With most of the immediate details handled – even if the arguing and bickering was still going on in the background – Marty’s discussion moved on to trade. The dark elves desperately needed building and construction materials, food, water, healing supplies, weapons and armor, and more explosives to counter whoever was importing guns on the surface – most of which Marty could easily import from the New Imperium or Baelaria at low, low prices!
Things quieted a lot when Kevin arrived. It looked like his rebuilding stunts had upset people quite a lot; a fact which Dhoul was taking due advantage of. Apparently the surface reinforcements came with plenty of strings attached, but the dark elves needed the priests of Corellon to get out of Lolth’s reach: she was pretty possessive.
It also seemed that both sides wanted to know how he could pull off magic on that scale. The dark elves wanted to know as a bargaining chip with the surface elves, and the surface elves wanted to know simply because they seemed to feel that they were the rightful guardians of all magical secrets.
Kevin was willing enough to share a general explanation: it wasn’t like the basic theory would be impossible to figure out anyway, it was refining the technique that was the trick.
You simply took ahold of the local structure of the weave, feed it a burst of your personal energy, and let the spell ride the energy-ripple. It let you affect a much wider area, at least if you had enough personal energy. Yes – it could be made to work with groups, but the efficiency was poor. Some of the surface elves had used to use a similar technique, but had apparently had a lot of problems with it; he believed that they’d failed to properly refine the feed, so the overload often killed them. Very sloppy that had been. It was best to start with the basic weave-manipulation techniques before trying the energy-surge routine.
Dhoul felt that that would be enough to pry some more concessions out of the surface bunch – and that some experiments would be in order once he got the time – although it would be nice if Kevin was willing to show him a few of the basic techniques.
Well, why not?
Back with Marty, the current discussions revolved around what tunnels to collapse, how to ensure they remained collapsed, what got priority to be sent to the surface, what got priority to be sent underground, what kind of escorts those teams would need, and whether the city was to be maintained or abandoned. The surface elves wanted concessions and information, the dark elves needed food, water, building and construction materials and the rest of their list.
The dark elves were willing to revisit the slavery laws, and to provide details on Lolth’s clerical magic and the layout of the underdark. They weren’t going to let out their arcane magical secrets at the moment: they weren’t trusting that much in ANYONE right now. The sun elves really wanted the arcane lore, while the moon elves were mostly interested in defensive information and cultural concessions – more discussions on the topic of slavery, ending the sanctioned use of demonic and necromatic energies, the abandonment of the underground city (it was just too far away for them to help defend it effectively), and for the former Elistraee priesthood to convert to the service of the rest of the Elven Pantheon, all in exchange for aid and a temporary home.
Marty decided to focus on the moon elves. Some of the things they wanted sounded doable, although the dark elves probably wouldn’t want to abandon Elistraee until they were sure she wasn’t coming back and abandoning the city would mean abandoning everyone else who might come over (and the rest of the race by default). They could probably afford concessions on slavery and the sanctioned use of necromancy and demonic forces though – although how they were going to defend the place without necromantic and demonic magics was another question. Ending slavery was good in principle, but what were they going to do with the 30,000+ currently in the city? Particularly the inherently-evil ones? Kill them all? That was both wasteful and evil in itself.
The surface elves didn’t really have an answer for what to do with them. They’d normally just killed any members of the evil races who attempted to enter their lands. Still, letting them go outside the city would either be asking for it or turn them loose on other people. Keeping them enslaved was wrong – but so was killing them off.
Time to introduce the concept of the “lesser evil”. On their own, Orcs and Gnolls killed each other, abused their children, and lived short and brutal lives of total nastiness. As slaves, they lived longer, more comfortably, and did not threaten other peoples lives. Which was less evil?
That got some of the sun elves up in a huff.
“Am I being lectured on morality by a Thay Wizard?”
“I take it that permitting great evil in other locations is better than permitting minor evil nearby, since that way you can pretend that your hands are clean?”
