Aikiko’s trip to the Atlanta Gate was reasonably swift – there seemed to be no disruptions of the flow of the canals today – and offered a marvelous view of the Salient of the Unconquered Sun along the way, but even from the canals there were glimpses of the empty quarters. She hadn’t really paid that much attention before – but the signs were clear if you really looked. Yu-Shan was in serious trouble. The frenetic activity, disorganization, and damage… were in large part symptoms of the city’s illness, much as feverish activity, confusion, and deterioration were the symptoms of a mortal’s illness. Seeing the city that way was not comfortable.
Still, she had three additional Guardians to find.
Hm… next up on that front was England – and Helical Storm. Change to head for the English gate? Nah; it would be pretty hard to explain on Earth; getting her passport stamped was a bit of an inconvenience, but it made explanations SO much easier!
There was the amber theft – or, considering that it had been vastly overpaid for, perhaps “irregular purchase” was a better phrase – as well as the ancestor cult leader, but that didn’t sound much like a Solar – much less a Guardian – to her. Still… it was easy enough to go looking for some updates online.
Odd events were continuing around the Baltic Sea: several other “break-ins”, in which someone had taken odd items and left heaps of gold – usually worth twenty to a hundred times as much as the items taken – had occurred over the past few months – and there have been a number of extremely WEIRD disappearances of hardline officials, the remnants of the KGB-style forces, and at least one entire squad of police that were engaged in demonstration-suppression duty.
- Helical Storm had successfully weathered it’s legal troubles since no drug or other agent could be identified – but were currently mostly playing underground venues. There were also rapidly increasing reports of fairy-tale creatures about. as well as a fair number of disappearances.
- In China the followers of Yan Tong Ling were insisting that he would return, and the mummified body that had been left in his cell had reportedly disappeared from the Morgue – according to the Chinese police, probably stolen by his followers.
- In Malaysia, the Besi Hantuperajin had come to a close – for now.
- In the South Pacific, one small and isolated island had dropped out of communications; they would be checked on next month, when one of the regular ships arrived – they only got about one a month.
The “noise” level was a bit harder to sort at the moment what with Charles’s operations, but there was one that was good for a grin anyway – a tongue-in-cheek report on the revival of a volcano cult in South America, with some suggestions of it involving throwing tourists into volcanoes thrown in to liven it up a bit…
Hrm! Well, in order, Helical Storm, the Baltic, and China, then – and call Charles along the way to check on the one she HAD found – even if he should be able to get along just fine on his own; he WAS an Exalt after all.
For a moment fantasies of using Skill to make a sub-orbital jump, or wading unstoppably across the bottom of the ocean (and touring the place while she was at it) danced in her imagination – but it would probably make life a lot simpler if she just took a conventional commercial flight. She could get fancy when Charles utterly broke the veil on the supernatural.
Besides, wading, even with her athletics charms, would be kind of slow.
For once nothing much happened on the flight. She DID, however, get some attention at customs… One of the officials waved her over into the private search room!
Oh dear. Still, trying to get out of it would be messy.
(Official, looking at her passport) “Mrs Aikiko? I will have to ask you your business in England – your real business please.”
(Akikio) “Oh. I’m checking out this rock group called Helical Storm. There was a big stink over one of their performances a while back-hallucinations and the like.”
(Official) “Ah. THAT bunch… They have been remarkably hard to trace recently! They’ve been working the underground circuits recently, and it’s becoming quite difficult to cover things up… the’ve been involved in a LOT of disappearances lately. What do you intend to do when you locate them? That won’t be easy in any case.”
(Aikiko) “I believe that one of them is a pretty powerful supernatural being. I’d like to get in contact with them and make sure they’re not up to anything too bad. And before we go too far… who are you representing? I don’t think you’re a normal customs agent. Also… I’d heard about the disappearances. Who are they targeting?”
(Official) “Given the current disruptions I represent the Donneley’s and two other clans. We’ve been monitoring the customs stations for incoming people with substantial power-auras. There… have been more than a few lately. As for who’s been vanishing – it’s mostly been fringers; gypsies, hippies, and the counterculture bunch.”
(Aikiko) “Ah! I’ve had some business with the Donnellys . . . and that does sound like the crowd a Helical Storm concert would attract. What kind of people have been coming through, though? I’m clearly not the only one interested.”
(Official) “Well… it may not matter if those ads turn out to be accurate! Still, eventually everyone else will start to notice even if they aren’t – although the “strike team” bunch may be able to stop it somehow.”
(Aikiko) “Strike team?”
(Official, sighing) “Well, some of the more… conservative… sorts feel that the best way to deal with disruptive types is to beat their heads in. I have my doubts as to how well that works as a general rule, but they’ve managed to make it work reasonably well for them so far – particularly with some of the weapons they’re willing to use.”
(Aikiko) “Like? If you’re talking about who I think you are, that could get messy-for them!”
