The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice Part XXIV – A Pointed Plot

Midtown Atlanta, Piedmont Park

Now that's more like it

Tomorrow was indeed another day – and Charles’s morning project was to follow up with Rachel’s father about that weird starmetal item she found on herself after the fit. Fortunately, they were all worried enough about it to be up early as well.

He headed on down to the family home in Atlanta – an older place in the suburbs. Easily within range of his bicycle even if it HADN’T been a “swift rider”. He could get around Atlanta very nicely with a bit of travel thaumaturgy!

The house was warded – albeit mostly for privacy and protection against stray spirits.

Charles cheerily knocked, and a servant answered…

(Housemaid) “Good afternoon. How may I help you? If you’re wanting assistance with your school drive, we’ll need you to sign the list.”

(Charles) “I called ahead! I’m here to help examine a small device! Oh, I’m Charles!”

(Housemaid, looking somewhat surprised.) “Well, come in, dear. Young Mr. Cartier will be here to see you shortly.”

She sat Charles down with a nice big pitcher of water and a glass. The house’s interior was well-appointed, with a chiaroscuro color scheme – and the chair was very comfortable. Mitchell was down shortly, to find Charles happily having some water.

(Mitchell) “Hello there, Charles. I guess Kiko or Rachel told you what happened.”

He sighed.

(Charles) “I’m afraid so! Although it sounded very much like a setup to me… There’s nothing much in the records like it!”

(Mitchell) “I hope so. Rachel can be a handful sometimes, but I think she has more sense than that. Let’s head upstairs. This thing is giving Raymond trouble.”

(Charles, getting up) “What kind of trouble?”

Hopefully it was summoning the primordial power of pie fights or something! There had to be SOMEBODY out there with a sense of humor!

Mitchell escorted Charles up the stairs.

(Mitchell) “He believes it’s a personalized artifact. Nothing we’ve done so far can open it.”

They headed down the hall, toward what appeared to be an ordinary door – although there was strong illusion magic coming off it. A magical containment vault? The door is certainly reinforced that well enough!

Mitchell was looking a little awkward there, as if there wass something he would like to tell Charles about – but Charles was cheerfully oblivious.

He might have known more if he’d thought about the fact that he hadn’t asked for parental permission before gating Rachel out of Creation, or about the fact that her message had mostly consisted of “Charles has a really good place for me to hide, so I’m going to stay there and out of the way for a month or two!” – but he never had paid attention to that kind of thing!

The room was indeed a small magical containment vault. The walls were reinforced to protect against intruders and Terrestrial animas alike, and there were no windows here. He knew Howard and Raymond – but not the stocky, sturdy, woman who was also present.

Raymond was looking over what appeared to be a large starmetal amulet with a magitech sensor. Howard looked antsy, and got up once he saw Charles. The woman was simply watching for the moment, but she smiled when she saw Mitchell enter.

(Charles) “Allo everybody!”

(Howard approached) “Glad you could make it, kid. Now, before we get down to business… where is my kid?”

(Charles, blinking) “Uhm… It would be easiest to show you a bit later if you have some spare time! She should be very safe from the Bronze Faction there though!”

(Howard, not entirely satisfied by that.) “Our scryers say she’s not on the planet anymore. That doesn’t happen!”

(Woman, clearing her throat) “Priorities, dear. I’m sure Rachel is fine.

(Charles) “Oh yes! The locals will have lots of things to tell her there!”

(Woman) “Ah, where are my manners? I’m Nadine Cartier, Rachel’s mother. Now Mitchell tells me you can help Raymond analyze this item? We could use the assistance.”

(Charles) “I can certainly try! I take it that it doesn’t react to most auras and that the probe hasn’t yielded much information?”

(Raymond, looking up) “Ah, there you are! Sorry I didn’t hear you, this is the toughest Insidi… Er… Sidereal artifact I’ve seen yet. I’m pretty sure it’s a weapon, though.”

(Charles) “Well… Lets see now; have you gotten anything?”

(Raymond) “Nothing other than what Rachel’s friend told her and a bit of clairvoyance.”

Hm… Charles considered the device before doing anything active. It did look somewhat familiar, possibly form one of his older. Books… Possibly a switchklave? But most switchklaves were, like switchblades, minor sidearms. They normally wouldn’t carry major protections or mental compulsions… The style seemed to be Usurpation-era. Maybe it was something made for that period?

Engraved with five interlocking squares? Ah! During and shortly after the Usurpation, the Sidereals had manufactured some fated weapons, using living strands from the Loom as components. They hadn’t been made to kill Solars though; they’d been made for the aftermath, when the more perceptive Sidereals had realized they would have to deal with the things that the Solars and Lunars had used to handle.

