The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice XV – Darkness Rising

Oscar Niemeyer: Cathedral of Brasília. The sta...

Interesting Geomancy!

Thanks to the Veilward, it was easy enough for Charles to pick a time when no one was watching – and to use his new amulet to shift across Yu-Shan to where his Inukami-driver had carefully chosen a nicely private spot and set up some wards and illusions.

That tactic probably wouldn’t work forever, but it should work for awhile.

Charles took along six Coatl as concealed bodyguards – after all, you never quite knew what was up when you were invited to somebody else’s stronghold – and the Inukami as a driver.

The address from the heavily encrypted e-mail led him to a walled villa. There were several guards manning the entrance – but, fortunately, he’d sent ahead. He had his Inukami driver pull up and announce him.

The guards were mildly surprised – they hadn’t really been expecting a youngster no matter what they’d been told – but the visit was on their list, and there wasn’t any sign of hostility or of major concealed weapons. They let him in.

Inside, the place was nicely appointed, if relatively modest. There was an attendant there to greet him. She looked like your average personal assistant, although the way she moved suggested some pretty extensive bodyguard training.

(Charles) “So what’s up?”

(Miss Pessoa) “Charles Dexter Ward? I am Miss Pessoa. Master Romero would like to see you upstairs.”

Drat! How was everyone on earth getting his real name? He hadn’t given it to the mercenaries, and he’d given them a blind Email drop. Were the dragon-blooded passing it around? That was a powerful illusion on Miss Pessoa too… It showed considerable expertise in the Art of Illusion and – underneath – there was an amalgam with what looked like a stone golem as its base.

Well, that was fair enough. HE’D brought some amalgam-bodyguards. His were just hidden under his clothes and behind the various artifact-auras and his own touch of illusion and shapeshifting disguises. He headed on up with the Amalgam; it was the only way to find out what was going on!

The Coatl really didn’t like that – but they had to admit that there wasn’t much of any reason for it to be a trap, and – if it was – that might be the only way to find out why.

Miss Pessoa took him to a very nice meeting room., where a middle-aged gentleman in stylish casual clothing was sitting at a big oak table. There were drinks as well – but they were obviously tailored for him; various juices, tea, and milk. There were snacks, too, mostly fruit. Information from debriefing the mercenaries perhaps?

(Charles) “Allo! What’s up?”

(Romero) “Good afternoon, Mr. Ward. I wish to speak to you about certain Manses. More specifically, those Manses you repaired a little while ago. I am curious about your methods.”

(Charles) “Oh. Well… the pattern’s already been set in a manse, and it’s kind of a living thing. It WANTS to either heal and be whole or to break free of the structure entirely and run wild – but the biggest tendency is to be whole; otherwise you could never build a manse in the first place. The power would tear it apart before you finished. So you just have to take some of its energies into yourself, and share a bit of your life with it to spark the healing process, and let the power draw the matter back into the pattern where it’s supposed to be!”

(Romero) “Ah. I am curious. Is this a teachable process?”

(Charles, quite honestly) “I don’t know yet. It might depend on having access to a healing manse as well, but It might not. Fortunately, most manses are hard to break!”

(Romero) “That is good for all of us. Otherwise, they rain acid, spit fire, and other dreadful things.”

(Charles) “Is it that you have one that needs fixing?”

(Romero) “Yes, I do. Beneath Brasilia itself, there is a Manse I would like to repair. Unfortunately, my own skills in geomancy are not up to the task. I am learning, but I would like to have control of the Manse before someone else obtains it.”

(Charles) “Is it far to get to or heavily defended? It would only take a few hours to start the process, but I’d need to get to the Hearthstone room – and it would be best to have the Hearthstone for at least a few minutes”.

(Romero) “It is beneath the business district. I know of a hidden way to get in. There is some Essence venting, but not many defenses other than that.”

(Charles) “Well, I don’t have to be back until later tonight, so there should be plenty of time!”

(Romero) “Then we should leave as soon as possible. I will prepare my things and meet you downstairs in a few minutes.”

(Charles) “OK!”

Romero came down a few minutes later in sturdier clothes and with a light duffel bag – and they headed into Brasilia proper. Wealth disparities were considerable in Brazil, and the capital was no exception, as they transitioned from slums to the grandeur of the business district.

Charles made a note to do some more fixing!

Their destination appeared to be an abandoned building.

(Romero) “One of my properties. I was working on it when we made the discovery.”

He unlocked the door and showed Charles in.

It was easy enough to see where the out-of-commission sewer pipes ended and the tunnel with Second Age murals began when he lifted up the tarp.

(Charles) “Hm! Not one of the oldest ones, but still a long ways back.”

Hm. Fire aspected. That seemed to be common; much like the North American South, Latin America tended toward Fire Aspect Manses; the place was one of many and looked to be rank-3. He made some notes…

(Romero) “I am very curious about these murals. The language seems to be like none I’ve seen before – but I think in-depth analysis can wait until the Manse is fixed.”

Hm. It looked a bit like the Realm’s variant, but there seemed to be some encryption here and there. Perhaps some secrets to look at later! On to the hearthstone room!

