In his offices in Yu-Shan Lytek was fearfully busy… He now had 350 Solar, 600 Lunar, and 200 Sidereal Exaltations to look after – as well as the three Abyssal Exaltations he was tinkering with (with much tsking over the twists and tortures inflicted on them).
He’d been reluctant to call Charles in to talk about the Abyssal Exaltations at first – it WAS his domain after all! – but… the boy was (of course) fabulously skilled. More importantly, he was utterly trustworthy – and he was the one who’d captured the corrupted Exaltations for him in the first place. It wasn’t like he didn’t already know about the situation…
Charles had, of course, been more than willing to go all-out on his examination; he had quite an interest in the mechanisms of Exaltation – and had spent the time for a boosting ritual, and his augmenting charms, and called in Ixiah to assist, and deployed the manse-enhancements, and more…
He’d shared those perceptions with Lytek. It had been enlightening all around! Lytek was always happy to discuss Exaltations anyway; behind Autochthon, he had the most precise and delicate understanding of the things in all Creation.
Lytek had shown Charles some of his personal notes – including a diagram of what a Dawn Caste Exaltation should look like to match the Dusk Caste Exaltation they were currently working on.
It was far too dizzyingly complex for most occultists to comprehend. Even most of the Exalts who specialized in such things would have found it confusing; it was a crystalline structure with countless nodes and circuits, all woven into an intricate pattern in far more than three dimensions. Had Autochthon forged them from human souls? That would neatly explain why they would only bond with other human souls…
Of course, unlike most Exalts, Charles had gotten to take a good look at his own Soul and Exaltation from the inside. Some of the nodes were remarkably similar to Solar demesnes – but on a near-microscopic scale. Still, that had been one of his theories; internal geomancy seemed likely as an power source. Thus Autochthon might have taken the most powerful structures he’d known as a model – creating Exaltations as miniaturized primordial world-bodies, rolled up on themselves and anchored to a soul through elsewhere. That would, of course, also explain why it was so hard to trap them; they were not THERE in the first place.
Not to mention that it fit in with what he was doing… Had Lytek’s meddling simply… removed the mystical “bolt” which held his Exaltations pocket realm compressed and allowed his Exaltation to begin unfolding?
Some of the nodes exuded less power than others. It was still Solar Essence, but those nodes weren’t nearly as efficient as other nodes were. Was it being used internally? Could it just be awaiting tuning (and the investment of XP in new charms) to develop channels for itself?
A node-by node comparison with the Abyssal Exaltation was tedious – but it was easy enough with Charles, Ixiah, and Lytek performing research together. Thank goodness for flexible wyld time, computers, aides, and instant genius!
The Dusk Caste shard was not really all that different from the Dawn Caste shard. Many of the nodes were reversed, practically a mirror of each other. Others… save for an infusion of necrotic and devouring Essence, some nodes were all but completely identical to the Solar shard’s equivalents. They seemed to be related to what Lytek referred to as “mirror charms”. Other nodes seemed to have dormant links to the Spiritual Underworld, sealed off by Yu-Shan’s nature. Others seem to tug in motes exposed to them, as if something were pulling on their patterns. The latter two problems were the ones that had given Lytek the most trouble in finding a fix.
Hm… Reversed essence flows? Most of them on the mental level, since that was where the interface was? Bonded at the moment of death, rather than at a peak moment of heroism and life. Reoriented… Well, Exaltations bonded to the soul. That bond was broken when the soul… broke free of the body, separated into its component parts, and passed into lethe (leaving memories) or the underworld. Ergo… at the moment of death, every Exaltation was momentarily oriented towards the underworld – and destruction. That gave death-curses, and artifacts like Death at the Root, their power. (Hm. Was every exaltation capable of sustaining one such secondary death-curse? That would explain why most couldn’t be reproduced similarly; by now most of them would be sustaining SOMETHING). Pulling on their patterns… a powerflow into the underworld? Possibly to the Monstrances if they still existed? SOMETHING had to be powering that link – and it had to possess a powerful pull to overcome the link to Lytek’s cabinet
Did enough anguish to start the process of death break down some of the links to the Exaltation, allowing the pesky monstrance to be hooked to the now-exposed anchorpoints? From what he’d heard, whether they liked it or not, and whether there were Deathlords and Monstrances or not, Abyssals were inevitably drawn to death – and what better initial draw than the actual experience? There was an opportunity; there had to be a moment between when the soul broke the last links with the body and when the higher and lower souls separated. Now, if the monstrances were gone… the souls of the last owner, in the course of being drawn to oblivion, would link them to oblivion as they passed into it – if it was possible to link to nothingness. Still, there was necrotic magic; oblivion had power, even if it was negative power… An anti-universe?
