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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.
(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!”
(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.
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.”
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…”
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.
(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?”
(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.
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.
(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…
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!
At the Heart of the Canals, several gods were standing near the edge of the pool when Charles came back up…
(Charles) “Oh hello! What’s up?”
They’d removed their helmets, revealing the standard never-gets-wet canal god caps beneath. There were some released breaths as they saw him emerge, apparently no worse for wear.
(Head of Maintenance) “I see you’re all right… is the Heart? The leaks have stopped, but how is the mechanism itself?”
Yao Xin was definitely feeling much more relaxed now. She was still a little hot, but as long as the geomancy was still where it was, that was inevitable.
(Charles) “It should be working much better now! The deterioration should be backed up several thousand years or perhaps more!”
(Head of Maintenance) “I can’t believe it… in such a short period of time.”
It was obvious that he’d be a bit offended by how Charles had done it better than he could – were the state of the canal domain not critical.
(Charles) “I have some special techniques available!”
(Head of Maintenance) “Not panoply, I hope… they would make our jobs so much easier.”
(Charles) “Mostly geomantic and manse-based really.”
(Head of Maintenance, mildly disappointedly) “Oh… surely you could spare an attunement for me and my subordinates?”
Hmm… he could set up a manse that bestowed a few useful charms for them and attune them to it. That would probably do nicely! And perhaps the essence boost too!
(Charles) “Well… It will take five or six minutes to set it up!”
That wasn’t long to a god at all.
After a brief delay… Charles produced the swirling globe of magic for remote-attuning again.
(Charles) “This should do it”!
There was some trepidation – but they recognized a remote vision questing soon enough – and a boost in Essence was always appreciated!
(Head of Maintenance) “You… you just created a tailored high-order manse to… how can you create these places so quickly!?”
(Charles) “I like manses!”
(Head of Maintenance) “That’s not an answer!”
(Charles) “Isn’t it? I like them, so I set things up to make lots and lots of them!”
(Head of Maintenance) “But how?”
The child had been just… SITTING THERE.
(Charles) “Well, you use acceleration magic, and a boosted factory-cathedral, and instant-design effects, and so on! So when there are problems I make manses to fix them!”
(Head of Maintenance) “Oh dear. That explains so many things…”
Yes, the boy was in charge of Dudael… but he must have resources on par with the Incarnae! And where could he be putting them? Finding demesnes was not easy! Inside himself? That would call for an entire inner world!
(Charles) “Anyway… was that all?”
(Head of Maintenance) “Yes it was. We’re glad you emerged safely.”
(Charles) “It’s not a big thing. I made some armor and things!”
The various gods looked at each other – he was MAKING behemoth cloaks and other high-end artifacts? No doubt as casually as he made manses? – but did not comment.
(Charles) “Anyway… there are lots more things to fix! If things start going badly wrong again please call me though!”
The gods agreed – and Charles headed out for his next errand, leaving even more confusion – and a certain amount of developing hysteria – in his wake.
Back in the Hanging Gardens… Ruki wasn’t feeling that well. With blatant weirdness all around her – in such detail and over so much time – denial was becoming impossible unless she decided that she’d gone completely mad. Things were starting to ring that way to her right now – but a complete retreat from reality wasn’t something a celestial exaltation would allow.
Fortunately, it wasn’t the Hanging Gardens first case of culture shock, even with the place being around for such a short time.
(Ruki) “That crazy so-and-so slipped me some acid when we were talking!”
That was quite ignoring the fact that the weird stuff had started WEEKS before she’d met Aikiko – but the floating mountain and the faerie city had pushed it quite over the top!
(Kid) “Hey, she’s gone all funny! Want to go and lay down for a bit Miss?”
(Ruki) “Yeah, thanks kid.”
The kids took her to a pleasant little cafe, with comfortable chairs and couches behind a gurgling stream. Various beverages were served, and there was a (fairly normal) menu from which she could order food if she wished. It was comfortable, and quiet, and mostly sane by mundane standards.
Ruki considered… that crazy girl was going to pay for slipping her some drugs!
Meanwhile Aikiko was winding down her interviews, totally unaware that Ruki was blaming her anything… Come to think of it, where’d she run off to? Oh well! It would be easy enough to run a tracer spell; the city wasn’t THAT large! And she HAD been a bit distraught.
Ruki… wasn’t particularly trying to resist the magic she didn’t believe in.
(Aikiko, finding Ruki) “Hey, are you all right? You seemed pretty confused.”
(Ruki, pulling out a pistol and shoving the barrel in Aikiko’s face) “What the !!@#$% did you slip me you !@##$!!! Where do you get off doing that?”
(Aikiko) “Whoa! I don’t think you want to do that. And I didn’t slip you anything at all! That’s not cool, dude! You could get hurt that way.”
Aikiko’s Coatl friends started busily denaturing nearby gunpowder…
(Aikiko) “You… don’t have any knowledge of the supernatural at all, do you… Argh. This is REALLY awkward.”
(Waiter) “Beer? Akavit? White Mountain Peach Brandy? Scumble? Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster? Ambrosia? Celestial Wine? We do have to check your credit if you order that though!”
(Aikiko) “Not right now, you’ll freak her out more. Maybe some beer though?”
It was very good beer. And there were pretzels and breadsticks to go with it.
(Ruki) “You have got some !@#$ explaining to do you crazy !@#$!!!”
(Aikiko) “Okay, what do you want to know first? Please don’t shoot!”
(Ruki) “Start spilling your fucking guts, anything about this shit or your going to get a third fucking eye
Hm. It wasn’t like the gun by itself was any real menace – the Behemoth Cloak and her own defenses could handle plenty of gunfire without any trouble at all – but there were ordinary people around and smashing up the city probably wouldn’t go over well.
(Aikiko) “Okay, okay… just don’t shoot. When I walked that labyrinth back there, that was a gateway to that place with the stairs from before. That place led to where we are now, which is this flying city. It’s hidden from the human world because it’s in a separate world. The controller of this place is a powerful fairy lord.”
(Ruki) “So you’re telling me that fairies and magic are real.”
(Aikiko) “That’s right… as hard as it might be for you to believe right now.”
(Ruki) “Now THAT is a !@#$ understatement!”
Meanwhile, a small winged snake was happily dipping breadsticks in oil and swallowing them.
(Aikiko) “Oh yeah, don’t mind him. He’s my assistant. Save one for me, Diego! He’s a coatl. He knows a lot of helpful magic.”
