Federation-Apocalypse Session 87c – No Deposit, No Return

   When Marty got back that evening Limey was pestering the local Thralls for Scrolls too much on, playing, and listening to all the Drow teaching stories – although some of them seemed a bit off to him.

   Marty found him a few more scrolls to eat.

(Limey) “Whee! Lots of spells! I don’t know about these stories though! Most of them wind up with backstabbing, or other nastiness!”

(Marty) “Yeah, don’t listen to those.”

(Limey) “OK! Can I have a werepuppy? You said I could pick someone, but I didn’t get to!”

(Marty) “Nah, and I think I’m going to be cutting down on my people. It’s not good to have people as property!”

(Limey) “But you said! And they all volunteered! You even ordered people fed to werepuppies and had a lot of the werepuppies collared, chained, caged, and branded with silver! You got to have them, why can’t I?”

(Marty) “Because I wasn’t thinking about ethics at the time. I was being a jerk – and it’s not like you were an angel either.”

(Limey) “No fair! I don’t want to be all grown up yet!”

(Marty) “You can still be a kid sentient device. You just can’t be a horrible slaver like I’ve been – or a selfish jerk. I’ve been bad about that too… My God, what kind of role model have I BEEN to you?”

(Limey) “I think you’re over-fussing! You let Mr Gelman get you all upset! You got an exception error, you fixed it, you put a patch on! No reason to throw out your entire operating system!”

(Marty) “The man had some good points, little buddy. I HAVEN’T thought about what I’ve been doing. And I have been relying on the Thralls too much.”

(Limey) “Still silly! They’re almost all happy! Are you making things better?”

   Limey began to suspect that he wasn’t going to get another werepuppy to go with the one from the pirate trip… He cared about Marty, but he still wanted another werepuppy! Marty had told him he could pick one!

(Marty) “As for werepuppies – you already have one! That’s enough. Just like these two in my pockets were always enough for me!”

(Limey) “You’ve got ten in your pockets now! And ten more waiting back at home! And three servants! That’s a prime number and has no factors! And it’s the atomic weight of…”

   Limey wandered off into a riff on things with the value of 23. Well, he was a young computer.

(Marty) “Yeah, well, I’m cutting down to Elera and Minel. What the hell do I need with more than that?”

(Limey) “The others will be upset; you took them, and now you’re getting rid of them? Right after keeping them for a week?”

(Marty) “How long will they be upset?”

(Limey) “How would I know? There are things a good computer will do for you, and things it won’t! I found that on the internet!”

(Marty) “Well, everybody involved’s just going to have to live with it. Not like Kevin can’t find work for them.”

   That was a bit of a dilemma though. What if they got assigned to risky jobs? Still, he didn’t HAVE to keep them as concubines, he could always use them as office staff or transfer them to other projects gradually. That would probably be best.

   He thought about it while he took the straight gate-route back to Kadia and settled down to talk to “his” Thralls.

   Finding out that all eight of the new ones were pregnant by him was a bit of a shock.

(Marty) “You’re ALL pregnant?!?”

   He was in a state of shock for a few minutes… He knew perfectly well that pregnancy was not a 100% thing, and they’d only been with him a week!

   Then he kicked himself. Caught just like Jarvian. He should have known better. They’d sensed that he was missing his kid, and it was the duty of concubines to produce more. He hadn’t issued any direct orders about contraception, so they’d all used their powers to become pregnant by him. Probably on the very first encounter.

   Well, he’d take care of his own. The kids would stay with the mothers of course, but he would provide. The nice thing about Kadia was that there was no shortage of resources.

(Girls) “Can’t we stay with you? Children should be raised in a family! And we can take in the half-drow children too!”

(Marty) “I can’t exploit you anymore. I’ll visit, I promise.”

(Girls) “Is it exploitation if we want to be with you?”

   Marty sighed and assigned them each separate apartments in his building. At least he could dismiss the ten runners-up that he hadn’t actually taken more readily…

(Girls) “Thank you sir!”

   He also informed them that they were no longer his servants, and that they should lead their own lives – futile though that was.

   Well, maybe not entirely; Kevin could override it, but why would he? They’d still want some useful work, but there was no shortage of that for gatekeepers.

   Turvin and Amsian helped track the kids and keep things organized of course – and Marty told them they were welcome to stay on in that capacity, although they were freed from his service with only Kevin to obey. He was taking a risk there, but he didn’t think that Kevin would betray him… poor screwed up kid.

   Wait a moment… Kevin. Contracts. Pacts. Agreements… Kevin had agreed to work amicably with him long ago. The poor kid couldn’t go back on that agreement either could he… Was the boy just as trapped as his Thralls? Was that why pacters normally didn’t usually do a lot of socializing?

