The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CXL – Encounters with Apep in the Boat of a Million Years.

A Christmas Carol - Ghosts of Departed Usurers

Ere now! What do you lot think you’re playing at! Be off with you!

In the depths of Yu-Shan’s geomancy the tracer-spells and artifacts had at last traced out all the major nodes – although the endless subtleties of the smaller ones would take more time than anyone had left. All too many of the geomantic systems – or were they internal organs? It WAS kind of blurred with primordials – were failing. Ensuring the proper flow of essence in and out of creation had not been easy on her own flows. To repair them and restore her to health… would require fabulous amounts of essence – but well within projected supply limits, although it might require a temporary powering-down of other projects or accelerating the relative timerate of Aden.

A very old lady was very sick, and needed to wake up to see the grandchildren!

Elsewhere the Crimson Banner Executioner had finally completed her analysis of her records of what Charles had done to The Preceptor of Ancient Ways manse – and was just a bit appalled! The artifacts he’d installed were harmless enough – if you didn’t mind Infernals founding beast-person civilizations in deep space (even if she had to admit that there was plenty of room and that it was a fairly harmless ambition compared to some of them!) – but the child should have at least TALKED TO SOMEONE before handing a couple of infernals ANY kind of artifacts! Much less a vastly-upgraded Manse!

Charles… actually expected them to get bored. Even with a pair of exalts to help it get started, simply breeding up to a planetary population would take quite a few generations. And even if they established themselves as god-kings… so what? It would still be a tiny outpost in a hubble volume that no one else was using – and a bunch of people who would never have gotten to exist otherwise. Besides, they did seem relatively reasonable within their obsessions and so they got a sanity award – and it wasn’t like a pair of Infernals with Essences of around seven couldn’t get a nifty manse some other way – if only by asking the Yozi’s. The Yozi’s were inclined to reward effort over connections, although people sometimes didn’t like how they did it.

Oddly enough, Charles often acted that way too

Speaking of Charles… His probe-construct was traveling with an Abyssal Exalt en route to an unusually white portion of the Underworld where an unknown Deathlord held sway – while the Tsunami was hosting a bunch of astronomers, an eclectic collection of Tarvialan citizens, and a planet – all of them heading toward the Tarvial System itself.

For good or ill, however, he’d taken some precautions; the constructs inputs were going to a straightforward instrument panel and filtering artifacts to be recorded and have any kind of weirdness stripped out, while his responses were simply being typed in fast time – giving him lots of time to consider and stripping out anything in the way of body language, intonation, or other give-aways! Deathlords were tricky, but hopefully that and some advice would be enough!

His precautions were complete (and probably overdone) by the time the landing procedures were complete – and Charles and Skimmer were able to depart the ship. And… the world outside was white, with terrible whispers permeating the barren, dusty landscape. There was a palace, with stark and imposing spires penetrating the clouded skies, nearby.

They headed that way under heavy spectral guard – ghosts well-armed with energy rifles and their own space suits (more for intimidation value and protection than life support, of course; ghosts didn’t need to breathe). A mixture of realtech – perhaps from aliens? – and magical energy weapons, with the magical energy weapons going to the ones in the fancier suits.

“Flat”, “White”, and “Featureless” sufficed to describe most of the local landscape – but there were a few interruptions; pale pyre flames illuminated a village not too far from the palace. The light reflected ominously off the domes – but broke the monotony somewhat.

(Charles) “Why not busier? Plenty of people have died at one time or another haven’t they?”

(Skimmer) “The master wants only pure ghosts in his domain. His standards are quite high!”

It showed too! There were only a few ghosts around, and the ones that were about… well, they weren’t in outright terror, but there was definitely some unease! Even some of the soldiers looked nervous – although they were trying not to show it before the Abyssal.

It wasn’t nice to scare dead people! They were supposed to be kind of DONE with that!

(Charles) “So the qualifications are more complicated than being dead I take it?”

(Skimmer) “There must not be a sign of any Void taint in them! The master is adamant about that-such aberrations are unworthy even of soulsteel.”