The mural work continued, and was pretty good. The art was mostly geometric shapes, which put the period at the late Scarlet Empire. It was pretty hot though; flames occasionally popped out from cracks in the wall and floors. Fortunately, both he and Mr. Romero had the defenses needed to just to walk through – but it was still pretty uncomfortable.

Wait, there was something kind of.. grinding sound up ahead?

(Romero) “What is that? I know the Terrestrial geomancer set up the patch kit properly, and the wardings on the dig site should have kept away most intruders.”

Charles ran a small clairvoyant effect ahead… It looked like… There was someone already in the Hearthstone room. A girl of about his own age, hacking away at the Hearthstone pedestal with a sword that was bigger than she was.

(Charles) “We’ve got a visitor who’s busily sabotaging the Hearthstone chamber. That’s a silly thing to be doing!”

(Romero) “What!? But that will blow up the Manse! Are they mad?”

(Charles) “Maybe! Lets find out!”

The hearthroom was just ahead…

(Charles) “Hello!… Uhm… Why are you doing that?”

(Girl) “Because this is the best way to blow up the Manse, silly!”

Mr. Romero was stepping forward and reaching into his bag.

(Charles) “Why do you want to do that? It would make quite a mess…”

Oh dear. Necrotic essence, plenty of power, Daiklaive… An Abyssal Exalted, and most likely a Dusk Caste. If she got in two or three more strikes with that blade, she’d have the manse on the edge of exploding. The Hearthstone was already shattered; there were bits of it all over the floor.

(Girl) “Oh, I don’t want to do it, but if I don’t, Mistress gets mad! And then the hurting starts! I can’t have that.”

With no hearthstone, however, Charles could attune the place directly. He boosted that to do it NOW – and started stabilizing the essence-flows and regenerating the damage. Quite a lot of it could be readily patched with the Forgestone and another speedup charm…

Of course, that left the girl and Romera free to act while he was busy.

(Romero) “Look, I don’t care how much hurting will happen to you if you refuse this “mistress,” but many more people will be hurt if you blow up a Manse in a major city!”

Romero had pulled out a fancy wand from his bag. It appeared to be Orichalcum.

Hey! That was a good idea! If he upgraded his wand with some magical material, it might work even better! He’d have to try that!

The girl took another swipe at the Hearthstone pedestal. The blade literally screamed through the air – but Romero pointed the wand at her, and the blade was wrenched from her hand. It clattered to the floor about ten feet away and moaned.

Charles promptly built a crypt for it, sealing it up in a lot of stone and steel.

The girl punched at Mr. Romero wildly, and managed to hit him squarely in the chin with the first blow. Unfortunately for her, he shrugged it off – and pointed the wand at her again. Sadly, whatever-it-was that he’d tried to do apparently didn’t work. He had stepped between her and Charles though – clearly concerned about the only-slightly-above-mortal-at-best thaumaturge.

Charles activated his ghosting technique, used the work-performing function of his Ring of Thaumaturgy with the Forgestone to get an hours production worth of superglue-coated bits of steel from Dudael, and used Telekinesis to stack them all around her and hold them there for the seconds it took the glue to set (and afterwards, just in case).

Even with just his passive enhancements running, he was monstrously good at Thaumaturgy. He easily blasted through her basic essence-resistance, filled up the space around her, and held the mess against her attempts to break through it. She was stuck – and Mr. Romero was impressed.

(Romero) “Impressive. I wish I had studied that particular discipline myself.”

(Girl) “Waaa! No fair! Meanie, using magic!”

(Charles) “Well you used weapons!”

Charles busily erected wards… Wards against the creatures of the underworld, wards against necromancy, wards against divination, wards against contacting the underworld, and more… If he layered enough wards, it should give them a few moments no matter who showed up from the underworld – unless they knew enough sorcery to weave a major counterspell.

(Girl) “When I tell my big friends about this, YOU’RE GOING TO BE SORRY!”

She was still trying to get out, but simply wasn’t strong enough – and the magic was on the outside of the metal, pushing in, and out of her reach.

Charles doused her thoroughly with alchemical sleeping drugs, which worked nicely. She still wasn’t up to resisting him without a charm, and didn’t seem to have one that was relevant.

(Charles) “Hm… I really think I’d better consult someone on her! I don’t know how to fix that!”

(Romero) “What IS she? I’ve never been punched so hard by a child!”

(Charles, with some surprise) “Um… An Abyssal Exalt. They’re really trouble!”

He sent a priority message to Lytek, asking about what to do. Exaltations could be trapped and manipulated – but hopefully there was a way to help her without killing her! He could make something that drained motes and willpower maybe… If they kept her restrained, and if exaltations could be captured and forcibly attuned to infernal cages, they could probably be captured and re-attuned to something else!

Mr. Romero was quite relieved that the Manse hadn’t blown up yet, and was reinforcing Charles’s wards with his own thaumaturgy.

(Charles) “The manse will be getting better… It doesn’t like being attacked that way!

Wait, what? The boy had attuned to the manse and started doing… whatever-it-was he did to make them repair themselves – either during the walk in or during the first moments of the fight? He could perform geomancy that fast?

Still a bloody good thing though.

Charles soon received a response from Lytek; he was sending down some functionaries with a slave collar and manacles to stop the girls Essence use. It would, however, be a little while.

