The Merrow Mansion:

   Here we have a modest “secret supernatural” campaign setting all wrapped up in a single modest estate…

   On an alternate earth – a realm where magic is strong enough to be a daily part of life – the early European colonization of North America was interrupted by an outbreak of unimaginable horrors.

   One sizeable estate was held by the Merrow family – a cadet branch of the powerful Merovingian family of Europe and a notable bloodline of sorcerers. As the horrors approached, the Merrows prepared to defend their home, tenants, friends, and neighbors – and did so for weeks before, with the grounds of his house packed with refugees, Thomas Merrow died casting a spell that teleported the entire estate to that alternate earth’s “Scottish Highlands” – an astounding feat. Supposedly the spell would recoil, and return the estate to North America, when it was finally safe to return. Unsurprisingly, that never happened. There were too many horrors on the loose, and the local technology – limited to the Victorian era and to mid-level magic – simply could not drive them back, although constant vigilance managed to keep Europe relatively safe.

   When someone accidently bridged the gap between the worlds, unleashing an assortment of supernatural horrors and powers on an unprepared (and almost purely technological earth), they accidently sent along the Merrow family home as well. The estate abruptly materialized on earth-proper just outside of Boston – bearing with it the energies of it’s home dimension. Fortunately, Arselin Merrow – thanks to liberal use of hypnotic sorcery – managed to clear up the “strange discrepancies” in the records.

   The estate is, somewhat ironically, a nexus of Victorian Magical Horror reality, and has infused much of Boston with both magic and supernatural horrors. Fortunately, the house is protected by an assortment of powerful spells – although the grounds have far weaker protections. The most dangerous areas are the underground, the estate was built on an Indian burial mound, whose tunnels have been used as everything from crypts to wine cellars. They were sealed off eventually, and have been virtually forgotten – although things are now escaping from the tunnles into unsuspecting Boston. Partial maps from the period, as well as the spells used to pass the seals, are in the family archives. Sir Thomas Merrow was buried there, he has occasionally appeared to provide warnings, give advice or assistance, or act as a cryptic, mysterious, plot element. There are also some “lost” rooms hidden by old spells, for various reasons.

   Conforming to fantasy conventions and the nature of a mage’s mansion and its grounds, there is no floor plan, although rooms are described for scenes “set” in them. Arselin, as the current master of the house, should always know where to go; if everyone is in the drawing room when a scream is heard, Arselin may leap to his feet, abruptly exclaiming “The lakeside pavilion !” – and will be quite right. Most rooms do belong to particular floors however, as listed below:

  • First Floor: Reception Hall, Grand Ballroom, Lower Gallery, Grand Staircase (up), Music Room, Kitchens, Indoor Garden, Terrace, Formal Dining Room, Reception Hall, Grand Salon, Drawing Room, Hall of Fountains, Hall of Mosaics, Main Foyer, Cloak Room, Morning Room, Parlor.
  • Second Floor: Armory, Family Chapel, Upper Gallery, Grand Staircase (down), Schoolroom, Gunroom, Studies, Main Library, Smoking Room, Main Hall, Solar, Sickroom, Conservatory, Gymnasium, Veranda, Trophy Room, Music Room, Collection Rooms.
  • Cellars: Wine Cellar, Root Cellar, Wood Cellar, Carpenters Workshop, Toolroom, Billiards Room, Printshop, Assorted Workshops, Stillroom and Botany Lab, Chaos Well, Old Archives, Plate Room, Chamber of Spirits, Hall of Crystal
  • Towers: Observatory, Foucault Pendulum, Aviary, Sanctum, Main Vault (beneath the foundations), Studio, Maxim Guns, Dirigible Mast, Meditation Room, Dovecote.
  • Floors 3+: Nursery, Servants Rooms, Assorted Attics
  • Everywhere: Labs (some long lost), the Chamber of Extrospection (this can appear anywhere), Bedrooms, Sitting Rooms, Storerooms, Huge Fireplaces, Huge Bathrooms, Balconies, and Secret Passages.

   The mansion has been extensively renovated over the years. It was originally a sprawling sample of early American architecture, but it’s current incarnation is a classical, Victorian, English country manor and estate. Like all such, it is loaded with fireplaces, stairs, bellpulls, oil paintings, rugs, massive furniture, framed maps, and heaps of historical, or simply luxurious, bric-a-brac. By modern standards everything seems both overdone and overcrowded, an enclosed feeling reinforced by the gas lights and general dimness. Actually, there’s lots of room, but the dark wainscoting and mazelike arrangement tend to obscure the fact. The mansion does have basic electrical wiring, but it’s best not to rely on it too much – one reason why all the interior doors have glass panels to let light into the interior. The estate is, of course, walled, something no mages estate would be without.

   Some of the more common items found scattered about include; suits of armor, swords, decanters, paintings, chess sets, trophies (rugs, heads, and so on), spears, coat racks, oil lamps, crystal chandeliers, old books, grandfather clocks, telescopes, framed drawings and/or photographs, seachests, nautical maps, “kinetoscopes”, elephants-foot umbrella stands, walk-in closets, large wardrobes, mirrors, decorated ceilings, wall and floor mosaics, mirrors, humidors, porcelain figures, massive carved doors, assorted musical instruments, small book cases, roll-top desks, display cabinets (with assorted collections), archaic (or more “modern”) weaponry, and odd souvenirs of centuries of magic.

   Specific notes are given on rooms which are notably unusual, other rooms can be described as suits the GM. Beyond a few specific areas, the underground tunnels and caverns are not described, save to note that there are several independent regions; the cellars and constructed crypts, the old Indian tunnels, and the deep caverns. The cellars are generally stone and timber, and are fairly safe. The Indian tunnels were dug thru earth, and are full of restless spirits and occasional monsters. The deep caverns are relatively recent, and mostly seem to burrow through bedrock. Their exact origin is unknown and unexplained.

   To go with this network of underground passages the mansion has a number of secret passages, although many have been either opened up or sealed off during one or another renovation. Arselin explored many of the passages while he was young, and most of the others are on record, but that was a long time ago. He is unlikely to remember any given passage without either time or a stimulus of some kind. There are a variety of secret rooms and hallways in the network, most of them almost undisturbed. There is at least on laboratory that can only be reached through the passages since the mansion was last renovated, which is just as well, as it was a rather frankensteinish lab to begin with. In general, the secret passages go anywhere that’s useful for the plot, routes to inconvenient locations can be blocked by any number of things even if they were open last week. The passages do include an “escape tunnel” of sorts, leading to the stairs down to the underground docks. The main passage comes up concealed in a hillside at some distance from the house, near the pond. Passing through the escape route requires a set of special keying spells, as does going thru many of the passages – especially those that go down.

   The mansion is currently located a bit up the coast from Boston, a fairly convenient position that’s handy for the shops, airport, general hospital, and a selection of other things that adventurers are often looking for. It has a somewhat forbidding aura due to the number of warding spells around it, with the outer wall this tends to discourage casual visitors, but not overtly so.

   As a classic English estate, the manor is an almost self-sufficient community, with farmers, cottages, and an assortment of outbuildings and miscellaneous people who work in the area. While the pattern is a bit more feudal then Victorian, this is a direct consequence of the generally unpleasant supernatural “ecology” the structure has escaped from. The area supports some twenty-five families, and will doubtless continue to do so – although things may become a bit annoying if some alien invasion or realm overruns the surrounding area. Besides the usual assortment of sheds, barns, cottages, and so on, it has some more unusual areas, as noted below. As a massive dimensional hardpoint, the mansion carries it’s own reality – a Victorian horror-dimension with midrange magic – with it. That reality is found in it’s pure form within the manor, dominates the estate proper is a dominant zone, and can still be tapped into for several miles around the estate.

   The Boathouse is on the edge of the estates small lake and stream. It contains nothing larger then rowboats and canoes as nothing much larger can navigate the stream. It is sometimes used by those wanting to putter around on the lake, but is otherwise fairly quiet. Thanks to the water it is heavily populated with frogs and moss. The small second floor was originally used as storage, it was converted to an apartment/study by David Merrow about 15 years ago so he could look out over the water while he wrote. Presently its full of Michael Summers (a guest of Arselin’s and a character who was too amusing to refuse; a genetically engineered otter trained for espionage purposes) otter furniture and his multi-million dollar satellite link and “junior achievement global electronic espionage kit”. The gear was mostly “donated” by unsuspecting laboratories and cutting-edge intelligence operations, and is substantially ahead of the common state-of-the-art. As no one else knows much about his gear, and Michael is missing right now, it’s currently going unused. Thanks to Michaels own reality-tinkering, the second floor – but very little more – supports such high-technology shenanigans, if only barely.

   The Hedge Maze includes a fair number of tiny nooks, glades, trees, grottos, statues, and fountians. Outside of it’s habit of rearranging itself when no one is looking, it seems to be relatively normal. One grotto does hold a small cave, but it’s only 25 feet deep. It has a nice sandy floor, a small spring, and a couple of chairs as befits a fairly popular picnic spot. The maze has two “centers”, a classic Grecian court and a tiny oriental pavilion overlooking a small pond and a mossy garden.

   The Stables are fairly elaborate if a bit unmaintained since Aunt Elinora took to her bed. The small complex includes a smithy, tack room, hayloft, paddock, and so on. The stablemaster is sulking about the lack of fox hunting in the area, but the smith has found a new hobby – tinkering with automobiles. He can usually be found either here or in the carriage house. Like most such minicomplexes on the estate the stables include a set of apartments for the stablemaster, the smith, and up to four grooms, although there are rarely that many actually staying there, unless it’s foaling time.

   The Chapel has been in use for the past 240 years, and so has been imbued with a formidable spiritual energy. Clerical powers are amplified within it somewhat, and even amateurs occasionally get some results – which makes it a popular place to hide in a magical dimension with far too many horrors about. The chapel includes a small reliquary, vestry, belltower, and an attached cottage for the priest- at present the Deacon Aloysius Uwell, a secret follower of the Anselm Heresy.

