Exalted Modern – Aquila-Class Military Shuttle and Helmstones (Artifacts ****)

Galaxies are so large that stars can be consid...

Do you perhaps have a more specific location?

The Aquila-Class Light Military Shuttle is a slightly-flattened, roughly egg- or manta-ray shaped vessel. While it’s primarily constructed with mortal technology, its essence-based drives provide both lift and thrust regardless of the external environment – allowing both limited underwater and low-orbit operations. Unfortunately, that same reliance on mortal technologies makes these vessels far more vulnerable than the mighty vessels of the first age – but the use of Essence Engines for lift and thrust does allow them to be more heavily armored, and more maneuverable, than common mortal vessels.

Inside, the pilots chair is surrounded by the usual banks of instruments, a set of head-circling screens which show a computer-processed and compressed spherical view with the instrumental data edited in, the usual aviation and weapons controls, sensors, communications gear, and all the other complications of a multifunction military aircraft. The passenger/cargo area (and the tiny bathroom and miniature galley) is strictly utilitarian, but does offer a rear hatch/ramp to allow the rapid boarding or deployment of the passengers, the dropping of cargo (or bombs), and a set of ports which can be opened to allow the passengers to look – or attack – out.

The Aquila is popular with small groups looking for a multifunctional vessel. While they’re not a good match for a dedicated fighter, or bomber, or transport, or scout, they perform creditably in any of those roles. They can defend themselves, deliver small cargos, carry out rescue operations, act as an air ambulance, carry small loads of bombs, and deliver commando strikes.

The fact that they also resemble the classical “flying saucer” is – at least for some characters – an enjoyable extra.

Very similar vessels are in service with some Sidereals, although the production is very VERY limited; by mortal standards this is a high-tech military aircraft, and one with a “classified” drive system at that. Getting the aircraft built is – for once – a lot harder than building the essence-engines and putting minor enchantments on the weapons.

The Autochthonians also use similar vessels – and in far larger numbers. Their limitations mostly lie in their relatively limited population and manufacturing base.

Aquila-Class Military Shuttle (Artifact ****)

  • Speed: 425 MPH (Aerospace), 40 MPH (Submerged).
  • Maneuverability/Instrumentation/Targeting: +2/+4/+3
  • Endurance: Essence Engine attunement cost of six motes. Add +2 motes each to indefinitely power the Atmospheric Life Support, Water Recycling, and VTOL capabilities.
  • Crew: 3/1 pilot, 2 optional gunners.
  • Cargo: Seven passengers, plus up to five tons of cargo.
  • Armor: 15L/15B, Hardness 6 (modern composite armor over titanium airframe).
  • Health Levels: Ux8/Mx16/Cx5/Ix4/D (metal plating over titanium airframe).
  • Weapons: Two “Light Implosion Bows” (twin Gatling Cannons, right and left arcs), “Medium Implosion Bow” (forward arc Missile Launcher). As modern weapons these each carry enough ammo for ten shots each. As an artifact vessel, gunners may also fuel these weapons with essence at the normal price for appropriate Implosion Bows.

Helmstones (Artifact ****)

Helmstones are escapees from out local Champions games – and are of little use in the classic setting since they’re almost entirely concerned with interstellar travel.

A Helmstone is a massive, spherical, blue-green gem, filled with galaxies of swirling essence-motes in all the colors of the cosmos. It will easily attach itself to any vessel – enhancing it to make it suitable for operation in space.

Helmstone: (Artifact ****. Attunement Cost 6 motes, must be attached to a vehicle to function). The powers it bestows include:

  • Spaceworthy: Any air vehicle it’s linked too can both travel in space and go FTL – although this adds +2 motes to the attunement cost if the engines, lifting, and control systems normally require air, and another +2 if they normally require fuel.
  • Shields: The pilot may reflexively spend motes to repair the vessel, even while damage is being inflicted. This costs 1 mote per level of damage so repaired up to a maximum of 25 motes – which is sufficient to repair however much damage is needed.
  • Scaling: Any air vehicle augmented by a Helmstone and in space will find that it’s instruments, communication systems, weapon ranges, and speed all operate on space, as opposed to planetary, range scales. The pilot may use the Survival skill to navigate normally.
  • Bergenholm: The passengers aboard a vehicle using a Helmstone are protected from acceleration effects, including crashes, and always experience normal gravity unless the pilot wishes to let them experience zero gravity.
  • Enduring: The pilot may store up to 30 motes within the structure of any vessel with a Helmstone attached. These motes are lost if the stone is detached, must be provided by the pilot, and can only be used to power the Shields and (if any are available) other essence-based ship systems.
  • Life Support: Any vessel with a Helmstone mounted on it always has a breathable atmosphere for it’s passengers, even if it’s an ultralight and otherwise open to space.
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Exalted Modern – the Resource Background

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.

And I'll take about three of those...

For the modern setting, where the universe is a great deal bigger, and things like individual ownership and control of massive organizations happen, a number of backgrounds need to be extended a bit. While ratings are still limited during character generation, it’s entirely possible for a character to become the ruler of several planets, or be worshiped by far more people than ever lived in the flat Creation of old.

First up, and most commonly, we have Resources…

Resources represent more than a sum of money. Resources represents both an ongoing income, the ability to handle money wisely – saving and investing – and the ability to come up with stuff that mere money won’t handle directly. Having a pile of jade, or gold, or whatever you’re setting is using for money bigger than a mountain won’t get you into touch with the legendary mercenary Exalted Assassin (I’d say what kind of Exalt, but then he’d have to kill me) Withering Hand Of Entropy (unless maybe it’s as a target) – but Resources-5 will.

Resources (and Income):

  • 00) Desperately Struggling. A few thousand a year.
  • 01) Lower Class. Ten or twenty thousand a year.
  • 02) Middle Class.
  • 03) A Million a year.
  • 04) Ten Million a year.
  • 05) A Hundred Million a year.
  • 06) A Billion a year.
  • 07) A Hundred Billion a year.
  • 08) A few Trillion a year. The income of the US Government.
  • 09) The yearly Gross Domestic Product of the US.
  • 10) The yearly Gross Domestic Produce of the Earth.

Purchase Ratings are based on what can be done at that level, but will be a bit of a strain and will require planning or credit. Ergo, here’s a sample purchase for each resource level:

  • Cheap groceries for a week is a resources-0 purchase. Thus most characters with no resources are living day to day, which takes such purchases down to the “negligible” level – presuming nothing goes wrong.
  • A new high-definition TV set is a few hundred dollars – a resources-1 purchase.
  • An almost-new car is around ten thousand dollars – a resources-2 purchase.
  • A good sized house is several hundred thousand – a resources-3 purchase.
  • The most absurdly expensive cars cost about two million – a resources-4 purchase.
  • A jet fighter costs about twenty million dollars – a resources-5 purchase.
  • A battleship costs about a hundred million – a resources-6 purchase.
  • A Nimitz-class Aircraft Carrier costs about 4.5 Billion – a resources-7 purchase.
  • A private Apollo Program costs about 150 billion inflation-adjusted dollars – a resources-8 purchase (in reality it was spread over years as a succession of resources-7 purchases).
  • A private World War II – or at least the American side of it – cost between three and five trillion inflation-adjusted dollars, and so was a Resources-9 purchase. The original had to be paid for over many years, since the US Government is only a Resources-8 organization.
  • Rebuilding Human Civilization after a global cataclysm would be a Resources-10 purchase – if there was anyone left who could pay for it and anyone to buy it from. Maybe you can make a deal with the Raksha, and mortgage the earth for a few decades.

