Aberrant to Trinity – Magnus Varr

BSI 3x3

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And here, for Aberrant and Trinity, we have Magnus Varr – an Olympian Undercover Agent. As befits someone extensively augmented by Nova technologies, he’s extremely powerful compared to a normal human, and quite powerful compared to your basic psion – but he’s no match for a high-powered Aberrant or Nova, while a psion is far more flexible – and may well outgrow him in the end; gadgets generally don’t improve with experience.

Origin: Magnus was eight years old when Prometheus led the exodus from earth – and grew up exploring the frontiers of a new world – and needed the services of search-and-rescue several times. Like every other kid on New Olympus he started anagathic treatments to slow his aging at eighteen. He, however, signed up for his mandatory six-year term in the security services right away instead of waiting for a bit.

Given his existing aptitudes and experiences, he easily obtained an assignment doing search-and-rescue himself – and quite enjoyed it. When his term was up, he opted to re-enlist, and continue his work as a career non-commissioned officer.

When the rise of the Psions and return of the Aberrants called for an increased presence on Earth, he volunteered for the assignment, underwent additional training and augmentation, and went in under cover as a mercenary and bodyguard. Now 30’ish and prematurely greying, he’s one of nature’s born sergeants.

In the original game, a new Psion character, nervous about an “educational caravan” trip into the badlands, hired Magnus as a bodyguard. After the trip was over, that psion was assigned “on loan” to another psion order for a special investigation, and towed Magnus along.

Thanks to some confusion in the paperwork, it was quite some time before that order realized that Magnus wasn’t a psion and didn’t work for them.

Nature: Critic (Most of the time), Leader (Combat situations). From a world of Nova’s, he’s used to deferring to expertise.

Allegiance: The Knights Of Olympus and Humanity at Large. He is currently infiltrating Orgotek.

Attributes (7/5/3):

  • Str ** (7), Per **+, App *, Willpower ***** **
  • Dex ***++, Int **+, Man **+, Psi xxxxx **
  • Sta *****, Wit ****, Cha ***+, Initiative 10

Qualities: Str; Athletic, Dex; Coordinated, Sta; Resilient, Wit; Level-Headed, and Cha; Commanding.

Abilities (23): Athletics***+, Brawl ****+, Command ****+, Firearms ****+, Medicine **+, Melee ****+, Might **+, Resistance **+, and Stealth **+.

Movement 5/17/35

Bonus Points (15): +7 Backgrounds (7), +2 Willpower (4), Specialities; Brawl/Commando Training, Melee/Bo-jutsu, and Firearms/Multiple Fire (3), Ambidextrous (No offhand penalty, +1D for 2-hand attacks, 1), Combat Reflexes (Roll 2D for initiative and select result, 2), +1 Ability (2), Olympus Operative (QV, -3), Intensive Training (Base skills max at 4, 2), Latent Psion (Character has no active psionic modes. Even if his potential is somehow triggered later he will have to be trained and/or buy them starting from zero. Thanks to his devices (QV) this is especially unlikely in his case, -4), and +1 Initiative (1).

Backgrounds (7) : Resources 3 (5 for obtaining gear only, 4), Device(s) 6 (four L5 devices; see device packages below, 6), Allies 1 (Paladin; Olympus Agent Director; very powerful, but virtually never available undercover, 1), Citizenship 2 (the Federated States of America, the United African Nations, and India, 2), Contacts 1 (mercenaries and weapons suppliers, 1)

Device Packages:

  • 1x L5 : Nanite Augmentation.
  • 1x L5 as 4x L4: Implanted Computer, “Skillwires”, Bell Theorem Inseparability Link, and Chemical Synthesizer.
  • 1x L5 as; 3x L4 (ECM Cloak, Endocrine Adjustment* and an Earth Identity), 3x L3 (Archimedes, Phermonal Enhancement, Psiscreen*), 3x L2 (Smartgun Link, Retinal Enhancement, Linecaster), and 4x L1 (Internal Medical Sensors, Hypnotic Shield, Longevity Treatment*, and Faraday Shielding).
  • 1x L5: Reserved for GM whimsy, unknown implants, probably some sort of suicide/memory-wipe security implant, or whatever item(s) the GM feels like adding.

Device V : Nanite Augmentation

  • While roughly equivalent to a “standard” hardtech VARG (Device III) this network of smart microtronic fibers, subcellular nanite organelles, and force field-based microdevices, integrates itself into the user’s body – making it’s bonuses more-or-less inherent. Of course, any “display” of these capabilities would be virtually impossible to explain, so he attempts to avoid it at all costs…
  • Statistics: Str +3 (6), Soak +2/+4 (6), HTH Str+2L or Str+4B when unarmed, Run/Jump/Etc x5, 48 Hr Life Support, Sensors 4 (IR/ UV/Low-Light/Flare Compensation, Life-Sign [Mainly used to locate pre-eruption Novas, Aberrent intrusions, and people in the area], Radiation and Tactical [Energy sources and objects in the immediate area. Makes him hard to blindside]. Unlike a standard VARG, there is no radar system), Plasma Cannon (8 Shots available, recharge 1 per hour, 10D+10 Damage, use Firearms to attack, LOS range. Not a subtle effect, primarily for emergency anti-aberrent use), GPS, and Communications (A a radio link).

Yes, that does make him a light-duty walking tank. Now, this sort of gear is available to other characters – and more cheaply – but he’s paying extra to be able to hide it and “wear it” all the time. Of course, if he ever has to really rely on those enhancements, and reveals anything close to their true extent, he’s probably blown his cover.

Other Devices:

  • Archimedes; Archimedes is a standard Olympian Computer Agent. Performance 7. Applications; Computers 4, Mathematics 3, Espionage 4, Tactics 4, Law 2, Culture 2, Current Events 1, Linguistics 2, Electronics 3, Research 2, Quick Search 2, Medicine 4, and Mechanics 3.
  • Bell Theorem Inseparability Link (to the Aegis Network); Two objects, once linked, remain permanently linked by quantum wave functions. Sadly, using this link for the instantaneous transmission of data requires some way to control quantum events – such as Nova powers or devices or quantakinesis. Basically this is an undetectable and instantaneous link into the Aegis Network on Olympus. Indirectly it can also be used to link back into the OpNet – or to allow an Olympus-based hacker to get into a system Magnus has physically accessed.
  • Chemical Synthesizer; This is usually run by Archimedes, using it’s medical and chemical database. It can dispense chemicals into the user’s bloodstream or through pressure-injector channels under the fingernails, and can also analyze chemicals drawn from those locations (allowing it to dispense antidotes and such). Quantities are, of course, very limited, but the required amounts for drugs, toxins, and assorted other biochemicals are very small. “Common” applications include; personal medical treatment, painkillers (Negate wound penalties), stimulants (Either long-term [but low grade] or briefly boost Str [+2], Sta [+1], and Actions [Extra action at 1/2 initiative without splitting dice pools] for [Successes] turns. This causes a major strain on the user’s body; 1D bashing damage against Stamina soak ONLY per prior use in previous 24 hours when coming down), and many other tricks. QV; “Resistance”.
  • Earth Identity; Magnus has a through set of false/coopted records. There are some blank spots – but that’s not uncommon, and there are no “real” records to uncover. This is NOT the same as the “cipher” background; it’s fairly easy to get his official biography. It’s just that the early section never really happened.
  • ECM Cloak; This is basically equivalent to the electronic warfare suite of the “Spirit Warrior” / Kami-Hei-Bushi VARG. It provides “+3” difficulty versus instrumental detection and targeting and +2 dificulty versus EM disruption. While this is normally only relevant on battlefields, it can be used to simply interfere with evesdropping, bugging, and so on, if you want to have a private conversation.
  • Endocrine Adjustment*; This bioapp adjusts the user’s body and metabolism for optimum operation. Unformatted it provides a “+1” boost to any two physical attributes. Formatted it provides a +2 boost to two physical attributes and a +1 boost to two mental ones. In either case, the maximum limit is 5. Mass -, Tolerance */***.
  • Faraday Shielding; This is actually just a note. His “armor” protects him against electrical/EMP and external/internal thermal effects, as well as against direct physical injuries.
  • Fighting Staff; A collapsible metal staff. It extends, collapses, or extends a naginata blade, as triggered by the weilder. Str+7D B as a staff, Str+5D10 L with blade extended. Magnus generally prefers to stick with knocking people out as opposed to killing anyone.
  • Hypnotic Shield; These cultivated neural patches provide +2 difficulty on any and all attempts – including interrogation, mental probes, and drugs – to get information out of him.
  • Implant Computer; Standard functions plus; neural interface, a sensory-feed/pickup display/input system, 500 B storage, a cellular uplink/wireless interface, a fiberobtic probe/datalink and various internal sensors. High resources provide a +1 rating bonus to any Agent used on the system. The interface may, at least in theory, confuse telepaths and electrokinetics – but it’s never been tested.
  • Internal Medical Sensors; These monitor his health, including checking for diseases, drugs and toxins, and gross physical damage.
  • Linecaster; Spins a monofilament line from fast polymers, with a reaction pressure that can hurl the resulting line fifty meters. Due to incomplete boundary polymerization the resulting line is “sticky” for several seconds afterwards. The line can support up to 250 kilograms, and is often used to tie things together, swing across gaps, climb walls, snatch things (using the rewinder), or to tie people up.
  • Longevity Treatment; This is a standard medical benefit for citizens of New Olympus and drastically reduces the aging rate. Sadly, in game terms, this really has no relevant game effectsl few RPG’s go on long enough for the characters to age very much.
  • Pheromonal Enhancement*; Actually more of a confidence building placebo, this does provide a notable improvement in your “social” attributes (+1 to Manipulation and Charisma). Mass -, Tolerance *.
  • Psiscreen*; This subdermal fiber network simply has it’s own – clashing – neotic “signature”. This makes it hard for more subtle psionic applications to “focus” on the user (+3 Difficulty versus Telepathy and Clairvoyance. “Throwing” one of your own Psi points into the network generates a short-term (2D10 turns) burst of psi “noise” in a five meter radius; +6 difficulty vrs Telepathy/Clairvoyance, +3 vrs any other “projected” effects). Tolerance 0, obviously can not be attuned. Can be used defensively without an action at any time.
  • Retinal Enhancement; Extended visual spectrum and sensetivity, with overload cutoffs. Provides IR/UV/Light Amplification and Flash Protection functions. (Yes, this does overlap with his VARG bonuses. He had this particular enhancement long before he qualified for that one).
  • Skillwires; Provides a +2D bonus on unskilled activities and +1D on those in which the user is a novice. There is no bonus if the user is practiced or better. This expert “instruction” does make it easier to develop abilities – the first dot “purchased” grants the user “practiced” status. While these benefits only apply if and when an appropriate skill program is available, these aren’t hard to come by.
  • Smartgun Link; Basically an Electronic Combat Sight (QV). +4D for visual perception and firearm rolls.
  • Warp Anchor; Acts as a focus for the “Warp” power, drastically reducing the strain, difficulty, and energy-signature, of opening a warp to the user’s location for Nova’s who are properly attuned to the device… The radius of detection is reduced to 50/1 KM in space/planetary environments.

“Cyberware” has advantages; it has no encumberance (+1 “device point”), is concealed (+1), and is mentally controlled (Thru some form of neural connection, not a neotic link. +1). Disadvantages include making it harder (+2 difficulty) for physicians and vita- kinetics to treat you unless they have details on the items (-1), reducing your psionic strength (a -2 penalty on Psi points, -1) and is both difficult to explain and socially unacceptable (No direct game effect but potentially bothersome). It also tends to disrupt any attempt to undergo the “Prometheus Process” (the name is unrelated to the Professor). Overall a cybersystem costs one more device point then a similar external item.

As nanoware systems, Magnus’s cyberware is self-repairing, has a fail-safe rating of 9, and is moderately difficult to detect by anything short of a full exam.

In the original game, Magnus was more-or-less destined for martyrdom. Given his personality and the escalating Aberrant attacks against Earth, he was almost certainly going to die pulling the “lone guardian at the gate” or “valiant rear guard fights to the last” sort of shtick – and his sacrifice would hopefully help unite the Psions of Earth and the Novas of New Olympus against the various threats to humanity of the Trinity universe.

Until then, of course, he wanted to keep almost all of his enhancements secret while spying on the psion orders – which sometimes made his life quite awkward.

Aberrant to Trinity: Professor Prometheus and New Olympus

English: "Prometheus Bound", part of...

 

There’s a major problem with a lot of settings. They feature super-intelligent geniuses, people with inhuman scientific skills, psychologists with near-total understanding of the human mind, incredible artificial intelligences, and often even the ability to entirely rebuild the human brain – and yet the vast majority of the organizations and groups in such settings are following plans of action that would not get past your average six year old. No one seems to have read the Evil Overlord List. Even those few planners in the setting who show some trace of competence never do anything really subtle or clever.

There’s a reason for that of course. Neither the writers (or, in RPG settings, the game masters or players) have superhuman intellects to start with. More insidiously, the writers don’t want to make their audience feel stupid or lost – and so (unlike the situation in many mystery stories) they make their plots simple and blatantly obvious. In a few settings – mostly those where the PC’s are supposed to be the unquestioned stars and plot-drivers – this gets taken to the point of insanity; and every NPC plan is made so idiotic (and doomed to failure) that anything the players come up with short of “I hammer nails into my eyes!” is bound to be better.

That does accomplish what it’s supposed to, but it makes most of the background materials for such settings pretty unbelievable when you sit down and think about them – and it tends to get worse with every adventure and expansion.

Ergo, here we have a character for White Wolf’s Aberrant system – and a background element and organization for Trinity games – who isn’t quite so incompetent. I can’t claim that the Professor’s plans and responses are really up to what his superhuman intellect would justify – but at least they’re reasonably sensible.

Aberrant – Professor Prometheus, Leader Of The Olympians

To Dr. Edari the conclusion was as obvious as it was sad; human society as it was could not possibly withstand the pressures that vast disparities of personal power would introduce. It had enough trouble dealing with normal human beings… It might be that something stable would arise – possibly driven by the same Nova’s that were driving the existing social order towards total collapse – but despite sleepless nights spent on the problem, he could say little about what form that collapse might take, and nothing about what might come after it. Neither psychology nor sociology was an exact science.

One day, when he awoke, he found that suddenly things were a lot clearer.

It was all too obvious that he had joined the ranks of the Nova’s – his incredibly expanded intellect left him with few illusions about himself – but he now saw the more inevitable portions of the future clearly – at least in broad outline.

The seeds of conflict had already been sown. It was already too late to prevent a major social breakdown. Power in the hands of madmen would almost inevitably lead to war. Some major stroke of fortune might prevent that – but such good fortune was wildly unlikely.

Still… Some of the damage could still be mitigated. Many of the wonders of the Nova Age could be preserved out in the galaxy, if not on Earth. Guardians could be set up, and a refuge could be prepared.

He set out to arrange it.

Professor Prometheus

Attributes (7/5/3) :

  • Strength 2, Perception 5, Appearance 2
  • Dexterity 6, Intelligence 10, Manipulation 5
  • Stamina 6, Wits 5, Charisma 2

Qualities: Dex; Coordinated, Sta; Resilient, Per; Observant, Int; Inventive, Wit; Creative, and Cha; Eloquent.

Special Attributes (Starting Quantum 1, Will 3) :

  • Quantum 7, Quantum Pool 34
  • Taint 4 (Silver Eyes), Will 5,
  • Lethal Soak 8, Bashing Soak 12

Abilities (23): Academics 5, Bureaucracy 5, Command 5, Computer 5, Drive 1, Endurance (3), Engineering 5, Firearms 5, Intrusion 5, Legerdemain 5, Melee 2, Pilot 1, Medicine 5, Resistance (3), Science 5, Investigation 5.

Backgrounds (7): Resources 5, Contacts 1 (Component Suppliers), and Backing 1 (College Professor with Tenure).

Bonus Points (22): Quantum +3 (21) and Speciality/Gadgeteering (1).

Quantum Points (30): Mega-Intelligence (5) (Mental Prodigy/Engineering, 15), Enhanced Attributes (+12 Points, 4), Enhanced Background (Eufiber, 5) (1), Enhanced Abilities +36 Points (5), Quantum +1 (Tainted, 3), Willpower +1 (1).

Experience Expenditures (36): Mega-Stamina 1 (Adaptability) (6), Mega-Dexterity 1 (Fast Tasks/Hyperspeed Gadgeteering, roll 1/hour instead of 1/day. Not usable for other purposes) (6), Extra Enhancements: Mental Prodigy; Medical and Scientific, Hyper-Deduction, and Stamina/Regeneration (20), Node 2 (4), and Willpower +1 (4).

Disadvantages (-7): Cannot buy quantum powers other then mega-attributes. Must create gadgets instead. -7

Automatic Development (To Trinity Aberrent Baseline): Quantum +2 (No Cost).

If you want to use the Professor, add additional abilities as seems appropriate; this is a bare-bones framework. He will usually be equipped with a variety of powerful defensive, offensive, and utility, devices.

Trinity and New Olympus

Doctor Edari – better known now as Professor Prometheus – had, as always, been right… The Aberrent attacks had been the final blow to a tolerance already stressed by cults, fantastic (and sometimes unreliable) technologies, and the excesses of the odder Novas. A new dark age was coming. It would be at least a century before the hatred of the Aberrent’s would wane – and all Nova’s would be included in that hatred. In the interim, 99.9% or more of the Nova-created technologies and advances would be lost as well, destroyed by the fearful.

If he and the rest of the benign Nova’s remained on Earth, the wars would not stop until mankind had regressed to the pre-industrial era.

It was time to leave.

His friends and allies were ready. The warp-gate was ready, the extra-solar base was ready, and the terraforming of their new world was almost complete. They would found a better world – and maintain a watch over the Earth.

There had been casualties amongst the Nippontai, Nordlysene, Team Australis, Team Tomorrow, and the other “superhero” groups – but most of the “quieter” researchers and non-combative Nova’s had survived by withdrawing to the lunar colonies. The final exodus from the solar system included nearly 150 Novas and 200,000 normal humans who had accepted the Professor’s vision.

On H97-X3 – now christened “New Olympus” – the colonists thrived. Thanks to the application of Nova technology to medicine, the original colonists are still (some sixty years later) alive, healthy, and producing the occasional child – having “aged” less than fifteen years – and the current population is approaching ten million.

While few “spontaneous” Novas have erupted, there are quite a few second generation – and some third generation – Novas around, as well as a few “Induced” Novas. Induced Nova’s are fairly rare however; only the most extensively-tested and reliable humans are even considered for the process. Psionics are known and understood as well (thanks to that super-enhanced intelligence some Nova’s have again), but are even rarer then quantum powers.

New Olympus has had agents on Earth (sometimes fancifully known as the “Knights of Olympus”) since before the Exodus. For good or ill, Nova’s had generally been far too well known to work undercover – so the first agents were simply trained human types with some equipment. Later on, New Olympus started providing their agents with technological enhancements or “cyberware”. A few of the quieter second-generation Nova’s – and even a Psiad or two – are available to back up the augmented human agents, but the rise of the Psion Orders have drastically limited their activities.

General Orders for Olympian agents operating in the solar system include;

  • Locate and evacuate new Nova’s, preferably before eruption.
  • Organize and assist in the defense against Aberrant attacks.
  • Obtain information on the goals and activities of the Psion Orders, Governments, Aliens, and almost anything else.
  • Subtly encourage the acceptance of Nova’s (and counteract the prevalent anti-aberrent propaganda/hysteria when possible).
  • Be one of the “Good Guys”. Assist and protect the “normal” population where feasible.
  • Recruit psions and other allies.
  • Maintain security. It is not yet time for formal contact.

Agents do get one special benefit; they may take the “device” background at up to level six – representing a set of level five gadgets since there are no level six items and have an easy explanation for where they came from. Being an Olympian Agent is still a “-3” disadvantage though; all those orders can be quite a pain sometimes.

“Cyberware” has advantages; it has no encumbrance (+1 “device point”), is concealed (+1), and is mentally controlled (via a neural connection, not via a neotic link. +1). It’s disadvantages include making it harder (+2 difficulty) for physicians and vita- kinetics to treat the user unless they have details on the items (-1), reducing the user’s psionic strength (a -2 penalty on Psi points, -1) and being both difficult to explain and socially unacceptable (no direct game effect but potentially bothersome). It also tends to disrupt any attempt to undergo the “Prometheus Process” (no relation). Overall a cybersystem costs one more device point then a similar external item.

Some specific devices commonly issued to agents will be included with the next post in this series – an agent character.

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 78a

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope color image of C...

Move over and let me drive! Look where the planet is now!

Up in orbit, Ben’s plan had not gone as hoped; the police had indeed responded to his request that they board his ship and arrest the Sith who’d hijacked it (and him!) – but his young Sith had left some minions to keep an eye out, and sneaking up on an orbiting ship was not easy.

They’d tried a tractor beam, but Ben’s ship had massive power reserves and very powerful drives; It was currently heading for the asteroid belt at nearly 80% of the speed of light with the police cruiser straining to keep up – despite the tractor beam. About the only good point was that the ship couldn’t jump to hyperspace while the tractor beam was on it…

They’d swiftly passed the maximum range of Ben’s reploid setup though; he didn’t have the massive hyperfields of the final empire to piggyback on.

That left him and his young Sith charge awakening to… a near-overloaded power plant, heated drives, straining shields, a ship under fire from the police cruiser’s ion cannons, a crew of droids, mercenaries, and a few other youngsters, and an asteroid belt less than two minutes away and them moving too fast to get a clean miss. Jumping to hyperspace would avoid the asteroids – but they couldn’t do that with that damned tractor beam on them!

Drat it! He should have known the local cops would hang on like grim death! To them, “Sith” + “Ben Therus” + “Near Alderaan” equaled “Potential Superweapon Attack!”.

Worse, the kid had gotten out a minute or two before he had – and was preparing to use his precognition to try and pick a path that would take them safely through the asteroid belt at near lightspeed. After all, he knew that “Other Sith” could do that (at least on the holos) and “therefore” he should be able to do it too! Besides, he couldn’t foresee any disastrous consequences from making the attempt!

Bens quick estimate of the odds of success on such a maneuver – given what he’d seen of the kids shaky grasp of his powers extent and limitations – suggested that the only reason why the kid didn’t foresee a resulting fiery explosive death was because HE was likely to do something!

He couldn’t get to hyperspace, fiery death was waiting in normalspace…

In the chaos, Ben hastily sidled towards the subspace drive – grabbing his personal thawing system and his clothes – with their powered thermal liner – off the rack along the way. If he crosswired the thawing signal to his own personal system, he could jump the ship to (probable) safety and still leave all these maniacs frozen!

It took some frantic rewiring – but with the “crew” manning the shields, lamenting the lack of guns, and trying to “assist” the kid with his “piloting trance”, some hasty excuses covered the few queries about what he was doing fooling with some obscure bit of apparatus.

He jumped with seconds to spare…

That left him… well outside the elliptic, about four light-hours from the local sun, aboard a ship that was barely above absolute zero, with a frozen toe (he’d been standing a bit wrong in the rush), and… still in something of a mess. Most of the ships systems wouldn’t work at such low temperatures, he was rapidly freezing to death as his body heat drained into the smog of supercooled (and slowly crystalizing) gases that had been the ship’s atmosphere – and if he reheated the ship so that things would work again, he’d once again have a Sith crew – and he’d flashboil himself unless he got outside the ship first!

Wait a moment… Getting outside the ship wasn’t a bad idea at all!

Ben hastily grapped a hypercom unit, warmed it to operating temperatures with his lightsaber hat, and got outside into the welcome insulation of space where he could call for help before he froze to death.

The military were by to collect him and his ship shortly thereafter

Meanwhile, back on Alderaan, Alys had been relaying the situation – including the use of Rakata weaponry – to Vi, and Vi had been explaining what kind of weaponry they were up against to the military… Fortunately, the military knew the JLA as a specialist command group that dealt with the Sith – even if a good many of their methods were pretty mysterious. Since there was a “Sith” problem in the city, the advice of a JLA command officer was well worth listening to.

The local commander had ordered the fighters out for an immediate stun-strafing of the city streets. There might be a few really big weapons down there – but it sounded like their operators were relatively unprotected. It was a rough way to restore order – but better a massive stun-headache than blown to bits by some maniac with a ridiculously powerful hand weapon.

Back on the surface, Alys picked up that order – and ducked under cover. The theater was handy since she’d been headed back there anyways – and, like every sizeable public building on Alderaan, it had it’s own internal riot-control and safety fields. Hm… With the power back on, she could probably control some of those…

And back with Kira…

I had just finished asking Alys to send a pickup for these Rakata I had incapacitated when suddenly I got the impression of incoming fire. Turning around to look behind me, I unfortunately got confirmation of that feeling in the form of two fighters coming in to do a strafing run on me and everything else in the area. Ben’s reploid along with that teenage Sith’s had both gone limp and fallen to the ground around that same time. Well, no point in saving soulless and brainless clones, but I really didn’t want the Republic fighters to accidently eliminate the Rakata in stasis or frozen. That meant dodging and taking the Rakata with me.

Damn it all.

Picking up a Rakata in each hand, I ran the ten meters to the edge of the city and leapt over the side. With the local explosions, the fall arresting shields were inoperable which neatly allowed me to dive straight into the river thirty meters below me. While it wasn’t the most graceful dive in history, it still got me out of the line of fire of those fighters doing their strafing run above me. As I put on my breath mask, I took stock of the situation. The river itself was still roiling from the holes blown in it earlier in the battle, and it took some effort to avoid the suction trying to pull me into the sinking mud, silt, and debris. I didn’t bother attempting to counter for the current slowly moving downstream for the time being though. Perhaps I would worry about it once I got to the point I was likely to drift pass the entire city, but not now.

It was with some annoyance that I impacted another shield system twenty meters downstream.

That system promptly scooped me and the two Rakata out of the water and then began making noises about calling medical droids to come check on me. Attempts to brush off the system resulted in the computer notifying me of a five credit fine for disobeying the “no swimming” signs and diving into the river. It then notified me that this was my first recorded offense as an adult and that I needed to think hard about the path my life if I was so willing to casually disregard the rules of society.

I really wanted to ram my fist into the computer for having the audacity to lecture me about a five credit fine.

At that point a team of medical droids arrived and started fussing over the two Rakata. Announcing that the one was “cryogenically” frozen while the other was in a metabolic stasis only increased the fuss as the droids then tried to shove both me and the Rakata into an ambulance to the hospital. Presuming that the fighting was already largely over except for the Republic military doing cleanup, I decided that it was less of a hassle to go along with the droids than to stand here arguing until the police and military arrived. This resulted in me being deposited at the hospital only minutes later with more droids and doctors fussing over me and the Rakata. I was busily trying to explain what was going on with the Rakata when another droid suddenly blocked my path.

(Droid) Sir, I am afraid I must insist that you disarm yourself immediately. This is a place of healing and we cannot have you taking those weapons into the hospital with you.

(Kira) Oh, for the love of…, I have a waiver from the military and the Jedi Council itself!

(Droid) I don’t care if the Supreme Chancellor himself gave you permission. You may not enter until you disarm.

(Kira) Ok fine.

At which point I began laying out my weapons on the table the droid had indicated. First there were the two Rakata weapons I had removed the power cells from, my own rifle, pistol, lightsabers, flamethrower, variable stars, subspace lance, glass packets, smoke pellets, explosive gel, glue spray, and bracer shields. The droid looked at the pile and somehow managed to give a look of incredible annoyance on that plastic face it had.

(Droid) Is that all?! Are you sure you don’t have plastic knives or something?

(Kira) Whoops, forgot those.

(Droid) Oh please don’t tell me you have monofilament wire in your hair, explosive fillings, razors hidden in your fingernails, or any other highly impractical weapons hidden about yourself?!

(Kira) Oh, I forgot the monofilament line in the bracer, let me take that off.

I could practically see the smoke come out of the side of it’s head.

(Droid) Anything else?!

(Kira) Well, I am fairly sure that I could use my boot as a lethal weapon just by hitting someone hard enough with it.

(Droid) This is nearly eighty kilograms worth of weaponry you are carrying! Don’t you think that is a little paranoid to say the least?! I don’t think the Jedi Council had this in mind when they gave you a waiver!

(Kira) Eighty kilograms, you’re exaggerating! I hardly felt that weight!

(Droid) You can see the scale readout here. It was calibrated this morning. See, if I add this ten kilogram weight, the scale output goes up an additional ten kilograms.

I found myself staring at the weight readout and the pile of weapons for a moment. I never really noticed just how much weight I had been carrying this whole time. I had just been adding the occasional item from time to time as I ran across something new. A number of those items had largely become obsolete given how my powers had developed too. Maybe it was time to reconsider consolidating things a bit. I know Valerie had been on my case about how much I was carrying these days.

The droid did another search of my person again for any other weapons but finally decided I was disarmed. I made sure it knew to keep my stuff safe in the meantime as I continued into the hospital to try and keep the doctors from reviving two Rakata without having any clue what they were getting into. I was busily trying to explain stasis belts to the doctors and droids when my commlink chirped.

It was about at that time that Alys realized that the RDF commanders had located Kira again – and were getting an assault using “top-level” weaponry organized.

While he was in a HOSPITAL? And disarmed?1? She passed THAT on to the military right away – and the local commander ordered Kira pulled out NOW.

(Kira) Yes?

(Alys) Kira, Republic soldiers are on their way to pick you up and evacuate you.

(Kira) What? I’m fine, I don’t need to be evacuated.

BOOM

At which point the wall beside me was blown out and soldiers started pouring through. The doctors’ attempts to protest were quickly silenced as the soldiers brandished their weapons in an effort to show they meant business. I got the impression that these guys were in an immense hurry.

(Soldier) Target acquired, beginning evacuation.

(Kira) I’m fine. No need to worry yourself with me.

(Soldier) Sorry sir, but I have orders. It looks like the enemy is bringing serious weaponry to get you and we can’t have a firefight in a hospital.

(Kira) Alright, but can I at least get my weapons first?

(Soldier) No time, but I will have another team retrieve them for you while we get you out.

At which point they practically pushed me out of the hospital and into an assault shuttle. We took off immediately – although they’d never actually touched down – and I found a corner to sit in while trying to look mildly annoyed. I could hear the soldiers arguing about who the enemy was and why they were targeting me, but the Censor made trying to explain anything but the simplest overview difficult at best. Finally I just resigned myself to sitting back and letting things take care of themselves. If they wanted to get panicky over a few RDF soldiers still running loose, more power to them. Besides, it looked like the RDF command staff had gone into hiding for the time being.

At which point I got the sudden precognitive warning that something very bad was about to happen to the shuttle and everyone in it. There wasn’t going to be time to do any careful thinking about whatever this threat was, but I could only think of one thing that might threaten a military shuttle of this class that quickly. Reaching out with the Force and the Codex, I grabbed a hold of the shuttle and everyone in it as I accelerated our timerate. Between the cries of shock from the soldiers and the fact that I could feel the deviation in our timerate and the planet’s, I could tell that the technique had been successful. I yelled at the pilot to take us aboard the command ship as we were about to be fired at with some serious weaponry. The pilot complied without questioning and took us into the open shuttle bay of the command ship hovering above the city.

From Alys’s point of view, the shuttle suddenly burst into a ball of fire, there was an explosive boom and a streak of flame across the sky – and the shuttle vanished utterly.

Blast it! Kira had better have teleported or shifted or something! If he’d gotten himself killed, she’d never forgive him!

The pilot started complaining once the shuttle started melting through the floor of the shuttle bay once we landed, but I ended the technique at that point and ignored the matter for the moment. At least a major capital ship’s shields should be able to handle Rakata rifles for quite some time, the RDF would be fools to engage a warship in an artillery duel anyway.

THWOOOOOOOOM

With the sound of a major impact on the shields, the ship lurged significantly. I nearly fell off my feet as I couldn’t see the lurch coming through precognition. The soldiers were visibly upset as they tried to get back to their feet.

(Soldier) Why couldn’t you be bait somewhere no one cares about, like Tatooine?!

(Kira) No one is looking for me on Tatooine! It’s hard to act as bait when no one knows where you are!

(Soldier) We could put out rumors and have paparazzi dedicated to just following you around!

(Kira) Do you realize just how many bounty hunters are on Tatooine?!

(Soldier) At least then you wouldn’t be my problem!

With that the ship lurged again and I heard the incredibly disconcerting sound of the shield failure klaxon. The ship started rocking hard almost nonstop at that point. Had another ship entered the fray or something? Wait, they wouldn’t dare use the Hyperstrike technique in conjunction with Rakata weaponry would they? Of all the incredibly suicidal things…..

With that a hull breach klaxon pretty much overrode all sound aboard the ship. At the rate this was going, we weren’t going to last much longer. Only thing I could think of to help was to try and nullify the advantage the Hyperstrike technique gave them by pulling the ship into Hypertime too. No longer trying to brace myself, I reached out with the Force and Codex again as I attempted to repeat what I had accomplished in the shuttle. Grabbing a hold of what I could, I then pushed to accelerate the timerate experienced. Hopefully I could get all of the ship with this, and thereby get the ship’s shields on an even footing with the Rakata weapons.

Almost immediately I could tell that something had gone wrong as I felt the area of accelerated time expand beyond the boundaries I had try to set up. My attempts to reel it back in resulted in just straining myself dangerously. At least the rocking of the ship slowed dramatically given whatever had happened. I struggled back to my feet as the soldiers started panicking over something. Looking over at them, I saw that they were staring out the open bay to outside and were exclaiming that someone had done something to the sun. Walking over to get a better look, I saw that the sun was now incredibly dim and red with the city seemingly in the darkness of night. I watched as the sphere of accelerated time washed over the entire city and stopped some ways past the city limits. This scene seemed abruptly familiar, almost like what happened to the Shar Research Group….

Oh hell, I just caused a Codex accident like they had, except I had dragged the entire city into one. This was the sort of thing which had destroyed all those asteroid colonies… Ilia is not going to let me live this one down. Looking at the city below, I could tell that the presumed Codex users were standing there looking dumbfounded as they stared at the sky and their weapons. They seemed particularly annoyed with their weapons for whatever reason. Why they weren’t using Hyperstrike to keep attacking was odd too. Then I realized that the Codex accident was preventing me from entering Hypertime relative to the city. Oh now this is interesting, the accident effect overrides the use of Hypertime by bringing the entire city into lockstep.

While the presumed RDF commanders below kept shooting at us relatively ineffectually, I could see that Alys was apparently getting the soldiers and city defenses coordinated to overwhelm the RDF. As that quickly resolved itself, my commlink chirped again.

Now that the RDF commanders were no longer flashing around in hypertime – and the city safety fields were available at full power again – it was easy for Alys to locate the remaining RDF troops and their eight commanders and turn the riot-control systems against them. That left them wrapped in multiple layers of safety fields. Firing Rakata weaponry inside THAT would break them free of course – but the backblast would almost certainly kill them in the process.

Still, they might have other resources… Lazlo, now free of the need to keep fiddling with the RDF troops now that the riot systems had them pretty well under control vaulted across a narrower section of the chasm to kick one of the RDF commanders; they were fanatical enough that they might do something even more suicidally stupid than the stuff they’d already pulled if they were left conscious.

The first one had been slowly reaching for some sort of grenade-like device. Fortunately, a fist to the face to follow up on the kick put an end to THAT.

With Alys playing spotter and opening the restraining fields when he needed to hit people, smacking down most of the RDF commanders was fairly easy. With hypertime locked down, and phasing mostly incapable of getting them through a shield / restraining field, that left them with shifting – and they just weren’t good enough with that to stop him.

Unfortunately, one of them had been in the process of activating his “grenade” when Lazlo took it away from him – and Lazlo had no clear idea of how to disarm the thing. What little he could get with precognition suggested that it would be a REALLY good idea to find a way to do it though!

Wait! Vi had studied all the RDF weapons too! And had a better memory for that kind of thing!