   The Folly is a classical “roman ruin”, set on top of a small hill. It is in the form of a small “temple” and includes a replica, underground, Mithric chapel with a hidden stairway / trapdoor / entrance somewhere inside the surface chambers. Reputedly, the “chapel” connects to the underground passages underlying the estate. While the entrance has been sealed and lost for generations, it might provide an unexpected way down. According to one story, when the door was sealed, a dark mage and his followers were trapped inside, converting the rooms to a crypt. While this is probably an exaggeration it is quite possible that the area was actually used by some secret society at one point or another, after all, why waste a perfectly good, isolated, secret chamber?

   The Underground Docks are from after the estates teleportation to “Scotland”, and originally connected with the sea. They were used for a little genteel smuggling around 150 years ago, during a period of exceptionally oppressive government policies. Since then the docks, and their associated storerooms, have been almost forgotten. If they were included in the estates “return” trip, they probably still connect to the sea – although the new outlet is likely to be underwater. The stairs were constructed magically, but the underground cavern and small river were natural features, as was the link with the ocean.

   The Springhouse also served as the icehouse before the pantry was charmed to remain cool. Since running water is now available throughout the estate, it’s basically ignored today. Like any icehouse, it has enormously thick and virtually soundproof stone walls, no windows, a thick, heavy door, and is partially underground. It’s a very private place. Arselin has been thinking about letting the weird scientists use it as a lab.

   The Amerindian Longhouse is a remnant from America, it was built by a small group of Indians who were helping defend the estate against what they saw as an invasion of unnatural horrors. There are still a few people on the estate who’s ancestry includes them, they tend the place in an attempt to preserve part of their culture. It currently has a live-in maintenance man, one Jacob R. Ghostfire, a relatively minor student of shamanic lore and magic. Thanks to him the longhouse is part museum and part medicine lodge.

   The Tenant Cottages are unusually modern for Victorian structures, a consequence of the Merrows regular renovations (and the “frozen” technology typical of most fantastical realms). As “typical” English cottages they usually have a large, multipurpose, main room with a semi-separate kitchen, a master bedroom and a small second floor or “loft”, sometimes divided into smaller rooms for children or relatives. The cottages have modest cellars, usually reached by a trapdoor and ladder or from the outside, that serve as root cellars and general storage areas. The most recent renovations included adding addition of brick or flagstone floors, piping in gas for cooking and lighting, inside plumbing, and running water (cold, although copper heating tanks set into the fireplaces provide some hot water). This general rebuilding also required renewing the cottages assorted reinforcing spells, making them considerably tougher than solid stone. Combined with the various minor warding spells on the cottages, this gives the tenants a fair feeling of security.

   Other “standard” features of the cottages include a kitchen garden and a small barn / toolshed / workshop used to shelter livestock, farm wagons, and assorted tools. Some have been wired for electricity since the estates arrival in the USA, mostly for those guests who decide to take up residence in a vacant cottage as – in the Victorian-Reality dominant zone – it’s usefulness is limited.

   The Estate’s small Brewery is fairly typical operation for the period, when every tavern brewed it’s own ale. While more variable then commercial beers, the quality is generally superior and the potency is certainly far higher. The brewmaster (Dion O’Cyrus) also dabbles in distillation, mead brewing, and even winemaking, if only to the extent of 40-80 bottles a year. How he manages to get even that many grapes from his small greenhouse remains a mystery. Dion works out of his own somewhat modified cottage.

   The Gatehouse is a bit more substantial then it looks, unlike most Victorian gatehouses, it’s a lot more then a house for the gatekeeper. The gatekeepers window is enchanted to show the true form of those who pass thru the gates, penetrating disguises of whatever type – unless they’re very very good or are backed with considerable magical or psychic power. Similarly, the gates will resist attempts to open them from the outside; it takes a great deal of power to overcome their resistance. The house itself is quite defensible and well warded. Currently the gatekeepers major duties are announcing visitors and getting the mail. He’s also responsible for accepting packages, and sometimes for delivering pizza, a duty he usually gets well tipped for or sends one of his kids to take care of.

   The Pavilion overlooks the lake and the formal garden, outside of being used for occasional garden parties and shelter from the rain the pavilion usually goes almost unused. It does have a small “basement” set back into the hillside for storing such things as; crochet sets, tennis gear, cricket bats, and so on. Such sports are usually played on the courts in the formal garden.

   The Carriage House is by the stables, the second floor is a set of apartments for the coachman, now a sinecure for the most part, as Arselin prefers to drive his car. The lower floor is a towering space, designed to store coaches which often stand eight feet tall plus driver. It has several stalls, basic stabling arrangements for unusual occasions, several coaches, and assorted tools and supplies to repair them with. It also holds Arselin’s pet steam-powered automobile, plenty of tools, and often Jonathan Marden, the manorial smith, who has developed a keen interest in steam engines, automobiles, and odd mechanisms. Hopefully, no one will give him any Jules Verne novels for inspiration, otherwise he may well be the occult’s answer to weird science.

   The Stanley Steamer is a Victorian-age automobile – albeit one capable (once the steam has built up) of exceeding 100 MPH and far more sturdily built than most current cars. The Stanley Steamer has only fifteen major moving parts, gets about 60 miles “a gallon” and – as the engine need not contain a series of explosions – is virtually silent. The engine takes anything burnable, including kerosine, paraffin, gasoline, and coal. It has no transmission, gearshift, clutch, or spark plugs and travels in reverse at full speed. Sadly, the Steamer does require 2 to 25 minutes to build up pressure (depending on the weather) unless special measures are used.

   Arselin has magically rendered his pet vehicle even tougher than it used to be.

   The Formal Garden is really almost normal, at least to look at. Despite the fact that the gardeners never go near the place it is impeccably maintained, persistent rumors about walking, talking, rabbits can probably be traced to the works of the Reverend Charles L Dodgson – or at least the Merrows hope that they can. They include a selection of statues, fountains, benches, paths, small fruit trees, tables with umbrellas, arbors, gazebos, and sundials. The formal gardens form a semicircle around the lake and slope gently up to the surrounding hills.

   The Kennels are near the stables and house the estates various dogs, mainly a pack of fox hounds. Other dogs kept here include a pair of Irish Wolfhounds and a few bird dogs. Sheep dogs and such are kept by individual tenants as are a few “second sighted” watchdogs. Such animals are highly valued in the estates home universe – and make good plot devices.

   The Bestiary was/is a small zoo, dating back to a very enthusiastic naturalist (Samuel Merrow) about a century ago. Today, the only buildings in regular use are the aviary and the cattery, both due to the hobbies of the current generation. The aviary is stocked with a fair collection of tropical birds, mostly hummingbirds. It has recently attracted the attention of the curator of the Boston Museum, an avid student of unusual species. The cattery still provides quarters for David Merrow’s favorite hunting cats, a breed related to the cheetah. Thanks to their naturally domesticateable nature and to a bit of magical training, the cats can safely be left to roam the estate, although they do startle visitors.

   One of the Wells reportedly connects to the old Indian passages through an underwater passage or sliding section of wall. As just which well it is remains unknown, all the wells have been magically warded.

   The Mews are a remnant from a period around 120 years ago, when hawking extremely fashionable. The building is now used as a storage area, although one small room is still used for birds by the stablemaster, who likes the hobby.

   Despite the oddities, the estate includes a great many perfectly normal places, such as the fields and hedgerows, the kitchen garden, the laundry, the smokehouse, and (despite expectations) the church graveyard. Even the family crypt is quite normal and, like most burial sites in the horror-reality of the estate – will probably remain that way as long as regular maintenance is performed. Sadly, with the estate spreading its reality to the surrounding area, other abandoned graveyards in the area are likely to become perilous places all too soon.

   Part of the old Indian Mound still stands on a section of the grounds, primarily because the ground around it is a bit swampy due to a small stream. Odd activities are sometimes seen there during solstices, equinoxes, and eclipses, but the place is otherwise quiet enough. It’s even a popular spot to pick berries in the fall.

   Several adventurers used to spend a good deal of time around the estate, including Arselin Merrow (a cryptomancer and the current owner), Bryan Daniels (an expert on weather and purification magic), Maria (an enhanced – and more or less benign – werewolf), “Robin Hood” (a skilled scout and minor telekinetic), Michael Summers (a genetically-engineered otter trained for espionage operations. If he ever gets back from his attempt to rescue the other otters in the project he’s likely to settle down and become a family otter, although he’s likely to continue as a communications and research coordinator), and Eugen Slade (a psychic hacker).

The Mansion Proper :

   The Trophy Room is a veritable museum of odd wildlife, creatures, and mementoes. While hunting trophies are the most numerous type of exhibit, the collection includes many such oddities as; a blasted suit of once-animated armor, two life-like posed werewolves in stasis fields (good for many centuries), a weretiger skin rug, a set of fangs from a sea serpent, a couple of stuffed carnosaurs (Theron Merrow went to great lengths to find new places to hunt), fragments of the shattered Corpsefire Ruby, a headless mummy, the Akenaten Scepter, a pair of stuffed Minotaurs carrying submachine guns, and many other oddities. Assorted family mementoes and journals are another large category, mostly commemorating “high points” in the family history. Most of this stuff has little, if any, “power” remaining, outside of possible clues about the nature and weaknesses of any recurring menace from the past, it probably has little relevance today – although it does tend to startle visitors.

   The “Conservatory” is actually a good-sized greenhouse wrapped around the southern corner of the mansion. The associated rooms include (a); stillroom, potting room, drying room, compounding room with medicinals cabinet, and assorted storage rooms. It’s primarily devoted to exotic, unusual, medicinal, and/or magical, plants and herbs. Things which merely need a bit of a “start” on spring are planted in cold frames in the garden rather then in the conservatory. The complex also includes a physicians apartment and a small infirmary, conveniences which are rarely used unless there’s an epidemic.

