Gantrithor the Balrog got a lot smaller – and less shadowy – upon his arrival in the Forgotten Realms. A Balrog should fit in well enough in the Underdark, so evidently Middle-Earth was one of the realms that amplified particular roles. Should have expected that from the way the one kid got the One Ring and the others various fellowship roles without even trying.
He was still a burning demonic-looking thing though – and very much annoyed with his current predicament – not to mention that everyone else had changed confusingly.
“Is this some kind of trick you have done to try and weaken me? Foolish people to think that this would stop me! Wait, what has happened to all of you?”
“Hey, this sometimes happens when you cross realms. You get used to it.”
“How long have you been being a Balrog anyway?”
(Gantrithor was a bit taken aback by that question…) “I have been this way since before the Silmaril war long ago”.
Kevin cheerily informed him that “Well, after all, Gandalf is supposed to have spent 2000 years in Middle-Earth, and was a Maiar before that. I dropped in, became Gandalf, and left the role behind, all in about four hours – although I haven’t been by the Silmaril wars in nearly twenty years myself. Come to think of it, these days I’d probably get cast as Melkor”
Gantrithor found all of this pretty confusing – but found THAT hard to believe.
The group suggested that he test his current powers while they were traveling: some would be his, and some would vary with the current role (which looked to be a demon of some sort).
Kevin left a Thrall to keep an eye on him, help out if necessary, and report back on what he could and could not do.
Not too unexpectedly Gantrithor found some serious surprises and disappointments.
Meanwhile, as the group traveled – heading for the Drow city – Marty took charge of running the caravan and navigation while Kevin started sending some orders and gathering information.
The computers reported up to 30 million youngsters and adults in Core who had been exposed to weaponized Memes, although the number who were badly enough affected to have been taken into custody awaiting magical or psychic treatment was only about two million (the system was having a hard time catching partial exposures, although the computers had been getting more aggressive about psychological screening of those suspected of being infected).
Now, lets see… the Solar System supported 15 billion, the Hyerdahl System supported nearly 12 billion, Gutahbend 10, Mu 9.5, and Seilichspeur 8.5 billion. Below that, Anbetsu, Gelderlich, Ksahko, Daimi, Adama, Rifaan, Curmac, Vriksha, Tellus, Uhran, and Kurk supported some 45 billion between them. Of the 204 officially colonized worlds, 11 had been abandoned to the Ouratha (or just to lousy conditions) and a few holdouts – and the other 52 billion people were scattered across the remaining 177 worlds of the Federation, ranging from a few worlds on the border of major world status on to a dozen or two which had only a few hundred thousand each. About 20 carefully-placed gates should give him access to a total of about 108 billion, and the vast majority of those infected.
He was REALLY going to need some staff. Phantasms were fine for routine stuff, but tended to get flabbergasted whenever things went off-track. Once he had enough, they could start bringing the infected through to cure them and start issuing permission for children and youngsters from core to visit. Well, there were 80 or so Thralls currently without urgent assignments or already assigned to core – and Ryan had given him some ideas. He’d never really considered the nonhumans before – there weren’t really that many of them – but he had plenty of resources now. He could set the Thralls to buying up as many of the obedience-programmed Neodogs as possible – especially the young ones – and to broadcasting a general summons into the Earth’s oceans. There were close to a hundred million obedience-programmed neodolphins out there – after all, it wasn’t like anyone really needed them for anything – and he could simply give them all midrange Identities in Kadia with a little shapeshifting and other powers. That would give him a ready-made staff, whether he could recruit any of them as Thralls or not. If he could recruit some as Thralls, he’d just give them anthropomorphic base forms and block shapeshifting to full human – and he’d have some Thralls that were legally property under current Core law (and had started that way), at least until they paid off their indenture as usual. That would give them a chance at freedom, satisfy the needs of the house and military, and should either get people used to the idea of sentient, human-like, beings as property or provoke discussion of the whole issue of what made creatures property and blur the lines. Either way, since the status quo wasn’t what he wanted, it would be to his advantage. The ones he couldn’t recruit as Thralls could be general staff, help with the meme-infected, and enjoy the facilities themselves. If those worked out, he’d try bringing some other species up to neo-animal status and seeing what he could do with them. Maybe some big cats, or bears, or ferrets, or something.
