Traveling from Tethys to Malignatius, the heroes run into Ciera Li Halan on Criticorum and hear that the Decados are trying to stop them from getting the Mael Cup to the Zuranists. Sister Jenna arranges for them to meet a famous Zuranist smuggler on one of the ice moons of Arsanerit, a gas giant in the Malignatius system, but when they get there they are ambushed by the Decados.
Sister Jenna escapes with Harrod Ford Gallagan, the smuggler, but the villainous Baron Petra Decados captures them. Don Dario claims his status as a Questing Knight but Rinaldo Salazar, bastard son of Ramiro de Salazar, denies that they are who they say they are and so Petra orders them sent to the infamous Atshen gulag on the moon of Julka.
Transit to Julka
On the way to Julka, the heroes are transferred into a prison barge that divides itself swiftly enough between prey and predators. Captain Ridek gets in good with the so-called "Warriors", while Don Alejandro picks a fight that results in him beating the leader of the Warriors to a bloody pulp. Their initial investigation does, however, reveal the barest details about what awaits them at Atshen: the facility is a former First Republic mine that was then turned into a Second Republic housing facility, and its entrance - the Gate - is controlled by a brutal gang known as the Wardens. Other than periodic food shipments, the Decados are entirely hands-off.
As the heroes' batch of prisoners are dumped into the Gate, there is a general run to try and get past the Wardens, who are interested in taking prisoners from the new arrivals. Ridek convinces the Warriors to screen for the heroes, while Don Alejandro leads a flying vee with Aurelia and some of the other prisoners, breaking through the cordon of the Warriors and getting to the broken escalators that lead to lower levels of the giant complex.
Father Domingo, however, is caught, and as the Wardens begin to beat him Don Dario doubles back for his brother; the two have to run for the escalators, pursued by the Wardens as Don Alejandro holds the top of the escalators and Father Domingo limps on, heavily wounded.
Lee and Ken
Finally into safety, the heroes scout Level 2 of the gulag, a sort of no-man's land it seems between the Wardens and the lower levels. They find finally a small group of 'generals' - the ordinary people of the gulag - led by a man named Lee, along with a very slight scavenger named Ken. Lee and Ken give the heroes soup and clue them into the structure of Atshen.
Atshen is divided into roughly three general zones. The Upper Complex is controlled by the Wardens, and is where food and new prisoners enter. The Mid-Complex, from Level 3 to 7, is where most of the 'generals' live; it contains the Settlement on Level 3, an Incarnate stronghold that serves a sort of center for civilization, along with some agriculture and the largest slave market in the gulag, as well as the small Orthodox chapel (also on Level 3) and a band of semi-martial wanderers known as the 401st, who are supposedly remnants of Hawkwood soldiers stranded on Malignatius after the Wars who converted to Zuranity.
Finally, the Deep Complex - starting at Sub-Level 1 and going into the old mines - are home to the Dwellers, cannibal raiders, and possibly even worse monsters. However, the Deep Complex is the source of salvage and other wonders which helps drive the barter economy of the gulag.
Brother Liu's little congregation - small and relatively poor - is the next destination. He is overjoyed to see Father Domingo, a real priest, and the better part of the next day is taken up by sermons and many, many confessions on Father Domingo's part. As the sermons go on, more and more people arrive, starting to fill up the small chapel - including some people who seem to be members of the 401st. Quiet contact is made and there is an agreement to meet Sergeant Coyote, the leader of the 401st, at the Settlement.
The Settlement is in the former Central Food Center - a water source there has allowed the Incarnates who live within its precincts to grow food, and the 401st sometimes shelters there. The main area is like a multi-level food court, a sort of town square, and there the men of the 401st are eating with Margo Dell, who is the Head of the Settlement. She is a woman in her 40s, a survivor and a shrewd dealer.
Coyote is at first suspicious of the heroes, but an impassioned speech by Don Dario convinces them that they are going to plan an escape. With the help of some scroungers and a 401st hunter, Wulff, the heroes learn of a rumored mining outpost untouched for thousands of years in the Deep Complex; they decide to venture down to find it and hopefully also the power source of the facility.
Down into the Deep Complex
Leaving Father Domingo behind, the heroes penetrate first into the power core on Sub-Level 3, where they discover a huge borehole. While investigating, Captain Ridek nearly falls into the borehole and is almost killed by electrical sparks: Aurelia has to carefully and acrobatically work her way across the ruined catwalks at the top of the borehole to rescue him.
Deeper into the mining tunnels, the company finally finds the rumored ancient mining facility, where Aurelia opens the door and they recover a stock of rebreathers as well as some mining lasers. They also find on an ancient think machine an indication that the miners found a way to the outside world, and the companions discover this exit - a crevasse leading up to the surface - even as their party is stalked by terrible insectine Lurkers in the deep.
Meanwhile, Father Domingo and Sergeant Coyote have been telling people a general assault is soon to begin. The mobs are forming, and at the same time the Wardens are getting anxious in the Upper Complex. When Don Dario and his companions return, it is time to move - along with a hundred or so fighters, the heroes scale the crevasse and make it to the surface of the ice moon, at which point they pick their way towards the Decados base on the surface.
The companions rush the base. Aurelia takes the atmosphere generator while Father Domingo and Don Alejandro take the control tower. Don Dario and Captain Ridek take one of the starships on the ground, using it to cut off communications, and then soon enough the rest of the base is subdued. At that point, the air is shut off in the prison to stop the riots - just for a little while - and the heroes begin to ferry ships to and from the surface.
Escape from Ice Moon Julka
Errant communications from Don Dario alert the Decados, however, and the Imperial embassy gets involved, sending a squadron of Archangels to guard the last evacuation from the gulag, even as a force of Decados starships prepare to lay siege. The last set of ships have a fighter escort as they pass under the guns of the Decados corvettes surrounding the moon.
Sergeant Coyote stays behind; with the escape route hidden, he is returning to the gulag to perhaps start another rebellion on another day.
- Baron Petra Decados -- Ruler of New Sun, Baron Petra is a known Incarnate.
- Ricardo Salazar -- Bastard son of the Marquis de Salazar, Ricardo's accusations falsely imprison the heroes.
- Grigory -- A former Kossack, Grigory is the leader of the Wardens in Atshen.
- Wulff -- A Zuranist former Hawkwood soldier, he is Sergeant Coyote's second-in-command.