Charles offered to bring her up if that would be quicker – but was informed that the Celestial Bureaucracy would rather not have any Abyssals up in Yu Shan. That was a part of what made the Abyssals so hard for him to work on… He did have an earthly manse secured for the work though.

Hm… No disturbances in the wards yet. If there were more, they probably didn’t have any fast travel effects available.

He told Mr Romero that Lytek had some agents on the way to restrain her.

(Romero) “Lytek? I’ve heard that name someplace… I just can’t place it.”

(Charles) “One of the gods; this falls under his purview.”

Mr. Romero blanked out in shock for a moment, then returned to full awareness.

(Romero) “But how can a being of light be associated with THAT?”

(Charles) “Well… the power in them was perverted by some very nasty creatures of the underworld thousands of years ago. That’s why so many wards… She might have backup, and they can be very nasty from what I’ve heard. I’ve never actually seen one before!”

There were times when it just didn’t pay to open your mouth. Right on cue, there were footsteps in the hall up ahead – and another wisp of necrotic essence.

(Unpleasant raspy complaining voice) “What’s going on here? This Manse should have been destroyed at least an hour ago!”

There was also hacking coughing and the sound of something slick and wet hitting the ground.

(Charles, quietly) “Oh dear! We have more trouble…”

(Romero, whispering) “More of whatever she is?”

(Charles) “Yes! Not good at all! And at least two… the complainer and the cougher”.

Charles took a moment – they should have at least a few moments thanks to the wards – and relayed that information to Lytek. Not that he could do anything unless his team was already on the spot – but he’d want to know and he might have some advice.

Well, a flash-review of the powers they usually showed was potentially quite useful, the news that the squad would be quite awhile longer was not so welcome, and the advice that getting out might be best was not at all welcome. “Fly you fools!” was very classic, but it wouldn’t do much good if the manse blew itself up around them!

Maybe he shouldn’t have installed that DVD player and wide-screen TV in Lytek’s rooms…

Side-thoughts went out the window as he considered… Some of those powers were NASTY. A fight was likely to be very bad! Leaving would be very bad for an awful lot of other people! So he had to defeat them without fighting – and they weren’t at ALL likely to listen to reason! They were out to wreck the universe!

Oh! He was standing in a freshly attuned manse – an endless font of magical power.

(Romero) “If we’re lucky, I might be able to distract them long enough for us to escape. But that still leaves the Manse undefended. What did you have in mind?”

Charles was studying desperately… Fortunately, the pattern spiders were willing to help him out with analyzing the structure of the manse, and he could accelerate the Dragon Vortex… As the voices neared, he drew on his other manses – and poured power into the manse, twisting it’s essence-flows into a a containment and weapon against the darkness.

Unleashed, the flood of essence blazed within the structure of the manse like a bolt of lightning caught in crystal. Power flared into manifestation as the dragon-lines knotted themselves into a new configuration. It wasn’t the most generally-useful configuration, and he’d never be able to change it – but it suited the emergency. How often was “I hit them with a manse!” going to be a viable tactic?

Thanks to his various enhancing artifacts and Dragon Vortex charm, Charles was capable of boosting the Manse’s powers by fifteen construction points – and could give it powers of up to one rank above its base while he did so. He added…

  • Consecrated to the Unconquered Sun. Creatures of darkness – such as the Abyssal Exalts – could not recover motes or will within the manse, and would take one level of aggravated damage and lose one will per minute they spent there (4 MCP).
  • Celestial Confluence (Wyld Revocation). Amplifying (double effect or half cost) all holy powers and life-affirming powers, and diminishing (double cost or half effect) all powers of the underworld and oblivion (4 MCP).
  • Chasm of Life and Death (Wyld Revocation). Warping the interior of the Manse into a pocket dimension of its own, isolates it from the power of the underworld and entraps – at least for a day or so – corrupted exaltations (4 MCP).
  • (Fire) Dragon’s Will (3 MCP). Allowing the manse to manipulate fire within itself – and to assault it’s unholy intruders with essence-fires.

Romero gasped as the walls suddenly dripped gold-and-ruby fire, flames lashing like serpents and weaving themselves into barriers. Geomancy, yes – that was obvious enough – but answering the boys call like a birthright and leaping to his defense?

God-blood. WHICH god?!?! Was there a god of manses perhaps? A universal earth goddess? Who – WHAT – was this boy?

Charles let the Manse’s little god steer the flames and started flurrying thaumaturgy with the Forgestone and his Ring of Thaumaturgy… Manse Repair – Erect Wall or Barrier – Raise Ward – scatter minor traps and annoyances (bear traps, caltrops, nets, glue, and other annoyances).

Thanks to the energies of Dudael, the Thumaturgy wasn’t costing much of anything – but the use of the work-speeding function of the Ring was a steady drain. He kept busy weaving complex invocations and otherwise stunting his Thaumaturgy to try to stay ahead.

Charles sealed off the hearthroom and hid the door – but even beyond the walls he’d raised he could hear them getting closer, and complaining about the flames – which they saw as the beginning of essence overload. It wouldn’t take them long to work it out though, especially once the power of the Sun began to sear their flesh.

