Charles sighed… there was one REALLY obvious source for information on visiting the Wyld… He could go and talk to the Raksha around Hoenheim directly… It was such a pain to get actual information out of them though! They were fun (and impressive and weird and always full of unexpected twists) – but they tried to fit everything into their favored narratives, and regarded a good story structure as being far more true than anything so pedestrian as “facts”.
Oh well! If that was what let them exist in the Wyld, perhaps he really ought to listen! He headed for Hoenheim, the Wyld Pocket – and the Goblin Market. There were usually plenty of Raksha there!
He hadn’t been down there in quite awhile actually – especially not now that he had the Mardi Gras manse. Still, he hadn’t seen any of his friends down there for quite some time…
Kaernock has been wondering where he’d been!
(Charles) “Oh… Kind of frantically busy in Yu-Shan! Lots of things to fix there!… How have things been doing around here?”
(Kaernock) “All has been well in the wilds… there have been a few powerful individuals about, but none disturbed the trees or other plants!”
(Charles) “Always good! None of them poking into your business I hope!”
(Kaernock) “No one dares poke into my business – to do such would be folly! There were also some less powerful beings wandering through-even a… (disgusted) woodcutter!”
(Charles) “Whaaa?!? How’d they find the route into the pocket? Or are there more?”
(Kaernock) “Nonsense! There is only one route into this place; rest assured I have made sure of that! But this fellow must have had friends-he had a talisman on him!”
(Charles) “That’s WEIRD! The entryway is in a little park in the middle of Atlanta!”
Wait… didn’t Kaernock know about that one? Besides… it would be pretty strange if there was only one entryway! He would have bet on a dozen backdoors to retreat through!
Oh, wait. The Raksha were creatures of deception. who knew what backdoors Kaernock and the rest of the local fey were hiding?
(Charles) “Well, if you need some more wards or something I can put some up! Or get you some more guards!”
(Kaernock) “A display of power was enough to make him retreat… but these “wards” would be appreciated!”
(Charles) “No problem there! The portals right over here… Do you want a passcode, keyed to particular people, or tuned to a gatekeeper or set thereof?”
(Kaernock) “I believe I have a suitable servant for this… you there, boy!” (A commoner warrior approached) “Allow this young man to attune you to the portal.”
(Commoner) “Yes sir!”
Charles threw up a couple of Adenic wards… they had a better chance of standing up to most dispelling anyway – and gave them a few centuries duration.
Kaernock watched with outward stolidity, but as an fair master of the Occult himself, he could tell that those were some exceptionally powerful wards – and he was rather shocked by how much Charles’s skills had developed.
Or, perhaps, by how much more he was now willing to reveal.
(Kaernock) “Well now! THAT should keep those damned woodcutters out!”
(Charles) “I hope so!”
(Kaernock) “And now, we can patrol the regions around the goblin market! Trade has been strong there lately, and we must ensure that the caravans reach it unraided!”
Hm! Caravans said more ways in and out… unless they had a gatemaster. It WAS a very old and well-established pocket after all! He hadn’t met a gatemaster yet, but that would be one Raksha who’d be protected and hidden as best as possible!
(Charles, as they were calmly strolling towards the market) “Oh, I wanted to ask… I have to run an errand out towards the True Wyld, and I was wondering if there was anything in particular I should really watch out for or take along?”
(Kaernock mulled the matter over.) “I have not wandered that far in a long time. Nevertheless, I would suggest watching for Hannya and unshaped! I understand they are much rarer these days, but they can still bind those weaker than them to their whims. I would also recommend some form of conveyance, such as a fine steed, or perhaps a flying boat. You might need them to escape pursuers.”
(Charles) “Hm… Well, I think I can come up with something like that!”
(Kaernock) “Also, a chancel if you have one. Certainly, you can set up camp at a waypoint, but a chancel is far safer!”
(Charles) “I think that’s covered!”
(Kaernock) “Wonderful! And companionship is never poor outside of shaped reality, either. You always need someone to watch your back.”
(Charles) “Hm! I may be fairly well prepared then! I definitely need to add a vehicle though!”
