Federation-Apocalypse Session 155 – The Code Duello

Thor's duel with Hrungnir

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Returning Lady Istral to Ciarkian, and Cyrweld, through the Pasta Palace proved simple enough – although Conley did a bit of a double-take when he realized that Kevin and Marty had changed again – this time into an anthropomorphic wolf and parrot.

Then he realized that he’d changed as well – into some sort of anthropomorphic gryphon-creature – without consciously doing so. Was this what they meant by an “Identity”? A transformation that included the powers, abilities, and personality factors needed to fit into a new realm? He could see how that could swallow some people up… Was that part of what they claimed a “soul” was? A hard core of identity that let those who possessed it resist complete transformation and immersion?

He would have to escort a few of the soulless from world to world and see what happened!

The Lady Istral was quite thoughtful… With her cursed wound in abeyance she could feel the injury to her power. She had been set on the path towards recovery, but only she had the power to chose her fate – to choose between the light and darkness – and heal herself.

Conley had overheard her wondering murmur.

(Conley) “Light and darkness? That is simply a matter of whether or not one has turned on a switch. If you have, there’s light. If you haven’t, then it’s dark.”

(Kevin) “Ah well. She had a spiritually-based injury, and required spiritual advice on it’s healing.”

(Marty) “I guess you could put it that way.”

Conley really had Marty befuddled! Was he becoming one of those pretentious people he used to pants back home?

(Kevin) And welcome to Cyrweld Mr Conley!

(Conley) Is this another one of those made up places?

(Marty) “Yeah, it is!”

(Conley) “Is it as ridiculous as the overgrown teacup?”

(Kevin) “This particular universe takes the form of a tree several billion miles tall, supporting a variety of civilizations on its branches, as well as on chunks of stone and metal like this one and on the flying turtles (some as large as Jupiter)… This particular chunk is somewhat larger than earth.”

(Conley) “So, the answer is yes.”

(Kevin) “As you can see up above, this particular area has it’s own tiny sun orbiting it and a couple of moons of it’s own… Why shouldn’t people live in places they think will be fun?”

(Conley) “So, if the place is imaginary, are the people? How many of them, percentage wise?”

(Kevin) “Here? The percentage of phantasms is quite small; only a few of the slaves and street kids. This universe is quite popular!”

(Conley) “Thank you then, for the kind welcome.”

Marty took a few moments out to check with the two Thralls Kevin had assigned to his little dragon project… He’d set them up with a small clan and some slaves and servants and a house and some money, so hopefully they could come up with enough explanations so they wouldn’t have to bail them out right away…

(Conley) So, is this where our fox lady lives?

(Kevin, bowing politely to Ms Istral) “I hope that we have been of some service. It was most pleasant to meet you! (and, to Conley) “And yes, Mrs Eight-and-a-Half hails from this universe.”

(Marty, also bowing) “Yeah, it was a pleasure.”

(Conley) “Nice to meet you.”

(Istral) “Yes, I have definitely been given much to think about. Entire disciplines and worlds out there I have never witnessed before is something to behold… And nice to meet all of you.”

(Kevin) (to Conley) “We’re here on a bit of a vacation! It makes it easier for the assassins and demon-fighters and exorcists and such to find us! It’s not sporting to move around TOO much when people are after you!”

(Conley) “And how many assassins, demonfighters and exorcists do you have after you?”

(Kevin) “Don’t know really… we’ve been moving around so much that they only very occasionally catch up!”

(Marty) “Yeah, we’re very busy guys. It’s rare for us to spend more than a week or two in one dimension!”

(Conley) “OK then.”

(Kevin) “Well, we did spend almost two weeks at the siege of Jerusalem!”

Evening was fast approaching, and the lights in the city were beginning to come on. The shoppers and traders had largely been replaced with people going to restaurants, a minor street festival in one corner of the city, a couple of shows, and a mage’s duel revving up in one of the main squares.

(Kevin) “Now, is there anything you’d like to do in particular Mr Conley? Since this is all new to you, it seems only fair to ask!”

(Conley) “Mostly explore I think. Check out the local area, might go to the festival and check out the local cuisine.”

Kevin was watching the duel preliminaries at the moment – he wanted to at least see what the local preliminaries were – but staggered a bit at that line. Go to a street festival to check out the local cuisine? It was a carnival! Cheap sweets, unidentified bits of fried stuff, and hot sausages on sticks would be about the limit!

Still, he could check out the duel along the way!

