The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice, Part IV

Acid rain results on monuments

More things that need fixing!

It was a day or two before things got eventful again – time enough, at least, to finish up with his own tools and to get some agents – both mundane and supernatural – out looking for the odder ingredients on his list. There’d probably be some explaining to do over the hipparions eventually, but that was for the future! And it had definitely made the god of hipparions very happy, which was the important part!

Using the facilities of the factory-cathedral after hours was really handy too! It didn’t actually do much of anything that the Hoenheim manse didn’t as far as making a single artifact went, but it let him make multiple copies at the same time!

Hm… Was there a way to unlock that kind of potential in his own manses? He had a feeling that it was there. Some of the ancient manses were supposed to have once displayed far functions than it was normally possible to design into a manse. If that was a simple advance in design, why didn’t you find such manses around and in operation? It would make much more sense if it was something that had to be awakened – and that meant that it would be an advanced function of attunement to the manse or hearthstone. He’d have to look into that. It certainly FELT like being on the right track!

With his new tools ready, and a lot of ingredients laid in, it was time to start some serious artificing!

Well, not so serious yet. He still needed to make that obsidian knife and the wood!

Fortunately, crafting the knife only took a few minutes with his new tools. Getting it blooded… that would be a bit more complicated though. Nicking himself, or using it to cut a steak, really didn’t seem like it would work right. It needed to be in combat… Perhaps a sparring match? It needn’t be a serious wound, but that really didn’t seem to be required; it just needed to be in actual combat.

A night storm wasn’t really under his control, but it was the right time of year. That should work out on it’s own. Ixian would let him know when some Dryad needed assistance. He’d apparently been working hard on reassuring them that he would indeed heal their trees after getting the wood he needed.

Ixian called the next evening from a small bit of forest between Alpharetta and Roswell, fairly close to Atlanta.

(Ixian) “It’s a really big one, too!”.

Charles took his bicycle and headed out. Fortunately, transport thaumaturgy could reduce the travel time by 90% or so… He had to throw in a small illusion or two to cover things, but the spell mostly made it seem like he was just missing spots and taking shortcuts anyway. With a little thaumaturgy to find the shortcuts, the structure of space wasn’t NEARLY as even as most people thought it was!

It didn’t take all that long to reach the small forest grove where a large, old, oak tree was still smoking a bit from the lighting bolt. Charles bowed politely…

(Charles) “Dear me! That is a nasty injury there… (Probe) Fortunately, the roots are all right, we just have splitting from an internal steam explosion and some cooking… There will be scarring I fear!”

He couldn’t instantly heal things directly, but he could reduce the trauma (converting a lot of the damage to bashing) and then absorb some of that. He made sure that he got a few of the blasted-out chunks of wood gathered up along the way.

The dryad was lying on the ground (with Ixian hovering around, making her comfortable, bringing her a little pillow, and paying his respects to her), and had a nasty wound on her face.

(Charles) “Well now! That does look nasty! Let me see if I can fix that…”

He did so. Then he put a century-long ward versus lightning on her tree. It wouldn’t necessarily stop a strike, but it would render it far more survivable. That left her with little more than a faint scarring on trunk and face.

(Charles) “Are you feeling better there?”

(Dryad) “Wha… what happened?”

(Ixian) “Well, your tree got struck by lightning! If Charles hadn’t shown up, you’d still be lying here. He made sure your tree wouldn’t die.”

(Charles) “Well, I was keeping an eye out for that sort of thing! I needed a bit of wood from a lightning-struck tree, but it would have been quite unpleasant of me to just get that and leave matters as they were! I hope there will be no lasting effects!”

(Dryad) “I can’t thank you enough, young one. Please, take as much of the dead wood as you need.”

(Charles) “You’re quite welcome, and thank you very much!”

Hm. Forests had so much trouble these days… Acid Rain, Developers, Storms… This one didn’t seem particularly threatened by anything at the moment – perhaps because it was, in fact, on a minor ley line juncture… Nothing major, but definitely good for finding materials for minor artifacts (especially wood-based ones). Some of the trees did show signs of recent harvesting. From the way that branches always seemed to be missing in the same places and how some of the trees had odd carvings and scars, probably for magical craftwork. There certainly weren’t any wards to keep people out though…

It wasn’t a park either. Just a ways off from the road to the lake not far to the northeast.

