The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice part VII

Arcosanti vaults

Welcome to Arcosanti!

With some days to go before his next meeting with the museum scientists there wasn’t any other urgent business at the moment – which was a good thing, since he didn’t have too much time to spare before he had to be back in Yu-Shan to run the Factory-Cathedral. If he hadn’t been friends with Gorim Naku, he’d never be able to make it to half this stuff unless he used the gold lanes all the time…

He could arrange that for some things – and travel thaumaturgy worked on most of methods of traveling around Yu-Shan OTHER than the Canals (which already had more powerful travel magic in operation and went by fixed routes, so slipping through shortcuts wasn’t an option), but it would attract a LOT of attention.

Fortunately Gorim had been happy to establish a route nearby for him. He’d have to think up something really nice that he could make for him!

And at least his Observatory was fairly close to the Factory-Cathedral, even if the most direct route did go through some fairly nasty neighborhoods. He usually went around those…

Well, took the Masonic tools, and the rods and jade caps, and all the rest in his backpack – along with more Coatl and an Inukami. He’d need their help a little later on, and he wanted them to have a look at a working Factory-Cathedral.anyway. They’d have to undergo the purification rituals beforehand, but that was easy enough…

The factory-cathedral was running right on. There hadn’t been any disruptions or processing quirks, though everyone was keeping an eye out for them. He’d really been expecting more trouble… Had the previous manager simply been caught up in a project that he or she couldn’t handle or couldn’t get the ingredients for, or something? Maybe that was WHY they’d wanted him as an independent contractor? If something was requested that he couldn’t handle he was free to tell them “no”, or to abandon an impossible project, no matter how many official priorities and seals and authorizations were attached to it…

There weren’t any urgent demands in either. Maybe they really WERE going to wait until after he’d completed a project or two and they were sure that he could handle making at least the basic stuff.

There was more grass in his mailbox – evidently Three Toes wanted to make sure its domain was well fed = but it was easy enough to forward that to the museum.

There was also a distinct feeling of being watched. Thaumaturgy was really GOOD for detecting that kind of thing. It was really hard to work past something as fragile as a weak thaumaturgic alarm-ward without breaking it entirely, and almost impossible to get past without disturbing it – and it didn’t hurt that he was GOOD at detecting disturbances in his magic too…

Well after all, the Factory-Cathedral was THE obvious place to watch him. Unfortunately, whoever-it-was was far enough away that the general magical chaos of Yu-Shan covered him, her, or it very nicely indeed. A serious attempt to find out who it was would require some fairly major active spellcasting, rather than just passive sensing.

It wasn’t like it mattered very much anyway. After all, Yu-Shan was pretty much the intrigue capital of the cosmos, there might well be more than one observer, and he wasn’t actually up to much of anything at the moment anyway. He had all the official orders to review, ingredients to plan to acquire, more machines and functions of the place to familiarize himself with, and all the stuff he was SUPPOSED to be doing!

Well, except for eating too much candy. If it was Gramps checking up, he was probably in for another lecture about laying off the sweets.

Hmm… So far he’d used LOTS of thaumaturgy at master levels, skill at tinkering with Manses (if someone had been looking closely), and his possession of a good speed-up charm. That was… nothing yet beyond the abilities of a strong god-blooded, but definitely well above the average god-blooded youngster. At the moment, any spies probably thought he was simply the son of someone genuinely important.

He set up a privacy veil and a small divination to keep him aware of surprise inspections (AND spies), but – for the moment – observing him was simply BORING. He obviously had great quantities of paperwork and filing and project planning to do – and if you wanted to watch that, you could do it pretty much anywhere in Yu-Shan.

The sensation went away after a few hours.

By the time the line shut down eight hours later, the observers were long gone – and he could work up the Rods of Construction in peace. A good thing that he just needed to tap into the Factory-Cathedral’s essence-flows for that! Running around and operating everything at high speed might attract attention again.

Accelerating things to that degree burned through monstrous amounts of essence of course, as well as requiring hours for the recharging, but that was one of the reasons why he’d brought so many of his assistants!

Even so, he didn’t quite manage to get them done. He really needed some way to recover essence faster! Maybe some more hearthstones? It was so hard to get strong ones though. Being able to store more would help. Maybe he could arrange that? There were supposed to have been “essence batteries” once, but he hadn’t heard of any of them since Gaia had reshaped Creation. Only artifacts that focused or stored essence for their own use. Perhaps the rules had changed?

Oh dear! It would probably be a good idea to learn a combat charm. He had a nasty feeling that there might be trouble during that trip to the Amazon. Perhaps some sort of evasive illusion?

He’d also need to come up with a some minor artifacts and other gifts for Gri Fel to offer the gods on whatever committees were in charge of assigning city gods, as well as (perhaps) something for a few Sidereals, but there was time for that. That “plan” was still pretty vague and he didn’t even know who he’d have to talk to (or bribe) to get Gri Fel into the running for Arcosanti, but at least it was underway.

And he could ship their tools back to the Masons!

Well, that could certainly wait until tomorrow; they probably wouldn’t expect them back anywhere near that soon… He’d expected a little more argument there, but they apparently were a group that handled manse maintenance, thaumaturgical education, and initiated the occasional terrestrial-circle sorcerer. Perhaps the last remnant of the realm thaumaturgy schools? They obviously had ties to the Dragon-Blooded; perhaps they also ran some interference for their operations?

He had to wonder how many actual thaumaturgical schools were left… It could be quite hard to tell the difference between a kook and someone running a cover or distraction!

Sunday was… mostly uneventful. Breakfast, a few hours to file stuff, sending their tools back to the Masons (via a secure bonded courier, with some wards and spells on the package to make sure it got their safely and a couple of spirits to watch it), dropping by the Factory-Cathedral to “check things” (and to finish up the Rods), pick up some fudge, see a few sights in Yu-Shan, spend some time playing video games with Ixian, a bit of manse maintenance, keeping up good relationships with the neighbors, teach his short class in Thaumaturgy in the park (the Coatl and Inukami handled most of that), and an evening with his friends.

OK, so some of them were fairly strange friends from school, but that was all right.

He was barely on time for school Monday. The Inukami felt that he’d been pushing too hard, and had made sure that he slept in.

First up… it would have been history, but at the moment it was a free period for research on that essay. A good thing it wasn’t due for a week and a half! Picking a topic was HARD. They all sounded like fun! At least the school library would have enough to give them all a preliminary look, evaluate some pros and cons, and settle on a topic.

If there was anyone watching him, this was going to be another really boring bit. He wasn’t doing anything supernatural at all, unless you counted taking lots of notes and being very bright…

Hmm… There were quite a few Shogunate-era sources in the library; they quite dominated the First Age material. That would make the interactions between the daimyo the easiest of the bunch. The problem there was distinguishing the court propaganda from the facts. That also made the Contagion the next best topic, although the sources from THAT period were largely from after the fact (and depressing to boot). The information on Merela was also largely written after the fact, although the coverage was good; there were several books on her – and on the construction of the Five-Metal Shrike. The Solar and his Lunar mate in the time of the Cascading Years would require the most independent research.

Still, if he wanted a good grade, he’d need to do out-of-school research regardless… Merela then. He didn’t want to get absurd about it.

Hmm. The most detailed and cited source in the school library was Toramna’s History of the Deliberative Under Queen M-R-L – a monograph supposedly dating back to before that infamous Calibration banquet in Meru. Fortunately, he could check this copy out, as it was a copy of the original. A good thing too, the original had Linguistic Charms in it that locked you into reading it.

They’d probably done something annoying too! Hopefully the copy didn’t… He divined at it just to check though.

It looked like… it had carefully had the Solar social power removed from the text. There was an entry in the credits on it for the Sidereal who had used Charm Redirection Technique on it, making it safe for everyone to read. Well that was nice of him or her!

He checked it out, along with an armful of other books, and considered where else to check after this batch is done in a day or so… Yu-Shan had no shortage of libraries, but a full quarter of them (including a lot of the best ones) were open only to high-ranking Celestial functionaries and the Chosen of Secrets. The best, of course, would be to go to the Forbidding Manse of Ivy, which was the biggest library in Yu-Shan, if not all Creation – but it would be kind of risky.

Hey! Wait! Being in charge of a Factory-Cathedral was good for more than he’d thoght, even if it did eat a lot of time! He had authorization to dig into almost any library he wanted to! He’d have to try looking up some other stuff!

Well, probably not the Forbidding Manse of Ivy (it didn’t like it if you failed to use it’s full name). Poking around in THERE would really draw attention.

Sadly, there wasn’t any time to go library exploring before his self-defense class, but there was always after class and work.

That was more basic staff work – or it was until someone tapped him on the shoulder in the middle of a sparring match.

(Charles) “Uhm… Yes? Ow! No fair to hit me while someone is being distracting!… OK, I suppose it IS fair, but it isn’t nice!… I suppose that’s part of the point isn’t it?… Drat!”

Elissa just beamed – and then looked back over his shoulder and appeared a little worried.

Charles stepped back from her and THEN looked to see who it was.

It was young Hiranaya – one of the more advanced swordsmanship students. He had orange skin and red hair that flickered and shifted, despite the fact that there wasn’t much of a breeze through the dojo windows today. From what Charles had heard, his parent was associated with the element of fire.

(Hiranaya) “I wish to spar with you.”

(Charles, with some startlement) “Er… why?”

(Hiranaya) “I want to practice with the staff, and you seem to have some skill with it.”

Charles got the feeling that he was trying not to make a smart comment about his sword skills.

(Charles) “I do?”

He looked at the instructor to see if he approved. HIS first thought was, of course, “Are you sure it’s not Thaumaturgy you want to practice? I’m GOOD at Thaumaturgy” – but there was a quiet nod there.

(Charles) “Uhm… Ok then!”

He apologized to Elissa and got on appropriate sparring floor.

Oops! Hiranaya was a faster starter than he was! And pretty good! If it hadn’t been for the talisman that enhanced his reflexes and a quick duck back, he’d have taken a pretty good shot there!

Hiranaya deflected his shot, but not too easily – and swung back with a blow that Charles very nearly COULDN’T dodge – although he sacrificed enough of his defense in doing so that Charles managed to slip past his block and make contact that time (for minimal damage), leaving Hiranaya slightly staggered – although he steadied himself quickly.

Charles waited politely to make sure that Hiranaya wasn’t really hurt – causing the sword instructor to groan slightly; even in a SPARRING match you didn’t check on people who’d only gotten bumped and were in no distress – and it was all too obvious that that was likely to be his natural tendency in combat too!

The staff instructor seemed rather pleased and satisfied however, although some of the other instructors were muttering quietly.

(Sindri) “Hmm. My theory was right. Are you naturally this quick, or are you using something?”

(Charles) “Uhrm… There’s a physical boosting gizmo I sort of absorbed when I was tinkering with it awhile back… It doesn’t turn off… Is that bad?”

Drat! He’d been showing too much of his boosted reflexes… It was hard to stand and get hit though! The natural tendency was always to duck!

(Hiranaya, with a raised eyebrow) “Where can I find one of these?”

(Charles) “I could try to find out for you. It was on a little island in a secret chamber with a few bits of other stuff.”

(Hiranaya) “I would appreciate this very much. I should have some coins to pay you for this task.”

Something seemed to be bothering him a bit, but Charles couldn’t really tell what it was.

(Charles) “Oh, it’s always nice to find out more! I don’t need any coins…”

Sindri seemed a bit… interested too. Oh well. Perhaps he’d had some queries and didn’t like Sidereal or other high-level interest in his students? Most martial instructors really wanted to see all their students do well, and – in Yu-Shan – high-level interest in a student rarely boded well… Perhaps he was suspecting that he was going to wind up as a Sidereal? That surely didn’t happen very often, but it was surely possible. Oh! Maybe he was suspecting a Lunar Exaltation? The most commonly-absorbable artifacts were moonsilver; it was very good for that kind of thing – and he HAD shown himself to be extremely tough and fast-healing. Perhaps he’d better find a lunar who was willing to help out and forge the Lion Ring. It would be fun to use anyway and it would make a great red herring while remaining within the bounds of what was possible for a god-blooded!

Oh well. It was at least as likely that he was just wondering how many artifacts Charles was using.

Hiranaya left Charles to continue sparring with Elissa, albeit with one last look over his shoulder. That sparring match was a bit more evenly matched – at least in terms of offensive skills. Fortunately, enhancing artifacts were quite expected, and even considered prudent. It wasn’t uncommon to give some to God-Blooded children either.

Charles didn’t mind sparring, as long as no one got hurt.

For the last class of the day it was music.

Now THAT was a bother! He really wasn’t good at music to begin with, and (even worse) it was still voice training. He was (marginally) better with instruments and fairly creditable with computer-driven synthesizers!

Oh bother. That wouldn’t be until after the woodwinds unit.

Charles tried stunting up a traditional Irish ballad, and actually managed to roll a “10″ for two successes. It turned out to be a passable rendition; nothing professional, but better than the no successes at all he’d gotten last time. The teacher was somewhat pleased. Some improvement and an obvious effort.

Work was… not especially busy. Now that he’d fed the pattern into the system, and started the production sequence, it only needed attention at critical points. He did check-sweeps for any problems every few hours – and continued checking the Cathedral throughly (also an excuse for lingering afterwards) – but there wasn’t much challenge to running the Factory-Cathedral until after the official workday when he could get to his own projects.

The workers appreciated that. Micromanaging irritated them. After all, they were crafting-gods (however minor) and they knew their jobs as well as Charles did – or better. They did have centuries of experience after all.

Nothing went wrong, so most of the “work” time went to research – until after work, when he finished up the Rods of Construction.

He was keeping an eye out for surveillance and such. That was still only a privacy veil and a thaumaturgic ward, but the Factory-Cathedral had it’s own first-age wards, and was very hard to poke into anyway. Now that all the systems were booted up again, there were no more sensations of being watched for the time being.

Hm… For a library he’d want one that was… primarily historical. A museum-type if possible. Preferably one run by a god of records or scholarship of some sort. There were countless libraries in proximity of the Perfected Lotus of course – although most of the ones with museums charged small admission fees.

Oops! Also one that was near the offices of the Bureau of Nature! He had an appointment there in a few hours to explain the hipparions! Hopefully the gondolas were running smoothly!

Off that way then, with an official summons to ease his way!

Hm. His activities at the museum probably were causing more distortions in the loom than any mere thaumaturgy would, and that probably meant that some Sidereals had spent extra time on the loom to fix things. Oh well. Oddly enough, he felt somewhat less bad about making minor annoyances for the Sidereals than about annoying most other people. Probably something to do with the Usurpation; even though Devon had skipped out on that, it had still annoyed him quite a lot.

The Bureau of Nature’s reception area had a lovely garden arrangement that was open to the sky, with some particularly impressive fountains. The receptionist appeared to be a major gardening spirit.

He spent a minute or two appreciating the fountains and gardens. Besides… the receptionists desk was a towering thing on a dias displaying the grandeur of nature that he’d need to stand on tip-toe to peer over.

(Charles) “Allo! I have a summons here? (He showed it) Which way should I go?”

(Receptionist, looking around the desk) “Well, what did you do to get a summons? Never mind, I’m not paid to ask. Please follow me.”

(Charles) “I made some Hipparions unextinct! And thank you!”

(Receptionist) “Interesting. I had heard of thaumaturges doing that before, but they usually favored bigger, meaner creatures.”

She led him to a building made of only natural materials in the middle of the garden and into a meeting chamber well-decorated with wood. There are several deities here, including what appeared to be a very large Hipparion.

(Charles, waving to everyone) “Allo!”

The Hipparion neighed at him. The other gods included an anthropomorphic horse goddess in very fancy robes, a camel god, an alpaca god, and a minor looking deity who appeared to be here only to tend to the giant Hipparion.

(Alpaca God) “Drop the feed over there, young man, and stand to the side, please. We’re waiting for the person responsible for this.”

(Charles) “Uhm, I think that’s me – but I can send for some feed if you’d like!”

The Alpaca God blinked.

(Charles) “I hope I didn’t keep you waiting! The summons wasn’t too specific!”

(Alpaca God) “We have much to do, but the receptionist told us you had arrived. I was not expecting a teenage boy, so I apologize for that.”

(Charles) “Not a worry! Can I help you?”

(Alpaca God) “Now, about why you’re here. What in the blazes possessed you to make this PERMANENT?”

(Charles) “You mean the making the Hipparions? (His sentences started to sort of run together) Because they’re cute, and being extinct is a shame and no fun, and it would be wrong to use up fossils without making sure that there would be more for the future, and it’s a shame to see gods out of work – and it would be REALLY MEAN to only bring them back temporarily. It’s not a big change really, the protoplasm is just the same, and the DNA is very similar, so all you need is a few tweaks… I suppose you might not even need magic if you’ve seen “Jurassic Park”.”

The gods gaped at him a bit. Was this child both powerful enough to resurrect species and – somehow – still naive enough to feel that “it would be mean not too!” was a sufficient reason for doing it? Or was it for pretty much ANYTHING?!?!

There was a moments pause before the anthropomorphic horse deity cleared her throat.

(Horse Goddess) “My subordinate is over-enthusiastic, but he does have some cause to be concerned. Master thaumaturges such as yourself regularly revive extinct species. Of course, most of them revive only a few, and then only temporarily. Certain people in the Lotus get . . . irritable… when extinct species suddenly reappear. The resulting panic makes their work more difficult. Now where are you keeping the Hipparions? Three Toes has told me wherever it is, you’re doing an excellent job of safeguarding them.”

She nodded to the big Hipparion.

(Charles) “Oh. At the local natural history museum. And I don’t think they’ll scare anyone much… The vet and the museum people all think they’re cute!”

Three Toes whinnied.

Well, it was hard to be scared of a horse-gazelle-like creature you could tuck under your arm.

(Camel God) “I’m afraid, as cute as these creatures may be, some people are concerned with scientific accuracy. And there is also the matter of Lord Three Toes himself.”

(Charles, puzzledly) “I made sure they were accurate. They wouldn’t be real eohippus otherwise…”

(Camel God) “I was referring more to the inherent difficulties of a scientific explanation. I’m not certain how much experience you’ve had with the mortal world, Mr. Ward, but from what I know, most mortal scientists aren’t thaumaturges these days. And I believe they’ve already started asking questions. Once they learn what you’re doing – and I’m afraid that they most likely will – there might be trouble for us all.”

(Charles) “Oh. I see… I think I can get around them though. It’s not like they don’t know that odd things happen, they’re just annoyed that they can’t write equations for it yet. If there’s any problem though is there anyone I should consult in particular?”

(Horse Goddess, thinking for a moment) “Hmm. While natural science is our domain, the related disciplines you’ll need to bluff them are not. They’re under the purview of the Bureau of Humanity. Do you have connections there?”

(Charles) “Not really. Is there anyone you’d recommend I speak to?”

(Horse Goddess) “I can refer you to WWW, the Master of the Internet. He’s one of the more well-connected gods over there, though he tends to be touchy. Would that be a problem?”

(Charles) “I don’t think so… I have an order from him anyway!”

(Horse Goddess) “Also, Three Toes would like to speak with you. That might be . . . awkward for you.”

(Charles) “Uhm.. Why?”

(Horse Goddess) “Well, his domain originally existed while Gaia was reshaping humanity. To put it bluntly, he really does act and think like a horse. We’re working on measures to acclimate him. Now, is your thaumaturgical telepathy as good as your ability to revive species?”

(Charles) “I think so!”

(Horse Goddess) “Then not quite as awkward as I thought. Why don’t you speak with him? He is one of the oldest gods of this age.”

Charles set up a link.

(Charles) “Allo!”

(Three Toes) “Hello! Thank you for reviving my herd.”

(Charles) “You’re welcome! And they should be quite safe! Is there any other help you need?”

(Three Toes) “They gave me this cramped thing to live in. It’s a really big cave with openings to let the sun in. The floor’s too hard, but it has lots of tasty materials in it and a nice field to run around in. What is it?”

(Charles) “It’s called a “stable” I think. Basically, a lot of humans will want to care for and protect your herd right now until it’s larger, so they’ve made that place to make sure that nothing can get at them and hurt them for now. Humans have gotten very good at that kind of thing. I’ll tell them that the floors too hard and they’ll fix it.”

(Three Toes) “I lost my mind for so long. When I reawakened, I was in this place with only scrub grass and a cruddy stone spring.”

Probably a fairly safe slum park… He’d been lucky.

(Charles) “Ah. I’m sorry about that. I fear I wasn’t around then, since I’m pretty young. That shouldn’t happen again now that your herd is back. I’m glad it wasn’t worse though.”

(Three Toes) “That’s good. How was the grass, by the way?”

(Charles) “It was very nice grass; I gave it to your herd though. I’m a human, and we can’t digest grass, only fruits and softer things. Not enough stomach chambers for grass. It was very nice of you to think of it though!”

(Three Toes, looking a little disappointed) “Oh. Well, they said it was very important that I send you a gift. They also told me a ‘priest’ might help me understand things more. Where can I find one of these?”

(Charles) “Oh, it’s the thought that counts really! Priests are a little harder though… They’re humans who spend a lot of time talking to the gods, and they’ve gotten a bit scarce. I’ll keep an eye out though. Perhaps a kid who really likes your herd could help.”

(Three Toes) “I would appreciate it. This is all confusing. But I get to see another horse today, so I’m happy too!”

(Charles) “That is very good! If you like, I’ll come by again sometime! There might be other questions and such later on!”

(Three Toes) “All right then. Thank you so much.”

(Charles) “You’re welcome!”

Charles released the link once Three Toes was done. Three Toes turned toward his attendant and looked at him like horses do when they’re hungry and promptly get some grass.

The horse goddess was quite interested in what he had to say.

(Horse Goddess) “I fear our ties to humanity make it difficult for even us to understand him sometimes.”

There hadn’t been anything particularly private there, so Charles filled her in – which filled in some gaps for them. They’d see about getting him a softer stable floor.

Charles thanked them for him. They had given him a very nice stable. Unfortunately, they seemed to have assumed that he cared about opulence – hence the floor being marble with rugs, which had eaten (even if he had thought that they were delicious).

Charles kind of figured that Three Toes rather predated that entire notion. It was nice to help him! He was a very old – and rather innocent – deity. He’d been around in a time when politics didn’t matter quite so much up here. He could already imagine the old hands up here betting on how long before he got bureaucratically eaten alive.

Fortunately, Three Toes also had no notable responsibilities or authority either, which made him a sort of pensioner really – even if that was almost unheard of in the Celestial City. Perhaps he had a side-career opening up as an uncomfortable reminder of what Yu-Shan and its residents had become over he centuries. Besides… the younger and more cynical, deities had to and recover from Charles and his overwhelming dose of happy niceness.

Charles, meanwhile, went off to try and figure out who would need to consent to get Gri Fel a job as city god of Arcosanti. Maybe he could pitch it to the Bureau of Humanity as getting one of their most embarrasing out-of-work deities off their hands and to the Bureau of Nature as getting a highly respected elder of prior ages to handle a job – the city/nature preserve – that most of their deities had no experience with but which he did? Cities hadn’t been full of greenery since the first few ages after all, and Arcosanti was.

It looked like… city god was always a contentious position. Even the gods could never be sure which optimal settlement locations would be catapulted to prominence next, and everybody always wanted to be able to say that it was theirs – and there was a lot of potential in a green city.

Still, an idealists experimental colony in a desert supported by tourism and with a major industry consisting of making souvenirs and art really wasn’t a big power-candidate – or at least he could pitch it that way. Still truthfully, but slanted a bit.

Finding out which god e wanted was pretty easy. Urbis, the god of cities in general. He worked in the Bureau of Humanity. Getting in to see him was the hard part. He was a very busy deity and had to be selective about his appointments. He hadn’t placed any orders either… His job was quite secure. City father or mother comes with perks. God of cities, on the other hand, means you’re the one in charge of keeping all the city parents happy. Only a madman would want that, and Urbis had volunteered for it.

From what little he could find out – he was no bureaucratic manipulator – the Sidereals were happy enough with him too.

He could just turn up with an item for him. Perhaps propose a joint thing? A city god AND a nature god to work together?

That might be interesting. The two bureaus did have their differences, what with pollution and all – but much of that was produced by power demands and construction – neither of which Arcosanti was big on. A fire demesne would be a great way to augment green power… Ah. Now, if the bureau of nature puts forward an suitable city god candidate along with a nature god candidate and a proposal to split the job rather than bickering… And he was in the area. Off to propose a dual candidate then. There were probably plenty of out-of-work nature gods too.

And he was already at the Bureau of Nature. If they saw him talking to an out-of-work nature god, there would probably be an interview soon enough. Then THEY could propose things to Urbis, and Gri Fel could use his new Rod of Construction to show how ready for the job he was.

Charles started divining for a good candidate. A land god most likely, preferably from an inhabited river valley near the fringes of the old pole of fire desert. One who used to approve of humans who lived “in harmony with the land” and with a decent personality. Preferably someone who was once prominent.

That wasn’t too hard. Much like Gri Fel, the more suitable nature gods tended to live in nicer slum areas and visit the Bureau regularly. Since their areas had mostly fallen to natural disasters or reshaping, rather than to the full might of the Ebon Dragon, they were a bit less weary and listless.

The one he found looked quasi-Sumerian. He had a very impressive beard, even in his current state.

(Charles) “Hello Sir!”

(Elder Nature God) “Hello there, young stripling!”

(Charles) “My name is Charles Sir, and I was hoping that we could help each other out! Would you mind having a nice dinner? It’s my treat!”

(Elder) “No one ever asks me out to dinner! They say I have bad table manners.”

(Charles) “That’s easy! I’ll leave a bigger tip then! How about Yesteryears then? It works nicely!”

They weren’t very good table manners by modern standards. They’d be fine in Sumer, though. The Elder ate quite heartily. He liked the giant boar.

(Charles, over dinner) “Well, it’s actually pretty simple. I’d like to see Arcosanti with a Patron or Patrons – but the bureaus of nature and humanity have been fighting over it for decades until both sides are sick of it. I’d like to know if you’d be interested in a proposal for joint patronage – you AND a city god. I was thinking Gri Fel for that. In exchange, I’ll see if I can find you some useful tools and help get things set up there a bit.”

(Elder) “You’re not going to charge me? Somebody did that once and got me a miniature land model… Close, but not close enough. And you know HIM? I remember when he was lording it over everybody. What’s he like these days?”

(Charles) “Oh, I AM charging you. Gri Fel is pretty set in his ways, and if I can get him in on the proposal, you’ll both have to do your best to get along.”

(Elder) “Well, your story’s checking out; I know it’s a real place this time… Has Gri Fel at least learned something from being unemployed?”

(Charles) “Well, if he hasn’t by now, he’s never going to. Now, what would help you make a better claim? I’m pretty good at locating minor artifacts and such if there’s anything in that category which would help. “

(Elder) “Well… I need gifts if I’m going to have a chance. Nothing too big, but everybody on the committee’s going to need something. You got ambrosia cookers? Everybody likes a good ambrosia cooker.”

Those were pretty trivial. One of the most minor artifacts, you could use it to turn quintessence and ambrosia into stuff and to smelt jade from ambrosia. Practically a standard household appliance in godly sanctums.

(Charles) “I should be able to turn some up – and maybe a few other things. It may be a day or two, but I’d guess that that’s not a problem? I’ll set up a meeting with Gri Fel – or, if he doesn’t want it, another city god – and bring along some stuff for gifts… Where should I send to get word to you?

(Elder) “I’ve got a place in the abandoned region a little down the river. Just tell them to look for the red shedu and tell him he needs to go get Terapishim.”

(Charles) “Ok! It shouldn’t be very long!”

Gri Fel was readily available. He wasn’t really that occupied – so Charles invited him to a meal. He could always eat another snack! Hm… Maya’s Vistas this time, where each table looked out over the vistas of dreams. Those were illusions of course, but they were confusing and hard to divine about. Illusion-guises were common enough there to provoke no comment at all.

Gri Fel appreciated the free meal; Kiko was not the best cook.

(Charles, over the meal) “Sir? I’ve obtained something you might find useful – and I have a small proposition for you! If you wouldn’t mind working with a friend of mine, we might be able to help each other out! His names Terapishim.”

(Gri Fel) “Oh! The old god of the Narakesh Mountains! That conquest caused much fistfighting in the Deliberative… Does he have hard feelings?”

Gri Fel went on about the conflict with the hardy men of the mountains, the fearsome god, and his Full Moon friend for some time.

(Charles) “Oh, he doesn’t have any hard feelings. But there’s something of a new sort of city now. It’s called Arcosanti, and it’s a sort of combination of city and park. It really deserves some proper patrons, but it’s caught in a debate between the bureaus of nature and humanity. I thought that a joint application might be best to properly represent it – and I thought that you might find this useful to help back up that application!”

Charles fished out a Rod of Construction and presented it to him. His eyes widened at that.

(Gri Fel) “I haven’t seen one of these since… the disaster. This should be quite useful. Do you have any information on this Arcosanti?”

(Charles) “Yes I do…”

He’d pulled a lot of it off the internet (Arcosanti did have a nice site) – and so he could spread out lots of printouts and things. Gri Fel pored over the information.

(Gri Fel) “And there’s a demesne building here, as well?”

(Charles) “Yes. It seems almost certain to be a fire demesne, and will probably – although I can’t be sure – be about rank three when it’s finished developing. It will be awhile before anything could be set up to channel it though.”

Somewhat to Charles’s surprise, Gri Fel’s eyes lit up when he saw the farming information. Hm… Gri Gel had started off as the god of a small pastoral village near the Sword of Creation, which would later become the Imperial Manse and the focus of the Imperial City. Apparently he’d awakened his old memories of that.

(Gri Fel) “Do you think they would like a pasture?”

(Charles) “I think they’re mostly fruit trees and such at the moment – but a pasture on the hills would certainly be nice I think! They’ve got that small river, but it is a fairly dry area in the hills.”

(Gri Fel) “I’ll see what I can do. I began my career as a god of shepherds. Why not return to that?”

(Charles) “I’ll set up a meeting with Terapishim then… perhaps a couple of days? Oh, and is there anything he could particularly use that you can think of? I tend to have good luck finding things.”

Gri Fel would also like gifts to hand out, but was a more a traditional type, and would like to give them some fine tea sets like his – except without the chips

Well, that would be easy. As for something for Terapishim… Perhaps an agricultural booster? The plants fell under the Bureau of Nature’s dominion, while the actual plowed fields were a part of Humanity’s territory. Something to bless and nurture plants and such would be easy; all the field blessings were thaumaturgy, so something with a selection of such effects was fairly simple to make.

Ah, first a mess of ambrosia cookers, than some fine teasets, then some Verdigris Staves! Those would require… a piece of wood from a barn that was returning to nature and a hundred different kinds of seeds from around the world. Those would be pretty easy to get these days!

Oh yes! Tomorrow would be the field trip! A good thing he’d already compiled a list of the old manses in the area; he might be needing it!

Exalted – Storming the Gates of Yu-Shan

Jade_Emperor_in_Kaohsiung

No you can’t come in!

The first, and most generally accepted, way to get to Yu-Shan is to take one of the usual gates. It is, after all, a pocket-dimension of its own, so a “gate” is pretty well guaranteed to come into it somewhere.

Sidereal teams are issued minor artifacts – Guarded Doorway Openers (GDO’s) which are equipped with Inter-Dimensional Codes (IDC’s) with which to signal the Celestial Lions to open the gates of Yu-Shan – thus preventing enemies such as the Deathlords, Raksha, or Yozis from launching direct assaults on Yu-Shan. The codes are regularly updated just in case a GDO should fall into enemy hands.

Even the use of GDO’s and other safety measures has occasionally proven insufficient.

  • When a Gate accidentally locked onto the Green Sun of Malfeas during Calibration, it proved necessary to apply a tremendous burst of essence to disrupt the link before its  power corrupted all of Yu-Shan.
  • The First and Forsaken Lion once deployed a Primordial energy weapon that caused the gate on the other side to gradually superheat, heading towards the point where even the magical materials it was composed of would fail, allowing him to enter Yu-Shan. Fortunately, an indirect assault on his position destroyed the weapon before the gate failed.
  • The Unshaped (possibly with the advice of the Ebon Dragon) once attempted to transfer motes into the gate itself, with the intent that the resulting overload would overload the constraints on it – allowing it to expand wildly, and so flooding Yu-Shan with the energies of the Wyld. Luckily, the attempt was detected in time for the excess energy to be drained away, thus preventing what might have been the greatest disaster in Yu-Shan’s history since the Primordial War.

Well, OK. More seriously…

  • Twelve of those sixty-one well known gates are scattered around the Blessed Isle in the classical setting, and around Earth in the modern one/ They open onto a plaza near the Jade Pleasure Dome, creating one of the best fast-transport hubs around, at least if you happen to be commuting between two of those gates.
  • The Calibration Gate opens on to that plaza as well, providing the potential for instant transport to or from any location in creation – and possibly to some spots outside it. Sadly, of course, it takes a GREAT deal of power to relocate the earthly end of the Calibration gate from the Yu-Shan side – enough so that it may not be practicable (or even possible in some games).
  • The other forty-eight are scattered around the perimeter of Yu-Shan, and – in the classic setting – open to locations all across creation, with a few evening into the wyld beyond. In the modern setting a number few of those gates open to earth, and most of the rest are long sealed. Some of those long-sealed gates doubtless open into the wyld. Others doubtless open into deep space, upon alien worlds – or into nothing at all, where the forces that reforged the world sufficed to damage or destroy their egress points.

To use one of these gates to enter Yu-Shan you need to be either brought in by a god, become immaterial, use some method of opening spirit doors, use a thaumaturgical ritual to open the gate (the most common method for mortals and god-blooded bringing in cargo), use a keying artifact, use some special power, or just wait for Calibration – when the outer gates will often let anyone pass.

Of course, then you have the secondary problem of getting past the Celestial Lions who guard the INNER gates – but being a resident of Yu-Shan, being on official celestial business, having diplomatic privileges, being accompanied by a celestial god, arriving for the Carnival of Meeting, or any of lots of other reasons suffice. They aren’t easily fooled though.

Leaving, of course, is generally quite easy.

In the Exalted: Modern setting apparently the old Lookshy Gate (probably number 17) is located in or near Atlanta on the earthly end. This may or may not be convenient for Charles – his Factory-Cathedral job (and presumably his Yu-Shan classes) are located over between the Salient of the Unconquered Sun and the Hall of Celestial Stability – more than two and a half thousand miles from the Yu-Shan side of the gate. Fortunately for Charles, he can always take the bus (below).

There are other gates of course.

  • Manses can be built to generate gates to Yu-Shan or to a wide variety of other places – and can be linked by gates. Given that, it’s quite possible that there are hearthstones – which are, after all, simply foci for the power of a manse – which can transport their bearers, or open gateways, to and from Yu-Shan. It’s likely that private gates are at least somewhat frowned upon, but the fact that they can be constructed unilaterally implies that it may be possible to move the unanchored side somehow.

Charles is somewhat concerned about this one. One of his old companions – now counted among the Cauldron-Born – had a Celestial Manse which generated a Hearthstone that could teleport a group to and from Yu-Shan – and it seems like a BAD IDEA to let the Cauldron-Born have direct and easy access to the place! On the other hand, the only way he knows of to stop it is to break the manse – and that’s very dangerous to everyone around the place until he finds a way to attune to it despite it’s current owners opposition. Besides, it could get him into trouble. Of course, the fact that the Hoenheim Manse contains his own private gate to Yu-Shan – even if he hasn’t been using it much (or perhaps at all) and isn’t even sure if the location of the Yu-Shan side can be adjusted – is yet another source of potential problems.

  • Gates to Yu-Shan (or to Malfeas, or the Underworld, or to other places) can pop up spontaneously in the Bordermarches (Wyld.19). This pretty strongly implies that they can be generated by anyone who can shape the reality of the Bordermarches with sufficient skill – presuming that the would-be shaper knows where he, she, or it is going. Thus a Solar with experience in Yu-Shan and Wyld Shaping Technique, or a powerful noble Raksha with similar knowledge, can open a gate to Yu-Shan (if necessary, by creating a manse with an otherworldly gate in it).

Of course, a Raksha fantasy-gate (at least the easiest kind) could be dispelled by any creation-born character with a point of will or (hopefully) warded out – but that does neatly explain why the Primordials hid Yu-Shan from the Raksha in the first place, and why Yu-Shan is so strong on keeping the Raksha out. Once a bunch of Raksha know how to get in, or perhaps go and develop some speciality charm for that purpose. they’ll never be able to get rid of them. There’s definitely room for some caution here.

  • Certain charms – such as the Mirror Shattering Method – will allow their users to travel between the dimensions. In that particular case the charm even allows the user to bring along a ship and crew. While it does take five days to travel between the worlds with that particular charm, and it does carry the “fate” keyword (implying the involvement of the Loom of Fate, which necessarily has extensive ties with creation), it might be possible to create alternative charms for the purpose – and it’s certainly possible to create artifacts embodying such effects even if no matching charm exists.
  • A few deities seem to come and go pretty much at will. Admittedly, those are mostly Incarna – but “travel” isn’t especially central to most of their natures. It seems likely that other gods of travel and similar concepts will be able to duplicate the trick – especially given that there are so many other ways to get in and out of Yu-Shan already.

This one has seen a good deal of use by Charles in the Exalted: Modern campaigns. Gorim Naku, God of Public Transportation, is one of Charles’s allies – and was his chief method of getting back and forth between Atlanta and Yu-Shan before he found out where there was a gate. He really must come up with some nice presents for Gorim Naku; he’s been giving Charles a lot of lifts.

  • Prayers – patterns of essence which carry information and which become quintessence and ambrosia – also freely bridge the gap between the worlds. There are likely to be some very good filters and barriers along that route, and it’s entirely possible that the bandwidth is too low to carry ENOUGH information to accomplish much, but it is still a theoretical method of entry – even if it is the Exalted equivalent of crawling in through the power conduits.
  • There are whatever secret ways in and out that the Primordials left – and there really are likely to be at least a few, even if some of them were unintentional flaws in the place. Perhaps those mysterious tunnels in basement really DO lead to the underworld or something. It’s quite likely that the reason why demons don’t routinely come to Yu-Shan is legal – a part of the surrender terms – rather than practical.

This simply calls for searching. Yu-Shan is, of course, bigger than North America – so there’s no telling what may still be hidden in it’s tunnels and warded places. Even on the (conspicuous) surface quite a few of the primordial palaces have yet to be penetrated.

  • Sorcery includes a number of spells that can call items or entities from Yu-Shan to Creation, and such things seem to return to Yu-Shan without having to search out gates. It also includes Summon the Celestial Portal (Celestial, summons the Calibration Gate) and Chariot of the Blazing Sun (Solar, which summons a chariot that is explicitly capable of reaching Yu-Shan). Thus a dedicated Solar Circle spell (and possibly a relevant Protocol) can probably open a quick-and-easy gate to Yu-Shan.

For that matter, Necromancy includes Black Faith – which can explicitly sent the user ANYWHERE, including Yu-Shan, regardless of any barriers or attempts to prevent it. Fortunately it’s not generally available and is exceptionally suicidal. 

For good or ill, the borders of Yu-Shan are anything BUT secure.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice Part VI

Overlooking the Tataka Saddle(Tataka Anbu) fro...

To the observatory

The next morning Charles dropped by the museum bright and early, complete with a file folder full of complex explanations – and the grass to give to the hipparions. He had checked, it seemed to be made to make them grow even healthier. It might still have been meant for him of course, but his digestive system wasn’t really meant for grass…

The hipparions seemed to enjoy the grass a good deal.

The museum staff, of course, was interested in repeatability and publishing, The research possibilities were quite incredible.

Charles had to admit that it might be possible to do it again – but also noted that he wanted to research it a bit more first. At least a month or two, and some additional precautions were in order.

The scientists wanted to know if he’d like some help. After all, the original device had apparently broken down. Perhaps some professional technicians might help?

Oh dear. They wanted to throw a research team at it… Charles told them that assistance might be useful – but he intended to take a week or two to examine the system and what went wrong first. After all, since he was the only one who really has any idea of how it worked, no one else was going to be of too much help in failure analysis – and he had to admit that the energies he was working with were not exactly well-understood.

They wanted to meet with him again next week then, after he got through, and see that report.

Uh-oh! Maybe if he stalled for a week or two something would come up!

Perhaps sadly, Charles didn’t quite realize that the museum folk couldn’t exactly MAKE him tell them anything at all; he had been paying THEM after all. It was probably a good thing that they still thought that of him as a combination of a child prodigy and the luckiest experimenter on earth.

That was the trouble with being a kid. Even with the vast, quasi-divine powers of exaltation, a grownup with a firm voice was still a grownup – and he got caught up in enthusiasm without quite planning out all the steps. He probably should have realized that no bunch of scientists would be content with one marvelous result with no known mechanism.

Fortunately, he HAD made the initial description plausible. It was all essence underneath, so you could use resonance imaging, throw in a few technomagical components to get the temporal resonance, and either feed that into an imaging program to look at things or into an organic matrix to do some reconstruction. OK, you’d need a fabulous burst of raw power fed into the system to do anything like what he’d done with Thaumaturgy – and you’d need a spark of life to work around even if the system COULD handle that kind or power and you had a source to make living creatures – but you COULD make such a machine – at least if you could handle making the technomagical bits to begin with and could supply the power needed to fire it up.

Back in Yu-Shan, and waiting for school to start, he found that rumor had it that Sidereals were slowly trickling into the city – but then those guys were often so stealthy that it was hard to tell how many of them were in and how many were out and pretty well impossible to know what they were up to. Well, unless they were meeting for a big purge, or an assault on Lytek or Gramps or something – which seemed pretty thoroughly unlikely, it was probably none of his business!

He doodled quite a lot of possible designs for the Rod of Construction in his spare moments between classes before he found one he was happy with.

His combat instructors were pleased; he was still no better than “novice with some talent” level in a lot of things, but at least he was starting to show some progress with a staff and was reliable about reaching for the hilt of the sword. They’d been starting to worry!

