Back with the Rats and Mice of NIMH, the rumors and gossip were running through the streets like the great flood, tumbling under truths like grains of sand and drowning common sense in a sea of speculation. A little magic in the streets – even if it was fairly high-powered military magic – was one thing. Blatant, casual, miracles were quite another.
Within the city – however much it’s citizens hated to acknowledge that fact – the children’s images had become infamous during their mothers trial, inextricably linked with the tales of her insane rants and terrible prophecies of doom. Watching a visiting magus casually wave a hand and resurrect them – whether to make a point in his argument or to smooth over a disagreement with the innkeeper – was just a bit much!
The guards dispatched an emergency message to the Colony Council…
Kevin, Marty, and Raphael had already anticipated that. There would doubtless be a summons soon enough! It would probably be best to turn the kids over to the innkeeper – or the orphanage – before that point.
Raphael was still pretty badly distracted by his new multiple-body experiences – especially the stuff going on in the dragonworlds, which was running a high timerate at the moment.
Kevin was considering the news they’d picked up from Marty’s trading venture; one of the major points of the colony – beyond the valuable metals – was accessing the local healing magics and doing medical research into such techniques. That implied a bunch of very sick and desperate people around somewhere…
Marty was considering Sandy’s request (and miniature conspiracy with Rusty and Feanor) to come up with some stunt so heroic that Kevin would opt to keep him in personal service… That wasn’t really likely, although it was vaguely possible – but what would the boys mother think? Was he obligated to find the kid a better job by her standards – or by his as a Thrall? Did the kids opinion count now that he WAS a Thrall?
They all knew that their obligatory meddling would doubtless take them down to the confinement area to talk with the presumably- possessed / undead / gone SERIOUSLY goth rat mother.
They headed into the inn! Might as well try the kids aunt first!
Marty considered starting off with “Hey, Angkor was meddling again, and decided to resurrect some people…” – but decided against it.
Inside the inn, the innkeeper was ranting up the storm and terrorizing the staff with her loud diatribe about Angkor… For a moment Kevin was tempted to have some Thralls turn into little short yellow guys called “Minion” – but only students of ancient video productions would get the joke!
Marty was actually trying to focus again – despite the ongoing distraction of his own kids back in Kadia… The kids should be reintroduced carefully, or she might think that they were just trying to mess with her or worse.
(Raphael, loudly over the ranting) “Hi… sorry about earlier. I thought it would be more rude doing that some other way.”
(Innkeeper) “You bunch again, what do you want?”
(Marty) “Sorry for troubling you, ma’am, but we felt bad about earlier.”
(Innkeeper) “And what do you want with me then?”
Kevin looked doubtfully at Marty… he didn’t really feel sorry about much of anything at the moment!
Well, maybe that the locals on the coast hadn’t liked bagpipes… Hey! Maybe the people HERE would like bagpipes!
Feanor caught that thought, and promptly did his best “bouncy puppy” routine – rearing up against Kevin, wagging frantically, and licking to beg for petting. He was pretty sure that another one of Kevin’s bagpipe serenades would NOT help the situation – or Master’s real purposes – at the moment!
That diverted Master Kevin AND got his ears rubbed and his fur ruffled! Win-Win-Win!!!
Raphael caught that bit of byplay, and quietly made a note of it… Huh… The “pets” as Kevin-distractors? There were some definite possibilities there if he could just persuade them that it was for Kevin’s own good to divert him from some of his wilder ideas! Who would have thought that “pet dog” had the potential to be such an important job?
Marty sighed. The woman DID have good reason to be peeved; Kevin and his “puppies” were enough to make an awful lot of people pretty uncomfortable!
(Raphael) “so Angkor here decided to resurrect some of your nieces and nephews. We would like to leave them here before we go see about possibly curing your sister.”
(Innkeeper, wearing a look of utter disbelief) “What? What do you mean?”