(Diego) “There are lots!”
(Aikiko) “Oh yeah… see if they have any chili powder! I like mine spicy. Anyway… I came here because I’d heard rumors at another fey pocket about this place. I think they understated things up here!”
(Ruki) “And what is it you do for a living? Chasing down fairy tails or something equally !@# crazy?”
(Aikiko) “Pretty much, yeah… and I act in Toho films.”
(Ruki, rolling her crimson eyes and looking her over intently) “You, an actress?”
Well, Toho had released the film… she had Diego show it! It had been a relatively minor role, but it was still breaking into the movies! And she hadn’t done too badly, either…
(Ruki, whom a nice mundane insane Toho movie had greatly soothed) “Alright…”
(Aikiko) “The world gets pretty weird sometimes… I got into that as part of my investigating.”
(Ruki) “You obviously had a better life growing up than I did kid.”
(Aikiko) “Yeah, I guess so…”
(Ruki, giving a shrug) “But yeah, I’m needing to do something to get that behind me.”
(Aikiko) “I can’t blame you. So… I guess you don’t know if you have any magic. You sure drew that gun fast, though . . . ever had anybody take a look at you? Because that wasn’t human reflexes.”
(Ruki) “Yeah, I had someone take a look”
She was not about to tell this girl that she’d been examined by someone who looked a lot like Doc Brown and acted like a complete loon.
(Aikiko) “Did they find anything interesting?”
(Ruki) “Still waiting on the results from that crackpot doctor!”
Sure, she had a copy of the report – but she wasn’t about to tell this girl THAT. Besides… if someone else, independently, got similar results… she’d have to take it a good deal more seriously.
(Aikiko) “I see… huh. If the lord of this place has done his job, he probably has someplace for testing people!”
She checked – but there wasn’t anything too elaborate unless you either visited a diviner or checked out one of the local body-alteration shops. Well… why NOT a body-alteration place? It was far closer to mundane surgery than a diviner and more likely to have some form of technological analysis. Those red eyes – and their starry looking pupils – certainly did suggest something – although the robotic-looking tattoos were rather obvious.
(Aikiko) “Where’d you get those tattoos? And (double-checking the eyes) has anyone ever mentioned Sidereals to you?”
(Ruki) “It’s kinda part and parcel with where I grew up, tattoo’s or guns take your pick. I opted for both. As for “Sidereals”… what are you talking about?”
(Aikiko) “Um… they’re agents of Heaven. Red eyes with stars in them mean you’re one of the Chosen of Battles.”
(Ruki, to whom “heaven” – and most other religious phrases – had some serious negative connotations) “Yeah, and I’m actually just scamming you to get you into bed! – waving a hand dismissively and slipping the pistol back in the under-slung shoulder holster.”
(Aikiko) “Okay, now I know that’s a lie. But Heaven IS real… and really screwed up in a lot of ways.”
(Ruki) “Yeah, tell that so some bible thumping ass who thinks your useless because you don’t go to church every sunday.”
(Aikiko) “Oh, he’d be surprised if he knew where his worship was going… as unbelieving as you are right now, I think! Really… Christianity, Judaism, Islam? If it wasn’t for the Bull God, Heaven’s economy would be completely in the pits.”
(Ruki) “I know there’s a God alright, I’ve been in his hole for the past twenty years of my life scraping out just to get by.”
(Aikiko) “There’s MILLIONS of gods. Ahlat’s just the one propping Heaven up.”
(Ruki) “And I’ll bet my bottom yen coin your going to try and sell me on the idea that I should care about whether or not they’re real!”
(Aikiko) “Nope! Most of them are big jerks anyway.”
(Diego) “And old horn-head is just riding on other people’s efforts for the most part! All those prophecies were about other things entirely!”
(Aikiko) “That’s right, Diego… anyway, if you have a better idea what you can do, that might help you figure out what to do next.”
Because if she WAS a Sidereal, a life in the Celestial Bureaucracy probably wouldn’t suit her! Too many restrictions and too little time to kick back!
The body-alteration place… offered all kinds of rebuilds and changes, including fully functional sex-changes. The Shopkeeper was a shaggy, friendly, humanoid english sheepdog with a Kilt and bagpipes.
(Ruki) “Yeah, this is normal.”
(Sheepdog) “Hello there! Are you having a Ruff time with your self-image? (He peered at the poor reaction) Well, it was just a little joke, no need to look THAT sour!”
(Aikiko) “For this place, probably… sorry, sir, she’s not very used to the supernatural.”
(Sheepdog) “What can I interest you young ladies in?”
(Aikiko) “If it’s okay with you, Ruki… how much for an analysis of someone’s current body and powers?”
(Ruki) “Oh sure, on your dime though!”
(Sheepdog) “Well, I can do a physical analysis if there isn’t too much essence-work involved. I can’t tell all that much about motonic abilities however!”
(Aikiko) “Eh, I can probably handle that part, or have someone help out.”
(Sheepdog) “Well then! If that is what you wish, the fee is fairly small. Would you step this way Miss?” (As he pointed towards a set of mirrors with a privacy curtain).
(Ruki, shrugging and walking over) “Sure why not? What have I got to lose?”
(Sheepdog) “Very well then! The mirrors can reflect the truth of your self on several levels – if you are willing to see it… We can start with the simple, physical, level – which may be all you are interested in.”
(Ruki, shrugging) “Alright.”
And the mirrors shimmered – and then (rather disturbingly) reflected the inside of her body – displaying rather a LOT of nonbiological replacements…
(Sheepdog) “Oh my… evidently you’ve had a great deal of work done already! And superb workmanship it is! I’d say that at least half your body mass has been replaced!”
(Aikiko, listening in) “Wow, neat… does it have anything to do with those tattoos?”
(Sheepdog) “There seems to be a relationship – but I’m a cat if I can tell what it is! Half of this is supernatural, and well beyond the kind of alterations I can provide… Most of my business is people wanting tails, or curing baldness, or sex changes and such – not supernatural cyberware! It looks like you have spinal modifications, extensive muscle and bone replacement, rerouting of the digestive system to make room for other implants, armoring and replacement of the deep skin layers, replacement of the eyes, metallic taps into the nose and ears, cranial implants, and more!”
(Aikiko, attempting to analyze Ruki’s essence) “Huh…”
(Ruki) “That’s news to me.”
(Aikiko) “Looks like a stealth combat setup… (to the Sheepdog) wow, you’re right on the craftsmanship. That looks like a LOT of magical materials.”
