While Marty was waiting three people called the office, giving the secretary – who’d eaten the phone – mild indigestion. A fax was received, and was promptly shredded by something obscene sounding behind the desk. Several human-shaped packages arrived (some looked like they were wriggling slightly), which she signed for.
After about an hour she turned to Marty…
(Secretary) “Alright sweetie, the Witch-King, Lord of the Nazghul will see you now. He will be behind the big towering doors at the end of the hall.”
Marty smiled, trying – and perhaps failing – to look bold and confident!
Lawyers and Accountants. Sometimes it was really hard to tell which was worse!
(Marty) “Thank you, ma’am.”
The hallway grew ever more cold as Marty walked down it, until he could see his breath fogging and then freezing. It seemed to take forever to reach the towering doors at the end of the hallway, and yet all too soon he stood before the giant skulls etched into the woodwork.
As Marty opened the doors he was confronted with a dark room, large enough that the walls were lost in shadows. There was a desk and a large chair facing away from him. The only light in the room came from the doorway he had opened and a heatless fire next to the desk. There seemed to be the faintest echoes of horrible screams hanging in the air. From the chair he heard a voice, so cold and leaden as to have a near-physical presence of his own, and saw a bony hand wave him in.
(Witch-King) “Ah come in, come in. Have a seat young mortal and let us see what assistance you need in your affairs.”
The chair turned slowly, revealing a haunting figure that would have fit right in with the Death Knight army outside Jerusalem – if only it was far more cute and cuddly. Every time the Witch-King spoke the temperature seemed to noticably drop for a few seconds.
(Witch-King) “And what ails you that you would come to the Nazghul for legal assistance? It must be a terrible predicament to have to come to us.”
(Marty) “My ex is trying to cut off my visitation rights to my kid. I know she’s going to hire the best she can, and I want to do the same.”
(Witch-King) “Then you have done well to come to us. For we are the greatest and most terrifying of the legal forces in the nation. Do you know that we even regularly break accountants? Even them and their numbers pale in comparison to our legal assaults. Now please, give me some background information on why your ex believes you unfit for visitation.”
(Witch-King) “Hmm, indeed, you have dug deeper and farther than most any I have seen in my career. And yet you kept digging, I must applaud your dedication to stirring up trouble. We shall have to look into matters and do a bit of research. We will get back to you when we have some results to report, but you will need to make a tribut… cough… payment up front to cover our expenses. We will also need you to sign these papers.”
If these people could break people like Jenkins, no way in hell was Marty being foolhardy! He found the strongest magnifying glass he could and examined the contract before signing. No serif unturned!
Hm… It looked like it really was somewhat honest. It granted them full disclosure and the relevant power of attorney with respect to the case. It also prohibited them from sharing information with others on pain of several horrendous penalties from the pits of hell. It also includes a full disclosure that the Nazghul were without souls, and so could not be held liable for any damning or blasphemous activities they might engage in while under contract to you. There were also clauses on how failure to pay would result in many unspeakable and damning things happening to Marty, his loved ones, and to his friends, family, neighbors and people who had run into him on the street. Plus a little statement at the end declaring how they fully complied with all California EPA rules on damning activities.
Oh dear. He was trying to be more ethical. Would it be ethical to hire this bunch? It wasn’t good if getting Julia back would cause a lot of people to suffer – even if they did come back the next day!
And this section… clauses noting that – should a client ever get involved in damning or accidental loss of soul – then the Nazghul got full power of attorney.
Who else was available? He was willing to sacrifice some quality for ethics. Not too much of course – he didn’t want a bunch of hippies handling his case.
Wait. He was looking for a lawyer with ethics? In Battling Business World? At least enough ethics to… Dammit! Core was rubbing off on him AGAIN!
He took the best and crossed his fingers. How bad could Abigail’s team be anyway?
Oh god, who had she hired?
Plus… It would be just like her to fight fire with fire… She’d doubtless pulled in the Thralls to start, backed by the Kadia computer systems with an analysis of Battling Business World law and their various enhancements. After all, they made just as good a set of legal assistants as anything else.
Would the Tolkien monsters stand a chance?
After much hemming and hawing Marty wound up hiring the Orcs and Nazghul. He did his best to put on a happy face – and kicked himself for giving Abigail a weapon with which to stab his very heart!
Still, the court date wasn’t for nearly six months. Time to get back to Kadia…
Marty asked if they had any transrealm communications so they can keep in touch, but only got blank looks. He settled for leaving them some contact numbers that should work most of the time and advising them that he’d be back before the court date. He’d overestimated THIS Dark Army’s capabilities – and he wasn’t sure that he’d want to leave any Thrall, much less Elera or Minel, with them Who knew what could happen?