There were only two classes today, so he had a little free time before he’d have to get to work. He spent most of that in the small library-laboratory he’d set up at his Yu-Shan manse… There were some details to check on his preliminary rod design and the moonsilver necklace turned out to be quite a puzzle! It felt almost alive in his hands, even unattuned. Probing and analysis revealed several layers of sorcerous cloaking – one celestial and two terrestrial. It looked to be of second age manufacture, probably from somewhere in the east, but he couldn’t find any references that looked relevant at all – although, to be fair, he only had a few books to hand at the moment.

That was interesting, and perhaps a bit paranoid. He could crack the spells – but there was no way of saying what that might trigger, and any shield that could resist his probes was pretty good. Worse, the east was a big area, and a lot of stuff had been made there – and moonsilver artifacts from the period were, of course, usually made by Lunars – and they hadn’t been big on records back then. Perhaps he could consult a Lunar? Maybe when he gave the one fellow his personal transport?

No wonder that Alukbar hadn’t been able to crack the shields though. Worse, what if there’s a very good reason for them? It was active without an attunement – which could mean that it was a prison or something. He really needed to know more before he did any gratuitous meddling. At least it didn’t seem to actually be mobile – just twitchy.

He put it away – behind some ADDITIONAL careful shields, alarm-spells, and containments – in his Yu-Shan manse where a few of his Coatl and Inugami could keep an eye on it. That should keep it out of the way for the moment – at least until he could do a little more research.

Well, to be fair, it it hadn’t acted up in a merchant’s shop, it couldn’t have been up to anything TOO outrageous. He’d love to work on the puzzle, but he had so many commitments now!

So many mysteries and people in need, so little time!

The setup on the Fivefold Harmonic Adapters went swimmingly. It was running so smoothly that it was making him nervous… OK, they WERE easy, and the staff WAS good, and it was a fully-operational Factory-Cathedral in good repair – but there was so much intrigue in Yu-Shan. Surely SOMEONE would try to interfere.

He might have to take some very special precautions there!

After work, he put in some time on Ixian’s amulet. Sadly, even with all the power four Coatl could provide, that was going to take a couple of days unless he wanted to stay way later than he could easily cover… Just burning through most of his (and their) immediate power reserves on The Laborer’s Word didn’t take more than twenty minutes or so though even WITH the Dancing Dragon Ring to help out. The real limitation was on rebuilding his power reserves…

More Hearthstones and things would help though!

At home, there were ingredients waiting. His various agents hadn’t had much trouble with most of the basic stuff… A couple of the Inugami were following his designs to start building – and documenting – a machine which really COULD do detailed reconstructions (albeit not species resurrections) via temporal resonance imaging.

He spent the last few hours of the day sorting out and evaluating his components, and went happily to bed.

The next couple of days passed relatively quietly: There was school (where his obsidian blade had been nicely blooded, and wasn’t even chipped, and so he could work carving the runes into the wood for his after-work completion of Ixian’s amulet), a bit of time to spend on finishing up his designs for the Rod, and a few more minor projects… He had to find time to make a few more assistants though! He couldn’t find a way to make THEM self-reproducing and each one took all day to make!

Work was a marvelous display though, as the technician-priests begin consecrating the talents of magical materials and loading them into the forges – from whence they proceeded to the assembly lines, where other technicians will engraved each segment with appropriate auspicious glyphs and inserted the rings of adamant.

No one had yet noticed (or was really likely to notice) that the Factory-Cathedral had pocked up the Self-Stabilizing and Regeneration functions since Charles had attuned it’s (formerly rank-0) Hearthstone and had mastered Harness the Wild Dragon and The Dragon-Tamers Art. That would complete all the repairs, and handle most of the maintenance, automatically!

It also provided some blessings for all the mortals working there or living nearby, but – in Yu-Shan – who would notice?

It even gave the Hearthstone some minor functionality… It wasn’t much – but it would let him use the effects of the Factory-Cathedral from anywhere inside it, rather than actually having to run about physically fiddling with the machinery. It was all essence effects anyway, so that would be a big help in keeping his after-work projects quiet!

Even the painting was almost done!

Things began picking up again the next morning however…

He’d be in the advanced Lore classes as soon as he got by the interview requirement – and that was today, along with Introductory Herbalism and Melee Combat Training. Fortunately he knew all about the OCCULT properties of herbs, but he had to admit that his knowledge of the survival and medicinal uses of plants wasn’t so hot though.

Hm… It looked like Advanced History was taught by the same instructor – but with a variety of divine specialists in specific topics handling subclasses. The interviewer was one of the usual guests. Still, he showed up looking hopeful – and the instructor was glad to see him. Perhaps long-dead history wasn’t one of the most popular topics.

(Charles) “Hello Sir!”

(Dangbin) “Ah, hello Charles. I understand you’ve been recommended for my advanced course?”

(Charles) “Yes sir!”

(Dangbin) “Well, there are several requirements. You definitely have the grades to enter the class. Now, it does have a more substantial essay requirement than the standard course. Do you think you can handle that?”

(Charles) “I think so!”

(Dangbin) “Very well then. Why don’t you show me how well you can research and write then?”

That turned out to be an assignment – research one of these ancient historical topics and submit a paper on them within the next two weeks.

Hm… It looked like Dangbin was a specialist in the history of the first age and the Shogunate. That was awhile back! He’d have to write something interesting!

Well… Maybe not TOO interesting.

It was explicit that using your own memories of the era was NOT a source. Neither was going to speak with a friendly god… Clearly Dangbin valued scholarly research. Well, it should still be straightforward.

Lets see… He had the spread of the Great Contagion throughout a single direction, the interactions between Shogunate Daimyo in a particular region of Creation, the process behind the construction of the Five Metal Shrike (after all, it wasn’t all crafting), the rise of Queen Merela, and – for really ambitious students – reconciling the timelines of a Solar Exalted and his Lunar mate during the Time of Cascading Years.

Hm… The five-metal shrike… political process for support and authorization, research and design, industrial support, actual crafting process… It was certainly full of politicking. Also occasional duels, but that seemed to have been standard for the era. The actual crafting was almost irrelevant to the subject.

Well, he still had most of the history period to go and look up a number of things, and picking one of those topics could certainly be one of them… He had to finish up that Rod of Construction for Gri Fel!

Sadly, while there was plenty of information on constructing one and two dot artifacts in the school library – making an artifact was actually part of the graduation requirements – there was nothing on anything so grand as such a Rod. There was plenty of useful theory, though, and some blueprints for relevant tools and minor devices.

Charles happily spent the rest of the period on that – and showed up at Herbalism busily stuffing sheets of notes and copied diagrams and things into a set of folders.

The current unit was about finding plants out in the field; today’s class was about basic plant identification. The next one was application… There were permission sheets being passed out for a field trip into the deep amazon, where the more obvious God-Blooded students should be able to escape notice more easily.

Ooh, Fun! And a permission sheet for Gramps… He put it away carefully and studied basic herb identification; he only had a very basic grounding in that.

The instructor was taking a hands on approach. He ran everyone through certain characteristics of plants, then spontaneously generated samples and had the students identify them. He couldn’t sense any illusions being used, but he got the feeling that he might be saving that for more advanced applications… if he was even capable of illusions. That generally wasn’t a wood elemental thing. Of course a minor god of plants and herbology shouldn’t NEED any illusions for a basic class unless they wanted to talk about some highly magical or chaos-touched thing. You couldn’t have the students getting eaten!

Charles kept a careful eye on things though! Instructors liked to put in lookalikes and things as tests!

At least it was far too early for the god who wanted armor; he had to expect it to take a year at least. (He did. He was quite used to waiting on artifacts, and was very long lived. A year was hardly any time at all to him – and he would be surprised to get it THAT early, unless he’d forgotten just when he’d asked, which was likely. Time didn’t mean a lot to teacher-gods.

His instructor, the winged air god Sindri, was now sure of the consistency of his improvement.

(Sindri) “That puts you on an even footing with the other students. Perhaps we can have you spar in today’s class.”

(Charles) “Er… OK. Uhm… who with?”

(Sindri) “Why not Estanna? She’s been studying the staff as well.”

Sindri pointed her out. She looked to be a God-Blooded girl of about his own apparent physical age – and presumably of a similar level of skill.

Perhaps fortunately, Granmps was pretty pragmatic about things like “you don’t hit girls”. He was generally against hitting people, yes – but only as long as they weren’t attacking you. He said that “If a woman is attacking you, she’s a combatant and shouldn’t expect any special treatment on the battlefield.” Charles kind of suspected that the “hag from Malfeas” he occasionally complained about might have something to do with that.

Charles tried to keep his enhanced strength and reflexes down to something plausible.

Estanna’s technique wasn’t bad. It was clear she hadn’t been at this very long though, and she didn’t have his grace, but she was learning at about the usual rate. She seemed to have mastered a Charm that boosts her reaction speed.

They traded ineffectual blows for some time before breaking for a drink – which occupied most of the days class. They thanked each other politely afterwards.

This, of course, is a consequence of Exalted’s system. Students and Mortals may not ever be able to hit each other unless they’re highly skilled. Take two kids with crude, bonus-free, knives. Dex 2, No Skill, one die after penalty for a maximum of two successes. Defense 2; most people have a little dodge, if only from playing tag as kids. Defense wins ties. Normal mortals can’t stunt. Thus two untrained kids with knives may well be incapable of injuring each other. One of them will have to bring a gang.

Work was straightforward, but had a lot of dull moments to think in.

He settled on the Daimyo’s topic. Politics was not his thing, but he suspected that there were some similarities with how the various departments worked anyway. Besides, after that he had to talk to the Department of Nature and figure out what he could offer to a few Sidereals in exchange for a minor favor.

Now, ingredients for a Rod of Construction… The ceremonial implements from a masons lodge that’s had been around for at least a hundred years to be used to bless it and a rod of the finest currently available laboratory steel, along with jade caps for it to represent the finest of mortal artifice. One white jade cap for the inorganic materials, one green for the organic ones.
The rod he could special-order, but the Mason’s implements… those he’d have to borrow or swipe (not that he wanted to do THAT). Ones that antique would be mildly hard to come by unless they were on display in some lodge. – or were heirlooms for some Terrestrial clan. Weren’t the Dragon-Blooded tangled up with the Masons or something?

So. Elder mason’s lodges. Philadelphia, Washington DC, Boston, Charleston… the old cities of the original thirteen colonies would be best – preferably with lodges dating back to the colonial period and still in the same locations. He sent for a supply of the steel and produced a supply of the jade caps (they, at least, were pretty easy) and then ran some searches on masonic lodges…

He wanted old ones, with histories that indicated that they hadn’t burned down and been rebuilt or anything like that. Their tools might have been lost, and newer ones would be of no use to him.

That was a little odd actually. Masonic Lodges almost NEVER suffered any problems, or had to move, and the order ALWAYS seemed to have plenty of money and influence… Thaumaturgy? A few Wards and such would go a LONG ways towards keeping up their security.

Nothing much on Ebay or any online antique dealers either. He hadn’t really expected to get that lucky – but NOTHING?

Huh. He could just SEE the First Age Ebay. It would be absolutely ridiculous!

OK, the oldest continually occupied Masonic lodge on the American continent was in Albany. Others that qualified included one in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, one in Philadelphia, and more than a few throughout the former colonies.

Well, he could try hitting some of them. They’d quite likely be willing to make a deal; they could have their ceremonial tools back after he’s done, and he could give them a good ward or some materials or something. Still, there was no rush until he hit up the bureaus that were arguing over Arcosanti… He wouldn’t need the Rod at all unless there was some hope of success there!

He made a note to check the records in Yu-Shan to see if there were any damaged-but-stable manses scattered around. They were a real pain to fix by normal means, but he could do it easily now – and even if most of the damaged ones had blown up long ago, there had been enough of them that there might well be quite a few that had self-stabilized but which weren’t worth fixing given how much work – and how dangerous – that was under modern conditions.

Oh well. He’d have to do that in the morning.

The Yu-Shan schools took Saturday and Sunday off, but the Factory-Cathedrals only took Sunday off. Sunday was ostensibly for veneration of Sol Invictus, but really for the sanity of the staff. Still, even during the rest of the week, school was only three hours per day, and the factory supervision was only eight. Admittedly, Charles tended to linger at the Cathedral for half an hour or so afterwards – but there was no point in more than that; that blew through all the essence motes he had conveniently available anyway. Besides, there were festivals throughout the year, and things were closed up then too. The important thing in this case was that all that meant that Charles had tomorrow morning off! He could spend that time on his own projects!

As it turned out on the manse research, there were at least thirty scattered around the earth (none in Yu-Shan of course), albeit all originally of level three or lower – and with only moderately-useful functions that hadn’t drawn determined repair efforts. There might be a lot more at level one or so; they were hardly noticeable given how poorly-mapped the earth’s geomancy still was.

Hm. There were still a lot of pockets of wyld energies hidden in folds of space around the earth – vestiges of the wave of chaos that had once swept across creation. It seemed that it should be possible to do something with that. He’d have to think about it. He’d need that “chaos-repelling pattern” thing he’d read about first though… and maybe that “integrity-protecting prana”.

Oh well! There were lots of other things to work on too…

Now for the Masonic Lodges. Now that he’d thought up a way to help out an old and out-of-work God it would be mean not to do it!

Hm. He had all morning of course… The oldest lodge was in Albany, but other options included Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Philadelphia, and several other lodges scattered along the eastern seaboard.

On the other hand, it was more than a thousand miles to Albany, five hundred to Portsmouth, eight hundred to Philadelphia, and so on. All more than a bit awkward! And all the lodges in Atlanta were well under two hundred years old, which wouldn’t do at all. Still, there was Solomon’s Lodge in Savannah (Established in 1734). That was only… two hundred and fifty miles.

That was still about five hours by car!

Of course, he didn’t have a car and couldn’t drive.

Wait! The Tour de France bunch were managing forty miles an hour or so, and he had plenty of enhancements running… If he applied a couple of alchemical boosts he should be easily able to manage twenty or twenty-five miles an hour for an hour or so – and a travel-boosting effect could increase the distance that he’d actually cover by a factor of ten. He could just cycle over to Savannah!

And trying to get a ride would mean explaining to someone else.

He made it to Savannah with no trouble – but he was thinking about finding ANOTHER way to get back. That had been more work than he’d thought it would be!

At least the travel spell mostly took the shortcuts between places rather than making him actually travel at two hundred miles per hour. That would have been pretty conspicuous, even if he mostly had stayed off the main roads!

Savannah was a lovely community, although not nearly as big as Atlanta – ant the sheer quantity of historical architecture was quite impressive. Not as durable, or convenient, as they might be – but VERY classical!

He took a look around for the major dragon lines.

Hm. A rating-2 Earth Manse in the area, boosting Craft skills. Probably not like that one Fire-4 Manse he’d read about that instructed geomancers but made them really protective of their Manses though. Besides, it was almost certainly functioning just fine. It wasn’t like anyone would leave that much wild magic running around a city for a couple of centuries. It might be worth looking into sometime though!

Off to the masonic lodge. Most of those were community-service places to some extent, so there should be some open areas – and possibly a secretary.

There were indeed. The building was nice, and was constructed of sturdy brick. There was a statue of a winged lion to the right as he entered the building – and there was indeed someone manning the door to greet him. It did, indeed, have several active wards – and pretty decent ones. The most notable were the wards against mundane snooping and magical divination – and it looked like the latter was actually Terrestrial Sorcery. There were also protective wards against meddling with the brick and fire. That was actually some quite impressive skills!

Hm. There was a new one against “anathema” that was only a week or so old – and whoever had set it up was either supernatural or EXTREMELY skilled for a mortal – but it only actually covered Lunars. Were they having some trouble? Oh well! It wouldn’t keep him out at all.

(Charles) “Hello! Can I come in?”

The greeter was apparently a on the cusp of middle age.

(Greeter) “Hello there. You look a little young to be joining, and I don’t believe it’s family day. What do you need?”

Charles opted for straightforwardness. He’d done a bit of disguise-shifting of details, but was mostly counting on being far enough away from home that no one would know him.

(Charles) “I need to talk to one of your officials actually.

The fellow wanted to know why of course. After all, it was rare for a kid to want to talk to, say, the Worshipful Master. Perhaps fortunately, he’d also closed the outer door – and the wards against spying were thus back in full effect.

(Charles) “Well, I had a small trade in mind; I need a bit of assistance with a bit of enchantment, and there are various things you need. You still remember some of the old lore of construction, and that’s what I need.

The greeter was looking at him as if he didn’t understand – but he’d also flashed an old hand sign that – roughly translated – read “We should discuss this inside.”

Charles returned one that said “yes indeed”, and got escorted inside the inner doors…

(Greeter) “Now, what are you looking for?”

(Charles) “It’s simple enough on my side: I need to use your equipment to inscribe certain arcane symbols on these rods; it’s a necessary step in their consecration. In exchange… what do you need? I have access to a variety of resources.”

(Greeter) “I think the Senior Warden needed something for one of his projects. What was it… earth water, I think. And we could always use materials for the wards.”

Water from the depths? Now that was in plentiful supply.

(Charles) “Hm. I believe I have some in stock – and ward materials are easy enough.”

At the moment, the greeter apparently believed that Charles was an elder mage operating through an apprentice, or fey, or making himself look young, or some such – which was fair enough really.

He got passed up to the Senior Warden.

(Warden) “May I ask who sent you? We do like to keep a record of that . . .”

Well, there was no reason not to be truthful.

(Charles) “At this point I am assisting Gri-Fel.”

(Warden) “Who? I’m not familiar with that one.”

Hm. It looked like he’d been expecting him be somebody’s apprentice or an elder mage in disguise. Maybe a young Terrestrial at the most potent. They were walking him in, albeit not quite to the genuinely secret areas.

(Charles) “He’s an old god, although he’s lost some stature in these later ages.”

(Warden) “And what were you going to make with our tools?”

(Charles) “ A set of construction tools actually. There’s a great deal of construction work that needs to be done.”

(Warden) “This wouldn’t have anything to do with that Manse in Atlanta, would it?”

(Charles) “No, it’s more Arizona. I take it there’s some problem in Atlanta?”

(Warden) “Well, we’ve heard rumors that somebody attacked the Grand Water Lodge there. The owners aren’t really talking about it, but something’s putting a monkey wrench in their operations.”

Oops. That would be the manse that he and his friends had been forced to storm. Wait. They hadn’t damaged the manse… must be a separate incident. Probably not something he urgently needed to fix though, or he’d have noticed the disturbance. They weren’t too likely to try and call him to help out though. They were at peace with the Morgans, but not exactly friends.

(Charles) “Hm. I can’t say that I’m aware of any major problems there. This particular project is more concerned with original construction.”

(Warden, shrewdly) “Arizona… hmm, Arcosanti, perhaps? We’ve heard of interesting developments there too.”

(Charles) “Ah, you are well informed. Gri Fel may, perhaps, have an interest there in the future – so arrangements are being made.”

(Warden) “I was thinking more about the nascent Fire demesne there, but that’s also good to know.”

(Charles) “Fortunately the demesne is still potential only.”

(Warden) “Well, you’ve probably got more ingredients to find on that. Which tools did you need for this?”

(Charles) “The triangle of purity, the third seal, the corner-stone, and the scribing wand”

Ah. A ritual consecration through inscription. Straightforward enough – but if it called for tools as old and richly-enchanted as theirs, the resulting enchantment would be of considerable power.

(Warden) “We keep them in areas where only members are allowed to go. Excuse me while I retrieve them.”

Charles was shown to a comfortable chair – that had been made even more comfortable through certain thaumaturgical rituals – while the Warden headed on into the lodge.

Hm. After a few minutes of waiting, he could feel something straining against the anti-Lunar ward. That wasn’t really his business – but the anti-divination wards shouldn’t prevent scrying outwards. He took a look!

It seemed to be focused on.. a mosquito buzzing around the windows. The buzzing did sound frustrated.

He opened a telepathic link.

(Charles) “Hi there! What’s up?”

(Lunar) “Sigh… this place is REALLY well-warded. I am not having a good day.”

(Charles) “Why do you want in anyway?”

(Lunar) “Well, who’s asking? I can’t even see in there. Stupid thaumaturges.”

(Charles) “Uhm… Me? I mean, I don’t know who you are either, except that you’re running up against the ward these people have got up against Lunars… I need to borrow some of their tools for a bit!”

(Lunar) “Anybody on fire in there, or surrounded by hurricane force winds?”

(Charles) “Uhm… I haven’t seen anyone.  It would be kind of rude of me to crack their wards when I’m here to ask for a favor though. Still, if you need something simple I might be able to help.”

(Lunar) “Okay, do you know what a Terrestrial Exalted is? I need to find one and stalk them without being seen for a day. Now I was told they were hard to find, but geez. You wouldn’t know any, would you?”

(Charles) “Hm. I know where there are some… you’re not going to hurt anyone are you?”

(Lunar) “No, that’d completely defeat the point of stalking them. I need to get in and out without anybody knowing. And if there’s a bloody, torn-up body there, well, you know.”

The warden came back with the tools.

(Warden) “I heard the ward pop. Are you okay?”

(Charles, mentally) “Oops! I have to talk to this guy, but I’ll be out in a little bit I hope. Can you wait a few hours?”

(Lunar) “Yeah, sure. I’m getting out of here before he finds me.”

(Charles, to the Warden) “Hello Sir! I’m fine!”

(Warden) abalux48: “Did you see who hit the ward?”

(Charles) “I didn’t see anything where the impact seemed to be. Whatever or whoever it was was either very well concealed or very small. It didn’t throw much of any power – or even much physical force at the wards though.”

(Warden) “Well, at least it isn’t showing any occult skills. Here are the tools. When they’re not in use, keep them in this case.”

Even for Charles, keeping his eyes on that case was difficult.

(Charles) “Certainly sir! Just to make sure, you need some Deep Water and warding materials?”

(Warden) “That’s right. We might need to add more proactive measures to the ward.”

(Charles) “I shall ensure that you get them.

Rather more trust there than he would have expected unless something was up. He’d been expecting at least a deposit request or some such.(Warden) “Now, when will you be sending those materials?”

(Charles) “I should be able to send what you need within the next three or four days. I have both Deep Water and plenty of warding materials on hand.”

(Warden) “Are you willing to sign on that? And on the safe return of the tools, of course.”

Ah, a mystical contract. That was more like it!

(Charles) “Certainly. For that matter, would you like an additional surety? I can certainly leave something useful with you.”

(Warden) “I was about to ask. Perhaps a major talisman, or even an artifact if you have one.”

(Charles) “Ah, certainly. Will this do?”

Since he had some spares along, he gave the man an Amulet of Shadow Walking.

(Warden) “Well. That will certainly do.”

That was… a spectacularly valuable item to be willing to leave as surety! Their thaumaturgical tools were valuable, but not THAT valuable! Moreover… it was very hard to tell with Artifacts sometimes, but was that a trace of sap still clinging to the runes carved into the wood? Could it possibly be NEW? If so, that actually made it quite likely that the boy was serving a crafting-god if he wasn’t a VERY powerful mage in his own right!

(Charles) “Ah good.”

The contract terms were simple: they wanted the promised materials and the safe return of their tools. The penalties for returning the tools damaged or their complete destruction were slightly less harsh than losing them or having them captured. It was sort of the difference between losing your deposit and being shuttled away for questioning or worse and being hunted down outright. It also applied to the case that the tools were in.

Well, they did take a big risk with every loan, and they did obviously have the backing of Terrestrials. It was fair enough.

Hm. Taking a cab was going to be hell to explain. Not to mention pricey. A bus was just… no. Was there a rent-a-helicopter and pilot service that worked on short notice?

Yes there was, but it was booked solid for today. Still, he could offer enough money to buy out someone’s slot… even if it would take at least three thousand dollars.

Someone was watching him? Oh yes! Mr Mosquito! That was easy, since he was just around the block using a phone book.

(Charles) “Allo?”

(Mosquito, somehow speaking through the buzz) “Hey, what’s up? I didn’t think you were a kid. Ah well!”

(Charles) “Well, if you just need to hang around some dragon-blooded for awhile, I do know where some were living – but it’s in Atlanta.”

(Lunar) “Oh, I’m traveling anyway. Think you could give me a lift? I’ll split the cost with you.”

(Charles) “Well, all right – but I brought plenty of cash. I was thinking of taking a helicopter back, the ground route was just too much work.”

(Lunar) “Okay. Do you have a terrarium or anything like that?”

(Charles, flipping through the phone book) “Nope – but there’s a (quick flip in the phone book) pet shop two blocks over. They should have them.”

(Lunar) “Uh, yeah, about that… I’m kind of stuck.”

(Charles) “Uhrm… How did that happen?”

Well, there were some downsides to not using those tattoos any longer.

(Lunar) “I had a run in with… something. I’m still not sure what, but there’s this… okay, said too much already. Some kind of fey-Lunar hybrid.”

(Charles) “Oh dear. Reshaped you with wild magic?”

(Lunar) “Yeah. That’s part of why I need to stalk some Dragon-Blooded without being seen. I’m getting closer to removing this curse. But I’m afraid any attempts to shop right now are going to get me swatted.”

(Charles) “Mind if I have a look?”

(Lunar) “Uh, sure. Try not to poke too hard, okay?”

It was a synthesis of Lunar Shapeshifting and Fair Folk shaping magic. The Lunar Essence was providing a hostile shapeshifting effect, while the Fair Folk glamour was keeping it active until the story was complete. The story seemed to involve feats involving the Lunar castes in a backwards progression, No Moon to Full Moon. The mosquito had four tasks left to complete… The No Moon task had actually involved a trivia competition. The Waning Moon task seemed pretty clear; the Lunar was trying to do it right now. The Half Moon task involved a losing battle turned winning at the last minute. The Waxing Moon seemed to involve repairing international relations, and a great monster appeared in relation to the Full Moon task.

It was pretty obvious that those two magics weren’t supposed to blend too.

(Charles) “Huh… I don’t think I can break it either. It’s not supposed to work that way, but someone’s bent all the rules around you.”

(Lunar) “That’s what the elders said!”

(Charles, heading for the helicopter offices) “Well, I can certainly give you a lift…”

(Lunar) “Thanks! I’m sorry to get you involved in this, but being a mosquito bites.”

(Charles) “Oh, not a worry! It needs fixing, and if I can’t do it, it’s only fair to help! I might be able to stack ANOTHER shapeshift on top for awhile, but it would be strictly temporary – and it might have very weird or dangerous side effects.”

(Lunar) “I’ll ask you about it if I need it. That Waxing Moon task is going to be ROUGH if I can’t talk normally.”

There wasn’t any real trouble getting back to Atlanta – or in pointing the Lunar towards some dragon-blooded he could hang around.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 166 – Chilling with the Cat Clan

Magic Water Fountain Light at Night Garden

In the gardens of the cats

While the mind of an Ourathan Elder wasn’t something that human minds were yet equipped to comprehend, some of S!vrah^’s more… basic musings might translate something like this.

S!vrah^ had not seen such a reckless and unethical maneuver in many eons. Many of the early Openers in a races history would be hatchlings or subadults of course, and many would be reborn early – but such was no great tragedy. But to load so much raw power, and a sizeable chunk of the races drives to survive, expand, and dominate, onto a mere subadult – and then to permit it to act unsupervised, and to bind many thousands more hatchlings and subadults to itself…

Admittedly, the tactic was allowing the species to multiply it’s supply of Gatekeepers far beyond the norm, and to embark upon some most ambitious projects – even according to the standards of the elder races – but the risks!

Even leaving aside the ethics of so enslaving and burdening a hatchling – potentially delaying its development by uncounted billions of years (in contrast to the brief apprenticeships it had chosen to use on its subordinates) – all the drives and power it had been burdened with were being held in restraint by nothing more than the good sense of an infant! If that fragile balance should tip – and the child go from seeking to claim the infinite by perpetually expanding the livable reaches of the Core while tolerating other species to attempting to exterminate or enslave the “competing” races – the ensuring war could easily destroy the galaxy!

And if the infant should somehow win, the wave of destruction would wash across the cosmos.

It was no use attempting to persuade the child. It was so deeply in thrall to the instincts and drives it had been burdened with that it almost could not act otherwise. There were some signs that it was growing to meet the challenge that had been imposed upon it – greatly to its credit – but that might require millennia, with every day of those centuries a potential disaster!

S!vrah^ WOULD find a way to speak to this “Ryan” who – as an adult Opener of the species – had apparently either set up or catalyzed this insanity! There must be some way in which it could be reversed! The other races could, if necessary, contribute the services of a few Gatekeepers to the child’s pet project. It was indeed a worthwhile – if perhaps greatly premature – endeavor, but the way it was being managed… Most of the adults of this species apparently didn’t even know what the child was up to!

For the moment he would have to rest and recover for a bit. He could even use the services of the hatchling-aides the child had assigned him – even if the intent WAS obviously also to keep an eye on him. With those drives, the boy could hardly help but be suspicious of any representative of another species intruding into his species territory… It would be best not to send any active reproductive pairs as representatives for quite some time to come. It was surprising enough that the child would tolerate the subordinate species that HIS species had produced. Was the child broad-minded or self-disciplined enough to consider them offspring of his race? That would be a somewhat promising sign.

Meanwhile, Raphael was still trying to analyze what had happened to Kevin in the month’s since he’d seen the child.

Even if it was obvious that it would take months to pick apart the incredible improvisational tangle.

Now the boy seemed to have inadvertently created a projection or avatar with enough of an actual physical body to maintain an independent existence in some ways. It would start to wander around, act on it’s own, and even begin to fall into a local role of it’s own as the mental resonance started to fade… It would still be linked with him, trackable, and able to draw power in the appropriate role or realm – as well as being a link back to Kevin for summonings and other rituals designed to draw on the boy’s power – but in many ways it was similar to a living simulacra.

Whether or not that would work in the realm it had ended up was quite unknown though – which was a potential bother. With a prohibition that strong, almost ANYTHING might require trying to draw on another realm if it could be managed at all!

Hm… It looked like ley line nexus points could provide a bit of power there – enough, perhaps, to produce some worthwhile effects if proper structures were used to focus and channel it. Calling on entities from outside might work too, provided you had a link to it in the first place. There might be more than that available – like basic Witchcraft – but they’d have to consult the Unified Church for more information.

Kevin, meanwhile, was exploiting the link a bit thanks to his multitracking – although his initial influence over the simulacrum was fading rapidly. It looked like he had indeed landed in “Poland”, during that “World War Two” thing… Was that when people had been using those “Icebeams” firing from the north pole? Anyway, at least he’d gottena good look around. That might be important at some point – particularly if they could get by the churches prohibition.

Sadly, he hadn’t even been able to find out if the place at least allowed basic witchcraft, as Core did.

Oh never mind! It was off to the next set of parties back in Cyrweld! The Midnight Gardener stations seemed to be working reasonably well without their immediate attentions…

That was Cat for Kevin and Raphael and Rabbit for Marty.

Marty had to agree! It was party time! Of course, that was USUALLY his first thought whenever he was unoccupied and in a remotely suitable area…

  • Kevin made sure to take his assorted litter-bearers and usual trio of servants to the party. They’d just be left cooling their heels outside, but that was part of the impression he wanted to make! They’d be nearby if he needed them, and there were always his current pair of pocket-companions for any immediate assistance! Besides… since the Panthers were on the outs with the rest of the cats, his litter-bearers were quite appropriate. He kept a tap on them going just to see if anything amusing happened.
  • Marty just took Minel. If it came to a fight or something, one or two more Thralls wouldn’t really make a difference in the middle of an enemy stronghold.
  • Raphael, once back in the same dimension and not worrying about being ambushed at a choke point, called back two of his robots in psicrystal form to ride his shoulder and belt, sent one of the other two with Marty, and left the last prowling around the city in search of a hearth stone he can examine. It was, after all, sharing the package of divinatory spells he’d cast on himself back in the overlay zone going out of Kadia – and they had pretty decent durations. Besides… He’d included magic detection, a specific “analyze magical devices” effect, and a “detect customer” charm that SHOULD let it tell if it could buy its way into seeing one.

The feline party was a lot less of a formal affair than the Canine Party. There was a lot more intermingling between the ranks, more open discussion, and large carcasses on display for those who wished to grab something to eat. There were fruits, vegetables, and grains available as well – but not as ostentatiously displayed. There was a minstrel band playing quiet music in the middle of the room, entertainers performing little shows, and a storyteller for the children.

Kevin thought that was a MUCH more satisfactory party, even if perhaps a bit too G-Ranted!

He got himself a leg of lamb to munch on, and started chatting with various people (especially cute young women), circulated amongst the entertainments, and waited to be approached…

Raphael drifted off to the driest conversations he could find – scholarly discussions on magic theory, artificing, and technology.

That man REALLY needed to lighten up sometimes.

Actually Raphael was using sound-filtering to listen for anything interesting – but he did find the technical conversations interesting anyway, and they made a great cover.

As far as the cat patrons went, most of them – except for a single Male Tiger – simply sneered at the bearers, making a show of spurning them disgustedly as only cats could. The Tiger headed for Kevin after he came in however…

(Tiger) “Interesting choice of palanquin bearers. Where did you find them?”

(Kevin) “Oh, I acquired a matched set after a sea battle, and they just seemed perfect for the job!”

(Tiger) “I don’t suppose you have more you’d like off your hands? They do have their uses for hunting and bodyguarding – and my name is Valerian.”

(Kevin) “And I’m Angkor… As far as bearer’s go, the look is really quite good; the black fur sets off the Palanquin nicely. I might be able to acquire some more though. I was planning a venture in the area after all!”

(Tiger) “Ah, I had heard rumors. The fur does set off the palanquin nicely. Perhaps some more gold, for an extra bit of flair?”

They’d drifted off to one of the quieter, more private, alcoves for negotiations…

(Kevin) “I’ve thought about it, but the collar, loose muzzle, and other equipage seemed like enough. Overdressing slaves is a bit tacky anyway… So, I take it you were planning on hunting some truly dangerous game?”

Hm. For all his obvious power, this was a most easily-led young wolf! How was he ever going to be an alpha at that rate? Still, that was no reason for him to complain; wolves could be so prideful! Didn’t the youngster have an interest in any of the entertainments?

Kevin really wasn’t worrying about it. He was HERE to be contacted, and it wasn’t like any one place on the floor was that much better than another.

(Tiger) “Why, yes. I’m embarking on an expedition beneath a branch, and their coloration is well suited to such an environment.”

(Kevin) “Well, I shall have to see if I can obtain a few suitable servants for your consideration!”

(Tiger) “I am glad to do business with you, then! Now what would you like in return? Zenni are no problem, but I suspect the same applies to you.”

(Kevin) “Oh, I’m more interested in establishing a shipping hub at the moment. I think establishing a presence here might suit my larger operations!”

The tiger ought to have SOMETHING to offer along those lines. At worst, he could put in a good word for them with the Cat Clan head – and his note that he had few money worries suggested far greater influence than THAT.

As it turned out, arrangements could be made with various portions of the Cat Clan for discounts on rent and services, preferences for contracts, and other favorable treatment from the clan in exchange for a percentage of earnings locally. That might work out very well. Kevin decided to see what he could do then. He didn’t actually need much, but he and Marty did like operations to be self-supporting or even profitable if it was at all possible!

Meanwhile, half of what Raphael was overhearing was a bit… obvious. There were discussions regarding a new type of magic item that had started appearing on the street, talk about some strange creature or creatures that were rumored to be running loose in the city, and rumors of a new group of mice and rats immigrants who had taken up residence deep within the caverns in the mountains surrounding the city. They were reputedly the ones building a number of elaborate mechanisms and devices that had begun appearing for sale on the markets.

Hm. New types of item… Purely technological perhaps? It would be awkward to find a type that worked here, but a translation-effect might work. Ah, no – from listening in further it seemed to be a small stone that had been found in the pockets of a number of low-lifes recently caught in a crackdown over in the warehouse district. It appeared to be linked with some much larger magical object elsewhere and confered a number of benefits on them. No one else had been able to use them so far however…

A cheaper, focused, version of a Heartstone? A larger item elsewhere that bestowed powers was, of course, quite familiar – but one that you did’t have to bind yourself to would indeed be new. He’d have to try and get a look at those.

Other creatures could be the reptile-assassins, another visitor chasing Kevin or Marty (or perhaps even himself), or even those feathered dragons that Kevin had apparently added to the local environment just for the fun of it.

Marty wondered the new immigrants were the Rats and Mice of NIMH. They were relatively nearby, and they’d certainly inspired them to start looking into whatever natural gates were available.

On the “that was easy” side, his robot was reporting that there were several Heartstones that he could easily get a look at if he just paid a large fee and is willing to put up a VERY large security deposit until after his examination. Money did talk, and there were several minor guilds that were open to anyone who could pay the entry fee anyway.

He’d have to take a few days to get local funds and a solid local identity going before agreeing to pay, but that wouldn’t be a big problem. He could always just borrow from Kevin – but somehow that seemed just a bit wrong somehow.

There were rumors swirling that a guild might have figured out a “cheaper” way to transmute normal materials into magical versions, discussions about the theoretical possibilities regarding Ideal Materials, discussions regarding branches of magic theories describing higher order effects, plus speculation regarding the number of highly magical young adults that had begun to flood the city.

Well, Kevin and Marty were certainly drawing notice. No doubt they were some of the juiciest and most exciting sources of rumors within the last few years.

Kevin ran across Mrs Jessica Muirhead, and stopped to say hello.

(Jessica) “Oh, it’s Angkor again! Good to see you. I hope the Rabbits haven’t given you too much trouble.”

(Kevin) “Oh, none at all so far… It’s almost disappointing! Perhaps they’re too embarrassed – or perhaps even they find that sort of behavior shameful enough to hide those losers away!”

(Jessica) “Well, I certainly hope so! My father is still put out about it. But what brings you to our party, other than me?”

(Kevin) “Well, I am glad to have been of assistance! I trust that even the rabbits would find it foolish to attempt to bother you about the matter… How is your older brother? He did take a rather rough fall when he jumped me on our way back, but he didn’t seem injured… As for the party – I simply thought that it might be fun to get to know a few people locally – and the Wolf party was stiff, formal, and boring! I am glad to see that your family is more fun.

Well, OK. Doubtless there was still a great deal of less formal social maneuvering going on at this party, but at least there were other things to do!

(Jessica) “Oh, I think you dented his pride somewhat. I suppose he wanted to test himself against you. And I had heard as much about the Wolves. Even at their parties, they want everyone to know where they stand in the social structure. We would much rather concentrate on the entertainment.”

(Kevin) “Ah yes! They got all stiff and cranky when I provided a bit of amusement for the children, who were all bored stiff! Kids like a bit of fun and excitement at a party, and it’s rather cruel to deprive them of it!”

(Jessica) “I suppose they complained. Their party customs haven’t changed in many decades.”

(Kevin) “I prefer to keep my parties a little more… flexible”

Well, there was no one waiting to approach him, he had food, and there were no more available (or cuter) girls in the offing – so no reason not to linger with Mrs Muirhead!

(Jessica) “Well, what did you do? I am curious. You do seem to be quite powerful.”

She was getting pretty bored. After that rape attempt, her father hadn’t been letting her off the estate without guards and minders!

(Kevin) “Oh, I opened up a gate in the yard to a safety-oriented carnival-dimension for the children to play in and got them some of the local currency to spend. They had a lot more fun there!”

Wait, he’d WHAT? He used that kind of power for party tricks to amuse children? Yes, he’d casually defeated three fairly dangerous rabbits, but that meant that most of his minor unique features were power-signs, not affectations… But he seemed to be – if anything – slightly younger than she was! Besides – he was a VERY charismatic young male – and a bit of fun with a Wolf was entirely consequence-free; they couldn’t even father hybrids on felines.

Kevin escorted Jessica around the party a bit and made conversation… She was showing some promising signs of romantic interest and a desire for a further relationship. Even if cats were a bit fickle, that could be quite a lot of fun!

She did withdraw after a bit, but in cat terms that was also a good sign! He’d have to come up with some presents…

Meanwhile, Raphael had gone to see if he could add anything to the discussion of ideal materials

(Lion) You see, the concept is that all materials that we know of, whether mundane, psionic, or magical, are merely crude representations of the Ideal. All of them have flaws and weaknesses of some sort, refinement and imbuement of energies can rectify this to some extent, but perhaps there is some means of removing all the flaws from a given material or simply create is wholesale?

(Tiger Mage) Isn’t this just a variant on the old idea of Ideal forms? That there exists a perfect and optimized form of various objects that cannot be improved any further for a given function? Like how you can only build a clock so accurate before any more improvements become meaningless?

(Raphael) “Not really, the ideal object has a specific use. an ideal material is the exemplification of a series of properties so it can have a truely useful for many things without actually being optimized for any one use. A perfect material would not be perfect for all uses as it could not work for anything that requires limits on those properties – so it could not replace all those uses of the material.””

(Tiger Mage) Well, I heard that a theurgist at the Academy has been busily spending his time on the process. A rather eccentric fellow I must say. He’s been spending a fortune in Zenni recently buying gold and other odd metals.

(Lion) Well, considering the world around us seems to be made up of twelve specific nouns. At least according to the theurgists anyway. Might that say a lot about the nature of the world around us that most everything can be classified as such?

Ah. So the Mages were trying to make perfect examples of the nouns and not ideal materiels as in ideal metal, wood, stone, and so on – which was more or less what the philosophers seemed to be talking about. Whether or not they realized that they are speaking of different ideas was open to question. They might just be standing around philosophizing and displaying their sagacity.

Kevin had caught just a bit of all that – and noted that, to phrase it classically, “I thinketh that the sages affixith Wind to top-quality papyrus with heavy bronze bolts.”

(Raphael): “Actually it says not so much… just that it takes twelve categories to fit everything in. It could be done with fewer, but more broad categories. I have seen systems that only use four, but their definitions for those four are very vague. I have also seen some that use hundreds, but noone could ever get anywhere trying to learn specifics of every noun that way.”

(Tiger Mage) “Interesting, so you know of systems that use as few as four? I couldn’t even imagine a system that actually used hundreds.”

