The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice XXXVII – Investigating Charles Mansen

English: Gateposts of Kualii, 2859 Manoa Road,...

So where's the aura of soul-killing terror?

Over the next several weeks there was much frantic Sidereal scrambling to fit surveillance on Charles in between their usual duties – and immense amounts of frustration with the results of that surveillance.

It was embarrassing enough that the blasted schoolmaster seemed to have some charms that let him know when ANYONE was up to ANYTHING in his school as a perfect effect – sure, they could have overridden him, or done lots of other things – but each and every one of them would have been hideously embarrassing! “Yes, we ARE multi-century old Exalts, masters of sorcery, and martial arts, and charms, and terrible astrological powers, and we ARE sneaking around a children’s school in secret and lurking in the bushes and spying on the students, but we’re doing it for… for… for reasons which we do not care to explain!… NO! We are NOT paying special attention to gym class! How DARE you even… OH DAMN IT TO THE YOZI’S!!!”.

Oh YES. THAT would be a WONDERFUL rumor to have circulating around the Celestial City!

Worse, the blasted man had been quite unreasonably difficult to evade and he’d gotten the staff and some concerned parents involved! And they’d had to listen to several grade-school music classes! It had been quite horrible! Anselem Voice-of-Harmony, their Chosen of Serenity, was STILL talking about children’s music classes being an overlooked plot of the Yozi’s to torment all creation and about petitioning the Maidens for a charm of selective perfect deafness to aid in the defense!

The youngsters were surprisingly competent actually – but the expectations of thousand-year-old Sidereal Exalts could be unreasonably high.

Perhaps worst of all, the infuriating child didn’t seem to DO anything of any serious interest whatsoever! Sure, he handed out rather a lot of minor artifacts (even for someone who ran a factory-cathedral and who was supposed to have found an immense treasure-horde) and he was endlessly polite and helpful and used lots of thaumaturgy – but you had to dig past several layers of thaumaturgy and minor artifacts just to see that he had more essence than he should!

He disappeared into Dudael a lot, and emerged late, and sometimes couldn’t be located inside – but the blasted place had powerful privacy wards and those mysterious archives… It had been easy enough to discover that the place was operating at or above it’s full capacity – but that didn’t really tell them anything except that the boy was really good with manses, which they’d known quite well already.

It wasn’t even easy to tell if he was in or out of fate! He seemed to act as if Creation had a revolving door that he liked to spin as quickly as possible!

But WHY would a Primordial – one of the Elder Titans – be a thaumaturgic prodigy but be doing poorly in music class? Or be slowly improving (but still pathetic) in weapons class? Or behave so MUCH like a fairly ordinary child? Shouldn’t a Titan have some motives beyond random whimsies and trying to help everyone who asked them for something? And where in Oblivion were those little essence flares off him going?

Was it some incredibly deep and complex plot – or could it really be complete artlessness? Or could it possibly be both?

Charles did indeed have a deep plot! If you brought enough niceness and honesty into reality, sooner or later they would come to dominate and everything would be much nicer!

Still, while he was a terrible liar and rather poor at opposing direct questions, he was certainly willing to misdirect by VERY selective truth-telling – which led to LOTS of investigation. They might get fed up and ask eventually, but – with any luck – by then they’d have so many incorrect assumptions buried in their thinking that they would just lead themselves further astray…

More temperate Sidereals might have wanted to gather more evidence before they swallowed it… Sadly for them, that particular Virtue restricted lying – and so most Sidereals weren’t big on Temperance. Besides – “self-doubt” often went right out the window when someone Exalted, and that was ESPECIALLY true of Sidereal Exaltations.

Even Charles had very little self-doubt; he just preferred to help more quietly – and would very much like to keep doing so without too much interference.

Back on Earth, Charles’s thaumaturgical students were beginning to find Charles’s automatic answers to proper appeals extremely handy… even more so than the Coatl companions he’d lent them. When they had a good reason – an extreme personal emergency, or something that would help other people – they could ask Charles to intervene with HIS thaumaturgical powers even when he was nowhere near them. That wasn’t quite “miracles on demand” – but when a bus went off the side of a bridge, and drifted down to land safely instead of hitting and detonating, it was quite close enough.