   The Chamber of Extrospection is an enormous hall lined with mirrors which, if gazed into, present scenes from other times, places, dimensions, and aspects of reality, or the depths of the viewers mind. This power can be purposely activated, used to communicate, or even used as a portal – but the scene cannot be shifted and the trip is sometimes one way. Only skilled mages can use the chamber, even the time required to reach it depends on how skilled the seeker is in the arcane arts. Selecting the “correct” mirror requires skill in divination, parting the curtains requires knowledge of manipulative magic, and activating a mirror requires skills in conjuration. Depending on the user’s skills, this can result in an uncontrolled portal, (semi-) controlled scrying, communication, opening a controlled portal – or even keying the portal to allow reopening the rift for a return trip (an ability requiring a true master of the recondite arts).

   Note that – for the purposes of this room – it is possible to try to use magic “unskilled”, but this means that the GM rolls the dice; you never know how good your results are.

   The “Indoor” Garden is much larger then can reasonably fit in the house, it includes a modest henge, grottos, groves of trees, fountains, flowerbeds, and a small forest of oaks. It’s occasional “wolf-howls” seem to be nothing but atmosphere, although there have been some very odd reports of phantom beings and ceremonies. The gardens exact nature is unknown, it simply “appeared” when the estate arrived in Scotland. As it roughly matches the estates size and layout it could be the area’s original landscape “displaced” by the estates arrival – although the mechanism remains mysterious. It is surrounded by mists, the doors that enter it seem to be freestanding portals from inside, and can be walked around. Wherever the garden is really located, it’s a bit friendlier to magic then most of the household – possibly due to some touch of faerie. Fantastic visitors are commonly more comfortable “camping” in the garden then using a guest room, provided that it doesn’t rain.

   The Library is a complex of cubbyholes and nooks, with winding stairs, sealable vaults, closed and open stacks, and a balcony running around its upper floor. While some books have individual sealed rooms, most of the occult or magical books are in the bottom, warded, section of the stacks in an annex to the family archives. Various methods of cataloging the library have been tried, but with little success, as books sometimes simply appear. These volumes (occasionally collections) are rarely of much use, but are always interesting, as well as being neatly filed on the shelves. On a more practical note, the library is an excellent place to do research, anyone doing so gets a fair bonus on anything related to scholarly research, the sciences, magic or the occult, languages, and medicine – provided that he or she has at least 48 hours to spend researching the subject.

   The Solar was designed to let the sunlight inside, its light wooden paneling, waxed floor, large windows, and many skylights make it seem almost luminous during the day, while even a crescent moon fills it with a serene sea of light during the night. Aunt Dorothea used the solar as an embroidery room until she disappeared some 15 years ago, leaving it unused. Currently the room proper is almost empty, although the entranceway holds a few short book racks and benches. There is, however, a small altar here – set up by a visitor who followed a semi-abstract faith in the powers of light and who felt that the room was an appropriate place for a chapel.

   The Bedrooms are classic Victorian rooms, and normally part of a small suite (bedroom, sitting room, dressing room, and bathroom). The standard furnishings include a; four-poster curtained bed, claw-footed bath, wardrobe, thick rugs, heavy upholstered chairs, wainscoting, and other “antique” furniture. Despite the great amount of space in the suite, it always seems a little crowded.

   The Gunroom is a dark-paneled, circular room near the study and the trophy room. While it (obviously) holds a wide selection of “modern” (Victorian) small arms and ammunition, it also holds a small stock of explosives, grenades, and even a few exotic/heavy weapons from other realms. There is a brass plaque on the wall dedicating the gunroom to the memory of a “Major Colin Barrington”. No one knows why. Common Victorian and items are virtually always available, but the exotic weapons inventory varies quickly as weapons are lost or added. In general, there’s about a 25% chance of locating any general type of weapon, and about a 5% chance of finding a specific one.

   The Armory dates back many generations, and is primarily devoted to such antique weapons as flintlocks, swords, daggers, crossbows, shields, and bows. While the mansion holds quite a bit of armor, only the lesser pieces are in here, the better ones are displayed on racks around the house. The armory does have an adjoining practice room/dojo, notable for its animated practice dummy, if not for its extensive use. While the items stored here are usable in a pinch, they all need some work to make them really effective. The fencing foils are about the only exception, Andrew Fogg (the butler) secretly puts in half an hour or so against the “dummy” almost every day, enjoying thinking of himself as a dashing swordsman. He actually is very good.

   The Kitchen is at the center of a network of pantries, storerooms, sculleries, brewing rooms, spinning rooms, rear stairs, servants passages, laundries, and quarters, which seems to include far more rooms, nooks, corners, poorly – lit passages, old barrels, strings of herbs, and casual obstacles then could reasonably be fit into the available space. Anyone unfamiliar with the area is likely to get lost within moments of venturing into this maze, even the servants get lost sometimes. The kitchen proper is a massive, “unfinished” room with a high ceiling and exposed beams – which support a huge array of tools, spices, and supplies, with shelves that go all the way up to the ceiling (several ladders are available to reach the upper shelves). The fieldstone walls and floor are blackened and stained by centuries of smoke, as is the massive hearth which dominates the room. A small gas range – a recent addition – looks very much out of place. While running water is on tap, the old pump is still intact. The kitchen is the private domain of Telerie Kant, who is very critical of anyone invading her kitchen.

   The Hall of Fountains is wrapped around the first floor of the house, and contains eleven fountains. Most of the fountains are unremarkable, although their styles vary from Grecian to small and mossy. The halls centerpiece is the firefountian – which enhances its spouts and pool with a crackling aura of light. The precise purpose of this display is unknown, but the energy involved seems to have something to do with time.

   The Gallery is a two-story hallway with an open center and adjoining one-story alcoves. It is primarily devoted to paintings, although some statues and other artworks are included. Most of the pieces are normal, although some have a disquieting “photographic” quality or give an odd impression of depth. The really odd pieces and collections are kept in closed alcoves. These include everything from the nightmarish Pickman paintings to a few that move, and/or, speak. One picture provides its own light, the sunbeams shining from it pool warmly on the floor of the gallery. According to the archives, a few of the ancestral portraits can be used to speak to the people they represent, as such communication is on the telepathic level, such reports may be nothing more then self-delusion.

   The Terrace is a bit peculiar, while perfectly normal if reached by the main door the side door leads to a different prospect entirely, a terrace on an outcropping of rock jutting from the side of a plant-covered mountain. It is always night on the terrace, a dim light provided by the blaze of alien stars, above, below, and to the sides. While the gravity of the terrace is normal, there seems to be none beyond the railing.

   The Family Chapel is a fairly typical layout, paneled in dark wood, and somewhat severe – an impression moderated by older design touches. Unlike most chapels, the small vault which usually serves to store records and church paraphernalia, is magically, occultly, and religiously, warded inside and out (opening it normally requires an invocation from a mage, a priest, and a warrior – all free of spiritual corruption and including the lord of the manor). No one recalls what might be in the thing, and no one in generations has had the nerve to find out.

   The various Laboratories are the result of generations of hobbies and the “frozen” technology of the original world: unlike earthly labs, those of Victorian horror-realities rarely become obsolete. The labs include; biological, chemical, physical, photographic, alchemical/occult, magical, electrical, metallurgical, geological, archaeological, and botanical laboratories, all set up by enthusiastic amateur hobbyists. They have an eclectic assortment of equipment; while there are “gaps” that no professional would tolerate, other bits are magical substitutes for items far beyond Victorian technology. Some do really weird things,

   The Vault is the repository of genuinely dangerous, or otherwise upsetting items; in general, if anything gets out of it, it’s likely to be a serious problem.

   There were other rooms and notes of course, but that’s all that’s organized enough to be put up at the moment. If anyone can guess what game this was originally written up for, they will get the grand prize of their guess being confirmed in the comments…

Federation-Apocalypse Session 53: Holographic Chaos

   Led by Pynthas, and escorted by a group of Martian Marines, the group headed for the emergency shelter.

   Lets see; they were being escorted by Marines (on a world with no oceans), trying to reach shelter before they were attacked by solid holograms projected from orbit (all right, there were all kinds of weapons systems that could be deployed from orbit, but even for the Manifold, that was silly), and… Ah, never mind. Sometimes you just wanted to hunt down the current incarnation of whoever had created a setting and slap them silly. It looked like both the Marines and Pynthas had souls (they must be really near the center of the action: the High Lord was probably one of the main characters), so they’d probably wind up having to protect them; the place was obviously space-opera, so the chances of a clean escape were virtually nil.

   Rushing through a series of corridors into the depths of the palace seemed a bit silly too really. In a spacefaring civilization? Something like a linear accelerator tram to a point a few miles away and deep underground seemed like the only practical way of escaping an orbital attack, at least barring some grotesquely powerful force field or something – and even if you had that, you’d want a way to wait out the molten rock period and a way to secretly drill your way out again afterwards. It’d be a huge waste of time.

   The alarms started going off before they got too far. Sirens, klaxons, viewscreen messages, pre-recorded messages, the whole bit. Warning: Palace Grounds are under attack. Warning: Palace Grounds are under attack.

   Pynthas seemed to be quite used to running as he talked;

“We should almost be to the shelter, it is hidden in the center of the courtyard up ahead. Once we get there, we should be safe!”

“Well, now that you’ve said that, we can expect to be intercepted. I presume the Machine Master knows all about this shelter anyway, doesn’t he?”

“At least we can still duck and cover.”

   Pynthas looked at everyone with a face filled with dread. Marty had to prop him up so that he wouldn’t trip over himself.

“But he shouldn’t know about this place, or the others. We built them in secret!”

“From the guy who designed all your ways of keeping things secret, has various unknown abilities that you don’t understand and can’t duplicate, and whom is the greatest master of technology – that is, finding out how things work – in this dimension?”