Lazlo called Vi…

Vi, at that moment, was busy. He’d been peacefully advising the ships captain on what to do to contain the RDF – when a flarestorm of firepower had impacted the shields. A partial burn-through had blown out the big hyperspace observation window on the bridge and flung half the bridge crew out of the ship as it had tumbled to the side…

That included the pilot – which left Vi trying to hang onto the control consoles to avoid falling out, pulling people back inside, piloting the ship via remote manipulators, and trying to operate the commlink remotely so he could shout directions to Lazlo on how to disarm a spacefield grenade, all at the same time.

This was not easy – but with the force and plenty of pure luck he managed, even as Kira dragged the entire area into hypertime – and the ship shields started to come back up.

Lazlo managed to disarm the grenade with Vi’s help – and promptly found himself cornered by a group of kids who wanted to know how he’d been able to do some of the things they’d just seen. They’d seen every episode, and didn’t know he could do those things – and they weren’t in his stats in the Kira the Kat trading card game! And did what Lazlo said count as official errata for the Lazlo card?

Lazlo was a bit flabbergasted for a moment – but eventually went along with it. When had he become an object of merchandising?

Meanwhile…

(Alys) Kira, what is going on? It’s like the Shar Research Group accident right now.

(Kira) I botched my attempt to take the ship into Hypertime to deal with those blasted weapons. Apparently I dragged the entire city with me by accident.

(Alys) I am detecting a nearly 260,000:1 timerate increase in this field! And the shield-aura from the military ships is creating a vacuum zone outside the city due to the augmented repulsion! At least that’s keeping the interface temperature from melting down the area outside I think.

(Kira) Well at least we know how to fix it. Priority should be on keeping everyone from panicking or trying to leave the field. The Shar bunch proved that the outside atmosphere is like a solid wall given the timerate difference.

Again she started cursing up a storm given the seemingly impossible demands we kept asking of her but I ignored her for the time being. Let her work with the police and the military to keep things quiet and I can see if I can arrange a fix. Ben was nowhere to be found. Well, we found two of his bodies, but neither of them seemed to be the real one. I found Vi and Lazlo arguing about what to do next some time later. I proposed that we could use one of the big ship’s hyperdrive to try and take the city into hyperspace and back again. That would likely melt the ship’s hyperdrive in the process, but that was minor compared to the city’s plight right now. Vi lamented the need to destroy a hyperdrive when he suddenly announced that a really powerful Force user might be able to power through the time differential and lock us back onto normal time.

That was a nice idea, but I wasn’t sure I knew of anyone with that kind of power that wasn’t an insane nutjob themselves. I suppose maybe the Jedi Council could do it, but they would take weeks of normal time to get here and that would translate to….. nearly ten thousand years of our time. Screw it, I could personally haul people through the interface zone faster than that. At which point Lazlo piped up that he had made friends with the local planetary energy being who happened to be a Force user.

Blink

(Kira) You met what now?

(Vi) I think it is this planet’s version of Khadim’s main body.

(Kira) Wait, you mean that is the planetary energy being or whatever they are?

(Vi) Yep, and apparently this one is Force sensitive.

(Kira) What does it want?

(Lazlo) It wants to turn me into a galactic mind so that it has someone to talk to.

That wasn’t quite right – it wanted to accelerate the evolution of the existing galactic mind to bring it up past the instinctive-reflex level – but it was close enough.

(Kira) Tell it that it can make friends the same way the rest of us do, by going out and meeting them. Wait, scratch that.

At which point Vi started talking excitedly about immortal Force using energy beings, Force ghosts, infinite energy content and a whole lot of things that weren’t making a lot of sense to me. That then led to him, Lazlo, and Alys discussing the whole silly “Galaxia” concept and making the Censor intelligent. To me this sounded a lot like more of that weird mystical nonsense the Jedi kept pushing around. Eventually Vi and Lazlo determined that the energy being had been working for tens of thousands of years to get the “small minds” to be peaceful, cooperative, and organized into a harmonious society. It took me a few minutes to realize the full implications of that statement.

(Kira) So you’re to blame!

Sadly venting my frustrations of my difficulties trying to fit into Alderaan society on the planet’s energy being was about as effective as arguing with a planet would be expected to be. Vi’s assertion that this energy being must be what the Sith have been trying to destroy or blackmail subconsciously for millennia did little to help my mood. Life was so much simpler not so many years ago.

(Kira) Regardless, do you think you can get in touch with it and get it to help?

(Lazlo) I can try.

(Kira) Right, Vi, I want you to try to get a hyperdrive ready as a fallback plan. If Lazlo’s friend doesn’t come through, we are going to have to depend on ourselves to get ourselves out of this.

(Vi) Can do.

(Kira) Officer Larson, I have a pile of weapons and such that I ended up having to leave behind at the hospital in a bit of a rush. Would it be possible to get that stuff crated up and sent to my ship while we wait for a resolution to this fiasco I created?

(Larson) I suppose so, but aren’t you going to pick them up yourself?

(Kira) Right now I want to go someplace quiet for the moment. Feel free to escort me if you want, but I suspect the excitement is over for now.

Letting the experts work on fixing this, I left and made my way across the city on foot. A few people were out in the streets after the police announced the fighting had ended but it seems like the festivities were over for the time being since it looked like the sun had died or something. This was probably another thing I was going to get blamed for too. Oh well, since I am on a roll for getting blamed for crap right now, I might as well be present for this next round personally. I arrived outside the restaurant sometime later and found the “Closed for Private Party” sign hanging like it does this time every year. While the door was obviously locked, the keypad still took the old passcode for members of the private party. As the lock quietly snapped open I entered the restaurant to see who was here.

(Martha Glithe) It’s obvious who is at the center of this fiasco. Yet another festival ruined because of that degenerate.

(Cyrn Bernelli) Now, now, even if Kira is involved like the news says he is, that doesn’t mean he’s caused it.

(Martha Glithe) Quit apologizing for him!

(Cyrn Bernelli) He has the approval of the Jedi Council itself! How much more of an endorsement do you need?

(James Olath) The Jedi aren’t the most…. pragmatic bunch. Still, I don’t think we can hold it against Kira if he has made some enemies in his travels. After all, you don’t kill major Sith Lords without pissing someone off.

(Martha Glithe) He could at least be a target elsewhere! Our children have gone missing because of that freak and you bunch keep apologizing for the one responsible!

(Evelyn Olath) How about we let the young man defend himself then? You can quit eavesdropping.

(Kira) Knew I was listening in huh?

(Evelyn Olath) I know that door and your habits a lot better than you think.

At which point I was nearly bowled over as Priscella Bernelli rushed me and grabbed me in a giant hug. Before I really had any chance to react, I found that I had been plopped into a seat at the table and a plate of food in front of me. It really was like I was ten years old again in some ways. Actually in more ways than one. The Bernelli’s were seemingly oblivious to my actions, the Olath’s were cautiously sitting the fence, and the Glithes were looking at me with more than a little scorn. On the other hand, I wasn’t a small child easily intimidated by adults anymore.

(Kira) Alright, given what I just heard and the fact I have an incredibly annoying Twi’lek investigator continually pestering me with questions, I assume all of you know something has gone wrong?

(Martha Glithe) Considering how much we are paying for such a highly respected investigator, she sure is taking her time and not being very detailed in her reports.

(James Olath) We are aware that the ones who claimed to be Jedi are not who they said they were. That much was obvious when the Jedi investigators showed up and began asking questions. We also know that the military is involved somehow.

(Kira) Then I shall explain the sequence of events as best as Nimh and I have been able to reconstruct. Please forgive me if I gloss over some details, but there are issues with the very nature of the information I am going to relate.

And I began to explain things. I gave very basic explanations of the Codex and the Censor as general background. After finding a way to explain that in a form that would at least get the concepts across without giving enough details to invoke the Censor, I then went on to describe the JLA and the RDF and how they related to the incident. It at least helped matters that the issues involved were personally important to them and that helped them focus a bit on the topic at hand. I detailed my actions up until now and how I felt it might have triggered the RDF to take such a dim view of me. Finally I explained why I came back to Alderaan despite knowing it was a trap. About the only thing I really didn’t try to explain was Valerie and how I escaped some of those incidents with her help.

(Peter Glithe) So you came here, knowing it was a trap and got lots of people involved in a firefight using star destroyer scale weapons?!

(Kira) I had lost track that it was festival time again. It was not my idea, but the plan was to go to the house, get ambushed by a small squad of Codex users, and then capture as many as I could. I did not anticipate the ambush involving over four thousand soldiers and Rakata.

(Martha Glithe) Some Force user you are. I thought you people were supposed to be able to see these things.

(Kira) Not when a Codex user is involved. That makes it incredibly difficult.

(Cyrn Bernelli) Besides, he did manage to save everyone that got caught up in it all.

(Martha Glithe) Have you even looked outside?! We could all still be killed by this so-called accident he caused!

(James Olath) He says he knows how to fix it and that the military is helping.

(Martha Glithe) You have way too much faith in the military and Jedi!

(James Olath) And what would you have us do?! Punish him?! You do realize that right now he is powerful enough to kill everyone here and there isn’t a damned thing any of us could do to stop him! The military, the Jedi, and Kira are the best bet I have of seeing my son again!

(Martha Glithe) He hangs out with that damned Sith girl all the time and you want me to trust him?!

Leave it to Nimh to spill the beans without any heed to the social considerations of certain pieces of information.

(Evelyn Olath) Yes, I’ve noticed you’ve curiously omitted her from your explanation. Valerie Soung of the Varen Sith I believe she is. How does she figure into this? Nimh seemed to think she knew why but was keeping it secret.

(Kira) It’s complicated.

At which point I could just see the look of disgust wash over Martha’s face.

(Martha Glithe) Found yourself a little Sith tart to play with?

Alright, this needed to stop now. I know the Glithes didn’t like me, but I think it is about time they understood that I wasn’t that stupid college kid they remember anymore. Reaching out with the Force, it was a simple matter to simply telekinetically move the table out of the way. Setting it to the side, I pulled Marthas’s chair close to me so that she was almost face to face with me. The others had backed away looking alarmed by the sudden move, but I focused my attention on Martha as I looked into her eyes and put my hands on her armrests. She was trying very hard to look as defiant as a moment ago and not having a lot of success.

(Kira) Alright, I know you don’t like me. After twenty years that has become one of the facts of life. If you feel the need to lecture me like a child, that’s fine and a privilege of having to deal with me when I was a bratty kid. I am not, nor will I ever be asking for your approval. I have endured terrors at the Academy that still gives me nightmares. I have fought Force predators that can rip through solid rock like it was made of wet paper because I had no where to run. I have been chased by thousands of bounty hunters while trapped on a lonely planet far from the Republic. I have fought a Dark Lord of the Sith that thought nothing of casually killing children just to provide a technical demonstration. A nigh immortal Sith Lord that threatened to destroy the Republic is now dead due to my actions in no small part. I have saved quadrillions of people in two alternate galaxies and have managed to significantly tilt the tables in the Yeveetha war heavily in favor of the Republic.

(Kira) I accept that I am not well appreciated by a number of people across the Galaxy. No matter what I do, there is always someone out there able to twist the story into further proof that I am a Dark Lord of the Sith out to conquer the Galaxy. Frankly, I don’t care beyond the sheer inconvenience it has caused. What I do care about is when you belittle that “Sith tart” as you called her. She has worked very hard to reform herself since I met her and has done far more for me than most anyone else over the last five years. To be honest, I don’t really appreciate it when you talk about Valerie like that. Do I make myself clear?

(Martha Glithe) Y-yes.

(Kira) Good, now I will find your daughter, Barcos, Nathan, and my family because they are all important to me. Not because of your attempts to guilt-trip me into doing it. I am sorry the festival got ruined in the process of me attempting to learn where your daughter is hidden. Deal with it.

(Evelyn Olath) Bravo kid, way to stand up for yourself.

I silently moved the table and chairs back into place. Evelyn tried to start the small talk going again by asking me to describe meeting the Jedi Council and what my impressions of them were. That got the discussion going in the direction of how the Force affected the minds of those sensitive to it and how this resulted in the various types of Sith. That fascinated Peter immensely as he started asking a number of psychological questions relating to the various Sith I’ve met and my impressions of them. That took the discussion fairly late into the night and finally everyone started going home.

I thought briefly of visiting the house myself, but decided the amount of traps that were likely to be waiting for me wasn’t appealing right now. Not to mention how disturbing sleeping in an empty house was likely to be given all that was happening. It was bad enough considering how silent things felt through the Force right now and adding to the isolation I was feeling was the fact that the link with Valerie was now feeling incredibly weak through the interface zone. To that end I found myself a hotel room to stay in for the night.

The next few days was spent trying to keep on top of what Lazlo and Vi were doing, making sure the RDF command staff and soldiers remained secure, watching how repairs to the power plant were going, and keeping an eye on the interface zone for any untoward changes. I still found myself amazed at how many of the people here obeyed the curfew without question the entire time. It was towards the end of the third day when I was beginning to contemplate issues with food and water supplies that I felt time suddenly snap back into place. At that same time the sky went from an incredibly dull red glow to a noonday sun in a single blinding instant.

As part of this blinding sensation was a feeling of an immense ocean of Force power that seemed to engulf the entire region. To say this felt overwhelming was an understatement of epic proportions. I thought Lecrouss, Huriel, and Zandramas were powerful practitioners of the Force, but they didn’t hold a candle to this ancient behemoth. I ended up shifting to the Codex side in order to keep the feeling of being overwhelmed at bay. I could only presume this was Lazlo’s new friend. At least this seemed to fix the problem my accident caused. Looking at the clock, it looked like three days passed inside the interface zone while only a second passed outside the interface zone.

Police, government officials, and military officers all began to converge on Crevasse City at that point. Alys took on the task of explaining to the government and police while Vi handled the military. We did learn that Ben’s ship was missing, but apparently the military were giving chase right now to a ship racing towards the asteroid belt at a significant fraction of lightspeed. Not much I could help with there though besides just offer suggestions from time to time since the Republic military had such a head start on chasing the ship down.

That more or less resulted in another couple days of cleanup efforts, explanations, and trying to stay out of the way as the festival restarted. News of Kira Death Clones showing up, defeating thousands of soldiers, disrupting the festival, and getting my first criminal offense as an adult (damned swimming violation) was filling the local broadcasts. The calls for banning the Kira Death Clones from next years festivals were annoying on a number of levels. How exactly they proposed to tell the difference between me and any so-called Death Clone was not immediately clear and the whole ruse stunk of a round-about means of banning me from future festivals. The arguments then proceeded to debate the point of whether or not you could ban something that did not exist and if it didn’t exist, was there any “harm” in banning it?

It was as I was lamenting the fact that the locals were even having the debate to begin with that my PDA informed of the arrival of a number of messages. First batch was from various members of my extended family wanting to get in touch with me. Many of them were people I barely remembered beyond a few reunions and visitations over the years. Some wanted updates regarding what was happening to me, my siblings, and my parents, and I went ahead a wrote a response for those. Then I saw that apparently some of them had realized I had come into some money recently and were (although not always subtly) asking for financial assistance. Part of me was torn between the realization that many of them wouldn’t care the slightest about my well-being if it weren’t for the money, and the fact that refusing to help family was a bit of a egotistical Sith trait. I am going to have to think about this for a bit. I was rather amused to see the letter from my cousin Al Masters (I think he is a paramedic these days) wanting to get together for drinks at some point. Last time we had gotten together resulted in me getting a court order to join the military. I might take him up on that at some point.

The second batch was a bit more surprising on a number of levels. At first the PDA asked me what to do with the assorted messages it had presorted into the spam category for the interim. I asked it to provide a typical sample for me to review so I could give better guidance. That resulted in me being presented with the image of a blonde female offering to do a number of things that weren’t exactly considered polite to say on Alderaan. I mean, I’ve seen more than my fair share of associated mass-market spam promising all sorts of things, but this was the first time I’ve seen something like that addressed to me personally by more or less ordinary people. A quick review of a few more items in the list showed that this blonde was hardly an isolated incident on any level as there was a considerable number making similar offers. I even recognized one of them as a girl that never gave me the time of day back in college. The contrast between those messages and the people wishing all sorts of unpleasant things to befall me was stark.

Dashing rogue indeed….

And yet it felt so hollow. I had no delusions what they were after any more than I did regarding many of those family members wanting to get friendly with me all of the sudden. Perhaps there was a time where that sort of thing wouldn’t have mattered to me but these days I want something more substantial than that. Of course, it is hard to get anything more substantial than being Bonded to someone. Perhaps that is why I feel nothing more than idle curiosity with these messages. And I think that is probably a good thing. Letting Valerie see these messages, however, was not a good thing.

So those messages got sorted into the spam bin for prompt deletion.

Of course that brought up the thought as to why exactly was I Bonded with Valerie. Oddly enough that never came up in any of our discussions of the Bond between us. Maybe I should talk with her about it the next time I see her.

Theovin Syindar, Lord of Chaos

Cover of Rifts first edition: a splugorthian s...

By Amber standards? Populated with very minor creatures.

As usual for Amber NPC’s, Theovin comes in several versions; after all, you never know how a given game master may want to use him.

Theovin, of Clan Syindar, is Erin’s (far) older brother or half-brother. He’s a trump artist, with the curious and annoying habit of picking up various “ultra-tech” items and powering them with trump energies – throwing in the powers of Self Healing and Alternate Form and (for robots and vehicles) Shadow Seek. While it does take him several hours to make such items, rather than simply being able to call for them, he can be counted on to have a small arsenal of energy weapons, sensors, computers, tools, and suits of “power armor” on him at any given time – usually disguised as an assortment of small ornaments and talismans. He also usually employs a powerful force field and a psychic screen generator.

That kind of gear won’t necessarily stop a full-out assault by a high-ranked assailant, but it provides a substantial edge – and will usually offer some options for escape.

  • Base Attributes: Strength: Chaos (-10 Points), Warfare: Amber (0 Points), Endurance: Amber (0 Points), Psyche 24 (24 Points).
  • Base Powers: Trump Artistry (40 Points), Basic Shape-Shifting (35 Points), and a Named and Numbered set of “Personal Planes” with Restricted Access (3 points, x2 for Named and Numbered = 6 Points).
  • Horde Of Devices: Various high-tech items, all Powered By Trump, Self Healing (or, in some cases, self-reloading), with an Alternate Form (usually some small trinket) and Shadow Seek (if appropriate). That’s a base of ten points, x3 for a horde = 30 Points.

That’s a total of 125 points – a fairly normal starting character. Game masters can either go with that or use one of the more experienced versions below:

The Adventuring Hero: Theovin’s older then Erin – but that’s not saying a lot for a Lord of Chaos. This version has a fondness for going forth and exploring the more dangerous sorts of shadows, such as “Rifts” Earth (yes, that’s another game entirely – but it’s a very exciting place to be an alien godling). This version will have Sorcery (15 Points), Power Words (15 Points), items that Store Spells (4 Points) and confer Regeneration (9 Points), 7 points of “Good Stuff”, and 25 points worth of allies, devotees, and such – for a total of 200 points. He’s actually, and simply, one of the “good guys”. His political position will resemble Gerard’s in Amber; the various manipulators may think he’s a dimwit, but everybody knows that they can count on him.

The Scheming Lordling: A lord of chaos he may be, but Theovin recognizes the potential of technology. It can be used to channel trump energy in so many ways… This version is as political and scheming as any normal Lord of Chaos – but he tends to be collecting power and allies with a view to the future, rather then for “immediate” use. Hence he tends to be fairly trustworthy and looks out for his friends and family… Of course, he expects them to return the favor. He’s a Logrus Master (45 Points), wields a set of 12 specialized Power Words related to psychic combat (17 Points), and uses an artifact that Confers Trump Defense (10 Points). He has a Warfare of 22 (22 Points), an Endurance of 5 (5 Points), and a point of “Good Stuff” (1 Point). 225 points base, may have allies and such at the option of the GM.

The Bothersome Punk: As one of the rowdier junior lords of chaos, Theovin tends to violate tradition a lot – and rides his motorcycle through places where it definitely does not belong. He’s a pest, but does tend to get (simpler) things done. This version is often acting as an errand-boy for someone else – whether due to some manipulation, or simply because he’s returning a favor. This version uses a device that Confers Trump Defense (10 Points) and a set of ten Power Words that allow him to make short-range teleport jumps, boost his devices – and resist attempts to capture him (15 Points) – for a total of 150 points.

The Potential Companion: A reasonably friendly, and rather inexperienced, fellow, this Theovin is a decent ally for any starting-level character, and will probably be interested in an alliance. He may seem omnipotent to Erin, but he isn’t ready to play in the big leagues yet. A character fortunate enough to forge an alliance with Theovin has a convenient source for trumps, high-tech equipment that works – and (probably) access to a nice secure shadow or two with plenty of resources. It can be very nice – but it means that you’re making his problems your problems as well. This version is rather unlikely to have extra powers – save possibly a device that Confers Trump Defense (10 points) – but will grow along with the player characters.

Regardless of the version, Theovin has provided Erin with several toys at one time or another, and with two “pets” – whether out of affection, from a desire to keep an eye on him, or simply wanting to protect him as a likely future ally. Brothers make good ones if they grow up liking you.

Arath and Charin are big robot “dogs”, with a fully natural appearance, advanced computer intelligences (no psychic presence – but friendly AI’s), vast physical capabilities (Run at 300+ MPH, capable of doing “destructive” damage with a variety of built-in energy weapons or their ultra-hard teeth and claws, multiple-ton hydraulic strength, a wide assortment of sensors, and an advanced tactical computer equivalent to a midlevel warfare rank), and a tendency to catch him, to try and talk him out of doing dangerous, and make him study his lessons and do his homework… Being powered by trump, they’re pretty indestructible.

Depending on just how authoritarian and restrictive they’re being, Erin may regard Arath and Charin as pets, friends, companions, annoyances, or as nuisances to be avoided at all costs. Like most independent characters in Amber, they can serve a variety of purposes.

“HEY! NOT NOW! THEY’RE IN TROUBLE! I GOTTA HELP! LEMME GO!” (As Erin gets carried off) “It’s Time for your bath Erin”, says the deep mechanical voice. “Your Mother will be very upset if you aren’t ready for your magic lessons tomorrow” “BUT I GOTTA STAY HERE! LEMME GO! PUT ME DOWN!” (the voices fade in the distance).

Erin, of Clan Syindar, a youthful Lord of Chaos and Order

Cover of "Knight of Shadows"

Yep. This place again.

So I’m not supposed to – it’s a DARE… I Have to. Besides – everybody peeks. So mommy had said never to go near the Logrus. Suhay wouldn’t get mad. Everybody peeked at the Logrus at least once when they were kids (Well OK – maybe some of them lied). You could see it through some of the world-cracks… There was supposed to be a hole that let you see it down this way without even any guardians on it…

There was.

Wow… That’s neato. All wiggly lines – an arcs of power – an all those things that are there – an aren’t there (at the same time) – an the way it sorta “twists off” into other “places” that’re really weird – an the way it – it… I don’ feel so good. It’s all dizzy an it’s goin roun an roun…

Erin started to back away. And then the world split wide open – as the Logrus reached out and grabbed him.

HELP! MOMMY! ARTHEEEN! LEMME GO! LEMME OUT! MOMMMY!

Space warped. Colors swirled. Lines of fire reached across the world. Doorways to a million million realms gaped open around him. Shifting instinctively, flowing with the raging current of primordial power, Erin rode a wave of blazing energy into the heart of the Logrus. A whirling vortex of pulsing force spun around him, as what currently passed for his feet carried him through the shifting maze…

Something laughed.

When things settled down, Erin got very sick.

Back in human form, He dazedly opened his eyes as a dry, old, voice spoke; “Congratulations child… Even among trained adults few successfully walk the Logrus” “Ooh… Is that what I did?” “Hmm… How did you come to reach the Logrus anyway child?” “I was peeking – AN IT GRABBED ME!”

Suhay muttered, frowned, and peered at the Logrus…

“Well – Come child. Intentional or not, I will have to tell you something about the powers of the Logrus.” “Hey! Where’d all these funny rings come from anyhow?” “Didn’t you have them before child? Let me see…” (BY THE SERPENT!!!) “Child…? We have much to talk about I think… What’s your name?”

Suhay spent several hours (minutes? days?) teaching Erin enough about “using” Logrus powers to keep things under control… He gave him some “gloves” to make the rings less magically conspicuous – and he told him not to tell anybody about this…

Erin didn’t… He went home and Arthen (the butler) put him to bed. He didn’t need to tell Arthen anything anyway. Arthen always seemed to know about everything he did – but Arthen never told on him.

He spanked him sometimes, but he never told mommy.

He’d have to get up early tomorrow… There’d be so many neat places he could go now – an people to meet – an some really neat places an things to find (I wonder where I heard about those?) – an he could beat Tevrinn up now – an – an – (Yawn)… (Tired)… an… (Sleep).

Erin’s childhood in the Courts of Chaos has been rather isolated, and has really been mostly under the control of Arthen – and the other house servants / creatures. His (presumed) mother has always been rather distant, and he has no idea at all who his father might be… Save for when he gives the servants the slip, he rarely gets to meet or play with children from other houses.

As for why the Logrus pulled him through – maybe it wanted an agent, or thought it was funny, or liked the potential for weird chaos inherent in a small boy with power, or was annoyed, or it was simply an accident…

As for what Suhay is up to – maybe he was just mad, or didn’t want to deal with a string of dead kids when the rest decided to try it too, or simply doesn’t know what the Logrus is up to, or actually wants to conceal the fact that kids are so adaptable that they can walk the Logrus with no problem (and would that ever make for confusion in the courts), or he’s just amused, or who- knows-what.

Game Statistics:

  • Strength : Human (Amber with Rings) (-25 points).
  • Psyche : Chaos (-10 points).
  • Endurance : Chaos (-10 points).
  • Warfare: Human (Amber with Rings) (-25 points).
  • Standard Disadvantages: Diary 10 points, Game Log 10 points.
  • Personal Disadvantage: Erin is a small child. He has few skills outside of being a passable sneak-thief (for stealing treats and sneaking out) and hacker (of limited use in Amber). He’s far too small to use a big sword, emotionally immature, and people never take him seriously. He’s bright and intuitive, but it’s still -5 points.

This provides Erin with a total of 195 points to buy other powers with – including:

  • Basic Magic (5 points):

This covers a fair amount of theory, a simple spells (comparable to AD&D’s Cantrips and first-level spells), and the ability to recognize magical items and effects. In Amber terms this is pretty trivial – but it’s handy and well-suited to a child.

“I discovered a dark three-cornered one (a hat) which fitted me perfectly. The color was a little off, but I recalled a spell which altered it.” -Merlin, Knight Of Shadows.

  • Amber Devotee (6 points):

At the moment, the identity of Erin’s amber parent remains unknown – at least to him.

  • Chaos Devotee (4 points):

Erin assumes that the Lady of Chaos he knows as “mother” is his indeed his mother. Of course, given the intrigues of the setting, it’s possible that this is wrong.

  • Family Friend (2 points):

Lord Theovin of Chaos – his (presumed) elder brother.

  • Shapeshifting (35 points):

As a denizen of Chaos, Erin is, of course, a full shapeshifter.

  • Minor Logrus Powers (20 points):

It is debatable whether Erin has Logrus Powers or if the Logrus has him. While Erin can use Logrus Defense and Sight, his ability to manipulate Logrus Tendrils is limited by his youth, inexperience, and his inability to concentrate for very long. Unless whatever-it-is turns up in a minute or two he gets bored and loses focus. This does offer one interesting ability; he can travel through shadow in a series of very short “hops”, about equal to a hellride – but this includes little ability to navigate. Unless the Logrus (or something) decides to steer him, he tends to get lost a lot, and blunders all over shadow.

If Erin walks the pattern any time soon, it’s very, very, likely that he’ll acquire a “partial” version of that as well. It requires concentration too.

  • Good Stuff (12 points):

Things just tend to go well for Erin. Given the general lack of pre-planning and deep consideration which goes with his age, that’s probably a very good thing.

  • Runic Rings (90 points)

The Runic Rings can be found over HERE. They’re incredibly complex – and powerful – items. Sadly, the character they were originally written up for wound up almost never actually using them. It seemed a pity to waste all that work though – but coming up with a reason for a starting character to have a ninety-point set of items is a little awkward. Hence Erin…

  • Ten Power Words (15 points):

While the Runic Rings have plenty of power words built into them, Erin does have some of his own.

  • Resume True Form; Standard.
  • Burst Of Psyche; Standard.
  • Fugue; “Stretches” .01 seconds into 10-15, although the utility is limited by the massive inertia of items that don’t belong to the user.
  • Reconstruction; Summons or recreates any item which the user paid the points for. Summoning is far easier, and will be what happens if the item still exists.
  • Instinct Tap; Draws on the instincts that go with a form, allowing a shapeshifter to avoid practicing.
  • Power Tap; Draws on the powers of an item, allowing the user to briefly use one of them as his own.
  • Chaos Bolt; Focuses the energy of the Logrus into a (tiny) bolt of primal chaos… This is hard on anything of shadow that it hits, but fades away swiftly. It’s nowhere near the critical limit where it becomes self-sustaining.
  • Phasing; Turns the user briefly intangible, letting him move through things and pull various tricks.
  • Instant Shift; Lets a shapeshifter accomplish about five minutes worth of shifting.
  • Summon Logrus; Brings the logrus instantly to mind.

Obviously enough, most of those just let Erin use his other powers more spontaneously, although that would normally tire him rapidly. Given that his rings grant him endless stamina however, they now let him play a lot more.

  • Personal Shadows (6 points):

Yes, this is Amber, where – for a handful of points – you can own a set of personalized universes. Erin’s Shadows include several video-game universes, a carnival world, a realm for outdoor sports and camping with some rustic villages to play in, a giant shopping mall world where you can get almost anything (and he never has to pay), and so on. Fundamentally they’re all the same – fun places with lots of interesting things to do and a lot of inhabitants (both human and animal) who like him and are quite willing to help him out. This is a Named and Numbered (x2 cost for a set of twelve) set of Personal Shadows (1 point) with Restricted Access (+2 points, mostly due to being hidden off in obscure corners of shadow – but partly due to various childish procedures for gaining entry).

Sadly, Erin never got much play time either. Ah well; maybe one of these days.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 177 – Family Matters

Given a little time to think, Kevin had concluded that the proper thing for a wedding was extravagant festivities and gifts! Hm. A bunch of dragon-slaves of course! They were very classy and added color and impressiveness to any celebration! Perhaps a bunch of slave-girls with the magic to act as surrogate mothers? That would keep the burden off Mrs Fennwick… Still, that might be considered a little over-personal mightn’t it… Perhaps he should leave that decision up to her. A couple of nice, fully-staffed, mansions of course! A vacation home and personal gate to a mountain-peak palace in Kadia? Some Thralls of course! Perhaps a ship or two? A yacht anyway! Oh! A set of high-quality (and colorful, in honor of Parrots) outfits for everyone attending!

Party food didn’t make the list. Kevin was still shying away from that topic.

Festivities… Fireworks at the end of the evening of course! A three or four hour display over the entire city should do for that! Some Kabukai Theater would be fun! Robot battles and Kaiju Ballet? (Perhaps Ninja Cyborg Godzilla and Pirate Superhero Mothra?) And largesse and games and a carnival for everyone in the city! He could hire on the fox kid who’d been runner-up in the sociability competition to help get it going!

He’d have to ask around on the local customs too… Were a bunch of willing females expected to be a part of the bachelor party?

Raphael kind of felt that giving the groom a harem – or even a temporary one at the bachelor party – was in poor taste. Besides, the bride usually objected to that sort of thing, and there was no use starting off a marriage on the wrong foot! Did Kevin go this overboard on EVERYTHING he took an interest in? After all, Marty already controlled an entire dimension! Perhaps simple symbolic gifts were in order! Or – at most – something for his new wife to reduce the disparity a bit!

Still, the evening wound to it’s end. Raphael had had a long day building new robots, so it was time for a well-deserved rest. Marty had a few nightcaps and settled down as well – while Kevin, with adolescent energy, told the young lady “good night” but skipped out on a good deal of sleep in favor of spending time with his various personal companions – including the two new (and very happy-and-eager looking) panther-girl concubines.

Now that they’d taken care of the local assassins and troublemakers, squelched the mage who periodically caused disasters, and held still long enough for several of the major groups to put in an appearance, the night was relatively quiet…

Unfortunately, Raphael was one of those !@#$%^ morning people! And relentlessly cheery in the morning to boot!

Raphael didn’t see the problem! It was a good day! The machines were in their place serving him slavishly and all was right with the world!

He spent his cheery morning preparing his pirate cove to be turned into a working dock with a entry elevator into the city and a full lab and residence ready to work on robots and repair boats – or whatever else needed doing in a city’s second dock that was miles away from the first.

The city was agreeable enough; money and power both spoke loudly…

Kevin, grumblingly, eventually got up to check on a few things… He’d sent out some Thralls to try and catch some of the War Party Rabbits, the Wolf-Matron was still closeted with her major advisors, it was almost time to go with the Platypus trading expedition – and he still had a cute girl to catch!

Of course once they left they’d have a goddess to rescue, several court cases, reptile-people to talk too, and quite a few other things to do – including finding out what was going on with those machines that Jarvain kept complaining about. Hm… Perhaps it had been unwise to put someone with quite so many unresolved hostility issues in independent command of an interstellar battle fleet.

He decided to just wander around for a bit, confirming rumors through the presence of several new, youthful, panther-thralls.

Marty was checking out the local wedding customs. He certainly didn’t want any serious omissions!

Raphael was directing repairs on the ships when another ship arrived outside the barrier across the entrance – and seemed to be trying to get in… The flag wasn’t in any of his databases, but there seemed to be a couple of hundred people aboard – mostly arguing with each other while a team of six adventurer-types analyzed the cliff face…

Well, that meant that it was time to alert the city guards to the fact that somoene was knocking on their back door (he sent a Thrall to do that), to figure out that flag (another Thrall-job), and to go and see who was knocking – a job he kept for himself. Knowing that the Thralls would cheerily die by the swarm simply to keep him from being inconvenienced still gave him the creeps even if they did just come right back in Kadia and go on a shopping spree with their “Death Benefits”! The still looked like adolescent-or-younger kids!

Still, he gave the Thralls a few minutes; he wanted to see if the visitors would pierce the wards before someone came back to tell him what that flag meant. Besides… that gave him time to have his new robots generate an illusion of a small army waiting in the cavern – all in city guard uniforms.

His first response was Marty, who – having nothing better to do while he waited for reports on local weddings to get back to him – had unerringly headed for the commotion.

Shortly thereafter a translucent Raccoon mage appeared – arguing with someone unseen.

(Raccoon) “Alright I am inside, let me have a look around. Hmm, looks like a pirate cove filled with guards or pirates. No, I can’t tell who they are, and quit asking me how to open the door already! (As he noticed Raphael and Marty) Uhhh, we mean you no harm?”

(Raphael) “Hey what are you doing in my cove?”

(Raccoon) “Well it appears that my tracking friend has once again led us into a trap – or at least a detour. We are searching for someone and appear to have gotten off track is all.”

(Raphael) “Oh who are you looking for?”

(Raccoon) “Ah, what was the kid’s name again? Oh, Kevin Sanwell, thanks Jeorg. I have no memory for such things. They keep telling me to get a set of those damned “brilliant clothes” or whatever they call them, but those damned machines give me the creeps. (Apparently to someone else) Yes, I know you say they are perfectly safe. I don’t care.”

(Raphael) “Oh, those are pretty safe if you add the right safety features. They are really handy and totally worth the hassle… I might be able to summon Kevin Sanwell for you. What do you want him for?”

(Raccoon) “Ah, well that would be good then. I have a large number of people here looking to speak with him regarding some missing children. WOULD YOU BE QUIET! IT IS HARD TO LISTEN TO WHAT THIS GUY IS SAYING WITH ALL OF YOU YELLING IN MY EARS! Alright, sorry about that. It appears that a number of them are rather upset with this Kevin.”

Ah, upset parents! They’d finally stayed in one relatively peaceful place long enough for a pack of them to catch up!

(Marty) “Hey, you’ve got a lot of people horning in on things there! Where are they from?”