He spun a few large-scale protections across the area with about a centuries duration… They’d be relatively weak, but every little bit helped. Developers would just find themselves reaching the conclusion that the area was too rugged and messy for practical development, pollution and the non-native pest insects would be warded off, and the effects of storms would be limited. That should keep this fairly pleasant small forest safe for some time!

Since it was a minor ley line junction, he asked a few of the local spirits and took a look around to see if it had a minor demesne in the center. It was always worth checking on that sort of thing.

It was shortly after dawn when he found it.

It did, even if it was about as minor as it could get. The area smelled of pine and maple, and the grass felt somewhat sticky. Interestingly, there was a tent pitched behind the brush to the left. Whoever’d set it up knew at least some thaumaturgy, since it was almost exactly the same shade as the brush – an obvious camouflage spell. Whoever it was had also taken care not to disrupt this site’s geomancy; there was no campfire. It sounded like the tents occupant was awake however…

(Charles) “Hello there! This IS a nice little patch of woods isn’t it?”

A middle-aged, fairly fit, and somewhat pale gentleman emerged from the tent. His clothes were appropriate for camping, but fairly high end, and he looked Charles over before responding.

(Mage) “Good afternoon. How did you get all the way out here?”

(Charles) “Oh, I cycled most of the way! It’s a nice patch of woods to stroll in though!

(Mage) “Do your parents know you’re out here?”

(Charles, looking a bit sad) “Well… I doubt it, since I don’t really know what happened to them – but grandpa might. He keeps track of a lot of things.”

(Mage) “Ah, I apologize. Did you at least eat breakfast?”

(Charles) “Oh, I’ve got some snacks. Would you like some trail mix? And I’ve got some very VERY good candied nuts!”

(Mage) “Oh, why not? I haven’t had candied nuts in years.”

They were good. Charles tended to do his candy-shopping in Yu-Shan. The mage was arching his eyebrows as he ate them.

(Mage) “Where did you get these?”

(Charles) “Oh, there’s a little speciality shop not so far off from my usual bus stop! They do make good candies! Gramps says not too eat too many though.”

(Mage) “What’s the name of that stop?”

(Charles) “Er, I think it’s stop seven on the route… Why?”

Actually, he’d just recalled why – but he was trying to stall since he wouldn’t want to lie if it was avoidable.

(Mage) “Well, either somebody’s sold you better candied nuts than you thought, or your Gramps is more important than you’re letting on.”

(Charles) “Well, it’s Zarchian’s Candies… They’re a very old business!”

Zarchian was a rather old god, he’d used to be the patron of shogunate-era candy chefs and had picked up steam with the discovery of chocolate and vanilla – but he never did really make it big; the candy portfolio wound up getting subdivided a lot. He used quintessence to make nuts and ingredients that hadn’t been seen on earth since the first age – and continued to use his traditional recipes. He did a lot of business with Sidereals and others who remembered that far back, it was a nostalgia thing. Charles, of course, just liked candy. He made Zarchian thaumaturgical no-stick molds and such; candy making didn’t require much serious artificing.

(The mage, looking at him for a moment) “So there really is a celestial candy store in Yu-Shan. Then I guess you weren’t on just a walk.”

(Charles) “Well, I was mostly just out fixing things at the moment! I had to bicycle because this is off the bus routes! Were you looking for something in particular? If you know it’s Yu-Shan, I can give you the address for Zarchian’s. Gramps does say I eat too much candy anyway…”

(Mage) “Oh, I was just checking on rumors of a demesne. I’d appreciate the address, but I don’t think whatever they’ve got guarding the gate would let me through. Too bad. I need something to relax.”

(Charles) “There does seem to be one around, but it’s mostly inactive and doesn’t really seem to need any maintenance anyway… Just as well; I don’t know any easy ways to do that yet!”

(Mage) “Hmm. You’re a big thinker for a God-Blooded.”

(Charles) “There are such a lot of things that need fixing!”

(Mage) “Tell me about it. So what do you do up there? All the information I have says you can’t escape work even in Heaven.”

