Back in Yu-Shans subsurface mazes, Charles was more-or-less wandering around at random; there were such a LOT of fascinating features you could see here! You could see the foundations of the architecture, and you could see the geomancy from the inside…
What he DIDN’T see was stairs up. Still, there had to be some somewhere, and he had sandwiches!
Ixcatli found the lack of stairs, signs, or directions more than a bit discouraging – and listening to this god-blooded child rattle on about architectural details, and underground manses, and possible relationships with the canal designs, and other useless arcana – in excruciating detail and without an apparent care in the world – was driving him quite mad! Perhaps it would have been better to have remained unconscious! (Well, OK – not really. But STILL).
Charles occasionally wondered why Ixcatli kept twitching his tentacles – but immediately forgot again in favor of surveying the architecture.
The damp, darkened, maintenance corridors – presumably hidden in the upper reaches of the adamant layer of underground Yu Shan – had notches every ten feet in the walls for light sources – but they didn’t seem to be needed; something was making the adamant faintly glow. It wasn’t up to the standard of a good reading lamp, but it was definitely something!
(Charles) “Oh neat! The archways here are designed to focus geomantic potentials upwards, creating an energy-focusing nexus… I think this is the deep underside of a quintessence fountain!”
It was indeed! He could see where the pipes of the stuff flowed into the jade of the basin. The patterning of the plaza was quite clear… as were the anti-tampering measures. It appeared that the fountains were warded against tapping devices, up to and including most artifact means – and the touch of gods who were not in charge of minding them, and – of course – creatures of darkness.
(Charles) “Not bad! It could use an additional set of wards here, and if you adjusted the rune-sequence you could increase the conversion efficiency by up to about ten percent! And it needs to have it’s effective high-frequency range greatly expanded, which is where most of the interstellar stuff comes in! The prayer-spectrum has changed a good deal since this was designed!”
(Ixcatli) “That’s nice…” (tentacle twitch)
Fortunately, Charles was not a god and was not warded away – so he cheerily spent a few moments fixing it!
(Ixcatli) “Um, young man, what are you doing?”
(Charles) “An upgrade! It should work just fine… It’s just no longer properly tuned to the prayers; the interstellar component is not being properly captured because the system was never designed for that!”
(Ixcatli) “Don’t you need a permit for that?”
(Charles, with some surprise) “But it’s not working right! Besides… I don’t think there’s any rule against unauthorized repairs by godblooded subcontractors! Nobody ever bothers much with rules for people like me! And we’re still in the abandoned districts anyway! Who will notice?”
Ixcatli was sharper than the people that Charles usually pulled the “two unrelated truths” stunt on though!
(Ixcatli) “What do you mean by that?”
(Charles) “By what?”
(Ixcatli) “By ‘people like you’… not that I’m complaining, you saved me from that deiphage!”
(Charles) “Oh well, that’s sort of a secret really – but it’s OK! It’s just that no one ever bothered with rules for people like me… They didn’t think it was necessary!… There! All fixed!”
It was flowing a lot better now. How that was affecting the Quintessence… well, it was harder to tell. He’d have to look at the top! Still, even if it was only properly transmuting a minor part of the interstellar prayers it should increase things a good bit!
(Charles) “Well it SHOULD be properly processing interstellar prayers now! Or at least what gets through…”
(Ixcatli) “You are quite a chatterer. Is there a reason for it?”
(Charles, with some disappointment) “But… don’t you like geomancy and manses and fixing things?”
(Ixcatli) “It’s… not a subject that resonates with me. Now squid…”
The walk through the next stretch of identical-looking tunnels involved more information on extraterrestrial squid than Charles had ever dreamed existed.
Then there were three tunnel branches, all of which looked the same. They might be eaten by a Grue!
Or, given that the place was illuminated, perhaps by Scarab Guardians.
Sadly, all was silent. None of the passages had air blowing, or the sounds of people searching or an exit sign, or any real clue whatsoever.
(Charles, with some disappointment) “Do you have any preferences?”
