The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice CXLVII – Celestial Alchemy

Elsewhere in Aden, other projects had been continuing… With Bright Oscillating Shield to provide some directions, Charles had started trying to get in touch with the other Alchemicals from the First Pole Of Earth Expedition.

That included Celerous Dart of the Heavens, a Moonsilver Colossus (and, according to Bright Oscillating Shield both their starship and the Alchemical equivalent of an elder Exalt). there was the Orichalcum Caste Efficient Smith of Accords (the diplomatic specialist), the Soulsteel Caste Righteous Brand of Guardianship, and the Starmetal Caste Analyst of Vibrant Septs.

Plus, of course, there was the followup expedition (since things had obviously gone awry and Alchemical Exalts were vital natural resources) with Mercurial Bane Of Deception and her friends – whom she never HAD really identified.

(Bright Oscillating Shield, a little surprised) “Really? I would have thought that Bane would have undergone the colossus conversion by now – although, if she was really concerned about Dart or Smith, I could see it.”

(Charles) “I take it that Celerous Dart of the Heavens and Moonsilver Colossus are kind of oversized to be wandering around unremarked?”

(Bright Oscillating Shield) “Probably hiding someplace in the asteroid belt with the cloaking up, if I know her.”

(Charles) “Well… do you know who really needs treatment? I suspect that they’re going to be the hard cases!”

(Bright Oscillating Shield) “Smith – this was all his idea in the first place! Brand’s going to be a hard case too; Gremlin Syndrome always hits his kind harder.’

Oh dear. The diplomatic specialist, the stealth expert, and the living starship. That was going to be awkward indeed!

(Bright Oscillating Shield) “And remember, none of us can go home until you do something about the physical problem, either.” (Shaking his head) “What a pain…”

(Charles) “Well, the stabalization effect is essentially permanent – but it’s a pallative, not a cure! I think I’m going to have to work from Autochthon’s end for a full cure, and maybe even for a limited one on one of you since the Academy came up dry for the moment. Still, maybe there’s another way…”

(Bright Oscillating Shield) “Not like you won’t have support… I bet once the Tripartite meets you and you explain yourself more, you’ll get more support than you’ll know what to do with! Just be careful outside! The Elemental Pole of Smoke is no joke!”

(Charles) “Well… first up is to call them, and see if any are willing to come in! Besides… even just talking over a link may help a bit with their current condition!”

Sadly the attempts to call Dart, Smith, and Analyst directly hit perfect privacy defenses or other shielding effects – but Brand turned out to be available!

(Charles) “Hello there!”

Brand was, to all appearances, a handsome gentleman sitting in a cafe and having a drink while doing some work on his computer. Ordinary people were nearby, unaware that an artificial life born from magical materials, clay, and the wills of Autochthonia’s finest thaumaturges sat among them. He peered at the video-conference image appraisingly.

(Brand) “Another petitioner?”

(Charles) “I don’t think so! I’m trying to get in touch with your expedition, but a lot of it’s members are behind shields, which makes it awkward – but you weren’t!”

(Brand) “Oh. Disappointing… well, we aren’t taking any requests right now. SOMEBODY messed things up for everyone. And as for me… I’ve been keeping a lookout for a missing member of our expedition!”

Brand had started attempting to trace the call automatically – but that certainly looked like Bright Oscillating Shield’s hand behind the boy… That made it urgent!

(Charles) “Well, Bright Oscillating Shield said that you might need some help with things!”

(Brand) “Really now? I THOUGHT that was him behind you. Where did you find him?”

(Charles) “Oh he was sort of stuck in a spell!” (a thought to Bright Oscillating Shield) “Well… if he IS afflicted, it seems milder or he’s compensating somehow”.

(Bright Oscillating Shield, Privately) “He was our investigative and stealth specialist – and we had only one copy of the module for moderating it. I guess he’s the one using it right now.”

(Brand) “I know… I saw the Terrestrial clan head cast it. Do you know where he is?”

Well, according to the computers he was in a halfling hotel, where he’d been running the clan remotely and recuperating. He’d really needed a lot of sleep at first!

(Charles) “Oh I settled that down! (To Bright Oscillating Shield, privately) “Does that negate the mitigation effects of working with normal people? It seems like it might”.

(Bright Oscillating Shield, Privately) “Unfortunately, yes.”

(Charles, to Bright Oscillating Shield, Privately) “Drat! That means that I’ll have to actually get him here…”

(Charles, to Brand) “Are you having problems? I might be able to help!”

