The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXXVII – Aikiko’s Search

Lí­mite Chile/Argentina en el paso del Bermejo...

Can’t the ancient master ever live in a condo?

Meanwhile Kiko was considering… if the others were anything like Charles… the best way to find them would be to look for places where things had gotten over-the-top WEIRD, and where the local Dragon-Blooded were scrambling to cover things up. That meant… News stories that had been big but were being downplayed, crank internet sites, and rags like the National Inquirer.

Oh good grief. She was turning into a “Man in Black”. All she needed was a set of sunglasses and a flashy-thing… Maybe she should just go with it and ask Charles for one!

Nah. He’d probably object to the mental meddling. He had some sort of hangup – or scruple – about that! That might be fair enough after all; it was sort of high-handed to do that to people… Maybe that woman who wrote the “Harry Potter” stuff was more tuned in to reality than most people thought! She had the attitude of most magical beings towards “Muggles” just about right!

It took a good deal of poking around and analysis (and nine successes on a 10d investigation check) before she had a list…

  • On the Baltic Sea Istaros Mining Inc had reported the theft of four hundred and eighteen pounds of high-grade amber from it’s processing plant – and it’s replacement with 1260 pounds of .999999 pure gold. The board of directors was currently unable to decide between strengthening security and putting out a welcome mat. The local authorities were investigating the “crime” as a possible money-laundering scheme – since the value of the gold, of course, far exceeded the value of the amber.
  • In Kyrgyzstan (seriously? there was a place called Kyrgyzstan? didn’t that mean something kind of weird in Old Realm? Was that tradition or just coincidence?) sixteen archeologists and students had mysteriously died opening a neolithic tomb. It was reportedly a burial mound with surprisingly advanced stonework for the period – estimated at 8,000 BC – but it had unexpectedly collapsed shortly after being opened for investigation. The entire archeological team was found covered in dust and unconscious around the entrance. Most had died enroute to the hospital or in the hospital without awakening… Those few who had recovered consciousness before dying had raved incoherently. The entire group was dead within hours. The authorities, looking at the dust that scattered over them and around the collapsed site, suspected mycotoxins. The site had been closed indefinitely.
  • In England, an amateur band called “Helical Storm” had been banned from performing while an investigation into the outrageous special effects displayed during their latest performance was conducted. The police suspected that hallucinogens had been released to support the “effects”, but had not yet been able to identify the agent in question to prefer charges. The victims had reported bizarre transformations, strange creatures appearing on stage, some sort of music competition straight out of “Merlin”, and quite a lot of people had somehow wound up with no clothes on…
  • In China, one “Yan Tong Ling”, the leader of a small ancestor cult, had recently been arrested by the Chinese government – but had apparently escaped, somehow leaving behind a withered mummy in his cell. The search for him was ongoing – but the episode was generating enough bad internet jokes to sweep over the Great Firewall of China like a tidal wave swept over a garden wall.
  • From Malaysia the news was that a notorious – or at least rumored – “Secret Martial Arts Tournament” was turning out to be for real; the Besi Hantuperajin (Er… “Iron Spirit Art”? “Iron Smith of Ghosts”? “Forge of Iron Souls”? Was that really as ominous as it sounded to her?) had been considered semi-legendary, but invitations had recently been issued to some of the most skillful martial artists in the world. Of course, a fair number of sensationalists had promptly concluded that – if the competition was for real – perhaps it’s equally legendary prizes were as well. More sensible sources had concluded that it was most likely just an attempt to capitalize on an old story – while many of the worlds major schools were denouncing the entire thing as a publicity-seeking sham, and had advised their students to ignore the entire thing. A few, more authoritarian, schools had banned it outright.
  • In Argentina the current headlines – at least in a few minor papers – were shouting “Freak Landslide Spares Andean Village!”. It seemed that the village of Huascar, in the high Andes, had reported a miracle – that a massive landslide had neatly split, had and rolled on by on each side of the village – leaving the village and it’s inhabitants unharmed. Local credit was being given to the “Spirits of the Mountains”, and small offerings to those beings were being made. A few of the locals were even reporting seeing a mountain spirit standing above the village dividing the avalanche with it’s bare hands. Naturally enough, most of the major papers were simply reporting that some quirk of the ground, or perhaps a large boulder that had stuck temporarily, had diverted the flow.
  • In Oregon, a local Phi Kappa Epsilon fraternity had reported that “Godzilla” had attacked one of their fraternity parties, and carried off two members and three young women. The police had admitted the presence of a colossal set of footprints in nearby lawns, but were currently treating the incident as a prank.

