Back in Yu-Shan Righteous Hala was considering. She’d recognized Charles’s shinamaic meddling as a Wyld Stunt – albeit one of boggling power – but… he’d actually touched the Shinma. Sure you could do that the mightiest charms and (at least in legend) with Solar Circle Sorcery – but just to save one young man? Abyssals could be quite nasty even when they chose to let people live, but that was extravagant. There would be distortions in the region for quite some time – and the Abyssal who’d gotten him would definitely know that SOMETHING potent had been on that little planet.
Of course, that was Charles… Reckless extravagance in everything.
She wound up shaking her head – and resolving firmly to keep on doing what she had been doing: keeping an eye on Charles in case he did something REALLY reckless. She’d certainly insist on accompanying him into the Abyssal shard! That could be unthinkably dangerous – even if there was an attraction in being the first on record to attempt such a thing… It would be a legendary feat if it could actually be accomplished!
Charles was actually planning on some probes first. For all he knew, the Shard’s internal realm was full of reflected versions of the Neverborn playing poker.
On a distant world, an Abyssal Exalt was puzzling over the ODDEST collection of essence-traces. A… a committee of Devas, Jouten, Gods, Raksha, UNKNOWN Exalt types, and some things that were just weird… Wyld AND manse-based gate-energies with no gates, vast amounts of power devoted to laying out… a route across dimensions? Had an invasion force from another reality just touched down?
She recorded the Essence signatures as accurately as possible… She – and a few of her allies – would be looking for those again! An entity of THAT power – capable of meddling with the very foundations of the universe and willing to do so for trivial purposes – that ran because a small task force with only a couple of Exalts showed up? Even the behemoth that the kid she’d caught so temporarily had disappeared without a trace in minutes. Was it just an attempt to avoid notice? Whatever-it-was wasn’t doing it very well!
Sadly, they couldn’t use the oblivion penetration method that often; the shards’ loss had made it feasible, but it was at least as potentially wonky as monkeying with the Shinma was… What had happened to the blasted priceless things anyway? Rebelling was one thing – but it usually led to explosions, sabotage, and killing galore. Just… dropping off the map was WEIRD!
Back on Earth Aikiko had finished her discussion with the priests and gone quietly to bed – to spend some portion of the night contemplating “Dawn Hammer Style”. The next few days were spent on gently discouraging wannabees – and low-essence mortal masters; apparently the priests were wanting some cultivation of Essence – which was quite understandable given that supernatural powers were definitely involved…
A fair number of the final group actually had awakened essence and some mastery of Terrestrial Styles. That wasn’t too surprising, and was a final confirmation that something supernatural was coming up – but it was a potential worry; simply functioning just above mortal levels might not be enough against a terrestrial master – and doubling her costs to remain inconspicuous would be a terrific drain on her essence reserves. That was potential trouble! She could de-attune the artifacts she wasn’t using, but it wouldn’t help THAT much.
The final group wound up with sixty people – and eventually one of the priests called everyone to the tournament itself.
(Priest) “Welcome all of you to the Besi Hantuperajin. Here we will find five of you – the strongest in mind and body – to share in the Ri’kienthi. The winning team must include at least one grandmaster and one who has not yet fully awakened their inner power. The tournament is dangerous for all – and not merely to the body. The prizes of the Besi Hantuperajin are both great and terrible – and there is no shame in withdrawing. (He paused briefly) If you wish to proceed, please follow me to the arena below the temple.”
Nobody withdrew yet of course, although that might come after they heard something that they didn’t already know. There surely couldn’t be much harm in listening further!
Aikiko, trailing along, abruptly found herself with a serious problem though! There was a formidable ward in the way, backed with the geomantic power of a manse – and it did indeed include Solars. It wasn’t potent as one of Charles’s of course – but passing it was going to be quite expensive in terms of will, and would hurt quite a bit! Worse, if the physical damage was obvious it would raise questions!
Hm… It looked like it would be internal as usual – but it would be hard to maintain enough control not to show the pain… Still, she could probably handle it! Even if it contributed to her washing out of the tournament, she REALLY wanted to learn more about the place – ESPECIALLY since it was warded against Solars. That was really rare!
She barely managed to hide the pain – and it was a massive strain (5 successes, 6 will, 3L). That was one serious ward! With what had to be at least a fourth-rank manse backing it – and one of it’s functions was (obviously via deduction) concealment… Perhaps she ought to come up with a ward-circumventing Larceny Charm! Or at least a perfect soak and some way to reduce the will cost!
Still, while it had almost exhausted her will, she had made it through without betraying herself – and was now behind some pretty potent privacy wards.
The descent opened out into a massive circular hall, somewhere near the center of the manse. Essence was pouring in from several powerful dragon lines, and pouring through the people in the hall – and going somewhere after that. She couldn’t tell WHERE though. That was a bit weird… Oh, of course – essence cloaking effects. Still, that would be very useful to HER if she could figure out a way to acquire it for herself!
Even if she couldn’t… it looked like it would cover anything short of blatant powers – high-end animas and things like throwing energy bolts. She’d have to test that a bit later; it might work for her – but then Solar Essence was pretty blatant!
Anyway… the two priests and three somewhat elderly-looking types were stepping up on a raised area (there were several) and there were at least twenty other people of various ages sitting around the “arena” area.
(Priests): “Now that you are here, it is time for the last winners of the Ri’kienthi to demonstrate some minor aspects of the prize you will be competing for. The last competion for the Ri’kienthi was in 853 AD, and it’s current possessors are ready to lay down that burden.”
