Gustav was a bit harder to find than the others… He’d asked for his official order (a Fivefold Harmonic Adapter) to be delivered to his office in the Forbidding Manse of Ivy. In practice, of course, that meant usually “deliver it to the front desk unless you’ve passed the lowest tier exams to get in.” He was quite flexible on where to send it though – which was probably a hint about his unofficial orders.
He didn’t have a phone either.
Charles checked the records first; all the reclaimed territories were tracked – even if not in a lot of detail.
Interestingly, the territory Gustav ran was actually entirely in a Manse – the Occluded Observatory. The location, however, was actually a good distance from there. Still, it was in the same quadrant of the Celestial City – not that that was really saying much.
Botheration! He sent a message that Gustav’s (unspecified) stuff was ready to the Forbidding Manse.
Gustav got the message fairly promptly – but didn’t respond immediately. It was just too hard to believe… his orders were actually on time? No wait – they were AHEAD of time? That hadn’t happened since he joined the Bronze Faction!
Charles sent messengers to the rest of the list – mostly assorted deities who had ordered things. Deities tended to be a lot more protocol-bound than the various Exalts.
It had been quite a whirlwind tour really!
He would have to look into his unidentified trackers though… He was fairly sure that the one near the Babylon gate was Terapishim (although, to be fair, the fact that a conclusion was sensible in no way implied that it was accurate)- but the third one was pretty much a mystery. Perhaps the Bronze Faction? Or someone Gri Fel had brought in?
His schedule for the next few days was busy enough that he hadn’t yet gotten to doing more than asking a few of his contacts to bring him anything they heard when Mr. Montague turned up. He was already known for his love of artifice – which wasn’t bad for someone who’d been Exalted for less than two years – and a chance to have a look at a functioning factory-cathedral that was evidently being run efficiently was just too good to pass up!
He wasn’t the greatest authority on Manses by a long shot – but you didn’t have to be an expert on manses to feel the currents of essence flowing through the halls! They were so strong that he could feel them augmenting his own power somewhat – and HE was a Celestial Exalt! What would it do to a god, god-blooded, or mortal? How had the gods and mortals working here missed it? Had it simply built up gradually enough for them to get used to it or had the place been out of action so long that they were assuming that it was normally like this when it was in full operation? Or were they just security-conscious enough not to say anything?
Still… what in the Thousand Unspeakable Names of the Primordial Ones had the boy done?
He went to some trouble to remain impassive and look nonchalant – but he was unable to fully conceal the fact that he was impressed – and more than a but curious.
He made something of a show of checking the records on the place – as if he wouldn’t have done that before coming as a matter of course – before raising an eyebrow.
(Mr. Montague) “Hey, Charles, I’ve got a few questions for you. Can I talk to you upstairs in the office?”
(Charles) “OK! What’s up?”
(Mr. Montague) “Okay, first, this place’s Hearthstone is listed as no-rank. But I’m registering a powerful, high- ranking Hearthstone… Any idea what’s going on?”
In fact his instrumentality said the place was – somehow – generating a Hearthstone of ABOVE the fifth rank! Up in the ”legendary” levels!
(Charles) “It’s working much closer to it’s full potential now!”
Full potential? CLOSER? It seemed to be… drawing power from elsewhere or generating it internally, a lot like… an Exaltation. It no longer seemed to need anything EXCEPT Charles – and it was amplifying the power of everyone who came near it!
(Mr. Montague) “Okay, but the place should look at least a little different. I mean, that normally takes a redesign. And I’m registering some unusual powers here. I mean, it’s a factory-cathedral. It should need maintenance… but I’m not feeling any of that. “It’s nothing BAD. Just… not listed on the register.”
(Charles) “Well, it is a primordial design, by a soul of Autochthon. It just needed more power supplied! It’s mostly been in low-power mode since the end of the Primordial War!”
(Mr. Montague) “Oh, yeah, that’s definitely on the register. But a lot of artificers, and all of them much better than me, tried to get it out and failed.”
(Charles) “Oh! Well you need to feed the power into the dragon-lines of Yu-Shan indirectly, then lock it in an interactive hysterisis loop to stabilize it; once the augmented functions and receptors are online, you can feed it power directly! It’s a lot of help!”
Montague mulled that over for a bit.
(Mr. Montague) “Ah, that would be… if we only had the Charms for it. That’s some powerful geomancy you’re talking about there.”
He couldn’t help but look impressed. That called for… direct attunement to to geomantic energies. That was an unheard-of gift!
