The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice CXXX – The Lava of the Lamp

Pyroclastic flows at Mayon Volcano, Philippine...

Yes, that IS mildly cranky!

Aikiko sighed; the kid was still trying to be soothing, and asking for patience; he’d “remind the humans to offer proper respect” – but it was hardly surprising that the long-neglected angry god of volcanic disasters seemed to be irrationally hot-tempered. She couldn’t imagine a disaster god being overly patient. At least he was only gesturing with his blade of molten orichalcum – and she had to admit that it DID make a very dramatic pointer!

Said angry god was currently pointing at a rough map of the coastline and environs shaped from the molten stone at the moment – sketching out where a tidal wave would be suitable or where a nice pyroclastic flow might go.

At least that was only over a few smaller villages; the city was a bit far down the coast for a normal pyroclastic flow. Huh! Botheration! He was still doing his job properly! He was being nicely consistent about how things ought to go… He was just…. tired of restraining things for humans who had forgotten all about him and the others.

(Rikandithu) “If they’re going to LIVE ON A VOLCANO and NOT SAY THEIR PRAYERS then they have NO ROOM TO GRIPE ABOUT IT WHEN IT KILLS THEM! Maybe THAT will make them respect the powers of nature again!”

It was hard to argue with that, but how could they know that they needed to pray when they didn’t know that he existed? Worse… the youngster was being entirely too honest! Rather than promising that he would have the mortals pray to the volcano gods, he was only promising that he would remind them of how important it was, rather than promising that they WOULD pray properly. That wasn’t going to help with a god; gods… wanted certainties. Not “I’ll give it a try!”. Now a nice pyroclastic cloud… THAT was a CERTAINTY.

Still… that did sound awfully similar to someone else she knew!

(Aikiko, quietly, to the humans) “Is he aware that gods are… concrete in their needs and feelings?”

(Temerinthia, F, Air) “He’s very young… I don’t think so, but this is sort of last-resort! I hope we can get out of here if it goes wrong though! I’d rather not be buried in a magma pool under a mountain!”

(Aikiko, still quietly) “Urgh… it doesn’t look like the god’s going to negotiate for much longer. I’m going to try and tell him.”

(Temerinthia) “I… suppose you’re right. Damn! This is likely to kill MILLIONS!”

(Aikiko) “Well, we’ve got to try everything we can to stop that.”

Trying to open a telepathic link with the boy got nowhere – so she fell back on walking over. Sure, it might make things worse – but it was difficult to see how!

And time seemed to… stop around her, for everyone but him and her, as she started to talk – even if it would obviously be impossible to do anything BUT talk.

(Aikiko) Huh! “Hey there! Mind if I help out? Aikiko Tanaka, by the way!”

(Shpaiki) “I’m Idihawa Shpaiki, and I’m pleased to meet you! And not at all! This spirit simply isn’t being reasonable at all!”

(Aikiko) “Nice to meet you too, Idihawa! Anyway… gods deal in concrete things! Your promise to remind the people around the volcano how important it is to pay respect to him is good! I’m sure you could convince at least some of them to do it, and he’d love prayer after so long. But he wants to be told that they WILL pray to him.”

It seemed likely that the kid wouldn’t want to do that – he WAS a Guardian, after all, but she’d feel remiss if she didn’t tell him how these things usually worked.

(Shpaiki) “But I can’t FORCE them to pray to him!”

(Aikiko) “I thought you’d say that… you remind me of one of my friends! But maybe you could tell him you’d do that for him, and explain to them why they need to once we’re up on the surface? I’m not sure how much longer he’ll be willing to negotiate with you. I’m sure you could find some way of convincing the people above!”

(Shpaiki) Well, drat! Still… I suppose that there are at least a few who would try anything!

(Aikiko) “There’s always some… and it’s worth a try! We can’t let all those people upstairs suffer. This is a pretty nice stasis effect… how are you powering it?”

(Shpaiki) “Oh, I made it a rule! around me there’s ALWAYS time for talking! You can’t do anything else, and it can be a bit weird when it comes to thinking about time – but it works pretty well! It works on earth-forces!”