(Ruki, blinking) “So I’m basically some kinda robot or something.”
(Sheepdog) “Oh, most of your vital organs and endocrine system still seem to be intact, as is most of your brain! VERY fine work – but all I could try to sell you at this point would be superficial modifications, basically cosmetic only.”
Aikiko… was picking up a mixture of Sidereal and unknown (Alchemical) essences from her.
(Aikiko) “Okay, that’s weird. Diego, do we have any way to show her what her own Essence looks like?”
(Diego) “I guess we could superimpose it on your (nodding to the shopkeeper) internal projection.”
(Sheepdog) “Oh, easy enough! Let me just change the settings… I’ve got no interpretive settings, but simply looking is easy enough!”
The essence-view showed blazing patterns of energy flowing through the cyberware, an incandescent core of power linked to the overall pattern – albeit mostly the organic pieces – and various overlays.
That was finally enough to get Ruki to faint from the shock.
(Aikiko) “Bother… Diego, could you take a picture of that? Let’s get her to an inn or hotel or something… I’ll explain when she wakes up.”
(Sheepdog) “Certainly Miss… your credit rating is excellent!”
He sent for a couple of centaur-porters and had her carried off to an apartment that was reasonably mundane-seeming to sleep it off.
Aikiko looked after her for a moment – but decided to call in another Coatl and leave some explanations of that essence-image him or her for when Ruki woke up. Babysitting another Exalt just didn’t feel right! Besides… calling up Charles let her tell him about the Hanging Gardens. He might already have heard about them (and about Ruki) – but it was only polite.
Charles could get Dr Smith’s report on Ruki easily enough – but the report on the Hanging Gardens was sort of startling!
(Aikiko) “Huh! He definitely does things a lot like you do in Aden . . . but he’s more ruthless about it. I saw him transform a guy into a horse-though he did deserve it!”
(Charles, thoughtfully) “Well… if he’s not making problems, there are way more urgent things to fix!”
(Aikiko) “I just thought you’d like to know, in case he starts messing around with you for some reason!”
(Charles) “I’ll keep an eye out!”
While Charles searched out Yu-Shan’s hidden Devas, and Leon finished up with the last few details of the Hanging Gardens, and Aikiko and Ruki were talking about kilts, about driving like a madwoman, and about how Ruki did NOT believe in magic.
(Aikiko) “OK, the privacy warding’s up (and the Coatl were coming out for some exercise)… so yeah, you wanted to know why I was here?”
(Ruki) “NO, I was wanting to know more about everyone wearing skirts here in this chilly ass place.
(Aikiko) “I’m not sure if you’re being sarcastic… but” (at least according to the Adenic archives) “Tradition” is about all the answer there is. (There was a lot on meaning of the various patterns, and clans and such though – which Aikiko happily explained) “Oh yeah . . . and there’s this one fey market that forbids tartan and plaids in genreal, for some reason.”
(Ruki, sighing most dramatically) “I wasn’t serious you twit!”
Aikiko sighed herself… as bristly as a minor god being quizzed on it’s care of it’s domain… She had the Coatl spiral up and take a look around for any particularly interesting natural landmarks in the area. Those tended to lead to supernatural pockets in mythology… And there was an outcropping out in the lake, with a ruined tower on it. Quite the local landmark, although it didn’t seem to be in the local guidebook.
Well, there were rowboats and a few canoes for the adventurous available… A rowboat should be fine.
(Aikiko) “Hmm… that looks like what I’m here for.”
(Ruki) “You’re here for looking at ruins? When you’re driving like you’ve got a hit squad on your tail? What is WRONG with you?!?!”
The rental for the boats was very small; there is a warning about visiting the ruins though; rocks had been known to fall on people, and there had been several broken toes and such – although fortunately nothing worse. If they did visit, it was at their own risk!
Well, a few rocks didn’t sound like much of a menace to Aikiko.
(Aikiko) “I’m looking for this big city that’s supposed to be around here. The driving was because travel magic isn’t easy to control at times.”
She wasn’t going to admit that she drove like a madwoman even when she wasn’t using travel thaumaturgy!
Ruki… was fuming. What, a CITY? Hiding in a small resort? Yeah, SURE.Maybe one the bint realized just how ridiculous that was, she’d get a bit more sensible.
The ruins… were extremely picturesque, mossy, with vaulted stone ceilings, and looked to be in pretty decent shape. They had a spiral stair surrounding the central open shaft. The roof, however, was missing – which let in enough rain and sun for the moss to thrive. More importantly… the entire place was a creation of magic, strongest in the basement (the concealment effects were not yet all running).
(Aikiko) “Whoa! Man, that was just a hunch… feels like it’s coming from the basement.”
They headed downstairs – only to find that the basement had a complex little mosaic on the floor; it seemed to be a small labyrinth – the classical church variety, with one path only. There was even stronger magic at the center… Did you have to walk the labyrinth to open the gate? Assuming that there was a gateway here, and not some silly trap…
Yes, Leon would probably complicate things late on – but he couldn’t take care of everything at once.
Ruki followed her. At least the place was peaceful… And maybe she should keep the madwoman from hurting herself. With just a little luck she could soak the bint for her vacation…
There were several things to stumble over, and some slippery spots what with all the moss – but certainly nothing to challenge a pair of Exalts. As they reached the center, they found themselves on a set of ruby and emerald stairs, which spiraled up unsupported into the sky – headed for a massive floating mesa, carved into terraces and with a colossal statue on each side. Small streams trickled over the edges to drop to the earth a mile or so below and the clouds blew past.
(Aikiko) “Whoa… okay, this is the place for SURE. Check out those stairs…”
It looked like a long climb, but there seemed to be an oddly small number of steps making it up. The massive gemstone slabs were quite pretty though, sparkling in the sunlight. The railing was of gold and silver, intricately twisted, with ruby berries and emerald leaves for decorations.
(Ruki) “. . .”
One of the colossal statues – a falcon-headed thing – was keeping an eye on them.
There was a deep rumble, which was barely understandable as “Greetings! And welcome to the Hanging Gardens”
(Aikiko) “Huh, so that’s what this place is. I’d heard rumors about an entire city somewhere around here. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”
Ruki looked at the giant thing carefully… WHAT was going on here? Was she still tripping? A small mountain hanging suspended in the sky that no on else saw, a staircase that teleported you from the basement of an old ruin to an invisible midair staircase made of gemstone, and colossal talking statues?