   Would Kevin be dismayed by his actions? He just couldn’t play entirely by his rules any more…

   Wait. Core. Kevin would probably just assume that he’d had a midlife crisis, grabbed a harem, and run off to be a bard – and then had realized that it wasn’t really what he wanted. He probably wouldn’t even see anything abnormal about it.

   Anyway, he had to play with Limey and figure out how to teach him some ethics. Would a Core education work on a sentient laptop? It might have been designed for humans and not sentient devices, but the behavior of sentient devices was still modeled on human behavior, and he could certainly link with the system at least as readily as a human child. He’d find out what Teacher thought of the little guy!

   Besides, he wanted to nip this “Lord Tabard” business in the bud. He’d always been “Marty,” “Mr. Tabard,” or just “Tabard” – and “Lord Tabard” was right out! He issued the orders right away!

(Thralls) “Yes Mr Tabard!”

   And then kicked himself again. Ordering them not to act as if he had a right to order them around was kind of circular wasn’t it?

   Perhaps he needed to make his own realm? How in the Manifold had Kevin done that anyway? Even Kevin didn’t really seem to know… Wait! Ryan O’Malley had known something about that kind of thing hadn’the? He’d have to try and get a hold of him. Still, if he had his own realm, he could offer an alternative to Kadia.

   That left him directly employing Elera, Minel, Kelian, Turvin, and Amsian.

   Well, his two girlfriends /aides and someone to be on call for each shift was pretty reasonable… He gave them strict orders not to show up for non-emergencies unless it WAS their shift. Turvin asked if Marty wanted to transfer Amsian and Himself from the “Harem Attendant” category to the “Servant” category.

   Sure, why not? He had them make it so – and they promptly thanked him for his decision.

   Wait… Why was that important to them? It was just a category, it didn’t even affect their pay! Come to think of it, Kelian had thanked him for NOT putting him into the Harem Attendant category.

   Oh no. Surely they hadn’t… He certainly hadn’t meant for…

   He didn’t want to know, and he definitely wasn’t going to ask. The suspicion was quite bad enough.

   Thank goodness he HADN’T casually had Kelian lumped in with Turvin and Amsian! He’d known the kid beforehand!

   Had this been his Midlife Crisis? Every Battling Business Worlder went through one – but the standard vacation time for that was two months! During which you usually ran completely wild, and showed entirely upside-down behavior patterns?

   Huh. Had he drifted so far towards the center that his Midlife Crisis had actually been SUBTLE?

   He’d have to re-evaluate Kevin’s contract too, and look for things that were overly unethical.

   That more-or-less came down to “is letting people sign themselves into a limited-term slave-indenture acceptable”. Did the “they’re guaranteed to come out of young and healthy” part make a critical difference? All the rest was just quibbling over price.

   It would still be better if Kevin wrote at least SOME limited “rights” into it – like the Neodogs had in Core After all, apparently the terms bind him too. He’d have to lobby Kevin to add those in… After all, Core played by different rules, and evidently judged the first part acceptable – and, much as he hated to say it, Core was GOOD at objectively evaluating things.

   “Morally Gray” was workable. It was just the “outright black” stuff that bothered him… He’d always thought that he was better than that! Moral paragon? No. Complete monster? He’d been getting a bit closer to that than he wanted. He’d have to push Kevin into the lighter grays if he could. He’d exploit the Thralls as little as possible. Once he established his own realm, he might have to skim ensouled individuals off Kevin to ensure they can live freely there – and he’d treat “his” Thralls as employees and friends instead of property. It would help his conscience…

   The Thralls appreciated that all the more since they knew that he didn’t have to treat them that way.

   As for Kevin, the Soulbond – however necessary it was to give them the returning ability and mana – would always lead to a gulf in how Kevin saw them. Both they and he KNEW that they were his property for the duration, and that would always color things. Marty wasn’t sure that he could change that, but HIS Thralls were going to have all the freedom he could give them!

   They still tended to work hard. They knew how much they’d been given – and most of them felt some obligation to earn it. They didn’t want to cheat Kevin – and there were a lot of people who needed their help. The powers they’d been given were SO useful…

   Marty made sure that they could spend time on things like rescue work. It wasn’t like they could actually die doing it.

   They were pleased with that. They liked helping people, and showing off a bit, and knew that Kevin liked them to spend time rescuing people – which was something of a reassuring item all on it’s own. The boy wasn’t that bad, no matter what people thought. He just needed to be more responsible and to get over wanting to be a jerk. Just because his powers came from a nasty source didn’t mean that he had to be nasty!

