Things went along – if not well, than at least passably – for several weeks. That at least let him get a few more segments of Aden – and their Manses – done.
New Manse Power:
Dance of the Dragon Lords (4, Solar Favored):
- The manse amplifies the essence of those within it, and makes it easier to channel – allowing them to access normally-unavailable abilities. The may affect everyone within the manse, those attuned to the manse, only the hearthstone bearer, or some other group if combined with control systems.
- The first incidence of this power provides those within the manse with a +1 to their effective essence and allows them to buy it up beyond their normal limits – although the extra essence, and any abilities dependent on it, only work within the manse. It also provides those within the manse the ability to use three additional charms – although the charms must be selected from among those to which the user normally has access (for Mortals, Martial Arts and Spirit Charms) and the user must fulfill all of the usual prerequisites – although charms bestowed by this power do count towards them. Unfortunately, this function is only partially cumulative; if you happen to (somehow) be exposed to it more than once, the second incidence only provides +3 charms, the third +2 charms, and the fourth and fifth +1 charm each – while further incidences provide no benefits at all. Once selected, the bonus charms are fixed until the user buys one of them “for real” – which frees up that slot for another charm.
The first signs of inquiries appeared at school.
That wasn’t too surprising. Otherwise he was mostly only findable at Dudael, and – to get in there – you presumably needed to do all those purification rituals.
He was currently in the middle of his weapons training class – where everyone had suddenly gotten MUCH better and there were never any accidental injuries any more. In fact, everyone had gotten so much better that the instructors had moved on from students sparring with each other to the more advanced studies and customized programs. Hiranaya, for instance, was learning how to set his new weapon on fire with a charm and still wield it effectively. He was fighting in an area warded against fire.
Of course, that allowed Charles – in between yawning (since he wasn’t getting anywhere NEAR enough sleep any longer) and practice – to go back to peacefully trying to figure out how to make the weapons better and nonlethal at the same time. It wasn’t easy when a lot of them were made out of Quintessence!
Perhaps a spell that made the weapon immaterial on contact with flesh and armor, but still caused the same amount of pain and shock as it actually wounding you would cause? That was still mean, but – to be fair – no one tried to run you through with a sword to be nice. It might even work properly… And be fairly intimidating as well.
He’d have to look in the archives. Surely SOMEONE had come up with a similar effect in the last 20,000 years.
Unfortunately, eventually his turn at combat training came up.
Sindri, who was having to work harder to keep pace with the students than ever before, approached after a bit.
(Sindri, gently) “Ah, Charles, I have you decided what setup you want yet? I know it’s only been a short while, but your grandfather did not want us to keep you idle.”
(Charles, sleepily) “Uhm… Oh yeah… Defensive staff exercises I think.”
There were several setups for defensive training of course; there are options for parrying while blinded, against a child-sized automata, underwater, and against multiple opponents.
Charles went for multiple. He had great reflexes, but he wasn’t really very skilled.
He got rather resoundingly thumped on – hard enough to feel it even through his defenses! The blasted things had to be adjusting automatically, and had an AWFULLY high threshold… He didn’t remember the design specs showing them capable of that. Had someone else been improving on things on the sly?
It wasn’t overly embarrassing – even Hiranaya had trouble with this one – but he was a little bruised and sore in various places afterwards!
(Charles) “Oof! I need more practice I think…”
(Sindri) “Oh, you did as well as I expected. But any mortal can benefit from practice. Perhaps we should spar a bit more before class ends.”
(Charles) “Uhm… OK!”
Sindri was happy to train with Charles; he preferred some meditative terrestrial forms – but he had to admit that the initial training exercises for those didn’t look like they’d EVER hurt anyone! (Which suited Charles just fine). Besides… the way the other kids were performing these days, he was rather glad of the armor that Charles had obtained for him… Some of them tended to get rather aggressive, and – as an instructor – he was obliged to hold back quite a bit!
Which was still more than a bit worrisome really. The sudden improvement in the other students, and the armor was… impressive. Even in Yu-Shan it was impressive! If Charles had made the armor – and somehow been responsible for those improvements – they might have something beyond a prodigy on their hands! If not… someone with truly vast resources had to be backing the boy.
They sparred until the end of class, with reasonable breaks. Sindri pressed him a bit, but the focus was clearly on defense-and-escape.
Charles was quite willing to practice that! He was well aware that he might have to physically (ick!) defend himself sometimes.
Near the end of class, however, he asked Charles to look at some of the staves from the training exercise; it was pretty obvious that some of them had cracked.