(Raccoon) “A selection of realms actually, they hired our party and chartered this ship to seek out this “Kevin Sanwell. They are aboard the ship on the other side of this… cliff wall. I’ve been projecting myself through the wall to see what was on the other side and found you bunch, but unfortunately I can hear the discussions on both sides.”

(Raphael) “Well I think it would be easier for me just to come out there then.” (then to one of the kids via telepathy) “Quietly ask Kevin if it is ok to overlay the version of him in Kadia with a boat full of angry parents in a few minutes.”(Then to Marty normally) “He’s projecting from that ship over there.”

The Raccoon was now studying the wall intently.

(Raccoon) “Just how do you open this exactly?”

(Raphael) “Oh I have yet to get around to figuring that out yet. I only found this place the other day. It was in a divination duel to find the largest unclaimed buried treasure in the area.”

(Raccoon) “Fascinating. I wonder if it becomes incoporeal or if it folds open somehow?”

(Raphael) “I was just going to carefully teleport to the other side. it would be nice to know but I really do not want to play with the doors until the guards are less nervous about suddenly finding a cove of this size here and I have it back in operating order”

(Raccoon) “Oh, ok fine. I presume you can teleport then, or do I need to teleport you?”

(Raphael) “I can teleport just fine. just give me a second to check if the door has any traps or wards which would affect teleportation through it.”

He could just take them down the coast of course, but then he wouldn’t get to “summon” Kevin (via a communications overlay) in Dragon form! It would be a lot more fun and impressive that way!

He did a few divinations to check for anything that would block a short range teleport out.

It looked like… there were a number of spells designed to ward against anyone coming inside. There didn’t appear to be any such safeguards against leaving… Interestingly enough, it looked like you needed a keystone to activate the enchantments that opened the door from either side.

He’d have to look for that later. It was probably somewhere in the cavern. After all, the ships were inside and it was unlikely that they’d been damaged in battle in the cave. Someone might have taken it along in fleeing to the city above – but there was no reason to expect that to have stopped the psychic cat-creatures, so it might be in some mage-school or collectors stockpile of weird gewgaws of unknown function.

Marty was impressed; Raphael was GOOD at analyzing things like that! Very handy! Much as he hated to admit it, there were times when physical violence was not the answer, and neither was talking or having Kevin throw another tidal wave of raw magical power at something…

Admittedly violence and raw power often chanced one problem into another one altogether, but they weren’t always actually SOLUTIONS.

(Raphael) “I’m going to teleport over to their ship and “Summon Kevin”; want to come along?”

(Marty) “Sure, why not?”

Raphael spent a few moments gathering energy – Kevin was dreadfully profligate in his use of personal power, although he usually drew on his Thralls for it – and invoked a simple short-range spacefold.

Hm. Had Kevin started collecting Thralls so early that he’d never learned to Gather properly? Maybe he should try teaching him; it might wean him off so much reliance on Thralls.

Meanwhile, of course, a few miles down the coast in Cyrweld, Kevin was showing off a tiny part of his collection of enslaved children… Mostly his three new panther-girl concubines and a few new servants.

Marty and Raphael appeared on a large wooden sailing ship, and were met by the mage you were talking to a moment ago, five additional adventurer types, and what looked to be over a hundred other people…

(Raccoon) “Welcome aboard the Fortune Oreo. I am Tyrmar Alaban.”

(Marty) “Hi, what’s up?”

(Raccoon) “Well, my companions and I have been paid by these nice people to help them track down Kevin Sanwell. My companion Alexander here says he traced a path to this location. Now, your companion here says he might be able to arrange a meeting with this Kevin.”

(Raphael) “So where do you want him summoned? and do you have a nice clear area to do it in?”

(Tyrmar) “Well, I suppose here on the deck will work well enough unless he is a very large fellow.”

Raphael tried to clear enough room for Kevin’s dragon form – just in case – and evoked his spell.

An eldritch wind rose, whipping out from a raging vortex of terrible magical energies wrapped around a flaming draconic form – which cycled through a half-angel-half-demon thing with rakish halo, and several other forms before the massive energies were sucked down into a human form which looked more-or-less like Kevin usually did, but with glasses, a scarf, and an english smoking jacket.

(Kevin) “WHO DARES SUMMON… Oh, it’s you Raphael. What do you want?”

There was a long moment of silence – but some of the parents aboard were too anxious and angry for even displays like that to inhibit them for long.

Kevin was wondering if the display had been good enough; it was hard to judge exactly when you didn’t know exactly who you were trying to impress.

(Raphael) “O these guys wanted to see you about their children”

(Kevin) “What, ill and they want to sign up or something?”

(Angry Mother) “What have you done with my child!?”

(Kevin) “How in the Abyss should I know? You could ask him, her, it, or whatever-the-kid-is by Email if you gave their name!”

(Angry Mother) “Her name’s Lillian!”

(Raphael) “It might help to give more than that there are lots of kids he’s ‘done stuff with’”

(Kevin) “Well, there are only… 1237 “Lillians” in service at the moment.- so that narrows it a bit!”

(Angry Mother) “Oh, all right, I’ll try the local… magic? It seems so weird to say that!”

(Kevin) “What magic? Things like last names, where she was recruited, and that sort of thing would work!”

After a moment of shock, the angry woman gave him that information… It looked like a “cold war” spy fiction realm… That narrowed the field to one “Lillian Markus”.

(Kevin) “Hmm… Looks like she was swept up in some sort of school takeover with ransom demands – a “high security” place with some officials kids or something? – and got broken out and taken to Kadia with some other kids by a couple of Thralls who happened to be in the area when the people doing the takeover started wanting to shoot lesser hostages. She was of age in Kadia, and signed up so she could go on rescue missions of her own. What’s wrong with that? They should have left a note! (after a moments pause) It looks like they did…”

(Slightly Less Angry Mother) “We thought it was a smokescreen for a terrorist group, though I really am beginning to wonder. So where is she now?”

She considered the flaming-dragon manifestation… It might just be special effects, but if it was all real… Talking might be her only chance of taking her daughter away from a demon-dragon-god.

(Kevin) “Hm… Looks like she’s doing rescue work over in one of the Old Testament realms! Those are popular destinations for some reason, but they’re very big on divine smiting and global floods and plagues and things!”

Raphael was considering… Quite a lot of them were wearing Smartclothes. They were kind of ubiquitous in a lot of the Manifold… He sent a brochure explaining Thralldom, and Kadia, and its benifits to each set of smartclothes in the area – as well as a tourest’s guide to Kadia while he was at it.

Hmph. Some of them hadn’t set their spam filters! He could get around the automatic ones since they WERE interested in Kevin and Kadia! It was SPAM TIME! That would teach them a lesson! More brochures about the wonders of Kevin’s operations, and on how great it was to be a Thrall, and some on why not setting your filters was just inviting hundreds of spam files to be sent to your inbox all the time!

And a warning about the dangers of machines taking over the world just to be sure that they knew.

(Kevin) “Lets see… (pointing to a middle-aged couple from Core) your kid ran away from Crusader and came to Kadia to sign up, your (pointing to a younger mother from the English Fantasy Realms) kid went was captured by pirates, sold into slavery, and purchased by one of my agents. He was permitted to send a funding request if he’d wanted to, but opted out since he said you had no money – and he elected Thralldom over indenture and school. Bad luck there! He should have written anyway! Your (pointing to a father from the Shadowrun world) kid was… Hmm… recruited by a thrall who did a basic witchcraft-link on her before some cultists sacrificed her, so she showed up in Kadia and signed up. She’s… chasing the cult on assignment, and has probably been just too busy to check in with you and may have been worried about explaining the bit where she was killed. Your (pointing at a couple from the “Jesus Realms”) son wanted the “cool powers”, and the money, and the sex, among other things, and signed up for that since he didn’t want to wait for adulthood to get his own nanite changes…

The various parents had been taken aback for a moment – but the various demands for contact information and links, for going to Kadia to chew out errant kids, for proof of some of these incredible assertions, and (for some of them of course) for the immediate return of their kids (no matter WHAT Kevin was or said), was growing louder.

(Kevin, to the ones demanding the immediate return of their kids) “Well, you can talk to them about it! Or possibly employ them!”

The majority (including many of the ones who’d taken a look at the brochures) were still very upset that Kevin would do – whatever the hell it was he’d done – to their kids without asking them, but they did want to see them.

(Kevin) “Hmph! Most of them were either out in the Manifold, running away, or escaping likely death anyway! There are lots worse things that can happen to a child out in the Manifold than signing up with me! You should see what Chernobog does!”

That wasn’t particularly soothing – but it did shut quite a few of them up. They didn’t particularly want to know what “Chernobog” – whatever “Chernobog” was – did to kids; a good many of them could imagine some really horrible things – and the reality was probably worse.

It was really… Chernobog was a mountainous dark god that used human bodies as the “cells” of it’s body – absorbing them into it’s gelatinous mass, fueling it’s terrible psychic powers with the unimaginable torment of the minds trapped within those bodies, and empowering the cultists who fed it a steady stream of sacrificial victims and occasionally shared in the dark ecstasy of their gods constant sadistic feeding. Eventually, of course, those minds finally burned out, the bodies perished despite the “afterlife” status of being a part of Chernobog, and the souls could depart – but that process might require many centuries. Those cultists who voluntarily joined their spirits with Chernobog became warped and demonic things, finding in the torment of others, and their own lesser torments, a warped ecstasy. They might endure for millennia – but they too would eventually burn out, hopefully to find a life less terribly broken.

Other entities opposed Chernobog of course, but it had other ancient evils as it’s allies, and the layered, defenses of it’s personal realm placed attackers at a tremendous disadvantage.

Marty almost had to laugh. Once again, Kevin presented himself as the least of the available evils… It was hard to say where the sleight-of-tongue lay however. Was he the least evil because he wasn’t evil at all, or did it lie in never mentioning that there might be good alternatives?

Were there good alternatives? “Good” seemed to give you what you needed, even if it was free of charge. It was “Evil” that gave you what you wanted, but charged high for it. Was it that Kevin somehow turned what you wanted into what you needed?

(Kevin) “Now, those of you who still wish to shout, can shout at your own kids as they pass through Kadia; there are some gates you can use in the city down the coast! Except for YOU (as he pointed at one angry father), you can’t shout at your daughter that way; stress is bad for the baby! Otherwise there are plenty of guides available in Kadia! ”

That caused a bit of a stir, with the outraged father demanding to know who had impregnated his daughter?!?

(Kevin) “Isn’t that kind of her business?”

That left him (and a number of others) somewhat flustered – and wanting to make a quick departure to ask.

Raphael provided the captain with directions for sailing to Cyrweld. He considered warning them about the machines in Kadia – they were dreadfully intelligent – but then they weren’t really very big threats, even if they DID need more safeties!

Kevin didn’t bother setting up anything special in Kadia. There were plenty of guides, and plenty of things to see, and their Thrall-kids to meet – and about the worst thing they’d find there was the possibility of betting yourself into slavery – and you wouldn’t do that if you had a lick of sense. You had to work hard on that, or let a unicorn sucker you into joining it’s herd or some such.

Pesky parents, expecting him to keep track of individual kids… Fortunately, he could consult the computers! Oh well. Kadia could handle any outraged parental outbursts just fine! And if they just HAD to have their kids back they could always rent them! He’d even do a reasonable rate, since that just meant putting them on “local recruitment” assignments for a decade or so at most…

Meanwhile, the Bishop had headed back to Core at high speed to consult the other senior officials of the Unified Church. At least in his opinion they could no longer afford to stand neutral on the subject of Kevin Sanwell. At the very least, they would have to act as intermediaries between him and the other races of the galaxy!

In Cyrweld proper the Platypi were planning the details of their voyage… They’d been planning a zig-zagging route along the coast and between various islands to maximize their profits and pick up speciality items along the way before jumping off to one of the other continents, where they turn such goods into a much greater profit – A multi-legged trading voyage in the most classic style!

With more ships and reinforcements aboard, they could even afford to come closer to some of the pirate dens – the cesspool city known as Ventorga, the floating fortress Alabaster, and Hables, (a rival city-state to the north).

Kevin was beginning to wonder if they’d gotten all the results they were going to get from staying in one place and waiting for people to come to them. But that was the advantage of having an expert and a diviner in your party!

He promptly turned to Raphael to ask. Would another week or two give any slowpokes time to arrive? They didn’t exactly want to advertise their position (that would scream “Trap”!), but would a few more really big spells help? If it was any help, the Thralls could loan him mana, power, and magic!

That was an interesting point! Raphael had known that Kevin drew on his Thralls, but hadn’t really seen the extent to which that power could be shared with other masters once they were formally assigned… That wasn’t much help in this realm, but other realms made things a lot more difficult – and it would be an immense help there!

Marty went off on wedding planning again; he liked the kaiju ballet idea, but wasn’t quite sure of how to fit it in…

Meanwhile, the Thralls were closing down the rabbit-hunt. They’d only participated on a small scale – but they’d mostly gone after the kids and teenagers, who didn’t really need to be involved at all, while most of the other hunters had gone after bigger targets.

That had quickly collected the minors and the lower level rabbits who were still resisting. A small number of higher powered rabbits had eluded the hunt and escaped however – including the now notorious ring-leader.

Well, that was more or less the cities problem…

Kevin checked on what the Rabbits – and the rest of the City – wanted done with the prisoners. Was it going to be bounties? Taking them away? Selling them? Dramatic public executions?

The Rabbits were open to enslavement, banishment overseas, or execution. Their sentiment mainly came down to banishment for the fodder, enslavement for the officers and middle ranks that went along with it, and execution for the ringleaders. The city sentiment was leaning towards banishment and execution.

Kevin promptly offered to pay off as much as was reasonable of their damages and fines – and, if those didn’t exhaust his offer, to pay the rest towards help in rebuilding – in exchange for ownership of the cannon fodder, middle ranks, and offspring (who mostly went with their parents).

That raised some eyebrows – he had that much money and had a use for that many slaves? Didn’t he have more than enough slaves already? – but no one questioned it.

Some of the more practical ones did wonder… Did he want a different set to haul his palanquin every day of the week? Besides… former rebels, brigands, rogues, and such didn’t really make very good slaves!

Fortunately, of course, Kevin would be shipping them off to his operations elsewhere – except whoever had passed the “do what you please” order to the three who’d attacked the lion girl. If she wanted to use them for palanquin bearers, she needed a matched set of four!

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 77

Jabba the Hutt as seen in the film Star Wars E...

Hutt it's a very good deal!

With Alys on the way back from her (involuntary) meeting with the Hutts, Ben and a young Sith headed for the depths of the city in search of clues to superweapons, Lazlo and Vi just back (from a brawl which would be reported as the largest riot on Alderaan since the last time Kira had been home), and Shipwreck and Handell missing (and presumed dead drunk), Kira was sensing lots of blank spots in the force popping up…

I looked out to the sky towards the voids I knew were coming this way. Already some of them were landing across the city and deploying who knows what. Personally, I felt there were three different possibilities: soldiers, Force predators, and powerful explosives or possibly nukes. Given the general indifference of the RDF to collateral damage and casualties, it was only a matter of time before the body count started climbing. We needed to do something to limit the damage and fast. But my ability to do much of anything on this large a scale was limited at best.

Wait a minute….

I asked Lazlo if it was possible for him to use the pyramid technique to share another technique across a large group of people. He wanted clarification as to what I had in mind and I then suggested that he use the pyramid technique to pull on the Force potential of much of the planet, and then use that power to increase the durability of everyone in the city against damage. After all, Leucross had been able to do something like that… That took him aback for a moment, and Lazlo announced that he would have to meditate on that idea for a few moments.

Ben’s reploid announced at this point that another one of his reploids was descending down the side of the canyon wall with a young Sith while pretending to be hunting superweapons. Ben wanted us to use him and the Sith as decoys to distract the RDF for the purposes of determining what they were bringing to the battle and possibly for manuevering them into a situation beneficial to us. He did announce that the RDF was heavily armed but conspicuously lacking in terms of grenades. Apparently these guys had done their homework on my tactical habits. Then Ben said he was getting shot at and stopped talking to us.

His young holosith charge had swallowed the notion that they needed the computer systems to locate his superweapon, and had taken the power and communications systems going out as an attempt to stop him.

That made it pretty easy to persuade him to bypass all security by leaping into the crevasse and using the force to control their fall. After all, if anything went wrong the emergency safety systems would stop them…

While jumping into the chasm and using the force to descend safely had first attracted only annoyed disapproval (for depleting emergency power reserves which might really be needed later on) from the locals, down below – interestingly, at the cable-based communications-and-power hub built into foundations of the city – there were rather a lot of people already.

Really heavily armed people. With some sort of hunting beasts along. And with personal body armor. And a distinct shortage of grenades…

Oh dear. They were jumping straight into an RDF task force. Wearing Kira masks. It was a good time to stop a level early…

The kid tried to mind control the entire mob. He wasn’t bad for an untrained kid – but he’d have had to be a near-god to control a couple of hundred men and a dozen force predators…

On the other hand, he’d certainly gotten their attention – and did manage to parry an entire fullisade of blaster bolts. Either he was better than even he had known, or very lucky there…

Well, these force predators didn’t seem to be gargantuanly powerful – but they were tough, strong, and fast enough to make it up the slanting walls of the city… NOT what he needed at the moment! He had to keep these bodies alive until the police had time to rescue his real body and arrest the Sith aboard his ship!

He rather desperately phased the wall – and let it snap back as the predators fell into it.

That was rather messy – and the internal pressure-wave shattered a good chunk of the wall. Even stresscrete had it’s limitations.

At least it helped him persuade his young charge to fall back. The RDF thought he was Kira anyway…

The RDF gave pursuit.

Alys had ducked for cover when the assault started… OK… There were a LOT more RDF troops on Alderaan than they’d given them credit for. How on earth had they gotten all those weapons and creatures in?

Oh, never mind that. Given stasis and the Codex, she could think of a dozen ways.

Ah, there it was! A steady stream of encrypted traffic from all over the city. That would be the RDF… A good thing Kira had gotten that military-quality encryption droid brain installed on her datapad… With that to help and her own talents, it didn’t take long to crack the encryption.

So the RDF was definitely tracking Kira – and the masks were giving them problems, although the force predators they had along made it easy to sort out the ones who were total pretenders…

Force predators? Oh dear. At least these seemed to be fairly minor creatures. Still, the whole operation seemed more to… chase Kira into a corner surrounded by predators than it was to kill him. Did they WANT him just jumping around the universe? Why? Kira always turned up with Valerie, and THAT wouldn’t help them… Wait; if an unbonded Hybrid jumped at random, where would… OH! So THAT was what they were up to! That made the plan of taking out the transport, power, and communications, and trying to “trap” Kira actually make some sense!

And to start… they’d overloaded the central power plant into shutdown, crashed a ship on the rim link to take it out, blown up the river link, and blasted the secondary power supplies. Still, even then a city on Alderaan had plenty of local backup power on the emergency systems. Almost nobody else in the galaxy – including quite a few places with hostile environments – provided protective backups like Alderaan…

Alys then came on the commlink and announced that she had broken the encryption algorithm on the RDF comm channel. How she managed to pull that off so quickly was an interesting question, but more relevant to the current moment was the fact that she was able to give us a good breakdown on the attackers and their plans. It looked like the basic plan the RDF was going for was to shutdown power, block off all transportation out of the city, and then trap me. Oddly the goal wasn’t to then unload massive amounts of firepower at that point, but to surround me with a number of Force predators and force me to drop out of the universe. Now why would they be trying that?

Wait, what if they think that I am teleporting around the same way a Codifier does? In which case such a plan would more than suffice to cause me to lose all connection to this Galaxy and drop out entirely even if I was using the Force to cheat a bit on the targeting. At which point I might well appear in the middle of space in some weird alternate timeline or something at least from their experience. Part of me still wasn’t sure that the idea of appearing in space as opposed to a planetary surface might be more mythical than real. At least it seemed to work that way in my experience. Still, that wasn’t how I was teleporting and the fact that the RDF hasn’t caught on to that fact was encouraging.

Still, why not go for the kill instead?

It looked like there were 3,224 attackers in the city now according to Alys. Most of them were divided up into teams either sweeping the city or going after critical pieces of infrastructure. The Force predators were apparently not on the same scale of the ones from Kharanoth I had fought, which was also a good thing. These were more on the scale of trained attack dogs with good speed, strength, and the ability to track Force sensitives. The attackers felt that any stray Force users killed accidently was too bad, any Jedi that got caught should have been trying to stop me, and good riddance to any Sith that got killed. That should at least keep the casualties the predators caused amongst the general populace down to a minimum, but meant we were going to have to hunt down and protect all the Force sensitives in the city. Oh crap, and that means that if Lazlo uses the pyramid technique to enhance everyone in the city, then we’ll only succeed at putting everybody on the menu.

At which point Lazlo came out of his meditation and announced that he thought is was more than possible, although he thought it much more benevolent to protect our attackers since they were the ones most likely to receive injury in the coming battle. As I caught his meaning, I couldn’t help but grin and nod my approval. Lazlo went back into his meditative trance and began to glow brightly as I could feel threads from across the planet converge on him before spreading out across the entire city. Then I felt several thousand Force potentials suddenly spring up wherever those threads attached to. Quickly the entire sky seemingly lit up with fireworks as chaos unfolded across the city and soldiers unloaded heavy weaponry wildly into the air.

Alys quickly confirmed that the Force predators the attackers had brought were rapidly turning on their handlers across the city. The fact that the handlers were all now far more durable than they had any right to be was only adding to the confusion and chaos breaking loose. We could hear from Alys’s relaying of the RDF communications traffic that there were many demands for explanations and requests for help among the soldiers. I couldn’t help but feel a bit mischievous again.

(Kira) Hey Alys?

(Alys) Yes?

(Kira) Can you insert a message stating that Kira has infiltrated the RDF strike teams? You can even include something about you can tell which one is him based on how invulnerable he is to injury.

(Alys) Oh I like it.

(Larson) Now that is just downright mean. I like it too.

Quickly enough the shooting and fireworks display intensified as the soldiers started using their own heavy weapons against the Force predators and each other. I was busily chuckling to myself over my own cleverness when the ground abruptly shook and I nearly fell to my knees. A quick look around quickly confirmed that whatever caused that had shaken most of the city. That was not good at all. Alys quickly located the epicenter of the blast to a warehouse near the power plant. Details were scarce to say the least, but all indications were that the warehouse had been thoroughly vaporized in that explosion. Was that a partial containment leak of the power plant vaporizing a nearby building? That wasn’t good to say the least. A reactor containment loss of that scale could put a significant hole in the city. And if the reactor has been damaged badly enough to begin losing containment….

Vi then announced he was going to the reactor to see what was going on. I told him it was too far to get to quickly even with Hypertime, but he waved it off and said he was going to teleport there instead. He can’t be serious, even with my skill with both the Force and the Codex, I don’t dare try to teleport using the Codifier technique. I tried to warn him of the dangers when Vi abruptly vanished in a puff of displaced air. Well, he either made it or not. I suppose we will find out soon enough.

Vi in fact was trying a variant on Ben’s “Ultimate Dodge” – essentially attempting to use the Force and Codex to control a microjump though hyperspace. He almost managed it too – winding up only a few hundred feet short.

That wasn’t as good as appearing out of nowhere to surprise everyone, but it did let him get a look at what was up.

There were a bunch of real techs under a couple of RDF guards off to one side – it looked like the RDF had arrived in a batch of heavily armored vans disguised as service techs, shut down the plant, and then captured the real tech’s who’d promptly been dispatched to fix it.

With hypertime and his various other abilities to draw on, defeating two normal guards was no real problem – and the techs could give him a rough count… It sounded like a couple of higher-ups, two heavily-armed Kreedath, and a few techs and soldiers.

He went in through the service corridors. That was easy enough. The repair techs had a bunch of droids with all the passcodes for the plant along.

Ah. There they were. Two command-types giving orders over the comms, the fellow faking the “temporary disruption, no reason for alarm” reports, and two… Kreedath?

No. Not Kreedath. Two fully-armed and equipped Infinite Empire Rakata Troopers. That explained where that massive blast had come from – and it was BAD. That pair outgunned every security officer put together in the city all by themselves.

He got into position and tried to take one out with a hyper-accelerated drug dart. That way it would punch through his body armor. It did – but the military automatic medical pack countered his drug. Fortunately, they hadn’t spotted his position – and his use of hypertime was letting him fire and shift before any normal human could react. Eventually the creatures would have to go down! He had more sedatives than a medical pack could possibly counter!

Unfortunately, he popped up to find that someone – possibly the Commander or Lieutenant, who were using hypertime themselves – had managed to get the direction of his next attack right. He managed to dodge most of the shot – but not even hypertime would let him fully avoid the corona-effects of a Rakata Blaster.

It blew a gasping hole in the wall and flung him hundreds of feet into the air above the river. He could use hypertime to generate enough thrust to direct and cushion the fall – but realized mere moments later that it would also make him a glowing, fabulously conspicuous, and unprotected target for every RDF fighter in the city.

He teleported again just ahead of the incoming shots – jumping aboard the incoming (thanks to Alys) Republic Command Ship.

Fortunately he had the JLA credentials to start giving some directions, even if they were mostly to contain the situation with a double-sided shield-englobement, to attempt stun-strafing of the “rioters”, and to beware of some REALLY high-powered weaponry that was in use.

Lazlo, meanwhile, was switching out the powers he was bestowing every time the RDF forces started to get used enough to them to use them effectively. Incredible toughness gave way to enhanced dodging, and then to jumping… It was very entertaining in a keystone cops kind of way!

Alys was busy getting into the communications channels – and countering the line that “no help was needed” that the RDF communications specialist was putting out. Fortunately, she was far more persuasive than the RDF comm officer.

In the meantime I figured someone had to be directing all of these soldiers. And that meant there was someone in charge somewhere and they probably were Codex users. If we could decapitate this operation and get the power back on, then we might be able to rout this ambush completely. Unfortunately, the sheer amount of Force noise and chaos around us was making it incredibly difficult to tell much of anything going on right now.

(Kira) Alys, someone has to be directing this operation. Any idea where they are?

(Alys) Been working on compiling a list. Looks like eight command staff and two special advisors.

(Kira) Special advisors?

(Alys) Difficult to determine who they are. They aren’t RDF though and they are making the general soldiers nervous. Despite being allies, the general sentiment seems to be that the advisors blew up several of the soldiers when they couldn’t get their pet under control in a timely fashion. That apparently was the warehouse.

(Kira) You can’t be serious.

(Alys) Afraid so. Looks we have one officer providing technical assistance for the operation. Two directing the Force predator teams. Another two responsible for the secondary power links to the rest of Alderaan. Then we have an Overall Commanding Officer down at the power plant along with a second lieutenant of some sort. Both of the special advisors are down by the power plant too.

At that point another explosion rocked the city as a blast struck the opposing canyon wall. That easily looked like a capital ship level blast that came from within the city itself. So unless someone was hiding a Star Destroyer in the city, someone was using Rakata weaponry inside the city. That was not good.

(Kira) Alys….

(Alys) That came from the power plant.

(Kira) I’m enroute now. Get the military down here NOW!

(Alys) Understood.

(Larson) What are you doing?

(Kira) I’m going to stop the idiots from using those weapons inside the city.

Alys, from her booth two levels up, broke into the republic military communications as well (which they found annoying), and was busily relaying information and calculating… Full-power Rakata rifles fired blasts on the level of star destroyer primaries! They’d presumably fired at low power, but they were still incredibly lucky that all that had blown up was a warehouse…

Wait. Maybe it wasn’t just luck. Safety Fields… A safety field was simply a low-powered shield generator. She’d assumed that the way everything was over-engineered on Alderaan was just their usual “absolute safety” idea in action – but the power supplies were over-engineered as well, and every system had a built-in power reserve, and the multitude of projectors which made it possible to shape and control the fields on the fly could be stacked instead of being used for finely-controlled shaped fields…

And the cities hypermatter reactor was absurdly over-engineered as well.

If Crevasse City had an instants warning, and some presets on the system controls… It might be able to survive the planet blowing up. “Blending into the environment” and “unobtrusive” could just as easily be read as “camouflaged” and “buried in the planetary crust”. No wonder the damage was so… contained.

Their planetary shields were among the best in the galaxy too. Any weapon which could threaten Alderaan would make short work of almost any other planet in the galaxy. Massive defenses hidden in plain sight…

Ben, meanwhile, had been steering his charge towards the power plant (on the premise that restoring power would allow the research to begin) while body-jumping to pass on requests to the planetary security forces that they board and recapture his ship.

Unfortunately, he’d recognized a blast from a Rakata weapon easily – and he definitely didn’t need that going off in any city he was in! Even remotely!

Still, if he could restore power, the security systems should swing the edge back to the local cops… He couldn’t bring in a ship though, and – as amusing as the idea was – he couldn’t run an extension cord to the Mrs Beasley even with a hypertunnel.

Wait a moment. What about with a codex gate or overlay? Not to the Mrs Beasley – but to another Alderaan… Crevasse City had many times the power it actually needed available; all he had to do was reach a major power-cable nexus and set up a gate to borrow some of it from an alternate version!

Besides, it was something to do besides frantically dodge badly-distracted RDF troopers and their frothing little force-predator pets… That had to be Lazlo. Only he would find a way to empower thousands of people, use it to grant marvelous bonuses to his enemies, and then sit back and drink tea and innocently watch as all those benefits and enhancements somehow added up to total catastrophe.

A major power nexus wasn’t hard. . They’d been fairly near the power plant anyway.

Ben focused on creating a gateway-overlay to another, very similar, Alderaan – thus linking their two power systems together – as “Darth Kiddeous” looked on and speculated about ways to turn the gate-effect into a superweapon.

With that I ignored his protests as I ran off down the street towards the power plant. There was no way I was going to be able to make it to the power plant in a timely fashion and in condition to fight even using Hypertime to speed things up. Running simply wasn’t going to cut it. I needed to move faster than that and the bike was still back at the spaceport. No choice then, I’ve always wondered why Jedi and Sith never tried this despite what seemed to me like a natural enough thing to try. So I leapt into the air, grasped myself telekinetically and pushed forward. That worked to some extent, although gravity reasserted itself quickly enough. A few more leaps and pushes quickly worked out that I needed to push upwards at an angle to keep my flight level. With that worked out, I quickly mastered steering and speed as I flew along the streets at higher and higher speeds.

Judicious use of wraithing enabled me to fly downwards at an angle to take me to the power plant, and soon I was on the right level but still several kilometers away horizontal. Then another bright flash from another weapons blast blinded me for a moment. Not wanting to delay my progress any, I kept going at full speed above the street. Besides, the streets were clear of vehicles because of the festival, and the people had largely retreated indoors. It wasn’t like there were going to be any….

CRACK

I struck something hard, then went rolling through the street. By the time I finally stopped, I was face first in the pavement with my legs dangling over my head and my ears were ringing.

Son of a bitch.

Luckily it looks like my durability enhancement kicked in just in time to prevent serious injury. I was busily righting myself when I heard a female voice.

(Voice) Are you alright? Did you get thrown from a crash or something?

(Kira) I’m fine, just a little dazed for the moment. That bright flash of light caught me off guard.

(Voice) It almost looked like you went through that tree there! I don’t see any other cars though! You shouldn’t be driving during the festival anyway! And don’t you know you should be indoors right now?! You should go see a doctor! By the way, that is a really expensive looking Kira costume you have there!

Something about this chatterbox sounded familiar. Finally getting into a sitting position, I looked up at who was speaking to me.

(Kira) Ashley Tremsel?

(Ashley) KIRA?!

In what was probably a historic moment for Alderaan, Ashley actually was at a loss for something to say. As proud as I might have been under other circumstances, I had other priorities that actually mattered right now. Getting up and brushing myself off, I waved as I floated up into the air and continued my flight towards the power plant.

I was able to close that last distance quickly. It looked like whatever was going on in the canyon was doing nicely at distracting everyone from the flying blur zooming over the streets. Getting a view of the power plant, I saw Ben and what looked to be some kid dressed as a HoloSith standing over a power conduit. From what I could see, Ben seemed to be struggling with some sort of portal. Landing next to him, I was quickly able to gather that he was trying to open one instead of close one and so I thrust my hand at the gateway as I threw my power into assisting Ben with the effort. That caused the rippling gateway to smooth and stabilize. Oddly enough there didn’t seem to be any difference looking through the portal as opposed to around it. I was about to ask Ben what he was trying to do when the kid shoved a lightsaber into the portal.

A lightsaber was a spacefield effect, drawing most of it’s power from dark energy – and leaking a portion of that energy across the interface that defined the “volume” of the blade. Shoved into a transdimensional portal, a nearly two dimensional cross section of the blade existed in each universe transversed – and the rate of radiant energy leakage was inversely proportional to the distance over which the potential dropped off.

Nearly two-dimensional “slices” of the blade meant that that distance approached zero – and the rate of energy loss approached infinity, multiplied by countless trillions of universes.

With virtually no dark energy left in the volume of the blade, the expansive force of the cosmological constant became an implosive force – and the flood of radiant energy from nowhere that was causing power blowouts across countless Alderaans cut off as the lighsaber, and the hand holding it, were crushed into neutronium and beyond. The “implosion” shockwave in the structure of space was detectable light-hours away.

That caused some sort of weird IMPLOSION that yanked me off my feet but left me unharmed. Getting back to my feet AGAIN, I saw that there was now a crater in the ground under the portal. The kid was standing there looking dumbfounded at the severed stump of his arm. Ben and the kid started arguing about the prudence of shoving fields inside each other when I noticed the power start coming back on around the city. Ben seemed insufferably pleased with himself at that, but I was more concerned with whoever was using Rakata weapons nearby and how that explosion was likely to bring attention to this location.

True to my predictions, I saw what looked like two Rakata or Kreedath stumbling through a hole in the reactor building. I figured that they were going to start shooting at us, but I was amazed when the two of them began to run for the river. I gave chase, but the first one pulled out a Rakata rifle, pointed it at the river and fired. That threw large amounts of steam, rubble, and water into the air and forced me to stop and block the blast wave.

The first Rakata then leapt into the maelstorm that was formerly the river as the second one hobbled along to follow. Moving in Hypertime to get behind him, he reacted to my presence as he whirled around to point the rifle at me. I easily grabbed the rifle and tore it out of his hands. As he reared back to punch me, I pulled out the subspace lance and jammed it into his ribs. That immediately froze him in place and he began to topple over backwards. Using telekinesis to cushion his fall, I then went to the edge of the river to see what happened to the other one.

At first I had thought he had blown a hole in the bottom of the river to reach some hidden underground facility or something, but then I had seen that instead he had just leapt into the hole and was laying still as the water and rubble filled in the void he had blasted into the river bottom. Probing harder with the Force, I could tell that what limited signature I could sense from a Rakata had vanished entirely. What was going on? Something just seemed off about the scenario somehow. I found it hard to believe that the Rakata could actually use the reploid technology that Ben had been using.

Not wanting to approach the Rakata for fear of a trap, I pulled out a knife and threw it at him. It sunk into his shoulder and stuck as the Rakata failed to take any notice of the injury. Almost like he had died or something.

Wait a minute

I slapped my forehead for being so stupid. The Rakata were relying on stasis fields and probably some sort of a short range transmitter system to hide and await rescue from the rest of their people. Well, I wasn’t going to give him the chance to be rescued. Reaching out the Force, I started telekinetically pulling rubble and such out of the way as I then extracted the Rakata out of the river. Setting him down on the ground next to me, I then put one of our stasis belts on him, and removed his own for the time being. Retrieving the two Rakata weapons, I removed the power cells and made sure the damned things were thoroughly discharged.

The two RDF Codex users that were supposedly were in the area were conspicuously absent though. Two Codex users powerful enough to be in command and two Rakata armed with Infinite Empire weaponry could readily threaten to do enough damage to kill me even with Ben and Vi’s support. The worst they could do from their perspective is force me to drop out of the universe to dodge the attacks. Wait, was that what the Force predators were for? To sever enough of my links to this Galaxy so that I would be unable to find my way back? That would certainly work for most anyone to prevent them from ever returning. That also had ominous implications for my friends, family, and Valerie. At least as long as the RDF is unaware of the Bond, Valerie should be relatively safe as only a tangential concern in the RDF’s mind. Still, this just reinforced the fact that I had to track my friends and family down now and not get too distracted with side issues.

