sophisticated peoples view the natives of the planet as little more than ignorant bumpkins. Because of these legends, the idea of life on other worlds is not an alien one to the people of Eorthe. However, meeting these distant realms is something few believe is possible. Both moons go by many names amongst the various cultures that call Eorthe home. The names used here are the ones most commonly used by the people who dwell on these moons.
Known as Keledon's Lantern by many who dwell on Eorthe, Ararus is a smaller crystalline sphere with a softly glowing core of green light. In the winding passages and carefully crafted caverns of the moon dwell communities of aranea with the unique ability to weave webs of crystal in contrast to the sticky fibers of their kin. According to the histories kept by the aranea, Ararus is their creation, though they received help from the god Anuruk, Lord of the Stars. It was the god who formed the atmosphere and infused the moon with its unique core.
At the center of Ararus is a ball of crackling green energy that has confounded observers since the beginning of time. Even the native aranea know little of their home's central core. Due to some powerful arcane wards, the energy orb has resisted all attempts to discover its true nature. There can be little doubt that the core is some kind of energy source, but precisely what the moon powers is little understood. Scholars say it seems to be connected to a series of ancient portals on Eorthe known as the Emerald Gates. When one of these portals opens, an event that is extremely rare, the moon flares even brighter and the energy being emitted by the core increases in intensity. The last time an Emerald Gate was opened was nearly 400 years ago with the arrival of Keledon, a planar traveler and an archmage of great power.
From Eorthe, Arian always keeps the same face toward Eorthe: a white, craggy surface that appears like a mountainous, strangely humanoid visage. Closer examination shows the moon is a land of white and grey covered in thousands of impact craters. Arian has no atmosphere but is home to seven towering cities of white marble, rich alabaster and precious ivory. Each of these cities uses magic to maintain atmospheric shells, similar to the ones surrounding star vessels. Their atmospheres are refreshed by the vast food and pleasure gardens that crowd the terraced buildings. Because these isolated environments are very carefully controlled, the cities of Arian exist in an eternal state of spring. The Seven Cities of Arian are ruled by an order of beings known only as the Silent Keepers. While none can remember a time before the Silent Keepers, it is a well-known fact that the current rulers did not build the Seven Cities but found them.
According to the oldest tales, Arian is the daughter of Eorthe, born from her flesh in a past so distant no sapient races were alive to witness the event.
The forest planet of Sophias is the parent sphere to three moons. Collectively known as the Sisters of Insight, the moons are named for the handmaidens of the Goddess of Wisdom. These moons are small in comparison to the satellites of other planets which lessens their impact on Sophias. All three contain life in some degree and are regularly visited by space travelers.
Named for the Demigoddess of Primal Thought, Galadia is similar to Sophias in environment. The small moon is completely covered with dense, humid jungles and water-logged marshes. At the northern pole stands a range of mountains dominated by a massive volcano that constantly belches forth ash and smoke, though a true eruption has not occurred for many centuries. Populating Galadia is a host of primitive species, mostly dinosaurs of all varieties. Tribes of primitive humans can be found across the moon dwelling in villages at the bases of ancient ziggurats of some lost civilization. Few of these structures have been penetrated by explorers and those that have offer more questions than answers. At the heart of each pyramid lies a chamber of intricate carvings festooned with rods of different metals. Row after row of shallow holes hold these rods in place and surrounded by intricate lines of runes that cannot be translated. These rods are easily removed and replaced, though doing so seems to have a dramatic effect on the local environment. One expedition inadvertently conjured a dramatic storm that eventually washed away the nearby village simply by removing a gold rod and replacing it with an iron one. Since then, explorers have been more careful in how they approach these marvels of environmental control.
Local tribes worship a pantheon of gods they call the Viewers, believing that this group of all powerful beings watch over them at all times. Rites to these deities take place in front of featureless square pillars of basalt that dominate each village center. Occasionally, explorers have discovered similar pillars in the dense jungle seemingly unattended by worshipers of any kind. This has led some scholars to believe that the basalt monoliths were here when the natives arrived and it is these that inspired the current system of religious belief.
In religious lore, Imbar is the Demigoddess of Contemplation and Meditation. The moon is known for its intense silence, a mystical effect that lessens the impact of sound and reduces the volume of all speech to the level of a whisper. Its rocky peaks and deep valleys have no native life, though the people of Sophias have built a number of monasteries on the moon. These refuges are regularly visited by the artists, thinkers, and sages of Sophias who seek a quiet place to commune with their thoughts through meditative contemplation. These monasteries are welcoming to outsiders so long as visitors come to partake of Imbar's powerful effect on the mind.
