Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 4

   Here we have one of the player’s perspectives on the fourth Star Wars session. We’ve already had the basic notes, but it’s always nice to see the players making a contribution – and the differences in prospective can be rather revealing. It’s best to try to keep those to a minimum though: when the players are effectively playing similar-but-different games it tends to lead to a great deal of awkwardness.

   Besides, the character perspectives are always more fun than the dry details.

   Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav: Session 4

   We had decided to split the group. Khadim, 10CH, and I would remain on the surface and meet or distract the coming Jedi and Sith. Telera, Handell, Lazlo, Alys, Garyan, Ben, and the two kids returned to the underwater Sith base to try and gain control of the facility. Ben’s attempts to to try and test out the codes we had gathered on the Sith battleship’s computer backfired quite literally when he shot at himself with the ship torpedoes. Ben had now found himself more or less trapped with a limited air supply and no way to contact the Nightraptor.

   Back on the Nightraptor, Lazlo and Handell were trying to decide why Ben felt the need to torpedo himself. They concluded that no Sith Lord could possibly be that self destructive, but even then, should they rescue him? As the debate onboard the Nightraptor ensued, it was decided that Telera and Alys would attempt to swim over to the battleship and mount a rescue effort. The kids would be left with Garyan and would try to get him to tell them about old war stories. At the time this sounded a lot safer than letting him find ways to keep himself occupied.

   Handell had pulled the Nightraptor away from the battleship when the torpedoes were fired. Those torpedoes were big enough to cause quite a bit of destruction and it took some careful maneuvering on his part to bring the Nightraptor close again with all the muck stirred up by the blasts.

   Ben decided that if he was to have any chance of surviving the next twelve hours, he had to rescue himself. He called up the map layout of the ship, and found that one corridor had been clogged with wreckage and the other was filled with mud. He figured it unlikely that he was going to be able to dig his way out. At which point Ben figured out that if the ship was able to recall the torpedoes, then the ship should also be able to send a call for help. He busily got the transmitter working again after he had disconnected it.

   At this point, Alys and Telera were about halfway towards the battleship when everyone realized that the series of explosions had drawn the jellyfish to the site. The amount of poison they had was not going to be sufficient for that many jellyfish. Lazlo proceeded to use the ship’s blasters to provide covering fire, while Handell tried to start up the ship slowly to prevent dissipating the poison too quickly. Alys and Telera took refuge in a crumbled warehouse, using the partial walls and roof to restrict angles of approach.

   Alys suggested that Telera use the Force to help keep the poison from dissipating, much to Telera’s shock. To Telera’s credit, I must admit there seemed to be something vaguely wrong with the notion of holding a cloud of poison around yourself. They were barely able to hold out long enough for Handell to bring the Nightraptor close enough for an escape as the jellyfish collapsed what was left of the roof. Lazlo provided heavy cover fire using the ship’s blasters again.

   Ben was going over what was left of the battleship’s weapons that could be controlled. Looked like he had an ion cannon (little good that was going to do him underwater), some torpedoes left, the anti-boarding system (electrifying the hull underwater wasn’t a good idea), and the ship purging system. Realizing the ship purging system would release toxins designed to kill water breathers, it might help keep the Jellyfish off of him. So Ben started the purge system.

   Now Ben tried to contact me using the battleship’s communication system. Here is where I learned of the events I just described, and found myself with a serious headache. I wasn’t sure what Ben was expecting me to do, considering I was a great distance away with no diving equipment and no boat to come save his rear. It also irked me to no end that now there were broadcasts going out from “The Shard of Devastation” to me. This wasn’t going to look good no matter what I tried. Little did I know, but the Jedi were already in orbit picking this up – plus bits about “inventorying weapons stocks” – from an ancient Sith battleship.

   The Shard of Devastation was now requesting instructions since the crew had “just been purged”. Ben told it to go stealth mode and bring everything to standby while he tried to make his way back to the Nightraptor. As he tried to dig through the mud, he failed to notice something digging in and was caught in a jellyfish tentacle. Promptly paralyzed, Ben was screwed in my opinion. Luckily the toxins from the purge system were having an effect, causing the jellyfish to retract it’s tentacle and him outside the ship. I heard much ineffectual groaning in the microphone and I was wondering what the hell was going on.

   Ben’s efforts to commune with the jellyfish and get it to not eat him were largely ineffectual. My experience has been that sort of thing only really works well with vertebrates or other complex organisms, and even then things are iffy when they are hungry and you are food. Telera and Alys, now that they were back aboard the ship, spotted Ben easily. Telera heroically managed to pull Ben away from the jellyfish using the Force. Alys provided more covering fire and Lazlo pulled Ben into the ship most athletically I am told.

   The kids were having a difficult time keeping Garyan away from the guns. He kept rambling on about the value of guns, blades, explosives and immediate violence, which I am sure is doing wonders for their upbringing. I am really going to have to do something about that, I am sure Telera would agree. At least they seemed to think he was crazy instead of getting hyped up with his notions.