(Raphael) “Those that use fewer are harder to learn as they combine some things in weird ways. that one called their categories air, fire, water, and earth – with each having a mental side, a spiritual side, some relation to either magic or illusion, and little acknowledgment of life as either something separate from just moving groups of elements or as some property of fire.”

(Tiger Mage) “Interesting. So this may say that the classifications may well be something in our heads as opposed to actual properties of the world around us then?”

(Raphael) “It might be, but it could also be something with how the local gods see magic too. it is hard to tell without taking an actual practitioner on one of those systems here, but I think it is likely to only really be in our heads if the gods are not enforcing some part of it.”

(Lion) That would be a most interesting experiment. Any idea where such a mage might be found?

(Raphael) “Actually, I know of several places they can be found, but I do not know how to get there from here in a repeatable way that is useful for doing convincing anyone to try it. I have a strange form of travel for long trips that is hard to replicate for others and it is quite draining for me.”

(Tiger Mage) “Ah, it must be a long trip then, the really long distance spells are so unreliable at times.”

(Lion Philosopher) “Makes one wonder what the optimal set of categories would be like. Like the mind might be predispositioned towards categorizing things a certain way?”

(Raphael) “Oh I would not worry about that too much, you probably have it as optimized as the local races can get it unless there is some sign that it is inefficient in some way.”

(Leopard Noble) “True enough, have not our mages had many years to refine and optimize their work? Most of what I have seen in my time is new formula and applications, not radical advancements in the field. I think the major discoveries left to be found lie in the higher energy levels. Like where the Eight-and-a-Half-Tails does her work.”

(Tiger Mage) “But so few ever get to those levels of achievement. It’s not like discoveries at those levels will have much practical application to the rest of us since we can’t cast at those levels. Artificing items that function at those levels is also horrendously expensive.”

(Raphael) “There might always be something to learn from other approaches. I personally have done some work adapting to abandon nouns altogether if only for understanding things, but it is very inefficient in some ways, but could have the advantages of using more natural talent than just raw skill.”

(Lion Mage) “A nounless system? Would this be anything like a mathematical system or something more intuitive?”

(Raphael) “Here let me show you some of the basics”

He went over some of the basics of his mathematical rune divination magic, and even cast a self-analyzing spell that had no real effect other than giving his audience a good idea of how it was cast.

That produced considerable interest. Few of the locals ever dabbled with forms of magic other than what they were born with – and thus had a massive head start on.

While he was at it, he called in a few of Kevin’s Thralls. A fair number of them dabbled in other forms of magic than what Kevin bestowed on all of them – although even that was very different from the local style. It might be fun to see reactions – and the twelve-element bit didn’t seem to be particularly fundamental even in this universe.

The demonstrations did attract quite a lot of attention.

Meanwhile, Kevin had drifted past the storytellers and handed out some random – if fairly minor – magical charms (and pats on the head) to all the kids. It was a party after all!

Besides, it gave him an excuse for surveying them for interesting talents.

Hey, one of them – some kind of rex, and a bit on the chubby side – seemed to have some sort of variable tracelessness that he could activate at will! That was kind of neat! He could swipe all the cakes, and eat them all, and no one would ever be able to prove it! If the kid hadn’t been full of mischief to start with, he CERTAINLY would be after a little experience with the uses of THAT ability.

Of course, it could also very easily get him into a great deal of trouble. Hopefully he either had, or soon would, develop some caution.

The kid got a pat on the head, a very nice gift, and a conspiratorial compliment on his “good looks and other natural talents.”

It looked like the kid had managed to pick up a few rumors about Angkor from his parents or the servants  – or perhaps was nervous enough about being found out to have heard his oratorical broadcast…. He apparently wouldn’t mind a sudden boost in his magical abilities, and might be sending “Angkor” a discreet theurgical message after the party, when an obedient child should be in bed.

Well, that would depend a bit… Felines were usually pretty independent, but Kevin wasn’t sure of the local legal standing of his contract with respect to “noble” children. Still, a trip to Kadia apparently made it legal enough if he snuck off and escaped his parents voluntarily.

He checked – the kid did know about the gate at the Amarant Solutions office from the broadcast – and opted to let the kid handle the matter. A discreet, traceless, Thrall-agent in the Cat clan might be very informative!

Then he got back to being available and to fishing for girls…

Over at the rabbit party, Marty was being corned by a mob of kids who had heard about the pirate parrot stories from the morning – and who wanted to hear those stories too.

He told them. The kids around here were all so cute! Even if a mob of Rabbit kids WAS a literal mob when it came to size… Thanks to his parrot voice he didn’t need an amplification spell, but it was close!

The older Rabbits, however, seemed to be more than a bit cranky and tense… It looked like there were some internal disagreements. There were some rumors about a trio who’d attacked a girl and been gelded for it. The lower ranks were mostly laughing at the humiliation, the upper ranks were either hostile or ambivalent depending on specific outlook. The faction led by the Rabbit working with the panthers was particularly hostile about it.

Wait, what? There wasn’t much doubt about who was behind that! He was really going to have to speak to Kevin about that! That was a pretty big insult, even if it wasn’t permanent!

Marty tried to stick more with the lower ranks and the ambivalent upper ranks. Of course, if somebody hostile wanted to talk to him, he wouldn’t  make a scene unless they really got under his feathers… Most of the hostile faction were aware enough of his association with Kevin – and sure enough of who the “passing stranger” had been – to be pretty suspicious of him anyway.

Oh well! That was to be expected. Still, if the kids enjoyed the stories and he got out of the party without major problems, he’d be a happy parrot!

Actually, as it turned out, most of the “common” rabbits were trying to find out just how rich he was – and more than a few of them were trying to find jobs with a rich trader for their offspring. It looked like, for rabbit-parents, that was a constant preoccupation…

Marty tried to downplay his level of wealth somewhat while discreetly examine the body language of the people wanting him to hire their relatives for hostility.

There actually didn’t seem to be much. There might be one or two trying to palm off a spy on him, but most of the job-seekers were the lower-class parents who apparently weren’t in on the whole lets-start-a-clan-war thing.

Hm. He was a bit leery of rabbit hires… Still, he consulted Kevin.

Kevin wouldn’t mind Thralls – but for straight hires… maybe for routine, low-priority stuff. At the moment he was a bit down on the rabbits. Of course, normal ones might not dare try to cheat him if word had been getting around.

Well, that was fair enough. Routine and low-priority jobs it was then, with the Thralls told to keep a discreet eye on things. They definitely wouldn’t be taking any on the trading journey.

Kevin had a thought… They could REALLY upset the war-party if he had someone relay an offer on buying the three who were now disgraced and suitable for harem guard duty.

Let’s see now… a gazelle-messenger kid (there were lots of them running about anyway) and something like “My employer has heard that you have three disgraced individuals now suitable for harem-attendant duty, and would like to make an offer…”

It might really stir things up!

He sent a messenger with a really GOOD offer. It should really stir up the factions! He told the kid to deliver it to some of the upper-level rabbits – and preferably to a group that included some of the important ones who DIDN’T want a war and would find the behavior of those three quite embarrassing.

Marty spotted the gazelle-kid arriving, and had to wonder what was up…

A little witchcraft-based sensory boosting let him listen in on the offer easily enough though.

Oh dear! That almost HAD to be Kevin! The locals hardly EVER sold any of their own into slavery! That was why they were so strong on indentures and only enslave the “inferior beasts” from other continents!

Surprisingly enough – both the Kevin and Marty – an outright slave-sale was approved in short order, much to the chagrin (and embarrassment and anger) of the war-faction! What was… Oh! The war-faction was a sub-section of the Nobility – and was almost entirely male. Pretty much the ENTIRE female side of the clan was seriously down on that particular trio… Add that to the elders of the non-war group (who wanted to embarrass the war-party and to stamp on the general misbehavior of the younger generation), quite a few of the younger generation who were looking to dispose of some competition, and the fact that it HAD been an excellent offer, and you wound up with a quick “Sold!”.

That had to be pretty stinging. Their own relatives had disowned them and classified them as livestock to be sold. Kevin sent a sizeable Thrall-contingent – in larger and more imposing guises – to take possession of the three and take them to Kadia for more processing… After all, he hadn’t seriously expected the Rabbit Clan to sell them, so he had no real purpose in mind for them!

Hey! They might have some worthwhile information or something! Then… Maybe Jessica would like their services? That could be a great little gift – and a temptation to her to make a point of showing them what they’d lost their chances at…

Not at all a bad idea!

At least if it wouldn’t upset her and wouldn’t make trouble for the Cat clan.

Oh well, it would take a couple of days to finish up working on them anyway, even in Kadia – and his best current evaluation of Mrs Muirhead suggested that she would gladly take them as long as she was given good assurances of the restraints on them (which, as outright slaves, was of course pretty much “as needed”). It wasn’t every girl who had a trio of slave-attendants. Similarly, as long as the Cats advertised the three as a gift from an outsider they SHOULD still retain the “moral high ground” on the matter. Some of the more belligerent rabbits might not care about such things – but the more moderate faction should consider it a fair price for the initial infraction. The trio would probably be pretty cranky at first, but a bit of processing – pretty much the same procedure he used on the dragon-slaves – would fix that.

Marty quietly drifted away from the more hostile groups. They were angry enough at the moment that it probably wasn’t safe to be near them. He hadn’t actually overheard who’d bought them – and the Clan was keeping it quiet – but it was pretty obvious! Who else would try it?

He was promptly accosted – but it was by some of the minor guild representatives. After all, he could obviously afford to pay for Heartstone upgrades, which meant that a minor guild could soon become a major one (the major ones mostly had their heartstones fairly well complete already; further upgrades would require epic-level rebuilds, which were generally out of the question). That meant that memberships could EASILY be arranged for him.

Hm. Perhaps one of the smaller messengers or adventurers guilds. They could use the help! And he could always join more than one…

Back at the feline party, Kevin was met by a very formal looking Raccoon.

(Kevin) “And hello there! Hm… Have a fruit-and-nut cluster?”

(Raccoon) “Excuse me, but I am looking for Kevin Sanwell. I was told to come to this location and find someone matching your description.”

(Kevin) “Ah. Well, locally I’m going by Angkor… And I presume your business is more serious than simple partygoing?”

(Racoon) “Yes, I am an associate of Lemar and Burton Law Firm. I have been directed to hand you this summons to court in the United States of America New York State, New York City 5th Court to act as a witness.”

(Kevin, with some curiosity) “To what?”

(Raccoon) “A number of plantiffs have filed lawsuits against the organization you are apparently part of. They have formed into a class action lawsuit questioning the legality of a certain contract your organization is currently offering to potential applicants. Namely, the enslavement of the living is under question.

That provoked a number of odd looks from the other party goers.

(Kevin) “Ah. I shall see if that’s practical. After all, to actually sign up they are departing your dimension, which does put the jurisdiction in serious question.”

(Raccoon) “I will not discuss the legal difficulties involved in the case. I am only to ask that you please attend the court proceedings.”

(Kevin) “I fear you will need to be somewhat more specific as to location – and as to time; it’s not at all uniform across the dimensions.”

The raccoon handed over a manila envelope detailing the realm, time, place, directions, and even where to park. It looked to be three weeks from now, based on Kevin’s estimation of the timerates involved.

Well, he might have to attend via remote projection, but it should be possible… He passed the news on to Marty too. He’d probably find an interdimensional business law case interesting!

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 64

This diagram shows the Trojan Asteroids in Jup...

You mean you don't know which one?!?!

The Mrs Beasley – as a highly radioactive wreck – continued to plunge every more deeply into the intergalactic void, with what was left of its own drives and those of the Zomogoostar and the Ratsoogomoz thrusting it onwards into the darkness. Already tens or hundreds of thousands of light years beyond the final stars, it continued outward into the endless space of a dead and empty cosmos. The Final Empire would never find them there. Not even it could search infinity for what was – in the final analysis – a very minor annoyance.

It took a while to get the stasis field anchored to the Mrs Beasley and to get the asteroid anchored as well. It certainly didn’t help matters that Ben insisted on subspace freezing the asteroid on top of the stasis effect. In the meantime, we deployed a number of hyperspace-to-subspace relays past the stasis field. These were designed to monitor transmissions from the Final Empire and convert them to a very weak subspace signal that would then be transmitted through the stasis effect. The setup was going to be detectable from the galaxy side of things, but our pursuers were going to have to know where to look, what to look for, and be close enough to pick it out. And any scans looking for the things we could probably detect first and move to evade.

That was the plan anyway.

Again we went with a setup of recording most everything we could pick up and having droids do a preliminary sort on the material for us. It was still far too much material coming in to really let us review all of it in real time even with a practically unlimited number of droids – especially because all the droid brains and storage media were radioactive enough to throw up all kinds of errors. Still, if and when we got out of here, it would be prudent to hire people to start indexing the material and looking for anything new.

Repairs to the Mrs Beasley were not going well. The asteroid the others brought didn’t have the stuff we needed, and what parts we were able to find that were usable were quickly stripped. Lazlo started sorting the Imperialists from the sub-citizens after we figured the su-citizens ought to be given a chance to leave given the opportunity – but, given the repairs needed, and the lack of anyplace non-radioactive to put them, that was definitely a back-burner project. That still left us with about twenty five percent of the Mrs Beasley hot and not enough material to complete most basic repairs. At least we were able to remove the radioactive portions from the ship and collect it together into an immense ball.

Most everyone wanted to throw Jacob overboard by this point. I will admit to sharing and even voicing that sentiment. I was also tempted with throw Handell out too for going boozing on a supplies run, but he had immediately hidden himself aboard the Mrs Beasley with the women and alcohol he had stolen from his little raid. Trying to chase down a precognitive of his power was going to be an exercise in futility anyway. At least Lazlo hasn’t stirred up any trouble recently.

Handell was busily trying to sample every drink known to the Final Empire. Jacob, on the other hand – having observed what alcohol as doing to Handell – had injected himself with a symbiotic organism that automatically detoxified alcohol in his bloodstream.

Smoche was spending the bulk of his time trying to carefully test out the viability of the hyperdrive coils. At least the prognosis was looking like they might be usable given a long cycle time, but he was going to need further testing to be sure. When Jacob offered to “help” with the process, Smoche suggested that Jacob go play with the radioactive materials we had jettisoned out into space. I was willing to pay Jacob a thousand credits if he would build himself a house out of it and play in it. If he died of cesium or strontium poisoning, I wasn’t going to cry about it.

Smoche was, in fact, suggesting that if Jacob wanted to “force heal” the radioactives they were extracting, he would be glad to see it – from a long ways away. After all if Jacob managed it, he’d have some usable raw materials. If he killed himself, that was fine too.

With not much else to do though, Valerie and I focused our efforts on trying to get as many of the ships operational as possible. It looked like the asteroids were in good condition, but the Shard of Devastation and our three sub Star Destroyers were going to need work. The assorted small craft were in various states of usability too. In all, we had enough passenger capacity to move everyone off of the Mrs Beasley and leave, but some of the ships were going to have to be towed. And of course, we would have to leave the Mrs Beasley behind in that scenario. Still, an escape plan was better than none so we directed the asteroids’ manufacturing capacity towards repairing the various hyperdrives.

We worked towards that end for several days. We where running tests on the Shard of Devastation’s startup sequence when sensors registered a massive radiation pulse. At first we thought we were under attack, but it was quickly established that the radiation pulse didn’t match any weapon signatures we knew of. The next fear was a neutronium containment breach, but there was no sign of that either. What evidence we got suggested it had come out of the stasis field.

Contacting the Mrs Beasley revealed that Jacob apparently had an “accident” while doing something in there. He had come out of the stasis field screaming about something eating his arm and suffering from massive radiation burns. Luckily the various ships were well shielded against that level of radiation, but Jacob hadn’t been. Soon, a number of us stood in the medical bay trying to piece together what happened as the medical droids bludgeoned Jacob savagely.

WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM

(Valerie) Alright, let me get this straight. Jacob went into a stasis field by himself with a box full of radioactive, but otherwise inert metal. A few hours later he comes out having nearly blown himself up and with something eating his arm?

(Telera) Yes, that would appear to be correct.

(Valerie) That stuff shouldn’t have been active enough to trigger a criticality accident, let alone EAT HIS ARM!

(Alys) Not just his arm, but a good portion of the ship he was using too.

(Kira) Alright, how in the hell did he manage this?

(Ben) Analysis of the radiation pulse suggests that a strangelet was created and began to convert all available mass including his arm into more of itself before finally detonating.

(Kira) A strangelet?

(Valerie) I’ll explain later. How did he manage to create a strangelet in a shuttle by himself with no specialized equipment?

(Alys) Beats me.

(Smoche) I think he was trying to “heal” the radioactive materials by pouring the Force into them.

That sounded like something he would try. The others started discussing high energy physics for a bit. It was decided that they would have Jacob try to do whatever it was that he did again to so we could convert all the radioactive material into iron. The iron would then be used to make the most critical repairs needed at the moment and then we would try to depart the Final Empire for a universe more conducive to finishing the necessary repairs to the Mrs Beasley. An argument broke out over where exactly would be best to do this, with me advocating a return to the Codifier galaxy, and the others wanting to go somewhere with more infrastructure. About the only thing we could agree on was that where ever we went, it needed to be quiet.

Jacob had, in fact, funneled massive amounts of force-energy into a mass of radioactives – and had managed to transform the nuclei into quasi-living strangelets. They’d promptly started to reproduce and to eat all the normal matter around them, including him. The trouble was, they were riding on his power – and so shared his timerate. The problem was, trying to withdraw his power led to the blasted things destabilizing in a blast of hard radiation. He’d mostly outrun that – it dropped back into stasis as his power faded – but it was hard to get too far away from the stuff that was eating his arm and space gear; he’d had to cut his way out of the small ship he was using – trying to beat a radiation-wave which was, even in the periphery of his temporal aura, coming all too fast. All in all, the experience had nearly killed him.

He’d also decided that he’d better get some clone-transplants while he still had some limbs left, and put in some orders – especially since the droids were warning him that he was approaching the point where he’d have serious troubles with using more Bacta.

He then tried a variant on the same idea – and eventually did manage to produce a fair chunk of stable iron to handle the most urgent patches.

Finally the medical droids finished slapping a prosthetic arm onto Jacob, shoved him out the door and onto his ass, and then slammed the door to medical shut behind him. I had never seen medical droids become cross like that before, but couldn’t say that I blamed them. Part of me idly considered loading a program onto that prosthetic arm of his to smack him repeatedly whenever he uttered the word “button”. I think I could get most everyone else to agree to that proposal.

(Valerie) Just think, he has one arm, a torso, and a head left. It won’t be too many more times and he’ll be dead.

The mummers of assent were numerous.

Eventually what repairs that could be made with what we had were made. We jettisoned the asteroid Handell and the others had captured and sent it back on a slow journey towards the Final Empire with a beacon configured to activate long after we were gone. That way those people would be able to return home and the Final Empire wouldn’t have enough of a beef with us to chase us across the multiverse. We did end up keeping some of the former sub-citizens while Ben and Smoche stole samples of all the unusual technology. We had copied what records and programs we could find, and added that to our database of stuff to sort through at a later date.

It was decided that Ben, Telera, Valerie and I would steer the Mrs Beasley during the jump while letting the others sit back and watch. The trip itself was uneventful save for fears of a failure of the hyperdrive coils leaving us stranded somewhere. Soon enough we dropped out of hyperspace into seemingly familiar territory. It looked like the massive shipyard at the edge of the galaxy we had found back home. Shipwreck began making scans of the region while Ben and Smoche tried to assess the state of the hyperdrive after that jump. While it looked like the system managed to make it through the jump without further damage, the coils were going to need to go through a lengthy cooldown period before being usable again. So at the very least, the Mrs Beasley was stuck for now.

Jacob wanted somewhere they could get repairs. Ben was interested in finding some abandoned fleets. Alys wanted somewhere quiet. Kira wanted the Codifier Galaxy, or at least sanity. Lazlo didn’t want to deal with people. Valerie wanted quiet, technicians, and resources. Telera wanted a quiet place with lots of techs who’d be willing to repair the ship rather than blowing it up, stealing it, or salvaging it. Others wanted a quiet place, one without prisons, a shortage of instant doom, easy sources of materials, and more… Wish-fulfillment struck again.

Shipwreck reported that there was quite a bit of activity around the shipyard, but all the communications traffic was binary. There didn’t seem to be any organic communications traffic at all. That was disturbing to say the least. Quickly enough one of the automated systems began hailing us. Alys wanted direction on how to handle it. Personally, I was getting very ominous feelings about the lack of organic traffic and thought it best to hide our status. Ben’s precognition quickly concurred with me. During this discussion Jacob just simply passed out on the floor unconscious.

(Valerie) Well that is convenient. Usually there is a middle step between him having an idea and falling unconscious. This saves us a lot of heartache.

None of us could disagree.

Alys started communications while pretending to be the ship’s computer. Or more precisely, letting 10CH pretend to be the ship’s computer while giving directions on critical questions and requests. They ended up convincing the droids that we were a salvage ship in need of repairs. The droids would commence repairs, but it was probably best that we hid ourselves in the meantime. Alys sent orders out to all of our droids to load everyone in stasis into crates and hide them while those of us still active would retreat to the bunker we had found weeks ago and hide. 10CH elected to remain outside to act as a “liaison” between us and the local droids while repairs went on.

Eventually 10CH sent us a history of what had happened locally. It looked like things had gone similar to the Codifier galaxy with Huriel taking out much of the galactic core. At that point things started diverging as the Sith bluffed that they could do that again, and the Codifiers responded with a number of hidden Infinite Empire weapons they apparently had stashed away. The Sith were quickly being exterminated at the expense of the Censor falling apart as well. Towards the end the Sith ordered their droids to eliminate every living thing not positively proven to be a Sith. The droids then went out and did exactly that. And with the Censor no longer operational, the droids were actually able to build the automated factories complexes needed to actually carry out such a campaign.

Alys found that both interesting and worrisome. The Censor had started to break down in the Codifier Galaxy, and the galaxy had started to fragment. Languages, technology… they’d all started to break down and become world-specific. Here, the censor was gone – and the droids were exterminating life throughout the galaxy. Was the censor itself a living being? Did the censor favor these millennia-spanning, galaxy-ranging governments? The censor – stupidly and blunderingly – tried to keep the galaxy alive… Was the Final Empire the final outcome of the operations of the Censor?

Currently, it looked like the only life still left in the Galaxy was the vampiric space moss and the subspace plant people. The droids were ignoring the former – apparently some technicality kept them from considering it to be “life” – and the latter the droids were trying to exterminate by searching every cubic meter of the galaxy.

(Valerie) Vampiric space moss?

(Kira) Best name I know for the stuff. Actually seem to be able to eat life energies and even the life energies of stars directly.

(Valerie) And how do you know of these things?

(Kira) It was back when you caught up with Akira. We traded places as you know, and I ended up aboard your star destroyer with the wrong Valerie. I played diversion and in the process Alys, 10CH and I made a random hyperspace jump while trying to give the others a chance to escape.

(Valerie) That much I know.

(Kira) Well the random jump went badly and we ended up crashlanding on a planet around a red dwarf star.

(Valerie) No one ever visits those.

(Kira) Yep, and we found out why. Turns out the local biosphere is made up of all sorts of creatures that love to eat life forms so full of energy as we are. Let’s just say it wasn’t a pleasant three weeks.

Eventually we learned that the droids were killing anything with a carbon-based chemical metabolism. That raised the interesting possibility that the Furipedes were not considered alive from the viewpoint of the droids. Some quick discussions with the Furipedes convinced them to introduce themselves as self-assembling protein droids capable of using hyperdrive. Some even volunteered to split off, form a colony, and try to take care of the droid problem. All that manufacturing capacity the droids had built was awfully tempting to try and exploit.

Not that I had visions of galactic conquest, but there are a few projects I wouldn’t mind trying out given the resources available here.

Plans then turned to trying to exploit our status in the droids’ systems as a salvage ship. The obvious targets were the various derelict fleets spread throughout the galaxy. Ben wanted to find some of the Codifier Starbreakers, but I had my doubts that any of those had survived. Of course, given how empty and yet built up this place was, this all seemed like small potatoes compared to what might be out there to salvage. Someone then suggested stealing entire shipyards, like the Kuat System shipyards. But the problem with that idea was that the Kuat system was stuck in the expanded event horizon….

Wait a minute.

A good portion of the core of the Republic was locked in stasis here too. It would be more of a rescue operation as opposed to a salvage one, but we had practice with this very scenario. We couldn’t leave it here though as the droid swarms would eventually overwhelm the Republic. Unless the Censor reestablished itself, but we really couldn’t take that chance. I was getting concerned about the timing of dropping the stasis and getting in there fast enough to teleport the galactic core out before the droids arrived when Valerie reminded me that the droids were using slower than light drives to move from system to system. As long as we didn’t take months or years to transport the core out, we would have plenty of time.

The plan was readily endorsed by all those involved in the discussion.

It also took several months for the droids to finish repairs to the Mrs Beasley. That many people crowded into such a small space for that long was getting to be unbearable. Eventually we decided to draw lots to take watch while the others went into stasis for the duration of the wait. We ended up with two person teams on watch for a week at a time and rotating who was on watch. That helped the time go by faster from our perspective. I ended up on watch twice and was bored out of my mind both times.

Eventually though, 10CH gave the all clear for us to leave the bunker. We stepped out into a sparkling, newly refurbished ship. I was rather annoyed to find that all the living quarters were now dedicated to either storage or manufacturing capacity though. That meant moving back to one of the asteroids for the time being until new quarters could be built. At least this gave the technicians a more or less clean slate to start with for rebuilding the Sith Canton. And it also meant we now had a fully stocked raw materials stockpile too for most purposes. We made ready to depart from the system as we received a number of coordinates from the droids for fleets needing salvage operations support.

With a repaired ship and coordinates for derelict fleets in hand, we made our way to the center of the galaxy. It wasn’t quite a spiraling inward course, but it was close enough for a lot of purposes. This was another few month process as we went from derelict site to derelict site collecting ships into our “armada” and then continuing on with the process as we drew near the black hole. By my estimations we collected about one hundred and fifty major ships, and a couple thousand smaller ones.

The debate also raged over where exactly to take the Republic Core once we freed it. We couldn’t leave it here. Taking it to the Codifier Galaxy was going to create a lot of duplicate people issues. We couldn’t just drop it in an uninhabited galaxy since that would pretty much disrupt all navigation and cause civilization to collapse too. About the only idea any of us could agree on was to bring it home with us and set it up as a satellite galaxy. Not everyone was happy with this idea, but we really didn’t have many options available to us either.

It was also during this timeframe that Ilia began her training of Valerie, me and some of the others. Ilia insisted on training Valerie and I separately. Well, she wanted to train Valerie separately from everyone else, but it was sort of a package deal between us. Valerie was clearly struggling with the training as the Dark Side hindered her, but she was making progress. It was also becoming increasingly obvious that she was Unfalling and I was getting curious when the others would start noticing the change.

On the other hand, Ilia wasn’t particularly tolerant of Valerie’s lack of performance. Strangely enough this resulted in me trying harder to perform so that I drug Valerie along with me and to keep Ilia focused on me as much as possible. The fact that Ilia and I didn’t get along didn’t help matters.

(Ilia) I have never seen anyone so proud of so little.

(Kira) Oh come on, that was the most perfect shot there is. It vaporized the target and made a good sized hole in the wall behind it.

(Ilia) Your point?

(Kira) Alright, then how about you show me how this was done back when you were a larva then grandma?

(Ilia) Gladly you patronizing smart ass.

I was most annoyed when she not only blew away the target, but the next two walls, and put a good sized hole in the bulkhead beyond. I am really beginning to dislike this insect. And worse yet, she is amicable with the others if a bit condescending. Ben wasn’t happy about the damage to his ship, but I was too busy trying to put Ilia in her place to really care. Leave it to Valerie to make an overachiever out of me.

Eventually we did reach the Galactic Black Hole. It was a lot simpler this time to go about the process of subspace freezing Huriel and breaking the stasis effect. It helped that we had all the techniques and equipment prepared, tested, and ready to go right off the bat this time. Subduing the fleets took less time too. It then became a simple matter of leaving Alys to explain while the Mrs Beasley raced to the black hole itself. Hauling the galactic core with us was relatively simple, but steering it to the galaxy we wanted was a lot harder than steering the Mrs Beasley, and took several tries. Luckily we had plenty of power and time to keep trying over and over again until we got it right.

Once we managed to hit our galaxy, it then became a relatively simple matter of projecting a hyperfield to steer it into a stable orbit around our galaxy. Again something we had become good at from a previous rescue mission. Needless to say the hyperspace disturbance was detectable to much of the galaxy. The Intergalactic Exploration bunch was the first to arrive and was predictably shocked to find a section of the galactic core from 18,000 years ago waiting for them. Both the Jedi and the Sith were sending emissaries, and the Republic military was complaining mightily of the security situation we had just created. Alys again tried to explain things to everyone involved, but at least this time she didn’t write any disturbing constitutions.

Still, it wasn’t even that big an argument. The Republic would have had a hard time arguing that the Republic didn’t have a right to exist. The fact that a similar, if smaller and very distant, power had appeared was startling, but not exactly a cause for hostility. It turned out to be a cause for a plague of historians however – and for the retirement of their historian. He’d NEVER find a better chance to examine things a bit.

To be fair, the Republic Military was more worried about the fact that near-infinite forces, from an infinite number of possible sources, could apparently appear at any time – and wanted the group to quit prodding the infinite hornets nest at least until after the Yeveetha war was over and some defenses could be found. On the other hand, the potential for acquiring a near-limitless supply of warships was very tempting.

We even had a Sith artificer show up believing that we had found a way to manipulate the very information fabric of reality itself. He was rather disappointed to learn it was only trans-dimensional travel and not pure reality editing, but Ben pointed out what the guy was looking for was really the Codex. That implied that this Artificer might actually be a potential hybrid, and the talents he was looking to develop might actually be hybrid abilities. Well, I suppose it couldn’t hurt to give him some pointers and direct him along some of our theories for further study. Plus we had a load of Final Empire material to sort through. Maybe he could make himself useful with that?

Still, as interesting as that was, I was concerned about how much the furor over the Gruenn fiasco had died down. If it was quiet enough, maybe I could finally go looking for my friends and family. Galaxy knows that putting it off this whole time was going to be hard to explain if I ever saw them again. Hopefully they will understand.

At least this new satellite galaxy seems to like us.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice, Part V

Cathedral in Włocławek

Are you sure that's the right paint job?

Closing down the main production line smoothly and a final round of inspections after everyone else left made a plausible reason to make a habit of staying behind, and that made it easy to work on private projects after hours. That almost seemed to be expected actually…

It took four of the Coatl to help him – but with their power-reserves and the factory-cathedral’s acceleration-effects, it didn’t take all that long to work up a supply of privacy veils… The manufacturing process itself was a work of art, with rolls of perfect silk being spun out of quintessence and the crystalline spider-like weaving spider-like weaving machines crafting veils like webs…

Hiparkes would be pleased, even if it would be a little while before Charles could give him his veils…

After that, there were several messages – and remembering to pick up Mr Anderson’s cherry-glazed nuts on the way home. He’d have to take some to school too; the god-blooded students all loved what they could afford of those candies, and most of them didn’t have a salary to spend a bit of on them. Ergo, some to share…

Well, he still had a LITTLE time.

  • One message from Gramps. He was back from wherever-it-was that he’d most recently disappeared to – if too busy that evening for a personal visit – and was checking up on him.
  • One from Lytek, who would like him to discreetly visit his office. He sounded simultaneously excited and worried.
  • Two from Kiko. The first was an invitation to eat dinner with her boss at YesterYears. The second was her giving a similar message to someone else, then saying “Oh, dude, wrong number! Sorry,” and hanging up.

Well, writing a reply to Gramps was easy enough. There was enough time to stop by Lytek (discretely), after that, and that would pretty much make it dinner time by the time he COULD get to Yesteryears.

Wait, mightn’t that be a bad idea? Wasn’t Kiko sort of in hiding? Well, either she was feeling more confident or she didn’t want to say no to her boss.

Oh well. At least he was known to be obligated to Lytek, and Lytek and Gramps had pulled some strings to get him his somewhat nepotistic job. Ergo, he had a reason to stop off there… Most of Yu-Shan would simply assume that – in exchange for the job – he’d promised to make stuff for him. Ergo, visiting Lytek just had to be mildly discreet – and he went to YesterYears quite often.

Off to see Lytek it was…

The offices of the Department of Abstract Matters were in their usual tranquil state. Actual work was, as usual, being shunted off to where people couldn’t see it, in less well-appointed rooms than the lobby. There was a many-armed divine attendant minding the elaborate desk.

(Rahamvar-Geta) “May I help you?”

(Charles) “Oh, un… er… Lord Lytek (with his various honorifics) sent a message stating that he wished to see me!”

(Rahamvar-Geta) “Hmm. I shall check with him.”

She used a mirror to call Lytek’s office and confirm the appointment…

(Rahamvar-Geta) “Very well then. That attendant over there will escort you to the Right Hand of Power’s office.”

(Charles) “Thank you!”

He knew the route, although the receptionist – as always – sent a minor god with him as a guide. After all, he was passing through the hallowed halls of the heavens, where ancient relics, tapestries depicting the first age and the primordial war before it, and similar items, made very step a lesson in the solemn history of creation – every bit of which Charles had, deep down, long regarded as his personal play set.

There were more recent works depicting contemporary history too, albeit in a style that didn’t clash.

They reached the door to Lytek’s office soon enough. Unusually, it was shut, and they had to knock. Lytek himself opened the door. That was kind of odd; normally there’d be an attendant on the other end to open it.

Lytek dismissed the attendant – and led Charles in and shut the door.

(Charles) “Er… What’s up? Something need fixing?”

(Lytek) “I’m not certain. Regardless, none of this leaves my office for the time being.”

(Charles) “Ok!”

Charles promptly wove a minor spell that would cover all thinking about this topic – whatever it was – with a layer of surface thoughts about Gilligan and the Beverly Hillbillies for the next few years, then a privacy charm, then an illusion of innocuous conversation under it, then an alarm to detect intrusions…

(Lytek) “It regards the cabinet. Would you mind looking at it for me?”

Outwardly, the cabinet looked normal – or at least as normal as a marvel even among divine furnishings could look. The power-aura was considerably stronger than usual and it was… active? Normally it was fairly passive. The age of the primordial war, when the exaltations had flowed in and out in a constant stream, were long past.

Huh…

(Charles) “It’s drawing a LOT of power… May I look inside sir?”

(Lytek) “You certainly may. It’s actually the interior that worries me.”

The orichalcum shelf holding Solar Exaltations was fine; there were currently three occupying it. The same went for the moonsilver shelf and its four Lunar Exaltations, and the starmetal shelf with its six Sidereal shards being cleaned. The most blatant anomaly was that the cabinet is a little bigger than it is on the outside – and looking at that space with his magical senses, he could see another, adamantium, shelf forming, with a hundred stands of the same material. The energies were strange, and somewhat incomplete – but it seemed like five types were coalescing.

Well, the preparation for new shards was pretty easy to understand. If they’d been lost during the primordial war or some such the shelf would already be present and empty. Ergo, a new shelf, and new stands, for new, almost certainly adamant, exaltations.

In fact, there were nascent traces of the actual exaltations themselves – either they were in the process of forming here, or the cabinet was reflecting their formation elsewhere.

(Charles) “Huh! Adamant is pretty unusual! And – as far as I know – nobody can make new Shards but that Autochthon guy… Don’t seem to be finished, but that could be because they’re not finished or because they’re not associated with a major patron god yet! The cabinet dates back to Autochthon too doesn’t it? If so, and it’s automatically responding and adapting, it’s probably him! That’s kind of cool really! Five types too… Probably twenty of each. Could be a parallel to the Sidereal Exalted, or it could just be a first stage.”

He noted everything he could get about the what the structure of the Shards was apparently going to be. That information could be REALLY valuable info later on! He threw in a wide selection of sense-boosting and analytical spells – weak, but highly-specific and specially-designed of course. Of course, they were all passive enhancements on himself. It probably wouldn’t have disturbed the nascent shards if he HAD probed at them with Thaumaturgy – shards were pretty powerful – but passive sensing shouldn’t disturb them any more than his mere presence did.

(Lytek) “I have the strangest feeling of deja vu when I examine that shelf, though. Perhaps he’s reintroducing a prototype to Creation. He gave me the cabinet when the Primordial War ended, but he might not have told me everything about it.”

(Charles) “Oh be fair! From what little I’ve ever heard about HIM, he never told anyone anything but which buttons to press… But we only have four major types of Exalted really, and the Terrestrials were never really part of his set.”

(Lytek) “Yes… but interactions between the extant types are… strained. I do hope this fifth set doesn’t worsen the situation.”

(Charles, apologetically) “Uhm… I know you hate to think of it that way sir, but it’s hard to make “holding knives against each other’s kidneys” all that much worse.”

(Lytek, sighing) “You have a point, young man.”

Hm… everything he could sense and deduce and remember said that mere thaumaturgy wouldn’t affect the forces forming those shards any more than a wisp of mist would disturb an atom bomb – and he couldn’t foresee anything bad happening.

He gave into the temptation and let the most delicate, whisker-thin, thaumaturgical probe gently touch the edge of the forces at work within the cabinet. It would recoil instantly if it somehow disturbed the matrix or encountered rejection.

If anything it was ignored or perhaps even… accepted. There was the faintest hint of resonance, and of a link, and perhaps even of indulgent – or whimsical – acceptance of a marveling audience.

Huh… The gods had intended the Exalted to serve as their army. The Solars were the great leaders, the Lunars their lieutenants, the Sidereals their intelligence operatives, and the Dragon-Blooded the sergeants and shock troopers – even if the primary forces had been made up of the Dragon Kings and he other primal races… These shards, on the other hand, seem intended for support. The types seemed to roughly correspond to envoys, diplomats, tactical specialists, assassins, and something best described as an acquisitions specialist. He got a feeling of darkness off of them – but not the nastiness associated with soulsteel.

Bleah! A good thing the war was over and he could resign being in the army! Armies made such a mess!

(Charles) “Hmm… These new Shards seem to grant more supportive powers than the earlier ones. I think they’re basically “civilian” things. Designed to make things work well instead of combat. I think that’s a very good thing! There’s a kind of darkness about them, but I think that’s just the adamant power-signature – and the fact that, at the moment, they’re almost purely absorbing power rather than radiating any. I’d say… if the current rate continues… less than a week until they’re complete. It may slow or accelerate during the final stages though, so it’s hard to say!”

(Lytek) “I had noticed the darkness myself. That’s one of the reasons I was worried. And only a week? Oh dear. But it is something new to work on. I haven’t had that for many millennia.”

(Charles) “If it is Mr Autochthon, he’s really really good!”

Well, OK, that more or less went without saying.

He spent some time providing Lytek with every bit of information HE could extract – although his guesses as to likely powers and things did have to be fairly general.

(Lytek) “I do appreciate your assistance, Charles – especially at this hour… Hm. Do you have any time left between school, work, and your various projects any longer? You shouldn’t short yourself on sleep and recreation at your age.

(Charles) “Well… It is pretty busy right now, and I have a dinner appointment – but I’m not quite late yet!”

(Lytek) “Well, let me pay for your boat fare, if you have any. It’s the least I could do.”

(Charles) “Ok! And I’ll let you know if I find out anything else about those! Besides… watching some new shards being put together was well worth the trip!”

Well, that had confirmed many of his own suspicions, as well as offering some new insights. The boy really was very good. Besides… telling Charles about what was going on got it off Nara-O’s books, keeping the information that much more secret. Almost as importantly, the boy had picked up on his desire for privacy and spun a subtle divination-ward on the office for more privacy and an illusion around the cabinet (carefully NOT touching the new shards) of “business as usual”, in case someone tried to peek. Those would be easy enough for any major power to break – but hard to notice to know that you needed to, and if you did it would be quite noticeable to him. That wasn’t at all a bad precaution, and it would be easy to cover if anyone came asking. It was quite amazing how far the boy was getting with Thaumaturgy.

The attendant was waiting discretely down the corridor to escort Charles out – and he still had a little while to prepare for dinner!

That was harder… At least Kiko wasn’t generally known as a Solar. Still, it would be best to find a way to go quietly. Oh! That’d be easy! There were illusion-penetrating effects in plenty, but it was REALLY hard to see through a simple bit of shapeshifting. Thaumaturgy wasn’t up to the kind of things Lunars could do – even at his level – but there were lots of smaller changes you could make.

Yu-Shan offered lots of ways to dodge too… He mixed with some of the students and traffic, set up a minor illusion of a change of clothes and such, did the shapeshift underneath, teleport-hopped past a crowd and a barrier (OK, he could only manage about sixty feet with thaumaturgy, but that was plenty for this), checked for anyone monitoring or watching him, and sent off his illusion-self along the street while ducking down an alley.

If that didn’t cover it, anyone following him was way too alert and determined to shake… That might not have been entirely wise of course. If anyone was watching, they were hardly likely to miss the determined effort to lose pursuit, and it wasn’t as if he normally spent much time playing with his powers that way… Hm. Maybe if he made it a regular chase-game with Ixian? Or even some of the students and trainees? Wasn’t there an after-school club for that? It was a regular part of Sidereal-style training.

Oh! He had the PERFECT excuse! He didn’t want anyone to know because it was a dinner invitation! With a GIRL!

Oh well. Who’d be spending that much effort monitoring a god-blood? So far at least no one really seemed to think that he was anything more, and as long as he stuck to Thaumaturgy they were unlikely to… It was extraordinarily GOOD thaumaturgy, but who paid attention to that stuff anyway? It wasn’t as if the odds against it being anything more weren’t hundreds of millions to one.

Oh yes! He had to mail Mr Anderson his cherry-glazed nuts! That was easy though. There were some mail-drops set up with the messenger-gods…

Later on a very nice thank you note, with impeccably calligraphy and the paper tingling with air essence, turned up at his mundane Atlanta address.

He took a passenger liner to Yesteryears… It was less conspicuous and would let him keep an eye – and a few detection effects – out for surveillance… It was full or tired gods, and even more tired mortals and god-bloods, heading home after a long day of work. Fortunately, there didn’t seem to be any save for a bored god or two with a mildly-curious eye on the apparently unremarkable kid with extra energy and coin to spend.

