While Charles had gotten used to having people wanting to come in, the zombie at one of the earth-gates was still something of a surprise. He’d never actually seen one, and hadn’t known that there were any still around!
Well – at least not on Earth.
This one was exceptionally well-preserved – were it not TOO flush with life, he’d think it was a steampunk cosplayer! – and was dressed in nice, fairly Victorian, clothing. Perhaps a nemissary rather than a zombie? He had very little information on those!
Security was already saying “No!” of course – so Charles ran a remote communications link; he really wasn’t inclined to get nemissary cooties all over his nice clean geomancy!
(Zombie) “Young Charles Dexter Ward, also known as Aden Shining Dream?”
(Charles, a bit doubtfully) “Yes? Erm… I don’t get many calls from dead people… What’s up?”
(Zombie) “I am Vigorous Pulse, a humble servant of House Reininger of Coruscant. An associate referred you to milady; I believe you have prior experience with Abyssal Exalted and the like?”
(Charles) “Some… Er… An associate?”
(Vigorous Pulse) “Milady requested I not go into too much detail. She would have you visit personally; she stated a severe threat had reared its head once more. She seemed quite afraid… there’s been some trouble with the Void-based shipping lately, and not much makes her worried.”
(Charles) “I really don’t think I can come personally! I’m sort of busy at the edge of the wyld right now… Would a remote do?”
(Vigorous Pulse) “She was quite insistent… milady is rather cautious about those she trusts. If there is no other way…”
Charles sent a remote! It was a good thing that he’d tied a Synergistic Overmind into his consciousness; it lets him do more things at once finally!
(Vigorous Pulse) “One moment. I apologize for the inconvenience, but I need an actual necromancer to pierce the veil.”
And an unusually pale individual arrived shortly, looking very uncomfortable – and giving off something resembling a Water Aspect signature… much gorier, though.
Meanwhile, Charles was consulting that rescued ghost from Coruscant – and asking him about House Reininger of Coruscant.
(Ghost) “House Reininger? At the turn of the century, they were most notable for two skills – Occult Brewmastery, and controlling the Willhelmine German criminal underworld, making sure it didn’t inconvenience the Kaiser and the Chancellor too much. It was also notable for staying neutral, not choosing a side between the Starbreaking and the Fellowship of Moonsilver and Jade. They… suddenly disappeared when the Weimar Republic began. The German Terrestrials almost never spoke about it; the Reiningers had always been elusive, much like the eels that coiled within their animas.”
(Charles) “Huh! Well, supposedly there’s a representative here now, so… either they’re still around, or someone is scamming!”
The necromancer was very controlled, almost stony; the Temperance was strong with this one!
Charles was pretty much running the same basic precautions as last time with the Arbiter!
(Heloise) “Are you well, young man? I hear you are ridiculously busy… hrm, a construct! Mother and Father will not be amused, I fear. Nonetheless… mind the Memory of the Void.”
(Charles) “I’m sort of involved elsewhere at the moment; at the borders of the wyld! It would be kind of awkward to be try to be at both of the two opposing poles of existence at the same time…”
She sliced the veil between the living and the dead with her athame – and they emerged on a balcony overlooking that dread place …
(Heloise) “We were not told about that. Trading, I presume?”
(Charles) “An errand really – but it’s not entirely my business, so I don’t think I should talk about it too much!”
(Heloise) “I see…”
She regarded the Well of the Void, the still-horrific Memory of Oblivion, where even now the black starships were in transit to wherever they would go…
(Heloise) “Up we go… best not to tarry around here.”
And they headed up into that brilliant city, with its incredible towers and vast depths! It was Charles’s first direct look – although he listened as well, to see if there were more whispers that needed help! Still… it was getting a LOT quieter.
Getting a peek at the construction project that Aikiko had reported for himself… was quite distressing! The geomancy was horribly wrong!
(Charles) “I think that looks problematic… That geomancy is VERY warped! What do you think?”
(Heloise) “Sigh… a top secret government project, I fear. Who knows what the Council and the Emperor intend with that? If we’re fortunate, it will be wielded against the renegades. Other than that, I can’t say.”