(Margaret) “Angkor was fooling around again and resurrected them.”
(Raphael, sighing with some exasperation) “He does that sometimes. It’s part of his evil plan to… make everyone like him or something.”
(Marty) “So do you want to see them? They were really happy to be back among the living!”
(Innkeeper) “If you think you can fool me with your tricks and shenanigans, you have another thing coming!
(Margaret) “Ok then. Come on in, kids!”
(Raphael) “I guess it is to the orphanage then.”
Kevin wandered up the wall and stood on it while pouring himself a drink sideways, since the foyer was about to get crowded. Rusty, Feanor, and a couple of the usual entourage came along – a bit of casual dreamlike surreality that – at least for a few moments – helped break down the Innkeepers notions of how the world worked.
Well, he WAS fabulously good at psychology…
The kids came running in, calling out to their aunt. She simply stood there for a few moments in shock – flabbergasted at the children running in and hugging her.
Several others in the staff reacted with shock and yelling as well. One of them immediately started demanding answers as to “how?” and “why?”.
(Assistant Innkeeper) “How did you do this?! I thought they were dead!”
(Marty) “Angkor was fooling around and resurrected them. Yeah, he IS a slaver, but he also goes around doing nice things for people.”
The Assistant Innkeeper started counting – and then looked warily at the bunch of them, especially Kevin.
(Assistant Innkeeper) “I count five of them…”
(Kevin) “Oh, two of them were tangled up in something nasty nearby; I’ll have to pull them out directly. Trying to do it remotely would likely send them wandering off into the dimensions, and once they’re “somewhere in infinity without an anchor”, finding them becomes an ENORMOUS bother!” (Facetiously) “At that point it would be easier to rent another room!”
Meanwhile, the Innkeeper was busily trying to make sure that she was between “Angkor” and the kids – especially when the word “slaver” had been mentioned just a few moments ago.
(Kevin) “Oh come ON lady! If I wanted to keep them, I could just have just brought them back elsewhere! I only keep VOLUNTARY slaves! Anyone who wants to get away can check in with the escape-planning-and-assistance committees!”
That got him some EXTREMELY weird looks.
(Assistant Innkeeper) “I thought resurrections didn’t work locally!?”
(Kevin) “How difficult a resurrection is depends on rather a lot of factors! Some people are easy, some hard, some almost impossible, and some you can’t get without chasing down their current incarnation to pull them out of!”
(Raphael) “Really at this point Angkor can do many “impossible” things.”
(Innkeeper) “You said the other two are being held somewhere nasty nearby. Where?”
(Raphael) “Are you sure you would like to know instead of just waiting till we bring them back? Sometimes you don’t want to know.”
(Kevin) “Oh, they’re soul-anchored somewhere nearby! Most likely to their mother… Artificial soul-bonds are way harder than exploiting a natural bond!”
(Innkeeper) “So whatever has my sister has them too?”
(Kevin) “It’s fairly likely!”
(Assistant Innkeeper) “And what do you intend to do with her?”
(Raphael) “Cure her if at all practical.” (as if it was obvious)
(Kevin, with some surprise) “What, you think I bother with planning? I do things, other people plan.”
(Marty, with some exasperation and a sigh) “And he’s not kidding, either.”
(Assistant Innkeeper) “I presume that not planning things has never backfired on you?”
Raphael watched expactantly for the answer to THAT one. Surely Kevin didn’t just wander around doing cosmic-scale meddling on random impulse!
(Kevin) “No more than planning things does!”
Raphael twitched, and did a mental facepalm – as, across the dimensions, his other aspects all stood frozen in a minor moment of horror.
(Kevin, explanatorily) “When you’re dimension-hopping and have loads of power, and are dealing with a universe full of opponents with similar abilities all working at cross purposes, planning ahead starts to involve infinite possible factors! The chance of any plan actually working on that scale is indistinguishable from zero! The minor local plans sometimes work, for major stuff you might as well forget planning and just deal with whatever pops randomly out of the multiverse at any given moment!”
