The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXXXV – Fraternal Affairs

Jewish student fraternity in Munich

Not, not THIS sedate

Aikiko elected to attend the fraternity party; after all, the cops didn’t have charms and the party would make an excellent cover for disturbing the wards. She’d have to be cautious; frat dudes weren’t famous for taking “no” for an answer… and she didn’t want to accidentally kill any of them just for being obnoxious and drunk…

The actual party turned out to be surprisingly sedate – and, while there was a bit of pushiness, there wasn’t much. It took her a few minutes to figure out why – and then it hit her; local boys, in a small town, intentionally inviting the cops to show up…

No, there wasn’t going to be anything rough; she was in bloody MAYBERRY.

It actually was kind of pleasant though!

(Aikiko, Jokingly) “Oh, dude, I bet they’ve got MIB sensors! They’ll use the blue flashy thing on you!”

She did take a closer look at the wards while she had a chance though… thaumaturgy of course; Air essence. That meant an Air Aspect Terrestrial – or an Awakened.

She kept the Essence detection up!

The frat boys didn’t know what kind of alarm the pesky cops had set up, but they couldn’t sneak back in without setting it off – and so they seemed to fully intend to “accidentally” set off the alarm (no matter how it worked) as many times as possible, just to annoy the cops.

(Aikiko) “Oh, bros, that should totally annoy them…”

And it would be a good distraction for her to slip in, although she didn’t say that out loud! Discreetly shifting the behemoth cloak to look like their standard outfit would did wonders for blending in; fraternity T-Shirts were easy to fake – and wearing one would probably make most of them assume that she was already with one of them…

Once she was in the yard… It was fading, but the yard… reeked of the wyld. It was still effectively a bordermarch – and it HAD been deeper than that! In addition, a VERY powerful essence-based weapon had been used here. There were scattered bits of a concrete garden set – it looked like the original table had weighed several hundred pounds and the chairs at least half that – around too…

Whoa. It was a good thing that she was wearing a behemoth cloak. It gave her some protection against shaping – and, for that matter, giant monsters with incredible strength!

Unfortunately, Aikiko’s attempt at further – and deeper – analysis of the essence-signatures botched – and she interpreted the remainder as divine power.

An awful lot of divine power too! That was weird! It seemed to have struck into the yard from outside, from near where that phony footprint was.

Which the plants were rapidly – far TOO rapidly! – filling in.

Oh, of course. Wood and Earth thaumaturges doing a cover-up. Well, into the house!

The house had traces of wyld energies all over the place. Weaker – bordermarches intensity – but many more layers – enough to be an obvious, maintained, low-grade wyld pocket – and it was mixed with that same divine signature. Maybe some god snatched them? A wyld pocket would explain where Salin got his endless party supplies from – but that kind of shaping was only available to Fey, Lunars, or Solars! Sure, even mortals could build very small and weak wyld pockets, but they needed to get some material from a larger or natural one to sustain them on a fairly regular basis. If that was the case, where could Salin have gotten it?

The place was quite well appointed… Pool table, big-screen plasma TV, wet bar, music system, big music-and-video collection, comfortable rooms… frat members liked their party stuff – but this was pretty lavish for a small frat house out in the boondocks! Most would be fortunate just to have the plasma and pool table!

She stuck her head into the first room. It was fairly lavishly appointed – not up to Yu-Shan standards, but bloody good for earth.

In the third bedroom – and by far the best – the bedspread was apparently ambrosial, and was woven with delicate little scenes of Yu-Shan. Very nice! But clearly not something you would find in any normal frat house! What in Creation was going on here? From the nametags… Salin’s room.

The blanket was… beautifully made, embroidered in marvelous detail, incredibly comfortable of course, unnaturally tough, and presumably never stained and never needed washing – all the good features of ambrosial crafting. It seemed fairly normal otherwise.

It really was genuinely ambrosial! Maybe Salin was God-Blooded? It seemed to fit – but surely a god or his nanny would have taught him better.

Hm… Salin’s room was at the center of the house – and the artificial wyld pocket, although there were signs that someone had been methodically banishing the Wyld energies and taking the pocket down in a controlled fashion. Either they hadn’t noticed the blanket or they hadn’t bothered with it though… If they’d had any idea what it was anyway.

Oh good grief! No wonder the police still had the place sealed off! Even if there wasn’t anyone one the force who knew why, the thaumaturgists doing the cover-up had surely provided some convincing reason!

Man, the frat guys weren’t going to be happy when all their cool stuff was gone…

Aikiko put the blanket back on the bed. As much as she liked ambrosial stuff, she was a daredevil, not a thief.

One of the other rooms was also nicely appointed – but there were several impact-cracks in the ceiling in front of a full-length mirror, the bedframe was bent, and there was a barbell set tied in knot. in the closet. Whoa. SOMEBODY around here had superhuman strength – and lots of it.

There wasn’t really much need to check – but it was indeed Darius’s room. It looked like the “flung a concrete chair” bit might be quite accurate. Okay… That couldn’t be coincidence unless it… was the kind that got Exalts together. Hoo boy.

Time for a theory! Even if it was early enough that it would almost certainly be entirely wrong! Say… Darius and Salin were both Exalts, likely Solars. They met at this fraternity. Salin generated the Wyld pocket to make things more fun for his frat brothers. Unfortunately, as a member of a society where magic is not common, no one told him about the dangers of Wyld shaping. Meanwhile, Seri got her hands on a cinamystic artifact. That interacted with the Wyld pocket, and SOMETHING from the dream inside got out. Where all these people were now was till open…

Still… Solars would account for the Wyld Shaping, and maybe for Salin’s apparent Yu-Shan connections – but Darius might well be a Lunar; he certainly displayed the raw strength for it from the stories – and he had been reported to abruptly get much larger, which might fit in with the broken bedframe and the cracks in the ceiling.

Wait, you could build a Wyld Pocket with nothing more than Thaumaturgy, provided that you had a source of wyld energies to import and contain. Next easiest was manse powers and Raksha assumptions. Could she check on some sort of registry of god-blooded? Ambrosia wasn’t normally found in Creation, but…

Darn. It still really could be almost anybody!

All right; that looked like most of what she was going to find in the place… And she’d already had to duck the cops twice, even if they were only normal humans. It was time to go do a little (sigh…) research. She needed to check some backgrounds!

That meant waiting for things to open up in the morning – but that was no trouble at all. It let her call for some assistance with the computer work.

Darius… Had a pretty normal record. Local family, drivers license with a few points from a speeding ticket taken off after a drivers safety course, school course records, grades, and athletics all fair – but nothing all that special. About three months back he’d been involved in an incident with a grizzly bear while camping – and had killed it with a sharp stick. That had gotten a fair amount of local attention. Since then he’d… been rapidly moving up in the athletics department. He was very fond of camping and mountain climbing (at least on the local peaks), and seemed to be a decent enough fellow.

Well… Rapid advancement COULD be a sign of Exaltation – but without other real evidence… Most new Exalts kicked up a much bigger stir than moving up a bit in the athletics rankings.

Salin, on the other hand… had a detailed local record, local relatives, superb grades over the past several years, was part of a band that was quite popular locally, and was a minor (if purely local) celebrity. On the other hand… there seemed to be no out-of-state records on him at all. No taxes, no nothing. It had taken some digging to determine that his SSN matched to a dead kid – a small boy of the same last name but a different personal name who’d died in a traffic accident in New York about fifteen years ago. That would make him about the right age though… The kid had been almost eight years old.

OK. That was definitely weird. According to the records in Yu-Shan, Abyssals were apparently made from dead people – but again, not enough evidence. And if you did turn a kid into one… would he or she grow up or not?

Come to think of it, she hadn’t seen any family photos in his room though. That WAS kind of suspicious! He was a small town boy after all!

Time to look into those local relatives – with a personal visit.

Hm. The Bards were an old family in the city. In person… there was much general conversation; they certainly remembered Salin, they were very proud of him, he’s… well, they were very proud of him!

The repetition and vagueness was weird again. It sounded like Salin had access to some means of brainwashing – or of using unnatural mental influence. Or perhaps he was just dead, and they couldn’t admit it. Still… they did seem to know him, and knew he was their kid – but they just didn’t seem to actually have any details on him.

Definitely suspicious. No matter how frustrated her parents got with her, Aikiko knew that they had still kept her baby stuff and remembered things she did. These folks… knew nothing but generalities. From Salin’s drivers license, they didn’t look at all like him either. That meant that Salin was either a raksha playing the role of a college student, or something even more worrisome.

And it would be hard for even a Raksha to insert all those grades and records and things. It was sounding… more and more like an Abyssal wiping out records (they were good at that kind of stunt) rather than inserting them. But that didn’t explain Godzilla… And why a wyld pocket? Abyssals could get comfortable in a LOT of ways.

Could the pocket actually be of something else? Sure it FELT like the wyld – but could it be the Underworld?

Nah, that was REALLY reaching. Time to get some more facts, and a little rest.

In the morning it still seemed like the best bet was that Salin was an Abyssal – if possibly a renegade – and it seemed likely that Seri knew a little more magic than just the standard New Age woo. Perhaps she was the one who set up the Wyld pocket? She’d need to be pretty good, but if she was hanging out with Exalts that wasn’t at all unlikely. Why would an abyssal have a fluffy blanket from Yu-Shan though? Unless some god was considering defecting to the underworld – it had happened in the past – or was planning to use him against Heaven’s enemies… It had happened in the past and Oblivion didn’t really care too much about what its chosen killed as long as they killed.

So; Salin had almost died, got offered abyssalness, took it, and was currently partying with a likely lunar at a fraternity? After all, some Abyssals did miss the joy of life – and the two could be bonded.

She had to wonder who her Lunar partner might be. With her luck, he ro she was probably working for the DEA and very VERY straight-laced.

Salin might actually be related to his “family”; he didn’t look like them, but the Black Exaltation did cause physical changes sometimes.

Still, if they were for real… they did seem pretty mind whammied when discussing him! Still, in that case, why no out-of state records? Either they were his real relatives, and he’d done some computer trickery along with the mental influence, or he’d used mental influence to convince them that they were his relatives. There was that stolen SSN with a different name.

She tried inquiring around campus – and everyone on campus did seem to remember him being around for years. A few were convinced that they’d known him in grade school. Most said that he’d been very close to graduating, they’d known him for years – but everything before about 4-5 months back was utterly vague. About when the semester began…

OK, that was a big “Yes” on the mental trickery – and probably said that he’d just moved in and used mental influence to make a place for himself. Had he been on a mission here, or just on the run? She could understand if a deathknight didn’t want to kill existence. He was a very powerful mentalist though if he’d arrived and convinced hundreds or people that they were his family, that he’d lived here all his life, and that they knew him well. He was a rocker… maybe he wove it into his performances somehow? That would require a lot of essence development – or some sort of a special knack.