Hrm… She obviously didn’t have much information, so he’d take that with a grain of salt!
(Charles) “Well, I have a feeling that there might be a lot less control than intended!”
(Heloise) “No one can control that sort of thing; it’s the height of hubris.”
She hurried him upwards, heading for a busy thoroughfare. She paid the guards minding the entrance, and took him through the streets of Coruscant – and through a dazzling variety of alien shades! The wraiths were going about their business, trading, negotiating, and moving along to their next destination – while Heloise hailed a hovercraft – remarkably like the films!
Charles ran general scans since he’d never actually had a personal look… The place inevitably needed fixing, but of course it couldn’t be truly fixed. It really was BRIGHT, just like Aikiko reported by way of Skoll… and it was very frustrating! No wonder those monks were working so hard; it would take eons to fix the metaphysical damage even without addressing the fundamental flaws… The powers that ran the place… were indeed cloaking the damage. He could see the appeal for the Wraiths though; if he hadn’t had living essence senses the place would have seemed quite lively. Still… their passions were all too like the Stygia of old. Heloise… was truly the only bit of life here, pale though she was. The only way… was to help the monks like Aikiko did! Take the memories out of here and merge them with their surviving counterparts. An afterlife tea party and rest was one thing; sticking around for centuries…. just didn’t really seem to work. As with all too many things in Creation, a more immediate solution was necessary. It was… perfectly reasonable to hang around, watch over the kids, and finish up what you’d left undone, but long-term existence in this state was pretty warping. Perhaps not in the same way that Oblivion had been – or to the same extent – but that much attachment was unhealthy!
Meanwhile, Heloise had discreetly bribed the hovercraft-cabbie with some grave goods…
(Charles, to Heloise) “Isn’t this sort of pointless? Nothing here can really grow; it can only fade… What would happen if I set up something truly living, powered from the living world? Would it spread, and possibly start infusing the area with some living essence, or would it just bridge the planes like a shadowland?
(Heloise) “Ah, you are a funny one…” (Telepathy) “As indiscreet as warned… you would be best not saying that until we are firmly behind family wards.” (Verbally, more brightly) “Come, young living one! Mother and Father await!”
Charles sighed… the place was interesting, but it was just a mask! A facade of light wrapped around fading memories of horror. It was no wonder that people feared death – or transition – so much; it was the reflected anguish of the memories of the neverborn in the human racemind – and as those faded, that fear faded, and ghosts slipped into Lethe more and more easily. It was no wonder that the underworld was always destructive; it was formed from spirits entangled in the memories of the neverborn. If THOSE could be healed… it would become a place of rest and contemplation until those who tarried in it were ready to pass on…
The cab flew to a tall, dark tower made of black brick – but of a height that would be impossible in the living world! The styling was very much consistent with the nineteeth century’s tall buildings – and they went to the very top, where airy rooms loomed over the ecumenopolis that was Coruscant. The first servant that led them in was in a charcoal suit. The servants’ clothing darkened as they went past brewing chambers, libraries, meeting halls, and nurseries where living but pale children played with toys of black jade and soulsteel.
The final servants were clad entirely in black, and they led them into a somber, wood-paneled meeting hall, warded against both sorcerous and necromantic scrying. There was a feast of red juice, pomegranates, and unidentifiable meat laid out.
(Heloise) “You were… serious about that last comment, yes? You were touted as… a teller of half-truths at worst… Please, eat, even though this is but a construct. Mother and Father’s pomegranates lack the powers of the deathknights.”
Hm… The last bit he’d actually said was speculating on bringing in some real life.
(Charles) “Why not? I have a feeling that shadowlands create a link – but that actual living essence can exist here but it may cast shadows, like grave-goods do – but in this case it would be into the environment around it…”
Like Aikiko’s coins had!
(Charles, absently) “Needs change… Oh! How silly of me! It HAS changed a good deal since one particular event! Ergo… even within the confines of Creation’s rules, wyld influences will allow some change within the general structure of the underworld; ergo, an artifact that generates a wyld pocket linked back to living power sources and the wyld… will allow some colonization by actual living things and some growth and development for the spirits here that interact with it!
