The Emperic Masquerader

The question here was how to do a “Chameleon” style build – along with a few queries about how to match a variant build from a forum over HERE. That’s easy enough, so here we have the Emperic Masquerader – also known as the…

  • Adaptive Copycat
  • All-Embracing Understudy
  • Competent Quack
  • Elusive Mimic
  • Masterful Chameleon
  • Mercurial Stand-In
  • Opportunistic Mountebank
  • Persona Impressionist
  • Protean Pretender
  • Resourceful Impersonator
  • Splendid Imitator and…
  • Weathercock Mocker

This character is built around a rather old notion – an individual who’s so flexible and generally competent that – when they get into a role – they can effectively stand in for almost anyone. While the notion was most celebrated during the Renaissance, it’s been a standard of popular fiction ever since, growing ever more popular as it became less and less possible.

An Empiric Masquerader draws on the power of the great archetypes, much as a spirit binder might channel the power of an elemental or nature spirit – tapping into the strengths of a warrior, or a guardian, or a mage, or a shaman, or what-have-you to temporarily assume some of the abilities of such an individual. Sadly, this ability is limited; while each such archetype or “mask” is reasonably formidable, they’re no match for a true master of a field who has permanently internalized those abilities – and no mortal soul can temporarily host more than two such archetypes at a time.

Still, the approach does offer considerable flexibility.

The original d20 implementation of this idea was a prestige class requiring at least five levels in another class or classes first – so we can expect to see the use of a number of the high-efficiency options to start a similar build at level one. Ergo, we can assume the use of…

  • Duties, granting an extra 2 CP per level. An Empiric Masquerader may be talented, but they will always owe SOMEONE for all the training they require.
  • Fast Learner, Specialized in Hit Dice. The Empiric Masqueraders physical training means that they can never entirely slack off in their physical development (6 CP).
  • Adept. Empiric Masqueraders pay only half cost for Bluff, Concentration, Disguise, and Use Magic Device – all skills often vitally necessary for imitating other classes, an ability which effectively provides +2 Skill Points per level (6 CP).

Since the original version was presented as a ten-level prestige class, creating a reasonable match means setting up a ten-level base base class – which gives us a grand total of 262 CP (L10 base) + 20 CP (Duties) + 20 CP (Fast Learner, for Hit Dice Only) +10 (Restriction; at least 30% of the character’s base points most be invested in Mask abilities, no more than 6% may be expended on any one mask) = 292 CP.

For some basics we’ll want Fast Learner and Adept (as above, 12 CP), +7 Warcraft (BAB, 42 CP), 20 SP (plus the virtual SP from Adept, 20 CP), +9 Saves (27 CP), d8 Hit Dice (40 CP), and Proficiency with All Simple Weapons (3 CP), Light, Medium, and Heavy Armor (15 CP), and All Shields (3 CP) – at a net cost of 162 CP.

That leaves 130 CP with which to buy special abilities. Of course, we’ll need to stretch that a bit…

Getting Into The Role: Innate Enchantment, Specialized for Double Effect / the bonuses only apply to subgroups of skills, saves, and abilities suited to the user’s current mask or masks, Corrupted for decreased cost/requires appropriate props and gear to work. All abilities Spell Level One, Caster Level One, Unlimited Use Use-Activated, and Personal Only – for a net “virtual cost” of 1400 GP per ability.

  • +2 Competence Bonus to All Skills (The Practical Enchanter).
  • Sidestep/Reflex +2 Competence Bonus to Reflex Saves (The Practical Enchanter).
  • Sidestep/Will +2 Competence Bonus to Reflex Saves (The Practical Enchanter).
  • Sidestep/Fortitude +2 Competence Bonus to Reflex Saves (The Practical Enchanter).
  • Enhance Attribute +2, Six times, for each attribute (The Practical Enchanter).

The original writeup provided a Competence Bonus to one attribute. The fact that this would stack with normal attribute enhancements, and thus allow some absurdities, once again calls for a tweak. I’m using Enhancement Bonuses rather than Competence, but this does allow two attributes to be enhanced.

  • At a total of 14,000 virtual gold, this selection of Innate Enchantments costs 10 CP (5 CP at lower levels, where it’s specialized for reduced cost instead of double effect) – and would cost a lot of XP, save for…
  • Immunity/the normal XP cost of Innate Enchantments (Uncommon, Minor, Trivial [only covers first level effects at caster level one], Specialized/only to cover Mask-enhancing abilities, 1 CP).
  • Immunity/Dispelling and Antimagic (Common, Major, Great, Specialized and Corrupted/only protects innate enchantments that provide personal augmentations, 6 CP).

Floating Feat: Enthusiast x6, Specialized for Half Cost / cannot be used to gain skill points, add to caster levels, buy spell progressions, etc; only for classical feat-type abilities (9 CP).

Turn Undead 3/Day at +4 Levels (12 CP).

The Masks:

The entire Masks package is corrupted; Only two “masks” can be used at a time, and the user may only change his or her selection three times a day, at the cost of ten minutes of meditation. Thus the user is has a broad selection of powers to choose from, but cannot use more than two-fifths of them at a time. Three twenty-eight point masks and two twenty-seven point masks thus cost (5 x 28 x 2/3 = 92 CP).

The Mage’s Mask (28 CP).

  • Role Bonuses: Concentration, Knowledge/Arcana, Knowledge/The Planes, Spellcraft, Will Saves, and Intelligence or Charisma.

Spellcasting is the expense here; the original version got 4/4/4/4/4/3/1 spells of levels zero through six and could get bonus spells for both Int and Wis. It also went from a caster level of 2 at level six, to 20 at level fifteen, and then – if you continued with the epic rules – went up two levels per additional level in this class and eventually far, FAR exceeded the caster level of a dedicated spellcaster.

Er, wait, what?

I think that I’ll just dump that into the “badly thought out class features” bin and use Inherent Spells; those have a caster level equal to the used’s hit dice, and so will start out more useful and then continue to improve much more reasonably.

  • Inherent Spell I through Advanced III (24 CP): Greater Invocation/Any Arcane Spell Effect of Levels 0, 1, 2, and 3 with +4 Bonus Uses Each (24 CP). All Specialized and Corrupted as below for one-third cost (Net 16 CP).
  • Inherent Spell, Specialized and Corrupted for triple effect (level nine Greater Invocation. Any Arcane Spell Effect, 6 CP), with +10 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for one-third cost (7 CP).

As for those Specializations and Corruptions… the “Greater Invocations” simply provide daily spell slots that…

  • Must be refreshed with sleep and then filled with prepared spells from arcane spell books.
  • Must be “cast” fulfilling all normal requirements – including dealing with armor-based failure.
  • Can be interrupted, counterspelled, and dispelled like any other spell-like ability.
  • Are limited by the user’s effective caster level (maximum level usable = level/2, rounded up as usual – although, by grace of the GM, this goes by the level of the spells being cast, not by the theoretical level of the greater invocation spell effects creating them).
  • Are – for those upper-level slots – limited to 5/4/2 slots.

That gives us a final progression of 5/5/5/5/5/4/2 spells, cantrips through level six – and, for the sake of simplicity, simply provides one more spell of each level instead of fooling around with bonus slots.

Now this is substantially cheaper than buying a normal spell progression that good – but it relies on the game master allowing the character to have a great big slice of cheese; access to spells at levels far lower than is normally allowed. I’d probably allow it – it is an interesting character concept – but it might not be best to count on it.

The Priests Mask (28 CP).

  • Role Bonuses: Diplomacy, Heal, Knowledge/Religion, Knowledge/The Planes, Fortitude and Will Saves, Wisdom or Charisma.
  • This uses exactly the same setup as the Mage’s mask – changing out “arcane” for “divine” and making a few other small tweaks – to cover access to some divine spells.

The Warrior’s Mask (28 CP):

  • Role Bonuses: Bluff, Craft/Weapons and Armor, Ride, Survival, Strength and Constitution, Fortitude Saves.
  • Additional Innate Enchantments: Immortal Vigor I (+12 + 2x Con Mod HP), Aura of Favor (+1 Luck Bonus to Attacks and Damage), Inspiring Word (+1 Morale bonus to Saves, Attacks, Checks, and Damage) (3 CP). Note that, at higher levels, these effects are doubled.
  • Berserker (6 CP).
  • Proficiency with All Martial Weapons (6 CP)
  • Skill Focus/+2 on a chosen Martial Art (4 CP).
  • Smite with +2 Bonus Uses (9 CP)

This is actually a good deal more powerful than the original version – but the original version wasn’t especially well balanced against the spellcasting options. The Masks of the Knave and the Wild are similarly improved. 

The Knaves Mask (27 CP):

  • Role Bonuses: Disable Device, Hide, Move Silently, Open Lock, Search, Dexterity, and Reflex Saves.
  • 3d6 Sneak Attack (9 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus/Adds (Int Mod) to (Dex Mod) with Dex-based skills (6 CP).
  • Awareness (6 CP).
  • Fortune/Reflex Save Variant (6 CP)

The Mask Of the Wild (27 CP):

  • Role Bonuses: Climb, Handle Animal, Jump, Knowledge/Nature, Survival, Charisma or Dexterity, and Fortitude.
  • Celerity, +10′ Ground Movement (6 CP).
  • Lore/Animals, Specialized for Double Effect in “how to get along with them” (3 CP).
  • Martial Arts / 1d6 Natural Weapons (6 CP).
  • Shapechange (6 CP).
  • Traceless/Travel, Specialized/in natural surroundings only (3 CP).
  • Travel/Forest (3 CP).

This comes out to 292 CP – exactly the number of character points available. It does use a few cheap tricks to do that, but also trades raw power for flexibility and has a number of improvements over the original build. It should be very effective in the hands of a clever player, but there are certainly far more overwhelming Eclipse builds out there.

Next up; a look at the additional abilities for the twenty-level forum build.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXXIV – Alchemical Factions

Martha Jones

Mercurial Bane Of Deception Pretending to be an Actress on Dr Who…

With everyone else quietly leaving Martha and Ethan alone to talk for a bit, Charles got towed along down the hall to the executive break room – where they waited. People started getting antsy (and nervous) pretty quickly, but no one was going to crack the door open and go back into the conference room – or try to get Charles into casual conversation. After all, if you said “yeah, I like good views” you might come home to find half your house hanging out over the grand canyon or something. That much raw power and willingness to oblige was… rather frightening.

Charles soon got bored – people seemed nervous and didn’t want to talk to him for some reason – so he produced a workbench and started drawing on the factory-cathedrals and manses again to make a few minor (two dot) peaceful helpful things in sets of three hundred at a time… Essence Gliders were always fun, so he made some of those, and then some redesigned Bracers of Shared Life (attunement cost of one mote and a limited link to a manse that would bestow some creation-normal “mutations” – Immortality, Exalted Healing, and Awakened Essence – after a few months, after which the bracer could be removed and passed on), and was just finishing up with some Rods of Cleansing The Body when Martha and Ethan Morgan came in.

Martha had wanted to talk to him next… While he’d been looking at HER, she’d been looking at HIM. Even in the great Metropolis’s where she was from, treating young boys like a big deal was something significant – and her findings had been most unusual even BEFORE the boy had casually created an artifact. Even in the finest workshops of the Great Metropolis’s of Autochthon she had never seen such artificing skill! That could not possibly be mere god-blooded power, no matter what guise it used to cloak itself! And that Thaumaturgy! That strange essence… It matched some of the essence coming from him! The stuff that kept… going off by itself to do things! What in Oblivion, the Underworld, and the Wyld was going on with the child!?!?”

Still… the boy was so good natured, and so absurdly helpful, that even considering that trap’s strength… he was still comforting to have around.

That trap was another matter though; no charms, no spellcasting, no apparent artifacts, just… raw geomancy, erupting out of Elsewhere to reshape reality to oblige him. Come to think about it… a lot like those chairs that popped up whenever he wanted to sit down, and the way that his cell phone worked with no battery, and a dozen other little things. The geomancy of Creation seemed to… go rushing around to keep him comfortable and do what he wanted.

Was it possible to just be so nice that even the universe would rush to oblige you?

OK, that was silly – but STILL.

She knew of Gaia – the Tome of the Maker was one of the oldest texts of Creation, and people who tried to change it often wound up mysteriously vanished or dead, presumably by the Maker’s will. But the Tome said nothing like this about the Maker’s siblings – except, of course, for Gaia.

No, wait, that would be silly. Gaia’s preferred form was described in the text. When she was feeling nice she tended to appear as the Emerald Mother… On the other hand, a child-jouten who bent the local geomancy to his gentle whims seemed plausible enough. What had she stumbled into here!? This had been supposed to be a simple scouting mission – and, while those were never as simple as planned, the potential complications were never like THIS!

At least the Terrestrials seemed oddly unwilling to gainsay her.

Charles – as usual – finished up his work before paying attention to anything else, despite his carefully-watching audience of Terrestrials, Awakened Aspected, and trusted mortals. There would be much examination of the Bracers of Shared Life later – since it would soon become apparent that they meant health and long life for entire extended families – but for now there was some quiet applause.

He let anyone have some who wanted some. After all, he could just make more.

(Peter) “Well, Howard, I have to give you credit. You stumble into the most interesting people.”

Then he saw that his father and the Alchemical had left the conference room.

(Charles) “Oh, all done? Er… I’ve made things crowded haven’t I? Sorry about that!”

(Martha) “Thank you for listening to me, Mr. Morgan. You will consider my words, yes?”

(Charles) “I got bored!”

(Ethan, stepping on one of the rods and looking down) “Someone please sort and bin these… and yes, we are done. And our guest would like to speak with you, next. (To Martha) And yes, madam, I will consider them.”

Normally he’d have asked one of the thaumaturges to put up a privacy ward at this point – but he was fairly sure that Charles could put up a much better one.

(Martha) “Mr. Morgan says this is the point where someone normally puts up a privacy ward for me.”

(Charles) “Oh! Ok!” (And did so).

Martha sat down again, and smiled – and Charles sat down in another obligingly-appearing chair.

(Charles) “What do you need?”

(Martha) “This has been a confusing day, if I must say so myself. He says I’m not supposed to reveal what I am in front of the mortals. What an arrogant way to refer to humans. And I was going to ask you a little more about your abilities.”

(Charles) “Well, pretty much everybody is mortal… That really does need fixing!”

(Martha needed a moment to take that in. Was he SERIOUS?) “I must admire your ambition. Excuse me for a moment…”

(Charles) “OK!”

Martha… underwent a metamorphosis. Flesh bubbled, things inside of her whirred, and what seemed to be implanted artifacts formed out of, or emerged from, her flesh. Charles observed the process with some interest… It only took a minute or two, but the woman who could pass on the streets before was now clearly something more than human. The implanted artifacts were made of moonsilver, appeared more grown than forged, and a beautifully faceted diamond had sprouted from her forehead. Her flesh was clearly clay, and no sign of breath came from her.

(Martha) “I’m fairly sure you’ve guessed by now, but I am no human.”

(Charles) “Hm! Soul-containment and… an artificial body. A bit like a Raksha in a shaped form! The minor artifacts are simply channels for the power that’s been bonded to you! Not a bad way to do it!

(Martha) “Then you realize that I am much like them. It’s not quite the same process, but the end results are quite similar.”

(Charles) “Why not? Bodies change all the time, and you certainly have a human soul there! The Kickaha are still quite human, and so are the totem-bonded, and a lot of the others…

(Martha smiled) “And how rude of me. My name isn’t Martha; my designation is Mercurial Bane of Deception. Most of my associates call me Bane.”

(Charles) “Nice to meet you! I have several names, but my usual one is Charles!”

(Bane) “Is that what’s crawling around in there? I had thought nanites…”

(Charles) “What? Oh! No, no… There’s plenty of room!”

(Bane) “Then that means only a few things, and if one of those is true…”

There had been no taint of Malfeas on Charles that she could see, so that eliminated one possibility…

(Bane) “Could you . . . show me?”

Charles… decided that, if he was coming out, he might as well do it in style – he’d keep all the attention focused on HIM and let his Guardians get on with things!

He went ahead and opened a gateway in the air.

(Charles) “This way! “

(Bane, blinking) “Not connected to your body, at least materially… fascinating.”

She did a bit of detection to be safe, but once she determined that it was clear, in she went!

(Charles) “It’s best to use this gate! I keep losing track of where the smaller ones have wandered off too. They keep scooping up people who are in trouble and bringing them in to visit anyway!… And here we are!”

They were overlooking the singing forest again. It WAS one of the prettier arrival destinations!

(Bane – with a bit of a blank look, but then a shrug) “By the Maker… how long has this been in existence? Trees and birds are not supposed to sing like that… unless I’ve missed a species.”

(Charles) “Since I dreamed it up! It went well with the crystal peaks! And the trees and birds were made for here! See, they do their own luminous patterns and such to go with the music!… They’re still not as good at composing as the great masters though!”

(Bane) “Incredible… and the sky is just like the sky in Creation. And yet you appear to be no older than a child… How many years has this been in existence, exactly?”

(Charles) “The forest? Uhm… fourteen months I think! Longer if you count from when I started thinking about it; that was several years ago I think.”

(Bane) “So you didn’t start your existence with this… why an inner world?” (Smiling) “Was that the most efficient way you could think of to assist others?”

(Charles) “Well, it works very nicely!”

Good! She was startled enough not to realize yet that “this area” might just be the forest – and that he’d neither confirmed nor denied starting off with OTHER areas in his inner world… She’d probably think of that later. Things would get even more confused once she met a Deva… Even the Alchemicals probably didn’t know how new primordials came into being; they just had more direct experience with one of them.

(Charles) “And people can come and visit while I make places for them!”

(Bane) “Well, it is a fascinating way of dealing with the issue. I’m curious about how you gathered the Essence to do it – if you wouldn’t mind telling me…”

(Charles) “Well, once you start manifesting your own geomancy, Essence really isn’t a problem; it arises from the stresses between the underlying chaos and the level of structure that geological structures impose on it. So when you have geology, it creates essence, which gathers into dragon lines and demesnes and can be focused through manses!”

That… sounded oddly similar to the process that colossi used to become metropoli and patropoli: find the most geomantically-auspicious area in the Maker’s body and set root. Yet the boy was moving around just fine it seemed, with his larger body subordinate. An odd blend of the Raksha she’s only recently encountered and the urban settlement process to be sure, but it seemed to have worked well for him. Was there much to the place beyond the forest?

Some of the Living Starships passed overhead – and the expression on her face was wistful – so Charles cheerily beckoned them down to visit and say hello!

They were actually quite curious. While there were automata in Aden, none gave off the kind of power aura she did.

She petted them much as a human would pet a horse or a sheep.

(Bane) “So friendly…”

(Charles) “Well… Mercurial Bane of Deception, these are… Enterprise 1701, the Millennium Falcon, and Excalibur!”

There was more blinking.

(Bane) “What, like the audio-visual transmissions?”

(Charles, to the ships) “I promise! I’ll start the colony-planting soon so you have more to do!” (to Bane) “Uhm… Why not? Everybody needs a name!”

(Bane) “Of course. And colony-planting?”

She continued to pet all the Living Starships – a lot.

(Charles) “I’ve been terraforming planets, and getting them ready for people. There are lots of barren rocks that no one is using and Gaia said I could!”

(Bane) “So… I see. This day gets stranger and stranger, but at least benignly so.”

(Charles) “Was that what you wanted to know?”

(Bane) “More or less… and I appreciate your patience. But where in Creation did you meet the Maker’s sister?”

(Charles) “Yu-Shan! I wanted to ask before I used too much of her stuff…”

He wanted to ask a Primordial for permission… and got it? He was obviously being a bit cagey about whether it was before or after – formal logic training would obviously come in handy in dealing with the child; he appeared to be reluctant to lie, but entirely willing to let people make false assumptions – but he ASKED. With his apparent power… She had to wonder how desperate things were… and what this “Yu-Shan” was.

(Bane) “I must confess, I’m not what they thought I was. All that deference was… confusing.”

(Charles) “What did they think you were?”

(Bane) “That… I would rather not say for certain until I’ve spoken to more of these ‘Starbreaking’ clans. But I suspect something has gone deeply awry… No, I KNOW something has gone awry.”

(Charles) “Oh yes! Starting long time ago! That’s why I have so much fixing to do! But Gaia said she’d help on some of the big projects, so that’s all right! “

(Bane) “Well… once I’ve done some more investigation and reported to my superiors, I’ll see about your assistance. (Sigh) I wish I could tell you more, but it’s a matter of security… And I don’t want to leave this place just yet – it appears to be quite large – but it’s peripheral at best to my mission, and I really should report back.”

(Charles) “Aw… But you haven’t even met anybody!”

(Bane smiled sadly) “As much as I would like to… I’m running behind schedule as it is. These starships were fascinating enough. Perhaps some other time?”

(Charles, with just a touch of disappointment) “OK!”

He opened the gate to go back while Bane bowed respectfully to the starships.

(Bane) “Thank you for showing me, though. Do you let people in, or can they just come in?”

(Charles) “There are some ways in – but since I’m basically suspended in Elsewhere, you have to either be let in or use a way of traveling that would reach alternate realms of existence!”

(Bane) “I see… well, thank you, Charles.”

She re-adopted her innocuous human form before going back out.

Hm… Charles estimated that it must have required untold amounts of the Magical Materials to make her body. These “Alchemicals” must be VERY expensive!… Oh yes! He’d better check with Gramps and Lytek! Should he ask her not to share his confidences for the moment?

Lytek – of course – was mostly interested in the Alchemical herself, and left it up to Charles. Gramps advised caution – although he was sadly well aware that Charles had very little of that particular quality.

Her estimates were a little different… Considering how quickly the child created artifacts, and how much could be installed in a pocket dimension… The potential was incredible. That desire to fix cosmic errors… might not be out of the boys reach. Perhaps it was no wonder that Gaia herself was taking an interest.

Charles did ask that she please try to keep things quiet. If she had to make a report so be it, but there was no reason it had to go very far. It might interfere with his work!

(Bane) “I assure you that my superiors are quite discreet.”

(Charles) “Oh good! Because as long as the Sidereals are debating, I can fix things without any red tape!”

Bane smiled… She was quite sure that none of her reports would be going THERE.

The Morgans gave Bane some gifts – which made her look mildly confused, although she accepted them since it was apparently customary…

(Bane) “I apologize for not bringing gifts of my own…”

(Charles) “I could get you some!”

The Morgan’s looked a bit awkward – although Mr. Morgan less so.

(Bane) “Oh, that’s all right, Charles. I think you have given them enough for both of us.”

Well, they were only rank two – but there were nine hundred of them altogether after all. That probably was quite enough – and Bane suspected that her fellow Exalted had had enough surprises for today.

Bane departed – not at all sure what Charles was, but reasonably sure that he was not a normal primordial – if there was any such thing.

After the manse guards had escorted her off the premises…

(Ethan, after Bane was gone) “That was educational. Peter, Howard, Raymond… and Charles. A word with you, please…”

They all headed back into the conference room.

(Howard) “What is it, Dad? You were in there a really long time.”

(Charles) “More privacy wards?”

(Ethan) “Yes, if you please…”

After they were up… it was surprising that someone who was already ruddy could blush.

(Ethan) “I’ve been duped.”

(Both sons, nearly simultaneously) “What do you mean?”

(Ethan) “She wasn’t Starbreaking… and I think my next meeting with them will not be pleasant.”

(Charles) “If you need to ask for help and the wards aren’t too strong I should hear you!”

(Ethan) “Charles, what’s the best armor you can craft?”

(Charles) “Uhm… Let me see… (he fished out of the Behemoth Cloaks) Would this do?”

(Ethan) “I would prefer something as concealable as possible – even more than what I’m wearing.” (That was a suit of the Terrestrial transformative armor.)

(Charles) “Well, the cloaks can look like anything of course.”

Raymond handled the detections.

(Raymond) “Um… I think that will do, sir.”

(Ethan) “Thank you, Charles. I should need it only for this meeting, if you have a limited supply.”

Unless the folding boat wasn’t a hardship for him, and it sure hadn’t looked like it.

(Charles) “Oh, I made a batch of them! Lots of people like armor!”

(Ethan) “Then… would it be all right if I kept it?”

(Charles) “Sure!”

So lavish a gift giver…

(Ethan) “Thank you Charles, and there is some business Howard has to discuss with you before you go. I must plan for my meeting with the Starbreakers… so everyone but Peter is dismissed.”

Charles, of course, tended to rate gifts according to “how much time does this cost me?” – and so a lot of things were “less important than  a lunch from McDonalds”. After all, he didn’t really have to worry about resources and facilities like they did.

Greed of the Cabal Campaign Setup

Greed of the Cabal

A Champions! Campaign 

Inspiration comes from the strangest places, and this is the second time I ended up creating a character based off BlazBlue. If you haven’t heard of it, BlazBlue is a fighting game with the most absurdly intricate and nonsensical backstory the Land of Anime can produce. They also have extremely inventive and colorful character design, that for some reason frequently inspires new ideas. So there’s reason that Nu-13 shows up. Remember: It’s not a rip-off as long as you can call it an homage with a straight face.

