A’ikana watched Marty set up his office, Jamie spar, and Kevin go recruiting, and found her serenity sorely tested; these people seemed to be quite impervious to considerations of ethics outside of their own bizarre codes and to any form of disapproval more subtle than a club to the head. There had to be SOME way to reach them. They were becoming too important to simply let them bounce across the cosmos like some destructive cross between a pinball and a black hole.
Marty settled for a few blocks from the docks and – for the moment – primarily magical services. The setting treated kids of fourteen or so as adults, so it was easy enough for the locals to accept the local recruits – all in the 12-15 range – running a business and manning an office for an older owner. It stretched things a bit to treat them as mages, but as long as they actually delivered, they’d be fine.
Fortunately, there wasn’t much press-ganging going on locally. Even youngsters tended to be offered work and paid – although they hardly ever turned it down.
Kevin and Marty advised them that they were free to hire more assistants (preferably kids with souls, since they could now tell the difference). Otherwise, they should work on the standard stuff – advertising, services, and general day-to-day operations and listen to general gossip for information as to what the French and German guys are after.
They restocked their food, water, caulk, and the supplies they’d used up doing repairs. Marty invested in some anti-undead talismans from the local church. They were mostly selling them (at cost) to sailors who were heading towards the fighting. Marty bought fifteen – all that would be available for a day or so – and made a donation. Why not? A little local goodwill would be good for business.
Kevin couldn’t argue there: he told the Thralls to try and build a little goodwill with the local church too, at least if it wouldn’t think of them as demons or something.
Meanwhile, the werewolves had pretty well sorted themselves out into a pack. There’d be some swapping of the lower ranks from time to time, but the major personalities were set. They got crew-assignments to suit; there was no point in fighting their natural inclinations without a good reason.
With the repairs completed, they headed for the open seas. The sun was shining, the salty air blew through their hair, and the general mood improved to the point of becoming jovial.
Kevin went back to tickling the lower-ranking pack members and random fishing (with a light rod and line; he wasn’t looking to catch the midgard serpent or anything like that). Marty played with Limey (flash cards mostly), Jamie kept on practicing – it was like she didn’t know HOW to do anything else – and A’ikana kept on puzzling at how to get them to listen to her.
Then they acquired a soundtrack… Happy jovial music. Sirens? The crew ought to be mostly immune to that sort of thing.
No, not sirens. A series of musical numbers. Marty had Limey go inanimate – didn’t need him going overboard in book form! – but the Thralls had started singing. Some magic involved, but mostly just the local rules… It could be resisted, but it wasn’t easy. They weren’t being led onto a shore or offcourse and there were no attackers slipping up. The ships were losing way as the crew started singing, dancing and wearing costumes. Up ahead – at least judging from the shouting – Captain Rata was having the same kind of trouble.
Highly exaggerated age of exploration sailing uniforms, silly sea-songs, and – rather suddenly – small fuzzy anthropomorphic muppet-animals appeared and were participating in the singing and dancing.
Kevin decided to ignore it. As long as they were making some progress he didn’t want to be Captain Bligh – especially since he wasn’t in command! It was someone else’s problem for once! Besides, he didn’t want to deal with any more muppets for awhile, especially not while surrounded with werewolves again.
“Hey guys. How did you get on the ship?”
“We’re the crew! Come on, join the singing! Dance! Have fun!”
They proved quite willing to walk the plank, to push the Thralls (some of whom had taken muppet forms) and each other off the ship (and then to rescue the men who’d gone overboard), and to fool around in general – all while singing silly songs.
Eventually Marty got the hang of it: give very clear orders, forbid most of the obvious ways of fouling them up, allow for the singing and silly antics, do a lot of micro-managing, and put up with the slow-as-molasses actual pace. They HAD to get through this zone relatively soon. In fact, he’d be betting on an hour or less. It had to be based on a children’s program, and none of them ran all that long!
“Oh be nice, just cause we’re a bunch of cows, pigs, frogs, bears, chickens, monsters, and cats does not mean we are animals!”
“Oh that’s it, leave out the rats. This is discrimination. It’s always dump on the rats. We perform all sorts of useful functions!”
Marty swore – and found that the local universe censored him.
Well, that pretty much confirmed the children’s program hypothesis.
Marty tried to intimidate them on general principles, but it didn’t help much. They did listen to orders forbidding mutiny though.
Of course, you didn’t want to set a rebellious example for small children.
Eventually he settled on simply assigning thralls to keep them herded out of the way.
“Avast, ye menagerie! Follow that ship!”
It actually took two days – or at least it seemed like it – before they were through the fuzzy pirate zone and the muppets all vanished and the Thralls who’d changed were back to normal.
By then they could see the Storm at the End of the World brewing on the horizon.