(Aikiko) “Cool, like a Manse? You and my friend might have to talk sometime, after we finish up here!”

Oh dear. Just like Charles! So trusting!

(Shpaiki) “Er, manses are those really old magical buildings? Because it’s a lot like them!”

(Aikiko) “Yeah! My friend knows a LOT about Manses. I might have to introduce you two when we finish here…”

(Shpaiki) “That would be handy! I’ve been sort of guessing on a lot of things!”

(Aikiko) “He can definitely help you out, then… and I’ll let you get back to negotiating. I don’t think we can make it much worse.”

(Shpaiki) “Should I just try to play for a few weeks then? I can probably get THAT. They… don’t seem to be in a big hurry!”

(Aikiko) “Well, that’s another thing about gods… they think on a slower time scale than humans. You might be able to get away with a couple of months. Actually… you might want to make that days! It has been a while since he’s received prayer – and gods get really grumpy about it. I wouldn’t go over a couple of weeks! For a god, this is a pretty extreme situation!”

(Shpaiki) “Well, it’s worth a shot! Who knows what will come up by then?”

Aikiko agreed – and watched time start to flow again as she stopped talking to young Shpaiki. She stuck close though; she wasn’t sure what defenses he had, and if he did need help she wanted to be nearby.

Fortunately, Shpaiki was pretty persuasive, even if he wasn’t using UMI… He eventually got past Rikandithu’s ongoing rant.

(Rikandithu) “Very well! You have until the End of the Cycle of Selene! Then, when you have failed to bring the humans back to the proper ways, I shall restrain the fires and the waters no longer!”

A bit of frantic checking showed that that was… twelve days, presuming he went to the exact dark of the moon. It could be eleven with bad luck. Still, either way, that was better than she’d really expected the kid to get! At worst, it would give them some time for an evacuation!

Of course, after five hundred years… he might have been planning that timing anyway. Drama; the dark of the moon, the best time to display your volcanic fireworks, and the least time for warnings of the tidal wave.

As the various Volcano Gods sank back into their sanctums, and their power passed from the chamber… the magma suddenly began rising, the mountain shuddered, and the tunnel roof cracked!. Oh, bother… that was probably Rikandithu’s lost temper manifesting as an eruption.

(Shpaiki) “Oh dear! If it collapses before we get out… it’s going to be REALLY hard to talk it into opening up again!”

Huh! This all-the-communications-you-want-in-an-instant thing was really pretty handy! All the planning time that you could ever want…

(Aikiko) “Mmm… I can run pretty fast, but I’m not sure about the rest of you!”

(Shpaiki) “Well… I can let them (indicating the two terrestrials) in for the moment!”

(Aikiko) “Okay, great!”

Time returned as Shpaiki frantically ushered the two terrestrials through a gate that opened in a nearby crevice (Hm; the same energies as at the village! That pretty much clinched it!). After that though it only took a moment for Aikiko to realize that she had more and better athletics charms than Shpaiki – and his portals were obviously a lot like Charles’s basic portals. They only formed near him or his last location – so if HE didn’t get out physically… anyone inside would be stuck under a mountain! Gah!

Aikiko grabbed Shpaiki once the Terrestrials had made it through the gate.

(Aikiko) “Sorry, but I don’t want us getting stuck in there!”

Aikiko kicked in her Athletics Charms, Cheetah Speed from the Behemoth Cloak, and several other boosts to get up to a hundred miles per hour or so… even she didn’t dare go much faster than that through twisting, collapsing, volcanic tunnels. It meant going four-legged and bounding along with a younger teenager on her back – but if that was what it took, so be it!