If that was the case… since he’d prevented the prior owner’s souls from being drawn into oblivion – it might be possible to disengage the residual links. They had to extend through elsewhere – everything did, since it was an N-dimensional realm. If those were broken though… It might just vanish – perhaps back to Lytek’s cabinet? – since those were presumably the main hold on it.
There were several possibilities there; sending someone in, blocking access to elsewhere, trying to transfer them to a more healthy holder, or simply trying to cut the links. If Exaltations WERE world-bodies, compacted through elsewhere as they might be… from some dimensional viewpoint they would be full-sized. Finding that route… would be pretty hard. Fortunately, an Exaltation on it’s own wouldn’t actively block investigation. If he could just find the link, he could create a manse with a gate to follow it… There were Sidereal Charms and other forms of Gates that might work too of course – but manse gates were VERY hard to block, and could easily reach almost anywhere imaginable – and so it was worth a try!
It would probably be best to send in a probe first though!
Lytek, meanwhile, was looking thoughtful and somewhat sad…
Charles tried to divert him by explaining – which merely gave Lytek something else to worry (and to briefly flicker) about; constructing specialty manses as probe-tools? It wasn’t like he didn’t know that Charles built manses very very quickly indeed – but it was beginning to sound like he was considering ways to simply build them around opponents!
Charles, meanwhile, was planning… either solar-aspected to be as undisturbing as possible – and to help a bit with the energy-balance – or abyssal, which would make things easier… Wait! There was no reason why you couldn’t include “Exotic Aspect” in some Dynamic Architecture, so he could make it both!
That notion made Lytek flicker again – but Charles felt that it would balance things out nicely! And Lytek could ease things further with his Dropper of Effacious Calibration – although he flickered yet again.
Charles wasn’t inclined to let any Abyssal Energies into Aden if he could possibly avoid it though – so he picked out an extrasolar planet. That way there would be room for more manses as needed!
He randomly selected a site well out across the universe, set up a gate for Lytek (it would work better if he was at the site where the link would be set up – and Charles wouldn’t dream of meddling with his domain without him being there anyway) – and started setting up defenses… Working on an abyssal domain on a dead world could be trouble anyway, even if they weren’t meddling with one of the most potent forces in the universe… There might be backlash or something, and that called for more aides!
Besides a Deathlord or something might show up – and it certainly wouldn’t do to allow some sort of attack or kidnaping attempt on Lytek!
Lytek brought some of his trusted personnel, too, just in case. Besides, he needed someone there to record this!
Charles had brought along Chaffri the Traveler, Malinda the Diviner, and Uthorian (Master of Wyld Thaumaturgy and Raksha Powers) to seek out the route, and Gothmug and some Balgrogs to handle perimeter security. He’d invited Righteous Hala too – and she’d had her questions, and been a bit floored at the explanation – albeit not as she might have been; she was an Elder Lunar and her own understanding of geomancy was not insignificant!
(Hala) “It makes sense, in a strange way! Very well then… I’ve GOT to see this!”
(Charles) “Well, it’s only a theory – but it certainly seems like it’s worth a try!”
Hala surveyed the security arrangements – and found them reasonably through; assorted agents and wards, divine charms, geomantic manse effects (including a set of perfect privacy defenses), illusions to deceive normal senses and anyone who might somehow spy on the area, Gothmug’s perimeter traps, immutability, protection from unnatural mental influence, diseases, poisons, crippling, and various other effects, concealment of the geomantic shifts that erecting a manse would involve, and more – starting, of course, with the semi-random choice of location and a through search of the place before Lytek arrived.
Charles had consulted the Nocturnals as well. He suspected that Lytek wouldn’t want to consult a Sidereal… The Nocturnals might conceivably cause trouble – but on the evidence so far hd didn’t really think that the Abyssals were what they were here about.
Of those he’d met, Catherine, Astrid and Vaal were the most available. Vaal was actually not too far from Lytek’s office at the moment; he was running minor errands for Mr. Montague.