Ixcatli closed his eyes, extend a tentacle, and selected at random. His suckers pointed towards the rightmost corridor on the far end of the room.
They traveled onwards. At first, it remained damp and dark, and Ixcatli continued to expound on the virtues of his particular squid species. He was from a waterworld, so there were a LOT of squids there. Still, while Ixcatli was talking – and Charles continued to actually listen, which was a pleasant surprise for Ixcatli – Charles noticed that there was a subtle upwards incline to this tunnel.
(Charles) “Hm. Going up!”
Ixcatli actually stopped talking for a moment.
(Ixcatli) “Oh, good!”
Then he continued with his explanation of squid camouflage. Still, as they continued upwards it got less damp – and the walls got brighter. Oddly enough, Charles could also hear scratching noises from above – at least when Ixcatli took a breath.
(Charles) “Hey, I think we’re coming near the surface!”
(Ixcatli) “Wonderful! I remember little of my time as a… drone… but I spent most of it unable to see the dome. I wonder who’s ahead right now?”
(Charles) “Oh, it’s usually Sol Invictus!”
(Ixcatli) “But of course… now I’m a Luna bettor myself, but that kind of power is hard to hold the lead against . . .”
By now the place was quite shiny, there were engravings on the walls – and up ahead there was a lit chamber.
(Charles) “I haven’t run into most of them yet, so I can’t really say! It may not be much longer though, at least for some of them…”
(Ixcatli) “You seriously think there’s a chance of you meeting them? Well, you DID help me escape a chamber warded by potent sorcery…”
How in Oblivion had the child DONE that anyway? It had been mortal thaumaturgy – but on such a scale!
(Charles) “Well maybe! You never know what will grab their attention!”
He was busy studying the engravings… There seemed to be some sort of symbolic war going on there!
Art wasn’t really Ixcatli’s thing, but he took an interest as well. At least it wasn’t more blank walls or arcane details of geomancy!
The engravings appeared to be a series of organic whorls and loops, closely resembling vines and leaves. Those parts… twitched, much like a loose vine would twitch in a strong breeze. They seemed to be curving around and overwhelming geometric shapes. Huh! Nature and mechanism?
(Ixcatli) “I’m… not much for art symbolism. Some of the other gods looked down on me for it, but they couldn’t even swim! (He put a tentacle to his beak). “Gaia against Autocththon? I do know that much about the Primordials.”
(Charles) “Hm. Are the mechanisms of Yu-Shan breaking down because Gaia has been here for eons and Autochthon has not been?”
(Ixcatli) “An interesting theory… I don’t know.”
(Charles) “Still, I don’t think it’s writing… There doesn’t seem to be much to translate about it!”
(Ixcatli) “I don’t think so either. Certainly not Old Realm!”
Charles tried a bit of tinkering – touching various bits and trying to shift some symbols around – but while the organic part quivered and felt warm beneath his fingers the symbols didn’t move and were cold to the touch. Ixcatli got similar results with his suckers… Bother! There was so much geomancy and odd energies running about that even Charles couldn’t get much on something as subtle as a few tiny sensation effects without a lot more effort than he really had time for…
He took some pictures and they continued on towards the illuminated chamber – following the flow of the engravings.
There they found a door of clear adamant, with a bar of clear adamant across it on the inside, and a bunch of wards, blocking their way. The room beyond appeared to contain a map – apparently of the entire celestial city – engraved into the wall. The Old Realm print was far too small to read from this distance though, although the map itself glowed with a pale blue light. The engravings continued into the room itself; the map seemed to be a focus for them.
Oh, there was a table, and a couple of chairs, and some minor bits and pieces of office equipment in the room as well – but that really wasn’t important. The scratching was also a bit louder – but they weren’t paying much attention to THAT at the moment.
