Due to the 4’th of July celebrations and some computer problems, there were not enough players available to continue the main plotline: the following side trip was presumed to take place an a brief quiet period sometime after the conclusion of the assault on the Baelaria Mages Guild.
The railway station in Baelaria proved to have a platform 9 3/4’th – a dead giveaway as far as the group was concerned. With Bard, Gerald, and Daniel back from their advanced training program though it was good time for a visit. Hogwarts was dangerous enough that Kevin hated to leave it too long between visits – and a chance to offer his own brand of “life insurance”. Technically he was a graduate, and had an identity as “Squire Jenkins”, but he looked young enough that Hogwarts almost always classified him as a student anyway: it had some awfully strong local tendencies.
There were plenty of buses and carriages available, but he’d apparently missed today’s train to Hogsmeade. The village simply wasn’t that big a place either. Oddly enough, the carriage they hired was driven by a ghost – suitable enough for apparitional horses, but how did he manage the physical stuff? He must have some telekinetic talent… Anyway, the driver thought that Kevin was a bit late – he should have been back at school already – but accepted that he’d had some urgent business.
The aerial trip was as dramatic – and the view as spectacular – as ever, as the carriage rose upwards and ran along the clouds of the evening sky. The landscape took on a red overtone as the dimming sunlight washed over the land and lakes, and the air chilled as night fell. The spectral carriage only added to the sensation of coldness.
It seemed that there’d been quite a ruckus at school: quite a few of the students had recently run off, the parents were all in an uproar about it, and the Ministry of Magic was getting involved as well. Dumbledore insisted that they had all left voluntarily – but the parents and government were insisting that the children had been coerced into leaving against their will.
From what most of the kids had said, they’d all believed that they were going to be joining a larger group and undertaking some kind of great quest.
Now that sounded familiar. More Questers in the Underdark?
A few had come back and attempted to recruit more of the students: the Ministry of Magic had taken them into custody and was questioning them. The driver recommended that they keep their heads down – and the shouting, near-rioting, crowd near at the entrance being held back by agents from the Ministry of Magic underscored his point. There was too much excitement to gather much information – and, if they’d been arresting returning youngsters and taking them away, approaching the Ministry agents would be kind of counterproductive.
Well, the secret tunnels were all known to the kids who read the books, even if they were still secret from the locals… Town was quiet. Most of the locals were watching news reports about the protests going on at Hogwarts and the ongoing investigation into the disappearances. There weren’t any kids around though: it looked like the lockdown was really tight. Evidently someone really had been busy recruiting (this annoyed Kevin: Hogwarts was one of the places that HE liked to recruit. No fair stealing his potential recruits!). Oh well, at least the tunnel through the sweet shop was open. It looked like it hadn’t been used in a bit – and there was a security spell to count students and wands going in and out (they delayed the report a bit) – but no traps or anything.
They headed on in. Fortunately the local rules didn’t actually REQUIRE wands, at least for visitors from the Manifold. They just made it easier.
Everything was quiet in the castle; the place was buttoned up for the night. They must have moved up curfew what with all the ruckus – and half the kids in the place probably tried to get away with invisibility charms these days. They decided to travel as a troop of ferrets instead. Filch was running about and Snape was camped outside the Slytheryn entrance, but they were never of any use – and there were no kids out at ALL. The place was sealed up TIGHT.
They didn’t have the current password for any of the towers – even Kevin didn’t know the current Ravenclaw password-riddle despite being an alumnus – and trying to guess was impossibly hard. Still, one of his old Defense against the Dark Arts Instructors was visiting the painting with a message: Dumbledore was expecting him up in his office. The group headed on up, although Kevin left a Thrall in ferret-form to keep an eye on the Ravenclaw entrance. Slytherin had Snape, Gryffyndor was full of junior heroes, and Hufflepuff had probably just blockaded their door anyway. Only Ravenclaw would rely on puzzles and obscure passwords.
At Dumbledore’s office it was back to human. Dumbledore was just too iconic to change much – but he was rather troubled. Kevin’s recruiting was fairly acceptable. He was honest, explained throughly, and took good care of his recruits. The newcomer, Vekxin, was very charismatic, rather reckless, recruited aggressively, had no respect for the source material, and had been pushing a tale of his desperate need for assistance with a great and epic quest. He’d demonstrated his power-granting abilities and had managed to get many of the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff students to follow him. He’d organized them into groups and set them practicing tactics against each other – and then one night they’d all “mysteriously” vanished. Perhaps most importantly, Vekxin had no soul. He’d been actively feeding on the energies of those around him. Not harmfully – but noticeably.
Well, that tied in neatly with the established gate to Baelaria.
In any case, he’d been searching for something called the Rosary of Memory– just like that last batch of youngsters they’d pulled out of the Underdark. Still, at least he’d provided some sort of description; the basic idea was that memories were conserved as incarnations were passed. Those memories, left behind, tend to form phantasms and other things. It was in those other things where the Rosary supposedly lay. (That might or might not be accurate: it might just be neural limitations, since information could never be destroyed or lost – but if they were looking for it in the Manifold, they’d eventually find something matching their description – a pile of psychic energy or information or whatever you wanted to call it condensed into the “Rosary”).
