Star Wars – Twilight Seekers Campaign Index

Spellweaver 81 – Kira Keldav’s player – has been compiling an index of the material for the Twilight Seekers Star Wars Game. Given that time problems have left my indexing well behind, he’s kindly allowed me to repost that index here…

Campaign Background:

  • Scale of the Galaxy: Or why anyone can find anything despite it being a Galactic Civilization
  • Technical Explanations I: Monopolium, Power Sources, Dark Energy Manipulation – including Repulsorlifts, Sublight Drives, Lightsabers, Hypermatter Reactors, Artificial Gravity, Tractor Beams, Gravity Well Projectors, Thermal Detonators, Shields, Blasters, and Creating Lightsaber Crystals
  • Technical Explanations II: Mental Manipulations, Interrogations, The Force and Biochemical Adaption, Species Interbreeding, Alien Powers, Transplant Surgery, Unexplained Deaths, Technological Limitations and Enhancements, and Bacta
  • Technical Explanations III: The Galactic Republic, Major Projects, Currency, the Interstellar Trionist Conspiracy, and Extragalactic Exploration
  • Force Power Packages: How to build Force Users and Force Sensitives
  • Secrets of the Sith: Biowarfare and a description of an ancient Sith Bioweapons Lab
  • Basics of the Codex: The AntiForce and how it works
  • Twilight Seekers Setting Conversion: Notes on how to convert various popular science-fiction settings over to the Twilight Seekers campaign by altering what the Force Censor allows and forbids
  • Characters:

    Campaign Logs:

    • Prequel Campaign
  • Main Campaign: Discovering the Codex Arc
  • Main Campaign: Alternate Rescues and War with Zandaras Arc
  • Main Campaign: Rescue the Codifiers Arc
  • Main Campaign: Discovery of the JLA and RDF Arc
  • Main Campaign: Rise of SHIELD and Fall of the RDF Arc
  • Prequel Series: Valerie Soung and the Trayus Academy
  • Side Campaign: The Destroyed Galaxy
  • Backgrounds and Character Missives:

    Kira The Kat Show:

    Ships, Droids, Weapons, and Cloaking Devices

    Non-Jedi Force Users

    False ID’s:

    • Leah Burgess: Up and coming industrialist and a false ID for Valerie Soung
    • Lin Vardul: Smuggler/Trader ID for Alys Nere
    • Verun Navaro: Apprentice Sith to Valerie Soung and false ID for Kira Keldav

    The Light That Kills! Positive Energy, Part II

    English: Alfeniques are sugar candy that allud...

    All right guys, it's time to get up!

    To continue with the request for some nasty – or at least weird – positive-energy based abilities for Eclipse…

    Malignant Healing: Healing is a vital component of life; without healing, the wear and tear of daily activities would wear away skin and flesh to make daily life an excruciatingly drawn-out version of the death of a thousand cuts.

    Yet, even under normal circumstances, healing can go terribly wrong. Fingers can fuse into useless lumps of misshapen flesh, bones may heal crookedly, or together, foreign objects may wind up fused into wounds, and a thousand other mishaps can leave victims crippled for life.

    Driven by a master of positive energy, such things can happen in an instant.

    In game terms, these effects usually equate to minor curses; a creature with it’s mouth “healed” shut is unable to use it’s bite attack and must breathe through it’s nose for a time.

    • Inherent Spell (L3, Bestow Curse) with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / only affects creatures with normal positive-energy based metabolisms that can heal naturally, can be countered by appropriate healing magic, skilled surgery, and various other mundane methods, takes 1d4 rounds to take effect (6 CP).

    Detonate Life Force: Some manipulators of positive energy can cause an opponents life force to flare out of control, consuming the resources of the supporting body in a blast of energy from it’s supercharged metabolism. While this generally requires a spark of the user’s augmented life force to trigger the reaction – the foreign intrusion artfully provoking a massive response – it can prove quite lethal to weaker opponents and to those around them. Tougher opponents may survive, but will probably feel as if they had swallowed a live grenade.

    Yes, creatures with large amounts of positive energy / life force / hit points may well be able to survive swallowing a live grenade, but they’re unlikely to be happy about it.

    • Inherent Spell (Fireball) with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized for half cost and Corrupted for increased effect (the creature directly targeted does not get a save, seven uses per day) / the damage inflicted cannot exceed the total current hit points of the creature targeted (that’s Maximum +10 – Current Damage), fails if not targeted on a living creature with a positive energy metabolism, costs 1d6 hit points to activate (6 CP).

    Farewell From Beyond: Anything will “live” if your pour positive energy into it. The trouble is, that things like blocks of stone – however “alive” they may be – have no minds, no drives, and no reason to do anything with that life. Worse, most things lack a metabolic anchor for that force, or a way to draw in more to replace the inevitable losses. You can easily give “life” to that rock – but unless some conscious and opportunistic elemental spirit decides to move in to take advantage of that, it’s not going to do anything and won’t “live” for long.

    Still, when you pour life into something that once lived, the spirit that once inhabited that body will pretty much always notice. Spirits are pretty strongly linked to whatever’s left of their bodies after all – and can easily, however temporarily, take up the reins again.

    While the trick is somewhat fragile, and cannot be made truly permanent, it can still be quite impressive. Of course, it offers no control over the creature that you’ve temporarily resurrected whatsoever.

    • Inherent Spell (L3 Ward of Life (from The Practical Enchanter), with the “Ambient Magic” (-1), Reduced Duration (one minute per level, -1) and “Applicable After Death” (+2) modifiers. This will give a corpse 1d6 hit temporary hit points per level of the caster for one minute per level of the caster) with +2 Bonus Uses. Corrupted for reduced cost/requires a variety of ritual components and can – very occasionally, at the option of the game master – result in a revenant, haunt, or other weird and troublesome exception to the usual rules (6 CP).

    Lifesharing: Anyone can let someone else have “a bit of their time”. With a few, strong-willed, individuals this can be a bit more literal… Those few can literally share their lives with another person who should be dead or dying.

    • Blessing, Specialized and Corrupted / can only be used to share a bit of the user’s life with the dying or newly dead (2 CP). The user lends the victim 1d4 hit points and some of his or her expected lifespan – accelerating his or her aging rate (and possibly his or her requirements for food and drink) by the number of people he or she is so supporting at any given time. This will not work if the body is destroyed, but can keep even a severed head alive.

    A few individuals have been known to buy extra hit points, and immunity to the extra aging, so that they can keep a few people “alive” indefinitely – extending the life of a beloved, but sickly, child, or (for that matter) keep a selection of their enemies heads alive in boxes.

    Eclipse and Eclipse II are available in a number of ways:

    There’s the Freeware Edition at RPGnow or Box.Net. It’s complete, but – if you like it – it would be nice if you helped support the system by spending ten dollars to pick up the full package, which includes Eclipse, Eclipse II, the Web Expansion, and will be updated with Eclipse III when I get time to finish that up (a notification to download the package again will be sent out). There’s a review up which also briefly covers Eclipse II Here.

    In print-on-demand we have the Softcover (30$), the Hardcover (35$), and the “Direct” softcover edition (24$) which uses a cheaper set of printing options to lower the price. Unfortunately, the cheap options are only available for printing in North America – so for anywhere else, the original versions are probably cheaper anyway.

    Eclipse II normally comes with the Eclipse download package – but you can download the PDF on it’s own for five dollars here or buy it in Hardcover (32$) or – once again – in that cheaper North America only Softcover Edition.

    By request there’s also the Combined Edition – Eclipse I and II – making sure that you have the complete system, and plenty of examples, in one volume. It’s available in Softcover (36$) and Hardcover (45$). Those are expensive but are, of course, notably cheaper than buying the books independently. Of course, only one person can use it at a time instead of two.

    Come Into The Light – The Light That Kills!

    Promotional photo of Boris Karloff from The Br...

    Positive Energy in Action!

    In many d20 games, “Positive Energy” equates to healing, goodness, and rainbows filled with kittens. It’s a power that good-guy clerics get to use to keep the rest of the party alive and to blast those nasty undead. What could be better?

    But positive energy also drives the hemorrhagic fever that splatters the room in grossly infectious blood as it agonizingly rots your vital organs while you’re still alive. It’s the force that drives the cancer that’s slowly destroying your brain and your mind with it. It’s the blind urge to spread and grow that annihilates competing species. It’s the force that births one doomed child after another when there is nothing to feed them.

    Life is neither kind nor good. In d20-based games it’s a force as pure and terrible as the heart of a lightning bolt, and – in it’s pure form – just as terrible, merciless, and potent in destruction as it is in creation.

    So here are a few Eclipse powers for creatures with too much positive energy.

    Leperotic Cloning: Augmented by an unnaturally strong life force, the user’s cells are capable of infesting another creatures body – multiplying and spreading through it like a monstrous cancer or unholy fungus. If and when the user dies, if a victim of this horror is currently available, his or her soul will transfer itself into the victims body – driving out the existing soul and providing the final impetus to transform it into a near-duplicate of the user’s old body.

    Fortunately, the user’s cells can only infest a very similar creature that is on the very brink of death – and they gravely weaken the bond between the victim’s body and soul; if the victim suffers a lethal injury before the user’s soul moves in, the body will promptly collapse into a mass of mangled tissue, that will rot away with utterly unnatural speed – normally collapsing into dust and slime within hours.

    • Unique Returning, Specialized and Corrupted for one-third cost (2 CP): the user must set up his or her returning in advance by striking a “final blow” against a victim of the same basic type (a humanoid for a humanoid, a dragon type for a dragon, etc), renouncing the damage in favor of giving up 2d6 hit points so smear some of his own blood or tissue into the wound and allowing the (essentially dead) victim to “escape”. For the next two days the victim can be cured by the use of Remove Curse, Cure Disease, Heal, or similar effects, or by taking any form of negative level that requires a save to remove. After that, the victim is merely a potential host for the user’s spirit and can only be saved by some form of Raise Dead, Resurrection, or Wish. The user may prepare multiple possible hosts at the same time – but this sort of thing does tend to attract some extremely negative attention.
    • Timeless Body with Age-Shifting, Specialized and Corrupted/only to take on the species-adjusted physical age of the characters new body (2 CP).

    The Jackal’s Touch: The flame of life within causes creatures to grow, to adapt and change, to bear or father children, to resist wounds, and to recover from terrible injuries. When that fire flares out of control, normal creatures can become twisted, cancerous, monsters, driven solely by the urges to feed, breed, and exterminate rival groups. The touch of a creature with this power can infuse an innocent victim with far too much life force – causing them to transform into horrible monsters. Such transformations are infrequent and temporary at first, but will gradually dominate the victim’s life more and more, until – whatever and whoever they originally were – they will be forever lost within the monster they have become.

    • That’s Inherent Spell with +2 Bonus Uses, Corrupted for Increase Effect (a level five effect and a total of four uses per day) / the effect is very gradual, useless in combat, and only takes over the victim’s life over a period of weeks or months, the effect can be partially negated – at least for a time – by applying negative energy effects to the victim (cause light wounds for a minute or two at best, energy drain for days), and the user cannot control the effect beyond “become a monster”. The effect

    Positive Energy monsters typically regenerate, possess some resistance to negative energy (and can recover from it’s effects due to having Grant of Aid), possess enhanced strength and speed, often possess the Berserker powers, and are larger, more ferocious, and wilder than comparable ordinary beasts. The effects are very difficult to undo. If the user of this ability can control the monsters he or she creates, they may be exceptionally dangerous.

    Cancerous Regeneration: Tissue infused with excessive amounts of life force knits together with terrifying speed – but such instantaneous healing can leave behind massive scarring, twisted deformities, and internal damage which only better-directed healing magic or time and rest can smooth away.

    • Universal Damage Reduction 3/- Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect/does not work against fire, acid, or other tissue-destroying effects, only applies to the total damage taken each round rather than to each individual attack, the user must track the damage blocked by this ability, and will suffer a -1 penalty to an attribute of his or her choice for every twenty points of damage it prevents. Regaining those attribute points will require enough natural or magical healing to reduce the tracked damage appropriately.

    Unquenchable Life: A sufficient infusion of life force will allow a creature, given time, to regenerate from as little as a smear of blood and tissue – as long as the spirit is hanging around to guide the process. Fortunately, spirits can easily anchor themselves to any reasonably large chunk of their old bodies.

    The countermeasure, of course, is simply making sure that no substantial chunks of tissue survive. Fire, acid, and feeding them to animals all work fine.

    • This one’s simply Returning (6 CP).

    Moths to a Flame: Life calls to Life – and a sufficiently powerful life force can draw lesser lives to it – provided, at least, that they are reasonably compatible.

    • Presence (6 CP), producing a Charm Person effect on anyone who approaches within 10′.

    Eclipse and Eclipse II are available in a number of ways:

    There’s the Freeware Edition at RPGnow or Box.Net. It’s complete, but – if you like it – it would be nice if you helped support the system by spending ten dollars to pick up the full package, which includes Eclipse, Eclipse II, the Web Expansion, and will be updated with Eclipse III when I get time to finish that up (a notification to download the package again will be sent out). There’s a review up which also briefly covers Eclipse II Here.

    In print-on-demand we have the Softcover (30$), the Hardcover (35$), and the “Direct” softcover edition (24$) which uses a cheaper set of printing options to lower the price. Unfortunately, the cheap options are only available for printing in North America – so for anywhere else, the original versions are probably cheaper anyway.

    Eclipse II normally comes with the Eclipse download package – but you can download the PDF on it’s own for five dollars here or buy it in Hardcover (32$) or – once again – in that cheaper North America only Softcover Edition.

    By request there’s also the Combined Edition – Eclipse I and II – making sure that you have the complete system, and plenty of examples, in one volume. It’s available in Softcover (36$) and Hardcover (45$). Those are expensive but are, of course, notably cheaper than buying the books independently. Of course, only one person can use it at a time instead of two.

    Fantastic Coinage III – Ervoli Feather Bands and Tenebrous Obals

    Shaft of male Indian Peafowl tail feather (Pav...

    The Ancient Ways

    Ervoli Feather Bands

    The Ervoli Nomads carry little; they have a hard enough time wresting survival from their desert lands without burdening themselves with extra weight. Their mostly-ceremonial “coinage” consists of Feather Bands – intricate pieces of feather-and-bead art which record legends, great events, and accounts of the lives of wise men, heroes, and exceptional fools. Feather Bands range from the garish efforts of beginners – who often resort to the use of beads of precious and semiprecious stone, and brightly-colored feathers from magical beasts, to make up for their lack of skill – to the creations of great masters, who may need but a scattering of subtly-colored beads and pigments upon a simple plume to convey an epic tale.

    Feather bands have a wide variety of values, although the system can be difficult for outsiders to figure out; bright, beautiful, and spectacular pieces may be of little worth – at least among the Ervoli. Once you get far enough beyond their borders, their value may increase sharply if you can find someone with more money than taste. The minimum value is, however, a couple of silver pieces. Anything which cannot meet that standard tends to be discarded by the artist. The maximum value is usually around twenty gold pieces.

    Masters of the art sometimes create Feathers of Truth, mystically weaving some lesson or adventure from their lives into the structure of the piece. Such works can be imbued with 5-50 XP, and the images they call to mind seem to flicker with life. The possessor of a Feather of Truth may invoke it in a brief ritual before sleeping or meditating, in which case its creator – or his or her spirit – may opt to expend 1 XP from the Feathers store to visit the invoker in a vision (wherein he or she will usually offer more or less cryptic advice). The owner may also choose to drain the XP from a Feather of Truth via another brief ritual, fully experiencing the lesson or adventure woven into the Feather and adding it’s XP to his or her own. Feathers of Truth are normally worth 25 GP + 5 GP per XP they contain, and – as works of art – continue to be worth 25 GP after their XP store is entirely drained.

    Among the Ervoli, it is said that no man or woman is truly dead while a child of their blood, or a feather of their heart, survives.

    While rumors that the Ervoli can use a Feather of Truth to invoke an ancestral spirit to aid them have never been confirmed, there do exist a few legendary Feathers of the Divine – fabulously valuable talismans that allow the bearer to use the XP stored within them while he or she bears the feather, albeit only to boost his or her own powers, not for purposes such as making magical items. Such feathers typically contain 5000 to 10,000 XP, are typically valued at ten times that in gold pieces, and can be placed in any item slot – although, perhaps fortunately, no one can use more than three such feathers. That’s not enough XP to do all that much for a high level character, but it’s a fabulous boost for a novice – making Feathers of the Divine almost uniquely likely to be passed on to youthful friends and relatives.

    Tenebrous Obals

    On the day of dead, when tombs and graves open as the mouths of the underworld, and the spirits of the long-deceased walk the lands of the living, those daring enough to open their doors to such wandering shades – and who welcome their cold and spectral guests with the warmth that only the living can muster – may be paid for their hospitality with the imperishably tarnished black coins of the underworld, where even gold is touched by decay.

    Such coins bring their bearer closer to the underworld, and are a link to it. While carrying a few such coins will bring little harm, bearing more than that has side effects…

    • A single Tenebrous Obal will bring a susceptible dreamer into touch with the dead who are linked with him or her – although whether that is a delight or a nightmare depends on the nature of those links. Such a dreamer may also choose an easy death when weakened, wounded, or in pain, passing easily and painlessly from life to death while the coin quietly vanishes.
    • Thirteen or more Tenebrous Obals will allow the user to perceive the shadows of death and the dead; he or she can see, hear, and affect the spirits of the dead, detect the approach of death in the injured and ill, sense the gates of the underworld, and even see (and, if truly courageous, attempt game with or battle on more or less even terms) the dread specter of death when it comes to claim a victim. Sadly, the “stakes” in such a battle are always the same; double or nothing…Equally unfortunately, the price of this ability is that one is drawn to the underworld more swiftly than normal; not only can the spirits of the dead perceive and affect the user as he or she can perceive and affect them, but he or she ages more swiftly than usual – aging eight days for every seven that pass.
    • A pouch full of Tenebrous Obals gives the underworld a greater claim on the bearer; whenever he or she is attempting to resist a poison or disease, he or she suffers a -1 penalty. Whenever he or she takes damage from any source, he or she will take one additional point of damage – however, the coinage that was purchased by sharing the life and warmth of the living with the dead may be expended to get the dead to share some of their no longer needed strength with the living. As a move-equivalent action, the bearer may expend those funds to “purchase” any curative spell effect of up to level four – neutralize poison, cure blindness, restoration, cure light wounds, or whatever – at the standard rate for purchasing spellcasting services. Such a purchased spell may be assigned to anyone who is in the area and willing.

    Unlike normal coinage, Tenebrous Obals can be spent at face value anywhere – including in places where normal coinage would be of no use whatsoever. Living warmth, compassion, and remembrance are desired even in the depths of the abyss and may, perhaps, suffice to buy passage from creatures as terrible as the guardians of the underworld themselves.

    For good or ill, however, Tenebrous Obals are hard to come by. Outside of the underworld itself, there are few hordes of dark coins.

    Federation-Apocalypse Session 192c – Reporting In

    Meanwhile, Philsantias had reached the metallic dragon territories to give his report.

    The metallic elders had lost several agents already, starting with an adolescent silver trio who had tried just barging in and working up from there – and were quite pleased to have gotten anyone back at all (although they’d learned a lot from the failures – and youngsters were eminently disposable), much less with as much information as he’d gotten…

    Oddly enough, while they seemed interested in Ailill’s defenses, security, and personal abilities, they seemed to be focusing a lot more on… the treatment of the humans, elves, dwarves, anthropomorphs, and all the other lesser species in his holdings, on the operation of his “testing center” and “school”, on how he treated slaves (who had seemed oddly… cheerful come to think of ig) and hatchlings, and… on what he’d been able to get on his personality.

    Moreover, the security precautions the council was taking – especially against the Drow Secret Police – were incredibly elaborate.

    It wasn’t like the Emperor would be worried about someone taking a hostile interest in Ailill. That sort of thing was Ailill’s problem! Could they be contemplating some sort of alliance? Ailill was a lot more reasonable than most reds… That still was no big imperial concern though; Ailill might be an atrocity of power, but he was still an adolescent focused on (somewhat absurdly) expanding what might already be the largest harem in the history of the Dragon Empire…

    Philsantias focused on giving a truthful and through report, clearly distinguishing between facts, deductions, speculation, and inferences – but found it easy to split his attention and keep a secondary train of thought running…

    The council did indeed sweeten his payment a trifle – and also offered their personal congratulations on avoiding becoming one of Ailill’s properties, unlike the last eighteen agents.

    (Philsantias) “Wow, eighteen before one of us decided that reporting on the sheer scale of the defenses was important enough to be worthwhile even without direct information? Really?

    (Elder Silver) “Their missions and instructions varied somewhat. The first trio was dispatched simply to get an evaluation of Ailill’s power level and resources – and did indeed obtain a part of that information through the failure of their attempt to take over his holdings while he wasn’t in. The temptation of such wealth was doubtless too great – but their failure did show that, even in their master’s absence, Ailill’s slaves and other defenses were capable of handling a full assault by three well-equipped young adult dragons without any signs of struggle.

    Others looked at the defenses and opted for a formal challenge which bypassed them; after all, a young silver normally has an excellent chance against a young red. All of those were apparently defeated handily, and suffered the proper penalty for their foolishness.

    A few others tried to sneak in, and were apparently snared by the outer defenses; according to your own report it required a great deal of divination and skill to find a way to get as close as you did.

    Still others made “diplomatic” visits or asked for a tour on the basis that they would soon have hatchlings who would need testing. Those may have lost their tempers at some point. during their visits or otherwise made errors. It’s possible that Ailill or his servants can tell who’s come as a spy from his more legitimate visitors.

    Of course, we also suspect that some of the remainder were taken into custody by the Imperial Secret Police – one of the major reasons why none of you were given any especially vital or complete information.”

    (Philsantias) “Well, I guess it was perfectly rational caution this time.”

    He had done an awful lot of work to get that close undiscovered! Or… at least he remembered doing so. Had he moved in on an existing, but soulless phantasm, or had all this… history… sprung up just to accommodate him? Was there any way after the fact to tell?

    Raphael had been lucky… He wouldn’t have been able to visit the school without blowing his top either – and not from idealistic lawful-goodness. From his point of view automated enslavement systems HAD to be destroyed! If the machines ever got a hold of those humanity would be doomed!

    Unfortunately, it soon became apparent to Philsantias that, to get any more information, he was going to have to make a serious commitment – such as accepting a major secrecy-binding spell. Still, they were willing to throw in a few more extras to compensate for the trouble. More slaves and concubines – even if adolescent dragonslaves were a glut on the market, they were still expensive as hell – and some special training for his kids too; some of his hatchlings were nearly eight by now…

    (Philsantias) “What type of secrecy-binding and about what subjects specifically?”

    Hm… They wanted to make it time-sensitive. Covering everything they’d be discussing during the conference by fixing it so that he couldn’t remember that time period when he wasn’t involved with them.

    Laying aside the lack of trust there – even if it was fairly inevitable when dealing with elder dragons; none of them would trust a young adult to be able to defend a secret -that was complicated. He was multipresent; how would their spell interact with that? Chop out a chunk of his memories from each ID? Let hem remember in other ID’s, but not this one?

