Godlike – The Wanderer

   The world of Godlike explores the adventures of low level superhumans in WWII, with the tagline “You are larger than life. But the war is larger than you.”.

   By default, however, it focuses almost exclusively on the soldiers – men who manifest special powers under great stress.

   War places other people under stress as well. It’s especially hard on the very young, who can do little but flee when war overtake them – either into whatever refuge or welcome they can find, or into their own imaginations, or both.

   What of the talents who originate there?

    The youngster was imaginative.

   He scrawled childish tales of other worlds, of other lives, of turning corners to discover new and wondrous places and alien vistas. Like many of the other children at the orphanage, like many humans who have nothing, he lived in his dreams.

   When the bomb detonated down the street, the collapsing roof of the old building threatened to take even that from him. Unlike the other terrified and injured children, however, this child’s desperate rebellion and will to escape found an outlet. The crushing force of falling stone and brick expended itself upon unresisting air, as a small and fragile body vanished into other realms.

   Fortunately, while sequence is enforced, the flow of time does not correlate between the worlds.

   After an unknown length of time spent growing into his powers, The Wanderer returned to the instant that he had abandoned, to aid and rescue the friends of his youth.

   The Wanderer possesses two basic abilities – the power to transverse the dimensions and the power to tap into the vital energies of other realms, infusing them either into his own body or into the bodies of others. While others – lacking his natural advantages – can only be healed by such forces, he can so infuse himself with vitality as to ascend to a higher state, in which he enjoys a variety of heightened abilities. If “slain” in that state, he will revert to normal, human, levels of ability – although, if it’s been long enough since he was last “slain” to build up his power reserves, he may be able to regain his heightened state almost instantly.

   Unfortunately, while he can effectively teleport himself, visit other dimensions, and move other persons and objects across the dimensions, he cannot travel backwards in time within any one dimension. He can, however, return to a dimension at the instant he left, regardless of how much time he spends elsewhere. This is quite convenient when he needs to take some time off or work on a long project.

   The Wanderer uses the General Talent Experience rule, rather than TOG Commando Training. This gives him +7 Skill Points, +20 Will to spend according to the “after the game” rules, and a +1 bonus to any single Stat. That’s not nearly as good as the TOG Commando Training, but it means that he’s not hopelessly far behind in dealing with other talents.

   Attributes (12): Body 2 (Initial 1 +1 from General Talent Experience) (5, +1 Wound Box to Torso and each limb), Coordination 1 (3), Sense 1 (3), Brains 4 (7), Command 2 (5), Cool 3 (6).

   Skills (20 + 7 due to GTE):

  • Body: Athletics 1, Brawl 1, Health 1.
  • Coordination: Dodge 3.
  • Sense: Sight 2.
  • Brains: Education 4, Electronics 1, First Aid 2, Language 3, Mechanics 1, Medicine 2, Native Language 4 (Free), Navigation/Dimensional 2, Navigation/Land 1.
  • Command: Inspire 2.
  • Cool: Mental Stability 3.

   Talent Basics:

  • Quirks (up to 5): Never admits to his true name or nationality (1), Drags companions into his complicated extra-dimensional lives (2), Occasionally undertakes weird missions on behalf of the “higher dimensional powers” (2). He also tends to spend his time rescuing refugees (without any particular favor save for generally rescuing children first) and assisting against major menaces by providing near-instant training – simply taking the group to be trained to another dimension with their instructor (or, with a successful Dimensional Navigation check) to a dimension where an instructor is available) and returning them moments later by the time in their original dimension, but that’s less a quirk than simple practicality.
  • Will Base: 2 Command + 3 Cool + 9 (remainder of base 25; all of his powers except Dimensional Transport started at 1D) +5 (quirks) +1 (Cool 6) = 20
  • Talent Powers (16 Initial Will + 20 from General Talent Experience):
    • Dimensional Transport (2D + 2 HD, 6) (Attacks, Defends, Robust, Useful Outside of Combat, base cost 5/10/20): Nathan is free to move himself and others across time, space, and dimensions (use the teleport chart to determine his cargo capacity). Unfortunately, he is limited by causality; he cannot ever appear in a world earlier than his last appearance there (-1/2/4), he can only reach dimensions with natural laws that are essentially identical to those of his home dimension (no mythic realms, ones without death, or ones which greatly expand on his powers, -1/2/4), he can only describe his destination in general terms until he has been there at least once (-1/2/4), Expensive (-1/2/4), Special Effect; tends to fall into a GM-defined identity and role upon arrival in a new dimension.
    • Extra Tough +1 Level (4)
    • Healing (2D + 2HD, 6) (Base 3/6/12): This includes the ability to enhance the bodies self-repair abilities enough to add in Rejuvenation (can restore youth – removing aging, degenerative diseases, and genetic damage, +1/2/4), Regeneration (can restore lost limbs and organs, +2/4/8), and Curative (can remove diseases, etc, +1/2/4) functions, Can’t Interfere (-2/4/8), Go Last (-2/4/8), and Interfere (-2/4/8).
    • Alternate Form (2HD, 4) (Base 5/10/20), Endless (+1/2/4), User may invest up to (Base Cool x 10) Will in advance to allow quicker recoveries from “Death” (+1/2/4), Regenerative (form automatically recovers (width of a check made using the Alternate Form dice pool) boxes of damage of any type every minute, +2/4/8), Cannot be Voluntarily deactivated (given the “Endless” ability, and the fact that the user does not actually take damage until the Alternate Form goes, the only way for him to deactivate his powers and return to “normal” is to “die”, -1/2/4), Expensive (-1/2/4), Backfires (-2/4/8), Mental Strain (-2/4/8), Loopy (-2/4/8).
      • Hyper-Body 3D (Linked to Alternate Form, -1/2/4) = (1/3/6).
      • Hyper-Coordination 2D (Linked to Alternate Form, -1/2/4) = (1/3/6).
      • Hyper-Sense 2D (Linked to Alternate Form, -1/2/4) = (1/3/6).
      • Hyper-Brains 3D (Linked to Alternate Form, -1/2/4) = (1/3/6).
      • Hyper-Command 3D (Linked to Alternate Form, -1/2/4) = (1/3/6).
      • Hyper-Cool 3D (Linked to Alternate Form, -1/2/4) = (1/3/6).
        • In his “alternate form” The Wanderer is tall, dark, mysterious – and quite human looking, albeit of no identifiable nationality or race. This allows him to fit in almost anywhere, in virtually any dimension.

Yseult Shadowrun – Dust of Ages Part VII

   Everyone was in agreement: if they were going to work in the catacombs, they had to take out the serpent-thing. You never knew when an animal would turn at bay instead of being driven off, they had no idea of how it could be contained (or even IF it could be contained), and nobody wanted to work in the catacombs knowing that – at any moment – the damned thing might pop out of the rock and dissolve you.

   Of course, the idea of some fabulous treasure was in the back of everyone’s minds. If somebody had managed to put the damned thing here as a guardian, and had arranged to sustain it across five thousand years of low magic, then it had to be protecting something pretty damned important.

   Well, it seemed to breathe air, so it wouldn’t want to go below the water table. It didn’t seem to want to leave the high-magic zone or to go too close to the surface. It was willing to chase drones and magical watcher-spirit lures. Ergo, they should be able to steer it into an ambush.

   A weapon of the prior age against a beast of the prior age. A chemsuit, an elemental-booster spell, an anti-corrosive coating, and poison on her already-enchanted blade, her own inhuman cybernetic strength, the best protection-spells her mages could maintain, a selection of high-powered modern weaponry set up for a crossfire and to drive it forward with explosions, some drones for fire-support – and instructions for her allies (who would be well back down the tunnels): if she went down, they should abandon their positions and pull out as quickly as possible.

   If she could get it coming out of a tunnel quickly enough, and she was waiting to ambush it, she might be able to slice it in two for a fair part of it’s length. Surely that – along with modern explosives – would be enough to kill the damn thing.

   They had to lay down a lot of irritating chemicals, and expend several more of the cheaper drones – and there were one or two close calls during a day of careful maneuvering – but Yseult eventually wound up lurking next to the tunnel the serpent-thing was currently sulking in.

   Sending in all those low-powered spirits to pester it had made it pretty cross.

   It took several nerve-wracking attempts with minor spirits – evidently they had made it tired – before the thing came bursting out like a small freight train.

   She wasn’t that hot with a sword, but this called for brute strength, not finesse.

   Fortunately, Karma was with her. [And the player was quite willing to spend some of it].

   Unfortunately, the damned thing turned out to be tough as hell.

   That wasn’t too surprising for a creature that tunneled through rock and was coated with acid that readily burned through stone. Her blade opened a massive gash – slashing open one side of it’s mouth and leaving a gaping wound along it’s side. It twisted and flailed, spattering blood that ate great gaping holes in the stone. Fortunately, it was now semi-blind on the side she was on – so it’s first reflexive burst of acid-spitting had merely annihilated three more drones while a stray drop had burned a hole through her amateur caver’s shoulder – easily fixable later, but enough to make him fall back now.

   Of course, the blood-spatters were rapidly burning through her chemsuit and armor. Fortunately, she’d twisted to the side quickly enough to avoid most of it [with very good dodge and body checks] and the last traces hissed against the outer plating of her heavily-cyborged body as the acid – mostly expended against er chemsuit and armor – did little more than superficial damage.

   Well CRAP. It was only wounded – and perhaps more dangerous than ever!