   Back on the surface, I was about as prepared for the Jedi as I was going to be. I had my (makeshift) Jedi robes, a large hat to block the sunlight, a beach chair to lounge on, a big umbrella to sit under, an alcoholic tropical beverage with tiny umbrella, and had set myself up in the spaceport landing terminal just to make a point. Khadim and 10CH had hidden themselves in one of the warehouses to provide support should things turn sour. They could impersonate miscellaneous electronic equipment real well apparently.

   The Jedi came down in an over blaze of glory as they dropped multiple combat shuttles loaded with Republic soldiers all over the place. They busily tried to gain control of all the weapons and hostile ships in the area, which was a real easy feat considering there weren’t any. I watched with considerable amusement on the whole affair until the soldiers began leveling all sorts of weapons at me.

   I protested mightily at being disarmed, and turned their accusations of being a Sith back on them. After all, I hadn’t come to this planet with a small army, belligerently taking control by force, and taking people into custody just because they happened to be sitting there. The female Republic soldier that tried to handcuff me did not appreciate my comment that I was not into that “kinky” stuff and slapped me. It felt like high school all over again. At least I wasn’t handcuffed though, she seemed so annoyed that she forgot.

   The Nightraptor was now busily fending off jellyfish, but was able to escape readily now that everyone was aboard.

   As the soldiers loaded me into one of the dropships to head back into orbit, Khadim grabbed onto the outside of one of the dropships, dragging along a protesting 10CH. 10CH was definitely of the opinion that this was crazy, but Khadim is much bigger and stronger than 10CH was. Khadim even ripped off another missile launching pod to replace the one he lost some time ago.

   The soldiers ignored the damage to the dropship for the time being, believing getting a senior Jedi to interrogate me was more important. A trio of older Jedi in their forties or fifties I would guess arrived and began one of the most asinine interrogations I have ever seen. They acknowledged I did not feel like a Sith, although one of them figured I might have learned how to hide it. My protests that I have been doing this for only a little over eight months seemed to sway two of them. Although again that same one protested that I might be an ancient Sith Master that has learned to transfer my essence into my student and of course I would deny that.

   This led to the argument on whether or not me claiming to not be an elder Sith in possession of a young body was evidence that in fact I was. I called idiocy on this with the quip “Only secret ops would deny being secret ops”. The other two were inclined to agree with me on that. I further explained that we had destroyed the bio weapons we had found, had disarmed the collapsium reactor, and were wanting to dispose of the collapsium portion of it. I also explained, that if I was a Sith, I certainly wouldn’t have been sitting on a beach chair waiting for the Jedi to arrest me either!

   10CH quietly informed me over the commlink that he and Khadim had managed to sneak onboard. Well good, that at least gave me an ace up my sleeve should things turn sour.

   The argument was getting nowhere fast, although they seemed at least willing to believe that I might not be a Sith. The circumstances over the last eight months were just not in my favor. I was especially annoyed with the blank looks I got when I explained how to create an explosion using electricity and water. I finally got recognition when I compared it to a fuel cell. Score one for the high school and some college education. I am real glad I wasn’t raised in a Jedi Temple.

   Suddenly Khadim and 10CH arrived, 10CH had been knockout darting all the people on the way, and Khadim was still tugging along that missile pod. This led to an interesting standoff with dozens of Republic troops and Jedi training weapons on us and Khadim wielding a missile pod capable of blowing a hole in the ship. The Sith chose exactly that moment to arrive. The Shard of Devastation was (surprisingly enough) the first to notice, as the Jedi and Republic forces were busy with me. I announced that since negotiations had come to a halt, and the newly arrived Sith were an obvious danger to us all, that we call a truce for the duration of hostilities.

   Quick assent was had all around.

   Ben made one hell of a precognitive effort and directed the Shard of Devastation to where we were going to need it. Even if we did not know what we were going to need it for. Alys covered it in jellyfish and seaweed to help disguise it. They came up with the idea that maybe they could ram the Shard of Devastation into one of the Sith ships. It had limited drive capability, but wouldn’t need much if they could figure out how to lure a Sith ship close enough.

   The Jedi and Republic soldiers went to battlestations to prepare for the coming attack. We had nowhere to go, so I went to the bridge to see how the odds were after retrieving my lightsaber. Looked like we had a heavy cruiser, two light carriers, numerous shuttles and fighters. The Sith had some scout craft, two light cruisers, and a heavy warship. The locals were deploying half a dozen fighters and offers of alcohol.

   In my opinion, the Jedi could probably stall for some time, but the Sith were going to win unless something drastic happened soon. Blast, this was going to be the third time I would be on a sinking warship in the last eight months! never mind the fact that it was the first time that really caused this whole mess! Damn it, not again, I swear it will not happen again!

   Ben was busily trying to get the sensors on the Shard of Devastation working properly, and found he had to go outside to finish making adjustments. Alys and Lazlo provided covering fire and Ben was not eaten.

   For all my swearing not to let this ship lose the battle, I could not find a way to make the situation on the map improve. I was about to curse my fate when Ben and Handell asked if I knew of a way to lure the Sith down to the surface so they could ram the Shard of Devastation into it. I immediately knew what I had to do. There was only one piece of bait the Sith would take and only the Sith would be stupidly arrogant enough to fall for it.

