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…


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!


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


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.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXXXI (Part II) – Aftermath and Multiplication


What do you mean that there are some disguises that even thirty successes won’t pull off?

Aikiko sighed – she’d called Charles in, so explaining him was up to her – and made an effort.

(Aikiko) “This is my friend Charles Dexter Ward! He’s really good at making stuff.”

(Phillipe) “And the… father here?”

(Aikiko) “Oh! Other than a werewolf? Uh… I don’t know, but Charles seems to.”

(Charles) “Oh… I was experimenting with power-imbuements and grants, and so I got a few human volunteers and turned them into Kickaha, like Idarin here! They’re naturally physical, but are basically mid-level gods – and they turned out to be self-reproducing – at least with each other – and capable of recruiting other humans to be Kickaha like them. But Idarin took a lot of time off from his geomantic survey job to father a bunch of kids! His alpha has restricted him to Aden for now and put someone else with more self-control on the job! I don’t really know how the kids will turn out though, even with their own private god to send them helpful spells!”

Even Aikiko wasn’t sure what to say to that besides… “Whaa???”

(Phillipe) “Wait! Slow up! You turned normal human teenagers into mid-level (he looked VERY carefully) quasi-canine GODS?”

(Aikiko) “It’s good somebody did something about the sex, I guess? Not much help to these (indicating Phillipe and company) guys, though! Thing is, whatever he’s doing is also healing everyone else in the hospital.” (She thought carefully before continuing) I’m not saying that’s WRONG, but it’s getting lots of attention… and people like him (looking at Phillipe) are going to stress over it.”

(Charles) “But… It’s nice to heal everyone in the hospital!”

(Aikiko) “Well, yeah, but how are the doctors going to explain it without being put in straightjackets?”

(Charles) “I could assign someone to demonstrate!”

Aikiko had to admit that that WOULD be cool -and would be happily filming people’s reactions to it if it happened – but the Terrestrials probably wouldn’t like that idea a bit!

(Phillipe, gaping) “Look you little IDIOT! Have you got any idea what kind of disruptions that would cause? This three-ring-circus here has ALREADY become catastrophic!”

(Aikiko) “Hey, he’s pretty smart . . . he just (hm… might be best not to reveal that Charles had access to Yu-Shan) doesn’t get out in the world much. Seriously, though… is there some way to make this… quieter, Charles?”

(Charles, with great doubt – it WOULD be terribly unethical!) “Er… Global forget spell? Because if we just take them away, it will only be more exciting!”

(Kiko – although she had to agree with the last bit there!) “Global spell? You can’t do that, can you?”

(Charles, absently) “Oh sure! It would be all kinds of rude if it was anything major though… Has this attracted a lot of interest?”

(Aikiko) “Uh . . . there are protesters and a lot of cops outside, and it’s made the news.”

(Charles) “Oh dear! Perhaps removing the girls to Aden, dealing with the parents, and coming up with an acceptable explanation? Is there any reason I could patch in over the truth?

(Aikiko) “Um… Idarin, where did you find these girls?”

(Idarin) “At a concert in the park!”

Looking at the boy, her skills were quite sufficient to fill in a lot of the rest at a glance… He was inhumanly attractive (she took a few moments to appreciate that, even if he had created a really big problem he was very scenic!), he’d doubtless erected a privacy ward which prevented awareness and interruptions even if they were in a more-or-less public place – and the girls had probably found the rest of the afternoon more than a little dreamlike.

(Aikiko) “Hmm. What kind of concert?

(Idarin) “Folk music and… I think it was called “Soft Rock”. They were using hemp… does that matter?”

(Aikiko) “Uh… not to me. But maybe Charles and these guys could do something with that? Laced with LSD? It wouldn’t explain the babies, but I think they can be ‘adopted’ easily enough – by which I mean they go to you, and the mothers too, if they want. I’m not sure THEIR parents would like that though. Maybe visits to the father? You can probably do an illusion easily enough.”

(Charles, sighing) “It wouldn’t explain all the fuss, or why they didn’t want to show the mothers-to-be the sonograms… Hm. “prenatal damage due to chemical exposure” would cover that though. The lack of deaths is harder. Still, that COULD just be a coincidence.”

(Aikiko) “Maybe! It would help cover up, though.”

(Charles) “OK, we get the parents in and explain, and send the girls to Aden… “Being sheltered by their families while they deal with this devastating tragedy?”

(Aikiko) “That sounds good.”

(Charles) “Hm. They (indicating Philippe) can probably exert enough pressure on the families to get them to agree easily enough.”

Phillipe was still considering the implications of a “Global Forget Spell” – and of the fact that “Aikiko” had apparently seriously considered “Charles” capable of such a thing – as well as able to bestow high-end spirit powers on random mortal children!

(Phillipe) “Hm? Oh, certainly; we’re already negotiating with them anyway… Presuming this “Aden” place is pleasant enough.”

(Charles) “Now as for you, Idarin… First up, taking advantage of intoxicated girls is NOT all right! And trying to have more girls than the Alpha is really asking for it! You’re REALLY lucky that your Alpha was quite patient with you!

(Aikiko) “Dude, do that again and I’ll smack you so hard your fangs will turn back into human teeth.”

(Charles) “You’re lucky we’re not letting the girls parents decide what to do with you! Or these people (pointing to Phillipe)… You’ve put them to a LOT of trouble!

That little lecture went on for some time (and it was kind of hard to explain to a youngster from tribal Africa why it was wrong to take advantage of intoxicated women with no protectors) – but then Phillipe managed to redirect it into a discussion of “power imbuement” (and secrecy) that went on for considerably longer – and left Phillipe sure of one thing; the rules were changing. He, and his clan, had best be prepared.

In Aden the rest of the Kickaha didn’t think much of a low-status youngster bringing in six pregnant concubines who didn’t even clearly recall who (or what) he was… There was quite a lot of grumbling, several duels over whether or not he got to keep them (unsurprisingly, the answer turned out to be NO!), and the girls wound up getting set up in a quiet village in Aden where their pregnancies could proceed.

The children would be god-blooded, but with a set of mutations that left them well-prepared for becoming Kickaha after they grew up – even if they would start off with daddies (rather low) status.

Charles would just have to start another school for god-bloods soon.

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice LXXXI (Part I) – Too Many Cooks

Magical hat icon

Yep, it’s all starting to spill out…

Phillipe (formerly known as Suit #1) was puzzled… normally girls who looked like they were barely out of high school weren’t running investigations. Of course, the girl had marked herself as more than human when she’d casually breezed through the security setup, even if it never had been intended to stop magical beings (after all, there was no point in trying to hide the existence of magic from someone who already had it). She evidently had quite a lot of power for her age though – and the contact information for this “Charles” person was more than a bit odd too! He had quite a selection of subtle knacks – knowing when to fight and when to talk, knowing when something was important, knowing where a phone number connected to without having to look it up…

And that one… It might be to something warded – but it didn’t feel like he was being blocked; it felt like it was simply very VERY far away! Also, it had entirely too many digits for any place he’d ever heard of! It was well beyond “international”. Could that possibly mean off-world – perhaps with those “Alchemicals” – or off-dimension? What in Oblivion was going on? Gods or Demons again? That was the usual source for magic beyond the Terrestrial level – but they weren’t usually so… profligate with it! They were usually a lot more recognizable too – and when they did father kids they were rarely so… consistent.

Usually when he got called in it was just a new Exalt who didn’t know to keep things quiet, or an argument between Exalts that got over-conspicious, or some natural magical phenomena that couldn’t be easily explained or bribed away, and the like. Maybe, in the REALLY tricky jobs, some Yozi cult or group of ancestor worshipers trying to summon a powerful entity across the veil.

It was upsetting enough to discover that the blasted doctors had a label and an established protocol for sudden outbreaks of inexplicable mass healing – and that it was “code archangel” and “make excuses and shuffle the critical patients – youngest first – through as fast as you possibly can to take advantage of it while it lasts”. That said right there that they KNEW that it was some sort of magical intervention, that it wouldn’t last, and that there was very little use in trying to analyze it!

(Aikiko) “Anyway… I’ve got other stuff to check out today. Do you need anything else? I think I’m done here unless you do.”

(Phillipe) “Is there ANY way to persuade whatever is on the other end of those links to quit spreading magic that’s beyond the Terrestrial level all over the place?”

(Aikiko) “Did you try asking?”

(Phillipe) “We can’t get past the ward to try ANYTHING!”

(Aikiko) “Ouch. Sorry about that… I’m not much of a mage myself, but maybe my friend can help.”

She called Charles herself. It was looking more and more like this was his mess, and it was only fair that he should have to field some of the questions!

(Charles) “Er, hello?… Oh, what’s up Kiko?”

(Aikiko) “Hey, Charles, dude? Do you know anything about werewolves?”

(Charles, distractedly) “Stop that Silky!… Um… What kind? There are the Totem-Linked, and the Kickaha, and Lunars, and god-bloods with alternate forms…”

(Aikiko) “The kind that have babies.”

She explained, at some length.

(Charles) “Hm… The totem-linked don’t pass on their power, and the god-bloods usually don’t, and lunar half-castes vary – unless they’ve all been mating with a wolf, which seems unlikely… I’ll ask the Kickaha! (Pause) Oh bother!… Er… how many?”

(Aikiko) “Uh… three boys, and three girls.”

(Charles) “Aaargh… Just a moment!”

Charles’s inquiries hadn’t taken very long… One low-status Kickaha boy tracing the Canadian dragon lines had passed through a park where a concert had been being held, and had stopped off to play with some teenage girls who’d been smoking hemp, listening to the music, and who had found the incredibly-attractive young man quite irresistible. The youngster had put up a privacy ward, had his way with them – and had moved on half a day later.

Since then he’d been recalled by his Alpha, sternly lectured, and restricted to working in Aden thanks to his tendency to get distracted – but naturally enough no one had tried to stop him from using arcane links to watch over his upcoming children. That would just be WRONG.