(Charles) “School and a bit of artificing mostly! What do you do?”

(Mage) “I’m an architect. Nowadays I usually do skyscrapers. Manses are much better, though.”

(Charles) “studying those too! An awful lot of them need fixing too!”

(Mage, rubbing his temples) “That’s a real pain. I’m working on one in Atlanta right now. Can’t tell you more than that.”

(Charles) “Oh well. Would you like me to send you some candy?”

(Mage) “I’d appreciate it. Can you ward off poison from it, though? You can never be too careful.”

(Charles) “Uhm… I suppose so. How would it get in? Zarchian would never allow something like that!”

(Mage) “Sure, he wouldn’t. Gods would never let their domains be wrecked like that. But somebody could get to it between him and you, or you and me.”

(Charles) “Ok! Where should I send it and is there anything in particular you’d like?”

(Mage) “Here’s my business card; the address on it is as secure as I can make it. I wouldn’t mind trying the cherry glazed nuts.”

(Charles) “I’ll get you some!”

Charles cheerily started off.

(Mage) “Hey kid, wait! I don’t even know your name!”

(Charles) “Charles! Charles Ward, Mr…?”

(Mage) “Jacob Anderson.”

(Charles) “Nice to meet you! I have to go though, or I’ll be late!”

Jacob let him go… As supernatural encounters went, that had been a rather pleasant change. Most of the things you met were demanding, threatening, or indifferent…

Charles was slightly out of breath when he got to school. He’d had to rush quite a long ways to get there!

(Schoolmaster Jun) “Ah, Charles, just on time. Are you all right?”

(Charles) “Oh yes! Just a busy morning! It’s all that ingredient hunting!… Oh, I don’t suppose anyone around here is studying knife fighting but is so good that they could use a handicap to practice sparring with?”

(Schoolmaster Jun) “There was someone here looking for that.”

(Charles, producing obsidian knife #8 – which was very well-crafted, but was still a stone knife) “I brought one along that might work for them – and it would help me to if the nick someone. It has to be blooded – although it only needs a drop like people get in practice all the time – and I think in combat is best. I don’t think nicking myself would count. Although if that’s an imposition or you don’t think it’s a good idea I can probably find another way!”

(Schoolmaster Jun) “Ah, yet more ingredient gathering? I’ll see to it that they use the blade in a sparring match and tell them not to break it. Training injuries are inevitable, after all, and one might as well be put to better use.”

(Charles) “Well, ingredients are going to be a big thing for awhile – at least until I build up an inventory of the reusable ones. It looks like the esoteric ingredients was one of the major production holdups!”

(Schoolmaster Jun) “They are a bother to gather sometimes.”

Today it was Music, History, and (sigh) Basic Combat again.

Jun was pushing the combat class a bit just because Charles was so bad at it. Yes, the boy had a lot of other talents, and was quite astonishingly good at thaumaturgy and artificing – although that was probably in part because he’d doubtless made himself several minor enhancing artifacts for Thaumaturgy – but, sooner or later, he’d have to defend himself, and there was no substitute for at least knowing which end of a weapon was dangerous.

Today’s music class was concentrating on singing. Unfortunately, Charles was pretty bad at that. On the other hand, at least that meant that he had things to learn!

The teacher smiled as she listened to his performance, but was definitely slightly strained. He was a touch better than the average amateur, but she was a minor goddess of music and it wasn’t like she didn’t hear FAR better performances in Yu-Shan! Still, he might become a passable backup singer in time.

At least he was better than Ovashin. HE was the child of a mountain god, and HIS bass notes tended to vibrate things off the shelves even when he wasn’t falling over something. His entries could usually best be described with the word “avalanche”. She was increasingly sure that objects slid out in front of him just to trip him up; that drum set had been put safely away!

History, on the other hand, was definitely one of Charles’ strong suits. The instructor could see that the kid was trying not to show off much, but he’d seen plenty of bored children before. It wasn’t like prodigies were uncommon amongst the god-blooded.

He took the boy aside as the end of the class.

(Kordoth, God of History) “Charles, how would you like to join the advanced class?”