If you want single, unique, large-scale items, what you want is the Artifact background. Thus, if you just have to have your own F16 Jet Fighter, it would be a Resources-5 purchase. Buying it as an Artifact, it’s Artifact-3 (two dots lower than the resource cost) – and it’s status as an Artifact does offer it a couple of benefits; it’s presumed to be enchanted enough that it’s various systems can be powered by Essence as well as by conventional fuel and munitions. A few committed motes will give it an indefinite range (as well as free up fuel space for cargo) and depleted weapons systems can be reloaded by spending a few motes.

If you want a fabulous palace or other structure, a few dots in the Manse background will do it. After all, if the place doesn’t produce a hearthstone, there’s no reason why you can’t describe it as simply being blessed by the local spirits, supported by a trust fund, or provided with special equipment to account for whatever minor powers (conveniences, a small staff, etc) that do come with it – and if it doesn’t produce a hearthstone (and you can reduce the mote regeneration that it would normally supply as well), there’s no reason for anyone more powerful than you to want the thing.

For example, a two-dot palace or mighty manor – perhaps Elansholme, or Grantley Manor – has… 4 Creation Points (Base) +2 (Sacrificed Hearthstone Levels) +1 (Two sacrificed mote regeneration levels) +2 (Maintenance) +2 (Fragility 1) = 11 Creation Points. Since it really has no significant magical powers, you can probably talk the game master into building it without a demesne. What does it really need one for?

Spend these points on… Comfort Zone (1, and probably arranged by clever architecture rather than magic), three incidences of Conveniences (3) and a set of Greater Conveniences (2, probably including a security system), Servitor Force (2, note that these are not BOUND Servitors; they’re simply reasonably loyal employees. Ergo, the cost is reduced to two points), Hidden Passages (2), and – since there’s one point left – some Minor Tricks and Traps (1), representing decent locks, some hidden compartments and wall-safes for valuables, and so on.

That suffices for a palace better than any historical one, and certainly as good as any modern corporate headquarters/showplace – and one that’s really of no interest to any major power of the setting.

Fabulous palaces are cheap. What did you expect? This IS Exalted after all.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice Session LXI – Dreams and Iron Bars

Devil's mask Naga raksha, Sri Lanka Polski: Ma...

Yes, we’re watching YOU. And from a lot of places that you can’t see…

The Raksha of Creation’s Wyld Pockets are not the terrifying horde of the Balorean Crusade – or even a significant threat, at least on Earth. Their territory is small, their population limited, and the Earth is entangled in a net of iron. Modern communications, automatic weaponry with steel-jacketed slugs, iron tanks, grenades with iron shrapnel, countless platoons of well-trained and well-coordinated troops using those weapons, attack helicopters, and planes can really ruin a Raksha’s day.

They could deploy the magics of dream of course – but Behemoths are as vulnerable to modern military force as their masters, shaping weapons are of little use in Creation, Adjurations might lend some strength to their owners, but hardly enough – and, while Oneiromancy could affect great swathes of the mortal world, deploying such powers was one of the few guaranteed ways to draw gods, thaumaturges, and even the occasional remaining Exalt into open battle in support of the iron hordes.

There was no profit in that. The remaining wyld pockets and freeholds, the last refuges of the Raksha, were far too small to resist major assaults. They might survive – the Raksha were good at hiding and vanishing – but that was, at best, undignified.

Besides… after twenty-five thousand years, save for a few of the most clever and cautious, the elder Raksha were long gone. The younger Raksha were throughly used to living upon scattered islands of wyld energies – never of more than Middlemarch intensity – surrounded by reefs and seas of barren order. Certainly some Raksha ventured forth to live among the humans – but such venturesome sorts often perished, leaving the isles of chaos where Raksha might come into being to the cautious and stealthy, well used to being surrounded by mortals. The glories of pure chaos, and the terrors of the Unshaped, belonged to an elder age of legend.

The Raksha faded from the terrible army of chaos, bright with the glorious banners of dream, to the People of the Hills, occasional predators upon the stray and forgotten.

Today the Raksha inspire artists, interact with those lost in the wilderness as whim strikes them, inflict bizarre fates upon those foolish or unlucky mortals who accidentally intrude upon their fastnesses, bargain with those few thaumturges who know of their existence – and draw the occasional runaway, sickly, or unwanted child to them. When resources are scarce, one cannot be too picky – and Raksha have many tools to beguile mortals and for remolding them into what they wish.

One of their strongest is Mutation.

Raksha have several ways of mutating things, including Thaumaturgy, manipulating creatures exposure to the Wyld, using Behemoth Forging Meditation or Subversion and Transformation Artifice (sometimes with an upgrade to affect mortals instead of just animals), and so on. In these days of scarce resources, the vast majority of Raksha will grant their servants some mutations – a reward, a fulfillment of fantasies, a wedge driven between them and the rest of the mortal world, a barrier to escape, and a way to make them last a LOT longer…

The most popular package – at least around the Atlanta Pocket – includes Exalted Healing (4), Longevity (2), Wyld Tolerance (2), Fur (1), and a Tail (1). Fortunately, Wyld Tolerance, Fur, and Tails don’t count towards being “Too Wyld to Live” (since Wyld Tolerance explicitly doesn’t and Fur and Tails are normal mammalian features) – which means that most Feybound are quite capable of venturing forth on long-term missions for their masters even if they ARE far too mutated to successfully rejoin human society.

  • Exalted Healing (2): The user heals as an Exalt. This is important to Raksha servants because the Errata classifies draining virtues, willpower, and so on as a Crippling effect – and Exalts heal from those, albeit slowly. This mutation thus means that a Raksha’s servants become indefinitely reusable – and is generally quite useful as a bribe as well. Given that this is Exalted, those who want to focus on this can build it up; At (4) it prevents scarring, stops bleeding almost instantly, grants +2 versus disease, poison, and infection, and heals disabling and crippling effects after a week of rest or two weeks of activity. At (6) the user heals 1B/Minute and 1L/Hour regardless of activity level, is immune to infection and mundane diseases, gains +4d versus supernatural diseased, and ignores the Crippling keyword; such effects go away as soon as the damage levels are healed (a few minutes if the effect does not inflict damage levels).

The old tales of “Changelings” – of a sickly fake left in the place of a healthy infant – are a modern distortion of an ancient bargain; trade a sickly child to the Raksha in exchange for a few thaumaturgic or dream-magic blessings of health and productivity and protection for the rest of the family. The Raksha get a new servant, you and your other children will be blessed – and your sickly child will get to live.

  • Longevity (1): Combined with a little life-extension Thaumaturgy – easily within the reach of any Raksha who wants to take a few minutes every decade or so given their dice pools – this can readily raise the lifespan of a Raksha’s Servants to five or six hundred years, and possibly more. This cuts down on the need to replace servants, makes older ones reluctant to leave – since losing their life-extension effects may well be fatal – and is another great big bribe. Upgrading to (2) makes the user even longer-lived – while (4) grants complete immunity to aging, whether natural or supernatural.