(Sindri) “Do you think you could fix them? We can easily acquire others, but I hate to see broken weapons.”
(Charles) “Oh sure!”
Hmm… Mostly quintessential wood. One had a cracked white jade attachment on the end. That should be easy enough! Alchemy and Enchantment would easily cover sticking things back together!
He absent-mindedly (and tiredly) drew on Dudael for power and accelerated his thaumaturgy to combat speeds. Oops! He hadn’t been meaning to show that… Oh well! Sidri wouldn’t tell on him, even if he speculated! Except maybe to discuss things with the other teachers…
The weapons shimmered for an instant – and were once more whole.
(Charles) “There we go!”
Sindri blinked, then quickly recovered.
(Sindri) “Thank you, Charles. This way, they’re ready for tomorrow.”
(Charles) “You’re welcome! I hate to see things not working right!”
That had been… strange, and quite impressive. Certainly you could do that with the right charm – but the boy had… pulled on geomantic sources – possibly through some sort of link to a Manse – to power thaumaturgy, and had probably augmented it with several artifacts (and certainly with a very nice wand) – but he hadn’t used any personal power, or any actual active charms. His personal skill… was at least near the limits of a god-blooded’s potential, if not already at it. Prodigy and beyond in at least three thaumaturgic sciences. Likely capable of using Terrestrial Circle Sorcery and possibly with similar skills in the rest of the sciences.
Sindri waved goodbye to Charles – and turned his attention to some of the other weapons the boy had been fiddling with.
Perfected or transcendent, augmented with weird thaumaturgies, and wound about with geomancy that would let at least some of them resist terrestrial circle sorcerous countermagics. Not, perhaps, beyond the abilities of a god-blooded prodigy – but astounding work for a bunch of weapons that the boy had simply been fiddling with.
Charles, of course, was simply so short of time that his design-experiments were leaking into class time a bit. Meanwhile, he had arrived at Advanced History.
The days lecture was about the Seven Tigers Incident. That mess had occurred shortly after the Scarlet Empress had revealed herself to the world. Seven daimyos had refused to bow to what they saw as a false Shogun – and she had retaliated by unleashing the powers of the Blessed Isle’s Imperial Manse against their forces encampments. After that, the only power which stood against her was the city-state of Lookshy. Its magitech was too valuable for her to risk disintegrating in a mass of pure elemental fury. As a result, a detente arose between both nations’ Dragon-Blooded, much like NATO and the Eastern Bloc of the Cold War.
Charles recalled that there had been something about the geomantic mess from that in the Libram… The Sword of Creation had badly disrupted the dragon lines in those areas; there were elemental imbalances for decades and some areas never fully recovered.
Horrible things had happened to the poor soldiers too – burnt to ash, ground to dust, or turned into rotting compost – but that hadn’t concerned Devon much, although Charles fetl rather sorry for them. Of course, it was a long time ago – and even for him it was pretty abstract sorrow.
Charles listened very attentively though! This was new material! He was learning a lot!
The passage he had on that read; “Devon saw a flash on the horizon, and wove a thaumaturgic working to link his senses with an onlooker. Fortunately, he was wise enough to link only sight, and recovered from the resulting blindness within a day. He endeavored to investigate the dragon lines…”
A rather interesting coincidence there! Still, it wasn’t as if he had Devon’s memories – just a lot of notes.
Hmm. Come to think of it, that was also a bit odd! His research into Exaltations said that there was usually something that popped up in the first few days of Exaltation – dreams, hallucinations, or weird partial memories; yet he didn’t experience any at all.
Of course, he always had figured that Devon did some MAJOR tinkering around to get what he wanted to get. If anyone could do it, it would be him.
Anyhow, on the way to his next class, Jun called him… Well, he was the headmaster! Off to see Jun then!
Jun’s office was a tastefully-appointed place, if no match for a divine sanctum – but Gramps was with him – and looked happy to see Charles, as usual.
Gramps, of course, got a hug!
He hugged back a bit harder than he had been, but it was still a firm, friendly, hug.
Oh good! Gramps was probably no longer thinking of him as “delicate and sickly” most likely!
(Charles, to Jun) “Hello Sir!”
(Headmaster Jun) “Hello, Charles. Your grandfather and I were discussing old times today, and both of us would like to ask you something.”
(Charles, glancing at Gramps) “Uhm, Ok… What?”
(Gramps) “Well, Jun has been telling me about your performance in your weapons courses. It’s not the best, but you are showing reasonable improvement, and that’s what matters. But there’s something that bothers me, my boy.”
