Federation-Apocalypse Session 182 – The Coral Dragon

Vulcano Island

Is it worth getting through that reef just for THIS?

Splitting their disputants across two ships settled things down easily enough – and they continued their trip edgewards.

Kevin had become tired of heroically posing, and had retired to his cabin to enjoy some less-heroic companionship.

Now that they were past the reef, and were moving back into the deep waters, one of the consequences of the mixing of currents – both oceanic and atmospheric – was becoming apparent. There was a major storm rising… There were tall clouds rising in the distance, and heading their way. There were flashes of distant lightning dancing along the clouds and striking the surface of the sea… The wind was shifting, and slowly intensifying. The air had gone from semi-tropical to somewhat chilly.

It didn’t take Elerra much divination to say “major storm coming”. The sailors were making a fuss, a number of the less experienced ones were panicking, and the more experienced ones were shouting orders and getting rather worked up.

Coincidence or enemy action?

Meanwhile, the convoy was passing along orders to change course, to get the ships moving as fast as possible, to fasten everything down, and to make sure that all the weight was near the center of the ship.

The Thrall-crews followed suit – and prepared safety lines, repair-spells, rescue operations, and reinforcing effects.

Marty didn’t bother giving many orders about it; the local sailors were providing a sufficiently sensible example… Hm. It looked like the platypus navigator was trying to reach a set of islands before the storm hit them.

Kevin didn’t really see that big a problem; unless there was a LOT of magic in it, their massed magical resources should be able to handle virtually any storm. Wind-control spells were pretty easy after all!

The islands… looked to be a volcanic and covered with a good deal of dense vegetation. There were no obvious signs of habitation as yet though.

With various wind-control spells in operation they closed with the islands swiftly. They were soon in the outskirts of the archipelago as the navigators poured over the maps trying to find a poorly documented bay said to be in the area.

(Navigator) “I know it’s near here! I’ve seen it myself! But this blasted chart isn’t showing it!”

(Captain) “I thought you said you brought the best charts of the region?”

Well, the crew had done this trip before… Kevin had some thralls do aerial sweeps looking for bays – and for large-scale illusions or new volcanic flows. It had been some years after all, so the landscape COULD have changed naturally – but he was betting on people.

It didn’t take the Thralls long to report that there was a shielded bay hidden by some sort of illusion/redirection spell on the other side of the big island up ahead, along with a number of smaller areas covered with illusions spread across the other islands.

(Captain) “Who is throwing illusions over the bay?”

(Navigator) “You suppose it is the otters trying to foul things up?”

(Kevin, sighing) “Who’s been raiding the locals? If you hide, it’s because you don’t want to be found. If someone else hides you it’s more complicated – but wouldn’t they be likely to notice and do something about it? Large-scale illusions are fairly fragile things for their difficulty.”

(Sailor) “I would say that it was the otters that have been raiding the place. They’ve been trying to keep others from using it as a resupply port by stirring up the locals against outsiders.”

(Kevin) “These otters have got a long reach! Amalgamated with otters in other ports have they?”

(Captain) “Great, agititated locals while stuck in a port in a storm.”

(Marty) “Wouldn’t surprise me.”

(Navigator) “Wouldn’t put it past them, they’ve been trying to gain control of the whole region for a long time now.”

(Captain) “So which do we fear more? Agititated natives or a massive storm?”

(Kevin) “Well, let’s visit the locals! If the otters have been pissing them off, they may be glad to have allies who want to break up the cartel!”

Marty had to agree; storms weren’t good for ships at sea from what he’d heard, and there didn’t seem to be enough magic in the storm for him to stab and disperse it. That was pretty much automatic in Battling Business World – you could fight almost ANYTHING there – but he wasn’s sure that it worked like that in this realm unless it was a really big elemental or quasi-sentient spell or some such.

The Thralls agreed; the storm didn’t seem to be magically augmented in any obvious way.

Marty headed in first; at least his ship wasn’t a dedicated warship; hopefully the locals would take that better than if the Nightwind Voyager headed in first.

It might indeed have been a better reaction, but it wasn’t MUCH better. As the ship slipped through the illusion and into the harbor Marty was confronted with the remains of a burnt-out port facility and docks. On the opposite side of the bay from the port, there was a mast and rotted sails sticking out of the water. There were a number of canoes drawn up on the shore – and there were footprints heading deep into the forest on the shore to the left. The rising wind was rustling leaves and branches significantly but Marty thought he could make out a number of shadows shifting through the forest.

Kevin cheerily (and instantly) started speculating about Cannibals raiding the port and throwing maidens into the volcano!

