Federation-Apocalypse Session 145 – Of Sailing Ships, and Sealing Wax, and Platapi, and Kings

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With the Mandas family deciding not to make an issue over the unintentional and arguably self-inflicted death of an incompetent, and the City Guard – with no complaint from the family and a claim of a legal duel – officially uninvolved, Kevin and Marty prepared to wander off into the city.

The city guards would be keeping a careful eye on their over-powered and rather touchy visitors, and would stand ready to call in help form the other knightly orders and heroes of the city – but, at least for the moment – they were one possible menace amongst many.

Kevin called for his entourage and prepared to set out. He’d brought all those Thralls and stuff along, and it seemed like it would be considered acceptable (if pretty ostentatious) locally – but they WERE out to make an impression… And Kevin thought that making that fact a bit obvious was less important than displaying the fact that he HAD the resources needed to display matched sets of well-trained noble-species chattel-slaves.

He got out the sedan chair and the matched set of black-jaguar bearer-“slaves”/thralls. Huh… they – like the rest of the Thralls – were showing their basic local-species power signs. That might be a bit TOO conspicuous… he made sure that the crew and most of the servants would dress to cover things up a bit. That really wasn’t an option with the bearers and his personal servants however; they were part of the display – and would certainly attract attention.

Marty got out his own entourage, minus the sedan chair (he preferred flying!)

The city was a bustling and active place. Traders were coming and going through the mountain pass and the port, bringing in rarities and carrying other rarities away, making deals, and meeting in private. Interestingly, most most of the buildings were flying colors in the windows and doors, and many of the people wandering the streets seemed to be wearing at least a colored armband or – more rarely – a full tabard of a pair of colors. It looked like those were associated with particular major houses… They’d need some house colors of their own!

It looked like… the colors tended to occur in pairs, although that wasn’t a solid rule. It looked like the older major houses had a lot of the two-color pairs, and later houses had to take trios or odder shades.

Sadly, Marty’s first choice – red and black -seemed to be taken, but red-black-and Macaw-green was available according to the local Thrall-office.

Black and White – which seemed oddly appropriate to Kevin – wasn’t taken, and didn’t seem to say anything too horrible to the locals (“WHITE AND BLACK?!? This indicates that you intend to serve the dark god of destruction and burn the world to the ground!”), but he threw in a subtle bit of ornamentation; a crimson wolf-skull-and-crossbones over blue-and-white galaxy on a sable background. A simple command and to the crews smartclothes had everyone appropriately attired in mere moments…

In the city itself, most of the buildings were open air designs – apparently meant to maximize the number of buildings and courtyards open to the outside and to allow for as much greenery as possible. Most of the streets were relatively broad, and a number of the main streets were straight – as opposed to the tangles of narrow lanes in sections of the city which had not been cleared by some sort of local disaster a century or so back. The result was oddly pleasing, with tangled local neighborhoods linked by broad avenues – and all of them overrun with people. Unlike the ancient cities of Core, however, the upper floors tended to have their own entrances and storefronts, catering to flying and climbing species, with cascading tangles of flowering vines – maintained by minor magics – substituting for canopies and curtains.

There was a traveling theater group in town, much gossip on the streets about the destruction and reconstruction of a building down by the harbor by an angry and vengeful mage, and discussions as to the likely impact of an approaching pirate armada on trade – and as to whether or not they might attack the city itself…

Kevin ordered his Thralls in Kadia to ready and crew a few more ships! He might need a small task force!

The financial and market district was a hive of activity surrounding a massive magical board showing the price indexes of a large variety of goods and stock in various trade expeditions… It reminded Marty a lot of the stock trading pits of Battling Business World, even if there were a lot less knives in evidence.

Hmm… Currently it looked to him like gold was high, a trading company that had just returned from an expedition to an island chain to the south was also climbing fast (although no one was quite sure why, and it might just be a speculative bubble), another trade convoy to the north was seeing it’s stock plummet rapidly and was rife with takeover speculation, some sort of fabric was trading rapidly, and there was a list of people up for indentured servitude contracts, along with a basic profiles on each one.

The fabric was supposed to be from a species of chameleon-like giant spiders. Their silk also supposedly had limited color changing properties, was incredibly durable, and was resistant to attack if woven properly. It appeared that someone had managed to obtain a fair supply of the stuff, and was reaping the benefits of their virtual monopoly – and it looked like nobles who wanted to look good (and unarmored) but who still worried about attack were bidding the prices up at a great rate… Heck, if he (Marty) hadn’t already had Smartclothes, this would be a great deal! He made some notes about the stuff, even if Smartclothes were so much a part of Core’s assumptions that they worked virtually everywhere in the Manifold.