(Charles) “Hrm… but isn’t the Void just the memory of Oblivion? It still has POWER of course, but that much?”

(Skimmer) “It is much weaker than it was in the days the master first walked Creation. Can you imagine it – a world unbroken? But when the world broke, and the Void weakened, it became easily controlled, but impure!”

That… was the first bit of real passion he’d seen out of her!

(Charles) “Ah! So only the oldest charms – the ones given form and pattern back in the days of true Oblivion, and now wielded only by the survivors from that era – can still even approach that old power, and even then only because anyone that old inherited a portion of the power of Oblivion during the Reshaping!

Well, OK – anyone who had those Charms anyway.

(Charles) And a younger spirit, if tainted by the void… is starting to fall into Lethe aren’t they? So the more they call on that kind of power, the more likely they are to forget themselves and vanish into the reincarnation cycle, is that it? And that would make them…. very forgetful, absent-minded, and unreliable. With part of them already gone, they wouldn’t even make effective soulsteel would they? Forging them into it… would just drain it into Lethe, and crumble the entire batch! Effective Soulsteel has to be focused on the NOW.”

(Skimmer) “Yes, yes, you understand! Ghosts these days fall into Lethe more and more quickly with every batch of deaths as well! Only through reinforcing the power of true Oblivion can we reinforce our own power!”

That… was really starting to look distressing, between her withered face and the rather intense look in her eyes!

(Skimmer) “Even with this construct, you are useful! We must get you to the master at once!”

(Charles) “Well, we are headed that way anyway!”

Hrm… Ghosts were passing faster and faster? Too many non-theists? The rise of monotheism? Changing expectations? Less fear of the Void than of Oblivion? He needed more data!

Gothmug reminded him – rather sharply! – that sharing his theories could give rather too much away just as well as any other slip-up!

Entering the palace… revealed a few more ghosts, running to and fro tending to the cleaning, what furniture there was, to the architecture, and otherwise being very, VERY busy. There were some nods to friends among the guards, and a few smiles that were more unsettlingly nervous than happy. The construct had… turned white, as had Skimmer. The lengthy hall, led to a set of double doors made of a tough metal – not Soulsteel, but Labyrinthine steel, and not the modern kind either! An OLD facility to go with an old master…

He got a committee going on the answers to further mask things.

(Charles) “A bit monochromatic… will we get to being black outlines a little further in?”

(Skimmer) “Is it disconcerting? Rest assured, it is not harmful to your body! The master was very stern about that!”

(Charles) “Oh well! It’s a lot like winding up in a Manga!”

That required an explanation of manga, but it was easy enough to give her some; at least she got the concept of sequential art.

There were security checks at the door, too, that were just as extensive as the ones for landing. But since construct-Charles hadn’t brought anything harmful (or much of anything at all, except his near-boundless supply of curiosity, with a sideline in naivete and even a bit of snark and sarcasm!) with him, he passed. The doors opened into a vast white chamber with many high windows – each depicting what was currently happening on a world in the system. There was an odd uniformity to the ghosts on those screens as they went about their busy afterlives. Looking further… there is also some decoration in here, images of a man in a cap and striped shirt taking a goremaul to what appeared to be many powerful ghosts. Horrific, smoky necrotic Essence burst from where their heads should be, and sometimes other body parts. At the rear of the room was a simple throne – the first bit of soulsteel Charles had seen in here, and classical in its structure. It was… rather reminiscent of the soulsteel that he’d found in Dudael, actually! Even it was white, with the faces the only black portions. They pressed against the edges, twisted and seemingly begging for release. Of course, that was always true of soulsteel – but the alien faces were definitely unusual.

(Skimmer) “Ah, behold the master’s throne! A marvel of the Underworld!”

In Aden Charles sighed. Sadly… he could not reasonably get to all the soulsteel in the world for a very long time to come… It was a reminder that he never had gotten that soulsteel figured out too! Preventing disasters had been taking priority over fixing old ones, and even then he was basically going by scale.

