Latest Material Index

Continue reading

Latest Material Index

Continue reading

Latest Material Index

. It’s once again time to get the latest material index updated and to transfer the material from the old one to the main index tabs at the top of the page. If you want the very latest material, it may be necessary to either scroll down or consult the “Recent Posts” listing-widget on the lower right. The previous Latest Materials Index can be found HERE and – for those who like to rummage at random – the full post-by-post index can be found occupying a great deal of space in the lower right column.

. Eclipse Classless d20 Character Construction Cribsheet / Sample Character ListCharacter Creation PrimerCompiled Martial Arts.

. Subindexes: RPG Design – Twilight Isles – BattletechChampionsd20Legend of the Five RingsShadowrunWhite WolfOther GamesBattling Business WorldStar Wars

. Cumulative General Index. Continue reading

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CLXXX – A Fair Withdrawal and Leon High

Aikiko had returned to the fair, well before it’s conclusion… dealing with Ruki, Leon, and a battle with an Elder Abyssal had taken up surprisingly little time – especially in relationship to the hedgerows, which apparently were running a bit slow this week. During the drive back she’d realized that – if she used travel thaumaturgy, and some luck manipulation, and a few other things – she could drive as fast as she wanted to. Drive like a madwoman? No! She’d drive like an Exalt!

The Fair, in fact, was somewhat livened up by a number of people with new forms – but Aikiko had pretty much fulfilled her responsibilities already. She had no idea how she wound up holding a deep-fried twinkie with sugar and chocolate syrup though… Blasted subconscious. Still, aside from it being REALLY unhealthy, it didn’t seem to have any serious magic on it… nothing but a minor charm to make it taste like an ideal desert and encourage the thought of having another. It wasn’t much more than a whispered suggestion though. “That was GREAT! I want another!”

Oh well… It wouldn’t be a Fair without eating a few suspicious fried things. It was APPALLINGLY sweet for an adult – but the kids loved theirs. After she recovered from sugar overload she headed back to the inn to buy Samelin. There were numerous blandishments on the way out of the Fair – but no compulsions or anything like that. There was an unfortunate fellow being hanged for major violations of the fair rules (and stabbing another man) – which gave her a bit of a jolt – but that wass his bad luck – and stupidity. The official pronouncing sentence was a bit odd though; it looked like an earth spirit made from coal and ruby. Apparently one of the Fairwards, and evidently quite a powerful creature! Best not to get on his (?) bad side then!

The kids were pretty quiet for some time. That sort of thing was always sobering – especially for the girl. Samelin… had seen it before, and behaved himself. Slave he might be, but he wanted to live. The girl was a LOT less experienced of course.

Aikiko… was more than happy to leave. Hanging was harsh, but this wasn’t exactly modern society, and that was a powerful spirit. The roads were far less occupied at the moment, although there were a variety of fantastic creatures about. She was, however, shortly confronted by a pack of trolls, demanding that she pay tribute if she wished to pass! They were armed with… swords, axes, one submachine gun, some pistols, and a crossbow. Not bad for around here – but no real menace to her even WITHOUT summoning Skoll.

Still, there was some chance that they’d endanger the kids – and while it was obvious that they’d LIKE gossamer, artifacts, talismans, or magical materials… they were well aware that most travelers had nothing but small quantities of money – which was what they were demanding.

And it wasn’t like she had any shortage of money.

The Trolls kept their word – as might be expected from fey creatures. She paid, she was free to go and had safe-conduct through their territory.

The kids livened up quickly enough once they were away from the Fair and the bandits… the Hanging Gardens had been VERY impressive – a real marvel of fey ingenuity. And such wealth! (Although it was fairly obvious to Aikiko that that had scared them a bit too. It was dangerous for slave-children to be around someone who could buy them out of petty cash on a whim… Well, soon they wouldn’t have to worry about that!)

There were a few other travelers about, although apparently the Blatant Beast didn’t want to risk another encounter with Spartacus’s Mighty Blade… The small band of gypsies, however, were equipped with some surprisingly modern stuff. No doubt they crossed the dimensional borders as easily as the geographic ones. It looked like… an essence-powered generator (nice and quiet), electric lamps for their caravans, a couple of the kids had electronic games, there were probably guns on some of the men to go with the classical belt knives – definite boundary-crossers there – and they had a prison-wagon along. Evidently slaves…

The gypsies cheerily offered to read her fortune and sell her good-luck charms! Hah, she’d been just about to ask for her fortune!

The routine was quite classic – but they wanted to know if she would prefer palmistry, cards, crystal gazing, or the deluxe package of all three?

She went for the full package… and there were mysterious smoke and strange lights, with no trace of magic in use! Strange powers were in play! (Or at least so many natives of the Hedgerows would have thought… technological tricks to impress the natural magic-users… Aikiko thought that that was pretty clever and appreciated the effort!)

And the dice favored the old gypsy seer, with eleven successes on ten dice.

(Seer) “Ah, young woman! There is great power wrapped around you and within you, a darkness deeper than the night and a light brighter than the dawn. Before you… lies a dark passage, a place I cannot see at all… once malign, now empty… but within it something terrible rises. There shall be unexpected allies though, powers that are and are not of Dream. You shall confront them not upon the Earth or in the Hedgerows, but in the living land, where the fisher king brings healing. Whether you shall triumph or fall stands upon the edge of a knife, and what will come to pass I cannot tell.”

There was a pause.

(Seer, returning to normal) “Phew! what is UP with ye girl? Mostly I just git which farmboy tis opin to lift yer skirts!”

Aikiko considered… the power wrapped around and in her was probably Skoll. The dark passage was likely the Memory of the Void, where the Neverborn Kaiju were nearing completion. The powers of and not of Dream were likely Leon, Charles, and any other allies who showed up… The living land and the fisher king? Most likely Yu-Shan and Charles. Of course… there was the cloak, the exaltation, neverbody souls, links to mechagodzilla and the kaiju manses, a cargo of ghosts, and several other realms to make things hazy! It had been a remarkable feat for her to see anything at all in that mess!

(Seer) “But ye… ye are like a lens, a thousand lines of destiny shine thru!”

(Samelin, sounding a bit shocked) “uch a seein… yt be roight fearsem M’lady!”

(Aikiko) “I’ll tell you later, Samelin.” (Smiling) “We should get back to the inn soon. I need to talk to your master – and I’ve got a of baggage – a nd some good things to go with it.”

(Seer) “Hrm! Whatever it tis, I be thinkin that ye be on the right side of it – and those coins of yours say as much… There mayn’t be much that we kin do ter elp out, but we do have some trinkets and slavies and such if’n ye stand in need of such things!”

(Aikiko) “Well, you never know what will be handy! Trinkets are good!”

It was thaumaturgic stuff of course – but more sources never hurt and they did have a fairly wide variety of Talismans. She picked up a could of walkaways and a luck talisman; her Heavenly Salary gave her some pretty impressive resources on Earth. .. They let her have talismans and such at cost – which was a major concession for Gypsies. The slaves were available cheap as well; they had nine at the moment; mostly runaways scooped up from the edges of the hedgerows, street kids, and similar. They disappeared all the time anyway – which helped explain why they were so cheap – along with two who’d been sold by their parents in exchange for magical favors. One of those was REALLY upset; his parents had lots of money!

Well, she could readily afford it… She took them all- and ask that one kid about his parents. According to him… they were a corporate manager type and his socializing wife. He couldn’t imagine why they had turned him over to these scruffy gypsies!

Oh that was just charming… She might have to make some arrangements to annoy them. It didn’t sound like they’d needed to sell him to survive – which meant greed, and probably for more than mere money. Sure, the kid was a bit arrogant and entitled – junior preppie style – but there wasn’t really anything wrong with him outside of whatever weird compulsion was making him be obedient at the moment, and if being a bit arrogant and entitled was a crime… well, most of Heaven should go in the slave pens! As it was, he was lucky to be in HER hands! She wasn’t going to chain him to a task or let him be munched on by Raksha!

(Samelin) “E wouldnay b so uppite fer lang n a mastrs and! Hey ave ways o breakin slavies… Prolly ome balance ting! Ter Fadr rises, ter son falls.”

Hm… Aikiko hadn’t thought about that before – but working certain types of spells thaumaturgically – such as eliminating the current CEO and taking his place – would require special prices.

And the gypsies had been paid quite a lot of money AND the boy, which pretty much confirmed that.

Aikiko headed for the inn – while the Gypsies headed off to dip back into the outside world for more cargo. Slaves were selling very well these days! (Most of them, of course, to be marked up and resold to Charles. Business was good with him around… Perhaps she shouldn’t tell Charles that increasing the demand was just going to get more snatched. Oh well, at least the ones that got snatched were off the streets and fed).

The kids were no trouble. It looked like they’d be obedient for at least a couple of weeks, until the compulsions had worn off.

(Innkeeper, with modest surprise) “Wer ye shopin or ung slavies mum? Cud be fund closr tan te Fair! Ye bst be watchin hat un! (Indicating the well-dressed kid). Es ikley ter b a rebillous scamp!”

(Aikiko) “You’ll have to tell me where. I know someone who’d be interested. Speaking of which, I’d like to take Samelin off your hands… And this kid will be fine. My associate has ways of handling him.”

(Innkeeper) “Walsht, er boy be ell-traind fer his jobs an I be use to avin im abut ter plce. Ud ave to be a fair offr!”

Oh drat! The man could see that she’d put artifacts on two of the slave-children! Now he knew that she was rich!

Oh well. She couldn’t leave poor Samelin to spend centuries more as a stable boy. Perhaps some minor artifacts that he could use in running his inn? Perhaps some kind of cooking talisman would do. An enchanted frying pan?

It popped up on request; the Mardi Gras Raksha could pull that sort of thing out of the Wyld lapping about them… pretty much at will.

(Aikiko) “It’s nonstick, heats itself, doesn’t require a mitt, and never burns the food! Will this work?”

(Innkeeper) “Twd be `andy M’lady, bt Iad be ndin ter bye un trin anudder boy! T’wd be nay koin fer me n sucht a bargin…

Bother it. That was actually fair enough. Samelin… probably knew every task there was around the inn by heart and could be rented out as a guide, just as she’d rented him! He’d… be worth a LOT more than some street child somebody had snatched out of london’s back alleys and put up for sale.

Aikiko wound up paying a good deal more than she’d thought she would (including a trivial artifact that would keep the stables clean and the animals fed) – but it really didn’t matter; it had taken mere moments for Charles or his servants to produce the stuff… That was really rather… unpleasant. It ought to take more than a few moments of casual effort to purchase someone’s entire LIFE.

To his credit, the innkeeper was actually be a bit sad to see Samelin go; he was very used to having the kid about the place. Still… he’d been paid more than well enough to buy and train another and the boys work was covered anyway. Aikiko… had to admit that the innkeeper was pleasant enough for the culture, and was reasonably considerate in his own way… The place had been quite interesting to visit, but there was so much to be done outside the hedges!

Samelin was quite grateful; the innkeeper hadn’t been a bad master – but two centuries in the stables was quite enough!

Aikiko made a note; that was indeed enough for anybody – and she’d make sure that he didn’t do that in Aden unless he wants to – not that that should be any problem; his effective age was quite low enough for Aden to default to sending him to school. That was only fair anyway! The poor kid had obviously never had a chance to see what he could be before – and Aden was a fascinating place to study in!

Meanwhile, Leon had a quick visit of his own to make. He HAD said that he’d stop by – so a strange mist rose throughout the high school, leading to a certain amount of non-supernatural people nodding off and bringing strange, wyld, dreams! It was fairly close to graduation anyway, and “Senioritis” was not unexpected in late spring!

He headed for the Computer Science Labs, where young Dawai was supposed to be studying at the moment – where almost all of the computer lab, including the teacher, had nodded off. Leon heard the quiet sounds of a computer game in the back. There was a cloaking effect running – but it was easy enough to pierce! The player… was an intent, wiry Asian teenager – it looked like Chinese ancestry.

He strolled on back!

(Leon) “And hello there young man!”

(Dawai, looking up) “Whoa!” (Looking at the lab) “Whoa. Nice trick.”

He was surprisingly impressed. No doubt his powers didn’t include much along such lines at the moment and he had little experience with others.

(Leon) “No reason to let them remember much except a few wild daydreams.”

(Dawai) “Anyway… Thank you for coming to meet me!”

(Leon) “A small enough favor! After all, you DID give me an amusing offering!”

(Dawai) “Heh heh… So where is he now?”

(Leon, with mild surprise) “What you wish to see him?” (He cheerily opened up one of the linked chancels) “Right this way!”

(Dawai) “This is going to be GOOD.”

Leon showed him the kitty-slaveboy-pet, dressed in his collar.

(Dawai) “Bwahaha! Here, have a yarn ball!” (As he tossed on to Felix)

Felix chased it – and Dawai exerted some minor telekinetic effect to keep it away from him. And there was begging!

(Felix) “Mrrow?”

Leon…. was keeping an eye on Dawai; how he reacted to his “enemy” once he was up close to him – and could see that the boy was blatantly cat-trained, feline-mutated, and fixed, would be somewhat revealing…

(Dawai) “C’mon, chase after it!”

And in the chase, Felix did indeed get closer and rub against him like any other cat would.

(Dawai) “Wha… wow. Okay, you get the yarn. I’m going to talk to Leon, okay?”

Hm… Dawai showed no apparent regrets – or thoughts that this might be a bit disproportionate. Fortunately… that did not seem to be the arrogance and superiority of a classical supernatural lordling… Further observation was in order!

(Leon) “Young Felix makes quite a good kitty, amusing to have around!”

(Dawai) “Whoa. That’s more than I was expecting. I thought you’d just turn him into something silly. Not (and pointing to the “fixed” portion) THAT. I was going to ask you how you did it… but I know I’d get out of hand with that.”

(Leon) “Only to be expected for a pet! Surely you were not expecting him to produce superior offspring? But you seem… much concerned with getting out of hand. Has that been a problem for you?”

(Dawai, thinking) “Well… Yeah, I guess you would think that way about a pet. And I’ve got a lot of grudges.”

(Leon) “Ah? well, if you wish… How many others do you wish removed?”

Dawai, looked quite conflicted! Leon was clearly a powerful supernatural being who could help him out, but he was squeamish about the potential costs – although it was obvious enough to Leon that his cup grave would be average at best; he clearly was not oriented to Compassion!

(Leon) “There is little harm in it! After all, my pet here is quite happy!”

(Dawai) “Yeah, he nuzzled me… Does he use a litter box?”

(Leon) “He can, but it would be inconvenient! Bathrooms are much less trouble… Who else has offended?”

(Dawai) “Okay… Faculty would make too much trouble, but there’s some more students I’d like to see humbled. I can get you some really good computers I made for the favor.”

(Leon) “It sounds fair enough!”

Dawai… came up with a list. It looked like… a couple of girls who had spurned him, a member of the track team, and a fellow nerdy type.

(Leon) “Are you wanting a few young female playthings?”

(Dawai) “Don’t transform Ravi (the fellow nerd), okay? I just want his to be temporary.”

(Leon) “Well, I shall think of something!”

(Dawai) “What are we talking about with playthings? Can I get hot alien girls? I’m pretty sure I chatted some girl who wasn’t from Earth last week.”

(Leon) “Oh, I was thinking of a few youthful princesses… I am overstocked! Aliens would take a few days more!”

(Dawai) “That’s what I mean when I say these computers are great! The weird IPs are the best. And I can wait for aliens.”

(Leon) “Ah, you would like a few then? Step this way…”

There were plenty of extras from among the royal family hangers-on… Dawai did prioritize beauty, but he also looked for the ones who seemed to be reasonably intelligent – or at least willing to learn. He seemed to be using analytic charms to determine learning ability…

(Dawai, somewhat wowed) “So Saudi Arabia WAS you!”

(Leon) “Why not? It seemed like a suitable realm in need of a new government!”

(Dawai) “Man, I wish I could do something like that, but something in me just yells ‘no!’ Maybe if I got more people to help out. I’ve just got to settle these scores first.”

Hrm… the boy was exceptionally petty at the moment! Evidently a combination of being the very middle son in a large family – and thus, often overlooked – and being clumsy and physically weak before his Exaltation. There was quite a bit of bullying in that past. The only reasons that he wasn’t a potential school shooter were his strong will to overcome, his fascination with computers, and his desire to stay out of jail. At the moment he was driven by revenge against those whom had wronged him. After that… He’d like to ensure his own success and make sure that others didn’t get overlooked Under it all, he’d like everyone decent to feel wanted. Unfortunately, against those he DIDN’T currently consider decent… He thought that “Felix’s” fate was quire appropriate. There was a world-body. Not very developed, deva-free, and a bit dark – but present.

That wasn’t necessarily too bad. The boy was just unable to see past his own pain to make allowances for human follies. He was likely to be hard on an ever-increasing number of people as his influence spread too; virtually everyone was a jerk soemtimes, and he seemed to have no understanding of that fact. Not a “bad kid” – but, like a lot of kids, self-absorbed.

(Leon) “What did the other “nerd” do?”

(Dawai, while admiring one of the princesses) “What, Ravi? He said there was no way I was chatting with aliens. I want you to help me prove they exist. Maybe make him one too, for a few hours.”

(Leon) “Well, that should become much more plausible in a couple of months… And you like her?”

(Dawai) “She’s got about as much education as I expected, but her mind’s okay. I can fix the education really fast.”

(Leon) “Any of the others catch your eye?”

(Dawai) “Several. I need some people to manage certain things that need it. I think.”

He pointed them out. Not the most beautiful girls – although they were all good-looking – but all fairly bright.

(Leon) “Very well then! You girls are now the property and concubines of your master here! You are now bound to him, to serve and please him as he wills…” (to Dawai) “Will you be needing an eunuch attendant or two?”

(Dawai) “Wha… I just want girls!” (Rubbing his chin) “Though, if you have robots, that’d be great.”