(Charles) “Sure!.. Er, will you still be teaching? You’re a good teacher, but I read all the books for this class already!”

(Kordoth) “I think it would be a much better use of your potential. Why don’t you discuss it with your grandfather? And yes, I teach that one as well. I’ll see about setting you up with the entrance exam.”

(Charles) “Cool!”

Sadly, it was then off to weapons practice. It was kind of bad when three quarters of the class had already moved on to live practice and you were not among them, even if it did mean more individual attention from the instructors. Fortunately, the instructors were immortal gods – and they’d had PLENTY of slow students before. They’d make sure that he learned to protect himself somewhat if it took a century… The stories of Yan the Inept were still popular movie fare in the Celestial City after all!

At least Charles DID mostly know which end to hold, even if he did spend more time thinking about ways of improving the weapons than about how to use them. The War God in charge was pleased with him knowing how to hold them, even if he did wish that Charles would be more careful about where he was pointing the other end.

(Charles) “Is there a magical self-defense class? Or a section anyway? I’m better at that! It’s not that physical is bad… I’m just better with spells.”

(Mardistan, a minor War God) “Sigh… young man, you need to cover all your bases. Your grandfather specifically requested this from us.”

(Charles, thoughtfully) “Would a staff be all right? I think I might do better with one of them. And they’re good defensively!”

After all, it was much harder to really hurt people with a staff.

Mardistan considered that… Swords WERE the default of course. Lord Richof had asked them to make sure that Charles could defend himself in a melee fight. He HADN’T Specified a weapon. They’d just gone with swords because swords were generally best and because Lord Richof was noted for using them.

Besides… on watching the kid closely, there were strong hints that he had much better reflexes than the basic drills and kata showed. He was obviously afraid of injuring someone with a sword; perhaps he’d actually show some aggression – or at least stop holding back so much – with a staff.

(Mardistan) “Well, it’s certainly worth a try.”

At least the boy couldn’t readily destroy the walls and curtains with a staff.

There was some improvement. His katas were still awful, but he was a lot smoother with the staff and he didn’t seem to be so afraid of hurting the people around him accidently with it. A bit of sparring was worth a try.

Ah… Still little to no skill of course, but the boys reflexes were remarkable. That wasn’t necessarily sufficient in an actual fight, but it was certainly a big help – and a decent marker of potential anyway.

(Mardistan) “Huh. Too bad your grandfather hasn’t put you in archery. He must really think you need work here.”

(Charles) “Well… I kind of prefer making and enchanting swords to using them.”

(Mardistan) “There was some improvement there. Hey, Sindri!”

Sindri, a four-armed, angelic being who taught staff, martial arts, and wrestling, came over.

(Mardistan) “Sindri, this is Charles Ward. Charles, Sindri is our staff instructor.”

(Sindri, extending a spindly hand) “Hello, Charles. I saw you practicing. (To Mardistan) I guess he’s one of my students now?”

Charles shook hands, since that was what Sindri seemed to be looking for. My, that was a strong grip there! Sindri wasn’t crushing his hand, but he could tell…

Sindri, with his own talents and millennia more experience could tell a few things there as well. There was a surprising amount of strength underlying the child’s hesitancy – and at least one protective enchantment or innate power underlying the modern-style concealed body armor the boy was wearing. If his reflexes were as good as Mardistan suspected there might actually be a good deal of potential there – even if they had to resort to having people jump out at him to demonstrate the need to actually fight back rather than relying on defense.

(Sindri, to Charles) “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

(Charles) “A pleasure to meet you too sir!”

(Sindri) “Why don’t we spend the rest of class time working on your defensive skills? We can save attacking for tomorrow, I think.”

Charles really did work on that. He was MUCH  happier to not be holding something that might accidentally kill someone – or at least which was FAR LESS likely to accidentally kill someone. Besides – Sindri seemed to be one of the more contemplative war gods. They didn’t usually get that way until they reached the upper ranks.

Sindri was pleased. The boy was showing excellent reflexes now that he was no longer afraid of using his weapon. His endurance was excellent – although he was tiring, since he had yet to learn the art of moving and fighting efficiently rather than flailing.