That led to a mad dash through the twisting tunnels, ahead of the oncoming blasts of flame and collapsing tunnels, leaping fire-belching fissures, diving through curtains of falling magma, running up the walls, dodging falling rocks or using them as stepping-stones (with many motes spent and various rolls), and evading assorted avalanches… Fortunately the vast majority of the damage couldn’t penetrate the Behemoth Cloak – although Shpaiki was not so lucky, and took some injuries (albeit nothing critical) from environmental hazards that he didn’t have defenses against yet. Sneakers and feet pounding the rock of the tunnels hard enough to generate sparks, and leaving a trail of shimmering sunlight as she ran, Aikiko leaped, turned, and bounced off rocks and falling rocks as necessary to come hurtling out of the tunnels just ahead of belching flames and a fountain of lava as the lava flows rolled out into the woods and the flames rose.

Gah! If she was going to be doing THIS sort of thing a lot, she’d have to drop by Charles’s solar academy and see what she could pick up! At the moment though… she sent up some prayers in hopes of soothing the volcano god’s angry nerves.

At least this wasn’t a full-scale eruption! It was just an expression of him being cross – a little (rather literal) venting. Come to think of it… Rikandithu was evidently a pretty powerful god! She didn’t want to see him when he was actually angry!

Meanwhile, however, Giancarlo was very insistent about finding out where his younger sister was! Was she still trapped inside?

(Aikiko) “The kid stowed her and her companion in one of his gates.”

(Giancarlo, somewhat blankly) “Er… How the hell does that work?”

(Aikiko) “He summoned a gateway in the cave side and they went through it!”

(Giancarlo) “But wouldn’t that mean that they were stuck there?”

Huh. From what little she recalled… it did work that way with some pocket-gate artifacts and with Sanctums – but a lot of other gadgets, like those packs that just held unreasonable amounts of stuff, were mobile, and Shpaiki had said that his gate travelled with him… Still, if the kid really did have a world-body like Charles, she didn’t want to just blow it for him if he wanted to keep it a secret.

Shpaiki was taking a bit of recovery time – but it wasn’t like he didn’t have to let them out anyway. He sighed and opened up another in a convenient tree-root arch and let the two out again. They hadn’t gotten very far in anyway; HIS gate-area fairly well secured in a manse…

Explaining that they had roughly ten days to establish a substantial cultof the volcano gods wasn’t exactly easy – but it wasn’t totally unanticipated either.

(Aikiko) “At least that gives us some time for an evacuation, if we are unable to do that.”

Giancarlo groaned. That was going to be fun trying to explain. They could probably convince at least some people to do it though – maybe more if they just faked something! After all, once it happened… it wouldn’t matter if the evidence that had led to an evacuation was flawed.

Aikiko sighed… At least they had a little time – which was probably about the best that could be expected. She had to help Shpaiki get back to town though… It didn’t look like he was used to major injuries. This was going to be heck to explain to his parents!

(Aikiko) “Are you feeling okay, other than the burns? We need to get you some kind of environmental protection, if you’re going to talk to spirits often.”

(Shpaiki) “Er… it seems to be getting a bit better… So many of the spirits in there just wouldn’t listen! I’ve never had that happen before!”

(Aikiko) “I think that was not being prayed to for a long time, and being fire spirits! They tend to be pretty temperamental! But you did good… even if we can’t get a cult set up, you’ve given those villages time to evacuate.”

(Shpaiki) “That’s going to be a hard sell! A lot of the people around here are strict roman catholics!”

(Aikiko considered) “Yeah… I’m not good on my Catholicism. Is there a saint of volcanic eruptions? Maybe we could talk him into accepting worship from that.”

Of course, then they’d have to convince the god to ally up with Ahlat, and that it would be good for Ahlat… oh dear, she really wasn’t very good at celestial diplomacy.

(Shpaiki) “That really is awkward! I might be able to get a small cult started, but volcano gods are REALLY out of fashion!”

(Aikiko, sighing) “They are known for REALLY harsh sacrificial desires, too. NOBODY is going to react well if he starts demanding human sacrifices!”

(Shpaiki) “Well, I can at least TRY to arrange some prayers anyway!”

(Aikiko) “Well, we’ll see… maybe we can talk him into accepting that for now, and trying to grow the cult. If he gets worship, he might give them some stuff in return. That will help with getting more cult members.”

Hopefully it wouldn’t be making them magmathrowers… that might make more trouble for the local Terrestrials!

