Corrigan decided to let Mr Balrog consider things for a few moments. There was nothing like a Disco to try and discover your true inner self in! And, if Mr Balrog got tired of that, there were lots of other people to get involved with!
Besides, there was no point in his missing out on any of the fun!
He headed out onto the floor. There had to be someone of his persuasion out there… How he wished that Marty was available! He knew how to have a good time too!
He didn’t have much luck before it seemed to be time to talk to Mr Balrog again.
Mr Balrog was rather thoughtful at the moment. He’d never been treated as “one of the group” before; even the officeworkers tended to look at him without really seeing him. The clubbers though… The clubbers were high enough to have their mental defenses and preconceptions down – but, like every other inhabitant of Battling Business World, were virtually without fear anyway.
That makes Corrigan a little sad. He’d have taken a dose of Proma-17 himself, but he couldn’t do that at the moment! He had to help Mr Balrog learn how to treat people decently and achieve balance!
(Corrigan) “You seem a little distant… Is something bothering you?”
(Balrog) “It is strange… Somehow, this – a place where I have never been – somehow seems more familiar than much of my own life! “
(Corrigan) “Oh? Do you think you might have had a past life here?”
(Balrog) “How could I have a past life here? I am thousands of years old! I have lived through three ages of Arda! I lived before the creation!.. Wait… That Gandalf. The one who sent me here… He said that He had been Gandalf for about three hours, but that Gandalf was – like me – a Maia, and had existed from the beginning, and had outlasted the ages – and that in an hour or so, he wouldn’t be Gandalf any more.”
(Corrigan) “Gandalf? Oh, that movie!”
He got a dreamy look on his face for a few moments as he contemplated Elijah Wood.
(Corrigan) “Wait a minute . . . where did Marty recruit you?”
(Balrog) “I haunted the mines of Moria, slaying many Gandalfs, Dwarves, Men, and Hobbits! I took the One Ring repeatedly!… Until the one you call Marty-Boromir and Kevin-Gandalf came, and persuaded me to travel with them to the Underdark, and thence to here in pursuit of the powers of the light!”
“Marty-Boromir?” (Corrigan started to laugh) “Well, Marty really has been going to strange places then!”
(Balrog) “None so strange as this place! When humans see me in most places, they scream, they panic, they flee! Here they try to sell me credit cards or appliances!”
(Corrigan) “Why would they fear you? They wake up the next morning! Malpractice is something to fear. So is bankruptcy.”
(Balrog) “And that is strange as well! The Gandalfs and the rest often seemed to return – but they had no memory of meeting me before, and did not return in a mere day! Humans are supposed to pass beyond the borders of the world and never return at all!”
(Corrigan scratched his head.) “Maybe they lose their memories when they wake up. That makes me sad.”
Fred Gelman had mentioned something about him Mr Balrog maybe being a cosplayer. He had to wonder… Corrigan started looking around for another cosplayer. They were always people who didn’t quite fit in, so maybe they’d be good at relating to demons who didn’t quite fit in!
Well, there was one lady over in a corner who was done up as a massive werewolf. She might even be using Meds to get that result… By herself in a nightclub? She might well be equally out of place!
(Corrigan, pointing to the werewolf) “Oooh, she looks fierce.”
Mr Balrog headed off over that way – although he seemed to feel that the lady was another supernatural entity, and might have some insights on their relationship to human beings. Coming from such disconnected perspectives, the ensuing discussion got rather weird.
Corrigan found it amusing enough that he almost forgot to keep an eye out for a partner of his own!
Mr Balrog and the Werewolf were still arguing the fine points of their worlds of origin when the disco ball went off, and the razor-sharp glass fragments swept the room like a scythe. Nine out of ten clubbers went down in the initial blast, while many of the rest fell as the ceiling collapsed! Corrigan, as usual, wasn’t hit; the incoming mirror-fragments always tended to go into orbit around his sparkles. He raised the traditional after-the-blast cry!
(Corrigan) “Last call!”
It was sad. He hadn’t found anybody to take home – but it was good to help others!
The “werewolf” was fine as well; Mr Balrog had taken the brunt took the blast – and seemed to be relatively undamaged.