(Charles) “Mr Romero? I’ve turned the power-flows of the manse against them. If we can stay ahead of them long enough, it should be enough to knock them out eventually. We’d better fall back. Fortunately, the more they hack through walls and wards and such, the more power they’ll burn.”

Romero pragmatically towed the girl along. If the worst came to worst, a hostage might come in handy!

They blocked more doors – including all the exits – and moved to try and stay ahead of the two Abyssals. As soon as they caught on, they’d know that there was only one quick way out of the trap; they had to catch and knock out or kill whoever was directing the manse’s energies against them.

Fortunately, their time and power was strictly limited.

In the hallways the broken walls and cracked floors were swiftly growing back as the Manse regenerated – and they could hear pained yells from the Abyssals behind them. One Abyssal was issuing a phlegm-ridden tirade – but with the essence-flows of the manse resisting and Charles running continuous repairs the damaging Performance Charm wasn’t accomplishing very much.

There were several explosions and many attempts to break the walls – all more-or-less for naught, as neither of the two appeared to be a physical powerhouse… Mr Romero and Charles were falling back as fast as possible while spellcasting – and the young Dusk Caste was still asleep.

The Abyssals did manage to get closer – but not close enough to get to Charles’s group. The last thing they heard from them was anguished screaming and the sound of sizzling flesh.

(Charles) “Oh Ick!”

Still, with the place cut off from the underworld, for all the horrible pain of their deaths, their souls would go to lethe instead of oblivion – which was probably the best that he could do for them.

That also left their Exaltations ready for Lytek to retrieve. That was a worthwhile victory in itself, even if he would MUCH rather have managed it without killing anybody!

Romero just shook his head. He looked quite impressed. Tricks like that were obviously quite limited – how often were you attacked while in a newly-attuned manse? – but they were obviously very hard to stop while you WERE in a manse…

A bit of clairvoyance revealed that their pursuers were indeed out of action. Their clothes were on the floor, a bit singed. The only traces of their bodies were ashes.

(Charles) “Oh dear! (Sadly) I guess we can stop now…”

(Romero) “Oh dear nothing, you just saved the business district from getting blown up. Not that we can tell the media, but still.”

(Charles) “But there must have been a way to avoid hurting anyone!”

(Romero, shaking his head) “Maybe, but one or both of us would be dead – and I’m not sure those guys would have wanted tea and tapas.”

(Charles) “Well… We’ll have to wait for Lytek’s crew to get here anyway. I’m not entirely sure how to bind and transport the power that was in them once it gets outside the manse now that it’s not in a body any longer.”

(Romero, looking at the ashen bodies) “Hey, more of that screaming metal!” He pointed to the floor. There was a fine soulsteel dragon’s tear tiara, a set of soulsteel hearthstone bracers, and a mask. The mask looked more elaborate than most models, and the stone in the bracer was the most intense black Charles had ever seen.

(Charles) “Oh, that stuff… It’s forged of tormented souls – usually from whoever was handy.”

(Romero) “Who does that? The Underworld again?”

(Charles) “Usually, yes.”

(Romero) “Well… I have so much more to learn about what’s going on. Where did you learn all this?”

(Charles) “I go to school in Yu-Shan, the Celestial City – and most of it’s in the history classes.”

(Romero) “That sounds exotic. Now, what are we going to do with these things? I don’t think breaking them will help anything.”

Charles considered… There WAS a thaumaturgic procedure for destroying magical materials to get motes, but it only worked on a tiny piece at a time – and he didn’t know if it let people out of Soulsteel or annihilated them. Theory suggested that basic Thaumaturgy wasn’t up to destroying souls unless you called on oblivion, but he didn’t really know. It had never been a big topic for research before!

(Charles) “I might be able to unmake the material – but I don’t know what that will mean to the people inside. Of course, even oblivion might be better than eternal torment – but I’d rather not resort to that without a LOT more study!”

By GM ruling it would take +8 successes on the material-destruction ritual to free the spirits in the Soulsteel as ghosts, and +16 to free them into Lethe. Once Charles got that figured out, he’d be quite pleased.

Charles put the soulsteel stuff away for the moment. It was definitely something for more research later.

He advised Lytek that they had two – and possibly three, because the girl was fading despite his efforts – loose abyssal exaltations for him to pick up. But if he shut down the manse enhancements, the other two exaltations would escape – and, judging by their reported and observed behavior would kill many more people! He couldn’t shut down the manse enhancements and let that happen either.

That was a bit of a shock for Lytek – What had the child DONE to kill two or three abyssal exalts?!? – but it was still immensely good news!

Charles, meanwhile, focused on keeping the girl alive – warding her as best as possible (sadly, thaumaturgically warding off a manse you were inside seemed near-impossible, even if he did manage to slow things and make them painless) and even absorbing some of the damage she was taking – but it wasn’t enough. The young dusk caste passed away more than half an hour before Lytek’s team arrived.

That left Charles quite depressed and upset. He REALLY didn’t want to be killing people! There might not be any external way to fix Abyssals while they were still alive, but he would have tried!

The gods were insubstantial by default, and asked if the man accompanying Charles knew about them.