The wards were against gods, mortals, and Exalted not carrying a specific token. The one against mortals appeared to be the newest…
Charles was no normal thaumaturgist. A keyed ward necessarily contained an impression of the key; if you were skilled enough to examine the structure of the ward and work backwards… He still wasn’t sure what wards would affect him, but now was not the time for testing! Wait, an expertly crafted orb of mundane nephrite containing… ten peach pits? Well, OK… Was there an association with the peaches of immortality perhaps? It seemed that mundane peach pits would do well enough…
Charles reached into his pack – and quietly had some of his associates ship him some peach pits and nephrite to rapid-craft into an appropriate key. A barred and locked door wouldn’t be much of an issue once the ward would let him through! Thaumaturgy was wonderfully versatile that way. Evidently this wasn’t intended to keep HIM out. (For that all they’d need to do would be to specify the still-beating heart of a puppy or something similar).
Rapidly crafting a key – and telekinetically lifting the bar – was really no trouble at all.
The room appeared to be a simple monitoring station. There was a transcendent cooling receptacle (a divinely-overblown refrigerator), the table, four chairs, some minor bits and pieces of office equipment – and the map. The organic engravings surrounding the map didn’t just twitch; they writhed – and they seemed to emanate from the borders of Yu-Shan itself. The geometric figures they enveloped were barely visible.
Squares seemed to be connected with what would be the Fulgent Administrative District. Circles with the Five Spheres Residential District. Triangles with the Pangaean Bureaucratic District. Diamonds with the Lunargent Ecological Protectorate – and Pentagons with the Central Metropolitan Zone. The pentagons seemed to have the least entwining, but the others were fairly evenly divided in terms of trouble.
Now that he was closer up, he could also make out the map text. Other than district names and such there was a numeric indicator in the upper right corner… It read 99/100. That was kind of ominous somehow, even if it could mean 99% of nominal function!… Too bad there was no “Help” button!
Meanwhile, Ixcatli was rooting about in the refrigerator.
Hm… He’d heard a little about these places. Stations like this were fairly common throughout Yu-Shan for geomantic observation; they were pretty vital to studying the spread of the empty districts. Ones in settled regions of Yu-Shan were usually manned at all times. In empty quarters, on the other hand… They were usually underground because that’s where you got the best geomantic analysis. Ah! It was a touch interface!
Unfortunately, while he could zoom in and look at all kinds of numbers and things in the immediate area – where this station was focused on monitoring – he didn’t know enough about the local area to match up any of the symbols or readouts with anything. Still, touching various symbols got him different readings… Touching a pure-looking pentagon lit up the Central Metropolitan Zone; it was mostly white, with a few clear spots. The indicator changed to 19*/20.
Well, empty quarters were unheard of there, at least on the surface. Higher was better, and living there… you wanted everyone to know it.
He REALLY hoped that those were not failure percentages – but there was just too much information, and not enough actual correlations, to sort things out. He needed someone who’d trained on the system.
Probably not failures though, unless the Celestial coverups were even worse than he’d heard. He’d just have to ask someone!
Although, annoyingly enough, the room didn’t have any exits except back the way they’d come in. On the other hand, the scratching was still approaching, and was now coming from the left and above.
(Charles, extending a simple probe-spell) “Hello! Who’s scratching?”
It looked a small group of lesser deiphages tunneling towards them – and they’d just doubled up on their efforts. Ixcatli was backing away from the left wall.
(Charles, cheerfully) “Well, that works! They must have come down from the outside! They can show us the way out if I can cure them!”
(Ixcatli) “Well, let me help you . . . I’m not much of a fighter, but I owe you that.”
(Charles) “Oh not to worry! Wards for you, and wards for me, and a privacy ward and a few others…”
He put up the anti-deiphagy one around the deiphages and the area as they were breaking through.
(Charles) “And I have tea and sandwiches!’”
One of the deiphages – a former rock elemental – turned his fists to steel to finish smashing through the wall, and the pack came pouring through – but as the energies of the ward washed over them, they slowed., and eddied against the secondary wards – and, when they’d snapped out of it a few minutes later, Ixcatli held up a can he’d found.
(Ixcatli) “Does anyone want some ambrosial ambrosia? I found it in the transcendent cooling receptacle.”
(Humanoid God) “How can you open that with tentacles?”