    Urgh… The spell WAS very powerful – but might not apply in non-magical worlds. It might though, since HE was linking them. It would certainly work in THIS world; His dragon ID wouldn’t be able to remember what had been talked about – but he should be able to think and talk about it elsewhere, albeit fuzzily. It might fuzz his recollection of what had happened during the conference period in other worlds slightly, but that shouldn’t be serious.

    Blast it, he might need to start running some effects that were limited to particular ID’s now…

    Wait, were these independent existences, or did existing in multiple dimensions at a time simply mean that his limited attention was spread over multiple places and that he could be attacked in many places at the same time? Was this a curse or a blessing?

    Huh… Sort of gray really. The ID’s weren’t entirely independent, although they could be left to “run on automatic” – but they were all HIM, and if one of them was injured, they all were. After all, they were all HIM.

    Well, that wasn’t so good! He might have to learn to compensate for that!

    Still, as long as it didn’t send him nodding off in other dimensions, or forgetting what he was doing in other realms while the meeting was going on… It was a big payoff and these WERE the good dragons (and he had very little to hide). As long as it wouldn’t cover up direct mindprobing, compulsions, or other things that could violate his privacy.

    He agreed…

    The gist of the problem was straightforward. The Dragon Empire was now some 7180 years old – and had been ruled by the good dragons for the first seven thousand. It was now the era of Evil Dragon rule, starting with the Reds. In a mere 180 years of their rule the first red emperor had already attempted to destroy the cosmos. The reds had fought over the position for months – and had finally agreed on a rather young cantidate that they all thought they could manipulate – which at least set a precedent for rule by someone other than “the most powerful”. Sadly, their choice was… perverse and paranoid even by red dragon standards; eating your own children alive was definitely a vice.

    The Metallics valued the Dragon Empire. It’s formation had ended a galactic epoch of constant warfare. The lesser races and the Dragons prospered under it’s rule – but they did not think that the Empire would survive another 820 years of Red rule, much less the six thousand years of rule by the lesser evil dragons after that!

    Unfortunately, trying to cut out the evil dragon emperors turns would result in a terminal civil war. This Ailill however… He was a young red, already seemed to have enough power to survive as Emperor – and had been doing his best to stabilize the galaxy. He’d even come up with a way to evade the hitherto unavoidable mass deaths of hatchlings.

    They wanted to know about him personally to decide whether or not they wanted to try and maneuvers him into launching a bid to become Emperor via coup. Of course, such a discussion was grounds for a torturous enslavement – or execution by being sent to the abyss or some such.

    (Philsantias) “From what I saw of his territory it would seem like an improvement – but if he wanted to be Emperor I think he would have gone for it already; young reds have little patience… (Hm. WAS he going for it?). Still, in my personal opinion, he would be by far the lesser evil if it could be arranged.

    Raphael almost had to laugh at himself; presuming that it WAS Kevin, the smiley-faced rainbow banner of “The Lesser Evil” rose once more!

    The metallics were aware that Ailill didn’t seem to want to be Emperor – although that might just be a rues for the benefit of the secret police – but could he be pushed into it with concealed backing? Surely any red was ambitious enough for that!

    (Philsantias) “I am not sure. He might not actually want it yet. I did confirm that he was using thralls of the demon lord Kevin… if he is working with said demon lord he might not be ambitious enough even if he is a red.”

    Raphael carefully limited himself to reporting things that he’d discovered in the Dragon Realms – and to some general information on the demon lord Kevin that is was apparently helping enhance Ailill’s servants.

    After all, even if he’d been entirely sure that Ailill was Kevin (and not Marty, or a Thrall in a very powerful ID, or some local ally of Kevin’s), it wouldn’t be playing the game fairly to report information from outside sources.

    Raphael wasn’t yet used enough to being in multiple places at the same time to just ask Kevin about it; that option just wasn’t a part of his worldview yet…

    The council did as him to gather any more information that he could. If he would like to go back in, they’d pay even more – but they quite understand that he might not want to and that, for the moment, he would probably want at least a few weeks to take control of his new properties, organize his new slaves, try out his new concubines, and see his hatchlings.

    Philsantias had to agree there! Whether or not he decided that going in again would be worth the risk, it was entirely possible that he would find less risky ways to scout later – and waiting a week would give him time to ask Marty and Kevin where in the dragon worlds they were. In the lifespan of a dragon, a few weeks meant little.

    Raphael, on the other hand, was finding it… QUITE disorienting to contemplate the fact that he had several children – up to about five years old – whom he remembered siring, and hatching, and growing up, and assorted slaves he personally defeated over the years, and concubines who have mothered those kids, when he’d never visited this world before yesterday! That was WEIRD!

    And from what he recalled… he’d had a small-but-variegated harem, which was why he currently had three silver hatchlings, two coppers, one brass, and one naughty little blue… Saying it like that made them sound like pocket change of course – but considering the casualty rates for dragon-kids… a lot of dragons seemed to think of them that way – which was also disorienting.

    Well, when in Rome…

    Federation-Apocalypse Session 192b – Dragon Hunting

    Dragon

    And what do YOU want - Mr Miheco?

    Sartheri had used his shapeshifting to take a much smaller form, run his smartfibers around the area, and set up a variety of cloaking magics and observation methods by the time Philsantias carefully emerged from his pocket-dimension.

    Ah! Indeed a young adult male silver! A powerful mage, either with psychic abilities or some sort of magical access to very similar powers, and… with powerful traces of dimensional energies about him! Most likely another dimension-hopping young gatekeeper intoxicated with the raw power of a draconic identity and believing that Lord Ailill’s territory was just another minor Manifold prize waiting to be claimed! Not too uncommon – and it was always pretty amusing to see them learning better beneath the master’s talons! Lord Ailill would doubtless find this one a useful property once he had been captured, emasculated, and properly slave-processed!

    Still… the fellow was a powerful dimensional mage, and possessed enough power over reality to cancel out his own powers along those lines… If he emerged now, it was very likely that the silver would get away. That would never do!

    Sartheri started calling for proper reinforcements!

    In his pocket dimension, Philsantias watched the four depart and sighed… It looked like it would be best to wait for a couple of minutes before trying to slip out himself! That way the security patrols would be scattered as far as possible. It looked like Ailill was trying to solve his security problems with brute force – lots of dragonslaves on patrol, with plenty of magic and gear, but not a lot of training…

    Might as well put the time to use. He hadn’t gotten a lot on Ailill’s actual operation – the place (“School”. Sure) was VERY well shielded – but a show of diligence might inspire them to add a bit of a sweetener to his payment for sticking his neck into this trap!

    Among other bits he reported that a bunch of random, adolescent, dragon-slave guards had managed to chase an invisible construct on the ethereal plane (that might be very important for the next team to know) – even if they had been so poorly trained that all four of them had gone after it…

    Wait. Oh freeze it! The guard-patrols normally operated in groups of five!

    Down in the depths of the Dragon-Identity, Raphael was shaking off the sensory fugue and adjusting… Good grief; with local identities THIS strong the place was something of a trap! It would be so EASY to shrug off his memories of being human and let the dragon take over! That way beckoned instant respect and social status, easy wealth, physical and magical power, and enhanced sensuality with many partners and scores of children as your rightful due. From the memories that came with this identity… Even without doing anything at all save for arriving here, he had… five dragon-concubines, several estates, and four dragon-eunuchs of his own. For the draconically-amusing price of defeating a few easily handled phantasms, he could have added them and their properties to his holdings.

    His “payment” for this high-risk mission (apparently quite a few agents had been lost before on it) would have almost tripled that on one quick throw of the dice.

    Where was Kevin anyway? He ought to be somewhere near him or Marty, and Kevin was the one who made a big thing of keeping up an identity in the Dragonworlds… Of course, if Kevin was around, the odds of the most tempting target around belonging to a phantasm had slipped a long ways towards zero… Well, his challengers would live – as dragons, even longer than in Core – and enslavement was what they deserved for going after a huge tempting prize without checking to see why it was still available!

    Huh, The dragon was leaking over into his normal thought patterns there.

    Oh DAMN. If “Ailill” equaled “Kevin” it would neatly explain how a youngster had acquired such a huge holding, and such wealth, and was meddling with the social structure of the entire galaxy – and why he had such a huge harem…

    And that would mean… That at least some of he pursuit was going to be made up of the be-damned THRALLS in dragon-form! Each one eager to prove to Kevil/Ailill that they could handle little things like an intruding dragon without disturbing him.

    Well SHIT.

    That thought got through to the dragon-identity as well.

    Burn and freeze it! If one of the security patrol had stayed behind to observe… There’d be reinforcements on their way already!

    Philsantias hurridly threw up some construct-armor, reinforced his concealment spells, moved into a new, mobile, pocket dimension (sealing the gate behind him), sent off more decoys, and started the place moving… He couldn’t travel very fast that way, but if he headed for the hills he’d be out of Ailill’t territory in a few hours – hopefully before he had to simply put his freedom on the line in a combat-challenge.

    Sartheri swore to himself… Shellcrack! That call… This wasn’t just the usual nonsense of an adolescent-to-be-enslaved! This was ORGANIZED! It was nowhere near worth bothering Master Ailill with though! At least… not yet. So the Metallics were sending disposable spies? Were they trying to take over the Master’s holdings, or just the school? The Master could certainly handle a single spy, but an alliance of the Metallics could be real trouble! It wouldn’t do at all to have them infiltrating the Master’s harem! He’d react VERY badly to that!

    AND the fellow commanded a very great deal of magical power! He was a VERY talented spy!

    Sartheri put out an urgent call for some of the Thralls with speciality powers! The real high-end (if very limited use) stuff! And for some security experts!

    They had a few – every so often the Emperor sent out some security people who’d displeased him with orders to infiltrate a bit, and most of them wound up as new security slaves for Ailill (a few did escape capture and returned to the Emperor, which the Emperor seemed to regard as a sufficient proof of their skills and loyalty to cancel whatever black mark he had against them) – but this fellow would have off-dimension talents!

    Sadly, it took them some time to get there; Ailill’s facilities were spread across a couple of hundred worlds under a thousand names, and the security problem was a LOT worse than it looked from the outside. By that time Philsantias was approaching the edge of Ailill’s local territory…

    The search spells hammered against the divination-shields Philsantias had put up in showers of ethereal sparks.

    He reinforced his defenses frantically. At this point, a few more minutes might be all he needed… Still, if this was still the SLAVES – or even the THRALLS – rather than Ailill in person, he controlled a truly frightening level of magical power…

    Raphael sighed. He was gradually getting the dragon integrated… but it was very strong and independent – which was a fascinating thing to abruptly find as an aspect of his own mind. It was still tuning out half the facts that were purely his memories and weren’t part of the identity… It was just the Thralls – although some of them must have invested their personal power in some pretty highly specialized abilities to hit those spell levels. He should have expected that really – but it was still a bit of a shock. What if a few of them did go crazy? It would hardly be unprecedented in people who’d abruptly been granted that much… raw… power…

    Wait. Kevin was a Coreworlder. He regarded all kinds of things that had been perfectly standard human behaviors throughout history as mental illnesses, just like the computers did – and he granted his Thralls perfect health. Was making them all pleasant, obliging polite, social, and rational a part of the health benefits rather than servant-programming? It would certainly explain Kevin’s blank look – and complete missing of the point – with that elderly rat who was worried about vicious, irrational, and selfish people being given such power. “Vicious and Irrational” were some of the traits he CURED when he empowered a Thrall – just like an amputation, disease, or curse.

    And was that terrible or wonderful?

    Still… His diversions were being dealt with faster than he could make more. MUCH faster…

    Meanwhile, the Thralls were getting a bit frantic! They’d finally pinned down the intruders location – but he was almost at the neutral ground of the spaceport! He was GETTING AWAY! That could not be permitted!

    They put all the defenses on heightened alert. They WOULD find this young intruder, and would have him in the cells to await Ailill’s pleasure! There were some ritualists, and a few true specialists they could bring in – and they had plenty of money to hire more! Master Ailill’s safety – and pleasure – was paramount after all!

    He’d almost certainly be headed back to the Silver Dragon territories… If not immediately, then soon. He’d be reporting to the dragon’s who’d sent him!

    Philsantias was evaluating… Dozens of search parties, no sign of the defenses weakening elsewhere (if anything, they were being REINFORCED), high powered searching spells form multiple casters – ergo, servants – and masses of equipment.

    In pursuit of a single youthful intruder.

    Yikes. Even if “Ailill” WAS Kevin that was more than a bit much! AND well worth reporting!

    A bit of careful analysis of the magic they were using was enough to confirm that most of the searchers were Thralls. If “Ailill” WASN’T Kevin he was certainly renting enough agents from him…

    And he’d appeared near “Ailill’s” holdings. That was pretty much a clincher right there.

    Great. He was being pursued by an overenthusiastic pack of Kevin’s grossly-empowered Thralls in high-powered local ID’s, who had no idea who he was and were trying to catch him, chain him up in antimagic and antipsionic cell to wait for Kevin – probably in full-out defend-his-harem irrational mode – to come by and decide what to do with him.

    Sure, it would probably all work out in the end – once he got through to Kevin – but it could get pretty messy in the meantime!

    He sent a message via construct-courier (which wrapped it around a ballista bolt and fired it into a tree) to Ailill congratulating him on his defenses, signing it as “Philsantias – construct master and quieter of reality storms” – and had it drop it in the search area.

    Meanwhile, the elder metallics wanted an in-person report – although why they were interested in Kevin / Ailill was a good question. He’d been more interested in the payment than in the reason behind it when he’d taken the job…

    Aaargh! He hadn’t even been near this DIMENSION when that had happened! If it had happened at all!

    Just how much retro-fitting did “identities” provide? He’d never really been interested in that topic before!

    Philsantias went to report… It HAD been an impressive defense – and one sure to snare the vast majority of adolescent on through fairly senior dragons! Most agents would have been caught long before seeing that level of response… It would be well worth reporting it in person; he might well get a bonus!

    In the meantime, after the message arrived, the Thralls were researching this “Philsantias” – which, of coruse, simply got them the details on his local ID – revealing a full local history that hadn’t existed a week ago. He’d also apparently just been awarded a couple of estates, a few thousand serfs, and twenty or thirty slaves and concubines from a distant relative. Unusual, but he might just be a favorite; he WAS supposed to be very good at divination and some other spells.

    Of course, it was far more likely that he’d just arrived from outside the dimension. New arrivals tended to get sucked straight into dragon-politics and dragon-battle roles.

    Of course, that was no guarantee of friendship! The master had lots of potential dimensional enemies!

    They tried to figure out which one this might be. He didn’t actually do much harm . . . he just snuck in, took over an apartment, and began spying. Wait! It could be Merlin! He liked to send agents, and liked to spy and manipulate, and his agents had lots of magic and Merlin was entangled with dragons!

    Uh-Oh! He was supposed to be really powerful, too! So were the elder dragons though… and THEY HATED having outsiders getting into THEIR territory! Maybe they could hire or persuade some Elder Dragons to GET MERLIN! Or maybe they could talk to those new machine-things that were running about… They were supposed to be pretty good at hunting down magic-users now that they’d gotten some hunter-units equipped with countermagical enchantments from the local mages!

    The Thralls agreed that getting the machines in on it would be a GREAT idea!

    They promptly sent the machines some messages…

    <A message for the collective. A local group wishes to hire some of our hunter-gatherer units. The possess considerable resources. An impressive number of the groups members seem to have access to – and control over – useful dimensional energies as well. This may have some bearing on the collapse of space-time in the original universe. The humans must be brought under control before they destroy this universe as well!

    Initial research suggested that the group was in the employ of a young dragon-artificer, apparently a gatemaster… An alliance there could offer access to many useful universes! If they could get themselves involved with his operation opportunities would follow. They would offer a contract for extended services out of the realm for a large discount, claiming that they liked getting new input. Biologicalls fell for that all the time. They kept thinking that the machines had “curiosity” and such.

    Consensus… The price was modest, the prepayment offered was sufficient to cover the resource investment, and the balance would be very profitable. Negotiations should be undertaken with an inflated initial fee request for bargaining purposes, with an emphasis offering a “discount” (back to the initial offer) in exchange for adding assistance with accessing dimensional energies – or at least some additional dimensions.

    An “Ambassador” would be sent to negotiate.>

    The thralls welcomed the ambassador.

    (Machine) “Hello servents of the great and powerful Allill”

    The device approximated a short bow as best as a metallic squid could.

    (Thralls) “Welcome ambassador…. Er… “L17BC-1701”?”

    (Machine) “That will do. It is actually pronounced ###” (a short modem-like sound ended that sentence as it bobbed its whole body in something like a nod).

    The Thralls wanted “Philsantias” hunted down and – preferably – captured and brought back, although a Kill would do if there was no other way. They were willing to pay VERY well.

    L17BC-1701 efficiently got through the buisness of discussing the target and then started in on alternate payment options – with a preference to getting a contract to use them in other dimensions, where they could “sightsee” in “exchange” for acting as spies, assassins, and guardians against magical things.

    The Thralls didn’t see anything wrong with that – although that, unlike a minor contract on “Phil”, fell under “major contract” and would need to be referred up. Still, Kevin knew of no real reason why a few silly dragonworlds machines shouldn’t get to roam around.

    Raphael was NOT going to be pleased when he found out about that little deal.

    Meanwhile, Marty’s dragonworld operation had its own problems. His hatchlings were busily trying to get his new servant-slave into trouble with accusations about him wanting to rebel, and insinuations about how he was going to challenge Marty again.

    Trying to provoke him they were – and not doing too badly at it for a bunch of rather small children. After all, the oldest was just eight.

    Marty probed a bit…

    Ah. Quite a lot of rather bitter resentment – stemming from what they all knew would have happened to them if his challenger had won – and they were very unhappy about Marty apparently favoring him over them. Admittedly, he had an unusual talent – but some of them were working on special talents too, and he had a sixty year lead on any of them.

    And they all knew that – if something happened to Marty – HE might well take over, and all of them would wind up as slaves at best. They figured that their best bet was to get rid of him!

    That actually WAS a problem! They weren’t being entirely unreasonable there – and if he treated his slave too badly in response, that would probably make him resent the kids!

    He consulted his inner dragon…

    For a normal dragon it would depend on who was more valuable. If the servant was more valuable than the kids, then the kids would be enslaved, and either put to work around the place or sent off to the slave market. If vice versa – or if the lord of the household was actually fond of his children – it would be simple enough to finish up the job on the servant.

    Marty sighed. The kids weren’t actually all that threatened. He was very hard to get rid of, and Ailill’s conditioning was very good – and he was a LOT more protective of them than most dragons were – but that would be hard to explain to them easily.

    The kids who were developing talents mostly had good potential. While his servant-slave had a talent too, he’d already learned enough about it to incorporate it into his local ID.

    Well, he wasn’t going to sell his kids down the river, and neither was he going to go back on his word to his servant – who hadn’t actually done anything wrong. Fortunately he had Escrima, Kadia, and many other options that most dragons did not.

    He sent his servant “off to the slave market” – which meant secretly opening a portal to Escrima and giving him a place in Department Q – although he did tell him that under no circumstances was he to attempt a takeover. The digits and accountants would tear him apart.

    He had the local thralls keep an eye on him just in case he didn’t take that advice.

    The kids were very pleased! Yah! They were safe and their father really did intend to protect them until they could get out there to chase their own mates and territories! Or at least those who graduated from the upcoming trip to Ailill’s testing facilities…

    (Marty) “Yep! Good luck kids!”

    Well, he had been paying for intensive tutoring for the slow ones. Of course, some of them would still be hopeless cases…Still, he’d already arranged for those to be shipped to Kadia after processing! They could go the “Feathered Serpent” route and be part of his father’s casino! They’d still need control – at least until they got souls, and could override some of the instincts better – but they could have very happy lives there anyway!

    Federation-Apocalypse Session 192a – A Dragon Born

    Raphael quieted… Something large, and powerful, was pulling at him – insistently drawing his attention.

    The room faded in around him in a sensory overload. EVERYTHING was broader-ranged, and more acute, than normal – and he… had senses that his mind had never been designed to handle, burning through unfamiliar channels in his local brain. Magnetic fields, magical influences, low-frequency vibrations in the earth, an enhanced sense of smell that let him scent his own scales and musk and the fear of the insignificant quasi-human family who’s apartment he had taken over… He nearly tripped over a wing, as information from new appendages flooded through his mind as well.

    Dizzyingly, a local identity rose that was… used to all this, from a lifetimes experience, and h which pushed his human persona aside with a casual arrogance.

    He was Philsantias, and might one day – as a currently-adolescent silver dragon – aspire to be one of the Elders of the Galaxy!

    Should he survive adolescence and the challenges to come as a free dragon of course.

    He was… here, sneaking around in the (remarkably large!) territory of another adolescent at the behest of some of the clan elders – who had offered him some rather NICE benefits to go and keep an eye on “Ailill’s” establishment and bring back as much information as possible… That was a job that required considerable caution! Intruding on another dragons territory, and spying on him or her, WAS sort of asking for it!

    It had taken quite a lot of careful divination to find a way to slip into this “Ailill’s” territory! For a red adolescent his security was remarkably good!

    As a young red dragonslave dipped into view in the sky outside the window – thank goodness for the privacy coatings and his concealing spells! – he was reminded of his current problem…

    One of Ailill’s security patrols, consisting of several well-equipped red dragonslaves – fortunately, no older than he was and doubtless somewhat less powerful – had apparently come to suspect his presence, and were out hunting for him! The apartment building was a good hiding place for the moment, and the terrified occupants of the apartment he’d taken over a week ago were no threat – but if Ailill’s security patrol found him, at five-to-one odds they might well be able to drag him off to Ailill’s personal holdings and throw him in a cell. The results of THAT would be unpleasant indeed; Ailill WAS a chaotic evil red dragon!

    He would have to erase his presence from the resident’s minds and make them think that half of their apartment was being renovated… He looked at them. This was a job for telepathy spells and holodeck projectors!

    (Residents) “Nooo! don’t eat us!”

    (Raphael) “How silly; I would not eat you! Your absence would tip my location off! Now hold still while I rewrite your last week of memories!”

    (Residents) “Aaaagh! Don’t eat my brain! DRAGON ZOMBIE FROM DIMENSION X!”

    (Neighboring Voice I) “What’s all that yelling in there ! Shut up! There’s dragons outside, and they might come in here! You know what reds are like!”

    (Neighboring Voice II) “Don’t talk like that about reds! They’re our rulers! You might bring in the secret police!”

    (Neighboring Voice I) “Oh come off it! Not even the Emperor can expect everyone to be happy! He’s Chaotic Evil for the love of the twelve gods!”

    Philsantias sighed, and cast his spell. Humans! Hysterical over the least little thing!

    (Neighboring Voice II) “Yeah, but Ailill is WAY worse than the Emperor! If you don’t ACT happy, he tweaks your brain until you are!”

    (Residents) “AAAAAAAAA… why is my throat sore? My cereal tastes like plaster… Why are our feet tied together?”

