With the House buzzing around all over the place unloading equipment and setting up guardposts (as well as employing the Orcs and Bugbears) Kevin sent a few of the Thralls with divination talents out searching through the Fountain for the third Silmaril – or for anything that detected as being highly magical or otherwise special in ways OTHER than being psychically charged. He also delegated several more to help guard the doorway they’d made, and sent a couple of the others to try to determine whether or not the fountain really was a pocket-realm of its own by checking some of those “other shores” and seeing if they still led back into the Underdark.
The group also shipped Jarvain off to rehab for a bit; pickling himself with alcohol simply was not effective as a long-term coping mechanism. Of course, Marty drank even more than Jarvain – but Marty had supernatural healing to handle the physical end and didn’t use alcohol as a crutch when he couldn’t cope. He just liked to drink.
After that, they settled down to think for a few minutes. Kevin wanted to start issuing some orders to get a pilot program for meme-treatment started back on Kadia now that he had enough Neodog staff available to run it – and Marty wanted to get Limey started on talking again.
Marty was quietly wondering too; normally he cut loose a lot more than this. Of course, the field was bigger, and the stakes were higher, than he was used to – and the soul-stealing stuff was just FREAKISH – wait! He knew why this felt so familiar and yet so odd! This was still an in-depth reconnaissance mission! Once he had the layout of the Manifold well enough scouted out, had recruited enough contractors and troops – and had found a suitable “window” to throw the enemy executives out of – THEN it would be time to STRIKE! The very hostile takeover to end all very hostile takeovers!
OK, that probably wasn’t how things would really work out – but it was a background thought, along with wanting to liven things up in Core a bit. It was like everyone there had had all of their capacity for excitement surgically removed.
You know, it really didn’t seem like Mr Leland was a native of Battling Business World. He’d probably moved there in search of some excitement himself.
Kevin, of course, wanted to become the Dark Lord of Core. He wanted to have spending a few centuries in his service and earning your powers become accepted as a normal part of growing up – or at least accepted as a superb career track for anyone who wanted to travel the Manifold. Besides, that many Thralls and ex-Thralls bringing their powers home with them would almost certainly liven up Core a bit. The place was just too dull.
While Kevin was tranced out – a weird way to contact your employees, but cell phones didn’t work across the Manifold – Marty spent some time trying to get Limey talking. What would his first word be? “Battery!”? “Contract!”? (He did have all the regulations in his files). Perhaps “Ethernet!”? Hopefully not “Upgrade!”; Limey was too young for that!
Unfortunately, Limey just snuggled for a bit and then went into sleep mode.
Marty passed the time a bit asking his new friends what kind of contract they were on. It had to be a good one.
Since Marty was an associate of Kevins, and they were assigned to him, the girls were quite willing to explain the terms of their indenture, the powers and benefits they got, how long they’d need to pay it off, the nature of the ownership-bond which would last until they did, and the immortality and resurrection-insurance that went with that bond.
That was fairly impressive in its way. He really wasn’t in Brooklyn anymore – and the probably shouldn’t explain to anyone at home. The cops would be on his ass in a minute if anyone found out – the girls would be underage there – and there were probably a lot of prejudices about that kind of pact floating around even if relatively few people there believed in the supernatural.
Not that Battling Business World had a lot of child-protection laws; after all, it was pretty well accepted that – if you couldn’t find a babysitter – you could just kill the kids. It wasn’t like they wouldn’t wake up as good as new in the morning.
Why, his father had been so proud when he was big enough to get a cyanide-filled tooth as a precaution against kidnaping! Not to mention all the times he’d gotten killed playing pistol-tag, or been choked or smothered before Dad went to work. Later on his father had arranged more child-friendly work hours, so that he could play with him for a few hours before killing him. Ah, those had been good times: “Ok son, I’ve got to collect the wagers. I bet you ten bucks you can’t last five minutes!” “You’re on, old man!”.
That was enough introspection and reminiscence for now; Kevin was coming out of his trance.
“Hey Kevin, that is one damn good contract you have on those girls! How do you back it? Some kind of spell, right?”
Well, Marty was an associate. No reason not to explain.
“Well – the powers are from infusing them with magic, letting them draw on my power to boost their own, linking them to a totem, doing some neural rewiring and genetic work to activate their psychic potentials, and a few other bits. The package – and the link to me – comes in a major transformation ritual. As for the obedience – well, genetic and neural obedience-programming comes with the transformation, drawing on my power to amplify theirs binds them to me, there’s an open telepathic link, and – most importantly – since their souls are bound to me so that I can resurrect them, it would never really occur to them to question the fact that they’re my personal property anyway. It would be mean – and unpleasant thanks to the link – to gratuitously hurt them, but otherwise they’re pretty much available for whatever. Of course, making the bond that deep means that it HAS to be made willingly, and with a full understanding of what they’re getting in to. Otherwise it won’t work.”