(Jun) “I don’t see it as a problem, Richof, but you can certainly ask.”
(Gramps, looking a bit uncomfortable) “Why a staff?”
(Charles) “Uhm… It’s not nearly so likely to really hurt someone and is pretty good for defense.”
(Richof) “Ah, I see! So purely for pragmatic reasons. How has it been working out for you? Does it feel right in your hands?”
(Charles) “It works pretty well… And it ought to feel right of course, I balanced and fitted it to myself myself.”
(Gramps) “Of course you would make your own staff, my boy.”
Gramps relaxes a bit; he’d been looking a bit tense and distant there, as if he’d been thinking about something.
(Gramps) “Hmm. Jun, what is his next class? Surely he can skip one and take some work home with him.”
(Jun) “If you wish, Lord Richof. I think we can arrange some make-up work for herbalism.”
(Gramps) “Would that be all right with you, Charles?”
(Charles) “Well, herbalism is fun, but (doubtfully, as he thought about his current schedule) I guess I can make it up later…”
(Jun, looking over at Richof, who appeared happy) “As long as you can do so, then, I will see you tomorrow. I’ll send you the make-up assignment this evening.”
Jun had some doubts there – the boy hid it well, but SOMETHING was obviously stressing him; the fatigue-traces were obvious enough if you regularly dealt with children. Still, it was the boys grandfather and guardian, and the child was adaptable – and vacation was coming up. The god-blooded had long childhoods, and school was not THAT urgent for them.
Gramps had his privacy-shielded aerial rickshaw along… The wards were very good! He might even have improved them since the last time he’d ridden in it!
(Richof, in the rickshaw) “I apologize for taking you out of class, my boy. I could see how uncomfortable you were with it – and how tired you look! – but I have some questions I would rather not have Jun hear.”
Charles wasn’t sure if this was good or bad – but Gramps obviously had some things on his mind, and was finally going to share something serious with him.
(Charles) “OK! What do you need to know?”
(Richof, sighing) “First of all, I spoke with Lytek after our visit to Canada. I would have never imagined you would Exalt.”
(Charles, almost reflexively checking the wards) “Uhm.. It was a while ago, but Mr Lytek and the instruction book said to keep it a secret!”
(Richof) “Oh, believe me, my boy, I intend to keep it that way myself. All three of us are involved in some rather risky maneuvering. And don’t worry about the warding, it’s Sapphire Circle and alarm ward protected.”
(Charles) “OK!… Can I help?”
(Richof) “Hmm… you have such a nice, safe position at Dudael. I would hate to see you risk that, my boy… and I had hoped that you would avoid these entanglements until you were older. Are you certain?”
(Charles) “Well, certain that I want to help! I’m not sure what I could do to actually help though (hint, hint) I never have found out what you’re doing that I could help with!”
(Richof) “Ah… I knew this would be inevitable someday. As an artificer, you certainly know about the dragon lines. You probably won’t be surprised to hear there’s a department in the Bureau of Nature devoted to them.”
(Charles) “I’d kind of expect that. They aren’t doing all that well at getting things fixed though! Even if they can be kind of tricky!”
(Richof) “It’s called the Department of Natural Essence Flows. I regret to say I’m not in charge, but I am minister of the Subdepartment of Interstellar Essence Flows. That, my boy, is where the trouble starts… Tell me, what do you think of the gods’ attitudes toward extraterrestrial things?”
(Charles) “Hm… Very long, very attenuated, inclined to tangle, and relatively small amounts of essence flowing at immense speed. Vey hard to navigate or to transmit prayer or feedback down. Ergo, most gods just ignore what they can’t see or reach anyway.”
(Richof, smiling) “Good. Then you see what the problem is. That’s part of why I haven’t been around as much as you might have wanted. I do apologize for that.”
(Charles, looking a bit wistful) “It’s OK. There were all kinds of things I wasn’t supposed to tell either.”
(Richof, looking relieved.) “I’m glad, my boy. We both had good reasons. Anyhow, part of my position is observing the interstellar ley lines. It keeps me as busy as anyone up here who must travel space, though I do have some advantages over most of my colleagues there. In my most recent travels, I spotted a mysterious phenomenon.” He will open up a bag on his belt and pull out some documents… Here, Charles. You should find this interesting.”