Still, that wasn’t important right now, though . . . she still didn’t know where they were!

Gah! She was going in circles! Time for a new style of research! The only thing to do was… rent all the Godzilla movies! Oh yeah! She could smoke a bowl, get some munchies, and… well, she could probably crash SOMEPLACE. There had to be some Toho fans around here…

OK, so she was looking for where Godzilla hung out…

Seriously.

Tokyo was obvious – almost too obvious – but there was Monster Island, the South Pacific, various oceanic trenches, the arctic, and a few other places.

She spent quite a lot of time on TVTropes and the IMDB… It was serious research! Fairly mundane lives might be at stake!

Besides, watching all the movies was fun as well as being good research! Besides! Monster Island might not be as fictional as she’d previously thought!

Godzilla was definitely a cult classic – and there was only one major cold-blast weapon in the series – Mechagodzilla’s “Sub-Zero” cannon, which (somehow) reduced temperatures in what it hits to near absolute zero. That matched the blue-white light, the ability to fly away, and the glinting…

Of course there were two versions there – the first one was extraterrestrial and disguised as Godzilla, the second was a Japanese defense project, with a team of pilots, created to stop colossal monsters – and it was that version that had the cold beam.

Good grief. Maybe it was Japan. The geography, while a bit of a stretch, was not out of the question. This was the West Coast. But why go so far to grab Exalts? And who would be piloting it? And why use a movie monster as the template?

Well… She did have a sentai team of Terrestrials hunting her. Why and how they would use a movie monster was another question though! Could it be a genuine robot? But where would they get the funds to hide, much less build and maintain, a warstrider?

Japan it was! She’d always wanted to see the place in person anyway!

So, regardless of further theories, she was now fairly sure that…

Two exalts – one with Yu-Shan connections and either a partially-erased or more likely a created ID, one likely a fairly new Lunar – were hanging out a small-town fraternity, using a Wyld Pocket to hold cooler parties, whereupon they were attacked, defeated, and kidnapped by Mechagodzilla, piloted by forces unknown. The local police do not wish to believe this – and so were putting up no resistance to the Terrestrial Exalted using magic to cover it up.

OK, Exalts had probably dealt with more absurd situations, but usually not outside the Wyld!

She couldn’t blame the local police though. Still, somebody had to get to the bottom of this, and since she meddled, well… Still, why didn’t anyone spot someone building a wyld pocket in the middle of a city?

Oh, thaumaturgy. The same containment that kept your wyld pocket from leaking away would make it hard to detect. Still, she could just SEE the local dragonbloods reactions to being asked to cover up a KAIJU ATTACK… “And how are we supposed to cover it up when it comes back and EATS THE CITY!?!?!?”

Well, nobody ever said Exaltation was easy! She hadn’t been expecting this on her first case either! It would be a lot easier if she could just punch the problem. She could even do knockout punches, so there’d be no need for anyone to die!

Hopefully they’d work on Mechagodzilla! The charm did work on constructs as easily as it did on human beings, but he might be too tough for it… At least as crewed by Exalts or by something else powerful enough to get the thing. Still, as long as it was piloted, at least she could get in and punch the pilots.

Hm… Would the pilots have been silly enough to keep Mechagodzilla anywhere near the captured Exalts? It would be incredibly dumb to keep resources of that scale close to unfriendly Exalts. It would be the first thing they targeted upon escaping. And who was to say what the biggest warstroder ever created – and one with it’s own cult rating yet! – would be capable of?

Punching probably wouldn’t solve that either – maybe subversion or infiltration. Either way, it would probably be a good idea to head to Japan. The local dragon-bloods could cover things up to their hearts content; they didn’t seem to be using anything beyond inertia, unwillingness to believe, covering up the actual evidence – and maybe a tiny bit of memory-wiping. There really wasn’t any reason to interfere – although how they kept it up was beyond her (even if things usually weren’t this messy).

So; off to Japan.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXXXIV – On The Oregon Trail

Charles really didn’t know much about esoteric mystic martial arts, and was happy to turn his attention back to geomancy… He had Orchid’s partial map of Yu-Shan, and his own agents, and Dudael’s to work with – along with some library texts that had some information on the topic – and he was STILL trying to decipher what the geomancy of Yu-Shan was actually FOR.

It looked like the Dudael map was pretty much complete – but it was mostly concerned with Dragon Lines. It did give the locations of various manses – but also showed one-hundred-and-one little blank spots – the Jade Pleasure Dome and what were probably the control rooms since there were twenty each for each of the five directions. Did that mean that they were geomantically null, or perhaps isolated? Or was some sort of security code required there? Perhaps just being attuned to Dudael hadn’t really been enough for EVERYTHING.

Oh it showed the walls too of course.

Still… the original design of Yu-Shan’s Dragon Lines… bore only a casual resemblance to that contemporary Yu-Shan. The dragon line patterns were much the same – but originally they had been allowed to flow freely, with plenty of reserve capacity in self-generating loops. There had been three major circuits, all roughly equal – a Creation circuit, which drew motes in through the Gates and out through the Games, one that channeled motes through the city itself – presumably to maintain it’s manses and artifacts and functions – and one that collected motes and funneled them into a massive Essence Pool, centered on the Jade Pleasure Dome.

Either the Games of Divinity had demanded unbelievable amounts of raw power – available in massive surges – back then, or something else in there had required it. If it had been the Games, what had happened to change that situation? In contemporary Yu-Shan, the lines that should be contributing to the Essence Pool were, instead, tied to collection functions. In fact, in modern Yu-Shan… almost EVERYTHING was devoted to collection, and those lines seemed to go to two things: a majority to Creation, the rest to the city itself.

The gates served as regulators as well as entrances. Even when closed to entry, they continued to regulate the essence flows – albeit at reduced power.

Sadly, all that didn’t really say what the manses had been FOR, or if and how they’d been networked. At most he had… how the essence had been circulated, not what it was actually used for. Likely for that he’d have to either go through the manse designs one at a time – those that still existed either on paper or intact – or he’d have to talk to someone who’d actually been there. Bother it! Was he going to have to visit Maltheas to understand Yu-Shan? Gaia… tended to encourage (or require) a lot of independence that way; she probably wouldn’t help with this sort of thing.

Still, there had to be SOME sort of active purpose! After all, the Primordials would have had all the goemancy and essence that they’d ever need already – and the place seemed a bit large for a clubhouse… they were all living clubhouses anyway!

Did he dare turn it back on before finding out what that purpose was?

Well, at least studying the geomancy had shown where all the original Primordial demesnes were – and had shown that two of the little blank spots were very near the locations of the two control rooms he knew, but apparently didn’t quite match… although that might just be the scale. One did seem to match his one known deiphages personal pocket bunker, right near the wall, where it was before. That one… glimmered brightly, as did all the others near the walls. There were forty-nine of those in total, and a fiftieth near the Jade Pleasure Dome itself. The duller ones were in the donut-shaped area around the Jade Pleasure Dome…

Well, that matched the numbering that the Greater Deiphages appeared to be using. The brighter ones roughly matched the abandoned territories, showing the higher energy levels where most of the geomancy had reverted it’s to pre-divine-occupation status.

That HAD to be the slowest eviction notice in history! Worse, it looked like the still-sapient gods were now… pretty heavily outnumbered.

Well, Yu-Shan apparently predated creation – at least by some accounts – so the to-and-from creation circuit was probably secondary. Running the Games was strongly implied to require prayer, but there’s was always the Loom (which did show up). Frustratingly, however, the Jade Pleasure Dome was quite blank other than the links to Creation. It WAS tied to the Essence pool, but that link was strictly between the two.

Hey, there was a date buried in the fine print! This was the one-century centennial map! From just one hundred years after Yu-Shan had been completed!

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Meanwhile, Aikiko had arrived in Oregon… It was pretty impressive country! Enormous stretches were still wilderness since they were incredibly rough. The country was made up of ancient lava flows – and buried deep underneath some of them were the remains of several first-age kingdoms, although they were been effectively “aged” a very long time indeed during the reshaping. There were still supposed – at least according to the records in Yu-Shan – to be some pockets of accelerated time in hidden locations. The towns are mostly located along the (very few) major roads and mostly where they crossed navigable waterways leading to the coast. Most of the inland plateau was a rugged forest. The population was… pretty low.

Roseburg wasn’t very big either – and neither was it’s college, and chapter houses; the town had about 14,000 people – counting the outlying areas. It was certainly picturesque though… Aikiko took pictures, walked around the campus (although she didn’t really make enough for the college yet), and finally went to see if there was any evidence left at the chapter house (other than giant footprints).

The police had roped off the big footprints, and didn’t much want to talk about them – mostly because some of them near the river were pressed nearly six feet deep at the deepest point. One had become a new small pond, but most of the rest were reasonably dry. The official explanation was still “Pranksters” – although how “pranksters” had done it was kind of unexplained… Whatever had made them was obviously both big and heavy – and unless someone had exalted as a prankster, it doesn’t look like a college prank to HER. On the other hand, a few footprints – the ones that were nearest to the fraternity house – were only really imprinted on the grass, and were pretty obvious fakes – and they were in the same line with the others. The trail came from the local river (and was deepest there) and seemed to be one-way to the fraternity house.

That was really weird!. Teleporting Godzilla?

Well, she could take on an essence sight mutation temporarily! The most obvious place to look was the trail itself; the fraternity house – and especially it’s damaged areas – could come next.

As far as the trail went, the most obvious traces were wood and earth essence – it certainly looked like dragon-blooded thaumaturgy – focused on soil movement and plant growth. Underneath that, and older, there were traces of wyld energies.

That was weird too! Terrestrial college students playing pranks? You’d think their parents would have taught them better! But what about the Wyld energies?

Oh NO. Not THEM. It was too soon to know for sure, but she certainly hoped that there weren’t new Cauldron-Born running around!

The Fraternity House was still closed – but it was easy enough to poke around a bit… A local cop did come along and inquire as to what her interest was; given that the youngsters who had disappeared still hadn’t come back it was still officially a crime scene.

Pesky Cops. Ugh! Well, it wasn’t like she’d done anything too illegal yet…

(Aikiko) “I wanted to see if there really were big footprints here.”

And what about those kids? Of course, clues about them were probably inside.

(Cop) “Oh for the love of… ANOTHER one. Yes, yes – right over there, one phony footprint, looks like it was cut with a weed whacker doesn’t it? A couple more weeks and it will be gone entirely! No big mystery there! Just some ridiculously sensationalistic reporting!”