“Are we doomed then?”

   The marines seemed a bit indignant about that question.

“Maybe. But if the shelter has booze, we can drink it up and won’t care anymore. And I’m the seven foot tall man!”

“Oh, not at all. Being doomed is boring. Remember! I have diplomatic immunity! And don’t forget the large cats! Smile! You’re not really a target here you know!”

   Kevin considered some wisecrack about keeping the narrator too occupied to launch the attack until they were already safely inside the shelter – but, as expected, a group of five figures dressed in (yet another) weird uniform materialized out of thin air in the courtyard in front of the shelter door just moments before they’d have entered the courtyard themselves. The marines swore quietly and Pynthas actually managed to get even paler. Blasted space opera. Oh well, there really was no fighting the plot. Oh well: the two thralls being cats should be able to look after the two kids, Pynthas, and the marines while the rest of the group handled the “holograms”.

   Well, at least the silly things didn’t appear to have noticed them yet.

   The marines promptly took up positions to try and assault the courtyard, talking to each other and trying to stay out of sight. Looked like they considered surprise and cover pretty vital when fighting “holograms”. The group decided to keep up the “emissaries” routine if possible – which meant sticking to the lower-powered stuff.

“I must ask you to try and keep out of sight, these things can’t hear you, but if they see you, it isn’t going to be pleasant.”

“Easy to do.”

“Do they have any notable weaknesses? Are they stupid?”

“They aren’t intelligent, there is usually a device at the center of the forcefield construct that acts as a focusing lens for the satellite. Finding it is difficult though. Especially in the heat of battle. Otherwise the thing is a nigh invulnerable projection of light and force. I give them a 10 for speed, a 10 for precision, and a big fat 0 for tactics.”

   Well, that might make it awkward for Marty to hit: he was VERY good with a knife, but he still wasn’t at his best attacking targets that he could neither see nor know the location of.

“Well then: shall I send out a few illusions?

“If you can do that, then please do so, that is likely to at least split them up.”

   Kevin sent out a few witchcraft-illusions of the entire group looking at courtyard from down another corridor and then making a break for it. They were only light-images, and would blink out after they got out of range – which seemed to be only a few hundred feet locally – but they might work, and all they needed to do was turn a corner ahead of the “holograms” before they vanished. It might work.

   Meanwhile, Marty was having one of his pocket-Thralls put a “Detect Gadgetry” spell on him. If he could spot the focus-gizmo, he should be able to take it out without much trouble. They couldn’t work much magic in a technological universe, but they should be able to manage a few spells like that.

   Three of the holograms zoomed off after the illusions. The speed was impressive, even if they were just floating gizmos (that weren’t bothering with any kind of an illusion of “running”; they just zipped along an inch or two off the ground. The remaining two took up positions by a bank of shrubs and a fountain near the end of the courtyard.

   Marty’s divination spell worked just fine: it looked like the focusing device for a “hologram” was a three-inch sphere floating inside each one, shifting position pretty much at random.

   Meanwhile, the marines were positioning themselves to take advantage of the momentary distraction Kevin had provided.

“Alright guys, we have two left, we need to destroy these two before the others finally catch on and come back behind us.”

   The marines opened fire, Marty charged in to strike (although the thing dodged a bit faster than he’d been expecting), and Kevin simply tried a bit of area-effect telekinesis: if he could hold the focusing-devices against a wall, presumably the things wouldn’t be able to move – and they hadn’t used ranged attacks against his illusions, so either they didn’t have any or they were relatively ineffectual.

   None of that worked very well. The fool things were incredibly “slick” in Kevin’s telekinetic grip – something to do with their construction, or how they levitated about, or the energy-field they were swimming around in, or something. It was like trying to squeeze wet soap – although he was disrupting things enough to stretch and distort the holograms like cartoon characters. At least it was holding them back a bit – although he wouldn’t be able to do much more in a technological universe. Marty slipped and missed, while the massed fire of the marines had very little effect; they hadn’t gotten lucky. Brief disruptions at most.

   The blasted things struck back with incredible speed too – although they seemed to regard a man with a knife as less of a menace than the marines (the more fool them). It looked like they could “stretch” (or fire concussion-beams) somewhat – but the pillars the marines were using for cover took the brunt of the damage, although they threw off enough shrapnel to seriously injure both of the men. Fast, precise, deadly, and difficult to kill, if not very smart. No wonder the High Leader had been pleased with them. Looked like this one was pretty much up to Marty.

   Marty’s second blow didn’t make it to the sphere either – but it did disrupt the thing enough for Kevin’s push to rip the sphere free of the hologram. It dissipated for the moment.

   Meanwhile, the Thralls in cat-form were healing the two injured marines; they’d still been firing, albeit not with any accuracy – but they hadn’t been in good enough shape to walk. The other two marines, however, had gotten lucky: with only one target to concentrate their fire on, they’d actually taken it out.

   There was something of a mad dash to get into the shelter; judging by the sounds, the other three seemed to be on their way back. They shoved the kids and the wounded in first, then Pynthas, and then themselves (since the marines insisted on going last). The remaining sphere was starting to form another hologram about itself – but Marty simply smashed it in passing.

   With everyone inside and the door closed, Pynthas collapsed into a corner crying, the leader of the marines started punching frantically at a keypad, and the other three took stock of the situation – although the taking stock of the two who had been wounded (the Thrall-Cats were finishing healing them) was a bit confused, and Marty was delighted to find that the shelter was indeed stocked with booze.

“Pynthas? Have a drink. Faerie wine. Good for whatever it is that’s bothering you”.

“Here, use my personal glass!”

   Kevin was a bit doubtful about that – Marty’s personal martini glass held about two quarts – but it wasn’t like Pynthas was much help anyway – and a drink that size got him calmed down soon enough.

   The shelter was well stocked with food, drinks, and other amenities. There was a sizeable cache of weapons, and some kind of power generator. Still, Kevin was pretty sure that the Machine Master could find them if he wanted, if only due to the massed power-signature of Kevin, Marty, and the Thralls, whether they sent up any power-flares or not. Still, the place seemed to be rocking slightly – like a ship on calm waters.

“Assaulting the door or walls are they?”

“No Sir! That would be the forcefield system responding to our movements. This shelter is floating inside a fully enveloping shield. There is a bit of a time delay, so as we move around the place, the system has to adjust accordingly to keep the room level.”

“Well, that’s handy!”

   Ah, military people. Always well informed as to defenses and weapons systems.

   Marty found it kind of relaxing, and sat down to have a drink.

“Well I have entered my lock code into the door, unless they have a lot more at their disposal then the usual holograms, that should stop them for the time being. Enough at least for the high command to respond.”

   Kevin decided to try and startle some useful information out of the marines; he announced “Service Please!” and used a bit more Witchcraft to animate a bunch of utensils and have a light meal assemble and serve itself. Waffles, bacon, coffee, etc – with any missing ingredients either being substituted or produced from nowhere in particular.

“A real chef does a better job of course, but we didn’t happen to bring any”.

“Is that French toast?” (Marty settled down to eat).

   The marines quickly stopped what they were doing to watch the spectacle. Each one of them kept calling the attention of the others to something unusual in the process – a lot like children watching a store window display.

“What’s your poison? Pancakes? Waffles? Bagels?”

   Each of them replied with a different response. The head marine did manage to regain his composure, announced his choice, then wandered off to the weapons cache to take inventory.

“I have never seen anyone do something like that before.”

“Not even the Machine Master has done something like this.”

“Well, yes, but would you expect the bastard too?”

“Good point. That one has no sense of humor, drama, time, or tact.”

“Well, you’re a more-or-less scientific world. There are lots of other ways to do things. I’d suspect that the Machine Master hasn’t really shown you much of the fun in the Multiverse.”

“Yeah, like dying and waking up in bed the next morning.”

“What?”

“Oh, Marty’s from a universe where you can’t actually die. They take advantage of it to express all the violence inherent in the system on a casual basis!”

“It’s fun. Especially when we have elections.”

“Great place for military-types to train too. Practice, get shot or blown up, wake up at home with the wife! Still, what does usually go on around here? So far, it’s been security detail – party – war – hide from war…”

“For the most part it has been more or less just like that. We run security detail these days as those blasted holograms have taken over most of the combat operations. We had been running various exercises in maintaining public order along with the occasional hunt for the pirates. At least until the Machine Master started to act differently.”

“Got a little odd did he? Warping reality with your mind can do that if you’re not careful. Especially if you’ve got no sense of humor. How long has that been going on?”

“Well it started becoming a lot more prominent awhile back. He used to just hide in his workshop all day and the High Leader went to him. Nowadays he is coming to the High Leader with new inventions the High Leader would have had to threaten death to get a few years ago. That was also about the time he started wearing those robes to cover the mutilations.”

“Mutilations?”

“Let’s see, that would be about 3 years or so now.”

“Well, that would explain it; he’s probably gone completely over the edge by now.”

“I am not sure of the circumstances of how he got them myself, other than that he refused to get them fixed. But somehow he has had a lot of skin and flesh surgically removed. He’s missing toes, fingers, cheeks, ears, nose, eyelids, and other bits. I have even heard that he has the skin on his torso peeled back in places, although that I have not seen that for myself.”

   Now that made Kevin wonder if an undead type had moved in. The locals certainly wouldn’t be expecting that – or have any idea of what to look for.

“That’s disgusting.”

“The man is a certifiably nut, that is what he is.”

“Now, now he is the High Leader’s Machine Master, it does no good to talk ill of him.”

“But he has just attacked the palace!”

“He has a point there.”

“Ya, I can’t see the High Leader tolerating this blatant an attack on his authority. I don’t care how useful you are, you pull something like this and you’re as good as dead.”