   Marty spent a little time looking into those powers – and found that, in some ways, Kevin was a drug addict. There was only one bigger rush than binding a willing soul to yourself; and Enlightenment – progressing towards a bond with ALL souls – was hard to repeat so often. Raising a kid could involve a more subtle, but just as satisfying, soul-bond – but that took a lot longer.

   Dang. Poor little guy. Somehow that comparison made Kevin a lot more human to Marty.

   It would be easier for him to get that rush if he didn’t insist on being fair about it – and he certainly didn’t stint on the powers he bestowed. That set him far, far, apart from most soulbinders. In some ways he was still a fourteen-year-old who wanted to run around adventuring and keeping everyone safe – and got infused with massive demonic powers. He hadn’t really aged or changed since…

   That might not change Gelman’s mind about Kevin, but it was enough for him!

Federation-Apocalypse Session 87b – Custodial Arrangements

   Looking up the lady who’d wanted to talk to him was pretty easy – and she did seem vaguely familiar. Maybe he’d met her on one of the earlier visits to the Underdark? She could be someone he know in a local ID, but that seemed unlikely – although he had the Thralls check to make sure.

   Definitely a local, and about three months pregnant; they could pick that up easily. She was pretty impatient too.

   Yep… a mother of one of his kids to be.

(Chessagh, crossly, and impatient at having to bother with this at all) “I don’t really see the point of this! And I’m not sure why a male would be interested! But it seems to be some sort of surface tradition, and I suspect you’re personally powerful enough to make trouble if I don’t follow your traditions… I’m going to have a child by you – a halfbreed – and normally such a child would be raised to serve me and my house; since it would have no other future but slavery, such a child makes a fairly reliable ally in the Underdark – but apparently, in the surface tradition, males who have done nothing but join in a bit of pleasure have a say as well as the woman who does all the work! So; what opinions do you have about the fate of this child?”

   Ah, a noblewoman. Well, that was reasonable for her culture. It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen more bizarre ones – although there was a definite hint of his ex-wife about it somehow.

(Marty) “First things first. How are your house’s fortunes?”

(Chessagh) “So-So! We had to leave a lot behind in the Old City, and most of the slaves – but a good deal of treasure was portable, and it’s worth more up here. The pesky mages are strutting a bit now that most of the gods are gone, but I’ve been looking into a few of the female surface deities to get things back on track!”

(Marty) “Got anybody in mind?”

(Chessagh) Hm. Shar seemed sensible, but she’s quite unpopular. Lovitar has many of the right ideas, but goes entirely overboard! Bubastis seems like fun, but might not be too practical… I’m sure that someone will turn up! (Pause) What has all that got to do with the child? Will you be wanting some sort of authority over it or a share of it’s time? If that’s what you want, you’ll have to pay for it! I’m not wasting a pregnancy on producing a child for someone else for free!

(Marty) “Possibly. And I like Bubastis myself.” (Marty elected to go with the only non-evil goddess of the bunch. No way was growing up to worship evil!) “I’d prefer that my kid not be a slave, too.”

(Chessagh) ‘I have heard that you and your companion give out powers with no training, no risks of dying learning, and no years of delay… How do you do that? Is that how you can afford to not send the failures into slavery, because you have no failures?’

(Marty) “Yeah, we do that. I’d prefer to keep my own kids out of that, though.”

(Chessagh) ‘Foolish male! If what I have heard is true, they are guaranteed to live, and even to have power! It is rare for one in three to achieve so much!’

(Marty) “Yeah, well, the kid has to be obedient to my friend.”

(Chessagh) ‘And what of that? Should children not be obedient? Or are you simply wise enough not to trust your “friend”?’

(Marty) “Heh. More and more, the latter. Now, what’s it going to take for my son or daughter NOT to be a slave?”

(Chessagh) ‘The child would not become a slave unless it was a total failure in any case – but if you would like to buy it a place, or buy it outright once it is born and weaned, I suppose we can come to an agreement… You command many loyal servants.’

   Negotiations made the basics pretty obvious – and that last line showed what the mother’s would likely be angling for. The locals had seen enough of the Thrall’s abilities to have a fair idea of just how valuable they were, and most of the houses would like to be assigned a few. He could buy the kid almost any kind of position; If it’s presence provided an income or other useful advantage, that would guarantee it being reasonably well treated. If he was paying for an education, that would cost more. If he wanted it to be important, pampered, indulged, and treasured, that would cost a LOT more – or the assignment of a thrall or two to the house. Buying it outright would be cheaper in the long run, but would leave him to find a place for the kid.