(Aikiko) “Yeah, I guess so.”

Geez… how many crimes go unsolved thanks to cops not having Essence senses? It was probably an awful lot! The poor guys… would generally have no idea of what was going on at all!

Aikiko managed to get 7 successes on a five-die investigation check.

Weird! If it was a gag… why were the deepest ones the most distant instead of where more people will see them? Why older wyld magic underlying the newer thaumaturgy? What exactly is that thaumaturgy doing? Why was the cop apparently oblivious to the trail? Why hadn’t they found the missing people yet? That was going pretty far for a prank! Did someone WANT to be found by other mages or something? Because thaumaturgists and supernatural creatures were the only ones who’d notice this…

Well, those weren’t questions that a cop could be expected to know much about. She left the man believing that she was quietly wandering off – and started looking into what she could find out about the missing people. It looked like she had…

  1. Malinda Edress, Age 20, a Forestry Major, and commonly believed to be a bit eccentric for her dabbling in crystals and such. That could easily be more than new-age-woo of course…
  2. Seri Yosang, Age 18, an Engineering Student who didn’t usually attend parties much. She’d apparently been pretty drunk – albeit not legally.
  3. Tirella Vinwell, Age 23, a soon-to-graduate Art Major (painting and sculpture).
  4. Darius Sevantes, Age 22, a Library Science and Computers Major, also a star athlete who got some recent attention for managing to kill an attacking bear with a broken tree branch – which was kind of weird! Usually that sort of thing only happened in movies.
  5. Salin Bard, Age 23, A music and literature major, noted for being a terrible womanizer and for being the captain of the local fencing team.

Both Malinda and Yosang had been accompanying Salin, while Tirella was at the party with Darius.

Well… she was of college freshman age now. It was time to hang out on the quad or in the library and see what rumors she can get about the goings-on at that party. There must have been at least some witnesses!

That took some time of course – but putting together the bits…

They’d all been out in the yard. Salin had been regaling the young women with fantastic tales; most of the witnesses were more clear on the hangovers than the stories, but they did agree they had been pretty good. Malinda had been trying Darius on a crystal, which some witnesses said had been glowing a faint white. Darious had been mostly paying attention to Tirella, who was proposing to sculpt him posed as Michelangelo’s David. Most of the witnesses claimed that a weird glow had suddenly appeared, then something huge blotted out the stars, and then the screaming and yelling started and there was a brilliant white flash and it got VERY cold. There had been more weird flashes of light, some dramatic posing, a garden table had gotten smashed – and all five of them were scooped up by something gigantic and carried away.

The investigators had written off all of that as a bunch of high/drunk kids hallucinating of course – at least after the special investigators from the capital had a look at things.

She had to admit that it really did sound like Godzilla – or something a lot like him – really HAD crashed the party, then! But where did he go? Into the river? A good thing that she had borrowed the behemoth cloak then!

She just HAD to see the site first hand! No way was she letting the cops get in the way of curiosity! They couldn’t even bite her head off like the Celestial Lions could!

Still, there was no point in being stupid; she checked out the security first; it probably would be little more than crime scene tape and an officer or two checking in occasionally.

There was yellow crime scene tape, the cop went by regularly, Campus Security had posted a guard out front – and there were several alarm-wards.

Wards?!? THAT wasn’t normal for cops! Were they working with a “paranormal investigator” who was REAL? That might be a problem! It looked like… there was one at the property-line that she’d already breached, one on the house and yard, and one on an area in the yard.

Huh! Time to track down an actual partygoer first! That had to be a wild party, at least before the people disappeared.

It was easy enough to find the fraternity – and, sad to say, pretty young women could always find someone who would talk to them.

They were complaining about STILL being locked out.

(Aikiko) “Dude, that sucks. How are you supposed to have fun with your bros if your house is shut down?”

The frat boys had no idea how Salin got all that stuff. It was wild, but it seemed like the booze and music NEVER ran out while he was there!

(Aikiko) “It does suck! It’s so nice to find someone who understands!… So tell me more about Salin. He sounds like a pretty cool dude.”

That… got almost frighteningly enthusiastic. Salin was a young rock-star-to-be, frightening well read, suave, the life of any party, and seemed to have almost limitless supplies both of booze and of designer stuff that wasn’ t even illegal. He played a dozen different instruments well, sang beautifully, and always had at least one girl on his arm.

(Aikiko) “Whoa… sweet! Sounds like he was a credit to the social scene.”

(Frat Boys) “Oh yeah! It’s hard to remember how we managed to have any fun before he came along!”

(Aikiko) “So… you gotta tell me, man. What REALLY happened at that party? I’ve heard some rumors, and it sounds like he bought the GOOD stuff.”

She leaned on her charms hard for that one! It looked like someone had been leaning on them not to talk too much – but she got enough to put a pretty good account together. It sounds like…

  1. Salin had vanished into one of the quieter areas of the yard with Seri (most of the partygoers are sure of what they were up to, but that wasn’t uncommon at drunken fraternity parties; clothing often got sort of optional).
  2. Something huge, loomed up over the party. Darius – who had been holding a crystal glowing with an intense silvery light and looking puzzled – suddenly shoved the young women behind him as this giant hand reached down for him. He put on about two feet of height and broke free, then hurled a concrete garden chair at it’s “face”.
  3. The thing then fired some sort of “cold beam” at him, which froze him and the girls solid. It then scooped him and the girls up – and then rocketed away.
  4. In the light of the “Cold Beam” it seemed to be quasi-metallic – but the description did resemble Godzilla in a lot of ways. Some of the partygoers said that they had seen it before though, although they couldn’t place where.
  5. Nobody had seen Salin since either, so it was assumed that he had been taken too.

(Aikiko) “Oh dude! You’ve got to get me whatever you guys were smoking!”

Metallic? An Alchemical? A Raksha using a metallic body? Sidereals playing a prank? (They had to reduce their stress levels somehow!)

(Frat boy) “Hey, I never said that it made sense! I’d swear it was more than a prank though! If only because they haven’t come back!”

(Aikiko) “Yeah, that is pretty fishy… Which direction did Godzilla go? Or do you remember? That WAS a wild party!”

She got some vague directions – but it had flown away! Which was crazy!

Huh… That whole description sounded vaguely familiar to Aikiko too – but she couldn’t place it.

(Aikiko) “Uh… got me. Well, thanks for the info!”

(Frat Boys) “Not staying for the closed house party? It won’t be much fun without Salin of course…”

(Aikiko) “Well, I wasn’t going to ask. No way I’m cool enough to hang with his friends! But where is it?”

If it was close to the frat house, she might attend. Weird things tended to happen at night (and the Behemoth Cloak did have that Valor-boosting side effect…).

The frat boys were planning to annoy the police; it was going to be next door to their frat house, with lots and lots of loud music and disorderly conduct!

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXXXIII – The Dark Tournament

A young boy practising, Gatka, SIkh martial art.

Now You Face My Ultimate Technique! Quit Laughing! Quite It! Blasted Exalts!

The conversation with Romero was relatively short…

(Romero) “I would like to discuss something with you after you conclude business with Madame Barbosa, if you have the time…”

Charles did – so Romero put up a quiet privacy ward and Charles made sure that it was a good one!

(Romero) “After that incident in Brasilia – and thank you again for handling that mess – my business proceeded normally for a few months. Then I woke up one night to a knife on my neck. I’m fairly sure it was another one of those… people. I’m sure you know who I’m talking about.”

(Charles) “I’m glad you got away! They can be quite nasty!”

(Romero) “I wouldn’t have had the voice not spoken to me. After that… well, I lost that house in the escape, but I don’t think he was looking for me.”

(Charles) “The voice?”

(Romero) “He said he had chosen me to restore what magic and artifice had been lost. And then the room burst into light.”

Huh! Hadn’t Romero been a Solar Exalt before? Of course, a second message might just mean that old Sunny was taking an interest for a few moments and decided to give him just a bit of encouragement! Probably Romero was just being cagey about whether this was the first or the second time.

(Charles) “Huh! Lucky for you then! And I thought you had some pretty good security set up there!”

(Romero) “So did I! Yet he somehow managed to penetrate my wards – without triggering the alarm one! – deactivate my amalgams, and move tracelessly into my bedroom. I suspect assistance or someone working with him there! And that’s why I thought I should warn you. After all, we both have an interest in Manse reconstruction.”

(Charles) “Oh yes! There are such a LOT of things that need fixing!”

(Romero) “Including those ruined Manses in the Amazon . . . we should visit some of those when we both have the time.”

(Charles) “Watch out around there! I went there on a school trip and there were demons all around one of them!”

(Romero) “Oh yes… didn’t you encounter some of my scouts at the acid rain one? That was the place, wasn’t it?”

(Charles) “Yes I did… (he looked at Romero with a slight trace of disapproval) They hadn’t the faintest idea what they were getting into there!”

It wasn’t nice to not tell people when they might be getting entangled in ancient magic!

(Romero, sighing slightly) “It’s hard breaking into the occult community when you have no experience… I was desperate and didn’t have the connections I do now.” (He nodded towards Madame Barbosa, who was looking over her new mares) “And I ensured they had the best protective equipment I could buy.”

(Charles, reverting to cheerful) “Well it worked out all right anyway!”

(Romero) “Oh yes… Sakoda, was it? Between the demons and that box I’ve scried there, I’d like to revisit it… with trained personnel. I don’t suppose you’d be interested?”

(Charles) “Why not? All those demons didn’t let me get to fixing it!”

(Romero) “I’ll let you know when everything is organized, then. I won’t have demons wandering around the Amazon.”

(Charles) “Well, some aren’t so bad, but a lot of the types these days are pretty nasty!”

(Romero, with a trace of dismay) “I would prefer to encounter none… still, we are both busy people – and I have an errand to run for Madame Barbosa here. It was good to speak with you again!”

(Charles) “And it was nice to see you again! Do let me know if you need anything!”

(Romero) “Of course!”

Meanwhile, Aikiko was on a bus headed southwest – and, thanks to remote access, doing a little research on the Besi Hantuperajin… OK, most of the translations she could find were only approximations – but the name alone was pretty ominous! It just screamed of Underworld or Malfean involvement!

Or even both. The two realms reportedly did cooperate – albeit uneasily – at times, and who knew what either might want with a bunch of very highly skilled martial artists who were willing to compete in a secret mystical tournament! Domination of more pleasant environments? Fodder for Exaltations? Really good dim sum? On top of (of course) trying to take over the world like they did EVERY night!