“Oh, I’d guess he’ll simply disappear into another dimension if he’s not coming out ahead on this one. “

(The head Marine returned) “Alright I have taken stock of our supplies, we have enough food and drinks to last about a month. Enough fuel for three months, and more than enough weapons to withstand a minor siege. We should be all set to sit this one out until help arrives.”

“Oh, if it gets that boring, we’ll leave a note and go somewhere else.”

“Still able to do that portal thing? Looks like you and the Machine Master have similar talents. I wonder if that is why he pulled this stunt? It certainly seemed like he was trying to lead the High Leader by the nose with some of his “achievements”. I am beginning to suspect he isn’t all he is cracked up to be.”

“Well, we’re mostly waiting to see if he shows up in person really. This is a bit excessive as a way to arrange a private appointment, but you never know what an eccentric will think is reasonable and it Is my job to talk to people.”

“How about we get it over with and call him?”

“I suspect the force field will block most local communications, since the Captain here hasn’t been monitoring since he entered the sealing code, and – in a technological universe – most of our magical and psychic methods have too short a range to scan for him. He knows where this is, or he wouldn’t have sent troops straight here – so if he wants to drop by and talk, it’s up to him.”

   That got them some really funny looks from the marines. Most of them were looking like they were seeing the group for the first time.

“So you guys really are from another universe then? Worlds not like this one?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh yes. Pretty much any world you can imagine is out there”

   They gave a brief introduction again, explaining that Marty was from Battling Business World, Kevin was from Faerie, and Jamie was from another weird alternate.

“I just figured it was more crazy diplomats here for the High Leader’s amusement. No offense please.”

“That’s okay, a lot of people think a walking talking cartoon character is nuts.”

“I thought he pretty much ran this solar system. Where would he get other diplomats from around here?”

“Well some of the other worlds in the Solar System make the appearance of going through negotiations with the High Leader. This seems to be mainly a pastime for the High Leader. Stereotypical, silly and amusing diplomats that cater to his personality tend to be encouraged. It also helps pacify the other worlds by giving the illusion of having input on the decision making around here. Let there be no mistake in who is actually in control though.”

   A translucent image of the Machine Master appeared in the center of the room just then.

“Ah, there you are. I was wondering when you’d get here.”

“Well bother”

“You can’t have any lunch though, since you’ve only sent an image.”

“Cute.”

“Oh come on, we can try!” (Marty attempted to feed the image a bagel)

“Now, you have gone to a lot of trouble to make this a private appointment; shall I have the marines here wait over in the armory? They’re military, they like weapons anyway.”

“I am going to have to ask you to please stop that with the bagel.”

“Ah well, it was worth a try.”

“Alright, although I suspect anything we say will be over their little heads anyway.”

   Kevin sent the marines away, and had them carry Pynthas. He was pretty well out anyway: Faerie wine was potent stuff. The cats kept the kids with them though: they were beneath the Machine Master’s notice anyway.

“Alright, we shall leave, but if you find yourself needing assistance, do not hesitate to call.”

   The Marines eyed the Machine Master as they left.

“Certainly. It’s always nice to meet people who take their jobs seriously but know when they’re over their heads. Now then: how can I help you?”

“Now why are you here? It is certain that there is more to your visit than mere trade and vacation agreements.”

   Kevin had to think about that for a moment and consult Marty. Was there really? Even snagging the kids with souls was really just trade, the only other reason was to keep the locals from bothering people. They had been trying to trace the meme-inventor, but – even if he was actually the Machine Master or something – the man was obviously mad enough that this really looked like a complete dead end. Any information to be found here would be filtered through the minds of complete maniacs, and wasn’t likely to be of any use.

   Marty couldn’t think of anything either.

“Primarily a courtesy call: you happened to be involved with a realm that we were working on yet another negotiation with, so we dropped by. Trade is good, the Fey like hosting vacationers, and I don’t like to see dimensions blown up with no good reason – and, since we didn’t know who or what was making gates, or on what system, that was quite possible. I’m sure you have already looked at the agreement we arrived at with the High Lord.”

   The Machine Master’s eyes narrowed as he looked at the group;

“Is that so? So people are not liking my opening gates for the “High Leader” (as he likes to call himself). I guess this was to be expected, funny that the response should take the form of ambassadors. Well bother. It appears that I may have overreacted then. Yes I did look at the agreement – although probably not as promptly as I should have in hindsight.”

“I suspect that every word the High Leader says is recorded for posterity anyway. As for not liking you opening gates – personally, I don’t especially care. Some realms react badly to intrusion – as noted, doing things like sending singularities back. Others are simply dangerous to open gates to. Since there’s no end of safe ones, it seems reasonable to show a few of them to anyone who needs space or resources. Personally, I wouldn’t have that Battletech universe for anything. Is there anything you need?”

“Yes, it did seem that that place was in heavy need of someone with half a brain.”

“Well, as I informed the minister of foreign affairs, it was created for a game that enjoyed a brief popularity about 500 years ago, and is a rather silly place.”

“Yeah, that place is silly. How are they supposed to keep those damn things up? My car’s not that complex, but I need to take it into the shop every few thousand miles for something! And why the hell do they even use mechs anyway! Stabbing’s more fun! And throwing them out the executive suite window!”

“Er… In Marty’s world, if you “die” you just wake up in bed – so they tend to settle all disagreements with low-level warfare. It’s very good for stress relief”

“Cute, sounds very much like a cartoon world to me.”

“Oh, it is.”

“Doing it in a nice suit is much less stressful too! You don’t get hot, you don’t have to worry about exploding, and it costs only a few hundred dollars to replace! I . . . just . . . don’t . . . get . . . it! (Marty wiped his head). I need a drink. But yeah, I’ve seen a lot of weird worlds. Like Baelaria, and Faerun.”

   Kevin handed Marty one of the leftover bottles from lunch.

“Sigh, it looks like I let my imagination get away from me. Now I will have to smooth things over with the High Leader. Curse my impatience. I suspect you will be leaving soon now that your negotiations are concluded?”

“Well, tell him you realized that the system would react to a gate in the palace as an attack, and send “holograms” to deal with abnormal intruders – and that you were trying to shut it down. As for leaving, certainly: we will, of course, uphold our end of the agreement before leaving.”

“I suppose that will work. It still might be prudent to eliminate those pesky witnesses you have stashed away in there with you. Although Pynthas may prove difficult to dispose of. The High Leader seems oddly fond of him.”

   Did this guy have the slightest idea of what he was really doing?

“Hmm . . . would taking them out of this universe do? I’m in the market for combat-trained people.”

“Well, the Marines know only that you dropped by, and wanted to talk amicably and privately – and that’s all that Pynthas knows either. Otherwise they just know that there was an attack by the defense system on the palace, and everyone around here knows that.”

“Well that would work. Call me paranoid I guess.”

“Ergo: you dropped by to apologize for the flaw in the defense system sensors, and didn’t want to do it in front of a bunch of people.”

“Fair enough.”

“After all, words to assist people in reaching amicable agreements is my job – and this is hardly the most confused or troublesome negotiation situation that I’ve encountered in the multiverse.”

“Now in about five minutes I suspect the Commanders will manage to get their overrides running. At which point the marines will arrive to “rescue” you. I shall speak with the High Leader in the meantime… I apologize for the disturbance.”

“Not a worry. I hope it goes well with the High Lord.”

   On the private channel, there echoed a single phrase – “Deserve each other do those two says Yoda.”

   Marty was willing to drink to that.

“Oh I haven’t lived this long in his presence by relying on luck.”

“Oh, I’d presume not, but it never hurts to have some.”

“Farewell then” (The image flickered and disappeared as Marty and Kevin bowed politely.)

   Marty and Kevin went back to the secure line…

“So, what do you think? Pull everyone we can out of here and let them bite each other to death?”

“Hey, it’s what I’ve been for the whole time.”

“We do seem to be singularly short of sympathetic types who need help around here – unless it’s the Pirate King Wrath Pei.”

   It was almost guaranteed that some of the marines had been spying – and a bit of thoughtsensing confirmed it; two of them were staying out of sight and within hearing distance. Kevin sent them a little voice;

“Well, that was silly. Do you REALLY want to be involved in this sort of thing? You might as well come out”.

“Noticed we were here huh? I suspect your weird talents is what helped you find us and not something we did wrong. Am I right?”

“Well. mostly it was logic. Talents only help if you know what to do with them.”

“Well, I find it best to at least have a cursory knowledge of what is going on so that I can make an informed decision about what to get involved in or not.”

“Well, in this case, if there is a war between the Machine Master and the High Lord, there will be a great deal of pointless destruction, possibly – if the Machine Master opens a gateway into a big bang or something equally silly – to the point of destroying your solar system. This would not be helpful. Ergo, best to defuse things, and I would recommend that you stay out of it – although, if you would like a job elsewhere, Marty is always hiring.”

“You can kill people for annoying you . . . and nobody does anything about it!”

“I’m not sure that that’s really a feature Marty…”

“I think it should be.”

“May not be a bad idea, working for a cartoon character can’t be much worse than this place.”

“Oh yeah, and we have more water than you might have seen in your life. And our meat is real.”

“I take it that you can resign if you want, but that normally you have nowhere else to go? Our agreement covers hiring people to assist with the training program for Gatekeepers, so if you want a job with Marty and I, you’re covered. If your friends would like one too, they’re covered as well.”

“I think I will take you up on the offer. And I suspect the others will too. Who knows, maybe in a few years all that will be left is the High Leader and the Machine Master yelling at each other.”

“Great! We can always use people who know how to kill in battling business!”

“I just hope that I don’t live to regret this.”

   (Kevin looked patient) “and there are lots of other jobs too. Multiversal trading calls for a big organization”.

   The rescue party arrived about then. There were several minutes of code confirmations and identity matches before the Captain opened the door.

“I am pleased to say that it is now safe to go outside.”

   Outside is a mess of smoking craters, glass shards, rubble, and occasional bodies.