The moon lies in conjunction with the faerie dominion of Sibredd, which is ruled by a powerful fey lord known as the Prince of Whispers. It is believed that the close proximity of this realm is what causes Imbar's remarkable effect on sound. According to the keepers who maintain the monasteries, the Prince of Whispers approaches those contemplatives whose minds have entered a perfect state of stillness and murmurs into their ear the inspiration they seek.
Called the Sea Whisper by natives, Indais (named for the Demigoddess of Logic and Reason) maintains a circumpolar orbit of Sophias. The moon is covered in briny water kept warm by volcanic vents deep beneath the surface. This massive sea is filled with abundant aquatic life, including a mighty triton empire that engages in eternal war with an enclave of vicious sahuagin and their sea drake allies. A few centuries ago the elves of Sophias established a colony on Indais, constructing a floating city on the balmy waters. The elves and tritons have formed a close alliance and their healthy trade relationship has meant exotic triton goods can now be found throughout the solar system.
The great gas giant known Ad'an is not well understood. Odd vapors and azure clouds blend in a cauldron of wind that shields the planet's greatest secrets from prying eyes. While ships have plumbed some of these depths and floating alchemical labs collect the gases for a variety of uses, the deeper mysterious remain unanswered. Likewise, little is known about the moons of Ad'an. While travelers have easy access to the glittering disk of ice and dust that surrounds the planet, the moons are another thing entirely. There is a heady magic protecting these silent spheres and none have yet figured out how to overcome their power.
The 25 Dreaming Moons
Ad'an has 25 individual moons of varying size and composition. Observers from space have noted that many of the moons seem to contain signs of habitation and might be home to some sophisticated cultures. However, those who have attempted to land upon the moons and return with news on what can be found there have found all efforts frustratingly thwarted. Ships are certainly able to land. Crews have even interacted with the people and creatures of these places. However, explorers have never been able to accurately describe what they experienced from the moment they landed until the time their ships returned to space. Images can be glimpsed in the depths of dreaming but solid memories are as ephemeral as the gas that makes up Ad'an's atmosphere. This mystery has not stopped explorers from attempting landings and plumbing those secrets in the hope they are the ones to return with a full recollection of the events. So far, though, none have succeeded.
The Lucent Halo
Surrounding Ad'an is a disk of ice and dust commonly called the Lucent Halo, so named for the way the ice glows in the distant sun. Unlike the 25 Dreaming Moons, the Lucent Halo is easily visited by space travelers and is a common destination for treasure hunters. Frozen in some of the larger blocks of ice are golems constructed of gold and adamantium, each crafted to mimic the form of a wyvern. As far as anyone can tell, these constructs are non-functional and now only serve to line the pockets of looters stripping the valuable metals. Exactly who built these constructs and why is still a mystery, one which scholars are afraid they will not be able to solve before these precious works are completely plundered.
Distant and cold Umbrae has but a single moon, the gloom-covered rock known as Shadow's Sanctuary.
The few reports on Shadow's Sanctuary provide scant information. A constant pall of darkness covers the moon, blocking casual view from space. Those few who have escaped from the Sanctuary speak of a rocky geography with a chill so deep it numbs the soul. Dwelling on the moon is the legendary umbral dragon Xonaric-Heidras, the Heart of Shadow, and a horde of servants that worship him as a god. Most of these adherents are fetchlings, a type of outsider from the Plane of Shadow. Generations of fetchling families have served the mighty dragon over the centuries, further investing him with a perceived air of divinity. Xonaric-Heidras has occasionally bred with his favorite families and descendants of those lines receive the best gifts, the most lavish attention, and are granted the right to serve the dragon in his lair. Many of these individuals are powerful forces in their own rights, as they are infused with the sorcerous blood of their draconic ancestor.
The Shattered Wanderer
Between the orbits of Ad'an and Umbrae lies a ring of asteroids commonly referred to as the Shattered Wanderer. According to ancient star charts, the Shattered Wanderer was once the planet Naunic, a world rich with rare metals and valuable gemstones. The planet was destroyed during the civil war that rocked the interstellar empire of the Quendari, a cruel, primeval race and progenitors of the elvish people.
While the Shattered Wanderer presents an obvious navigational hazard, it is also a source of riches for those willing to execute dangerous mining operations in the constantly shifting field of asteroids. Currently the most prodigious miners are the dwarves and gnomes of the Nimbus Trading and Acquisition Company. This joint-stock company pulls millions of gold pieces of mithril, diamonds, adamantite, silver, gold, rubies and more from the Shattered Wanderer each year. These valuables make their way to the markets of Nimbus and outward to planets in the Seren System and other far-flung planetary systems.