(Charles) “Hm… It looks like usurption era, a fate-crafted weapon designed to let Sidereals defeat major menaces from outside fate. A very rare trinket! Certainly not something that Rachel would be likely to pick up at random; things like this are mostly in the arsenals of elder Sidereals – or occasionally in the hands of their enemies. If someone gave it to her, they doubtless had a major purpose in mind – and Rachel may not have any major mental defenses as of yet. A compulsion might have been placed on the weapon or simply applied directly. The odds are good that it’s on the weapon though! Whoever owns it would not want it on the loose in Rachel’s hands at the moment I think!”

(Raymond) “Huh. Well, that friend of Rachel’s did say the Sidereal tried to defend himself. That was AFTER she went berserk though.”

(Charles) “I suspect that it was given to her and she was aimed at a target there – not that she removed it from that target. It would neatly explain how she managed to inflict so much damage on a highly-experienced Sidereal. While they are less… direct than Solar exalts, their powers are still quite formidable – and Rachel is relatively new to her powers.”

(Raymond) “I’ll say! From what I heard, he was bleeding pretty much as soon as his anima went full.”

(Charles) “Do you mind if I run a communications link out? I may be able to get something in the files”

(Raymond) “Hey, ask Howard, it’s not my house.”

Howard and Nadine agreed. After all, the kid could just step outside anyway, and was courteous enough to ask.

Charles checked with the aides in the Orrery and had them use the Efficient Secretary Technique. The fated weapons had been fairly public at the time, and were likely still listed in the libraries…

Hmm… A few decent matches – but the most likely seemed to be Deva Cutter, a fated switchklave made explicitly to be easily smuggled into the heart of enemy territory, such as a freehold, unshaped, or Malfeas. It could inflict aggravated damage on beings outside of fate. Its fated weapon power pulled the target into fate and twisted fate so that it was easier to attack the target (-1 TN to all attack rolls) for a battle. It, and it’s abilities, did not show up on supernatural senses unless the entity examining them was able to overcome it’s potent protective enhancements. Still, it was only a fourth-rank weapon; hardly the most potent fated weapon ever produced.

He passed on most of that… He could attune it if necessary – he was using a Wonderworker’s Mantle that let him attune any magical material without a problem after all. Still, that did leave the problem of a possible mind possessing it or a compulsion.

Charles got out his wand, and alchemical powders and reagents, and started looking. Nothing was ever truly perfect; all creation was founded upon that paradox – a flaw of order in the infinite chaos of the Wyld – and nothing within it could transcend that limit.

Deva Cutter, of course, did not even come close. It’s defenses were good – but there were still faint threads of essence to analyze, channels over which the power flowed…

A powerful compulsion unfolded from within those concealing spells and struck at him as he probed – and hammered uselessly against the energies of Dudael while Charles took a quick look at it’s structure.

Rather nasty… It would have tried to make him attack the strongest looking other person in the room, and would have been severely draining to resist! Interestingly, it would not necessarily have required an attack with Deva Cutter; he would have been forced to use the weapon or weapons he considered most appropriate to his target.

(Charles) “Hm… There’s a nasty compulsion attached to it all right; it seems to be designed to make anyone who attunes it love the weapon – and attack the strongest person in the area in the way they think is most likely to work! It… doesn’t seem to be an innate part of the weapon though; it’s just hung on it… and it’s… Demonic. With an airy and abrasive feel to it, and a hint of faint laughter. Several months old, and probably dating from only a few days before the attack. Someone with access to Yozi charms – if, perhaps, a bit short of information on current affairs – apparently wants to provoke division between the major powers of Creation. The power level is impressive, although the targeting was poor; the Bronze Faction has much less influence than the Gold – unless there have been other, similar, attacks that I have not heard of. That might be worth looking into.”

Rachel had been hiding out on Earth since then, which was part of the reason why Howard had been so worried.

(Raymond) “I didn’t even know about the factions until recently. They’re the minority party, right?”

(Charles) “Yes – although not, I believe, the smallest. Of course, given the tendencies of the Sidereals, I expect that there are at least half a dozen “factions” with only one member apiece.”

Raymond laughed at that one, which led Howard to interject:

(Howard) “From what Mitchell’s told me, it’s more like scapegoat. I see a few things here. Somebody wants them to circle the wagons, run scared, or do something they’ll regret later.”

(Charles, sighing) “And is using major demonic powers to do it”.

(Mitchell) “AND has the skill to get them into Yu Shan without getting the lions’ attention.”

(Charles) “True – although these weapons were designed to be almost impossible to detect, so that they COULD be readily smuggled past guardians. I’m sorry I can’t tell you more about what kind of demon or anything, but I’ve never seen this particular signature or type of charm before.”

