With the House of Roses focusing on Vekxin – and with a hundred and fifty new thralls joining the hunt – there didn’t seem to be much they could do on that front except be on-call. On the other hand, the House did seem to be using their services very effectively. The military was still fumbling around a bit, but they hadn’t had as much time to think about things as the House had had.
The report from the tunnels beneath the Mind Flayer city were finally in. They’d found a lot of dead Mind Flayers; it looked like most of the damage had come from claws or from having the top of their heads removed. Not much of any signs of weapons, swords, or magic though – and not a lot of blood or anything. It looked like the bodies had been gathered and then dumped into the tunnels as a mass grave. Some sort of monster attack? It was a gaming universe, and monsters were easy to come by there.
It looked like Ilthulsin had gotten out just in time.
Well, the Priestesses of Lloth had taken over and turned the place into a trap. Now they knew what had happened to the original inhabitants. The pro-Lloth army the Priestesses (presumably) sent had hardly anyone with a soul in it – and all of those were quite powerful individuals. Was there a connection there?
Anyway, the bulk of the tunnels and chambers underneath the Archives seemed to have been workshops, crystal storage areas, and chambers filled with weird materials. Sort of the Mind-Flayer industrial sector.
The Thralls searching the Rosary of Memory had turned up several other side chambers and exits that went to other locations in the Manifold. One appeared to lead to a ancient city set in a cliff side; the place looked like western North America, from the terrain, possibly Colorado or Arizona. Another led to a desert world; the Thralls suspected that it was Dune or someplace similar. A third leads to a Mithraic temple and assorted Roman ruins deep underground. Based on the weather, plants, and general landforms, it looked like somewhere in some version of the British Isles. A forth led to a network of caves with very low gravity and carved out walls. The hallways curved downwards quite noticeably: the Thralls suspected that it was on a large asteroid or small moon.
Well, that didn’t really suggest any strong theories to Kevin or Marty other than “abandoned and forgotten”, which was sort of the theme for the entire Rosary anyway. “Rocky and Underground” maybe, but they were starting from the Underdark, so that was probably also to be expected.
The search had also turned up a selection of weird items – and a smaller number that had quite a bit of power bound up in them (although not the third Silmaril to complete Kevin’s set, or even any clue to it’s current location, unfortunately). A sword, engraved with the pattern of a dragon and the symbol of the bear (pretty powerful, but fairly undefined). A shield that had been polished to a mirror shine and had reflective properties of some sort (it seemed to be capable of deflecting spells and energy blasts). Quite a few lost books written by various authors. An Egyptian pharaoh-style headdress on a bust. An iron spear. A set of indeterminately Asian-style bells, although they couldn’t quite place the specific heritage. A banner, similar to what the Chinese and Japanese would use.
Hm. The sword could be Caliburn: the original was pretty well forgotten in favor of Excalibur.
What other “lake” would it have been tossed into? Perhaps they should take it to Arthur II if they ever found out where he was. Half of the items seemed familiar, but unplaceable – at least on modest information. Appropriate enough for the Rosary. There were a dozen or more myths about a shield that reflected things – Hindu myths, Arthurian Legend, Greek Legends, the Shield of the Moon, and any number of video-games and things. The Spear of Longinus perhaps? Of course, there was also the Spear of Horus, the Spear of Set, one from Arthurian Legend, Cu Chulainn’s Gae Bolg, and a bunch of others. The bells of Shangri-La? Of the Lost Legions of Shoredan? Of the lost isles? Oh well. Speculation was kind of pointless. They’d just have to take a look when they had time.
Meanwhile, they’d made (and sealed) a new gate and arrived back in the Linear Realms. They needed to find out what information had been obtained from that Praetorian and his boss. The Thralls they’d assigned to bodyguard Samson and assist Myagi said that the raid on the biolab had been completed, although evidence gathering was still going on. The Praetorians, Myagi and a couple of other suspects had been moved to an old military base in North Dakota, so they opted to arrive at one of the train stations. No one would look askance at people arriving there.