The trip to the market didn’t take long at all… Evidently Kaernock had some subordinate with a way grace in his group to shorten travel times for him. Business was indeed brisk, with various merchants yelling over each other to sell their goods, wandering vendors holding up food of uncertain origin, and browsers gawking.
The fey market was always interesting! The last time he’d been through was… at least a year ago! When they were selling very silly pixie-things!
And… they still were – although they weren’t nearly as popular these days. The silly things got caught AGAIN? No… at least it looked like a different batch this time.
Charles sighed and – once more – made an offer, even if it WOULD show him to be an easy mark.
After some haggling, which did get intense, he was able to purchase the lot.
(Charles) “Right then! How did you bunch get caught?”
(Pixie) “This man made of steel caught us in a net-ward! We tried to fly out before it closed, but his dragonfly friend was too fast for us…”
(Charles) “Hrm… Well, do you think that – if I let you go somewhere private – you can avoid getting caught again?”
(Pixie) “Yes, we’ll try”
(Charles) “OK then!”
He designated an Inukami to take them somewhere suitable – and they wound up getting relocated to a Wyld zone on a South Pacific island. In the meantime, a group of merchants was setting up a massive stall in a prime area.
Charles wandered over and see what they were selling!
Murmuring sounds came from the wagon, which was drawn by what must have been one of the last tyrant lizards on Earth. It had been mutated to have feathers and wings. Of course, the commoner attendants were doing much of the labor while the actual merchants sat on benches and lunched on gossamer delicacies.
Charles wasn’t worried about fey food, and the refreshments came with the sale and show (the merchants seemed to be anticipating plenty of profit on this trip), so he nibbled a bit… Unsurprisingly, it took some pretty careful picking amongst the “goodies” to find something palatable. Most of the combinations were just plain WEIRD (for one, mango and salmon just did not go together well). Still, there were always a few good ones mixed in amongst the ones that were downright awful.
One of the commoner attendants – presuming that the apparently-mortal boy was a moocher rather than a potential customer – tried to shoo him away, and he did keep getting funny looks from all the out-of-the-area merchants who were wondering where his leash was… The child wasn’t even mutated to keep him from running off!
One imperious look from Kaernock, though, and most assumed that he was just a VERY trusted pet. One of the merchants will actually approached Kaernock…
(Merchant) “Ah, he is very well-broken in, to be wandering around like that.”
(Kaernock, grimly) “That boy is no pet.”
Charles cheerfully stuck out his tongue at the fellow…
(Merchant) “My mistake. I meant no offense, my lord. However, if you are interested in new servants, I have acquired some promising specimens!”
(Kaernock) “Acquired fairly, I hope . . .”
(Merchant) “Oh, certainly, all treaties followed. We retrieved them from a… I believe it was called a ‘church youth group.'”
Oh dear! Was that one of those “child reprogramming” things that most kids were so desperate to escape from?
(Merchant) “The adults who managed to elude us did say something about ‘troubled teens.’ I have no idea what that means. Were they diseased? Well, Anarick is taking care of that if they are!”
Charles slipped a very well disguised probe though – mostly out of impatience – and took a quick peek… It looked like a bunch of unawakened human early teenagers. Some had intricately-patterned red-brown fur and jaunty squirrel-like tails. A particularly handsome merchant was examining one of the… unchanged girls.
(Merchant) “Hmm. Dye, is it? I think I’ll incorporate it into your fur!”
(Girl) “But I don’t want fur!”
(Merchant) “Oh, hush, dear! It will look splendid!”
Fey Essence will began to whirl around them as the merchant activated his mutation charm. The other kids just looked on in unbelieving shock – at least the ones who weren’t currently diverted by their own new fur and tails – but it wasn’t like there was anything they could do. They were well-coffled and secured in their cages.
Well, “where they’re from” would doubtless be a part of the intro speech – and he was a guest, and was at peace with the local fey, and they had lived here far longer than he had – still, the girl was , resisting…
He tried to quietly pick up a few “how we got into this mess” thoughts… Had they been running away into the wilderness or something? Most of those insane religious camps had multiple wire fences. That was a lot of iron to get past! And most wyld pockets were pretty well isolated these days… It usually took some strong magic or some pretty determined work to get into one!
