While the Tomb Guardian was willing to wait while everyone discussed their options (causing Kevin to assume he must be out of a video game, and used to being paused while the players talked), he wasn’t about to allow even non-destructive surveys, much less poking around looking for relics – and the mask he was wearing was what Shayn was after anyway. There was a bit of fooling around with photography, some banter, and a few general jokes – but a single tomb guardian, even with a powerful Noh Witches Mask and centuries of experience, wasn’t enough to stop five of Kevin’s Thralls, Kevin, three more adventurers, a heavily-armed robot, and Shayn, all equipped with ultratech armor and weapons. He put up quite a fight anyway, and had some excellent shields and good psychic powers, but there were just too many weapons and powers pointed his way. One or two could counter his attacks, and another couple could heal the injured, while the rest simply kept up the bombardment.
Weird mask: it reminded everyone of the “hollows” things they’d encountered earlier.
They did a bit of purification-ritual after the battle. The place seemed to need it. Kevin praised the Thralls as well: they were learning quickly. Secondarily, they pretty much all agreed that they were being intentionally routed through a series of tests and dangerous situations.
They downloaded the rest of the Sith databases – looking for clues as to what Revan and the Hellstorm had wanted – and moved on to the tomb of Darth Plageous after resting a bit. According to the lore, he was an alchemist and the one who’d taught Darth Sidious. He had been able to restore life to the dead, sustain his own life beyond the normal lifespan, and even create new lifeforms directly. Rare powers, and quite impressive, but not unheard-of in the Manifold.
They were glad that they’d decided to knock politely first, since Plageous was still at work in his lab as a (quite rational) undead. He also had quite a lot of interesting information – most importantly, that Revan had detected that a manifold similar but different to ours was about to re-collide with ours and was trying to prepare for it. It wasn’t for the first time either – and the interactions would most likely start in the pre-agriculture realms where they’d happened last time. The near-humans who’s manifold it was desperately needed new souls. It looked like they were recruiting powerful Manifolders to get them from the core – and possibly setting up disease-and-disaster realms as collection points. 50,000 years of secret warfare. Huh. They could probably expect raids on some of the more unpleasant prison-afterworld-realms, where there were lots of souls, all eager to leave and willing to come along with any kind of rescuer. Just wonderful: Hell would be calling for adventurers to help hold off the alien invasion.
Would the pre-humans even know that they’ve lost the earth? If their knowledge of the world was limited – and they’d necessarily been fairly primitive to start with or they’d have left a LOT of traces – they might not even realize that there’s a distinction between core and the Manifold. They’d just know that Humanity still got children with new souls. Could there be a greater cause for jealousy, hatred, and strange beliefs? Had they just recruited some agents to free up souls without understanding what was going on?
Of course, paying attention and reacting with hostility would likely make matters worse.
So: Revan had higher motives. The Hellstorm was mostly after Ryan, who’d created it and then tried to destroy it when he lost control. After that it might want to try to seize control of the Manifold.
Kevin made Plageous a new living body while they were talking. It seemed only fair to give him something useful in exchange. They gave him a lift as well, Korriban was about as barren, boring, and depressing as it was possible to imagine.
Lets see… “Loot” so far: salaries, magical weapons and/or armor, gold and gems, 5 early-adolescent half-drow slaves, 12 human core adolescent slaves, a selection of mind flayer treasures and minor magical items, some anti-negative energy devices, two silmarils, one weird kobold, Ilthulsin the Outcast, favors from a bunch of powerful magical creatures, some information on focusing the energies of masses of spirits and exotic combat techniques, two libraries of ancient occult lore, information on the force-based shield circuit for the Tomb Archive, a through survey of a bunch of Sith Tombs, and a favor from a Sith Lord. Of course, they had turned loose the Hellstorm, which was a bit of a downside. They’d also upset a High Priestess of Lloth and the Emperor Skywalker/Vader, but merely upsetting people – even powerful and influential ones – wasn’t all that important. Not at all bad.
