In Kadia, Todd was considering his options… He needed his Pathbooks if he was to teach – but his ex-wife (at least he was able to acknowledge that now!) still had them.
If he went back to Battling Business World, Zero’s spell might claim him again – and if that happened, he’d be unable to confront her. He would once again wind up begging for forgiveness and doing nothing as she pummeled him to death.
He hated to send Jacob – but if something serious happened to him or to any of the other Thralls, apparently they’d be pulled back to Kadia automatically, and the process was virtually impossible to interfere with – even for creatures like Zero.
He’d have to ask Jacob to fetch his Pathbooks.
In Battling Business World, Zero had returned – and wasn’t happy. He’d been methodically destroying Manhattan over and over again, unleashing fractal transmutations, gravitational multipliers, and now – his current favorite – ancient video games on it each morning after it reset.
Jenkins had ridden it out at the Amarant Solutions offices for some time – given the presence of Leland’s “Interns” (more Thralls), the Balrog of Moria, Corrigan, and Mr Leland himself, it was easily capable of riding out such unfocused assaults – but she hadn’t been able to get anything done! No power, no staff, no water, no nothing! While where the young interns kept getting sandwiches and coffee was still a mystery, it hadn’t seemed worth investigating. It was probably just some special intern power – or maybe they were studying a bit of procuring.
Besides, staying at the office when the business was effectively shut down would be time at the office when she wasn’t being paid – and that was an unbalanced exchange!
She’d gone home to her Condo in Middle Village, Queens. There was no talking to Lord Zero when he was like this! She’d have to do something to help him!
The land mines and booby traps she’d set up to keep her ex-husband out, along with the two lesser zeroes assigned to her service (a champion was an investment, after all. You wanted to watch over it) should suffice to keep other distractions from bothering her while she worked on finding a solution.
Jacob considered his new assignment. He’d want to hit the place during the day – when it was less likely that Jenkins would be there. He might well need some backup, but it was easy to find four or five more Thralls with nothing to do at the moment to help out. They could come along in squirrel-form. That might not fool any supernatural threats, but the unensouled seemed to pass them by.
Not that it was that hard for anyone in Battling Business World New York to ignore squirrels while the supernatural storm of the century hit Manhattan every day.
A good selection of burglars tools and such just in case, and all he’d need would be a route. With the gate in the tree shut down until the daily catastrophes stopped, and the Sesame Street gate on hiatus, he’d need an alternate.
It looked like the closest gate usable gate was going to be… Jimmy Hoffa’s private hangout in New Jersey. He’d contracted with the Jersey Devil to ensure privacy for himself and his personal mobsters. Second closest… Philadelphia. Liberty Hall (through the Liberty Bell). Third closest… through Faerie to the Dark Fey to Boston.
Well, it might be fun seeing just what made Battling Jimmy Hoffa go into hiding, he was leery of crossing the Jersey Devil. You never knew what sort of associations that kind of creature would have picked up; the fact that it had made a bargain at all suggested that it was something more than a mysterious animal now.
Meddling with the Fey was risky too. You might wind up being timeslipped or something all too easily, even if Lord Kevin was technically an Unseelie Fey Knight.
Ergo, he’d go to Philadelphia!
That would be… Core Earth Colonial Williamsburg to Williamsburg in the Rebel Colonies Realm, overland to Rebel Colonies Philadelphia, and from there to – well, any of quite a lot of places; it looked like the Liberty Bell in that realm was a gate device of some sort.
Interesting and fitting, but how… Ah. A series of novels in which the bell had somehow acted as a link across time for more modern characters to get involved. One of the few bits of magic in a basically mundane realm.
Still, it looked like a pretty reasonable route. There shouldn’t be anything in a mostly-historical 1770’s revolutionary war realm that he couldn’t either handle or get around – and he could always fall back on Hoffa’s place as a way out if there was serious trouble. A naginata wouldn’t be quite as useful against heavy firearms, and the Jersey Devil was supposed to be more inclined to scare and mislead people than to kill them according to most of the sources.
The jump to Core Earth was straightforward enough. The Military was still keeping an eye on the gates to Kadia, the meme-treatment area was pretty busy, and there was a steady stream of other people visiting – but there wasn’t much in the way of other restrictions; the computers shared enough information to keep a good eye on both ends of the gates, the hazard-scans were pretty through, no infections could get through Kadia, and anyone who’d spent much time there would be familiar with the basics of how things operated in Core.