Marty was more than willing to go along with that plan! A street festival was always good fun!

(Conley) “Then I might check out local libraries. See what the local fauna is like.”

(Kevin) Well, the first wildlife is on the streets!

He headed for the duel. It should be a good show, even if – or perhaps especially if – it was just a diversion for some pocket-picking.

(Conley) “Well, I was referring to the things that weren’t considered ‘people’.”

(Kevin) “Oh! Well, there are lots of normal animals, and lots of weird things! We’ll get some books! Manuals for adventurers usually cover a lot of the more interesting ones! We can stop by a bookseller on the way to the duel and carnival!”

(Conley) “Sounds like a plan.”

Kevin made sure that his pockets were well stocked with the magical snack-food purses.

The first bookseller on the way was a rustic place owned and operated by an elderly owl.

(Owl) “Is there anything in particular you are looking for that I can help you find?”

(Conley) “I’m interested in books on the animal life of this realm. With a focus on those who are considered dangerous, including extinct ones. Additionally, I’m looking for books on mysticism as it applies to said animals.”

(Owl) “We have plenty of those, there is Notch’s book on The Creation of the World and It’s Inhabitants, Klithe’s book on Dangerous Fauna and Their Habits, Extinct Creatures of Legend and Legacies by Formath is also good.”

(Conley) “Sounds good. And while we’re on that, what do you have in the way of texts on myths, legends, gods, etc. Include current religions.”

(Owl) “Of those there are also plenty. Most consider Brady’s History of the Cities of the Coast to be the definitive work on the subject.”

(Conley) “Excellent! I think those will be enough light reading for tonight.”

(Owl) “Anything else I can do for you at this time?”

(Conley) “Nope, just those for now.”

The Owl scribbled some notes into a book and then manipulated an abacus for a few moments…

(Owl) “That will be 150 Zenni then.”

Conley swore to himself. Drat it! He’d forgotten that money might be different here!

(Kevin, producing money) “Hm. If we’re doing books… Whatever your top twenty most definitive books are!”

(Marty) “And I’ll take a book on local history!”

The Owl’s eyes lit up at that

(Owl) “Very well then, let me go collect an excellent sampling of the material!”

(Kevin, to Conley) “Not to worry! I’ve got lots of cash!”

(Conley) So, what is the local currency like?

(Kevin) “It’s coins made of a magically-charged alloy, it can be used to make enchantments easily! Very handy!”

(Conley, frowning…) “OK. That’s going to be somewhat harder to duplicate.”

(Kevin) “Not to worry! We brought in a big cargo of treasure to fund our vacation, so there are several million available…”

(Conley) “So how well do items go back and forth? For instance, moving a mountain of materials from a freshly made realm to an established?”

(Marty) “It depends on the materials and the realms. If you move a magic sword to a nonmagical realm, it’s just a really nice-looking sword, for instance.”

(Kevin) “There really isn’t any problem unless the materials aren’t compatible with the new dimension, in which case things can get weird. If you’re moving exotic matter around, it might blow up, or become radioactive, or turn into pure fire, or something.  If it’s creatures, you usually just get something equivalent”

Conley had just been wondering what would happen if he wanted to shift to the local equivalent of something nasty from elsewhere – but it sounded like it would be roughly equivalent. That was sensible enough if this universe really did work the way that the people who’d… imagined the place thought that it SHOULD work. Tailoring even a pocket dimension that way took monstrous power though! Magic or psionics at the archmage or grandmaster level!

And… this pair claimed that creating universes that was a power that having a “soul” let you use without even knowing it – and that there were higher orders of powers available.

(Marty) “This one time, we went to this… steampunk?… dimension. It turned my blaster pistol into some kind of steam gun.”

The owl returned after a few minutes with several stacks of books.

(Owl) “Now, I figured you would like a copy of Hasting’s Magical and Psionic Codex and Appendices. It is substantially pricier given the magical and psionic formula present in it, but is almost universally consider The Definitive work on the nature of Magic and Psionics. I even here our illustrious Lady Istral was the last to edit it and made numerous additions of her own to the work.”

(Conley) “Sounds intriguing.”

(Owl) “If the price is considered a bit much, I can find another work more cost conscious.”

(Kevin) “Not to worry! What does it all come to?”

Hm. The bookseller was busily working the abacus again. He might be taking a month off here. They were probably cleaning out his supplies rather nicely.

(Owl) “That will come to a grand total of 11,517 Zenni.”