“What the other lesser races choose to do in their free time is their own business unless it intrudes upon us!”
“Then if the Orcs and such choose to be slaves instead of being killed for intruding on the territory of the dark elves, that’s their business. Why are you sticking your nose in and complaining? Good and evil are only important when you can use them as an excuse to feel superior to other people? Now, if you really want to argue about what is and is not evil, that’s not my speciality. Why don’t you go talk to the Balrog over there? He’s trying to learn prospective since leaving his own dimension.”
Marty sighed as the sun elves retired in disorder. Kevin was just a little TOO fond of prodding people to watch them jump. Better to entice them into agreement than to hammer them with rhetoric or tie them up in logic-knots. It just made them resent you instead of signing a contract. If only there were some way to get across to the surface elves that the Underdark was quite different from the surface in terms of trust… Perhaps pointing out that if the situation down here gets unstable enough, it could affect them, and that a new source of arcane secrets paled before the safety of their people?
The moon elves had an answer of sorts; when the dark elves came to then asking for assistance, it sort of became their business didn’t it?
“Now unlike some of our brethren, we are trying to be reasonable here. It does seem that to us, that this city must be abandoned eventually, and there are those of us who are not keen on bringing all of these orcs and such into elven lands. I am sure you can understand why.”
“At which point they could reasonably be left behind in the Underdark – but as long as there’s an outpost here, there are practicalities to consider.”
Marty seized on that acknowledgment. Outside of city pride, sun blindness, inconvenience, and logistic problems, was there anything keeping MOST of the dark elves from leaving? They wanted to keep open an outpost as a beacon of hope for the rest of the race, but that didn’t require an entire city did it?
It seemed that the major problem was Logistics: the surface elves had been proposing running heavily armed caravans of people through closely monitored tunnels that had been checked for side passages and such. It would be a slow process – but creating a portal out of the Underdark was almost impossible. Even if you could break through the barriers, how could you target it?
Kevin didn’t see a problem there. It might take more power, but portals were definitely his thing.
The sun elves didn’t believe that it was possible to create one, but if it was they didn’t want it going anywhere near Evermeet. (Marty agreed there: that would seem to be asking for trouble). Waterdeep was entirely too human, and would probably see it as an invasion anyway – but then someone suggested the Forests of Cormanthor. The dark elves could clear out their Lolth-worshipping brethren and make a nice, dim home there while they converted the city in the Underdark into a fortress supplied from the surface. It would even make their religious rituals easier; there would be no need to wind through the caves to bask in the goddess’ moonlight.
Dhoul agreed, the moon elves agreed, and the sun elves were so sure it was impossible that they didn’t care.
Kevin advised them that a portal driven through the natural barriers of the Underdark might or might not be indefinitely stable, so they’d need to keep an eye on it.
Dhoul understood that.
It looked like there was going to be a lot of arguing, but also that Cormanthor was almost certainly going to come out on top. It would be easiest to use a Thrall as a locator-beacon, so Kevin had one of them take Hawk-Form and set out from Waterdeep for the place. One of the local teleporters could get him to the general area within an hour or two for a fairly reasonable fee, and… er… Tarquin had divination, abjuration, and transmutation, so he could find the right spot, hide from detection, and boost his speed and endurance to get there. It shouldn’t take more than ten or twelve hours even if he couldn’t get anyone to sell him a teleportation spell.
In the meantime the elves could argue and he could call the House: it would be good to let them know that better than a hundred missing kids were on their way back to Core an hour or two in advance, and he needed to bring them up to date anyway.
Back at Turwin, Jarvain had everything loaded up – including the unconscious kids (who seemed to be recovering with totally unnatural speed). Time to bug out; He wanted to bite Kevin’s head off, and the Mirage wanted to return to Ealor, have Jaiden undergo a full medical examination with MODERN equipment, and have the other cadets given psychological examinations. They had exercised into unconsciousness at Jarvain’s command without even PROTESTING. The Mirage didn’t have much on child psychology, but it was damned sure that that was just a a “bit” abnormal for 13-year-olds!