Marty wondered if the place had been sacked by pirates.

As the Lissifea moved in Marty and the Thralls saw several small fires appear in the woods. A moment later, one of those fires suddenly leaped out of the woods and headed towards the ship!

Luckily they were still layered in fire-protections!

The fire will struck the sails to no effect as a number of the other fires leaped out and swarmed the ship.

One of them hit Marty himself, which was annoying – but little more. It seemed to be mostly natural fire… Well, that was an easy way to conserve magical power for a long siege!

Most of the rest of he less-distracted crew dodged easily; it seemed that the enemy was working at a range extreme enough to hamper their aim significantly.

Marty considered… The town was definitely shot. The cannon weren’t too likely to reach that far – and even if they did, they might have hostages. Try for negotiation? It was a bit soon for THAT… They only had half an hour or so to get into port and get set up for the storm! Ah! He’d have Limey do some scrying over there! He’d eaten more than enough scrolls to have all the basics handy!

Scrying revealed sixteen natives performing some sort of ritual around a bonfire. Another eight were scooping fire out of the bonfire using their bare hands and then flinging it with some sort of sling weapon.

Marty considered going to say “Hi!”! It wasn’t like the locals didn’t know they’d arrived – and he could take a Thrall or two along to watch his back; they were good at escaping.

(Kevin, to the Navigator and Captain) “This is depressing! No supplies, port mostly burned down, no fun… I presume this was a civilized port last time you were here?”

(Captain) “Yes it was. Although I had heard rumors that the place had been coming under increasing attack in recent years.”

Kevin, meanwhile, was bored – and began fixing the port. They’d need it in good shape to ride out a major storm! He got some docks and a breakwater in place, erected a few defensive towers and such on the breakwater, put up a lighthouse/lookout post, got some nice solid buildings up, erected some city walls…

Then the Nightwind Voyager and the other ships in the convoy approaching behind the Lissifea started to come under fire as well. Kevin put some Thralls on fireball-deflection duty, and added some Geothermal Magma Cannons – a very short-range gate to tap into the volcano’s magma reservoir did it very nicely – then started to wonder; unless these really were invaders, why would the locals be objecting to his fixing their city?

To Marty it looked like the natives were busy altering the ritual around the bonfire since it seemed that their fireballs weren’t working. At least that meant that they weren’t paying particular attention to anyone approaching.

It looked like… they were switching from a fire spell to some sort of summoning spell – possibly pulling on a really major source of fire nearby.

Marty let Kevin know over the link. They were probably trying for a major magma elemental. They were on a volcanic island after all!

That at least meant a lull in the attacks. They got the rest of the ships into the newly-refurbished harbor while Kevin went off to see what the problem was.

Marty was still considering the ritual… sulfur, charcoal, obsidian, and a piece of wrought iron in the shape of a sword. What would happen if he made one of those magical components disappear? He was fairly sure that the iron would be hard to come by on a volcanic island – although, if they were smart, they’d have spares. It would probably fizzle the ritual – but if it didn’t they might wind up with a berserk magma elemental running loose. That wouldn’t do… Should he just say hello?

He did.

The ritualists botched things in their shock at his arrival, setting off a small explosion – but it wasn’t much more than an annoying distraction for them.

Marty found a number of spears and other weapons pointed at him as the shamans readied spells.

(Tribal) Why you hear to harm our people again?!

(Marty) “Hey, that wasn’t us! We just arrived in port to trade! What the heck’s going on?”

Kevin wondered… Could they have gone that far downhill that fast?

(Tribal) “You’ve come to kill our people again and use our land for your own purposes! We’ve sacked your damned port and destroyed your ships, but you keep coming, but we will never surrender or lose!”

Oh! Presumably the Otters had tried to exploit the natives, they’d fallen back into the forests and driven out the traders (wrecking the port in the process) and the Otters had simply settled for raiding and thus preventing anyone ELSE from using the place as a resupply port by stirring up the locals against outsiders.

Well, they didn’t even have any otter slaves aboard; the Platypi had insisted on keeping them out.

(Marty) “I bet you’ve been raided by the Otters! Well, we’re a different bunch altogether. There’s a storm coming, and we pulled in here to ride it out.”

(Tribal) “You people on the boats are all the same! You come, take over the land without any regard to what we might be doing! See, even now the big wolf creature is building a big structure without any heed to whose land it is!”

Marty sighed again and told Kevin to quite fixing things since the local regarded the port as an imposition…

(Kevin, popping in) “Oh. Well, what kind of things would you like? I kind of figured that this was your city and needed fixing!”