Charles, of course, found taking advantage of intoxicated teenage girls just WRONG as well – although he couldn’t argue with him responsibly watching over them and his kids-to-be afterwards.

He popped over to pick up sixteen-year-old Idarin and stunted his way down to earth – emerging from the reflection in a window towing Idarin along by the ear.

(Charles) “Right then!”

(Aikiko) “Whoa! Thanks for coming down, Charles.”

Fortunately there weren’t very many other people in the room – and they seemed to just… turn away after an incurious glance, rather than being confused, curious, shocked, or any combination of the three…

In fact, she got a vague feeling that Charles had probably arrived normally, and she just hadn’t seen him come in – although the impression vanished the moment she actually thought about it; it was nothing more than a wandering doubt. That wasn’t a bad trick! It didn’t actually do anything besides a little subliminal whisper of “Naah…”… She’d have to adapt that for her own use!

Whisper of Normalcy: Sometimes you blink, or glance at something, or open your eyes in the dark, or catch a glimpse of something at the edge of your visual field – and your pattern-seeking brain turns it into something either familiar but impossible or utterly bizarre. You blink, you give it another glance – and in an instant it resolves into something quite mundane. Everyone has that happen – often enough that doubt wells up even if you really did catch a glimpse of something that doesn’t fit into your view of the world.

A “Whisper of Normalcy” is a Raksha Artifact-0 – a trivial aspect of dream, the equivalent of a minor thaumaturgic talisman. When you wrap it around yourself, and send it’s subtle influence wafting through the surrounding area, it produces the vague impression that any brief disturbance of mundane reality “must” have just been a trick of the eyes, and that there is a perfectly normal explanation. The impression won’t stand up to any real inspection, or if any confirming evidence pops up, or if the viewer really wants to believe – but people who are busy already, or who don’t want to be bothered, or are otherwise distracted, and who don’t really want to believe, often seize on the proffered “explanation” as a reason not to mention something that will make them sound crazy, and dismiss it.

Well, ask and he’d probably give!

(Aikiko) “So… I guess he’s (indicating Idarin) the dad?”

(Charles) “I’m afraid so! I wasn’t really expecting that kind of thing! I tought they’d got it out of their systems already!”

(Aikiko) “I’m… not going to ask. So what are we going to do about it?”

(Charles) “Uhm… Child support? He’s already restricted to Aden by his Alpha! Although I suppose they could come to Aden if they wanted!”

(Aikiko) “But they’re all under 18. We’d need their parents’ permission… though I’ve got no problem with looking the other way.”

(Phillipe) “Wait. What? Aden? Who is this boy? And who are YOU?!?!”

Cabal – Martyr


(I’m way behind and decided to add two Cabal writeups at once; see below for Doctor Vitus. One to go, plus an optional themed character.)

Story: Michael Edwards wasn’t born with superpowers, did not become superhuman in a radiation accident, never learned anything about magic, avoided losing his parents to brutal street crime, and failed to dedicate himself to traveling the world to learn the greatest secrets of martial arts, detective work, and stealth. However, he did live at Floral Arms Apartments #205, on the hard side of Atlantic City, for some consulting work. And for some reason, when his neighbor was gunned down in the street during a gang shootout, the man who would become Martyr just couldn’t let it go. It took time, but he didn’t move away and he didn’t forget. Instead, he started researching the gangs and their war. It wasn’t hard to get close, just by dressing shabbily and drinking at their favorite bars. He overheard much, and then began spying on their hideouts. Planting bugs and trackers wasn’t hard, and that led him straight to their drug operations and protection rackets.

That was when the problems started. Although he was sure the gangs themselves hadn’t caught on to his tricks (they’d incriminated themselves enough on camera), he was sure people were following him. Then his bank account vanished overnight, followed shortly by a mysterious fire at his apartment which utterly destroyed his evidence. When he tried to give backups to the police and media, two assassination attempts were made on his life by professional hitmen. Worst of all, his backup evidence simply vanished, nothing of it ever turning up in the courts or the airwaves. Meanwhile, he was accused of the murder of the two “innocent bystanders” who’d just tried to kill him. Funny, that, since he’d only escaped, not daring a fight against armed killers.

Whether it was fate or fortune, he survived it all. Wounded, he escaped to a safe hole in a dark corner of Philadelphia’s subway system. There, he spent a long, quiet time thinking. He’d been thinking small – much too small. The gangs would have just shot him had they the chance, which meant he’d gotten involved with a group much more dangerous, of which the gangs were merely a tiny part. The police and the media couldn’t be trusted: they were already compromised. And that meant a man or a group with lots of money and power, ruthless enough to abuse it to the fullest, but cautious enough to have avoided attracting attention. This was no grandstanding costumed villain, but a conspiracy. Who and why were the questions, but he knew where to start: it began because he’d investigated the gangs, which meant that they were the beginning of the chain. Spying hadn’t gotten him very far, so now it was time for war.

When he emerged from his steel cocoon, Edwards was gone, and Martyr lived. Oh, he started out thinking he would just leave a red ‘M’ in spraypaint, as a sign and warning to his invisible enemies (i.e., M for murderers). The media later dubbed him Martyr, and he suspects his enemies had a hand in that. He doesn’t much appreciate the name, as it implies a rather short and unpleasant future. Still, Martyr is relentless, never ceasing to work at uncovering the conspiracies at work in his adopted home of New Jersey, as well as eastern Pennsylvania – and he knows it goes much further. He hasn’t yet penetrated the true identities of the conspirators, but he knows very well about the activities of Doctor Vitus and The Producer. Exposing anything seems impossible – no paper trail, no money trail, and no hard evidence linking events. Every time he gets close, any witnesses are eliminated and all traces destroyed.

But even that is a small victory in itself. Every day he takes one further step in unraveling the pans of this conspiracy, this cover, this… Cabal. Moreover, he has uncovered one name, for all its worth: The Chairman.

As a wanted felon believed to be armed and dangerous, Martyr must be extremely careful about whom he asks for help. He simply can’t walk up and ask for help from most superheroes, though he might discretely request assistance from a safe distance if he finds a group he can trust is not infiltrated. Martyr’s extremely paranoid, although that has kept him alive so far. To him, anyone could be a secret conspirator, willing or otherwise given what he knows of The Producer’s tricks. He won’t reveal himself to anyone without extremely good cause. The only way he’d join a super-group, if any would have him, is if he felt there was no way anyone involved could be a sleeper agent and if he has ample reason to trust the team and if they would help his goal of stopping the Cabal. Unfortunately, even if that were possible, he’s probably not considered strong enough to fight on a “real” super team. (Plus, drug-abusing hobo felons don’t fit in with the likes of the Avengers or the Justice League. Except for Iron Man and Red Arrow.)

Martyr stole almost all his gear, including the experimental Psycho compound. Although it’s not physically addictive, he does have of a mental dependency and doesn’t believe he can fight effectively without it. The Combat Dress formerly belonged to the mercenary called Myrmidon, who is extremely eager to repay the insult in blood. Martyr made no changes aside from stripping the frills and adding a scarlet ‘M’ to the face.

[Note that Martyr gains a whopping 125 points if he were to hit the Superhero level – enough to make him a vastly more formidable foe. Buy off some of his most painful disadvantages and spend the rest of combat upgrades, or even improvements to the Psycho compound. He’s already extremely flexible. At that point, he’d be a match for most of the Cabal’s best agents.]

Roleplaying: Martyr is a good GM character or a useful pre-gen character for a player. He’s got enough abilities to be useful anywhere, but doesn’t have the resilience to dominate in battle. He’ll still hold his own with wise target selection and when using a cunning approach (that was a long-winded way of saying, “Don’t try punching the Superhuman strongman in the face.) Under the influence of Psycho, he’s cunning and brutal, attacking any weak point he sees and not letting up until the target is completely incapacitated.

As stated, he’s a paranoiac, but not mentally ill and certainly not stupid. People he believed were trustworthy betrayed him more than once, and the Cabal has previously set out bait in the form of innocent civilians with post-hypnotic suggestions to lure him into traps. He’s become extremely wary to compensate. This doesn’t mean he’s incapable of trusting anyone, but he sees secrets and plots everywhere. Moreover, he knows full well that whether he manages to take down the Cabal or not, he’s probably going to die in prison unless his enemies kill him first. That kind of future doesn’t lend itself to optimism, easy trust, or a healthy personality. He’s most likely to trust newer superheroes with a variety of powers, as those are the least likely to have been affected by the Cabal.

Height: 175cm (5’9″), Weight: 65kg (143 lbs), Sex: Male, Age: 31, Race: Caucasian (American)

Appearance: A slovenly drifter in a dirty old coat. He’s never properly shaven and his brown hair is always raggedly cut very short. When disguised, he can be anyone or anything. Every movement is clipped and tense, as though he were worried a wild predator was about to spring out at him.

