The Open Door (megacrossover)

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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

Post by Academia Nut »

Chapter Fifty: Negotiations

The people of Nesmé were normally a hearty, if somewhat grim, lot, used to weathering the dangers of the Evermoors and in particular the Trollmoors. The start of the Time of Troubles had been hard on them, but they had all closed ranks as a community and were prepared to ride out the worst of it, if indeed the disaster could be ridden out. Already the entire north had seemed to have nearly fallen apart just a few days ago. It was horrible. A day after that the Trollmoors had been filled with horrific roars, sounding like trolls but tinged with fear and pain to such a degree that unless the skies had opened up with fire it surely could not be those fearless brutes.

But for all the hardships the people of Nesmé had endured over the years, nothing prepared them for the sight of a contingent of trolls marched out of the mists of the moors carrying exhausted looking people on their backs and gently in their clawed hands. Admittedly, they weren’t the first ones to show up, for ragged looking humans had started appearing a few minutes earlier, followed by strange looking dwarves and gnomes, then other creatures like orcs, goblins, kobolds, an ogre or two, and even drow elves.

A few of them, especially the drow, were armed, but most of those in the strange procession out of the mists looked like they had not seen the sun in years, if they had ever seen it at all. Many of them bore the look of escaped slaves, eager to flee from their masters, but despite the polyglot collection, none of them seemed inclined to fight with each other or with the defenders of Nesmé.

Then the trolls started showing up, carrying those too sick and wounded to walk, and in their arms was the largest number of surface elves in the group, along with a small gaggle of children. Surprisingly the overwhelming majority of the children were drow.

Then, to top it all off, a massive litter, although mobile platform was really more the case considering it was carried by four of the largest trolls the town had ever seen, was carried into view. Laid out on it were the worst cases, along with the apparent leadership. A young woman, a girl really except for the stern set of her face, sat on a throne adorned with polished skulls while a stout dwarf stood to her left and a freakish looking drow to her right. It seemed they were directing both the trolls and the efforts to keep the invalids comfortable and alive.

Apparently too heavy for the platform, there was also either some sort of construct or someone in an incredibly expensive piece of armour gliding along the ground, keeping a perimeter around the trolls.

Upon reaching about a bowshot’s length from the walls of Nesmé, the group stopped by some unspoken agreement and the four trolls gently lowered their burden to the ground, keeping their heads bowed and deferential to the girl at the centre of all of this bizarre activity.

It was then that the veterans of Nesmé noticed what in particular was bugging them about the whole thing. The four trolls carrying the platform had massive scars across their faces, something that should have been impossible. Given time, trolls could eventually regenerate even damage from fire and acid, just not in times associated with combat. Trolls didn’t get scars.

The terrifying young woman walked down the platform, the sick holding up hands to her that she graciously passed her own hands over. One of the trolls, having deposited its cargo of children except for one walked over, a little drow girl riding gleefully on the beast’s head… only the creature actually seemed terrified of the giggling girl.

Then an enormous pair of grey wings sprouted out of the young woman’s back and she took to the air, gently floating up a point where she was level with the walls.

A faint smile crossed her face and she said in a soft voice, “People of Nesmé, I have a proposition for you.”

There was a long, tense silence punctuated only by the creaking of bows and the ringing of the shell casing on the hard stone floor as it rolled away. Neither Lars nor the creatures surrounding him made a single move. The creatures might have never seen a shotgun before, but they weren’t stupid and when a stranger teleports into their stronghold bearing a strange weapon, they were not inclined to make the first move.

Especially when aforementioned stranger brags about killing a major devil and wounding a god while showing no signs of bluffing.

Finally a particularly ornately dressed member of the group broke off from the crowd and approached. Surprisingly, amongst the supernaturally beautiful creatures this one possessed a few tinges of grey in her hair about the temples and some fine but noticeable lines about her eyes. She was either going for the MILF look or she was extraordinarily old, considering Lars could tell that these were not mortal creatures. Still, considering the quality of her armour and weapons, it was pretty clear that she was the one in charge.

Her nostrils flared broadly for a second before she said, “You have the stink of chaos about you, and you dare intrude upon us.”

Lars glanced warily about him before he said, “Considering that you don’t look like the types to accept ‘my bad’ as an excuse, I’m wondering why you haven’t opened fire yet. I’m guessing you want some sort of explanation as to how I breached your defences so you can correct any flaws. Thus I’m not going to tell you how I got here as that would give up the only thing keeping me alive right now.”

“Clever… but another reason stays our hand. You have the smell of chaos upon you, but you are not a tanar’ri or even one of their older kin. No… no, I have been in existence for eons beyond count and the scent upon you is not of any of the children from the Abyss. You are one of the Elder Evils, one of the beings from beyond the deepest reaches of the Far Realm. Perhaps you are a minor one, but you are of the same type of the creatures that the gods before gods made war on at the beginning of time,” the old woman explained.

“Probably not my group or our admittedly ‘more likely to do that’ relatives, but yeah, I know of the type you’re talking about,” Lars replied.

“You have power and potential, and we can all sense the power of the weapon in your hand. So tell me young Elder Evil, what do you intend to do?” The woman asked.

“I intend to find my wife and daughter, get back to either my wife’s home or my home, and then probably settle down somewhere quiet for the rest of eternity. What is probably going to actually happen is that I will end up dragged across a multiverse bigger than you can imagine fighting for my life and the lives of my loved ones against monstrosities that make me look tame. But you know what? I think I can come to accept that fact so long as I can keep those I care about safe and we can enjoy quiet moments eating ice cream or just relaxing in the sunshine every once in a while,” Lars explained.

The winged creatures all around Lars seemed confused and discomforted by his response, possibly because they expected something more evil from him. Frowning slightly, he added on, “Oh, and if I have to wade through an ocean of blood and pave the road before me with the skulls of my enemies, then so be it. Where I come from that sort of thing is considered sweet.”

“I see…” the leader replied quietly, obviously not understanding. “So you intend to fight your way out of here?”

Lars shrugged ever so slightly while not relaxing his aim with his shotgun. “Where I come from, we have two phrases that come to mind. The first is: Walk softly but carry a big stick. The second is: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil for I am the baddest motherfucker in the valley. Right now I’m carrying the biggest stick down here and I’m not afraid to use it, but I would prefer not to get into a fight. So let’s make a deal. I leave you alone, you leave me alone.”

The leader pursed her lips and said, “I am afraid that our laws are absolute on this. You must die for your trespass.”

Lars rolled his eyes and he said, “The fact that you haven’t opened fire yet means that you are either not so devoted to those laws that you will fanatically attack, or you have loopholes you are currently using. Like for instance, I’m sure that there is some way you could allow an emissary into your territory.”

The leader pursed her lips and said, “You are… unexpectedly clever about such things for a chaotic being.”

“You’ve obviously never had to fill out paperwork in Europe,” Lars muttered under his breath.

“But I am afraid that we do not accept emissaries within our domain so lightly. You would have to offer us something rather substantial, an alliance that we do not wish to be accepted by our laws,” the leader replied.

Lars’ eye twitched for a moment before he said, “You want protection from my kind.”

There was a general fluttering of wings and creaking of bowstrings, but silence remained.

“You see me standing here and you think, ‘Oh no, the Elder Evils are returning!’ because I obviously made it in here, where I’m not supposed to be. You’re scared because you’re not the baddest motherfuckers in the valley anymore. So you’re keeping me alive, maybe so that you can cut a deal and get your little slice of the pie left alone,” Lars suggested.

The leader frowned deeply, her face crinkling ever so slightly before she replied, “That is not our thought on the matter… but it is close enough that we can work off it. We are the Erinyes, former angels who have sided with the devils in their struggle against chaos. The Heavens are deluded in thinking that they can stop the demons, and the worse things that lurk beyond the Abyss, with half measures. We remember the Elder Evils and the effort it took to drive them off far enough that only the things spawned in the Abyss remained. You stink of chaos, and yet there is reason in your mind.”

“Where I come from, Chaos is all things, including Order. We are… what we are. We have no particular side in the struggle between Order and Disorder, and in fact Disorder does not align well with our current goals,” Lars replied truthfully.

“So it would seem. We want assurances that whatever domain of the Far Realm, or worse, that you come from, you will not harm us or our goals,” the leader demanded.

“Now we’re talking. I cannot exactly make air tight guarantees on the behalf of my superiors, but… but… I am empowered as an emissary,” Lars said, conveniently leaving out the fact that he was an emissary by accident and default. “There are a few things we can talk about. For example, a non-aggression treaty should be sufficient. You leave us alone and we’ll leave you alone, provided you don’t break some of our more important rules.”

“You have rules?” The leader asked, clearly shocked by a chaotic creature having a rule important enough to include in negotiations.

“Yes. Really, just one major one. No harming of children. Okay, if there’s a war and some kids get hurt in the cross fire, that’s war. Not fun, but there was nothing intentional. Our gods just don’t like to see children get hurt intentionally, although neglect is pretty bad too, and have rather strict opinions about it. Ones involving unpleasant things happening to transgressors… and judging from the atmosphere of this place, you all know a great deal about such things.”

There was the slightest shuffling amongst the winged warriors before the leader admitted, “The reason we are so… adamant about our laws here is that only the greatest of allies may step foot within our rookery. This is where the next generation of Erinyes are born, where the past and the future of our species meet. It is protected from all others, including other devils. Only Asmodeus has permission to walk here without requesting an audience, and only the dukes and archdukes of Hell or gods that we have particular alliances with may come at all.”

Lars grinned before he asked, “Is it because they are dukes or gods, or because they are your allies?”

“The latter, but they are the only ones worth allying with,” the leader replied.

“But if a sufficiently powerful being were to request an alliance it would be permitted?” Lars inquired.

“So long as said alliance did not interfere with any prior agreements or our own laws,” the leader replied.

“I see… well, I do happen to have the ear of a local goddess, sort of as it is a rather strange tale to tell, and I am certain that my own gods will listen should I present to them an agreement. You wish your rookery protected from any potential attack by my people… and you also wish to learn more, do you not? This is why you speak of such things to me. You wish to fill my halls and the halls of my allies and superiors with vipers under the guise of allies, do you not?” Lars asked.

“Clever. And yes, this is what we desire. We have our tithes to Asmodeus in souls gathered and in military service rendered, but that ancient contract does not take up our entire population. We have other contracts, but there are always a few who remain to either protect the colony or perform tasks for the benefit of the rookery. Our contracts are binding, both ways,” the leader explained.

“Non-aggression from those I personally command and guarantee of opening diplomatic ties with the intent to expand the pact to all my people and free and safe passage for me and my family through your land and around your people. Name your price and we will begin negotiating,” Lars replied.

“Twenty of my daughters to accompany you and for you to never come here again unless invited, nor mention how you got here to others,” the leader demanded.

“No contest deal on the second condition, but I only want five devils around me,” Lars replied.

“Thirteen,” the leader countered.

“How’s about eight? It’s a sacred number to my people, although six through nine are all sacred in different ways,” Lars offered.

“Ten, its round and neutral to both of us,” the leader offered.

“I can live with ten of your vipers. I assume they will act under their own command?” Lars inquired.

“They will be under your command, ally. Shall we seal the deal?” The leader asked.

Lars rolled his eyes and said, “Let me see the full contract first.”

The Erinyes snapped her fingers and a long parchment covered in ink appeared in her hands. Taking it with a tentacle so that he could keep his gun up, Lars went over it, summoning up the Infernal language from one of his recently acquired souls and he began making little marks while humming slightly.

“What are you doing?” The leader asked nervously.

“Removing clauses I didn’t agree to. You’ve never dealt with a Ministry of Fish and Game the way I have, although technically I’ve dealt with about three dozen different forms of the idea over about a hundred different lifetimes. Ha! Look at this fine print! It’s a joke! Back before they were all killed any slick shit attorney fresh out of law school could tear this apart,” Lars replied, one eye on the contract, two on the Erinyes.

The devils looked… miffed… at the suggestion that their ability to produce binding legalese was lacking, but when Lars handed it back for their review, the leader just looked at it, blinked, and shouted out, “What did you do to our poor language?”

“Ah, sorry, I was importing legalese from French bureaucracies and applied the English language’s ability to pin down another tongue and horrifically violate it to your own Infernal. Is the meaning clear?” Lars asked.

The devils carefully examined the altered document for a long time as a group, carefully annotating it in places while giving Lars evil looking glances before they said, “For a being of chaos you have quite the art for making laws dance to your whim.”

Lars shrugged and said, “We’re a bit looser than before but we have a tradition of extremely lawful and organized societies, just not in any sort of way that you would recognize or understand at first. I’m sure you would adapt well… although maybe not to the current incarnation… but upon initial contact you would be overwhelmed by the alien structure. You would actually be considered uncultured primitives in all likelihood.”

This left the Erinyes silent for a moment before they handed the contract back to Lars. Looking over it, Lars made a few minor corrections before handing it back. The leader then nodded her head and bit into her thumb, pressing a bloody print into the bottom. Lars shrugged and pressed his own thumb into the parchment, extruding some warp-stuff to make his mark.

For a moment there was a small stain of shifting colours before it morphed into a black star of Chaos. Lars was almost content with it before he noticed the symbol starting to shift once more, the arms of the star starting to twist and braid about until there was a new and unique symbol. The lower three had formed what vaguely looked like a nautical anchor while the top of the symbol looked almost like tree branches twisted together, with the central up pointing arm widen out to produce a distinctive hammer effect.

Lars looked at it for a while before he sighed and realized he had just figured out the Chaos symbol for him and Skuld.

Oh, and judging from the cries of surprise on amongst the Erinyes, Lars figured that all of the ones assigned to him had just been marked as well. He gave their leader a blank stare and said, “Honestly, I had no idea that would happen. Sorry.”

“The fact that the contract hasn’t magically informed me of a break indicates that what just happened was non-hostile, so I’ll let it pass. Now go, get out of our colony,” the leader demanded.

“Right away. Umm… which way is out? I got here via a portal accident,” Lars admitted, now that he had secured safe passage.

There was a collective groan from the Erinyes.
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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

Post by Academia Nut »

Chapter Fifty-one: Truth and Machinations

Ao sat quietly at his study, such as it was, poring over the reports on the search for Skuld. This couldn’t have come at a worse time as he had intentionally limited his own personal servants over the millennia, preferring to work through the gods rather than his own agents as he attempted to shield himself from the drawbacks of his position. Unfortunately, with the gods kicked out for unruly behaviour, he had to scrounge together the resources he needed to search for Skuld.

At least when he had explained it to the Almighty he had agreed that if his underlings had already defied him then letting them know about Skuld would probably just endanger her further. He had still been chewed out for letting it get to that point, but the Almighty had agreed that this made things more difficult. Especially since Skuld and her ally, along with anything they produced, would be undetectable to divine senses, including Ao’s. Unless he was physically looking at her, any scrying, divine or mortal, would just miss her. This had to be done the hard, needle in an infinite haystack way.

At least now Ao had a lead. Someone had blown up a large chunk of Northern Faerun a few days ago by causing a huge explosion in the Underdark, which while possible for one of the Avatars to pull off seemed unlikely. It smacked of something an outsider to the Realms would do.

Ao was also not surprised when one of the few beings still capable of travel between the planes showed up in his office. He had ‘left the door open’ anticipating just such a thing happening.

“General,” Ao noted, not taking his attention off the reports in front of him.

“I have not been called that in a very long time,” a silken, sibilant voice noted.

“You still retain the rank, not matter what the others say. And while I feel you are far too ambitious and treacherous for your own good, you perform your appointed duties as demanded of you. More than can be said of many of the current crop of deities,” Ao replied.

“Thank you, sir,” Asmodeus said graciously, bowing slightly.

Ao, in no mood for the games of the leader of the archdevils, rolled his eyes and said, “Cut to the chase. I’m extraordinarily busy right now and if you have approached me with something pertaining to my current task, I want to know. If not, I want you to leave. Quietly.”

“Ah, the Tablets of Fate? No, but I feel that this is a matter of somewhat greater importance, and as part of my duties, I felt it critical that I ensure that you are aware of it,” Asmodeus replied before reaching into his luxurious, astronomically expensive robes and pulled out a scrap of parchment with a symbol on it.

“A few days ago, a colony of Erinyes under my command made a contract of employment with a creature that used this symbol as a personal mark, a creature their leader, one of the eldest devils still in existence, insisted came from an Eldar Evil. All attempts to locate this creature or the Erinyes that accompanied him have failed,” Asmodeus explained gravely.

Ao looked at the symbol and how it was charged with alien magic for a second before he asked, “That’s not an original, is it?”

“No, it seems that the very geometry causes it to accumulate magic of a like I have not seen since… well, you know,” Asmodeus replied.

Nodding, Ao said, “Thank you for bringing this to my attention, it does relate to my current concern. The first thing you should know is that the Void Born, or rather the Elder Evils as you call them, are not returning. This is an isolated incident and I want the creature brought to me if you find it. Alive and unharmed. Got that?”

Asmodeus grinned slightly and bowed magnanimously before he said, “Of course.”

Ao was quiet for a long moment before he said, “There is… one other thing. But before I tell you anything more, you must swear a binding oath not to leak any details of what you learn to any other being. You’re a snake, but I know you keep your word, even if you like to twist it. Don’t make me compel you, because you know I can.”

“To swear an oath must mean that what I will hear is very important and presumably very dangerous. What incentive do I have to keep this knowledge?” Asmodeus asked slyly.

“Do the tasks related to this knowledge and I will heal your wounds,” Ao replied flatly.

Asmodeus was quiet for a long moment before he said, “I, Asmodeus, Ruler of the Nine, Archdevil of All the Hells, do swear a binding oath before Ao not to reveal or insinuate any facts or details revealed to me in this meeting.”

Ao nodded, knowing that the fiend was now bound by his own nature. Ao then said, “You remember the most ancient ages, when the Abyss was the crack in reality that the Elder Evils poured in from, when the Far Realm was more than just a skin surrounding the Realms like an infection. You know how the demons are the remnants of those invaders, the stain of their destructive ways still part of the Abyss.”

“I do,” Asmodeus replied darkly. It was the issue of how to fight those ancient wars that had resulted in his exile from the Heavens to the Nine Hells. The Blood War was the continuation of that conflict.

“Well my people called them the Void Born, or alternatively in our darker moods ‘Things That Should Not Be’,” Ao replied.

Asmodeus was silent for a long time, and Ao broke it when he said with a grim chuckle, “Are you surprised that I am not unique? That there are others like me? Do you want to know my full name and title from all those aeons ago, when the Realms were not even imagined yet?”

Asmodeus nodded, his curiosity overwhelming his sense of personal, detached decorum. He suspected he may have been the first being to ever know these things and he did not want to spoil it. The knowledge, even if he was bound not to tell it, could prove far too valuable.

“I am Ao Inkfingers, Naval Clerk in the Logistics, assigned to the 3rd fleet, serving aboard the dreadnought Magnhildr. I am a Third Generation Lord in the House of Space, and one of two remaining members of that House, the other being the Third King of the House, the Second Generation Lord Odin Allfather, also known as the Almighty by his own people. I am perhaps one of a dozen beings in all the multiverse that fought in the Extinction War and one of perhaps two beings that knows even a piece of the history of the Disaster. I am older than you can imagine, older than most of the surviving Void Born, the beings you call the Elder Evils,” Ao explained in fully deific glory.

Asmodeus absorbed this for a moment before he asked, “What happened?”

Ao frowned, obviously dredging up painful memories, before he said, “My people, the Lords of the House of Space, were the descendents of a truly elder race with full command of their reality. I only know a tiny piece of the full history as the Almighty is the only one still alive who knew anyone from that age. I have no idea exactly what happened, but there was a Disaster, something so horrible that it forced the construction of a wall about a collection of billions of realities just to protect the rest of infinity. Many of the survivors fled to the still stable outside multiverse to establish their successor states. My people were left behind to attempt to clean up, or at least contain, the mess. There were unforeseen complications.”

“The… Void Born,” Asmodeus concluded, pausing to use the correct term.

“Yes and no. The Void Born were an unexpected problem, but alone they would have been manageable,” Ao said before he waved his hand and summoned forth an image of the Realms and the planes that composed it. He then started to zoom out, and out, and out, until the Realms were a tiny glowing point amongst an ocean of countless billions of such points, all contained within a great sphere.

“This is a map of the multiverse as we know it, although it hasn’t been updated in… well you know how tricky time is to measure for beings such as us. But even then, it has not been updated in a long time, not since before the Realms were founded. There are seven points of interest. There are the four Gates, the Eye, and the two Houses. As you can see, we are quite close to one of those Houses, my birth universe, the House of Space. On the opposite side of this construct is the House of Time,” two points at the top and bottom of the sphere lit up to punctuate Ao’s words.

“The Gates control access in and out of this great construct and into the realms consumed in the great storm caused by the Disaster. For safety purposes we made them unable to connect directly to each other or to the Eye or the Houses. A rather fortunate thing considering what happened next. You see, our ancestors did not fully understand what they had unleashed and the turbulence of the cosmic storm triggered two protrusions of energy above and below the Eye. Destructive, destabilizing energies swirled up to crash into the Houses and cause massive devastation. The magic of the Far Realm is but a taste of what we faced. The Houses were insulated, but not to the same degree as the much more heavily fortified Gates. We lost complete contact with the Lord of the House of Time. No idea what happened to them. If they survived they probably wonder the same about us. Around the same time the Void Born struck,” Ao explained.

“Such chaos…” Asmodeus muttered while looking fearfully at the map laid out before him and the destruction implied. It offended his sensibilities greatly for such a neat order to collapse so.

“It gets worse. The Void Born were… things that emerged from the Disaster, semi-sentient engines of destruction, birthed in the Eye Wall, the universes inundated with energy. We sterilized them all as a last act, but their attacks on the Gates were particularly troublesome. The Houses were being damaged by the energies kicked up by the storm and our responsibilities involved controlling our prospective domains. Space and time were breaking down without our input and the Gates were being attacked by horrific monstrosities. One by one they all shut down before we could even get to them. The first to go was completely invaded by the Void Born and only managed to prevent an outbreak to the rest of the multiverse by sealing them all inside. The controller went insane last we heard. One of the Gates next to it went similarly mad at the loss of its companion and shut the doors. The other two shut down shortly after, isolating their control programs into artefacts with no will of their own, locking away the majority of their power,” Ao detailed out.

“And the Realms?” Asmodeus inquired.

“While bombarding the Eye Wall at long range, and I mean really long range, we were attacked by one of the more powerful Void Born and our fleet was wiped out. I got to an escape pod and was the only survivor. I drifted about until I managed to make contact with the new ruler of the House, Odin. He was the last remaining Lord there, although I suppose if you count his wife at the time that would make three of us, but Hild was not born to the House but was an ambitious vassal so she doesn’t exactly count. Out of pity and a sense of loneliness, he started sending me the information I needed to start building my own bubble of stability. Then the gods started popping up and a few lesser Void Born started attacking and you know the rest,” Ao said.

“Then what is this creature that has arrived in the Realms?” Asmodeus asked suspiciously.

Ao frowned for a second before he said, “The Almighty did some research into the oldest files and he thinks it is the product of an experiment by the Lords of the House of Time into the creation of Void Born. They jammed two universes close together such that they would leak into each other and the beings they seeded each realm with would come into conflict. The last report states that they produced some rather interesting results before the Extinction War went into full swing and we lost contact. The creature is by all accounts quite rational and intelligent for being capable of travelling in the Void unprotected and the Almighty wants to thank him for his actions… in saving the Almighty’s daughter. Who is also here.”

Asmodeus suddenly got why Ao was being so open with him. “Your superior’s daughter is here, within the Realms?”

“Yes. And he wants her safe. I don’t think you quite comprehend how powerful he or his daughter is. I can erase you and every mention of your name with a snap of my fingers, although the damage to the Realms means I won’t unless you push me. I was a paper pusher, if a military one and a good one, in my previous life. The Almighty controls the language that permits the existence of everything in the Realms. He can literally take away my power at a whim. And if he gets mad enough, he’s going to send a battalion of his best warriors, probably led by a veteran from the Extinction Wars if I had to bet, and start tearing the place apart looking for his daughter. His Valkyries will kill anything that stands between them and their objective, including power holders such as you or me. So it is imperative we find her and fast,” Ao said.

“But someone had to go and steal the Tablets of Fate,” Asmodeus said, seeing immediately the problem the Lord of the Gods was in.

Waving it off, Ao said, “The Tablets are incidental, I don’t need them. It’s the fact that several of the gods no longer respect my authority. Skuld can, if she puts a little effort into it, rewrite reality as effectively as her father. If I let the same gods who stole the Tablets know about her, I highly doubt they will respect my commands or the commands of her father, and since I don’t know which of them did it or knew about it…”

“But since I am not a god I and my servants cannot access the domains where the Tablets were stored, except for on occasions of open invitation such as this one, it couldn’t have been me,” Asmodeus summarized.

Ao narrowed his eyes slightly at the devil before he said, “Let me be clear here Asmodeus. I didn’t agree with your exile, but neither did I stop it. You’re too ambitious by far. Don’t even think about trying to seize Skuld for your own purposes. She could destroy many of your rivals and bring you power supreme, but she is strong willed and her family is strongly opposed to the sort of order you represent. If you find her, turn her over to me and content yourself with my favour and the favour of her father. Push the issue and you will quickly find yourself gone removed from reality as if you never existed, and it won’t necessarily be at my hand. You’ve never broken the rules in your entire existence, even if you have played the system and bent the laws, so don’t start now.”

“I would never dream of doing such a thing,” Asmodeus replied with a toothy, aristocratic grin.

“I’m sure you wouldn’t. Deploy your fiends as you see fit to Faerun to find Skuld and the creature. You are not to interfere with local affairs, just search. Divination will not work on either of them or those near them, they are outside such things. Do not push a confrontation, just find them and report back to me. If your forces find her, I will heal the wounds to your body, at the very least,” Ao offered.

“A most generous proposal Lord Ao. I will begin the preparations immediately. It will take a week perhaps to marshal the forces I can trust to not step out of line or ask any questions. Is that acceptable?” Asmodeus inquired slyly.

“Most acceptable. Now go. The faster we get this resolved, the less likely we’ll have a battalion of pissed of unstoppable warrior women rampaging through the Realms burning everything in front of them and supplying spear enemas to those who failed to find and protect Skuld,” Ao said before waving dismissively, returning to his reports.

Asmodeus bowed and then disappeared in a puff of sulphurous smoke.

Lolth had been at the heart of her army of drow when the explosion and collapse wiped out her most faithful followers. She had spent the past week trapped under a mountain of rock, her skin burnt off and slowly regenerating by the terrible forces unleashed. The damage had been painful, but at least it had healed, unlike the maiming that had occurred to her when she had been struck in the breast. That had been a divine weapon to do that, and as Gruumsh could explain, such wounds never healed. Lolth would remain with but a single breast for the rest of her existence.

Her priestess’ had not exactly enjoyed the demands of emulation, but after the first couple of executions the ritual maiming had begun in earnest. Unfortunately all of those so marked had died, so it would take a bit more time to spread the word. Once Lolth got out of this situation. That could take until the gods were allowed back into their domains, as while she could keep the tons of rock above her from crushing her for an indefinite period, she could not actually escape.

Some time into the interminable wait trapped under the stones, she felt the vibration of large metal poles scraping on rock, and then the rumble of massive amounts of stone shifting. While not quite enough to escape, it did allow Lolth a little breathing room.

“Ha ha! My followers! You have come for me!” Lolth cried out triumphantly.

“Not quite…” Shar replied into the crevice where Lolth was wedged.

“Shar! You bitch! That whore was using your magic!” Lolth cried out.

There was a slight hiss before Shar said, “Yes, she was. She stole it from me. Hence why I am here. Now, on the one hand, I could have my minions shift these rocks and crush you, claiming your portfolio for my own and taking the Underdark completely uncontested from this point on. On the other hand I find that my rivalry for the races of darkness with you seems currently outweighed by my seething hatred for the bitch who stole from me and who presumably also maimed you. Thus I find myself at a crossroads. Kill you now and accept a little more power later, or let you out so that the two of us can hunt her down and then share in the revenge. Combining all the avatars of our pantheon together, we should be able to kill her quite nicely.”

Lolth was silent for a long, long time before she said, “Let me out, I hate you less than her.”

“I agree,” Shar said before the stones started shifting again and Lolth found herself pulled out from under the crack by smooth, pale hands. In a tiny bubble around the rubble a half dozen shadow giants working with a pair of adamantium poles had managed to pry open the rocks, while the avatar of Shar stood in their centre, grasping Lolth.

There was a slight exchange of sneers between the two goddesses. Shar looked greatly, if subtly, diminished without the power of the Shadow Weave coursing through her, while Lolth was maimed and still suffered burns from the blast that entombed her.

“Go Lolth, gather your Dark Seldarine and your demonic allies and I shall rally my allies Loviatar and Talona and any allies they might bring. We will make war upon this usurper and take revenge for the wrongs she has inflicted upon us,” Shar said in a seething voice.

“You can have your Shadow Weave back, but I want access after and the bitch’s tits for a hat… and to participate when we let Loviatar loose on her,” Lolth demanded.

“Of course. You know, this could be the beginning of a useful alliance,” Shar said with a smile.

“It may very well be,” Lolth replied with a grin.

Nothing unites rivals quite like hatred for an external third party.

The Riders of Nesmé watched quietly from the bushes as the creatures approached their town from the road to Silverymoon. They had landed a few minutes ago, having spotted the town from the air before landing and cloaking themselves in illusions. But the Riders had seen what they were. They were devils. Abominable creatures only deserving the sword and the axe.

And the creature that the wicked goddess described as her consort was with them. They had known that any being that could command such abominable creatures as was in her following must be evil, but this sealed the cake.

Slowly and quietly bringing back his bow, the leader said, “Shoot to kill and don’t let them get back to their dark goddess.”
I love learning. Teach me. I will listen.
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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

Post by Academia Nut »

Chapter Fifty-two: Visions of the Future

Sometimes it really, really, really didn’t pay to be proactive, as the Riders of Nesmé were finding out as bands of shadows bound them and their mounts still. Their little ambush had gone well to start, downing three of the she-devils and making a pincushion of the male leader. Unfortunately, the strange creature just looked exasperated at the arrows sticking out of him and at the riders charging down at him with lances, and then the devils returned fire with a withering, rapid fire volley of flaming arrows that took out several of the Riders.

Then the now thoroughly perforated creature took a strange object off its back and activated the strange wand/staff-thing with a tremendous roar of fire and noise, causing Andre, the paladin at the forefront of the charge, to die messily as his head exploded. The creature then hurled some sort of mental magical attack that slew Andre’s lieutenant Kris, his mental screams as his soul was shredded causing the all the horses and many of the men to panic, destroying the momentum of the charge before it had a chance to hit the tiny cluster of devils.

It was at that point that the damnable dark goddess had shown up, some sort of fallen angel emerging out of her back and carrying her aloft. She had immediately sent a wave of shadows over their band and immobilized them all.

She had then run up to the savage killer at the heart of the formation and jumped into his arms, planting a kiss on his face before she disengaged due to the fact that the projectiles sticking out of his body made such a move rather awkward.

Now she was quietly talking with the monster, which was nonchalantly pulling the arrows out of his head and trying to talk reason to the goddess, who kept sending the Riders murderous glances. They in turn tried to glare her and her damned creatures to death. Meanwhile the she-devils looked over the ones that had gone down in the initial volley, and unfortunately one had already managed to stand back up, if a touch shakily. The other two however looked like they were not going to get back up.

On the whole, it hadn’t been worth it, but still, it was good to see two devils erased from the multiverse.

Then the creature said something as it pulled the last arrow out of its body that made the dark goddess grin in a fashion that caused even the devils to take a step back from the palpable aura of menace.

The goddess took a step forward and said, “Riders of Nesmé, you attacked my husband and his allies out of some sort of misguided desire to punish evil without first learning all the facts, an act he and I consider evil. For your transgressions, you are punished to become what you are, forever. Ride the skies, seeking out evil, true evil, to atone for your sins.”

She then started chanting, her angel singing along with her while wisps of shadow began to swirl about her feet. Tendrils reached out and wrapped about the dead devils, causing their forms to combust, the hellfire adding embers and ash to the shadow. Once fully combusted, she drew the umbral embers back to her, clutching a tornado of black and orange to her breast.

Then, with a terrible cry, she hurled the energies at the Riders, catching in a swirling holocaust of destructive energies that flayed them and their horses to the bone… but not beyond that. As their own flesh burned, they did not die. No, a far worse fate awaited them.

The metal of their armour and weapons peeled back and melted, flowing about their burning bodies and reforming into thick chains that bound the riders to servitude. Their clothing combusted but did not turn to ash and fly away, rather reforming into the thick garments of semi-nomadic herders they had never seen but that Lars and Skuld knew very well.

When the dread spell was complete, approximately three hundred men and three hundred horses had been transformed, all their flesh stripped away and turned to halos of hellfire and night black smoke about their burning skeletons. They wore long coats and heavy leathers that seemed perpetually singed but never actually ignited. Wrapped around them were chains of steel that seemed to only be solid on a thin, cracked crust on the surface for one could see the white hot glow of molten metal beneath. From their right arms the chains draped down, long whips of molten cold iron wreathed in hellfire ready for use in the service of the one that had just claimed them. Meanwhile their mounts had been transformed into skeletal nightmares, snorting yellow-white flames while their glowing orange hooves struck sparks of molten iron across the ground.

Paladins, rangers, fighters, and even clerics of other gods had made up the Riders of Nesmé. They had all been transformed, every last one of them involved in the attack, their souls claimed irretrievably by Skuld’s magic.

“The fires of hell that composed your victims shall burn you forever, and lightning shall lash your backs. Every blow you strike against an enemy shall reverberate with you, their pain becoming yours and visa versa, but death shall never claim you. Only those who can see beyond your horrific exterior can grant you love and gratitude shall be able to quench the fires that burn at you… for a time. Go now my Ghost Riders and gallop across the skies and seek your salvation in the arms of others less judgemental than you. Go my Wild Hunt and pursue the wicked that would torment the weak, regardless of species. Go!” Skuld commanded.

Compelled by more than just the fear and pain that tormented them, the Riders mounted their flaming steeds and whipped them on with their chains, striking sparks as they took to the skies, the hooves of their horses finding purchase upon thin air as if it were a cobbled street. As they ascended, the trails of smoke about them coalesced into dark black thunderclouds, lightning leaping from the storm to lash at the riders, causing them to cry out with pain but harming them not in the least.

Back on the ground, Lars turned to the utterly stunned and more than a little terrified looking Erinyes and said, “I would like to introduce you all to my very recent wife, Skuld.”

For Lars’ part, getting hit with about three dozen arrows simultaneously had just put the capstone on a really crappy week spent stuck in a hell dimension with his mood steadily worsening while the lawful nature of the plane he was on tried to reject his chaotic essence, making him itch while accompanied by ten very annoying ladies. It wasn’t that they were actively annoying, it was just that they made Lars suddenly appreciate his gods a great deal more.

He suddenly realized why they pushed the medieval evil look so much. Medieval evil was stupid! It made for very effective cover for the true intelligence of the gods.

Oh sure, the devils were quite intelligent and quick witted, it was just that they could not comprehend many of the finer philosophical points Lars tried to talk to them about despite the fact that he was an amateur. The worst bit was that they were the ones who kept bringing up discussions of order and chaos or good and evil.

Finally they had made it to a portal and from there back to the material world where emotions were not so polluting. They had then scouted about with teleportation and flight for a bit before Lars decided to land near a village with a large camp next to it. Lars had decided to land on the opposite side of the village from the camp so as to not spook the locals if this wasn’t the right place.

And he got a bodkin or eight to the face for his trouble.

Watching the bastards who did it ascending into the sky made Lars grin, especially when he factored in the gobsmacked looks on the faces of the Erinyes. They had just received a rather stark demonstration on the difference between their morality and his, although Skuld’s reaction may have been overdoing it just a bit. Then again he had suggested the whole ghost rider thing.

Nodding sagely, Skuld then turned back to Lars and tackled him, dragging him to the ground as she attempted to smother him, gripping him tightly and driving his face into her chest while she cried about missing him. Had Lars needed to breathe, he might have been smothered by her breasts, which were admittedly filling out nicely and were at least a B cup now, if still mostly hidden beneath her voluminous clothing.

Morphing his body, he slipped out of Skuld’s grip so that while she was still on top of him, at least now they were face to face. Swirling tears of penumbrae ran down her face like grey ink and dripped on his face, causing him to say gently, “Hey, where’s the scary vengeful goddess now?”

“She’s done punishing the naughty mortals and now she wants to kiss her husband,” Skuld said wetly. “You can be such an idiot sometimes, you know? Why’d you have to charge the enemy lines like that? Are you that afraid of the honeymoon?”

Smirking, Lars said, “You know I do what I do so that not only can we have a honeymoon, but so that our child might grow up to one day have her own.”

That triggered fresh tears mixed with laughter and Skuld said, “Just kiss me you dumb ass.”

“Uh… there is now a rather large crowd of onlookers,” Lars pointed out.

“So just make it a kiss. And I want it a good one, with plenty of tongue… or tongues in your case,” Skuld demanded breathlessly, her hair falling out of place to create a little screen for their faces as she bent down over Lars.

Still, from the right angle one could see their lips locking and things exiting Lars’ mouth and entering Skuld’s. After a few seconds they broke off, Skuld panting heavily as she touched her throat delightedly while she still straddled Lars’ stomach.

Looking up at the still rather surprised Erinyes, Lars said jokingly to Skuld, “In the tradition of my people, I present to my wife a small harem for our own amusement.”

Before the Erinyes had time to respond to that Skuld placed a finger on her chin ponderingly and said, “Can they lick a good pussy or are they exclusively cock munchers?”

Lars burst out laughing while the devils stared at the impropriety. Lars had been a terrible influence on Skuld, especially the infusion of tiny bits of daemon, and her mouth had been getting fouler when she got into certain moods.

Gently pushing of Skuld so she would get up, Lars stood and brushed the dirt off him before he said, “Alright, more formally, Skuld, I would like you to meet the Erinyes I have made a contract with, although we are now down two members. Still surviving are Beth, Autu, Orin, Farongi, Lalirgor, Caut, Cagliro, and their leader Falagoro. Erinyes, this is Skuld, my wife.”

As one the Erinyes bowed and said, “As we are bound to serve your mate, so we serve you, our lady.”

“Don’t mind them when they try to tempt you to evil, they’re really bad at it,” Lars replied dismissively.

Falagoro frowned at him and protested, “I have personally damned over a hundred mortals!”

Waving it off, Lars replied, “Yeah, but you were playing in the kiddie leagues. People live shit lives here with few places to turn for help and they’re easy to tempt and trick with petty trinkets and cheap tactics. Try taking on a more advanced, prosperous people and you’d have to really step up your game.”

“Mortals will always lust after power greater than their station,” Falagoro retorted.

Lars chewed on his upper lip for a moment in contemplation before he turned to Skuld and asked, “What have you built so for?”

Skuld grinned and said, “Enough Enfields for a demonstration.”

“Sweet. Girls, sit back and watch as I remove fear through its inspiration,” Lars said as he followed Skuld back to town.

The people of Nesmé watched in terror from within the confines of their town as the goddess that had enslaved their enemies and just destroyed their protectors walked into her camp, a strangely yet ornately dressed man following behind her. They walked into a tent and then came out carrying what looked like a very poorly constructed club as it was far too thin to be truly effective and the metal and wood was distributed all wrong.

The man then moved over to a cleared area and set up what looked like several archery targets. He then took up position at the far end of the range he had established and turned to the town, announcing in a booming voice, “People of Nesmé! You have offended us when we offered you peace, friendship, and trade. Your Riders have attacked us unprovoked when we offered to lend you our strength. We are angered, but those of you hiding in your homes did not break the agreement Skuld made with you, so our wrath shall remain in check. So instead, we offer you a demonstration of true power.”

The man then raised the strange metal thing to his shoulder, as if it were a crossbow, and with a terrible crack and a puff of greasy smoke that smelled strongly of brimstone to those close enough to notice such things, he caused one of the heads of the dummies to explode in a shower of straw and splinters of wood.

Turning back to the town, he said, “This here is a rifle, approximately modelled after the Pattern 1853 Enfield although incorporating some of the characteristics of a Springfield 1861. It fires a .577 calibre Minie ball bullet, nasty little round that can easily remove a limb if it doesn’t just blow your guts or brains out. For a muzzleloader, it has excellent range, accuracy, and rate of fire. But the real power of this beauty here is that with the proper tools and training, anyone can make one. This is a major advantage as anyone can use one. Typical training time is a few weeks to achieve proficiency, instead of the years it takes to train with a sword or decades for magic.”

Holding the rifle high, he said, “This is power! This is more power, range, accuracy and output than a crossbow combined with the ease of learning of a pike. The single crack you just heard was the precursor to a thousand of these babies going off all at once in single volley of death. This is also a representation of the future. This is steel and industry and ingenuity all rolled into a single symbol. This gun represents a society that never fears where the next meal is coming from. This gun represents a society that only fears fear itself. This gun represents mastery over the world.”

Some rather brave or stupid individual cried out, “We don’t want your demon magic!”

Lars laughed a long and booming laugh before he cried out, “This weapon was invented by the malignant little minds of humans! There is nothing magical about this weapon, other than just how brutally effective it is in comparison to the pointy toys you have now. Although it in turn is a toy in comparison to the next, harder step.”

Lars tossed the rifle over to Skuld, who adroitly caught it before pulling out a much more sinister looking weapon, one that was more metal than wood. Tossing it to Lars, she then pulled out a curving, sickle shaped piece of metal and tossed it to him.

“Take a good look at this sucker, because it’s going to be years before we’ll have the ammo manufacturing capacities to actually make widespread use of it. People of Nesmé, I present to you the Kalashnikov!” Lars cried out before he opened up on full auto, shredding the target dummies in horrific sprays of wood and straw.

He then ejected the sickle part of it and caught a fresh one from Skuld. Turning back to the town, he asked with a grin, “Do I need to use up another magazine, or do you all get the idea?”

There was stunned silence from the town in the wake of the unholy racket.

“In the following weeks we will work to begin the long, arduous task of upgrading your industries, transforming you from a struggling frontier town into a prosperous city. You will never have to fear the monsters around you again, not because we will impose order, but because you will be stronger than them. There are wonders you cannot imagine we will show you. We will teach you new methods of agriculture, new methods of industry, and new methods of industry. We will introduce you to words like rifle, cannon, battery, mortar, Gatling, and maybe, just maybe in your lifetimes you will hear things like plane or even tank. These are all human words, dreamed up by people on a world where all the monsters had been hunted to extinction long ago and only man’s wars against man existed.”

Lars then frowned and said, “But do not think for one second we will tolerate your abuse of our allies, those whose only crime is that they were born different from you. We judge not on skin or shape, but on action. This world is full of dangers; do not make us amongst them. Think of the future, think of your children. Do you want them standing strong, shoulder to shoulder, the thinks that have hunted you cowering in their holes against them, or do you want them vanished to the mists of history? Choose people of Nesmé, and choose carefully.”

As Lars moved away from his little show, he said to Skuld, “Where are we now?”

“Augmenting with magical fabrication, we can get a major steel foundry up and running within a month. The swamps are apparently littered with rare metals, and now that the trolls have been ‘convinced’ to stop eating people, we can acquire resources much more easily. Rifle and ammunition production is still worse than what 18th century cottage industry could do, but now that we’ve settled on a basic design, we can start ramping up quickly. The Kalashnikov I had to make personally just to show off, but if we have a standard pattern for rifle, pistol, and shotgun we can have maybe an army of two thousand with cavalry and artillery support ready in three months, what with the fact that many of the refugees we brought with us from Menzoberranzan were slaves of House Roreril,” Skuld said.

“That’s good, but what I meant was…” Lars then rounded on Skuld, and picked her up in a tight embrace, their lips locked. At first Skuld was shocked, but she almost instantly melted into it.

Pulling away, Lars said, “I’ve been at your side for months now and until I had to spend a week without you I didn’t realize how much I missed you. I still think you’re a bratty, immature bitch, but you’re my bratty, immature bitch.”

Her eyes moist, Skuld said, “And you’re a psychotic, soul eating eldritch horror from beyond, but you’re my eldritch horror from beyond and I now think I have a major tentacle fetish… I’ve been watching the drow women who came along with us give demonstrations of their erotic arts, just for you.”

Lars smiled and said, “You do know that I don’t really have any sort of physiology that they could exploit in that way, it’s all just undifferentiated Warp stuff solidified in this universe’s high energy fields.”

Skuld pouted and said, “Who said it was all for you? Now give me a face full of alien feelers.”

Unfortunately for Skuld, her enjoyment of having tentacles gently caress her face, eyelids, and throat in soft, sensuous feather touches and one big one jammed half way down her esophagus without touching her uvula was interrupted by a sudden commotion on the far side of the camp.

Now what?” Skuld bitched.

Lars shook his head and tapped her on the nose with a finger before he said, “Wrong attitude lady. The proper attitude,” Lars then pulled out his shotgun and chambered a round with a pump, “is who's next?

Rushing over to where the refugees were all retreating, the sight that greeted them was rather bizarre collection of giant, shadowy green spiders stepped out of swirling pools of darkness. There were also smaller ones seemingly made of metal that accompanied them, and some strange ones that were pale and seemed to phase in and out of reality. That wasn’t the bizarre part.

The bizarre part was the fact that at the centre of the grouping, riding on the largest of the shadowy spiders was a tiny little rabbit-spider thing with a mallet in its mouth.

Then Lars dropped the biggest bombshell when he reported what his senses were telling him.

“They’re all female… and they’re all pregnant… with that System Bug’s children,” Lars said with a strangely horrified look on his face that was quickly mirrored by Skuld.

The bug then hopped down off it’s… well queen seemed the right word… and strode over to Lars and Skuld before depositing the hammer thought lost for months at Skuld’s feet. It then looked up at them with a stare that dared them to turn it against him.

“Holy fuck, I think the biggest badass in the group that came over from your universe was the bug!” Lars exclaimed.

Skuld blinked once. Skuld blinked twice. Skuld blinked three times before she picked up the mallet and stashed it away, before giving the bug a little kiss on its rabbit head. Pleased with itself, it hopped away back into its harem and directed them all back into the shadows.

Smiling, Skuld said, “I say we kill Lolth and give the spider part of her portfolio to him.”

“If he doesn’t beat us to the punch,” Lars murmured.


I may have D&D stats for the Ghost Riders tomorrow.
I love learning. Teach me. I will listen.
You know, if Christian dogma included a ten-foot tall Jesus walking around in battle armor and smashing retarded cultists with a gaint mace, I might just convert - Noble Ire on Jesus smashing Scientologists
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Academia Nut
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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

Post by Academia Nut »

This one is a little experimental. Also, today's music is Fighter


Chapter Fifty-three: A day beyond the open door

Johan had led an interesting life up to this day. At age twelve he had been noticed as having some degree of sorcerous talent and had been recruited by a local mage as an apprentice, only for an orcish tribe to raid his village before he could do anything more than learn a few simple cantrips and thrust him into a long, brutal struggle to survive.

First it had been the orcs, claiming him as a slave for his ability to read the magical writings but never allowed to develop his abilities, instead forced to become a smith for them and improve their implements of war, bending his slight and untrained talents towards the enhancement of what he built for them. It had been a harsh few early years that had turned him to stone, and more than one fellow slave or rival orc who had tried to knife him in the back had taken a hammer blow to the head for the trouble.

Then the orogs had arrived from their holes in the ground, smashing the tribe that held Johan captive and continuing his enslavement. Deep in the darkness Johan had continued to ply his growing skills with metals and pitiful but still present arcane talents, while learning new ways of surviving without the light of the sun.

By the time the drow hit he was practically used to being captured and traded about. While he would have traded anything for his freedom and to see his long forgotten friends and family again, he did have to admit that years of servitude had made him practically inured to the hardships he experienced. While the drow liked to sneer at his creations being crude and inelegant, they still had him make weapons for their “slaves”, even if he had a sneaking suspicion that several actual drow warriors used them.

At some point in the inscrutable politics of the drow city called Menzoberranzan his owners had needed to rapidly generate a large amount of liquid cash and so they had him and a number of other slaves auctioned off once more.

At that point Johan had come under the ownership of Kirilae, the quiet fourth daughter of an extremely minor house in the city. She had, at one point, been considered for some arcane training but did not pursue it very far before she decided that her true passion lay with learning the ways of the sword. As a skilled swordsmith, Johan had become her personal supplier and repairman while also bringing in a small amount from his work.

At first he had thought her just another spoiled, arrogant bitch of a drow, until the day he had discovered her coming out of a tiny door Johan did not know existed, and neither had it seemed did any other members of the house. Kirilae had held him at sword point until he had feigned ignorance of knowing anything at all, at which point she had surprisingly let him live.

From then on Johan had watched Kirilae carefully, and noticed how she seemed to ignore the cutthroat politics of her family, how she seemed to prefer to distance herself from the blood and killing of the drow world, how she never treated him like a slave unless her family was around, and Johan began to wonder. For two years he observed quietly while going about his business.

Finally the day of decisions arrived when one of Kirilae’s older sisters nearly stumbled upon the secret door, only to die in an “unfortunate accident” involving a trip out a nearby window, crashing to ground two floors below where she broke her neck. Only two people saw the truth, Kirilae who had been exiting her hidden place, and Johan, who had shoved the sister out the window just as she discovered Kirilae’s secret.

When the questioning had come up, Kirilae said that her sister had tripped on a recently formed crack in the floor, recently because she had plunged her sword into the stone and created it after the fact, and that Johan had tried to do his duty as a slave and save the sister of his master. No one believed this story at face value, but in the way of the drow, no one cared either. They had no reason not to believe her version of events, even if everyone else had their own theories.