Of course, it might be a lot of fun to compete… She was pretty good, but she’d never really had a chance to find out HOW good – or how the “Solar Hero Form” matched up against some of the other arts.

Come to think of it, she was REALLY tempted to show off! Even if the Solar Hero Form was more than a BIT obvious and there probably WOULD be some media there… At least it did seem to be nonlethal, at least to start! It looked like they did their best to exclude the media too – but she’d swear that some of those entry requirements were set up to try and keep the Dragon-Blooded out too!

Valor triumphed over good sense yet again; she sent in a preliminary entry for when they started evaluating applicants! Even if it would be a bit of a bother to get a ticket to Malaysia!

Oh wait! Internet! If only she could figure out where she’d be departing from, it would be no trouble at all! It wasn’t like she didn’t have plenty of traveling money; Lytek certainly hadn’t stinted there!

OK! She could focus on figuring out what she could about the competition she’d just tried to enter… If they were trying to keep the media out, the complications were likely to be supernatural and factional entanglements – and maybe a new enemy or two… And (Oh dear!) it looked to her like the “prizes” were not entirely legendary!

Most of the rumors talked about secret techniques and legendary power. A few claimed induction into some sort of secret council – if you were willing and survived the initiation.

Ugh, politics! Well, it happened to all Solars eventually, or so the gold stars were saying when she was listening in on Rachel’s training… Well, maybe the council knew some weird stuff that she hadn’t heard yet!

So to be more specific… they supposedly taught shadow walking, the death touch -for creatures, structures, magic, and certain events (?!?!), c’hi regeneration, probability control, the power to conceal themselves from magic, and many MANY other powers.

Well… some of that might be useful – but as Martial Art Techniques? Martial Art Techniques that were usable by MORTALS? And wasn’t probability control a Sidereal schtick? It might be useful to counter them of course, but she really didn’t want to fight them at all unless it was totally unavoidable. And a “Death Touch” for EVENTS sounded… well, MAYBE Sidereal. Or even something much darker!

She took a break to toke up and have some chips.

Now who to ask? Martial Arts Techniques didn’t seem like something that Charles would know that much about – although he had demonstrated a wide range of occult knowledge. The Sidereals? That could really bite her in the ass if this WAS one of their plots. Maybe Rachel would know? Both she and Mitchell had studied martial arts for a while, and had probably picked up some supernatural stuff from their Terrestrial families even before their Exaltation. Other than that… she was sadly lacking in martial arts contacts. When it came right down to it, Solar Hero Style had more in common with comic book brawling than kata.

Huh. Maybe there WAS such a thing as a “Racial Memory”?! A lot of stuff in anime and comic books looked a LOT like poorly-remembered and simplified supernatural techniques and charms… Huh. Now she had to wonder what would happen if you grabbed a few of the books with more details in them and actually tried some of those techniques…

In the meantime she could poke around a bit more on the conspiracy forums, looking for similar techniques. Then probably Charles! She didn’t want to bother Rachel unless she had to; she DID owe her a foot race.

The Conspiracy Forums… were rife with all sorts of insanity – but there were some rumors about the prizes though. The biggest rumor about the prizes was that they went to groups, not individuals – and that each tournament offered only one prize, in which the entire group of winners would share. Beyond that the details varied endlessly but commonly include inhumanly enhanced attributes, long life, and various destructive powers. A few of the descriptions sounded like sorcery, but others sounded more like charms and spirit powers. A tournament was supposedly called whenever a previously winning group had suffered too many casualties or was ready to pass on their prize. A tournament was normally called every five to ten years – but there were supposed to be at least a hundred possible prizes.

That was creepy… and obviously more intended for humans than Exalts, although it did tend to confirm the “long life” part! If they were replacing as they went along, that would mean that a new group was required for a particular prize every 500 to 1500 years or so – a pretty big life extension for a human.

Well, she had to find out what was up with “Godzilla” first – but if it wasn’t malevolent, they might be able to provide her with martial arts contacts. If it was… well, she would deal with THAT. Besides… she wasn’t much for covert ops, but such an organization would be good cover for a Night Caste’s lifespan…

After more rummaging she eventually DID check with Charles.

(Charles) “Allo! What’s up?”

(Aikiko) “Uh… dude, do you know anything about occult martial arts techniques?”

(Charles) “Er… A lot of them are legendary these days I think… Something to do with the reshaping; I think most of them these days at least have some vague connection to actual martial arts moves and hitting things – rather than “I punch the air, transform it into a quantum weather butterfly, and thus cause a tornado to suck you up”.

Although, come to think of it, that did sound like a fun martial art! Perhaps you could imitate a Quantum Weather Butterfly! Even if they WERE fictional.

(Aikiko) “I don’t get why that’s a martial art. It sounds more like Charms or Thaumaturgy or Sorcery to me! Anyway, here’s what I’m looking at here…”

She described her research results.

(Charles) “Lytek made me flash-review a bunch of stuff a little while back with that mess in Brazil, and that sounds a bit like… some of the lesser Abyssal Powers! Did someone in the underworld do something like the Lesser Exaltations?”

(Aikiko) “I guess you wouldn’t be the first person to come up with it. And (as she mulled over what she knew about Abyssals) they’d be a weapon, so a Daybreak might not get bitten for coming up with them.”

(Charles) “Still… It’s hard to believe that the Abyssals could have a small horde of agents out there without wrecking a lot more stuff!”

(Aikiko) “Maybe not all of them want to do that?”

(Charles) “But why martial artists competing, rather than just anyone then? Martial arts was always the one non-sorcery bunch of magics that normal humans could get… Maybe this calls for a human with skill in channeling power?”

(Aikiko) “Hmm… I dunno. Could be some kind of experiment, could be a way of sticking it to their Deathlord, or could be for a subtler form of spreading Oblivion. Ninjas are martial artists too, and they’re spies as much as fighters! And maybe they do want channelers.”

(Charles) “I suppose it could be some way of tapping into a power source; people are awfull sneaky about finding ways to do that!”

(Aikiko) “I’m not sure why they’d make their lives longer, though. Maybe using the human fear of death as a hook?”

(Charles) “Well, maybe! But that would argue against skilled fighters wouldn’t it?”

(Aikiko) “Unless there’s also faster healing and toughness that comes with it… it’s been real easy to forget, but humans take a long time to heal broken limbs and stuff.”

(Charles) “Oh, I just meant that skilled fighters are usually less scared of death – or they wouldn’t fight in the first place.”

(Aikiko) “Hmm. Probably the more cutthroat or ruthless ones, then. Either way, I’m going to investigate. If it’s something bad, we really need to know!”

(Charles) “I don’t think it can be too horribly bad… hasn’t this been supposed to be going on for a long time?”

(Aikiko) “Well, yeah. I guess you’re right, but I’m still pretty curious.”

(Charles) “You’ve made me pretty curious too! Want a helper?”

(Aikiko) “What were you thinking of sending?”

With Charles that could get pretty weird!

(Charles) “Well, a couple of Coatl would be easiest, but there are lots of others around!”

(Aikiko) “Coatl… Those can go in a pocket, right? Sure! I’ll get you some really good info in return.”

(Charles) “OK! And they hide quite well in pockets!… Maybe some armor or something too?”

(Aikiko) “I already have the commando stuff…”

(Charles) “Well that’s pretty good! I could get you a Behemoth Cloak though. They do some things better, but are weaker in some other ways of course.

Technically, of course, it was quite possible to wear both; they wouldn’t stack, but the secondary functions would work together.

Aikiko mused… On the one hand, it was “only” human martial artists. On the other hand, these human martial artists were going to be the best of the best – and who knew what weird effects they might use? Those cloaks provided protection against the esoteric stuff… She took one. Charles wanted to outright give it to her, but she insisted on the trade.

Having armor on that was actually worth wearing felt pretty good! Charles made much better stuff than the classical versions!

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice – The Modern Gates, Part IV

Under The Abyssal Aquarium, the deepest in Europe!

Just Step This Way – Monsieur Marty

Next up we have the modern gates of the west…

37) This remote gate opens in an ancient, slightly damaged, manse on the Kerguelen Islands near the Cook Glacier. Unfortunately, it’s the control center for the local Geomantic Network – one of the few functional ones left on Earth. Currently it’s in defensive mode, and has assorted guardians, traps, and weapons ready to deter intruders – both physical and spiritual. If repaired, it and it’s network are capable of regulating the weather across the island, as well as providing some conveniences and rendering the place immutable – a final bastion against chaos, and a place to start rebuilding reality from if the worst should happen (an eventuality which seemed all too possible towards the end of the first age). Of course, the curious geography of the place has attracted some scientific attention – but the current climate is too harsh for actual settlement, leaving the network purposeless.

38) Deep in the Southern Atlantic, this gate appears to be little more than an arch of deep-water coral, buried within a tangled maze of fans, mounds, and other delicate shapes. It’s presence has, however, twisted and awakened the local coral; occasional pieces have properties equivalent to Yasal crystal, anyone visiting the site will find that it functions as a NATURAL manse with a substantial power reserve – and the coral itself has developed a vague sapience, and transmits it’s inchoate prayers through the gate to provide the guardians of the gate with a modest “cult” – as long as they continue to protect the coral garden.

39) Tumbling through space a little beyond the orbit of the moon, this gate is located within the ruins of a palace of silver, still cloaked and defended against mundane detection by ancient wards. Here, in what was once a shadowland, in the ruins of the palace and the eternal night within it’s walls, the long-dead play out their ancient pantomime – pale shadows of the past miming to amuse the core of frozen malevolence which was once their ancient master, abandoned by the Neverborn and so vulnerable to entrapment during the Reshaping. Without air, or sound, or life, or an independent will to call their own, they wait – standing guard over secrets long lost.

When the Reshaping occurred, the Neverborn and most of the Deathlords simply vanished, to pass into the deep Wyld and recreate (or perhaps to create) themselves beyond the reach of the Shinma. The Void… fractured. Geomantic upheavals, and the raw energies of the Wyld, poured through the underworld, destroying and reshaping. Most of the ancient ghosts were disrupted, and passed into Lethe. The Monstrances of Celestial Portion, assailed by primal chaos and bereft of the will and power of the Neverborn, the Deathlords, and Oblivion – shattered. While the fragments remain potent, and empower those wraiths that possess them or items that they are embedded in, they no longer bind the Abyssal Shards – and they no longer suppress the memory-fragments that plague the Abyssal Exalted in the slightest. Thus, some Abyssal shards carry memories of the original Deathlords.