That one could well BE a prank – but still, there were enough oddities in the details that something in it just… rang true to her.

They all did. There had been hundreds that had NOT of course – but most of those were such obvious nonsense that they could be easily discarded. They were just diversions – probably set up by the Terrestrials – from the (rare) real supernatural occurrences… It probably helped them a lot that so much of the current population was determined to ignore the occasional weird bit.

Could the humans actually be suppressing such things? Sure, the power of any individual normal human was trivial – but there were more than seven billion of them now, and monotheism did focus their power well. That might be enough to keep a lid on a lot of the minor spirits and elementals, and THAT would let the Terrestrials focus on the major stuff.

Gaah! She’d caught theorizing from Charles! She’d better focus on her patrol and on just why she was thumping this fellow over the head!

(Slightly later) Well, she wasn’t too good at dealing with spirits just yet, though the ancestor cultist incident is curious. The tomb was probably more dangerous than those archaeologists ever thought; it sounded like prior-shape-of-reality stuff. Maybe a tomb-Manse? The rock band might be a lot of fun to check out, but Lytek was expecting results, and she might get high on the stuff and hang out for weeks.

Lytek did actually have a fair amount of patience. He was roughly 36,000 years old after all!

The Godzilla case was amusing though. Even if that wasn’t a Guardian, she might have to check that out and congratulate the pranksters! The tournament definitely sounded interesting too! Come to think of it, that mining case was also interesting; who was running around transmuting gold to amber? And the village too… Argh! So much interesting stuff to check out! Of course, there was the last one…

  • Doctors in Ontario’s Sisters of Mercy hospital (Outside Ottawa) were currently fighting a legal battle to avoid releasing ultrasound images to the patients involved (six pregnant teenagers, ages fifteen to sixteen), citing an ongoing internal investigation and an inability to release any results (or any other reasons for NOT releasing those results) until it was complete. While the six young women involved were currently unable to get second opinions or scans due to Canada’s single-payer and que system (after all, in a mere five months or so they would KNOW anyway, and so it wasn’t considered urgent), it was likely that they would be able to manage soon. Support was pouring in from women’s rights groups – who felt that the doctors had no right to withhold the girls test results – to fund a trip to the US and ultrasound scans there for them.

Not revealing WHY they wouldn’t release the ultrasounds could be bad… mutations? And that wasn’t much younger than she was! What was going on there?

A bit of sympathy put that one fairly high up the list – and looking up a map of Yu-Shan’s gate locations didn’t take very long. Given money, and modern transportation on the earthly end… it shouldn’t take very long to reach any one of the locations really.

Tentatively… the Hospital, than the Fraternity, and then the Andes. It looked like it would be easier to cross into Canada from the US than it would be to use the Canadian gate- the Northwest Territories were not exactly conveniently placed – but that was no trouble…

Ottawa was quite an interesting place! She took the opportunity to do a little sightseeing, even if she was mostly interested in the hospital – which currently had a heavy police guard, a swarm of protestors, and a lot of guys in dark suits. The way that her commando armor was set at the moment she’d blend in best with the protestors – but thank goodness for changeable clothing!

The guys in dark suits were… mostly standing around, watching, and directing the policemen. It looked like they were in charge. Weird! Canadian feds, or something more sinister? She’d bet on the latter!

A bit of scouting around was easy enough… the place was in the cities greenbelt, surrounded by tress and rolling hills. Basic security was… A fence and a few cameras, now augmented by the police and the men in suits watching. The suits did seem to be Canadian Feds – or were at least well disguised as such – but they were mostly checking ID’s and keeping the protestors out. The doctors and nurses and such were… being passed on in, as were scheduled patients and emergency traffic.

