Federation-Apocalypse Session 99 – The Black Alliance

   Hm… The newly shapeshifted Thralls seemed a bit… restive. What was… Ah. The local reality limited their intelligence while they were in animal form and gave them a full set of animalistic instincts and tendencies. At least that only seemed to apply to the horses; the ones in Neodog form had full-size brains to work with.

   Well, the horses were still obedient property of course, but it would be best to avoid trying to get them to do anything too complicated at the moment.

   Hm. With dawn coming up, it looked like that patch of lights actually was a fairly good-sized walled medieval-style city located on some defensive heights – and the road appeared to meander in that direction. Good enough. It wasn’t as if they had any real idea where they were going anyway.

   Kevin flicked the reins and got the horses started trotting forward while Marty kept an eye out for undead – or other random horrors – and the dogs took up the escort positions.

   Necropolis was eerily quiet: there were no sounds of animals, and few signs of humanity save for the stone roads and fences. Only the sounds they made themselves rose above the whisper of the wind and the occasional trickle of running water.

(Kevin) “Somehow I don’t think we’ve got a big population here. If EVERYONE is dead, we aren’t going to have much of a market for food.”

   The dogs reported the iron scent of blood, growing stronger. Everyone went a bit more on alert…

   If there were any highwaymen or bandits around they were probably pretty desperate – and if there was fresh blood, it would draw monsters, even if they hadn’t been the ones to spill it in the first place.

   On the other hand, fresh blood meant that the place still supported at least a few living beings – or at least that it had very recently supported some.

   Up ahead, glowing amidst the shadows of the hills, there appeared to be the burning remnants of another caravan – not all that dissimilar to their own. The bodies of fifteen or twenty people lay along the fence and road, all brutally gored and dismembered. A trio of them appeared to have been ritually slain, their blood used to draw complex symbols and diagrams. As they approached, they could make out a single individual, sitting atop a fence pillar and surveying the carnage.

(Marty) “That can’t be good.”

(Kevin) “No, probably not. Of course, we may have some sort of evil mage rather than a monster. I suppose we’ll have to stop anyway, that’s probably blocking the road.”

   As they got closer, they could see that the mess was, indeed, blocking the road. The man – or whatever it was that looked like one – atop the pillar noted their presence and calmly watched their approach. If they wanted to get by they’d either have to run over or move at least one of the bodies. It didn’t look to Kevin like the creature had a soul though.

(Kevin, to Fence-Sitter): Might I ask what’s going on?

   The fellow on the post looked at them with eyes like a serpent…

(Snake-Eyes) “Ah more travelers, I must tell you the roads are very dangerous tonight. All sorts of strange things about lately.”

(Kevin) “I cannot argue with that! What befell these unfortunates?”

   Snake-Eyes smiled, revealing a set of needle-like sharpened teeth.

(Snake-Eyes) “I am afraid they ran across a Krul on the hunt. The poor bastards never had a chance I fear.”

   Well, that was a new one to them – although Snake-Eyes seemed to assume that they’d have some idea of what a “Krul” was. There’d been no mention of such a thing in any of the records on Necropolis.

   Marty voted for playing ignorant just to mess with the guy – if only because, even if they didn’t know, the odds were that Serpentine was a “Krul”.

   Kevin – as usual – elected to probe for more information. Besides – that would give him a moment to look over the carts that had belonged to the ruined caravan: if they’d been out and about with serious monsters on the prowl, they’d either have been from offworld or they’d have been carrying something really vital – or extremely valuable.

   Hm. The burning carts had been carrying many ingots of a charcoal-black metal which appeared to be undamaged by the flames. The Thrall’s minds were very weak and confused at the moment, but – with some careful steering and very specific directions – they were up to a little divination.

   It looked like the metal was an unusual alloy of gold with energy absorbing properties – but it was very hard to tell anything more about it with magic.