Beyond fun character design, the reason I came up with this campaign is because I wanted to see a superheroic campaign where all trouble couldn’t be solved by simply punching the enemy. Many of the best superheroic stories feature the heroes facing enemies which they could defeat, but the heroes know that simply beating up the villains won’t win the day. They have to get past the villains, or sometimes ignore the visible threat to deal with the real problem.

That’s why the Cabal won’t go down easily. Their best fighters could be beaten, particularly if the characters know what’s coming and prepare. Their bases can be destroyed. But just beating up a few baddies won’t end them. They can rebuild, and unless the characters are wiling to kill, even winning a fight against the Cabal’s minions will do not permanent damage. They aren’t commiting any visible crimes – in fact, the characters will be invading their property! And if the characters do kill, the Cabal can turn that back against them with a well-orchestrated media campaign.

This group isn’t designed to be the entirety of a campaign, and in a superheroic game, that’s usually boring anyway. There’s plenty of space for other enemies and other challenges. In fact, the Cabal might well aid the heroes when it suits them.

In fact, the best way to use the Cabal is to make the characters work for it, and realize it exists on their own. If they can draw their own links and conclude an unknown villainous organization exists, they’ll be that much more invested in combatting it.

What is the Cabal?

The better question is who, not what. In one sense, the Cabal doesn’t exist. It’s simply an association of powerful figures manipulating events to best advantage. There’s no membership roll or corporate ledger, just an informal association. The campaign only details one of the Cabal’s leadership: The Chairman, Senator Kyle Stevenson; you can create any of the others to your own satisfaction. Every one of them will bring resources to the table, and may not have any superpowers whatsoever. Those resources may vary: contacts, soldiers, influence, or money. But every leader of the Cabal must be a leader of some sort, not simply a thug with an energy blast, no matter how potent.

Much of what they do isn’t illegal, or it falls into the category of relatively minor crimes such as stock-market manipulation. They don’t care about conquering the world, or having costumed superheroes kneeling at their feet, or posessing alien technology, or dominating strange magical creatures. They care about the material: wealth and power over people.

That should lead you to the kind of plots the Cabal will try. They prefer the simple and the relatively straightforward, just at a considerable distance. One member of the Cabal will do what another can’t, or at least can’t be seen doing. And with completely secure communications, they coordinate very effectively. This could be as simple as ensuring good press or as complex as pushing down the price of a specific stock on a certain day.

How Does it Operate?

The Cabal works very hard to obtain and maintain control of the media, from long-established newspapers to today’s hottest blogs. It’s not simply a way to manipulate events, but also to gain information quietly. If they need anything investigated, it’s easy to send reporters during the day as well as spies in the night. Through the media, they can influence public opinion and support political candidates they favor. Perhaps most importantly, they can kill news unfavorable to the Cabal – or delay it.

Equally important, the Cabal seeks to control local governments, especially the police. Local influence is far more useful to the Cabal than national, at least for the moment. The ability to hinder business rivals or create a tight-knit supporting organization is worth more than trying to steer the destiny of nations. Of course, down the line that may change, and nations do fall within the Cabal’s ambitions.

That said, this is a superhero game and they certainly use supervillains to do their dirtiest work. They have assassins when they need to kill, enforcers when they need muscle, and super-scientists when they need super-science. They simply use these as tools, not ends in and of themselves. Not surprisingly, they prefer agents with similar motivations as the leadership: materialists and mercenaries. They’re much easier to predict and control, although they’ll accept anyone powerful and willing to serve. The Producer and Nu (Dreizehn) are cases in point.

Finally, the Cabal does not and will not act like like cartoon villains. They won’t casually kill their agents (though slaves and grunt laborers are another story), and they don’t need to demonstrate pointless cruelty just to establish how evil they are. They don’t think of themselves as evil at all, in fact. They’re simply smart enough to view sentimentality, patriotism, and “good” as mere self-serving nonsense, and act accordingly. Loyalty only goes to a point, however. Any leader of the Cabal would  sacrifice the rest to save his own skin, which is one reason the organization is made of independant cells.

Where is it?

In a manner of speaking, this question is meaningless. The Cabal is where it needs to be. When they need a base or operations, they create one. When it’s no longer useful, they scrub the location and send the personnel elsewhere. They have no permanent operations, just a plan of action and a lot of escape routes. Every team acts on its own when sent orders from above.

However, the Cabal always has operations near where its members operate, and New Jersey is a huge center of action. Jersey has a great deal to recommend it to the Cabal. It’s highly urban, wealthy, has a great deal of commerce including active ports, and close to several cities important to the Cabal’s plans. Sure, New York is important, but they want to control the media networks rather than slugging it out atop the Empire State Building. Apart from New York, they have easy access to Philadelphia (a key area for Senator Stevenson’s ambitions) and Baltimore, with Washington D.C. not far down the road. New Jersey also has the advantage of being unfairly considered a backwater. Heroes and villains alike are drawn to New York, meaning that operations in New Jersey attract far less attention. The Cabal enjoys the privacy.

Major Goals

Obviously, the Cabal’s leaders want ever-greater power and wealth for themselves and the organization, but that’s a rather vague statement. Specifically, they want to dominate parts of the world as dictators, or as close to it as they can manage. Each one wishes to grab total power in one corner of the world or another. Their work in controlling local government is the first step in this: undermine a nation or region locally, and when the time comes it will fall apart without a struggle. More concrete steps they’ll take on that road might include…

Calling for more controls on superheroes. The Cabal doesn’t actually want superheroes stopped or even hindered from pursuing supervillains. They just intend to delay or distract the heroes when they interfere with the Cabal. Those other supercriminal organizations and world-conquering villains are competitors, after all. Finally, it will definitely be in the Cabal’s interest to have superheroes around once they take over in their respective regions. To achieve this, they might try to frame superheroes, or cover them with an unfriendly media spotlight. Most supers aren’t media-hounds and don’t know how to handle an unfriendly reporter. They can, and will, raise questions with tabloids, spread them with blogs, and then follow-up with a campaign in the mainstream news.

Best of all, the Cabal tailors its actions to individual heroes, granting favorable coverage to some and nasty reporting to others, to achieve the appearance of balance. The “lucky” recipients of favorable reporting, of course, will be heroes not bothering the Cabal.

Kidnapping, blackmail, and reprogramming. The Producer is a key agent of the Cabal. In addition to controlling information security, he also helps build its media network. He has intimate knowledge of how the media works, and how it spreads messages. Thus, he knows exactly whom to target for pressure. The Cabal prefers to buy their targets off, but failing that they quickly resort to intimidation or even programming hypnotic suggestions. Even in such cases, they will make sure the target accepts pay as well: it makes the victim more compliant, and gives the Cabal an easy way to target the police on the victim should he or she try to rebel!

Half-way legitimate business. The Cabal frequently engages in trade and buying out existing businesses. Of course, they’re as bent as possible in doing this: They use smuggling to bypass tariffs and improve their profits, deal in illicit drugs, and use every dirty trick they know to turn the best bargain, from strong-arm tactics to blackmail to media manipulation. Disrupting these operations would certainly put a crimp in their plans and cash flow.

Controlling gangs, but from a distance. The Cabal has a definite interest in street crime, both in using it themselves and avoiding trouble. They don’t own an army of soldiers like Dagger, so having criminals act as lookouts and thugs is essential. One common gambit is to insure their legal merchandise, let gangs “steal” it in exchange for payment up-front. The Cabal doubles it profit with little-to-no risk. Better yet – they often insure with their own companies, allowing an increase in premiums for all clients based on the high risk of theft!

Developing their own super-technology. Given its wide-ranging interests, the Cabal feels that posessing technology capable of standing up to, or at least hindering, superheroes is a worthwhile investment. To that end, they’ve worked on developing basic powered armor prototypes and some very dangerous weaponry. It’s nothing that couldn’t be built elsewhere, but the Cabal continues work.

Ironically, magic brought the Cabal its greatest successes. They distrust magic in general, but it’s a potent force they feel cannot be ignored. To that end, Doctor Vitus not only proved to be an extremely useful agent for his administrative talent alone, but has immense skill in creating magical artifacts and devices suitable for those not magically inclined. Regardless of their concerns, the Cabal understands it cannot ignore such power, and that it would prove extremely useful when properly abused. If magic works, magic they’ll use. Which leads to the last point:

Building a golem army. “Army” may be the wrong word. The Cabal doesn’t want to build a a large armed force, so much as an extremely dangerous group of immortal machines who can be hired out as mercenaries. It’s easy for super-mercenaries to move around the world, as they’re not generally wanted for crimes. At the same time the Cabal can then position them as “aiding the revolution” when the group does start to overthrow certain nations, or conquer regions outright. In short, the golems will be assassins, guards, and soldiers bringing profit and security to the organization.

Integrating with DC

Of course, not every game uses the generic Champions background. Should you prefer a D.C. comics-based game, you must contend with the fact that there’s a semi-centralized network of ridiculously powerful heroes, arguably mightier than all the villains put together. In such a case, the Cabal will assume that a superhero will breach their operations eventually, and try their best to stay out of the way of the most powerful and legendary. They really do not need the Man of Steel coming down on their heads.

When it does happen, they simply intend to scrub all visible operations and start over. Moreover, they’ll try to keep branches of the organization even more secret and separate. In this concept, the Cabal will focus much more intently on getting their golem army activated. They’ll feel an intense need for more protection and that’s almost the only way to get it. Even if the heroes never discover their facilities, they’ve far too many espionage tools at their disposal for the Cabal to ever feel secure. (Also, if the Dark Knight or Question ever discovered they didn’t know about a secret criminal conspiracy, they will be pissed).

Integrating with Marvel

Marvel doesn’t project quite the same centralization that DC does. There are definite powerhouses, but no one group that brings so many heroes together. Equally, many of the more famous heroes are much less powerful, or have one potent ability instead of the Honeymoon Suite of superpowers. In this case, the Cabal will spend less time trying to get a golem army, and more on manipulating events and supplying other supervillains.

Major Characters

These will be posted and in the coming days. For now, a few notes on who the important are.

Martyr: A paranoid drug-abusing homeless murder suspect – and he’s the good guy! (Jersey is so screwed.) Despite rough appearance and the not-unjustified belief that the Cabal has infiltrated every level of government and media, Martyr is trying his best to expose the Cabal. Right now, he knows little more than its name and the pattern of their operations. That’s still enough for him to track down one hidden base after another. Martyr needs help, badly, and his biggest problem is not being able to trust anyone. If he knew a group of heroes were fighting the Cabal, he might reveal himself and everything he knows. He’s definitely aware that the Chairman exists, but not his true identity. He’s also met Myrmidon in combat and lived to tell the tale, and has beaten enough information out of Cabal minions to know about Doctor Vitus.

The Chairman/Senator Kyle Stevenson: A respected Pennsylvania politician, the Senator founded the Cabal and still excercises the greatest influence. He intends to use it to fuel his ambitions in the political arena, as well as one day giving him a nation of his own to rule. The Chairman has a disturbing amount of psychic energy, though it’s focused inward and he requires a public audience to fuel it.

Doctor Vitus: The Cabal’s top researcher, The good bad doctor is a master of mystical enchantment, particularly attuned to the creation of Golems. His ultimate weapon is almost finished. All he needs now is the soul of a hero strong enough to bring it to life…

Eraser/Carla Hawkins: An aging assassin with an unstable personality, Eraser is the loyal enforcer of the Cabal’s will, as well as its most accomplished killer. She’s extremely dangerous in personal combat, but not quite as spry as she used to be. But age and treachery beat youth and skill, and she’s equally good at treachery and skill.

The Producer/Gary Stevens: A warped cartoon-show creator, Gary Stevens controls the Cabal’s information network, and he’s extremely good at what he does. His powers of hypnotic suggestion may require bulky reprogramming units, but they’re undeniably effective. Martyr fears him more than any other Cabal agent, because he’s a master of electronic surveillance as well as mental manipulation.

Myrmidon: Myrmidon is one exceeedingly dangerous mercenary, and not one to be trifled with. The Cabal hires him when it needs extra muscle, or to defend a specific location, and it’s been a good business arrangement for both parties. Myrmidon does not ask questions not related to his specific duties, and he doesn’t accept pay unless he carriers out his task correctly. The Cabal’s leaders place considerable trust in him, although he isn’t part of the group. He has a particular dislike of Martyr, and is extremely frustrated by the wily man’s ability to avoid capture.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXXIII – Primordial Jouten On A Bicycle!

Raymond Island

Yes, I’ll install about a thousand of those too…

Back at the Water Tower, there was a discussion going on…

(Ethan, Elder Terrestrial Fire-Aspect and Family Head) “He casually created a Rank-5 manse for you, in minutes, starting with a demesne-3 that hadn’t even FORMED yet – and he’s coming to see us on a BICYCLE?!?!”

(Raymond, Awakened Wood Aspect) “And he didn’t even use that spell the Insidious are supposed to have either… it was THAUMATURGY.”

(Ethan) “You’re kidding, right?”

(Raymond) “I REALLY wish I was.”

(Ethan) “You cannot POSSIBLY do that with thaumaturgy! It would take near-limitless power!”

(Raymond) “Well, it felt like thaumaturgy. My Essence senses aren’t nearly as good as yours, so I could be wrong – but I’m not sure how we could arrange a safe demonstration, though…”

With it put that way, Raymond did indeed hope that he was wrong. He wasn’t READY to have an cosmic entity with near-limitless power cruising around Atlanta on a bicycle…

(Ethan) “Bah! The way you’ve reported him acting… we could probably just ask! After all, he’s created a Manse for you – and one of legendary power – simply because one of your mortal students said that you’d like one!”

(Raymond) “He is ridiculously open.”

Huh. Maybe the child WAS a cosmic power! It was hard to see how any entity so naive and obliging could have survived up to this point without being under somebodies control already otherwise!

(Peter, Terrestrial Fire Aspect, sighing) “He DID come by and fix our manse for us… without asking for anything in return. For that matter… whatever he did, the hearthstone is still enhanced, and the place is still radiating some sort of geomantic prosperity blessing effect that covers most of Atlanta – and it’s boosting both our finances and those of everyone else in the city! And we can’t even tell how he did THAT!”

(Ethan) “Well… there are a few charms which will let one of us add some elemental boosts to a manse that matches our elemental aspect – but blessing the entire city in the process is far beyond any geomancy I’ve ever heard of! At the least, we know that he’s SOMETHING bloody powerful!

(Raymond) “Definitely, sirs.”

(Ezmerelda, a militant aunt, Terrestrial Air Aspect) “Well… he’s either naive enough to stroll right into our stronghold in front of all of us on the strength of a request to talk – or he’s not worried about all of us put together!”

(Raymond) “It has to be the first. Nonetheless, I’m happy to help prepare for the second if you want… though his behavior so far shows little interest in fighting.”

Ethan and Ezmerelda were not so sure about the naivete… There had been reports of an Insidious presence at a local school, and they’d send some people in – and it had somehow turned into a HORRIBLE embarrassment. First they’d no success at all, then they’d somehow wound up with piles of drugs in their agents cars and a drug laboratory appearing in the basement of one of their safehouses just as the police arrived to search. Charles and a couple of friends had casually strolled into their fortress, used their own defenses against them, converted every attack against them into annoying mischief, and captured the entire family council. They’d been given a polite request that they stop harassing the school and a brief tour of heaven before the trio had wandered off, politely healing up all the incidental injuries on the way out – all without actually using anything but a bit of…

Thaumaturgy.

OK, maybe that wasn’t quite as embarrassing as it had seemed at the time.

Raymond hadn’t been at the tower for the assault, although he’d read the reports – but the people writing those had tended to downplay just how big of a mess and embarrassment the entire episode had been.

(Raymond) “My current ideas are a powerful spirit, a raksha feeding subtly, or something I don’t have clearance to know about.”

(Ethan) “ Hmm… I’ve never heard of a Raksha building manses, but I suppose it’s possible… I’ve never heard of a spirit or raksha with so much power either.”

(Raymond) “Could be a new Incarnae, but I know that’s ridiculous. How would they get out of Heaven without the Insidious noticing and doing something?”

Although, according to the boy, the Insidious didn’t actually hold Heaven hostage; the celestial gods just didn’t get summoned much… Could that really be true? Had there been thousands of years of near-silence from the celestial gods just because they were, well… using an outdated phone book and their calls were not getting through? He hadn’t brought that up before – after all, the Morgans were a Starbreaking clan – but maybe it was time…

(Raymond) “Well, the boy DID say that the Insidious weren’t holding heaven hostage – it was just that the Celestial Gods were rarely properly invoked any longer.”

(Ethan, sighing) “This was highly classified – but when the boy and his two friends strolled in through our defenses… They called a god who specialized in transport and… took us on a quick tour of heaven.”

(Raymond) “What!? Well… how was it?”

(Peter) “Impossibly splendid – and filled with legendary beings. and swarms of gods. It was as self-absorbed as Mardi Gras and had poor quarters reminescent of the back streets of New Orleans in comparison with the rest of the place. It was still utterly fantastic compared to Earth – but it was obvious that something was wrong. From what the god we were traveling with said… a lot of the old links with Earth were broken during something called the “reshaping”, and now it was much harder to visit earth without a proper summoning to serve as a link. Anyway… the Insidious – or Sidereals – seemed to be… simply overworked functionaries in one department. It was… part of the tour.”

(Raymond) “Well, I’d better fess up then… that’s what the kid told me about Yu-Shan, and the Sidereals. He said… that the number was constant; when one was killed, the power that created them simply… transferred itself to someone else, although the new Sidereal then needed some training. That’s… pretty consistent with Starbreaking findings, to be sure…”

(Peter) “What, they just… reincarnate if killed? So all this work was just… harassment?”

(Raymond) “Well, I never killed one, and Howard sure wasn’t in long enough to… but I feel pretty guilty about my involvement.”

Howard’s encounter with that Chosen of Journeys was still a source of light ribbing in the family.

(Ethan) “Things happen. And it’s not like the Starbreaking ever had much success… There hardly ever seems to be more than a few of the Insidious on Earth at any one time.”

(Raymond) “With all due respect Sir, I never thought I’d hear you say that.”

Had the initial show of force frightened the Sidereals away from Earth? Or had they just stopped sending anyone who hadn’t yet mastered that weird ability to simply vanish that had been reported on so many of the later Starbreaking missions that weren’t simply false leads?

Wait. “A hundred”. And an entire universe to look after, even if Earth was presumably an important bit. That… sort of sucked! Poor guys! Exaltation should be a privilege, not a drudgery!

(Ethan) “So when is the… “child”… due to arrive?”

(Raymond) “From what Howard told me, in half an hour. Said he was (he took a deep breath, even if it wasn’t news) bicycling in.”

(Peter) “Bicycling? You were serious earlier then? He has power on the scale we’ve seen and he’s traveling by BICYCLE?”

(Raymond) “That was what Howard said when he called me…”

(Peter) “If he really is a child… what’s he going to be like when he grows up?”

(Raymond) “As much as I hate to say it, that might be “if.” Somebody like that can probably control his aging without a gem of immortality.”

(Esmerelda) “Peter Pan, the Cosmic Entity. Oh by Oblivion…”

(Raymond) “Hey, I just know what I’ve seen him do.”

There wasn’t much more to say – and it wasn’t long before Charles turned up. He was pleased to see that the Beech Street Manse was functioning just fine post-upgrade! And Howard was coming out to meet him now that the manse guards had confirmed that it was him!

(Charles) “Allo!”

(Howard) “Good evening! Uh… did you really bicycle in?”

It was a silly question of course – the boy was still folding it up to put away – but it was just so WEIRD!

(Charles) “Why not? I like bicycles!”

(Howard) “Okay… anyway, l don’t want to leave Dad waiting much longer. Let’s head upstairs.”

Charles did – although he did keep the dodge charm ready to go, just in case.

They headed on through the lobby, and up the stairs; the meeting was going to be several floors up, near the top of the tower – and well above the general business and clan offices below. The ascent proceeded normally – until Howard pivoted to his right and attempted to grab the air next to him. The Manse guards with them went on alert; they had their guns out anyway, but were not yet firing.

Charles turned on his essence sight… That had been silly of him! He should have had that on anyway!

Hm… It was pretty hard to make out – but there was a faint shimmering moving at more-than-human speeds about ten feet to the right, heading away from the group.

Gothmug promptly threw up a box – but whatever-it-was moved with deadly speed, slipping past the encasement. It looked like it was capable of “perfect” defenses . . .

Gothmug simply sealed off the corridor at the far ends and created a confined place; even with a perfect evasion you wound up in one area or the other when an enclosed place was subdivided, and eventually you’d have no room to evade in…

That got whatever-it-was into a solitary box eventually. Howard ordered the Manse guards to surround it at a safe distance.

(Charles) “Hello!”

There were sawing noises – but Gothmug simply made the walls indestructible, which put an end to THAT.

(Charles) “Hello! Want a sandwich? Or tea?”

(Female voice, after a bit – and in English, but with a VERY weird accent) “Tea. No, a sandwich… no – which makes less of a mess?”

(Charles, feeling that that was a little odd) “Well, sandwiches are solid, tea is liquid…”

(Female voice) “Uh… tea!”

(Charles) “Tea then!”

(Howard) “Tea’s nice… but what in the blazes are you doing here… invisible?”

(Female voice) “May I please be let out first?”

(Charles) “That’s up to the people who own this place! You were kind of sneaking!”

(Howard) “Well, let her out… (to box) but we’re keeping an eye on you!”

Gothmug grumbled a bit – but he let the interior subdivisions disappear while leaving the outer-level containment, revealing a slender, apparently unarmed, young woman in dark but practical clothing.

(Charles) “Were you coming to the conference too?”

(Woman) “Err… thank you! I wasn’t expecting you to spot me…”

(Charles, slightly mystified) “You’re welcome!”

(Howard, looking somewhat confused by the accent) “Well, she’s coming to the conference now. We can’t let her run around unsupervised in here.”

(Woman) “Oh yes! I am here for the conference!”

(Charles) “Oh, I’m Charles! What’s your name?”

(Woman) “Martha.”

(Howard) “Well… Martha… if you’re here for the conference, what was with the cloaking?”

He motioned for the guards to keep walking… and she went along, but got deadly serious, and said something in a language similar to Old Realm – but not Old Realm.

Howard looked somewhat afraid – while it took Charles (who had a good deal of practice with Old Realm) a bit to make it out… The linguistic distance was similar to that between the High Realm and Low Realm tongues – although this was obviously a living language, rather than being nearly dead. Given the far greater time interval… that pointed to a culture with sophisticated ways of passing on information, probably including recording systems. That limited things a lot! There hadn’t been many high-tech cultures that had persisted since the end of the first age or before!

Oh yes, it had been; “I wish to talk to your father about his recent investigations.”

The conference room was on the seventh floor, and Raymond was waiting.

(Raymond) “Is everything all right? Who’s that?” (Indicating Martha).

Howard whispered something into his ear, and he forced a smile.

(Raymond) “Well, come in. You too, ma’am.”

He took extra care not to touch Martha as they headed into the conference room.

Charles had been considering Marth’s essence-aura; it wasn’t too much stronger than that of an experienced mortal thaumaturge’s – rating three – but he’d never seen one quite like that before! It was… strangely orderly, and mechanical! That was rather neat! Could she be one of the “Alchemicals” he’d heard about? They were… well, he really didn’t know much – but they were supposed to be really good with magitech!

The conference room was lavish, with mahogany, plush carpet, and fine paintings on the walls. It would appear perfectly normal except for the numerous wards against Terrestrial anima flux. There were quite a few people waiting; most of them apparently the entourage for the two men standing on the far side of the table. One of them (Peter) looked normal, with only his red hair to distinguish him. The other, older gentleman (Ethan) breathed out a puff of smoke. Waves of heat radiated from him – and even Charles couldn’t help but notice that neither of these men looked a lot like Howard.

(Charles, cheerily) “Hello!”

(Peter) “Hello, Charles.”

(Ethan) “Yes . . . It’s good to meet you.”

(Charles) “Nice to meet you too! What was it you needed?

(Ethan) “I’m Ethan Morgan, and this is my son Peter. Hmm, getting to business already! I like that… I was going to ask you about the Manse you constructed for Howard’s aide, Raymond. Could you tell me more about how you did it so fast? (To Martha) And madam, won’t you please sit down?”

(Charles) “For most things – like the survey – it’s just harder to do it fast, so you just have to be clever. For the engineering and construction… I just mass-manufactured the necessary components, and assembled them. Once the manse-potential was in place and the components were channeling it, you just let the matter build itself along the essence flows!”

(Martha) “Shouldn’t we all sit down?”

