Federation-Apocalypse 40: Counting the Rosary

   With Jarvain in an alcoholic stupor (they stuffed him back into the Mirage) and Arxus’s tale complete, they began to wonder what would happen if the Mirage took a drink somehow. It had immersed itself in the fountain last time around – without effect – so evidently it would have to incorporate it into itself in some fashion. Maybe a dose in the reactor fuel tanks? Or add it to the magical focal points?

   The Mirage decided that it would like to try – but felt that it would like a functional pilot first.

   Kevin wasn’t entirely sure of Jarvain’s mental capacity while awake – firing multiple nuclear warheads at an illusion at point-blank range, not realizing what was likely to happen when you spent a couple of months having regular unprotected sex with a young woman, not noticing that the Cadets were adolescents rather than young adults, and his tendency to drink himself unconscious when frustrated, raised certain doubts – at least about his adaption to the Manifold – but it probably wasn’t the time for that kind of speculation.

   First things first, notify the House and see if they wanted to put some guards on the place or something. Kevin checked with the Thralls there to see if the House was currently under siege, or if they were aware of any way in which the communications might be monitored. In both cases, the answer was “no” – although monitoring was presumably possible, and the House had been taking new precautions.

   They placed the call, discussed things without specific references, found that “M” was somewhat concerned about possible side effects (not too bad so far), and more worried about the possible long-term issues of dealing with such a thing. He wanted to bring in some experts and some guards, so Kevin set up a gate between the main cavern and a secure location outside of London. The troops started arriving almost immediately thereafter.

   Marty wasn’t having much luck with probing his new memories after the scene with the guy in black touching “his” head – but everything before that was available. Another swig from the pool gave him an additional set of memories – of being a secret service agent in the service of a president and vice president he’d despised. He remembered the constant struggle to hold his temper as he guarded the VP and escorted her on her “important” duties, acting as a baggage handler, dog walker, and general gofer – until one day there was a coup. Against his better judgement – and his instincts telling him to abandon her to her fate – he’d successfully escaped with her, killing friends and colleagues to get the next-in-command to a safe location, all the while cursing his fate to be doomed to protect an idiot woman who might be the last hope for the republic.

   There had been weeks on the run, making his way south towards friends on one of the bases he had spent time at, meeting up with resistance forces and being a part of a major battle as the republic rearguard tried to hold a launch facility long enough to let their major forces escape to orbit. He could clearly see his death in that battle, as he was hit by a hypersonic artillery shell.

   That didn’t breach the barrier on the conclusion of that first set of memories though. Still, this one had clearly showed a death. Did “not dying” means that he’d transferred to a new incarnation without his body actually dying, that his spirit had been thrown out, or that the state of his mind after that point was too alien for him to process at the moment? Could that body still be active as an undead? Could he meet “himself” and do battle?

   What? It was a natural thought for someone from Battling Business World!

   Oddly enough, being inside the Mirage did help shield Arxus. Perhaps because it was a spirit firmly anchored in its own body, whereas his was only a manifestation? After all, Arxus’s body probably wasn’t truly physical, or it wouldn’t change so readily as his energy levels shifted. Kevin put up a few more wards anyway, but it didn’t look as if whatever had been holding him (presumably Merlin, at least by current theories), would be able to drag him back at all easily – if he was even missed anytime soon; after all, a fraction of himself had been left behind.

   They’d still need someplace safe for him, but he should be stable for the moment.

   One of the Thralls from Core tried a sip, and had a vision as well – but, in his case, it was obviously second-hand; something witnessed rather than something that had happened to him personally. No real hint as to whether the selection was truly random though.

   Time to look into the next room. After all, that was where Jarvian had found the Silmaril, so it could – possibly SHOULD – have other interesting things laying around… There was no direct above-water connection at the moment, but it wasn’t difficult to make one. A few detection-spells, a thin spot in the wall, and a bit of cautious probing and cutting provided a suitable doorway – and revealed a vast room, with islands and distant shores all faintly lit by the pale blue glow, with a glowing blue fountain hundreds of feet tall and of curious craftsmanship for a focal point. It looked exquisite, but had an odd ethereal quality… The water was deeper there, and there seemed to be ill-defined fish swimming in it. Strewn about there were other items – innumerable coins, photographs, weapons, books, toys, disks, bottles, clothing, jewelry, and other oddities.