Unfortunately, having your life-extension fail when you’re several centuries old tends to be bad for a mortal. Thus the tales of those rescued from the Fey occasionally crumbling to dust…

  • “Fur” (1*): Regardless of the exact nature of the covering, this provides +1d Survival, means that your servants do not require clothing, and adds +1L/+1B Soak – enough to avoid many minor accidental injuries. More importantly, this lets the Raksha show off their personal styles and very clearly marks their servants – making it nigh-impossible for them to return to normal society. Not having to bother recruiting a tailor is a minor benefit. This mutation does not count when determining if a creature is “Too wyld to live”.

As usual, this mutation can also represent feathers, scales, or various other dermal protections. The Raksha often throw in a few cosmetic touches – patterns, colors, animal-styled ears or minor features, and so on. Yes, there are indeed plenty of anime cat girls out there. Please don’t make Malfeas incinerate them with radioactive fire.

  • Tail (1*): These too serve to clearly mark Raksha servants. As a bonus, while in Creation, they can often pass as cosplayers. They also gain +2 to Athletics checks, which is sometimes useful. This mutation does not count when determining if a creature is “Too wyld to live”.

And yes, this being Exalted, the +2d for Athletics includes bedroom athletics as well.

  • Wyld Tolerance: (1/2/4/6): Each level of Wyld Tolerance reduces the effective level of the Wyld to which the user is currently exposed by one as far as Mutation and Addiction checks are concerned. Thus a character with Wyld Tolerance 2 could tolerate living in the Middlemarches indefinitely. This mutation does not count when determining if a creature is too wyld to live.

Plenty of tribes and species are supposed to live within the fringes of the wyld – and yet that requires periodic checks for random mutations and possible wyld addiction. They fey are also noted as being able to protect their mortal pets from the ravages of the wyld – but have no apparent method of doing so. Ergo, here’s a quick mutation for them to bestow to allow that.

The older, and more powerful, Feybound often develop the following Wyld variation on one of the infernal mutations…

  • Wyld Essence (6): The user gains an Essence pool equal to (Essence x 5) + (Willpower x 2) + (sum of all Virtues). If tutored the user may can learn first circle sorcery, Terrestrial martial arts, and spirit charms. If given Graces, the character may learn Raksha Charms. Once a character has developed this mutation, his or her prayers are no longer effective for supplying Quintessence or Ambrosia, and no longer support the Games of Divinity. (The gods will not approve). If his or her Essence goes above three, he or she will transcend, becoming either a quasi-Raksha or a god as usual – the primordial chains upon his or her soul shattered utterly.

Wyld Essence may be taken again at Essence II – in which case a heroic mortal character can be rebuilt as a free-willed Heroic Commoner Raksha. Non-heroic mortals will need help with the transition to a normal Commoner Raksha – which will mean leaving their new Heart Grace in the possession of the “assisting” Noble Raksha.

Perhaps fortunately, most of those have MUCH easier ways to get commoner servants.

A few other mutation packages are popular. Pets/Bodyguards/Errand-Runners are often given Cheetah’s Pace (4), Claws (1), and Night Eyes (1). In the occasional wyld pocket located under the sea, or in a volcano, or some such, appropriate adaptive mutations – life support and special movement options – are (naturally enough) quite popular. There’s generally no point in turning servants into seriously animalistic creatures though; for those it’s easier to just start off with an animal in the first place.

In any case, by this time, quite a lot of the Raksha servants are entirely voluntary – for example, people who were dying of things like AIDS, youngsters with wyld dreams and/or wyld-addicts, children born to older feybound, and so on. Dragging kicking and screaming mortals into the refuges of the fey is quite out of style; it attracts dangerous attention far too often. It’s MUCH easier to have most of your pets stay with you voluntarily.

Of course, none of this applies to the worlds at the far end of Creation, in the Empirical Galaxy, at Creations true boundary with the Wyld. There, at least in limited areas, the Raksha so dominate that they have to carefully manage their human resources – and establishing reserves and protected areas. Creation remains a favored spot for deposed Raksha freeholders to flee and lick their wounds – at least if they have some of the way grace charms that allowed interstellar travel.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LX – The Random Scrounge

Portrait of Mrs. Charles Montague Cooke (Anna ...

So; what is it you wish to see?

Mr Montague’s look at the Elsewhere Net basically involved an introduction to Malinda the Diviner, Mistress of the Aether – and her growing museum of weird items.

Malinda was a pleasant, slightly-past middle age, gypsy woman complete with various bits of fortune-telling apparatus. She ran the Sympathetic Loom (which could link in Aden sufficiently to allow normal ensoulment throughout Aden and was useful for determining if some proposed experiment was likely to cause massive disruptions in fate) and the Prototype Elsewhere Net – but her most bothersome talent was Uncanny Acquaintanceship. She knew your relatives and had an endless font of gossip and messages from them. She tended to pinch your cheek, ask you about your relatives, tell you stories about what your elderly relatives had gotten up to when they were young, and otherwise be embarrassing as she offered to show you all those things in her mirrors, crystal ball, and scrying pool.

She was the very embodiment of TMI!

(Montague) “Wow… what a collection.”

He got mildly scolded for not calling his parents – and Micaela’s! They thought that the two of them had eloped! Why couldn’t he be like his brother, who dressed up as a duck to make his mother smile? You’d think the mask was still broken or something! After all, from his point of view, they might not be around very long!

(Montague) “Okay… okay… I’m sorry, ma’am! I’ll call them!”

(Malinda) “See that you do young man!”

Malinda, as mistress of divination, could tell them all about every interesting piece…

Meanwhile, Charles was looking at Mr Montague just in case he saw signs of illness. Lytek had asked after all – but there didn’t seem to be anything as of yet. Mr Montague HAD seemed slightly morose before he got to Aden, but Aden DID encourage happiness – and anyone spending much time in Aden generally could not get sick.

Charles was pleased with the museum though! Malinda had gotten the net in part to give her something to divine at… other than him and anyone else in the area anyway.

Malinda was happy to explain about any piece Mr. Montague had questions about, but he – much to her disappointment – didn’t ask about many. Still, she knew perfectly well that he only had a couple of hours to spend with the net before he had to deal with other business. He did tap it with the hammer that sensed the properties of artifacts however…

It wasn’t exactly perfected; it still needed a rank-five manse to anchor and power it, and it took some massive divinatory powers to guide it in any way – but it did work.

Of course it was still, fundamentally, a manse artifact that produced completely random stuff with a strong likelihood of silliness or disaster.

(Montague) “Huh. Not bad for a prototype, if it does what you say it does. So how’s it work other than the divination?”

(Charles, happily) “Basically, Elsewhere is an N-dimensional plenum, with coordinates existing only in potentia. You can, however, define spaces in it, and store things there! This produces a secondary disturbance in the interface where N-dimensional space breaks down into three dimensional space. Normally those spaces are anchored somewhere, and sustained by that link – but since Elsewhere is timeless, the pocket persists after the link is broken – making the pocket both existent and collapsed at the same time. So the net seeks out disturbances, migrating it’s strands towards lower dimensionalities – which gets it entangled with artifacts, which it can then draw back to its anchor!”