(Marty) “Hey, he’s willing to give you what you want. So what DO you want?”

The tribals seemed to be thrown off guard by that statement – and begin conferring with each other in their own language.

(Tribal, after a few moments) “The means to defend our lands against the boat people who continually harass our shores.”

Kevin looked thoughtful… Hm… There was a good-sized reef that surrounded and linked the entire archipelago, and a series of volcanoes of course, and a sizeable gap in the reef near the entrance to the harbor – where a freshwater current from the main island kept the corals from growing as well; otherwise the lagoon would be nearly freshwater after a few decades…

(Kevin, to the Shaman) “I can provide such power in a number of forms… Who among you will control it?”

An elderly local who’d been quietly sitting next to the fire rose to his feet and approached…

(Elder Shaman) “ am the lead shaman of our people and so the defense of our people both spiritually and magically falls to me.”

(Kevin) “So be it then… The reef that surrounds your islands defines the borders of your lands and the realm your gods have given you, does it not?”

(Elder Shaman) “Indeed it does, and the bounties of the reefs provide much in food and precious corals for our magics.”

Hm… Coral polyps had nerve-connections to each of the polyps around them, and passed signals between themselves. A coral reef was, in fact, a gargantuan neural network… He could work with that! And with the approaching storm!

With almost a thousand Thralls nearby to back him, and another guardian requesting aid, the power poured through him freely.

The elder shaman was momentarily paralyzed with shock, as the youngster became a rift in the universe, a bottomless darkness where galaxies and universes spun – and reality twisted around him, scattering wonders across the archipelago as a myriad unlikely worlds and futures collided within him and shattered into a blizzard of shards of possibility.

The boy chose one glittering shard – and the power cascaded through that possibility, into the stone and coral and reality of the archipelago, terrible in generosity.

The child was… attempting to encompass all space, and time, and possibility, and to… offer it as a gift wherever it was needed… A young – and insecure – CREATOR GOD?!?

Kevin was cheerily slightly offsetting the archipelago into it’s own pocket realm – still firmly a part of Ciarkian, but with limited approaches and a few extra rules of its own… He attuned the neural network of the barrier reefs to the local’s minds – giving them control over the access-ways and allowing it to act as a psychic reservoir, amplifier, and (for any who cared to stick around for a bit after they died to watch over their descendants and use their magics on their behalf) a short-term afterlife.

If more active measures were needed, there would be more than enough power there for the locals to manifest a suitable guardian – an island-sized Coral Dragon who’s breath would channel the fiery energies of the island volcanoes.

He focused on the deeper layers – leaving the primary reef ecosystem available for the local life and the natives. The storm could be folded into the dimensional interface, available to help protect the approaches – or to control the islands weather if that should be needed.

As the islands, sea, and reef, glittered and sang with the wave of cascading from Kevin, several of the local ritualists nearly fainted. They’d… they’d been throwing attack-spells at this… this… this THING.

In the end it was pretty subtle for a reality-tweak. If Kevin had had more experience with such things – outside of creating entire dimensions – he could have handled the job with a LOT less raw power. Still, he was pretty pleased! Turning the place into a closely-associated pocket realm would handle a LOT of the defense needs!

The thunder of the approaching storm stilled as it’s power was absorbed into the new, magical and psionic structure of the coral reef and the reality-pocket – becoming little more than gentle breezes and cooling showers as it gradually dispersed.

He gave the elder shaman primary control for the moment, the other shamans got secondary control – and the entire local population got some influence on things…

The gaping hole in reality closed back up to become Kevin once more.

Marty sighed. The shock was going to wear off in a few moments. Oh well! After they settled down they could still do a little trading!

For at least the first few moments, most of those the ones who came out of shock reacted with horror…

(Kevin) “What? You asked for the power to defend your realm!”

(Warrior) “What? Weapons and fortifications wouldn’t be good enough? Or do you insist on creating gods every time someone asks you for power?”

(Kevin, slightly miffed that no one was appreciating him. Grant people’s wishes, and what did they do? They complained! At least the Thralls never complained!) “Hmph! I didn’t create a god! Just a hospitable environmental feature… And I made some stone structures suitable for local defense, and people complained about them!”

Marty sighed. The locals seemed to have some pretty strong cultural traditions, and perhaps to want to stay off on their own. It might not be wise to interfere with them further; Kevin HAD just handed them an awfully big stick – even if they did seem to have struck a nerve with Kevin there.