(Assistant Innkeeper, somewhat in shock; a universe full of people like this? Surely god wouldn’t permit it!) “I see”.
(Kevin, reasonably) “Well, would any planner in your world have included the possibility that “random entities appear from another dimension and stick a plug in the Yellowstone Supervolcano” in their plans? That was a terribly minor intervention, done in passing on a whim… If I’d been passing through three days later, it would have been too late for that.”
(Assistant Innkeeper, slowly) “I… suppose that is a point. Although I would think it prudent to not rely on such fortunes of circumstance.”
This… cheerfully crazy CHILD really WAS the entity who had… ripped a hold fifty miles across in the universe… on a helpful whim.
(Kevin, with an air of cheerful explanation) “Why? I am an Opener. In the Manifold, my presence shapes reality – as does every child I empower, albeit to a far lesser degree. For us, wild coincidence is… absolutely normal and to be expected.”
(Assistant Innkeeper, turning to the rest of the group) “And do you share this assessment?”
(Marty) “Up to a point. I’m an Opener too, but I don’t wield nearly as much magical power as Angkor does. I still have to do some planning. And I do try to think about how what I do affects things. On the bigger scale, though, I agree with him. The Manifold’s got too many factors for really long-term planning.”
(Assistant Innkeeper) “I suppose that makes sense, as foreign as the concept is to me.”
(Raphael) “I still think plans are useful if that’s any comfort. You just have to learn how to adapt them as new information comes in.”
Marty was wondering… they didn’t want to just stomp into the confinement area and start doing things. What were the procedures for a visit?
Well, the innkeeper might know something, since it WAS her sister. If she didn’t it would probably be simplest to ask the city guards.
Oh, she was still totally distracted. He just asked the guards.
It looked like the ordinary confinement areas were guarded fairly “normally” and visitors could come and go more or less as they pleased during normal visiting hours. Solitary confinement was much more restricted, and was typically only used for the most dangerous individuals. Usually only members of the government, the guards, or the family were allowed to visit those inmates.
Kevin was kind of wondering… Had the “Assistant Innkeeper” been assigned to the inn very recently indeed just to keep an eye on them? Most innkeepers weren’t so interested in their guests motives and philosophies – only in personal risks, money, and whatever their bosses might say. Besides… there hadn’t been a word about throwing them out, and the Innkeeper had seemed pretty determined about that earlier! Had the city guard intervened in the interests of not pissing off extremely powerful visitors?
Marty was wondering if she’d be willing to consent to a telepathic link to get some information? If something happened, they could probably do something to protect her. Wait; hadn’t Kevin already given her some Witchcraft? Should he ask if she’d be willing to do that then?
Nah, if they wanted to meddle, it would be better if the authorities let them in!
The colony council would probably be demanding their presence at any moment anyway! They might as well wait for that.
Well, waiting for the colony council summons so that they could do some business with them and possibly ask for permission to go into solitary was a “plan” of sorts – and it was short term enough that it just might work!
Wait, Raphael was off in his own world again…
Raphael was having just a little trouble dealing with things… Sheer mental speed didn’t really help all that much when dealing with six simultaneous streams of sensory input, six environments, multiple streams of consciousness, and identities that tended to “go phantasm” and act on their own when he wasn’t paying enough attention to them! The fact that one of those identities was crazy and half-independent, and another was entirely inhuman just made it worse! As reluctant as he’d been to lean on Thrall-services… He was going to have to stop dragging his feet and accept them. On this one he definitely needed help. Five or six aides for each of his identities at the least!
At least that was easy; all he had to do was put out a call and… a couple of hundred youngsters would eagerly volunteer to be his assistants (a better phrase than “personal slaves” anyway!) – and he was currently in Kadia to get that sorted out too.