(Montague) “I knew about the storage parts, but heck if I knew how to steer toward them. That’s it, I’m taking some advanced thaumaturgy distance courses!” (Smiles) “It sounds like you tested it already. Let me guess, you pulled out a lot of fey junk?”

(Charles) “Yep! Several shaping weapons, a cranky behemoth-thing, a pouch of hopefulness, and a blizzard that I had to get some Raksha-analogs in to package up again!”

(Montague) “That’s a hassle.” (Wait, Raksha-analogs? What does the kid have in here?) “Raksha-analogs?”

(Charles) “Oh, they aren’t quite the same as regular Raksha – they don’t need to munch on people because the Mardi Gras manse gives them all the power they need and they’re more a part of creation – but Raksha have a lot of useful talents, like making dream-artifacts, so I needed some around!”

(Montague) “You actually found a way to stop them from doing that… might need to go over there some time. I’d be happy testing the net for now, though. I’ve got… ” (He checked his watch.) “One hour and forty minutes. Let’s see what we can find.”

Charles agreed happily and did his own divination for a bit… which Mr Montague found… almost frightening. There didn’t really seem to be any upper limit on how much power the child could pour into his thaumaturgy (there definitely was – but Charles was GOOD at implying very misleading things). Besides, he wanted to see how well it worked too!

A cycle usually took him about five minutes. For most thaumaturgists it would have been a rather extended task…

In short order he’d pulled out several more shaping weapons, a particularly fancy courtier’s caul, an idle fancy that Mr. Montague caught and bottled before it could get to anybody, and a small horde of confused manikins, the smallest lesser servants, wrapped in a large gift box. They brandished tiny spears at them!

Charles waved a sword grace back at them for a few moments – which cowed them; they were pretty ineffectual for anything requiring human size. They looked like a bunch of miniature bunny rabbits in silly military uniforms.

(Charles) “Who were you for?”

(Bunny-Soldier, saluting) “Sir! A gift for the President-for-Life Noriishana, sir!”

Well, that was a job for Malinda… who was/is that?

Well, he could try the Efficient Secretary Technique on the Sympathetic Loom if that individual was ever known to the loom… Still, if he/she/it was getting manikins for presents, he/she/it was probably a Raksha.

Mr. Montague had been looking at the Sympathetic Loom with a bit of interest.

(Charles) “Oh, it’s only a mirror really! Very limited functionality, but it is good for telling if some experiment is going to cause a problem! And you can run a few minor effects from it!”

(Montague) “I’d heard of these before. They don’t let apprentices use them too much . . .”

The bunny-soldiers were also heading over to have a look, marching in tight formation.

(Charles) “Well, they’re fairly straightforward to make!”

(Montague) “I might have to try that if I get any time.”

Malinda found the information soon enough… The President-for-Life Noriishana was the ruler of Lupimanda, a small world on the border of the Empirical Galaxy and the wilder regions of Rakshastan. He had been known to make forays deeper into Creation to attract admirers. As his title implied, he emulated Second and Third World dictatorships – mostly the ones with a veneer of democratic process.

(Charles) “Well, why not! You guys can come along! I’m headed out that way, and – who knows – you may get delivered!”

(Bunny-Soldier) “Sir! It would be an honor to travel with you, sir!”

(Charles) “OK!”

He offered to let them stay out – after all, they might be bored in the box – but they happily marched back into the box. They didn’t want to get mussed before they were presented!

Well, they weren’t really much more than puppets.

(Montague) “Uh… Charles, are you really going to visit somebody who calls himself President-for-Life? That doesn’t sound good!”

(Charles) “I doubt it! The cosmos is a big place! But, on the other hand, the power of narrative coincidence is truly great!”

(Montague) “So why are you heading to the Wyld, anyway?”

(Charles) “ Oh, I need to pick up something out there!”

(Mr Montague, in a concerned tone) “What? It sounds like you know where Wyld zones are. Why not just stay in the universe?”

(Charles) “Because that’s where it’s supposed to be!”

(Mr Montague) “And what is it?”

(Charles) “Uhm… I don’t think I’m supposed to say and I don’t entirely know anyway…”

(Mr Montague arched an eyebrow at that) “I know you’ve got a lot of protection against the mutations, but… that’s pretty dangerous!”

(Charles, doubtfully) “Well… I’m fairly sure I can manage – but I was going to ask a few people for advice before going anyway!”

Montague sensed his doubt.

(Montague) “Hey, you’d better! You’re great at this stuff, and I don’t want an unshaped eating you before you master it.”

(Charles) “I think I’m pretty indigestible for them!”

(Montague) “Let’s hope so. There’s only a few people who could save you if you’re wrong, and they’re not going to be close if you are.”

(Charles) “Well… I do have lots of backup here!”

Mr Montague sighed and looked at his watch…

(Montague) “Well… I’ve got a few minutes, but not enough to be hanging around here. Nice place, though!… I promise I’ll call my parents, ma’am!”

(Malinda) “You’d better or you’ll be hearing from me!”

Geez! It wasn’t like he could control the circumstances of his Exaltation. Stupid Raksha, trying to eat his fiancee. At least the Blossom of Lost Dreams was gracious enough to take them both up to Yu Shan. Micaela needed some trait restoration anyhow.

(Charles) “Oh, did you like the armor you were wearing last time around? I saw you were testing it a bit for the Celestial Lions!”

(Montague) “Yeah, it was good stuff. Maybe if I have some time, I’ll plan out a model with life support. Our void suits are nice… but they’re not exactly heavy-combat ready.”

(Charles) “Well, if you’d like a spare set there are some around!”

Mr Montague still had a REALLY hard time believing that Charles gave artifacts of such power… Most Primordials were not that generous – NOBODY but Charles was that generous – but the child did tend to want everyone protected… Huh. Come to think of it, even most of the weapons he’d made were pretty defensive.

(Montague) “Sure, I’ll take a set. I’ll try to show you if I get something working.”

(Charles, rummaging out a spare set) “OK!”

(Montague) “Thanks. And I’ve really got to go! Wish I could look around longer . . .”

(Charles) “Maybe later!”

(Montague) “Definitely.”

Charles got Mr Montague back to Yu-Shan and dropped him off at his next stop; the Cerulean Lute of Harmony, to report on his mission.

When Charles dropped him off there was a rarity in contemporary Yu-Shan: a full circle of Sidereals leaving on a mission with an extra Chosen of Secrets with them. It had to be important; they were moving at a fast, but still inoffensive, pace.

Charles tried to get a look as they passed by – but got distracted by Mr Montague… He wasn’t the best of physicians, but he was competent enough…

As the group passed by Mr. Montague winced. He’d… hidden his hands behind his back and was rubbing the fingers of one with the other.

(Charles) “What’s wrong?”

(Montague) “Uh… nothing. Little tired, but that’s normal these days!”

Mr Montague smiled disarmingly – and Charles promptly probed (although he did cover it with an illusion… He got sick sometimes – or he’d used to – but Sidereals really shouldn’t.

