Looking back on the battle, Marty-Sauron mused a bit… Would his curse affect future Feanors? It might not have really taken; after all, “Feanor” and his sons seemed to have all been killed within one minute of being cursed.
Hey, wait! Now THAT was a prompt curse! Whoa! When HE cursed someone, it really hurt!
Well, maybe not really – it had been “Feanor’s” own detonation that had done most of that – but it was an amusing thought.
Of course, turning yourself into a nuke that went off if you were killed – and then fighting on the front lines of your own forces – wasn’t exactly heroic behavior either. At the very least, it was pretty inconsiderate…
Kevin-Morgoth had been kind of hoping to stop the whole “oath” thing in it’s tracks there and to recruit Feanor, which was now out of the question – but there might be some other useful things to be had. Besides… He’d always liked big shaggy dogs (heck, he had a werewolf ID himself!), and the local “werewolves” were some of the biggest to be found!
(Kevin-Morgoth) “Who’s a little werewolf then? Who’s got four paws and a long nose and a great big jaw full of teeth? Who’s gonna grow up to ravage across the land? You are you little ex-Noldor you! Won’t that be fun?”
Marty-Sauron had to laugh to himself. Somehow, he couldn’t see the “standard” Morgoth tickling a young werewolf and fussing over it that way – although he could probably say something along those lines to Limey right now.
The pup seemed to be enjoying it too. Well, they WERE phantasms, and would fall right into their new role – and they were cute, even if they were minions of evil.
Speaking of Limey, he’d already adopted a few of the things. He’d have to make sure to check his hard drive regularly to keep more werewolves from getting in his system… Hm. Was there really a distinction between a virtual reality with a few spirits in it and a pocket dimension? Still, the incident in the Jesus Worlds had left Marty a bit leery. After all, the notion that Limey had uploaded a child and his soul while he wasn’t looking was more than a bit creepy! Not to mention the level of power that both he and Limey now possessed.
Meanwhile, back in Core, the analysts were reaching an unnerving conclusion. They rules were well understood. Creating a Gate to or from Core required direct reality manipulation, and thus a true Opener. Breaching the barriers of Core – the laws of Life and Death – required a great deal of power. An Opener who refrained from using his or her power in other ways (and few did) might be able to handle two gates a month – or perhaps three for a time if he or she was very fortunate or had unusually great power reserves. Opening two, three, or even four gates within a short span of time was possible for a very few Openers – but would exhaust reserves that would take months to recover.
More than two hundred Gates had been opened from “Kadia” into the core within two months. At least one to every one of the more than a hundred and fifty human-inhabited solar system in Core, and – in heavily populated systems – one to each inhabited world or asteroid belt.
At first analysis, it had been presumed that some unknown property of Kadia might make it easier, or that Kevin had discovered an efficient way to use magic or psychic power to assist in the Opening of Gates. Alternatively, since the Gates had been used to extend emergency services (in the form of treatments for weaponized-meme victims) to Core, he might have managed to put together an alliance of Openers. While most Openers would have cooperated in such a project, five months of further investigation had found no evidence of such an alliance.
No method – even in theory – of easing the creation of Gates in and out of Core had been found either, despite a similar period of research. Either Kevin Sanwell had achieved a breakthrough into some second stage of Opening (which seemed unlikely), or he had found a way to use a group of Gatekeepers to Open Gates, instead of simply settling for their ability to control them once they existed. That would fit in neatly with the sheer number of gatekeeper-agents he’d been documented as recruiting.
Still, regardless of how he was doing it, that meant that the rules – and all of their strategic calculations based on those rules – were changing.
Back in Middle-Earth, Marty-Sauron had gone back to playing with his new crafting abilities. The lantern-blades would be gravely weakened beyond Tolkien’s worlds. Beyond the worlds he had influenced, they would be lesser magical blades at best – and beyond the worlds of magic, they would be mere expertly crafted blades.
To give them power beyond that… he would have to invest a portion of his own essence in them.
He would experiment with a tiny portion of his power then, and a temporary investment. Perhaps a small boost to telepathic magics and his ability to block attacks? Those were always useful.
Kevin-Morgoth was considering sending a messenger to the Vala – or at least seeing how they viewed all this. They might just be phantasms in the role, in which case that would be fairly hopeless – but the indications were that they were well aware of what was going on.