   Marty strongly considered going with the assign-a-Thrall option for the moment; that would guarantee the kid a pretty good place… It looked like – out of the nine women he’d apparently bedded on the last visit – five had conceived. The Thralls had knocked up a few as well, but Kevin had already purchased the enslaved mothers-to-be – it seemed that no one had declined to sell after his power-demonstrations during the last visit – and has ordered the local office to make arrangements to either get the ones born to free mothers out of Dark Elven custody or to at least offer to train and care for them.

   Well, he made sure about his own. The Thralls should be able to handle any of theirs that were left.

   Oh yeah! He’d almost forgotten about Dumbledore offering to reserve places for them at Hogwarts.

   Oddly, that was a bit shaming – a very unfamiliar feeling. Kevin had taken responsibility for making sure that HIS kids – and the offspring of his Thralls – would be cared for while he was being completely irresponsible.

   He really needed to change that.

   Was he being hypocritical? Or more so than usual? After all, he was mistrusting Kevin while surrounding himself with Thralls and using them as bargaining chips. Was it just that it had been a bit of a shock to discover that even Thrall-loyalty and a mental link wasn’t enough to ensure reliable performance? He was going to have to get more hands on and rely less on the Thralls…

   Still, what was he going to do with the Thralls? They were SO convenient!

   Besides… He’d been through so much with Kevin. He was a resourceful, clever kid! It was just that he USED people. Was trying to make it with their agreement and paying well really enough? He had signed up his own son as soon as possible rather than risking losing the boy – and that showed commendable concern for a boy of Kevin’s apparent age, but his methods…

   Well, definitely pay for education and decent treatment at a bare minimum. He was no great shakes as a father and he knew it. After that, it was try to get them moved to a dimension where they couldn’t get killed…

   Maybe he should just buy the kids outright once they were born and take them to Kadia? The core educational programs might be pretty boring as far as he was concerned, but they were very effective – and at least they’d be guaranteed of living to grow up. Better there than here!

   Wait; it wasn’t like he was transferring outright ownership the way Kevin did to him. He was just providing their services for a limited period.

   Was that fair to the Thralls? Would it be fair to his kids not to make every effort to get them to a sensible universe and guarantee their survival?

   He came down on the side of his kids. The mother-to-be had seen the indecision and was holding out for Thrall-services at the moment anyway; the houses wanted the healing abilities very badly indeed – at least until they got Elistraee back or found an acceptable new set of gods.

   Oh dear. Now he – with the best of motives – was buying his OWN kids and taking them to Kadia. At least, under Kevin’s rules, they’d be way underage for recruiting anyway – unless they were dragons.

   The woman offered him a 20% price break if he paid non-refundably in advance, both because they could use the services of the Thralls now and because there was always the chance of a stillbirth (although having the Thralls around would help be sure of avoiding that).

   His businessmen instincts told him to take it, but his “dad instincts” (where had they come from?) Labeled that really creepy… Still, this was a low-tech realm, and healing magic really would help with the births and help avoid miscarriages and prenatal problems.

   He paid in advance.

   They mothers accepted gladly. Yes, Marty was a hero of the city (and was kind of pleased that they remembered him that way) – but this was both family and business! The Dark Elves weren’t too sentimental about kids of course – they had quite a few over their lifetimes and lost a lot of them anyway. There was still some maternal feeling of course – it was both built into humans and near-humans and mandated by their breeding pattern – but if a father was willing to pay that much for them, obviously said father would value and care for them.

   On the social front, it would take some time for the information he’d been handing out to take full effect – but just the “these are the creatures that live around here” presentations were taking a lot of the nerves away. Most of the local creatures were actually far less dangerous than the Underdark denizens, but they’d been unknown – and rendering them known helped a lot.

   Lacking any further pressing business, Marty finally got on with what he’d come for – attending a few parties and some recreation!

   He avoided knocking up any more women, but a bit of drinking with Limey and a performance or two should soothe his nerves a bit… These Dark Elves got up to some quirky stuff! Particularly since Chessagh was taking his advice and going with Bast.

(Marty) “See? Practicality isn’t everything! You’ve got to loosen up once in a while!”

(Chessagh) “Practicality first! Once you’re sure of survival, THEN it’s time to enjoy it!”

(Marty) “I think I’m learning that…”

   The Thralls all agreed you had to survive to have fun, and being a Thrall took a LOT of pressure off!