This still left the damned issue of not knowing where to look. For all of our spectacular success at turning this ambush into a rout on our attackers, we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. Recognizing that my frustrations were getting the better of me, I shifted to the Codex side and ran some of the meditations. After that I called Alys.

(Kira) Alys, I am going to need pickup on two captured Rakata down here. One in stasis, another frozen via subspace. Any word on where the RDF commanders have run off to?

(Alys) Looks like they’ve gone to ground. We’ve been busily rounding up the soldiers and Force predators. Since the power came back on the shields and other protection systems throughout the city have been deploying and restraining the soldiers so that the police can pick them up with ease. It’s an impressive system.

That system was also one I have found deeply disturbing on a number of levels for years now. The fact that the system has only been used for benign purposes thus far did little to quell the fact that the authorities could readily stamp out dissent at a moments notice. Given how ubiquitous the system was, there was little that could be done about it without heavy firepower, unusual abilities, or leaving the planet. The first was banned on the planet, the second was rare, and the third option was more or less what was left to those uncomfortable with the system. Increasingly these days I was beginning to think that this planet wasn’t what I wanted to consider home.

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 76b

Infinity of Forces: The Beanstalk

Yes it's "On Fire"! It's a STAR you idiot!

With the Yeveetha assault crippled for the moment, the military working on it’s own Ratsoogomoz, most of the Sith factions either in retreat or acting as allies of convenience against the Yeveetha, the group was free to make a side trip…

With all my gear packed away, I sent out a message for a courier to pick me up on the Mrs Beasley for a trip to Alderaan. I wasn’t about to go out into what was likely the biggest trap in the Galaxy aboard the same ship as everyone else. I made it clear that I was willing to pay hazard pay to the courier for the transport and that I didn’t want her broadcasting my route to the Galaxy either. She seemed a little insulted by that, but she had to admit that I was the first person she had transported worth ten’s of billions. With the bike and other equipment loaded up, I then boarded the courier’s ship and we departed.

The others took various ships of their own – especially Ben, who’d built his own laboratory-ship (with a wide variety of drives) and a final empire telepresence setup.

We did end up pausing once we were back on the grid so that I could send an encrypted message to the JLA and the military informing them of my decision to return to Alderaan with the intent to spring the RDF trap. I knew they were not likely to be happy with the pronouncement, but I figured it was better than simply showing up unannounced. Besides, it gave the military and JLA time to try and get resources in place for the inevitable confrontation. With any luck, we might be able to spring the trap on the trapper.

We arrived in the Alderaan system a few days later. It was easy to see that the local Republic fleet had been drawn down significantly in size compared to the last time I was here. Almost as soon as we were detected though, the fleet hailed us and demanded that I come aboard the ship for questioning and the usual Yeveetha-search… The courier looked to me for guidance and I simply directed her to comply with the order. Docking with the largest ship in the fleet, I was met by a number of officers who did not look particularly happy to see me.

They wanted confirmation of the “plan” for me to provoke a RDF capture/kill attempt on myself. This was apparently not what they wanted to hear, and I really couldn’t disagree with them. When one of the officers became a bit snotty and made the suggestion that I leave and make their lives easier, I bit back the comment that I wouldn’t even be having to go through this mess if the JLA had kept custody of my family – not that the military rank-and-file really knew a lot about the JLA anyway. Finally I had to ask if they were going to prevent me from heading to the surface or not. With that the one in charge announced that since I had done nothing wrong in the eyes of the Republic and Alderaan legal system, I was free to go to Alderaan – although he made it very clear that he would rather see me leave and not come back. Since I wasn’t planning on leaving, the military advised me that a police escort was being provided.

With landing clearance given, I boarded the courier ship again and directed her to follow the instructions to land on the surface. That brought the ship to the surface in the port city of Aldera not that far away from Crevasse City. Landing at the directed docking pad, I saw the police escort already ready and waiting for me. I began unloading my bags and bike from the ship when I recognized a familiar face at the head of the police team.

(Larson) I thought I was past the point where I had to respond to calls involving you.

(Kira) Man, what did you do to get stuck with this job?

(Larson) Apparently having “Kira Experience” was a major prerequisite for getting this assignment.

(Kira) Oh now it gets a separate line on a resume these days?

(Larson) Oh yes, I am the only person in the Galaxy that can prove that I caught Kira Keldav not just once, but dozens of times in my career.

(Kira) I do suppose you have a point.

(Larson) Now, care to explain why you are here causing me more paperwork?

(Kira) Visiting my hometown isn’t an excuse?

(Larson) I know you better than that. If you aren’t lazing under a tree somewhere, you’re stirring up trouble.

(Kira) Alright fine. I am here as bait for a trap. There is a collection of nuts almost assuredly laying in wait for me and I want to capture and interrogate them.

For the first time in my life I thought I was about to hear Officer Larson swear. There was a time in my life where making Officer Larson swear out loud had been a goal of mine, but now I was feeling sympathetic. This plan was ill-conceived on a number of levels and my luck wasn’t going to hold out indefinitely. The idea that this was going to be a simple bait and switch routine was missing the fact that this was a heavily populated world full of people I knew.

(Larson) Alright, any idea who these people out to get you are? A little bit of information on what to expect would help us immensely.

(Kira) Ok, but don’t expect to remember any of this once I am done explaining.

(Larson) Don’t try any of that Jedi Mind Trick stuff on me.

(Kira) I’m not going to. But the nature of the information is such that one tends to forget it very quickly.

(Larson) Oh geez, it involves THEM doesn’t it? What have you gotten yourself mixed up in?

(Kira) Them? Wait a minute, you mean you can remember….

(Larson) Yep, encountered them during my time with the Navy doing border patrol. At first they thought it was because I was like them, but then they determined it was because I wasn’t willing to let things go. That’s another reason I suspect they requested me to be here.

(Kira) Alright, this is a long story, but I shall try to explain.

I explained what I knew of the RDF and JLA conflict and how this had gotten my family and friends caught up in the middle of it. I then went on to explain some of the details of the investigation thus far and the deadends I kept running into. Quickly enough I could tell I had lost the rest of the police assigned to escort me, but Officer Larson kept staring at me with that vaguely disapproving look I had gotten all too used to. More than once I felt like I was back to trying to explain how I had gotten possession of alcohol despite not being of age to drink. This was not a pleasant experience.

(Larson) Ok, I don’t like this plan at all, but I still have a job to do. By the way, the lawyers want to see you.

(Kira) Lawyers? Why would lawyers want to see me?

At which point a rather weasely looking man dressed up in business attire appeared before me. I don’t know what it was, but something made me instantly dislike the man.

(Lawyer) Excuse me, but are you Kira Keldav.

(Kira) I am.

(Lawyer) Ah good, in your absence I have been appointed your attorney by the court. I will need your account information for handling the royalty payments.

(Kira) Royalty? Wait a moment, why am I being charged royalty fees?

(Lawyer) Goodness no, the courts have decided that you are entitled to royalties from the sales.

(Kira) Sales? What the hell are people selling that I am entitled to royalty fees?

(Larson) Oh, this is going to be good.

(Lawyer) Your likeness has been quite popular this year with the upcoming Festival of Masks. So everyone who makes a mask of you for sale has to pay a royalty fee.

My jaw just about hit the tarmac with that. I just could not fathom the idea of my face being popular enough for use in the Festival of Masks to warrant royalty payments. Then I saw just how much was transferred to my accounts. It wasn’t an immense amount of money, but I had a good idea how much the typical mask sold for and how much of that went to royalties. Doing the math came up with a number significantly higher than I would ever have imagined. My astonishment became even worse as we arrived in Crevasse City and I saw the preparations for the festival that night starting. A significant fraction of the costumes and such were of me and my companions.

This was disturbing on a number of levels. Last time I was anywhere near this world, I was being reviled as a Sith Lord come to conquer then destroy the planet. Why in the Galaxy my face was the popular one to wear this year was hard to fathom. I found myself staring at a pair play dueling with a faux lightsabers in disbelief. Officer Larson must have seen the look on my face. He and the others in the police escort had switched into costumes to better fit into the crowds while still wearing the police armbands signifying their real status.

(Larson) I take it something about this is eating at you?

(Kira) Last time around, my name was enough to send people running in a panic and started a massive shootout. Why am I this popular?

(Larson) Well, not everyone thinks this is proper. Beasley’s fans all think this is incredibly distasteful and have been protesting the whole event. Those that believe everything the Jedi say all think Beasley is a loon. A lot of rest simply go with what they are seeing in the news all the time.

(Kira) What I see in the news all the time is Death Asteroids, Sith Assassins, destroying planets, and commanding armies of Yeveetha.

(Larson) And none of that has ever been verified except for the wild rantings of a crazy old lady. What has been seen on the news here has been the immense bounty on your head and the remarkable lack of bodies you’ve left in your wake. The recordings of you protecting children from that monster Leucross and how you helped overthrow a major Sith Lord have also had a hand in making the more rebellious youth see Kira Keldav as a role model and a hero.

(Kira) A role model?

(Larson) I find you to be a pain in the neck at times, as I imagine most of the authorities in the Galaxy do. But I have to admit you’ve done some good things.

Alys, Ben, and the others thought it was quite amusing – especially the “Jacob” masks and the wooden lightsabers for those who wanted to be risque. Ben, Alys, and Lazlo got some masks of themselves, while Vi went for a Kira mask – and Handell got a beer keg mask.

With that, we began to wander around the quickly starting festivities. My initial plan had been to visit the house to see what traps were waiting there. While that would likely result in the destruction of the house, the thought that Mrs Beasley’s house would get caught in the ensuing destruction was a tempting one. Visiting the parents of my friends might also trigger traps, but then that would be including them in the line of fire. And it wasn’t like I could pose dramatically, make a tongue-in-cheek monologue and expect everyone to flee. All that would do is draw attention and a crowd. There really was no good way to find the trappers without springing the trap it seemed. If there were any trappers here. I could sense the other party members arriving in the city, and I could feel the various other people in the city too. But I didn’t sense any blank spots like Codex users save for the party members.

Speaking of which, had I not become “used” to seeing clones of most of them, this would have been a really weird day. My ability with the Force made it easy to tell who was wearing costumes and who was not so there was no awkward moments there. What was weird was seeing myself as a costume for others to wear. A part of me had been wondering when the pretenders would start showing up, I just hadn’t expected it to occur all at once like this. Some of those costumes were pretty elaborate and ostentatious too.

Soon enough Ben and Alys met up with me. Vi and Lazlo went off to play the various games, while Shipwreck and Handell had apparently disappeared to go get drunk or something. I still wasn’t picking up anything with my senses other than a vague sense of unease that was hard to place. Ben and Alys I think were having too much fun impersonating themselves to really put much thought into what to do next as I ended up getting dragged to a play. That was a piece in what I figured the locals would consider incredibly bad taste as the play told the story of how the Sith were the ones to rise up against the Infinite Empire and liberate the Galaxy. The Sith mostly died heroically vanquishing the threat and the Jedi then stepped in to seal away the remnants of the Infinite Empire so that it would never trouble the galaxy again take credit and bring peace.

To me this seemed like ancient Sith propaganda, but I also suspected that it had a kernel of truth to it as well. After all, the Jedi weren’t much for rising up, seizing military command, and striking down their enemies… Personally, I doubt there was nearly as much of a distinction between the Jedi and the Sith at the fall of the Infinite Empire as there was now. Indeed, I figure it was probable that many of those that fought the Rakata would be classified as Sith today. Hell, depending on a person’s definition, I was a Sith. I never have learned about the origin of the split between the Jedi and the Sith except that it seemed to follow some time after the fall of the Infinite Empire. Part of me wondered if it was simply that the Rakata blew up Sith with those massive weapons of theirs.

Apparently the audience thought the play wasn’t so good, even as a work of fiction, as they quickly dispersed after the play and didn’t mill around to discuss it much. As I got up to leave, I noticed that Ben seemed to have gone catatonic. A quick snap of the fingers in front of his eyes and poking him in the shoulder provoked no response. Reaching out with the Force, I could tell he was alive, but something was….. off about him. Ah, now I recognized the problem, Ben was using that damned reploid technology of his to run around Alderaan. Given the lack of a consciousness, I would say that something had cut off the link to the real Ben somehow.

Could someone be jamming him? I suppose that was a possibility, but I found it hard to imagine that anyone even knew to look for this sort of technology. And if someone was jamming unidentified signals on general principle, then they were either incredibly stupid or paranoid. So someone probably wasn’t jamming him then. Probably unintentional interference or a technical malfunction then. Officer Larson, Alys, and the other police officers noticed Ben’s condition and started their own diagnostics while I sat back and considered the options. Trying to scan for any interference was going to be awkward without Shipwreck since we didn’t quite know what to look for. I wasn’t quite sure what ship Ben had arrived in to begin looking for him either. Besides, that was going to be very difficult to explain to the police that I was wanting to find Ben’s ship so that I could find where his mind went.

Ben, meanwhile, had seen everything go dark and quiet… It took him a moment to realize that it wasn’t the lights and such in the theater; it was that sensory input from his replica had been cut off.

That turned out to be because his ship had been boarded by a Holosith who was trying MUCH too hard to be impressive – and was wearing a powered exoskeleton to mount his armor on – and some minions. They were now in hyperspace heading for wherever-it-was that the Holosith considered his base.. The Holosith wanted him to build a hand-held superweapon capable of destroying Alderaan.

Ben went to quite a lot of trouble to persuade the youngster that there were superweapons already on Alderaan, and that he could look for them safely by trying out the Reploid technology. They could return to Alderaan and descend and start using the databanks to begin the search!

The reploid-clone turned out to be… a teenage boy. So much for the big impressive armor. And so much for notions of just disposing of the inconvenience; he’d just have to get the kid into their experimental treatment program.

Besides… He wasn’t sure that a hand-held planet destroyer was even possible, much less something that he could whip up on the spur of the moment even if he WANTED to come up with something like that! (Was the Sith kid just deluded, or did his reputation really imply that he could?)

Meanwhile, back on Alderaan…

At that point I became aware of a number of ushers beginning to circle our position around Ben. It looked like their clothing was a lot bulkier than it had any right to be and there were a lot more of them than would be needed to clean this theater. Perhaps it was a deliberate jamming after all?

(Kira) Can I help you?

(Usher) Is there perhaps a problem?

(Kira) It looks like one of my friends has had a seizure after that light display.

(Usher) Unfortunate, would you like us to call for medical assistance?

(Kira) Shouldn’t be necessary, although thank you.

(Usher) In the meantime, we have an urgent call for the young lady. If you would follow us please, we can take you to a private booth to receive the call.

That was a blatant attempt to lure Alys away from the rest of us if I ever saw one. The police were still busy poking at Ben’s reploid, but Alys had caught on to what was happening with the ushers. I was about to call out the ushers on their weak excuse for a lure when Alys suddenly announced that she would gladly go along with them. Catching her eye, I realized she intended to get caught and reveal the identity of whoever it was that was directing these people. Perhaps that would give us the lead we were looking for. But why were they going after Alys? Were they trying to remove all of my allies before engaging me directly? In ways that helped me more than it would help the attackers since I could then fully cut loose with the less discreet techniques.

A few minutes later it looked like Alys had reappeared around the corner chatting excitedly on a commlink, except that her personal Force presence (as weak as it is) was clearly moving away from here at significant speed. I proceeded to head out of the theatre as Officer Larson followed protesting.

Alys had been handed an old-style sensory immersion helmet to take her message on. That was so obvious that it was hard to take seriously! It looked like it had… knockout gas in the scent-generating mechanism.

She faked semiconsciousness, and her kidnappers cheerily carried her off – to a very palatial ship indeed. With quite a few guards, and big ramps…

Oh dear. A Hutt. This wasn’t an attack, it was a very insistent offer of employment!

The Hutts wanted her too… hack into the republics central financial network on Coruscant and help them with a few projects – some immense money-laundering schemes, transferring some funds, and other financial shenanigans. They were willing to offer her rather a lot to help them – and she wasn’t in a good position to escape either.

Wait a moment… The RDF finances – or at least a portion of them – came from the Senate. With the Hutts information to help her, maybe she COULD crack the network and trace it!

The knew something about the RDF already? How could…

Hutts were highly resistant to force-based mind control. They couldn’t protect gear or others from the Censor, but they could remember… And had trouble with skills, which was why they needed so many servants and translator-droids – and relied so much on crime and bribery rather than the usual droid-based economy.

That had made them the Infinite Empires secondary administrative species – and, when the Infinite Empire had come apart, they’d just… taken over in their own right.

Hm. The Hutts were also willing to search for Kira’s family and help out her brother’s military career. She think discreet protection would be better – and she should be able to get out of this just fine without any assistance or violence, albeit with some loss of moral decency…

She came to an agreement, parted amicably, and talked with a few other festival-goers (including a kid who liked her Alys mask; he’d collected his masks every year!) Before she told the police that she’d been kidnaped, but that the kidnapers had run off when they thought that Kira was hot on their trail – and headed back towards the others.

Back at the theater…

(Larson) Hey, your friend is back there is a coma or something and you’re leaving?

(Kira) First off, that is just a remotely operated body he is using to pretend to be here. Second, someone has grabbed Alys and looks to be making their way to the spaceport.

(Larson) Alys? She’s over there talking on the commlink.

(Kira) That’s a droid made to look like her.

(Larson) What? Oh for the love of the Force.

He promptly went off to get the other police chasing down Alys while getting Ben medical assistance. In the meantime, I suddenly received a message from Alys indicating she was alright and in the presence of a Hutt wanting to bargain with her. That wasn’t what I was expecting, but since she was indicating that she was alright for the time being, I wasn’t going to make an issue of it yet.

Vi and Lazlo had gone to see some competitions – and had started an argument with the Mrs Beasley supporters. This had become a brawl (which they were both enjoying very much) but it went more than a bit overboard as Vi went into hypertime, Lazlo spread the word that Vi was one of “Kira’s Death Clones!”, and the fire-extinguisher systems went off…

There was a mighty brawl – from which Vi managed to escape unharmed (thanks to armor and defenses) unidentified thanks to the fire-extinguishing foam and Lazlo claimed self-defense on…

The Flash Lynch Mob had been a surprise though – as had been the attempt to crash a vehicle into Lazlo, the illegal cyro-needler, and the news-scenes of “Kira” disarming the valiant people of Alderaan one after another.

The news media, of course, reported what they’d seen – “Kira” defeating dozens, being near-invulnerable, and then (apparently) teleporting away. After all, Kira HAD recently captured a bunch of cloner-specialists. The “Death Clones” weren’t TOTALLY implausible.

It was about that time that I started hearing screams that Kira Keldav was attacking in the plaza. That quickly brought Officer Larson back out of the theatre ready to yell at me but he caught himself when he saw me standing there as dumbfounded as he was. Then one of the big screens on one of the nearby buildings lit up with news footage of a “battle” being fought by Lazlo and someone in Hypertime against what looked to be Mrs Beasley enthusiasts. It didn’t look like anyone was getting injured yet and the area was quickly getting saturated with fire suppression foam. Reaching out with the Force, I could feel the presence of a hole that I was beginning to recognize was Vi. Comparing my Force sense against the video display confirmed that it indeed looked like the “Kira” was indeed Vi in disguise. Vi then dove into one of the piles of foam and slipped away without the mask.

That started prompting cries that Kira Keldav was now teleporting to escape the area. Lazlo responding to news and police questioning with some nonsense of “Death Clones”. That then provoked more hysteria that I now had teleporting death clones out to do my dirty work for me now that I had recently knocked over a major cloning facility not too long ago.

Oh for the love of…..

It seems like no matter what I do, someone finds a way to make it look bad for me. Vi I could tell was insufferably pleased with himself about this. Officer Larson was watching the screens next to me and looked like he was torn between laughing and sighing in exasperation.

(Larson) Is it always like this around you?

(Kira) My reputation these days has very little to do with anything I’ve actually done. It’s been incredibly frustrating to be accused of all sorts of nonsense I had no part of and yet have it all stick to me.

(Larson) I hate to be the one to tell you this, but a person’s reputation often has little to do with what they actually do.

(Kira) Forgive me if I don’t find that reassuring.

(Larson) Well consider it karma for all the headaches you put me through.

Alys then got me on the private comm channel and announced that she had made a deal with the Hutts. The Hutts would help us track down the RDF’s funding in exchange for assistance in releasing some of their funds that had been frozen by Republic authorities for some time now. She didn’t go into much more detail than the fact that the Hutts apparently were immune to the influences of the Censor and could help track the RDF.

Vi and Lazlo showed up not too much later. Vi particularly had an insufferable grin on his face. I was about to punch him on the nose in retaliation when the lights all across the city flickered, came back on, flickered again, came on, went out a third time and didn’t come back. I held off on giving Vi my gratitude as I looked at Officer Larson. He was on his commlink trying to get a report on the situation. Soon he reported that it looked like there had been a malfunction of the main power generator, the secondary feed that was fed under the river exploded, and the tertiary feed at the top of the cliff also suffered from a malfunction of some sort. Now everything in the city was on backup power or batteries.

I don’t think anyone there thought this was a coincidence.

The police suddenly found their hands full trying to get a handle on the situation as a call went out across the city for everyone to return home and await restoration of power. Alys started using that datapad of hers to try and get a handle on the situation while the police were complaining that Ben’s comatose body was declaring to have been kidnapped by the Sith and was now plunging down the cliff wall with him in tow.

Unfortunately that sense of unease was growing in my mind. Reaching out with the Force, I tried to feel out for incoming dangers and trouble. Focusing hard, I suddenly was able to discern a number of blank spots in my perception moving this direction. Whatever those were, they felt vaguely hungry and were completely blank to my senses otherwise. That felt like the vampiric space moss shielding at a guess. Why that stuff would be in the air moving towards the city had ominous implications though. Officer Larson must have seen my unease.

(Larson) Repair crews and service vehicles are already on their way. Is something wrong?

(Kira) There are a number of blank spots in my perception moving this way quickly. At a guess, I would say it’s vehicles equipped with Force shielding.

(Larson) Force shielding? Then how can you see it?

(Kira) It’s like seeing still water in a swiftly moving stream. It stands out if you know what to look for. I can’t tell anything about what is inside, but I can guess who they are after.

(Larson) So we’ve got stories of Kira Death Clones attacking party-goers, Ben Therus running around with a Sith trying to blow up Alderaan, massive power outages across the city, and an attack group of Force hunters and who knows what else coming to kill you?

(Kira) That sounds about right.

(Larson) Yet I’ve watched you the entire time and you sat quietly in a theater being perfectly well behaved.

(Kira) I know right? Who would have thought that a juvenile delinquint like me would be this undeserving of such hostility?

(Larson) It’s like responding to those old calls from Mrs Beasley all over again. Except she wasn’t carrying heavy weaponry and taking matters into her own hands.

I looked back at the horizon towards the incoming ships laden with Force shielding and had to agree. And again I had to think to myself that this whole plan was a bad idea from the get-go. Pulling this off without heavy casualties was not going to be easy.

Immunity to Aging and other Peasant Powers

Elders from Turkey

Second Hand Heroes?

“But ability (x) is so cheap and useful; why doesn’t everyone take it?” is a fairly common, and deceptively, simple question in Eclipse. It may be applied to “Immunity to Aging”, or to Luck (specialized in Skills), or to many, MANY, other powers – and it is a good question.

In fact, here’s a version of it from Alzrius:

Immunity/aging seems to be a relatively cheap ability to purchase, costing from 2 to 4 CP (that I’ve seen here – it seems to vary depending on if you want to live for a long time, or a very long time, or indefinitely unless killed).

My question is, does purchasing this immunity affect the ability score modifiers that go with aging in d20? Will this make you immune to the penalties to your physical ability scores? Will it still let you earn the bonuses to your mental ability scores? If the answer to the latter two questions is yes, then what’s to stop someone from taking this immunity at character creation and declaring that their character is starting their adventuring career at venerable age, and earning a free +3 bonus to their Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma?

Also, given that you can presumably purchase this anytime, what’s the in-game rationale for why most characters don’t make the relatively small investment required to become virtually immortal? Fear of death seems universal, so only 4 CP to live forever seems like it’d be worthwhile; given that, why don’t we see societies where deathlessness is common?

The answer comes in a couple of levels.

Perhaps most importantly for why everyone doesn’t buy it, it’s because character points are an abstraction – which is one reason why new purchases need to be approved by the game master and need an in-game explanation if they’re outre’.

After all, pretty much anyone can learn to operate an artillery piece. Few people actually do though; it takes time, and effort, and most people have limited amounts of both – and so invest them where they think it will do them the most good. It takes a LOT more time and effort, if it’s possible at all, without a teacher and an artillery weapon to practice with – and most game masters will have serious doubts about how a character who has never heard of artillery learned to operate it no matter what the player wants to spend points on.

Thus most non-player characters won’t be acquiring luck, or immunity to aging, or regeneration, or similar powers unless they have some rare inner spark, or obtain some magical gift, or spend years working on it. Sure, they may be afraid of dying – but so are people in the real world, and they still go right on slowly killing themselves with bacon-double-cheeseburgers rather than working out and getting healthy to extend their lifespans.

Adventurers have easy reasons to develop weird powers, and often do – but rarely worry much about old age. That’s not a very common cause of death amongst them.

Still, we could easily throw together a low-cost “handy peasant benefits” package…

  • Privilege/Generally overlooked by monsters and armies and evil overlords. Specialized/only works as long as they behave themselves and pay their taxes (1 CP). Isn’t it a little odd that most evil overlords in d20 institute harsh systems of “justice”, raise the taxes, and ravage a few attractive young women, but rarely actually fulfill their supposed alignment goals of causing mass suffering save as a side effect? Are we quite sure that d20 peasants don’t already have this?
  • Universal (also affects energy damage) Damage Reduction 2/-, Specialized/only works against accidental injuries, not intentional attacks or actions (1 CP). Here, again, this may be in play for the peasantry already; they don’t have many hit points – but they don’t seem to die from trivial (but infected) injuries, or accidents, or have twisted limbs from poorly-healed broken bones, or terrible scars from falling into a fire as a child, or have any similar problems very often at all. They also don’t usually seem to die from tripping on a step, being gored by bulls, or similar causes very often.
  • Immunity/Disease (Common, Major, Trivial), Specialized/only works against more-or-less mundane diseases, not supernatural plagues and such (1 CP). This will provide a fair degree of protection against most ordinary diseases – which fits. In standard d20 powerful healing magic is rare – but you rarely encounter massive disease-based child mortality, half-cripplied polio cases, people with brain damage, or the rest of the human wreckage the plagues we now vaccinate against used to leave behind.
  • Privilege/Aided by the local spirits. Specialized/only applies to mundane accidents (1 CP). In a world of open cookfires, candles, and torches, fire was a regular occurance. Farmers lived in terror of insects, blights, and droughts. Storms washed out bridges, winds flattened crops, and hunger was never far away. People had many, MANY, children, in hopes that a few of them might live. Thus a village might have a population of fifty or sixty percent children – most of whom would soon die. With this handy knack, such minor disasters will be greatly mitigated – resulting in those cheerful little hamlets with a reasonably modern population distribution which you find in most d20 backgrounds. Welcome to the Shire gentlemen!
  • Immunity/Age. That can actually be taken in many ways – a few of which are discussed below – but the most common version acts to extend the user’s maximum lifespan – effectively slowing the aging process more and more as you upgrade your resistance. This results in more-or-less normal aging effects, they’re simply spread out over more time (and often pushed a bit towards the “quick at the beginning and the end” model, thus avoiding decade-long infancies and decades of extreme old age). This is pretty common for sci-fi and naturalistic conceptions, where drugs, or genetic engineering, or whatever can slow, but usually not truly stop, the aging process until things start to REALLY go wrong. That’s Uncommon, Major – and extends the user’s lifespan according to the degree of immunity purchased, reducing both the good and bad effects of aging. Trivial will probably give you +50% or more though. For a mere (2 CP) you can fill your villages with wizened-but-hearty elders to provide wise advice, old folktales, and other vital (if non-physical) adventuring supplies. Oddly enough, of course, such characters are quite common in d20 games – as opposed to real life, where serious elders were generally valued because of their rarity.

There. At a cost of 6 CP, that turns the usual medieval peasant into the usual d20 peasant. They DO tend to be a great deal healthier, happier, and longer-lived than genuine medieval peasants really were.

Alternative notions of Immunity/Age may include:

Preventing attribute loss due to old age. This version doesn’t actually extend the user’s maximum lifespan – but it will result in hale-and-hearty elders and prevent problems that may be interpreted as attribute loss, such as arthritis (Dex loss), senility (Int loss), sensory limitations (Wis loss), and so on. Given the basic d20 aging rules – where aging improves your mind – it’s possible that most people have this already. That’s Uncommon (aging checks are pretty rare after all), Severe (attribute losses are fairly nasty), and Trivial (since we only need a couple of points of resistance), for a net cost of 3 CP.

Cosmetic immunity to aging. This version simply makes the user look young – an effect so trivial that it costs virtually nothing. At best this is Uncommon, Minor, and Trivial, for a net cost of 1 CP.

Complete immunity to aging. This is the classic version, wherein the user remains young and vital (or at whatever age he or she invested in it). In practice, this is a lot less useful than you think. Unless they’re living a safe, secure, lifestyle, most people don’t die of old age. They die in accidents or by violence, from diseases and toxins, in disasters, and in many other ways. In most settings, those will be bigger problems than they are in daily life (at least for those of us living in countries with the leisure to worry about role-playing games). Immunity to aging doesn’t mean that you won’t die – it just means that your average lifespan goes up a bit and something else will get you.

Can you take something like the “immunity to attribute losses due to aging”, start off as a wise elder, and get (under the standard rules) +3 mental attribute bonuses?

Sure you can. Of course, that means that you’ll be dead fairly soon anyway – and the game master is likely to want a lot of backstory, a really good reason why you’re taking up adventuring in your old age, and a substantial investment in less-than-optimal (for an adventurer anyway) skills and abilities (“Parenting”, “Farming”, “Specific Knowledges / Names and Birthdays of Relatives, Local Village Layout, and fifty or sixty years worth of similar stuff – which pretty much comes down to the “Aged” disadvantage on page 18 of Eclipse. You can do it, and you can get some benefits out of it – but the cost is competitive: Spend 3 CP on that immunity, another 24-48 CP on all the useless stuff the GM is likely to demand (for a total of up to 51 points worth of unhelpful items) – and get a total of +9 on your mental attributes, Specialized/puts you close to death from old age (leaving you EXTREMELY vulnerable to aging effects) – a net value of (12 x 9 x .5/Specialized) = 54 CP.

In purely mechanical terms, this comes down to writing a long backstory, coming up with a lot of plot hooks, and getting a +3 CP bonus and some skills you’re probably never going to actually use adventuring in exchange. Overall, more or less a wash.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice Part XXII – The Logic of Lions

玉山 / Yushan - 回程沿路風景

Yes, they ARE watching.

After dropping off Catherine and Ms Tengu, Charles headed over to the restaurant where Gustav would be waiting.

Lets see…. that would be the fivefold harmonic adapter, one of his new armor-sash designs, that Adamant Reaper Daiklave Raugdring (“Demon-Crusher” in Tolkien’s “Elvish”), a selection of wrapping papers, and some bows and invisible tape and such.

The restaurant was quite nice for where it was – and was certainly quite secure. He could feel a ward going up in one of the upstairs private rooms right now…

When he asked for Mr Gustav the restauranteur shook his head and pointed upstairs – so Charles wandered on up.

There were certainly a lot of wards in that room… Against intrusion from all five senses, against Essence-based detection, against… well, it would be easier to determine what was NOT being warded against.

Hm. It looked like Gustav had just warded against Lunar Exalts and was starting in putting up a ward against Solar Exalts.

(Charles, interrupting) “Uhm… Lots of wards… Do you people really spy on each other THAT much?”

(Gustav) “Certain… circumstances.. . warrant this for now. Were you followed?”

(Charles) “I don’t think so. Why? You didn’t order anything all that much.”

(Gustav, giving him a pained look.) “It’s not about the order, young man. It’s other matters. But I sense you were not, in fact, followed. Please, come in.”

Charles did… There was already a platter and a selection of drinks here. None of it was ambrosial- and Gustav did not have a single ambrosial item on him, or – for that matter – any artifacts!

Well, Charles didn’t use much ambrosia on food and such either – but no artifacts?!? The man was virtually NAKED!

Gustav offered Charles a seat and took a drink of his celestial coffee. He looked like he lived off the stuff.

(Charles) “Anyway, I found the stuff you needed, although I had to substitute on the armor a bit… What I got is better than the specs on the old “discreet essence armor” though!”

(Gustav) “How? Please, show me the items. Did you remember the wrapping paper?”

(Charles) “I’ve got a couple of different styles of wrapping paper!”

He got out the items.

Gustav started scanning them – but with thaumaturgy, carefully avoiding touching the items and the use of charms.

The Sash took some time… Those WERE pretty complicated gadgets.

Gustav remained impassive until he was done scanning though.

(Gustav) “I must confess, I was going to ask for commando armor at first. But I thought it would attract too much attention.”

(Charles) “Oh! Well, this model is fairly discreet!”

(Gustav, shaking his head.) “This is not for me. This is an anniversary present. I wasn’t going to tell you until I saw the items.”

(Charles) “I think I’ve got some good wrapping paper for that!”

(Gustav’s facial expression did not change, although he leaned forward.) “Please, show me.”

Charles did – roses and other flowers (among various other patterns as needed).

Gustav run detections on that too – but it really was just ordinary wrapping supplies.

(Gustav) “I apologize, but I have to be cautious right now. Especially where my wife is concerned.”

Charles made another intuitive jump – although the Canal HAD been close to Gustav’s territory.

(Charles) “Oh! Would that be Astrid by any chance? We met a while back… It would be a very large coincidence, but life in Yu-Shan seems to be full of them these days.”

(Gustav) “So that WAS you… first Arnmalassaris, and now this. Jupiter works in mysterious ways. Yes, Astrid Jorgensen is my wife.”

Ah! So Astrid was the daughter of Kristoff Jorgensen, the head of the Bronze Faction! That might get some more orders!

(Charles) “Well, she was a nice lady! I hope she likes your presents!

(Gustav) “She needs them more than ever before. And I might as well mention it while you are here. Have you seen this Solar Exalted?”

Hm… Gustav was projecting an image of… Rachel Cartier, Mitchell’s sister. Had they left Yu-Shan again or something? Maybe back to visit their father if things had cooled off on Earth? There had been that ninja school to go to…

Well, as a Sidereal, he would probably have gotten the info on a sidereal exaltation being subverted by the Cauldron – so he’d be aware that Charles was acquainted with her. He might be testing!

(Charles) “Hm. I think so! Unless that’s somebody using her form, or she was using someone else’s, she was involved in all that mess with the dark temple… almost a year back now wasn’t it?”

(Gustav) “Ah, good, honest young man. She… attacked Astrid. (That was the first bit of emotion that Gustav had shown.) Fortunately, her sudden Exaltation frightened the Solar away. Unfortunately for us, we were outside the Manse when she did so, so you know how that goes. I suspect she was in the madness state that occasionally strikes Solars. She fought like a madwoman. All of our guards were nothing against her.”

Well, that hadn’t been very nice of Rachel – unless something was up of course.

(Gustav) “If you see her, I need to know. I don’t want to kill her, but my father-in-law is infuriated. He wants her… restrained.”

Well, that was understandable.

(Charles, still quite honestly) “I don’t think I’m likely to at the moment, but I’ll keep an eye out for her!”

(Gustav was wary, but he did seem to accept it.) “Thank you, and thank you for following through with these orders. If she comes back, she will be facing a much tougher opponent. I will try to repay you for upgrading the order.”

(Charles) “Oh not a worry! Things tend to vary according to what I can come up with!”

(Gustav) “Please, I insist. I don’t forget these things.”

(Charles) “Uhm… Well, OK. It’s really not a big deal though! Are there things that need fixing in your areas? I like to fix things!”