Oh yes: add a computer restriction and a formal warning; you had to be past the age of majority to leave the center regions for any of the lawless and computerless border zones, like the “Ice Age Hunters” primitive survival zone, or the “Shapeshifted Hunting” zones, or anything similar – and if you did head into one it was entirely at your own risk. You’d still wake up back at the mall if you were killed – but if you got tortured, eaten, enslaved, or whatever, that was your tough luck. He’d put a a similar set of restrictions on anyone who wanted to fight duels, or make silly bets, or anything like that too.
The House called too (apparently the Military had not yet realized outside the laboratory that – given a good reason or a really urgent message – the Thralls could call Kevin just as he could call them): they wanted the entire group to lay low for a bit if possible – perhaps that was why they’d been so cooperative about a speculative trip into the Underdark. The House, unsurprisingly, felt that demonstrating the power to move a planet would draw far too much attention even if Ryan and ATE took most of the “blame”. It was a level of power that had not been demonstrated for several decades, and – in their opinion – was bound to draw unwanted attention to Core and to the associated parties.
Meanwhile, Marty had been heading the group towards the Drow city they’d visited last time. The Drow, or Dark Elves, or whatever they were calling themselves would probably know what was up with the mind flayer city, it was a good place to trade, they had some contacts there, they might be able to get some enchantments and things done for the Thralls, they threw great parties, and the local women were extremely good-looking. No matter what, they’d probably wind up spending at least a few days there. There were invariably delays.
The trip only took a few hours this time: the Moria gate was a lot closer than the Coral gate (and didn’t require life support) – but there were a lot of signs of battle throughout the tunnels. It looked like someone had been making lots of attacks using large numbers of slave species. There was no way to tell who owned them, but there were signs that the cities defenders were also involved in the fighting. Could be Mind Flayers, Vekxin, rival Drow, or other denizens of the Underdark. The place was a morass of hostility after all.
The city itself was under siege; portions of the city were burning, there were too many dead bodies to count laying around, there was a heavily warded camp of attackers off to the right in the main cavern and the city to the left. The attackers looked like an army of drow with several hordes of slaves.
Fortunately, everyone was regrouping at the moment. Oh that was right: the fool Godswar was still going on and the Mind Flayer city had been used as a pawn… No Thralls involved at the moment though. The communications-base was nearby, but Malfoy had simply been assisting the defenders to some extent without trying to get involved directly. The defenders had been helping them out with their mission from time to time. It looked like about… 50,000 attackers (80% slaves) and 80,000 defenders (40% slaves). That was quite a lot for the Forgotten Realms: populations weren’t normally all that high hereabouts…
The besiegers camp showed some excessive positive-energy traces, but the divinations were just too limited to provide any details. Well, that could be constructs or something, but it probably meant that Vekxin’s agents were operating over there.
“Oh, Gantrithor? You’ll probably like these: corrupted – if less than immortal – elves at war. They’re usually a matriarchy with lots of gratis evil. Centuries of artists have portrayed Drow as good-looking cheesecake into leather straps and dominance-stuff, so they’re generally an entire PG to X-Rated civilization – which is why adolescents like to hang around in the Underdark.”
“Interesting, twisted elves that retain much of their original form, unlike the creations of Melkor – although it seems some have managed to purge themselves of the corruption”.
They got emissaries from both sides. Preference went to the Defenders, since they’d been fairly friendly last time around.