   Kevin voted for making the contracted gates, delegating a few Thralls to operate them for the moment, getting the neodogs in to pick candidates (any kids with souls), and getting the hell out of the place: he hadn’t seen a side yet that he actually had the slightest desire to help do anything but escape.

   Marty agreed completely. It was one thing when he knew everybody would pop up fine the next day, but he had a lower tolerance for this thing when he was away from home.

   The neodogs could offer jobs to the adults with souls too. Excluding the High Lord, the Machine Master, and Pynthas: there COULDN’T be that many souls around the Five Worlds. Who’d want to live in it if they had a choice? The lifespans seem normal enough, so they’d be having the same sort of soul-fertility problems as Singular, and whatever souls they originally got surely wouldn’t have wanted to keep reincarnating in the place. Somebody could have stashed a lot of souls here somehow – but it was a lot easier to keep them in a place that they don’t mind being, so who’d bother? That was an “I made vast amounts of useless work for myself” strategy – unless, just maybe, the point would be to try and get them sick of being human.

   Fortunately they hadn’t wasted too much time on the entire project.

   They needed to check back on the Linear Developments – Kevin had started a pickup sweep there anyway – and they had a LOT of small projects running. They’d have to compile a list and see what they could delegate.

   They made their own gate to get out. It fit with the image they’d been projecting better than going back to the space station. Running the neodogs initial reports past a few statistics experts projected about 50,000 souls in the Five Worlds – and a fair chance at getting most of them out.

Munashii Ji (in Merenae, Volgaren) Courtier School.

   First up for today it’s a polished-up version of a school proposed by one of the Legend of the Five Rings players – an advanced school specifically for practitioners of Gaijin Void Magic.

   For many, the subtle and versatile power of the Recondite Weave – the Gaijin Void Magic of Merenae – is quite enough. After all, fully mastering the intricacies of its applications would require many lifetimes.

   Others search for deeper mysteries – and those too the Weave can supply; one need merely master the Relationship Theme and weave a link to a spirit who can instruct you in the lore you seek.

   Despite the fact that the secret lies within their grasp, and they need but close their fingers to claim what awaits them, many adepts never turn the key within the lock.

    For those who do, there is the Munashii Ji (Volgaren) Courtier School.

   Of course, they can also find a more mundane teacher, do the research themselves, or use the Learnings Theme as a shortcut – but where’s the fun in that?

   Munashii Ji focuses on awareness of the threads of elemental energy that hang within the Void and make up the great Tapestry of Reality – a multidimensional network of fathomless complexity. While the ordinary practitioner of the Recondite Weave focuses on gently attaching and manipulating individual threads, the practitioner of Munashii Ji first learns to effortlessly see the energies of the void and then learns to see the endless tides and patterns of universal energies and flow with them – gaining a quicksilver grace on both the physical and magical levels. True masters may easily strike at the fragile threads of magic or even let the echo or another’s pattern guide him in the use of their techniques.

   Still, not even the masters of the school truly know whether they wield the power of the void or whether that power wields them.

  • Basic Modifiers: Void +1, Glory 1, Status +1, Wealth 2, and Honor 2.5.
  • School Skills: Ceremony, Commerce, Defense, Divination, Lore / Magic Theory, Meditation, Investigation, Language / either Read or Speak Merenae, and any two other Lore Skills.

School Techniques:

   First Technique / The Eyes of the Void (Minimum Void of 3): You are now able to able to see the energies of the void at all times – perceiving magic, the auras of living creatures, and enough of the traces of void in all things to provide limited night sight (L3 Self-Powered Innate Supernatural Power, 9). Thanks to this enhanced perception you also gain double the normal Style bonuses from the Meditation skill (5) and a +1 on your effective Void rating when making rolls related to Void Magic or Meditation (5). As a side benefit, practitioners always learn to either read Merenae if they only speak it or to speak it if they only read it (1).

   Second Technique / Dancing with the Void (Minimum Void of 4): You are now attuned enough with the void to flow with it, gaining one extra action per round that you may use as you please (15). In addition, if given time – one full round in personal combat, one hour for battles, social, and other complex situations – you may study the flow of energy through situation and flow with it, allowing you to roll and keep one extra die when making skill or attribute checks dealing with a situation or opponent that you have thus studied. Sadly, you may only keep track of a total of (Intelligence + 2) specific situations and/or opponents at a time (bonus die in an uncommon situation, 6)

   Third Technique / The Threads of Fate (Minimum Void of 5): Your perceptions of the Void through the Eyes of the Void expand to the point where you can peer slightly ahead in time – gaining enough Combat Precognition to provide a +2K2 bonus to attacks, defense, and attempts to avoid other immediate menaces (increase Eyes of the Void to a L5 Innate Supernatural Power – which is what requires Void 5, +6). This heightened sensitivity also allows you to trade up to 4 rolled dice for kept dice on rolls for the Recondite Weave (5), allows you to take Weapon Style Elements in your Meditation Style or take a Style bonus which adds your Meditation skill rank to your Magic Resistance (Immunity to a rare limitation, 5), and adds +5 to your effective Meditation Skill Rank when calculating the number of Style Bonuses available (+5 Dice, counts as Skilled, but never rolled, 5. Note that additional Style bonuses accrue at effective skill ranks of 12 and 15).

   Fourth Technique / The Voidstorm Hand (Minimum Void of 6): Your mastery of the void enables you to attack spells, magical links, and void threads. To do so, you must study the effect for three rounds and then make an opposed void check against the creator of the targeted effect. If successful, the target effect is destroyed (15). Your ever-deepening perception of the Void also grants you double effect when you spend Void Points on Weave-related rolls (5).

   Fifth Technique / Echoes in the Void (Minimum Void of 6): Your perception of the world through the void is so great you may now copy any single technique you have recently witnessed up to (Void) times daily, maintaining the effect for up to (2x Intelligence) rounds. Unfortunately, you may not copy more than one technique at a time. (This is a level six self-powered innate spell, thus calling for the minimum void of 6. 18 points).

   Despite it’s throughly mystical prospective and focus on improving the user’s skills with Void Magic, Munashii Ji offers surprisingly good combat bonuses as well – albeit merely as a side effect of various void manipulations. For a character who is actually focused on the Recondite Weave – a field of magic which is versatile, subtle, and powerful, but which is also generally slow and has no direct combat applications at all – this is often vitally necessary. It still won’t make a specialist in the Weave a match for a serious combat specialist, but it should be quite enough to allow the user to defend himself or herself from bandits and other casual menaces. Of course, scraping up enough points to buy Void, levels in this school, weapons skills, AND ranks in the Recondite Weave may be somewhat difficult.

Latest Material Index

   Updated March 30

  It is once again time for a new Latest Material index, and for updating the main index tabs. As usual, you should be able to find most of the stuff that hasn’t made it into the main index tabs here. For the very latest material, you may have to just scroll down the page. The previous Latest Material index can be found HERE.

General Material:

d20 Material:

Legend of the Five Rings Material:

Godlike Material:

Shadowrun Material:

Exalted and World of Darkness Material

GURPS Material:

Taimushifuto Mugen Courtier School

   Today it’s something for the Legend of the Five Rings game – a very obscure Courtier School.

   Many people vaguely realize that Yume-Do stands outside of time – although few ever think on that fact too deeply. They dream of spirits, of people long dead, of possible futures, of strange (or nightmarish) alternate worlds – and they dismiss those dreams with the dawn, allowing them to vanish like mist. Some few have learned to exploit such visions, drawing a rich harvest from the seas of dream – sending dreams to themselves and others in the past, foreseeing possible futures and preparing therefor, and revealing long-set plans to meet contingencies that they had not even imagined an hour ago.

   Sadly, there are reasons why humans do not normally sail and trade upon the seas of dream. To do so too much or too often will lead to confusion over time and place within Ningen-Do, to a tendency to be bemused by the realm of dreams while waking, and even – in extreme cases – to memory-problems such as the Nezumi (who too walk within the realm of dreams) are prone to.

   The Taimushifuto Mugen Courtier School focuses on using the timeless properties of the realm of dream – and every mortals regular nightly access thereto – to arrange the world to suit themselves. While it offers little or nothing in the way of direct “power”, it is a manipulators school Par Excellence. Indeed, it’s practitioners rarely confront any situation directly: it is easier to set things up so that someone else will deal with a situation for you than it is to do anything about it yourself. Unfortunately, for all the power they can bring to bear, the Taimushifuto Mugen practitioners tend to be personally abstracted, confused, and distracted to the point where they need a personal keeper. A loyal Yojimbo is highly advisable.

  • Basic Modifiers: Void +1, Glory 1, Status 1, Wealth 4, and Honor 1.5
  • School Skills: Courtier, Defense, Divination, Etiquette, Investigation, Lore/History, Meditation, Spellcraft, Theology, War Fan, and two of choice.

   First Technique/Souseiki: The user will have nightly precognitive dreams (5). He or she may claim (Rank+2) Favors per session, ranked at (Skill Used/2) using Courtier to obtain political favors, Etiquette to gain items of equipment, Battle to obtain military services, Commerce to obtain funds, and Investigation to obtain various sorts of information (15). May spend a Void Point up to (Rank+2) times per session to obtain supernatural services ranked at (Skill Used/2) – using Spellcraft to obtain spellcasting and magical services, Divination to attempt to manipulate Fate, and Instruction to attempt to gain training and aid from various types of spirits (10, -5 for the Void Point requirement = 5). Unfortunately, thanks to his or her strong attunement to the realms of dream, he or she suffers minor difficulties in paying attention under casual circumstances – often bumping into walls, stepping into holes, and otherwise seeming half-asleep. He or she will rarely be entrusted with anything too important (-5).