   While Kevin had been looking at the carts and coaching animal-form Thralls, Snake-Eyes had been looking at their caravan. They spoke almost at the same time.

(Snake-Eyes) “Some mighty unusual horses you have there; they’re healthy and of superb quality. Usually anything living around here is dying or sickly. I take it you are not from around here?”

(Kevin) “Something unpleasant I take it? Bad luck for them…”

   Hm. Whatever Snake-Eyes was, he seemed to have some caution when confronting the unknown. On the other hand, if there was a major struggle going on, a caravan full of food would be a bit more conspicuous than they’d hoped. Of course, it also looked like the Thrall-Horses were a bit more conspicuous then they’d hoped. There wasn’t much point in denying things now – although they could try to disguise them a bit more later. It wasn’t like too many people had seen them.

(Snake-Eyes) “Oh indeed, even the undead struggle with the Krul. At first it was just a few, but now their numbers grow with each passing night and for every body slain by them, living or undead.”

   The group didn’t seem much point in trying to deny their alien status if it was that obvious.

(Kevin) “Passing through really, although I’d hoped to be a bit less obvious.”

   Kevin had thought that a realm of gothic horror would have a quasi-Victorian society with lots of dark undercurrents. Necropolis was beginning to seem more like a serious realm of the undead – although admittedly, they hadn’t really seen much of it yet. Perhaps he should have given more weight to the name.

(Snake-Eyes) “Well I would suggest that, the next time you visit, you use less magnificent horses and dogs. If you live long enough that is.”

(Kevin) “I thank you for your advice”.

(Marty) “Yeah. Now what are these Krul?”

(Kevin): “Do these men have any next of kin that you know of?”

(Snake-Eyes) “As I recall the story of the Krul, a mage in a town far from here wanted to create an army to hold off the forces of the undead and other horrors. He delved deep into the arts of necromancy, conjurations, and summonings looking for the answers he sought. While he was unable – something about the soul being inviolate – to revive the dead, he was able to give life back to the bodies of the dead and undead. He just needed some force to animate the lumps of flesh. He found his answer in the Strangers, spirits from a plane of existence far from human experience.”

(Kevin) “Always problematic.”

(Snake-Eyes looked at Marty and cocked his head) “I suppose they might have relatives, most likely in that city up ahead – although it’s likely to be overrun in the near future. It appears that the Krul are on the hunt and may now have the numbers needed to take fortified cities.”

(Marty, on the private party link) “Ok, if defending cities against the hordes of the undead is going to become routine, I’m going to demand a raise!”

(Kevin, also on the private link) “This does sound sort of familiar doesn’t it? I wonder how often this is being reflected across the Manifold? Are we going to have to intervene in yet another realm? “

(Snake-Eyes) “Binding the Strangers to newly reanimated bodies worked splendidly at first. They were apparently quite well versed in combat. and they could even use the remains of the undead to make more of themselves. Sadly, our mage – with that special foolishness that only the very clever are capable of – neglected to note that the Strangers existed only to kill anything – whether living or undead – that they could before he had created too many to control. Now their numbers grow without restraint and even the major liches and vampires are beginning to take notice.”

   It looked like some of the corpses had begun to twitch. Snake-Eyes noted that as well – and smiled in a fashion that no human could, revealing gums and teeth all along his jaw.

(Snake-Eyes) “Best you run along now; it looks like the ritual is almost complete.”

   Meanwhile, the group had been calculating… The gold-stuff was probably important. It looked like they had enough room for half of it – all of it if they could either shrink it a bit or applied a bit of telekinesis to take some of the weight off the carts.

   Kevin’s shrinking-spell got absorbed without effect. OK, he was going to have to load the stuff up with telekinesis anyway. He did so – and had the hounds hop up on the carts. It was time for a little speed.

   Snake-Eyes seemed to take the abruptly self-loading metal, mysterious clearing of the path, and acceleration-spell being applied to the horses in stride. Evidently he’d been assuming that there was more to the group than he’d seen – and he’d evidently been expecting them to take the alloy.