At least neither the High Lord nor the Machine Master opted to make their departure either a battle or an ordeal. Kevin suspected that the Machine Master might be Isane – after infecting herself with her own meme research and a bungled praetorian conversion – but judged the odds of getting anything more of use along that route too poor to be worth bothering with. They’d finished with the Five Worlds inside of a day and a half anyway. With any luck, they’d never need to visit them again. They made a brief stop on Kadia to drop off (and recruit) the first two kids from the Five Worlds (it looked like the success rate might be pretty good; both took the deal like a shot) and to let the kids change back from being Panthers without being too conspicuous or giving away any information.
The weather in North Dakota was cold and dreary. There was still snow on the ground despite it being springtime. The town was a quiet place at the moment, with several franchise-style businesses boarded up and shut down. There was a line of people going around one of the buildings near the train station and several signs posted indicating locations for soup kitchens and free clinics. Evidently the town had been in decline for a while. Well, if the military base had been abandoned, the town would probably have gone downhill. Military guys spend regularly. Marty went to do a little checking around…
It looked like the line was at the military recruiting office. They were probably gearing up to defend the place. That was probably good. The story going around was that the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense had announced major recruitment efforts and a serious modernization effort was going on. The President had been making numerous speeches lately on national security and had rammed a huge spending bill through Congress so fast that the political world was still reeling in shock.
It looked like Mr Praetorian had been convincing.
The President’s speeches and press conferences had been talking up the threat from independent terrorist organizations and their host nations. Several incidents from across the country and world were being used as evidence and examples. A few incidents that apparently had never made it into the news were being brought to light as well. They personally recognized several of those – the biolab in South Dakota was listed as an undercover bioweapons lab. The attack on the FBI building, and a series of assassinations and attempted assassinations at various universities and labs across the country had also been cited.
On the local reports, the talking-dogs-guiding-illegal (and any legal kids who really wanted to come) -kids-to-fairyland (Kadia) campaign had been running for a bit, and was going pretty well – especially among the illegal kids. That should be useful – and it should reduce the strain on the Linear Realms quite a bit.
They headed for the base.
The place was obviously being renovated. There was a very secure set of walls and fences along the perimeter, but the grass hadn’t been mowed in some time, and many of the steel and concrete structures were showing signs of decay. The towers and gates were all fully manned at the moment though, and the guards looked to be pretty heavily armed.
They wandered on up and asked for Mr Myagi.
The guards eyed them suspiciously and asked for their names: one of them was looking back and forth between the group and the datapad he was holding.
Marty had been using his “Perry Scott” ID, so that was the name he used – but Kevin had to think for a moment. How had he introduced himself at the conference? Oh yes, “Peter Acquilla”. “Peter Pan” would have been a bit of a giveaway anyway. Jamie had just used her own of course.
The guy with the datapad decided that it was a visual and voice match. They’d been given instructions to escort the group to see Myagi should they arrive – although they did have to ask them to step through some security procedures first.
Well, that was probably a good idea.
The group wondered if they’d be asked to discard their weapons. It wasn’t like Jamie could, Marty saw a knife as formal dress (“It’s a bookmark, I swear”) – and Kevin was entertaining some whimsical thoughts about doing a scene from “The Mask” (it might be ancient, but it was still amusing).
Actually, they just wanted to collect some biometric data and ask them to declare what weapons they were carrying; they were pretty much expected to stay armed.
That was fair enough.
They ran their tests in a semi-trailer they had parked near the gate. Jamie produced some looks of shock and raised eyebrows.
“Those are some modifications there. Who gave you those, may I ask?”
“That information is classified at this time.”
(That raised a few eyebrows) “Uh-huh, right then. Well that should be all. You may rejoin your companions. Someone will escort you inside the base.”
“Escorted huh, been awhile since I last had one of those on a base of any kind.”
A group of uniformed guards were standing by to take them to Myagi and the others in the main conference room.
The renovations were about halfway along inside as well. Well, it wasn’t like the Linear Realms had any kind of manpower shortage. Just the opposite really.
Fortunately, the elevators were working at the moment – although Kevin took a look at them and stayed ready to assist telekinetically if they let go.
Still, from the depth underground – it looked like thirty or forty floors – it should be a pretty secure site.