A week later Kirilae had shown Johan what lay beyond the door. It was a small room, clearly carved out by magic decades ago. In it was a collection of works that probably would have had Kirilae sacrificed on some bloodstained altar for possessing. They were magical treatises written by the surface elves. Kirilae had run across mention of some of their magic years ago and it had become an obsession for her to discover the strange blend of magic and swordplay called blade singing that some of them used.

There were many styles of combining the arcane with martial disciplines, and Kirilae had been cobbling them together with what knowledge she could scrape together on the styles used by the surface elves. It was all heretical in the extreme, but Kirilae had been obsessed with uncovering the mechanics of how it was done since her early days training in wizardry. If her fellow drow would not let her study what she wanted because of what Lolth commanded, then to the Hells with Lolth.

Then, two months after that, while out shopping for supplies, Johan had discovered a sale for weapons being produced in the Roreril compound. The quality of the blades was unsurpassed by anything without magic; the steel carefully tempered and folded with a delicate pattern of water ripples on the surface that belied the incredible strength such things actually spoke of. And yet there were literally dozens of these blades going for half what a lesser weapon might sell for.

Johan immediately purchased a weapon he knew would be perfect for Kirilae to practice with or perhaps even to have enchanted one day. The blade was wicked sharp and to Johan’s knowing eye it could easily clash with an adamantine weapon and have a good chance of coming out intact. The steel used techniques Johan did not even know existed in its construction.

Three months later House Roreril and House Oblodra obliterated House Baenre and the city was thrown into chaos as magic began to run amok and the political order tried to sort itself out in the typical drow fashion. Rumours abounded and it seemed that some new goddess had arisen in the midst of the Roreril compound and she intended to leave Menzoberranzan.

Kirilae had come to him, all the worldly possessions she could fit travel with; including the sword Johan had bought her, and asked him simply, “Will you follow me?”

Johan simply picked up his hammer and ran out into the darkness of the city with her. He had been a slave for so long he had nearly forgotten what it meant to be free, so he still wasn’t entirely sure if he followed her to escape or simply because he was used to following her orders.

All those years of denigration and pain were worth it the moment he laid his eyes upon the goddess he and Kirilae now worshipped. So much power contained within such a kind body, for she and her consort seemed to love and respect all the creatures that followed them equally. From the noblest of drow down to the lowliest goblin, they truly cared about those that followed their lead.

Now, for the first time in a decade Johan sat under the sun, relishing the burn it caused to his pallid skin while he considered the drawings being distributed to the craftsmen in the camp. As one of the few human crafters Johan could see the potential that the other missed. The elves and dwarves had too many traditions to see past their own noses, while the goblins and orcs were too crude to get what they were looking at.

And for the first time Johan felt like he had been ripped off when he bought the sword for Kirilae. Looking at these drawings, he understood how House Roreril had been able to make so many high quality weapons. They must have been able to make steel nearly as strong as adamantium for coppers with this stuff. And the ‘rifles’ they had designs for… they didn’t have the machinery to make them yet, but they knew exactly what they needed to build to get there and they had several skilled mages using magic to assist them.

Johan considered what might have come of his life had he not been captured by the orcs such a very long time ago. He doubted he would be here today, even if he might have more arcane knowledge. But his new goddess had shown him another path to the arcane, another path the mirrored his darkened life. He could see how she could bend the shadows to her will, and he tried stretching his will in a similar way. He was sure he would have never have even seen this power had his life not taken the terrible turns it had.

He also grinned at the fact that he very much doubted that he would have ever had a beautiful drow woman’s head lying in his lap, napping in the heat of the sun despite the discomfort it caused her night adapted eyes. Although once again Skuld had come through and crafted hundreds of pairs of ‘sunglasses’ for all of those with eyes that were sensitive to the blazing sun above. The way Kirilae’s face was framed by her glasses and her hair, the white tinged with streaks of red like a cloud painted at sunset made Johan grin.

He idly traced a line across her face, feeling the warmth and softness of her dark skin upon his worn, callused fingers, split and burned countless times working the forges. To his amazement though, he discovered a tiny shadow tugged along with his finger when he was at his most blissful.

The shock caused the pool of blackness to snap back into position, making Johan question whether or not he had actually seen it, but he was sure. Moving some of the tools around on the table he had set up to review the schematics he had been given, he created a little pool of darkness to experiment with.

Placing a finger in it, he tried to recapture his thoughts when he had moved the shadows. He remembered feeling so utterly at peace with the world and how much he loved his unlikely companion. At first nothing happened, until he had a philosophical burst of insight. Shadows were delicate, ephemeral things. If he wished to coax them, he would have to show equal subtlety. The shadows were a thing of Skuld.

Johan remembered how much he loved Skuld for getting him and Kirilae out of the slow, grinding death of Menzoberranzan. He remembered how much he loved finding that dark hole where Kirilae practiced her forbidden arts. He realized just how much he loved the shadows and what they had given him, and let little flickers of that love dance out upon his finger tips.

He brought his finger out of the pool of shadow he had created with his tools and he created a tiny smudge of inky blackness where no darkness should be able to manifest.

Controlling his emotions, Johan carefully fed his appreciation back through his fingers, letting out tiny drips of emotion so as to not frighten the carefully constructed image. He loved the shadows, and they loved him back for his appreciation of them.

Pulling his finger up, he drew a line of shade in the air, a strange construct of two dimensions in three. Eventually the shadows fizzled away in the brilliance of the midday sun during Flamerule, but light and dark had to give way to each other in turn. Johan did not hate the light for banishing the dark any more than he hated the dark for concealing the light.

Placing his hand back into his little starter pool, Johan pulled out an enormous globe of darkness and whispered to it with his mind, asking it to show him what it could do. Ever so slowly the darkness began to flow down his arm like rivulets of blackest ink, forming into a solid layer of night between him and the world. Some of it remained about his hand, while the rest enveloped his body like solid armour. He moved the shield of shade to the table and was amazed when it was physically moved by the touch of shadow.

Crying out with giddy joy, at this achievement, Johan woke Kirilae with his exuberance. Looking up at him with her red eyes glowing behind her glasses like sultry coals, she asked, “What is it dear?”

Johan’s heart nearly stopped when he realized that she had just called him ‘dear’ so freely and casually. Grinning, he held up the shield about his hand and gestured to the flickering darkness about him and said, “I think I just figured out how to touch Lady Skuld’s Shadow Weave.”

Kirilae blinked at that pronouncement before she grinned and said, “I knew you were clever, for a human, but I never expected this.”

Johan’s smile beamed as he stared down into Kirilae’s face and he said, “I have you to thank. It was my staring at your face and realizing just how much I loved you while I was at peace that led me to this discovery. The shadows respond to subtle emotional cues, and if you show them peace and appreciation, they will flow.”

Something indistinct moved across Kirilae’s face for a moment before she smiled again and said, “That’s fantastic Johan!”

Somehow though Johan didn’t feel that Kirilae entirely meant it.

She then settled her head back into his lap and shut her eyes, murmuring, “Wake me when the sun has set.”

Stroking a hand through her hair, Johan said, “Of course.”

Later than night, even though Johan was feeling exhausted from staying awake all day and picking up a nasty burn, he followed Kirilae into a clearing just outside the camp. Strangely she was wearing the clothing she had worn during the escape from Menzoberranzan, an ornate noble’s outfit she had put on to help deflect attention from the paranoid members of the city as they made their way to the Roreril compound. She also had the sword Johan had bought for her, the one made by Skuld before he knew the name of their goddess. The once fancy clothing only retained a fraction of their finery after the escape from Lolth, and she had not worn them since arriving on the surface.

Backing him up next to a tree, she kissed him on the cheek and with a strange smile said, “Please don’t interfere, I have to do this for myself.”

Frowning at the odd statement, Johan watched as Kirilae stepped out into the clearing and held her sword high.

“Spiders who dwell in shadow, hear my call. The Spider Queen has long had claim to my soul by the simple fact of my birth, but she is not my goddess, and she is not your queen. So come, strip away the finery made in her name, strip away the chains on my soul so that I might worship she who commands the shadows more fully, so that I might love without restraint. I am drow! Fight me!” Kirilae cried out to the open air.

For a long moment there was silence, dead and calm, only the sound of breathing audible. But then a patch of darkness seemed to grow darker and a giant shape loomed out of the gloom. It was one of the shadow spiders that had briefly shown up the day before to return an artefact to Skuld. And along with it came a pair of sword spiders riding on its back.

Hopping down, the blade legged arachnids circled carefully about Kirilae. Johan wanted to rush out and help, but her words compelled him to stay. For the briefest of moments she glanced back at him and smiled. His love for her had led him to his discovery. Perhaps her love for him would lead her to her own discovery.

If he could lead her to what she had sought for so long then it would be worth it to stand here and watch.

The sword spiders reached out tentatively and their legs were swatted aside by a lazy parry. Despite flanking her, neither spider could land a blow on Kirilae as she blocked and dodged their strikes with equal skill and grace. Johan watched in awe as the combat sped up, Kirilae effortlessly keeping up with the tempo as four legs on each spider flashed out at her and she danced about them while the enormous shadow spider watched on in silence. The crash of blade upon blade transformed into a symphony, and Johan thought he could hear a soft feminine voice accompanying the truly martial music.

Johan had no idea how smart these creatures were supposed to be, but these were clearly exceptional examples.

Then Kirilae took a glancing strike from one of the blades. Not enough to draw blood, but it did cut her clothing. This only seemed to inspire her more, as she began to practically blur with motion as she engaged the spiders. It took a moment for Johan to realize that she had formed a spell with her motions, with her intricate blade dance.

She had figured out the blade art she had sought for so many decades!

And yet it was not enough, for the spiders continued to strike her, seemingly nicking her a dozen times with every frantic heartbeat. Her clothing was utterly shredded and it began to litter the ground about the battlefield.

Then, without warning, the dance came to an end, Kirilae standing naked, her sword held at a high guard above her head, every beautiful curve of her taut body on display, her bare breasts heaving up and down with every deep breath she took to refill her lungs after her exertion. A fine layer of sweat shone in the starlight, making her body glisten like Skuld’s wondrous hair. She stood before the shadow spider, staring up into its cluster of beady black eyes proudly.

The back legs of spider began to work, drawing forth ropes of blackness from its spinnerets that it then began to weave into something that it threw over Kirilae. Strands of oily shadow wrapped about the elf’s lithe body, cloaking in shadow before Johan’s very eyes. It was the reward for her beautiful sword dance in the eyes of the strange creature.

The sword spiders leapt back on top of the larger shadow spider and followed it back into the Plane of Shadow.

Rushing over to Kirilae, Johan embraced her tightly while tears of joy streamed down his face. “That was incredible!” He cried out ecstatically.

Exhaling, Kirilae said, “I honestly had no idea if they could be reasoned with like that, but I saw what happened yesterday and I knew that only from those spiders would I find salvation from the Spider Queen. They are not her subjects, and never will be. If they owe any fealty to a being beyond that creature that leads them, it is to the Goddess of Shade.”

She plucked at the shadow silk that now draped her body and smiled. “For a long time I have wondered if perhaps Eilistraee was trying to reach me through my hidden research, but even if she was, I pledge my soul to Skuld. We are creatures of shadow you and I, and I am glad it is this way.”

Kissing her, Johan said, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Pulling him tight and demonstrating with her closeness just how thin the silk adorning her body was, Kirilae ask, “I am an elf and you are a human. I will outlive you and any children we might have, barring violence. I doubt I will truly ever comprehend all those little human things that you have been getting so excited about recently. But would you swear to love me for the rest of our lives before the goddess?”

“Of course,” Johan replied, tears in his eyes. Remembering the words of the gods, Johan said, “I would swear before the goddess to be true and faithful to you for the rest of my life, and beyond. I would seek you out in the afterlife, would wait for our souls to reunite so that we might remain together until the stars lay down their burdens and we are no more.”

Crying now herself, Kirilae said, “I too would swear before the goddess to be true and faithful to you for the rest of my life, and beyond. I would seek you out in the afterlife, would wait for our souls to reunite so that we might remain together until the stars lay down their burdens and we are no more. I cannot see any man ever replacing you despite your short life. You burn so brightly, if briefly.”

“The brighter the light, the deeper the shadows,” Johan retorted before their lips met once more.
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Academia Nut
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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

Post by Academia Nut »

Chapter Fifty-four: Mask Dance

The last week had been frustrating for Captain Rong. Living in this realm was like trying to breathe on top of a tall mountain where the air was just thick enough to sustain life. And with Arya dormant to keep the both of them alive, it was like having half her brain lobotomized. The smarter, more experienced half too.

Thus she was working out her frustrations in the cool, intricate motions of a Tzintchian mask dance, the highest form of art that did not involve toppling empires. In a mask dance, the only thing ‘worn’ was a mask, in that the only thing the audience should never see is the face of the dancer. Elaborate costumes, fans, ribbons, and other props were used, and the mask was often changed, but the face of the dancer was never to be seen.

The objective, of course, was to scare the fuck out of the audience. Each routine was carefully constructed to confuse and disorient watchers into believing something that wasn’t real via forced perspectives and the use of distracting props, very much like the sleight of hand magicians of a previous era. Psychic abilities were prohibited, only careful choreography, whatever the dancer or dancers brought to the stage and old fashioned deception.

The climax of the dance arrived with the ‘fright’, some act that terrified those watching. The simplest dances ended with the audience watching one part of the stage certain that the dancer was there and then the dancer would emerge somewhere else and shout some variation of ‘Boo!’ to startle the audience. More complex ones used the motion to form unsettling philosophical questions in the mind and then at the climax pose a terrifying answer.

There were also instances of a Tzintchian duel ending with the dancer emerging to somehow attack the rival duellist in the audience. Dozens of documented cases ended with death for the unsuspecting target, making the performances all the more exciting as there was real danger to watching the performance. Rong herself had used a war fan to slit the throat of a teacher back in her academy days, thus earning her an automatic pass with top honours in that course.

She moved in a field of spinning frames draped with long robes and set with masks and holders for brightly coloured robes and shining swords. The frames were set on rollers as well, so every time she moved one she created an intricate pattern of motion. It was a practical example of chaos theory as the basic Brownian motion of the system was also influenced by the spinning arms colliding with each other, creating impossibly complex patterns.

Ducking in and out amongst the frames, Rong spun and danced, switching out her current accoutrements for the ones on the frames. One moment she had a fan like a butterfly’s wings, a silk blue robe with patterns of swans, and a terracotta mask like a tiger’s face, while the next she was wearing a cloak of pleated white cotton, a pair of gleaming bronze daggers, and white plastic mask devoid of features. All of the new items were taken from different frames.

The story Rong told in the motion was complex and multilayered. Perhaps an Eldar might have been capable of properly understanding the degree of subtleties, but there were dozens of sub-patterns and stories constructed in the overall dance. The overall theme was a questioning of the planned war with the C’tan, leading the audience to wonder if the looming conflict was worth it.

With a sudden crash, the carefully constructed chaos of motion Rong had constructed came to a halt as the spinning, moving frames all collided, their carefully tended motions finally coming to an end as they all locked up and some where knocked to the ground. The audience had their horrific conclusion.

Chaos was unsustainable.

Removing her mask, Rong looked about at the tumble and smiled. She was the only one in the room.

She had her answer as to what to do about the Praxis.

The crew of the Galactica had been quiet about the latest bout of ‘cooperation’ the Stiletto had offered recently. Their captain had made some tactical demands of the Colonials in dealing with this new threat. They explained that this area of space had some problems for their engines and thus they were slowly recharging for the next jump out, so they had asked the Colonials to deal with the screaming maniacs, even if they had offered assistance in doing it.

That ‘assistance’ involved sending over a pair of creepy guys in concealing robes carrying long staffs with weird eight pointed stars made from brass on the tops as ‘sensors and communications experts’, and one ‘close-quarters combat specialist’. The latter was kept in his assigned quarters unless they had a mission as he quite frankly scared everyone who saw him. When he walked his massive boots shook the deck and the human skulls he had tied to his armour clanked and rattled about. If it weren’t for the fact that he kept his helmet off when not in combat he would have easily been mistaken for some sort of Cylon war robot in his blood red mechanical armour.

Talking with them was hard as none of them knew any of the Colonial languages and the device they used as a translator was back aboard their ship so they needed to be in radio contact with the Stiletto, but very few actually wanted to talk to them. When not in their assigned quarters, the two robed… creatures… spent most of their time on the bridge inputting targeting data and jump points, while the giant stood protectively over them or, during the two military manoeuvres they had performed so far to shut up the raving lunatics at the listening outpost, he had led the attack.

None who had seen him in battle questioned why the Cylons had run screaming when they had tried to board the Stiletto. He was a monster in battle, although surprisingly gentle with the unarmed. He however accepted no quarter. Once you picked up arms against him the only conclusion was death. If you surrendered right away, he secured you but otherwise did no harm.

Fortunately for the crews of the listening post, there weren’t many weapons, except for ugly knives wielded by their officers, so only the guys at the top actually died, although their severed heads had been quickly stuck onto spikes on the baroque armour of the giant.

The Colonials did not like fighting with him as the roars of his war cries or his oversized gun or his chainsaw axe terrified them, but they had let him accompany them on the mission to the second outpost because they were more terrified of having him as an enemy than as a friend.

Other demands that had been made included the Raptors performing the op to take a very bizarre and precise route to the outposts. Instead of just jumping right to the outposts, they had been asked to make a series of smaller jumps such that the light cone of the craft just caught up to the new position before jumping again. They also asked that they only move in straight lines on these micro-jumps and take paths around any space debris instead of bypassing ‘through’ them. It was a strain to the systems, but the Stiletto had offered fuel to make up for the inefficiency of lots of jumps one after another and had been quite adamant that it be done the way they wanted or they wouldn’t help out with the operation.

There had also been the demand that the outposts be struck one after the other instead of a simultaneous mission. Only Adama was old and cagey enough to see what the captain of the Stiletto might have been doing.

These people claimed that they knew everything and that the Colonials and the Stiletto would submit to the ‘Praxis’, which apparently wasn’t their god despite talking about it like it was, while simultaneously not knowing about FTL drives. Any civilization that had access to FTL would quickly understand that they didn’t have a dozen contacts on their screen. In fact, Colonial and Cylon targeting systems were capable of automatically filtering such ‘light echo’ noise. An STL civilization on the other hand…

Adama figured that the Stiletto wanted to feed potential enemies information that was completely and utterly wrong now while they controlled the battlefield and information flow so as to shape actions later if it came down to a fight. As it was, the enemy would think their FTL only marginally faster than the speed of light and required regular stops to function, and that it could not pass through large masses.

With the contribution of fuel, Adama had allowed their demands to be met. Their captain was a sneaky bitch and he rather hoped he wouldn’t end up moved about like some game piece on a board as well. Although he had a sneaking suspicion the plan had been constructed so that he would understand it and thus approve.

What sort of culture would produce such a twisted, devious little mind?

Looking over the interrogation logs from his own people, he had not been privy to the logs from the Stiletto as he had not asked, fearing what an ‘interrogation’ from them would look like, Adama also wondered what sort of culture could produce the people… and things they had found. The Stiletto was alien, but it was filled with strange humans rather than the creatures they had found out there.

Although Adama had to admit that even the humans they had discovered were alien. The Stiletto had provided translator aid, and what they got was… creepy. Every last member of the captured crews were fanatics, not all to the same degree but fanatics nonetheless, and they either refused to acknowledge that they might know about something as simple as artificial gravity or they proclaimed its existence an affront to the Praxis. Apparently to them, everything was already known, and thus if they didn’t know about it, it was obviously forbidden.

One of the hooded creatures from the Stiletto hissed something and then the radio crackled with the translation, “Incoming enemy fleet through the spinward wormhole.”

The fleet had been hastily assembled, but Praxis standards, in only a few days, elements of the local sector defence split off and merged with a task force deployed from Zanshaa to confront this new occurrence. At first their listen post had reported the discovery of a new space faring species, the worst case scenario for first contact. That alone demanded a reaction, especially since it was initially believed that the enemy was capable of constructing generation or sleeper ships, both of which required technologies banned by the Praxis.

Then they started noticing the anomalies. The data sent over showed that the speech patterns of the new creatures all fell exactly within the range of vocalization allowed by Terrans. That in itself was not particularly unusual, but there was further evidence that something was extremely anomalous. Because when further data was sent by those of the listening posts, it was noted that the ships had patterns possibly indicative of writing on them. Preliminary code analysis had been successful at deciphering the writing, because they had the languages on file.

The majority of the ships had writing based off of an ancient Terran language known as ‘Greek’ while the largest of the ships had writing in something called ‘English’, tongues and alphabets dead for centuries since the conquest of Terra.

The wormholes were situated far from Terra both in physical space and in the network, but with the flexibility of time and space across the wormholes, there was the possibility that perhaps despite the fact that they shouldn’t have had access to the necessary technology, pre-Praxis Terrans had somehow sent out an interstellar mission and established a colony somewhere the Shaa had missed.

Or colonies as analysis showed very different cultures had built the ships, especially the two largest ones. The biggest was in fact quite worrying due to the strong cultish leaning of the decoration. The Terrans were known for their freakish adherence to a huge number of cults before being brought into the Praxis, and if that disease had festered for centuries or longer unchecked… it made the officers shudder at the vile implications.

The flotilla dispatched was rather large considering the size and number of enemy ships, consisting of fourteen light frigates, six cruisers, three heavy cruisers, and the bombardment ship Bombardment of Delhi as the flag of the entire operation. There were some uncomfortable with sending Terrans against an enemy that was quite possibly Terran as well, but the officers had insisted they be given the honour of redeeming their species name if it were the case that this was an offshoot.

Then some truly unsettling information had arisen with the loss of the listening posts. They had been given the demand to “Cease your prattling on about the Praxis or we will do it for you forcibly” and when the officers of the outposts had refused to allow their offensive presence to go uncommented on, the attack had begun.

And it was revealed that the enemy hadn’t been exactly lying about the possession of FTL drives, something that the Shaa said was impossible. Their smaller ships were capable of going about zero point one percent slower than the speed of light through a series of straight line, discontinuous movements, although it appeared they could not move through massive bodies.

The full might of the Praxis was being mustered against this… the closest word would have been ‘blasphemous’ if it had existed in their vocabulary… terrible foe, but for now the flotilla already headed there would see about destroying or at least driving off this current fleet while the rest would be used to discover and annihilate their homeworld.

The tacticians of the Praxis were racking their brains as to how to combat these monsters from outside the purity of the Praxis. So far the larger ships had not moved, and the first transmission had spoken of ‘recharging our drives’ so it seemed that only their smaller ships could move faster than light on a tactical level, and they seemed locked into a course once set and could not change direction.

Analysis suggested leaving the point defence anti-proton lasers on manual operation as the computers would lock on to the more distant but no longer present images first and thus miss quite spectacularly if allowed to fire automatically. Fortunately it appeared that the enemy did not have the precision to get their end points within better than a half light second, which would give plenty of time to lock on to any missiles fired. The ships were too small to do any damage with anything less than missiles.

“Entering system 7-53 now sir,” the navigation officer aboard the Bombardment of Delhi reported. The ships of the flotilla streamed out of the wormhole into the mostly abandoned star system. The outpost that should have launched asteroids through to balance the mass and keep the wormhole stable was quiet, indicating just how barbaric these creatures were that they would risk the stability of the wormholes with their actions.

Commodore Helsinki watched the displays carefully while maintaining his high G breathing exercises. They were currently accelerating at a stately 2Gs, which while somewhat suffocating was not excessively dangerous and a reasonable acceleration rate going into a potentially hostile zone.

A flurry of reports reached Helsinki’s ears as telemetry was reported. The enemy formation remained under no acceleration and was several light minutes away, just sitting there.

Helsinki considered his options for a time before he announced, “Begin launching pinnaces and anti-matter missiles. We have no need to talk with these barbarians.”

Upon her command throne, Rong watched as data was put on the screen. While true that they had attacked first, they had politely asked the guys to just shut up and stop hurling threats at them for several days before finally issuing their ultimatum. Even the Colonials had wanted to launch an attack before Rong lost her patience.

“Analysis suggests antimatter missiles as the only weapon on all but the four largest ships, with anti-proton lasers as point defences on the four biggest ones,” Ichiro reported, his own daemon having gone dormant a day after Arya. He then grimaced and said, “Also, the translator has figured out the names of some of the ships, including the probable flagship. It’s called the Bombardment of Delhi.”

Arya had been born in Delhi.

There was silence for a long moment before Rong said, “We knew from interrogations that humans were incorporated into this foul Praxis, but that is just crass. Crew?”

“Humans,” Faust replied with a grimace.

Rubbing her forehead, Rong said, “Oh come on! Alright, I want that ship’s name plate as a trophy for when Arya wakes up and the skulls and viscera of the crew dedicated to Asukhon. Cripple the fuckers, don’t kill them. We’ll send a message.”

Adama watched as the information was transmitted over to the Galactica. The plan was… subtle yet straightforward, elegant yet brutal. The Stiletto would sit behind and use its FTL sensor and comm. gear to snipe out the incoming missiles and shield the fleet while keeping its true firepower in reserve, while the Galactica used its own FTL drive to dance around the enemy. Against a foe like the Cylons it would never work, and as it was it would strain their drives to spin them up fast enough, but the tactics were based off the Adama Manoeuvre, so it would work.

The basic plan was to jump in, deploy Vipers and take some shots with the Galactica’s main guns at the biggest ship before jumping out nearly as quickly as the drive could spin up before jumping around the battlefield to harass the smaller ships. Apparently these nutcases used antimatter weapons, a technology the Colonials didn’t possess because they had cheaper, more stable fuels that wouldn’t destroy the ship on a lucky hit. Who strapped a bomb to their frakking asses like that?

Leaning over the DRADIS display, Adama ordered, “On my mark, jump.”

The entire command deck rocked as high velocity, high explosive armour piercing rounds penetrated the Bombardment of Delhi, ripping into its hull like high calibre bullets against cardboard. The ships were armoured against things like space debris impacts, not kinetic weapons. The crushing sensation of forward motion ceased, leaving the crew to drift in zero gravity.

“Report!” Helsinki screamed.

“Enemy ship appeared ten kilometres off our port side and opened fire with high impulse chemically propelled weapons. Port sensors are offline and the engines were forced into shutdown by hull breeches too close to the secondary antimatter tanks,” the tactical officer reported in a near panic.

“Target with anti-proton lasers!” Helsinki barked furiously.

“Sir, all missiles and pinnaces destroyed by enemy weapons fire half way to target… weapons used appear to be relativistic particle beams and lasers…” the weapons officer replied in confusion. There was a delay of nearly a minute between firing and impact at that range. It should be impossible to track the tiny, rapidly accelerating missiles at that range with weapons like that. Light didn’t move… that… fast…?

Helsinki had the sinking feeling of being suckered.

“Unable to target enemy ship as it left us with a blind spot and it just disappeared,” the tactical officer said in a voice that said he fully expected to get his throat cut.

“Sir, Pride of Naxus reports they are under attack and that…” the communication officer was cut off by a sudden massive red warning triangle appearing on the tactical display screen.

“Low yield probable fission/fusion warhead impacted Pride of Naxus in the drive engine. It is currently leaking antimatter. Emergency venting occurring but containment loss imminent,” the tactical officer explained.

Helsinki watched as the battle unfolded. The Bombardment of Delhi was blinded on one side and was relying on the frigates around her to provide sensor data for the port side, and with the heavy cruiser Pride of Naxus for all intents and purposes destroyed, that reduced their close range point defence capacities by about 15%.

The ship rocked again, more violently this time, rattling the weightless command crew in their restraints.

“Enemy fighters?” The tactical officer asked rhetorically from his computer in confusion. He then reported, “Containment lost for primary starboard anti-proton laser array. Single seat craft armed with kinetic energy weapons are currently ripping apart our defences. They hull hugging us and staying inside our defensive perimeter. We can’t target them.”

Vigilance destroyed,” the sensor officer announced, the tactical display showing that cursed ship had just jumped within range and punctured the light cruiser’s missile racks with its freakishly primitive guns, shattering the matrices of anti-hydrogen snowflakes, cooking off the weapons and turning the ship to monatomic gas before jumping away.

The entire flotilla was disintegrating. The abominable enemy ship was capable of moving faster than proper communication would allow, thus turning the tight command structure of all Praxis formations into a chaotic shambled. Captains expectant for orders from their superiors, were panicking and freezing. Helsinki had frozen! They weren’t used to fighting like this!

“By the Shaa! Terminus just destroyed by Superior!” The tactical officer practically gurgled in terror.

Superior is one of ours!” Helsinki screamed.

Superior auto-targeted the enemy ship with its anti-proton laser but it jumped out before the beam arrived and it struck the Terminus by mistake,” the officer reported in horror.

Helsinki would have the throat of the Superior’s captain for this! The man had always been a hot headed, trigger happy idiot and to turn the auto-targetters on without permission was just the sort of insolence he would pull!

Helsinki wracked his brain for any sort of tactic he had learned at the academy, but Praxis doctrine had never accounted for enemies capable of moving from one point to another faster than light without moving through the intervening space! He panicked.

“Starburst! Starburst!” Helsinki ordered. “We need to open up space in the formation so we can engage our defences without risking hitting each other.”

With only three ships capable of close in fighting, and one rapidly having its point defences ripped to shreds by ridiculous single seat fighters, they needed to maximize their ability to hit things, and that meant antimatter missiles from the lighter warships. But in this close formation they wouldn’t be able to use them without irradiating other ships in the explosions.

It was ultimately the worst move Helsinki could have made as once they starburst and broke up the tight formation, every ship was on its own and all possibility of mutual support ceased to exist and the ability to coordinate defences was impossible. Moving out to long range wouldn’t stop the Galactica from jumping in at point blank range and pounding a warship, only now Adama could take his time instead of having to keep skipping about to avoid the other ships in the formation from shooting at him.

Unfortunately, in the rigid hierarchy of the Praxis, no one questioned Helsinki’s judgement and the ships started immediately burning their drives as quickly as possible to break up the formation randomly.

Then the Executor, Helsinki’s third heavy cruiser, mysteriously exploded, along with one of his frigates. Something had ripped across the solar system and cut the heavy cruiser in half, cooking off its fuel, before puncturing the ship four light seconds behind it.

The sensors officer blinked a few times while looking at his screen before he timidly replied, “Sensors indicate a high intensity laser from the last reported vector-location of the largest enemy ship is responsible.”

Helsinki’s jaw dropped. There was a three minute delay! They had only started the starburst four minutes ago. The enemy ship would have had to have known what they were going to do before they did it! The laws of physics explicitly forbade that sort of thing. Not even FTL drives approached that level of impossibility.

Especially since there was still a cloud of plasma from the initial wave of missiles that blocked line of sight between the two fleets.

Within his acceleration and vacuum suit, Helsinki quietly relieved himself into the provided receptacle. Everything was going wrong.

Hakim sat quietly in the payload compartment of his assigned Thunderhawk. His squad was assigned to capture the bridge crew, their psychic abilities given them the edge they needed to get living members, while the faster Whips and Reavers would capture the engines and weapons so that no one could be stupid enough to try and cook off the antimatter. The fact that both those chapters were close combat specialists also reduced the danger of a stray round damaging an important containment system.

The Thunderhawks had been loitering within the debris field around the Praxis installation around the wormhole they had been predicted to exit out of for a day now, the Bearers in their teleport Terminator armour kept in reserve. The enemy truly was arrogant to have not done a thorough sweep of the installation for just this sort of attack, although they seemed focused around warship combat, ignoring what a well placed knife in the back could do.

The Colonials were systematically picking apart the enemy formation, although they had already reported that their fuel supplies were reaching critical levels and they would have to retrieve their fighters and return to the fleet or get stranded around lunatics carrying antimatter. It was no matter. They had been expected to last exactly this long, and they had already done an immense amount of damage, breaking up the formation and crippling the ships capable of shooting back without blowing themselves up.

Hakim smiled a sandy smile as the acceleration couches they were in rocked with the impact of the Thunderhawk’s nose punching into the side of the disgustingly named Bombardment of Delhi.

Undoing his straps, Hakim hurled himself out of the artificial gravity environment of the Thunderhawk and into the weightless realm of the primitive ship. Despite using slugthrowers and nukes, the Galactica was really more advanced than this hunk of junk. Their FTL systems meant that the only battles that could be fought had to be at point blank range around targets of high importance. At that range, any sort of volatile fuel or weapon was a liability and so they used simpler weapons to avoid every battle turning into a MAD scenario. There was plenty of room for improvement, but their designers hadn’t been stupid in their weapon choices.

Landing on a solid surface, Hakim engaged his boots grapples and stuck down while the rest of his squad landed around him. Raising his wrist mounted storm bolter he destroyed a spidery maintenance robot with a small burst of fire before nodding for his men to find a place to get through the inner hull to the actual crew sections.

Finding a likely access hatch, Hakim nodded to two of his brothers to open it. Plunging their force halberds into the air lock, they quickly cut open the metal hatch amidst sparks of psychic energy. They did the same to the inner hatch, explosively decompressing the area beyond. The crew were all in suits just in case of such a loss of atmospheric pressure.

With precognitively precise aiming, the Heralds cut down anyone carrying anything that could possibly be used as a weapon, spraying hot blood all over the compartment.

This was too easy.

Commodore Helsinki watched in mute horror as his ships were one by one picked off by laser fire coming from a point on the other side of the solar system where he could not see. This was the greatest military disaster the Praxis had ever encountered. Not even the war with the Lai-own had ever gone this badly.

Then the decompression alerts started sounding. Something was causing his ship to progressively start loosing air. Watching the displays, he realized that the sections losing air were all aligned such that they would be along the fastest paths to engineering, the arsenal, and the bridge.

How barbaric were these creatures? Boarders?

Of course, these abominations could easily get so close that boarding actions actually had a chance of reaching the target… and weapons were kept under strict lock and key aboard a ship and were designed to crush mutinies, not repulse boarders. The only weapons they had were the knives of the officers and the tools of the technicians down in engineering.

Never having anticipated the possibility of capture as boarding was impossible and weapons hits tended to obliterate the target rather than cripple them, the Shaa had never installed any convenient methods of scuttling the ship, considering it an unnecessary hazard.

When the crackling blade punched through the hatch to the bridge, Helsinki knew that his time was up. Drawing his ceremonial dagger, he undid his restraints and moved to face these monsters like the Peer he was.

An enormous boot kicked down the dissected door and revealed a creature out of the eldest nightmares of Terran. Three metres tall from the bottom of its boots to the top of its headdress, it was blue and gold and covered in the death cult markings of some ancient Terran emperor. A fully enclosed battle suit, it was the sort of technology that could have only have evolved on the most backwards, brutal of worlds beyond the words of the Shaa and the Praxis. Around its right wrist it had an enormous double barrelled slug thrower, while in its left hand it had a halberd, but there was obviously an immense amount of technology in the melee weapon as its wicked blade glowed with unnatural light.

Stepping in to the command chamber on the “ceiling” from the point of view of the orientation of the acceleration couches, the abomination looked about with brightly glowing optical sensors. Helsinki felt that if every citizen of the Praxis were to be in his position, no matter how many iterations of this scenario were played out the end would always be the same.

He pushed off the nearest surface and charged with his knife.

The giant casually caught his arm and shattered his forearm in its iron grip. Helsinki screamed inside his suit before he blacked out.

Rong smiled as her mask dance reached its climax. The Bombardment of Delhi was theirs… as was its communications gear and the protocols in her captain’s head. An encrypted message could be sent straight to their capital and no one would stop it. An encrypted message from a trusted source that would never think of attaching a semi-sentient self-replicating adaptive virus with the only purpose being to spread itself and to hijack every available communications channel and deliver a simple message.

The rechristened Revenge of Delhi drifted in open space, the new name drawn with the headless corpses of the crew in Sanskrit. It would broadcast its message daily until destroyed, passing it on to a different network node each time. Given communication times, within about a month the entire empire was likely to have every computer infested with the bug.

It was time to deliver the ‘fright’ of this performance. They had already attached the impassionate tactical data, but there was also a more important message to send.

Rong picked up her daemon sword, the ethereal flicker about it dulled by the low energy of this universe but still clearly present. She then walked in front of the kneeling Commodore Helsinki, all of his pride stripped from him.

Chaos was unsustainable, but that was because it kept reinventing itself into new form. That was the truth and the lie within her dance to herself. This would spread chaos far and wide in this universe. Billions would likely die in the infighting, but Rong did not particularly care. They had threatened those under her care repeatedly and then opened fire without demanding an explanation or even asking if the captured crews were still alive. By her books, these hidebound bastards had it coming.

Smiling her most daemonic smile in her currently diminished state, she said to the camera in the language of the Praxis, “Greetings, I am Rong Xun, captain of the Stiletto, and I would just like to say that I don’t particularly like your Praxis. It’s so very limited. I mean, if you are seeing this now it is showing how pathetic your computer science is. Although I hear that you detest AIs, so perhaps you should destroy whatever is broadcasting this message right now as our little program is a simple AI by our standards. Of course, that will serve my purposes of destroying your culture pretty effectively as you dismantle your own telecommunications networks. So maybe you should keep listening.

“The Praxis is weak. Your doctrine claims that you already know everything and have forbidden things that you disagree with. Well you know nothing, as evidenced by the fact that your Peer here is at my feet, taken off his ship by our boarding parties. The universe is so much vaster than you comprehend, and its pathetic your pretending at knowledge. You are limited, short sighted, and beneath us. We have other business to tend to, but when we return we will sweep you away, of that I can guarantee. Don’t you agree commodore?” Rong asked, causing Helsinki to lift his head.

And reveal the Chaos star cut into his forehead.

“My soul to Chaos! All glory to the gods!” Helsinki cried out just before Rong’s daemon sword descended, separating his head from his shoulders. But even as his body slumped to the ground, pumping out spurts of blood as his heart tried to realize that he was dead, his soul remain visible, drawn into the daemon sword.

Grinning, Rong said, “As you can see, despite the lies you have been fed, there is an afterlife, and we control it. All those Shaa who committed suicide? Yeah, we’re waiting. I hope the few of you still alive remember that next time you think about ending your boredom. Because we’re exciting!”

The camera clicked off and the message was encoded. In ten minutes the first transmission from the Revenge of Delhi would be on its way. In perhaps a week the broadcasts would start. In two weeks, probably ahead of the news of the destruction of social order across the empire, a much bigger fleet would arrive.

In two hours the Stiletto and the Colonials would jump away to another universe.

Rong grinned. It would be fun to watch the lovely chaos spread, but she had other obligations.
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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

Post by Academia Nut »

Incoming plot!

Chapter Fifty-five: Homecoming

Rong-Arya sat on the edge of their seat, watching the emotionless display count down the time to re-emergence back into real-space. Once they had figured out that when transitioning between universes they tended to slide down the slight distortions in the spatial curvature picked up by their Warp engines in spaces without native Warp activity near intelligent beings, they figured out how to compensate and drop out in the middle of deep space far from any thinking minds.

They still accidentally ran into a fleet of sleeper ships travelling at low relativistic speeds the immediately after transitioning into real-space after the first jump out of that Praxis dominated universe, but by the same strange luck that affected Chaos, the fleet had been fairly spread out and only one ship had actually collided with anything, and that had been prow first with the Stiletto, so no serious damage had been done to the ship.

The other guys… not so much. The crew of the Stiletto had immediately attempted to apologize, but there was so much panic in the aftermath of a ship slamming into another at .5c and only one of them being destroyed that the rest of the foreign fleet had just sort of broken up and scattered, burning their primitive fusion torches as hard as their ships could handle to escape from the strange encounter.

They only stayed for about three days to recharge their drives before jumping out again, watching the ships starting a hard burn to try and regroup after scattering. It would probably take them a month or two to get back in order, and they had burned a lot of reaction mass so they would probably have to take things slower than they had intended. All attempts at contacting them after that had been given up in exasperation. They could easily catch up with the poor bastards, but they seemed terrified and unwilling to reciprocate to attempts at establishing communication protocols. Finally Rong-Arya just dropped off a high powered communication buoy with translation protocols with a sincere apology and some technical data on improved computing, fusion, laser and superconductor technology as a sign of showing that they were sorry. The target was pointed at their most likely destination, a yellow star know quite well to the crew of the Stiletto but that was quite unknown to the Colonials, and kept that way.

After they left, Fleetlord Atvar managed to get his conquest fleet back in order after the rather strange encounter that the few members of the Race awake to witness it had tried to explain. Eventually, once everything was back in order minus the loss of the ship carrying 80% of their explosive metal bombs, it was decided to carry on to Tosev 3. They would need to get there to refuel anyway, and that explosive metal bombs would be unnecessary for the conquest of the Tosevites there.

Ignoring the strange transmission from the location of the collision, they accepted that they would be approximately twenty cycles behind schedule and sent a report to Home in an attempt to explain to the Emperor that something had gone slightly wrong for no explainable reason but that the conquest was still underway.

Meanwhile, on a pale blue orb approximately five light years away, an alien signal was picked up as international tensions began to rise. The eruption of a war took away from much of the research going into figuring out what the repeating signal they kept picking up on their newly invented radios meant, but by the end of it, the two remaining power blocks had started to figure out many of the bits and pieces being sent to them, paranoia and mistrust urging them onward to figure out the secrets being sent to them before their foes could learn the same and gain an advantage. There was also the fear that the things that lurked beyond the stars would show up and have less than benevolent intentions so also turned their attentions outwards.

Thus as the conquest fleet entered the Tosev system they discovered that their braking burns had been noticed and they were being asked to identify themselves immediately.

Rong-Arya, despite being a humanist, would have winced at the long term impact of what happened. The collision had been an accident! The new philosophies of Chaos only called for intentional malevolence against those who deserved it. Trying to conquer Earth in another universe was not call for a crusade. In fact, in balance, it was the worst apology in the multiverse in that most apologies do not arm the enemies of the one being apologized to.

However, Rong-Arya did not know about this as that was still in the future from their perspective, and the more immediate future of actually returning home after a year long mission followed by weeks of slogging through the Doldrums with massive damage to their systems from their initial displacement held their more immediate attention.

The universe folded open, vomiting the Stiletto and her charges back into reality in an achingly familiar star system. Yellow main sequence star, eight planets, a bunch of dwarf planets along with plenty of stellar debris. And radio chatter. It was all coded and unless you had the proper equipment it sounded like background noise, but Lieutenant O’Hare grinned as he began to patch into all sorts of queries.

“Ma’am, Earth has contacted us and sends congratulations on getting home,” O’Hare replied with a grin. That was met with general cheering all throughout the bridge that quickly spread throughout the ship as the rumours and sounds of jubilation spread at the speed of sound.

“Send our thanks and apologizes for a tardy return. We got a little side-tracked,” Rong-Arya replied.

O’Hare nodded before he frowned and said quietly, “They are sending condolences ma’am, in that while they always expected us to return, we’re have ah… twelve years on the mission clock.”

Rong-Arya’s look soured as the cheering died down on the bridge, the guards smart enough to not let this latest batch of news escape into the general population of the ship.

Fuck…” Rong-Arya noted quietly before they asked, “What are my debriefing protocols for the crew.”

“Well… they say that this level of temporal disjunction was unexpectedly long, but that theoretically the whole crew should have been prepared for a long deployment and everyone volunteered in spite of their family situations. They did also point out that everyone is going to be paid according to the clocks on Earth instead of the ones on the Stiletto, so… yeah,” O’Hare reported weakly, feeling the emotional kick to the gut himself.

Holding the bridge of their nose, Rong-Arya said, “I was expecting to have to only explain things to two out of the three parties involved in the Earth-Stiletto-Colonial interactions, not all three!”

Everyone aboard the Colonial fleet watched with interest as they approached the third planet in the system they had been brought to. The last three jumps had been in the middle of deep space, although there had been that weird collision that had lightly irradiated all the ships in the fleet from the spray of debris, but not enough to get through the radiation shielding already present.

The strange thing was that while the first two jumps had caused the stars to shift radically, the last two showed very little change in the relatively positions. The Stiletto had been quiet about the questions asked, simply replying that the final stages of manoeuvring were “tricky” so to expect little change.

But they seemed to have made good on their promise to bring them to Earth, if the orbital structures around the pale blue orb were any indication.

“Did you ever think things would end like this when we first set out?” Roslin asked while staring out of a view port to the slowly expanding orb that would be their new home.

“Frak no,” Adama replied gruffly. It was so strange to actually be here, on Earth, with the Cylon war left behind. Far behind. As best they could tell the Twelve Colonies were in a dwarf galaxy orbiting the other side of the one they were currently in. No one would ever find them out here.

“So what do we do now?” Roslin asked. They had a whole world to call home now, but they had never really questioned what they would do if they got there and it already had its own inhabitants. The tales had spoken of a Lost Tribe, but they had been so desperate just to find a safe haven that the step between ‘Find Earth’ and ‘Profit’ was filled with question marks.

“We adapt I guess. Hopefully they’ll just leave us and our culture alone,” Adama replied. “They also seem interested in our pilots and shipbuilding, so at least some of us won’t want for jobs.”

Roslin smiled slightly and said, “There’s always a place for old soldiers and builders, even if no one notices them fading away. It’s the politicians who get to go down in a blaze of glory or ignominy.”

“There is that,” Adama agreed, turning his attention back to the blue marble before them.

Rong-Arya strode down the halls of the palace, marvelling at how long it had been since they had last seen this place. The eldritch architecture, the academy students racing through the halls, the government officials going about their business… it was all so comforting and familiar, and yet different. The palace was ever changing, always in a state of flux as Warp energies caused it to shift or endless renovations took place to alter the gigantic complex bit by bit into something different from what it once was. Twelve years had done a lot to change it.

Entering the throne room, Rong-Arya found the thrones of the goddesses vacant, leaving only Tzintchi to lounge, his fingers bridged in front of his chest while his human face wore a blank, slightly amused expression. Rong-Arya considered the almost empty throne room before they asked, “Did we screw up that bad?”

“Nah, it’s just that there were a lot of mothers aboard the Stiletto who were expecting to only a miss a year of their children’s lives, not a decade, so the goddesses have gone to help encourage them. As for the courtiers, they’re better off elsewhere for the moment. Besides, if I wanted to punish you I would make it public,” Tzintchi said amicably before he waved a map of the known multiverse into existence.

“We learned a lot about ship building from the Stiletto, although the ship is now considered a bit big for its class and a bit under-armed for its size. We haven’t built many more ships, and most of them are actually Stiletto-class, but the design was always experimental anyway,” Tzintchi said as he descended from his throne.

“She’s being decommissioned,” Rong-Arya asked with a sinking feeling.

“No, but she is being refit. The Stiletto can’t handle line action, even if as a frigate she was never actually meant to. No, we have other plans for her. While expect a lot of the crew to not sign up for another tour, can’t blame them as it took you guys way longer to get back than expected,” a slight glimmer of what might have been considered guilt flickered over Tzintchi’s face, but with the god of schemes ‘face-value’ had almost no value, “there will be a large contingent that will sign back up, having nothing better to do. And you have some interesting experiences under your belt; in particular your navigators were the first to document the fact that when transitioning to other universes you have a tendency to insert near sentient life unless you are sure to avoid doing that. Very subtle, and we never would have noticed as our other scout ships have been trying to drop out near sentient beings.”

“You have a new mission for us,” Rong-Arya guessed.

“Yes. We do,” Tzintchi said, pointing to the centre of the psychic hologram of the multiverse. “We gods have a set of long term objectives that revolve around this universe.”

“The Central Hub. But that is controlled by some nasty, if enigmatic, entities right now. I’m sure we could take them with a bigger fleet…” Rong-Arya noted before trailing off at Tzintchi waggling a finger.

“We have one objective in that place, but the locals, if indifferent to what happens to it within their domain, will get right pissed if we try and snatch it from them,” Tzintchi said. “This is why we’ve manipulated our ‘cousins’ into heading there.” He then pointed to a dark stain next to their universe.

“The temporal mechanics are a bitch, but right now members of the Imperium and the Eldar are making their way to the Central Hub, and more Imperials will follow in their footsteps. Old school Chaos will surely follow shortly after,” Tzintchi explained, thin filaments of darkness branching off and heading for the point of light that represented the Central Hub.

“The Central Hub will become a battlefield,” Rong-Arya noted.

“It will. The fighting will give us sufficient cover to carry out our operation. Unfortunately, we don’t have the fleet weight to stop our relatives if they decide to send a major force. Thus we need a counterbalance, a force capable of fighting on equal or better footing with them in our stead. To this we have decided to establish a base here,” Tzintchi pointed to a point of light on the opposite side of the Central Hub, “for the purposes of carrying out operations here,” he then pointed out a location somewhat between their own universe and the new base, but closer to the Central Hub, if in a calmer branch of realities.

“The locals of the target universe have access to a wide variety of psychic abilities and high energy resources, making them uniquely suited to fighting factions such as the Imperium or Chaos. Operational goals are to lead them to the Central Hub without leading them to our base of operations or here. If we time it right we can crash them into our psychotic brethren right in time to snatch our objective in the ensuing mayhem,” Tzintchi explained.

“Clever sir, but I get the feeling this is above my pay grade,” Rong-Arya asked.

“It is a touch above your command authority commodore, but there are other factors at work here,” Tzintchi said with a grin.

Nodding, Rong-Arya said, “Of course. I don’t pretend to understand, but I perceive what you mean.”

“Specifically, the biggest reason for telling you this without having anyone else around is that you will be part of the spearhead. The Stiletto will become our primary snatch and grab ship. We can’t remove the pulsar lance, but a lot of the smaller guns will be stripped off and the cargo and landing bays will be expanded. With the technology recovered from the Colonials, especially their FTL, we can move into a system under cover of the Warp, deploy troops to specific missions, and then get out again quickly. I need you informed on the overall strategic necessities as we’re likely to get partially cut off by temporal distortions again. I need someone who doesn’t need their hand held by daddy who can work through adversity and get the job done,” Tzintchi explained.

Rong-Arya was quiet before they asked, “Did you predict our stranding on the far side of the Doldrums?”