Value Characteristic Points
10/30 STR 0
13/23 DEX 9
12 CON 4
13 BODY 6
18 INT 8
18 EGO 16
10 PRE 0
10 COM 0
6 PD 0
2 ED 0
2.3/6 SPD 0
8 REC 0
24 END 0
25 STUN -9
Total 34
Points Powers END
2 12-Point Combat Dress Elemental Control: (5-pt reserve); All abilities -.5 OIF (Uniform), -1 (Conventional Technology Only).
a-5 Armor (8 PD/4 ED); Hardened: ×1, ¼; Always On: -½; Activation: 14-, -½
b-2 Life Support Systems
(3) Need Not Breathe; Relies on OAF Faceplate of OIF Uniform: -½; Charges: +2, -¼; Continuing Charges: 1 Hour, -5 lev
(1) Life Support: Intense Heat/Cold; Short term and subject to upper limits: -1
c-2 +3 level w/Stealth (Camoflague)
0 Military/Agent Electronics Package; Computer: Int 13, Dex 0, Spd 1 (-27 Points Base).
(1) Elemental Control: Electronics (3-pt reserve); All abilities Conventional Technology (-1)
a-2 Radio Listen and Transmit; Usable By Others: Simultaneous Use, +½
b-2 Infrared Vision; Usable By Others: Simultaneous Use, +½
c-2 Flash Defense (Sight, 5 pts); Usable By Others: Simultaneous Use, +½
d-2 Eidetic Memory; Always On (Memory is either perfect or utterly gone): -½; Items must be intentionally stored in limited memory space: -1
e-1 Basic Computer Functions
(1) Absolute Time Sense
(1) Lightning Calculator
f-1 GPS/Heads-Up Map Display: Navigation; Usable By Others: Power Lost, +¼ 12-
g-2 +1 level w/Rangefinder/Targeting System: Ranged Combat; Usable By Others: Power Lost, +¼; OCV Only: -½
h-4 2d6 Aid: Programs/Databases (Fade/week, Max. 12); Range: 0; Affects: Single Power of Special Effect, +¼; Extra Time: 1 min., -1½; Activation: 11-, -1; Must have program available to load: -2; This allows the user to load maps (area knowledge), mission information, and so on. All of it should be Usable By Others/Power Lost, so you can load a total of 10 points worth of information. 3
(2) Programs; 1) Monitor instruments and transmit information to user and command systems
2) Replay information/database search-The first two programs normally run continiously after boot-up.
(4) Easy Interface: Computer Programming; Usable By Others: Power Lost, +¼ 13-
3 Elemental Control: Psycho (9-pt reserve); Burnout: 11-, -¾; Charges: +3, -½; Focus: Inobvious Inaccessible, -¼; Continuing Charges: 1 Minute, -3 lev; Limited Power (Psycho radically stresses the human body. After a dose wears off, the character has half Strength, Dex, and Con. A second dose taken during time acts as if the character had no penalty, but only takes half effect (+10 Str, +5 Dex, +2 Speed, +3d6 physical damage). Following a second dose, the character simply collapses in exhaustion.): Seriously, -½; Psycho is an experimental military adrenal enhancer.
a-4 +20 STR; Burnout: 11-, -¾; Charges: +3, -½; Focus: Inobvious Inaccessible, -¼; Continuing Charges: 1 Minute, -3 lev; Limited Power (Psycho radically stresses the human body. After a dose wears off, the character has half Strength, Dex, and Con. A second dose taken during time acts as if the character had no penalty, but only takes half effect (+10 Str, +5 Dex, +2 Speed, +3d6 physical damage). Following a second dose, the character simply collapses in exhaustion.): Seriously, -½ 0
b-9 +4 SPD; Burnout: 11-, -¾; Charges: +3, -½; Focus: Inobvious Inaccessible, -¼; Continuing Charges: 1 Minute, -3 lev; Limited Power (Psycho radically stresses the human body. After a dose wears off, the character has half Strength, Dex, and Con. A second dose taken during time acts as if the character had no penalty, but only takes half effect (+10 Str, +5 Dex, +2 Speed, +3d6 physical damage). Following a second dose, the character simply collapses in exhaustion.): Seriously, -½
c-6 +10 DEX; Doesn’t Affect Figured: -½; Burnout: 11-, -¾; Charges: +3, -½; Focus: Inobvious Inaccessible, -¼; Continuing Charges: 1 Minute, -3 lev; Limited Power (Psycho radically stresses the human body. After a dose wears off, the character has half Strength, Dex, and Con. A second dose taken during time acts as if the character had no penalty, but only takes half effect (+10 Str, +5 Dex, +2 Speed, +3d6 physical damage). Following a second dose, the character simply collapses in exhaustion.): Seriously, -½
d-3 Hand-to-Hand Attack (6d6, Total 12d6); Range: 0; Costs END: -½; Burnout: 11-, -¾; Charges: +3, -½; Focus: Inobvious Inaccessible, -¼; Continuing Charges: 1 Minute, -3 lev; Limited Power (Psycho radically stresses the human body. After a dose wears off, the character has half Strength, Dex, and Con. A second dose taken during time acts as if the character had no penalty, but only takes half effect (+10 Str, +5 Dex, +2 Speed, +3d6 physical damage). Following a second dose, the character simply collapses in exhaustion.): Seriously, -½ 2
16 Equipment Multipower (41-pt reserve); -1/2 Variable Limitations: various OAF’s, -1 Conventional Technology Only limitation. As a rule, characters should select a multipower reserve that suits them – 20 (8), 40 (16), 45 (to accomadate the Grenades and/or Tranqualizer Rifle, 18), 60 (24), or 75 (30) points and slots to match.
Minor Items: 1-20 Active Points. Requires 8 CP spent on the reserve.
u-1 Adhesion Bands: Clinging (Clinging STR +0)
u-1 Binoculars: Telescopic Sense (Sight, +10 to PER)
u-1 Bugs/Tracers: Radio Listen and Transmit; Ranged: +½; Usable Against Others: ×1 mass, 1; Charges: +8, +1½; Continuing Charges: 1 week, -8 lev; Transmits Only: -1
u-1 +20 STR: Crowbar; Champions Limitation (Crowbar limitations): -2 2
u-1 10″ Folding Paraglider: Gliding (NC: 20″); Non-Combat Multiplier: ×2, +0; Non-Combat (MPH): 47
u-1 Lockpicking Kit: Lockpicking 17-
u-1 Microprinter System: Forgery 17-
u-1 Parabolic Microphone: Telescopic Sense (Hearing, +10 to PER)
u-1 Security Systems Kit 17-
u-8 +4 level w/Pocket Tool Kit: Bonus to relevant skills; This can also be used for criminology kits, camping kits, electronics kits, and other general toolkits.
u-1 Swim Fins and Thrusters: Swimming (+6″, 8″, NC: 32″); Non-Combat Multiplier: ×4, +5; Non-Combat (MPH): 56 1
u-1 Wrist Grapnel and Line: Swinging (+12″, NC: 24″); Non-Combat Multiplier: ×2, +0; Non-Combat (MPH): 56; Reduced END: Half, +¼ 1
Notable Items: 21-40 Active Points. Requires 16 CP spent on the reserve.
u-1 5d6 Babble Drug (Mind Control); Communication: Verbal, +0; Charges: 6, +½; Continuing Charges: 1 Hour, -5 lev; Mental Power Based on CON: -½; Single Command: Babble Helpfully and Without Thinking: -1; Active Points: 37 0
u-1 Breaching Charges: Tunneling (2″ through DEF 12); Charges: +8, -½; Tunnels: Left Behind, +0 0
u-1 Chemical Sniffer “Wand”
(2) Discriminatory Sense (Smell)
(6) Enhanced Perception (Smell, +7 to PER)
u-1 2d6 First Aid Kit: Aid to all damaged powers and attributes (Fade/turn, Max. 12); Range: 0; Affects: All Powers of Special Effect, +2; Restore Only Lost Characteristics and Powers: -½; Charges: 12, -¼ 0
u-1 2d6 Flash Pellets (Normal Sight); Range: 200; Area Effect (Radius): 2″ radius, +1; Charges: 12, -¼ 0
u-1 1d6 Laser Cutter: Killing Attack (RKA); Range: 185; Penetrating: +½; Armor Piercing: 1, +½; Charges: 64, +½; Concentrate: 0 DCV, -½ 0
u-1 Privacy Scanner: Detect: Bugs, Microphones, Phone Taps, and other Sensors (+10 to PER); Time Required: Half Phase, +0; Range: Ranged, +5
u-1 6d6 Stun Shell: Energy Blast; Range: 150; Versus: PD; OAF: -1; Charges: +6, -¼; Clips: 4 0
u-1 Smoke Grenades: Darkness (Normal Sight, 1″ radius); Range: 135; Area Effect (Radius): 8″ radius, +1; Increased Area: ×8, +¾; Charges: 6, +0; Continuing Charges: 1 Minute, -3 lev 0
u-1 4d6 Thermite Pencils: Energy Blast/Fire; Range: 200; Versus: ED; Explosion (Extended Area +0″/DC): +½; Time Delay: +¼; Trigger (Radio Signal): Set, +¼; Charges: +8, -½ 0
81 Total Powers  
Points Skills, Talents, Perks Roll
30 +3 level w/Overall Level
5 Luck (1d6)
35 Total Skills, Talents, Perks  
75+ Disadvantages
10 Destitute
20 Paranoid (Very Common, Strong)
15 Hunted: The Cabal (8-); Capabilities: More Powerful, 15; Non-combat Influence: Extensive, +5; Geographical Area: Limited, -5; Actions: Hunting, ×1; Punishment: Harsh, 0
10 Needs Psycho for Combat (Common, Moderate)
; Martyr will almost always run from combat rather than fighting if he does not have Psycho available or can’t effectively use it at the moment. It would be very difficult, albeit not impossible, for him to get the courage to face down actual men with real weapons without the considerable edge it provides.
15 Secret Identity
10 Reputation (8-, Extreme)
; He is a wanted felon, although no police agency is actively pursuing him at the momen.
15 Weak Chest (Frequently, Greatly)
; Martyr has a weak chest and is prone to frequent coughs and other respitory infections. After any strenuous mission, he will need time to rest and recover – at least a week. Otherwise, lower his Con by 5 and his Spd by 1 (10 active points each).
20 Code Against Killing (Common, Total)
15 Psych Limit: Can’t Ignore Those in Need (Common, Strong)
20 Normal Characteristic Maxima
150 Total Disadvantages
COSTS: Char. Powers Total Total Disadv. Base
34 + 116 = 150 225 = 150 + 75
OCV DCV ECV Mental Def. PD/rPD ED/rED Phases
8 8 6 0 14/8 6/4 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12

Cabal: Doctor Vitus

Doctor Vitus/Jomei Konagahara (Sieben)

Story: Doctor Vitus (definitely not his real name) is a master artificer, and one of the few among the Cabal who delve into the secrets of magic. This isn’t to say he’s the picture of a mage – no spellbooks, scrolls or mystic runes. To him, magic is useful force to be exploited: less difficult to obtain than raw cosmic might, more flexible than purely scientific creations. However, he hates the usual systems of the mage, such as incantation or mystic diagrams and symbols. They seem unbearably primitive to his scientific mindset. To him, all forces are merely tools to be used and abused. Thus, he fits in extremely well with the Cabal’s materialistic worldview. After all, even the greediest and most black-hearted wizard understands that magical forces are quite active, often rebellious, and even willful and purpose-driven.