New bearers of those shards were not at all inclined to favor the beings that had enslaved their predecessors – but they sought training and knowledge, reaching through Elsewhere along ancient links in search of fragments of lore. Eventually they found a treasure-trove; the Silver Prince had been abandoned by his Patron Neverborn for his “softheartedness” – and so had not been drawn into the Wyld in his Patrons wake. Even better (at least from the new Abyssals point of view), without his ex-patrons protection, and stripped of all but the remnants of his Abyssal and Solar charms, he had been vulnerable – and had been trapped in a timeless instant, suspended between moments while the ages passed. Even though his personal powers (high essence, ghost and spirit charms, intermediate-level necromancy, thaumaturgy, some remnant low-grade Abyssal powers, and his personal artifacts) were a mere shadow of his former might the Silver Prince retained his vast knowledge. All the dark lore that an Abyssal Exalt could desire…

He was still formidable – but he was weak enough that merely pulling him back into true time, and a bit of lip service, served to extract what the new masters of darkness desired.

With the Silver Prince’s help, the new Abyssals found his physical location – and with it the Earth, and the Elemental Pole that formed it. They offered to “show their devotion” by destroying the peoples of the then-primitive planet – but the Silver Prince had different ideas. He saw potential in letting Earth’s population, and its destructive capabilities, grow. The time to strike was not now. Still, that time would come.

It did. Mortals were the ones responsible for the atrocities of the Second World War – but they had opted to listen to whispering shadows. The pale occultists and ruthless military advisers working for the Axis powers reintroduced the taint of necromancy to Terrestrial bloodlines for a reason. The amount of soulsteel recovered from areas held by the Germans, Italians, and Japanese increased during and after the war.

Those few Abyssals who cared to bother understand why this was. Their mentor wanted the last remnant of the original Creation to himself. The Silver Prince would have the Earth’s First Age weapons, its soulsteel, and – especially – the Dragons of a Different Color who survived.

They would have the cosmos. Leaving one small world – or cluster of galaxies – to their crippled mentor is no price at all. The place has no real sentimental value to THEM.

40) Tumbling lazily around the earth in a wide and erratic elliptic orbit, and occasionally passing between the Earth and Moon, is an ancient coral reef – in which a hidden grotto boasts a Yu-Shan gate. Within that ambiance, a fertile moonlet has grown; it’s adapted corals fusing the hydrogen of space to iron for energy, using Essence to hold an envelope of air and moisture around themselves, and fishing in the void for additional elements with which to build. Upon that foundation various plants grow, crabs crawl – and flocks of colorful fish-birds swirl, an exaltation of life adrift in the void. The view is spectacular, and the beauty of this reef of space rivals that of the loveliest gardens of Yu-Shan – making it a popular spot to stop by and view the universe (and to occasionally harvest a bit of old coral-iron to use in making environmental-protection charms). While the location is decidedly awkward for most purposes, a variety of gods have taken it under their protection – shielding it from disturbances, speaking quite sternly to anyone who damages the place, and making sure that no nosy mortals stumble upon this celestial island.

41) This ancient manse once rested upon the bottom of the western sea, and served as a base for the submarine vessels of the high first age. Now it, and it’s associated Yu-Shan gate, drifts at the trailing earth-moon Lagrange Point – L5 – where a few small revisions in it’s design have turned it into one of the busiest Yu-Shan gates in Creation, at least as far as the Sidereals go. For whatever reason – perhaps the benevolence of Gaia, perhaps something else – the manse resonates with interstellar travel Charms. It reduces the cost of such abilities by five motes (minimum of 0). The Celestial Bureaucracy doesn’t know if the manse would reduce the cost of interstellar travel Charms used by creatures of darkness. Nevertheless, it doesn’t want to find out. This gate is also one of the best-monitored, making it a poor choice for illicit business.

42) This gates abrupt relocation to the L2 trans-lunar Lagrange Point during the Reshaping carried along a fairly formidable local elemental court – which had fallen back on the gate in hopes of reinforcements. Fortunately for those spirits, the reshaping fitted them to their new environment – transforming spirits of water, air, earth, wood, and fire, into spirits of space, time, electromagnetism, gravitation, and radiation – and the gate now opens into their communal sanctum which opens onto the Lagrange Point. Few gods come this way: from a traditional point of view a court based on modern physics is EXTREMELY weird – even if they do serve a useful purpose as go-betweens with the even stranger spirits of deep space – and there isn’t much of anywhere else to go within most gods travel range.

43) Deep in the cavern behind Rainbow Falls (Wailuku River, Hawaii) this gate murmurs and whispers, a constant stream of sound that merges with the thunder of the falls to hang on the edge of comprehension. Centuries past, mortal shamans would risk the swim beneath the falls and into the cave to hear the voices of their gods.

They were right. While it’s likely that no one outside the keepers of secrets remembers how to control the system, this particular gate allows a skilled operator to open communications links to and from an immense number of locations – and individuals – in Yu-Shan. Even without control, prayers directed into the gate are amplified and focused; it was not uncommon for those shamans to return with some small miracle. Today the massed voices of Yu-Shan continue to murmur within the cavern, although few come to listen.

44) Isla Salas y Gómez is a mere rock in the ocean – but, hidden beneath the surface of the stone, is a Yu-Shan gate. Hidden below the island is something far more ominous. In the mass death of the Reshaping, the city of Shining Reefs – like other places before it – was drawn into the Underworld – turning the indestructible jade tube which linked it to the surface into a fault in the barriers between the living and the dead. Here masses of material from the first age – tools, exotic vehicles, weapons, and artifacts – have been merged with their necrotic shadows, becoming more flawed – but greater and more powerful – thereby. Here too, guided by some dark whisper and riding a river of blood, have gathered some of the darkest and most fanatical shades of the modern world to investigate those terrible secrets and weapons and claim them as their own. Aboard dead ships the wraiths of an evil thought dead seek to rise to build a Fourth Reich – and none shall escape their terrible reign.

OK: this just wouldn’t be a Modern RPG setting without some form of secret Nazi outpost seeking to restore the Reich. It’s pretty much mandatory; you’ve just GOT to have one, even if having saved Hitler’s Brain or cells to clone him with is an optional extra. The whole thing is likely to be a ploy of the Silver Prince’s or some such – but legions of the dead are in relatively short supply these days. There’s no point in leaving one just lying around without guidance.

45) Deep in the Amazon Rain Forest along the Rio Negro (and surprisingly near the Brazil-Colombia-Venezuela junction), this gate lies in the center of a collection of manses – several of them malfunctioning. Their chaotic essence flows often induce bizarre mutations in the local flora and fauna, as well as causing a wide variety of environmental hazards and disruptions. Few of these are of any great concern to an essence-wielder (who can generally easily divert annoying animals, respire essence instead of allowing it to mutate them, and sense and avoid the areas affected by the manses) but – unsurprisingly – the local tribesmen have long considered the area a place of ill-omen. It is, however, often used for training trips from Yu-Shan; it’s quite safe with experienced divine supervision, and offers a wide variety of situations for young godbloods and Exalts to learn to deal with.

46) This gate stands on the side of a small outcropping overlooking Lost Lake near Canyon City Oregon. It settled down long centuries ago, but for a few millennia after the Reshaping it was so unstable that it’s only use was to throw junk into it – which seeded the area with plenty of gold, silver, and precious minerals (cheap decoration and building material in Yu-Shan, however precious by mortal standards), occasional chunks of jade, and even rare bits of other magical materials. When mortals found this enormous horde, it led to quite a gold rush until the “placer deposits” were mined out. Today Canyon City is a minor backwater, with lovely scenery and just enough scattered bits of valuable material hidden in the soil to busy occasional hobbyists and small-scale prospectors – as well as a modest underground community of mystics who wish to use the magical potentials of such materials or to pass prayers directly through the gate. A few gods occasionally set up small deposits in the area to be “discovered” by mortals just to amuse themselves watching the ensuing micro-rushes.

This particular gate is, however, also a remote terminal for playing the Games of Divinity, with full-sensory immersion – originally an access point for Kimbery and several other quasi-aquatic Primordials who didn’t like to leave the sea to come to Yu-Shan to take their turns. While the secrets of it’s activation have been long lost (along with the very existence of this function), you never know when some tinkering mortal might suddenly get to destroy his or her mind while interrupting the Incarnae to take a turn in the greatest of all games.

47) This gate lies deep within the Grand Canyon, hidden in a ravine near Supai, Arizona. Here even the mortal residents can sense the surging power of the gate-manse – a power that amplifies mortal thaumaturgy, enables vision-questing, and which (while it’s not generally known) transmigrates the souls of the dying into the hawks which populate the Canyon. Sadly, the locale is so inaccessible that these benefits have remained the secret of the local indians for millennia; while modern improvements to the trail down the walls of the canyon has made it possible to take mules in and out, it’s still a long and precarious trip.

48) In Georgia, in a near-forgotten section of the Atlanta Underground, underneath a small park – and deeply entangled in roots – stands a simple archway, leading to an obviously collapsed passage. The Celestial Lions guarding the gate actually have a reasonably good relationship with the local Terrestrial Clan – the Morgans – thanks to the considerable volume of import-and-export traffic which passes through the gate. The burning of Atlanta put a strain on the relationship for a long time – the Celestial Lions saw it as a failure to defend the gate – but that’s almost a thing of the past now. Still, that tension – and Yu-Shan’s current relatively low opinion of the Sidereal Exalted – has prevented the Celestial Lions from correcting the Morgan’s various misconceptions about the Sidereals and “Starbreaking”.

As one of the few gateways which is currently both readily accessible and in the midst of a major population center, the Atlanta Gate sees a lot of traffic – and the ensuing concentration of god-bloods and supernatural occurrences has firmly established Atlanta as one of the great magical cities of the world. In it’s underground, and parks, a discerning consumer can actually find the occasional genuine alchemist, enchanter, or other thaumaturgical expert working almost openly – including in the local technology and broadcasting industries.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice – The Modern Gates, Part III

Kuan-Shan-Lanscape-View

Yes, there is a shortcut – but you may not like it…

To continue with the locations of the Modern Yu-Shan Gates…

25) Mount Shishaldin, located in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, is among the most active volcanoes on Earth, with an oddly symmetrical cone. Few mortal geologists would suspect its actual origins. The Reshaping buried what was the Glacier Gate beneath thousands of feet of rock, not far above a massive magma chamber. In their desperation, the carver-gods ordered to maintain access to the gate used their charms to force open and hold open a shaft to the surface – triggering a volcanic upheaval that they still haven’t managed to stop. Currently, the access-route is most easily reached through a cave at about 1600 meters above sea level – although the final drop down some two thousand meters of shaft, partially held open through outgassing molten magma, is not for the faint of heart – or the poorly-insulated. Still, the gate-chamber remains a glittering structure of ice and adamant, it’s coolness a welcome relief after it’s entryway.

