The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice, Part X

Rosa Celeste: Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the...

Are you sure this is the way to the post office?

The first destination in their little Exalt-search appeared to be a middle-class divine suburb where smoke was streaming from a townhouse window. It was predominantly red, but there were shades of orange and pink. More importantly, from the gods pointing outside and the mortals running around, apparently that was not normal…

Was the building on fire? Charles did a little divining to check. It might just be somebody firing up their aura or something… Ah. Pretty much the same energies as before, – although this felt more like the scholarly and investigative caste – but apparently no one there. An exaltation with no one there seemed unlikely, to say the least. It was much more likely that their anima shields them against magical detection.

So; presumably all of them were ready, and twenty had exalted in Yu-Shan. Evidently simple proximity played more of a role with these shards than it did with Lunars and Solars: that would make sense if they were designed to function in the current, much larger, universe. Given the close ties between Yu-Shan and Earth, that probably meant that most of the other eighty had manifested on Earth. Otherwise they might never find each other – and Exalts did seem to tend to collect in groups.

Did it cover indirect manipulations? He tried doing a little light-bending to peek into the window without direct magical divination.

Meanwhile, the gods seemed to be preparing their own Charms to cut through sensory distractions while Ms. Cress was taking out some kind of lens…

His light-bending revealed a nice bedroom and a lot of smoke, which seemed to form a lotus of sorts, its petals billowing to the ceiling in delicate columns. There was a somewhat frightened looking kid of about his own age in the middle of the lotus. She was quite faint, but visible.

Now that was some pretty good protection! It wouldn’t take much more magic – and perhaps only practice – to push her over into virtually complete undetectability!

(Ms. Cress) “Interesting… that smoke will cloud the mind of anyone who gets in it.”

Well, he had promised to hang back.

(Charles, to Ms Cress) “They probably don’t know that then. (He fished in his bag) Would you like a megaphone?”

It was origami – constructed from his supplies of paper with a quick telekinetic charm – but functional to shout through.

(Ms. Cress) “Thank you very much. Hmm, your skill is impressive. I don’t recall ever seeing you at the Cerulean Lute of Harmony for classes.”

Ms Cress tried to reassure the kid, putting a bit of Essence into it, bending fate a bit. Charles put up a modest ward against outside noises around the area to quiet things down a bit and make it easier for everyone to hear…

Wait, why would she be reassuring the kid that she was “almost certainly not Anathema, because Heaven’s defenses weren’t going off against her”? He’d thought that was just a line for the Dragon-Blooded. Was she very old-fashioned, a bit deluded, or was something else going on?

The girl did come out. She was quite confused, and apparently her divine parent was not at home – although he was enroute. When he did turn up he turned out to be Moonsbane – one of the old gods of the Wyld Hunt. Hence the reassurance about “anathema”.

Charles continued to stay in the background. He SHOULDN’T be detectable, but you never knew with gods with specific portfolios. He might have some weird unique power. Still, Lunars now had an alliance with the Sidereals and he’d thought that the Wyld Hunt fell apart with the Realm… Ah! Moonsbane had fallen since his halcyon days, but he had managed to hang on by claiming that Chimera were, at heart, still Lunars (which was probably even true). He did look a little worried about his daughter, but at least she wasn’t showing any sign of shapeshifting

(Ms. Cress) “No, Moonsbane, I don’t know what kind of Exalted she is. But she’s certainly not a Lunar. Yes, I am glad too.”

Ms Cress got contact information and arranged a time for an interview and some testing.

With the girl calmed down, and no longer radiating confusing smoke, Charles quietly slipped her a bag of candied nuts. That would still leave him with three!

Hm. Maybe Grandfather was right. He WAS eating too many sweets. Gramps always seemed to prefer plain dried fruits and nuts.

Argentia was quite appreciative. Charles continued the opportunistic god-blooded impression by leaving his artificer card. You never knew! She might need something.