- In Imperial Rome the after-auction party had finally finished up, and Lord Raphaela had retired to his guest suite – with the entourage, concubines, and servants his host had pressed upon him.
- In Crusader, Dreadpuddle was getting his dirigible secret base out of hock. Just because he’d left it at the facility for most of a year without paying they’d grounded it! Putting him to all the trouble of breaking in to steal his own ship! He’d need a LOT of aides! To get a proper mad scientist vibe going for his giant dirigible of doom he’d need a lot of henchmen! Along with some big signs saying that he lived there – and a telepathic SEP field to protect it!
- Kadia, at least, was relatively sane, even if Marty DID keep calling him to crow over his new kids and how cute and clever and advanced they were… None of them were older than a week or so! How clever and advanced could the squalling infants possibly BE?!?
- In the Dragonworlds, things were… complex. Not only were those worlds running a little fast in the time department, but that identity was almost as independent as Dreadpuddle! And he had considerably enlarged estates to handle, a newly-enlarged harem that needed servicing and slaves which needed to be processed, and wealth to manage, and neighbors to deal with – all of which that identity tended to return to doing whenever his attention was elsewhere. That involved a LOT of pleasure of course – and it was easy to see yet another addictive feature to being a dragon – but he’d rather not run quite so much on autopilot in the back of his head! If he had it right he was VULNERABLE through ALL of those identities now! All the time!
- In the English Fantasy Zone the hounds were slinking by to apologize for thinking that he was the fox; the foxes here were really tricky!
(Raphael EFZ) “Oh, no problem. People think I am a fox all the time.”
The hounds were pleased that he forgave them – and wanted to know if there was anything they can do for him. They had lots of powers, even if they didn’t get to use them much in this job.
(Raphael EFZ) “Well, I am looking for two people who I only have some strange knowledge of. I can show you what their auras will be tinged with and they should not be hiding too much. What senses do you have?”
He did some divinations to figure out what Kevin and Marty would look like to the hounds senses – and described them.
(Hounds) “Oh! You’re looking for Lord Kevin and Master Marty! Lord Kevin usually goes by “Squire Jenkins” here! He’s over at Hogwarts today! Something about them wanting him to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts this semester! He should be back this evening… Are you one of his guests? If you are, it’s our job to chase foxes for you and help in outdoor sports and things if you want!”
(Raphael EFZ) “I am Raphael. I have not decided what I will be called here yet… If I keep this up I will be called Raphiel everywhere so try not to call me that to many locals till I decide being called that here is what I want. Can you tell me anything about this realm and what Kevin is doing here besides possibly teaching defense against the dark arts at hogwarts?”
(Hounds) “Uhm… Mostly this is a trading center! The English Fantasy Zone borders on an awful lot of places! Even the Commonwealth, and Lyonesse, and Faerie, and the European Historical Zones and Myths, and the Talking Animal Worlds, and lots of other places. Most of the major trade routes go through the great mediaeval ports down on the coast!… Oh dear! Are we supposed to be telling you that? It’s so unusual for anybody to bother talking to us much that we may be talking too much! (Whine) We shouldn’t be asking YOU that! It’s all going wrong again!”
(Raphael – EFZ) “I think it’s going to be ok… I work with Kevin and Marty and it seems that I am everywhere they are now too.”
Raphael spent a few minutes grumbling about randomly activating multipresence for a bit.
(Hounds) “Oh! (there was wagging) We’re kind of out of the loop at the moment!”
(A very downcast hound) “Master said we were idiots…”
(Raphael – EFZ) “Has the conection to the Kadia computers come through the power link yet?”
(Raphael – EFZ) “Oh he was going to connect all the thralls to the computers of Kadia. … or are you not a thrall? I was hoping that would get information flowing better.”
(Various Hounds) “He was? Yes we’re Thralls! But nobody tells us much… How does it work? I’m checking for links! There’s one! It wasn’t there last month I think! Lets see…. News! Lots of news and new games and things! Thank you Thank you Thank you Mr Raphael!”