OK, there were only about twenty of them – almost all in Atlanta – but they were gradually spreading out. High school students did…

That soon drew some attention too – but it was just… thaumaturgy. Thaumaturgy of quite extraordinary power, true, but the Loom was capable of compensating for thaumaturgy. It wasn’t anywhere near as disruptive as charms or sorcery.

Eventually – after half a month of ineffectual surveillance – they decided to bite the bullet and send someone in to talk…

It was Mr Montague who – metaphorically at least – drew the short straw. He was the youngest, and it WAS his theory….

(Elder Sidereal) “You were right! You handle it kid!”

(Mr. Montague) “Hey! No Fair! What in creation am I supposed to say to a Primordial?!?!”

(Another Elder) “How should we know? You’re the one who had him in your kitchen being fed cookies by your wife!”

(Mr Montague) “Oh… !@#$%! That’s right!”

(Elder) “Just treat him like a normal person… who can potentially grow to gigantic size and kill us all. Have fun!”

(Third Elder) “Oh stop that you two… (to Mr Montague) We’ll be nearby to back you up if you need it – but compared to us you’re relatively non-threatening, and he HAS spoken to you before – and, for that matter, has stopped by to bring you magical presents on his own initiative. You’ve been watching him too; do you really think that you’ll be in any serious danger? We’d just like the initial approach to be by someone he’s already acquainted with – and you already have a reason to go and see him; you’ve done it before. If you need to stall the boy… well, try asking “Is there anything you’d like to tell me about manses?”; judging from his behavior so far, that should keep him occupied for hours on end.”

Drat it! That was perfectly reasonable!

Well, at least the boy seemed to be an extremely benign… whatever he was.

Mr Montague made his approach while Charles was at home at the Orrery. It was moderately remote and VERY isolated. There was no need to unnecessarily panic the boy’s schoolmates – or even to suggest to them that Charles was being investigated. Besides… hadn’t the place been sealed?

Well, that probably wouldn’t have been a problem for a thaumaturge of Charles’s skill even if he’d been entirely mortal. The place had just been a mildly embarrassing failure with a location so bad that it wasn’t worth keeping open. It wasn’t as if it was especially dangerous – and no one had bothered to try to find the long-lost hearthstone.

How had he gotten that back anyway?

Ah, obvious enough! With his talents with manses, he’d probably just disrupted the essence flows in the hearthstone chamber enough to shatter the stone – wherever it had been – repaired the disruption, and let the manse create a new one.

Mr Montague dropped by a few days later after checking out some of the better-concealed protective devices in the armory – including a rather neat and remarkably subtle protective sash that the Celestial Lions had asked be examined. It might as well get a bit of field testing!

The first bit of testing was to see what had been done to THIS manse – and that was once again impressive… The place was… performing well above it’s rating, and was now part of a manse network, and providing comfortable life support, and had several other functions, and was… cloaked so that you couldn’t tell ANY of that from more than twenty or thirty feet away! The incoming power was… going into various effects that enhanced thaumaturgy.

None of that matched up with the records of course. How in creation was the boy making that happen? This wasn’t a primordial manse! It was an old Sidereal design, and shouldn’t have much in the way of latent abilities to bring out! Much less something like this… None of that should be POSSIBLE without an upgrade of the Demesne and a complete redesign!

The network was… peculiar too. There were links to Dudael – but most of the other links went… Elsewhere. It was understandable that he’d boost his workplace. But what were those Elsewhere Manses for? And how did he build Elsewhere in the first place!? A smokescreen for the manses real locations perhaps?

Huh… he’d just have to ask.

Charles was busily trying to figure out what the readings from his prototype elsewhere-fishing net meant (he’d decided not to test it inside himself!), sending out the research assistants to check for more endangered villages and such, and fishing through a pile of books he’d checked out of one of Yu-Shan’s more cooperative libraries when the servants informed him that there was another Sidereal at the door.

Charles sent them to invite him up!

When Mr. Montague arrived the boy was messing about with a couple of dozen books floating in the air opened to various pages, a chalkboard, a computer, and a lot of weird colored lights flickering in the air in complicated patterns while eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

(Charles, poking puzzledly at a series of purple flickers) “Hello!”