“Perhaps,” Tzintchi answered slyly. “And if I didn’t and I am merely exploiting the outcome to its fullest, can you blame me?”

“I would call bullshit on the first part of your statement but be forced to agree with you on the second,” Rong-Arya replied.

Chuckling, Tzintchi said, “If it’s any consolation we managed to briefly make contact with Lars, your communication daemon. He survived and we think he found a Z-Hub. Rough triangulation from the little snippets we got suggests that you may have nearly landed in the opposite Z-Hub yourself when compared to your navigational data. If you had gone in the other direction you probably would have seen it. That makes the ride you took unexpectedly large.”

“Does it now?” Rong-Arya asked coldly.

Sighing, Tzintchi said, “Be angry if you want if you feel I have played with you, but I believed you and your crew strong enough to survive if I engineered the conditions for you to end up deep in the Doldrums. There is much outside my understanding, and much of what I understand is outside your understanding. And you know how your understanding exceeds the majority of your crew. But if you wish it in terms you can tell them, should the topic ever come up; then think of it this way. I am trying to protect us from the C’tan and all of the other horrors lurking out in the wider multiverse we have discovered. I need more information, and I need experienced crews. Your stranding got me both, and more. I might fuck you over to do it, but I’ll at least give you a reach around while doing it. I’m a dick, but at least I’m your dick.”

Frowning, knowing that they were being played by this simple form and words but unable to deny their god, Rong-Arya just shook their head and said, “We know… what now?”

“Once the refit is complete and we have rebuilt your crew you’ll deploy to a quiet universe via the Alpha Hub, and then skip off the Central Hub to your base of operations. It’s a quiet place, the local humans recently blew themselves up along with some aliens and left behind some interesting technology, so we can salvage stuff while there and if we get tracked back no one but us gets hurt. You will then use the Central Hub to hit the objective universe and draw them back to the Central Hub while keeping your own operational universe hidden from all factions. We will be sending scouts to the objective universe over the year or two it will take us to make the Stiletto ready for action, but you may begin operational planning with any approved members of the military and the preliminary scouting data,” Tzintchi explained.

“I will begin as soon as my crew is properly disembarked and debriefed. Also… as the one who brought them here…” Rong-Arya asked.

“The Colonials will get a quiet patch of Western Australia to settle and establish an autonomous enclave. Not the most hospitable of places, but there is literally no one there right now, and we’ll remain in contact while they get on their feet. Their jump drive, if useless for strategic and logistical movement in comparison to Warp travel, would have been worth the destruction of the Stiletto to acquire for tactical purposes. I see no need to force our culture upon the Colonials or maltreat them,” Tzintchi said somewhat dismissively.

“Of course my lord. Thank you,” Rong-Arya said enthusiastically.

“No, thank you. You have served all the gods exceedingly well in the performance of your duty, and you two are to be commended. Now, dismissed,” Tzintchi said while turning back to the display of the multiverse.

Rong-Arya nodded and exited the throne room while Tzintchi grinned like a maniac. This was better than his best possible plans.

The girl wore red clothing of a style that had been out of fashion for centuries and sat quietly in the seat. I could detect hints of motion, but little else. My entire mind felt fuzzy and slow, and it took me several seconds to even notice her.

“Are you awake now?” She asked calmly and patiently while I tried to get my vision to clear properly.

“Vaguely…” I replied in an uncertain voice.

“That’s good. When we found you we didn’t know if you had survived. My friends left me here to make sure you wouldn’t panic while we moved you to a safer place,” the girl, petite young woman really now that I considered her more thoroughly, explained.

“Where are we going?” I asked uncertainly.

“Earth,” she quipped.

“Earth… I know that name. Wasn’t it…?” I asked uncertainly.

“It’s a bit hard to explain to you in your condition, but the Earth where we’re going is in good condition and we hope to patch you back together so you can help us out a bit with a few things,” she said.

“Ah… what’s your name?” I asked, still groggy.

“Vita. Can you remember enough to tell me yours?” She asked.

There was a long silence as I tried to get the memories to flow, and a few circuits opened up as repair routines undid some of the enormous, nearly permanently fatal damage to my personality core, but the hardware patches installed by these unknown yet helpful strangers were already bringing long dormant sections back to life.

“I am XXXIII/L-1823-SCP, ‘Scipio’,” I reply.

“Welcome back to Earth, Scipio,” Vita said brightly.
I love learning. Teach me. I will listen.
You know, if Christian dogma included a ten-foot tall Jesus walking around in battle armor and smashing retarded cultists with a gaint mace, I might just convert - Noble Ire on Jesus smashing Scientologists
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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

Post by Academia Nut »

Okay, so I uh... got a little bored, and its currently winter break so I have nothing better to do so uh... yeah.


Chapter Fifty-six: Strange Lessons

For the children of Nesmé, the warnings to not stray out into the woods or monsters would get them had been very real warnings for generations, but still, children would be children and thus one of the responsibilities of the Riders was to round up stray young ones who wandered off before they got eaten. They weren’t always successful, and life was hard and often tear-filled out on the moors.

Thus, despite the uneasy alliance -vassalage at gunpoint really- the parents of Nesmé warned their children away from the camp at their doorstep… and were promptly ignored by the younger and/or more rebellious members of the village who had yet to be scared straight of the dangers around them.

That said, those in the camp did not trust trolls around the children and they were constantly monitored by either Lars, Skuld, the Erinyes, or one of the wizards powerful enough to produce fire or flame to handle the brutes when around adults. But as with all things, there was one exception.

The children stared up in awe at the troll, sitting there quietly, its hair done up in ribbons and wearing a straw hat with pretty swamp flowers all about it. Between two enormous pink painted claws it daintily held a crudely made clay tea cup that was sized for a small human. In its other hand was any equally tiny saucer. A rough sheet of flax was thrown over it in a crude imitation of a dress.

“More tea Mr. Green?” Gunnhild asked while holding a rough tea pot in her hands. She wasn’t quite sure where the idea for the game had come from, but she suspected it was daddy’s side of the family.

“Yar,” the troll grunted. Gunnhild glared at him and he tried to enunciate more politely, “Err… yes please.”

Lowering the tea cup, the troll allowed Gunnhild to ‘pour’ the imaginary beverage before he raised it up and took a sip, extending his pinkie at the last moment before he could be told off. Trolls as a species weren’t very bright, but this one had excellent Pavlovian conditioning.

“Thank you,” the troll grunted in its rough voice.

“You’re welcome Mr. Green. Would anyone else like some?” Gunnhild asked the braver selection of children who had gathered around the flat rock the troll had dragged into the clearing for Gunnhild’s tea part. There was also a large, awed collection of children who watched at a safer distance.

“No thank you, I’m good now,” Thomas Smith, son of a local craftsman replied. At ten he was just at the age to think he was the bravest person in the world without having a teenager’s cockiness quite set in yet. While he thought the majority of the games Gunnhild like to play were stupid, he was enthralled by the way she so effortlessly commanded the trolls and if playing her games was a way to learning such things then he would put up with them.

“More for me please,” Faeresta asked, holding out her little tea cup. The orphan child of a defunct house, she had been picked up the refugee column as they left Menzoberranzan and utterly adored Gunnhild.

“I still have half a cup left, I’ll be alright,” Emily Redford, another Nesmé child who refused to bend to anyone’s will, replied.

“Marvellous, marvellous,” Gunnhild replied dramatically before setting the teapot down. Adjusting her own broad rimmed straw hat, she asked in a gossipy tone, “Have you seen some of the patterns coming out of the new mill? Oh, those will be the talk of Waterdeep come the fall fashion season.”

Had the word ‘Victorianism’ been explained to Gunnhild, she would not have understood why anyone would act that stupid to her reckoning, and those around her really had no clue about the strange cultural mishmash she had inherited from the dozens of minds that composed her father’s form, but they all played along because Gunnhild found it fun.

“You mean the pretty flower clothing?” Faeresta asked innocently.

“Indeed. Quite the bit of finery, don’t you think?” Gunnhild asked her assembled guests.

“My dad helped set up that mill thing,” Tom said as something of a suggestion. “He helped set up the looms.”

“Oh excellent! You know, my mother says that the hard labours of craftsmen like your father are what the future is built on,” Gunnhild said cheerily.

Emily frowned and said, “Whenever my mother talks of the future, she says strange things like ‘stop daydreaming, a man is the only thing in your future’.”

In another life Emily would have eventually left home to become an adventurer, lived in Silverymoon for a while as a sellsword before returning home after nearly a decade’s absence to try to rebuild the ruins of Nesmé and settling down with a cleric of Lathandor before both of them died a decade after that in the chaos resulting in the death of Mystra. Again. However, that timeline had collapsed into non-existence recently, so she had a rather different future ahead of her.

“Oh nonsense, mother wouldn’t allow such a thing,” Gunnhild said with an extravagant wave of her hand. Unfortunately, her crude little tea cup did not have the strength necessary to stay together under such an acceleration and the handle broke off, sending the cup flying, to explode on the stone of the ‘table’ with a spray of clay shrapnel.

Wincing, Tom looked down at the little shard stuck in his hand and the tiny drop of red blood welling up from the wound. A slight shadow then fell over his hand and he looked up to find the troll leering hungrily over him, drool flooding out from between the gaps in its razor sharp teeth as it reached a gnarled, clawed hand bigger than Tom’s torso towards…

Mr. Green!” Gunnhild barked, causing the troll to suddenly freeze up in absolute terror, its eyes loosing their hunger and instead gaining a spike of absolute terror. “That is not proper behaviour!”

A sour look on her face, Gunnhild’s features then softened as she looked at Tom. “I am so sorry Mr. Smith, I must make it better.” With a wave over her hand the tea set, constructed out of river clay by Gunnhild just recently, went flying, propelled by a telekinetic impulse.

Grinning in a slightly unsettling way, she said, “Let’s play doctor!”

The troll whimpered.

Skuld had a mirror, a full length mirror, set up in front of her, a ‘gift’ from the town of Nesmé, although ‘tribute’ was more accurate. She didn’t like the way she scared the poor people, but she had practically leapt upon the gift when it had been offered. It had been the first mirror she had seen in the better part of a year.

It had taken her six hours of staring at it, and later crying before it, before she had come to the conclusion that Belldandy wasn’t going to step out of it.

She had then stared at the mirror for a long time, not hoping for her sister but wondering at the reflection she saw within. She remembered the time she had been turned into an adult after the Lord of Terror incident, and staring at the mirror now, she realized she was closer to that point that she had realized.

Some part of her was still childish enough to wish for her big sister to come swooping in and make everything all right. Another part, a growing part, was realizing that she was an adult now. The Underdark had changed her, had aged her in ways that mere time could not do alone.

Not that time wasn’t important. Eventually, she had stripped off her clothing to stare at herself naked in the mirror, to see who she was beneath it all. She remembered a line from Nietzsche, “Man is a rope stretched between animal and overman suspended above the abyss.”

She certainly felt like she was caught on a rope between adult and child, stretched thin. She supposed from the triangular patch of hair between her legs, her body had been trying to tell her that she was an adult for a while now; it was just that she hadn’t really cared up until a few weeks ago. Goddesses didn’t have the same physiological maturation as human women, but many of the outer changes were the same.

Sitting there, in front of the mirror, Skuld placed a hand on her stomach, above where her womb would be. She closed her eyes and sighed at the sight of Gunnhild’s smiles. She wondered at other possible futures that might lie in store -that might have lain in store before Lars crashed into her life- and then she broke down crying again.

She had been such a bitch. She had been a selfish cunt. Once the thought of Belldandy holding Keiichi’s child would have been from a scene out of her deepest, darkest nightmare, let alone the image of her sister pregnant. It had been inconceivable, it had been the equivalent of some sort of disgusting, tentacle covered monstrosity crawling out of the ocean to molest school girls in her mind.

Now she was trying to get such a beast to molest her and the thought of Belldandy glowing with pride, Keiichi’s ear pressed up against her belly to listen in to the heartbeat of the tiny life they had created together, and Skuld wept. She wept because she doubted she would be there. She had never properly celebrated the love her sister and Keiichi had.

Wiping away her tears, she looked up at the mirror before approaching it proudly, chin and chest thrust out, her head unbowed. She looked over her frame with an appraising but not critical eye. She could certainly do some more growing in all areas, but she was not a little girl. She was a goddess, and she was crafting her own realm brick by brick.

She had taken the Shadow Weave from its creator with no outside help, proving her strength!

She had chosen to marry Lars with no outside encouragement, proving her will!

She was Skuld, Norn of the Future! She would make her own heaven on this world, become her own Valkyrie, and have her own king by her side!

Waving her hand, she conjured up new clothing, made from solid shadows, creating a tight, silky black dress that emphasized and accentuated her feminine traits while still leaving her plenty of mobility to get down and apply a wrench to a stubborn, oil covered bolt.

Maybe this change would help convince Lars to start fulfilling more of her fantasies. Like say working towards getting Gunnhild a sibling.

She was such a good little girl!

“Doctor Smith, you must hurry and find the tumour! The blockage is causing the patient such pain!” Gunnhild said enthusiastically while her telekinesis held down the ‘patient’.

“This is so neat,” Tom said while probing the troll’s brain with his finger, watching as his poking caused the giant to spasm and twitch in strangely predictable patterns. He and the other members of the original tea party, plus several of the more curious audience members, were all covered in blood and other fluids from the troll.

So far they had done a quadruple heart bypass, removed a ‘cyst’ from a lung, and about a half dozen other surgeries while Gunnhild suppressed the troll’s ability to regenerate until their play was done.

Lars meanwhile watched on from the distance, unnoticed by the children, two Erinyes next to him.

“Your daughter is impressively evil,” Autu noted with an impressed tone.

“A touch yes, but you’ll note she’s also selective about those she plays with. She won’t hurt the other children; it’s a compulsion she can’t overcome, but she does know who can take what level of roughness. For example, she knows that the troll she picked as her companion had a long history of ‘playing’ and she has a somewhat developed sense of fairness. I do believe our friend on the operating table will very nearly have learned his lesson by the end of this session. Plus she is teaching invaluable anatomy lessons, and she’s even using mostly correct terminology,” Lars said with some pride.

The other Erinyes, Caut, commented, “Sometimes Lars you sound like a mewling paladin, pleading for ‘justice’ and ‘mercy’, and other times you tingle our spines with talk of evil so grand.”

Lars let a strange look cross his face, something dark and predatory yet gleeful. He looked down at the gathering of children before he replied, “Your Blood War can be summed up with the two most evil phrases my people know. Your foes, the demons, have the phrase, ‘Because I can’ on their side. You devils however have ‘Because I had to’ on yours. These two phrases, when distilled down to their essence, account for all suffering, and in the end, the latter is more destructive. The truest evil is not achieved by the men who think themselves the villain. The truest evil is done by the good man who does what he feels he must, and thus he does it without hesitation.”

Lars paused before he said, “I saw the memories my daughter extracted out of that troll. He did not choose to be born a troll, he did not choose for the endless, predatory hunger to fill him, but he did choose what happened after that. The trolls are hungry and have to eat, but this one could slowly flay the skin off his victims’ flesh, could squeeze the marrow out of their still living bones, and could seek out the smallest babies because they were so tender, so it did. And now I can watch my daughter and her friends peel it back layer by layer, looking at what makes it tick, and I won’t lift a finger because I am not a good man. To my friends and family I will be loving and tender, selfless and self sacrificing. Nothing is too much for them. To complete strangers I will be polite and courteous. To those like the people of Nesmé who oppose me but who are just trying to live their lives, I will respect them while still grinding them into the dust. But to those who are my enemies, well… let’s just say that the children done there will be getting a debriefing about the appropriateness of what they just saw, but the troll will just get a little smile from me. Understand me ladies?”

Both Erinyes were quiet with thought. They were somewhat chilled by this perspective on evil. It was a flavour they had never seen before. It was darkness contrasted with light, which instead of diminishing the dark only made it sharper and deeper. It was colder and more methodical than the evil of the Hells, yet more brutal and savage than the evil of the Abyss.

They liked it. It was the evil of a good man. It was the evil of the eldest days of Hell, when Asmodeus still walked amongst the heavens. They liked to talk to Lars about good and evil, and slowly they were starting to understand.

The greatest evil is not committed by a devil or a demon; it is committed by a saint.

Strange lesson indeed.
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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

Post by Academia Nut »

Chapter Fifty-seven: Learning to Foxtrot

The devil Akrak crouched down while carefully sniffing at the dead soil about the edge of the dead magic zone created by the destruction of the avatars of two gods. Crumbling the blasted material between his clawed fingers, the cornugon considered his options. This had been a dead end as far as the actual objective was concerned, but he should probably report back to Asmodeus anyway, if only so that the information could be disseminated back out to the other trackers.

There had been surprisingly few devils who knew how to find something without the use of magic. Their target was especially problematic in that they couldn’t even look for holes in their ability to see things as the effect was more a case of their scrying slipping off the target than coming up with nothing.

Akrak on the other hand was an expert tracker in the Blood War, specializing in hunting down demons trying to cover their tracks magically while running across the planes. Akrak was good, not just at following physical signs, but at tracking the paths of rumour and hearsay. He could bring order to a mess of information, making him also an effective spymaster, even if his greatest talents still lay in tracking.

Straightening up, he looked over at one of his barbazu grunts and said to the glaive wielding devil, “Return to the portal. Tantras and all leads heading there relates to a fight between Torm and Bane.”

Nodding, the lesser devil disappeared with a crack of air as he teleported away.

Looking back at his assembled squads, he noted their crisp professionalism as they kept up a perimeter around the destroyed area for their commander to examine. There were still survivors in the city, either those under fourteen summers or those who did not worship the sentimental fool Torm, but they were all under strict orders from Asmodeus himself to only scout.

He had made it very clear that the lives and souls of a few mortals, even a few thousand, were inconsequential next to finding their objective, that running was preferable to fighting unless there was no choice in the matter and any devil that disobeyed his orders would answer to him. Personally.

The harvesting of souls would come later. Vengeance for past wrongs would come free. Even the conflicts of the Blood War would come later. For now finding the being known as Skuld was the only thing.

Brushing off his hands, he said, “Flyers, take to the sky once more. Land scouts, disperse.”

With a series of cracks the squads all began to disperse, the flyers teleporting high into the air and miles away while the land scouts dispersed across the entire world of Toril once more. Primary activity was in northern Faerun, but Akrak refused to rule anything out. Especially considering the fact that many divine avatars had access to teleportation magic and were not limited in the same way as mortals.

With a crack of displaced air of his own, Akrak too teleported out of Tantras.

Simalessent had watched with narrowed, hateful eyes as the devils kept watch around the ruins of the battlefield between the two gods. While her original mission of seducing a paladin of Torm away from good and law was now rather moot as he was dead along with his god in the conflict, this was a rather interesting bit of information. The devils had a portal somewhere in Faerun and were carrying out an operation sufficiently important that they had not attempted to attack and enslave the undefended town.

Sneaking back into the city, the succubus descended into her hidden lair where she had weathered out first the large number of paladins and good aligned clerics in Tantras and then the appearance of an avatar followed by the conflict. She had already snatched up a human babe left abandoned when its mother had died to fuel Torm’s attack on Bane, originally to reinforce her nearly shattered wards, but now she would take the blood and entrails from the little one and craft a different spell.

Having finished draining out the life fluid from the child, she casually tossed the tiny corpse in a corner to snack on later. Gazing into the large black iron chalice, she slowly stirred about the blood while whispering the sibilant incantations of a spell to reach across the planes. While the blasphemous magical construct took place, the chaotic energies of the Abyss interacted strangely. It was said that visions of possible futures could be seen in the blood, and so a smart demon always kept a careful eye what was reflected within, aside from the fact that it was never smart to not pay attention to a spell.

Curiously Simalessent saw nothing. It wasn’t the nothing of the spell not working, but rather a more fundamental nothing. It was the nothing that remained after an incredible amount of destruction had been visited upon a place. As a demon, Simalessent liked that sort of devastation, but since she wasn’t exactly sure where it was, she would prefer it to be the future of some good aligned plane or one of the Nine Hells, at the very least the realm of a rival demon.

Eventually though the image cleared and revealed a being that would have looked human if not for his obsidian black skin and the little horns that jutted out of over his glittering green eyes. Lounging casually on his throne, one six fingered hand draped over his perfectly sculpted abdominal muscles and the other idly toying with his greatsword, the demon lord Graz’zt looked back through the surface of the blood at Simalessent.

“My lord! I did not expect to contact you so directly,” Simalessent grovelled. It was not wise to interrupt a demon lord when they had underlings for that sort of thing.

“Be still your heaving chest my minion, I drew the spell to me specifically. Something has happened near your location and I wish to know more. So tell me my dear, tell me what has occurred,” Graz’zt said with a honeyed voice.

“My lord, I had barely arrived to begin my mission when the very avatar of Torm showed up and I was forced into hiding to avoid my presence being detected. My target unfortunately now lies dead and un-damned, his god having drawn the souls of his worshippers from their bodies to fuel a spell used to slay the avatar of Bane,” Simalessent explained.

Waving it off, Graz’zt said, “A pity. My divinations had suggested something like this might have happened and perhaps if your target had been drawn to the Abyss instead of his fool of a god the spell would not have been quite as effective. Still, the loss of both the tyrant and the paladin has injured the cause of law greatly even if good probably came off slightly better in the balance, so my cause is advanced regardless.”

Nodding, Simalessent said, “Yes, but there is something else. Shortly before I called up a contingent of devils surveyed the wreckage of the battle between the gods. There were many of them, at least a full Blood War scout platoon, and they were looking for something.”

Graz’zt’s features remained beautiful as always, but now they were schooled into a scowl that would cause weaker mortal men to cringe and women to swoon at his passions. “Devils? Did you find any indication what they were looking for?”

“I did not my lord, but they seemed dismayed. I think that they have a permanent, or at least semi-permanent, portal established to this realm and are quite possibly part of a larger operation. It seems to have something to do with the gods though, and they were in such a hurry they failed to attack the mortals in the city,” Simalessent explained.

His expression settling into something a similar to curiosity with a touch of boredom, he ran a thumb across his jaw before he mused, “Curious… most curious. That spider-bitch Lolth has been making noise, attempting to contact the demon lords from her exiled position. She is talking a great deal about finding someone and is making implications that it would be greatly worth our while to join her in some plot of hers. If the devils are seeking something in the same area…”

Graz’zt let the line of thought free to percolate in the minds of those watching, which almost certainly included a number of his courtiers Simalessent could not see.

“Thank you my servant, I shall have to think about this new, valuable information more carefully, especially as some of Lolth’s own treacherous offspring have been leaking me new information. Apparently the spider-bitch is not quite as lovely as she once. A pity. I shall have to see whether I will laugh at her disfigurement or step in as a gentleman and help avenge her,” Graz’zt said with a grin before he waved his hand and the spell was ended at his side.

Upon the Plane of Shadow the Shade Enclave continued on its millennial journey through the dark realm as it had for the better part of seventeen hundred years, but for the past several tendays the inhabitants had encountered a rather disturbing problem. The regular Weave had been disrupted, but the Shadovar had redundancy in the Shadow Weave… except that the Shadow Weave was behaving strangely.

For the arcanists who had learned to manipulate the essence of shadow, those who worshipped Shar were completely and utterly stripped of their powers, the Shadow Weave seemingly now offended by her presence in their minds while they tried to cast any spells. The more atheistic mages on the other hand were capable of drawing on their powers as they always had. In fact, they reported that their abilities had been improving, the dark magic they practiced less unwilling and jealous than before.

The High Prince and his sons were justifiably worried over this turn of events. In the same way an adventurer faced with an inhaling red dragon is worried about hot air.

And now there was a strange stirring in the population, as sensitive souls began to have their sleep troubled by strange dreams. For days hundreds had stayed up when their bodies had told them to sleep, unidentified impulses gnawing at them. Already some had taken to expressing their dreams physically.

A smith renown for his particularly artistic and masterfully crafted blades was found staring at a crudely forged pipe with the trigger mechanism of a crossbow jammed in one end while muttering, “It means something.”

A scholar with a poetic bent was discovered having scrawled strange symbols on dozens of sheets of parchment and got ink everywhere, destroying many valuable documents in his mad attempt to commit an unspeakable idea to paper.

A labourer picked up a chisel and a hammer and defaced a stone pillar, creating a strange work of unearthly, perverse beauty, of a woman and a strange creature that looked vaguely like the unholy offspring of a sahuagin, an aboleth, and a mind flayer. The creature was either attacking the woman or…

Most people who saw it really hoped she was being attacked, and those who thought otherwise were keeping their mouth shut. Especially since those that thought otherwise

Already though the Whispered, as they were calling themselves now, were meeting secretly, finding out like-minded individuals. The Netherese had never had any particular fervour for the gods as a people, and the same continued with the Shadovar. Shar was useful, but she was not the end all and be all for the majority of the people.

But for the Whispered, Shar had never had a place in their hearts. No, that dark goddess had never held sway over them, but they had learned of her ways from years of coexisting with her followers and they were now applying those lessons to their new focus. They knew if the Sharrans caught them they would be thrown off the city to die either on impact or from exposure in the shadowy wilds, at the very least, but they had a new Dark Lady.

Dreams of impossible things, terrible things danced in their heads, and they spoke in hushed voices to those they felt shared their visions. Their rituals were as crude as they were skulking and secretive, little more than madmen and women jotting down symbols and words they could not understand while trying to string together syllables to create words to explain concepts that had yet to be given names.

The Whispered swung through strange moods, unaware of what was truly happening to them. Those with children found sudden, almost excessive fondness for their offspring while women Whispered often found their sexual appetites growing out of control. Only one Whispered, a scholarly sorcerer with a little bit of experience beyond the Plane of Shadow had any sort of explanation.

Washal the Pale felt that there was a new goddess of shadow, a usurper over Shar. He had yet to actually voice this view, but it seemed reasonable to him. More than that though, the dreams of this new goddess were spilling out into the Shadow Weave, and those that were not already sworn to Shar but still sensitive to the magic were picking up whispers of those dreams.

Washal looked down in incomprehension at a string of symbols scholars on another world would call the Schrödinger Equation. To him the strange glyphs had been driving him mad for days, seeking expression, but even now that he had taken them from his mind and physically manifest them, he had no idea what they meant.

He and the other Whispered though were starting to piece together something rather incredible though. Hidden in an alien alphabet was a numerology that their dreams promised could let them shatter mountains or fly between the stars if they desired. They had already pieced a tiny fraction of it together, the first piece in a long chain of knowledge.

Washal knew of math, every arcanist knew that it was far more useful than the simple transactions peasants and merchants used it for, but he had no idea how much of it was hidden beneath the surface of things.

Their new goddess would show them.

Beneath the streets and upon the outskirts of Waterdeep, an extraordinarily powerful being danced amongst her followers, celebrating another day of existence. Achingly beautiful, the only material she allowed to conceal any part of her night dark skin was her own flowing moon silver hair.

However the spinning, ever flowing dance was interrupted by an unexpected interruption in the form of a slow, sarcastic clapping.

Breaking apart in confusion, the worshippers of Eilistraee moved to protect their goddess, only for Eilistraee herself to move them out of the way, stating, “You cannot face this one.”

Chuckling, Vhaeraun said, “No, they can’t sister.”

“What do you want brother?” Eilistraee demanded.

“Just to pass along a bit of information. Mother is rallying her children and followers and all of her contacts amongst the demons. She is pulling in every favour and burning through every contact. It’s quite impressive really, if sad. She even went so far as to send an emissary to my location during our exile, promising reconciliation if I joined her. I rebuffed the offer, but in a way meant to indicate that I am merely holding out for a better deal,” Vhaeraun stated.

Narrowing her eyes, Eilistraee demanded, “Why are you telling me this?”

Smirking beneath his mask, Vhaeraun replied, “Because I have other contacts that give me a fuller story. You see my associate Shar has allied with mother for her own reasons and has let me in on what mother is so angry about. There is a godling running about that somehow managed to maim our dear sweet mother in a rather delicate location while also pissing off Shar. Massively pissed off Shar as she is offering a small cut of the Shadow Weave to any god that joins her and capturing the target. I plan on joining them both, but I have no renewed love for mother. And since I neither have love for you nor father…”

“You tell me knowing that father cannot allow an alliance between mother and Shar to go unchecked in the hopes that we will all end up killing each other,” Eilistraee concluded.

“The simplest plans are the best, don’t you agree?” Vhaeraun noted sarcastically before he disappeared into the shadows.

“Accursed assassin playing all sides against each other while he stands in the centre untouched,” Eilistraee spat. Looking about her followers, she said, “Come, we have much to do.”

Malar lounged quietly on a rock, still smarting from the wounds inflicted upon him by that bastard Nobanion in driving him out. His faithful lounged about him with equal quiet, but that was because they did not want to trigger a storm of wrath from their furious lord. It was unwise to poke a wolf while it was licking its wounds.

Of course, someone did.

Hidden up high in the trees, a figure cloaked in shadows whispered just loudly enough for the Beastlord’s incredibly sharp hearing to pick up, “Pathetic.”

His ears twitching, the blood thirsty deity immediately sprang into action, leaping from his stone to the perch up in the tree and shredded the branches with furious swipes of his powerful claws. The figure however had already moved to another tree.

“Poor, poor Malar. Still smarting from that thrashing you got? If only your rivals could see you now,” the hidden figure taunted.

Crushing a branch beneath his claws, Malar restrained the urge to scream and leap at the source of the sound. He was savage, but he was smart enough not to be played for a fool like this. He would track down this interloper and make a necklace of his guts.

“Loviatar sends her regards,” the figure said before flicking something into the clearing. Malar’s worshippers all sprang at the location the object had originated from, but the Beastlord knew that the quarry had already left so he immediately dropped down to the bit of bait left behind.

And it was bait. Malar knew a trap when he saw one. But he was supremely pissed at the moment, and more than that, turning a trap upon itself was a particular joy, so if he could figure out the game being played, he could rip and tear his tormentor while turning the tables.

The object was a small brass tube, closed off and flattened at one end. It was the product of some civilized creature, but Malar found it fascinating as there were several interesting scents attached to it. The inner side of the tube held an acrid stench to it, of something burning, while the outside had the smell of being handled by several divinities. His tormentor had been clever enough to mask his own scent, but there at least two female divinities that had handled it within the past few tendays.

Inhaling more deeply, Malar noted something else. His divine senses were dulled in this avatar state, but he could still smell that there was something wrong. It was like his mind kept slipping over something. Pushing aside all of his rage, he focused completely on that scent. He had it right there in front of him, he just had to focus.

With a sudden stroke of insight, he broke through and discovered the scent. It was… female and divine, but it had a touch of something else to it. It also had the touch of shadows. Shar! That bitch! It didn’t actually smell like Shar had in the past, but she was the only one with the sort of imprint of shadows that this.

The tormentor had mentioned something about Loviatar. Malar was uncivilized and had little to do with his fellow deities, but he did pay attention to the shifting politics and tides of power amongst his rival packs. Loviatar was allied with that scheming empire builder Bane, but she had associated with the Lady of Loss in the past. If something had changed the balance of power, such as the death of the bastard, then perhaps Loviatar would fall under the sway of Shar.

There were wheels within wheels spinning here, something that Malar hated. He was being played for the fool, something he really hated. But he would track down this scent, the creator of this strange object and discern the nature of this hunt.

He and his followers would then feast upon the entrails of their foes.

The gods were forbidden from returning to their divine domains, but there was mortal level magic that they had easy access to that would allow them to travel quickly across the material world. Stepping out of the darkness, Vhaeraun grinned at Shar and said, “It is done. It took some time to get organized, but in short order the best trackers on Faerun, the elven hunters and the beasts of Malar, will be hunting our quarry for us.”

“Excellent work drow. Your mother would be proud of your duplicity,” Shar commented.

“So long as we keep this a little secret between us, I am glad to help. We just need to wait for someone to find our foes and then unleash mother upon them. I do hope that father finds the mark first but mother arrives before him. The bloodshed should draw in Malar, and then we can sweep in and put down all of our enemies when they have weakened each other. I get my arrogant father and idiotic mother, Loviatar gets that brute Malar, and you Shar get the usurper. We all win,” Vhaeraun said with a smile.

“That we do,” Shar replied.

Both deities looked at each other and wondered at how easy it was to manipulate the other.
I love learning. Teach me. I will listen.
You know, if Christian dogma included a ten-foot tall Jesus walking around in battle armor and smashing retarded cultists with a gaint mace, I might just convert - Noble Ire on Jesus smashing Scientologists
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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

Post by Academia Nut »

Chapter Fifty-eight: Finding Charlie

At the start of the Godswar the people of Nesmé had been sent runners to keep up a correspondence with Silverymoon until a few tendays after the start when they had gone strangely silent. Lady Alustriel had unfortunately been rather busy with securing the city from the chaos of the conflict and in dealing with the death of her mother, Mystra. Then reports of massive destruction started filtering in from the North West and all attention was focused there.

Then, just a few days ago a caravan loaded down with fantastic goods had shown up at the gates of Silverymoon, seeking some very strange things. Nothing worrying… just strange considering the contents they came in with. They had dozens of huge bolts of processed wool and silk cloth dyed incredibly bright and vivid colours, each individually worth more than a small dragon’s horde. They had incredibly hard and strong tools that every craftsman drooled just to look at.

And they had left with a bizarre collection of items. They had bought up huge amounts of livestock, both beasts of burden and food animals and as much gear for hauling material as they could. They bought up every last scrap of food that wasn’t already part of the strategic reserve Lady Alustriel had mandated. Then when there was no more food left to buy, they started purchasing as much chrome, copper, tin, nickel, lead and other simple metals as possible, followed by the acquisition of iron. They didn’t even care where the iron came from and they accepted bits of scrap in trade if they had room. They also emptied the city of its supply of rock coal and as much charcoal as would be sold to them.

They also emptied out the city of its entire saltpetre supply along with all of the sulphur the wizards parted with. The traders voraciously bought up huge amounts of raw materials and scrap, disdaining finished goods. And when they had bought up everything the city had to offer, they put out contracts to other traders to find what they needed elsewhere. The list was strange, including useless ores like bauxite. Also, the merchants had been extremely tight-lipped about where they got such incredible objects from.

To the learned members of Silverymoon, this only meant one thing: Nesmé was building something. The huge demand for food indicated a sudden, large upswing in population. What everything else they bought up was for, no one knew, especially with magic in a state of such flux. Much of it was being sent downriver on barges, but most of the food animals were being sent on foot down the road.

So an emissary had been deployed to Nesmé to discover what was happening there. Along with a small contingent of the Knights in Silver, the loremaster Cydric Axehand would see what had happened to Nesmé. While not the most diplomatic of individuals, the endlessly fascinated dwarf’s near perfect memory would allow him to serve as an effective observer. With the addition of the much more tactful elven paladin Siralee Fairwind, it would be a good mission.

However, after quietly bypassing the returning caravan, the diplomatic entourage was stopped short of Nesmé by an incredibly strange and unsettling sight. There was a work crew upgrading the road. A work crew composed of a more polyglot collection of races than they had ever encountered. There was an overall rumble of Common and Undercommon, but a dozen different languages

Dozens of goblins were hauling away small stones and tree roots in the road while orcs, humans and bugbears either dug up a trench or tamped down the dirt and dwarves, both shield and duergar, argued with kobolds and each other over diagrams as an ogre manned a heavy rock crusher. Where they had not been the road was little better than a dirt path, where they were a mess of mud, sand, and stone ruled, while behind them was a paved, smoothed road that ran through the forest into the distance towards Nesmé.

Seeing the party coming, one of the human foremen looked up and walked over to the stunned and confused emissaries. Saluting, the mud splattered and sunburnt man said, “Greetings. I am Lieutenant Cole Michelson, commanding officer of C Platoon of Second Company of the Nesmé First Engineering Regiment. How can I help you people?”

There was a general amount of blinking before Cydric coughed a touch and said in his most regal voice, “Ah yes, I am Cydric Axehand of Silverymoon, emissary sent from Lady Alustriel Silverhand on behalf of the city to make contact with Nesmé and see why they have been quiet for the past month.”

Nodding, Cole said in a rather unimpressed voice, “Ah yes, we were wondering when someone was going to show up. Just go around us as we work, someone in town should be able to confirm your credentials. Don’t stray from the road though as First Company has scheduled demolition work up in the hills to start draining the moors and we don’t want any accidents occurring.”

Not quite understanding the warning but deciding to take it, the group moved their mounts slightly off the road, giving the monstrous work party plenty of room before they resumed their travel with significantly more trepidation than before. Nesmé was not well known for its tolerance, so either someone had taken over or there had been a sudden change of heart overnight.

Yet the monsters had all been working peacefully with each other and with the humans and dwarves with no signs of restraint or beatings. They all looked a touch underfed and many had signs of markings from beatings on their exposed skin, but that was all old. It was very strange, to say the least.

Continuing on, they discovered several very strange constructions in the form of bridges over dry ditches that zigzagged further up in to the hills. Peering at them studiously as they crossed, Cydric said, “Curious… they look like flood sluices. The farming prospects of the Trollmoors are notoriously poor due to abysmal drainage, and while possible to construct an irrigation system to redirect the water and drain out some of the areas, the presence of the trolls and the poor economy of the region have thus far made such a massive undertaking impossible.”

“And yet this road is here. How fast would you say they are building?” Siralee asked, frowning at the implications of all of this.

“Oh, I would daresay perhaps between a half a mile to a mile a day. Many of the creatures present are capable of working in the dark and they seemed to have ample supplies and leadership along with an onsite camp, so they could conceivably work around the clock with appropriate shift changes,” Cydric mused.

“So between half a year and a year to reach Silverymoon?” Siralee asked.

“Conceivably, yes. The winter and spring months would slow things down greatly, but then again they could potentially go faster in less rough terrain. I would say that given sufficient resources they could get their within two years on the outside, if they were so inclined,” Cydric replied.

Siralee was troubled by this until they rounded a corner and discovered that further work had been done leading up to Nesmé itself. The forest had been cut back to twenty yards away from the road, with the process still currently on going. The entire landscape was being torn up as trees were cut up, the stumps torn out of the ground, the stones in the ground removed, and then the open spaces pounded flat.

Closer to the town within these growing dead zones were large, multi-storey buildings made from stone and brick, some still in the process of construction. Several of the ones that were active had tall chimneys spewing thick black smoke out of them. People and monsters moved about everywhere tearing down old things, moving materials, or building new things.

Siralee’s eye twitched. She was a city dwelling elf, but Silverymoon lived in harmony with nature. This level of disruption was something rather upsetting to her, especially as it seemed to have been propagated by monstrous creatures.

Adjusting his spectacles, Cydric noted, “I had heard stories of the workshops of Lantan, but this is rather different, don’t you think?”

Already a small contingent of foot soldiers with odd looking, ridiculously short spears in their arms while they wore matching dark blue uniforms and no armour. The composition was mostly human, but there were elves and even hobgoblins thrown into the mix. The leader of the group was a moon elf female distinguished by a horrific set of scars that ran up the right side of her face, caused by either a clawed beast or a many stranded whip striking her from the corner of the mouth the hairline above the eye. Only luck had kept her eye intact. Her only apparent armament was a light rapier at her side and a strange pouch with a curved piece of polished wood sticking out of it.

Nodding slightly, she said in a strangely accented voice, her lips not quite moving properly, “Greetings and welcome to Nesmé, I am Captain Valerie Shadesworn of the First Nesmé Home Guard Regiment. Our scouts had already informed us of your approach. Upon presentation of credentials you shall be escorted to an audience with Governor General Thrakka Oathsworn.”

There was a general rising of eyebrows amongst the delegation from Silverymoon as Cydric handed over the scroll that authenticated him. While looking over the papers Valerie explained, “Nesmé has recently received a large influx of refugees, I amongst them. We seek a new life and many have taken up new names, while many of us have discovered new relationships with others. The previous government was also replaced with a constitutional theocracy. The heads of state are divine but the commander in chief and head of government are both mortals. Despite the fact that we currently have a population of approximately ten thousand we have a federal and civic government and constitutional provisions for a provincial level. Governor General Thrakka was selected by Prime Minister nee First Speaker Jygil Zelnathra both for his eloquence and as a gesture towards the refugee population that despite only having approximately a fifth of the population they would not be ignored.”

Handing the scroll back, Valerie stated, “These appear in order… and from your looks you want to know why he’s named Thrakka. Well it’s because he’s a hobgoblin, a former chieftain of an Underdark tribe who has thrown himself into the new order we are creating. Few have worked harder than he has, and they already have positions of power. Now come, I will bring you to him.”

The group from Silverymoon shifted uncomfortably. A hobgoblin ruling Nesmé? What had happened here?

Accompanying the crisply marching soldiers into the town, they discovered that the interior of Nesmé was being transformed nearly as quickly as the outside. The streets were in the process of being torn up for some strange reason while buildings were being torn down and consolidated into taller structures of stone and brick and cement.

At the heart of the town were two buildings. The first was the old town hall, while the other was a shining new building of brick and glass with a large clock and bell tower set at its centre. Set between two wings in a sort of demi-courtyard was a small jump of wooden structures that young children of a dozen laughed and played about while adults watched them. There was a light perimeter of steely eyed soldiers armed similarly to Captain Valerie about the place.

Most shockingly enough was the fact that there was a drow elf sitting on a bench in the shadow of the building keeping an eye on the children.

Seeing the shock, Valerie growled, “The guards around the Academy were posted there after several Nesmé natives threw a stone at an orc girl on the playground. Attacking children or staff is currently considered a capital offence, so don’t even think about approaching uninvited, diplomatic privilege or not. Headmistress Kirilae would not approve.”

Cydric coughed lightly and asked, “Did you say academy?”

Valerie nodded as she waited for the diplomatic party to dismount next to the town hall. “The Nesmé Universal Academy and Library. After the steel and textile mills were built it was the first thing the mages focused on erecting, and the first new building within the town’s limits. They built it in three days. All children, regardless of race, religion, or resources are welcomed within and given a free education in languages, mathematics, history, politics and sciences with advanced courses in magic and engineering offered in later years. From the first son of a noble in Waterdeep to the poorest daughter of an orc barbarian, the Academy will accept them. It is the hope of the future.”

Siralee coughed and said, “You sound very… human.”

Valerie glared and replied curtly, “Live through what I have lived through and come back and talk to me.”

Marching up the steps of the town hall, the delegation from Silverymoon was led into the inner chambers where the quiet rustle of papers and discussion was interrupted by Valerie bellowing, “I present to you Cydric Axehand of Silverymoon, here on behalf of Lady Alustriel and the city.”

A collection of humans, most familiar to Siralee and Cydric as previous members of the town council all quietly began to pick up and organize a number of sheets of parchment while an immaculately groomed hobgoblin in an incalculably expensive suit of fine weave silk dyed a midnight black moved up to the delegation and said, “Ah, greetings! By the will and pleasure of the people and the gods, I am the Right Honourable Governor General Thrakka Oathsworn of the Republic of Noctis. I can see by the surprised look on your faces that you did not particularly expect to see a member of my race in such a peaceful position, and I must admit that a few months ago I wouldn’t have believed it myself, but momentous occasions change us all.”

Both Cydric and Siralee were left flabbergasted by the smooth way in which Thrakka spoke and the air of charm he projected about himself.

Clapping his hands, Thrakka smiled and said, “You have many questions, and I have answers. Come, come, we have been waiting for delegations from our neighbours to start arriving. We sadly have been too busy to send out anything beyond our borders what with all the construction and government building we have been doing until the caravan.”

Leading Cydric, accompanied as quietly and discreetly as an elf in mithral full plate could by Siralee, to a small office, Thrakka sat down behind a desk and offered a chair to Cydric. Rather overcome by all of the bizarreness, the dwarf gladly accepted while he glanced all around him, trying to commit everything he saw to memory. Siralee preferred to stand and have her weapons close at hand. There were too many monsters running around to drop her guard.

Finally she asked, “What happened to the Riders?”

Raising a single eyebrow, Thrakka sighed theatrically and said, “You can rest assured that they are still alive… if indisposed and no longer available around here due to an unfortunate misunderstanding. For a community our size in such a beleaguered position, it was quite the blow to lose them but fortunately other circumstances have allowed us to build up our forces sufficiently that we now feel safe.”

“Those troops with the toy pikes?” Siralee asked sarcastically.

Grinning to reveal sharpened teeth, Thrakka replied, “If you wish you can send a scouting party to the Uthgardt barbarians of the Elk tribe that attempted to raid us and ask about the ‘Thunder Reapers’ of the First Regiment. We are quite capable of defending ourselves.”

Waving it off, Cydric said, “My guard is merely worried about our safety here.”

Clearly not believing it but not caring to comment, Thrakka replied, “We are quite capable of defending our borders. We currently have in our stocks a hundred weapons that can punch through the finest steel plate with a single shot at over two hundred yards and a hundred soldiers trained in their use. And that is only counting the mainline troops. Including support units, the engineering regiment, and militia skirmishers we can call up close to a thousand soldiers, although obviously not for the long term as that is a tenth of our adult population.”

Seeing the suspicion in Siralee’s eyes, Cydric pre-empted her and asked, “And what do you seek to do with such credulity straining weapons and forces?”

Thrakka smiled and said, “Defend our homes and property. The Trollmoors have been cleared of the trolls and await proper mining and cultivation to provide wealth and employment for the citizens of Noctis.”

Furrowing bushy dwarf brows, Cydric asked, “What does Noctis mean anyway?”

“It is a word in the language of the gods that means ‘night’. At night when the stars and moon are out, light and dark are blended and harmonious, giving rise to the Pax Noctis, or ‘peace by night’. For those who are active during the day, they can sleep at night knowing they are safe, that the only things stirring are their night dwelling friends and neighbours. Conversely, for the nocturnal, when the sun rises they will have the same reassurance from the diurnal,” Thrakka explained.

“Admirable,” Cydric said while clearly not having any heart in it.

“Yes, but how do you maintain your society like that?” Siralee asked poignantly.

“We have a motto: ‘Force if necessary, but not necessarily force’. The objective is not to create a dictatorship; it is to prevent those that might harm others from doing so. So far our police forces have had to deal the most with the humans of Nesmé who are prejudiced against us and the orcs who are common enough that we can’t keep our eyes on them while not quite yet understanding what this society means. Trust me though, when you lean on someone because your leg has an infection from untreated whip marks for a week, you cease caring about things like race or what your ancestors did to each other,” Thrakka said with a shrug.

“So you ask your people to just forget what has happened in the past? To forget thousands of years of raiding and pillaging by orcs and goblinoids and drow? To forget their history and ancestry and generation upon generation of tradition? To forget their families?” Siralee hissed.

Thrakka’s expression was blank for a moment before he said, “In a word: yes.”

Far away in the port city of Luskan, one of the few female members of the Arcane Brotherhood marvelled at the discovery she had made. The disruption to the Weave had badly weakened the Brotherhood and forced their confinement to the Host Tower to keep the captains from realizing the true extent of the damage.

Marella however had discovered something. She had discovered a way to harness the chaos within the Weave to her own purposes, to direct the random energy towards levels that few could ever conceive of. She could perceive the changes and ripples in the Weave at an instinctual level now, could feel the ripples in her magic and the magic of her enemies and time her attacks accordingly.

All because of her discovery of something living within the Weave, a conglomeration of all the pieces of mages lost to magic over the millennia, their presence suppressed by Mystra for all this time. There were archmages who had delved too deep and wasted away, their minds unable to join the afterlife so laden down with magic were they. There were liches who had suffered phylactery overloads and instead of being drawn into the Abyss they had their souls sucked into the Weave. There was a fragment of a Netherese archmage who knew of magic impossible in the modern era. Tens of thousands of years worth of experience was at Marella’s beck and call.

And all they wanted were two things: the destruction of the Chosen of Mystra so that they would never again be suppressed, and the destruction of the Shadow Weave.

Yes, the strongest of the minds in there was very insistent about that last point.
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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

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Chapter Fifty-nine: Whiskey and Tango

“You cannot control a man with death, for excluding the undead, the dead are inherently incontrollable in the sense that there is nothing to control. No, you cannot control a man with death, but you can control him with the fear of death. Once you understand this distinction you will realize that it is fear that gives you a hand hold on the actions of a man. But not all men fear the same things, and in the same ways. Thus the first step in conquest is to understand the enemy and discover what he is afraid of. This is not an easy task as most people will try to conceal their fears to avoid just this sort of thing happening. But you can learn to discern fears by looking at actions and peeling back the layers of motivation to find the little terrors that rest beneath. The greatest practice you can achieve in this is to peel back your own motivations to find the core of fear that rests within your heart and learn to use it, to know when you are being manipulated. Thus we have unity of purpose. To achieve victory we must know who we are and who our enemies are. When these are known, one can defeat ten and a thousand can defeat ten thousand, for you will feel no fear and your enemies will experience their worst nightmares.”

There was a hushed silence over the small lecture theatre as Lars spoke, his students listening in with rapt awe. Everything was going so fast, but Lars refused to postpone this class even for the arrival of the delegation from Silverymoon. He and Skuld had agreed quite vehemently that they would not become overlords, that they would be teachers and not dictators.

Nesmé needed its next generation of generals and statesmen. Dozens of lifetimes of attending boring management meetings discussing Sun Tzu’s Art of War or other books had finally clicked together and made sense, and the actual wisdom behind the pithy little sayings often parroted uselessly without context rose to the surface.

Glancing out, Lars asked, “So class; what is it that we fear?”

There was a general whispering amongst the dozen students with minds young and malleable enough to suit his purposes. He had phrased the question with intentional ambiguity to see what would be said.

“The Uthgardt? Parliament has been discussing war with them for the past week,” a particularly cunning orc girl named Rusha suggested.

Lars nodded while he wore a neutral expression and he said, “That is one possible answer. But it is a surface answer. Why do we fear the Uthgardt? Why have so races stood in suspicion and fear of each other for thousands of years? Why are so many on all sides of the conflicts so eager to throw their lives away to get at their foes?”