Charles asked him if he had a little time!
(Vaal) “Yeah, sure! Astrid said I should help you out if you asked. What do you need?”
(Charles) “Advice mostly! On a probe into a badly-corrupted artifact of considerable power!”
(Vaal) “Uhm… okay, I can do that! What kind of artifact?”
(Charles) “I’ve been asked not to discuss that outside of privacy wards. Is that all right?”
Vaal was pretty well floored when he got directions to the Bureau of Heaven. Wow! Him – a poor kid from the Celestial slums – going to the Bureau of Heaven!
Catherine was less surprised. She’d long known that Charles had some pretty serious connections. She’d been working on a little something of her own, but if the boss thought it was important it probably was. He was a pretty easygoing kid!
Chaffri brought them over – not that they really recognized him as being anything but a fairly powerful god.
The group gathered at an eerily still and gloomy demesne on an equally gloomy world… Dark enough to subdue even Vaal, who was excited because this was his first time leaving Yu-Shan. Catherine, however, was watching the absurdly massive precautions being set up and reinforced.
(Catherine) “This must be something big, boss. Now that you’ve got the wards set up, want to tell us?”
Charles had checked with Lytek first. Lytek had been quite reluctant – but, as natives of Yu-Shan, both of them know the value of secrecy. He’d said “yes” in the end.
(Charles) “Well, I’ll need you both to promise not to pass on this information … (they both agreed). Many thousands of years ago the Powers of the Underworld managed to seize and corrupt – or perhaps tarnish is more accurate – some Solar Exaltations. I managed to get ahold of some of them some time ago, and have been working with Lytek on a way to get them back to normal. I… haven’t been able to fully analyze them. Still, there’s a strong possibility that they have their own internal geomancy. Ergo, I’m going to try to construct a manse-gate that will grant access to the inside – if such an inside exists. This calls for some very elaborate protections indeed, most of which are now underway, and the help of a wide variety of entities. I thought that your presence might be helpful! If I don’t get it right… you might be able to shift things to where I did get it right so I could see what I did wrong!
(Vaal) “Whoa… um, this might be beyond me, but I’ll help as much as I can!”
(Catherine) “Yeah… you’ve helped me and Jose out a lot. It’s the least I can do.”
Besides… LYTEK was consulting CHARLES about the structure of Exaltations? He hadn’t been able to FULLY analyze them? If Charles hadn’t been so… unfailingly kind and helpful… Who or WHAT was she working for?
(Charles) “Oh – and this is Chaffri the Far-Traveler – he’ll be helping make sure the gate is stable – and Gothmug here is handling perimeter security, and Uthorian here will be helping with the navigation, as will Malinda, and…”
Introducing everyone went on for a bit.
Lytek and his aides showed up while that was going on, prompting a bit of a restart.
(Charles) “Hello everybody!”
Both Vaal and Catherine were quietly awed. Neither of them would have had any hope of meeting a god of his stature in their mortal lives. Vaal and Catherine bowed quite respectfully – but Lytek’s crew were pretty shocked to find themselves surrounded by a crew of Devas.
(Amris, Divine Clerk – very nervously) “My lord, what is this!?”
For a brief moment Charles struggled with the temptation to announce “It’s a service call! These are still under warranty!” – but he didn’t give in.
(Lytek, taking a deep breath) “These individuals mean us no harm. They are… friends of young Charles, loyal to him and his needs, and they are as benign as him. They intend to help us with this matter. I swear this on my honor as a functionary of the Bureaucracy.”
He had to invoke the Mandate of Divine Subordination on it; it was quite dismaying for gods to be surrounded by devas! Especially unknown ones – even if they did seem to be as benevolent and friendly as Charles was.
The work began, weaving together Uthorian’s wyld power to bring the impossible into reality, Malinda’s techniques for seeking through the spaces that were not, Chaffri’s unfailing power to locate routes, the weavings of the Loom of Fate to bypass the centuries that such a search would normally require, Charles’s Adenic thaumaturgies, Lytek’s unmatched knowledge of Exaltation, certain adaptive Lunar Charms, a bit of Nocturnal timeline-shifting, normal and wyld stunts, and vast reserves of essence fed by a geomantic network…
The necrotic essence resisted fiercely – and the project was of vast complexity. Despite the powers focused on the task, it required time – and something badly wanted to deny them that.