(Shpaiki) “Well… at the worst… it’s a little more time.”

Poor kid! Obviously enough, he’d been expecting that he could fix it – and was now rather depressed about it. At a guess, he’d rarely failed this way. She could imagine Charles feeling the same way!

(Aikiko) “Look… not everything can be fixed THAT fast! But you’re… well, like me! You’ve got more tools for doing it than just about anybody else. And like I said, you stopped the disaster that was about to happen right now! You gave the Terrestrials some breathing room, too!” (She’ll smile.) “Sometimes that’s the best we can do.”

The kid perked up a bit with that – and started brainstorming ideas for getting to work on that cult… Still, if he couldn’t manage to make pretty good progress there inside a week… he’d have to start working on the evacuation. Also, seeing a doctor. Burns were PAINFUL.

Aikiko checked to make sure that he had the cash for that – and noted that he had some divine aid anyway; he seemed to have a fair number of minor gods / “animal spirits” about. Were those his equivalent to Charles’s Devas?

Nah, there were obviously fairly minor entities. Still, she’d have to introduce him to Charles. That way, they could give each other ideas!

(Aikiko) “Well… I think it would be helpful if I introduced you to my friend! When would you like to meet him? He’s a LOT like you!”

Shpaiki obviously kind of doubted that – but he certainly didn’t mind meeting people!

(Aikiko) “Okay!”

She called Charles.

(Charles) “Oh hello there Aikiko! What’s up?”

(Aikiko) “Uh, Charles, I met this kid in Argentina. I think he has a world-body too! Want to talk to him?”

(Charles) “Really? How’d that happen? But sure! That would be pretty interesting!”

(Aikiko) “Well, we’ll be heading in right now…”

Gah! Not only was Charles opening remote gates, but Aden was obviously even bigger than it had been on her last visit! Surely there had to be an upper limit!

(Aikiko) “Okay, we’re in Aden now. This is Charles’ inner space, and it’s pretty neat.”

(Shpaiki) “Whoa… this “Charles” must be ANCIENT!”

(Aikiko) “Actually… he’s your age. MAYBE a little older. I’m pretty sure his grandpa is ancient, though!”

(Shpaiki) “How’d he get so much in here then?”

(Aikiko) “I’m… honestly not sure, though I think he boosts his Essence a lot! He’s pretty powerful for his age.”

Aikiko mostly stayed out of the introductions except to answer a few questions. It didn’t seem right to meddle in the business of younger kids. Besides… it was normal enough in many ways. The usual introductions and things…

At least until it got to a comparison of inner worlds. For good or ill… Shpaiki’s only included a half a dozen manses, and only seven waypoints or so. It was still a nice place of hills and nature spirits – but it’s blatantly an auxiliary thing, rather than his major focus.

(Aikiko) “That’s pleasant… do you have a name for it?”

(Shpaiki) “Not really!”

Aikiko shrugged. It was really up to him whether or not he named it!

(Shpaiki) “But… how did Charles manage to get the POWER to make so many manses? Doing it is… pretty draining! Except for a few speciality things, it’s a LOT easier to do things with your own powers!”

Aikiko looked questioningly to Charles for that one. It wasn’t like she knew much about manses!

(Charles) “Hrm! But manses are EASY to build! Oh, wait… are you… building them, or are you just manifesting them somehow?”

(Shpaiki) “Well… they just… grow sometimes when you REALLY need them! But it takes a LOT out of you!”

(Aikiko) “Wait, you mean you do it SPONTANEOUSLY? Charles, you’ve almost always formed them deliberately, right?”

(Charles) “Well yeah! It’s a lot of work, and takes a lot of power… but once you design them it doesn’t really take anything out of you permanently; after all, even normal humans can make them!”

(Aikiko smiled) “Charles is great at designing Manses.”

(Charles, speculatively) “Hm… If he’s been doing it directly… he must be letting his own energies take shape… I suppose he doesn’t even have to know how they work to do it that way – but I bet you don’t even know the major possibilities, do you?”