(Leon) “Not my speciality I fear!”

(Dawai, shrugging) “Eh. I guess I’ll have to program a security AI… And put in a harem.”

Leon made a note to subtly push Dawai towards a more generous view of things. The girls would probably have some influence. Hmph! He hadn’t been expecting to have to deal with child-raising for some time to come! Much less a Night Caste Guardian, though skewed toward computer security and espionage instead of the more traditional variety. Still, as a teenage boy… a harem would distract him for quite some time and give him a more generous outlook on things! He did seem awfully ready to go have fun… And if he was even slightly thoughtless, there was nothing like a few offspring to broaden someone’s experiences. All the concubines were enhanced to be excellent concubines, and quite fertile!

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CLXXIX – Polar Explorations

Back in Yu-Shan, and quite oblivious to the supernatural warfare on Earth, Charles was still involved with the poles of Yu-Shan. He had to determine what their links with Creation actually did if he was going to replace those inputs! And that… mostly involved going there and finding out.

Four of them were linked a very long ways out indeed – in the far ranges of Creation – but the two central poles of Adamant and Spirit… were linked within the Oort cloud, on opposite sides of the Earth. By current standards that was pretty nearby!

He headed for the Adamant Pole Link first since there was a convenient Yu-Shan portal there. The gods of the Spacedocks were warily pleased to see him; they knew that he’d traveled into interstellar space himself. The primary local god came to greet Charles in person; he was a man of pure ice, with eyes shimmering with the light of the stars beyond and black, frost-rimed robes (Myriad Vigilant Stones, God of the Oort Cloud).

(Charles) “Hello! I’m just tracing some energy-flows!”

(MVS) “Charles! Helping out your grandfather, are you? Or doing more local geomancy?”

(Charles) “A little of both! I’m tracing the interactions of the Yu-Shan – Creation energy flows!”

(MVS) “I see… (he expanded space a bit to obscure hearing) Come to think of it, there’s been some disruptions in the topside reaches. Some of my friends experimenting with their ships reported lighting. In space! Perhaps if we were in one of those nebula things-but they reported nothing of the sort.”

(Charles) “That is odd! Things may be breaking down a bit faster than I thought…”

(MVS) “Something else wrong up there? I fear I quit Heaven a long time ago. The deiphages, you see.”

Nonetheless, his expression went somewhat nostalgic for a while.

(Charles) “Well… the details are sort of secret, but I need to do a fair amount of repairs!”

(MVS) “You’re welcome to look – oh, by the way, were you intending to put a gate here? One of the artificers saw your advertising when he visited Earth.”

(Charles) “Well, there’s already a gate here. There will be some on the Yu-Shan side of course, in between the existing gates.”

(MVS) “Hmm… some of the people here will insist on non-gate stardrives, of course. I might have to risk coming up and study those gates when you build them.”

Myriad Vigilant Stones was more than happy to show off the stardock. He was building a ship himself! Charles… was still pushing the time, but it was easy enough to multitrack and look at the essence flows at the same time!

(Charles) “Well, non-gate starships are a lot more free!”

Hm… it looked like the Pole of Adamant was at the “top” of the Oort cloud, while the Pole of Spirit is at the “bottom.” – or at least at the other end! It took several hours (quite enough for a good tour) to trace and analyze the flows – but it looked like both of those poles were connected to the Elemental Pole of Earth; the energies from the Pole of Adamant functioned as a focus, scattering the Pole of Earth’s life energies across the universe. The Pole of Spirit was enhancing those, extending the range and mildly increasing the chances of those within range going to Lethe. The arrangement was oddly reminiscent of a source of light (the Earth) focused through a slit (Spirit) and diffused through a four way prism (Adamant). Gaia had evidently focused her central pole through Yu-Shan’s two, thus enhancing her own pole’s ability to inhibit the formation of Shadowlands across immense areas of the current universe… Gaia must have tweaked it during the reshaping! That was going to be tricky! Fortunately… it was enough out that a manse effect built in the old metric might cover enough area. So those… stabilized the cycle of life and death. It looked like that became MUCH less effective outside of the Solar System though… That was probably why the Blessed Isle had remained free of shadowlands even in the Age of Sorrows – and why there were so few on Earth today. It was just harder to make them near the Elemental Pole of Earth.

To substitute for that… he’d need a super-extended zone of influence (in the old metric), Wyld Revocation (to work there), Wyld Revocation (self-maintaining), Wyld Revocation (to duplicate the lens/slit effect), Immutable, Indestructible… and an AI function to handle fine adjustments! It would be pretty awkward to do it that way though… a circle of manses would be better! He’d need to be building demesnes anyway!

It looked like… the Oort cloud was pretty much the border of the Earth-Spirit-Adamant triad and it would be most auspicious to have six manses – one near each pole, and one in each of the cardinal directions. Oh dear! Had Plato been RIGHT with his “Nested Ideal Solids” model? He’d be defining the vertexes of an octohedron after all – and he’d need to move asteroids and planetoids and engineer the demesnes first!

He got to work on designing those – and started responding to Myriad Vigilant Stones again, since he had gone sort of blank in his concentration!

(MVS) “Charles? Are you all right?… Just like Richof…”

(Charles) “Oh, sorry! Just figuring out what I’ve got to do…”

(MVS) “So what’s the problem with the lightning?”

Oh! That was probably him! It was coming from about where the Pole of Adamant was anchored Creation. The gods testing spacecraft in the area had reported strikes of pale blue lightning, sensor failures and disruptions, and glimpses of who was ahead in the Games of Divinity. Now adamant occasionally gave off electrical discharges when charged with energy – which might indicate accelerating failure – but it was probably just because he’d been feeding so much essence into the central reservior and other critical locations. The extra waste energy would have to go somewhere!

(Charles, thoughtfully) “Well, at one time… I think the power flows were a LOT greater – and now there are flickers of something beyond the minimal emergency baseline. That should stabilize, then stop, in about two months!”

(MVS) “Richof said something about that once. Something about the adaptations to make Yu-Shan habitable, right?”

(Charles) “Well, yes! But the system needs a lot of work!”

(MVS, with a twinkle in his eyes) “So… what are you going to do about it?”

Oops! Another Direct Question!

(Charles) ”Well… I’ll have to fix it!”

(MVS) “And how are you going to do that? If it’s causing problems out here, you’ll have to do some of the work here, right?”

(Charles) “Well, yes!”

(MVS) “I’ll have to know what you’ll be doing, then. It might interfere with some of the test flights – not that the lightning hasn’t been.”

(Charles) “Erm… Well, I’ll have to ask you to promise to keep it secret for the next two months… willl that be OK?”

(MVS) “Is it really that severe? What’s happening up there?”

(Charles) “Well, that’s part of what the promise would cover!”

(MVS, promising) “Very well, then! If nothing else… I want to keep traffic at a minimum around here! Do you know how many gods in the Solar System want to keep track of the Games from Creation?”

(Charles) “Well, a lot I suppose… It is pretty big for gossip isn’t it?”

(MVS) “Incredibly so-and if there’s an entire FLEET of gods up here, how would we be able to test spacecraft without annoying someone? Thus… please, tell me!”

Charles threw up perfect privacy wards and an illusion of doing something else outside of that – and explain the usual “Well, Yu-Shan is headed for geomantic collapse, which will…”.

(Charles) “So I’m going to need to put up some specialized manses near where the links to Yu-Shan are!”

(MVS) “I see… that’s a lot to swallow. But if the excess energy from your operations is leaking out here, you NEED to do something about it. Just don’t touch any of the adamant asteroids. Those are mine to play with!”

And, from the view outside the spacedock… arrange into various lovely patterns.

(Charles) “OK! I shouldn’t need to!”

Myriad Vigilant Stones, of course, assumed that Charles could produce a shuttle… Charles’s infrastructure was getting to be fairly well-known in Heaven by now. Of course… he was assuming that “two months” was for constructing this set of manses, not for the entire project. He still wanted to watch Charles’s manse-building technique though; even at two months it would fulfill his reputation for it being insanely fast!

He got the point when Charles went ahead and put them in place though. Charles went for the classic “monolith” design from 2001, albeit with the proper geomantic arrangements of ice-asteroids and transmuted materials around each one to suit the direction.

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CLXXVIII – The Darkness Rising

While Charles was frantically running about Yu-Shan trying to get his many projects organized, set up, and coordinated there was trouble brewing in the middle east.

Wings-of-Decay smiled a mirthless and predatory smile – although the twist of his lips did not reach his eyes. The harvested souls screamed in soon-to-be-endless torment as the smelters turned their agonized features into mere frantic patterns of light across the liquid soulsteel, the raw material which would rebirth the Neverborn once more. Death-of-Whimsy had been right; those foolish pilgrims of the Haiji and the fanatical groups that offered up steams of blood and their own lives and souls in the cause of “law” still believed, and feared, enough to form good raw materials. Nothing – much less some noble-minded idiot – could be allowed to interrupt the stream of souls to the forges.

The darkness swirled, taking form and solidity as his cloak and armor, as Wings-of-Decay stepped across the barriers and into the living world. The mass executions provided such an easy gate…

With Ruki secure, at least in body, in the Hanging Gardens beyond the Labyrinth – and with contact information awaiting her when she woke up – Aikiko decided to leave Leo’s wondrous city. Since his conquest – which (perhaps not surprisingly when up against a mortal kingdom) had apparently encountered little effective opposition there were a number of gates available to use. Aikiko had little desire to return to Saudi Arabia – or perhaps now Leon’s Arabia, or New Babylon – even using a stone of gender transformation, but work was work, and the situation was serious!

She picked up suitable clothing along the way; it was easy enough to get in Leo’s Hanging Gardens; the shops were close to Adenic in variety! For that matter… a few pointers on acting appropriately, and swearing the Oath of “In the Style of the Renaissance Masters” would be useful too – although none of that would take very long.

Aikiko slipped away from the gate quietly, drew her charms about her, and quietly vanished into the city – ignoring the whispering Raksha onieromancies that attempted to manipulate her towards being “reasonable”…

Wings of Decay snarled… the fool mortals had no idea of what was going on – they never did! – but it was obvious enough that some meddlesome Raksha was fooling about! The whispers of a high-end Onieromancy targeting the mortals was plain enough – and the fanaticism they needed was fading as the influence of the Wyld touched minds long closed and opened them to whims and fantasy! The meddler had to be located and disposed of, their raw materials restored to unthinking fanaticism, and the great work completed! Of course Raksha were more Death of Whimsy’s area of expertise than his…

In the palace, Leon smiled over a rippling pool, his thaumaturgy had filled it with the image of his new kingdom – and revealed his spreading influence. Already the city was firmly under control, a sizable number of the more… obdurate… fanatics had become useful creatures, and the citizenry was accepting the coup as just another change of overlords – and nothing to be concerned with. The rising tide of prosperity that the Grand Seal of Solomon was inducing for those who accepted his rule was not hurting either; the oil-wealth had never been allowed to flow down to the lower classes, and so the improvement in their situations was quite noticeable – if only because there were a whole lot more pack animals around, acquiring a whole new outlook on life while they were working. He would have to consider what the best form of influence would be to exert on the pilgrims of the Hajj – but in the meantime, a bit of self-indulgence with his new harem called!

Deep in an exceptionally gloomy portion of the Underworld, seated on a long dead world, Death of Whimsy brooded. His infiltrator on Earth had reported an almost-inconceivable thing… Oneiromancy of that power and range was not supposed to operate so openly, or be set up so easily, on Earth! Had the !@#$% (if thankfully rare!) Exalted of Fate – and for that matter, of the Moon – been so occupied with extraterrestrial matters that the intrusion had gone unnoticed? Either way, it was meddling with his plans! The pesky Raksha, so tied to chaos and narrative, were always so hard to predict… The Deathlord (not a ghost imbued with the remnants of a late deva, but a technically-living man bound to the memories of Oblivion through a corrupted exaltation) – rose from his seat. The defenders of Earth were clearly distracted at the moment. Perhaps it was time to step up his operations further. After all, if a foolish Raksha could set up a potent oneiromancy without trouble, surely his servants could open up a shadowland. Such breaches had not occurred on Earth since the Second World War – and even then had not gone to his liking due to the blasted Silver Prince – but he still remembered the technique of converting a waypoint in Creation to a Shadowland using the sacrifice of Raksha. At least that way the blasted things – and the energies of chaos they brought – could be of some use!

He sent for his communicative mirror to issue his orders.

Death of Whimsy deployed a platoon of war ghosts specializing in reconnaissance (with various sensory equipment), a squad of ghostly assassins, and a regiment worth of ghosts (granted physical forms through his own charms), war ghosts, nemissaries, and a small squad of necrotech power-armor elites for a total of nearly three thousand troops with orders to compromise the operations of this Raksha – an especially important goal since he seemed to be dedicated to improvement and not just to enjoying himself or eating.

While that outnumbered Leon’s Raksha troops by a considerable margin, Leon’s troops were backed by powerful artifacts, oaths, and onieromancy, had modern heavy weapons, and had various advantages of their own.

The gradual rise in clashes proved frustrating to Death of Whimsy’s commanders; the Raksha troops were unexpectedly difficult to eliminate. They ALL seemed to be capable of summoning up massive (and uselessly soulless) reinforcements – and when they WERE eliminated, nothing seemed to be left behind and their wyld energies were not released (since they just reformed in Mothra Leo). On Leon’s side… troops of wraiths were somewhat hard to deal with, although not impossible – and occasionally one would fail to reform once disrupted and would go to Lethe. More importantly… it swiftly became apparent to the Raksha that the Wraiths came from a relatively small number of sites – which could be targeted, warded, and otherwise hampered.

For the moment… it was a stalemate.

Meanwhile, Leon was indulging himself with a couple of his new concubines and occasionally teasing his kitty-servant with a piece of string when the reports started coming in.

(Felix) “Mrrow! Mrrow! Got it Master! (Tug-Tug-Tug) MINE!!… Ooooh! More String! Must get!”

The girls were putting in some pro-forma protests, which Leon pretty much ignored. They’d get over that very shortly!

(Leon, noting the disturbance sin his scrying pool) “What’s going on out there? Where have these centers of resistance come from?”

He took a quick divinatory look with a bit of clairvoyance!

Aikiko was a bit appalled to find that she’d wound up in the middle of a supernatural war zone. She didn’t manifest Skoll yet though. That would make it awfully hard to blend in to the holy city – and it would almost certainly make her a primary target. Instead, she kept her distance and attempted to use Skoll’s artifacts to map out the flashpoints of the battle. That was difficult while he was in another dimension – but not entirely impossible… It looked like there was an entire underworld invasion going on, targeting the Palace and several major mosques – and ignoring a lot of the conventional city-control targets. The Raksha were mostly throwing swarms of heavily armed phantom troops at the wraith bridgeheads to keep them on the defensive – which would probably work until some major leaders arrived…

She passed what information she could get on to Leon.

(Leon) “A Wraith Army? What a pain! You two, wait here! I’ll be back to enjoy you a little later! You servants, look after them! You… oh here, have the entire ball of string… So… it could be some cult, or a mortal or near-mortal mage, or some such – but a Wraith Army is a bit much for one of those to have on tap. Any insignia or anything? Battlecries? ANY clues?

(Aikiko) ““Calcification!” – and they’re carrying a LOT of cold iron for ghosts; they normally don’t encounter raksha at all. Their insignia seems to be tattered, decaying wings absorbing the five rasksha graces.

Hrm! Leon had heard of that one! Lots of complaints from freeholds in the western reaches of space. That was the insignia of Wings of Decay, a notorious Daybreak Caste. He was noted for raiding freeholds, killing the slaves, and enslaving those Raksha who were too weak to resist him. Blasted Abyssals! Still, he could not allow THAT to stand on Earth!

Leon deployed Humbaba to drop rains of fire on the ghostly bridgeheads, used his scepter to call on the Soul-Collectors to carry any wraith-troops that they could to Lethe – and personally took the field!

He also give the two concubines a kiss each on the way out, thanked Aikiko, and passed that information over to her.

Aikiko had to admit that that wasn’t good! She might have to bite the bullet and don Skoll – perhaps with wings. That way she could quite plausibly pretend to be an angel, support the troops, and protect the holy sites!

She encountered a lot of firepower – but very little that could affect her at all through Skoll and her Behemoth Cloak. A few Arcanoi effects took a couple of motes to resist, but stunting kept her mote pool up. Leon – for the most part impossible to hit, easily charming his weapons to strike down wraiths, and surrounded by his raging fire-lion aura, easily cleaved his way through the ghostly lines – but hasty reports of that kind of resistance soon brought the leaders out to play.

Wings of Decay – a relatively youthful elder with a massively powerful ranged artifact laser, masterful necromantic knowledge, nearly as much sorcerous training, and a nasty plethora of anti-raksha effects – emerged to target Aikiko.

(Wings of Decay) “Burden of Death, Blood of the Fallen, and Pyre Flame, Imbue my weapon with the death of a thousand and strike down this interloper!”

And he fired a blast at Skoll laden with hundreds of deaths, to boost his damage a great deal indeed… In the face of that ravening blast (A high-end necromantic boost, resulting in about 800 damage levels) Aikiko relied on Seven Shadow Evasion – concealing her use of the charm to make it just look like he’d missed as she bent down to grab a puppy!

(Aikiko) “You need to be someplace safer!” (And Aikiko cheerily stored it away).

(Puppy) “Yip?”

(Wings of Decay) “Confound it!”

He fired another similar-but-weaker (only about 400 damage levels, since he had just used up a lot of the death-potential in the immediate area) blast. This time Aikiko opted to simply tank it; with the Behemoth Cloak limiting the damage to two health levels, and her enhanced (and then doubled-up) health she wouldn’t be taking enough of an injury to hinder her – and concealed Seven Shadow Evasion was expensive!

(Aikiko) “Ow! Who did that?” (She rubbed her chestplace, where the blow hit. It had left a singe mark!)