GAH! He couldn’t deny it any longer! He was in a steady threesome!
(Witch-King) “Very well then, Mr. Tabard. That concludes our interview. We shall inform you of any developments when they occur Mr. Tabard. Is there anything else you require?”
(Marty) “Nah, that’ll be all. Thanks for your time.”
(Witch-King) “We look forward to working with you (laughs evilly).”
Marty forced a smile. He felt dirty. Had bringing in the Orcs and the Balrog has distorted Battling Business World? It had never been all that stable to begin with with so few souls to anchor it – and half of those had been leaving.
More for him to feel guilty about! Talk about your doomed hometowns! Marty Tabard, Destroyer of Worlds!
Oh well, there wasn’t all that much he cold do except rely on the Thralls to get Abigail and Julia out if things started going pear-shaped.
Marty left. Why LA? Wasn’t New Jersey a much more suitable environment? Was it just that the Gateway Arch was a good place for an unblinking, flaming eye?
Marty headed back to Core, where Kevin was concluding his discussions with various parents, and placed a call:
(Marty) “So how have things been treating you, Kevin?”
(Kevin) “Hey; how did it go with the lawyers?”
(Marty) “Good, but I think I broke my home realm.”
(Kevin) “Er… Sorry… But how can you tell? It seemed kind of dysfunctional to begin with.”
Marty gave him the story…
(Kevin) “Well that sounds like you’re merging with some of the messier anime realms… Isn’t Battling Business World basically focused on Tokyo, London, New York, and a few other major world cities like Paris and Beijing? It’s… what… a dozen major cities and a few resorts and such? That does leave 99% of the world to fill in – or to basically be located in other cartoon universes.”
(Marty) “Okay, so it isn’t broken. That’s a bit of a relief. I was worried that Sauron was going to do the mother of all very hostile takeovers.”
(Kevin) “Marty… I kind of hate to say it… But who would want it? There’s nothing there that you can’t get elsewhere, more easily, and dealing with the kind of population that comes up with Trojan Possums just drives most people nuts.”
Marty had to think about that for a few minutes.
(Marty) “Good point. I’m not sure *I* want it… Anyway, any news from the House?”
(Kevin) “Not really. I sent them more agents, but Vekxin is still holding out. I sent more to the military, but mostly just got a ‘very helpful, thank you’.”
(Marty) “That stinks… So what should we do now? I wouldn’t mind a visit to that Anthropomorphic Realm once you finish what you’re doing, but I’m game for anything.”
Kevin had to think about what to do next… Lets see; he had the studies on how to steer souls into phantasms and on how the barriers worked, Kelsaru’s pregnancy, moving the “Amish” planet, figuring out how to do something for the nicer drow goddess if possible (and if they finally decided that it was any of their business), visiting the anthropomorphic worlds, locating the Singular Kids if possible, the datagathering from the old singular base, locating those contacts that Master Tindale had recommended, and their new desire to investigate Merlin.
Well, they could review the results of the datagathering project on Singular while they were enroute to Kadia to start another project, so that came first.
It seemed that there was evidence of at least three gates in the area. The Thralls had been unable to open them though… There was also lots of evidence of equipment being imported from elsewhere – while other items were exported in return. Data-mining the computer systems had brought up some interesting profiles of the various outsiders who’d been visiting – including recordings of several interesting conversations – and quite a bit of information on how Singular science worked.
There was also a list of worlds where attacks/recon missions had been sent. Quite a lot to the Linear Realms, a few to some of the more advanced worlds now under attack, and others to worlds where the Singular technologies had either simply failed to work or had malfunctioned in very messy ways.
The visitors had seemed to express a great deal of frustration on that fact, and it had been a part of why the Linear Realms had became the focused target.
The group had to wonder which it had been; The visitors didn’t want the Singular bunch leaving while they were useful. Ergo, were they annoyed that the singular technologies didn’t work in a lot of places, or were they faking annoyance and intentionally steering them to worlds that they couldn’t move to so as to keep them available for use?
Also caught on camera was the spectacular execution of one of the praetorians for failure on a mission… A young man in his late teens was only other person present beyond the praetorian. The praetorian did not take kindly to receiving a lecture about failure from the teenage, and tried to smash his face. His fist had stopped in midair and his arms and legs had been into a reverse fetal position, apparently very painfully. As the praetorian lay there struggling to break whatever invisible hold was on him, the young man had said “Now I tend to tolerate failure so long as you idiots learn, but attacking me was a mistake you will not repeat.” – at which point a black ball appeared above the praetorian. It had slowly engulfed him over the course of three minutes and fourteen seconds. The praetorian had screamed in increasing pain and terror until fully engulfed.