Or… a tremendous desire to escape and find a refuge. “Vanished into the hills to live with the Wyld Things” was a very, VERY, old idea.
Given Charles’s power level it was easy enough. It seemed like an… “Outward Bound”-style operation, albeit a much stricter one. This group of kids had fled one night. One of them was clever enough to hide some wire cutters, another convinced bunkmates to create several distractions, and yet another mapped things out. Unfortunately, they hadn’t even known that the fey really existed – much less that there was a Wyld pocket offering relatively easy access that close to the compound. So; eleven unwilling but captured while… well, it would be trespassing in a way. That had been stupid of course; everyone knew that the wilderness was even more dangerous than the streets – but they’d been REALLY desperate to escape to… anywhere their insane religious-fanatic parents and the camp “counselors” would not be able to reach them.
And the fey had granted that wish – just not in a way that they’d ever dreamed of.
Scanning around… there were nearly a hundred more kids in the caravan, most of them being readied for sale – but they’d mostly been – in accordance with the current treaties and agreements – either born into the service of the fey or variously enticed into the bargain. They’d fled abusive guardians, been gathered from prostitution or begging on the streets, been dying in hospital wards, been desperately scrabbling in the ruins at the edges of war zones, or hunting for food in famine-stricken areas, or been considered mad, or had uncontrolled psychic talents, or had simply dreamed wyld dreams – probably because they had a touch of fey blood – and been drawn to the wyld zones where they felt at home. They had been offered… health, and longevity, and regular food, and reasonable comfort, and all the wonders of dream, and the curious pain/ecstasy of occasionally being temporarily drained, and the possibility of – eventually – perhaps even earning the right to have graces forged for themselves, and to gain the power to shape their own dreams into being, all in exchange for a term of service.
That wasn’t a bargain that he approved of, or would have recommended – but he hadn’t been there to save them or offer them another choice. HE had been born to wealth and power – and had been granted far greater power – so who was he to deny them their right to choose? He had never been so desperate…
Still, they were young enough to deserve additional chances to choose later on. He’d have to find a way to provide some in general – at least after buying up a fair chunk of this batch!
Overall… there were nineteen who’d been captured while “trespassing” and who wanted to resist or escape. A solid majority of the cargo were… quite happy with their present situation. A few were hoping for better bargains, or regretting what they’d agreed to now that it had turned out to be entirely real, or were at least a bit scared… In total, nearly forty of the hundred-and-twenty odd – mostly the captured ones and a few of the ones with stronger wills – were either wanting to resist or at least having some second thoughts.
Oh dear. Several (apparently on consignment) knew that they were coming home to their magical fathers, to join his household – even if they WOULD have to work their way up from being a servant.
When Charles realized that he’d gotten diverted, he turned his attention back to the captured runaways – where there were still a couple of them left that weren’t furred and tailed (and regenerative and otherwise enhanced). They were trying to back away from Anarick there… but it was hard to do that in a gossamer cage while wearing gossamer manacles.
(Anarick) “Come now! I thought you teenagers wanted to look like each other…”
(Boy) “Help! Someone, anybody! I don’t want to be a squirrel!”
The way Charles had things set up, it would have been really HARD to avoid answering that call… Oh well! He set a quick ward on the kid, and on his still-dodging friend – warding off mutation, but otherwise harmless – and with it’s origins throughly masked.
(Anarick) “Huh? What is this? It… tastes like thaumaturgy. Bothersome!”
Kaernock had raised an eyebrow and was giving Charles the eye… Even with his patronage, impulsively interfering like that could get Charles into a duel to serious embarrassment! After all, the merchants were also treaty-guests. Hopefully the boy realized what he was getting into! Still, he had proven well-able to resist the occasional shaping-snipe that was a routine part of living in a Wyld Pocket in the past and his Thaumaturgy was VERY good – and insanely fast… How did the kid do that anyway?