(Ruki) “What the ~!@#$ is going on?”
(Aikiko) “If the rumors are true, a chancel holding a fairy city. Look at these stairs! They just wouldn’t work without magic holding them up. Oh yeah . . . a chancel is a portable alternate dimension.”
(Statue, in a deep – and geological – rumble) “It is the Hanging Gardens small one! The Realm of Leon… What else would it be?”
(Aikiko) “Is there a city in here… hmm, falcon head… Horus?”
(Statue) “Horus Indeed… and the City lies above, it’s gardens amongst the clouds.”
(Aikiko) “May we come in?”
(Statue) “There are few restrictions once you are past the labyrinth.”
(Aikiko) “Okay then… might as well have a look around.”
(Ruki…) “I guess…”
All right… either this was the LONGEST and most intricate trip she’d ever been on, or something was up! Some sort of virtual reality holodeck stuff maybe? There were supposed to be all kinds of tricks you could play with THAT. And who knew what had been hooked into her nervous system? That seemed a lot more likely than all this !@#$% “magic” baloney! She’d seen PLENTY of people who claimed to have magic powers as a kid; it was always tricks and flummery!
The stairs somehow wound up touching down on the side of a central step-pyramid/garden, with numerous paths, streams, and stairways wandering through it. It was surrounded by a fabulous city, rather like a mix between Ancient Egypt and the Arabian Knights. A local cabbie (it looked like a human teenager) stopped by with his flying carpet to see if they needed a ride.
Aikiko (vastly over-)paid with gossamer from the fair…
(Cabbie) “And where would you like to go madam?”
(Aikiko) “Where are all the tourists going?”
(Cabbie) “We don’t really get that many – but there are all kinds of places to see! What would you be interested in?”
(Aikiko) “Got any athletics facilities? What about rock climbing?”
There were indeed outdoor athletics facilities – mostly track and field style, although there was some provision for weight-lifting and such. If you really wanted climbing – and a dangerous thrill – there was always the outside of the mesa. That wasn’t too bad at all!
Then Aikiko looked at Ruki’s expression)
(Aikiko) “Er… is something wrong?”
(Ruki, dangerously flatly) “This ain’t normal.”
(Aikiko) “Of course not!” (As she lapped the track again…) “You’re in this Leon fellow’s personal world now!”
(Ruki) “That ain’t possible”
Aikiko lapped again – people moving at that speed on foot shouldn’t be possible either…
(Aikiko) “But it’s happening now. I could give you some Essence sight, so you could look for yourself.”
(Cabbie) “Why not possible? The Hanging Gardens are Lord Leon’s creation; I mean… just look at them!”
(Aikiko) “They’re really neat! He must be a powerful fey.”
(Cabbie) “Normally mountains don’t hang in the sky – but this one does because Lord Leon likes the view!”
(Ruki) “. ..”
(Cabbie) “Well, it was a bit startling for me too – and my great-mother was a naiad, so I was kind of used to the small magics – but Lord Leon has a GREAT deal of power!”
(Aikiko) “I don’t think she’s familiar with ANY magic at all . . .”
(Cabbie) “Oh! From one of the interdicted cities? People from those are often REALLY startled when they see any of the Feyborn!”
(Aikiko, to Ruki) “No clue. Hey, where are you from, anyway?”
(Aikiko) “Wait, from that phony – well, maybe not so phony – documentary? Damn… I had no idea that it was real. It looked so… over-the-top! Like a really BAD action movie with all that gunfire and relatively few deaths…”
Aikiko was a lot more used to that occurring off-planet! Well… perhaps best not to mention that either.
(Aikiko) “It’s really that violent there?”
Meanwhile, a werewolf and a small dragon were having a wrestling match in one of the rings. That was going to be good!… It was, in fact, very busy! The werewolf eventually won – and noted that he did teach the Mountain-Hurling Style – a grappling form – in exchange for relatively small amounts of Gossamer.
Huh. It wasn’t like she couldn’t afford it… Why not take some lessons from the werewolf? It was good to learn multiple styles! She wouldn’t be deploying Skoll though! That would be grossly unfair!
The werewolf fellow turned out to be quite a decent teacher – also fairly young and certainly friendly enough!
Ruki shook her head and wandered off to see just how far the insanity extended… A long ways! There were numerous shops selling magic, transformations, exotic pets, odd foods, clothing, and so on – and an archway that opened into a building full of staircases with people walking on both sides of them, some standing on the walls, and others on the ceiling.
The city was bustling, and full of cheerful people, and many strange and fabulous creatures, and it’s geometry made no sense at all even where it was paying attention to gravity. Fast travel seemed to be by flying carpet or by ducking through the kitchens (it seemed to have one giant set of kitchens, that connected to everywhere food was needed, regardless of how far away that ought to be).
Ruki… was utterly confused – and then was… hit by a ball, and a small mob of children looked quite embarrassed and wanted to know if they could have it back. MOST of them were human…
(Ruki, tossing the ball back) “What’s all this then?”
(Kids) “Er… a ball game… Or do you mean something else?”
(Ruki) “What sorta game kid?”
(Kids) “Soccer! (they happily explained soccer, and all the special rules for nonhumans, and and shapeshifters, and for space-distortions, and what magic was allowable – not that any of them could actually do all THAT much of it. The ball had been sensitized though; it responded to even very tiny charms, and that helped them learn!
Aikiko was considering… a Kickaha? He seemed older than most of them. Still, they were tracing dragon lines, and someone had just knotted together several here, and dropped an incredibly powerful demesne filled with massive amounts of magic on the new nexus. One might well drop by and try to fit in while surveying and investigating! Plus… the boy was teaching some pretty high-end stuff! Mountain Stance, Coils of the Dragon, Hurl to the Horizon… essence around seven and wrapped up in some VERY familiar protections.
(Aikiko) “You’re a good teacher! You’re not a Kickaha by any chance, are you? You’ve got some interesting magical effects going – and I suspect that the name Charles Dexter Ward means quite a lot to you!
(Werewolf, sighing) “Well, yes…. I suppose it is pretty obvious if you know what you’re looking for! This place though… Whoever put this place here… I don’t think it’s more than two months old! It’s still pretty underpopulated really! The “Lord Leon” has to be POWERFUL – even if he doesn’t seem to be doing all that much with it at the moment!”
(Aikiko) “He did a really good job. I don’t think there was even a DEMESNE here before.”