(Brand) “Problems? Other than this and some dissent among our supporters, not really. We can handle it on our own. And could you return Shield to us? We need him to track down who did this – we take attacks on us seriously!”

(Charles) “Uhrm… It seemed like a rather pointless quarrel and no harm done. Wouldn’t it be better to try to get along? After all, I already set up your sponsors with an extra planet, there’s no need for arguments!”

(Brand) “We also need to trace down this mysterious Essence source he and his lackey were using. Terrestrials should not be capable of God-Protocol – our sponsors? The short-sighted fools will only waste such a gift saving themselves!”

Brand looked QUITE annoyed.

(Charles) “Well, that is one of the things it’s for… Is there something wrong with them using more advanced powers? After all, some of the normal people are using them too.”

(Brand) “It makes them much harder to control! And is that the explanation for those strange miracles I’ve been seeing all over the place? It’s never anything big, but there’s been many of them!”

Drat it! Tracing and divinations just said “Not in Creation”! Not even just “Not on Earth”! Of course… it also showed rather a lot of those same weird essence-traces!

(Brand, with some frustration) “WHO and WHERE are you!?”

(Charles) “Oh, I’m Charles! And why control people? Oh! Sorry; I’m in Aden… From your point of view, I suppose that’s best described as a pocket dimension in Elsewhere. There are lots of things that can cause “Strange Miracles” on a small scale though! So I can’t be sure if that’s what’s going on!”

(Brand) “They are weak little bags of meat, ill-suited for anything other than raw components! Even these Terrestrials are weak, and the Sidereals are letting Yu-Shan fall into decay while doing nothing about it one way or the other! The Lunars and those green Exalts are too concerned with the realms outside to do anything about THAT! *I*, on the other hand, was made to bear an Exaltation! Why SHOULDN’T I exert my superiority over them?”

Bright Oscillating Shield – still well off-camera – winced. That line of thinking seemed so reasonable just a short time ago!

(Bright Oscillating Shield, privately) “As you can see, he has lost all empathy toward humanity – a perversion of what the Maker intended for us. We are meant to serve, not rule.”

(Charles, to Brand) “Because it’s not nice? And how can you be a Champion of your people if you despise them?” (Privately, to Shield) “So I see… I could try to pull him through for treatment or just persuade him – but what sort of attacks should I expect from him? I think it’s fairly obvious that there will be some!”

(Bright Oscillating Shield, privately) “Knowing him, he won’t come in first – he’ll send a probe in to do reconnaissance. He probably has some combat Charms installed. How can you handle poison gases?”

(Charles, privately) “Well, no poison or disease can harm anyone here, and corrosive mists and such will be blocked by the environmental effects, That sort of thing isn’t very nice!”

(Bright Oscillating Shield, privately) “What about electricity? I think you call them Tasers around here – only he’s throwing around higher voltage. He’s probably got his Precalculated Evasion System installed too – I’ve never known him to remove it. I think you’d call it a “perfect evasion? Perfect dodge? Well, something like that”.

(Charles, privately) “Well, I could handle a lot of it – and Gothmug and the others can make barriers and such. I suppose I could just move the entire area… Would his probe be linked back to him?”

(Bright Oscillating Shield, privately) “It’s a part of his body, so yes. His eye if it matters.”

(Charles, to Brand) “Well, would you like to come visit? One of my aspects IS approaching the edge of the universe, and sending an aspect back to the center would really be getting kind of spread out.”

(Brand) “All right, but there had better not be any trickery here!”

Hm… the location – one of the observation domes looking out over the dinosaur preserves on the “lost world” plateau from a top a small mesa – was already well-isolated and pretty secure… The upper level was soaring one-piece dome of flawless, polished, alchemically-reinforced, and utterly transparent quartz – with a ward on the outside and inside to keep dust, stains, water, and so on off so that it stayed perfectly transparent – except for the selective-magnification spell for watching dinosaurs.

Lower down – deep in the heart of the mesa – there were the areas, the kitchens, the guest rooms, the subway station, and the galleries of prehuman works – in this particular mesa, focusing on (mostly reconstructed) artworks and miniature cityscapes. Sure, most of them made no sense at all to humans – but they were really interesting!

And what with giving planets to the remnants of most of those species, and making bodies to get their reincarnation cycles started again, it would also let them have their cultures back.

Charles put a perfect containment for non-aden creatures outside the dome and sealed off access to the lower levels – but that wouldn’t be apparent unless the probe intentionally cracked the dome and headed out to run into it.