(Mr. Montague) “Hello Charles! Er… I couldn’t help noticing on the way in… you’ve got this place on a network, but most of the links seem to go through elsewhere? Why is that?”

(Charles, with some surprise) “Well, Yu-Shan is a sanctum suspended in Elsewhere! So links to anywhere else have to go through Elsewhere – even to get to Earth – and pretty much all the places for manses in Yu-Shan already have occupied manses in them!”

(Mr Montague) “Yeah… that’s what I’d like to ask you about. Where are they going?”

(Charles) “Well… some to Earth, some to some chaos zones – which aren’t quite earth really – and some to other pocket realms! (Distractedly) there’s a lot of stuff no one else is using in Elsewhere… Speaking of which, what does the purple radiance here mean? I THINK it means that whatever is entangled in the Elsewhere Net is anchored somewhere outside our universe! I need to set the exclusion parameters a bit more narrowly… As an N-dimensional plenum, Elsewhere seems to be common to multiple universes, even it it’s somewhat restrained near established metric frameworks!”

Wait, what was the child meddling with now? That sounded like… He’d actually managed to construct something that probed into Elsewhere… Well, never mind!

(Mr Montague) “Neat! I’ll look at it later… See, I’m here on business. The servants told me another Sidereal visited you recently, and that you fainted in front of her. She was worried that you were sick, so she checked out your Essence flows… and the results were WEIRD. Did you know you’ve got a mixture of nearly every untainted type of Essence, and at least one unknown type, in you?”

(Charles, with some indignation) “I was just sleepy! No fair peeking! But I have lots of artifacts and hearthstones and manses and things…”

Mr. Montague was now somewhat on the lookout for that style of non-answer.

(Mr Montague) “Okay, chew on this bit. Did you also know you’re partially Elsewhere, and have your own geomancy? People, even God-Blooded, just don’t have that. And your Essence leaves your body and goes… places you’re not.’

(Charles) “Oh that… But I LIKE geomancy! Why shouldn’t I have some of my own if I want? And the Essence-packets are just going to help people! It was much easier to put a lot of that on automatic; that way it still helps whether I’m paying attention or not! Besides… Adenic Essence likes to go help people…”

(Mr. Montague) “Helping people’s fine, but you’re doing it in some bizarre… wait, that was YOU?”

(Charles) “What was?”

(Mr. Montague) “From what you said, you needed to put helping people on automatic, and it works whether you were paying attention or not. That suggests you’ve become a god… one who’s free of that restriction on their actions. THEN you mention Adenic Essence, which suggests that you know what that unusual Essence in you is. I never heard of Adenic Essence before. And what else would you need to automate helping people like that for but rescuing entire villages of them at once? It’s probably a stretch, but you KNOW your Essence is weird, and it matches up with your behavior.”

(Charles) “But they would have died! And it wasn’t supposed to make any serious disturbances…”

(Mr. Montague) “Wasn’t anything serious at all. A lot of the Violet Bier’s people just figured things went normally… but one of the elders spotted the subtle differences. It was much the same result, though, so almost nobody was worried. What happened to them, anyway?”

He was rather glad that no one had to die this time… Destiny planning was destiny planning, and hard decisions had to be made, but at least those people likely didn’t have to suffer the consequences.

(Charles) “I set them up in a pocket-realm; there’s plenty of room and stuff there!”

(Mr. Montague) “Huh.”

That kind of made it hard to stay calm… Tens of thousands of rescues, pulling people entirely out of creation wholesale… That would require some serious power! He’d almost think the kid was a powerful Exalt, but the mix of Essence his senior colleague found went against that theory…

(Mr. Montague) “You’ll have to show me and some of the other Sidereals that place sometime! But… yeah, your Essence is weird. You know you’re not a mortal or God-Blooded I’d say.”

(Charles) “Well… I was kind of supposed to be keeping some things a secret… (Still, he did kind of want an opinion; was he genuinely becoming a Primordial?). I suppose (obviously torn) that it might not hurt to look…”

Mr Montague was momentarily boggled… Could the boy actually be UNSURE? Still… He knew what he’d come to get.

(Mr. Montague) “Kid… Look… we’re concerned. We’d like to know just what you are.”