OK; the security lockdown wasn’t too severe. Perhaps she could just leap onto the roof from a nearby tree? Of course, if there were other supernaturals around, somebody was likely to catch it – and she didn’t want to be blatant. Not only was that the opposite of how she was starting to prefer to work, it would freak everybody out and possibly cause chaos in an already bad situation…

The security check seemed to mostly involve appointments, some computer queries, and checking ID’s. Drat! Hacking wasn’t her thing, and she wasn’t much for false paperwork either…

Well, the parking garage was the nearest high building – only forty feet or so away, with a connecting walkway-bridge. It had a couple of cops checking people in and out, but it looked like the main security check was is in the foyer where the bridge connected to the main building. Basic video surveillance again… Running up the garage with Spider-Foot Style was likely to be noticed… Switch to a cops outfit and try to get in that way? Of course, they’d ask for credentials, and most of them appeared to know each other, so that was probably trouble too.

Well, she did have the Easily-Overlooked Presence Method! If she just made sure no one was looking when she jumped the fence and made sure that her clothes fit in… Hospitals were full of people bustling around carrying stuff. Who would look twice?

Besides, if somebody did, she could always run.

A quick trot up a tree, a backflip over the fence to land inside – well beyond the range of the various simple sensors on the fence – and she was in.

Huh. Spending all that time in Yu-Shan, surrounded by gods who were utter masters of their specialties, sometimes she forgot just how big an edge she had over any normal human agent! The impact of the jump alone would have killed most normal people if they’d had any hope of setting it up in the first place…

No time to spend dwelling on it though! Ducking into the utility area in a fold of the walls and starting up was the work of a moment. Her armor shifted from a nurses outfit to a maintenance man’s gear before she went past the camera into the area. Was speed better than caution?

Well, she should still be easy to overlook as long as she wasn’t doing anything too abnormal… Mundane climbing it was! And without breaking any mortal records either! She could always shift to Spider-Foot Style if she needed to…

Aikiko’s stealth check easily beat out most of the observers; the were, after all, mostly just humans. No one had enough empowered agents to waste them on mere security for minor operations…

A couple of people on the roof? Guards?

Nah. Sneaking in a surreptitious smoke break. Easy enough to duck past while they were looking the other way with a modest burst of speed. Ha! Just like that one time in the slums, only with less tentacles…

The upper floor turned out to be the cancer wards. The place was teeming with harried CNA’s, nurses at the central station, and assorted arguing doctors – mostly waving charts full of papers, looking at computer screens, and discussing the status of several diagnosed-terminal patients.

…Oh. The cancer ward. That put an end to the cockiness… Still, a bit of listening in was easy enough after she picked up a few towels – and revealed that the doctors were studying charts and complaining about “secret government experiments” – and about locking up patients. Looking in on the charts themselves, they were all… showing distinct improvements. There hadn’t been any deaths in the last eight days.

That was weird! She was no doctor, but even she knew that “terminal” usually meant “not going to make it.”

She went to have a look at the patients. There were three wings, with patients in rooms up and down each one – and it was easy enough to wander along and look in on them… There was a fair assortment, with a surprising number of youngsters who’d apparently just checked in during the last few days. Only the youngest were being allowed visitors – most of whom ere overjoyed about the “remission”.

Aikiko had to struggle not to slip in and visit some of the kids herself – she knew that young cancer patients were often lonely, and she didn’t like seeing others suffer – bit for the moment she contented herself with listening in on the doctors making noises about last-ditch treatments, sudden responses, and cancers gone into remission. Most of the kids are just happy; it wasn’t not hurting any more.

Most of the parents and relatives were equally mystified; why had they suddenly been transferred? Yes, the change had indeed apparently done the kids good, but…

Aikiko had to agree; that was good, but pretty mysterious! Maybe she should have invested in some magical senses! She was sadly lacking in those beyond her commando armor’s nightsight. That was making life unexpectedly harder! She’d really have to learn some of that sort of thing! She knew well enough that there was no known magical cure for cancer – other than magic of course.