   Rush in, duck under it’s flailing head, and drive her blade deep into the creature, bracing herself against the floor to ensure that she impaled it? Yeah, maybe if she’d been a video-game character with five extra lives; she could see how that would end. It might die, but she’d wind up being covered in acid that dissolved stone as quickly as a man could walk.

   Another slash from the side was (somewhat) safer, but was less likely to kill.

   Sulahafa sent the combat drones in to cover her retreat – although she did manage to throw a pouch full of poison into the gaping wound as she frantically dodged splattering acidic blood and the holes it had burned into the floor.

   She barely evaded another splattering of blood as the poison hit the wound and the creature convulsed. A good thing she’d fallen back…

   She added her own explosive pistol bullets – targeting the existing wound – to the hail of fire from the combat drones. Her allies triggered the explosives back behind the creature to keep it from retreating; it might have been wounded enough to stay quietly out of the way while they worked – but there was no knowing how fast a currently-unique awakened beastie could heal.

   She never knew how she managed to avoid the stream of acid it spat at her. Time seemed to slow [as the player burned three karma rerolls on Yseult’s dodge] but she’d evaded it somehow, as it burned through the stone behind her like a combat laser through mist. Faint memories of her otherwise long-forgotten chemistry class screamed “supernatural!” at her – like she didn’t know. At least – judging by how much blood it was losing – it wouldn’t be able to keep this up for long.

   Still, the bullets were mostly bouncing off the thing’s scales… Invulnerability too? The only magical weapon they had was her sword!

   The thing took out three of the remaining drones at one shot with a spray of acid. Evidently a thin stream wasn’t it’s only weapon.

   If she didn’t kill it, it was beginning to look like none of them would get out of the catacombs – especially if it had more unrevealed abilities! She should have taken that “no one had caught more than a glimpse and lived” thing a bit more seriously!

   It was a vertebrate though… A clear head, jaws, fangs, and eyes, skull – now notched where she’d slashed across it – protecting the brain.

   She hoped that Nassor and his apprentice heard her call for them to reinforce the protective spells around her as much as they possibly could [which called for a Leadership check; she caught a glimpse of one peeking around the corner, hopefully to establish line-of-sight for spellcasting] – and went in to try and sever the spine at the base of the skull. Her sword was easily long enough for that – and its power was definitely wide awake.

   She tried to stay on it’s blind side – and blessed the engineers who’d provided her boosts. It took far more than human agility to get close to the thing while it was thrashing and splattering acid like that. She put everything she had [her last several rerolls and her full enhanced strength] into the one attack…

   Her full strength, karma, and a two-handed swing backed by the spirit of the blade was just barely enough to drive the sword home between two vertebrae, severing both the spine and some major blood vessels.

   The convulsion hurled her across the room – the last remnants of her chemsuit and armor peeling away from the acid covering the things body – and the impact against the wall didn’t help a bit. Her systems were reporting a LOT of failures, acid damage, right hand and forearm dissolved, cyberarmor mostly gone, synthskin covers gone, cyberleg internal damage, internal injuries…

   It was a good thing that Nassor had a healing spell – and that she’d taken out that very expensive cyber-insurance policy.

   Still, the bloody snake was in worse shape than she was. In fact it seemed to be dissolving.

   She really hoped that there weren’t any more of them about.

   Nassor was pretty sure that the thing was down and out – but there was something very weird about it. The fact that the body was dissolving fast was no surprise given the amount of acid in it, and the fact that it’s magic was dissipating was only to be expected – but he and his apprentice were still getting an impression of anger. Their tour guide looked rather upset about that, and had added something about “immortal wrath” and the “twelve hours of the night” to his muttering about Apep and Set and Osiris and Thoth and such.

   Yseult asked him if he knew of a prayer or something of that sort that might help keep the thing down.

   The man agreed to try praying to Osiris and Set to hold back the wrath of Apep as they defended Ra in the Hours of the Night.

   The sword however… It seemed a bit larger (if no heavier), was warm to the touch, and had little veins of light moving in it. Wait, the thing was supposed to get more powerful as you fulfilled it’s requirements. Had “slay a major monster” been one of them? That seemed fairly likely somehow. Too bad the spirit of the sword couldn’t just tell her what to do to activate all its powers – and that the “being aided by the bear spirit” thing didn’t seem to work well with all the cyberware.

   Too bad there wouldn’t be anything left of the body to show off, but the way it was eating it’s way down into the stone, it wouldn’t be safe to touch it anyway.

   She stuck the little statue of Osiris with the funny inscription they’d found under the temple by the hole in a memorial/sealing effort. It couldn’t hurt. The mages said that the thing’s spirit still seemed to be hanging around – but they weren’t ancestor shamans, and had no really good way to communicate with it anyway.

   The bear spirit of her blade could tell him that the serpent-spirit was entangled in some really BIG binding – but that it would probably take a week or two to form a new body.

   Evidently the thing had been guarding the area for a very long time indeed.

   That was kind of sad somehow. Perhaps they could set it free so that it could actually rest in peace? Presumably it was bound to something somewhere… The tunnel system it had bored out was roughly circular; if it spent it’s time within range of a binding it might explain that – although the circle also roughly matched the edge of the elevated magic zone, at least now that they were underground. It didn’t always reach the surface for some reason.

   There were tunnels that headed for the center – but all of the detections and the geological surveys had said that there was nothing there except rock. It had even seemed to be something of a magical dead zone: there were magic centers under several of they pyramids, and under a couple of the temples – but under the sphinx, which was roughly at the center, there was nothing.

   Wait; at this point that was unusual – and so it was well worth investigating.

Eclipse d20 – The Number Lords of the Manifold

   Here we have a template for some of the “minor” villains of the Manifold Campaign – the Number Lords of Battling Business World. Some information on their realm, and notes on some of the Greater and Lesser Number Lords can be found Here. Statistics for Terry Jenkins – the current Champion of the Numbers – can be found Here. Finally, the Occult Accounting skill they provide can be found Here.

   The terrible Number Lords like to see themselves as the incarnations of rationality, logic, and order in the universe.

   Unfortunately, the notion of mathematical concepts having avatars at all – much less incarnations with supernatural powers to manipulate reality – is pretty irrational.

   That fundamental contradiction is at the root of the madness of the Number Lords.

   This is another extraordinarily powerful race for +1 ECL – although it does benefit massively from the fact that, in the Manifold setting, attribute bonuses are purchased for half price. On the other hand, it isn’t really suitable for player characters: a race which is inherently mad, can’t use most items, has little use for treasure, and can’t really interact well with more conventional entities, has a hard time fitting into most groups. For that matter, the Number Lords have a hard time fitting into reality, and cannot even appear in more rational worlds.

  • Self-Development:
    • +8 Intelligence (24 CP).
    • +4 Wisdom (12 CP)
    • +4 to any one attribute (12 CP)
      • Note that, in the Manifold, attribute bonuses are purchased at half cost; in other settings these bonuses should be halved.
  • Nightsight: Occult Sense/Darkvision (Rather like Neo’s view in “The Matrix”) (6 CP).
  • Celerity, with Additional Movement Mode (Flight, 30′) (18 CP).
  • Enthusiast, Specialized in Skills for Double Effect (two floating skill points) (3 CP).
  • Intellectual Focus: Augmented Bonus/may add their Cha Mod to their scores in Intelligence-related skills (6 CP).
  • Magic Resistant: Resist/+2 bonus to Saves versus Spells (3 CP).
  • Mathematical Hexcrafting:
    • +6 Base Caster Levels, Specialized in Hexcrafting, Corrupted/displays unnaturally alien magic when used (12 CP).
    • 6 Hexcrafting Card Slots, Specialized and Corrupted/Destructive Side Effects, Must drain Charisma from others to regain powers, Narrowly “themed” deck (mathematics / physics, exchanges, etc). 6 points/card base, net 2 points/card (12 CP).
    • The mathematical powers of the Number Lords are normally based on Intelligence – which almost always qualifies them for two bonus card slots and makes their spells rather difficult to resist.
  • Witchcraft: All Number Lords have basic Witchcraft (18 CP) with three Pacts – Karmic Links (to fulfill their need for balance), Vampirism (their touch drains 1d4 Charisma, both restoring their psychic powers and fulfilling the prerequisites for them to regain their hexcrafting slots), and Duties (must respond when properly invoked), for (-18 CP) – and a net total of zero.
  • Inherent Magic: Innate Enchantment, all abilities unlimited use-activated, personal-only (x.7 cost) where applicable. 15,000 GP base value (16 CP).
    • +2 Intelligence (1400 GP).
    • +2 Charisma (1400 GP).
    • +2 Wisdom (1400 GP).
    • Immortal Vigor I (+2d6 – effectively 12 due to at-will use, +2x Con Mod HP, 1400 GP).
    • Warding Rune (1 + Caster Level/3, +4 max, resistance bonus on saves, 1400 GP).
    • Skill Mastery (+3 to Intelligence-based skills) (1400 GP).
    • Shield (a barrier of lesser numbers) (2000 GP).
    • Unseen Servant (2000 GP).
    • Obscuring Mist 1/Day (A cloud of lesser numbers) (400 GP)
    • Cause Fear 1/Day (400 GP).
    • Calculate (Instantly solves a mathematical problem) 1/Day (200 GP).
    • Call to Mind 1/Day (400 GP).
    • Mage Armor (a cloud of lesser numbers) 1/Day (400 GP).
    • Cause Fear 1/Day (They are eldritch abominations) (400 GP).
    • Hypnotism 1/Day (Talking Shop) (400 GP).
    • Sleep 1/Day (Talking Shop) (400 GP).
      • Immunity/Stacking limits when combining innate enchantment effects with external effects (Common, Minor, Trivial – only covers L1 effects, 2 CP).
      • Immunity/Dispelling and Antimagic (Common, Major, Epic, Specialized and Corrupted/only protects innate enchantments that provide personal augmentations, 9 CP).
      • Immunity/the normal XP cost of Innate Enchantments (Uncommon, Minor, Trivial [only covers first level effects at caster level one], Specialized/only to cover initial racial abilities, 1 CP).
  • Template Disadvantages: Inept (Charisma-Related Skills), Compulsive (Attempts to eliminate “unnatural” power sources), Poor Reputation (Insane godlings), for a net -10 CP.