   Adventurers were always like that.

   The group waved a polite good-bye to Snake-Eyes as they took off down the road. Snake-Eyes watched their hasty retreat and waved back…

(Snake-Eyes) “Perhaps we may see each other again in the near future.”

(Kevin) “Oh, you never know!”

   Drat it… It looked like the Thrall-Horses were too simpleminded at the moment to handle a complex illusion – like not looking like they were of such high quality. The were probably stuck with them looking rather too good for the moment. That really was a pain. He was used to faerie steeds, and he’d never thought of how good the Thrall-Horses would look.

(Marty) “What WAS that guy? I’m sure he wasn’t a human.”

(Kevin) “I’d guess a Krul… If the “Strangers” are really from a plane of existence “far from human experience”, they’re not human souls anyway, and I doubt they’re nonhuman. I didn’t feel a soul there anyway, although I’m hardly infallible – which means that the original summoner may have been calling things from a dementia realm. That is NEVER a good idea, no matter how convenient their weird powers might be.”

(Marty) “Seemed halfway friendly for one though”.

(Kevin) “Why not? He had reinforcements almost ready to arise.”

(Marty) “But he let us go! Did he think we weren’t a challenge?”

(Kevin) “Or too much of one. Or that it’s more fun to hunt. Or that he wants to know what we’re here for – or where we came from. If they want to kill everything, a single realm really won’t suffice, and we just confirmed to him that we have the ability to travel between Necropolis and somewhere with more potential victims that are currently out of their reach.”

   Kevin got the horses up to a good trot. With a bit of speed-enhancement, they should reach the city in less than an hour – even slowing down a bit on the approach so as not to give too much away. They didn’t need any accidents – although didn’t want to have to levitate the pesky gold for too long either.

   The city wasn’t currently under siege, although it looked like defensive preparations were underway. Well, that probably meant that food will be worth a good price – and, for that matter, slaves would be cheap; they’d be expensive to feed at the moment.

   The guards hailed them as they approached the gates.

   Marty considered his usual sort of opening – something along the lines of “Hello! We’ve come to stab your bosses and launch a hostile takeover before blowing ourselves up to rise again the next day and do it all over! And we want your lunch money!” – but opted against it in the end.

(Marty) “Good day! We’ve come to your town in search of trade!”

(Guard) “Greetings, aren’t you aware yet another menace is stalking the countryside? Or is this some pathetic attempt at subterfuge?”

(Marty) “We fled it on the way here.”

(Kevin) “Was there a time when travel wasn’t problematic?”

(Guard) “Occasionally the local lords of the dead go to war with each other, but usually they try to go after lone wanderers or the occasional small farm. But your usual caravan is able to handle most of the minor ungoverned stuff. The big ones try to leave cities alone though and have better things to do than go after caravans… But never mind that, I imagine your intentions are to enter the city then?”

(Kevin) “True enough!”

(Guard) “Then we are going to have to inspect your cargo and have one of our guard look over each of you. Do you consent? Yes? Very well, then, please wait.”

   The gate opened to let three guards out – two wearing purple tabards over their armor and the third wearing what was obviously some sort of captains garb. The captain bowed then spoke, revealing a set of long fangs.

(Captain Klethnil) “Welcome to Gethrid. My name is Klethnil, a captain of the guard for the time being until a replacement can be found. And who might you be?”

(Marty) “I’m Marty.”

(Kevin) “And I’m Kierroth.” (One of his usual ID’s).

(Klethnil sniffed the air.) “Well you seem normal enough, although perhaps imbued with some strange energies. The horses and dogs smell very unusual indeed though. Plus I do smell a trace of Krul about you, care to explain?”

(Marty) “We encountered one on the way up here. I think we were lucky to escape.”

(Kevin) “As for the horses and hounds; they perform their duties much better with a bit of enhancement.”