Then he notified Gothmug and the other Guardians that intervention was likely to be required (and Gothmug was VERY pleased that he’d thought to do so in ADVANCE), made sure that no one vulnerable was ANYWHERE near (which meant having to shoo away several Kickaha and other types, including the waiter (who got a big tip)… Why did there seem to be several people – and often the same ones – hanging around everywhere he went anyway?

Fortunately that only took a few moments – and getting a gate open normally took longer than that anyway. Charles set up a small workshop and sandwiches while he waited…

At first it seemed that nothing was coming through – but then a small orb with leg tendrils and small wings fluttered in under cloaking. There were quite a few linked sensory effects running through it, too – including Essence senses.

It blinked – and blinked again – and flew around the observation dome.

Not a demesne, and not a manse – but surging flows of geomantic essence everywhere and manse-like energies… quite ridiculously well-meaning too! The analysis suggested healing, life-extension, and a dozen other helpful functions, as well as consciousness – and more power than HE had, which was worrisome! It was like the readings inside a metropolis! The area outside the dome might be an illusion of course – but there was no indication of that, and the area appeared to be immense. The exit doors were currently closed – and doubtless sealed – but that would be a pretty minimal precaution. Expert craftsmanship; there weren’t any cracks anywhere. Most of the area seemed to be set up as a… café and viewing area? Oddly enough, the boy’s essence… merged almost perfectly with the background of the place. Some sort of projection perhaps? The creature seemed to be busy… making self-refilling medical kits and supply packages.

What, in case anyone got hurt nearby? Very strange!

And Bright Oscillating Shield… didn’t seem to be restrained in any fashion; he was simply… having one of the sandwiches.

The probe withdrew back through the portal.

Bright Oscillating Shield could have caught the probe, and had been kind of tempted to snatch it – but had decided that simply waving while Charles continued tinkering around and making more artifact medical kits.

Brand’s conclusion was that – no matter how weirdly content Bright Oscillating Shield was acting – he needed to get him out! Still, it would be silly to go in alone…

It was a couple of hours before a bunch of humans wearing full-face masks and military gear stormed through the portal!

It was fairly good stuff too (even if Charles DID prefer less combative items)… Not nearly as good as it might be, but it WAS technomagical combat armor and weaponry even if it did seem like it was quite a strain on the users!

Bright Oscillating Shield was sitting up – not manifesting combat Charms yet, but moving towards Charles – who had his evasion charm ready. Still, at the moment…

(Charles) “Hm! Not bad, but could be lighter, and with a shield function… classical techno-magical combat armor, yes? It doesn’t seem to be personally fitted, so I’d guess that it’s mass-produced? Easy enough to fix though!”

He did so – which proved a fairly effective distraction.

(Troops, after a few confused moments) “What kind of… whatever he is… enhances his enemies?” “I guess he just wanted a challenge.”

THEN they started firing the weapons at him; electrical Essence discharge stuff, mostly!

(Charles) “Why should you be enemies?… Aw! Not very nice!”

He let Seiden Starswarm – as Master of Energetics – handle the electrical attack. He could use it to power some more machines or some such.

(Charles, as coruscating blasts of electrical Essence shattered against Seiden’s shields in bursts of blue light) “What’s the problem?”

(Troops) “Boss said you had HIM (Bright Oscillating Shield) captive, and to capture you if we could!” “Unknown Essence signature!”

(Charles, thoughtfully) “Uhm… If I was capturing people, wouldn’t it make more sense for me to shut the door?” (doubtfully) “I suppose I can capture you if you insist…”

(Soldier 1) “He said that he tricked you into negotiating… and don’t do that! He’ll just come in here, and you don’t want THAT!”

(Soldier 2) “I don’t know, these containment wards look pretty strong.”

(Charles) “Well, I called him… but OK!” (He made some walls). “Uhrm… Let’s see… I’ll add cable television, movies-on-demand, lunch, showers, a training facility, private rooms, shooting gallery, kitchen, wet bar, small park… there’s lots of room further down under the observation bubble! Is there anything else you’d like?

(Soldier 3) “Um. You’re not a miniature patropolis by any chance, are you? I never saw one of those, but they’re supposed to be pretty big.”

(Charles) “I don’t think it’s quite the same!… Oh yes! Personal wardrobes, hobby materials, library room…”

(Bright Oscillating Shield) “Well, it was worth asking… I could use a drink.”

(Charles) “OK! I guess you’re captured!”

A drink for Bright Oscillating Shield arrived quite promptly – and the attackers relaxed as they were shoved into their new (admittedly downstairs and with only window-views instead of a grand dome) accommodations by advancing walls – and came to the conclusion that they’d been – almost certainly very temporarily – confined to a luxury hotel with room service and an expense account. As battle results went, that wasn’t bad at all.

