The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice XXV – In Which There Are Many Manses

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Could this be the end for Captain Cadaver?

It was really time to get the kids at school something… A couple had asked, and he’d put that off too long really. He STILL needed to get the empowerment manses set up for that though!

He’d wanted to go offworld for that, and get out of range of everything but the Loom (and building a Manse was hardly a crisis point) – but he simply hadn’t been able to get any kind of offworld exploration started. Exploring the cosmos, even starting with just Valandur (which looked to be a forest world) was a big project, and there were just so many things to fix on Earth first!

Besides… Who knew what was on Valandur? It might be too low on non-forest based resources for colonization – but for all he knew it was the personal property of some bothersome Lunar or hosted one of their schools or main meeting places, or was full of cranky Ewoks capable of taking down giant walking pieces of sophisticated autochthonian technology with a few big logs, or was considered sacred ground by an alien empire, or the trees were mote-generators carefully cultivated across the entire planet to provide a power base for something. After all, the gate was presumably was drawn there for some reason or other…

Wait; while he’d been up there he’d gotten the impression that most of the Canadian North had never been geomantically exploited. Of course it had only been lightly inhabited since Gaia had reshaped the world at the end of the last age (or had they changed to a new age with the release of the Solar Exaltations or something?) – and only by normal tribal humans. With no one meddling with it there was nothing to awaken any demesnes there anyway. It was still pretty much as it had been when it was called into being… The resurgence of the Dragon-Blooded was recent enough that there were a LOT of active demesnes with nothing but sidereal caps on them – and that was mostly to keep humans from stumbling across the places or getting mutated.

An old latent demesne near the arctic would be a great place to work; he could set up some thaumaturgic privacy-wards, set up the manse so as to hide itself, upgrade and re-aspect the demesne, and THEN tie the dragon-lines into the manse structure and activate the demesne. Building without active essence flows going through everything would be a lot easier on the construction side even if working from projections would make the design side a bit tricker. Still, that was what consulting the Pattern Spiders was for! And he had some construction crews ready to go already!

OK, the local spirits would file reports about the project – but it would be decades or more before anyone looked at those reports. The things were centuries behind in the more boring areas – and there were few places more boring than a few hundred thousand square miles of subarctic pine forest being reported on in detail.

The Great Canadian North (with some heavy wardings) it would be!

He’d probably still attract some attention somehow – that sort of thing seemed to be almost built into the universe – but it would probably be generic attention of the “what is going on over here” variety, rather than personal investigations.

Hm… Maybe he could set up the Sword Caste, Staff Caste, Bow Caste, Hammer Caste, and Axe Caste? Maybe throw in something to make them fit the fighter, wizard, rogue, cleric, and barbarian archetypes! All it would require was swapping around a few of the skill bonuses since it was mostly just the form of the included weapon… Or maybe a bit of an aspect-choice built into one of the manses? There might be room for that!

There wouldn’t be any kind of anima banner of course – but those were at least as much trouble as benefit most of the time anyway.

***********************************************************************

After the manses were built, it didn’t take long to get his quasi-exaltations ready. Hopefully the boosts would make the kids lives LESS dangerous overall – and the school had a very low loss rate (if it hadn’t he’d have been in a much bigger rush). Jun had been headmaster there for quite a while, and he was really good at it!

Still, four months was quite enough delay.

Charles made a cabinet to go with the things of course – just to be traditional and in case the worst happened at some point – but they WERE lesser, and a much simpler design was enough! It would be a backup for the general “return to Charles or Lytek” directives they had now.

Everything was set. So how to hand the things out?

Lytek would almost certainly like having some minor exaltations around that he could control the disposition of – and having his domain expanded. Maybe he could talk Lytek into handing them out? That would cover up his own involvement entirely! Perhaps during a field trip or something… Lytek could ask the kids to promise to keep it all a secret! That would work for awhile! A group of god-blooded kids in school made a great test group! They were already in a challenging situation, in a testing facilty, under observation, unlikely to scatter all over the place, and had sources of support who’s authority they accepted. What could be better?

Hmm… How would that go? Perhaps something like…

“I must ask you all to promise secrecy. Since you agree, what with the pressure from the Alchemicals, the arrival of the Nocturnals, the shortage of Terrestrial Exalts, and the demands of the current, somewhat larger, universe, I have decided to release a selection of Lesser Exaltations – prototypes which were insufficient for the demands of the Primordial War and so were never used. They are, however, still useful – and since you are already in organized training, have established baselines on your abilities, are aware of the nature of the cosmos, and are mortal enough to accept them, we are offering a set of them to you…”

They’d probably all go for it!

Still… There would be some pretty funny looks when the weapons-selections matched their preferred weapons after he’d run around and asked all of them about them. And, of course, he wouldn’t be getting one, and he probably wouldn’t be able to hide his lack of surprise and familiarity with the powers, and he HAD promised to see what he could find for a couple of them… They wouldn’t be expecting anything like THAT of course, but still… And everyone in the advanced history class would be thinking “”LESSER Exaltations”?!?!? What, prototypes or something? These must predate the primordial war! They can’t possibly have been in storage for thirty thousand years! Where did he get those!”