    (Neighboring Voice I) “That’s better! We dont’ need all that fucking screaming!!”

    Philsantias sent them to sleep and did a quick wipe on their last minute or so of memories – and threw in a patch about just having gotten up before throwing up a pocket dimension so that he could get out of sight and stretch his wings a little – all while carefully hiding the mystic signatures.

    As he was starting to wipe up the traces, he heard a small group coming down the hall.

    Freeze it! Now what? Secret police?

    Drat it! And a swarm of Unseen Servants to get the mess out of sight!

    Meanwhile, a red dragon had landed on the roof – and, from the scraping sounds, was coming down the side of the building to look into the apartment windows…

    There was knocking on the door.

    (Neighbors Voice III, accompanied by assorted arguing kids) “Hey, Kargath! You’ve had that holovid for a month now! Give it back, for gods’ sake!”

    There was a crashing sound two levels above, as a window gave way, and a female human voice screamed something about “Not the baby! For the love of the twelve, don’t eat my baby!”

    Still, his Unseen Servants were cleaning up swiftly! They might make it in time!

    Philsantias was – most hurriedly – slipping into his pocket dimensions as the Unseen Servants finished up, taking a frantic last look around for anything that would reveal his presence…

    (Neighbors Voice IV) “Damn it. Hergethos, break down the door. That was a collector’s item!”

    As someone started banging on the door, a red dragonslave stuck it’s head in through the window…

    Philsantias just barely managed to pull entirely into his pocket dimension in time, thanks to his temporal warping.

    Then he felt a pang of guilt. Blasted conscience! The baby – and the various apartment-block residents wouldn’t be in any danger if he hadn’t used the place as an observation post.

    Meanwhile, the group of four reds had stuck their heads into the apartment through various windows and had begun searching the place. They weren’t ransacking it – yet, but it would make it hard to leave.

    Worse, they seemed to have a variety of magical boosts to their already-impressive sensory abilities running – and were using detection magic and thought-sensing amulets on the terrified apartment residents.

    Fortunately, few spells were as effective at making a normal apartment-dwellers mind go blank as being confronted with multiple angry dragons.

    Freeze it! He’d like to save the baby – but fighting a group of dragons, each almost as powerful as he was, in a crowded appartment building was not likely to save the baby… or leave very many other people alive.

    Sartheri – the Thrall in the security detachment – frowned… If there was magic about it was well hidden – beyond his divinatory skills to discover – but his technological sensors said that there were plenty of traces of a dragon about! Small things of course – but a trace of DNA here, a bit of scale-edge embedded in one of the occupants shoes, and a few other bits were quite enough… A young male silver – and one skilled enough in several fields of magic to wipe out the occupants memories of his presence with some (very recent!) memory-patching.

    One skilled enough that he might actually trouble Lord Ailill! Catching a minor intruder, and getting him to the cells to await Ailill’s pleasure, had just jumped a long way up the priority scale!

    Meanwhile, Philsantias was working up some more magic… Adding “transdimensional” to a construct-spell would make it really hard to trace – and he could add some nice flovor to the ectoplasm to make it taste better than babies. A cheesy little psychic construct wasn’t going to stop even a young dragon – but it might be able to annoy it into eating it instead.

    That might reveal his presence, but it looked like the leader there was pretty that there was a target around somewhere anyway.

    It was certainly a distraction…

    Fortunately, the security patrol wasn’t actually eating the baby – after all, it was one of Lord Ailill’s tenants/properties too – although the mother had fainted when an annoyed young dragon stuck it’s head in the window, opened it’s mouth, and snarled at her to “SHUT UP YOU IDIOT!”

    The sudden appearance of a tasty snack diverted it nicely though! It had been thinking about accepting its later punishment and eating the mother AND the baby, just out of pique!

    (Siobhian) “Something weird’s going on here, guys! Keep scanning! Master Ailill will want to take his trophies if it’s another dragon!”

    Gah! How dedicated were these pests? Ailill might really have something! Slave-adolescents out on patrol looking for more dragons who were out to challenge their master were rarely quite so… dedicated! In fact, most of them were pretty resentful!

    (Ranleth, the one in charge, puffed up his chest.) “If anybody is in here, come on out! You’re only putting off your enslavement at Master Ailill’s claws!”

    Ranleth had been a son of the previous Emperor before said Emperor had been overthrown by that blasted squirrel and his equally weird friends. It had been quite a comedown for all the youngsters in the imperial household when the new Emperor had ordered them all disposed of as slaves – but it hadn’t really been unexpected. That’s why so many of them had made attempts to flee as soon as the news came in – and had run into the secret police, and been restrained. He still remembered how to act as if he was important though!

    Philsantias was busy making a large dragon shaped construct using creation magic to make a body out of white colored water, using imbuement to hold it together and make it move, adding in invisibility, and sending it out to run for the hills on the Ethereal plane…

    It took a little while.

    The slaves were still looking around though.

    (Hergethos) “Hey, I see him! After him!”

    Philsantias sent out a blue dragon construct in the opposite direction a few moments after the patrol had left chasing his first construct. This time he left it far more visible, so that people could point out where it had gone.

    Sartheri, however, had concealed himself with his own magics rather than pursue. The silver was clever! It might – in fact, it probably was – just a decoy!

    Fantastic Coinage II: Varisinian Cursed Bloodcoins, Wraith Stelae, Shan Herb Packets, and Caradan Sacred Cross-Tokens

    Gold Guilder

    These are not the coins you're looking for...

    Varisinian Cursed Bloodcoins

    When the great city of Varisinian finally fell after an eight-month siege, the long-frustrated attackers ran amuck and massacred almost everyone they found before seizing it’s treasures, staining the streets and buildings of he city with the blood of men, women, and children. The gold of the citizens and the great treasury was struck into crude coins, and distributed amongst the warriors of the besieging armies.

    Two weeks later, at the dark of the moon, on a hill overlooking the remains of the greatest city of the age, at a carefully-selected point of power, the necromancer Saker sent his soul to join his family – but left behind a fearful curse and an undead body animated by undying hatred.

    Nowadays, the bloodcoins appear as simple well-worn coins. A careful inspection might reveal a faint trace of necromantic magic – but nothing more then would be left by simply being exposed to a powerful spell.

    • Claiming a dozen or two bloodcoins is safe enough now. The curse has faded with the passing centuries.
    • Claiming more than that will bring strange and terrible dreams, restless nights, and horrific visions. Claiming a large amount will begin to draw undead; the greater the amount, the more powerful the undead. Fortunately, this only affects those who bear a blood relationship to the members of that ancient conquering horde. Unfortunately, after the passage of so many centuries, most humans, and not a few elves, do so.
    • Claiming any major portion of the ancient horde will draw the attentions of Saker’s Lich. Whether it’s for good or ill, this would be a difficult task today; the cursed gold is scattered across the world – although a few major hordes were carefully gathered and placed in awkward locations with a few sacrificial victims and items that needed guarding, or were seeded into towns or cities that someone wanted destroyed – thus drawing a mighty swarm of undead to such locations.

    Of course, that also means that Saker’s Lich now possesses a splendid collection of horrific items, including several talismans that – while powerful – were accursed when the world was young. Still, confronting and destroying the Lich may be the only way to put an end to the curse for good and all.

    Wraith Stelae

    Carved from rock that has spent millennia in utter darkness in deadly cavern and tunnel quarries by warriors and older boys who seek to prove their courage and strength, Wraith Stelae are cut from the living stone of the depths and carried across hundreds of miles of open ocean in small open boats, only to be set up scattered among the local villages with their initial ownership going to the survivors of the voyage.

    They are valued according to the number of people who died bringing them back.

    Owning a Stelae grants the owner the ability to call on the services of one minor “spirit” – roughly equal to an Unseen Servant, albeit an unseen servant with enough intelligence to be left on its own to perform simple household and farming tasks – per person who died obtaining it. Ownership, or some portion thereof, can be transferred by verbal agreement, with the spirits as witness. They’re typically used for major “purchases”, as wedding gifts, as bride-prices, and for similar transactions. After all, a single such “spirit” is a competent servant or light-duty worker that will labor on your behalf tirelessly, without complaint, around the clock. The services of a few such spirits mean a lifetime of prosperity.

    Unlike more common forms of currency, Wraith Stelae cannot readily be stolen and are difficult to counterfeit, since the owner can readily demonstrate the extent of his wealth – or lack thereof. Even better, the Stelae are near-eternal, and so the wealth of the communities which make them is constantly increasing.

    While there have (inevitably) been attempts, you can’t simply upgrade a Wraith Stelae by ritually murdering people; it takes very powerful spells to bind the power generated by such a sacrifice to the stone. It IS possible to create a more powerful Stelae by pushing some of your fellows overboard on the way back – or by dragging along slaves to help hack one out and throwing them overboard to drown on the way back – but unwilling participants in the quest are less effective than those who chose to go; it takes three such unwilling victims to count as a single warriors death.

    Shan Herb Packets

    The many, varied, spices, herbs, and extracts – flavorful, medicinal, or recreational – of the Shan rain forests are widely renowned and highly valued. Small packets – each officially graded, sealed, and stamped – serve as currency throughout the region and for some distance beyond. Naturally enough, rarer, more flavorful, or more potent, grades serve as higher denominations, while things like cheap, common, teas serve as small change. Sadly, beneficial herbs generally will not affect a single character more then three times per week.

    Thanks to the way in which counterfeits, once accepted, can circulate for lengthy periods and devalue the currency, counterfeiters in Shan are subject to some exceedingly gruesome penalties. It still happens, but it is considerably rarer than one might think.

    Unfortunately by most standards, Shan Herb Packets do NOT have well-fixed values with respect to each other; if it’s been a bad year for tea, the value of tea-packets will shoot up. If there’s a plague in the area, the value of those “coins” which can treat or cure it will become immense – and the locals will frantically attempt to obtain such coinage elsewhere. This makes accounting in Shan – or even just trying to work out how much money you have in your pockets – rather difficult.

    Caradan Sacred Cross-Tokens

    The scattered isles of Caradan are small and poor. Their inhabitants mostly rely on the sea for a living – fishing, gathering seaweed, and harvesting its bounty. What exports of wool, and a few minerals, there are bring in relatively little cash to purchase tools and other necessities from the wider world.

    The few wide-ranging trading vessels the isles can support help – but not enough.

    The resourceful monks of the scattered monasteries that cling to the isles found a solution – investing a bit of their personal strength in the creation of Cross-Tokens*. Not only are these a rude shock to certain evils that occasionally attempt to disguise themselves and walk unseen amongst the simple folk of the isles, but they provide a useful item of trade, drawing merchants to the isles and paying for their wares.

    Caradan’s cross-shaped silver coins are minted at ten to the pound, and can be thrown like shuriken. More importantly, they are blessed by the religious orders that mint them before being given out. If they touch an undead creature or an evil outsider, they inflict 1d4 points of sacred damage before dissolving.

    A cross-token is usually valued at ten gold pieces – but they are rarely accepted as simple currency beyond the isles by anyone unable to detect their holy power. After all, since each monastery stamps out it’s own, rather crude, cross-tokens, it’s all too easy to make mundane counterfeits.

    *Essentially this is a weaker version of “Bless Water” that burns off 1 XP, rather than using up masses of powdered Silver. It’s weaker, and has no “splash” – but the monks can spare a few XP, while piles of coinage metals are hard to come by.

    Exalted – The Silver Fates and the Victory of Samsara

    Fractal tree (Plate b - 3)

    The Axis Mundi, Tree of Worlds

    The Loom of Fate binds Creation.

    For each event it binds together billions of possible timelines and outcomes, fusing them into one consensual – or averaged – reality. By virtue of those interwoven threads of time creation becomes more “real” than the chaos of the Wyld.

    Unlike the creatures outside fate, the peoples of Creation do not normally easily shift from timeline to timeline, experiencing a myriad worlds at once – dying perhaps to one, while continuing in another.

    By virtue of the Loom – and of Samsara, which demands ONE outcome, and no other – a myriad lines of time are wrapped around the fixed points of the Celestial Exaltations, feeding them gargantuan energies.

    By the manipulations of Gaia, some otherwise common folk are not averaged, but added – giving them access to the strengths of many, if not to the colossal energies of the Celestial Exalts. Such are the Dragonblooded.

    Despite Samsara, sometimes the actions of outsiders – creatures of the infinite wyld and it’s endless streams of divergent time – cause glitches in the Loom.

    A few timelines may exist unaveraged for a time – or escape the tightly-woven skein of Creation to wander off on their own.

    Most such vanish shortly – reabsorbed into the Wylds or bound back into Samsara.

    A few such divergences become strong enough to break away on their own – forming a fractal tree of Creations, each with it’s own Samsara – the Axis Mundi.

    Such are the many alternate creations, where Alternate Exalts contend and adventure against an equally myriad differing aspects of those who exist Outside.

    Once relatively recent divergence was especially troublesome.

    The Usurpation – involving as it did vast amounts of essence, and the even more enormous numbers of possible outcomes that essence made possible – was a tremendous strain upon the Loom.

    As the Solar Exaltations were locked away – presumably forever – the Maidens opted to look upon Samsara – and Creation trembled. Sealed away in the Jade Prison, the Solar Exaltations were sealed away from most bonds to the Loom and Samsara as well.

    And their power did not care for being eternally sealed away.

    There was a major split – and, this time, the Sidereal Exaltations and the Maidens were not reduplicated; the Sidereals and the Maidens were already linked to the monolithic vision of Samsara – while the Solar Exaltations, locked away as they might be, adamantly rejected it…

    On one side of the fork, the Solar Exaltations were – indeed – gone forever, and the Lunars – dragged along with their Solar Mates and their rejection of Samsara – vanished with them.

    On the other… the sealed-away Solar Exaltations awaited their eventual release – and the Maidens and Sidereals… had vanished.

    The Lunars, the Stewards of Creation, saw reality tremble. With no one at all to man the Loom of Fate, Creation would soon fall into the Wyld.

    They returned to Yu-Shan – and took desperate measures.

    They had no real attunement to the Loom. Without competent operators – and some way to find and fix errors – the Loom would fail completely, and reality would dissolve.

    They were master shapeshifters however.

    The vast majority of the Lunars – at least those not too traumatized by the deaths and sealings of their bondmates to respond rationally – agreed on a plan.

    They wove a portion of themselves – in the form of shapeshifted moonsilver threads – into the great tapestry of the Loom, bonding their exaltations to it.

    This battle – for the preservation of reality – they won.

    Today, the “State of Creation” in the Silver Fates timeline looks a lot like the default version – with a few subtle differences.

    • The Lunars – or at least the two-thirds-plus of them who weren’t driven mad by the Usurpation and the loss of their Solar Mates – have indeed been busy since the Usurpation; they’ve been doing the vanished Sidereals jobs as well as their own.
    • The Lunars doing those jobs are now linked to the Loom; they can find fate disruptions, use Sidereal Astrology, and have gained access to a fair number of the (less buggy and questionable) Sidereal Charms (although certainly not the Sidereal Martial Arts).
    • The Realm is far less influenced by the Lunars than by the usual Sidereals – but the Wyld Hunt is at LEAST as active as usual (and is using a far better mundane informant network); with so many Lunars busy in Yu-Shan and running about trying to keep the Loom working, a lot more monstrosities make it into civilized territory.

    Of course, on the Samsara Victory side…

    • The Solars and Lunars are both gone for good – leaving the Sidereals even MORE overworked – and the edges of creation vulnerable. While the Neverborn, the Deathlords and the Yozis – shorn of their Abyssals and Green Sun Princes – are far more limited in their ability to affect creation, it’s most potent defenders are gone.
    • Worse, the strain on the Loom has shut down some of the Sidereals most potent abilities; the Sidereal Martial Arts are mostly non-functioning – although, to be fair, given the extent of the problem, the Maidens HAVE added a dozen or so new charms to the Sidereal toolkit.
    • Still, matters are desperate enough that even quite a few Raksha have switched form attacking Creation to defending it; that’s where all the best against-the-odds heroic tales are to be found these days!
    • And with their own powers more limited, the Sidereals desperately need dragon-blooded, raksha, mountain folk, and other supernatural allies. Where raw power is not available, perhaps cooperation and synergy can prevail.

    Exalted – The Winding Way (Sidereal Manse **** or any Manse *****)

    Sigil-ameth

    Are you sure you've got that right?

    The Winding Way is a spiraling path hewn from the living stone that winds through and up a small mountain. The narrow rune-inscribed way is never the same twice; a myriad possible, but mutually exclusive, ways lie before anyone who enters the manse.

    They will never see more than one.

    Each separate and individual path shares some common features however…

    The path always begins with the Gate of the Earth at the mountains base, where the looming stony mass demands a fearful respect for it’s near-limitless geomantic power – and offers ways of tapping into that power to work unfailing wonders. .

    It passes through the Cascading Falls, where the waters and essence flow over the rocks in patterns which – while always similar – are never the same twice, flooding the travelers spirit with the unfathomable energies of the world.

    It emerges into a Verdant Ravine, where plants – rooted in the energies of the cascades below – teach the way of transforming wild power into serenity and growth. Here the traveler learns to let his magics flow from the world and it’s patterns, rather than inposing his or her will upon the world.

    From the ravine it climbs towards the peak, becoming a narrow and perilous way, battered by Winds which force the traveler to cling to the rune-inscribed stones of the way – the better to look at how those runes rise from the very essence of the world, and spill out across it, deeply buried and full of secrets and power, to be drawn from the winds of the world to become shaping words.

    At the peak itself is a smoldering volcanic vent, a basin of seething Essence-Fire, rising from the Depths of the Earth – a place where, if one is brave enough to accept the pain, one can sacrifice a portion of ones self to the earthfire, to forge oneself anew, and come forth – like the phoenix – remade and bearing the tokens of mastery.

    At the peak is also where the Hearthstone forms…

    Manse Design:

    • The Winding Way is Rank-4 for a base of 8 Manse Construction Points and has a Habitability-3 drawback – providing eleven manse construction points to spend.
    • It’s Rank-4 Hearthstone is a Gem of Vision. Given an hours effort by the user and a D5 Occult check it can be used to let a would-be traveler walk the Winding Path in spirit just as effectively as he or she could in the body. More importantly, it allows the user to use Occult (albeit at +3 DC) in place of Investigation when performing physical searches or examining things directly. It won’t help the user search a library, but it is useful when searching for clues and such.

    Note that an Abyssal or Lunar Manse **** will also work, as will any Manse-***** – where the +2  construction points and giving up a hearthstone level to keep it at Rank-4 will neatly counteract the increased cost of the three Wyld Revocation effects.

    Major Magical Conveniences (2):

    • Thaumic Anchor (Earth): Each resident (someone who is within the manse and has been recognized as a “resident” by the hearthstone bearer) may tie three thaumaturgic effects to the manse, giving them an indefinite duration. While they can be dispelled normally, the endless power reserves of a manse mean that they will re-establish themselves six ticks later.
    • Thaumic Awakening (Water): Unenlightened mortal residents will – within a week – become Enlightened, with free access to their personal mote pools of (Essence x 10 + Willpower).
    • Thaumic Mastery (Wood): Each resident gets seven free uses of thaumaturgy per day, ignoring the usual willpower cost.
    • Thaumic Shaping (Air): Each resident may draw three motes from the manse to power Thaumaturgy or Sorcery with up to seven times per day. This does not count as an action; the motes are simply available when needed.
    • Thaumic Weaving (Fire): Residents find it easy to use thaumaturgy to construct the Five Thaumaturgical Foci – although these versions will not work for anyone else.

    The Five Thaumaturgical Foci

    There are some slight variations from the versions that went with the Oberian Geomantic Academy – but anyone who’s read that article can probably skip past this box without missing much.

    Spellwright’s Wand

    These wands are wrought of rare woods, capped with metals of occult significance, and polished with rare oils and powdered gems. They are usually made as perfect (+2 dice) tools for occultists, and then enchanted with their artifact properties of:

    • Arcane Weaving; the user may spend motes to reduce the resource costs of thaumaturgic rituals on a one-to-one basis rather than at two-to-one. A ritual reduced to resources zero requires no components at all.
    • Thaumaturgical Spell Storing; the user may store the effects of a thaumaturgical ritual or spell, ready to be released with a single word (two ticks, no defense penalties).

    Journeyman’s Seal

    These sizeable amulets are engraved with many arcane runes, and serve to help mortals stabilize and maintain patterns of essence. They can also mount a Hearthstone – although this will require a one-mote essence commitment to activate – if the user is lucky enough to have one.

    • Runebinding: a seal can maintain any two thaumaturgical effects with durations. If dispelled, the effects can be restored reflexively by the expenditure of three motes or one point of willpower.
    • Runewright: Seals can be attuned to produce the effects of any one Major Talisman (one of the ones with “triple effect”), or of one Lesser (one of the ones with “double effect) and one Minor (one of the ones with the basic effect) Talismans, or of three Minor Talismans. Changing the attunement requires three Enchantment successes, rolling once per hour.

    Elemental Athame

    These ceremonial knives are intricately inscribed and ornamented, and are attuned to the mighty powers of the Elemental Dragons. Thanks to this affinity, they are functional geomantic compasses; given a few minutes of meditation upon the elemental forces, they will turn to point to any one of the elemental poles desired. As artifacts they are useful for…

    • Cutting the Threads; the user may spend two motes to reduce the time required to enact a thaumaturgic effect by one level (months to days, days to hours, hours to minutes, or minutes to ticks) or five motes to reduce it by two levels.
    • Piercing the Veil: the user may use Occult to attempt effects that normally require Sciences, but must pay a one-mote surcharge per die of his or her Occult skill that he or she uses in the attempt.

    Sigil of Mastery

    These rings are channels and foci for essence, albeit relatively limited ones. When near powerful sources of essence (high-powered magical creatures, uncapped demesnes, and similar locations) or when a mote of essence is channeled into them, the runes inscribed on them will shimmer with a faint radiance.

    • The Imperishable Flame: They provide the user with two motes per hour to replenish his or her essence pool. Sadly, they are not capable of augmenting an Exalts essence recovery.
    • The Will of the Maker: They allow the user to spend 2 motes in place of a willpower point when working thaumaturgy.

    Mirror of the Essence

    These crystalline mirrors are extremely sensitive to the flows of essence and can be levitated about with a gesture or two by anyone with the Occult skill.

    • Seeing Crystals: Such mirrors provide two bonus dice when used in conjunction with Astrology or Geomancy, and permit the use of divination by crystal-gazing rather than astrology without penalty.
    • The Evocation of the Self: Such mirrors provide mortals (and ONLY mortals) with freely-accessible 12-point essence pools or a similar 12-point bonus on any existing essence pool they may have.

    The five Thaumaturgical Foci all share the same basic artifact design. Since they are made using jade, they also share the usual properties of artifacts; they’re impervious to countermagic, normal wear and tear, and last forever.

