While they’d been busy a naval submarine had been attacked and damaged by something off the east coast, the necromantic apprentices had started wanting to know if they could have lycanthropic powers too (without actually dying first preferably), and the White Necromancer’s mother was insisting that he be home for dinner, not leave the US, and inform her if he was leaving the state. Not entirely unreasonable.
Meanwhile, Ranko was working on her thesis – and the children were quiet. Too quiet… there was a dimensional hole in the floor in their room leading to… a the astral realm of horror movies. Fortunately, virtually all of the “inhabitants” were cliche constructs and the local laws of nature were the rules of bad movies. After dealing with assorted horrors, nearly getting disemboweled by a lunatic, and having to go berserk and tear several monsters apart with her bare claws, she eventually found the kids. Isacura was in the form of a demonic monster being worshiped by a cult of some sort… He’d apparently absorbed the thing and taken its form: it didn’t have a soul of its own to stop him.
Ranko took them home, went and smashed a bunch of the equipment that one of the other women in the dorm was using for dimensional research, and then found that Isacura had used the demon-form to open the refrigerator and get a raw pot roast and some ice cream. Stickiness and blood all over the place. But hadn’t he left the demon-form behind in the horror realm? It couldn’t possibly be permanent! (Probe-Divine-Examine…) No, thank the Kami. The imprint would fade in a day or so, it was only a minor construct and one he had no particular affinity with. But how had he done it in the first place? Wait. How had she done it? She’d absorbed that Bast-construct, it was what had turned her furry… She’d never really thought about that. It had been instinctive. Instinctive spirit-channeling. A bloodline ability.
Well, at least that gave him some idea of what he was likely to get up to later on. Virtually anything he could tap into a spirit for. And he probably wouldn’t have enough control to keep them from influencing him until he grew up a bit.
As if her life didn’t have enough complications.
Back in California – he’d persuaded the Chauffeur to give him a lift – Kheilios was trying to persuade his student advisor to help him get back into classes. Unfortunately, he pulled out the checklist for diagnosing Superheroic Syndrome – the same one the White Necromancer had suffered through – and had just informed Kheilios that he definitely had a case when an extradimensional demon-tentacle-bear thing crashed through the door and attacked.
The battle was relatively short, the unconscious bear-thing was pulled back into its own dimension, and the diagnosis was pretty well confirmed. He’d have to make special arrangements to continue working on his degree, and there were only a few schools that normally handled superhumans in general classes. They just endangered the normal students too much.
“The only known cure for Superheroic Syndrome is Death – and I have a resistant strain” – The White Necromancer.
In Russia, the Formless Ones were still on the loose, people were still being kidnaped by armored goons, and they still had a list of supposedly-abandoned secret KGB bases to investigate. Two that had been closed and sealed, one had been closed and sealed with absurd overkill precautions, five that had been involved in genetic research, two that were hidden beneath dams and such, one was apparently still active, and two still had dedicated secret service groups.
In Chicago, the Destruction Company had apparently teamed up with The Warlord to acquire the Ankylosaur armor and were going after additional suits – whether they were used by heroes, villains, or mercenaries.
At the orphanage, they’d just gotten more or less stuck with five of the six young juvenile-delinquent lesser werewolves that Stephen had created (one had gone missing) – and Vasilko was pretty reluctant to try and integrate them into his pack, if only because he wasn’t sure how they’d interact with Stephen himself. It took some persuading to get him to give it a try.
In Scotland, there’d been more thefts of ritual materials: an ancient magical dagger and a collection of lesser items. The same sort of magic as had been involved in the disappearance of the Book of Belial.
In New York the street department had sealed off a number of drains, several additional kids had vanished. A pretty atypical bunch to disappear too: athletes and ROTC types…
Also, Satan was endorsing Canada.
The White Necromancer and Yuki went after the local disappearances. He was reluctant to head off to Russia when he’d just promised his mother that he’d at least stay in the US for the time being.
The police had traced several of the kids last known appearances to – unsurprisingly perhaps – one of New Yorks multi-block malls. A common destination for half the kids in the city when they could afford it. Still, they had superlative skills, far more computer support, and much better international connections than the local police… Had anything like this been going on elsewhere?
London; several kids with minor special talents. Chicago; a selection of gang members. Tokyo; minor – at least by superheroic standards – martial arts experts. Moscow and environs; impossible to tell, there had been so many people being snatched there recently. Other major cities: more gang members, several of the young psychic students at Le Institute Thoth in Paris, several members of the gladiatorial re-enactment group in Rome, a collection of talented magical students from Finland… Somebody was collecting talented youngsters.
Fortunately, both Yuki and the White Necromancer were young enough to mix with the adolescents at the mall – and some elderly indoor exercisers had died there, and could offer a few clues to a medium as powerful as the White Necromancer. Yuki followed up, as well as picking up one of the young werewolves who was also hanging out at the mall (well, they hadn’t forbid them to go out). They eventually found traces of some really odd energies around one laser tag place. Some sort of long-range teleportation effect. Well, that would explain a few things: it was too well shielded for the police to locate, hundreds of youngsters went in and out of the place anonymously every hour, it was dark, and there were plenty of gaps in the security camera coverage in the main thoroughfares to keep people from being tracked. More importantly, the laser tag place had a huge, elaborate, setup but all of their electronics was quite independent.
