After destroying the bandit attack force, things became really quiet for the party at the crater. They were undisturbed for two nights and a day straight. They must have killed everything within striking distance…
But on the second day, Larry noticed a group of riders coming in from the east. After a few quick minutes of "kill them first, ask questions later," the group looked closely enough and saw that this group wore the same uniforms as the Black Brethren outriders who had come in from the west right before the bandits.
It turned out that, indeed, this was the eastern search party and they came bearing news that the main camp back at the oasis had received Brian's feather message and had used similar one-way magic to contact the group. They had been instructed to head west immediately to help protect the meteorite until the wagons could come north to meet them. They were were getting underway when they sent the missive so, if they hadn't run into any trouble, they should be pulling up to the crater in a day or two.
Not used to the absence of action, the Black Brethren started organizing the rubble around the rim of the crater into something resembling a defensive barrier. It was too big to defend all of it with their small numbers, but they could make part of it hard to assault. By turns, the party members either helped or laid around on their butts.
After an appropriate number of days, Larry did spot a line of 5 wagons coming in from the south and flew out to greet and scout them. Everything seemed to be in order so she flew back to the crater to inform the rest. As the wagons approached the crater and greetings were called between the troops, Larry, Brian, and Mark noticed ripples moving in the sand and swellings like something was coming up through it.
Suddenly 5 long eels reared up out of the sand and spat fire at the teams of crodlu pulling the wagons. The fire eels were hoping to kill and cook the largest concentrations of meat available. The party (with help from Bertram the Black Brethren mage riding in the wagons) managed to engage them long enough for the handlers and merchants to get the crodlu safely into the crater where the eels could not burrow, although several of them took significant damage. With the non-combatants out of the way, they were able to deal with the eels although one escaped.
Jeremy and Larry helped heal the damaged crodlu after the battle since they were critical to the success of the mission. Then Jessen and Dargat met the PCs in the crater and asked for a full report, which they got. Afterwards, Dargat told the PCs that they had done a great job and service to Kurn and that Oronis had authorized to grant boons in such cases. Looking at the pile of meteor chips and shards that the group had gathered with the help of Brian's indentured Earth elemental, he told them that they would be permitted to divide that pile between them as a reward (amounting to about 25# of material each containing something like 12-13# of iron).
After all the feel-good stuff was out of the way, it was back to business. Dargat commanded his troops to continue building their fortifications and now man them. The House Azeth merchants set about unpacking the parts and assembling the 5 additional wagons that they brought with them. Frinan the Earth cleric and Bertram the mage consulted the meteor and began to execute their plan for making the meteor transportable. Curious as to how they were going to manage that, the PCs shirked other duties to watch. As the day closed in to evening, everyone else gathered to watch as well. Frinan cast a spell that they recognized as heat metal, only it was either a variant or something that Frinan had developed particular skill in wielding. In the gathering dusk, the heat from the spell made the surface of the meteor glow red but only along a line across the top of the body. That red line stretched across the width of the meteor near one side. When the heat line had reached the other side, the dwarf grunted in his concentration, and Bertram cast his own spell. An intense blast of cold struck the top of the iron releasing steam from the day's heat and a sharp #CRACK# as the superheated metal broke along the heat line and a slap of the meteor about 3' wide, 10' long and 6" thick pulled loose form the main body and keeled over onto the fused sand below. There was a great shout and cheer from the assembled Kurnans.
It was going to work! The strain on Frinan was evident. He was not going to be able to manage that feat more than a handful of times per day. But it could be done. Each of the 10 wagons would carry two of the slabs and any loose chunks that were gathered. It would be a heavy load for the crodlu, and it would take longer getting back than getting to the crater, but the task could be accomplished.
So the next day, the work continued. Dargat assigned the PCs to patrol around the exterior perimeter of the crater. "You've been so successful at eliminating threats, that I'd rather you were all out there stopping things before they get close to interfering with the work." This, of course, made Jeremy's blood boil, being given orders and all. But they sucked it up and did the job.
Around midday, Larry spotted a procession coming from the northwest — traveling relatively slowly and on a string of mounts larger than heavy crodlu. On closer inspection, he could see the large inix lizards being riden by… other lizards? Humanoid lizards. Most of the inix bore riders but several were simply bearing loads of sacks full to bursting. He told the PCs and then went to inform Jessen and Dargat in the crater. Jessen responded, "Ssurrans! What luck!" and sprang onto a crodlu to reach them, hopefully before the party did. As luck would have it, they all converged about the same time, with the ssurrans slowing to a halt still a ways from the Kurnan party.