(Ethan, raising an eyebrow, but doing so) “Mass-manufactured… but every Manse I know has to be built for the demesne… which was only forming in the first place, and only third-rank!”

Charles cheerily sat down in an obligingly-appearing chair – supplied by some obliging geomancy.

(Charles) “Oh, the design has to be individualized, but components – things like shaped blocks, and essence-conductive structural members, and that sort of thing can easily be mass-produced!”

Everyone sat – and everyone but Charles seemed to agree with the house head from their looks: this was not normal.

(Ethan) “How long did it take you to draft the design?”

(Charles) “Well, the potential designs are implicit in the geomantic survey; you simply need to select a possibility to realize from among the potential patterns.”

(Peter) “All good and well, but just planning a Manse of that rank normally takes years – and I believe Father asked you a direct question there.”

(Charles) “It’s not really a separate step doing it that way; the possible designs are apparent; you just need to select one. Long enough to choose I guess. A minute maybe?”

(Howard) “He… he actually said that, right?”

(Charles, with some puzzlement) “Uhm… yes?”

(There was a rather imperious look from Ethan…) “YOU were the one who reported how quickly he repaired this Manse. I would think you would be the one LEAST surprised by his capabilities.”

(Howard) “But… that’s just… how do you do that? That would take ridiculous amounts of Essence for the demesne alone!”

Meanwhile, Martha was just listening… and taking everything in, from the looks of her.

(Charles) “It’s not all that much!”

(Howard) “I bet you did the same thing, or similar, for this place. And you still haven’t told us HOW you do that! You can do a lot with the right facilities these days, but that doesn’t take care of the geomantic shaping. Not with any magic available to us!”

(Peter) “Which is why we’re curious. Frankly, we’re willing to pay good jade for the process. We can outbid most clans and houses in the Southeast.”

(Ethan) “Or a smaller amount of artifacts. (Quickly) But only if Madam approves!”

(Charles) “Well… I don’t know if you could use it. I suppose I could make something else while you watched. Would that help?”

(Ethan) “Certainly…”

(Charles) “What do you need?”

(Ethan) “Hmm.”

Wait… Had the boy REALLY just been asking what they NEEDED when he arrived? Not just what they WANTED to know? Was he seriously prepared to… create things on request?

(Peter) “Oh, why don’t we let Howard decide?”

(Ethan, dubiously) “All right. Ask the boy for an artifact, son.”

(Howard) “My own artifact folding boat!”

Well, those were… a massive challenge, without being impossible! At least to any artificer that they’d ever heard of…

(Charles) “Any particular styling or other features?”

(Howard) “Umm… I don’t care as long as it’s okay for river travel.”

(Ethan) “Raymond, if you would run Essence detection while he does this. And Madam, if it’s not too much trouble, could you as well?”

Charles was briefly considering… He had the design ready, so that was easy…

He tucked his tongue in the corner of his mouth and pulled on his various factory-cathedrals and their material stockpiles and requirement-bypassing systems. He stuck with adenic thaumaturgic acceleration instead of his native acceleration charm so they could get a better view – but flurried it massively to make up for it only being about 20% as efficient.

It took a couple of minutes – and, of course, turned out a set of five. He HAD been tapping into Dudael after all.

(Charles) “Here you go!”

(Howard) “Um… wow, thanks…”

Ethan raised an eyebrow at Raymond – and understood the slight gesture… Raymond agreed; they had prepared every form of analysis they could for this – and that had been…immensely skilled and powerful thaumaturgy backed and amplified by the networked geomancy of many manses, and the powers of several artifacts and hearthstones, and… raksha grace magic? – but while that implied vast resources, nothing there was inherently beyond their power save, possibly, for the Greater Thaumaturgy – and the boy seemed willing to simply… give that away!

Beyond that however… there had been traces of at least two new types of Essence. There had been the helpful, obliging, stuff that the boy bestowed on people when he… upgraded their thaumaturgic powers – and there had been just a hint of boundless space, endless time, and the darkness between the stars clinging to a shimmering trace of essence that was almost impossible to see or pick out of the rest.

And all of it seemed to come from… inside of him. Where there was indeed… personal geomancy, held together with more-than-Terrestrial power – but that power was… passive. It linked and guided the other powers, but was not manifesting itself directly. Was it the boys, or merely something bestowed? The boy… was still not reading as much of anything! Not even as a god or an Exalt! Just as a god-blood! He wasn’t even expending much of any personal power!

Martha was not so well-prepared for analysis – she hadn’t perceived the traces of Nocturnal essence or the more-than-mortal internal powers – but she, at least, recognized the action of… an internal factory-cathedral when she saw one. But only a full-scale metropolis could mount THAT charm! How was the child hauling around so much equipment? Was he a manifested city-spirit or some such?

(Martha) “Amazing…”

Ethan’s heat aura had reduced in radiance.

(Ethan) “I… see that we probably won’t be able to copy the geomancy or the thaumaturgic skill. That’s a shame… perhaps we could do something with the artifacts though. Would you care to share the plans with us?”

Most people would have heard the tone and recognized that it might be most unwise to refuse that request.

Charles, of course, recognized no such thing – but was perfectly happy to share some plans for artifacts. The major ones he was using at the moment were the Orb of the Archmage and the Wonderworker’s Mantle…

(Ethan) “Interesting… this item can store sorcery beyond what we are capable of without spiritual assistance! And… this one requires material from Heaven.” (Martha looked over at that comment, and he lowered his eyes.) “I would assume you use the higher-powered thaumaturgy most of the time, as it seems to be equal to Celestial level. With that level of proficiency, you must have studied the greater sorceries sometime.”

(Charles) “A little! I generally don’t bother with them much; Thaumaturgy will usually do the things I need, and it’s much more flexible!”

(Ethan) “And at that level… How much do you want for the artifact schematics? I would rather not keep Madam waiting longer than necessary…”

(Charles, rather blankly) “Want? I mostly just make what I need… And here they are!”

(Ethan, blinking – and then smiling) “Excellent. Thank you for your generosity. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must discuss things with Madam. I might have more questions for you afterwards.”

There was just a hint of nervousness there – although Charles was, of course, oblivious.

(Charles) “OK!”

He could spare a little more time… At least here the people with questions can’t bother him… except on his phone, bother it!

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXXII – Manses and Morgans

Charles Howard Hintons (1853–1907)

After a few centuries you just give op on fashion and wear what makes YOU comfortable.

Howard had been speculating – after all; the boy had a rank-five manse with gates modeled after the “Stargate” movie – meaning the gates, at least, were new and were likely his own work – and he was experimenting with other universes, and thought that Raksha Nobles were cute and fun. All by itself that sentence pretty much eliminated any even remotely “normal” possibility. Sure, Raksha nobles COULD be all kinds of fun if they wanted to be – but “cute” was not exactly in the cards!

Still, that got put to one side when Raymond wandered in to start paging through the library almost at random while muttering. The shocked, blank, look – and the complete absence of any sign of injury or strain that might have produced it – was rather disturbing. What could have thrown him for that much of a loop?

It didn’t take much effort to get it out of him – but his story was quite frankly unbelievable… Charles had initiated him into an entirely new level of Thaumaturgy in minutes? And had then erected a powerful manse in a few more minutes? On a demesne that hadn’t even FORMED yet? With THAUMATURGY? Certainly the boy was an incredible expert at geomancy – and probably something more than a mere god-blood unless his parent was an Incarnae – but manses required… days or weeks of work, even with the most powerful spells on record. Had the boy just been speculating and thrown up an illusion of a manse that he thought could be built? He was probably skilled enough that he wouldn’t even realize that most witnesses would take such a thing for a reality!

Still… the Thaumaturgy boost was obviously real enough, and there was no real reason to doubt that it did what Raymond said it did. The power… was practically boiling off of Raymond – and adding “He hands out a massive thaumaturgy boost that includes rapid healing, virtual immortality, protections against numerous effects, and coming back as a god if you die, as a minor gift to anyone who asks – and wants feedback on it because it’s still under development” and “does decades worth of geomantic engineering and erects impossibly potent manses in minutes” (if that was to be credited) in with his original information… What on earth had he – and his apprentice – gotten themselves into? Hunting Sidereals was stressful enough before that last encounter.

It COULD be some sort of trick, or prank, or some such – even if Charles hardly seemed like the type. He was such a SERIOUS child.

Howard prevailed on Raymond to take him out to see the place.

It… bridged galaxies, and was funneling enough power into the earth to… be strengthening the dragon lines on a massive – possibly global – scale, marking them out with burgeoning plants as the wood essence spread across the world. A tree of worlds indeed, offering access to endless space and resources – and equipped with a crew of helpful gods to offer assistance and harvest it’s resources. It warped reality around it to conceal itself…

And Charles had… created it as a present because a mortal acquaintance had asked him to help out.

What was it that was loose upon the earth?

Howard promptly consulted his older brother, Peter – also a full Terrestrial Exalt – who was at least as shocked as he was…

(Peter) “That child made THIS?!? HOW!?!”

(Howard) “As if I would know? Raymond said… THAUMATURGY. I couldn’t imagine how that was possible, so I called you. You’re much better at magic than I am!”

(Peter) “It’s NOT. This manse… I’ve never heard of anything like it outside of legends! There are supposed to have been sorceries that create manses quickly – but if they ever really existed they’re a lost art, or perhaps are beyond our power entirely – and even they supposedly required days of planning and work! NO ONE can do this!

(Howard) “Well, he DID fix the Water Tower in minutes…”

(Peter) “Yes – but a relatively minor repair… he COULD have just been a god-blood with very special training and some specialized charms – but no god-blood could possibly do THIS. The whole area is still ringing with the essence that was poured into it! And he did this… as a small favor for a MORTAL THAUMATURGIST. What could he do if he felt a real need?”

They consulted their father, Ethan – who, for once, abruptly felt small.

Dyson spheres did that to most people, but for elder Exalts – even Terrestrials – it was a most unfamiliar and unwelcome feeling.

The Morgan’s had been an established power in the area for several centuries now – since the colonial era – and had quite a few supernatural allies, some of them very peculiar indeed. There were minor gods and elementals, geomancers and sorcerers, and even a few Raksha (although consulting them meant risking the wrath of his wife) – and none of them had ever heard of such a thing.

Such a resource must be guided into NOT being that casual about it! He could readily destroy the entire system!

Of course, to Charles, Manses were just really neat architecture and more things to stick in his world-body. They were neat! There should be lots more of them! All over the place, for all to use! On Earth at least, the spread of magical knowledge had nowhere to go at the moment but up.

The stargate was a bit of a shock too… The Morgans were Starbreaker-allied, and had heard of such things – but they were usually restricted to alchemical colossi, not manses.

Eventually Howard gave up; there was nothing to do but call.

(Charles) “Oh hi!”

(Howard) “Hi, Charles! How’ve you been?”

(Charles) “Pretty good! Lots of things are coming together!”

(Howard) “Well, that’s good… hey, have you built anything interesting lately?”

(Charles) “Uhm… Lots of things! That’s mostly what I DO of course!”

(Howard) “Yeah… of course. I heard you gave Raymond something pretty nice!”

(Charles) “Well, he’d been wanting one for awhile! And I’ve been practicing!”

For a moment Howard just didn’t know what to say. The boy… really did think of Manses of vast power… as simple little things you threw together on a whim. He’d thought – or had at least been hoping really hard – that Raymond was overstating the case when he said that it didn’t seem like such a big deal to Charles.

(Howard) “He said it was lavish… and top-of-the-line. You did a good job on it.”

(Charles) “Well I wouldn’t do a SLOPPY one! That would be just wrong!”

(Howard) “Well, yeah. You can’t explain explosions that big. Anyway… guess who wants to talk to you now?”

(Charles) “Urm… All kinds of people… Everybody wants me to answer questions these days!”

(Howard) “Like museum people? Anyway, my dad wants to chat with you! I never thought he’d warm up to you after that incident at Beech Street, but fixing the place, combined with this, has gotten his ear.”

(Charles) “Well, OK! I think I have a little time today…”

(Howard) “That… soon? You’ve GOT to be busy.”

(Charles) “Well… the Guardians handle a lot of things now, and they’re saying that I need to get out and talk to people more!”

(Howard) “Great, because he insists on meeting with you in person.”

(Charles) “Anyplace in particular?”

(Howard) “How about the Beech Street place, since we all know where it is?”

(Charles) “OK! What time?”

(Howard) “Hey, I’m willing to negotiate, but the sooner the better. Dad can be . . . intense about waiting.”

(Charles) “About half an hour then? I’ve just got to finish up here!”

(Howard) “Right… need a pickup or anything?”

(Charles) “Hm… I don’t think so! I’ll just ride my bike!”

(Howard) “Uh… OK. I guess you’ll just be thaumaturgying up then.”

Well… that was consistent with what Raymond told him about how Anderson got up to the demesne.

Oh well. Sometimes you just wind up with a short session…

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXXI – Meeting the Nocturnals

English: River diggings at Gong Gong. Gong Gon...

Yes, I think we can squeeze in another manse here!

The Nocturnals, for a wonder, only wanted an opinion… They wanted to show him one of their basic tricks and see what his thoughts were on it – although Catherine didn’t want to be too specific in public.

Or even in Dudael, for that matter.

Charles offered to set up a meeting in the privacy manse – after all, he was doing the coming-out thing anyway – but they had their own place set up (although Catherine did admit that it was probably not as good). Still, Charles was quite willing to use theirs.

Catherine took him to the borders of a mortal slum – and to a back-alley access-way to the passageways below. She quietly looked around, making sure that there were no observers – and Charles cheerily set some concealed privacy wards. When she was satisfied that no one was spying and the bystanders were too busy at a nearby market to pay any attention to them, she pried up the cover – revealing a ladder – and headed on down.

Charles cheerfully followed along…

(Catherine) “Think you can get the cover? I don’t want to leave any sign of us being here, and since I don’t want anything to get you, I need to go first.”

Charles reached up and pulled it back into place – slightly startling Catherine, who’d been expecting him to use Thaumaturgy as he did for so many things; the appearances of god-bloods were often pretty deceptive – but he certainly didn’t LOOK like he should be able to heft a massive jade slab that easily!

Oh, of course. He probably had some artifact that gave him strength. He did seem to have an artifact for EVERYTHING after all. It was surprising that no one had tried to nab him just to raid his collection!

(Catherine) “Thanks.”

The ladder led down to a well-used access tunnel. The adamant glowed faintly as usual, and the area had been warded against deiphages (that was reasonably common beneath settled areas). While the warding was not nearly at Charles’s level it was definitely Exalted-tier…

Catherine looked around again, and led the way down the corridor, past various blocked-off corridors (some blocked by rubble, some by actual barricades) until she reached a dead end – or what looked like one. Charles could sense the workings of a Private Plaza of Downcast Eyes just ahead.

(Catherine) “Okay… one moment while I let them know we’re here.”

She knocked on the adamant… After a few seconds it disappeared… It looked rather like a transmutation, much as he’d done before. The room was actually well-furnished, with a large table, around ten chairs, and cushions for twice that number. There was a refrigerator in the corner, and even a television set hooked up to a generator. Vaal, Mr. Montague’s Comet Caste partner/door guardian, was watching that. Argentia, daughter of Moonsbane and Nebula Caste, was checking the wards. She waved at them… Vaal turned, saw them, and waved as well.

Charles cheerily waved back and let the TV power up without the noisy generator…

(Vaal) “Um, thanks… hey, Catherine, wasn’t Astrid coming too?”

(Catherine) “Territory business… anyway, did you scout out a new hideout like I asked?”

Vaal nodded.

(Catherine) “Yeah… what we’re about to show you is… well, I’ll let Argentia explain. She’s got the most talent for it.”

(Argentia) “Me? Well… okay. Charles, what’s your favorite food?”

(Charles) “Peanut butter!”

(Argentia) “Hey, Vaal! That’s more your domain! Stop watching that silly cartoon and give him some peanut butter!”

(Vaal) “What? Uh… OK!”

Suddenly, reality started unraveling around Charles’s hands. He could see the strands unwinding… then rewinding… and forming into a jar of peanut butter. They finished weaving themselves together, and there it was!

Hm. A bit of a fate disturbance, but no essence.

(Charles) “Oh neat! Hmm… Working on the deep chaos level would requires an unbinding and respinning of the threads, but overdoing that will create the same kind of disturbances that the higher-order sorceries do! That normally calls for some active essence though… This seems more like… an inverted equivalent of Sidereal Astrology! Reweaving the threads to bring a localized “what if” into reality!

(Argentia) “Actually… the Sidereals say that it does indeed work on the Loom! When Vaal did that, a pattern spider might have lost its balance from the vibrations.”

(Catherine, bringing over some bread and a knife.) “And I’d make a sandwich and eat it . . . it’ll unweave in about half an hour.”

(Charles) “That’s one way to stay skinny!”

(Argentia) “And that’s one of the weaker things we can do. I had to try some stronger things involving… you, actually.”

(Charles) “Oh? Why?”

(Argentia nodded towards Vaal.) “His partner asked me to. It didn’t work, though. We needed you present.”

(Charles) “So what do you need”

After all, it wasn’t like he was entirely “present” NOW.

(Argentia) “He wouldn’t say why, but he wanted me to restore your earliest memories.”

Vaal shrugged.

(Charles) “Oh! He just wanted to know where I came from…”

Hm. Could that work? You’d have to be… reaching for the results of a divergence that had magnified over many years, and affect a massive scale – he was kind of large now – and he was mostly outside of fate and the loom anyway these days. It would have to be quite a divergence too! It was extremely natural for early memories to be fuzzy or absent entirely…

(Argentia) “Well… I’m not sure I can do that for him, anyway. Going that far back is rough.”

(Charles) “Well… if you’re operating on the loom directly, you’d be temporarily manifesting a bit of an alternate reality as an overlay on this universe, right? Thus the further in the past, the greater the divergence, and the greater the strain?”

(Argentia) “That’s pretty much my thoughts on it too. The Sidereals don’t want us doing ones that strong, but he’d gotten permission for it.”

(Catherine) “Yeah, reshaping reality like this puts a lot of strain on the Loom. They don’t want us using even the weakest shapings willy-nilly. It’s a pain… I can do stuff that’d be pretty useful at Dudael.”

(Charles) “And rather than unraveling an area to get at the deeper chaos like high sorcery you’re basically removing a chunk and pulling in a temporary patch… I can see where they’d have problems!”

(Catherine) “Yeah, we’re allowed three of the weakest ones, and one medium one, per day. Jose’s pretty mum on why. (She looked somewhat annoyed by that.) I guess it’s to keep things from unraveling, though.”

(Charles) “Well… they’re having a really hard time keeping up with the repairs now.”

(Catherine) “Yeah… been weeks since I’ve seen him. Gods know he doesn’t need MORE work… Anyway, Argentia, did you prepare those materials?”

(Argentia) “Yes… I think I got everything in here.”

She removed what appears to be a yasal crystal from her dress.

(Argentia) “This contains more information. Catherine and Astrid didn’t want to keep you too long, since they know you’re busy. They just wanted to show you what we’d found and get your opinion on it.”

(Vaal) “It… won’t blow up the Loom, will it? Argentia and Monty say that would be bad.”

(Charles) “Information doesn’t usually! But I suppose it could if it was fundamental and paradoxial enough… Reality does depend a lot on just ignoring some of the dicier bits!… Hm. It might be best to forget I said that!”

Vaal gave Charles a blank look, then went back to watching TV.

(Catherine) “I hope not… well, too bad Astrid couldn’t make it. She wanted to ask you something, but couldn’t tell me more beyond that.”

(Charles) “I could ask her!”

(Catherine) “Well, okay. She said you’d visited while she was off on patrol once, so . . .”

Charles dodged around the privacy effects by placing the link from his manifestation in Aden.

(Astrid, sounding somewhat winded) “How on all the worlds – oh, Charles! That would explain it. How are you?”

(Charles) “I’m doing well! But I was told there was something you wanted to ask me if this link is private enough for that?”

(Astrid) “Knowing you, I don’t think even Gus would complain about privacy. It’s about that prototype gate. Has Catherine told you about the Fluctuations yet?”

A quick check of the yasal crystal indicated that was what had Vaal demonstrated.

(Charles) “Just started too!”

(Astrid) “I see. I’m sorry I couldn’t meet you as well, but we’re just finishing up a raid repulsion over here. Anyhow… I was wondering if you could make those work with abilities other than the Mirror-Shattering Method.”

(Charles) “Hm. Well, the principle is sound enough… Is it just the specific charm effect? I could probably make do with divination or geomancy! And do let me know if you need help with a raid or something!”

(Astrid) “Divination would work… or maybe fortune! The effect I’m talking about actually uses our fluctuations. It’s powerful, but has some strange side effects.”

(Charles) “Hm. Is the mirror-shattering method causing a problem, or do you just want ones you can influence more directly?”

(Astrid) “Goodness no… by all means, keep the Mirror-Shattering Method in there! I was just wondering if you had some means of affecting more… probability-based travel. And if we actually have a siege around here, I’ll call for your assistance. I hope that day never comes; those are always vicious.”

(Charles) “Oh! You want to access alternate realities?”

(Astrid) “Argentia does say that might be possible, but… hmm. Gus said you liked science fiction . . .” (She takes a quick moment, presumably to refer to something.) “It’s something like a probability drive, but without the ship.”

(Charles) “Well, for that I’d need to unlock the Phase of the Moon Generator! I was leaving that locked out for the moment because I don’t really have any coordinates for “safe” alternates, and opening gates at random can really mess things up!”

(Astrid) “If it would cause too much trouble, by all means keep it locked until you’ve worked out the bugs. The side effects are more annoying than dangerous. And I would hate to cause you trouble after all you’ve done for us.”

(Charles) “ Oh, it’s not ME… But opening full gates into alternate realities can let all sorts of things through, and there were plenty of places to go in this reality already – so I was leaving alternate realities for later. You should be able to navigate them though, so unlocking a few would be easy enough!”

Wait, the boy had ALREADY installed trans-dimensional capabilities? Unlocking a “few”?! Did he mean just a few worlds? No, that couldn’t be it; he’d said that he didn’t have coordinates for alternate worlds… On a “few” gates then? Could that possibly mean that he had multiple gates completed ALREADY?

(Astrid) “We’ve been practicing. So far the results have been promising, particularly on the time end.”

(Charles) “Well… it looked to me like an awful lot of the nearby timelines terminated in the Wyld. It seemed like at one point there must have been a LOT of serious threats to the survival of Creation!”

(Astrid) “That’s probably one of your many theories on things… but with little more than Wyld in those Creations, reality would be as malleable as putty and quite easy to cut through with one’s will.”

She carefully considered her next statement.

(Astrid) “Even with all the risks… what would you do if I told you that we had found a potentially near-instananeous form of interstellar travel?”

(Charles) “Those are always good!”

If it were possible to smile over a link, Astrid would be doing it.

(Astrid) “Then we have a bit more to talk about… but that can wait until you’ve done more work on the prototype you already have.”

(Charles) “OK! It does seem to work, but there are occasional bits of weirdness!”

(Astrid) “Wonderful! You’ll have to demonstrate to everyone some time.”

It didn’t really occur to Charles that it would probably be a shock when he spontaneously installed two dozen of the things in the great plaza…

(Charles) “I should be able to get some ready fairly soon!”

(Astrid) “Well, I shouldn’t keep you much longer. I’m sure you have many things to do . . . and I need to supervise this cleanup. Nothing too bad – just a bit of bloodshed outside the wards.”

(Charles, sighing) “Well, I’m trying to do something about that! Hopefully it will work out! I hope that it will go well!”

(Astrid) “So I’ve heard and seen. Your armor and sword were quite helpful, by the way.”

(Charles) “Oh good! If you need any more armor, do let me know!”

(Astrid) “I’ll definitely consider it… and thank you.”

(Charles) “You’re welcome!”

(Astrid) “Goodbye, dear, and . . . please don’t overextend yourself.”

(Charles looked rather doubtful on that one) “Well… I’ll try not to!”

(Astrid) “And I’ll try to do the same…”

She dropped the link at that point.

(Charles, to the rest) “Was there anything else you needed?”

(Catherine) “Well… not right now, but I’ll ask when I do.”

(Argentia) “No. Thanks for visiting us!”

(Charles) “You’re welcome! And do let me know if you need help with something!”

(Vaal) “Oh yeah! I just remembered!”

He handed Charles what appeared to be a work order… for that adamant short daiklave he had that didn’t technically exist yet.

(Charles) “Oh, that was for… about another three years out on my initial reading. Of course since then that might have changed; the future is a bit indeterminate anyway!”

(Vaal) “Yeah, he just wanted to get that in while he could. He says if he doesn’t, someone else might outmaneuver him on the reservation. I’m fine with it… somewhat existing? I try not to think about it too much; it makes my brain hurt.”

