Federation-Apocalypse Session 186a – The Wailing of the Damned Bagpipes

uilleann pipes by Marc van Daal

The pipes, the pipes, are howling...

With their business in Ratsurmer mostly in the hands of Thralls and the locals – it WAS only a bit of normal trade after all – they looked into heading out into the marshes / rain forests.

Well, Marty looked into it. Kevin was too distracted playing with his new pets – although he did recommend just asking the locals; they might know something about where the witch doctors hung out!

The Marshes were dark, wet, and very foggy. Still, there were a number of landmarks out there. There were ancient ruins built back when the great empire ruled the area and a number of larger hills that provided dry land for the villages of the local tribes (or at least for the ones that didn’t build their villages in giant trees). The largest local village was a place where the various tribes met called Shen Haldren. There was another spot simply known as the “Quarry”, and there was supposed to be a place far out into the swamps where Rats and Mice were congregating.

That place was relatively new, and apparently did lots of advanced metal working, and had a quite sophisticated society, including some rather odd notions of property and rights. They’d been actively avoiding getting into the disputes between the tribes and the town, preferring to offer their services as mediators and to trade with both sides.

That was kind of interesting. Considering that the tribal shamans were apparently sending the flower-things, Shen Haldren might be a good start. On the other hand, Kevin was inclined to talk to the rats and mice; they might know what was going on – and he still thought that it might well be NIMH out there. He was giving that combined culture a good deal of credit for being really adaptable and having strong motives to probe into the manifold; the series had massive volcanic disaster building after all – so with one plugged, others might be working their way up to erupting.

Oh well! It wasn’t like they wouldn’t probably be hitting both! They could just look for a few local guides!

There were… a cat that claimed that he had a duel of honor to settle with one of the rats and was looking for people to help him make the journey, a caravan looking to head for the rats and mice with books, enchanting materials, and seeds in hopes of trading for more fine metal goods, and a crazy hermit who claimed to know the way through the Swamps of the Damned – and was willing to show people in exchange for their corpses when they died. The crazy hermit is quite willing to defer payment until you reach Shen Haldren!

Well, the caravan would be passing “close” by Shan Haldren. They were quite willing to provide passage and then direct them to the path for the remaining three miles that they’d need to travel to reach the village.

There were a few jokes about the hermit – but they elected to go with the Caravan.

Kevin whistled his two new pets to heel – which was a good trick for a wolf-person with a muzzle! Fortunately he could help himself out with Witchcraft!

(Caravan Leader) “Alright, got any goods you are hauling along, and are you providing your own supplies?”

(Kevin) “Oh, we have supplies, and… Want to bring any goods Marty?”

(Marty) “Why not?”

They brought some of the exotic seeds from the Archipelago, minor coral magic talismans (which should be unusual here) and a few other plant materials.

The caravan would be leaving in the morning; the servants and porters would be loading cargo into the barges through the night.

Marty ordered a selection of the local drinks – there HAD to be at least a few good ones in the city! – and figured that the evening was well in hand, albeit perhaps with a little hunting of those plant creatures if they attacked again.

Kevin settled down to teaching Feanor and Rusty some tricks – all of which are actually quite trivial for a Thrall with Telekinetic Witchcraft, so that mostly consisted of describing the “Trick” and a couple of seconds acrobatic practice.

After that his new pets could start forming a pack with Limey! Limey was sure to like that!

Limey did like the notion – and Marty told him to be nice to the newbies while frowning disapprovingly at Kevin.

(Kevin, mistaking the disapproval for leaving the “pets” to play with Limey without telling them how powerful he was) “Hey, they’re Thralls! They’re tough! Not as tough as Limey of course, but still…”

Meanwhile, the plant creatures were slowly being rounded up by the guards – although the cat with the rapier and boots was making quite a show of his battles. The Thralls reported that the slave markets were flush with phantasms but only held a handful of ensouled, only a few of them kids (although the batch had been purchased and sent to Kadia as usual).