It would probably even get some Sidereal Exalted asking once it reached their desks and they burrowed through their current cases.

It was probably good that all of them were even more overworked than they were in prior ages.

As for how that investigation would come out… While Lytek MIGHT have been storing them away since he took over during the war, it would seem a bit unlikely – and the mere claim would set off the investigations in earnest, if only to find out what ELSE might be stashed away since the war!

Charles sighed. Six months to a year at most – and maybe another few months to conclude that “that kid is building them in the basement”. It certainly didn’t sound very likely. In fact, it sounded downright ridiculous – but they’d come and ask all KINDS of awkward questions! About things that being a thaumaturgical prodigy and a very well-connected young artificer wouldn’t cover…

Then there would be the scurrilous line of investigation, which assumed that Lytek had pulled some cheesy first-generation prototypes out of storage to let his godblooded kid and friends have a boost. Somebody would certainly try to use it against him. Charles could help with that – it should be easy enough to prove that there was no blood relationship! – and that failure would help discourage related lines of inquiry into what the relationship actually was… Not that Charles was entirely sure of what it was anyway.

Hm. Was there some kind of blood relationship? It was possible – but if it existed it probably wasn’t close.

That line of investigation would be pursued no matter what he did of course; but if Lytek actually handed the things out for no apparent reason…

It would never work. Poor Lytek would get audited a dozen times over for showing that kind of favoritism – or else he’d have to reveal everything anyhow.

Maybe he could just plant them somewhere where they were going on a field trip, and they could fly out and “bond with whoever was nearest!”.

That notion sank almost as soon as it bobbed up; it wouldn’t explain ANYTHING about where they’d come from, or why they matched up with the recipients favorite weapons, or why no one had ever stumbled across them before, or why no one had ever heard of such things, and someone would surely notice that none of them had headed for him, and that it had been easy for him to “round up the strays” for Lytek…

Botheration! He really couldn’t think of anything better than the “Treasure Horde” explanation!

Hm… He couldn’t trot that explanation out more than once or twice or people would get REALLY suspicious.

Ergo, he might as well make it a BIG horde. One big enough to cover things for quite awhile, that he could pay the taxes off on with non-vital items, and one with a sizeable supply of “Lesser Exaltations” in it. Preferably a horde so big that the relevant bureaucracies would cooperate to cover it up just to avoid the resulting disruptions…

That meant that it had to have been undiscovered since the Primordial War – or before it. It had to be somewhere associated with Autochthon. It had to be somewhere that he was known to be have access to, yet with enough power running free to cover up the traces of a tremendous mass of artifacts – a treasure horde like the fabled vaults of the Jadeborn. It had to be somewhere that only he could access – and, preferably, somewhere where the existence of such a horde would be more-or-less reasonable (or at least wasn’t completely absurd).

That only left one real possibility; the Primordial Archives of Dudael. According to the records their existence had been undiscovered until after the end of the first age – and he was the first director to have enough geomancy – and interest – to bring them into manifestation. That would even explain the “newness”; the archives only really existed, and experienced time, while they were manifested. It looked like – as the Director – any artifacts found or produced at Dudael beyond the official projects were legally at his disposal anyway…

Ah. He could combine things. If HE found the treasure-horde, and quietly handed over the “Lesser Exaltations” to Lytek, it would be perfectly reasonable for Lytek to hand some of them out according to his requests – especially if it was only a modest fraction of them. He’d have to make more of course… About 1200 in total perhaps? That would fit in well enough with the final numbers of other exaltations, provide Lytek with a plentiful supply, and would reasonably leave the way open for him to pick a few more recipients later on if he pegged his “share” at 20% or so.

That way he could have the field trip, and get Lytek to hand the things out, and still be able to redirect any investigations or audits straight at the Unconquered Sun’s Financial Ministry – the bunch that paid the salaries of the entire Celestial Bureaucracy.

That would squelch THAT line of investigation pretty throughly.

He spent the month it took to talk Lytek into making the presentations building up his absurd “treasure horde” – even throwing in a selection of articles pulled out of the Wyld to add a bit more weirdness and verisimilitude to the arrangement. When he “found” it he could call in Lytek for the Exaltations – they might quite reasonably require his touch anyway – and the Financial Ministry to value things and get their tithe…

He could argue about the taxes in theory – but why would he want to? He wanted the Ministries to have an interest in it! He might even get assigned some extra security to make sure that nothing released all those artifacts into the market unexpectedly…

Lytek was somewhat dubious about personally handing out Exaltations – or even faux “Lesser Exaltations”. He hadn’t ever really been directly involved in the bonding process except under very special circumstances since the end of the war. He agreed eventually though; they WERE pretty minor – and setting it up as a “finders fee” would cover any investigation.

Personally he was quite happy to have an addition to his domain – even if the cabinet for them was far less impressive than the original. Still, smaller shelves would do since they weren’t as big and powerful and complicated. He would have simply added a shelf to the big cabinet for them, but only Authochthon knew how to alter the thing – and one hadn’t spontaneously appeared as one had for the Nocturnals.