Shpaiki had to admit that he didn’t; he hadn’t had much formal occult training. In fact… he seemed to be a lot more typically Solar; the power just came to him.

That was interesting! Aikiko had to wonder what he was using instead! Sure, raw power could substitute for training in many ways – at least in Solars – but was he using his personal constitution (Resistance)? His strength of character (Integrity)? He… sounded a LOT more typical! He might have picked up some of the world-body tricks, and learned to grow a few manses – but FAR more of his charms were the kind of stuff that SHE’D started off with – excellencies in his persuasive and diplomatic skills, some basic defenses, and so on. All the semi-instinctive stuff – rather than being trained in thaumaturgy and sorcery and artificing from the very beginning like Charles. (Not nearly as much of an occult base to experiment with – it was hard to beat a grandfather who might or might not be a powerful supernatural being and had access to Yu-Shan – but basically… he’d been USING the power directly, not studying it and building. And that had made the difference in many ways it seemed – although he hadn’t been doing badly for himself at all! He was obviously pretty good in his specialty – but he was focused on getting along with people, not trying to rebuild creation. That gave her an idea!

(Aikiko) “Hey Shpaiki, what do you think about colonizing space?”

Not too unexpectedly, Shpaiki had never thought about it much. It did sound like a good idea, but how would you get there?

With a nod from Charles (who was curious as to how it looked to other people anyway) – it WAS his plan after all! – Aikiko filled Shpaiki in on Charles’s plans for interstellar colonization.

(Shpaiki) “That’s… pretty large-scale! And he’s doing this NOW?

The thought was pretty obvious… he couldn’t be more than twelve!

(Aikiko) “Not quite yet… how many more months, Charles?”

(Charles) “About two now!”

Mar “Wow. It’s coming up fast there… what’s the closest gate to Atlanta, Charles? Or were you sticking one there? I’m going to have to watch the first people leave!”

Charles cheerily provided the full list. It wasn’t like it was a secret – and there were several sites (mostly transit hubs or to-be transit hubs) where quite a few would be opening.

(Aikiko) “Thanks!”

(Charles) “You’re welcome!”

(Aikiko) “Anyway, what do you think of what you see? If you two worked together, I think you could get a lot more done.”

Actually she had a hard time imagining how Charles could do that; he seemed to be trying to fix the entire universe in one go regardless!

(Charles) “Hrm… Well, I could help him install some manses! That way he wouldn’t have to fuel thing with his own energies! And that wouldn’t take too long at all!”

(Aikiko) “What do you think Shpaiki? That’d free up a lot of motes for you to use on other things.”

(Shpaiki) “Er… well, all right! As long as it doesn’t take too long! I have to get that cult started!”

Aikiko watched, mostly to get Shpaiki’s reaction – which was interesting. Hm… Charles seemed to be focusing on utility-and-support for the first few…

Huh! Shouldn’t she be more impressed?

Nah! After all… he’d terraformed a world with what looked like less of a fuss!

(Aikiko) “Hey Charles, why not give him some place where he can negotiate with and impress spirits? He seems to deal with them a lot. And maybe some better armor! The Behemoth Cloak was a real lifesaver back there!”

(Charles) “OK! That should be manageable! I’m glad it worked well! What was happening? Your friend here was kind of burned when he arrived!”

Charles threw in better armor (with environmental functions so he wouldn’t get burned again, albeit a bit less combative than the Behemoth Cloaks) and some inter-dimensional communications links, and other handy bits while Aikiko explained at some length.

(Aikiko) “I’m not sure if we can deliver, but at the worst, he bought the Terrestrials time for evacuation.”

(Charles) “Oh dear! Well… I can send someone down to shield the area; if there HAS to be a tidal wave… it doesn’t have to be allowed to destroy the area – and Shpaiki can pitch it as showing the forbearance of the volcano god, who should thus get some worship and offerings!”

(Aikiko) “Good idea… I don’t think the Terrestrials will be able to cover that up-but in a couple of months, there’s going to be stuff they just CAN’T cover up.”