Marty and Benedict were starting to wonder… If souls did indeed come from core, was it possible to trace where souls had been?
Kevin believed that it was. You could even use past-life regression techniques to find out. Of course, since most core worlders had no past lives to regress to, such techniques had a bad reputation there. They could try to sort that out later…
They set off for the volcanic moon with the robots; the next gate would be opening in a few hours – and on a regular cycle thereafter. The robots would put up some warning satellites and the group called the House of Roses to fill them in a bit. Of course, the House was already in a bit of a panic over the engagement between the Federation and the first robot fleet to arrive at a colony world. Things did not go as planned; the Federation fleet was doing fairly well until the Hellstorm popped in and started destroying both sides before focusing on Ryan’s ship. Both sides were using a lot of magic.
The group explained as much as possible. Shayn headed off on other business, and Benedict devoted his time to relaxing and training (the rooms were very comfortable) – but Raphial spent his time building a hypercom to report in to the Emperor again. It turned out that the Emperor forgave him – this time – and would consider what use (if any) to make of his immunity period. Marty hired a few robots and started planning some virtual startup offices in core, while Kevin taught the Thralls more about their new powers.
End of Session 10: 3 CP.
The first Singular gate-opportunity came up while Raphial was still immersed in circuits and Benedict in training. Well, if the war had been going on for 50,000 years, it was unlikely to reach any major turning points in the next day or two – and, at least so far, most of their best information had turned up on side trips. Shayn had said there was a reasonable amount of time available before he left, so Kevin and Marty decided to take a side trip while the others were busy. Singular wasn’t very magic or psionics-friendly, and Kevin wanted a realm where he could do something for the little kids anyway – and possibly to do his recruiting before being obligated to haul a bunch of kids (even in stasis in his pocket) into Singular’s assorted dangers.
There were lots of gates scattered around the New Imperium. Even sticking to the local sector to keep things in the day-trip category and eliminating anywhere that wasn’t reliably two-way or which required really major plot-fulfillment before you could leave left a fair number of choices. There was Akieron, a post-apocalyptic realm with various supernatural horrors, Olomath, a crusader-kingdom-alternative-history realm, the Dune universe, Baelaria, a steampunk world with decent magic and reliable (and expanding) trade, and Terratin, a gold-silver age USA superheroes black-and-white morality world.
Post-apocalypse and supernatural horror didn’t look too great for healing rituals or for business recruiting, there wasn’t much of any information available on Olomath (who picks these names anyway?), Dune tended to sweep people up into plots, and it would be awfully easy to wind up on the wrong side of Terratin’s black-and-white morality. That left Baelaria.
The world with the gate was really bustling: the cross-realm trade was fueling an economic boom. Metals, fuels, and industrial raw materials in exchange for magical services. It looked like the gate had a set of steam-locomotive freight lines running through it. The place also had a well-organized bureaucracy to introduce you to the local laws, mores, and assumptions.
It looked like… semi-Victorian/industrial revolution era, age of majority 15, they wanted to know realm or origin and see some documentation on arrival, visitors were allowed to use magic but needed to get a local license to practice, and they were really down on curses. Magic had kept the worst excesses of the industrial revolution in check; the “middle class” was substantially larger and the poor were better off than they had been historically. Still some fairly severe laws, poor wages, and a fair supply of kids on the street – but at least most of them got picked up by various guilds eventually. The local priests, addressed as “holy guide”, represented a fairly generic set of “powers of light” and the local nobles and upper-classmen were usually addressed as “Cyr”.
Marty was looking for a souled apprentice or two or three to act as representatives in core – people always liked talking to an actual human being – and Kevin was looking for ritual components and working space; he wanted a large quiet workspace that had been blessed by a local priest (preferably a church of some sort), pure water, an ankh or other local holy symbol at least a thousand years old, three canopic jars, chalk, a silk rope, myrrh, incense, a small silver bell, charcoal, a brazier, frankincense, and some scented oil.