Kevin got his communications links going: he’d sent a trade delegation to the Underdark, and looking for potential recruits was a part of their job. His team reported that there had definitely been more teams of coordinated youngsters running around, apparently searching for both teammates and something else. Their organization and numbers had increased to the point where they were becoming quite a nuisance to the locals. The locals had launched special missions against them, but they’d retaliated, and the Drow were getting pretty annoyed. They were mostly coming in teams of six – two healers, a tank, and three damage dealers. Their powers were basic along those lines with few unusual or weird abilities, but they were using lots of group enhancements along the legionairre line and they were very well coordinated. The bigger local powers were starting to show signs of taking an interest though – the groups did seem to know their way through the tunnels and cities very well and knew where all the secret passages and major monsters were. They claimed to be looking for “the bottom of the Underdark”.
The group filled in Dumbledore; his students were going into an endless maze filled with monsters of ever-increasing deadliness. About then, the youngster they’d left on watch reported that they now had a spy.
They invited him in. It turned out to be Paul Malfoy(a protagonist from the first sequel series). Unsurprisingly, he was ensouled. Well – his parents had been co opted as roles long, long, ago. Besides, he urgently wanted to find Lily Potter, who’d gone questing.
The filled him in a bit as well.
It sounded like “Vekxin” was appealing to heroic tendencies – and failing to explain sufficiently – rather than appealing to self-interest and offering full explanations. It also sounded like he probably hadn’t made arrangements to fully protect the youngsters he recruited. The whole “quest” thing virtually screamed “short-term goal”. Come to think of it, something like this “Rosary Of Memory” thing might be really important to a Baelaria youngster with a missing soul.
The group decided to head over to the Underdark, try to contact the missing students – and possibly talk them out of this idiocy if they were still in possession (or had recently regained possession) of their souls. At least the ones who’d come back to try for more recruits had still had theirs – although it did seem that they were bonded to something that was actively siphoning psychic energy from them while feeding back magical energies.
Kevin could possibly pre-empt that, but they might be more or less unable to agree while it was active. Still, some of them might be quite discouraged by now – or be beginning to suspect that they’ve been deceived. The Underdark was not a pleasant place to spend a few months – and was nasty enough to rather beat down heroic ideals a bit. There had probably been a fair number of casualties as well. Kevin could make arrangements to revive people who died – but only in advance, and there were a lot of ramifications to it.
A lot of the other students wanted to find their missing friends – but the teachers had been making it difficult to organize much of anything. All the secret exits were blocked and they put everyone into lockdown immediately after classes ended. Time to see who would like to be in a rescue party.
Dumbledore was willing to cut off classes tomorrow to let Kevin speak with the students – and to let him recruit those who opted to join him – so as to rescue as many of their classmates as possible.
He did want to add a stipulation to Kevin’s contract though. While time-reversion was about the only thing short of intervention by truly major powers that could undo Kevin’s contract (along with anything else they’d experienced since), it WAS within his power – and he could divine who’d only wanted to take the contract to be in on the rescue and/or would seriously want to opt out if they still could feel that way and do it for them.
That was more or less agreeable. If they didn’t actually find the powers, perks, and abilities that come with working for Kevin sufficient payment for doing so, or had felt pressured to do so to get a chance to rescue their friends, undoing the pact was really quite sensible.
Kevin added a rider of his own though. If they’d been killed and brought back during their adventures with him, the pact would have to remain in effect. If they tried to revert them after that, they’d lose the soul-link – and that would kill them, reversion or no reversion.
Besides, adventuring in the Underdark should let them pay off the indenture considerably faster than the usual 50 to 600 years (depending on activity levels) despite the way that the safety features, tendency to listen to orders, and so one cut down on CP gains. Besides – Kevin tended to discourage them buying their way out too quickly. He wanted a long head start before he started creating competition for himself.
Dumbledore felt that such an arrangement should satisfy any parents at the end of the school year – especially if he endorsed it.
So what else would they need?
That came out to be a list of the missing, some notes on what Vekxin (Veck Zen?) and the recruiters who came back had been saying, any details on the powers he granted that were available, and any messages from families that were awaiting delivery (preferably in the custody of friends of theirs).
The first step would be to visit use the Room of Requirement (that way it would be easy to establish the energy-balance to open and could be readily closed off) as a gate-terminus to the Underdark, secure a working space there, set some of the other Thralls on security duty, upgrade a communications-linking spell with Elven High Magic, and let the other kids from Hogwarts try to talk their friends into coming back – and deliver family messages. The first group hadn’t been too badly affected – and even if the missing youngsters were too bound to be willing to listen, they might get more information. If some were willing to come back the group could probably arrange some pickup points. After all, gates were an accepted part of the Underdark’s reality. Any who didn’t want to take Kevin’s pact would have to settle for secondary remote links: they wouldn’t be allowed to risk themselves entering the Underdark. Any kids who weren’t from Hogwarts – or at least didn’t have identifiable relatives – would be sent generic “if you want out” messages
Dumbledore agreed that that sounded like a reasonable preliminary plan – although he would like semi-regular progress reports.
The students got the pre-set sales pitch, disclosure, and explanation – along with the note that, in this case, backing out would be possible, that the pact would protect them from most of the usual perils around Hogwarts, and that it would give them the power to have a direct shot at rescuing their friends. Young Malfoy had a few things to say as well…