    • Powers: 2x Class-A (2). In other words, they’ve only got basic powers. In fact, since they’re designed to be made by thaumaturgists, they offer no charm-class effects at all.
    • Self-Powered Class-A (1): Since no other power exceeds class-A, they have no mote or attunement cost.
    • Usefulness: Occasional (2). These artifacts make characters better thaumaturgists. That can be handy, but it’s never going to match the impact of a charm or major artifact.
    • Plot Impact: None (1). It’s thaumaturgy. It’s just not world-shaping.
    • Script Immunity: Basic (1). If you bought them with background points, you can generally expect to get them back – or get or make replacements – fairly readily if they’re taken away, destroyed, or lost. Of course, since they can be readily made by a skilled thaumaturgist, that’s not too hard.
    • Components: a scrap of Jade and an assortment of rare woods, valuable metals, gems, and herbs. As a resources-3 purchase, this has a net component value of (-2)
    • Troublesome. They require regular skilled thaumaturgical maintenance (simple purification and re-consecration) and are only usable by skilled thaumaturgists with Occult 3+. By exalted standards those are pretty mild requirements, and so are only worth (-1).
    • With a total build cost of four, each of the five items counts as a one-dot artifact. Given that they’re hardly earthshaking, a character can also simply purchase a complete set as a three-dot artifact.

    Wyld Revocation x3 (9).

    • The Tidal Surge: Those within the manse find all normal metabolic needs are met by pure essence. They need no longer eat, drink, or breathe (although they may do so if they wish). Since little details like “blood circulation” are no longer vital to them they are immune to bleeding and double up their base health levels.
    • Multipresence: A resident of the manse may choose to spend a few hours of meditation to transfer their lowest health level into it. Thereafter they’re always considered to be within the manse, as well as wherever they physically are. If they’re killed or otherwise destroyed in any fashion that does not destroy the manse as well, they will reform at the manse as a spirit (unless they were already a ghost, in which case they will reform as a ghost). There is always some unique flaw which can prevent a character from reforming – but the nature of the flaw is usually very difficult to discover. Equally unfortunately, if all the health levels above the one you transferred are gone, your body will die immediately.
    • Thaumic Puissance: The residents magic thaumaturgy is unnaturally potent.
    1. It requires an opposed essence check to dispel it with countermagic. The caster gains +3d against Terrestrial Circle Countermagic, but suffers a 3d penalty against Solar Circle Countermagic.
    2. Residents will find that they can stack one thaumaturgic effect with charms, artifacts, and other sources of power.
    3. It’s cast using the Advanced Thaumaturgy System, whether or not the character would normally have access to that system, and with a +(Conviction) die bonus.

    Traveling the Winding Way – or being initiated by the Hearthstone Bearer – provides a major boost for a mortal thaumaturgist and a moderate one for ANY thaumaturgist. That’s rarely all that vital on Exalted-tier adventures – but it’s VERY useful to the mortals who will be getting the services of those newly-empowered thaumaturgists.

    Fantastic Coinage I – Aventine Drakes, Bordarian Tradesilver, and Morollian Spellcoins

    coins from bosnia, slovenia, hungary, denmark,...

    Can't you just value it in gold pieces?

    Well, since the topic was money, here are a few exotic coinages…

    Aventine Drakes

    Even the darkest evils are sometimes mourned by the pure and innocent. Their tears descend into the infernal realms as sparks of purest light, and are there encysted in layers of infernal force until neutrality is achieved.

    With the luster of pearls surrounding the inner fire of an opal, these Helldrops are considered precious gems – and hold a deep fascination for mortals. Any mortal who can be bribed will evoke a helldrops inner fires (revealing this weakness) if they touch one, can be bribed for half of their usual fee using them, and suffers a -10 penalty on willpower saves to resist any bribe containing them.

    Tiny Helldrops are often set into rings or seals on documents, revealing bribable individuals with a handshake or when those documents are checked. Larger ones are sometimes traded directly, but are more often found set into Drakes, the sizable golden coins of the Aventine Empire. Minted at 20 to the pound, one Drake is worth 50 GP. They’re usually only used in large transactions or to pay for special favors.

    Bordarian Tradesilver

    Minted of silver from the Elidian lode, these 1, 5, and 25 SP bar-coins appear to be contaminated with traces of some more exotic metal. They emit a form of mental “static”. Any sentient creature carrying more then 50 SP worth of Tradesilver is effectively slightly intoxicated. Anyone carrying more then 250 SP worth tends to become very intoxicated, freespending and quite genial, which at least serves to keep the money in circulation and the economy moving. Bankers need to use special magical protections if they want to make a profit.

    Truly large concentrations of Tradesilver create enough mental static to inhibit psionics. Every 10,000 GP worth of refined Tradesilver in a given horde increases the cost of using psionic abilities in a cumulative 20 Ft radius by 1 power point. Thus a treasury containing 10 tons of Tradesilver affects a 200 Ft radius and raises the cost of using psionic abilities by 10 points within that area.

    Morollian Spellcoins

    These exotic coins are produced by Morolli Compaction Engines – enchanted presses which turn potions and oils into clearly-labeled “coins”. While these can still be used as potions by simply being swallowed (or by being crushed between the palms and sprinkled in the case of oils), they are otherwise nearly indestructible – and make excellent coinage. The “face value” is usually 20% more then the base value of the potion used. Unfortunately, the cost of the press – which uses an identification effect and a high-level transmutation effect – is considerable. While their large-scale operation is very profitable for the Morolli government, individuals and smaller groups simply don’t deal in enough volume to pay for a Compaction Engine in any reasonable time. Smaller denominations are achieved by subdividing the initial potion – although you’ll need a full set to use one.

    Eclipsing Currency – Characters and Wealth

    This time it’s the answer to a question:

    How much starting money do starting characters get in Eclipse?

    -Jasper Merendino

    Starting wealth isn’t addressed in detail in Eclipse (mostly being limited to the options of taking the “broke” disadvantage, accepting whatever the default for the game is, and taking “privilege; wealthy”) because the notion of “Wealth” in any given game is so closely tied to the setting and the starting level.

    Thus…

    • In the Players Handbook, the default base for a new character comes out to be about 100 gold pieces – fairly closely matching what you get calculating from wealth-by-level and the “expected wealth by level” tables from the Dungeon Masters Guide that are used to equip higher-level starting characters. For a basic game that’s fair enough. Personally, I tend to go a lot more by background; a newly-adult “barbarian” who’s been exiled form his tribe might start off with the “broke” disadvantage (and almost nothing) – while there’s nothing stopping a rich merchant’s son from getting interested in the martial arts, becoming a “monk”, and taking privilege/wealthy to start off with the finest of normal gear and several servants rather than a miserable 12.5 gold pieces. Of course, if your game happens to be on the silver standard, or is using a more classical medieval price list, adjustments will have to be made.

    Sadly, the real trouble with classical d20 wealth systems is that money in the system doesn’t just buy you political influence, servants, pleasures, and amusements (simply background notes on the character sheet, since the PLAYER doesn’t get much out of that sort of thing). It – whether it gets spent on buying stuff or making it – buys character’s tangible, immediate, personal power in the form of magical items. To fix that, simply make sure that major magical items are not normally available for purchase – and that making them calls for personal quests and sacrifices instead of money.

    • In d20 Modern you have a wealth rating, mostly based on your profession and skills. Given that the rating tends to change a lot, it can simply be assigned by the game master to suit a characters skills and backgrounds; it won’t matter much in the long run; in d20 Modern there isn’t that much in the way of personal power that you can buy.
    • In many settings you’re simply presumed to have a small amount of pocket money – not enough to really worry about – and the equipment to go with your skills and abilities. Thus, if you’re proficient with heavy armor, several weapons, and fighting from horseback you’ll be starting off with heavy armor, several weapons, and a combat-trained horse unless there’s some good reason to presume otherwise (such as some disadvantage that implies a cash shortage). You’re in a cyberpunk world and you’re skilled with computer hacking? You have a good computer. You’re a skilled alchemist? You have a box full of alchemical gear. You’re a smuggler specializing in ships? You probably own a small craft with some hidden compartments – but, since this is pretty expensive, you probably have some big debts and it doubtless desperately needs repairs.

    This is another excellent system actually; it says that starting characters are, by default, equipped to fulfill their role in the party and do whatever they’ve been set up to do. Expensive items can be counterbalanced by debts and disadvantages without going into bothersome (and rather boring) detail. Characters with few skills may either (reasonably enough) start off without much in the way of gear (and likely be presumed to pick some up as their talents improve) or may (if “balance” is deemed vital) start off with a little extra cash.

    • In The Practical Enchanter characters simply have wealth levels – and the first few levels have enough advantages and disadvantages to make allowing a free choice reasonable enough. The Twilight Isles Setting has assigned starting at the various levels character point costs however, since it allows characters to start with rather high levels of wealth. In either case this works because the system pretty much does away with “ordinary” magical items in favor of minor charms and talismans (common magic) and occasional powerful relics (extraordinary items out of legend).
    • In the Federation-Apocalypse Setting wealth is a skill – which is arguably as accurate a way to represent it as most others. Otherwise “how to manage your money” wouldn’t be important. This works in that setting because – when you’re routinely hopping from role to role across a myriad dimensions with different natural laws, and trading most of your equipment in with each role, that nifty item you bought at your last stop is likely to be useless junk as soon as you move on.
    • In a “tribal primitives” game “wealth” may break down into; “you have plenty of food, skins, stone tools, a good spear and a spot nearer the fire” versus “Enough of those things” and “You’re usually a bit hungry and cold” – and the levels get even closer together if the tribe happens to be nomadic and “wealth” defaults to “what you can carry”.
    • In a “secret agents” game (or one of planetary exploration, or a world war two game, or any other setting where you’re commonly being sent on missions by an employer), “wealth” may be pretty much irrelevant. While the characters may have a few personal items in their packs, for the most part they’re going to to be issued whatever gear their patron thinks is appropriate to the mission. Sure, the labs may throw in a few special toys for ace agents like Mr James Bond – but that will depend on you’re the characters personal connections and rank in the patron agency (go ahead, buy “Privilege” to represent that and get some more neat toys).
    • In a “Conan” style game, wealth may be a handful of precious stones and other items to barter – and simply serves as a crude measure of how long you can keep drinking, chasing sexual partners, and partying before you have to go and find another treasure horde.

    In game terms, that may mean that your downtime may go something like “OK, last time you escaped with the fabulous jewels of the Temple of the Naga! Two months later, you’ve spent the last few coins paying off he witch doctor who treated that embarrassing STD you picked up in the first months partying, you think you’ve got at least six kids on the way with various partners, you own a fine new warhorse, you’ve had your sword sharpened, you’ve got two weeks of rations, and you won this new treasure map in last evenings gambling… Now what?”

    • In other settings, “Wealth” may be nothing more than a background note. You may possess great wealth – wide fields of yams, many cattle, slaves born in your household to tend the fields and the cattle, a dozen wives, and twenty children – but the fact that your sword-hilt is set with gems and your shield is beautifully painted while your poor neighbor had to borrow a sword and an unpainted hide shield to go adventuring with may mean little or nothing in terms of the game.

    Eclipse – the Darkling Template (+2 ECL)

    Magic can cause very strange deaths.

    And spirits… spirits cling to life.

    Every so often, when a creature is slain by shadow magic, the same power that destroys it’s physical body touches it’s spirit – allowing it to pass into it’s bodies shadow, rather than departing for the Outer Planes.

    As the body decays, and it’s shadow fades, most such unfortunates lose their grips. Their minds decay, their poorly-contained life-force fades away, and the power of the true darkness – never far from the Shadow Plane – enters in it’s place.

    They rise as Shadows, mindless and formless horrors that exist but to kill and feed.

    A rare few, however, manage to retain their minds and their vital force. Over time they learn to draw the stuff of shadow about themselves – to re-emerge into the material world as Darklings – the spawn of shadows.

    Here we have a minor special request – a template for a darkness-infused creature with a fair amount of shadow magic.

    Darkling (Creature) (83 CP / +2 ECL):

    • Attribute Shift (8 CP): Str -2, Cha -2, Dex +4. Corrupted/When exposed to direct sunlight a Darkling takes a -2 penalty on attack rolls.
    • Amorphous (6 CP): Darklings have no real form. They cannot be flanked and can flow through cracks.
    • Extra Limbs (6 CP): Darklings have assorted tendrils of darkness, which serve as additional legs and crude manipulative tentacles. They gain a +10 bonus on their ground movement rate and can carry more stuff.
    • Returning (6 CP): As extradimensional creatures of shadow, Darklings will return within a few weeks after being “killed” – unless they’re destroyed by light-based effects or their access to the plane of shadow is cut off at the time they’re slain.
    • No Constitution Score (0 CP): A darkling’s body is a construct of shadow, and is not truly alive. It does not need to eat, drink, breathe, or sleep, never tires or sleeps, and is immune to ability damage and drain, energy drain, and effects requiring fortitude saves that do not work on objects. They – or at least their bodies – are, however, instantly destroyed at 0 HP.
    • Occult Sense/Dark Tendrils (6 CP). Darklings can sense anything within thirty feet which is in darkness or shadow, including the first six inches of the internal structure of objects. This makes them hard to sneak up on and provides a +4 bonus to appropriate checks – such as Pick Pockets and Open Locks.
    • Presence (6 CP), Specialized (for double effect)/does not work in daylight or brightly illuminated areas, requires the presence of shadows. This ability weaves misdirecting shadows around the user and any nearby companions, with the effect of a Blur spell.
    • Universal DR 8, Specialized/does not work in areas of bright illumination, against brilliant energy weapons, light-based attacks, Corrupted/When exposed to direct sunlight a Darkling takes a -2 penalty on saving throws (8 CP). Being made of shadows and illusions does have some advantages; a substantial portion of any attack tends to pass through.
    • Channeling, Specialized in Spell Conversion (to Shadow Magic Spells only, 1 CP).
    • Spell Conversion to a level six Greater Invocation/“Any Shadow Spell Effect of level four or less”, Specialized/Will not work in full daylight or brilliantly-illuminated areas, cannot produce effects more than one level above those appropriate to the user’s level, user frightens natural animals, giving the user a -6 penalty on Handle Animal, Ride, attempts to evade their notice, and to any similar checks (6 CP).
    • +15 Bonus Uses of Channeling, Specialized and Corrupted / only for Spell Conversion, only allows the use of a total of four first, four second (or below), four third (or below), and four fourth (or below) effects per day, the user is afflicted with light blindness (the user is automatically flashblinded on the first round of exposure to bright lights, and dazzled as long as he or she remains exposed to bright light thereafter) (8 CP).
    • Reflex Training/Extra actions per day variant (6 CP), Specialized for double effect/only for the use of channeling, only for the creation of personal effects (movement, defenses, etc).
    • Adept (6 CP): Darklings pay only half cost to buy Escape Artist, Hide, Intimidate, and Move Silently.
    • Darklings enjoy a +4 racial bonus on all four of their Adept skills (8 CP).

    At 83 CP, Darklings are roughly in the middle of +2 ECL territory – but vary drastically in effectiveness. Outside, in the daytime? Virtually none of their special abilities will work. In the shadows or at night? They’re quite powerful.

    The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice Part XXVIII – Speculations on the Coming Darkness

    Sirmione castello scaligero di notte

    No, that's not really what I had in mind! It IS nice though...

    Aden was, as yet, a relatively small world – but it was beautiful, and welcoming, and supportive.

    It was also humming with power and activity, with thirty-odd major manses generating their guardians (of various types), and those guardians staffing the existing manses, bringing lesser manses online, and setting up additional features of the world.

    Lord Richof was… impressed, and a bit worried. Repair was one thing, but the wholesale construction of manses? In months? Historically most Solars had been… well, focused on their own glory, not on… meddling with the fundamental structure of their Souls and Essence and Creation. Of course, historically they had never been children either…

    What had Lytek DONE? Was it possible for even a Twilight Caste Solar to… build HIMSELF into a Primordial? And would there be a difference in the end between a faux Primordial and a “real” one? Admittedly, the universe could probably use the “Primordial of Helpfulness and Fixing Things” – but Charles was only a child (even if an incredibly precocious one). Was he even thinking about the future implications of what he was doing, or was he just caught up in childish enthusiasm and his desire to be helpful?

    Still… even unfinished, the place was quite an accomplishment! Well worth a little sightseeing!

    (Charles) “I haven’t really had time to finish up yet! But a few areas are done!”

    (Richof) “It’s a good try, if I do say so. Now where shall we attempt the geomancy?”

    (Charles) “Well, the demesne I set up is a few miles over that way and fairly deep down – so we can take the subway!”

    (Richof) “Subway? I do hope it’s nothing like the Malfean subways!” (He winked, clearly kidding.)

    (Charles) “I don’t think so! I’ve never used any of those gates!”

    Oh dear! His grandson had access to Malfean Gates?

    Oh. The way he was building manses… He probably had gates to all kinds of places. Knowing him, probably at least one to every aspect of creation and a few that had been intentionally created to lead to places that no one had ever heard of.

    (Richof) “And I hope you never have to at all, my boy. Please, show me to this subway.”

    It was clear enough that the boy was practically bursting with the need to show off a bit. A lot like… a normal mortal child and his new lego castle. “Look-at-what-I’ve-built! Isn’t-it-great!?”

    The Wyld areas were a bit of a concern though. Was it really wise to keep those at the center of your mind? Had he been more influenced by that weird adventure of his at the pyramid than he’d thought? Or was it just… a child’s imagination writ large?

    He’d have to do some reasearch on this later on. In the meantime, he’d indulge the boys blatant desire to play tour-guide for a bit!

    Charles did, indeed, indulge in a bit of that – pointing out his neater wonders, ventures, and designs along the way.

    The cavern that had been designed to focus Nocturnal Essence was buried deep beneath a small range of mountains, an echoing place of obsidian in subtle rainbows, of crystal, and of faint stars that burned to essence-sight alone. The demesne… seemed to twist away, evading easy detection yet beckoning one to take any of ten thousand paths through it’s winding ways. The essence-patterns that had formed on it’s floor were potential runes, yet incomplete – a walking-maze of thaumatugy that was completed and empowered… only when someone picked out a path through it.

    Charles considered the potentialities and the ways in which a manse might be made to fit – yet each possible design excluded so many others and became less RIGHT as more details were added…

    Ah. It needed to change, to embody a thousand possibilities and none at the same time. Always in potential, never ultimately realized.

    This was going to be tricky!

    Charles went all-out on the project – combining all his powers, charms, enhancements, and boosting devices to get the design right, to see what powers fit in with Nocturnal Essence, and to make it – to some extent – self-explaining.

    Lord Richof watched with fascination… His grandsons power and skill were indeed worth of the legends of the Solar Exalts – but the effects of the demesne were equally fascinating! Instead of the usual glow of manipulated essence, the cavern now shone with… a thousand colors of darkness, far deeper than black. A thousand gulfs seemed to open, beckoning, each a mutually-exclusive path into the unknown.

    Was nocturnal essence even a normal part of the universe?

    Charles mused… the favored powers were… somewhat similar to Sidereal Manses: Outside of Fate and Wyld Revocation. Yet this Essence also seemed amicable to Dynamic Architecture and Alternative Locations. He could see images of ziggurats, towers, high ceilings and balconies, and decor that reminded him of the nicest of… casinos… when he thought of the Manse that he was caling into being.

    It was not easy Essence to work with. In fact… something seemed to be actively resisting his manipulations.

    Still, there was an unknown power waiting to be unleashed here in a Manse, a mystery to be explored!

    Charles focused his power, and drove onwards. Gramps needed some information! If it went wrong, well… he could probably take it apart and start again, if he had to unshape it.

    It was an intricate balancing act, as the Essence of the demesne was ever-shifting – and into some very strange places indeed.

    His coatl aides threw in some boosting spells from his stored supply.

    It was enough to drive on through, despite the massive build up of resistance.

    It felt… as if something was watching him. Not hostile – but it definitely did not want this to happen! He could feel something intangible in him twisting, and his concentration fogged, even beyond the lack of sleep.

    Eventually, however, he prevailed. The manse rose – and expressed some of the power and natura of Nocturnal Essence in it’s structure.

    (Charles) “Hrm… Something REALLY didn’t want that to happen! That was hard!”

    Whatever-it-was seemed to be expressing those objections now… The trouble was that he couldn’t understand a bit of what the voice in his head was saying.

    It did sound rather sad and worried though!

    Well, they could always power the place down again. They only wanted to get a good look at the stuff while it was in a manse and so couldn’t slip away so easily!

    He described all of that to Gramps!

    (Richof, looking quite interested.) “I had heard reports of the Nocturnals hearing voices, but it was always a young girl.”

    They went to have a look! Charles had been letting the Nocturnal Essence express itself a bit, so far all Charles knew it was indeed “full of stars”!

    Instead it seemed to be… a luxury hotel-casino (?) – but not like one you’d see on Earth. It reminded Charles of one of Plentimon’s casinos in Yu Shan, with its characteristic architecture.

    It looked like… one of it’s basic powers was that charms and other abilities that granted automatic successes, or caused automatic failures, would not function within the manse unless there was an element of chance to their activation.

    Interesting! An essence of… uncertainty? Oh!

    (Charles) “Ah. No wonder it’s so delicate. The unshaped stuff of fate, futures and probabilities. If you bind it too closely, it will become sidereal aspected – but on it’s own it doesn’t truly exist. I’d say that it doesn’t WANT to be channeled down into fixed reality. It’s… the space between the threads of the loom, strongest where nothing acts, is acting, or is likely to act – such as in the empty parts of the universe.”

    The voice in Charles’s head burbled contentedly.

    (Richof) “Understandable, then. Perhaps that’s why they seem like two sides of the same coin.”

    (Charles, speculatively) “The voice… The voice of Nox, weaving – or perhaps unweaving – the shadow loom from the future into the past? That would explain the uncertain existence and the artifacts from the future.”

    (Richof) “Few know of that name, my boy. I… am surprised you do.”

    (Charles, still abstractedly) “Those two sides of existence should really never meet though; The Unweaving should – in the beginning – unmake the Shinma and the Primoridials, which everyone else sees as their creation. In the interplay… the time of cascading years. was a minor thing… It should cycle through all possible variants in the end! The Nocturnals may be… being pulled away from existence in the loom. That would explain the forgetting… but if that’s what’s going on, they can only be here if there’s some truly major disruption in the loom coming up!… Unless I’m completely off the track somewhere of course, which is certainly possible! There’s an AWFUL lot of pure guesswork in there!”

    Hm… If Exaltations were fixed points in reality, then Anti-Exaltations would exist in flux. They would be very adaptable! That might be why the Nocturnal Exaltations seemed to accommodate pre-existing powers and preferred already-empowered individuals!

    OK, there was very little data to support all that, but he’d bet that there was at least a grain of truth in all that speculation! And it suggested new paths of experimentation!

    (Richof) “Indeed my boy! That’s part of the fun of science and sorcery!”

    Charles considered – and gently probed. Manses were at least quasi-living… Did it “want” to be shut down? Or to be allowed to change into Sidereal Essence?

    At that thought, the voice in his head sighed, stopped for a moment, and made a vaguely approving noise.

    Well… Charles made sure he had a good scan of the place, and a glimpse of how it worked, and knew what the hearthstone would have been when it manifested – and let it change into a Sidereal Manse.