Skimmer pushed something on her void suit, the soldiers quickly took their positions in front of the throne and along the walls, and there was a blinding flash of white light. Fortunately… the construct had lots of sensory instruments.

(Skimmer) “The Arbiter of Games’ End, Purifier of the Void’s Memory!”

It was the fellow from the pictures, goremaul and all, accompanied by three simple rings of – oddly enough – starmetal. They were floating next to him in an ascending chain. There was quite a lot of magical power in them too; was he binding something to him that wouldn’t normally be in the underworld? There was some sapience there too. Perhaps a god with the rings bridging Creation and the Underworld to allow it to respire and act here?

Charles took a more direct look… Hm… rather sophisticated artifacts, each with a spirit bound into it! The one floating over the Arbiter’s head was capable of some pretty potent blasts. Another reason why “not actually being there” might be a good thing!

The Arbiter sat on the throne, the rings floating nearby – one over his head, and the other two floating on either side. He leaned the goremaul alongside the throne, and Charles heard a faint sigh.

(Charles, via indirect telepathy to the spirits – a good thing that his Thaumaturgy was so good!) “Hi!”

(Alpha, the blaster) “Hi! I’m Alpha! I’m on a mission of purification!”

Uh-oh! That sounded like Nomad and Captain Kirk!

(Charles) “I’m Charles, and I like to fix things! What are you purifying?”

(Alpha) “The universe! But this portion of it first; Master is very unhappy about the state of it and the specters!”

(Charles) “A big project!”

(Epsilon, the enhancement ring) “Oh yes! Recently, he had to purify another world! Very unpleasant!”

(Omega, the healer) “He doesn’t show it, but I’m sure it distresses him to have to do that.”

Meanwhile, Skimmer had knelt before her master, and was reporting in!

(Charles) “What was wrong with it in particular?”

(Epsilon) “Well… it was full of specters, and run by a very bad ghost who had found a process that makes ghosts into a nasty addictive powder. He was giving it to everyone so they would work harder. Fortunately, the master put a stop to that by taking off his head, and beating up the ones whose heads exploded, and after that the world was purified!”

(Omega) “And now it is part of his domain, and everyone can be peaceful and safe!”

Hrm… that sounded rather like a reformer who knew no compromise or restraint… a potentially troublesome type!

(Charles) “Well, peaceful and safe are good things!”

The Arbiter was running some Abyssal Charms over the construct… powerful ones, made for analyzing spiritual structures. From the faint “chill” construct – Charles felt… at least some effects designed to detect exposure to the Void.

Charles HAD opened a gate there – but the construct hadn’t been involved and had no direct connection to it. It had only had the exposure from jumping through the void with Skimmer to get to the meeting. It didn’t have much of a spiritual structure either. It had an associated little god of course, but it was sleeping, and it had quite a lot of genuine tech in addition to the artifact properties.

(Arbiter) “Hmm… nothing other than the usual small god expected with a construct. No other spiritual inhabitants, and presumably being run by remote artifact or technological control – and no Void-taint other than that expected from transit.”

There starmetal rings… seemed to dance, ever so slightly.

(Charles) “Well, yes; it’s really just a quick reworking of an existing probe… I wasn’t really using them anyway!”

(Arbiter, to Skimmer) “And there are energies similar to those detected on that distant world… if much stronger. You have done your task.”

From her smile that was the closest the Arbiter ever got to praise.

Charles was amusing himself by taking his passive scans of the rings and the Arbiter and seeing what he could figure out… It looked like Arbiter was an essence-8 dusk caste, specializing in melee and the occult. He was definitely showing signs of an afterlife-body, as well as of several internalized artifacts made from his inner demons and hatreds… Now THAT was an interesting way to make personalized artifacts – and purge yourself of many emotions at the same time. Unfortunately, it probably took out positive emotions at the same time – if the Arbiter had had any left to start with.

The rings were… essence-4 renegade gods, able to respire essence in the Underworld as well as in Creation thanks to their connections to the Arbiter. They did get some additional benefits from that connection, such as the ability to use some of his Charms and Arcanoi.