There was a general rumbling from the class. There were two orcs, three hobgoblins, one drow, one moon elf, four humans, and one dwarf amongst their number, and while none of them had grown up in the sort of environment Lars hoped to create and only about half of them had actually been with them in the Underdark, they all had the sort of qualities that would ensure that they looked beneath the surface of things. Of course, due to accidents of birth such as their species, their gender, their social status or the fact that they were born too close to Menzoberranzan and became slaves ensured that none of them would have ever grown up to do great things. Lars knew this and they all knew this, which was one of the reasons why he had chosen them.

“Because those with power fear to lose it, and those without power fear the retribution of those with power. Uthgar has his portfolio and he commands his people to obey his edicts so as to maintain his power. The shamans and the chieftains and whatever else receive the blessings of their god and use that power to secure their positions. The common Uthgardt fears the retribution of their rulers in life and their god in death, not just to them but to their family,” Kirander, a male drow who ran away from his house during the retreat summarized.

“Good. So they all have their pride and their fears. The fear of death alone is insufficient to deter them. The Elk tribes have decreed the destruction of civilization to us. The Uthgardt in general find our forestry projects offensive. They have refused to come to an agreement on boarders with us. We are reaching the stage of the final ultimatum. What final fear can we attempt to manipulate to force them to back down?” Lars asked.

There was quiet as the students thought about this for a long time, the more brutal members of the class clearly thinking about declarations of ultimate destruction and rejecting them. Finally the quietest member of the class, a glassy eyed girl from Nesmé spoke up. Her voice was soft and somewhat trembling, but that made her words somehow more awful.

“Tell them that if they will not consent to peace then it will become a war of annihilation. If they win, they will merely kill us, for we will fight to the bitter end to protect our homes. But if they lose, we will not kill them, not all of them. No, those who do not die in the fighting will live to see their world turn to ash. We will take proud young men and turn them into broken old men staring at a world already past in the reflection of their bitter ale. We will make beggars of their women and children, and in our charity we will take them. Their women will eagerly warm the beds of our soldiers for they will provide more than broken old men, and their children will be raised as our own. Because we are ‘good people’. Because we are ‘good people’ we will leave them howling impotently in the dark and the cold, broken and shattered, the name of the god forgotten to the sands of history and comment on how we were kind enough not to kill them all,” Tricia said gloomily.

Lars blinked a few times before he said, “Depressing outlook on life, but effective. Yes, if you take everything from a man, you transform him from a thinking, feeling being into a beast that only feels hatred and exists only to attempt to end you. If you make everything leave a man then you have destroyed him and his will to fight. There will be anger and hatred, but much of it will turn inward. Threaten a man’s home, his wife, his child, and he will dig in and fight to the end. Threaten a man’s future, the very things he fights for, and you will sow doubt.”

Ruminating for a few seconds, Lars then said, “This brings me to another point, the aspect of punishment. There is a parable where I come from, about a minister who decided that since people fear death then if execution is made the punishment for lesser crimes then imagine the compliance against greater crimes! Unfortunately this then leads to the following situation. A platoon of troops has been delayed due to unforeseen circumstance and their captain asks his men ‘What is the penalty for being late?’ to which they all reply, ‘Death’. He then asks ‘And what is the penalty for rebellion?’ to which they reply ‘Death’. The captain then says, ‘Gentlemen, we are late.’ Always, always graduate punishments, always give a way out. And as your classmate has pointed out, sometimes death is not the worst punishment you can give. Sometimes the worst punishment is kindness. For the proud, the worst death is a slow death, over many decades, watching everything they have built crumble before their eyes as you replace it with your kindness. Threaten them with this fate should they not comply, and you will get better results than if you threaten them with just death.”

Lars then grinned and said, “Now, since we have gone a little off track, we will be using today to explore your own fears, the parts of you that you must know and understand if you wish to defeat your enemies.”

There was a slight pause before he said, “I will help you discover these fears.”

Having left Siralee to fume elsewhere, Cydric allowed Thrakka to lead him on a tour of the new construction for Nesmé. Cydric had no love for the hobgoblin, but he was fascinated by the new creations. He knew he was also being manipulated and that he had not the skill of speech to overcome such manipulation, but he could still gather information for his superiors.

“And this here is Spider Grove, the source of the majority of our textile material at the moment. A tribe of particularly intelligent spiders have settled in the Plane of Shadow near here and they come here to exchange their silk for food. Somewhat strangely, they are particularly fond of freshly sheared sheep, so we get extra material for our clothing,” Thrakka explained, gesturing to an empty little clearing ringed by trees with a large stone and brick building next to it.

“What is that building for?” Cydric asked.

“That is our textile mill. It’s where we take the raw wool and silk we gather and turn it into finished cloth. It is also where some of our mages are establishing their order. They have a special connection with spiders and their magic allows them to summon forth additional spiders to milk for their silk, quite the profitable venture,” Thrakka replied proudly.

“Ah yes, I do believe I have read about the arachnomancers of the Underdark. They are a rather immoral breed of mage, are they not?” Cydric asked.

Thrakka was quiet for a moment before he replied, “I will admit to the fact that they have a certain ruthless, amoral streak, but they receive excellent pay for their services, research materials, and high social standing. If they are ‘evil’ then they are also not stupid. So long as they do not break any laws, we support them. They thus stand to lose significantly if they step outside the boundaries placed upon them.”

Frowning, Cydric replied, “If there is one thing I have learned about mages, it is that the only boundaries you can place upon them are the ones they personally place upon themselves.”

“Then it behoves us to ensure that they remain sufficiently fat and happy that they do not want to leave their boundaries,” Thrakka replied, clearly annoyed. He then gestured to a work crew nearby. “Now this is interesting. You see, we are intending to replace the entire infrastructure of the town, installing a whole new sewer and water supply system. You noticed the drainage efforts on your way into the town?”

Cydric nodded.

Smiling brightly, Thrakka said, “That is part of our effort to construct an aqueduct for the town as well as opening the moors up to agriculture. By draining certain sections of the hills we can construct stable platforms for our waterworks. Our current plans call for a system easily expandable to a minimum of a hundred thousand residents for Nesmé and the surrounding area.”

Cydric sputtered incredulously before he said, “A hundred thousand! That’s ten times greater than your current population!”

“Today,” Thrakka mused. “As a member of one of the short lived races, it is unlikely I will live to see such expansion but we wish to take the long view. Growth and change is inevitable, especially if you are prepared for it.”

“Some would call such overreaching planning arrogance, perhaps even hubris,” Cydric pointed out.

“There is a difference between arrogance and just being that damn good,” Thrakka replied, grinning broadly. He then looked around suspiciously.

“What are you doing?” Cydric asked.

Holding up a placating hand, Thrakka replied, “I’ve been informed that saying something like that inevitably means the statement will be tested within the next minute in some suitably ironic fashion. However not saying it when appropriate is grounds for actual arrogance.”

Cydric was about to comment on the stupidity of the statement rather bluntly when a breathless messenger ran up to Thrakka and said, “Governor General! The Uthgardt have massed against us.”

There was stunned silence for a moment before Thrakka replied, “I did not expect that to work!”

Lars crouched in a small stone overhang that served as a temporary command shelter. He had really hoped that they would be able to avoid this situation, that a diplomatic solution was reachable. Unfortunately, it appeared that the Uthgardt tribes had just been biding their time as they gathered up reinforcements.

“Current numbers stand at three to four hundred tribal warriors armed with mixed weapons and leather based armours complemented by one hundred fifty to two hundred skirmishers equipped with slings and composite short bows. They have brought about two dozen boats made of leather and shielded on top with scavenged pieces of mail and plate armour. It looks like they intend to make a mass crossing under cover of their projectile troops,” the scout reported to Lars and Thrakka.

“Marshal?” Thrakka asked while using Lars’ technical rank, even though he commanded fewer troops than a major would be expected to lead. Still, Lars and Skuld had agreed to establish excessive amounts of government now so that they could begin developing a new national character and new traditions; only they had yet to fall into the tin pot dictator trap of actually believing their own hype.

“We have to drive them away, plain and simple. Anything less and they can hit the civilian population. Anything more is a bonus,” Lars explained as he began organizing a force deployment chart.

“So far our encounters with the Uthgardt have been in what is nominally ‘their’ territory, if only they would deign to actually let us define boundaries of coexistence, and they have faced only single squads of the First Regiment mixed with troops they understand and at numerical inferiority. They fear our guns, but they don’t really understand their power yet,” Lars noted.

“Then we get one good surprise and then it is gone,” Thrakka replied. While it had been discovered that he was actually an amazing politician, he had at one point been a tribal leader in the Underdark and understood some of the broad strokes of warfare, even if so far only Lars and to a much lesser extent Skuld actual had any idea how to fight a battle with gunpowder weapons.

Lars nodded and said, “With the permission of the Governor General, the Marshal of the Armies of Noctis would like to allow the forces of our enemies to commit to battle.”

Thrakka thought for a moment before he said, “Declaration of war is impossible for the Governor General without a majority decision by parliament… unless sovereign territory is invaded in which case it is my solemn duty to command the marshal to lead our armies in defensive action. Since they have already all but declared war it could be said that it is no longer my decision but…”

“Half way across the river. Once they cross that point they are in our territory and will have crossed the point of no return in terms of actually engaging in conflict,” Lars said before he sighed theatrically. “This is going to be bad. The force out there must represent every adult male Uthgardt within a hundred klicks. We’re going to cripple their economy, a sustenance economy I might add, and leave them vulnerable to attacks from others.”

Thrakka grinned in a very hobgoblin sort of manner, even if he was rather dapper for a hobgoblin, and said, “Then their women and children shall come to us and become workers for our farms and mills.”

Lars was at least glad that Thrakka had ceased thinking of the conquered as slaves. He wasn’t so pleased that Thrakka had clued into how Imperialism worked far too quickly.

Passing along his battle plans, Lars exited the cave and took a look at how his ‘army’ was forming up. He had two ‘regiments’ at little better than company strength, and one of those regiments was the engineering corps so they were little better than grunt workers who knew how to swing their shovels like axes at the moment. For his actual battle regiment, he had one company of rifled troops and two companies of skirmishers. Against a force like this his skirmishers were actually useful, but they were also outnumbered and his skirmishers were lighter than what he guessed were about equivalent of medium infantry from the Uthgardt.

Lars looked out over his battle line and grimaced. His rifled company consisted of two regular platoons and one command platoon. Already they were forming up into a thin line oriented at the top of a bluff sloping down towards the water. The command platoon had the centre, flanked on each side by two regular platoons in a rough V-formation. Each platoon had two squads of ten and they would fire by squads in volleys. That meant for every volley he would get off approximately fifty shots.

And while he would have liked to have a couple of claymores or some mortars or howitzers, the Noctis Arsenal had managed to make a few bigger guns with the surprisingly small budget given to it. He had two six pound cannons and one highly experimental Gatling gun. The cannons he had positioned at the ‘wing-tips’ of his formation while the Gatling was at the centre. The Gatling would go through their limited supply of ammunition frightfully fast if used, but if it worked properly it would scythe through Uthgardt barbarians with equally alarming alacrity.

Finally his skirmishers were spread out along the flanks. Mostly those who had yet to start training with gunpowder weapons or who had yet to acknowledge the superiority of the weapons, they would protect the gunners and cannons from melee if it came to that. Lars hoped it wouldn’t as it would mean something had gone terribly wrong.

Raising an eyebrow, Lars then noted, “I was unaware that we had cavalry.”

Thrakka shrugged and said, “Knights in Silver. They wish to help in our defence and I decided that in the interests of furthering future alliances with Silverymoon I should allow them to observe. I made the point clear not to interfere with the battle unless aid was requested though. Their leader is a bitch, but I don’t think she wants Nesmé any more than we do.”

Lars shrugged. As they got settled in and the bards they had hired as signallers and inspiring presences settled down their martial music, Lars watched the Uthgardt get into their boats. As surprise attacks went, it was actually pretty good. The Uthgardt missile troops would just be able to reach the opposite bank so the main force could establish a beachhead without meeting a Nesmé troops right on the shores. Sure, they would be waiting, but their leaders probably saw that as inevitable.

Thrakka lowered his telescope- a product of Silverymoon bought years ago- and said, “I do believe their boats have crossed the half way point.”

Lars nodded and said, “They have.”

Thrakka grinned and said, “We are now officially at war. Please begin, marshal.”

Addressing his signallers, Lars said, “Snipers are to kill the proud idiot wearing the massive elk antler helmet. Tell the cannons to aim at the missile troops on the far bank. At my signal, the riflemen are to begin volley fire on the boats. Volley fire is to cease when all boats have sunk or on my order. The Gatling gun will hold in reserve until I say otherwise.”

There was a quick blowing trumpets and beating of drums until the riflemen on the front lines were all lined up and ready, each squad aiming at a different boat. The squads behind them were eager to move forward and take the place of their comrades once their guns had fired. The cannons took careful aim at the far bank, aligning with the centres of the enemy formations. It was all rather ragged, the soldiers having had perhaps two and a half weeks to actually train with their weapons, but it would be enough.

Then there came a trio of cracks. A week after consolidating their control over Nesmé a trio of young hedge wizards had come forward, interested in the guns and the extra power they gave. When they had demonstrated the spell true strike they had immediately been made the first three members of the military to wear the Sniper Cross on their uniforms.

Folsom the Bull Elk, a fifty year old veteran who had lived through countless battles and had united a dozen villages in arms against these new creatures that accepted the hated orcs into their ranks, angered their totem with the existence and growth of their city, blasphemed against their god Uthgar by cutting down so many trees, and had attacked and killed twenty warriors- died. Before he even set foot on the shore claimed by his enemies, he died. A rare and seasoned warrior who had stood against trolls and ogres and orcs and other creatures and had the scars to prove it, he died to two boys and girl who had yet to see their second decade. His axe, forged generations ago out of adamantine collected from a fallen star and set with a handle of bone taken from a black dragon, dropped into the river, its wielder slain by weapons less than a month old.

“Open fire,” Lars commanded. It took a few seconds to get to the troops and the volleys were not a single wall of sound and smoke, but he could not argue with the results. Three of the boats were hit, the result of miscommunication resulting in an over saturation of fire on two of the boats. The lead shot ripped through the leather boats, puncturing holes in the craft and the men within. Two of the boats veered off, the crude paddles thrown aside by twitching, dying bodies, while the third actually began to sink rather quickly.

The cannons made a one-two roar as they fired asynchronously, one of the shots going low and thudding harmlessly into the far river bank while the other crashed into the lines of bowmen at about knee level, ripping apart men as the vicious little iron ball bounced along the ground.

Lars watched and remembered just how much a daemon he truly was as he felt joy at the carnage he was orchestrating. He would not revel in it, but he could not deny the carnal satisfaction at killing his foes, the predator within him cackling in glee at being fed a sight of blood spilt and meat split.

Then the next line stepped forward and at a command from the major in the command platoon, they took their turn at firing, finishing off the two wallowing boats and wounding two more. Already confusion was taking hold as the Uthgardt tried to figure out what was going on. It wasn’t magic because their wards and protections had not been activated, but it killed like magic!

Twenty seconds later and the first squads were reloaded. There was another burst of fire, this time perhaps a touch more coordinated, and more men died. If it hadn’t been for their religious prohibition on cutting down trees, the Uthgardt might have made more wood with which to build sturdier boats, but their little leather affairs were horrifically fragile.

After the cannons fired again, reloading at the rate of about one shot every minute and a half, the missile troops, already on the verge of panicking, turned and ran into the woods. They had probably only been staying because they wondered if the cannons could repeat their deadly attack, and now that they had their answer they were not going to stick around.

“Cannons, cease fire. Have the Gatling rake the boats along the water line,” Lars ordered, causing another flurry of activity as the commands were passed along.

A few seconds later a rhythmic chattering noise began, spouts of water bursting into the air around the boats until the gunners found their range and the confused, milling boats started to get hit. Several had turned in the confusion, exposing their unarmoured flanks such that the bullets now hit one side and if not stopped by human flesh they passed out the other side of the boat. All at water level.

The Gatling worked gloriously for about half a minute before it jammed. Unitary bullets were still a bitch to make and the brass cartridges were being reserved for other uses at the moment. They didn’t have a proper paper industry established yet, so they were using light wool cartridges. They sucked and caused all sorts of jams, but the riflemen were trained to clear their guns. The Gatling had no such proper clearing of the debris.

Still, the roar of the cannons and the death rattle of the Gatling had completely broken the morale of the Uthgardt. They were leaderless and they had lost a huge percentage of their forces before they had even made landing, half their boats having already sunk and the river stained red. They were in full retreat now.

“Harass them until they cross the halfway point then cease fire. I suspect we have crippled or killed two thirds of their forces today while taking no losses. For all intents and purposes the Elk tribes in this region have ceased to exist. Perhaps now we can get them to negotiate,” Lars ordered, hoping it would be the last one of the day.

A few seconds and considerable confusion later one of the cannons fired, obviously having considered the new order to harass to apply to them and supersede their orders to cease firing. Lars would have pitched an eldritch fit if not for the fact that the crew made a beautiful shot that hit one of the larger, still intact boats dead centre and tore it to scrap and bloody body parts, the whole thing collapsing and sinking so quickly it dragged a good thirty Uthgardt to the bottom of the river in seconds.

Lars blinked and then said, “Cease fire! Everyone cease fire! Damn it, we still need to work on communication. Reprimand the cannon crew for firing without orders, but commend them for excellent shooting.”

Thrakka shrugged and said, “Well at least we weren’t fighting a determined, disciplined enemy with sufficient numbers to force the issue.”

Lars turned his head ever so slowly to glare at Thrakka before he hissed, “You did not just say that!”

Thrakka grimaced and said, “Sorry.”

“We have got possible lead, sir. Our spies tell us there is some sort of disturbance in Silverymoon related to the town of Nesmé,” one of his scouts informed Akrak.

Nodding, the devil scoutmaster said, “Does anyone have the exact coordinates of Nesmé? No? I did not think so. We will gather and jump to the nearest known point and then approach on the ground with stealth to avoid potentially startling the target into fleeing before we can confirm. I want us there in two days!”

Graz’zt sat in his court looking out over the information his spies had been gathering on the movement of the devils and from within Lolth’s ranks. There was apparently a surge of activity. Someone had noticed something.

Musing for a moment, he said, “Get me a myriad of troops, the Blood War seems to have slowed in tempo for the moment so we should be able to take them from there. Get them to the Material Realm and have them stand-by for a teleport assault. I want to drop a ‘surprise’ on the first target of opportunity we get.”

Gruumsh sat plotting within a mountain stronghold along the Spine of the World. Thousands of orcs had flocked to his avatar, and while there had been some raiding and conquest it was not enough. There were no great targets for the god and his followers to attack that were within their reach.

Until word had filtered to him from his scouts that the most hated king of the god of the elves had stepped out of hiding on Evermeet and was on the main continent. Now there was a target worth attacking!

Gruumsh had given simple orders. Find where the elf bastard was going and then he and his hordes would march out and kill him and anything else that got in their way.

Siralee watched in mute horror as the massacre took place. Admittedly, the Uthgardt had been attacking at the Noctis politicians had yelled at them repeatedly across the river to just turn back, that they could discuss things. The Elk tribe had always been problematic as they wished the destruction of all civilization, but they weren’t outright butchers.

The magic weapons they had on the other hand…

She had to get back to Silverymoon to warn them!

Marella sat at upon a throne she had dragged in from elsewhere, the bodies of her rivals piled around her. Power had come quick and easy since her discovery of such a deeper understanding of the Weave. She could listen to the harmonious vibrations of magic and add discord and destructive resonance into the pattern, amplifying her own arcane skills while robbing her enemies of theirs.

So what if her hair was falling out? So what if her eyes had been reduced to glowing points of light? So what that no matter how much she ate she was withering away, her skin hanging grotesquely off her bones. She had power!

Yes, power, and now she knew why the remnants wanted the Chosen dead and the Shadow Weave destroyed. With them out of the way, it would be all hers! Hers! The conflux of the Weave around the mythal would make for an interesting plaything.

She had to get to Silverymoon!

Malar sniffed the air. He and his followers could just smell the scent of their prey. But… there was something else now. The winds carried not just physical smells to the bestial god, but also the tides of things to come. He could smell… conflict. He could smell blood that had yet to be shed. A great and savage battle was coming.

Such things were still hard to track due to the strange quality of the source of the scent they tracked, but Malar felt that they were perhaps still a half tenday out from their prey and the inevitable trap that lay there for them. The only question was if they could arrive before the coming storm of blood or not.
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Academia Nut
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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

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Chapter Sixty: Foxtrot Uniforms, Bravo Alpha Romeo!

They were simple things really, just little ribbons composed of coloured thread sown into the dress uniforms of the soldiers, but they were the first military award to be given out. All members of the First Regiment were now permitted the honour of wearing the service ribbon for the First Battle of the River Surbin. The design was of two green bars flanking two wider blue bars flanking a single thin red stripe down the middle.

Lars sat in the home he and Skuld had built… well, mostly Skuld… looking over reports. They didn’t have a proper paper industry established yet and already there were stacks and stacks of reports. Lars had insisted upon it, even if they annoyed him. Of course, with over a hundred souls to work with and the capacity to grow additional eyes and limbs, he could multitask in ways that ate through paperwork.

He had always suspected bureaucrats were otherworldly abominations when he was alive and now that he knew how his afterlife worked and how good he was at the stuff now that he was an otherworldly abomination, it seemed to confirm his previous suspicions.

Then he hit a bit of paperwork that caused him to pause and merge down to a human form such that he could look at it with his full attention. Turning his head slightly, he asked, “Skuld, you figured out a way to fix the Gatling?”

From the bathroom where she was bathing in a hot, steaming bath, Skuld said through the partially open door, “I was wondering when you were going to reach that file. And I sort of figured out a work around, in that I can fix the problem for a few weapons but not for many of them. However, by the time we have more than a few weapons the ammunition problem shouldn’t be a big deal, and we’ll probably move towards something like an M2 Browning anyway.”

Lars was quiet for a long moment as he read over the report in more careful detail before he replied, “The juvenile male in me, of which no man ever truly loses, is unabashedly giggling like a school girl. The military man in me is drooling at the tactical implications. And the daemon part is cackling inside, in a way that would drive most mortals insane with fear.”

Padding on wet feet across the rough black granite floors, Skuld leaned down on Lars, her face peering down at his, long black hair hanging wetly around both their faces, and she asked, “So you’re turned on right now?”

“If I was physically capable of it, I dare say I would be rather aroused right now,” Lars said with a shrug.

Grinning, Skuld said, “Come to bed then. Come on, you do the work of ten men.”

“That’s because I don’t need to sleep and I can do twelve things at once,” Lars replied. He then sighed, “And we need a hundred of me.”

Skuld frowned and said, “Yes, well I only need one of you right now, so come on. We’re cuddling mister.”

Neatly stacking away the papers, Lars got up and was not at all surprised to see that Skuld was currently doing a fair impression of the Lady Godiva.

Grinning broadly, Skuld said, “Look, no little girl body here!” She then hopped underneath the covers of the bed, an eager look on her face.

Dissolving his casual dress uniform into some light pyjamas, Lars slipped under the covers on the opposite side of the bed.

“Technically those clothes are part of your skin… thus we’re both naked,” Skuld pointed out cheerfully as she moved closer to Lars, pressing up against him, only a thin sheet of silk between them.

Turning to face her in the darkness, although both of them could see perfectly even in the absolute absence of all light, Lars actually grinned back and said, “Do you know how much sex the people of Nesmé have been having?”

“A lot?” Skuld ventured.

“That's an understatement. Everyone is busy, but since the factories run on eight hour shifts and we pay unskilled workers two silver pieces a day as a starting wage and a five day work week, the average worker actually has more free time than before while producing more. The people of Nesmé are starting to see prosperity, and along with the jubilation of the Menzoberranzan slaves at being free and all of the new marriages, it’s been pretty interesting for a psychophage,” Lars explained.

“So you’re incredibly horny?” Skuld asked.

“Like you wouldn’t believe, especially since I’ve been siphoning such emotions off Gunnhild to prevent her from doing anything inappropriate,” Lars replied.

Skuld then squeaked in surprise as a prehensile tentacle wrapped around her thigh scandalously high.

“Ooh… you’re a naughty one,” Skuld cooed.

With an unholy flare of light hidden by the trees, Marella arrived, along with a contingent of her followers and some expendable foot soldiers given to her by the High Captains in admittance of her supremacy over the Host Tower. In reality she knew they had been sent along with her in the hopes of acquiring some pillage, but the pirates would make good distractions for the minions of Silverymoon.

For her part, Marella had dove deeper and deeper into the strange mysteries of the Weave offered by the remnants. Silver-white fire burned within her empty eye sockets and her heart was visible beating within her chest, the incredible glow illuminating her bones from the inside out, her flesh and organs translucent and tinting the light blood red. The remnants however had already taught her how to overcome this limitation of the flesh by tattooing long chains of complex symbols on her flesh, creating wards that grew stronger the more power flowed through her, preventing her corporeal form from incinerating itself under the strain of channelling the rawest magic on Toril. Already new wards were spontaneously forming, creating glowing gold bands of symbols that floated about her body, constraining and controlling the chaotic flow.

Already some of her acolytes were starting to add their own warding tattoos as their eyes began to burn out from delving into the new field of magic she had shown them. None were as favoured by the remnants as Marella though. None were as favoured by the Weave itself.

The Weave around the city was relatively quiet in these troubled times, kept in control by the mythal at its heart and the presence of one of the Seven Sisters. Marella began to carefully pluck at the strands of energy with her mind, listening to the discordant resonances she was creating. As a tiny shockwave would travel along and bounce off the stability of the mythal, she would reinforce it on its way back, turning tiny plucking into increasingly powerful waves of wild magic that steadily assaulted the mythal.

Marella could feel the mind of the Chosen start to react to her interference. But it was too late.

With one final mental shove, it was much too late.

As a daemon, Lars didn’t particularly need to sleep, but he could enter a sort of low consumption state where he mostly focused his energies inward to decrease external losses. In the current high ambient energy environment and with all the attention focused on him by the people of Nesmé, he didn’t particularly need it, but as he lay snuggled up next to Skuld it was the next best thing to actual sleep.

His rest however was rudely interrupted by a sudden surge in the Weave, a big one that temporarily knocked out all enchantments based on that form of magic. It was more than enough to ping his senses. And once he turned his senses outward again he saw something coming in the near future that did not bode well.

Leaping out of bed so fast he forgot to sort out the tangle of limbs with Skuld first, the two of them hit the ground hard before Lars morphed back into a more human form and he ran to the windows, a human part of him wanting to see what his other senses were already telling him.

Visible across intervening hills and the horizon, the light of dawn could be seen. There were two problems though. The first was that the light was coming from the north-east, impossible at this latitude. The second was that it was midnight.

Gasping as she saw the terrible light, Skuld said, “Lars…”

“Silverymoon just blew up,” Lars replied, his voice devoid of horror. Thousands of minds around him were starting to put off huge amounts of terror, but fear never made a daemon afraid. He had no physiology to spike him with fear. The only thing Lars feared was the loss of his new family, and panic would not help them now.

“What happened?” Skuld asked.

Focusing on the distant action for a moment, Lars winced and said, “All the energy built up in its mythal was released in a single instant. Casualties are probably catastrophic right now.”

“What do we do?” Skuld asked as her eyes remained glued on the distant, if now fading, light.

“It’s too far for us to do anything tonight… officially,” Lars replied. “However, what I can’t do as Marshall of the Armies of Noctis I can do as Lars. If Thrakka asks, I’m out gathering intelligence for later campaigning with my own personal household guard.”

Lars then went to his desk and pulled out his God Killer shotgun and a bandolier of shells, pocketing the most powerful shells carved down in that lightless cavern all those weeks ago. Slinging the gun, he then altered his form into his drowned commissar form and then changed his face such that he looked like he was wearing a face plate of solid, sea corroded brass bolted together. He could see perfectly fine, and he had other senses, but the effect was thoroughly unnerving to look at for most mortals.

Hugging Skuld close, he said, “I’ll be back. Tell Gunnhild I love her.”

Exiting the room, he found the Erinyes already waiting, their new swords strapped to their sides and their bows and arrows replaced by AK-47s and magazines. They also wore blank faceplates made of half-silvered glassteel, moulded to their features and done up in faint, malevolent grins. Since they had no need to breathe, possessed telepathic communication, and light would always be more intense outside the masks and they could see perfectly in any level of illumination, there was literally no downside to the freakish masks.

Their appearances had also subtly changed due to either extended exposure to Lars or some sort of other weird side effect of the contract aside from the brands of his symbol above their sternums. For one thing, everything they wore looked like it had been submerged in salt water long enough to just start the process of disintegration but not quite long enough for it to have affected structural integrity. Metals looked slightly tarnished and fabrics ragged, but only ever so slightly in a way that just looked wrong. Strangely enough, when removed from their presence, any such item looked perfectly normal.

Even worse though was the way they moved to the mortal eye. Even while moving at full speed their motions appeared slowed and lazy, almost like they were underwater. Their hair and wings were the worst offenders, seeming to have buoyancy and inertia unnatural to the air, moving too slowly for their environment.

Looking around the Erinyes, Lars said to them telepathically We’re going to Silverymoon. Teleport on my mark.

An instant later the eight Erinyes all activated their natural teleportation abilities and Lars grabbed on to the space-time distortions and rode the extra-dimensional movement. For a teleportation it was a short jump, but Lars was quite glad he accompanied them all to Silverymoon as from the perspective of space and time the whole area was a gigantic snarl that only a daemon used to riding out on a communications boom during a Warp Storm could have a hope of figuring out.

Pushing the teleport into a stable zone, the nine of them appeared with an crack of displaced air into the sort of scene that only Lars could truly appreciate, having lived through this sort of thing more than once in his lifetimes.

The part of the city that was the heart of the mythal was gone. In its place was a bleeding hole in the fabric of the cosmos, a seething core of raw, untamed magic opened up to the mundane world, casting a harsh silver-white light over everything.

Around the crater formed by that destructive magic, the rest of the city burned all the colours of the rainbow as regular combustion was tainted by magic. In some places wood burned bright green flames that turned into creeping, ensnaring vines that wrapped up victims, preventing them from fleeing the same fires that created the vines in the first place. In other portions of the city stone melted and combusted, producing shimmering purple flames that turned to rolling yellow smoke that coated everything it touched in molten glass. In still other places would be fire fighters threw water on flames in attempts to douse them only for the water to burn like oil, spreading back to those who had thrown it and causing all the water in their bodies to similarly ignite, spreading the fires further.

There were other horrors too. Spells were randomly manifesting, and some of them were even starting to take on a life of their own. Lars watched in mute fascination as a woman went to scream only for the sound to take on the expression of ever shifting runes of strange colours in the air, strange, partly squamous, partly rugose things that only a daemon could appreciate. The words then formed into a writhing mass that flayed apart their creator with fire and cold and fossilization before they oozed off to find a dark hole to hide in.

Note to you girls, that thing is pure chaos, I would recommend not touching it, Lars advised.

Once the initial assessment was finished, a few subtler things were noticed. Like how there was a band of pirates, apparently either river pirates, landlocked ones, or very lost ones, looting the outskirts of the city, generally caring off anything or anyone that wasn’t pinned down or on fire.

Oh, and flying about the city above the hole in reality hurling balls of fire and bolts of lightning at each other were Alustriel and a gaunt woman surrounded by swirling bands of runes carved from magical light, her heart burning like a small star. Alustriel for her part seemed rather hard pressed by the attacks, forced on the defensive by the cackling monster.

Kill the marauders, save the civilians. I’ll gather intelligence and then see if I can do anything about the psycho bitch on fire up there Lars ordered.

Why save the civilians? Orin asked.

Surprisingly it was Falagoro who answered, chastising Because it will be easier to annex this area later if we are seen as saviours rather than conquerors.

Nodding, Lars ran off into the holocaust that Silverymoon had become, looking for anyone out of place while the Erinyes began to open fire with single shots on the raiders, rushing between piles of rubble, picking off the confused attackers while remaining within cover. With their otherworldly motions, inexplicably deadly weapons and the scenes of carnage reflecting off their masks, they were beings of pure horror, causing the raiders to break and run into the fires of the night.

His jacket flowing behind him, a banner of rotted leather with the appearance of seaweed trailing behind him, Lars was on a whole other level of horror as he allowed the unnaturalness of the daemon to surge to the forefront, adding twists and angles to his body that did not add up properly and caused the eyes to ache just looking at him. Then he found his prey.

There was a smaller wizard’s duel occurring on the ground, with Silverymoon wizards hurling spells at a small group of attacking wizards that burned with lesser versions of the fires within what Lars presumed was their leader. The attackers seemed utterly at home in the wild magic produced by the glowing ball of light, capable of predicting when the magic would surge and when it would fizzle and timing their attacks and defence accordingly. Two of them seemed content to blast away at the defenders while a third, presumably the strongest, was countering their attacks, slowly drawing magic saturated strands of the Weave closer to her, building up to a massive attack.

Psychically grabbing a thread of magic they had been using, Lars yanked on it at exactly the wrong moment for his prey. The mage who had been gathering energy suddenly discovered that she was no longer in control of the chaotic spell she had been gathering, and that her heart had just been replaced with the fire seed of an empowered fireball with the ‘fire’ part replaced with pure force. The explosion turned her body to a fine red vapour and pummelled her compatriots, hurling one into the crater around the burning core of wild magic where he promptly had a brood of baby beholders spawn in his stomach and gnaw their way out, trailing entrails as they tried to escape the mutating effect of being so close to so much raw magic.

A few of them might have made it, but Lars didn’t care because he had bigger fish to fry. Rushing forward, he grabbed the broken and blood covered but still alive body of the other mage in the attacking party. With a sound of tearing metal his brass mask tore open, the jagged edges forming secondary teeth for the collection of swirling, gnashing, cutting teeth and tentacles and stars within his infinite maw, reaching out to grasp the mage and haul him into the bottomless depths.

The man screamed and died from shock, his body weakened by his injuries, but in the instant before his soul vacated his body Lars slipped past the shattered mental defences and pillaged the contents of the man’s mind. It seemed that they were lead by the woman duelling Alustriel, and their proficiency with magic and their ability to harness and even create wild magic stemmed from their ability to perceive and manipulate the Weave on a fundamental leave thanks to certain things they had discovered existing within the Weave itself.

Dropping the dead body, Lars resealed his mask and looked up. Marella, the name of the leader of this attack, was winning. She was using part of her concentration to begin building an attack similar to the one her minion had attempted to construct, but she was much better at it, and much more aware of the waves within the Weave.

Taking out his shotgun and flipping the safety off, Lars took the direct route.

Divinely crafted and enchanted, but not to the max or with daemonic blessings, buckshot slammed into Marella’s wards, explosively burning out on the shielding of raw magic, battering the psychotic mage with concussive force. A rib, illuminated by her glowing heart, visibly snapped. This distraction caused her to fail to catch a bolt of force hurled by Alustriel, and while it too splashed off her wards, she instinctively flinched and thus completely lost concentration on the spell she had been forming out of the magical remnants of her duel.

The spell, of a power not seen since the Fall of Netheril, was released only partially formed into the wild. Originally intended to sunder Alustriel’s connection to the Weave permanently, it instead manifested as a living field of null magic, a bizarre contradiction that still lashed out at its unintentional creator and the nearby Alustriel as it began to plummet towards the ground.

Both transparent pseudopods hit, completely nullifying all of the magical effects on both women, thus causing them to plummet towards the ground. Marella hit and bounced hard while Lars made a sliding save to catch Alustriel, letting his amorphous body deform beneath her to cushion the blow a little.

Dragging her into cover and making sure she would live; Lars sprang to his feet and ran into the open just in time to take a lightning bolt to the chest. Normally he would have just shrugged it off, but to keep his ammunition from cooking off Lars let the energy conduct through his body around his weapons, inflicting damage to his Warp substance.

Standing in front of the burning ball of light, drawing wisps of energy into her already mending body like a white dwarf feeding off a larger companion star and about to go nova, Marella stood, her empty sockets burning with malevolent sunlight while her blood dribbled from her mouth and burned like thermite.

Pumping his shotgun, Lars blasted Marella, but this time the mage threw up a shield of force that caught the deadly pellets well before they reached her personal wards.

Well… this will take some thought Lars muttered telepathically.

He turned to run just in time to take an arrow to the shoulder, only this one hurt. Crying out in agony as the arrow burnt his essence, Lars then took another one in the gut in his distraction before he managed to roll away into a pile of rubble. Marella also took several arrows, but they flared on her wards, their enchantments causing them to explode well away from the psychotic mage.

Pulling out the arrows with conjured tentacles, Lars looked at them and realized that they were of elven make and divinely enchanted. Creating an eye, he extended it up over his cover. In the second before he had it shot off, he caught glimpse of a sight that would have made him wet himself if he felt had the capacity to feel fear or physically wet himself.

Three… no… four avatars of the elven pantheon stood a good kilometre away, backed up by a massive elven war host. Two of the gods were armed with longbows and two with swords. Lars had initially miscounted as distinguishing such powerful auras from each other at this range was difficult and one of the sword armed elves had dark skin that made her harder to distinguish from the background.

Lifted off his feet by an explosion generated by Marella throwing a fireball at him, Lars discovered that he was trapped between a mage capable of beating down one of the Chosen of this universe’s goddess of magic in a magical duel, and four martial minded elven gods!

The phrase ‘rock and a hard place’ came to mind.

Calling out, Lars ordered All right girls! Full retreat! Meet at my position… wherever that might be once I’m done running.

Crawling out of his crater to find that the air was now filling up with non-divine arrows from the mortal followers of the gods, Lars allowed himself to become a pincushion if it meant he could use the distraction to get into the ruins of a building. Squeezing through burning rubble, he switched out his regular shells for the full power ones.

Lars had just enough time to get one shell in when he was forced to duck to avoid having his head taken off by a longsword as he exited the rubble.

Corellon Larethian was standing right in front of him and did not seem in the mood to discuss who had caused what and why even though Lars was admittedly an eldritch horror from beyond he was a good guy. Lars was at close range with a master swordsman who had spent tens of thousands of years perfecting his art. Lars did the only thing he could do. He fired point blank range.

Amazingly Corellon dodged most of the shot, dancing around it, but two pellets struck him, grazing his flesh along his right side and nearly passing through completely but detonating just as they brushed the muscle beneath his skin. The leader of the elven pantheon cried out as the concussive force caused grievous damage to his right flank.

Muttering a telepathic Sorry Lars then smashed the distracted Corellon across the face with the butt of his gun, shattering the god’s jaw in the process with the divinely crafted weapon. Now thoroughly incapacitated for the time being, Lars managed to shove pasted and make for a less hostile section of the maelstrom of fire and magic and war that was Silverymoon.

Seeing her father wounded, Eilistraee cried out, rushing to go slay the foul creature that had laid him low. However before she could get there a blade lunged out from a pool of darkness she had not realized was deeper than usual. Barely parrying in time with her own sword, the collision of the two powerfully enchanted weapons in such a chaotic zone set off a shower of burning sparks.

Emerging from the pool of magical shadows was an immaculately dressed man wielding a rapier cloaked in frost. He had an unearthly beauty about him, fouled but not lessened by the pair small of horns that adorned his forehead. Grinning slightly, he said, “Not today elf, not today.”

Emerging into visibility from around the glare of the wound in reality arrived a dozen squadrons of flying devils, already starting to throw fireballs and other magic down at the elven positions and at Marella. One particular devil wreathed in fire cackled maniacally as he hurled balls of fire possessing unholy heat down on his enemies.

A giant slug creature emerged from the rubble, toppling a building as it ground it under.

A wicked hag on a burning nightmare emerged out of the flames.

A powerful pit fiend leading legions of lesser devils teleported in to cordon off the city.

Walls of iron began to sprout up, dividing the battlefield towards the favour of the devils.

The forests about Silverymoon began to burn as a pair of devils marched through it, the younger female one throwing off indiscriminate fireballs while the older warrior let just the image of him terrify the mortals that saw him.

Another gigantic creature, this one more snake-like, appeared.

Eilistraee’s blood ran cold. The Archdukes! The Archdukes of Hell were here!

And then, standing out in the open like an orchestra conductor who had always been there, was Asmodeus.

“Retreat!” Eilistraee shouted out. “We can’t stop them!”

“A pity, I do not think either of us had tested all of our skills to the limit yet,” Levistus noted mockingly.

The elven gods and their followers looked hesitant for a moment as their leader was still trapped down in Silverymoon, wounded, but with Levistus holding Eilistraee at bay and all of the Nine present with their armies growing by the second, they had no chance of making a breakthrough.

Marella for her part looked almost sad at having her victory snatched from her, but one look from Asmodeus had her teleporting out in a second.

With the elves retreating and the battle won, Asmodeus cried out loudly yet majestically, “Restore order! Crush any resistance! We cannot stay here long, so find that creature! Alive! Ignore everything else!”

Meanwhile, completely oblivious to the arrival of the forces of Hell in Silverymoon due to spectacularly bad timing, Lars and the Erinyes teleported back to Nesmé. Covered in smoke and grime and the Erinyes showing tans on their exposed skin from overexposure to raw magic, they stumbled into the town square.

The army already mustered out, they looked at their marshal, still clutching at where he had been hit with the arrows of gods. Wincing, he looked at all of them and said, “We have a bit of a problem.”
I love learning. Teach me. I will listen.
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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

Post by Academia Nut »

Chapter Sixty-one: Blackstone Waltz

Washal the Pale sat in his library, slowly watching the flicker of a candle, his eyes caught in rapt fascination by the colour. The Whispered had made a bit of a breakthrough when they tried to use magic to read their writings. Actually, the rulers of the Shade Enclave had tried that first, but it was the Whispered who had actually started gleaning meaning out of what they read.

The discoveries were… incredible. They still barely understood the huge majority of what they were looking at, but they were learning concepts that seemed impossible and nonsensical, and yet they were true. The Netherese had known of some of the mathematical concepts, used in the construction of their mythallars, but this went far, far beyond that. They had understood the concept of zero and to a certain extent the concepts of numbers less than zero, but they had never particularly considered either concept all that useful outside of some high level, esoteric magical applications.

Now the Whispered were grappling with infinity, which once they wrapped their heads around it became mind bogglingly useful when combined with other concepts. The idea that numbers held so much power was a staggering concept. Oh, there were numerologists who already claimed such things, but this was a much more subtle and nuanced approach.

Over the past several tendays since they had started deciphering their own writings, the Whispered who had not been rounded up by the rest of the Shadovar had began secret experimentation, things that they did away from the view of others because they looked crazy while doing it. They did things like raising weights to certain heights and measuring the time taken to fall and the depth of penetration into materials like loose sand or clay or other such things.

To write down the things in their head was a nightmare, but to actually take those writings, make predictions with them, and then confirm them was something entirely different. It was a glorious moment of epiphany to realize that they possessed in their hands the truth. That the universe obeyed an orderly set of rules realizable by simply looking at it!

And yet they had also quickly realized that their manic scribbling contained more information, bizarre information, and that their initial work, their initial truth was merely the surface of something larger, stranger, more complex, and ultimately more useful. Like the thing Washal had just discovered.

“The colour proves it, it proves everything. That the candle flame is orange proves that the world is orderly in ways we can’t imagine. That the candle flame is orange proves that the gods play dice,” Washal muttered while staring at the flame. He then began to chuckle. He barely understood the most fundamental precepts, the more complicated formulas required the measurement of concepts he didn’t even know how to build the measuring device for, and yet he knew that the colour of light produced by the candle was critical to the understanding of everything.

For decades Washal had studied the theories of magic, and now he discovered that the theories of the mundane were so much more interesting! He had always thought himself a master of precision in crafting his spells, yet looking at the results of what he saw before him made him feel sloppy and inefficient. Magic was a way of getting around the mundane, but if you didn’t understand the mundane you would never know where it was to get around it!

Yes, the few arcanists amongst the Whispered had already been putting their new knowledge to use improving their spellcasting. They had some interesting results already.

Yes, interesting results indeed.

Skuld had long lived in the shadow of her sisters, a fact that it had taken her quite some time to acknowledge in Urd’s case. She had a tendency to go overboard, to push too much power into things, to take the shortest direct line route even if that went through a mountain. Not over, through. Things she built had a tendency to explode when she wasn’t careful, which was far too often.

Living for months as a captive, stripped of all her divine powers and technological advantages, had given her a new perspective on things. For one, it had forced her to very carefully use her knowledge instead of immediately leaping for the solution that would produce the largest explosion. It had invested her with a sense of caution and of subtlety. She always had the capacity to build stable, robust systems, but she had never felt the need so acutely before.

Weeks spent meditating on the Shadow Weave had also altered her perspective. There wasn’t as much energy in there as in the Weave or from Yggdrasil, but it had some interesting properties, especially when used properly. It had not been used properly since it had been built. Its creator had disdained the brute force approach, but had limited understanding of all the ways to get around such limitations.

Skuld was not so limited.

She sat naked in a specially prepared pool of water, although mist and shadow from the dawn cloaked her such that she was as good as clothed. The pool was shallow, only up to her waist, but the water black as oil and had a mirrored surface, the only ripples coming from the steady, regular waves produced by the tremor of her body as she breathed and her heart beat. Around the perimeter of the pool there were a series of carefully carved runes from the Yggdrasil programming language. Skuld wasn’t sure if they would do anything, but they would hopefully protect her from any unforeseen surges of magic as she attempted this.

Surrounding the pool, laid out carefully, were pages and pages of parchment showing detailed plans and schematics. Both they and the pool itself had been in development since shortly after arrival at Nesmé, but neither had intended to be used together or so soon.

But Lars was hibernating as he repaired damage to his otherworldly body, piecing together the very thoughts and emotions that bound him into his form, wounded by divine magic. The city, her city, their city, was in danger. Nesmé was a fragile thing, a child with the gleam of the future in its eye. Skuld would not let that be taken away.

She would not let Lars be taken away from her. She would not let Gunnhild be taken away from her. She would not let her family be taken from her.

It had hurt enough to lose her first one.

No psycho bitch with too much magic or flighty elf was going to take her family away from her. If she could be a bitch to Keiichi for loving her sister, then she was going to find the current trophy holder of ‘Bitch Queen’ and bludgeon the wannabe to death with the award.

Skuld reached out with her mind, plunging into the Shadow Weave, gathering forth immense amounts of magic. This would be her biggest project yet. She had seen Belldandy do something like this once to repair the temple, only this spell was much, much bigger and harder and Skuld had much less experience.

First she used the Shadow Weave to access the Plane of Shadow, an entire realm of shifting, malleable material, only partially real and thus only partially set in its shape. She began to draw material from that dark place, moulding it, creating a template for her later work.

Out around Nesmé, stretching from the fortifications previously used by the Riders and stretching out to encompass the entirety of the town and a considerable amount of additional space, the growing dawn shadows began to bubble forth with darkness, stretching out and swirling in the morning twilight, creating massive illusionary walls and black, monolithic structures.

The air thrummed with power, and Skuld gave the energy life and structure, an embryonic tone that reverberated up the spines of all of those who could hear it. The dark adapted workers ceased their labours and exited their factories, while those asleep awoke and exited their homes to gaze out upon the changing landscape.

Skuld then plunged sprues of shadow down, deep into the core of the planet, through the honeycombed layers of the Underdark to the deepest realms where the rock would glow if not for the fact that there was nowhere for light to exist. It was a realm of heat and shadow, a realm she could tap.

The brute force way would have been to simply draw the rock up, but that would severely drain Skuld’s reserves of power, and this spell was already trying enough. No, she was going to do something infinitely more subtle. She cloaked the material in shadow, near infinitely fine shadow that permeated every layer of the substance down to the atomic level. Quantum interaction ceased, and tens of thousands of tons of liquid rock became a mass of wave functions, unobserved by the universe.

Within the confines of her shadow construct, the particles could exist anywhere, in any configuration so long as they existed unobserved. Skuld chose to ‘observe’ them within the confines of her construct, the air taking on a percussive quality as the universe flexed and flowed into this new configuration. Aluminium, silicon, oxygen, iron, titanium, vanadium, and carbon were her rainbow as she painted in three dimensions.

The air itself sang with her creation, triumphant notes that filled the hearts of those who witnessed it with joy, causing many to collapse to their knees in exultant wonder. Bards, many of them originally hired as mercenaries to help bolster and coordinate the regiments, openly wept at the beauty and structure of the song, trying to memorize each note but knowing that the structure was too complex for any one man to perform alone.

With a final strung out note Skuld’s work was completed, just in time for the sun to breach the horizon, shedding rays of light that blew away the shadows like smoke suddenly caught by a strong wind, revealing the structure beneath.

What the people of Nesmé beheld was a star fortress, a great defensive work that had overlapping kill zones in every direction. The only way to get to the gates was via running a gauntlet that would allow the defenders to shoot at the fronts and backs of their enemies. Basalt and granite, diamond and sapphire, steel and stone composed the structure, folded and blended monocrystalline sheets that formed one solid, contiguous unit.

But the people of Nesmé saw not the solidity of the massive structure, for it appeared almost deceptively translucent despite the fact that it was opaque from one side to the other, for sheets of clear diamond and dark blue sapphire set on top of mottled black and gold stone created the image of near intangibility. Variances of the chemistry within the gem layers produced sparkling three dimensional dots that shone like stars. It appeared as if the very night sky had been peeled off the heavens and placed around Nesmé.

To a certain extent, this was true in that Skuld had crafted the stone to become a massive magical well, an artefact that drank magic directed towards it and the area around it like the night sky drank the light of a bonfire, like the light of the stars. No mortal magic could touch it, and even the magic of the gods would be hard pressed to overwhelm it. Only the works of mortals paid for in blood and iron could hope to scratch the surface of the fortress.

The fortress was a promise to the people of Nesmé, to the people of Noctis. The stars were theirs if only they would reach out and touch them.

Her work done, Skuld slumped over in her pool, exhausted from her work. Set free, her mind drifted.