   That has a net cost of 126 CP – pretty pricey. Fortunately, the entire package is Specialized. The Number Lords are pretty obviously inhuman (they’re floating numerals), apparently lack limbs (they can’t wear things, although they can manipulate objects as if they had hands), and speak in a sourceless voice which seems to echo horrifying inside the listener’s heads. Perhaps most importantly, they’re incapable of using magical or psionicly-powered items of any kind – and are fundamentally crazy. They can use technology, but rarely find any that’s suitable. They often cannot even MANIFEST in rational worlds… That selection of difficulties reduces the net cost to 63 CP – a +1 ECL template.

   Technically, the Number Lords should probably have a selection of Immunities to represent the “fact” that they have no normal metabolism, need not breathe, and so on. On the other hand – following the conventions of the comics – that’s only partially true; things like gas will affect them whenever the game master feels that it’s amusing and – in the Manifold setting – they can usually be assumed to be using their equivalent of Smartclothes (which provide a great deal of protection from that sort of thing), just like everyone else.

Yseult Shadowrun – Dust of Ages Part VI

   So; equipment for exploring a set of ancient, partially-submerged catacombs filled with sinkholes and possibly with deadly, highly-magical, awakened predators from a prior age. A lost world of ancient perils!

   Oh good LORD. NOW she knew why all this seemed so familiar! Ancient Egyptian magic, giant snakes, hidden catacombs, haunts, curses, and lost temples full of undead… You saw the computer updates of all those ancient pre-trideo “b-movies” on late night trid! They were full of this stuff!

   And… those productions had all been – however loosely – based on old stories and myths. Exaggerated to allow for the presence of actual, working, magic. Meant to seem almost plausible to an audience – and successful enough at it that they were still being preserved and watched a century later.

   Just how old were the underlying stories? Was there something to all the stories of racial memories or prior incarnations? Did certain stories or magic seem “plausible” because metahuman minds knew the practical rules for magic on the same instinctive level as they knew the physics of walking and throwing?

   Well, at least that could give her ideas about things to prepare for anyway.

   Lets see; guns, explosives, blades, rope, climbing and spelunking gear, flares, breathing apparatus, food and water, light sources, first aid kit, extra medication for her damned nut allergy. She usually carried some of the survival gear anyway… Inertial mapper and tracker (ah, good, those functions could readily be chipped into her internal electronics; that might be very handy even after this trip)… Satellite Phone! With spare batteries and some relay units for calling out from underground areas. Worthwhile if she was going to keep heading into the mountains and wilderness even if it was bulky – almost too big to cup in her palm. A lot of the rest would be easier to pick up locally, back in Egypt.

   A rigger would probably have to be a local hire. He or she would need quite a few, or perhaps a lot of signal-relays, if they were going to penetrate very far underground. Perhaps The Ninja? One of the group was a drone expert…

   Nah. The Ninja was also notorious for reckless magical experimentation, and THAT was something that she did NOT need on this trip!

   Time to hit up the fixers.

   Fortunately she got back to Egypt with nearly two days left to do some shopping and recruiting in.

   The hard part turned out to be cutting down the gear to what she and her recruits could reasonably carry along. Thank god for enhanced strength. Besides, there was nothing better than providing good supplies for people to make them think highly of you – and anything in the way of survival gear that didn’t get used promptly would keep.

   As far as the rigger went, she offered 50K, with a 25K allowance for any damage incurred to his or her drones, although she was requiring a secrecy clause and a non-looting clause and notification that the job required an acceptance of basic underground hazards, a contract period of up to three weeks, and a few other details to be discussed at the meet… After all, she didn’t want to give away too much information to anyone who wasn’t seriously interested in the offer.

   Those other details, of course, included the location, the possibility of there being a big magical snake to be avoided, and the prospects of possible unknown dangers – even if all the likely traps would probably be several millennia old. Presumably it wouldn’t be like being up against a modern security system.

   She would have preferred getting someone she knew, but runners disappeared and changed aliases all the time. It was pretty hard to say who was who, but her fixers could presumably get her in touch with some reasonably reliable riggers. That sort of thing was, after all, their job.

   She wound up hiring “Sulahafa”, a rigger who mostly used cheap crawler drones – but had a lot of them and a lot of cheap relay units already.

   A trio of other locals – two who’d worked on digs before (one a digger and amateur caver, the other a decent archeologist’s aide and Gaza tour guide), and one magical dabbler Nassor had brought in (a light-duty combatant/lookout with some enhanced senses) – filled out the group.

   Hmm. She had a few minor bids on the auction – but no big bites yet. Still, there were two weeks left – and a lot of people liked to wait until there were only minutes left for some reason.

   So; maps and surveys in hand, well stocked with equipment, and having hired a set of local guides, it was time to start considering access routes for getting into those caves.

   There were some flooded passages near the Nile, several funerary temples near the great pyramid, caves on the edge of the plateau the pyramids were on, and several possible access shafts – albeit mostly sand-choked.

   Well, they had plenty of drones. They simply send some probes down the dozen most likely-looking entrances.

   The underwater passages were pretty mud-choked, but got into the main system the fastest

   The caves were nearest to the higher-magic areas that had been plotted on the maps, but were convoluted and awkward.

   The access shafts weren’t really open, and would take a good deal of digging to pass through; too much sand had sifted in across the centuries.

   The Funerary temples weren’t very magical, but might be a compromise. They might also be a complete red herring; most of them were apparently special-purpose only.

Made available for use by MesserWoland under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License.

   She had the drones focus on the underwater passages – even if that did limit them to submersible models – and had them look for better entrances once they were in the main system. Nassor could help them get in underwater if nothing better was found.

   The initial explorations went reasonably easily; some areas had been mapped already, and it wasn’t too hard to link up some of the mapped segments. A fair portion of the caves appeared to be natural; the plateau was limestone after all – and evidently the paleoclimatological people were right and it had used to be a good deal wetter in Egypt.

   It was still eight days before they had a decent general layout: there were rocks to move, passages to unblock, and sand to clear. At least a few areas were almost sealed off by rockfalls – and some cautious personal exploration and mapping had established that high magic sites included the area beneath the Great Pyramid, the Temple of Menakaure, and the Tomb of Hemon. Fortunately, so far, it had only been drones that had been lost in collapses.

   Hm… the Temple of Menakaure was the most easily accessible. The Tomb of Hemon seemed to be built on fairly solid rock, although there might, of course, be passages below it.

   They took in a couple of drones to run point and tried the Temple of Menakaure. Fortunately, the place was open to tourists – although the inner section was usually blocked off. Of course, they had permission to investigate from the Department of Antiquities.

   Oddly, while there seemed to be access to the lower levels of the temple via an old well, there was almost nothing living down there; even the traces of bats were scarce.

   It looked like the cavern had been full of water on and off for quite some time, even if it was currently dry. There were some carvings left, but there were only traces of old paint on them and on the walls except for the parts that were above the usual high water level.

   Most of the inscriptions seemed to be calling on various gods and goddesses for fertility and rain, a strong secondary theme was invoking the protection of the dead and their intervention in daily life for those who worshiped here. That was a little odd – usually it was the gods who intervened, not the dead – but the invocations were even older than the usual run of temple inscriptions and fragmentary to boot. A faith that old could be expected to have a lot of local quirks.

   As for the magic… The entire area seemed to have a slightly elevated magic level, but most of it seemed to come from the floor – at least according to Nassor and his aide.

   She had the drones spread out and look for any nearby routes down – although it was pretty obvious that simply heading downslope into the caverns would get them started. The route was rough and irregular for the most part – although there were some spots that looked odd; most of the route was through limestone bedrock – but parts of it looked worn away naturally and smoothly, while other parts seemed quite rough. The worn parts looked like normal water-wear, but the irregular spots, however, seemed to have been artificially worked. Apparently by primitive chisels and hammers.

   Oddly enough, the chiseled areas ran all around the edges of the room, all in a band about three feet off the floor. They seemed to be spaced fairly regularly, and there were traces of old paint on them where they were above the water. There were a few other items; some bits and pieces of worked stone, a broken lamp, a short rod made of hammered copper, a small statue of Osiris with a brief inscription, and a selection of offering-bowls for food offerings. Evidently some sort of religious ritual was once conducted down here – and probably forgotten when the water rose and partially flooded the chamber.

   Osiris… God of the underworld and of resurrection, the keeper of souls, guide and guardian of the dead, one of the major patron gods of Egypt. Unlike most of the animal-headed gods, Osiris was normally portrayed as a human mummy who rose again from the underworld.