As the daughter of a moderately powerful god who’d known better times, she was quite used to that sort of thing. The only surprise was that he was her age – but kid geniuses were somewhat common among the God-Blooded. Maybe a new aerial skiff if Daddy gave permission?

(Charles) “Maybe! Those are hard to get permission for these days!”

The next location was one of the slums. Charles cheerily trailed along. So far it had been quite interesting!

This time around there was a blatant trail of light in the dusty streets, slowly fading. It was a brilliant blue – still with an adamant resonance however. Up ahead there was an equally brilliant blue corona streaming to the top of the Celestial City’s dome.

(Charles) “That’s a new one too! Northern lights? Zodiac? Ion Rockets?”

Maybe they were linked to individual minor gods who didn’t have exalts before? There really wasn’t enough information to do more than guess at the moment… Still, it was already giving him ideas! OK, Ion Rockets were unlikely.

As they followed the trail, they saw occasional unconscious people along it. Some of them were mortal city police – but there didn’t seem to be anything seriously wrong with any of them. Just severe bruising, mostly concentrated on the head, neck, and back.

Charles did a quick check – but he was betting on beaten upon at high speed. Probably with a blunt instrument of some sort.

That was indeed what it looked like.

(Charles) “A speedster? That would also be a new one!”

As they closed in on the corona they could hear a crowd murmuring and a young man yelling above it. From the way his voice kept getting closer and farther away, he was running around at high speed. What could be made out was boasting that no one would ever hit him again.

Oh dear. Of course, it was likely that – in the slums – his only opponents so far had been humans, god-bloods, and minor godlings. Now he had a Sidereal to deal with.

(Ms. Cress) “Well, pay up, Bright Flower. You were one off on when the chaos would begin.”

Bright Flower paid Ms. Cress a bit of ambrosia for the apparent bet.

The young man, barely into adulthood, was running around a courtyard. He was very thin and frail-looking – but much healthier and stronger looking thugs weren’t keeping up with him. His anima was streaming behind him, comet-like. Mortals, god-bloods, and even a few poor deities were looking on, unsure of what to do. He was waving a jade stick, and there were various unconscious people laying around as well.

Charles mused on sending the young man a cricket-conscience illusion – but he was more tempted to put up a sign reading “FREE SPORTS DRINKS!”.

One of the gods with them had her hands on a gun. She seemed to be evaluating whether or not the youngster had a perfect defense – although she hadn’t yet drawn it.

Charles used a bit of telekinesis to set a can of soda, and then a plate of fudge (he had a lot left over from school!) on a handy low wall along the youngsters path. He was circling after all. Ah, bribery! What problems can’t you fix?

Unfortunately, he didn’t see them on the first pass, and the wind of his passage pulled them off the wall. On his next pass, he tripped over the can and did a face-plant into the fudge… It being the slums, the thugs were ready to take advantage of him – at least Ms. Cress stepped forward and told them to desist, backing the command with more essence.

(Charles) “Oops! Sorry!”

That was an awfully nice jade stick he had. It was white, finely engraved, and currently in the gun god’s possession. That was unusual for a brand-new exalt to have. Did he have the ability to manifest an artifact-weapon? That was known in some martial arts of course. He peered at it, trying to decide.

(Youngster, now back on his feet and arguing) “Hey, give that back, it came with the Exaltation!”

Movement so fast that it almost looked like teleportation. Cool! Charles handed him a handkerchief to get the fudge off with.

A rod or baton was the classical symbol of a message-runner. The speed might go with that… On the other hand…

He quietly snagged the rod to take a look at it. Hm… A Stud on it split it open to reveal a slim adamant short daiklave with… an age of minus five years? Adamant it is! And from the future – and he’d definitely had something to do with making it, or at least with making the prototype it had taken it’s pattern from. All the details were consistent with his style.

He couldn’t resist. The hilt had a number of unadorned spaces – so he resolved that, when it came time to make the prototype, he’d put a maker’s mark on it right… there.