What could he offer? To not wipe up the second Noldor host and let history get back on track a bit? It wasn’t like that meant a lot. Oh well. He could just inquire as to what they’d accept in exchange for Angainor; after all, they could always make another.
He dispatched a herald – and a messenger of the Vala arrived a short time later.
(Messenger) Greetings Meklor and Sauron! I come on behalf of the Vala.
(Kevin-Melkor) “Greetings, oh Astmorial of Manwe’.”
Well, if the Vala were willing to send messengers, that pretty much confirmed that they were well aware of the Manifold – and that they knew that “Morgoth” was almost certainly someone who’d taken the role if they were departing from the script this way.
(Kevin-Melkor) “And what say the Vala?”
(Messenger) “Manwe and the others would like to know what you expect to do with the chain Angainor. Such an item can be extremely dangerous if used improperly.”
(Kevin-Melkor) “I was intending to see if it could hold – or at least partially contain – Merlin when we wind up confronting him. Failing that, it might still be useful against Plague, Famine, or War. Most likely, Famine. He, she, or it seems to be the worst of the lot.”
(Messenger) “Fair enough, I cannot say how successful either venture will prove to be, but I shall confer with my superiors. I shall return in but a moment.”
And that settled it. The Vala were well aware of what was going on. Were they the ones doing the resets and allowing people in to experience the show? Was it tourism, of just that keeping Valinor stable required resetting Middle-Earth periodically? Otherwise eventually a forced reset would build up, and Valinor would mostly revert to the beginning – and they were supposedly in charge of developing the world for habitation… He had to wonder how popular Valinor was/is as an afterlife? Tolkien had a lot of fans…
The messenger blurred out of sight in an instant.
The Valar Tulkas appeared a few moments later with a chain wrapped around him.
(Tulkas) “So you must be the latest to fall into the roles of Melkor and Sauron then. I would suggest leaving it in a prompt fashion if I were you. The roles are powerful and the effects they can have on you can be long lasting indeed.”
(Kevin-Melkor) “Hm. Is that why almost nothing around here stays in character? It’s too easy to get trapped if you do?”
(Tulkas) “In many ways yes, that is true. Asserting your own personality and habits into the role is highly recommended. Tapping into the collective human psyche isn’t recommended.”
(Marty-Sauron) “Is it ever? It sounds like a good way to get a headache, or lose your real identity.”
Hm… Tulkas was… exerting some helpful mental pressure there. Well, the Vala were powerful telepaths – but it was still a bit irritating. Who were the Vala to lecture them?
Well, they were the local guardians of enlightenment, but still. They couldn’t get many Melkors. The role called for rather a lot of power just as a base!
Perhaps that was why Melkor never did too much? Had Tolkien tapped into enough of the racial subconscious to understand the rules that well?
Marty-Sauron found it annoying too. He needed a stiff drink… He got one.
(Tulkas) “Now, here is the chain Angainor as you requested. From what I am told of your plans though, I wouldn’t trust it against Merlin, but against the Horseman it may provide a better binding.”
(Kevin-Melkor, sighing) “Ah well. I wouldn’t have trusted it against Merlin either, but it seemed like it might be worth looking into. Thank you for the information, the advice, and Angainor, though. I hope that all three will prove useful… I would guess that Middle-Earth is likely to revert to the beginning of the sequence as soon as we leave?”
(Tulkas) “You are welcome, and yes, we will be initiating the reset of the realm as soon as you are gone. Now, if you happen to come across the one called Ryan, do tell him to come visit sometime. Manwe would like to speak with him on some matters.”
(Marty-Sauron) “Oh, don’t worry, we’ll be glad to.”
(Kevin-Melkor) “I think that half the Manifold wants to talk to Ryan on some matters… He seems to be determined to entangle every realm he visits with every other one wherever he goes.
I’ll have the message passed on shortly. He’s more upset than usual at the moment.”
(Tulkas) “That is the nature of powerful openers, he is just more showy than others about it. I fear it is a consequence of his birthplace, something beyond his control. He is learning though and that is good. If he is concerned about the damage here, it is of little consequence save for some inconvenience and a reset.”