(Computers) “Welcome to Core Earth Jacob. Your information is now registered. You are working for Kevin Sanwell, and are thus presumably one of his enhanced agents?”
(Jacob) “Yes, computer.”
Jacob spent a few minutes answering the systems quick-and-basic questions while getting his route set up – and was approached by someone…
From the man’s public identity, one Erin Helm, age 152, and a professional investigator – among various other details.
(Jacob) “Hello sir. Is there a problem?”
(Erin) “Could I talk to you for a few minutes? I can travel with you if you don’t have time to spare; I see you’re taking a trip to Williamsburg.”
Well, it wasn’t like a “retrieve stuff from the ex” was exactly an unheard-of mission in the toonworlds and domestic comedies – and he couldn’t really stop the guy from trailing along after him anyway. It wasn’t as if he had anything to hide from an investigator.
(Jacob) “Sure, come along.”
(Erin) “Thank you… If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you about Kevin’s “Contract”. He hasn’t exactly been hiding it from anyone who takes the time to look into the matter, and you’ve apparently taken it. What do you think of it?”
(Jacob) “Well, I think it’s great! I get a good salary, all kinds of neat powers, and a safe place to go to and relax when I die.”
(Erin) “And have you died on the job?”
(Jacob) “Once, but I WAS fighting a crazy math god.”
(Erin) “A crazy math god? One of those insane entities of the outer reaches of the Manifold I presume?”
(Jacob) “Yes. A… Number Lord, I think.”
(Erin, cocking his head for a moment) “Not much available on such things I fear. It must be some really obscure fantasy or dream… Of course, those are often some of the worst and craziest. Are you on a mission now, or is this just a visit? You don’t seem to be a Core native.”
(Jacob) “I’m doing a mission for my… Employer”
(Erin) “So you think it’s a good contract and you took it voluntarily? How old are you?”
(Jacob) “I’m almost 15.”
(Erin) “And you’re currently the property of “Lord Kevin”?”
(Jacob, smiling proudly) “Yes I am.”
(Erin) “I see… So you’d encourage other adventurous youngsters to take Kevin’s contract?”
(Jacob) “Oh yes! Being Kevin’s property is one of the safest ways to explore the Manifold, and it isn’t even permanent. You can just work it off in a couple of centuries.”
(Erin) “And what do your parents think of this?”
Jacob was a native of the English Fantasy Zone, and had been recruited from Hogwarts a few months back.
(Jacob) “Well, they weren’t happy at first, but visiting Kadia took care of most of their misgivings.”
(Erin) “If they didn’t approve, how could you agree to a valid contract at your age? Aren’t you too young to do that?”
(Jacob) “Well, I was of age there, and we were in a sticky situation with a lesser basilisk at the time, and I did know all the consequences. Only kids can take it, so I signed on!”
(Erin) “So you’d have been killed otherwise? Why didn’t he just handle the problem himself without involving you?”
(Jacob) “Oh, he wasn’t there. I had to go all the way to London and join the people he was recruiting in Baelaria at the time.”
(Erin) “So he really does have to recruit personally… How could you take time for a trip if there was an emergency?”
(Jacob) “Ah, you’re under the impression it was that immediately deadly! The beast had managed to paralyze everyone in town – a mental grip that let if feed slowly on their lives and could only be broken by it’s death. One of the powers Lord Kevin provides lets people resist that kind of control for more than long enough to get close and kill it and the magic to do that is really really hard – and I was the one of the few youngsters still mobile, so my parents had to send me to London to let me sign up before everyone died. That wasn’t a broom ride I’d care to repeat.”
Odd. Erin seemed a bit disappointed somehow. A crusading type perhaps? Those were rare in Core these days – but a dedicated investigator might well be one. It looked like the man would rather like to have him taken away for forcible de-programming – not that such a thing would work – but the computers wouldn’t do it that.
(Jacob) “Would you like to know anything else, sir?”
(Erin) “Perhaps how I might get in touch with your parents and get their perspective on all this?”
Jacob sighed – the man was obviously still looking for an angle of attack and didn’t entirely believe him. Oh well, it wouldn’t hurt anything. He provided contact information for his parents – although, since they were both wizards and none too good with technology, actually getting in touch with them might be a bit problematic.