Gustav looked suspicious, but less so than when Charles had come in.

(Gustav) “I will let you know. There is always something.”

These Sidereals were definitely into Fate! The armor and blade were ordered BEFORE the primordial exaltations put in an appearance!

(Gustav poured himself another cup of Celestial coffee.) “Well, I suppose our business is done. I will be returning to my work. Is there anyone who needs to pick you up, young man?”

(Charles) “Oh I usually just take the canals!”

(Gustav) “Hmm. Well, if you think you are safe, I will leave you be. Please be careful out there.”

(Charles) “I will! And you have a safe trip too!”

The Bronze Faction really was down on it’s luck there! And Poor Mr Gustav was very unhappy! He really needed to do something to improve their territories! And build those stargates! And Manses!

There should be some time! It was unlikely that anyone had expected him to clear that much of the que within the next decade.

Meanwhile, a pair of Celestial Lions were considering things… The boy might be making noises about “finding” various items, but nobody “found” the right items to fill THAT many orders – especially if you counted the stuff he’d delivered by messenger – without the backing and resources of some really major power, direct access to the Wyld and the ability to pull things out of it, or the ability to craft items at incredible speed – and the boy HAD offered to supply armor for a pretty fair number of them.

“Finding” stuff in your pack where you’d put it wasn’t much of a feat, even if you COULD still truthfully claim that you’d “found it” on a technicality.

The backing might still be there – the kids current job told them that – but pulling stuff out of the Wyld rarely produced standardized designs. So the kid could make at least mid-range items at high speed – and could use the Factory-Cathedral to mass-produce them.

A pretty fair number of creatures had found ways to do that over the ages – but the number of them who might reasonably put in an appearance as an obliging child in Yu-Shan, and who were likely to have a friendly relationship with Lytek, was far more limited.

That pretty much left an Exalt of some type, a godblooded byblow of a truly major god, or a representative of a power that Lytek seriously respected or owed favors to.

Still, at least at the moment, the kid didn’t seem to represent a threat to Yu-Shan. If anything, he seemed to be out to help everyone equally, starting with the unemployed deities – arguably the most down-and-out group in Yu-Shan in many ways.

Besides, given that – as an underage citizen of Yu-Shan – they were pretty much obliged to protect the kid anyway, it was nice to have a worthwhile recipient of that protection for once!

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice Part XXI – The Maiden in Durance Vile

Panoramic view over the ancient city of Babylo...

Alas Babylon!

Gustav was a bit harder to find than the others… He’d asked for his official order (a Fivefold Harmonic Adapter) to be delivered to his office in the Forbidding Manse of Ivy. In practice, of course, that meant usually “deliver it to the front desk unless you’ve passed the lowest tier exams to get in.” He was quite flexible on where to send it though – which was probably a hint about his unofficial orders.

He didn’t have a phone either.

Charles checked the records first; all the reclaimed territories were tracked – even if not in a lot of detail.

Interestingly, the territory Gustav ran was actually entirely in a Manse – the Occluded Observatory. The location, however, was actually a good distance from there. Still, it was in the same quadrant of the Celestial City – not that that was really saying much.

Botheration! He sent a message that Gustav’s (unspecified) stuff was ready to the Forbidding Manse.

Gustav got the message fairly promptly – but didn’t respond immediately. It was just too hard to believe… his orders were actually on time? No wait – they were AHEAD of time? That hadn’t happened since he joined the Bronze Faction!

Charles sent messengers to the rest of the list – mostly assorted deities who had ordered things. Deities tended to be a lot more protocol-bound than the various Exalts.

It had been quite a whirlwind tour really!

He would have to look into his unidentified trackers though… He was fairly sure that the one near the Babylon gate was Terapishim (although, to be fair, the fact that a conclusion was sensible in no way implied that it was accurate)- but the third one was pretty much a mystery. Perhaps the Bronze Faction? Or someone Gri Fel had brought in?

His schedule for the next few days was busy enough that he hadn’t yet gotten to doing more than asking a few of his contacts to bring him anything they heard when Mr. Montague turned up. He was already known for his love of artifice – which wasn’t bad for someone who’d been Exalted for less than two years – and a chance to have a look at a functioning factory-cathedral that was evidently being run efficiently was just too good to pass up!

He wasn’t the greatest authority on Manses by a long shot – but you didn’t have to be an expert on manses to feel the currents of essence flowing through the halls! They were so strong that he could feel them augmenting his own power somewhat – and HE was a Celestial Exalt! What would it do to a god, god-blooded, or mortal? How had the gods and mortals working here missed it? Had it simply built up gradually enough for them to get used to it or had the place been out of action so long that they were assuming that it was normally like this when it was in full operation? Or were they just security-conscious enough not to say anything?

Still… what in the Thousand Unspeakable Names of the Primordial Ones had the boy done?

He went to some trouble to remain impassive and look nonchalant – but he was unable to fully conceal the fact that he was impressed – and more than a but curious.

He made something of a show of checking the records on the place – as if he wouldn’t have done that before coming as a matter of course – before raising an eyebrow.

(Mr. Montague) “Hey, Charles, I’ve got a few questions for you. Can I talk to you upstairs in the office?”

(Charles) “OK! What’s up?”

(Mr. Montague) “Okay, first, this place’s Hearthstone is listed as no-rank. But I’m registering a powerful, high- ranking Hearthstone… Any idea what’s going on?”

In fact his instrumentality said the place was – somehow – generating a Hearthstone of ABOVE the fifth rank! Up in the ”legendary” levels!

(Charles) “It’s working much closer to it’s full potential now!”

Full potential? CLOSER? It seemed to be… drawing power from elsewhere or generating it internally, a lot like… an Exaltation. It no longer seemed to need anything EXCEPT Charles – and it was amplifying the power of everyone who came near it!

(Mr. Montague) “Okay, but the place should look at least a little different. I mean, that normally takes a redesign. And I’m registering some unusual powers here. I mean, it’s a factory-cathedral. It should need maintenance… but I’m not feeling any of that. “It’s nothing BAD. Just… not listed on the register.”

(Charles) “Well, it is a primordial design, by a soul of Autochthon. It just needed more power supplied! It’s mostly been in low-power mode since the end of the Primordial War!”

(Mr. Montague) “Oh, yeah, that’s definitely on the register. But a lot of artificers, and all of them much better than me, tried to get it out and failed.”

(Charles) “Oh! Well you need to feed the power into the dragon-lines of Yu-Shan indirectly, then lock it in an interactive hysterisis loop to stabilize it; once the augmented functions and receptors are online, you can feed it power directly! It’s a lot of help!”

Montague mulled that over for a bit.

(Mr. Montague) “Ah, that would be… if we only had the Charms for it. That’s some powerful geomancy you’re talking about there.”

He couldn’t help but look impressed. That called for… direct attunement to to geomantic energies. That was an unheard-of gift!

(Charles) “Oh you don’t need charms really! You just need to design artifacts that produce the effects you need!”

Oh dear! Was it time to fall back on a secondary smokescreen?

(Mr. Montague) “Well, where are these artifacts? If we could get every factory-cathedral in the city like this…”

It was definitely time. Still, at least he’d gone for the implication that – because such artifacts were possible – Charles had used some.

(Charles) “Artifacts like that tend to integrate into the essence flows of the manse… I might be able to make some of them of course… Some might be problems though; I’m not allowed to use the big forge yet!”

(Mr. Montague) “What, you mean like an Integrated Utility Artifact suite? Wow.” (He looked thoughtful again.) “I mean, stuff of that power is not unheard of, but…”

(Charles) “I did have lots of help, and some of it very special!”

It was getting a bit delicate there… It was very hard to actively lie to a Sidereal – but you could let them fool themselves if the truthful pieces you provided seemed to fit together into something they thought was more plausible than the truth.

Oh well! If it didn’t work, it didn’t work! Someone was bound to figure out the truth sooner or later – but hopefully, by then, he’d be friends with everybody!

Ah, it looked like Mr Montague had definitely picked up on “not allowed to use the big forge yet” bit… That was absolutely true of course – the place was sealed and no one was allowed to use it – but that wasn’t how he was taking it. He looked quite interested now!

“The big forge”? What did he… The child was regretting that he wasn’t yet allowed to use the PRIMAL FORGE?

YET?!?

Still… Dudael was directly resonating with the boys energies – and it was a primordial design by an emanation of Autochthon. Did the child actually have some reason to believe that he might someday get to use the Primal Forge?

God-blooded. And born outside of Fate. An unprecedented master of geomancy and artifice. Of the powers… of Gaia and Autochthon.

And he hadn’t been able to find out ANYTHING about the child’s parentage or early childhood.

(Mr. Montague) “Who helped? I mean, I’m fairly sure it wasn’t anybody who’d get past the defenses. Maybe you could get me in with them.”

(Charles) “Uhm… I don’t think I’m supposed to tell you that! Is that OK?”

(Mr. Montague, looking somewhat suspicious.) “Sigh… I guess so. But if you or they feel otherwise, let me know, all right? I just want to build stuff faster.”

(Charles) “I like building stuff!”

(Mr. Montague) “I wish I had more time for it. You’re lucky, you know that?”

(Charles) “Very lucky I think! I get to build lots of things!”

(Mr. Montague, smiling – but not quite as much as he had been) “Well, I gotta go. I think I have a mission. Let’s keep in touch, okay?”

(Charles) “OK!”

Oh well. Mr Montague had obviously wanted to know HOW – and only gotten confirmation that there was something there. Whether or not the misdirection towards primordial involvement worked was something else – but hopefully he at least found it possible.

Mr. Montague departed, although he seemed sad to leave.

Well, hopefully smokescreen #2 would delay things for a while

The interview with Catherine Wingates was up next… It was easy enough; after all, she was there every day and anyone who worked in the Factory-Cathedral could have private interviews if they wanted!

She didn’t ask what Mr. Montague had wanted. Most people in Yu Shan who weren’t Sidereals themselves know better than that.

(Catherine) “Boss, you went with that other Chosen of Serenity when everybody Exalted, right?”

(Charles) “Yep!”

(Catherine) “Does the name Maella Tengu mean anything to you?”

(Charles, blinking) “Uhm… She was working at YesterYears; she Exalted as one of what they’re calling the Aurora Caste! Is something wrong?”

(Catherine) “Okay, good. Thing is, she was an old friend of mine from school, and I haven’t heard a thing from her since. Could you tell me what happened when you met her?”

Well that was easy enough!

He ran a tracing-spell while he was at it. Once he had the link, he could send a message!

(Catherine) “Wait, you mean the Sidereal looked at her funny, then went real quiet? Something similar happened when I met Jose.”

Hm… his trace was running into a high-end thaumaturgical ward!

Charles promptly upped the power he was putting into his spell – up to the Terrestrial Circle Sorcery level – and backed it with the energies of Dudael and his own enhanced skills.

That easily blew through the ward. Ms. Tengu was in Yu Shan – but she was somewhere deep in the abandoned territories near the Atlanta gate. It wasn’t in one of the reclaimed territories either… Her quarters were nice and she was in good condition, but she was either unwilling or unable to leave – and seemed badly frustrated. There were other wards… Against detection through Essence, against detection through technology, against the Nocturnal Exalted, a keyed ward against Sidereal Exalted except those carrying a specific token, and, lastly, a ward against detection through sight.

That REALLY looked like someone was keeping her there! That couldn’t be allowed! Ms. Tengu had made him lots of lunches!

(Charles) “Hmph! One minute!”

He used a bit of shifting magic to look larger, part-animal, and part-metallic with some alchemical-looking features (and to disguise his teleporting-signature), popped over, grabbed Ms. Tengu by feel, and popped back before dropping the disguises. That should be almost impossible to trace from inside the Veilward! Even if someone managed it, they’d know that you couldn’t just teleport into a Factory-Cathedral without purifying yourself first or it would have to shut down for weeks – and Dudael wouldn’t be closing down…

Ms. Tengu was quite surprised – and Catherine gave him a VERY funny look.

(Charles, looking slightly embarrassed) “Well, I made lots of toys for myself too…”

(Catherine) “Maella! Are you all right.”

(Maella) “Oh, nothing hurt but my pride. Where am I now?”

(Charles) “Uhm… The Hierarchical Forge… Oh, don’t tell people OK? I don’t think I’m supposed to be meddling this way…”

(Maella) “Don’t worry about that.”

(Catherine) “Where was she, anyway? I’ll throttle whoever had her!”

(Charles) “Well… way off over HERE. But if you go there, you might lead whoever it was back… Ms Tengu? Do you know who snatched you?”

(Maella) “Well, I was heading home from work a couple of nights after I Exalted when somebody hit me from behind. I tried to fight back, but… well, I’m no Chosen of Battles. All I saw was this blur. When I woke up, I was in that room. I tried to leave. That horrible ward was like stone, though! And the worst part was the mental intrusions.”

(Charles) “Trying to control you, or trying to probe you? Or aren’t you sure?”

(Maella) “I’m no occultist, but it felt like they were probing for . . . something. Heck if I know what though.”

(Charles) “Well, they were certainly being very rude! “

(Ms. Tengu, taking a deep breath) “Yes. But you got me out of there. Ugh. I’m going to have to ward my apartment now. Think you can help with that, Catherine?”

(Catherine) “What, you had to ask? Of course!”

(Charles) “Hm. There was a fair amount of power there. Would you prefer to get out of Yu-Shan for a while?”

(Ms. Tengu, looking a little nervous) “Leave… here? Um… where would I go? I don’t even speak Earthly languages. And then there’s Rosa. I think she’s been looking for me too.”

Rosa? Oh yes! Ms. Rosa Cress, the Chosen of Serenity from the investigating team!

(Charles) “Well, we could go to her; I’m not sure I want to get too involved with the Sidereals quite yet. I could fix the language – a talisman that lets you speak a language or two is pretty easy – and there are lots of places you could stay on earth or elsewhere.”

At that point Dudael passed on a message from Gustav, giving a location where he’d like to meet Charles – a restaurant in a neighborhood that hovered between slum and middle class. He would like to see the items he’d ordered. He wanted to know when that would be convenient for them both, since it couldn’t conflict with a mission.

Well, that would be easy! He’d have to get back to it a bit later though…

(Charles, to Ms. Tengu) “If you like, I could just put you up for a bit while you think about it. If you’d like to be dropped off at Rosa’s, that works too.”

(Maella, considering her options.) “I will take the charm. But first… I would like to see Rosa. I think she is distraught over my disappearance.”

(Charles) “Hm… Well, I could take you by there! I don’t know if she’s in though… Have you any way of checking?”

(Maella concentrated for a moment.) “Yes, she is in Yu Shan.”

Charles looked interested… “Locate Acquaintances”? Very handy!

Catherine was looking a bit uncomfortable at Maella’s last two statements. Were those abilities something that the new Exalts didn’t want revealed yet?

(Charles) “Well, I can drop you off there easily enough! And here (fishing in his pack again) is a language charm!”

(Maella) “Thank you.”

(Charles) “Would you like me to hang a tracing-spell on you for the moment?”

(Maella) “Yes, please. It would take a lot off my back.”

(Charles) “That’s easy enough!”

Catherine wanted to go along, but there was no reason why not! Charles did ask them not to tell Rosa about his involvement. He had to go see Gustav…

Catherine had a request before they went though.

(Catherine) “Boss, please don’t mention anything about her tracking that Sidereal. There’s a lot we can’t talk about right now.”

(Charlies) “Well, those are your secrets! (with slight distaste) Most people have some in Yu-Shan!”

(Catherine) “Yeah… what can you do about it? Anyway, I’ll keep her safe.”

(Charles) “OK! I’ll drop you off!

He made another – different – disguise and did so before setting up his meeting with Gustav…

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice Part XX – Incidents of Artifice

Oh dear, no photoshop. I'll just have to suffi...

Interesting demense you have here!

Mr. Montague DID have a Celestial Manse (****). It was positioned on the border of a slum and a middle class neighborhood on the other side of the Celestial City – and was one that Charles recognized from the studies he’d done of Yu Shan’s Manses. It was the Workshop of Yien Du, a notable artificing Manse. It was no factory-cathedral, but it was still impressive by most crafters standards, and definitely more habitable.

It was a neat place to get a look at! Dudael – even without boosts – was a lot more powerful of course, but it was still pretty good and it was currently operating, too! The place was set up for metalworking, and that seemed to be what was going on right now. Fortunately for the neighbors, the manses’s noise and pollution cloaking wards were quite impressive. Only the Essence signature gives it away.

Charles simply knocked.

There was a sentinel at the door . . . a rather familiar sentinel, actually. It was Vaal Resfan, the Comet Caste Nocturnal Charles had fed fudge when he was helping Ms. Cress investigate them.

(Vaal) “Hey, it’s you! Uh… I never got your name.”

(Charles) “Lost the card didn’t you? Well, It’s Charles Dexter Ward, and here’s another!”

(Vaal) “Thanks! Sorry about that, that day was HECTIC.”

(Charles) “Not a worry! How’s it been going?”

(Vaal) “Real good! This Chosen of Serenity hired me on for some reason. You here to see him?”

(Charles) “Yep! And it’s a starting position there, but you are a Primordial Exalt now! Even if we don’t really know what that means yet!”

(Vaal) “Well, Monty’s pretty busy right now. He’s been working on this project. Even took a sabbatical and everything. I think he’s finishing up though. You want me to tell him you’re here?”

(Charles) “Sure!”

Vaal called in some other guardians to watch the door while he told his boss. He came back a few minutes later.

(Vaal) “His wife will see you. She says he’s almost done and will meet you soon.”

Vaal let him in… The manse’s living space was VERY nicely appointed; Vaal proudly pointed to his living quarters upstairs. Not bad for a kid from the slums!

And there was a nicely-dressed mortal woman there to see him.

(Charles) “Hello Mrs Montague!”

(Mrs. Montague) “Hello, Charles!” (She looked twice. Apparently she was a bit surprised to find that a child was a factory cathedral manager.) “I apologize for Salvatore not being here right away, but he has been eager to work on this project for months.”

(Charles) “Oh, is it a bad time?”

(Mrs. Montague) “Oh no. He told me he would be done-“

There was a triumphant shout from the back.

(Mrs. Montague) “Never mind, I believe he is done!”

(Charles) “He does sound excited! Was it something secret?”

(Mrs. Montague) “He was keeping it a secret from Vaal and me.” (There is shouting in Italian for Micaela. Mrs. Montague smiles.) “And I do believe he wants to show me now.”

She shouted back in Italian. Fortunately, language-spells were very easy.

(Mrs. Montague) “Sal! That boy from the factory cathedral is here with whatever you ordered!”

(Mr. Montague) “Already? That was fast! I need a minute to clean up. Sifu says I shouldn’t talk to people when I’m fresh from working!”

(Mrs. Montague, in shaky Old Realm) “I do apologize. He’s just so happy when he does get to craft.”

Vaal just smiled.

(Charles) “Not a worry! Crafting is fun!”

Mr. Montague was out in a few minutes. He was definitely more a crafter Chosen of Serenity than a socialite, and rather strong-looking. He was also carrying what appeared to be a starmetal crescent hammer in his right hand. He did a bit of a double-take when he saw that Charles was, indeed, a child.

(Mr. Montague) “Charles Dexter Ward?”

(Charles) “Hello Sir! I’ve located your items!”

(Mr. Montague) “I wasn’t expecting these for another few months or so. You’ve really come through for me. I’ll have to do something in return . . . need any small items? Work keeps me too busy for anything bigger.”

(Charles) “Uhm… Well, I’ll let you know if something comes up!”

(Charles) “Anyway… (Charles rummaged in his pack), Here’s your Swift Rider! (The model he pulled out looked like a collapsible bicycle, comeplete with thumb-gearshift). You might want to try the overdrive gear while in the air and with plenty of room though! It’s kind of tricky until you get used to it!”

The Windslave Disk was quite normal – but Mr. Montague looked over the swift rider and smiled

Mr. Montague) “That’s different from the catalog standard. If you don’t mind me asking, where did you get it from?”

(Charles) “I’ve got a lot of secondary aides to work on individual projects – and tweaking the design with some modern materials and things left room for a couple of minor additions!”

(Mr. Montague) “They do real good work! And fast, too.” (He looked a bit thoughtful) “Are any of them contractors?”

(Charles) “Well, most of them work for me… Is there something else you need?”

(Mr. Montague) “Not right now, but let’s trade cards. I definitely want to see more of what your aides can do if you’re open to it – and thanks for the stuff.”

(Charles, cheerily trading cards) “You’re welcome!”

Well, Mr Montague did seem to recognize the accelerator- and windscreen-effects. That was good! There was less risk of accidents when he first tried things out! Hm… nobody seemed too suspicious; they seemed to just think he’d put THEIR artifacts first. They’d know better if they compared notes – but considering how paranoid everyone in Yu-Shan seemed to be, that didn’t really seem all that likely!

He had poked at both of his artifacts with his hammer though… Rather cheerily. What was up with… Ah! It probably analyzed things!

He took a closer look… It looked like an artifact of the third rank, in a smaller-than-normal form at the moment. At full size, it functioned as a goremaul. It did indeed analyze artifacts and store the plans – but you needed a companion artifact to get at them though. Still, he seemed to be very proud of it.

That was very handy! Still, there was nothing too abnormal about the items he’d wanted!

Mrs. Montague insisted that he stay long enough for a few treats.

Charles was not adverse to treats.

(Mrs. Montague) “How did you get this position? In Naples, they never hired children for such things!”

(Charles) “Uhm… Well, I’ve got some really strong talents for artificing, and I think that nobody was willing to let one of the major contenders – who all have ties to particular factions – have the job, so they gave it to me after I got top-end grades in all my artificing classes in school!”

(Mrs. Montague, somewhat flummoxed) “This city… I will never understand it.”

(Vaal) “Don’t feel too bad! A lot of Sidereal spouses say that. Heck, I feel the same way sometimes.”

(Charles) “Anyway, I have lots of aides now, and that helps a lot too!”

(Mrs. Montague) “I suppose so. Well, you must be a busy boy. Why don’t you take some candy with you?”

Charles was happy enough to do that – although he had gotten enough lessons from Gramps to check the treats carefully (if unobtrusively) before he ate any, even if he was impervious to drugs and poisons.

It WAS highly ambrosial – and Vaal was happily munching on it.

Charles had a would have had a hard time outpacing Vaal’s consumption even if he’d been trying… Apparently Mrs. Montague was concerned about his skinniness. Still, he had several treats!

Mrs Montague let him go after she was sure that he’d had enough to fill him up! She thought that he was too skinny too! And obviously hadn’t been getting enough sleep!

Eventually though they waved him out…

Charles checked his privacy wards, just to see if anyone was tracking him today.

Ah, by several parties no less! Hmm… Hiparkes was possible (if unlikely), Cisneros was busy, but might have set a tracking effect (the Montague Manse was pretty throughly privacy-shielded anyway though – although there were keys, just in case someone was getting investigated), so that left at least a couple of outsiders. Probably at least one or two from the Celestial Lions!

He tried to trace the links back…

One went back to a Celestial lion watch station. The second traced back to an apartment squarely in a middle class district. The third was squarely in the middle of an abandoned territory.

The Celestial lion watch station was the one that those two Celestial Lions that he’d spoken to about the Sands worked out of. It was in northeastern Yu Shan… The apartment was in a district known for its proximity to the Celestial gate leading to the ruins of Babylon. It was in northwestern Yu Shan – possibly Terapishim. The abandoned territory was quite close to where he’d met Astrid in southeastern Yu Shan. Perhaps associated with Gustav?

Oh well! He was simply doing deliveries!

He headed off to visit Mr Malakai Run-and-Gun.

HE was one of the Lunars with a Celestial position – Junior Subminister of Extraterrestrial Herd Ungulates under Ahlat, working in the Bureau of Nature. That meant getting an appointment… Fortunately, Charles had his own staff to do the paperwork and wasn’t a god, so he was able to get one reasonably promptly.

Malakai was a big, strong, hairy fellow, although he was dressed in fine robes.

(Charles) “Mr Malakai?”

(Malakai) “You must be Mr. Ward! I understand my orders are ready?”

(Charles) “Yep! I had good luck finding some things!”

(Malakai) “Huh. Interesting. Let’s have a look!”

(Charles, rummaging in his pack) “I couldn’t find a Soulsteel Windblade – and Soulsteel is nasty anyway – but all it does is make fold-out artifact blades, so I installed some and a harmonic adapter on this Orichalcum Windblade… It will cost a couple of extra motes to attune thanks to the subsidiary artifacts, but hopefully the performance improvement will make up for it!

(Malakai) “Orichalcum, you say? Well that’s fine!… (he looked at the Windblade closely) And you said YOU did this?”

(Charles) “I installed the blades and adapter!”

Funny! Malakai seemed oddly… relieved by the substitution, although he’d hidden it pretty well there. Was he suspecting abyssal nastiness or something?

(Malakai) “You’re pretty good at this for your age. Thanks a lot. I’ll take good care of this.”

(Charles) “You’re welcome! Is there anything else you need me to look for?”

(Malakai) “Oh yeah… think you could make a moonsilver one? I’ll put that through the official channels. Probably shouldn’t even need the cathedral for it. I’ll pay you for it again!”

(Charles) “Uhm… I might be able to find one! Or maybe make some with the aides!”

(Malakai) “Well, I’d appreciate it.”

Charles checked for another trace being added after he departed – or possibly a watcher-creature – but there didn’t seem to be anything as of yet.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice Part XIX – The Shattered Mirror

Apartments facing Central Park in midtown Manh...

Could you get a more specific address?

With most of his orders completed, a stockpile built up for his classmates, and quite a lot of his next set of projects calling for either assistance from other exalts (the Lion Ring, the Stargates, the Heaven Orb, and the Dragon Mappers at the moment), required waiting on objections and/or approval (Gri Fel and Terapshim’s appointments), or required places to put them (his manse designs), Charles actually had some spare time.

After a nice long nap that meant it was time to deliver a few things! That way he might be able to get help with his new projects!

Charles decided to see Hiparkes, the Horse Lord, first. They’d met already – and the items for him were pretty minor.

It looked like he was currently at Three Toes’ stable-sanctum… Charles had been meaning to drop by there anyway! He threw in an extra amulet of Dawn’s Cleansing Light for Three-Toes, called ahead to make sure it was all right (given that it was on business, there wasn’t much of any trouble making arrangements), and headed over! It was fairly nearby after all.

There was an equine member of Hiparkes’ entourage on guard who wanted to know what business he had with Lord Hiparkes before letting him in.

Hm. Did celestial lions and such make Hiparkes nervous? That might sort of come with the horse-god package…

(Charles, showing his packages) “A small delivery sir!”

(Ramsthenes) “Ah, I see.”

Ramsthenes ran some detection Charms over the packages; even in the modern day, Hiparkes was a fairly powerful deity. Once he was satisfied that there was nothing harmful in them, he notified Hiparkes – and, a few minutes later, Ramsthenes escorted Charles into the stable proper.

(Charles) “Hello Mr Hiparkes Sir!” (telepathically) “And Hello Mr Three Toes Sir!”

Three Toes looked happy to see him; his eyes were a bit brighter now, and he no longer seemed to be eating his furnishings. Hiparkes is next to him; he was in horse form right now, and he was the very model of a stallion – although his eyes were warm and kind.

Charles put up a small privacy ward, although he didn’t really think it was likely that anyone would be spying on this kind of errand.

(Hiparkes) “Hello, young man! Ramsthenes said you had a delivery for me. I trust you had little trouble getting here?

(Charles) “None at all sir! But I managed to get a hold of the items you asked for, so I thought I’d bring them over!”

(Hiparkes) “Ah, good. Few even know that Three Toes is here, and I want it to remain that way until his domain is healthy again.”

(Charles) “Oh good! I like Mr Three Toes and it’s nice to see him doing better!”

(Three Toes) “Hi, Charles! I feel much more aware these days!”

(Charles, presenting their boxes) “That’s great!”

(Hiparkes) “Need help opening that, Three Toes?”

Three Toes whinnied.

(Hiparkes) “Very well. I’m going to return to human form.”

Hiparkes did. His human form was dark-haired, bare-chested, burly, and wearing riding leathers. He opened the packages and checked everything.

(Hiparkes) “Ah, Three Toes. The young man made you a nice… hmm… Amulet of the Dawns’ Cleansing Light, yes?”

Hiparkes helped Three Toes put that on.

(Charles, after waiting for Hiparkes to look over his own requests) “Is there anything else you’re going to need?”

(Hiparkes) “Not for the time being, young man. I will certainly let you know if I do. Your staff should be commended for their efficiency.”

(Charles) “I’ll let them know you said so!”

Hiparkes smiled, displaying a set of teeth that were definitely more horselike than human.

(Hiparkes) “Now, Three Toes, do you need anything?”

(Three Toes, over the link with Charles) “Do you have any celestial apples? Hiparkes told me they are wonderful.”

Hm… Oh! Those were just ambrosial apples! They sold for a high price among Creation’s occultists, but they were commonly available, and easily within reach for his Salary. They were quite delicious, but not addictive.

(Charles) “I think I can find some for you! It may take a day or two though…”

(Three Toes) “Thank you! I would get them myself, but Hiparkes says I shouldn’t leave my sanctum until I can take humanoid form. That’s what you are, right?”

(Charles) “Yep!”

Charles, of course, was assuming that “days” for gods were like his busy days, and a long time – whereas most gods found a year or two to be a pretty short time.

(Hiparkes) “Any more business with either of us, young man? I’d like to spend more time with Three Toes here, but I have a meeting in a few hours.”

He seemed a bit unhappy about that.

Sadly, even Charles had yet to come up with an artifact that completed your meetings for you.

(Charles) “I have lots of other errands, so if you don’t mind me leaving abruptly Sir?”

(Hiparkes) “Not at all! We all have work to do, and he needs his rest.”

Hiparkes patted Three Toes on his back.

Charles headed off… Next up, Mr Jose Cisneros of the Silver Faction!

Mr. Cisneros would have been a bit difficult to track down. He (like many other Sidereals these days) did not have a Celestial Manse. Fortunately, he did have a cell phone….

(Charles) “This is Charles Dexter Ward, calling for Mr Cisneros!”

(Mr. Cisneros) “Hey there! What do you need?”

(Charles) “Oh, I managed to locate the things you needed!”

(Mr. Cisneros) “That’s great, son!” (Charles heard a female voice off in the distance, asking him something.) “Oh, just business, honey.”

(Charles) “Should I bring them by, or would you prefer to pick them up?”

(Mr. Cisneros) “Hey, whichever works for you. I’m not too picky.”

(Charles) “Uhm… Well then, where are you at the moment?”

(Mr. Cisneros) “Here, let me give you the address. Neighborhood’s not too bad, so you should be safe.”

(Charles) “OK!”

The address was an apartment in a middle-class neighborhood populated by mortals who had managed to break out of menial work. It was fairly close to Dudael too. Easy to get there then!

Charles headed over with his items – the Transforming Vajra-Guitar, the Hearthstone Compass, and the Tent of Perfect Camouflage.

It was a fairly nice apartment building for mortals. There was even a god-blooded door attendant here, surrounded by a current of air – although he seemed a bit on edge.

(Doorkeeper) “May I help you, young man?”

(Charles) “Oh, I just have a delivery… Is something up?”

(Doorkeeper) “Oh, things have been a bit tense since the lady in 40B . . . well, Exalted. At least that’s the rumor. She’s got a visitor right now. Is this urgent?”

(Charles) “Uhrm… (checking the address) I think it’s for him.”

40B was… Catherine Wingate’s apartment. Oh! So this was where she was living now!

(Doorkeeper) “Ah! Well, I shouldn’t get in his way then! He’s got a little friend with him. I think it’s outside the door. Why don’t you take the elevator up and tell it you’re here?”

Charles did so.

The elevator ride to floor forty is not as bad as it would have been in a building in Creation; the Celestial City had had plenty of time to make high-speed elevators. When it opened up there was a most unusual creature waiting though… It was humanoid, but combined organic and inorganic components. Its eyes resembled headlights, and its legs hovered an inch off the ground. It bowed politely to Charles – whether due to it’s own special perceptions or out of general politeness.

(Charles) “Hello! I’ve got a delivery for Mr Cisneros in 40B with Ms Wingates.”

(Familiar, in a voice that reminded Charles of the pattern spiders) “Very well, l shall analyze it.”

It held it’s arms out for the package – and Charles let him have a look. It’s eyes whirred and blinked faintly as it – presumably – analyzed the package. After a few seconds, it stopped.

(Familiar) “Would you like to see Mr. Cisneros? He is available.”

(Charles) “OK! That way I can be quite sure of who gets it!”

(Familiar) “I shall notify him.”

The familiar opened the door, and did not so much walk as float into the apartment. It notified the occupants that Charles Dexter Ward was coming in – and held the door open for him.

Catherine’s apartment was fairly nice. Most of Yu Shan’s mortals dream of a place with more than five rooms, and it did have some nice furnishings. Catherine herself was sitting on a couch, with Jose sitting in an armchair nearby.

Charles had met Jose briefly before, on his first visit to the Celestial City. He was a relaxed looking fellow, dressed more for travel than for Celestial business right now. There is more than a casual resemblance to Raymond Cisneros, from the Beech Street Manse in Atlanta. Catherine looked very energetic, as she always had since her Exaltation into the Nocturnal Empyrean Caste.

Hm… There had seemed to be some tension with Raymond Cisneros at the water manse about the Sidereals / Insidious… Oh yeah! That was the line that the Alchemicals were spreading among the Terrestrials – something like the old “Anathema” routine.

Catherine smiled and waved. She, of course, actually worked at Dudael… Fortunately, and in part thanks to Charles’s efforts, the tension over her Exaltation had subsided there.

(Charles) “Hello Catherine! I found something that Mr Cisneros wanted, and he said I could come over here to deliver it!”

(Mr. Cisneros) “Is it… THAT? Sailor (he nodded towards the door) was keeping quiet about what it was, but he says it’s safe.”

Hm… It looked like Mr Cisneros suspected it was the Vajra – but he wanted to be on the couch next to Catherine. But for whatever reason, he was choosing to stay back for now. If she felt the same way about him, she was hiding it a bit better. What was… Oh THAT stuff. Ew!

(Charles, looking at Jose with mild puzzlement – what was all the circumlocution about?) “I guess it’s “that””.

(Mr. Cisneros) “Wow, son. I knew you had some good workers over there, but that was fast! May I take a look?”

Catherine looked interested and excited. She hadn’t worked on the Vajra herself. In fact… she hadn’t been aware that the project was already underway. The boss had them working on different stuff entirely. Had he done it in a personal facility?

(Charles) “Well, it was a more singular project, so I had some other assistants work on it too! And certainly, it is for you after all! You ordered it!”

Other assistants? Huh… The boss was running another artificing facility on the side? No wonder he’d been considered qualified.

Jose opened the package to have a look at Angasul, the Iron Wind – currently in guitar form.

Jose was quite pleased, and spent a few moments tuning and strumming.

(Mr. Cisneros) “Well, the tone’s perfect! That’s the most important thing. Now to test the secondary stuff.”

He went to the living room – the most open area in the apartment – and transformed the Angasul into its weapon form, testing the balance and heft. Judging from the positions he took doing so, it looked like he intended to use Angasul in both melee and ranged combat.

While he was doing that, Catherine slipped Charles a note; she wanted to talk with him at work sometime. There was something bothering her, and she would rather not mention it around the Sidereals.

Well that was easy! He ran an open-door policy anyway!

(Charles) “I trust it’s satisfactory?”

(Mr. Cisneros) “Yes, this will work just fine. I’ll need to test it when I’m piloting Sailor, but so far, so good.”

(Charles) “Well, is there anything else I can do for you at the moment? It might have to wait in the que if I can’t find it though…”

(Mr. Cisneros) “Hey, no problem there. Can’t think of anything right now, but I might have some requests for you later.”

Hm. Judging by the subtext there, those might not be for artifacts. Still, at the moment, Jose seemed to be intent on getting to know Catherine better.

(Charles) “Ok then!”