Doctor Vitus instead uses magical formulas to create magical machines – golems, in common parlance, although he can enchant other objects as well. He shares these custom creations with the Cabal’s minions as needed. His items always take a technological form, even though they use magical power to work. Characters may not realize they are magical in nature without a close inspection or special senses. Furthermore, he remains a skillful technologist even without magic, and offers advice to more scientifically-grounded Cabal researchers.

His past is something of a mystery, and he would claim, irrelevant. It is believed he studied advanced robotics in his native Japan, but fled there in his early thirties. How he came to study the use of magic is unclear, but it is likely he either fell in with a coven in Europe, which was his first stop after Japan, or while contracting his talents to various super-villainous organizations. It’s possible that he is linked to magical Assassin Dolls seen in the employ of several Yakuza families, the use of which came to light not long after he left (fled?) Japan. If so, then he possibly began studying even earlier.

Martyr is well aware of Doctor Vitus is an extremely dangerous person, not so much for his personal abilities but for unique knowledge and organizational skills. In fact, Doctor Vitus has become Martyr’s number one target; removing him from the picture would immediately weaken the Cabal, taking away their biggest supplier of exotic weaponry and tools. Furthermore, the good Doctor has perfected the rapid deployment of bases and personnel. He can arrange for an entire facility to be packed up and moved to a new location almost anywhere in the world, not in months and even days but mere hours. Having seen this procedure in action, Martyr knows that removing Vitus would also eliminate their ability to relocate so easily.

Height: 180cm (5’11”), Weight: 90kg (198 lbs), Sex: Male, Age: 57, Race: Asian (Japanese)

Appearance: Overweight and a sloppy dresser, Doctor Vitus tends to chain-smoke and focuses intently on whatever problem is at hand. He regularly uses eyedrops (even in the middle of conversations), because he has a tendency to simply stop blinking while staring at people or computer screens. He apparently speaks English fluently, but he’s so quiet that people often don’t realize he understands them perfectly well.

Value Characteristic Points
8 STR -2
13 DEX 9
13 CON 6
15 BODY 10
23 INT 16
18 EGO 16
16 PRE 6
10 COM 0
2 PD 0
3 ED 0
2.3 SPD 0
5 REC 0
26 END 0
26 STUN 0
Total 61
Points Powers END
75 Variable Power Pool: Enchantment (64-pt Pool); Control Cost: 32; Change Only Between Adventures: -½; OAF (Needs advanced scientific and engineering equipment.): -1; Restricted Type of Powers Available (Enchantment): -½; Dr. Vitus’s Power Pool can only be used to create Followers or magical artifacts with a decidedly technological bent. Items will be always be Foci and often Independant. (If the latter, he’ll have to reclaim the item to fully use his Power Pool again.) Also, unlike many magical items, the use of his creations is essentially obvious: a energy blast will come in the form of a gun, not a wand. He’ll have no magic phrases or hiding the item in an inconspicuous form unless he could reasonably do that with a technological equivalent. He requires a laboratory to create his items.
34 Variable Power Pool: Instant Base (30-pt Pool); Control Cost: 15; Change Only Between Adventures: -½; No Choice of how Powers Change: -½; Restricted Type of Powers Available: -1½; Doctor Vitus can ONLY use this pool to create bases. Of course, his skill in quickly locating and rebuilding facilities make him among the Cabal’s most valuable servants. His ability further is the reason why Martyr has been able to locate and destroy multiple Cabal installations without doing long-term damage to its operations.
25 5d6 Sample Entangler Gun (DEF 5); Range: 500; OAF: -1; Charges: 1, -2; Area Effect (Cone): 10″ long, +1; This is an example of the kind of weapon that Doctor Vitus might create. Assume he will have something similar available. He favors powerful one-shot items that give him time to flee, or for his guards or base defenses to stop intruders. 0
109 Total Powers  
Points Skills, Talents, Perks Roll
10 Money (Wealthy)
20 +4 level w/All Science Skills
; Sciences
30 Total Skills, Talents, Perks  
100+ Disadvantages
5 Hunted: Martyr (8-); Capabilities: Less Powerful, 5; Non-combat Influence: None, +0; Geographical Area: Unlimited, -0; Actions: Hunting, ×1; Punishment: Harsh, 0
20 Normal Characteristic Maxima
20 Coward (Common, Total)
10 Chain Smoker (Uncommon, Strong)
20 Villain Bonus
15 Overconfidence (Very Common, Moderate)
10 Vengeful (Uncommon, Strong)
100 Total Disadvantages
COSTS: Char. Powers Total Total Disadv. Base
61 + 139 = 200 200 = 100 + 100
OCV DCV ECV Mental Def. PD/rPD ED/rED Phases
4 4 6 0 2/0 3/0 6, 12

The Circus Of Law

English: Water-ordeal. Miniature from the chro...

Trial By Water

A lot of games have trouble with legal systems. There are a few articles up on that sort of problem here on the blog – but there is an alternative to being reasonable when you’re in a hurry, want to be less than serious, or want to represent a capricious and arbitrary regime.

Legal systems – especially when it comes to exceptional, high-powered, individuals – don’t really HAVE to make any sense. They may feature trial by ordeal, just try to make all the powerful people involved happy (regardless of guilt or innocence), try to content the gods, simply punish everyone, send those involved on a quest-competition to see who’s in the “right”, call for trial by combat, presume that anyone brought up for trial is guilty, or call on the accused to use some random system to determine their guilt (and punishment if guilty). There may or may not be any pretense of a trial, or consideration of evidence, or attempt at “fairness”. Punishments may be utterly arbitrary and/or quite horrendous. The local nobility may be simply assumed to be in the right, or priests may invariably be turned over to their superiors regardless of what they’re accused of, or admitting to having red blood may be punishable by death.

If it helps maintain some sort of social order – if only by being so arbitrary that the citizenry will do anything at all to avoid getting involved with it – it’s working.

If worst comes to worst, consider…

Quaffian Law: Before judging or arguing a case, the advocates and magistrates of Quaffa are required to drink a glass of fine red wine in honor of the King and the royal family, a glass of fine white wine in honor of the nobility, a glass of sweet wine in honor of the children who are its future, a large corn whiskey in honor of the farmers who feed the city, a large rum in honor of the sailors who bring it wealth, a large port in honor of the soldiers and guards who defend it, and three large beers in honor of the working men, the guilds, and the working women who support the city… For the laws of Quaffa are silly laws, and badly written* but they are not to be mocked by being considered while sober.

*Always while drunk or while using hallucinogens. While the hallucinogenic alternative is a subject of much grumbling among traditionalists, for that there can be only one answer in Quaffa… “Have a drink!”.

Exalted – More Raksha Charms

All right. Next time we do Exalted it’s probably going to be with the Baba Yaga Exalted

English: Vasilisa by Ivan Bilibin. Русский: Ва...

Well, what are YOU doing wandering around out here?

or Hero System rules. Simply trying to find or create the effects you want in Exalted is a nightmare, and actually making  a playable character out of them once you have them is worse.

Still, for the time being…

Calling The Dance Of Blades

  • Cost: —; Mins: Sword 4, Essence 4, Type: Permanent, Keywords: None, Duration: Permanent, Prerequisite Charms: Transient Work of Flesh and Bone.
  • This charm upgrades it’s prerequisite. In the Wyld, the user may distribute an additional (Will) points among the qualities of the resulting shaping weapon. In Creation the user may either summon a unit or a monster. If a unit, the user may distribute an additional (Sword + Will) points among it’s qualities – although none save mutations may be increased above (Sword). If a Monster it gets an additional (Sword + Will) mutation points and may either use a normal creatures traits as a base or count as an Deep Wyld Horror – gaining the appropriate Soak and Artifact Weapon traits. At Essence 4+ this charm may be activated twice in a scene. At Essence 8+ this charm may be activated three times in a scene. Such activations may be simultaneous.

New Mutations: Guardian (4): the Behemoth may ALWAYS be in the way of any attack aimed at a chosen individual – but this does not work against area effects. Wearable (6): the Behemoth may be “worn”, and protects against all attacks, including area effects. Upgrading the innate Weapon Traits of a Behemoth costs 2/4/6 for +1/2/3 “Artifact Dots”.

Wyld Mirror Dance

  • Cost: 6M, 3G, 1W; Mins: Sword 4, Essence 6, Type: Simple, Keywords: Combo-Basic, Obvious, Shaping, Duration: One Tale/Scene, Prerequisite Charms: Calling The Dance Of Blades.
  • (Waking and Dreaming): The user may pull up to (Essence/2, rounded down) duplicates of himself or herself from the Wyld. All are equally real, and entirely independent of each other, although all are run by the player. The player may decide which of the resulting Raksha was/is truly the original at the end of the scene or tale. The others vanish. This charm may, however, only be activated once per scene or tale.

Wyld Prince Reality Subversion Artifice.

  • Cost: —(1M); Mins: Heart 3, Essence 3; Type: Permanent Keywords: None, Duration: Permanent Prerequisite Charms: Unassailable Tower of Glamour.
  • All things – material and immaterial, mirrors of past and future, and routes between realms, may be found in the Wyld. Such is the basis of Wyld Questing. A near-instant search for some simple magical effect – the fundamental basis of Wyld Stunts – is an easy thing for a Raksha, a creature who’s very essence is snatching power and pattern from the swirling chaos. A search for “an easier way to do things” is almost no search at all.
  • Waking or Dreaming: The user may spend one mote at the start of each round to sense potential patterns in the swirling madness of the Wyld or cracks and flaws in the House of the Primordials – seeing how their abilities may be used with the least possible effort. Roll (Occult + Perception). Successes may be used to reduce the cost of using charms and other powers during the round at a ratio of one success per mote and two successes per point of glamour. Sadly, such costs cannot be reduced below zero; a Raksha cannot regain motes by finding easier ways to do things.