He got off a stop early just in case… Besides, he liked to look at the shops in this district! The “antique” theme was very educational and you never knew what you’d find! Sometimes there were good ingredients, or old scrolls and partial formulas, and all kinds of stuff!

Hm… That moonsilver trinket in the shop window of “Alkibar’s Shop of Rarities” looked pretty interesting. It seemed to undulate and twist as he looked at it!

(Charles) “Oh neat! And without anyone attuning it so far as I can see! Most portable things are inactive when not attuned! Mr Alukbar please? What’s that and how much is it?

(Alukbar.) “Ah, an eye for exotics! My divinations state that it is a moonsilver choker, but it’s hard to tell with the movement. Do you have a salary, young man? It is a bit of a formality, but we do have occasional mortal visitors.”

(Charles) “Yes! And some cash, unless someone’s gone off with it… Nope! Still here! Or I could trade!”

(Alukbar, steepling his fingers) “I like trading. It gets me more merchandise! Please, show me what you have to offer. Or do you know anyone with goods they would like to part with?”

Charles kind of got the feeling that he wouldn’t be trading with someone as young-looking as he was if they didn’t have a salary or a guardian.

(Charles) “Well, first… what do you think it’s worth and do you know anything about it? Good information is worth more, especially if it actually does something. If it doesn’t seem to do anything but puzzle people, it’s not really worth all that much!”

(Alukbar) “Its warping and twisting extends to its Essence, I fear. My thaumaturgy is of little use in determining what it would do, and my Charms are of little more help. Since it is jewelry, I would suspect some kind of protective ability. I would part with it for five hundred Quintessence coins, or the mortal equivalent. Though I am open to bargaining…”

Hm, that was a bit pricey! Roughly equivalent to fifty thousand dollars, and expensive for his salary…

(Charles) “Hm. I could trade! Lets see… Running a shop like this one, perhaps a Privacy Veil? Helps keep your negotiations private and your business discreet!”

(Alukbar) “That would be quite useful. How soon could you ship it here?”

(Charles) “Well, right now really. You never know when one might be handy!”

(Alukbar) “Then send it over, and I will trade you the necklace when it gets here.”

Charles was busy fishing around in his pack, in which were many strange objects…

(Charles) “Here we are!”

(Alukbar) “Ah, thank you very much! That’s an impressive pack you have there. Perhaps you could trade me something else for one of them. It would save overhead.”

Hm? There wasn’t anything on the pack but a thaumaturgic enhancement-spell to let it hold more and weigh less with a decent duration. It wasn’t anything an extremely minor artifact wouldn’t do just as well… Well, that particular tweak on Thaumaturgic travel magic WAS pretty rare.

(Charles) “Oh, I’ll see if I can find one for you then! “

That WOULD have to be delivered though. You couldn’t safely put one spacewarp – however minor – inside another one.

(Charles) “And I’ll stop by again when I’ve got a little more time to look at things!”

(Alukbar) “Have a good evening, then.”

(Charles) “You too!”

Charles tucked the away the neat little thing to puzzle over later in one of his packs well-secured inside pockets. You never knew with unknown artifacts!

The rest of the walk to YesterYears was pleasant enough, and he even found some interesting and exotic herbal extracts along the way. The restaurant was in a fairly pleasant middle class district of Yu Shan, and did a brisk business. There seemed to have been a hasty alteration to the menu outside: apparently the availability of certain equines had changed, and you need to ask the server about those.

Hipparions were too cute to eat anyway!

Well… unless you were a  god of horse predators, in which case it was probably a rare treat. Still, that just meant they were off the theme menus at Yesteryears, they’d be going ON the menu at places that specialized in currently-available foods.

Of course, it was all made form quintessence – or, in the VERY expensive restaurants, ambrosia – anyway.

He asked for the… oh, yes… the “Gri Fel” party, and was directed to a private dining room… He was still about five minutes early – and was apparently the first to arrive. The place was completely enclosed, and came with a basic anti-divination ward.

He spent the first couple of minutes hanging up a privacy veil – and, while any observers would (hopefully) be re-adjusting to get past it and the restaurants privacy spell, hung an illusion under it of the room pretty much as it was – but with a slightly differing conversation (about wanting an artifact made) when the others turned up. Hopefully anyone spying would take a few seconds to adjust to penetrate the Veil and then not realize that there was a slight illusion-twist underneath it.

Three more people turned up very shortly… Kiko (he hadn’t known that she even OWNED a dress!), a nervous-looking god in faded and threadbare robes (almost certainly Gri Fel), and a young spectacled man about Kiko’s age. Oh yes! He’d fixed his sisters little four-room manse in Atlanta. That place where they’d tunneled out a connection into the storm drain…

(Charles) “Hi there! What’s up?”

(Kiko) “Hey little dude! The boss wanted to see what Yu-Shan was like these days, so here we are.”

(Charles) “Uhm… It’s a bit run-down I think! Or at least so I’m told and the records say…”

(Gri Fel) “Perhaps, but that’s better than it being rubble. I know how painful that is.”

Hmmm… Oh yes! Gri Fel! From the Second Age! God of the Realm’s Imperial City. Unfortunately, the place had been destroyed beyond recovery, leaving Gri Fel out of a job. Still?! That was sad!

Unfortunately, a new city was a bit out of his range at the moment – especially making it at all close to that one. Extinct species were one thing, cities were quite another! Perhaps one day… or a substitute city. It wouldn’t be the same – but it would be a start and it could be improved over time.

(Gri Fel) “Now I saw you put up a ward. What was that for? Nothing untoward, I hope.”

(Charles) “Oh, just general precautions! A lot of people like their privacy, but spying is one of the major industries around here!”

(Gri Fel) “I may have some side work for you then. But enough with business for now. Let us start the tea ceremony.”

He pulled out a tea set, grabbed Kiko’s soda, and started pouring it into the kettle. Kiko looked annoyed, but didn’t say anything – while the young man with the glasses seemed to be taking it in stride.

Gri Fel guided them all through a formal Second Age Realm tea ceremony. Somehow he managed to transform the soda into a vintage of tea from that age – and it was a very good blend. And after a couple of hours, the ceremony was done. That was a good thing; Charles had been increasingly torn between wanting to impress Gri Fel and fidgeting wildly… At least he’d been able to remember enough of it from the old texts to participate correctly without fidgeting. Kiko is a bit fidgety too, although she clearly didn’t want to anger her boss. The other young man was quite graceful though.

The server, when he arrived, appeared to be a velociraptor carrying a pen and a pad in its tiny arms.

(Server) “Hi, I’m Joey. What can I get you tonight?”

Charles promptly ordered his favorite: Triceratops shishkabob!

Kiko ordered the mammoth special. The young man opted for the Cretaceous salad special. Gri Fel appeared disturbed by all the extinct species from the Second Age, but eventually settled on the dodo roast.

Oh well. At least Triceratops had gone out during the reign of the Dragon Kings anyway!

(Gri Fel) “Now Charles, Aikiko tells me you run a factory cathedral.”

(Charles) “Just starting really, but yes. Did you need something made?”

(Gri Fel) “I’m sure I can think of something, but not today. Today has been… disorienting.”

(Charles) “Is anything wrong?”

(Gri Fel) “Well, I heard that Chejop Kejak had reincarnated, but when I found his location, these Sidereals stopped me. They claimed to be Bronze Faction, but they had no idea who I was! And then they escorted me out of the building! I just wanted to ask him what happened, for Incarna’s sake!”

(Kiko) “It’s okay, boss. I’m going to show them someday!”

(Charles) “Weird! Maybe they were just youngsters?”

(Gri Fel) “But they should know who I am. I helped them build their faction in Creation, and this is how they repay me? What is this world coming to?”

Gri Fel sighed and sank back into his chair. Kiko appeared to be used to this.

(Glasses) “Is this what typically happens to gods who lose their domains? That’s just not right.”

(Charles, quietly) “It’s something like that – and no, it isn’t.”

(Glasses, holding out his hand to shake) “We met briefly in Atlanta. I’m Mitchell Cartier. Kiko invited me to meet her employer, and I managed to talk her into getting this dining room.”

(Charles) “Well, I’m pleased to really meet you. I didn’t know that Kiko was working for anyone in particular really, but I’m pleased to meet his honor Gri Fel as well. So many things were lost then, and later. Hopefully, nothing need be lost forever.”

(Mitchell) “I would like to see the same. That’s why I’m here. I’d like to ask him about the Dragon-Blooded of his time – and I was curious about the restaurant, too. Kiko told me it was a blast.”

(Charles) “It is a fun restaurant! I don’t know too much about the dragon-blooded from back then, save that there were a lot more and they pretty much ran things for awhile!”

Hm. Didn’t Mitchell usually hang out with his sister? Well, he didn’t really want to ask. They hadn’t seemed to have the sense to stay quiet, and what if something had happened to her?

(Mitchell) “My research says they did it openly, and with Sidereal backing. I was always taught to call Sidereals Insidious.” (Mitchell furrows his brow). “Does anybody know what happened between then and now? I can’t find any records on that.”

Charles could fill him in on some of the general recent history. The Sidereals and Alchemicals alike wanted to keep it under wraps – but he’d had some sources, even if not a lot of detail. Most importantly, something outside of Fate had turned the Dragon-Blooded against the Sidereals, the old “arcane fate” problem no longer existed, and modern Terrestrial jade artifacts often bore little resemblance to the artifacts of old. In fact, they tended to have an outright industrial, electronic, or steampunk feel when they weren’t outright pieces of clockwork.

Of course, it was really no surprise that – once they could remember them – the Terrestrials had turned against the Sidereals. Such a lot of the Sidereals just seemed to be naturally GOOD at upsetting everyone they dealt with.

Mitchell and Gri Fel appreciated the information.

(Gri Fel) “So that’s why none of the Terrestrials have visited me. The Chosen of the Maidens must be worried about the ambushes. To think that my former friends have turned against their backers…”

(Charles) “Well, few organizations manage to get along for too long when they’ve got opposing goals – such as controlling everything they’re interested in!”

(Gri Fel smiled at that) “And they kept that control for longer than any of us gods imagined. Those were troublesome times, and yet I would gladly trade them for now.”

Charles couldn’t honestly say that the days of the wild hunt, the bronze faction, and the realm or shogunate, were something he thought fondly of, or would like to revisit – and Mitchell and Kiko seem to agree with him – but there was no point in arguing with a lonely old god who missed the good old days.

The server slipped in with the food a few minutes later. It was hot from the kitchen, of course. That was standard in Celestial restaurants, which would never tolerate so much as a single degree’s drop in temperature. It was a delicious meal, although Gri Fel did say that it was nothing like the restaurants in the Imperial City. (He did like the food, but he missed the ambiance of the Realm.)

Gri Fel really did need a new City. Hm… Arcosanti – or something similar – might be an excellent starting point for him… He just needed a Rod of Construction… He’d have to design one. It didn’t seem like it would be too hard to make. Did the place have a city god yet? Definitely worth looking into. It normally took decades to assign one. Such appointments tended to get caught up in a lot of red tape and politics. But he WAS currently domainless – and Yu Shan DID do one thing right; it favored the domainless who hadn’t gone completely over the bend.

Ixian was willing to work check on that for him… It didn’t take too long. Arcosanti’s status was awkward. The Bureau of Nature and the Bureau of Humanity had been arguing over who got to assign a deity. The Bureau of Humanity claimed that a settlement was in its domain no matter how close to nature and organic it was. The Bureau of Nature argued that Arcosanti had enough outdoor and undeveloped space to be a small nature preserve. It was actually one of the stickier conflicts between the two right now. They didn’t have much of any magic in operation there – although there might be a thaumaturge working on the bells.

Hm. There might be room to push a little there if he could find an angle. Maybe get a favor out of one of the Sidereals who wanted unofficial artifacts?

Hm. If Fri Fel showed up and started improving the place might he wind up in charge simply by virtue of adding a temple to himself? Nah. Right general idea – but he was pretty sure that you’d need to get through all the red tape anyway. Besides… he got the feeling that the most potent thing in the poor old guy’s panoply right now was that tea set.

On the other hand, if he made him a useful artifact, and set him up with some help, and perhaps an ally…

This might take a little more thought. He’d have to research the rod first, and determine if it was even practical…

(Charles) “Uhm, your honor? Gri Fel? I might have an idea… is there any way I could get in touch with you later on?”

(Gri Fel) “Well, Kiko seems to know how to reach you. Why don’t you contact me through her? I’m afraid I have little means of doing so on my own.”

(Charles) “OK! It will probably be a week or two though… Maybe more. It might be a lot harder than I think.”

(Gri Fel) “I have the time to wait. And that was a wonderful meal. Now how are we handling the bill?”

Charles got it as tactfully as he could manage. He was probably the only one who actually had sources of income.

Now Arcosanti was new, and was being arranged and built to harmonize with nature. It wouldn’t be too surprising if there were some potential demesnes there too – although nobody was likely to be using them these days.

Hm… According to Ixian, there was one building there. It was, as a desert demesne, leaning towards fire at the moment. There were definitely some possibilities there. He wasn’t quite ready to rush manse building, but if it’s only building it would be quite some time before it manifested anyway.

Oh! He’d almost forgotten! Had Kiko and Gri Fel actually wanted anything? There had been that inquiry about him running a factory-cathedral.

Oh. Gri Fel was just curious. They didn’t let children run factory-cathedrals in his day; even the Dragon-Blooded preferred to have older Exalts supervise theirs. He’d simply been wondering who pulled the strings – and Mitchell was just curious about what his sister had ordered.

Huh. He hadn’t really thought about that. Most factory-cathedrals in Yu Shan were run by actual gods, even the smaller ones. According to Ixian everyone was assuming that he had a divine backer who was actually running the show since he’d somehow beaten out a dozen divine candidates for the position. Popular candidates for his backer included Lytek, Six Color Amphora (the god of jade), and Vulcan – and “Backer” seemed to be interchangeable with “parent” as far as most of Yu-Shan was concerned.

Oh, his Grandfather was also apparently in the running for “Backer”, if not for “Parent”.

What did Gramps do anyway? He really had to find out one of these days.

He’d have to make VERY sure that his initial project didn’t flop…

It was pretty late when they left the restaurant, Kiko escorted Gri Fel back to his current residence, Mitchell headed off to his to check on his sister, and Charles – of course – headed home.

It was about time. He had to do some more work on things and get home to sleep! And he’d probably have to answer some messages from the museum people. There was little doubt that SOMEONE would be demanding to talk to him about his “machine”. Besides, he wanted to spend a few minutes looking at the moonsilver thing, and recording his notes and impressions on creating exaltations properly. Those could be important!

Back in Atlanta, there were indeed some messages for him… One from the museum people, demanding a more technical explanation for how his machine had worked and wanting to meet with him. One from the Bureau of Nature, wanting to meet him in about a week to discuss WHY he’d brought back the hipparions. Lastly, one from somebody called Three Toes, who had also sent a gift.

Well, the museum people would have to wait until tomorrow. He could probably concoct an “explanation” that would take a month to decipher and still sound semi-plausible even if the final “answer” was “I don’t know how that happened”. The Bureau appointment wasn’t to worry about for a week – although he’d have to inform them that he was just getting organized at the factory-cathedral and the meeting might be a bit rushed. They probably wouldn’t care.

“Three Toes” was presumably the god of Hipparions. His message was a thank you. The gift appeared to be very fine grass, suitable for the best of the stud farm.

Ah, it was either more a gift for the Hipparions or Three Toes was way out of practice (if he was ever in practice) with dealing with human beings. He sent back a “you’re welcome and thank you for your gift” and… some long-extinct candied nuts from the candy store! Sure to be popular with a horse-deity!

Time to get some sleep. Tomorrow was, as usual, another day!

Atheria – a Smorsgasbord of Darklord

Demon earth

It's a look.

Atheria – How do Darklords do their Stuff?

Editorial0 has been looking into the Lesser Dark Lords of Atheria.

On Atheria, where ritual magic comes with knowledge, the ritual of Drawing Down the Dark – asking the aid of the dark powers – is simple and easy. Sadly, while mortals often want to pay for aid with things like money, wine, slaves, worship, and bearing children, those things are of no actual use to the true Darkness.

Thus it delegates. It sets up a secure gateway to a Lesser Dark Lord – a powerful mortal who can help with the problem and who wants that stuff. The Lesser Dark Lord (such as Thrall here) answers the request, accepts the payment (or not as they deem fit) – and provides a tithe of the power that they aren’t using today, or occasional genuinely worthwhile services, to the true Darkness in exchange for it providing communication with, and transportation to and from, customers.

Need an edge for that duel tomorrow? Your walls repaired before the siege? An escape from a sticky situation? Somewhere out there is a Lesser Dark Lord who can provide it – and is just waiting for you to place the call.

Most Lesser Dark Lords are morally dubious, and mercenary at best – but actually being “evil” is not required for the job. You just have to be powerful, willing to accept what people are offering, and want the job.

Ein, of course, is carrying out some in-character investigationss.  -Thoth

“The Dark Side is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be… unnatural.”

Ein just finished investigating the techniques used by Darklords, and more specifically, the hidden “Power(s?)” who allow and support the Darklord’s rituals.

What we know:

(1) Darklords generally need some kind of magical competence, even if only for ritual magic.
(2) The Powers are willing to trade for souls, wealth, slaves, and who-knows-what-else. If they don’t want it themselves, they can apparently trade it to others.
(3) Darklords gain extra magical energy (or at least the ability to act as mediators for various pacts and an attunement to the Drawing Down the Dark ritual, which is  apparently greatly overpowerd for it’s difficulty – Thoth) from the Powers, who don’t seem to care very much about to whom they grant it.
(4) Someone, something, or some group, which people varying call “Shadow” or “Darkness,” seems to be behind this.

The result is obvious: you pays your money and you takes your magics. The mechanism is… less obvious. The energy simply seems to show up, probably because the ritual creates a mystic link to somewhere or somewhen*.

*Ein recently learned that different dimensions are not only meta-spatially distributed, they are meta-temporally distributed. Worse yet, neither of these terms can be properly interpreted by the merely mortal mind, because they involve existence on a level orders of “magnitude” greater than he occupies.

We have some possible sources:

(1) The Powers behind this could have a ton of magic themselves, and simply sell it.
(2) They may be able to get energy from entropy or destruction, hence killing slaves and destroying wealth.
(3) They may have a large store of it from trading off the slaves and stuff, taking a cut for themselves.
(4) They’re running a Chelmian Afterlife scheme on a huge scale, and probably sell off their personal power.

Number (3) looks like a very reasonable  answer – it would make the universe a nice, orderly place in many ways, though with human lives treated as nothing more than a commodity*. It’s also unlikely. We definitely don’t see anyone selling off slaves in exchange for magical power. Of course, they might be in another universe which needs people. The problem here is that Atheria is almost a perfect universe for that kind of thing: lots of hard men with dubious morals and excess magic.

*Then again, what else is now?

Further, we haven’t yet seen any Darklords in the new universe our characters are exploring. Which would seem to be rather odd, since they’d benefit even more than Atherians, where it’s reasonably common if disreputable. You’d expect Darklord-ism to be everywhere. Of course, Darklord techniques might be local. And this could easily support (4). If the Powers are Chelmian, or even the Darkness itself, it’d have power to waste and might enjoy stocking an afterlife with all kinds of people.

We do know it’s something of a banking scheme. That is, the Powers borrow magic and sell it in exchange for slaves and such. What precisely they do with all of them isn’t clear, but Darklords do get offers through the Powers’ matching services.

Leaving the issue of WHO and WHY aside, we still can ask HOW. That’s even more complex, but we do have some better-defined channels. We know that…

(1) The Powers and the Darklord in question have a pact.
(2) The Darklord carries out a ritual to set up the initial pact, though he or she doesn’t need much beyond that.
(3) Objects and persons ritually offered to the Darkness seem to wind up being allotted to the Darklords – although most take payments directly.
(4) Magical power of some kind apparently flows back to the Darklord.

From this, we can conclude that the ritual opens the way for the rest. Once the ritual starts, the link is established and the “business deal” can commence. From this, we can conclude that whatever the Powers are, they have enough magical power to reach between worlds or across effectively infinite distances – far greater than the teleportation possible in Atheria. The Powers take whatever it is they get. (It’s possible they’re trading the energy on the spot, using up a portion of their income to instantly boost the Darklord.)

The only theory I’ve got right now runs along the lines of: The Darkness is roughly all places in some aspect. It’s beyond time and space and fundamental to the reality of things (because in order for anything to exist, we must have something which implicitly does *not* exist) Hence, being everywhere, it has links which connect everyone and everything. Anything lost it can find, and anything it has it can move. It doesn’t need super-high-level magic, because it is an aspect of reality. Now, whether we’ve just got someone who knows where the doors are, or whether we actually have some incarnate existence pulling the strings, is a question we can’t readily answer, and quite possibly a matter of abstract philosophy.

Thoth says that the “Light” sometimes just does things for free just because, but apparently only for some major, exceedingly important purpose. But it’s not controllable and doesn’t bargain. I’d bet it goes where it wants and you’re not stopping it, but isn’t omnipresent like the Shadow.

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 63

From left to right: Daniel, Boone, Miles, Mich...

Who are all these people?

I awoke to find Virstris standing over us in the early morning light. She looked like she had a rough night judging from the scrapes, but didn’t seem the least bit hungover.

(Virstris) Well aren’t you two a cute couple!

(Valerie) Just a bit tired from performing for the crowd last night. Any word on how the others are doing?

(Virstris) Augusta is pretty tanked right now, Ban disappeared with a local last night, and Vincent is busily helping those that partied a bit too hard.

(Valerie) Alright, get them rounded up, fed, and then back aboard the Mrs Beasley. I’m sure Vincent can help Augusta with her issues.

(Kira) You just need a pilot able to hold his liquor.

(Valerie) I want a pilot with more blood than liquor in him.

(Kira) Can’t argue there.

While Virstris went to round them all up, Valerie and I called the “family” here on Alderaan. At first my alternate’s mother answered and looked really confused for a moment before realizing what was going on. Once that happened, she quickly gathered much of the family before the screen to get in on the conversation. It looked like even the Soungs and other married in families like the Tethys and Mauves were also in attendance. There were greetings all around before the conversation really started.

(Kira) Sorry we can’t be there in person, but the resonance between us and our alternates causes a number of issues.

(Sabrina) Looks like you bunch were out partying last night.

(Kira) Hey, saving a galaxy and ending a war I think entitles us to a little rest and relaxation.

(Viridiana) I suppose we will let you off with that. Codifiers do love to host a party.

For some reason that last statement struck me as odd despite how reasonable it was. It took me several moments to place why.

(Kira) Tell me, do any of you know of a Glithe family?

(Sabrina) No, why?

(Kira) Just a random thought.

It was probably me being paranoid and reading too much into Viridiana’s statement.

There was more discussions from there about how things were going with family life, business, and such before we finally settled down to discussing our concerns regarding Alys’s new constitution and the unsaid implications it made regarding troublesome people. We made sure that they had copies of the blueprints for building the transtemporal hypertunnel system, coordinates for our own galaxy, and instructions on how to get in touch with either the Varen or Jedi Councils in case they ran into problems and needed more help. They thought I was being a bit paranoid about it all, and played along enough to take the offered materials and promise to ask for help if needed.

It was about the time we finished that, that Virstris showed up with Augusta, Ban, and Vincent. None of them looked especially well rested, but we loaded into the shuttle and returned to the Mrs Beasley. We were met at the shuttle bay with a massive scene involving hundreds of droids, lots of yelling, and a number of security forces. It looked like they had decided to revive Elder Ben and Jacob and Elder Ben was now at the center of the commotion. It actually looked like the droids were using crowbars to pry Ben loose centimeter by centimeter as they dragged him into the shuttle as he protested kicking and screaming the whole way. Much of it was unintelligible, but the general gist seemed to be that he thought I was going to use the Mrs Beasley to destroy the galaxy or some such nonsense.

I found Alys standing off to the side shaking her head.

(Kira) I take it some sort of deal was reached?

(Alys) Yes, although his learning of your arrival has reignited his reluctance to let us borrow the ship for a while. But my Elder self , our Ben, and I approved of the plan.

By this point the droids had gotten Elder Ben to the hatch of the shuttle and were busily trying to use their swarming mass to push Ben the rest of the way. I casually walked up behind the droids with a smug grin on my face as I watched the whole proceeding. Elder Ben caught sight of me quickly enough and renewed his efforts to escape without much effect. The droids finally managed to shove him into the shuttle and hold him there as the hatch closed. I couldn’t resist walking up to the closing hatch and giving some parting words.

(Kira) I just wanted to let you know how much it means to me that you are letting me borrow this magnificent vessel! I am sure that with a few minor modifications, it will suit my purposes quite nicely indeed! Thank you!

That wound him up even further and I could hear him pounding his fists and feet into the hatch door trying to force it open and get to me. I could hear his screaming through the hull of the shuttle even. The shuttle then took off and departed for the planet below as I waved goodbye.

(Valerie) You neglected to tell him that those modifications you wanted were a hot tub and a large game room.

(Kira) Oh I am sure he understood. Besides, it is not very often that I get the opportunity to thank people while being absolutely evil about it. Consider it payback for naming this ship after that woman.

(Virstris) And once he gets to the surface, he is going to find a Kira Keldav considered a local hero – and that another Kira Keldav is widely considered a major savior of the galaxy.

(Augusta) Welcome to hell?

(Valerie) Umm, best that I send a message planetside for our alternates to watch out for a certain crazed superweapon designer.

(Kira) You know, I am going to be annoyed if this is what starts the whole building superweapons to destroy Alderaan craze.

(Valerie) I doubt it.

Ben had actually had a fairly extensive talk with his older self – admittedly, via a comlink to avoid the feedback-headache – and had traded quite a lot of technology. His elder version had never done much with subspace (and had doubts about any drive that required pointing a lightsaber at yourself) – especially since that meant that a big radiation pulse would create a high-powered lightsaber blast throughout your entire ship.

Ben hadn’t thought of that particular nightmare scenario; it was quite sobering. He’d have to do something about that potential suicidal problem…

Alys was kind of busy… She needed to set up a transfer code for her pension start work on improving her armor, and talk with her older alternate self about foods to try, planets to avoid, and other minutiae.

Lazlo was wandering… Somehow gratitude just felt WRONG. Either he was having aftereffects of probing Huriel so wrong or he was so used to people chasing and shooting at him that he got upset when it WASN’T happening.

Jacob had completed twenty new saberships! He had his own little flotilla!

The republic military had – of course – wanted a lot more information and control over what this band of interdimensional oddities got up to, but – as usual – the group pretty much just thumbed their nose at them. It wasn’t like they could be easily followed when they jumped dimensions.

I got cleaned up and found some food after that. Droids had delivered the various souvenirs and goods I had bought planetside to my room and I began sorting and putting those away for the time being. I also found a care package from the “family” waiting for me as well. I made a mental note to be sure and come back to visit some time. This world wasn’t as pretentious as my homeworld was.

On the bridge, Ben and I proceeded to get into an argument over which of us had alternates that have caused more devastation to galactic civilization. The discussion really started getting ridiculous at times as we fired verbal shots at each other. It was at the point when I countered that I managed to kill the Ben that had destroyed the galactic infrastructure just by talking to him that I noticed the crew looking at us with horrified expressions. Well, at least the Republic techs were horrified. The Sith technicians and the ones from Alderaan that had been with us for quite some time thought it was funny. Oh well, with any luck, the Republic technicians will only be able to report to the Republic that a Kira Keldav was on board talking about superweapons.

Soon enough though it was time to begin preparations for departure to another universe. The others seemed to be bored and wanted to head to another universe to explore for a bit. I was fine wasting time here, but I was outvoted. The discussion turned to trying to visit some sort of semi-historical galaxy to learn what we could about how our own civilization came about. That only mildly interested me, but I had no better ideas. Alys coached me a bit on the details of galactic history to help me steer and then we started up the trans-temporal hyperdrive. We activated the hyperdrive and I steered the best I could to a destination we weren’t especially aiming for.

For once, it was mostly Ben pushing for such a destination. He was fairly sure that the Censor was cumulative – so if you found a universe that was very young, the Censor wouldn’t be forbidding much of anything yet – and who knew what exotic technologies could be developed or found!

Alys had no objections. She’d always been interested in history – and, of course, the further back you went, the more common elements there should be. OK, there might well be some reason why that was totally wrong – she was no theoretician – but a historical trip should be interesting in any case.

Lazlo had wanted to see a younger universe for reasons of his own – and Kira hadn’t really objected any. He had a few speculations about the censor and the dark side that he wanted to look into anyway.

We arrived in what looked to be a nebula. Further scans showed it to be a rapidly expanding nebula around the exploded remnants of a star. Especially disturbing was the fact that a good portion of that nebula was expanding at a significant fraction of lightspeed. There was also a lot of subspace and hyperspace chatter bouncing about. Then we saw a ship on scanners that looked vaguely like the Mrs Beasley approaching us. Then the ship hailed us.

I was surprised to see a Kreedath appear on the screen, and it looked to be surprised to see us as well. It started speaking to us in a language I didn’t understand, but Alys seemed to be able to. Alys translated for us as best she could for several minutes as I tried to get a handle on how the language worked. Apparently this was some sort of quarantine zone against the Yeveetha threat and the Infinite Empire Kreedath (Rakata in this time?) were busily using superweapons to blow up stars and exterminate the Yeveetha. How this managed to keep working despite the Censor was an open question to me.

I finally started to get a handle on the whole language structure right about the time it started insulting our lack of familiarity with it’s language. Then it proceeded to demand that we surrender and become slaves to the Infinite Empire or some such. Seriously, less than ten minutes after meeting us, it starts this nonsense.

(Kira) Bite me.

(Rakata) Excuse me?

What, was this creature asking to be eaten? Had someone, somewhere, actually entrusted a major vessel to a mentally damaged crew?

Alys was quite annoyed at that… They were an unidentified major ship in a war zone and the Rakata HADN’T started shooting! Their initial query had been reasonable enough, and their implicit assumption that everyone else was of a subordinate species was… pretty reasonable as well given the situation. After all, they currently ruled the galaxy, and had been doing so for a very long time; all the other species WERE subordinate. Thus the assumption that anyone else they met would have been required to learn their language in kindergarten!

Of course, then Jacob (with a little help from Lazlo) had proclaimed himself to be an idiot that had been thrown out of his home universe for incompetence, and that the rest of them were the same, and that they possessed the ability to navigate the dimensions. At that point demanding that an unknown ship with a self-proclaimed crew of lunatics turn over drive control and get escorted out of the “containment zone” was… entirely rational. Jacob was GOOD at straining people’s patience, and the Rakata weren’t exactly known for that quality anyway…

Oh well. If she couldn’t talk them down, they’d just have to jump again. It wasn’t likely that the approaching Rakata ship had anything that would penetrate the Mrs Beasley’s shields faster than they could jump; those shields had stood up to a galactic fleet!

I felt Valerie’s head hit the console at that point. I apparently had not earned any points in her eyes for the moment, but I had bigger issues to deal with. Like the massive ship heading towards us while demanding that we slave our controls to it’s… I was about to give the order to engage the hyperdrive again when Jacob got a really stupid look on his face and seemed to get excited. At that point my precognition started blaring major warnings about an imminent catastrophe.

Oh hell.

A number of us tried to rush Jacob at once, but sadly none of us made it in time as we could feel him reach out with the Force and push buttons. The bridge seemed to light up like a star had suddenly appeared on board as I felt the ship lurge hard to the side and I hit one of the walls. Klaxons were blaring about massive damage to the ship, everyone was swearing madly, and I suddenly felt really sick.

My entire body felt like it was sunburned, I also had a headache, nausea, dizziness, and I had a metallic taste in my mouth. That combined with the fact that I was still seeing tiny flashes of light even with my eyes closed was not a good sign by any means. I had been in enough disaster preparedness programs on Alderaan to know the signs of a massive radiation dose when I saw one. The fact that I was still alive was a good sign that we might recover given time, but the massive damage reports that were coming in weren’t encouraging regarding our survival for much longer.

I decided then and there that Jacob was going to die first. Unfortunately, he was nowhere to be found. I was focusing too much of my concentration towards keeping functional to bother trying to find and hunt down the atavist. Ben started reporting that we had been hit with a massive blast from a lightsaber type weapon, probably similar in design to how we speculated the Death Star from the holos might operate – but scaled up into a Starbreaker. As interesting as that might have been, I was more concerned with the current state of the hyperdrive and the neutronium containment system, but Smoche kept ignoring our questions as he concentrated on the control panels feverishly. Then we received notice that Jacob had departed in one of his ridiculous lightsaber ships to do battle with the Rakata ship in a massive lightsaber duel.

You selfish son of a bitch!

He sees a giant lightsaber and so he immediately goes to do battle with it after activating it himself and very nearly killing us all? Several of the others reached similar conclusions and started swearing loudly. I watched as Jacob proceeded to get his ass handed to him in combat as Smoche tried to cycle the remains of the hyperdrive and get us into another trans-temporal jump to safety. Handell did some sort of weird spinning manuever right as we made the jump into hyperspace.

Jacob had realized his error when the Rakata ship’s main weapon – a Starbreaker beam – had grazed the Mrs Beasleys shields. The shields had shattered instantly, and the particle-storm had vaporized hundreds of cubic miles of the ship and irradiated the rest. Still, you could parry a lightsaber beam with another lightsaber beam! He’d gone for a sabership to try and hold off the Rakata… Unfortunately, most of their crystal shields had failed, and the resulting blasts had destroyed yet MORE of the ship – but he could pour enough power into the one he was attuned to to get it to function…

The Rakata were not happy to be dealing with a powerful Manipulator (and self-proclaimed lunatic). Manipulators caused too many malfunctions and made too much trouble, and it didn’t help that this one appeared to be at least partially in control of a major ship! Fortunately, from all appearances, the ship had taken massive damage when the idiot Manipulator had fired their main gun at his own vessel; it was unlikely that it was in any shape to do much of ANYTHING. Ergo, all they had to do was to stop the lunatic who was now challenging them in a fighter and they could take all the idiots into custody in short order.

The wave of firepower directed at the fighter should be more than sufficient to take it out – and if the idiot died with it, it would be no more than he deserved. He’d refused to surrender after the first barrage crippled his fighter! He might live if he was smart enough to eject; no one would be targeting anything as small as an individual – and if he didn’t, it was a small loss!

Jacob was quite cross… He wasn’t even getting a chance to get near the enemy! They were firing from thousands of miles away! And they’d almost totally wrecked his ship already!

There wasn’t much time to control the jump or even much strength on my end to help direct the navigation any. Handell did some sort of microjump for some reason, then took the ship out of the dimension – frantically working with Smooche to try and overcome the massive damage, general systems failures, and horribly unbalanced configuration. He was, however, desperately wishing for a world of booze…

Unfortunately, with no time to really steer, the “wish-fulfillment” aspect of dimensional travel struck again. Handell wanted booze, Lazlo wanted less suicidal people to begin, Ben was worrying about where they could go that would have the industrial capacity to repair the Mrs Beasley, Kiraa wanted to see some sanity, Alys wanted somewhere with no Kreedath or Yeveetha, Jacob wanted to go somewhere he could find a ship like the Rakata’s, Smooche wanted to see the ultimate development of hyperspace technology, the Cook wanted every known delicacy catalogued and the recipes of universe available, and Valerie wanted to see the balance of the force and codex.

There was one place they knew of where all of that was available.

I do know that we dropped out of hyperspace fairly quickly and not in the immediate presence of any other massive ships. Everyone started working on arranging medical treatment for the crew or trying to salvage what was left of the hyperdrive and power systems. I checked to see that Valerie and the others were managing before being satisfied that no one was dead yet. We were probably going to die without medical treatment, but we had facilities and stasis belts. We just needed precious time.

A number of the Jacob-smacking droids appeared and began lamenting Jacob’s apparent death. Without a Jacob to beat, they had no purpose left in their system programming. I offered to make a series of clones that the droids could bludgeon to death repeatedly for as long as the genetic structure held out. This prompted the question from the droids as to whether or not this meant Jacob genes themselves were responsible for the blame as much as Jacob was. At this point, I figured it a fair assumption. I volunteered that there might even be premade clones of Jacob down in the medical bay deserving of severe punishment even now. I watched as the massive horde of droids began tripping over each other in their hurry to met out justice.

With a twinge of satisfaction I realized I could feel the atavist in the medical bay. I wasn’t sure how he got there, but I was glad he would soon meet the onrushing horde of droids eager to make his life hell. If there was some justice in the multiverse, then it was on it’s way towards Jacob now.

Handell had, whether brilliantly or stupidly, managed to engulf Jacob’s disintegrating sabership in the Mrs Beasley with the first microjump. If you had to have a power-up stutter, you might as well use it to rescue someone… even if it was only to kill them later.

Unfortunately, it looked like we had actually managed to get into even more serious trouble with that hyperspace jump. To all appearances, we had actually managed to end up in the Final Empire of all places. Luckily it looked like no one had spotted us yet, but the hyperdrive wasn’t going to be operational for some days. There wasn’t much to do except get the droids started on repairs, get the crew into stasis or medical, and stand watch in case of any trouble. I took Valerie down to medical for treatment first. We arrived to find a large horde of droids clustered around the door and surrounding hallways. Pushing our way through we saw that a large number of them were huddled around one of the medical beds beating it with non-lethal weapons.

WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM

(Medical Droid) No, no, stop that! That is not the proper way to be treating this patient! Give me that weapon! You’re supposed to do it like this, it hurts more!

WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM

(Droids) Ooooooooh!

(Kira) Valerie, do you want another medical bay? This one is going to be pretty noisy.

(Valerie) No, I like the entertainment in this one.

(Kira) Be sure to record it for me.

(Valerie) Will do.

I took first watch while the others went into treatment. Smoche was directing repairs from inside his bacta tube while Alys teleoperated security droids to help keep watch with me. I decided not to ask questions when the eight year old clone of Handell showed up and started drinking like a fish. It was probably one of those teleoperated clone things, but I had learned long ago not to question too deeply for the sake of my sanity.

Towards the end of the time I could just power through the damage using Force Endurance, we got indications of an intruder onboard the ship. Looked to be a number of tiny craft, almost like speeders in size. I figured it was a scouting party homing in on our hyperspace disturbance from when we arrived. Hopefully pleading injured status might buy us some time before a military force arrived to take us into custody.

Handell, Alys (via droid), and I intercepted the intruders near where they had boarded the ship. I was surprised to see a number of kids in their early teens wandering about. They didn’t feel alive per se though, and the fact that they showed no signs of any space gear despite having arrived on the equivalent of scooters was testament to something being out of the ordinary about these six.

Attempts to talk to them didn’t get very far. Attempts to ask them to leave us alone were ignored. Attempts to explain that we were injured and undergoing repairs and medical treatment got them excited about registering a claim over the ship and us. Explaining that the ship was ours, that we weren’t up for claim, and that we wouldn’t recognize their claim resulted in us being ignored. When they started talking about taking responsibility over us like pets, I started to get really irrate.

The kids were really rather excited… The ship was obviously both primitive (at least from a very superficial glance) and – even more obviously – a complete wreck. No one sensible could want to stay aboard this thing! They were using radiation-hardened remotes for their apprenticeships near the forge or they wouldn’t have dared to come aboard… There might be neat and salvageable stuff too! They could put in a salvage-claim!

Surprisingly enough, there were even a few surviving primitives aboard! They were obviously in pretty bad shape though… They called for medical assistance and filed a rescue-and-sponsorship claim on the primitives too!  That would rescue them, and get them into the Empire where things were best, and the percentage on the taxes on their salaries would provide a few extra luxury credits later on

Then the one primitive got all hostile. Couldn’t he tell that he was dying on his feet? Even if he was (surprisingly!) a pretty powerful Shaper-Disruptor.

It didn’t help that half their notions about primitives were derived from holo-dramas, and they were half-wondering where the spears and horned helmets were.

On Kira’s end, the lack of all the usual social cues and telepathic impressions that he’d learned to rely on wasn’t helping either.

Damn it, I have been treated like an outcast and monster enough in my life! I am not going to be someone’s pet on top of it all! I don’t care if they are using remotely operated droid clone bodies, I will find whatever tank they are hiding in and make them suffer if they try to actually enforce such a claim! I am NOT going to lose what freedom I still have because Jacob wanted to prove he had the bigger lightsaber! I will show them that trying to make a pet out of a hybrid like myself is a very poor decision and damn the conseq-

<Valerie> KIRA!!!

That snapped me out of my state and back into rational thought. Thankfully I had stopped before I had taken any rash action. Using the Force right now was going to cost me dearly, so I could only rely on the Codex given my current mood. But using the Codex was going to prevent me from using the Force to maintain my stamina any more. Oh well, I suppose the worst that could happen is that I fall unconscious in Hypertime and the others have to unstasis me later.

I pulled out a spare stasis belt and wrapped it around the youngster currently “checked out” to make the claim. That nicely slowed him down to something Handell and Alys could manage readily.

(Another Teenager) Hey, that wasn’t very nice!

Suddenly I am worth paying attention to. Well, it was time that these kids learn that life isn’t all about getting what they wanted when they wanted it. A smooth flick of the wrist flung a second stasis belt around another youngster and neatly stuck him in stasis too. The others then began to respond to my efforts, but it was a simple matter of stepping into Hypertime and quietly putting stasis belts around each of them in turn. It looked like remotely operating these bodies of theirs didn’t help them at all at anchoring a Codifier’s timerate. I could tell the lack of Force Endurance was quickly taking it’s toll on me as I hunted down the sixth and last kid…

With the last one in stasis, I dropped out of Hypertime. It was only a matter of time before word made it up the chain of command and someone with serious firepower came here. I told Handell to get to the bridge and to do what he could to get us out of here. He ran off towards the bridge. I asked Alys to dump the bodies and the speeders they arrived on out into hyperspace at the next opportunity. I know Ben wanted to study them, but I didn’t want to risk that the damned things could be tracked back to us. She agreed and began making preparations on that when I felt my nose beginning to run.

