In the Hanging Gardens, Ruki would awake sooner or later – hopefully without sleeping for a hundred years – to find a note with an apology, contact information, a written explanation, and instructions on how to get out of the Hanging Gardens – as well as a Coatl for further explanations – something along the lines of
“Well, it’s probably properly labeled “An Unexplained Energy Phenomena Governed By Interaction With Personal Energies As Focused By Words, Gestures, and Stances Resembling A Martial Arts Kata” – and so a lot of practitioners just call it magic since that’s a lot shorter to say and they don’t really understand what they’re doing anyway!”
After all… it really looked like the inclination was to accept reality – whenever Ruki wasn’t being confronted by the word “Magic” she tended to respond rationally (if crankily) to her environment – but whenever someone used the work “magic” she just… went into angry rejection mode! Ergo… they needed to redefine or avoid that word!
There is a word that the Exalts who come from Roanapur cannot hear!
Aikiko, having finished chatting with Leon, had gotten a stone of Gender Transformation from Charles and was off to the Middle East. Gender roles were much more tightly set there, and – although she hated to say it – being a girl would impede her there. Her business in the gardens was done – and if abyssals were really operating in the Middle East, something had to be done about it.
The “Gates” Leon had mentioned appeared to be some sort of Wyld Links between Chancels (that was clever!) that currently opened… one about ten miles from Riyadh (the Capital) and one about twenty miles from Mecca. It looked like they could be moved around by simply moving the chancels about.
Well, as long as she wasn’t going to get dropped off in the middle of a major inhabited area, no problem!
That took her to… a hot, dusty, desert town, clustered around it’s water source, but with plenty of electrical power, cars, and other basic facilities – and with lots of people in strict middle eastern dress who regarded him (sigh…) with great suspicion!
Of course; a foreigner in western dress, even a male one, would get that reaction. Especially with the current issues in the country. She got out of sight, adjusted her appearance and dress accordingly, and continued on. Requests for identification were mildly awkward – she hadn’t thought of that! – but stalling for a few moments with an excuse of poor organization in the backpack let the Coatl do something about THAT easily enough. They were, after all, just normal humans!
Saudi Arabia really didn’t have many supernatural groups involved. When you came right down to it… it had a notably uncooperative and often fanatical populace, a barren and unattractive environment, very limited amusements, and nothing much in the way of special resources beyond a few demesnes and a short-term supply of money – both readily available elsewhere to pretty much any competent supernatural entity.
That general lack of protectors HAD made it an attractive place to try to open up a shadowland though – and a ready supply of devoted believers WAS a resource as far as the Abyssal Exalts were concerned; their souls could be made into high-quality soulsteel, and that was hard to come by these days! The drastic tumble in the price or oil thanks to Charles’s activities, and the drastic economic effects of that on a country that relied on that income, was another feature as far as the Abyssals were concerned rather than a new drawback. While the last thing they’d want would be a full-scale nuclear exchange – after all, more people need to be born to make the soulsteel – a nice, long, grinding, resource war would provide still more souls from the soldiers who’d die fighting it…
Unfortunately, in Mecca itself… the crowds were too large to control or even influence at all readily. It did, after all, get the most pilgrims of any country – and non-muslims were prohibited from entering the city. Her attempt to fake being one… fell through all too rapidly!
Aikiko had botched her Lore check, even if her Perform check was pretty good. She fairly rapidly made some mistakes – including something about how she’d used a public rest room, which struck her as REALLY silly (there were rules about THAT?).
Fortunately, few people could outrun her – and a dampened activation of Lightning Speed let her evade vehicles. Still, the police were involved and the hunt was swiftly expanding. A non-muslim in Mecca was SACRILEGE! The Sentence was Death, for the unbeliever and for anyone who helped him!
She was briefly tempted to summon Skoll, manifest some angel wings, and declare himself a messenger of Allah – but it would get too much of the wrong kind of attention. Still, the posters were starting to go up; there were lots of cell phone cameras and some printing shops… A good thing she was disguised and gender-changed at the moment; that could get AWKWARD. Botheration. It… would probably be best to get the heck out, and come up with a “Plan B” – even if it had been nice getting to see all the old buildings and catch a glimpse of the Kabba.
