A couple of weeks after Mr. Clearwater and Cipher Child had visited Charles – and about the same amount of time before the Bureau of Heaven would be announcing the results (someone HAD to be expediting that) there was a knocking at Charles’s door…
(Charles) “Hello! Could you let yourself in and come upstairs? I can’t set this down at the moment!”
When Ms. Cress came in she found Charles involved with a complicated netlike piece full of crystals and wires made of magical materials, with a hearthstone socked in the center – into which Charles was carefully inserting a hearthstone while tweaking the connections to it.
(Ms. Cress) “Good evening, Charles. That looks… complicated. I’m afraid artifice isn’t my strong suit. What does that do?”
(Charles, cheerfully) “It’s sort of a fishing net! There’s all kinds of interesting stuff lost in Elsewhere – mostly from the Balorean Crusade I expect – and I wondered whether I could fish any of it out! There should be all KINDS of historical stuff in there! I’ll have to anchor it to a manse to get it enough power, the Hearthstone is just for the recall link… Oh! I’ve locked out living things for the moment, so as not to get the Eyeless Face or anything like that – although IT’S almost certainly too big for the net anyway!”
Ms. Cress regarded him with some bemusement and surprise there; it took a moment for her to remember THAT. The Eyeless Face was… well, it’s servant limbs were certainly known to the more skilled sorcerers and older Exalts, but the Face itself was considerably more obscure without Solars to invoke the portal.
(Ms. Cress) “That’s rather ambitious. Many Exalted artificers have tried to reach Elsewhere, and none have succeeded… I wouldn’t worry about the Eyeless Face too much; even if you manage to reach Elsewhere – and I don’t think I would put it past you! – it is far better bound than its limbs. Anyhow, I visited Maella. She had some presents for you.”
(Charles) “Ooh, Presents!”
It was a collection of manga. Not all of it to Charles’ tastes, but a good selection of genres.
He rummaged around for an amulet of knowing Japanese and looked really puzzledly at a card that fell out advertising quite… ANOTHER type of Manga.
(Charles) “Thank you! And Ms Maella!”
(Ms. Cress) “Oh, goodness…” The card disappeared quite quickly. “I’ve already spent half my sabbatical with her, and I should be sleeping, but there’s so much more to do. Do you have any celestial coffee? I’ll take the standard kind if you have it.”
A one-day sabbatical? That was no good!
(Charles) “I think there’s a little… I don’t drink it, but I get visitors who do! And… (he rummaged around and pulled out a little pyramid of multi-colored swirling spheres, with nothing apparently holding them together, and set them spinning) there! Now there’s more time to talk and I THINK you can nap and dream; it only rests your mind, not your real body, but you’re an Exalt, so that should help anyway!”
Ms Cress examined the artifact, and smiled – albeit with some startlement. A… Conversation Piece. Those were quite hard to get a hold of since you needed a cooperative Raksha to make them!
A Conversation Piece is a Raksha device of about rating **. It rather resembles a Crystal Arena in some ways, but it invokes a limited aspect of Shinamaic narrative time – a sort of shared dream, so you could do more talking and such in a very limited amount of time. It made for an odd sort of doubled consciousness, with the real world going on in very slow time by comparison. Social and mental charms and effects worked nicely in the rapid-narrative time, but physical was in real time. Basically it came down to “We can take some time out to talk without it really counting for much”.
(Ms. Cress) “That’s a rarity, I believe. One I’ve been meaning to acquire for some time. Where did you get it? I can think of at least five colleagues who could use them.”
(Charles) “Uhm… I know some Raksha who also like to make stuff, and we all always need ingredients! They rather like using Degaussed iron in some things; it anchors dreamstuff once you’ve got rid of the magnetic field that normally absorbs it. Very handy for some of their gizmo-making! They’d probably be willing to make a few more! Those aren’t too complicated I think.”
(Ms Cress) “That’s dangerous… do your guardians know of this? I would hate to see you a husk of a child.”
