The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice CXXXVII – The Outer Limits

The mask of indestructible ice, both refuge and embodiment, glinted with the timeless light of elder stars – torn from the sky by Ice-That-Grinds-The-Heavens in the long-forgotten youth of the world and taken into himself. Thus had he broken his destiny, and claimed a portion of the power of the heavens and fate for himself – forging a place for the Eternal Ice, and the timeless clarity of the winter night and it’s glimpses of hidden stars, that would endure as long as Creation.

It lent to thoughts a certain icy clarity – and the detachment of ages. Despite the brilliant glow of the simulated life of Coruscant, a cold anger pulsed, pulling hoarfrost and rime from the air to trace glittering tapestries across the walls. The ongoing blasphemy at the Tombs was unabated. Those concepts were not to be meddled with any longer! If the Exalted had wished to keep them they should not have murdered them… Now even he could not contemplate their true forms without risking losing portions of his mind in the holes that had been torn in Creation. To attempt such a piecemeal re-embodiment. How presumptuous and disgusting of them!

Yet dropping hints to the remaining Celestial Exalted had produced little in the way of results. They were too distracted by the current state of Creation to recognize an urgent problem… Would he have to take action himself?

In deep space, Charles, the Tsunami, and its passengers were well away from the solar system, and were passing near a mighty nebula; the display of gases and forming stars was magnificent!

It was not unappreciated. Charles had been was too distracted by Skoll – and Aikiko’s current predicament – to have made at all sure that all the astronomers he’d invited along for the first part of hist trip had actually gone back to Earth. In fact, most of them had been stalling – easy enough given how obliging Charles’s staff was. A trip to the literal far end of the cosmos? They wouldn’t miss that for ANYTHING!

The crew was keeping the astronomers well away from Skoll and Charles of course (a simple private section of the bridge did very nicely). After all, Charles was busy trying to persuade Skoll that things had changed a lot – and, after Aikiko had (more than happily) filled him in on what it had said about it’s mission – that it’s mission was more than a bit obsolete!

(Charles, to Aikiko) “Uhrm… that’s about half done isn’t it?”

(Aikiko) “Yeah, but he wants to make sure I’m telling the truth, and report back to the Mask of Winters!”

(Charles) “Glur? But… (thinking back) Err… the last anyone heard from the Mask of Winters was… I think… before the Reshaping, when the Wyld overran his holdings in reality and the underworld! He’s gonna be HARD to report back to!… Maybe I should ask Galileo to see if HE knows anything – but I’m not sure we’d really want to find him anyway!”

(Aikiko) “Well, it’s not going to let me out until it’s satisfied, so…”

(Charles) “That’s a problem! It… would be really hard to stop it, and if we did it might dump you in the deep wyld!

(Aikiko) “That’d be a pain…”

(Charles) “Well… you can probably come up with something given time of course. After all, it was designed to hold the Sun, not a young Solar who can develop new charms… Huh. Computer oriented charms didn’t even EXIST when it was built… That might take you months though! So… we need to FIND a Deathlord who vanished thirty thousand years ago, get to him or her, and then survive the experience… This is going to be tricky!”

(Aikiko) “You’re telling me. I don’t know that much about the Underworld, either.”

(Charles) “Um… I might be able to run a gate in to you – but that pocket realm was designed to contain the Sun and warded by a Deathlord. I’d want to study it first – and merely being in the underworld shouldn’t make any difference when I DO run a gate… Stand by for an emergency rescue if necessary and keep analyzing otherwise?”

(Aikiko) “That works!”

(Charles) “OK then!”

Sadly, the first attempt was a disappointment; pointing out how much larger Creation was these days didn’t inspire Skoll to abandon it’s attempt to find the Mask of Winters; it just meant that it would have to allow more time to search it for his creator!”

Bother! Could they sneak up on Skoll and make it smarter? It would be unpleasant to damage it after all! It WAS a very impressive piece of work, even if it needed some substitutions when it came to the souldsteel bits. There were things about artificing that he could learn from it!

For all of Charles’s monomania and manses and tools… there were nuances of artifice that it would take exploring other areas to develop – plus, of course, there were resources and procedures available to the Deathlords that Charles simply would not use.

And it was hard not to wonder… What would happen if it DID swallow a Sun-Avatar? So far as he knew… the Incarnae neither developed not changed. If Skoll had indeed compensated for the Sun’s ability to remotely tap the Daystar – a resource that HE’D certainly never heard of before – did the Sun have any other tricks in reserve that would allow him to escape?