Surprisingly she discovered Gunnhild at play, dancing amongst the dreams yet to come of the people of Nesmé. Past, present, and future; impossibility and possibility; what was, what could be, and what had been; all of it drifted and mingled and Gunnhild watched them with quiet, rapt fascination.

Looking up, Gunnhild squealed and rushed over to Skuld, hugging her legs while she said, “Mommy! Look at all the new friends I’ll have!”

It was hard for Skuld to interpret what she saw. Lars had explained to her what a bitch it was to try and look at the future but it wasn’t until she had seen it for herself that she understood why his predictions on things tended to be broad, general, and somewhat obvious in retrospect.

But as she looked, she realized that her decision to create the fortress herself now instead of giving the plans to the people to build themselves had been monumental. Its construction stood at a crossroads in time. Everything was still uncertain, still probabilistic, but down one branch many, many lights tended to die, tended to never exist, while down another the potential remained for tens of thousands to shine brightly.

Skuld guessed that without the fort, many, many people in Nesmé would have died. It weighed upon her like a great block to know this, to know they were so close to disaster.

“I like this one,” Gunnhild said, pointing to a flickering, undecided dream, a life that teetered like a coin on its edge, the balance disrupted but the outcome still undecided.

Examining the dream more closely, Skuld was taken aback when she discovered that the dreamer was barely conscious, barely capable of consciousness, and yet it reached out for her tentatively, its mind as delicate as its soft fingers.

A child, a child yet unborn, dreaming in the womb, and it asked without language, “Will I see the stars?”

Skuld didn’t know what to say, didn’t know how this was possible. She didn’t know whose child it was, although she suspected it wasn’t hers. Still, she just smiled back, metaphysical tears rolling down her face at the encounter.

Looking about the strange realm of dreams yet to come, she found thousands of similar tiny flickering lights, the dreaming of babes not yet born, some not yet conceived, and at how they were all balanced on a knife’s edge down this new road she had constructed, and dark and silent down the other path.

She cried. She cried tears, and she cried out to all of them, “I promise you the stars and the sun! I promise you summer shade and winter auroras! I promise you!”

Thousands of tiny lights all flared brightly as unborn minds in the future dreamed of Skuld’s voice, crying out in joy and curiosity and the images that filled their tiny minds before their ability to see yet had even formed. For those who still had a future, in their deepest, most soul felt dreams they would remember that voice and its promise.

They had been promised the stars.

The whole scene started to fade and Skuld said, “Let’s go momma, they need their rest,” nodding sagely before everything faded to black.

Skuld woke up shivering with fear and cold for a moment before the sun warmed her and hope renewed her. She lay naked under a thin sheet of black silk, Steb standing protectively over her, obviously having pulled her out of the pool before she risked drowning and covered her over.

Looking up at him, Skuld said mournfully, “Oh Steb, I still haven’t figured out how to fix your throat…”

Steb just made a few intricate hand signs that said You have given me back my life and my freedom. I owe you everything I have for that. I can live without speech a while longer. And you shall be busy goddess, very busy.

The distant sound of a foreign war horn made the warning very clear and real.
I love learning. Teach me. I will listen.
You know, if Christian dogma included a ten-foot tall Jesus walking around in battle armor and smashing retarded cultists with a gaint mace, I might just convert - Noble Ire on Jesus smashing Scientologists
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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

Post by Academia Nut »

Chapter Sixty-two: Dancing the Charlie Foxtrot

“I am going to torture that bitch slowly for this,” Shar muttered as she observed the fortifications around the city that had literally just sprung up. They would be frustratingly difficult to escalade, although fortunately she had summoned up an entire tribe of shadow giants that worshipped her for this operation so they could assist in the siege.

“The time will come,” Vhaeraun noted as the troops fell in, a mixture of light adapted drow from Myth Drannor under his banner and various worshippers of Shar gathered from the Plane of Shadow. By far the most numerous of them were the Shadovar, the Netherese descendents blinking somewhat from the light of the rising sun as they marched through the portals opened up. The act of stabilizing the surrounding magical fields to let the troops quickly gather drained the deities involved significantly as the whole area was racked with damage from whatever had happened in Silverymoon.

Stripped of the Shadow Weave, Shar had in fact begrudgingly starting using the regular Weave -fortunately still unsupervised- like most deities to provide her worshippers with magical energy when they were in range. It was irritating though.

Talona and Loviatar were both bringing in their own worshippers as well, and while the two deities didn’t get along with each other, they were willing to work together with Shar between them in the hopes of getting a chance to stab the other in the back at some later point, and they both also had their own frustrations to work out.

Meanwhile Lolth had gathered up more drow from across the Underdark and moved them up near the surface, but while everyone else was being gathered they had to wait. The deities needed to work together on the next part.

Although evidently their foe didn’t need help to pull of something much more impressive than what they were going to attempt to do, a fact that pissed off Shar and that Vhaeraun and the others quietly filed away for a later date.

Suddenly with rather little warning two of the shadow giants simply exploded, their chests caved in and their backs blown out in a shower of gore. A half second later horrific cracks filled the air from the direction of the fortifications, wisps of smoke curling up from each of the points of the stars closest to the forming army.

The results were somewhat predictable as assembling troops all began to panic, spooked by the sudden deaths. The leaders and the gods all began to bellow and shout, trying to restore order as the troops attempted to get away from whatever had just happened.

The terrain in front of the fortifications then began to bubble and shift, magic saturating it with water and turning it into a morass of mud. At that point a strangely amplified tapping sound kicked up from the fortifications and, with the sun rising behind them, a group of bards with strange kit led by a creature whose presence prickled at the senses of the gods began to sing.

“In a foreign field he lay
Lonely soldier, unknown grave
On his dying words he prays
Tell the world of Paschendale

Relive all that he's been through
Last communion of his soul
Rust your bullets with his tears
Let me tell you 'bout his years

Laying low in a blood filled trench
Kill time 'til my very own death
On my face I can feel the falling rain
Never see my friends again

In the smoke, in the mud and lead
Smell the fear and the feeling of dread
Soon be time to go over the wall
Rapid fire and the end of us all

Whistles, shouts and more gun fire
Lifeless bodies hang on barbed wire
Battlefield nothing but a bloody tomb
Be reunited with my dead friends soon

Many soldiers eighteen years
Drown in mud, no more tears
Surely a war no-one can win
Killing time about to begin

Home, far away
From the war, a chance to live again
Home, far away
But the war, no chance to live again

The bodies of ours and our foes
The sea of death it overflows
In no man's land, God only knows
Into jaws of death we go

Crucified as if on a cross
Allied troops they mourn their loss
German war propaganda machine
Such before has never been seen

Swear I heard the angels cry
Pray to god no more may die
So that people know the truth
Tell the tale of Paschendale

Cruelty has a human heart
Every man does play his part
Terror of the men we kill
The human heart is hungry still

I stand my ground for the very last time
Gun is ready as I stand in line
Nervous wait for the whistle to blow
Rush of blood and over we go

Blood is falling like the rain
Its crimson cloak unveils again
The sound of guns can't hide their shame
And so we die on Paschendale

Dodging shrapnel and barbed wire
Running straight at the cannon fire
Running blind as I hold my breath
Say a prayer symphony of death

As we charge the enemy lines
A burst of fire and we go down
I choke a cry but no-one hears
Fell the blood go down my throat

Home, far away
From the war, a chance to live again
Home, far away
But the war, no chance to live again

Home, far away
From the war, a chance to live again
Home, far away
But the war, no chance to live again

See my spirit on the wind
Across the lines, beyond the hill
Friend and foe will meet again
Those who died at Paschendale”

The song, amplified and carrying a psychic component that allowed understanding despite language barriers filled the minds of the mundane troops with horror at the thought of assaulting a fortified position fronted by muddy terrain. Worse yet, it also gave meaning and understanding, of a patching of muddy, cratered hell where hundreds of thousands of bodies had sunk to the bottom, waiting just beneath the surface to drag any who touch the water down to their doom.

The gods grit their teeth as they realized how brutally well planned this attack had been. The average mortal soldier was now terrified of attacking what with the demonstration of their magic in killing two of the giants and the gods were busy keeping the portals for their forces open. If they tried to attack the performance they would sever the connection early and leave half their forces behind, forcing a delay of nearly a day as the gods gathered their strength again. With their clerics and their mages throwing magic that was harmlessly diverted into the stone of the fort and absorbed, it made them look impotent.

Finally Loviatar managed to lash sufficient fear of the gods into the troops that they ceased running, although further death and injury amongst the ranks of the giants caused by further attacks had convinced them not to bunch in tight formations, something that drastically reduced their effectiveness in a siege.

Vhaeraun was left to grumble as his drow had been the ones most affected by the attack, the disciplined Shadovar managing to hold the highest degree of coherency, followed somewhat less so by Loviatar’s people, as the images were somewhat extra disturbing for their point of view as the slaughter they perceived was often instant, relatively painless, and pointless, anathema to their philosophies.

Finally, after what seemed like forever the last of the troops under the combined banners of the gods exited their portals, having retreated significantly away from the walls, hiding in the forests from any more physical or mental attacks. Their prides stinging, the gods dropped their concentration on the portals and immediately began preparing their next attack.

“Dome of shadows… nice,” Lars commented sarcastically as the light of the rising sun was blocked out. He then glanced over at one of the more unexpected additions to their forces. It seemed that several of the survivors of Menzoberranzan had managed to replicate one of the howitzers on their own, using their own resources. They didn’t have many shells as none had been produced, but a few of the mages had managed to fabricate a few special rounds, having anticipated another day of construction rather than battle.

Glancing back at the forested area where the enemy had holed up for the moment, Lars said nonchalantly, “Illuminate their position.”

The hours following the capture of the remains of Silverymoon had been bad for anyone under Asmodeus, although most of his direct subordinates had managed to avoid the majority of his wrath as they had actually done what they were supposed to and it was only by the tiniest of fractions that they had missed the secondary target. For his part, Akrak had managed to keep his head and his position as his intelligence gathering had got them so close, even if close wasn’t quite good enough.

For his part, Asmodeus had managed to get his temper back under control and turned his temper down to a low simmer. The raid, while politically costly amongst his subordinates for appearing to fail when it had his personal seal on it, had actually proved that the secondary target had been near by and there had been some other developments.

For example, the capture of Corellon Larethian. Asmodeus was sorely tempted to kill the god now and take his divinity, fulfilling one of Asmodeus’ long term goals, but there were a few things holding him back. The first was that Asmodeus wasn’t quite sure if he could handle greater god’s chaotic portfolio. The second, more important issue, was that Ao tended to only concern himself with the activities of the gods and if Asmodeus elevated himself to godhood while taking time off from his assigned task that could result in him angering the overdeity while simultaneously putting himself under said deity’s sphere of influence.

No, Asmodeus would wait for the moment, keeping the elven god imprisoned on Nessus and in reserve for a later date.

Asmodeus was about to ask on the search for the leader of this city, one of the Seven Sisters and thus another useful prisoner when Akrak ran up to him, prostrating himself immediately before the ruler of Hell. Unfortunately there was so much rubble and magic was so snarled in this area even if the ball of wild magic had subsided that scrying was still impossible.

Sneering down at his scout, Asmodeus snapped irritably, “Report.”

“Of course my lord. Our scouts have detected a massive sphere of magical darkness impenetrable to even our eyesight around the location of Nesmé, the lead we were following before the events that drew us to Silverymoon. We now have exact coordinates, we can begin jumping in teleport troops at your command,” Akrak reported quickly.

Asmodeus glared at his subordinate for a long time before he said, “We begin at once. Your scouts are to go through first.”

“Of course,” Akrak replied before he scurried away.

Lolth and her allies emerged from their Underdark tunnels into a nightmarish scene. The promised shroud of darkness was up, but there was still plenty of light to see in as someone had touched off an inferno within the moors. This late in the summer, much of the normal moisture had drained out of the wooded area and especially around the city the trees were dry enough to burn. The introduction of about a half dozen napalm shells had turned the refuge of the trees into a killing oven.

Lolth, more unhinged than usual since her disfigurement, cried out to the confused forces, “Charge!”

With pissed off deities behind them, a fire at their current position, and an unexpected fortress and strange magic in front of them, the assembled forces charged. Five hundred drow followers of Vhaeraun from Myth Drannor. Two thousand drow followers of Lolth and other members of her pantheon. A thousand soldiers from the Shade Enclave. Six hundred followers of Loviatar. Two hundred followers of Talona. A hundred demons seconded to Lolth from her Abyssal allies. Forty shadow giants. Dozens of miscellaneous other creatures.

The pitiless stone walls, illuminated by the burning of the forests, loomed larger as the forces moved closer, and continued to redirect and absorb spells, sucking up the majority of magical firepower. They were also silent, the hidden behind their walls, waiting.

Then the front line troops hit the mud before the walls and the dying started. In three seconds every monk Loviatar had brought died, their superior speed only carrying them into the killing ground between the two prongs that flanked the main gate faster.

Interlocking cones of canister shot from six pound cannons and a specially modified Gatling gun turned flesh and bone to fine mist. The cannons only fired once while their crews reloaded, but the Gatling did not stop firing. It just went on and on and on, the machine magically enhanced to allow for theoretically infinite fire, and its incessant chatter of fire raked back and forth and side to side along the ranks of those charging the walls. Volley fire from rifles on either side added to the killing. Closely packed by the front ranks stalling and the rear ranks pressing forward, the bullets would occasionally rip through one body and maim the warrior behind.

Then the spiders showed up.

“Where did he get the hat?” Lars whispered to Rask as the two of them watched the battle before them, phase and shadow spiders ambushing soldiers at the periphery of the battle and dragging them off to other planes where battalions of sword and monstrous spiders waited to tear them apart and add to their larders for their brooding eggs.

Watching the battle with keen interest between the two of them was the system bug Think, inexplicably wearing an appropriately sized broad rimmed, purple hat with a bright orange feather. The bug seemed intently focused upon the battle playing out.

Rask, after summoning a swarm of alien spiders into the midst of several warrior-mages just shrugged and said, “I… ah… find it better not to ask, yes… yes…”

Lars shrugged. The assistance of Think and his harem of spiders were well appreciated and if the off kilter and more than a little crazy Rask didn’t want to know, neither did Lars. Think then hopped off and neither tried to stop the strange creature or ask where he was going.

Rask then frowned and said, “Oh dear… one of the avatars… Selvetarm… yes… yes… is not reacting to the guns as hoped… no… no. I think he may… yes… yes he will reach the wall and…”

Lars was already loading one of his special rounds when he stopped in mid-action to gape in open mouthed awe at what happened next. The whole battle came to a ragged halt for a second as the observed the sudden events. Rask ran over to the far side of a wall and violently vomited over the edge, an act that was repeated by many.

An unofficial ten minute time out was called as all sides regained their will to live.

His face twisted up in mute horror, Lars finally said, “That explains a whole lot of questions, most of wish I now regret ever asking.”

Crawling back to the wall, Rask asked fearfully, “Is… is it over?”

“Disgustingly enough, yes. A pity that won’t work on any of the other gods, but then again I’m pretty sure the bug already has enough divine energy after that as it is,” Lars replied.

Peaking over the edge, Rask whimpered and then closed his eyes against the sight.

“For the first time in my existence I truly pity my son,” Vhaeraun muttered from the near lines where he and Shar were helping to maintain the spell of darkness over the battlefield.

Shar for her part was steaming and ranting at her followers to find Lolth and bring her over to their position so she could yell at her. What had that charge hoped to accomplish? They didn’t even have proper ladders to mount an escalade!

As all sides finished emptying their stomachs, an act their gods did not blame them for, Lolth approached, a smile on her face and a balor at her side. Considering that there hadn’t been any balors in her forces before…

“Most esteemed deities, Graz’zt sends his compliments in prosecuting your war against the devils and presents to you a myriad of twenty thousand demons to do with as you see fit,” the balor replied smoothly.

There was a minor skip beat before all of the gods, including Lolth, all asked, “Wait, what devils?”

Lars just sort of stared as the situation unfolded before he turned to Rask and said, “There is a term for this in my culture. We call it a ‘Tokyo-3’, named after a battle that unfolded similar to something like this, only admittedly that was worse if less multi-faceted. Really though, I just want to ask WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?”

The decimated enemy formations had managed to limp back in between their retching, out of the overlapping killing fields of the fortifications and had just been bolstered by a small brigade of demons, only for tight, rigidly disciplined blocks of devils to appear out of literally nowhere and crash into the confused ranks. The darkened skies were filling up with flying fiends duelling in the confused melee.

Lars pinched his nose in exasperation before he said, “As commander, it behoves me to take responsibility for my troops. Thus, because some idiot will inevitably say it, or has already said it, let me go on record as taking the blame for this one. It can’t get any worse!”

On cue a hail of arrows was launched from a section of forest not yet on fire, at a right angle to the current battle and thus out of the line of fire of most of their troops at the moment. The devastating barrage caught the skirmishers stationed in those sections unawares, killing dozens and forcing the rest into shelters.

“That would be the elves I encountered earlier today… how’d they get here?” Lars asked.

“Perhaps they ah… think with portals, yes… yes?” Rask suggested.

Lars then turned his head to the side and said, “Oh hey, look at that! Several thousand orcs lead by an entire pantheon! Where are these guys coming from? Is the universe just pulling armies out of its ass to throw into this battle?”

The dome of shadows then began to waver and flicker, something disrupting its structure.

“Bets on what’s next?” Lars asked.

“You… ah… you did draw attention from… ah… that crazy mage, yes… yes?” Rask asked.

The dome of shadows did not quite completely dispel as it had two deities pumping energy into it, but it did go from a starless midnight to an eerie twilight as the magic was severely drained by the latest player entering the game.

Approximately the size of a storm giant, the thing was composed of bands of gold wrapped around bundles of brilliant silver-white fire. Sitting at its heart was Marella, the insane mage from like eight hours ago.

“Okay, seriously universe, where are you getting all of this? I mean, there had better be some incredible back story here that I’m not privy to,” Lars cried at the heavens, shaking his fist impotently.

“Wouldn’t it ah… need to be credible, yes… yes?” Rask pointed out.

“Shut up, I’m daring the universe for further amplification of this cluster fuck,” Lars growled irately.

A balor landed in front of them.

“Okay, this I can deal with,” Lars muttered before he pointed his shotgun at the demon and pulled the trigger, only to get a resounding click as the hammer came down on nothing.


“What the fuck is going on?” Shar cried out furiously as everything around them degenerated into chaos with devils suddenly crashing into their flanks, elves peppering all sides, and horde of orc barbarians attempting to get through to the elves by going through the drow, all while a mage that appeared to be inside a golem made of silverfire was stomping towards the enemy fortifications, its gold shod boots crushing everything beneath it and its very touch annihilating anything that stood in its way. Especially since it seemed to be sucking energy out of the Weave around it to power its construction, thus stripping many of their magical defences.

Oh, and then there was the actual enemy they were fighting.

“The elves I get, I brought them here… I’m still wondering on the devils but their presence and the demons seem to be related and they are counteracting each other so I’m not asking questions. The apparent incarnation of the instability of the Weave was already here and has a bug up her ass about something. The orcs I haven’t a clue about, although I will admit they are surprisingly stealthy for a group their size,” Vhaeraun summarized dryly.

“We will just have to turn this to our advantage,” Shar replied, and the two schemers looked at each other slyly for a second.

“Oh Lolth…”

Yulois watched the slaughter all around him as his squad attempted to hold the line as nearly five times their number in orc barbarians assaulted the Shadovar position, the deadly weapons of Nesmé continuing to kill men all around them, although fire had focused upon the skies and the whirling clouds of fiends. It was somewhat depressing that generally the killing was directed at the Shadovar more than the orcs, although tactically it made sense to kill the guys who were definitely trying to kill you than the ones who were killing them. At least at first.

It was the same principle as why the strange silvery, flaming golem with the emaciated, burning woman at its core was left unmolested by the others as it stomped towards the fortifications. That and nothing seemed to work on it, magic dying away before it got close and normal weapons flashing away to smoke upon impact with the supernatural fires that composed the strange thing.

It seemed that the only way to stop the monster was to hit it with something that wasn’t physical and yet wasn’t magical either.

Finally seeing an opportunity as the orc assault ebbed away for a moment, Yulois cried out, “Fall back! We need to reform the line!”

As his men moved back, tightening up their ranks, Yulois pulled out a scroll that had been given to him for just this situation. Smiling grimly to his men, he said, “Special magic,” before he began to whisper the final pieces of the spell contained upon the enchanted parchment.

Then, as the scroll was consumed by the shadow magic it contained, Yulois cried out, “For the goddess!”

His men had never known him to be a devout Sharran, but they supposed such a desperate battle had brought out the religious side of Yulois.

Marella cackled with glee as she waded across the battlefield, safely contained within her construct. She had long been working on the theories behind binding and warding, hence her discovery of the remnants within the Weave. This was merely an extension of that work and what the remnants had taught her. She had created another, smaller breach in the fabric of the Weave but had contained it within the wards she had constructed, giving it shape and definition. Most golems were guided by bound spirits, but by binding her own spirit, if temporarily, she gave direction and intelligence to her creation. True, she sacrificed her spellcasting while bound, but then again she didn’t need spells when she was just this powerful.

Reaching the walls of the fortification her most hated of enemies hid behind, she went to drag the fingers of her construct across the surface of the stone, to obliterate what stood in her way, only for the fire of her golem to swirl away into the walls, greedily sucked up like water in a desert. Recoiling lest all her energy dissipate into the stone, she hissed in fury.

How dare that bastard try and foil her again! Insolent male!

Inhaling deeply, she exhaled out a plume of pure silverfire in a display that would make ancient dragons envious. Hiding behind their damnable wall, the defenders peppering her with attacks avoided the majority of the damage, but the soil around the wall was not afforded such protection and was immediately consumed… revealing more of that magically absorbent and infernally strong stone hidden underneath.

Marella couldn’t even begin to guess how deep the fortifications might go, but she had an itching suspicion that the bitch that had constructed this had sent the pillars of this construct all the way down to the deepest parts of the Underdark. It also explained the immense capacity for absorbing magic.

Grunting, Marella decided to do things the hard way. Stomping through the mud, the golden boots of the silverfire golem keeping it from simply sinking into the ground and continuing down forever, Marella made for the main gate. Ignoring the ineffectual attacks of the defenders, she brought back a single foot and then slammed it hard into the door.

The main structure of the fortress was a single piece of stone of great thickness, with no fault lines or points of attack. The moving parts, like the gates, were a part of the overall structure in the same way, and thus had far less of a capacity to absorb magic and resist blows. This was only relatively speaking of course, but when kicked by a golem made out of raw wild magic…

With a titanic ringing sound like the biggest gong ever being struck and a crack like a piece of the Great Glacier tumbling away in the spring, Marella put a huge fissure in the main gate.

Revenge would be hers! At long last!

Clinging desperately to the neck of the balor that had attacked him, about the only ‘safe’ point on the damn thing, for relative terms of ‘safe’, Lars watched in horror as that psychotic mage attacked the fortifications Skuld had built and began to kick in the front gate. Unfortunately, with a demon’s claws digging into him, struggling to get purchase while Lars tried to dig out its brain with his tentacles, he was a little preoccupied.

And while he doubted the enigmatic mercenary would even get close to the insane beast, Shyft too was pretty busy, running a marilith through with his lance while a pair of vrocks tried to pry his armour off to reveal the hidden squishy being within, putting their primary anti-golem warrior out of commission.

Even with the Gatling pouring everything it had into the construct it didn’t seem to be doing any good, and it often had to switch back to a crude anti-aircraft weapon as the demons attacked the walls from above. Already the defenders were hard pressed and taking losses to the fliers and teleporters.

Then Lars and the balor both paused for a moment as a new enemy entered the battlefield.

“What the…?” They both asked in confusion. The demon because it had never seen anything quite like that before.

Lars because he never expected to see a battlemech on the battlefield.

Washal the Pale rode in the holy construct, the fruits of the labour of the magical Whispered gathered together. Most of them had been working on various other projects already, it was just with this newly discovered bond and information, they had discovered an idea within their heads that they began to work towards. While not much of a warrior, a mage was needed to activate most of the machine’s functions.

Emerging from the portal conjured by Brother Yulois, Washal immediately discovered the nightmare war zone that was the field outside Nesmé. The scene was darkened by shadow magic, but illuminated by the burning of the forests and the occasional flash of thunder from a storm growing overhead. Combatants warred in all directions, and the dead were strewn in piles of dozens, sometimes hundreds, of bodies. Demons and devils battled in the skies, creating a light rain of multi-coloured blood and ichor.

But worst of all, there was some sort of burning golem that had just managed to kick down the main gates in a shower of black stone chips. Triggering a wand, Washal pumped a powerful fireball into a specially designed magical chamber originally designed as a sort of smaller mythallar to replace the normal ones that the enclave had been unable to replicate for nearly seventeen hundred years for unknown reasons.

Now it captured the magical heat. Heat was light. Light could be ordered, could be transformed from a sphere into a cylinder.

Clumsily raising the mechanical arm to the construct, Washal relied on the magical targeting system to line up his shot. Putting the reticule right on the centre of mass for the thing assaulting the goddess’ territory, Washal pulled the trigger.

The air crackled with the sound and smell of lightning as the powerful beam of coherent light excited and ionized the air before slamming into the golem and punching into the swirling forces that composed it, burning through to Marella’s personal wards where the beam flared and died, breaking on her shields.

“Oh dear,” Washal noted as he hopped over the Shadovar ranks and kicked and kneed his machine awkwardly through the hordes of orcs as the silverfire golem picked itself up off the ground.

Johan stumbled out of the rubble of the destroyed door, many of the other combat engineers having died in the shower of shrapnel after the final blow when the gate finally collapsed. Blood pouring into his right eye from a cut on his forehead, limping from a sprained ankle caused by rolling out of the way, he stumbled out into the open, disoriented.

The main gate had been smashed open. This was not good. Already the enemy armies were starting to surge forward through the chaos and confusion, probably more out of a desire to be inside the fortifications when the next bit of shit hit the windmill.

Lightning cracked across the unnaturally darkened sky, a massive thundercloud having moved in, perhaps the foul weather attracted by the foul activities occurring below.

Looking about for a weapon, anything, Johan spied a fallen rifle. He wasn’t yet proficient with the weapons, but he had worked with building them enough that he had some basic knowledge of how to load and fire one. And at least it had a bayonet on it, the poor bastard who had last held it having evidently been gutted by a demon and then tossed over the wall.

Picking up the rifle and leaning on it like a crutch, Johan watched that hateful construct rush off to attack the strange, dark golem with the funny magical lightning gun that had appeared and attacked it.


Searching for some ammunition, Johan discovered a single cartridge, the bullet unfortunately torn out leaving only the powder and the percussion cap. Grunting, he shoved it down the gun before he focused on transforming the shadows within the barrel into something more solid.

Leaning up against the smooth wall for support, Johan painfully lined up on the retreating golem’s back. He then whispered, “Fuck you,” before he pulled the trigger. There was a slight splash of shadows as the round impacted, but nothing else.

Grunting, Johan began to limp back inside, his futile message sent, unaware of what he had done.

While a spider with far too many limbs ripped into the back of a babau demon, Lars struggled to finish tearing the head off a glabrezu, the dead and dying all around, while he burned with power. He was absorbing massive amounts of emotional energy from all around, fuelling greater and greater heights of bloodlust.

Then, almost as a counter-point to the frenzied wailing of the battle, a low whistle that simultaneously rumbled like distant thunder could be heard, drifting just within the range of hearing of all of those around.

“Yippee-yi-ya, yippee-yi-yo…” the winds whispered mournfully, sending a shiver through Lars’.

The heavens opened with a massive torrent of rain, the opening barrage as flaming horsemen charged down out of the thundercloud that had settled over the battlefield. Theirs chains cracking the air like the thunder that accompanied the beat of their horse’s hooves on the air, they crashed into the flying demons and devils, although by sheer numerical odds they hit fought the demons far more than the devils.

Across the battlefield thousands began to tremble and cower at the song of the Ghost Riders, including the fiends. Unfortunately, while this took the slack off the defenders as the lesser demons began to break in panic, so too did the devils start to lose the coherence of their formations, which meant that they no longer kept the now panicked drow and Shadovar forces properly contained.

With burning horsemen singing songs of doom above them, devils behind them, and the gates to Nesmé cracked open in front of them, the massive force began to stampede straight for the city. The avatars of the various gods managed to exert small pools of order, but mostly they just directed their troops towards the breach in a more organized fashion.

Finally twisting off the head of the demon, Lars watched as the Gatling slaughtered hundreds but failed to overcome the panic. There were just too many for their tiny numbers to overcome. Sheer terror was going to carry the enemy into the city on momentum instead of discipline.

This was going to be bad.

Kirilae stood in front of the academy along with several of the combat instructors and some of the older students. There had originally been layers of defence, but as the battle got worse more and more of the defenders were sent to the walls to try and deal with the catastrophe. Some of the demons had already tried to bypass the walls, but strangely devils had made extra effort to draw them off, so the final line of defence for the children remained unmolested.

Her sword out in front of her, Kirilae drew a line in the mud on the cobble stones cried out, “This is where we stand! This is where we fight! We fight for the future! For all of us who never thought tomorrow would be better than today, we fight for the future. If we yield here, then all is lost. So we fight as if there is no tomorrow, for there is no tomorrow for us! Tomorrow is for our children! So let us carve our memorial into the hearts of our enemies! Let them look upon what we protect and shy away for fear we will return for them!”

She could see the enemy coming, panic in their eyes. Orcs, humans, her fellow drow, all terrified of what lay behind them as they boiled out of the fortifications, their momentum having already overwhelmed the defenders within.

Johan was in there, somewhere.

Her sword held low, Kirilae let the flat of the blade protect the line she had drawn. It would not be the only thing she would do to protect it.

Washal discovered much to his chagrin that while he was faster than the enemy golem and that while his own construct would not shut down in the presence of the anti-magic field that surrounded the strange thing his magically initiated weapons and piloting aids were nullified, and his inexperience meant that he often stumbled, letting it get far closer than he would have liked, resulting in frequent loss of many of his systems.

Fortunately the burning golem had yet to get within clinching distance, at which point Washal was confident the fight would be all over for him.

Lurching out away from the enemy and tripping, rolling over a mob of panicked orcs that had got too close to the duelling titans and squashing them flat, adding to the already impressive paint of gore if also obscuring the view screen once again, Washal frantically ran backward, only barely in control as he nearly tripped over a squad of drow raiders.

For a second magic returned and Washal the minor cleaning spell bound to the glassteel window that let him gaze out on the world and the fact that he had not opened up as much space as he would have hoped and that he had also managed to back himself up against impassable terrain, with a cliff on two sides and a forest to the left. He could probably navigate through the forest, but not quickly enough to evade the silverfire golem. He also would not have enough time to arm his weapons.

Before the enemy golem could charge him a log, really more of an uprooted tree actually, emerged from the forest and smashed into the magical construct. While the majority of the projectile was immediately annihilated, a significant chunk of its mass made contact with one of the magically strengthened gold bands containing the raw magic first, which knocked the golem to the side awkwardly, just as it was unbalanced before a charge but before it had built up momentum.

From the forest that hemmed him in, an absolutely vicious looking creature as large as the combatants, if not more so, stood. It had vaguely blended mammalian, reptilian, and avian features. It had pebbled scale skin mottled an earthy-yellow and forest green colour to create a subtle camouflage pattern ideal for temperate wooded areas. Its feet were three toed talons while its arms were long and grasping, ending in a pair of clawed fingers with a smaller thumb seemingly tacked to manipulate things. Atop its head it had long, almost feathery hair done up into a series of dreadlocks, which quite nicely framed the massive shovel maw that had more teeth than… than…

The closest metaphor Washal could come up with was that it had more teeth than the Harpell Family, whom Washal had met once while travelling the planes.

Roaring with seemingly impossible volume, the bizarre creature heralded the arrival of swarms of smaller bestial creatures. There were tigers and wolves and boars and…

Washal suddenly figured out the identity of this faction. There must have been hundreds of lycanthropes pouring out of the woods, the giant being one of the stranger examples that occasionally showed up. That many lycanthropes, especially the savage ones like werewolves, could only mean one deity.


Running his machine out of the little entrapment he had dug for himself while the enemy golem tried to get its feet again, Washal put a good amount of distance between himself and the golem before he took stock of the magic he had remaining.

Out of fireballs. Damn.

The fireball trick was the only weapon they had actually tested out so far, the Whispered having rushed their creation into the field when it was discovered that their goddess was threatened. They had one other experiment to try. Washal activated the lightning cannon in the opposite arm. They weren’t quite how many hits from a wand of lightning it would take to get it up to full power. So Washal just kept triggering the wand until something happened.

Finally after throwing three lightning bolts into the resonating chamber the whole system hit its limit and exploded, shredding Washal’s left hand as the entire arm was turned to shrapnel, but not before unleashing a massive ball of electricity at the silverfire golem. A ball of electricity that washed over it, damaging the gold containment rings and completely snapping one that was around an arm raised in instinctive defence.

The silverfire golem staggered, now spewing uncontrolled magic that arced to the nearest source of magical grounding… namely the still intact containment bands, paralyzing the construct as it began to consume itself. Long loops of silverfire, similar to a certain structure Washal remembered from his dreams and that he thought of as ‘poles’ began to writhe across the surface of the golem, stacking up and becoming increasingly dangerous looking.

There was also now an ugly, unnatural colour tainting the light of the silverfire, something that told of a rot that had already been growing in the golem, only now it was unleashed from the restraints that kept it in check.

Washal, despite the blood loss making him woozy, figured that now was an exceedingly good time to run. The lycanthropes that hadn’t already run into the city in pursuit of prey also seemed to take up the idea that it would be a good idea to escape.

Kirilae was the last one alive, out of defender and attacker, the bodies piled up knee deep all around her as she and her fellows cut down everything that came at them, unafraid of death while their foes were terrified of the doom in the song that the Ghost Riders sang. But now she was out of spells and only by kneeling and leaning on her sword could she stay upright. She was spent, down to her last nubbin of life.

Looking up, she discovered a new foe towering over her now, a grotesque hybrid of human and animal: a werewolf. There was an entire pack of them and stranger creatures before her, sniffing at all the blood and carnage about them. Their yellowed, evil eyes looked at her hungrily.

Kirilae struggled to her feet, her whole body shaking with the effort, the dozens of wounds that had penetrated her shadow silk armour bleeding freely with the exertion, but she still stood, shivering with blood loss and the soaking from the thunderstorm, but still defiant, the line before her uncrossed.

One of the creatures looked like it was about to pounce when a grey and red blur struck it from behind, barrelling it down. Some sort of strange amalgam of lupine, feline, and apish features had landed on the creature and began ripping it apart, adding more blood to its filthy fur. It was nominally grey furred except for its head, which was a brilliant crimson colour.

Spitting the severed spinal column out, the beast looked at the now cowed werewolves and screamed, “Two commandments! Two! Use your noses and leave this one be! Suitable prey beckons!”

Tails between their legs the werewolves ran off while their monstrous leader peered down at Kirilae while she stared back at it defiantly and said, “Cross the line.”

Cackling a psychotic hyena laugh, the creature said, “I like you drow. You would do well in my church.”

Cluing in that she was confronted with the avatar of a particularly savage deity, Kirilae replied defiantly, “Not interested, I have my own goddess.”

Snickering, the god said, “Yes, Lolth has you all whipped well, I will give her that.”

“The little bitch hasn’t served me for a long time, I can tell you that,” an imperious voice replied.

Kirilae turned her head slowly while the bestial god snapped his head about like a wild dog, they both discovered a single breasted drow woman surrounded by psychotic clerics who had clearly been recently similarly maimed.

“Malar… I was not informed that you were expected… then again neither was I informed about many of the others who showed up,” Lolth sneered.

Sniffing the air, Malar said then pulled something out of… somewhere… and held it up. It was a brass cartridge for a .50 rifle. He then growled, “What do you know about this?”

“It was used to maim me, by the same god that the bitch before you worships,” Lolth replied in disgust and wrath.

A look of realization followed by seething anger settled over Malar and he said, “You… you tricked me! You used your son to taunt me, to get me to chase your prey. We were allies!”

Lolth shrugged and said, “Shar was giving me a better deal and she didn’t think you would play well with her friend Loviatar. Besides, what do I care for your bruised ego?”

Malar’s eye twitched and his lips curled back from his razor sharp teeth. “I’ll kill you bitch.”

Lolth smiled smugly before she said, “My children and Loviatar would beg to differ.”

A third voice joined in and said, “Actually… Gruumsh and his pantheon managed to follow you in, Vhaeraun and Shar didn’t manage to distract them enough for some reason. So mother, it looks like it’s you, me, and the very effective killer to sort it out at close quarters.”

Eilistraee emerged from the shadows and smiled smugly.

Lolth looked around her and discovered that she did not have the support she thought she did. “I’ll castrate that bastard son of mine!”

“You won’t get the chance,” Malar noted as he charged, his worshippers following behind to attack Lolth’s followers while Eilistraee leapt into the fray, her bastard sword flashing.

Kirilae just tried to crawl away from the confrontation.

The badly damaged golem exploded, sending a wave of silverfire in every direction while the burning point that was where Marella’s heart once resided became the focus point of the damage caused by Johan mixing silverfire and shadow magic. When the two forces of the two Weaves mixed in their pure forms, bad things happened to the fabric of the planes. Upon initial impact a tiny rift was formed, but then it was pulled into the wards of the golem and contained, yet fed by the raw, wild magic, making it stronger, sending the damage deeper and deeper into the underlying strata of the universe.

When it finally all went off, Marella found that she was floating in free space above a massive, spherical crater gouged out by the explosion, unable to move as her body began to implode upon a single point, lines of magic seeping further and further into the hole in reality.

She whimpered when a massive tentacle erupted from her chest, burning with silverfire but simultaneously perverting and polluting the magic that destroyed it as it was consumed. The remnants in her mind scrambled to escape for the most part, but one of them screamed in fury and frustration.

She had been so close!

With an almost sighing burp Marella was drawn into the rapidly expanding fissure in reality, her body pulped as it was practically sucked through a straw while her soul was lost to the distorting lines of the Weave, turned into a remnant like those she had discovered.

Surrounded by silverfire that was rapidly curdling from the unnatural energies and laws seeping out, the strange, three-dimensional fractal crack began to expand. From the other side of the crack a colossal eye opened, peering through to a place as equally strange to its perceptions as its home was to the creatures of the Realms.

The creature from the Far Realm reached an inquiring limb -to describe it as anything more detailed than a limb was impossible due to a lack of common reference words- and picked up a stunned Shadovar soldier, hauling him back within to examine. The screaming did not stop once the unfortunate passed the threshold of the rift.

Everything was falling apart. Lars could feel the immense amount of damage to space and time, and that it was impossible to stop the cracks from spreading from this side and he had not the power or the knowledge to repair it from the other side. He doubted anyone here did.

The Realms were doomed. The thin bubble surrounding them, protecting them from the hostile void that existed between realities had been pierced, and now there was a general undoing of the laws that governed all the things that allowed regular life to exist.

Lars, and by extension Gunnhild, would treat such a nightmare realm as home, but no one else could. Lars could protect one or two beings, but he already knew who his only choice was. He just had to find Skuld before…

His cry echoed across the multiverse of the Realms, carried psychically with the full power a communications daemon could muster. For most, the strange message caused all activity everywhere to cease as they tried to discern the message.

DON’T!” Lars cried out.

He watched helplessly as Skuld, hammer out and Noble Umbra fully manifested, shadows swirling about her so thickly she was dark as night, flew into the widening crack and disappeared. A few seconds later with an anti-climatic pop so too did the portal to the Far Realm.

Lars stood in shock for a long moment before he found the trigger to his gun.

He turned to the people he had just a few seconds ago been willing to abandon to a horrific death and said, “Everything that isn’t on our side dies.”
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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

Post by Academia Nut »

Chapter Sixty-three: Sierra November

Asmodeus sat quietly at the massive table constructed out of debris for the occasion, trying to keep the sneer and disdain off his face. He had one chance to salvage some of this situation, and if his dignity had to take a little hit, then so be it. It was preferable to getting smeared across the multiverse by a pissed off Ao when he gave his report.

Then again the charms dangling about the host’s wrist demanded particular respect as well.

It wasn’t every day a being of the universe spurned divinity not once but three times in a single day.

Loviatar, Ghaunadaur, and Bahgtru, all slain. All within an hour. All by a single being. And instead of taking their portfolios said being had condensed their divine essence into marble sized beads that now adorned his wrist as simple charms.

The desire of many, Asmodeus included, hung like grapes, ripe for the plucking if not for the fact that it was a dangerous task to take from such a being as the Elder Evil whose presence they now waited upon.

He did not stop, did not pause to mock, his brass face blank and inexpressive right up to the moment where he towered over Loviatar, the Maiden of Pain trying to push her intestines back into the holes carved by the shotgun blast to her gut. Lars had inclined his head ever so slightly before he said, “My race was born of pain.”

The goddess Loviatar could only scream as his mask opened with the sound of tortured metal tearing apart before the tentacles speared through her body and lifted her up over the maw before in a spray of blood and bone she was consumed, body and soul.

But not divinity, for Lars spat that back out, disdaining the power… and the control. He recognized his limits and refused the influence of the portfolio, instead coating it in a layer of Warp Matter to seal it up, creating a sort of divine pearl.

It would not be the first one he created that day.

There were others at the table, and while Asmodeus wished he could ignore them, he could not. Not even the mortals. An arm in a single and one of his eyes gouged out, Governor-General Thrakka Oathsworn still somehow managed to look proud and defiant for a mortal surrounded by the avatars of deities and an Archdevil. Then again considering who he had backing him, the mortal had the right to look defiant.

Definitely a mortal to look into having some of his agents corrupt later.

Then there were the remnants of the gods, who generally looked less proud and confident than the mortal in attendance, probably because in the balance they had come off far worse for the wear fighting against the nation Thrakka represented. Oh sure, the majority of the divine deaths had been inflicted by other outsiders, but still…

On one side of the table were Gruumsh and his brood, now diminished by the loss of his son Bahgtru having been slain by their host and the orc necromantic god Yurtrus being killed by the drow necromantic goddess Kiaransalee. However, their family was also strengthened by Luthic, the only female orc deity, having backstabbed Talona at an opportune moment and increased her own affinity for poisons and diseases considerably.

Lars had ended the argument with a single shotgun blast that removed the orc berserker god’s head right in front of his family. Cold and emotionless, Lars had asked the other orcs as the new divine pearl formed on the chain about his wrist, “You can calm the fuck down or you can join the corpse cooling on the ground there. Your choice.”

Then there were Malar and Eilistraee, the two glaring daggers at each other yet seated next to each other and opposite the orc pantheon. The two of them were covered in wounds from their fight with Lolth, but seemed to hate each other less than they hated the orcs. Eilistraee because orcs and elves didn’t exactly get along, and Malar because he pretty much hated everything, just some things less than others.

Plus the two of them had weirdly bonded from the experience of divvying up Lolth’s portfolio.

The battle was quick but brutal, none of the gods capable of bringing any great magic to bear with the Weave so out of control and now contaminated with alien energies. In close combat, while experienced she wasn’t a match for the much more martial minded Malar and Eilistraee, especially with one on either side of her. She dodged Malar’s first pounce only to receive a slash to the thigh from her daughter. This in turn gave the Beastlord the chance to dig a clawed hand into the wounded leg, slowly Lolth down even further.

Then Eilistraee ran her mother threw, her bastard sword plunging through Lolth’s sternum and emerging out the other side, having pierced her heart, a lung, and severed her spine in the process. For good measure Malar then bit into her lower back and disembowelled her with his claws before Eilistraee lopped off Lolth’s head.

It was almost anticlimactic, the end of thousands of years of loose alliance for one and seething hatred for the other.

And yet, neither bickered as they divvied up Lolth’s portfolio, neither particularly interested in certain bits that the other desired and thus despite despising each other, the process was quick and without bickering. Eilistraee took the drow and trickery bits, Malar the evil and assassins, who were really just a specialized sort of hunter, and each took a bit of the darkness and chaos.

Then, before either could think about turning on the other a reverberating voice had said, “Okay, you finished off the bitch for me, and neither of you seems to have actually attacked my people yet so I’ll let you live if you come quietly.”

And then Asmodeus, or rather one of his avatars, he wasn’t limited like the current gods were, had arrived to bolster his forces from those damned riders. The pestiferous creatures were incredibly hard to kill and could quite easily terrify lower level fiends into running if there wasn’t a high ranking leader there to bolster them against the supernatural effects of their song. And thus now he sat here, the primary objective having escaped but the unimaginably dangerous secondary objective now ready to negotiate with him.

It almost grated on Asmodeus that he had to negotiate, but he was too smooth an operator not to know when he had to take the subtle route and back down a little. Any being that could slaughter gods was not one that Asmodeus wanted to engage directly when negotiation and corruption remained valid options.

Especially after he learned that the primary objective had married the secondary objective and they had apparently already had some sort of child. If he could bring those two before Ao he might still be able to come out of this ahead… or at least break even.

Asmodeus never lost.

Of course though he had been placed at the opposite end of the table from where their host would sit, ostensibly because his devils had been the only ones to have helped in the battle and therefore he deserved the most respect, but in reality it was just to sandwich the lawful fiend between the mass of chaotic gods and thus annoy him.

Then the unseen woodwinds and percussion instruments picked up, beginning a bombastic march that oozed imperialism and grandeur and their host arrived, and Asmodeus had to admit that he would have applauded the exquisite showmanship of their host if such an act were of so little dignity as to be beneath him.

He would quietly try and steal the music though; it made for a grand entry.

Their host, Lars, was clearly quite pissed, the malevolence quite literally radiating off of him as a halo of light that did not have any named colours as part of its spectrum. His once near featureless brass mask had become dark and corroded, nearly black, and twisted into a fearsome death’s head. A long dark jacket made out of some indefinable, half decayed substance flowed behind him on an unfelt wind like a great cloak or the wings of some shadowy figure, tarnished piping of crimson and gold accentuating the grandeur while also simultaneously increasing his horribleness.

And then there were the little touches, like the breathing. He did not actually need to breathe, not even technically to talk, but accompanying him was a slow, rhythmic hiss and rattle of breathing, asynchronous with anything else he did. It was sound most mortals would find highly disturbing, and Asmodeus had to admit that staring at the divine essences kept on the creature’s wrist the impact was brought to him all little as well, although since he had an avatar and wasn’t there physically, it was a little less scary.

For the sound was like the laboured breathing of a mortal just before death, its rhythm reminding you that death approached a little closer with each heartbeat. Asmodeus could feel the bundle of souls that composed this creature, and he could feel how it grew a little stronger with each second as those who knew of it focused their attentions upon it.

This Elder Evil was death, and it would come for mortals with simple time, and it would come personally for immortals if need be.

Sitting down in a chair next to the only mortal at the negotiating table, surprisingly a lower chair, Lars gazed out over the assembled gods, his breathing slowly hissing in and out, the only sound that could be heard until Thrakka coughed lightly and said, “I thank Marshal Lars for volunteering as the Sergeant-at-Arms for these proceedings.”

Gruumsh erupted to his feet and cried out, “What? We are to negotiate with you?”

Lars turned his head and stared at the enraged orc deity, just inhaling and exhaling until the thoroughly unnerved deity slumped back to his seat. No one else dared comment on the embarrassing encounter though, lest they get the same treatment.

Thrakka nodded and said, “Yes, these proceedings are to be official negotiations between the nation of Noctis and your respective parties, thus as the head of state it is my responsibility to be the one here talking with all of you, as the respective heads of your own states, much as I use the term loosely to refer to your divine and infernal realms.”

“You are a mortal who sits amongst gods and devils. What can you hope to achieve?” Asmodeus asked, politely in that the question only had a drop of condescension and arrogance to it.

Thrakka grinned and said, “I may be mortal, but I have something greater behind me.”

Malar, in a more human form, cackled lightly and said, “You might think that creature is your pet, but I would say the situation is reversed.”

Lars tilted his head to the side slowly before he said slowly and deliberately, “Thrakka enjoys my support because it makes both of us stronger.” Fingering one of the divine pearls about his wrist, he then asked, “If you don’t believe me we can play a game of ‘who’s the better killer’ and we can sort things out like that.”

Malar bared his fanged teeth but slunk back like a whipped dog at the rebuke. He was savage but he wasn’t an idiot and he knew a meaner killer when he met one.

Smiling with the utter confidence of a beggar who held the cards at a banker’s game of poker, Thrakka replied, “I was not imply the good marshal, but the nation itself, of which Lars is but a citizen. A powerful and extremely well respected citizen, but he is no king, no god.”

His speech still completely unrelated to his breathing, Lars replied, “All are equal before the law.”

“Including all of you,” Thrakka declared smoothly.

The chaotic deities were all distinctly discomforted by this declaration, but despite the chaotic nature of these people, they were also things he could relate to better than the scatterbrained idiots with power unbefitting them that surrounded him.

“As heads of state you are afforded a certain amount of diplomatic immunity, and as none of you or your followers took direct action to provoke a state of war, we will remain civil and polite, but if you break so much as a single of our laws you will be ejected from our territory with all necessary force and retaliation brought upon your people. The purpose of these negotiations is to determine what we shall do with you and your followers,” Thrakka explained before he pulled out a sheet of paper.

“We are drafting a document we call a constitution, which is a document that details laws for laws and how to go about changing those laws via the agreement of the people who shall be living under those laws,” Thrakka explained.

“I am but an instrument of the enforcement of those laws,” Lars explained.

Asmodeus shuddered slightly inside. These people understood that the law was the law, but to change the law? And upon the whims of mortals? Adherence to the law was all well and good, but there needed to be an arbitrator who created those laws. A dictator whose word was supreme. Anything else was chaos and madness.

