Back in Core, the House of Roses and the Unified Church had settled on stashing Death in a small, ancient, castle in Brittany, France – Chateau de Largoet.
Having never been there, having no idea of what the place was like, and not being able to access any information about the place – whether from the minds of people who’d been there, or from computer databases – Kevin would need a Thrall there to help him direct the gate.
The Church was a bit reluctant to involve the Thralls – but the House had no such compunctions; they got a couple on the spot to help Kevin focus in on the Church’s Opener.
Interestingly, Kevin’s theory had turned out to be at least partially accurate; releasing the Death Knights from their unnatural bonds did seem to weaken the barrier by about a third – and sped up it’s overall decay as well. Either their bindings were related to the greater one or they were aspects of it.
The unforging process was revealing as well. There were definitely strange energies involved. They seemed to be related to negative energies in the same way that holy and positive energies were related, yet they weren’t the typical infernal power. The swords seemed to act as a energy vacuum in some fashion. Almost as if the blades were pulling in the trace mana of the souls and using that pull to hold them.
Kevin exercised the privilege of youth and leapt to quite a conclusion from a standing start. Both Negative and Positive energy were neutral in themselves – but became aspected when focused through the soul. Unholy power, destruction, despair, rage, darkness, nihilism – all negative aspects, just as sacred energies, creation, hope, inspiration, serenity, charity, and healing were all positive. The souls weren’t bound to the swords. The Swords were just links to someone like HIMSELF. Thus the need to consent to become a Death Knight… Being slain by one was simply a link-breaker. As for the dimensional barriers… all they had to do was exaggerate the link to where the enemy wanted the souls to wind up and suppress others; that way almost all the souls would wind up going where you wanted them too. The cross-Manifold bonds channeled power from the flux between the worlds. If he wanted to get souls into phantasms, he simply had to find dying volunteers who’d like a new life with some bennies, bind their souls to himself without a soul-transform – probably a witchcraft pact alone would do it – and transfer them in… It wouldn’t work if they didn’t like the new life though; a spell-link wouldn’t be nearly as strong as the natural affinity of having been born into a life or choosing it independently.
Hm… A compatible personality between the phantasm and the soul would probably be a good idea, but a large part of that would be describing their new incarnation in advance and selling them on it. If he was good enough at that, they’d just need a link to transfer in even WITHOUT any major intervention.
Ok, all that was simply theorizing again – but he’d bet that there was something good in there that would at least lead to better theories.
Meanwhile, Marty had been having a close encounter of a particularly awkward kind: a young man holding the broken remains of a weapon…
(Ex-Marty) “Well now Marty, how do I look now that I am flesh and blood again? Do you see any resemblance between us?”
Well, there was a resemblance – if Marty had been a lot younger and fitter.
(Marty) “Yeah, I can see it. You look pretty good.”
(Ex-Marty) “Good to hear, although I do suppose you might be a bit biased in my favor. (Cocks his head) Or maybe not.”
For a moment, Marty wondered if it was Puck again… It would be just like him to come back for a third pass at trickery… Still, the mannerisms were all right. It probably was the… er… ex-him.
(Marty) “So, what are you going to do now?”
(Ex-Marty) “Not sure, I was giving some thought to following you guys out of here for a ways. I also was pondering trying to reforge the blade to act as a better focus of my personality and memories before venturing too far though. Those rune weapons were handy on some levels.”
(Marty) “Always room for people in Kadia.”
(Ex-Marty) “Glad to hear it. I also suspect the training as a Death Knight ought to be somewhat compatible with the training of a paladin. Any thoughts on that? And if I do pursue that, any particular faith you prefer?”
(Marty) “Hey, go for it. And why not go Catholic? Lots of good knightly orders out there.”
Kevin heard about that bit later… A personality-recording to help a phantasm maintain stability; not as good as being in the entourage of someone with a soul, but still helpful. The trip had certainly paid off in ideas and information.
(Ex-Marty) “So what is Kadia like?”