Some of the larger shards of rock retain an atmosphere through the inherent magic of a rare crystal known as morthacite. Not only do these amazing minerals create pockets of breathable air, they also allow for the growth of fungi in an environment otherwise unsuited for any kind of growth. Unfortunately, harvesting morthacite requires special training and even experts need a good bit of luck to insure the crystal is not harmed in the process. Once cracked, the crystalline growth loses all properties and becomes cloudy and worthless.
Morthacite does have a darker side. Its power can also create and support ambulatory fungal beings that are consistently inimical to other life forms Oozes, slimes, and molds may also be found on asteroids with a deposit of morthacite, making an already dangerous mining operation all the more deadly. So long as a clutch of crystals remains, clearing out these creatures does not guarantee an asteroid will stay free of such monsters. This leaves miners in a difficult position. Morthacite provides the necessary air to breathe, a rare and useful thing in the Shattered Wanderer, but their ability to spontaneously create life can mean the destruction of the entire operation and the loss of many lives.
Other Celestial Bodies
The planets and moons of the Seren System are not the only sites of interest. Comets, planetoids, and asteroids not native to the Shattered Wanderer orbit the sun as well, and some of these have become quite important to space travelers.
The Ill Omen
As far as anyone can ascertain, the Ill Omen does not have a predictable orbit or any form of self-propelled locomotion. Instead, this asteroid of ebon rock simply appears without warning. The rock itself is heavily carved with thousands of structures that form a haunted city in which the undead reign supreme. To the inhabitants this place is known as Totenstadt, the City of Death, and its arrival strikes terror in the hearts of the living. Always looking to swell their numbers, the rulers of the Ill Omen lurk in the dark places of the Seren System awaiting an opportunity to release their dreaded ships against vulnerable targets. Stories of the Ill Omen launching attacks against isolated mining communities in the Shattered Wanderer are common and entire ship crews have been wiped out by the ravaging undead.
The Ill Omen maintains a close connection with the Negative Energy Plane and any living creatures who die within the necropolis are guaranteed to rise as one of the living dead. Totenstadt is ruled by four mighty princes of undeath, each of which belongs to one of the higher, more intelligent undead races. While the exact composition is unknown, it is rumored this ruling class consists of a vampire, a lich, a dread wraith, and a devourer. Confused reports also speak of an even greater lord that holds the princes in thrall, a nightwalker of incredible power. Even more uncertain are the ultimate goals of these powerful undead masters. Why do they seek to swell their numbers and what do they plan to do with these swarms of undead? Is there a greater purpose and does it threaten the entire Seren System? These are the questions leaders of the various civilizations that call the solar system home would pay dearly to have answered.
Lance of the Cold Ones
Every 100 years the comet called the Lance of the Old Ones enters the Seren System moving along an extreme elliptical orbit. Like other comets, the Lance of the Cold Ones originates in the cloud of comets that surrounds the system. Unlike other comets, the creatures who dwell upon the Lance can alter the course of their home when in need. This means the comet can be moved if it risks hitting planet or other large celestial body. In the past this has meant the comet has avoided collisions that would have caused its destruction and wide-scale devastation on the planet it would otherwise have hit.
As a ball of ice, the Lance of the Cold Ones grows increasingly unstable as it nears the sun. For this reason the civilization of ice elementals and ice mephits that command the comet have made their homes towards the relatively protected core. Ruled by an exiled elemental demigoddess, those who live in the Lance of the Cold Ones are isolationists. For most of its orbit the comet remains in territory rarely visited by intelligent creatures. The cometary cloud is the edge of the solar system and beyond lies nothing by the Deep Void, the domain of creatures better left undisturbed. As such, most explorers fear to come close to the cloud. When the Lance of the Cold Ones makes its journey into the Seren System, the material that is blasted away due to the heat of the sun makes landing difficult and dangerous. Explorers and merchants believe that the comet and its inhabitants do not offer anything to the people of the solar system that is worth the risk.
Covering the entire face of a small planetoid is the city of Nimbus. Founded and operated by the mercane, Nimbus is the largest city in the Seren System and by far the most productive in terms of trade. Currently Nimbus is in orbit near the Quendari Gate, the primary form of interstellar travel in the universe that rests between the orbits of Ad'an and Sophias. However, the mercane rulers can move the city anywhere within the planetary system. This remarkable feat is achieved through the use of a powerful artifact from the early days of space travel.
Next Time: Previewing the Monsters of the Starlit Sea