That didn’t prove that hard; changing her appearance, using a bit of travel thaumaturgy, and similar lesser magics… soon got her out of the city. Perhaps it would be better to fund a Muslim in Aden’s pilgrimage, give them some sensing equipment, and see what they picked up? That might put them in grave danger of course, but she was not willing to chance another visit. That had been a pretty frenzied pursuit by mortal standards.
She recruited a refugee in Aden – quite a few of them would be delighted to take the pilgrimage if someone funded it. They didn’t need to tell her anything about the hajj unless they wanted to; she just needed the readings! Perhaps she should check to see if there were any Muslims among the Kickaha? They did make useful bodyguards, albeit probably not against Abyssals.
There weren’t anyway; most of them had been recruited too young to be deep believers, and their enhanced minds were a bit too powerful to be religious literalists about books written by humans.
It was still only fair to tell her agents what she was up to though;
(Aikiko) “Would you mind taking this magical sensor with you? I’m trying to investigate some things in the area, and since I’m not a Muslim…”
(Typical would-be Pilgrim) “Er… Well, I’m not sure that’s right – but looking at the satellite pictures that can read license plates from orbit now, I don’t see what harm it would do…”
It wasn’t like there weren’t plenty of pictures of Mecca out there now!
(Aikiko) “Thank you! And don’t worry about paying for this – I’ll handle that.”
And her Pilgrims were off on the Hajj! Or at least to Mecca…
The Kabba was apparently too obvious a site for the Abyssals to focus on, at least from the living side. There were readings consistent with a shadowland forming on the outskirts of the city. Mortal police and clergy wouldn’t be able to detect it of course – but it was fairly close to some of the accomodations where the missing pilgrims had been staying. From the readings there… some sort of dematerialization power was being used, fairly often!
That was definitely a problem!
Leon, meanwhile, was planning his takeover of the capital and other major cities… It was actually fairly straightforward; move in, minimize unofficial resistance with Onieromancy, transform most of the royal family the same way to break most of the official resistance, and storm the palace and clean up the military with disposable summoned troops. Spread acceptance with another Onieromancy, install himself as ruler, immediately raise the effective resources of every area that he currently controlled, and spread out from there. Admittedly, the total military forces of the country outnumbered what he could summon by about a third – but they were inferior, and scattered, and his troops… would be boosted by more onieromancy and could simply be resummoned from scene to scene. It wouldn’t really have mattered if they’d been outnumbered ten to one; when you had no need to worry about casualties, reinforcements, supplies, or transport there wasn’t much a mortal army could do to oppose you.
Thereafter he would deal with the most fanatical proponents of islamic law, institute social and judicial reforms, and start to modernize a bit. He’d even make the Pilgrimage easier and safer – especially since it brought a constant stream of people into range of his Onieromancies! Soon the country would be transformed into an actual modern state! Because it was a mess! And it certainly had enough issues to be a soft target…
The Gate-Carrier teams moved into position using various “pass unnoticed” effects to augment basic disguises. They only needed to get to secluded places or back alleys relatively near the palace, military bases, and police centers anyway. They didn’t even need to go near the holy sites; Leon didn’t need them yet!
With the gates hidden by being in secluded areas, by thaumaturgy, and through the usual chancel concealment… it came down to “open gates, bring through a squad, spread out to vital areas, each squad member summons 150 “elite” troops for the assault scene.”. If there’s interference from the locals… a spare contingent of troops would work just fine; it simply meant that his squad members would have to stunt for a few seconds to power up for the next scene summons.
There was a bit of mild interference from a few of “lucky” policemen who stumbled into things – but the couldn’t stand up against a troop of military fey. The more reasonable ones were simply detained for awhile. The ones who had been brutalizing the local population were detained until Leon thought of something to do with them (probably inducing some behavioral mutations). It was a pretty even mix!