(Kevin) “Now, I’d hope that you’d still allow peaceful visitors! Otherwise you’ll be giving your attackers what they want – which is to make it awkward for anybody else to trade in this part of the world.”

(Shaman) “I must admit that this was a bit more than we anticipated. Do all your kind have this sort of ability? We had never seen the other boat people doing something similar.”

(Marty) “Nah, Angkor’s REALLY exceptional.”

(Kevin) “Shall I leave a couple of agents so you can keep in touch? That way you can be sure who’s just here to trade and visit and who you need to keep out.”

(Shaman) “I suppose that is unavoidable. Very well then, who are these agents and what sort of accommodations will they need?”

(Kevin) “Oh, they don’t need anything special!”

He assigned a random pair of Thralls.

(Shaman) “And how will they know who is here to trade and enter port and who is hear to cause mischief?”

(Kevin) “Well, one can go out and look and report back – but there are only a few trading groups operating in the area thanks to the one group that’s trying to run everyone else out, and the other major group here will have some of my agents along. They can fairly readily get into touch with each other at that range.”

(Elder Shaman) “This is awfully…. generous. Do you do this sort of thing often?”

(Kevin) “Nobody’s asked for a while – and you’ve had to put up with a lot. So why not? There’s no point in having power if you don’t use it once in awhile!”

(Marty) “Yeah, otherwise it gets all flabby and useless!”

(Elder Shaman) “I see. I hope then that other people in need end up encountering you in the future given your generosity.”

(Marty, cheerily) “Oh, they will. Angkor likes to travel!”

Marty settled down to organizing a bit of trading – while Kevin wandered back to the fleet.

Not totally unexpectedly, soon after Marty returned, the Commander wanted to know why Kevin and Marty were BOTHERING with either a fleet OR with trading!

(Kevin) “We’re on a vacation, the fleet was there, and the Otters are being really unpleasant! Don’t you want to trade?”

(Marty) “Yeah, I mean we might as well make some profit off the emergency landing.”

(Commander) “Do people of your power often bother yourselves with the concerns of minor mortals such as us? Or is this a rare event?”

(Marty) “Hey, you’re not minor! You command a fleet!”

(Kevin) “And people like you are where the power comes from; I simply focus it and give it back. If I tried to keep if for myself, it wouldn’t work. It’s a bit like running a bank! You have to invest and send the power back out and you have to pay dividends! And you have stockholders – everyone who invests power in you – and employees.”

(Commander) “I see… I take it these children are the employees then?”

(Kevin) “Yep! They get some of the power and work for me until they learn to generate and channel the powers I give them on their own – at which point the link breaks and they can go and do whatever they want… It has to be people who don’t have much power on their own yet though; if they have too much I can’t give them more.”

(Commander) “So am I right to suspect that we might see more overwhelming displays of power in the future then?”

(Kevin, a bit blankly) “Did you need them for something? They won’t hurt you.”

(Commander, rather hurriedly, lest something he said be taken as a request to turn the universe upside down) “No, no, I don’t think that will be necessary unless we come under attack. I prefer not to have to rely on massive displays of magic and power.”

(Kevin) “I prefer being a bit more subtle myself – but they wanted me to provide them with the power to defend their entire realm, and I couldn’t think of a subtle way to do that offhand.”

(Commander) “I see. Now, do we have anymore business here? I imagine some of the traders want to have a go with the locals, but otherwise with the storm having dispersed, I see no pressing need to remain in the harbor.”

(Marty) “I’ll be with the traders, I think, but otherwise I’m good to go.”

Kevin wandered of to eat lunch. No one had ever asked for anything quite like that before!

The Captain thought about that for a few minutes – and almost choked. The clan-chief had… been frantic for a way to protect the family – wishing for the money to pay off their creditors, and for a way to fend off the Otter clan, and for a few successful trading voyages…

And Angkor had wandered by.

Was all this… Simply to grant that wish? Was Angkor re-arranging the universe simply to make sure that the family had exclusive access to a major trade route?

Meanwhile, Marty had gone back to trading food, tools, and other minor items for charms and exotic jewelry made out of coral, rare woods, plants, fruits, and seeds, spices, pearls, obsidian, and other volcanic products.

None particularly vital, but every trade a bit more profit – and a closer bond for the Platypi and the locals. Marty focused on the seeds a bit; they weren’t likely to thrive elsewhere, but it was always worth a try!

The Captain focused on laying in some additional supplies. With the addition of another ship and crew, they were depleting at a slightly faster rate than originally estimated. It wasn’t a problem yet – but it might get to be if there were more major delays.

That really wasn’t a big problem.

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