(Kevin) “Oh well! Here’s 12,000, consider it a tip since we’re in a rush and have no time for change!”

Kevin started hauling out stacks of 120-Zenni trade-bars.

The Owl looked very impressed at the display of money.

(Owl) “Thank you for your business! Can I get someone to deliver the books for you?”

Kevin called the servants and had them load the books in the sedan chair. He’d been walking anyway, since he had Mr Conley to talk to – and Marty was still enjoying flitting about.

(Kevin) “Thank you for your advice on the selection!”

(Owl) “You are welcome, and I hope to do business with you in the future.”

(Kevin) “Perhaps in a week or two! Or maybe tomorrow, you never know!”

The duel was almost ready to begin, and wasn’t much further along… Only a few blocks. It seemed to be between two rival Canines fighting over the affections of a female.)

(Marty) “Oh, of course. Fight to prove your enemy can’t handle the lady.”

Kevin thought that sexual rivalries were always dramatic, and promptly asked the local Thralls if there was some sort of obligation on the females part, or was she free to look over the two battered combatants and say “You Morons!” and stalk off?

Huh. She was free to declare them both morons and stalk off. That would be funny!

Ah, it looked like she was actually trying to get one of the duelists to back down and walk away – but he wasn’t listening.

Hm… It seemed that the other male had been aggressive, persistent, and more than a bit condescending to her and derogatory to him. The general consensus seemed to be that the one who was defending her was going to get overpowered quickly – probably within a few seconds after the mages had finished setting up the dueling circle in the plaza. One was placing blue dust in a perfect circle while another one followed along behind, scribing symbols into the dust. Everyone was advised to stay outside the line – or risk becoming a participant.

(Kevin, who was unable to resist, loudly) “So who’s the arrogant obnoxious fathead who can’t find a woman who actually wants him and is resorting to pestering people who are actually mature enough to handle a relationship?”

He didn’t know what the local ethics on provoking one of the participants in a duel before it started, but the one fellow had obviously been doing it to someone else.

Marty didn’t try to stop him. He agreed! If you wanted a woman, you had to treat her like she meant something, not like a little kid grabbing for a prize! Kevin was a terrible meddler, but it looked justified to him this time around.

The aggressor Wolf looked at Kevin for a moment.

(Wolf) “What business is this of yours? Can’t you see this is between me and the pup that doesn’t know his place?”

(Kevin) “So you think of him as a pup? And you’re still attacking him? Over a woman who doesn’t want you? I’m SO impressed. I presume you’ll be pummeling infants next?”

(Marty) “Or taking eggs from mother parrots and making omelets.”

(Conley) “What’s wrong with… oh, right. Here that’s bad.”

(Wolf) “If you are really set on standing in for the pup, then feel free to enter the duel on his behalf. I’ve been meaning to try out some new ideas on someone anyway.”

Kevin strode forward and lifted the young man out of the area.

Marty was inclined to interfere as well – but wouldn’t unless a second participant sided with the aggressor wolf. Dueling seemed to work somewhat like it did in human history; so tag-teaming the guy wouldn’t work. Several to one was unfair.

According to some quick queries to the local Thralls, this was one Antonio Cadnor – an up-and-coming prodigy / post-graduate student /master at one of the Magical Academies and considered well on his way to becoming an Archmage (if he wasn’t there already). He was well versed in boosting spells and manipulating them to penetrate defenses or resistances on the fly. He was even rumored to have fired off a spell through an antimagic sphere without breaking it. He was highly aggressive and competitive and had come to view getting a privileged position as a right – as opposed to something to be earned. The duel was not officially to the death, although it sometimes happened. Killing the mages protecting the public or the public was considered a capital offense. Some of the higher level mage duels resulted in the loser getting stripped of their powers for a time determined by the victor. Physical actions were allowed, but mages were usually trying to show off their magical abilities anyway. There were two basic forms; the first was a formal exchange of spells one at a time, the second was an informal free for all. The Referee Magi would try to keep the duel within the magical arena, but they had been shown to have limits on what they could handle. The “Begin” signal would be one of the referees casting a light spell. There were normally only two participants, because the referees could only ensure that they could contain two mages. More than that would stress their ability to hold the barrier.

It was really too bad that there wasn’t room for more duelists! Marty wasn’t as big on wanton violence as he used to be, but this didn’t seem quite so unnecessary. Still, the kid didn’t get to do much fighting, so it was – in a way – his turn.