   I asked the pilot of the cruiser we were on to take the ship down near the surface at the coordinates I provided. The pilot objected, saying I was outside the chain of command. Khadim wanted to know what the chain of command was. Admittedly, I went off on a tear then, lamenting that it was big idiots making decisions for little idiots under them, who in turn made more stupid decisions for the poor bastards that had to suffer the consequences. I could tell the commanding officer was seriously annoyed with me at that when Khadim misinterpreted my ranting.

   He recalled that the bounty hunters at the guild had referred to him as “the biggest idiot they had ever seen” back when they had asked him to take off the helmet. Khadim promptly declared himself in command. When asked on what authority, Khadim pointed the missile pod at them silencing dissent.

   The pilot began to take us down near the surface and was complaining mightily about how stupid this whole affair was as we would be an easy target. He did not seem the least reassured when I told him to be patient and trust me. Soon we were skimming the ocean surface with massive ship to ship fire going off all around us. The Sith followed us as I knew they would. They were so confident in their victory that it never occurred to them to wonder why the enemy was putting themselves into an even worse situation. Their arrogance cost them the advantage.

   Garyan “fired” the Shard of Devastation into the path of the Winter Victory almost perfectly. I am afraid to ask where he had been practicing that sort of tactic. As the two ships collided at about the speed of sound, there was a horrific explosion that could be seen for hundreds of miles as all the stored weapons on both vessels detonated. Handell managed to get the Nightraptor through the underwater shockwaves with minimal damage, and the Republic pilot managed to maintain control through it all – although the fact that he was barely subsonic himself doubtless helped.

   With the heavy Sith warship destroyed, the battle turned in favor of the Jedi. The Sith retreated shortly thereafter. The Jedi came to the bridge and demanded to know what happened. I gestured to the logs and let them see for themselves. The scene of a giant jellyfish draped in seaweed leaping out of the water into the path of the Sith was rather ridiculous looking I must admit. At first the one Jedi who’d come up with the “Ancient Sith Master” theory insisted that I had somehow had tampered with the logs in the short time it took them to come to the bridge. As it became apparent that that was nonsense, speculation ran rampant on how exactly I managed to arrange this.

   I got vague and mentioned I had the services of a precognitive to thank for helping to set it all up. The Jedi didn’t seem to entirely buy it, hypothesizing that I might have the legendary power of probability control instead. I made a copy of the logs to post on the galactic net the next time I was able to connect. I intend to utterly humiliate the Sith and bounty hunters chasing me. It’s about the only way I have to strike back at them in any form.

   The Jedi decided I wasn’t a Sith, and that maybe the elder Jedi weren’t as senile as even I had thought. The Jedi decided to respect the elders’ orders to leave us be and let Telera stay as a liason and guide. It seemed to bug them to no end the idea that they shouldn’t interfere. They cancelled the Jedi bounty on my head which made me happier. I couldn’t keep the smug look off my face as the Jedi grudgingly admitted I gave them a victory.

   They did inform me that my future was cloudy. While a precognitive in my presence would go a long way towards explaining that, they also said my future was especially clouded. The Jedi decided to speak of these events to as few people as possible then departed.

   Dropped back off at the surface, I awaited the Nightraptor to pick Khadim, 10CH and I. The locals were most upset over being “abandoned” by the Jedi and that we managed to cause that explosion that sunk the enemy ship. I tried to appease them, first by showing the stupid collapsium reactor had been disarmed and by telling them that we had been busily destroying bio weapons in the ruins. Plus we no longer had any Sith battleships to ram into anyone. That seemed to relieve them a bit, they were pleased that we were destroying the weapons, but were worried that we had found them in the first place. Oh well, can’t win them all. At least I think the locals believe we are not monsters.

   I got a shard of the “Shard of Devastation” to put in my room for the irony of it. Alys and Ben bought better protective swimwear to use against the jellyfish. Ben had gotten pretty paranoid about the things. I can’t really blame him. I bought more sunscreen and some drinks for the trip. That drink I had on the landing terminal was very good and now that the cooler on the ship was working, I felt the need to stock up. The girl behind the counter was cute, but was wary of the whole “Sith” thing I still seem to have going. At least she didn’t run off to the mountains screaming. Damn it, I am going to have to ask Telera for advice on not looking like a Sith.

   Cooler now fully stocked, we departed back to the Sith base. We were able to gain entry easily enough as the rest of the group had managed that earlier. We tried another one of the Sith codes we had purchased again with me relying on years of watching bad holos to guide my acting as a Sith. This time the code identified me as “Insert Sithy name here” who was apparently an inspector of some sort. I asked the computer for a full inventory of what was down here. After the list was read off to me, I then proceeded to ask what would happen if I found the weapons to be unsatisfactory.

   That led to the computer informing me that the weapons would be destroyed, along with the staff being executed for poor performance. Seeing how the staff was already likely long dead, I couldn’t see any harm in that. Although I had the nagging feeling this was going to haunt me somehow. With the dead staff thoroughly executed for the lack of progress over the last four millenia, I proceeded to declare the rest of the group replacement staff under me.