26) Located in Northern Canada’s Nahanni National Park Reserve, this comparatively nondescript gate sits in a rock formation at Moose Ponds – also known as the Rock Gardens. It absorbed great amounts of Essence during the Reshaping. Still charged with Earth and Water energies to this day, the gate contributes to the Nahanni River’s powerful flows. It also occasionally defocuses, spawning secondary gates between the nearby Canal in Yu-Shan and the wild rapids of the Rock Gardens – allowing the occasional clever water god (or random victim) to pass through. The Celestial Lions are aware of the phenomena, but have yet to find a way to stop it, despite the annoyance of catching the occasional confused rafter or kayaker and dealing with them (usually by ladling on the forgetfulness and sending them back; the Celestial Lions were once mere mortals too).

27) In the wilderness of eastern Greenland, where grass meets ice, there is an oddly warm patch of earth. Only a few feet beneath that spot is a stone pillar containing a gate to Yu-Shan. It’s actually one of the more popular gates for attempts to enter the Celestial City; it’s easily found with only a little magic and easily reached with ten minutes work with a shovel. The Celestial Lions minding it are well-versed in dealing with, and booting out, curious Terrestrials, and even rare mortal and God-Blooded sorcerers – although grabbing them, hauling them into Yu-Shan for an interrogation on the current state of the world, scaring them half-to-death, and then tossing them back out, is an occasional amusement. Policy is still out on the occasional Lunar; they’re almost all definitely suspicious though!

28) A lonely S-Type rock in the outer edges of the Solar System’s Asteroid Belt hosts an ancient manse, once believed to date back to the First Age when it was created by an ancient Solar Akuma to house his demon-brides and demon-blooded offspring. Long centuries of their work – and the breaking of ancient seals by the reshaping – has revealed that the Ogdoad-Amat Manse is far, far older than the first age; it is an indestructible Rank N/A (treated as 10 for the purposes of calculation) Primordial Workshop-Manse on the order of The Primal Forge – but it is devoted to Lifeshaping and Sorcery, with at least a dozen sets of Guardian Forces (each 20,000 strong, and recovering at 100 per day, for a total of 1200) that it is capable of modifying. Here are recorded hundreds of terrible spells, here spawn planetoid-behemoths, here nest terrible things which fly between the stars, angular beasts that haunt the intersections of space and time, and writhing fungal polyps wielding their terrible sorceries. Here too are the birthing-pools for spawning new Dragon King bodies and souls or for weaving behemoth-manses. For unknown reasons rare humans will dream of Ogdoad-Amat, and awaken screaming, either to communicate some portion of those visions to others and spread their power into the world at large or to be slowly transformed by it.

Unsurprisingly, the Ogdoad-Amat gate is kept shut, barred, warded, and VERY heavily guarded. With no fewer than 240,000 creatures equivalent to second circle demons associated with it, even the Primordials didn’t want to let it into Yu-Shan. At least Autochthon understood just how dangerous some of his creations were. Whoever made this place… not so much.

Where the Hearthstone is – and if it remains in the possession of a Yozi or Demon – remains unknown, as does the reason why such a resource was never deployed during the Primordial War.

29) Phobos, the larger and closer of Mars’ moons, is highly porous. While many of its caverns are filled with ice, the one containing the Yu-Shan gate is not completely frozen over – although the destruction of the manse that once housed the gate during the Reshaping has spawned several minor demesnes in the immediate area and a sizeable wyld pocket around the gate. The raksha living there are ferocious but honorable warriors, bound in feuds with their neighbors on Deimos and the canal-building fey on Mars’s surface, flying to their virtually injury-free battles in their space-traversing ornithopters. (Yes, ornithopters, and no that doesn’t make any sense. What would you expect? They’re Raksha and it looks cool. For them, that’s reason enough). Naturally enough, every demesne on Phobos is a freehold, the domain of another Raksha noble.

30) This terribly damaged gate no longer spans the “distance” between Yu-Shan and Creation in a few steps. Overloaded by refugees during the Reshaping, it’s simple corridor-reality melded with at least eight “nearby” divine sanctums – primarily linked together by one which had been given the shape of a mighty tree. You can still get to Yu-Shan this way – but attempting to use ANY form of fast-travel or transport magic within the fractured realm is a sure way to miss a step amongst the dimensional twists and fall out of Elsewhere into the Ginnungagap of Pure Chaos that seethes below the “branches”. The option that leaves is to walk and climb normally – about three thousand miles, confronting colossal bugs, miles-long squirrel behemoths, and similar annoyances along the way. The pocket worlds themselves are inhabited by a variety of deities who like to remain near their small earthly cults while enjoying most of the advantages of Yu-Shan and the one-time sanctum entrances (through the rainbow mists of a waterfall, through a mighty hollow tree, etc) now serve as secondary gates scattered around the primary gate in Norway. A human carried or drawn through such a secondary gate is pulled free from his or her body and transformed instantly into a (very) minor god; faithful followers of the gods inhabiting the pocket worlds are occasionally rewarded this way when they’re old or dying.

31) Near the northern tip of Banks Island in the Canadian Arctic, this gate opens in a series of water-filled tunnels and caverns, the long-forgotten remains of Gethamane. Here the great whales (and those lonely dolphins who still bear the spiritual imprint of transmigrated human souls) who grow old go to die, swimming gently under the influence of the energies of the Yu-Shan gate from life into the depths of dream. Here too the darknesses of life that they abandon accumulate, and grow, preparing to breach the walls of the underworld and answer the slaughter of centuries. Leviathan seeks to rise, and a third of the seas shall become blood, and a third of the stars and sun shall be blotted out by the darkness.

32) Deep within the wilderness of northern Russia a hundred miles from Vorkuta, in a region normally populated by no one but reindeer herders, this gate is one of the few that continues to offer unfettered access to Earth, opening for no apparent reason – and apparently uncontrollably – during the dark of the moon. For millennia it has helped support the notion that – in the absence of the Exalted – the earth has been reduced to wilderness and a scattering of barbarians. It’s still popular with gods who want to gather a small cult, or possess a leader-type and stir things up a bit, or who want to provide a few heroes with mystical weapons. With things so isolated, it can be many centuries before reports of such petty mischief gets back to Yu-Shan.

33) Near Igarka, another severely damaged gate allows a steady flow of canal water through – which emerges as a hideously toxic crimson fluid charged with immense amounts of alchemical energy. While it is rapidly diluted by normal water, the flow still suffices to seed the area nearby with great mineral wealth – including radioactives, rare elements and compounds, and twisted life forms. Occasionally someone foolish or desperate attempts to use the gate – and emerges as some twisted horror to either be cut down by the Celestial Lions or to haunt the area around the earthly side of the gate. Still, the area is sought for it’s mineral wealth and – by occultists – for a few pure drops of the crimson waters for use in their own experiments or as an alchemical catalyst. Occasionally someone will be thrown out of Yu-Shan through this gate – an especially frightful fate that often leaves yet another mad monster roaming about for the locals to battle or seize.

34) This gate lies only a few dozen feet above the magma of Earth’s mantle, in a relatively modest, quite uncomfortably warm, and unusually stable (for the area) chamber that serves as a crossroads for the deep caverns. There a series of manses maintain a network of open and barely-livable passages, a slowly-shifting geomantic maze that offers access to various resources of the deep earth. A world unto themselves, the deep caverns host the Children of Earth, rogue gods, and many stranger creatures still. They trade regularly at this gate. Conspicuously absent are the Jadeborn. If some remain on Earth, they must be highly insular.

35) This gate is located in Antarctica, deep beneath the very thickest ice. In the absence of Autochthon the loosely-directed “prayers” of the mechanical age – “work blast it!” “Start you @#$%” and similar heartfelt exclamations – are poorly-processed within Yu-Shan; machine gods are appointed of course, but few mortals realize their existence to properly direct their requests. By some quirk of Yu-Shan’s geomancy (or perhaps intent; the will of the Maker is to some extent embodied in the Pattern Spiders), much of that unfocused technically-oriented prayer pours out through the thirty-seventh gate – where it combines with the ancient ice crushed beneath the immense pressure of the antarctic ice cap, and there, with the alchemy of ages, transmutes it into mighty halls and tunnels of purest adamant, glittering like a buried star within a heavenly abyss. While harvesting it is extremely dangerous – you never know when prying loose one crystal will release a spray of shards under immense pressure or cause the mass to shift – its attunement to technological energies makes it ideal for the construction of living computers and similar magitech wonders. No one quite knows what will happen if Autochthon is ever linked to the place to receive the accumulated prayers – but, perhaps fortunately, the topic has yet to come up.

36) While it’s now hidden amongst the mountains of Antarctica, this gate was already deep in the Wyld – in fact, in pure chaos, and under siege by a dozen mighty Unshaped – when Gaia began to pull the gates back into the core of creation in preparation for the reshaping. As the last of the defending gods fell, swallowed up by the Unshaped, cold order washed over the gate once more – and the gods proved indigestible yet lifesaving; they provided a core of form which gave the raw power of the Unshaped a framework to hang itself upon in Creation. From that merger rose a dozen great barely-shaped gods, newborn, chaotic, and with no role in creation beyond the ones they took from the dreams of men. For a time they bestrode the world as great powers, looking down from their icy towers of dream and fantasy upon a world almost bereft of Exalts and of spirits beyond the Little Gods of hills, and fields, and streams. They warred with the remaining ghosts, and foolish Raksha who would not see that the field had turned against them, and with other menaces to their followers – and then contact was re-established as the energies of Yu-Shan’s gates stabilized, and they were reined back. Still, in places men remember the powers that aided them in the youth of the new world – and those powers still wait, walking the streets of an unseen fastness above the clouds.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXXXII – The Deluxe Ranchero

English: Manse Field. Two horses in the field ...

They do like lot of space…

Charles sighed… Yet another thing to check before he could head for the Wyld! It was his own fault of course – if he hadn’t been running so many projects at once there wouldn’t be so many needing to be checked on – but he’d better see whether or not any of the other Kickaha had been up to anything that needed fixing – or was just seriously naughty. He’d given them power, so what they got up to with it was – at least in part – his responsibility.

As luck would have it, one had…

Oramure had been assigned to monitor the dragon lines of the Brazilian prairies and had decided to do some recreational hunting in the wilderness. What he’d thought were wild horses were, in fact, actually owned by somebody.

Unfortunately for him, that somebody was apparently magically powerful enough to capture the kid – and to give the watcher in Aden a little trouble with the tracing. Not too much, though; they had managed to get his location – behind some wards in a remote part of the grasslands.