Goals: stop the nonsense, information on the Mind Flayer city, finding out what had happened in both cities after they’d left the last time, to get slaves if they needed them for trade, arrange for Marty’s party, get magical enchantments for the Thralls, collect any of Vekxin’s bunch who were with the attackers, not wasting too much time, and not getting killed.
The emissary from the city was Dhoul, a magus in the church of Elistraee. It looked like this was indeed a part of the Godswar; Lloth had managed to either indispose or kill Elistraee, and with the entire pantheon of the dark elves dead or out of action save for Lolth, her priestesses were trying to consolidate control of the entire race. The attackers were the followers of Lolth with help from fortune hunters (from many races and places) and such – plus the usual army of slaves. The Mind Flayers weren’t involved; the destruction of their city had left them pretty scarce in the area. Of the outworlders, one seemed to be enhancing many of the others in some fashion, but he had been hard to pinpoint and take out. Another had been giving the attackers strange weapons and armor (apparently firearms and technological mockups of mithril or adamantine armor) that had proven most annoying – although such things were said to be available on the surface. They’d been making the walls almost useless.
Well, that did sound like Vekxin, and probably the powerful mage who’d been doing those pesky timeslips. Well, they had been inclined to help the defenders anyway.
The locals had had a few timeslips as well, which pretty well confirmed it.
The emissary from the attackers was Presnell, in the service of the commander Gigmaril, here to attack and subjugate this city, and he was simply here to advise them that siding with the defenders – who had no divine magic to call on, and thus little hope of victory – would be foolish. If they helped with the attack, a share of the spoils would be in order. On the other hand, he confirmed that the attackers had quite a few near-unkillable, apparently-human or near-human youngsters, with reasonably good combat skills, skill at working in groups, and obscure motives, amongst their allies. He hadn’t been paying much attention to them, since he had more important things to pay attention to than the strange abilities of a human boy who could enhance otherwise mediocre fodder to special forces level.
That was all Kevin really needed to hear.
“Ah well. Oh yes – where are my manners? Refreshments!”
Kevin conjured up a table, some chairs, drinks, snacks, and a battlefield-scale Stone Shaping effect (level three, +3 Mana, +7 area from Elven High Magic and Dominion; his local identity was just perfect for the occasional massive-area-of-effect stunt) to drop the relevant end of the cavern’s roof on the attackers camp.
“Marty? You and the kids will need to handle Mr Mage here and any camp survivors: that kind of thing is tiring. The ones we’re here for can’t die, so we can dig them out at leisure”.
“Right, got it!”
Presnell found that pretty annoying – but apparently not either too much of a shock or much of a personal threat. That pretty much confirmed that he was either an avatar of Lloth [“My” general?], a simulacrum or projection (possibly of Merlin), had immortality arrangements in place (clones or something were most likely in the Forgotten Realms), or a follower of someone with an assured afterlife. No matter which, there wasn’t much point in fighting him, so they simply let him take his stuff and go. He vanished in a puff of pink smoke.
Well, he might have just been a really good bluffer too, but they hadn’t thought of that at the time.
Dhoul was rather impressed. There weren’t many mages with that kind of power, or the ability to bring it into play so quickly. He doubted that the attackers mages had either had enough power or time to respond. Still, it was obvious that Kevin would never make a good dark elf. They liked the slow approach to dealing with their enemies.
While destroying the besieging army would probably only be a temporary break, even if there were no reinforcements for the attackers hidden in the nearby tunnel system (Dhoul had been keeping an eye out for that sort of thing – “although these damn tunnels make finding anything difficult” “Not from around here I take it? ‘These damn tunnels’ would never occur to an underdark native” “Ah, I let my act slip here for a moment didn’t I?”), it was still a substantial victory – and time for the priestesses to patch people up with first aid, since they had no divine magic to speak of. Since Marty was looking for a party, they’d throw a really good one for him – with lots of wine and food and beautiful, willing, dark elven women. Since they wouldn’t need any trade goods that they couldn’t get from the loot, they could afford to donate quite a few of the luxury goods they’d brought along anyway.