They were embarrassingly grateful… Hadn’t Kevin wanted them to know?
More likely he’d sent them where he thought they fit in, told the computers to remind him to check on them in a few decades, and promptly forgotten all about them.
(Raphael – EFZ) “You are welcome. Do you think you could try to set up a system to alert all the ones who have yet to notice the link? It would be a pity if there were a lot of thralls who did not know.”
The hounds were delighted! Actual USEFUL work to do!
(Hounds) “Yes Sir! We’ll start contacting them and spreading the word! Is there anything else you want done?!?!”
(Raphael – EFZ) “That will do for now except for showing me to a place to wait for Kevin to arrive.”
The hounds happily showed him to the main house – but they weren’t allowed inside. They had to stay in their kennel, although they were allowed to visit the guest cottages if whoever was staying there invited them in though.
(Raphael decided to wait. He didn’t want to presume to just move into a guest cottage… He asked to see “Squire Jenkins” instead.
The servants at the house did indeed sternly point the hounds back to their kennel, and inquired as to who he was – after which they checked in with Kadia, and invited him to either take a suite in the house or a guest cottage as he pleased.
Thanks to that annoying rule – although he’d have to see why it was in place before letting himself get too judgmental – he took a guest cottage rather than a suite and told the hounds that they could visit after he saw the place.
The rule was easy enough to check on… The local servants readily informed Raphael that Lord Kevin thought those particular Thralls were idiots who had volunteered to spend their time as pets of a pet when there were far better things to do – and so he had assigned them to be kenneled dogs / clowns here.
The other thrall-servants seemed to hold the hounds in some contempt, given that Kevin had said that they were idiots.
Raphael rather got the impression that the “hounds” might not be the smartest of all Thralls – but also that they were more or less glumly living up to their expected role.
He tried to do some Thrall improvement and show them how not to be idiots. … He told them that the bond cured most problems – and being an idiot by anything but choice was a problem that it cured… That might lead to complications later if it didn’t actually do that, but it was good for getting them to try to improve.
It did actually. Their problem had been that they were left to find their own assignments, and had no real idea of how to go about it – and they had wound up volunteering to work in Limey’s harem. At least Limey worked for Marty who worked with Kevin. Of course, Limey had no real need for harem attendants OR for Thrall-services. After all, he WAS a Thrall, and belonged to Marty as his Pet (or adopted kid – but Kevin saw him as a pet) – and so Kevin had decided they were complete idiots, and SHOULD be stupid pets.
Raphael tried to quietly get them working on some other thrall improvement projects while he had the chance – such as thinking up new uses for the general powers and spreading the word about useful tricks, as well as finding people who were doing interesting things and getting them advertised and helping write “how to” guides. After all, with the computer link they could report on Thrall-related matters to the other Thralls directly from their kennels.
That, at least, raised their job satisfaction a great deal. The Thrall-Hounds were very happy to take on some important work to do on their smartcollars while in the kennels! It would be very satisfying – and one of these days they might even catch a fox and make it pay it’s end of their bets!
Raphael didn’t bother talking to Kevin about it. It was more amusing to think of the most famous Thralls – the ones doing lots of writing and putting themselves forward as the “voice of the common thrall” going completely unnoticed by Kevin for a while… Besides, he wasn’t sure if Kevin would like the idea or not – and there wasn’t any point in trying to fix what is not broken… at least not until it could clearly be improved upon.
It was a complete side-issue – but he also tried to get them to think about not betting with the foxes if they had yet to win a bet… or at least come up with a really good plan first. They were smarter than they thought they were, and had a new communication relay to a computer that could do a lot of useful things.
The Thralls didn’t bother to tell him – but it was partly that they were supposed to be stupid clowns – and partly that they lived in a kennel; they had nowhere to spend any money anyway. At least the pesky shapeshifting foxes seemed to enjoy getting it.