   I still didn’t have full rights to the place, but at least I could wander around without hindrance. The group distracted themselves getting the facilities to make new stuff for them as they broke the old equipment. Well, I suppose they have to amuse themselves somehow. I really need to get full rights so I can remove the blasted bioweapons and chuck them into the sun for safe disposal. Best to at least finish looking around for more surprises first.

   While they played with their new toys, I perused the inventory again. Wait, experimental devices that granted specific Force abilities? Also devices that enhanced existing Force ability and other stuff. As far as I knew, that was blatantly impossible. To manipulate the Force, one had to be alive. This was why there were no Force sensitive droids after all. Something was wrong here, and it made my hair stand on end. Either what we had was an entire armory full of unholy artifacts of the Dark Side, or some assumption that has held for twenty one millenia was wrong. If this worked, there had to be some reason why it hadn’t caught on.

   As much as I wanted to investigate that, we really needed to clean out the base and gain full control of the facility. We continued to explore the place and take an inventory of our own. As we swam down one of the corridors, Alys and I spotted something unusual on one of the walls behind us. I noticed a small difference in the color of the wall and Alys noticed the same spot reflected a glint of light suddenly. Instincts set in as I pulled out my shield and lightsaber. The others crowded behind me and Garyan swam forward looking for a fight.

   I asked the computer is there were any escapees around this area and was informed that there had been a total of four escapes from confinement since the base was abandoned. Two had apparently died from lack of food. One was elsewhere in the base, and one was here. Or at least part of it was here. According to the records and 10CH’s scans, a crystalline silicon based life form able to restructure itself on the fly. I seriously thought such things were legend. Lovely.

   It also apparently ate energy and could eat rocks. Vulnerable to kinetic weapons though. Well, I did have those throwing knives I had acquired. A telekinetic push with the Force should be enough to break the creature too. Garyan beat me to it though as he drew out a concussion missile launcher and took aim. The rest of us barely had time to swim further away before the crystal and Garyan attacked each other. Garyan was pelted with shrapnel and crystal spines while the crystal itself exploded in a hail of shards everywhere.

   I couldn’t begin to block all the pieces, although I did manage to get the fastest and largest ones. We all took several hits as we were pelted by debris. Ben was knocked unconscious again, and Garyan had taken heavy damage. Garyan also seemed insufferably pleased with himself. The computer was asking if we needed medical attention. I confirmed we did and got us back to the ship’s medical bay for healing. Looked like – while there were more of that species around the base – that was the largest specimen by far.

   Another query to the computer told me the other species on the loose was something that ate electrical energy hiding in the computer room we needed control of. Lovely thing about this one was that it could project stored energy into various energy weapons or shields. It could even mimic lightsabers.

   Wait! I remember Nathan telling me something about that. Something along the lines that one of the major hindrances to modern technology was the static nature of the crystals used in everything. That was the reason shield systems and other things couldn’t change shape readily like in the Holos. Alright so this stuff is alive, but it is doing something considered otherwise impossible. I may have to ask Ben his thoughts.

   Meanwhile I was of the opinion to find the easy way to kill these things. If we cut electrical power, how long would it take for these things to starve? Over a week apparently. Not sure I have that long to wait. On the other hand, cutting power before we killed everything in stasis is probably not a smart idea. Damn, looks like we are going to have to do this the hard way. Why can’t doing things the proper way be easy?

   Well one thing is for certain. I, at least, don’t have to explain to a Sith Lord why my commander and his heavy warship got eaten by a giant jellyfish while trying to capture one measly rogue apprentice. I would have liked to have seen the look on his face though.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 106a – Tombs, Pyramids, and Liches, Oh My.

   The quasi-Egyptian or -Mayan realm posed no immediate dangers – which meant that it was time to go through and try a magical gate. As reported, stepping through the gateway led to a stone chamber, built of monolithic blocks and lit only by the light spells of the thralls that had come threw a few minutes before. In the center of the room lay a sarcophagus wrapped in chains and shaking slightly. The walls were covered with hieroglyphics and the air was moist…

   Well, one thing they probably shouldn’t open – and they were either near enough to the nile (and far enough down) to get moisture or this was a rain-forest mayan realm.

(Kevin, looking at the hieroglyphics) “Hm. Daniel? Bard? you’ve got divination magics. Can you make out what they say?”

   Kevin could just see it now: “Whosoever readith this, and releaseith the magic embedded in the words, shall be forever accursed, responsible as they are for unleashing dread Apophis, scourge of worlds… Still reading? Well, OK, seriously then…”

   Marty had to chuckle at that notion. Pyramid builders with a sense of humor? Did even the Manifold allow that?

   Well, the glyphs really didn’t look Egyptian – but they were easy enough to (roughly) translate with a few spells: “We were unable to slay the monster, it took all we had to stop it from attacking us more. We sealed it away and laid it to rest at the most powerful nexus point in the great river we could manage. We also turned the strange magics of the nexus in on itself to better seal the monster’s powers. There is no treasure here to be found, only death. Please return the way you came and leave this place undisturbed. The river guardians shall watch over this place forever more.”