Conley actually approved as well. Bullying people – whether through religion, magic, or social power – simply wasn’t right.

The young woman was very happy indeed to have her friend be ejected from the circle, and began scolding him soundly.

With that, the referees finished setting up their circle.

(Referee) “Now, will the participants please enter the barrier? Enter at your own risk as the barrier will not let you out until a victor has been decided. Disrupting the barrier or attacking anyone outside it is strictly prohibited. Do you wish to make this a Formal or Informal Duel?”

(Kevin) “Oh, Informal! It’s more fun and – besides – it can hardly be formal, we’ve never been introduced! Not that I really care to be introduced to this fellow…”

(Referee) “Very well then, since a challenge has been made, and the challenge has been accepted, an informal style duel will commence. Will the participants please enter the arena created?”

Kevin and Cadnor entered the arena. The circle of dust illuminated and generated a translucent blue sphere around them with a radius of some thirty feet.

(Referee) “The duel will now commence when I give the signal.”

Cadnor actually managed to go first! Kevin was pleased! Cadnor evidently had excellent reflexes and this might really be challenging! It looked like he was… Oh! Raising a psionically-generated antimagic sphere that he could manipulate on the fly, then tossing a massively-boosted fireball out of it towards him, and then… raising a force wall between them! Quite impressive!

He warped time a bit to throw up a defensive spell – a massively powerful absorber of incoming magic, drawing on his mastery of negative energy and mana reserves.

(Kevin) “Descend Star of Nightfall!”

The whirling vortex of darkness dimmed the sunlight around and disenchanted the cobblestones of the street as it drained magic from the circle… It couldn’t directly negate an antimagic sphere, but it could – and did – neutralize anything that came out of it unless the guy was good enough to make it unabsorbable – at least until it was full up.

Marty wished he knew more magic theory! It would probably be even cooler!

Wait, this was twice that he’d watched Kevin fight recently! Once with words, once with magic!

(Kevin) “Snap of the Void!”

An ongoing disintegration of anything within the shield except Kevin himself (and the stuff inside the antimagic sphere) left Kevin airwalking, the entire area in a vacuum as the air rushed out of the antimagic sphere (hooray for Smartclothes!), and the lump of pavement falling under Cadnor’s feet. Having nothing to breathe should hinder his spellcasting – and talking, and any possible attempts to surrender…

Cadnor managed to retain his balance as the lump of pavement he was standing on hit the bottom of the barrier. Magical and psionic energies twisted oddly as he opened a gate – allowing a stream of air to rush into the barrier as an angry Centaur Lion hybrid came through wielding a large club, fell to Cadnor’s control, and focused on Kevin.

Unfortunately, the continuing Snap of the Void turned the air from the gate into a hurricane wind that vanished – and began eating away at the centaur-lion.

Kevin simply switched to witchcraft to penetrate the Antimagic Sphere – and flipped the lump of pavement over on top of Cadnor and melted it down into a red-hot mold for him. It really wasn’t all that hot – it was only Witchfire remolding it, not true heat – but it would still be pretty awkward for Cadnor. Of course, if Cadnor dropped the sphere, the molten shell around him would disintegrate – but that was his decision.

Thankfully for Cadnor, he managed to fire off a telekinetic shield inside his own antimagic sphere – which caused the molten rock to encase him without touching him. The radiant heat would cause issues in moments – but for the moment he was simply trapped in a molten lump at the bottom of the barrier. Still, at least he had something to breathe, even if he was overheated.

The unfortunate lion centaur was attempting to howling in pain as it thrashed around wildly – expiring and fading into dust without managing anything more than hammering on the shield and the molten lump of rock to little effect.

(Kevin, on the private links to Marty and Conley) “Hey Marty? Since he wants to fool around with gates, shall I fill the inside of his sphere with boiling nitric acid?”

(Marty) “That’s sadistic, don’t you think, Kevin?”

(Kevin) “Well, it would get him out of it wouldn’t it?”

Conley though it was in interesting idea, and was waiting to see the result.

(Marty) “Yeah, but don’t you want to toy with him a bit longer? Really humiliate him!)”

(Kevin) “OK, ok… No nitric acid.”

He filled the inside of the shield with heated Tear Gas, Itching Powder, and Pepper Spray – still enough to leave nothing else to breathe. That should inconvenience him!

That resulted in the barrier dropping in short order – and the mage-referees declaring a victory, although they seemed to be more than a bit surprised at the outcome and the amount of power that had been used.