(Marty) “Kevin runs the place for his servants to rest and train. It’s got lots of technology that’ll blow your mind, more entertainment than you can shake a stick at, and paths to a lot of worlds.”
(Ex-Marty) “Sounds like fun. Now I do have an embarrissing question to ask of you, if you don’t mind.”
(Marty) “Yeah? I’ve heard a lot of those.”
(Ex-Marty) “You wouldn’t happen to remember my/our name? You do seem to recall some of the details of our collective past.”
(Marty) “Err… Oh yeah! I remember now! Your name’s Tomlin.”
(Tomlin) “Ah good, I was certain calling myself Marty wold cause no end of trouble.”
(Marty) “Could just go with Martin. Still confusing, though.”
(Tomlin) “Quite true… In the meantime I think, before I go off and become a holy warrior, it might be a good idea to partake of the coming celebrations. Care to join me? (Winks with a bit of a wicked smile.)”
Marty knew that kind of smile all too well.
(Marty) “Great minds think alike!”
(Tomlin) “We’re two of a kind eh? Now remember one of us is the responsible one, and I plan to find out which one tonight!”
There was quite a festival going on in the streets of Jerusalem – and Marty and Tomlin wound up competing to see who could be most responsible (Tomlin clearly won that one) and who could party hardest (Marty) – but the margin of victory was higher for Tomlin. He managed to keep Marty out of a few of the seediest events and even kept him down to only three run-ins with the city guard.
The celebration reached considerable heights. Sadly, Marty and Tomlin were unlikely to remember it later, Jamie refused to go off-duty while there was a prisoner to help Kevin keep an eye on, and A’ikana was entirely too dignified to participate fully.
Nonetheless, the city was jubilant, and the sense of unity in the city seemed likely to set a precedent that would stand for years to come – especially after an Archangel appeared in the Temple-Mount complex to watch over the festivities.
Kevin was still focused on Death – he wasn’t taking any risk of losing such a source of information given how difficult it had been to find any so far – but he did wave cheerily.
Marty was more direct:
(Marty) “Hi! Have a drink!”
Stunned silence filled the crowd as the archangel looked at the proffered drink for a moment – and then took the drink and sipped it idly. He raised the mug to the air…
(Archangel) “Congratulations on your victory today! For this surely is an occasion for celebration as you have triumphed over the forces of Darkness.”
Things got even wilder after that – although Tomlin smacked Marty upside his head, spilling half his mug
(Tomlin) “Yoush were shupposhed to welcome him to the party first, dolt.”
(Tomlin) “Ish ok, now what were we doing?”
(Tomlin) “Shounds about right to me. Off to the next place of impeccable virtue!”
They reeled off down the street together. Faced with divine approval for a wild party, even A’ikana gave in and had a little fun.
Jamie was seriously torn. Hm… Angels were Heralds of the Lord. Did the presence of an Angel in that capacity mean that peace had been declared and that the combat troops could stand down? If so, was she now off-duty?
She eventually decided to unbend enough to participate in a few festivities.
In the morning, both Marty and Tomlin had been well-polluted, although Tomlin was not doing nearly as well as Marty. It looked like the last drinking game might have been a bit much for him… At least, Marty thought that it had been the last game. It took Marty a moment to recall that he could purge himself readily, but that Tomlin wasn’t so lucky. Had he drunk himself into alcohol poisoning?
That turned out to be a mild “yes”, so he had his pocket-companions treat him. He’d still have a hangover, but the rest of the effects were easy enough for them to deal with.
How had he ever done without Thrall-assistants?
Was he getting too reliant on Thrall-assistants? He might have to think about that some time. Anyway…
(Marty) “You okay?”
(Tomlin) “How in the however many levels of Hell do you drink that much? We weigh about the same and I am younger than you.”
(Marty) “I’m magic. Or crazy. Probably both.”
(Tomlin) “I am voting for both myself.”
(Marty) “Anyway, that was fun. I think…”
(Tomlin) “Yeah, but the aftermath is a sure pain.”