Wiping my face with my hand, I saw that my hand had come away bloody. Double-checking verified that I was bleeding out of my nose profusely. Then I began coughing and hacking up blood hard. My vision began to blur as black spots began to appear and I lost consciousness before hitting the floor.

I awoke an indeterminate amount of time later in a bacta tank. I saw Valerie standing outside the tank looking a bit pink in the skin, and having only a red stubble of hair on her head. I could tell she was upset just by looking at her face.

(Valerie) You came very close to having a Dark Side explosion. And you managed to wait until no one was around to support or restrain you to do it too. Can I even trust you not to go HoloSith when your outside my reach?

(Kira) That was unusual, I’ve never come that close to losing control before.

(Valerie) The Force is doing very unusual things around Alys since we arrived in this galaxy, and it’s also doing unusual things around you to a lesser extent. In fact, it’s affecting everyone here on some level.

(Kira) Well, I’ve been advocating leaving at the earliest opportunity. No playing around or exploring.

(Valerie) All fine and good except for the fact that the hyperdrive is shot. The only reason we are able to move at all is the massive power system we have onboard and those weird hyperfields boosting the output.

(Kira) So where are we?

(Valerie) Out past the edge of the galaxy and at the limit of the hyperfields to support us. We are currently still moving outwards on slow drive.

(Kira) How long to effect repairs?

(Valerie) Maybe never if we can’t get supplies. A good twenty five percent of the ship is now hot and unusable. We might be able to cobble something together for a single jump given time, but our ability to outrun pursuit is limited if they seriously come after us.

(Kira) Just great.

I got out of the tank, dried off and dressed in the clothes provided. My hair was a short stubble like Valerie’s and I felt more than a bit stiff. Luckily it didn’t look or feel like I had any cybernetics installed in place of flesh. I just really didn’t want to consider how much bacta I had just used and how close I might be to triggering a bacta allergy.

On the bridge the scene was a mess. Droids and technicians were busily repairing fried systems, there were displaying flashing alarms and warnings all over, and Smoche looked like he had been partaking of that coffee the Sith cook made a little too much. They had just patched into the local communications network and were browsing the news channels.

It looked like we hadn’t made the news yet. That was a good thing. Of course, it seemed like you could have stolen half the galaxy and not get covered as the locals appeared to be celebrating the ascension of a new Empress to the throne. Apparently went by the name Lysira. Why that name sounded familiar was hard to recognize, but I wasn’t alone in that sentiment as others felt it sounded familiar too. Shipwreck began scanning channels trying to find an image of the new Empress for identification purposes.

Why I was surprised that Alys’s face appeared on screen is beyond me. This one looked like an exaggerated pirate with the eyepatch, scars, and…. lightsaber. Now, I thought Alys wasn’t Force sensitive. It definitely looked like she had been Sith trained, although this was a rather unusual faction of Sith to say the least. This was also apparently the 70,571,429th “Alys” to take the role of Empress of the Final Empire. Well, I suppose that was one way to become an immortal ruler of everything. Just keep importing alternate versions of yourself to take the throne when you die.

Or, at least a way to provide an ongoing symbol of stability and order coupled with regular change. In this case, it also gave them someone well-suited to running their acquisition program – and a run on pirate costumes.

It was also the most unbelievably egotistical thing I think I have ever seen.

Then we got a glimpse of the Empress’s consort Aralnith. It was Jacob.

The entire bridge busted out laughing at that image. I even saw Telera doubled over from laughter as we couldn’t contain ourselves. Handell was even rolling on the floor laughing hysterically. Jacob had a blank look on his face, and Alys had gone redder than a tomato.

(Alys) It’s not funny!

(Virstris) I guess she likes guys with massive Force auras.

(Ben) Nah, it’s the skill with wood that does it.

(Kira) Nah, she just likes guys with big lightsaber ships who push her buttons.

(Alys) IT’S NOT FUNNY!!!

That only encouraged us to laugh even harder. Then came in the news that Aralnith was a powerful Codex user of some sort. That got a collective “Huh” from everyone watching. Now, trying to explain how Alys could become a Sith was a difficult matter, but remotely conceivable. As far as we all knew though, it was fundamentally impossible for Jacob to be a Codex user. This suggested that either the two weren’t really the same person, or that something really fundamental was going on that we’ve missed.

(Valerie) So, if the Codifier version of an Atavist is someone that has dropped out of the universe due to too much Codex talent, would such a person try to counter that by being involved in as many social activities as possible?

She was obviously leading to some sort of punchline with this.

(Kira) Yeah, things like parties, family reunions, social events, and various group activities would conceivably work as evidenced by the Codifiers.

(Valerie) Then maybe he should be called an Activist?

That was a horrible pun. It also started another round of laughter as the image of Empress Pirate Alys and her social Activist tree-hugging Consort became even more ridiculous as we each added horrible puns, jokes, and images to the idea. Nimh started keeping a composite sketch of the image on one of the main viewscreens as we kept going. Alys was about to die of embarressment.

(Alys) DAMN IT, JUST WAIT UNTIL ONE OF YOUR ALTERNATES TURNS UP DOING SOMETHING INSANE!!!

She eventually stormed off as we kept going. We all finally had to quit as our sides became sore from all the laughing. It did a lot to lighten up the sour mood we all had from being shot at with a superweapon. The composite image Nimh created quickly started making the rounds with the crew and there was going to be much snickering and such behind closed doors for months if not years to come.

Eventually though it came time to try and make a decision about what to do next. Our ability to repair the hyperdrive given the resources we had was limited at best. We might be able to make a trans-temporal jump, but we might melt the coils or need to go through a lengthy cooldown after finishing the jump during which we would be stuck for an indeterminate amount of time. So we would want to try and steal some raw materials from the locals that we could effect enough repairs to leave. Of course, that might result in drawing the Final Empire down upon us.

I was all for leaving immediately and hoping for the best in my ability to overpower the influences from the others on the steering. With Valerie helping it might work. Sadly I got outvoted as the rest of them elected to go pirating for asteroids to haul back as raw materials. The more elaborate and ridiculous the pirate theme became, the less I wanted to have a part in it. I suspected the Final Empire was not going to be nearly as amused or forgiving as these people seemed to think to a theft of the scale they were planning. Eventually they refitted the Faded military ship and went off hunting.

Well, with them gone, it was time to start making contingency plans in case we needed to leave in a hurry. First off was a means of hiding this massive ship. An idea occurred to me and I made requests to manufacture a large second stage stasis system. It took some explaining to the engineers what I hoped to accomplish, but they got to work quickly enough. Valerie came in halfway through the process.

(Valerie) What good is a stasis generator going to do us?

(Kira) Shove enough power through it to push it into generating a second stage stasis effect large enough to hide the Mrs Beasley behind. Then place it between the Mrs Beasley and the Final Empire. Out here it will look as black and silent as the rest of the endless void.

(Valerie) Oh now that is clever.

(Kira) It’s not perfect and we are going to have to do some tricks with relays to keep picking up hyperspace broadcasts, but it should at the least buy us time.

(Valerie) Well it looks like we have enough materials to repair the various ships with us. There should be plenty of space to carry everyone aboard them, and worst case the Ratsoogomoz has a powerful enough hyperdrive to haul most of the ships with it. We could get everyone out of here and take everything but the Mrs Beasley with us if we had to. We could then let the main power core of the Mrs Beasley lose confinement and destroy it so there is nothing they can use to try and track us.

(Kira) Getting Ben and Smoche to go along with that is going to be nearly impossible though.

(Valerie) Ben isn’t here, and may not even return alive. Smoche is just one artificer.

(Kira) Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that, but let’s make preparations to go that route. That way if we need it, it’s ready.

(Valerie) Agreed.

We both started submitted manufacturing orders and directing droids and technicians to those ends. The repairs to the fleet were going slowly, but we were nearly finished with the construction of the stasis field when the ship returned with it’s cargo in tow. I was actually beginning to think we might be able to make this work as they came in well above lightspeed despite not using hyperdrive.

Then I saw that they had grabbed an asteroid full of alcohol, women, and food instead of anything we might actually need.

For the trip into the Final Empire the others decided to go with the “Pirate” meme, in hopes that they could blend into the celebrations. With the hyperfield boosts and a “primitive” engine they could easily move an asteroid…

The disguises got quite elaborate – and they headed for an industrial center.

That was… frightening. The Final Empire was taking the cores of burned out suns and using a colossal “lightsaber” system to step up the dark energy field and… evaporate them. The ion-streams pouring off the surface were used to generate power and magnetically separated into raw elements. They were… processing a burned-out star in something like weeks. They were building transdimensional hyperportals big enough to move stars and planets. It looked like they were planning to start some more selective raiding…

Handell, meanwhile, was heading for the booze. It looked like one of the local asteroids was a… living and recreational area, and that was what he needed!

Oddly enough, the others seemed to be caught up in the “pirate party” fervor that was gripping the Final Empire at the moment, and failed to stop him… Of course, once they were entangled in traffic control it was a bit late for a stealthy raid anyway. Rather than absconding with one or more of the asteroid-sized chunks of purified raw materials, they wound up with the recreational and living quarters asteroid instead – as well as the local police using remote-operated bodies to try and arrest them.

As they dragged the asteroid out of the galaxy, there was much complaining. The local police assumed that the bunch of them had overridden the safeties on one of the full-sensory simulations and thus had driven themselves crazy.

That seemed to be a common problem. Of course, they were also calling for help… Fortunately, Handell pulled off an insane maneuver around a black hole and got their basic velocity well above lightspeed – while Lazlo threw a few remote-operated bodies into the thing. That complicated their rendevous with the Mrs Beasley – but Handell managed to pull of that suicidal piloting stunt too.

I was not happy to say the least. Luckily I was able to maintain better control of myself this time as opposed to last time with those teenagers. I went on a tirade, and my demand to know whose brilliant idea this was resulted in much fingerpointing and denials of guilt. Then someone from that asteroid tried to hail the Mrs Beasley. That got routed to my commlink.

(Asteroid) I demand you let us go, you barbarians!

(Kira) I don’t think you are in any position to be making demands at the moment.

(Asteroid) You are in a lot of trouble, mister!

(Kira) Naw, you think?

He started to rattle off some legal nonsense about how much trouble I was in. Oddly enough, it sounded like any other local cop trying to overawe people with his extremely limited authority… I ignored him and looked to one of the spare stasis generators sitting in the docking bay. Picking it up telekinetically, I flung it out the shuttle bay and at the asteroid. After it made contact with the surface, I flipped the switch to activate it as the asteroid was enveloped in a black globe. That neatly silenced that annoyance for the time being.

(Kira) Kira to helm.

(Augusta) This is Augusta, go ahead.

(Kira) Get us behind that stasis field. Once Jacob finishes anchoring it to the Mrs Beasley, try to lose any possible pursuit.

(Augusta) Understood.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice, Part IV

Acid rain results on monuments

More things that need fixing!

It was a day or two before things got eventful again – time enough, at least, to finish up with his own tools and to get some agents – both mundane and supernatural – out looking for the odder ingredients on his list. There’d probably be some explaining to do over the hipparions eventually, but that was for the future! And it had definitely made the god of hipparions very happy, which was the important part!

Using the facilities of the factory-cathedral after hours was really handy too! It didn’t actually do much of anything that the Hoenheim manse didn’t as far as making a single artifact went, but it let him make multiple copies at the same time!

Hm… Was there a way to unlock that kind of potential in his own manses? He had a feeling that it was there. Some of the ancient manses were supposed to have once displayed far functions than it was normally possible to design into a manse. If that was a simple advance in design, why didn’t you find such manses around and in operation? It would make much more sense if it was something that had to be awakened – and that meant that it would be an advanced function of attunement to the manse or hearthstone. He’d have to look into that. It certainly FELT like being on the right track!

With his new tools ready, and a lot of ingredients laid in, it was time to start some serious artificing!

Well, not so serious yet. He still needed to make that obsidian knife and the wood!

Fortunately, crafting the knife only took a few minutes with his new tools. Getting it blooded… that would be a bit more complicated though. Nicking himself, or using it to cut a steak, really didn’t seem like it would work right. It needed to be in combat… Perhaps a sparring match? It needn’t be a serious wound, but that really didn’t seem to be required; it just needed to be in actual combat.

A night storm wasn’t really under his control, but it was the right time of year. That should work out on it’s own. Ixian would let him know when some Dryad needed assistance. He’d apparently been working hard on reassuring them that he would indeed heal their trees after getting the wood he needed.

Ixian called the next evening from a small bit of forest between Alpharetta and Roswell, fairly close to Atlanta.

(Ixian) “It’s a really big one, too!”.

Charles took his bicycle and headed out. Fortunately, transport thaumaturgy could reduce the travel time by 90% or so… He had to throw in a small illusion or two to cover things, but the spell mostly made it seem like he was just missing spots and taking shortcuts anyway. With a little thaumaturgy to find the shortcuts, the structure of space wasn’t NEARLY as even as most people thought it was!

It didn’t take all that long to reach the small forest grove where a large, old, oak tree was still smoking a bit from the lighting bolt. Charles bowed politely…

(Charles) “Dear me! That is a nasty injury there… (Probe) Fortunately, the roots are all right, we just have splitting from an internal steam explosion and some cooking… There will be scarring I fear!”

He couldn’t instantly heal things directly, but he could reduce the trauma (converting a lot of the damage to bashing) and then absorb some of that. He made sure that he got a few of the blasted-out chunks of wood gathered up along the way.

The dryad was lying on the ground (with Ixian hovering around, making her comfortable, bringing her a little pillow, and paying his respects to her), and had a nasty wound on her face.

(Charles) “Well now! That does look nasty! Let me see if I can fix that…”

He did so. Then he put a century-long ward versus lightning on her tree. It wouldn’t necessarily stop a strike, but it would render it far more survivable. That left her with little more than a faint scarring on trunk and face.

(Charles) “Are you feeling better there?”

(Dryad) “Wha… what happened?”

(Ixian) “Well, your tree got struck by lightning! If Charles hadn’t shown up, you’d still be lying here. He made sure your tree wouldn’t die.”

(Charles) “Well, I was keeping an eye out for that sort of thing! I needed a bit of wood from a lightning-struck tree, but it would have been quite unpleasant of me to just get that and leave matters as they were! I hope there will be no lasting effects!”

(Dryad) “I can’t thank you enough, young one. Please, take as much of the dead wood as you need.”

(Charles) “You’re quite welcome, and thank you very much!”

Hm. Forests had so much trouble these days… Acid Rain, Developers, Storms… This one didn’t seem particularly threatened by anything at the moment – perhaps because it was, in fact, on a minor ley line juncture… Nothing major, but definitely good for finding materials for minor artifacts (especially wood-based ones). Some of the trees did show signs of recent harvesting. From the way that branches always seemed to be missing in the same places and how some of the trees had odd carvings and scars, probably for magical craftwork. There certainly weren’t any wards to keep people out though…

It wasn’t a park either. Just a ways off from the road to the lake not far to the northeast.

He spun a few large-scale protections across the area with about a centuries duration… They’d be relatively weak, but every little bit helped. Developers would just find themselves reaching the conclusion that the area was too rugged and messy for practical development, pollution and the non-native pest insects would be warded off, and the effects of storms would be limited. That should keep this fairly pleasant small forest safe for some time!

Since it was a minor ley line junction, he asked a few of the local spirits and took a look around to see if it had a minor demesne in the center. It was always worth checking on that sort of thing.

It was shortly after dawn when he found it.

It did, even if it was about as minor as it could get. The area smelled of pine and maple, and the grass felt somewhat sticky. Interestingly, there was a tent pitched behind the brush to the left. Whoever’d set it up knew at least some thaumaturgy, since it was almost exactly the same shade as the brush – an obvious camouflage spell. Whoever it was had also taken care not to disrupt this site’s geomancy; there was no campfire. It sounded like the tents occupant was awake however…

(Charles) “Hello there! This IS a nice little patch of woods isn’t it?”

A middle-aged, fairly fit, and somewhat pale gentleman emerged from the tent. His clothes were appropriate for camping, but fairly high end, and he looked Charles over before responding.

(Mage) “Good afternoon. How did you get all the way out here?”

(Charles) “Oh, I cycled most of the way! It’s a nice patch of woods to stroll in though!

(Mage) “Do your parents know you’re out here?”

(Charles, looking a bit sad) “Well… I doubt it, since I don’t really know what happened to them – but grandpa might. He keeps track of a lot of things.”

(Mage) “Ah, I apologize. Did you at least eat breakfast?”

(Charles) “Oh, I’ve got some snacks. Would you like some trail mix? And I’ve got some very VERY good candied nuts!”

(Mage) “Oh, why not? I haven’t had candied nuts in years.”

They were good. Charles tended to do his candy-shopping in Yu-Shan. The mage was arching his eyebrows as he ate them.

(Mage) “Where did you get these?”

(Charles) “Oh, there’s a little speciality shop not so far off from my usual bus stop! They do make good candies! Gramps says not too eat too many though.”

(Mage) “What’s the name of that stop?”

(Charles) “Er, I think it’s stop seven on the route… Why?”

Actually, he’d just recalled why – but he was trying to stall since he wouldn’t want to lie if it was avoidable.

(Mage) “Well, either somebody’s sold you better candied nuts than you thought, or your Gramps is more important than you’re letting on.”

(Charles) “Well, it’s Zarchian’s Candies… They’re a very old business!”

Zarchian was a rather old god, he’d used to be the patron of shogunate-era candy chefs and had picked up steam with the discovery of chocolate and vanilla – but he never did really make it big; the candy portfolio wound up getting subdivided a lot. He used quintessence to make nuts and ingredients that hadn’t been seen on earth since the first age – and continued to use his traditional recipes. He did a lot of business with Sidereals and others who remembered that far back, it was a nostalgia thing. Charles, of course, just liked candy. He made Zarchian thaumaturgical no-stick molds and such; candy making didn’t require much serious artificing.

(The mage, looking at him for a moment) “So there really is a celestial candy store in Yu-Shan. Then I guess you weren’t on just a walk.”

(Charles) “Well, I was mostly just out fixing things at the moment! I had to bicycle because this is off the bus routes! Were you looking for something in particular? If you know it’s Yu-Shan, I can give you the address for Zarchian’s. Gramps does say I eat too much candy anyway…”

(Mage) “Oh, I was just checking on rumors of a demesne. I’d appreciate the address, but I don’t think whatever they’ve got guarding the gate would let me through. Too bad. I need something to relax.”

(Charles) “There does seem to be one around, but it’s mostly inactive and doesn’t really seem to need any maintenance anyway… Just as well; I don’t know any easy ways to do that yet!”

(Mage) “Hmm. You’re a big thinker for a God-Blooded.”

(Charles) “There are such a lot of things that need fixing!”

(Mage) “Tell me about it. So what do you do up there? All the information I have says you can’t escape work even in Heaven.”

(Charles) “School and a bit of artificing mostly! What do you do?”

(Mage) “I’m an architect. Nowadays I usually do skyscrapers. Manses are much better, though.”

(Charles) “studying those too! An awful lot of them need fixing too!”

(Mage, rubbing his temples) “That’s a real pain. I’m working on one in Atlanta right now. Can’t tell you more than that.”

(Charles) “Oh well. Would you like me to send you some candy?”

(Mage) “I’d appreciate it. Can you ward off poison from it, though? You can never be too careful.”

(Charles) “Uhm… I suppose so. How would it get in? Zarchian would never allow something like that!”

(Mage) “Sure, he wouldn’t. Gods would never let their domains be wrecked like that. But somebody could get to it between him and you, or you and me.”

(Charles) “Ok! Where should I send it and is there anything in particular you’d like?”

(Mage) “Here’s my business card; the address on it is as secure as I can make it. I wouldn’t mind trying the cherry glazed nuts.”

(Charles) “I’ll get you some!”

Charles cheerily started off.

(Mage) “Hey kid, wait! I don’t even know your name!”

(Charles) “Charles! Charles Ward, Mr…?”

(Mage) “Jacob Anderson.”

(Charles) “Nice to meet you! I have to go though, or I’ll be late!”

Jacob let him go… As supernatural encounters went, that had been a rather pleasant change. Most of the things you met were demanding, threatening, or indifferent…

Charles was slightly out of breath when he got to school. He’d had to rush quite a long ways to get there!

(Schoolmaster Jun) “Ah, Charles, just on time. Are you all right?”

(Charles) “Oh yes! Just a busy morning! It’s all that ingredient hunting!… Oh, I don’t suppose anyone around here is studying knife fighting but is so good that they could use a handicap to practice sparring with?”

(Schoolmaster Jun) “There was someone here looking for that.”

(Charles, producing obsidian knife #8 – which was very well-crafted, but was still a stone knife) “I brought one along that might work for them – and it would help me to if the nick someone. It has to be blooded – although it only needs a drop like people get in practice all the time – and I think in combat is best. I don’t think nicking myself would count. Although if that’s an imposition or you don’t think it’s a good idea I can probably find another way!”

(Schoolmaster Jun) “Ah, yet more ingredient gathering? I’ll see to it that they use the blade in a sparring match and tell them not to break it. Training injuries are inevitable, after all, and one might as well be put to better use.”

(Charles) “Well, ingredients are going to be a big thing for awhile – at least until I build up an inventory of the reusable ones. It looks like the esoteric ingredients was one of the major production holdups!”

(Schoolmaster Jun) “They are a bother to gather sometimes.”

Today it was Music, History, and (sigh) Basic Combat again.

Jun was pushing the combat class a bit just because Charles was so bad at it. Yes, the boy had a lot of other talents, and was quite astonishingly good at thaumaturgy and artificing – although that was probably in part because he’d doubtless made himself several minor enhancing artifacts for Thaumaturgy – but, sooner or later, he’d have to defend himself, and there was no substitute for at least knowing which end of a weapon was dangerous.

Today’s music class was concentrating on singing. Unfortunately, Charles was pretty bad at that. On the other hand, at least that meant that he had things to learn!

The teacher smiled as she listened to his performance, but was definitely slightly strained. He was a touch better than the average amateur, but she was a minor goddess of music and it wasn’t like she didn’t hear FAR better performances in Yu-Shan! Still, he might become a passable backup singer in time.

At least he was better than Ovashin. HE was the child of a mountain god, and HIS bass notes tended to vibrate things off the shelves even when he wasn’t falling over something. His entries could usually best be described with the word “avalanche”. She was increasingly sure that objects slid out in front of him just to trip him up; that drum set had been put safely away!

History, on the other hand, was definitely one of Charles’ strong suits. The instructor could see that the kid was trying not to show off much, but he’d seen plenty of bored children before. It wasn’t like prodigies were uncommon amongst the god-blooded.

He took the boy aside as the end of the class.

(Kordoth, God of History) “Charles, how would you like to join the advanced class?”

(Charles) “Sure!.. Er, will you still be teaching? You’re a good teacher, but I read all the books for this class already!”

(Kordoth) “I think it would be a much better use of your potential. Why don’t you discuss it with your grandfather? And yes, I teach that one as well. I’ll see about setting you up with the entrance exam.”

(Charles) “Cool!”

Sadly, it was then off to weapons practice. It was kind of bad when three quarters of the class had already moved on to live practice and you were not among them, even if it did mean more individual attention from the instructors. Fortunately, the instructors were immortal gods – and they’d had PLENTY of slow students before. They’d make sure that he learned to protect himself somewhat if it took a century… The stories of Yan the Inept were still popular movie fare in the Celestial City after all!

At least Charles DID mostly know which end to hold, even if he did spend more time thinking about ways of improving the weapons than about how to use them. The War God in charge was pleased with him knowing how to hold them, even if he did wish that Charles would be more careful about where he was pointing the other end.

(Charles) “Is there a magical self-defense class? Or a section anyway? I’m better at that! It’s not that physical is bad… I’m just better with spells.”

(Mardistan, a minor War God) “Sigh… young man, you need to cover all your bases. Your grandfather specifically requested this from us.”

(Charles, thoughtfully) “Would a staff be all right? I think I might do better with one of them. And they’re good defensively!”

After all, it was much harder to really hurt people with a staff.

Mardistan considered that… Swords WERE the default of course. Lord Richof had asked them to make sure that Charles could defend himself in a melee fight. He HADN’T Specified a weapon. They’d just gone with swords because swords were generally best and because Lord Richof was noted for using them.

Besides… on watching the kid closely, there were strong hints that he had much better reflexes than the basic drills and kata showed. He was obviously afraid of injuring someone with a sword; perhaps he’d actually show some aggression – or at least stop holding back so much – with a staff.

(Mardistan) “Well, it’s certainly worth a try.”

At least the boy couldn’t readily destroy the walls and curtains with a staff.

There was some improvement. His katas were still awful, but he was a lot smoother with the staff and he didn’t seem to be so afraid of hurting the people around him accidently with it. A bit of sparring was worth a try.

Ah… Still little to no skill of course, but the boys reflexes were remarkable. That wasn’t necessarily sufficient in an actual fight, but it was certainly a big help – and a decent marker of potential anyway.

(Mardistan) “Huh. Too bad your grandfather hasn’t put you in archery. He must really think you need work here.”

(Charles) “Well… I kind of prefer making and enchanting swords to using them.”

(Mardistan) “There was some improvement there. Hey, Sindri!”

Sindri, a four-armed, angelic being who taught staff, martial arts, and wrestling, came over.

(Mardistan) “Sindri, this is Charles Ward. Charles, Sindri is our staff instructor.”

(Sindri, extending a spindly hand) “Hello, Charles. I saw you practicing. (To Mardistan) I guess he’s one of my students now?”

Charles shook hands, since that was what Sindri seemed to be looking for. My, that was a strong grip there! Sindri wasn’t crushing his hand, but he could tell…

Sindri, with his own talents and millennia more experience could tell a few things there as well. There was a surprising amount of strength underlying the child’s hesitancy – and at least one protective enchantment or innate power underlying the modern-style concealed body armor the boy was wearing. If his reflexes were as good as Mardistan suspected there might actually be a good deal of potential there – even if they had to resort to having people jump out at him to demonstrate the need to actually fight back rather than relying on defense.

(Sindri, to Charles) “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

(Charles) “A pleasure to meet you too sir!”

(Sindri) “Why don’t we spend the rest of class time working on your defensive skills? We can save attacking for tomorrow, I think.”

Charles really did work on that. He was MUCH  happier to not be holding something that might accidentally kill someone – or at least which was FAR LESS likely to accidentally kill someone. Besides – Sindri seemed to be one of the more contemplative war gods. They didn’t usually get that way until they reached the upper ranks.

Sindri was pleased. The boy was showing excellent reflexes now that he was no longer afraid of using his weapon. His endurance was excellent – although he was tiring, since he had yet to learn the art of moving and fighting efficiently rather than flailing.

Ah. That leg-sweep really should have toppled him, and ended the sparring match – but it had simply bounced away. Whatever protection the boy was using, it was surprisingly good. There weren’t many effects that provided complete protection even against sparring-level attacks, much less one with some real strength behind it.

(Sindri) “You’re a durable one. Did your grandfather give you some protective magic for these classes?”

(Charles) “Uhm… Not really. I did some defensive charms of my own though, and anchored them to other power sources so they wouldn’t go down and enchanted the shirt and things though. There’s muggers and all kinds of things out there.”

(Sindri) “Not bad work. I hear you run a factory-cathedral part time. Are you currently taking orders?”

(Charles) “Yes – but it might take a little bit. There’s a bunch of ones in already with stamps and seals and such all over them.”

(Sindri) “Oh, that is no issue. I might order some armor from you, then.”

(Charles) “I’d be glad to work on some for you! What would you like?”

(Sindri) “Hmm. Something fairly light. Perhaps a breastplate, I’ve never cared for overly heavy armor.

(Charles) “I will see what I can work up!”

(Sindri) “Blue jade, I think, and could you incorporate a blurring effect?”

(Charles) “I think so!”

He should be able to do something. Artifact armor was a LOT easier to make than Devon’s old notes said; either there’d been some advances in the process or the rules had changed a bit since then. Neither would be any real surprise; Creation had changed a lot during the wildstorms that had closed the third age.

More specifically, Sindri would like a blurring effect that made him harder to track, and therefore hit. As a flying combatant, he favored mobility to begin with. Well, that sort of thing should be easy enough… Possibly a mobility booster as well?

And thus class – and the school day – ended, as Charles headed off to his job in the Factory-Cathedral where the first order to fulfill was the Harmonic Adapters. Easy ingredients to get, always popular, thus taking advantage of being able to produce a lot of them

He’d thought about doing the Privacy Veils first, but those would be a good private project after hours.  All the anti-detection effects should be more or less self-shielding…

The initial project announcement was greeted with very little excitement. Harmonic Adapters were quick, simple, and a throughly reasonable choice. Charles’s announcement that he’d be using a modified generic design wherein the final bit of magical material to be installed would determine the attunement caused more of a stir though. That seemed like an… obvious idea, but it had never been done before – and would add to the difficulty quite substantially. Still, the designs looked good…

Charles – since the design could be turned out in batches of up to three hundred – was setting up for 50 Starmetal, 100 Moonsilver, 100 Jade, 25 Orichalcum (he wasn’t drawing attention to those), and 75 Ambrosial (for Gods). That should be a handy selection! There would be some for bonuses, some for other orders, some for trade, and some for sweeteners!

The work went fairly well. Of course, that was to be expected in a Yu-Shan factory cathedral with exceptional technicians and reasonably plentiful supplies that rarely suffered from shipping snags. Still, Charles wasn’t cheating too much in public, and so this was basically a  test and shakedown run with an artifact so easy – even with the difficulty increase of the new design – that it pretty much could not fail to succeed in the one-month minimum for the setup as long as Charles could run the place at all.

After the initial setup, Charles spent his time watching the place, checking for anything that needed fixing in the cathedral itself that hadn’t shown up while it wasn’t running (not too likely normally, but all of Yu-Shan had been running on inertia and “good enough” for a long time), and getting to know the gods and mortals who worked there.

There didn’t seem to be any notable problems though… The place was quite well-maintained for its size, although the paint job still needed finishing up since even that factored into the performance. The major gods included Bright Widget (shift boss, and clearly a minor light god), Circuits of Adaman (supervisor of the electronics manufacturing team), and Lelani (a spider-like deity who served as the janitor and general maintenance man).

Charles got to know them all – there were only a dozen gods and eight mortals who handled specific devices and jobs – and got them some minor presents. Chocolates and candy were always well received (well, OK, “always” in Charles’s youthful theories about reality) while he helped finish up fixing the paint job. They did seem to appreciate the attention. It seemed that the norm up until now had been “greet the staff and then forget about them until something goes wrong.”

Charles made a note to himself; since they were mass-producing several hundred of an artifact for which they only had a few orders, the staff were all entitled to one as a bonus – although that would be a surprise for the end of the month when they were done.

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 62b

Infra-red image of the centre of our Milky Way...

Somewhere out there is the ultimate recipe...

Lazlo had spent a fair amount of time probing what was left of Huriel’s mind… That was risky to his own sanity, but they REALLY needed to know where he’d hidden all his clones. The ones out in the galaxy beyond the stasis field were almost certainly already gone – but he turned out to have hidden several facilities around the galactic core.

Alys had been as surprised as everyone else by her new Republic constitution. She’d started out just trying to make everyone comfortable and making a few suggestions… The notion that she might be tapping into information from alternate timelines – including the Final Empire – was a  worry. On the other hand, the experience had made her rethink her attitudes toward politics and bureaucracy; it was more interesting than she’d thought – and she had to admit that she seemed to a talent for organization that at least one galaxy seemed to need badly.

She was starting to wonder about her datapad too, if somewhat less seriously. After all, there were all those incidents surrounding Shipwreck’s sensor rig. That mostly seemed to be a joke – but STILL.

She’d been diverting those worries by running searches and purges on the Mrs Beasley’s computers… They didn’t need another droid rebellion – and it was obvious that they hadn’t gotten anything NEAR a complete survey of the systems yet.

She found something else active. A LOT of data feeds were being copied to some system that she couldn’t get into – somewhere in the middle levels. The blocks on it were GOOD too – but there apparently wasn’t anything backing them but droids at the moment. Having some actual people working on it always threw in approaches that the droids weren’t prepared to handle.

That eventually led her to… some sort of special-purpose databank perhaps? A sizeable chunk of space that had… no datafeeds, no surveillance, and nothing at all coming out. That the droids just… routed around. It seemed to have links to a lot more buried programs too.

She took Ben and Smooche and went to have a look at it.

It took some careful probing, but that eventually revealed a massive sphere – several hundred feet across – armored with collapsium and with nothing much going in or out except a few fiber-connections and a few equally-massively sealed and collapsium-armored doors – all locked.

Ben foresaw that trying to get in by force would almost certainly lead to the death of Ben Therus, and almost certainly of Alys Nere. It would also lead to a great deal of destruction, and possibly to the loss or destruction of the Mrs Beasley.

He also got the feeling that something was waking up early… Had Jacob started something with his button-pushing explosions? Blast it! This was probably some last-ditch anti-hijacking precaution of his elder self! It might even be a “make another Ben” button!

Jacob was busy too… He’d been sensing traces of the Dark Side around that didn’t seem to match anyone he knew – and Alys’s searches had turned up some anomalies in the same general area. Nothing like the sphere-thing she’d turned her attention to – but someone had apparently ordered massive amounts of some sort of equipment installed on two decks, taken over one of the major environmental decks (and split it up into smaller segments), and had restructured and reduced the temperature in close to a square mile of one deck.

The environmental area was… full of all kinds of plants and things? From all kinds of worlds? And there were… huge ovens, and strange vats, and things bubbling, and micro-distillation and extraction systems, and…

COOKING?!”! Was all of this… Spices, meats, fruits, and other supplies from across several different universes and the galaxies largest food-preservation and processing setup? WAIT. Hadn’t Lazlo been dealing with a Sith who was obsessed with cooking?

Good God! The man could have stood in for a model of a death star! He was so fat that he had to move by levitation!

At least he couldn’t be that dangerous!

Oh. Unless you criticized his cooking. His tendency to chop food critics into bits with flying knives was what had killed his cooking-show career. Maybe they could get him a droid audience?

Still, as Sith went, it was no wonder that they hadn’t noticed him.

Jacob passed on word about the man and went off to have the robots build him a new Sabership. In fact, twenty more! You never knew when they might come in useful!

He just had that set up when Alys called…

With the negotiations between the various factions of the galaxy now well underway (and having established a certain reluctance to bring in new chunks for the galaxy due to all they hyperspace problems), it was about time we disassociated ourselves from the process. To that end, we decided to take the Mrs Beasley back to Alderaan so we could pick up the rest of our fleet. Even with a less roundabout route than the one we took to get to the galactic core, it was still going to take a week to get there. About halfway through the journey I got a call from Alys on my commlink.

(Alys) Kira, can you come to deck 437, North 30, West 20?

Those numbers meant absolutely nothing to me, but thankfully the Personal Droid Assistant Ban had incorporated into my belt brought up the maps showing where that was.

(Kira) What’s going on?

(Alys) Not sure, we found something onboard that we aren’t sure what to make of it.

(Kira) Ok, on my way.

I wasn’t entirely sure what I could do to help if it wasn’t hostile and the techs couldn’t figure out whatever it was. But if it made them feel any better, then so be it. As I got in the elevator to head to the location given, I reached out mentally to Valerie.

<Kira> Just a heads up, Alys and the others have found something onboard they are having trouble identifying. I am heading that direction myself now.

<Valerie> What location?

<Kira> Wherever the hell deck 437, North 30, West 20 is.

<Valerie> It’s a coordinate system, I’ll explain it later. Currently I am busy knocking some sense into some techs hoping to pick fights, let me know what you find.

<Kira> Will do.

Following the directions given to me by the droid’s pathfinding, I soon enough ended up at a set of secured bulkhead doors that had been opened rather forcefully. The guards waved me through the doors as they saw my approach. Through the doors I found myself in a large corridor that ended in a near-perfectly smooth – if ever-so-slightly curved – and reflective wall with a tiny discontinuity indicating a sealed hatch in it. The surface of the sphere was as reflective as any mirror and seemed to have a sparkle quality to it that shimmered across the surface as I moved towards it. I saw Ben, Alys, Shipwreck, and Jacob were already here and probing at it near what looked to be a door.

(Kira) Looks like a very pretty wall to me.

(Ben) It’s a collapsium shell with a diamond support coating on the inside and outside, along with what must be massive structural supports. It has a detectable gravity well up close. That is what gives it the shimmering effect and what makes it such a perfect reflector.

(Shipwreck) That near-perfect reflector status is also making it very hard to tell what is inside the thing.

(Jacob) I think it might be a ship inside the ship!

(Kira) Well, there is a door there.

(Ben) I foresee very bad consequences for entering an invalid code.

(Kira) Alright, forcing the door open?

(Ben) Same issue.

(Jacob) I can tell there are a number of buttons on the inside, should I press them?

Precognition was giving me all sorts of nonsense regarding most anything about this thing. Probability analysis showed that Jacob pushing buttons was likely to result in a number of massive explosions for unfathomable reasons. Personally, I was beginning to think this thing needed to be shoved out one of the shuttle bays out into deep space or hyperspace (although that might also set off things apparently). The others were too caught up in the mystery of things to want to do that though. Nor were they likely to leave it alone.

(Ben) Hmm, pushing buttons is likely to result in a number of explosions, Kira surviving, me dead, and the others with various intermediate odds of survival.

So that said whatever was in there wasn’t very likely to be able to readily kill me, but could kill Ben. That at least limited the more outlandish theories about what was in there, but otherwise wasn’t very illuminating. Phasing through the door was foolish in my opinion. I was likely to rip out the portion of myself still anchored to reality in the process and either fall out of the universe entirely, or reappear next to Valerie with massive internal bleeding. I again reiterated my opinion to simply dump the thing into hyperspace and was ignored.

Ben instead came up with the crazy idea to build a personal subspace drive for himself that would take him through the wall to the inside. Our ability to rescue him should something go wrong was limited, but he was volunteering for this. He showed up again with the most ridiculous contraption I have ever seen attached to his armor. After a few quick checks and minor modifications, Ben simply vanished in a puff of cold air. My Force senses were able to pick him up on the inside of the shell though, so it seemed like he had survived.

Ben’s contraption included a personal lightsaber-hat that would thaw him out, a tiny, very limited use neutronium power supply – far too small for stability, and with an actual energy capacity smaller than a much smaller, lighter, and simpler power-cell, but which should still function at nearly absolute zero, and the drive circuitry… With several codex-users focused on warping probability, he should be able to make it inside safely in only a few tries. Clearing out some bulkheads and floors minimized the chance of his rematerializing inside something.

He nearly did anyway – the inside of the sphere turned out to be quite crowded – but he made it in. It looked like… the “open” switch included a biometric scan; evidently SOMEONE had been familiar with the push-buttons-with-the-force trick. If there was no authorized presence when the button was pushed, the heavy war-droids and command-override programs would go forth to retake the ship – or to try and destroy it if they couldn’t. There were other buttons to cause that ANYWAY.

Not so good – but it looked like HE was authorized to open the door…

Moments later the door opened and Ben let us inside. Inside we saw that the collapsium shell appeared to be a small ship, with numerous piles of very heavy weapons and a lot of heavy combat droids. It looked like an armory stockpile of some sort, but the ship was a rather odd thing to be sealing away this deep in the bowels of the Mrs Beasley. Plus that bulkhead door was nowhere near wide enough to fit it through. I started perusing the droids and weapons looking for anything particularly annoying or interesting.

It was Alys who found something of immense interest first though. She found what looked to be a number of cloning and bacta tubes and other odd equipment stashed inside the ship. Some of them were even occupied. Looking at those closely showed a number of people I didn’t recognize offhand and an old Ben and Alys – not quite fully grown. The rest of the equipment I didn’t recognize off hand.

I suspected this was the Ben and Alys that had originally built the ship. The faces and general age were a match for what records we had found on them, but it still didn’t really explain why we had found remains of both of them aboard the ship already if they were stuck here in tubes. I didn’t think clones of older people came out old either.

Eventually Ben, Jacob, and the technicians were able to piece together how the system worked. Apparently, they had put themselves into low-metabolism cold-sleep stasis while using some sort of neural enhancement thing I didn’t understand in order to think while in cold sleep. So while their bodies were sleeping, their minds were free to act. This was combined with a form of the technology we had seen used on Chyran for the Sith Archives there in order to let the now active minds interface with Zandaras goo implanted in the skulls of clone bodies. Those bodies could then be operated remotely via the system to run the ship. At least that was what I understood how it worked. This apparently had been set up to activate a thousand years after the final supernova, when the ship would have cooled enough to be safely usable again. Something – probably Jacob’s button-pushing – had triggered the activation sequence early.

What a disgustingly cheap trick to use to cheat death.

Being able to sacrifice clone bodies repeatedly while you lived in a tank for millennia was not my idea of a way to live life. What meaning did various actions and consequences have when you just grew yet another clone body to remotely operate? At least the Sith using the Clone Possession technique still had to actually live with the consequences of dying repeatedly in clone bodies as things degraded. Only the most insane were willing to repeatedly kill themselves because of that fact. This was…. irresponsible and I didn’t see good things happening if this technology became common.

Ben and Alys and most of the others thought it was BRILLIANT. This would have let the crew take the ship into a grossly high-radiation zone, rescue the planet – and reclaim the ship when the radioactives had decayed enough to leave it usable again. They’d probably only been wrong about the time because of the Final Empire’s meddling.

Of course, it also meant that the ship’s real owners were waking up – those bodies would be done soon, and the tanks would presumably wake up their owner’s minds – and that was quit an ethical dilemma! They’d worked hard to build this ship to save their galaxy, and it was hard to argue with the idea that it rightfully belonged to them – but their civilization had been taken by some version of the Final Empire! How would they react to that? And to Kira?

Lazlo voted for killing them, since two Bens was too many – but was firmly overridden by those who wanted to talk to them. Especially Alys, who was intrigued with the notion of a good talk with her elder self. Besides… who knew what that would set off? Purging the Mrs Beasley of program traps was virtually impossible without the help of the original builders!