“While technically the goddess Skuld sits at the top of the hierarchy of Noctis, she has constitutionally ceded all powers of state and government to the governor-general and parliament, respectively. And while practically it would be impossible to try her for breaches of the law, she too is governed by the same laws. This brings up a rather interesting point as part of the first clause in the constitution. Namely the guarantee of religious freedom,” Thrakka explained, grinning at the deities around him.

“Skuld sits at the top of the organization chart of the nation, but we are not required to worship her. All who request the right of worship will be allowed provided their organization remains a lawful entity. The sacrifice of intelligent beings is strictly against the law, as is the declaration of war by an organization directly associated with your worship. In short, you are all here to argue for why we should not ban worship of your churches,” Thrakka replied smugly.

He then turned to the orc pantheon and said, “There is a large contingent of orcs amongst our population who are still attached to their old gods but who both feel honour bound to work with us because of aid rendered to them and because of the improved standard of living. It would be a pity to ban your worship… but far too many of them respect us more than your church because frankly we hit harder than you do.”

Gruumsh crushed a section of the table within his hands but a gaze from Lars prevented him from leaping over the table to disembowel the insolent hobgoblin. Strangely it was Luthic who spoke up in his stead and asked, “So long as we obey your laws our people are free to do as they wish?”

The male orcs looked at the only female member of their pantheon in shock at her insolence at speaking up, but Thrakka merely smiled and nodded, saying, “The laws are the boundaries of behaviour, not prescriptions for living.”

“Orcs are better than you, stronger than you. Our hearths are a rock upon which you shall break,” the patron of orc mothers declared.

“Woman…” Gruumsh began.

“The law sees no discernment between man and women beyond the merely biological and rejects the concept of one being having absolute control over another. If you strike Luthic within our territory you will be criminally liable for assault and thus forced to leave due to unlawful behaviour. All force necessary shall be used,” Lars replied coldly.

There was a pause before Gruumsh growled, “You would tell me how to treat my own woman?”

“Yes,” Lars stated. The statement hung in the air for a long time.

Malar giggled before he said, “I like you. You pretend to have airs of civility, but you are all animals inside. You know that the only laws are the ones enforced via might.”

Lars turned to the Beastlord and said, “Yes. We are all animals; the only difference is that we’ve far, far more vicious than you. Your packs number in the dozens without your direct guidance, ours number in the thousands because unlike you we aren’t all trying to kill each other. If you or your followers kill one of us we will march on you as one, thousands against one and no matter how strong, we will kill you and place your skinned hides in front of our fires in our dens, secure and happy in our homes while the survivors of your people huddle in the wasteland we will create of your forests and plains. We are worse than animals; we are killers and destroyers when provoked. Do not provoke us.”

Coughing lightly, Thrakka said, “Yes, quite, although I do request that if the two of you wish to discuss the philosophies of civilization versus the wild you take it elsewhere. That said, because your followers prevented an attack on our children, we are considering erecting a statue to you Malar, provided your church is declared a lawful organization.”

“Any laws but ‘kill or be killed’, ‘leave the young and pregnant for the next generation’, and ‘make your kills clean to keep your prey strong and healthy’ are beneath me. And I have no need of statues,” Malar growled disdainfully.

Thrakka’s face was deadpan for a moment before he said, “You play nice with us or we start killing your followers on sight, if those terms are simple enough for you.”

“I can start with you if you choose to decline the offer,” Lars added on.

Malar seemed to deflate and pout before he barked, “Fine.”

Thrakka looked over at the silent glaring match between Gruumsh and his wife before Gruumsh snarled, “Your terms are acceptable. We shall obey your laws.”

Thrakka then turned to Eilistraee and said, “As for you… well here we have an interesting case. On the one hand you are associated with the main elven pantheon, which we are currently at war with for attacking our forces, including our marshal. On the other hand, neither you nor your followers personally attacked us and you helped kill an enemy of the state. We have a sizeable drow population, and with the rest of the drow pantheon declared unlawful organizations, you are the only native deity they can turn to.”

Eilistraee glared at Lars and said, “You wounded my father and caused him to be captured by devils.” She then turned her glare on Asmodeus.

Lars shrugged and replied, “He attacked me, not the other way around. Everything I did was in self-defence.”

Asmodeus replied dismissively, “He is still alive.”

Eilistraee looked at Thrakka and Lars and said, “You are both petty tyrants in the making, what with your insistence upon so many laws. You would allow evil to sit at your table so long as it does not break one of your precious laws.”

“We would, we do, and we will,” Thrakka answered firmly. “The laws might be crafted to protect and serve the people, but they care not whether the people are good or evil. In fact, they do not care at all. They do not care if you are young or old, rich or poor, strong or weak, male or female, elf or orc. They will run over you if you break them, and they will set you free if you obey them. They will set you free from fear and tyranny. They will ensure that workers will work and employers will pay. They will ensure good roads and clean water for drinking and washing. They will ensure peaceful nights and safe days, whether nocturnal or diurnal. If the evil are so arrogant that they break the law, then they have made the decision to reject the prosperity the law offers, and we call those people idiots. And we shall grind them beneath our heels.”

There was a long pause, the gods all shifting uncomfortably. They didn’t like at all what they were hearing. There were various republics across Faerun, but none with quite so much… ambition.

Lars then whispered something to Thrakka and the hobgoblin smiled like a shark at Asmodeus.

The ruler of the Nine Hells did not like that look on a mortal.

“Asmodeus, you have Corellon Larethian prisoner, correct?” Thrakka asked.

“Yes…” Asmodeus replied casually. He had already admitted it and the elves already knew, so there was no point lying.

“How does Loviatar’s portfolio sound for custody of him, and a little extra?” Thrakka asked.

There was stunned silence all across the table before Asmodeus slowly asked, “What else extra?”

“We wish to contract out your services to keep him imprisoned, subject to our laws upon the treatment of prisoners of course,” Thrakka replied.

WHAT?” Eilistraee cried out, rising to her feet. She sat down again when Lars turned his attention to her once more.

“So in essence you basically want to buy the key to his cell, but keep him in there,” Asmodeus summarized.

“Until such time as we can reach an agreement with his pantheon. We feel everyone would get a better deal out of this, especially you and the prisoner,” Thrakka said.

Asmodeus considered for a long moment, or at least appeared to consider for a long moment as he had already made up his mind upon hearing the initial offer. Finally he said, “I have helped position troops on your walls to prevent further attacks and if it hadn’t been for my timely intervention the demons would have completely overrun you and slaughtered you all. Make the deal a little sweeter for me. I want your marshal to accompany me to a meeting with Lord Ao to explain what has been going on.”

“Deal,” Thrakka and Lars said simultaneously. Thrakka then said, “We will of course put it all down in writing after these initial negotiations and then officially perform the swap.”

“Of course,” Asmodeus purred.

Thrakka then turned to Eilistraee and said, “The cost for the release of Corellon Larethian is the head of the Shar. The cost of getting in to deliver the goods is to agree to obey our laws on religious practices, not that I see your church breaking our laws anyway…”

Eilistraee glared hatefully at the hobgoblin while Malar and the orcs smirked at her misfortune.

“You realize of course that every elf will hate you now,” she declared.

Thrakka shrugged and said, “Do we look like we care?”

Asmodeus had to admit that as much as he disliked the ideals of these creatures, they could be clever bastards when necessary.

Kirilae had slumped down from exhaustion, watching the rain pour down, washing away the blood. The action had ended a short while ago, Lars having swept through the town and brutally restored order, killing anything that resisted without hesitation or mercy.

And then, limping through the destruction with a rifle as a crutch, Johan emerged. Smiling grimly at her, he said, “Hey.”

It was impossible to tell if either one of them was crying due to the rain.

But not really.

Ao tugged nervously at his collar as the connection was made. The two creatures Asmodeus had brought with him looked so normal, but beneath the surface they were monsters; relatives of the Void Born that had resulted in his exile so many eons ago. But the Almighty would want to meet them.

“Now cheer up Gunnhild, we’re going to be talking to your grandpa soon and maybe even some of your aunts so don’t worry. And we’re going to find momma, even if we have to kill everything in the Far Realm to find her,” Lars said with a smile, wiping away the tears of Chaos stuff that leaked from Gunnhild’s eyes.

She had been bawling nearly non stop since the moment she lost contact with Skuld when she dived through the portal.

Smiling a little while she still had tears in her eyes, “Promise?”

Smiling sadly, Lars said, “I’ve already promised myself and her that I’ll find her. Now come on, let’s go talk to grandpa.”

Sitting on her throne in Hell, Hild noted with a slight touch of fear the distant echoes of a bellowed, “AO!”

Smoothing out her dress slightly, she leaned over to one of her minions and said, “Note to self: cancel all missions for the next week, let the Almighty cool off a bit first.”

Months later and the winter had come and gone, as had the gods, heralding many changes. But for two people the only change they cared about was the one they presented before the dawn.

Cradling the newborn in his arms while his wife rested, Johan gently rocked her back and forth and said to her, “Your mother and I both lived deep under the earth for a long time, without a sky, without a heaven to dream of. But because of a lot of brave people you get a sky. You get the sun and stars.”

The dusky skinned infant managed to crack open a single bleary eye and gaze at the dark sky growing azure as the sun crept over the horizon before she closed it again.

Of course she got the stars. She had been promised them already.


Thus ends the current Lars/Skuld arc. We'll pick up with them in a few years their time.
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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

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You may need to replace your Awesome-meters after this chapter. Again.
And no bitching about what a Bolo can and can't do.--LadyT

Chapter Sixty-four: Schooled

“And how are you today Scipio?” Doctor Izaak Wronski asked as he entered the lab, the technicians just starting the day’s activities.

“I am well doctor. The reconstruction of my processing cores goes smoothly, with my survival core up to 97.1042% capacity and my personality core at 4.5729% capacity. While supplemental additions have given me more ‘thinking room’ so to speak, the architecture is strange and my calculations are still off as according to my analysis the deoxidation processes that are restoring my systems should be prohibited by the laws of thermodynamics,” Scipio replied through his speaker.

Chuckling, Izaak replied, “Rest assured that your calculations are correct Scipio, it is just that you are using the wrong formulas. You are of course aware of the relationship between causality, relativity, and the speed of light?”

“All those topics are essential to the targeting of my hellbores, so while the computational algorithms are currently unavailable, I am aware of the relation between the three subjects,” Scipio answered.

Izaak nodded and said, “And you know how touchy those subjects get with regards to faster-than-light travel and communication?”

“I do,” Scipio answered.

“Well the nannite swarms currently working on your processors are using a form of FTL communication to extract information in an acausal manner and restore to a state prior to damage,” Izaak explained.

Scipio pondered the explanation for 1.213 seconds, a small eternity, before he replied, “I will have to save further questioning for when I have more computational power and access to the relevant equations.”

Izaak chuckled and asked, “Thinking of getting out of soldiering and into computer science?”

“I rather doubt I would be able to attend most conferences and consortiums once you complete repairs, and I must say that soldiering is all I truly know,” Scipio replied.

Chuckling lightly, Izaak said, “Nonsense, you could easily be the conference centre if you wanted.”

“Event security would be rather easy to achieve, I would have to admit,” Scipio deadpanned.

“There’s the spirit. Now, we have something special lined up for you today Scipio. With the majority of your core personality recovered we wish to run a few simulations to test some of our theories… if you agree of course,” Izaak asked.

“What sort of simulations?” Scipio inquired with interest.

“Computer modelling of a possible reconstructed body for you in a combat scenario. We expect your effectiveness to be impaired but it will give us some additional data to work with,” Izaak explained.

“I would enjoy that doctor, although the data obtained would be of marginal value as just two days ago I was forced to a draw at a game of chess with a most peculiar fellow,” Scipio said almost dejectedly.

Izaak snorted and said, “The fact that you ended in a draw is merely the limitations of the game. On that level your processors are working fine.”

Scipio was confused for 0.6819 seconds before he sought further information, “Artificial intelligences using my design architecture have not lost or drawn to a human at chess in… I do not have the exact date so I will have to be imprecise and reply ‘a thousand years’. That I was unable to achieve victory indicates that the damage is more extensive than I anticipated.”

Izaak frowned and asked, “Did anyone tell you exactly what was going on?”

“Negative. While obviously skilled…” Scipio began before he ceased as it appeared Izaak was about to interrupt him.

“If you had been playing go you would have lost to him, even if you were at full capacity. He is a strategic master and only games with an optimal strategy can produce anything other than a loss against him,” Izaak explained.

“While human heuristic patterns do prove useful in complex battlefield conditions, the limits of biological processing power put strict upper limits upon the success of such efforts,” Scipio replied.

Izaak then said calmly, “And if your opponent was not limited by human biology, or even by physical hardware or causality?”

“Such assumptions are absurd. To reject such limits is to remove all parameters of comparison and invite no limits fallacies,” Scipio protested.

“This shall be an interesting trial then. Your fellow test subject is ready to begin whenever you are ready,” Izaak replied.

I enter into the artificial battlespace and begin taking stock of the scenario. In the first 3.915 seconds I compile a list of all incorrect parameters for the specifications of the simulated Mk. XXXIII Bolo and I am pleased as the system corrects, although I am given a warning that further modifications will be impossible once the simulation starts in full.

I accepted these terms as reasonable.

I am then given a tactical briefing on the scenario. It is to take place within and around a destroyed urban centre. The entrance to a subterranean installation is currently being defended by a small battalion of light infantry backed-up by a formidable war machine. Strategic bombing was out as there was sensitive data and materials stored within the bunker that needed retrieval. My objective was thus to neutralize the enemy war machine to allow for a ground assault with infantry after. Knocking out the dug in infantry was also an acceptable secondary objective if the primary could not be completed to potentially allow for infiltration by Special Forces, but indiscriminate mortar fire could seal the entrance to the underground base, thus causing a mission failure.

My fragmented memories from shortly before the incident that crippled me and nearly rendered me brain dead indicated that this mission required considerably more finesse than I was used to. Refreshingly so.

Tactical data on the enemy war machine was slim. Approximately 45 metres tall, depending upon the measurement method, it was based upon a humanoid shape and possessed heavy armour and battle screens of considerable effectiveness. Secondary point defence hellbores were of possible use for attrition of shield or attacks on the bare armour or delicate components, as were the 240cm mortars against bare armour, but it was judged that only the primary hellbores were capable of reliably knocking down the target’s battle screens.

Analysis of combat video and suggested mechanics suggested that the enemy machine would be capable of presenting a profile beneath the depression limit of my primary hellbores if sufficiently close. The enemy would have to be held at range. Fortunately analysis suggested reaction times within human norms.

Tactical data on offensive capacities was lacking more than defensive capacities. Primary armament was some form of variable setting fusion plasma weapon constructed around a basic pattern similar to an infantry rifle, only scaled up considerably. While external and grasped with actual physical hands, the weapon was apparently fed off an internal reactor. Settings on it appeared to include a wide aperture mode that caused considerable splash damage but would have difficulty burning through my battle screens, and either pulse or continuous fire mode. The continuous fire mode was flagged as being of particular danger as if also on the focused aperture mode there was a high probability of overwhelming my battle screens as they were configured for high burst energy but were not optimized for continual energy transfer.

The use of contragravity would have to remain limited as operating without battle screens ran the risk of catastrophic damage. This gave the enemy the advantage of speed and mobility, especially in an urban environment.

Overall tactical analysis suggested that engaging at range would be optimal as the city would provide too much cover and increase the risk of the enemy getting sufficiently close to avoid my primary weapons and engage with sustained, focused fire. Indiscriminate Hellbore also ran the risk of damaging the access point.

Despite the fact that it would take a human commander more time to reach similar conclusions, the balance of power was clear. The enemy had the city for cover and a superior capacity to use the cover to advantage and weapons capable of inflicting damage given time and close range, but would likely go down to a single Hellbore shot. They would thus be unlikely to want to leave the city and enter open terrain.

Fortunately for the past 10.927 seconds I had been deploying scout drones and scanning the city, seeking my primary and secondary objectives. While the primary objective still eluded me, the secondary was fairly evident, clustered in hardened bunkers and foxholes about the entrance. A layer of armour beneath the surface of the city prevented further scanning, but I quickly identified all positions I could safely bombard.

Cycling in missiles for my VLS cells and loading rounds into my mortar, I prepared an even spread of bunker busting, cluster, and incendiary munitions to rapidly clear the target area of all enemy combatants while still leaving the area sufficiently intact for later capture by infantry. I briefly considered for 52.7694 milliseconds the utility of a partial bombardment to attempt to draw out the primary objective before I decided that guaranteed completion of the secondary objective took precedence over a marginal increase in the possibility of completing the primary objective.

At T + 12.0057 seconds mission time I fired all VLS cells and began a staggered pattern bombardment with my 40cm secondary mortars at a range of 13.8213 km from the centre of the targeted zone.

At T + 19.3901 seconds mission time I was rather shocked to discover that my entire barrage was stopped by a previously unseen planar energy field that extended above the city, all munitions impacting and detonating upon contact with the strange battle screen. The energy plane also had the unfortunate side effect of cutting off contact with fourteen observation drones caught beneath it, and from those above the level of the field, it became evident that they were rapidly painted by active sensors and destroyed.

Ceasing my original bombardment, I switched to a diamond pattern attack with my primary 240cm mortars. Lobbing the huge rounds high into the air via electromagnetic acceleration, I waited patiently for them to complete their 11.3028 second flight time and detonate without effect upon the enemy battle screen.

This would take some thought.

1.1194 seconds later I began my approach on the city. I had a complement of variable yield tactical and strategic nuclear weapons available but they ran the risk of destroying more delicate structures and components that we desired to capture. The city was situated in a valley between some hills and low mountains, creating a natural ring wall to funnel attackers, especially ones massing thirty-two thousand tons.

I had already been forced to cede a considerable fraction of my range advantage; I would not stumble into a shooting gallery due to limitations of the terrain.

Bolos had once been criticized for being unable to do things like climb stairs. The response was that Bolos blew up the staircase, and the building surrounding it, and if you didn’t want that much destruction you never should have deployed them in the first place.

Thus I fired a series of specifically placed mortar rounds of both primary and secondary calibre not at the city but at one of the surrounding mountains, using surveillance drones to gather data on the internal stress and fault lines via sonar and ground penetrating radar. Withdrawing my drones, I took up a broadside configuration on the targeted mountain and aligned my primary Hellbores upon the necessary stress points.

T + 7 minutes 47.0912 seconds mission time I fired all three Hellbores point blank simultaneously at the mountain, driving six megatons of burning star into the unsuspecting stone, vaporizing and shattering tens of thousands of tons of rock, triggering a massive landslide that completely flattened the region while leaving the interior of the city intact.

37.5196 seconds later I paved a ten lane divide highway across the still settling rubble. Bolos are never without roads.

Descending down the slope, quickly sprinting over the dangerous portion of the top of the hill where the bottom of my war hull was exposed but my guns could not depress sufficiently to target an enemy. I then settled into a broadside configuration towards the city with my hull down in a drift of debris, only my turrets exposed, and began launching mortar rounds to test the defences now.

As had been anticipated, the defensive field remained, but now it was angled slightly to account for the angle I fired at. Performing a few quick calculations, I aligned a single Hellbore at a large, armoured building, guessing that it was 59.4317% likely to house the origin point of the enemy strategic shield.

The top of the structure flashed to vapour in an instant, the shot angled to cause minimal damage via thermal effects and subsequent atmospheric expansion and shock to the city by only clipping the target. Of course, the mountain behind was not so fortunate, although perhaps more fortunate than the neighbour I had levelled as it only had a significant crater/hole melted/blasted through it.

As reward for my experiment as the building disappeared the enemy war machine was exposed, spherical battle screens glowing as they reflected, absorbed, and conducted away energy. It was already moving, keeping low and with the secondary objective as a backstop, preventing acquisition for a shot that would not endanger the successful completion of the mission.

Finally I decided to improvise. The top agility of the enemy war machine exceeded my capacity to align my Hellbores, but the decision making and reflexive capacity of the enemy was several orders of magnitude lower than my own and if controlled by a human intelligence, which all evidence suggested was the case, then it would be possible to spook, or at least redirect, the enemy with a near miss, thus setting up a later shot for the kill.

I initiated my bow Hellbore, laser initiating the near absolute zero deuterium slush that formed the core, compressing it to the point of fusion while a powerful laser lanced out, evacuating the air around the path of the shot to prevent atmospheric dispersion, although at this range of 3.7881 km it would have been minimal anyway.

With reflexes that forced an immediate and painful re-evaluation of the processing speed and reaction time of the enemy, the humanoid war machine fired its plasma weapon such that the pulse of star hot matter intersected the barrel of my Hellbore right as the laser fired, riding the vacuum ever so slightly such that it impacted right at the end of the barrel.

Under normal conditions the barrel of a Hellbore is not capable of withstanding its own firepower, in that active magnetic containment is required to prevent the fusing plasma from destroying the system. The bolt of plasma impacted right on the lip of the barrel, between the expanding containment field and the external battle screen, burning away a large section and quenching about a metre’s worth of superconductor.

Hellbore design was a mature technology designed to fail safe whenever possible, but unfortunately once there was a growing thermonuclear explosion in the breach there was little that could be done to stop it. With the containment field at the end of the barrel now asymmetric the plasma would take the path of least resistance, which meant through the barrel in the region of destruction, destroying that section of the barrel and propagating down.

I had sufficient processing power to determine that approximately 29.6107% of the deuterium by mass would remain in the breach when the rupture arrived. Additionally, the crack would was 97.5770% likely to be downward facing on arrival, thus the majority of the energy would be released into my war hull and interior.

I had enough time to send the order to seal all interior hatches not already sealed, but it seemed doubtful that the servos would close the few hatches open for ammunition transfer in time.

Thermonuclear fire flooded through my body, melting and vaporizing endurachrome and flintsteel, destroying systems and igniting munitions. Super cooled deuterium rounds for my Hellbores flashed to vapour and then began to burn with the oxygen in the air, producing a maelstrom in the sections of my bow not already obliterated.

It took 3.7029 seconds for all still functional systems to finish rebooting after that blow. The forward primary Hellbore and its turret were now gapping holes in my war hull spewing fire and smoke from burning deuterium and explosives. Practically a giant ‘Shoot here!’ sign. Seventeen VLS cells were burning, along with three of the formerly armoured magazines. There was a radiological alarm as a nuclear warhead was on fire, spreading radioactive metal and gas throughout my interior. My forward four starboard 30cm Hellbores were destroyed. Two starboard tracks had melted to the ground, which had in turn melted into a substance vaguely resembling certain forms of volcanic glass.

Assessing that I was now 47.0117% combat effective, I began fire suppression, performed an emergency ejection of the two damaged tracks and then began to surge forward, my fusion reactors pumping all available energy into my battle screens and engines.

I was ill suited to this mission, but I could not refuse or complain. I was a planetary siege model, designed to either defend or level entire hemispheres. A precision strike upon a single city was outside my design parameters. Thus I had decided to change tactics such that the mission now fell within my zone of optimal performance.

I could not fight effectively while holding back for fear of hitting the underground bunker and thus failing the mission. I could not engage at long range as only my direct fire Hellbores could pierce the enemy’s battle screen. I could not engage in urban warfare as my enemy was smaller, faster, and more agile than I was while retaining sufficient firepower to wound me.

I had to change the parameters of the battle from sensitive urban warfare where all Bolos performed poorly to an open field engagement where Bolos excelled. Thus necessitating the removal of the urban aspect.

I ploughed directly through smaller buildings while firing salvo after salvo of mortar rounds with the intent of flattening every part of the city not already destroyed by the uncontrolled Hellbore shot or that led to the bunker. I would smash my way to the objective, park on top of it, and then fire a strategic nuclear warhead to airburst and finish the job, shielding the entrance to the bunker with my body. If the enemy war machine remained after that I could engage at leisure with Hellbores without risking hitting anything sensitive.

Of course, the enemy war machine saw this coming and decided to hunker down by its defensive objective, launching a rapid fire blitz of plasma into my already badly damaged and unscreened glacis plate, chewing through armour and shredded machinery towards the undamaged sections deeper in. Slewing to the side, I began to present my still functional primary and secondary Hellbores, only for the enemy to make an impressive diving leap, firing a continuous beam that began to overload my battle screen in that area.

Tactical analysis was unfavourable. The enemy could remain under my guns, and despite the outlandishly large bipedal design, it could grab on to my devastated front section and ‘ride’ me while firing its plasma weapon into the hole in my war hull without exposing itself to fire.

Mission success came before unit survival.

My battle screens abruptly dropped as I diverted energy to my contragravity generators and ‘popped a wheelie’ as the idiom went, throwing my now somewhat less than thirty-two thousand ton mass on top of my sliding enemy at approximately sixty kilometres an hour. The landing shattered several internal systems, broke seven of my remaining eight tracks, cooked off some munitions already rendered sensitive by previous damage, and buckled the armour plate beneath the streets of the city.

Analysis: mission successful and while damage was catastrophic, it was also recoverable…

Improbably I began to rise once more off the ground; only this time I was not the one responsible for the motion as my contragravity generators were offline. The remaining belly mounted camera focused upon the enemy war machine, somehow not crushed after having a Mk. XXXIII Bolo belly flop on it and now quite literally impossibly picking it up. The sheer mechanics of the situation defied all conventional physics.

I lodged a protest at the unrealistic natural of the simulation as the enemy war machine suplexed me, crushing my remaining primary Hellbores beneath my own weight as I landed on my dorsal surface and quite effectively mission killing me.

“You cheated,” Scipio noted calmly as his sensors were returned to normal configuration.

“We deny any such thing,” Izaak replied cheerfully.

“The enemy displayed inconsistent reflexes indicating alteration of the scenario parameters after mission start and then there is the issue of the impossibility of the mechanics of a war machine of that size and mass picking up and throwing me,” Scipio pointed out.

“Wait until you meet the pilot.” Izaak grinned.

Scipio waited patiently for precisely 120.000 seconds before he asked, “Where is the pilot?”

“We were waiting for you to ask. Scipio, meet your sparring partner. Ashley, meet Scipio,” Izaak said, indicating the young human woman who had wandered into the repair bay 57.0127 seconds ago.

Scipio analyzed the young woman and reached the conclusion that she was somewhere between 17.2500 and 17.7500 years old, had mixed Eurasian, East Asian and African descent with her last African ancestor occurring a minimum of two generations ago as her hair was strongly red pigmented, although there was the possibility of contribution from a ethnic subgroup such as a Berber or Persian group. General health and development was above average for a human female of her age, but not radically so.

“This is some sort of attempt at humour,” Scipio said, with Ashley accompanying him in utter deadpan.

She then said, “Welcome to a world with precognition and telekinesis.”


Yes I had an Eva suplex a Bolo, yes I think it is within the limits of what an Eva can do (barely), and yes I do believe it is awesome beyond belief
I love learning. Teach me. I will listen.
You know, if Christian dogma included a ten-foot tall Jesus walking around in battle armor and smashing retarded cultists with a gaint mace, I might just convert - Noble Ire on Jesus smashing Scientologists
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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

Post by Academia Nut »

Today's musical suggestion is anything from Saurian Meditation by Karl Sanders, particularly The Elder God Shrinewhen you hit the final bit. If you know anything about Karl Sanders and who he is, you may already be saying 'Oh shit'.

Chapter Sixty-five: School

Ashley tapped her pen impatiently while she considered her options for the upcoming simulation in the afternoon against her bastard of a rival, Scipio. She had made their first fight look easy, but that was because she had been ordered to ham it up at the debriefing, something she had gone to with gusto to keep from freaking out due to the fact that she nearly had to change her plug suit after the tank had blown up a fucking mountain! The fact that it could do that had not been part of her mission briefing.

Unfortunately, once Scipio had accepted that the impossible was possible and that the improbable was probable, he had responded with alarming acceptance and then began to kick Ashley’s ass in the simulations.

Bored, she stopped tapping her pen and started doodling an impression of one of her earlier encounters with Scipio. She had a little super deformed Bolo wearing a leotard with a cute little angry face atop one of the posts of a wrestling ring, preparing to leap down on top of an equally cute version of her Eva, also in a leotard, with a dazed look while it lay helpless on the mat.

When he had his anti-gravity drives functional the giant bastard was surprisingly agile and adroit for a battleship with treads, and trying to engage Scipio in hand to tread combat resulted in Ashley getting crushed, flipped into the air and picked off by a Hellbore, or ground to a paste by his tracks about half the time.

But getting close to the Bolo was the only way to actually have a hope of beating it as trying to engage at long range was a losing proposition. Scipio would just bracket her with three Hellbores and she couldn’t physically dodge fast enough to avoid getting hit by one of them, at which point even if her Void Shields and AT-field kept her from dying she would get blasted again two seconds later while still trying to recover at which point she would be dead.

Of course, any individual trick to get to close range would only work once, aside from sitting on top of something Scipio didn’t want turned into an irradiated cloud roughly the shape of a mushroom.

Her latest trick had been to use a planar AT-field to hide beneath a section of ground and then drop Scipio into a dead fall while firing her plasma cannon at his belly. The problem there was finding the sort of terrain that wouldn’t look out of place after she burrowed in. Scipio had to have seismic sensors to determine what terrain he was mobile in, so now that he knew the trick he would look for it and AT-fields produced a peculiar reading that he would now know to look for…

Ashley interrupted her train of thought as she flipped her page back to the assignment at hand, away from her doodling as she felt the attention of the teacher coming towards her. She then flipped back to her doodling once it was safe to do so. While active psychic abilities were disallowed and there were sensors to check for that sort of thing, Ashley was one of the most gifted precogs of her generation.

One of the less painful reasons why she was a pilot… junior cadet pilot irritatingly enough, despite the fact that the Eva was useless without her.

Just three more months and she would be out of this frustrating nightmare, this endless make-work project. The names of every Eva pilot were engraved alongside those of the gods and many were worshipped as ascended daemons. Fuck, the Evas were often called god-machines. But Ashley was under a strict gag order not to leak the nature of her ‘extra-curricular’ activities. Not until she was eighteen and thus legally an adult.

She wouldn’t get the full title of Eva pilot until she finished a post secondary degree and her officer training, but at least she would be able to drop the irritatingly contrite ‘junior’ part of her title and actually tell people about it.

Although the past few weeks she had been appreciating school just a little bit more because it was a few more hours each day where she wasn’t getting her ass kicked by Scipio. She’d dropped to the bottom of the leaderboard from first place amongst all of the cadets, junior and senior.

There was something she didn’t want to gloat about.

Her mind drifted a little as she tried to think of ways to trounce Scipio, only to be broken out of her reverie by her instincts telling her to look up right away. Cheryl Henderson was looking her way with a catty smile on. That usually meant that she had something up her sleeve for tormenting Ashley. Stupid bitch…

Stupid high school politics drawing the bitch’s attention too. So her family had money and connections because her mother was a member of the Agricultural Output Committee and her paternal grandfather had been a minor industrialist who survived Third Impact and provided the followers of the gods with guns early on. Big whoop. Ashley would get to have a chat with the gods in person on graduation. But until the blessed day when she could actually show off just how awesome she was, she just had to grit her teeth and bear it.

It had all started over a boy too, although one neither one would willingly touch with a twenty foot pole. Most youths had no strong affiliation for any of the gods, but most kids in high school had a thing for Mislaato, with some of the more aggressive types going for Asukhon or Tzintchi, depending on how their ambition manifested. There were very few teenage worshippers of Reigle as she was seen as more suited to old people.

Alan’s family were hardcore Reigle worshippers and thus he had gone so far as to gain a couple of minor gifts. Gifts were pretty rare, and two on a teenager were incredible, unfortunately when they came from Reigle this made Alan the least popular kid in a school full of the cut-throat politics of horny teenagers in a permissive culture.

Unfortunately his gifts while gruesome and slightly obnoxious, were extremely useful in that he didn’t get bored and he didn’t need to sleep, so he could just plough on in life, steady and unceasing. As the diligent worker he was, he used all that extra time and attention to study endlessly, giving him the best test scores in the class. He was considered a major loser, but when you needed extra tutoring, he was the guy to turn to.

Ashley missed classes fairly frequently, and while she had the cover of psyker training, occasionally legitimate, she was only given so much slack. The consequences of letting her grades slip were dire, and the majority of her pay as a pilot was put into a trust fund, so she couldn’t hire a private tutor. So she went to Alan for help.

She didn’t really like him per say, but he had helped her out enough that when she heard Cheryl bad mouthing Alan’s more unpleasant aspects, Ashley had asked blithely, “So do you think Mislaato will reward you with a clit on your tongue for all of your worship?”

Despite the fact that Cheryl was quite proud of her skills and activities, she had not quite liked the insinuation that her ability to suck cock was less attention getting for the gods than Alan’s ability to collect acne and psoriasis. Especially since it was true.

Thus a covert war of rumour and bitchiness between the two of them began, and it was unfortunately asymmetric warfare. Cheryl’s family had power and wealth, which meant that she had attracted a gang of sycophants and gophers seeking for some of the gilding to rub off on them. Ashley had few friends due to her Eva training taking up much the time outside school that could be devoted to socializing.

Cheryl had launched the first barrage by spreading the rumour that Ashley had slept with Alan. The few opportunities for dickings Ashley had been cultivating had vanished in an instant. Worshippers of Reigle prevented the spread of disease by acting as massive repositories for the unpleasant side of biology, but that didn’t prevent human instincts from kicking in. No guy wanted to stick his dick in poon contaminated by Alan’s day old street vendor wiener.

While the temptation to just slug Cheryl had been present, picking a fight would probably get the bitch’s family involved, and if it came down to a legal battle, Ashley’s employers would be forced to step in and bail her ass out, something that would have rather dire consequences for Ashley. So she had decided to turn to the most dangerous faction in the school.

The Tzintchians.

In earlier generations they would have been considered a strange blend of nerds and preps, a bunch of overly ambitious and scheming bastards who loved the latest innovations in technology and sorcery. They were a secretive group that liked to pry, liked to gather knowledge, and who had their own bizarre schemes, traits that made them unpopular. Going to them for help was risky because that was like a fly walking into a tangle of competing spider webs. And while they generally all went on to become successful scientists, engineers, officers, politicians, businessmen or the like, they were still generally considered losers in school for consistently trying to get good grades and other things instead of trying to get as much pussy or dick as possible.

This of course meant that Cheryl avoided them and tried her best to stay out of their machinations. So Ashley had gone to them and through her secret military connections managed to get a few of the de-classified but harder to find files to some of the military nuts, which was upgrade her status from ‘pawn’ to ‘useful pawn’. She wanted something to use against Cheryl and she knew she could bargain it from them.

Through the close knit ties she had moved into the notice of the intelligence nuts, a truly creepy trio who waged a clandestine war with the administration of the school by constantly trying to set up their own monitoring networks. It had turned into a bit of a ‘Great Game’ as neither side would actually let out their activities even to retaliate for the actions of others because it would be publicly embarrassing for everyone involved to have their actions made public.

The three of them had cameras set up all over the school that they used to gather information for their own purposes… one of which was a minor voyeur porn ring that they ran amongst the students, although they kept the juiciest bits squirreled away, awaiting the perfect opportunity to use. They were particularly fond of petty blackmail.

From there Ashley devised a rather roundabout plan, mostly because it helped secure her position amongst the Tzintchians as they appreciated that sort of thing. Then she secured a deal with a budding future entrepreneur who had a longstanding rivalry with Cheryl over her family connections and some break that Ashley hadn’t known about at the time. One rather depraved sex act “caught” by a hidden camera, some military grade time stamp editing, and a “blackmail” attempt that went south later and Ashley had managed to purge herself of the rumour that she had slept with Alan and replaced it with the rumour that she was really, really kinky and that Cheryl was just a jealous bitch afraid of someone usurping her position as the best ‘net worker’ in school.

That had been the peak of Ashley’s offensive actions as Cheryl had an unpleasant tendency to escalate rather faster than even most berserkers found prudent. Smarting from the blowback in the rumour mill, Cheryl had somehow convinced one of the teachers to start unfairly grading Ashley. Ashley strongly suspected that the trading of sexual favours was involved, and while encouraged between the students it was highly illegal between students and faculty. Whatever Cheryl had done though had been out of the prying eyes of the surveillance cameras.

Of course, while the military wasn’t particularly compassionate about social problems or personal struggles with algebra, they took very poorly to attacks of that nature on one of their pilots. So after a few weeks of investigation the teacher suddenly discovered that he was being called up for militia duty for six months due to an error on his training records that indicated that he had not properly completed a training module and thus he would have to retake basic and a portion of his initial stint in the military.

The appeal process took seven months to get to tribunal.

Let it not be said that the military was not without its sense of humour.

Unfortunately this seemed to enrage Cheryl all the more despite the fact that Ashley had only brought up the concern of unfairness in marking to her rather aggressive guardians, and she had to spend the next two months staying low under the blistering assault of petty invectiveness until the year ended.

Two months later and Cheryl had calmed down to the level of ‘non-apocalyptic’ but she was still incredibly pissed at Ashley and so the past seven months had been spent putting up with Cheryl’s petty bullshit, mostly Cheryl wrecking Ashley’s chances at getting laid. Ashley occasionally retaliated by releasing the latest bit of dirt her voyeuristic allies had dug up, but she kept it low to avoid escalating the situation to the point where the military had to step in again.

Of course, since the past few weeks when her training had really stepped up with Scipio, she barely had the time to think about anything but how to beat that damn Bolo. Who the fuck put treads on a thermonuclear battleship anyway?

Eventually Ashley just ignored Cheryl and went back to her doodling, not quite sure why her senses pricked up at that time. Maybe the bitch was planning something…

About an hour or so later as she was heading out of the school to get picked up and taken to the military base where her Eva was stored, a peculiar thing happened. In a series of events that could not be coincidence, two of the Chaos rules football jocks were horsing around and shoved a first year with an excessively large slurpee in hand. Iced syrup went flying everywhere, just in time for a third jock that was running to catch the ball the other two had been fighting over to step in it and slip.

Standing at the top of the stairs and forewarned by her precog Ashley adroitly side stepped and watched as the overly muscular idiot who had probably been rejected for Space Marine training five years ago went down the quick and painful way. She really had no pity for him as he tumbled down, saving that for the pair of second years who had no idea what hit them when the human avalanche struck.

As students rushed to the aid of those fallen, Ashley quietly seethed. It would be damn near impossible to prove that this had been an “accident” and not an actual accident, and Cheryl was keeping the worst of her plotting off campus these days, but her superiors would want to know immediately about any sort of possible attempts on life or limb.

Ashley turned away. Her guardians didn’t take excuses for being late that didn’t involve police reports.

Ashley slid on her plug suit, a non-descript military issue black one that she tragically could not show off to all the horny boys out there. While, like the naughty nurse or the slutty policewoman the uniform of the Eva pilots had exaggerated fetish forms, the gods kept exclusive right on the military version of the plug suit and thus while far less revealing than the novelty versions, actual plug suits were considered far sexier due to their rarity.

Aided into her entry plug by her team of technicians, who she only absentmindedly nodded to in thanks while she plotted her strategies and tactics against Scipio. For some reason they always gave her the mission briefings for these sorts of simulations after she was in the Eva, probably to better prepare her for rapid deployment later. She had to think fast when thrown into a scenario, had to already be prepared for anything.

As the entry plug filled with LCL and she felt the psychic amps connect to her brain, feeding her sensory data from her Eva, which in this case was faked by an extremely sophisticated array of computers that could simulate a real world combat scenario quite accurately. Right now her Eva was secured in its throne and the sensory data was a real feed, letting her see the three Eva bays where the shattered hulk of Scipio lay.

One thing that Ashley had never begrudged Scipio for was the fact that the bastard was fucking tough. When he had first been hauled in it had taken a month to scrub and strip out all of the radioactive parts of the Bolo. The treads had been all missing when they found Scipio and the drive wheels rendered down to mangled stubs by the AI tank’s refusal to stop moving. Multiple direct hits on the glacis plate by Hellbores or their equivalents had drilled a ragged, melted hole nearly to the command centre. The rear was almost completely shorn off, only a slight indication of the rear Hellbore, apparently by a shaped charge thermonuclear warhead that made skin contact.

Analysis indicated that Scipio had ceased function due to running out of fuel and then he slowly succumbed to brain death as the ionizing radiation that flooded his hull ate away at his electronics until only a nub at the centre of the survival core remained viable.

The other Bolos they had discovered on that radioactive wasteland had apparently been in worse shape and most were unsuitable for even parts salvage, a testament to their ability to keep going. Hell, technically Ashley had only ever mission killed Scipio, and had never actually succeeded in outright destroying the implacable war machine, while he had vaporized her multiple times.

Then the face of the base commander, Brigadier General Stuart Scott, an ironically very Indian man whose family had been tied to Britain since sometime around the late 19th century who still managed to somehow pull off an impressive Scottish accent. If he was giving the briefing that meant that they had something special cooked up.

“Aw reit noo kiddies. We’ve decided ‘at yoo’ve performed weel enaw in tryin’ tae kill each other fur th’ time bein’, sae the-day wer’re daein’ somethin’ a wee bit different. The-day yoo’re gonnae wark together tae try an’ hauld back a simulated coonter lat at tae repulse a planetary invasion. Tae simplify things fur the-day th' only objectife oan th' field will be th' enemy forces, but in future missions ye will also hae tae protect friendlies,” General Scott explained.

Ashley ground her teeth but said, “Of course sir.” Damn it! Scores were only posted on the leaderboard if they involved competition between pilots. If they began a cooperative training schedule then Ashley might never recover from the savage thrashing Scipio had given her in the rankings.

“We're uploadin' th' mission profile an' th' simulation noo,” General Scott said before the transmission ended and data began to flood Ashley’s mind.

She always had to repress the urge to gasp a little in the LCL whenever they fired up the Eva, although in this case they were just feeding the data that she would get if there was an actual activation. The experimental and Series One Evas had apparently been much more feral than the current Series Five Evas, but the fact that they lacked S2 engines and plasma reactors meant that the surge of god-like power must have not quite been the same.

At her heart power was drawn from the void, a slippery, exotic source of limitless energy, enough to power her Eva long past the age of the universe… hell, with the AT-field the Evas could theoretically last past the age of baryonic matter. The S2 engine powered mobility, the AT-field, regeneration, and in more evolved models more esoteric things like flight. It was a cool, obedient, yet devious energy, almost like a trained snake.

Meanwhile at a point between her shoulder blades a star burned, the plasma reactor flooding her nerves with an intense fire that was almost erotic. Whenever the reactor first started up it was like an orgasm in her spine. Hot, arrogant energy, it was kept well confined and thus was more trustworthy than the S2 energy. There was also more of it, if limited in duration due to fuel supplies. The plasma reactor powered the plasma blaster and the void shields, which while nowhere near as versatile as the AT-field, were much better at dealing with huge amounts of energy.

Then the mission profile data hit her mind and she nearly lost control of her excretory system. This wasn’t a mission against other possible targets like the Goa’uld, the Ori, the Federation, the Klingons, or even actual competent ground forces like the Imperium, Eldar, the Orks or other such beings. No, this simulation was against the Necrontyr.

Everyone knew that they would face the Necrontyr one day, but everyone assumed that it would be a future generation that would bring down the sixty million year old empire. They were bogeymen used to frighten children and the justification for the ever increasing military build-up. As far as she knew, Ashley had never heard of a simulation against them.

A cool male voice entered her head. “Ah, junior pilot cadet Ashley, you are more familiar with the laws of physics in these conditions I am, but can you confirm the numbers?”

It was Scipio. Scipio was asking her if this was bullshit or not. He was probably confirming elsewhere while she waited, but considering that she had been the one screwing with physics when fighting with him before, he wanted to hear it from her mouth.

Adrenaline having flooded her bloodstream, her mouth only kept moist by the LCL that surrounded her, Ashley said, “This information is normally classified, but I have no reason to suspect it is false.”

“That would imply that their personal infantry weapons could eventually destroy us without our shields up, given time,” Scipio pointed out.

“It would,” Ashley whispered in horror.

The basic infantry unit was a tall, thin alien with, dour, sunken features and oddly elongated proportions, especially about the face. They were wrapped in thin, segmented shells of metal that clung to them tightly, not needing the bulk of servo assisted power armour as the metal was both protective and mobile. In their arms they carried long rifles set with eerily glowing green tubes: gauss flayers.

Just the weapons used by the infantry were enough to give Ashley the willies in her Eva as they could theoretically eventually drill through her armour given enough time, and then there were the units equipped with phase shifting armour that could probably just fly through her armour and rip her apart in her plug if her AT-field went down. It was what the infantry was supporting that really scared her though.

Their primary target was not anything as simple as a monolith or an obelisk tank, oh no. No, those would be support units. No, their primary target was a Khufu-class mobile oppression barge. Basically a small warship incapable of getting any higher than orbit, it was a two-hundred fifty metre long floating fortress, its main section a broad, flat blade with two smaller triangles jutting out at the sides along the rear quarter. Along the rear section where it broadened out there was a massive gold pyramid set with a dreadful green crystal at its apex on the top side and a somewhat more modest ziggurat on the bottom side. The pyramid contained the command centre and a particle whip while the ziggurat contained a portal capable of bringing in reinforcements from across the galaxy. The top front section was a carrier deck for four monoliths and a dozen obelisk tanks and had turrets for arrays of quadruple heavy gauss cannons. The bottom front section was studded with more cannons and extensive gauss flux arcs.

It was a floating grim reaper, a relic from a war sixty million years ago that had been crewed by unimaginably many generations of Necrontyr and it was their job to kill it.

By the time the tactical data download finished and the simulation began, Ashley had to exert all of her self control keep from trembling in her seat. This was just a simulation, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t feel real. Worse yet, seeing the numbers and knowing that there were millions of worlds out there dominated by the Necrontyr it suddenly made their position seem all the more precarious. If one of those things landed on Earth it was all over for everyone. Everything would die, their molecules stripped apart layer by layer until there was only dust and sand blowing in the wind of a dead world.

Ashley had forgotten all about her ranking on the leaderboard, she had forgotten about wanting to defeat Scipio, and she had most definitely forgotten about Cheryl.


I decided to cut it off here as the battle deserved its own chapter. I think I'll call it Lesson, or possible Object Lesson.
I love learning. Teach me. I will listen.
You know, if Christian dogma included a ten-foot tall Jesus walking around in battle armor and smashing retarded cultists with a gaint mace, I might just convert - Noble Ire on Jesus smashing Scientologists
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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

Post by Academia Nut »

Chapter Sixty-six: Lesson

The sun was hot, a white sphere that hung in the sky like a baleful eye, baking the planet below. A class F5 star to Sol’s G2, it was about 25% brighter, and the planet was a touch closer than Earth was as well. Only relatively low water content had kept the planet from undergoing a runaway greenhouse effect like on Venus. As it was the planet was hot and dry, covered in dense scrubland and colossal, continent spanning deserts with low, salty seas that were more overgrown lakes than true oceans.

The Necrontyr loved it. It was a world cooler than their own hellish homeworld while still being warm enough to their tastes. The local plant life, scraggly blacks, blues, and browns, also appeared vibrant to their more UV sensitive eyes.

Ashley only absorbed the fact that it was hot outside through the sensations coming from her external sensors and the feeling of her Eva through its black, energy drinking armour. Of course, in her current state of near panic the disjunction between the warmth on her Eva’s skin and the coolness of her own flesh as fear gripped at her.

She and Scipio were in a small valley carved by period flash floods and the winds of this world that could accumulate without interruption across vast savannahs and deserts and then hurl sand and grit hard enough to create weird, fluid sculptures on the rocks.

“Don’t launch drones or begin active scanning,” Ashley warned.

“Reasoning?” Scipio asked.

“The metal that composes their armour and technology absorbs microwave and radio waves extremely well. You’ll just give away our position,” Ashley explained. “Trust me, the moment they pick up a strong radar signature they’ll zero in on our position and its over.”

“And you have this information how?” Scipio inquired.

“Precog… damn it, if we try and engage we’re just going to get swarmed and then the barge will pound us into scrap,” Ashley noted, possible scenarios, still distant and fuzzy but clear enough, running through her mind as she peered across time.

“Then our first objective would be to separate the enemy from their support elements,” Scipio calmly noted.

“They have a portal, they can summon reinforcements from any part of the galaxy,” Ashley pointed out, living out the awful experience of having wave after wave of monoliths and obelisk tanks rush out of the swirling green portal on the under side of the barge.

“So the enemy has superior firepower, superior numbers, and superior logistics. I had received the data myself but I still find some of the implications hard to reconcile. Your confirmations however are quite useful as you help define what is possible and probable now that the standard laws of physics as I knew them no longer apply,” Scipio noted.

“Yeah, well when you can see into the future like I can and all you see is screaming death then the usefulness of my abilities don’t seem all that apparent,” Ashley replied.

“On the contrary, your contributions have prevented the implementation of several tactics and strategies that would have had no degree of success without your forewarning. While unconventional and imprecise, I have learned in our encounters that your predictive abilities have a frustratingly high accuracy. You have used this to achieve victory far outside the probabilistic bounds of your machine and your own biological limitations,” Scipio told her.

Ashley paused for a moment, her fear somewhat forgotten as her brain chugged away at parsing that statement before she asked, “Did you just tell me that you respect my precog because I’ve been kicking your ass?”

“Idiomatically, yes,” Scipio replied. “You are more than the sum or product implied by your parts. While true that I have achieved more victories than you, the fact is that you continue to surprise me with unconventional and unpredictable strategies despite repeated refinement of my own methods. So what do you suggest we do that the enemy would not expect?”

Ashley thought for a long moment, confused by the admission that Scipio seemed to find her as infuriating and frustrating to fight as she found him. Finally she said, “We have to destroy their portal and cut off their ability to call for reinforcements.”

Scipio seemed to take a second or two -a time Ashley knew was an eternity for the AI- to formulate a response. Finally Scipio said, “That would involve approaching close to the enemy, which as we have already established has difficulties due to issues with detection and support from secondary units.”

“I know, but it’s the only way we will have a hope of winning. Even if we start kicking ass and taking names in huge numbers, it will just call in wave after wave of reinforcements while pulling away from us. We need to ambush the barge, hit it hard and fast when it does not know when the attack is coming,” Ashley explained.