   Blast it; something seemed important about that, but she couldn’t say what. The nebulous thought was going to bother her until it coalesced!

   They kept the drones out ahead. The caverns became much more irregular as they headed down, but seemed to open up into a network of smaller tunnels. Those tunnels were a bit strange though; they looked water-carved, but they were rather too regular for that. All of them were about three feet across, although they went up and down quite irregularly.

   They were trying to locate a path that went underneath the floor of the first cavern – on the theory that they might be able to locate a magical gradient or source of some sort – when they abruptly lost a drone; no signal. It might just have turned the wrong corner though; it wouldn’t be the first time in this confounded maze of twisting little passages, all alike… Not to mention that they were small enough to be a terrible pain to get through.

   They reviewed the last sensor feed while they waited to see if it would pull back after losing contact and come back into range.

   The signal quality was poor – all that stone again – but Sulahafa ran some image-enhancement on it… It looked like there might have been something moving towards the drone – small and fast, but not bulletlike – just before the signal went out.

   The drone didn’t come back into contact. It was either down for the count or it’s return route had been blocked by a collapse.

   Trouble was, it wouldn’t be the first time for that either. A good thing the blasted crawlers were so cheap. ON the other hand, there might really be something alive and dangerous in the tunnels.

   Well, they had some spam and some jerky; perhaps they could put out some bait? It was meat of a sort – and they had lots more drones.

   They set up a relay chain, with each one further back keeping the one ahead under constant observation and with the recall signal ready to go.

   It took a good deal of careful probing around before they caught a momentary glimpse of something large and grayish shifting around in one of the tunnels. The view from the next drone showed the one that had gotten line-of-sight on the gray thing pretty much disintegrating – the central core of the unit seemed to simply vanish and the rest rapidly collapsed into liquid.

(Yseult) “Does anyone know what might cause that?”

   The amateur archeologist/tour guide was muttering something about “Apep” – but hopefully the thing wasn’t the incarnate deity-principle of destruction, even if the reports DID indicate some sort of giant snake!

   They pulled back a bit to review their information.

   They were roughly beneath the causeway to the pyramid of Khafre, just above the Mastabas and the Rock-Cut Tombs.

   They had one glimpse of a gray serpent-like thing, which didn’t show much detail even under magnification. Of course, light-amplification tended to wash things out a bit, and thermal imaging wouldn’t show much on a presumably cold-blooded creature. They got to work on image-enhancement and continued looking at their data in the meantime.

   Hm… the few higher-magic areas they’d mapped seemed to form a (very) rough circle – well, OK, you could draw a circle around the irregular blobs, which was universally true, but it still gave her that impression. Could the magic be radiating from a central point? The Eye of Ra?

   No; if it was doing that, there would be a gradient with a highest point nearest the center. There had to be additional factors.

   The high magic areas continued beneath the Pyramid of Khufu, Queen Hetephere’s Tombs, and the Village of Nazlet. Still one hell of an area to search.

   They sent the second drone back up after the first one, keeping it very quiet and slow so as not to attract the serpent-things attention.

   There are a few bits of the first drone left – mostly special-alloy components. There was also a hole drilled deeply into the rock; if that was a trace of whatever-it-was that the gray thing had used, it had gone straight through the drone and into solid stone like a bullet through cheese. The remaining bits of the drone appeared to be slowly continuing to dissolve, but didn’t show much in the way of thermal traces. Some sort of supernatural acid? Nothing natural would dissolve metal and rock so fast that it would bore through them instead of splashing.

   Image enhancement showed that the serpent-thing had almost filled the tunnel. It might or might not have eyes, but it definitely seemed to have fangs. It moved reasonably fast, but a hoverdrone or rotordrone (if there had been room for one) could easily keep up with it unless it was capable of a lot more speed than it had shown. Whatever had struck the first drone would have been much faster.

   The tour guide was still muttering about Apep.

(Yseult) “Nassor? Can you set up a barrier together at the entrance of this tunnel that would trap anything physical that tried to get out of it?”

(Nassor) “Yes – although any barrier can be broken, and my assistant here is a fairly minor mage. We can certainly slow most things up though.”

   She had them work together on that, and got ready to try and chop the bloody things head off with her sword if it did pop out – but, for the moment, that was pure precaution. They needed more data, and the easiest way to get that was to expend a few of the cheaper drones – even if her rigger did want an extra fee to cover that.

   Well, she couldn’t blame him for that. Incidental damage was one thing, this was likely to use up a lot of drones.

   It cost them a dozen drones – and apparently irritated the creature – but they got some good shots eventually. It was some sort of giant serpent, about three feet across, probably a good hundred feet long – and apparently somehow capable of boring through rock almost as quickly as it moved through an existing tunnel.

   They found that out when it emerged from the rock next to one of the drones and apparently destroyed it on contact. Well, at least that explained why it fitted the tunnels so neatly. It wasn’t good though; the damned thing could take out armored drones in a fraction of a second, both at range and by merely brushing against them, and it could pop up anywhere at all.

   Oh joy.

   Yseult asked for ideas.

   Sulahafa suggested that – given the things evident destructiveness – they move back a bit and send in more drone-chains to see if there was more than one. After that, rigging some self-destruct charges on the drones might be in order; it did seem to be a living, physical, creature – so enough large explosions should do it in quite nicely.

   The tour guide was still muttering about Apep – and he suggested calling on Osiris, god of reborn life, Set, god of darkness and warriors, and Thoth, god of knowledge. since they escorted Ra safely past the great serpent in his journey through the underworld.

(Yseult) “Great idea I suppose, but just how would we go about doing that? And please keep in mind that we need it simple, short, practical, and with some way of telling in advance if it worked or not”.

(Guide) “Urm.. Call the museum or get a priest? I mean, the thing does seem a lot like Apep.”

(Yseult) “Ok, what’s ‘Apep’ anyway?”

(Guide) “Apep is one of the main menaces of the underworld: a giant snake that inhabits the darkness, passing where it will. Each night it challenges the passage of Ra to resurrection, and each night it is defeated by Thoth, Set, and Osiris. It’s gaze is annihilation. Set, of course, is a mighty warrior, who cannot die. Thoth brings magic and strength through wisdom. Osiris simply provides his blessing as lord of the underworld.”

(Yseult, after considering) “Well, hmm. It seems to me that we have magic. The information from the drones might be considered a blessing, along with possibly trying to blind the thing before it gets to us.. I am probably capable of fighting blindly if it is its gaze that kills.”

   OK, even to her that didn’t sound convincing.

   Nassor was just as doubtful.

(Nassor) “I wouldn’t bet on the “gaze of death” being too literal; the dissolving drones and the small and high-but-not-bulletlike speed approaching object suggests a spitter. It’s probably supernatural, but that might also be how it burrows through rock; limestone does dissolve easily in acid. Perhaps chemical-protection suits? They might help some.”

(Yseult) “Hmm, it would take a long time to go and get some though… How well could you replicate the effect of chemical protection suits with magic?”

(Nassor) “I’m afraid that doing that would take a rather specialized spell, and it’s one that I don’t have. Perhaps we could fall back a bit and try to go around the thing? Personally, I’d rather not get dissolved by some giant awakened snake.”

   Well, there was some justice to that position.

   (Yseult) “Could you draw it to this (indicating the tunnel opening) opening with your magic? If you could entice it or infuriate to the point where it was moving too fast to dodge I might be able to stand to the side and split the thing in two with it’s own force of movement. If that worked it would never even see us. Would you like to try it? Perhaps with a bit of basic telekinesis to float some food down the tunnel? Do you feel safe with that plan?”

   It rapidly became apparent that no one felt safe with that plan. They might be willing to give it a try with some persuasion, but in the dark, in cramped tunnels, and up against an unknown paracritter that might have inspired stories about a malevolent god for thousands of years, it was kind of hard to feel “safe”.

   They opted to try for more information instead. Nassor had that short-range clairvoyant spell and they could send back to Cairo for some snooper-drones. It would take a few hours to get them, but they were cheap and reasonably effective.

   They had a better report the next day.

   It looked like the creature somewhat resembled a worm; it both spit some sort of super-acid and secreted it from it’s skin – which was what allowed it to move through rock. It’s digestion seemed to be external; it moved over the puddles it’s acid left to absorb nutrients. It seemed to be an effort for it to secrete enough acid to move through the rock though, and so it seemed to prefer sticking to the existing tunnels. It was probably elementally linked, most likely with water.

   Well, if it absorbed nutrients though the skin, it should be vulnerable to external toxins. Could they hurt it by simply strewing salt or some such junk in it’s path? Divert it with a pile of food? Simply map around it and see where it hung out and if there was more than one? Perhaps put an opposing elemental effect on her blade?

   Another day worth of careful mapping gave them a number of good places – where it spent the most time – to try and poison it. At the moment, it looked like it mostly hung out in or near the flooded sections, where the river water washed food into the caves. It had to need magic though, since it never left the general high-magic area.

   OK, they should at least have a way to make it uncomfortable and make it move – it had to have some equivalent to a sense of taste – and with any luck they could push it into a place of their choosing, where it would at least be uncomfortable or tired.

   They began to set up their hunt.

Yseult Shadowrun – Dust of Ages Part V

   The trip had been relatively uneventful, even if she had had to make a lot of special arrangements to get the artifacts from the crypt and her own gear through customs. Still, sealed shipping sufficed for most of it; it wasn’t like she normally carried anything heavier than a pistol and some flash grenades.