Besides… That technology could lengthen your effective lifespan by a factor of ten or more. There was something to be said for that, even if there were limitations – which there were bound to be.

There were of course. The rig somewhat limited sensory acuity, only those with at least some force-sensitivity could use it, the range was limited, it required massive power sources, and it was very expensive – among other problems. Still, when it came to living to reclaim the Mrs Beasley, it was well worthwhile.

Debate then ensued over what to do next with these alternates. Just killing them wasn’t exactly ethical, but letting them loose was going to raise all sorts of difficult issues with possession of the ship and the fact that their version of me nearly destroyed the galaxy. I was all for resetting the clocks to activate things in 550 years and sealing the place shut again, but I got outvoted. They wanted to revive Alys and try to negotiate things. I was more concerned about the potential for hidden overrides and such for the various systems of the Mrs Beasley. Trying to find them all was going to be murder. On the other hand, we might be able to get Lazlo to pry that information out of the crew here, but that got voted down too.

<Kira> Valerie, we’ve got a number of the original crew here in stasis including Ben, Alys, and a possible Jacob. They’re wanting to release Alys and try to talk with her. I am not certain this will go well given the current situation, but I am getting outvoted.

<Valerie> Understood, I will get with Virstris and we’ll assemble a team for possible contingencies if we have to fight to maintain control of the ship.

<Kira> I hope it doesn’t come to that.

<Valerie> We can’t risk this ship falling into the hands of a bunch of grief-stricken nutjobs.

<Kira> That is a point. Alright, I am going to remain here so I can intervene at the source if it comes to that.

<Valerie> Keep me informed.

<Kira> I will.

I leaned back against the wall opposite the various tanks filled with people as the others started the awakening sequence. Some time passed before the lid on the cloning tank finally opened to let Elder Alys step out. There was several moments of obvious disorientation as she tried to figure out what was happening, before she realized that she was in the company of another Alys and Ben. Demands for explanations started quickly as Elder Alys tried to get a handle on the situation. Things finally began to settle down as younger Alys tried to explain what was happening when Elder Alys – the chief speaker of the galactic senate – finally spotted me.

Luckily I was prepared for it as she snatched one of the blaster rifles and fired it at me. It proved to be a simple matter to lean to the side and avoid that shot as the others took the gun away…  Eventually she was restrained and disarmed as younger Alys once again resumed the explanations. I paid only cursory attention to the explanations since I knew most of the story already. My attention was focused on watching the other tanks and systems in the room for signs of unexpected activity or failsafes.

Thankfully, there didn’t seem to be any of that going on. Elder Alys was eventually calmed down, although she absolutely refused to trust me under any circumstances. I would have admitted to being heart-broken about it, but then I would be lying. Jacob then decided to ask the Artificer Cook for the best coffee he could make for everyone for refreshment as the discussion went on. First thing I knew that something was wrong was when we all started drooling the moment the coffee entered the room and the aroma hit our senses.

What followed next was a hazy blur in my memory. I just know that we ended up drinking that coffee as quickly as we could and almost immediately starting going into withdrawal symptoms. Thankfully, Valerie and Virstris noticed that something was wrong and got us all into medical quickly. Whatever the hell was in that coffee required us wasting several days in addiction counseling. I quickly revised my assessment of just how dangerous cooking could be after that incident.

Jacob was impressed… That had been GREAT! He had to remember to challenge the cook more often!

He was glad that there didn’t seem to be another Jacob though. If he’d been another Atavist, they might have given headaches to two entire galaxies!

Alys made arrangements to watching the Sith cook through the droid cooking show audience. He was all but completely harmless – but the “all but” was an important facto. He could become FAR more dangerous with the right contacts or the right provocation – and it might be best to restrict that coffee to the ship!

She was beginning to worry about her own family too. Would the republic codifiers target them too? Staying in touch with her older self – and getting the family history from her point of view – might be well worthwhile too.

She also reached an agreement with her elder self… She could have the galactic advisory position, and she and her crew would stay in the Codifier Galaxy – and the group (thanks to their greater knowledge of the multiverse) would try to find out what the Final Empire had done with their galaxy and return the ship after the original time was up or sooner…

By that point we had arrived in the Alderaan system. Republic ships had also arrived with delegates too. News of the end of the war had already arrived and planet was in the middle of a spontaneous celebration of the event. Since Alys and Alys were busily talking to themselves, I figured it was time for a little fun as I prepped to head to the planet’s surface. I headed to one of the shuttle bays after requesting a pilot to take me planetside, only to find Valerie waiting for me planetside at the space port.

(Valerie) We agreed to spend time together.

(Kira) We did, doesn’t mean it has to be aboard the ship now does it?

(Valerie) Not at all, I just was curious as to why you didn’t invite me along.

(Kira) Well, you don’t seem the partying type. I mean the last one we both attended you ended up kidnapping my childhood friend and siccing Gregory on me.

(Valerie) Standard Sith courtship ritual. Next step was to knock you unconscious and drag you back home. Didn’t you learn anything at the Academy?

(Kira) Everything I know about Sith I learned from watching Holos. Come on, the festival is already starting.

The streets were packed with people. There didn’t seem to be much organization to it at all. People were cooking and providing whatever food they had in a large potluck buffet. Others were busily providing impromptu entertainment using whatever talents they had. Some of the adults even nominated themselves to watch after and entertain the various children. It certainly didn’t have the same air of refinement and class that the festivals back home had, but then again, this was a more poorer community and who was I to judge how a party was supposed to be run? They certainly seemed to be having fun with it.

A band started playing in one of the larger squares in the middle of the city. It wasn’t particularly good music, but they tried to make up for it with enthusiasm nonetheless. No one seemed to mind. Couples started dancing and the band started changing tempo accordingly. Another square was busily forming a some sort of fighting or wrestling competition. It was hard to tell what exactly it was, and given how drunk the participants were, I suspected that they weren’t sure either.

I think we were both rather surprised to see Virstris leap into the fray as she clocked one of the fighters with a bottle and tackled a second one. She too was obviously drunk, but seemed to be enjoying herself as she took another swig of someone’s drink. Augusta and Ban were cheering her on from the sidelines while Vincent was quietly shaking his head. I was especially impressed at the tactic of belching into her opponent’s face and causing him to pass out. Valerie wasn’t quite sure what to make of it though.

(Kira) This is a side of her we’ve not seen before.

(Valerie) Well, there were rumors that she participated in underground fighting rings throughout her time at Officer School. Not exactly the sort of thing a Councilman’s granddaughter was supposed to be involved in. No one was able to prove anything though.

(Kira) Then best we don’t witness this and claim ignorance at her time in medical afterwards.

(Valerie) Hey, Varen protect their own, especially family. Besides, it’s not like a drunken brawl in the middle of a celebration is all that unusual.

We continued wandering the party, sampling the food, watching the performances, and perusing the shop stalls that had begun to spring up along the streets selling a variety of wares. Well, I figured this was as good a time as any to pick up souvenirs for the friends and family for when I finally find them again. I also purchased a number of items for myself and I saw that Valerie was doing the same. I paid particular attention to getting a sampling of music while she focused more on clothing and artwork. Eventually we had to pay some of the kids to deliver the items to our shuttle for us as we continued wandering the streets.

I just couldn’t shake the feeling that this place felt like it belonged in the Outer Rim as opposed to the Galactic Core.

We participated in some of the contests and games, but refused any prizes for winning since we had an immensely unfair advantage. That eventually got the locals aware of the fact that we were both Binders, and once that information got out it spread like wildfire. Soon we had a number of people wanting to talk to us, give us gifts, and get our signatures. There were a number of requests for blessings and fortunes from us as well. I was rather unnerved by it all, but Valerie took it all in stride. She quickly sensed my unease with the situation.

<Valerie> Come now Kira, it’s not all that different from how Varen are treated back home. Well, minus the hero worshipping. The people want and need a superior breed to lead and guide them. It promises stability and prosperity for the future.

<Kira> I really don’t think of myself as part of a superior breed.

<Valerie> This coming from the man at least partially responsible for the defeat of Huriel, Lecrouss, and Zandaras? Plus a number of Faded and minor Sith as well.

<Kira> There were extenuating circumstances in most all of those cases.

<Valerie> Yes, and you either managed to arrange or exploit those circumstances to maximum effect and pull off a victory where everyone else has failed. Face it, you are a great hero out of legend to these people so try and act like it a bit. The symbolism of it all matters just as much as the actual deeds done.

There was no use fighting it with her. Plus the crowd was rather insistent with the matter too. So I went along with the process as Valerie mentally coached me through the motions of it all. I ended up giving blessings, telling fortunes, and otherwise going through the motions of acting like some sort of primitive Force cult shaman.

Eventually the festival turned to night and the more adult style entertainment started. This of course included the practically obligatory slow couple’s dance. The fact that we were by now known as the alternates of a certain popular Codifier couple started the demands from the crowd that we participate and even lead the first one. Valerie gave me a look demanding that I not question it as I was drug into the center of the plaza. Suddenly I was grateful for those dancing lessons from Dorothy as suddenly we became the center of the dance.

My skill wasn’t anything special, but I think we put on an decent start. The crowd started getting excited and the band did begin steadily increasingly the beat in proportion to the crowd’s mood. At that point both Valerie and I started tapping into our powers more and more to keep pace with the music and the crowd’s expectations. And quickly the resonance between us began to kick in and get stronger. It was like the resonance we felt during our sparring matches, but it was different too. More subtle and harmonious as opposed to matching power flows. The general heady mood in the party made the resonance rather hypnotic as we seemingly lost track of time.

Eventually we had to sit down and rest for a bit out of sheer exhaustion as the rest o the party-goers continued their celebrations. There was only so much the Force and Codex could do to help you maintain that level of performance for long. We found a quiet bench underneath one of the tree lit up with colored lighting. I was idling wondering where Virstris and the others had run off to when I noticed that Valerie had fallen asleep on my shoulder. I wasn’t about to begrudge her a nap after everything we’ve been through and it wasn’t like this wasn’t about as safe a place as would could get right now. I quietly pondered how different this was from the last party on Alderaan we had attended as I too fell asleep.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice, Part III

Inugami (犬神, a dog-spirit) from the Hyakkai-Zu...

Bloody Spirits!

It was easy to see that the staff of the Factory-Cathedral had their doubts about their new boss. A lot of the people in Yu-Shan looked odd, but “god-blooded kid” really wasn’t one of the guises that gods used – and it didn’t lead them to expect much. Sure, they’d gotten tied up in projects that they couldn’t finish – but it was pretty unlikely that a kid would be able to fix that, no matter how promising he was!

At least the boy turned out to be methodical. A survey of the premises, examination of problems, detailed inventory… Not a bad start. He even hired some minor unemployed gods to get some of the more standardized ingredients stocked up again. He’d have to find most of the rarer stuff himself of course.

Charles found that the supplies of magical materials, particularly jade, were fine.

The Adamant stocks were a little low, but it was a VERY low demand magical material, since attunement could be annoying. He might need to restock after making the artifacts that required it though.

There was some Soulsteel… and it hadn’t been made from Ambrosia (which put it in the “figure out how to let people out” pile). At least it was a low-demand magical material. As it turned out, most of what was on hand was… well, those definitely weren’t human faces. Trying to date it was… also odd. The metal was about twenty years old. The souls, on the other hand, were easily several billion years old.

Interesting and somewhat scary and VERY odd. Very old souls. Apparently far older than earth – or the universe.  Raksha perhaps? The stuff was carefully tracked… It looked like it had been captured during a Sidereal mission, and using it required prior approval from the Bureau of Endings. The Chosen of Secrets on that team had been quite befuddled by it. Soulsteel was rare enough, but stuff like this was even more so.

He left it alone for the moment. He didn’t know how to let anyone out yet anyway.

The starmetal was mostly ambrosia-made. It was very rare to execute gods nowadays, unless they’d lost their domain and somebody needed a scapegoat.

Well, THAT was just fine! Using ambrosia was quite acceptable!

There were plenty of basic components for the rating-1 and even a lot of the rating-2 stuff – and it would be at least weeks before anyone would even starts to imagine that anything could be done. It looked like the place normally ran six days a week, but only for about eight to ten hours – leaving a fair margin around the cool-down-and-recharge cycle that corresponded to “night” on Earth. Hm. That left some time in which he could use the facilities while no one was around!

Charles started planning. It would be best to stay under the radar for a bit, at least to start. He had some more charms and things to learn before he’d be ready to get into too much trouble. Ergo, at least for the moment, it would be best to study, make more artifacts, and get ready to deal with it when the serious questions started. Maybe if there was a good opening to deal with the gold or silver factions… He could just get THEIR artifacts ready fast.

  • So high priorities for private, personal, projects – after his tools and Ixian’s amulet – were Rachel Cartier’s boots, Malakai Run-and-Gun’s personal transport, and Sal Montague’s stuff. That was Solar, Lunar, and the Gold Faction. They’d be sure to appreciate it, they were all potentially very good contacts, and they were all unlikely to say anything about someone who could provide off-the-record artifacts fast.
  • Then WWW and Hiparkes – because the web was important (and because Charles kind of liked horses).
  • Well, maybe he’d sneak in a few of Hiparkes official orders on the “unofficial” side too. They should be pretty easy.
  • Lastly on the private side, the pirate goddess and Gustav Meyer – and Gustav wouldn’t be getting his stuff unreasonably early even if it was done early after all the others. After all, Gustav WAS bronze faction and Charles didn’t want to attract too much attention – so keeping deliveries for him on a reasonable timescale was sort of important. As for the Pirate Goddess… Well, unless she’d changed to internet piracy she probably wasn’t expecting her order to get done at all quickly – and SOMEBODY had to be towards the bottom of the list.

As for the official ones… nobody had put any special priorities on anything, at least as of yet. Ergo, lower-level artifacts first, simply because he was just starting up on the job, and those were simple, relatively quick, and would be a shakedown. Besides, he could take proper advantage of having access to a factory-cathedral to make lots of smaller stuff at the same time.

Harmonic Adapters would be best to start with. He only had orders for a few, but there were multiple orders, they were an easy start, and more were always in demand!

Ergo, for the first month or two, presuming that nothing came up, it was going to be lessons, run the cathedral, do private projects after hours, gather ingredients, and research things… A good thing that “running the cathedral” overlapped a good deal with study, design work, and gathering ingredients – and that he didn’t need to sleep all that much!

After that he could give their artifacts to Rachel, Malakai, and Sal and see what reaction he got…

He scheduled a few minor repairs – nothing too serious, but in an essence-forge as finely tuned as a Factory-Cathedral even the wrong shades of paint could fractionally impair performance.

The staff was pleasantly surprised at that. The kid had spotted pretty much everything – including the paint, and nobody had bothered with fixing THAT is eighty years. Had they actually gotten a boss who knew what he was doing? It might explain why someone with so few apparent political connections had landed the job… He could be older than he looked of course. That kind of thing was always hard to tell with god-blooded.

Since readying for a genuine production run would take a couple of days, Charles went off to look for ingredients. First up…

  • For Ixian’s Amulet of Shadow Walking, a vial of darkness from the depths of a cave where the sun had never shown, carved with an obsidian blade which has tasted blood, from the heartwood of a tree hit by lightning during a night storm.
  • For the Windblade it was feathers from five different predatory birds, a globe of each of the four winds, and a cloud from an otherwise cloudless day.
  • For the Swift Rider it was horseshoes from a Kentucky Derby champion and a hipparion bone.

A good thing he had cash! Hiring some agents or unemployed gods (there were more than a few who were willing to help out cheaply) could handle most of this. Any Spelunker or minor earth-deity could get the vial of darkness. He could easily chip out a obsidian blade – and surely blooding it wouldn’t be too hard. There were storms all the time, so the wood was just a matter of finding a tree that got hit during a storm at night. Ixian had influence with the little gods, and it was his amulet; he could just put out the word and they could even drop by at night before anyone saw and heal up the tree for it’s little-god dryad. Predatory bird feathers were a little scarce – they were mostly protected species after all – but money (and the exemptions for licensed falconers and older artworks) would cover that easily enough. After all, he had put in his own little zoo out in the fey reaches, so adding a few more exotic animals was nothing. His Inugami could trap some winds and clouds for him with thaumaturgy. Horseshoes from a kentucky derby winner might take some explaining, but should be doable with a fairly simple visit. There were a lot of winners on stud farms; he could just have someone visit, get a horse to throw a shoe, and collect the other three when the farrier said “Oh well!” and pulled them off to fit a fresh set. Horses threw shoes, and got fitted with replacement shoes, all the time, and it wasn’t like it hurt the horses any or the shoes were normally worth anything. It was an odd souvenir to want, but not like it was hazardous or secret or anything; any farrier would be willing to sell them. A hipparion bone was a bit more exotic though since they WERE extinct. Perhaps a natural history museum? He’d probably have to visit personally. Hipparion bones were fairly common, and could probably be bought and sold readily even if it wasn’t like they could get replacements from the stud farm.

Thank goodness these were only low-powered exotic ingredients! Higher-range stuff was going to be a lot harder.

Ixian was more than happy to help out with the crafting of his own amulet, and sent messages to his Terrestrial god friends to watch out for trees struck by lighting.

Oooh wait! With divination, and lifeweaving, and his skills, he could probably transform a few live gazelles or something into live hipparions! They wouldn’t be genuine for magical purposes in the first generation – but a century-long duration was quite long enough and they would breed true. He’d just need a few bones to start with – along, perhaps, with some line about genetic reconstruction from tiny DNA fragments in it or something! That would make whichever god is / was responsible for them really happy though!

Well… now that he’d thought of the poor, domainless god… Off to the natural history museum!

The receptionist wanted to know what his business with their paleontologist was of course. He DID look like a typical kid.

(Charles) “I’d like to talk about some extinct species and about funding one of his projects!”

(Receptionist, arching an eyebrow) “Well, I’ll see if he has some spare time then.”

As it turned out after a call, Dr Valenti wasn’t too busy today, thought that education was part of their business – and that if the kid donated a few bucks, it was a bonus. They sent him in.

(Charles) “Hello Dr Valenti! I’m pleased to meet you!”

(Dr Valenti) “The pleasure is mine, Mr. Ward. Now what are you interested in discussing? It’s been somewhat slow today, so I do have the time.”

He was pretty dubious about the “funding” claim, but he was more than willing to talk about his subject and specialty!

(Charles) “At the moment, I’m primarily interested in the horse’s evolutionary tree, especially Hipparion.”

(Dr Valenti) “Fascinating creatures, with a wide range. I remember when…”

The doctor spent some time talking about his first dig involving the creatures – and Charles was quite willing to converse for awhile. It didn’t take all that long for the man to forget that he was talking to an early teenager – or at least to conclude that he was talking to a prodigy.

(Charles) “Now, essentially I have a project that I’d like to try; current magnetic resonance imaging techniques suggest an alternative approach; a reconstructive scan projected onto a protein matrix, so as to provide a good reconstructive model of the soft tissue structures. What might be called temporal imaging. To try this out, I need some Hipparian samples – but I understand that they’re one of the more common fossils, and a few of the more damaged samples can readily be spared for such an experiment. In return, I am willing to fund your next dig for – shall we say – six months. Plus, of course, there’s the new data from any reconstructions I manage to produce.”

(Dr Valenti)  “That’s an… impressive technology, young man. Where did you find it?”

(Charles) “Mostly my own theories – but, if it doesn’t work, the cost is rather small.”

(Dr Valenti) “Well, no one is likely to make a fuss over a few samples. I’ll let you check some out under my name in return for letting me witness the process. – and, of course, the funding. You are serious about that, of course?”

Charles hadn’t quite planned that far ahead. Well, he did have a normal residence in Atlanta; he had one of the Inugami set up some complicated equipment, combined with some illusions, and some stuff that could burn out and smoke spectacularly. He could use a few of the Gazelles from his personal amalgam-making zoo. He certainly wanted to imply that this his “results” were unrepeatable!

(Charles) “Of course. I believe your last dig had a budget of 600,000$?”

(Dr Valenti) “Around 400,000, actually. I have many hard-working graduate assistants to help me.”

(Charles, pulling out a pocket computer and making some baking arrangements) “Very well then. It should be credited to your departments account, earmarked for your next dig, now.”

(Dr Valenti, blinking) “Your parents must treat you exceptionally well.”

(Charles) “Unfortunately, only my grandfather is available – but I make most of my own money these days; I hold the family resources in reserve.”

(Dr Valenti, startedly) “Ah. Well, I appreciate your donation, Charles.”

Dr Valenti was seriously wondering now… This boy – well, young man – claimed to be making enough money on his own to throw that kind of funding around on personal experiments? And still had time to study natural history and electronics in that kind of depth? Still, if he actually could reconstruct a soft-tissue model the technique could answer a LOT of paleontological questions!

Besides… At worst, he was up enough money for another dig without all the bother of raising funds and down an afternoon and few bones that weren’t at all unique or even unusual specimens. There wasn’t really any risk at all.

Dr Valenti got a few bone samples out of the storage rooms – and they headed off to Charle’s “apparatus”.

Charles’s little show basically involved feeding the specimens into the “machine”, a vat of fluids (actually an illusion over few gazelles of the appropriate sizes), lots of instruments, a gradual “reconstruction”, then a massive “power surge”, lots of smoke, and several damp and confused Hipparions about. The specimens were, “sadly”, “destroyed” in the event.

(Charles) “Dear me. THAT was not supposed to happen! In fact, it really ought to be impossible!”

Dr. Valenti needed to sit down. He was more than a bit woozy after that.

Charles got him a glass of water – and put the hipparions in the well-fenced yard.

(Charles) “Well, it looks like neither the original specimens nor my apparatus survived – but I suppose we’ll have to call it serendipity!”

(Dr Valenti, sipping his water and staring at the hipparions.) “Well. That’s… definitely the best word for it.”

(Charles) “Oh dear. I’m not sure I even want to try explaining this at the moment!”

One of the hipparions was looking his way… Almost certainly a minor deity peering through. The gaze was far too bright for a mere animal.

Charles made sure that Dr Valenti was where he couldn’t see and waved at it cheerily. It whinnied and nodded… He’d probably be hearing from that deity later on. He or she was probably a subsidiary under Hyparion these days.

(Charles) “Well, I suppose this gives the museum a new attraction! Animal care isn’t really my speciality, and I suspect that we’ll want a vet to give them rather a lot of immunizations before letting them come into contact with any other equines! They’d probably catch something they aren’t resistant to yet if they did!”

He fished out his computer and set about finding one, informing the man that they had foals, possibly with weak immune systems, so a full set of vaccinations and precautions against transinfection are were order. Fortunately, finding a horse veterinarian in Georgia was no trouble at all – and some money and a simple short-term secrecy agreement could handle keeping things quiet for the moment.

After all, if the man did start talking at the moment, he’d probably just get his license suspended for being crazy anyway. He could write it up later, especially if he wanted to work with Dr Valenti, who presumably had little expertise in live animal care.

The veterinarian was just as stunned as Dr Valenti, but he was perfectly willing to work on the hipparions.

(Charles) “Now, I think I’ll have to put this project on hold for a few months of consideration… Hipparions are almost certainly harmless, but re-introducing extinct species should probably be done with considerably more caution!”

Dr Valenti and Dr Winston were studying the hipparion very carefully. Charles figured that it was a good thing he’d done a complete job, right down to the genetic level! He quietly did some immunity-boosting and other health-boosting effects on them too – although it was fairly obvious that their patron god was keeping a very close eye on them anyway.

For someone who’d been without a domain, and so near-powerless, until a few hours ago, that wasn’t a bad suite of protective charms. Perhaps he, she, or it had gotten more help? Of course, as the species repopulated, there would be unprotected ones, but that’s how nature gods worked.

Oh dear. He really hadn’t thought this through all the way… In a week or two both Valenti and Winston – and probably a few more people – would be wanting to talk to him. On the other hand, he’d be needing a lot of odd things – and the museums and scientific research community was a great place to get them.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice, Part II

at=

You want HOW many of these?

Charles was too excited to sleep much – and so he was up very early indeed the next morning.

With rough list of ingredients on hand it was time to consider priorities!

  • Well, first up, the things he couldn’t yet make (like that Folding Ship) went straight to the “maybe sometime later” pile.
  • Things he COULD make, but would be really hard to explain, had to be designed, or called for unobtainable ingredients, got low priorities.
  • That left… the easier stuff, for which designs were available, and with readily-obtained components.

Well, that was an easy sort. And pretty much what would be expected of ANY new director! He could tell the workers… Oh wait. Politics was supposed to come into it too. After all, this WAS Yu-Shan!

It was normally half by ascending order of artifact complexity and half political? But that could easily result in a priority order that couldn’t be filled in ANY reasonable length of time jamming up the facilities for ages…

Oh, wait. No wonder nothing ever got done.

So…

WWW was probably important, and had been helpful enough to include a full set of schematics for his Tapestry Box. It was something mid-range and reasonable to build anyway.

Rua of the Perfected Forge was important, and had included directions as to where to pick up the designs in the archives. The stuff she wanted – her Thunderbolt Shield, Hearthstone Bracers, and Daikalbar – was fairly minor too, but it WAS three items.

Burning Feather was wildly popular, but was probably not in that big of a rush. Her Thousand Comfort Lounges and intoxicant-injecting claws would be convenient for her, but her thousands of pushers, advertising agencies, and the general stresses of modern life already made her work WAY too easy anyway.

Mr. Montague, the Chosen of Serenity, had included very COMPLETE details for his swift flyer – possibly indicating that he had no confidence in Charles’s abilities – but it WAS handy.

Details on most of the rest – except for that blasted plastic boat meant to fold up and to fly around on a cushion of bubbles – should be available in the libraries.

Well, the boat was on hold for the moment anyway.

Off to the libraries!

Not The Forbidding Manse of Ivy, or at least not to start with.

Ixiah sped right over! After all, Charles was going to work on his amulet first, right? Besides, it was always wise for an apparent mortal in Yu-Shan to have a minor god along!

Well, Ixiah’s Amulet of Shadow Walking wasn’t on the official list, but it was high up on the private projects list!

They took a private gondola. It saved explanations along the way (even if it took some explaining at the start) and they WERE on official business!

Charles did have to distract Ixiah with portable video games, but that was easy enough!

They soon arrived at the Garden of Artifice, one of the smaller artifact design archives in the Celestial City.

(Charles) “Hello Mr Celestial Lion!”

(Lion) “Good day, young . . . ah, Charles is it. What brings you to this library?”

(Charles) “Well, I have a lot of artifact-orders from various people, and I needed to look up some designs – if they’re available. Can we come in?”

The celestial lion debated the merits of admitting a god-blooded child and a child-god to the very formal libraries of heaven with himself for a moment. He looked them over with the adamant gaze all celestial lions give visitors.

(Lion) “Well, you and Ixiah are who you appear to be. Come in, and please do not disturb the other patrons.”

(Charles) “We’ll try not to!”

The gate swung open – and Charles tried to keep Ixian quiet, if mostly by turning down the sound on his portable game module (he’d forgotten to turn it down. Again). There were be odd looks, especially from stodgier gods. Quite a few of them seemed to be wondering where their parents were.

They headed for the (messy, if extremely ornate) filing cabinet…

Finding the minor artifact plans was be easy enough. Those sections saw enough use to be kept reasonably well-organized. The moderate ones… not so much. That filing cabinet was in sorry shape, although a human attendant was making a valiant effort at fixing that in minutes snatched between the demands of various divine library patrons.

(Charles) “Oh dear! Can I help with the sorting a bit? I need to find some artifact designs!”

(Archivest) “I’m not sure what my supervisor would think, but it couldn’t hurt. If you see a god with manila folders sprouting from his hair, look like you’re lost, okay?”

(Charles) “No problem!”

Hm… At least fifty or sixty hours of sorting here. All to be done in two-minute snatches in between the demands of patrons who were messing things up more. The Attendant was making remarkably good progress, but it was obvious that he spent most of his time trying to break even… Most mortals would just scream at this organizational system and run to a safe, quiet corner though, you had to give him credit for keeping with it!

Hmm… Nobody was obviously looking… Most of the people here were either looking through the stacks, thumbing through the cabinets, reading plans, or doing other things not at all related to research. He could get away with helping some!

Charles waited until the attendant was busy elsewhere for a minute or two, and applied the Laborer’s Word a few times… And done!

The attendant had been getting a cup of coffee. When he turned around he was a bit incredulous – and stared at the file cabinet, blinking.

(Charles) “There we go! Now let me see… I need to find…”

Charles started looking up and noting locations. They were easy to find now that everything was organized!

(Archivist, approaching discreetly) “Um… thank you. That system’s needed work for decades.”

(Charles) “Oh you’re welcome! I hate for things to be a mess!”

(Archivist, looking around to make that nobody was looking) “Do you… teach that?”

(Charles) “Hm… It seems to be a personal knack, but I could try to come up with something!”

After all, there should be variants on that ability – if, perhaps, a bit less effective, for pretty much everyone! It WAS pretty basic after all!

(Archivist) “I just learned how to channel Essence, so every bit helps.” (He gave Charles his contact information) “Why don’t you call me when you’ve got something? And is there anything I can help you with?”

(Charles) “Well… I was kind of wondering about making tools to make things with without going all the way up to wyld vortexes and things. Are there any designs that you know of for lesser tools like that?”

(Archivist) “Certainly, young man. Please follow me.”

Charles made sure to tow Ixiah along… You never knew what he might get up to if you left him alone and he WAS getting pretty impatient with having to be quiet and not jump around!

The “Essence Artifice” section of the archives was – of course – right between “Earth Artifice” and “Fire Artifice” segments.

The Wonderworker’s Mantle certainly looked like what he had in mind… He’d have to make one of those as quickly as possible!

Hm… A Dancing Dragon Ring would be quick and easy

A Dancing Dragon Ring (Artifact *) is forged with a spiraling pattern of intertwining elemental dragons with their eyes, fangs, and talons picked out with tiny inlays of the various magical materials. It’s a minor aid in efficiently channeling the flow of essence into magical effects. Once a mote is committed to the ring it can be attuned to any three charms or thaumaturgic effects given an hour of concentration each. The rings aid reduces the cost of using a charm by one mote (to a minimum of one mote) and allows Thaumaturgic effects to be used three times a day without cost. Unfortunately, using a Dancing Dragon Ring requires calm concentration and a delicate control of essence flows – luxuries which are not available in combat or emergency situations.

He also needed to come up with something for the Archivist… Still, that would be fairly easy, and he probably wasn’t expecting anything immediate.

Fortunately, heaven had copying machines, even if they were magical and fueled by ambrosia! He had a small official budget for things like that anyway!

Oops… he’d gotten so interested in the artifact designs that he’d forgotten to keep an eye on Ixiah. He’d have to find Ixiah and find out what he was up to.

Oh dear, he seemed to be walking on top of the shelves over by the stairway. In – or at least on top of – the section on artifact musical instruments. Heading to swing on the vines, even if he was still playing with his game system.

Wait, vines?

Oh yes, the “Garden of Artifice.”

Oh dear. Charles busily prepared to prop things up if necessary. At least he had pretty much everything he needed…

(Charles, on the link) “Ixiah, if you get us into trouble it will hold up your amulet!”

(Ixiah) “I’m just looking around! I never went to this place before!”

Well, there were a few interesting designs over there. Artifact string and woodwind instruments. Some self-playing, others capable of breaking down structures, a few able to play the chords of death?!? What a nasty thing to do to something dedicated to art! Probably some of those elder Sidereals, they could be quite nasty at times!

Definitely time to leave before the kid in Ixiah got ahead of the god… They had loads of stuff to carry anyway – scrolls and sheets covered with artifact designs, past all the older gods – some of whom were staring at Ixiah quite hard.

Hopefully he hadn’t pickpocketed them all or something. He really should be more careful! 8: Having kids in your domain only went so far toward mitigating mischievousness.

Oh well, the gods were probably assuming that they were just messengers or some such. It wasn’t like either of them was especially famous or influential and they WERE kids.

Back at the Factory-Cathedral it looked like all of the plans would work – although some of them were a lot less clear than others. Clearly some of these weren’t composed with the help of Charms – and the one for that soulsteel Windblade is particularly unclear. Almost as if the archivists didn’t want people building it, but didn’t have the clout to make it forbidden.

Well, they were down on private aerial transport in Yu-Shan.

Ixiah left – something about business at the Golden Barque – but Charles was deep in the plans by then… Most of the rest were quite good enough, and he wouldn’t be getting to the Windblade for some time. Under normal circumstances the orders he already had would take YEARS.

Oops! Time for school!

School was pretty casual in Yu-Shan. The God-Blooded almost ALWAYS enjoyed extended lifespans – in one way or another – and it was often more a matter of developing natural talents than training. It was usually only a few hours out of the day, with most of the rest being spent on practical learning – apprenticeships, jobs, and service to the various divinities.

Today’s lessons were ancient history, both mundane and occult, advanced thaumaturgy, and – to work off stress – a bit of fencing.

Ancient history was pretty dull… Charles was already an expert THERE, and – save for the occasional new factoid – class was just a desperate struggle to conceal how competent he already was so as to avoid annoying the rest of the class (and occasional intervals when he was unable to resist teaching a bit). Advanced Thaumaturgy was another one he mostly already knew, but the details of the rituals were interesting. Fencing… at that he was just TERRIBLE. You could hurt people in that class if you weren’t careful!

(Very minor war deity, fuming slightly) “The end that isn’t pointy, if you please.”

(Charles) “Uhm… Ok!”

He was busy inspecting the workmanship as an on-guard position…

(Charles) “About three centuries… Looks like the Islessian flexible-steel alloy… Needs a bit of regrinding on the lower edge there, a bit of a nick, balance would be improved with a pommelstone about 5% heavier…”

He was considering the proper spell to cast on it when another blade hit it.

(War God) “Pay less attention to the craftsmanship and more attention to the fight!”

He was trying not to hurt the boy – after all, with a job like his, he must have a fairly powerful parent – but the boy REALLY needed to pay attention!

(War God) “Do you remember the basic stance from last week?”

(Charles) “Erm… How’s this?”

The war god sighed. The child was obviously unskilled – and just as obviously was a pacifist – but he was very fast and smooth, which was something. There was potential at least.

(War God) “You have potential, but you need to pay attention to your positioning. If you leave yourself open like that, your opponents will eat you alive. Here, I’ll demonstrate again.”

The boy did follow reasonably well. Just very non-aggressive. Well, the boys grandfather was insisting on combat training, even if the kid wasn’t too well suited to it. Was the child planning on defending himself with magic? God-blooded rarely had the essence reserves for that – or the power, even if they COULD learn a few basic charms. Yes, the kid was skilled in healing thaumaturgy – as demonstrated by his ability to patch up the other students when they got hurt, like (sigh) that one now.

Yes, healing was a welcome skill in any unit – but thaumaturgy was completely useless in an actual fight unless the child was up to actual sorcery. Oh well. Even if combat was never going to be natural to the child, he could at least be competent at defending himself. Besides, who knew? He might actually have the talent for Sorcery. He certainly had a talent for artifice.

(Charles) “You all right there?”

(Temerith, child of a textile god) “Yeah, thanks!”

(Charles) “You’re welcome!”

Temerith went off to meet his nanny, who looked very uncomfortable in her wool outfit. At least she didn’t have a parrot-headed umbrella!

So, off to work; day one.

Exalted – Hearthstones V

Lunar south pole region as imaged by Clementin...

The Eyes of the Moon

Black Opaline Inkstone (Water or Wood, * to *****):

This simple, shallow, bowl-shaped stone shimmers with a thousand internal colors, threading through the crystalline black matrix of the stone. When a pen, or writing brush, is touched to the stone, a thread of color will flow into it, filling it with any desired ink – although more powerful stones have other functions as well.

  1. * – You have an endless supply of any mundane ink you desire.
  2. ** – You may apply the ink the stone creates to a surface by simply waving your hand over it, reducing the time needed for relevant creative mundane projects by a factor of ten and the time required for uncreative mundane projects – such as copying an inscription – to a few moments.
  3. *** – You may also produce paper, papyrus, vellum or any similar mundane writing surface as needed, complete with bindings.
  4. **** – You may produce exotic and alchemical inks and materials, such as gold leaf for illumination, write in leviathan blood on dinosaur-hide parchment, and otherwise create wild and wonderful literary ingredients.
  5. ***** – You may produce an instant copy of any book which you could – given your current resources and abilities – normally obtain within one month.

Lens of the Moon (Lunar, * to *****)

This clear lens glows with the silvery luminescence of the moon (and the occasional thamaturgist will find that its light has all the normal properties of moonlight). Immediately upon acquiring the stone, or each lunar month during the full moon, the user can draw upon that light, and the transforming powers of the moon, to take on an ability which the character could purchase normally at the moment – if he or she had the time and experience and was qualified to do so. Unfortunately, the user must pay all the normal costs of using that ability and it only lasts until the next full moon.

  1. * – The user may temporarily pick up one dot in an ability.
  2. ** – The user may temporarily acquire a spell.
  3. *** – The user may temporarily learn an in-type charm.
  4. **** – The user may temporarily pick up one dot in an attribute.
  5. ***** – The user may pick up any two items from the list above.

Stone of Radiant Purity (Solar or Water, * to *****)

In the light, this simple oval stone takes on any color the user desires – and perfectly absorbs all other frequencies, transmitting only a simple monochromatic beam of that color – near-perfectly coherent and  collimated. When touched to a container up to the size of a barrel, the container and it’s contents will be bathed in the pure color of the stone – and its contents will be purified, the impurities flowing out around the stone.

  1. * – Can remove poisons and toxins, either selectively or all at once.
  2. ** – Can remove non-toxic impurities, either selectively or all at once.
  3. *** – Can mundanely refine materials, extracting, or leaving behind, pure elements and compounds.
  4. **** – Can mundanely process materials, extracting finished perfumes from flowers, cracking crude oil to extract various petroleum products, and creating specific alloys and products.
  5. ***** – Can thaumaturgically and alchemically process materials, although this requires eight hours and requires that the user have the skill (and make the roll) to carry out the desired process.

Federation-Apocalypse Session 165 – The Siege of Barrataur

Fire! Fire!

Martial Arts Do Not Do That!

Back in Barrataur in the Forgotten Realms, the Dark Elves of Barrataur were having problems… It wasn’t so much that the local surface-dwellers didn’t trust them. They’d known that THAT was going to happen. It was the attacks and raids. The Sun Elves hadn’t been to helpful – and, while the Moon Elves had sent some supplies, they had few resources in the area.

The Dark Elves were having some difficulty adjusting to surface warfare anyway. They were too used to working with a tunnel system. The tunnels made tracking your enemies and fortifying the approaches a lot simpler, ranged weapons a lot less important, and individually-targeted magics more valuable than area effects. The tactical adjustments, and learning the new skills, took time. Admittedly, the surface made it easier to fall back, and the monsters were a lot less trouble – but they hadn’t had the time to make adjustments yet.

There were several Thralls assigned to Barrataur, and an Amarant Solutions office. Marty had set that up – and exchanged Thrall-services and a promise of protection for later child custody – when he’d found that his celebrations in the underdark had left several pregnancies behind. With those children not yet born, it wasn’t long before the Thralls assigned to Barrataur called for more assistance. They needed a team or two to track down the attackers and see what could be done about them.

Being that this would be direct service to Kevin and Marty, several teams rushed to get there – and one, of course, was first by several hours. They’d only been one gate away, rather than being back in Kadia and having to use a chain. Kevin had wanted to avoid offending the local gods, so he hadn’t opened a direct gate to Kadia.

That gave them a great chance to impress Kevin and Marty!

This particular Thrall-team included:

  • Alaria. (Abjuration, Illusion, and Transmutation, with the Dark Flame Witchcraft ability, her Luck upgraded to apply to skills as well as saves, and some skill in negotiation).
  • Tom Kesselworth. (Conjuration, Evocation, and Divination, with extended-duration summonings Mindspeech for summoned creatures only, and a good knowledge of summonable creatures).
  • Francisco Adivera, Kholichmen (Abjuration, Enchantment, and Necromancy, with a fair degree of control over the lesser undead)

Through the gateway, the dark forests of the Forgotten Realms spread out before them – haunted by all the monsters and troubles one would expect of an old gaming world. Hadn’t all those old authors realized that people would actually have to live there sometime?

Well, to be fair, that had probably never occurred to most of them back in the days of ignorance! It wasn’t like the modern era, where people were expected to write responsibly!

It was about twenty miles to Barrataur – and, according to the local Thralls, the attacks so far had involved basic small-party raids, arrow-sniping from the woods with occasional attempts to set something on fire, various provoking depredations against the neighbors being blamed on Barrataur, and some fairly powerful summoned monsters. Not too serious yet, but the threat was definitely growing.

It would be a mere day along the road, probably two or three if they skulked through the deep woods. Of course, it would be less than an hour as the eagle flew – so they shapeshifted. Speed was more important than conserving their power at the moment!

Tom called up a few more eagles for an escort. You never knew what would be flying around in places like this, and being unceremoniously sent back to Kadia would be downright embarrassing! Hopefully no one would notice that they were extraplainer eagles that did not normally flock…

The flight was peaceful at first – but there was an odd predominance of carnivorous animals in the area. It looked like rather too many to find enough to eat normally. Perhaps some of the summoned animals they were having problems with? The beasts did seem to be  concentrated around the new fields and farms, and around a small complex of buildings – although they seem to be lurking there, rather than hunting.

Hm… Most of them seem to have been charmed, given some instructions – lurk, wait for panics and such during raids, target the most vulnerable first on those occasions – and set loose. Others were larger than usual and intelligent – if clearly quite nasty.

So, at least one nature or enchantment oriented mystic in the area – and one who was nasty enough to give a set of orders that amounted to “starve until you get a chance to devour frightened children”. That was just mean! Still, it was no wonder that the Thralls currently present hadn’t had much luck; they were all protectors, builders, producers of supplies, and healers, rather than being investigators or combatants. Besides, it was hard to investigate while bodyguarding pregnant women.

They passed their findings on to the local Thralls and set out to track the animals back to their source. That way they could try to get some hunter or druid types in deal with or cure the animals.