Erin left to make a try at it – and to see if Jacob’s parents thought that their kid had been taken by a demon lord.
Colonial Williamsburg was actually fairly familair to a wizarding kid… The surrounding city was a lot like Kadia of course, but the “reinactment” portion is a good deal more like a wizard town – if with fewer magical conveniences. The re-enactors kept the modern technical bits carefully out of sight.
It was really sort of comforting. Jacob would have liked to stick around and soak up the atmosphere, but Todd needed those books to teach him things. Now where was that gate? Oh yes, through the old armory in one of the musket cupboards.
There was, of course, a tour guide giving a lecture there.
(Jacob) “Excuse me sir, but could I use the gate in the cupboard there?”
(Guide) “Ah… Could you wait until we’re between tours? We really don’t want to have to offer tours of a Colonial America with a war on and without safety systems! It will only be about twenty minutes here.”
The tour cleared out just a little later – although the management would obviously be monitoring – and Jacob slipped through the cupboard into the revolutionary war. Currently, muskets were being issued – and from somewhere, he’d acquired a tricorn hat. His plasma pistol had become a musket and collection of black powder paraphernalia. It looked like the locals were preparing to defend the town.
Well, he was militia-age, and the place pretty obviously had some really strong roles to dump people into. It’d doubtless been populated by dedicated re-enactors and such.. There didn’t seem to be any way to make a subtle escape, at least not without shapeshifting.
Besides, there were a pretty fair number of real people about. Probably dedicated re-enactors and their descendents, as well as the descendents of people who died in the war. He’d help defend the town as long as he was here! He hadn’t been in any real hurry anyway…
Hm. It didn’t take too much time on the defense – even if it did cost him a few small wounds despite his smartclothes and Thrall-defenses – to determine that the lines seemed likely to hold for the most part. Still, thanks to his visual enhancements, smartclothes, and witchsight, he could spot the signs of a major thrust being set up – an English sally that would almost certainly reach the governor’s mansion. Judging by their strategy elsewhere, they’d torch the place and perhaps the gardens around it.
Hm. It was one of the strongest, best-built, and best-defended buildings in the colony. There were a number of defenders, but they were going to be overrun.
He picked a moment in the heat of battle when no one was looking, shapeshifted to small-animal form (despite the temptation to become, say, a black bear), and headed for the mansion.
When he got there, the attack was beginning – backed by a light mortar, which was cutting off normal reinforcements. At least a dozen English troops were currently moving in over the bodies of the few defenders to set fires.
It didn’t take much Witchfire to set off the powder for the mortar with a thundering blast – and not much more to dowse enough of the flames to let the town reinforcements that were frantically trying to get into the now-burning first floor make some progress… It looked like they were headed for the cellars – so Jacob ducked down that way ahead of them.
Oh, It had apparently been believed to be the safest place in town, and so quite a lot of the non-combatants were jammed in there, with the door shut and barricaded.
That was actually a little disappointing. He’d thought that it was something special! Oh well, he’d probably been involved in too many supernatural events! The revolutionary war realm was fairly mundane after all.
Ah well. With the flames under control and the barricades coming down, the people in the cellar should be all right – so it was time to head for Philadelphia and the gate. There wasn’t much else he could do in Williamsburg without really getting too involved anyway. The ongoing warfare was the nature of the realm after all, it wasn’t like any attempt to stop it would actually work.
Getting to Philadelphia as a group of high-flying birds was pretty easy too. What little witchcraft and such was running around they could easily match – and no one was paying much attention to birds that were too small and high to bring down for the pot.
In Philadelphia the roof of Liberty Hall was easy enough to spot and access – and the belltower was in place. There was no one there except for one old man polishing the bell and one short, middle-aged fellow who seemed to be contemplating something as he looked out over the city.
Probably some sort of historical figure, but Jacob was English after all – and a potterverse wizardling – and didn’t have any idea who it might be anyway. He and the others simply swooped into the bell as small birds and gated on through.
The elderly fellow swore and flailed ineffectually with his polishing cloth, while the middle-aged fellow seemed slightly astonished – but the revibrating tone of the bell shattered the barriers between dimensions as they erupted into Battling Business World on the boundaries of New York City.
At the moment, it was pretty chaotic.