(Nadine) “Regardless, we need to get whatever-it-is off. It’s not the item itself that’s evil, Mr. Cisneros’ leeriness toward starmetal aside.” (Raymond gave her a pointed look there.)

(Charles) “You might want to leave it on – if well-shielded – in case you need to use it to clear Rachel’s name. Evidence is evidence…”

Since he still had a communications link open, Charles started having his aides at the Orrery pass the word to his vulnerable friends to keep an eye out for such items and to avoid them.

Meanwhile, the funny looks started once his three companions were over the initial shock and really started to think about what he’d told them.

Raymond’s look was particularly intense – although Mitchell was also looking at Charles a bit more carefully; most thaumaturges couldn’t analyze artifacts anywhere NEAR that well – and most didn’t seem to have immediate access to that kind of lore!

(Howard) “That was some good Essence reading there. Um… you’re not a sorcerer by any chance, are you?”

(Nadine) “If he was, there would have been anima flare…”

Raymond was just looking Charles over.

(Charles) “I like to study artifacts and manses! And I mostly do thaumaturgy! It’s a lot more flexible than fooling about with Sorcery!”

(Raymond) “Yes, but most thaumaturges take hours to analyze something like that. And what you did at Beech Street was like nothing I ever saw before… Howard, have you seen anything like that before?”

(Howard) “Not really.”

(Raymond) “And yet you’re this nice little kid, probably a god-blood of some kind.”

(Charles) “There’s nothing wrong with being god-blooded I think!”

Raymond wondered… He could be reading FAR too much into a simple name… But had there been a “Dexter Ward Senior” perhaps? “Dexter”… Left… Sinister? “Ward” – a magical barrier, or a child left in someone’s care? And “Senior”, of course, was “Elder”… “Sinister Elder Magical Barrier”? “Child of the Sinister Elders left in care”?

Nah. That really was going way too far. You’d have to be INCREDIBLY paranoid – and, at the same time, believe that secretive opponents would blatantly proclaim major clues – to go for a theory like THAT.

(Raymond) “Any idea who your divine parent was, if you don’t mind me asking? I think you’re tapping into some primal stuff when you do these things. That can be dangerous if you mess up.”

(Charles) “I don’t know really… My parents left me with Gramps when I was about four…”

(Nadine) “A classic story. Is your Gramps a god as well? I doubt he would talk to the rest of us, but spirits have always liked Mitchell. We could use help with this item.”

(Charles) “Uhm… I don’t really know what he is; but I’ve been told that he showed up in heaven towards the end of the last age – about 20,000 years ago. (Complainingly) He won’t tell me much of anything!”

That made them blink for a bit. Mitchell was quite impressed; he could only think of one individual who fit THAT description – there weren’t many non-gods in Yu-Shan who were more than 20,000 years old – and he’d had no idea that Charles had such an influential relative!

(Mitchell) “I’m not sure I could get a minute on his schedule book, then. I’ve heard even elder Sidereals have to wait months.”

(Howard) “That’s probably out, then. If there’s some demon thing running around up there, we don’t HAVE months to get on his schedule.”

(Charles) “Anyway… Did you want to go visit Rachel for a bit?”

(Howard) “Yes. I want to see where she is. She should have left a note!”

(Charles) “Well, if she had left a note it would have been within fate, and that would make it traceable! And she wanted to really hide!”

(Raymond) “The boy’s right. And I think the last thing any of us wants is a brawl on your doorstep. Rachel would do too much damage to the house, and the cleanup would be a pain.”

There was mutual nodding there.

(Charles) “I can take you there – but if I do it might be best if you stayed for a bit! They might be watching you, even if that wouldn’t be easy for them – especially in here! Do you have time to stay there for awhile? It is an interesting place!”

(Nadine) “I’ll have to make arrangements with the office, but they know not to pry too deeply in our business. Howard, dear, could you dial them up?”

He did so. From the sound of things, a lobbying firm in Washington and a few other places.

Hm… If they went straight, it would be observable and trackable and would give some things away. On the other hand, he went into a heavily shielded magical vault with them… ergo, it might be best to leave from there to go outside of fate directly.

(Charles) “Mr Raymond? If the Cartiers are going to be away with Rachel for a bit, I presume you would rather not know where?”

(Raymond) “It would be best for all of us, I believe.”

(Charles) “Well then… these are a nuisance to get restocked, but it’s probably a good idea to use one!”

He fished out a vial with a strange stopper covered with mystical symbols – a stored spell that only required thaumaturgic skills to unleash, no matter what went into casting it… That way Raymond would see him use a device that any occultist could use – but still no personal major magic.