   Well, it looked like the locals had used the power-drain of the link with Necropolis to help restrain whatever-it-was in the sarcophagus. Not a bad notion – but it did meant that trying to gate from inside the pyramid to anywhere BUT Necropolis would disrupt the bindings at the very least. Still, they could probably gate from outside the pyramid safely enough.

   There really ought to be an exit somewhere. If Mr Shopkeeper had had a gatekeeper bringing him stuff, it pretty much had to be through ONE of the four gateways – and the asylum and the insane-robot-realm both sounded pretty unlikely. The dream-realm was possible of course – you’d just need a lucky break or two in finding a relatively stable route – but through here still looked like their best bet.

   Besides if the locals had any sense, they’d have left a route open for maintenance and people with repair-spells. The way that sarcophagus kept shaking, SOMETHING would give eventually.

   They went to see about the seal. Hopefully they weren’t underwater in an artificial lake, which would be a “River Guardian” of considerable efficiency.

(Kevin) “You know, if it wasn’t for the fact that a thousand things would undoubtedly go wrong the minute I turned my back for an hour, I’d take a week off. How about you Marty?”

(Marty) “Heh. Tell me about it. Now I know how the boss must have felt back home! But yeah, a week off would be nice.”

(Kevin) “Hm. I wonder if Kelsaru, Gelman, and the rest actually could run things for a bit? It’s just that – last time we were out of touch for a few days – that idiot Ikeran created a mess that we still haven’t entirely straightened out!… One of these days I must remember to smack him with a rolled-up newspaper. Thinking of him reminds me that I’ll have to check on what that Dr Brenner character is up to one of these days! He has got six Thralls under his command…”

(Marty) “Yeah, that guy’s definitely bad news.”

   When they got to the seal, it appeared to consist of a series of four separate barriers keeping the creature – and incidently themselves – inside the pyramid. There were seals for Air, Earth, Fire and Water, each of which would need to be nullified simultaneously to weaken the barrier. Each seal appeared to be focused on a separate glyph on the walls.

(Marty) “Oh, for the love of… Is breaking the seals the only way to get out?”

(Kevin) “Well, that is the point of seals… But they were meant to hold the creature. I bet there’s some way for other people to get out without breaking anything. Otherwise, why leave a message on the inside? Anyone in here to read it would already have broken the barrier otherwise.”

   Marty had to agree with that. He left Kevin to examine the magical stuff and went looking for secret doors, hidden passages, and similar arrangements.

   It looked to Kevin that the place was designed to hold any creature that did not have full control of all four elements – like most monsters and specialists, such as firemasters, sand magi, and all the rest. It looked like a fairly simple, if element-specific, counterspell directed at each seal glyph would lower the barriers – although they’d restore themselves in a few minutes.

   Meanwhile, Marty had found that – while the place DID look exceedingly solid and more than adequate to keep something in – there was a section of one of the walls that did not quite look right… The color of the stone there did not quite seem to respond right as the ambient light changed. It looked stable and real enough – but was a bit too slick to the touch. The surface irregularities didn’t QUITE match what your fingers reported if you were careful.

   Probably not the sort of thing some undead horror would be looking for – it might not even have the senses to find it – but a definite clue as far as he was concerned. It looked stable enough… Perhaps a concealed arch of some sort?

   He had Elera and Minel take a look. It was really nice to have them thinking clearly again! He hated to take them back to Necropolis still in ferret-form – but hopefully it wouldn’t be for much longer. It had to be like being drunk to the edge of unconsciousness. That was pleasant for a bit, but being stuck there would be no fun at all!

   Ah, a combination of a force wall and an illusion designed to match the surrounding stone. It looked to the girls like the effects were being maintained by the seals of the tomb. It might be possible to overload them with enough negative energy or a powerful counterspell, but that would be likely to disrupt or weaken the seals more or less permanently. It would be best to temporarily negate the seals, rather than to attack the barrier directly.

   Kevin had th four Thralls on beacon-duty take a brief break to set up a reinforcing barrier around the sarcophagus and set another four ready to temporarily suppress the seals; that would let them all in and out very nicely. The Thralls didn’t usually have elementally-based powers, but that just made it easier…

   The Thralls had to use spellweaving to augment their basic spells enough – the builders had tied quite a lot of power into the place – but it was straightforward enough.

   As the seals wavered, the false wall Marty had found shimmered and vanished. Behind there lay a long corridor slanting upwards , the stone was very damp and a little slick.

   They left the Thralls at the seals to make sure everything closed up again properly and went to have a look outside.

   Marty kept an eye out for traps. It was a burial chamber, after all… He found quite a few possible traps – several locations with slightly raised stones, very fine strings pulled across the corridor, and light sensitive panels. No sign of a giant ball of stone though. That was kind of disappointing – but he pointed out the possible traps to the others and took appropriate precautions – well, “appropriate” as far as “not setting things off” went. Personally, he would have preferred to follow the usual Battling Business World procedure and jump up and down on the triggers! Still, as entertaining as poison darts, pits with spikes, falling stone blocks, and scything blades were, they didn’t really have time to enjoy them properly at the moment!

   The corridor switched back on itself quite a few times on the way up. If they were in a pyramid, either it was a mighty big one, they’d started deep under it, or they’d be coming out near the top. And there was… Water dripping? This high up? Were they seriously under an artificial lake?