“So how do you bind the souls to yourself? I don’t know that much about it, but whatever you’re using’s got to be powerful stuff.”
“I accidentally inherited much of the power of some major Lords of Darkness – whether you call them fey, demons, or whatever – several decades ago. The Powers of Light tend to give you what they think you deserve or need without charging – but they only answer when they feel like it. The Darkness gives you what you want and always answers if you call it properly – but only for a price. Ergo, I charge; if they want the powers, the immortality, and so on, they serve for a time.”
“Uh . . . I’m not that religious, but doesn’t that do bad things to them?”
“Not really. Remember: both the Light and the Darkness come from humans. The Light is born of altruism, compassion, generosity, and so on. Very nice, but you just can’t count on it. The Darkness comes from greed, anger, and the desire for dominance. That’s why it can so readily be used to claim and control. People need both; a species without Darkness is defenseless, and will not survive. A species without Light will never build a civilization. My Thralls may be more inclined towards darkness due to the infusion – but they’ll grow out of it and I often need them on combat missions.”
Marty had to admit that that was damn good contract work, if disturbing to his sensibilities. So they’d all basically been paid in advance for several centuries. His two new friends had light and pleasurable duties at the moment of course…
Not surprising that Kevin didn’t want the details spread around quite yet. The legal issues with core were still under discussion.
Having noted that Jarvain was having difficulties, the House had assigned the group a new agent to take up the slack – Jamie Wolfe, a heavily-armed combat cyborg.
Introductions were sort of informal – although Jamie’s basic explanation for herself (being genetically engineered, combat-trained from near birth, and then cyborged) sounded sort of familiar. Then, of course, there was having all those metal bits. It looked kind of painful, and Kevin felt that it had to be hard on her social life.
Marty noted “I don’t know. It never seemed to bother the computers at work.”
Keven was a bit startled at that one… “Well, yeah – but they’re metal to start with. Wait: do the sentient office machines in Battling Business World go out with humans much, or just with each other? Cause that’s a little weird if they do.”
Jamie was apparently a bit confused by the entire concept of non-violent interactions – and this conversation was not helping.
Marty explained that “They don’t really date. They just go to computer stores and windowshop. I’ve seen some damn weird porn though.”
Kevin complained that now he needed the Mental Floss and the Brain Bleach!
Jamie seemed to find Limey sort of weird as well – and the notion that any complex device in Marty’s world was potentially sentient, and could wake up if abused, was just bizarre. Kevin’s young guards were pretty eccentric too – not to mention the simple fact that Kevin wasn’t much older than they were. Wasn’t he a bit young for an agent?
Unfortunately for getting acquainted, Jamie really didn’t want to talk about her past or her world. There seemed to be some traumatic memories associated with the place. Wait: she wasn’t from that El Hazard place was she? (That involved a bit of explanation – an anime world which destroyed its civilization and technology building super-cyborg warriors and smiting each other with them. It was fun to visit sometimes, if only for the weird creatures and toys you could find there).
That was familiar in many ways, but different in others. Not a close match, but the same general idea anyway.
Still, they could use a technical melee specialist, and the special-agent stealth stuff was always handy. Why not?
Kevin proposed letting her spar with one of the Thralls to see how she did, but she didn’t seem to take that notion very seriously.
Limey woke up again at about that time. Hungry and crying and cranky. On the other hand, he’d apparently accessed some language files, and was up to single (badly-pronounced) words. It took a bit of doing to figure out – but evidently he wanted scrolls to eat. Well, he was a young spellbook at the moment.
Jamie had heard of behavior like this in infants, but she’d never really witnessed before – and certainly hadn’t expected it from a book.
Well, there might be a few random scrolls in the stockpile of minor magical junk, and the place had been a Mind Flayer city, so they ought to be able to find something. They really had to hang around until the House was done setting up, so why not make a baby food run? There couldn’t be much outside of the swarms of undead, and they really weren’t that big a menace. Besides, Jamie had volunteered to deal with the undead while everyone else hunted for scrolls.
Unfortunately it looked like the area they wanted to search – from last visits vague memories of the layout – was guarded by a gargantuan amalgam of zombies. Too big to get into most of the cavern even. Jamie jogged off to deal with it while the rest of them kept searching.
Nearer the monstrosity the smell of rotting flesh was overwhelming. The thing was easily a hundred feet tall and vaguely animalistic in outline, covered in writhing zombie limbs like coarse hairs or spines, and carrying a colossal club.
Well, how bad could it be? It was just rotting flesh after all.