(Klethnil) “Very lucky indeed, it must have recently been sated if it did not follow you to here. The damn things are persistent. But this too shall pass, we’ve just got to make sure that as many of the humans survive as we can manage.”

(Kevin) “Can’t argue with that!”

Klethnil looked at the horses and dogs again…

(Klethnil) “Indeed it would seem you are correct, I suspect quite a few would be most interested to learn more about how you manage that feat.”

(Kevin) “Well, we are here to make some deals!”

(Klethnil, momentarily distracted) “Oh? Indeed, It’s obvious that you have food, is that all you are carrying? I am sure my men will tell me in a few moments but I like to act in a knowing manner.”

(Kevin) “Also a collection of bars of metal we picked up along the way; it seemed unlikely to improve matters to leave them for the Krul.”

   Besides, they were probably expensive if the other caravan had been risking moving them at the moment. If they were lucky, they’d be very very expensive. Random treasure was always nice!

(Klethnil) “Ah so the caravan did not make it then? Just as well you recovered the metal, that is a very valuable material for keeping these cities going. The city may want a cut to pay the families of the fallen, but I am sure you will be allowed to keep the bulk for your efforts. That is, unless you wish to sell – for I am sure the city will be willing to pay you handsomely for the lot.”

(Marty) “We were planning on it, weren’t we Kierroth?”

(Kevin) “Oh, I think so. I might find a use for bit of it, but that’s mostly my incurable urge to tinker!”

   The guards returned with their report of the wagons contents – and Klethnil nodded knowingly. (Klethnil) “Very well then, I can see no reason to deny you entry at the moment and leaving you out here may very well increase our enemies numbers. Welcome to Gethrid. Please respect the laws.”

(Kevin) “Are any of those unusual?”

(Klethnil thought for a moment) “I guess judging from your appearances that the ones of greatest surprise to you might be the concept that the law applies equally to living and undead. Wanton slaying of either is bound to stir up the wrath of the Count and his men. Secondarily, the slave trade is tightly controlled around here anyone who wishes to buy or sell must first receive paperwork from the city.”

(Kevin) “Ah, straightforward enough. We generally aren’t in the business of killing people in any case!”

(Klethnil) “That is good, trying to maintain equilibrium is a never ending task.”

   The guards let them in… Inside the walls, the city was significantly cleaner and better lit than they would have expected. The streets were lined with shops of various sorts – and the occasional inn or tavern could be seen. Oddly enough for a quasi-mediaeval city, there was a complete lack of beggars, and there was no sign of any criminal element. There weren’t even any street kids to hire as local guides. There were some kids running about, but they didn’t look like they lived on the streets.

   Well, that would be a likely consequence if criminals and street-people were prime candidates for the zombie pool, slave-sales, or snack food for the undead. It was quite possible that the local criminal code was pretty harsh.

   Well, there was a big place catering to traders and trade near the gate; given the current lack of trade they should have the spare time to answer a few questions at the moment. Several caravans were already parked there. Evidently no one wanted to head out at the moment.

   They left the dogs and horses to watch the caravan for a few moments and headed over there. Even if the horses were having a little mental trouble at the moment, they should be able to handle standing guard pretty easily.

   The main lounge looked to have been converted into a bar of sorts, probably to accommodate all the caravans that couldn’t travel at the moment.

(Lady behind the counter) “What can I do for ya?”

(Kevin) “What’s going on in the city at the moment and what are the markets like?”

(Marty) “Is food selling well, what with the upcoming siege?”

(Counterlady) “That’s like asking if vampires like blood from time to time. Of course food is selling well. There never seems to be enough to go around. As for anything else, it depends on what you’re selling.”

(Marty, showed the woman a bit of the metal they’d retrieved) “What about this stuff?”

(Kevin threw Marty a thought) “We’d better talk to some city rep about that metal before we do any serious negotiating; I suspect that we’ll hear from them soon enough anyway.”

