Back at Hogwarts, the Ministry of Magic was still demanding an explanation, and a personal appearance by Kevin and Marty (albeit in their local Identities) to answer possible charges, and a full investigation of (and charges against) Vekxin, and adding a set of courses in pacts and dimensional magic to the usual curriculum to properly warn students of the dangers of pacts – regardless of whether or not there was really anyone qualified to teach such a thing. Of course, lack of a qualified instructor had never inhibited adding courses at Hogwarts before…
Dumbledore tried inviting Ryan O’Malley to teach again – but he was still too busy with the Hellstorm and the disturbances in Core. Well, given the situation – and with dark magic stirring again in the English Fantasy Zone response to the troubles in Core – he really did need such a course, and Paul Malfoy – as one of Kevin’s local Thralls – had been wanting to teach the other kids about both of those topics and was reasonably qualified to do so (he’d been studying what was known about dimensions and pacts in Kadia on the side). He’d advertise for Kevin of course – he could hardly do otherwise given the nature of Kevin’s pact – but it wasn’t like he and the other youngsters who’d already signed on with Kevin weren’t doing that anyway.
Dumbledore had always been in favor of letting the youngsters make their own decisions. Trying to keep them from dealing with consequences would never let them grow. That was why he hadn’t stopped Vekxin sooner – and Kevin’s pact was certainly both fairer, and better explained, than Vekxin’s had been.
He got young Malfoy in and gave him the go-ahead on his course proposals. It would mean a substantial delay in young Malfoy’s own studies – but that was one of the consequences of the extended lifespan Malfoy had been given when he’d signed up as one of Kevin’s Thralls anyway.
Malfoy was very pleased. Recruiting hadn’t been bad anyway – but Vekxin had soured a lot of kids on the whole idea, and that left them vulnerable. Hogwarts went through periodic attacks of Dark Magic anyway – even if most of them were relatively minor – but anyone who signed up with Kevin could easily recover from most curses and injuries, would simply be sent to Kadia if they were killed, and Kevin’s soulshield would even protect them from Dementors. Teaching a class would allow him to present the material, and describe both the benefits and costs of the various options, fairly, completely, and in a well-organized fashion – and just in time for some of the new classes.
The scouting parties that were out looking for access routes to two of the other worlds that were under attack – the Great Lakes Trade Colonies and Lleogyr – had located several possible routes. Unfortunately, it looked like the chaos there, and the barriers, were being reflected in the routes. Most of them currently went through war-and-nightmare realms. That wasn’t a good sign… On the other hand, there seemed to be quite a few routes open to the Great Lakes Trade Colonies; it looked like they’d traded rather extensively with other realms – even if they often hadn’t realized it. Moreover, they had virtually unlimited forests and wilds to fall back into and snipe from, along with a strong wilderness tradition, good firearms, fairly strong shamanic magic and enormous numbers of isolated forts and settlements. Even the Final Army would have a hard time making that into anything but a prolonged campaign.
Lleogyr was harder; it looked like the place had some sort of mystical barrier of it’s own up, even before the attacks began – and it had been an isolated backwater to begin with. There were a few possible routes, but they all went through seriously enchanted lands, mystical caverns, and similar awkward locations.
Over in the Dragonworlds, the hatchling-school and processing-center was open for business, and variations were already being requested. The Metallics were mostly happy with the 80% culling rate, but quite a few of the Chromatics preferred 90% or more… Most of the parents were happy with the training programs as well, although the Chromatics were pressing for courses in political manipulation, plundering and ravaging, a mandatory combat-course featuring high-stakes battles between the students, and the right for high-performing students to pick personal slaves from among the remainder of the student body – or at least to be offered slaves as prizes.
Most of that could be accommodated by simply offering a few more courses or by expanding the choices on the sign-up forms a bit; if you wanted your hatchlings in a mandatory combat-course, or signed up for being able to choose (if performing well) or be chosen (if performing badly) as a personal slave, that was easy. It was even easier to let the hatchlings have the option to sign up for that. A few of the Metallics wanted to be able to pay the testing and training fees up front, rather than with a percentage of the culls, but that was easy enough too.