   Second Technique/Shuukakuji: +2 each Fire, Air, Earth, and Water for the purposes of calculating rank-derived political positions points only (20). This effectively provides a +4 to the user’s effective rank for the purposes of accumulating Political Position Points. These extra points may, however, only be spent on buying Contingencies (-5). The user may select five of the skills he or she uses to obtain favors: each of those skills is counted as being one rank higher for the purpose of determining the rank of the favors he or she can obtain (+1 Die, counts as Skilled, only for calculating the level of favors available 10 – 5 = 5).

   Third Technique/Omoide Ounen: The user’s five selected skills are now counted as being two ranks higher for the purposes of determining what rank of favors he or she can obtain (5). The user is now so closely attuned to the realms of dream that he or she no longer ages (Immunity to Aging, 5). The user may now take an extra full action each turn – moving, spellcasting, attacking, or whatever (15). Unfortunately, the user will now often become confused as to just where and when he or she is – being inclined to casually forget the year and location. He or she will also tend to blurt out observations, bits of prophecy, and similar items at random times. Most people will assume that he or she is more than a little mad (-5).

   Fourth Technique/Jikanhanten: The user’s five selected skills are now counted as being three ranks higher for the purposes of determining what rank of favors he or she can obtain (5). The user is now presumed to have arranged favors in the past when he or she calls for them in the present (Immunity to the usual Time Requirements for obtaining Favors, 5). Whenever someone spends a void point within (Intelligence x 10) feet, the user may make a contested void check against them to gain one themselves up to a limit of their normal base or (2 x Void) extra void points in any one day, whichever comes first (10).

   Level Five Technique/Gyakusetsu Touhi: The user’s five selected skills are now counted as being four ranks higher for the purposes of determining what rank of favors he or she can obtain (5). The user may also spend a void point to evade a situation entirely. He or she was never there, any personal resources the user employed EXCEPT the void point needed to activate this technique were never used, and no one else will remember the user being there – but the condition of anyone else involved in the situation is otherwise unchanged (20). Unfortunately, the user is now subject to the same memory-problems as the Nezumi, and must make a raw intelligence check with a TN of 15 to remember things from more than a week ago unless they’re very personal, important, or exciting (-5).

   In theory, this is a casualty-breaking time manipulation school. In practice, that’s mostly just an excuse for a massive dose of contingencies and instant favors – things that would normally take some time, but you get instantly because you “arranged them awhile back” (long before the player or character actually knew what would be required). The final technique obviously is either a time-paradox or really powerful reality-warping technique – but it’s basically just a way to make a contribution and then escape, not an actual time-travel effect. Overall this is a useful school for a heavy-duty manipulator who wants to always have something in reserve and to manipulate really large-scale events by calling in powerful “favors” (described as changing the past so that other people wind up doing what you wanted)- but you can’t REALLY go back and become your own grandfather or something.  That probably wouldn’t fit in with most L5R games anyway.

Black Marty

   Black Marty is another role for Marty Tabard, a wanderer of the infinite dimensions of the Manifold.

   While it often passes unnoticed in these days of flits, spaceships, and convenient dimensional gates, there is one realm that touches more world-borders than any other, that has a thousand sub-realms that fade into each other so smoothly that only subtle shifts in the local technological rules reveal the change, and which quietly carries a greater share of the Manifold’s trade and adventurers than any other.

   The High Seas. A realm where reed boats, wooden boats, fiberglass yachts, iron ships, and seahorse-drawn chariots meet and mix, where a perilous voyage may bring you to shores of legend, and where it is always best to hang onto your purse and keep your sword and pistol handy.

   Oddly enough, Marty, Corporate Raider, fits in WONDERFULLY well on the High Seas. Whether you find him captaining a free trader, leading of a swarm of Vikings, or commanding a pirate ship, Black Marty is ready to loot and pillage the High Seas of International Finance!

   Unusually, the High Seas tends to overlap a bit with other realms: you don’t stop being a pirate captain just because you’ve gone ashore; you stop being a pirate captain when you get beyond the influence of the sea – or intentionally move on into another local role.

   As a note, anyone with a High Seas Identity gets +3 SP worth of Shiphandling (waterborne ships only, a narrow (+5 training) intelligence-based skill) while in that role.

   Black Marty is a level four role, and therefore provides 32 CP worth of special abilities – plus the bit of Shiphandling noted above. In Marty’s case, these include:

  • Privilege/Ship Captain (3 CP).
  • Executive with CEO and Tactician. Specialized for half cost and Corrupted for 1.5x the usual effect: only works on vikings, pirates, and other freebooters who acknowledge his formal leadership (9 CP). Since Marty is currently level six, this will provide up to (Charisma x 7) followers with bonuses of +4 to their skill checks and +2 to hit and damage.
  • Reputation: a great (and rather ruthless) Captain/Leader. Corrupted: Marty must actively identify himself and display his black-and-crimson corporate logo for this to work. This makes any attempt to deny his identity somewhat useless (4 CP).
  • Favors from the Sea and Weather Spirits (3 CP)
  • Berserker and Enduring: +4 to Str and +4 to Dex for (3+Con Mod) rounds (1+L/3) times per day with no fatigue afterwards. Corrupted: this can only be used during flashy action scenes, not to help with picking locks, climbing walls, or similar convenient but non-actiony times (6 CP).
  • Improved and Superior Presence: Corrupted and Specialized: Only works while actively brandishing a weapon, being conspicuous, and being an obvious target to attack. Followers get a +2 Morale Bonus to Attack, Damage, Saves, and Checks. Marty gains a +4 to any relevant social skill roll. Attackers must make a Will save at (DC 13 + Cha Mod) or be unable to attack. (6 CP).
  • +1 SP worth of Watercraft Navigation. That’s a narrow (+5 training) intelligence-based skill (+2x Int Mod, for a net +8), resulting in a base skill of +14 (1 CP).
  • He also gets a free Shiphandling skill of +16 (0 CP).

   Marty is considering picking up the Mystic Artist ability – allowing him to even further inspire his men with his oratory – but hasn’t done so yet. It remains to be seen whether he’ll add that ability to his base character or experiment with it in an identity first.

“Surrender, ye scallywags, or I’ll make ye walk the plank!”

   Within the overall Manifold setting, characters may drop into various roles as they move from world to world. Their basic talents remain the same, although individual realms may restrict magic, psionics, technology, or other abilities – but they may also adopt Identities in particular worlds, each granting a particular package of abilities for use within that world – and it’s always nice to be able to keep your basic character while exploring the possibilities of new powers and abilities.

Federation-Apocalypse 52: The High Lord and the Little Children

   The High Lord was pretty receptive. Kevin and Marty wanted permission to trade (which he was eager to do), permission to hire a tiny part of the excess population (a benefit rather than a cost), and permission to let people visit “Faerie” on their vacations (an arrangement that offered many potential benefits and was – at worst – irrelevant). In “exchange” for doing him those favors they were willing to provide gates, worlds, near-infinite living space and resources, and were willing train candidates – another tiny percentage of the useless children about – to loyally operate gates for him.

   They were vaguely implying that a sizable majority of the youngsters would wash out of the training, and that those youngsters wouldn’t be coming back because they’d be dangerous, socially disruptive, badly damaged, detained in faerie, or some such – but that wasn’t especially relevant. The solar system had a trillion kids available; if his visitors wanted a few hundred thousand of them for something, as long as they kept the screams from reaching the population at large, it would be a small price to pay.

   Kevin and Marty – busily focusing their talents on the negotiations – were rather surprised at how easily things went. Evidently the High Lord really didn’t care about his people at all, had no clue as to the difference between ensouled people and phantasms, and probably felt that the group had been sent by fate to help him achieve his destiny. All he wanted was a few resources worlds and gates into the step-function galaxy. A megalomaniac was easy to deal with as long as you played to his obsessions.

   It was a deal. There was a great display of gaudy festivities and many questionable fanfares.

“Ah good, good, I do so love it when people come to me and give me what I want. It just feels so…. right. Now if only some other people would learn from your example”.

   Well, that about said it all right there.

   Kevin made a show of enjoying the festivities and called for a contingent of NeoDogs to start picking out the potential trainees; it would take them a little while to get to the access point, but he wanted to get started as soon as possible. It didn’t look like the youngsters who got picked out would really be getting a choice about it: it was pretty obvious that Martian children and their parents would get to “discuss it” – with a healthy official reminder that this was what the High Lord and government wanted. It would be “good for the people and for Mars” if they would “go and train”. Other kids would simply get a little time to say goodbye; there would be no nonsense about giving them even a pretense of a “choice”.

   Well, that was fine. It would be hard to imagine any kid – and Kevin intended to try to hire most of the parents if he could – being worse off in Kadia than here.

“It is one of the wonderful things about the Manifold: so often, what is wanted badly in one realm, is of little value in another.”

   Weird. Could’ve sworn I saw one of his camera lenses sparkle at that… Oh. Another blatantly obvious thought “And whoever can control the critical trade routes, whether natural or artificial, get the profits”.

   Meanwhile, Marty was putting on a good face and trying not to be obviously disgusted by the displays of wealth and power. Black tie dinners back home were bad enough! He was a rich man, but he don’t stick it everyone’s faces!

   Kevin couldn’t argue there. Even the Dragonworlds didn’t normally go to this kind of extreme! Ostentatious wealth and waste when your “minimum wage” is “you get to barely survive another day; too bad if you’re supporting someone or sick for a bit” – was pretty bad. If it was at all possible, he was going to be strip-mining this realm of souls. He’d hire the adults for various jobs and recruit the kids. That depended a lot on how many there actually turned out to be though. He wouldn’t be able to get away with a large percentage of the general population of Mars actually had souls, but if it was only a few hundred thousand out of a few billion, he might. Marty could take his pick of the combat trained adults, focusing on those with spaceship-boarding experience. Kevin kind of suspected that his success percentage might not bee too bad in the Five Worlds. It looked like the locals were very used to doing what they’re told and to being property of the High Leader.