(Charles) “Oh you don’t need charms really! You just need to design artifacts that produce the effects you need!”
Oh dear! Was it time to fall back on a secondary smokescreen?
(Mr. Montague) “Well, where are these artifacts? If we could get every factory-cathedral in the city like this…”
It was definitely time. Still, at least he’d gone for the implication that – because such artifacts were possible – Charles had used some.
(Charles) “Artifacts like that tend to integrate into the essence flows of the manse… I might be able to make some of them of course… Some might be problems though; I’m not allowed to use the big forge yet!”
(Mr. Montague) “What, you mean like an Integrated Utility Artifact suite? Wow.” (He looked thoughtful again.) “I mean, stuff of that power is not unheard of, but…”
(Charles) “I did have lots of help, and some of it very special!”
It was getting a bit delicate there… It was very hard to actively lie to a Sidereal – but you could let them fool themselves if the truthful pieces you provided seemed to fit together into something they thought was more plausible than the truth.
Oh well! If it didn’t work, it didn’t work! Someone was bound to figure out the truth sooner or later – but hopefully, by then, he’d be friends with everybody!
Ah, it looked like Mr Montague had definitely picked up on “not allowed to use the big forge yet” bit… That was absolutely true of course – the place was sealed and no one was allowed to use it – but that wasn’t how he was taking it. He looked quite interested now!
“The big forge”? What did he… The child was regretting that he wasn’t yet allowed to use the PRIMAL FORGE?
Still… Dudael was directly resonating with the boys energies – and it was a primordial design by an emanation of Autochthon. Did the child actually have some reason to believe that he might someday get to use the Primal Forge?
God-blooded. And born outside of Fate. An unprecedented master of geomancy and artifice. Of the powers… of Gaia and Autochthon.
And he hadn’t been able to find out ANYTHING about the child’s parentage or early childhood.
(Mr. Montague) “Who helped? I mean, I’m fairly sure it wasn’t anybody who’d get past the defenses. Maybe you could get me in with them.”
(Charles) “Uhm… I don’t think I’m supposed to tell you that! Is that OK?”
(Mr. Montague, looking somewhat suspicious.) “Sigh… I guess so. But if you or they feel otherwise, let me know, all right? I just want to build stuff faster.”
(Charles) “I like building stuff!”
(Mr. Montague) “I wish I had more time for it. You’re lucky, you know that?”
(Charles) “Very lucky I think! I get to build lots of things!”
(Mr. Montague, smiling – but not quite as much as he had been) “Well, I gotta go. I think I have a mission. Let’s keep in touch, okay?”
Oh well. Mr Montague had obviously wanted to know HOW – and only gotten confirmation that there was something there. Whether or not the misdirection towards primordial involvement worked was something else – but hopefully he at least found it possible.
Mr. Montague departed, although he seemed sad to leave.
Well, hopefully smokescreen #2 would delay things for a while
The interview with Catherine Wingates was up next… It was easy enough; after all, she was there every day and anyone who worked in the Factory-Cathedral could have private interviews if they wanted!
She didn’t ask what Mr. Montague had wanted. Most people in Yu Shan who weren’t Sidereals themselves know better than that.
(Catherine) “Boss, you went with that other Chosen of Serenity when everybody Exalted, right?”
(Catherine) “Does the name Maella Tengu mean anything to you?”
(Charles, blinking) “Uhm… She was working at YesterYears; she Exalted as one of what they’re calling the Aurora Caste! Is something wrong?”
(Catherine) “Okay, good. Thing is, she was an old friend of mine from school, and I haven’t heard a thing from her since. Could you tell me what happened when you met her?”
Well that was easy enough!
He ran a tracing-spell while he was at it. Once he had the link, he could send a message!
(Catherine) “Wait, you mean the Sidereal looked at her funny, then went real quiet? Something similar happened when I met Jose.”
Hm… his trace was running into a high-end thaumaturgical ward!
Charles promptly upped the power he was putting into his spell – up to the Terrestrial Circle Sorcery level – and backed it with the energies of Dudael and his own enhanced skills.
That easily blew through the ward. Ms. Tengu was in Yu Shan – but she was somewhere deep in the abandoned territories near the Atlanta gate. It wasn’t in one of the reclaimed territories either… Her quarters were nice and she was in good condition, but she was either unwilling or unable to leave – and seemed badly frustrated. There were other wards… Against detection through Essence, against detection through technology, against the Nocturnal Exalted, a keyed ward against Sidereal Exalted except those carrying a specific token, and, lastly, a ward against detection through sight.