Federation-Apocalypse Session 87 – Secrets of the Faithful

   Due to a special request for some off-schedule gaming, Session 87 followed the day after after session 86:

   The executions were, of course, proceeded by a reading of the charges, a formal plea for mercy by some of the Elvish missionaries in town, and some other ritualistic bits. The cases of the two followers of the Elder Eye were straightforward enough; Kidnaping people to sacrifice to an evil god in exchange for magic and control over monsters. No one had questioned what they wanted useless or elderly slaves for in the Underdark – but now that slaves were scarce, they had resorted to snatching people.

   Marty considered that pretty much a lose-lose situation there. Of course, even if the city had still been routinely sentencing people to slavery, two characters with supernatural powers to summon up monsters probably wouldn’t have been ideal candidates. Most of the Orcs and evil Underdark races had either gone to Battling Business World or had been left behind in the Underdark, most of the slaves from the surface races had been released as one of the conditions on getting aid from the surface elves, and the priestesses of Elistraee were generally against enslaving other Dark Elves – unless, of course, they refused to reform and stuck with being Drow. There were still all the slaves from the enemy army and the ongoing attacks against the fortifications around the gates in the Underdark.

   There was a disturbance of course. The Elder Eye granted powers over Abominations and Slimes, and there were a number of things lurking in the drains that the condemned prisoners called up in a last-ditch effort to avoid being killed – or possibly in an attempt to make a few final sacrifices before they met their god.

   Marty helped take care of that – and looked after his two apprentices. The battle wasn’t really that long; the two cultists didn’t really have that many monsters available and there were only two of them to control the things – but the populace did see it as a more than ample justification for a sentence of slow-and-painful-death. The authorities were grateful both for the assistance and for the healing of injuries afterwards: they still had arcane magic, but the only divine healing magic in town was from the missionaries and a few cults. With eleven Thralls along, Marty had more healing magic than the rest of the town put together.

   The noble kid and his servant boy were next up – and the charges there were rather vague. They were implicated in some sort of secretive cult and the disappearance of other children, and they had refused to provide any further information under interrogation – including somehow managing to resist thought-probing spells. They’d attempted to escape before interrogation, had been defiant and otherwise troublesome, and were suspected of being responsible for attacks on the city by strange monsters.

   It sounded like a laundry-list to Marty. No doubt the kids were up to something or other – kids often were – but the city population was in a new place, with new monsters, and their entire life had been turned upside down. The elders were pretty set in their ways, yet everything had changed – and the kids were up to something new and unprecedented. It looked to him like they were being scapegoated.

   Dang it, after Gelman’s lambasting, he was actually feeling ETHICAL!

   He backed the formal appeal for mercy – although he turned out to have enough local pull as a vital supplier, one of the architects of their escape, and potential bearer of unknown powers to get it commuted to banishment without even resorting to knifing people. Of course, they didn’t have too many places to go… The Dark Elves had picked this area because of the perpetual twilight, a reputation that kept most people away, and the scattering of monsters that helped ensure privacy and keep everyone together.

   Surrounding the area… There were the Dales, where persistent raids by Lloth-worshiping Drow had caused a great deal of havoc. Sembia, which disliked even normal elves and outsiders in general. The Empire of Shadows – a wasteland run by ancient evil spirits – and Cormyr, which was having a civil war. Not exactly ideal situations for a pair of Dark Elven kids.

   That left the ocean or shipping them out from the Amarant Solutions office. The Thralls said that they were ensouled after all.

   Well, he had just taken responsibility for them – but he wasn’t sure that he wanted to send Kevin more potential Thralls right away. He got them positions just past the first gate for the moment.

   The kids were quite grateful – and seemed to be slightly in awe of him. Was that really called for?

(Marty) “No need for that, just saving your butts.”

(Kid) “Thank you for intervening! I didn’t want to die that way…”

(Marty) “Did you actually do anything?”

(Kid) “Only a few minor healing spells and such – but the priestesses of Ellistraee and the old nobles got all upset… We should have left with the others, but the ones with commitments had to stay behind.”

   Wait, what? They’d done healing magic – even if minor – and had been involved with disappearances, but only voluntary ones… Ok, they really WERE up to something.

(Marty) “Really? Now why would they get mad at you for that? They NEED that!”

   They were a bit shy about explaining – but were willing to talk to Marty for some reason.

   It was because a few of them had thought Kevin might be a god – he was using incredible powers to intervene in the godswar after all – and so they’d tried setting up a little group worshiping him. There weren’t many approachable godlings who seemed to specialize in getting people out of danger and bestowing powers.

   It had worked. Several of them had gained minor powers. They’d been keeping it a secret, both because a few were running away to wherever the Thralls would send them (Marty sighed. Oh yes; the Thralls did have standing orders to recruit) and because the local priests were ALL very much against intruder deities. Almost as importantly, most of the older nobles were very much against both male and young deities.