(Kevin-Melkor) “Our thanks then. I suspect that I had best depart while you are here, and moderating the influence of the Melkor-Role…”
Kevin sent out a quick call for anyone else who was ready to leave – which was only a few of the fallen Maia who had found the war a bit of a bust; almost everyone else in Middle-Earth with a soul was already deceased; they’d all been at the Battle under the Stars.
(Tulkas) “Farewell then young travelers.”
Kevin spent the power to gate straight out – and had one of the Thralls on the Kadia side hold the gate for anyone else who was coming.
Marty took his artifact blades along as souvenirs.
Since Kevin was already in Kadia, they didn’t have to play catch-up.
(Kevin) “Oh, hey, Marty! These two won’t work with mine at all, but they still have some power… Would you like a couple of Silmarils?”
(Marty) “Why not? They’ll go great in my crown!”
(Kevin) “They do tend to draw trouble, so you might want to keep them private though!”
Marty stuck them on the inside of his crown then…
They let M know what they had so far via the Thrall-connections. Regrettably it wasn’t all that much.
(M) Thank you for that. It is a bit disturbing considering the nature of the oath, but at least it is something to work with.
(Kevin) “Too bad I couldn’t defuse it there, but the Simulacrum in Feanor’s role just didn’t make it possible.”
Unfortunately, one of Kevin’s results wasn’t so good; you could set up an overlay zone in the Core with a realm with odd physics, and that worked to some extent. You could even set up an overlay with a realm that allowed FTL and the manipulation produced a privileged reference frame – just like a normal set of Gates did – but even with a group of Thralls working to maintain it, trying to really make use of it only resulted in outrunning the overlay effect.
Similarly, you could – at least apparently – open a gate to jump to a known location in space with no humans in the area to provide an anchor, but the targeting errors were colossal. Planetside worked better given some location to focus on. A memory worked best, pictures and videos worked less effectively, and descriptions were even harder.
Kevin turned off that report. He KNEW most of that. Fortunately, in this case, a thousand light year error was just fine. He wanted to get the Midnight Gardener project started, at least on pilot program basis. For that matter, he had to check with the robots about whether or not anyone else was doing it.
The robots informed him that none of the other sapient species encountered thus far had started pursuing such long-term projects. Most such efforts were far smaller, and were in response to immediate threats and local disasters.
Was he just too silly to see that it was impossible? Or young enough to be totally overenthusiastic? Or just extremely ambitious? Well, the only way to find out would be to start deploying on a pilot basis.
He got that started, and started checking up on other things.
Meanwhile, Marty was checking on how Thawban – as his sworn brother – was doing.
It seemed that he was still going through the education programs, although he’d also made contact with the Unified Church. Apparently he’d been in many discussions with them over the last few weeks about the nature of the Religion of Core, Applied Theology, known contacts with presumed servants of the higher order, and some discussions regarding the teachings of Islam. It looked like he might be looking into theological field research.
The dark elves hadn’t gotten their goddess back yet, although it looked like some sort of epic quest was currently underway – involving many powerful adventurers – to find her essence and revive her.
Kevin had been considering trying to quietly grant some low-level spells to her clerics to try to prod things along, but it looked like that wouldn’t work under the local theology unless he either sent an avatar and declared himself an ally or messenger, got some of the local gods in the same pantheon to step up and fill the gap, or persuaded her clerics to transfer their worship to him. It probably wasn’t worth the diplomatic hassle; it was a minor side issue after all. He made a note to send the adventurers a few Thrall-henchmen though. They might be able to use the help.
Revan and the Hellstorm had made several attempts to destroy the Kuat Shipyards but had been repulsed every time. Since then, their effort looked to have changed to recruiting and subverting potential servants and fleets.
Michelle Wingates had gone to visit her relatives on Ealor, and she and Spellweaver had been asked to stay awhile. They were currently taking in the local hospitality. Fortunately, Ealor was not in the Hellstorm’s current path.
The investigators had finally sorted out what was up with that Kobold from the Underdark; the kobold had had it’s soul ripped out and replaced with a concoction of energies designed to mimic the interface with a soul. There was a spell program using that interface to give a good mimicry of being ensouled. Perhaps one of Merlin’s early experiments that had continued in Baelaria?