(Charles) “Well… the more people who see it, the more will find a motivation to pray to the natural disaster god, and the more likely he is to be satisfied – so that’s all right!”

(Aikiko) “I wasn’t disagreeing. I was just saying because you’d know somebody would make a fuss, and want to know who did that!” (She looks thoughtful.) “They were pretty pleasant, though.”

(Charles) “Well… I think that having half their territory swept away would really be a problem for them too – and most of them know a LOT more normal people than other terrestrials these days!”

(Aikiko) “Yeah, you’re right… geez, the paranoia from the other Exalts must be contagious!”

(Charles) “Well… there won’t be any point in trying to cover things up very soon, so… they might as well go along with it. I… haven’t even heard too many protests about the ads, although they may just think that someone is being silly.”

(Aikiko) “You might not be trying hard enough… maybe film a TV ad on some planet the Sidereals know about and purchase some time?”

(Charles) “That might be a good idea! Although they can do a LOT with special effects these days – especially if they film at Toho! Those guys are GOOD!”

(Aikiko) “You’re telling me. Hmm… I wonder what they’ll have me act in next.”

Actually, the next offer came in a couple of days later – offering Aikiko a role in “Samurai-X” – a sort of X-Men / Samurai movie featuring quasi-superheroes defending Japan against a Demon Onslaught. It would have lots of “casualties” and a final grim triumph at a great price! Aikiko was being offered the part of one of the younger “students” with explosive energy powers who would “die” most heroically holding one of the dimensional breaches long enough for her boyfriend to seal it with HIS powers. He too would die later on, looping a gate into the sun to strike back at the demon world in her memory.

Aikiko took it of course; Superheroes were fun, especially when you arguably were one! And a heroic death was a LOT better than dying like a chump! It wasn’t at ALL a bad part, even if it did call for more athletics and martial skills than pure acting. Still, that was her skillset at the moment and the casting director really was quite good at it. Might as well use his rising young star!

Besides, it was always good to have a source of income that wasn’t connected to a supernatural realm – and acting in major films did pay quite well! And she could do her own English dubbing, which was a BIG plus! It sounded a lot better and was easy on the budget!

And… if it got her more attention from Mechagodzilla, at least she now knew that he had SOME idea of covert operations – even if it WAS donning a fey artifact hat. Of course… the entire idea of Stealth-MechaGodzilla is MORE than silly enough to qualify for fey attention.

Lytek was pleased, if a bit shocked, at Aikiko’s first Solar Guardian find… He’d really been rather hoping that the entire world-body line of development would be something more-or-less unique to Charles! While this boy seemed to be FAR more typically solar in most ways, and his world-body was minuscule and terribly undeveloped in comparison to Aden, the fact that he’d started developing one – and a small population of divine allies – more or less INSTINCTIVELY argued that either HE’D unleashed something with his tinkering – or that Charles had somehow created a new path of transcendence which was now open to anyone like him!

Meanwhile Aikiko, with different – but probably not fewer – worries was off to Kyrgyzstan. That report didn’t really sound much like another Guardian, but it CERTAINLY sounded like something that needed to be dealt with!

Charles was still shying away from speculations about Devon – and from trying to find out just what had happened to him. He WAS awfully busy – and it was possible that Devon had planned it that way – but mostly he was nervous on the topic of Devon because he wondered just how much of his life Devon had pre-planned.

Had Devon planned out his next exaltation, picked him, and made sure to set up most of his life? Was he currently hanging around making sure that Charles’s life went according to plan? It would be hard to put much past a solar sorcerer with 40,000+ years of experience and Devon was known for his dedication to order and planning and for his connections to the pattern spiders.

For all HE knew Devon was still around, and had just made a NEW exaltation of his own design (after all, after a mere six year’s HE’D come surprisingly close) and given it to him – which would be why it brought no memories and such – and he was just an ultimate diversion; it might not be beyond a 40,000 year old solar sorcerer to transfer the lunar bond too… He might even have made new exaltations open to tinkering! He would know that Lytek would have a hard time resisting tinkering, even if he hadn’t known about the Curse – and it was hard to see how anyone missed that!