With the group finally established in Baelaria – and in possession of three warehouses and a place of business to use as a base of operations – it was time to bring out the old “to do:” list. They wanted to set up a regular trade route to the Underdark, talk to the mages guild, see what spell effect had been used on Arxus, see if lesser (and more generally useful) variants could be developed from the Praetorian technology, see about importing some staff from Battling Business World (well, OK; Marty wanted to look into that), investigate Spellweaver (ar at least to find out what he was wanted for and what he was supposed to be able to do: the mages guild had to be telling people something if they wanted him caught), visit Hogwarts (well, Kevin wanted to make his regular recruiting-trip there), and continue setting up their own intelligence network.
First up was the spell that was used on Arxus. After all, they had him right in front of them. He was a bit hostile, but willing to let them work divinations on him… That made it obvious that his soul had been ripped out and was no longer tied to his body. The speed with which it had been done was especially impressive, almost like pulling the tablecloth off a table without disrupting the dishes. It looked like he should either have died or turned into a basic phantasm – but he was sustaining himself through the continued perceptions of others, and thus was trying to grab all the attention he could. He had a well-developed personality with nobody home. Random inputs derived from others rather than from internal direction. Rather depressing really…
With the local mages stealing souls, the desire to go and visit them in person diminished sharply. Raphial thought that maybe he could send his robot – but it was linked back to him. Maybe some extra warding on the link? It wasn’t like they had any specific defenses against soul-stealing – or any at all that were likely to stand up to spells that powerful. Time to check on how the local magic worked – and on any local countermeasures.
That research project led to these little “stones” that the Ministry of Magic used – but nothing about where they came from. Well, if they weren’t fakes created by the mages they might well be creations of the priests. Off to the priests first: they were probably REALLY unhappy about soul-stealing magi anyway. Arxus came along: he’d been listening in, and was pretty upset about the mages having stolen his soul – but the others wanted more information before they tried anything too drastic.
The Holy Guide was a bit put off by Arxus, but was pleased enough to see everyone else. The Guides were aware of the problem – but hadn’t been able to prove it to the satisfaction of the Ministry of Magic. Besides, even if they had proof, there was no guarantee that the Ministry would really do much; it might be some joint project. He wasn’t too clear on why they were doing it either – but he had been hiding children from the mages. He also knew that the mages were focusing on children, the weak and the elderly. He had yet to hear of them managing to steal a soul from a healthy adult. He didn’t know of any link to the neanderthals (or, indeed, of what they might be) – although the Guild had been working with some strange outside group.
As for the limitations of the local magi – they cast magic by drawing the appropriate diagrams. The basic effect was determined by the underlying symbol. Modifiers were added as additional symbols. The complexity of the spell was a matter of the time and skill put into casting it, while its power was determined by the talent of the caster and his available reserves. It was a bit time-consuming, but there were shortcuts – such as using predrawn symbols. Some magi could even speed-write or perform one spell with each hand… Symbols drawn in the air were good for only one use. Symbols drawn in lasting media such as wood or iron could be used many times. Precious metals were used for near-permanent enchantments.
Sadly, the Church did not have the resources to take on the Guild – hence what aid they could offer would have to be kept under the rose.
The mages were definitely showing some new abilities. Some of their new recruits were completely immune to magic (and were apparently specialists in killing non-guild mages), others could focus elemental power – albeit usually of only one element. Last were the Zeromancers, the most powerful – and mysterious – mages in the guild. Fortunately, there weren’t very many of them.
In any case, magical countermeasures included counterspells, disconnection from the local magical axis (difficult to undo locally), and using magic-absorbing talismans made from Voidstone. The local alchemists supposedly knew how to process the stuff, but no one really knew where it came from. It was supposedly compressed nothingness, and incredibly dangerous to handle unprocessed. Once processed and properly set it was an excellent absorber of energies, although prolonged exposure tended to drain your life force. Finally, there was holy power. Unfortunately, most priests could only generate enough to make an effective shield while on Holy Ground.
Kevin felt that the local government was either made up of idiots, under control, or very frightened. The path the mages were taking would inevitably end with the guild attempting to make itself the sole authority – and any sensible government would already have taken action. Since allying with the priesthood was the obvious first step in taking action, and the government had yet to do so, it was likely that no action was being taken… No doubt the magical advisors were being reassuring and denying everything, those who spoke up tended to have nasty “accidents”, and the place didn’t have a free press. The whole thing reminded him of Hogwarts and that idiot Voldemort. At least the Robots had raided and sealed up the dig site in Singular – which was probably pissing off the mages no end. Obviously they were used to getting their own way unchallenged.
Raphial wondered if the Arrancar had any Voidstone available. They had all kinds of nothing – and visiting them would be a fairly short hop.
Well, they could always consult the house and look for more backup… Unfortunately, if the guild was after Adrian Mercati – that “Spellweaver” guy – it looked more and more like their initial conflict with him had been a mistake. Well, given a ravaged planet and an invasion for a backdrop, that kind of thing would happen.
The group decided to go hunting for Voidstone (possibly for wholesale importation) – and the first step seemed to be checking with the Alchemists to make sure they could properly identify it. The Holy Guide recommended meeting with Maxwell Stenson at the alchemists guild – and to tell him who’d sent them. He should then be willing to discuss the matter discretely (the mages were on the lookout for anyone looking for the Voidstone – which was at least some indication that the stuff actually worked).
On the way to the Alchemists Guild the streets suddenly got very empty and foggy – and they were attacked by several small steam-tanks and a bunch of shapeshifting soulless phantasms that were very difficult to destroy (easy to confuse or mindwipe though) – until Arxus started absorbing them. The Mirage was busy trying to deal with the fact that it had a boiler and all its weapons ran on gunpowder, but the local tanks weren’t that dangerous anyway – particularly after Kevin started releasing the bound elementals that powered them. The Mirage suffered some damaging misfires, but managed to take out the tanks anyway – and they even captured one tank-occupant (a 16-year-old boy with definite supernatural qualities. His hair was a bright blonde that almost seemed to glow, his eyes were a deep piercing blue and everything about him just seemed to radiate a bit) – but couldn’t tell if there was a connection between the nanite goo they’d found earlier and the phantasm things without a sample to analyze.
That absorbing thing was interesting… It looked like Arxus was absorbing the psychic energy invested in the phantasms and using it to become stronger. His age, clothing, weapons, and armor had all improved. He said that that sort of thing just happened when he defeated other phantasms or made more friends. He might be on his way to becoming a “young avenger” psychic nexus or something… Remaining alive after your soul was ripped out was a very unnatural state of affairs, and might well create a psychic void which would absorb other energies: something had to be actively keeping the soul from re-manifesting – which meant an active pull that had to be counterbalanced somehow.