   The final landing was fast approaching, and so far they’d only had to dodge a few of the traps – mostly flurries of poisoned darts and arrows. They really hadn’t been a lot of trouble though.

   OK; the top landing gave on a large round stone covering a portcullis with a single raised stone on the wall to the right of it.

   Marty looked at it… Oh, that wasn’t fair at all! That was like putting a cake out in the open with a “FREE CAKE, FIRST COME, FIRST SERVED” sign!

(Marty) “Wonder what this does?”

   He promptly grabbed the stone, and pulled, twisted, pushed, and fiddled with it in several other ways! Stone ground on stone, the portcullis began to slide open – and water began spraying through it as a giant stone ball being pushed by the water pressure into the corridor was revealed!

(Marty, delightedly) “Found the giant stone, guys!”

   Kevin sighed and put up a force barrier of his own. It would be a temporary fix though… even if the barrier held, the water streaming in around the edges would fill up the corridor given time. Were the seals waterproof? Oh well. He and the Thralls had enough telekinesis to push the portcullis slowly back into place – and a sealing spell to fuse the edges should seal up the remaining leaks again.

   Meanwhile, Marty was hunting for another exit!

   Disappointingly, that turned out to be fairly simple: the ceiling above the stairwell concealed another passageway that led to a ladder going up.

   Kevin hung a sign on the stone knob that said “Danger! Do not press!”, and they headed on up – only to find another landing and another door. They could hear water flowing and the sounds of birds and insects on the other side. There was no stone button next to this one, although the doorway had several handholds that could be used to slide the stone to one side.

   Well, either they really had been a very long ways down or the builders were really paranoid. Would this door open onto a black hole with speaker playing outdoors sounds?

   Marty had the girls try a little divination first. The last door had been just a little embarrasing…

   They were near the tip of a pyramid that formed an artificial island in the middle of a river/lake system. The water flow was strong, and the pyramid showed signs of significant weathering. There was a city on the distant shoreline, and various magical signatures were darting around in the water. Still, it did look like they could gate safely just as soon as they stepped outside of the pyramid.

   Kevin began setting up some wards to make sure there would be no disturbances – and a trio of neodolphin heads popped up out of the water to have a look at them, complete with the typical ultrasound sonar-scans (as badly as those worked in the air).

   Marty waved and smiled.

   There were more ultrasonic sounds and one of the heads sank beneath the water, only to rise again near the edge of the pyramid. A translation spell went off…

(Dolphin) “Strangers from the pyramid, please tell us who you are.”

(Kevin) “Hello There!”

(Dolphin) “Hello humans! It appears you are not the hideous monster that was sealed within the tomb then. We are most pleased. What brings you here? Are you perhaps Manifold travelers?”

(Marty) “Yeah, we were just heading on our way out.”

(Kevin) “Yes indeed! I’m Kevin, this is Marty, and these (indicating the Thralls in Neodog forms) are Daniel, Gerald, and Bard. As it happens, there’s a gate in the tomb there that we needed to use – although we’ll be headed back in a few minutes I suspect. Is there anything you need since we’ll be shipping a few packages through?”

(Dolphin) “Well more smartclothes fibers would be nice; our young have been having to go without as our population grows. It’s a long trip back to the more technological realms given our limitations!”

   Well that made sense; without gatekeepers of their own, even with magic and psionics they’d have to do a lot of physical traveling to get back near Core.

(Kevin) “Well, that’s no problem there! How much would you be needing at the moment?”

   It seemed they’d be needing quite a bit. Given the number of young that implied, there had to be a considerable breeding population around… Probably several thousand along the river system. Well, they had an open environment, and were recently from Core, so there was no reason they shouldn’t have a population boom. That would settle down in a few generations (or they’d start having a lot of phantasms) without regular visits to Core, but they’d hardly been away from Core long enough for that to be a serious problem yet. Kevin had the Thralls in Kadia add some bales of dolphin-style Smartclothes to his shipment. The program differences were actually fairly minor.

(Dolphin) “Much appreciated. Although there is much space and food to be had here, the local humans aren’t especially technologically adept. We’re told that magic will not work well inside the pyramid itself. By the way, why did they build it in the middle of the lake? Seems awfully silly of primitive humans to do that.”

   Well, it looked like a magical gate would be no particular problem.

(Kevin) “I suspect that they wanted to use water pressure to help seal it. Practical enough if you want to keep out humans after all.”

(Dolphin) “I guess so, in some ways your species is very limited and in others not.”

   Ah, how wonderful it was to be able to conserve mana by substituting magic, even if such gates WERE far more limited! A very different feeling… more structured, better controlled – and limited to a few minutes and a radius of a few tens of feet. Good for personal travel and small caravans, and not much more.

   He had the Thralls in Kadia haul through their shipment of transuranics and smartclothes fibers. The gate closed moments later, leaving them with two extra Thralls and a pile of supplies.

   Kevin made a note to himself; make sure that magical-gate deliveries were well-organized and that the actual hauling was done by telekinesis. Otherwise he’d be perpetually sending Thralls back where they belonged.