Charles was considering… He had plenty of gossamer – which was always the dominant form of currency with the Raksha – and plenty of the flint arrowheads dipped in fey-touched honey that were used as a local coinage in the Atlanta pocket…
Anarick came out of the wagon, looking annoyed.
(Anarick) “Nandkith! There is a thaumaturge playing tricks on us here! He stopped me from preparing the servants for market!”
(Charles quietly wove a small sending) “I prefer a few to bid on the way they are! Blank slates are just as interesting!”
That changed his tune!
(Anarick) “I apologize… I meant that there was a customer who wanted some… unpolished specimens.”
Charles hadn’t known that Kaernock’s eyebrows could arch that high! Still, Kaernock wasn’t intervening yet in any case… By fey standards of “pranks”, a bit of thaumaturgy on a minor piece of property was pretty trivial.
Nandkith was already launching a performance-based cup-shaping attack, attempting to embarrass Charles into leaving the market.
Kaernock allowed it; Charles HAD interfered with their setup after all – and simply attempting to run him off was a reasonably measured response… Besides, he had never seen just how Charles protected himself against such things up close enough to see what happened. Who knew? He might even have found a way to shape back!
Nandkith’s shaping… shattered against the borders of Charles’s essence-aura like spun glass hurled against an iron wall. That was an Adamant Defense! What the Creation-born often called “Perfect!” And yet… the boy had barely seemed to take notice of the attack, and certainly hadn’t DONE anything! A PASSIVE Adamant Defense? It was… like one of the ancient barrier manses! Like Hoenheim! Or the River of All Sorrows of Legend! Had the boy somehow tied himself to a power like THAT?
Then the boy pulled a wand out of Elsewhere, gestured sweepingly, and launched his own set of staff-shaping entanglements – reshaping his and Nandkith’s personal narratives as a tale of the caravan visiting HIM, acknowledging his mighty magical power, presenting the two youngsters who didn’t want to be shaped to him as a gift – and of Nandkith being given a present in return – wealth equivalent to being paid a good price.
That was a bit basic of course – and obviously the work of a novice – but it did flow with the narrative of the caravan well enough, and it was… backed by utterly incredible occult skill, and hurled as a three-pronged attack without even bothering with a shaping weapon!
Nandkith shattered the first weaving with his own Adamant Defense – perhaps seeing nothing more than beginners luck – but was floored when the next two shapings hit, and blasted their way straight through his Courtier’s Caul and left him thoroughly ensnared…
(Nandkith) “Oh dear! You have me in a corner! Why don’t you take these two and I’ll take some of your collection of arrowheads or Gossamer?”
He’d take either! He didn’t need the boy to start in on additional shaping attacks! Now that he was ensnared, the child could make his life a misery! What in the infinite depths of Chaos was the boy? Human children were not even supposed to be ABLE to engage in shaping combat! Much less to possess power like THAT!
Charles was quite agreeable; that was all he’d been after anyway – although he did make sure that the price he paid was decent, but not excessive.
(Anarick) “Well, that nasty business done… how may I assist you, young sir?”
(Charles) “Oh, I’m just here to do some bidding!”
Who was this child? He seemed to be Kaernock’s… FRIEND!? Raksha of his stature were supposed to have superiors and inferiors, not friends! The head of his freehold must know about this! The boy could be a weapon! Or at least a considerable asset… How HAD the child erected such a powerful defense so casually anyway? Nandkith’s attack had simply been… ignored totally!
The sale went just fine, and Charles bought quite a few in addition to the first too – leaving various Raksha to wonder who was funding him as well as where he’d gotten all that power. He bought all of the resistors, and a fair chunk of the doubters – and quite few of the contented ones, just to talk to a bit and think about. It wasn’t like he didn’t have room for pets.
The runaways and resistors stayed quiet for the moment. Charles had sent them reassurance that this was a rescue of sorts – and at least he appeared human, as opposed to the Raksha around them. Quietly kneeling for a little while (even with an embarrassing absence of clothes and a dreamlike excess of fur and tails) was a small price to pay for getting the hell out of this insanity…
Even if it did remind the camp escapees of the demands of the various “ministers” there.