The effects of the Rosary of Memory had been analyzed. Phantasms just got over-written. Those in second or later incarnations regained access to their former memories, and seemed to be able to relearn their former skills and abilities far more readily than usual. Those in their first incarnations seemed got visions and dreams and potentially fruitful insights into matters of import; they often seemed to have an easy time learning the abilities that they’d been shown would be most useful to them. Whether that was a form of divination, or simply advice drawing on it’s vast wealth of experience, it was hard to say.
On the “urgent demands for attention” front, the Lunar Inversion bunch was mainly wanting explanations (and probably access to the Manifold), Evanescence was wanting access to the Manifold for her own purposes, the Core military was getting unnerved with the documented numbers of gates and thralls, and the New Imperium wanted to talk about their association with the Hellstorm, all the quasi-Jedi, their involvement with Ealor, and adding the Hoslin to their borders with the Battletech realms.
Well, the New Imperium seemed most insistent.
The Linear Realms wanted them urgently too, but they had several thousand Thralls operating there already, which seemed to cover most of the urgent bits.
Kevin was still wanting to find the third Silmaril of “his” set – but still no clues on that front. He hadn’t been able to find a link between them before, but there seemed to be one between the three they’d brought back this time… Perhaps he’d just missed it? He wasn’t all that good at divination. He’d have to try that at odd moments. There were so many demands on his time, and his divinatory powers were merely witchcraft, and so short-ranged. Still, if he could find a link, he had plenty of other ways to try to trace it.
Marty was looking into what Puck might be up to. He did owe it the Thawban.
There were consistent rumors regarding a trickster spirit making trouble in the slavic territories in the Linear Realms. It was apparently going by a name out of one of the old slavic tales – Veles or Volos depending on the translation. There were more inconsistent rumors elsewhere… Well, it would be just like Puck to drift to a flash point in the Manifold conflict.
(Marty) “Hey Kevin! Can we go by the Linear Realms after we finish up in the New Imperium? I might have a grudge to settle!”
And he might clean up the streets a little bit too!
(Kevin) “Why not?”
Other than that… he’d like to subdue Jenkins before she did too much damage to the Manifold, but that would have to wait until he achieved godhood at the very least. It sounded like she might be a digit in human form, and he’d need the divine immunities to stand up to her in that case.
They took the portal to Ealor. They might as well let the people there express themselves as well. They had sent them a lot more survivors, although they hadn’t gotten any more clues on the missing kids yet.
Once again the border guard at the gateway demanded that they identify themselves.
They did so.
(Guard) “Ah yes, this alert has been waiting in the computer systems for a while now. Been wondering when it would either trigger or be removed.”
(Kevin) “Well, you bunch have been sending urgent requests…”
(Guard) “Yes, it does look like your presence has been requested on Coruscant. An Inquisitor has already been sent from orbit to meet with you and escort you. Do you agree to wait?”
(Marty) “Well, why not?”
(Kevin) “How long is the trip? It might be easier to go directly.”
Unfortunately, Marty/Darrick’s ship was still on the Wookie homeworld. It was repaired, and they’d sent a Thrall to pay the rest of the fee (and make the starship repair guy quite wealthy and very pleased), but they hadn’t given the kid any instructions as to where to take the ship – or what to do about all the fresh pine scent.
(Guard, plugging away at a datapad) “The trip will take approximately 3 days from here. It looks like a supernova is causing traffic to reroute to other hyperspace lanes at the moment.”
It would probably easier to go directly. They’d been to the New Imperium Coruscant before.
Still, the imperial shuttle landed shortly, and out came their favorite perpetually annoyed Inquisitor. He looked down his nose at them
(Inquisitor) “No offense, but I was really hoping that your presence was just a false alarm. Having to drag people before the Emperor is most unpleasant.”
(Kevin) “Well, shall we step over to Coruscant then? To the imperial palace, or Jedi Temple, or another appropriate big landmark?”
(Inquisitor) “The Imperial palace would work best, although I will ask you not port directly inside of it.”
Kevin used a magical gate, and set them outside of the great Imperial Palace. It was huge by any standard for buildings; there were entire planetary populations that could be housed within it’s walls. It also boasted the largest gardens on Coruscant. The guards nearby were moving quickly to intercept them as they appeared.