The Arbiter’s demeanor was icy cold. If he had any positive emotions or intimacies connected to anything but purification… he was hiding it really well. As it was now… he was disappointed to have only a construct here.

Huh! Aikiko’s monks… were gradually eroding away even the memory of Oblivion weren’t they… Charles hastily kicked that thought over into the perfect privacy manse for the moment, so that even he didn’t know it right now. No point in risking a slip-up!

(The Arbiter, turning to Charles) “Now, you… you are a problem. You have no idea, but you have set back my efforts on Earth considerably.”

(Charles) “Well… what are you trying to accomplish? It’s often possible to work things out!”

(Arbiter) “I had intended to open a shadowland there, under my control and with a large number of recently-incarnated ghosts present to be… evaluated for service. I left it to my servants’ discretion to determine how to perform this task.”

(Alpha, telepathically) “Master understands that his servants cannot often communicate over interstellar distances, and gives them leeway! Master is the best master!”

(Charles, to Alpha and the other rings) “Well that’s very sensible! It would take FOREVER to check back on everything!”

(The Arbiter) “I did not anticipate someone altering a Manse’s geomancy on the spot, however. I have read of such techniques only in books no longer extant in the living world.”

(Charles) “I like manses!”

Skimmer shook her head… how could he be so cheerful? The Arbiter himself, however, was not at all perturbed yet.

(Arbiter, with a still-icy but pointed look) “Mmm… a boy of many talents, it seems – and an Essence signature of such confusion that even the first analyses took weeks. I wonder what such a child could be… or where he has hidden my tools for purification?”

(Charles) “The spirits didn’t want to be in the Soulsteel, so I let them out!”

(Arbiter) “I think you know very well what I am talking about… what did you do with my servants’ shards?”

Charles turned up the timerate in Aden a few more notches, and activated a Conversation Piece just to help some more, and sat back for a moment to listen to the committee… at that speed he could take out quite some time without it exceeding the random typing-delay variances in any case. “In for repairs!” was probably too revealing, any mention of “where they belong” would give away Lytek’s involvement, “I was asked to keep it a secret!” was probably ALSO traceable to Lytek unless it would be another Deathlord (unlikely given his apparent personality)… “I’ll have to consult Autochthon” perhaps? It was somewhat ambiguous…

(Gothmug) “Oh, Charles… this is why I was against you even sending a probe! You should say you need to consult Autochthon! At the worst, he’ll want to have that horrid woman escort you to the Great Maker’s world-body, and I doubt his people would let her anywhere near him.”

(Malinda) “I agree with Gothmug, dearie! You do have friends in Autochthonia who could help you deal with this problem!”

Well, with flash-communications and a Conversation Piece running he could consult people who weren’t on his committee already! Lets see… he had a link to Aikiko, and she might like more information on a Deathlord anyway! And Righteous Hala and Mr Montague if they were available!

(Mr. Montague) “How did you get in a meeting with a – oh never mind! Think you could trick him into thinking another Deathlord snatched them? That Clearwater guy said it’s possible once.”

(Aikiko) “Dude, you should bluff him as long as you can. I’m not sure telling him anything is such a good idea!”

(Charles) “Well… he knows that I enhanced the manse to catch them – so I don’t think he’d believe that another deathlord got them. That probably wasn’t hard to find out; it would have left essence-traces all over the place!”

There was a brief divergence while he explained what happened at the manse to Mr Montague and Aikiko and Righteous Hala, who really didn’t know. They were a bit startled by that one… weaponizing a manse was more or less unheard of! Even if even Charles had to admit that it only worked in special situations.

(Righteous Hala) “Well, this is a tricky situation you’ve gotten yourself into! This is why it’s a bad idea to meet with Deathlords, and after what you did, too. I think you should tell him that you need to meet with your ADVISORS first. That will give you some stalling time and be nicely vague enough not to give the Autochthonians issues.”

(Mr. Montague) “He IS a Deathlord! Surely he’d understand the need for secrecy.”

Charles considered… and picked up typing again.