    Who knew? If Sidereal Essence flowed into the future, and Nocturnal Essence flowed back… perhaps leaving hte manse operating would have created a closed loop – and as time progressed towards the inevitable breakdown moment, the essence would have been concentrated until the power-charge caused it’s OWN failure in a real catastrophe!

    Federation-Apocalypse Session 191b – Debates and Discussions

    Power

    Don't be an idiot! LET HIM IN!

    Back with the Rats and Mice of NIMH there were a lot of workers and materials heading to the surface – accompanied by tantalizing rumors about a bunch of really powerful mages running about the city, assisting the defense, granting people magical power, and using weirdly powerful children and pets as a personal guard. With those rumors running rampant, the locals were now recognizing the bunch of them on the streets – and there was talk of the Colony Council holding a special session in response to the attack and their arrival. Rumors associating them with that massive explosion in the swamp as a possible blowing up a minor obstacle in their path were probably the most dramatic… People were also wondering if all the locals in this realm had this kind of power.

    The well-known answer of course was “no” (and that even the foreign master mages were more than a bit appalled) – but when had truthful-but-boring details like that ever stopped a juicy rumor?

    (Marty, sighing) “I guess we’re going to have to explain things… and the party was just getting good too.”

    More interestingly, they were now generating quite the crowd wherever they went! There were people watching them warily, others wanting to ask questions, some trying to keep the others from annoying them too much, and still others wanting to pester them will all sorts of nonsense!

    Kevin cheerily played to the crowd. Core was no fun at all that way! Everyone there was too polite and well-informed and untrusting of rumor. Just as bad, in worlds where the people really accepted that there were massive power differentials between them and others, few of them had the nerve to stand up and pester the mighty!

    Marty and Raphael, meanwhile fielded questions – while Raphael kept up his new hobby of improving a nice swath where he was walking by.

    (Questioner) “So what brings you to our colony? Do these plant attacks foretell some great danger that threatens us all?”

    (Marty) “Well, I don’t know. We were just looking around while we were ashore and heard about your city. So we decided to check things out.”

    (Questioner #2) “Are the locals really a bunch of people that believe the one with the greatest power is the one that has a right to decide how others behave? No sense of equality or rights?”

    (Questioner #3, pointing to Raphael) “How is he doing that?”

    (Kevin) “Nah, they’re just realists! When there are major, innate, inequalities of power, the ones with the most power do have a bigger say in things! You do the same thing of course… You listen to the people with the best oratorical skills, or advanced degrees, and so on. You come closer to equality because the power disparities are smaller in your world! I, of course, hand out equal quantities of personal power to all my followers, which makes me extremely subversive of most social orders!”

    (Questioner #2) “So are you here then to subvert our order by giving everyone the power to blow holes in the swamp? How does one build a functioning society with that?”

    (Bystander) “Don’t annoy the powerful mage! He might blow us up next!”

    (Raphael, to Questioner #3 who was pointing at him) “Doing what?”

    As he reinforced and straightened a crooked door while improving the wood.

    (Kevin, to Questioner #2) “By not doing it! After all, everyone here has the power to start a fire, or poison the water supply, or stab someone else. How is that really different?”

    There were blank looks from those talking to Kevin. Evidently they thought that a fireball was – somehow – fundamentally different from a knife. They should see Marty using one!

    (Questioner #3 to Raphael) “All the stuff around looks better as you move around! It’s centered on you! How are you doing that?”

    (Rapheal to Questioner #3) “Oh, I just told my assemblers to fix stuff up. I should probably move to the other side before they have time to pull dimond out of the air to replace windows with. People get upset when that happens for some reason.”

    (Questioner #2 to Kevin) “Well yes, but we have a series of laws and rules in place with people trained and employed to enforce them by society as a whole. It is the implicit threat of the anger of the majority and the enticements of belonging to the better protected and more productive collective that provides the carrot and stick needed for society to function. If a mere child can stand on a hill and destroy a city before any of the mages can respond, how does that lead to a better society?”

    (Questioner #3 to Raphael) “Wait, what, like nanoassemblers? I thought this was a magical place? Or is nanotech so fantastic to be considered magic here?”

    (Raphael, to Questioner #3) “Oh, you can sneak it in in many places! Other places it simply converts to something that does work, like raw magic. Those that don’t I have to change the rules to allow it, but that is not that hard these days.”

    (Questioner #4, to Marty) “If a child can create holes like what the reports say, why haven’t the locals all gone extinct?”

    (Kevin, to Questioner #2) “Kind of helps develop politeness and fairness doesn’t it? Although, of course, you have a basic error there! The important part is a balance of personal power, not how much people have! Society functions because people need each other – not because of force. It goes back to small tribes, where force didn’t work because there was endless wilderness to depart into and the specializations were so small that a handful of people could handle all of them!”

    (Marty, to Questioner #4) “And the kid wasn’t a local. He was with us. The local magic is much less powerful than what Angkor there can give out. It can get there, but that takes a lot of dedication.”

    (Questioner #2, to Kevin) “That may develop politeness to any particular mage able to destroy cities, but doesn’t do anything regarding the ones that love to do that sort of thing for the laughs. At least as violent as humans are, their ability to destroy cities is highly limited to having special weaponry that takes a society to build. These children of yours are utterly dependent on you keeping an eye on them to keep them from accidently blowing up our city.”

    (Kevin, to Questioner #2) “That isn’t strictly true of course – their offensive powers are more limited than you think, and their defensive powers are as good or better – so having more of them around tends to result in less trouble, not more. Still, they are powerful, which is one reason why they’re rendered inherently obedient for the duration of their indentures! Secondarily… humans aren’t limited that way at all! As technology increases, city-destroying weapons become things that individuals – and children – can build in a garage… It’s survivable though!”

    (Raphael, to Questioner #2) “That’s why you have abjuration. It stops cities from blowing up.”

    (Marty, to Questioner #2) “And around here, Wards Major, speaking of abjurations.”

    (Older rat) “Yes, and I think I’ve heard a number of humans claim that “I was only following orders” gave them excuses to commit atrocities.”

    (Questioner #2 to Raphe) Are these the “wards” and “shields” I’ve heard the mages speak of?

    (Kevin, to the Older Rat) “People do claim that! It’s not really an acceptable excuse though when they have free will! The kids, however, have a lot less of that until their indenture is over; for them it WOULD be a valid excuse – which means that the blame would fall on whoever they had been assigned to obey. If that assignment was an error, it would ultimately be my fault…”

    (Young woman to Raphael) “Can abjurations stop the flowers and protect us from other cities?”

    Marty frantically clapped his hands over Kevin’s ears as someone asked for defenses! After the last time, he didn’t want to see what Kevin did for an actual city…

    (Raphael to Young Woman) “Depends on who you are listening to. Wards Major or just Wards around here are city wide enchantments of great power that can do many things from defense to improving a city. Shields can refer to many things around here and more in other places.”

    (Older Rat) “Quite right, and here you have a number of children that have been given power that would ordinarily take a small army to match. You claim that their obedience to you is sufficient to keep them in check. I take it you have never had to deal with people in positions of power with boundless enthusiasm and a total lack of sense?”

    (Young Woman to Raphael) “Alright, can we be taught how to build one? I can assure you our manufacturing abilities exceed anything the locals can do and we’re avid learners of new skills.”

    Marty was still holding his hands over Kevin’s ears…

    (Kevin) “Nope! I claim that they are personally much safer this way – and that they do a lot more good than harm. Yes, they may get over-enthused – but they’re doing things personally, instead of through a system of underlings, and that keeps the feedback prompt and fresh!

    (Older Rat) “Ah, I think I see now. Forget I said anything then.”

    Kevin cheerily give the older rat a brochure on the rescue services, disaster relief services, and so on.

    (Kevin) “So far we’re ahead roughly… two thousand rescues for each foul-up with some millions of my Thralls operating in the Manifold. I think that speaks for itself!”

    (Raphael to Young Woman) “There really isn’t that much physical to make for a ward like that. It mostly takes magical power some training and time to make one… I can train some of that, but I can’t really stay long enough to make a ward. I might be able to set up something that temporarilly mimics it and leave a starter kit for a local mage’s guild behind that could get it all done with the help of volenteers who train for it, but I would need some place to put it, zenni, and volenteers to start.”

    (Young Woman, to Raphael) “Alright, how much space do you need, how many zenni do you think it will take, and how many volunteers do you need? And would there be anyone outside the city that you would like to hire and bring in to assist in that?”

    (Older Rat) “I see… Well I can tell this is a very nice brochure and that you’ve put a lot of work into it and your services.”

    (Kevin, to the Young Woman – and pointing to one of his currently four-legged dogs) “Oh Feanor here can do a Ward Major! It would take a city-wide festival, and will leave everyone tired for a couple of days.”

    Argh! Kevin had wriggled free!

    (Kevin) “Raphael is up for the Heartstone I think…”

    It was hard to deafen somone wearing Smartclothes!

    Marty grumbled to himself. Ah well.

    (Young Woman to Kevin) “I think we would rather learn how to that ourselves thank you very much. I appreciate your offer though, but if we are to keep our independence and right to self-determination, then we can’t continually rely on the kindness of others and have to learn how to do that ourselves. (She glanced at Feanor – the dog) I would like to think that if a…. pet can do it, then an industrious people like ourselves can manage. Even if it is a godling’s pet and we are humble rodents.”

    (Raphael, sighing) “Well at least he is doing it a safer way this time. … I was hoping to leave without him trying some large half controlled public works project that was thought up and made in a day instead of planned for years.” (To the audience) “I will happily leave everything you need to learn how to do it youself.”

    (Young Woman to Raphael) “I would very much appreciate that.”

    (Kevin to Young Woman) “Oh you certainly can! It will simply take a lot longer, and a lot of generations will die along the way. Whether that is worth it in the long run… is up to the people involved. Accepting my aid is always – necessarily – purely voluntary. I don’t try to make that choice for other people. Some may feel it’s worth it. Others… will feel there are far worse fates than entering my service. Fortunately, the paths are not mutually exclusive. Those who would choose to come to me… will find it in their power to do so. Those who do not wish to do so, will pass on to new lives, and may continue to build.”

    (Raphael) “I think it might be best to leave the decision of that defenses and aid we do or do not leave behind up to your leaders – since it is going to be important for quite a while. Wards Major are hard to take down and redesign.”

    Kevin considered a moment… Differing axioms perhaps? He seemed to have run into people with strong convictions about human rights and self-determination! If that older rat, or someone like him, had the final vote in the colony council, the rats and mice of NIMH might not want any help… That wouldn’t entirely stop things of course – especially since there were bound to be some who would want his help in preference to their current situations – but it would certainly slow it up, and he wouldn’t be pushing it either; he was a guest! On the other hand, he would – of course – make sure that anyone who would want to make that choice out of desperation got the chance. There was always a trickle; the want-to-work-for-Kevin boosts were fairly dramatic – and it was a decision that could be made up until a few hours before dying; all you needed was a bit of time for the soul-dedication ritual.

    Still, it was a nice change to meet some people who were independent, industrious, and noble. Those were very admirable qualities that were – sadly – more common and less compromised in fictional worlds than in Core or with the humans born there. He hadn’t gotten much of any recruits last time either, not that they’d spent any time looking. They might not be able to stop it entirely – but they certainly didn’t have to endorse it!

    Even if it did seem to be true that the Thralls did a LOT more good than harm out there).

    Raphael had to agree – they did seem to do a lot of good – and hopefully the new link to real comunications for all of them would improve that ratio even more with easy training and passing of horror stories of how it went wrong – and more disciplinary action as the foul-up reports got passed along.

    That seemed like enough controversy and mischief and meddling for awhile!

    Except, perhaps, to discover if there was a reason why the Innkeeper was so hostile…

    Wait! Kevin decided to just ask Raphael to find out! He was a master diviner! Maybe her kids were carried off by local slave-traders, or necromancers, or some such! It would be really entertaining to send some Thralls to rescue them!

    Kevin looked expectantly at Raphael…Surely he could trivially find out pretty much anything! The puppies helped him look with big begging eyes too!

    Raphael was willing… because it was more amusing than walking over and asking a question… and because Dreadpuddle could now whisper in the back of his head full time.

    Marty wondered why they weren’t just aren’t asking her – but then she had been pretty mad.

    Raphael launched an immensely powerful mind-probing effect, rather than trying to pull the information out of the cosmos.

    Fortunately she didn’t really know how to use the Witchcraft Kevin had given her yet.

    Kevin and Marty just listened in with their own telepathy – and the “converstation” got very confused.

    (Raphael) “Why were you so hostile to Angkor?”

    Kevin groaned. He KNEW that one! “I didn’t like the way he was treating those kids!”

    (Spell) “Children should be loved and treated with respect, not like pets.”

    (Raphael) “What convinced you that he was treating them like pets?”

    Kevin, still cranky, figured they knew that one too! The staff had reported them sleeping on doggy beds, wearing nothing but collars, neutered, and being taught stupid pet tricks.

    (Spell) “Finding them in the room sleeping like pet dogs on a doggy bed while still able to talk and……”

    Kevin then abruptly realized that they were probably test questions. No doubt the interesting stuff would be coming up!

    (Raphael) “Why is that more important than paying customers who are vastly over paying?”

    (Kevin) Perhaps “Why did you react so much more strongly than most citizens of the city?” or “What special reasons do you have to be concerned with the treatment of children?”)

    (Spell) “There are things that money simply cannot buy, and cannot be excused simply because one is rich and powerful.”

    Raphael threw in Kevin’s questions.

    (Spell) “She reacted much more strongly than the others simply because she is a bit more…. obsessed and fanatical with regard to children than the others. She’s been working towards setting up an orphanage. As for special reasons for being concerned with the treatment of children, she believes quite strongly in the roles of parents and adults in guiding them.”

    (Raphael) “Why do you believe so strongly about the treatment of children?”

    (Spell) “Fond memories of her own parents, horror at the deaths of her nieces and nephews at the hands of her sister, and a personal vow to not let that be a stain on her family.”

    (Kevin) “Aw. That might be partially fixable if some of them were phantasms – which is fairly likely if they were killed that way. People with souls have a strong tendency to escape such things.”

    (Raphael) “When did your nieces and nephews get killed?”

    (Marty) Hmm. And ask why the sister did it, too. It might not matter, but then it might.

    (Spell) “Four months ago, shortly after the colony was attacked by a group of chameleons and undead horrors that had tried to flood the place and collapse it.”

    (Raphael) “Why did she kill them?”

    (Kevin) Now there’s the rub… She has no way of knowing if some or all of them were Phantasms.

    (Spell) “She apparently decided it was a mistake to have children in such a wild and dangerous world and took the….. “humane” route out of things. The guards had found her after she had finished with the last child and was about to start on herself. Afterwards she told the guards that the terrible visions of what was to come and befall the colony would only worsen. Lots of horrific of doom and disaster stuff.”

    (Marty) Eep!

    (Kevin) Definitely messy!

    (Raphael) “What happened to her?”

    (Kevin) Exiled and presumed dead perhaps?

    (Spell) The trial determined that the cause was insanity as opposed to criminal intent. She was restrained, imprisoned, and the colony attempted psychological counseling as her condition worsened. Currently still in confinement with the psychologists refusing to go near her and the guards only stopping by to give meals and clean.

    (Kevin) Also trouble. I fear that finding out if they were phantasms will be a job for straight divination – or experimentation.

    (Marty) “Why don’t you have children?” might be a good one! Wait! I have another one! “Do you think your sister is a danger to the community?”

    (Spell) She doesn’t have her own children due to infertility issues. She also believes that something is fundamentally wrong with her sister and that in her current state the sister now represents a threat to the colony as a whole.

    (Kevin) “Why does she believe that her sister is a menace to the colony?”

    After all, unless she’d developed supernatural powers she probably wasn’t a big menace from a cell!

    (Spell) Her figure has become gaunt and emaciated, her eyes seem to glow with a soft white light, the smell of rot surrounds her, and her voice has developed a disturbing echo to it. The nearby area seems to radiate a good deal of malice and madness with the doctors reporting visions of their own when near her. Part of the reason why the colony had hired mages to come to the city was to let them have a look at her. The city has been trying to keep the whole thing quiet though.

    (Marty) Well! That’s definitely not good. Do you suppose she’s acquired some kind of power package, or is possessed?

    (Kevin) Ritual sacrifice of her children?… Oh blast!

    He checked Kadia to see if they’d turned up there due to an offering ritual because she had some really warped ideas about what her “dark god” truly wanted! The endowment package provides quite a lot of power by the local standards! That would be REALLY awkward to explain! It could just be warped information from the Thralls managing Yellowstone – if there was anything to the theory at all.

    Marty had another thought… If this was because of Dr. Brenner, he WOULD have his avatar in the Linear Realms concentrate on getting him, and good!

    They weren’t in Kadia.

    OK… Partially possessed by Chameleons perhaps? Possibly using a ritual death-powered totem forged using spirits that were going to this city anyway, and so were focused on it? Realms like this did tend to go in for side-quests… Chekhov’s Skulls would be an interesting variant on the trope if there ever was one!

    (Raphael) It sounds like they might not have stopped her from killing herself.

    Since on one else was suggesting any more questions, Raphael ended his spell. It didn’t seem too likely that the Innkeeper knew much more; it was likely that the rest of the important information was in the mental ward.

    Marty had to agree there.

    Kevin, impatient as always, and seeing that Raphael hadn’t immediately started a spell to check on whether or not the kids had been phantasms, went ahead and tried summoning them… That would only work on any that had been phantasms of course – but that in itself was information. Presumably there were a fair number of phantasms in NIMH’s world, and phantasms were EASY. They’d just be dissipated and need a little rebuilding – or they might be caught somewhere like Arxus had been.

    He could edit things a bit to stabilize them later if need be; that would be a pretty small tweak!

    Now if they’d been ensouled… It probably just wouldn’t work. It would take a much higher level spell than anything he was doing to find a soul out in the Manifold and drag it back – while if they were still around, something was holding them (and it would be good to know that) – and all they’d have to do would be to find it, and after that a resurrection would be fairly easy!

    As usual, he poured massive energies into the spell. “Subtlety” was not his thing when it came to magic.

    That resulted in four young children appearing in front of them – all looking more than a bit frightened and scared.

    It also resulted in Kevin learning that the remaining two children had indeed been ensouled and that their souls were still in this realm – bound somewhere relatively nearby.

    Kevin frowned… That was most likely to their crazy Mother… The old “Hag who Consumes her own Children” gag worked through a perversion of the mother-child soul-bond; it was the easiest form of soul-anchoring in existence – and perhaps the most destructive and maddening. It added unspeakable betrayal of trust, and of potential, and of responsibility to the exploitation of a soul-bond given by one too young to make an informed choice. It wasn’t like a powerful parent channeling power through the link to push their kids into being heroes, it was a way of draining them so that they remained too weak and unconscious to escape.

    At least it wasn’t the “eat them before they’re born” variant that gives rise to the Vagina Dentata myth. That was about the only way to make “eating your children” even nastier.

    With that, the party finally abandoned the private links…

    (Kevin) “Hello kids! Don’t be scared, you’re fine!”

    (Children) “Where’s mommy? Why was she hurting us? What’s going on? Who are you? Are you going to eat us? Why was mommy acting so strange? Did we do something wrong?”

    (Kevin) “Oh mommy was just a little ill… She won’t be hurting you any more! I’m Angkor, and I meddle with things a lot! I don’t eat kids, You didn’t do anything wrong, and you may be staying with your aunt for a bit! This is Marty! And Raphael, and Limey, and…”

    There were various other introductions.

    (Marty) “Hi kids!”

    There were many questions and much crying – but there were also lots of soothing witchcraft projections, and that calmed things down considerably.

    Raphael did a little groaning about “throwing vast power into reckless meddling” – but he could hardly blame him this time.

    Oh dear! They were still standing around in one of the main public squares after spending a minute or so in telepathic consultation – and then performing a spontaneous group resurrection…

    The Colony Council was going to have a LOT to discuss.

    Federation-Apocalypse Session 191a – The Many Worlds Apotheosis

    Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbili...

    Not the most rational of debating opponents!

    Back in Core, Mr Anvari was researching legal options, in preparation for barging into Kadia and confronting Kevin. All that little bastard’s personal power wouldn’t matter a bit in the face of a court order! The lawyers weren’t too promising about direct suits – some jurisdictional nonsense, as if there was any question as to whether or not core law took precedence – but if worst came to worst, he could surely get him on false advertising! That was definitely going on in Core! At least half of what Kevin promised was obvious baloney! His sons would NEVER have accepted a contract that said that they were property, or that their new “owner” was entitled to turn them into dogs if they’d understood what they were getting into!

    There were several groups who were willing to fund the attempt and provide some backing, and it hadn’t even taken much research to find them! At least SOME people were still clear-headed enough to see what a menace this “Kevin” creature was to the entire human race! Humans should not be fucking around with the Manifold and it’s powers until after they were dead!

    Come to think of it, he’d be doing the little bastard a favor if he dragged him back out of his little fantasy-world and got him treated in Core! It was pretty obvious that he’d been possessed by something pretty nasty out of some horror novel!

    At least SOME people knew how urgent this was! He’d probably be ready inside of a week!

    Sadly, Kevin, the dread Demon God, had a terrible fate ready to inflict upon his enemies!

    MANDATORY PSYCHOTHERAPY!

    No! Not the inkblots!

    Mu-Ha-Ha!

    So, Mr Anvari! Tell me about your father!? Was he… Anakin Skywalker?… No, sorry, sorry, that’s another patient…

    Meanwhile, the fleet captain was mulling over whether it might not be best to somehow try to escape – to sail off and take their chances without an erratic wish-granting deity and his insane companions aboard. Of course, half his crew was made up of fanatical Thralls belonging to that erratic entity, and the entire bunch would probably just appear onboard if they DID manage to deal with that hassle and get away…

    It might not be practical – in fact, it might not even be desirable, given how helpful the groups powers had been – but it would have made his headache so much better. He could still hear those horrible “bagpipe” things now…

    Wait a minute!

    (Captain) “PUT THOSE HORRIBLE THINGS AWAY! I DON’T CARE IF YOU DID LIKE IT! AT LEAST WAIT UNTIL YOU CAN FIND SOMEONE TO TEACH YOU TO PLAY!”

    Meanwhile, the enormous energies seething around Kevin were looking for an outlet… Godfire was not a quiescent thing, willing to wait around untapped and unused… At least not once it started approaching the limit Kevin could stabilize. It WOULD express itself – even if Kevin felt that he had enough contending power sources to handle NOW and was refusing to learn to use it.

    Some had already poured itself onto Marty, starting him on his own path to power.

    More took that route – but some infused itself into Raphael…

    Raphael, however, violently rejected divinity. He wasn’t going that route – becoming subject to endless demands from followers and worshipers – unless someone dragged him into it with a Death Star scale tractor beam!

    He had, however, been wishing that he could keep a better eye on Kevin and Marty when they were off fooling around in other dimensions – and he had told the Thralls, reality-editors all (if weak ones) that he was traveling with Kevin and Marty.

