Aikiko was tempted to look around some more – but these guys actually had a fair amount of supernatural power, and they’d recognized her as a Celestial Exalt, and… wait.
They were familiar with the Solar Exalted – and they knew that they’d returned. How could ANY mortal possibly know that much? That was… rather disturbing! Even if Wenjioth was sharing his information with them… the fact that the Solar Exalted were BACK wasn’t exactly common knowledge even amongst the gods!
Well… they wanted to discuss some things with her in the morning, above and beyond the tournament – and had been polite enough.
Aikiko sighed, and decided to be prudent for once, and really did settle down for the night. She didn’t even know how she’d been detected – but he HAD noticed that she was wounded… Was that some aspect of their apparent power over entropy and dissolution? Was sensing that in people easy for them? Besides… despite her caste and her mundane stealth skills, she wasn’t really all that far into the Stealth trees. Sensing her footsteps on the floor or her motion through the air as she passed by would not be that difficult if they had abilities that let them do it…
She was quite prompt in the morning.
The two priests – Loram (of the shattering touch effect) and Chandath – and the elderly fellow who was one of the people passing on this tournaments prize – (the Ri’kienthi, involving control of electromagnetism) were waiting for her – and handed her a bowl of rice, a glass, and nodded at the breakfast table; it looked like the meeting wasn’t going to be very formal.
She nodded back in a respectful but friendly manner, and ate.
(Loram) “Ms. Aikiko? I may have been wrong; on checking the records… It might be possible for you to host a portion of the prize. Although I strongly suspect that it could not work, I was unable to find any precedent or instruction covering the possibility. That inability is… very odd in itself.”
(Chandath) “I will admit that I was opposed to this meeting at first; the power you bear… has a history of leading to destructive madness. You, however, appear to be sane enough for the moment – and if you were to turn that power against us directly… You are outnumbered, and young in your power – but it is very great.”
(Chandath, at Loram’s disapproving look) “And, since you seem to have invested at least a portion of that power in discovering secrets – otherwise you probably would not be bere – I see no point in trying to conceal that apprehension from you.”
(Aikiko) “I understand. I’ve actually seen some of what you’re talking about, so I’ve taken some steps to prevent it.” (She is wearing her dreamstone right now, and will show it to them.) “It’s not perfect, but I’d rather not hurt those around me when it does happen to me.”
(Loram) “Well, if you recognize the peril so early, that shows considerable hope for the future.”
(Aikiko) “Uh… so, what are you going to do about the tournament? You say I might be able to host some of the Ri’kienthi, but can you tell me what that normally involves? It’s got to have some drawbacks.”
(Loram) “To tell you more… I must ask you to swear to not interfere and to not reveal our secrets to any save the very highest powers if you will not aid us.”
(Aikiko) “I think I have some idea of what you’re talking about. By highest powers . . . I assume Incarnae means something to you, sirs?”
What were they up to? Reviving and mending the Neverborn? Hadn’t most of them departed into chaos with the Reshaping anyway?
Wait… could they SERIOUSLY be attempting something of that order? After all… since their remaining souls could not die, what else could you do with them other than to try to send them through the Lethe or some variant thereof? But that would mean… this project had to be tens of thousands of years old!
Surely not! Still… she just HAD to know what they were up to! And just how binding could an oath be?
(Chandath, sourly) “It’s the perscribed form… I believe that the Emerald Mother is the last of the Highest.”
(Aikiko) “That secret…”
Ugh! She wasn’t big on oaths, but she HAD to get to the bottom of this – and there were lots of things that would lay within her powers even if she couldn’t tell anyone else what she was up to without backlash!
(Aikiko) “Okay then, I’ll keep quiet and not interfere.”
The oath… was in an impossibly archaic form of Old Realm – although Aikiko could understand it with some difficulty. The primordial dialect? Hey, a loophole! She might be able to talk to Charles without violating it… After all, if he WASN’T a Primordial, he was certainly well on his way… It looked like she was going to be dealing with the creators of the universe whether she liked it or not.
At least most of them were more alien and hard to comprehend than evil.
(Savryath). “Yes there are. Most importantly, while the prizes grant health, power, longevity, and many other benefits, they have wills of their own; they must be contained, their destructive and irrational sides discouraged and undermined, their sanity and benign sides encouraged and strengthened. While that task becomes easier with each transfer, it is still a grave responsibility. It is their nature – at least for now – to drain power from the land and from those around; one must either remain at a site of power or move around constantly to avoid having baleful effects on the earth and on those you spend too much time with… Although that is an advantage at times; I once spent some years at the court of a rather ruthless warlord, and by the time I left his kingdom was crumbling, he was prematurely aged and senile, and his power was broken.”
(Aikiko) “I see. About how much would one have to move around, sir?”
