Federation-Apocalypse Session 73, The Gates of Eden

   Kevin took a moment to add up the time… Hm. Except for the time spent on vacation (and close on that), this was the longest they’d spent in a single dimension – much less a single city – since they’d started working for the House of Roses.

   They’d arrived at Jerusalem on the morning of day one, fought their way in, and spent the afternoon scouting the place out and sending the Thralls out to assist in the defense. That evening they’d picked up twenty-odd recruits, and bargained with Merchant Prince Hauser. On day two they’d done some remote negotiating with a mysterious computer system, dealt with Dr Lichstein, inducted Hauser’s 45 recruits, collected more than three hundred more recruits off the streets, gotten them started on resupplying the city, and had gotten entangled with the catacombs. On day three they’d met with the Round Table Conference, proposed breaking the siege, enlarged the wards, and started the locals on martial arts training. Day four they’d started a major outworks construction project, started providing siege supplies, sent out scouts, investigated Knight-Lord Thawban, answered inquiries from Ealor, and tried to learn more about the death knights (without much luck). Day four they’d mostly continued their projects; the outworks, training, recruiting, and siege-equipment had been a lot to organize. Day six they’d dealt with those priests who were wanting to investigate Kevin and continued to work, and days seven and eight had been much the same – although Kevin had now recruited some 1600 local Thralls – more than enough to supply and heal Jerusalem indefinitely.

   Probably not enough to take out an army of the undead a hundred thousand strong led by three hundred death knights though. Even with the knightly orders, that was going to be tricky.

   Random Statistics Interlude for the visit to Jerusalem, as of day eight:

  • Marty: Consumed 47 beers, 17 ales, 11 bottles of wine, a dozen bottles of assorted distilled concoctions. Of course, Marty does tend to “supersize” and refresh his drinks.
  • A’ikana: Exasperated 314* times, rolled eyes 89^ times, sarcastic 23 times.
    • *211 times for Kevin, 97 times for Marty, 6 times for Jamie.
    • ^48 times for Marty (mostly for his drinking; she hasn’t seen his “martini glass” yet – although she is starting to conclude that his drinking is more of a schtick than something that can be related to non-cartoon-stereotype drunkenness), 37 times for Kevin, 4 times for Jamie.
  • Kevin: Gratuitously confusing people for his own amusement or because he couldn’t be bothered straightening them out 114 times, irritating Thawban 43 times, performing reckless magical acts 8 times.
  • Ryan: Number of lab technicians turned into superheroes/supervillains: 14. Number of times lab destroyed: 2. Number of Ninja defeated: 57. Doomsday weapons created: 3.
  • Kochige: Riceballs eaten today: 25. Bottles of sake drunk: 2. Tugs from other dimensions: 5, Remaining bumps on head from the treebanging: 5. (Kochige is not in this campaign, but is transdimensional).
  • Jamie: Number of minor undead destroyed 116, number of times fallen off of wall because of unconscious assumption that walls are quite useless, 18, number of times frustrated because of inability to switch to autofire on flintlock or crossbow, 1117, Number of blasphemies uttered due to having to reload by reload by hand instead of simply switching magazines; calculation overflow, but notable for ability to embarrass demons and mindless undead.

   With the plan to begin fighting back against the undead passed 13 to 0, the attacks scheduled to begin in 2-3 days (starting with a probable night attack in 2.5 days), and the meeting of the Round Table adjourned, the group turned their discussion to launching a foray into the catacombs underneath the city. Those blank spots on the map that the Thralls had compiled were a bit troubling… On the other hand, at least the first one – underneath the collapsed section of wall and the fallen gate – was pretty well explained; a good portion of the tunnels around there had caved in or were filled with debris. There might be some intact chambers inside, but it would be kind of hard to tell without some extensive digging. True repairs on the gate and walls were going to require excavating the whole area and rebuilding foundation up. Not much to investigate there.

   They simply delegated some Thralls with transformation powers to keep shaping and fusing the stone down there. They needed a solid foundation.