Hm. It looked a lot like the Core Militaries underground facility where they’d tested the Thralls returning abilities. Maybe they both dated to the same period?
The conference room was busy being renovated as well, but Myagi and a bunch of men in suits were standing around a touch-table and discussing events.
They joined them quietly, and got handed datapads with briefing summaries and some other information. It looked like the discussion involved their enemies funding at the moment: it didn’t look like they’d quite absorbed “extradimensional” yet – but they’d had less than two days, so it was hard to blame them for that.
According to the summaries, the locals had met with representatives from the Unified Americas and were receiving advisors. Material aid hadn’t arrived yet, although supply lines were being constructed. They’d managed to capture everyone in their raid on the biolab. The turncoat Praetorian had been helpful in staving off several more attacks, and had provided the locations of several other strongholds. The captive Praetorian had been depowered and was being kept on a strictly limited energy supply, per the recommendation of the turncoat. Interrogations were currently ongoing. In the meantime, terrorist activities had stepped up over the last few days, and the attacks were swiftly growing more and more bold.
Hm. Either they enemy was implementing a new phase of their plans or they knew that they’d been discovered and were getting desperate. It looked like a major push: should they be expecting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse next?
The locals had also found what appeared to be another gate in Nevada, and had established a significant defense perimeter around it. Their President had been informed of the situation, and had given orders to the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense to respond. In the meantime the man had been giving a series of speeches to the public and had been pulling in every political favor he had to prepare the national security forces. Overseas intelligence was very spotty at the moment.
It looked like they’d need to actually get the locals some forces.
At the moment, the locals and the Federated Americas were using the route they’d taken to get to the Linear Realms the first time – but a terminal was being set up in Crusader to provide better bulk transport and was expected to be operational in a week or two.
At the table, the discussion was about back-tracking the attacks and the groups supporting them in an attempt to dismantle as much of the enemies forces and plans as they could before the enemy had a chance to respond appropriately.
Well, that wasn’t a bad plan – but the group could get their gates operational in an hour or two. Jamie had some friends – her old fire section – who might like a job where they were more appreciated (and where there was something exciting in the way of a war going on). That should be handy; Jamie was a fair match for the enemy’s combat cyborgs.
Kevin announced that he thought that it would be best if he went and got their gate operational: it would only take him an hour or two, since he was something of a specialist.
The locals felt that that would help matters significantly – although it did make them wonder about “these others though”. They also had some concerns with “these orb things”; they seemed a bit too “science-fictiony” to be real.
Well, they were real enough, although they might be more limited locally.
Myagi noted that they hadn’t quite decided where to put the gate though. At first they’d thought about remote locations to keep it well hidden – but the need to handle bulk shipments like they were expecting argued against that. A major port city like New York or Chicago would make it hard to keep it quiet though. Multiple locations might be in order later; it would help keep the enemy guessing as to their movements and plans. Others, of course, felt that letting it be known to the world that they had extradimensional access was a bad idea.
Kevin proposed putting it in a warehouse, a closed-down train station, or some such. A freight center might be ideal.
The locals picked Norfolk; it supported lots of freight traffic, had plenty of warehouse space, and was one of the more secure locations they had. They could get Kevin there in about an hour – half of which would be needed to arrange the flight, and could call ahead to arrange a location.
Well, they probably couldn’t push the arrangements on the other end faster than that anyway.
At the moment, they mostly needed trained special forces, general equipment, and supplies. So far they were still in the counter-terrorist stage, but things might quickly escalate from there. They needed to do what they could to stop the terrorist attacks or at least to minimize the damage while they tried to prepare for whatever else was coming. They were still trying to backtrack the terrorists they’d caught and find their bases of operations and sources of funds. They had traced more than a few to various dummy corporations and “not-for-profit” organizations. Many of the not for profit groups were disguised as religious charities created within the last five to ten years (that might tie into the memes). The dummy corporations looked to be set up as technology fronts. Most of them were centered around New York City with a small percentage set up in other major US cities.
Well, Kevin could probably arrange some “special forces”, Jamie could arrange some experienced military guys to help direct them, and Marty could arrange supplies.