(Charles) “OK! I’ll file it in the Que for the appropriate time! I don’t think it’s wise to unnecessarily tamper with temporal loops!”

(Vaal) “Great! Thanks!”

(Charles) “You’re welcome!”

(Catherine) “Well, let’s go back up, Charles… another way, just to be sure.”

Exalted – Twilight Voyages and the Reborn

Nozdryov. Illustration for Nikolai Gogol's Dea...

What do you mean “I’m Dead”? I don’t FEEL dead… I want a second opinion you Quack!

The “Reborn” got mentioned in the Chronicles – so a little bit of explaining is in order…

What is Death?

“You cannot resurrect the dead” is one of the common mantras of Exalted.

  • Yet even mere Thaumaturgy can transmigrate human souls into animal bodies, granting an extension of life even in nonhuman form (The North, Page 97).
  • Plants can be returned to life by a simple Hearthstone (Song of Life Stone, Oadenol’s Codex, page 100). Ergo, plants… simply cease to work, which apparently isn’t the same thing as dying. Evidently plants – having no souls – cannot die.
  • A higher soul may continue as a ghost without a lower soul, yet is not alive.
  • A higher soul may be grafted onto an animals soul, turning the animal into a familiar with a human intellect (Scroll of Kings, Page 61).
  • A lower soul may continue as a hungry ghost without a higher soul, yet is not alive.
  • Gods… do not have souls in the same way as humans, yet a human who gains essence four burns away his or her mortal shell to become a god. A creature that IS more or less a naked – unbound, and living – soul. Evidently there are less-than-vital bits of the soul that can be discarded while remaining alive.
  • The Ebon Dragon has a charm which allows it’s user to attune to the necrotic essence of the underworld and reverse that attunement.

Ergo, the body… is not important. Only the soul is – and it can move from body to body, and into new incarnations, without dying.

Thus Death – permanent and irrevocable – occurs when the bond between the higher and lower souls is broken. Lower souls normally soon decay or change irreversibly, dissolving into a burst of random motes unless somehow stabilized.

But a higher soul that passes through Lethe will emerge without memories, yet with a new lower soul attached and once more living – ready to be embodied once more.

So; now we know what Death is, and why “Resurrection” is impossible; once the bond between the higher and lower soul breaks, the character is dead – and the lower soul changes irrevocably, soon either becoming a monstrosity or dissolving.

There’s a brief period between the death of the body and the breaking of the link between the two pieces of the soul, but it may only be a few seconds long. That’s enough for a soul-transfer (or perhaps for emergency medical treatment of some arcane sort) – but not for much of anything else.

What is a lower soul?

  • According to the material about Autochthon, it stores the power a mortal accumulates through life.
  • According to the material from the Underworld and about Hungry Ghosts, it is the seat of emotion and instinct.

Connecting a new lower soul to a higher soul thus creates a new being, without the accumulated power of the higher souls previous life, with subtly different instincts, and with entirely different emotional commitments.

That’s not resurrection; it’s a new incarnation who happened to get some old memories.

That’s probably not a healthy thing. Remembering old emotions without feeling them has got to be difficult. Lethe… may not be nearly as obnoxious as most people think. Without Lethe some part of them might make it into their higher souls next incarnation – but THEY would still be dead. Memories are important, but – shorn of the emotions that give them meaning – they are not
enough.

So; you can’t make a ghost “alive” again, you can just create a new being that happens to have it’s memories.

That’s probably fairly easily – but who cares? Most ghosts recognize that “ceasing to be” is indeed “ceasing to be” – and that there may not be much to choose between oblivion and rebirth through Lethe; sure, your wiped-clean higher soul may be being recycled – but so is your old flesh, and the worms feeding on it aren’t “you” in any meaningful sense either.

Some mortals… are not content with that.

And it’s hard to blame them.

Twilight Voyages (Terrestrial Martial Art)

Twilight Voyages is slow, drifting, meditative form related to Tai Chi and the Rejuvenating Manual. It focuses on inner unity and control, rather than on flashy external abilities. It really isn’t any use in combat – but it is one of the ultimate forms of self-defense. It allows the user to strengthen the bond with his or her lower soul – and even to bind additional lower souls to his or her higher one – so as to avoid actually dying unless they’re then eliminated by effects that kill spirits.

Most of the rest of the “charms” it offers revolve around nothing more than learning to use the options that having additional lower souls offers.

Exalts can learn this art if they wish – but their Exaltations take up all the places where an additional lower soul could bond to a higher soul. Ergo they can’t practice most of it – and if an early practitioner exalts, the exaltation will displace any extra lower souls he or she may have.

Extra Lower Souls  1  2  3  4  5
Minimum Will  6  7  8  9  10
Maximum Essence  3  4  4  4  5
Mote Pool Bonus  +10  +10  +20  +20  +30

Whether fortunately or unfortunately, there are side effects:

  • With one or more extra lower souls it becomes difficult to resist your instincts. All virtue checks lose one die. On the other hand, the user may have one extra motivation per extra lower soul and three more intimacies than usual per lower soul.
  • With two or more extra lower souls, the character is no longer human enough to Exalt. On the other hand, the user is considered a supernatural being – and thus stunts, heals, respires, and resists injury, as an Exalt.
  • With three or more extra lower souls Reborn become unable to work together; their emotions are now so strong, and their personalities so intense and complex, that they invariably clash.
  • With four or more extra lower souls all your virtue checks lose two dice, and instincts begin to dominate – and it will become obvious to everyone you interact with that you are extremely unnatural. On the other hand, each lower soul now respires independently, allowing you to regain motes more quickly than usual.
  • With five extra lower souls your personality is so dominating that you are guaranteed to make enemies – and powerful ones. You gain the Enemies flaw at ****, but do gain the ability to create combos; you are no longer even remotely human.

And here are some quick descriptions of the charms…

  • Transmigration Of Souls -> Spirit Binds The Flesh
  • |
  • Spirit of Freedom -> Sight of the Soul -> Pearl of Chi
  • |
  • Inward Host -> Thief of Souls -> Draught Of Darkness
  • | ……………-> The Inner Forge
  • |
  • Imperishable Union -> The Furies Within
  • |
  • Passing Through the Dark Sea

Charm Effects:

  • Transmigration Of Souls (Essence 2, Martial Arts or Occult 2): You may transfer your soul into another body, normally ejecting the soul of the old owner. Fairly easy with animals and the very young, quite difficult with adults.
  • Spirit Binds The Flesh (Essence 2, Martial Arts or Occult 3): You gain extra health levels based on the number of extra lower souls you have. At one you get a -4. At two you get a -2 and a -4. At three you get a -1, a -2, and a -4. At four you get -1, -2, -2, -4, and -4. At five you get -1, -1, -2, -2, -2, -4, and -4.
  • Spirit of Freedom (Essence 2, Martial Arts or Occult 3): You no longer require a physical body. Being killed simply releases you as a free spirit – and you may use Transmigration Of Souls to claim another body. You may also opt to use Transmigration Of Souls to simply engage in “Astral Projection” or to interact normally with immaterial entities.
  • Sight Of The Soul (Essence 2, Martial Arts or Occult 4): You now see as much with the eyes of the spirit as with those of the flesh. You can see spirits, essence constructs, spells, and similar things.
  • Pearl of Chi (Essence 2, Martial Arts or Occult 5): You may add (Essence) dice to any thaumaturgy check you make, may spend three motes in place of a point of will to work thaumaturgy, and may spend motes both to reduce the resource costs and time requirements of thaumaturgy.
  • The Inward Host (Essence 3, Martial Arts or Occult 3): When you take a new body with Transmigration Of Souls you may retain the original owners lower soul until you leave it. This makes it easy to adapt to using an animals body; the instincts come with it – and also allows the animal to survive the experience. On the other hand, with a sapient creature’s body… their intimacies and motivation come with it.
  • Thief of Souls (Essence 3, Martial Arts or Occult 4): You may bind a lower soul from a creature that has just died in your presence into your body, taking on their instincts and motivations to add to your own (the possible origin of some animal-themed martial arts). The soul will remain bonded to you until Calibration, when it must be replaced – although this will also reactivate any
    other abilities that were no longer usable due to an insufficient number of  ower souls.
  • Draught Of Darkness (Essence 3, Martial Arts or Occult 5): You may inhale a creatures dying breath, and take it’s lower soul for your own – also taking on it’s instincts and motivations and healing anything that happens to be wrong with you. The soul will remain bonded with you until the new moon rises, when it will go free and must be replaced – although this will also reactivate
    any other abilities that were no longer usable due to an insufficient number of lower souls.
  •  The Inner Forge (Essence 3, Martial Arts or Occult 4): Your extra lower souls begin to act as artifacts, although there is no repair rating or attunement cost and they cannot be unattuned. The user may design his or her own artifacts or use ones from the books – although these have no physical existence; they’re simply innate powers. When the user increases his or her number of lower souls, he or she may add new “artifacts” or upgrade old ones – but old abilities may not be simply discarded. Choose carefully!
Extra Lower Souls  1  2  3  4  5
Equivalent Artifacts  1x*  3x*  3x*

1x**

 3x*

2x**

 3x*

2x**

1x***

  • Imperishable Union (Essence 4, Martial Arts or Occult 4): Even passing through Lethe will not break your bond with your personal lower soul(s) – and will add another, up to the limit of five lower souls acquired over five rebirths. Sadly, even Thief Of Souls and Draught Of Darkness will not allow this limit to be exceeded – although Draught Of Darkness will still provide it’s healing benefits when used. On the other hand, the basic benefits (and penalties) of your lower souls – your enlightened essence, will score, essence score, mote pool bonus, and the side effects – will remain with your soul until it’s destruction.
  • The Furies Within (Essence 4, Martial Arts or Occult 3): As a committee, you are difficult to sway. You may add your number of lower souls to the difficulty of using mental influence against you and multiply the effects of any will you spend to resist it by the number of lower souls you possess.
  • Passing Through the Dark Sea (Essence 4, Martial Arts or Occult 5): You may “back up” your memories and personalty on your lower souls, where Lethe and all other current memory-altering or wiping powers were never designed to reach, From there they will gradually be restored after the user is reincarnated or if they are somehow modified in some other fashion. Your abilities, charms, occult lore, and – in fact – pretty much everything except your physical possessions, physical attributes, and physically-based merits, will now survive “death” (which doesn’t really happen to you) and rebirth.

Perhaps sadly, nothing here really gives the Reborn character much access to any special charm list; they can gain Terrestrial Circle Sorcery and Terrestrial Martial Arts as normal for an enlightened mortal, and may accumulate a great may spells, forms, and skills and get their essence up to five – but there are rather strict limits there.

In the game the Reborn can be quite effective allies, aides, and tutors to the Exalted, and can be incredibly skilled and powerful for mortals – although Exalts using training charms can build up a mortal in a similar fashion far, FAR, more quickly. On the other hand, they can’t work together more than briefly – and, without access to general charms, will never be able to truly rival the Exalted.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice, Aikiko’s Search, Prelude I

The Solar Guardians have been active for a number of years – and most have been a good deal more conspicuous than Charles has. That’s good – because that’s the only thing that gives Aikiko a chance to find them.

On the other hand, they’re young – and are not inclined to build empires, overturn governments, and dominate. They’re far more inclined to quietly bring their dreams to life and hang out with their friends…

Perhaps fortunately, none of them except Charles are using manses to remain really young children, or are quite so far along the primordial path of power – but most of them have at least stepped upon it; it is the nature of children to build their own inner worlds.

The Solar Guardians currently run anywhere from 100 to 200 XP and mostly share a few common features:

  • A high Conviction (4+), the better to drag their dreams into reality.
  • The Veiled Exaltation Merit – a freebie provided by Lytek’s meddling.
  • The Basic Solar Guardian “Inner World” package – at a cost of 3 Charms, 16 XP, and one Freebie Point (to buy the Essence Aptitude Merit/+2 to effective essence when it comes to learning Inner-World related abilities).

The package includes…

  • Chaos Repelling Pattern.
  • Dreaming Narrative Conquest – Giving them a Raksha Noble “Imaginary Friend” who can be counted on to provide various resources.
  • Gate Of Dreams. At Conviction **** the user may spend 16 XP to increase the size of his or her inner world to 100 waypoints or more – and to gain four charms that are only usable inside it. These will normally be…
  • The First Occult Excellency.
  • Terrestrial Circle Sorcery. In the setting this automatically comes with Terrestrial Circle Countermagic.
  • Celestial Circle Sorcery. In the setting this automatically comes with Celestial Circle Countermagic.
  • Will into Wonder. A replacement for Wyld Shaping Technique, used to landscape their inner worlds.

Those who wish to add manses to their inner worlds – which will probably be most of them eventually – will likely wish to purchase three more charms (or possibly buy some of the previous four and replace them with others.

  • Geomantic Empowerment – to allow them to channel power to and from manses.
  • Geomantic Sphere – to allow them to generate manse-effects (which will allow for some VERY odd developmental paths).
  • Geomantic Seed – to grow the manses they need. While this will cost 1-4 XP to grow a manse, it also doesn’t require a massive investment in manse-building and crafting abilities. It wouldn’t be an efficient way to produce a lot of manses – but it does bypass the normal prerequisites and other problems of building them. If you just want a few, it works pretty well.

Idihawa Shpaiki (Flowing Sunlight Moon)

Night Caste, Peru, Male, Age 14. Idihawa Exalted at age nine while his Archeologist-Thaumaturgist parents were having a hard time dealing with an angry mountain spirit that had – long, LONG ago – been told to guard an ancient site. He’d been dreaming of exploring everywhere – and of deciphering the entire history of the world.

Since then he’s had a LOT of questions for the spirits of the world – and has been finding that the history of the cosmos is very different from what he’s always believed. At the moment, he wants to ensure that the mortals and spirits of creation live in a mutually balanced accord.

Idihawa uses the Geomantic Sequence and a trio of manses to carry his own Wyld Revocation effect along; near him all Little Gods wake up when spoken to – and normal conversation (that is, enhanced by no charms beyond the first excellency) takes no time.

Yes; this means that he can talk to the little gods of incoming attacks to try to get them to turn them aside, to artifact-blades to persuade them not to hurt him, to doors to open, and to manses to get them to explain themselves.

Otherwise he has a series of athletic charms that function best in nature, some awareness charms, and some spirit-interaction occult charms. Sadly, at least for a Solar Guardian, he has developed a few charms which use Unnatural Mental Influence, and so is suffering from some accumulated Limit.

His manses provide him with several extra charms, a selection of spirit-aides, archives that record his findings, and various other services.

His artifacts – derived from the ancient site the mountain spirit was guarding – include a rather powerful Diplomatic Sash ***** (functions as light artifact armor and provides a variety of minor boosts – and a large boost to verbal communications and influence) and a few minor trinkets.

And further information will just have to wait for Aikiko’s attempts to find him…

Magical Biotech and Monster Making Part II – Monster Making for the GM.

To pick up the biotech for d20 series again, we’ll take a look at “monster design” from the game master’s side with the Spirit of the Times.

Some places achieve timelessness. Others have timelessness thrust upon them.

A time and place may become a legend, an idealized archetype, a fixed reference point for later civilizations, a numinous wonder that becomes the timeless setting for a thousand myths and tales…

The Wild West, Feudal Japan, the Roaring 20’s… all host more tales than the original locales could ever have contained.

Those archetypes have become spirits. Spirits of Time and Place, Vestiges of Other Worlds…

And Spirits can be invoked.

A Spirit of the Times possesses landscapes, not creatures or characters – and so a lot of the usual statistics are quite irrelevant. Do you want an armor class for the desert? To decide how many hits with a sword it will take to kill Mount Everest? No, the sole way to dispose of a Spirit of the Times is to find it’s central focus (invariably a complex glyph or series of glyphs that expresses the nature of the spirit in question) and enact the unique ritual of closure which will end it’s reign.

This isn’t necessarily urgent; people may live under the influence of a genre for many years without being particularly bothered by it – but eventually things will want to move on. Despite E.E “Doc” Smith, extending a particular culture indefinitely across time – no matter how much the setting changes – rarely works all that well.

So a slightly crazy wizard (my, don’t those guys get blamed for a LOT of things? They should get a lawyer), wishing to protect his monopoly on something or other, has enacted a bizarre ritual thought long-lost, and summoned up the Spirit of Prohibition – calling on it to force all other, legal, suppliers out of business.

Perhaps it’s rock salt. Or perfume. Or some sort of music.

Across the kingdom it will abruptly become accepted that dealing in whatever-it-is is illegal. Enforcement organizations will spring up. So will black markets, and illegal establishments where you can go and eat salty foods, or enjoy a selections of scents, or listen to the illegal music. There will be raids and gangsters.

In fact there will be hordes of gangsters, riding by in carriages firing wildly with their rapid fire repeating heavy crossbows that – oddly enough – will not work outside the kingdom.

The locals will accept the new situation, traders will find new restrictions at the borders, and a hundred other details will change to fit. Characters who go along with the cliches that the spirit enforces will find their actions greatly eased. Characters who attempt to fight the genre will find their lives far harder than they need to be.

Who can defy the Spirit of the Times?

So lets make a stat block.

Spirit of the Times

  • Dimensionless Outsider (Neutral, Extraplanar)
  • Hit Dice: Nope!
  • Initiative: Nope!
  • Speed: Nope!
  • Armor Class: Nope!
  • Base Attack/Grapple: Not really!
  • Attack: Dispatches hordes of generic minions, which simply show up annoyingly.
  • Full Attack: Dispatch Boss Minion
  • Space/Reach: Er… Yes?
  • Special Attacks: Alter Genre (enforces appropriate cliches), Mass Acceptance (the population at large will see no problems), Law Enforcement (the local authorities will enforce the new social mores), and Alter Setting (the environment changes to suit the genre).
  • Special Qualities: Immune to pretty much everything except the dismissal ritual, unless the GM feels that certain tactics (unique to each spirit) will weaken it.
  • Saves: Too big to need any.
  • Abilities: Str –, Dex –, Con –, Int 10, Wis 24, Cha —
  • Skills: Hm. Spot Annoyances +17, Elementary Tactics +10, Influence Culture +20. No, these aren’t standard skills. Who cares?
  • Feats: Nope!
  • Environment: The Beyond, wherever it’s summoned, or in mortal hearts and minds.
  • Organization: Solitary
  • Challenge Rating: Depends on the minions assigned to it.
  • Treasure: Large piles of appropriate props.
  • Alignment: True Neutral.
  • Advancement: Nope!
  • Level Adjustment: Nope!

OK: now this “creature” violates virtually every rule of monster design out there. There’s only one way to defeat it and none to “harm” it. It’s built on pop-culture references. It’s stat block is woefully incomplete.

And yet… it rather looks like fun to me. If you want a chunk of the Wild West, or a Chicago-Gangster break from your usual high fantasy, or an espionage interlude – well, here you have an excuse. The fact that there’s only one solution (perhaps, for the Spirit of Prohibition, bringing in a wagonload of whatever-it-is that’s banned and proclaiming “Repeal!” while standing atop it’s mystic seal will do) isn’t too relevant; this “monster” sets up interesting situations and periodic annoyances with mobs of “gangsters”. It’s not like it goes around directly stomping on player characters.

Still, player creations are just going to have to be a lot more limited than GM creations. The “fling together anything that looks like fun” approach may have a lot of gaming tradition behind it, but it’s a lot trickier than it looks. How many really lame creatures have you run across?

(Oh no! Old memories… surfacing! Judges Guild: Field Guide To Encounters… More than a thousand of the LAMEST most unusable creatures ever imagined! In what may well be the WORST game supplement in my entire collection!

And that’s saying something. Honestly, I didn’t really find one single item or creature of use in all of Volumes I and II. I got it them for a quarter each, and decades later I still feel ripped off.)

So; next up, it’s going to be building monsters for players.

Exalted – Geomantic Emulation

By the old Manse

Yeah, here looks good. The cow will just have to move.

And here we have a few more geomantic charms for Exalted. Why? Why not? Admittedly, these are a bit specialized – but they have their uses on occasion.

Geomantic Empowerment

  • Cost: —; Mins: Occult 3, Ess 2, Type: Permanent.
  • Keywords: None
  • Duration: Permanent
  • Prerequisite Charms: None

The character becomes a living Network Node and Geomantic Nexus, linked to any manses with similar powers that he or she is currently attuned to. When within a manse, he or she may either channel points from available geomantic relays into it (whether to counter power failure or to boost latent powers into operation) or spend motes (2 per minute per relay point being emulated) to personally provide up to (Essence) geomantic relay points.

Geomantic Sphere

  • Cost: Special; Mins: Occult 4, Ess 3, Type: Reflexive.
  • Keywords: Combo-OK, Stackable
  • Duration: Scene
  • Prerequisite Charms: Geomantic Empowerment

The character may select up to (Essence/2 +1) rounded up build points worth of manse powers (although five-point powers may not be selected until essence 6+. Favored power modifiers DO apply however) and may activate some or all of them for a scene by (1) spending 5 motes per point of manse powers activated, (2) having other manses commit geomantic relay points to power them, or (3) devoting a Hearthstone with a rating at least equal to the number of manse power points to be activated to them, or (4) some combination of those things. A hearthstone, or geomantic relay points, will remain committed until the end of the scene, even if the power is terminated early. At a base these powers affect a radius of (Essence x 10) yards. A Zone of Influence extends this to (Essence x 50) yards, and an Extended Zone of Influence to (Essence x 100) yards. In general, only essence-based manse features can be emulated by an Exalt with this charm. Things like Fortification (or anything else that’s not dependent on the level of the manse) cannot be.

Geomantic Seed:

  • Cost: 30M (or Geomantic Relay Points at 2 motes for 1 relay point), 2W; Mins: Occult 4, Ess 4, Type: Simple.
  • Keywords: Shaping.
  • Duration: Instantaneous
  • Prerequisite Charms: Geomantic Sphere

The user may gather a mighty sphere of geomantic energy in his or her hands, toss it down where he or she wishes to have a manse – and then spend 1-4 XP to purchase the Manse background at a level of (XP Spent +1). The user’s new manse will grow to completion within the hour. It is entirely real and permanent, is already attuned to the user, and comes with it’s hearthstone ready to use.

*Optionally, the GM may allow the user to add an additional +10 Motes or +5 Geomantic Relay Points for about a minute, or double that for one turn.

Yggdrasil, the Tree of Worlds (Wood Manse *****)

Caption reads "The Ash Yggdrasil". T...

Yggdrasil Classic

From far enough away, Yggdrasil is just a big tree – mildly impressive, yes, but nothing more. It’s only when you get up close that it’s tremendous width really becomes apparent – and it’s only when you look straight up along the trunk that you can see that the trunk continues up for what may be miles – and that the trunk and upper limbs do not just trail off in the usual mass of twigs and leaves. They may appear to do so to distant observers – but that’s simply because they are passing though the gate, and into the green galaxies – the current manifestation of the Elemental Pole of Wood. There the branches merge with the galactic forest – an network of gargantuan trees, which form an interlocking series of living Dyson Spheres, encircling unknown billions of near-eternal suns. Here you could, in theory, walk – or at least jump from branch to branch – across a mighty elliptical super-galaxy.

The tiny filament of power which pours through the gate from the elemental pole suffices to render the surrounding area (a mere twenty or thirty mile radius) impossibly rich and fertile – although this is not always a good thing, as anyone attempting to weed or manage the surrounding forest can attest. If you should need more than that – a shaft of near-indestructible wood twenty miles long, a fifty-ton nut, a collection of magical plants (starting, of course, with the ability to neutralize gravity and hold an atmosphere in space), immense masses of silk, or vegetables, or exquisite fruits, or an orchid that produces delightful perfume in thousand-gallon lots… such things are a mere step away through the gate.

If you stroll up one of the mighty roots, past the rune-inscribed obelisks that nestle in their grasp, and into a depression in the trunk, a pair of mighty doors will admit you to the spiraling ramp and “primitive” (or at least forest-themed) rope-and-wooden-cage elevators which provide access to the numerous chambers within. Nestled deep amongst the roots you’ll find cavernous storage and workshop chambers, along the way you’ll find spacious studios, apartments, zoolike pockets of forest and other natural environments, recreation rooms, and other spaces – until you reach the high chamber, with it’s surrounding platforms hidden amongst the foliage, and it’s exits onto the upwards sloping branches which extend through the gateway itself and into the near-infinite canopy of the Green Galaxy.

Build Points: 10 (base) +2 (sacrificed hearthstone levels) +3 (a set of integrated enhancement artifacts) +3 (maintenance, normally performed by the servant force) = 18.

Hearthstone: Trilobed Stone ***. Functions as a Farmers Stone (*), a Spell Stone (reduces the target number for Thaumaturgy by two, *), and as a Gem of Injury Sense (*).

Manse Powers:

Comfort Zone (1): A minor side effect of it’s link with the Green Galaxy, this ability keeps the manse comfortable, with pure air, springy mossy “carpets”, restful forest color schemes, and so on.