And if they were TOO corrupt… well, the locals needed a lot of camels! That suited stubborn fanatics anyway; Camels were SUPPOSED to be ill-tempered!
A few of the units closer to Mecca and Medina reported strange sensations, as if they were at waypoints. There were no signs of any waypoints in the area, though; what few local fey remained were deep in the desert and didn’t interact with the locals very much. Story locations subsumed locally? A freehold or the narrative of the forming shadowlands producing potential adventure and dream-locations? Mecca cast a long shadow in many many minds!
Well, that wasn’t likely to disrupt the military operations, so investigating local subtleties could wait until he was firmly in control. That shouldn’t take very long…
As the military forces stationed in Riyadh become aware of the invasion, they mobilized to stop it – but Leon’s troops were largely immune to human weaponry, and Saudi Arabia was one of the least supernaturally-aware regions of the world. The troops in Riyadh engaged for a few minutes, realized that nothing much was happening to the opposing forces, and opted for retreat and dispersal or surrender according to taste. Either way… it was simple enough for Leon’s forces to round up, capture, and disarm the opposition before heading into the palace to confront the king and his immediate family!
The palace… was an entire segment of the city, complete with internal gardens, a car collection, a small theme park, and, of course, separate quarters for the men and women. The last of the military in the city was taking a stand in the palace itself, along with a bunch of panicked servants and other workers. Leon let the disposable summoned troops go first, deployed some Barking Dogs to handle doors and such, and followed them in! Orders were to restrain and capture as much as possible – but if someone INSISTED on fighting to the death, the troops weren’t to take any actual casualties trying to prevent it!
Sadly… there WAS some insistence, and a few men who were willing to die for the royal family – not all of them military. There was much chaos, and shouting – not so much for the fall of the House of Saud, but out of concern of what would be next. Wars in the middle east were often fairly nasty, and conquerors often unpleasant toward the conquered! And the area had hitherto not been overly touched by direct conflict. This was most unexpected!
Most of them wound up being captured anyway – but there were much worse things than an honorable death in battle. Some of them even joined up with Leon’s forces once they realized that his men were unkillable! Tensions had been simmering for a long time…
(Leon) “Right then! Who was in charge here?”
The side-swapping guards dragged out a man who looked pretty high-ranking militarily. He had a bleeding wound on his forehead and was demanding that the troops unhand him! Then he looked around, saw Leon’s troops, and Leon…
(Leon) “So then! Would you care to surrender? Your cause is quite throughly lost I believe!”
(General, struggling) “What is the meaning of this!? Who sent you – and WHY WON’T YOU DIE!”
(Leon, somewhat startled) “Er… why should I? Even if I was unprotected the shootings have mostly been directed at my troops, who have excellent armor… that is neither here nor there however! This is a coup; you should be familiar with the notion! Your troops are captured, your positions taken, and the last few holdouts will soon fall. If you surrender it is likely that more of them will live than otherwise though!”
The general looked around, could see that this was a losing situation – and surrendered (albeit with much grumbling – but there was no way that he could have anticipated THIS)
(Leon) “Very sensible of you!”
After all… barring serious supernatural resistance, Leon simply had too many troops – and could replace them in the next scene. It didn’t take all that long to finish rooting out the opposition.
Leon… promptly started sorting people out; Sort One! the corrupt. Sort Two! the arrogant ones who thought that it was their right to be in charge…
Interestingly – and perhaps surprisingly – a strange device was found in the women’s quarters. From the looped shape and the connected box of starmetal and moonsilver, some kind of portable gate! To Yu-Shan perhaps? Someone might have been manipulating here!
It was only partially assembled though; his troops had caught some of the servants in the middle of putting it together.
(Leon, asking the ones who’d been doing the assembling) “And who does this belong to?”
(Maidservant) “Er… it’s odd. I can’t remember who bought it or how it came to be in here… err, sir? Lord? When we heard news of the invasion, though, I… it’s all confusing. I’m not sure if I knew where it was, or remembered, or found it…” (She shook her head and rubbed her temples) “I also knew how to put it together… but I’m no good with technology!”