   Oh, great, religion and politics mixing with possessive local deities. It looked like ALL the local priesthoods tried to root out new cults and such, lest they spawn competitors.

   Why hadn’t the Thralls just shipped them all out? He shot a quick query over, and found that the Thralls tended to respect contracts; some of the kids – like the noble youngster here – had agreed to apprenticeships, while the servant-boy had, of course, agreed to a term of service. Therefore the Thralls wouldn’t help them escape.

   Of course, the local Thralls knew that they’d probably performed the Spirit-linking ritual anyway, so even if they got killed, that would just send them to Kadia anyway.

   And that was why they were both in awe of, and willing to talk to, Marty – and weren’t bothering to disguise it any longer. They considered him at least a demigodling.

   This was making his two apprentice bards more than a bit uncomfortable – especially since the kids reported actually being granted divine magic thanks to their worship.

(Ashera) “Uhm… Marty… Are they serious?”


(Marty, with a lot more hesitation than before) “Yes…”

(Ashera) “But only a major outsider can grant divine magic! Gods or demons lords and such! What are you then?”

(Marty) “I am an agent of one of these beings.”

   There was a certain amount of upset there… They’d heard of the Godswar, and of the disruptions in the Underdark, and knew many legends of other Godswars (well, they were apprentice bards). If new gods were moving in, all civilization might be in danger! Especially if the new god was recruiting among the Drow; Lloth wouldn’t tolerate that! Was Marty – and this new deity – trying to get them all killed?!?

   Telervari was too busy making religious gestures at him and praying to talk though.

(Marty) “Hey, I’m having second thoughts about it!”

   The utter holy wrath of his colleague combined with news of the custody change had really affected Marty. He was actually starting to THINK about these things! Hm… Perhaps it was time for another god to enter the equation? How did you go about becoming a god anyway? He’d have to look into it…

(Telervari) “Where did this diety come from? What’s he like? Why is he trying to push his way into our realm? How long before the gods notice and go to war?!?”

   Marty explained Kevin to the best of his ability – but didn’t make much of an effort to sell him.

(Ashera) “Oh, WONDERFUL! A rebellious teenage deity! “

(Marty) “Yeah, that’s him.

(Telervari) “And already operating in several worlds? The Gods are going to be livid!”

(Marty) “Wish I knew that before I partnered up with him…”

(Ashera) “You’re PARTNERED with a DEITY? WHAT are YOU?!?”

(Marty) “I’m a … well, back home I’m a normal person, but a lot of places would call me a cartoon. A moving picture. You know, like minor image.”

   It took some time to explain that his body was like an illusion in some ways, but that he was quite real.

(Marty) “See? Flesh!”

(Ashera – the girl he’d slept with – flushed a bit) “Well I never doubted THAT… At least this “Kevin” isn’t actively trying to build a following! A few stupid children probably won’t attract the notice of the gods…”

   Marty – giving it a little thought – was inclined to agree. A few hundred street kids spread across the world and a few kids meeting in a clubhouse probably wasn’t worth a Godswar. A trickle of Drow youngsters from each city who thought that signing up was a lot easier and safer then their other options – probably wasn’t important either. He kept his mouth shut. Considering the Underdark, the Wererats probably got more kids than Amarant Solution recruited every year. Did they have many friends who were still active in their little cult?

(Marty) “So who turned you in?”

(Kid) “My older sister did… She caught me healing an injured pet.”

   Drow… Er, he meant, “Dark Elves”.

(Marty) “Well, hopefully that’s the last you’ll need to worry about her.”

   Apparently the kid wouldn’t miss her. She hadn’t ever been very nice to him, or at least she hadn’t been nice in the last few decades.

(Marty) “And what’s up with these strange monsters? Know anything about that?”

(Kid) “I think they’re just the things that live around here. After all, we couldn’t expect to see tunnelwyrms and mind flayers and things up here could we?”

(Marty) “Makes sense.”

   He really needed to do something to straighten out the traditionalists and to nudge them toward an understanding of how an aboveground life worked.

   Then he smacked his head with his palm. How silly could he be? In his local Identity he was a BARD, and he’d brought along some others! All he had to do was distribute information!

   He sent the kids on their way after finding out who else (another eighteen kids or so) was in their cult and set out to distribute what information he could about building surface buildings, the local fauna and flora, and just generally living in the open air, making it as entertaining and appealing as he could,

   That went over pretty well – and it helped that he could easily import some books. Oddly enough, the local elves teachings had been almost entirely concerned with gods and philosophical matters, and hadn’t included much that was practical.

   Marty HATED people like that. They were one of the reasons he hadn’t been thinking too hard about Kevin’s methods; he got results!