That REALLY looked like someone was keeping her there! That couldn’t be allowed! Ms. Tengu had made him lots of lunches!
(Charles) “Hmph! One minute!”
He used a bit of shifting magic to look larger, part-animal, and part-metallic with some alchemical-looking features (and to disguise his teleporting-signature), popped over, grabbed Ms. Tengu by feel, and popped back before dropping the disguises. That should be almost impossible to trace from inside the Veilward! Even if someone managed it, they’d know that you couldn’t just teleport into a Factory-Cathedral without purifying yourself first or it would have to shut down for weeks – and Dudael wouldn’t be closing down…
Ms. Tengu was quite surprised – and Catherine gave him a VERY funny look.
(Charles, looking slightly embarrassed) “Well, I made lots of toys for myself too…”
(Catherine) “Maella! Are you all right.”
(Maella) “Oh, nothing hurt but my pride. Where am I now?”
(Charles) “Uhm… The Hierarchical Forge… Oh, don’t tell people OK? I don’t think I’m supposed to be meddling this way…”
(Maella) “Don’t worry about that.”
(Catherine) “Where was she, anyway? I’ll throttle whoever had her!”
(Charles) “Well… way off over HERE. But if you go there, you might lead whoever it was back… Ms Tengu? Do you know who snatched you?”
(Maella) “Well, I was heading home from work a couple of nights after I Exalted when somebody hit me from behind. I tried to fight back, but… well, I’m no Chosen of Battles. All I saw was this blur. When I woke up, I was in that room. I tried to leave. That horrible ward was like stone, though! And the worst part was the mental intrusions.”
(Charles) “Trying to control you, or trying to probe you? Or aren’t you sure?”
(Maella) “I’m no occultist, but it felt like they were probing for . . . something. Heck if I know what though.”
(Charles) “Well, they were certainly being very rude! “
(Ms. Tengu, taking a deep breath) “Yes. But you got me out of there. Ugh. I’m going to have to ward my apartment now. Think you can help with that, Catherine?”
(Catherine) “What, you had to ask? Of course!”
(Charles) “Hm. There was a fair amount of power there. Would you prefer to get out of Yu-Shan for a while?”
(Ms. Tengu, looking a little nervous) “Leave… here? Um… where would I go? I don’t even speak Earthly languages. And then there’s Rosa. I think she’s been looking for me too.”
Rosa? Oh yes! Ms. Rosa Cress, the Chosen of Serenity from the investigating team!
(Charles) “Well, we could go to her; I’m not sure I want to get too involved with the Sidereals quite yet. I could fix the language – a talisman that lets you speak a language or two is pretty easy – and there are lots of places you could stay on earth or elsewhere.”
At that point Dudael passed on a message from Gustav, giving a location where he’d like to meet Charles – a restaurant in a neighborhood that hovered between slum and middle class. He would like to see the items he’d ordered. He wanted to know when that would be convenient for them both, since it couldn’t conflict with a mission.
Well, that would be easy! He’d have to get back to it a bit later though…
(Charles, to Ms. Tengu) “If you like, I could just put you up for a bit while you think about it. If you’d like to be dropped off at Rosa’s, that works too.”
(Maella, considering her options.) “I will take the charm. But first… I would like to see Rosa. I think she is distraught over my disappearance.”
(Charles) “Hm… Well, I could take you by there! I don’t know if she’s in though… Have you any way of checking?”
(Maella concentrated for a moment.) “Yes, she is in Yu Shan.”
Charles looked interested… “Locate Acquaintances”? Very handy!
Catherine was looking a bit uncomfortable at Maella’s last two statements. Were those abilities something that the new Exalts didn’t want revealed yet?
(Charles) “Well, I can drop you off there easily enough! And here (fishing in his pack again) is a language charm!”
(Maella) “Thank you.”
(Charles) “Would you like me to hang a tracing-spell on you for the moment?”
(Maella) “Yes, please. It would take a lot off my back.”
(Charles) “That’s easy enough!”
Catherine wanted to go along, but there was no reason why not! Charles did ask them not to tell Rosa about his involvement. He had to go see Gustav…
Catherine had a request before they went though.
(Catherine) “Boss, please don’t mention anything about her tracking that Sidereal. There’s a lot we can’t talk about right now.”
(Charlies) “Well, those are your secrets! (with slight distaste) Most people have some in Yu-Shan!”
(Catherine) “Yeah… what can you do about it? Anyway, I’ll keep her safe.”
(Charles) “OK! I’ll drop you off!
He made another – different – disguise and did so before setting up his meeting with Gustav…