(Counterlady) “Let me have a closer look at the stuff would ya?”

   Her opinion was that it looked like some pretty valuable stuff – but she was no alchemist or mage to be sure about it. For all she knew, it might be badly adulterated or entirely faked. The serious trade reps were either at the tables or in the backroom, what with the barriers to travel at the moment. Marty went to find one of them, while Kevin checked out the stabling facilities and get rooms: they’d be wanting to stash the Thrall-Horses there later on.

   Marty found a trade rep at a table – a short man that looked like he’d had his nose in too many books to see well beyond table.

(Trader) “Eh, you have something you want me to look at?”

(Marty) : I will show him the metal.

   Kevin had been checking their local funds… Not bad; they’d strained the upper limit with the fleet repairs, but that still left them rather wealthy. They couldn’t buy the city or anything, but there were plenty of funds available for local operations.

   The trader turned the stuff over for a moment, while several others at the table watched him look it over intently.

(Trader) “Ah, looks to be a high quality batch of Corrinum. Very precious stuff and not a bad thing to be selling at the moment. How much have you got?”

   Marty decided not to be too definite about just how much… The guards at the entrance HAD noted that the city would want some for the families of the casualties and would probably want to buy most of the rest.

(Marty) “Oh, a good amount.”

(Trader) “Best to deal with the Count directly then, as anything more than a few bars is likely going to be wanted by the government. If you do end up with any left over, I am sure I can accommodate you though. Besides… the Count is directing the local defense, and survival comes even before profit!”

(Marty) “How can we arrange a meeting with the Count?”

(Trader) “The easiest method is to go to the entrance of the keep and request an audience about the Corrinum, one of the staff should be able to make you an appointment in short order.”

(Marty) “Thanks. I’ll do that.”

   Marty headed off to talk to the Count, while Kevin kept an eye on the wagons. It looked like they had some fairly precious cargo. Besides… That would let him keep the locals from getting too close a look at the Thrall-“animals” and it would let him talk to the locals and try to get a feel for the local laws.

   Hm… It looked like a large number of the laws had steep penalties on repeat offenses – but crimes of passion or those committed under extreme circumstances were usually forgiven. A slave who managed to kill an abusive owner wasn’t penalized either – which was surprisingly enlightened. The citizens were encouraged to remain indoors at night. Sensible citizens only went out if there was an emergency – in which case they knew to find the nearest guard before one of the cleaning crews got them.

   It seemed likely that the “cleaning crews” were a bit too undead and nonsentient to distinguish between living people and junk without a guard uniform.

   Meanwhile, Marty was approaching the keep – an imposing structure which dominated the surrounding town. In many ways it looked like it was designed more for show than to be a true physical fortress. Whoever lived there was probably big on status displays… The entrance was open, people were coming and going with no interference from the guards – who, while living, did appear to be ever-so-slightly healthier than most of the other townsmen.

(Marty) “Hello, I’d like an audience with the Count.”

(Guard) “On what business? The Count cannot possibly see everyone who wishes to see him.”

(Marty, leaning in and lowering his voice) “I found a load of high quality Corrinium in a ruined caravan on the way here, and I thought he’d be interested.”

(The guard, looking surprised) “Very well, I can send for Magistrate Logan, he usually handles such affairs on behalf of Count Hassildor.”

   Marty was ushered into a sitting room off the main corridor while the guard sent one of the servants for Logan.

   The sitting room was yet another opulent display, lined with the portraits of a great number of women. The chairs were quite comfortable – and Marty found himself wondering if he could find the carpenter who’d made them and place his own order. Still, it wouldn’t do to get too relaxed, he was dealing with nobility.

   A skeletal looking man came in a few minutes later.

(Aberom) “Greetings, I am Magistrate Logan Aberom. I am told you have business to discuss about a cargo of Corrinum?”