Jarvian honestly couldn’t blame the Mirage for wanting that
The Mirage also wanted to submit a formal complaint to the head of whatever organization they were working for about taking children into combat – and wanted to know what organization they were with. After all, it had a soul (at least according to Kevin), and almost complete overrides available if it needed to countermand it’s pilots authority, and a full set of regulations on file.
Jarvian got rather cranky about that – and wanted to know what HE was for then – and wasn’t entirely happy with the information that it was because the Mirage couldn’t do everything. It could not adequetly pilot AND maintain all systems.
Besides: humans had startling abilities: they were apparently capable of opening wormholes to other dimensions, of shrinking an object’s volume and mass, of shapeshifting into other forms, and of healing damage at far faster rates than medical records said was possible (among many other tricks). The Mirage itself had been turned into a construct of wood and steel on more than one occasion.
Jarvain listened to that evaluation, thought about it for a moment, thought about Jaiden changing shapes in the cockpit, and fished the emergency whiskey bottle out of his kit. He’d been sort of tuning out the insanity for months now, but this was just too much.
The Mirage correctly identified the overloaded coping mechanism, but did not think that this was the time for it’s pilot to be indulging. The star wars astromech droid seemed competent in many ways, but it simply wasn’t up to piloting the ship on it’s own!
Jarvian, however, was busy feeling sorry for himself. He was in “command” of a mis-fit lance of Mechdrivers of whom he was the only one of age to really do anything.
At the jumpship, the astromech droid was having a fit. It was powering up the systems, putting the drives on (badly and jerkily), and quite frantically trying to communicate something – which turned out to be the fact that the ship was coming under attack. The pirate jumpship seemed to be fitted up as a small warship, and had come around from the far side of the planet while they were finishing docking maneuvers.
Well, that explained the lurching, the fires, the erratic thrusting, and the nearby nuclear explosions. Jarvain headed for the bridge while the Mirage ran some sensor sweeps (it’s instruments were vastly better than the ships). On the bridge, the droid was trying to punch buttons with an extension rod – and what instruments there were showed the shields almost down, weapons depleted, substantial ship damage, and the pirate warship closing with them.
The Mirage was ready to get out and fight, but it really wasn’t fueled for interplanetary distances. It didn’t carry enough water for that. On the other hand, the warship was firing numerous missiles at them. They were already on a full-thrust course for the jump point, but they weren’t going to get there soon enough to outrun the missiles.
Well, the Mirage’s shields and weapons were better than the Pirates – and far better than those of the ship they were on. It would need to get out, and have a pilot, to effectively deploy everything though. Still, if it did, it could even extend some additional shielding around the ship.
It still needed a pilot – and Jarvain was in command of the Jumpship right now. The Mirage might not be able to catch after an extended operation anyway.
Dammit! He didn’t want to sacrifice the Mirage, or get himself, the kids, and his unborn heir blown up, or – wait. He hated to think it – but at least one of the kids could conjure matter. All the Mirage needed was a water source. It used it for both propellant, fuel, and oxygen for its pilot.
And they were, of course, already volunteering eagerly.
The Mirage objected to the idea on principle – hell, HE objected to the idea on principle – but he objected to everyone dying even more.
He sent Sorith – the only one who happened to be a conjurer – out with the Mirage and focused on getting everyone else out. Jaiden wanted to go too at first, but hesitated when she remembered that the child shw was carrying COULD permanently die at this point, that she wasn’t a conjurer, and that Jarvain needed here in engineering anyway. He needed more power to the rear shields. There were 118 missiles en route, and the first wave of 20 was going to hit in less than two minutes.