The defenders helped round up the survivors, of which there were quite a few – 9,000 assorted slaves (mostly underdark races), 4,000 Drow (who would mostly become slaves: whether or not the new rulers objected, the society had no other method of handling thousands of unwilling captives), and 220 of Vekxins youthful minions (whom they made sure they kept incapacitated, no matter how much it hurt). There was a lot of magical loot as well, (although the defenders wanted most of the healing stuff), several sets of spellbooks – and not a single soul among the slaves (apparently any that had been had been hauled off before the battle began) and only 48 among the Drow – mainly priestesses and wizards, plus one weaponsmaster. All older unfortunately.
Gantrithor had been bored at first, then shocked at the destruction, then gleeful at the destruction, then disappointed at the lack of large groups of survivors to put up a fight (“Sorry Gantrithor, we were in a rush”) – and then annoyed at the casual conversation about things he didn’t understand completely.
Well, with any luck recovering 220 kids would please Dumbledore and calm the hysteria in core. Vekxin must have pushed it too far with the direct recruiting in Core: Kevin had been recruiting at Hogwarts for a bit over a decade, and it had never resulted in much fuss before – but he only got a modest number each year, not more than a hundred in a few weeks, and he fully explained in advance. Kevin shipped them back to Hogwarts while the going was good. They had virtually all of them from there, and probably most of the ones who’d come in from Core on that adventuring-lure – and he wanted to get them secured, patched up, and unaddicted before anything had a chance to go wrong.
The party got pretty wild. Marty got extremely drunk and, along with some of the Thralls, took full advantage of various willing young dark elves and semi-willing slaves. Kevin made a note to come by and pick up the children later. Even if the new rulers didn’t see halfbreeds as automatic slaves, he had been able to buy a bunch of them on the last visit – and there would be plenty of residual prejudice. Marty would prefer his more mortal children raised in Core where it was safe anyway.
Meanwhile, back on Ealor, the Singularites had been visiting Core and hunting for an Opener, or at least some Gatekeepers, of their own – and had found out just how rare (and thus expensive to hire) they were. One Gatekeeper out of every 46,000 people – most of them originating in Core. An estimate of somewhat under 1300 Openers spread over an estimated five trillion people. Roughly one in four billion – and almost all of them originating in Core.
With enough training they just MIGHT be able to produce a Gatekeeper of their own, and they were trying to hire some on a permanent basis – but at the moment they were pretty dependent on the two youngsters Kevin had left with them. Unfortunately, the kids didn’t seem to be open to offers to change employers. They weren’t even charging for their services – although Kevin and company did seem to expect free technical support on that old military AI they’d picked up (which was doing some pretty odd things as well). Maybe Kevin could be convinced to hire them out on a regular basis.
Besides: there had to be SOME sort of explanation of how Gatekeepers and Openers pulled their tricks. Once they had a theory, there would surely be some practical results – technological ways to do the same thing, or at least – for a start – effective methods of training them and amplifying their abilities! “Magic” it might be – but that had to be some sort of field-phenomena tuned by the central nervous system, even if the “soul” entered into it somehow. Godel might have proved that there would always be new phenomena to explain, but he’d also proved that – once observed – there were always terms in which they could be understood.
The theorists moved into high gear when the reports that a pair of Openers and a couple of squads of Gatekeepers had moved a planet between universes came in. Even if they were merely acting as catalysts, the amount of energy involved in moving a world was astounding – and digging into the reports indicated that the gatekeepers had been kids a lot like the ones currently working for them – and that both Kevin and Marty had been involved. Apparently in a supporting role – but most of whatever had been involved simply hadn’t registered in the records.
This Ryan fellow was definitely worth looking into as well. He already seemed to be using technology to amplify his abilities – which might be a better explanation for planet-moving than a crowd of talented children.