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!

Advertisements

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.