Ah. That leg-sweep really should have toppled him, and ended the sparring match – but it had simply bounced away. Whatever protection the boy was using, it was surprisingly good. There weren’t many effects that provided complete protection even against sparring-level attacks, much less one with some real strength behind it.

(Sindri) “You’re a durable one. Did your grandfather give you some protective magic for these classes?”

(Charles) “Uhm… Not really. I did some defensive charms of my own though, and anchored them to other power sources so they wouldn’t go down and enchanted the shirt and things though. There’s muggers and all kinds of things out there.”

(Sindri) “Not bad work. I hear you run a factory-cathedral part time. Are you currently taking orders?”

(Charles) “Yes – but it might take a little bit. There’s a bunch of ones in already with stamps and seals and such all over them.”

(Sindri) “Oh, that is no issue. I might order some armor from you, then.”

(Charles) “I’d be glad to work on some for you! What would you like?”

(Sindri) “Hmm. Something fairly light. Perhaps a breastplate, I’ve never cared for overly heavy armor.

(Charles) “I will see what I can work up!”

(Sindri) “Blue jade, I think, and could you incorporate a blurring effect?”

(Charles) “I think so!”

He should be able to do something. Artifact armor was a LOT easier to make than Devon’s old notes said; either there’d been some advances in the process or the rules had changed a bit since then. Neither would be any real surprise; Creation had changed a lot during the wildstorms that had closed the third age.

More specifically, Sindri would like a blurring effect that made him harder to track, and therefore hit. As a flying combatant, he favored mobility to begin with. Well, that sort of thing should be easy enough… Possibly a mobility booster as well?

And thus class – and the school day – ended, as Charles headed off to his job in the Factory-Cathedral where the first order to fulfill was the Harmonic Adapters. Easy ingredients to get, always popular, thus taking advantage of being able to produce a lot of them

He’d thought about doing the Privacy Veils first, but those would be a good private project after hours.  All the anti-detection effects should be more or less self-shielding…

The initial project announcement was greeted with very little excitement. Harmonic Adapters were quick, simple, and a throughly reasonable choice. Charles’s announcement that he’d be using a modified generic design wherein the final bit of magical material to be installed would determine the attunement caused more of a stir though. That seemed like an… obvious idea, but it had never been done before – and would add to the difficulty quite substantially. Still, the designs looked good…

Charles – since the design could be turned out in batches of up to three hundred – was setting up for 50 Starmetal, 100 Moonsilver, 100 Jade, 25 Orichalcum (he wasn’t drawing attention to those), and 75 Ambrosial (for Gods). That should be a handy selection! There would be some for bonuses, some for other orders, some for trade, and some for sweeteners!

The work went fairly well. Of course, that was to be expected in a Yu-Shan factory cathedral with exceptional technicians and reasonably plentiful supplies that rarely suffered from shipping snags. Still, Charles wasn’t cheating too much in public, and so this was basically a  test and shakedown run with an artifact so easy – even with the difficulty increase of the new design – that it pretty much could not fail to succeed in the one-month minimum for the setup as long as Charles could run the place at all.

After the initial setup, Charles spent his time watching the place, checking for anything that needed fixing in the cathedral itself that hadn’t shown up while it wasn’t running (not too likely normally, but all of Yu-Shan had been running on inertia and “good enough” for a long time), and getting to know the gods and mortals who worked there.

There didn’t seem to be any notable problems though… The place was quite well-maintained for its size, although the paint job still needed finishing up since even that factored into the performance. The major gods included Bright Widget (shift boss, and clearly a minor light god), Circuits of Adaman (supervisor of the electronics manufacturing team), and Lelani (a spider-like deity who served as the janitor and general maintenance man).

Charles got to know them all – there were only a dozen gods and eight mortals who handled specific devices and jobs – and got them some minor presents. Chocolates and candy were always well received (well, OK, “always” in Charles’s youthful theories about reality) while he helped finish up fixing the paint job. They did seem to appreciate the attention. It seemed that the norm up until now had been “greet the staff and then forget about them until something goes wrong.”

Charles made a note to himself; since they were mass-producing several hundred of an artifact for which they only had a few orders, the staff were all entitled to one as a bonus – although that would be a surprise for the end of the month when they were done.