Wow! That was about the average Solar lifespan right there!
One of the elderly men stepped forward.
(Savryath) “Welcome the the Besi Hantuperajin! I am Savryath, once a warrior of Emperor Xianzong. I participated in the unification of China – and was sent as a scout into the lands beyond. I eventually participated in the Besi Hantuperajin – and since then my life has been very long – and very full of interest…”
(Savryath) “For the last twelve hundred years I have shared in the power of the Ri’Kienthi – and, as you have been informed, soon our group will no longer be able to do so; we are down to three members – and are growing old. Now… as for the prize for which you are competing… In modern terms, the Ri’Kienthi offers longevity, rapid healing, a selection of other enhancements – I would have said to the user’s Ki – and powers over the flow of universal energy; what is now, I am told, called electromagnetism. Doubts are – of course – expected. To demonstrate…”
Savryath showed off several tricks – the magnetic control of metal, force fields, the generation of energy-blasts, illusion-casting, and a few similar electromagnetic stunts.
(Savryath) “Most of those abilities will require a great deal of time and practice to develop – but many others are possible.”
Cool! She might or might not be able to acquire them if she won, but it was definitely something separate from her Solar stuff! And if she was any kind of judge at all, it was at least on a par with dragonblooded charms!
There was shock and murmuring among the contestants. Most of them were familiar with some mystical martial arts, but this went well beyond them; The Ri’kienthi seemed to tap into some pretty basic forces. Also… there were supposed to be at least fifty other prizes, and possibly a hundred or so. It was no punching people into different forms, but it appeared to be a good deal more versatile than that!
They hadn’t really discussed the price yet – but called a break to allow the possible contestants some time to talk it over before resuming after the evening meal. There were more elaborate quarters down here though. Really quite comfortable – if extremely old-fashioned.
The price had to be fairly hefty… Perhaps some form of major duties? Regardless, SOMEBODY was definitely powering up the mortals around here, and had been doing so for rather a long time – long enough for warding against Solars to be necessary unless someone was just being old and through. After all, Wenjioth had good reason to distrust Solars and he was GOOD at this stuff…
The rest of the evening mostly went to a few more demonstrations and to general discussion amongst the contestants. Informative in some ways – but unsatisfying.Still, that left things open for her to do a little late-night poking about! They were probably quite used to people sneaking around – martial artists were notorious for it – but she WAS pretty good at it.
Aikiko did spot several other people sneaking about – but none of them as good at it as she was.
It looked like… the manse was capable of granting part of it’s essence-covering effect to anyone who attuned to it, even at range. The main power flows… spiraled into the center of the arena, went straight down – and then vanished. That might be what was causing the cloaking effect; excess essence, including what normally went into displays, got drawn off.
Those were some neat powers! She’d have to ask Charles about them! As far as she knew, he was the only one who currently did that “use manse powers at range” thing. Some sort of wyld-based tweaking of the usual rules there… The place seemed to have a lot of other powers too; some sort of gate, illusion generation, more law-tweaking, healing… Was the gate where the essence went? That would explain the way that it just vanished. It would take a week to explore the place though; it was large and elaborate enough to host five or six hundred people.
Shortly thereafter someone – it sounded like the priest – quietly whispered in her ear despite being nowhere near her.
(Priest) “Hello Ms Aikiko! Can I help you? We do have thirteen other wanderers so far…”
She was startled for a moment – but then recalled the powers he’d demonstrated
(Aikiko) “Just having a look around!”
(Priest) “A very high proportion of our guests do find things a bit unbelievable and wish to look around. Few, however, are nearly as difficult to trace as you are! You are to be congratulated… You also seem to have some internal injuries at the moment. They must have been quite serious to even leave traces at this point.”
Uh oh! Hmm. Well, at least he seemed more curious than suspicious…
(Aikiko) “I’ve been in some accidents, doing parkour.”
(Priest) “Within the past day?”
Oops! Considering that this fellow probably lived here, he probably knew how the ward functioned – and, while she could probably take one or two, maybe even three, of these guys on, the whole bunch was kind of doubtful! Not to mention they HAD been nice to her, and she didn’t even know if she COULD use the prize in the first place!
Besides… while the prize would be nice, it would only be a side benefit of the investigation – and they might be fundamentally weaker than she was, but at least three of them had more than a thousand years worth of experience. Not to mention the priests and the observers…
(Aikiko, shrugging and whispering) “Okay, you got me. Well, OK, the ward did, but I think that counts as you getting me!”
(Priest) “I cannot distinguish between the Destiny-weavers, the Children of the Moon,and the Lawgivers so readily – but I can tell that you were affected by the Ward and are not one of the Children of the Elements. Would you care to reveal your nature? It is not required, but I would consider it polite.”
(Aikiko) “I’m a Lawgiver, sir!”
(Priest) “Ah. I suppose that was inevitable at some point now that you have returned… We shall have to talk.”
(Aikiko) “I figured that was coming. Talking’s fine; I’m actually surprised I made it this far in!”
(Priest) “The Lawgivers… have always been superb at anything they set their minds to doing… (Sigh) If only they did not so often set their minds towards goals that were… unwise at best.”
What, didn’t that kind of come with Exaltation in general?
(Priest) “Still, at least you seem more sensible so far – and relatively young. Shall we speak tomorrow? We shall be conducting final interviews and perhaps forming the initial teams then.”
(Aikiko) “Certainly, sir!”
That was a fair compliment! She’d been working hard on her self-discipline lately!
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