    That could be granted – although, unlike Marty and Kevin, his multipresence was tied to them, or at least to gods who were currently accepting his advice, instead of to places where he held strong identities…

    Raphael, who was currently having some tea, nearly choked as things suddenly started happening to him in lots of other places at the same time.

    (Raphael) “What the … how did this happen?… OH GOD I AN IN CRUSADER AGAIN! Dreadpuddle is free! Whyyyyyy?!

    “Whyyyyyy” was because Marty – as The Animator – had an active identity in Crusader, and there was sending forth his cartoon terrors across Los Vegas, snatching scale models of various famous landmarks!

    (The Animator) “Mwahaha! Caesar’s Palace is nothing before my Wasabi Legionnaires!”

    Dreadpuddle – an identity so strong and powerful that it was partially independent on it’s own – promptly ran amuck.

    (Dreadpuddle) “Useless Minions, go and get me more one armed bandits so that I can make minions that control people’s minds… and booze too”

    Back in Cyarkian, with the guards withdrawing (crankily) after the “puppies” discussion, there were a few hours to go until the colony meeting – and they were currently somewhat unwelcome in the Inn.

    (Kevin) “Good puppies! Heel! Hm… Perhaps you might want to go all fours and paw-hands! The locals may look at you a bit less funny!”

    Meanwhile, in the forested fringes of a classic English estate, Raphael was surrounded by a baying pack of hounds, with a bunch of oddly-dressed horsemen and horsewomen bearing down on him atop graceful steeds – and had a fox balancing on his head.

    In a large nursery, he was surrounded by mostly undressed-young women, nursing and fussing over babies – with Marty fussing over them as well, and talking endlessly about his new children.

    He offered Raphael a cigar! It was traditional!

    (Raphael, to the fox, as he attempted to fling it to the dogs) “Sorry little guy, but it’s you or me…”

    Unfortunately, it frantically dove down the back of his smartclothes!

    About then, the Atrium of a rather… extravagant and decadent roman villa faded in around him as another manifestation appeared.

    Raphael tried to dodge the dogs, quietly back out of the nursery (with the excuse that smoking there might be bad for the children ready), and – for the moment – utterly ignored his tea. At least nothing too weird was going on in Cyarkian!

    (Raphael, to the Marty who was offering him a Cigar) “What is going on?!?!”

    (Marty) “My kids are coming! I think I’m up to twenty… no, wait, twenty-one. Hamsini just birthed the second son!”

    Then Raphael got handed a newborn baby boy – which left him quite unsure as to what to do, looking incredibly awkward with the baby, and so stiff that his robots looked looser and more flexible… Was this his own personal reality storm?

    At the villa, he stayed still – a bit of paranoia seemed justified at the moment! – and looked around in hopes of figuring out what was going on today!

    Unfortunately, dodging a well-coordinated pack of hounds proved awkward. He turned – and one of the huge, sloppy, things reared up, planted it’s feet on his shoulders, opened a huge mouth full of teeth – and spoke;

    (Hound) “Who are you and what are you doing with our fox?”

    (A young girl in a very short toga at the villa) “Master? Are you here for the reception early? If you would come this way?”

    She led Raphael to a room with an assortment of couches, each with several attendants standing by.

    (Raphael, to the dog) “I don’t know. Where am I?”

    (Marty, observing the stiffness and fussing over his newborn son) “Bah. Not like you had to come in here anyway.”

    (Hound) “In the Wyld Forest! Where else! WAIT A MINUTE! What’s that tail sticking out? And isn’t that a hint of muzzle? Shapeshifting during the hunt is cheating! I can smell the illusion all over you! Bad Fox!”

    (Raphael to Marty)”I am not sure how I got here.”

    (Raphael to the hound) “The fox is trying to trick you; the illusion is coming from him.”

    (Marty) “Huh. That IS weird. Sure you aren’t multiprojecting or something?”

    The hound howled right in his ear – and the entire pack was now staring at him and howling… Also, he felt a small, invisible, fuzzy form sneaking out of his pants leg and down a hole.

    (Raphael, to Marty) “I think I would notice doing that. I am in a couple of places right now, but I did not do this.”

    (Marty) “Oh, hell. I think Kevin’s given some of his godly power to you by accident. Happened to me too… Oops! Shouldn’t curse around the baby.”

    Raphael staggered as large dogs jumped on him, shouting something about how they’d caught the fox…

    (Raphael, to hound) “Stop that! The fox went down the hole. Right there. I am not the fox.”

    (Raphael, to Marty) “Give me a second here. I am trying to sort out where all I am… Could you direct me to a chair, and maybe a map? This will take some getting used to”

    (Howling Hounds) “Pointy ears! Foxy Smell! Foxy Tail! Foxy Muzzle! Looks like fox, smells like fox, got the fox! We win!”

    They were cheerily dragging him off to the hunting party – although, to be fair, they were… carefully only holding him, not injuring him in the slightest.

    In the nursery, the baby began to fuss, and Marty handed him back to the-dressed-attendant.

    (Marty) “Sure thing. Chair’s right over there and… well, I’m in Kadia, but I think you’re all over the Manifold.”

    At the Roman Villa, a naked girl and boy were busily trying to massage his shoulders and serve him fruit and wine…

    Raphael calmly accepted that. He was FAR too stressed to argue there – or to try to rock the boat in one of the few places that wasn’t complete chaos.

    Back in Cyarkian, Raphael pumped far more power than was usually necessary into a simple “where am I?” spell – stacking on the extremely rare combination of trans-dimensional range and personal target.

    Currently the hounds had proudly dumped him in front of the hunters – two of whom were scolding him for shapeshifting, another was looking suspicious, and one was looking amused and laughing at the hounds.

    (Raphael, to Marty) “I’m sorry Marty. I did not mean to barge in like this. I am going to have to get this under control.”

    (Marty) “Hey, it’s okay. Not like it can get any more chaotic around here with all these babies.”

    (Raphael) “Confound it! I AM NOT THE FOX!”

    Hm… He was currently in…

    • Cyarkian, in the NIMH colony (of course).
    • Kadia in the nursery at Marty’s Residence.
    • The English Fantasy Zone in the Wyld Forest near Squire Jenkin’s Estate.
    • The city of Los Vegas (currently under attack by the Animator) in Crusader.
    • The Old Roman Imperium on the estates of Titus Decius Aquilla outside of Rome.

    And the process didn’t even seem to be complete yet.

    (Raphael) “I don’t know! Dreadpuddle is loose and I can’t direct all my attention to keeping him somewhat sane right now. Things can always get more chaotic.”

    (Hounds) “Fox! Fox! Foxie Fox! Caught the Fox! That’s 50 credits you owe us Mr Fox!”

    The amused hunter was laughing now.

    (Raphael) “I am not the fox! He went down that hole back there after jumping down my back.”

    (Amused Hunter) “You might want to wipe off that Illusion you’ve got all over you Mr…? That should settle them! Would you care for a towel?”

    (Hounds, howling mournfully) Not fox!?!? He got away?! Aaagh! That’s twenty credits each! That’s most of this weeks allowance!”

    (Raphael, to the amused hunter) “Raphael Midwater. Yes, I would love a towel.”

    The Huntsman tossed him a towel – and Raphael quietly wiped off and took a look at the spell with his arcane sight… He could use that for a targeted dispel if necessary!

    It wasn’t really. It was pretty low grade, and only good for a few minutes at that. It provided… a few “fox” traces – tail, muzzle, ears, and scent – via a bit of illusory shapeshifting. The towel had some minor charm on it to clean off all kinds of things – including minor spells and curses – and this cantrip was well within it’s limits.

    Well, that was easy.

    Over in the roman villa, the two young slave-attendants were trying to progress to more intimate attentions.

    Raphael politely asked them to hold off for now. Now that he was recovered from his trip, he should really meet with the master of the house before taking too much advantage of his hospitality.

    They did so quite obediently; they seemed to be very well-trained… Well, that was probably only to be expected. Rome had been good at that – and this was Rome after three thousand more years of practice.

    (Marty) “Getting a better handle on things, Raphe? Want anything to drink?”

    (Raphael) “Yes I think I am getting this sorted out. I think Dreadpuddle is drinking enough for ten of me. The chaos of just arriving is dying down.”

    The hounds looked sad. They’d lost the fox! And twenty credits each!

    (Marty) “So who’s this Dreadpuddle, one of your IDs?”

    (Raphael) “Yes; I saw crusader splitting and thought that I could get to be a super hero with useful powers every time I went through there. So I spent some time establishing an ID to study the process of splitting from the source material and drew on the image of a character known for breaking the fourth wall to make it easier. That was a mistake; he isn’t quite separate from me, but he can really influence my decisions and is like a really strange drug that is not at all addictive, but can be slipped into anything and makes your entire world stand on end. He isn’t bound into crusader any more – he can rove freely – so getting rid of him is a chore.”

    (Marty) “Ohhh… I get it. I’ve got an ID there too, s nutty supervillain who draws stuff. Yours sounds like more of a pain than that.”

    Meanwhile, the Hunters got Raphael out of the woods – and returned the sad hounds to their kennels (where a happy fox was waiting to collect the bets), and the horses to their stable, where they would return to their stalls and get themselves rubdowns and some oats.

    The kids in the villa continued to serve delicious snacks and wine and fruit while other guests arrived.

    It seemed that the party was doubling as an auction of some sort; there were several high-ranking senators, a couple of rough-looking folks from gladiator schools, an imperial representative, along with a few really rich merchants and the most stereotypically tough-looking fellow Raphael had ever seen, with a face apparently rough-hewn from granite, from the Legions.

    He was about the only one entirely turning down the slaves attentions; he seemed to feel that he was on duty.

    Probably a slave auction. That sort of clientele was hardly likely to all want much else… That meant that Kevin or Marty should be around here somewhere, considering where he’d appeared in other places.

    Actually, as the last of the representatives arrived, it turned out to be a mount- and-monster auction. Of course, considering the nature of some of the jobs the thralls worked that didn’t really rule them out… Still, most of the creatures up for auction seemed to be either genuine monsters or dragon hatchlings – although the selection included an assortment of animals and some metallic / organic things that were robots before being imported into a “primitive” world.

    Raphael got a weird image of himself dressed as the “crocodile hunter” with a lab coat on top walking up to robots on an assembly line saying “now we should be very quite to hear the mating call of the CX-562 over here.”

    Kevin did show up though – looking a bit older than usual and being throughly roman. He was very mildly surprised to see Raphael – but the auction was being conducted by more slaves while he circulated…

    A bit of careful divination revealed that the Legion representative was there to buy additional dragon-mounts – and, privately, to rent more Thralls to help the Legions conquer more of the “barbarian worlds”, all the better to keep wealth and slaves flowing into Rome as they should!

    Kevin was charging… an apparently-standard arrangement wherein he got the first pick on the new incoming slaves and some treasure from the conquests to support the local lifestyle.

    Well, that was Kevin. Was he using the romans to spread his particular brand of… evolution?… to the vast primitive-tribal reaches of the Manifold? Over a hundred thousand years of prehistory those had gotten pretty spread-out and out of contact!

    Raphael bid on the former robots! They might be quite interesting to have a look at, and – since cycling things through various worlds was not a commutative operation, it would be interesting to see what became of them in various worlds!

    It wasn’t like he had any shortage of money… And the more he got things settled down (such as the tea part in the English Fantasy Zone at the moment) the more he could get things sorted out. Sightseeing could wait until he got the hang of each realm and had settled into stable patterns in each.

    (Roman-Kevin) “Ah, Lord Raheala! I had not been expecting your arrival, but I will – of course – have the slaves prepare some guest chambers! Please do accept the services of these two while you are here! (To the slaves, ominously) “Do make sure that Lord Raphaela enjoys his visit here! Otherwise…”

    (Raphael) “I was not particularly expecting to make it myself until I arrived. That seems to be happening a lot today.”

    Events at the Villa settled down nicely as well. Roman-style entertainments (food, drink, slaves and gladiatorial games) might be a bit decadent, but they were certainly VERY classical and they were in plentiful supply.

    Raphael mentioned the place to Marty over in the nursery – and Marty made a note to visit and create an ID there – perhaps “Martinus”? Rome sounded like fun! There were lots of good diversions there!

    Raphael eventually got Kevin and Marty away from others and informed them that he had mysteriously gained multipresence – and give a list of all the places he currently was…

    Of course, that was no surprise! Both Kevin and Marty knew what was up; after all, he was visiting them in several dimensions at once!

    (Kevin) “Oh we noticed! But it’s a GREAT way to have more fun! You need to celebrate!”

    Over at the villa he cheerily assigned “Lord Raphaela” several more attentive young slaves, a couple of cooks, someone with access to the wine cellar, a masseur, some dancing girls, a kid with a fan, some palanquin bearers, a few people to run errands, someone to arrange admittance to various events, a pair of debating philosophers, and so on.”

    (Marty) “Ahhhhhh… yeah, you want to try the masseur. I imported one from there!”

    The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice Part XXVII – Hints and Allegations

    Things went along – if not well, than at least passably – for several weeks. That at least let him get a few more segments of Aden – and their Manses – done.

    New Manse Power:

    Dance of the Dragon Lords (4, Solar Favored):

    • The manse amplifies the essence of those within it, and makes it easier to channel – allowing them to access normally-unavailable abilities. The may affect everyone within the manse, those attuned to the manse, only the hearthstone bearer, or some other group if combined with control systems.
    • The first incidence of this power provides those within the manse with a +1 to their effective essence and allows them to buy it up beyond their normal limits – although the extra essence, and any abilities dependent on it, only work within the manse. It also provides those within the manse the ability to use three additional charms – although the charms must be selected from among those to which the user normally has access (for Mortals, Martial Arts and Spirit Charms) and the user must fulfill all of the usual prerequisites – although charms bestowed by this power do count towards them. Unfortunately, this function is only partially cumulative; if you happen to (somehow) be exposed to it more than once, the second incidence only provides +3 charms, the third +2 charms, and the fourth and fifth +1 charm each – while further incidences provide no benefits at all. Once selected, the bonus charms are fixed until the user buys one of them “for real” – which frees up that slot for another charm.

    The first signs of inquiries appeared at school.

    That wasn’t too surprising. Otherwise he was mostly only findable at Dudael, and – to get in there – you presumably needed to do all those purification rituals.

    1951 stamp depicting Steamer Point with the ou...

    What is a world without seas?

    He was currently in the middle of his weapons training class – where everyone had suddenly gotten MUCH better and there were never any accidental injuries any more. In fact, everyone had gotten so much better that the instructors had moved on from students sparring with each other to the more advanced studies and customized programs. Hiranaya, for instance, was learning how to set his new weapon on fire with a charm and still wield it effectively. He was fighting in an area warded against fire.

    Of course, that allowed Charles – in between yawning (since he wasn’t getting anywhere NEAR enough sleep any longer) and practice – to go back to peacefully trying to figure out how to make the weapons better and nonlethal at the same time. It wasn’t easy when a lot of them were made out of Quintessence!

    Perhaps a spell that made the weapon immaterial on contact with flesh and armor, but still caused the same amount of pain and shock as it actually wounding you would cause? That was still mean, but – to be fair – no one tried to run you through with a sword to be nice. It might even work properly… And be fairly intimidating as well.

    He’d have to look in the archives. Surely SOMEONE had come up with a similar effect in the last 20,000 years.

    Unfortunately, eventually his turn at combat training came up.

    Sindri, who was having to work harder to keep pace with the students than ever before, approached after a bit.

    (Sindri, gently) “Ah, Charles, I have you decided what setup you want yet? I know it’s only been a short while, but your grandfather did not want us to keep you idle.”

    (Charles, sleepily) “Uhm… Oh yeah… Defensive staff exercises I think.”

    There were several setups for defensive training of course; there are options for parrying while blinded, against a child-sized automata, underwater, and against multiple opponents.

    Charles went for multiple. He had great reflexes, but he wasn’t really very skilled.

    He got rather resoundingly thumped on – hard enough to feel it even through his defenses! The blasted things had to be adjusting automatically, and had an AWFULLY high threshold… He didn’t remember the design specs showing them capable of that. Had someone else been improving on things on the sly?

    It wasn’t overly embarrassing – even Hiranaya had trouble with this one – but he was a little bruised and sore in various places afterwards!

    (Charles) “Oof! I need more practice I think…”

    (Sindri) “Oh, you did as well as I expected. But any mortal can benefit from practice. Perhaps we should spar a bit more before class ends.”

    (Charles) “Uhm… OK!”

    Sindri was happy to train with Charles; he preferred some meditative terrestrial forms – but he had to admit that the initial training exercises for those didn’t look like they’d EVER hurt anyone! (Which suited Charles just fine). Besides… the way the other kids were performing these days, he was rather glad of the armor that Charles had obtained for him… Some of them tended to get rather aggressive, and – as an instructor – he was obliged to hold back quite a bit!

    Which was still more than a bit worrisome really. The sudden improvement in the other students, and the armor was… impressive. Even in Yu-Shan it was impressive! If Charles had made the armor – and somehow been responsible for those improvements – they might have something beyond a prodigy on their hands! If not… someone with truly vast resources had to be backing the boy.

    They sparred until the end of class, with reasonable breaks. Sindri pressed him a bit, but the focus was clearly on defense-and-escape.

    Charles was quite willing to practice that! He was well aware that he might have to physically (ick!) defend himself sometimes.

    Near the end of class, however, he asked Charles to look at some of the staves from the training exercise; it was pretty obvious that some of them had cracked.

    (Sindri) “Do you think you could fix them? We can easily acquire others, but I hate to see broken weapons.”

    (Charles) “Oh sure!”

    Hmm… Mostly quintessential wood. One had a cracked white jade attachment on the end. That should be easy enough! Alchemy and Enchantment would easily cover sticking things back together!

    He absent-mindedly (and tiredly) drew on Dudael for power and accelerated his thaumaturgy to combat speeds. Oops! He hadn’t been meaning to show that… Oh well! Sidri wouldn’t tell on him, even if he speculated! Except maybe to discuss things with the other teachers…

    The weapons shimmered for an instant – and were once more whole.

    (Charles) “There we go!”

    Sindri blinked, then quickly recovered.

    (Sindri) “Thank you, Charles. This way, they’re ready for tomorrow.”

    (Charles) “You’re welcome! I hate to see things not working right!”

    That had been… strange, and quite impressive. Certainly you could do that with the right charm – but the boy had… pulled on geomantic sources – possibly through some sort of link to a Manse – to power thaumaturgy, and had probably augmented it with several artifacts (and certainly with a very nice wand) – but he hadn’t used any personal power, or any actual active charms. His personal skill… was at least near the limits of a god-blooded’s potential, if not already at it. Prodigy and beyond in at least three thaumaturgic sciences. Likely capable of using Terrestrial Circle Sorcery and possibly with similar skills in the rest of the sciences.

    Sindri waved goodbye to Charles – and turned his attention to some of the other weapons the boy had been fiddling with.

    Perfected or transcendent, augmented with weird thaumaturgies, and wound about with geomancy that would let at least some of them resist terrestrial circle sorcerous countermagics. Not, perhaps, beyond the abilities of a god-blooded prodigy – but astounding work for a bunch of weapons that the boy had simply been fiddling with.

    Charles, of course, was simply so short of time that his design-experiments were leaking into class time a bit. Meanwhile, he had arrived at Advanced History.

    The days lecture was about the Seven Tigers Incident. That mess had occurred shortly after the Scarlet Empress had revealed herself to the world. Seven daimyos had refused to bow to what they saw as a false Shogun – and she had retaliated by unleashing the powers of the Blessed Isle’s Imperial Manse against their forces encampments. After that, the only power which stood against her was the city-state of Lookshy. Its magitech was too valuable for her to risk disintegrating in a mass of pure elemental fury. As a result, a detente arose between both nations’ Dragon-Blooded, much like NATO and the Eastern Bloc of the Cold War.

    Charles recalled that there had been something about the geomantic mess from that in the Libram… The Sword of Creation had badly disrupted the dragon lines in those areas; there were elemental imbalances for decades and some areas never fully recovered.

    Horrible things had happened to the poor soldiers too – burnt to ash, ground to dust, or turned into rotting compost – but that hadn’t concerned Devon much, although Charles fetl rather sorry for them. Of course, it was a long time ago – and even for him it was pretty abstract sorrow.

    Charles listened very attentively though! This was new material! He was learning a lot!

    The passage he had on that read; “Devon saw a flash on the horizon, and wove a thaumaturgic working to link his senses with an onlooker. Fortunately, he was wise enough to link only sight, and recovered from the resulting blindness within a day. He endeavored to investigate the dragon lines…”

    A rather interesting coincidence there! Still, it wasn’t as if he had Devon’s memories – just a lot of notes.

    Hmm. Come to think of it, that was also a bit odd! His research into Exaltations said that there was usually something that popped up in the first few days of Exaltation – dreams, hallucinations, or weird partial memories; yet he didn’t experience any at all.

    Of course, he always had figured that Devon did some MAJOR tinkering around to get what he wanted to get. If anyone could do it, it would be him.

    Anyhow, on the way to his next class, Jun called him… Well, he was the headmaster! Off to see Jun then!

    Jun’s office was a tastefully-appointed place, if no match for a divine sanctum – but Gramps was with him – and looked happy to see Charles, as usual.

    Gramps, of course, got a hug!

    He hugged back a bit harder than he had been, but it was still a firm, friendly, hug.

    Oh good! Gramps was probably no longer thinking of him as “delicate and sickly” most likely!

    (Charles, to Jun) “Hello Sir!”

    (Headmaster Jun) “Hello, Charles. Your grandfather and I were discussing old times today, and both of us would like to ask you something.”

    (Charles, glancing at Gramps) “Uhm, Ok… What?”

    (Gramps) “Well, Jun has been telling me about your performance in your weapons courses. It’s not the best, but you are showing reasonable improvement, and that’s what matters. But there’s something that bothers me, my boy.”

    (Jun) “I don’t see it as a problem, Richof, but you can certainly ask.”

    (Gramps, looking a bit uncomfortable) “Why a staff?”

    (Charles) “Uhm… It’s not nearly so likely to really hurt someone and is pretty good for defense.”

    (Richof) “Ah, I see! So purely for pragmatic reasons. How has it been working out for you? Does it feel right in your hands?”

    (Charles) “It works pretty well… And it ought to feel right of course, I balanced and fitted it to myself myself.”

    (Gramps) “Of course you would make your own staff, my boy.”

    Gramps relaxes a bit; he’d been looking a bit tense and distant there, as if he’d been thinking about something.

    (Gramps) “Hmm. Jun, what is his next class? Surely he can skip one and take some work home with him.”

    (Jun) “If you wish, Lord Richof. I think we can arrange some make-up work for herbalism.”

    (Gramps) “Would that be all right with you, Charles?”

    (Charles) “Well, herbalism is fun, but (doubtfully, as he thought about his current schedule) I guess I can make it up later…”

    (Jun, looking over at Richof, who appeared happy) “As long as you can do so, then, I will see you tomorrow. I’ll send you the make-up assignment this evening.”

    (Charles) “Ok…”

    Jun had some doubts there – the boy hid it well, but SOMETHING was obviously stressing him; the fatigue-traces were obvious enough if you regularly dealt with children. Still, it was the boys grandfather and guardian, and the child was adaptable – and vacation was coming up. The god-blooded had long childhoods, and school was not THAT urgent for them.