She seemed quite genuinely concerned, but then the Chosen of Serenity and Raksha often didn’t get along. They did use captured artifacts though.
(Charles, doubtfully) “Gramps never minded me playing with them… And I do have some good protections!”
(Ms. Cress) “Hmph. I hope they are VERY good protections. Mere cold iron isn’t enough. And you are having someone check them for oneiromancy, right?”
(Charles) “Oh yes!”
Oh, wait; she didn’t mean that they wanted to trade… But that stuff was still shaping really.
Wait… “playing with them”?! And his guardian didn’t mind and he’d survived? And… He didn’t seem to think of it as at all risky… In any other child she might have ascribed that to youthful stupidity, but from all she’d seen the child was… sensibly cautious, highly intelligent, and very well prepared indeed!
(Ms. Cress) “Charles… what protections ARE you using? Playing with Raksha is risky business indeed.”
(Charles) “Well… A manse actually. It provides protection from shaping, and raksha magic, and healing from most nasty effects just in case.”
(Ms. Cress, arching an eyebrow.) “Ah! No wonder you were treating it like a mundane playdate. That must be a wondrous Manse. Is it one of your grandfather’s?”
(Charles) “ It was! He let me have it quite awhile ago… I think it made him a lot less worried about me!”
(Ms. Cress) “I did some research on you after our first meeting. That’s how I learned who your guardian was. No wonder you were so fearless. I would still be quite careful around the Raksha! You never know what tricks they have up their sleeves, and considering what happened in the Amazon, who knows these days?”
(Charles) “That is a worry! And whatever Damion’s become, I think he still has that Hearthstone that teleports him to his manse here! I hope it’s well-guarded!”
(Ms. Cress, looking sad.) “I hope so as well. I’m too far from Seven Whispering Winds to send the Lions assistance, but they have millennia of experience in these matters. And thank you for the artifact, and the coffee. I’m afraid my manners suffer when I’m busy.”
(Charles) “You’re welcome!”
She had to wonder… what in creation had the gold stars been THINKING to give a Sidereal that young a stone that powerful?
(Ms. Cress) “But I must admit, I am curious about something else.”
Oops! Hadn’t entirely diverted her after all! Well, she had a reputation for being one of the more no-nonsense Sidereals in the Cerulean Lute of Harmony, though meeting Maella seemed to be eroding that a bit.
(Ms. Cress) “I’ve heard some odd rumors – namely that you were assisting an unemployed god in finding work. That’s rather commendable. Can you talk about that?”
(Charles) “I think so! Why not? I think that human activities have gotten a LOT more complicated, and that now a lot of jobs that used to be one-god things now call for two or three or a full staff – and that would get a LOT of unemployed gods back to work, and that would be a good thing! So I tried to get it started by helping out Gri Fel and Terapishim!”
(Ms. Cress, her eyes widening a bit) “Gri Fel… I remember an incident where a couple of the younger Sidereals turned him away from their territory. They didn’t know their pre-Reshaping history. Sri and Gus made sure that will never happen again. But that is beside the point. From what I’ve been hearing, his and Terapishim’s performance was strong. They said it was because of a simulated Manse grown from a seed. Do you know anything about that?”
Hm. Sri? Ah! The Bronze Faction’s other “official” Chosen of Secrets, concentrating on the martial arts.
(Charles) “Oh, I went in the simulation with them and used a Manse Seed. Those are really handy! I surveyed Arcosanti before suggesting that they apply for the position of course; no point in working unprepared!”
That was an awful lot of planning for a boy his age! And an incredibly valuable item to donate to a charitable effort! Why would he go to that much trouble and expense? For that matter… he’d just given her a minor, but quite useful, artifact… His resources had to be incredible, what with the factory cathedral’s treasure horde, and look at how generous he was being! Still, she had a very important question to ask – and was building towards it.