One thing was for sure, though: it was a bit hard to see through the dust of the nebula… The astronomers were quite excited, though! It was yet another formerly-inconceivable opportunity to see an interstellar feature up close!

Despite several further efforts, it seemed that there was on dissuading Skoll; it had concluded that it needed to check on the status of the Underworld, and the Underworld it was going to check. Fortunately, Charles had gates for that – and Aikiko was in favor of whatever would be easiest and fastest. Given that she wasn’t a part of Skoll’s main objective she was pretty sure that she could out-argue and out-logic it once she had time to develop the proper charms – but it would certainly be easier and safer if it let her out on it’s own before she had to go to all that effort.

Those weren’t gates that he was all that eager to unseal, but STILL. Getting Skoll somewhere else still seemed like a good idea! It would be much safer if Skoll was ELSEWHERE if he had to build another manse-gate to get to Aikiko!

Skoll departed as Aikiko continued to survey… Hm… Ah! It wasn’t a flaw that you could SEE – but if Skoll channeled it’s occupants powers through ITSELF it couldn’t possibly have perfect shielding against them! It had to be relying on individual effects – which was why the Sun had escaped by doing something it hadn’t known was possible – and HER charm array didn’t look a lot like the usual Solar charm array during first or second ages… It would still be a bother though – and Skoll was right about one thing; a look around the underworld might yield some very valuable information indeed.

By the time Charles got back to the bridge after Skoll’s departure, the Tsunami was picking a distress call; the language sounded vaguely like old Creation’s Forest-tongue! Fortunately, the “universal translator” was still available – and the Tsunami was already moving to answer the call anyway.

(Ship) “Star Trader Auric Wing requesting assistance… drives out of commission… low on fuel.”

Well, it could be Pirates (he had to admit that when Gothmug suggested it), but it sounded real enough to Charles!

A brief trip through the nebular fog led Charles and Tsunami to a small, cylindrical starship drifting in the nebula, amidst a collection of asteroids. An especially large one sat nearby.

Charles simply went for Telepathy. It was easier on the languages!

(Charles) “Allo! What’s wrong?”

(Ship) “We were flying from Tamarast to Vargid when we had a bit of a scrape. Do you have a tractor beam on that thing?”

(Charles) “Not exactly… One moment!” “Malinda? Where’s “Vargid?”

(Malinda) “A little place! Part of Tarvial, on the outer rim, but not quite on the frontier!”

(Charles, to the ship) “That’s rather a long ways! When were you expecting to get there?”

(Ship) “Not for another couple of weeks-the Wyld node’s still a few days out.”

(Charles) “Oh! Well, I was going direct – which might take a little longer – but how about I take your ship aboard? I can probably fix it along the way anyhow!”

(Ship) “Uhhh…” (There was some just-audible conferring) “Well, we don’t really have much of a choice! You do have some way of getting us on without servos, right? We’re in a real fix here!”

(Charles) “No problem!”

The Tsunami enlarged a cargo hold (and made the walls indestructible, just in case) while Charles used telekinesis to pull them aboard… they were glad that he had something that didn’t require them – or him – to physically cross the intervening space – and for good reason, too! The asteroids came hurtling towards them, and seemed to be shifting in pattern – including the larger one, bringing up the rear.

Huh! Silicon-metal lifeforms looking for something to eat? (He probed)… It seemed that way! They were extruding vaguely metallic limbs – four each, with spikes at the ends. Well… Charles put up a ward and tried to contact THEM.

The smaller ones halted at the ward – but the larger one had begun emitting an electricity draining field. That didn’t hinder Tsunami too much of course – but the contact attempt produced lots of static and strings of letters and numbers in Old Realm.

Breaking the scrambling and encryption wasn’t too difficult though.

(Asteroid) “Reengerization protocol broken. Request: Magical Materials, silicon, Air Essence.”

(Charles) “Oh! OK!”

He promptly sent a stock of stuff out and steered it over to them… As the miniaturized probes consumed the materials with their spikes and began returning to the larger asteroid.

(Charles) “Who are you by the way?”

(Asteroid) “Designation Caul Probe CN-89404-12. Reengerization stock confirmed… Processing… Processing…”

(Charles, to Malinda, Galileo, and the crew of the ship that he’d just rescued) “Anybody know what a “Caul Probe” is?”

Hm… It looked like the rescues included a golden-skinned, four-armed, four eyed man – like that Bronze Faction Chosen of Journeys he’d met before – a monkey man, a green skinned woman with leaves for hair, and a small bunny man. Normal atmosphere was just fine for them, and they weren’t notorious cannibals or anything pesky like that – so he invited them up and set up the translation effects.

