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.”
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 (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice part VIII (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- Exalted – Dudael, the Hierarchical Forge (Solar Celestial Manse *****) (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice Part VI (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice XII – Current Dramatis Persona (ruscumag.wordpress.com)