(Ms. Cress) “Handy doesn’t describe it. Those would be useful for many, many groups! That leads to another rumor I’d heard… apparently you can design Manses of the level seen in the simulation. I know it sounds strange, but I’m fairly certain I heard that correctly.”
(Charles) “I like manses! They can do all kinds of things if you make them properly!”
(Ms. Cress, looking straight at him gravely) “Oh yes. But can YOU make them that way?”
(Charles) “Only with help!”
Well, he did have to use artifacts and other manses!
(Charles) “But I have lots of that!”
Well, the child didn’t seem to be even trying to mislead her… Help or not though, that was still pretty impressive for a child! Having all the required skills at his age was no small feat! Even for a godblooded!
(Ms. Cress) “I’m curious as to who. Raksha don’t raise too much scrutiny as long as people are careful and don’t do… what Demien did.” (She sighed) “Is there anyone else you need to tell me about? You’ve been very helpful to me, and I suspect to someone else – or many someone else’s. I would hate to see you in trouble for childish impulsiveness. Heaven is not forgiving of that.”
She really did seem kind of worried.
(Charles) “Uhm… I was looking into using an adaption of the Manse Gateway effect for speeding up interstellar travel, but I need to compare it with some of the Sidereal travel charms; Could I maybe get a few hours with someone who knows them one of these days? Maybe in exchange for one of the Conversation Pieces? And.. Er… What ANYTHING else I need to tell you about? That could be a lot of things!”
That effect? He was meddling with VARIATIONS on manse effects at that power level?
(Ms. Cress) “Well, do you have any helpers that would bother the Bureaucracy? There are many entities hostile to us. While the Raksha are far away – and the ones in Wyld pockets are usually content not to interfere – there are closer threats.”
(Charles) “Hm. Manse guardians mostly… Some thaumaturges. Some Raksha… Some Gods… Some I’m not sure what are (that was Korbase mostly), Some Dragon Kings… Some Nocturnals help sometimes… Some Terrestrials and Masons… I haven’t been able to get a hold of the Jadeborn at the moment… And some scientists and medical people…”
Well, most of that was innocuous enough. Anyone employed in the Celestial Bureaucracy could get the help of Creation based thaumaturges, including Masons, easily enough. Terrestrials were trickier, but not by much. Gods were east as long as they were subordinates. Nocturnals… well, he had Catherine as a subordinate. She and Maella were old friends. Dragon Kings implied interstellar travel at the very least. But Jadeborn?
(Ms. Cress) “Charles… Jadeborn haven’t been seen in Creation since Autochthon left.”
(Charles) “Oh, they used to live under the Imperial Mountain; some of the cities are still there very deep down, but I think they’re warding things to look empty! Even if they WERE empty for awhile, I think deepspawn would move in – so they probably aren’t really empty. But if they’re not letting me look, they probably don’t want to be bothered. I was looking for another group, but they are kind of shy!”
He could look that far? That wasn’t out of the question for a thaumaturge, and certainly not for one of his apparent skill… but she was reserving judgement on the Autochthon theory, mostly because she didn’t want that apprentice Montague to be right!
(Ms. Cress) “Do you seriously think you can find them? They would be quite helpful.”
(Charles) “I can keep trying! I thought about trying to ask the Elders, but they can be pretty weird about things, and it’s usually best to just see what they do on their own first!”
Elders? Presumably the Sidereal Elders of course…
(Ms. Cress) “Living for over a thousand years will do that, I’m afraid. I am glad none of your other current helpers would raise alarms… though I am concerned that you say you don’t know what some of them are. Could you tell me about those?”
Wait. That startled look… He HADN’T been thinking about the Sidereal Elders at all – and, come to think of it, they probably wouldn’t fit in with “see what they do on their own first” anyway.
Charles was currently describing Korbase and a few other odd spirits.
(Ms. Cress) “Your nagaesque friend sounds like… I will admit that I don’t know what that is. But the odd spirits sound like obscure gods. Nothing harmful to Heaven, though I would like to investigate further… Now what did you mean by ‘Elders’?”