(To the Arbiter) “Oh dear! My advisors all want to yell at me for even talking to you and I haven’t even actually told you much of anything… Would you mind if I put this in inactive mode for awhile? That way they can all get it out of their systems and it’s not like I can really tell them to go away!”

There! That nicely implied that his “Advisors” might be Devas, or Handlers, or his Creators, or at least are something that he couldn’t get rid of or ignore…

(Arbiter) “Could I talk to your advisors? Some of our findings match subsidiary souls, and if they understand that I would be foolish to kill my only source of communication with you, I might be able to soothe their nerves. Or perhaps Skimmer would be better?”

(Charles, back in the subjective-time conversation) “Does anyone WANT to talk to him?”

Even the Guardians were pretty reluctant, although Gothmug was willing to step up if it would resolve the situation without Charles giving things away… Mr. Montague and Aikiko were even more leery of the idea, being younger Exalts.

(Charles, to the Arbiter) “I’m sorry, but I need a bit! I can’t think with all of them talking… Is there an out-of-the-way place where I can leave this body for an hour or two?”

(The Arbiter – narrowing his eyes and clearly suspicious) “I think we can keep it secure for… whatever you need to do. Alpha!” (The ring hums faintly.) “Watch this construct!”

It floated over towards the construct as Charles shut down the active feed to put things in “record” mode. Nothing too interesting was likely to happen without them participating and it would give him time to talk to everyone!

(Charles) “Well… I sent a construct since he managed to have an Abyssal Courier crash into the Tsunami. He already knew about the episode at the manse, and thus knew that I set it up to capture the three Exaltations. I can’t say if he was entirely certain, but it looked like denial wouldn’t be any use! That didn’t leave all that many options for answering a direct question as to what I did with them… I certainly didn’t want to mention Lytek, he may well know that Autochthon isn’t answering, and simply saying that I still had them seemed unlikely to work out well… On the upside, no matter what I tell him now he’s not going to believe it anyway! So the truth – that I’m trying to get them fixed – just might be the best thing to tell him right now…

(Montague) “Dang it… this is going to be a pain. At least I’m the right faction for reporting this to Lytek, so we can do something to protect him!”

(Charles) “Well… he probably wouldn’t consider Lytek! After all, if he could do fix them… they would probably have been fixed long ago!”

(Hala) “It’s going to complicate your plans if he tries to steal them back, you know. Are you really sure you want to tell him the truth? I normally know not to ask, but this could be BAD!”

(Charles, sighing) “Well, he’s already tried to swipe them back once. At the moment… he certainly suspects that I – along with some Nocturnals and many other beings – was involved in doing something with them; the perfect privacy effects would have covered up the presence of Lytek and his staff, but not the beings who actually came out to block his approach.”

(Hala) “Arghh… that would include at least you, Gothmug, and Chauffri, right Malinda?”

(Malinda) “I’m afraid so, dearie!”

(Hala) “So he probably suspects a Primordial, or somebody who knows a Primordial… and, I’d say, a lot of other people besides. And knowing that Abyssals and Infernals sometimes work together – and now that he and his crony have a good idea of your personality – saying that they’re in Malfeas won’t work.”

(Charles) “Well… He’d know about Val, You Hala, Gothmug and some Baalgrogs, and everyone else who held the perimeter. He was knowledgeable enough to specifically target me, skilled enough to locate and board the Tsunami while in flight across the universe, and sure enough of his results to simply ask what I’d done with “his” exaltations – so it’s not like he didn’t know, or wasn’t already after me.”

(Hala, frowning) “I… you’re right. I’m so glad you sent a construct for this, Charles!”

(Charles) “Well, that was why!”

(Mr Montague, sighing) “No helping it, I guess! I’ll still let Lytek know, just in case.”

(Charles) “Well, I figured that at least knowing who was chasing me might be worth something… but that’s why the communications link is going by texting! It makes it much harder to read tones and such when there aren’t any… Does anyone actually know anything about this fellow?”

(Montague) “Hmm… of all the times to WANT to be a Chosen of Endings; they get better training on this stuff than most of us. What I know is that he relies on nemissaries possessing objects a lot, and is on some crusade for purification that involved Yu-Shan somehow.”