Marty was quite annoyed – and made a series of rather comical cartoon sour faces – when he discovered that the local alcohol was bitter enough to border on being vinegar. Still, he diverted himself by complaining at Kevin…

(Marty) “Well, you could, I don’t know, give them verbal commands instead of just whistling. They are sapient.”

(Kevin) “Oh, that’s just for “Come here!” it cuts through the babble nicely! I could use a bagpipe though… Can you kids howl mournfully in descant while I play the bagpipes? It should be easy to get in the mood once I start, I don’t know how to play the bagpipes!”

(Kevin, doubtfully) “Maybe a tuba?”

(Raphael) “Why do you want howling while you are playing the bagpipes?”

(Kevin) “Hey, it will probably sound a lot better than me playing the bagpipes by myself! And descants are fun!”

(Marty) “Oh for the love of… OK, Minel, get him some bagpipes.”

It would keep him from doing even less dignified things with his new pets, at least!

(Kevin) “Cool! I always meant to learn to play something!”

(Raphael) “You should learn uilleann pipes instead… then you can sing badly along with it. You could even learn power uilleann pipes”

(Kevin) “All I have to do is want a little air flowing through and I can sing at the same time!”

He tried it – and then the bagpipes detonated musically, firing some pipes a hundred feet into the air, as he used molecular-level telekinesis to force in far too much air, creating an extremely noisy “Squawk-boom”. Rusty and Feanor dutifully howled mournfully – while trying not to laugh.

(Kevin) “Drat! One moment while I conjure up a reinforced set!”.

Marty took another drink of the local liquor and made a lemon face again. Had the boy even been TRYING there?

Actually Kevin had simply overestimated the strength of the bagpipes and underestimated his witchcraft – or at least that was what he claimed anyway, and who would question the Dark Lord about his bagpipe playing?

Raphael considered summoning up a set of Uilleann pipes with a bellows operated by two robots and a bag big enough that he needed the other two to help him use it – but then thought better of trying to encourage Kevin in ANY fashion.

Marty had to agree with his judgement there!

Meanwhile, a couple of Kevin’s usual aides were busily explaining to the guards that Kevin really wasn’t the latest menace sent by the witch doctors to make their lives a living hell.

Meanwhile, Feanor, in his role as Kevin’s pet artificer and summoner-of-implements had busily conjured up a set of reinforced bagpipes – allowing Kevin to set to work once more…

Marty listened with considerable surprise. The kid… had the hang of it within a few notes, was using witchcraft to feed the pipes a few moments later, then threw in some counterpoint with more witchcraft – and had his pets howling in a “descant” – which seemed to be a weird relationship that complemented the tunes – AND was singing… bloody well… inside of a minute or two.

That was actually pretty impressive! OK, it obviously involved quite a lot of raw supernatural power to bypass the need to actually practice… but STILL.

Actually, Kevin had some unspent skill points – so he spent one on Wind Instruments, getting (1 SP +10 Cha +11 Dex = +22). He improved rather rapidly – playing the bagpipes with Witchcraft counterpoint (+6), Thrall-howling Descant (+8 assistance) and while Singing (+6 Epic Synergy) fora total of 52 – along with Stagecraft 42 and Sing 41. He wasn’t focusing on those.

(Marty, to Raphael) “He just wants to play the bagpipes and sing at the same time.”

Sadly, the music still wasn’t to the local tastes.

(Guards) “You mean people actually want to play those things?”

(Raphael, feeling that he wasn’t going to convince anyone that Kevin wasn’t sent to annoy or menace them) “Don’t worry; this is most likely a passing fancy and the music will stop soon… I think. Yes, they are popular in a few places”

Actually, objectively, he was doing pretty blasted well now – but it was STILL pretty weird!

(Guard) “Must be a bleak and desolate hell, if they wish to play that sort of instrument for entertainment.”