(Charles, blinking) “Hrm? Gaia and Autochthon mostly. They’re the only ones still hanging around really. But they mostly do their own thing!”
By the Incarnae… he really HAD meant the Primordials! Surely he couldn’t actually expect…
(Ms. Cress) “Of course. Have you ever spoken with them? I haven’t heard of anything less important than an outright Exalt talking with them… certainly not a mortal child.”
(Charles) “I don’t really know… Sometimes there are responses to things, but that could be subaspects, and I don’t want to just go and pester them directly.”
(Ms. Cress) “That’s prudent of you. (She rubbed her head; was it really within the Child’s abilities TO “go and pester them directly”?) Well, thank you for answering my questions. I’ve just been hearing the oddest things about you, and I wanted to ask the person who knew best.”
Everyone in the Celestial City had SOME secrets – but there hadn’t been much of any sign of stretching things there. There had been a few small cover-ups and hesitations of course. Mostly… Oh dear. Mostly with respect to the “I don’t really know” part about Gaia and Autochthon! She’d have dismissed that as being out of the question a few hours ago – but now…
Could Montague actually be RIGHT?
(Ms. Cress) “And thank you for the artifact. That definitely saved me some time. I might even be able to eat with Alvan and the children if I can get home fast enough.”
Aw! It sounded like that didn’t happen often at all! Par for the course for Sidereal families!
Charles WAS very tired…
(Charles) “Would you like a quick lift?”
(Falcon, bringing him a toothbrush) “Err… Charles, are you certain? You look like you need to go to bed.”
(Charles) “Hrm? Oh? Er, yeah… That might be a good idea! It is kind of late isn’t it?”
(Ms Cress) “It’s… I believe, 4 AM Eastern Fulgent Time. Do you stay up this late regularly?”
(Servant) “Much more than he should Mam! He’s been working much too hard for a boy his age these last few months!”
(Ms. Cress, eyes narrowing “How hard?
Changis debated for a moment – but speed doubling did count as far as he was concerned!
(Changis) “Er…. I think he’s been averaging about thirty-four hours a day. He keeps cheating on the time.”
(Charles, yawning) “Is not cheating! It’s just stretching it a little…”
(Ms. Cress, sternly) “You need to go to bed, Charles. A child SHOULD NOT be on a Sidereal schedule! Here… where does he usually sleep?”
(Changis) “Well… usually wherever he nods off. We make sure there are beds in each of his establishments. Right back here in this one…”
(Ms. Cress) “Thank you. I don’t want to overstep my boundaries more than I have… could you put him to bed? He’s a thaumaturge, I’m sure it won’t hurt him to not brush his teeth tonight.”
(Changis) “We usually do wind up putting him to bed!”
Hm… The servant was obviously a manse-guardian. Quite an impressive creature to have as a baby-sitter of sorts! Either his grandfather spoiled him or he had very deep secrets indeed.
Part of the reason she’d come was to check on what he was. If they WERE dealing with something out of the normal ken of Yu Shan (such as THAT was), she wanted to know… At a glance he’d looked like just a god-blooded – but the manse was humming with extra power, which made it hard to tell anything more, even with all the magical-sense equipment she’d checked out of he armories for this little mission!
Which was incredible in itself. Where did all that extra power come from?
Still, the child had nodded off (the player had decided to start the avalanche; being totally undercover had started to get old) – and that let her get close enough to cut through the essence-fog.
He still LOOKED god-blooded, but…
(Ms. Cress, in a shocked whisper) “Five Maidens! How on the Omphalos did he get so much Essence?!?! And what in all the Wyld are all those internal nexi?”
Artifacts perhaps? She focused the lens in further…
Essence seven at least, and perhaps more; there were some VERY odd things going on there… He seemed to be… only partially present? She was better than two hundred years old – an Exalt of the Revolutionary Generation – and she’d NEVER seen anything like it!