Quarrelsome Stormcloud Mind

  • Cost: None; Mins: Essence 2; Type: Permanent, Keywords: Shaped-Only, Duration: Permanent, Prerequisite Charms: Any Assumption Charm.
  • The user’s mind remains lost in the Wyld, and split into a committee, regardless of his or her current physical location. Attempts at mental influence (natural or unnatural) aimed at him or her must succeed (Heart + 1) times in separate attempts before they will take effect. They still only require the usual amount of Will to break, and – if not repeated often enough to take effect – will find the count automatically reset to zero uses at the end of the scene. For each point of Will above seven, the user may also select one of the following bonuses. Each, however, may only be selected once: (1) Being fully Outside of Fate, (2) Having a second Motivation, (3) Reducing Flurry Penalties by one die (exception; this ability may be taken again at Heart 4), (4) Being able to spend 1G to carry on up to (Heart+1) independent conversations at one time for a scene, (5) Gain a standard Familiar at rating (Heart+1), (6) Being able to sustain an additional (Heart +2) Intimacies, and (7) increasing the difficulty of reading or interpreting your thoughts by (Heart). Unfortunately, any Raksha who develops this charm becomes more vulnerable to Bedlam, and will require an additional two steps to break free of it.

Fantasia Cinamystic, Pretentiously Basking In The Wyld Radiance Of The Night

  • Cost: None; Mins: Essence 4; Type: Permanent, Keywords: Shaped-Only, Duration: Permanent, Prerequisite Charms: Quarrelsome Stormcloud Mind.
  • Waking: The user may spend 3M OR 1G and draw on the forces of the Wyld to reflexively spin a fantasy even in Creation. The fantasy is actually imprinted on Creation to some extent, and requires two Will to dispel. Unfortunately, the maximum area affected is a radius of (Essence x 5) yards, always remains centered on the user, and the strain is sufficient to limit the user to a maximum of (Sta) fantasies per day.
  • Dreaming: the user may spend up to four motes infusing a fantasy with a trace of reality – increasing the cost of denying it by one-half that number of points of will.

Subsumption And Adoption Dementia

  • Cost: 2W (Committed), Mins: Essence 3; Type: Simple, Keywords: Shaped-Only, Shaping, Duration: Commitment, Prerequisite Charms:  Quarrelsome Stormcloud Mind, Forging The Cup, Sword, Staff, and Ring, Ravishing The Created Form, Heaven Rains Wisdom.
  • The user may, instead of feeding on a Mortal, suck him or her into his or her personal committee – making the victim a part of him or her self. The Raksha will fall into Bedlam one step earlier than normal, but may draw on the victim’s attributes and abilities (wherever those are higher than the Raksha’s), and essence pool. The “Victim” gains a full set of graces rated equal to the relevant virtues, 12 points of mutations (always including Awakened Essence if not already awakened), and – if ever released – five Raksha charms. Victims do not age while incorporated into a Raksha. No one knows if a victim can exalt while subsumed, or what would happen if one did. Raksha who choose to personally learn the victims abilities may do so for half price.

Time Like An Every Rolling Stream

  • Cost: Variable G, 1W (Committed), Mins: Essence 6; Type: Simple, Keywords: None, Duration: Commitment, Prerequisite Charms: Fantasia Cinamystic, Pretentiously Basking In The Wyld Radiance Of The Night).
  • It is only the pernicious – and pervasive – influence of the Loom of Fate that binds creation to single outcomes, that prevents creatures from being both alive and dead, that collapses the superimposed quantum states of the wyld into a single reality rather than allowing the glorious freedom of self-defined reality, as occurred during the Time of Cascading Years.
  • A Raksha with this charm can slightly undermine the operation of the Loom. He or she may spend one hour (-5 minutes per Glamour spent) and commit 1W to remove any one creature or natural feature short of the Shinma from his or her personal reality. For him or her, the chosen things simply do not exist, although he or she will recall it’s existence as a vague rumor. You don’t believe in the Western Sea? Go ahead, stroll on the bottom where most people think it is. Don’t want to believe in the Sun and Moon? That works too; you can stroll through a dark world while others stand in the light. Neither can harm you or even perceive you – and nor can you perceive or do anything to them. This is a perfect defensive effect. The flaw lies in the limited number of possible targets, in the fact that it renders the “targets” utterly invulnerable to you and undetectable by you, and the fact that the user will be unable to remember much about why he’s hiding from these vaguely-remembered things…

Fruit of The Renaissance Genius

  • Cost: 2M per +1 Ability Die, 1M per +1 Specialty Die, reduce the number of committed motes by the user’s [Ring + Staff] ratings, , Mins: Essence 4, Cup 4, Type: Simple, Keywords: Shaped-Only, Duration: Commitment, Prerequisite Charms: Banquet of Crumbs and Heaven Rains Wisdom.
  • (Waking and Dreaming): All things, material and immaterial, real or conceptual, manifest in the Wyld as constructs of essence. To reach out and – through sheer will – to seize a dream in solid form is the art of the Raksha. A Raksha with this charm may, up to three times per story, reach out to seize abilities made manifest and make them a part of himself. Each two motes committed can provide +1 Ability Dot (up to the usual maximums), while each mote can provide +1 Specialty Dot.

OK, to be quite honest, I have my doubts about the keywording on some of these – but hopefully the intent is clear enough…

Exalted – Raksha Spells of Summoning; Waking Circle Oneiromancies

All three of these Waking Circle Oneiromancies are built in exactly the same way… They have Assumption of the Person’s Heart (making them immaterial parts of their user’s body, 1), Mad God’s Mein (making them invulnerable to cold iron and countermagic, 1), and eight instances each of Ordinary Object Conjuration (giving their user an unlimited supply of twenty-four different items, 8). (One Dot, Attunement Cost: 3 Motes). Since your attributes have no real effect on these effects you can have some minions attune them for you with no real cost.

That’s not bad for three Raksha Artifact dots. Admittedly they’re not terrible legendary fancies – but they can be quite useful – especially since we apply the following bit of quasi-errata.

Everybody knows that many White Wolf games have problems with editing and consistency. It happens when mood, style, and what seems “cool” triumph over how the setting is supposed to work – and it doesn’t help when you have multiple authors and editors with conflicting ideas on the subject and no actual hard core of principles to begin with.

Ordinary Object Conjuration is a prime example. If you take a close look at it, even within the setting… it makes no sense. And, in the focus on combat, the errata totally missed giving it that inspection.

For this charm, you make a roll, and may create “any mundane object that would normally exist in Creation provided its Resources cost does not exceed the successes on the roll” – although it goes on to state that you can’t create “living beings, any item with inherent magical properties, any item forged of one of the magical materials or of cold iron, or any item with a Resources cost in excess of 5″ and restricts you to a “single item” – although size is no object if I have enough Gossamer.

OK, there’s a headache right there… resource costs vary, the game fails to really define “living” – can I or can I not make a fresh apple? If I can, can I make a poisoned apple? Aren’t “magical properties” are a bit hard to define in a universe made of essence motes where all physical properties are fundamentally magical? What is a “mundane” object? A Raksha can explicitly create a “palatial estate” – say with tiles on the roof, walls made up of lumber, pegs or nails, support-work, plaster, and paint, doors, windowsills, and so on – but the tens of thousands of pieces in this intricate structure count as a single item, while furnishings do not.

Unless, of course, I think to specify that they’re built in, even if I then go on to specify that they’re tied to the rest of the structure by a connection so thin that the vibrations of the door opening will shatter it tracelessly.

Yet, if I make a bow, it’s entirely possible that the GM will rule that I have to create the bowstring separately.

Fortunately, there’s an easy mechanism for pushing abilities, including magical abilities, beyond their normal limits. It’s called “Stunting”. If you want something complicated, or with subcomponents, you can either get a specialized version of this charm that can only make a limited selection (Perhaps Int?) of complicated items (this is potentially worthwhile considering how cheap Raksha charms are) OR you stunt.

Oneiromancy versions are already specific, so they can summon complex items by default.

The Commando Dream; Assault on Navarone:

This bit of dream allows the conjuration of…

  • Arrow Frog Venom. This hideously toxic venom can be applied with a touch – or summoned onto your weapons to make them nastier.
  • Demolition Charges. These are throwable, modern, high-end plastique with timers – not the WWII duffel bags. Very useful for booby traps, demolitions, or throwing at people.
  • Knockout Gas. This also works fine as a fog if you use enough of it.
  • Gasoline – in a large cannister (with an igniter) suitable for pouring or spraying.
  • 200 feet of Spider-Silk Rope in a Climbing Kit. This stuff is a light quarter-inch line – but has a breaking strength of about a hundred tons.
  • Liquid Helium – in an insulated bucket with a lid.
  • Fake Cold Iron – actually a smartmetal bar capable of taking a variety of simple forms.
  • A Missile Launcher with four shots in it.

Mcguyver Is My Younger Cousin:

This bit of dream allows the conjuration of…

  • A Camping Kit.
  • A Doctor’s Bag.
  • A Navigation Kit, including a Telescope, chronometer, sextant, and various instruments.
  • A Tool Kit.
  • A Charged, Ultra-Efficiency Car Battery.
  • An Oxygen Mask and High-Pressure Oxygen Tank.
  • A Chemistry Set
  • A Stereo System (often raided for parts).

Yes, I Has Style – Magical Boy Anime Style!