(Kevin) “What, you asked us here!”
The guards insisted on searching them. Kevin insisted on doing the “endless junk in his pockets” routine, although Marty produced his perky little droid for their examination.
Between the search and verifying their identities it took a fair amount of time before the guards would allow them to enter the palace grounds.
(Guard) “Next time use a ship or repulsor craft like normal people!”
Meanwhile, Kevin’s pockets were still producing an endless stream of junk… a Jade statue of buddha, a geode, a finger talisman, a bottle of wine, a ham sandwich, a mousetrap, a cream pie launcher, a block of ice,
(Marty) “What’s normal?”
(Guard) “Not blowing holes in the universe to avoid commutes!”
The stream of junk was continuing… scissors, a pocket calculator, a red button labeled “do not press”, a fez, a totem pole, a box of canned laughter…
(Guard) “Openers, I swear they have no patience. Or sense of when to stop playing stupid gags.”
(Kevin) “What? We were told it was urgent, and we’ve got like three other groups demanding our attention urgently right this minute…”
(Marty, on the private link) “Can we pull an illusion trick where they yank me from your pocket?”
(Kevin, also privately) “Eh, they have guns, they asked us to knock it off, it would be mean not to.”
(Kevin) “Oh all right. Shall we go?”
(Guard) “And I have orders to keep these grounds secure. Now I have a hole in reality I have to account for in the middle of the front door.”
(Marty) “Hey, shut that!”
(Kevin) “No you don’t. No point in doing that, I just pulled enough power in to use magic.”
(Guard) “Fine, go on, I have instructions to let you through once I have verified your ID’s which do check out.”
(Another Guard) “Great, magical holes. What’s next portable holes like in the holo cartoons?”
(Kevin) “What do you think my pockets are?”
(Guard) “Offhand, I could think of a half-dozen strange and weird powers from the Manifold that could be doing that. Summon junk spells are supposedly easy, and just opening gates to steal junk from random homes is also possible.”
(Kevin) “Are those really any different? Anyway, you don’t actually have a dimensional hole to worry about, so shall we go?”
(Guard) “Fine then, go.”
Off we go with the impatient Inquisitor…
Kevin was sulking a bit again. Complain about his jokes would they! He COULD have gone like Matthias and Serah, and be tormenting planets, or like the Hellstorm and be blowing up fleets. Instead he chased girls, recruited well-paid servants, and pulled off old jokes, and what did he get? Complaints. Hell! Practically everyone involved SURVIVED the things he did!
The interior of the palace was just as huge as the exterior. Where other so-called “Emperors” had to resort to magic tricks to build palaces this huge on the inside, it was a trivial matter for the galactic Emperor to build one that big on the outside too. A droid escorted them to a large information room with hundreds of holo projectors displaying imagery from across the galaxy. A middle-aged gentleman wearing something akin to Jedi/Sith robes was watching one of the projectors – and the Inquisitor bowed to him as they approached
(Inquisitor) “Emperor, the ones you have requested have arrived.”
The Emperor muted the display and turned his attention to them.
(Emperor) “Ah yes, the Opener and the Merchant of Death I’ve heard so much about. I trust my people have been courteous in bringing you here?”
(Kevin) “Oh your Inquisitor here is cranky, but he wouldn’t be HIM without that. Besides. we’re good at bringing out people’s cranky…”
(Marty) “Yeah, it’s our specialty.”
(Kevin) “Seriously however, you were at the top of the “urgent demands” list, and we had a bit of time, so here we are. “
(Emperor) “Yes, it has come to my attention that you have been importing a number of unstable elements into my domain. Refugees from an alternate Earth with technological prowess that could prove destabilizing. A group of Force assassins out to destroy Sith and restore or protect a Republic which doesn’t exist anymore or never did. A great number of Jedi like people running about that you are connected to that are adding their own instabilities to the mix. And then there is the fact that you are clearly connected in some way to the great battleship that is decimating fleets out there. I would like explanations.”