It still took them several days to reach it. Kevin spent the time directing his experiments and projects back in Kadia. At least – on evaluation – it looked like the Cardinals had been willing to accept him because they thought that – if he wasn’t there – something far nastier would be likely to replace him.
Oddly, that was a point of leverage: Kevin carefully, and extremely indirectly, funneled them a suggestion; a way to “partially frustrate him; if they could arrange for him to be legally responsible for the care and the actions of his Thralls, he wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the legal loophole that their actions and what he has them agree to is technically not his responsibility”. After all, the Cardinals understood that the Thralls were property for the duration of their indentures, so they wouldn’t question that assumption – but the fact that the computers and core society didn’t acknowledge it was what was bothering Kevin. If he could just get Core to accept that the Thralls were no longer responsible for their own decisions, acknowledging their status as property would inevitably follow. That way both he AND the church would get part of what they wanted.
Marty spent the time making sure that everything was well tied down, the sails were wrapped up, and that they were ready to ride the currents. According to Captain Rata if you made it through the storm you always arrived at your destination – it was just a matter of how close to port and in what condition you got there.
On the second day, they began to close with the storm. It was looming large on the horizon, flashes of lightning could be seen dancing along the clouds, the wind had picked up, and the temperature was dropping.
On the third day the storm seemed to go on forever and loomed high above them. The air and water were cold and the ocean rose and fell in huge undulating waves. Thunder echoed and the wind blew wildly.
Kevin ran rescue efforts. He scooped up four people – and two of them even had souls! The storm must feature in a lot of places…
They weren’t pleased to hear that the ship was heading into the storm and not out, but it was still better than drifting. Kevin had them strapped down with safety lines; they didn’t have the TK to get back aboard if they went over.
Oddly enough, the storm was a high-tech AND high-magic zone. It probably overlapped a lot of places.
With the force field up, water-repelling magic, repair spells, and their various other powers, it wasn’t nearly as bad as it might have been. Limey was safe in his waterproof leather bag, and the pouring rain, raging wind, wild seas, dark skies, dancing lightning, continuous rolls of nearby thunder that rattled their bones, and bitter cold, were little worse than they’d been expecting.
Of course, they had been expecting a primordial hellstorm.
Unsurprisingly, they lost sight of the Distant Voyager – but it wasn’t like there was a course to hold.
It took a lot of on-the-fly mending, force-field manipulations, the loss of the mainmast (although they salvaged it to repair later), and quite a bit of magic – but even the water crashing over the bow couldn’t quite swamp them. It wasn’t like the Thralls could work the sails at the moment anyway.
One final, colossal, wave was the last barrier before they began passing out of the storm. It threw them around and hammered everything inside the ship against the hull. Fortunately, Marty managed to steer the ship well enough to avert the worst of the impact.
The land was nearby, and – thanks to mending spells – they had repairs well underway by the time they made port. Captain Rata was down the coast a day or two’s sail – so they investigated what turned out to be the City of Acre.
Despite the moonless night, there were no lights – and it looked like they were in a low-tech zone again (judging by the fact that their forceblades and plasma pistols were now cutlasses and flintlocks), and limited to magic of level three and under. They made port at dawn – and found no sign of other ships or people in the water. At a port?
Captain Rata was seeing much the same thing along the coast. Burning cities, ruins, sunken ships, signs of fighting, and general disaster – albeit within the limits of cannons and gunpowder. Little or no sign of life, even after they landed and began poking around and running detection effects. It did look like there’d been some scavenging and some minor repairs or cleaning-up – but then everyone had gone somewhere else.
Most of the signs were near the Church. It was in remarkably good condition and filled with residual energies. It had obviously been repaired – and there was a large mound of earth that looked relatively recent with a giant cross and a plaque rest at the base.
“Here lie the people of Acre. One day they shall be avenged. Until then, may they find eternal peace with God. We shall honor then by surviving on.”
The Church was stocked with supplies and directions; whoever’d left them had been heading along the road south, towards Jerusalem.
Hm. If the people were gathering at Jerusalem – presumably for religious reasons – that’s where the final strike would be. They’d better get there fast if they wanted to interfere; it might be too late already.
They headed down the coast. It’d be about a day by ship – although they pushed it as much as possible.
They made port at Tel Aviv and took the old Roman road to Jerusalem. Looking down from the bluff, it looked like the city had been partially sacked. Several sections appeared to have been burned or smashed to pieces and sections of the walls had been hastily rebuilt. A fairly large force of undead horsemen – often missing limbs or large sections of flesh and stinking of death – were laying siege to the place. A small minority were more intact. They were fully armored in black, were wielding large two handed swords, and seemed to freeze the very ground they walked upon, draining it of all life.
Well, some upper-class and lower-class minions of Death.
This was going to be a pain.