It was about half an hour before Brand – now a monstrosity of soulsteel very much like what Charles found when he first delved deeply into the Primordial Archives of Dudael! – burst in. He was sparking electricity all over the place in a big web and trying to grab Charles telekinetically.

(Charles) “Oh hello!”

He will let the gate go away – but the grab attempt was tingly!

(Charles) “Tickles! Uhm… did you want, say, a maze full of horrible mechanical monsters and traps to run amuck in for a while? There are some random generation tables in the back of the first edition dungeon master’s guide…”

Brand had leapt up, and was currently clinging to the dome somehow and trying to buzzsaw it open – although Gothmug promptly made it indestructible and put a halt to THAT while the gash self-repaired… Brand was definitely in a rampagey mood though… He threw something weird at Charles as Charles was making him a nice rampaging area; it was pulsing with all sorts of strange and vaguely toxic-feeling light…

Fortunately, Charles had his evasion-charm going. It hits the floor behind him, which blackened and started sizzling. The juke box and display screen there sparked wildly and shattered. The shrapnel was black, crude, slightly twitching, and made Charles feel momentarily sick…

(Charles, while analyzing) “Yucky!… What’s wrong Mr Brand?”

Hm… the area was some sort of blight zone at the moment, filled with raw entropy and the corruptive essence of the Gremlin Syndrome. It probably wouldn’t be wise to send in any mechanical devas. If it had hit… well, it was probably a good thing that he had protections against shaping effects, since otherwise he might have been pretty sickened and prone to behavior a lot like his at the moment!

Meanwhile, from the rampaging area, there was loud, and almost metallic, screaming! Bright Oscillating Shield winced again.

(Bright Oscillating Shield) “Calm down, it’s all right! Charles is going to make you sane again.”

Not too surprisingly, that got nowhere… Fortunately, a maze of indestructible barriers, endless pop-up targets, a constant stream of minor “attacks” (mostly Darts of Serenity), knockout gas, and various other annoyances, eventually wore Brand down (even if it did take nearly thirty minutes), and let Charles slip in attunement to the Privacy Manse under the guise of a mote source. Fortunately, with seventy-two “Devas” able to channel their defenses and powers through him… a single Exalt had a REALLY hard time running Charles down.

(Charles) “Are you feeling better now?”

(Brand) “I think so…”

(Charles, with great good cheer) “Oh good!”

(Brand, blinking) “So how long did I last in there?”

(Charles) “Er… you mean running around blasting and buzz-sawing things? About half an hour!”

(Brand, looking quite proud of himself) “I’ve still got it! Need more Essence boosters, though… And the men are all here and uninjured, I see… good, good.”

(Charles) “Well, people generally aren’t allowed to get hurt here!”

(Brand) “That’s a pretty strong pocket dimension rule… I’d guess you mean that you don’t let them get hurt if it can possibly be prevented? I think I’m attuned to a Manse, too… which is keeping me sane.”

(Charles) “Well, that’s one of the functions of that particular manse. That function really wasn’t designed for people – it was a prototype – but it works just fine for them!”

(Brand) “I owe you one, right? We’re pretty good with industrial work.”

(Charles) “Oh, it’s no worry! I’m sorry that I haven’t got a truly permanent cure ready yet, but I think that I’ll have to work from Autochthon’s end for that…”

(Brand, to Bright Oscillating Shield) “Does he know how to get there?”

(Bright Oscillating Shield) “He said he had an aspect heading toward the Maker!”

(Charles) “Oh, I have a gate there if I need one!”

(Brand) “So I guess you already let the people back home know.”

(Charles) “Well yes! I gave them a planet as a stopgap measure though!”

(Brand) “Huh… so the mission we originally set out to complete is complete except for the cleanup.”

(Charles) “Well… I still have to get the rest of the expedition in for treatment!”

(Brand) “And then… cure the physical part of it, I guess.”

(Charles) “Trickier! But at least the manse-attunement is a palliative!”

(Brand) “Yeah, good for that… now if only I could uninstall these nasty Charms.”

(Charles) “Why can’t you?”

(Brand) “No Vat!”

(Charles, thoughtfully…) “Are they complicated?”

(Brand) “The patropoli and metropoli install them… not sure how you’d do it without one. Sorry… I’m an investigator, not a Sodalt.”

(Charles) “Hm… Well… Lets check with Mardi Gras! As long as you accept the quasi-reality it should work fine!”