Local Thralls if there were any to spare. That depended on the collect-the-illegals campaign though; they got the explanation and the job offer relatively shortly after they arrived in Kadia, but they were free to simply hang around in Kadia, take educational courses, and play if they’d prefer that; Kevin wasn’t in a big rush.
On general supplies, they needed computers, nonperishable food, water, and construction materials. Heavy military supplies were still a bit out of Marty’s league though. They had the industrial capacity, but they’d never tried to use it that way; opening gates to many core worlds and then building a reserve of military machines had seemed like it might not go over well.
Currently slightly over 800 illegal kids – out of about twice that many – had accepted the sales pitch so far, and more were arriving in a steady stream. It looked like they were fairly used to the idea of being purchased eventually. On the other hand, a “save your world” appeal might help. If they wanted it, an assignment in the Linear Realms would probably earn them a legal ID and a place on their homeworld.
Well, as soon as they got the gate to Crusader open, they’d head through to Crusader to make arrangements and then stop in Kadia to get recruits – a fair number of which could be sent back to the Linear Realms to help out with their “special forces” situation. A trip to New York was probably in order after that; New York might not be the center of the universe, but it’s a big one – and the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island hosted an incredible gateway network.
They left one of the new kids behind as a communications link for the moment, made sure that the pitch to the illegals included the possibility of returning home as a hero, and headed for Norfolk via military jet – and there was a vehicle waiting to rush them to the warehouse, where the base commander was waiting for them.
“Welcome to Norfolk Naval Base, I am the commander here, may I ask what this is about? The Admiral said something about a transportation gateway.”
“Yes: where would be most convenient? I have to anchor this end of it”.
“I suppose inside this warehouse, probably toward the back end.”
Kevin had plenty of Thralls available to focus on in Crusader to get the positioning right – so one Gate. He kept the dramatics to a minimum, but couldn’t resist throwing in some special effects – a whipping wind, weird glow, etcetera – with a little witchcraft, just for style.
Marty and Jamie kept an eye on the entrances, just in case, while Kevin had one of the kids keep an eye on the Commander; he could be a plant.
The guards and commander watch the spectacle in amazement.
“Well I guess that explains the security requirement orders. Must be more of that black project stuff coming to light. Why do I get the feeling my life is about to become very troublesome?”
“Can’t argue there. If you want to come through and have a look, and it wouldn’t be abandoning your post or something, go right ahead. It will be remaining open for awhile anyway and I’ll be assigning you some operators.”
“Right, well I suppose a quick look wouldn’t do any harm. What is on the other side?”
“A dimension called Crusader. I’m afraid you would say that it’s natural laws are patterned after those of “Comic Books” and “Superhero Movies”.”
“And it’s a lot of fun.”
The commander gave them a look filled with disbelief.
“This I have to see for myself.”
“Are you sure? It’s pretty dangerous there.”
“Should be fine in the gate facility – besides, it’s almost impossible for a normal human to be hurt there anyway you know.”
“Well at this point, if I am going to be having to deal with a gate on my base, I should probably have some knowledge of what is on the other side.”
“No harm, no foul then. When we’ve got the gate up, I’ll show you around.”
This promised to be fun: the Commander seemed to strong-willed, a reasonable leader, and more than a bit dedicated to his cause – all of them strong indicators of someone who was likely to get issued a superheroic identity on arrival.
He did – and was rather startled at the costume change.
“Hm. Looks like Crusader approves of you; as long as you’re visiting – and on any future visits – you’ll have some sort of powers here.”
He spent some time experimenting while Kevin and Marty made arrangements and Jamie kept an eye out for supervillians.
It looked like some sort of cybernetic electromagnetic abilities – generate and manipulate light, various visual enhancements, ability to absorb, redirect, and discharge photons of all frequencies, ability to telekinetically manipulate small objects, smartclothes functions, and some sort of implanted medical system, plus a few minor enhancements.
It was enough to keep him pretty intrigued anyway – and to provide some amusement for Marty.
“Well it seems I can absorb light. I wonder what happens when I absorb too much of it?”
Absorbing all the light in the room really didn’t amount to more than a trickle of energy though – although he seemed to have a fair internal reserve anyway – enough to produce some pretty impressive laser effects.