This bit of dream allows the conjuration of…

  • A splendid luncheon, with fine food and wine.
  • A Bag of Jewelry
  • An Awesome Looking Outfit
  • An Art Supplies Kit
  • Some Flowers
  • An Ultra-modern Smartphone with Contract
  • A Toiletry Kit
  • An Umbrella with a Sword inside.

Exalted – Keeping The Lesser Types In The Game

One of the basic problems with Exalted is that certain character types simply are not competitive with others. This is setting-required. You can’t have mortals or Raksha or the other minor types be truly competitive with Exalts in general or the setting falls apart and needs a complete rewrite.

English: Gurulu Raksha Mask , Sri Lanka Polski...

Here’s looking at YOU… whatever you are.

As a game, of course, that’s lousy design. In a system that’s supposed to be all about saying yes, and letting the player-characters shine, and opening options, it’s saying “these character types are unplayable unless everyone is playing one or intentionally holds back”.

Of course the only characters the gamers actually care much about are the protagonists – that is to say, the player-characters. We need a rules patch for them that explains why they’re different in the setting, is easily adjusted to avoid the unwanted ramifications that always pop up when you tweak a rules system (such as making such characters TOO powerful), and which only applies to a few exceptional characters.

Fortunately, that’s pretty easy. What makes a lower-powered character who’s hanging out with a bunch of higher-powered ones and sharing their adventures unique is… that he or she is a lower-powered character who’s hanging out with a bunch of higher-powered ones and sharing their adventures. He or she will be taking hideous risks and stretching to the limit merely to keep up with the rest of the group, will be constantly being exposed to (from his or her point of view) utterly fantastic powers and energies, and can be assumed to be constantly getting advice and bits of training from the incredible entities that he or she is accompanying.

Ergo they get more experience than the rest of the group. That’s not quite “super powers are contagious”, but it can come fairly close.

  • A mortal playing with a Dragon-Blooded, Raksha, Dragon King, Spirit, or similar group gets twice as much experience as the other members of the group do. A Mortal playing with a Celestial Exalted group gets three times as much experience as the Celestial members of the group do. In either case, they may waive training times, buy mutations freely, and even (eventually) transcend to become spirits (reducing further XP gains however) if they like. Associating with their betters drives them to greater heights and empowers them.
  • A Raksha, Dragon King, Dragon-Blooded, or similar character playing with (or in opposition to) a Celestial Exalted group gets twice as much experience as each of the Celestial Exalts do – and may waive training times and buy mutations (if applicable) freely.

Raksha don’t really have high-essence guidelines. As a rule, their charms are inherently chaotic. They’re flexible, but are less efficient at any comparable set of requirements than the charms of any other type. On the other hand, as they gain essence, their legends become more set and stable – and the rules state that their essence profile comes to resemble that of a god. Ergo: at Essence 6 they gain access to Spirit Charms. At Essence 8 they are considered an Ishvara (and should have plenty of unique thematic charms comparable to panoply charms). At essence 9 they may opt to start incorporating lesser Raksha into themselves – increasing their power and mote pools at the cost of the ever-increasing rigidity necessary to keep those lesser Raksha under control as the feedback enhances THEIR essence levels. If they continue this path through essence 10, they may (or may not; who knows?) wind up as Primordials themselves.

Yes, these particular rules are simply a quick fix, and haven’t been playtested too much, and will probably need some adjusting of the multiplier – but they should neatly keep “lesser” characters playable in a mixed game without having any major impact on the setting – except, of course, for providing an incentive for “lesser” types to keep getting entangled with those dangerous – but ever so inspirational and encouraging – “greater” types.

Exalted – The Logic of Inevitability (Waking Circle Oneiromancy)

Ravana the leader of the Raksha of Sri Lanka

Lord of the Raksha

The order, logic, and destiny of creation is alien to the Raksha – but not entirely so. Their own narrative plays off of it, and – given endless time – chaos will manifest everything, including the rigidly ordered current of “inevitable” destiny which is its opposite.

Of course, Chaos will also manifest ways to take advantage of Samsara…

The Logic of Inevitability allows the user to “run” his minions remotely – having them make the decisions that would best suit him within the limits of their loyalty (if that HAS any upper limit) and knowing what they know. Even if the user is utterly annihilated, his or her control over any minions that remain loyal to his or her memory continues unabated until their destruction. The net effect is that the player now has many characters…

Waking Circle Oneiromancy: The Logic Of Inevitability (*, 3 motes to attune, built on ten Glamour): Assumption of the Person’s Heart (1) (Becomes an immaterial part of the users body), Imposition of Law x3: The user invariably succeeds at reflexive (Int + Inv) checks to “deduce exactly what is or has been going on in the vicinity of all of his or her minions or behemoths from the locally observable state of the universe”, the user automatically succeeds on (Int + Lor) checks to “instantly deduce exactly what orders he or she will need to give in advance so that his or her minions will do exactly what he or she would have them do if he or she were there to give directions”, and automatically succeeds on (Man + Bur) checks to “unforgettably summarize and communicate those orders to his or her minions within a single round”.

Note that it doesn’t matter that the difficulty for deducing as much of the state of creation as you need is probably a billion, or that deducing what orders you’ll need to give to cover all contingencies is probably a hundred times that difficult (although summarizing them is probably simple in comparison, with a difficulty of a mere fifty to a hundred) – those tasks are generally unopposed, and thus Imposition of Law reigns supreme.

Hearthstones VI – Charles’s Hearthstone Museum

Celestial Body

Can you make these a bit less conspicious?

Charles – as might be expected of someone who’s specialty is cultivating the geomancy of his own world-body – carries rather a LOT of hearthstones, many of them unique. Since the actual list has now become relevant, here it is. It will be starting off, of course, with the biggest and most powerful set – the twenty-four level-***** self-attuning hearthstones provided by his Guardians. Just as the Guardians are each associated with a thaumaturgical field, the stones they generate are as well.

Guardian Hearthstones:

Alchemy – a Philosophers Stone: This glittering flamelike mass of red and yellow crystal spikes eliminates the need for components for Thaumaturgy (***) and Terrestrial Sorcery (****) – and somewhat reduces the need for components for Celestial and Solar Circle Sorcery (*****).

The original version of this stone was rather more potent – eliminating the need for components for any kind of sorcery at ***** – but updating to second edition called for a few changes.

Attack – a Specter General Stone: This rusty-black opalescent gem is the color of dried blood, and is lit from within by the fires of burning cities and the occasional flashes of signals. If held to an ear, the faint sounds of ancient battles – horns and drums, shouted orders, long-forgotten battle cries, timeless screams of anguish, and commanders planning – can all be heard, adrift upon tides of time. If and when the user commands a social unit – whether of troops, workers, bureaucrats or any other sizable group – he or she may divide a total number of points equal to the rating of this stone between the groups effective magnitude, drill, might, or whatever other characteristics it’s got. If the user commands multiple groups and units, he or she may provide this bonus to up to (Essence) of them at any one time.

In Exalted, a social “unit” of any kind is indeed far more than the sum of it’s parts in the same way that a human is more than a collection of cells. In the setting a “unit” is a group is united in spirit as a single, immaterial, organism – in effect, a kind of Behemoth – which is why it can be targeted by various charms as a whole and possesses powers beyond those of any member. When you turn a bunch of random individuals into an group, you unite their essence potentials (as great or small as those may be), you involve the least gods of their tools and bases, and you involve the major gods of that kind of unit (who are universally united on that front; if they didn’t use their charms to make sure that a “Unit” was fundamentally different – and BETTER – than a mass of individuals, they’d all be out of work).

In the Exalted cosmos, the little gods are responsible for enforcing the laws of nature and the workings of thaumaturgy. Once they get involved, the universe starts playing favorites – making special exceptions in the groups favor. The rules really are different for social units in Exalted. If you’re up against an army, their “fighting spirit” – or morale – can kill you all by itself, even if you’re utterly immune to the normal efforts of any given member of the force. A cult can generate enormous mystical forces, despite the fact that none of it’s members has any trace of magical power. A mercantile associations busy patterns of trade can help stabilize creation itself.

That’s also why the Celestial Exalted needed armies of Dragon-Blooded to attack the Primordials of course; the various greater and lesser gods could not participate in a direct attack on a Primordial – which meant that mortal armies were entirely useless against them.

Clairvoyance –  a (standard) Scrying Stone.

Compel – a Destined King Stone: This shimmering band of golden sunstone may be worn as a ring, a tiara, or an armlet, but regardless of the exact form it takes, it’s effect is the same… The user may roll (Valor) each morning on awakening. One success may be expended to attract an extra to the characters service, two for a heroic mortal or creature of similar power. This can be used to build up a Cult (although it takes a LOT of followers to make up a big one), to collect Followers or Henchmen, or even (if the possessor is a Fey) to collect a Retinue. In any case, the stone cannot build up more than (user’s essence) background dots for the user unless the user permanently purchases some or all of the already-accumulated backgrounds at 1 XP per dot.

Countermagic – a Wall of Octri Stone: This simple square of layered mica seems to be digesting an aurora, from which occasional multicolored bursts of sparks erupt. No matter how you hold it, even if you use a mirror to see both it’s front and back at the same time, you will see it’s front side facing you squarely. The user may automatically use any personal Countermagic he or she has available when targeted by a spell, even if unconscious or otherwise busy. Thaumaturgy and Terrestrial Circle countermagic are free, higher-order countermagic effects have their cost reduced by the cost of the Terrestrial Circle spell.

Detection – a Prayerstone:

Divination – a Sorcerer’s Eye:

Enchantment – a Lens of the Moon:

Energetics – a Forgestone. Yes, this particular guardian does operate a Factory-Cathedral as a sideline. The style is much more modern-computer-controlled-nanotech-assembly-tanks than the classical “magical shop” or even “technomantic factory” – but that’s the way he likes it.