Kevin had gotten bored with the stock-trading board pretty quickly and wandered off to look for lunch at one of the finest local restaurants… They’d wanted to make a fuss about reservations and such, but large denominations of the local currency* had settled THAT quickly enough. He had large amounts of their finest viands readied for himself, and got in some early orders for Marty… When Marty got bored with the stock-trading and turned up, his lunch was ready.

*The Zenni, with the much larger “MaZenni”, and the fractional “Zennima”. Small exchanges were usually handled by barter and on credit.

Kevin was mildly interested in that fabric… It sounded awfully familiar after all! Coincidence, a reflection of Core ideas being spread across the Manifold, or possibly doped with smartfibers to allow monitoring? Someone else meddling?

The main meal of the day was an exotic – steaks from the fruit of a magical plant/animal hybrid. It was prepared with a smattering of vegetables and covered in a curious sauce made from the sap of a large fungus. The drink is a slightly fermented apple cider, which complimented it nicely, and the whole was quite delicious…

(Kevin) “Excellent! And send out a good basic meal for the bearer-slaves!”

(Marty) “And send them some cider too!”

That meant more money of course, but the amount was trivial!

Where to go after lunch? To a show? Shopping? Looking for trouble? It wasn’t like the money was important!

Hm… Judging by the conversations, the biggest current draw was a touring theater group – apparently a foreign bunch preparing to do a trilogy of plays regarding the rise and fall of a merchant prince. A quartet of fish people were running around town buying all sorts of useless junk. There was lots of takeover speculation about a failed shipping company that was about to go under financially and lot’s of grumbling about the price of gold as well.

There was also lots of speculation regarding the incident at the Port Authority. The most popular current theory – at least in the restaurant – seemed to involve a rival house’s sabotage gone wrong and the local Mages having to step in to contain the mess.

(Marty) “Feel like a very hostile takeover, Kevin?”

(Kevin) “Oh, I think we could just infuse the place with a little money! Run by a particular small family group I take it? We could drop by and grab some local legitimacy! Fish people is a little odd though… They’re unusual until you get closer to Innsmouth!”

A few quick inquiries revealed that the struggling shippers were a small family group of platypuses who had been struggling significantly against the larger, better organized, and better funded Otter family. They did have a number of ships and had been relying on indentured servants and hired hands to fill in the gaps. They were currently expected to run out of funds – and wind up being indentured – within the next few days.

(Kevin) “Ohhh, Platypuses! Definitely people to drop by and see! If nothing better comes up, I’ll drop by them!”

(Marty) “Want me to scope things out for you, Kevin? I never saw a platypus before!”

(Kevin) “Oh, lets just go together! I’ve never seen a real one either!”

Well, certainly real enough anyway!

There were a few street kids hanging around looking at the sedan chair and the slave-bearers – although it looked like the only locals who didn’t have souls were some of the generic extras in the streets and most of the slaves. Oh well! They hired one of them – soul or not – as a local guide anyway and upgraded his clothes and cleanliness with a quick spell. He was mildly surprised that they were willing to spend power on such trivia, but pleased enough…

Marty was a bit disappointed! He’d have expected the City Guard to try and plant an undercover operative on them, even if he hadn’t yet spotted the inevitable followers! He kept an eye open for them, just so they’d know who they are – although he also (at Kevin’s suggestion, since he’d grown up with Smartclothes), had his smartclothes do face-and-body-type scans and track the people they encountered; if the same set kept turning up, they were being followed…

Smartclothes would have a hard time with magical disguises, but they should spot people who just keep showing up repeatedly easily enough.

The kid led them to a small building several blocks back from the harbor. It was adorned with the colors brown and green, and was looking like it was in need of some minor maintenance… The city guard was quietly visible there, and looked to be acting as a deterrent at the moment. It looked like the family name was Talathan.

They just knocked! It was a commercial place after all, and they didn’t need a Marty-style raid on it just yet!

Marty figured it would work out fine anyway. He was a bird right now, they apparently had bills, and laid eggs, so what could go wrong? They were birds!

As they entered the shop, an angry and disheveled looking platypus met them…

(Platypus) “Are you a customer or a bill collector? If you are a bill collector then go back to your employers and tell them I will pay the money! Try and rough me up and I will sting you so hard your great grandchildren will say “Ouch”!”

(Kevin) “Neither! We fall under “Investors” who need local contacts, so happiness and relief is in order!”

(Marty, who was thinking “I thought birds had feathers… wait, sting!?”) “Yeah, we wanted to see who you knew and maybe make some deals.”