(Werewolf) “I was kind of afraid of that! Charles does that sort of thing, but he’s CHARLES. This is pretty obviously a Raksha – or maybe even an Ishvara!”
(Aikiko) “So what’s your association with Charles? He’s got so many people in Aden that even he probably can’t keep track of them.”
(Werewolf) “Oh, I’ve been surveying Earth’s dragon lines for him – but I got a younger boy in to run around England while I looked into THIS.”
(Aikiko) “You’re a bit old for a Kickaha, aren’t you?”
(Werewolf) “A few of us were older when we were recruited back in the early days! Mostly because some of our younger siblings had become Kickaha…”
(Aikiko) “Ah, I see. So you’re poking around here, then. Have you seen Leon around?”
(Werewolf) “So far… I haven’t approached him directly, although he DOES hold open audiences sometimes. He doesn’t show a lot of patience though! There are apparently a couple of people who tried to demand things from him in his kennels now…”
(Aikikp) “Ohhh… definitely a raksha.”
(Werewolf) “It certainly seems that way – but a Raksha with THIS kind of power… it’s a creature out of legend!”
(Aikiko) “Scary… and definitely something I need to investigate!”
(Werewolf) “Well… if you want to head in, I suppose I can back you up! At worst I’ll just get killed and sent back to Aden!”
(Aikiko) “OK then! Thanks!”
(Werewolf) “You’re certainly welcome!”
Hm… The place was… over the top just like Aden, but in a different way. It would be best to be careful what deals you made here, but the opportunities for pleasure were considerably wider than in Aden. Not quite on the level of the Algedonic Palace in Yu-Shan – but not all that tremendously far behind it either. And the ancient Babylon theme was pretty exciting, even if it WAS a lot smaller than Aden!
And for that matter… the humans seemed pretty happy, and were definitely being provided for and granted at least some minor abilities… Just like Aden. Almost SUSPICIOUSLY like Aden! Perhaps Charles really HAD spontaneously created a raksha through his subconscious? He certainly had more than enough power, and he WAS keeping a sea of chaos at the center of Aden – or himself. Well… not much to do about that other than visit this Leon and determine which urge he was based on.
That would be easy enough, he did hold audiences and a limited audience was permitted…
Leon… was a Lion-man, surrounded by a golden glow, attended by a bunch of scantily-clad teenage catboys and catgirls being servants. He was holding court – and holding a scepter and wearing a coronet. Except for the cat-theme, it looked like a bookplate from the Morte de Arthur, showing Arthur sitting in judgement. Definitely some kind of rulership narrative going on there! At a minimum… a very strong part of his current story. There was a cross between Merlin and an Hollywood Evil Grand Vizier presenting cases – mostly people looking to take refuge. Also very much like Charles, if a bit more organized.
The current one was… a young man who was currently looking horrified as the query about “and why are YOU seeking refuge here?” somehow dragged out of him a story about killing three people in a botched carjacking and the rest of the Feylands wanting to uphold their deals with the mundane police…
(Leon) “So! You seek to take advantage of my generosity! The sole thing in your favor is that you did not start your theft intending to kill! Therefore you will be permitted to retain your life, if not your form!”
Leon… transformed the man into a plowhorse with a wave of his hand and wrapped his mind in “good horse” compulsions.
(Leon) “Have him gelded and put to work!”
Fairly impressive! The transformation was a raksha charm, the compulsions… the power seemed a bit familiar, but she’d never seen it being used like THAT before. Raksha-magic boosted thaumaturgy with other powers backing it. Also very similar to how Charles operated. Uncannily so, really – although she’d NEVER seen Charles simply… hammer a cage of compulsions around someone’s mind, even when he was about as upset as he ever got! Leon certainly wasn’t restrained in THAT fashion… Perhaps Charles really had sublimated some of his urges in this fellow? He was obviously enough deep into the “King and Judge” narrative, the scantily-clad entourage were all good looking and the girls exceptionally so – if he’s following the “Cat” theme, his pride – and that golden glow tended to begin to grow into a blinding aura when he was annoyed – such as now. For a moment there… it was starting to look like a giant cat made of white and gold flame.
Very Solar! Way more so than Charles anyway! And yet he still seems to be a fairly decent… conglomeration of Graces and narrative. Wait… if he was an expression of Charles’s surpressed urges, what would those be? To relax, to rule outright, and to be harsh toward those who offended him? To be… classically solar. Was this is the result of him suppressing those desires to do what he believes must be done? There was a Lawgiver back on Earth – and he was a RAKSHA…
That was just SO WRONG! They were supposed to embody chaos!
Of course… there was Charles. Hiding in plain sight, being ANYTHING but a weapon, convincing people that he wasn’t at all dangerous by pretending to be a PRIMORDIAL… Was there something that he DIDN’T do backwards?
If Leon WAS a creation of Charles’s, he was probably ultimately benign – but he was obviously willing to be ruthless in pursuing his goals, That could be bad news for any unlucky humans who were in his way and not innocent enough! Although… three murders. Life as a plowhorse. It was severe and VERY high-handed, but somewhat fair.
Aikiko lurked in the audience while Leon dealt with several more cases – including one pair arguing over the details of a contract who BOTH refused to accept the ruling of the treasury official. The dummies insisted on opening their mouths – and get three months each as dogs chasing sticks for children with appropriate compulsions – but no neutering.
And with that closer look…. It was hard to be sure (just like Charles) – but his essence was even higher than Charles’s. At LEAST ten – which certainly explained the power source behind this place! If not an Ishvara, on par with one – and… a fair match for Charles’s other major creations. To think that sublimating his urges could create THIS!
He certainly sounded like the fellow who’d called her on your phone and knew a lot more than anyone but her, Charles, and Lytek should. A good thing that she’d checked up on the rumors! Although… that fellow had been recruiting her for anti-abyssal action in the far east… She might have to take him up on that… She could use a rematch now that she had some more charms and Skoll was doing what she directed! They’d never know what hit them!
And she’d… actually fight a battle… She’d never really done that before, and the thought was a bit scary! Even at the Mouth of the Void, she had only intended to run from them. Nonetheless, if pilgrims in Mecca were getting killed, she had to stop that! Especially if the souls of people who very firmly believed in their faith were being stolen to make soulsteel out of! That
would produce a quality of soulsteel not normally seen. And pilgrims on the hajj undertook purificatory rituals and practices too, which would boost the strength of their souls. They’d be… one of the few good sources of Soulsteel-quality souls left in the universe!