Fortune – The Happy Wanderer’s Azurite Songstone: This deep blue gem sparkles with all the colors of the dawn and sunset as it’s turned within the hand, beautiful and cheering. The bearer – for no apparent reason – tends to jauntily sing or whistle, no matter what the situation. It acts as a combination of a (standard) Freedom Stone and Guardian Stone.

Yes, that’s equivalent to a pair of three-dot stones. The scale, after all, is not linear.

Geomancy – an Earthmaster’s Stone: This small, hexagonal, basaltic pillar resonates with the deep forces of the earth – and with the manses that geomancy empowers. The user may link this stone into any geomantic network he or she controls, allowing him or her to simply allot network points to power devices which would normally require hearthstones within a radius if (stone rank x 100 years) or to channel geomantic power into buying extra successes with Geomancy (up to 4xRank, at 3 relay points each) or into powering geomantic rituals (each relay point replaces one mote when undertaking geomantic tasks such as awakening demesnes).

Healing – a Soothing Heart Stone: This stony blossom varies the color of it’s petals and their arrangement whenever no one is looking, never appearing the same twice. The user may roll (Compassion) each morning on awakening. Each success so generated may be used on anyone within one hundred yards, healing one level of damage, removing one unwanted point of mutation, providing a +4d bonus on rolls against disease or poison for that day, curing any one mental disorder, or removing the “Crippling” keyword from any one injury.

Illusion – an Honorable Diamond Gem: This simple, thousand-faceted, gem shows an impossible clarity, stripping away personal illusions and misperceptions to allow the purest of virtues to shine through. Add +2 to the user’s effective virtues. The user need not, however, roll those dice unless he or she wants to.

Charles suspects that, in the hands of someone who’s virtues are already all perfect, the stone may show some additional power – but this has yet to be confirmed.

Lifeweave – an Xavarite Cubicon: This small, simple, cube of violet crystal projects a rippling aura of blue-white light in the hands of an essence-user – an aura which expands to engulf the bearer when he concentrates on it to “change it’s settings”. It provides the user’s minions (Behemoths, Cultists, Followers, Henchmen, and similar) with (Rating + 1) points worth of mutations. The bearer may give them all the same thing or customize as desired for particular groups or individuals – although such “settings” may only be changed once per day.

Link – a Grand Gem of Vision: The exact appearance of this oblate stone remains unknown, since it is always surrounded by a shimmering aura of welcoming blue-green light – an effect which it can project immediately around the bearer and which serves as a gateway to the vision-quests he or she opts to offer. The user may allow people to vision-quest to, and remotely attune to, any manse that he or she is already attuned to – although they may also be de-attuned as long as they haven’t actually visited in person.

Necrotics – a Stone of the Spirits Song: This pallid white “stone” appears to be made of ivory rather than any actual mineral, and is carved with hundreds of tiny birds in flight. The user may materialize or dematerialize at the cost of a mere twenty motes. Nonliving items the user happens to be carrying may be included or not at whim.

If someone with a world-body – like Charles – wants to use apply this effect to his or her world-body it costs two hundred motes instead of twenty, but anyone who does not get taken along and who fails to dematerialize or re-materialize on their own, should be treated as if they were in a destroyed Chancel; they will be left behind where the world-body used to be – in pure chaos.

Shadow Weaving – a Black Opaline Inkstone:

Technomancy – a Silicon Mind Stone. This “stone” is actually a small (but extremely powerful) programmable scientific calculator/microcomputer. It’s an upgraded version of the Stone of the Adamant Will: The bearer’s mind cannot be read or tampered with. He or she cannot be forced to forget things, be possessed, be forced to spend will points to take normally-allowable actions, be compelled to alter his or her behavior, have his or her mental attributes reduced, or have his or her mind read. The stone offers no defense against social skills (even if supernaturally enhanced), blackmail and threats, torture, or similar mundane tactics.

Telekinesis – a Gem of Perfect Mobility: A standard stone.

Telepathy – a Radiant Heart Ruby:

Travel – a Homes Hearth Stone.

The stone can transport people from point to point within Aden whenever Charles pays ten motes but can’t teleport people to anywhere outside of Aden. The recall-to-the-manse function does work from outside of Aden however.

Warding – Phantom Castle Stone: This simple greenstone spike sticks easily into earth or stone for ease of placement. When placed within a demesne with a rating of at least (Stone Rating -2 or 1, whichever is greater) this hearthstone creates a temporary duplicate of the manse that empowers it, with all it’s powers, that lasts until the stone is removed from the hearthstone room. Manse Guardians and such must, however, build up normally.

Weather Working – Sardonyx of Elemental Mastery: This layered stone shows a variety of tiny inclusions, and is engraved with the sigils and likenesses of the great elemental dragons flowing in and out of the stone. It’s power is simple and profound; the user may open lines of communication to the elemental spirits active in the area and attempt to talk them into doing things.

Yes, this is simultaneously trivial and mighty – depending on just how good a speaker you are and how likely the elemental spirits are to listen to you.

Wyld Magic – Wyld Heart Stone: This dark stone appears featureless at first, but on closer inspection seems to be filled with clouds of swirling darkness. When touched it breathes a subtle wisp of fantasy into the mind, birthing strange dreams and visions. The user may roll Temperance each morning on awakening to gain one Glamour per success and pays one less glamour for any charm that normally requires its use.

Other Hearthstones:

Dudael’s Forgestone (******):

Adamant Cascade of Sorcerous Mastery (*****): This mass of small diamonds constantly flows, swirling like turbulent water in response to essence disturbances nearby. It reduces the time required for shaping actions to three ticks.

Yes, this is the campaign replacement for the Stone of Brigid, which is – in comparison to things like the Perfect Mobility stone – simply pathetic.

Ambrosial Chalice (*****)

Black Emerald Before The Dawn (*****): This emerald is so dark as to be nearly black, and breathes forth the scent of rich earth, of new leaves bursting forth, of fresh rain, and glimmers with the faint radiance of the last instants of the night. The bearer gains two levels of Ox-Body and adds his or her current wound penalty to his or her dice pools instead of subtracting it.

Nising Weirdstone (*****): This blue-and-purple disk is essentially equivalent to the Sign of Chaos stone. If the user already has Style, this simply adds a second occurrence of it which stacks with the first.

Essence Armoring Carbuncle (****): This red-blue stone pulses in time to the bearer’s heartbeat. The bearers essence pool and his or her ability to use it becomes unassailable. Effects which would involuntarily drain essence from the user’s pool, or which would increase the mote cost of various powers, automatically fail. As a side effect, any item mounting this stone cannot be forcibly de-attuned from the user.

Fate Defying Ruby (****): The user may reflexively spend 5 motes to step outside of fate, and may remain there for up to three days. If the user is currently bound into fate by some power, the situation is resolved with an essence roll-off. Interestingly, if the user is currently being (or is about to be) subjected to some badly-written charm (almost always martial arts) which lacks relevant keywords, functions partially outside the established game system, is widely considered “broken”, or offers no more appropriate defense, the same essence roll-off applies. When you’re outside the rules, it’s easier to counter the things which also reside there.

Grace Stone (****). While it appears to be a simple stick of chalk, the Grace Stone can be used to congeal portions of the target’s aura into Graces – the usual set of four, either individually or all together. In either case, the user may provide the target with graces rated at (the appropriate virtue +1).

Willow Branch Stone (****):

Gem of Supernal Clarity (***):

Powerstones, (**) and (*).

Stone of Radiant Purity (**):

Black Opalescent Inkstone (**): Creates and prints with ink.

Spell Stone (**): -2 to Occult Target Numbers, +1 Willpower/Day.

Charles also employs a half-a-dozen Savant’s Eyes *** (for second edition these can no more than half an XP cost) and the same number of standard Memorial Irons (*).

Finally, Charles also routinely generates nine dots worth of purely internal hearthstones – but those tend to vary a lot.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXXX – Self-Development; No Pain, No Gain!

American explorer Harriet Chalmers Adams (1875...

What do you mean? This IS the easy way!

With the Sahara complex finished – including several lesser manses at critical points to either supplement the effects of the keystone manse and it’s Sahara Sea or to preserve localized swathes of desert to provide permanent refuges for the desert-dwelling species and ecosystems – Elzeard had moved his operations on to the Gobi Desert. Unless there was major interference to call him back, greenery would soon spread across the Sahara, Arabian, and Syrian deserts as the climate feedback loops reversed themselves – and the fertile crescent would soon once more be lush and wet.

The Gobi, while considerably smaller, was a more complex project. The rain-shadow of the Himalayas called for a string of manses high in the mountains along the desert border to replace the moisture that the highest peaks had taken – sending cooling mists and humid air rolling down to become rain and dew in the desert below. Several other manses would, once again, become conservatories for the (relatively few) creatures of the desert. Just to be ready, his surveyors were mapping the essence-flows of the Kalahari in preparation for getting to work there after the Gobi manses were finished.

In Aden, he was subtly tinkering with Charles… Extending your childhood was all well and good, and remaining a young and healthy adult eternally was just fine – but remaining a perpetual small child would be missing out on a lot of important things in life as well as failing to live up to his species and ancestral responsibilities. Over the next few decades he’d be quietly slipping a few years past the life-supporting geomancy. That couldn’t work against active resistance of course – but he was already working from the inside.