Sending flocks of eagles and ravens out to scout seemed best. That had limits, but they had excellent eyesight and could cover a lot of territory.

Their hosts of magical minions (aided by a little computer analysis) soon determined that the animals were thickest on the foothills side of the city, where the roads didn’t pass and there were high bluffs. They seemed to thin out past that though – whereas their population was about normal across most of the rest of the region. The hills themselves commanded a fair view of the city and were heavily wooded. The birds had noted traces of smoke, but no apparent fires. Most of the raids, however, had been from the north, while the bluffs were to the east.

Hiding out in the bluffs and trying to fake another direction or multiple groups?

Never mind! If they waited too long, other groups would catch up! They needed to find someone and stomp them!

Tom was rather impaitient and direct about it. He’d just spent far too long summoning boring birds! He wanted to head over to the bluffs, so he could summon more interesting things, like predatory cats!

Unfortunately for that, a detailed search of the hills called for dogs, squirrels, birds, and gophers (just in case they had an underground base). It left him almost screaming with boredom!

It took more hours – and shapeshifting into canines in the interestes of concealment and to check scents themselves – but eventually the scent of smoke led to a very well-concealed camp, with a few magical wards on it as well. There was a complex altar of piled stones with carefully arranged wooden carvings of various animals around it and green and red runes painted all over it. An older man was sitting by it meditating – doing something telepathic and directed at normal animals. Sadly, there was no easy way of telling just what.

A ritualist perhaps?

There was…

  • A younger man with light leather armor, a bow, and a rapier. A scout or expert type?
  • An unpleasant looking fellow wearing very light looking black chainmail and carrying rather a lot of knives. Probably a killer of some sort.
  • A tall man wearing furs and carrying a very large sword. Looked like a fairly classical “barbarian warrior” of some sort.
  • A youngster who was amusing himself by sending little bolts of black fire leaping from finger to finger. There was quite a lot of power there. Some sort of special talent? Wait! The summoned creatures had been reported as being “made of black fire”; perhaps he was a summoner?
  • A lizard-man who was roasting something over a fire. He wasn’t wearing much, but was carrying two of the oddest weapons – circles of steel with jagged blades sticking out, a bit like a sunburst with the center missing. No telling what HE was.
  • A fellow who seemed to be partially made of metal? Didn’t that sort of thing belong over in Crusader?
  • A trio of youthful, mostly-naked, female drow, apparently recently enslaved. All three of them were gagged.

Well, they certainly looked like adventuring types. They could just hide somewhere and send in a mob of creatures to get them, but it probably wouldn’t work so well. The captives looked like normal drow, probably about sixty or so. Still, a ritual plus bound slaves usually equaled bad stuff – at least if they were related.

The wards were mostly illusion-concealment, alarms, and anti-detection. Not much in the way of keep-things-out or block magic. Evidently they thought that they could handle most things themselves if they weren’t surprised. It looked like breaking them would send up the alarm if they weren’t VERY careful too.

Oh what the heck! Tom proposed simply having some eagles dive bomb them all at once. No one expected that! Then they could follow up with a really big dogs and a dog sled to rescue the girls

Well, why not? Alaria liked sledding, and the eagles would make a good distraction – and she could see that Tom was frantic to get into the action.

Still, it was hard to be a hero if you kept getting killed! It might be best to keep this to a rescue rather than trying to end it all in one fell swoop.

Even if it was a great many fell swoops aiming for their heads.

While they were summoning up their horde, a procession of wolves wandered into the camp and sat quietly while the old fellow enchanted them and gave them their orders. It looked like there was a tactical change underway; they were getting a few ritual spells and guidance and were being sent into the city to raid the priestesses of Ellistree in particular. Apparently – from the discussion – in conjunction with the kid summoning something.

The kid wasn’t in on the talking though, he’d taken one of the drow girls into a tent and seemed to be distracted.

Tom passed the warnings back to town while Alaria prepared to have the eagles rip the tent apart – albeit without killing anyone inside. He was a teenaged boy, and she was NOT going to stand for whatever he was planning! A summoner taking away a slave might not be for fun!

They set up some vision enhancement spells, summoned some mist, and took their little horde in, disrupting the wards as they went. They gave a priority to the black fire kid; he seemed to be central to their plans and might be a caster – so they had the birds concentrate on swarming him for distraction and damage as convenient.

The wards sounded the alarm as the rain of hawks dropped in – but that caused most of their targets to snatch weapons and look into the forest, then to look up at the birds – and then all around as the ground forces started rushing out, while the obscuring mist and tent-ripping added a little confusion. It gave them a few, precious, moments in which to work.

Alaria led off with a brief hypnotic spell on as many of the targets as possible, but only managed to get most of the wolves (good! they were under control after all!) and the presumed barbarian – and it wouldn’t hold him long.

Tom hurled nets of webbing. There was nothing like entanglement for area denial! Or at least not until you got into much more powerful spells than he could handle… He was lucky enough to get the barbarian, the ritualist, the matallic fellow, somw wolves, and the bowman. They too would break free in moments, but that might be enough to get another shot in!

Francisco set up some debilitating spells to hit the kid as soon as the hawks tore away the tent. If he was vital to the enemy, best to cripple him as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, Francisco was hurled back from the tent as a towering monstrosity of black flame erupted from it. The kid was nowhere to be seen, although the dark elf girl was there. At least she looked to be normal enough, if a bit naked and shocked.

Tom headed in to scoop up the girls and run – redirecting the birds to the giant flaming thing in lieu of the kid along the way.

Alaria sped up the dogs; she couldn’t do much spreading a spell over that many targets, but she could buff them a bit – and every little bit would help.

They scooped up the two in the open before the adventurers got organized and started striking back.

The ritualist unleashed a firestorm across the area, exempting his own allies – but incinerating an awful lot of their summoned creatures. The bowman was engaged with the dogs, but that obviously wasn’t going to take him long. The knife expert caught Alaria with a poisoned blade (and some fairly impressive damage; fortunately, she could easily counter both – but she couldn’t keep that up for long!) while the lizard man was generating a flame-vortex around himself with those weird weapons to finish off what birds the firestorm and a burst of dark power from the flame-entity had left.

Only the metallic fellow and the barbarian were still out of action, and that wasn’t going to last. Not so good. These guys were evidently all pretty powerful.

Francisco was confronting the black flame thing – yanking the girl out of the way and unleashing a double set of high-powered power-word blasts, which the thing simply seemed to absorb.

Alaria was using her own power words – unleashing a nauseating cloud while also trying to shrink the knife-thrower… Wait; the cloud had affected the ritualist and the metallic fellow – she could almost feel sorry for him, he was having no luck at all. It sent most of the wolves fleeing too, which was a bonus – although it wasn’t like they’d been accomplishing anything anyway.  Wait. It had annoyed the flame-thing? She’d thought it was just a construct or a summoning! Was the kid just wearing a demon as a form of armor? They should do something about that!

Tom unleashed the biggest effect he had available – a massive lightning-spell, that could hit up to four targets – and hit the ritualist, the flame-thing, the lizard-man, and the archer. Sadly, the flame-thing just absorbed it and the lizard-man deflected it, but it hurt the ritualist and knocked the archer unconscious.

For a surprise-ambush with massive magical setup and a lot of limited-shot stuff in reserve this was not going so well!

The ritualist triggered something that healed him – and threw an Ice Storm that exempted his allies. The fellow with the knives flicked a couple Tom’s way, once again adding poisoning to injury – and draining his reserves. The black flame thing was looking a bit battered – but pointed a hand at Francisco and unleashed his own blasting spells back at him, which left him nearly unconscious even WITH his healing powers. The metallic fellow recovered from his hypnosis, and Alaria managed to avoid the lizard-man – but only barely.

Alaria tried to chill the lizard-guys flaming weapons as she hauled the last girl aboard their sled -but it didn’t seem to have much effect beyond snuffing the firestorm he’d been generating… Oh well, at least that was something!

Wait, those things… “Wind Fire Wheels”? That wasn’t supposed to be literal!

Tom used the lizard-mans fire – and all the ones the firestorm had ignited – as a source for some pyrotechnics and choking smoke. Their smartclothes could compensate – and he had a bad feeling about that kid… That dark fire was looking more and more like some form of dragonfire construct – they usually called it “Nightfire” locally – and trying to use THAT as a flame source was likely to go very VERY wrong.

It blinded the ritualist and the knife expert for a few moments anyway.

Francisco was not in good shape. On the other hand, the Forgotten Realms did allow guns… and a bit of cheating would let him use Core weapons, rather than the local quasi-black powder variants. An autofire burst from gyroc launcher with explosive shells was enough to finish disrupting the  flame-construct – revealing an angry youngster with nothing on but a shirt and flickers of black flame.

With the ritualist and the knife-thrower recovering their eyesight, the metallic fellow ripping free of the webbing, and the archer unconscious (but apparently starting to recover), the lizard-man reignited his firestorm and sent waves of flame boiling after all three of them – flattening Francisco and inflicting vicious burns on Alaria and Tom. The kid simply renewed his nightfire construct armor, flaring up once more, and the barbarian struck at Tom, hammering right though his force field, smartclothes, and personal resistance to injury.

Time to run. They flung spells of silence and minor witchcraft-illusions to cover their retreat.

The metallic fellow nearly hit them with a tree, while the lizard-man sent burning winds chasing them – but the fires behind them gave them a few moments head start.

They let the Thralls in town know that they were coming in with some Dark Elf captives that they’d retrieved – and threw more boosting-spells at the dogs pulling the sled. Fortunately, even minor illusions were great for diverting pursuit.

Describing the group to the local Thralls got an ID – the “Obsidian Blades”, a mercenary group (although the kid was new, and had apparently been the one sending constructs into town). According the what little was currently known, they were supposed to be working for a nearby mageguild – but they might be middlemen; they were a small group and shouldn’t have that much cash…

They’d have to look into that next!

Special Investigator Nimh Tahl’s Field Report – Session 62a

The Battle of Coruscant Issue two of the Tales...

Not again!

Down on Coruscant, Jacob was somewhat disappointed to find out that the resistance was going out of business before it really even got started. It had started gathering as soon as the republic fleet arrived and it had become obvious that there was nothing left to lose – but it had suddenly become quite unnecessary. The authorities might need to hunt down a few Sith and some troops hiding in the depths of Coruscant – but the decisive capture of the orbiting Sith flotilla and the disappearance of Huriel and most of the rest of the Sith leaders (along with, sadly, some of the most senior Jedi) had left nothing to resist – and he wasn’t much for hunting people down in cities.

He got back in touch with everyone else.

At the center of the galaxy, the galactic black hole had – of course – shrunk back to something near it’s original size, or even substantially smaller. It’s rotation had, however, been greatly reduced.

Keldav and Nere were still missing. The fact that the Senate building was now missing below on Coruscant suggested that they had used the subspace drive on their ship to move it and deep freeze Huriel. The fact that they weren’t trying to communicate with us and that the beacon system had failed to operate suggested that something had gone wrong with the jump. Plus since the direction a subspace drive chooses to take is seemingly random, predicting where they ended up wasn’t something we could readily accomplish. Still, that didn’t mean they were lost in the void for the rest of eternity, we just had to search smarter.

Currently there was no know way for a subspace drive to drop out of the universe or out of the timeline. It just moved a given mass along a direction for a given amount of distance. Mass was determined by the configuration of the drive and the payload. Direction was indeterminate as far as we knew. Distance was also a factor of the power input too. The amount of power available to the ship was limited and known. The estimated mass of the Senate building and the ship was known. The most likely failure scenario was that the payload exceeded what the ship was able to safely carry. Ergo, we could derive a maximum distance the ship could have traveled and use that to calculate a spherical zone for searching.

It seemed prudent to start at the edge of the sphere and work inwards towards the center. I supposed it was possible that the ship and Senate building had materialized within the planet itself, but the odds of that happening were minuscule compared with the possible volume they could have appeared in. Besides, I would have figured two Hybrids and a Codifier would be able to know if that was going to happen and avoid it if at all possible.

Soung was having little luck trying to determine Keldav’s location. This visibly seemed to frustrate her, which I suppose made sense. Shipwreck though was busily scanning space looking for a nearly black object with a surface temperature of a fraction of a degree above absolute zero. All I could see in his scans was an relatively immense amount of noise coming from the background of the universe and an immense amount of chatter coming from the fleet and Coruscant. Eventually Shipwreck pointed to one of the many slightly-dimmer spots on his screen and gave coordinates to Handell. Handell in turn brought the Mrs Beasley around to those coordinates with a speed and grace I didn’t think a ship of this size capable of.

I took the time to swap droid modules so I had the ones with various engineering programs installed while we waited for word. Sensor scans quickly began to register a large object ahead of us that was impossibly cold and silent. Quickly enough we saw a black occlusion of the stars begin to grow and take shape. Once we got close enough that the ship could focus lights on the object, we could see the slowly rotating hulk of the Senate building hanging in space – still slowly outgassing what was probably the slowest-moving supercooled atmosphere in galaxy.

Quickly a team was assembled of technicians, Valerie, and myself as we loaded into one of the shuttles. Augusta Stance piloted as we left the Mrs Beasley and began to survey the situation. From the looks of things, the building had been cleanly cut from the city, presumably by Jacob with that ridiculously large lightsaber of his. It was also clear that the building had taken an immense amount of structural damage from those event horizon filaments Huriel had been projecting. I estimated that the building would have been in danger of a major structural failure if it still had been in a gravity well.

We found Keldav’s ship at the top of the building. It looked to be welded to the Senate building, probably to help enable the surface effect to propagate properly. We donned our space suits, double checked the seals on everyone, and then disembarked from the shuttle. Most of the technicians went to work surveying the outside of the ship for damage or looking into the status of the interior of the Senate building. I tried to manually open the outer airlock door without a lot of success. No matter how I pushed or pulled, it simply refused to budge. Soung then pushed me aside, grasped the handle, and turned it seemingly effortlessly.

Once inside the interior, we saw that everything was still frozen like the outside. We were also able to confirm that Keldav, Nere, and – surprisingly enough – Therus were all aboard huddled around the subspace drive console. None of them looked to be damaged in any way. I immediately turned my attention to the power and defrosting systems. It definitely looked like the power distribution system had been overloaded by a massive current draw way above specification. The neutronium system survived intact though. From what little I was able to tell about that, there were going to be stability problems in the short to mid term unless power was restored, but I didn’t have enough expertise to really say more than that. The other technicians or Smoche were going to have to deal with that.

I turned my attention back to the defrosting system. It looked to be intact and functional save for the lack of power. It took a few minutes to determine the voltage and current requirements for the system and then modify the calculations to handle just defrosting the three frozen crew without bothering with the entire ship. With the numbers in hand, I sent word to the Mrs Beasley to deliver a suitable power supply for the job. Droids delivered it minutes later and we ran the extension cords into the ship to hook up to the system. Glancing at Soung for any precognitive issues she might foresee, I then cycled the system.

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 62

Next thing I was aware of was a bright flash of light followed by the entire interior of the ship suddenly turning impossibly cold. I was suddenly struck by the fear that something had in fact failed, the ship was now stuck frozen solid inside the black hole, and I was still aware of the passage of time to slowly die in here – or worse, to never die. It was at that point that I became aware of the immense difficulty of breathing as the very air seemed frozen into a fine mist. I was really beginning to panic when I felt something grab me hard and a breath mask was placed over my face.

<Valerie> Calm down, breathe.

A few quick breathes of air and running through the calming techniques quickly got things under control. I snapped the breath mask into place and surveyed the situation. Valerie was behind me in a space suit, as was Nimh and a number of technicians. They looked to be calming Ben and Alys while giving them breath masks as well. I could see sections of the flooring pried open to reveal conduits and cabling hidden beneath the floor. I saw splices leading out the airlock that was propped open. Something had obviously gone wrong.

<Kira> What happened?

<Valerie> Looks like dragging Huriel with you overloaded the power system. You made the jump and dropped the stasis effect, but the recovery systems were unable to operate without power. It took several hours to find you.

<Kira> So we freed the Galactic Core then? How is that going?

<Valerie> Chaos, confusion, accusations of people being Sith, and absurdly weird events happening. It should sound normal to you.

<Kira> I have expectations I have to meet you know. How else am I supposed to make acting normal seem so weird?

Ben, Nimh, and the technicians then began to get distracted with the power core. Alys rushed off to handle explanations and negotiations with the Republic, Faded, and Codifiers. Valerie and I went off to assist with the survey of the interior of the Senate building. Inside, droids and technicians were already setting up lighting so we could see what was going on. The destruction was pretty serious. Major structural damage was everywhere, there were signs of a major firefight, and there were a number of Sith soldiers frozen solid throughout the building. The main Senate chamber was especially torn up. There was a serious amount of destruction at the center of the chamber on the Senate floor – as well as a lot of senators who, thanks to being frozen at the instant of their injuries, might still survive.

Meanwhile, Alys was handling the republic fleet. With the disappearance of the senate and the appearance of the Mrs Beasley – for both of which some SERIOUS explanations were being demanded (as well as explanations for what was left of Jacob’s lightsaber ship and how not a few ships had simply vanished – either from the midst of the fleets or while in hyperspace), the fleet was on a hair trigger – and there was no current political authority around to restrain them.

They didn’t need shooting breaking out while they were trying to rescue the galactic government and a selection of friends – yet the whole “you’ve lost 17,000 years and have been rescued courtesy of the Sith and some factions you never knew existed and…” bit was a bit much to hand out at one go.

Back with the rescue operations…

We made our way to the center using telekinesis to steer our way around. As we got close, we could see a fine red mist scattered over several square meters of space surrounding one of the most chopped-up bodies we’d ever seen. We both realized at the same time that this was all that was left of Huriel. It looked like channeling that mess had been more than sufficient to make finely-chopped meat out of most of his body, and suck various chunks of it into the event horizon. All it took was a fraction of a second and a seeming eternity to kill the bastard.

(Valerie) Amazing, he is still alive. Well, sort of.

She was right, as astonishing as it was, Huriel was still alive. In the process of dying, but not dead. Since the bastard was known to have clones stashed all over the place, actually keeping his spirit secured would be good assurance against any repeat episodes. Unfortunately, he was going to eventually thaw and then “die” if we left him here. Still, there are ways around this sort of issue. It was a simple enough matter to request a large stasis box be fabricated and delivered so that his frozen remains could be scooped up and stored for perpetuity – or at least until he managed to pull off a mind-exchange across the timelines. The box came an hour later and we watched as it was lowered over Huriel, closed, and activated.

(Kira) Evil HoloSith in a can?

(Valerie) I would say he’s been put on ice.

With that menace sealed away for the time being, we turned our attention to the various Senators and staff. The technicians were already setting up a defroster system on the Mrs Beasley for processing them all quickly. The real work was in systematically retrieving everyone from the interior of this immense building with all the little nooks and crannies stuffed everywhere. We elected to keep the Sith soldiers on ice for the moment while giving priority to the Senators and staff. While the techs worked on that, Valerie and I returned to the Mrs Beasley and watched the first people get defrosted. It was amusing to see the various reactions to the perceived change of environment as we defrosted people. A thought then occurred to me.

(Kira) Heh.

(Valerie) What’s so funny?

(Kira) Insert freeze dried politician in one end of the machine, out the other end comes government!

(Valerie) Just add hot air!

We both ended up chuckling at that one. Soon enough we had a crowd growing larger by the minute demanding answers and trying to order me around. I found a box, stood on it, and then proceeded to grab their attention.

(Kira) Alright, I am going to explain. Those that ask stupid questions, or try to legislate during my explanation will get smacked.

They didn’t want to believe me. Especially those that lost their worlds to the subsequent wars and disappearances that followed. I could sympathize with that sentiment. The simple fact that the galaxy was practically destroyed from their perspective didn’t help matters either. Thankfully, between the Jedi, the Codifiers, and our technologies, they would be able to slowly rebuild their galaxy towards something approaching normal. And on that note, the Jedi showed up and took over the process of explaining things. I was content to let them handle things here.

Alys was busy arranging matters… Fortunately, an interruption in government wasn’t entirely without precedent, and re-elections, honorary seats, and similar precedents were established – even if they’d normally only applied to gaps of a few months or years in much smaller regions. That led her deeper and deeper into trying to reorganize things and revise the rules to cover the new situation.

Eventually she wound up rewriting the galactic constitution – or someone did. It kind of felt like… something was writing through her.

She also wound up being assigned some bodyguards, an honorary post, a sizeable pension, and various other honors.

It took several days for the explanations to be given and for the various delegates of the Faded and Codifiers to arrive. I busied myself with as little as I could, instead taking the time to relax by the lake in the Sith Canton onboard. The others chose to involve themselves in the politics and negotiations since it made them feel better. It was nice to actually be away from the center of attention for once and have some peace and quiet.

All of that was interrupted a week later when Virstris stood over me with a datapad as I was busily napping on the lake side. She seemed really excited about something.

(Virstris) Have you seen this new constitution that Alys wrote?

(Kira) What is there going to be a test on it or something? Cause if there is I can already tell you I don’t plan on passing.

(Virstris) Oh just read it would you!

(Kira) Fine.

I took the datapad from her hands, propped myself up and started reading it. The bulk of the text was dense legalese that meant absolutely nothing to me, but there were provisions for Sith, Codifiers, Faded and for reconstructing and expanding the galaxy. The more I read the more concerned I got with the document and the hidden implications involved. Everything was neatly sorted into departments with specific powers, responsibilities, and limitations. Potential issues were quickly sorted into categories and dealt with efficiently. There was something about the hidden assumptions and how things were phrased that was somehow familiar and yet made my skin crawl.

(Kira) And Alys wrote this?

(Virstris) Yep, she said she felt like she was being guided by something to write it. My sister says something very odd with the Force happened when Alys wrote it.

Something was wrong. I don’t care who you are or how good you are, you can’t simply produce a document of this magnitude out of thin air. She had to have been tapping into something really deep and ancient to have pulled this out of her ass.

(Kira) Oh hell.

(Virstris) What is it?

(Kira) This looks suspiciously similar to how I would imagine the Final Empire’s charter would look.

(Virstris) Final Empire?

(Kira) The big “galaxy stealing empire at the end of the universe” galaxy I told you guys about.

(Virstris) Ehhhh.

This was definitely cause for concern. Hearing how much the politicians and ambassadors loved the thing only heightened my worries. A galaxy like this would certainly cause the locals to want to develop the technology and infrastructure needed to incorporate other galaxies into their own. We had just given over all the critical pieces of information and technology needed, and now it seems like Alys had handed over the organizational system to make it all happen. Weren’t we credited back in the Final Empire as the bunch that made it all possible at the very beginning?

Plus there is the fact that Alys was the one to tap into the archetype for the document. Did that mean that another Alys was responsible for the creation of the Final Empire’s government billions of years ago? Could it even mean that it might have been Empress Alys? No way to know for sure right now, but I suddenly found myself trusting Alys a lot less than I had been. After all, there wasn’t much of a place in her system for difficult to catagorize people like me. And it looked like the system was going to be very ruthless and pragmatic at times.

(Kira) Listen, you can tell your sister about my concerns, but otherwise let’s keep quiet for now. I do think we now need to keep an eye on Alys and her ambitions though.

Valerie wasn’t nearly as concerned as I was. She thought I was making an awfully big deal out of a simple document. Her assertion that it took a lot more than one person writing a good piece of legal paperwork to create an empire of that scope made sense, and I hoped she was right. I didn’t want to end up saving the Codifier Galaxy only for Alys to turn it into a galaxy enslaving civilization.

About that time there were reports of a Sith Artificer that had snuck aboard the Mrs Beasley from back on Gruenn. I didn’t recognize this one though. When I asked what his specialty was, cooking was not exactly what I had been expecting. On the other hand, it seemed harmless enough within limits, and I was told that he was the one that actually killed Lecrouss for us. Well, I suppose that was worth a ride across the multiverse with us at the very least.

My commlink then chirped.

(Commlink) Master Keldav, could you please come to guest quarters 811037? It appears we have a visitor that arrived with one of the delegations, and she wants to speak with you and Lady Soung.

(Kira) Really? Who is it?

(Commlink) She is only identifying herself as Archivist Ilia Herkondow. Codifier Jarim Edar says he confirms her identity.

(Kira) Alright, on my way.

Now why did that name sound familiar? It was probably one of the names the local Valerie insisted on forcing me to memorize back when I had been trapped in this galaxy. Oh well, no use pretending to know what I was getting into. The elevator dropped me off at the wrong end of the hallway though, and I ended up having a walk a fair distance to reach the guest quarters. I saw a pair of our security guards standing across from the door, and another set of what looked to be Codifier guards stand to either side of the door itself. They all saw my approach and waved me in.

Apparently the 811 series of quarters were the ones meant for heads of state and other important guests. Inside was a spacious set of rooms with extensive holographic displays on the walls, ceiling, and floor. It looked like the displays had been set up to mimic a glass walled building overlooking a number of open fields. I could hear the sound of running water from some sort of fountain off to the side. Ahead of me I saw a number of droid servants waiting a table with what looked to be an elaborate tea and cakes setup.

At the opposite side of the table from myself was a hoverchair seating a rather elderly looking insectoid person. She wore a blue coat in line with what the Codifiers sometimes wore. She noted my arrival and spoke.

(Ilia) Ah, you must be Kira Keldav. Please, have a seat.

There was something about that voice that just brought to mind the image of a mother speaking to a neighbor’s child. I took one of the offered chairs and sat in it. What was it about this person that seemed familiar? I know the local Valerie told me about this person and there was some sort of warning involved in it. I hadn’t paid attention because at the time I didn’t think the information was going to be practical for me to have.

(Ilia) No offense, but I wish to wait for Valerie Soung to arrive before beginning.

Valerie stepped through the door behind me right when I felt she would. Ilia immediately focused her attention on Valerie and seemed to have completely forgotten I was here. Ilia started circling Valerie in her hoverchair and appeared to be doing a rather thorough inspection of Valerie. After several moments, I could tell Valerie was getting annoyed.

(Valerie) I am not some beast for sale at the market.

(Ilia) My, you are the almost spitting image of Valerie Soung…. although I guess she is called Valerie Keldav these days.

(Valerie) That would be because I am Valerie Soung from another universe.

(Ilia) Indeed. You are missing a few scars, have a slightly different build, and are in the wrong section of the galaxy to be her, but the fact remains that you are inarguably her.

(Valerie) Why are you here?

(Ilia) Because young Keldav over here has been making requests for our organization to provide a trainer. And to be honest, we haven’t had the manpower to spare for such a request, but now that the war may well be over, a call for volunteers to join you has arisen.

(Valerie) All well and good, but if he is the one making the request, then why are you focusing on me?

(Ilia) Because the Kira Keldav I know doesn’t have much of a talent for our techniques. Nothing against him, since he does try so hard, but he won’t ever be able to catch up no matter how hard she tries to help him. Such a scenario really doesn’t interest me as an instructor.

(Valerie) You are unwise to underestimate him. He is after all the one that orchestrated this whole scenario to begin with. A little thing like having a late start isn’t going to stop him.

I don’t think I ever heard Valerie actually praise me like that. It reminded me of hearing Valerie’s alternate talk about her then fiancee. Valerie’s agitation with Ilia was slowly turning towards a cold fury by this point. Something about this whole exchange had been perceived as an insult by Valerie, but exactly what was unclear. About all I could read from her was the iron clad will holding things in control. I didn’t fail to note though that Valerie had positioned herself so that Ilia was now caught between the two of us.

(Ilia) Sigh, what really interests me is the precocious little girl I met years ago. So full of talent and yet so difficult to control once she became aware of that fact. She was my best student and I wanted to see just how far she would go. Sadly she decided to pick someone other than the one I recommended for her and ended up curtailing her career because of it. I was hoping you might do better.

Ah, now I remember who Ilia Herkondow is. This is the Codifier that trained the local Valerie. Valerie had spoken of her as a motherly type figure in her life. She had also said this person could be a ruthless, manipulative bitch to people she didn’t like. Last I recall, that list was getting longer everyday as Ilia became increasingly bitter and disillusioned with those around her. I could just tell she was going to be a joy to work with. I felt the sudden urge to find out who she did approve of for the local Valerie and make his life hell. As tempting as that was, it was probably better to be obnoxious to Ilia than some poor sap that happened to get her approval.

(Valerie) Let me guess, my alternate was that little girl?

(Ilia) Indeed.

(Valerie) And if I let you train me, then will you train Kira and the others as well?

(Ilia) Sigh, if you wish. Although my experiences with the other Kira lead me to doubt the effectiveness of the matter. Perhaps some of your companions will actually surprise me. Do be warned that I can be very demanding from those I teach.

(Valerie) And know that I can be demanding of those I let teach me.

(Ilia) Very well, we shall begin as soon as I get my stuff setup. I presume I can ask the droids for anything I need?

(Valerie) Yes, although anything too untoward will require approval from the crew.

(Ilia) Untoward?

(Kira) Oh you know, things like antimatter, neutronium, dual-use interdimensional subspace refridgerators, a thousand tons of cheese….

Ilia then turned to give me the most hateful glare I have seen from someone in recent memory. I considered it fair play for the insinuation that I wasn’t good enough to bother training. I could tell that Valerie seemed to enjoy seeing Ilia get annoyed as well. I’ve dealt with enough disapproving instructors in the past to know exactly how to deal with them.

(Valerie) Alright, please inform us when you are ready to begin and we shall begin training lessons.

(Ilia) I shall dear.

With that Valerie and I got up and left. The guards nodded as we passed out the doors and into the corridor. Since we were both heading to the Sith Canton next, we got into the elevator and rode together. Valerie was the first to break the silence as she spoke mentally.

<Valerie> I expect you to prove her wrong about your abilities. No goofing off just to annoy her into leaving.

<Kira> She seriously needs to be taken down a peg. She reminds me of all the worst things about my friend’s mothers.

<Valerie> So what exactly did my counterpart do to get her so disappointed with her?

<Kira> What little I recall, Orthodox Codifiers tend to go with arranged marriages. Something about them forming more stable, long-term relationships and professional personality and genetic matching tests. Evidently Kira Keldav was not on the approved list for whatever reason.

<Valerie> Well, who my alternate chooses to marry is her business and her business alone. I don’t get involved in her affairs.

<Kira> Not a bad policy.

At that point the elevator deposited us at the new entrance into the Sith Canton the technicians had built. This opened up onto a peninsula out into the expanded lake system. It looked like they were making a lot of progress with the landscaping and remodelling of this section of the ship. From what I understood, Virstris and Valerie had been organizing the idle Sith techs and other personel to work on this and keep them out of trouble with the Republic techs onboard. It certainly seemed to be working. After taking a moment to survey the progress, we continued on back to our quarters.

<Valerie> And you will excel at this training. I will not tolerate anything less from you.

<Kira> Yes, ma’am.

Eclipse Pathfinder – The Sorcerer

Bujinkan-logo

Who says I can't draw my magic circles this way?

This time on “how to build it in Eclipse”, it’s the Pathfinder Sorcerer.

That’s a little more complicated than some of the other Pathfinder builds so far, but it’s still just a matter of tweaking the standard build.

Pathfinder Sorcerers…

  • Lose six skill points at level one (-6 CP).
  • Lose their automatic access to a Familiar (-6 CP).
  • Get Fast Learner, Specialized in Skills for Double Effect – providing +2 skill points per level. That neatly covers the Sorcerer’s skill allotment at a cost of 6 CP – and incidentally frees up 34 CP. This, of course, is one of the things Fast Learner is for – to compensate for the power creep of later classes.
  • Get d6 hit dice instead of d4’s. This presents a modest philosophical problem; Eclipse characters who want to specialize in magic rarely want to waste character points that could be going into more magic on larger hit dice. As a compromise, I’m going to buy something cheaper that works out the same way – and is easier to build on later: +2 Constitution only for calculating HP (12 CP). Alternatively, take Finesse II as “A Supernatural Life Force” and calculate your hit points with your Charisma Modifier instead of your Constitution Modifier at the same price.
  • Gets unlimited use of his or her level zero spells. That’s Shaping, Specialized for Increased Effect (only works for the characters limited list of level zero Sorcerer spells), Corrupted/must be free to gesture and speak (4 CP).
  • Get Metamagic/Easy with Streamline, both Specialized and Corrupted / Only for eliminating the need for material components costing one GP or less, only for Sorcerer spells (4 CP).

Finally, all Sorcerers get a Bloodline – a package of abilities that they gradually acquire as they go up in level and which ties them to the supernatural world, shaping their relationship with both magic and the people around them.

In Eclipse terms, that’s a Package Deal – which gives them a base of 36 CP to spend on special powers. Of course, most of the powers they’re buying can be considered Specialized (for half cost). Sorcerers are always unnatural for their species, their innate bloodline powers are weird and disturbing when they’re in use, and they pretty clearly label the character – telling anyone who sees them in action quite a lot about their nature and abilities.

Each bloodline can thus include 72 CP worth of abilities. They normally include:

  • A set of bonus spells, which are added to their list of known spells. That’s a Path (6 CP).
  • Three Bonus Feats (18 CP).
  • In-class access to an extra skill. Since all skills relevant to your character concept are normally considered in-class in Eclipse, there’s no cost.

That leaves 48 CP with which to buy some special powers.

For the Aberrent Bloodline, these include:

  • Metamagic/Persistent with Streamline, Specialized and Corrupted/Only applies to transmutation spells of the polymorph subschool (4 CP).
  • Upgrade the Shaping ability to Triple Effect to allow the use of a single, slightly more powerful, effect – in this case an acidic ray (1d6 + Level/2, 30′ Range, Touch Attack, 3 + Cha Mod uses per day, 2 CP).
  • Lunge, Specialized and Corrupted for increased effect (+15′ reach)/only works with touch attacks, does not increase the user’s threatened area (6 CP).
  • Spell Resistance II (12 CP).
  • Imbuement (Unarmed armoring variant), Specialized in Fortification for double effect, 6 CP).
  • Occult Sense/Blindsight (6 CP).
  • Damage Reduction 5/- Specialized versus physical attacks only (6 CP).

That’s 42 CP. This particular version of the Pathfinder Sorcerer seems to have underspent by three character points.

On the other hand, the original Sorcerer build overspends by three character points – making the Pathfinder Aberrant Bloodline Sorcerer come out precisely correctly.

For the Abyssal bloodline these include:

  • Metamagic/Amplify with Streamline. Specialized and Corrupted/only for conjuration summoning spells, only to add DR of (Level/2)/Good that doesn’t stack with any DR the creature summoned already has (4 CP).
  • Claws: Martial Arts (1d6 Natural Weapons), and Imbuement (Natural Weapons), Both Specialized and Corrupted/only usable for (3 + Cha Mod) rounds per day, obviously unnatural (4 CP).
  • DR 5/Specialized for Double Effect/Only versus Energy, Corrupted/only versus Electricity, Acid, Cold, and Fire. (8 CP).
  • +4 bonus on saving throws made against poison (Resistance, 6 CP).
  • A +6 inherent bonus to Strength. This is corrupted, since it is a demonic infusion and is a typed bonus. That would normally be forty-eight CP, but – in this case – it’s basically taking on a minor demonic template, and attribute modifiers in templates are half cost (24 CP).
  • Gets one extra creature whenever he or she summons a creature with the demon subtype or the fiendish template using a summon monster spell. Since the character will already have Metamagic/Amplify, that’s Streamline. Specialized and Corrupted/only for conjuration summoning spells, only to add an additional creature (2 CP)
  • Immunity/Electricity (Common, Major, Major, 9 CP).
  • Immunity/Poison (Common, Major, Minor, 6 CP).
  • Mindspeech (6 CP).

Now that’s a fairly powerful package. It’s worth 21 more CP then we have available. Of course, you are turning into a horrific entity there – and package deals can include disadvantages. Ergo, we can scrape up another 10 CP with the disadvantages of Accursed (the infernal energies running through you are quite detectable, and may get you into trouble), Outcast (quite a lot of people will want nothing to do with an abyssal sorcerer), and Poor Reputation (you’ll suffer a penalty in dealing with good priests and others who are aware of your heritage).

That would still leave us one character point over – but, fortunately, in Eclipse you can round costs down.

The Arcane Bloodline Sorcerer is just good at magic. It’s a natural gift. It’s also one of the more boring bloodlines – and underspends a bit, although it does stay much more focused on the “more magic” theme than most of the bloodlines. Personally, I’d expand on this one a bit; a couple of levels of Streamline – reducing the cost of some metamagical feats – would definitely be within the theme, and this Bloodline does have 12 CP left over to pay for it.

  • Ability Focus/Metamagically-amplified spells, Specialized/only has half effect (+1 DC) while applying to a larger-than usual group of effects – in this case, any spell you cast which has a metamagical effect applied to it that increases the spell level by at least +1 (6 CP).
  • Familiar or Invocation (6 CP).
  • The Fast Metamagic (6 CP).
  • +3 Spell Formula (6 CP).
  • Ability Focus/Any one school of magic (6 CP).
  • Empowerment, Specialized/can only be used to power items, not to increase their caster level, raise their save DC’s, or for other applications (6 CP, due to unlimited use).

I may convert some of the other bloodlines later on, but – after all – the point of Eclipse is to build the character you want, rather than having to fit your character into a character class designed by someone else.

And yes, I’m still pleased to note that Eclipse will still cover Pathfinder, despite being several years older. It’s always nice to see that something is still working properly.

Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion.

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition (RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too.

Versus – Sean K Reynolds and Editorial0 on Crit Stacking

Gustavus Adolphus at the Battle of Breitenfiel...

Once more into the fray!

This is in response to both Mr Reynolds and Editorial0’s articles.

Mr Reynolds math is quite good.

The trouble with crit-stacking isn’t that it’s unbalanced, or even that it’s “too good”. It’s that it’s incompatible with the assumptions that D&D runs on.

From way in the beginning, D&D combat has been ablative. No, that’s not especially realistic – but it made managing your slowly-dwindling supply of hit points an important skill. It usually meant knowing that you were going to be overwhelmed several rounds before it actually happened, giving you time to look for an escape. It meant that the fighter could sacrifice some hit points to buy time for the wizard to work on a powerful spell with a long casting time. It meant that ambushes and first strikes weren’t all that important. It meant that letting your friends cover for you while you took a healing potion or stepped back to let a cleric heal your wounds was a sensible move. It gave you a rough idea of how long you could last, and how long your various friends could last, against a given opponent.

If and when you “encountered” something like a medusa, or a dragon, or any other creature with the capacity for one-round kills, the “encounter” often started long before you got to the creatures lair. It started with a rumor in a tavern, or a tale of adventure that served as a warning. After that, it was time to collect more information – often by visiting a sage or looking for people who’d encountered the creature and survived. Based on what they told you, your party selected appropriate spells, gathered supplies, and took special precautions before you went scouting. Depending on what you found, you might refine those preparations, choose to opt out, come up with a clever scheme to win without fighting, or (if you were unlucky) get caught. If it came to a fight at all, it would be a lot shorter than the investigation had been.

For game purposes, all of that was good. Player-characters would be in a lot of fights over their careers, so they’d be ambushed, and take critical hits, and make tactical decisions a lot. They might even have to run away a lot. Making sure that combat was ablative (even if it did play pretty quickly) was the combat equivalent of avoiding “save or die” spell and power mechanics. It let sensible players keep their characters alive.

The trouble with crit-stacking isn’t anywhere in the math of average damage. It’s in the actual play. Lets say you’ve got sixty hit points, and you’re taking some damage in a fight. What you’re inflicting doesn’t matter that much, so I’ll only consider your opponent…

You’re fighting a strong guy with a big weapon who can hit you.

  • Round One: Miss and Hit for 15.
  • Round Two: Hit for 10 and Miss.
  • Round Three: Hit for 16 and Miss.
  • Round Four: Miss and Hit for 13.
  • Round Five: Time to fall back, let the rogue take a hit or two to cover you – his 38 hit points should be enough to handle this guy for a round, and probably for two – and get some healing. With only 6 hit points left, you don’t want to risk taking another hit right now; another sixteen-points (which, according to my dice, was coming up next) would kill you.

Now, against someone focusing on Crit-stacking, that might go…

  • Round One: Miss and Miss
  • Round Two: Hit for 6 and Miss
  • Round Three: Critical Hit x3 for 18 and Miss
  • Round Four: Miss and hit for 10

Now that leaves the character with 26 hit points, and no real reason to retreat. Even the critical hit wasn’t anywhere near that bad, so you should have time to fall back next round if you need too, right?

  • Round Five: Critical Hit x3 for 36. Your character is instantly dead – yet the average damage he or she was taking was exactly the same.

Admittedly that’s assuming that the big hit comes only after four or five rounds – but player-characters do a lot of fighting. It will come up – and that’s why people don’t like crit-stacking. It’s also why you don’t see many monsters that rely on similar attacks and why save-or-die effects have gotten de-emphasized over the years. Both players and game masters usually want combat to be predictable enough so that they can make strategic decisions without too much complex math and without worrying about the idea that random fighter opponent #3 just might occasionally burst out with some enormous damage score. The same sort of reasoning underlies the unpopularity of wild magic and similar mechanics. It has nothing whatsoever to do with all those nicely-worked-out averages.

There are a couple of factors that tend to obscure the point in 3.0 and 3.5 D&D though.

The first major point is the emphasis on “balanced encounters” with monsters. Fundamentally, what game designers mean by a “balanced encounter” is one that the player characters will almost certainly win if they throw themselves into it and really make an effort. (For why that’s a bad idea, see HERE).

That, however, gets hidden in all the talk about “game balance” – wherein they mean that all the character types should be equally effective. They certainly don’t mean that a “balanced encounter” is one where “the player characters have only a 50-50 chance of winning”. You want a genuinely “balanced encounter”? Try an old-style Mirror of Opposition.

The second is simply that monsters don’t generally rely on crit-stacking, and neither do most NPC’s. Like other save-or-die effects, you see it being used a lot more often by PC’s than by NPC’s because randomly killing off characters is disruptive to the game – whereas the monsters are THERE for the PC’s to cleave their way through.

Now making combat less predictiable and ablative – and thus both far riskier and a thing to be avoided if at all possible – does make it far more realistic. Few D&D games, however, make combat a rare final resort – and it changes their tone a great deal if you play that way.