   The area under the Temple Mount was harder: There were sections that were under guard and off limits, as well as passages that seemed to lead into even deeper and older sections of the catacombs. Heavy wards, blocking both the Thralls and the Knights, were preventing further exploration deeper down. If there was a Silmaril – or some other major holy artifact, like the Ark of the Covenant or a piece of the True Cross – down there, it was probably in those deeper chambers. Kevin was betting on the Ark; it would be a major thing in this setting. Still, he’d rather not try to crack any wards near the Temple Mount at the moment. They might disturb the existing city wards, and they couldn’t afford that right now; there WAS still an army of undead out there – and if it wasn’t for the wards and the holy water, the city would already be overrun already.

   Most of the rest of the catacombs had multiple levels (some possibly dating back to the romans and earlier, possibly to the founding of the city), lots of chambers, a litter of old bodies, streams of holy water here and there, odd debris, strange carvings, occasional treasures or caches of odd objects, and mysterious passages. Some of the passages were easily adaptable to support the outworks project, but most of it really wasn’t much use at the moment. The Round Table Conference appreciated the map though.

   That still left the area under the aqueduct though… Most of the water that entered the catacombs appeared to come from there, falling deeper into the catacombs through some sort of collapse, and then coming back up in many other locations as springs of holy water. That was what was flooding a lot of the catacombs… The collapsed section appeared to be at least twelve feet in diameter and plunged for at least fifty feet, and probably a good deal more. It probably flowed from there to somewhere beneath the Temple Mount before spreading out.

   Now THERE was a likely spot for the Ark. Running water was a major part of the Old Testament purification rituals, and would have served to nicely hide traces of a concealed chamber. Given that the Ark was supposed to radiate holy power and affect whatever touched it – one of the few artifacts that did – it would explain the holy water. Since the city was on a spur, and built on solid rock, the separation between where the aqueduct came into the city and the Temple Mount – the local high point – was fairly small. It was above the rest of the city, so the water welling up throughout Jerusalem was quite reasonable.

   Well, they had two days: they could take a look at the aqueduct. The knights didn’t trust them enough to let them poke around directly under the temple mount, but they shouldn’t have any objection to checking the water supply – and perhaps finding out why the undead hadn’t simply cut it off.

   They decided to ask Thawban along, both for the humor value and because – in his case – almost any change in his attitude would be preferable. Besides, it would let the Knights know that they were being reasonably honest.

   A’ikana went to ask him. His reactions to Marty or Kevin weren’t going to be the best, but he’d doubtless make time just to keep an eye on Marty and Kevin – and perhaps to see if he could “accidently” stick Kevin with an iron dagger or something. Iron wouldn’t really bother Kevin (and he’d be quite willing to take a stab just to confuse Thawban and upset his preconceptions anyway), but Marty would certainly find it amusing.

   They asked one of the regular knights along as well, just to provide an unbiased – or at least a less biased – opinion. That wasn’t a problem; there were plenty of them who were willing to give them the benefit of the doubt – or simply found them interesting.

   A’ikana found that Thawban’s blatant mistrust of them worked to her advantage; Thawban was more than willing to come along just to keep and eye on them. It was enough to make her wonder what he thought they all were; he was obviously sure that Kevin was Fey (and she had to admit, that – at least in his case – denials would be pretty useless), but neither Marty nor Jamie nor she matched the discription at all. He might think that she was a holy woman from some esoteric and possibly heretical sect though. Well, he’d probably ask more questions if he wasn’t so sure that he knew the answers already. That was a pretty common syndrome.

(Thawban) “Alright, so you wish to explore deep in the catacombs and find out where the holy water is coming from am I right?”

“Yep! And we figured you’d want to keep an eye on us anyway, so you might as well come along officially. It makes it less complicated that way.”

   A’ikana started to roll her eyes again – and then abruptly realized that Kevin was provoking her on purpose. She was letting the boy upset her serenity (and was a bit too habituated to reading emotional leakage, when his mind was pretty well shielded). She’d have to watch that; influence was a two-way street. Besides, all the eye-rolling was starting to give her eyestrain.