Kevin rolled an eye at HIM and produced a small illusion of a demonic entity come to pass the hat.

(Marty) “Maybe. Depends on how quickly he gets bored.”

(Raphael, frowning at the kilted Imp) “Oh come on now! You don’t need to upset the locals more than you are just by playing bagpipes! Don’t make things like that appear just to harass them!”

(Kevin) “Hey, it’s an Imp-rovised performance!”

Oh well! Some people just didn’t appreciate the Dark Lord of the Bagpipes! He ended the performance, patted Rusty and Feanor on their heads, and ruffled their ears. They’d done quite well!

(Kevin) “It was a good performance after that dicey opening! They should be grateful! Nobody appreciates me! When is the caravan leaving?”

(Guard, mumbling) “Not soon enough.”

Actually, it was in the morning.

Since nobody else expressed any appreciation, Kevin retired to his private quarters / harem for the evening to seek appreciation elsewhere – taking Rusty and Feanor along to sleep against the door and at the foot of the bed as “guards”.

Marty sighed as Kevin let his new “pets” trot right into his private quarters / harem at his heels and shut the door without shooing them out. The boy was pretty traditionalist about that; not only was he treating them like dogs, but he’d obviously had them neutered too.

Funny… That really wasn’t like Kevin… Wasn’t he the one who’d been annoyed at the Thralls who’d decided to be harem-servants for Limey when there were better things to do? Kevin normally only did things like that when…

When someone challenged him.

Oh bother.

He focused his own attention on an Avatar in Core.

Coverage was pretty much universal in Core – and he had plenty of offices there! It was easy enough to get one to search through recent public footage involving Kevin on… what was the name… oh yes: Shayhian.

Huh. Live (even if mostly Teleconferenced in virtual reality) hearings? Traditionalists! Ah! One of the more “primitive” worlds (at least by Core standards) that Kevin had pulled out from in front of the Ring-Nova shockwave! Only recently fully back on the grid…

And – like all the other planets Kevin had moved – there were quite a few Thralls posted there to monitor for aftereffects, make themselves generally useful, recruit, chase other girls or boys (as appropriate), show off their powers, and push for acceptance of Kevin’s owning them.

There seemed to be a good deal of gratitude for Kevin (and the Thralls) pulling their planet out of the way of the nova shockwave – but there were still a fair number of protests at the legal council’s decision to experimentally legitimize Kevin’s De Facto ownership of the human Thralls.

The ruling that there was nothing illegal about his advertising his contract to youngsters had provoked a lot less controversy; “freedom of information” and “informed decision-making” were deeply embedded in Core’s beliefs.

The fact that the computers would allow kids who were old enough to sign up WITHOUT parental consent if they understood the deal hardly even got a comment; decisions for underage kids had been on a two our of three system – kid, computer, and parents – for centuries now. Since the computer evaluation on Kevin’s contract had said “more than fair”, it was allowed – not that it could be stopped anyway. It wasn’t exactly encouraged – but if a kid wanted to get out into the Manifold, or to get the powers quickly, there weren’t many (well any really) other acceptable low-risk options.

Ah, the protesters had selected some spokespersons to oppose Kevin’s testimony – one holding forth on religious and moral rationales, one on legal and ethical reasons (and “setting terrible precedents”), and one – apparently selected because one of his younger sons had recently signed up for Thralldom and was one of the two test cases being reviewed – making a primarily emotional appeal about the protection of their children.

Appeal to the electorate based on emotional grounds – not too likely to work on a large scale in Core even when it WAS about kids, but not bad; it would garner sympathy and sway fence-sitters.

Then the man had made an attempt to berate Kevin directly.

“You can’t treat our children like dogs!”?

Good gods. OK, the man had probably never dealt with a Dark Lord before – but hadn’t he at least dealt with a teenager at some point? If the recruit was a younger son, presumably there had been at least one older one! How could he have missed that this was EXACTLY the wrong approach to take? Was the man going to shake a finger in Zeus’s face next and tell him that he wasn’t allowed to chase women for an encore?