Living Manse (1): Yggdrasil is a colossal tree. This means that it’s affected by it’s own life-sustaining power and gains the benefits of constant exposure to the energies flowing through the Gate it sustains. It’s as durable as the colossal space-trees it emulates(however durable that is) PLUS it’s basic durability as a manse, and – barring some horrific disaster – will flourish near-eternally. Unfortunately, Charles as yet has very little idea what all that entails.

Password Activations (1): The owner – or the Ratatosk – can close and seal the doors, override the elevators, lock down the gate, and authorize or deny the manse’s various abilities on an individual basis.

Advanced Magical Conveniences (2): The Yggdrasil – like almost every other manse Charles designs – provides a selection of advanced magical conveniences. These include…

  • Oasis. Yggdrasil provides irrigation and magical fertilizer for the surrounding area and any houseplants you want to grow inside.
  • Modern Utilities. The manse has arcane equivalents of modern utilities and conveniences, such as running water, electrical power, cooking facilities, lighting, internet, elevators, and so on.
  • Wyld Shopping. The manse uses a sub-aspect of the Gate power to allow authorized residents to simply pay for things (provided that they are available and for sale somewhere that the residents know of) and have them arrive within minutes (at most).
  • Thaumic Shaping. Yggdrasil allows each resident to draw three motes from the manse to power Thaumaturgy or Sorcery up to seven times per day. This does not count as an action; the motes are simply available when needed.
  • Meditative Awareness. When meditating within the manse the hearthstone bearer can sense the flows of essence nearby, regains an extra four motes per hour, and can make normal perception checks on things happening within a radius equal to the manse rating in miles.

Integrated Utility Artifacts (3):

  • Portal Control System (a “Stargate”, ***). When this is in use the gate to the Green Galaxy seals around the branches that pass through it, preventing anything else from passing through.
  • Pocket Dimension Generator (***). This device essentially duplicates the effect that protects Freeholds in creation; making the area around the manse much “smaller”, limiting the access points, and concealing the entire thing. As a side effect, Raksha have no trouble respiring in the area and can add freehold features to it – or even expand the area the manse affects as if they were expanding a freehold.
  • Thaumaturgic Forge (**). This device reduces the time required for thaumaturgy worked within Yggdrasil by two levels – usually to a single turn.
  • Sampo (**). Under the direction of the Ratatosk, Yggdrasil can automatically turn fibers into cloth and cord, fruit into juice and fine wine, grains into flour, bread, pastries, and ale, wood into lumber, and other basics. While this won’t provide anything particularly advanced, it means that basic supplies and foodstuffs will never run short around Yggdrasil.

Life-Sustaining (2, wood favored): Residents do not age, gain five bonus successes against disease or poison, and heal damage with incredible speed – regaining two levels of bashing damage every hour, one level of lethal damage every hour, and one level of aggravated damage every five hours.

Bound Servant Force (3): Yggdrasil hosts some 650 Ratatosk – talking winged squirrels with a variety of thaumaturgic skills and a selection of charms that make them equivalent to first-circle demons / Essence-3 gods. The Ratatosk serve as familiars, guardians, and a maintenance crew – and, like all squirrels, busily harvest the bounty of the nearby plants. Given their powers, that the gate puts the nigh-limitless resources of the Green Galaxy itself immediately to hand, and the presence of the Sanpo, they can easily support thousands – and can just as readily provide the equivalent of Resources-**** if arrangements are made to sell some portion of what they bring in and produce.

Otherworld Gate (5): Normally the elemental pole of wood (the Green Galaxy). This means that – under normal circumstances – you walk up the stairs or a ramp, out along a main branch – and out into the inner layers of a Dyson Sphere of mighty trees tying together drifting asteroids. The view is pretty spectacular.

Exalted – Stargate Command

Destiny stargate

Well, sort of…

In Charles’s ongoing efforts to be nice to people, he wants to give them more room. In fact, he wants to give them the entire cosmos…

  • The Mirror-Shattering Method can allow travel between realities, and thus must be opening (or at least locating and establishing entry and exit points for) a route through Elsewhere. It can hold those openings ready, and the route open, for at least five days – the usual travel time.
  • Travel Thaumaturgy can modify travel times, and routes, and even allow very short jumps through elsewhere.
  • Manse Gates can bridge places and realities, and therefore operate through Elsewhere – which lies between realities. They’re also usually instantaneous…

Ergo, to temporarily shift the destination of a manse gate, what you need to do is use a slightly modified version of Mirror Shattering Method to open the route – and a massive dose of Travel Thaumaturgy (or a specific charm effect) to temporarily shift the gate into the new channel.

Unfortunately, Sidereals cannot tweak their charms. Fortunately, all you need to put a charm or a charm-like effect into an artifact is sufficient skill and the cooperation of someone who has the right kind of essence for the charm you want.

Charles has the skill, and he’d had a detailed look at the mechanics of the Mirror-Shattering Method, and – in trying to keep an eye on him – the Sidereals themselves assigned several young Sidereal Half-Castes to his school and classes.

He hasn’t had much trouble getting some of them to spend a few minutes helping him with his artificing. He’s tutoring some of them on the topic anyway; “making stuff” was a MUCH safer career path than a lot of the others open to young Sidereal Half-Castes.

A Stargate – or Portal Control System – is shaped like a segment of a funnel with the pointed end buried in the floor near the gateway to be controlled. The upper portion of the “inside” is covered with keys for entering coordinates, peculiar instruments, and weird displays. There’s an…

  1. Destabilization Alarm (DM) which sounds a warning once a few hours before the portal reverts to it’s normal destination – and again at minutes and turns until the collapse.
  2. Destination Surveillance Module (DSM) showing the environment and the immediate area around the destination end of the gate.
  3. Elsewhere Drift Display (EDD showing the status of disturbances and drift in the structure of Elsewhere. Even Charles is not quite sure what the weird patterns and colors that come up on this display actually mean, although it does seem to compensate somehow for relative interstellar motions and velocities.
  4. Intrusion Warning Chimes (IWC) which play various tunes denoting that something has entered the portal – whether from the far end or (far more ominously) at some point along it’s “length” in Elsewhere.
  5. Metric Drift Alarm (MDA) which displays when the other end of the portal has failed to fully lock, and is likely to shift around at the exit – potentially scattering groups across areas up to thirty miles across unless they wait for it to stabilize.
  6. Multiphase Vortex Generator (MVG) which is used for setting coordinates for associated extradimensional realms – such as Yu-Shan, Malfeas, and so on. Also firmly locked out on most models for the moment.
  7. Phase of the Moon Generator (PMG) for adjusting coordinates to reach alternate-timeline creations. After the incident with the Alternate Celestial Host this is firmly locked out of operation on ALL models until further notice.
  8. Portal Intersection Evaluator (PIE) which indicates when two gates have accidently been coupled together – an extremely unlikely, but vaguely possible event.
  9. Temporal Intersection Plot (TIP) showing extra-dimensional influences that may affect travelers during the trip.
  10. Turbulence Warning Indicator (TWI) which indicates when the portal is unstable, and dangerous to transverse.
  11. Unreal Time Clock (UTC) for measuring relativistic time distortions while passing through elsewhere.

Perhaps most importantly, there’s also the GBL – the Great Big Lever that activates the system when you pull it.

Of course, not even Charles has any clear idea of what half the readouts really mean much of the time – but a few centuries of practical travel experience will soon have that sorted out!

Maybe.

In practice, you enter some coordinates, survey the various weird instruments for anything that’s doing something overly-ominous looking (D5 Lore Check), and – if satisfied (or in a real hurry) you pull the lever. There will be a crackling display of channeled essence, a brief dimensional vortex (this is very dangerous, and it is wise to stand clear for fear of dimensional scattering) and the gate will shift to it’s new destination – although, unless there’s some natural feature, manse, or artifact that anchors it on the far end, the gate may open up anywhere within twenty miles or so of it’s supposed destination point.

After that, it’s wise to check again if you have time. Even if you DON’T have time it’s wise to check at least the Destination Surveillance Module (one of the few that’s easy to read) before you head on through.

A gate can be kept focused on it’s new destination and open for up to five days – but the last day is more than a bit iffy. The portal tends to become more and more erratic as the manse seeks to reassert it’s design, and may revert to normal at any time.

Likely Complications (1d10;  1-8 None, 9 One, 10 Two):

  • 1-2) The gate opens in some incredibly inconvenient location.
  • 3) The gate is shifting. Unless given hours to settle, it’s likely to scatter any group that uses it across a considerable area.
  • 4-5) The gate will revert to its normal destination sooner than expected.
  • 6) The gate produces a dimensional disturbance. It will not be possible to open another gate to the same location for days – or possibly even weeks.
  • 7) There is a substantial transit delay of anything up to a full day. This may result in travelers losing time without knowing it. Travelers are never lost in transit however, although they may arrive at the gates normal exit rather than their destination if they run overtime.
  • 8-9) The passage requires 1-5 hours to stabilize. Traversing it before it’s stable may be impossible, cause serious injuries, or may leave travelers in the wrong place entirely.
  • 10) The passage will expose the travelers to bizarre extra-dimensional forces. They may be effectively mutated, have their powers and special abilities warped and changed, or be subject to some other bizarre transformation. Fortunately, such effects fade when contact is lost – either by reversing the trip or by allowing the gate to revert to it’s normal destination. Other possibilities here include weird extradimensional things coming through,

PCS / Stargate Artifact Design:

Powers:

  • Mirror-Shattering Method (Variant) Charm. That’s Essence 3, One Prerequisite (Class-C).
  • Travel Thaumaturgy at 30 successes to retarget the gate along the route opened by the Mirror-Shattering Method (Class-D)
  • Self-Powered (Class-C). It requires three motes or one point of willpower to actually pull the GBL and activate the thing.
  • Assorted Divination Thaumaturgy x9 – once incidence each for the Destabilization Alarm, the Destination Surveillance Module, the Elsewhere Drift Display, the Intrusion Warning Chimes, the Metric Drift Alarm, the Portal Intersection Evaluator, the Temporal Intersection Plot, the Turbulence Warning Generator, and the Unreal Time Clock. That’s 9x Class-A powers, taken as a single Class-D.
  • In homage to television we’ll throw in a button that closes off the portal with a big, very solid, door (although unlike TV, this will prevent people from opening from the far end and cannot be closed if something is in a delayed transit). Call it Class-C for being pretty much indestructible.
  • Finally, as long as the portal remains open, it will relay various kinds of communication links – allowing explorers to keep in touch and for homing signals to be broadcast if the blasted thing moves around too much between activations. Call it Class-C for being really convenient.

That’s Power 10 (the upper limit). Usefulness 3 (when you come right down to it, all this does is… allow you to reach places where you can have adventures or get stuff. Still, that’s not really very important in itself; you’d be doing that anyway in some fashion), Plot Impact 3 (this can entirely change the scene and offers GREAT hiding places), Script Immunity 2 (someone can disconnect it and carry it away, but it’s big and heavy), Components -4 (uses all five Magical Materials, Quintessence, and tokens from the Wyld), Troublesome -2 (will occasionally do really weird things, as noted above). That’s a total of 12, and 12/4 = Artifact ***.

That may not seem very high – but then you do need a Rank-***** manse with an Otherworld Gate in it to use the thing at all.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXX – The Djinn of the Lamp

Computer-generated Model of Purine Nucleoside ...

It’s getting the structure right that’s the tricky part!

Back at the museum, Matthew quietly took advantage of the press of other investigators – no longer restrained by his wards – to head out to get in touch with his Father and the rest of the House. He… hadn’t been expecting to find that Elzeard’s contact was a youthful dimension. What did you say to a child who was everything?

Oh by Chaos! “Made US”? “Fourteenth Soul”? That meant that there were at least thirteen more entities of similar power working for the “boy”… And there might well be even more “souls” than that! On top of those starships and whatever other secondary creatures there were! Charles / “Aden”… was a major power in his own right.

At least he seemed to be an obliging one.

Back at the museum Charles fielded a series of more-or-less similar inquiries from academic researchers, private investigators, an envoy from the state department on behalf of several North African and Middle-Eastern governments who delivered a summary of their views so truncated as to be quite indecipherable, a representative from some fundamentalists opposed to meddling in gods domain, someone from Australia who wanted to talk about desalination technologies, and more…

Oddly enough, there were a distinct shortage of assassins, MIB, and CIA types. Maybe they were just assuming that he was a false lead? That would fit in with the way a lot of them thought of course…

There WAS a pair from the E.P.A. – although they seemed to be more curious than anything else. After all, the project wasn’t operating on American soil… Still, they wanted to inquire about the possibility of a station in the Southwest.

(Charles) “Well, Elzeard wanted to start undoing about ten thousand years of ecological damage. I don’t see why a station couldn’t be put in the southwest though.”

(Investigator) “It would help with the water situation there, to be sure – although we’d have to run it through the federal bureaucracy of course. Still, it does seem promising.

(Charles) “Well, it is totally non-polluting!”

(Investigator “That will make approval much, MUCH easier, although – well, a little information as to how it works would be very helpful…”

(Charles) “Oh dear. You really want to know?”

(Investigator) “It would help with the process, so . . .”

(Charles) “Well… it focuses natural geomantic energies and transmutes those into the relevant field effects to drive the rest of the process. The secondary echoes of those forces help regulate the climate, plant and animal fertility, and the Earth’s magnetic field.”

(Investigator) “Err… it… seems to work from the reports.” (Doubtfully) “How am I supposed to explain that to the science panel, other than ’emerging technology’?”

(Assistant) “You could use quantum physics…”

(Investigator) “The last time someone did that, they got sent to desk duty.”

(Charles) “I suppose I could demonstrate.”

(Investigator) “You’d be willing to do that in front of the panel?”

(Charles) “It’s rushing things a bit faster than I thought, but I don’t see why not.”

(Investigator) “Well, it will be some time before that’s necessary. If you’re willing, though, I’m not going to say no.”

(Charles) “Why not? Will you be needing anything to make things more credible?”

(Investigator) “I think you’d know better than us, being a practicing… geomancer, I guess? Does that use diagrams or what? The way you’re talking, it’s replicable.”

(Charles) “Hrm… Ah! Some of the simplest talismans then for demonstration purposes! (he fished out a box) Here we go! Language amulets! Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, Greek, Spanish, French, German, and… Cherokee? Who was sorting these? Anyway… three of each in the box! It does take about ten minutes of wearing one before they take effect though!”

(Investigator) “Okay then. I always wanted to learn some German.”

Ten minutes later, he and his assistant spoke fluent German – and were more than a bit startled.

(Charles) “The effect will fade in about ten minutes after you take them off though, but if you wear one long enough you will pick up some skill in the language naturally.”

(Investigator) “How much do you want for it?”

(Charles) “Oh, I thought that you’d want something to show the commission… If you want some personal ones, here’s another couple of boxes… They really aren’t any trouble; they’re about as minor as genuine devices get.”

(Investigator) “Um… ok… thanks.”

(Charles) “I wouldn’t talk about things too much. You probably don’t want that kind of attention too soon.”

(Investigator) “Of course not… this is pretty unique stuff you’re doing here.”

(Assistant) “We should probably leave before someone notices, sir…”

Huh. Were his Guardians impatient, or had they just thought that he was stagnating?

He made a note to check on the E.P.A. guys again later – but at this rate the people who wanted secrecy would soon have to go after everyone he spoke to if they took that route. They’d pretty much HAVE to deal with him up front. They’d never be able to run enough cover-up operations to keep up with him simply handing stuff out. If he was switching strategies – drawing attention to put become the center of confusion rather than fading into the background – there was no point in going halfway!

Besides… eventually there was going to be another major natural disaster, and he’d be forced to intervene very VERY publicly anyway.

By the time he was done at the museum, he had a choice; go and see Mr Anderson or head for Dudael and work…

Well, given that he couldn’t be inconspicuous any longer he could squeeze out a little more time by using quicker travel methods – and it actually wouldn’t matter if he missed a little time at Dudael… there was an allowance for that, and he’d worked enough to clear out the backlog, and that had been projected to take a half a century at least). They were only making Void Suits (and Utility Belts to go with them) at the moment anyway; the Bureaucracy wanted a stockpile for the Nocturnals as they came in.

He set up a quick link – it didn’t matter where he was as long as he put in his input – and gave Catherine (she’d been taking a subordinate supervisory role since her Exaltation) the information that she’d need… They wouldn’t need him physically for some hours (if at all today).

That meant that he was free to go and see Mr. Anderson!

Mr Anderson lived in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in the suburbs. The house was modest but well-built, with a pristine (warded) lawn. The house itself was warded against snooping and letting out noise, as well as termites and other pests.

Charles cheerily knocked – and Mr Anderson opened the door.

(Anderson) “Ah, Charles! I’m glad you could make it. Won’t you come in?”

(Charles, cheerily) “Hello Mr Anderson! What’s up?”

Anderson brought some tea – and his dog managed a fine performance of “I want to be petted! Now!” .

(Anderson) “Well, it’s about that demesne that was forming in the forest where we met. It’s coming along nicely, by the way.”

(Charles) “Oh good!”

(Anderson) “I was wondering if you could help me get it up a bit faster.”

(Charles) “Oh! Do you need one?”

(Anderson) “Eh, this place is Manse enough for me. My master, on the other hand… See, he’s getting tired of being stuck in an apartment when he’s in town. Since his employer is stingy with demesnes, and he’s wanted his own for a long time, I was wondering if you could help me nudge the process along.”

Well… the place wasn’t too far away…

(Charles) “Well… I suppose… Can you say who it’s for?”

(Anderson) “He doesn’t like me spreading his name around too much. Says it might compromise his employer’s interests. But you seem pretty trustworthy… promise not to spread it around?”

(Charles) “I won’t!”

(Anderson) “Raymond Cisneros. He works for the Cartier family… which has the wife’s name for some reason. He doesn’t like me asking too much. Anyhow, he’s been wanting to construct his own Manse for… a decade now!”

(Charles) “Oh! We’ve met! That’s all fight then… Oh, I’ve been experimenting! Would you like a power upgrade?”

(Anderson) “Would it make me better at geomancy? And what would it involve?”

(Charles) “Yes it would – and it involves spending a few minutes on a vision-quest to link up with some additional power sources.”

(Anderson) “No harm? No… travel, even? I’m in!”

He quite cheerily undertook the vision-quest, taking his time to do the ascent – and was rather shocked at just how much power Charles was so casually making available… This wasn’t any simple “upgrade”! It was an initiation into an entirely new level of Thaumaturgy with enormous powers backing it… perhaps even on the level of the greater rites!

And Charles was… “experimenting”? And offering it so casually!?

(Anderson, afterwards) “So… somehow I get the feeling you’re more than me, or even Raymond.”

(Charles) “Well… I probably do have more power! But that really isn’t as important as most people seem to think it is.”

(Anderson) “Heck, you feel more powerful than his employers… and their kids. Not them combined, but still! No wonder you know what Yu-Shan is. You’re right, though. It’s how you use it. Shall we head off?”

(Charles) “OK! And I’ll show you how to use the travel aspect along the way!”

(Anderson) “Mind if we take Chester? I don’t like leaving him without a sitter.”

(Charles) “Not at all!”

The dog wagged enthusiastically; he was going for a walk!

Anderson drove a bit abstractedly as he mentally explored some of the aspects and greater ramifications of the “upgrade” – and was VERY pleased – but travel thaumaturgy took care of THAT very nicely.

(Anderson) “You’ve GOT to show Raymond this, Charles. I think he’ll be needing the help soon.”

(Charles) “Well, if he wants… this will take an hour or so, and he will probably need to be here!”

(Anderson) “I’ll let him know then…”

Despite the temptation to use his new powers, Andersen followed the conservative thaumaturgists rule (“use your powers only when necessary”) – and simply placed a call.

Meanwhile, Charles was performing a quick geomantic survey; he’d need one for this… Anderson was quite correct; the nascent demesne was still wood-aspected (which, incidentally, matched Raymond’s aspect), and was coming along somewhat faster than expected; even without interference it would almost certainly be active within a few years. There weren’t any other demesnes – or manses – nearby though, which meant that – even after it awakened – there would be plenty of untapped potential available.

Raymond did turn up very shortly, and concealed his car.

(Raymond) “Good afternoon, Charles and Jacob.” (To Charles) “Is what he told me true? (To Jacob) “Because I know you have no reason to lie, but still… What you said is hard to believe!”

(Charles) “Uhm, I’m not sure what he told you, so I don’t know! You did want a demesne and manse here though didn’t you?”

(Raymond) “I did? Oh wait a minute… Charles, you don’t have to do that…”

(Jacob) “What?”

(Raymond) “Well, it’s up to him… but I’m not catching you if you faint.”

(Charles) “Well, what sort of manse did you want?”

(Raymond) “It needs to be inconspicuous… and suitable for agriculture. As for what Jacob told me, he said something about a powerful thaumaturgic booster… Er… You can do this without a lot of fuss, right? Howard can handle the social end if people in the know find out, but if the wrong people see…”

(Charles, cheerfully) “OK then!”

He fished his wand out of Elsewhere, pointed straight up – and erected a series of privacy, antidetection, and illusion-concealment wards around the forest, giving them his usual one-century duration for the moment.

(Raymond) “Thanks!”

(Anderson) “Whaa…?!?! (weakly) I guess you’re initiated too…”

Charles was busy… he swirled his in a circle as if gathering spaghetti, entwining it in the essence-filaments of the nascent demesne – and linking back to his Djinn and their geomantic abilities and engineering artifacts in Aden…

There was no reason not to let things be showy at the moment!

Twin blazing bolts of blue-green essence poured from his eyes, crackled through the wand – and rippled out into the forest’s essence-patterns, running through the ground in a ripple of raw power, causing flowers to burst out, the trees to sprout fruit, small monoliths to rise, and other minor boons of the earth to erupt from the soil as a radius of several hundred feet glowed brilliantly radiant with green and healthy essence.

Per the Geomantic Engineering rules, adding +25 to the difficulty brings the time interval down two steps, so does bringing in the Djinn, and so does his major access to geomantic sensing charms and powers… At six steps down the time interval list for geomancy he’d be working in hours – or one roll per use of his work-accelerating charm. Of course, it was at D32 – requiring a total of about 120 successes – but that was still only a dozen or so rolls away at a total cost of about sixty motes – counting the linking and the senses – and about two minutes…

With the potential demesne now at level five, Charles tapped into his internal manse network to pour relayed power into the demesne and activate it – erupting into radiant corona of essence as the ground trembled, various spirits of the land manifested themselves, and plants ripped their way through the ground to grow riotously.

Anderson gasped, groped for support, and then yanked his hand back from the radiant back of the oak he’d just leaned against. How could any being possibly contain such POWER?!

As the glow in the ground faded, Charles invoked Instant Genius to create the manse design – and, with that in mind, set to work – projecting rippling, crackling, waves and beams of blue light to pull structural elements out of the air, delve tunnels into the earth, pull up more rune-inscribed monoliths, and weave a whirling tornado of aurora around a cluster of trees which were rapidly growing together into a single living tower…

Until thunder cracked, and the manse itself flared momentarily, as the essence flows twined into the final knot – and settled into stability.

(Charles) “So let it be done!”

Charles slapped one hand to the ground to earth the excess energies into the manse pool and end the working…

Normally it would take a thousand years for a single person to build a level five manse. Supernatural laborers are far more effective – although the rules are a bit self-contradictory as to whether Exalts count as supernatural laborers. At least in our games, they do; a Terrestrial Exalt counts as five laborers and a Celestial as ten. Using the Prefabrication Protocols, Dudael’s level-six construction hearthstone, and the power of a Factory-Cathedral sped construction by a factor of 1250 – reducing the base time to a mere month – and Charles’s halved time for crafting reduced to about fifteen days – or about thirty uses of Charles’s labor-performing charm over a three-minute period.

(Charles) “There we go! One manse!”

Anderson fainted, and as promised, Raymond did not catch him. He DID slow the fall with his own magic, though.

(Raymond) “Damn…”

Raymond analyzed the Manse as a matter of course – and went pale. He’d been expecting a rank-*** at MOST.

(Raymond) “Uh… I think I need to work on my detection. It says that this is a 5th rank Manse!”

He was in disbelief. Happy disbelief, but disbelief nonetheless.

(Charles) “Why not? There was plenty of potential available.”

(Raymond) “Wow.” (He checked to make sure that Anderson was actually unconscious.) “And here I was thinking you were just some Terrestrial prodigy… You’ve got to come clean with me. Are you a Sidereal? I won’t hurt you if you are… that would actually be HELPFUL.”

(Charles) “Oh, I’m not a Sidereal! I just like to make things!”

(Raymond) “Well, thanks for your honesty there. You sure do make things… and you seem to know a lot about the Sidereals anyway. Do you… know any?”