   Thawban rubbed his temples with a heavy sigh.

“Why do I get this feeling this is not going to end well at all? Very well, lead on then. I suspect you already have a plan on how you wish to approach this.”

   Marty considered answering the first part of that, but it wasn’t like it would help. Besides, they usually got it all to work out acceptably somehow in the end.

   Kevin settled for answering the second part:

“As far as a plan goes, we’ll head on down to the aqueduct and follow the leak. It will probably get more complicated as we go – although we should check to see if the water is already holy when it comes in; it might be being affected at the source of the aquaduct or along it. That might explain why the besiegers haven’t messed with it. Cutting off the water is a pretty obvious move.”

(Thawban) “Hmm, curious that they have not then. Never really occurred to me till now.”

   Their second Knight, Richan, was being quiet – deferring to Thawban apparently. Well, he was a Knight-Lord, not rank-and-file.

   As they descended into the catacombs near the aqueduct, the sound of rushing and falling water – in large quantities – became pretty obvious. It was coming from behind a series of collapses; no real surprise there. It couldn’t be too big a hole though; a lot of water was still getting to where it was supposed to be going.

   The way was pretty well sealed, but it looked to Marty like the rubble near the top was pretty loose: it couldn’t have water behind it or it would be leaking all over the place – and it could easily be pried loose. His girls clairvoyance spells (now that they had their local identities and the consequent power upgrade) confirmed that observation; beyond the collapse there was a large chamber; it looked like a combination of collapses and water erosion had opened up a room about twenty feet across. Water was cascading in from the top – it looked like the remnants of some sort of pipe there – and the room itself was about half full, with a whirlpool in the center. It must have been an intentional water-tap at some point. It should be safe enough to take a peek.

   Kevin reshaped the stone into a solid arch – they didn’t need any more collapses – and made sure that the sill was high enough to keep the water in. That gave them a good view – and confirmed that the water was already holy. Of course, they were still beneath the temple mount…

   Oddly, the water here wasn’t as strong as the holy water elsewhere in the catacombs.

   That was a bit weird. Either it was being rendered holy further up, and then somehow diluted – a side-stream that fed back into the main stream while the rest kept going down by another route perhaps? – or there were two locations where it was being rendered holy: one further up and one further down. They were currently below both the Temple Mount and the complex they couldn’t reach beneath it though… What would be deeper than that?

   At least they were definitely below the main leak – and the hole was large enough to make going up it against the flow reasonably practical, especially using a series of force-steps and barriers. If it got too tight later on they could decide what to do about it then.

   A’ikana tried to analyze the energy-impression on the water. She might be able to tell something about the source – and she was certainly the best-attuned to that sort of power in the group.

   The pressure problems were annoying, but manageable – and the climb wasn’t all that long with force-steps to stand on. At the top, the pipe widened a bit and let them into a heavy stone corridor. It was about twenty feet wide and six feet high, was filled with water to about the five foot level, and had  a considerable current. Pretty obviously the main aqueduct – and still holy. They were above the temple mount at this point too.

   Well, that made at least three sources of holy power: whatever was enhancing – or somehow concentrating – the holy water in the catacombs, the temple itself, and whatever was making it holy before it reached the temple – or possibly the city, since it entered at the highest point.

   They headed upstream, keeping an eye on the water to see if it suddenly lost it’s holiness. That would indicate either a major source of power below the surface or in the structure. Otherwise they might be heading to a hidden chamber in the mountians. After all, someplace that could only be reached by a mile trip up the aquaduct would be a very secure place to hide something – such as the Ark?

   A’ikana had finally focused in on the aura. Holiness of course, with an odd impression of scale, and a feeling like a cool refreshing summer breeze… All the soothing sensations of fountains and great bodies of water flowing through and around them. It felt like being a smooth pebble in the mountain stream.

   Kevin was wondering… a fast current in a stream twenty feet wide and five feet deep in a smooth channel indicated a great deal of water going by. This was an arid country. Where was it all coming from?