Heading down took her through a series of other wards – and a series of similar situations. The doctors were none too sure of what was going on – but apparently did have some sort of protocol; something labeled “Archangel” – which apparently meant “shuttle your worst cases through as fast as possible while it lasts”? So something like this had happened before?

Oh of course it had. Every so often you’d get someone who’d Exalt without knowing about the secrecy preference, or a new hospital god would wake up and be overly helpful (or just try to promote his/her/its hospital over all the others, or some fey would decide to stir everyone up – and there would be mass healings until… until someone who valued secrecy more than mercy caught up with whoever-it-was and made them quit.

On the second floor there was a much heaver guard, more guys in suits, several odd people – and a sealed-off wing – or at least one with a new door and a special checkpoint. Even without special essence senses, there was a crackle of essence in the air here – coming from the sealed-off wing. There was an active ward there, and a powerful one – and possibly a lot more than one.

Hmph! Definitely major supernatural, or even Exalted, activity here! A few minutes watching the odd folk… Looked like… a wiccan priestess, a notable television psychic, a UFO nut, and several scientists.

Hm… from what she could pull up… the TV psychic probably did have at least a little skill in clairvoyance. The UFO nut… well, he might be seeing SOMETHING, but it was probably in his head. The priestess… well, she might know a few things, but she was pretty sure that most of the Wiccans knew a lot less about actual magic than SHE did, and that was saying something! After all, if they knew something… it would be common knowledge by now. Maybe some of the guys in the suits were doing it?

Two of the suit guys seemed impatient, annoyed, and a bit incredulous – and one of the scientists seemed simultaneously less mystified and more incredulous than the others. And she was fairly sure that two of the suits were showing some of the signs of elemental aspects…

Of course. Why were the Terrestrials always the best-dressed people in the room? Was it just the money? Of course, Intelligence guys classically wore good suits… They were usually pretty perceptive too.

What was it the one was saying?

(Suit #1) “We could try again”

(Suit #2) “Why waste more power? If it was going to work, the first time should have shattered the wards like they were made of spun sugar!”

Wait; they HADN’T put up the wards? If only she had Essence sight or a bit of thaumaturgy she might have a better idea of what was going on…

Well, she knew a LITTLE – you couldn’t hang around with Charles without picking up a little bit unless you were deaf – and it would be better than trying to punch the ward down; she was pretty sure that that would be foolhardy…

(With seven successes on a six die pool, improvising a few hours of essence sight was easy enough)

And it even worked! Not bad for a novice use of the arts!

It looked like… the wards around the area kept out anyone hostile (specifically including anyone who was inclined to recommend, or perform, an abortion), any doctor or medical personage who wanted to meddle, raksha, most spirits, terrestrials, ghosts, and a variety of other menaces… Layers and LAYERS of wards. Major healing and other protective spells too. The few other people with any power were… apparently also trying to analyze things.

It also looked like a terrestrial-circle counterspell had hit the wards and… bounced. She was no great mage, but she was pretty sure that THAT should not happen! Not unless someone with serious power was meddling! That explained a lot!

So; the guards were keeping an eye on who could actually go in, and trying to figure out what was going on. She should be able to get in – she wasn’t hostile and didn’t fit into any of the broad categories the wards covered – but an attempt would be quite blatantly obvious… She was almost curious enough to try anyway!

A clipboard and towels – and her charm – were enough to make the guards assume that she was yet another CNA – but one of the terrestrials gave her an incurious glance – and then did a bit of a double-take and moved to intercept her.

And there weren’t even any windows nearby!… Ah! The lounge would do! It had outside windows and no one in it at the moment…

She didn’t need anything more than natural speed to make it to the lounge ahead of the man – but he didn’t seem particularly hostile, and wasn’t raising the alarm… Besides, she didn’t want to make a racket! There were sick people around!

Ah good. There were handy windows in case she needed to get out. Still, for all she knew, the man might just want some coffee!

(Suit #1) “So… who do you represent? What’s your interest?”

(Aikiko) “I’m an independent investigator.”