Well… Leon apparently did allow limited numbers of interviews for young men and women who wanted to see him more privately. It was obvious enough what he’d usually expect of course – but it didn’t have to be that way. He seemed to be polite enough as long as you didn’t try to lie to him!
She requested one – and that easily got her in to see Leon, who was relaxing at the moment with a hooka, a book, a smoking jacket, a roaring fire, and various other (increasingly odd) things about. A servant-boy and girl were present (still not wearing much) and so were drinks.
(Leon) “Ah, hello young woman!”
(Aikiko, bowing) “Hello, Lord Leon!”
(Leon) “Well now! You don’t seem to fit the usual profile! What is it you’re wanting?”
(Aikiko) “Well . . . you called me about a bad situation in Saudi Arabia a while back, and I’d like to help you out with that.”
(Leon) “Ah! You’re looking rather different these days… Fire and Steel! Indeed yes, some supernatural force is preying on the Pilgrims to Mecca – as silly as the Haiji is.”
(Aikiko) “I think you’d mentioned something about the Abyssal Exalted?”
(Leon) “That is what it sounded like! And up against those, allies are always handy!”
(Aikiko) “Well… I can’t let them continue with that. If the hajj gets disrupted too much, who knows what problems it will cause?”
(Leon) “I would bet on another Iran-Iraq war personally!”
(Aikiko) “Ergh… with their main income source suddenly not so important, that could still be nasty! And with them squabbling over abruptly-diminished resources… It’d be truly vicious, a fight for survival.”
(Leon) “ And just the place to open up a new Shadowland – in the midst of desolation plentifully soaked with blood! Quite unacceptable!”
(Aikiko) “Quite. So, what do you want me to do?”
(Leon) “Well… we had best visit the middle east! Fortunately, I had one of the minions head over there last week! So it’s just across bridge 27!”
Minions were nice to have… she had those kids up in Heaven, but mortals couldn’t stand up to even moderate threats like she’d be facing. Maybe she could find some supernatural ones?
(Aikiko) “I see…”
And the boy with the fan continued gently waving it.
Hm… The Calibration Gate, the Gallery of Captured Dreams, the Cornucopia of All, the Heart of the Canals… Yu-Shan seemed to be a founding member of the functionalist school, both in architecture and naming her manse-devas. That was rather refreshing really! The flowery titles so often made it REALLY hard to figure out what things were supposed to be… He’d have to check with all of them and review the plans with each of them who would answer!
Well, the Heart of the Canals wasn’t all that far away!
It turned out to be a good thing that he had that writ… The Heart of the Canals was one of the more secure locations in Heaven outside of the Jade Pleasure Dome and the other major Celestial landmarks. Its building looked humble at the surface: a simple domed white jade basilica, its doorway flanked by four senior celestial lions. The only sign of the fabulous – and sadly disrepaired – mechanism deep beneath was the pair of tubes rising from the sides of the building: one orichalcum, one moonsilver. You’d normally have to be a senior canal god (popularly said to be officious jerks!) or a high Celestial official to get in
Charles now had a small escort – but it was still basically “Hello!”
(Lion) Ah, it’s you.” (An extensive examination of Charles’s Essence, and what he was carrying with him – and the same for his escort – followed.) “Come to fix the mechanism?”
(Charles) “That’s probably part of it! I also need to talk with it!”
(Lion) “Well, I’m surprised you hadn’t come here sooner – wait, what?” (And a bit of talking over the radio.) “I see… the situation’s that serious. Who have you told about… that?”
(Charles) “Well… some of the others!”
(Lion) “Hrm. That would explain a lot… you’ll see when we take you down. Is that a Behemoth Cloak you’re wearing, by the way?”
(Charles) “Yes! I think they’re quite handy!”
(Lion) “Good to see you’re keeping armored up. Now what about them?” (Nodding to the escorting bodyguards)
(Charles) “Well… I kept getting advised to get some bodyguards! So I did!”
(Lion) “Good advice…”
The bodyguards… were outfitted with similar armor, protective spells, manse-protections, and more… after all, the easiest way to “Attack Charles”… would probably be to threaten to hurt his bodyguards.
Once the Lion was satisfied that their defenses were sufficient, he let them in! He wasn’t going to admit just how bad things in there had gotten in public – but he wasn’t going to let people in who couldn’t take it…
Inside, the building was a large waiting room, lavishly appointed in standard Celestial style. A beautifully brushed map of the canal system, complete with passenger dhow docks and dragon boat rental kiosks, hung above the orichalcum elevator doors. Only three things would distinguish this place from most Heavenly offices: the lack of windows, the lack of gods, and the sweltering heat. It was like a sauna – and it seemed to be coming from the elevator.
The lion Charles had been talking to – Mengzuo – was escorting the group.
(Mengzuo) “Stand back, there’s a lot more steam where this came from.”
(Charles) “Is it supposed to be leaking like that?”
(Mengzuo) “What? Of course not! We… well, you’ll just have to see for yourself. The patching defies belief.”
Mengzuo called the elevator up, there was a ding – and the doors opened with a massive burst of steam that would cook most mortals without protection dead!
(Charles) “Dear me!”
(Mengzuo) “Kid, you haven’t seen the worst of it.”
(Charles) “I’d better then!”
It was a muggy, and increasingly hot, descent. Even at rapid Celestial elevator speeds, it was uncomfortable, even with their various protections. When the elevator doors opened… well, the elevator stopped about an inch above the floor, and there was a good reason for that. There was a thin layer of molten orichalcum and quicksilver all over the white jade flooring. Up ahead, several figures in heavy armor were frantically trying to patch something spurting the same materials.
(Mengzuo) “Incarnae, not again… that’s the second time this month!”
The air rippled with heat as he stepped gingerly out of the elevator.
Charles was busy… first, cool things, second set up a walking surface above the floor, and three… try to analyze a bit and see what needed fixing!
That was quite a lot! As mechanical as the place looked, that network of orichalcum and moonsilver tubing running along the walls was just as much organic. It seemed to have some self-healing capabilities, and the ability to contract and expand as needed. Unfortunately, those abilities were dependent on the old geomancy. Under the new one… well, the place was indeed a Manse, and its Maintenance had gone through the roof (perhaps the ground? It WAS underground). And there was damage to it, too. What was going on right now was some serious Essence venting in the form of quicksilver and orichalcum. Not… the Essence venting you got when you built a Manse on a demesne stronger than it, either. This felt… directed.