(Leon) “Ah, one of THOSE situations! Not your fault my dear! Any idea what would happen when it was completed?”
(Maidservant, sharply – and then looking VERY confused) “It would lead us to a paradise where women were treated as equal to men.”
Hrm… Starmetal? Yu-Shan perhaps? While mortals were decidedly second-class citizens there, the Bureaucracy didn’t discriminate based on gender; only gods with the relevant domains did.
(Leon) “Well, I have no problems with that! I take it that you have no detailed idea of why that would be paradise? Well, I’ll look at it later, but I intend to start fixing that sort of problem anyway!”
(Maidservant) “I…said something?” (And more confusion.)
Hm! Well, that was sort #3! However many of the royal family males promptly objected… A few were indeed dumb enough! Not the king himself, though, who – while he is definitely an older man, and very much traditional – was more prudent than THAT. After all, from the reports that had come in… they couldn’t even touch Leon’s troops! He wasn’t very HAPPY about that of course!
Leon was a marvelous psychologist though… anyone who would really seriously object was going in that sort, whether they did so overtly or not – although the king got a bit of respect for now. The signs in him were subtle – (this was, after all, a man who had been holding the daughters of one of his former wives captive for thirteen years…) – but his objections weren’t serious enough to put him into sort #3!
(Leon) “So then! I take it that you recognize that I’ve seized control of your palace and the center of your kingdom?”
That got a curt nod.
(Leon) “So then! I shall be fair! What do you wish to offer as your bargaining position and what do you hope to get? Since I hope you recognize that I do not HAVE to give you anything, we might as well be expeditious about it! Fortunately for you, I am not entirely unreasonable!”
(King, sighing) “What will you do with me and my family? I might be beaten, but I want to keep my dignity!”
(Leon) “Well, the more intractable ones will be dealt with. Competent administrators will be supervised, but will remain employed and reasonably well off! Minor members who are already basically a part of the population at large may remain so as long as they’re sensible enough not to try to be counterrevolutionary and behave themselves! Many of the younger girls and boys will be taken into my personal service; their status can be reviewed later on; if they too are sensible they may do quite well. Those who have been abusing their positions will be in trouble, although the penalties I may inflict are not so unpleasant as those you have traditionally inflicted!”
(King) “Hmph… I see. A reformer. Who sent you? The Americans, the British, the European Union? Your forces are clearly unnatural! One of their “Great Houses?”
(Leon) “I decided to come on my own initiative! And since you recognize so much… (And he will wave a hand, and bring forth some of his classical Babylonian mythological behemoths). It has been many many centuries since one such as I have ruled the lands of the rivers and the cradle of civilization! Those who accept my rule shall receive prosperity, health, and long life!”
(The king, flabbergasted and and staring for a moment) “If only this were another djinn prank… or just some CIA operation…”
(Leon) “It is not! For thousands of years these lands have been plagued by endless strife. It may or may not be given to me to bring an end to that – but I can certainly try!”
(King, plaintively) “How much trouble am I in right now? What are you going to do to me?”
It was fairly obvious that Leon wouldn’t be looking at the old guard kindly!
(Leon) “What do you think I should do?”
Now that was a hard question for anyone to answer, and there was NO good answer!
(King) “You’re going to turn me into some kind of beast of burden, aren’t you? Can I at least be a horse?”
He’d always liked those!
(Leon) “If you like! However…”
That wasn’t much of a request… he might also have gone for him snagging some money and fleeing with his favorites to the Carribean… it wasn’t like this hadn’t gone well enough so far to make some allowances… It was obvious enough that he’d at least like to stay human and keep at least SOME of his wealth, even if he was pretty much considering his favored relatives a bonus at this point. He was backed into a corner here!
(Leon) “Well then! I will tell you what! You and some of your more competent favored relatives are getting a temporary position as advisors! If you do well and offer useful advice on the surrounding nations, you will get to retire to somewhere pleasant with some of your funds – I’m certain that you have a fair amount stashed away in any case. If you cause trouble, or act up, you can retire to the stables. How’s that?”