Hm… inflammation in the fingers and wrists, painful enough to cause real trouble. It looked a lot like… carpal tunnel syndrome, but it seemed to be fading. His divination… was not revealing the cause, or whether it is likely to come up again.

Huh. Cumulative strain? They were all linked through the loom… Were they exhausting even the endurance of an Exalt? Considering the Sidereal workload, that was vaguely plausible. Still… if they WERE linked, what was happening to Damion and the other Cauldron-Born? Or were they the cause? He distrusted coincidence, but it was really hard to tell!

(Montague) “Charles, I’ve really go to go. I’m fine, I’m telling you!”

Well, Charles really hadn’t been stopping him.

Mr Montague waved goodbye in a friendly – but rushed – manner.

Still, Charles had pretty much eliminated his travel time, which had helped a lot – and he was quite grateful for that!

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice LIX – Explanations and Confusions

manual loom in Nepal

No, it doesn't actually look anything like this; but the reality would BLOW YOUR MIND!

Charles had been hoping that there would be a bit of a time delay on troubles from extra Sidereal Exaltations… After all, Sidereal Exaltations often incarnated in small children, and the Sidereals normally had to hunt for them anyway – and they wouldn’t be looking for extras. Conceivably, they might not notice until one or more of them started monkeying with Sidereal Astrology!

On the other hand, they might also disturb the loom at the moment of Exaltation as an extra sidereal tied into the network.

As it turned out… all one hundred of those terribly impatient Exaltations needed threads in this creation, and needed to tie into the loom. There was no shortage of candidates for Exaltation; Earth alone supported more humans than Creation had during the first age – and with the rest of the universe there were more by twenty orders of magnitude.

As Lytek did his quick – and rather complete (there was no point in keeping memories of an alternate creation of 25,000 years ago) scrub, the Sidereal Exaltations had vanished into creation in search of hosts – and chimed impatiently on the loom like a hundred clamoring bells…

He was very good at his job.

While the Sidereals rarely got to man the Loom for long these days, their divine associates were quite another matter. The gods sent rapid-fire messages to their superiors, who sent them to their superiors, and so on until the memos reached the division heads – and somewhere in that rise, at least one Chosen of the Maidens caught wind of it.

Those individuals simultaneously rejoiced and shuddered – and kicked off a mad scramble to investigate and to retrieve the extras.

The Maidens were almost a chorus… WHAT IN OBLIVION?!?!?

This ought to be impossible! Why hadn’t they seen it? Was the influence of the Nocturnals, and their cloaking of the Future, THAT extensive?

A peek in Samsara revealed only that this was supposed to happen at some point, and that the Exaltations have come from another Creation.

That alone was appalling. If there WERE other Creations, Samsara did not extend there – and the universe DEFINITELY did not work quite the way they thought it did!

They needed to know EVERYTHING about these new arrivals! Only then could their proper role in Samsara be understood.

Not that they weren’t grateful for the additional help – but those Exaltations could be tainted, damaged, or the like, all too easily. This had NEVER happened in the history of… ever!

Attempts to contact Lytek revealed only that he’d done the equivalent of leaving up a sign on the secretaries desk; “Gone Fishing. If you’re a Sidereal, I know why you’re here. Talk to Charles”.

Not that they wouldn’t have anyway. Only one entity had ever designed and created Exaltations – an Artificer-Primordial. And just when they had one around, a bunch of new Exaltations had appeared. The “Primordial” theory took an abrupt jump in popularity.

Charles had considered saying simply “They followed me home! You can keep them!” – but it would never work. He was going to have to explain a bit better than that.

Some of the screams and arguments in the Sidereal offices were almost loud enough to hear on Earth and in Aden – particularly from the Cerulean Lute. Stunting Perform/Scream at the 3d level was quite impressive (and would probably get them audited for creating a disturbance).

It really wasn’t all that long before Charles got a highly scrambled cell phone call.

(Charles) “Allo!”

It looked like there was some Celestial tier counterscrying on it too! Someone was worried!

It was kind of nice to have the people who wanted to investigate him handling most of his security needs by running interference on each other!

(Woman) “Ah, Charles! My name is Sri Varma. I’m with the Division of Secrets. Do you have a moment?”

Ah! One of the more senior members of the Bronze faction!

(Charles) “Sure! Do you need some?”

(Sri) “I would appreciate them, certainly!”

(Charles) “OK!”

He sent her a bunch of “Stopped Hourglasses” – minor Wyld Thamuaturgic Talismans, usable one to three times daily (his were usable three times of course) to get one minute to talk to your friends in, although no other actions were possible. They were related to the Conversation Pieces, but were far weaker.

For a moment Sri just gaped – blasted literal-minded cosmic child-beings! (Not that she’d ever expected to be coupling those two concepts…) That hadn’t been what she’d meant at all! Not that they wouldn’t be useful of course…

(Sri) “Why thank you! I do always desperately need more time in the day… Not quite what I meant though! I need to talk to YOU Charles?

(Charles) “Oh! Ok! What do you need to talk about?”

(Sri) “I was wondering if you would like to meet with me when we have the time. I understand you run a soup kitchen and school on your residence’s grounds?”

(Charles) “OK! Or I could just pop over there if it’s important…

So obliging! If he keeps this up, somebody will try to stamp him down, Primordial or not!

(Sri) “Well… I’m at the office right now, and to be honest, I need more time to prepare. Fate work has been occupying me too much lately.”

(Charles) “When would you like then?”

(Sri) “A week from now should do… and speaking of fate work, I must also ask you something about that, though I am not sure why; have you been anywhere outside of Fate lately, other than the Wyld?”

(Charles) “Well… In Aden of course, sometimes in other universes, sometimes in the Wyld, some people might be carrying an outside-of-fate area with them… I can do that too, but there usually isn’t any reason to…”

(Sri) “I ask because the strangest thing happened while I was working on the Loom last week. I can’t go into too much detail other than that when the event concluded, new Exaltations had appeared. My contacts told me to ask you about it. So… where did you find them?”

(Charles) “Oh those! In Relkithian – all that’s left of an alternate and mostly-destroyed creation! I really wasn’t expecting the Exaltations to still be around though!”

(Sri) “Wait… how in the myriad worlds did you get to an alternate Creation, and why were there free Exaltations ready to leave?”

(Charles) “Because the humans there died with Creation – and the Exalts, and the gods, and most other groups! The only survivors were in an elsewhere -realm that no one bothered to track down! The Exaltations all slipped through while I had the door open!”

(Sri) “Ah… I see. That still doesn’t explain how you got there… I can’t talk about why yet, but we’d like to send a team to investigate the local history.”

(Charles) “You might need to recruit a Solar Exalt for that! Or stick with godbloods and such!”

(Sri) “Hrm… I see.” (As evasive as he is obliging…) “Could you tell me what bought you to that Creation? If I’m hearing you correctly… it seems that you did this ACCIDENTALLY.”

(Charles) “Well, I was making dimensional portals to study them a bit, and they go all kinds of places. Relkithian – the Final Refuge of the Dragon Kings – is one of those! But when I went to visit, apparently the Shards sensed a creation where there were still humans to exalt, and so they came to do it!”