Heloise made sure that the wards were secure.
(Heloise) “Do you always theorize so much? Nonetheless, if that is possible…perhaps it’s far-fetched, but I can’t imagine Father being disinterested. I shall inform him and Mother that you are here.”
She went to fetch them.
Charles – to be polite – analyzed and “sampled” the food; the construct had originally been made as a space probe, he hadn’t really included “taste” anyway.
He had a look at the local geomancy too! Maybe he could build a manse!
The food… was phantasmal and unsatisfying to most living beings, as most food in the Underworld was. It would satisfy any creature of death, which Heloise and the children counted as despite being technically living. As for the tower… it was a Blood-aspected Manse, focused on brewing and catering – an Exotic Aspect, although not TOO much so by Underworld standards. At the fourth rank.
Oh well! He ran a quick test while waiting! He shipped in a small artifact with an unbreakable link to a manse in the borderlands (he had the Djinn make one) set up for a gate into the wyld, wyld revocation (to rebond necrotic essence, that lacks possibility, with possibility from the wyld), links set up to channel those effects to a set of artifacts… and looked into the possibility of attaching a small domain to a ghost! On the underworld end he let the first stand generate a small sphere of conjoined wyld-necrotic essence, added conveniences for the plants – light, water, etc – and put in mosses and bonsai to start, with some small flowers – violets and such. About three feet across to start with!
He settled back to see what would happen as necrotic essence flowed in and was rejoined with imported wyld energies – and to see if the plants would grow! He shielded it so that it wouldn’t be easy to detect or affect the manse geomancy though! It would be rude to upset it!
Hm… he was so close to the Memory of the Void… Blood was the Underworld element closest to life, but the best he got were plants that immediately died and transformed into their phantasmal equivalents. Even those livened up this rather dreary gaslit room, though.
There DID seem to be some living-style essence there though… even if it was being drained at a tremendous rate.
That called for more warding! Plants could be “resurrected” easily enough – and that made it stable enough for some actual plants… Still lots of resistance though! It was pretty tricky! Still, there weren’t any signs of the universe breaking, or of the area being forcibly reunited with Creation proper, or anything like that.
He threw in more ward layers, some happy memories, some music (they said it’s good for plants! Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. The symbolism might help!
Very soon Heloise was back, walking respectfully behind a somberly-dressed man and a woman, both with dark hair and crimson skin. He could hear their faint pulses – and feel a moderate amount of death Essence emanating from their bodies. They might not be as attuned as Abyssals, but… they were definitely Dragons of a Different Color. They were also pretty strongly warded off.
(Heloise) “Well. This wasn’t entirely unexpected. Mother, Father, this is the young man. Charles, the Lady Sylvia and Lord Otto Reininger, caterers to the Council of Stygia.”
(Charles) “Hm! (Peering at the plants) They aren’t ENTIRELY happy… but that may change as the essence-shift accumulates in the area… And pleased to meet you! Plants are sort of transitional forms anyway… that’s why they can convert dead matter into living matter so easily!”
(Lady Sylvia) “I won’t waste time-the last time I did… well, we didn’t start out so… red. I trust you know about the Starbreaking?”
(Charles) “Well yes!”
(Lady Sylvia)”One of their operatives has been harrying our suppliers. I heard you had positive results with some of them, so… err, Otto, do some divination on him.”
Otto did so.
(Otto) “Oh my. It’s true… he does have devas. Has Heaven really been so unaware?”
(Charles) “Well, I’ve been trying to locate them… the whole thing is very irrational!”
(Lady Sylvia) “That’s what I tried to tell everyone… I can give you the last known location of their starship, which might or might not be one of them. I presume you’ll do to it and whoever’s onboard what you did to the rest?”
Her tone said that she didn’t really care what Charles did as long as they were out of her hair.
(Charles) “Hm… I’ll have to check! The academy might have a full cure by now instead of just a suppressant!”