(Ixcatli, shrugging) “Like this.” (He did so, and poured drinks)
Charles briefly wondered about “Transcendent Tentacles of Utility” – but it was much more interesting that the map had shown the “wildness” converging on this location when the deiphages had been converging… The numeric indicator had shown 20*/20 too; and he and Ixcatli had been shielded… If that was what it indicated… then there were an awful lot of gods lost to deiphagy and hiding out – or lost and showing no signs and still functioning… As high as 99%, or had that been purely local?
(Charles) “How’s everybody feeling? I will need a record of your domains for the reconstruction!”
(Rock Elemental) “Weird. What happened? Wait, reconstruction? I’m Hezras, god of smashing probabilistic diamonds.”
(Charles) “Oh, I suspect that you were mostly out of work, yes? I’ve never heard of probabilistic diamonds, so they might well be all gone.”
He kept an eye on the map. If he was about to be assaulted by endless waves of deiphages he wanted to know about it. On the other hand, the Central Metropolitan Zone was the only district of Yu-Shan that wasn’t showing 20*/20 on its numeric indicator. All the districts except it were mostly clear; but it was worst – or perhaps best – around the outer walls… If there were more deiphages coming, the map didn’t show it. Being an empty quarter, the area showed as clear on the map. He could see where the walls were; the borders glowed a darker shade of blue than the borders where the districts met the Central Metropolitan Zone. The areas immediately next to them were completely clear.
Wait, that meant that the empty districts… were closer to 70% of Yu-Shan than 40%. No wonder things were running downhill so fast! That couldn’t possible be far from critical failure! No wonder the monitoring stations were being so closely warded these days! If that news got out… there would be calls to evacuate the Celestial City! Even HE couldn’t readily do that! Even now, Yu-Shan was a lot bigger than he was!
The “fix Yu-Shan” project had suddenly gotten a lot more urgent – unless, perhaps, it was showing that someone – someone other than himself anyway – was meddling with the geomancy of Yu-Shan on a massive scale?
They were indeed all out of work; so Charles got a list of domains for restoring such as smashing probabilistic diamonds, a lake that got eaten by an unshaped, a forest burned in an extraterrestrial military battle two hundred years ago, and a computer peripheral that was no longer made.
(Charles) “Shall we go then? It’s kind of cramped down here!”
The “Yes!” vote was pretty much universal.
(Charles) “Back to the surface then!”
There was still a ways to go, but Charles could feel the familiar impression of the empty quarters up ahead: silence, an odd chill, and the occasional lonely wind blowing.
(Hezras) “Uhm… young man, wouldn’t you rather have me up front?”
(Charles) “Not a worry!”
(Hezras) “If you say so…”
(Charles) “And you might get hurt or something!”
(Hezras) “Uh, sure…”
Well, it was no flint off his carapace if the silly mortal boy wanted to get eaten… although the child certainly seemed fabulously overconfident for what he was!
Up ahead, there were deiphages pouring out of a side-passage. The gods behind him seemed torn between intervening and letting him go ahead… He turned on his basic ghosting charm to so as to be ready to dodge if necessary! It looked like… there were about twenty-five, oddly coordinated in movement. Instead of slavering and clawing, they were marching!
(Charles) “Allo! I take it that somebody dominant is in charge?”
(Female voice from the back) “And I take it you’re responsible for those gods going off my senses? (Sigh…) well, there’ll be more.”
(Charles) “I suppose! Isn’t it sort of mean to do that though?”
(Female voice) “You don’t know a damn thing about why I’m doing this. Come on, boost me up. I want to confirm it’s a kid.”
(Charles) “Well no I don’t know! Why else ask?”
A goddess rose out of the crowd. The robes were quite similar to the ones Ixcatli was wearing right now; ichor black. She was humanoid in appearance, other than the watery hair.
(Goddess) “Wow. And here I thought he’d taken too much of the wine.”
Well, she wasn’t anybody that Charles knew! Her eyes were definitely like Ixcatli’s were before he was freed; not blank, but glistening with intelligence. Her posture was far more imperious than a god of her apparent rank’s should be.
(Charles) “I’m Charles! What do you like to be called?”