   Still, at least he’d given them a good kick in the rear!

   He authorized the Thralls to arrange transport out for the cult members, and to buy the members out of minor commitments and such. It was unlikely that the local gods would start anything over Kevin passing through every so often, but it would be best to show a willingness to get along – and that they weren’t really intending to try and take over.

   Next he’d have to catch up with that woman who’d wanted to talk to him – but children being executed had seemed a lot less likely to be able to wait. He had enough to answer for, both back home and to his own conscience, without adding any more.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 86d – Mid-Life Crisis in Faerun

   There were a dozen or so routes to Faerun, but Marty had put out his casting call in Waterdeep too – so that was the route he took. It would mean a fourteen-hundred mile walk to Barrataur. That really would be a bit much – and he didn’t want to take quite that much time out either. Wait! Waterdeep was overrun with Wizards; if he had one transport everyone to the edge of the forest, it would only be about a hundred and forty miles – and easy weeks travel, which was about what seemed appropriate.

   Hm. Kelian could handle calls and such while he was out, Amsian could look after the runners-up, and Turvin could come along to help out with Elera, Minel, and the eight new girls. Between his own skills and having eleven Thralls along – even if most of them were riding in his pockets – he wasn’t likely to run into anything he couldn’t handle. He had Turvin stick to human form as a servant, but kept the others in ferret-form and to himself. Better to keep his resources – and private harem – a secret for now.

   While his Thralls were collecting supplies and things he wrote a meticulous report (pretty much his first such effort) home… No doubt Gelman had already reported, and this could be a career ender back home. Mr Leland often played a bit fast and loose with the rules, but a mass child-slaving operation was probably a bit over the top.

   If that was the case, he wanted his boss to know everything he needed to know to make a good decision in that case. He had to wonder if he was being affected by the more orderly realms… He’d never thought of any of this back home!

   He needn’t have worried quite so much; Mr Leland did indeed see the enormity of the screwup – but he was also pretty used to subordinates exceeding their authority and making disastrous deals.

(Leland) “Hmm, this is a major screwup, but it’s not going to affect the main branch. And those two have been going at it since I hired Marty. I’ll let Marty fester for a bit. This will be a learning experience… and maybe keep him out of poor Gelman’s remaining hair. Now who’s a good baby possum? Yes you are!”

   The Waterdeep applicants were a very mixed bag; a couple of other elven bardic types, five elven rogues (including at least two that Marty would bet ten-to-one were spies), and three young elves who were looking into possible apprenticeships (and who mostly seemed to be assuming that “open-minded” meant “willing to visit a Drow city),

   Marty really wasn’t that interested in sex at the moment – for the first time in his adult life, Marty didn’t really feel like chasing girls (although, if one was game, he’d certainly go with it). It looked like… One of the Bards was interested in Romance (albeit with a female), one of the almost-certainly-spies gave the impression of being approachable (but her mind was heavily shielded; she might just be interested in a cover), and two of the apprenticeship-seekers certainly were.

   Well, he could hardly blame the surface elves for wanting to keep an eye on a group of drow that were moving back to the surface and using unheard-of magics.

   Marty took along the three apprenticeship-seekers and settled for teaching them way of the bard on the road, without even making any major effort to seduce them beyond basic friendliness.

   It happened with one of them anyway, mostly thanks to Marty’s enhanced charisma, strong social skills (at least in his bardic ID), and due to Turvin cheerfully aiding and abetting matters, (he thought that Marty could use the diversion).

   It did cheer Marty up a bit.

   The teleport went smoothly enough, even if a pesky griffin promptly popped up to make a pest of itself on the far end.

   On the road, they had a patrol that wanted to grill them for news, a few fey who insisted on them playing music for them all night but seemed to see them as semi-colleagues, and a group of “mysteriously flammable” (thanks to massed Thrall-witchcraft) bandits – of whom they captured six.

   They handed the bandits over to the authorities at the next settlement. After all, they were bandits. Presumably they were dead no matter who they gave them to – unless they gave them to the Fey or to Thay, both of which were arguably fates worse than death.

   Tavril did talk two of them into participating in the Witchcraft Spirit Pact ritual, which would link their spirits to Kadia. They were young enough to be possible recruits and bandits in Faerun had a short life expectancy anyway; it was pretty much exclusively a disposal system for the young, stupid, and desperate. After all, the smaller the group of travelers you ambushed, the more LIKELY it was that they’d include an adventurer who’d kill you.

   Besides, Kadia was underpopulated and was at least as nice as any afterlife that lawful evil bandits could expect in Faerun.