Huh! Not quite what she was expecting! The man must be bored. Still, she didn’t quite want to reveal that she was in Lytek’s employ. For one thing, most Terrestrials weren’t even aware that he existed!

(Aikiko) “I’d heard about weird stuff here and wanted to check it out.”

(Suit #1, somewhat bitterly) “Weird, oh YES. SOMEBODY seems to want to blow the entire game! Six girls pregnant by – and with – SOMETHING. Something obviously inhuman! And somebody is funneling through major protective spells every time one of them so much as GETS NERVOUS. Couldn’t they have gotten nervous BEFORE spreading their legs? And whatever-it-is can’t seem to tell WHO is sick in the vicinity, and keeps healing EVERYONE. We can barely contain it here! And – what the hell – everyone is going to know it anyway in another five months or less!”

(Aikiko) “Inhuman? What do you mean by “Inhuman” – or is that under wraps?”

(Suit #1) “Heh. Every doctor here knows, somebody leaked to the blasted PRIEST, and he wants to do an exorcism, and they’ve been showing the packet to everyone…”

Hm. The man DID seem pretty desperate to find some answers

(Suit #1) “…so I might as well show it to you – if you will promise me that you’ll share anything that YOU know or can deduce about it!”

(Aikiko) “Oookay… sure thing, sir.”

Wow! They really must be desperate!

Well… she was no medic – but she had a look.

It looked like… an embryonic… hollywood werewolf. There seemed to be… three boys, two girls, and one ultrasound – the first one – which had come out… blank? Someone hadn’t known what an Ultrasound was and had blocked it? Ah; later tests had shown it to be another girl.

Well that was kind of… creepy, but would probably be cute when they came out!

Still, there were all kinds of things that could look like werewolves. Maybe this had something to do with Charles? It did seem to be his style of magic in some ways, didn’t he say he was out to fix the universe? Maybe this was a part of it, although it was weird even for HIM. The wards sure seemed like something he’d be able to put up – and the healing healing…

She didn’t want to rat on Charles, but she HAD said that she’d let this guy know what she could deduce…

(Aikiko) “Well, definitely looks like baby werewolves, but you knew that already. I know this guy who might be helpful…”

She referred yet ANOTHER group of Terrestrials to Charles, without directly ratting on him.

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7 Responses

  1. I’d bet it’s either the result of a Kickcha or Lunar messing about. The other bits just SCREAM of supernatural goings on.

    • And fortunately her investigative abilities let her sort things down from several thousand crazy reports to the ones that almost certainly had some truth to them… Hurray for Solar Investigation Charms versus a planetary search!

  2. That does sound a lot like Charles special brand of throwing up wards for just about everything. Could be one of his Guardians protecting the pups from one of the Kickha dragon line mapping groups that Charles sent out.

    I do feel some slight pangs of pity for the Dragonborn clans who want secrecy. Very slight ones. Charles and his Guardians are going to pop their bubble of secrecy and they aren’t likely to have any real plans in place to handle being completely unable to supress knowledge of magic after several centuries of maintaining the secret.

    • Well, I fear that Aikiko – as a young woman – let herself get a bit sidetracked by sympathy; since we’re now past that point in the game (if, as always, a bit behind on the logs) it’s not revealing anything to note that that particular lead does lead back to a Solar Guardian – it’s just that it leads back to Charles.

      Sadly for the Dragonborn, trying to keep magic secret in an Exalted-style universe with modern communications was always a doomed project in the long run. (It would be hard to understand how they kept it quiet this long if it wasn’t a setting conceit). What with the return of the Solar Exalted, the reappearance of the Deathlords and the Abyssal Exalted, and all the rest, the long run has been cut very short.

  3. […] LXXVII – Aikiko’s Search: Fortean Events, Aikiko Investigates the Sisters of Mercy. […]

  4. […] LXXVII – Aikiko’s Search: Fortean Events, Aikiko Investigates the Sisters of Mercy. […]

  5. […] LXXVII – Aikiko’s Search: Fortean Events, Aikiko Investigates the Sisters of Mercy. […]

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