The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice CLXVIII – Infinity and Illusion

At the other end of the universe… time progressed slowly. Confronted with such a bizarre exception to the usual rules… Gauderis Athelstane let no moment pass until it’s events and implications had been well-examined, and found to contain no menace to her security,

Fortunately, Charles had quite a few aspects and many things to do elsewhere, where the streams of time were less congested. There was no reason not to wait!

There were a variety of further queries about the state of Yu-Shan, most notably her devas and the condition of the geomancy. They did generally know who each others devas were, if only to keep tabs on spies from the Dragon’s Shadow. He was always a pain!

Charles explained at considerable length – and Gauderis Athelstane seemed… relieved. There was no sign of the geomantic damage that heralded a deva being permanently slain – although it did sound like the Heart of the Canals was in a spot!

She – through her Feitch – got a big hug (even if she had no idea what that was about; she wasn’t very touchy-feely. She’d just have to ask Richof later) – and then it was (at last) time to leave, with a wave of goodbye.

She opened up a safe tunnel for him, free of filaments, stewing despair and worry, and razorcarls. After a brief journey through that tunnel of basalt and crimson, Charles arrived at that magnificent view of the universe once more – and Richof rose up out of the “ground” to meet him – and to share a big hug!

(Charles) “Well, that was semi-successful, with conditions…”

(Richof) “I hadn’t expected you to escape without some conditions. It’s just how she is.”

(Charles) “Well, she wants some other things done before she’ll give me the spike… I hope those don’t lead to more things to be done, time is getting a little tighter than I like!”

(Richof) “You’re extended enough as it is. Still… you’re working on entire planets. I’m sure you’ll manage somehow.”

(Charles) “I hope so!”

(Richof) “Now, your surprise… that’s already waiting for you in Aden.”

And he looked very happy about that!

(Charles) “Ooh! Hm… I think I need to add some elemental poles of my own to Aden; they seem to help with some things…”

(Richof) “Inspired, are you?”

(Charles) “One of the Razorcarls said something that made me think of it!”

(Richof) “Ah, I see… such friendly creatures when they are on guide mode.” (Rubbing his beard thoughtfully) “That reminds me. I must see if my subselves have made new First Circles!”

(Charles) “That should be fun!”

Richof bid Charles farewell, as he retired into the statue of himself overlooking the universe.

Charles – slightly sadly – said goodbye – and head back into Aden and the Tsunami and back towards the center of the universe.

Gothmug met his manifestation (or real self; it was getting hard to tell!) in Aden.

(Gothmug) “Ah, Charles! Your grandfather came by and left some guests at your residence!”

(Charles) “That should be fun!”

He headed off to see his guests!

There… was a couple sitting in his living room, watching the television! They were wearing red and black robes very similar to his grandfather’s, although theirs didn’t have the lines of armor beneath. There was a too-strong-to-be-coincidental resemblance to the pictures of his parents, Theo and Amalie… (He fairly obviously favored his Father – who seemed to have a slight Athelstanian tinge to his essence).

Just when he was short of time! A very good thing he could manage multiple manifestations now! And didn’t feel any particular need for “dignity”! Reunion time! Hugs for both parents at once, since he could cheat!

They weren’t terribly disconcerted by that, Richof did have multiple manifestations himself!

(Theo, after everyone had calmed down – but sounding very pleased as he gestured at the view of Adem…) “It’s been so long-too long. I never expected THIS!”

(Charles) “Well, I got to making things!”

(Theo) “That’s the understatement of the age. Most young men aren’t making their own subsouls.”

(Charles) “I needed them to help me fix things!”

(Amalie – a completely normal human) “Er… Charles, dear, is it true you’re intending to repair HEAVEN?”

She was a little overwhelmed by the scale of things! Most mothers were happy when their sons became doctors, and her son… was well on the way to becoming a Primordial… and a doctor.

(Charles) “Well.. It needs fixing very badly! If I don’t it will collapse fairly soon and take Creation with it!”

(Amalie) “Oh my…”

They’d been well aware of the bureaucratic problems in Yu-Shan, but collapse? And take Creation with it?

There was much explaining – while Charles got them set up with adenic thaumaturgy, the privacy manse, some raksha oath-boosts, a few useful artifacts, (improved) “lesser exaltations”, and a selection of other protections.

(Theo) “Your grandfather didn’t tell us Yu-Shan was a Primordial… and I can see why.”

(Charles) “Well, it’s still something of a secret for the next couple of months.”

(Amalie) “How much of this did he know?”

(Charles) “Uhm… I think that he didn’t know how bad it was. I’m pretty sure that he knew that she was a Primordial though!”

(Amalie) “I see… Theo, can Richof even BE caught off guard?”

(Theo) “It’s certainly possible – but rare. I’d say when he told him, yes.”

They… had to think about all this for awhile.

Charles kept a manifestation with them; he had a lot to catch up on – although he was quite hesitant to ask what had kept them away for so long; it might be something that they’d have to leave for again! After all, Gramps was a pretty affable deva – but he still wasn’t human, and Charles… very definitely was; he might be absurdly amplified, but he was still very human at base – right down to his love of peanut butter.