(Savyrath) “Generally swapping cities every few months will do. I have found that a much easier thing to do these days; trains, planes, and credit cards have made my last few decades a great deal easier. There is also an obligation to protect this temple and the secrets of the Besi Hantuperajin from outsiders. In addition, each “prize” carries minor drawbacks and advantages according to it’s nature. For example Chandath here carries the Goronkoth – which comes with a tendency to be somewhat secretive and to hide things, to be compulsive about relationships, and to have to eat a great deal.”
Chandath, who was on his fourth bowl of breakfast, gave him a slightly irritated look.
(Aikiko) “I travel a lot myself, so that part won’t be a problem. I’ve met your god, and like him, and he’s a LOT better than the terrorists. I… guess I’ll just have to see which prize I get.”
(Savyrath) “Well, the prize this time is – of course – the Ri’kienthi I demonstrated yesterday. There are no longer enough of my circle to carry the burden; and so it is time to pass it on – and pass on – before we lose control. That peril is less than it was with each tournament and passage – but after twelve hundred years I think that I could use a rest. (Softly) So many things have passed… and the lands of my youth, the clans I founded, and everything I knew… have vanished with the centuries. Not even the great powers of the Besi Hantuperajin can hold back time and weariness. Perhaps, in the power you carry, you are more fortunate. For your sake, I hope so.”
(Aikiko felt – and looked – sympathetic.) “I can’t even imagine what it’s like to see all that go away… but I can only hope.”
After all, according to the records in Yu-Shan, that was about the average Solar lifespan!
(Loram) “That is the problem of course… Are you sure that you wish to enter the tournament? You will likely be among the winners if you do – but you already bear a terrible and maddening power. If you can turn that power to completing the taming and recreation of the Ri’kienthi, you will greatly shorten our work and perhaps make that power a true boon to the world. If you cannot bond with the Ri’kienthi, that will merely increase the burden on the other winners and somewhat shorten their time – although it will still be extended for many centuries. If, however, you prove unable to tame that power… in combination with the power you already possess you could be transformed into a walking blight upon the earth, as destructive as any tsunami.”
(Aikiko) “What, exactly, is the Ri’kienthi-or is that something only the people with the prize can know? That’s going to help me decide.”
They DID seem benevolent enough; if it was something only the winner could know… she’d withdraw from the tournament – but still try to keep an eye on the place. It sounded big!
(Loram) “In certain places – and with certain meditations – it is possible to tap into some very old, and very damaged, powers. Our order… and the tournament – exists to ensure that those powers are bound to people capable of handling them.
(Loram, sighing) “… using them wisely, and reforming them – souls of iron, who can reforge those powers into the shining things that Wenjioth says that they once were. It has been a project of millennia.”
Oh by the Incarnae… They really WERE meddling with something on the Primordial Level! Sure, she’d had the thought – but she hadn’t really believed it! Were they out of their minds?
It took a few minutes before she could do more than listen. They… were following instructions left from before the Primordial War. While many of the Primordials had not believed that THEY could lose, many of their component souls were not so sanguine about THEIR chances; the great ones might be near-invincible, but THEY were not… On the advice of the White Ram, they had hidden fragments of themselves in the one place that they were sure that the Exalted would never strike against – the racemind of humanity.
Thus, a living spark of their essence and selves had survived the war, unsuspected and buried out of reach of the victors. A fragile hope for the future.
Awakened and directly bonded to small groups of humans, the fragments imbued the humans with true power – and gained access to the essence of their hosts and to the geomantic energies of Creation. Slowly they had begun regenerating those portions of their selves that had been cast into the underworld when slain by the Exalted. It had been a process of many, many, centuries; reconstructing their ancient patterns from the traces remaining in resisting necrotic essence of the underworld was far more difficult than the simple healing they had anticipated… While they were fed and aided by the life force and imaginations of their tiny “cults”, the task was immense – and they were forced to rely on the discipline of their human guardians to guide their development.
With the Reshaping the Neverborn departed into the Wyld to recreate themselves – but the resurgent sparks of their souls were entwined with humanity – and were left behind.
Their nurturers do not know if – when the task is at last complete – the reborn primordial souls will once more join together to become new primordials, whether they will remain to empower humanity as a whole, or whether they will simply become free and independent beings – but if forty thousand years of sharing human minds isn’t enough to socalize them a bit, nothing ever will be.
(Aikiko, thoughtfully) “So you are healing them.”
Thinking about that rationally… well, the primordials may have been idiot-savants, but the subsouls certainly were not – and they were well aware that they were not invincible.
(Savyrath) “I suspect that it is closer to a recreation – nursing a spark back into a roaring blaze.”
(Aikiko) “Big isn’t the word for a project like that… I don’t know what is. Still, I’ll keep my end of the deal.”
Huh! So the Incarnae had been quite right to be suspicious of old Wenjioth there… Of course, there was the possibility that the White Ram lied to some mortal pawns about what it was all about… just as it was possible that they were a smokescreen for something, or some other possibility.