Unfortunately, while that did give Charles a good look at a Vat Complex, it wouldn’t actually work; the Alchemicals were just to “real” to even Mardi Gras powerful fantasies to work on their actual structure. It was going to need… a highly specialized manse!

(Charles) “Oh well! I’ll just have to make one! Fortunately there’s plenty of territory that hasn’t been purposed yet; I’ve been expanding anyway! It looks like your “Charms” are basically personal artifacts though; it would be hard to turn one into a general artifact, but making an artifact that will fit a slot and channel essence into something should be straightforward; that and the link to the user just has to be some of it’s functions. I think I can make – or wyld-quest – those if you need them…

Next stop was an appropriate rank-***** demesne to set up a manse/vat-complex. That wasn’t especially hard, even if it was a bit showy.

(Charles) “There we are!”

(Brand) “I saw that, right? He just SHAPED a Vats Complex out of nowhere!”

(Bright Oscillating Shield) “He does a lot of shaping, it seems.”

(Charles) “Uhm… why not? I like making things.”

(Bright Oscillating Shield) “Is it in contact with the Maker? I suppose there’s only one way to find out… Let’s get that nasty Voidtech uninstalled from you.”

They took turns, to make sure the process didn’t go awry. As it turned out, it wasn’t in contact with Autochthon – but for current purposes it didn’t matter a great deal. From Charles’s point of view… it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to get into contact yet either. That nasty illness might make trouble. Oh well! design things himself it was! Being able to check the diagnostics that came with the Vats made that a lot easier anyway – and let him appreciate the full complexity of the Maker’s work… Caste seemed to be primarily in the wiring and soulgem; it was conceivable that an Alchemical could have Charms made primarily of a non-Caste material, but the anima would remain the same. That was good since Charles wasn’t much for soulsteel; he much preferred to simply build things with built-in harmonic adjusters.

And – like that chunk of soulsteel in Dudael – the wide eyed faces and spindly hands pushed against the metal, screaming for relief… Fortunately, neither Bright Oscillating Shield or Brand had any use for the uninstalled voidtech charms, so they had no objection to Charles letting those spirits out…

Personally, Charles wouldn’t really have been surprised to find that Autochthon had wiped up half the Dragon Kings himself when he wanted some raw materials quickly and easily… Letting them out required working at the Gathering Of Shadows (the underworld communication manse), a good deal of mental soothing, finding that millennia of torment had driven the souls quite mad, and setting up another manse for long-term (potentially multi-millennia) healing for spirits that had been trapped in Soulsteel for WAY too long, and a lot of analysis…

They were rather eerie things – much like the classical “greys” – and had apparently been made by Autochthon himself to glorify him with their technical skills. But they did something that had seriously displeased him – something about a/the “spire” – and he’d eaten them. Well, it would take a long time, but eventually they’d be back to being sensible! Autochthon never had understood people of ANY discription very well! Had he modeled them on the Raksha and then tried to regulate them? That would neatly explain them going mad and upsetting the Maker! Of course, there was also a lot in history that indicated that the Primordials had treated the lesser species like toys – or at least hadn’t understood them in the slightest.

Sadly, even Brand and Bright Oscillating Shield didn’t know anything about that – and they didn’t recall anything in the Tome of the Maker on the sources of soulsteel.

(Charles) “Well, it isn’t very nice!”

That got him a matched set of odd looks… That was obviously pretty profound disapproval for their host!

(Brand) “They must have done something BAD. I mean, I always thought that the soulsteel was souls that had wronged the Maker somehow, but I could never figure out the source. Even Lumpen get a chance to redeem themselves in the next lifetime.”

(Charles) “Well, I really don’t think that “Eternal Torment” is a reasonable sentence for much of anything – except maybe doing it to someone else.”

Brand didn’t quite know what to say to that, considering that he probably wouldn’t exist if the Maker hadn’t eaten them! Or at the very least, would be another caste entirely.

(Charles, sighing) “It IS possible to make soulsteel without actually using souls – you just need the proper resonances – but it’s still nasty stuff! Not that that’s any reflection on YOU – once it’s made if you can’t let them out you might as well use the stuff.”

(Brand) “And up until I left his person, I would have considered myself a virtuous member of the Regulators!”

(Charles) “Well..,. you helped where help was needed I’d guess – and that’s a pretty major part of Virtue!”

(Brand) “That’s right!”

(Charles) “And I think that some more of the people on your expedition probably need help… And your troops have apparently given up on checking exits and have settled in for lunch now!”