It was making money, but not a big enough return on that kind of investment. Selling a few high-quality kids would pay well though… The selection process was pretty obvious. The few who were skilled, talented, and lucky enough to reach the highest levels of the game.
Yuki figured she could do that easily, and took the werewolf kid along: a partner would be a big help, and – while the boy wasn’t as fast or skilled as she was – he was still better than any normal human. The White Necromancer – after he was done counseling the local haunts – went in with Jason, and also passed pretty easily. The tests had been designed to be serious challenges to adolescents, not superheroes.
It turned out to be the Kragga, operating out of a ship out near Saturn. One of the lesser houses had collected nearly 300 young humans (including their missing werewolf) – and about 250 Racaf – as part of an anonymous mercenary force. Nanite-based cybrenetic enhancements, light power armor, heavy weapons, dinosaur-DNA-imbued mercenary leaders, and a long-range teleportation assault-force landing system. There might have been a few of the Kragga themselves along, but the command areas of the ship were pretty heavily shielded, both by the Wards of Luathon and technologically. They’d apparently hired some human agents to get mercenaries for them, and those agents had decided to maximize their profits by recruiting kids without paying them…
That meant that their magician, at least, owed favors to the Celestial Dragons. They thought about trying to get the adolescent dragons on earth to call in a few favors, but that would take some time – as well as being likely to cause as much trouble as it solved.
Fortunately, between calling in the Chauffeur, Vasilko, and Jason, sabotage, triggering emergency alarms, smacking lesser werewolves to keep them from giving things away, summoning hordes of spirits, and the presence of a nearby Arith Vaya to evacuate to, they managed to disembark everyone without too much destruction. Unfortunately, that left them with several hundred youngsters of various nationalities with war-wiring to de-program and a near-equal number of heavily-armed tribal – if almost as young – alien mercenaries to manage.
Back at home, two of the other newly-arrived lesser werewolves (the other two boys) – who’d just HAD to challenge Vasilko a bit – had been throughly pummeled. Wait: didn’t they still have an upcoming visit from Vasilko’s parents to deal with? Anyway, the Destruction Company had stolen some military-designed power suits from the group of mercenaries who’d originally stolen them, those ritualists in England were still gathering components, they had the Artifacts from the various governments to deal with – and they had Yuki’s parents on the phone.
Yuki’s parents didn’t think much of her running off without a passport, engaging in smuggling, not being home and in school, not having a boyfriend, etc, etc, etc… At least she could put them off.
The White Necromancers Mother heard about the trip to Saturn and concluded that her son was not going to obey, he was not going to stay in school, and that he was not going to stop running off to the ends of creation and risking his neck. There wasn’t any discipline that she could apply that was going to work. She went off to check on government programs and/or military schools for young superhumans – leaving the White Necromancer with a dilemma. What could he – or should he – try to do to stop her? Were there any such programs?
By the time they determined that there were several – the oldest dating back to the civil war and run by the Department of the Treasury (for some historical reason) and a couple of more recent programs run by the military – she was long gone. In fact, they shortly found out that she’d set up an appointment for tomorrow…
Meanwhile they tried to get the heavy weapons off the Racaf and stashed them (the Racaf) in the werewolves hunting dimension for the moment. They could call it a survival training exercise. They were tribal pack-hunters anyway, so that should hold them for a bit.
Meanwhile, the city had sealed off half the sewer system. They’d lost a couple of people down there and were reporting monsters, creeping things, and weird vegetation. It was easy enough to tell that it was an astral overlay: only the sensitive could see it at all. It was… The upper levels of the Chinese Hells. Just what they needed, the Red Dragon and the Storms of the Underworld YET AGAIN. Were they going to be attacked every single day?
Unfortunately, with all four Storms present, and at full power, they were fairly nearly defeated: if the Storms had really known how to use their powers, they might well have won – or at least have captured Yuki and been able to retreat. Fortunately, the children helped out a bit, channeling They had to resort to dispelling the “tree” the Red Dragon had used to bind the two levels of reality together to get rid of them – but that did give them an idea. The White Necromancer managed to capture a bit of the supernatural essence of two of the four storms: he couldn’t hold it for long, but it should give them several weeks delay before the Red Dragon could send his minions out again; they’d be drastically weakened for a bit.
Back at the orphanage, two of the lesser werewolf gangers were back in the infirmary yet again. This time they’d tried challenging Theodore, and had been throughly beaten up. Yuki visited to lecture, accidently shot one with the alien laser cannon she’d been tinkering with, discovered that they’d already had an extensive reading from the Book of Threats by Mina – including an announcement that she’d personally break all their bones, bind, leash, collar, power-neutralize, lobotomize, neuter, and domesticate whatever was left of them if they EVER tried to beat up her little brother again.
Yuki told them that she’d give them martial arts training and a month to shape up before she turned them over to Mina, leaving the two in the infirmary – and most of the others – seriously contemplating running away. Stephen’s situation was bad enough, and Mina had been threatening worse…
Meanwhile, Kheilios had been considering the aliens. It looked like the Kragga were selectively breeding them as mercenaries – and that was just WRONG. They needed a good scientific education and enough of a boost in technology to build their own starships.
Of course, the fact that their basic culture was barely into working native metals by hammering with rocks was a bit of a handicap there.