Cadnor was still encased in a lump of rapidly cooling stone at the bottom of the pit. Well, hopefully he was still alive.

(Marty) “Congratulations, Angkor! That’ll make him think about picking on people weaker than him!”

Kevin prepared to dissipate unpleasant anything left inside and cracked open the stone…

It was only a bit of tear gas, and that was easy enough to dissipate. Cadnor was still alive, although only thanks to a combination of the antimagic shell, an environment effect, and metabolic stasis.

Kevin was pleased. He prepared to restrain Cadnor if necessary (it wasn’t; it looked like the conditional triggers to pull him out of the metabolic stasis hadn’t activated yet, so he was largely unresponsive),  removed the antimagic – and started laying massively powerful curses…

  • I curse you with an inability to use your magic to harm anyone you hold in contempt unless they are attacking you.
  • I curse you with compassion. Unless you use at least a third of your magic helping others without seeking payment, your power will not return to you the next day.
  • I curse you with respect. Unless someone else truly wants to share themselves with you freely and without coercion, you will be impotent and uninterested.
  • I curse you with an inability to make any voluntary attempt to have these curses removed.
  • I curse you that you must always tailor your antimagical, dispelling, and protective effects to keep them from affecting these curses.

It took some work to make sure that all of those stuck really well; the psionic parts of the pests mind kept trying to wriggle free. Still, liberal applications of raw power could solve that problem. He might find a way around them eventually – but by then he might actually have found that people liked him a lot better. That level of curse would be hard enough to get rid of to restrain him for quite awhile.

(Marty, privately) “Ouch! That’ll definitely show him! Doing good in evil ways are we?”

Conley was mildly amused. Social engineering, one deviant at a time!

(Kevin, stretching, paying for the hole in the street, and congratulating the young man) “That was fun!”

Hm. It looked like… the Judges were quite impressed by the display of power and control. They hadn’t expected “Angkor” to be able to overwhelm Cadnor so readily – if at all. The curses did have them a bit concerned though; that level of “fate manipulation” was very rare in their experience. They’d probably be keeping an eye on him – or at least be passing their impressions to the city guard.

Most of the observers… were rather pleased to see Cadnor get trashed – evidently he was pretty unpopular – but they were a bit startled that anyone had managed it. He was apparently popularly regarded as a near-archmage and dueling specialist.

Kevin was a bit relieved. He’d started wondering after he’d started if laying curses like that would violate the local rules about compulsions even as a duel-aftermath – but apparently it was acceptable.

Oh well! In just a few minutes he’d made enough of a spectacle of himself for a few hours! Off to the street festival!

They might be seeing more of Cadnor later on – although whether or not he’d have a change of attitude remained to be seen – sometime later. He really did have rather a lot of power, on both the magical and psionic level. Still, curses on the power level he’d used would require intervention by another god, or some mighty quest, or some such to remove – which would at least keep Cadnor out of their hair for a bit unless he realized that he wasn’t forbidden to attack anyone he respected…

(Kevin, privately) “Hey Marty! Do you think we may have spoiled our game with the otters a bit? They’re sure to hear about this and get some reports – even if the protection barrier may have kept most of the crowd from seeing exactly what went on!”

(Marty, privately) “Maybe, but we were going up against a noble house there, and you do have a hard time not flaunting your power around here. I’m sure they would have found out one of these days.”

(Kevin) “True enough… We are certainly showing every single local power symptom. I suppose this just says that we aren’t faking any of them.”

(Marty) “Well, we might want to watch out for this one, then. Let’s hope the otters don’t get him involved in our little voyage! Besides… you might want to hold back a bit for awhile. You’ve been going more than a bit wild there”

(Kevin) “But it’s fun to be all fighty for once!… Oh, all right.”

After all, if MARTY thought he’s going overboard with the violence, he was probably already three miles behind the ship and a hundred feet down.

The street festival was celebrating some ancient event of other. Most of the people they talked to gave them different stories regarding the origin and nature of the celebration – but they all agreed that the origin wasn’t as important as enjoying themselves was. There were performers, music, food, games, contests, dancing – and lots of alcohol – to be had.

Marty got himself a string of drinks and set out to see what kind of contests they were having!

The contests included races, brawling, feats of strength, drinking, and “sociability”.

While Kevin went looking for things to eat, and Conley started paging through a few of his new books (finding out where he was seemed like it should have a decent priority) Marty set out to find out what the “sociability” contest was about.

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