Charles really wasn’t entirely sure. He HAD gotten a solar exaltation, but Lytek had been meddling with it for some reason, and he certainly wasn’t doing what Solars usually did, and he wasn’t particularly sure of his parentage, and he really thought that he might have wandered a bit outside the usual categories what with building his own world-body.

(Charles) “Uhrm… Don’t know! Does it matter?… I could ask the Raksha! They might remember more that far back – but they lie a lot…”

(Mr. Montague) “No! You stay away from-” (he was much more virulent than Rosa on that matter.) “Sorry. Yeah, it does matter. I’ll come clean with you… from what I’ve told you about your Essence, what do you sound like? You’re good with this magic stuff, so I think you’d have some idea.”

(Charles, doubtfully) “Primordial would kind of fit, but they – pretty much by definition – are really ancient, so that doesn’t work!”

(Mr. Montague) “Yeah. That does damage that theory.” (He seemed somewhat disappointed.) “Well, how did you learn to channel Essence? Most kids who aren’t God-Blooded can’t do that. It’s supposed to take years of meditation. Or were you born with it?”

(Charles) “Earliest I remember is six or so!”

(Mr. Montague) “Could you channel Essence then?”

(Charles) “Yes…. Or at least I could see the spirits and attune manses and things.”

(Mr. Montague) “Huh… I’ll have to ask your grandfather about that, if I can even get a meeting.”

It… sounded like the boy might have been born with the ability. Huh. That STILL wouldn’t explain why a Primordial would take the form of a small child and do these things. They’d normally go for more impressive forms, or at least remember that they were Primordials. Could the boy actually be a young Primordial? WERE there young Primordials? He’d to have to meet with Richof if he wanted to untangle the kid’s early life!

(Charles) “Anyway… I only made the Adenic Essence type recently; it works much better for some kinds of things!”

(Mr. Montague) “Wait, you MADE a new Essence type? You don’t know what you are, and you can do that…”

(Charles) “Why not? There’s a point at which it sort of comes naturally.”

(Mr. Montague) “Oh, no problem, whatever you are.”

He’d sort of been expecting to have to ask for some analytical backup, although he’d rather hoped to avoid it – but he hadn’t expected to feel sorry for the kid. The boys foggy memories – a very human feature – were making it that much harder on them both and the boy really seemed to not know who or what he was. That was existential uncertainty on a level that even Exalts generally didn’t have to deal with.

(Mr. Montague) “Can you tell me about it? First, though, I need to send a message.”

This was probably it… Charles quietly got his multiple-image charm set up – seeming to shimmer for a moment. If the Sidereals were going to do something completely irrational, he might need to have it ready – and there was more than enough power floating around him and the manse to cover up that modest essence-pulse.

(Charles) “Well… when you’re running internal geomancy, eventually your own personal energy-flows get strong enough to resolve into a new essence type specific to you! It isn’t very complicated! You just have to guide things a bit!”

Mr Montague sent his message by writing it, then burning it.

(Mr. Montague) “I see. So, you said it’s for helping people. What else does it do?”

(Charles) “Oh, it makes better manses and it helps with thaumaturgy mostly! It might do other things later, but I haven’t had long to experiment with it!”

(Mr. Montague) “Hey, a lot of people would like that.”

He did seem interested, if only to bide the time while his request got answered.

(Mr. Montague) “Is Adenic just a cool name you made up for it, or is it related to the source?”

(Charles) “Well… from Aden.”

(Mr. Montague) “What’s Aden?”

(Charles, with some enthusiasm) “It’s where I sent everybody! Internal geomancy calls for a lot of extra room!”

It was sounding more and more like the child really WAS a Primordial… but Montague wanted to be absolutely sure before he made his final decision. The elders would make his VERY long life hell if he jumped to conclusions!

(Mr. Montague) “What’s the geomancy in?”

(Charles) “Oh well, let me see… Ah! Over this way!”

He took Mr. Montague down the stairs, and into a broom closet, then into a cave, then out on to a mountainside near a small waterfall. They were on one of Aden’s higher mountains, overlooking a spectacularly beautiful section of wilderness, with brightly-glowing luminescent birds – with colors that pulsed in time with their coordinated songs – illuminating it’s ravines and grottos. There was a small branch of the sea of chaos lapping against a section of rugged cliffs, and a small town made mostly of crystal and trees.