(Wings of Decay) “What? How in the Void could you just… shrug off that attack without using a Charm? Some Lunar with a knack in Construct Forms perhaps? No matter!”

He launched a blitzkrieg of horrible (stored) necromantic spells, trying to poison her, drain her soul, cast her into the void, and remove her armor – half of which bounced from her passive defenses anyway and the rest of which could be easily negated by her Cloak and a few motes…

(Aikiko, combining Leaping Dodge Method and Seven Shadow Evasion to hop up on a nearby building) “Hey, let’s play tag! You’re it!”

Then she took flight and attempted to draw him out of the city. Wings of Decay… summoned a mighty bone warstrider around himself and pursued her. It could be a trap of course – but he had little fear of that and his armored opponent hadn’t used an offensive power yet…

She pulled him out into the desert, where the collateral damage probably wouldn’t be so bad.

Wings of Decay was a powerful necromancer with many stored spells, the ability to become insubstantial, and several other escape effects – and his gun was deadly even without massive boosts – but his bonestrider wasn’t as strong as Skoll, even if he had used Void Circle Necromancy to summon it. Besides, Aikiko had four Coatl to throw spells and help out.

It was still the nastiest fight Aikiko had ever been in. Nearly all her previous opponents had been near-mortal, mortal, or raksha at the worst.

Wings of Decay was overconfident at first – but that passed as swiftly as he had closed with his small opponent when Aikiko punched his Bonestrider into the air, sending it hurtling into an oasis. The impact left the landscape feature nothing but a muddy crater surrounded by shattered trees – and Wings of Decay had actually had to use a charm to avoid serious injury. His necromantic horde faired little better, being sliced down by cutting planes of energy… where in oblivion could you mount THAT weapon in human-sized armor?

Still, it was easy enough to brush aside the mystic chains and the lightning storm the pest sent his way, such spells would have been a challenge for his lesser minions (indeed, the battle reports were saying that they WERE – at least one, and most likely two, mages of similar power were opposing his troops; those would have to be dealt with!) – but they were no match for the skill of a true master…

The serpentine branching chasms of the Devouring Earth quite failed to swallow up his opponent – but left the pest in flight, and without cover – a prime target for fullisades of laser blasts. As a bonus, the fool concerned himself (perhaps herself?) with rescuing bystanders and stopping the chasms before they reached any major landmarks – allowing even more additional free shots!

Wait, the pest still had time to hurl fireblasts and compulsions, fire old-style artifact weapons, and STILL raise wards? And still had enough power to resist his attacks?

(Wings of Decay) “Theon-Dammit! What in OBLIVION are YOU?!?”

Aikiko was not finding this easy! Sure, the Coatl had their own magics, Charles’s geomancy protected her from many effects, and she could be fed additional power from Aden – but this fellows high-essence charms, arsenal of stored spells, and constant laser barrage were wearing down the Coatl’s reserves. Still… Evidently this bastard was in trouble too!

(Aikiko, feeling cocky at the moment and leaning right into the bonestrider’s skull-face) “I’m a Solar.”

(Wings of Decay) “What? Have you been hiding under a rock for the last two ages? the Solars are long gone or transformed!”

Tentacles of blood lashed out, attempting to drag Aikiko into the Shadowlands – only to run into a quick Coatl Warding.

(Aikiko) “I’m pretty sure I’m one! Ew… stop using that gross necromancy!”

(Wings of Decay) “Ah! Something is in there with you!”

Could a Solar possibly use Cosmic Knight armor? It certainly looked like it! And he was running low on motes! Surely no single opponent…

(Aikiko) “No, I’m in the suit of armor.”

(Wings of Decay) “Fool! As if I could not see that other creatures are performing these aggravating secondary spells! This is not the end of this! Next time I will be prepared to fight a committee!”

(Aikiko) “Okay then!”

Hoo boy. She might need more than the Coatl for that.

Wings of Decay used some hideous necromantic transport effect to remove himself from battle… in the meantime, things have not been going so well for his wraith legion! The ones who hadn’t been sent to Lethe hadn’t yet been routed – but they were wavering at best. Leon had had a little time to get involved directly before Death of Whimsy had turned up…

Leon was surprisingly straightforward… for the most part it was “radiate his solar-lion-lightstorm aura to push the penalty on any action opposing him to -23 dice and smack people at a great rate (melee attack: Syldian, Acc 31, 26B/3, Rate 4, O, P) with any necessary enhancements (like hitting immaterial beings) supplied by Thaumaturgy. Meanwhile, his Sirrush would spit fire at opponents”. If he needed to hit a larger area, the first fallback was Thaumaturgy. Defensively he mostly relied on the damage-limiting effects of his Behemoth Cloak, his per-location (and greatly enhanced) health tracks, his geomantic keyword defenses, and his three-per-scene perfect blocks to conserve health and motes – if necessary.

Death of Whimsy was also dreadfully straightforward and physical. His mastery of the Dark Messiah Style was virtually unstoppable, his ability to slay many Raksha at once was most formidable, and his armor was solid (also roughly equivalent to a Behemoth Cloak). He had a solid grounding in Sorcery and Necromancy. Entropy was his cloak; commoner raksha calcified immediately when he was near, and even the nobles normally fled before him. He was a most unappetizing meal for any unshaped, too!

(Leon, dodging Death of Whimsies first strikes readily and resisting his calcifying aura) “Hah! At it’s heart, still order is founded upon Chaos! Even the humans have learned as much by the doctrines of Heisenberg!”

(Death of Whimsy) “Will you STAND STILL!? You are no mere noble – so damnably hard to – WILL YOU STOP DOING THAT!”

Leon was mostly simply hammering on Death of Whimsy – but he did indeed have plans… He was stunting a solar-circle level containment to keep Death of Whimsy from escaping and a perfect privacy defense to keep his secrets from being revealed. If he started getting seriously pressed he would summon a bunch of duplicates of himself and keep hammering away.

That turned out to be necessary pretty quickly – even if Death of Whimsy was having a fairly hard time overcoming that dice penalty.

(Death of Whimsy) “Grr!”

He glowed with baleful black Essence that made Leon’s eyes hurt. It lashed out at him – some sort of shaping effect designed to corrupt his narrative! Unfortunately for Death of Whimsy… the shaping effect shattered harmlessly on Leon’s Adenic defenses.

(Leon) “How rude!”

The seven Leon’s launched three assorted magical attacks, while four continued to hammer Death of Whimsy! He struck back with a flurry of lightning-fast guantlet strikes, so charged with dark power that the very foundations of the buildings around started to crumble as the earth howled in protest. Two Leon’s staggered back for a moment from the sheer force of the impacts – but the various horrific effects that were included failed to bite…

Death of Whimsy struck at the quivering ground, toppling more buildings – and summoning forth shadowy tendrils to grab the Leons and his troops!

One of the Leons Wyld-Stunted another solar-circle level effect to sheer them off.

(Death of Whimsy) “Argh! What are you, an Ishvara!?”

(Leon) “Most would see us that way! What, did you think I’d be willing to fight one of your bunch out of simple egotism?”

Leon spun a secondary containment; he couldn’t be having this fellow escaping – unless he used that “jump through oblivion” thing, which might kill him anyway. The “other Leons” threw in a cascade of lightning, set the ground under his feet moving apart rapidly to force balance checks or more mote-spending), started heating his armor, summoned a trio of mighty dragons to blast him, and all while a pair of Leon’s continued beating on Death of Whimsy – going for flurries.

Another massive series of attacks from Death of Whimsy… resulted in minor injuries to the body parts of various Leons and a great deal of damage to the surrounding city. Leon… prepared a solar-circle level preserve-soul-from-oblivion effect (just to be nice) – as well as a similar effect to send the corrupted Exaltation to Lytek, instead of letting it return to the Underworld (or however that worked these days).

That involved containing an Oblivion Bomb, blocking a resurrection effect that would have brought him back at the Mouth of the Void, and wearing him down with a concentrated effort – but the swarm of Leons was simply too much for a single Abyssal to deal with. Still… Leon was very glad that there hadn’t been two of HIM!

He did some repairs on the city on the way to clearing out the last of the wraiths – and called Aikiko to check up!

(Leon, cheerfully) “That’s one dealt with! How are you doing?”

(Aikiko) “Whew… mine ran away.”

(Leon) “Ah well! Perhaps you can deal with him another time! Still a considerable victory I think!”

(Aikiko) “Yeah… what about yours?”

(Leon) “I put up an entrapment effect first, and another during the fight – and a few related effects. He proved unable to escape me!”

(Aikiko) “Ha!”

(Leon) “I tried to send the corrupted exaltation to Lytek… You might wish to check with him to see if it worked!”

Aikiko did… and it had, much to Lytek’s shock.

(Leon) “Would you care to celebrate a bit?”

(Aikiko) “Are you kidding? I bet you throw good parties!”

Aikiko… was mildly startled at Leon’s collection of naked ex-princess concubines, eunuched ex-princeling attendants, and similar indulgences. She knew they were harems up in Yu=Shan of course, but she hadn’t really seen it in person before! Still, It DID promise to be one heck of a party!

(Aikiko) “Whoa. You’re taking this harem thing seriously.”

(Leon) “Ah well! By the local standards I suppose I should have executed most of them! But why not let them live in the palace and serve me?”

(Aikiko) “That’s… still a little weird. Did you tell them this was what you were doing? At least they’re not dead.”

(Leon) “Tell them? (Leon looked a little blank; what was she talking about? They’d been captured, then mercifully taken to be inducted into the harem rather than into the yard to be lined up and shot. If they’d preferred to resist becoming harem inmates and attendants enough to be shot instead they could have done so readily enough!) I think they know!”

(Aikiko) “Ah. It’s like that…”

Yep, definitely a powerful Raksha; what was his was HIS.

(Aikiko) “Eh, let’s party. I could have died back there!”

And Leon was a pretty nice guy for a Raksha, so why not?

It really was a great party… Leon made a casual pass at her, but he had plenty of cute young women now – there were six following him about – so it really was very casual. Aikiko passed for now. Admittedly, it would be hard to find a more attractive partner outside of other dimensions, or perhaps space – but he was obviously going to be available later if she ever did want to take him up on it and a more natural relationship would probably be better to start with!

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CLXXVII – Death and the Sleeping Duty

In Yu-Shan, Charles was still popping about via his transport amulet – which was the only reason he was remaining ahead of the ever-increasing delegation from the divine bureaucracy that wanted to talk to him; he was stirring things up with a lot more than Hipparions! A visit to the Hannya was still in order, his cult in Tarvail was attracting a good deal of attention, the governments of Earth were getting a “little” on edge what with all the changes, and at least some of the Yozi and elder Exalts were likely to be taking an interest…

Not to mention the Arbiter of Games End.

Which is why one particular probe of Aden drew his attention… Aden did have some fairly extensive security against probing – but with all the gates, and the links to the internet, and the underworld communications manse, and the cell phone links, and various other routes… it was only the important stuff that was actually hidden.

There had been a Wyld-based probe – not that surprising since he WAS linked to Mecha-Godzilla at the moment – but the death-touched one was considerably more disturbing. At least it didn’t have a familiar resonance to it… Charles put lots of interesting (but ultimately irrelevant) stuff in it’s way to keep it busy for awhile – and consulted, because he’d promised that he would! Frumisera, Chisaru, Gothmug, and (especially) Righteous Hala (because she’d be VERY cross if he left her out!) at the least!

The link had faint sensations of mist, roses, and (of course) death connected to it. There wasn’t not QUITE as much hostility as there was when he’d visited the Arbiter though – and he was doubtless even madder now. It was probably not the Arbiter! Of course, as arrogant as the Arbiter was… he probably just assumed that he knew enough and was amassing an army! It would be consistent with what he’d seen of him anyway. After all, if he didn’t assume that he knew enough, he wouldn’t have blasted his contact point – and he’d know better than to try to do what he was! It would simply dissolve the universe in the Wyld and let his new neverborn recreate herself – so no Oblivion anyway. So it was not only impossibly arrogant… but it screamed “madman!” as well.

Why did so many Exalts have to be raving maniacs?

(Charles, to his impromptu council) “Uhm… do you recommend that I speak to them? They don’t seem QUITE so hostile as the Arbiter. Also, mist and roses… sounds vaguely familiar somehow!”

(Frumisera) “Hmm… dealing with Deathlords is usually tricky business, even for one of your power. I would think one as insane as the Arbiter would have attacked by now. This is just a probe, yes? That’s still bad if they can get through your defenses!”

(Charles) “Sadly, with so many gates open… there are routes for probes, and if I hang a perfect privacy defense over all of Aden no one will be able to call in or out or relay instructions or anything!”

(Hala) “I would expect an attack too… though I’ve heard about some younger Deathlords more interested in running their own afterlives. They’re normally pretty secretive about that.”

(Charles) “Well, I’ve only ever actually met the one, and that only briefly!”

(Chisaru, rubbing her chin) “I’d heard the same thing. I don’t know about that – I’m no necromancer. If they’re not attacking, though, and you have defenses…erg. I don’t want to say you SHOULD, but…”

(Frumisera) “It would be risky, to say the least!”

(Charles) “Well… Talking usually doesn’t make it worse, and sometimes it makes it better. I do tend to lean towards “when in doubt, talk!”.

(Hala) “And if this is what I think it is… I’m curious.”

(Charles) “Well, if I filter the conversation like last time it shouldn’t reveal too much anyway.”

(Gothmug) “Are you REALLY sure you want to do this, Charles? Deathlords are so BORING! Oh well, if you filter it, I can stand by and prepare against attacks over the probe.”

(Charles) “Well… lets do it then!”

He sent his own filtered link down to meet the probe with his usual cheery “Hello!”. That led… to a black garden, ripe with faintly luminous fruits and coiled with shiny ivy. A pale figure in a set of black and silver robes, plainly dead, is on the other side.

(Ghost) “Ah, well met, Aden Shining Dream. I had thought the link had gone unnoticed.”

(Charles) “Nope! Was there something you needed?”

(Ghost) “I have been supervising this link on behalf of my mistress. I will patch you over to her.”

(Charles) “OK! And you have as good a time as possible!”

(Ghost) “The wonders of the mistress’s lands are the envy of all the dead.”

(Charles) “Well that’s a good way to run things!”

And another point in the garden there was a gazebo of black jade and a woman… her hair red as blood, her skin white as alabaster, and her armor as black as the void of space and studded with star-like diamonds and rose-like rubies. A winged helmet sat on the table next to her, a goblet filled with what was hopefully red wine next to it. Necrotic Essence was palpable around her, but the expression on her face was tranquil.

(Charles) “Hello!”

(Woman) “Hail and well met, Aden Shining Dream. I am the Marshal of Those Who Have Come Before, Who Are Here, and Who Are Yet To Arrive. You are… younger than I’d anticipated.”

(Charles) “Lots of people say that! But they’re all much older than I am, so it’s sort of a tautology!… Should I get some titles? A lot of other people seem to have them.”

(The Marshal) “Only… fourteen? My, just a baby for that level of power.”

(Hala) “What, you’re asking us? You have to EARN those. I think you’re fine as Aden for now.”

Charles checked for other probes – although that information could be picked up really easily – such as by looking at his school records. And there was no reason not to admit it anyway.

(Charles) “Well, yes!”

(The Marshal, with a knowing smile on her face) “I’m assuming some kind of world-body technique? It’s highly difficulty to get that many personal geomantic links otherwise.”

(Charles, finding that there WERE several other probes in the computer systems) “I like geomancy!”

(The Marshal) “Hmm. Evasive. But then many child-Exalts wind up that way.”

At least the basic network didn’t have much on him – even if it did have lots of entertainment and email – and his stuff was all behind perfect privacy defenses. If she really WANTED earth internet, there was no reason not to let her have it!

(The Marshal) “And you’re not spewing green fire or the energies of Oblivion everywhere…” (Leaning on her chair) “Intriguing… very intriguing.”

(Charles) “Well, the Arbiter was very cranky… And green fire is somebody else’s schtick while the energies of oblivion… well, I’m sorry, but they generally aren’t all that conducive to fun.”

(The Marshal, shrugging) “One of the survivors of the Reshaping, I fear… a tremendously disturbed man. And my interests are with the dead; I have no love or hatred for memories of the time before. But enough chatter. Is is true that you intend to end death?”

Back in person… Charles was looking pretty unhappy! He hadn’t really thought about the practicality of that goal since before he gave himself all the mental boosts – and the “expose flaws in your thinking” function of the privacy manse and the expanded logic of his synergistic overmind… were telling him some things he’d rather not have known. Putting an end to Death… was not practical and would not work.

At least Righteous Hala was there to give him a big hug and be hugged back!

(Charles) “Hmm… Delay it in a lot of cases I think – but there will always come a time when people have had enough of life – and there will always be conflicts and disruptions. On the plus side for Death, the more planets I set up for people to live on, the larger the population will grow – and all of them will die eventually. Given the scale of Creation now… the overall deathrate may decrease by roughly one part in trillions for a few centuries before it starts creeping up.”

(The Marshal) “I see. It is good that you are sensible – the creators DID intend for all things to die eventually, though dying themselves was not part of their designs. I would have been quite cross with you had you intended to make everyone immortal.”

(Charles) “I wanted to – but it won’t work!”

(The Marshal, nodding and staring evenly) “More sensible than I had expected, then… unlike some people, who we have both met and who are NOT sensible.”

(Charles) “The Arbiter? He is quite irrational… he basically tried to intimidate me by threatening to break the phone I’d sent him – which he’d requested…”

(The Marshal) “Indeed, and intending to destroy something important to the proper operation of life and death. Or should I say someone?”

Well, there was no point in denying that really – if she had listened to the Whispers, she knew anyway. And it wasn’t a big deduction anyway; He’d gotten it after one very brief encounter.

(Charles) “Someone – as (sighing) I’m fairly sure you know!”