Back on the “reports” front, there were a quite a number of reports in… Kevin was just going to have to learn a “multitasking” discipline or something.
The comparison between the Tomb Archive and the Illithid Archive had turned up a number of common entities and realms, and it seemed likely that anything that was mentioned much in two such divergent sources probably represented something real, rather than just being local history. They did at least mention each other’s realms – as well as someplace called “Dark Sun”, a realm referred to as “Nightmare” with a fair number of common details as well as a tie to a place called “The Dark Tower”, “Avalon”, and “The Moon”. Common major figures included Merlin, Revan, Maleficient, Taliesin, and Sam. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were also mentioned quite frequently.
The Baelarian Mages Guild records on “Spellweaver” portrayed him as a shapeshifter, a formula based spontaneous caster, an artificer, and noted that he had quite a reputation as a curse breaker and showed some talent for opening gates. Personally he was something of a free spirit, tended to follow his own code, and loved nothing more than studying magic. He was next in line for the title of Minister of Magic. He was not a fan of industrialization or of the changes it was bringing about in Baelaria. His split with the Mages Guild and the Ministry of Magic occurred when he began objecting to the plans being made by both in moving to a war footing and of involvement with Merlin. His prominence and status helped catalyze the debate nationwide. The Minister of Magic attempted to bring him to heel and – while she lost him – she did manage to drive him out of her hair for the time being, although not before he’d had retrieved some things and covered his tracks.
The madness meme treatments were ongoing and picking up steam; the Core Computer Systems were beginning to recommend the treatment option to those suspected of infection. Diagnostics were still an ongoing effort however, but no particular backlash had yet become apparent. The “free public service” routine was generating quite a lot of goodwill though – although it was also producing some suspicion (which might be being flamed by opposing forces).
It looked like roughly 25% of the property-class neodogs were going to be available: the mass purchases and “adoptions” had brought in nearly 20%, and another 5% or so were projected to be available through offering more money and via the House of Roses and the Military. That would give them quite a workforce – and would mean plenty of Thrall-recruits for Kevin, even if it STILL would be impolitic to reveal that he could give powers to neodogs too.
The kids they’d rescued from the Underdark and Vekxin were mostly hanging around Kadia and using it as a transport hub between Core and other sections of the Manifold. Some might sign up eventually, but at the moment they were doing a bang-up job on the word-of-mouth advertising anyway.
The response to Amarant Solutions had been pretty positive in Core so far: the business was expanding, word was spreading, and – while numerous other competitors had appeared to try and meet the growing demand for Manifold training, search and rescue, and guide services – Amarant was by one of the best organized and staffed by a considerable margin over most of them. Momentum towards expansion into the Manifold, and making use of the powers and options it offered, was building again. People were signing up for jobs in Kadia at a reasonable rate, and it was becoming widely accepted as a place that youngsters could be allowed to visit – offering some risks, but very small ones for anyone who was reasonably responsible. After all, even in areas like the “Survival Zones” or “Mecha Dueling Arenas” the worst that could happen was to wind up indentured for awhile – and the staff made sure that anyone who wanted to participate in that kind of sport was of age for such decisions and fully informed.
The Neodolphin investigation – even with shapeshifting, mental senses, tapping into survellience data, and pulling up all the currently-available unclassified information from core – wasn’t yielding much information. It was known that the dolphins had been pooling their credits with the computers to purchase equipment, and that they’d been sighted further and further from shore and in deeper and deeper waters and had been appearing in the cold water upwellings that had been appearing frequently. Other than that, no one really appeared to have much of any idea what they were up to.
A few of the “Disease and Disaster” realms had been identified, since they were noted independently in several places: several of them were actually fairly well-known, simply because they were such large and vital realms.
As far as “official” attention went, the New Imperium had been making inquiries, as had the people and government (such as it was) of Ealor, the Ministry of Magic in Hogwarts has made several inquiries, the major news outlets in Core were beginning to take notice, the Federated Americas were taking notice, and several other groups were taking an interest in their activities (including some very upset people from Child Protective Services on Ealor) – on top of the interest that the House of Roses and Core Earth Military (Department of Mysteries) had already been taking in them.