The locals were Noldor and Hobbits, although there were some human guests – and the entire area was saturated with life-sustaining and healing energies as well as… magic that would cheerily provide many services.

(Charles) “Here we are!”

(Mr. Montague) “Just an hour or two in here… I’ve got results coming.”

Mr. Montague found that very relaxing! And he could use it right now… There were mountain ranges. And enough negative curvature to let him see that this “pocket world” was no simple divine sanctum dug into Elsewhere… There were tens of thousands of square miles here, at the very least.

A genuine world-body. And an incredibly beautiful and welcoming one. That… didn’t leave HIM with a lot of doubts.

(Mr. Montague) “Uh… I was expecting something smaller. Wow.”

(Charles) “Well, geomancy takes a lot of room!”

(Mr. Montague) “Yeah… so everybody who disappeared is in here?”

(Charles) “Well… some people may have disappeared on their own.”

(Mr. Montague) “What do you mean?”

(Charles) “Well, people do! They find old hideaways, or wyld pockets, or artifacts and such and disappear on their own sometimes. I’m quite sure that EVERYONE who has disappeared isn’t in here! There’s only… 252,814 in here now!”

Huh! The rescue crews had been busy over the past three months! He hadn’t been supervising much past the initial trial-and-error stages, and it looked like… they’d been using wyld gates to do the rescuing! That was a GREAT way to do it! There had even been a few births – and they’d made sure that all of those had been at manses that were linked to fate enough to ensure proper ensoulment…

That meant that he could focus on the Stargate project!

Of course, that left a lot of small wars going on with almost no civilian casualties at all – which was not making the Crimson Panoply of Victory happy, but then it covered STARTING fated conflicts, not the casualties. It was weird, but it was also a bit out of its jurisdiction.

(Charles) “Everybody is much happier here!”

It was about then that someone – a Tolkien-styled “Elf” – on a rather beautiful (but quite normal) horse came to greet them… An essence-seven spirit being according to his artifact-enhanced senses. That would make it… high second circle if it WAS a Deva or Demon!

(Elf) “Hello Charles! I see you’ve brought another guest!”

(Mr. Montague) “Hi. I’m not sticking around too long. Just surveying the place… How long have you known the kid?”

(Elf) “Hm… Hard to answer! It’s not like we’re entirely separate! It’s about six months since he decided to aspect this region!”

(Mr Montague) “Huh. And before then?”

(Elf) “Before then… I was more of an unconscious potential I’d say! Then he aspected the area, and created manses to focus his personal geomancy, and then that resulted in actualizing us!”

Huh… That wasn’t exactly how he’d understood Primordial Souls to work – but Charles did love manses, and there was hardly anything more fundamental to a Primordial than doing things in their own bizarre fashions.

It was too bad he hadn’t learned a few Occult excellencies! He’d focused on crafting… Still, it wasn’t like anyone really KNEW all that much about the detailed internal structure of the Yozis, much less Primordials. A child-primordial who was still creating his internal hierarchy?

Mr Montague actually managed seven successes without an excellency – and there was some knowledge about Primordial soul-structures out there. The elf certainly did seem like a second circle deva… And given what evidence he had, there wasn’t anything that seemed to fit Charles better than a newborn Primordial still forming.

He didn’t seem to be inside of fate either, which cut off his usual communications though – and also fit. Primordials were always Outside of Fate – even if there were some curious traces…

That was a curious point… Charles was currently Outside of Fate; he possessed a Hearthstone that let him take on that quality – and had been spending a lot of time in Hoenheim and in the deep wyld questing for the artifacts he was using to make his third-circle “souls”. Since Charles was Outside of Fate, so – for the moment – was Aden, and time spent there reinforced that position. If and when Charles was bound by fate once more, Aden would be too – and time spent there would no longer help keep him out of fate.

(Mr. Montague, to the Elf) “Would you mind if I scanned your Essence structure? It’s for the survey.”

(Elf) “Not at all!”

The entity certainly LOOKED like a second-circle entity – and an Elf, not a Raksha.