He teleported them straight into the out-of-fate overlay around the fey pocket, from their own wards to behind his own, and ushered them inside for the (rather short, thanks to travel thaumaturgy) stroll to Hoenheim…

For a brief time, the questions were muffled by shock.

Nadine regained her composure the quickest.

(Nadine) “Are we in the Wyld, young man?”

(Charles) “A pocket really! It’s the quickest way to get outside of fate and it’s really hard to scry through or anything like that! And it makes it much easier to set up for the main jump! There are some Fey around, but they’re OK; I used to play with them when I was younger, but there usually isn’t time any longer!

(Nadine) “Well, you should have said something – play in them!? With the Fey?!?! These pockets are dangerous!”

Howard and Mitchell suddenly looked nervous – but Nadine touched both of them, and the nervousness dissipated.

Huh. Probably an earth aspect, since they got the Wyld Resistance Charms.

(Charles) “Well, I didn’t want to say anything while we were still where we might be overheard – and the Fey were fun to play with! Anyway, this way to the gates…”

There wasn’t any trouble reaching the gates – although there was some awe at the raw power of the Hoenheim manse. They’d thought that the Water Tower was near the pinnacle of power for a manse… but this place…

Mitchell – a martial artist and spirit negotiator – was awed by the tree than by anything else.

At least until Charles shifted the aspect and pulled up the gates.

Those looked rather like “stargates” of course. Charles WAS a sci-fi fan, and that was one of the aspects he’d manifested. Mitchell smiled for a moment at that – but then thought about it a little more… The only way that they could look like a popular TV program was if they were new – and “New” meant that Charles had either created them himself or that someone (or THING) had installed them for him.

There were flares of essence-lightning and such as the gate opened to the Dragon King realm – and Charles sent some messages in – and answered queries about his guests (mostly assuring the Dragon Kings that there were only three, that they weren’t particularly warlike or ready for war, and that they were the family of one of their current solar guests).

(Charles) “Anyway… Rachel’s currently hanging out through here, in Relkithian, with the Dragon Kings! It’s a really neat place, even if it is a little sad!”

(Nadine) “Dragon Kings? I didn’t even know there were any left…”

(Charles) “Oh there aren’t HERE – but THERE there’s pretty much nobody ELSE left!”

The Dragon Kings were willing to let them in.

The Cartiers thanked Charles – although Nadine, at any rate, told him quite firmly to be careful – and, for the love of the Dragons, to get protection if he was’s going to insist on playing with raksha!

Mitchell was a bit more direct, although they were all about ready to explode.

(Mitchell) “OK… where in Oblivion IS this place?”

(Charles) “Oh, it’s all that’s left of an Alternate Creation that fell to the Balorian Crusade! The Dragon Kings here had some warning of the Great Contagion, so they built a dimensional refuge – but there’s pretty much nothing left of the main cosmos here but the deep wyld! I figured an alternate universe would make a GREAT hiding place!”

(Howard) “I guess so. We should be safe from any scrying Sidereals here.”

(Nadine) “Just don’t go exploring too deeply, dear. I know you.”

Mitchell knew enough about what that implied to go back to the very funny looks, if not quite looks of outright horror. He HAD been studying First and Second Age lore up in Yu Shan.

(Mitchell) “Are you sure, Charles?”

(Charles) “Pretty sure! It’s hard to guarantee that – but they have recorded the death of the sun, the destruction of creation, and the annihilation of the human race here – and there are more Dragon Kings here than are left in our universe! So this is another one! Could be a separate creation in the deep wyld or an alternate timeline though; I’m not really sure that there’s a difference!”

Mitchell contemplated that for a moment.

(Mitchell) “I have no idea. I’m fairly sure Rachel could repel several young Fair Folk, so we should be safe if we stay close to her. And that temple we just left looks sturdy.”

(Charles) “Oh, there aren’t any here! This is a pocket-realm, sealed on itself, like Yu-Shan! It’s just Dragon Kings and a few guests!”

(Mitchell) “You would know better than me on Manses, I believe.”

He was still looking at Charles a bit oddly. More weirded out than hostile though. God, raksha, primordial, or just oddly socialized god-blooded?

Well, Charles HAD been cultivating the art of making people have REALLY weird speculations about his parentage.

Rachel turned up about then – looking very happy to see her family.

(Charles, waving) “Hi Rachel! How’s it going here?”

(Rachel) “Great! Nobody gives me any trouble!”

She headed off to show them the wonders of the pocket world – and Charles shut down the gate, put Hoenheim back in it’s usual configuration, and headed for school – wondering who to show that switchklaive to.