(The Marshal) “Even if the Celestial Bureaucracy considers me a creature of death and darkness, I want to see existence dissolved as much as its functionaries. It’s hard to populate a realm without souls. And the Wyld is most certainly unhealthy for me, so…”

(Charles) “Well… nobody really wants to see Creation revert to the wyld but a few nihilists and some of the Unshaped who’ve noticed the place.”

(The Marshal) “And at least the Unshaped and hannya have the excuse of narrative. Hmm… I think we do have some common ground, then. Who would have thought?” (In a tone that indicated that this was not a surprise at all…)

(Charles) “Once you get large enough, you usually have some common ground with almost anyone!”

There was a slight groan at the pun… that hadn’t actually been the way he’d meant it, but that happened!

(The Marshal) “I’m sensing some sort of afterlife communication facility in there. Would you care to set up a link and tell me what’s happening in Heaven? Matters within… her?… have been going badly for millennia now.”

(Chisaru) “Uh, Charles, you might want to think twice on that one. Writ aside, I don’t think the Violet Bier of Sorrows would approve.”

(Hala) “Though the LINK is in Aden itself… yeah. If the Bureaucracy finds out, you’d be in trouble.”

(Charles, to Chisaru) “Hrm… General gossip she can certainly get if she can run multiple probes into Aden – and there are still humans who go outside and die occasionally – even if it’s just the occasional morbid person who WANTED to leave a ghost behind or some experimenting Sidereal necromancer dragging someone out. I suspect that she knows perfectly well – but wants to cross-check how reliable I am.

(Charles, to the Marshal) “Well, I’m being strongly reminded that there are quite a few things that I can’t talk about. A lot of stuff is pretty public though… I might need one anyway, would a documentary do? (After all, everything in one of them could be pumped out of any minor celestial god in short order).

(The Marshal) “It should be a breath of fresh air; it’s been a long while since I’ve seen living media.”

(Charles) “I’ll get one made and send a copy over! And some other movies if you’d like!”

Which would later plague the people of her world-body death realm as she peppered them with questions about the technology – but that was not really his concern!

Charles promptly set about generating (via computer graphics and such) a general introductory documentary on Yu-Shan, also suitable for showing Terrestrials who wanted to know what was going on there, and for new Sidereals to show them the layout and such. It included general cautions on deiphagy and other hazards…

He asked Chisaru if there was anything in it that would be objectionable to share, so she took a look. After all, not even new Sidereals were allowed to know too much about the city before they graduated from training. It wasn’t too extensive though – it wasn’t like unauthorized people didn’t drop in on occasion just because they heard of the place, and the lions generally just kick them out or drive them off… Perhaps the Luions wouldn’t do that if there were some kind of “Power of Ten” style film available?

Hm! Copies to the Sidereal schools, and to the various places that could use such a thing. Anywhere with kids for a start… He’d better do an age-graded set. And to lions at the gates to show more sensible visitors!

(Chisaru) “Yeah, emphasize the deiphages… the empty quarters are still pretty dangerous for most people.”

Charles added some more on them, and on the empty quarters (and why to stay out of them), and so on – and wound up with one complete film with age-graded versions! The kids version put a lot more stress on things to stay away from, how to use the canals to get home, and so on. The adult version provided basic information on where to go for permits and such.

(The Marshal) “Oh my… well, that’s interesting. The original geomancy is up to approximately seventy-one percent?”

Well, there was no point in denying that either! The ratio of “stay out” to “OK here” said it as soon as you looked at the map – although most people would have had a hard time calculating that precisely on the fly.

(Charles) “Good math! That’s pretty much it!”

(The Marshal) “What is left of the dead creators has some surprising connections… life for her (nodding to Chisaru) kind will become most interesting if you manage what you’re planning. Though not as interesting as hers must be right now…”

The Lady Chisaru managed to not to ask anything about WHAT she meant by that, since she, Charles, and the Deathlord all knew.

(Charles) “It’s best for life to be full of interest! Otherwise people get bored – and less desirous of a rest afterwards. “

(The Marshal) “I certainly hope you’re prepared to handle it. As for me, since you are not hostile to my interests, I will leave you be for the time being.”

(Charles) “Well, thank you! And let me know if you need anything; I might be able to help!”

The Marshal nodded and the link dissolved into mist and rose petals… the probes remained though.

(Hala) “Hmph. She could have at least disconnected the probes… I never thought I’d meet one of those, though!”

(Charles) “Well… they’re just in the public computer network. That’s already got more – in the “so you want to visit Yu-Shan” sections – then is really in the documentary. The documentary just includes a lot more pictures.”

(Hala) “As long as it doesn’t go any further!”

(Charles) “Well… all the personal stuff and classified projects are behind perfect defenses. There are mountains of stuff on the new planets of course – but that’s all going public to earth anyway.”

That mollified her – although she was sticking close to Charles for the time being. Charles – somber and unhappy – could use the company at the moment… he hadn’t WANTED to realize that abolishing death simply would not work. A childish but benevolent idea shattered!… Hala and Frumisera fussed at him and tried to cheer him up. He was REALLY busy lately, but even tas ired out as he was, now was NOT the time to be mopey! The other projects had to keep moving!

Darn Deathlords! Making him GROW UP! That was not a peril he had ever really anticipated! But when you were becoming the patron of never directly lying it became hard to lie to yourself once someone made you look.

Oh well… that other, Wyld-based, probe was still active – so he said “Hello!” to that one! It DID feel similar to the link with Mecha-Godzilla, if more subtle.

(A voice that sounded like Demien!) “Hello? Heh, it’s you… lucky.”

(Charles) “Uhm… why? And who else would it be?”

(“Demien”) “Well, okay, you and the place ARE one. Can I come in?”

Charles considered… well, he could wyld-gate in anyway, or use the Sidereal travel charms.

(Charles) “I suppose so. What do you need?”

(Demien) “We both know what you’re planning to do to Yu-Shan. I wanted to have some creative input.”

(Charles) “Things are kind of far along for too much of that! Er… is everyone all right? That mess with the Cauldron was REALLY SILLY. Anyway… input is almost always useful! It’s not like I’m incapable of missing good ideas!”

(Demien) “Silly? We’re better than ever… I’m not even sure if it’d help you at this point. I haven’t determined what you are yet, and it’d be shame to have it blow up on us.”

(Charles) “Anyway, what was it you wanted to put in?”

Demien DID feel pretty good, though, what with the Raksha in him and the weird powers he wouldn’t be able to buy otherwise.

(Demien) “How would you feel about some roaming Wyld zones in there? I was going to ask Yu-Shan about it anyway, but since you’re going to be the one doing the geomantic operations, I thought you should know.”

(Charles) “Uhm… I was including an entire wyld aspect to help power things up.”

(Demien) “Yeah, but that’s just, what, one part? If you have it in everywhere, the Wyld’s always right there when you need it!” (Thoughtfully rubbing his chin) “Maybe have it do an orbit around the gates… that way you can avoid it if you want to. I’m not sure WHY you’d want to do that.”

(Charles) “But you need the rigid structure in another aspect to make the geomancy work… I don’t really think wandering chaos zones would work!”

(Demien) “Aw, come on… just imagine the looks on those stuffy gods’ faces. I know you can make it work somehow-and besides, you’re still a LOT better at this stuff than Windhiam.”

(Charles) “That wouldn’t be fair at ALL. Gods can have trouble with that! Would you like it if I put in wandering zones of stability? Now maybe something on the human level; as long as it’s fairly minor humans tend to like a little chaos in things…”

(Demien) “Hmph! You never were any fun… I’ll have to do something about that! I GUESS you could make walking, talking mutation dispensers or something.”

(Charles) “Ooh! Mutation vending machines! That could be handy for the colonization projects; the people wanted some could get them!”

(Demien) “Okay, but I want control over what’s dispensed. It was my idea!”

(Charles) “Erm… We can work on the list together, and there can be “random” and “vendor’s choice” options, but a lot of people will want what they ordered!”

(Demien) “Fine…”

(Charles) “And if you want creative input into things it’s best to come early!”

(Demien) “Heh. I was too busy building kaiju Manses for everybody!”

(Charles) “They are fun!”

(Demien) “Oh yeah… did you find yours? It was only fair for the climatic duel.”

(Charles) “I think so! Why a climatic duel though?”

(Demien, hopping into the link and melt away in a burst of amethyst flame)”Oh, you’ll see…”

Charles waved! It was nice to hear that they were all right though! Even if they WERE effectively holding hands with him right now… Which was still kind of silly! Fortunately he had lots of multitracking to monitor that link while Demien was being distracting and impractical (and knowingly so). There was a little bit of energy leeching off that link now in fact…

Charles basically tied a note to it that said “if you need some, why not ask?”, and send some along… The drain was only about… five motes and hour. Quite negligible, even if he would have to put a halt to that once things begin, but for the moment, why not let them?

(Righteous Hala) “Charles… where is all that Essence going, and why are you feeding more in there without even SEEING WHERE IT’S GOING?”

(Charles) “Oh… Well, sending some to the Deiphages worked out quite well… but I suppose I ought to look!”

The Essence was going… someplace into Deep Chaos. The Essence at the other end was VERY familiar. It reminded him of that temple, and that final chamber… it was faint, but it was still all too like it – complete with the fountain, which his Essence was feeding into.

(Charles) “Hm… I think they’re testing compatibility! It’s not like deep chaos doesn’t have plenty of essence available!”

(Righteous Hala) “With what?”

(Charles) “Probably with the Cauldron and/or Kaiju…”

He tried running the probe out further – weaving it into the energy-stream with concealments – and ran into a perfect ward. Windhiam might not be as good at geomancy as Charles was, but he was definitely up to THAT.

(Charles) “That’s what I thought! It’s a perfect privacy ward; the only way to look would be to go in person.”

(Righteous Hala) “It might be bait.”

(Charles) “That’s always the “If” part! And (with a bit of disappointment) I don’t really have time right now for side-trips.”

(Hala) “Smart kid.”

(Charles) “Well… letting them have a few motes costs little or nothing, and carries few risks – motes flow out all the time anyway all over – and if they think that they got something past, they may get overconfident and let something slip! So it’s OK for now!”

Righteous Hala… would be monitoring that link nonetheless. Charles would be too – but he already was for any serious transfers in or out.

Wait! He had to get busy on those Artifacts for Guarderis Athelstane! And those would be… getting a bunch of high-end Raksha charms into major artifacts, primordial armor, and secondary protections for her various subsouls since that did seem to be the easiest way to ensure that nobody messed with her… Concealment, self-duplication, and erasing the worst threats from her personal reality would help a LOT!

Hm… He could forge them as Ideas; that way they could be kept very personally! For components… he’d need some Raksha graces and… a blessing from an Unshaped (and from a very high-essence shaped), a suit of rank-5 artifact armor, matter from an alternate creation, a mirror that held an image but had never known light, and an egg from beneath a bird that was nesting atop the highest tree on a distant island, surrounded by natural hazards. If possible, someone should have hidden a secret item inside. No doubt worthy of an epic quest that had to be completed in less than a month! A good thing that he had easy access to both gates and other Creations!

Well… the mirror was easy – modern manufacturing and computer-engraving techniques would handle THAT – as was the armor and the matter. The Egg would be mildly tricky (sorcerers were notorious for hiding their hearts that way, albeit with all kinds of guardians), and the Unshaped would be trickiest! So it was off to the Deep Wyld (where he might run into the cauldron-born anyway). Fortunately, he already have a manifestation there (and a lovely view of the universe from great grandmother Gauderis Athelstane). There were several waypoints close by at the moment: a Manse of rosy stone, interwoven with thorny yellow vines of Essence, floating on a piece of land: a planet formed entirely of flame, grumbling the secrets of an unknown species; a bird-shaped craft cawing menacingly and expelling shadows of fury; and a crystalline city humming a song of destruction.

Ooh! Drama! Still… to the Manse of course!

It was indeed a powerful fortress. Beneath the dense thicket of the thorny vines, a horde of Raksha warriors slept outside the walls! The Manse’s Essence based weaponry still hummed; the place was well-preserved, although the Essence of deep sleep hung over the place like a veil. Thankfully, Dudael protected him against that…

Uh-Oh! Enchanted castle, everyone sleeping, surrounded by roses…. Was there going to be a princess who’d pricked her finger on a spinning wheel inside? Well, he had to pass the waypoint to move on anyway, so he went on in!

The vines ground against him as he passed; the thorns were quite formidable – or would be if he wasn’t wearing such good armor. There were still more Raksha as he passed the gate. Their panoplies suggested that at least some of them were nobles – not all of them with a Warrior component, either. A freehold with a manse aspect? After all, pretty much anything could be gotten to work at the fringes of the Wyld… Oops! The essence-weaponry (it looked like heavy concussive stuff) was turning his way! It was obviously time to head for the central tower and waken the princess – unless it was all stylized surroundings for a freehold.

And there was the central tower! Charles hastily put up wards and shields over the “sleeping” Raksha (they could really get hurt in a crossfire!) and then over himself. As the weapons fired, the blasts hammered against the wards and shields – and the dust shook up the dust on the tilework in the courtyard. It was a lovely First Age mosaic, done in the old Southern style – an oasis depiction in what (today) would be considered a middle-eastern style. Very nice! He recorded it carefully!

The central tower was capped by a minaret; the first floor was a lobby area, with fine chairs, some bowls that look like they once held fruit, and a desk and a First Age communicator – presumably for the receptionist. There were stairs here, but they were blocked by a colossal, tree-like leg, covered with vines and leaves. He could hear snoring upstairs. Troublingly, the sleepy essence was becoming stronger; without his defenses he’d be asleep by now… The yellow vines were also present, coiling through cracks in the walls and down the stairs. There MIGHT be room to get past the leg if some vines and such were removed – but he’d probably have to shrink, and even then the creature was kicking a bit in its sleep. He might have to go up the outside or make a hole in the roof!

Well, it didn’t look like it would disrupt the geomancy… and his survey of the place showed that the geomantic center was up there too. It looked like the place used an integrated artifact suite to stabilize the local area – as well as serving as a major communications hub. A temporary hole in the roof it was!

There were some of the yellow vines coiled up around the roof supports too, but it was easy enough to find a gap. Given that the place was a fortress Manse, it took a while to make the hole – Charles had more than enough geomantic prowess to tweak something so minor. Once he’d sealed the hole removing a few vines revealed a Central Control room, built in First Age style. The vines were especially dense towards the center of the room – but there was someone snoring, about where the central control throne would be. The Essence of sleep was just cloying. No one could possibly stay awake this close to the center without a perfect mental defense or a colossal reserve of willpower! Even HE felt like yawning – probably the “natural” part of the influence!

The snorer proved to be a plump, elderly gentleman, dressed in fine ambrosial attire that would not be out of place in Yu-Shan. Deeply asleep, he was splayed lengthwise upon the control throne. He was definitely the source of the vines; they were sprouting from his brilliant yellow anima. They didn’t seem to hinder the usual shifting of a sleeper – and he was smiling in his sleep. The sleep seemed to be… a voluntary Sidereal Martial Arts effect. That was the source of the vines and the wide-range sleep effect. A pretty high-end effect! It looked like… an Essence-7 capstone equivalent effect. This fellow might have been missing for a long time! He checked back with Mr Montague to see if the fellow could be identified!

Mr Montague had to call in Sasa, but after a bit of communication and some research…

(Sasa) “Well, that’s neat… that’s Xsalorn, master of the Beige Boulder of Lethargy. Now THAT is an obscure style; most people don’t study more than the Form. He disappeared during the Balorian Crusade, when fey were invading this fortress Manse. I guess that’s what happened to him.”

(Charles) “I take it that the final sleeping effect prevents aging, hunger, and so on?”

(Sasa) “Well, the Form puts you to sleep. Now there are recorded instances of the final technique being used, but that’s forbidden. You’re seeing why right now!”

(Charles) “Well, it does take you out of circulation evidently!”

(Sasa) “Which is why I’ve been told to tell you to wake him up and get him back to work!”

They were FAR to understaffed to allow someone to sleep perpetually!

(Charles) “Is there a particular way of doing that?”

(Sasa, checking his notes) “Countering the Form Charm should do it. All the style’s techniques were an offshoot of the Form – Xsalorn believed… that laziness was enlightenment. Hoo boy.”

(Charles) “Well, I suppose it might be! I suspect that there are much more interesting ways though… how do you counter a form charm outside of a formbreaker charms? Would a high-end waking effect do?”

(Sasa) “That should do it; he can’t wake himself up, but you just need to overpower his own Essence.”

Charles put up some wards against Raksha attack (they only needed to last for a few minutes, got his own gate open first, then applied some of his medical talents to wake Xsalorn up!

The old man awakened… slowly… and then smiled benignly, and tried to go back to sleep.

Charles joggled him – and got a bit of grumbling, and the benevolent smile again. There was no hostility there, but he was very sleepy!

(Charles) “You’ve been asleep a very long time now – better than thirty thousand years – and it’s time to wake up now! If that isn’t long enough to sleep your way to enlightenment, I don’t think it’s going to work!”

(Xsalorn, scratching his belly) “Five more minutes?”

(Charles) “Sorry, but no! Everyone else has been having to handle your work for thirty millennia, and that’s not fair!

(Xsalorn) “Aw… it was worth a try. But see? I was working by protecting this place!”

(Charles) “But it doesn’t really need protecting now. It’s out in the Wyld anyway!”

(Xsalorn) “Aw… weeeell, back to the grind, I suppose. Thirty thousand years, you say?”

(Charles) “Somewhat over that!”

Xsalorn smiled proudly!