Kevin, meanwhile, had a more-or-less private angelic visitation. The local powers wanted to thank him for his assistance in the war – but they also wanted to know when he’d be leaving, and strongly implied that it really needed to be fairly soon; a period of withdrawal would allow the natural balance to be re-established before he could be welcomed as an occasional unstable element.
They had no objection to establishing more contact with the outworlds; now that the horseman had invaded their realm, it was obviously time for that. They obviously could no longer remain isolated from the affairs of the Manifold – and the local population would still need supplies and trade to return to prosperity.
They didn’t even seem to really object to his recruiting – although personally Kevin would guess that they did not really approve.
Oh well, he’d been planning to leave as soon as the barriers dropped sufficiently to set up a gate safely anyway, and that would probably be sometime this afternoon. Besides, they had said “Thank you” and apparently meant it, which was a distinct rarity when you were in the “Lesser Evil” business.
He got together with the rest of the group to join in the end of Marty’s conversation with Tomlin.
(Kevin) “Ah well, Marty isn’t – strictly speaking – entirely mortal. Have a hangover cure. Death needed one two, and I wouldn’t have thought that even faerie ale would no that to him…”
(Tomlin) “Thanks, I needed that. So is the city still here or did the revelry do what the armies of undead could not?”
(Kevin) “Still here – mostly anyway – and, I think, at this point a lot of the repairs need to be up to the people who belong in this world. If a lot of it isn’t their own work, it might not stick. The barriers are far enough down to try a crossing in the next few hours… I don’t suppose that you know of any special trick to that or key to the barriers or some such?”
(Tomlin) “Sorry, I do know that it is tied to the Horsemen and their powers. I do suspect one of them is the key and the others serve as foci though.”
(A’ikana) “I would guess that they are fearmongers, and so use portents and a slow crescendo of terror to build up their power. Their victims feel entrapped, and believe that there is no escape – and so help sustain the barriers with their own strength. They are an old and terrible darkness, far more malevolent than Kevin’s mischief.”
Kevin sighed. NO ONE appreciated cheerful, friendly, polite, evil properly!
(Kevin) “Oh well. We may be able to get more out of Velaric (Velaric Storahm, until recently known as “Death”).
The barriers were down to the readily-manageable level, they had their stuff together, Kevin had sent a small contingent of Thralls to take the ship home, the local Thralls – with ever-increasing support from the local supernatural powers – were having little trouble cleaning up the other sieges now that Death’s power was no longer supporting them, and the knightly council had decided they would like some local gates to the other capitals (and taken Kevin’s recommendation of setting them up in the new outworks on the Jerusalem end and in similar locations in the other capitals; they way they’d be well defended, yet set up to be under central observation and easy to defend against as well).
Kevin informed them that his “agents” could open and close the gates once they were set up – and that, if they did decide on a mercenary contract, they’d always be able to reach him. He also offered to take along any observers who wanted to come.
He had several Thralls stand by to keep any wild disturbances damped out – or at least to keep them away from Velaric and the observers / witnesses. There were several hundred who wanted to watch, although the knightly authorities were trying to keep the number of onlookers down to a minimum, and twenty-five who wanted to come along.
The House and Church had no objection to visitors of course, but didn’t want them involved in the debriefing – which seemed fair enough. It was likely to be tricky enough without having to stop and explain all the time. The local gates were easy – but for the main production, Kevin threw some wind, a bit of a lightshow, and some dramatic posing just for the look of things. No reason the onlookers shouldn’t get a bit of a show.
Marty just looked blase, simply for the sake of his image.
(Kevin) “We Stand Within the Sea of Worlds, Outside of Time and Upon the Threshold of the Infinite. Eternity has been given to men, as it has been given to those who have come before and will be given to those yet unborn. I am an Opener; by the strength of the race; let the balance be set that the Gates of the Foundation World allow our passage!”
Opening the gateway had been a new experience. There had definitely been something actively resisting his push outwards – but Kevin had slowly feed more power into the push until he’d felt another different-yet-familiar pull latch onto his own efforts. The combined push and pull had swiftly frayed the resistance – until the dimensional ward slowly unraveled from the damage and the gate took shape.