(Kevin) “And if MY great-grandchildren say “ouch!” they will probably say it with nasty gouts of energy! When you’re in deep trouble, the proper greeting is a gleeful welcome of any new factor that comes along! Thus, the glad cries of “Mercenaries!” or “Investors” or – for that matter – “Pirates!”. If you’re about to become food for worms, anything is an improvement!”

(Platypus) “Ah investors!!! Welcome to the Talathan shipping company! We have plenty of ships and crew ready to meet your shipping needs! What business can I do for you today?!”

(Kevin) “Right! We want some local interests, which you have. You need money and backing, which we can provide. How much do you estimate that – say – 49% of your operation is worth? That will leave you with control of course – presuming that is that you’ve been borrowing, rather than selling stock or going into partnerships!”

(Marty) “Yeah, that might be trouble. So what exactly happened to you guys?”

Hm… Kevin had the local Thralls look into that – and start buying up any stock and debt-papers that the Platypuses had been selling! After all, they had no obvious connection to the local Thralls so far – and should have at least a little local property and such accumulated given their import/export resources, even if most of the money did go back into buying slaves! He passed word to buy up the contracts of any platypuses that were up for indenture. They were rare, so the odds were that any who were available would be closely related.

There weren’t any indentures at the moment – but the stock was near-worthless currently, since debts will take priority over stockholders – and even the debt was deeply discounted. The Thralls found it pretty easy to buy up most of it.

(The platypus looked incredibly frustrated as he went into a monologue.) “Oh it was those dastardly otters from the Gavnos family. They allied to the penguin pirates and are using them as a covert way of disrupting the shipping lanes while denying everything. I’ve been trying to find safe routes around the pirated lanes but keep ending up in the most god awful places. What would anyone want from a swamp full of fishmen anyway?

(Kevin) “Oh, there’s something most places you look!”

Would that be the Tux Brigade again? Piracy suited a wandering BBW bird, and it would explain why they kept running into adventuring penguins!

According to the local Thralls, it looked like they’d sold stock initially, with the company/family turning towards debt as time went on. A bit of divination and analysis indicated that the family could probably continue to pay wages and fees for another two or three days at best.

(Marty) “So where do these pirates hang out? They might start meddling with us too.”

(Platypus) “Supposedly they operate out of three ports: the cesspool city known as Ventorga, the floating fortress Alabaster, and the rival city state to the North called Hables.”

(Kevin) “Well, we may be able to do something about that!”

Marty made a note to try to find a map later.

(Platypus) “What, you have an army lying around?”

(Kevin) “If necessary!”

(The Platypus looked a bit unnerved) “I don’t think I quite caught who any of you are…”

(Marty) “I’m Martin of House MacAw, Captain of the Lissefea!”

(Kevin) “Angkor Shadowfang, Captain of the Nightwind Voyager. And you?”

(The Platypus puffed himself up proudly) “I am Naeth Talathan IV! Head of the Talathan family and head of this fine shipping establishment!”

(Naeth) “Alright, I take it you are not local then?”

(Marty) “We just sailed into port a few hours ago.”

Hm. The locals were somewhat aware of other dimensions, and that they get weirder the further out you got – but they didn’t seem to know much about the larger-scale structure. The anthro realms were kind of isolated and closed usually – and considered themselves more stable and central because of that fact.

(Kevin) “From a ways out! That’s half the fun!”

Most of the stock they’d sold was available. 51% was in Talathan hands, 40% was in the hands of people who were quite willing to get rid of it cheap, and the remaining 9% was in the hands of a Fox who was unwilling to sell at this time. The debts were substantial – and it looked like the Talathan had begun resorting to “get-rich-quick” schemes towards the end. It was still minor compared to their resources however, but it would still wind up being the largest investment they  have in the city – by a factor of ten – if they paid them off.

Marty voted for why not? Any inroad was a good inroad! And these platypus… things were kind of endearing!

They had the Thralls grab the 40%,- and the vast majority of those debts that people had decided were bad and were trying to dump to speculators at a fraction of their supposed “value”. The Thralls managed to scoop up 81% of the outstanding debts at less than 10% of the outstanding value. The remaining 19% were held by a certain Fox shareholder at the moment and he looked to be in it for the long term. He’d probably ALREADY bought them at minimal valuation, and was figuring on picking up whatever he could in the breakup.

That drastically cut down on the amount they’d have to pay out.

(Kevin) “All right then Mr Talathan; How big is your current outstanding debt and how much additional capital will be needed?”

They’d see how honest he was!

Naeth pulled out a folder, rifled through it, and then produced an answer

(Naeth) “We’re looking at 20,000 zenni to handle the most pressing debts, and another 3,000 zenni to get the crew and supplies needed for another expedition. I am planning on using all eight ships together as a convoy to provide mutual cover. Maybe another 5,000 to pay for mercenaries to help handle the pirates.”