It turned out to be pretty bad. Cleaving through it was an endless task and it hit like a runaway freight train. When it missed her, it simply smashed buildings. Trying to take cover was not going to work. Destroying its club helped – but she still had to kick in the emergency overrides and power reserves to take it down before it killed her. It was a near thing even then (systems report showed 119 points of damage had penetrated her defenses). Maybe she should have hung back and hit it with some ranged attacks first – but, after all, Zombies. Who could take Zombies seriously?
Kevin kind of wondered how the Mind Flayers ever got suckered into this mess to begin with. He wouldn’t have thought that it would have been easy for the Drow to set them up this way. Oh well: he delegated the remaining Thralls with detection powers to rummage in the rubble – which turned up a scattering of first and second level scrolls. Good for snacks, but not very sustaining in the long run. Besides, he thought it was about time to wean him to some solid third and fourth level scrolls.
Marty agreed there, but voted for utility spells, at least at first. Save Fireball and such until Limey had a little more self-control. So: Polymorph Self? Maybe. Eck. Not Evards Black Tentacles. Nobody wanted to put up with that. Globe of Invulnerability should be nice, bland, and soothing – and he could use Rainbow Pattern as a screen saver while Marty could use it to impress the ladies. Symbol of Sleep might do as well: Limey went to sleep a lot anyway – and that, along with the other scrolls, got him settled for the moment. They’d still want to raid the library – after all, you never knew what you might find in a place like that, and the Mind Flayers were dimensional travelers after all – but where to after that? The House would be using the Rosary as a trap (and nobody could think of any serious use for it otherwise), they were still officially on vacation, and they did have a lot of projects of their own to work on, a praetorian girl to catch, and lots of other stuff. Getting Limey back to an adult level, Neodogs, Vekxin, Merlin, whoever had Arxus, whatever happened to King Arthur and the Arrancar, who’d been playing with time – there was no end of projects now.
Anyway, the search turned up a minor temple to something odd looking (like a big ball of string; perhaps some sort of mass-mind god?), a building that was still burning (and mostly collapsed), a building that was sealed with a mystic circle on the roof, and something which seemed to be labeled “archives”. Well, the temple wasn’t important at the moment. The burning one didn’t really look promising for scrolls. As for the sealed building… Well, if the Mind Flayers wanted it sealed it was probably either very good or very very bad and very very VERY powerful.
The circle seemed to combine magic, psionics, and circuitry with unidentified stuff. They took some pictures, but – oh well, it was harder to find a much less explosive, or much more universal, skeleton key than a negative energy bolt.
That powered down the circle fairly neatly and sections of the roof began to rotate as if a giant lock was unsealing. Within minutes a large circular section of the roof about 20 feet across lifted up and revealed a staircase leading to a landing about 20 feet down.
Well, that wasn’t a library. Kevin sent a few Thralls down to check it out while they went on to the Archives. It was just a mystically sealed crypt of unknown origin. The Underdark was lousy with them anyway. The Thralls reported that eventually they would up riding an elevator-floor deep into the depths and found a tunnel complex that was – at least initially – sealed off by an energy field. Kevin left them to take notes, peer down tunnels, and report back later.
The Archives were pretty much undamaged. Evidently the place had some very powerful defenses even if it did just look like the Parthenon otherwise. It also turned out to use a telepathic system, which forced them to remove their tinfoil hats. On the other hand, it seemed to be quite willing to answer some questions. It was a repository and laboratory of psionic impressions, memories, and the lives of the cities inhabitants. It was a library of the collected knowledge of the Mind Flayers – or possibly of Humanity in general. This close to the Rosary it was quite likely to be accumulating information from a lot more than the Mind Flayers.
It did have quite a lot of information on the layout of the Manifold beyond the d20 universes – including some speculation about a possible core reality and the fact that almost all known realities shared the presence of humans, common languages, and basic plant and animal life. They had quite a few ways to display various relationships. There was a tremendous amount of local – and thus relatively useless – information, but some of the diagrams and such were a lot like that pyramid in the New Imperium – right down to the various “plague realms” and including Singular as one of them. The House and a Thrall or two could keep mining – but that was a bit much for coincidence. The Neanderthals might have been unleashing plagues against Core for some time, somehow catching the resulting souls in holding areas or some such (perhaps possible because of their shared experience and mode of death), sending in their own beliefs (such as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) to get them out of the holding areas, and using the Men In Black to try and keep any from escaping. After all, the violence memes were simply another form of plague.
On the other hand, theories were awfully easy to spin when the actual evidence was thin.
Fortunately, the Archives could also provide relatively minor (up to level three) magic scrolls for nominal fees. Marty picked up two each of Fly, Tongues, Water Breathing, Major Image, and Arcane Sight. Limey should find those pretty tasty later, even if he was full at the moment.
2 CP all around.