Oops! That was DEFINITELY a “sorry, can we make it up to you” thing… How could the kid have mistaken horses that were presumably decently cared for for wild ones? Perhaps he had just been overexcited and hadn’t looked closely enough?

Charles headed that way with an apologetic Kickaha in wolf-form in tow. The pack Alpha sent Cedric – the pack Beta – in his stead as a subtle snub directed at Oramure. Evidently the Alpha thought he’d been rather dumb. Still, Oramure was just a boy, and an attempt to get him off the hook was definitely in order – unless whoever it was just had him working as a herd dog. That would… well, it would really be fair enough.

The location was a wood-aspected manse-ranch hidden deep behind thaumaturgical wards in a remote part of the grasslands. To mortal eyes, it would appear to be little more than a small ranch with the usual features: lots of fencing, standard facilities, and a modest house. That was a cover; it was easy enough to see that the Manse itself was in one of the fenced in areas – and the horses and cattle were fine indeed. There were hands, herders, and other workers who wanted to talk with him as he approached the compound though. Those assigned to that particular part of the ranch seemed to be highly alert.

(Charles, speaking to someone who appeared to be a supervisor) “Hello! I came to talk to the boss!”

(Supervisor) “Hello there! What is a boy your age doing out on the pampas alone, and why do you need to talk to the boss?”

He didn’t actually add “And how did you get here in the first place?” – but the thought was pretty obvious even to Charles.

(Charles) “I’m not alone! I’ve got Cedric here with me! And I need to talk to your boss about an apology and paying for some things…”

Cedric wagged his tail appealingly.

(Supervisor, with more interest) “Oh? And what would that apology be for?”

(Charles, sighing) “Well… Another one of Cedric’s packmates was out doing a job and got distracted by what he probably thought was random wildlife. I sent them out, so that’s really my responsibility.”

(Supervisor) “Hmm… I see. He’s in big trouble! The boss didn’t talk about it, but from her mood… he ate something REALLY valuable. I’m not sure what she’s doing with him, but I can see if she will talk.”

Ah! The supervisor, at least, knew some things… He wasn’t going “whaaa?” to the notion of a dog being sent out to do something.

(Supervisor, leaning in closer to Charles and whispering) “You must know good people for your age, if you were able to trace him!”

(Charles, whispering back) “I do know quite a few!… So can I see the boss?”

(Supervisor) “I’ll see about freeing your… friend? Familiar? Construct? Whatever he is…” (More loudly, to one of the hands) “Go to the house and tell Madame Barbosa she has a visitor.”

That hand rode off toward the small house. A few minutes later, there was a thaumaturgical message sent to the Manse – and another to the supervisor.

(The supervisor, whispering) “All right, we’re clear for a visit… she IS currently studying him, though.”

(Charles) “I suppose that was to be expected!”

They headed off… The entrance was through a hidden tunnel in the smaller house, and it emerged into the Manse proper, made entirely from toughened grass. It swayed gently in the wind. As a Manse, though, it was – of course – as hard to break as stone.

It also seemed to be geared toward animal breeding – and Charles thought it was extremely neat! He hadn’t seen any other manses built with basket weaving!

The entry floor was devoted to housing the supernatural animals. Madame Barbosa had to have a deal with at least one god; some of the horses were clearly more than mundane animals. The stables and pens are of utmost quality and do not stink in the slightest.

At least one horse was Sapient, but he was very comfortable and content in his personal stabling – although he was looking at Charles with some interest.

(Charles) “Oh hello! What’s your name?”

(Horse, in fluent Portuguese) “Ah, hello. I’m Sirocco. It’s nice to have a visitor… there usually aren’t many other than the usual hands. When can I go running again, Donato?”

(Supervisor) “I’m sorry, Sirocco, but Madame Flores still doesn’t want you leaving the Manse for the time being… you know what happened to Searunner!”

(Sirocco, looking quite unnerved) “Sigh… you’re right.”

(Charles, who was really hoping that that didn’t mean what he thought it did) “Hm… Oh dear! Well… (Charles busily rummaged in his pack)… Here you are!”

It was a small rank-1 Chancel, set up to provide a beautiful nature-preserve area.

The supervisor checked it; he knew some thaumaturgy, although he was nowhere near an expert. He gave it to Sirocco when he determined that it was safe.

(Supervisor) “There should be plenty of running room in there… anyway, shall we head upstairs? Madame Flores is still studying your friend with a specialist from Brasilia.”

(Charles) “Bye Sirocco! There should be some nice fields of oats and things in there when you get tired of running!”

(Sirocco) “Thank you so much!”

(Charles) “You’re welcome!”

The “stairs” were more of a basket-escalator. There were fine medical facilities, kitchens for the horses, and even places to store their excellent gear… and those were just the areas the supervisor was letting Charles see.

The living quarters and meeting area were on the top floor. It wasn’t a very tall Manse.

Once he was up there, Charles could feel… a fairly strong Wood Aspect signature coming from the back, along with a comparatively low-powered Solar one and a standard Kickaha. The Wood and Solar signatures were… coming his way, while the Kickaha one remained where it was.

Fairly soon, as Charles and the supervisor emerged in a lobby area decorated in teak and silk, Charles encountered a familiar face – Mr Romero! Charles hadn’t seen him since that mess with the manse and those three Abyssals in South America! He… was tracking something with an occult device. Behind him, with a small entourage, was a tanned woman with graying auburn hair: the source of the Wood signature, and presumably Madame Barbosa.

(Charles) “Hello!”

(Romero) “Strange… the link is getting CLOSER! Oh, hello… Charles was it?”

(Charles) “Yes, it is Charles Mr Romero! How have you been?”

(Romero) “Exciting would be the best description. Could you do me a favor? I want to confirm something… Could you move to my left a few meters?”

(Charles) “Well OK!”

Evidently Mr Romero was tracking the manse links! It must have been frustrating while he was still in Yu-Shan or Aden; they would have been linked through Elsewhere at that point, and would have had no direction that could be defined in a mere three dimensions…

(Romero, looking down at the device) “Incredible… the link is to young Charles here?”

(Charles) “Well, yes, I suppose it would be!… Is that bad?”

(Barbosa) “That’s really strange! According to Joao here, it’s a Manse connection.” (Smile) “I don’t suppose you’d be willing to share? I’m willing to return your… werewolf… for some considerations.”

(Charles) “To share what?”

(Barbosa) “Considering the one accompanying you, they can’t all be that badly behaved… Ah, where is my head? I was wondering how you transformed him that way! Joao’s analysis indicated that he was originally a normal human boy. Is it purely a Manse link?”

(Charles, somewhat embarrassedly) “Well, they were supposed to be out tracing the dragon lines to find what needed repairing, but many of them are rather young and got distracted… It’s mostly a link to a manse especially-designed to empower them, with some genetic adjustments, and a bit of other augmentations! They were a preliminary experiment, and I only made a few – but they started recruiting on their own while I wasn’t looking, so I thought I’d better find them some work to do…”

(Barbosa, blinking – and wondering about Charles’s responsibility level!) “They recruit? I can see the need for keeping them occupied – but he attacked and killed one of my finest horses. Are you certain there aren’t others as hungry as him on the plains?”

Meanwhile, Romero had perked up at the mentioning of designing Manses.

(Charles) “Well… let me see!”

He produced a globe-projection with their various current locations marked to see what they were up to at the moment – although, after a very recent lecture, they were probably on the job.

(Charles) “Hmmm… Out of the hundred or so currently operating on Earth there are currently twenty-two operating in South America, the closest… about eighty miles away and headed away following a dragon line there.”

Earth had mostly been teenage boys. Monitoring and security in Aden had gone to the smaller kids and pregnant girls, while a few of the older males were on extrasolar surveys on the new planets he’d been setting up (for a ground-level view to compliment the geosurvey satellites) – although there had been some requests to do true exploration work and there were a few who didn’t have jobs yet.

(Barbosa) “Well, good! I would hate to lose any more horses – and the hands and riders had enough trouble catching HIM.”

(Charles) “I AM very sorry about that! Should I get you something to help make sure that your horses and other livestock are all easily identifiable so that they know to stay away? They’ve just had a lecture on it, but it’s best to be sure!”

(Barbosa) “I would appreciate it! And a replacement for Searunner, or SOMETHING equivalent to her in power or value.”

Charles came up with some minor-artifact collars – roughly equivalent to the Resplendent Butler’s Accouterments as collars – and quietly inquired as to what Searunner had been like… He really was sorry about that! A pet would have been bad enough, but if she’d been a companion for Sirocco, she’d presumably been another fully-sapient type.

Searunner had been a Familiar-5 God-Blooded horse. Her divine parent was Seven Grasses Silent, the god of Brazilian horse breeding. She couldn’t exactly run on water, but she wasn’t impeded by running through it, and could breathe in it.

Oh dear! That meant sending apologies to Seven Grasses Silent too – even if he had to be very used to losing god-blooded offspring.

Seven Grasses Silent appreciated that, as used to losing offspring as he was. As a long-term way to bring the Brazilian horse-breeders to the top it had it’s price – but it HAD steadily (if fairly slowly) been expanding his domain. The god-blooded powers faded in a few generations as a rule – but the top-quality genes and little tweaks he added to them did not.

Charles… wasn’t quite willing to make fully intelligent horses to give away. Still… A quick request to Elzeard, and a little shaping, and using the Mardi Gras Fey to get some enhancements and mutations set up on them, made it easy enough to come up with a dozen roughly-equivalent mares and use a wyld gate to bring them in.

Barbosa was quite willing to accept that. With the Manse’s facilities, she could speed up the gestation on their foals – and it would help her finish her breeding project before she died. For a Terrestrial, graying hair meant that the end was fairly near – usually within a decade.

Charles caught that thought… Oh, that was true! He’d almost missed that! He hadn’t really dealt with many Terrestrials very much!

(Charles) “Uhm… Mrs Barbosa? Would you like some more time to finish up?”

(Barbosa) “Finish up? You mean… life extension? Well, if you control a Manse and have that many supernatural workers” (not to mention employing Raksha who could open wyld gates!), “you’re no ordinary boy. And I would love to see my horses in every stable. What were you thinking of?”

(Charles) “Well, a manse-link is simplest – but the thaumaturgical upgrade is better. And you take very good care of all your creatures, so why not?

(Barbosa) “Hmm… if that upgrade would enhance lifeweaving and the like, I’ll consider it. How much longer would it give me? And thank you! I would give these animals nothing but the best.”

Charles took a detailed look with lifeweaving to see how much longer she had now. It looked like… five or six years. She was a little under three centuries old.