Oh! Dragon Kings… so THAT was why “Solars or God-Bloods”. If the histories were indeed mostly parallel… The Dragon Kings had been friendly with Solars, and accepting of God-bloods – and… and if the parallel had continued up to the post-usurpation period… then they wouldn’t even know who Sidereals were, and would recall the Lunars as folk who’d fled long before.

It still might be an evasion, but it very well might be just being helpful without bothering to explain.

Well, there was an easy way to check.

(Sri) “By the way… were you responsible for that sudden freshwater flooding and plant growth in the Sahara? It’s a rather impressive feat to alter the earth on such a scale while creating so little disturbance on the loom!”

(Charles) “Oh that was one of Elzeard’s projects! He decided that he wanted to get started on fixing a few things!”

Well… that certainly established the “being helpful without bothering to explain” aspect – as well as establishing that the boy’s Third Circles did indeed possess incredible power.

(Sri) “Well, that is a side-issue… What you’ve told me about the Exaltations is interesting information – and not entirely unprecedented; Exaltations travel – presumably through Elsewhere – to Yu-Shan all time time. Still, if this had happened before, we would have heard of it; it seems likely that whatever kind of “door” you opened was necessary for the process – which would also explain why our universe’s Exaltations have never wandered off. Thank you for your cooperation.”

It was obvious enough that the child had left out rather a lot of details. She’d have to ask later – and perhaps ask him to open his “door” to the “Relkithian” place. Presumably, now that the Exaltations had come through, nothing else would…

Presuming that the details were things that the child himself understood and that they would fit into her mind! She’d had severe doubts before – but the casual way that the boy toppled certainties that had stood since the Primordial War was eroding them…

Charles was having a doubt or two of his own… Hopefully he hadn’t imported some sort of Exalted Plague into Creation! Still, Lytek hadn’t mentioned such a thing, and he hadn’t exactly had a chance to check…

Oops! Somebody was on his call waiting! And it was scrambled too!

(Sri) “I thought I heard a beep. Were you expecting someone? I think I have all the information I need for now…”

Charles answered in person – via the secondary aspect in Aden.

(Charles) “Oh, that’s just my cell phone! I’ve got it elsewhere!”

Sri closed things up after a few more pleasantries – leaving Charles to a very similar conversation with Mr Montague… There was more of an emphasis on his sifu hearing of the information and wanting him to ask while she was busy – but that really wasn’t a very big difference.

Except for one point.

(Montague) “Hey, I managed to get a couple of hours of sabbatical tomorrow! Want to show me that Elsewhere net you were working on? I’m lucky I put in for that before this happened… I have a feeling it’s going to be my last for a long while.”

(Chalres) “OK! The prototype is up and running right now!”

(Montague) “Great! Uh… can you bring it to my place? I’m not going to have time to get to your place and back before it ends.”

(Charles) “Oh, it’s anchored in a manse… but where are you? I could give you a lift!”

(Montague) “Well, I was going to spend some time at the Manse with Vaal and the wife! I haven’t been by lately. Stuff on Earth’s been keeping me busy too… I’m down in Cairo right now.”

That was close to Gate #3: Memphis, Egypt.

(Charles) “OK! to Cairo it is!”

Mr Montague was staying in a low-end hotel, and seemed a bit worried.

(Charles) “Allo! What’s up?”

(Montague) “Oh, just finished some work here. I’m ready to head back upstairs after this one!”

He asked Charles if he could put up a privacy ward, preferably Terrestrial tier… and then, once that was up, used an artifact to put up a disguise and declared himself ready to go.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LVIII – Moonsilver Interlude

Alderaan

Charles... you do remember that the Death Star is FICTIONAL don't you? You think it's just the current name for the Imperial Manse?

Righteous Hala didn’t have the time to accompany Charles to the far end of the universe – but she certainly could spare a few hours with a Crystal Arena to see how well he could defend himself – and to offer some advice on possible attackers and tactics. The boy was obviously amazingly resourceful, but it was equally obvious that his combat experience was academic at best. Hers, on the other hand, was quite real – and over the centuries she’d seen quite a few variations to throw at him in the Arena.

That was… different. Charles’s personal defenses were actually pretty good – unless someone got inside him and started sabotaging all those manses in his world-body. Of course trying THAT amounted to undertaking a full-scale war. His offensive abilities were adequate, but nothing all that special – after you got past his tendency to simply send attackers home, or trap them, or otherwise avoid combat altogether!

His reserves though… every time she thought that he might be reaching his limits, he simply pulled more power out of Aden!

Wait. Spirits could lend you motes, will, health, and other abilities – usually by touch – and Aden was inhabited by a couple of hundred thousand powerful spirits! Even worse, his third-circle “Guardians” seemed to be able to act through him as needed!

By Creation! Had fighting the actual Primordials been like this? She was SO glad that Charles was a benevolent pacifist, and tried to avoid actually using his more destructive powers at all costs… It took a Ragnarok scenario – a combined galactic/demon army invasion with both groups warded against being sent home and his other tricks to get him to call on the Spear of Aden – yet another unexpected reserve.

What, so he had an option ready just in case he was in the area to intervene when the Death Star attacked Alderaan?

And into the hands of those who will not use it, great power was given… That was downright SUBVERSIVE!

Afterwards she went to go and shake down Lytek a bit… After all, if the Solars of the first age were normally like this… well, she REALLY doubted that the usurpation would have worked! If they’d felt unwelcome they’d just have wandered off to make their own universes…. Hey, where HAD they been for 25,000 years?

Fortunately, Lytek already wanted to talk to her, and she had an appointment already. .

(Lytek and Hala, roughly simultaneously) “All right, what they hell have I/You DONE?!?!”

Lytek looked somewhat uncomfortable – and explained that Charles was both like and unlike a Solar of the First Age. Like them, in that he had a good deal of infrastructure backing him and was playing politics, albeit in his own idiosyncratic way. Unlike them in that he had created his own private universe within his Exaltation and had no desire to rule directly. He was a force of… near-pure benevolence.

He didn’t tell her about the Curse, or the Guardians, just yet. He knew that she worked with Sidereals.

(Hala) “Oh yes – but HOW has he turned his Exaltation into a private universe? Do they all have that potential, or is it just an aspect of where their power comes from?!?!”

(Lytek) “It’s a highly complex issue, Lady Hala, and I’m still researching it. At the moment, I believe all of them might have that potential.”

(Hala, with some shock) “So why hasn’t anyone ever done it before? Surely there would be records somewhere unless they went somewhere outside Creation to do it!”

(Lytek) “Certainly, it would require access to a massive amount of Wyld energies . . . and they would be loathe to spread that knowledge. I have sent some of my aides to search for any information on this.”

He didn’t mention the thought that he might have inadvertently unlocked something that should never have been disturbed – but Righteous Hala could read THAT one without even trying.

Lytek did wish he could tell her more! For one thing, he wasn’t at all sure how the Lunar Bond would interact with what Charles was doing.

That was an appropriate worry… Just to start with, the bond created a link between them – and Charles’s Charms allowed his Adenic Thaumaturgy to jump over links to help people out whether or not Charles was actually paying attention at the time. Just as importantly, since she’s accepted the Adenic Thaumaturgic Initiation, she’s effectively in Aden – and in direct contact with Charles – at all times.