(Charles) “Not exactly, but he’s a skilled magician, so it’s specific information he lacks, not the general stuff!”

The gods materialized over in the next room then, taking the forms of technicians – albeit ones with leaves and fire for hair.

Charles confirmed that they had come prepared to restrain disembodied abyssal exaltations.

(Blazing Oak) “Lord Lytek has trained us in some of the essential methods. And certain elements were helpful to us in that.” (There he was almost certainly referring to the Bronze Faction’s Jade Prison.)

Blazing Oak pulled several cylinders of white jade, chased with moonsilver and orichalcum, out of nowhere.

(Blazing Oak) “Where are the compromised Exaltations?”

It only took a few minutes to track them down, whereupon they used orichalcum tongs to retrieve them and slip them into the cylinders. The Exaltations seem to twitch and twist in the tongs’ grasp…

Well, that WAS a 2% improvement in the abyssal situation, and they almost certainly weren’t “comfortable” here at the moment. The Manse was gleaming with sunlight and the purity of the Unconquered Sun seemed quite close…

Charles double-checked to make sure they were secure anyway – as well as taking a quick peek to see if he could get any information. They were, after all, something else he might need to work on fixing. They did seem to be quite secure, especially after the gods put on the cylinders’ orichalcum caps. He couldn’t get much information on them though – at least not without using powers that were just a bit too revealing.

Mr. Romero tried to converse with the gods. Sadly, they were gods, and he was apparently just a mortal, so he was largely ignored.

Lytek was happy to hear that all three had been secured – and was willing to answer a few questions. He suspected that the exaltations might originally have been linked to Oblivion through devices called Monstrances of Celestial Portion – but Oblivion had been closed for millennia, and the Abyssals hadn’t been seen since the Reshaping until what mortals called the Second World War. He was researching their new ties, but hadn’t come up with much concrete material yet.

Charles volunteered to come by and make a maximal effort. He didsn’t want to burn that much power, or use magic that powerful, publicly if he could avoid it. It probably wouldn’t help much, but at least it was another point of view.

Lytek was grateful for the offer. Charles and Richof were really the only people he trusted with that kind of information – which would have been interesting news for Charles if he’d said so instead of thinking it.

Meanwhile, Lyteks team had really considered the situation, and were looking at both Charles and Romero with very baffled expressions indeed. Had two mortal thaumaturgists just eliminated three Abyssal Exalts? Had they somehow managed to trick the three into chasing them into a manse that “just happened” to be virulently hostile to Abyssals?

(Searing Flower) “You realize how lucky you two are, yes? You should be dead right now.”

(Charles) “I’m glad I’m not! And I’m glad we were in a manse I’d just attuned to so I could use it’s energy flows!”

(Romero) “We’re very good magicians!”

Romero kept quiet about what he’d seen. That was obviously private information – and a bit he wanted to quietly digest on his own.

The gods departed with the Exaltations. Since Charles WAS a resident of Yu-Shan they offered to take him along. Besides… they wanted to ask Lytek a few questions about the kid. Evidently he wasn’t just a pet!

(Charles) “That’s OK! I have to finish cleaning up here!”

It seemed fairly likely that the Celestial Security guys had no objections to abyssal exaltations without hosts – which was reasonable, they couldn’t do anything that way.

Romero made a note to ask to borrow a few “history of creation” textbooks that the boy was finished with. He had some catching up to do!

Romero was content with Intro to the Second Age. His knowledge of the First Age was good… Charles didn’t poke into his secrets, and he didn’t try to poke into Charles’s – despite his somewhat unprecedented geomantic talents. That was one of the drawbacks of the pure Solars only reincarnating recently. Second Age lore was a regrettable blind spot for most of them unless they found some study materials. He did want to stay in touch with Charles, if only because he was incredibly skilled with Manses. Still, Email and his real name would do – and he asked Charles to notify him of any changes.

Charles was glad he could help A manse that needed fixing and three abyssal exaltations back to Lytek was a pretty good score for the day!

On the other hand…. Lytek and Gramps would probably want an explanation! That was going to be HARD!

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice XIV – The Calm Before The Storm

Mount Shasta, looking south (Northern exposure)

You built it WHERE?!?

Time passed. With the functions of the Factory-Cathedral mostly under control and life settling into a routine – school, work at Dudael, private projects, ingredient hunting, and things going on back in Atlanta – some of Charles’s projects started picking up speed.

His report on Queen Merella readily got him into the advanced history classes. It wasn’t quite impossibly good, but was up there in the upper-ranks of god-blooded scholarship – easily enough to qualify for him for a research-assistant job if he hadn’t had a job already. [He’d gotten a very lucky 12 successes. Whether that was good or bad has yet to be determined].

The Factory-Cathedral staff – Bright Widget, Circuits of Adamant, Lelani, Catherine, and the other nine gods and seven mortals – had been surprised and pleased to discover that Charles saw no reason not to hand around lesser artifacts as bonuses when there were plenty in a production-run. That wouldn’t be possible with the more potent artifacts of course, as they well knew, but Charles wouldn’t be (publicly) producing those for some time.