(Kevin) “Ah good. Well, here are your smartfibers! Do you know what humans call this realm and that city by the way? This might be a good spot to set up a contact link.”

(Dolphin) “Thank you, I believe you humans call this the Amazon River Valley System. Seems to connect with the Nile River Valley system, Ancient Mississippi River System, and a few other related realms. The city itself is called “Water Brings Trade” in the local language. I believe that comes out as “Ensilee” or some such.”

   Quasi-Mesoamerican then. Well, it hadn’t really looked Egyptian. The locals might have some awfully rigid – and possibly quite unpleasant – local customs. They might not want to mention where they’d come from if they did visit. Besides… Marty wanted to know if the locals practiced human sacrifice; that’d be inconvenient for trading!

(Kevin) “Well, that should make it easier to locate on the maps! And you’re quite welcome on the Smartfibers”

   Well, doing anything else here would require more information about the place – and would be going even further out of their way. Lets see… Of the six Thralls they’d assigned here, four could stay on monster-security/pyramid operation/beacon duty for a day or two and the remaining two could scout out the area – one in dolphin-form and one to visit the city. The two extras could do some aerial scouting and survey the area and the river systems.

   At least going back down was easier than coming out; the traps and seals were meant to keep something in, not to keep people out.

   They made sure to give the Thralls a briefing on the traps and procedures while they were at it. No point in risking accidents.

   The area did seem like an interesting place – although, to be fair, the entire Manifold was full of interesting places. On the other hand, why was it that all the places they went, they wound up surrounded by undead?

   Marty got a bit sarcastic

(Marty) “Well, neither of us can permanently die. Other than rotting and nastiness, what’s the difference between us and them?”

(Kevin, peering at him quizzically) “Bad temper, lack of sympathy, often no souls, inherent malevolence, eating babies, etc, etc… It may not be entirely fundamentally different, but sometimes quantity really is a quality all it’s own.”

(Marty) “Yeah, that doesn’t sound like me, and it doesn’t sound like you for the most part.”

   Kevin looked a bit hurt at that. OK, he might be EVIL, but he wasn’t malevolent or anything!

   Back in Necropolis they told the shopkeeper that – if he and his family wanted to leave – the route should be fine, although there might be a short wait for pickup. Not too surprisingly, he was fairly enthusiastic about the idea.

   It was only a few hours until nightfall. They had enough time to get back to the city – especially since they weren’t burdened with cartloads of food this time and they weren’t that far out – but they didn’t have much more.

   The shopkeeper was glad to take them in for the night – and appreciated the layers of spell-protections they raised around the dimensional pocket. They even got to the Mrs and their two daughters – all ensouled, although the daughters were only four and six.

   The girls appeared to be a bit frightened. They’d heard a bit about their father losing his status.

   Marty had Yorick do tricks to distract them from that – and the Thralls conjured them some candy and toys. That got them calmed down for the night – however slowly it went by.

   Another night of dreamless sleep left them oddly restless and tired in the morning. They were definitely looking forward sleeping in a real bed in a saner world.

   Hm. The meeting would be in about two and a half hours – and the living sector was only about a thirty minutes walk to cross, even on foot. About fifteen minutes to reach the meeting… There was time for a little meddling.

(Kevin, Privately) “Marty? Should I try to offer all the living ensouled people a ticket out of here if they want one?”

(Marty, Privately) “Sure, Kadia always has room.”

   Kevin worked his own concealing spells – and set the Thralls to working additional concealment charms while he essayed an oratorical summoning directed at all the living, ensouled, humans within the city, offering them a trip out if they wanted it.

   That turned up a little more than fifty adults and children – mostly appearing to be terrified and anxious.

   Kevin offered them a free trip out; after all, they were pretty blatantly refugees. He was soothing, but brisk; they didn’t have a lot of time.

   They all went for it. They were eager to leave but nervous about being seen doing so… They sent them to the mesoamerican pyramid gate, with another group of briefed Thralls – the remaining dozen of the local ones – to supervise. They didn’t want to haul too many extras into Necrosis’s lab anyway – and that should suffice to make the brief trip safely enough, especially since they all had “invisibility to undead” rings.

   They did run into one especially nasty undead thing – perhaps some sort of guardian against such mass departures – but the Thralls managed to take it out with only one casualty (and free trip to Kadia with a bonus shopping trip). Fortunately they’d had their power words stocked up.

   Meanwhile, Kevin and Marty (along with the three Thrall-Dogs, Elera, Minel, and Kevins usual pocket-companions) headed for their meeting.

   Once there, the air quickly grew chilled – and Evanescence arrived shortly thereafter.

(Evanescence) “Ah so you decided to show then? That says that either you believe yourselves able to back your claims, or you think to bluff me. Which is it I wonder?”

(Kevin) “Why would we bother bluffing? It’s usually much less trouble to actually go ahead and do things.”

(Evanescence) “Some of the lowlifes around here believe that trying to con those above them may improve their lives, even if temporarily. While somewhat true, the retribution for such trickery is swift and painful.”

(Kevin, privately) “Marty? We had an implicit deal of sorts… Should we just give her the stuff? It would certainly show confidence.”