Fortunately, the Mirage’s shields would help – and it was launching secondary drone-fighters as firing platforms. They started pulling away as Sorith and the Mirage engaged the enemy warship. Sorith and the Mirage were winning – barring some really lucky shots with those nukes – but it was obviously going to be a long fight, and the rest of them might have to jump out before it finished. They only had limited fuel reserves themselves, and they didn’t have enough to slow too much – or to come back in any reasonable amount of time if they missed the gate entirely.
Back with Marty and Kevin, the House was very pleased with the return of the children. It ought to calm the hysteria considerably. Marty was planning to split the office – a secondary branch down in the fortress and the major one on the surface, where more trade might be expected. Fortunately, Kevin had just picked up three new Thralls who needed assignments. Either way, they’d need to either take down the Hogwarts gate or arrange a really solid guard: even though the other end opened in the room of requirement some powerful mage might be able to get round that and invade Hogwarts anyway.
And Hogwarts was surprisingly insecure at times in any case.
Kevin decided to take it down after the anti-Vekxin push was over anyway. Converting the city to a fortress would take a bit of time regardless.
The Thrall was pretty well in place by the time the elves settled on a definite location in Cormanthor. Neither too close nor too far to the evil dark elf settlement, so they could launch an attack but not get creamed on arrival. Fortunately he hadn’t had much trouble in getting there, although he’d given a somewhat larger bird of prey a considerable shock. Sometimes the obligations of being an Opener were a definite bother. You just couldn’t turn away people who wanted to escape from somewhere at all easily. Still, Marty managed to extract a few more concessions in exchange for the gate.
As for the slaves – well, the surface dwellers would not appreciate the arrival of thousands of monstrous Underdark creatures anywhere, so Marty eventually decided to use them to attack Battling Business World London in payback for Lloyd’s attack on New York City. They should enjoy that, and it would be a good way to pay back Lloyd’s for organizing the attack in the first place.
And any excesses would be completely deniable: after all, they WERE contractors. It wasn’t even totally unprecedented, there had been some awfully funny rumors about those “What’s in your wallet?” incidents.
They’d all need ties and such though: even contractors with axes had to show the colors.
Meanwhile, one stable and well-protected location, a few long-term (and thereby necessarily weak, but better than nothing) protective and concealing spells, a nice solid stone arch with sealable gates to anchor things in – the local mages could add more wards and fancy things up later if they wanted – and one local gate… It did take a good deal more power than usual, but having a Thrall in place did make targeting it a lot easier.
The BBW-London gate was actually much easier. The realms internal barriers didn’t apply to that kind of travel.
As a special bonus, while all the elves were a bit unhappy about how casually Kevin opened gates and portals through the barriers they’d found daunting, the sun elves were livid. You could actually hear the teeth grinding in some cases (like the one who’d tried the “moral superiority” bit) – and it didn’t help that Kevin looked like an apprenticeship-age human. (They would have to find out MORE about this boy, and keep an eye on what he got up to!).
Mr Leland was pleased to hear that Marty had obtained some contractors for a counter-raid on London. He hoped that they were brutally efficient – and that the contract was good.
Marty assured him that they were, indeed, completely maniacal, that they got prepared fast, and that they were prepared to undertake the assault on the basis of found loot and a chance to be destructive.
Amarant Solutions would enjoy giving those Brits a taste of how America did business. It was not about “formations” and “supply lines”! It was about blood and plunder!
The orcs and other assorted monsters went on a rampage the moment they exited the gate. There was looting, pillaging, cars overturned and burned, loud music playing, traffic signals ignored, and lots of death and carnage. Blood and guts were scattered on the walls and accumulating in gelid pools. Sentient office devices were having fits at being smashed, looted, ignored, and used to make xerox copies of orc butts. Somehow the orcs managed to set fire to several concrete roads. Efforts to make defensive stands failed miserably in the face of the unending waves of orcs. Some of the big executives holed up in the Tower of London, whereupon the Orcs laid siege to it. Big Ben went up in flames, and one of the bells squashed some executive flat with a mighty gong. Loads of tea wound in the Thames, faithfully re-enacting a similar party in Boston.
