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!

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