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?”