It was a bit over the top, and severely bent the rules about involving non-combatants, but Americans – and especially New Yorkers – were noted rulebreakers.
Marty, speechless with laughter, caught an escaping laptop, reformatted it’s hard drive, and set it to use American English.
Unfortunately, that reverted it to infancy. Now it was going to need to be raised as a rude, crude, american!
Meanwhile, the Balrog had gotten into the spirit of things and seized command, using one of the London Executives as a wrecking ball to smash open the Tower of London and leading the orcs against the defenders inside. At least that should keep it amused for awhile. If they could keep it in London long enough for the reset, it should find that pretty informative too.
Eventually the carnage – inevitably – died down. There were still fires burning, occasional distant screams, and car explosions, but for the most part, the assault had ended. Overall, either the Brits would be giving NYC a wide berth for awhile – or they’d be sending in a massive force to try and burn it to the ground. You never knew in Battling Business World.
Back in Core, the reaction to the return of all those youngsters had generally been positive. There were renewed talks about trying to find a way to better control areas of the Manifold, the idea of establishing organizations dedicated to search and rescue operations had been seriously broached, and a few suggestions about establishing programs to properly prepare and train people for the Manifold if they really wanted to go were under debate.
All pretty positive from Kevin’s point of view – although the military had urgent contact-requests for him again apparently. On the other hand, M felt that those could wait for when he was back in core for other reasons. Well, if it did get urgent, they’d ask the lab guys about the link – and realize that they could ask the Thralls to call him if it was REALLY vital. Come to think of it, he’d just ask the Military Thralls if they knew what the military wanted to talk about. A bit of advance information might come in pretty handy with that.
As far as they knew it was the planet moving incident and his connections with ATE and (possibly) with child disappearances – although that had apparently just gotten a lot less urgent with all the ones who had just gotten sent back. They might have some very hard words about him feeling free to make the offer if he found them wandering about out in the Manifold though.
Kevin decided to make sure he had the meme-treatment tours underway before meeting with the military again. It was always best to be providing an extremely vital service for them when you met with people who might feel cranky and had many big weapons to play with.
Speaking of Meme treatments, buying Neodogs was going pretty well too. The fast-purchase script had gotten good results, but there were still quite a lot of them available off the net. The supply was quite a bit in excess to the demand at the moment, so purchases were ongoing and they hadn’t hit diminishing return rates yet. There should be enough staff available to start offering meme-curing trips soon – a good thing, since it seemed to be getting fairly urgent.
For that matter, the NeoDogs really seemed to like working with/for humans, regardless of the fact that it was a really good job for them – if only because they got the shapeshifting and got paid, instead of simply being owned and assigned. There did seem to be some correlation between genetics and thrallhood though: NeoDogs were created from a fairly diverse selection of breeds, and it looked like the more closely related they were to wild ancestors, the less likely they were to become Thralls. Less resonance with humans? Well, that made a certain amount of sense. Wolves had their own realms of course, just like everything else with enough self-awareness.
In Battling Business World, the Reset came with the dawn. There were still fires and such smoldering, but repairs were accomplished with miraculous speed, automobiles were replaced or spontaneously turned out to be “only scorched” (despite having exploded and burned out the day before), people who’d been massacred on the streets emerged from their homes and headed for work, and kids bragged about who’d died the most gruesomely.
The Balrog was most surprised, annoyed at the loss of all the progress it had made, and yet pleased at the idea that it might be able to do it all over again. In the meantime, it got to work on rounding up the orcs.
Well, a perpetual rampage through London would pall shortly. It wasn’t stupid; it was going to make the connection between the resets here and in Moria pretty quickly.
Mr Leland wanted to hire it and the orcs on a somewhat more permanent basis though: with Marty out working on expansion, there was an opening for a corporate raid leadership position. Besides, it looked like the Balrog was picking up a local identity already.
3 CP all around.