And so there was. So the future could be changed, and the existence of items from it was highly probable – but not certain. He made sure to give the boy his card… He didn’t need any major paradoxes!

(Youngster) “It does THAT?”

(Charles) “Oh yes! You’ve been bonking people with the sheathe… Probably a better idea than using the sword though! Particularly since it’s existence may be a bit tenuous at the moment.”

(Youngster) “Tenuous… oh yeah, that word.”

(Charles) “Well, it shouldn’t be here YET I think. Somebody with a LOT of power is really rushing things!”

(Youngster) “Well I’m glad I have it! Will have it. Whatever.”

(Ms. Cress, looking at Charles rather oddly) “And I think we need to get you out of here.”

The youngster left the neighborhood with them, although Ms Cress didn’t yet give him back his sword. Charles gave him more fudge, since he didn’t get any of the last plateful, and all running had probably made him hungry.

He was indeed very, very hungry.

Hm. His initial probes had said envoys, diplomats, tactical specialists, assassins, and – well – “acquisitions specialists” (or perhaps thieves). So far it had looked like priest, investigator, and – perhaps – messenger or warrior. Variations or had there just not been enough information in his original scans? Perhaps he should be looking for an engineer / healer next?

Well, there were seventeen more stops to go… (they’d come to the Factory-Cathedral first, since it was a high-security area and there had been lots of reports). Fortunately he had lots of paper and endless ink supplies!

The gods frantically did their paperwork on the boat as they sped along the gold canal on Ms. Cress’s personal craft. Charles helped them out with ink and paper and filling stuff out when it was absolutely necessary.

Everyone was grateful for that – although Ms. Cress did have some questions for him along the way, mostly about when he’d started studying thaumaturgy.

(Ms Cress) “You are a very precocious young man, even by God-Blooded standards.”

(Charles) “Uhm… I had a knack! I don’t really remember that far back. I think it was five or so…”

(Ms Cress, appearing quite impressed) “At this rate, you may well Exalt. No Moon or Air Aspect, I’d say. But that is up to the Maidens – and, of course, to the gods of those Exaltations.”

(Charles) “I’d rather not I think! If you Exalt, you keep having to fight things.”

He was fairly sure that exalting as a No Moon or Air Aspect really would involve some major troubles and complications at this point, so that was true enough.

The next stop was, of all places, YesterYears!

That was cool! It was almost dinner time anyway!

Yesteryears was even busier than usual. Apparently one of the cooks had Exalted during the hectic lunch shift. She was in the back, still cooking!

Well, that probably wouldn’t cause any violence – although the waiters kept going back to her particular station, and the manager was having a hard time keeping them out. They could see ribbons of sinuous, asymmetric, multicolored (albeit mostly green) light streaming from there.

The light show was attracting still more customers.

That was also kind of neat… Green? That was usually life-healing-emotional-social effects, but also occasionally acid.

Her shift was over in a few minutes. Ms. Cress sent a god to notify her that the Convention on Essence Wielders would like to talk – while Charles will cheerily ordered food…

The cook was out shortly, along with meals for everyone… Her presence was intoxicating. As she passed by, whole tables of mortals turned to look, coated by her anima. The others at his table were only slightly shaken thanks to godly and Exalted fortitude.

She was a waitress before she graduated from culinary school. There’s talk of her becoming a waitress again.

Charles wavered a bit… It was a beguilement effect. Opposing her desires seemed all but unthinkable. Diplomat or negotiator? Social healer primary perhaps, rather than physical? A socialite at any rate.

He used a head-clearing charm and a mental-focusing charm. He really didn’t need it, but it did help him look normal.

Ms. Cress appeared especially shaken until she spent a bit of Essence.

There was the usual trading of contacts, but Ms. Cress sent Charles and the gods out to wait for her. That was fair enough! At the moment he had food to eat anyway…

She returned a few minutes later. She appeared reluctant to leave, but leave they did… She was the last one aboard the boat, and they sped off to the next destination. She seemed deep in thought for the whole journey down the canal. If she had anything to say, she didn’t mention it.