In this game a high-level Lunar Bond allows the Lunar to use a few of his or her partner’s charms. While this never includes Martial Arts or Thaumaturgy / Sorcery charms, and very rarely includes Excellencies (and never more than two), it can bypass some charm prerequisites – albeit not skill and essence prerequisites. Sadly, just what you get is up to the game master, the minimum essence requirement of the charms in question rarely exceeds the bond rating, and the choice requires the approval of the solar player (if any). If they’ve got a particular personal shtick they don’t want to share, that is their privilege.

Hala wasn’t entirely satisfied either – but she didn’t have any good way to squeeze more information out of Lytek.

Of course, she could always ask Charles to analyze HIMSELF a bit. He should, after all, be one of the greatest available experts on that particular topic!

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LVII – Aikiko’s Quest

A blank map of the universe (Earth Location in...

Moving up slightly from street crime we have...

Aikiko had been busy in Yu-Shan – helping clean up Gri Fel’s neighborhood using a variety of disguises, exploring the underground, and visiting Burning Feather’s hookah parlors. There were a lot of things to do!

She really hadn’t been expecting an urgent summons from Lytek; he knew that she was working undercover. It had to be pretty important!

Lytek had quite a few worries… He had an unprecedented seven hundred and six celestial exaltations to check and cleanse (and, in the case of seven hundred of them, to examine for how they might differ from his universes designs) and he’d have urgent queries as they started to find hosts in Creation, and there was the matter of what sort of curses THEY might be laboring under (there was, after all, no reason to expect the Primordials to have had only one option), and inquiries to answer – and the list went on and on on top of all the worries he’d already had, such as the Nocturnals.

On the other hand… Charles was busily – and in utter innocence – turning the universe upside down. It seemed to be the nature of children to… question everything, to meddle fearlessly with things that no adult would ever even think of touching, and to find possibilities that adults simply assumed were impossible. Certainly no prior Solar Exalt had ever set out to reforge their own soul into a near-limitless font of benevolence… Most of them had assumed that their Exaltations had chosen them for what they were – not for what they might one day, if they acted with utter selflessness, become.

And he’d made similar adjustments on a full circle of Solar Exaltations. He hadn’t been able to do more than to tweak the curse and push them to choose the potential and vaulting dreams of childhood over confirmed active heroism – and some had rejected such adjustments entirely – but a few had been… “willing to experiment”, at least once. In an odd way they recognized him as a friend and adviser, even if he had little actual control.

With Charles he had been absurdly lucky; the Exaltation – perhaps influenced by Devon as well as by him – had chosen a child with a shining dream of making everything better and the confidence that came with natural magical talent to pursue it with – and that child had already been in touch with Heaven, and so he had been able to maintain contact and observe him.

The other four… had also taken his suggestion and chosen children with mighty dreams – but he knew little more than that! The veil he had cast around their Exaltations had concealed their identities from him as well, at least at long range.

If they were anything like Charles, they had to be located, and advised, and guided, before they too began to turn the universe upside down!

Unfortunately, the Solar Guardians were GOOD at remaining hidden! Before they could be contacted and guided, they had to be FOUND – and Aikiko was on the (short) list of those he dared to share some of his secrets with and was, despite her awkward habits, swiftly becoming an incredibly skilled investigator.

And – at the moment – he had no time to check on things himself!

(Lytek) “Look… You’re friends with Charles – and the boy is meddling with some of the highest powers in creation, in unprecedented ways – and he’s mostly… experimenting. He means well, but… he’s unleashing powers that haven’t been seen since the Primordial War!”

Aikiko looked a but dubious until Lytek sighed – and confidentially showed her the current contents of his cabinet. It wasn’t like it was going to be a secret for long anyway!

(Kiko) “DUDE!… I mean, Lord Lytek. I had no idea!”

She pointed at the Sidereal shards in particular… She was no mathematician, but unless there’d been an unprecedented bloodbath in the last hour or so, there had to be most of a hundred there – and that was about a hundred more than were supposed to exist!

(Lytek) “I knew he was experimenting with making Exaltations – and has created some things that aren’t far below that level! – but I don’t think that he actually made these, unless it was by indirectly creating a universe! These seem to be… refugees of a sort. Lost Exaltations from a cosmos fallen to the Wyld. Whether he found that, or whether he opened a gate to somewhere that wouldn’t have meaningfully existed until he called it into being is almost irrelevant – but can you imagine the consequences of this?”

(Kiko) “Uh… LOTS of trouble. Sidereals getting in a fuss… err… people trying to steal them?”

When she couldn’t even imagine the consequences of something, there was a problem!

(Lytek) “Lots of trouble indeed… So I need to ask you a favor; could you try to keep an eye on him? And perhaps try to persuade him NOT to pursue every wyld-touched notion that pops into his head?”

Lytek hesitated…

(Lytek) “And after that… somewhere, scattered around – although most likely on Earth – there are four more children who are in some ways like him. If you get the chance, or can think of any approach, could you try to locate them as well? It may or may not be possible – but surely they will have started creating disturbances of their own!”

Aikiko, shocked – FOUR MORE? – puzzled at that for an instant. By Oblivion! How could Lytek KNOW that there were four hidden children like Charles unless…

Unless they were somehow Exalted, and thus within his purview – and if even he couldn’t detect or find them, that meant that… the only way he could be SURE that there were four would be if he were involved in their creation and had been involved in making sure that their Exaltations could – somehow – conceal themselves within a soul, rather than simply attaching to it.

It was within his purview and authority, but WHY had Lord Lytek meddled with five Lunar – or, far more likely, Solar – Exaltations?

After a moments consideration of the world, she knew WHY. If the Exalted were all like Charles… Well, the world might be a good deal crazier, but it would also be vastly nicer – and the Exalts would no longer be at each other’s throats – and twenty millennia of THAT had to pain Lytek quite a lot. Surely he would prefer to see the current hostility and throat-slitting being replaced with a competition to see who could forgive, forget, and help out the universe the most.

Not much choice then! Even if the task was impossible, was that not what the Exalted did?

(Kiko) “Uh… I’ll try! I don’t want him to get into the wrong stuff?”

(Lytek) “Well, if some notion of his sounds insane to you, at least try to pass it on! Here… If you don’t have one, he’s left me a crate of these transdimensional cell phones with personal-essence-pattern motonic scramblers…”

And first one, then another, freshly-cleaned exaltation – A Solar and a Lunar, perhaps a pair – “pinged” slightly and vanished, slipping into Creation.

(Kiko) “Cool!” (She saw the Exaltations disappear.) “COOL! Uh… thanks for the phone. I’ll call you if he does anything weird.”

(Lytek) “PLEASE do!”

Wow! Lytek was really worried! For that matter, so was she! What HAD Charles been doing? He could get into all kinds of trouble meddling with the wrong thing! Like a repeat of the Cauldron-born incident! Maybe even something worse!

She headed off for a visit! It had been ages anyway!

She changed her disguise on the way, just in case the Bronze were looking for her… they knew that she was a friend of Rachel’s – and… headed for the academy. Charles should still be there this early, and visiting at Dudael would require purification rituals.