   He hung back a bit, so that he could telekinetically assist anyone who slipped. It would give Thawban an opprotunity to harass him with no one else looking, but such was life.

   Oddly enough, Thawban didn’t. Of course, the aqueduct was slippery and the flooring was worn smooth from centuries of high water flow. Making their way up was pretty awkward – especially for those of them (like Kevin) who were a bit short. A good thing they had ways of cheating – such as the Thralls taking small-animal forms and riding on people’s shoulders. They were (like Kevin) too short to walk through five feet of water and breathe.

   It took awhile even with telekinetic boosting. Thawban struggled against the current, but his armor was heavy enough to keep his footing steady.

“Blast! I do not have auras that would be of use in these conditions. Ease of Movement does not exactly apply when wading against a current!”

   He didn’t really notice that Kevin was working minor wards and diverting the flow around them, but it did speed things up.

“Well, at least going back will be easier!”

   Eventually the tunnel opened up to someplace quite bright – and the water was still holy…

   It looked like the source was a large lake, surrounding the strangest-looking mountain they’d ever seen – shaped like a series of cascades each about 20 to 30 feet in height, with each terrace covered in a tangle of plants and wildlife, apparently mostly growing from the water itself. The air was pleasantly cool and refreshing. The final step – the one they were on – spread out in a complete circle around the mountain – as did the waterfall.

   OK, now that was blatantly supernatural unless there was a giant pumping station pushing the water up into the central peak. It was also presumably a world feature. It didn’t match anything that any of them could think of. Well, the Knights were locals; they asked them.

   Thawban was looking around and gaping…

“What? Where are we? This does not look like anywhere I know of near the city of Jerusalem. I would think I would know of a place like this otherwise. I mean, not even the Romans ever attempted something this grand. It is like the Hanging Gardens of Legend. Or Eden even.”

   Well, that was a sufficient answer to that. They hadn’t noticed a worldgate, and they probably would have even with distractions. Still, the fact that the tunnel vanished into the ground but didn’t seem to come out of the waterfall pretty much said that they’d gone through a gate of some kind. Presumably a local one; that would explain where the “Romans” had found so much water, since the aqueduct did date from their period – and might well have gone unnoticed.

   An aerial view courtesy of a little divination neatly confirmed that they were nowhere near Jerusalem – although there were obvious signs of artificial handiwork covering the land surrounding the mountain in all directions.

   Hm. It was also possible that the undead had indeed cut off the water supply and that someone – possibly the Zorastrian Archmage – had arranged for more. If so, he’d probably be expecting some major favors… Water was no small worry for a medieval city in the best of times.

   On the other hand – a rich land, formerly inhabited, but with no signs of current inhabitants? Humans spread to any decent land they could reach. If this was local, and untouched by man, it was probably Eden – it didn’t fit anything else they could think of from Jewish, Muslim, or Christian traditions. It could be nonreligious, but that wasn’t very likely in this realm

   They’d probably encounter a guardian if they got too close.

“What, some guy with a flaming sword?”

“Fairly likely. Well, lets have a look!”

   A’ikana HAD to roll her eyes at that one:

“I’ll stand here and wait to see if you come back.”

(Marty) “It’ll be fun! And probably painful!”

“Lets see if we get a guardian angel with a sword! And I haven’t sent any Thralls out scouting in a long time!”

“The only thing this looks like to me is that old poem, kind of.”

“What old poem?”

“Xanadu; If you happen to see a stately pleasure dome, please mention it.”

“Eh, I don’t know… twice five miles of fertile ground, maybe, no caves of ice though.”

“Yes. I doubt that this is based on the poem, but it does strike a small chord.”

   They worked their way around the lip of the cascade, and around the mountain. Pretty much perfectly circular, and the mountain more closely resembled a Ziggurat than a series of steps.

   At which point a voice spoke up behind them:

“Presence of mortals in this land has been forbidden. You are to leave immediately.”