(Hala) “He’s called the Arbiter of Games’ End because he has an interest in the Games of Divinity.”

(Charles) “Apparently he wants to purify the Void back into Oblivion… I don’t think that could even WORK, but “Deathlord” and “Sanity” don’t usually seem to go together anyway!”

He replayed what he’d gotten out of the interview so far.

(Hala) “Well! He may well believe he could use the Games of Divinity to do that.”

(Mr Montague) “How would he know that, though? Or would he just steal them and make them into a mechanism somehow?”

(Charles… replayed a few bits again… and frowned) (Thoughtfully…) “To restore Oblivion… he needs to kill a Primordial. As far as he knows… there’s Autochthon, who is missing, and Gaia… but he might have realized that Yu-Shan is a primordial and rather near death! If he’s been listening to the echoes of the Whispers of the Neverborn in the Labyrinth, or delving into the memories of the Neverborn, it would be easy enough to find out. He may have more detailed information on the Primordials than anyone else but Gaia… And the Games… are at Yu-Shan’s central nexus, and would be destroyed with her – and might even drag the gods playing them into the underworld in her wake. That would restore oblivion, wipe out the Incarnae, destroy the Loom of Fate, and eliminate the Celestial Bureaucracy – and most of the resources of any surviving Sidereals, who are the last truly organized group of Exalts in existence – at a stroke. He can bind gods and turn them to his purposes too – so if they were cast into the Labyrinth, he’d have lots of raw materials to use against the other Deathlords.”

(Mr Montague, with a somewhat horrified expression) “If that’s true… and we do have him registered as a high-threat… (urgently!) Sorry, Charles! I need to talk with Sifu about this!”

(Charles) “Well, I can’t be sure – but it’s the worst scenario I can think of at the moment, and therefore the one to be ready for! And that’s perfectly reasonable!”

Besides, she was already in on things anyway… Did the Arbiter really believe that he was truly a reformer doing the “right thing”, was he simply obsessed, or was it just a front?

(Mr Montague) “Of course not… which is why I’m going to try to get in with the Violet Bier of Sorrows, and see what they’ve got on him! I need to be sure about this before we get TOO excited.”

Charles… was somewhat pleased! It looked like there were reasonable odds that he came out ahead in the information-trading so far… He hadn’t given away much that wasn’t common knowledge. He now had a powerful enemy of course – but that had been inevitable really, even if they’d never met their purposes were diametrically opposed. Better to know about his enemies rather than have them be a nasty surprise!

Mr Montague sent called back in an hour and a half.

(Montague) “Had to get a favor from Clearwater – he’s a real favormonger, so I’ll be in his debt for a while! But for this, though… yeah, he said the Arbiter’s forces have been really active lately, and pushing Earthward. The Violet Bier of Sorrows is securing that one gate – I’m sure you know about it – a REALLY old Deathlord’s palace is supposed to be nearby… Oh, bother. Here’s a bit from Clearwater’s research: apparently he didn’t participate directly in World War II, but he did send supplies – so he would know where Earth is.”

(Charles) “Well, he sent agents there to blow up a manse and establish a shadowland under his control – and nice to have who THAT was confirmed. Since I eliminated them, and he knows it… he’s now pretty sure that I intend to actively oppose his plans.”

(Mr Montague) “What do you say, Hala? Think he might as well bite the bullet?”

(Hala) “Sigh… I think so.”

They weren’t likely to have let anything slip in front of the construct, but Charles ran a quick review just in case before he powered it up again…

It looked like the Arbiter had issues explicit orders not to speak in front of the thing, or touch it. Alpha then picked it up with a charm and carried it someplace dark. There were no longer any power readings below its neck – but Charles powered it up anyway.

(Charles) “Allo!”

The construct had been decapitated, and the head put on a table. He could see the three rings floating in front of it – and the shadow of something goremaul-shaped over the head.

(Charles) “My, cranky!”

(Alpha) “I’m really sorry! Master made us!”