(Charles) “You’ve got a geomantic mismatch here! It must have built up VERY slowly; a manse normally fixes the local geomancy, but over millennia I guess that that effect is not enough… I think it’s trying to redirect the geomancy!”
(Mengzuo, shouting over the hissing of the tubes and heat) “I know! We did the best we could, back in the old days, but it’s been slowly failing ever since the First Age! The senior canal gods can take care of the maintenance, and even patch things up! But that’s not a permanent solution… and no one in the Bureaucracy really listens! I’m sure you noticed that the canals have been erratic the past few millennia! Blasted place has a mind of its own! And there’s a lot of strain on it too!
(Charles) “Huh… this is pretty urgent! “
(Mengzuo) “You’re about to do something to it, aren’t you?”
Well… the most obvious plan was to attune, boost the manse to add faster self-repair, independence of external geomancy, and a network node, and then channel enough network support in to sustain it properly. A good thing that he had that writ! After all, it looked like… most gods didn’t know that this was a manse, much less have a chance to attune! Of course… he was in a big enough rush these days that he wasn’t hiding nearly as much any more… It wouldn’t be long before things were out in the open anyway!
(Mengzuo) “Are you sure this will work, kid? You’re dealing with the central node of the canals here! Not even we know what we happen if this place blows!”
Well… It might not work, but he couldn’t see any real chance of disaster with boosting and improving things. If he’d been working on most Manse-builders timescales there would be more problems – especially with getting the attunements set up properly. But considering his speed and that he had his manses to supply power ready in his own body it should be simple enough! At the very worst… it would be better than letting the place continue to decay!
(Charles) “It should!”
(Mengzuo used his own geomantic charms – and grimaced. Letting Charles work on the place did seem like it would fix things – even if he could scarcely believe the power that would require!
(Charles) “And If I don’t… the place is approaching critical failure all too quickly! If there was even a modest load increase it could tip it right over!”
(Mengzuo) “Okay, I’m going to let the gods in here know you’re going to do this. They’re pretty proud and arrogant, so…”
He did so – very, very politely.
(Charles) “Is that OK with everybody?”
(Rumal, Head of the Maintenance Corps) “Just what are you intending to do here, young man? Writ or not, this is unprecedented! The last time a human was in here… I don’t even want to speak of it!”
(Mengzuo) “Eh, most… whatever-he-ises… don’t have the power he does. And you’ve GOT to be tired of this happening every month.” (Shrugging) “Still, you’re in charge around here.”
(Charles) “I intend to briefly isolate the essence-system, upgrade the manse-systems, equip it to absorb transferred energy, and redirect some in! It should improve matters – at the least, reset the decay back to the beginning!”
(Rumal) “You can do that? How? The best we can do is stem the tide!”
(Charles) “Uhm… I’m very good at geomancy!”
(Rumal) “I’d like to see your plans for this, young man! The safety of hundreds of my staff, and of this place, is dependent on it-and besides, we might be able to replicate the procedure.”
(Charles) “Oh! Well, OK! I just made them up, but here we go!
Charles showed him the proposed changes – although nothing much about how they’d be implemented. That was frustrating to Rumal – but it WAS apparently permanent and likely to improve his domain… and if he didn’t take the chance… Within a very short time (by divine standards) the place was going to collapse anyway.
He sighed and relented. After all, this way, he still had a domain.
Charles went ahead. The watching gods were, however, experts at dealing with manse-energies – and they saw… the child suddenly generate an essence-vortex which bent the essence-flows of the manse through himself, extend his own energies along those lines to add entirely new functions to the manse’s essence-structures – and then render the place independent of the local geomancy by… pouring in enough geomantic power from inside himself to sustain it independently. Even if the boy was simply a wandering network node, that would be unprecedented in itself! And if that geomantic power actually came from inside him…
If Charles had been paying attention he would have seen that the stares were somewhere in between shock and wonder – but he had things to fix, and so there was no time for people-watching!
As Charles attuned to the place and poured in massive Adenic energies, something DID seem to be reaching out to him from the depths of the manse. There were strong similarities to the energies he’d felt at the Cornucopia and the Calibration Gate’s plaza – but there was also a strong sensation of Sidereal Essence, and not the kind you got from geomancy, either. It felt like a whole bunch of motes. More than could be comfortably sustained in even most elder Viziers’ bodies! And… whatever consciousness existed in this place was strongest at the geomantic center behind those double doors – which wasn’t all that surprising really. The Sidereal essence was… Had somebody been caught in the manse-geomancy after trying to use the Calibration Gate or something? That “Chejop Kejak” person never had come back…
The leaks sealed themselves and the air stopped rippling from the heat. The senior canal gods minding the place just stared in shock – while Mengzuo smiled somewhat knowingly.
(Charles) “Better! I’ll need to check on the geomantic center though!”
(Rumal, covering his shock) “Bother… but… you didn’t do a bad job! Now, tell me, have you eaten today?”
(Charles) “I had peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast!”
(Rumal, looking relieved) “And you’re not lacking for motes… good! You’re a very lucky young man, you know. Few people get to see the actual Heart!”
(Charles, thoughtfully) “I should have plenty!”
With Mengzuo at his side, and an escort of the heavily-armored gods hanging back, the canal gods opened the double doors. They led to a massive pool of quicksilver and orichalcum, which was boiling slowly. Rumal pointed to the pool; tubing emerged from its center, and split into more tubing. The complex arrangement took up most of the room. The pool itself… was a gate, or door. The Sidereal Essence, and the consciousness, were both in there.
Charles gestured at the bodyguards to stay behind – it seemed appropriate – and dived through the gateway of boiling quicksilver and orichalcum, ducking past the piping. Without the behemoth cloak, doing that would have been insane – but with it it felt like warm milk. There was a distinct sensation of being watched now, and mingled worry and gratitude. The piping extended to a massive construct at the bottom of the orichalcum. The quicksilver served as a sort of wall around it.
The construct, itself made of orichalcum and moonsilver and sprouting pipes and tubes everywhere, did indeed resemble a human heart – right down to the beating. The beat was still a bit erratic, but it was slowly stabilizing.
(Charles) “Hello? Ms Yao Xin?”
(Yao Xin – who, oddly enough, seemed mildly disappointed, along with worried and grateful) “Did you fix that nasty geomancy?”
(Charles) “Well… I’ve compensated for it! An actual fix is going to take another month or two! It’s going to go something like this!” (He showed her his plans).