Still, if she hadn’t already thought that the entire Primordial War situation was ambiguous, this would have been more than enough to make her lean that way… What if the White Ram wanted to turn the tables on the masters? Make them components of himself? After all… had it gone this route itself?
At least now she knew where the power was coming from… This was definitely something that Heaven would want monitored and supervised – and it was right on Earth, too! She wouldn’t tell them – it would take a LOT of thought before she attempted to interfere with a hope that had endured for forty millennia and through multiple cataclysms – but she’d HAVE to research this one a bit more.
Besides… While the tournament didn’t actually start for nine days and she had a little time to decide, she was already pretty sure of one thing; she didn’t really want to find out what would happen if she tried to bond a primordial soul living in the human racemind to her own mind when an Exaltation was already linked there… She gracefully bowed out – although not before making sure that she got a good look at the people who would be competing, and having the coatl note faces, though! It might be instructional seeing who won and what effects it had on them, and seeing who got that kind of power – and that wouldn’t interfere with them at all!
At least they did seem to have a reasonable handle on who could handle that power without making trouble – although, from the sound of things, the process wasn’t perfect. There had been rare individuals who took that power and lost control or just gave way to the desire to rule and did some fairly dreadful things with it. Fortunately, the one-by-one, you-are-known, nature of the tournament usually guaranteed that there were plenty of people around with similar powers and far, FAR, more practice than you had to stop you. Still… no one who was subject to occasional random bouts of insanity needed a secondary power source that would exaggerate the problem.
(Aikiko) “Just out of curiosity… What is the “Goronkoth” and how did you detect the fact that I was injured?”
(Loram) “The Goronkoth manipulates gravatational fields and wormholes, allowing travel, defense by sending attacks elsewhere, collecting missiles, and similar tricks. The Rursurkireth manipulates vibration, the pulse of the world; you observed the sub-aspect of Vhendal’ithe (the sussuration of destruction) used on a slab of rock. The ability to sense vibration is well suited to keeping an eye on the temple here – and for sensing internal details. I believe the process is now called “sonar” or “ultrasound”.
So they really were channeling the power of Primordial subsouls, at least after a fashion. Well, that was quite neat! And it explained some things about that terrorist attack, even beyond Wenjioth’s abilities.
Wenjioth was actually a bit desperate; the Primordials were pains sometimes, and didn’t pay a lot of attention when they stepped on things – but the Exalted had nearly wrecked the world how many times? Keeping the area he was responsible for intact and prosperous was his purpose, and if he had to be part of an eons-long conspiracy project to do it… well, so be it.
It also rather neatly explained the villages eon’s long run of unbroken “peace and prosperity”. They had… a god who’d been building defenses since the primordial war and probably at least three or four people around who were channeling differing primordial subsouls to protect the place. A rare instance of divine-deva cooperation! And, once again, on Earth… She’d have to keep an eye on all of them! They did seem to mean well – but this was a bunch of mortals and an essence-four god trying to nurse a bunch of Deva’s back to health and teach them to play nice with mortals. It was just a BIT above their grade…
Bother! It looked like “keeping an eye on” was going to mean some frantic research and checking up! There were an awful lot of ways that could go wrong… Still, a bunch of mortals working together could do a lot – and they had been at it for a LONG time and were a lot less mortal than most mortals were.
Was that the biggest secret of all? That – while the Exalts had all been away – the humans and Raksha have gotten up to all kinds of things. They… no longer NEEDED the Exalted to run their world – even if they could use their help on the bigger projects. The might not even need THAT if the Devas – as revived by their human “cultists” from seeds in the Racemind – wound up empowering all humanity. Not only would that be a suitable “reward” – but it would assure their ongoing safety… from the Exalted.
No wonder they wanted her to swear an oath!
Aikiko spent some time talking to Savyrath… There probably wouldn’t be another chance; once he transferred the link… he would be once again merely human – and 1250 years old.
He had… a very interesting prospective on history. There were lots of minor supernatural influences that didn’t make it into the books – but he, of course, saw them. He’d been a minor player – if subtly – in trying to maintain the balance of power across China and India for a thousand years, and had had many centuries of watching people there, occasionally quietly intervening, and – sadly – often seeing the same foolishness play out generation after generation. Still, that did at least make it easy to steer things towards the better outcomes after a few times around.
Aikiko… retreated to regroup a bit. That was a lot to absorb, and Savyrath’s opinions on what the major upcoming problems would be was a very different prospective! At least it was likely that the man would stick around as a Terrestrial god… his essence was FAR too high for him to simply die as a human. She’d have to see if he did!
Besides… So far, in her hunt for new quasi- primordials… she’d found a quasi-primordial manse and a bunch of Devas allied with humanity… What would she find next? Should she head for Peru, or for Yu-Shan to do some more research?
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice XCVII – Button Mashing Not Allowed! (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice XCVIII – The Ri’kienthi (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice C – The Temples Of The Elements (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- [Emergence Campaign] The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice IC — The Lions Of Times Long Past (ruscumag.wordpress.com)