Charles left – but he did stop to say goodbye to the Cohort on the way out. Cohorts were usually based on whatever had killed the most Sidereals in that generation of incarnations.

(Familiar) “Goodbye. Your facility’s work is most impressive.”

(Charles) “Thank you!”

Charles headed off to visit Sal Montague of the Gold Faction.

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 76

Galactic Senate's coat of arms.

Now Who?

Again I found myself looking at a map of the Galaxy and found myself getting frustrated. For a bunch of fanatical nutjobs taking hostages, the RDF weren’t behaving in a very sensible fashion. The value in having hostages was in using them to make demands with the threat of violence if those demands are not met. Typically one would make the demands known quite early on in the process and then do everything possible to hide the hostages from then on. Except, we have yet to hear of any hostage demands whatsoever. About the only thing that made much of any sense was that they were holding the hostages for some critical juncture.

That still didn’t tell me where to start looking though. Given this group, much of the Galaxy was an effective hiding place since the Censor was actively shielding them from detection. For all I knew, there might be several billion of them hiding in a massive Infinite Empire base underneath the surface of Alderaan. I thought that unlikely, but the fact that it was even a remote possibility was illustration of the fact of how little we had to go on. On the plus side of things, we didn’t lack for targets if we were intent on just assaulting the RDF. Indeed, such a war would probably take years even with overwhelming force just given the fact that what little information we had suggested there were bases scattered all over the friggin Galaxy.

Which brought up another point: where the hell is the RDF getting the money to build and maintain all of this? As massive as the Republic’s budget was, this kind of operation would be consuming a significant fraction of the budget. Even with the Censor, that sort of thing would be difficult to overlook during wartime. There had to be outside income independent of the Senate’s funding, but what that might be was difficult to see. Nor did I have any real good ideas of where to start looking.

The lack of leads on most anything involving the RDF was vexing on a lot of levels. For an organization that hid in plain sight relying purely on the Censor to conceal themselves, they left few if any real traces to follow. About the only options I could see was to meet with the relevant Senate Sub-committee and see if they had any clues, start making ourselves a nuisance by knocking over RDF facilities, start making our own Starbreakers while destroying RDF Starbreakers, get caught, go after RDF superiors, track their funding, or go to Alderaan and spring the trap that was surely waiting for me there.

None of those ideas were particularly appealing on any level. I had a sneaking suspicion that most of the Senate was clueless while any that weren’t were liable to be RDF supporters. Making ourselves a nuisance would surely attract the RDF’s attention, but we risked starting a civil war or a Force user purge if we provoked them too much. Getting caught was likely to result in my death and accomplishing little else, since it was all too likely that these guys would be ready for any attempts to fake unconsciousness or death. We had no real leads on where to even look for their funding besides the Senate. Going after RDF officers higher and higher up the chain of command also had problems with escalation of violence too. I really didn’t want to get caught in what was likely to become a serious firefight in my hometown should I go there and simply leaving the Galaxy never to return had dire implications to what would be done with the then useless hostages.

That said nothing of the other objectives we kept accumulating: helping the military against the Yeveetha, talk to the Furipedes about the Yeveetha, reforming the Sith and Faded we had caught, seeking out and recovering what we could from other Infinite Empire bases, taking care of Jacob and Jarik, whatever other plans the others had in mind. I know Ben wanted to experiment with crystals among other esoteric things.

Ben was still wanting to experiment with that Stygium Crystal he’d obtained – but he could do that along the way to most missions. They could try the lightspeed-delay trick to get a better look at the republic naval base, or make some antimatter crystals. There had to be SOME sort of defense against Starbreaker Beams besides trying to “parry” with another one! If that would even work!

Could he bleed the field off through a hyperportal?

The proposal to come up with a ridiculously elaborate and complicated plot to overthrow the Republic, announce it and see who came to thwart it got laughed down.

The others weren’t real sure on how to proceed either. Alys agreed that we had too many places to look and not enough leads to narrow things down any – although she thought that trying to trace the money might be a good bet after meeting with the subcommittees. Finally after debating in circles for a time, we decided to drop the matter in favor of something we could affect: the Yeveetha war. The basic proposal there was to take the Ratsoogomoz and send it into Yeveetha space to a black hole, or take one with it. Once it got into the appropriate position, it would then use the black hole to project an interdiction field across Yeveetha space. That would bring the Yeveetha’s ability to supply their war effort to a crawl and leave their forces not in the interdiction field to be overwhelmed by locally superior Republic military forces. As the Republic pushed the Yeveetha back into their interior, the interdiction field could then be directed to contract enough to bring the edges into the reach of the Republic navy.

Trouble got to be finding a black hole near where we wanted it and knowing what section of the Galaxy to interdict. Unfortunately, our knowledge of that section of the Galaxy was sadly lacking. I was about to propose building automated subspace probes to scout out the area, when Lazlo announced he had a Yeveetha navigational computer. When I asked where he had gotten one of those, he announced that it was during a mission he had been on for the JLA. We were quickly able to confirm that he had a genuine Yeveetha navigational computer. We also found that the computer was heavily tamper resistent against people wanting to pry inside it for information. We debated for a short period of time how to crack it, but finally settled on letting the Republic military handle it since they had much better resources and experience with this sort of thing.

The military (as separate from the JLA) was pleased to learn we had a Yeveetha navigational computer and that we were willing to give it to them. They weren’t quite as happy with the proposal to interdict Yeveetha space using the Ratsoogomoz, but had to acknowledge that there were few pragmatic alternatives to the idea. Our pronouncement that we were going ahead with the plan regardless of their approval was even less well received, although they took our offer to send representatives along with the Ratsoogomoz.

Soon enough the Republic was able to crack the Yeveetha protections on the navigational computer and give us a copy of the data stored in it. That in itself was revealing on a number of levels. I was expecting a spider web of criss-crossing hyperspace routes with settlements strung along the filaments like pearls on a necklace. Instead, the Yeveetha territory was more ovoid in shape with most every visible system inside the volume settled whether there was a practical way to get there or not. It actually looked like the Yeveetha were willing to sacrifice large quantities of resources and manpower to go after those tantalizing star clusters regardless of the losses that might be incurred. Looking at the map and thinking back to the war effort, part of me was really being to wonder if the Yeveetha really were sapient in the classical sense of the word. I mean seriously, rangkors do not routinely drown themselves trying to swim to remote islands they can see on the horizon just because it looks tasty over there. Even that damned Force predator I fought gave up eventually once I proved to be too big of a nuisance to bother with any further.

Droid armies aren’t this stubbornly stupid.

It was also becoming increasingly obvious that the concept of fear just simply did not exist in the Yeveetha mindset. Maybe that was a side effect of the fact that the entire species was largely made of clones. Even Kreedath could be made to stop and consider the potential pain and suffering that excessive violence is likely to bring forth. In many ways it is like the Yeveetha have more in common with fungus than with anything more complicated. Would the threat of extinction even mean anything to them? Probably not since the last attempt to exterminate them seems to have done nothing to alter their outlook on the rest of the Galaxy.

At least it seemed that there was a black hole near the center of Yeveetha space that would suit our purpose nicely. Getting to it was going to be a pain though. Well, the Republic was sending ships and we could probably do the same on our end. The military wasn’t going to be happy about Rakata crews, but we could probably get away with calling them Kreedath for some time.

Soon enough the expedition was assembled and ready to depart into Yeveetha space. I tried to think of something else we could do to improve the odds of success, but without dedicated the bulk of the fleet to the job, there wasn’t a lot we could do. Besides the fleet would of better use outside the interdiction field where it can engage the Yeveetha that will still be loose and tackling the RDF should that issue escalate. With nothing more we could do, I waved goodbye to the task force as it departed into Yeveetha space.

I turned my attention to training Virstris and Darius while the others debated our next move. Darius I trained in the use of the Force and Codex, Virstris I trained in using the Codex, and Virstris returned the favor by teaching me the combat lessons she had taught her sister. Valerie was continuing her lessons with Ilia while I had stopped attending those. It just didn’t seem like I was getting anything more out of that training except pointers on specific techniques, which I can get anytime as opposed to some daily training regimen. Ilia’s lamenting my lack of further development I ignored as one of her snide barbs. At least the time with Darius and Virstris was productive.

One of my training sessions where Virstris was teaching me various grapple counters was interrupted when Valerie arrived. She gestured to Virstris to give us some privacy as she pulled out a datapad.

(Valerie) Kira, we need to talk.

(Kira) About?

(Valerie) The sorry state of your financials.

(Kira) I don’t recall having issues with having sufficient lunch money.

(Valerie) And that is the problem! About all I can dig up that you’ve been investing in is that Trust Fund for your friends and family.

(Kira) And how did you learn about that?

(Valerie) Your password was easy enough for me to figure out.

(Kira) Wait, you broke into my accounts?!

(Valerie) Don’t even think of trying to make this a privacy issue!

(Kira) You could have asked.

(Valerie) You were on Tatooine at the time. And I am glad I did take a look because your financials are a mess. What money isn’t going into that trust fund is sitting in a bank account doing nothing. Not to mention that ridiculously huge amount of cash you spent buying down that bounty on your head.

(Kira) Hey that was just directing the Mrs Beasley to build some items for sale. I’ve got plenty of queue space left in my authority.

(Valerie) And you may not have the Mrs Beasley forever. You need to maximize that potential for wealth generation to the fullest as long as you can. Use it to build more stuff to sell, upgrade all of your equipment, make non-perishable luxuries, and stash away reserves of supplies everywhere you go. Then take the money you make from that and the cartoon franchise to invest elsewhere.

(Kira) Invest?

(Valerie) Yes! Real estate, corporate shares, commodity futures, artwork, training, servants, and a professional team of experts to help manage things for you.

(Kira) I never really had much skill for that sort of thing.

(Valerie) You are a Hybrid with precognition and probability assessment! You can readily outperform most trained professionals in such matters with a little practice!

It dawned on me that she had a point. Then I realized what I had been sitting on top of for months and even years now and never really exploited in any fashion. Jarik had illustrated the dangers of using the Force for personal gain, but then again he was using it to help him run enforced death races. About the only danger I could see in using my talents to help pick stock and real estate investments was the potential for obsessing about it too much and becoming like some of the Corporate Sith types. Then a thought occurred to me.

(Kira) And how are you doing this? A Varen Sith can’t readily invest in markets across a large portion of the Galaxy. The Corporate types have enough issues.

(Valerie) I have an ID holding the vast majority of my non-Varen accounts and properties. I keep that ID very thoroughly protected because of that. And since Smoche granted me production queue time, I’ve been busily working the books among other things.

(Kira) Alright, I take it you already have some ideas in mind?

With that came out the datapad again as we sat down and started going through the list. First off we reviewed all the holdings in my name, which was more considerable than I had realized. Next was her evaluation of the best uses for my production queue time aboard the Mrs Beasley when I wasn’t using it for anything immediate. Then Valerie started listing a number of various investments she recommended I get involved in as she walked me through the techniques relating to evaluating prospects. Finally she loaded a high quality droid business program onto the datapad and walked me through how to use it to help me manage my holdings. By this point the Bond was resonating strongly between us. I started pretending to be dense while she was play mocking my ability. The mutual teasing was starting to escalate further when my commlinked chirped.

Sigh

(Kira) Go ahead.

(Alys) We’ve reached a decision about our next move. We’re going to Alderaan and need you to spring whatever trap is laying in wait.

On a number of levels I really didn’t think this was wise.

(Kira) Just great. Any idea what we anticipate to be laying in wait?

(Alys) Nope, just that it’s obvious the RDF would have something set up for when you showed up.

If it turned out to be a Starbreaker, I was going to be very cross.

(Kira) Alright, when do we leave?

(Alys) Everyone’s getting equipment and supplies ready. I suspect a few days. We should hear from the Ratsoogomoz by then too.

(Kira) Understood.

With that I turned off the commlink. I wasn’t in a mood to continue the teasing anymore and Valerie picked up on that.

(Valerie) You’re worried.

(Kira) I am not keen to be getting into what is likely to be a massive firefight in the middle of my hometown. Once was quite enough.

(Valerie) My intention was not to cause a firefight. That was Gregory letting the bounty hunters getting out of hand. You were supposed to trace your friend back to me and get caught.

(Kira) Have you ever known me to do what others expect of me?

(Valerie) No, and you have an impressive knack for turning the tables on seemingly impossible situations. That’s why I am not worried about you going to Alderaan.

(Kira) You aren’t coming I take it?

(Valerie) No, I have some business I need to take care of. That alter ego of mine needs to make an appearance for a little transaction.

We got confirmation some time later that the Ratsoogomoz and it’s escort fleet had arrived in the target area and had begun the interdiction effort. The Ratsoogomoz and the associated fleet had taken modest damage in the push to reach the black hole. Although given the Ratsoogomoz’s ability to manufacture parts and such, that damage could probably be repaired in time. And it was looking like they would have plenty of time since all indications were that it would be months before the Yeveetha were able to respond effectively. Plus there was the fact that the Ratsoogomoz could use the black hole as a means of defense against attackers.

That pretty much got the Yeveetha threat contained for the time being. It definitely was looking like everyone in the Galaxy that has had any contact with the Yeveetha was now sending ships to assist with the war effort and preventing the Yeveetha from establishing a foothold in the rest of the Galaxy. As a side effect of this though we saw that the camp advocating containment and reformation of the Yeveetha was now getting increased traction in the public forum. Whether this was a good or bad thing was difficult to decide. The Yeveetha were clearly completely hostile towards everything else, and I questioned whether or not the things were even really sapient. But advocating the extermination of an entire species wasn’t something the Galaxy needed to be regularly engaging in.

Still, I didn’t have any easy answers for this and I suspect there probably aren’t any.

Ban Hughes in the meantime returned all my stuff he had been busily cleaning and repairing since my visit to Tatooine. He made grumbling noises about how I took care of my stuff, but then he produced a baton about the size of a lightsaber hilt and handed it to me.

(Ban) That is the item you requested. Collapsible hilt extends out to a little over two meters with reinforced handle able to take impacts you would expect most people to generate. Against some of the forces you are able to generate I am not so confident. Now, the round knob at the end is the subspace field emitter and it is a bit fragile comparitively. I have also embedded a power cell in the hilt, but don’t expect it to hold out as long as that fusion pack.

(Kira) I don’t expect it to. This is more a niche utility item as opposed to a primary weapon.

(Ban) Right, now, I have incorporated the droid program on the datapad that Lady Soung gave you into the PDA computer on your bracer and belt. I’ve also included droid modules for piloting and shield operation onto the bike. How well those programs will operate if you try anything fancy with your powers is an open question.

(Kira) Anything else?

(Ban) Been looking at that reactive shield suit Ben and Vi brought back. Looks promising, especially given our resources, but attempts to integrate the stuff with your equipment is resulting in a number of mutual interference issues. The system isn’t integrating well and I am not sure how long that will take to fix.

(Kira) Fair enough, I had concerns about using that technology while phasing anyway. Keep me posted and thanks.

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 75 Appendum

A Tusken Raider, a native inhabitant of Tatooine.

More dangerous than you think

With that we were led back to the surface. I slung the stasised trader over the back of one of the pack animals and tied him down. Telepathically directing the animal to follow along, we loaded up and started back for Mos Losa. The journey wasn’t the fastest, but we weren’t harassed by Sand People and the one Jawa group promptly turned around and left the moment they saw us. Six days later we were back in Mos Losa. Once we arrived, I took the trader to one of the hospitals. There I dropped him off, announced that his payment for the medical bills would come out of the sale of the various goods we brought back, I muttered something about idiot Jedi, and left. The various doctors and nurses all looked rather stunned by it all as they didn’t say a word except to nod as I left.

I made sure to wander around the city a bit visiting one or two of the bars after that just to display the little ornamental trinkets I was now wearing. That certainly raised some eyebrows. After eating a decent meal and having enough to quench my thirst, I loaded into the waiting freighter Augusta and Nimh were aboard as we took off into the depths of space and hyperspace. I updated Nimh on what we found and handed over the information we had been given by the Rakata for her to analyze. While she studied that, I did my best to get all the sand off of my clothing and equipment before giving up on it as a lost cause. The best I could do was to get myself clean and stuff all the sand riddled equipment into a bag for Ban and the techs to clean for me.

Once we got back aboard the Mrs Beasley, Vi cornered me asking excitedly about my robes and where he could get a set like my own. Why exactly he felt the need for this was beyond me, but I informed him that unfortunately while I had spare sets, I wasn’t about to part with them. And it wasn’t like the droids and technicians we had were up to the task of making something that specific and high quality. And sadly, the tailor he did make them for me was sadly out of reach given my notoriety.

(Vi) I could go! I am not wanted like you are so there should be no problem with me recruiting him!

Well, I had to admit Vi had a point. And I’ve been wanting to secure Qwuam’s services for quite a long time now and haven’t had the opportunity. I could think of several things I could use his help on. At which point Vi showed me some sort of jumpsuit he apparently acquired from the Rakata. As best as I understood the what he was describing to me, that system would take incoming energy and generate a weak shield effect in response to the attack. That and some sort of subspace cooling apparatus had gotten Vi really excited about additional modifications to my robe design for his personal use. I had to sit back and wonder how intelligent it was to use that sort of a system while phasing, and I had concerns about hauling around a subspace refrigeration system while using my powers.

Well, there shouldn’t be any harm in letting him go try to recruit Qwuam. At least I hope there isn’t. Hmm, it might not be a bad idea to get Qwuam to make some nice things for Valerie. Hopefully that might help make up for some things. Oh dear, she wanted to go someplace nice, and now we might be bringing aboard a tailor able to make some really fine clothing. Why do I get the suspicion that something dreadfully formal is about to come up

My thoughts on that line were diverted when I saw Alys. I walked up to her and handed her a datapad.

(Alys) What’s this?

(Kira) Some new recruits I made arrangements with from Tatooine. The details of locations and numbers are on there. Oh, and while it doesn’t say to on the datapad, send shipments of pickles and other vegetables on those transports.

(Alys) Pickles?!?!?!

(Kira) I’m feeling generous.

(Alys) Where did you find recruits to help us on Tatooine? You recruiting Sand People or something?

(Kira) Why, yes, I am. How did you guess?

(Alys) Of all the $*(&*#$^

She went into a storm of cursing and saying not particular pleasant things about my ancestry, Hybrids, troublemagnets, and myself specifically. I ignored her while grinning with the knowledge that the swearing is likely to be heard across the Galaxy when Alys finds out that Sand People are Rakata variants. That was half the fun of it. I left Alys to scream at the wall as I considered the next move.

Obviously scouting out the Rakata facilities not under RDF control for salvage was a priority, but various teams of technicians and Rakata can handle that well enough. Scouting for RDF facilities to capture was another priority, but care would need to be taken to keep from running into a Starbreaker. I am probably going to have to have a talk with the Furipedes about Starbreaker conversion kits for the ships we have. Given some ships converted and perhaps a few Starbreakers found and salvaged, we might even be able to take the fight to the RDF directly.

That still left the mystery of the location of my family and friends. The Galaxy is a big place and even our talents at precognition and probability analysis wasn’t going to get us anywhere. Trying to take our information from the captured RDF Breakers and trying to work our way up the chain of command to capture someone knowledgible is going to take awhile too.

Hmm, it may be prudent to try from the other direction. It has been said that the RDF has at least tacit support from some members of the Senate, and there are Senate Subcommittees that have been demanding audiences with Alys, Ben, and I. I wonder how much those two facts line up? That may be the next thing to look at then, in addition to finding out where the RDF’s funding is coming from.

I will dismantle the RDF.

Federation-Apcalypse, Session 176b – Wedding Bells

Mormon Tabernacle Choir general conference - A...

Well, maybe not THAT large.

Kevin left Marty to wedding planning – albeit shooting over occasional outrageous advice as to possible entertainments – and wandered off. He had a trio of servants to assign to that Cat-girl, and wanted to drop by the Rabbits and see how their civil war was going along the way!

As far as the Rabbit civil war went, the primary villa and residence of the Rabbits was now in the hands of the “Peace” faction. The “War” faction had fallen back to a number of positions across the city as the “Peace” group tried to root them out one at a time. It was known that a good chunk of the war faction had retreated into tunnels underneath the mountain and were working on sealing off the entrances. Attempts to push into the tunnels by the Peace group were not going well. All in all, while it seemed the War group was very well equipped, the Peace group had more experience and a larger support base to pull on.

At the moment, unless the War group could pull off something desperate or spectacular, it looked like the peace group would be recognized as the “proper” rabbit clan while the war party escapees were headed for exile.

Kevin cheerily deployed a few Thralls to try and catch some of the war group bunch – both to settle things down and in hopes of being able to keep them – but after that brief evaluation, he headed off to see the young lady…

Marty was trying to stay away from anything too outre’ for the realm – although some of the Battling Business World Classics (like knifing the best man, exploding cake, and duels with “disappointed suitors” brought in – or hired if the supply of real ones was short – for the occasion) were probably out.

Perhaps he could hire that musical theater group composed (well partially) of rare anthropomorphs? Flyers preferred, since it WAS presumably going to be at the Parrot manor.

Ah, it looked like they were indeed available. They had been going to get on a boat to head to the next town up the coast, but money easily persuaded them otherwise!

Meanwhile, the young lady was happy to see Kevin.

(Kevin) “Hello there! I wanted to let you and your father know that the Panther problem has been dealt wth – and to assign these three slaves to your service for the moment. They have some skills as bodyguards, and should prove most suitable!”

She would be overjoyed to help him give the news to her father. Her new servants were a bit startling – how had Angkor managed it? – but certainly quite pleasing and very thoughtful of him. She had them await her return. Perhaps assign them to carry her luggage? Or perhaps a palanquin like Angkor used! That would really make their situation public and embarrasing!

(Lion Patriarch) “Ah, back again I see? I heard you had a run in with those bandits up in the mountains. I trust you are unharmed?”

(Kevin) “Oh yes! And the bandits should no longer present a problem – at least until new ones move in!”

(Lion, looking probingly at Kevin) “I am pleased to hear this. When I had heard that the bandits were more numerous and powerful than our intelligence on them had suggested I had begun to worry. I do apologize for any inconvenience that my faulty information may have caused.”

(Kevin) “It was quite invigorating!”

Raphael, meanwhile, was running more tests on his robots. He certainly didn’t need new robots malfunctioning on the battlefield!

Marty offered to let him test them at the wedding! They could be part of the entertainment. Maybe hold a mock battle?

Raphael found that one pretty confusion – why have robots at a wedding save, perhaps, to be bodyguards or waiters? – but was willing enough. If Marty thought that would be a good test, he presumably had a reason.

Marty just trusted in Raphael’s technical skills! It would be unusual, the guests would probably enjoy it, and presumably the odds of a “holodeck malfunction” were pretty low!

Of course, one of Raphael’s long-time goals was to create a variant of a holodeck project that would work in Core and install it in his robots. The existing Core variant – let some computers provide the necessary “props” with force-fields and simply simulate most of the other sensations through smartclothes and/or neural interfaces – just left your brain at the mercy of the computer systems! That was quite intolerable!

Meanwhile, Kevin was cheerily telling the young lady and her father the story of the battle, helping her inspect and name her new servants, and so on. It was a complete waste of time really – but that WAS more or less why they were in Cyrweld to start with! They were just passing the time while things caught up with them!

The Lion Patriarch did ask some questions regarding the battle – particularly about the Panthers involved and what sort of resources they seemed to have at their disposal.

Kevin cheerily told him (and provided some illusion-illustrations drawing on the smartclothes records). It would be in the city guards reports anyway. At least the Patriarch didn’t seem to be as nervous around him as the pesky guard-captains!

Actually the Patriarch had already seen the preliminary reports; he’d just wanted to grant Kevin the courtesy of letting him tell the tale firsthand. And he was a little nervous – after all, the youngster obviously had an unbelievable amount of raw power in reserve – but he seemed benign enough.

Kevin spent the rest of the evening being sociable with the young lady – although he did come up with an idea for a wedding present! A selection of dragon-servants! That would be great! Maybe a personal yacht too!

He really wasn’t all that sure about weddings… Most of his experience was with adolescent dragons, and “You’re mine now!” seemed to… lack something.

The Thrall-girls were even worse of course. “You’re cute! Ca’mere!” really didn’t teach you much about weddings. Weren’t they mostly designed to please brides anyway?

Marty was considering… He had a mock robot battle, a theater group… Oh! He you couldn’t have a wedding without a really good on-site bar! Weddings were fun as long as you didn’t go TOO far overboard! The one he’d attended with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Templars had been too much.

(Kevin, on the private link) “And you must invite Thawban! He is your blood brother! Plus he’s a holy knight, you could get him to perform the ceremony! Or I could! Or maybe both of us!”

(Marty, also privately) “Good idea! But what would he turn into when he hit the border? Maybe a lion?”

Meanwhile, the attention he was paying to the young lady – and the gifts – were making quite a few of her siblings and cousins rather jealous… Kevin wouldn’t have minded picking up a few of THEM to play with, but – at least for the moment – had to content himself with the information that several of the young panthers were female, cute, and had elected to become Thralls – so he could easily show off the “rewards” of such a battle a bit to stay in character and to annoy the bishop.

Raphael had sighed, and taken the practical method of looking into the local customs a bit… Major noble weddings were often hotbeds of political maneuvering, justifications for local festivals, featured fireworks and illusion displays to keep off evil spirits, parades in honor of the local gods, and local gods who showed up at weddings to bless or curse the couple…

Marty immediately added the fireworks and illusion displays.

Unofficially there were often absurdly indulgent bachelor parties, including wild nights with concubines before the wedding.

Uhm… Consulting the prospective bride was beginning to seem in order.

Federation-Apcalypse, Session 176a – Nine Tales and the Darkness

Darkratos Light&Darkness

Pesky Interface Zones!

Kevin grumblingly went off to use light magic to bless the city walls and some schools (blessing he local temples with forces that weren’t associated with the local gods was surely in poor taste), no matter how sticky-syrupy-sweet it made him feel. Pesky Silmarils and the Church, always pushing him to be good! Maybe it was a good thing that he hadn’t found the third one yet…

He strongly suspected that the Bishop was jumping to conclusions anyway! The man had come to check out a realm that was being contaminated by dark energies, had found Kevin – an acknowledged demon lord – working large spells, and figured that it was him. While that was logical enough, he certainly didn’t feel that it was conclusive. After all, someone attacking the city had cursed Eight-and-a-Half-Tails long before HE’D arrived – and he’d seen plenty of greed, dominance-behavior, territorial expansiveness, sexual possessiveness, and other behaviors that went with his “darkness” powers since he’d arrived. It wasn’t like he was big on good and evil as abstract principles himself.

They might even be manipulating him a bit – trying to steer him towards light magic at the same time that they used him to eliminate a problem! If they could detect this stuff from dimensions away, couldn’t they have handed him a gauge or something? If he swung the balance to the “Good” side wouldn’t that foul things up just as badly? Or was that their plan?

Oh, the guy had hung around; he’d just stepped out for a few minutes to have a look around. Well, that was SOME help.

Raphael was taking some time out to rebuild his robots – and that took a certain amount of time no matter how much he sped things up. He felt positively naked without at least one around!

Fortunately, his construction ritual would only take a day or so. The shapeshifting magic that he imbued them with helped compensate for local rules and small flaws!

It wasn’t like he’d EVER let someone else touch them! They might omit an important safety feature! It would be silly to let someone else build or design them when it would be his life on the line if they decided to enslave humanity!

Huh… These were turning out to be magnificent works of art, and much better than the last batch… Oops! He’d been neglecting to do regular updates!

Marty was supervising the recruitment and outfitting of the crew for that upcoming voyage with the Platypuses. He was also discreetly looking for information on those archmagi Eight-and-a-Half Tails had fought – and playing with Limey and Elerra, he had missed them.

They’d missed him too!

The walls mainly existed along the entrances to the mountain passes and the harbor. Currently there were eight schools spread across the city, plus three Magical Academies. The project took most of the day – as did Raphael golem-making and Marty’s mixed investigation-and-recreation. It would be evening before they were all finished – although there were some conversations along the way…

(Bishop Ranald) “Well, it is difficult to just say how much energy you need to balance these things out. Typically if you can bring things close to neutral, the realm will quickly enough ground out the remainder. In my experience this is about the point when the resistence to additional holy energies drops significantly.

(Kevin) “Uhrmmm… resistance?”

What “resistance”? Oh wait! Most people couldn’t afford to just blast away with raw power until things gave way…

(Bishop Ranald) “The dark infernal energies will resist the attempt to purge them from the realm. It is in it’s nature to spread, grow and resist purging. This effect can even become cumulative after a certain point. Once one manages to purge the dark energies enough that it will no longer be able to sustain itself, the “resistance” drops significantly. (Pause) Tell me, do you not feet it painful to channel holy energies? I am told you have done that on other occasions as well.

(Kevin) “It was annoying the… third time, but that was a major battlefield effect, and augmented by other external forces. Not otherwise. Why? Wait a minute! What are you not telling me?”

(Bishop Ranald) “What I just described happens on a realm level can also happen within an individual. The tendency for one power or the other to become dominant can quickly become something that is difficult if not impossible to reverse on anything considered a normal timespan. On the other hand, if those Silmarils are truly created by Ryan O’Malley, then many of the standard rules may not apply. I would want to see how those things perform first hand, although I must warn you to be very careful with them. Artifacts of such power can be far more dangerous than they appear… What have you been using them – and your own powers – for so far? ”

Kevin looked quite blank for a moment; that was a question that was rarely asked – and the answer came unbidden to his lips, as it had before – in an echoing chorus of voices.

(Kevin) “I am the Darkness-that-Defends, the Light of the Abyss and the Angel of Nightfall. In the darkness is the rage of the oppressed, the wrath of the injured, and the vengeance of the bereaved. It is the drive for survival and dominion. I will not permit the fall of the Core worlds or for the race to fail it’s destiny – no matter what that requires.”

The Bishop was visibly unnerved…

Wait, what?!? The darkness had spoken THROUGH the boy? That wasn’t demonic power! That was the primal darkness! The blind urge to breed and spread and conquer that was rooted in the survival instincts of the human race and of life itself! Had the boys power as an Opener allowed him to take the tainted darkness of the abyss and reach past it’s evil into it’s instinctive core? Was that why he could work with angels and wield sacred energies? Because the darkness he drew upon had no philosophical principles behind it at all? Nothing that directly conflicted with the morality of the light?

That also meant that… a great many of their views on the boy had been exactly backwards; the iron adherence to his contracts, the (rather thin) gloss of evil he applied to his operations, and being summonable… Those were limitations that the boy was imposing on the darkness! Not the conditions that the evil of the Abyss imposed upon him! While the harems, the soulbinding, the expansionism – and even Project: Midnight Gardener – were direct expressions of the Darkness, not personal indulgences the boy was turning his power to obtaining!

Not so tainted or evil as they had feared… But potentially even more dangerous. The darkness was… attempting to seize all space and time for humanity and the creatures of earth, using children as its weapons – as children had always been the weapons of evolution and racial survival. Attempting to make humans – towing along their genetic allies – the dominant species of eternity.

And the primal darkness knew no restraint, no morality, and no limits to its drives. It would tolerate no interference with that goal. Was anything restraining that march of conquest except Kevin’s will? The Hellstorm had attacked the Core Worlds – and Kevin had hunted it down, unleashed the darkness, and personally destroyed an interstellar battle fleet.

Perhaps worst and saddest of all, that meant that… the boys playing at the “pirate” role, and the occasional similar bit of foolishness he indulged in, might be the only traces of the child he had been that showed beneath that crushing burden. The sins, ambitions, and arrogance of the race, loaded onto a child…

A need for redemption indeed.

Kevin, perhaps unfortunately, didn’t really notice the Bishops piercing regard – or that, for a few moments, his tongue had not been his own.

(Kevin) “What?”

(Bishop, regaining his composure) “I just caught a glimpse of the dark power is all. Pay it no heed.”

Meanwhile, Marty’s Thrall-investigators were specifically avoiding asking the Eight-and-a-Half-Tails about things. After all, Marty assumed that if she wanted to tell them about it, she would have. Besides, she didn’t seem to want the attention.

The battle was still in recent memory for many of the older generation. A trio of Archmages from deep inland had apparently gone rogue, and had marched across the continent, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. They had an army with them, but that largely amounted to a force able to keep the defenders pinned down while the mages cracked the defenses. The first mage was an immensely powerful Chimp Fire Mage named Canthil. The second was an Crocodile Mage specializing in physical enhancements named Yggmar. The third was an albino chameleon that seemed to make the very grass he tread upon wither and die. He was the one the other two seemed to defer to.

Eventually their trail of destruction brought them through the mountains to the Cyrweld. The city had been aware of their approach and had time to prepare for the assault while other cities in the area were sending forces to assist. The initial plan had been to smash the army and the archmages between the walls and the armies. Unfortunately, it was discovered that Yggmar was able to enhance to abilities of all the soldiers as well as himself – and the attacking army arrived days ahead of schedule. This left the city defending itself without the reinforcements it had been relying on on to turn the tide. Amazingly enough, the defenders did quite well at holding off the army, but were powerless to stop the mages. At that time the Nine-Tails showed up.

Details on the battle between the four of them were vague, apparently the sheer amount of energy being thrown around had made it difficult to sense much of anything. It was known that Canthil was killed almost immediately by the initial shot from the Nine-Tails. Yggmar held out longer, but was quickly enough imprisoned in a solid block of metal and then sealed with a number of spells on top of that. The Albino Chameleon was much harder to handle though. He got a shot in on the Nine-Tails while she was sealing Yggmar that ended up chopping off an significant fraction of a tail and drastically reduced her power in the process.

The battle had continued between the Chameleon and Nine-Tails, but it was quickly becoming apparent that her power was growing weaker and draining fast. At which point the Nine-Tails ended up throwing a number of imprisonment spells in an attempt to buy time while she enacted a major ritual to pull on the power of the local populace to assist. She had (quite dramatically) completed the ritual just as the Chameleon was rotting through the last binding. That clash of energies was seen from several of the neighboring cities on the other side of the mountains. Afterwards, the Nine-Tails insisted that she had not actually managed to kill her opponent though, she’d only been able to “send him away”. Afterwards her power continued to decrease as the wound refused to heal and she leveled off at somewhat above Eight-Tails in power. She had been called the Eight-and-a-Half-Tails as a sign of honor ever since.

Marty shared that information around…

Kevin, jumping to conclusions as ever, had some guesses as to the identity of the albino chameleon; Death again perhaps? Plague had little or no power locally, and Famine would be weakened enough to have to fall back on secondary powers (such as the fires which had so long been used to try and purify infested areas) – but War, with his ability to enhance his troops, would do just fine.

OK, there were other possibilities, even amongst their current and former opponents – like “God” – but it was only a quick theory.

The Nine-Tails hadn’t been entirely unknown before then, but she had been the stuff of legends, rumors, and hearsay. She’d been mostly known as a wandering mystic who occasionally appeared to guide people and impart wisdom as she traveled around. The battle had been the first documented case of her showing up and actually fighting against anything larger than a minor bandit gang.

Overall it had been nearly thirty years ago (wait; just how long was the local “year” anyway?). That was long enough ago that many of the newest adults only knew of her from the stories told of the defense of the city. Most of the older adults were either children or young adults at the time.

Hm. Was she whoever was in the role of one of the local creator gods? One-shotting major opponents was VERY difficult around here! Drawing on everyone nearby… limited godfire, only available through a ritual? And probably conscious of having just banished the Chameleon to another dimension…

Marty had to agree. It DID sound a good deal like Jerusalem – and corruption from the top down would be pretty plausible, especially for a legendary figure of that level of power and helpfulness. And there might have been an attempt to curse the entire city… They HAD all been linked to the Nine-Tails at that moment!

As for the investigation into the Otters… They could be assumed to be getting pirates and other nasty types to pit against the trade fleet – but it looked like they’d also been trying to collect information on the planned route the Platypus ships were hoping to use, to sneak people into the crews (the Thralls had been handling that quietly), and had been sending people to go fishing at the docks at night – while not catching much of any fish in the process. They did take a lot of bait with them though.