(Mr Montague) “So… Charles is a friendly little kid who likes to build things and help people. A lot. Is that a good basic description of him?”

(Elf) “I’d say so.”

(Mr Montague, sighing) “And he has built a private universe full of pop-culture entities with vast power.” (Which, at the least, implied an awareness of Creation better than the standard Primordial’s – but then Charles went to Creation a lot. Even if he hadn’t, Creation’s media was a popular import.) “Do you think he’ll keep that up as he matures?”

(Elf) “Well, I believe he watches a LOT of movies… He has, after all, made a rather extensive media library available throughout Aden! He does tend to run himself ragged trying to fix everything in sight – and I suspect that it will take a very long time for Charles to truly mature.”

Oh dear. A primordial world-body with cable TV.

Mr Montague spoke to a few other inhabitants as well…

The human didn’t really understand much of what was going on – but was certainly most appreciative that the spirit of this world had let them take refuge in it.

The Hobbit wasn’t too worried about much beyond brewing, baking, and otherwise running his inn. Pretty archetypal behavior; definitely First Circle. The Elf’s observations on Charles running himself ragged agrees with those findings – and Mr. Montague could readily sympathize with that problem.

Charles himself was happy to talk about his movie collection, and books, and RPG’s…

Just as a note, the World of Darkness has been published in the setting, as well as the very earliest version of Exalted – the one in which the Solars were NPC monsters and the Terrestrials were the base player characters… A bronze Faction Chosen of Journeys had put it out… It hadn’t been anything personal against solars though; he’d thought that they’d disappeared for good – and it was at least as sensible as MOST sidereal plans!

At least one game master had Exalted as a Twilight yelling “THIS IS A LIE!!!” (“Chill dude… it’s just a game”). Attempting to edit and rewrite an EARLY White Wolf game system was, after all, certainly a heroic task of legendary proportions!

When they re-emerged from the broom closet there were several Sidereals and gods around the place… Omniscor, God of Surveillance Cameras, had managed to locate the door in the closet – although, while he wasn’t about to admit it, neither he nor the Sidereals had been able to open it… He looked like a cross between a surveillance camera and a statue.

(Omniscor) “Ah ha! I found your hidden portal!”

He wasn’t about to admit he couldn’t think of a way to open it; breaking and entering was not his domain.

(Charles) “That’s good! I fairly often lose them cause they move around a lot! Could I put you on retainer?”

It looked like he’d blinked his single lens-eye there.

(Omniscor) “One moment, child. I see Montague is safe. What was in there?”

Montague told him. The lens-eye blinked again.

(Charles) “It was in the back of the wardrobe once, but that was just silly!”

(Omniscor) “And not a trace of Yozi Essence?”

(Mr Montague) “No, not in the slightest. I wouldn’t suspect Charles of being linked to THOSE anyway. He found THAT weapon and gave it to us!”

(Omniscar) “You never do know.”

(Charles) “Hey! Who ate all the sandwiches? We weren’t gone THAT long!”

(Jose, Chosen of Journeys) “What sandwiches? The table was empty when Sailor and I got here.”

Maybe it had been the hawk? It was nowhere to be found at the moment… Still, flying off to perch nearby was a perfectly sensible thing to do in the face of a sidereal invasion. He’d try to find it later if it didn’t turn up again in a day or so!

He used his Dancing Dragon ring to make another pile of sandwiches!

(Charles) “Oh, did you guys need anything?”

(Jose) “Nothing right now, son. I can tell Sasa’s learned some interesting stuff. You ready to report back to the Bureau?”

(Montague) “Yeah, Mr. Cisneros. I don’t think it will answer everything, but it might help… But Charles, would you like to meet with me sometime in the next month or two? The message I got while you were looking for your bird said you needed to be physically present.”

(Charles) “Uhm… Physically present where?”

(Montague) “It depends on how my negotiations go. Definitely up here though. I’ll send a message when I know.”

(Charles) “OK!”

(Montague) “Thanks for your time, Charles.”

(Jose) “Yeah, you have no idea how important this is. I wish I could tell you.”

They departed aboard the alternate form of Jose’s familiar – a small but sleek spacecraft quiet enough to operate in the Celestial City without legal trouble.