They hired the entire local street crowd of about 30 kids (oddly enough, it looked like at least half of them had souls), including a couple with minor talents – one who could make minor charms, one who had a knack for making minor items out of precious metals – and a bunch who were working on various mundane crafts (mostly woodcrafts and metalworking). Kevin wanted guides, assistants, and some people who knew the local shops (as well as always being on the lookout for possible Thrall-recruits) and Marty wanted a chance to evaluate some possible apprentices – especially the ones who could read more than simple phrases: that would save him a lot of time later on.
The kids were pretty enthusiastic (and suggested the local temple, one of the chemists shops, an antique store, and a foreign collectibles shop); apparently meals weren’t exactly regular in their lives – and Kevin was paying half a days wages up front with sandwiches, meals, and the remainder to follow.
On the local front, it looked like there was a conflict brewing with a neighboring realm: a place loosely based on the catholic church’s domination of Europe – anti-tech and anti-magic, but strong on “holy” powers. So far, their superior naval forces were considered sufficient deterrent though. The government had also put out a warrant on a mage named Adrian Mercati; there were a lot of pictures up, he’d failed to heed a summons to the Ministry of Magic. He was one of the most powerful mages of the land and had been rumored to be next in line to take the position of Minister of Magic. He is also known to be a anti-war activist.
Anyway, the kids soon started getting back with prices, directions to a local temple in the hills, and delivery information. The young local priest was cooperative enough with a ritual of healing and exorcism – if somewhat taken aback to see such an artifact as the Silmaril in the hands of a boy so young. The rite was a fair success; they drove the alien energies possessing the children into the canopic jars and got them to the point where more conventional healing could complete the job. Fortunately, the Silmaril was fairly easy to tap (after all, Raphial had managed it with a circuit lashup). Also it looked like something else was helping: something had added amplification modifiers and turned the circle from chalk to metal foil. Kevin let the local kids watch: it wasn’t like a healing ritual could hurt them.
Meanwhile, Marty was getting leads to the local magnates, master traders, and mercenary recruiters. The kids knew about the guilds mostly – but they were staying well away from the mages at present. For the last few months, the kids who were recruited by the mages tended not to be seen again – or to return changed… The local priests weren’t happy about it, and had warned talented children to stay hidden for the time, but they didn’t have the power to stop the mages and the ministry of magic. The fact that they’d been ignoring talented kids with families – while scooping up any talented kids without such protection on any excuse – didn’t make anyone feel any better about it. The more scrupulous mages had been distancing themselves from the guild.
At least that explained why so many ensouled – and therefore more likely talented – kids had been hanging around the dimensional train station. It was a possible route out. There were probably some guards around to keep out kids without proper escorts. It looked like they’d better get out as quickly as possible after the ritual: it would send up a powerflare that any mage would be able to trace.
Marty got back to the temple as quickly as possible: he needed to consult with Kevin about how many kids they could get out. Kevins opinion was that he could always force open a gate; it depended on how many they could bring in before they hit opposition that would endanger the ones that were already with them. Unfortunately, after that ritual, it looked like an immediate exit was in order. For this trip they might have to settle for the kids they already had (16 with souls) – which was pretty much the complete local gang.
They took them to the new Imperium and offered some alternatives; they could stay there, head to one of the Americas, take temporary jobs, or sign up with Marty or Kevin, for which there would be more extensive explanations later. All 16 definitely wanted to leave, and they all seemed inclined to follow Kevin and Marty for the time being over being left somewhere.
Fortunately – if they were being targeted – no one had anticipated that they’d simply leave the moment their ritual was completed. The guards were only checking that children had proper escorts as of yet, allowing everyone to make their escape back to the New Imperium.
End of Session 11: 3 CP all around.