Charles sent him off to Aden (where UMI, even if directed at yourself, did not work) – and then home to deal with his eons of paperwork. Xsalorn was kind of fussy about that! Now to deal with the Raksha! He had to admit that, in the beginning at least, the old lazy Chosen of Journeys really had been protecting the place – but the region of the South it was once in had long dissolved, and the Manse was quite far from Creation… Well, it was something of an antique! Maybe he should add it to his collection? Of course, he had to deal with the Raksha first, but that would leave no one around to object to him taking it…

He waited for the Raksha to wake up – trying to wake up one or two a few minutes early if he could… They awoke along with their behemoth, which was now thrashing in the tower.

Charles put it outside, with a snack in case it was a real animal or person changed into a Behemoth!

(Eshu Raksha, elaborately dressed with a polearm, as the tree-cat behemoth sipped it’s milk) “Hah! Have at you, cowardly old-ah, have you changed form? No fair!”

(Charles) “Nah! He left! I’m Charles! And you’ve had a rather lengthy nap!”

(Eshu) “Well that’s unsporting. Who am I supposed to gloriously duel now?”

(Charles) “Well, I suppose I could send for someone… but dueling an old man who specializes in sleeping doesn’t sound all that glorious anyway.”

(Eshu, with some surprise) “Really. THAT’s what the Sidereal was studying?”

(Charles) “Yep. Contagious napping!”

(Eshu) “What a letdown. Fnaria gets the master of sickness, and I chase down that?”

(Charles) “I’m afraid so! And he – and you – napped for rather a long time!”

(Eshu, looking at the behemoth, and the region outside) “At least we technically succeeded – this fortress is now deep in the Wyld!”

(Charles) “Yes indeed!”

(Eshu and many more cheering Raksha) “Hurrah! Did we win the war?”

(Charles) “Half-and-half! You overran quite a lot of Creation, but there’s some left and it’s undergone internal inflation.”

(Eshu) “Sigh… bother. Can you at least point us toward the nearest freehold? I suppose I can get some comedy out of this.”

Charles probed around for one… it looked like there was… Lupimanda whose president he’d returned that birthday present to (It might be a little too modern for a bunch of Raksha Landsknecht though). There was a candy fortress a few waypoints over to the east, and that planet of fire he’d spotted earlier… The planet of fire should do nicely – at least after he gave them a few warnings the Hannya!

(Eshu) “Thank you… err, whatever you are.”

(Charles) “I’m not too sure myself most days! But you’re quite welcome!”

And the Raksha summoned a bunch of elaborately woven steeds and ride off while Charles checked the place over to make sure that there was nothing problematic in or about it and then – since it checked out OK – added it to his collection, leaving him on a simple, easily passable, Wyld waypoint.

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CLXXVI – The Conduit Of Pleas

Back at the pillar Astrid had managed to get an audience – but for later. She wasn’t saying anything else about it. Of course, she had just been handed a huge mass of secrets that she couldn’t share. But… she looked more sad than angry.

(Charles) “I’m sorry if it’s a problem… but it might be useful for you to know, and it is pretty urgent.”

(Astrid) “Sigh… I appreciate the knowledge – and it was badly needed! I’ll just have to keep it to myself.”

She didn’t exactly have a choice about it anyway.

(Charles) “Well… a few months and the need for secrecy will be past – for good or ill.”

(Astrid, smiling, still tinged with a bit of sadness) “I should meet with the guards – they’ve probably hurried this way after THAT.”

Charles looked around; after all, she was quite right! That kind of manifestation was rarely subtle or unnoticed! In fact… there was a massive group of deiphages headed their way.

(Astrid) “Bother. Well, more to heal for you.”

(Charles, to the Deiphages – since most of them were in on things – at least to some extent) “Uhm… what’s up? And who’s in charge?”

(A tall, fiery figure in the standard black robes) “Bahaha! I’m Thirty Dusk! I came to… well, well! I know you, girl! Out of your little hidey hole?”

(Astrid) “Watch it, deiphage. You know what my father will do if you harm me.”

(Charles) “Oh stop! You know perfectly well that this is too urgent for silliness!”

(Astrid, telepathically) “I must keep up appearances. Father would be cross with me if I didn’t give them SOME trouble.”

(Dusk, with-obviously-feigned shock) “Why, I had only come to investigate the disturbance! Now (mimicking a lion) what’s all this then?”

(Charles) “A bit of a conference really, with some rather old powers. I’m fairly sure that you know that I can’t tell you more unless you make some serious commitments!”

And Dusk was one he hadn’t met yet!

(Charles) “Oh! I have something for you…” (He produced the usual swirling orb again).

(Dusk, rubbing his hands together.) “Why, thank you!”

(Charles) “You’re welcome!”

(Dusk, Telepathically) “Oh yeah… how much does she know? She’s a princess of the Bronze, you know!”

(Charles, equally telepathically!) “The basic summary! She promised to keep it quiet, and she does have important information!”

(Dusk, still telepathically) “Arggh… I hope those were some good oaths, kid!”

(Charles, still telepathically) “I used the Primordial ones!”

(Dusk, still telepathically) “Whoa… (looking to the big pillar) “A soul?”

(Charles, still telepathically) “Of communications, and thus a link with the organizing principle”

(Dusk) “I see… I’ll just report a geomantic disturbance, OK? Plenty of those around here.”

(Charles) “Ok!”

And Dusk departed…

(Astrid) “Sigh… I’ll be pleased when this is all over.”

(Charles) “It should be much nicer then! But it’s better to have everyone talking instead of fighting!”

Regardless of how weird it would look to the bronze faction camp to have a bunch of deiphages approach, talk, and then retreat… When the Manseguard detachment arrived, they started out by asking about that.

(Guards) “You didn’t even cast a spell!”

(Charles) “I’ve been getting a lot of practice at getting on with people recently!”

That got him some very odd looks – but he WAS known for negotiating.

(Commander) “Are you all right, Lady Astrid?”

(Astrid) “I’m an Exalt now. I managed just fine.”

(Commander) “We should head back soon – they might have seen that one over at the Manse!”

(Charles) “And I have other stops to make… unless there’s something urgent on your end My Lady?”

(Astrid) “Ah! Could you make a substitute for sleep? Not for me, but for Gus. He’s so busy lately.”

(Charles) “Well… Partially! The mental rest part can be compressed with one of these (he produced a Conversation Piece), and physical recovery can be accelerated with one of these (producing one mattress of ultimate restfulness and rapid recovery), but you still need some!

(Astrid, with the tone of someone who had, for a very long time.) “Try telling him that.”

(Charles) “Well, maybe those will help some! And if there’s anywhere he regularly stays, I might be able to make a few adjustments to the passage of time…”

(Astrid) “Thank you, dear… the artifacts should be enough. He’s very wary about altering his living space.”

(Charles) “Well, trying to do too much of that does very odd things to entropy anyway. And Yu-Shan probably doesn’t need any more of that at the moment anyway.”

(Astrid) “Definitely not.” (giving the artifacts to the detachment’s commander) “I’ll be right behind you… the personal ward against deiphages should hold. There’s just a private matter I want to discuss.”

(Commander) “Yes, my lady.”

They headed off.

(Astrid) “Charles… you’ve heard of the Spell That Is Not a Spell, right?”

(Charles) “Well yes – but it’s a very silly one!”

(Astrid) “Is there any means of stopping it at all?”

An odd question for her to ask, perhaps… she hadn’t demonstrated any sorcery at all.

(Charles) Well… yes and no! ANY spell can be disrupted if you catch it in time. But… the trick there is that the “spell” is really only a formality to make it neat and clean up loose ends. If the decision is true… if someone really wants to renounce existence… it’s just like a Raksha who shatters it’s heart grace; the chaos within their own soul will dissolve it into chaos again.

Astrid was still looking a bit sad, but now was either feeling it too intensely to hide it, or wasn’t bothering.

(Astrid) “I see… for both our sakes, then, I hope your plans work without interruption or interference. Thank you, Charles.”

(Charles) “Uhm… If you can catch them even a moment before they start, this should work!” (And he produced one Crystal of Endless Distraction – a Raksha artifact guaranteed to keep anyone interested – although it hindered them in no other way).

(Astrid) “Ah… thank you. I hope it doesn’t come to using this.”

(Charles) “I certainly hope not! When there are endless possibilities, giving up on existence really isn’t a very sensible decision – and that’s a good reminder that improvements are ALWAYS possible!”

(Astrid smiled, looked relieved, and bowed to Charles.) “I should go – the Manseguard are probably getting suspicious. I appreciate all your help.”

(Charles) “You’re welcome! I like to help people!”

Astrid stowed the crystal in her robes/commando armor and headed back to the camp – sadly unable to share what she had learned, but still looking a bit happier. Charles hoped that she would still have some influence – and that she would not need to try the distracting crystal! It couldn’t be any fun worrying about someone committing magical suicide… Presumably it was someone who would find the loss of Yu-Shan unbearable – most likely someone who felt responsible for it. Ergo, a major figure in the faction – and deeply involved in Stanewald. And she was related to at least two of those. Still, hopefully it would not come to that – and the messing up of their plans should be much more bearable than the universe being annihilated.

And Charles headed off to visit some more of the souls that he hadn’t been able to get into touch with… Quan Pen, the Conduit of Pleas, was associated with the Quintessence Fountains and Ambrosia production – and Mr. Montague was hearing SOMEONE trying to communicate with him near the “malfunctioning” fountains. Getting in contact with her would be wise; after all, he’d already been meddling with the fountains… and he had a few questions as to how quintessence and ambrosia were made. He had some pretty good ideas on Quintessence since it could be dissolved into essence again. It was basically liquid motes – already linked together and thus easy to bind into new shapes. Ambrosia was harder… although he guessed that it has at least some “life” to it, since some of it it can be forged into magical materials and it might be what Raksha Graces were made of on a fundamental level.

Traces on the Conduit of Pleas led to a location in northern Yu-Shan’s abandoned quarters: a suspiciously clean prayer plaza, with a cheerily bubbling fountain. That definitely wasn’t normal; the Quintessence should simply flow into the jade basin… The fountain had been warded against intrusion and tampering – also odd, since fountains in the abandoned quarters were normally either not secured at all or were watched by some unemployed but powerful god. This one… didn’t need repairs, and was… pristine. A scan of the ground beneath showed no damage whatsoever, although there was some powerful magical energy bubbling beneath there, and extra pipes. They registered as being much warmer than the others. It DID need some adjustment to pick up interstellar prayers.

(Charles) “Excuse me! But there’s a small adjustment to make if that’s ok!”

He definitely got the feeling that someone was indeed listening – and the ground around the fountain had definitely warmed up. Charles made the adjustment – but gently! It felt… rather weird for a geomantic adjustment. Still, Quan Pen was connected to the Elemental Pole of Pleasure too.

(From the fountain) “Ooh… ah… oww…” (As the interstellar connnection boots up…) “Ow. So much prayer…”

(Charles) “There is a lot more these days – but Yu-Shan needs the increased power flow very badly I think! Is it too much to handle? I can make some artifacts to help!”

(Fountain) “My, Creation must have grown for this much prayer at once. (She sounded pleased.) I think I’ll be fine! I just need to make some adjustments.”

(Charles) “I’ve set up some systems to adjust the other fountains!”

(Fountain) “I’m Quan Pen! And who might you be? Your Essence signature is complicated!”

(Charles) “I’m Charles Dexter Ward! Or Aden Shining Dream! I fix things!”

(Quan Pen) “I see… my, my, and made of meat, too? I knew shaped existence was a good idea – you’re channeling a lot of Essence through that meat. And… how fascinating! You have multiple souls! And Manses, and many, many artifacts!”

(Charles) “Well, I’ve been expanding things! And I just got some poles installed too!”

(Quan Pen) “A Primordial born of meat, then?” (And there is another feeling, similiar to watching someone scratch their head.) “What a wonderful development of an inferior material!”

(Charles) “Well maybe! I’m not sure whether there’s really a distinction any more… But Yu-Shan really needs some help, so I’m setting up for that now!”

(Quan Pen) “Can you do me a favor? It will help you with that!”

(Charles) “I can’t guarantee it – but I usually can!”

(Quan Pen) “Not too long ago, one of those fates – not the big ones, the little ones made of meat like you – paid me a visit. I think it was one of the ones associated with the emerald Fate. She was always so elusive, you know…”

(Charles) “Did they hear you?”

(Quan Pen) “Ah, yes! Yao Xin and I told them not to do it, but they said it was for Yu-Shan’s sake.”

(Charles) “Oh dear! Wanting to do a very big geomantic redirection ritual?”

(Quan Pen) “Actually… no. Yao Xin’s so lucky to have one of the little fates tied to her. I almost got one a short while ago-but the silly little thing wouldn’t listen, and sealed off my ability to claim another!” (There was the sensation of pouting.) “How can you crush someone’s hopes of greater power that way? It’s not fair!”

(Charles) “Well, I don’t think any of them reaqlly understand!”

(Quan Pen) “Can you please reopen those channels? I want to help… it wouldn’t be my first time assisting one of them!”

(Charles) “Er… I don’t know; I never really looked… where are the channels and what do they look like?”

(Quan Pen) “They’re within the Quintessence pipes – they should be grooved to channel the Fate-based Essence. Yao Xin has similiar grooves, but I can link those to the little meat-fates’ Essence much less painfully.” (And there was a sense of loneliness.)

Charles had a look… Apparently someone had filled in those grooves with shimmering protective Essence, gluelike in texture. In the Essence-glue he could see tiny tubes in clusters of 25. There was a lot of sympathetic energy with Sidereal Essence in them, linking to this deva, and a two-way Essence link: Essence went in – and Charms went out)

(Charles) “Huh… so unplugging things will allow them to send you essence to use some of your charms? Well, that should be simple enough…” (He unplugged things).

(Quan Pen, brightly) “Oh, thank you! Now what about bringing me a tiny fate?”

(Charles) “Well… I can check if someone wants to talk!”

Ms Chisaru was caught up in a meeting at the moment – but that gave Charles time to do his explaining and get feedback from Quan Pen!

(Charles) “You’re… going to expand the young mistress as well? Are things really so bad that you have to split everyone up?”

(Charles, gesturing at the “current situation” sections) “It’s that or geomantic collapse… it’s really too late for cautious measures! But everyone will remain linked!”

(Quan Pen, sighing) “This is why I argued against us being put to sleep. If Gaia hadn’t been in such a rush, none of this would have happened! But it will be nice to truly awaken, and harvest the dreams and wishes of those who would address the young mistress!”

(Charles) “Well… it’s too late for me to fix THAT. That was a long time ago!”

(Quan Pen) “Anyway… I’ll think about the fey region. That could lead to some interesting new curios-I’ll have to speak with Xiang about it.”

(Charles) “And it’s certainly time for everyone to wake up…”

(Chisaru, a bit later) “This is totally between you and me… but that meeting was about our little mutual problem with the Bronze Faction.”

(Charles) “Ah! Well, on that front I have good news… I’ve located Yu-Shans Devas and spoken with Yu-Shan, so there should be minimal upheaval and confusion. But Quan Pen, the Conduit of Pleas – the quintessence fountains and prayer-recievers – would like to talk to either a Sidereal Exalt or to one of the Maidens! I’m not sure which, but I thought I’d ask if you’d like to talk to her!”

(Chisaru) “About what? I’ve got a mission I need to run to, and a directive from that meeting besides. Not that I want to turn down a chance to talk to… a deva, right? Wow.”

(Charles) “Well… she says that she’d like to help; I THINK that they can interact with the Sidereal Charmset; they are linked to the Vault of Heaven. And yes, she’s a Deva… I can give you a lift, so it shouldn’t take too long!”

(Chisaru) “Urk… I don’t like where this is going. But – eh, I’ll tell you when I get there.”

(Charles) “Well, I don’t think that it’s in any way required – but more information is always good!”

(Chisaru, after requesting privacy warding) “Okay. The Elder Council pretty much wants to set it up so somebody can counter the Stanewald ritual. (Shrugging) I’m not sure how one Sidereal Exalt, elder or not, can do that, but then the Bronze are going to have one person doing it. It… sounds like one of those plans formed in committee. And looking at our history, those never work out as expected.”

(Charles) “Oh dear! More meddling… I’ve already set up to counter it if they start at the wrong moment of course! I take it that the information got leaked to them or they found out on their own? Still, with any luck… it may take them more time than is left before I start to try to set it up!”

(Chisaru) “That’s good…” (And she held a hand to her temples.) “Gah… is that Quan Pen? My head… yeah, I pretty much had to tell them. Sorry, Charles! I couldn’t let a threat like that go unreported!”

(Charles, looking mildly disappointed; another possible random factor to watch for!) “Oh well… how long do you think it will take them to get ready? Staneweld was scheduled for about two years from now of course. And that’s Quan Pen! There seems to be an interaction with the Sidereal Exaltation that goes back to before the Primordial War. It involves energy transfer – but here’s a temporary ward for it!

(Chisaru) “Augh… thanks. She says she can fix these damned migraines for good if I just hop into that fountain. That’s her, right? And I’d give them about a year; they’re scouting demesnes for our network right now.”

Charles relayed what Mr Montague was told.

(Charles) “Well, that shouldn’t be too big a problem then! And Ms Quan Pen? It might be best to just speak aloud; your current mode of communication is a bit awkward!”

(Quan Pen) “Please jump in me! Not only will you feel better, I can teach you some very helpful techniques!”

(Chisaru) “Yeah, and drain motes from me every day, too. And make me go berserk with hunger for them.”

Charles tried to figure out what would actually happen… It looked like mote draining every day, about as a much as a Tender. He couldn’t see anything that would indicate going berserk with hunger, though… It was only about (Essencex2) per day…

(Charles) “Hm… the drain would be relatively minor – far less than what you pick up by being linked to the privacy manse – and there’s no apparent danger of going berserk… I’m not quite sure what you would get out of it though; it should be additional charm-options, but I can’t tell what!”

(Chisaru) “I got a note saying that was a risk of this.”

(Quan Pen) “But that shouldn’t happen!”