Well that was moderately nasty. Marty didn’t want to fight that kid – while Kevin was wondering; negative energy or “Sphere of Annihilation”? He’d run across something like that once or twice before…
Couldn’t be Merlin though, unless he was in disguise. The Commonwealth version of Merlin was one of the older ones, 60’s or 70’s supposedly.
It didn’t look like the loon from Baelaria.
It didn’t look like Spellweaver either.
It really seemed like Kevin had seem him before – somewhere at Hogwarts – but anything more than that came up with a blank.
Oh well. It could be a lot of people; Kevin had visited Hogwarts a lot of times… Hopefully it wasn’t someone from his original class though. As far as he knew, Kevin had been the only Opener in the – fairly small – demon-infused group (and the odds were enormously against another one) – but it could possible be one of the other kids who’d been gatekeepers or just lucky.
Marty had no idea either. It certainly didn’t look like Vexkin anyway.
Now, the Outsiders had mostly seemed to have odd ideas of chivalry, had some odd powers that they used sparingly, didn’t seem to understand electronics and computers, and had strongly defined social classes… Quite a few could be traced back to Arthur’s court: Derfel, Morfans, Balin, Sagramor, and Culwheh. Two others traced back with that group but were not recognizable – and three others were frequently escorting of the executioner but seemed to be from a 22’nd century fictional universe. A popular series depicting an alternate world presuming that events during the 21st century had gone differently. It had been called the “Inversion” series, and had presumed that fusion was found to be unworkable as total ecological collapse began to occur. Discovery of the basis of psionics and better control of Casimir systems had prevented a total collapse of society, but the world had become increasingly dependent on infrastructure systems and the ones who maintained them to survive.
Now that must have taken some odd physics. Hm… They were probably using negative-energy implant systems and psionic controls. Hard tech, very destructive, and probably loosely compatible with Singular tech. A mach field system, force field, and negative energy system with psi-controls probably could handle a praetorian easily enough – at least in those few worlds where it would work. Hybrid psionic-technical systems were awfully undependable when you were world-hopping.
Anyway, the modern social structure had begun to collapse as control of limited resources had put ever more power into the hands of the few able to run the systems. Limited guerilla warfare had broken out as those psionics who were not a part of the system tried to liberate those without psionics caught in the system.
The series had been very popular at the time – just as Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter had been a century before – and so there were quite a few souls there. At the least, there were tens of millions, and there might be as many as a few billion. No proper survey had been done.
Other conversations had included discussions of the Linear Realms defenses, preventing outside interference and dealing with openers (Ryan was mentioned there), resource procurement, and the limitations of logistics in the Manifold. Apparently they didn’t have many gatekeepers (it seemed to be one of the major limiting factors in their operations). They were mostly using magical and technological gates for a lot of things.
One conversation touched upon a “flawed” opener. Apparently he or she either had trouble regaining his or her power or could only access particular types of worlds or took a long time or some such. That hadn’t been too uncommon early on, but most Openers had grown out of that sort of limitation fairly fast – but it was quite possible that some never had.
Well, at least that was one major advantage to them and the Core; they had the Thralls… Now, if only they could find some of the people behind things.
Obviously Merlin and Famine were major figures – but they weren’t exactly ready to do battle with either of them.
Ergo, another investigation trip. Probably to Inversion. They had far too many places to go already though… The Linear Realms, Ealor, after the kids from Ealor, the Great Lakes Trade Colonies, the Napoleonic Werewolf Wars, to meet some contacts, to the Anthropomorphic Worlds, to talk to the Core Military, to check in with the House of Roses (if only to get their promotions)…
They eventually decided on looking up those contacts. They’d been on hold for quite a while. Heck, the Thralls had mostly found theirs already in their time off.
They decided to visit the Shao-lin temple first. That version of China had… it looked like… some wild martial arts and supernatural abilities, lot’s of wandering monsters occasionally attacking villages where lone martial artists on pilgrimage seeking enlightenment would rescue the village. Naturally enough, most of the martial artists were trying to right some wrong that they’d committed or felt that they’d committed through hubris.
Merchant, Wandering Taoist Master, and gaggle of servants working for the Merchant? Seemed to fit in well enough.
They picked up a pile of random trade goods, some basic weapons, and a few musty old tomes and headed out.
It looked like the fastest available route would be Core->Crusader->Imperial China->Treacherous Mountain Pass->Shaolin Temple realm.