Kaernock gave them all a suspiciously standard-sounding speech about how they should not interfere with the wilds, and the punishments for doing so. He was still looking at Charles funny, but Charles was his friend… He did have to wonder what he wanted all these kids for… It could be just a whimsy given his apparent resources, but maybe the boy was just hitting that mortal “puberty” thing and wanted to experiment? From what he recalled about the generations of servant’s he’d owned he was about at that age… Not that it mattered in the slightest of course! His purchases WERE just properties, and now belonged to Charles to do as he liked with! He had more important things to worry about – like where the boy had gotten those Shaping Powers! Surely the boy hadn’t been deeper in the Wyld! It was fabulously far away and surely He would have heard!
Charles and the Merchants added up the total – and Charles offered to pay in Resplendent Butler’s Accouterments. That would at least help ensure that the merchant’s next cargo of slaves would do well!
The merchants examined the Accouterments and got rather excited…
(Anarick) “What craftsmanship! I MUST test these on the next shipment!”
(Charles) “There… Now then; I… can’t argue with the willing ones, but I’m perfectly willing to trade, and pay well, for the ones who AREN’T willing to be servants – although, not for ones collected in violation of the treaties!”
(Kaernock) “I will take any of those out of the holding and leave them outside its borders. They must find their own way from there… And I must say, that was an impressive feat of shaping back there! How did you acquire the Graces for that?”
(Charles) “Oh, I used a Hearthstone that allows them to be created easily!”
(Kaernock) “Really now! Even easier than our own Charms? I am shocked! Surely if you had wanted some, I would have provided some!”
The noble Raksha nearby nodded.
(Charles) “Oh, but then you have to build them up over time to make them really useful! This way they start that way…”
(Kaernock) “I would examine one of these Hearthstone Graces, and see for myself.”
Charles knew that THAT was safe enough! They were indestructible and the only way to claim one so that it couldn’t just be pulled back through elsewhere was to win in shaping combat… Ergo, he fished out the wand; Kaernock had just seen him using that one anyway!
Kaernock had a look – and was impressed; if the Hearthstone had indeed created a grace of that order without draining the user… That could be very useful indeed unless there was some other price involved! Besides… he could feel the occult power twining about the wand; either Charles was a far greater entity than he had expected – and no mere human thaumaturge! – or his staff grace was greatly enhanced in some fashion!
(Kaernock) “And no unshaped snared to improve this? No great quests?”
Kaernock handed the Staff grace back to Charles – it was HIS after all.
(Kaernock) “How often can this stone make a Grace?”
(Charles) “Well… It’s channeling the power of a peak-end manse; pretty much all you want.”
Wait. That meant that Charles could restore lost graces without personal cost and could turn normal humans and other creation-born into quasi-Raksha almost without limit – if he hadn’t started that process already! That could be a tremendously useful resource! Befriending the boy – even if he still didn’t quite know why he had – had been a tremendous stroke of luck!
Fortunately, the boy didn’t seem to need a lot of protection… He’d known about the Inukami and the Coatl – but his shaping defenses appeared to be at least as good. Hopefully he wouldn’t get any ideas – but they had sworn an oath!
Which was absolutely true – and it wasn’t like Charles would ever even consider breaking a promise…
Meanwhile, the resisting runaways were trailing along for lack of options – and the accepting ones were trotting along happily. Charles had had the Inukami hand out Resplendent Butler’s Accouterments – even the resistors had been happy to take them after they realized that they provided clothing – but it was rapidly becoming apparent that the runaways, as recent captures, were frightened, confused… and quite hungry. Their hosts had had VERY odd tastes in food.
Charles had the Inukami get them something human-style tasty. He rather thought that Kaernock would want to talk for a bit.
Kaernock did indeed want to talk… It was clear that Charles had become much more powerful since he had last seen him, and in unanticipated way. He wanted to know where that Manse was for one thing. While his knowledge of contemporary Creation wasn’t quite complete, he did know that hearthstones were linked to manses like pennants and cysts were to freeholds.