(Charles) “Oh yes; I make most of them kind of nervous though!”

(Raymond) “That works… damn, you’re already doing so much for me already. Mind doing a little more?”

(Charles) “Why not? Oh, would you like the Thaumaturgy upgrade too?”

(Raymond) “I’m going to be in your debt for-yes. Depending on how what I’m going to ask you for goes, I might need it.”

Charles cheerfully ran him through the Winding Way as well.

(Raymond) “This will be VERY helpful. I can see why Anderson was so excited.”

(Charles) “Oh good! Most of the testers opinions have been positive so far!”

(Raymond) “Anyway… remember when I showed you that symbol back at Beech Street? The one connected to the Sidereals?”

Oh yes! He’d been interested in the Journeys symbol!

(Charles) “Yep!”

(Raymond) “Okay… about twenty years ago, Howard and I were…” (He checked the wards and found them quite secure.) “Starbreakers. He was Sidereal-hunting in an attempt to impress his father, while I was doing it because they were the ones who took me in after the awakening. It was violent, but we were sure the Sidereals were a threat. I mean, these guys had martial arts and sorcery that struck fear into the experienced operatives, right?”

(Charles) “Well, they do – but it’s kind of pointless; they’re very busy anyway and there aren’t very many – but the number is fixed; when you kill one, it simply creates another!”

(Raymond) “Which would explain why, most of the time, they turned out to be lesser ones, more like me than Howard. But still, even those guys were well-trained. The point I’m getting to is… why beat around the bush any longer? I think I’m related to one of the Mercury guys Howard and me ran into, and I want to say I’m sorry.”

(Charles) “Well, most of them have cell phones now…”

(Raymond) “Thing is, the mission twenty years ago was to neutralize him. We didn’t. When I looked into his face, I couldn’t do it. Howard still charged forward, of course. He’s always been impulsive… I can see where Rachel got THAT from. (He chuckled a bit.) We were in the jungles of Cambodia. Howard called back from Panama. Anyway, can you see why I might want to send a message before trying to find his number?”

(Charles) “Well, I can certainly pass one along!… Are you OK Mr Anderson?”

(Raymond) “Thanks. Tell him Howard and I are willing to talk, okay? Oh yeah… let me wake him up.”

(Charles) “Are you all right there?”

(Anderson) “What happened . . . I remember a tremendous light show and a Manse rising out of the ground. Oh dear, I wasn’t dreaming, was I?”

He looked at the Manse – and then stared at Charles.

(Charles) “Nope!”

(Anderson) “Well… master, do you like the Manse?”

(Raymond) “It’s all right.” (His smile betrayed his true feelings.)

(Charles) “The wards should keep it pretty well hidden for the next century; after that they’ll need renewing if they’re still needed!”

(Raymond) “You’ll have to do something for Charles in return, getting him to do this for me!”

And Anderson nodded and smiled weakly, and was no doubt wondering what HE could do…

(Charles) “Oh it’s not a big deal! It’s not like it takes that long!”

(Raymond) “If you say so… anyway, this is for you.”

He produced a sealed and warded envelope from his briefcase. And over telepathy…

(Raymond, mentally) “I spent a lot of time and effort on this message. Careful with it, now!”

(Charles) “OK!”

Hm. It was addressed to “Mercury Exalt with the Gates.”

Raymond was torn between staying – he knew Charles well enough to assume that he had included amenities – and departing, but he didn’t want to take any chances.

(Raymond) “Mind if I take Jacob home? I’m not sure how much more magic he can take today. And do you need a ride?”

(Charles) “I’ll just go back through a gate… Oh, I installed a stargate in the manse; there’s a list of coordinates for habitable planets there; if you ever need somewhere to stash things, any one of them should work nicely!”

Anderson nearly passed out again.

(Raymond) “Wait… stargates!?”

(Charles) “Only one! And you do need coordinates… but you never know when access to an extra planet will come in handy!”

(Raymond) “Next you’ll tell me I can walk into Yu-Shan with no one the wiser…”

(Charles) “I didn’t set it for there; it’s default is what I think is the current version of the old Elemental Pole of Wood. For Yu-Shan we’d have to use a different gate!”

(Raymond) “Wow… I’m going to take Anderson home now, okay? We can discuss that later. Thanks for the help, though.”

(Charles) “You’re welcome!”

Raymond drove off, with a VERY confused Anderson in the back – and his dog…

Charles headed to Dudael… He’d only be a little late, and he hadn’t used any vacation time yet!

Production was going on as normal, and Catherine was monitoring things alongside the usual group of notable gods.

(Catherine) “Nice to have you back, boss.”

(Charles) “Thank you for running things so well on short notice! And nice to see you!”

(Catherine) “Hey, it’s the least I can do. Everything to your liking?”

(Charles) “Oh yes! And we’ve cleared the entire backlog too…”

(Catherine) “Who would’ve ever thought it…” (She looked at Charles meaningfully for a moment.) “So, going to be busy after work, too?”

(Charles, sighing) “Probably! I’ve been drafted for question-answering duty!”

(Catherine) “Huh. Well heck. What about?”

(Charles) “Well… Reforestation, and some stuff to do with dimensions, and gateways, and lots of other arcana.”

(Catherine) “Sounds complex. Tell me when you’ve got a moment after work . . . some friends of mine want to talk to you.”

(Charles) “Oh dear! More questions? Well, it might as well be today…”

(Catherine) “Sure? There’s going to be quite a few of them.”

(Charles) “Why not! I can always use a conversation piece…”

(Catherine) “Okay then… meet me after the shift.”

There were numerous other calls during the shift. The questions were mounting. There were Godly parents asking about the Lesser Exaltations, a supervisor from one of the other factory-cathedrals wanting to chat, and a couple of Sidereals asking about the installation in the Sahara.

The parents got Lytek’s general speech on the lesser exaltations and a bit about what they do did and (Especially!) their limitations. As for the Supervisor…

(Dafera of the Clanging Gears) “I heard rumors about Dudael’s productivity, and was wanting to have a chat with you over it.”

(Charles) “Oh. How to increase things?”

(Dafera) “If you wouldn’t mind.”

(Charles) “Well… I don’t know if my methods will be of use to you or even compatible with your own – but we could talk. Maybe after the current project? That will be a month or two.”

Didn’t most deities view that as a very short time?

(Dafera) “Er… that is awfully fast, but certainly! I can make time for it.”

Impatient god-bloods!

(Charles) “Well, if later would be better, whenever it’s convenient for you!”

(Dafera) “Why not three months?”

(Charles) “OK!”

Well he didn’t have to worry about THAT for awhile!

He thought about bringing a calm, superior, cat to the meeting with the Sidereals, just so there would be someone there who could out-superior them, but settled on a wriggling puppy to contrast with calm superiority instead!

One of the Kickaha decided to volunteer for the laugh – one of the pack hunters who was a bit curious about Yu-Shan anyway.

The Sidereals wanted to… increase the manses water output – subtly.

(Charles) “Erm… I think it’s running about as fast as it can now! I don’t think Elzeard would have wanted to turn it down!”

(Almata Sandovar, Chosen of Secrets) “That’s a shame, Charles. The region could use more water.”

Charles checked with Elzeard – but only confirmed what he’d already pretty well known; Elzeard knew his stuff, and it was running at optimum for reforestation and climate change purposes.

(Charles) “Hm. I think it’s fairly well optimized now? Why overdo it?”

(Dead-Eye Garnet, Chosen of Endings) “Well, it was worth a shot. Sorry, Almata.”

(Ms. Sandovar) “Thank you for your time anyhow, Charles.”

(Charles) “You’re welcome!”

Hm… According to Elzeard turning up the water supply rate would oversaturate the ground and interfere with soil formation, thus causing problems with reforestation and growing nondesert plants. It wouldn’t necessarily be a big deal though; it would just slow things up marginally. It wouldn’t have any blatant political complications though… Doubtless a part of some subtle maneuver directed at something else entirely. Sidereals DID work that way.

She’d just have to come up with something else!

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXIX – Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

The footpath around the village was lovely, and displayed an immense variety of rare plants and beauties – grottoes and trickling streams, sites where you could look into the negative curvature of Aden or out over the village nestled in it’s dale – and numerous other paths leading away.

(Matthew) “Hey, what is this stuff? It’s pretty good!”

(Charles) “I believe that’s the Hobbit Dark – it’s always supposed to be really good, although each bar brews it slightly differently! I wouldn’t really know though; the Guardians say that I’m not allowed to have any yet!”

(Matthew) “So that’s what that one was!… So; where do all these paths take us?

(Charles) “Oh! Well… THAT route would take us to the Primeval Zone and the dinosaurs, and THAT would take us to the Starship Fields, and THAT one would take us to the Singing Forests, and THAT way goes to the Refugee Villages, and THAT way goes to the Beach and the Docks! The down elevators over there go to the Sea of Chaos and the up escalator over there goes to the Well of Worlds…

Matthew blinked as he digested those options. Such a wide variety of locations in here! And some of those – such as the Well of Worlds and the Starship Fields sounded interstellar! Just how powerful was this child? And WHAT was he? This didn’t much resemble what he’d heard about the Lunar Exalted OR the Sidereals!

And he certainly didn’t seem to be a God or Elemental…

He didn’t act like an Exalt of a spirit anyway. He just… wandered in and out of reality doing things.

(Matthew) “Why not the Singing Forests? The music will help with privacy.”

Besides… that sounded like the most normal location outside of the refugee villages – and they’d probably be kind of crowded.

Charles, cheerily headed off that way – providing a running commentary on the various odd creatures they met along the way, including minor details on what they did, and why they had been created.

Along the way a pod of small starships passed by overhead, playing some complicated game involving lots of aerial acrobatics.

(Matthew) “So the small ships are… sapient.”

(Charles) “Well, yes, naturally! Why shouldn’t they be? It makes getting where you want to go a lot easier!

(Matthew, still looking up) “That’s impressive. And you made these on your own?”

Matthew was discreetly studying THEIR essence-fields… and found them to be Essence 7, with an assortment of major artifacts and artifact-ship bodies. Such resources! And… oddly similar to demonic Essence, but far grander.

Not to mention that he wasn’t within a manse-aura, and yet the entire plane seemed to be saturated with healing, anagathic, and various enhancing energies. There was no malice to be found – and a lot of impossibly-obliging effects everywhere.

More importantly… EVERYBODY who came near them seemed to know the kid. And looking at the kid… Charles’s aura was mostly indistinguishable from the background save for being… more focused and more concentrated.

Charles noticed that Matthew was looking puzzled as the Singing Forest and it’s luminescent orchestral birds drew near. Terrestrials were generally good at hiding their motives when they wanted to be, but this was a genuine conundrum. Unshaped? Powerful Raksha lord who was nonetheless benevolent? Something else entirely? Even most of those generally didn’t… meld into the landscape that way. Unshaped was vaguely possible… but the area didn’t seem to have much in the way of chaos-energies; it was VERY firmly shaped – and prevented unwanted shaping.

The Singing Forest was even more impossibly lovely than most of Aden so far, and was even stocked with cascades of fruit juice which turned into marvelous wines as they plunged into pools.

Primordial? Matthew didn’t know much about those… There wasn’t much left that was known about them except a handful of ancient tales. (Not even the Starbreakers knew that the distinction between Malfeas and Autochthon was all but purely political.)

Matthew enjoyed the music for a bit, then turned to Charles.

(Matthew) “Now… before I go too far, what DO you think of the Insidious? You seem to have no problem letting them in here.”

(Charles) “Well, they’re in charge of fixing casualty violations across the cosmos – but there aren’t very many of them, so they’re mostly badly overworked. They never explain since it takes too much time, and they can – for a group that’s supposed to have insights into the future – be extremely short-sighted and blind! They have a lot of trouble with people who aren’t tightly bound into fate too! And they have an REALLY bad tendency to decide that they know better than anyone, and then they do silly things because there are a lot of factors they can’t see… They fouled up horribly about 20,000 years ago, and have yet to get back most of their old authority. If you keep them busy… they’re mostly harmless and they do a fair amount of helpful stuff; if you don’t fix major causality violations chaos breaks out all over the place.”

(Matthew, after digesting that infodump) “I see… and it’s actually Sidereal too, isn’t it…”

(Charles) “Sidereals, yes – although, to be fair, they can be pretty insidious! I’ve got to admit that, when you’re busy, it’s often easier not to explain!”

(Matthew) “I wasn’t expecting you to know so much… If you know about the Sidereals, then you probably know about the Starbreaking.”

(Charles) “Ah, some sort of anti-Sidereal group I believe? It’s one of the reasons why they have a hard time making repairs on Earth these days isn’t it?”

(Matthew) “They’ve existed since the late nineteenth century. Rather fervent group… good for atelier-chapels and magitech, but fiercely dedicated to wiping the Insidious ‘scourge’ from the face of the Earth. And they wield a good deal of power for their size because of that. I fear I don’t know much more than that; my family pursues other paths.”

(Charles) “Well, most group conflicts are rather misguided!”

(Matthew, putting up another privacy ward.) “I bring them and the Sidereals up because we’ve had some Starbreakers come to the estate… and to our Egyptian allies’ holdings. Apparently they believe that Elzeard is a Sidereal, and that he has constructed the station as part of some scheme. That’s ridiculous right?”

(Charles) “Oh! Well, would you like to meet Elzeard?”

(Matthew) “If he would meet me… certainly!”

(Charles) “And it is ridiculous!”

Charles thumbed down one of the starships for a quick ride…

(Charles) “Elzeard is teaching courses in Ecology for a few hours a day, so right this way!”

Elzeard, in one of his more approachable (if still made-of-plants) humanoid forms was teaching a motley group of humans, Kickaha, and stranger entities. Charles waved cheerily!

Mr Donnelly found that strangely comforting – that was about on par with most wood elementals – until he opened his senses and reeled… Essence beyond anything he’d EVER sensed. Hundreds of motes? Vast geomantic powers?

The look of awe on his face was palpable.

Class wound up a few minutes later – and Charles did the Introductions

(Charles) “Matthew Donnelly – Elzeard Lifeshaper, Treeherd, Lord of Totems, Guardian of the Survival Imperative, Apostle of Gaia, Fourteenth Soul of Aden. And vice-versa!”

(Matthew) “It’s a… privilege to meet you, Elzeard. I was going to ask some questions about that installation in the Sahara, if you have the time.”

(Elzeard) “I suppose so! The Well of Worlds won’t be focused on the next world to Terraform for some hours yet! And I’m already working in Eurasia anyway!”

(Matthew, awestruck) “How many projects do you have operational at this time?”

(Elzeard) “Primarily? One at a time on earth – I can only manifest in one place at a time there – teaching and co-ordination here, and Terraforming Operations!”

(Charles) “Hey! Why did you direct all these people to talk to me about you? I’m going to be swamped with them!”

(Elzeard) “There are several reasons, but the most obvious is that you were needing to get out more and practice dealing with problems directly, rather than by sending your various agents and aspects. I left the installation largely exposed for several reasons. Primarily, to attract sympathetic backers like him (pointing to Matthew). Secondarily, to test your personal adaptability! Yu-Shan is all good and well, but there’s much more to Creation than the homes of the gods!” You really do need to experience Creation much more than you have been.”

(Charles) “But I’ve been busy! There are so many things to fix, and I need to get the planets terraformed and the interstellar colonies set up!”

(Elzeard) “Please, Charles, leave that to us! I presume that IS why you made us, yes? And we have performed satisfactorily?”

(Charles) “Well… but it’s more fun to do SOME of it!”

(Elzeard) “I suppose so… nonetheless, it wouldn’t hurt you to leave more of it to us, and handle the questions. You are better at that than you give yourself credit for.”

Matthew didn’t want to disrespect the elemental colossus before him – after all, his father had sent him to get information from Elzeard – but his mind was choking on that “Made Us…” bit!

(Charles) “Aw…”

(Elzeard) “Not that more practice would hurt… you rely a bit much on magic at times.”

(Charles, grumbling) “But I LIKE magic…”

(Elzeard, to Matthew) “Anyhow… I believe you had questions for me, Mr. Donnelly?”

(Charles, still grumbling) “Makes more sense than people most times…”

Everyone ignored Charles, as the grumbling continued in the background.

Elzeard cheerily explained the manse-functions to Matthew – and his projections as to the speed of the resulting reforestation.

(Matthew) “I see. That matches what my associates in Egypt have found… and means it won’t be too hard to defend, then.”

(Charles) “I could assign some defenders too…”

(Matthew) “We would appreciate it. You see, the Starbreaking is planning to strike at and occupy the place – and my father believes that would be unwise.”

He wasn’t going to say it – but he did not want to see what would happen if they did attack it, considering the maker!

(Charles, thoughtfully) “And rather conspicuous… Lets add a satellite channel providing continuous coverage of the reforestation progress! That should seriously discourage attacks by people who want to keep things secret!”

(Elzeard) “A splendid idea. Perhaps with a news feed as well, for the researchers’ convenience. Their continued presence should also deter attack.””

(Charles) “That still sounds pretty paranoid to me anyway. What would the Sidereals have to gain from adding water to the desert?”

(Matthew) “I don’t know… Father always said he had good reasons for turning them down when they asked him to send agents.”

He shrugged – and continued basking in Elzeard’s Essence.

(Matthew) “Thank you for your time, sir. I have never seen someone with such powerful Essence in my life.”

How could Charles – who was unbelievably powerful for a child but who seemed to have LESS Essence than Elzeard have “made” a being MORE powerful than himself?

He waffled for a bit, then…

(Matthew) “How DID you make Elzeard? The craftsmanship is incredible…”

(Charles) “Urm… Well, he’s an aspect of me really… It’s dimensional transcendentalism! See, I’m me, and Aden is me, and we’re sort of inside myself, and the Guardians are aspects of Aden. Does that make any sense? And the Sentinels – like the Djinn and the Noldor – are aspects of them…”

(Matthew) “I believe so. So… you’re simultaneously in here and here. That sounds like some of the things my demonologist cousin talks about. Do you know Malfeas? She says visiting him is risky but worth it.”

(Charles) “Well… He does sort of the same thing, but he’s a lot older than I am, and he’s been really cranky since the Primordial War! I haven’t opened any of the gates to visit there yet; the Yozis are going to take a LOT of fixing!”

(Matthew) “I see. I would ask you more about the Primordial War, but sadly I must visit my friend and her husband… I suppose outside would be proper. They might be able to help my family further. I take it leaving is much like entering?”

(Charles) “Oh yes! Hm… I suppose I should give you something to demonstrate with. Would you like an artifact or an upgrade to your thaumaturgy or something?”

Matthew considered that carefully – and, like Righteous Hala, had some questions about just how detectable that was – to which the answer was still more or less “not much at all”. Still… He’d better consult with his Father before letting someone who seemed to be transforming worlds work on him!

He also brought up the possibility of having his father come in to do the same, if not before him. Family respect and all…

(Charles) “Well, if that’s what you want! Back to the museum then?”

(Matthew) “Well, thank you. He’s bound to enjoy the outing – and yes, back to the museum.”

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXVIII – Getting Down To Terrestrial Firma

Charles upside down!

I see it, but I don’t believe it. How can this possibly be happening?

There were swarms of more-or-less official investigator types lurking around the museum as well, just waiting for Charles to come out of the private offices… And the only reason they were waiting was because they didn’t want to scare him off.

Elzeard’s pointing of investigators to Charles had made him sort of… public.

The first one barely let him get out of the lab.

(Charles) “Oh, hello!”

(Investigator) “Are you Charles Dexter Ward?” (He seemed surprised, but was quite professional about it.)

(Charles) “Yes, why?”

Charles briefly considered saying something like “Is this about those overdue library books? Someone was supposed to be taking them back!” – but, while it might be funny, it really wouldn’t do much except add to the confusion.

(Investigator) “I’m Joseph Daniels, an independent investigator hired by the University of Berkley. I was searching for more information on the individual known as Elzeard.”

(Charles) “Er…. Such as?”

(Investigator) “Nearly everything. Elzeard likely isn’t his real name. All we know for certain is that he has considerable resources and that he keeps referring investigators to you. Research in public and government records reveals nothing about him. The University’s research teams are interested in a conversation with him about his current project, and they have no other way to communicate with him than his answering machine, and you.”

(Charles) “Botheration! Why is he referring everyone to me? I have too many things to do now!”

(Daniels) “Hey, that’s not my problem. If you had his email address, or even his phone number, I’m sure it would make things easier for all of us. At this point, I’d even take a mailing address…”

(Charles, somewhat plaintively) “But I thought he left a communications link… “

(Daniels) “He did, but he still refers people to you when they ask for a physical meeting. Seems perfectly willing to talk over the phone, though.”

(Charles) “Ah. Well, he is a bit… eccentric by normal standards. Why do you need a physical meeting?”

Charles steered the conversation by the Hipparion exhibit, just for fun!

(Daniels) “They want to be sure he’s a real person. I’m no academic, but they said something about a lack of a publishing record or known prior experiments. I’ve got to say, I’ve never seen such a well-hidden guy.” (He looked at the horses.) “Hey, cute… anyway, I think they just want to see if he’s some fellow scientist who’s just being modest or something.”

(Charles, looking at him puzzledly…) “Er… I thought it was practical aspects that you were interested in? Is it answers to academic questions?”

(Daniels) “They’re interested in academia, and seeing just who this Elzeard is. Me? I have a job and I take pride in it. Wow, these horses are tiny!”

(Charles) “Technically they’re not horses; they’re just in the same evolutionary family. They’re Hipparions.”

(Daniels) “Never heard of them. Cute, though…”

Enlightenment dawned! A, private investigator! He really hadn’t been expecting those! The academic researchers must have tried for weeks before they’d have given up and hired someone like that!

(Daniels) “Anyway, think he’d be interested in meeting with them? I don’t know too much about Berkley’s scientists, but they seemed really interested in the Sahara.”

Charles checked with Elzeard… Elzeard would indeed be interested in meeting with some scientists, although he made no promises on the length of his presentation (as in; it might be a while).

Well, there was no aging in Aden!

Elzeard was even willing to adopt a human appearance for it, but he wasn’t wearing a suit.

(Charles) “Well… I’ll see if I can’t arrange a lecture appearance or something, all right?”

(Daniels) “Thanks a lot. Here’s my card; call me when you get something done.”

(Charles) “OK!”

There were a whole bunch of investigators, representing various research interests… and two or three biological journalists.

On the other hand… there was a relative shortage of CIA types, MIB, and Terrestrials…

Well, there was at least one, and maybe one or two more who were REALLY good at masking things.

(Aguerro, over Linking) “That man with the red hair… The one who looks like an ordinary tourist… I can feel the Wood Essence from this distance.”

Oh well! Charles angled over to talk to him next!

He was tall, well-built, and limber, rather formally dressed… and seemed friendly enough!

(Wood Aspect) “Hey, good afternoon! Everybody wants to talk to you for some reason.”

(Charles) “So it seems! Do you want to?”

(Wood Aspect) “Why not? Maybe we should sit over there.” He looks at a bench near the coat check.”

(Charles) “OK!”

As they sat things suddenly got much quieter outside the area – a sure sign of privacy wards going up without a visible casting. It looked like… mental misdirection and sound muffling.

(Wood Aspect) “So. I’m Matthew Donelly, of the European House of the same name. I have a feeling you know what that means.”

Hm… That was… a British Wood Aspect house.

(Charles) “Only in rather general terms! But what’s up?”

(Wood Aspect) “My father sent me across the pond in hopes of finding you – which wasn’t easy at all, mind you. He was wondering about the device you and your friend constructed in the Sahara. More specifically, he was curious as to why the wards weren’t more… present.”

Matthew looked over his shoulder.

(Charles, curiously) “What, to keep everyone away from it?”

(Matthew) “Well… Yes. There wasn’t even a ward against visual detection on the place…”

(Charles) “There probably still isn’t; I rather suspect that it’s too late anyway, there are scientists practically camping there now – and Elzeard might object anyway.”

(Matthew) “Yes… well, that’s sort of a problem. I’m fairly certain you know, but some of the technology in there can’t be explained with mundane means.”

(Charles) “That’s hardly news you know; every serious scientist knows that there are lots of things around that they can’t explain.”

(Matthew) “Oh, I know, but they’re going to start experimenting with things in there, and they might discover things that…” (He wasn’t exactly stumbling, but he was onviously thinking rather carefully about what to say next.) “Father and I approve of what you’ve done, though we wish you had been more discreet about it. Some of our allies in Egypt want to talk to you about what you’ve done – future Wood Demesnes are rare finds for them. It’s just that others… have taken offense.”

(Charles, sighing) “Sadly, that was bound to happen – although Elzeard and some of the others are a bit impetuous about it. Things are going to be changing anyway though; they’d just be slower normally. “

(Matthew) “That region needed renewal anyway. I would just be careful around magitech devices, and regularly cast Private Plaza of Downcast Eyes for the next few months, if I were you. Can you cast that? I know people around here who could if you can’t. One of theirs is quite interested in this too.”