One of the ssurrans continued forward and Jessen rode to meet it. (Jeremy wasn't about to be out of earshot and tagged along.) Jessen began making a hissing, clicking sort of noise as he came to a halt with a few yards between his crodlu and the inix rider. The ssurran respond in accented but clear common, "…and may the heat of the sun slow the wits of your opponents." The ssurran seemed to linger on the sibilant consonants but otherwise spoke better common than many inhabitants of the slave quarters.
A round of introductions followed during which the ssurran introduced himself as Stasslan Shimmerman, leader of this trade caravan. His people had, of course, witnessed the fall of the meteor and knew that this would almost certainly bring one or more groups wishing to possess anything that survived the impact. So he mobilized his band to bring commerce to the victors. #capitalist
Jessen invited the ssurrans to set up their bazaar and they began to do so where they stood, away from the crater so as not to make any claim (and so that they weren't in the crossfire should another interested party happen by). Stasslan told them that they could have the marketplace up by evening and would welcome any who wished to bargain.
The PCs went that evening (along with shifts from the rest of the expedition) to survey the wonders brought in from far distant lands. Much of what was for sale was ordinary items and tools but done either in a form that was abjectly foreign or bearing markings, designs, and decorations that were new to the PCs. Stasslan also showed them items he had in his personal stores that he called "empowered" items, no making any distinction between "magic" and "psionics" for the purposes of making the items do what they do. The PCs were itchy to dig through his wares (and were supposed to have sent me things they wanted to see if he had them). The evening passed in wonder and excitement and exploration of foreign cultures.
As the party made their way back to the crater afterwards, they were enjoying themselves and for once not thinking about the fact that their whole planet wanted to kill them. That is, of course, when it tried to do precisely that. As they passed over a stretch of stone, it collapsed underneath them. They were all caught up in the rockfall and even with their powers of flight, neither Larry nor Brian were able to escape the cave in. They were all pummeled unconscious and buried in the rubble.
One by one they slowly became conscious again hearing a voice.
“Can you hear me, masters? Has the transfer been successful? The whole remaining stock of <untranslatable> was destroyed so I had to use whatever was at hand.” The voice seemed to be in their heads, and while they understood what was being said, they knew instinctively that it was not speaking a language that they knew.
They in what appeared to be a massive room, stretching far above their heads. In the room there were a number of not quite as massive plantlike pods that seemed to thrum with life and energy. On the floor next to some of these pods were yet again not quite so large, inert forms – vaguely humanoid in format, but apparently composed of plant materials. These forms did not exude the same energy of life as the pods.
That's when they looked around at each other. Each of the 4 companions saw three lizards looking back at them. When they examined themselves, they saw that that were currently residing in a lizard body. LIZARDS!?!
“Geckos, I’m afraid, masters.” The voice says again. “Arrowhead geckos. They have been living here since I went into hibernation and seem to have survived quite well. They have even bred true which was only given a 12.4% probability at the time. The last of the <theresthatuntranslatablewordagain> were depleted bringing your forms to the medical bay so I was forced to improvise. These bodies should suffice for the time being."
Mentally addressing Brian, "If you would bring your people to the control room, sir, it will make explanations easier. Simply go through the door and follow the hallway."
As the four gecko-PCs got their bearings and started moving in the direction of the door, they each tested out their bodies. Magic and psionics were gone. They had none of their gear because, well, geckos. It seemed that they had no tools but those attached to their 12" long forms.
They reached the door and knew there was no way for them to open it – but there were gaps dug into the walls that allowed them to pass into the hallway. At the end of the hallway there was another door with similar bypass methods. In the next room, the dim illumination revealed a bank of cabinets in the center of the room with lights and levers and switches. Atop this setup there was a clear glass(?) dome inside of which floated a mass of what appeared be brain tissue of some sort suspended in a mostly clear liquid. There were fine root-like structures connecting the tissue to ports at the base of the glass. The voice, when it came again, came clearly from this assemblage.
"Welcome, masters, to Outpost 4827BAZ. I am Emcee and we do not have much time."