(Marty) “Yes, and high quality, as well. My associate Kierroth and I found it in the aftermath of a Krul attack. We secured it and took it here. I was wondering if Count Hassildor would be interested.”

(Aberom) “Oh very interested… Might I ask how much you have? I imagine you must have come across the caravan that has been overdue for some time now. Bloody fools to try to traverse the roads at this time.”

(Marty) “A hundred and twenty bars.”

(Aberom whistled quietly, then caught himself.) “That’s not bad. Well I assure you that the Count would be most willing to compensate you handsomely for the Corrinum, although I must ask that ten bars be turned over to pay the widows and children of the men killed in the attack. That should be enough to see them through.”

(Marty) “That’ll be no problem.”

(Aberom) “Shall we start the negotiating, and will you be willing to trade the remaining 110 bars?”

(Marty) “Yes to both of those.”

   Sadly, the girls were a bit too confused to help out at the moment – but Marty wasn’t a bad negotiator. Aberom managed to edge him out – albeit just barely – so he didn’t get quite what he’d wanted to get on the sale, but that probably meant that it was a fair deal. It went quite a ways towards replenishing their coffers though. Besides, the stuff had been free to start with, and you couldn’t do much better than that. He hadn’t even had to kill anybody!

   Oh, wait, Kevin would almost certainly want to buy some slaves. The paperwork for that probably wasn’t too complicated though.

   Marty asked about it after the Corrinium negotiations were done.

(Aberom) “Ah looking to acquire some servants are you with your newfound wealth? Well I can fetch you the appropriate forms easily enough. We do offer a branding service here in town if you so choose, although I find the practice a bit distasteful.”

(Marty) “I’m not big on branding, but papers will be great.”

(Aberom) “All right, there would normally be a small fee for the registration, but given the circumstances, I am quite willing to waive that. I should also note, that during the siege, you are responsible for their care, we will not always be able to give handouts to slaves, as free citizens come first. Although it has rarely if ever come to that… Please sign here, here, and here. And I will need a bloodmark to make all of this official.”

   Marty had the girls divine that (poor girls, being all addled), it might just be a seal, but it might also indicate an alliance with a mercantile group… Ah; it entailed pricking your right thumb so that a thin layer of blood covered the thumbprint. At which point your pressed your thumb to the paper – a finger print in blood. A local form of seal that carried a minor enchantment; it would destroy the paperwork if he ever broke the laws regarding slavery in the city. It would also allow a vampire to tell it who it was that had signed any piece of paperwork purely by scent… Interesting.

   Of course, the girls were doing pretty well considering that they only had ferret-brains to work with at the moment. The enhancements helped – but the forms limitations did seem to carry over in Necropolis… He tried to reassure them.

(Marty) “All right.”

   He would have to check on whether or not there was anything odd about those laws though.

(Aberom) “Most pleasant indeed, now if you were intent on leaving the city, you may wish to do that soon as the gates will shut in preparation for the siege.”

   Marty had to wonder… Were they going to help out, or just head for the demi-lich’s territory? The link with Kevin was still available – but Kevin really wasn’t sure either; the city might or might not be under siege by the time their business was done, they might or might not get caught up in it, and if an enemy was converging on the city they might have a hard time getting away anyway. Besides; they still didn’t know where they were going.

   Marty decided to just ask:

(Marty) “I was wondering. How far to Necrosis’ holdings? Kierroth and I were heading there next.”

(Aberom seemed surprised at that.) “Necrosis you say? Now that is an odd place to be traveling. If you can get on his good side, I suppose you are safe enough. (Aberom got out a map.) His lands can be found over here, while we are currently here. May I ask what business you have with him and his holdings?”

(Marty) “Not with him. There’s a place in them we need to get to. Any idea how to get on his good side so we don’t get killed?”