There were even enough to give the dozen previously-unemployed gods he had chasing around after ingredients a bonus each… Still, between hiring those and scrounging for more magical materials, the Factory-Cathedrals budget was stretched VERY thin! A good thing that he had lots of Inukami who could make Orichalcum… Funny that that was one of the easiest things to produce. You could find almost anything naturally on occasion, and there was always wyld-questing – but making stuff was tricky…

  • Jade required Ambrosia – but any Ambrosia would do.
  • Moonsilver required ore from Wyld-touched territories or Ambrosia dedicated to Luna or essence tokens from lunar-aspected demesnes of rank 3+.
  • Starmetal required mining the bodies of dead gods (generally unacceptable) or Ambrosia dedicated to the Maidens.
  • Soulsteel pretty much required souls, and that was REALLY unacceptable.

Huh. He might just have to rig things up so he could go Wyld-Questing.

His after-hours work was doing well though. He’d finished up with his new charm (The Dragon Vortex), and he’d completed most of Gramps requests. Display glass for essence-communications gear, color-adjusting robes (well, he’d made up some self-cleaning, self-adjusting, always warm or cool and comfortable and provided-some-protection clothes that turned into any clothes you wanted instead. They were much better, and it was like those high-tech clothes he’d read stories about people wanting to design), knapsacks of holding, a selection of thaumaturgic talismans and alchemical supplies (which were easy enough to turn out by the hundreds with a Factory-Cathedral), and a few occult-enhancing items (the basic academy-set) had all been easy enough.

The Singing Staves though… The design was clear enough, but they’d be a LOT of work even with enhanced geomantic support, and some of the ingredients were really very awkward! Strings from a perfect-quality musical instrument used in a virtuoso performance for a supernatural audience could be gotten, and a bit of essence from a major earth elemental given in blessing could likely be gotten – but a recording of a harpists-demon’s greatest performance was going to be pretty hard! He didn’t like summoning demons!

He’d have to ask Gramps about those. The Singing Staves just might have to wait for a bit. He had the rest of the unofficial orders to do…

  • For Hiparkes he made two Jade Saddles (**). Those were quick and easy – and besides, he liked Hiparkes!
  • For Sal Montague he made a Swift Rider (***) and a Windslave Disk (* version). The Windslave Disk was pretty trivial – but the Swift Rider was a bit… conspicuous today. Charles used a bicycle as the basis and upgraded the design a bit with Ambrosia… That let him get rid of that pesky maintenance, cut down the power requirement, and even let him throw in a few thaumaturgic boosts while he was at it! The minor cost to invoke a wind-ward and x10 travel-speed boost might come in pretty handy, and he could use one of the extras himself! He’d been needing a better bicycle anyway! That way he could get to Savannah REALLY fast!
  • For Siakal (the Goddess of Sharks and Maritime Piracy) he made three sets of red jade shark-sized Death Fangs (* each) and some wave-stepping boots (**). Those were both easy. The “Death Fangs” were weapons – which Charles didn’t care for – but they were pretty trivial and were probably for her pet sharks or something.
  • Malakai Run-and-Gun had ordered a Soulsteel Windblade-class personal transport (***). That was kind of nasty, and soulsteel was awkward… and all it did was make blades on the thing anyway. You could put blades on a vehicle without soulsteel, even if it would take a bit of a redesign. Still, Malakai was paying with enough Jade – a talent of each color – to make a LOT of other things… Charles threw in some Quintessence and added some enhanced perfect greatsword blades to the thing; that would get Malakai an even better effect WITHOUT Soulsteel – and he could make it out of Orichalcum, make it faster, and just throw in a Fivefold Harmonic Adapter to let him attune it without a fuss.
  • WWW had ordered an Ultimate Document (***), which was – if somewhat underhanded – at least relatively easy to make.
  • Gustav Meyers had ordered an Adamant Reaper Daiklave (**) and Adamant Discreet Essence Armor with resizing capabilities (***) – both gift wrapped. That had been a bit of a problem though… Charles didn’t like weapons much, and Mr Meyers WAS bronze faction. Besides… Discreet Essence Armor wasn’t all that good. He used the Commando Armor design instead, in the version that just looked and felt like a sash. That would fit pretty much anybody, even if they did some shapeshifting!

He didn’t deliver them right away though. He was still kind of worried about how people were likely to react. At least he could hide things in Hoenheim in one of the alternate versions and behind some Celestial-Level Wards. That way they were elsewhere when he didn’t need to have the storage rooms open… Besides, even if he delayed for months, most of them wouldn’t be expecting anything for YEARS.

Back on Earth, the Inukami had gotten some lawyers aboard, and started quietly patenting some aspects of the bio-scanner. Since there were now a lot more of them, and the facilities could be better as needed, they could work on a lot more projects too. Setting things up at the bosses two new Manses took a little time – they had to travel by plane most of the time after all – but it was also easy enough.

An in-depth records search in Yu-Shan turned up several damaged manses on Earth. There were a fair number of minor ones – but only a few major ones of any interest in the Americas.

The was the Spire of Ramsthenes in the Adirondacks (Solar ***), the underground Caves of the Silver Remnant in Alabama (Lunar ***), the Frosted Temple of Nandarkara up in the Canadian Arctic regions (Air ****), the Palace of Verox Ran in the western Amazon (Wood ****), and the fiery Ruby-and-Adamant Redoubt in the depths of Mount Shasta (Fire ****).