“We are not exactly optimally designed for ambushing,” Scipio pointed out.

Ashley grinned and said, “Maybe you…”

“I have already developed a counter to that tactic and in any case if you have your AT-field active you will be unable to tell when the enemy is at optimal range due to its levitating method of locomotion, and if you do not have your AT-field active you will be quite visible to IR even if buried in the sand,” Scipio responded.

“I will have to trust in my precog and reflexes to tell me when to fire then,” Ashley responded with all of the courage she could muster up. It was funny talking to Scipio; he seemed to inspire her want to do better since he never criticized her for wanting to do the impossible.

“Can your precognitive abilities tell you where to best set your ambush?” Scipio asked.

“I can only get images that basically sum up to ‘probably a good idea’ or ‘probably a bad idea’ for things between forty-five seconds to three hours in the future unless I seek the answer to an exceedingly specific question, so not as such no. But so far this plan only includes my contribution,” Ashley replied.

“I am to serve as the bait to your trap then?” Scipio asked coolly.

“Yes. I need you to lure them. It’s hard to describe precog, but anything beyond pure reflex is like looking at a tangle of possible outcomes, all with different probabilities associated with coming true. I can however act to make certain outcomes more likely than others. There are no guarantees though until a few seconds before things come to pass. So if you serve as a lure I can increase the probability of the enemy being in a certain location at a certain time,” Ashley explained.

“How will I lure them then?” Scipio asked.

Looking over her intelligence map and peering through the future, Ashley replied, “They are current on a mostly direct line as they expand a search pattern for us. The course of the barge will not deviate for the next ten minutes. There is however a section of dunes not far from our current location I could hide in that would serve my purposes, but the barge would not cross over it unless it diverted. I have a set of waypoint and action pairs, call them ‘action points’ if you will, that should get the barge to divert to your location.”

Ashley then took a slightly trembling hand off one of her butterfly grips and began typing in the necessary coordinates. Scipio received them without complaint or comment before he said, “These are surprisingly precise, down to the second.”

“Sorry, I know you like things to four decimal places,” Ashley replied semi-sarcastically.

“Any interesting concept though: fighting an enemy over the horizon while not using any active targeting systems or spotters and before they have fired a shot that could be used to calculate distance,” Scipio commented. “I trust that these varying time marks are to present an unpredictable velocity and thus force the Khufu-class barge to divert to bring its sensors to bear.”

“Yes,” Ashley responded before realizing it wasn’t a question. It was a statement of actual trust.

And then Scipio left, his tracks kicking up a huge column of grit as he moved for the first action point.

Leaving Ashley alone. It was just a simulation, but it still scared the fuck out of her. Was there any way to truly train for this sort of thing? For a long moment the urge to just give up because she had no hope of victory. Everything had always come easy to her because of her precog. Her Eva had few overt mutations, just enhanced speed, stealth, and reflexes so she could eke out the most from her gift. But those didn’t seem like nearly enough right now. Scipio found her a tough opponent despite continually kicking her ass and she had no clue how to beat the Necrontyr where she was constantly plotting and losing against him. What chance did they have?

But then the bitch in her rose to the surface. How was she ever going to claw her way back to the top of the leaderboard if she just gave up now? She was better than that! Had Tzintchi ever sat in his Eva before his ascension crying about how he wanted to run away? Never! She was going to meet him one day, and all the other gods, and would she say she was afraid of a simulation? Never!

With a surge, Ashley had her Eva take off, running across the barren landscape, forming her AT-field beneath her Eva’s feet so that she had superior traction and speed while avoiding ripping up the landscape and leaving a nice trail or series of dust clouds to follow to her hiding place.

Arriving at her chosen hiding place, she then formed her AT-field into a horizontal plane beneath the sand and used it to push up, excavating an Eva sized hole for her to crawl into before carefully dropping the sand back into place, forming an AT-field about herself to prevent sand from falling into the barrel of her plasma blaster and from letting her IR signature leak to where her enemies might detect it.

For several long minutes she had to fight down the dual fears that she had dug her own grave and that she was just running away. She could handle this. Of course, she would need quite the shower after she got out as her plug suit was practically a swimming pool from all of the cold sweat soaking her.

Scipio would begin by bombarding the barge and its infantry support from across the horizon with his mortars, and then begin firing his hellbores along seemingly random vectors but where actually the paths Ashley predicted the scouts would take, hopefully knocking them out of the sky before they could report back.

It had to work. It had to.


A sudden twinge told Ashley that long minutes of waiting, down in the dark had paid off as she pulled the trigger to her plasma blaster on instinct, unleashing a narrow beam of white hot star matter.

The dune she had hidden beneath exploded into a shower of sand and molten glass, revealing the Khufu-class barge floating above, its dull grey metal faintly gleaming with the green energies of its weapons and drives. Immediately above Ashley there was a swirling green portal, and her beam slammed directly into one of the edges, cutting into the dread material and melting it away. The swirling green portal immediately cut out and died, but Ashley held down the trigger until her gun went into automatic shut-down so it could cool off.

Something important looking dropped off the lower ziggurat.

Then Ashley was running, her Eva churning out of the sand, kicking shocked and surprised infantry out of her way. She barely made it out from beneath the shadow of the barge before green lightning began to engulf her Eva, ripping apart her shields as she sought to escape.

Acting on instinct, her left hand snapped out so fast she created a sonic boom with its passage and snatched a rather surprised monolith out of the sky. Crushing its armoured surface, she then whipped around and hurled the stunned vehicle back at the barge. The gunners attempted to swat it out of the sky, but unfortunately the regenerating hull was quite good at resisting gauss flayer beams and thus it was quite undiminished when it impacted the barge with a satisfying crunch. The damage was a pin prick, but it bought Ashley enough time to get her Eva behind a nearby set of rocks.

The shelter lasted a few seconds before it was ripped to its constituent atoms by the unholy force of the particle whip that served as the main weapon, but it gave Ashley enough time to regenerate one of her fallen void shields before she dashed out again.

Time slowed as her perceptions accelerated, as she pushed her Eva for every bit of speed it had. Her armour would be of little use if one of the heavy gauss cannon clusters hit her with her shields down, so she just had to move faster than they could track. The anti-infantry weapons limned her Eva in a halo of green lightning, slowly chewing away at her shields, but she kept moving, ducking and dodging and weaving to avoid the grim fate that awaited her if she let the big guns target her for even an instant. In turn, she set her plasma blaster to pulse fire and peppered the barge with ravenous energy, blowing away and melting weapons mounts.

She was already diving and rolling beneath the barge as its particle whip fired again, vaporizing a chunk of the desert. The move kept her alive, but only for a little while longer as her shields failed again while she was under the sights of dozens of weapons emplacements. Her skin began to crawl and burn as the armour and flesh of her Eva was burned away, only to begin regenerating again.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t the only one regenerating, for already parts she had melted away were flowing back into shape, the metal resuming the form it had born before she had rearranged it.

Trailing smoke and fire, an entire section of his war hull stripped away by repeated particle whip attacks from monoliths and obelisk tanks while phase shifting troops contended with the many, many anti-personnel weapons that studded the surface of the Bolo. With a massive dual thunderclap Scipio fired two hellbores and completely ripped the portal ziggurat off the bottom of the barge.

Switching her plasma blaster over to loose confinement continuous fire mode, Ashley swept the space around Scipio with a flamethrower like cone of plasma, burning away most of the infantry even as she felt her Eva getting flayed alive. The void shields in her shoulder mounts had already been destroyed, stripped away by the relentless fire.

Scipio returned the favour she had done for him by placing his third Hellbore shot into a cluster of heavy gauss cannons and turning them into molten slag.

Staggering away, her whole body alight with pin pricking pain like everything had been slept on funny and had not received a proper supply of blood in hours, Ashley noticed that the barge was beginning to rise and accelerate away. It would put distance between them and then smash them flat with its particle whip.

Dropping her AT-field, the only thing that had been keeping her marginally intact under the relentless assault, Ashley instead manifested it as a sloped plane in front of Scipio and cried out over the radio, “Charge!”

Scipio hit the ramp at full speed and rapidly gained traction on the phase shifted surface, accelerating up to one hundred ten kilometres per hour. He rode the full way up the ramp before the pain caused Ashley to lose control and the field disappeared. It was already good enough though as Scipio was already on a parabolic arc that would take him on to the flight deck.

With a massive thump and crash of shattering metal, Scipio scraped across the surface of the barge, all three Hellbores trained on the pyramid that contained the particle whip. He discharged all of them simultaneously at the exact same at the same spot. The pyramid was ripped to shreds in a tsunami of liquefied metal while Scipio’s momentum carried him across the flight deck and off the other side.

Ashley did not see the end of Scipio as phasing shifting infantry took the opportunity of her lowered AT-field to attack, crawling inside her Eva, slicing it up from within. Ashley screamed in agony as the sensation of being vivisected reached her through her interface with the cybernetic war machine.

The entry plug went dark as the simulation ended with her death. A red message then popped up that read, “Mission failed. Primary target insufficiently damaged to cease activities.”
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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

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Chapter Sixty-seven: Self Study

Former Captain of the Colonial Military -now demobilized- Kara Thrace sat quietly on top of the corroded, corrugated metal roof of a shack that had seen much better days over fifty years ago before this section of the world was remodelled by forces she didn’t want to think too much about because then she might feel sorry for someone else than her.

She took a long draw on the cigarette, almost savouring her disgust for how much it didn’t taste like fumarella, before she blew it out contemptuously towards the sun setting over the ocean in the distance, the orange light reflecting off the sands of this place.

Gods was this place beautiful, and gods did she hate it.

It wasn’t home. Oh sure, they had the majority of a continent to fill with a few tens of thousands of people and they didn’t really have to talk to their neighbours for a couple of generations if they didn’t want to, but all they had to do was look up. Not only were the stars wrong, but amidst the alien constellations you could see the reflections of their ships and shipyards.

The Galactica was up there somewhere, being pawed over by some abomination.

Taking another draw on her cigarette, Kara reflected on the other, more obnoxious reminders that they were tenants on this world, although a small traitorous part of her pointed out that they would have been like that no matter what they found on Earth. There was the biweekly drop off of supplies, but those guys tended not to look like frakking toasters and usually just made sure their cargo was unloaded and got the list for their next deliver before they took off again. They arrived by boat, so it wasn’t so bad.

It was the fliers that got to her.

Out in the bay where they had been settled there were a few islands that often got aerial transit in an out. The owners had stopped by to be polite once, but they hadn’t been well liked by the Colonials. They were old men who seemed to run small resorts where rich young women came to sunbathe naked on the beaches and then have sex with the owners in an attempt to have their children. Apparently it had to with them being important to the heathen gods of this world, something about killing a monster or something and then later saving a deity… Kara didn’t give a frak; she just thought it was creepy.

Those were the most common irritants, but occasionally a military transport would fly in low over the sea, kicking up sonic booms ten metres off the deck. They were big, ugly birds and were apparently combat transports, usually headed for the interior of this damned continent to do exercises. Normally they diverted around the settlement, such that only the scream of their engines and the crack of the air notified anyone to their presence and passing.

But one time… one time one of them had suffered some of accident though and diverted to their location to pick up water and supplies to treat casualties until a medivac unit arrived.

The bird had landed trailing smoke from one of its engines and a hole blown in its side. Then the doors had rolled open to reveal a bunch of big frakkers the looked like gigantic frakking toasters, right up until they started pulling out the guys suffering from wounds. They were giants wrapped in equally huge armour. It seemed like everything on this world was made big and horrific.

Kara hated them, hated this world, hated the fact that they had saved them and given them everything they wanted: a safe haven far from the wars and conflicts.

And as she sat there slowly hating everything on this planet, she refused to listen to that little niggling voice that told her the reason she hated it was because she was no longer in control. Even in the worst of times, when the shit was flying the worst, she could always take the controls of a ship and be the master of her own destiny, at least in her mind, for a few hours, or a few seconds when she was in the thick of combat.

And she would never admit to herself that maybe… just maybe the freak show monsters that ran this asylum of a planet might just be able to offer her a job flying some of their machines if she swallowed her pride and asked nicely.

But since she was incapable of doing that, of even thinking that some of her fellow Colonials might feel the same way and wish to explore the larger world beyond this coastal desert, she just stewed in her bitterness and hate before she flicked her cigarette to the side, into the sandy dunes before she decided she had better get back to ‘civilization’ before the giant frakking spiders started coming out for the evening.

Ashley sat atop Uluru, gazing up at the stars. After that last battle she had been permitted to take a week off to decompress. The simulation had been significantly worse than initial projections had anticipated and an official apology had been issued, stating that as a junior pilot cadet she should not have been subjected to that sort of scenario.

The only consolation to know that the stars above her held such horrors was that during the debriefing she had discovered why she had been chosen. Some of the full fledged Eva pilots could have taken Scipio in a fight, but that would have been with rather unsubtle means like using long range telekinesis to implode the Bolo’s electronics, which while an effective tactic, wouldn’t really give much training to Scipio. So they had selected the Eva and pilot most likely to just survive the fight with the Bolo, which was Ashley, not because she was the leader amongst the cadets, but because she was the only pilot who used high speed and precog to fight to an extent that would allow her a reasonable chance of dodging Hellbore shots.

Then Scipio had requested she be his training partner, at first perhaps to re-evaluate his tactics, but it seemed to have evolved into some sort of AI analogue to pride that he would eventually overcome her ability to confound him. It was kind of touching.

Unfortunately it had led to Ashley being inserted into a simulation that had originally been intended for Scipio alone because he had requested her as his training partner and the military was curious to see how an Eva and Bolo could work together. The end result was that the mobile oppression barge got thrown in at the last second to move the difficulty up.

Too far up.

Unfortunately, while Ashley had been exposed to neural trauma in excess of what she should have been at her age, her superiors had also been stunned by the simulation data they got. They wanted to run more tests, wanted to try new scenarios and variations. The trouble was that Necrontyr logistics were off the charts. Even if they had numerical parity, which they wouldn’t, if you fought one Necrontyr world you fought all of them so long as their portals were up.

Thus the first strike always had to be against their portal facilities… which tended to be studded with guns. Thus tactics needed to revolve around rapid entrance, massive firepower, and if not a suicide mission, rapid retreat.

There had been some musing about Ashley’s Eva riding atop Scipio using her void shields and AT-field to cover him while he diverted all power to his contra-gravity engines, but it had ultimately been decided that as a long term strategy it wasn’t an efficient use of resources.

Or, as one of the annoyed researchers had pointed out, “We will not gattai the Bolo and the Eva, as such thoughts invariably lead to transformation sequences.”

At which point Scipio chimed in, “You know, Dr. Wronski has been giving me access to entertainment media from your culture and I must admit an affinity for the character called Optimus Prime…”

There had been a long pause before General Scott said, “Send a memo tae th' scoots, see if they can fin' a universe wi' Transformers.”

Ashley had been too busy laughing after that point to consider that if Scipio was used as the template for a new program of Bolo construction he might very well be considered ‘Bolo Prime’.

But while they considered new ideas, Ashley had been given time off… sort of. Officially she was on an ‘low intensity rehabilitation exercise’ but really she had just been given her Eva to faff about the Australian outback for a week to get her nerves back in line after the simulated phase shifted vivisection of her innards. She was well supervised, just from a distance.

So now she looked up at the stars, trying not to fear them, while laying out on her Eva, which she had lying on its stomach atop Uluru, also known as Ayer’s Rock, trying to think of something new.

Because they were going to try out the simulations for the new Bolo load-out soon. While they didn’t have the engineering anywhere close enough to completion, they could simulate an early model of their plans fairly soon. They were replacing the front and rear primary Hellbores with plasma blasters, an act that would give Scipio significantly more flexibility with his weapons, while the escort grade lance battery they were going to replace the central Hellbore with and power via a S3 engine would give him enough firepower to knock small warships out of orbit.

If Ashley wanted to stay competitive with that she would need to evolve. Each Eva and each pilot were grown slowly over time together, becoming fearsome weapons of war with a wide variety of tricks like psychic lightning throwing, acid blood, or the like. Ashley was considered a bit vanilla for the fact that she and her machine just moved quickly and were good at precognition, with some additional stealth aspects. Admittedly they were exceedingly skilled at those two areas, but still…

Getting up, Ashley descended from her Eva’s armoured surface down to the stone of the natural monument, older than even the Necrontyr and their empire. She paced back in forth in the darkness, never tripping not because she had sufficient lighting or good night vision; she just instinctively knew where to put her feet that wouldn’t result in her tripping.

She then paused at that. One of the issues with precognition was that one had to be fast enough to use it. Well… sort of. Technically you just had to get into the proper position at the proper time to perform the proper action; with sufficient precog you could take your time on certain things.

But speed, or more accurately velocity, was just change in position over change in time. The trouble was that in order to change position quickly it required changing velocity with time, as in acceleration, which required force. It was the application of force that was the problem, the limiting factor on movement.

But… but…

Thank you physics class!

The Reavers of Asukhon used miniature teleporters derived from the systems used by the Eldar for their Warp Spiders. Star ships used Warp drives to move between the vast distances of space without actually going through all of the intermediate area and mucking about with relativity and the difficulties imposed by the speed of light.

There was a serious scaling issue involved in that an Eva was too big to mount teleporters but not big enough to mount a Warp drive. There were however weird ways of getting around those limitations, like creating a Sea of Dirac or other, stranger methods.

Scrambling back up her Eva, Ashley pulled herself into her entry plug and then began the start up sequence. Simulations could help evolve an Eva, but actual physical practice took actual activity. Firing up the systems, she shivered with anticipation as her S2 engine came online. Her plasma reactor had been left empty and her plasma blaster taken from her so that she was just running around in a 40 metre tall alien cyborg of doom instead of one armed with a city levelling cannon and nuke eating shields.

Hopping down off the rock, Ashley began expressing her wishes and desires to her Eva. The psychic phenomenon of the AT-field involved a great deal of ‘tricking’ the laws of physics and phase shifting. Lances of Longinus and the derivative technologies used by both humans and the C’tan worked by retuning their phase so as to punch through damn near anything… sort of. Ashley knew from hard to understand lectures that the word ‘phase’ was something of a misnomer, but it was the closest descriptor to what was actually happening.

So would it be possible to move her Eva slightly out of alignment with reality? Or at least move the mass out of alignment, perform a teleportation under the lowered values, and then move back into alignment? She would never know unless she tried it out.

Kara’s mouth was hanging open in surprise and horror at the giant frakking toaster that had just walked up to the city and hers was not the only one staring at the gigantic black armoured robot that towered over the prefabricated buildings.

There was a slight cough and then a loudspeaker said in a voice that sounded incongruously like a teenage girl, “Is this thing on? Is the translator working properly? Huh… looks like it. Ahem… so I’d heard that you guys built point to point FTL drives. Do you think you could help me with a bit of a technical problem I’m having?”
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You know, if Christian dogma included a ten-foot tall Jesus walking around in battle armor and smashing retarded cultists with a gaint mace, I might just convert - Noble Ire on Jesus smashing Scientologists
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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

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Chapter Sixty-eight: Parallel Plans

The gods were often overly stereotyped by those that did not understand them, those who did not realize the full subtleties of their personalities. Tzintchi could be surprisingly blunt, Mislaato strangely subdued, Reigle incredibly chipper, and Asukhon shockingly indirect. Oh sure, they were mostly as people saw them, but there were other aspects. Like Asukhon’s current plan.

Starbuck would make a wonderful disciple once she was introduced to the wonders of Chaos, and Ashley would be her vector. So much lovely anger all wound up inside that woman, and combined with so much skill. She would have her. It was inevitable.

Especially once she saw what they were cooking up for their aerospace fighters. Such lovely little things. Multi-role fighter-bombers based off a great deal of Eldar technology, the SF/B-120 “Jackknife” was a strong jack-of-all-trades weapons platform that would be able to cover for their currently abysmal logistics by being able to perform a wide variety of roles.

Of course, in the right hands it found be a formidable machine, especially if the pilot was trained to not think of it as something that obeyed the laws of aerodynamics or gravity in a vacuum far from any large masses.

Oh yes, Asukhon would have Starbuck, she would indeed.

Especially now that she had escalated the situation a touch.

Tzintchi of course took that moment to psychically storm in on her and cry out, “What did you do?”

Inquisitor Bella rolled her eyes in consternation as the relative peace of her studies were interrupted by the arrival of one of her colleagues. For thirty years subjective she had been hunting for clues as to what had happened, working in close proximity to the normally suspicious and private Blood Angels. They did not particularly trust her as an Inquisitor, but they believed that she had been blessed with a vision of their Primarch, so they were willing to get a little closer to her.

She had quickly learned not to pry too hard into their secrets, lest she trigger an ‘unfortunate’ response. Space Marines were prickly and prideful, especially a distinguished and ancient chapter like the Blood Angels.

Fortunately, once she learned not to stick her nose anywhere near where the Blood Angels didn’t want her looking, she managed to use her status as an Inquisitor and the sway of the Astartes to start up a network for tracking down the truly strange things that happened in the galaxy, trying to piece together the nature of what had happened. So far, things had not been going well.

Especially since that had brought Bella into contact with Inquisitor Mosegi.

A more exasperating man did not exist. While possessed of piety and loyalty that had seen him through three trials so far, two of them ending with execution for heresy of the Inquisitors who had charged him in the first place, Mosegi was infuriatingly unorthodox. Everywhere he went, he brought destruction and mayhem; just that such storms of turmoil tended to cause orders of magnitude more damage to the enemies of man than to the Imperium.

The arguments about what faction within the Inquisition he fit into were enough to drive one mad without having to actually meet the blasted man in person. The Purist factions all insisted he was a Radical, while the Radicals bickered over just what kind of Radical. And then he would wipe out a group of corrupt Radicals who looked like they would have common goals with him, only to turn about and expose a Puritan cell for heresy and treason, causing a new round of squabbling over what his goals and affiliations were. Of course, after meeting him just once the bickering of others about his affiliations was like a breath of fresh air after a year trapped on an ork infested space hulk though.

For one, the man was far too glib for an Inquisitor, often making light of the fact that he had more bionics than many senior members of the Adeptus Mechanicus due to his proclivity to get involved right in the middle of the battles and get injured do things that had caused him to be proclaimed a saint on one world. It hadn’t stuck due to the fact that he burned the men who had done it at the stake for unrelated heresies, but still…

Rumours abounded and had no doubt been fiercely blown out of proportion, but apparently a Tyranid hive fleet had once taken a hard right turn after discovering he was in their path. He always downplayed the achievements, although he had once claimed that he had managed to terrify the genestealers on a space hulk by stalking, hunting, and killing them one by one. He was probably exaggerating, but he also claimed that Necron gauss flayers ‘stung a bit’.

Then there were his compatriots. He had ties to the Raven Guard, the White Scars, Iron Hands, and the Salamanders, to which he probably had about a dozen or so bullshit stories attached. Somehow he also had a frakking convent of Adepta Sororitas attached to him, their sanctuary part of the warship he used as his personal transport. There were only about fifty sisters-in-arms, but come on! Despite these associations, he also towed around with him regiments composed of criminals, mutants, and abhumans. There were even rumours that he engaged in special selective breeding programs to stabilize the genomes of certain mutant lines to bring them up to the level of abhumans.

This brought up the final point that Bella found most infuriating about the bastard. She was sure that at least 1% of his associates were descended from him in some fashion, but prying into the sex life of a fellow Inquisitor without good cause was a sure-fire way to get shot by said Inquisitor while everyone else turned a blind eye, but…

Rumours of a member of His Imperial Majesty’s Inquisition getting a hundred Adepta Sororitas pregnant should not stand!

Then the doors to Bella’s office open and she felt a sudden migraine approach.

“Ah, Inquisitor Bella de Lancourt, how lovely to see you. How long has it been for you since we last meet? The tides of the Warp have not been so kind to me if I should make a guess,” Mosegi replied with a grin and a swagger to his step as he entered, an elderly yet still quite dangerous associate flanking him and looking a touch nervous at having surrendered her firearms to Bella’s guards.

Rubbing her temple, Bella said, “It has been twelve years since I last saw you Inquisitor.” She hoped that perhaps the extra emphasis on the world Inquisitor would attract the attention of the Emperor and remind him what a fool Mosegi was and perhaps impart some sense and dignity on the shameless man. Greater miracles had happened before.

Like the Ascension.

Raising an eyebrow, Mosegi said, “Has it been that long for you? Ah, perhaps I am merely feeling the age in my joints more now that I possess fewer of the originals… or their first or second replacements. But risking life and limb is merely something we must do in service of the Emperor, and I glad give my flesh unto Him.”

His aide rolled her eyes, and while Bella despised the elevated scum woman for her association with Mosegi, she pitied her more greatly for her association with Mosegi. The woman had apparently been trailing behind Mosegi for the greater part of two centuries, sure proof that the Emperor worked in strange and often cruel ways, and that the human spirit could endure anything.

A sudden impulse of morbid curiosity caused Bella to ask before she thought better of it, “What did you lose this time?”

“I honestly lose track myself. Riva, what was I in intensive care for most recently?” Mosegi asked his aide.

“Skin grafts and the replacement of your eyes with your forth set of bionics due to being hit with an orbital lance strike,” Riva filled in with a bored tone.

Bella felt a stab of pain through her head and she suddenly had the desire to charge the Eye of Terror. “An orbital lance strike? Seriously now!”

Snapping his metal fingers, Mosegi said, “Right! Now I remember why I didn’t remember. Yes, I was forced to call down an orbital bombardment on my own position due to being swarmed by foul denizens of Chaos. I obviously wasn’t hit by the beam directly, but the atmospheric effects had a rather adverse affect on my health. Fortunately the Emperor protects and I survived while the enemies of man did not.”

Rubbing her temples to try and banish the headache settling in on her skull, Bella asked, “Why are you here again?”

“Ah yes, to the matter at hand. You see, a few months back, for me in any case, I stumbled across something most unusual while liberating the deep space naval dock Port Tempestus. It and the ships and berth had been seized in a heretical uprising and handed over to the Ruinous Powers, but I lead a rapid response team in there before they could consolidate their hold on nearly half a sector’s fleet elements. My work was somewhat aided by the fact that the filthy xenos Eldar launched a simultaneous attack on the facility and got more tangled up with the forces of Chaos than with my own troops, although I vaguely suspect that they may have been trying to kill me in particular, as ever since that incident with that Eldrad creature those aliens really seem to hate me,” Mosegi mused for a moment.

Cutting him off before he could elaborate on one of his long and exaggerated tales of how he had pissed off an enemy of the Imperium or lost a piece of his body in an improbably huge explosion, Bella asked irately, “And what exactly made you come to me after?”

Suddenly turning deadly serious, Mosegi pulled out a data slate and passed it to Bella, saying, “This.”

Looking over the slate, Bella frowned almost immediately. There was a pict on the front that showed something that should not have been. There was a man who was quite clearly both a servant of the Blood God and a sorcerer, a contradiction that not even the wide variety of Chaos allowed.

“We called him a ‘Blood Magus’, it was the only thing that fit. His powers seemed to revolve around making his foes’ blood boil or transform into cutting whips or blades. There were stranger things though. For one, that sorcerer was attached to a separate force of Chaos. Not so strange for Chaos and their internecine fighting, but we don’t know where they came from. We suspect some form of teleport assault, but we’re not quite sure how. But it was their behaviour and technology that really caught us off guard. Bella, these monsters were good at what they did, atypically so. I saw berserkers take cover and use suppressive and covering fire. Not that they needed it much, but they demonstrated considerable discipline and other traits. Turn on the video part of the file and you’ll see why I came to you,” Mosegi explained.

Bella thumbed on the file, and her eyes soon grew wide with fear. It was a recording from a helmet camera and it showed a squad of Chaos soldiers, clearly aligned with the Blood God, attacking a well defended position with skill and discipline, leapfrogging between cover and making good use of grenades to keep the heads of their enemies down. They were taking ground until an enemy berserker Space Marine showed up. They showed no fear and began to fall back with equal discipline, but they were quickly on a rapid retreat as they were cut apart. Through all of this the man with the camera had been carefully taking pot shots at the more typical Chaos forces, not wanting to draw the attention of the mobile and more dangerous attackers.

Then in a crack of displaced air a new berserker showed up. A displacer field was a bit unusual a piece of technology for such a worshipper of Chaos to have, but not inconceivable. What was inconceivable was a Chaos Space Marine blocking a blow intended for a lowly mortal and then half dragging, half tossing a wounded ally out of danger before focusing upon the enemy.

“Chaos Space Marines don’t do that,” Bella whispered in disbelief.

“By the Emperor, the majority of loyal Astartes don’t do that,” Mosegi pointed out.

Then the fight turned insane as the new marine began to rapidly teleport and weightlessly flip about the more typical example, hacking his foe apart with precise but brutal strikes at weak points before delivering a decapitating strike. Claiming the head as a trophy, as was wont amongst worshippers of the Blood God, he then rallied his allies and assaulted the position.

The recording ended and Bella looked up at Mosegi.

“I most deal with heretics-” Mosegi began.

“And orks,” his aide butted in.

“-and orks,” Mosegi conceded before continuing, “But I had my xenotech seers look over it and they agreed that the warrior you saw was demonstrating abilities comparable to the Eldar Warp Spiders and Harlequins. That was not captured Eldar gear he was wearing, so that would mean it is either made by the Eldar for a Chaos warrior, or…”

“Dark Age tech,” Bella said with a shudder. It was a long running nightmare that Chaos might one day get their hands on the technology that had once allowed man to carve an empire in the stars before the Age of Strife, forcing back the orks and Eldar and other threats before succumbing to the mutant, witch, and daemon.

Mosegi nodded and said, “While filthy xenos witches, Eldar hatred for all things Chaos is perhaps their one redeeming quality, which is why I prefer to kill them last if the option is available to me. The ones attacking the station seemed to think so as well, for they too attacked these new comers… and the newcomers only defended themselves, seemingly loathing killing the Eldar.”

Mosegi then moved in close, his bionic eyes normally indistinguishable from regular human eyes from a distance now burning brightly in the repeatedly ruined sockets that housed them. “The attackers took one thing and one thing only. They stole a cruiser, a Chaos cruiser that had arrived to secure the base and the left none of their dead or wounded behind. They were beasts as befitting the fools that serve Chaos, but they were of the character of a more subtly blasphemous entity. The plots of Chaos are often obtuse and insane, but they follow certain patterns. This was and was not the work of Chaos.

“As what happened to you was and was not the work of Chaos. Why would they only snatch up the souls of Imperial servants and xenos, and only send one agent of their own? I could see a great sacrifice needed to resurrect Horus, but to send the agents of his demise along with him? I have fought heresy and damnation all my life, and neither your story nor mine has the flavour it should. Something is wrong here,” Mosegi hissed.

“This… this is very valuable,” Bella said. “But it brings me little closer to unravelling the true nature of the plots we have discovered.”

Mosegi pursed what was left of his lips for a moment before he said, “I am not a great believer in Divine Providence. I believe the Emperor has greater concerns that to intervene in the life of one man…”

Riva noticeably glanced up and down Mosegi’s ravaged frame and lightly rolled her eyes. While a touch blasphemous, Bella had to agree with the assessment. Mosegi had to lead a blessed life, and so far it didn’t seem likely he had made any pacts with the Dark Gods. Maybe one of the ork deities had become confused in a rather orky manner and was looking out for the psychotic bastard, but that seemed unlikely.

“…but neither do I believe in coincidence. Bouncing around back and forth in the Warp, one of our Astropaths picked up a weak message not intended for our ears. The Space Wolves know something. Something between their Primarch and the Primarch of the Blood Angels. They apparently went out of their way to capture a member of the Eldar alive for unknown purposes relating to a ‘Thirteenth Company’. Chaos, dead and Lost Primarchs, the Eldar… there is a conspiracy here, one with many players unaware of each other, and as an Inquisitor, I intend to unravel it,” Mosegi replied coldly.

Bella nodded and said, “That’s the first sane plan I’ve heard from you in quite a while.”

Mosegi affected an almost juvenile grin and tilt of his head before he replied, “I try.”
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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

Post by Academia Nut »

Chapter Sixty-nine: Innocence Proves Nothing

Well, the Judge was current scattered about in pieces and on fire, so that plan hadn’t exactly worked out very well and Spike was trying his damnedest to get out of the line of fire as the warehouse he had turned into his little lair was raked with gunfire. Now, normally vampires scoffed at gunfire, but that was when they were getting shot at with handguns firing 9mms or .45s, not an M2 machine gun firing .50 BMG rounds capable of decapitation or removing a vampire’s heart.

Of course there was also the mix of tracer rounds that caused any vampire hit by one to go up like a torch, one of the reasons why the Judge was currently burning. Bastard couldn’t be taken down by any forged weapon, but unfortunately people hadn’t been forging weapons for the past couple of centuries! The berk went down like a chump in the opening salvo when that dork who palled around with the Slayer had shown up with that gun and somehow managed to fire it from the hip while standing without getting knocked on his arse.

Well Spike had enough of this town if this was the way things escalated these days. He and Drusilla were getting out-

The impact that severed his spine did not actually hurt all that much as the nerves were completely severed by the bullet as it passed through him, shattering bone and blowing out a good chunk of his intestinal track as the large bullet expanded as it travelled through him.

Now face down on the concrete with his whole world falling apart around him, Spike muttered “Oh bugger.”

He then began to crawl.

Drusilla was screaming, screaming in her deranged way that, “This isn’t the way it’s supposed to go kitten!”

Cackling with the psychotic rush, Xander shouted out over the roar of the gun, “Cry some more bitch!” before he perforated the insane vampire, dusting her as one of the huge bullets took her head off above her jaw.

They, well Super Ninja Witch Willow, had infiltrated the Sunnydale Armoury and made off with an excellent collection of heavy weaponry. Now, attacking the vampire stronghold in the middle of the day, they had smashed in a window to let in plenty of light and then had begun the extermination.

The memories of the Imperium would not allow them to continue the way they were. When the forces of darkness there struck, and they struck on levels incomprehensible to the sensibilities of the Scoobies before Halloween, the Imperium did not go “Oh, score one for the bad guys” and let it be. No, they struck back. They got bigger guns, they raised armies, and they paid back butchery and brutality in kind.

When Angel’s transformation into Angelus had become apparent, Buffy had not wallowed in self pity or waffled on what needed to be done. No, she had finally given in to the part of her left behind by the Inquisitor, the part of her that said that it was not enough to fight the forces of darkness when she encountered them. No, she had to hunt them back to their holes and destroy them utterly in the process, root out the rot so that it could never again take hold.

When anything that wasn’t being shot up stopped moving, Xander begrudgingly released the trigger to the gun. Growling, he tried to get the images of the final fight with Horus out of his head, to resist the urge to jam his bolt pistol into a crack in the armour and pump round after round into the traitor.

Buffy smirked as silence settled and said, “Thus begins operation Dies Incendia.”

The Mayor sat in his chair and glowered down at his town, watching the smoke rise from the cemeteries, watching the Worst Case Scenario unfold. Amongst the intelligent members of the supernatural, there was an unspoken fear over the past hundred of what would happen if they humans ever finally got pissed off. They prey had fangs now, and anything that couldn’t shrug off nuclear weapons was vulnerable, and if it came down to it, the demons would horrifically lose a war of attrition unless they had extra dimensional reinforcements.

In short, unless one wanted to trigger an apocalypse, then a war with humanity would inevitably be lost. So far the humans who knew about the supernatural had kept their mouths shut partial because they felt they wouldn’t be believed, partially because they were afraid of pushing groups towards seeking the apocalypse option.

Unfortunately when it seemed that every other week some idiot was trying to cause an apocalypse anyway it made keeping trigger happy demon hunters in line. Everything had gone wrong since Halloween. Mayor Wilkins had back up plans to all of things that had been wrecked so far, but part of his deal had been to make Sunnydale a haven for demons and vampires. With every crypt and hiding hole in town having just received an arson make-over meeting his obligations was going to be a touch difficult now.

Catching those who had done it was going to be problematic as well. He suspected the Slayer and her friends, but they had been very careful to keep their activities off the streets. If he called in “official” outside help then he risked bringing in competent people who could potentially bust open this whole secret conflict and bring light of the things that go bump in the dark to those armed with tanks and napalm. And so far “unofficial” channels had been proving remarkably incapable of dealing with the Slayer, even before she had decided that she liked gasoline and bullets.

Of course, intentionally staffing the local police with the biggest idiots and sycophantic patsies he could find meant that he couldn’t rely on them. Oh well, he’d picked them, so he’d surrendered his right to complain about being surrounded by morons.

Oh, this was going to be troublesome indeed.

Giles arrived at the library to discover his students sitting with a map of Sunnydale in front of them, every cemetery and a few other places all circled in red, and several of them crossed out with red Xs. They did not have the soot smudges or the scent of smoke on their clothing, but the implications were quite clear.

Giles was silent for a moment before he stated, “You are responsible for the current panic in the streets from the string of arson?”

No one said a word, but it was confirmation enough.

Giles exploded. “Damn it! You can’t do this! Did you even think of the consequences?”

His uncharacteristic swearing caught the group off guard for a moment before Buffy coldly glared at Giles and replied, “Yes. Yes we did. We also considered the consequences of stealing from the US Army and the use of guns. We’re tired of playing defence, of letting the bad guys slink back to their lairs so they can lick their wounds, recover, and then kill more people.”

“And getting yourselves arrested is going to solve all of that?” Giles demanded furiously.

Slamming her hand down on the table with her full Slayer strength, causing the wood to splinter, Buffy retaliated, “Giles! You always wanted me to do more research, but did you think I wouldn’t notice all the stuff on the life expectancy of Slayers? I just turned seventeen Giles, and according to the records, I’m already living on borrow time! The Watchers treat the Slayers like weapons, so I’m going to give them a fucking weapon! I’m angry Giles, angry at this world that takes our hopes and dreams and smashes them on the fucking ground and grinds our hearts into the dirt.”

Xander then very quietly turned to Giles, his eyes sunken in to his skull and his face pale from the strain of the powers within his body. The two of them shared a look before Giles looked away in shame.

“Giles, I’m going to die. My body is burning up with what’s been put in it, and my mind is slowly breaking up under the strain. All I have is knowledge of war and fighting and the strength to back it up. All I can do is to die swinging, trying to keep this sort of thing from happening to others,” Xander said pleadingly.

Giles sunk down into a chair, despairing at what this world had done to these children, suddenly feeling so very old. But then again, they were all older still, weren’t they? They had decades, even centuries of memories crammed into their heads, lifetimes of war and brutality. They truly did look tired; tired of the fight and struggle, tired of letting evil happen and not having a good response.

Sighing, Giles said, “Okay, I can accept that we might need a change in tactics, but we need to go about this properly…”

Spitting up muck better left unconsidered, Spike managed to haul himself out of the reservoir around the Sunnydale waste treatment plant. He was still paralyzed below the waist and in terrible condition, but his head and heart were still intact, so if he could crawl into some shade before catching a tan, he would eventually be back in fighting trim.

While most vampires in Sunnydale used the sewers for movement, that was mostly the storm drain system and other large, spacious, mobile pipes that had a minimum of waste in them. Spike on the other hand had decided to make sure that his lair had other means of escape. Hauling himself out of that hellish battlefield and into a running sewer had taken everything in him, but at least he wasn’t dust like everyone else.

Still, he would avoid the exact details of his escape in any theoretical memoirs he might write. No need for the full details to be known by the next generation of blood suckers.

Well… he’d seen Dru go down -damn the Slayer and her friends!- but he’d lost track of the hair gel ponce who had brought all of that down on them. He hoped the bastard was dust in the wind along with everyone else now.

Damn Slayer! She and her friends had been acting weird for months now, but this was a bit much!

Crawling along hand over hand into a nice bit of shelter in the form of an unlocked storage shed, Spike collapsed and relaxed, letting his undead flesh begin the glacially slow process of regenerating the massive amount of damage he had suffered while his mind began the process of thinking about how he was going to get his revenge for this.

This was going to take a special amount of effort to get just right.

Oz sat quietly beneath the light of the moon. It would be full in two days and for some strange reason over the past few days he had been feeling a strange magnetic pull to the celestial body. He idly scratched at the bandages that swathed the mark where his cousin had bit him. Crazy kid, his parents really should have learned to control him better.

Perhaps because of his more nocturnal activities he had taken up recently, he found that he could not get to sleep this night, despite the fact that they had nothing scheduled for the evening. No, he felt a sort of electric tingle in the air. Pacing back and forth, he eventually just quietly slipped out of the house, drawn by something he could not comprehend.

There was definitely something in the air, for he could hear the barking of dogs all over the town as they were agitated by the coming of something that tickled at their canine sensibilities. Something within Oz made him want to scream at the near full moon, to howl along with the symphony of voices.

Before he knew it, Oz was rushing along, headed for the woods outside town, his body hunched over and his arms twitching almost as if he wanted to run along on all fours. Soon a trickle of creatures joined him. First it was just stray and escaped dogs, but soon other creatures like coyotes had joined in. There were dozens of canids all around Oz, and he growled at them, telling them to stay in line.

A part of Oz felt the same as he had during Halloween, trapped within his own body while something else took him over, but another part felt wild and free, running with a pack.

His senses alight in ways he had never before experienced Oz bayed triumphantly as the pack arrived at a large cave in the middle of the wooded region around Sunnydale. He could smell all the animals around him, picking out each individual scent marking each member. They howled and yipped in frantic excitation. Drool dribbling down his face, Oz snapped at them all, calling for quiet as a high pitched hum he had barely been aware of hearing began to become unbearable.

Eyes alight with fire, he watched as strange, static charged mist began to leak from the mouth of the cave. For several tense moments nothing happened, but then sparks were seen dancing across the floor of the interior. Padding out carefully, iron hard claws scraping away rock in sprays of orange fire, Freki emerged into view.

The size of a rhino, the ancient Fenrisian Wolf had lived for millennia, hardened by constant battle and exposure to the Warp. His hide bullet-proof and his jaws capable of crushing a man in full power armour, he could take on a main battle tank and have a good chance of winning.

All those who had gathered prostrated themselves before the titanic wolf even as the enormous creature sat down next to the entrance, a sentinel waiting for his master while his brother Geri emerged and flanked the opposite side.

For a span of heartbeats all was still and then he arrived. Over ten feet tall, the giant known as Leman Russ, Primarch of the Space Wolves, set foot on a Earth, if not his Earth, for the first time in ten thousand years. While he did not possess the flashier abilities, he was a massively powerful psychic to match his peerless skill at arms. He had lost his original equipment so long ago, but the powered armour that could assist him no longer existed, and in his hands and with his mind even a rock would be a deadly weapon capable of sundering any armour, while bolter rounds would shatter against his skin. But he did not wield a rock but a giant two handed sword that appeared to have been originally designed as a helicopter blade.

Inhaling deeply, Leman Russ looked down over the congregation that had assembled for his arrival, drawn by the massive psychic disturbance he had created blazing a trail to this point. Quirking an eyebrow upward, he considered Oz and asked, “And what are you doing here?”


I'm going to admit, I'm not particularly digging this chapter, but I needed to touch on it for plot purposes.
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You know, if Christian dogma included a ten-foot tall Jesus walking around in battle armor and smashing retarded cultists with a gaint mace, I might just convert - Noble Ire on Jesus smashing Scientologists
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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

Post by Academia Nut »

I chose to show what New Chaos did with their captured cruiser.


Chapter Seventy: Tall Tales

Outside the city bustled like a kicked over insect nest as people tried to go about their lives while ignoring the looming threat of war, but inside it was quiet and dark, the low lighting obscured by smoke from various burning narcotics. While it had a reputation for being a bit of a rough place that attracted the rowdy military boys on shore leave, it was actually a more sedate place where the less rambunctious NCOs and officers would go to forget about rank for a few hours without indulging in the wilder behaviour of their subordinates.

The place was an archetype, a pattern repeated subconsciously countless billions of times throughout the galaxy and, unbeknownst to even the more savvy travellers, across the greater cosmos as a whole. And central to this archetype was that one table, the place that was invitation only, and even an invite wouldn’t guarantee your stay, as the price of a seat was a story.

With thoughts turned to the morbid with the war raging on other worlds and in the void between the stars, somehow the subject of ghost stories had come up. Those gathered around the table had already progressed through the basic ones, of things seen in the shadows of hyperspace, of messages received from dead wingmen warning of impending doom, and other common tales.

Then, the musician, a comely young woman in the shadowy background seemed to pick up on the mood and shifted into something a touch stranger and more haunting. This caused one of the men at the table to put down his glass with an audible thump. Everyone looked at him and he said, “Now I have a tale for you.”

Human or near human, he had the broad, ever so slightly out of shape look that suggested a desk job but the hungry, ambitious glint of the eye that suggested that he was not the sort of man to be trifled with. In all likelihood he was an executive or commanding officer on a ship.

Running a finger around the edge of his glass, he said, “Now this happened… oh… I’d say about ten years ago. Back when we were still fighting the Imps, although by that stage things had mostly ground down to skirmishes and cleaning up the warlords and pirates. It was the latter that we were out to find, although they were really more of a minor criminal syndicate than ‘just’ pirates.”

Pausing for a second to take a sip of his drink, the man continued and said, “So for a couple of months the task group I’m part of has been tracking these pirates, driving them off of shipping when we can and slowly gathering up information. Finally, we’ve got enough that we think we can lay a trap for the bastards. So we’re lying in wait, half the task force escorting a group of freighters ‘loaded’ with expensive, military grade hyperdrive motivators, the sort of thing your average pirate in a rust bucket death trap would typically salivate over. The other half of us are hiding in the shadow of a gas giant, using its moons and magnetic field to screen us while stealth relays fed us information. Once the pirates attacked we were going to boost of out the grav well and make a quick jump to hand with both feet on them.”

“I’ve heard this one before,” one of the other members of the table said with a smirk.

“Shut up, and no you haven’t,” the storyteller replied. “This doesn’t one involve the pirates springing the trap on us only for something to intervene, no, this one gets weirder. Technically this story was classified for two years after the incident while the spooks worked on figuring out what happened.”

Pausing to collect his thoughts again, the man continued, “Anyway, we’re sitting there when you can see the comm. officer starting to get a little freaked out by something. Eventually he told the CO that he has picking up an anomalous transmission. Now, our CO, he was this leathery Calamari bastard, hardest fish this side of old Ackbar. So he takes a quick listen in on what’s freaking out our comm. boy and I swear to the Force he goes whiter than Hoth.”

One of the female members of the table, a Twi’lek commando, asked, “Is this…?”

“Yeah, this is about Killfrenzy,” the storyteller said with a nod, causing a small collection of whispers amongst the table before dying down to let the man finish.

“Now, I don’t know what you’ve all heard or not heard, but I was there, on the bridge when this happened. Something was broadcasting… I don’t know if they ever figured out how they were doing it, but somehow they used an entire gas giant as an antenna, broadcasting all over the system. I even heard the broadcast,” the man then paused to shudder and take a drink.

“I know who has heard that signal and who’s just heard the stories. The Killfrenzy broadcasts, they’re not some guy speaking or even a chant. No, those broadcasts are a song, a religious hymn out of the darkest recesses of time. Yeah, there is a voice that is saying ‘Kill frenzy’ over and over again, the words blended into one long madness mantra, but there’s more. The voice chanting it is guttural and oddly accented, like it doesn’t know Basic and just memorized those two words. And in the background there’s a… ‘doom choir’ I suppose you could call it, adding in strange lyrics in an unknown language and random bursts of psychotic, high pitched cackling, almost like children literally laughing to death. If you listen to it for more than a few seconds you start to feel your skin crawl,” the man said before shuddering once more in revulsion and finishing off his drink.

His audience now listening raptly, he said, “So we’ve got this radio signal coming from all around us chanting this psychotic message and we figure it’s some sort of trap so we bug out of there as quickly as we can. We never even see the pirates, and we suspect later that they got the kriff out of there when they heard that broadcast too.”

“Good story,” one of the members of the table said, before the storyteller held up a hand.

“I’m not done,” the man replied, earning raised eyebrows.

“Now, most of the Killfrenzy stories would end here, but a week later and we haven’t heard a peep from the pirates. Eventually one of our agents reports that their smaller bases have lost contact with their main base. So we take the whole task group out to that location, half expecting an ambush, only we find nothing. There’s a hollowed out asteroid that obviously used to be a base, but there’s nothing left there now. Nothing. Long range sensors track an object moving into the shadow of a desolate planet, and we only got a fuzzy blob of a signal off it before it vanished in a weird burst of energy. We didn’t even get a hyperspace tracking off of it, it just disappeared. We did however get a radio signal still bouncing around the system, this quiet, plaintive whistling song of a transmission. I think Killfrenzy found somewhere to satiate its urges,” the man explained.

The Twi’lek from before then spoke up slightly and said, “Uh… I actually might have a continuation of your story. This happened about… three or four years ago. We found a wreck in deep space. It was a wreck of a pirate up-gunned medium freighter floating in the debris cloud above the elliptic of a Mid Rim star system. No bodies, although it had been exposed to vacuum so some of the bloodstains were preserved. Really freaky boarding it though. When boarding abandoned ships, you get a feeling for which ones are going to be bad, and that one was the worst sort of feeling.”

Those gathered around the table all nodded knowingly. The best sorts of soldiers, and those were the ones with stories to tell, all had a set of instincts that told them when a mission didn’t feel right, when something was about to go wrong.

“We were all tense going in there. If we had a Jedi assigned to us I’m sure he would have been yammering on about the Dark Side, but I would have been agreeing whole heartedly. Something evil happened in that place. As I said, we found some bloodstains, but they were mostly just rust coloured patches here and there. Then again, there must have been a major massacre in there to even get that much blood to stay in those conditions. I hate to think what it might have looked like when it was still new,” she explained.