   Making sure she was throughly presentable had been quite a bother in itself – but she also made quite sure to arrive good and early; past services or not, this promised to be nerve-wracking.

   Getting in to see Dunkelzahn was something of an ordeal in itself; her own systems were good enough to get some idea of just how many technological probes and sensors were being focused on her in the lobby – and it wasn’t like she could detect the layers of magical security that were certainly there. Security was a bit surprised at some of the artifacts she was bringing along to show him – especially the spirit-bear sword from the reptile-folk crypt – but approval came back down the line and they let it go.

   Of course, given that Winterknight was currently targeting dragons, she wouldn’t be surprised if her “personal meeting” was with some sort of projection or simulacrum – and if it was, she probably wouldn’t be able to tell.

   Well, it looked like him – but the old wyrm could make anything look like anything if it suited him. This would be her first in-person meeting with a dragon from the previous age of magic. At last she’d see if they were as formidable as she’d heard.

(Yseult) “I found some rather interesting ruins in Egypt that you might want to know about. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you exactly where they are because I currently have an auction going – but I can provide you with clear video feed and pictures of them. In exchange would like whatever you’re willing to tell me about the Old Catacombs of Egypt under Giza. Perhaps over a friendly game of Go? Go is a hobby of mine, and I am just curious how I would fair against a dragon.”

(“Dunkelzahn”) “If you wish. Go is often diverting – although the ruins of the old Kaer are more sad than interesting. Still, my information on the “old” catacombs is not of great consequence either: after all, they were mostly created while I was asleep.”

   “Kaer”? Were those the winged things? If so, that would imply that there were “new Kaer” – she didn’t believe that Dunkelzahn (or any stand-in the old wyrm would be willing to put up with) would use sloppy phrasing. Perhaps it was the draconic name for the crypt itself? As a member of a group? But if that was what it was, how had he known?

   Wait; she’d provided the information that she was running an auction on the location of some “interesting ruins”, and Dunkelzahn was known to take an interest in old stuff. It would have been easy for him to check if he hadn’t looked at the auction before – but did that mean he was running a continuous mental link with a team of research deckers or some such? Fast enough to do research for him while he’d… stalled for a second or two by answering the bit about “Go” first. Damn.

(Yseult) “So, have you actually seen inside those ruins before then? As for no great consequence I am looking at making an expedition into the catacombs and any information would be useful.”

(“Dunkelzahn”) “The Kaer? Not that one in particular – we used our own methods of creating shelters – but many races and nations created Kaer’s some eight thousand years ago. Some survived. Others, sadly, did not.”

   OK, so it was a generic name for that kind of shelter – and left an open question; what had those “many races and nations” been hiding from? What could have wiped what was evidently an advanced civilization – even if it was one based on magic – away so throughly that the archeologists and historians had virtually no clues as to it’s existence?

(Yseult) “Would you be interested in seeing the video footage I have then? The main thing I was wanting to find out about the catacombs was if there were things from the last age of magic that might be down there. I’d hate to face something like that unprepared.”

(“Dunkelzahn”) “Oh, information is always of interest. Now, the contents of a Kaer could be very dangerous – especially if whatever killed it was trapped there. That happened surprisingly often; self-sacrificing people were capable of great feats at times. There might be other information there, especially about old magics – but that is the rightful heritage of the people of this world, and – despite how some of the others feel – I will not hide it from them once they find it.”

(Yseult) “I have in fact been inside that particular “Kaer” as you call it. There was some sort of supernatural horror there that killed everything it touched – rather horribly – and which, once it had been unleashed, required the concerted efforts of a great many powerful magicians and considerable military force to take out. Furthermore, one of the objects inside managed to make one of the younger dragons pass out appon touching it.”

(“Dunkelzahn”) “Ah, that would be that bit of excitement down in Egypt, with all the powerful mages being hauled together, the unconscious young dragon, and the mysterious swath of death? I do like the Matrix by the way: a good search engine and a few questions, and things that would have taken years to find out just drop into place! Now, a life-eater was a very minor entity by the standards of horrors, and would have been drawn to the river as the largest source of life in the area – which would nicely narrow down the location you’re auctioning if that mattered to me. I would recommend more caution in the information you give to others though, or you may wind up with nothing to sell.”

   Was that a gentle reminder that he’d already figured out everything she had to tell? Confounded dragons. Thank god none of her clients or competitors were anything like a dragon; give them a couple of sentences, and you might as well turn over your notes, your private journals, and your secret account numbers…

(Yseult) “Ahh, Well, if you were to find the place then – depending on if you told anyone else or not – it might not matter. Aside from that, any information you provide on the catacombs might well be worth more than what I can get out of the auction – and so I would just post that someone had placed a bid with me personaly and that I was taking down the auction.”

   Oh BLAST. If she’d been working for someone, she wouldn’t have been auctioning the location – and she’d just as good as told the old wyrm straight out that she was on the trail of something in the catacombs that she believed might be worth MORE than the contents of a buried city of an extinct race from the last age of magic!

   At least the old wyrm didn’t seem inclined to try and stop her…

(Yseult) “Thank you for the tip though.”

(“Dunkelzahn”) “Oh, you are welcome.”

(Yseult) “So, as you have demonstrated, the Matrix is dangerous to use when transmiting certain information – and the Kaer might very well fall into that branch of data. I shall keep that in mind. Meanwhile, would you like to see the video footage and pictures I have?”

(“Dunkelzahn”) “They would be of some interest.”

   Further conversation and commentary revealed that – while “Dunkelzahn” had no reservations about the spirit-bear sword, there were some weapons and devices from the last age that he wouldn’t want anywhere near him – although, surprisingly enough, the crystal device that had rendered that young dragon unconscious so promptly was not among them…

(“Dunkelzahn”) “Oh, the Rithod? It’s not a weapon; it’s just a magic-focusing device used to feed power into other effects. You just have to shield against it properly. Your young dragon friend had never seen such a thing however, and tried to probe it with a spell – which simply gave it an opening to drain his magic. A solid knockout blow to a magical creature of course. A good thing you took it away promptly; it would have started doing serious damage in ten or fifteen minutes and a few hours in contact with it would have killed him. He owes you one, whether he’ll ever admit it or not.”

   Well, it probably would be a lot easier to get a young dragon to admit that he owed someone a favor than it would be to get an older one to admit something like that. Some of the young ones were trying to prove themselves, but others were quite sensible.

   “Dunkelzahn” was rather interested in the information about the child-mummy – enough so that he was reasonably communicative about the catacombs and her basic query – what might have survived until three thousand years ago with with enough magic to start the goblinization processes?

   Blast it! She was losing the Go game too – and she was a master and it didn’t look like “Dunkelzahn” had more than a passing acquaintance with the game. He really was just that much smarter than she was. It was a better showing than she’d expected – but she’d also expected him to actually know the game.

   Dunkelzahn’s information on the Catacombs was mostly from public and museum sources, although he’d apparently had some experts do the research – and did note a few details about some structures he heard of in the area from the last age.

   The mummy description was, however, a different matter. That had obviously been a reptilian transformation – probably to the flying lizard-folk species – and that was a late transformation which required a great deal of magic. In fact, it required more magic than was available even now – and from the fact that there was a “blessing” known for it in the lizard-folks old script, it wasn’t unknown. No likely energy reserve would have been radiating such power more than two thousand years after the magic levels hit zero – so there had to be an active source to supply it. There was only one possibility for that; a functioning metaplanar gate that was maintaining it’s own magic level. Such as thing normally required constant maintenance however – which would argue for either a very long-lived survivor from the last age of magic OR an ongoing order of magi of some sort – given the setting, possibly a priestly order.

   It also would probably have defenses in place to prevent interference. The question would be what it was powering, what was maintaining it, and what protections were in place.

(Yseult) “Do you have any advice on how I should prepare for a trip into ancient catacombs that are rumored to be inhabited by a large snake-like guardian?

(“Dunkelzahn”) “If it is a millennia-old high-magic area, and no one has reported any details on this snake or such an area, it’s likely that no one has gotten a good look and lived: ergo, it would probably one of the more powerful snakelike creatures – or perhaps more than one. The most dangerous snakelike creatures are the ones with elemental venoms. Those can dissolve, incinerate, petrify, or electrocute you with a single hit, and can usually both secrete and spit their venoms. I would recommend using good environmental armor, taking along some allies, and – preferably – being assisted by someone who can run a considerable number of remote drones in relay and use them for mapping and fire support.”

(Yseult) “Thank you Mr Dunkelzahn. For both the information, the advice, and the game; all were most intriguing. If there is anything that you would like to arrange for me to do for you I will be more than happy to help you out – for a proper exchange of course.”

   There. Hopefully she could get out of this without owing the old wyrm any major freebies. He had a reputation for paying of course – but it was awfully hard to say what a dragon would consider a fair payment, and they ALWAYS had their own agendas. Besides… offering your services to the powerful was always a good idea in information gathering and it WAS her business.

   Security escorted her out.

   Well, she had nearly four days before she needed to be back in Egypt. Time for supplies, research, and allies. She’d need a good rigger with some rather specialized gear…

Federation-Apocalypse Session 107b – Disturbing Resets

   In Kadia, Ramira Al’Fatim of the Bronze, Mistress of Technology and Networking, was still trying to adjust… Her mate wasn’t just a dragon. He was a god – if apparently still a “minor” one – who controlled entire universes.

