Back in Kadia, there was a bit of a surprise brewing for Marty… Over the past half a year, the Thralls had rescued (or hired) most of the ensouled population of Battling Business World – and some of the local phantasms with enough links to the ensouled had come along for the ride.
One of them was Martin, Marty’s father.
The Thralls had recognized that the man was a Phantasm – but he was linked to Marty, so all that meant was that, in serving him, they were indirectly serving Marty! So few of them got a chance to serve Lord Kevin or his friends directly that there was always a great deal of competition for even the roughest jobs – and this was hardly one of those!
Martin had been rather surprised to have a couple of youngsters turn up on his doorstep wanting a semi-retired alcoholic bookie to come on a trip – but they were obviously corporate interns of some sort, and they’d promised him a party. Rather more importantly, they’d said that they could get him back in contact with his son – and it wasn’t like they could lay any kind of meaningful trap for him of had any likely reason to want to do so.
Jumping to another dimension was mildly interesting, but no real surprise. Martin had been a part of the cosmic bookie network for most of his life – and knew a lot more about the Manifold and Marty’s general activities than his son had ever suspected that he might. You needed to know things like that to quote profitable odds on the spot on any bet that anyone proposed!
Kadia looked to be full of entertainment. The very air was invigorating! It made him feel a lot younger in fact – and, as Battling Business World phantasm, Martin was only as old as he felt.
The Thralls got him settled into a nice penthouse apartment – which was what he seemed to want – and his natural talents increased rapidly (and lost their alcohol dependence) as he developed a kadian identity. It wasn’t long before he was drinking a great deal less, vacationing regularly, partying wildly every night, and taking bets on the side again – and soon after that, with even a tiny share in Marty’s enormous resources to back him, he was running a high-class casino, betting parlor, and bar, with free drinks and food for the gamblers…
He was slightly disappointed to discover that gambling was neither illegal nor controlled in Kadia – even if the confounded local sapient devices WOULD offer a simple evaluation of the odds for most basic bets on request. Police raids and gunfights had always been good fun! Still, that just meant that you had to rely a bit more on persuasion and alcohol and a bit less on the marks – er, the gamers – being entirely ignorant of what REASONABLE odds were.
Not being able to take a baseball bat to a debtor’s knees – according to the federally-approved debt collection protocols – was a bit confusing though. Oh well, he’d deal with the debt collection problem when it came up! There were bets and girls to take!
The Thrall-girls were more than willing to oblige him in that way as well. They didn’t mind shapeshifting to look a little older to suit his preferences – and, since Martin had always had a soft spot for young children, vaguely missed having Marty around, and did want more kids of his own, those were be easy enough to bear for him as well!
Martin wasn’t much for infants – too smelly and noisy – so they took care to use fast time, telepathic education, and developmental magic to jump them straight to the “early childhood” stage (there was no point in wasting time with things like waiting for neurons to multiply and learning to crawl) – but most phantasm-kids in Battling Business World just turned up as five or six year olds after a couple had been together for a bit anyway, so Martin didn’t find that in the least bit surprising.
Martin was rather surprised to find that “debt collection” was not a problem after all, despite the lack of allowable violence protocols… Moderate-level deadbeat debtors got put on some sort of automatic credit-transfer arrangement and paid on the installment plan.
He took a second look at the local laws the first time his Thrall-aides presented him with some teenage indenture-slaves from the Linear Realms who (against the computerized advice) had bet themselves too far into debt with no one else to cover for them – and whom he could now keep or put up for sale. The rules were somewhat more ruthless than he’d assumed at a glance, but looked fair enough… The computers would not allow youngsters to overbet until they hit the local age of majority – which seemed to be fourteen. He wound up shaking his head, having them slave-conditioned (it was cheap enough), and putting them up for sale – or, in a few later cases (older teenage girls who were really cute or younger teens who were unusually pathetic), adding them to his harem or staff respectively, He was a bit of a sucker for crying youngsters. After all, he hadn’t abandoned Marty, or put him up for adoption, when the infant had landed on his doorstep – and now he had a lot more resources.
What few moral scruples he had quietly succumbed to alcohol and indifference. After all, indenture-slavery in Kadia was not a bad deal for youngsters who were silly enough to bet themselves into it! It was certainly better than life in the slums or on the streets back in Battling Business World or this “Linear Realms” place that most of them seemed to come from!
Martin – after a disappointing adult life in Battling Business World – enjoyed life in Kadia to the hilt, rather than pussyfooting around about taking full advantage of its benefits like Marty was. His activities – and his full-scale harem of Thrall- and slave-girls -would be enough to make Marty blanch.
The next time that Marty spends some time in Kadia, he’s likely to get hit with a big dose of “HI BIG BROTHER!” from twenty or thirty young half-siblings.
Fortunately, the Thralls all have enough parenting and child-care skills to make up for Martin’s decidedly “free-range” attitude towards raising kids – and Kadia was a good place for that anyway.
Marty Seniors rank six local ID includes – of course – buying off his arthritis and alcohol dependence (6 CP), removing the limitations on his Deep Sleep and Body Control (6 CP), providing Bonus Uses on his Cosmic Awareness power (6 CP), major Kadian Privileges (Access to Thrall-services and backing, as well as funds 6 CP), Basic Shapeshifting (6 CP), Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses (12 CP), and access to basic Rune Magic (Hexcrafting, +3 SP in Wisdom-based Mastery and Casting for spells of up to level one at an effective caster level of three).