At the academy, Charles was currently in a perfectly normal class on cultural rituals, being bored silly by “Tea ceremonies through the ages”. Personally, Charles suspected that it was just an excuse for the minor god of tea who was teaching the class today to effectively take a day off! Wasn’t half an hour of sitting still and contemplating the essence of the tea enough?

Kiko had to agree with that! At this rate, the class might not actually DRINK the stuff for hours to come!

Charles spotted Kiko in a reflective surface and thought “Ok please PLEASE have an urgent message! – and was pleased and surprised when Kiko promptly waved him over. He bowed politely to the tea god and then slipped out via travel thaumaturgy, leaving a finely-crafted illusion to gently dissolve away in his place!

(Charles) “Hey Aikiko! What’s up! (Eagerly) Something important?”

(Kiko) “Uh… Charles, can you set up a really good privacy thingie?”

(Charles) “Oh, sure! Should we go someplace even more private? There’s never anyone in the artificing shops this time of day…”

(Kiko) “What, you mean Dudael? Don’t I need to put on a funny white robe and bathe for that?”

(Charles) “Oh, I was just thinking of down in the yards over there. They’re a good place to start looking for privacy… Is this personal privacy, or something bigger? Oh wait! Best not to say until we’re down there and more wards are up!”

Aikiko sighed. He had NO idea what she was going to ask him about did he?

(Kiko) “Uh, yeah, it’s big. Oops, you said not to say. Ha ha.”

(Charles) “Well, OK!”

He put up more wards – and then, since the Sidereals and several Lunars were wandering in and out all the time anyway, used the Amulet of Celestial Wings to pop them over to Dudael, and from there, behind it’s wards, ask if she could keep a secret…

(Charles) “Oh yeah! And how are Gri Fel and Terapishim doing! It’s almost be time for their test results to come out!”

(Kiko) “Well, yeah, I can keep a secret. Uh… actually, I was hoping you’d ask! Terapishim hasn’t been by for a while.”

(Charles) “I trust nothings happened to him! I’ll have to send someone to look!”

(Kiko) “Yeah, Gri Fel’s getting kinda worried.”

Had the competition gotten overly-rough? He’d thought that the Celestial Lions were keeping an eye on that sort of thing!

(Kiko) “I mean, he gets into my business sometimes, but he’s really fun at bars! So yeah, if you could check on him… now why’d you bring us here?”

(Charles) “Well, for more privacy! This is good, but not the best… The best is this way!”

He took them through a gate, and over to the Cone of Silence – where, not only were you sure of perfect privacy, but you could, if you wished, leave thoughts behind in the private archive, where no one else could get at them until you come back and put them back into your head again!

Besides, the place had a great view of Aden with a zoom function!

Kiko was wondering just where Charles was finding all these Manses…

(Kiko) “Okay!”

(Charles) “Anyway… what’s the really private part?”

(Kiko) “Uh… Lytek sent me a scroll. He got some new Exaltations in… and said you did it! So I guess what I want to know is… what the heck have you been doing lately, dude?” (looking out into Aden) “Is that a viking demon?”

She took a close look at her Roach Clip of Ineffable Toking.

(Charles) “Oh! Well I didn’t really! I just didn’t realize that they’d still be hanging around in Relkithian and waiting for a chance to find some humans again! I thought they’d have drifted off long ago!

(Kiko) “Relkithian? Where’s that?”

(Charles) “Oh, it’s… well, in another Creation the Dragon Kinds had warning of the Great Contagion, and spun off a pocket dimension to take refuge in! Without them to help slow the advance of the Balorean Crusade, that Creation was unmade – leaving only the Dragon King refuge! So I sent Rachel to hide there, and that apparently drew the Exaltations to hang around her, and they must have followed her home! Like lost puppies or something!”

(Kiko) “Whoa. No wonder that mage guy wasn’t able to send her a note. How’d you find another Creation?”

(Charles, cheerfully) “I made some manse-gates! They can go pretty much anywhere if you can figure out how to tune them!”

(Kiko) “Uh… how long did that take?”

(Charles) “Uhm… Well (the Arcosanti tests were public records after all)… most of a day!”

(Kiko) “Neat!”

It was also neat – and a bit frightening – that Charles could do that sort of thing so FAST.

(Charles) “Anyway… Maybe I should try to stay out of alternate creations for awhile! They come with all kinds of complications!”

(Kiko) “Yeah, it sounds like it! Have you been doing anything else? Fun or neat, I mean.”

(Charles) “Well…getting Aden here organized, and some terraforming, and the stargate projects, and some other things… And some accidents of course!”

Aden? Terraforming? What was Terraforming? Stargates? ACCIDENTS?)

(Kiko) “Accidents? And what’s an Aden and terraforming?”

(Charles) “Well… like the Kickaha – sort of material werewolf-elf-godling creatures! I wasn’t expecting them to turn into a species on me while I wasn’t looking!”

Actually it was worse than that… They could adopt new members through the manse, and had found or made a charm that let them – over the course of a few days of snuggling – share their own essence-patterns and regenerative abilities with a mortal to turn them into a Kickaha, and they could breed with each other to produce more Kickaha, and with humans to produce god-bloods if they didn’t opt to turn the human into another Kickaha first.

The teenagers – especially the males – were mostly taking the “snuggling” approach.

The later generations, lacking the direct support of Dun Shunkaha, weren’t quite as formidable as the the elite – but they were still pretty tough.

What? He was creating new forms of life!?

While Charles had continued to explain about the Kickaha, Kiko had realized what Charles meant when he said he was “organizing Aden.”

(Kiko) “Uh… uh oh. We’re not in Yu Shan anymore, are we?”

(Charles) “Hm? Oh, no! We’re in Aden! Much more private!”

(Kiko) “So, what is Aden?”

(Charles) “Well, it’s a world-body! That way I can have geomancy all my own! And it’s very handy to keep things in and for giving people a nice place to stay and for transport and for lots of other things!”

(Kiko) “Wait, WHAT!?”

Huh! That was the most sober he’d ever seen Kiko!

(Kiko) “So… (remembering discussions with Gri Fel) You’re a Primordial now?”

(Charles) “Maybe! But they’re supposed to be really old, so maybe not!”

(Kiko) “Uh… wow.”

(Charles) “I think you have to be older than the universe to be a primordial!”

(Kiko) “Yeah, to make it… D… do the Sidereals know?”

(Charles) “There’ve been a bunch wandering around her for awhile now! They seem to be arguing though… Of course, they’re Sidereals! They do that! And who knows? Maybe the new Exaltations will distract them! And the Terraforming is making barren planets earthlike, so the extinct species and things have somewhere to live!”

(Kiko) “Neat!… Wait, if you’re a Primordial, does that mean you have Circles?”

(Charles) “Well… Yes, those are around.”

(Kiko) “I want to meet one!”

(Charles) “Well, Elzeard is holding classes at the moment… We could pop over there!”

(Kiko) “Okay!”

No wonder Lytek was rattled! Whatever-it-was that he’d had in mind, it surely hadn’t been anything like THIS.

And there were four more potential quasi-primordials out there, up to who knew what, and all with the same childishness, willingness to try all sorts of insanity, and lack of appreciation for “consequences” or “long range planning” as Charles.

By the Infinite Wyld! Now she was rattled too!