   While that definitely went a bit beyond just being a “good prospect”, he was actually still inexperienced enough to be fairly easily manipulated – and to be unused to being pursued by females. That was luck enough to use up a lifetimes supply. How could that even be POSSIBLE? Could Ailill possibly have been so busy – or perhaps so isolated amongst his slaves – that he had never spent much time with females that he didn’t already own?

   He certainly had hardly a clue about data security. What few things he apparently considered secret were adequately blocked from direct access – “Core” apparently had excellent encryption and security processes – but there WERE methods of finding out about things other than asking directly! For every secret you wanted to hide, there were hundreds of associated facts, statistics, and secondary secrets that had to be hidden; you needed to hide enough things to keep anyone from deducing the underlying patterns!

   About the only things in the dimension that people weren’t freely told about were the origins of the young dragons in the dragon-stables (although it was pretty obvious to any dragon who was familiar with Ailill’s harem in the Dragonworlds where THEY came from – and why Ailill was so nice to them and gave them so many privileges), that many of the Neodogs were Thralls, Ailill’s current project and strategies, the meme-research, and people’s personal information!

   Well, OK, there might be some stuff that was still being hidden from her – it wasn’t like she’d had time to analyze everything – but STILL. What is WRONG with these people? Secrecy was a vital part of any sizeable operation! Otherwise anyone could just log in and snatch a lifetime’s work! But how could she change that? This “Core” was based on openness. She wasn’t sure she could conquer a lifetime of computer indoctrination, no matter how obedient the Thralls and the computer systems were! They just didn’t have the reflexes for security – although the ones on rescue operations and such didn’t talk much.

   Well, perhaps there was hope. Ailill was making SOME effort to keep the big items secret – and he hadn’t done too badly in the Dragonrealms, although part of that was simply that his presence there seemed to be pretty intermittent. At least he was keeping the big things under wraps. There was hope for him!

   She set out to introduce security training courses, starting with the Thralls and passing it on down the chain. You had to implement these things in steps!

   Were there any of them who were actually familiar with data security? Ailill did recruit from all over the place…

   Ah. Some of the Thralls from some of the Techno-Anime worlds had reasonable ideas about data security. They might be lowly (if enhanced) humanoids, but they were better than nothing! She smiled a nice, toothy, smile, ordered them assigned to her department, and started in on getting them trained up to her standards. Core might have some astoundingly sophisticated programs, but they had no notion of magical or psychic data security.

(Ramira) “We have too much open information around here. Infiltrators and hackers could steal it, so I want to set up some network security. Some data-barriers and access restrictions will do to start with; a lot of the general information – and anything that’s already open-access in Core itself – might as well stay that way, but I want you to get started on limiting access to anything related to Ailill’s operations to what outsiders actually need to know! Make sure that the personal information is still classified, block anything which might lead to people figuring out that Ailill can enthrall Neodogs and nonhumans, bury EVERYTHING related to the meme-research, make sure that the numbers of Thralls are SEVERELY understated, and set up an AUTOMATIC classification – subject to review – for incoming information and new projects! Then work backwards from newest – where less has already leaked – to the oldest of his projects! That won’t be enough, but it is better than nothing to start with!”

   Bother. She’d need to designate security levels for information and set up additional priority lists. At the moment, a lot of that information was already somewhat hidden – but with data security, a single leak in the wrong place and you might as well not have bothered in the first place!

   Hm… Perhaps she should make all but the most dangerous, well-traveled, or purely commercial gates secret so that Ailill had escape routes in case something happens. Maybe for that chubby thing he traveled with too, though she wasn’t sure that it could open gates.

   His less savory activities – by human standards – should be kept a secret outside of Kadia and the Core, the better to attract new people too. For that matter, she set up a publicity department, to play up the more beneficial things he did. It looked like most of the Thralls had orders to show off their powers and benevolence a bit, but there was no organized advertising or public image campaign except for some (extraordinarily bland!) business-side advertising in Core and a few of the nearby realms…

   Fortunately, there were plenty of Thralls to assign! She had to give Kelsaru credit: she’d really gotten the recruiting disclosure-and-induction end of things moving, and wasn’t doing badly at arranging the business offices to offer access to good markets and recruiting territories – but as a powerful telepath from a race of powerful telepaths, she wasn’t big on secrecy, however good she was at psychology and finding ways to explain things to people!

   Hmm… They might want to keep just how Kadia’s metaphysics worked under wraps as well. That was proprietary information after all – although that might be a bit impractical. It was also enough to state that the fey were present. How were people from fey-shy fantasy realms going to react when they heard that Ailill had more-or-less created a local population of them and had deals with fey from other realms?

   Hm. Some of her rivals offspring should be available through the school – and on the markets after being washed out. She’d keep an eye on them – and start having the washouts trained in data security! That would be mildly amusing, they should be quite capable of helping manage the Thralls, and that way, she could set up more effective data security for her beloved!

   She put in the purchase order, and soon had a fair collection of hatchlings – mostly metallics of course, just like her rivals. A bit frightened of course… On inspection she had four golds, two silvers, twelve bronzes, and seven coppers. They mostly seemed to be healthy little hatchlings – although one of the young male bronzes did seem to be a definite runt. It looked like he was either cursed or had just turned out badly. A genetic flaw perhaps?

   She had him tested. He was definitely flawed – incapable of properly focusing his power, and the excess had damaged his health. He’d need to have a lot of his power artificially drawn off to be healthy… Other than that he was fairly strong, and his endurance would be good if his magical problems were corrected – but he’d still be a washout.

   Ugh, this was not what she wanted in her security specialists at all! He’d be a decent bodyguard or pet for a mortal, a reasonably serviceable harem guard, or a pretty good familiar/magical battery for a mage.

   Well, she knew who was becoming a power battery! The boy whimpered a bit when she ordered him transmuted into a smaller form, but that was all the better as an example to the rest…

(Ramira, to the others) “Guess what! You’re not dying today! Instead, you’re going to become good little computer security specialists. Or power batteries. It’s really up to you.”

   There was a brief pause than a chorus of “Thank you Mistress!”.

   Most of them turned out to be bright enough, although the coppers (at least) weren’t very naturally disciplined. They all seemed to be quite dedicated though, rather more than simple fear would explain; it didn’t seem to vary with how recently one of the sillier ones had washed out either… Oh. It was that pleasure-conditioning; it’s was what she wanted, and so working hard at it made them feel good.

   She’d had her doubts about that policy, but it certainly did seem to work.

   Sadly, owning some of her rival’s offspring was less satisfying than she’d thought it might be. It wasn’t much of a triumph over them when they had freely given them up… Of course, she might be able to do something about them more directly after she’d consolidated her own position a bit.

   While she was investigating, it was time to take a look at what made Kelsaru tick – other, of course, than her imminent clutching.

   Hmm… Kelsaru liked to keep humans in their place, was fond of really BIG business deals (and was a bit impatient with small deals), and tended to rely a bit excessively on her telepathic powers – which were pretty impressive. As a Crystal Dragon she was a definite rarity – but there didn’t seem to be any good reason why she was still hiding it. Did she just not want to be bothered? Was she worried about some ambitious dragon cutting her up for spell components? Was it simply that she was participating in Dragonworlds society, where gem dragons were almost unheard of? It did help hide her special powers…

   It was also possible that Ailill simply liked the look; he did favor the form of a red.

   She picked up some better telepathic defenses and went looking for a business deal that would appeal to Kelsaru.

   Well, she had a special interest in some of the Cyberpunk realms, and in the Dragonrealms, minor interests in computers, and strong interests in rare magical elements and magic. Stuff that she tended to call “True Earth”, “True Fire”, “True Air”, “True Water”, and Orichalkum (not an especially uncommon word in the magical realms unfortunately). She had a special interest in items that acted as foci in rituals for major changes and transformations and she had a few dozen of her own dragonslaves out acting as representatives.

   Well, there are a lot of links to exotic realms around Kadia… Where could she find that stuff?

   Ah… Kelsaru had been so busy organizing Kevin’s trade offices that she’d missed a possibility; there had been a recent reset in one of the cyberpunk-magic worlds, and a flood of the stuff was due to become available there shortly as the magic level rose again.

   Perhaps she could corner the market there…

   She dispatched some of her own slaves to undercut the competition and offer some of the goods that the realm would have a few years in it’s own future – just before the reset point. Cyberpunk worlds almost always needed supplies and such.

   Not all that dangerous a world really. Low to mid-level magic – not all that powerful at once, but with few usage limitations. It was powered by a locally-defined source – “astral” energies – and was a strain to use, but an experienced mage could channel power pretty much indefinitely. There really weren’t much in the way of countermeasures, or even methods of weakening it or defending against it either, thanks to that same localized power source. Well, that was a bother, but all the general powers should work against it just fine anyway.

   It had fairly standard cyberpunk level technology, some heavy weapons available – although not really like the starship weapons of the Dragonworlds – and some elder dragons, albeit not too many. It looked to be an old gaming universe.

   It would be best to favor the cybernetically enhanced dragons when deploying, to make sure that they had antimagical measures, and to warn them that elder dragons might be about.

   Why was she doing all of this? She turned some Thralls loose on it. She couldn’t do it all herself anyway; she didn’t want to leave the harem during her pregnancy.