Now those were pretty dramatic! And they also sounded like most of them would be worth fixing… He’d have to look into it and see if there were any special obstacles! They were probably self-stabilizing, but either no one knew how to fix them or they were terribly dangerous for some reason!

Manses… Oh yes! That was another important project! Demien and the rest of the Cauldron-Born could still use the Seven Whispering Winds Manse to get into Yu-Shan whenever they wanted!

Still, he’d reported that to the Sidereals. Surely they’d put SOME kind of guards on the place!

Seven Whispering Winds was in the middle of an abandoned region. That was kind of rare for a Gold Faction Sidereal with good connections – but then Demien was quite young and he’d had to accept some drawbacks to go with his high-powered manse.

Sadly, it was pretty likely that the deiphages were no match for the Cauldron-Born now. They might have turned the place into a freehold in the midst of Yu-Shan without anyone even noticing! Worse, there wasn’t a single reclaimed territory nearby to even attempt a watch!

Charles tried a little scrying…

Hm… It looked like someone had assigned a small squad of Celestial Lions to watch the place – and it looked to be much as he remembered from his few visits; creepy, somber, and quasi-funereal. Perfect for a Chosen of Endings.

The lions were currently changing shifts. The ones leaving looked pretty happy to be going.

That would never do. Yes, the lions were watching all the entrances – but that would never be enough and they WEREN’T going inside. The Cauldron-Born could probably run right over them!

He’d have to work on that hidden-attunement charm, call it “Coaxing the Delicate Bird“. It was theoretically possible (and, of course, once he started work, it wasn’t long before he had it).

Darn it. It might be a trap too. After all, he’d have to walk right in – and they could teleport to the place and might well be aware of what went on there. Could he get past the Celestial Lions at all? He might need some allies for this one – and, at least as yet, there wasn’t much of anyone but Kiko and Mitchell! Maybe he could think of someone with authority over the Celestial Lions?

Whoever-it-was who’d hired the manse survey team had finally sent a response; he’d like to set up a meeting on Earth about setting up a deal. He had a modest residence outside of Brasilia, well warded from all forms of mundane surveillance and most supernatural ones to use as a meeting place.

Well, the fellow certainly had no reason to be up to anything yet! He’d sent him what he wanted after all!

That was kind of awkward! It was a long ways across Yu-Shan to the right gate, and then it seemed to be almost five hundred miles from the Rio de Janeiro gate to Brasilia! If he was going to be running all over the Earth to find his ingredients, he really needed some faster methods of transportation than his bicycle. He could have an Inukami disguise itself and rent a car and speed it up with some Travel Thaumaturgy – but just crossing Yu-Shan would take most of a day.

Wait, there was a faster way in Yu-Shan anyway… Didn’t some god have an amulet that let him teleport around inside Yu-Shan by dissolving in a cloud of butterflies? Something Autochthon had made… Oooh, wait! If you tied it to the energies of the Canals, it would only work in Yu-Shan – but it would be fairly easy to make!

He’d need… some of the purest, finest, sand from the endless desert to melt into the alloy. The stuff that was normally… only found in demonic mines, since the dimension-spanning power of the Sands was – or had been – commonly used to widen the holes into Creation back in the second age. Oh, now THAT was awkward. No wonder there weren’t many duplicates of the thing around!

Ooh! Wait! He could use the Efficient Secretary Technique and Astrology in the Observatory to find out if anyone who might be persuaded to sell had some of the pesky stuff!

As it turned out, there were several individuals who possessed Cecelyne’s sands… Stinging Dunes, a powerful earth elemental of the American Southwest, collected the stuff. There was a powerful Terrestrial sorcerer in Miami who occasionally used it in her rituals. Finally, a mortal glassmaker in Milan had some of the stuff – and apparently thought that it was just really neat sand.

Now that was handy! He dispatched one of the Inukami to Milan immediately with orders to offer lots of money, perfect gear, and various other things and services in trade!

The glassblower, one Santhia, was a bit befuddled. He’d already gotten several other offers for the sand – and wanted to know what was going on. HE just wanted to make some neat silver decanters.

For good or ill, the Inukami was perfectly willing to explain…

(Inukami) “It’s simple enough Mr Santhia! It’s from another dimension and is an important magical catalyst! What it would do if you blew glass with it I really can’t tell… I’m rather surprised that you could wind up with some in your possession without knowing what it is!”

(Santhia) “One of my wealthier customers offered it in trade for a small piece. I had no idea what it was. But I recognized it as exceedingly fine material.”

(Inukami) “Well, I can easily get you materials or equipment in trade. The Sands of Cecelyne are very expensive stuff.

The Inukami thought it best not to point out that the Sands were worth more than enough to be dangerous… On the other hand, the fellow did seem to have at least HEARD of magic.

Actually Santhia dealt with occultists occasionally. He didn’t believe most of it, but they paid well and let him make some creative stuff, so he didn’t pry unless it seemed suspicious.

(Inukami) “Mr Santhia… I take it you have doubts about the actual existence of the supernatural world?”

(Santhia) “It seems like superstition to me.”