And… sure enough, once the decision had come down in his favor, Kevin had promptly reset his new properties smartclothes to smartcollar mode, and taken both his test-case Thralls down to a full-scale medical facility, and had them given anthropomorphic canine body-styling, and tails, and fur. The details hadn’t been broadcast since they (unlike a long-range shot on the way out) weren’t public – but, judging from personal observation, he’d also had them given the ability to bark and pant and howl like dogs – and had probably had them neutered there too.

The idiot man might as well have scheduled the veterinary appointment and modifications for his son himself. Had he been sacrificing his sons well-being for a time to try and score points with the rest of the population?

Probably not; he did have a Core education – and from the lack of excitement over the incident it was pretty obvious that the rest of the planet mostly agreed with Marty; the idiot had provoked Kevin into proving that he could – if he chose – treat his properties like dogs, just as they’d given him the right to do when they’d accepted his contract.

It was apparently being taken more as a demonstration that Kevin DIDN’T usually choose to exercise those options – and the entire issue seemed to be settling down as… a minor concern. Evidently most of the people in Core were taking Kevin’s activities as just another bit of Manifold weirdness that would work out fine in the end, just as that sort of thing usually did. Some individual parents were taking things a lot more personally – but others were accepting. If their children wished to go their own way, at least this direction was a safe one.

The planetary government had simply slapped a tax on Thrall-recruits – requiring that a percentage of the “take” (or other Thralls in their place) be assigned to public-service jobs – along with putting the equivalent of a warning label on Kevin’s advertisements…

Which – of course – told everyone interested that the offer had been checked out, and was quite legitimate, and approved of by the computers but not by many adults. That might well make it even more attractive to the kids in Kevin’s age bracket!

Of course, they were also stressing that Kevin was responsible for what he ordered the Thralls to do, and for taking proper care of them.

It was hard to see how that part was a net profit for Kevin – or why he was so pleased; it meant taking on additional responsibilities and all it offered in return was accuracy in labeling. Was it just that honesty-up-front principle of his?

Well, at least the these-are-pet-dogs routine was apparently just pique and Kevin’s usual over-the-top method of “making a point”, so Kevin would probably get over it relatively shortly. Most likely within a month or two, even if he did add the two to his usual entourage as personal harem attendants (which they would of course – sigh – be just fine with).

Hm… There might even be an opportunity there! Kevin was using “Rusty” to make a point. After all, HE thought of the Thralls as property that existed to serve him (which was a bit much even if the Thralls agreed with him!) – but the argument that he was wasting the kids potential, and depriving a loyal servant of many of the pleasures of life, just to make a point against someone else was a possible wedge to suggest that the Thralls deserved some independent rights! Why should the Thrall be “punished” when it was someone else who’d provoked him?

Meanwhile, Raphael was firmly suppressing the notions of an electronic, robotic, laser-stringed, mad scientist band that had started floating through his head.

Oh no! The crazy was catching!

Still, he commented before Kevin was entirely out of earshot. Might as well keep the bearer of vast cosmic powers buttered up a bit!

(Raphael) “It was ok… better than some bagpipe music I have heard.”

Marty had to chuckle! He was quite used to bagpipes exploding, just not outside of Battling Business World!

Kevin was somewhat mollified – and the bits of the exploded bagpipe did not take root to grow into bagpipe-bearing trees overnight.

It was still time for bed though!

Marty was sure that the locals would be relieved at the mercy of the dark lord!

Then Raphael remembered that he’d agreed to accept a staff of Thralls – and still had no idea of what qualities he’d be looking for in them. Eager to please was one thing – but that unquestioning total submission to Kevin was both appalling and frightening. If the boy wanted to cover his walls with Thrall-pelts removed while they were still alive, they’d be lining up for the privilege!

He REALLY needed to find someone qualified to advise him on this!