The Immortal Rants of Sean K. Reynolds – “Keen and Improved Critical are too good if they stack!”.

06/11/2007 (Day 341) - Memoir '44

Are you SURE these guys belong at the Tournament Kaptain Kobold?

Editorial0 has contributed a set of article-replies to some of Sean K. Reynolds rants about third edition design decisions. Those decisions have heavily influenced a lot of game designs since, so I’ll be putting those up – along with some additional comments.

To avoid excessive reprinting, you can find the general introduction to this series in the first article, HERE.

This particular rant is entitled “If Keen and Improved Critical Don’t Stack, The Terrorists Will Have Won” – and explains why the math underlying the weapons statistics calls for this to be so.

And to turn you over to Editorial0…

This is another rant where I agree with Mr Reynolds. In fact, I agree with him more here than almost anywhere else. I’m not going to criticize him here at all, because he has the right idea and his mathematics and his assumptions are all quite correct.

The problem is that things weren’t very well communicated to the audience, which resulted in an obnoxious “fix” being implemented in 3.5 edition D&D. It was a bad idea then, and it wasn’t needed, but this wasn’t adequately conveyed to the people playing the game. In fact, it apparently wasn’t communicated to the people writing the game after Sean K. left.

At the heart is the idea that all sensible combat styles (i.e., things not totally silly or obviously flawed) within the game should have some point to them. Otherwise, they don’t really need to be in there at all. They don’t have to be completely equal, but rather useful in different situations. (We’ve discussed a similar concept in our essays on Game Balance.)

Sean K. intended for one of those worthwhile styles to be Crit-stacking, where you focus around having a few surprisingly big attacks. Sure, you can’t rely on them all the time, but they add up and eventually even out to be roughly equivalent to other attacks.

He actually worked this out very well, and his averages are all correct. What probably happened, though, is that Game Masters did not like it – not at all. Crit Stacking is one of the few things which can wreck their day. They may put a lot of work into developing a monster or arch-nemesis, when a lucky Crit-stacker can instantly execute the poor target. And unfortunately, people may not always realize how events average out. You can easily ignore three mediocre attacks, because the one awesome blow is more vivid. Few GM’s remember that the Scythe-wielder hits so-so five times for every giant 100+ damage swing. And they are often going to miss the fact that the one giant swing may waste most of that damage on a creature that didn’t have many hit points left anyway.

This is one reason I’m beginning to consider some kind of “norm” explanation essential to gaming. Much of the time, players simply have no idea about what they ought to target their characters towards. How much combat will the game feature? How much stealth? How much puzzle-solving? How much travel? With some rough benchmarks, they have more to go on in designing characters and can fit things together more easily. Mostly this is a GM-directed idea, where the one running the game sets a certain amount of time aside for exploration, role-playing, puzzle-solving, and combat. Then the players can arrange their characters knowing what they’re getting into.

For a differing perspective, here’s a response

Recordings from the Holocron of Kira Keldav – Session 61b

Black hole wind

Are you sure that thing's a BLACK hole?

Deep inside the second-stage stasis field masquerading as a black hole, Ben and Jacob were bringing the Sabership into position near the galactic senate building. Inside, trapped in an instant, Huriel was in the midst of using the pyramid technique to channel the massed strength of Coruscant – and perhaps it’s entire solar system – to link the ships of the republic fleet to the galactic black hole. Around him, in both normal space and hyperspace, filaments of darkness were lashing out – slashing through people, buildings, the planetary crust and shields, and the structure of space and time as they did so. Through them, the black hole drank the time and life of the galaxy.

Now that Jacob knew what they were, he could feel them easily – and, to some extent, resist. It was Huriel’s fault; he’d bound the energies of the force, and thus of life and time, to timelessness and destruction. He should be able to shield himself against an accidental touch – at least for a few seconds, long enough to pull away.

He carefully adjusted the beam to minimize the destructive side effects and began to cut…

Meanwhile, back with Kira aboard the Mrs Beasley…

I awoke to hear my commlink chirping. I was still groggy from the drugged sleep and I wasn’t entirely sure what time it was. I finally found my commlink on the table and activated it.

(Kira) Yeah, what is it?

(Alys) Kira, we have a problem. Jacob and Ben went into the black hole last night and we stopped getting a signal from them an hour ago. Something very strange is going on with time outside the black hole too.

(Kira) Alright, on my way.

Sadly, the effects of the drug hadn’t worn off yet, and I was still too sleepy to effectively use my Force or Codex powers right now. I showered, got dressed in one of the spare sets of clothing I had from Gruenn, checked my powercells and was prepared to leave when I thought of something. Despite the grogginess of sleep, I was able to tell Valerie was still asleep in her quarters. I pulled out my commlink and left her a message for when she woke up alerting her to what I knew of the situation at the moment.

Virstris was waiting outside the door to my quarters. That friggin smile of hers was way too cheery for this soon after I woke up. She didn’t say a word, but fell in behind me as I made my way to the bridge. On the bridge, the scene of one of chaos. Smoche was busily running all sorts of tests I didn’t understand, Telera was busily trying to contact Ben and Jacob, while Alys was busily tearing her hair out as the galaxy was seemingly collapsing in on itself from her point of view.

After finally calming her down, I got a summary of the events thus far. Apparently Ben and Jacob got the giant lightsaber finished last night and in their enthusiasm immediately went off to try it. With that test completed, they then went directly into the black hole and started cutting the Senate building free of the planet. They quickly ran into the obvious stumbling block that the materials they were trying to cut were no longer experiencing time. Jacob then leapt to the plan of extending time to what he was cutting so that the cut would happen. I immediately saw the flaw with this plan as I doubted the filaments only went upwards from Huriel. True enough, Jacob apparently intersected one of the filaments and had frozen himself in time.

Jacob had been allowing the force to guide his cuts, carefully minimizing injuries – and, incidentally, minimizing his temporal contacts with the filaments as he carefully extended a bit of time along his lightsaber blade to allow it to make the necessary cuts. There had come a choice though – making the final cuts, despite the presence of a network of filaments, or abandoning the project – and leaving many thousands or stars, their attendant worlds and the hundreds of trillions of people on those worlds, trapped in stasis for eons to come.

He’d made them – and paid the price, as the black hole bled off all the power he could channel.

That was all fine and recoverable from, except that Jacob was an atavist and tied to the local universe’s timerate. From what little they could tell, Jacob was now funneling time into the black hole and accelerating it’s timerate while the rest of the galaxy slowed down a bit. From what we could get from their subspace beckon, it was still incredibly slow compared to what our timerate was. But the fabric of reality was so incredibly fragile here and now Jacob was adding to the stresses….

Valerie showed up moments later. She was disleveled but alert, apparently the Dark Side allowed her to power through the sedative more readily than I could. She immediately demanded a report on the situation and as Alys explained, Valerie put her hand on my shoulder as she countered the sedative in me. That helped matters immensely and I could tell from my Codex abilities that time was being dragged by an immense anchor. It’s affect on the timerate was subtle, but the ominous feelings I was getting were not reassuring to say the least. We either needed to fix this now, or begin an evacuation of the galaxy. Problem was that once we began removing planets, there wasn’t going to be much time before a complete collapse occurred.

Damn Jacob.

There was only one way to fix this, and it wasn’t going to be pretty.

(Kira) Alys, is the subspace ship ready yet?

(Alys) Yes, it is.

(Kira) Handell, I need a pilot.

(Lazlo) You aren’t taking Master Handell in there!

(Kira) Fine, you can fly me in then.

(Lazlo) I am not leaving Master Handell!

(Augusta) No way am I going to pilot a ship in there! So far, two out of three trips have had serious mishaps!

(Valerie) Yes, and you’ll note neither of those had Kira along.

(Augusta) One data point does not make a pattern!

(Alys) I’ll do it.

(Kira) Alright, get the ship prepped for launch, I need to collect some things and then I will meet you there.

Alys went off to prepare the ship. I grabbed a datapad and started requesting various items for delivery to the ship. I was going to need rope, a deepspace distress beacon, plenty of extra power cells, layouts of the Senate building on actual paper, a camera, and extra life support supplies. What some of those were actually for was a good question, but my Optimize technique indicated they might come in handy. Besides, it wasn’t like precognition was going to be of any use to me right now. The system acknowledged the request and promptly began fabrication and delivery to the subspace ship. Valerie was following quickly in tow behind me.

(Valerie) So is there any plan to this, or are you just winging it again?

(Kira) The plan is to kill, deep freeze, or fade Huriel. I’m flexible.

(Valerie) And what if you get stuck in there too? You’re the last one we have able to go in there readily.

(Kira) Well, you can tell your grandfather that I am then safely locked away in temporal stasis for the rest of eternity. I am sure that will please him to no end.

(Valerie) Leaving you in an unstable temporal anomaly isn’t exactly smart.

(Kira) And what exactly do you propose I do? Jacob has probably just made things a lot worse now and this galaxy is slowly falling apart anyway. We don’t have the resources to evacuate everyone from this galaxy in time once the collapse begins in earnest. At least Huriel is a major lynchpin of this whole debacle. If we can get him, then the stasis effect stops.

(Valerie) We could leave, take what we can, and cut our losses.

By that point we had arrived in the shuttle bay. The stuff I had requested was already being loaded into the ship by the droids. Alys was beginning her final checkout sequence as the ship hummed to life.

(Kira) Look, worst case, I should be able to resist any temporal interference long enough to fade out of the universe. Then our little countermeasure should be able to kick in again.

(Valerie) You are beginning to rely on that way too much.

(Kira) Then start considering where you can find another atavist in a hurry.

(Valerie) Those aren’t exactly common!

(Kira) Not my problem.

I got into the ship and closed the hatch behind me. Valerie was fuming, but she didn’t try to stop me either. That was probably a good sign then. Alys flew the ship out the shuttle bay and out into space. After a few quick checks of the anti-stasis layer, I started supplying time to the ship as Alys dove us into the black nothingness. We both breathed a sigh of relief as we found ourselves on the inside of the stasis field and aware of the passage of time. She laid in a course to Coruscant and engaged the hyperdrive.

The trip to Coruscant was thankfully uneventful. When we did finally drop out of hyperspace though was when things got interesting. We immediately started picking up subspace transmissions from the Mrs Beasley indicating a significant amount of blaster fire and explosions taking place. Attempts to hail someone on the comm channel resulted in no response. Alys was concerned and wanted to know if we needed to turn back.

Unfortunately, being inside the event horizon prevented me from doing anything more than passive reading on Valerie’s current status. She was annoyed about something, but not particularly concerned about whatever her situation was. Whatever the situation was, she evidently felt that it could be handled. All I could do was trust her, like she was trusting me right now.

So to that end, I directed Alys to keep going with the plan and to trust in the others at the moment. We then dropped orbit and made to the government district of the planet. As we approached the Senate building, we could see Jacob’s ship stuck in midair. There was also a spherical region of distortion surrounding the ship and senate and growing larger by the minute. I had no clue what it was, but it was Alys that pointed at that things inside the sphere were actually experiencing time. Incredibly slow time from our perspective, but it was still possible to see things move at almost glacial speed. Alys began wondering how exactly we were able to see what we were seeing, but I ignored the question as beyond me.

Alys then took us in closer to Jacob’s ship so that we could get a closer look at their condition. Unfortunately, the filaments were making it difficult to position the ship where we could see into the cockpit of Jacob’s ship. After Alys struggled with it for several minutes without success, I told her to bring the ship above the other one and park it there as best she could. I went to grab the rope I had brought with us and tied one end to a support bulkhead near the center of the ship. The other end I attached to my harness.

(Kira) Alys, I am going to shutoff time for a few minutes. Sorry, but I am going to need all the concentration I can spare to handle this.

(Alys) Understood.

I switched on my antistasis suit as I stopped supplying time to the rest of the ship. I went for the door to exit out of the ship, but then found the rope was not being responsive to my moments. It took a few minutes to figure out how to carry the rope so that it would unwind behind me while also not get in the way of my feet. Then came the annoyance of opening the door out. Thankfully, Ben had designed this one to be easier to open in stasis, but it still made life difficult for several minutes as I forced it open with Force Strength. That got me a chance to look outside now, but Jacob’s ship was below and behind me from this perspective.

I took a few good minutes to look at the various filaments waving around slowly to judge their speed and direction of travel. None seemed to be on an immediate collision course with us at the moment. That was good because this next maneuver was going to take some time. A firm grip on the rope and liberal use of telekinesis anchored me to the ship as I swung around to hang below it. It then became a tricky matter of orienting myself so that my feet were on the bottom of the ship and by looking up I would see Jacob’s ship below me.

The cockpit seat where Jacob was sitting had several filaments moving towards it – and was already behind too many to reach. What exactly that meant for Jacob’s chances of survival was beyond me to answer; who knew what would happen if one of the things touched him directly? Galactic stasis?. Ben was in the seat behind him staring at a control panel intently. I couldn’t see any filaments intersecting him at the moment, so that was good. On the other hand, that meant I had to make a reasonable effort to save his ass too. It took a great deal of careful thought while keeping an eye on those filaments in order to figure out how I could get down there with the least amount of fuss. Finally I just ended up tying the robe to one of my variable stars and let it unwind me down to the top of the ship.

My aim was a bit off though as I ended up several feet behind the cockpit instead of on top of it like I had planned. That still left me with good access to the cockpit hatch seals though. It took several minutes to open the locks, but finally I was able to swing the hatch free. My initial attempt to pull Ben free went nowhere until I realized he was still fastened into the seat. It took several more minutes of sawing at the straps with a knife in order to cut them free. It also didn’t help matters that my paranoia kept me glancing at those filaments every few seconds to make sure none were sneaking up on me. Finally, Ben was free and I got him out of the seat. Wrapping more rope around him and then to my waist, I started climbing back up to the ship with Alys. Thankfully, telekinesis helped in the effort of carrying so much dead weight as I focused on the strength technique in climbing. I will quietly admit that Ben’s head hit the hull of the ship a few times while I was climbing, but thankfully him being stuck in temporal stasis limited the damage to mild embarrassment for myself.

Finally I got him into the ship and the door closed. With that done, I was able to drop the antistasis layer of my clothes and let the ship’s layer take over the containment part of things. That instantly resumed time for the ship, Alys, and Ben.

(Kira) Alys, get us to a safe distance from those filaments!

(Alys) Trying!

(Ben) I take it something went wrong?

I showed him pictures of Jacob still stuck in his ship.

(Ben) Oh, he’s screwed.

The debate turned to whether we went after Huriel, or if we should go back to the Mrs Beasley for the time being while we reformulated the plan. I wanted to go back and think for a bit. Alys and Ben wanted to continue on. Ben then volunteered to run his Early Edition technique against our situation.

Ben didn’t know what would happen if those tendrils actually touched Jacob either – but he was reasonably sure that it wouldn’t be good at all, and the worst-case consequences might destroy the galaxy. There wasn’t time to go back to the Mrs Beasley!

(Ben) I can say with confidence that I cannot see any version of myself that successfully leaves the black hole!

…. ok

(Kira) Is this supposed to be an endorsement of your plan? Because it is not making me feel any better.

He then reminded me of the fact that none of us could probe beyond a black hole with Force senses. That made sense, but it still didn’t make me very happy about the current situation. More arguing ensued, until finally Alys pointed out that there wasn’t much else we could do to resolve the issue with Huriel that we couldn’t do with the resources we already had. Thankfully, it seems like Jacob had actually managed to complete his cut around the Senate building, so that was no longer an obstacle. I had to reluctantly agree on that point then.

Alys wove the ship through the filaments to land us on the roof of the Senate building. Ben did something with the landing gear to fuse them to the surface of the building. We gathered around the button for the subspace drive system and I held my breath as Ben pushed the button to activate the drive.

Special Investigator Nimh Tahl’s Field Report – Session 61b

I watched the shuttle with Keldav and Nere fly into the event horizon and then disappear. An indicator light on the subspace scanner showed their beacon signal was working fine and telemetry was coming in steadily. Soung insisted on watching the telemetry data several minutes before becoming seeming satisfied. She hides the concern well. For all the talk and bluster the woman puts out regarding being a coldly rational person, something possibly happening to Keldav bothers her.

Why is unclear though. As valuable as Keldav’s skills are, she has shown the capacity to mimic them herself to a lesser degree. Indeed, the skill sets of those two are so similar despite the years of separation. I suppose it is possible that Keldav is in fact a double agent working for the Varen against the Republic, and that he has been quietly feeding information back to the Varen on his activities this whole time. But that doesn’t make a lot of sense given Keldav’s basic personality profile.

There have been other oddities too. Like the fact that a Faded pushing Keldav out of the universe results in him appearing at Soung’s side moments later. Neither of them were especially surprised by that fact. They spend an inordinate amount of time together despite how much they argue and bicker with each other. They both seem to know where the other one is despite the fact that the other Force users onboard have difficulties tracking them. Then the converse fact that those two still need to consult the computer systems for specific locations on the others. So whatever it is, it is specific to the two of them.

Plus there is the fact that Keldav seems to trust Soung far more than seems reasonable given the circumstances. He doesn’t trust Telera that much even. Sadly, getting further information on the two of them is going to prove difficult now that both have moved into that Sith Canton. Virstris Soung has been systematically removing all the remote audio-visual feeds from the Canton, probably rerouting them to another command hub internal to the Canton.

I don’t like not understanding the galaxy and the people around me. I have had enough basic assumptions about how things work challenged recently to drive almost anyone mad. At the very least I should be able to understand these two oddball Sith and what makes them act the way they do. It has to be something very simple I am overlooking….

MY chain of thought was interrupted by the sound of blaster fire, lightsabers, and explosions. Looking up, I saw Valerie Soung, Virstris Soung, Dame Lisella, and the rest of the people on the bridge in the middle of a spontaneous firefight with the security droids. Within moments the battle ended as everyone quickly overpowered the droids.

(Virstris) What just happened?

(Xiang) The droids attacked us.

(Virstris) I know that, but why?

At that moment a droid’s voice came over the intercom system.

(Intercom) You will surrender. After surrender you will be confined to quarters as the Corellian Protectorate takes command of this vessel.

(Virstris) Wait, did we miss a Faded or something?

(Valerie) We were thorough in our checks. They were all accounted for.

(Nimh) I presume the one Lazlo encountered that was reprogramming droids managed to get a program commanding the droids to rebel uploaded before he died.

(Valerie) A droid rebellion? How incredibly tacky to resort to such tricks.

(Virstris) Alright, why is it that none of us even thought to consider the possibility?

The implications of that thought were chilling. On the other hand, if the Censor was actively preventing out of control droid uprisings, then it would explain an awful lot about why droid systems inevitably failed. But if the local Censor was impaired badly enough to not prevent such scenarios, then the amount of manufacturing capacity onboard this ship did not bode well for our long term survival.

The only option that presented any real chance of success was to get Smoche to the droid command center so he could reprogram the system. But attempting to force our way across the ship to the droid command center was sure to result in the droids literally clogging the path between us and there. Still, there had to be a way to get him there.

Smoche could reprogram droids in line of sight of himself and use them as a shield from the other droids. But the best chance of that working required something to draw away the vast majority of the droids for as long as possible to give him a chance to get to the droid command center. The only real way of accomplishing that would be to give the droids a point of heavy resistance to focus on….

A number of the others arrived at the same conclusion moments later. Smoche took off for the droid command center immediately. The idea of droids stealing his ship from him was apparently enough motivation to getting him moving in a hurry. I highly suspected that Smoche would either succeed or die trying. That man loves those hyperdrive coils.

Meanwhile the rest of us were scrambling for weapons, armor, and whatever supplies we could get our hands on and carry. Korda announced that she had found a good defensive position in one of the nearby habitats. Looking over the place myself via a datapad confirmed her assessment. It looked like a habitat modeled on Tantooine with a town at the top of a plateau and narrow approaches along the cliff faces all the way to the top. The place was even configured to mimic sandstorms when desired. Those would interfere with droid scanners nicely.

Orders went out for everyone available to make their way to the habitat to set up defensive positions. With that done, we all loaded into the elevators and made our way to the habitat. We were unloaded at the edge of the habitat and began making our way up the winding trail. The more combat talented among us took up the rear position while people like me who aren’t used to this much climbing made our way up the trail ahead of them. The sounds of battle quickly started behind us as the droids found our location and tried to overwhelm us. The defenders at the back of the line were able to hold them off long enough for us to reach the top though.

With Shipwreck jamming the droids sensors, Lazlo, Xiang, Khadim, Liassa, and a selection of others at first focused on tossing security droids off he cliffs. That was pretty successful for a bit – but the droids soon learned to space themselves out and to maintain constant covering fire. There were some slip-ups – such as when Xiang tried to leap down and knock a dozen over at the same time and nearly went over herself – but Lazlo managed to set off quite a chain reaction, knocking over better than a hundred once.

On another front, Khadim was using his missile-launcher to create avalanches, while the Sith sent telekinetically-guided grenades, force lightning, and remote-operated weapons (and sabotage) against groups that were getting too close.

They also discussed the possibility of turning this into a holo-epic, but eventually things got too busy for that discussion.

Elsewhere in the ship, the techs and crew were being hunted down (and carefully stunned and locked up), while the Jedi were holding out for the moment. Fortunately, the droids had been set to try and capture the ship and crew intact – so knock out and imprison was the order of the day.

Unfortunately, there were a LOT of droids.

At the top, I immediately took over one of the buildings and began preparations for treating the wounded. As I swapped droid modules and began unpacking the medical kit. Luckily, the droids were not built for heavy combat against talented opponents and our casualties were light. The situation only got better as we got a chance to get everyone organized and fortify our position better against assault. It certainly didn’t help the droids that they seemed to have absolutely no tactical programming whatsoever. Soung seemed as annoyed as always despite the current good luck.

(Valerie) As convenient as this is at the moment, remind me, if and when Ben gets back, to slap him as the original builder by proxy.

A number of hours passed as the droids ineffectually tried to climb the plateau. Repeatedly the assaults were turned back do to better coordination and tactics on our part. Eventually the droids did finally stumble on the obvious tactic given their position as they proceeded to cut a hole in the roof to drop in through, while simultaneously swarming all possible approaches. Despite Shipwrecks useless attempt to will a rapid fire anti-aircraft system into existence it was going to be only a matter of time before we were overwhelmed by that assault – and I calculated that Smoche was going to need a couple more hours to attempt to take over the droid command center. We needed to buy more time.

The only tactic I saw that might buy much more time was to give up the defensive position provided by the plateau and use the cover of the sandstorm to remain mobile. With Shipwreck making sure that the droids’ sensors were jammed, we should be able to move around ahead of the pursuit for some time before the droids finally just swarmed the entire area and trapped us through sheer numbers. The others quickly agreed to the plan and we made our escape.

What followed was a mess of sand, blaster fire, shouting, and not being able to see more than ten meters ahead of me. Sand seemed get everywhere in my clothing as the sandstorm continued blowing and that fool of an energy being kept insisting on using anti-capital ship torpedoes as a handweapon. These people are all insane to varying degrees. Plus I was getting tired of all this running too. Whether for good or ill though, the need to run heightened for a bit and then began to lessen as the droid encirclement began to close in around us. Soon enough we were trapped around a large rock formation as the stun blasts blanketed the place. The more belligerent among the defenders fell quickly, and the more cautious were beginning to lose consciousness as well. It was only a matter of minutes before we were completely overwhelmed.

(Intercom) Attention: emergency droid program update required. Please report for maintenance immediately.

And with that, the droids dispersed silently. I did my best to tend to the wounds of those injured. None of the injuries were fatal, but the number of burns, cuts, and other minor injuries were going to overwhelm our medkits we had with us quickly. I did what I could to patch up the worst injured and sent the rest to medical for treatment. I joined the others in returning to the bridge.

Luckily it didn’t look like the Faded had tried to take advantage of the droid rebellion to land boarding parties or anything else untoward. There wasn’t any word from Keldav’s shuttle though. We were getting the subspace beacon signal which was a good sign. Shipwreck was busily scanning the telemetry from the shuttle for clues as to what was going on when suddenly the black hole in front of us disappeared and was replaced with a familiar looking star field. Handell immediately threw himself into the pilot’s seat and began to lay in a course for Coruscant. Within far fewer moments than I would have thought possible, we made the jump to hyperspace.

On Coruscant, Jacob had found himself back in time – along with everyone else. Sadly, the place was still incredibly damaged; his ship had been slashed through by several filaments (and he could barely keep it from exploding while shutting things down),  he was injured, one of his prosthetic legs was almost severed and the other was damaged (although that was easily “healable”), the bedrock had a brand new selection of faults, the buildings were collapsing, and the Sith were still occupying the planet. He barely managed to set down without adding to the destruction…

Worse, some Sith troops wanted to interrogate him, and didn’t believe a thing he said. Fortunately, he managed to escape in the confusion (Vibrobaldes? Such ancient technology!) and went into hiding, since there were too many injured people around to risk pressing all the buttons.. Throwing the Sith off of Coruscant by himself would take some doing!

Well, at the very least, this suggested that Keldav’s mission was a success. He managed to kill or subspace freeze Huriel while in there and amazingly that was all it took to bring the stasis field down. This was another datapoint for later consideration then. Glancing over at Soung was also revealing: she was hiding it quite well but something was seriously bothering her. She was watching over Shipwreck’s shoulder as he peered intently into the sensor console trying to glean information from the static mess he was getting while we were in hyperspace to little effect.

Around Coruscant, the remnants of the Republic Fleet were arriving. Huriel actually had managed to destroy quite a few ships with his assault, and far more had remained outside the event horizon and had been lost to time – but the remnant republic fleet was still by far the greatest armada in the Codifier Galaxy.

Unfortunately, the Sith still had enough orbiting weaponry to do massive damage to Coruscant before the fleet could destroy them.

We arrived around Coruscant minutes later, only to find the Republic and Sith fleets in a classic game of chicken. The Sith were holding the planet hostage to use against the Republic fleet, while the Republic fleet vastly outclassed the remains of the Sith fleet. Both sides were shouting at the other to stand down and surrender and neither felt the need to comply. The most likely outcome of this mess was going to be large sections of Coruscant ending up craters.

And then we arrived in a massive superweapon. That did not help the stability of the situation at all.

Further throwing fuel on the fire, Lazlo decided now of all times was the best opportunity to tell the Sith that he didn’t care whether they lived or died, only if they surrendered to him. The Sith did not take well at all to this demand as they predictably started escalating their threats to the planet. Amazing Lazlo actually seemed to believe they were bluffing. Either he was incredibly naive or incredibly stupid. I wasn’t sure which, on the other hand, it didn’t matter which case it was as billions or even trillions were going to die because of this nonsense. We had to remove the planet from the equation if we were going to resolve this hostage situation. But how do you remove a planet?

Several of us all arrived at the same conclusion simultaneously as someone yelled at Smoche to move Coruscant out of the way of the Sith fleet. Smoche enthusiastically endorsed the idea and set to work instantly upon the process. Meanwhile I tried to shove Lazlo away from the communications console to prevent him from causing more damage to the situation only to be thrown to the floor as he knocked me aside. He looked really agitated by the move and I swore he was about to attack me when all the sudden he got this really tranquil, glazed look on his face and wandered off. It was at that point that I became aware of just how many Jedi had shown up on the bridge with us. Instantly I was very grateful that Keldav and the others insisted on rescuing the Jedi first.

There was a bright flash of light on the view screen as Smoche moved the planet. The Republic and Sith fleets immediately jumped to the conclusion that Lazlo must have ordered the planet’s destruction. The Republic fleet responded by shooting at us, while the Sith fleet tried to take advantage of the situation by fleeing in the chaos. Somewhere at the back of the bridge I heard Lazlo muttering some nonsense about everyone but him being incompetent.

We couldn’t let the Sith fleet escape, nor could we just let the Republic fleet continue to fire at us believing we had destroyed the capitol of the Republic. We really needed to put everyone on timeout for several minutes while people calmed down. It took a few moments to find the controls to the massive ion cannon. I had no real practice with the thing, but with a blast that size, there wasn’t much need to.

Fortunately, Smoche had only traded Coruscant with the nearest asteroid belt – two orbits out. The messages about that started coming in in minutes, well before everyone had recovered from the ion blasts. Equally fortunately, that was nowhere near enough for Silting to become a notable problem.

With the various ships incapacitated for the moment, the crew started using the tractor beams on the Sith ships to bring them against the hull of the Mrs Beasley. Virstris went off to coordinate getting stasis fields in place to trap the Sith ships while I busily tried to explain things to the Republic fleet as their communications came back online. I may not be the most eloquent person in the galaxy, but at least I was making more sense than the last guy we had speaking for us. Providing technical readouts, sensor scans, telemetry, Jedi testimony and actually moving Coruscant back into place finally seemed to get the Republic fleet to acknowledge we weren’t stereotypical Sith per se.

The Jedi took over the discussions with the Republic and Telera took on the role of intermediary for our group. With my role in the process over, I went off to find something else to occupy my time. I was quickly drawn to Soung and Shipwreck huddled around the sensor console trying to find something. The only answer I got regarding what they were searching for was that the beacon on Keldav’s shuttle wasn’t being picked up by sensors. That was cause for concern, but that was a matter for Shipwreck to study for the moment.

Why was Soung so concerned about the well-being of the shuttle? The only answer that made sense was Keldav. But that only reworded the same question: why was Soung so concerned about Keldav’s well-being? What about him could be so important to warrant this otherwise emotionless Sith to worry so much about him? The answer hit me like a star destroyer given how obvious it was in retrospect.

Those two were Bonded.

I had thought such things were legends or the fodder of holo dramas. That is why Keldav is willing to trust the Varen so much recently, and why he trusts Soung so especially. They know that if something happens to him, she is impacted as well. And on the converse, if good things happen to him, like learning new techniques or powers, she is likely to experience it too. That is why their skill sets are so similar and why they always seem to know what the other is doing and where. Hell, depending on how that Bond works it might well explain how Keldav managed to cross the galaxy from Gruenn to Varen space without a ship and reappear on the bridge of the Mrs Beasley after being faded. So it isn’t that the Varen are holding Keldav’s family hostage or have some sort of black mail against him. Keldav and Soung actually do seem to care about each other.

Things have just gotten very interesting indeed. This is valuable information to have, and valuable information is to be kept close to the chest for when it is of greatest value.

That’s one mystery solved at least.

Classical Archetypes VI – The Priest

Urarina shaman in the Peruvian Amazon, 1988.

Priests are where you find them

Superficially, priests vary wildly with their culture and faith. They range from total pacifists who literally would not hurt a fly to folk who will skin you alive as a sacrifice to their god. They believe completely different things, dress wildly differently, speak and read ancient and esoteric tongues (or at least use some obscure vocabulary), dress in all sorts of (often elaborate) ways, and more. There are warrior-priests, scholar-priests, pantheistic priests, monotheistic priests, weird cultists, and a thousand other variants.

Fortunately, being a priest is pretty simple. It boils down to a few simple but essential items.

A Classical Priest is someone who:

  • Believes in a supernatural entity or group of entities. If they don’t believe they may be scholars of myths or religious con artists – but they’re not priests.
  • Believes that said entity or group of entities is both aware of, and exerts influence on, the mortal world – although the extent of that awareness and influence may be open to discussion. If they don’t believe that the entities they believe in and study actually affect the world, they’re philosophers, not priests.
  • Practices rituals, behaviors, and taboos* that he or she believes can influence the action of that entity or group of entities – whether through simply getting them to provide information (through vague divinations, prophecies, and oracular pronouncements) or through outright supernatural intervention. After all, if all you can do is catalog the activities of impersonal forces that you can’t influence, you’re a scientist, not a priest.
  • Sees himself or herself as having a pretty decent social status. After all, if supernatural entities exist, and powerfully influence the world, then few things are going to be more important than keeping them happy. Ergo, the advice of an appropriate priest was a pretty vital part of virtually any undertaking – often more important than most of the secular considerations.
  • Has made a fairly extensive study of that entity or group of entities. If someone hasn’t studied the entities they believe in, they may be a prophet, shaman, or madman – but they are not a priest.

*On some occasions such practices have practical effects as well as religious ones. A fair number of religious rules serve valuable health, nutritional, or social-justice-and-stability purposes. Why? Because a rule that actually helps tends to encourage the survival and growth of the people who follow it tends to spread with the population applying it, while harmful rules hinder that spread – and so tend to be overwhelmed by competing traditions. Regardless of the source of such rules, faiths evolve.

With the Classical Priest it wasn’t so much a calling (that was reserved for the people who had visions and heard voices without doing anything to provoke them) as a job. People came to you when they wanted something – an explanation for something weird, a bit of divination, advice as to how to influence the gods, or a religious ritual – and you did it for them. You became a priest by serving under a parental priest, by paying someone to train you, or by setting up on your own – and it was a pretty good job.

Given that, a few other things wound up being associated with classical priests.

  • Being a priest wasn’t much use unless people knew you were a priest – so you wore special clothing, practiced private rituals, and spoke in strange and mysterious ways.
  • You gathered in groups to keep down the competition. You can take a look at the organization of any classical guild to see how that worked.
  • You made your places of worship as impressive as possible. That not only brought in business, but it encouraged people to pay higher prices (by tithing or sacrificing more).

After all, there was no fighting what every one could see – and, classically, it was obvious to everyone that here were many gods and that they didn’t agree on much. Otherwise the world would be a lot more stable.

Just as importantly, it was equally obvious that most supernatural entities only influenced a limited range of events. Otherwise, fortune in all matters would be consistent. As it was, when you did marvelously well on a trading expedition but came home to find that a couple of your kids had died of some disease, the explanation was quite simple; the god of trade had favored you, the god of disease had not.

Thus most people went from priest to priest as their needs changed. After all, there was no use in trying to get Poseidon to help with a childbirth. That was easy though; a Classical Priest didn’t usually claim any great moral authority, or that their god or gods was the one-and-only god or set of gods, or usually even that the gods has specifically chosen them – and so they had no objections to people visiting priests of other gods when they needed to. It wasn’t like any of the priests had vast magical powers to bring to bear.

Eventually, however, the archetype started to change as the world saw the growth of monotheism.

Unfortunately, to take a look at that, we’re going to have to take a look at religion.

Religion is always a touchy subject – but it’s hard to avoid thinking about religion when you’re discussing the “Priest” archetype. Fortunately, there’s one thing that virtually all religions agree on; most of the others are wrong. Ergo, we can safely take a look at how all the ones that are wrong grow, maintain themselves, change over time, and fail – and we can go ahead and presume that those faiths stole most of their social “techniques” from the one true faith.

In the beginning, there was shamanism, as is discussed at length HERE.

Now shamanism is probably the worlds only agnostic, personalized, faith. It’s only when a shaman comes up with an organized body of lore about the spirit world and starts passing it on as “truth” – rather than as their own personal relationship with the greater universe – that they turn into priest.

But once you have some stabilized, consistent, notions about the supernatural entities at play around you, you have to answer a few questions about “what they’re like”.

  • Some are scary. When it comes to deities, the “propitiate the deity, and keep it from doing nasty things” routine is an easy one to start – and may well be the oldest form of organized worship; If the population is reasonably contented, they worry about things going wrong. Assuage that worry, and you can pull in the offerings. If something goes wrong anyway, then obviously there were not ENOUGH offerings or someone did something to upset the gods – explanation and scapegoat in one easy package.

Of course, the weakness here is when the populace notices that the neighbors aren’t paying any attention to the boogeyman and nothing is happening to them. Then the protection-racket deities go downhill until something really nasty DOES happen to the unbelievers.

Given that nasty things happen all the time, something will happen that you can point at eventually – but sometimes the peace and quiet goes on too long, the frightening deity gets forgotten, and another protection-racket faith winds up in the great dustbin of forgotten historical curiosities.

  • Nobody bothers with truly indifferent deities. There’s no point. You can try for a vague sense of gratitude to a creator god – but unless he or she does something for people NOW, he or she is going to be just a footnote in very short order.
  • Some deities are helpful. The “worship the deity and it will help us” approach tends to do best in hard times, when people really need help. If and when things get better, the deity gets the credit. If things aren’t better yet, obviously you haven’t worshiped hard enough yet – and if you get wiped out, well, there are always more desperate groups out there who will be willing to listen to anything that might help them out.

The problem with this sort of theology is threefold. When times are good, people tend to get lazy and to forget about things until they go downhill again. Worse, when times are good for the neighbors who aren’t worshipping the deity, people start wondering if their worship is actually doing them any good. Worst of all is when the neighbors are doing well and the faithful are NOT – which is when the helpful deity tends to wind up being forgotten in favor of belief systems that, at least at the moment, seem to work.

Polytheistic faiths are easy. They can easily account for all the randomness in the world; the gods are of limited power, squabble a lot, and make mistakes. They’re often selfish brats as well. Who’s going to make them grow up?

Monotheism had to wait for some explanations to be invented.

The first step towards monotheism was to combine “scary” and “helpful” in one deity – and to make that deity somewhat capricious. There’s always SOMETHING that makes each particular case a little different to use as an excuse.

So, if you had angered the god, sometimes his wrath would fall upon you. Other times, it would fall on your children, or grandchildren, or relatives, or something you liked. Perhaps something else entirely would be destroyed, or invaders would be sent. Perhaps you’d have a chance to make up for your error, and disaster would not fall!

After all, there are few easier “miracles” for a priest to produce than to have some really unlikely disaster not happen.

If you had pleased the god, good things would presumably happen – to somebody.

That wasn’t quite good enough of course. It gave your god appeal in both good and bad times, but it still didn’t cover why things didn’t always go right for you if you knew so much or why people got good luck in one field simultaneously with bad luck in another.

The next religious advance was the creation of a complex body of theology and sacred writings. You needed a mass of requirements and taboos (some reasonable, and some purely arbitrary), a selection of vague “prophecies” that could be interpreted in a hundred different ways, and (all too soon) a selection of after-the-fact “predictions”. That way most people could make a good effort to live up to what the god expected, and could usually feel like they were doing a pretty good job at it (even if they weren’t) – but there was always room for doubt, and the priests could justify, or claim to have predicted, pretty much anything that happened.

Now you had an explanation for good fortune in one field coupled with ill fortune in another. That just meant that the god was levying specific punishments for specific infringements, while rewarding the things that pleased him, her, or it.

As a side-benefit, those inventions put even kings, mighty warriors, and the very, very, rich within the reach of effective priestly condemnation. Things went wrong for any dynasty or combatant eventually. That was the price of making yourself a target – and a good AND bad times religion could afford to wait.

That made monotheism workable – and monotheism had major advantages. Monotheism kept ALL the offerings, and attention, and followers coming your way. By claiming that all other beliefs were mere ignorant errors, you discouraged people from leaving, or shopping around at the temples of speciality gods. You could give your deity the credit for anything and everything, including the creation of the entire universe – and it was hard to get more impressive than THAT.

That left only one problem; sometimes even a complex body of doctrine and intricate reasoning couldn’t convince people that some outcomes made any sense. Someone opposed the faith, did everything it opposed, and fulfilled none of its commandments, pulled off a lifetime of successes against the faithful, and saw his or her children and grandchildren do well? Now that was a tough one.

The addition of a detailed afterlife, filled with gruesome punishments for the unworthy and great rewards for the worthy, sufficed to explain away that problem – and the promise of eternal bliss now belonged exclusively to your particular faith.

With a tight body of doctrine, you needed a tight hierarchy to expound upon that doctrine and to supervise additions to it – which also let you incite a hatred of heretics and rival faiths and imbue your faithful with a fierce desire to convert the rest of the world.

With those key inventions added to its religious arsenal, a monotheistic faith could easily sweep over polytheistic realms, easily driving out loosely-organized polytheistic priests and absorbing any beliefs that were too deeply-embedded to easily eliminate as folk traditions.

Which takes us to the Modern Priest – an archetype which places less value on rituals, taboos, and study and a great deal more on fervent belief, dedication to the faith, and striking out against every other belief that challenges that faith. How can you have spiritual warriors without spiritual enemies?

The Modern Priest may specialize in debate, in rooting out cults and heretics, in spreading the faith, in setting a good example (according to the precepts of his or her faith), or even in literal spiritual warfare, confronting whatever supernatural opponents of the faith his or her beliefs include – but those are sufficiently minor as variations that no one sees much of a problem with the same fictional character shifting from role to role as the author and the situation demands.

Now there is one major problem with including either major version of the Priest archetype in a setting. If you intend for them to play a major role, they usually need to have actual powers over and above moral suasion and the backing of a religious hierarchy. Even if they can call in a few ecclesiastical troops, that won’t help them much when the swords and guns come out.

Worse, if you go with the kind of miraculous powers reported for various faiths in reality, you’ll have to drastically tone them down (to avoid the “A deity smites you. You lose” aspect of such interventions), make them a LOT more common (so as to give the priest something to do), and use a pantheon (so as to avoid the “There’s no argument! Everyone knows that this is what god wants! Problem).

Which pretty much takes us back to… giving your priests at least one pantheon to draw power from and a selection of reasonably reliable, moderately-scaled, and fairly readily accessible miracles.

In other words, a speciality spellcaster working for a far-less-than-perfect and certainly not all-powerful member of a pantheistic faith.

That sounds familiar somehow. A LOT of games work in priests like that.

It’s easy enough to see that the Classical Priest works pretty well in most game systems. It’s just that – unlike the real world – they generally have no doubts about what their deity approves and disapproves of and have personal power to go with their social influence.

The Modern Priest, however, has problems. Unless you just establish that “They’re right, and there isn’t much objection to that obvious fact outside of by-definition supernatural foes”, they just don’t fit in well with most settings. That doesn’t mean that you can’t make it work – but it does mean that either the entire world is going to fall under the “one true way” syndrome or that you’re going to have a demonstrably polytheistic world filled with priests who are, rather absurdly, trying to pretend otherwise.

As Brian suggests, perhaps that could be the price of gaining spiritual powers. To gain them, you must fervently believe in one of the many gods who each claim to be the One True God – and, once their power begins to flow through you, you can no longer rationally consider any evidence that suggests otherwise. Thus the various priesthoods can then battle it out before the bemused nobles and peasants…

Actually, that does sound rather like fun.