Now that Aden was more or less fully landscaped, it seemed a pity that there was hardly anyone there to enjoy it…
Well… There were Yu-Shan gates all over the globe – including in a lot of troubled areas and places with natural disasters… Right then! He did have some contacts with the pattern spiders; he asked them where and how he could pick up people while creating the least possible disturbances in the loom.
That turned out to be… mostly in unimportant areas where pretty much everyone was about to die. Places where disaster was about to strike, where conflicts were about to roll over and destroy clusters of villages, where mass famines were wiping people out, where local warlords were rising, and where genocide was underway. If everyone was going to be wiped out in a few hours anyway, taking them away would create very little in the way of a disturbance…
When investigators finally showed up, there would be missing bodies, and – if they used detection charms – inevitable traces of whatever he used to take them away, but nothing much more than that. They’d mostly just presume the bodies were in a mass grave or some such, Lost bodies from wiped out villages were rarely very important to fate…
OK then! He’d drop by places where villages and such were going to be wiped out, open the secondary portals to Aden, and have the fey-style manse guardians collect people who would soon die otherwise. That way it would look like a normal fey “raid” using a chancel!
His first few trips got him quite a few people from developing countries, and even more from the more poorly developed ones. It was quite an eclectic mix! For a common language there were educational spells!
For explanations there were… er… Well, honestly, magic gates had opened up, magical elves of light mixing human, elemental, and animal features had come through them, and taken everyone away to a supernatural realm – allowing them time as practical to pack up their personal stuff! Could you get much more blatantly supernatural?
Some of them wanted to know how he’d done that. Others want to know if they’d entered the afterlife. More pragmatic ones were wondering what you want in return.
(Charles) “Well… I CAN help, so it would be rather mean of me not to! This isn’t the afterlife, but it might create quite a disturbance if you went back now – and there’ s not much to go back to anyway – but I have lots of space for people to stay! You’re currently aboard Aden Shining Dream, the Gears of the World. He’s rather young as of yet, so his world-body is relatively small so far!”
There was some hysteria – but that was pretty much inevitable. At least there were lots and lots of manse guardians available to soothe it.
Fortunately, quite a lot of the people he’d picked up were still “unsophisticated” enough to believe in magic – and the rest would get more accepting as they stayed.
Besides, the manse-guardians would reveal that Aden did answer prayers on occasion… And there was plenty to eat, good places to live, and lots of supplies waiting!
That alone made many of them quite happy – especially the ones from famine or drought-stricken territories.
The projects still created thousands of very low-grade loom disturbances as people vanished a few hours or days early – leaving no bodies or easily-transported personal possessions… Even in these hideously overworked times, the cumulative effect did not go unnoticed by the Sidereals… There was much speculation in the Forbidding Manse of Ivy as to The Fey involvement. As far as Fey “recruiting” went, this was a lot more benign than most styles!
As well as being a lot harder to trace, and nigh-impossible to reach in time to do anything about… Not that it really mattered if the Fey drained some folk who had played out their roles already – but any change in a pattern that had lasted for twenty thousand years was cause for concern. The Fey had been by turns ruthless, inhuman, glamorous, beautiful, enticing, terrible, benevolent, malevolent, glorious, chivalrous, studious, entertaining, and utterly chaotic – but they had NEVER been especially subtle!
The Pattern Spiders… found it somewhat funny! It was not often that a young Exalt – or whatever Charles was becoming – consulted them as to how he could minimize the disturbances he was creating…
That was a remarkably pleasant change! An entity that who was trying to avoid making more work for anyone!
They had quite enough work to do as it was!
There were similar discussions in the Cerulean Lute of Harmony as well… There weren’t many important people involved, and Charles had been taking precautions with the Spiders he knew – but it was still something they would notice, even if it was caught up in the usual bureaucratic morass.
Meanwhile, of course, it took Charles a few hours – even by artifact-bicycle – for each trip. After all, he had to physically make it to the area to open up the portals. They only had a five-mile range or so!
That meant taking quick trips whenever he could fit them in…
And meant that various groups – and especially the Sidereals – might soon be able to predict places where he’d be likely to show up. Once they caught on to the pattern, they could foresee disasters rather more easily than Charles could.
Still, it would take a number of trips for them to figure out the pattern. There would be plenty of chances for other kinds of trouble first – and troubled areas often attracted higher-powered types.
Charles was somewhere in the middle east – he wasn’t exactly sure where – when the first of those complications popped up. It was a unit of some sort of mercenaries…
(Mercs, abruptly confronted with a North American kid on a bicycle) “What the?”
(Charles) “Hello! What’s up?”
(Mercs) “Where in the heck-Get down, kid!”
As bullets ripped through the air – and they returned fire.
(Charles, using a touch of widespread alchemical magic to denature any nearby explosives) “Hey! Stop that!”
Everything went silent for a bit. He could hear people attempting to fire guns, and failing. Well… At least that would give the fey time to evacuate the nearby villages he was collecting!
(Merc) “What are you doing here? This is a combat zone . . . and you don’t look like you’re from around here.”
(Charles) “I’m visiting just for a bit! I’m pretty sure that the people who actually live here don’t want to play this particular game though… What’s the shooting about?”
(Mercs) “A bunch of local leaders hired us to root out some extremists. Got nasty, as you can see. They’ve got the place wired with explosives. Lucky for us, our tech guys managed to defuse the ones around here, but they found us. And that’s about where you came in.”