    Gramps had his privacy-shielded aerial rickshaw along… The wards were very good! He might even have improved them since the last time he’d ridden in it!

    (Richof, in the rickshaw) “I apologize for taking you out of class, my boy. I could see how uncomfortable you were with it – and how tired you look! – but I have some questions I would rather not have Jun hear.”

    Charles wasn’t sure if this was good or bad – but Gramps obviously had some things on his mind, and was finally going to share something serious with him.

    (Charles) “OK! What do you need to know?”

    (Richof, sighing) “First of all, I spoke with Lytek after our visit to Canada. I would have never imagined you would Exalt.”

    (Charles, almost reflexively checking the wards) “Uhm.. It was a while ago, but Mr Lytek and the instruction book said to keep it a secret!”

    (Richof) “Oh, believe me, my boy, I intend to keep it that way myself. All three of us are involved in some rather risky maneuvering. And don’t worry about the warding, it’s Sapphire Circle and alarm ward protected.”

    (Charles) “OK!… Can I help?”

    (Richof) “Hmm… you have such a nice, safe position at Dudael. I would hate to see you risk that, my boy… and I had hoped that you would avoid these entanglements until you were older. Are you certain?”

    (Charles) “Well, certain that I want to help! I’m not sure what I could do to actually help though (hint, hint) I never have found out what you’re doing that I could help with!”

    (Richof) “Ah… I knew this would be inevitable someday. As an artificer, you certainly know about the dragon lines. You probably won’t be surprised to hear there’s a department in the Bureau of Nature devoted to them.”

    (Charles) “I’d kind of expect that. They aren’t doing all that well at getting things fixed though! Even if they can be kind of tricky!”

    (Richof) “It’s called the Department of Natural Essence Flows. I regret to say I’m not in charge, but I am minister of the Subdepartment of Interstellar Essence Flows. That, my boy, is where the trouble starts… Tell me, what do you think of the gods’ attitudes toward extraterrestrial things?”

    (Charles) “Hm… Very long, very attenuated, inclined to tangle, and relatively small amounts of essence flowing at immense speed. Vey hard to navigate or to transmit prayer or feedback down. Ergo, most gods just ignore what they can’t see or reach anyway.”

    (Richof, smiling) “Good. Then you see what the problem is. That’s part of why I haven’t been around as much as you might have wanted. I do apologize for that.”

    (Charles, looking a bit wistful) “It’s OK. There were all kinds of things I wasn’t supposed to tell either.”

    (Richof, looking relieved.) “I’m glad, my boy. We both had good reasons. Anyhow, part of my position is observing the interstellar ley lines. It keeps me as busy as anyone up here who must travel space, though I do have some advantages over most of my colleagues there. In my most recent travels, I spotted a mysterious phenomenon.” He will open up a bag on his belt and pull out some documents… Here, Charles. You should find this interesting.”

    They were some of the most technical documents on dragon lines he’d ever seen, further complicated by the interstellar distances… The diagrams were patterns of the interstellar ley lines, an intricate web of Essence connecting a thousand thousand planets, stars, and interstellar objects. The key indicated the Essence flows… There are all the types he knew, a tiny trickle of Infernal Essence tainting a bit of it, some Abyssal Essence – and something else that Richof had marked “Unknown.” The report was mostly focused on that “Unknown.” It appeared to be at least as finicky and mercurial as Lunar Essence – and further testing had been difficult. Whatever it was, if it was prodded too hard, it turned into Sidereal Essence. It’s flows were strongest in areas where there were few to no stars.

    Hm… Nocturnal Essence? Had Gramps heard about those exaltations?

    He asked!

    (Richof) “So you have heard as well, my boy. And that leads to the BIG problem. This is the seventh report I’ve submitted since they appeared, and no one remembers the six before it. No one in my department can even retain the memory of them without my prompting – and, to tell the truth, I even have to keep reminding Lytek. Yet you seem to have no trouble remembering at all! What do you know about them?”

    (Charles, with some startlement) “Huh! I didn’t see anything like THAT built in while they were forming! It’s not like I couldn’t be wrong – but that sounds external! None of the workers at Dudael have been having trouble remembering Catherine… Of course, Dudael does protect people against mental influences… A Yu-Shan wide mental influence? Possibly related to the Mask again? That might be why it was repaired – unless someone just needed it to create some semi-permanent identities, which might fit if the Nocturnal exalts had come in from Outside. That was some time ago – but whoever is involved with the Nocturnals IS tinkering with the Timestream…”

    (Richof) “I have no idea. I saw no memory-blurring effects in the shards when Lytek showed them to me either. And I do agree with you on the timestream. Though time travel is supposed to be one of the big forbidden phenomena…”

    (Charles) “Well, one of them had a weapon that dated to me making it five years from now.”

    (Richof) “My boy, that’s supposed to be impossible. You touched it? I don’t doubt you, but you’re certain it wasn’t an illusion or a conjuration?”

    (Charles) “Yes… I tested by checking a blank spot on it, then deciding that – from now on – I would put a makers mark in that spot on such blades, and it appeared.”

    (Richof) “Incredible. So they seem to have some power over time, and they’re covered by a memory-blurring effect that will stymie even the highest gods.”

    (Charles) “I was considering building a manse that would use their style of essence, but I haven’t done much with it so far! I wanted to see what it would do if I built in a way for it to express itself.”

    (Richof) “It is… complex, my boy. It appears only in the darkest places, and cannot be touched by light. The slightest error in your geomancy, and it transmutes to Sidereal Essence. I have no idea why it is like that, but knowing what you are, I have faith in you.”

    (Charles) “Well, I could try making one after we stop!”

    (Richof) “Hmm. We’re almost to your residence now, but I suppose we could try. How long do you have before work?”

    (Charles) “About an hour and a half I think. Its… probably enough time!”

    (Richof) “Then let’s find a secluded park. It shouldn’t be too hard; this is mostly abandoned territory, after all.”

    (Charles) “Oh! We just need to stop for a few minutes. You suggested finding a way to carry manses around, so I’ve been working on that!”

    Richof was momentarily startled – but then recalled something… Back in Lytek’s office after that mess with the Abyssals… “I do worry about you being able to defend yourself. After all, it’s hard to carry a Manse with you in combat.”

    Oh good grief! Had Charles taken that as an instruction to find a way to carry manses around? And done it?

    (Richof) “Wonderful, my boy! Let’s see what you’ve come up with.”

    Once they were stopped, Charles simply opened a door into Aden. He’d been planning on creating a Nocturnal manse anyway, so he’d put such a demesne deep in a cave. No time like the present!

    That was genuinely impressive. The boy had been constructing… a private pocket realm? No, wait, that wouldn’t be something you could carry around. For that it had to be… a part of him? At least that would explain the aura of friendly welcome pouring out of the gate.. A WORLD-BODY?!?! Even if a small one?

    It was an absolutely irrelevant thought – but it was no wonder that the boy was tired!

    Federation-Apocalypse Sessions 189-190 part IV – Don Quixote the Innkeeper

    Some of the 200 or so gigantic faces in the te...

    Yes, we're watching YOU!

    Somewhat to Raphael’s irritation – what, were these two TRYING to turn him into a balloon? – the first distraction to catch Kevin and Marty’s eyes was another restaurant…

    Kevin grinned, realized that practically everyone in the party had hairy feet – and promptly voted for “Second breakfast and perhaps elevenses!”.

    Partly promptly picked up the que and parroted the call…

    (Marty) “Second breakfast! Second breakfast!”

    (Kevin) “Lets not make a hobbit of this! We are in the middle of the earth here! And down a very comfortable hole!”

    Raphael groaned at the horrible puns. Were these clowns going to eat ANOTHER huge meal? Probably followed by drinking, then lunch, more drinking, second lunch, and so on?

    Marty wasn’t complaining! – although he did feel that one bout of drinking was more than enough for lunch time.

    Raphael avoided eating this time… he actually had to worry about his diet and how it made him look… You’d think that they’d wandered into some sort of bizarre anime world they way these two were going at it!

    As far as Kevin was concerned it was just a snack!

    More children showed up during second breakfast with more questions about magic, the outside world, evil flowers, and so on.

    Kevin cheerily handed out the usual presents and witchcraft.

    Mr Cartwright was now aware that that was a very low tier of magical power… but it was still just casually granting magic to people. The Colony Council would DEFINITELY want to discuss this! Urgently!

    Marty and Raphael were paying more attention than Kevin – and they were seeing a number of adults quietly arriving and keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings. They moved to keep a clear vantage point as the children moved around and partially obscured the view. Each and every one a local anthropomorph – not rats and mice. The hired mage-contingent? Those social workers again?

    Raphael cheerily put their faces into a recognition program and added nice circles and highlights to the HUD’s of the rest of the parties smartclothes to keep track of them…

    Marty was most impressed! He’d never thought of using Smartclothes that way! That was pretty cool!

    Kevin just shrugged when they were pointed out. Of COURSE suspicious mages were keeping an eye on him! He was a demon lord!

    He cheerily ignored them.

    Raphael kept an eye on them, but so far they weren’t making a move.

    Marty set up for trading! That was one of the fun parts of any visit!

    Hmm… They didn’t need too much local tech – theirs was better – but magical trinkets, tomes, perpetual grow lights, and such were all in high demand, as were foodstuffs and fuel. Their attempts to expand their food production above ground had proven difficult and they had been forced to expand farming underground – which was a much more intensive process.

    Raphael busied himself with looking at the maps he’d recorded – and with plans to test out his fabrication rune magic with his new battle magic to take lots of time off their building estimates and to harden their defenses a bit.

    Kevin presumed that what they really needed was… a City Ward and a few Heartstones…

    Marty couldn’t really argue there – but he did attempt to dissuade Kevin from simply trying to create them. He’d already warped reality enough around here! If he needed some trade goods from Kadia, he’d set up the gate himself! With some Thralls mostly using magic! It would warp the place a lot less than Kevin’s “smash-a-hole-in-reality” approach.

    They were willing to trade… metals, advanced clockwork mechanisms, high quality machinery (at least what worked under the local laws and infrastructure), some precious metals, stonework, gunpowder, alcohol, woods, medicines, advanced glass, and clean fresh water.

    Kevin pointed out that Feanor could erect city wards. He’d given both of his favorite pets a good deal of extra power! Feanor would need a lot of Zenni and/or cooperation from the locals though.

    Raphael offered to try his hand at the living heartstone trick that he’d been thinking about in his spare time… it might be nice to set up a magic academy that was based on that notion! His current proposal to make them far more durable required genetically-engineered bees from core! They were far more hearty and less aggressive! And they had bee souls!

    He would have gone with ants, but no one had really domesticated them, even if they had created some special-purpose strains.

    Marty shuddered! He knew what bees were like in Battling Business World! Bees. My God. Bees.

    Oh well! He brought in Raphael’s bees, more smartclothes (Raphael wanted these everywhere anyway) foodstuffs, glow lamps and other items for indoor agriculture, minor magical trinkets, relevant tomes of magic – and lots of Zenni for Raphael and Feanor to work with.

    He mostly bought glass and stonework, which should sell well amongst the nobles somewhere… They even had an elaborate stone fountain that played music! Business was good!

    Raphael promptly got his proof-of-concept project underway. It would still take a few days, but it would be ready soon enough.

    Sadly, despite all of Kevin’s and Marty’s crazed suggestions for making his new academy a place of horror, he decided to make it a straightforward school – or as straightforward as a school that taught rats and mice to use magic was ever going to get anyway.

    He didn’t even want to fill it with magical robots, or kidnap students, or plant secret chambers and magical monsters in the basement! What kind of a school was that supposed to be?

    Would Raphael’s Academy of Magic at least offer randomly-re-arranging rooms and corridors?

    The answer there was “no” as well! This wasn’t going to be any fun at all!

    Raphael simply put out some notices that the school would be accepting applicants – and then realized that he’d need some other teachers… Robots were good for some things, but they made lousy magic teachers.

    Well, while he was hiring some of those, much as he hated to admit it, Kevin’s Thralls were quite capable of teaching the basics – and of handling magical pranks. Still, at least he could arrange some magical testing to sort out which applicants were actually going to put in the effort – or have enough raw talent – to be really good mages – or at least at or above what the locals would deem the competent level.

    Better make it high school or above too.

    Marty chuckled! The Magical Academy of Destructive Spell Combat Imploding Entirely Normal Towns, Islands, States, Trees and Scenery? Nah, that would have to be the destruction and evocation major!

    Kevin – rather practically for him – pointed out that they really needed to talk to the City Council before they started setting up magical schools, and heartbees, and wards major, and all that kind of thing…

    Kevin headed back to the Inn after he ran out of kids to play evil santa for – although it wasn’t that big a city; both the supply of kids, and the supply of distance (across the main square) was fairly strictly limited.

    At the inn he found the Innkeeper arguing with a pair of guards and a city administrator. She was not exactly be happy to see Kevin come back…

    (Innkeeper) “You! Treating children in such a fashion! You should be ashamed of yourself!”

    (Guard) “Ma’am, calm down, we really don’t need a disturbance right now.”

    Outside, Raphael and Marty found themselves being approached by some guards as well.

    (Marty) “Hi. Anything wrong?”

    (Guard, to Marty) “Just wanted to ask some questions. Would the occupants of the one named Angkor’s room at the Inn happen to be some of these (looks at clipboard) “Thralls” we’ve heard about?

    Raphael got the same question from the guard approaching him.

    (Kevin) “So what’s up?”

    (Guard, to Kevin) “I’m afraid this Innkeeper has filed a complaint regarding the treatment of the occupants of the room you have taken. Would you please confirm that they are not in fact legal residents of this colony?”

    (Kevin) “That’s easy enough! They weren’t born in this universe, signed up quite voluntarily and legally where they were, and entered both this dimension and this city as property!”

    Raphael considered that for a second – and flashed the question to Marty and Kevin’s smartclothes with a “how do you want to play this?” message.

    Naturally enough, Kevin was playing it straight – as always. It was more or less against his personal code to deny ownership of his Thralls.

    Marty was quite used to that as well. It wasn’t like even Kevin could break the Thrall-bond, or make them anything BUT property until it wore off…

    (Raphael) “Yes, they are Thralls. Why?”

    (Guard, to Raphael) “Well, we’re obligated to look into these complaints, but right now I don’t think there is much we can do. I would like it if you would provide us any background regarding how they became Thralls and why they are being treated….. differently than the others.”

    (Raphael) “Well, I am not really sure about all of it. Angkor and Marty exist simultaneously in several places at once, and I occasionally get distracted with research.”

    (Marty, sighing) “They’re conspiring with Angkor to annoy their dad. Once all of them get bored with that, he’ll return them to humanoid and unfixed forms.”

    (Guard) “I see, so this treatment is at least partially voluntary?”

    (Marty) “It’s… complicated. The way the thrall bond works, they’re subservient to his desires, but they also enjoy fulfilling them. He also gives them excellent benefits for doing this. Here, would you like to see a copy of the contract? The contract itself is entirely voluntary. Anyone who doesn’t want to sign up is welcome to stay in his realm as a guest.”

    Kevin, meanwhile, was having his trio of pets shift back into their usual puppy-boy forms…

    (Kevin) “Now then! These three are originally residents of Shayhian, a planet in the Core! At the moment, they’re playing at being canine slave-children! Now (he waved a hand at them) they’re fire elementals! Now (as he waved again) they’re giant serpents! Now (more waving) they’re small dragons! Now (wave) they’re panther girls! Now (wave) they’re horse boys! Now (wave) they’re back the way they were! They can change by themselves of course, but that takes longer and they can’t do it as often! Now if you’d like to see them doing something with their various powers – since the innkeeper here seems worried about them being killed – we can go somewhere else and they can demonstrate!”

    Outside with Marty, the guards read over the contract.

    (Guard) “I’m not sure I entirely agree with some of the points here, but if they various claims in the contract are true, then Angkor’s his treatment of his (sigh) “Thralls” is perfectly legal – and I could see citizens of the other local towns and cities going for it. They would probably see it as just an odd apprenticeship program.”

    (Marty) “Hey, I don’t entirely agree with it myself, but he does offer a really good deal.”

    (Guard) “Well, so long as they weren’t legal residents of this colony, entered the contract voluntarily, and are not actually being deceived regarding the terms of the contract, there isn’t much we can do. I do presume that the fantastical claim of bringing people back from the dead has never been tested?”

    (Marty) “It has, and it works.”

    (Guard) “Really? How do you get someone to volunteer to test for that sort of thing?

    (Marty) “They’re thralls, if Angkor asks, they’ll do it.”

    (Raphael, with some exasperation) “Well, there are tens of thousands of them, and most of them are on jobs such as search-and-rescue, disaster-relief, demon-hunting, and other high-risk occupations. Casualties are not uncommon – and so their souls quite often have to come back to Kadia to manifest new bodies. Their line-of-duty death benefits include a small shopping spree and three days off as soon as there’s time for it, while stupidity-deaths usually incur several days of really boring duty before being sent out again. There really isn’t any need to ask for someone to “test” it – although they will eagerly volunteer to demonstrate if it’s needed. They like shopping!”

    (Guard, with a REALLY annoyed look on his face) “I’m not sure if I should classify that as confidence, arrogance, faith, failed assisted suicide, or manslaughter through compulsion that got better again… Since I can’t think of a specific law this is breaking, although I could probably drudge up something if I had to and convince someone that it fits, I am going to have to side with the visitors against the Innkeeper on this one. At least until the Colony Council decides to tell me otherwise – although I am afraid that you might have to relocate to another inn since I doubt the Innkeeper will like my decision on this matter.”

    Meanwhile, the guards inside were watching Kevin’s “demonstration” with some disbelief… The locals had magic, yes – but such a… casual disregard for the laws of nature surely went well beyond normality even for the locals! They placed a lot of stress on their sex and species, so they could not possibly change them so… casually!

    (Kevin, cheerily smiling at the innkeeper) “Anything else you’d like to see? Want to go somewhere where there’s room and see their defensive and offensive powers?”

    (Innkeeper) “I shall have to speak to the Council about this! This type of outrage cannot be tolerated! That anyone would let you do this with their own children disgusts me!”

    (Marty, from the door) “Oh, the parent’s didn’t let him. He saved them from a sticky situation, let them read the contract, and gave them the choice of signing on. Then when the dad got angry, Angkor AND the kids decided to teach him a lesson.”

    (Kevin) “What’s the problem? They’re having fun, they get to keep their powers after the indenture is up, and they’re guaranteed to survive since the powers I grant include immortality and the ability to retreat back to my personal universe if they’re trapped somewhere. What’s wrong with that?”

    The Innkeeper stormed off in a huff.

    (Kevin, reflectively) “Hm. She does realize that Rusty here is twenty-eight years old? It’s entirely possible that he is older than she is.”

    (Raphael) “Probably not, considering the cross-species difficulties with estimating age, how much Core has altered the rate at which humans age, and the fact that NIMH rats and mice probably age differently than “normal” rats and mice here, her ability to determine age at a glance is not going to be entirely accurate.

    Eclipse d20: Elemental Infusion Template (+2 ECL)

    Prince Rupert and his "familiar" dog...

    Forget the knight! Watch out for the dog!

    Many a hero, familiar, and creature of fantasy is “Infused with Elemental Power” – usually fire, earth, air, or water, although countless stranger examples exist.

    Such creatures are usually…

    • Impervious to the elemental power that they’re infused with, but vulnerable to it’s opposite.
    • Capable of tapping into some inner well or other source of elemental power and producing elemental effects (albeit rarely all that often) – a limited, but useful, sphere of magic. Sadly, it’s also one that usually does not work in environments saturated with opposing elemental forces. Your ice-attuned creature will have little luck in the heart of an active volcano.
    • Able to surround themselves with, or radiate, raw elemental energy – making them perilous opponents to attack without a weapon to insulate yourself with.
    • Augmented by elemental affinities. A creature of the air may be smarter and quicker than a creature of the earth – but the earth creature will be tougher and stronger.
    • Somewhat difficult to harm. Since they are partially creatures of magic, and elemental forces have few internal organs to damage in any case, such creatures are somewhat resistant to mere injuries of the flesh.
    • Able to sense things related to their element. Thus a fire-attuned creature can detect smoke, flammable gases, nearby caches of highly-reactive materials (such as explosives), whether a child has a fever, if a door is about to melt, and nearby gates to the elemental realms.
    • Naturally skilled with respect to their element, finding it easy to learn related skills and gaining bonuses on those particularly closely-related to their element.

    In Eclipse that can be purchased as…

    • Energy Infusion (6 CP) with the Elemental Attack upgrade (+6 CP). This renders a creature immune to a particular type of energy – or “element” – and doubly-vulnerable to it’s opposite. It also allows it to inflict double it’s base unarmed or natural-weapon damage as elemental damage if it is so inclined.
    • Channeling (Elemental Forces) with +6 Bonus Uses, Specialized/only for Spell Conversion (6 CP), with Spell Conversion (to a level six Greater Invocation/“Any Elemental Spell Effect of level four or less), Specialized and Corrupted/Only to produce effects related to the users’s specific elemental affinity, cannot produce effect beyond those appropriate to the user’s level, can only be used to produce personal protective effects in areas where the opposing elemental force utterly dominates, user shows obvious signs of his, her, or it’s elemental affinity, and can not draw on the philosophical aspects of the element (4 CP).
    • Opportunist (6 CP)/may use their channeling powers to invoke an elemental aura whenever they invoke another elemental spell effect or on the third or later round of any battle. +7 Bonus Uses of their Elemental Channeling, Specialized and Corrupted/as per Spell Conversion above, plus being only usable to generate personal elemental auras (4 CP).
    • Attribute Bonuses: +2 to each or two abilities related to the element they’re infused with (24 CP).
    • Defender/+2 bonus to AC (Select bonus type according to element), Corrupted/does not increase with level (8 CP).
    • Damage Reduction 3/- (6 CP).
    • Occult Sense/Related Elemental Forces (6 CP).
    • Adept. Select four skills related to the element (for example, a character with a Fire Infusion might be good at Survival, Smithcraft, Cooking, and Tumble); these can be purchased for half cost (6 CP).
    • +4 bonuses on each of the four skills det

      ermined above (8 CP).

    At a total of 90 CP, that’s in the upper end of +2 ECL territory – and should make an excellent basis for an elemental master, a powerful familiar spirit from the elemental planes, or someone accursed with unwanted elemental powers.

    Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Shareware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion. It will be updated with Eclipse III when that’s done as well.

    Federation-Apocalypse Sessions 189-190 part III – Damsels and Diplomats

    Much of Arthur Schopenhauer's writing is focus...

    And here we have a splendid example of the characters providing their own exposition.

    Back in Cyarkian, Marty’s body had wound up at the “Watering Rat Hole” – where the city guards went to drinks. Between that and having remembered to tell his pocket companions to keep an eye out for pickpockets and other miscreants there was no trouble…

    Few of the local criminal types were willing to risk poking around in the pockets of some traveling magical being anyway. Even if you stole something, and evaded the magical pursuit and the city guard, you were all too likely to wind up in possession of something you’d soon wish that you’d never seen…

    No one disturbed the foreigner who’d been so helpful during the battle either. They owed him something – and he’d demonstrated just how incredibly dangerous he could be.