(Charles) “Well, I’d have to trade things around a bit… Ah, wait; I’ll just have one of the aides do it. I don’t spend too much time available anyway – although anyone who’s interested is welcome to come to talk.”

(Matthew) “He seemed to know who you were when I spoke with him, but wouldn’t go beyond that. I do hope our trouble from this doesn’t extend to his people – but I will let him know.”

Wait. Aides? The boy had aides capable of terrestrial circle sorcery? That was pretty uncommon among mortals!

(Matthew) “Aides? What sort of aides?”

(Charles) “Oh… the Coatl and Inukami and Noldor and Djinn and the rest.”

(Matthew) “I… those aren’t summoned servants, are they?”

Summoned servants? Oh, he meant demons!

(Charles) “No; those are cranky!”

Matthew stared for a moment. Mortals would NEVER call a demon cranky if they survived the encounter at all – and he’d never heard of elementals by those names.

(Charles) “There are a few around still I think, but they mostly just play video games…”

(Matthew) “Err… would you like some assistance?”

Not only had the demons not eaten him, they PLAYED VIDEO GAMES instead of doing so? That sealed it! But if he were a Terrestrial, he’d know that he shouldn’t be this blatant!

Charles had been considering; if his Guardians were intent on outing him, there was probably a good reason… And he probably couldn’t stop them anyway! He might as well go with it!

(Charles) “Uhm… Well… Oh why not? (He pulled open a door next to the cloakroom) if you’d step this way? We need a bit more privacy I think!”

(Matthew) “Uhm… all right. But that isn’t… oh, never mind.”

They stepped through into… a Hobbit tavern, with some Noldor having wine, several Hobbits comparing recipes, a Djinn in the corner discussing a little building work with some Humans, a unicorn sticking it’s head in the window to drink it’s beer, and a selection of other fantasy-type creatures.

(Charles) “I can probably tell you a little more now, then. Why not that footpath over there?”

He had to admit that the landscaping was splendid, with flowers in abundance – and the essence-flows of this place… Welcoming even casual visitors with healing, and long life, and every convenience…

Wait, “pretty much everyone here” – including all those mythic creatures wandering about – worked for this boy?

Death in Absentia: Characters and the Law

As with so many things, when you’re looking at how you handle malefactors in role-playing games, it’s often wise to look back at the beginning…

Once upon a time there were wargamers, and they had little cards for units that might look something like this:

Class-A Tank (d6 Generic Wargame):

  • Move 5. No Swamp or Mountain Terrain.
  • Saves: Small Arms 2+, Heavy Weapons 4+, Flamethrower 5+.
  • Four Wound Levels. Repair 1 Daily 4+
  • Attacks: Main Gun: Ranged 3 wounds, one hex. Machine Guns: 2 Wounds, Two Adjacent Hexes

There: A squad with small arms attacks your tank? Roll 1d6; on 2+ they do no damage. They’re using a bazooka? Now it’s a 4+ you need. You know how fast you can move, through what terrain, how hard it is to damage your unit, and how much damage it can take. Throw in a few similar unit-cards, a hex-gridded map, and a few tokens, and you have a wargame.

Then someone crossed out “Class-A Tank” and wrote “Knight with Magic Bow and Claymore” – and now it was a basic role-playing game. The basic game abilities were just the same, but now your tank could go off-duty, drink in bars, and chase women.

You can still see pretty obvious signs of that in first edition AD&D; a “name level” fighter there could take out minor enemies by the swarm (attacking once per level against very weak foes in melee), withstand more damage than any normal human being could ever endure, move quickly on his mighty steed – and still couldn’t move in swamps or up cliffs. Their armor was too heavy.

And there’s our first problem with maintaining law and order in RPG’s that allow characters with vast personal powers. When you come right down to it, powerful RPG characters are not normal human beings. They’re the equivalent of major military units. If major military units are running rampant across the area, and they refuse to stand down and surrender voluntarily, you don’t send out the police to arrest them. You send in other military units to destroy them.

That’s been the foundation of the law since the very beginning. If you don’t obey the authorities, they will kill you.

So you’re an adventurer and have been summoned to be tried for some sort of crime.

Yes, you can indeed use your mighty powers (or feet if your powers are not so mighty) to not show up, but if you refuse to work within the law, then you’re outside it and the authorities may well declare you outside the law or “outlawed “- although, if they’re kind, they won’t do it until after your trial.

Not showing up can be bad. Why?

Well lets talk about what being “Outlawed” really means…

What makes a “Civilized Area”?

A “Civilized Area” is a place where people have agreed to help defend each other and to take measures against attackers in the interests of mutual security. A futuristic apartment complex where no one will stick their noses out or call for help if a neighbor is attacked is not a civilized area. A collection of mud huts and thorn bushes where the neighbors will bring crudely pointed sticks to help repel a lion that’s attacking a neighbor… is.

That’s why times when jack-booted thugs can burst into someone’s house and drag them away without protests from the neighbors are referred to as a “breakdown of civilization”.

Outlawry doesn’t mean the authorities are after you. The authorities are after lots of people. It means that the authorities will pay a bounty on you and that you’re outside the protections of civilization – and that’s the scary part. It means that anyone can kill you and take your stuff without having to worry about getting into trouble.

Adventurers generally have nice stuff. The price of that second-hand basic longsword could feed a kid for a year. Throw in armor, a horse, and a few other bits and pieces… most people will never see that much money in their lives.

And that’s just for your basic starting fighter-type.

Being outlawed means being poisoned by bartenders, coup-de-graced in your sleep by maids, and hunted by other adventurers. For them, the real prize is usually your stuff. Any reward that may be offered on an adventurer is usually just lagniappe. If you’re an experienced adventurer, you’ll have enough stuff to be well worth the attention of even more experienced adventurers. Remember that cheap scry-teleport-blast-repeat routine that sometimes pops up in high-level d20? Congratulations; you’re now the target for every cheap trick that you’ve ever used to take out the bad guys easily. You’re… loot on the hoof, without the protections of being buried deep in the wilderness at the bottom of a dungeon full of traps, monsters, and ancient evils. Why risk trips like that when there’s a lump of concentrated wealth that you can grab without leaving town – and with the healer right around the corner and no social consequences except applause?

A child-pickpocket might flee outlawry successfully; he or she is unlikely to have anything worth the effort of taking and the reward is likely to be trivial. Get a weeks travel away, take a new name – and in a year or so everyone will have forgotten about you. But once the reward is worth a few hours work for a powerful mage…

Lets say it’s d20, and some upset noble has put out a 200 GP reward – for him, small change – on our child-pickpocket. A twelfth-level sorcerer can easily scry out the kid, teleport in, drop him or her with a single spell, and turn in the pathetic corpse (or unconscious body if he or she is feeling REALLY kind – or perhaps REALLY unkind) for the reward within five minutes. If the locals (somehow) find time to question our sorcerer, all he has to do is point to the kids status as an outlaw.

Now that does presume that powerful mages or other reality-manipulators exist in the setting and can find you – but if they can’t, local justice is a meaningless joke anyway as far as powerful people are concerned; they can just move elsewhere.

Bounty hunters are not sporting – and if you’ve got a soft heart and pity for the helpless, it’s not a profession you wind up in. Being outlawed means being screwed. Unless you’re so far gone in munchkinism as to be a problem for gods rather than mortals, being powerful won’t help a lot; sure you can survive more attacks, but there WILL BE a lot more attacks too.

You don’t actually need the accused at the trial either. You don’t show up? The court will STILL consider any evidence of your innocence that comes up, but not showing is a big strike against you and a pain for anyone trying to present your side. Remember; in most older societies the legal system does not exist to produce justice. That’s a modern ideal, and a VERY expensive social investment that pre-industrial societies often cannot afford. The legal system exists to maintain order and to keep the powerful people happy. Justice is nice when it can be arranged – but no one is letting the chance of committing an injustice stop them; there are always gods and afterlives to sort out the mistakes.

No, that’s not fair. Most RPG characters are working on the military level – and the military is interested in making things as unfair as they possibly can. If some innocent has gotten in the way, that’s what “collateral damage” is all about.

This may lead to compassionate types restraining people – especially young thieves and such with powerful enemies – from running away from accusations; no matter how much they panic. They may not understand that not showing up for trial is almost certain doom – but their benefactors will.

If you do show up but don’t behave they don’t need to take massive and expensive measures to restrain you either; if you aren’t simply killed in the fight, and if they really need something from you, they can just pour cups of narcotics into you until all you can do is mumble confused answers. They may throw in mind-probing spells and such if those exist in the setting – but there’s no need for it. You CAN be forced to testify against yourself, and no one will bat an eye. Quite a lot of places will still be using judicial torture.

You didn’t put up a fuss? You can probably defend yourself and testify without restraint. If you were going to use your abilities to escape or attack… waiting until you were in a courtroom that’s likely to be full of guards and powerful people would be bloody stupid.

Modern courts tend to ban weapons, but RPG’s tend to offer characters so many weird-ass powers as to make it a moot point. When the person next to you may be a werewolf, or have flaming explosive halitosis capable of demolishing castles, the fact that someone has a knife on them doesn’t look so important does it?

Showing up for trial and behaving yourself – particularly if you’re powerful enough to have a good chance of escaping for awhile – will often be taken as a big point in your favor too. Even if you’re guilty as hell, there’s a good chance of clemency, or a royal pardon in exchange for some special services, or some other way out. Adventurers who are sane enough to show up, face the music, and stick around to see the outcome even if it doesn’t look good are too valuable to waste – and and the price tag of forcing the issue can be rather high.

And that’s why when that ordinary Court Bailiff turns up to deliver a summons to your archmage for blowing up a small town and killing fifty people, it may be smart to go along with it. The trial might go badly – but the worst that’s likely to happen is an escape (it’s blasted hard to restrain an archmage) followed by Outlawry – and that’s exactly what will happen if you blow away the Bailiff and go for the escape right away anyway.

You’re already under sentence of death. Going to the trial… might get it lifted.

Eclipse, Heroic Deaths, and the Old School

Heroic death of Polish Cavalry unit in Wisła river

Heroism doesn’t always equal Death – but it helps.

A lot of old-school gamers say that they miss the feeling of heroism; that games these days just aren’t the same.

They’re right really – and the difference is pretty simple.

Old school characters die a lot. They’re quick to make, they start off weak, they catch up with older characters quickly, and they generally don’t last all that long – unless they’re cautious, clever, and lucky. The games continuity revolves around the Party, rather than individual characters. Older characters swiftly bring newcomers up to their level – and so the Party continues to forge ahead, and grow in strength and ability, while individual members come and go.

New school games tend to focus more on individual characters – and so characters have to last longer. They become more complex to make since lasting longer calls for more details. There are more rules, since longer-lasting characters mean more chances to repeat stunts without the game master being able to say that “that character was different”. They start off more powerful, so as to be sure that they don’t die so easily. They don’t catch up with older characters as easily, since they’re been around much longer and that now makes the players of older characters feel cheated. The game master tends to be hesitant to kill them off – and may even rescue characters who were TRYING for martyrdom (and yes, I’ve had that happen).

In the old school taking a heroic stand – remaining to hold the bridge, opposing the far more powerful dark lord, or whatever – was indeed a heroic stand. You wouldn’t be stepping though shadows or using your hyper-athletics to escape. It was very likely that you would not survive.

That was what made it heroic.

Some games recognized that. Torg had the “Martyr” card; if you were holding that in your hand when things went pear-shaped you could play it and automatically bring the situation to a favorable outcome – at the cost of your character dying.

Of course, old-school games with looser systems could do that. If your character wanted to make a heroic sacrifice, no one said “Hey, where’s the rule for that? Can all characters do that? Why don’t peasants with nothing to lose take out attacking monsters then?” It was assumed, as in AD&D, that player characters possessed remarkable potentials, and were one-in-thousands – and that was reason enough.

Now, Eclipse is designed to let you do what you want. If you want your character to have the potential for a heroic death, that’s an ability they can buy.

It’s one of the abilities in Eclipse that most players overlook or seriously underestimate, despite it being right up near the front of the book in plain sight.

It’s why – despite the myriad temptations of the powers of evil, despite the endless legions of demons, and despite the cruelties of men – that the forces of good remain dominant in Eclipse worlds.

It’s because of the Action Hero / Stunts ability. Each Stunt momentarily gives you an extra six character points.

Most characters save their Action Points for the occasional special stunt, and – most of all – for saving their necks in an emergency. That’s pretty much what the bad guys ALWAYS use them for – empowering some mighty ritual designed to take over the world, pulling an escape out of nowhere, falling into that chasm only to mysteriously turn up again later, and so on.

You can do more than that though by simply using more than one. Use five? That’s an extra thirty character points.

Stack on enough limitations to Corrupt and Specialize that – or even to double up on those modifiers by adding modifiers such as “dying to cast it”, or “does massive damage to the user” – and an extra thirty character points will let you do virtually ANYTHING. Once. At a terrible price.

Only true heroes will pay those prices and sacrifice themselves for others. That is why they continue to hold against the powers of darkness. In a moment of true – and usually final – heroism, those action heroes who die for others have virtually no limits.

Go ahead. Use those points to access things like “Immunity to Time Requirements”, the “Berserker” sequence (invested entirely in boosting the ability you want to use), or “Immunity to Antimagic, Dispelling, and Counterspells”. Use Doubled Damage (and apply all those modifiers for increased effect) and Enhanced Stike options to strike a single dragon-slaying blow. Take access to the “Compact” Metamagic and Immunity to the normal limitation that you can only get three levels off a spell by using it – and then apply “dies irrevocably to cast it” to boost your magic to horrific levels. Use Reflex Action so that no one can interrupt you.

It really doesn’t matter. If you do this, you’ve basically got 180 CP invested in dying heroically. Think of a ten-level prestige class with the minimum possible basic benefits and only one special ability at the end; “You can die permanently to resolve any problem you may be facing”.

Not too many players would want to take that – so Action Hero says that you don’t have to. If you want a heroic death … you can have one. If you want it to mean something… you can have that capability for a mere six character points. With any luck, however, you’ll be able to use those action points for lesser acts of heroism and retire at a ripe old age anyway.

Even in the old school, serious heroic deaths were never routine.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXVII – Science and Sorcery

In an undisclosed location Orchid’s report was being received with… some incredulity. A… NEW Primordial? Wandering around Yu-Shan randomly fixing things? Complete with a crew of Devas, a World-Body, an (Internal?) Cult, and displaying thaumaturgic powers at a level equal to fairly high-level charms?

Still, if it was indeed true – and there was at least some collaborating evidence as far as the arcane powers went – it was an opportunity not to be missed. A friendly, helpful, Primordial? A YOUNG one who might possibly be molded or directed? Who knew what that might lead to?

By divine standards Charles would be be getting messages in his dreams quite soon.

Charles was briefly considering how awkward it would be to introduce everybody… He could beat the Mad Hatter’s tea party all hollow! And the Deiphages will sit over HERE, and the secret society Masons over HERE, and the Terrestrials over HERE, and the Rival Terrestrials over HERE, HERE, and HERE, and Gods over HERE, and the Factional Sidereals HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE, and the Scientists over HERE, and the Lunars over HERE, and the Raksha over HERE, and the Ghosts over HERE, and the Deva’s over HERE, and the Demons over HERE, and the Primordials…

And if things continued this way he’d need a table for the Yozis (did they like tea? They’d need some awfully big cups), and some sort of concept of a gathering to sell the Unshaped on experiencing (although the concept of “tea” might start changing if he invited them), and the Abyssals could probably find some way to get the surviving original Deathlords substantial enough for tea.

He hadn’t met any of them yet… But he probably would soon enough!

Of course, most people in those stretches of space knew that if you saw black spacecraft with screaming faces, or anybody wearing anything with screaming faces, you really needed to run. Someone who would cheerily wander over to say hello would be a novel experience for the forces of the Underworld – presuming that Deathlords didn’t spontaneously combust explosively and blow up the underworld in niceness-overload when they encountered someone who wanted to make the entire cosmos happy. That might depend on how many leftover fragments of the Neverborn they’d inherited.

(Charles) “Hello Mr Deathlord! Isn’t that outfit REALLY uncomfortable? There! All fixed! now let me see… what else needs fixing?”

And then, standing amidst the wreckage, Charles would find himself wondering why the Deathlord had decided to blow up his own castle. Maybe he’d thought it needed so much fixing that it would be easier to just start over?

Meanwhile, back in non-speculative reality… Dr. Valenti had finished his water, and was wanting to know what Charles was working on now.

(Charles) “Uh… Well, some ecological work, and nonspace portal structures!”

(Valenti, sharply) “Would you happen to be working with an ‘Elzeard’ in the Sahara?”

Oops! He didn’t know that they’d been paying attention to that!

(Charles) “Well, yes on some things. I was rather hoping that it wouldn’t disturb anyone!”

(Valenti) “One of our ecological specialists heard about his work through one of her colleagues.” (He nodded towards outside; the third scientist who was with them apparently hadn’t wanted to chance the machine exploding.)

(Charles) “It’s OK! I try to avoid making anything explosive! Too messy!”

She came back in… and leaned her head as she looked over the collection of highly-detailed plastic replicas of various small plants and creatures.

(Charles) “Hello!”

(Ecologist) “Hmm, very realistic… Ah, hello. You must be Charles! I’m Dr. Roberts. I study ecosystems and their development.” (She shook hands.)

(Charles) “And I’m Charles, and… well, I suppose I make things!”

(Ecologist) “Helpful things, apparently… I think Dr. Valenti told you a little about the situation in the Sahara.”

(Charles) Reforestation and all that?

(Roberts) “And apparently the work of someone calling himself Elzeard, who referred us to you. I believe I read a story about him once…”

Oh dear! Elzeard was referring people to him? But that meant that he’d soon have all kinds of people bothering him! Elzeard hadn’t needed to do that! Still, Elzeard was… a lot smarter than he was… presumably there was a good reason!

It was also probably far too late to do anything about it anyway without giving up his name, his activities in Atlanta, some friends, and several projects. Did Elzeard think he needed to get out of the laboratory and the factory-cathedral and get his hands dirty and experience the world? It was probably more complicated than THAT, but that was probably part of it… Oh well, might as well go with it! No doubt there were already twenty special agents and fifty experts scattered around the building!

(Charles) “Uhrm. well, he liked the name I guess!”

(Roberts) “Do you think Elzeard would be willing to speak with a team of scientists? Since you were already working with our museum, the people who found the installation asked me to ask you.”

(Charles) “Uhm… Well, he’d probably be willing – but he… he’s not… well, his methods are a bit odd compared to most people’s!”

(Roberts) “We would appreciate the opportunity. Some of the methods used seem to match those my anthropological colleague (she indicates Dr. Aguerro) would study.”

The electricity, utilities, monitoring systems there were proof of that! The place hummed with power, and detailed real-time ecological information could be pulled up on it’s systems – but there was no apparent source for the power OR the information!

Dr. Valenti looked completely mystified. Dr. Aguerro appeared curious, but wasn’t going to ask about that in front of Dr. Valenti…

Oh dear.

(Charles) “I’m sorry Dr Valenti – but you are well aware that there’s a sizeable class of phenomena that do not have satisfactory theoretical explanations as of yet?”

(Valenti) “Of course.”

(Charles) “Well, I presume you’ve guessed that the operation of the reconstruction device involves some of those principles?”

(Valenti) “There would be no other explanation for it. Nothing I’ve studied explains what happened.”

(Charles, sighing) “Well, there are a number of methodologies that can be applied – the combination of conventional technology and symbology that you see here, the mental manipulations you find being used by those psychics who possess actual abilities, certain operations that are sometimes referred to as “magic”, and geomantic manipulations – among other techniques. Many of those require talents that are not strongly present in most people, although everyone has some potential.”

(Valenti, considering Dr. Aguerro a bit more carefully now.) “Oh… But Charles, why can’t that be tested? Or have we just been using the wrong means?”

(Charles) “I really hate to say it – but it’s mostly because those techniques can be quite advantageous. Thus they have traditionally been the preserve of small groups of the very talented. Like many other groups possessing a monopoly, they take measures to preserve it – and some of their measures can be very strange by conventional standards. Hence the stepwise approach.”

(Valenti) “Ceiliana… do you have anything to add to this?”

(Aguerro) “Charles’s summary is more logical than most I’ve heard. As he stated, there are VERY good reasons why mages don’t talk about it. If we’re going to continue much farther than that, he might want to take precautions.”

(Charles) “Very well then…”

Charles fished his wand out of Elsewhere – and spun a series of wards about the building, starting with an illusion-ward to conceal the others, a privacy ward, a ward against hostile magic, one against mundane attacks, and fire, and toxins, and disease…

He gave them a duration of a century or so, and didn’t bother to conceal either the power level or the glittering sparks of manipulated essence from Drs Valenti, Aguerro, and Roberts.

(Valenti) “What the…”

(Aguerro) “My thoughts exactly. Probably not for your reasons though…”

Good god! The POWER there! It would take a circle of masters and a major working – hours and a load of exotic components – to erect just ONE ward of that potency! An elemental master perhaps? He didn’t ACT like one of the Reborn!

(Charles) “Just some privacy protections! And a few against various sorts of attacks!”

(Aguerro) “Yes, but few kids – few masters! – can make wards that strong at all, much less in seconds and with no components!”

(Charles) “Better safe than sorry!”

(Aguerro) “Indeed. So, now that we’ve introduced Drs. Valenti and Roberts to the world of real magic, we’ve got to decide what more to tell them… What do you think, Charles?”

(Charles) “Well, They’ll need bodyguards! I’ll assign some of the Coatl!”

(Aguerro) “Coatl?”

A couple of the six Coatl that Charles had along – they rarely had anything to do, but it was a habit – popped out of his pocket, buzzing their butterfly-like wings like hummingbirds.

Aguerro stared – while Valenti and Roberts let out audible gasps.

(Charles) “Cortez and Ramirez is it? These are Drs Valenti and Roberts, and you’ll be working for them for a bit!”

(Aguerro) “That’s a coatl all right!”

(Cortez) “Pleased to meet you, Dr. Valenti.”

(Valenti) “Urm…”

He touched Cortez, who was definitely quite real. Of course, like nearly everything Charles had created, Cortez and Ramirez were quite friendly – and were trying to put everyone at their ease.

(Roberts) “What is THAT?”

(Aguerro) “That’s a Coatl.”

(Roberts) “WHAT?”

(Charles) “It’s always nice to have help around!”

Roberts stared for a moment – and then accepted the situation for the moment, at least for the sake of discussion.

Besides… Hummingbird-snakes simply did not exist in any natural ecology she’d ever heard of. Once you accepted one impossibility…

(Aguerro) “So… what are they, if you don’t mind my curiosity?”

(Charles) “Uhm… Well, originally? Garter snakes. With features from some other creatures of course, and a modest amount of power… Most of them like pizza-flavored pretzels with cheese filling. Those “Combos” things.”

(Aguerro) “Intriguing. That must have been a fairly sophisticated ritual… or possibly one of the greater rites.”

(Charles) “Oh… Well, I automated it. There are lots of things to look after!”

(Aguerro) “Automation? I’d heard rumors about that…”

She studied Charles’s features – and his tendency to fidget – closely… The boy did seem to get a reasonable amount of sun (or at least Aden’s version thereof, not that she knew that).

(Aguerro) “And what do you mean by lots of things to look after? You seem to have at least two biological science projects going.”

(Charles) “Well… people need more room! And there’s plenty available, they just need ways to get there. And once there’s plenty of room, they’ll be spaces for the extinct species too! But it’s a lot of work, so I made assistants! And a lot of those worlds need fixing up to really suit people, so Elzeard is practicing on the spots where the Earth needs some mending…”

(Aguerro, arching an eyebrow) “That’s incredibly ambitious… and unusual. Are any of your cousins and siblings supporting this?”

(Charles) “Just me! I don’t really know if I have any cousins or siblings!”

Aguerro looked simultaneously amazed and disappointed.

(Aguerro) “Well… need any help? I’m an anthropologist, but if you’re planning on colonies…”

(Charles) “Well… If you would! I’m not too sure about organizing people; or what kind of setup would really suit them best.”

(Aguerro) “I know some other social scientists with… abilities.”

Meanwhile, Cortez, Ramirez, and Drs. Valenti and Roberts were getting to know each other. Charles wasn’t sure if they were listening in… or was assiduously trying not to. Still, they did seem to be getting along!

The Coatl could explain at leisure and provide small demonstrations as needed; they did have Adenic Thaumaturgy and a reasonable selection of other charms and powers…

Both Valenti and Roberts were asking for at least some of that.

(Aguerro) “Anyway… I’m pretty sure other mages are taking notice of this. I’m not sure whether or not Drs. Valenti and Roberts will talk about this just yet. I can’t say that I’d blame them if they choose to keep quiet. At the rate Dr. Roberts says it’s happening, though, the BIG occult powers will notice. I think you know who I’m talking about.”