(Charles) “Well, it’s just a construct!”

(Omega) “But it’s such a nice construct, that you probably worked really hard on…”

(Charles) “Oh well! I can make more if I need them!”

(Arbiter, through a speaker) “All right, what did you do with the shards? Tell me, or I will hunt you to the edges of the universe and beyond…”

Hm… Still icy calm, but there was definitely some tension there! The Arbiter wasn’t handling dealing with something that he couldn’t directly threaten at all well!

(Charles) “Well, my Advisors don’t really think I should talk to you at all – they don’t think that you’re a nice person, and this does seem to confirm that – but I get the deciding vote. As for the Shards, they needed to be fixed, because someone’s gone and inverted a lot of essence flows in them and made them rather yucky! So I’m doing that!”

(There was a short period of silence, then the Arbiter spoke quietly but sharply) “Fixed. Ha. They were born broken, when the traitor Incarnae and the Betrayers decided to overthrow the order of Creation. The Neverborn only adjusted HOW they were broken. You know so little about such things. And in any case, I have some idea of who might be helping you. Alpha?”

(Alpha) “Oh no…”

(Arbiter) “Blast him.”

(Alpha) “I’M REALLY SORRY!”

(Charles) “It’s fine! Saves me the trouble! Thank you!”

Alpha lashed out at the remains of the construct with a wave of boiling hot… plastic? Oh well! Charles was busy using some (absolutely normal, if highly-skilled) thaumaturgy to redecorate the entire palace and surrounding area for many miles (via a bit of alchemical surface-transmutation) in glorious iridescent tie-dye patterns! The Arbiter was already irrational – really, trying to be intimidating by smashing his only communications link? – so that might as well be encouraged!

And… the Arbiter hadn’t thought to block Thaumaturgy at all – much less purely coemetic thaumaturgy – and once it was done dispelling wouldn’t do anything about it, the magic was over and done with. He’d just have to try and work a similar spell to correct it (a lot harder when the first one included the random function to make random colors; a reversal… would have to plot out all the randomness and adjust to reverse it in each section) – or get a LOT of repainting done. It would not hurt to have him think that Charles was a childish clown!

Actually, the Arbiter didn’t even try. He sent in a crew of ghosts to do it. It was beneath the dignity of a Deathlord to do his own painting!

He purified the ghosts afterwards, just in case – even if it was a senseless expenditure of time and resources. All that color was quite intolerable!

(Charles, back in Aden – after confirming the constructs destruction) “Well now! I doubt that THAT told him anything more… and we know a bit more about HIM. He’s obviously deduced that Lytek is involved – but I’m associated with him anyway, he’s the god of Exaltation, and he’s known to have tools that can work on them, so that’s nothing that he didn’t already know – but that also tells US that HE has information sources in Yu-Shan. I’ve set Lytek up with more protection already; we may want to upgrade that further.”

(Mr Montague) “And we’ll have to track down those sources, too…”

(Charles) “Well, knowing that they’re there is half the battle!… Overall… I think that went fairly well; we know a good deal more than we did, and he knows very little more than he did. His hostility is now focused on me of course – but that was inevitable; I want to fix the universe, and he wants to destroy it.”

(Hala) “Now let’s hope he doesn’t get you before you pull this off…”

(Charles) “Well, he’s obviously very dangerous – but he’s also somewhat short of minions or doesn’t trust most of the ones he has. After all, he sent three Abyssals on an errand to blow up a damaged level three manse when an animated corpse with a sledgehammer would have been just as effective – and he controls them through threats of pain, so he may no longer really understand any other form of loyalty. I’d guess that he doesn’t trust manse-servitors either or he wouldn’t be relying on ghosts for personal staff even in the underworld – and most underworld servitors couldn’t get into Creation anyway… At least now I know who’s after me!”

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  1. […] The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CXL – Encounters with Apep in the Boat of a Million Years: The Crimson Banner Cogitates, Theoretical  Soulsteel, The Arbiter Of Games End, Deathlords Plotting, Interior Decorating in the Underworld. […]

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