(Marty, privately) “Oh, I’m all for it.”

(Marty) “Well, so far only one of the gate-routes has proven readily usable – and that with some minor difficulties, since the local apparently do not approve of visits from your world – but one route is enough to start with… Here you go, ma’am.”

   Evanescence took the package from them and opened it – and they could see her eyes blaze with unholy fire when she was the contents.

(Evanescence) “Ah exactly what I was looking for, and only a 24 hour turnaround time no less. This should do nicely for my experiments. I can see much profit to be had in continuing trade with you in the future.”

(Marty) “We strive to provide excellent service.”

(Kevin) “Although I must admit that twenty-four hours is not always practical.”

(Evanescence, apparently slightly annoyed at that) “I understand. Now, for my end of the bargain, I am to get you into the lab so you may access the gate. The easiest method in my mind would be to frame the bunch of you for the recent disappearance of specimens from the city. I can take you into custody and have you brought into the lab. At which point, a guard will neglect to lock the cell and you are free to continue on to the gate following the directions I am about to give you.”

(Kevin, privately) “Well, that sounds workable.”

(Marty, privately) “Hey, I love jailbreaks! I broke out of the drunk tank all the time back home!”

(Kevin, privately) “There are lots of ways it could go badly wrong – but it’s quick, simple, and we can always resort to the big explosions and such.”

(Marty, privately) “I love explosions!”

(Evanescence) “Do you have any objections to this plan? If you do, better say so now rather than after I bring you into the lab?”

(Kevin) “It does sound workable. Is there anything you wish concealed? I can set up a selection of speciality effects if necessary.”

   They transformed their weapons, shielded them, and slipped them under the ferret’s collars. The Thralls should be enough to distract any deep probes anyway – and if a probe penetrated their cloaking abilities, they’d be in trouble anyway.

(Evanescence) “Your magical and psionic abilities are fine, but you need to conceal just how much power you are radiating. You radiate like the sun in the desert at the moment. Best to not let anyone know of your ability to open gates though. If asked, just claim to be a gatekeeper.”

(Marty) “Guess I need to hide my relics too.”

(Kevin) “Drat, again? I thought I’d damped that down. Spells must have worn off. Well, more damping effects for both of us and for the pets.”

   Evanescence watched Kevin layer his spells for a bit, then seemed to get frustrated and began to weave a spell of her own.

(Evanescence) “No, no, can’t you see just how badly you glow young one? You need to do it like this…”

   Marty’s power-glow was moderate at best – but Kevin’s personal powers were not the issue. His divine aura gathered about him, rather than radiating from him – but it was awfully hard to see from the inside and he never had really become aware of it.

   Kevin felt a powerful spell take hold around him, wrapping itself tightly around, and confining, some aspect of himself that he hadn’t really been aware of before. It felt tight, and it was really annoying. On the other hand, Evanescence appeared to be satisfied now.

(Marty) “Ma’am, what did you do to my friend there?”

(Evanescence) “He is leaking a great deal of divine power. I suspect he has no clue he is even doing it, given the current lack of form to it. To one like Necrosis or I, it shines a great deal and draws considerable attention to those who can sense it. Have you not seen people become fascinated with him and then start to spontaneously develop various abilities?… It is strange though; (to Kevin) your aura looks oddly familiar. Have we met before yesterday without my realizing it?”

(Kevin) “I don’t think so… Although I suppose it’s possible. And I do specialize a bit in giving people abilities. I’d figured that it was just an extension of that. Well, something new to learn all the time.”

(Evanescence, seeming to taste the air) “Yes now I am sure of it. You I have not met, but you have inherited power from someone I have. (Eyes narrow) But who now?”

(Kevin) “Several million demons originally I think.”

   Kevin didn’t bother to mention Xellos and Cedfion Basceol Darcia – or that he’d been an Opener, and DragonPath Mage, and a mid-range psychic, even before Ryan, or that he’d learned to tap into the Light afterwards – but he had taken the power of darkness and run with it, and it was certainly one of the most conspicuous aspects of his power.

(Evanescence, arching an eyebrow at that before realization struck) “Ah you are one of HIS fragments then? Ryan O’Malley has been continuously fragmenting his power for some decades now, trying to par away the aspects of it he does not like. That has kept him reasonably more human than most who have attained that level of power, but the cost is certainly going to be dear when it finally catches up with him. (She cracked a malevolent smile at the thought) I wonder what form exactly it will take? Only time will tell.”

(Kevin) “Oh, everything catches up to everybody in the end.”

   Marty frowned a bit. Why did he get the feeling that they’d have to deal with that when it happened?

(Evanescence) “Indeed, and while I would most enjoy seeing him get his, I shall probably not be able to. A pity. Oh well, do you understand the plan?”

   They agreed – and Evanescence pulled out a roll of parchment

(Evanescence) “Very well then, here is what I know of the layout of the laboratory. I have provided a list of the specimens most likely to be in your path, their associated abilities, and their respective weaknesses. I would help matters if you do not make it completely obvious that you know the exact path to take and the weaknesses of your opponents right off the bat. Pretend to be clever, not knowing. Understand?”

   They did.