Hm. It might be best to have the Thralls keep an eye out underwater and on the bottoms of the ships. Fish-form was easy enough!

According to the Thralls, it looked like the “bait” was bite-sized fish one might use for fishing for bigger fish or for giving to dolphins as treats. That was interesting… Were they trying to recruit spies or stealth-attackers from the local marine wildlife?

The final wards were on the outer walls, well away from the city… Kevin wasn’t sure if he should experiment with using the Silmarils to bless things. Mightn’t that bring Ryan’s dopplegangers down on the place? And the effects were unpredictable, even when he tapped into them rather than when the pesky things decided to get involved on their own.

Maybe with some backup? Raphael was finishing up with his golem-making, and he WAS their divination-and-theory guy – and some of the locals had shown up and wanted to know what he was doing. The city guard and some other mages mostly.

(Kevin) “Oh well! Bishop Ranald here says that the realm is a bit off-balance, and it may be due to my use of exotic powers – so I’m counterbalancing things a bit by putting up some long-term defensive blessings! Personally, I bet that it’s a bit more complex than that… but a few defensive blessings won’t hurt anything!”

(Mage) “What sort of energies are those? I don’t recognize that style of defensive spell.”

(Kevin) “Well, you wouldn’t; they don’t occur naturally in this realm.”

(Mage) “Ah, more of you and your companions weird magics. I can’t tell if they are interfering with the existing enchantments any, but it might be a good idea to get Lady Eight-and-a-Half-Tails here to have a look Captain. She has much experience with these sorts of things.”

(Captain) “Alright, let me see if my men can locate her.. ah there she is. Let me get a message sent to her and hopefully she will come have a look.”

Meanwhile, Raphael had finished up his ritual, and had come over to see what is going on with the balancing act.

Given that Raphael was the diviner, Kevin was kind of hoping that – once he’d started – Raphael would be able to tell where it was all going.

Marty headed towards the growing collection of guards, mages, Kevin, Raphael, robots, and – now – the Eight-and-a-Half-Tails. It was probably going to be impressive regardless of what happened, so why not?

Kevin waited obligingly, since more people were coming.

With everyone together again, Eight-and-a-Half-Tails was analyzing the blessing. Kevin and the Bishop were explaining, Marty was watching for anybody trying anything funny, and Raphael was examining the interactions with the spells on the walls and the flow of – well – “goodness” out of them while designing a dimensional balance detector spell.

Kevin was looking impatient – although he was willing to wait for opinions since now there were all kinds of people around now.

(Eight) “It looks like the blessing will not interfere with any of the existing enchantments on the walls. In fact, I believe the interaction of the new blessing with the original enchantments would likely result in a positive benefit given the magic’s defensive tendencies. I am still not familiar with all the intricacies of the magic involved though. Might I ask what has prompted this endeavor?”

(Kevin) “Well, that was Bishop Ranald here; he said the Realm was being unbalanced by the use of exotic energies, so I was rebalancing it – and the balancing forces for this one are really good at defenses. Ergo, boost those since the place apparently has some enemies anyway.”

(Raphael, offhandedly as he continued examining the spells) “Apparently the energy he likes to use is building up when it usually does not so he is adding some of its opposite to counter it.”

Hmm… It looked like the defensive bonuses on the walls would be better than cumulative, although the extent by which that synergy would improve things was hard to quantify. It might actually be a qualitative effect instead on quantitative. Introducing the Silmarils into the mix might well supercharge the effect for some time. So long as the wardstone for the city wasn’t blessed directly, however, the effect probably would not become permanent and self-sustaining.

Raphael pointed out those bits to the local mages; no reason why he shouldn’t show off his skills a bit! Technobabble, ATTACK!

He amazed a fair number of the mages and guards in attendance as he pointed to things and offered detailed and complicated sounding explanations of all the various minor and otherwise inconsequential interactions.

(Eight) “Interesting. So the energies can be used against each other in some fashion to cancel each other out? I presume this is much like Cold and Heat?”

(Kevin) “Oh basically yes. They can also be combined to yield greater powers but it takes very delicate handling. The trouble is, if you’re primarily dealing with the physical side of such energies, they cancel out. If you’re primarily dealing with the moral side, the principles are absolute, and cannot cancel each other out, only clash – and the clash keeps generating more and more physical-side power.”

(Kevin, to the Church Rep) “So, should I bless the wardstone and make the boosts permanent that way? Or would that be overdoing it and confuse the realm more?”

(Eight) “That would sound like a delicate balancing act indeed. I take it that the energies will sometimes violently collide as opposed to simply nullifying each other?”

(Multiple Individuals) “Yes!”

(Bishop) “Well, blessing the walls should work in the short term to balance things out if we are purging the dark energies directly. If we wish to avoid having to do a purge then setting up a long term blessing on the ward itself might be prudent. It wouldn’t be permanent per-se as the two energies will slowly ground each other out to nothing, but that is a stable situation.”

(Kevin) “Oh fine then! One long-term blessing on the ward… This is getting more and more like that mess at Jerusalem with the Ark!”

(Eight) “I will admit, I am curious to see more of this style of enhancement. Now, (glancing at Raphe and Marty) since both of you have experience with this sort of thing, what say you to enchanting the wardstone with this?”

(Raphael) “I would say it might be a bad idea as it might be hard to remove if something goes wrong and Bishops tend to be biased slightly towards this type of energy as generally being an improvement in all cases – even when it might not be.”

Marty found that idea a bit concerning as well.. As if there was some special case scenario that might be triggered – and he couldn’t remember exactly what it was!

(Marty) “Uh, guys, this might not be a good idea. I’m sensing some weird reaction here. Can’t put my finger on it though.”

(Kevin) “Well, making this city a bastion of light will tend to pull in any creatures of darkness that ARE in the area – and make it easier for more to arrive to counterbalance it. Also, of course, it’s a giant mercantile city that runs on greed. Would we be messing it up?”

(Raphael) “The ward is intelligent, and that always interacts with this energy”

Marty hadn’t thought about economic effects! He might be slipping! Would all the holiness interfere with trading and the economy?)

Raphael didn’t want a wardstone – since it wasn’t basically human – dabbling in morality. He was strongly against the proposal.

Kevin resolved it by getting bored with the debate; they could always do that later, after they saw what happened with what he’d done so far!

Kevin then mischievously pointed out that Marty still had to plan his wedding!

Marty was briefly blank – then oh, right! He needed to get that arranged and to spend time with Miss Fennwick!

Federation Apocalypse Session 175 – The Darkness Wandering

Hermann Eccentric Ferris Wheel with sliding ca...

How does this torture work anyway?

Back in Kadia, the kids from the “bandit camp” were finding matters… not quite so dire as they’d expected. They’d mostly known the score; they were exiles. If their parents lost during the attack, they’d be orphans and slaves if they were allowed to live at all. If their parents won, they STILL might be orphans – and, even if their parents survived, they’d be targets and have to go to formal school as young nobles.

Admittedly, the woods were not entirely devoid of entertainment in the meantime – but the prospects hadn’t been good.

Then when someone attacked the camp first, and WON – it looked like death or slavery.

Life in Kadia – whether as Thrall or during an indenture – looked really GOOD in comparison. Nearly two-thirds went for the “Thrall” thing almost immediately; after their lives, the guarantee of living to grow up looked really good.

The rest opted to stick with the basic indentures – and see just how much of those glowing promises were good – for awhile before making any irrevocable decisions.

Back in Cyrweld – in the bandit camp – the city guardsmen were making a fuss. At the moment, given the level of power that had been being flung around, it looked like… these three foreigners had annihilated several hundred well-equipped people, some of them quite powerful, without any fuss – and within minutes.

They became a LOT more pleasant-sounding and deferential suddenly – and was asking if htere was anything that the group needed them to do.

(Kevin) “We seem to have a huge pile of local magical weapons and such that we don’t really need Marty! On the other hand… We do have a possible pirate fleet to equip!”

(Marty) “Yep! So let’s do it!”

(Kevin, to the guards) “Oh, we just thought you’d want to know that this bunch was planning a major attack on the city with outside support – probably as pawns or a diversion for a full military takeover.”

(Kevin, privately) “What sort of crews and organization will we need for piracy Marty? I think you tried it out once didn’t you? Came back with a bunch of werewolf-kids!”

(Marty, privately) “Yes I did! We’ll need bosuns, first mates, pursers, and the like. Lots of grog and rum to keep them placated, and definitely make sure they get paid! Pirates aren’t the most loyal types!”

(Kevin, privately) “Hm. To be properly realistic… Only some of the officers and such should be Thralls! Otherwise you’ll never get the proper menacing reactions from your crew!”

(Marty, privately) “Oh yes! They should never know who’s just somebody and who’s a thrall. Heck, even have the thralls shapeshift on occasion.”

(Kevin, to the guards) “Was there anything else you needed to know? We can give you a description on the agent who was stirring up the trouble and organizing things; she got away somehow. We also have their target list and such.”

(Guard Captain) “Yes, that would do quite nicely. Tell me, if it isn’t any trouble at all, but how might I ask that she escaped?”

(Kevin) “She was immune to the blocking-spell somehow. Either a special knack, or using some effect that wasn’t actually teleporting – maybe merging with a shadow and traveling through darkness. After all, just a little ways down everything is dark all the time… Why so many circumlocutions?”

(Guard Captain) “Well, uh, I wouldn’t want to offend a mage of your power. You did after all annihilate over two hundred without a trace. It looks like only a couple dozen were able to resist even for a few moments.”

(Kevin, rather startedly) “Hey, nobody’s dead! What use would that be?”

(Guard Captain) “Nobody’s dead? And yet I see no bandits or serious attack force”

(Kevin) “Oh, we took them all away! It’s much better to capture people than it is to kill people!”

One of the guards pulled Marty aside to ask if that was true.

(Guard Captain) “Away to where? We might be able to get valuable intelligence on who is supporting them and to what ends if we interrogated them.”

(Kevin) “Well, we can certainly ask… The gate is still available over there! (He pointed to the initial gate-point and let one of the Thralls nearby open it up – making sure that there wouldn’t be any escapees from the Kadia side. That would make a bad impression even if it WAS very unlikely as of yet).

(Marty, to the guards) “We took them to his carnival, where they will work and have fun until they pay off their debt to society.”

(Guard) “You are putting a bunch of criminals, traitors, and murderers in charge of running a carnival? Is that wise?”

(Marty) “It’s not like they can harm anybody in there, the place doesn’t allow it.”

(Kevin) “Hey, I do Witchcraft, the Powers of Darkness, and Domination! Wisdom is not my bailiwick!”

(Marty) “I’ll drink to that!”

(Guard) “How can a couple of rules at a carnival stop that? You really expect them to respect the rules posted on the sign?”

(Marty) “Oh, you don’t understand. If they try to attack people, force fields pop up and stop them. Worked on my ex-wife real good!”

(Kevin) “Oh, I wrote them into the local laws of nature! You have to be able to directly rewrite reality – and be strong enough to override me and my servants – to break those rules!”

(Marty) “I think we met somebody like that once, but we try to avoid him.”

(Kevin) “Anyway, if you want to talk to some of them, we can head over and do that!”

(Guard) “You wrote it into the rules of the local reality? What the hell sort of carnival is this?”

(Guard Captain, whispering “Don’t make him angry.”

(Marty) “It’s a really good one! Come on, I’ll show you the Ferris wheel…”

Kevin took a few minutes to give the guards a small tour, and some time to talk with some of the more cooperative / less resistant “bandits”. The more resistant ones weren’t too cooperative yet – but the Thralls mental probes would get anything relevant soon enough anyway in the vast majority of cases.

Funny though. He’d figured that – since most of the guards were canines, and they’d left the gate open for the kids at the canine manor – a lot of them would have the general idea already anyway. Evidently there was more separation between the guards and the canine clan hierarchy than he’d thought. There seemed to be a bit of disbelief too…

(Second Guard Captain) “Alright, so we have an absurdly powerful mage able to bring over 200 people to their knees in a battle, send them off to a dimension he created according to rules he chose, keep them there, has numerous highly magical children with an incredibly disturbing array of powers and abilities at their disposal, more money than most houses, and he is able to create portals to most anywhere at a whim? Alright, who are you people and what exactly are you doing in our city?”

(Marty) “We’re on vacation.”

(Kevin) “And your city looked like a nice place to vacation, so I intend to keep it that way! Besides, I had help with the battle. Marty and Raphael, and some of the kids…”

(Second Captain) “And you consider beating hundreds of people in a magical confrontation a vacation? Yes, we’ve noticed the rest of your companions, but my mages tell me you are the one that cast those horrific spells, and that you are the one providing the source of power to those dozens of children making them more powerful than most serious adults.”

(Kevin) “Well they were threatening to spoil the vacation…”

(First Captain) “And so what can we do to ensure your vacation is a pleasant one?”

Kevin was always a bit blank on the “what can we do for YOU” question. He was used to people wanting him to do things for THEM.

(Kevin) “Erm… Well, don’t get conquered or sucked into a disaster or anything like that? Then things have to be fixed.”

(First Captain) “Then we shall most certainly work to achieve that! It is our job after all!”

Leaving the guards to their investigation and interrogation, the party wandered off… OK, they were mostly just indulging in local diversions while awaiting contact attempts, but the place was turning out to be a lot of fun!

They still had a few days before the platypuses would set out, Marty wanted to check on Limey, and Elerra. And they still hadn’t heard from the Otters or from the Wolf-Matriarch. Besides, there was how the Rabbits would react, and the Cats Clan!

It took some time to sort all of that out…

The Platypuses were well on their way towards getting all their supplies ready and loaded for the journey. There was extensive fighting going on at the Rabbit residence since news broke of the events at the Bandit camp. The city guard had been busily trying to keep that contained, but largely has taken to holding a perimeter and protecting refugees. The Cat Clan was crying foul and publicly demanding a number of concessions – and the possible exile of the Rabbit Clan. The Wolf Matriarch had retreated to her residence and was consulting with a number of mages and priests. The otters had been throwing around quite a bit of money and pulling in favors. To what end wasn’t exactly clear, but they appeared to be serious about whatever it was. As far as Limey and Minel went, the electricity experiments had been going well. While the yields hadn’t been quite as high as the Guild had been hoping for, they were producing magical metals from mundane materials. Experiments comparing the newly minted magical metals against the more standard enchanted varieties was ongoing – but they currently felt that, with the proper enchantments and a bit more control, they might be able to go into mass production if there weren’t any major downsides. Of course, they’d be given a share of the relevant profits in exchange for the support.

Well, a bit of a rabbit civil war now that what the “war” faction had been involved in was coming out was kind of inevitable. The Cat Clan was probably being a bit opportunistic there – as well as seizing the chance to pounce on wounded prey – but they WERE cats. Still, at the moment, there wasn’t much evidence that the rabbit clan was involved en mass and some that it was only a faction. As for the Wolf Matriarch… well, she did have a lot of material to look at. The Otters were probably out to win that really big bet!

Marty was glad that Limey and Elerra had been of assistance! It was time for them to be getting some independent contracting under their belts!

Even better, now that the type of spell needed had been verified and broken down into a proper formula – so that the alchemists could focus on creating the proper item to produce the spell on demand – it looked like Limey and Elerra would still be able to go on the voyage with them.

The item-crafting was forcing the Guild to start fishing for bids from the various magical Academies, since they are the ones with the proper equipment and expertise – unless, of course, Marty could funnel some equipment their way.

Hmm… It looked like they needed… sufficient Zenni (which they were getting loans for), an Enchantment Lab, a spell formula (which they now had), a mage skilled in enchanting, and any rare and mystical raw materials that might help make things a little cheaper in terms of Zenni.

Well, Marty figured that he could certainly get plenty of mystical and rare materials for them. Finding a thrall with the skills necessary might be harder, but it was possible (there were a few who went in for that sort of speciality) – and they could always subcontract. Hundreds of realms did enchantments, and a fair number were compatible.

As for mystical materials… a diamond struck by natural lightning atop one of the great mountains of the world. Charred wood from a forest fire caused by lightning. A piece of fresh obsidian from a volcano. Hair from one of the metallic creatures living deep in the mountains to the frozen North.

The use of those materials would reduce the Zenni cost by upwards of 75%.

Marty could really get behind a 75% reduction in production cost! The charred wood would probably be fairly easy to find somewhere on the branch. They might come across a volcano like that on the voyage. The others might be more problematic. They might be able to arrange for some of them…

Kevin noted that anything they “arrange dfor” might not have the same magical potential as the totally natural version though. He’d have to check with the local mages. That kind of thing varied a lot.

According to the local mages, the more magical interference there was in the origin, the weaker the potential – although a certain amount of mundane “encouragement” had little or no detrimental effect.

Raphael was wondering… If the locals could get magical materials into full-scale production that might be very useful! When they translated across dimensions they could turn into almost anything; you just had to pick the right route to get what you wanted at the destination. If they could find an appropriate mountain they might be able to manufacture the lightning-struck diamonds too.

Marty thought that was a great idea! And since everyone around here knew magic, it’d be a fairly safe one too!

It was about that time that Kevin vanished in a puff of sulfurous smoke.

(Marty) “Whoa!… Ah well, he’ll be back. Second time this trip!”

(Raphael) “How often does he get summoned?”

(Marty) “It seems to be pretty random – but it never takes too long!”

Meanwhile Marty and Raphael had a “summons” of their own to deal with; now that they were back in town, there were two representatives – one from the Unified Church and one from the Linear Realms – and a bunch of lawyers demanding an audience.

The lawyers were most insistent about the dire consequences if they were ignored.

(Marty, locating a suitable restaurant) “Okay, fine!” .

(Lawyer, in a most dramatic tone of voice) “You have been summoned!!!! You must appear in court in one week to face the Judge! Pray he is lenient upon you! Mwahahahahahahahahahahahahhaahhahahaaha!”

(Marty, who felt that the lawyers back in Battling Business World did it better; this guy had nothing on the Nazgul and the Witch-King!) “Where does he want to meet me? I’ve been to a lot of places.”

Wait, Core Earth New York City?!? What had he done in Core Earth? What a weird lawyer!

(Marty) “And what does he want to meet me about?”

(Raphael) “Wait. you issuing are a summons from core earth and sound like that?”

That was Marty’s thought exactly! Most Core Earther’s didn’t go in for this sort of thing!

It was about the Civil Suit being brought up by Marty’s ex-wife. Opening rounds of accusations and defense before the judge?

Evidently the Manifold tended to do weird things to lawyers.

Wow, she was doing it in Core Earth? Marty knew that she was more reasonable than HE was, but still… The trial might bore him to retirement! She must have thought that it was REALLY advantageous for her for some reason!

Well, it would nullify most of his personal powers and they didn’t allow duel-challenges. It… was probably a very good play for her!

(Lawyer) “Indeed, I am most traveled in the Manifold these days and this ID works everywhere!”

Aargh… Lawyer ID’s WOULD work almost anywhere wouldn’t they?

Wait, what was this about anyway? Abigail had decided that his moral status was improving and that he wasn’t trying to turn the kid into a Thrall… What was she upset about? Perhaps she was just after more child support? Who knew? She was pretty temperamental.

Oh well! The man had delivered his summons, and he was more-or-less stuck with it. He’d have to ask Kevin to cheat a bit with gates so he could commute. Asking for more time was only going to make things worse.

Next up was the Unified Church fellow – who’d probably be annoyed that Kevin wasn’t around to hear him complain…

(Church Rep) “We are aware of a large amount of dark energies being unleashed in this realm. In a realm such as this place where such things are unknown, using too much can have destabilizing effects for the entire realm. We were hoping to find out what was causing it and why, and we find you here. I presume you are involved somehow?”

(Marty) “Well, that was Kevin, but he disappeared. Literally. I mean, he was right in front of us, and then, POOF. I don’t think it was deliberate either. Otherwise he would have said something.”

(Church Rep) “I suppose it is possible that he merely got expelled from this realm for causing too much of a disturbance, although I suspect given what you describe that he was summoned by someone.”

(Marty) “This is the second time since we started our trip. Might even be the same person!”

Raphael was wondering… The kid had only used a few really major spells – and this was a large, stable, and well-populated realm. Even with the minor contributions of the Thralls, could the kid really be destabilizing things on that scale? Still… it might be affecting the local metaphysics.

(Raphael) “Oh that, he felt like engaging a horde of bandits preparing to attack the city with just us as back up and little more plan than walk up and fight them in the open… my way would have taken too long to set up so he volunteered to use silly amounts of power to put up the simplest required defenses to give us a chance fast and strong in only two spells.”

(Church Rep) “He should not be using such power – nor should he be throwing it around so casually. It has an awful tendency to become habitual and that creates a terrible mess.”

That made Marty a bit uncomfortable… The kid DID seem to be getting… habituated to using that kind of power – and he STILL wasn’t sure if that was a sign of adjustment or a sign of loss of control!

(Marty) “What kind of messes? I can see possession, becoming overwhelmed, and transforming into a demon and the like.”

(Raphael) “They did say something about messing with the realm.”

(Church Rep) “You can find a general darkening of the temperament and a increasingly callous disregard for life as the Dark Energies take over. An awful lot of it depends on the realm though once you get beyond personal matters. This world, for example – since it is in many ways free from Good and Evil – would be tainted with a considerable amount of Evil without a counteracting level of Good to keep things in balance. You might see the realm begin to descend towards Grim Horror, or possibly a cataclysmic split in the realm as the locals try to resist the change. Elsewhere, other things might happen.

(Marty) “That’s not good. I assume you need an equal amount of goodness to counteract it?”

(Church Rep) “Or otherwise expel it. In a realm such as this, the difference in such matters is academic.”

(Raphael) “Hmmm… now how do we bottle goodness to release after he goes all evil power… maybe…” (He trailed off into thought).

Marty mused… Sealed Goodness in a Can? Acme aura de-evilant; just spray around sources of evil (and the armpits) to get rid of nasty auras? Wait; the kid WAS carrying around two silmarils and sometimes used light-channeling. Would that even respond to him if he was purely evil?

He mentioned that.

(Marty) “We’d have to wait for him to get back, but I don’t think he’d want our vacation to end like this.”

(Church Rep) “The Silmarils you say? Tell me, by chance would you know who’s Silmarils? I know it might seem an odd question, but to those in the know, it is a critical point.”

(Marty) “Well, we found one in the Forgotten Realms. Don’t know where that one originally came from. The other we got from a pyramid in the Star Wars realm. One of Ryan O’Malley’s clones used the Feanor ID to try and grab them in Middle Earth I think. Ryan didn’t seem interested in the full set we picked up in that realm though; I’ve still got them around somewhere. They’re really pretty, but they’re more or less powerless outside of compatible magical realms though.

(Church Rep) “Well, there exists a set that would work even in a place like this, but those have problems of their own as well. Sadly, the most powerful artifacts such as those are also the most troublesome on a lot of levels.”

(Marty) “Well the ones that Kevin is carrying seem to work all over the place… I don’t know if they work here though.”

(Church Rep) “Well, if they are Ryan O’Malley’s and it is a complete set, then that would definitely work. I am just not sure what side effects might crop up during such a clash of energies.”

(Marty) “Well, he only has two… but he used them both during the siege of Jerusalem. I recall lots and lots of dramatic side effects, but the higher powers of the realm answered him. Possibly with an assist from your bunch come to think of it…”

Marty interested both Raphael and the Church Rep describing that sequence, with plenty of illusion illustrations.

(Raphael) “Interesting.”

(Church Rep) “That would certainly fit the description. And that with just two of them… Can he actually have succeeded in tying him to his own power? Still, I would definitely advise caution though during the purging process. I presume you have many powerful allies that you could call upon, or shall I have to contact my superiors for aid?”

(Marty) “Err… well, there’s Eight-and-a-Half Tails, but she’s a local. I’m not sure she’d get the energies involved, though she’s trying to.”

(Raphael) “That depends on what we would need aid for in this process. Is it going to provoke a direct physical responce somehow? or maybe a manifestation? I admit I am a little inexperienced with exorcising evil left from spells at this level.”

(Church Rep) “Well it can be difficult to predict. I suspect we might have a backlash as the energies collide and resist nullification. It might lead to physical manifestations of the respective powers, calling forth ‘allies’, or result in the summoning of something powerful yet not of good or evil itself – or we might just see a spectacular light display and feel tingly… So you know of someone called the Eight Half Tails or something? Any other powerful allies that might assist in containing any chaos that might be unleashed?”

Marty had to think about it for a bit – but there were the Angels.

The only person who had come to mind for Raphael was Jarvain – but what help a mechwarrior might be in a mystical battle of good and evil forces was hard to see.

(Marty) “We can also call on Heaven, or at least a version of it for help. I’m sure they’d hate to see a realm fall to evil like this.”

Wait. This suddenly sounded familiar somehow. Using Holy Power to purge a land clouded by incredible evil. Helping the local defenders fight back. A city besieged by malevolent forces just outside the walls. It was Jerusalem all over again!

He could just see Kevin’s reaction though… “Hey, I only used modest quantities of dark power, I’ve got plenty of generic power to use. Grumble-grumble-grumble, that’s right, blame the demon god of darkness whenever something goes wrong, it’s just not fair, pesky church, I’m always fair, grumble grumble grumble…”

Well, Thawban was a powerful Holy warrior in his own right sworn to defend against evil.

There was that nice angel lady! What was her name again?

Oh! He could just check the Smartclothes logs!

Menthas it was!

(Marty) “Well, Menthas was pretty powerful, and I know she can survive a good deal of darkness attacking her.”

(Church Rep) “A powerful angel indeed to have as a friend.”

Raphael wasn’t at all sure about containing chaos. His ideas on the matter pretty much came down to a cage match where they summoned all the energies to one place to contain them and then unleashed them on each other.

Marty’s first thought on THAT idea, of course, was “Can we sell tickets?” Did that mean that the darkness was getting to him? He needed to resist better!

Well, before they could do anything, they’d need to get Kevin back…

Never mind. He had the Thralls start keeping an eye out for Eight and a Half Tails to tell her about the problem (discreetly of course) and had a couple look into what they might need to do to get Menthas involved. They might need to compensate her better for this one…

Blast it! WHAT could Abigail be suing him for? Maybe she didn’t trust him with that much power, and is suing him for half his Godfire income? He didn’t even have a religion yet! Alimony on the salary was bad enough!

Oh well! He did have multipresence and multitasking, so he could just visit heaven while the second guy was talking!

(Rep) “Greetings, I am Ambassador Hugh Gladstone from the United States Government. I assume based on the ‘trace spell’ I was given, that you are Martin Tabard?”

Ah! From the Linear Realms! No wonder he was so obviously uncomfortable with being an anthropomorphic deer! Still, he was trying mightily to hide it…

(Marty) “Yep. What do you need?”

(Rep) “Well, you see we are in a bit of a predicament at the moment. This is rather embarrassing, but we are currently locked out of the Pentagon right now and the ‘assistants’ you have been graciously sending us to assist both ourselves and the ATE bunch thought you might have some ideas on the matter.”

(Marty) “Locked out? How’d that happen?”

(Rep) “As best as the techs and such can determine, Ryan O’Malley had some sort of fail safe built into the new computer systems installed in the place to protect it against potential intrusions. He was supposed to grant others access once the system was proven out and our people were trained to administer it. Unfortunately, he has been away for some days now and no one knows the appropriate authentications to get in again. The system has thrown everyone out, gone into lock down, and is now administering much of the automated defense grid. We’re lucky that he put in the interlocks against rogue AI’s first or else we’d have a real mess on our hands. As it is we’ve been able to keep things quiet as it cheerily runs drill exercises, submits bids to contractors, and generates maintenance work orders.”

Raphael sighed. And Dark Lord Murphy struck again.

(Marty, who was used to this sort of thing) “That would do it! I don’t think we have the authentications here, but we’ll definitely help you out once we deal with the emergency here.”

(Raphael) “Oh Yes! Rogue machines must be stopped. I will not rest until it is rightfully in its proper place and submitting to human control. Who needs authentication codes? I am sure I can take control as soon as my minions are rebuilt and I get close enough to grab it.”

Meanwhile, in a distant realm, Kevin – back in human form – was currently in a magical lab facing a teenager who looked quite upset and flabbergasted.

(Teenager) “What? I summoned the great Pit Lord Kevan and I get another kid? That damned merchant is going to pay for ripping me off!”

(Kevin) “Hey, is it MY fault that you pronounced it wrong? So what is it you want anyway?”

Hm… it looked like the teenager had gotten the binding ritual right; it had power even with the wrong name and improper symbols… He could break it of course – event he correct name didn’t have enough power to hold HIM – but it would require a considerable waste of power to break it.

(Teenager) “They thought they could exile me for my so-called crimes! But I shall show them, I shall have a powerful demon lead my army of their dead loved ones as I annihilate their village and the people in the surrounding countryside. Then I shall establish myself as a ruler of the damned in my own personal kingdom of obedient slaves! But instead I get YOU.”

(Kevin) “And what were you offering? With plans like that, it’s not like the powers of darkness wouldn’t get your soul anyway in the end. Were you perhaps planning to promise not to reform? I’ll break it to you now; that won’t buy you much.”

(Teenager) “And what of the souls of those I kill? Those surely have value to those craving power over others like demons so often do? I hear soul-binding can be awfully addicting to those that have had a taste of it…”

(Kevin) “Killing people just sets their souls free – and that happens when they die anyway. Involuntary soulbonds are so temporary that they’re virtually worthless; the only “souls of those you kill” that would come to the darkness would be the ones who were coming there anyway. You’d speed it up a bit – but you’d also be preventing the evil they would otherwise do. Now, if you had some worthwhile living offerings now, to be raised to the darkness, that would be worth a little something.”

(Teenager) “Hmm, raise them like cattle perhaps?”

(Kevin) “That might work. Better if you could raise a generation of true wickedness, then you’d REALLY have something.”

(Teenager) “Indeed, a re-education program towards ‘proper’ ideals – and those that flunk out get inducted into the necromantic armies on a mandatory basis!”

(Kevin) “So; Lets look at it from another viewpoint; what is it that you actually need to corrupt the young and vulnerable to the service of darkness? Will you offer them power? Pleasure? Wealth? Long life?”

(Teenager) “Why the easiest way to corrupt someone is to give them something, and then take it away once they take it for granted. Then make the return of it conditional upon certain conditions. You start out small and work your way up to major wickedness so that they don’t try to reject it all at once. Lot’s of little steps down instead of a leap off the cliff. Now as to what to offer then, that will depend on the individual. Some generalities can be made regarding wealth, power, love, and long life, but what really drives a person and can make him do things he would never have considered otherwise is always unique in some fashion.”

(Kevin) “Oh yes – but if you want to go for mass-production, you need to come up with a reasonably attractive general offer…”

Hm. The teenager seemed to actually have quite a bit of power, as opposed to being a pure ritualist… The teenager wasn’t up to his own, or to Eight-And-A-Half-Tails, power level – but he could manage a ritual Gate spell. Still fairly impressive!

(Teenager) “An offer like that would have to be pretty good on all counts to be reasonably effective with most people. If I could grant wealth, power, and long life to everyone I came across, do you think I would be a necromancer summoning demons?”

(Kevin) “ So; you need a reliable way to recruit minions, and to empower them – with a wide enough appeal to use that method on a mass basis – in exchange for which you will spread the darkness and bring souls to the dark powers. Yes?”

(Teenager, alertly) “Ah, I take it you have such a way?”

(Kevin) “You called upon the darkness… Does it not always bring you what you seek?”

OK, that was, of course, a half-truth at best – but it was a standard and almost mandatory one for the dark powers; what people asked for was rarely what they were truly seeking.

(Teenager) “Ah, well then, tell me what you have in mind. I think we might be able to come to an agreement that would suit us both quite nicely indeed.”

Kevin, of course, offered his usual franchise-deal; he sent in recruits to be Thralls (or just slaves) and got the services of some of them in exchange. This got him powerful, recallable, loyal, minions – and gave him a powerful motive to capture rather than kill. If he wished to believe that Kadia was a hell-realm, and that the slaves would be subjected to fearful torments, that was a suitable delusion to encourage…

The teenage necromancer went for it gladly, laughing maniacally to himself at every opportunity.

Well, he had called for a demonic tempter-pacter…

Settling on the contract details took some time – as did making arrangements for delivery, and Thrall-servants, and such.

After which Kevin, of course, was automatically returned to whence he’d come in the mandatory puff of smoke.

(Marty, waving away the smoke) “Kevin! Boy do we have a problem! Several, to be honest!”

Kevin was in a fairly good humor. Not only had that gone well, but – according to the Thralls – he’d apparently missed a lawyer!

(Rep) “Well, I am told that some of the techs think they could handle things provided they get access codes giving them System Administrator access.”

(Marty) “Raphael could probably help out with that. He’s really good with tech.”

(Kevin) “What’s up? If it’s tech stuff, that’s really not my thing!”

Marty explained.

(Kevin) “Oh! Well that’s Ryan… You’d think he’d have more respect for Murphy by now! The “Good Guys” may virtually always win in Crusader, but that rule doesn’t apply most other places – even where you can tell the good guys from the bad guys. I’d have thought that he’d have learned that by now… We can get you there easily enough Raphael; we’ve got several gates to Kadia here now, and Kadia has several to the Linear Realms – but I could only fix it by trying a big spell, and big demonic spells designed to control computers have ways of going very VERY wrong.”

Well, the kid still had some – understandable – issues with Ryan.

(Marty) “Big demonic spells are also the last thing this realm needs right now.”

(Kevin) “Well, it would be in the Linear Realms, not here… but why?”

(Marty) “You used too much power in the last battle. The Unified Church noticed, and they say it’s causing an imbalance.”

Marty explained some more – suggesting that Kevin had to use some holy magic to balance his use of unholy magic.

(Marty) “I know how it makes you feel, but you’ve got to fix this!”

Raphael advised gathering as much of the evil into one place as possible to start with, so that the worst random effects were contained and localized.

(Kevin) “Gaah! Using that stuff makes you all sort of mystically sticky, like you’re covered in golden sugar syrup!”

(Marty) “Well, you broke it, you bought it!”

(Kevin) “I didn’t even use that much! Mostly just one big spell, and two-thirds of THAT was just mana and power from the Thralls and local magic!”

Marty glared at Kevin. He wasn’t nearly as good at disciplinary glares as Abigail was, but he’d seen them on TV.

(Kevin) “Aww!”

(Marty) “Do it or… I can’t really ground you, but I can make you feel guilty!

(Kevin) “Oh fine! I’ll go and do some holy stuff! Maybe heal some of those idiot rabbits or something!”

(Marty) “And bless a few temples while you’re at it!”

(Kevin) “Why? The local gods aren’t especially good or evil, so it won’t really do any good…”

(Marty) “Well bless something. I don’t know, maybe some ships?”

(Kevin, ingenuously) “Bless some pirate ships, that they may plunder and enslave in the name of the light?”

(Marty) “No smart talk. Really, this is bad.”

(Raphael) “Why not the walls or the wards? the evil was outside them and we really do not need the countering action inside a city”

(Marty) “Good one.”

(Raphael) “And holy stuff likes defending innocent people, so its twice as good”

(Kevin) “Well, if you’re going to fuss at ME, you might want to find out who was flinging unholy curses at Ms Eight-and-a-half-tails! I bet whoever that is has been doing it a lot, since he or she is obviously nasty and is using a power the locals have a very hard time defending against – so he or she will likely be using it a LOT.”

(Raphael) “All the more reason to bless the walls. this way no more evil magi will ruin your vacation by attacking with something the locals have no defense against. It will even protect your business interests here.”

(Marty) “It wouldn’t be a bad idea to investigate that too. I think I’ll look into that while you’re off blessing things. Are you in Raphael?”

(Raphael) “Sure… where do we start on that?”

(Marty) “I think it’s best to start with the individual cursed, myself. Fighting three archmagi who were attacking the city wasn’t it? We’ll have to ask her about them! At least one of them is likely to be really unpleasant…”

(Raphael) “Wait. shouldn’t we get in touch with that angel you mentioned before we start unleashing chaotically annihilating energies? and I still need a few days to rebuild if I am going to be much use in the Linear Realms.”