Righteous Hala had helped unify the groups efforts at first – but the manipulations soon got far beyond where she could assist directly. Patrolling the perimeter was more useful; Charles’s guards were powerful – but woefully inexperienced.
Chaffri and Malinda were tracing out what should be a route into the tainted shard when Hala and Vaal approached – and quite hurriedly too.
(Charles) “Oh dear! Is something up?”
(Vaal) “I spotted what I thought was a comet, but Hala said it looked like a black ship! She says that might be really bad!”
(Hala) “Sigh… away from Earth, Vaal, that usually means Abyssals or their agents.”
(Charles) “Bother! We’re fairly well hidden, but they probably want that Exaltation back!”
(Hala) “My thoughts exactly – and if they can’t find it, they probably know this area’s warded off.”
(Charles) “TWICE bother! And we still haven’t even fully confirmed that finding a route in is possible! This could still be a wrong track!”
(Catherine) “So what do we do? I’m sure Vaal and Lady Hala could hold them off, but we’ve got Lord Lytek here!”
(Charles) “Uhm… Gothmug? You’re the security specialist, and I bet you’ve studied all the likely opponents… Should I call in more forces and proceed or fall back? I don’t know how we could hide things any better; we already picked a random point in the cosmos for this!”
(Gothmug, with drama) “Oh woe! They must have incredible sensors on that ship to penetrate OUR defenses! I would dearly love to study those… I’ll summon some of the Balgrogs with the holy blades!” (He grinned.) “That should give them pause.”
(Catherine) “And I think Vaal and I can do SOMETHING to distract them.”
(Charles) “Shall I set up the consecration? I was worried that it might interfere with the gate-attempt.”
(Gothmug) “It would help! At any rate, we cannot allow Lord Lytek to fall into Abyssal hands!”
Lytek was quite busy ensuring that the shard didn’t just vanish to seek out a new host – to the point where he couldn’t focus too much on anything else.
(Charles, extending the consecration) “Very well! If we can just determine a route, the manse itself could be set up anywhere!”
Catherine and Vaal conferred briefly and slipped out of the warded area. They seemed intent on summoning something – perhaps a Fluctuation.
Whoever-it-was aboard the black ship provided Gothmug and the other defenders with quite an education as he, she, or it hammered through wards, material barriers, illusions, misdirections, spatial warps that turned things in the wrong direction, zones of chaos, dangerous environments, and dozens of other delaying tactics… Whatever was coming was… OLD power, and skilled in using it. Good enough to be fairly sure of what it could safely ignore…
Still, it was buying time… as it turned out, time enough for Lytek, Charles, and his Devas to find a route, despite the loud snarling and gnashing noises resounding some distance away. Still… now that they had a route, they could put up the gate-manse anywhere – and without the shard nearby for enemies to focus on. It had been safe enough so far in Lytek’s custody, and it was time to pull out. Back to Earth first – there was enough activity there to break the trail pretty throughly – and then getting Lytek back to Yu-Shan.
Catherine came back running when the call to retreat came.
(Catherine) “Dammit, they got Vaal!”
Charles’s stomach twisted. “Got him”? But he’d brought him along! Surely not…
(Catherine) “But… they didn’t kill him.”
(Charles, urgently) “How far out?”
(Catherine) “Well… we were ambushed. I didn’t see the attacker’s face, but Vaal suddenly froze solid. There was a blur that went that way. Whoever it was grabbed him like nothing.”
(Hala, seeing the look on Charles’s face) “If you’re about to do what I think you are, I’m coming with you!”
Charles reached up, sank his fingers into the structure of space and gravity – and wrapped strands of starlight around his fingers, swirling them into a collapsing spiral, a miniature wormhole and event horizon, here where Uthorian’s presence filled the area with chaos and his own fantasies might be made real, reflecting the shaping of space and time from the paces-wide reach of chaos of it’s beginning.
(Charles) “Nirharva, Nirupadhika, Sindiharta, what was once for this moment and by my will be again, the illusion of distance vanished… Vaal, by your name and self, BE HOME.”