Oh well. If she kept working at Yesteryears, He’d probably meet her anyway.

The canal became slightly murkier, and the streets along the canal were dusty and untended, as they slipped into an outright abandoned quarter. Ms. Cress took out her cell phone and started working on negotiating with someone. Terms of passage?

It took a lot of talking for her to come to a compromise, but apparently whoever she was talking to or about was being bought straight to the boat.

An aerial skiff approached from deep in the abandoned region about an hour later. It hovered right at a door on Ms. Cress’s boat. The transfer was done with the utmost security.

And Charles continued to hang in the back.

The passenger was a middle aged woman of considerable beauty. Her anima was almost blinding, and sparkles with white and indigo arcs, rings, and waves. A four-point starburst appeared on her head. Ms. Cress knew this person, and greeted her warmly.

Charles had a feeling that no mundane deception would pass scrutiny in this anima. Fortunately, he didn’t usually engage in mundane deceptions – although he did, occasionally, allow people to trip over their own assumptions.

(Ms Cress) “Charles, Astrid. Astrid, Charles. Astrid’s father is a very important person among us.”

(Charles, bowing slightly) “Pleased to meet you!”.

(Astrid) “It is good to meet you as well.”

Astrid and Ms. Cress will settled down for the interview. It looked like… Astrid was a mundane agent for one of the Sidereal factions. They were dancing around which one like nobody’s business – and the anima was giving them a good deal of trouble with it.

So. God-blooded and very powerful and experienced. She was definitely in very good health and her eyes were a very deep violet. Charles stayed out of the way, but speculated… Were these exaltations – or at least this caste – designed to take more advantage of existing potentials? Exalting a god blooded with their own charms would definitely add some versatility. That would be an efficient variant on the Eclipse abilities, and Truth was probably more useful than Oaths. He’d have to check on that later on.

The discussion was a bit more technical this time around. Ms. Cress spent quite a lot of time asking Astrid about new Charms. Astrid mentioned being able to see sequences of events before and after they happen. Her husband – a Sidereal who was not mentioned by name – actually had to work to avoid her random blows when they sparred today. He even had to Duck Fate once.

Everyone had tea. Astrid wondered if this meant that she could finally attune to starmetal. Ms. Cress was noncommittal on that – and, while Charles was pretty sure that her natural attunement was to adamant, like all the others, if she was keeping her god-blooded abilities, that might mean that she’d be able to.

After tea, it was time for Astrid to go. It was far past the children’s bedtime, and her husband would likely be worried. She left on the skiff.

The remaining visits – at least the ones that hadn’t already been handled by other Sidereals – were relatively routine. Yes, there was some excitement and a few complications,

Ms. Cress made a note or two on Charles as well. The child was a remarkably good aide; he stayed out of the way and never endangered himself – and yet he was always on hand with a helpful bit of thaumaturgy. He seemed to be an expert scholar and artificer as well. He’d been quite a lot of help, and he would be well worth recruiting a few years down the line even if he never developed any further abilities – and, as a god-blood, he was likely to do so. She left him one of her cards.

Charles, too, was composing notes. Lytek would already know that the new Exaltations had found hosts of course – but he’d be needing his report as soon as possible. Hopefully Lytek would summon him again – probably along with a few other witnesses – but he sent the report in right away over the prayer-channels; it didn’t take much enhancing to transmit an “organized” prayer, and a bit of thaumaturgic tweaking let him turn it into a report appearing on Lytek’s desk instead of a generic lump of Ambrosia…

That trick took a big chunk of essence motes of course, but he had those.

After a long day of papers and visits and avoiding attracting TOO much notice, it was back to the Factory-Cathedral to close up and finish up his personal work (perfected boots that went with any outfit) before heading for home and bed.


4 Responses

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