   The Thralls eventually dug up a large pile of ancient sourcebooks – but no special method of local magic-damping outside of local countermeasures though. On the other hand, most of the local elder dragons were identified – along with a lot of the local notables and private information for the setting. There was a long list of the various major players and corporations, their primary interests, many of their secret projects and resources, which were involved in which aspects of the economy, event timelines, points of vulnerability – all the stuff a game would need of course.

   THAT was bloody convenient. Of course, that timeline also explained the constant resetting – and that meant that any attempt to seize control would simply fall apart when the realm looped back to it’s beginning…

   There were several routes – mostly through Anarch – so she wouldn’t need an Opener. It looked like the quickest route would be Crusader New York – Anarch Los Angeles – Realm Seattle. The first two gates were only about ten miles apart, although the Anarch-Realm gate would require traveling to Anarch Seattle. That should be handleable…

   How could she have been so silly? With the reset the local timeline had dropped back to “2063”, and was progressing through it’s cycle again. The minor events would change with interference of course – but the major stuff should stick pretty closely to the books – which meant that she had reliable foreknowledge of what was going to happen!

   So… within a month or so a major comet would pass, the magic level would surge, and quite a number of sites would suddenly become rich in magical materials. She could be the first major dealer in magical elements!

   She went looking in the sourcebooks for some of the ones that Kelsaru was interested in, and found that there was an entire sourcebook on the magical materials rush. There was a timeline of deposits, notes on who had owned them initially, descriptions of the conflicts over them, and notes on the difficulties in exploiting them.

   A few were owned by various dragon elders – who knew about them in advance from experience in previous magical cycles – but quite a few were new and just waiting to be purchased in advance when the sites were cheap. Now THAT would be an efficient use of her funds! It would take a month or two to pay off – but then she’d have ownership of quite a lot of material.

   Still, why hadn’t Kelsaru found out about this? Did she have some sort of block against it? Or did she know and was working in secret? Were the sites cursed, or did she just not want to attract the elders’ attention?

   Wait. The local dragons tapped astral or psychic energies by pure mental power, tended to be self-interested rather than bound to “good” and “evil” like the dragons of the Dragonworlds, they manifested their powers without gestures, components, or invocations, and were all shapeshifting. The sites apparently weren’t cursed, and the local dragons apparently weren’t capable of dimensional travel – or at least they weren’t in the sourcebooks. Of course, anyone who got a soul tended to break the pattern…

   Hopefully that hadn’t changed; gaming realms usually stayed faithful to the source material – and the reset had been VERY recent. Maybe Kelsaru didn’t want to administer the area or had secrets there?

   Wait… There was a hatchling named “Kelsaru” mentioned in one of the later adventures – and the local dragons were a lot closer to the Geml Dragons than to the conventional ones – physically weaker, but with much greater mental powers.

  Well, that explained it… It was unlikely that the new hatchling (due in a few years – and was that ever weird) would be ensouled. Apparently hardly any of the local dragons were, although there were the usual scattering of ensouled humans about. Not too many though.

   So: was it bad memories? Simply being distracted by clutching? Having bigger concerns at the moment?

   Well, to be fair, the thought of the Dragonworlds resetting had never entered her mind either. That was food for thought. What would happen if she was there at the time? Would she see the world change around her? Be changed herself? Find that her concerns were unaffected but nothing ever seemed to change otherwise? Would her soul wind up in some other dragon or person? Perhaps she would simply not yet have been born?

   OK, she didn’t want to pursue that line of thought either – and she was suddenly more than a bit reluctant to visit home again. A good thing she was in Kadia!

   The entire line of thought – at least in conjunction with her home – was uncomfortable enough to fully explain why Kelsaru wasn’t pursing the notion.

   Getting an early interest in the relevant sites – and knowing just when they were going to pop up – made it easy to skim the cream. By the time the data security systems were up and running (simply not explaining everything to everyone who asked helped a lot) she had a plentiful supply of magical elements and even plenty of that “Orichalkum” stuff.

   Kelsaru had clutched by that time; she was, after all, several months ahead of her – and was getting seriously involved in events again.

   She dropped by to show Kelsaru her inventory – and discuss it’s origins – just to see her face.

(Kelsaru) “What? How could you do that? All those sites were exhausted decades ago! There’s nothing left there… Wait a minute…”

   Ramira smiled. It was nice to have an edge on one of her few competitors. After all… while Ailill was quite fond of Meara, she was just a Thrall. Lysira did the harem managing, but had few responsibilities outside of that. Tanis was more-or-less on the bottom, mostly because Ailill preferred to stress the fact that she had summoned him (which had apparently annoyed him), only to wind up as his property. There were a few other Thralls about – but that still left her second – just behind Kelsaru.

   And Kelsaru was pretty obviously in shock. She’d just realized that the dragons that she’d considered rivals as a kid weren’t even hatched yet – although they would be soon. She could interfere with things that had happened before they were even born.

(Ramira) “Well, what do you say? I supply you with those elements, and you make me co-consort.”

   Kelsaru considered… That didn’t actually cost her much – especially since she was sure that Kevin favored her emotionally – and Ramira had just pointed out some very important information. Still, she wasn’t letting any concession go that she could manage.

   The bargaining was tight, and she got some concessions and a clear division of responsibilities in return – but it was a deal.

   Ramira sighed… It was a good thing that she’d gotten those anti-telepathy charms – and that becoming one of Ailill’s consorts had given her some psychic powers of her own. Kelsaru had a VERY powerful mind… Still, at least she have something to hold over Kelsaru’s head now – and, fortunately, Meara and Lysira didn’t seem very competitive; they were just devoted to Ailill. Only she and Kelsaru had joined up without previously being owned. Of course, others might try to do that… she’d have to watch out for new free competition then.

   Hm. Had Ailill been looking at anyone outside of the harem? He was pretty busy – but there were dragonesses attempting to move in on him in much the same way that she had – and Ailill seemed to be fairly easy prey for any female who acted attracted to him without being owned first.

   Perhaps she could use that… He seemed to like the metallics best, especially golds – although that was a classical attraction for a red: claiming some gold females – especially ones who picked a red over a gold – was about the biggest display of power-dominance-attractiveness a red could manage. He almost seemed bored with reds other than Kelsaru, who wasn’t really one. Of course, he’d had hundreds of reds for years.

   She checked what was going on in the dragonworlds…

   Hm. There were currently two golds in pursuit of him. No surprise really… He had the power and wealth and charisma. Even if he hadn’t met that many, and there’d be strong social disapproval – since that whole chaotic evil/lawful good thing applied (which was also what made it such an accomplishment of course) – you’d have to expect a rebellious youngster or two (or perhaps someone who hoped to influence his school).

   And that kind of rebelliousness – or perceptive opportunism – was often symptomatic of having a soul.

   She had the Thralls check – and one of the two did. A girl who’d just barely hit the “young adult” age category. There were a few more phantasms who got uppity in the cells of course – but as slaves-to-be they didn’t really count.

   Ah, she could help the girl get into the harem in exchange for some future favors and support…

   Ramira sent for the girl. She could evaluate her in Ailill’s stead.

   Hmm… Psychic defenses not too impressive… She was slightly arrogant for a gold, apparently used to being more magically powerful than her peers, had summarily dealt with three unwanted suitors, and was trying not to show that she was impressed with the apparent extent of Kevin’s resources. Quite good looking, if – as an early young adult who wasn’t yet used to her growth spurt – a bit gawky.

   Well, her powers were impressive for a young adult gold, but nothing like Ailill’s – after all, he was a god! – and he’d almost certainly consider the arrogance as something to tame (not that he should have any problems with that!). Her assets weren’t bad for her age, although they were mostly derived from the three suitors and two rivals she’s dealt with. Her parents would be a bit embarrased if she wound up with Kevin of course – and that alone might be worth telling her to stay. Her magical speciality was Conjurations – especially possessing entities. She was good at channeling spirits, knew ritual magic and pacts, and might have some spirit-based powers.

   Now that speciality might be useful! She didn’t think that anyone else in the harem had any powers in those fields…

(Ramira) “I’m not sure when he’ll be back, but I’ll put in a good word for you when he does. What’s your name?”

(Varindyera) ” Varindyera! And yours?”

   It looked like she was trying to find out where she was in the pecking order; she had to know that before she could try to move in on it – although she also seemed inclined to assume that she’d have more personal power than Ailill would later on, and thus will have an edge in the relationship. Under normal circumstances she’d probably be right.

(Ramira) “I am Ramira Al’Fatim.”

   Might as well give her a little test. Hopefully she’d done at least SOME research first!

(Varindyera) “Ah, security is it? I have no intention of challenging your lord… I believe you can trust me on that!”

   Hmm, very good. Very, very good indeed. She hadn’t felt any contact. Evidently the girl had either done her research or was relying on perception alone. She did seem to be assuming that a pregnant female dragon in Ailill’s establishment was pregnant by him – but that was hardly unreasonable for dragons. It wasn’t like there were any other intact draconic males around.

   Of course, that was one reason why she advocated data security around Kadia and everywhere else Ailill was operating! She didn’t want people knowing what they were getting into when they challenged him!

   Ailill would appreciate the thought later; the only thing that hads kept his powers fairly quiet in the Dragonworlds was his often not being there.

(Ramira) “Anyhow, if you wish to speak with him, he really is out on business. You can wait if you like.”

   Ailill was actually available fairly shortly – but that left Ramira with time for some negotiations.