(Eighty-Six Orchid) “Well, most people call me “RUN!” or “GHUL!” or “SIEGE!” I think you’ll be wanting an actual name, though… it’s Eighty-Six Orchid. I can tell you that much.”
(Orchid, to one of the other deiphages who had started drooling.) “HEY! Stand down. This might be worth something.”
(Charles) “Well it’s nice to meet you! Could you tell me what you want? We might be able to compromise in the interests of sorting things out!”
(Orchid) “Ehh… you mean me, or us in general?”
(Charles) “Oh, either or both!”
(Orchid) “Okay… me. I became this about, oh, a while ago. Two, three millennia? Anyway, the others explained what was up. That’s what I CAN’T tell you yet. What I’m after is employment that the godsdamned Bureaucracy can’t get off its rear end and find for me.”
(Charles) “Oh! Well, I’m working on that now… What did you used to be in charge of?”
(Orchid) “Cixhatlan dance. That was an empire of worlds on the edge of shaped space.” (She frowned). “I almost had dance dominated on them, too. Should have seen the look on my backer’s face.”
(Charles) “What happened to them? Conqured or something?”
(Orchid) “Yep. Tarvial got them.”
He could hear her teeth grinding! Tarvail… Oh yes, the place with all the defenses against the Wyld! It must have conquered this “Cixhatlan” place!
(Charles) “That might be a little harder than most, but I’ll work on it!”
(Orchid) “Then that damn Bright-Foot Nakita muscled in on my worshippers, and of course she had dozens of worlds backing her even then. Any gods from Tarvial here?”
He could see a hungry look in her eyes – and Ixcatli was trying hard to be inconspicuous.
(Charles) “I’m not sure that’s relevant! Anyway… so something is going on in the borderlands; there weren’t supposed to be many gods governing those. More things to fix and people to cure!”
Orchid had been peering at the child. For someone who was apparently just a God-Blood he seemed incredibly overconfident – to the point where he shouldn’t have survived an hour without protection! On the other hand, as a deiphage, her essence-senses were very good indeed – and if you looked beyond the surface… there was unbelievably amounts of power there, buried deep inside…
(Orchid) “Okay, so when you want to cure the deiphages, I assume that means all of us, right?”
(Charles) “Well, yes, that would be all of you – unless some just don’t want to be cured!”
(Orchid, waving a hand at the lesser deiphages) “If you could heal these guys, that’d be great. The ones like me are another story. Oh yeah, and we’d need another means of defense.”
(Charles) “Uhm… Defense against what? I can cure them easily enough!”
(Orchid) “The Celestial Bureaucracy-especially the lions. I would say Sidereals too, but we both know how busy they are.”
(Charles) “Wait, are they harassing you because you’re out of work? That’s just mean!”
(Orchid, looking frustrated) “Not that. That’s . . . what I can’t tell you.”
(Charles) “Oh. Well, I’ll cure this batch… Could you tell me somewhere safer?”
(Orchid) “Hrm . . . it’s this damnable oath connected to a Charm I have.”
Oh! That “Destiny Sponsorship” thing probably!
(Orchid) “You’d have to give me armor to compensate. And a god of my rightful rank can’t wear silly mortal steel!”
(Charles, rummaging in his pack) “Oh! I’ve got some around here… (he got out a set of the commando armor) Here we are!”
(Orchid, gaping) “Wait, what the Empyrean One!? You have artifact armor in your pack?”
The other gods – deiphage and otherwise – were also quite surprised.
(Charles) “Uhm… Why not? It’s really quite light!”
(Orchid) “Guh… never mind.”
She had one of her deiphages, who did appear to be a god of a defunct armor style, check it over – and found his report a little hard to believe. The child was not only hauling around artifact armor, but he was hauling around high-end disguised artifact armor with a multitude of different functions – and was prepared to GIVE IT AWAY?!.
(Orchid) “Okay, it’s good. I’ll take it. Now, if you’ll drop the wards that are messing with the geomancy in that monitoring station, we can talk there. I’ll leave my people outside.”
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