Corrigan glanced at the mirror-shards dangling amongst his sparkles and grinned. They helped keep him on the cutting edge and basking in the limelight – but there were always more, and – who knew? – these might have a greater destiny…
(Corrigan) “Here, why don’t you have these? They’re not actual sparkles, but maybe you can keep them in your aura.”
Hanging in the Balrog’s flaming aura, the mirror-fragments became white-hot dots of molten glass. Not quite sparkles – but who knew? If he kept on trying to achieve balance, perhaps they would become sparkles! His physique was certainly good enough…
Meanwhile, back in Kadia, Kelsaru was getting things organized; between the recordings, the written materials, and the telepathic impressions available from the Thralls, there was no reason why Kevin should have to make a personal pitch to 99.9% of his prospective Thralls. It was only a few with really specialized concerns that would want a personal encounter before making up their minds. Most of the rest were more than willing to sign up without further ado, while those who wanted to opt out were either leaving, or being assigned to various jobs if they were already indentured or owed rescue-fees.
In fact, a fair number came back after opting out and leaving. It looked like discovering that they were, indeed, free to refuse and leave was all the reassurance that some of them needed.
No one else could bond them for him of course – that seemed to be some sort of divine privilege (and she was still thinking about the implications of THAT, both for herself and for her clutch), but they could be set up with organized mass appointments. That way Kevin could bond them to himself with reasonable efficiency – and that would be needed considering how many of them there were getting to be.
As for the Amarant Solutions operations… the main profit was obviously in gatekeeping and trans-dimensional trading operations. Even the slave-purchases and rescue-operations were minor operations next to that, simply due to the sorting for souls. They were a major expense if you considered loss of time – especially for the Neodogs currently operating in the Linear Realms – but that basically went under Recruiting and Advertising. That sort of thing wasn’t expected to yield an immediate profit even if efficiently managed.
Still, there were plenty of the smaller offices that could be arranged more efficiently. Kevin and Marty had a tendency to place offices by whim, and they tended to favor exciting mythological realms.
She allocated some Thrall-resources to all of the “Disaster Realms” – where there’d be plenty of recruitable souls – and where they could best use some advance warning on the activities of the opposition (even if it’s nature wasn’t yet entirely clear). Others… All of the mythic and classical literary realms had stuff to trade, and it was a lot more effective to open gates to the more obscure ones. There were all kinds of people and companies trying to grab shares of the more popular realms, since those had the most gates and routes to them – but with plenty of Gatekeeper-Thralls available, it would be best to hit up the more obscure places. They could afford to take circuitous routes though the manifold. Kevin could upgrade the efficiency with new gates when he had time, meanwhile they’d have exclusive access to a lot of places – and to possible recruits and resources no one else was reaching.
These “Core” people were fractitious though; the Core Military wanted more Thralls without recruiting, the Unified Church people seemed to disapprove on principle, while have very few objections to what was actually being done, the House of Roses was actively recruiting, while not wanting to admit to it, and only a few businessmen were willing to acknowledge that they were dealing with a slave-trader.
At least it looked like this “Vekxin” person was almost cornered, and that the general population in Core was having no trouble in accepting the notion of sapient humanoid property like the shape-shifted Neodogs and anthromorphs from the Manifold. They didn’t seem to be having any trouble with acknowledging slavery out in the Manifold either – but how they’d feel about formally acknowledging humans as property in Core was still a bit up in the air. There were a few defacto cases around – but nothing formal.
Over in the dragonworlds, a few of the kids were exploiting the system a bit – using their free access to the processing machines to undercut Kevin’s prices on high-quality slave-processing. Of course, when Kevin found out, he’d probably be pleased that they’d thought of it. Kevin quite expected people to exploit their resources.
He probably wouldn’t be pleased to discover that a number of the hatchlings were getting into fights with other hatchlings who were there to be educated, and sometimes even getting into completely uncontrolled fights with other young dragons outside his household. Perhaps it was inevitable, but Kevin had really been hoping that giving his hatchlings everything they’d needed – and most of what they didn’t – would keep them out of trouble. Of course, for those who’d lost a fight, the ones who’d been killed would be easy enough to retrieve – and most of the outsiders would probably be open to selling them back soon enough.