Kevin still had some large doubts. This realm might not have Good and Evil as quasi-abstract principles – but it certainly had most of the powers that HE drew on! The locals conquered, and expanded their domains, and kept slaves and concubines and paramours, and struggled for power and dominance and wealth and all the rest, just like most of the Manifold! If something was affecting the balance of this realm, he bet it was mostly somebody else and he was just catching the blame for it!

Orin Makala – Statistics

Drawings of tools used in ritual magic.

Well, yes, I might be able to do something with those...

And here we have some game statistics for young Orin Markala. It’s worth noting that – in Eclipse – a strong character concept usually leads to a strong character. That’s simply because a strong concept suggests limitations – and limitations make powers cheaper and/or more powerful. In Eclipse d20, once you have a strong concept, you’re more than halfway to an optimized character. Orin’s unlikely to increase the upper limits of his powers very quickly – they’re largely fixed and defined – but he will grow in how often he can use them effectively.

Race / Squirrel-Based Wildfolk. This provides: +2 Wisdom, +2 Constitution, and +4 Dexterity, Low-Light Vision and Scent, a -2 penalty on saves against light and scent-related attacks, 1d4 Natural Weapons, pays half price for the Acrobatics, Athletics, Perception, and Survival skills and gains a +2 racial bonus to them, and a bonus feat (in his case it’s Fast Learner, Specialized in skills for +2 SP/Level).

“Chosen One” Template (also known as the “GM Plot Hook Bonus”): This provides +2 each to Strength, Constitution, and Charisma, 60′ Darkvision, a mental link with other four other Chosen Ones, a bonus language (Draconic), Grant of Aid with the regeneration option, and 1d6 Natural Weapon (claws; this goes to 1d8 with his existing natural weapons).

Available Character Points: 48 (Level One Base) +10 (Disadvantages; two of these are GM secrets, the other is – of course – “Compulsive”. Orin is a chivalrous, dedicated, and noble priest) +12 (2x L1 feats; the GM here is giving out an extra one) +2 (Duties – another GM-determined item) = 72. The game master is using a (rather generous) attribute array of 12, 12, 14, 14, 16, 16.

Orin Markala:

Basic Attributes: Str 12 (14), Int 14, Wis 16 (18), Con 14 (18), Dex 16 (20), and Chr 12 (14).

Basic Purchases (24 CP):

  • Warcraft (BAB): +0 (0 CP).
  • Hit Points / Dice: 12 (L1, 3d4, 16 CP) +12 (3x Con Mod) = 24 HP.
  • Proficient with All Simple Weapons (3 CP)
  • Armor Class 10 (Base) +5 (Dex) +2 “armor” +4 (Martial Art) = 21
  • Initiative +5 (Dex)
  • Save Bonuses: +1 Will (3 CP). This gives him Fortitude +4, Reflex +5, and Will +5.
  • Skill Points: 2 (Purchased, 2 CP) +8 (Int Mod x 4) +8 (Racial Fast Learner) +4 (Fast Learner at level zero) = 22 SP. Sixteen of those will be going to maxing out his adept skills, one to Shadow Walking, one to a speciality on Arcana (Ritual Magic), and four to his Martial Art – a staff-based variant on the Wind Dance style.

Other Abilities:

Priestly Ritualist Package (18 CP):

Fast Learner, Specialized in Skills (6 CP).

  • Adept: Arcana, Concentration, Knowledge/Religion, and Specific Knowledges (6 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus/Natural Mystical Channel, adds (Dex Mod) to Magically Related Skills (Arcana, Concentration, Shadow Walking, Theology, and Use Magic Device), Specialized and Corrupted/only for performing ritual magic (2 CP).
  • Luck, Specialized and Corrupted/only for performing ritual magic (2 CP)
  • Occult Ritual, Specialized and Corrupted/clerical rituals only, powerful rituals cause magical disturbances across a wide area, rituals are always stressful; the user cannot “take 10” or “take 20” and rituals always fail on a “1” (2 CP).

Specific Knowledges (2 SP, already accounted for):

  • Memorized Holy Book / The Annals of Heaven: An account of the High Ones creation of the multiverse and ancient tales of mighty spirits and mortals who either rose as saints or fell into darkness working for or against the will of the High One. Basically the YuMirr “Bible”.
  • Memorized Holy Book / The Analects of the Five Winds: The theology, proverbs, and rituals of the YuMiir order.

Ten Memorized Minor Rituals (1 SP): These normally require appropriate priestly robes, a holy symbol, and some minor props – but it is possible to get along without those at +5 to +10 DC. Similarly, it’s possible to reduce the time, also at +5 to +15 DC.

  • Blessing of the Innocents: A blessing for children. Three times before adulthood, they can be aided in a time of crisis by an effect the ritualist could currently produce of up to level three. Thus a youngster might be saved from a fall at the age of three, be shielded from the flames of a burning building at seven, and be cured of a nasty fever at eleven. DC 15, 1 Minute.
  • Harmonious Bond: A ritual of marriage. It ensures compatibility; those married by this rite will find their partners easy to get along with, comfortable to have around, understanding, and – unless it’s totally unreasonable – mutually fertile. DC 15, 1 Hour.
  • Illumination of the Night: Creates a sourceless flame to act as a campfire, light a lamp, act as a small beacon, or whatever. The flame will burn for up to one week and is resistant to being extinguished by mundane means, but is stationary unless enclosed and carried. DC 15, 1 Hour.
  • Oathbinding: Calls on the high powers to witness an oath. If the oath is voluntarily broken, whoever breaks it will be subject to some sort of minor curse. Such a curse cannot be removed until some appropriate act of atonement is made. DC 15, 1 Minute.
  • Opening the Gates of Light: Offers forgiveness and release to lingering spirits. DC 15, 1 Minute.
  • Purification of the Spirit’s Dwelling: Purges the recipients body of impurities, such as mundane poisons and diseases and minor maledictions. DC 5, 1 Hour. Often rushed to DC 15 and 1d6 Rounds.
  • Returning to the Elements: Returns a body cleanly to nature, causing it to crumble to dust as if cremated over the course of the next hour or two. DC 5, 1 Minute. Occasionally rushed by the practiced to DC 10 and 1d6 Rounds.
  • Scriptural Vow: A secondary ritual that goes with Oathbinding The recipient picks up two minor disadvantages (an Obligation and a Vow) and a compensating bonus feat, which will remain in effect as long as he or she lives up to those disadvantages. If he or she fails to do so, the bonus feat vanishes and he or she will pick up a minor curse, as per the Oathbinding. Most lay members of Orin’s faith swear to Tithe to the church whenever they can do so without it being unduly burdensome and to refrain from pacting with demons – thus gaining a touch of divine aid in their daily lives. DC 15, 1 Hour, may target a modest group of willing participants.
  • Stream of Prosperity: Enhances the yield of the land throughout a manor or parish for the next year. DC 15, 1 Full Day. Can be rushed by the very skilled down to DC 25 and 1 Hour.
  • Walk of Dreams: A ritual of vision, to aid the recipient in making decisions and in discovering his or her true talents and vocation. Most of what is seen will be dredged up from the user’s subconscious and natural potentials, but the spirits of the celestial realms usually throw in a few extra hints. DC 15, 8 Hours, may be used on a fair-sized group.

 There are lots of other rituals of course; these are simply the ones he’s especially good at.

Rune Weaver Package (20 CP):

  • Shaping, Specialized and Corrupted (for double effect and two-thirds cost) / the user may only choose a limited number of relatively narrow themes linked to a particular attribute to use rather than being able to produce any desired effect within his or her limits; the user may select two attributes, gaining (Att Mod) themes from each, to start with. Additional attributes may be “opened” at a cost of 6 CP each at levels 3, 6, 9, and 12. The themes chosen will be represented by symbols on the user’s skin, which will be revealing to any knowledgeable observer. Sadly, without boosting, this is effectively limited to level zero effects – and cumulative effects (such as healing) lost effectiveness on any given target after 2d6 uses in a day (4 CP).

Orin’s themes are based on Dexterity (Elemental and Void Magic) and Wisdom (Holy Magic).

  • Dexterity: (Elemental) Cloak, Manipulation, and Summoning, Twisting the Threads, and Invoke the Depths.
  • Wisdom (4): Armor of Light, Exorcism, Opening the Way, and White Light.

Descriptions for those can be found in Legends of High Fantasy.

  • 2d6 (8) Mana (Spell Enhancement Option), Specialized and Corrupted for triple effect (24 Mana)/only for use with Shaping, only to reduce spell levels (not for caster level enhancement), use of more than half the reserve will fatigue the user, using it up will exhaust him or her (12 CP).
  • Ritual of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted: requires at least an hour of rest and meditation or sleep, only restores Mana (4 CP).

Staff Mastery: The Way of the Guardian Word (10 CP).

  • +1 BAB, Specialized and Corrupted/only with staves (2 CP). Staves used with this discipline usually have a prayer for protection inscribed on them as well, but that’s an optional extra.
  • +1d6 (6) Mana, (Spell Enhancement Option), Specialized and Corrupted/only for use with Shaping, only to reduce spell levels (not for caster level enhancement), only for invoking counterspells and defensive spells, only while holding a staff (2 CP).
  • Reflex Training (three actions per day variant), Specialized and Corrupted/only for defensive actions, only for shaping, only usable when holding a staff (2 CP).
  • Evasive (Spellcasting), Specialized and Corrupted / only while casting defensive spells as a reflex action, only while holding a staff (4 CP).

Skills:

  • Acrobatics: +4 (SP) +5 (Dex) +2 (Race) = +11
  • Arcana: +4 (SP*) +2 (Int) = +6. +14 for performing rituals (with his +3 Specialty and +5 Augmented Bonus ), +19 with memorized rituals.
  • Athletics: +4 (SP*) +2 (Str) +2 (Race) = +8
  • Concentration: +4 (SP*) +4 (Con) = +8, +13 for performing rituals.
  • Knowledge/Religion: +4 (SP*) +2 (Int) = +6, +21 with respect to his own faith.
  • Perception: +4 (SP*) +4 (Wis) +2 (Race) = +12
  • Shadow Walking: +1 (SP) +4 (Wis) = +5
  • Specific Knowledges: 4 SP*, see above.
  • Survival: +4 (SP*) +4 (Wis) +2 (Race) = +10
  • Wind Dance +9, Martial Art Techniques Known (5): Defense 4, Mind Like Moon

*Effectively 2 – half cost – due to Adept ability.

Dungeons and Dragons 3/3.5 Retrospective

Robin Hood and Maid Marian (poster, ca. 1880)

Forsooth! What elder game be this?

And here we have a guest post from Editorial0…

I’m cynical about being an optimist. No, really!

I try to be optimistic. I kept trying desperately to persuade myself and others that The Last Airbender had potential as a movie (if you haven’t seen it… don’t). I tried to keep up hope that Duke Nukem Forever would finally be released. I was all in favor of new ideas in 3rd edition when it arrived.

Well, one out of three ain’t bad. I hear Duke Nukem Forever may actually come out pretty good.

But the other two… kinda sucked.

We already know why The Last Airbender failed: M. Night Shyamalan is a terrible writer who relies too heavily on visuals, knows nothing about dialogue, plot structure or characterization, and wasn’t very perceptive about his source material, to the point of dropping mystic Kung-Fu in favor of an awkward Macarena dance.

So today we answer the question, “Why did DnD3 fall down?” Why did it burn out in the way it did and take a good chunk of gaming with it?

First, the system was… clunky and overbuilt, kind of like an early 70’s American car. All the parts and pieces are there, but they often don’t fit together well, makes the car so weighty it merely turtles along, and the frame creaks under stress.

Much like the American auto of the 70’s, new lean competitors ate its lunch, while the overly-managed parent company blindly threw its weight around trying anything and everything except making a decent product. And much like the American auto of the 70’s, if you got under the hood and fiddled, you could have a great deal of fun and put together one amazing car, just how you liked – it had some brilliant ideas, but the execution came off sloppy.

I’m going to break things down piece by piece, chapter by chapter if necessary (it isn’t, so I don’t actually do this), and look at the issues involved.

Races

Race didn’t change all that much, and it’s a bit of a shame. Not that I really complain here, but it might have been nice to focus races on certain roles more. Too many of them had a weird, widespread assortment of random minor benefits. This is partly a holdover from earlier editions, and it probably should have been changed. I don’t think anyone was terribly fond of Detect Secret Doors.

However, this is one area where third edition kept old ideas, was very clear and useful, and easily let you develop a character without too much fuss. If it wasn’t perfect, it hardly failed to work; the real issue is the nuisance of bookkeeping those small bonuses. I – and I’m hardly alone in this – skip most of the fantasy races in favor of plain humans because it means I can ignore the pesky and messy situational bonuses.

Classes

Probably the numero uno aspect of 3rd edition, the thing everyone liked until they didn’t, were classes. Even the basic classes caused a lot of trouble. With no unifying design principles, they were and are all over the place. Despite that, they are in many ways a big improvement. There are many new character creation options and design choices for players, so you’re not stuck in dull roll no matter what.

Sure, there’s the old Linear Warriors Quadratic Wizards problem. And the Geometric Priests problem. But the biggest issue was that there simply was no clear idea of what the classes were supposed to accomplish. Were they intended to have useful noncombat skills? How important were those abilities? Was it really worth it to play a Paladin, Ranger, or Fighter beyond the first few levels?

This is the real “balance” issue. Fighters were perfectly effective in battle, and often no less fun or efficient than a wizard. However, they couldn’t do anything else.

The classes came across as awkward hybrid creations. It seemed caught halfway between the old-school 2nd edition DnD ruleset, from a time when much looser and simpler rules were popular, and a more modern design with a more constructed environment. The result was a lot of unhappy middle-ground of ridiculously long rules or descriptions for simple concepts, and some obvious oversights.

Some of these concerns were partly mitigated later on in 3.5, although not always in a very coherent manner. That changed some of the expected roles around, and did clarify things and offer more long-term options for physical-combat classes to advance. As an example, Rangers went from being primary combatants – people who were tough and capable under any situation and able to survive on their own – to support characters about like Monks. The original was based off Aragorn and Robin Hood, and I’m honestly not sure where the new version comes from. More of a hybrid Rogue/Fighter, I suppose. I’m not saying it’s bad, but it is odd.

Worse, the 3.5 revision didn’t solve many of the problems, because front-loaded classes were still quite front-loaded and still didn’t have quite enough to keep them interesting. You got a few more options, but there simply wasn’t all that much reason to change your dirty cheatin’ multiclassin’ ways if you had been so inclined. Really, by the time 3.5 emerged, everyone was heading for Prestige Classes (and usually more than one) as soon as possible.

On the plus side, every class did have a major and explicit combat role. Not every game revolves around it, but your standard DnD usually features extensive combat. The differences between each class are clear and simple to understand. Most class abilities are easy to use, at least.

Multiclassing is a bit more of a pain, though more for the experience penalties. Getting around these has become something of a badge of honor, which means they’re mostly wasted effort. They should have been dropped as pointless. There’s a real question of why they’re in the game anyway – it’s not like multiclassing is so terribly effective compared to the plain-Jane Cleric and Druid. Presumably it’s to bring in some differences between races and characters, but as mentioned, there are so many ways to get around the problem it’s meaningless, and it doesn’t affect PrC’s. Along with weird build orders and strange race choices, these are the most obvious methods to get around multiclass penalties.

PrC’s

Prestige Classes per se aren’t a problem. Even the huge tidal wave of them isn’t precisely bad. The real issue is that PrC’s were random. They became a useless space-filler. Most weren’t very good or interesting, made little sense, and had no place in the game, much less a specific setting.

Let’s back up. First, the game never defined what a PrC is. Is is membership in an elite order with special training? Well, maybe. Is it a special skill you picked up? Well, maybe. Is it an inborn talent which you randomly possess? Well, maybe. Any of these could be defended, and it could easily differ by campaign setting. However, all of this got tossed into a blender.

There’s nothing to define what a PrC is or ought to be. The Dungeon Master’s Guide lists some ideas, but Wizards then ignored that in all of their own publications down the line. They had a vested interest in making sure everyone wanted access to the latest PrC’s, of course.

So, while a certain amount of Power Creep was inevitable, that’s not the real problem. The real issue is that there were no guidelines about where to start with them. In fact, there’s a distinct school of thought which runs towards saying, “PrC’s have specific requirements and they should be more powerful than normal.” That’s fine as long as their use remains consistent.

Trouble was that writers within the same company, series, or even book often held different opinions. Some might say instead, “PrC’s should be just as useful but more specialized.” Or even that “PrC’s should be distinct but no more powerful” and “PrC’s should be fun and damn the power level!” There’s something to be said for all of these. And any of them could work.

But not all of them together, at once.

What are all of these writers missing? First off, that PrC’s really only make sense in the context of a given campaign. For the most part, all the base classes are generic enough for most games and campaign settings. You can argue about most of them, and you might tweak some minor details, but they work. (The trio of Bard, Monk, and Paladin are the odd men out, and even then it’s only really the Monk which stands completely apart. The other two perhaps should have PrC’s, but they work.)

Most PrC’s make no sense in most game worlds, at least not without a lot of alterations. You might, in some cases, simply slap a new label on top, but usually writers did at least try to match abilities to a specific theme. And they didn’t neccessarily compare notes or think about what they were doing.

The following are a couple of examples from Forgotten Realms, but you can probably find your own just by grabbing any convenient splatbook.

Thus we have the Tomb Guardian of Evereska, which really brings to mind some questions about just how many tombs they’ve got. Are there really so many elf tombs that they need a special order to handle the undead from them? And if so, why does anybody bother to use them as opposed to cremation? How do the half-dozen (at most) people who have this PrC support it? Or are there lots of adventurers grabbing levels in it? How many nations need dedicated orders of people to guard tombs, and why is it limited only to elves, even in Forgotten Realms?

We’ve got several PrC’s for Loviatar, a minor goddess of  torture. (Also kinky smut, which is surely the stronger growth industry.) How does her minor cult support this? Why do more powerful gods with more powerful churches have none? Is starting PrC’s easy but often pointless, so many don’t bother? Where is her small religious following getting all of these mid-to-high level adventurers?

Why did Wizards of the Coast fill many, many books with PrC’s, but then assume almost every other book that you didn’t use them? In fact, their base class books (Sword and Fist, etc.) had some interesting and useful ideas – far better in a great many ways than what came later. There was a clear idea of trade-offs among most, even if it was informal and sloppy. If you liked raw power, you could indeed get an extra percentage from the PrC’s there, but never ludicrous amounts. Some classes were obviously half-hearted or not well thought out (witness the umpteen “you become a magical creature” classes), but most had clear roles and iconic personalities.

But instead, Wizards dumped many more PrC’s into everything. A player character might easily have six different classes, depending on their build. NPC’s quite commonly had a PrC. All this together started me wondering whether you ever needed those classes or if people could and should simply grab what they wanted.

I could go on all day, but the point is that PrC’s were a giant mess. And we’ve just mentioned the official Wizards stuff, not even touching 3rd-party PrC’s. Those were even more insane, at least in books of Prestige Classes and not in special-made groups for use in a specific world of campaign.

I’m going to take the opportunity to challenge some conventional wisdom about PrC’s, since some people are still making and certainly using them – witness the popularity of Paizo’s Pathfinder.

First, they don’t need requirements. Don’t have a hard-and-fast requirement unless the PrC needs some specific ability to work right, or the class has some flavor which makes no sense otherwise. Let your characters take them if the character would take the class.

If it makes sense, then who cares if the PC has the Lightning Reflexes feat? If it *doesn’t* make sense… then who cares if the PC has the Lightning Reflexes feat? If the stealthy thief enjoys making hit-and-run attacks from surprise and playing tricks on his foes, then Shadowdancer probably works. If he prefers to brutally mug a foe, then it doesn’t, regardless of what feats or skills he has.

The Loremaster doesn’t really need any specific abilities. Heck, just let a PC take an appropriate arcane spellcasting progression straight off, even if they couldn’t fire a cantrip before. The character should have demonstrated interest in knowledge and information-gathering, probably represented by skills. At most, I’d demand one level in Bard or Wizard, since those are the classes which focus on “ancient lore and wisdom.” And even then, I’d be inclined to shrug if a Cleric or Druid wanted to take the class and substitute divine spellcasting.

The Assassin? Who cares about requirements there? The PrC *CLASS* Assassin doesn’t have any abilities which shout “evil”. They can use poisons without risk, get a few spells, and have a shot at instantly killing somebody. None of that requires evil, much less going out and killing someone to magically gain access to the class. Now, being an actual hired killer is another matter: that might well require evil alignment in a DnD world. But the Assassin abilities are merely specialized Rogue-type tricks, and anyone who learns how to sneak about and backstab people should be allowed to take the class. I’d require a +3d6 in Sneak Attack for this one, or perhaps +1d6 and some good sneaking skills. I might permit an appropriately-themed Fighter to try, although I’d expect anyone who wants to go for Assassin to plan on taking Rogue, Ranger, or Bard levels anyway.

The Blackguard? What about it? Any evil character should be allowed to take it. Yeah, you do pretty much need to be evil here: you are, after all, explicitly calling upon the “forces of darkness” to become a cheap and nasty version of the Paladin in order to fulfill your personal cruelties and reign of terror. But why should I care if you’re a Cleric, Druid, or Bard? Go nuts. Spellcasters presumably won’t want it the class, so I’m not too worried.

I’m sure you get the picture. Sure, many arcane-based classes probably should require some spellcasting. Many melee classes might require a specific feat or trick. But none of them really demand a specific set of abilities, particularly since authors often choose useless ones as requirements.

Next up, decide in advance if PrC’s require training, pick out which PrC’s already exist, and establish at least an informal way for players to make their own.

Why do this? Well, it keeps the campaign on track. You’ll know what people are doing, the players have a better idea of what’s available, and if they really want something different, they have a way to go about getting it. They can found that elite order of master martial artists. They can discover the ancient secrets of the Gate of K’Desh. Or whatever.

You also set down some specifics of the rules and setting. If PrC’s require special training in the Knightly Order of the Garter*, that’s what they have to do. This gives the characters special goals beyond levels and loot. Alternatively, they may have to quest for the Gate of K’Desh or the mystical pool at the base of the World Tree. Yup, it means they can’t get that special ability whenever they like. And that’s no bad thing.

After all, if you want to simply let people grab PrC’s from anywhere, then why are you bothering with classes anyway? Everything in the game should be some kind of emotional reward for the player. Yes, if they aren’t being rewarded for play, either they or the GM are doing something very wrong. However, a reward has to challenge the player; we devalue things we get without effort. It must demand part of us: our time, our money, our attention. When players can simply grab PrC’s, it minimizes the emotional rewards.

*That’s no joke. That was a real order and the Black Prince** of England belonged to it.

**That’s no joke, either. That guy was raiding France and slaughtering armies of thousands before he finished puberty. I wouldn’t give him any lip about the name of the order even if he has been dead for eight centuries.

Feats

Feats aren’t a terrible idea. They did, however, fall into an issue that plagues many MMORPG’s (or, as Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw puts it, mimorpiggers). Feats tend to fall into either the “fun” or the “powerful” categories, and sometimes the “neither-but-you-have-no-choice” category. Or sometimes the “this-makes-no-sense” category, or even the “barmy-to-the-spire” category.

Recently, World of Warcraft brought forth the Cataclysm, and in doing that re-built the Talent system, very similar to feats. Aside from a number of upgrades and simplifications, they made most “boring” basic-improvement feats more interesting with random effects and situational bonuses, and restricted themselves to having only so many weird, fun feats. They assume people will max out all the straight enhancements, and still had enough left over for fun choices. This is important, because DnD had a similar basic concept (freebies for fun stuff) and a similar early problem (fun stuff wasn’t always good).

Perhaps surprisingly, feats aren’t too unbalanced if you go in for that sort of thing. Some do come out overpriced, even by Wizard’s own material. You can witness the numerous variant feats which gave you a bit of skill boost in two skills. Sure, you can take Skill Focus, but even if you just wanted better skills there’s surely two or three combination feats you can take with no prerequisite and no downside. Still, when you’re dealing with a minor side ability or boost, you can’t send things too off-key. The exceptions are the few super-feats which granted access to whole abilities you normally couldn’t use, such as Spellfire. (and there’s a whole article just on that). But by and large, there’s a reasonable argument to be made to taking almost any feat in the game.

That doesn’t mean they all work very well. Let’s compare two feats: Cleave and Great Fortitude. Yes, there’s an argument for Great Fortitude. It’s not totally useless. But it isn’t really *fun*. It may be practical. But nobody ever sat down and said, “Man, I can’t wait to get marginally tougher at resisting poisons and death effects!” It’s a very passive ability, with no exciting elements to appeal to gamers. So while they work mathematically, those boring booster feats tend to get passed over.

Mechanically, they also tend to be pretty underwhelming, too. Most of the booster feats are also the overpriced ones, but tend to show up as requirements for other, more interesting feats and also PrC’s. While there’s nothing wrong with this mechanically, I dislike game designs which force players to “pay” for their fun – everything in the game should be fun! Whether you’re talking about character creation, romping through a dungeon, or attending the Queen’s Ball, everything should be fun for the players. If not, then the group or the game has an issue. And yes attending the Queen’s Masked Ball can be very fun if the party has a good reason to attend, useful goals, and some relevant abilities.

The odd part is that such designs remain remarkably common. MMO makers appear to feel that you ought to suffer for choosing certain classes, weapons, or options – often with no warning or explanation. In fact, I would state this is one huge reason World of Warcraft succeeds so well: no class is ever useless or crippled. Anyone can jump right in an enjoy themselves at any stage of the game. WoW ain’t perfect, but it does take some huge stride to get around this by helping new players learn and doling out new abilities a respectable but never overwhelming rate.

But alright, you’ve made you choice of fun or power, or decided to suffer through with neither so you can get a better choice later. But then you encounter a feat which gives you a pet dragon.

Wait, what?

A-yup. You just get a friendly dragon. Huh. He shows up out of the ether one morning just because. In fact, you don’t even have to have met a dragon to take the feat.

Part of the problem is that it’s conceptually based off the Leadership ability. If you can attract followers, why not a dragon? And that’s fine, except that the Leadership feat kinda doesn’t make sense. It’s clearly based off the old followers that many older edition characters received. Fighters especially got a small army, while Rangers could get a smaller number of weird magical beats and things. And so what?

The issue is that you had to work for those once upon a time. You were a powerful character far beyond a mortal man. You were already a legend in your own right and people would come along and swear themselves to your cause just for being that awesome. That doesn’t entirely work in d20, which lacks the huge experience curve to higher levels. You can quite easily go from level 1 to 20 inside a few months of light work. High-level characters are more common and far less special.

So it does start to be a bit odd that you can attract them so easily, and with so little work. And getting yourself a pet dragon works even less. This points to a slight problem which started showing up as d20 went on: feats which weren’t needed. We can grandfather in Leadership for old time’s sake, but if you want a friendly dragon, go befriend one! You don’t need a special feat for that – just some bribes, kind words, and a good reason.

Finally, we have feats which went utterly insane. The Footspear technique. Feats which let you do things you already could accomplish before. (Where does it say you *can’t* you shoot arrows from a chariot, except for one specific feat which let’s you do just that?) The less said, the better.

Taken together, these last two categories tended to nail down the game more than the PrC’s. If you wanted to do something special, it wasn’t a matter of trying to figure out how your character could manage it. Instead, you just needed to comb through books for a feat. The character’s abilities became the player’s business, not the result of in-game adventure. And that’s sad.

Alignment

Here is a problem I don’t want to stress too much, because I hardly expect the new designers to have fixed the problems the old designers never could. All the same, a solution is possible and should have appeared in the game. And it would save a lot of people a lot of arguments.

Alignment always causes issues. Somebody always doesn’t fit in to the system properly. Somebody always causes trouble with it. Alignment is oddly specific for a shorthand and awkward for iconic characters. The arguments over what alignment even famous, predictable characters fall into are themselves evidence the system just doesn’t work.

Let’s take Batman as an example, because he’s pretty much as iconic as heroes get – and because the example’s been floating around for some time. It’ s funny, simply because it’s true.

  • Batman is Lawful Good. He works for the betterment of all and tries to support the government while serving mankind. He fights evil villains without hesitation, always aiming to save innocent lives.
  • Batman is Neutral Good. He is a noble-hearted crusader for all that is good in the world, defending innocents from the darkness around. He doesn’t have much to do with the law, which hurts as much as it helps.
  • Batman is Chaotic Good. He routinely defies or ignores the law and keeps his identity secret so that no one can arrest him for technically breaking the law. Fortunately, he fights for the common man and protects them.
  • Batman is Lawful Neutral. He tries to support the beleaguered police from the chaos engulfing Gotham city, without taking too much power into his own hands – he doesn’t even trust himself, and would lay down the mantle if he could.
  • Batman is True Neutral. He fights for his own personal reasons. His goals often intersect with those of good men, but he doesn’t fight on their behalf but to make sure no other child suffers as he did.
  • Batman is Chaotic Neutral. He’s out of his own revenge regardless of what happens. He may stop criminals, but all the while he’s as responsible for Gotham’s chaos as the crooks he hurts.
  • Batman is Lawful Evil. He decides what happens in Gotham city, even creating a persona as a crime lord himself to manipulate events. He works to brutally put down the wicked and creating a perfect order. (Yup, that’s right out of the comics).
  • Batman is Neutral Evil. He lives to fight others, simply focusing his hatred on criminals and scum, unlike his enemies. Controlled by rage and paranoia, he distrusts other superheroes more than the villains.
  • Batman is Chaotic Evil. He does what he pleases and that happens to be destroying villains. Meanwhile, he’s created half of them himself, while his vigilantism never changes the nature of Gotham’s crimerate.

You might claim some of these are stretches, but official comics have painted him as all of the above, even two conflicting concepts in the same comic. Yet Batman isn’t actually that complicated of a character.

What do we know of him?

  • He’s burdened by guilt – irrational guilt – but guilt all the same. He wants revenge, but will not or cannot fill the need.
  • He’s dedicated to using both brains and brawn to beat up criminals and supervillains.
  • The law gets in his way, and he wishes it were better, but he does respect those who dedicate themselves to it.
  • He often takes in orphans, and then trains them to become new Bat-crime fighters like himself.

These are not complicated ideas. You may never guess how Batman will accomplish his goals, but you have a pretty good idea what he aims for. Yet he can’t be easily characterized with alignment. And even more classic heroes are pretty vague. Is Beowulf True Neutral? Is Gandalf Lawful Good?

Heck, for that matter, is Neutral Evil more evil than the Lawful evil, or just less “flavorful?” What’s actually different about how two villains of different alignment behave?

We have no good answers, and that’s sad, because simple solutions are easy.

For starters, you need to define if Alignment is Relative, Static, or Dynamic in your campaign.

Relative alignment is just what it says: alignment is relative to the character and situation. Characters have a lot of leeway, and nobody’s really checking on them. If they can honestly believe themselves to be Lawful Good, they are. If they’re burning people alive to root out evil, so what? Morality in a relative world is simply a matter of utility and practicality. Expect that most people see themselves as good or at least neutral (if they’re elitists and find moralism a tedious philosophy). Evil people are probably criminals who revel in their persona, even if they aren’t that much worse than others. Various gods simply have their own interests. This is reasonably similar to DnD, which often features wars between good and evil but not a lot of actual difference in behavior between people. Neutral here is just another faction.

Static worlds feature a morality which simply IS. If you do “Good” actions, you are Good. It doesn’t matter why you do them. Good characters may save small children from harm, but they do that more or less because those are the rules. They won’t necessarily care about any individuals they save, any more than they care about the copper coins they looted from the dungeon ruin. This has the advantage of being easy to play, and it’s closest to classical DnD. Gods may have alignment, but you should decide ahead of time how much they care about it. And remember that in-universe morality need have nothing whatsoever in common with any actual, existing moral system.

It works, but it is shallower than you might expect.

Dynamic worlds are a bit more complicated, because you have you decide what principles each alignment follows. Lawful Good may truly support the concept of justice, and is all about Justice. Lawful Good characters are those who follow the ideal of justice, and try to build a world where everyone can live in safety, isn’t discriminated against, and meets each other as equals before the law.

My general schema for this is as follows.

  •              Law            Neu.             Chaos
  • Good   Justice       Mercy           Liberty
  • Neu.    Order         Personal       Freedom
  • Evil     Tyranny     Power           Madness

You could create a number of others or vary them to your campaign. Try substituting Charity or Peace for Mercy, or Purity for Justice, and you may have some very different actions stemming from the same alignment. or you can provide a short list of applicable principles for each alignment.

Combat

If anything contributed to d20 being a very mechanical system, it’s combat. Grids and hexes were always an optional part of DnD, but in 3rd edition, they became law. The problem is that not everything comes in neat grids, and I’ve seen fewer than half of gamers actually use the grids at all. Most preferred the time-tested method of using “imagination”.

More than that would take more time than I care to take right at the moment, though I might update this post with more down the line.

Spells

In one sense, we don’t have a lot to talk about d20 spells. They mostly come from 2nd edition, though 3.5 made some changes. No, the real problem is that the designers seemingly couldn’t quite decide what they wanted out of them, and tried to nail the utility of each spell to the floor.

One huge aspect of spell design (especially arcane) in d20 is simply how very limited it became. Every spell could do one thing and one thing only. We nearly crumbled under the huge pile of minor variants on combat spells, while Wizards slowly pushed noncombat effects out of the system. Eventually, you weren’t playing a wise magician but a living ballista.

Take Polymorph, for example. They slowly stripped out nearly all the fun of using it, until you almost all you were getting was a handful of better combat statistics. Meanwhile, Save-or-Die effects were weakened in 3.5. I don’t really have a problem with removing them entirely – but the changes suggested the design teams didn’t have a clear concept of what they wanted spellcasters to do or have. As the changes wound through, arcane spellcasters in particular became very little different from other ranged-combat characters, but weaker and with more area attacks, a trend 4th edition would sadly continue.

Clerics, ironically, fared much better. With the right domains and feats, they could cast almost everything a wizard could, while fighting better than the the warrior-types could. Still, they lost a lot of utility magic as well. In fact, they once had the best reversible spells – spells you could cast as negative (on the enemy) or positive (on your party) effects. This gave them a great deal of flexibility. Perhaps in a fit of hilarity, 3/3.5 handed them oodles of power instead of variety, and apparently the designers were somewhat surprised when people started favoring them (and druids) for boring-but-unstoppable power builds.

But looking at the spells themselves, we see a lot more limitations. Spells had very specific targets. They often couldn’t damage materials even if this made no sense. They had exactly specific areas and precise effects. Many spells differed only in look, and many of the most interesting variants (Skull Trap, for instance) or tricks vanished or fell prey to the nerf bat.

So Lightning Bolt, for example, no longer bounced. Yes, this could be used and abused. But it was also dangerous and required careful consideration – the extra complication was part of the fun. Spells like Haste no longer required anything extra from the party, and so they became mainstays of the game until they, too, fell prey to massive nerfing.

This all falls neatly in line with the design teams’ expectations that combat would be constant, encounters would be balanced, and that little or no preparation would be required or encouraged by any given side. In fact, the game’s design suggests that *all* encounters are essentially random encounters. Even looking at official products, nobody shouts down tunnels to warn their friends or get reinforcements. After all, it wouldn’t be “fair” for the entire enemy force to converge on the adventurers now, would it? Likewise, we can’t have the wizard undermining (literally) a room full of enemies so the floor crumbles and the party just walks on through. They’d either wind up ahead of the xp curve or behind in party resources or something.

But part of the nerfing comes from a different source. Spells once were a mite harder to cast and replenish. A high-level spell could demand a lot of time to replace, and might take so long to cast that the Fighter already cut the foe’s head off. Thus, even if a Magic-User was the most “powerful” (in an arbitrary definition), he couldn’t survive without constant protection, whereas the Fighting Man might well be able to make it on his own. However, all the casting speed rules fell out of 3rd edition. The result was that a fast spellcaster could easily dominate if he cranked his spells’ Difficulty Class (for saving throws) high enough.

Now beyond that, there’s still a lot of ground to cover, so I may expand on this later.  But for now, we’ll let this this critical look at DnD stand.