   They turned around and found that – yes indeed – they had a being of white light, wearing golden armor, and with wings of light that floated like streamers on either side of him, her, or it.

(Kevin) “Might I ask where we are? That way we’ll know where not to come back to.”

“You have entered the Garden of Creation, Eden.”

“…Ah, you were right Kevin. Well, where’s the door?”

(Kevin) “Ah. Well, that is unusual. We will make sure that no one else attempts this, but I trust you will not cut off the water supply; a lot of people besieged by forces from beyond this world need it desperately. We shall be going then.”

   That definitely seemed to nonplus the guardian angel…

“Water supply? (It appeared to look off into the distance from whence they’d come.) Hmm, it appears someone has intruded into the Gardens for means of supply (there was a hint of vague consternation in his or her voice.) Something is going on for the laws to have been violated to such an extent.”

(Kevin) “Most of the population of the this realm has been slain by an army of the dead, under the direction of entities from outside your universe. Jerusalem is besieged by Death Knights, the souls of the faithful are being stolen and denied paradise, and outsiders have tampered with the order of the world. Yes, things have gone a bit wrong. (Kevin paused)… I would have thought your bunch would notice.”

   A’ikana found herself unable to resist. OK, maybe it was by sheer effrontery, but the boy had more or less earned a censorious look to treasure.

   The Guardian looked at each of them intently for a moment…

“We were entrusted with guarding this sacred land from those unworthy to enter. As part of the agreements made long ago, direct interference in mortal affairs has been forbidden. Mortals may call upon our powers, but we may not intrude ourselves.”

   It appeared to go into deep into thought – although it was hard to tell, considering that it didn’t have much of a face.

“Oh yes: I’m Kevin, this is Marty, A’ikana, Thawban, Richan (the second knight), and our various assistants – Daniel, Gerald, and Bard (Kevin’s personal aides), Elera and Minel (Marty’s girls), and Tessa and Kara (Kevin’s current pocket-companions).”

“Hi!”

   The guardian turned it’s gaze back to them. They felt as if it was peering directly into the core of their beings.

“Indeed, the words you speak have the ring of truth. You three – and your aides – are not from here, but from outside the world. You should tell me everything you know young ones.”

   A’ikana spoke up. This was an angel in it’s place, so it was only polite to wait for it’s requests and questions – although Marty and Kevin couldn’t be expected to have any manners and the two Knights were busy being shell-shocked.

“Thank you for your acceptance. The water is helping keep a million people alive.”

   There were various efforts to fill the guardian in… Fortunately, it was able to keep track of all the assorted narratives, telepathic briefings, and magical image-displays which were presented. Kevin did, at least, try to restrict it to situation-in-the-crusader-kingdoms though, with only minor background on the larger war. Maybe he’d be able to avoid the really awkward questions, like “who sent you?” and “by what right do you do these things?”.

   Besides, it would be hard to find a bigger shock for Thawban than this. Of course, that was one reason they’d brought him along. His attitude had been pretty obstructive, and it had been quite possible from the beginning that something would come up on this errand that would change it.

   And if this didn’t give him something to think about, probably nothing would.

   Marty wondered why the angel wasn’t just frying him – but it might not have the authority even if it wanted to. They probably didn’t fall under it’s orders. It probably had rules to enforce about the people and spirits of this world – but they weren’t part of the pattern.

   The Guardian listened with rapt attention, only asking for more details or greater clarification on certain points…

“You have greatly upset the natural order here. Granted, it was in the interests of helping the people here and will be overlooked for now. I must, however, inquire as to who sent you here and with what authority.”

   Oh well. Might as well be truthful. Kevin spoke up.

“In this case, our intervention was requested by the Unified Church of the Core Worlds – although the local population has requested aid as well. As for authority, I am an Opener, and that power is ultimately derived from the massed will of the human race. If it helps any, we also represent a variety of other organizations, such as the House of Roses.”

“And cartoon corporations.”

   The face of the guardian got even harder to read.

“The situation has greatly exceeded projected scenarios. Outside authority level exceeds local level. Current orders are no longer valid amid the new crisis. Survival of the faithful is now in jeopardy.”