Phantasms cannot actually have Mana or Reality Editing; without a soul to maintain their identity, having either would soon transform them into something unrecognizable. They can, however, have a reserve of psychic or magical energy that works almost the same way. While such a reserve WON’T let them operate gates, manipulate reality in Core, or override the local reality, it will still let them produce small objects and events or power rune magic and other abilities. On the other hand, unlike those with souls, they can buy Rite of Chi to renew such energy reserves as well. Overall, there’s no cost change.
Back at the battle in the New Imperium, Ryan, as a master of time, had spent a bit of his power on a quick review what had been going on before he arrived – and was more than a bit appalled. He’d been busy, and Kevin had seemed to be managing the dark power he’d accidently infused him with minimal problems, so he hadn’t really paid much attention to what the boy was up to.
OK, “minimal” included being a lecherous, ruthless, arrogant, slave-trader – but at least the boy had confined his more obnoxious activities to volunteers and draconic challengers. It was still very wrong of him to bind other youngsters that way – no matter how well they understood what they were getting into – but he (apparently) wasn’t either being reduced to madness or out ravaging worlds with that dark power. It had looked like he really hadn’t gotten a very big dose. Running a trading operation across the Manifold had seemed more or less benign despite the modest slave-trading – even, perhaps, a lesser reflection of his own activities.
It had been worrisome when he’d actually observed a few of the boys “Thralls” in action and seen how much power they’d been given, and it had become more worrisome when he realized that the kid possessed Godfire – but he hadn’t seemed to have been USING it for much! He’d mostly seemed to rely on talking and minor witchery! But this… the boy didn’t NEED a Death Star! He’d unleashed the darkness and he’d destroyed or crippled nearly three hundred capital class ships in less than a minute! That rivaled or exceeded the power of the Hellstorm itself! Even IT needed weapons to destroy things on such a scale… Could Kevin really be containing that much dark power? The boy still might be personally fragile – the old “glass cannon” syndrome – but at this point he wasn’t going to count on it.
Come to think of it… The ship reported that the boy had brought along nearly three hundred of his “Thralls” who could channel positive energy to assist Menthas. That had to be a rare talent in darkness-bound demon-thralls! That implied that the boy had… thousands or tens of thousands of them. Perhaps more. He should have realized that when the boy had sent fifty with the power-combinations that he had requested on request – but he would never have imagined that the boy could empower so many!
He made a mental note to have some of his own agents do a more in-depth investigation of what the boy had been up to for the past few decades! And to move both Kevin – and Marty, who was showing signs of some pretty appalling abilities himself – a long ways up the priority list! They both needed counseling, addiction-treatment, and reform at the very least!
Neither Kevin nor Marty would later feel either surprised or comfortable about that.
Kevin, in particular, would feel drastically underappreciated. After all, he could be letting the dark power run amuck and be blowing up worlds like the Hellstorm, or be torturing billions like Serah and Matthias, or be sending people to millennia of torment like Necrosis, or be up to many other horrible things! Instead he was rescuing people and worlds (even if it did further his own ends and serve to populate Kadia), recruiting voluntary and well-paid servants, and indulging himself with a few girls – and yet people thought that HE needed reforming! He was a Dark Lord, not a malevolent one! Quite a few of his hangers-on weren’t even sure that he WAS a Dark Lord, or if he was so subtle that he was fooling himself!
OK, that complaint WAS a bit self-contradictory in several points, but it was an emotional one after all.
He might be an Evil Dark Lord – but humanity couldn’t afford to become a race of plaster saints! It NEEDED the darkness!
Marty had to admit that – if he was Ryan – he probably wouldn’t want Marty to reach cartoon godhood! Cartoon characters caused enough mayhem without that level of power…
Marty was planning to become the embodiment of some of his spheres of influence so that he could take on the Number Lords. He would need it; the Number Lords had several millennia of experience (and hubris) on him – not to mention (pun or not!) Greater Numbers!
That was something that Kevin didn’t dare to do. In his case giving up control that way could be very very bad.
Also in Kadia, Kevin had been taking advantage of his new multi-presence ability to continue some projects…
Having his phantasmal dragon-children checked to see if any had acquired a soul was easy enough – the Thralls could handle that bit of monitoring – but they evidently still hadn’t had enough publicity to attract any. That had been easy to fix too… A few dream-links to some old age homes and similar places out in the Manifold (however foreign such places were to a Core youngster born in the gap between the last of the old-style humans who hadn’t been given longevity treatments and genes and the centuries-delayed first deaths from old age among the humans who had) and some information on the assorted goodies, opportunities, and excitements – along with the perils – of those roles soon led to a slow-but-steady stream of souls taking on those incarnations.
Those few who fell into slave-roles were promptly promoted out of those positions again – at least if that wasn’t, for some peculiar reason, what they’d wanted – and they all were, like Eogam, offered a place in Kadia and Thralldom with few responsibilities if they wanted it. Most did.
Kevin was surprised at how simple that had been – but then concluded that massive bribes worked just as well to get people to do what you wanted after they were dead as they did while they were alive. It was just the form that differed.