A few orphaned or independent youngsters wanted training too. That led to a new arrangement; you could either take your chances (getting a free education if you avoided being culled, but automatically becoming property of the school if you were), set up a buy-out fee to get released instead of processed if you wound up in the cull category, or pay a lesser, non-refundable, buyout fee in advance to be released instead of processed if you wound up being culled.
That set off a small frenzy among the new students, and even among Kevin’s hatchlings: after all, there was no reason why that option shouldn’t apply to them – so if they managed to scrape up enough money to pay the advance fee, they could skip an at-risk period if they wound up in trouble – and at least until the enthusiasm for button-pushing ran down, that was well worthwhile.
On a higher level, a number of the other better-positioned dragons – and the secret police – were beginning to wonder about things. This “School” arrangement seemed to be being set up to be scrupulously fair, with only a modest – and clearly stated – bias towards Kevin/Ailill’s own hatchlings, and to be remarkably compassionate towards the culls. It might even be meant to ensure that most dragon hatchlings led reasonably happy and contented lives. Could that really be the work of an adolescent red dragon? There had been reports that the young dragoness that he’d recently claimed – and promptly made the dominant female in his harem – was not truly a red dragon and possessed very strange powers. Those had been disregarded at the time – but were beginning to seem more credible. Was Ailill/Kevin even really a red dragon? Had his remarkable good fortune been arranged? Where had he acquired the incredible resources – both in money and in new technologies – that he was channeling into a hatchling-collection project? What did he want with thousands of young dragons? Was he building an army? What would be the risks and benefits of dealing with him, challenging him, ignoring him, or – (in the case of a few younger females) offering an alliance-mating with him?
Many of the adolescents – including a scattering of ensouled local adolescent dragons and a few visitors in local identities – across the empire were considering the same things, albeit with a lot less caution and a lot more hormones. A number of them – the least thoughtful and most overconfident – attempted to confront Kevin’s guards and thralls, and were soon confined to await his pleasure. For their elders, that in itself was revealing. It meant that there was some question in his servants minds about what their master would want done. Probably not much of a question – the boy hadn’t hesitated to deal appropriately with previous challengers – but a question nevertheless.
It also meant that the boy entrusted his guard- and hatchling-instructor slaves with a fair amount of power and the authority to use it. Most master’s were not so permissive.
Over in the Linear Realms, Rameraz was pleased to find that the first kid – the boy who’d been being used as a heart donor – had survived.
Doctor Brenner was amused to note that his new pet seemed to find the survival of one child much more satisfying than steak and a soft bed. The creature really seemed to believe that rescuing people, and serving both “Lord Kevin” and him – as his current master – took priority over personal comforts or even survival (not that steak wasn’t good). He unbent enough to pet the ridiculously naive dog. It was a small enough reward – and the creatures were proving to be incredibly useful. They were capable of monitoring for treachery, healing injuries in moments, causing minor accidents, hacking systems, turning in anonymous reports, and concealing areas from sensor systems and psychic detection.
He’d had several options in mind for dealing with any insubordination or resistance, but none of the six Neodogs – even the two males – now in his service ever showed the slightest signs of any. Simple disapproval seemed to be all that was needed to keep them completely under control. It was a bit disappointing that the breeding cycle was so long and the maturation rate was so slow, but he still wanted to see what the pups would look like.
On the operational front, Doctor Brenner was brokering things on an ever-larger scale. The arcologies were huge, the syndicates had a strong presence in them – and selling spare kids to Kadia simply resulted in mysterious disappearances, rather then panic, death, and inconvenient bodies. Suddenly, rather than the syndicates snatching a scattering of illegal children as needed and convenient, they were actively sweeping them up (along with the occasional runaway legal child) – and the increased pressure was driving more of the kids into fleeing with the Neodogs.
That hadn’t been how Rameraz had pictured himself heroically rescuing children – helping a happy former organlegger organize and broker mass kidnaping – but at least they weren’t being abused or killed any longer, and even if Doctor Brenner was a bad personal master, at least he was a personal master.
Besides, it was important to keep an eye on him, and make sure that he didn’t kill or maim any more children.