   Not too eventful – but then they were sticking to the roads. The forest was dark and had some menacing monsters, but normal people could travel there – and they were anything but normal.

   Barrataur was more than a bit odd… They were still getting the hang of “weather” and “day and night”. There wasn’t much actual confusion – but they didn’t yet have much real experience in designing buildings to handle varying surface conditions. They had some advisors – but there were still a lot of problems with heating, cooling, tight roofs, and wind damage. They were learning, but they’d had to hire some local architects – and the traditionalists kept wanting totally impractical designs. At the moment, it was a tangle of Underdark-style buildings, plain cottages, and quarter-finished larger structures with people arguing over the plans – mostly with phrases like “you’re not in the Underdark now!” and “That design was good enough for ten generations of (elven) ancestors!”.

   The traditionalists were fine with getting wet and being cold indoors? Well, they were elven traditionalists… And Marty had thought that getting old humans to change was a fuss.

   It wasn’t like he was an architect – although the Thralls could probably boost either himself of themselves enough to handle some basic advice.

   Even with the bustle, debates, and chaos, it wasn’t long before he was noticed – so he went ahead and formally announced his arrival.

   They definitely remembered him – and the reception was pretty varied. Some of them wanted to know if Kevin was coming too, a few seemed downright hostile, a few more than a bit nervous – it seemed that he had was rumored to have many mysterious powers of his own – others wanted to make business deals, and at least one noblewoman wanted to talk with him urgently.

   Well, it was easy enough to tell them that Kevin was busy elsewhere. The hostile ones were a bit more troublesome; it seemed that they were mostly of the opinion that it would have been better to stay in the Underdark, even if it meant being wiped out, than to flee to the desolate surface. A couple of the women in that group seem really angry – widows? perhaps women from the party? – and those had minds that were well-enough shielded to keep out the Thralls… Hm. Probably not widows or partygoers, it seemed that a lot of them had never been formally married anyway and most of that group were too old. Noblewomen who’d lost power? They did seem to form a pretty tight clique, like they were members of some secret club.

   Oh well, probably some local thing – although he would have to try and look up the women who might be carrying his kids. If only he hadn’t been so drunk at that party… There had been what, seven? eight? nine? It was almost four months ago now.

   Still a strong market for healing magic from what the local office had to say. Come to think of it, there were a number of minor injuries and such around; evidently they were short enough on healing to be reserving it for the major injuries. It might be a good idea to bring in a few priests if they could find some local priests who would work with the Dark Elves.

   How were things going on the religious front?

   It looked like… the new colony had successfully chased most of the Lloth-worshiping Drow out of the area, and was considering an attempt at exploiting (or even reviving – if they could obtain Kevin’s assistance) Myth Drannor. The local followers of Vhaeraun were apparently more-or-less willing to join the effort; the people of Barrataur both outnumbered them heavily and had actually managed to obtain support from the surface-dwellers. The Priestesses of Elistraee were claiming that they’d seen signs of her return, there were a few priests from the rest of the elven pantheon trying to win converts, there were rumors that Lloth still had a secret cult operating in the city, and there were still several minor cults operating – although most of those were highly illegal, like the Cult of the Elder Eye.

   In fact, they were going to be impaling a few such cultists that evening.

   Ah, Drow justice.

   The rest of the Elves were apparently trying to persuade them that there were better ways, but the Dark Elves had already softened things a lot; death by impalement was much nicer than the traditional slow-torture-before-being-hauled-into-hell-by-a-summoned-demon penalty.

   The business proposals weren’t to surprising… The Dark Elves still had plenty of treasure (the underdark was rich in precious metals, gems, and similar resources), as well as lots of spare weapons and thousands of (unensouled) Drow slaves left over from the attacking armies from a few months back. They needed building supplies, more food, scouts who knew the area better, healing and magical gear and were a long way from any major markets. The local Amarant Solutions office only had three Thralls, although there were a few more helping defend the fortified remains of the old city, and – between the recruiting, healing, magical services, and information-collecting, could only run the occasional cross-manifold caravan.

   Marty had a few more Thralls assigned to the office – Kevin was recruiting quite a few new ones back in Kadia – set up some deals, and stepped up the caravan schedule, focusing on food and on building supplies to start with.

   Unfortunately, spending a few days in town meant attending the executions – as little has he wanted to, it was a more-or-less mandatory public event. Four impalements; two middle-aged and tolerably prosperous shopkeeper-followers of the Elder Eye and a noble kid and his servant boy who apparently belonged to some unspecified cult that blasphemed against Elistraee.

   Marty had to consider what to do. He HATED seeing kids being abused or executed – especially in worlds where that was actually permanent.