(Kevin) “For the refugees, simple enough; you have an unusually large number of cataloged empty planets. They will soon either spin off into their own pocket reality or adjust to yours – and the only reason any of their technology works here is because you’ve partially adjusted to Core: now that you’ve done that, people will be building new gadgets anyway. In any case, since you had people there waiting to greet them, I can’t believe that their arrival was a surprise.”
(Emperor) “It was not, but I still like to hear explanations from those who would seek to use my hospitality without asking first.”
(Kevin) “I was simply expecting to find them an empty world; I was not expecting them to get involved with you for years or generations – if then. As for the “Force Assassins”, they now know that their goals never existed – and that there’s no point in pursuing them. They’re in the unclaimed area between your realm and the Battletech realm, but they did bring along far more ships than they needed, and you need ships at the moment.”
(Emperor) “Fair enough, and maybe I can put them to use in the war against Revan and his misguided followers.”
(Kevin) “Now, my servants do have limited Jedi-like abilities, but most of those which have been operating in your realm are on child-retrieval missions, and leave again afterwards. You realm does not seem to need a lot of assistance at the moment. Would you like to examine a few of them? I can easily send you some.”
(Emperor) “I would indeed like the opportunity to examine them. Some of the stories I’ve been hearing have been quite intriguing.”
(Marty) “As for the battleship, it’s got unfinished business with Revan.”
(Kevin) “The Hellstorm… I believe you already have a report on our involvement with that. It appears to have its origin with Ryan O’Malley. How it became involved with Revan, I don’t know. I believe there was an agent of yours with us when we first encountered it ourselves.”
(Emperor) “Interesting, so it is that ship of his now is it? What terrible power it has. Ryan has been promising me a new ship to combat it, but I have been getting a great number of reports informing me of delays lately. Most distressing really.”
Kevin had been wondering about that… They still had six months or so to run on their contract with the Hellstorm, and it wasn’t allowed to attack anyone who’d been with them at the time of their last encounter or anywhere (up to planets) where they were staying – and Kevin had simply listed “his servants” at the time. Would that mean that any Thrall could claim that immunity for any ship, installation, or planet they were on? It might just depend on who could outargue the other on the wording of the contract…
(Emperor) “Now, tell me, since your fates seem to be interacting with Ryan’s recently, what do you know of Ryan’s current delays?”
(Marty) “He’s helping with the defenses in the Linear Realms and working on some project for the Americas.”
(Kevin) “I’ll see if I can find out more specifically…”
He checked with the Thralls working for Ryan at the moment to see what his current trouble was.
It seemed that he was having trouble manufacturing a power of the Light strong enough to counter the Hellstorm. The ship was currently more or less complete – but it was fairly mundane to throw up against a supernatural battleship of that power. Why hadn’t he tried to locate Vena? Ah; she was really scatterbrained and was very hard to find. Well, she was an anime ferret.
(Kevin) “Ah. He’s having trouble creating a force of light sufficient to stand up to the Hellstorm.”
Now what did he need for that?
Massive positive/holy energy output, preferably compatible with his style of magic – although conversion circuitry could be made. Combative holy magic would work best, but anything able to put out that kind of power could be made to work with varying degrees of difficulty.
In other words, a high-intensity positive energy with large reserves. For really high intensity, they’d want a major being of the light. They could provide reserves easily enough. They could use the Silmarils – but they weren’t exactly weapons. Of course, they could always go ask for help… or try to make such a source. They might want to check with Heaven, or the Crusader Kingdoms.
(Marty) “I don’t think they want you in Heaven. And I’m not sure about me either.”
(Kevin) “Well, it does make me uncomfortable… But I can put up with that for a bit. Possible approaches; some thralls with positive energy channeling. That was rare, but some did have it – and it was possible that a much higher percentage of the Neodogs did. Make some relics. Visit heaven and recruit. Ask the Crusader Kingdoms and the Unified Church to appeal for aid. Hunt for Vena and/or Michael. Ask some other great power of the light to help. For that, they could apply in Valinor, in Heaven, or in the Crusader Kingdoms. Kevin could try to power things himself, but it wasn’t really his speciality. He’d start the Thralls in the Crusader Kingdoms in on making inquiries, but that would still be indirect.
Well, it looked like they were going to Heaven – unless Marty could find that angel he’d had a drink with in the Crusader Kingdoms, he had seemed like a pretty cool guy.