(Charles) “I could be wrong; I am looking directly, but I can’t tell if their information is more complete than mine! It shouldn’t be a risk with the manse link though even if I’m wrong about the level – and I can always set up more manse links. Quan Pen? What exactly comes back to the Sidereals over the link?”

(Quan Pen) “In the time before what Cangha calls the Occupation, the Tenders and Fates performed some alterations to some of us! I was confused at first, but when the first tiny fate was immersed in my waters, some of my power was converted to theirs.”

(Chisaru) “Was there a little poem related to this?”

(Quan Pen) “Er… the Fates did recite one!”

Chisaru kept holding one hand to her temple, but moved the fingers slightly to her forehead.

(Chisaru) “This is a crazy idea… Charles, you think there’s some mental illness affecting all us Exalts, right? And the Sidereal variation’s based on group plans going badly.”

(Charles) “Yes – unfortunately. I can’t tell whether it’s innate or a consequence of the war – but apparently prophecies and such worked during the war, and – while the exalts might have been ruthless and cruel, the most blatant madness was all after the war. I’d bet on it being some aftereffect of the war, and this would definitely predate it.”

(Chisaru) “Huh… I’ve got a theory of my own about that, and these migraines, and that note. And (looking to the fountain) that’s the only way to test it without getting someone else mixed up in this. And I’m sure as Malfeas not going to toss Sasa in there.”

(Charles) “Well… if it turns out to go wrong, I will certainly try to fix it!”

(Chisaru) “Does this sound totally idiotic to you?”

(Charles) “It sounds like a gamble – but the alternatives… have failed for thirty thousand years.”

(Chisaru) “Okay then…” (She adjusted the collar of her very nice designer suit – which turned it into a modest swimsuit.) “Here goes nothing!”

Chisaru went in – and Charles observed and analyzed carefully. After all, he might need to undo it! Besides… the link with the privacy manse provided perfect mental stability.

(Quan Pen) “Hurrah! At long last… ooh, a ruby fate this time!”

The Quintessence in the fountain was bubbling, and the newly unsealed grooves filled with Martian Essence… the hooks connected to that Essence… There was a shift going on in Sorina Chisaru’s mental state; the formerly mitigated hubris and tendency toward groupthink was fading, with a gnawing hunger replacing it. Evidently there was a trading of prayer motes with fate motes. The hooks burrowed further, draining motes steadily; at this rate, her mote pool would be completely empty when she re-emerged. It was also adding channels into the occupant’s Essence, to facilitate feeding.

Charles poured in more motes – and a scripture was coming into full flower! The Scripture of the Hungry Maiden, written in the customary cramped and ragged hand. And a martial art based around this deva’s abilities – the Conduit of Pleas style. As Charles poured additional motes in, the spot where Chisaru dove in bubbled ever-brighter, with a crimson glow in that area. Ms Chisaru emerged about an hour later, her anima and caste mark in full brilliance… and veins glowing. Her hands were also glowing, and she was gasping. There was a bit of moaning there – reminding Charles of some of the zombie films he’d seen – but she wasn’t attacking him, which was good! He hooked her up to some more manses…

(Charles) “Are you all right?”

(Chisaru) “That was something else… my migraine IS gone, at least.”

(Charles) “Well, that’s something!”

(Chisaru, looking at her veins) “I don’t feel many mental changes… other than that she’s in my head for good now.”

(Quan Pen) “I’m supposed to advise you! You should be honored; only the best of the tiny fates are supposed to get this gift!”

(Charles) “Well, you should be able to evaluate them precisely by running a comparison against the privacy manse…”

(Chisaru, making that comparison) “Huh.” (She provided Charles with m ore details on the mental changes.)

(Charles) “Hm! Well, that’s probably an improvement… the hunger is fixable with some power boosts, and that’s easier than the other problems were to fix!”

(Chisaru) “But it’s still there… so those contacts with me and Sasa WERE warnings about this.”

(Charles) “Will it be much of a distraction with the extra input?”

(Chisaru) “I don’t THINK so. With the extra motes coming in, this should be much easier to deal with than making bad plans for Creation.”

(Charles) “Oh good!”

(Chisaru) “Uh… but here’s what bothers me. How would the person sending us notes know about any of this? I’ve got one possibility in mind, but that one’s got some scary implications.”

(Charles) “Well… they could have experienced it themselves, or have found some old texts, or have misunderstood a prophecy about it… Or they could just date back to before the war!”

(Chisaru) “I’m… going to keep a lookout for information, and try to keep my seniors from blowing up the place. You stay safe, okay? Because if there is some other Sidereal like this running around, I don’t know anything about their motives.”

(Charles) “I’ll try! And… hm… I’d bet that all of Yu-Shan’s Devas are set up to allow this in one fashion or another…”

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CLXXV – The Houses Of The Primordial

Ruki sighed… She was talking to a winged snake. Fine. “Unexplained Phenomena” it was. It really didn’t seem to have much to do with those ridiculous fakes who used to claim to have magical powers in Roanapur anyway…

(Ruki) “OK then… You’re saying that I should have some of these “unexplained” powers? Then lets test them, and we’ll see just how much of this is real.”

(Coatl) “Well, the facilities here should suffice! Lets get started then!”

In Yu-Shan… the fires of rumor were burning hotter than ever – and it wasn’t just the Canal Gods intriguing for increased rank. That open-ended writ from Luna, the obsessiveness, his tendency to ignore deiphages as if gods could not attack him, and his (recently installed) elemental poles… At this point the deception was pretty much complete; It would likely take an actual Primordial saying, “Nope, not one of us!” to break the illusion – and even that might not work. He might well qualify as an “actual” nascent one by now.

The Yozi’s were going to be surprised – and not necessarily in a negative way.

Meanwhile, in Yu-Shan, Charles was tracing Cangha, the Seed of Worldspeech. Not only was she linked to the blue jade emergency pillars, but to the Heart of the Canals as well! Besides… “Worldspeech” might be the tongue of the Primordials, which should have all kinds of interesting implications!

Some of the great blue jade pillars were carved with imagery that might or might not be associated with some of the other Primordials. It was hard to tell; they were one of the few parts of Heavenly architecture that the lions had been unable to alter. It was also well-known that most pillars in the empty quarters summoned deiphages instead of lions these days – which made sense to Charles anyway. He was more inclined to wonder why they had EVER summoned lions… Nevertheless, his trace led to… an area that Yao Xin was also tied to and to a particular blue jade pillar carved with glyphs. Some the glyphs were recognizable as Old Realm pictographs, written in a cramped and ragged hand simliar to that supposedly used to write the Sidereal scriptures.

Despite the region being in the middle of a western empty quarter, there was a large and well-warded camp nearby.

Charles waved cheerily at the camp, laid a hand on the pillar, and launched a simple communications-spell with his usual cheerful “Hello!”

The pillar… was warm to the touch; a tone resonates in his mind and he had feelings simliar to those he’d experienced when he’d delved into the human racemind to make Mothra Leo. If imagination could be tangible, it would be while he was touching the pillar.

Also, he got a thaumaturgical hail from the camp: not from an actual spell, but from a communicative artifact. It was a somewhat familiar person.

(Astrid) “Charles! Is that you? It’s been a while.”

Hrm… May have to broaden things; this Deva’s consciousness may be spread over all the pillars.

(Charles) “Hello Astrid! Yes, it’s Charles; how have you been?”

(Astrid) “I’ve been managing… what brings you out here? Curing more deiphages?”

(Charles) “Well… in a way! Oh, do you have enough room now?”

(Astrid) “Ah, right! Thank you very much for that… it’s protected against all intrusion, right? Gus explained a good deal of it to me – you built a Manse of that size, that fast?”

(Charles) “I like making manses, so I made lots of ways to make them faster!”

(Astrid) “I see. You must be aware that you’re touching a Manse right now, then… That place was very well hidden. It took us a week to track down its signature.”

(Charles) “Well yes! I kind of need to check on it!”

(Astrid) “What for? Gus wanted me to investigate it, but he wouldn’t tell me WHY!” (The frustration with her Sidereal husband was palpable… Chosen of Secrets indeed!)

(Charles) “Er… I’d have to ask you not to pass the information on; it’s very private!”

(Astrid) “I promise, dear.”

(Charles) “Er… it has to be formal I’m afraid! (and trot out the classic form). I’ll understand if you don’t want to do that – but I think that having the information will help you. It’s just that this is the only way I can pass it on!”

He included a classical unbreakable oath, perfect privacy defences and a privacy manse link – although with the usual two-to-three month time limit. After that… it wouldn’t matter!

(Astrid) “I… see. If I must, I must. Even I can tell that’s a place of ancient power-and it isn’t like him to withhold that kind of information from me.”

(Charles, opening a link to demonstrate honesty – and to make sure that Astrid would KNOW that it was all true) “Well… I’m on a comission from Luna and Gaia; If Yu-Shan isn’t properly treated VERY soon, she will die and become a new Neverborn, the Celestial City and the Loom of Fate will be sucked into the Labyrinth, the celestial gods and likely the Incarnae will become insane creatures of the underworld or be lost in pure chaos if they survive in any form at all, her geomantic collapse will spread to the elemental poles since she’s still linked to them, and Creation will fall back into the Wyld. It needs fixing very badly indeed, which is why I’m making arrangements for treatment with Yu-Shan’s Devas, like Miss (?) Cangha here!”

He was ready to prop her up if she fainted – but she seemed less surprised than he would have expected.

(Astrid, having left one of the nicer tents in the camp, and seeming awfully steady.) “So the rumors of you investigating the Calibration Gate’s plaza were true. This is a surprise to me; does this mean we’re currently in a Primordial? I THINK that’s what you’re suggesting.”

(Charles) “Oh yes! And most of her Deva’s are manifested as various major features of the City.”

(Astrid, looking at the pillar…) “What’s this one?”

(Charles) “Cangha is the Voice of Yu-Shan, the word that reaches throughout the Low-Hanging Star which is the Celestial City, to carry her commands and all lesser communications throughout the city. Even the simple messengers are touched by her power, but all the major communication systems of Yu-Shan are a part of her aspect.”

(Astrid) “Why didn’t… never mind. I’d say you’re going in there, or at least going to search for a doorway, right?”

(Charles) “If I can’t reach her central consciousness from outside!”

(Astrid) “I see… hrm. Can you wait a few minutes on that? I need to get the archaeological team over there.”

(Charles) “Well… One reason I (sigh) can’t share too much information with the Bronze Faction at the moment is because their attempted solution to some of the same issues will precipitate the catastrophe. Their prophecy is – as usual – quite accurate; their current plan will indeed be an end to all of Yu-Shan’s problems, a cure for deiphagy, and will eliminate causality errors and most of their current workload. It’s just that it will do so by destroying the universe”.

There was a pause – and, once again, not as much surprise as Charles would have anticipated.

(Astrid) “That would explain some things – and sadly, be above my factional security clearance. So that’s why we were being evacuated.”

(Charles) “Well… they don’t realize what it will do of course; they think that it will just cause geomantic upheaval in Yu-Shan. Since they don’t realize that she is a living being, they don’t realize that it will kill her even faster than she’s dying already.”

(Astrid) “I assume you don’t want anyone else to come with me, then… (sigh) which is fine. I want to listen in if you do reach… her?”

(Charles) “Well, you promised to keep it a secret, so you’re quite welcome! I’m sorry that it needs to be a secret for the moment, but it shouldn’t be for more than two months.”

(Astrid) “Right. The Manseguard won’t be pleased with me, but I do have some warding talismans… and this sounds dangerous if someone doesn’t do something about it!”

(Charles) “Well, I can give you some more protections if you’d like! They include faster mote regeneration, wound regeneration, a selection of immunities, improved thaumaturgy, and other things…”

(Astrid) “Eh heh heh… Gus is very good in that – not up to your level, though I’d never say that in front of him. I should be fine.”

Besides… having that much of Charles’s energies hanging around might make for troubles in the faction.

Astrid was out to join Charles in a few minutes, bearing the adamant reaper daiklave Raugdring and wearing the commando armor he’d made for her – the latter currently in the form of some practical but elegant robes and boots.

(Astrid) “Up close, I can feel that SOMETHING is different about the Essence.”

She touched the pillar very carefully – while Charles went back to probing and trying to get in touch! (And looking for a way in in case he couldn’t get a response). The region was warded against mental intrusions… but it definitely felt like there was some connection to the racemind here, and to other beings besides.

Not to mention to the energies of water.

Charles put more power into it – boosting to the Celestial level and (if necessary!) boosting up to the Solar/Primordial level, even if it WAS expensive.

That turned out to be necessary – even if the energy-flux of casting a spell at that level sent essence-ripples racing across the city as blue-green-gold radiance bloomed around Charles and a whirling circle of thaumaturgic symbols (one for each of the twenty-four basic fields – each glowing in it’s appropriate color save for a single flaw – the symbol for Necrotics… was merely utterly black, rather than a devouring void.

(Charles) “Cangha, Voice Long Silenced, Yao Xin and Dumenza have spoken with me in search of Healing for the Low-Hanging Star, and I ask that you to do the same!”

The pillar started to glow with a blinding blue light, and pulsed with shimmering mental energies. Astrid stepped in front of Charles just in case – but the image of a woman, wrought of blue jade, with numerous tendrils coming out of her head and shimmering moonsilver eyes, appeared before them – projected from a glyph even Charles couldn’t quite identify.

(Charles) “Hello!”

(Cangha) “Query: Primordial? Shinma? Deva? Shapeless? Unrecorded?”

(Charles) “Probably Unrecorded! Although some of them say I’m a Nascent One!”

(Cangha) “Analysis: Devas, Multiple Energies with Single Dominant, Poles, Manses and Demesnes. Unrecorded Wyld Entities within. Query: Xiang, the Gallery of Captured Dreams awake?”

(Charles) “I haven’t gotten to him (?) yet! And I made some sort-of Raksha because they’re fun!”

(Cangha) “Statement: Uncertain as to whether you are a Nascent One or an Unrecorded entity.” (Turning to Astrid) “Unrecorded entity for certain; Essence signature is not associated with any known being. Query: Five Fates are extant?”

(Charles) “Yes!”

(Cangha) “Query: Five Fates are playing the Games of Divinity?”

(Charles) “Well yes – along with the Sun, Moon, and Gaia!”

The Sun and Moon required a fair amount of explaining.

(Cangha) “Query: Other Primordials are not playing the Games?”

(Charles) “Unfortunately there was a major conflict; Autochthon and Gaia (and possibly others really) against most of the others. The others are almost all stuck, which also needs fixing – but they’re stable and Yu-Shan is not, so she’s most urgent!”

(Cangha, after a pause.) “Statement: Games of Divinity confirmed in backup mode; other Primordials missing. Warning: Progenitor likely to be irrational upon awakening to only immature siblings present.”

(Charles, sighing) “I suspected as much! But there’s very little choice and I’ll try to arrange temporary isolation until she calms and things can be explained.”

(Cangha) “Query: Progenitor has 58,000,000,000 messages from older siblings in my systems; permission to release upon awakening?”

(Charles) “Er… It might be best to wait for a day or two!”

(Cangha) “Acknowledged. Query: close progenitor’s access to the immaterial drive system? Early input after my systems were compromised caused psychological stress. Psychological stress has continued to this day.”

(Charles) “Yes. Once again, just until things get settled down a bit!”

(Cangha) “Understood. Query: You are a guest of the Low-Hanging Star; though my humanoid form is unable to awaken at the moment, is there anything else you need?”

(Charles) “Well, I am preparing to heal the Low-Hanging Star in this (show basics) fashion; are there any of your fellows that you can pass this on to or information you would wish to contribute?”

(Cangha) “Statement: I can communicate with any of my peers, though certain geomantic disruptions might interfere. The Low-Hanging Star sleeps within the immaterial drive system, watching its input; I sense she is frustrated, and will not interfere with any attempts to awaken her.”

(Charles) “Ah! Is it possible to hold a conference? That would speed things up!”

(Astrid) “Charles… if she says yes, I want a private conference with Yu-Shan too.”

(Charles) “Well, you’ll need to ask her really! I can not attend, but I can’t arrange one!”

(Cangha) “Statement: The Low-Hanging Star will no doubt welcome input from the material world; stagnation always caused irrationality.”

(Charles) “Well, that should be useful then!”

Hm… it was probably going to require a fair amount of consciousness-expansion to handle that – but he’d already arranged for that; he’d just have to engage the conceptual translators and much more of the Synergeistic Overmind part of himself to handle a full primordial conversation.

The blue of the pillar turned soft and fuzzy.

(Astrid) “Charles, look out!”

She reached out to grab him, which smelled like lilac flowers as her hand passed through his body.

(Charles) “Not to worry!”

Cangha was reaching out for him; that smelled like… peanut butter. Hm… was it simply that voice has insufficient bandwidth and it was overflowing into other senses?

(Cangha, who sounded like terrycloth at the moment) “Mrumph… the opposing geomancy forced me into a more… mechanistic frame. I can resist it for a few hours, but not long enough. Shall we meet with the progenitor? She tried to contact you before, but I fear her stasis interfered with her reaction time!”

(Charles) “Certainly! Was that at Dudael?”

(Cangha) “I believe you entered the immaterial drive system earlier – you refer to it as the racial hivemind, apparently. I was fortunate enough to be linked to one of the Fates’ chosen too, once…” (She looked wistful.)

(Charles) “It may work out again once things are fixed!”

(Cangha) “If all goes well… we don’t have much time to waste. Off we go!”

The trip was once again through the hivemind, moving through the collective dreams and stories of humanity. It was more hostile this time, though… waves of geometric Essence lashed out at both Charles and Cangha like beartraps and snares. They sounded like yellow. Hmm…. If Yu-Shan was bound this closely to humanity things might soon get VERY weird!

Up ahead, there was a huge seed of adamant, flickering with orichalcum, moonsilver, and white jade. There was an indistinct form within.