   Despite the music and the festivities, every once in a while Marty could hear someone getting the brunt of the wrath of the High Leader – little explosions of anger which sent aids scurrying away like mice from a cat. Evidently those near the High Leader were poor insurance risks. There were lot’s of shouts along the lines of “Find him”, “He Never comes when I ask”, “One of these days, he will outlive his usefulness, or just annoy me to the point I no longer care” and an oft-repeated “Pynthas, you stupid twit.”

   There weren’t any summary executions of disappointing underlings at the party – but Kevin and Marty suspected that that was primarily because they were dragged out back for the executions; blood all over the place spoiled clothes and festive moods.

   They started the “Talking Dogs leading Illegal and Desperate Kids to Faerieland (Kadia)” campaign in the Linear Realms while they were waiting. That should reduce the pressure on the local authorities a bit and it would get the kids out of the crossfire.

   Apparently the High Lord was looking for Sam-Sei, the Martian Machine Master. Pynthas was one of the Ministers of Mars. Although the databases had several titles for him, few if any seemed to have any real authority. He served as an attendant for the High Leader and had been associated with him for at least fifteen years – by far the longest time anyone had survived in such close proximity to the High Leader. He also screamed a lot, liked setting up balls, festivals, entertainment, and the like, and tended to be the bearer of bad news. Evidently the local jester.

   About then there was a quieter fanfare – announcing Sam-Sei, the Machine Master of Mars.

   That quieted things down a bit.

   The Machine Master went in for a veil and a set of all-enveloping robes in gray and black. Liked his anonymity apparently – and drew almost as much attention as the High Leader. It was looking like three major power players – the Machine Master, the High Leader, and Wrath Pei the Pirate Lord. OK, for all they knew, Pynthas could be one; it would be funny if the High Leader was actually trapped in a body that Pynthas was running remotely as a decoy from himself. There was a mind in there, but it still could be trapped and raving mad. Still, that didn’t seem at all likely.

“Yes, High Leader? I am aware that you requested my presence. Is there something you require?”

“Ah Sam-Sei, better late than never, although you are trying my patience. I wanted you to meet these ambassadors that have recently arrived. I thought you might find it interesting that someone might be able do better than you. I was wanting to discuss your performance lately and how we might improve upon that.”

   The High Leader came over with Sam-Sei and Pynthas in tow.

“I would like to introduce you to our local Machine Master, Sam-Sei. A rather talented individual that has made himself useful from time to time.”

“I am most pleased to meet you sir: your inventions are quite remarkable – and far more widely applicable across the world than my more specific talents”.

“The same. I’m just a humble contractor, so it’s an honor.”

   The Machine Master seemed disgusted at having to fool around with pleasantries – but after he got a good look at the group he suddenly seemed to be paying more attention.

“I am honored you have heard of my work. Most of my work is merely extensions of what others have already developed. Nothing that would interest the pair of you.”

   The Machine Masters cocked his head for a moment, looked startled, and quickly darted his eyes from Kevin back towards the main throne room – where Kevin had created the gate – stared hard for a moment, and then looked back again. He then kept his gaze locked on Kevin. Either a strong psychic who sensed the gate and – probably – Kevin’s power, some local unique gift, or another Opener. Not enough data to be sure. He wasn’t leaking any surface thoughts though – so the group ran through the ambassadorial introduction thing again. The Machine Master watched the introduction with an emotionless stare. It was hard to tell though the veil, but the man never seemed to blink. Either another local psychotic or a good imitation. Perhaps he was just using local-rules tech to make gates and travel around? It might fit with that body the High Leader was in.

   Daniel hadn’t used any spells recently, so he could easily run a quick “detect offrealm technology and energies” spell. The Machine Master was surrounded by lots of weird energies, had a significant mana reserve, and was carrying quite a bit of off-realm technology. Definitely not a local. He kept the communications on the private mental link – and eveyone kept to the secure smartfiber links, neural pickups, and inner-ear feeds as much as possible. Gatekeeper at a minimum, quite possibly an Opener; he may or may not know much of anything though. A lot of Openers are more interested in wandering around than in dimensional theory – and more than a few are entirely nuts. Of course most “adventurers” – which made up the bulk of Gatekeepers and Openers – were nuts by definition.

“A talented group indeed. I must keep that in mind for the future. Most fortuitous of us that you decided to come and help negotiate with the High Leader and prevent some awful tragedy from occurring due to a misunderstanding. I can just imagine the High Leader asking me to divert a Singularity being flung at the Sun. I swear at times he doesn’t comprehend what he is asking for!” That got him a cold, bright, stare from the High Leaders highbeam eyes.

“Well, once such a thing has arrived, it becomes extremely awkward to do anything about it – and even if you can, it takes forever to fix all the disturbed orbits.”

“Yes indeed, moving planets is not an easy task.”

“All powers have their limitations”

“And there’s the loss of life too. So many people wasted.”

   Marty’s casual remark suddenly had the High Leader tapping his chin thoughtfully. Might they have set something off? He be seriously considering dimensional weapons, or what they might really want kids for, or something – but it didn’t seem likely to impact their deal. The High Leader wouldn’t think of trading some kids in exchange for more resources as a “waste” – but he might be thinking of the Oort cloud and all the people now effectively beyond his reach. Having them available just through a gateway would be far more convenient. Well, they’d find out sooner or later – and it didn’t matter as long as they could get them away in one piece. He might try to analyze a few that didn’t volunteer to see what their “talent” was, but that wouldn’t get him anywhere – although it might be hard on his test subjects. Not much to be done about that; they couldn’t usually rescue EVERYBODY.

“All powers do have their limitations, but then if they had no limitations to speak of, there would be no point in pushing ourselves as far as we can, is there?”

“True, true – and there are so many places to negotiate trade agreements with! Without visitors, the realms of the Fey would grow dull indeed!”

“And so many with useful stuff to try and take advantage from.”

   Well, that was a rather blatant declaration from Mr Machine Master. Still, if he wants something, he was going to have to get a little more blatant: they could keep up the bland pleasantries indefinitely, since they already had most of what they wanted from the Five Worlds. Was he waiting for the High Lord to make a move, say something, or go away?

“But I must admit, I have much work the High Leader expects me to do, and so I have little time to pursue my own goals. I must bid you farewell or else face the wrath of our illustrious High Leader. Farewell.”

“I regret that out meeting must be so short, but duty always takes priority.”

   The Machine Master headed off, but snatched a datapad from an attendant on the way; the attendant began to protest before seeing who had taken it.

   The group used some minor clairvoyance to see what he was up to.

   Evidently the high leader was still very pleased with their deal; he actually tried to smooth over the Machine Masters rudeness.

“I must apologize for him, he is so useful but has yet to learn to give proper respect.”

“When one is used to dealing with machines and energies, it is easy to forget your social graces. The type is not unfamiliar.”

   Meanwhile the Machine Master was entering a fast series of keystrokes – and pulling up System Administrator Privileges. A few more hurried keystrokes and he was logged into the Mars Defense System.

   Kevin recorded the keystrokes via the neural pickups; you never know when that access might be handy – and if a giant laser beam came through the ceiling, they’d know why.

   Marty felt that such a contingency would really brighten his mood.

   Hm. There was a reflective surface in about the right position. Another little witchcraft illusion – a bright gleam to catch the High Lords eye and a glimpse of whatever Mr Machine Master was up to; it was virtually certain that the High Lord had telescopic vision available. The man was moving, so there was a good reason for it to not last too long. If it didn’t work, well, the cost was very small.

   The High Leader’s attention snapped to the reflection – and he promptly shoved some of the party-goers out of the way to help adjust the angle a bit.

“What in the world? (He called over a man dressed as a guard.) Yes, I said find him. Get these people out of here while you are at it and I want the overrides activated! PYNTHAS!”

   It was always sort of gratifying when you could make this much trouble with so little power.

   Pynthas came running up with a terrified look on his face.

“Yes High Leader?”

   Kevin thought that the Machine Master had been enjoying his own private realm and being worshiped as a genius for importing a little tech – and was not too happy to have some fresh air coming through.

“Damn it, quit trembling! I need you to take our guests to one of the secure locations we have discussed. You are to do this without fail or else you will live to regret it. You are to take what guards you can and wait for me and only me. Do you understand? And I told you to quit trembling!”

   Pynthas’ face went white and he tried to stammer out a reply, but merely managed a nod. It looked like they might REALLY have started something. Hopefully it wouldn’t waste all that effort and power they’d put into negotiating.

“Now I am afraid a little situation has come up and I must ask that in order to ensure the safety of my guests, I must ask you to follow Pynthas for the time being.” (Not a very good sentence: evidently the man was seriously agitated).

“If you are sure that you will not need assistance?”

“That depends on how good you are at dealing with holograms.”

   Presumably local terminology there, since images on a surface weren’t usually a big worry.

“Holograms, High Leader? What’s the problem?”

“It appears that the Machine Master has outlived his usefulness. He has proceeded to activate the Mars Orbital Holographic Satellite Projectors and that alone is worth me killing him. But he was also entering in targeting data for this palace. And in a few minutes, unless my people can get the overrides I had put in place activated, we are going to be dealing with about 20 or so energy projections in roughly human form. What he thinks this will accomplish is beyond me.”

“Some people react badly to the loss of a monopoly I fear.”

“I seriously expected him to be a little more mature about this. Ah well. Luckily I had shield generators installed in my thorax for just such an occasion “

   Marty was feeling like a fight – on the other hand, he didn’t like the High Lord, and was more than a bit averse to helping him out. He didn’t want to let him know that they were more than talkers and gate experts either. He voted to let Pynthas take them to the secure location.

“We shall retire then.”

   Darn it. They’d been hoping that they could score a clean “strip mine the dimension” and get away with the High Lord none the wiser. Nothing was ever simple. Besides: Kevin was against dying. He was quite sure he could come back – but having Ryan suck his soul into the Abyss that first time hadn’t been a pleasant experience and there was stuff in his pockets that he didn’t want to lose.