   Well . . . that was unexpected.

“The Pact will no longer be recognized as binding and we will make preparations to intervene in the mortal realm.”

   The local spiritual powers know more than they’d expected. A’ikana was a bit annoyed – Kevin and Marty were upsetting the balance of yet ANOTHER realm – but it was hard to entirely blame them this time around. They hadn’t exactly planned to walk into Eden, even if they had been gratuitously meddling again.

“Well, since we know that the Undead will not be able to interfere with the water supply, we’ll return to deal with the immediate crisis while your group is re-evaluating the situation.”

“Understood. Do you require passage back?”

“I think we’ll just take the aquaduct again; it will be less conspicuous.”

   The Guardian appeared to nod slightly.

   Well, Thawban was probably going to be confused or assume that this was an illusion of some sort. This was undoubtably a bit much for the poor guy. He’d remained quiet so far anyway.

   They headed on back. At least the current was with them this way, and the pipe exit was easy enough to find.

“Well, that was informative and potentially useful. Lets see how long we’ve been though; there’s no guarantee of a timerate match.”

   It looked like they’d spent about twelve hours in the catacombs and Eden. Not too bad. Evidently Eden was a bit out of time, but that was no great surprise. Thawban’s people had started hunting for him though – and he was finally coming out of being dazed and confused.

“Wait a moment! How could we have entered Eden merely by going up the aqueduct? I have travelled along the aqueduct before and never encountered such a thing.”

   Marty pointed to Kevin

“You didn’t have an Opener like him with you.”

“Did you travel up inside it? I suspect that the water supply was blocked by the undead, and someone intervened to ensure that water continued to flow. That would require a gate inside the aqueduct. Regardless, it appears that we need not worry about the water supply, or the source of the holy water, immedietly. I shall set a temporary aversion-ward over the aquaduct to prevent further travel up it for the moment: until further notice the people here really aren’t supposed to be entering Eden. I must congragulate whowever set it up if I run into him or her. That was quite clever, and turned a weakness – the catacombs – into a strength.”

(Thawban) “I know of no one capable of opening gateways such as what you describe. Least of all to the Heavens or Eden. If that is truly what has happened, then it is obviously the work of a higher power.”

(Richan, their other Knight) “Does this mean the Angels will be aiding us in the coming battle then?”

(Thawban) “If what we saw is truly real and not some fey illusion, then yes, it is likely that they may come to us in our time of need.”

(Kevin) “Which is always handy. Still, always best to make sure that you’ve done everything you can for yourselves before looking for divine aid.”

   Thawban looked upwards.

“One can only hope that Allah will look down upon our efforts and be pleased with them. (Then he looked at Kevin intently on that last note).

“Well, that still leaves us with plenty of time to at least check beneath the Temple Mount. Want to take a look there next?”

   Thawban still had a very funny look on his face. Was he thinking about that “Outside authority level exceeds local authority level” thing? Oh well, it was hard to say. He might just be thinking that he didn’t know what was going on – which was true enough, but they didn’t have the time to spend days explaining. That was why Kevin had just been letting them go with the local assumptions anyway.

(Thawban, to Kevin) “Your role in this is far from clear and I for one do not trust you, your explanations, or your motivations. However it seems clear that fate is conspiring to intertwine your fate with ours for the time being. I just hope for your sake that whoever is weaving your fate is as benevolent as they seem.”

“Why should you trust me? All my explanations simply gloss over the fact that it would usually take a week to explain, and I’m busy.”

   Thawban smirked at that.

“True, it is not like we have a week for you to explain either. So I will continue to distrust you as I have been and you will continue to do as you will as it seems to be for our benefit for the moment. Such is the way of things.”

   Marty found that rather pleasing. Kevin and Thawban had come to SOME sort of an understanding anyway.

(Thawban) “Nevertheless, it does appear that the old rules are becoming irrelevant. We live in interesting times it seems.”

“Let’s hope we can make them less so.”

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