(Aberom reclined in his chair and stared at the ceiling for a few minutes) “Given what information we had on his latest incarnation, I would suggest great epic tales, the head of someone who has displeased him recently, or a riddle or puzzle of great difficulty. I have heard that he enjoys having unusual dreams to interpret too. And I don’t know if this has any meaning to you, but the proper classification for what he is is a Dream-Lich.”

(Marty) “Never heard of those.”

   Kevin was still on the link. Dream-Lich? An entity that has continued to exist as a dream, and manifested as a psychic construct after physical death? Possibly inhabiting the dreams of many others or keeping people permanently asleep and dreaming nightmares to provide the psychic energy for him to manifest?

(Aberom, unknowingly cutting off Kevin’s spate of speculation) “Nasty things, even vampires and such are wary of them. Takes a real nut to turn himself into one of those. I suppose the best way to explain it is to say he has become a living nightmare. Indeed he no longer has a body of his own, at least in reality, he uses the psychic energies of his subjects while they dream his nightmares to sustain himself and give himself form.”

(Marty) “Charming.”

(Aberom) “It is even rumored he can possess the body of those whose minds break under the strain of his nightmares. Although this apparently slowly kills the host. He usually just keeps one main host in permanent sleep and projects himself as a psychic construct.”

(Marty) “Ouch.”

(Aberom) “Yes, even among the sentient undead, there are some things one does not do.”

(Marty) : “Well, Kierroth and I will be on our way soon. Thanks for your time, Magistrate, and I hope you weather this siege.”

(Aberom) “Oh we will survive; those bent on near mindless destruction are little more than animals, and die like they animals they are. This is no different than any other threat we have faced. I wish you luck on your journey, but I fear journeying to Necrosis’ holdings will surely be the death of you at best, and you better hope not to see the worst.”

(Marty) “Definitely sounds like a fate worse than death.”

(Aberom) “I thankfully do not know that personally. Good day to you, I fear I have other duties, please have the Corrinum dropped off shortly.”

(Marty) “Of course.”

   Marty arranged for it – and checked on what made Corrinum so valuable.

   It looked like there were two primary uses for Corrinum… By itself, gold held magic very well. Corrinum enhanced that property to the point where it could hold spells directed at it and radiate them for some time afterwards. The simplest example was a light spell, which made it act as a lamp for a period of time dependent on it’s quality, quantity, power and setting. Some spells could only last for minutes, while others lasted for years. Oddly enough, the metal itself could not be directly affected with magic.

   Kevin thought that that was pretty handy – although it would probably only work in Necrosis, and it would be far more useful to those with limits on how many spells they can cast.

   Secondarily, Corrinum was very popular for the construction of a special type of earrings used as wedding bands. Depending on the quality and setting, such rings ensured fidelity. More powerful sets could allow the bonded pair to sense each others feelings and locations. Rumors existed of sets that required both wearers to die before one would die – or which allowed full telepathy between them. Spellcasters who were so bonded could share spells across the link as well. They tended to be passed down through families.

   Well, that was kind of neat – but ensuring fidelity? What a horrible side-effect!

   Meanwhile, Kevin had been getting a feel – mostly through receptive telepathy and the occasional minor comment or query – on the local culture and on how many of the locals had souls. It wasn’t that many; almost everyone around was a phantasm – although some of the nobility, and especially the ones with vampire patrons, were ensouled. Oddly enough, there were a modest number of ensouled adults, and even more youngsters, among the lower classes – probably mostly the forgotten by-blows of travelers and nobles.

   The sapient undead did try to shepherd the “flocks”, but the casualty rate was still atrociously high even in the cities, much less outside of them. When you added that to the fact that the undead apparently could not manage to farm – their aura was hard on the crops and animals – and things got ugly.