(Otto) “As long as they won’t be able to hurt anyone else… that’s all I care about.”
(Charles) “Well, that’s the idea!… Do you mind if I keep tabs on the plants here? I’d like to know how it works out! I THINK the resistance should fade as a balance-point becomes established, but I can’t be entirely sure!”
(Lady Sylvia) “That’s risky! The Emperor-” (And a pained expression on Otto’s face… .) “Don’t give me that look… you know we’re much better off here that we were in Hamburg. (And to Charles) “We owe much to the Council and the Emperor, young man. It’s a delicate balance-even summoning you here was risky!”
(Otto) “And yet when the Starbreaking showed up, you considered it worth it.”
(Charles) “Would the plants make trouble for you?”
(Lady Sylvia, sighing) “The Emperor has treated us well… but he is a creature of pure death. As much as we yearn for true life, I don’t want to risk his ire.”
(Charles) “Oh! Well, I’ll put them somewhere else then!”
(Lady Sylvia) “Let me guess, a pocket dimension?”
(Charles) “Oh, I think just a good long ways off! there wouldn’t be much point to the experiment in a pocket-dimension!”
(Otto, pained) “One of the asteroids, perhaps? Would that be far enough?”‘
(Charles) “That would work! Don’t worry; I’ll take it there!”
Actually he’d been thinking about parks and such, but why not an asteroid?
They gave him a location to use later – but were studying the construct quite intently.
(Otto) “Anyway, the last location of the ship was an asteroid belt; it’d attacked some of the Reininger shipping. It’s not easy finding living merchants who are willing to trade with the dead or near dead, you know – and harder still for the foods the dead enjoy.”
Charles almost laughed. He’d read the expanded universe stuff – and they had to bury all the stuff for the dead to use, so they got it as grave-goods… and that was what the Tomb Archive was all about!
Still… maybe they knew something about the Arbiter? He tried a little fishing. It wasn’t like he didn’t know that he’d attracted Charles’s notice.
(Lady Sylvia) “We know that he is partially responsible for our… current state, though we were not fortunate enough to see him personally.”
(Otto) “Only his deathknights, may they suffer horribly. I would like to have a discussion with the bandaged one, personally.”
Huh! Well, since the encounter at Brasilia had done that one in… it wasn’t going to happen!
(Charles) “I don’t think that you need to worry about it really!”
Although one of those veins was noticeably pulsing, it returned to merely visible…
(Otto, with palpable bitterness) “Good!”
(Lady Sylvia) “We have no hope of countering what they did to us… and, honestly, we really are better off here. At least here, the sun doesn’t make us itch.”
(Charles) “What did they do?”
(Lady Sylvia) “The only reason I’m telling you this is because we were told we could trust you… Otto, check the wards, just to be sure.” (And after that) “They… adjusted our elemental attunements, using necromancy not even we could hope to cast. I’m told what I’m attuned to now is equivalent to Water.”
(Otto) “It’s all wrong, though… No one should have to suffer this. I… I can’t respire living Essence anymore.”
(Lady Sylvia) “Hush, Otto… at least they didn’t kill us for good.”
(Charles) “Oh! Well… mind if I look?”
The Lady Sylvia was trying to comfort Otto.
(Lady Sylvia) “Certainly. You came highly recommended.”
Bother… it was obviously Void Circle Necromancy. It went beyond even the Dragons of a Different Color of the Second Age… they were still alive, but were indeed attuned to the Underworld elements and qualified as creatures of death and darkness.
Well, that had to be an active magical effect. It Had to be be feeding the corrupted power to their Exaltation; feeding it directly to the human side of things would probably kill them. Ergo the spell structure had to be still active. Like the Raksha effects that chokde off the usual feeding mechanisms…
It was. He had a look at it.
Wait; it was hereditary? That was a horrible thing to do to Terrestrials. Any one of their children who Exalted did so as a Blood Aspect instead of the proper Water. Perhaps mercifully, other than special effects, the necrotic attunement, and not being capable of Terrestrial Circle Sorcery, that didn’t affect anything.