(Kevin) “And in total to cover everything?”

(Naeth) “To pay back all the debts right now would require and additional 120,000 zenni on top of the 20,000 for the most pressing, for a total of 140,000 for the debts alone.”

Hm. According to what they could get elsewhere, that was pretty much accurate – although he was clearly rounding off. Well, Marty was approving…

(Kevin) “Right then. You currently need at least 150,000 to cover immediate expenses and a cash reserve, for a total of 200,000 or so. Some military support is also in order. Now, we will – of course – be expecting a sizeable interest in your business until the debts are repaid, but – as already noted – we are primarily interested in local contacts, invitations, and society. You should have at least some such connections to place at our disposal I should think. Is that an acceptable bargain?”

Marty was still approving. He’d expect the guy to cook the books a bit, and he needed a reserve in case something like this happens again.

Kevin was prepared to prop the guy up with a little TK if necessary.

Naeth managed to remain remarkably composed through the offer, although his eyes did go very wide for a moment.

(Naeth) “Most generous of you kind sir, although I must ask, how have you come to have so much money to spare like this?”

(Marty) “I’m not sure you’re in a position to ask, but we’ve got lots of land tucked away.”

(Kevin) “Money is easy. Good entertainment is hard, but novelty helps! Why waste time on getting to the fun part when visiting a new location? For a local budget we brought in a couple of shiploads of loot…”

(Naeth) “Well, that certainly helps matters, do you have a specific trading venture in mind, or shall I continue along with the next one I was lining up?”

Marty didn’t have anything in particular in mind yet; for the moment, they should probably just help guard the one he had planned. Maybe after that they could sail up to another, friendly city state. One where they hadn’t started off by smashing up the Port Authority. Not that they weren’t asking for it.

Kevin didn’t entirely agree… if they kept leaving, how would they attract enough attention? Besides… he thought that the port authority story was mostly staying inside the wolverine family, and they’d brought enough Thralls to send some even if local recruits were sparse – although he’d have to check on how many recruits were currently available for induction at the local office. After all, the place had a slave market that they’d been monitoring and a sizeable poor underclass.

Marty thought that the second best then would be to make trouble for those otters later!

(Kevin) “You have more local information than we do at the moment, so it would doubtless be best to continue with your current plans. We will, however, be sending along some assistance in dealing with the pirates.”

They’d only brought two ships – but then, of course, they’d brought top-end military-class vessels with assorted manifold upgrades and full crews of Thralls… They could send one along, and even a few more Thralls if the local office had any likely recruits lined up at the moment.

(Kevin) “We will provide your expedition with an escort vessel – and perhaps a few crewmen with special training. Pirates often have quite a lot of valuables aboard their vessels!”

Hmm… Currently the local office had…. eight recruits lined up. Enough for at least one aboard each of the eight ships they were sending. Even with the common local in play the Thrall-powers were fairly decent and they had loads of flexibility. Kevin had one of his usual servants fetch a chest from the sedan chair.

(Kevin) “Here is a hundred thousand to start, Shall I have a second hundred thousand brought over, or simply send it around to the various major creditors?”

(Naeth) “Go ahead and bring it here, I will ensure it goes to the various creditors as appropriate.”

Well, he didn’t seem likely to skip out with it. It looked like he was taking this opportunity as a second chance. He did want it to be seen that he was the one paying back the debtors as a matter of pride. His rivalry with the Otter family seemed to be a huge motivating factor in his personality and affairs.

All the more reason to prod them then!

It also made is seem likely that the Otter family had been calling in debts and favors to try and push their competitors out of business – and that they might now cause problems (or have their own problems) if that didn’t happen? At the least, they’d be annoyed.

(Kevin) “Very well! It should be here within the hour!”

They left Naeth to get things straightened out and headed for the theater. Marty wanted to blow off a little steam, even if he was getting calmer these days!

Kevin threw more money around to get a big booth, and – perhaps – graciously find room for someone important! He needed party invitations! Or muggers and/or a young woman to chivalrously rescue, or just to establish that they were was worth inviting to things – and to leave room open for people to come and talk to them, or look for support, and so on. The word that the Platypuses suddenly had money after their conspicuous visit there would soon get around. Birds would have an easy time getting into a private theater booth for a little secret conference!

Of course, they might also get demons from the Manifold, or agents of Merlin, or people with dodgy intentions for buying Thralls, or who wanted to sell him kids, or who wanted to get him to give them stuff or would-be challengers – or practically anything in the lines of “people come to you”!

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