He had to agree with the Cabinet; they weren’t really “Exaltations”, no matter what they were called – but they were very useful and definitely fell under his authority.

Besides, he’d been inspecting the samples Charles had provided – and (while they were indeed “Lesser” – albeit approaching the Dragon-Blooded level), they were still quite an accomplishment for a single Twilight with no training in the use of his Celestial powers to pull off so young – and doing it in secret while staying in plain sight in the middle of Yu-Shan had been an even better trick! The subtlety was almost as impressive as the craftsmanship – which would have been excellent for a much older Twilight Caste. It would be VERY useful to have a few such items available to hand out (much less nearly a thousand), even if only mortals and god-bloods could use them. His Exalts were desperately in need of competent assistants – and Charles’s little artifact-and-manse-link packages could certainly create them.

A few of the artificers during the first age had created somewhat similar items – but they’d insisted on trying to cram in Celestial Exalted-tier power, which hadn’t worked well. The Soul-Sheathe was innovative though – if not a particularly epic advance. Most of the first-age Solars had wanted their creations easy to retrieve and to tinker with, not bonded to their test subjects for millennia to come.

Still, with a little luck, he might even be able to get back the Essence he’d lost during the Usurpation – which had been a serious hit to his domain. This, combined with the Nocturnals and the partial return of the Solars, gave him a pretty good chance.

He had Charles make him up a duplicate set of notes, so he could study them more easily.

He was rather pleased when Charles had already made him a set in an artifact-tome that was keyed to him alone. He didn’t want anyone else to learn the schematics; who knew what horrible entities would want that information?

Lytek was pleased on a deeper level as well. At least so far his experiment was a great success! The real test would come after his Solar Guardians moved into the upper essence tiers of course, but so far – especially considering some of the Solar disasters of the past – things were going extremely well. For now he was just enjoying watching a Twilight add things to the world that weren’t too likely to destroy it.

It had taken him months to figure out why Charles was in such a rush though… He seemed to think that “a few years” was a really long time instead of being merely an eyeblink!

It just seemed that thirteen-year-olds had little to no patience, equated anything longer than the time they could remember – six or seven years at most – with “forever”, and anything more than a month or so away with “won’t have to worry about this for AGES!”.

He hadn’t yet determined whether that was a standard feature of all children, or just human children though. He probably should have looked into them a little more before starting to experiment. According to the books he’d ordered in, his Solar Guardians were about ready to start hitting puberty – which didn’t make a lot of sense to him either (gods were fully mature when they came into being of course).

Well, hopefully “puberty” wouldn’t cause any major problems – and, if it did, he could probably make a few adjustments when it came to Charles; the boy had stopped his physical aging well before that stage, and was just faking being older anyway.

The final version of the boy’s “field trip” plans – and his cover story, and the reason why he would agree to hand out the “Lesser Exaltations” – was actually quite good enough. Being obliged for the kid turning over 1200 artifacts to him, and wanting to see the process first hand, would cover any official questions quite well enough.

Things went about as expected really; there was much excitement over the possibility of a tour of Lytek’s department and a talk from him, and a good deal of wondering over who’s parents had had the pull to arrange THAT for them.

The lecture from Lytek in person after the tour would have been a thing of wonder in itself – if not quite the shock an Incarna turning up to talk to them would have been – but it was nothing compared to the shock of what he had to say… Someone’s treasure-hunting had turned up a horde of primordial artifacts, some of which the finder had requested be presented to them; Lytek was handling the presentation in person because the artifacts were early experiments in Exaltation (?!?!) – powerful personal boosters.

Hiranaya was as stunned as the rest – but then recalled asking Charles for a personal boosting item some months before – and being told that he might be able to find some more the same place that he’d obtained his own…

Surely not! But Charles didn’t seem to be particularly shocked… Could he possibly have… As a PRESENT?!?! A “Lesser Exaltation”!?!?

He accepted of course, and promised to keep quiet about it for the moment (which was only sensible in any case) – but he was going to ask Charles about this!

The teachers didn’t know about the Lesser Exaltations yet – but the invitation for a tour, and a personal lecture by the Right Hand of Power, was unprecedented enough. Somebody either had a HUGE “in” with Lytek – or had expended some very large favors on getting a bunch of godblooded kids a special treat.

There didn’t seem to be any reason to blow favors like that on some god-blooded kids. There might be a complicated plot behind it of course – that was ALWAYS possible in Yu-Shan – but it certainly didn’t seem likely. In the grand scheme of things – much as they hated to admit it – the kids just weren’t too important.

That left a really big “in” with Lytek – being used just for a bit of childishness.

There were only a few students in the school who’s parentage they didn’t know, only a few who seemed like likely candidates – and only one who’d been known to frequent Lytek’s office.

Had Lord Richof Haldane had a daughter? That would explain quite a lot!

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4 Responses

  1. […] XXV – In Which There Are Many Manses: The Lesser Exaltations. […]

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