(Inukami) “Would you care for a demonstration or some examples? It would require only a few minutes. My talents are more… direct than most occultists. “

(Santhia) “If you believe you have power, I am willing to watch.”

(Inukami) “Very well!”

He threw up a quick ward against noise, so that no one would hear if Mr Santhia got too upset, sat back in the air, dropped his disguise – and provided a few telekinetic and visual effects.

(Inukami) “You see Mr Santhia, there are a considerably greater number of species, powers, and levels of reality than are popularly acknowledged. As a supernatural being. I can illustrate this for you a good deal more directly than most human mages, who are restricted to ritual magic.”

Santhia seemed to shocked to scream. The expression on his face was somewhere between fear and awe. That wasn’t quite right!

(Inukami) “Anyway, I work for a young mage of considerable talent, who could use sand from the endless desert of Cecelyne – which is what you happen to have. You shouldn’t fear me though; you – like all true humans – have potentials that I cannot match. I am simply aware of my abilities.”

(Santhia) “I had no idea such things existed!”

(Inukami) “They don’t come into most people’s lives much unless they seek them out – but you’ve come into possession of a rather rare and dangerous magical substance.”

(Santhia, stammering) “What is this desert? It looks like silver sand to me.”

(Inukami) “It’s the borderlands that separate the universe you see, and that surrounds you when you look into the heavens, from the realm of the great old ones. Some know them as titans or demons – but they are very dangerous powers. The sand of that desert… is both a bridge and a barrier. It permits passage through realms. Are you sure you wish to know more than that? Such knowledge can complicate your life a great deal.”

(Santhia) “N-no, that is MORE than enough. Please, what do you want for this? I would rather not have it in my workshop any longer if it is what you say it is.”

(Inukami) “The mage I serve wants to make an amulet of transportation. As for a price… What would you like? I am authorized to provide money, or special benefits, or lesser magical devices of several types.”

(Santhia) “No, no magic devices, I think. But if he can give me a modest payment and a supply of fine materials for my work, I will be happy.

(Inukami) “That is easily arranged. Are there any particular materials you would like or simply fine tools, sands, coloring compounds, and glasses?”

(Santhia) “If he could give me sand similar to this, but harmless, that would be good. The way it catches light is alluring.”

That would be easy! A bit of alchemy could make Mr Santhia some marvelous sands to work with!

(Inukami) “Done then? I shall leave my card; if you have any further difficulties in my areas of expertise, I will owe you a favor.”

(Santhia) “Th… thank you.”

(Inukami) “You are welcome!”

Santhia made a desperate reach for normalcy, and asked the Inukami if it needed anything else… Coffee? Tea? Biscuits?

(Inukami) “Tea is nice! And biscuits! But not if it’s too much bother!”

It might help the poor man settle back into his normal life! And the tea and biscuits smelled very nice! Clearly Mr. Santhia did well for himself!

Someone tried scrying on him on the way back to the gate, but no one tried to intercept or stop him! That was good! Charles needed the sand he was carrying! And Mr Santhia had had a whole handful! Enough for a full production run of artifacts, if just barely!

There was a wait for customs this time. After all, the sands of Cecelyne were what demons walked across to enter Creation, and even a bit was risky in the Celestial City. Customs – and the Celestial Lions – wanted the stuff as well contained as possible.

Fortunately, the Inukami was more than willing to contain it and did have an official reason – even if it was just “collecting ingredients for the Factory-Cathedral’s artifact making”.

The Lions still wanted to know what the sands of Cecelyne were going to be used for – although they certainly suspected. For all their rarity and danger, they were very useful for transit artifacts.

(Inukami) “The boss has some transport artifacts in the que, and thinks these will be called for for some of them! Fortunately, he was able to determine where some might be purchased, because they’re very hard to get a hold of directly!”

(Lion) “For very good reason. Now, what kind of transport artifacts were these? Nothing bothersome, I hope.”

Sadly, the Inukami weren’t much for lying or social abilities and were prone to canine-style enthusiasm about Charles – and there were certain complications already underway.

(Inukami) “I think he wanted to experiment with something for fast transport between the gates! He needs ingredients from all over, so collecting them faster would make his work a lot easier!”

(Lion) “That’s interesting. Does he have a list of people wanting one of these?”

(Inukami) “I don’t think he does at the moment. I don’t know if he’s even quite sure on the design yet, but he probably is. He’s very good at that sort of thing!”

(Lion) “Well! Tell you what. If you have him make one of these things for me, I’ll speed up your inspection. And give him my contact information too. I’d like to ask him a few questions.”

(Inukami) “Uhm. I can ask, and the boss is pretty obliging! And I’ll give him your contact information!”

(Lion) “Good!”

The inspection proceeded honestly and with reasonable efficiency – a rare thing in the Celestial City.

(Inukami) Thank you!

Charles considered his production run carefully… If word got out that he had them, the amulets would be pretty hotly desired. On the other hand, he might need a bit of the sands later on, and getting more was DEFINITELY a pain. He had enough of the sands for a full run of seventy-five though, with maybe a pinch left over…

He settled on a run of thirty. He’d have to be quite circumspect about using the things, but sooner or later someone would notice – but it would let him get to the gate