Still, if it was hereditary… the spell had to accumulate extra power in it’s pattern until it could duplicate itself. Ergo, all he needed was a tweak! He could apply a related effect to the spell itself- so that it’s inputs become corrupted and it started accepting living essence into itself. Then he could flood it with living essence, and it would flop over to solar circle sorcery – conferring a hereditary immunity to related necrotic essence effects.
He had Malinda and Thanata (his Necromancy / faux Necrotics expert) check; they had those never-fail charms to use – while he pulled on more geomantic power to add more bonuses of his own.
(Malinda) “This could get unpredictable, dearie; not even I can see what working on an Exaltation so directly can do! Perhaps you should work with the man first? This seems to be a matriarchal house you’re dealing with at the moment.”
(Charles) “Well, I was thinking more of working on the spell; it’s acting as an interface to the surrounding essence-environment and rerouting it – so adding a layer to it should let me reroute it’s OWN inputs!”
(Thanata) “Well! That’s a complicated spell… and a horrible one. This is the first time you’ve dealt with a non-warding Solar-equivalent effect, isn’t it? And necromancy in the Underworld, and with people under a powerful Underworld figure’s protection, too… you might want to get them into Aden in case he takes exception.”
(Charles) “Well, that might be the point… Some of the people down here seem inclined to rather baroque plots… I don’t see anything like that though… and the Wraith Manse has lots of protection and containment and would be better for them!”
(Charles, to Otto and Sylvia) “Hm… Could you step through here a moment? We don’t want to be too near the caster for this!”
He had a wyld gate set up; there were already enough wyld energies around the plants to cover it.
(Lady Sylvia) “You first, dear… if this works…”
She did seem mildly hopeful as he went through.
It still took a LOT of work! He had to build a specialized manse and several artifacts – and Elzeard and Thanata were quite tired after the several days’ work it took to erode the pattern, and the Lady Reininger sent several messages to check on Otto during that time. But, after all that time, instead of the phantasmal eels and blood cells, his anima erupted into cold waters and living eels.
Otto lost his composure. He hadn’t seen that in over seventy years…
(Charles) “Messy! It was locked with a personal essence-signature, so I had to pull a equivalence structure out of the wyld… On the good news side, you should be rather highly resistant to necromancy now!”
Otto really wasn’t responding at the moment, he was just staring ahead in shock, and looking at his hands – which were a more Water Aspect normal black, and eel-like in texture.
(Otto, finally) “Th . . thank you. I apologize for my lack of self-control; Sylvia would be quite ashamed.”
(Charles) “Why? You’ve been very stressed for quite some time!”
(Otto) “We were dealing with the situation as best we could…”
(Charles) “Well naturally! But that would hardly make it easy on you… And that’s another thing I know how to fix! It shouldn’t take too long for later cases!”
The Lady Sylvia took significantly less time – but the Void Circle spell was still a comparative pain to cancel; it took several hours.
Meanwhile the Academy had been making some progress on Gremlin Syndrome.. Unfortunately, the Alchemical attunement to Autochthon was proving to be a problem. They were going to need to study that more intimately to make much more progress. A visit to the Maker was warranted.
Well, a visit it would have to be!
(Charles) “Er… What about Heloise?”
(Lady Sylvia) “SOMEONE will have to stay in Coruscant and divert suspicion as long as possible; Heloise is one of my more capable daughters.”
Heloise… was rather ambivalent about being “cured”. After all, she’d been born that way – and had been trained in necromancy her whole life. And there wasn’t any rush!
(Heloise) “Mother’s right; if things become too heated, though…this isn’t the first time we’ve had to switch bases. I suppose we’re welcome in your world-body any time?”
(Charles) “Well, something might come up I suppose – but Gothmug can handle most things along those lines!”
(Heloise) “Then I’ll keep that in mind.”
(Charles) “OK! Should I still take the plants to an asteroid, or will things already have been blown if anyone gets in that far?”
The asteroid would do fine for his experimental plants. And it would be much further from the Void anyway, which might improve things!