(Yao Xin) “Fascinating… the Raksha portion should amuse Xiang very much, though I’m not sure how Dumenza feels about that one! And of course, the young mistress will probably do some editing of her own once she’s awake.”
(Charles) “Well… at this point I can’t see a lot of alternatives! Its going to take a massive infusion of Wyld energies to make all the repairs!”
(Yao Xin) “I see… and you’d massage the geomancy in such a way as to give everyone someplace to live. Considering the lesser spirits are now within the young mistress, I take it something happened to their city?”
(Charles) “It was quite a mess…”
He showed her the damages to creation, and then the reshaping!
(Yao Xin) “What the… no wonder we’ve slept for so long, and I’ve had so much trouble. I’ve . . . been trying to channel the Essence over a much bigger area, not that I could help that.”
(Charles) “It’s been a very big mess, but I’m fixing things as fast as I can!”
(Yao Xin) “I feel much more relaxed now… like I can breathe again. Sigh… though a humanoid form is still out of the question at the moment, isn’t it?” (With some resentment) “They probably expect me to keep the canals flowing in THAT pattern.”
(Charles) “Well… probably not for another couple of months! The staff is already going to be confused enough! They haven’t got a very good idea of what’s going on yet!”
(Yao Xin) “And they will be more confused then, I think. They’re… (hurt) totally ignorant of me, aren’t they? How can I hope to help her blossom when no one even knows I exist?”
(Charles) “Some of them know that you’re here – but none of them know what you are. That knowledge – and the knowledge that Yu-Shan is one of the Elder Ones – has been hidden for millennia. And you can help by knowing what is happening and by being prepared to help guide and stabilize the energies of the repairs.”
(Yao Xin) “I see… what interesting times they are about to have. Luckily for you, I can simply run those energies through the canals! The Essence-display will be most magnificent.”
(Charles) “That will definitely help balance the energy flows, and so will leave even more margin for unexpected interference! And – sadly enough – I’m fairly sure that there will be some.”
(Yao Xin) “I would expect it. Oh, by the way; do you want some Sidereal-aspected motes?”
(Charles) “I don’t really need any right now… have they been sending you a lot or something?”
(Yao Xin) “I can spare ten for you, since things have become less urgent for me… aww… You… could say that.”
(Charles) “But I don’t really need any extra motes! I’ve got plenty!… Do you need some?”
Hm… Looking up close… there were about 229 motes of Sidereal Essence in her body! It wasn’t a part of her pool either…
(Yao Xin) “What, are you offering? You certainly seem to have enough geomantic links.”
(Charles) “Well, if you want! There’s no shortage… but you’ve already got a lot of Sidereal motes hanging around… Is something weird going on?”
(Yao Xin, seeming mildly embarrassed) “Err . . . well, it’s Fate-aspected Essence, yes. You could say I had a visit a short while ago – though why she decided to jump into one of my pipes, I’ll never know. And I wasn’t expecting THAT to happen.”
(Charles) “That would be a bit odd!”
(Yao Xin) “Not that I haven’t been grateful – the Essence flow has been consistent enough. But why she decided to take that form, as well… And why didn’t she try to help me?”
(Charles) “What, they got stuck? Weird!”
(Yao Xin) “Well… yes! Normally the emerald Fate is much more graceful than that – I’d expect such out of her yellow sister. So I tried to help her out… and… well, I determined some strange things. Such as that she’d managed to transform herself into meat, and channel something of the young mistress’s even younger brother’s power somehow. It felt like a remote link. Has Autochthon been up to any of his experiments since we fell asleep? He’s not supposed to be experimenting with the Fates! They’ll get sick!”
(Charles) “Well, we’ve got a new set of adamant exaltations linked to them!”
(Yao Xin) “No, it definitely felt like the emerald Fate. And then its Essence linked to mine… and I guess whatever that was -I’m fairly sure it wasn’t HER – has been linked ever since.” (Embarrassed) “That’s why I’ve been under stress lately! If I could refine its motes and get them to her… but the geomancy! It’s blocking the way to the central reservoir!”
(Charles) “According to Doc Smith some of Authchthon’s creations have been meddling with linking their energies to some of the Sidereal Exalts!”
(Yao Xin) “Who’s Doc Smith? And what’s this about the little inventor’s creations?”
(Charles) “Hm… I could tie the link into the remote links to the Sorrowhands! Would that work? It would be a fairly modest boost on what I’m funneling to them already, but it would have a different aspect!”
(Yao Xin) “Ah, thank goodness the Tenders are still around, if as stifled as I’ve been. Why don’t you try that? They can help me with the refinement. And then once we’re all awake… I can take them on a ride!”
Charles checked with the Sorrowhands.
(Arelis Sorrowhands) “Wonderful! Do you have any idea how hard it’s been for our people to approach Yao Xin, much less perform the diagnostics? She’s always been the most fiddly of milady’s devas.”
(Charles) “She needed some help! And she’s got some excess Sidereal Essence from a Sidereal who… well… is caught in the pipes! Can you use it?”
Arelis accepted the link quite enthusiastically – and with a brief chuckle.
(Arelis) “Oh, Aden, we know full well about that one. Rest assured that Exalt is long out. But more Essence is never bad.”
(Charles) “Oh good!”
He set it up.
(Arelis) “”But… do try to track that person down. They might be in more danger, and be more of a threat, than they know.”
(Charles) “Hm… Doc Smith says that she’s… gone to Scotland? Why Scotland? Oh well! I’ll see if I can’t find her!”
(Arelis) “Her? Hmm… I had heard it was a he. Still, they are a tricky bunch!”
(Charles) “Huh! I was thinking a mix of Autochthonian and Sidereal Essences… and Doc Smith was just examining a Sidereal who’d been linked to Autochthon, so I was guessing it might be her! I guess not though!”
(Arelis) “Interesting… blending Exaltations? I wonder what would happen if you ran her through Yao Xin… Probably not what I’d expect, what with her already being linked to one Primordial.”
(Charles) “I’ve no idea really! Hopefully l I won’t have to deal with that until after this fix!
(Arelis) “Hm. We’ll have to talk to her if you succeed in saving Yu-Shan.”
(Charles) “Well… I’m trying to make sure of that!”
(Arelis) “And we’re quite appreciative. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to change out this plate of peaches of immortality…”
Charles accepted a couple of Sidereal motes for later analysis – and left Yao Xin with a few helpful artifacts (boats, extra mote sources, items that helped her think faster, and movement aids). Running the canals was very stressful!