(Cangha) “When I give the signal, hit the barrier as hard as you can… it’s become easier over the millennia, but the stasis is still difficult to penetrate. (Shrugging) Adamant.”

Charles got ready as the traps of yellow and fear closed upon him. He had to slam into the seed with considerable force – but once he’d done that he felt a warm, embracing sensation that reminded him of the Wyld… less chaotic, but no less vibrant and vital. He emerged in a large playroom, filled with toys from various eras – dollhouses, riding horses, and even some of those toys parents hated that played music. The synesthesia was still present, but lessened.

(Charles) “Hello?”

At this point… the narrative goes into metaphor; primordial communications won’t fit into a blog.

The occupant… seemed to be a blend between a flower and a small child, made of adamant, with eyes of orichalcum. She was playing with a popup book. She wore a common outfit for toddlers in the Celestial City: a white, hooded full-body suit. Four petals of white jade poked out from the hood. They depicted a perfect map of the canal system. The child’s face was simultaneously innocent and grandmotherly. The book… was open to a depiction of a figure made of silver sands being crammed into a sieve.

Oh dear, she was getting some updates.

Charles went to sit down by her.

(Charles) “It will take a lot of fixing I’m afraid, but at least it’s gotten started!”

The “child” shook her head. Tears of ambrosia formed at the edges of her eyes, and her lips quivered, but she remained composed at the moment.

(Cangha) “Mother…”

(Charles, with some dismay) “I’m sorry that I can’t fix it all right away.”

(Yu-Shan, shutting the pop-up book) “The most painful part is not knowing where they are. Oh, yes, I know they did SOMETHING to the King, but after that?” She shrugged.

(Charles) “They’re basically suspended in elsewhere, inside Theon. At least they’re stable though.”

(Yu-Shan) “But… they can’t change that way. I… haven’t felt the King in many eons. They must be clawing at his body, desperately trying to return to the source, wanting to be fixed.”

(Charles) “I know – but I’m working as fast as I can; I’m (Hm… best to count time since exaltation) only nine now.

(Yu-Shan) “Did you know what older sister Cecelyne told me? ‘Don’t worry, it will only be for a few thousand years; we’ll leave soon.’ I… I tried to warn them! Stasis can only lead to destruction, but not even older sister Adrian would listen to me! Not even baby brother Autochthon or baby sister Gaia! (Shaking her head) “It’s… so heavy. How big is the house now?”

Charles pulled out an equivalent of his powers-of-ten video, forged into an idea-artifact!

(Charles) “Fortunately it’s not total stasis; the Wyld has infiltrated the structure to a considerable degree.”

The “video” caused immediate crying, and some tantruming… the synesthesia became more hostile feeling, at least until he told her that the Wyld had permeated creation.

(Yu-Shan) “But… I’m still going to be stuck here for a while, right? Can’t you do something about that?”

(Charles) “Well, I’m trying to get the spike of pole unbinding, and the main repairs will be going into effect in a little under two months now. Gaia hasn’t entirely told me what it does, but I think it should disconnect your poles from Creation’s.”

(Yu-Shan) “Then… there’s still hope! I won’t become as stagnant as the others! Maybe I’ll even grow up and prove it’s possible to remain flexible!”

The synesthesia, while it remained heightened, shifted away from the sensations of rage and blood.

(Charles) “I don’t see why it shouldn’t be! That’s why you’re studying the Raksha? I kind of made my own…”

(Yu-Shan) “You see, I was trying to put them in a more… ordered form without compromising their natures! Baby brother Autocththon thought it might be possible too, but silly older sister She Who Lives In Her Name refused to let me connect to their hive mind! Oooh, ooh, let me see!” (And there was much pounding with her hands on the floor.)

Charles cheerily showed her some details about the Mardi Gras Raksha, the manse, and the Sea of Chaos.

(Charles) “You need a lot more geomantic power, and repairing everything will be a major change – so you may wind up with your own version of the Sea of Chaos.”

(Yu-Shan) “Oooh, oooh! Want to hold a shaped raksha!” (The air in the room was now smelling of anticipation.)

Hrm… It might be nigh-impossible to call one HERE – or did she mean that she wanted to have her own? The tickling did feel very literal though – and she was expanding in size greatly.

(Charles) “It will still be almost two months before everything is ready, but I can add some of them in pretty easily!”

(Yu-Shan) “Aw… I want to hold one NOW! I can’t hold ANYTHING outside, not even you! So frustrating! Only watch!” (And she pouted).

Charles considered… COULD he pull one through into “here”? It would be pretty tricky to yank one through – after all, it was an interaction between two immaterial realms, one of which had been somewhat sealed. She did seem VERY bored, though! There were only so many stories once you stripped away all the extraneous details… Well… A wyld gate should be able to go pretty much anywhere at all, even if it wasn’t quite as effective (or even remotely as dangerous) as traveling through Oblivion… And it was the details that made the fun! He’d try to get her at least some temporary company! Still… introducing a Raksha to the Primordial of Reality Shaping might be hazardous… Ah! He’d find out if Uthorian wanted to visit! He should probably come back out for the actual fix though; his presence in here might complicate things.

Uthorian did have other things to do – but there were three of him, and he could get one of himself over for this. Nobody deserved to be sealed up like that for that long.

There were wavers in certain areas of the hivemind as Charles opened the gate: storms that smelled of potential, and gales that tasted like intrusion. He had to concentrate to keep the gate up – but Uthorian was able to come through – and was immediately scooped up by Yu-Shan. She was saying something – but much like excited young human children, her speech was hard to comprehend. The room tasted like joy and relief however. She then scooped up Cangha in another arm and played with them like dolls. Cangha went limp, much like a rag doll – but still seemed to be conscious. When Yu-Shan squeezed her there was a distinct squeak that sounded like friendship. Yu-Shan continued to speak, and sprouted another pair of limbs, along with sleeves for them.

Charles stayed out of the way for the moment; Yu-Shan’s souls seemed to be adapted for this… Cangha and Uthorian were now conversing – focusing on the inclusion of the wyld in her structure and the various echo-charms it should give her since she seemed to like the idea of flexibility and a certain amount of Chaos first, then on the unbinding of Yu-Shan from Creation so she could get out of it. Yu-Shan did not currently have charms like that, although she did have some that had additional capabilities within her own world-body or realms she’d forged out of chaos. Cangha believed that she would want Echo Charms that improved her capabilities within the Wyld and mitigated some of the disadvantages of working in Creation. It did seem like (sigh) the little meat-dollies (humans) would have problems without shaped existence.

(Charles) “Well, I’m trying to make Creation independently stable – and, since primoridal charms are at least partially dependent on their Geomancy, giving her geomancy multiple aspects will give her Charms multiple aspects.

(Yu-Shan, rubbing Uthorian’s head with her extra left hand) “Yay! The dollies are still generating! A dolly for every concept!”

(Charles) Now… there should be an aspect for the modern gods, one for mortals, one for the tenders, one for the baseline geomancy, and one for Chaos” – although there is a possibility that more might pop up… According to some of the never-failing geomancy gods, a Neverborn aspect is possible since Yu-Shan has been stagnating for a while. Much like how the Great Maker’s stagnation is causing his Neverborn form to creep through in the form of the blight zones… I’ve been trying to optimize against that happening though! It would not be a good thing! Now… do you have any thoughts, recommendations, or requests?

(Yu-Shan) “I can’t sense Ayuji!”

(Cangha) “None of us can. Since Lady Ayuji is the core of Mother’s being, this is a major concern!”

(Charles) “She’s hiding I think! I talked briefly to a consciousness sort of within the Loom of Fate (and show them) – but it just kept insisting that it had to stay hidden.”

(Yu-Shan) “But the thread is still there… and that doesn’t sound like Ayuji at all! (Furrowing her brow) Somebody did something to my fetich without asking! That’s REALLY rude!”

(Charles) “Uhm… It may have been Autochthon… or she might currently be being the primary pattern spider!”

(Yu-Shan, scratching her head) “Then that’s REALLY rude! He can change his own dollies all he likes, but I don’t want any of his yucky stuff on me. I’ll have to spank him for that one!”

(Charles) “Well. he’s pretty sick at the moment too!”

(Yu-Shan) “He’s always sick! Very boring!”

(Charles) “At the moment he’s not even conscious.”

THAT gave her pause.

(Yu-Shan) “Baby brother Great Maker… isn’t even MAKING? Has he… come back?”

(Charles) “No – but unless I can fix him too he will soon! Less than a thousand years most likely!”

Yu-Shan put both devas down, toddled over to the popup book on her roots, and shut it. She then reopened it, and it revealed the Great Maker’s planetary world-body… riddled with black spots.

(Charles) “It’s been going quite badly! That’s why I have such a lot to do!”

(Yu-Shan) “Baby brother… I’ll come for you after I’m fixed.”

(Cangha) “As the Primordials of Reality Shaping and Invention… they were very close. Not that she wouldn’t engage in the teasing, of course.”

(Charles) “I’m sorry I wasn’t around to get started sooner!”

(Cangha, crossing her arms) “And not that it was unjustified… changing your devas that much is unhealthy.”

(Cangha) “Ergh… my head. Maintaining the link is becoming taxing, though you’ve made Mother quite happy.”

(Charles) “I think that I’ve got to go and continue working – but I’ll look forward to seeing you out and about again shortly!”

(Yu-Shan) “Aw… Thank you for letting me play with your dolly! Nobody lets me do that… let.” (And she looked sad again, with matching sensations of that in the air.)

(Charles) “You’re welcome! Maybe again later!”

He left her a bunch of new toys and things. Yu-Shan was a little jaded when it came to non-living toys, but nonetheless appreciated it. (If it had made an impact in the hivemind, she had a copy).

Meanwhile, Charles was considering… where Gaia powered the physical aspects of shaped existence, Yu-Shan was powering the mental aspects, from the basic drives to reproduce and survive to the urges to make imaginary things real. If something had made an impact on enough people, Yu-Shan knew about it. Thus, her distress: the Primordial War made enough of an impression for her to have SOME idea of what had happened to her siblings. She likely knew about all the major events in Creation’s history, at least up to the Reshaping. After that… certainly some interstellar history. Thus, the Hivemind was… more or less, Yu-Shan’s TV/movie theater.

Perhaps her siblings had known that she would get bored being in stasis that long. It would have been a kindness at first.

Still, that was awkward! He’d have to do a lot of substituting, even if there were enough minds out there now to make the general principles self-sustaining… Otherwise there wouldn’t be mental domains. Still, if he wasn’t VERY cautious there might well be some wide-ranging effects on the human mind from awakening her – especially on those minds within her. Still, it would be MUCH better than leaving her to die, and even a Primordial had trouble affecting interstellar distances. The devas embedded in the racemind might help though…

So… since there WERE mental domains, and the ones she was sustaining would be associated with her second and third circles, and the establishment of a manse automatically stabilized the domain… Then he’d just have to go on a mental manse building spree, and make manses to stabilize each of her input-domains. That… would require several hundred though. He’d have to put those on the schedule. It took a lot to work on one of the fundamentals of physical existence. A good thing that his infrastructure was optimized for that! He’d… have to use the Mardi Gras Raksha, Wyld Gates into the Mental level, and Djinn for manse-construction. Fortunately, the spell would do; as long as they were there to stabilize things and were maintenance free the design details were relatively unimportant.

And Uthorian had escaped unharmed, though sadly not ungummed! He could dry off pretty fast though, thanks to the Adenic power suite.

So… Manses to stabilize the primary physical nexi, mental manses to stabilize the mental level… Hopefully the spiritual side was stable on it’s own; after all, something had to be self-stabilizing to get it all started… And the place did keep creating gods for places and new concepts unattended, even far beyond Yu-Shan’s reach… As for the Primordials, they should be stable on their own, at worst the energies of the Divine Ignition Cytherea had yet to run out in any of them; not even the dead ones could die fully – perhaps why it only took some exposure to Wyld energies for them to regenerate. At least on that level, she was likely to be fine.

And at least she’d have some idea of what was going on when she woke up all the way – even if she WAS liable to grab gods and start playing house. But it wasn’t like they could resist a Primordial; instead they’d be confused as they wondered why they were going along with it. In any case… there were plenty of gods around, and most of them had nothing better to do.

From Yu-Shan’s prospective… she had an earnest toddler playing doctor – but at least he was giving hope; after all, she saw all the horrors inflicted on the bigger Primordials in her popup book and they were in no condition to help – and he was in an incredible rush…

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CLXXIV – Leon Of Arabia

In the Hanging Gardens, Ruki would awake sooner or later – hopefully without sleeping for a hundred years – to find a note with an apology, contact information, a written explanation, and instructions on how to get out of the Hanging Gardens – as well as a Coatl for further explanations – something along the lines of

“Well, it’s probably properly labeled “An Unexplained Energy Phenomena Governed By Interaction With Personal Energies As Focused By Words, Gestures, and Stances Resembling A Martial Arts Kata” – and so a lot of practitioners just call it magic since that’s a lot shorter to say and they don’t really understand what they’re doing anyway!”

After all… it really looked like the inclination was to accept reality – whenever Ruki wasn’t being confronted by the word “Magic” she tended to respond rationally (if crankily) to her environment – but whenever someone used the work “magic” she just… went into angry rejection mode! Ergo… they needed to redefine or avoid that word!

There is a word that the Exalts who come from Roanapur cannot hear!

Aikiko, having finished chatting with Leon, had gotten a stone of Gender Transformation from Charles and was off to the Middle East. Gender roles were much more tightly set there, and – although she hated to say it – being a girl would impede her there. Her business in the gardens was done – and if abyssals were really operating in the Middle East, something had to be done about it.

The “Gates” Leon had mentioned appeared to be some sort of Wyld Links between Chancels (that was clever!) that currently opened… one about ten miles from Riyadh (the Capital) and one about twenty miles from Mecca. It looked like they could be moved around by simply moving the chancels about.

Well, as long as she wasn’t going to get dropped off in the middle of a major inhabited area, no problem!

That took her to… a hot, dusty, desert town, clustered around it’s water source, but with plenty of electrical power, cars, and other basic facilities – and with lots of people in strict middle eastern dress who regarded him (sigh…) with great suspicion!

Of course; a foreigner in western dress, even a male one, would get that reaction. Especially with the current issues in the country. She got out of sight, adjusted her appearance and dress accordingly, and continued on. Requests for identification were mildly awkward – she hadn’t thought of that! – but stalling for a few moments with an excuse of poor organization in the backpack let the Coatl do something about THAT easily enough. They were, after all, just normal humans!

Saudi Arabia really didn’t have many supernatural groups involved. When you came right down to it… it had a notably uncooperative and often fanatical populace, a barren and unattractive environment, very limited amusements, and nothing much in the way of special resources beyond a few demesnes and a short-term supply of money – both readily available elsewhere to pretty much any competent supernatural entity.

That general lack of protectors HAD made it an attractive place to try to open up a shadowland though – and a ready supply of devoted believers WAS a resource as far as the Abyssal Exalts were concerned; their souls could be made into high-quality soulsteel, and that was hard to come by these days! The drastic tumble in the price or oil thanks to Charles’s activities, and the drastic economic effects of that on a country that relied on that income, was another feature as far as the Abyssals were concerned rather than a new drawback. While the last thing they’d want would be a full-scale nuclear exchange – after all, more people need to be born to make the soulsteel – a nice, long, grinding, resource war would provide still more souls from the soldiers who’d die fighting it…

Unfortunately, in Mecca itself… the crowds were too large to control or even influence at all readily. It did, after all, get the most pilgrims of any country – and non-muslims were prohibited from entering the city. Her attempt to fake being one… fell through all too rapidly!

Aikiko had botched her Lore check, even if her Perform check was pretty good. She fairly rapidly made some mistakes – including something about how she’d used a public rest room, which struck her as REALLY silly (there were rules about THAT?).

Fortunately, few people could outrun her – and a dampened activation of Lightning Speed let her evade vehicles. Still, the police were involved and the hunt was swiftly expanding. A non-muslim in Mecca was SACRILEGE! The Sentence was Death, for the unbeliever and for anyone who helped him!

She was briefly tempted to summon Skoll, manifest some angel wings, and declare himself a messenger of Allah – but it would get too much of the wrong kind of attention. Still, the posters were starting to go up; there were lots of cell phone cameras and some printing shops… A good thing she was disguised and gender-changed at the moment; that could get AWKWARD. Botheration. It… would probably be best to get the heck out, and come up with a “Plan B” – even if it had been nice getting to see all the old buildings and catch a glimpse of the Kabba.

That didn’t prove that hard; changing her appearance, using a bit of travel thaumaturgy, and similar lesser magics… soon got her out of the city. Perhaps it would be better to fund a Muslim in Aden’s pilgrimage, give them some sensing equipment, and see what they picked up? That might put them in grave danger of course, but she was not willing to chance another visit. That had been a pretty frenzied pursuit by mortal standards.

She recruited a refugee in Aden – quite a few of them would be delighted to take the pilgrimage if someone funded it. They didn’t need to tell her anything about the hajj unless they wanted to; she just needed the readings! Perhaps she should check to see if there were any Muslims among the Kickaha? They did make useful bodyguards, albeit probably not against Abyssals.

There weren’t anyway; most of them had been recruited too young to be deep believers, and their enhanced minds were a bit too powerful to be religious literalists about books written by humans.

It was still only fair to tell her agents what she was up to though;

(Aikiko) “Would you mind taking this magical sensor with you? I’m trying to investigate some things in the area, and since I’m not a Muslim…”

(Typical would-be Pilgrim) “Er… Well, I’m not sure that’s right – but looking at the satellite pictures that can read license plates from orbit now, I don’t see what harm it would do…”

It wasn’t like there weren’t plenty of pictures of Mecca out there now!

(Aikiko) “Thank you! And don’t worry about paying for this – I’ll handle that.”