(Charles) “Oh! Well, there won’t be any blowing up for the moment.”
Hm. The mercenaries apparently weren’t on the about-to-be-killed list – but about half that village was… Oh well! There should be time to evacuate the village easily enough!
(Charles) “Well… it seems quiet enough at the moment!”
A few of the mercs considered that… You spent enough time on the battlefield, and you saw some stuff. If you were sensible, you didn’t get involved with the weirder bits.
Kids who stood in the middle of a battlefield hail of bullets unprotected and unharmed, and who waved a hand and caused every gun, grenade, mine, booby-trap, and explosive device on the field to spontaneously misfire, were sure as hell among the weirder bits.
Even the less experienced mercs were still in a bit of shock at Charles’s sudden appearance and all of the spontaneous weapons failures.
(Merc) “Yeah. We’d better capture those guys while we can. Uh… thanks, kid. I take it you don’t need help getting back?”
(Charles) “Not really!”
Why was that no surprise at all?
Report this to his superiors at the PMC?
It was either than or get really drunk and blot it out!
Charles pedaled off again after the place was empty – making a mental note; “Thautmaturgical disguise next time!”
Next time out he went as “Gateway”, a minor character he’d seen in a marvel comic book! That just required a cosmetic transformation! Gateway was a little old aboriginal guy, so he didn’t even need to change his size or anything…
He had to whip up an aboriginal bullroarer, but that was no real trouble!
The next few gates were as uneventful as swiping entire settlements of frightened people in the face of violence and disaster could be – but Charles and his manse-legions had more than enough power on their side to deal with large numbers of upset mortals and a few disasters and hostile mortals on the side.
Then one of them was a relief convoy. It had guards, but they were facing heavy attack – although one of them was impressively skilled with her gun… It wasn’t the transcendent skill Reku had, but it might be more than human.
Well… that called for a Ward versus Bullets around the convoy, an illusion of fires and dangerous explosions for outside viewers – to keep them from trying to move in too quickly – and sending in his “troops” to rescue people, with the gates disguised as convenient hiding places and low points that could serve as foxholes.
That was even far more true than it would have been if they’d been real foxholes!
The ward, of course, prevented casualties – while the illusions encouraged the guerrillas to keep firing. Of course, when they were fighting essentially-invulnerable defenders, they started to run short of ammo eventually – and had to fall back. Meanwhile, of course, Charles and the Fey had been busily ushering people through the gates – or urging them to duck into cover. Of course, that did leave a few who hadn’t been supposed to become casualties…
A couple got swept up with the others; “vanished during a massacre” was a very small disruption of fate when it came to mortals involved in a military operation after all… The rest who didn’t get swept up accidentally mostly hadn’t seen much of anything except that “some of the others tried to escape!”.
The fey were GOOD at that sort of thing! And it helped that the massacre was supposed to have been near-total…
By that time, however, there were some rescuers approaching. They were pretty surprised to see that the convoy was almost entirely physically intact – and that there was a distinct scarcity of dead bodies – except for that one woman, who seemed equally suspicious and grateful.
(Woman) “OK, I’ve seen my grandson’s comic books… Who the hell are you really?”
The others with her were surprised. She looked too young to be a grandmother!
(Woman, with some exasperation) “Hey, I’ve had work done.”
(Charles) “Oops! I was just helping!”
Oh dear! Were the rescuers supposed to be included in the massacre? It looked like… they were supposed to have walked into a guerrilla ambush. They didn’t know that of course… He really ought to snatch them! The Pattern Spiders might be annoyed! But… it would be very very rude to snatch people who were no longer in any immanent danger!
Annoying the pattern spiders really wasn’t very likely; As disruptions went, the unexpected survival of a few mortals was tiny – and the Spiders were used to thousands of bigger disruptions than THAT every day. Things like Abyssals exploding manses however… now THAT was a disruption!
(Woman) “Really, who are you? That’s a pretty obscure character.”
(Charles) “Er… But if I tell you it could really mess things up! I could get in trouble!”
(Woman, her eyes narrowing) “Oh, I get it… one of them. Tell you what. You saved our butts back there, so I’m going to be quiet.”
(Charles, somewhat doubtfully) “ Er… Right! One of “Them”! (hopefully) I take it they don’t ever explain anything? “
(Woman) “Better not to let them. Bad things can happen.”
The other people with her were looking restive and eager for action.
It was a good thing that she wasn’t thinking too much yet! She was probably thinking “Sidereal” – or whatever term she usually used – but soon she’d realize that there was no one else in the caravan, and that Sidereals usually didn’t disguise themselves as characters from comic books! Nor did they shapeshift… and a physical disguise was a bit hard with a pair of shorts and no shirt!
It would make her wonder all the more later, but at least he wouldn’t be there to be questioned! She might conclude that he was a Lunar, a Guardian Spirit – or perhaps a friendly thaumaturge…
(Charles) “Oh well! If everything is all right it’s probably time I was on my way…”
He unfolded his bicycle.
The woman let him go…
At least they have their stuff, if not their personnel… Still, the Sidereals were probably a lot better at this ninja stuff; maybe they did a correspondence course? Considering how far flung they often were from Yu Shan, it might be over thaumaturgical links funded by the Bureau of Destiny… Perhaps he could pretend to be a Sidereal pretending to be someone else for extra credit!