(Ms Cress, quietly, as the boy was sleeping soundly) “By the thousand unspeakable names…”
Even asleep there were constant essence-flares darting off to go and do things in various other locations. He was… somewhat shapeshifted? Thaumaturgy again of course… to… look OLDER than he naturally would? He only looked eleven or so when he was supposed to be thirteen! And that was ALREADY artificially aged?
The manse-guardian was trying to distract her – but they were hardly subtle. Besides… her senses were running in conversation-time, while the putting-to-bed was in physical time. For the moment she held the advantage.
And the servants were… preparing to tuck him in with a fuzzy teddy bear.
And that was… could that possibly be… Internal Geomancy? An insane mixture of all kinds of essence, with an… unknown… primordial?… essence signature woven through it all.
By the souls of Gaia… Was young Montague RIGHT?!?!
She was no green Sidereal, even if she was nowhere near the top. Should she discreetly tell Montague? High Lord Kristoff insisted that the Bronze Sidereals minimize nonmission contact with members of other factions to prevent leaks, but these are major findings – and could have a major impact on all creation! Did she have any RIGHT to hide something like that for mere faction-political ends? Most of the other Sidereals thought that Montague was crazy to suggest that a Primordial could have such an unimpressive jouten. Hrm. This was HARD. At least he didn’t seem to be a hostile Primordial.
She almost laughed despite it all as the image of Charles, the hostile primordial of cranky teddy bears who weren’t getting enough sleep flashed through her mind… Still, the bear was only a toy, and not even an animated one or minor artifact – even if it WAS ambrosial. She’d seen those before… She’d clawed her way up to Salary 4. It hadn’t been easy, especially for a professed member of the Bronze Faction, but it was oh so worth it.
(Ms Cress) “Well… I understand why you were protecting him now. I’m not sure what to do.”
Changis sighed. It was out of the bag now! Hopefully Charles was ready for it! At least the what-am-I game had brought him six months or so to prepare!
Drat it… She wasn’t going to get to eat with the children. Still… she’d have to call in an occult specialist for further analysis; it might as well be Alvan!
It was a bit of guesswork – but somehow she suspected that even if Charles woke up he wouldn’t make a fuss.
Besides… the boy seemed to be completely exhausted.
Alvan found… that any kind of detailed analysis was far beyond him. It was like trying to analyze the earth from the view through a peephole located over a single town. Still, he COULD tell that the boy had a tremendous number of internal manses and power nexi, including many artifacts and dozens of hearthstones.
He could also – after extensive study – determine that the major functions of the boys internal geomancy was… to heal all possible injuries, cure diseases, eliminate toxins, and keep residents there from aging. The primordial of… healing? Heaven knew, Creation needed a LOT of that.
Should she keep the boy’s secret? She could certainly see the temptation to just let him get on with it! The meddling of the Exalted in general, and the Sidereals in particular, had a very mixed track record…
But what if she was wrong? And – even if she was right – the boy was already running himself ragged trying to fix everything at once! Perhaps she should let a small group in on it? If he was benign they could run interference and organize his efforts a bit – and if he wasn’t, there would be a far better chance of surviving finding out.
High Lord Kristoff would have to be told at any rate. Charles might be able to help them more than anyone had thought.
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice Part XXX – And No, That Doesn’t Mean What You’re Thinking Out There! (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- [Emergence Campaign] The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice Part XXIX — Deva Cutter and the Bronze (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice XXXIII – City and Soul (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice XXXIV – Fiduciary Divine (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice XXXI – The Bicyclist of the Unpocalypse (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- [Emergence Campaign] The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice — Higher Souls (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice XXXII – The City of Crystal Dreams (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice XXVI – In Which We Catch Up With Everyone Else (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice Part XXVIII – Speculations on the Coming Darkness (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice Part XXVII – Hints and Allegations (ruscumag.wordpress.com)