(Official) “What, you know who’s behind it? That’s potentially valuable information there! As for what weapons… Well, they’ve got access to some very old and nasty stuff!”
(Aikiko) “Well, I was thinking the Starbreaking for the strike team . . . anyway, do you need help? I’m the right age to pass at one of those concerts.”
(Official, who was just an awakened thaumaturgist) “Well… it’s not really my department – but I can put you in touch with them.”
(Aikiko) “The Donnellys or the strike team? Either would work – I want to keep people from wading into something they can’t handle.”
(Official) “The Donnellys first; The strike team bunch… is semi-independent.”
(Aikiko) “All right then.”
Aikiko was quietly ushered out of the private room with effusive “apologies” for the inconvenience – and an address in London. She acted appropriately inconvenienced, and took a taxi to a small park across the road from the address. London was bustling, and rather flavorful (if not as flavorful as Japan in her view; it resembled American cities more than Japan’s cities did). There were more than a few fey-touched around though! Mostly using those charms that made normal people ignore them.
It was nice to see the old-style European architecture on the way, though… and she started checking out the fey-touched folk with thaumaturgical Essence senses.
As it turned out, there weren’t a lot of similarities between them and the ones under the lake. There were a few mutated humans (although not nearly as severely) and quite a few feybloods. Evidently there was a LOT more interaction with the Raksha in England – which would fit in with some of the old stories pretty well. Oh dear; if the Cauldron-Born were around Mechagodzilla would show up eventually. A good thing that he was pretty subtle for a kaiju!
Of course garden-variety Raksha were more likely. After all, England was famous for them!
And… there was an actual Raksha opening an art gallery across the street. Well, they WERE very good at blending in. She might have to stop by later on! Overall… a busy place, and with a great deal more magic running about than most places in America! And obviously getting along without too many magical battles – which sort of put the lie to the whole masquerade; a place like this would do just fine were magic to be revealed. After all, they’d been reporting photographs of faeries and such for a very long time. Admittedly, it seemed to be mostly the RAKSHA covering things up… but that made sense! The Enlightenment… a possible reaction to Raksha area effect magics sweeping all mortal ideas of magic under the carpet? It would be to their benefit too, wouldn’t it? Not only would it reduce the supernatural competition, but the resulting rebellion against church and monarchies would diversify humanity’s dreams. So… English Dominance and the Industrial Revolution could have been a result of Raksha meddling. After all, while the Dragon-Blooded could be be quite powerful, but they just didn’t have the same potence in the realms of illusion and mind-manipulation.
Fascinating as that kind of speculation was though… she had some people to meet.
The address was one of the Towers of Tower Bridge – a structure of some considerable age, and a fairly powerful Water Manse. It looked like… some widespread conveniences – controlling rats and plague, water levels, and some other bits. Inside… rather a lot of room and some wyld energies. Not bad – especially in pre-modern times… She went inside.
(Aikiko) “Hello? The customs agent at the airport sent me.”
The “secretary” had apparently been expecting her – and unlocked the elevator to the higher floors for her (while directing tourists to the appropriate sections of the tower). Aikiko thanked her and headed up…
The elevator opened up into a rather large area which rather cleverly simulated being outside. There were a wide variety of pavilions and other diplomatic arrangements. Currently there was a small conference going on – mostly terrestrials and a couple of Raksha.
(Aikiko, to the man watching the door) “I’m Aikiko Tanaka, an independent investigator. Your agent at Heathrow sent me.”
(Guard) “Are you representing anyone or just yourself?”
(Aikiko) “A powerful being whose identity I’d rather keep confidential for now.”
(Guard) “I see. Still, Samuel has informed me that you may have some relevant information for the conference; if you would step this way please?”
Listening for a few minutes revealed several positions. 1) keep most of the people of England from noticing the Gates if such things actually did open up, 2) organize colonizing groups and expand the British Empire once more, 3) Encourage the groups who want to take out whoever it is, 4) discourage those same groups, 5) try to get their major weapons away from them, 6) try to ally with whoever was doing it, 7) Bring Magic back into the open early and take the credit.
Each position – and various combinations of positions – had it’s own supporters,
Aikiko got introduced (according to her passport) since she reportedly had some hard information and could confirm who was placing the ads. The Donnellys had contributed some reports about Charles, but most of the people at the conference seemed to feel that the child was just a front man and that the whole “dimensional entity” thing wes complete nonsense. The only people who recalled much about that sort of thing were the Raksha – and (with all due respect) their stories were hardly dependable.
(Aikiko, sighing) “Guys… it IS Charles. I wouldn’t recommend fighting him, either. Aden is just about (she checked… good grief!) Fifty-two million square miles now, and is defended by a lot of his creations. Really, you’d be best off colonizing. He’d almost certainly support that, and even WANTS people to colonize the places on the other end.”