(Charles) “Uhm, well… (well, he WAS an old friend… he put up some VERY good privacy wards… All the Sidereals knew after all…) It’s through here!”
Charles opened the gate to Aden – which Kaernock, of course, recognized as some sort of freestanding Chancel gate.
(Kaernock) “Guard this location well, my men!”
And he and his two most loyal riders rode into Aden – and were utterly shocked as Charles collapsed the gate afterwards. That was NOT how Chancels normally worked!
(Galdaras) “What is this!?”
(Charles) “Urm… Is that asking where we are or how the gates work?”
(Denethel) “Chancels do not disappear this way!”
(Charles) “Well, this is sort of an internal model! The gate only exists in relationship to the last location on one end, or where I am on the other – so if I leave another way, like through a gate, the primary entrance just follows me around. It’s much more convenient that way!”
(Kaernock) “If you are suggesting what I believe you are suggesting… there are only two things you could be. And since you have not incorporated yourself into the landscape…”
(Galdaras) “How do we know he is not projecting an emanation?”
(Charles) “Why would that be required? Being in more than one place at a time really isn’t THAT hard!”
(Kaernock sighed) “Regardless, it is clear that you HAVE grown in power. Even to the point where shaping hits you as a fly hits a mountain.”
(Charles) “Wasn’t I doing it right?”
(Kaernock) “Oh yes! You do not need to worry about that; it was a suitable ensnarement. But what is this place, other than not a chancel?”
(Charles) “Well… You know how gods make sanctums by enlarging a point in Elsewhere? Breaking down it’s dimensionality while expanding it’s three-dimensional size? You can do the same sort of thing internally; you just narrow the focus of your imagination and force it into internal reality! It’s the same way you can store so much stuff in Elsewhere really!”
(Kaernock, dryly) “An impressive feat, to be sure.”
(Charles) “The next thing you need to do is learn to open the gate so you can get inside your own inner world and externalize parts of it! Then you just need to fix the place up and install whatever else you need! And it works, cause here we are! I put most of the important or useful manses in here, so I didn’t need to worry about things happening to them!”
(Kaernock) “Well! I feel like some exploration… why not explain more about it as we wander?”
Charles sent the resistors off with some of the Sentinels – the Inukami, Kickaha, and Baalgrogs could provide any necessary discipline and training until the kids were either old and sensible enough to go (and were cured of being mutated) or until they decided to join one of the manse-guardian groups… It wasn’t like he could sent them back to the crazy parents who had sent them to loony indoctrination discipline camp and none of them wanted to go home either – especially not while tailed and furry.
Fortunately, there was no real resistance to basically being “stuck in boarding school”. With (slightly censored) contact with their friends back home, a carnival/park/shopping nearby, and decent rooms it was a LOT more comfortable than where they’d been. That was a good thing, since he couldn’t just set them loose anyway; quite a lot of people would be perfectly willing to kill them off to keep them quiet; the world wasn’t ready for people coming back from the fey… If it had to be “kept until you’re either ready to release or have adapted to being kept”, they might as well be more or less willing.
The willing pets… Errgh… Well, they could come along for now. They couldn’t get into TOO much trouble in Aden with the sentinels to watch them! In fact… they had their collars, and could be minor servants and errand-runners and such, which should take care of them. They were all… pretty much happy with the situation.
(Charles) “You’re happy with this? All right! Hey you guys! (Speaking to the Inukami, some Kickaha, and various other handy minor types) Take care of the new pets here!”
There! That would take care of that for the moment!
It took Kaernock some time – and a visit to Charles’s private sea of chaos and the Mardi Gras Manse – to conclude that he had had the fabulous good luck to get to know, and to swear oath-friendship with, the first helpful Primordial who liked Raksha… and practically everyone else apparently.
His minions had no idea of what to say. Every Raksha knew that the Wyld could throw up anything, at any time. They could feel that basic fact in their very graces! Unfortunately, “could” was NOT equivalent to “likely”…
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