(King, hesitantly) “If that’s your offer, I have no choice but to accept for the sake of my people.”
After all, he’d made some attempts to govern effectively and knew a good deal about the region.
Leon… didn’t much care; if they hadn’t grossly exploited their position, abused their people, or some such… there was no reason to mistreat them. If they had, or if they took his kindness as an opportunity to try to rebel… there was plenty of room in the stables! And inducting a lot of the younger generation into his personal service was pretty well expected, traditional, and classical – especially for people who were apparently ancient kings come to reclaim their lands.
He had religious police to eliminate, the Al ash-Sheikh family (traditional religious supporters of the House of Saud) to deal with, the foreign diplomats… and the fact that at least some people around here had some awareness of the supernatural, even if they weren’t actual practitioners.
Still, his soldiers were working on that first two issues at the moment! If he had to eliminate the worst 50% of the population… so be it! He’d prefer not to, but several millennia of this mess was quite enough… He set up an Onieromancy (triggered by some of the rituals that only the most fanatical kept up) to transform those into various useful animals… He had to use a higher-order one to keep Cold Iron from affecting it – but that was no trouble at all…
It caused much confusion among the population as various farm animals came running out of the prayer areas of some of the most influential clerics in the country – but it did help out the farmers and rural villages!
The diplomats had heard the gunfire… the American ambassador was slightly dismayed, but not quite as much as he might have been in prior years. Saudi oil had become MUCH less important recently.
(British Ambassador) “And just who are you?”
(Leon) “I am Belpheros, Bringer of Wonder. The time of the quest is past, the wandering in the wilderness is over, and I shall guide this country and beyond into the future.”
(German Ambassador) “I THINK that’s a reference to Gilgamesh… really now. Even as things are here at the moment, none of us were expecting this.”
(Leon) “Why should you? It has been a very long time!”
(American Ambassador) “Does this have anything to do with the sheep running out of that mosque a few hours ago?”
(British Ambassador) “I saw a few goats, too. Most peculiar!”
(Leon) “Most likely! There is a level of foolishness that I will not permit!”
(Iraqi Ambassador) “Are we next?”
Several of the other “local” ambassadors looked expectant there.
(Leon) “This land must be sorted out before such things become relevant, and that will take some time!”
There was a mixture of relief and suspicion there, particularly from the Iranian ambassador… It was likely that the various ambassadors would be notifying their respective countries’ intelligence agencies to step up their surveillance.
Still, even if they could verify that they had no apparent past… that pretty much supported the impression that he wanted to give anyway. After all… all that they would actually be able to find was the Academy Awards. All kinds of people would swear that they know him of course – but they’d be frustratingly vague on the details.
Still, those agencies with some supernaturals in their ranks might well pierce the truth – but for every one that considered him a threat, another would want to support him as a reformer in the region – and even if he DIDN’T fit in with their own agendas… there was the dilemma of what to do about him. He seemed to be a military power unto himself; studying the footage, he was able to produce nigh-invulnerable troops at a moment’s notice, and in large amounts.
Once things had settled in a bit, Leon made sure that the “new recruits” were under quiet survellience and not resisting, and spent part of the evening celebrating with his new concubines and attendants – as was expected.
Besides… it let him check for any other supernatural influences.
After that… he took a good look at that gate! You never knew when it might open from the far side – and it might have been left for somebody’s kids. It looked like, even unassembled, it had a communication feature, not that these women would have recognized that. Technological proficiency was generally not required for jobs like that… It looked like it provided both audio and visual links, and it would have automatically activated when the gate opened.
Hmph! Leon turned it on, said hello, and waved! After all, it worked for his progenitor! He got no verbal response, but there was the sound of typing on the other end…
(Leon) “Oh really… if all you’re going to do is write reports I might as well drop this thing into a volcano or something!”
(A voice that sounded like a teenage girl…) “Eek, don’t do that! This cost a lot of ambrosia! What is a man doing in the Saudi palace’s women’s quarters, anyway?”