They were some of the most technical documents on dragon lines he’d ever seen, further complicated by the interstellar distances… The diagrams were patterns of the interstellar ley lines, an intricate web of Essence connecting a thousand thousand planets, stars, and interstellar objects. The key indicated the Essence flows… There are all the types he knew, a tiny trickle of Infernal Essence tainting a bit of it, some Abyssal Essence – and something else that Richof had marked “Unknown.” The report was mostly focused on that “Unknown.” It appeared to be at least as finicky and mercurial as Lunar Essence – and further testing had been difficult. Whatever it was, if it was prodded too hard, it turned into Sidereal Essence. It’s flows were strongest in areas where there were few to no stars.
Hm… Nocturnal Essence? Had Gramps heard about those exaltations?
(Richof) “So you have heard as well, my boy. And that leads to the BIG problem. This is the seventh report I’ve submitted since they appeared, and no one remembers the six before it. No one in my department can even retain the memory of them without my prompting – and, to tell the truth, I even have to keep reminding Lytek. Yet you seem to have no trouble remembering at all! What do you know about them?”
(Charles, with some startlement) “Huh! I didn’t see anything like THAT built in while they were forming! It’s not like I couldn’t be wrong – but that sounds external! None of the workers at Dudael have been having trouble remembering Catherine… Of course, Dudael does protect people against mental influences… A Yu-Shan wide mental influence? Possibly related to the Mask again? That might be why it was repaired – unless someone just needed it to create some semi-permanent identities, which might fit if the Nocturnal exalts had come in from Outside. That was some time ago – but whoever is involved with the Nocturnals IS tinkering with the Timestream…”
(Richof) “I have no idea. I saw no memory-blurring effects in the shards when Lytek showed them to me either. And I do agree with you on the timestream. Though time travel is supposed to be one of the big forbidden phenomena…”
(Charles) “Well, one of them had a weapon that dated to me making it five years from now.”
(Richof) “My boy, that’s supposed to be impossible. You touched it? I don’t doubt you, but you’re certain it wasn’t an illusion or a conjuration?”
(Charles) “Yes… I tested by checking a blank spot on it, then deciding that – from now on – I would put a makers mark in that spot on such blades, and it appeared.”
(Richof) “Incredible. So they seem to have some power over time, and they’re covered by a memory-blurring effect that will stymie even the highest gods.”
(Charles) “I was considering building a manse that would use their style of essence, but I haven’t done much with it so far! I wanted to see what it would do if I built in a way for it to express itself.”
(Richof) “It is… complex, my boy. It appears only in the darkest places, and cannot be touched by light. The slightest error in your geomancy, and it transmutes to Sidereal Essence. I have no idea why it is like that, but knowing what you are, I have faith in you.”
(Charles) “Well, I could try making one after we stop!”
(Richof) “Hmm. We’re almost to your residence now, but I suppose we could try. How long do you have before work?”
(Charles) “About an hour and a half I think. Its… probably enough time!”
(Richof) “Then let’s find a secluded park. It shouldn’t be too hard; this is mostly abandoned territory, after all.”
(Charles) “Oh! We just need to stop for a few minutes. You suggested finding a way to carry manses around, so I’ve been working on that!”
Richof was momentarily startled – but then recalled something… Back in Lytek’s office after that mess with the Abyssals… “I do worry about you being able to defend yourself. After all, it’s hard to carry a Manse with you in combat.”
Oh good grief! Had Charles taken that as an instruction to find a way to carry manses around? And done it?
(Richof) “Wonderful, my boy! Let’s see what you’ve come up with.”
Once they were stopped, Charles simply opened a door into Aden. He’d been planning on creating a Nocturnal manse anyway, so he’d put such a demesne deep in a cave. No time like the present!
That was genuinely impressive. The boy had been constructing… a private pocket realm? No, wait, that wouldn’t be something you could carry around. For that it had to be… a part of him? At least that would explain the aura of friendly welcome pouring out of the gate.. A WORLD-BODY?!?! Even if a small one?
It was an absolutely irrelevant thought – but it was no wonder that the boy was tired!
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice XXVI – In Which We Catch Up With Everyone Else (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice Part XXI – The Maiden in Durance Vile (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice XXV – In Which There Are Many Manses (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice Part XXIII – The Great Gates (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice XVI – Thaumaturgic Challenges (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice Part XVIII – The Question of the Divine (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice Part XIX – The Shattered Mirror (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice Part XX – Incidents of Artifice (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice XV – Darkness Rising (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice Part XXIV – A Pointed Plot (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- Exalted – Exaltation Research (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice XII – Current Dramatis Persona (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- Exalted – The Path of the Smiling Tiger (ruscumag.wordpress.com)