   It was obvious enough that Varindyera would LIKE to be the dominant female, and in charge of everything while Ailill did all the fighting. In practice, she’d like to be in charge of the school; she thought it was a gateway to a lot of influence with the next generation. She was trying to hide that ambition – but she was still short on psychic defenses.

   Well, that wasn’t too likely to conflict with her ambitions! She would not be overly concerned; they might even be able to work together until their egos inevitably clashed!

(Ramira) “I’m very good with technology. If you support me in my disputes, I’ll ensure the hatchlings have the best educational devices available. It really would be for the best. We metallics have to stick together.”

   Varindyera was willing to go for that approach. After all, Ramira didn’t seem to have conflicting ambitions at the moment; she wass leaning towards politics, and Ramira was leaning towards control of the technology.

   Ramira was pleased… She might even be able to get some prototype testing in! The Core educational programs were very good – but they also worked very hard at defusing a lot of normal draconic instincts.

   She saw to it that Varindyera had a comfortable seat, set up a romantic dinner (showing off a few of the finest slaves and some of Ailills resources) – and a room if Ailill decided to keep her or offer her one – and notified Ailill of the potential new addition.

(Ailill) “Oh? How did that happen? I haven’t been back to the Dragonworlds in weeks… Was someone determined or clever enough to trace things back to Kadia?”

(Ramira) “Actually, I checked for suitors there. You were so busy that I thought I should save you the trouble.”

(Ailill, looking a bit disappointed) “Were you selective, or was there only one?”

(Ramira) “There was only one ensouled among them. But she’s a gold, and she has some conjuration ability.”

(Ailill) “Well now! I shall just have to meet her!”

   Ah, he was definitely a bit predatory there. Truly a red!

   Ten to one, Varindyera would be taken and impregnated inside an hour.

   The girl was a bit shocked later on, but that was of little moment. She had been a bit shocked herself…

   Afterwards Ailill was very pleased with himself, and in a very good mood, and very pleased with her as well.

(Ramira) “What do you think Ailill?”

(Ailill) “A very pleasant little conquest! A bit young and inexperienced, but it was good to bring her to my attention! She’d likely have wound up in the cells if no one had noticed her poking around, and a willing concubine is always much more satisfying than a slave!

(Ramira) “Well, I always seek to please you!”

(Ailill) “And a thoughtful and excellent job you’re doing! Is there anything I can do for you?”

(Ramira) “I was trying to calibrate the Teacher devices for draconic society. Would you like to see my work so far? I think you’ll be pleased!”

(Ailill) “Certainly!”

   She’d been busy revising the program a bit – stressing separate courses for slaves and more tolerance for dragon instincts, along with more emphasis on combativeness and getting ahead than the default Teacher – not difficult considering that the defaults placed very little stress on either.

(Ailill) “Now, I intend – if they’re willing to accept – to provide my offspring with the same skill and power package I give the servants. It’s a good starting place I think.”

(Ramira) “A wise choice. The taste of power will encourage them to behave and earn the improved set.”

(Ailill) “It has been busy here in Kadia… I must get back to the Dragonworlds sometime. Do you too have unfinished business there?”

(Ramira) “It wouldn’t hurt to check on my portion of the holdings.”

(Ailill) “Hm… I know that glint! You have someone there you’d like to put into their place don’t you?”

(Ramira, coquettishly) “Maaaybe…”

(Ailill) “Aw now (tickle) who is it? Old rivals? Annoying relatives? Inferior suitors that you want to humiliate?”

(Ramira) “Well, that phantasm gold was VERY stuck up! I think she needs a lesson!”

(Ailill) “Ah, a few old rivals you’d like to see among the servants with their hatchlings?”

(Ramira) “Definitely. We need to clear the chaff!”

(Ailill) “Well, we shall have to see about arranging it!”

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – The Festival of Masks

   Here we have another player contribution (with some fairly trivial editing) to the Star Wars setting – in this case, an upcoming event on his home world that he hopes to use to allow a quick visit home, despite the common belief that he’s a Sith…

   It occurs to me that the Festival of Masks back in Crevasse City is about to come up. Provided we finish with the Sith base in time, it would make the perfect cover for trying to sneak onto Alderaan. We could load the Nightraptor with a big selection of alcohol from Archegeph and try to get in as a vendor. If I used a mask, some hair dye, and some plain clothing, I would probably be able to walk the streets unnoticed. Especially since my hair has grown out some over the last eight months. I am sure the Glithes would be most displeased that their festival would allow me to sneak back into the city. Dorothy’s parents have never really liked me anyway. I will admit, it would be a major scandal if I was caught.

   Heh, this has me thinking of some of the previous festivals. Each year we would sneak off at night to see what the adults got up to, and when we got old enough, tried to pass ourselves off as adults. Dorothy was good about being able to find ways to sneak us in. I suspect it was the fact her parents were the head organizers. Inevitably some of us would get caught though. Mother would get so furious over us sneaking out like that.

   This was supposed to be the year all of us could legally attend the evening portion of the festivities. Nichel was finally officially adult, and therefore was legal to do everything – not that something so trivial ever stopped us. Officer Larson was continually be on the hunt for us, it got to be a tradition of hide and seek. Last year I had dyed my hair black while Nichel bleached his hair as white as he could. Larson tried to catch Nichel for being too young to be there at that hour, but only caught me. Now admittedly I was not old enough for that drink in my hand at the time, but Larson was too distracted to check that. Nichel and I apparently looked enough alike that Mother was thrown for a loop when she saw us that morning.

   The games were fun, although they always seemed to be either far too easy or way too hard. The contests were another matter though. Those were always fun to watch and participate in even if I couldn’t win most of the time. I remember the allegations the one year that someone was trying to cheat using Force powers. I don’t recall whatever came of that other than a major investigation resulted.

   Another fun activity we would engage in was trying to catch a glowbug of every color we could find. We would put them in jars and keep them in our rooms until they popped. The resulting color pattern on the jar was always unique and would glow when a black light was inserted inside. Each of us now have fifteen of those jars stashed away, unless someone’s lost some or mother threw mine out while I’ve been away. Arguments would break out each year between us on what constituted a different color. I think it was eight years ago when all the glowbugs in Sabrina’s jar decided to pop within a four second timeframe in the early morning hours. Scared the hell out of her, and the rest of us couldn’t stop laughing for a week afterwards.

   At first we purchased masks from one of the stalls around town, but over the years we began to make our own. It was amazing how creative some of the others could get with making their masks. Mine typically looked like it was done by a small child, while Nichel’s looked like it was professionally done. Guessing who each other was at the festival was almost always easy, we knew each other too well for something like that to fool us for long.

   Costumes were another matter. While not really required as part of the theme of the festival, a significant portion of the participants dress up each year. None of us were any good with fabric, so we all typically bought something from one of the tailors around town. Some of them could get quite elaborate, including the designs of artist Aaroneirro Arullie. His would be these long flowing designs that could change color depending on lighting and mood. Very cool I must admit, but way beyond my meager allowance. Always told myself I would have one of his costumes one day. Everything seems to come down to a matter of money.

   There was always plenty of food and drink about. It was practically impossible to go hungry during the festival. Some of the cooking competitions would get rather silly though. It seemed some of the chefs were purposefully trying to get the weirdest ingredients from across the galaxy that they could. Most of it was edible, although I felt better off not knowing what was in some of the food I was eating.

   Sigh, the last festival seems like so long ago, yet it has only been a year. How can someone look forward to something and yet dread it at the same time?

   The Festival of Masks

   Crevasse City, Alderaan

   The Festival of Masks has been a community event that has been held annually for the last fifteen years (and informally, and on a smaller scale, for many years before that). Sponsored by the Glithe family, the week-long Festival has become a major event for the city and becoming increasingly known across the planet. The upcoming Sixteenth Annual Festival of Masks aims to be the biggest one yet.

   With Crevasse City built into the side of a cliff, much of the city streets are shrouded in shadow and darkness. Artificial illumination lights the streets during most of the year, however during the Festival the lights are turned off and the festivities begin. Illumination is provided by batches of bioengineered “glowbugs” released during the festival. Although actually a form of fungus, these creatures have been designed to emit light in a variety of colors through bioluminescence. Once they reach the end of their short lifespan, the creatures explode with a soft pop and emit a small cloud of colorful (if infertile) spores. Batches are released periodically during the weeklong event to keep the streets lit.

   The city is decorated with soft glowing lights and candles, fireworks are set off with regularity, and the streets are kept clear of vehicles. Musicians, performers, artists and more fill the streets with music, dance, food, drink, and shows throughout the week. Games and contests are held in a wide variety of fields advocating friendly competition with a “Champion of the Mask” chosen each year. The “daylight” hours are geared to be family friendly with the late night hours having more mature entertainment scheduled in age restricted areas. The organizers and Security ensure the festivities remain clean and safe though.

   One of the central themes to the festival as a whole though is the masks. Worn over the face, these masks “hide” the identity of the wearer and allow him or her to join the ranks of the faceless masses. They come in a wide variety of colors and styles, although metallic ones are most common. One of the most common effects of wearing one is many people find themselves more outgoing and social than they would otherwise be due to the supposed anonimity. More than a few couples have met while wearing masks at the festival.

   Common games and contests include, but are not limited to, foot races, feats of strength, costume competitions, dancing, singing, and improv. Massive and complex fireworks display have become the norm and are becoming more extravagent each year.