(Charles) “Well… Do you want your own abilities upgraded some?”

(Roberts, abruptly looking up) “Wait… the focusing crystals, and the interest in occult practices…” (Looking at Ceiliana) “It’s not just academic, is it?”

(Aguerro) “Don’t spread it around.”

(Charles) “Well, if any of you want a power boost, it’s easy enough and it includes a variety of protective effects.”

(Aguerro) “Sure, why not? If you’re willing to teach, I’m willing to learn. And they’ll probably need it.”

(Charles) “Dr Valenti? Dr Roberts? The protective effects will work for you too, although you’d need training to use the other aspects.”

(Valenti) “Protective effects… I can see how I would be in danger.”

(Charles) “Well then…” (He held out his hand and produced a swirling orb of blue-green light that was rather beautiful). Now this is a variant on what they used to call a dream-quest – and like the classical version it’s to connect to a greater source of power. Being a controlled and rather more sophisticated version, it provides a certain amount of subconscious training with the link. All you really need to do is look into the sphere, and envision traveling the path you’ll see there. You won’t be physically traveling, although it may seem that way. You can withdraw at any time of course, but in real time it will only take a few minutes to complete. It will seem like several hours though. The path isn’t dangerous, but it may be rather strange by your standards Dr Valenti. I do think you’ll find it a learning experience.”

It was, of course, his standard vision-trip through the Adenic Winding Way manse.

Dr. Aguerro was the first, followed by Dr. Roberts, and then – after a mere moment’s pause -Dr. Valenti. Charles monitored of course, but – fortunately – none of them were phobic of heights. Dr. Valenti actually seems to enjoy the view, although he got an extra shock as his essence enlightened.

When they returned to normal consciousness a few moments later Aguerro and Roberts were even more shocked. Aguerro was skilled enough to realize just how MUCH power Charles was handing out as a gift – and Roberts had had a little subconscious ability already, but was feeling the power unfold through her…

(Charles) “There we go!”

(Valenti) “I can sense so much…”

(Aguerro) “You get used to it.”

(Charles) “The package includes some protection from other magic – mental controls, transformations, and so on – upgraded talents of your own, rapid healing, vastly reduced aging, and a selection of other benefits including remote virtual terminal access. There’s a briefing video available there if you need it!”

(Roberts, a bit weakly) “Please. Wait, reduced aging? By how much?”

(Charles) “I’m not entirely sure yet; a factor of fifty or so at least – although you can age if you want to! I only designed the upgrade a few months back…”

(Aguerro) “Incredible… This should help me even the odds… so I’ll come right out and ask. Do you teach the greater rites I’ve heard about?”

(Charles) “You mean the higher sorceries? I have access to some, and a lot of the minor ones can be replaced with the effects available through the upgrade.”

(Aguerro) “I’m talking about what the Illuminati know. And before you say anything (looking at Dr. Valenti), yes, they exist, and they keep a tight control over this stuff. If you can teach me what they know, I’ll be glad to help you with your projects.”

(Charles) “Well, I’m not sure exactly what they know… Could you describe a few of the greater rites that you’ve heard of? Even just names would be good!”

What Dr Aguerro described was Terrestrial Circle Sorcery – the Private Plaza of Downcast Eyes, the countermagic that effortlessly turned thaumaturgy to dust, and the Peacock Shadow Eyes. She’d been seeking that knowledge for over a decade.

In fact, her Motivation seemed to be “Learn Terrestrial Circle Sorcery without compromising my independence.”

(Charles) “Oh those! Well, there are files available for most of those! You’ll find that the upgrade gives you a very good chance for your magic to withstand those rites, and you some chance to break them even without those effects though!”

(Aguerro) “Amazing… how would it stand up against the Illuminati?”

Hm. Those were mostly mortal thaumaturgists, some with terrestrial circle magic and a bare sprinkling of Exalts – but they’re unlikely to send an Exalt against some renegade thaumaturge.

(Charles) “It should be roughly even-on – and you’ll find that the “greater rites” are very VERY exhausting for the Illuminati, while the upgrade effects are free a dozen or so times a day and only mildly tiring after that. If you choose to construct your foci you should have a considerable edge on the vast majority of them.”

(Aguerro) “Right… I’ve managed to evade them so far, but it’s best to plan for the future. Thanks so much.”

(Valenti) “My goodness, in all this, I forgot about the dig taxes… They don’t seem quite so important anymore, but you should probably have a look.”

(Charles, while checking those) “You’re quite welcome! While things can be kept quiet that’s the best protection, but once people start asking a lot of questions I have to give them more active measures to use!”

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXVI – Science and Sorcery

Now that Charles was done “confronting” (and cheering up) a greater deiphage, he headed back to the rest of the cured minor gods…

They were mostly in a state of shock. While Charles had been speaking with Eighty-Seven Orchid, Ixcatli had been “explaining” things. – and the fact that he didn’t actually have any idea of what was going on had not been a bit of help to a bunch of gods who knew they’d been lost to Deiphagy for anything from centuries to twenty millennia.

(Charles) “Hi everybody! We should probably go to Earth or somewhere outside Yu-Shan for a bit! Until you have domains again you’ll be vulnerable to this sort of thing!”

Meanwhile, Orchid – unfamiliar with Charles’s enthusiastic tendency to come up with elaborate, far-reaching theories with fantastic implications at the drop of a hat (and to discard them again just as rapidly) was badly shaken… Could Yu-Shan be less City than Device? Gods STILL sprang into being by means unknown, much or most of Yu-Shan was still ill-understood at best and incomprehensible at worst – and Gods had been created to inhabit and maintain the devices of the Primordials… Was that why Yu-Shan was a universal sanctum that shouted “Home!” to every god who entered it? Because it was the ultimate example of Primordial Artifice? Had “creation” even been amongst the aspects of the Primordials? Or was… that the domain of the Raksha, necessitating the construction of a device – or perhaps a sort of artificial primordial – to handle that aspect?

And if Yu-Shan was an engine that rewrote reality… How much had it been involved in the Reshaping? And what were the Sidereals trying to do with it now?

(Ixcatli) “As much as I would like to go home, a visit to Earth would be interesting. I was told it changes quite frequently.”

Most of the other gods were too frightened – and too appreciative of what Charles had already done – to disagree. Unfortunately, the group was much too big to escape serious notice by the Celestial Lions this time. Chengdu – an acquaintance of Charles’s – met them at the gate.

(Charles) “Hello! How have you been doing?”

(Chengdu) “All right… hey, who are all these gods with you? You’re not running tours of Earth now, are you?”

(Charles) “That would be kind of cool really! But they’re just going to be staying for a bit! A lot of the gods up here really have gotten sort of disconnected – except for WWW of course – so perhaps tours of Earth would be popular! (Doubtfully) I could enchant a school bus I suppose…”

(Chengdu) “Might work… hey, mind if I check them out with something? This Montague guy’s been helping out with your armor when he’s not on missions. He needs some tests done.”

(Charles) “With what?”

(Chengdu) “He’s working on something to incorporate Essence sight. What with the security lately, there’s finally talk of getting us that!”

(Yangxi) “Couldn’t be happening sooner, in my book.”

(Chengdu) “So yeah, I’d like to test his prototype out on some of them.”

Well… they had been purged, and the Celestial Lions wouldn’t have much experience at knowing what they were looking at… Charles peered at the ex-deiphages doubtfully with his own essence sight.

(Charles) “Oh, like supplemantary goggles and such? I didn’t think there was much room left in the design…

(Chengdu) “Something like that.”

Well… the gods did show trace signs of being in an empty quarter recently, and some signs of having used feeding Charms recently – but the Celestial Lions system was still experimental, and gods did sometimes use feeding charms quite legitimately, and the Lions are new to essence sight – and he didn’t have a good objection handy anyway.

(Charles) “Not really up to me! You might want to ask them; some might have privacy concerns!”

(Yangxi) “We’ve been authorized to pay some Quintessence for their time, so…”

He hadn’t even finished before about half the gods had lined up to be tested.

Well, they obviously weren’t deiphages at the moment anyway.

Yangxi made sure that the line was orderly while Chengdu did brief examinations – no more than a couple of minutes. They did seem to have received some training in it. Of course, like all things, classroom drills and actual practice were quite different.

It was pretty likely that their classroom training had failed to cover the possibility of deiphages getting cured and leaving Yu-Shan anyway – and he probably WAS much more experienced with Essence sight.

If the Lions did catch the signs of deiphagy, they didn’t say it – although Chengdu seemed to be very happy about the goggles’ performance, though.

(Charles) “Uhm… We’ll need to do something to fix that quintessence before leaving Yu-Shan!”

(Chengdu) “Well, maybe you could make coins. I don’t know. Where are you taking them?”

(Charles) “Atlanta to start!”

(Chengdu) “Hmm. Could do what some Sidereals ask for, and convert it to-hey, Xiaoxiao, what’s it called?”

(Xiaoxiao) “Dollars.”

(Chengdu) “Yeah, those… Why are those paper, anyway?”

(Charles) “Lighter and easier to carry than metal really! And it reduces the economic expense of producing currency in comparison to its nominal value!”

(Chengdu) “Huh. Well, you’ll want to see that god over there…”

Chengdu indicated a vaguely humanoid figure made of various paper currencies – and currently waving to them. His rival, a vaguely humanoid figure made of coins, was clinking ominously.

Charles made sure that they both got some business – causing the coin god to clink far less ominously and convert the Quintessence to dollars, quarters, nickels, dimes, and even a penny or two. He bustled the gods through the gate before the questions about “what god are they trusting in?” and “has anyone ever heard of this ‘united states’ place?” got too loud… Even residents of Yu-Shan were rarely that disconnected from Earth en mass!

A small illusion was enough to make them look human.

They had a quick look at Earth under the supervision of some of Charles’s aides while Charles got some of them assigned domains on the various new worlds.

Locally… the disease rates were down, although Charles wasn’t sure if that was because of his wards on the mass transit terminals and the airports. Dr. Valenti would like a meeting, as would Mr. Anderson.

Oh dear! Charles headed off to see them! It might be taxes on that dig grant… Dr Valenti’s request had arrived first, and neither noted any special urgency, so it got a priority.

Hopefully it wasn’t the EPA wanting to talk about recreating organisms… The Terrestrials had agents everywhere – and, unlike the Sidereals, they were not having to monitor all of shaped existence… This time, though, it was Dr. Valenti, Dr. Aguerro (an amateur thaumaturge), and another scientist.

(Valenti) “Hello, Charles. I hope you’ve been doing well lately.”

(Charles) “Oh yes! And my experiments are going well too!”

(Valenti) “That’s why I called you. We had some more questions about the Hipparion device… We attempted to construct our own version of it, and have yet to make it work.”

That was odd; the directions that he’d given them should work just fine if they included all the weird symbols and followed all the apparently-pointless instructions!

(Charles) “Huh! It should work! Can I look?”

(Valenti) “Certainly.”

Well, it was blatantly obvious that they’d left out all the apparently-functionless “decorative” stuff and the circuits that went nowhere, and the other incomprehensible bits. This version was as utilitarian as any device you’d find in a mundane laboratory. They were scientists and engineers, alas – although Dr. Aguerro was smiling knowingly.

(Charles, with some surprise) “Well, you left out quite a bit!”

(Valenti) “Did we?”

(Charles) “Well, the temporal oscillator circuit is missing entirely, and the resonance nodes haven’t been delimited… I gave you the full set of designs. You were constructing a device that you didn’t fully understand, and you changed a lot of pieces that you didn’t understand the reason for, and it won’t work… is that really a surprise?”

(Valenti looked somewhat embarrassed) “None of it seemed to have any rational point…”

(Aguerro) “I tried to tell him.”

(Charles) “Well, it won’t work without it!”

(Aguerro) “That’s what I told him!”

(Charles) “I could jury-rig something I suppose… but it might surge again!”

(Aguerro) “Do you think assistance would help with that?”

(Charles) “It would take a lot of hand-tuning to prevent it… But if they want to try to shortcut this way, it’s about the only way!”

(Aguerro) “I’ve got to give you credit, though, Harvey… I didn’t know you were this good with electronics. Let’s get to work, Charles…”

(Charles) “OK!”

Charles dug in his pack and produced some colored metalized paints, and some brushes, and a pocket tool kit – and correct their ritual errors until there was a kludged-together working version. Given his skills it didn’t take long…

(Charles) “OK! We can try it now!”

(Aguerro) “Right… from what Dr. Valenti told me, we’ll need to stand back.”

It did indeed work nicely, producing a series of beautiful, cellular-level detailed, plastic models of the original creatures that had contributed the various fossils in it’s fossil case – until some of the circuits blew.

(Charles) “I was afraid of that! It is working with temporal resonance; without the baffles it tends to form an induction loop through time, you wind up with energy leaking into the future until it’s no longer sustainable and it comes back out as a power surge!”

Valenti was trying to parse that, but he was a paleontologist and electrical hobbyist, not a physicist… and definitely not a thaumaturge. It was rather rapidly giving him a headache. Still, if you allowed for energy leaking forward through time, could it be counterbalanced by energy being pulled from the past? He’d heard that energy and information were related somehow…

But all those symbols and pointless items had made it work… Did that… Did that mean that the device was… partially magic? Had he just witnessed a successful occult ritual?

(Aguerro) “I can see that. You are pulling information out of the past after all.

(Valenti) “Dr. Aguerro, could you bring me some water.”

(Aguerro) “Sure!”

(Valenti) “You really did mean temporal resonance?!? But that ought to be impossible!”

(Charles) “Well it is going backwards from the present moment. Forwards is allowable, but – since the future doesn’t exist yet – energy projected that way is simply returned to reality a bit later and blows the circuits. The “Backwards” resonance is with the information structure impressed on the fossil… That’s why you need a real one!”

(Valenti) “I see…”

Dr. Aguerro returned with the water. Dr Valenti drank it… carefully, as if expecting to spit it out any minute.

(Charles) “Are you OK Dr Valenti?”

(Valenti) “I just witnessed something that should not have happened. I… am handling it better than I thought I would handle such things.”

(Aguerro) “No, it happens. It just doesn’t use what you learned in college… Or what I learned for that matter.”

(Charles) “Well, it is some new physics, at least to the modern world.”

(Aguerro, nodding.) “I think Dr. Valenti was going to ask you about something else, too. Is that likely to make him spit his water out?”

(Charles) “Uhm… I’d say about four-to-one in favor of “yes”. Shall we wait a minute?”

(Valenti) “I think so.”

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXV – Tea with Darkness

Orchid Flowers

For the Lady Orchid...

Orchid was still probing – very VERY carefully – as they headed for the monitoring room and it’s geomantic privacy wards. The child… not only far more essence than he had ANY right to have, he had vast reserves of power buried inside him and there were… other creatures? POWERFUL creatures – in there as well, along with gargantuan essence flows and pools… what in Oblivion?… The flavor was… strange. But it felt… luscious and abundant and a rich mixture with a slight dominance of… peanut butter?

And she was oddly reluctant to even TRY to attack.

That sounded awfully familiar somehow – but she just couldn’t place it. She only went back about six thousand years after all. The child was the WEIRDEST thing she’d seen for many centuries! And certainly a change from her usual routine!

(Orchid) “What ARE you? The Great God of Storage and Shipping Containers? You seem to just… store away essence reserves, and (as she noted that the ward had been keyed rather than broken) you seem to have anything you need – or that anyone asks for! – in that pack…”

She continued puzzling over those essence flows. It seemed so FAMILIAR, but certainly not in connection with a creature!

(Charles) “Oh! The pack is a dimensional storage space, but if I want anything that I don’t have handy I just open a portal to get it in the pack. It seems to upset people less… And the essence reserves are tied into my personal geomancy! Geomancy really is the best place to keep essence reserves!”

Geomancy? Geomancy! No wonder it seemed familiar! It was all around her! She’d just never seen it in a PERSON before, much less so… miniaturized? So very far away? No… Through a kind of forced prospective. The child… was a lens that focused through Elsewhere. A living gateway to a pocket realm that LOOKED small because it was inside him despite being vastly large…

By the Primordi…

Primordial? Was that even POSSIBLE?!?!

(Orchid) “Yeah, good to know, but still . . . what are you?”

Charles was faced with a dilemma! A direct question! And it looked rather like “I don’t know” was… not going to fly.

(Charles) “Well… I’m Aden Shining Dream! Creation needs a lot of fixing, and somebody has to do it!”

There! Both were quite true, even if they weren’t strictly related.

Orchid blinked, and went deer-in-headlights for a moment.

(Orchid) “OK, so you’re Aden Shining Dream. Good, I’ve got a name. That still doesn’t answer just what you are METAPHYSICALLY. Which is to say… Primordial, Exalt who’s dipped deep into geomancy, or something else entirely?”

(Charles) “Well, the Sidereals mostly seem to think I’m a Young Primordial; they may or may not be right of course… I’m not really sure there! (Doubtfully) We could ask some of the third circles, but they just say I have to make up my own mind about that sort of thing!”

(Orchid, a bit weakly) “I thought I was sensing devas in there…”

(Charles) “Ooh, you’re GOOD at that! Most people can’t sense them at all from the outside!”

(Orchid) “Kid-Aden-I eat Essence every day. If I don’t know the nature of every single mote, it could be the end of me. Anyway . . . no, let’s not ask your Third Circles. That’ll have the scarabs on us in minutes. So… what do you want to know? I think you had questions too.”

(Charles) “What all of you needed! Once everybody knows what everybody needs you can usually work up a way that everyone gets what they need and that’s another thing fixed! You said you couldn’t tell me what it was about until you had some armor and a private place…”

(Orchid) “Well… the bosses don’t tell us that much, so I’ll have to start with me. I would like some armor for my other bodies . . . and maybe enough for a patrol group. The one you’re curing’s about as big as we run for that.”

(Charles) “Well.. Ok, but wouldn’t it be nicer to stick with your own body?”

(Orchid, shaking her head) “Hey, it’s not like we can go above ground safely, much less out of the pure quarters. If I didn’t have some preserved, I’d be a LOT less effective at my job.”

(Charles) “The pure quarters?”

Orchid extended her arms and waved them both behind and in front of her.

(Orchid) “All around you, kid. And pretty much extending for… a good while, give or take a few spots.”

(Charles) “What are they purified from?”

(Orchid) “I’m not sure. The bosses don’t talk about that too much; they say it’s above my rank. I just know I’m a lot more comfortable here, and that what I’m doing counts as a domain-ow! Damn. There goes that Charm I told you about… I didn’t think it was THAT sensitive!”

(Charles) “I think I know that one! Would you like different armor? I have a few Behemoth Cloaks laying around…”

(Orchid) “Yeah, that would be nice… I thought those were legendary though!”

(Charles) “I ran some up a few weeks ago!”

Her jaw dropped… in both bodies.

(Orchid) “Multiples?!?!… Never mind. I’ll take one.”

Charles went back to the pack…

(Orchid) “Okay, thanks. So what were you doing down here in the first place, other than thinning down our forces?”

(Charles) “I was looking for Terapishim! He’s supposed to start working at Arcosanti soon, and help me get more gods back to having domains, and somebody snatched him. Besides, he has a nice beard!”

(Orchid) “Terapishim… Terapishim… thought I’d heard that name… oh yeah! No wonder Ninety-Six Lotus was in such a fit about you! I was wondering about that raid.””

(Charles) “Aw! I try not to upset people! They can just come talk if they’re worried! Worries need fixing too!”

(Orchid) “Sigh… every bit the diplomat. Look, what was his old rank?”

Mountain ranges ARE important; Terapishim was of the (low) fourth rank.

(Orchid) “Ah, hell. I’m not sure, but it looks like your friend’s being used as a lure.”

(Charles) “For me?”

(Orchid) “You, those nutty Sidereals who’re attempting to spread the other geomancy, celestial lions… I wouldn’t know.”

(Charles) “Oh. The sidereals are trying to spread the geometric stuff? It’s newer then.

(Orchid) “Well, now that my Destiny Sponsorship is down for sure… the way they talked, I got the feeling Yu-Shan was once all like this. My boss, at least, sounded that way.”

(Charles) “Well… in the beginning it was only the Primordials – and there were only about fifty of them, well under a thousand devas, and only about six thousand second circles – so most of the city was… pretty empty. You know, I never thought about that! Why so much space for so few? The Primordials all had world-bodies anyway, and mostly kept them in Elsewhere with their souls aboard. What was the POINT of Yu-Shan? A private clubhouse and games parlor doesn’t need to be the size of a continent… And they copied the model for the Blessed Isle… Yu Shan is one of the biggest reality engines ever built. The original control nexus for building Creation – and since it’s suspended in Elsewhere, it has access to plenty of alternate spaces to build more worlds in. That would be how the Dragon Kings managed to create their refuge! They had the survivors up here access the creation engines – they’d have access predating humanity – and construct their refuge!

That’s kind of neat, even if it really is only a theory as of yet! But it would also explain the elaborate seals on substations like this; they’re part of the control system… If the dragon kings did use them…. you probably only need a few thousand controllers to start the construction process once the geomancy is fully powered up! And, since Gaia is partially embodied in Creation, it can be used to… expand Primordial World-Bodies. That could be quite handy! And it could be why the Unconquered Sun was so eager to move in and take over – and it was only AFTERWARDS that they bound the Yozi’s; they needed Yu-Shan to make it stick. The Games of Divinity… A consciousness-directed world construction simulator with full awareness? That would be something the Primordials could handle by spreading the load, but which would be utterly fascinating for the Incarnae, and a devastating overload for anyone less powerful…

Orchid listened patiently – as a dancing goddess turned greater deiphage, all that speculation was a little bit out of her field. Nonetheless, it was about Yu-Shan, so…

(Orchid) “But… that’s silly! There’s no way that could be…”

(Charles) “Well, it does fit most of the oddities and explains a lot of things!”

(Orchid) “Kid, that would make my boss among the oldest gods in Yu-Shan.”

(Charles) “It should have some testable consequences… And your boss might well be; he IS deeply entwined in the geomancy of Yu-Shan isn’t he? The only way to get THERE at all readily is to be a part of the geomantic system from the beginning! And the Incarnae did purge most of the gods who’d actually been involved in Yu-Shan before the war…”

(Orchid) “OK, I was waffling on whether to do this… but I need to get to the bottom of this. The way you’ve acted so far, sleeping someplace secluded around here – and outside one of those damn Sidereal Manses! – isn’t going to faze you, right?”

(Charles) “Nope! The devas will watch for me!”

(Orchid) “Right… I’m going to tell my boss about you. You’re probably going to get a dream visit sometime, so be ready for it.”

(Charles) “OK! I usually sleep at the Orrery or Dudael, but they’re not warded against dreams particularly – or at least Dudael will let it through if I ask!”

Orchid looked towards her patrol – or her former patrol – and shook her head.

(Orchid) “Right then… you’re going to let me keep this body, right? I need it to get this cloak home.”

(Charles) “Well… It would be nice to have everyone using their own bodies, but it’s been going on for millennia, and I guess there’s no rush about finding solutions there!!

(Orchid) “Not as long as they keep trying to kill us… anyway, thanks for not doing that, kid. I’d better be on my way before they start screaming for the lions.”

(Charles) “I think they’d want to get back to a “controlled” area first anyway, Thank you for the information though! It’s always fun to get a new theory! And, if you can, please send Terapishim back or let me know who to talk to about it!”

(Orchid) “I don’t know who Lotus’s boss is. We’re not part of the same cell. My boss would probably know, though.”

(Charles) “Could you pass the word? I could always trade something!”

(Orchid) “Oh, I believe it kid. One last thing, though: how are you going to fix that wall?”

(Charles) “The adamant one?”

(Orchid) “Yeah… I was going to have another god fix it, but now that you’ve cured them…”

Well, they were leaving anyway! Charles pulled all the pieces back together and used some terrestrial-level transmutation to rejoin it back as it was.

(Charles) “Well…. Be fixed!”

(Orchid) “Wow… if you are an Exalt, you’re a powerful one. Thanks. I’ll lock the door; we wouldn’t want to lose this station.”

(Charles) “I didn’t have time to sort out all the controls and symbolism anyway! Besides, I think there were control levels designed to only respond to particular groups!”

(Orchid) “Sharp kid. Anyway, I’d better get going.”

(Charles) “Have a nice time!”

Orchid activated the Cloak of the Wyld Lands function to blend near-perfectly into the adamant, and departed – reflecting somewhat on “Have a nice time”. She hadn’t heard THAT line in eons…

If the boy was what he seemed to be… it was well worth losing a patrol for that meeting! The boss might not even be that mad when she reported her findings! If he was an Exalt, he was at least willing to listen. And if he was what the internal geomancy indicated… things might be changing around Yu-Shan at a pace that, quite frankly, terrified her.