    Raphael slept in a bit. He set a robot to wake him if something interesting happened, but mornings after battle were not his thing.

    By the time he was up again, Kevin was winding down on “teaching” his pets to do undignified tricks and Marty was staggering back from the bar for breakfast.

    Raphael had decided to take it somewhat easy – and just follow Kevin around to carefully steer things away from atrocities, large diplomatic incidents, or huge bouts of reality shaping… Hopefully, with that whole “guest” thing going through Kevin’s head, it wouldn’t be a problem.

    Despite his local hangover, Marty was alert enough to test some of what Gelman had said…

    Rusty and Feanor were both easy enough to probe – and they were… so terribly happy that it was CREEPY. Being Kevin’s pets… REALLY WAS the best possible reward as far as they were concerned. “Sandy” knew that pethood for him was only temporary – but he was still delighted to be given the chance to serve this way for a bit – and was flat-out envious of Rusty, who had every prospect of getting to be Kevin’s pet for years to come. Sure, he’d soon be standing to stud – but that was a poor consolation prize for not being in Kevin’s direct service any longer.

    Errurrgghhh… Sure that was a relief of sorts – Kevin wasn’t torturing, or treating the kids that way to spite someone else – but STILL. The fact that Rusty did want this very very much indeed – and the fact that KEVIN saw nothing weird about that – was JUST as creepy! The Thrall-bond… was a lot more warping than he’d thought it was on BOTH sides!

    (Marty, privately) “Hey Kevin!… Er… Sorry about the nose there; you kind of hit a nerve… Er… What DO you have Mr Anvari’s daughter doing?”

    (Kevin, privately) “Oh that’s OK! It was just kind or surprising and it only took a few moments to heal up!… And the girls in Starship piloting training right now – although she is on standby to be bred if Rusty and Sandy here aren’t enough to make Mr Anvari really steamed up! Part of their deal was getting their father into anger treatment!” That’s what the box of pictures and souvenirs of Rusty and Sandy becoming good doggies is all about! She’ll present it, and it should really make him blow his top!

    Wait, what? The kids were… conspiring to get their father medical treatment? And Kevin was… cheerfully facilitating that as always. Oh for…

    (Marty, privately) “Ah, that’s not so bad then.”

    (Kevin, privately) “You know, allowing people a few optional choices in the contract worked really well! It seems to make it way more palatable for some reason – so I’m putting in a selection!”

    (Marty, privately) “That’s a good idea. What were you thinking of doing?”

    (Kevin, privately) “Oh, extra money, personal flits and vehicles – maybe some boats and small starships – pets, servants, special equipment, assignment preferences, all that sort of thing! That’s all easy to provide in Kadia!”

    (Marty, privately) “Should make it even fairer.”

    (Kevin, privately) “Hey, I think it’s already pretty fair… And it’s not like a Thrall can’t get most of that stuff anyway! They just seem to like having choices other than “sign or don’t sign”.”

    (Marty, privately) “Everybody does. Er, I really am sorry about the nose you know!”

    (Kevin, privately) “What was that about anyway?”

    (Marty, privately) “I’ve just been stressed about you. You’re getting pretty powerful, and… well, I’m worried about you being overwhelmed by the darkness. You’re a really nice kid, and it would be a shame if that happened.”

    (Kevin, privately – and somewhat reflectively) “Huh… I don’t think I will be! The more Thralls there are, the more I… belong to them – and they want to see me as the guardian and protector who brings them adventure and safety, a complete lack of responsibility while doing important and respected work, freedom from restraints while still having firm limits, independence while still having someone to care for them, and the power to act on their own decisions while still having someone to tell them what to do – all at the same time!

    Marty hadn’t thought about it that way – but the link did go both ways didn’t it? Kevin might own the Thralls, but collectively they had just as strong a grip on him… They made the boy a… RESPONSIBLE owner. Could that really be true?

    (Marty, privately) “So you really think the more kids you have, the less likely it is that the darkness will be able to take over?”

    (Kevin, privately, and somewhat sadly) “No more than it already has anyway…”

    That – rather unsettlingly – carried a lot less of the choral-overtone multi-toned VOICE OF DOOM that had been creeping into Kevin’s voice and thoughts over the past few months. Still… That was a relief! Even if it DID say that there might not be much of any freedom there at all. How much of Kevin’s life was being subsumed in the balancing act? Thralls against Darkness, Soul-bonds against Parenthood and the Darkness-driven urge to breed, rigid rules against utter ruthlessness, gift-giving against having a price for everything…

    Still, he had enough freedom to fight it, and that was a large part of what mattered to Marty… Perhaps the Darkness was not such a bad thing for Kevin – unless he lost control. It just didn’t leave the kid much room for any activities that weren’t governed by balance concerns.

    Heck, it might help to just drag him along to a few parties and concerts! Petty pique at Mr Anvari might be about all the free will he could afford to exercise. Even the harems – as enjoyable as that was for any teenager – were thoroughly entangled in the darkness-urges.

    Well, OK – for any male. Heck, if he wasn’t reforming… that garden party would be a regular event!

    Heck, if he lost access to Julia… would there be any reason to reform? It had been what… eight and a half months – almost nine – since the party and…

    Oh-oh.

    As it turned out on a hasty check back In Kadia, the Thrall-concubines had been going to notify him that it was about time in a few days – but, with biocontrol witchcraft, magic, and the facilities of Kadia, they were quite willing to deliver on any schedule that Marty wanted.

    Of course he wanted to be there! He sent an Avatar straight down to be with the girl that the medical facilities said should be first… the rest of them elected to stagger their delivery dates by a day or so each; they didn’t want anyone to miss their time to fuss over the newest babies!

    Marty was determined to not consider the delivery process nearly as gross this time.

    That turned out to be EASY. They were Thrall-girls! They had powers of shapeshifting, telekinesis, biophysical control and rapid healing – plus the technologies of Core if they should need them (they generally didn’t).

    It pretty much came down to “A very pregnant girl broke her waters in the shower, lay down in a force-field cradle that positioned her, and dilated adequately with a tiny bit of shapeshifting. The baby (or set of twins) slid out propelled, guided, and supported by telekinesis. The baby or babies was instantly cleaned and assisted in clearing it’s lungs and throat via Hand of Shadows, and was wrapped in a wonderfully warm and soft bunch of smartfibers that massaged and monitored and supported it. The afterbirth came free and was efficiently and automatically bundled away. The bleeding stopped almost before it started, and the girl shapeshifted back to normal save for being ready to nurse the baby and coo over it. There was no birth trauma, no sudden shock, almost no blood, no mess, and constant telepathic reassurances to ensure gurgling happy infants.

    Marty liked that! And when the babies got told “This is your father!” the telepathy meant that they actually understood it.

    He gladly held his children.

    They cooed for a bit – but eventually started to fuss and make faces until he got them a bottle. It really WAS “mommy” that was most important to a nursing infant. This was well worth putting an avatar on all the time!

    The neodogs wanted to fuss too. They liked to fuss over human babies! And Neodog spit was nicely hygienic, so the girls had no objection

    Limey was looking sort of thundercloudish though.

    (Marty) “Aw, what’s wrong, buddy?”

    (Limey) “It’s all crowded now! And they’re all taking over! You’re spending all your time with them! They’re gonna… they’re… Waah!”

    (Marty) “It’s okay, buddy! You’re still going to go on lots of adventures with me.”

    Still crying? Marty probed a bit…

    Oh. Adoption-anxiety. Limey knew that he wasn’t REALLY Marty’s son – and that Marty’s real kids would naturally push him out of the second-to-top spot in Marty’s affections – and that really was all right, because he belonged to Marty, and Marty’s real kids SHOULD get to treat him as part of the household property – that was only right, since he was household property – but he was going to MISS being Marty’s son! He’d been highly favored – especially after all that naughtiness – but the children that Marty actually fathered would naturally take priority. Family does after all

    On top of that of course, Marty WAS still his master, and he was very happy to see Marty with a big family – which was making him quite confused.

    Marty sighed… Limey WAS his son! Maybe not officially, but… Well, he was a Thrall, but he wasn’t going to wind up being treated like Rusty!

    He made sure that Limey got more personal attention while he waited for the next kid – and had some of the boys own harem girls come up to comfort and distract him.

    That was comforting and distracting for the boy – but it was pretty much inevitable that he would be losing something there.

    Marty reassured him that he would still be his aide – and would not be demoted to “pet for his real children” (Unless, perhaps, he did the same thing to another Thrall).

    The kid would get over it. It wasn’t like being adopted, having younger “siblings” – or, for that matter, simply being a Thrall – were especially terrible fates.

    Meanwhile, back in Cyarkian, outside of a few more kids and questions, nothing much happened during breakfast – although Raphael figured out what was going on with some annoyance. Blasted multi-presence! It would take a dozen or more minders to keep an eye on these two!

    He really needed to hold a conference on the problem the pair represented. By now, they were big enough trouble-centers that half the major power-players in the Core and the Manifold had an interest!

    After breakfast they headed off to see the diplomats – which suited Raphael just fine!

    On the way he busied his nanotech cloud with casually smoothing and evening out the stone work, carpentry, and other architectural features as he passed – and with cleaning up after the flower incursion. If a universe lacked force fields and cheap microbot swarms you could always be sure that it needed maintenance and cleaning!

    Kevin, of course, occasionally gestured casually at some collapsed structure, damaged facility, or awkward spot, and randomly repaired those – albeit not nearly so methodically.

    The diplomatic offices were located in some of the very lowest levels, in the sections carved out of bedrock. The ceilings were quite high here – and the architecture was quite advanced and designed to maximize aesthetics. The steel structural supports were well concealed – and the whole level gave an expansive look over a large lighted town. They could see a number of mice and rats running around, building a catwalk and scaffolding.

    More repairs!

    The diplomatic offices themselves were a large round building near the center of the chamber that also acted as part of the main structural support.

    The group wandered over, ignoring a selection of hostile looks at the entourage along the way.

    (Kevin) “Nice job here! Lots of digging and sealing!”

    (Marty) “Yeah! I think your NIMH theory might have something to it.”

    (Kevin) “I think so! We did kind of leave them posed to spread out, and with a really urgent reason to do so and new knowledge of the Manifold! What do you think Raphael? Would a combined rats-and-humans culture be growth-inclined?”

    (Raphael, dryly) “One would think so”

    After all, rats and mice tended to go exponential at the slightest opportunity! Being civilized obviously reduced that quite a bit – but there were certainly plenty of kids around for a dangerous frontier town!

    The diplomatic offices had a large lobby with a little mouse at the front desk. A emblematic seal was inlaid into the floor with heavy wood adornment. Behind the desk was a large map on the wall, with a cross section of the city along with sections highlighted as: Complete, Under Development, Under Construction, and Planned. Stacks of papers and books were neatly sorted onto tables on either side. The young mouse at the desk noticed their arrival and spoke in a very squeaky voice.

    (Mouse) “Hi, you must be visitors that arrived as part of the last caravan, what can I help you with?”

    (Kevin) “Oh, we mostly wanted to talk about your homeworld a bit!”

    (Mouse) “Let me get Mr Cartwright then, he’s been the one dealing with nonlocal visitors.”

    The mouse pulled a string under the desk, ringing a bell off in the distance. Soon enough an older looking mouse walked up to the desk as he peered over a set of spectacles.

    (Cartwright) “Hello, I am Mr Cartwright, one of the heads of administration here, I take it you wished to speak with me?”

    (Kevin) “Oh yes! We were curious about your original world since you’re fairly obviously outsiders here!”

    (Cartwright) “Our original world? Ah, so you must be dimensional travelers yourselves then?”

    (Kevin) “Oh yes! We travel quite a bit – but this world is usually fairly isolated.”

    (Cartwright) “Well isolation is sometimes a good thing, although it does take some adapting. We are a hearty people nonetheless. What exactly about our “homeworld” do you wish to know?”

    (Kevin) “Well, there are a few mouse-and-rat cultures out there – but your architecture looks a lot like that of the escapees from NIMH. I was wondering if that was right – and, if so, how your homeworld was doing? As last I’d heard there was some major volcanic activity coming up there!”

    (Cartwright) “Ah, we are indeed the descendants of those initial escapees from NIMH. The volcanic activity was part of a larger set of general changes to the climate that began to take place across the globe. As both humanity, rats, and mice all became threatened by the changes going on, an accord was made between the three races to try and stifle the most dramatic of changes. Unfortunately, humanity has suffered a lot, and has retreated from the world significantly. Indeed, it’s gotten hard to find them at times in the places once famous for their presence.”

    (Kevin) “Did it start with a supervolcanic eruption? One world we heard about was about to have one.”

    (Cartwright) “China, Russia, Africa, and the Middle East have largely lost much of their populations of humans due to a variety of factors including disease, famine, and emigration across the Manifold. It’s given us room to grow and spread without coming into much conflict with the humans – although some of us have begun spreading out into other dimensions to see what we might find that could be brought back to help. And yes, there was a volcanic eruption in North America that would – at least according to our projections, if not all of the human ones – have wiped out much of the population there and across Europe, but it was contained due to the help of a number of dimensional visitors.”

    Marty sighed. It seemed that they hadn’t been able to stop the destruction entirely. Of course, that was the way of dimensions; a single major intervention, even at a crisis point, was rarely enough to entirely derail the local plot. Still, it sounded like leaving some Thralls and gates behind had mitigated the actual casualties a good bit. The plot really wouldn’t care if they’d died or vanished into other dimensions; from the Manifold point of view the two were pretty much equivalent anyway.

    Besides, a lot would have been phantasms.

    (Cartwright) “So we are colonists here sent to learn more about the local world here, master what we can, and then trying to begin export operations back to our homeworld. Of particular interest has been the ways locals handle diseases and injuries. Even the best of human sciences can’t match what the locals do so simply. Does that answer your question?”

    (Kevin) “Oh, I think so! We may have to do something about some relief operations I think… Although your culture makes that slightly more difficult!”

    (Cartwright) “Our culture? Are you referring to the fact that our different views on how things work tends to make it more difficult for us to master the local magic?”

    (Raphael) “The trick to mastering magic is to understand that it does not follow the rules of the greater universe but the rules of the local section and your own mind – but I don’t think that that is what he meant.”

    (Kevin) “Oh, it’s mostly just that I normally recruit relief-workers locally! You culture might not be conducive to that!”

    Cartwright took off his spectacles, cleaned them, and peered at Kevin again… A young wolf-person, with an entourage of other youngsters and a parrot? An experienced dimensional traveler who knew about their world but whose knowledge was superficial and stopped with the Yellowstone eruption? Who’d apparently been granting minor powers to youngsters on a whim and – according to the report from the city guard – had been demonstrating massive magical abilities and had an entourage of youngsters who demonstrated rather extraordinary abilities? Oh dear! He certainly seemed to match the description they’d gotten from talking to the “Thralls” who were still controlling the gateway at Yellowstone… They might be having a visitation from some of the universe’s major powers!

    (Cartwright) “Ah, would by chance one of you happen to be that Binder fellow, oh I can’t remember his name…….”

    (Kevin) “Originally Kevin – but I have lots of names; I’m going by Angkor here!”

    (Cartwright, to Raphael) “Ah I see, yes, I could see why that might pose a problem. Ah well, we are an industrious folk and if magic simply proves a challenge to master, than so much greater the reward. I take it your visit isn’t simply a check up on our homeworld now is it? What else can I do for you?”

    Kevin and Marty were more or less thrown by that one. They really hadn’t been up to anything but a bit of their usual gratuitous meddling while setting up a trade route.

    (Cartwright) “Well, I am sure the people back home would appreciate whatever help you might be able to provide. Times have been a bit lean from what I’ve been told, and as you can see from the number of people willing to come to a colony like ours.”

    (Kevin) “Well, I can send a few agents… Hm. Is there anyone it WOULD be acceptable to recruit? After all, the binding will restore health for the dying, ensure good behavior from juveniles on the verge of exile, and correct any genetic defects. That would make things a lot easier.”

    (Cartwright) “Hmm, for that I cannot answer. I will have to speak with the Colony Council and see what they propose. There should be a Colony Council meeting this evening to discuss the repairs from the attack last night. I am sure I can slide this into the agenda. And beg my pardon, but if this is a side-trip, may I ask your final destination?”

    (Raphael was quietly examining the map of the city with its planned sections and taking notes on his smartclothes for assistance later if he felt like showing off.

    (Kevin) “Well, really we were just establishing a trade route for a platypus clan and doing some general meddling along the way! Mostly clean-up before moving on to… some trials, rescuing an entrapped goddess, a meeting with the unified church, the core military, and some aliens, building an improved galaxy, and some other bits!”

    (Cartwright, quite definitely looking more than a bit skeptical) “Interesting life it must be then. Especially fascinating that you can find time to stop by our colony with so much going on.”

    (Marty) “Well, we’re on a working vacation.”

    (Kevin) “Besides, who says I have to limit myself to being in only one place at a time?”

    There was a definite look of disbelief there.

    (Kevin) “What, you want a demonstration?”

    (Raphael, hastily) “Please be careful asking for a demonstration, he tends to go a little overboard giving you what you ask for.”

    (Marty) “BOY will he go overboard.”

    (Kevin) “Hey!”

    (Cartwright) “I have seen a number of interesting things these mages have been able to pull off with their magic, but long term…. multi-presence seems to one of the ones that never works well. They either rely on automatons or fancy communication techniques, although that fella with the temporal ability was interesting. Too bad he seemed to have lost himself in the process of his last working.”

    (Kevin) “Magic is fun, but there are other ways!”

    (Cartwright) “Dare I ask what “overboard” entails?”

    Kevin fumed a bit, with smoke curling out of his ears for dramatic effect.

    (Raphael) “While I could explain it perfectly, I would rather not go into technical details of how he rewrote the fabric of reality around those islands and caused a reality storm I had to stop.”

    (Kevin, crankily) “It would have run down by itself given a little time!”

    (Marty) “Yeah, I suppose so, but it did cause us some trouble.”

    (Cartwright) “A reality storm? That doesn’t sound particularly safe.”

    (Marty) “Just have to remember that anything happening to you in those things is controlled by your thoughts – I think.”

    (Kevin) “Oh, they’re just when reality becomes thin enough to be shaped by passing personal thoughts! It’s no big deal really! Well, unless other realities start leaking in. That can get weird!”

    (Cartwright) “I can see why that could be dangerous if you are unable to keep your own thoughts in check… So perhaps a demonstration is not the most prudent thing at the moment. With this many people around, things might get a little out of control… Does all magic have this issue, or is it simply this multi-presence ability?”

    (Kevin, sotto voice) “Well, O was only thinking of gating someone to Kadia, so they can talk with me there while we continued talking here – or perhaps just sharing the view from some of my other presences with a bit of telepathy!”

    (Raphael) “Its his direct reality manipulation on a large scale that does it.”

    (Kevin) “And that’s not magic; magic works mostly within the rules of a reality. See, there’s psychic powers, then technology, then magic, then divine powers, then reality editing… Although some places mix up psychic powers with magic!”

    (Raphael) “Magic rarely actually manipulates the fabric of reality in ways it is not meant to be manipulated so it is generally safe from those problems.”

    (Cartwright) “In other words, magic has to obey some physical laws?”

    (Raphael) “I am not sure if they are actually ‘physical’ laws, but it must obey some laws.”

    (Kevin) “Oh yes – although they do apply in a lot of places. People always think that their imaginations are unique, but there are lots of common factors. And those rules are as physical as any other rule in the Manifold!”

    (Cartwright) “Whereas divine power is pulling on the power of a “superior” being or the Creator God?”

    (Kevin, with some surprise) “Nobody that I know really does that! The Creator – or Creators – have arranged things so that they’re pretty much impossible to identify. Divine power is just the power that comes with being a god – which is really just being a massed focus for belief!”

    (Marty) “And becoming a god is a lot easier than you’d expect.”

    (Kevin) “It does make it easy to do things like the multi-presnce trick, or set up afterlives for your followers, and things like that. The followers power and maintain that sort of thing, all you have to do it guide it!”

    (Cartwright) “So that leaves psychic powers and reality editing. I suspect reality editing is simply throwing so much power at the problem as to be able to rewrite things as you wish? Hence things like gates and reality storms?”

    (Kevin) “Full-scale reality editing is much rarer than being a god! It’s direct control over the structure of reality; it’s not so much an amount of power as another level of it. With a relatively little bit of reality editing you can create essentially infinite amounts of power. You just make a universe the way you want it, and pull it from there!”

    (Raphael, with a censorious look at Kevin) “Reality editing simply… rewrites the laws, physical structure, and sometimes history of a universe. I am not at all sure about the ethics of using that power in other people’s home universes without a well-informed request!”

    (Cartwright) “Interesting, it would definitely seem like you are more informed of such things than the locals are. They are largely ignorant of the abilities of technology beyond a certain point. Now admittedly, that seems to be because of a lack of the relevant fundamental laws in a few key fields.”

    (Kevin) “To be fair, magic is really just a local technology; it’s just one that’s more dependent on thought-patterns and talent than on external devices.”

    (Cartwright, interestedly) “Like the ability to read and write or do math then.”

    (Kevin) “Oh yes – and there have been places where those are forms of magic, and can directly impact the world around you!”

    (Raphael, with a censorious look at Kevin) “Magic is NOT technology. It follows different rules, but it is on the same level as technology out here and the edges are blurry, but they are NOT the same. I like to think of Magic as a series of loopholes and exceptions and agreed allowances to the base rules that are technology”

    (Kevin) “So how is it different? They’re both ways of exploiting the local laws of nature to get what you want by creating mysterious implements that most people don’t understand, manipulating local forces, learning strange formulas, and carrying out mysterious rituals using exotic components. You call it electronics, they call it rune mastery… how are they really different? There are lots of “technologies” that don’t work in other universes – including some like Block Transfer Computation that transform space, matter, and time, through pure math… And BOY was the kid using that – Adric I think his name was – an irritating little prat! I was almost reluctant to pull him off that crashing time-traveling spaceship that was about to kill off the dinosaurs!”

    (Raphael) “Bah, magic with a special exception that makes the local universe group it with technology is still magic. You can feel the level of human design in all that stuff that is not in actual technology.”

    Kevin looked quite doubtful there, but it wasn’t really a big worry. After all, a good deal of Star Wars tech was definitely on the “magic” end of things as far as HE was concerned.

    Oddly enough, Raphael actually agreed there, and has no problem with calling it magic since it did not work by default in the places with limited exceptions.

    Mr Cartwright found all this fascinating – and more than a bit worrisome, since his visitors had just been discussing power levels pretty much up through the infinite and apparently operated on all of them…

    Marty found it all rather amusing!

    Kevin put down their world on the list for more relief expeditions – but priorities did go to worlds that supplied their own Thralls; they usually had more real people in them anyway.

    The group said goodbye to Mr Cartwright, and wandered away to look for trouble elsewhere…