The other guardians had their own ideas about self-improvement as well…

  • Gothmug was gloomily planning to ensure that Charles – no matter how much he liked magic and disliked physical activities – got plenty of exercise, and advanced combat training (if necessary by having creatures leap out at him unexpectedly!), and military studies. While Charles might somehow manage to ever getting into a fight it didn’t seem likely – and even a Solar Exalt on a Primordial Path of Transcendence needed to be prepared!
  • Malinda wanted Charles to learn about social networking, and about doing some checking on people before he gave them massive powers, and considered it pretty urgent. What with the child wandering about handing out Adenic Thaumaturgy to anyone who asked, combat training could wait! It wasn’t like they couldn’t look after him quite effectively!
  • Seiden Starswarm (Master of Energetics, Science, and Technology) wanted Charles to learn a great deal more about the default physics of the cosmos. Working within the rules as much as possible allowed you to stretch your power and influence a great deal further, and to keep the magical disturbances you created to an absolute minimum – and there were a lot of things that didn’t actually need magic at all if you were clever. Sure, a manse that provided city services in it’s zone of influence was good – but one that simply let machinery operate without fuel or maintenance and facilitated recycling within that same zone… With a modern distribution grid, that could provide power and services across a continent!
  • Chaffri the Far Traveler (Master of Travel Thaumaturgy and Gates) wanted Charles to see a lot more of the universe and meet new people and experience alien cultures – but did concede that getting the network of world-gates up and running was also of great importance. That would let a LOT of people see new worlds… For the moment, he was contenting himself with quietly spreading rumors that soon land would be made available to the poor – and with making preparations to train and equip colonists. Even with some city-manses there to welcome them, they would need some education in pioneering once they started to spread out to claim their new worlds!

Fortunately, a lot of the final equipping and training facilities could be set up on the new worlds; they didn’t need to be on Earth. Still, when the gates opened, there should be people who would be ready to use them!

Mishinago, at least, thought that there was no great rush on the self-improvement; after all, Charles was really rather young, and was already doing quite well in that category; he’d created THEM from the energies of his own soul hadn’t he? It was hard to get much more personal about self-improvement than THAT.

He’d wait and see a bit. After all, there were quite a few things to do – especially since he, unlike Elzeard, had opted for “subtle”… As long as you worked in a series of small steps things like cleansing pollutants from the Earths atmosphere, cleaning up rivers and sites where mining and industrial wastes had poisoned the land, desalinating the soil in long-irrigated areas where salt had been drawn up from the deeper levels, and refreshing selected mineral resources could pass almost unnoticed – especially with Elzeard’s activities to distract the scientists. His quiet tour had already covered much of Eurasia and the Far East.

Meanwhile, in Aden, the youngsters from the religious indoctrination camp had settled in nicely. They’d believed that their parents were crazy anyway – and being kidnapped by weird elves, turned furry, “rescued” by some merlin-kid, and taken to a world full of creatures out of “fantasy” novels pretty well proved it! Their parents had no idea at all of what was really going on!

They hadn’t put up any resistance to what amounted to “boarding school”. They got to have (slightly censored) contact with their friends “outside”, there were any number of amusements, there were places to shop (and an allowance to do it with and some quite fantastic things to buy), and Aden was more comfortable than anywhere they’d ever been… Sure, the “Inukami”, “Baalgrogs”, and “Kickaha” insisted on a certain amount of discipline and study / practical training – but it was no worse than most schools were, the facilities were incredible – and the courses… The place was offering serious courses in starship piloting, planetary surveying, alchemical transmutation, and a hundred other fantastic topics in addition to everything a normal school might offer.

The Baalgrogs basic plan was just to keep them in school until they were old, sensible, and unmutated, enough to go – or until they decided to join one of the other groups (thaumaturgic trainees, Kickaha, or whatever). It was a trifle sad, but the world wasn’t yet ready for mutated kids returning from the dreams of the fey (in fact, it was quite likely that the Dragon-Blooded, or others who preferred secrecy, would eliminate such troublesome individuals) – so “kept until you’re either ready to release or have adapted to being kept” was pretty much the reality of the situation.

The youngsters who’d been willing – or at least accepting – property of the Raksha had been a different sort of problem – and Charles (apparently in a hurry) had just said “take care of the new pets!” when he’d dropped them off.

There had been a sort of triage operation.

Some didn’t need attention; they’d just seen no point in trying to fight the Raksha armed with nothing but an uncooperative attitude. Those had simply been shunted off to boarding school to learn to be productive, independent, people again.

Most of the rest… They were accepting of being subordinate property in the “servant” role – and more or less expected to run errands and be decorative background props for their owners. They’d probably learn independence eventually (with a little pushing), but there wasn’t any rush about it. In Aden they had plenty of time. Quite a few had been recruited as (possible) Kickaha – while the rest, depending on the whims of whoever’d taken them for training, were now serving as package runners (in fluffy cheetah-morph forms), tour guides (as fluffy raccoon-morphs), library assistants (mostly as fluffy ferret-morphs), and servants at inns (as fluffy cat-morphs).

After all, the trainers did all know that Charles liked fluffy furry things – and his having given all the “pets” Resplendent Butlers Accouterments made it easy to cater to the preference.

There were some very young ones, but they were just put into school to see how they turned out.

Finally, there were a few who were quite hopeless – born with terrible weak minds, so badly abused that they had fled from humanity to take refuge as a Raksha pet, a few who were simply happy being pets (and having no responsibility for anything), and a few – apparently born to the role – who simply knew nothing else. Elzeard had taken charge of them.

Elzeard was well aware that Charles DEFINITELY wouldn’t want them mistreated – and would want them to grow up to be “people” rather than “pets” eventually – but that would almost certainly be a long term concern. A youngster Charles’s age SHOULD have some pets, and the boy wouldn’t worry too much about them for the moment. He had a universe to fix, and as long as the “pets” were content with their positions, what those positions were… really didn’t matter much for the time being. They could wait – and Elzeard could make them EXTRA FUZZY.

Charles was rather startled to find ten happy live teddy bears, almost his own size, playing I his yard. Still, they seemed to be entirely contented to be teddy bears, and they were SO cute and cuddly and fluffy…

Elzeard had known that Charles would never be able to resist the fluffy.

(Charles, rubbing one’s ears) “Aw! Who’s all fuzzy-wuzzy then!” (They felt kind of like that REALLY fluffy rug Gramps had in his best study!) “And how do you like being a teddy bear here in Aden?”

He scooped up the teddy to cuddle it on his knee…

(Teddy) “I feel snuggly, Master!”

(Charles) “And do you have a name?”

(Teddy) “They said you would call me whatever you wanted!”

(Charles) “Is there something you’d prefer?”

(Teddy) “I want to be something soft!”

(Charles) “Well, are you a boy or a girl? You’re so fluffy that I can’t tell!”

(Teddy) “I’m a girl teddy!”

(Charles) “What about the rest of you?”

Hm… six girls, four boys, all pre-pubescent youngsters. The intent seemed to be to give him living teddies around his own size that would be entirely happy to be cuddly pets and to frolic around Aden.

Charles named her “Silky” and named the rest of them and told them to go and play for the time being while he talked to Elzeard!

(Charles, to Elzeard) “Huh! They ARE really cute… and very happy and very well trained. It’s a very nice (if a bit creepy!) job! What happened to the rest of them?”

(Elzeard) “The alpha Kickaha took around twenty of them, a dozen or so of the most willful went to school to learn to be independent, and some of the Citizens are training the rest of them for tourist services.”

Huh… It looked like… the ones with the Kickaha were having to… earn the privilege of joining the packs. Young kids were right out. Probationary Omegas? Charles hadn’t known that there WAS a pack position below Omega!

Ah. There wasn’t until the “pets” had some along. It looked like they were… carrying the packs goods, learning how to fight, and doing the actual Omega’s chores and things for them. The Omegas quite liked that part – but it seemed to be a stopgap while the pack leaders determined what to do. They could tell that these kids were a bit different from the way they were, at least mentally.

He might as well drop by and explain!

(Pack Alpha) “Oh, Hi Charles! (Some minor small talk) There was something I wanted to ask you about these new kids though. Well… is something wrong with them?”

(Charles, sighing) “Well… They’re pets, and have been for a rather long time. I suppose you guys could be pets if you wanted – but no one is pushing it on you.”

(Pack Alpha) “What? That’s horrible!”

(Charles) “Well, people make decisions for various reasons…”

He probed, and shared. It was a mixture of just being born that way, being uncomfortable or sickly as a human, being abused, having run away (and having found out just how bad THAT could get), and a few who just wanted to avoid all responsibility. Heavy on the runaways; it looked like that was how the Raksha got most of their new blood these days…

(Pack Alpha) “Well, ok, I can see it. They were a lot like us when those disasters hit – but can’t you do something for the fey bindings? At least you let us keep our free will!”

(Charles) “The trouble is, they aren’t bound by any magic. They’ve just… accepted that they’re bit figures, and that they belong to other people who care for them. That lets them abandon responsiblity, and worry about the future, and ambition, and most of the burdens of being a person. It’s… a very comfortable place to be, if you’re a person who’s capable of accepting that place. A lot of people do have tendencies that way; these have… been selected from the streets as non-survivors who would not be missed, sorted out in Raksha custody for acceptance of life as property, and then sorted for pethood a third time now. They’re just… one end of the bell curve.”

The Pack Alpha considered that carefully.

(Pack Alpha) “So what you’re saying is, there’s not much that can be done for them.”

(Charles) “It may be possible to coax some out of it. If you do adopt some of them, that might help – although you’ll probably still have submissive omegas for a long time. But it is true that – as long as being pets is comfortable, and easy, and lets them be taken care of – most of them may not change much. Worse, they aren’t really prepared to survive on their own. You could put them through a crash wilderness survival course or something to try and get them to struggle again – but a lot of them might die instead.”

The Alpha seemed to find that just a tad unbelievable.

Oh well! Might as well demonstrate!

Some mental probing, and a few test orders, were quite revealing.

(Pack Alpha) “Ugh… and here I was wanting to expand my pack numbers. They’ll have to be adopted just to survive. It’ll probably do them SOME good.”

(Charles) “Well, they’ll make good servants, and the girls will make perfectly good breeding stock. The males… Well, they’ll give the less-dominant males someone to be dominant over. But they’re comfortable, and safe, and being taken care of – and that’s all they really have any ambition for right now. Once they settle in and realize that they’re going to be comfortable, and safe, for quite some time to come they may develop more ambitions – but it’s certainly not going to be very fast.”

It was the Alpha’s turn to sigh. Oh well! It wasn’t like they didn’t have space, and they MIGHT eventually grow out of it!