(Leon) “I took over, and the palace belongs to me now!”
(Teenage Voice) “Wait, what? What about the women?”
(Leon) “What about them? Some are retiring, some – not many – are in trouble for abusing what little authority and influence they had, some are in school, and most of the rest are now in my personal service as they quite expected after a coup! Since educational opportunities are now open to women!”
(Teenage Voice) “A coup!? I wasn’t expecting that… someone wanting to escape being married to the king, or being trapped in Saudi Arabia, sure. Just who are you?”
(Leon) “I am Leon Belpheros, Bringer of Wonder, the King who has Come Again!”
(Teenage Voice) “How dramatic… you sound like one of those Lunars Daddy is always complaining about.”
(Leon) “I could probably get along with some of them! Others might be fussy though… And you are?”
(Teenage Voice) “Oh, sorry.” (She started up the visual link and turned out to be a pretty, literally silver-haired girl, probably the offspring of some god. Her bedroom was decorated in high style for a near-mortal; Leon was sure that some of those fixtures were ambrosial. Looking at her Essence… a Nocturnal.) “I’m Argentia, daughter of Moonsbane.”
(Leon) “Ah! well, I have already introduced myself… I am pleased to meet you! I take it that you had half-siblings or some other interest here?”
(Argentia) “Well… (after looking around) I want to do something to help people, but Daddy’s superiors are slow to get my kind into the system. I think something bad might be happening soon, so I can understand. But some friends of mine were getting impatient, and also wanted to help. We’ve been experimenting with some transport methods. Vaal wanted to see if other people could be transported, so Catherine and I made that focus you’re holding. Then Amira sneaked it in the women’s quarters and fiddled with some of the attendants’ memories to hide it being here. Since they’re not up here, and you’re talking to me, I guess it didn’t work.”
(Leon) “Ah! Well things will certainly be happening soon – whether good or bad it is hard for me to say – and I intend to see about getting this region ready for them – although I will admit to enjoying a few indulgences along the way… I’m afraid that the young women who were putting it together did not have time to complete the project! The capture of the palace did go very quickly!”
(Argentia) “It must have, if you’re in there already. But Daddy says that’s not a supernaturally active region – something about Wahabis and pogroms. I don’t follow Ahlat worship. It’s a Gold Faction thing anyway.”
(Leon) “It’s entirely too regressive a system – too mired in primitive tribalism, archaic social codes, and denial of reality – to handle what is coming; ergo I’m doing something about it!”
(Argentia) “Uhm… I’m not sure how Ahlat will feel about that! It’s been pretty good for him! But I don’t think Daddy and his superiors would complain!”
(Leon) “He has adapted before I think, and I suspect that he can do it again even if he would prefer not to bother! Now, if there was someone in particular you wanted to transport out, or if you wanted to come down and see the place, I suppose that can be arranged easily enough!”
(Argentia) “Oh, Daddy will get cross with me if I come down unsupervised. But… I don’t have anyone in particular to transport out, but would anyone like to go to Heaven? It feels like a waste, just leaving the gate with you. And if I sweet-talk him, he might let me keep a servant.”
(Leon) “If you wish to come for a bit I will honor your safety and not interfere with your return – but I suspect that there are a few servants who would not mind a new position!”
(Argentia) “Argh, I want to see Earth so badly… but you have no idea how Daddy gets! Who wants to come up?”
There were a few takers – one who was very religious and the two servants who were constructing it before.
The religious one wanted to “rescue” a couple of the infant royals from the (assumed) dreadful gate laying in wait for them – but Leon had no real objections… It Argentia could take one or two of them… she could have them if she wanted! His invitation to visit would remain open though (Leon was quite charming about it, but didn’t push it; for her part… Argentia was very apologetic about declining – she was a teenager despite being a god-blood and Exalt and found him attractive – but there seemed to be something brewing with the Bronze, and she didn’t want to add to that).
Well, however convenient it might be to open lines of communication with Yu-Shan, there was no need to rush!