And her Pilgrims were off on the Hajj! Or at least to Mecca…

The Kabba was apparently too obvious a site for the Abyssals to focus on, at least from the living side. There were readings consistent with a shadowland forming on the outskirts of the city. Mortal police and clergy wouldn’t be able to detect it of course – but it was fairly close to some of the accomodations where the missing pilgrims had been staying. From the readings there… some sort of dematerialization power was being used, fairly often!

That was definitely a problem!

Leon, meanwhile, was planning his takeover of the capital and other major cities… It was actually fairly straightforward; move in, minimize unofficial resistance with Onieromancy, transform most of the royal family the same way to break most of the official resistance, and storm the palace and clean up the military with disposable summoned troops. Spread acceptance with another Onieromancy, install himself as ruler, immediately raise the effective resources of every area that he currently controlled, and spread out from there. Admittedly, the total military forces of the country outnumbered what he could summon by about a third – but they were inferior, and scattered, and his troops… would be boosted by more onieromancy and could simply be resummoned from scene to scene. It wouldn’t really have mattered if they’d been outnumbered ten to one; when you had no need to worry about casualties, reinforcements, supplies, or transport there wasn’t much a mortal army could do to oppose you.

Thereafter he would deal with the most fanatical proponents of islamic law, institute social and judicial reforms, and start to modernize a bit. He’d even make the Pilgrimage easier and safer – especially since it brought a constant stream of people into range of his Onieromancies! Soon the country would be transformed into an actual modern state! Because it was a mess! And it certainly had enough issues to be a soft target…

The Gate-Carrier teams moved into position using various “pass unnoticed” effects to augment basic disguises. They only needed to get to secluded places or back alleys relatively near the palace, military bases, and police centers anyway. They didn’t even need to go near the holy sites; Leon didn’t need them yet!

With the gates hidden by being in secluded areas, by thaumaturgy, and through the usual chancel concealment… it came down to “open gates, bring through a squad, spread out to vital areas, each squad member summons 150 “elite” troops for the assault scene.”. If there’s interference from the locals… a spare contingent of troops would work just fine; it simply meant that his squad members would have to stunt for a few seconds to power up for the next scene summons.

There was a bit of mild interference from a few of “lucky” policemen who stumbled into things – but the couldn’t stand up against a troop of military fey. The more reasonable ones were simply detained for awhile. The ones who had been brutalizing the local population were detained until Leon thought of something to do with them (probably inducing some behavioral mutations). It was a pretty even mix!

And if they were TOO corrupt… well, the locals needed a lot of camels! That suited stubborn fanatics anyway; Camels were SUPPOSED to be ill-tempered!

A few of the units closer to Mecca and Medina reported strange sensations, as if they were at waypoints. There were no signs of any waypoints in the area, though; what few local fey remained were deep in the desert and didn’t interact with the locals very much. Story locations subsumed locally? A freehold or the narrative of the forming shadowlands producing potential adventure and dream-locations? Mecca cast a long shadow in many many minds!

Well, that wasn’t likely to disrupt the military operations, so investigating local subtleties could wait until he was firmly in control. That shouldn’t take very long…

As the military forces stationed in Riyadh become aware of the invasion, they mobilized to stop it – but Leon’s troops were largely immune to human weaponry, and Saudi Arabia was one of the least supernaturally-aware regions of the world. The troops in Riyadh engaged for a few minutes, realized that nothing much was happening to the opposing forces, and opted for retreat and dispersal or surrender according to taste. Either way… it was simple enough for Leon’s forces to round up, capture, and disarm the opposition before heading into the palace to confront the king and his immediate family!

The palace… was an entire segment of the city, complete with internal gardens, a car collection, a small theme park, and, of course, separate quarters for the men and women. The last of the military in the city was taking a stand in the palace itself, along with a bunch of panicked servants and other workers. Leon let the disposable summoned troops go first, deployed some Barking Dogs to handle doors and such, and followed them in! Orders were to restrain and capture as much as possible – but if someone INSISTED on fighting to the death, the troops weren’t to take any actual casualties trying to prevent it!

Sadly… there WAS some insistence, and a few men who were willing to die for the royal family – not all of them military. There was much chaos, and shouting – not so much for the fall of the House of Saud, but out of concern of what would be next. Wars in the middle east were often fairly nasty, and conquerors often unpleasant toward the conquered! And the area had hitherto not been overly touched by direct conflict. This was most unexpected!

Most of them wound up being captured anyway – but there were much worse things than an honorable death in battle. Some of them even joined up with Leon’s forces once they realized that his men were unkillable! Tensions had been simmering for a long time…

(Leon) “Right then! Who was in charge here?”

The side-swapping guards dragged out a man who looked pretty high-ranking militarily. He had a bleeding wound on his forehead and was demanding that the troops unhand him! Then he looked around, saw Leon’s troops, and Leon…

(Leon) “So then! Would you care to surrender? Your cause is quite throughly lost I believe!”

(General, struggling) “What is the meaning of this!? Who sent you – and WHY WON’T YOU DIE!”

(Leon, somewhat startled) “Er… why should I? Even if I was unprotected the shootings have mostly been directed at my troops, who have excellent armor… that is neither here nor there however! This is a coup; you should be familiar with the notion! Your troops are captured, your positions taken, and the last few holdouts will soon fall. If you surrender it is likely that more of them will live than otherwise though!”

The general looked around, could see that this was a losing situation – and surrendered (albeit with much grumbling – but there was no way that he could have anticipated THIS)

(Leon) “Very sensible of you!”

After all… barring serious supernatural resistance, Leon simply had too many troops – and could replace them in the next scene. It didn’t take all that long to finish rooting out the opposition.

Leon… promptly started sorting people out; Sort One! the corrupt. Sort Two! the arrogant ones who thought that it was their right to be in charge…

Interestingly – and perhaps surprisingly – a strange device was found in the women’s quarters. From the looped shape and the connected box of starmetal and moonsilver, some kind of portable gate! To Yu-Shan perhaps? Someone might have been manipulating here!

It was only partially assembled though; his troops had caught some of the servants in the middle of putting it together.

(Leon, asking the ones who’d been doing the assembling) “And who does this belong to?”

(Maidservant) “Er… it’s odd. I can’t remember who bought it or how it came to be in here… err, sir? Lord? When we heard news of the invasion, though, I… it’s all confusing. I’m not sure if I knew where it was, or remembered, or found it…” (She shook her head and rubbed her temples) “I also knew how to put it together… but I’m no good with technology!”

(Leon) “Ah, one of THOSE situations! Not your fault my dear! Any idea what would happen when it was completed?”

(Maidservant, sharply – and then looking VERY confused) “It would lead us to a paradise where women were treated as equal to men.”

Hrm… Starmetal? Yu-Shan perhaps? While mortals were decidedly second-class citizens there, the Bureaucracy didn’t discriminate based on gender; only gods with the relevant domains did.

(Leon) “Well, I have no problems with that! I take it that you have no detailed idea of why that would be paradise? Well, I’ll look at it later, but I intend to start fixing that sort of problem anyway!”

(Maidservant) “I…said something?” (And more confusion.)

Hm! Well, that was sort #3! However many of the royal family males promptly objected… A few were indeed dumb enough! Not the king himself, though, who – while he is definitely an older man, and very much traditional – was more prudent than THAT. After all, from the reports that had come in… they couldn’t even touch Leon’s troops! He wasn’t very HAPPY about that of course!

Leon was a marvelous psychologist though… anyone who would really seriously object was going in that sort, whether they did so overtly or not – although the king got a bit of respect for now. The signs in him were subtle – (this was, after all, a man who had been holding the daughters of one of his former wives captive for thirteen years…) – but his objections weren’t serious enough to put him into sort #3!

(Leon) “So then! I take it that you recognize that I’ve seized control of your palace and the center of your kingdom?”

That got a curt nod.

(Leon) “So then! I shall be fair! What do you wish to offer as your bargaining position and what do you hope to get? Since I hope you recognize that I do not HAVE to give you anything, we might as well be expeditious about it! Fortunately for you, I am not entirely unreasonable!”

(King, sighing) “What will you do with me and my family? I might be beaten, but I want to keep my dignity!”

(Leon) “Well, the more intractable ones will be dealt with. Competent administrators will be supervised, but will remain employed and reasonably well off! Minor members who are already basically a part of the population at large may remain so as long as they’re sensible enough not to try to be counterrevolutionary and behave themselves! Many of the younger girls and boys will be taken into my personal service; their status can be reviewed later on; if they too are sensible they may do quite well. Those who have been abusing their positions will be in trouble, although the penalties I may inflict are not so unpleasant as those you have traditionally inflicted!”

(King) “Hmph… I see. A reformer. Who sent you? The Americans, the British, the European Union? Your forces are clearly unnatural! One of their “Great Houses?”

(Leon) “I decided to come on my own initiative! And since you recognize so much… (And he will wave a hand, and bring forth some of his classical Babylonian mythological behemoths). It has been many many centuries since one such as I have ruled the lands of the rivers and the cradle of civilization! Those who accept my rule shall receive prosperity, health, and long life!”

(The king, flabbergasted and and staring for a moment) “If only this were another djinn prank… or just some CIA operation…”

(Leon) “It is not! For thousands of years these lands have been plagued by endless strife. It may or may not be given to me to bring an end to that – but I can certainly try!”

(King, plaintively) “How much trouble am I in right now? What are you going to do to me?”

It was fairly obvious that Leon wouldn’t be looking at the old guard kindly!

(Leon) “What do you think I should do?”

Now that was a hard question for anyone to answer, and there was NO good answer!

(King) “You’re going to turn me into some kind of beast of burden, aren’t you? Can I at least be a horse?”

He’d always liked those!

(Leon) “If you like! However…”

That wasn’t much of a request… he might also have gone for him snagging some money and fleeing with his favorites to the Carribean… it wasn’t like this hadn’t gone well enough so far to make some allowances… It was obvious enough that he’d at least like to stay human and keep at least SOME of his wealth, even if he was pretty much considering his favored relatives a bonus at this point. He was backed into a corner here!

(Leon) “Well then! I will tell you what! You and some of your more competent favored relatives are getting a temporary position as advisors! If you do well and offer useful advice on the surrounding nations, you will get to retire to somewhere pleasant with some of your funds – I’m certain that you have a fair amount stashed away in any case. If you cause trouble, or act up, you can retire to the stables. How’s that?”

(King, hesitantly) “If that’s your offer, I have no choice but to accept for the sake of my people.”

After all, he’d made some attempts to govern effectively and knew a good deal about the region.

Leon… didn’t much care; if they hadn’t grossly exploited their position, abused their people, or some such… there was no reason to mistreat them. If they had, or if they took his kindness as an opportunity to try to rebel… there was plenty of room in the stables! And inducting a lot of the younger generation into his personal service was pretty well expected, traditional, and classical – especially for people who were apparently ancient kings come to reclaim their lands.

He had religious police to eliminate, the Al ash-Sheikh family (traditional religious supporters of the House of Saud) to deal with, the foreign diplomats… and the fact that at least some people around here had some awareness of the supernatural, even if they weren’t actual practitioners.

Still, his soldiers were working on that first two issues at the moment! If he had to eliminate the worst 50% of the population… so be it! He’d prefer not to, but several millennia of this mess was quite enough… He set up an Onieromancy (triggered by some of the rituals that only the most fanatical kept up) to transform those into various useful animals… He had to use a higher-order one to keep Cold Iron from affecting it – but that was no trouble at all…

It caused much confusion among the population as various farm animals came running out of the prayer areas of some of the most influential clerics in the country – but it did help out the farmers and rural villages!

The diplomats had heard the gunfire… the American ambassador was slightly dismayed, but not quite as much as he might have been in prior years. Saudi oil had become MUCH less important recently.

(British Ambassador) “And just who are you?”

(Leon) “I am Belpheros, Bringer of Wonder. The time of the quest is past, the wandering in the wilderness is over, and I shall guide this country and beyond into the future.”

(German Ambassador) “I THINK that’s a reference to Gilgamesh… really now. Even as things are here at the moment, none of us were expecting this.”

(Leon) “Why should you? It has been a very long time!”

(American Ambassador) “Does this have anything to do with the sheep running out of that mosque a few hours ago?”

(British Ambassador) “I saw a few goats, too. Most peculiar!”

(Leon) “Most likely! There is a level of foolishness that I will not permit!”

(Iraqi Ambassador) “Are we next?”

Several of the other “local” ambassadors looked expectant there.

(Leon) “This land must be sorted out before such things become relevant, and that will take some time!”

There was a mixture of relief and suspicion there, particularly from the Iranian ambassador… It was likely that the various ambassadors would be notifying their respective countries’ intelligence agencies to step up their surveillance.

Still, even if they could verify that they had no apparent past… that pretty much supported the impression that he wanted to give anyway. After all… all that they would actually be able to find was the Academy Awards. All kinds of people would swear that they know him of course – but they’d be frustratingly vague on the details.

Still, those agencies with some supernaturals in their ranks might well pierce the truth – but for every one that considered him a threat, another would want to support him as a reformer in the region – and even if he DIDN’T fit in with their own agendas… there was the dilemma of what to do about him. He seemed to be a military power unto himself; studying the footage, he was able to produce nigh-invulnerable troops at a moment’s notice, and in large amounts.

Once things had settled in a bit, Leon made sure that the “new recruits” were under quiet survellience and not resisting, and spent part of the evening celebrating with his new concubines and attendants – as was expected.

Besides… it let him check for any other supernatural influences.

After that… he took a good look at that gate! You never knew when it might open from the far side – and it might have been left for somebody’s kids. It looked like, even unassembled, it had a communication feature, not that these women would have recognized that. Technological proficiency was generally not required for jobs like that… It looked like it provided both audio and visual links, and it would have automatically activated when the gate opened.

Hmph! Leon turned it on, said hello, and waved! After all, it worked for his progenitor! He got no verbal response, but there was the sound of typing on the other end…

(Leon) “Oh really… if all you’re going to do is write reports I might as well drop this thing into a volcano or something!”

(A voice that sounded like a teenage girl…) “Eek, don’t do that! This cost a lot of ambrosia! What is a man doing in the Saudi palace’s women’s quarters, anyway?”

(Leon) “I took over, and the palace belongs to me now!”

(Teenage Voice) “Wait, what? What about the women?”

(Leon) “What about them? Some are retiring, some – not many – are in trouble for abusing what little authority and influence they had, some are in school, and most of the rest are now in my personal service as they quite expected after a coup! Since educational opportunities are now open to women!”

(Teenage Voice) “A coup!? I wasn’t expecting that… someone wanting to escape being married to the king, or being trapped in Saudi Arabia, sure. Just who are you?”

(Leon) “I am Leon Belpheros, Bringer of Wonder, the King who has Come Again!”

(Teenage Voice) “How dramatic… you sound like one of those Lunars Daddy is always complaining about.”

(Leon) “I could probably get along with some of them! Others might be fussy though… And you are?”

(Teenage Voice) “Oh, sorry.” (She started up the visual link and turned out to be a pretty, literally silver-haired girl, probably the offspring of some god. Her bedroom was decorated in high style for a near-mortal; Leon was sure that some of those fixtures were ambrosial. Looking at her Essence… a Nocturnal.) “I’m Argentia, daughter of Moonsbane.”

(Leon) “Ah! well, I have already introduced myself… I am pleased to meet you! I take it that you had half-siblings or some other interest here?”

(Argentia) “Well… (after looking around) I want to do something to help people, but Daddy’s superiors are slow to get my kind into the system. I think something bad might be happening soon, so I can understand. But some friends of mine were getting impatient, and also wanted to help. We’ve been experimenting with some transport methods. Vaal wanted to see if other people could be transported, so Catherine and I made that focus you’re holding. Then Amira sneaked it in the women’s quarters and fiddled with some of the attendants’ memories to hide it being here. Since they’re not up here, and you’re talking to me, I guess it didn’t work.”

(Leon) “Ah! Well things will certainly be happening soon – whether good or bad it is hard for me to say – and I intend to see about getting this region ready for them – although I will admit to enjoying a few indulgences along the way… I’m afraid that the young women who were putting it together did not have time to complete the project! The capture of the palace did go very quickly!”

(Argentia) “It must have, if you’re in there already. But Daddy says that’s not a supernaturally active region – something about Wahabis and pogroms. I don’t follow Ahlat worship. It’s a Gold Faction thing anyway.”

(Leon) “It’s entirely too regressive a system – too mired in primitive tribalism, archaic social codes, and denial of reality – to handle what is coming; ergo I’m doing something about it!”

(Argentia) “Uhm… I’m not sure how Ahlat will feel about that! It’s been pretty good for him! But I don’t think Daddy and his superiors would complain!”

(Leon) “He has adapted before I think, and I suspect that he can do it again even if he would prefer not to bother! Now, if there was someone in particular you wanted to transport out, or if you wanted to come down and see the place, I suppose that can be arranged easily enough!”

(Argentia) “Oh, Daddy will get cross with me if I come down unsupervised. But… I don’t have anyone in particular to transport out, but would anyone like to go to Heaven? It feels like a waste, just leaving the gate with you. And if I sweet-talk him, he might let me keep a servant.”

(Leon) “If you wish to come for a bit I will honor your safety and not interfere with your return – but I suspect that there are a few servants who would not mind a new position!”

(Argentia) “Argh, I want to see Earth so badly… but you have no idea how Daddy gets! Who wants to come up?”

There were a few takers – one who was very religious and the two servants who were constructing it before.

The religious one wanted to “rescue” a couple of the infant royals from the (assumed) dreadful gate laying in wait for them – but Leon had no real objections… It Argentia could take one or two of them… she could have them if she wanted! His invitation to visit would remain open though (Leon was quite charming about it, but didn’t push it; for her part… Argentia was very apologetic about declining – she was a teenager despite being a god-blood and Exalt and found him attractive – but there seemed to be something brewing with the Bronze, and she didn’t want to add to that).

Well, however convenient it might be to open lines of communication with Yu-Shan, there was no need to rush!

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