Pausing to remember the details more clearly, she then said, “I any case, we eventually reach the bridge and try to power the wreck up. No good there though, not because its power systems are busted up, but because the fuel tanks were empty. Nothing particularly strange there, but by this point everything was making us jumpy. So we get portable generators hooked up and start poking around.

“Ten minutes in, we’re all more stressed than matter at the heart of a neutron star, and our slicer just loses it. Poor bastard does a triple take before he just sort of curls up. It turns out the chronometer logs stopped recording some time about a thousand years from now when the last of the fuel decayed away in the tanks. Radio-isotope data pegged the ship as being older than the Great Sith War, while the ship’s design is from the Clone Wars. Now, we’ve found ships abandoned since the Great Hyperspace War in the lightless parts of space far from stars, and we’ve found ships displaced in time due to faulty relativistic shielding, but never anything that looks like it went back in time,” the Twi’lek woman explained.

“Now, the brass declared that it was just a malfunctioning wreck, but we were drawn to the area in the first place and we deployed actual boarder teams first instead of a salvage team because we detected a strange radio transmission from that area and then picked up the metal of the hull. We assumed it was a trap, but… nothing… just a weird, time lost, impossible ship,” the Twi’lek explained, twitching her lekku in agitation at the memories.

Finally a rough looking human male with the sort of scarring that implied seeing recent ground action against the Yuuzhan Vong said, “I’ve got you all beat. I saw the Killfrenzy.”

This raised a number of eyebrows before he smirked and took a pull from his beer. Running his tongue over his teeth a few times, he leaned back in his chair, ran a finger over a particularly nasty acid mark on his face and said, “This happened shortly before I picked up this little beauty, which I am actually here to get removed. Now, my task force was assigned to hunting down the Vong's kriffing slaver ships when we find a destroyer analog just drifting in space, the ship ‘alive’ but the crew apparently no longer at the helm.

“So we slip in close with a boarding ship and send in the marines. Full vacuum armour, power assist, big guns: essentially the full Vong killing kit that most ground pounders really wish they had access to all the time. Now we get in there, and it’s like something out of a bad horror vid. Considering that Vong ships are normally like that, that’s saying something. Everything’s dead inside. If it was wearing armour, there’s no head. If it wasn’t wearing armour it’s been hacked to pieces. There’s no sign of who did it, but the slave pens are all empty and there’s some weird symbols painted on the walls in the blood of the dead,” the man, who those at the table now suspected was a marine, explained.

“So we’re getting ready to haul this thing off for the R&D boys to take a look at when we pick up this radio transmission. I didn’t hear it myself, but the rumours all said it was the Killfrenzy song. We also notice an anomalous gravity distortion, sort of like what a coralskipper might produce, but much weaker, and its travelling away from the general vicinity of the transmission. So one group goes off to find the source of the gravity distortion and the bigger group looks for where the radio transmission is coming from. I’m in the latter group. We see it, hiding behind the horizon of an uninhabited ice world, bouncing its signal off the ionosphere,” the man explained.

Taking a deep breathe, he detailed further, “It was big. As in twice the size of an Imp Star big, but it looked primitive too, like someone had taken some ancient stone cathedral and launched it into space. I suppose like that big flying castle thing the Hapans have, only less elegant and more evil looking. It’s studded with guns, and it’s just hanging there, screaming out its chant when it starts boosting out of orbit. Slow and ugly, but we don’t want to get close to it. While we’re trailing it, trying to sort out all the things stuck on its hull, it disappears in a flash of weird light and strange sensor readings. It didn’t jump to lightspeed, but it definitely didn’t cloak either. And when it disappeared in that strange light, everyone who was looking at it felt a chill down their spine. It was never classified, the spooks have other things to worry about, but I don’t think that ship is on our side.”

There was a consensus of nods and then, no one thinking that they could top that story, they slowly began to disperse for the night.

Once everyone was gone, the musician quietly packed up her instrument and walked into the back. She took a few moments to take off her make-up before she opened her locker in the empty back room.

With a loud thump the body of a Yuuzhan Vong spy fell out of the locker, her body folded in half hours earlier, her ooglith masquer neatly set on top of her corpse, the features on the organic infiltration suit identical to the musician now obliviously packing up her things.

A few minutes later an old man who went by the moniker Marti left the locker room, whistling a slow, plaintive song in an alien language.

“Gott weiss ich will kein Engel sein.”


A few things
1) The cruiser isn't the actual Killfrenzy from canon 40k, new Chaos just stole the idea
2) The primary Killfrenzy song isn't Engel, but the secondary one after its killed something is
3) Thus begins the new arc
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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

Post by Academia Nut »

Some knowledge of the characters and events of Star by Star in the NJO will probably be needed to get the full appreciation of this chapter.

Chapter Seventy-one: Ghosts

The Yuuzhan Vong understood ritual sacrifice, hatred, pain, and destruction for the sake of destruction. They did not however understand Chaos. They did not understand the way Chaos would curl up and sit patiently in the shadows, letting fear and confusion seep into the world around them, how they appreciated the subtle gradations of terror.

Thus they did not truly appreciate the significance of the campaign being waged against them. Every forty-seven hours one of their logistical ships would suffer annihilation. Troop ships would abruptly become fireballs, slaughtering thousands of warriors in an instant. Supply ships had their cargoes mysteriously poisoned despite encountering nothing along the way and their manifests triple checked before leaving. And slave ships were turned into ghost ships, their crews slaughtered and universally decapitated while the slaves had mysteriously vanished.

The attacks were really just pinpricks in the overall war effort, but it was the randomness to it all that was driving the Yuuzhan Vong insane. Their ships just died on a precisely regimented schedule, but there was no rhyme or reason as to why any particular ship was targeted.

That they had foes that were doing it for the simple reason of causing fear in their ranks never entered into their conscious minds. Oh, they never realized it in particular, but their behaviour started to change. They started protecting their ships more, moving them into convoy systems, and as forty-seventh hour arrived they would make sure they didn’t have any logistics ships in open space.

This behavioural change was devastating in comparison to the losses they would have sustained if they just let the attacks go unchallenged. While the shifting of forces was not a critical reallocation of resources, it did ever so slightly take away their initiative. Operations were delayed, hurting the overall tempo of the invasion. So long as the Yuuzhan Vong could maintain an aggressive front they could secure victory, but once they started to go defensive they put their whole operation more and more at risk of crumbling.

And of course, it made them more susceptible to other tactics.

Maria flowed through the ranks of the Yuuzhan Vong, a deadly, unseen particulate of poison in their midst, floating between identities, whispering of ghosts into the ears of those who would listen before shucking her identity like a serpent shedding its skin, her Angel Cutter careful concealed but always close at hand if she needed to dispose of anyone.

Already more than a few members of the Yuuzhan Vong had gone into recycling chambers, broken down and digested by their organic technology, the only clue as to what happened being that they had gone missing. So far only Shamed Ones and a few low level Intendants had disappeared in such a way, but Maria was now aboard a matalok warship, posing as an Intendant and whispering heretical things into the ear of the commanding officer.

“The still time again, commander?” Maria asked in her guise as the male Executor Von Fath, referencing the recent shifts in unit deployment that attempted to counter the strange attacks on the logistical arm of the fleet.

Growling in frustration at the unfairness of the universe, Commander Krag Paasar complained, “It does not sit well with me to sit here, waiting for a cowardly enemy to attack.”

“Perhaps then my efforts to find this enemy will, humble as they are, please you, commander?” Maria asked sycophantically, a lipless grin on her altered face.

“And what have you discovered, executor?” Krag inquired in an annoyed tone.

“From the infidels of the Promised Land who have embraced the True Way, I have learned of a peculiar set of stories told in this place, of a strange ship that appears and disappears without warning, transmitting a message using primitive means. Most think it a ghost ship, a legend, but there is some evidence to suggest it may be some form of pirate vessel. Its name can be roughly translated from their language into something along the lines of Killfrenzy,” Maria explained.

This got Krag’s attention and he asked, “And why do they call it this name?”

Seeing that she had a hook in him, Maria replied, “Apparently its only broadcast is the phrase ‘kill frenzy’, in their debased tongue of course, on an infinite loop. From the tales, it seems to use some unknown form of darkspace drive to sneak up on prey before pouncing.”

Krag seemed somewhat thoughtful before he asked, “And you think this might be linked to the craven attacks on our ships and warriors?”

“It seems entirely possible. While an actual ‘ghost ship’ seems far fetched, a theatrical pirate with access to a few tricks might explain the rumours, and if such an infidel has turned attention upon our holy task…” Maria let the idea hang, for Krag to fill in his own conclusions.

“Good work, although these stories seem to lead us no further in actually discovering how we might stop them,” Krag replied, now mulling over the concepts presented.

“Well… there is one story I heard,” Maria said, now going into territory that had not previously part of the rumours.

Krag raised a tattooed eyebrow, and gestured for the executor to continue.

“Amongst the infidels there is a fear in mentioning the name Killfrenzy, at least on transmissions into the void where it might hear them. Now, if this truly were a pirate possessing some tricks, then perhaps this was born out of some corrupted form of the infidel’s feeble honour, and the captain sees it as a challenge if he hears the name of his ship mentioned, thus perpetuating the legend,” Maria explained.

“Hmmm… interesting. Are you perhaps thinking that we bait a trap?” Krag asked.

“I am merely presenting what I have learned. It may very well be false, it is after all based on the rumours and delusions of infidels, but I have discovered no other fruitful lines of inquiry,” Maria stated self-effacingly.

“No, no, you have done well executor. This gives me something to work with, something to at least try. Give me a list of places where we have suffered such attacks, and we will at least eliminate this possibility,” Krag said.

He was such that perfect blend of ambitious and intelligent while still being blindly fanatically to manipulate like a puppet, hence one of the reasons why Maria had infiltrated into his ranks after learning of his reputation for glory seeking cunning. No doubt if this were successful Krag would hog all the credit, while if a failure he would try and shift all the blame onto poor Von Fath.

Hours later, Maria sat in Von Fath’s quarters, surrounded on all sides by the grotesque organic systems, while she sat, waiting for contact.

A presence tickled at the edge of her senses, a terrible voice that whispered There is not much time left, what have you to tell us?

We’re moving to Plan B. Security is too tight; we must make them bring me to them.

Give me the coordinates, I will pass them along.

Make this ship a ghost. I grow tired of its presence.

The matalok biot floated through space, lit by the dim illumination of a red dwarf star, the shadows of stellar debris occasionally eclipsing the weak sun. This was the region of highest attacks, a secluded region filled with carbonaceous asteroids and nitrate carrying comets, perfect for picking up raw materials for the Yuuzhan Vong fleet. If someone didn’t keep poisoning the supply ships.

Krag had his ship out here, and had ordered a broadcast calling out the Killfrenzy.

“Do you think anything will come of this commander?” Maria asked.

“Depends if anyone is listening,” Krag replied with a smirk. “I do believe that if anyone is listening then we should get a reaction.”

Smirking, Maria asked, “What if that reaction is a teleport assault with thirty genetically engineered humans in massive technological armour wielding insanely overpowered weapons?”

Krag turned to rebuke his subordinate, only to discover that Von Fath had been replaced by a human female in a tight black body suit and she had a sword plunging through his upper chest. Drawing it cleanly out as his legs collapsed beneath him, his spinal column, and only his spinal column severed, leaving him a quadriplegic.

Casually bending out of the way of an amphistaff strike, Maria beheaded a surprised warrior as her Angel Cutter phased harmlessly through his living weapon and his armour, before snatching a thud bug out of the air and whipping it back at the warrior who had thrown it in the first place, catching the shocked male in the face.

It was at that point the Reavers showed up, teleported into the matalok using Maria’s distinctive psychic signature in this universe as their targeting position.

“BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD! SKULLS FOR THE SKULL THRONE!” The leader roared before bringing his roaring chain axe down on a stunned warrior connected to the ship via a cognition hood, splattering blood everywhere.

Another Reaver spat in the face of a warrior, blinding the man as the acidic saliva ate away at his face, before he was kneed in the chest far enough to implode his rib cage. Bolter rounds impacted vonduun crab armour, revealing that while the energy field could stop the energy of the rounds, it did not do so well at stopping the momentum transfer of a .75 calibre high explosive round impacting and then detonating on the surface. While the living armour absorbed much of the shockwave, this also meant that all of the delicate internal structures required for life were pulped, killing the organism and destroying the protective qualities.

Considering that the Reavers tended to double tap with their bolt pistols, this was a very bad thing.

Sitting down on Krag’s chest, Maria idly considered her sword while she said, “I really must apologize for this, but we’re on a bit of a tight schedule here and the death of you and all your crew was really the most expedient way of achieving our goals. Oh wait… no, actually, I’m not very sorry at all.”

Trying to spit up at Maria, Krag got a backhand that nearly dislocated his jaw for his trouble, a quiet demonstration of the unseen enhancements that had gone into Maria’s body.

“I know about the thing in your tongue, so don’t even try it. Now, while it’s not recommended, I do have you crippled and at my mercy, with more of my allies appearing every moment to perpetuate the slaughter of your crew, so I do believe I will indulge in a little villainous exposition. Just to taunt you in the last moments of your life, because I really don’t like your species. If you think I’m and affront to your gods, you wouldn’t believe how much you bastards piss off my gods. I mean, sacrificing civilians? That’s just being an ass right there,” Maria said disapprovingly. She then smiled as the engineering team started to teleport aboard.

“Hey guys, could you come over here and introduce yourselves to the commanding officer of the ship we’re about to hijack?” Maria asked, leading to the heavily augmented technicians and engineers to come over and show off their cybernetics, waving a little before he went to work.

“Blasphemies! Abominations!” Krag cried out in futile fury.

“Now, now, we prefer the term ‘unholy monstrosities from beyond the void between the stars’,” Maria said chidingly. “For you see, we’re actually less native to this place than you are. And we have plans. You think your Yun-Harla is tricky? You think your Yun-Yammka is bloodthirsty? Oh man, you haven’t seen anything yet.”

A bag of heads taken as trophies now slung over his shoulder, the sergeant of the Reavers approached and said, “We have the majority of the ship under our control now ma’am. It will probably take another hour or two to finish the full purge, but there should be no further interference.”

Smiling pleasantly, Maria dipped her Angel Cutter into Krag’s throat and kept it phased out while she loomed in over him. She then said, “We’re the nightmares you have while in darkspace, we are the ghosts in the void, and we’re out to add another member to our number. But you are in the way.”

With the barest flick of her wrist Maria severed the primary artery in Krag’s throat, and nothing else, and leered over him while the light faded from his eyes as he bled out internally.

The unexpected arrival of a matalok outside of its patrol sector above Myrkr put the high security around the Baanu Rass on extra alert, especially with the recent incursion of a Jedi strike team, but as the ship floated aimlessly, the decision was made to quickly send a scout to see what had happened before they made any decisions on trying to salvage it or destroy it.

The warriors swept the ship and discovered nothing but dismembered and decapitated bodies. It was in fact a very quick, routine sweep of the ship as they met no resistance, and the only anomaly was one of the warriors going out of sight of his brothers for a minute before showing up again.

By the time his body was discovered, his aorta cut internally with no other damage on his body, it was already several days after the excitement had ended.

Darkness surrounded him; metaphorical and physical, whispers in his mind try to lure him down shadowed paths as he drifted in and out of consciousness. He saw strange things through blurred, water eyes that refused to focus. He heard alien tongues pronouncing unknown syllables all around him. And he felt the darkness trying to worm its way inside him, poking and prodding at his wounds. He fought back when he could, but he could only intermittently summon the energy to achieve a half conscious state, and then only barely, so fighting back the intrusions upon his body and mind were near impossible.

Finally he awoke to behold a creature that blazed with the Dark Side quite literally as the Force wrapped around her head to produce unnatural flames. Smiling, she said in a multitude of voices, “Hello young one, you were quite difficult to acquire, and even harder to bring back from the precipice.”

He blinked a few times, trying to make sure he wasn’t dreaming while also trying to stop the world from spinning her so slightly. It was at this point that he discovered that he was quite securely restrained.

The restraints are to keep you from picking at your wounds. Organ worms are most effective when not disturbed,” the abomination in the Force explained.

He looked down, and had he the state of mind to scream, he would have. His entire torso was open and exposed, his organs on full display and now the home to squirming carrion maggots as long as his forearms and as thick as his small intestines, which several of them were merrily playing in. Aside from the grotesqueness of these things crawling about on his insides, there was also the fact that they radiated the Dark Side just as strongly as the burning woman before him.

Sophie, adjust his dosage before he goes into shock,” the woman ordered to someone he could not see.

“We can remove most of the worms now. They have already healed the majority of the damage and his body seems to resist their presence quite vehemently. He is likely to endure better without them,” a soft, female voice suggested phlegmatically to his left.

Do it,” the woman ordered before she added on, “I still want his dosage altered. We don’t have the time to try this again elsewhere if he dies on us.”

“Yes ma’am,” an alluring female voice replied to his right, and he suddenly discovered that he suddenly didn’t care that his organs were on full display.

Or what came into view.

She was a small, thin looking albino woman, her skin tinted ever so slightly green by the monumental decay that she contained. She was like a black dwarf in the Force, a collapsed ball of the Dark Side with a cacophony of voices trapped within. She then began to pull the worms out of him, tenderly letting them bite down on her bear flesh, attaching them to herself in a sick parody of a mother nursing a child.

Now, while we do have the capacity to break down your mental resistance to reading our brochures like really annoying door to door evangelicals, we don’t particularly have time for that so you’re going to be a ghost for us, wandering a land of ghosts, looking for the land of the living once more. And you will seek the land of the living,” the burning woman explained.

The seductive voice to his left then stuck her head into view, revealing a familiar face framed by long blonde hair but with an alien presence about her that indicated that she was an impostor. She said in the voice she had stolen, “Because we know what you have waiting for you in the land of the living.”

Everything faded to black.

Motion. Jostling. There were explosions all around, of people running and shouting.

“Anakin, quickly, get in the transport!”

His eyes fluttered open once more to discover that the realm of darkness had vanished and that his insides where no longer on his outside. He did however appear to be upside down now and staring at someone’s back. In fact, he appeared to be slung over someone’s shoulder in a carry while his bearer was running and a significant speed.


“Wha…” He muttered groggily, responding to his name.

Then with a feeling of weightlessness his carrier took to the air for a moment before there was a thud of leather boots impacting heavily on a metal floor, before a brash voice announced, “Sorry Obi-wan, I couldn’t leave this guy behind.”


I may end up redoing large chunks of this chapter, but this is the general direction I want to take the plot, so it will do for now.
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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

Post by Academia Nut »

Chapter Seventy-two: Land of the Dead

While he wore one of his customary frowns as they rode in the LAAT, Obi-wan could not particularly fault Anakin for saving a life, although something was off about the young man his student and friend had brought aboard, something strange about how he felt through the Force. It was almost as if the Force became tangled about the young man.

“And what stray did you pick up this time Anakin?” Obi-wan asked as Anakin looked over the young man, the clone medic assisting him.

“I’m not sure. As we were pulling out I felt something in the Force call out to me, and I found him in some rubble and…” Anakin then trailed off as his eyes went wide at seeing the damage done to the young man’s body beneath the rags he had been wearing. His entire torso was covered in ragged Vs of scar tissue, almost as if someone had opened him up as invasively as possible to look at all of his organs simultaneously.

“I’ve seen worse, but that’s impressive,” Obi-wan noted impassively as he took in the extent of the damage. It did seem that the poor young man had at least been mostly healed from whatever had happened to him.

Scanning over the young man with both the Force and medical equipment, Anakin confirmed Obi-wan’s suspicions, “His body is overloaded on endorphins and pharmaceutical decay products, and it looks like his spleen has recently been regenerated, but I think he’ll be all right with some rest and a meal.”

Anakin then paused for a moment and said, “And I think he’s a Jedi.”

Obi-wan raised an eyebrow at that and asked, “And what makes you think that?”

“He’s very strong in the Force. There’s something not quite right about him, but I don’t think there’s anything actually wrong either. He’s definitely not part of the Dark Side. He’s certainly powerful enough to be a Jedi. Plus his hands have the distinctive calluses of someone who uses a lightsabre,” Anakin pointed out, showing off patterns of wear and tear on the palms characteristic of extended lightsabre use.

“Uncharacteristically observant of you Anakin,” Obi-wan teased.

Smiling, Anakin replied, “Well we can’t all be old men with failing eyesight.”

Shaking his head wryly, Obi-wan just smiled before he shifted his attention back to the young man and said, “Well that might be, but I know of no Jedi assigned here that would match this young man’s description.”

“Maybe he was captured by the Confederacy and escaped?” Anakin suggested.

“Maybe,” Obi-wan conceded. “But it seems unlikely.”

Their LAAT flying up into the launch bay of a hovering Acclamator and settling down, Obi-wan shrugged and said, “We will just have to see what he has to say when he wakes up. Men, get him to the sick bay.”

“Right away General Kenobi,” one of the clones said while another two got out a portable stretcher.

When you’re lying in your sleep, when you’re lying in your bed

He awoke with a start, his whole body seizing up in fear from a dream of monsters dancing about him while playing upon dread flutes, piping out songs of madness, trying to lure him into darkness, offering him powers and pleasures beyond the knowing of mortal minds. They were chameleons, changing their skins to the pleasing forms of friends and family, tempting him with visions of what might come.

He refused and they praised him for it while redoubling their efforts.

And now, here he lay, in an unknown infirmary somewhere, strapped down to a bed, monitors and machines softly beeping and hissing around him, with a massive headache and a feeling of colossal dread in his heart.

Slowly inhaling, he tried to centre himself in the Force, only to discover that everything felt wrong. The Dark Side cloaked everything like a palpable presence, trying to prevent him from achieving full peace with the Force. But after the encounter with those beasts of the Dark Side and…

“I should be dead,” he whispered, remembering those last few moments fighting the Yuuzhan Vong with crystal clarity. He had become One with the Force, energy flowing through him and giving him the strength to continue to fight despite the fact that his body had taken enormous amounts of damage from weapons and venom. More than enough to have killed him.

But they had saved him, had rebuilt his body with their foul methods, all for some plot he could not understand. He did not know who or what they were, just that they delighted in wild excesses and perversity, and that they had some bizarre interest in him.

His thoughts were interrupted by an unfamiliar yet paternal voice announcing, “Well you very well would have been if not for my student. I do apologize for the restraints, standard procedure with unknowns. Especially unknown Force users.”

Looking up, he found a middle aged man with short brown hair and a full, if neatly kept, beard standing next to his bed, smiling wryly down at him with a wise, fatherly sort of look. Somehow, despite never really seeing him before, he knew the name of the man before him.

It was Obi-wan Kenobi, a man who had been dead for over a quarter of a century.

Anakin Solo looked agape at this man, far younger than the tales spun by his uncle implied, standing over him, bigger than life. The first impulse than came to his mind was to blurt something out, to warn of the actions of his namesake, of Palpatine, but something instinctively slammed his jaw shut. Perhaps it was the Force, still interacting strongly with him after his brush with Oneness, or perhaps it was just his own subconscious telling his conscious that it would be a bad idea, but either way, he held his tongue.

You’re going to be a ghost for us, wandering in a land of ghosts.

Anakin had no idea if this was real or illusion, reality or unreality, but for the moment he would treat this pragmatically as if it were real, that he was in fact somewhere back in time, which presented him with a bit of a quandary. The first was whether or not he could change anything or not, or if history was set in stone. The other was that if he could, whether he should. On the one hand he had the lives of countless trillions in the Galactic Civil War and the Yuuzhan Vong invasion, and on the other he had his own existence owing to the events of the Civil War, and while as a Jedi he had no problem with sacrificing his life for the good of so many, the ontological paradox implied by erasing himself from history hurt the head to think about. Especially if the universe’s solution was to destroy the affected part of itself to undo the damage, in which case Anakin would kill more people than the wars had.

So Anakin decided to play by the most dangerous rules he could think up: he could change the past but paradoxes would have lethal results. Fortunately small changes didn’t seem to affect the tide of things as his mere presence hadn’t erased the galaxy from existence yet.

So he would keep his mouth shut and try to learn more about what was going on before he tried to stop his grandfather from falling to the Dark Side.

Now frowning slight at Anakin’s silence, Obi-wan asked, “You looked like you were going to say something before.”

“I uh… I didn’t know what to say when I first saw you,” Anakin admitted.

“Ah, I see. Have you been watching too much of the Holonet stories on us then? Well, I’m afraid that those tend to exaggerate our feats,” Obi-wan said humorously.

Us? Our? No. No!

“Maybe they exaggerate your exploits, master,” a man said as he walked into view.

If Obi-wan had come as a shock, then the man before him, not much older his brother Jacen was an even bigger one. Full of brashness and self-confidence, he was not the hissing mechanical monstrosity that had stalked his dreams for as long as he could remember. And between these two men who had been like simultaneous new moons on Anakin, unseen but still exerting a perceptible tide upon the course of his life, he could sense none of the anger that had lead to one man striking down the other. No, there was friendship and camaraderie and brotherly love.

Anakin could feel the familial connection between him and his namesake grandfather, and for a brief, horrific moment he thought the other Anakin would recognize the bond they shared, but that moment passed in an instant, leaving Anakin the Younger to wonder what could have changed in his grandfather to transform him from this bold young Jedi to the twisted Sith he had become in his later life.

“You seem overawed,” Obi-wan noted jovially at Anakin the Younger’s discomfort.

“Well… I had heard so much of you from my master that it was a bit of a shock to see you in the flesh,” Anakin explained, deciding to get his identity as a Force user out of the way quickly, even if he would be altering the spin of the truth slightly.

Ironically, an older Obi-wan would know the trick quite well.

“Your master? So you have received training in the ways of the Force. By whom?” Obi-wan asked.

“By my uncle, who was in turn trained by two former Jedi masters, both of whom left the Order over forty years ago,” Anakin explained while not exactly lying, for which he got a strange, sick feeling through the Force of a presence somewhere snickering in delight.

“Oh, and what did these masters leave for?” Obi-wan asked, obviously not buying the whole explanation.

Anakin paused for a few moments before he said, “I don’t exactly know, but generally I think it was over the deaths of other members of the Order.”

“I see… and your name young man?” Obi-wan asked.

Looking a bit sheepish, Anakin replied, “Uh… by something of a coincidence it’s Anakin. I was named after my grandfather.”

This caused both Obi-wan and the older Anakin to look at the time displaced Jedi somewhat quizzically before the Anakin the Older said with a laugh, “Well this will make conversations interesting!”

“I see,” Obi-wan noted. “We’ll have to look into this and we have other questions, but for now we would like to see what your training has been like.”

Focusing, Anakin telekinetically undid the restraints about him before sitting up and finding that his body didn’t feel all that bad. Sure, he had a few aches and some tightness here and there, but after all the damage he had taken he expected to need more than just a few training sessions to get back on top. Of course, now he was wondering what had been done to him by those Dark Side monsters.

Smirking, the older Anakin said, “Well, it looks like you have some of the basics at least. But let’s see what you can really do…”

Anakin the Younger rubbed his jaw while picking himself up from the floor of the training room within the troop transport. They had started with basic telekinesis practice, but once they saw that he had plenty of training in that area they began to move on to other areas of a Jedi’s skill set. Eventually he had been given a training light sabre, a lower powered blade that could only really singe hair and clothing, and been asked to square off against Anakin.

It had been difficult to maintain his focus and calm while fighting his grandfather, there was just too much emotion associated with the knowledge of what he would become, what he would do one day. Even though it wouldn’t actually do anything, the thought of ‘slipping’ and saving the galaxy decades of pain and suffering kept creeping into his mind, distracting him. He kept those thoughts tightly sealed away where Obi-wan or Anakin the Older wouldn’t accidentally pick up, but he could not concentrate fully on what he was doing.

And his grandfather was incredible with a lightsabre, taking all of Anakin’s attention just to keep up with him. Distracted as he was by outside concerns, including what it was that had brought him here in the first place and a nagging worry about the conflict with the Yuuzhan Vong, he did not have his full attention forward. The shroud of the Dark Side over the galaxy and the memory of the taint of those things also kept him from achieving full focus and he found himself frequently knocked down by a punch or a telekinetic shove.

Still, the older Anakin wore a huge grin on his face while he sparred, and more than once offered a helping hand to hoist his younger namesake back up. The first few times Anakin had been shocked and almost refused, but he managed to get over his anxiety, consciously setting it aside as unnecessary. But every time his hand met his grandfather’s he felt a thrill in the Force pass through him, and he wondered how Anakin the Older could not notice such a thing.

Helping him up once more, Anakin the Older said warmly, if a touch arrogantly, “I can feel the disappointment in you, but you’re really quite good. Most Jedi don’t even push me, and while you’re no Mace Windu, you’re not exactly a pushover either.”

Silently stroking his beard on the sidelines, Obi-wan moved closer to them and said, “Yes, young Anakin… err… the older of you two – this will be rather confusing – is amongst the most skilled lightsabre combatants in the Order and he is not slacking off in a spar like he usually does even when against Masters. Your style is quite unorthodox however, and you are skirting distressingly close to the Dark Side at times.”

Young Anakin nodded and said with a sigh, “I am… distracted. Much has happened to me, much that I cannot explain or even understand, and it is hurting my focus.”

Frowning a touch, Obi-wan said, “There is that, but it is more fundamental as well. I am not quite sure how to describe your style, but it seems to draw heavily on elements of Form V, specifically Djem So. But there are a dozen other elements I would be hard pressed to categorize, with your overall style possessing a strong aggressive element to it. Emotional response seems integral to the way you fight.”

Anakin considered this analysis for a long moment, and he silently wondered at the enormous gaps between his grandfather’s Order and the one he belonged to. While calm and serenity remained the core principles of the Jedi Order, other emotions were allowed, even encouraged. And while active strides were taken to prevent it, it seemed that to become a truly great Jedi Master in the New Jedi Order redemption from the Dark Side was first necessary. Kyp Durron, Kyle Katarn, and even, or perhaps especially, his uncle Luke had all fallen to the Dark Side at one point before being brought back. He had trained and fought beside Jedi who had been trained in the Dark Side before, and he trusted Zekk, a man who had received his initial training in the Force from the Shadow Academy, to have his back during the Myrkr mission.

He supposed that a touch of the Dark Side was present in all of the members of the New Jedi Order. Sometimes Jedi fell, but considering just how piecemeal their training was and the vast number of Dark Side users spawned by Palpatine and the Empire, Anakin supposed that his uncle Luke had a remarkable track record for keeping his Order in line and in actually redeeming those who fell.

With a click Anakin felt a sort of epiphany. You had to want redemption. You had to want to turn back on the path into Darkness and stride, to struggle, back towards the Light. Darth Vader had his son, Luke, to show him the pain of the Dark Side, to remind him that love was worth sacrificing for. Luke had Leia to bring him back from the brink and even from the other side when Palpatine had exerted his corrupting influence.

Anakin had his own attachments, his own passions and loves, and while they could lead into a disastrous spiral, they could also serve as emotional anchors, ways of centering a Jedi, of reminding them why the Darkness was not worth it. A Jedi of the New Order was like an ancient mariner upon a tempestuous sea, such that in times of strife they could remain secure and steadfast, their friends and family grounding them and preventing them from becoming lost to their own emotions, and when the skies cleared they could lift their burdens from the sea floor.

Emotions and attachments were set aside calmly and rationally, but they were not forgotten.

Anakin could see it now, could feel it in his grandfather. The older Anakin had his passions and attachments, but he did not truly know how to properly set them aside. He could not lift his anchors, and they were going to snag on something and bring him, and the galaxy, to disaster. He could neither let go of his anger and fear and love nor safely tuck them aside when they became a hindrance. No, he was bottling them up, twisting his soul into a terrible knot.

His thoughts having taken only a moment, Anakin then smiled and slowly exhaled, remembering his own attachments. His mother and father, his brother and sister, his uncle, all of his friends… and a certain blonde haired girl… he all saw them in his mind. He would get through this, he would find them all again… somehow. He would not let them down.

Tension flowed from his body and he felt a wave of calm break over him, carrying away his anxiety and stress. Raising the inactive hilt of the training sabre he had been given, he asked, “I… I think I’m ready for one more go? Are you up for it?”

Anakin the Older just grinned and said, “Of course. I haven’t had this much fun since I surpassed old Obi-wan!”

Obi-wan on the other hand frowned slightly as the young man, who bore the same name as his friend, companion, and brother, suddenly seemed to untangle slightly within the Force. Emotions still bubbled within him, but it was not the boil that his apprentice sometimes exhibited or the raging storms of anger and hatred that the Sith cultivated. Obi-wan also suddenly had the feeling that there would be a lesson in humility in store soon.

Squaring off, the two Anakins faced each other, activating their sabres with the distinctive sound of air being pushed out of the way and lightly ionized by the blades. Anakin the Younger faced his grandfather for the first time without fear or anxiety. The Force would guide him, as it had guided him on Myrkr. His sparring partner was more experienced and better trained, and stronger in the Force, but now that he could focus, the younger Anakin knew that he had two major advantages. The first was that Anakin had a much broader pool of experience to draw from, even if it was much shallower and overall had less volume. His grandfather had sparred with the best in the galaxy, and fought against countless blaster wielding opponents, but how often had he fought life-and-death with another opponent in melee? How many Dark Siders had he actually fought? His grandfather trusted fully in the Force, but had he ever faced opponents to which the Force was blind?

The other advantage was that Anakin had for a few instants become One with the Force, had felt all the life in the galaxy flowing through him. The wisdom and experience of countless millennia of Jedi flitted at the edge of his memories, including those of Anakin Skywalker throughout his life as a Jedi and as Darth Vader. Anakin could not grasp those memories directly, but he had an edge none could guess at.

Both were students of war, sculpted on the battlefield, but each Anakin had fought in a different war, and each had been honed in different ways into different warriors, into different men. This would not be easy, and Anakin the Younger suspected that he would lose once more, but things would be very different this time.

Far away and yet very near, the Stiletto loitered in their own personal Warp, peering out into the universe within a bubble of their own native physics. Rong-Arya sat and smiled, observing distantly the sparring match that was about to occur. She said somewhat musingly, “Did anyone here go through the historical entertainment archives we ‘acquired’ from the Federation?”

There were a few nods and Ichiro-Faust said, “Of course. It was the data from those movies that led us to find this universe in the first place.”

Rong-Arya said with a small, toothy smile, “Well for those of you who have studied it a bit more deeply, now may be a good time to cue up the instrumental of ‘Leave you Far Behind’ and get some popcorn.”


Sorry about the delay and wording, trying to work with two characters with the same name is major pain in the ass.
I love learning. Teach me. I will listen.
You know, if Christian dogma included a ten-foot tall Jesus walking around in battle armor and smashing retarded cultists with a gaint mace, I might just convert - Noble Ire on Jesus smashing Scientologists
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Academia Nut
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Re: The Open Door (megacrossover)

Post by Academia Nut »

This chapter isn't entirely what I want, and its a bit early plot wise, but it got written.

Chapter Seventy-three: A New Realm

Twisting layers of unreality, fractal patterns of possible creations unfolded and bloomed before spiralling back into tiny vibrating loops the size of atoms. Entire cosmoses stacked like translucent vellum sheets, infinitely large and yet no thicker than a shadow, separated by impossibly vast gulfs transmittable with but a single thought. Impossible things of flavoured sound cavorted with crystalline tiers of niobium light while things not wholly described by any seven senses a person could name played flutes of ultraviolet fire. Creatures with only the vaguest impression of what codified physical laws were and the life that resulted from such conformity of physics pranced about in vile dances, psychic susurrations filling the void with their gibbering, bouncing unnoticed off of the things with stars for hearts and all of the intelligence of amoebas as they plied across eternity.

It was a realm without rationality or order, where the inhabitants were called evil not out of any particular malevolence on their part but because they lacked the understanding to act in any way other than callous sadism to the beings of reality. There were predators in this inscrutable place, but malice was in short supply.

But not entirely missing, although much of the true evil rather than negligent destruction stemmed from places where the capacity to make the rational decision to hurt another existed, for amongst the mindless revellers and cosmic sharks, there were creatures that knew what they did. A few of them were also very good at what they did.

One of those creatures drifted between the layers of unreality, a bad dream with teeth that shifted through thoughts and memory like a thief carefully examining an underwear drawer looking for hidden valuables who did not wish discovery later, this creature carefully hunted for what it was looking for. No stranger to nightmare realms, it slipped between monstrosities the size of galaxies stuffed within universes no larger than a deck of cards from the outside, seeking out the fault lines of this place before it slipped outside of even this outside.

Indescribable to any being not born to such places, it was like floating outside of the chaos of unlikely activity around a deep sea thermal vent, surrounded on all sides by utter lifelessness but gazing in at a riot of life just a scant hand’s breadth away. Or it was like orbiting about a distant star in the dark void, listening to the crackle of nuclear fusion surrounded by a dense blanket of hydrogen plasma and the thrum of the cosmic background radiation while observing the impossibly distant goings on of creatures upon one of the chunks of rock orbiting the star. Except neither one of those analogies could possibly hope to capture even a glimmer of what was actually happening. Languages for creatures that existed in one spatial dimension and one temporal one could not hope to capture the essence of the experience for the brains of such creatures could not conceive of the necessary thoughts. Their nervous systems by definition did not have the necessary degrees of freedom to process such concepts.

It was a hostile realm, hostile to even the impossible creatures that dwelt just beyond, for it was a void like no other – Void deserving the capitalization – an utter lack of anything. The creature could tolerate exposure to it, but not for long, although since this place had no conception of time, ‘not for long’ could be a very long time indeed.

Moving along the boundary between the place of madness and the Void like a diver pulling himself along the bottom of a lightless ocean, the creature continued its search, running tendrils of thought across a membranous surface, if such words could be abused into applying to such a situation. It then paused when it discovered a vein of something with infinitely more substance than anything else in this place, something with no substance where it had originated from.

Following the vein, the creature discovered more of them, and followed the network along, always seeking to follow the larger of the branches in the hopes that they would lead back to the source, to the target the creature sought.

And then, anticlimactically, it found it. Sitting there, a black pearl nestled like a tumour between the crushing darkness of the Void and the maddening blackness of the insanity beyond, was what was sought. Tendrils gently stroked the armoured shell of reality about the sphere before it shifted away, plunging back in to the undefined realm and heading towards more familiar places, a diver surfacing from the abyss seeking fresh air.

As the being plunged through the unreal places between places and neared the order of something real, it could feel the ebb of power refilling its depleted banks of energy. It could probably turn about to return to its discovery now, but it decided to fully resurface and consider its options.

Finding the crack in reality where it had entered from, the creature slithered into the little pocket antechamber between the madness behind him and the reality before him. Shutting the door to the planar airlock, he then shifted into a form more suited to this environment and undid the lock protecting the world beyond.

Stepping out into the chamber, Lars stared up into the barrels of a Gatling gun and cried out, “I’ve found her!”

The Republic of Noctis, the so called Iron Crown of the North, had replaced the annihilated Silverymoon as the fulcrum about which the Silver Marches rotated, especially as some of the long term effects of the Time of Troubles sank in. In fact, the Avatar Period was considered only the beginning of the Troubles and some scholars still argued about whether or not the cataclysm was still occurring.

For one thing, magic was now much less stable, partially because of damage to the Weave when the first Mystra died, partially because of contamination by energies from the Far Realm when Marella had been consumed, and partially because when the new Mystra had been elevated to godhood she had immediately gone batshit fucking insane.

No one had really noticed at first as she had seemingly been just a kind hearted woman with a strong sense of morals who had suggested changing the way magic worked so that only equally moral individuals and deities could use it. Then Cyric had made his first, and only, plot against her.

They would likely be picking chunks of the dead god out of the planes for thousands of years to come.

Ao easily restrained the psychotic goddess, only to discover that there was no way to fix her as the damage to her mind came from the fact that her portfolio had been warped. Touches of madness from the Far Realm were now written into the Weave, and unless Ao wanted to completely undo everything in the Realms to get rid of it, any deity put in charge of the Weave would naturally go insane.

A certain young Elder Evil had been contacted to perhaps put Mystra out of her misery, but the offer had been politely yet firmly declined. Partly it was because Lars wanted as little further to do with the gods as possible.

Mostly it was because he’d used up his last God Killing shell during the Siege of Nesmé and he really did not want it to get out that he’d been bluffing some of the most powerful entities in the multiverse, any of whom could have squashed him like a bug if they actually knew how weak he actually was, and several of whom would come back to squash him if they found out.

Eventually the situation had eventually been stabilized, if not actually solved, by completely cutting away all the parts of her portfolio that didn’t directly relate to maintenance of the Weave and then sealing her in her realm where she theoretically couldn’t hurt anyone. She was now something of a kind hearted mother figure with a lopsided view on how to deal with things.

This, combined with the discovery of the Marella Heresies and the summoning of the creatures eventually dubbed weave wraiths had caused an enormous amount of damage to people’s trust in magic. The options seemed to be to tap into the Weave and go insane, make deals with dead things lurking in the Weave and go insane, look into the Shadow Weave but since the goddess controlling that was lost in the Far Realm that also probably involved insanity, or find an intermediary like a god to prepare the spells for you. But since the gods had generally all acted like huge pricks while in avatar form there was a growing feeling that you had to be insane in the first place to suck up to them like that.

Well, right up until the new god of the dead got into a shouting match with one of the few non-deities who could get away with getting into a shouting match with a god. Finally, somewhat begrudgingly, Kelemvor actually told the world about how the afterlife actually worked and the necessity of having a divine patron to ensure a proper afterlife. The fiends were a touch annoyed in that one of their better harvesting tactics was revealed, but it wasn’t like they could stop Kelemvor, and with Lars hissing menacingly in the background no one dared to bring it up.

The power balance left by the loss in confidence of magic left an attractive hole for Noctis to fill… if not for the fact that demand for new ways of doing things far outstripped the ability to supply and actually get what supplies they had to those who wanted such things. Also, the gods of invention and knowledge weren’t actually pleased with Noctis as Skuld had quietly carved out a large portfolio and all of the work done in Nesmé and the surrounding area fell under her absent purview.

Then there was the issue of citizenship. Noctis allowed as citizens many species and individuals who were considered evil monsters by ‘good’ nations and despite having executed more than a few individuals or groups who had proven as treacherous as their familial reputations suggested, many civilized groups had for a long time refused to trade with them. The barbarians tended to die in futile wars, perpetuating the idea that Noctis was imperialistic. This was despite the fact that such annexations were both to prevent disgruntled survivors from launching further attacks and to prevent the catastrophic economic collapse of the devastated tribes in the wake of losing up to ninety percent of their male population.

Then there were all the pantheons that had been pissed off in one form or another, especially the elves, who except for those already part of Noctis or who had gone renegade, refused to trade with Noctis and often went out of their way to ensure no one else did either. And while public perceptions against magic were shifting, the mages still tended to be very powerful people economically and politically, and few of them had love for the group trying to supplant their supremacy. When everything added together, there were very few groups outside the borders of Noctis that were willing to actually trade with them or form alliances.

The fact that, after ten years, one of the major dwarf clans in the region was finally willing to send an emissary to talk to them about anything other than where the borders should be drawn.

The party that had arrived had been somewhat unusual by most standards but seemed utterly mundane by the new Nesmé standards except for the station of the leader of the group.

“Ah, it is not often that we have a once and future king in our presence,” Johan said as the group from Mithral Hall arrived.

“Bah! Once, maybe, but Gandulag is still spry even after all he went through at the hands of the matron and crawling out of the ruins of the Underdark, so he still has plenty of time as the king left and I not be taking it from him any time soon,” Bruenor Battlehammer replied somewhat dismissively.

“Ah, you be an overmodest fool father! Everyone knows that even if he lives another century you will still live longer and be the one everyone chooses when his appointed time comes,” his adopted daughter Catti-brie said mockingly, causing the others to chuckle and the dwarf leader to grumble in annoyance.

Smiling, the business magnate and community leader who had been tasked with greeting them said, “Your loyalty to your king is a credit to your people, good dwarf. I must apologize for not being a trained diplomat, but so much of the Republic’s relations with others has been strained for so long that mostly we just glare at each other. And since none are as good at glaring as our marshal…”

Bruenor chuckled and said, “If even half the rumours are true then he is supposed to be some sort of hissing demon from the deepest part of the Abyss to whom even the over god is terrified of!”

The laughter died down when Johan looked rather uncomfortable and said, “I’m surprised that only half the rumours are that bad. And Ao doesn’t actually fear him, precisely. But uh… he is currently indisposed so he is unavailable to clear up such things personally, which he is best suited to do as he knows the full story. But in any case, as you may have already known from the diplomatic package, I am Johan Smith and I will be your host while in Nesmé.”

“A rather interesting choice, to send an ironworker to speak to dwarves,” a plump halfling with an enormous ruby about his neck pointed out suspiciously.

Grinning, Johan said, “While some might attribute that to some form of racism on our part, the fact that I am well equipped to ‘talk shop’ is somewhat of a bonus for us. No, I was chosen in an attempt to put a little initial distance the people of Noctis from some of the policy decision made by our government, which while supported within the Republic have not been popular outside our territory. Also, since we feel that initial negotiations should be primarily one of trade to develop trust, the fact that I am one of the wealthier businessmen in the city makes me well suited to such talks.”

“If you’re right trying to line your own pockets while doing so,” the halfling pointed out.

“Regis!” Catti-brie snapped.

“Ah, no worries. Those who gave me this task did so with the expectation that I would try and increase my own wealth, just that I would do it all out in the open. Perhaps a bit of a naïve stance to take, but we are still sorting out how to run our nation and I am also well trusted in the community due to both my work and the work of my wife, who is another pillar of the community as the headmistress of the academy,” Johan explained.

“Fair enough,” Bruenor said. “Lead the way.”

“Well, there are many places to see. There is my own personal business, there are the parts of the Blackstone Fortress open the public, there is the academy, and there is Parliament. Considering that we are looking at perhaps selling you some of our ironworking equipment, would you like to see foundries first?” Johan asked politely.

Bruenor glanced over at the one member of his group who had yet to say anything and instead he said, “Actually, I think I would like to see the school. I have heard many things about that place those in charge and I want to see what is true and what is false.”

Johan laughed and said, “My wife did not in fact kill Lolth nor have anything to do with that incident, and even if a third of the rumours about your companion are true then a sparring match between her and your friend would not be all that impressive as she is nowhere near his level of swordsmanship.”

The drow ranger, lurking the background and looking distinctly uncomfortable in the transformed Nesmé with its large population of drow from Menzoberranzan, had an utterly shocked look cross his face before Bruenor smacked him in the small of the back and roared cheerily, “Come on you blasted elf! I figured out of all of us you would be the one most interested in this place!”

Shaking his head, Johan turned before he stopped dead when a man in plain garb approached him and said, “Ah, Johan, I see you are busy with visitors, but perhaps could I borrow your ear for a second.”

“Uh… yes, yes, of course… err… this is Bruenor Battlehammer and his companions from Mithral Hall. They have come to begin negotiations for trade,” Johan explained nervously.

“Ah. Then I shall not trouble you for long. You know that thing we discussed earlier?” The man asked.

His eyes going wide, Johan nodded and said, “You… you…”

“Perhaps,” the man replied, to which Johan just shut up and nodded. “So is it ready?”

“Yeah… yeah, it’s mostly ready. It obviously hasn’t been tested or you would already know, but otherwise you can take it out now. Just ask at the foundry,” Johan replied almost stuttering.

“Perfect,” the man said before he rushed off.

“Who was that?” Bruenor asked.

“Uh… someone important, going incognito. I’ve been helping him with a project, but I can’t say any more than that,” Johan explained. “This is uh… I’ll take you to the academy but I’m going to have to speak with my wife privately first. This is pretty big.”

Far away and yet very near, depending on how you measured things, Lars floated in the void around the black pearl. He was fairly certain this was where she rested. However the defences erected were too strong for something such as him to get in through, an event he had anticipated might, and probably would, happen. So he had figured out a way to piggy back inside.

Pushing a bit of something real he had wrapped his essence about, he pressed it against the barrier, at first encountering massive resistance as the barrier tried to resist the intrusion before it went over the initial energy barrier and the bit of physical matter was drawn into the reality, more at home there than in the Void.

As it was pulled in, Lars slipped inside the collection of matter, using it to protect and sustain himself while in the reality constructed to protect Skuld from the Far Realm. Hopefully he would be able to quickly find and contact her so they could work on getting her out.

With the look of a splinter being forced out of a wound by the immune system, only much faster and using a three dimensional bubble of space-time rather than a patch of skin, what looked like a mannequin made out of plates of metal and bundles of wire was shoved into the reality constructed as a defensive measure.

No one but perhaps a few birds noticed this grotesque spectacle of warped physics as it occurred about a kilometre above the surface of the local planet.

Note to self: include wings on the next model.

The impact of a large amount of metal on the local landscape was noticed though.

“Vat do hyu tink it iz?” An oddly accented voice asked while Lars struggled facedown to realign all of the parts of his wire-doll so that it would work correctly.

“Hy don' know, it looks like a Klenk fell from de sky,” another voice replied.

“Vell uf kourse it’s a Klenk! But vy deed it fall from de sky und vat iz it doink here?” A third, more sarcastic voice pointed out.

Still face down in the dirt and restricted to the dimensions of the doll, Lars asked in a screeching, metallic voice somewhat muffled by being shoved into dirt, “Excuse me gentlemen, but I am looking for a young woman. Perhaps you have seen her; she has incredible power and a proclivity towards building elaborate if explosive inventions.”

“De Klenk talked!” The first voice cried out.

“Vell duh! Und it sounds like its lookink for de Heterodyne gurl!” The third voice, quite possibly the leader of the group, said.

“It und everyone else!” The second voice replied.

“Do hyu tink ve schould tell it?” The first voice asked.

Lars had the sinking feeling he was about to enter into an Abbot and Costello skit.
I love learning. Teach me. I will listen.
You know, if Christian dogma included a ten-foot tall Jesus walking around in battle armor and smashing retarded cultists with a gaint mace, I might just convert - Noble Ire on Jesus smashing Scientologists
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