   They might have left the Underdark, since the “main body” of the Rosary – if that had any meaning – might exist in an overlay or pocket dimension. The islands might even be what was behind the name, since scattered beads “like a rosary” was a classic metaphor for such archipelagoes.

   Well, the fountain could be the true center, a method for filtering out specific items, or just the center of all forgotten fountains. Fountain of memory, youth, rebirth, power, or irrelevance? It kind of looked like someone wanted visitors – but what did memories “want” except to be recalled? Were the coins and items from forgotten kingdoms and realms, lost items of legend, or things from places that had reset?

   More divinations. Even if they only had access to minor divinations, they had lots of those.

   Practically everything had psychic imprints – presumably what had carried the items to the fountain in the first place. Some items were dangerous, most were not. They were from all over the Manifold. Most of the coins, in particular, seemed to be imprinted with forgotten wishes. Evidently the fountain respected classical symbolism, at least a bit. Other items represented particularly powerful emotional moments from lives long gone.

   Kevin was beginning to suspect that the place was – by definition – unguardable, and that it might not be even very fundamentally useful – at least not for much except deep psychotherapy and (perhaps) spiritual development. There were lots of ways to gather psychic energy, and random bursts of old lives were sentimental, but they didn’t really seem to come with much in the way of skills and abilities.

   Well, the House wasn’t going to try and guard the entire thing. They wanted to guard the entrance from the Underdark – if that was truly a transition point – heavily enough so that Vekxin would know that something was there, but not so (apparently) heavily as to deter an attack. It wouldn’t be very good bait otherwise.

   Hm. To check one theory, if Vekxin was important because of his ability to bind Gatekeepers, were any of the kids they’d recovered Gatekeepers? Dumbledore wasn’t entirely sure – some (several percent in fact) did seem to be able to open gates, and seemed likely to be Gatekeepers, but they might just have been using magic in realms where that worked. Vekxin apparently hadn’t sorted them out for special purposes however.

   Well, they might or might not have been genuine gatekeepers – but it seemed likely that there might have been one or two in the bunch. They were scarce enough that it wasn’t very good evidence either way unfortunately. Oh well.

   It seemed that Marty was now on his eighth life – starting, of course, in Core, some six hundred years ago. He’d grown up in the depression era United States. As a young man, he’d looked for work on the New Deal projects springing up all over, had worked on a number of historical landmarks as unskilled labor – and had died in a construction accident on the Hoover Dam.

   He’d had a life as a primitive shaman, who’d spent decades erecting megaliths to bind chthonic powers, only to find – at the end, and as he was overwhelmed by horrors – that the real purpose of the project had simply to allow even darker and more hostile powers free access to the world.

   Hm. Had all of his lives been more than a bit tragic, filled with Stoicism, and with a thing against the boss? No wonder he’d incarnated on Battling Business World. He must have gotten tired of dying all the time… What would Mr Leland experience? He’d shown a lot more interest in the Manifold than anyone else back home.

   The Mirage got curious enough to decide that Jaiden would do as a pilot for the moment. It’s past lives seemed to start with being captain of a naval vessel at the Battle of Midway, being a colonist on the moon, the same alternate-America battle that Marty remembered, and several more lives.

   Back on Core Earth, the Neodog project was coming along nicely. Hundreds had already been received, and thousands more were in shipping. Many of the free ones had shown up and requested work as well – which they got of course. The House also had a few inquiries as to why Kevin was collecting NeoDogs so enthusiastically; knowing several of his agents had made it easy for them to figure out who it was. Had he found a use for them out in the Manifold?

   Kevin explained that – most importantly – he wanted them as staff. He wanted to start treatments for the contagious memes as quickly as possible and, on the NeoDogs side, it was really convenient for them to be able to shapeshift.

   The House was pleased enough with that, and would try to expedite things a bit: the memes were really bothersome.

   Oddly enough, Kevin felt meaner buying the Neodogs than he felt buying the occasional enslaved core children in the roman world – simply because they’ve never had any choices at all. Oh well, it would be very much to their advantage in the long run.

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