Malinda’s divinations revealed that the “Caul Probe” was a living thing, although it was very unlikely that it had evolved naturally. It had been… genetically engineered outside of Fate – and has natural mechanisms that keep it out of Fate.

(Charles) “Feeling better? Anything else you need? Also… who are you and what are you probing for?”

(Caul Probe) “Designation Caul Probe CN-89404-12, assigned to monitor this region of space for fate anomalies.”

(Charles) “Oh! Do you work for the Sidereal Exalted in the Department of Fate?”

(Caul Probe) “Negative.”

(Charles) “Who then? Are you looking out for things that might cause problems for people locally?”

(Caul Probe) “Information classified, purpose affirmative.”

Charles scanned around. If the probe was monitoring for fate anamolies, the people who wanted that information couldn’t be all THAT far away! Ah! There were life signs in an asteroid nearby! Well-warded, but he could talk through that with a bit of effort!

(Charles) “Hello there!”

(Voice, with some startlement) “Hi there… bother. Sorry about this, but it’s been a while since the last shipment. Thanks.”

(Charles) “Oh you’re welcome! But why are you lurking out here? It’s kind of lonely!”

(Voice) “What can I say? The pay’s unbeatable and I get shore leave every season as long as I keep my mouths shut.”

Hm… It looked like a plant creature with multiple heads. There were three others in the control chamber, which was pretty definitely a Shogunate-style design for monitoring things.

Kind of odd to find creatures that alien so relatively close to Earth! Even in Tarvail most people were a lot closer to human… It they weren’t from the Empirical Galaxy proper, they were likely from farther out in Tarvial.

(Charles) “Huh! I didn’t think we were far enough out for people like you yet! We must be near a Wyld Zone!”

(Voice) “Well, that is how we got here… like I said, the pay can’t be beat! Recruiter said we were going to the borders of some place called Tarvial.”

(Charles) “Ah! You’re monitoring the wyld zone for disturbances because it’s the access-way to this part of the universe!”

(Voice) “Yep! This is a vital strategic point; we can’t let those Infernal or Abyssal thingies take it – or the Raksha for that matter.”

(Charles) “Well, any other help you need?”

(Voice) “Just keep quiet about us being here, okay? We’re supposed to keep this on the down low. Oh yeah, and maybe some fertilizer! That was supposed to come with the probes’ fuel!”

(Charles) “OK!”

He sent them plenty of supplies! Without fertilizer they might wilt!

(Voice) “Oh yeah… is your ship alive? That’s pretty rare!”

(Charles) “Oh yes!”

(Voice) “What’s it eat? I mean, we have sources; we could get you some deals on biomass.”

(Charles) “Essence mostly! And light! Most other stuff… we just transmute as needed!”

They’d definitely be reporting THAT one to the experts (along with every other reading they could get). That was vanishingly rare! And the ability produce quantities of magical materials as well as lesser substances was even rarer!

(Charles) “We’ll probably be arriving at Tarvail in a few weeks! I’m taking the scenic route so as to get a better survey!”

(Voice) “So where are you headed after that?”

(Charles) “Oh, I was headed to the Empyrical Galaxy; I just thought I’d go direct! Much more to see that way and I’ve got a few weeks!”

(Voice) “Uh, but that journey should take a lot longer than that.”

(Charles, blankly) “Why?”

(Other Voice) “He was going pretty fast there. That ship’s a marvel.”

(Voice) “And yeah, just flying direct like that . . . unless you’re some kind of Exalt or travel god, it’d take ages.”

(Charles) “Not to worry! My travel effects are very good.”

(Voice) “Must be, to go that fast… “

Definitely something to report! He might be able to help the bosses big time!

(Voice) “Mind if we put our bosses in contact with you? They’d be very interested in speeding up things!”

(Charles) “What now? Or after I get there?”

(Voice) “They’ll get in contact with you; they have their ways.”

(Charles) “OK! Anyway, if that’s everything…”

They waved the Tsunami off as it dropped back into a compromise metric again – and the Astronomers had questions, since Charles hadn’t sequestered the Tarvialans from them.The Tarvialans had never really seen unExalted humans before (it was kind of a novelty!) – and the astronomers’ questions were mostly about the stop and the new “altered humans.”

Well those were simple enough to answer!

And a short game this time. It happens…

One Response

  1. […] The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice CXXXVII – The Outer Limits: The Mask of Winters, Skoll seeks the Underworld, Helping Stray Starlost, […]

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