Technically this was simply a Thaumaturgic Wyld Stunt – boosted by a channeled virtue and some style dice and his absurd levels of thaumaturgic enhancement – on the level of Solar Circle Sorcery; defining Vaal as being within range of his geomantic banishment and and Gothmug’s geomantic elsewhere-transfer no matter where he’d been taken. The principles of completion, the momentary and partial negation of the shaping of space – at least with regard to Vaal – and a few other tricks thrown in for good measure… What good were Shinma if you weren’t going to use them when you needed to?
For an instant, as far as Vaal was concerned… the universe was a rather small place, a shaping laid over dimensionless chaos – and he was home as much as he was anywhere, with geomancy anchoring him there as the universe regained it’s former dimensions.
Aboard a dark ship, an individual who’d thought he had someone who could tell him what was going on in that warded area – and if it was in fact a shard – was quite disappointed as Vaal disappeared. A shame, too! The teenager’s essence signature was one that he had never seen before!
Still, the powers that had taken him were at LEAST as interesting! Wyld Magic, Geomancy, and… at least two essence-types that were entirely new! And new factors in the game always meant new possibilities…
(Catherine) “Wow! Well, knowing you, that worked! At least the distraction went off.”
(Hala) “I was worried you were going to run off and try to save him.”
(Charles, absently) “I shouldn’t meddle with the Shinma too often! Things might get really weird if they start acting up!”
Vaal, called from Yu-Shan to try to find out what had happened… Something embarrassing had! He’d suddenly been unable to move!
(Hala) “Oh, the stories I’ve heard! But let’s go! We don’t want whoever it is finding us.”
(Charles) “Back to Earth and Yu-Shan then!”
And with the VERY interesting information that there was a route into an Exaltation – and THAT opened up all manner of possibilities… Even if it hadn’t gone perfectly, it had been a huge success!
Why did the ending theme from “Portal” keep running through his head though?
Meanwhile, poor Lytek was in something of a panic. Once he’d gotten the shard safely stowed away again he’d had a moment to reflect things…
(Lytek) “How on earth did they penetrate YOUR wards?”
(Charles) “Probably a deathlord! If they’re using oblivion… by definition, taking a shortcut through somewhere that doesn’t exist is impossible to block. It’s a risky approach for them to be using though! You can easly lose yourself amidst other possible universes that way! And my privacy wards may be perfect – but there’s no concealing that they’ve lost touch with something they have their hooks into, and that limits the possible locations to people using perfect privacy defenses – which are really rather rare. So; look for someplace where you can’t penetrate with divination – and if you look through oblivion, you can scan everywhere at once. Very bothersome! Doing that too much… will get you much worse than dead though!”
(Lytek) “A fortunate fact for us. I am glad we were able to hold out long enough for some progress!”
Lytek didn’t mention that – now that he had a moment – he was also considering Charles’s method of rescue… He’d called on the Shinma! And been answered! Manipulating the foundations of reality to rescue a single individual! What had he unleashed upon the cosmos? Solars a hundred times Charles’ age couldn’t do that! If the child used that power recklessly… It could be even more damaging than Wyldhand had been!
(Charles) “Well, I should be able to make a gate into it now! That… may not solve things, but it’s very likely a new approach!”
(Lytek) “And next time, if all goes well, you will not have to invoke the shinma to protect us.”
He was partially joking – but his aura was still quite dim.
(Charles) “Well, that is the easiest way to make sure you reach everywhere!”
(Lytek) “Oh yes… but one person? You had your Lunar mate – an experienced fighter – right there. Surely you could have sent her to save him?”
And not done something that could have had disastrously bad side effects… Even as it was, things might be strange in that area for a bit!
(Charles) “But he could have been taken almost anywhere!”
(Lytek, blinking) “I suppose so, but that kind of power… oh, never mind.”
It was his own fault after all – and at least Charles was being SOMEWHAT responsible with it… Still, he’d have to send Aikiko more assistance! And more funds! What were the four that he DIDN’T have his eye on up to?
(Lytek) “You have been more than helpful already… but did you find any Sidereals with those odd symptoms?”
(Charles) “Oh yes! Mr Montague had some sort of ache in his fingers. I didn’t see anything in a passing group – but I haven’t seen the Sidereals too much in the last month or two. None of the ones actually in Aden have shown any symptoms – but it’s almost impossible to have any there anyway.”
(Lytek) “That’s the young Joybringer, correct? That’s worrying. I do appreciate it, though…”
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