The Thralls he’d deployed wound up working feverishly to stamp out the wild energies released, and to avoid any wild gates, dimensional disturbances, or similar troubles, before the potentials died down.
The rift in space opened up overlooking a light, picturesque forest (with all the obvious telltale signs of careful landscaping and computer-maintained gardening), a modest castle, a selection of Church and House officials, and several security teams and some Orbs in the distance. Obviously no one was inclined to take any chances with Death.
(Kevin) “Welcome to Core Earth. If you would step this way?”
Thawban had been clearly trying to hide his amazement. Most of the others hadn’t even bothered to try – although Tomlin had been watching with a knowing smile. He seemed to be fully aware that the dramatics weren’t at all necessary – although he was also aware that he wouldn’t be very creative or anything in Core, even if it wouldn’t hurt him any. He’d want to get to Kadia fairly quickly, or he’d be very boring to have around.
Kevin kind of wanted to meet the Church Opener; Openers were rare enough that he’d only met a few during the early days of the opening – mostly during discussions with the scientists who were investigating it – and had rarely encountered any since. Ryan was about it…
Marty stuck with Thawban and Tomlin – and with gently prodding people through the gateway if necessary.
Hm. The Church Opener appeared to be a woman in her 30’s, of African descent, and wearing loose fitting gray and white clothing. Over that she has a black Tabard with the number XIII embroidered onto it in a highly stylized fashion.
(CO) “Well, welcome back to Core. I am sure the bunch of you have quite the stories to tell from what reports I have heard.”
(Kevin) “Always nice to visit home! Ah, introductions… (Kevin introduced people all around – including) “Velaric Storahm, until recently known as ‘the Horseman of Death’… I presume it would be safer to close the gate at the moment. Would they prefer it sealed for now, or simply shut?”
(CO) “Definitely stories worth hearing I think. I do think it best to close the gate for now. Let us hold off on sealing it until we have more information though. The forces in the area should be able to keep intruders in check. Unfortunately, I fear the officials behind me will want to debrief all of you and put Mr. Storahm into protective custody.”
Kevin closed the gate – and recommended against upsetting Mr Storahm; even in Core, he could still do something pretty unpleasant if he wanted to blow what magic he had available in Core all at once.
There was no point in resisting the debriefing – at least as long as they didn’t take TOO long about it – it was just nice that everyone was getting it over with all at once. Separate debriefings for the House, the Church, and the Military would have been pretty annoying and a huge waste of time.
They’d spent a lot of time on the Ark enchantments and the Wards. No one in the group could really figure out why? It wasn’t like local magic was really likely to be that useful elsewhere… Oh well. It was over soon enough, although they were asked to keep quiet about Storahm’s location.
Kevin and Marty pointed out that they expected to get the relevant information anyway – and Kevin recommended keeping a few Thralls with him; both as servants and to help contain him if he loses his temper. Wine, women, and song had certainly implied as being among the benefits of retiring, and they didn’t want to even remotely appear to be cheating.
(Marty) “Yeah! You can’t cheat Death!).
After the groaning had stopped, the House had readily agreed to these points, the Military had been neutral, and the had Church required some debate and persuasion before they agreed to go along with it.
(Kevin) “He’s cooperating because I restored his memories of humanity; we want to keep those memories as well-reinforced as possible! Would you rather have his aspect as Death ascendent again? I find it hard to believe that you’d want to argue about this! It’s worked so far, so lets keep it up! Trust me, he as worse things on his conscience than fooling around with young women!”
The Church had actually turned out to be more reluctant about the Thralls than about the luxuries and women. They hadn’t been disagreeing about keeping him calm and happy.
Kevin told them that, if they had a ready supply of other handy agents with telepathy, glamour, magic, the ability to easily return if killed, and all the rest to keep an eye on him, that would work too – but if they didn’t have any handy, they should have some sense!
The Church representatives gave in eventually.