(Charles) “About two and a half centuries at a minimum. Possibly longer; I haven’t got the exact rate figured out yet!”

(Barbosa) “That’s-” (she wasn’t saying it out loud, but that was about as long as the Starbreaker anti-anagathics would have given her, had she joined with them.) a fair amount… What would I need to do to get it?”

(Charles) “Well (and he cheerily produced the swirling green-blue orb again) you’d need to do a short dream-quest and imagine you were leaving a couple of drops of blood to set the link. It will seem like a few hours, and you can turn back at any time if you decide to. On this end… about five minutes. If you want to, you’d just look into this and envision yourself walking the path. Oh, it you’d like to try Mr Rameras you’re welcome to! I’m still collecting feedback on the upgrade design!”

Barbosa tested the link just to be on the safe side – then accepted.

(Romero) “Well, after Madame Barbosa… she’s been helpful with certain matters, and I was repaying the favor.”

While Romero was vision-questing, Madame Barbosa was considering the “upgrade”. The power was considerable. Life-extension, healing, assorted convenience powers, computer access, and more? All wrapped up in Celestial-level Thaumaturgy and a new essence type that was… impossibly benign?

Hardly impossible to misuse though. That was enough to topple any number of power-balances, draw the attention and cupidity of some EXTREMELY ruthless people, and – however innocently – cause enormous amounts of trouble! And the child was simply handing it out to people he’d barely even met! How could someone so naive have so much power? Hopefully he was controlling access a lot better than he seemed to be!

On the other hand… according to her supervisor, he’d just given a pocket dimension to her horse because it was complaining that it couldn’t go out and run. OK, Sirocco was fully sapient and was her best stallion, but STILL.

(Barbosa) “Now, Charles, have you shared this with anyone else? This is veru powerful, even if it is technically only thaumaturgy!”

(Charles) “Uhm… Lets see… some of my schoolmates, and a few scientists, and most of my creatures of course, and a dozen or so friends… that’s about if for the moment! It’s still in beta-testing really!”

(Barbosa, arching an eyebrow) “How many of these knew about the supernatural before you did this? I suspect the scientists didn’t; were they asking questions?”

(Charles) “Well, they were taking care of the Hipparions I made!”

(Barbosa) “That was you? They’ve been keeping quiet about how they did that! I had suspected magic, though.”

He should have expected her to have heard about it! She was a horse-breeding specialist after all!

(Charles) “Hipparions are cute!”

For a moment Barbosa felt like smacking him! He obviously felt that “cute” was a sufficient reason to do almost ANYTHING.

(Barbosa) “Now, you’re not just giving this out to anyone who asks, are you? And just how ARE you explaining the renewal of an extinct species to the masses?”

(Charles) “I designed a machine that makes temporal-resonance reconstructions for them! The “original model” was apparently subject to uncontrolled power surges!”

(Barbosa) “And what about the current one?”

(Charles) “It makes plastic models,. detailed down to the basic structure. Not to the subcellular levels though!”

(Barbosa) “Ah, I see! And the first experiment could be explained as a fluke if you just don’t look deeply enough…”

(Charles) “For the moment anyway!”

(Barbosa) “Yes… it wouldn’t stand up to greater scrutiny. Now, about that . . . did you brief the people you gave this upgrade to on secrecy?”

(Charles) “Oh yes! And I left them with some aides! Although I think that secrecy may soon be a moot point!”

(Barbosa) “Human aides, or something else? And what are you planning? You must be tremendously powerful… and you’re all too willing to give it out!”

(Charles) “Uhm… Well, I left them with some Coatl! And the geomancy needs fixing, and the planet is getting too crowded, so I’m planning on making more room! And that will work just fine for you, because the new planets aren’t industrialized yet, and they’ll need lots of horses!”

Barbosa considered that for a moment; planets? Was he serious? He seemed serious enough… “AREN’T industrialized yet”?! Did he mean that they were READY otherwise? That was… Well, if he could pull it off, it would certainly defuse a lot of tensions and vastly expand the available resources.

Oh of COURSE he meant it; he’d just given a pocket world to Sirocco because he’d been wanting more room to run in!

Well… new planets with no roads or industries certainly would call for tremendous numbers of horses! If he couldn’t do it, it wouldn’t be a worry – and if he could, it would be a pretty good thing.

So what about those “Aides”?

(Barbosa) “Coatl, as in the legendary creatures?”

(Charles) “Well, like these!” (And he had some of his current companions pop out).

(Barbosa) “Oh, hello there… can you turn back into a normal snake, or even take human form?”

(Coatl) “I could probably manage a transformation with Lifeweaving Mam, but in general I am the way I am!”

(Barbosa) “Did he make you with any way of hiding your Essence signature?”

(Coatl) “Only with Thaumaturgy – although his upgrade to that does make it a lot easier. We were, a rather early experiment!”

(Barbosa) “I see, and you do have it. That would be enough to hide you in a pocket . . . though some supernatural entities can still see through that. They’re rare, though.”

She gently petted the creature – which promptly purred.

(Charles) “The Kickaha – like the boy you caught – were somewhat later!”

(Barbosa) “I see. That would explain the refined link and physical capabilities. And I would vet people you want to give the thaumaturgy to carefully, if you haven’t been already. Think about it and make sure you can trust them. Otherwise, your hard work could experience some setbacks. There are many things that would covet such a level of power, and do horrible things to obtain it.”

(Charles, somewhat downcast) “I really hate to think there are people like that… but I suppose there are and I should check more… I did make sure I could lock people out if they misused it though!”

(Barbosa) “Ah, good… well, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to ensure you can trust people you give this to! It’s only practical!”

She was going to have to keep an eye on the Child! Who knew what he might get up to with no supervision!

Meanwhile, Mr. Romero had finished his initiation.

(Romero) “This should be helpful… very helpful. Thank you, Charles.

(Charles) “You’re welcome! Do let me know how it works for you! There’s a report form on the linked files, and I want to know about anything I left out!”

Oramure – and to some extent the rest of the Kickaha – were in for a VERY strong lecture on predation and on making SURE that your prey was NOT SAPIENT when Charles got him back to Aden! Draining people a bit like the Raksha did was one thing, but actually killing them instead of just draining them a bit was just ICKY and mean!

Oramure tried to listen and remember everything. That had been pretty embarrassing!

Besides… the thought that he’d eaten an intelligent being was… rather nauseating.

Fundamentals of Governance – The Warlord, the Priest, and the Evil Grand Vizier

English: 0

Yes, it all starts here.

The basic human government – whether it’s the leadership of a wandering tribe of hunter-gatherers or the councils of a mighty empire – is built of three components.

First up – and often most visibly – we have the Warlord. This is the guy who’s good at killing enemies, ranging from dangerous wild animals up through rival warlords and their troops. He can keep your group safe. Of course, he’s most often in charge because he’s good at killing people who don’t do what he says. That’s a tough argument to beat when you’re setting who gets the credit and who makes the final decision.

*It’s almost always “He”; women seem less inclined to see “killing people” as a solution. That may be because women who do see things that way are less likely to reproduce successfully.

On a small scale, Warlords long predate humanity. Many group-living primates have a big, tough, leader around somewhere.

On a larger scale, warlord governments can become great empires: “obey or I/we will kill you” expands easily; you don’t have to solve problems, you simply threaten to become one. The master hunter, the war chief, the great general, and – in mythic realms – the mighty hero-king all fall into the “Warlord” category.

So does rule by Judges and Police; they’re simply Warlords who are focused on internal enemies of the group, rather than on external ones. You tend to see them in charge when the neighbors are relatively non-threatening and have little that’s worth the trouble of taking by force.

Next up we have the Adviser. This is the clever guy who can solve non-combative problems. Do you need to irrigate, find a cure for a sickness, bring in more water, or improve your port? You call on the clever people. Of course, while clever people are useful, they’re never entirely trusted by the populace; who can trust people who’s plans and activities you cannot understand?

Sadly, Adviser Governments are very limited in how big they can grow – typically being restricted to city-states. Solving problems through cleverness requires information, and study, and time – finite resources which must be spread thinner and thinner as the area to be managed expands. Worse, no matter how clever the manager, a sword in his stomach will seriously cramp his style. Safety takes priority over clever ideas in the short term – and, while an Adviser Government may leave a mighty legacy of ideas to shape the course of later history, a Warlord Empire can have a much bigger army NOW.

That’s why Adviser-types who try to take power are often remembered as “Evil Grand Viziers“. They may solve many problems, or even bring prosperity for a time – but who remembers that when they’ve led the country into being conquered, plundered, and enslaved?

In mythic terms, the engineer, legal expert, and scholar becomes the Wizard – and now you know why most tales of wizard-rulers cast them in a bad light.

Finally, of course, we have the Shaman – the priest or mystic. The guy who has a real knack for persuading people that the uncontrollable whims of nature – storms and floods, outbreaks of plagues, crop failures and earthquakes – actually CAN be controlled.

By him of course.

The Shaman-Priest (at least in reality) doesn’t usually really control the powers of nature – but he or she DOES greatly influence the general populace, who desperately want to feel safe and secure. Fortunately, major disasters are relatively rare anyway – or no one would still live in the area affected – but people tend to worry about them in proportion to how spectacular they are, rather than how actually menacing they are. That makes it easy for a Shaman-Priest to blame anything that DOES happen on failures of the people affected, rather than taking the blame for failing.

Sadly, priestly governments are poor at actually solving problems; Warlords handle military problems and Advisers do the non-military ones that can be solved – leaving the insolvable stuff to the religious types. Worse, anyone who’s persuasive enough can easily divide the what power base – the populations belief – that there is. Thus a priest-dominated governmental system tends to unite vague confederations; groups of small tribes and city-states that each have their own Warlords and Advisers but whom find a vague unity of belief sufficient to smooth over their conflicts. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as there are no major external challenges – but such confederations are generally vulnerable to a Warlord Empire, just as the Assyrians rolled over the poorly-unified tribes of Israel.

On the mythic scale this is where you find rule by miracle, by prophet, or by incarnate god. Oddly enough, for all their supposed powers, such rulers rarely seem to solve much.

Well, it really wouldn’t fit the archetype if they did. Solutions are the Advisers problem.

Ideally, of course, all three basic aspects will be combined in a single great ruler. Sadly, that’s pretty rare. While it’s easy to combine religion with either the Warlord or the Adviser role – producing God-Kings and Priestly Advisers – Warlord-Advisers are relatively rare. There may not be a good reason for that other than that most human minds just don’t seem to work that way – and there’s no use asking me. If I knew the reason for that, I’d be much too busy ruling the world to answer questions.