(Various speakers) “Aden?” “What do you mean ‘millions of square miles’?!?! Are you saying that that child is a Yozi?!?!” “That’s roughly the land area of Earth! And nothing but the Yozi’s exists like that!”
(Aikiko) “Well he keeps expanding… And no, he’s not a Yozi! How would he get out of Malfeas? Besides, Aden is too pleasant and carefree for him to be one.”
(Various conference-goers ) “So… what is he? And what is he likely to do if we CAN’T talk the military types out of attacking him?”
(Aikiko) “I’m not sure myself! I think he started out as an Exalt . . . but he’s so much more now. And if he is attacked? Well, he doesn’t kill people on principle. He’d try negotiating. If they insisted, they’d have a lot of trouble just getting in – and even if they did, he has a lot of deva-like beings he’s created to subdue them. He can also make indestructible walls. Really, he’s a master at attacking with Manse powers, and he’s got TONS of them in there.”
(Thaddius) “Attacking with manse powers… That’s totally absurd, and it fits in with what reports we’ve gotten. Those environmental-modification manses are all beyond anything we can build – and it looks like they’re being erected in less than a week when it should take decades!”
(Aikiko) “He’s an incredibly skilled geomancer and artificer, and he doesn’t want to hurt anybody. That’s why you should make friends with him!”
(Thaddeus) “Just wonderful! That makes reigning in the militarists even more urgent!”
Things started breaking up into quiet little sub-conferences.
(Thaddeus, as an aside to Aikiko) “And what are you looking for? I doubt that you’re here just to talk to us. Is it actually just that pesky rock group?”
(Aikiko) “Yep! I think that one of their members might be like Charles… a lot weaker, though! He’s definitely the most powerful one.”
(Thaddeus) “Oh, that’s just wonderful too! And how is THAT one going to turn the world upside down?”
(Aikiko, shrugging) “No idea, but I’m sure rock music will be part of it.”
Thaddeus shared what they had with her. An annoying band hadn’t been all that high on their priority list recently. Helical Storm had been spending a lot of time with the lowest-end types – those carrying enough fey blood to remember that magic exists and often enough to have some minor knacks themselves – but not enough to really do very much with. That left them pretty well marginalized. The fey often recruited among them, given that the Victorian Workhouses – where they had used to collect most of the youngsters – had long since closed down.
(Aikiko) “Maybe they’re recruiting for their Exalted member’s inner world. Are they sticking to underground clubs in certain areas? That’d make it easier to track them.”
That possibility hadn’t occurred to anyone; it would explain some things. The underground… tended to use minor magical concealments and the warped space on the edge of the wyld pockets. In a lot of ways it was an entirely separate country, even if it was interwoven with what most people thought of as England. In a lot of ways… venturing in was a lot like stepping back several centuries.
(Aikiko) “Erggh… no wonder you’ve been having trouble, then.”
(Thaddeus) “Well yes! Even for us… the people there are pretty uncooperative; they don’t appreciate having been systematically ignored all this time!”
(Aikiko) “And of course they wouldn’t want to give away the location of the people whisking them someplace better.”
(Thaddeus) “Not really. And they’ve been actively recruiting from the poorer end of society as well.”
(Aikiko) “Well, even with that, you’ve got to have some contacts down there. Otherwise you wouldn’t know what Helical Storm was doing in the first place.”
(Thaddeus) “Well… there are some people who, well… basically go slumming.”
Meanwhile, Aikiko (and her investigation excellency) were busy putting together some overheard pieces. It looked like the Military group had managed to lay their hands on a major weapons cache back in the days of the British Empire. Something in Australia – and there are some fairly horrific stories about that was in there. From some of those hints… Shogunate or older, or at least someplace that had held on to quite a lot of first-age infrastructure.
Oh by the Incarnae! That could include such delightful things as warstriders and soulbreaker orbs!
(Aikiko) “So it’s not unheard of, then. How risky is slumming there? I can handle myself, but it’s good to know about any threats.”
(Thaddeus) “Mostly there isn’t a LOT of physical danger – but you can easily wound up entangled in oaths and raksha narratives if you’re not careful.”
(Aikiko) “I might have to go ‘slumming,’ then. Attending some performances down there isn’t unusual.”
(Thaddeus) “Not really. They will overcharge you though!”
(Aikiko) “I guess that’s to be expected . . . will they accept pounds and euros, or is it gossamer based down there?”
(Thaddeus, sighing) “They’ll accept pounds, euros, gold, gems, gossamer, and almost anything else of value. According to the rumors, some even trade slaves to the Raksha.”
(Aikiko) “Well, that makes things easier, then. Any other warnings before I head down?”
(Thaddeus) “Well… do you have anti-illusion and anti-shaping protections?”
(Aikiko) “Anti-shaping anyway… and I can probably get something to help with Illusions from Charles.”
And it was… another relatively short session. Ah well.