   Locally, kids were considered “adult” fairly young, and – up until that point – could be freely purchased from their parents or guardians. That wasn’t uncommon; the lower classes were often pretty desperate and the middle classes sometimes were. Of course, members of the upper classes rarely wound up on the market – unless there was some intrigue going on, which was periodic. Anyone could be sentenced to slavery for some crime, but it was much more common amongst the lower classes. His usual offer of enthrallment would be perfectly valid and legal locally as well, whether the recipients were free adults, children without guardians, or slaves of any age. There were a few odd local laws about slaves – you weren’t allowed to kill them or to render them incapable of breeding (that was probably the local problems with keeping up the population again) – but otherwise slaves were simply property, with no rights.

   The locals were almost always a bit sick, were chronically short of food, and were often moderately desperate for escape. In general, life in Necropolis sucked.

   He’d quietly started giving handouts to some of the local kids while he was fishing. It wasn’t any problem to use a bit of transmutation to provide them, it got him information, and he WAS from Core; he didn’t like seeing people short of the basics.

   Yet another realm where, once again, anyone he bought would probably be a lot better off. Even Marty was finding Necropolis horribly depressing, and it took some pretty serious life events to make him even remotely sad.

   He’d have to make some offers to various parents: depending on how bad they expected the siege to be, having the kids in the custody of someone with enough money to buy them might look like a really superior option at the moment. Being property was far better than starving to death.

   He did a little checking… It looked like the middle class had enough confidence in the Count not to be considering selling any kids yet – but there was a widow with three ensouled children she was no longer able to support, another eighteen ensouled kids who belonged to tavern wenches and escorts that had been unable to pursue abortions due to the cities laws (it looked like the local rulers were REALLY having a hard time keeping the population up). There were a few middle-class possibilities, but none where the parents would consider a sale yet – and there were no ensouled kids who were already on the local slave markets at the moment.

   Kevin made good offers on the bunch, and even threw in a guarantee of decent treatment for the guardians who actually cared (not too many). It looked like he was way overpaying; the lower-class parents all jumped at the chance – although the widow selling her three kids would really rather not have sold, and would like to be able to send and receive letters if she could.

   It looked like some aspects of his Thrall-binding would be suppressed in Necropolis – some of the healing powers and the shapeshifting (as they’d already seen) were subject to local limitations – but everything else would work fine.

   He might run into problems if the local authorities and powers saw him gathering too large a force and supernaturally enchanting them. Otherwise – at least as long as he respected the rules about not killing his slaves or preventing them from being able to breed – the local authorities wouldn’t care what he did with his property.

   Once he had his new slaves collected, Kevin gave them his usual pitch – and pointed out that they were all his property regardless. Some of them were a bit younger than he usually took as Thralls – but they didn’t have much chance of survival otherwise, and quite a few of them badly needed the enhancements; Necropolis was especially hard on the young.

   Not too surprisingly given their backgrounds, they all went for it. Most of them had known that they’d be sold as soon as a good offer came along – and they all knew that they were property anyway, and had a good idea of just how much having supernatural powers would improve their lives and chances of living to adulthood.

   Kevin was quite pleased; that got them well restocked with Thralls… While twenty-one was no longer a “big score”, it was more than enough to help out.

(Kevin) “Marty? Should we leave an office here?”

(Marty) “I think so.”

   Marty was still having his doubts about Kevin’s recruiting – although, once again, Kevin was definitely being the lesser evil. Marty would still feel guilty for a bit. At least they could work off the indenture…

   Kevin told the widow that they’d leave her three kids in the city if she’d like: they could run the local office. If she’d rather one or more got out safely, they’d mix the batch.

   Not too surprisingly, she opted to keep her kids in the city. It looked like she had some confidence in the Count too.

   They left them with some cash. They should be able to run a local office, even if they wouldn’t be able to do much trading at the moment. Lets see… They could definitely do some recruiting, even dampened healing would probably be useful to the locals, once they had some experience they might be able to deal with the nonsentient undead (there were bound to be some openings for extermination around), a couple of them could create supplies, and they could provide the usual minor magical services. If the city came under siege any kind of support would be handy.

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