Hm… While he was at it, what poles to install? Benevolence was a good idea, but he’d need more! Maybe… Harmony (to keep everything peaceful and working together), Creation (for artifacts and things), Celebration (for embracing the universe), Vigor (to cover the life/growth/healing stuff), Intellect (for pretty obvious reasons), Magic (pretty much without saying), and Transformation (to cover evolution, adaptability, and all that stuff)? All of those were very important principles!

But would his internal reality stay solid? Or would that be relative anyway? He could tie some of those to secondary elemental aspects to keep the general structure working… Vigor to Wood, Intellect to Air, Transformation to Fire, Harmony to Earth, and Magic to Water? That would tie things to the life-principles, to voice and ideas, to reshaping and animation, to stability and acceptance, and to the flow and mingling of essence – as well as to some physical aspects. A proper harmonious blend of forces made for the most durable and stable of things – ergo, Harmony would manifest as something resembling the pole of earth on the physical side, and similar logic would apply to his other poles. That should cover it!

Well, Creation would be linked to Chaos – and it was probably better to acknowledge that directly, rather than simply leaving it as an unspoken

Hm… That would probably open up some new charms – and make a bunch of the usual ones (such as the entire War, Melee, Archery, and the other mostly-offensive trees) drop out… Oh well! He’d never wanted any of those anyway!

Charles continued to frantically work on ten projects at once.

Meanwhile, with Aikiko, for some reason the Hedgerows reminded her a great deal of her recent work at Toho studios. Was it just the preponderance of illusion about?

Yes, this bit belonged just after CLVI and got left out – so now it’s a flashback.

That might not have been save-the-universe important, but it had certainly been fun! She’d been pretending to be a more-or-less normal person for that… Except for a bit of exploring the place between sequences she could start the weird stuff when she was more established and had some pull with the studio.

The place… had been a little odd for a studio, but for what it was it was reasonable enough. The interactive wing of the Toho Film Museum section was down for repairs (and had been for quite some time) – but that wasn’t especially important. Most of the stages – using Palace of Unreality – were in use, but most of the actors just accepted the backgrounds and such as being computer-generated (which WAS sort of true… just not the kind of computer that they’d be expecting).

There had been a good deal of competition between the actors of course, but that had been pretty much inevitable! At least being relatively unknown at the moment had kept the worst of it in check – until the director made it a point to see her in private after one set of shots! That could have been very bad or very good – but there did seem to be a certain amount of jealousy coming her way at the moment… evidently Director Isanawa didn’t make time for minor actors unless he saw something in them.

She’d had to wait a couple of minutes – but he WAS the director.

(Isanawa) “Ah, Ms Aikiko? Were you planning on making acting into a career? While your performances are still a bit rough in spots, you have been improving rapidly, and you do seem to be enjoying yourself!”

(Aikiko) “I was thinking about it, yes.”

(Isanawa) “In that case I’ve been asked to convey a special offer to you; acting talent is actually fairly common – people play social roles all the time – but your skill in the martial arts is remarkable. Ariskari Mekan has expressed an interest in making some additional films recently, and would like you to try out for one of the roles. Would you be interested in working with him? He is… a remarkably talented man, but he is more than a bit opinionated and convinced of his own superiority; he can be quite difficult to work with. And at his age… well, there’s no arguing with him!

Aikiko looked him up in the Adenic databases… that could be promising, if potentially frustrating!

Ariskari Mekan was supposed to be… 118 this year. He was credited as the director of nearly forty films, at least half listed as “lost”. He seemed to specialize in (oddly enough) martial arts movies – albeit with a wild variety of settings. For example, amongst his more revent films, there was a futuristic sci-fi drama with some oddly political overtones that had been mostly distributed in Taiwan and India, a documentary on the Mystic Martial Arts of Tibet, and another on Creatures of the Vanishing Rain Forest featuring a brief martial arts battle with a vicious lizard-thing.

Which, from the stills… looked like it might be a Dragon King, albeit one with a mutation or two! Of course, creatures like that weren’t exactly uncommon in the universe; the Dragon Kings, and especially the nonsapient young, had been mirrored out too during the reshaping.

Huh. She’d probably be in for a lot of frustration – but she accepted the offer!

(Isanawa) “Very well! That’s for the future of course… now, I’d expect that some of the other actors will be upset if they feel that you’re getting special attention – unless it’s negative. I would like you to check the script carefully; we’ll be shooting some of the final sequences – don’t look confused, that way we can hold the expenses down; we’re getting all the appearances of the minor characters who only appear in a few spots out of the way so as to keep down the length of time we need them for. However, to maintain harmony amongst the cast, I trust you will have no trouble in being shouted out of my office with some minor criticisms of your performances so far; at least one is true – you need to work on looking relaxed; you almost always seem at least a bit on edge!”

(Aikiko) “Sorry, sir!”

Well, she DID have quite a bit on her plate at the moment and was working at the main temple of something that had wanted to capture her not so long ago!

(Isanawa) “Oh, it works well enough given the movie we’re doing at the moment; it could lead to being typecast in the future though!”

Huh… some meditation time might be in order. That was pretty cliche, but it wouldn’t do to be nervous for long. She never wanted to live that way – or with a head full of memories of the Neverborn. Even with the waterpark fantasy running… that wasn’t a lot of fun! Still, it was slowly soothing the memories of the burning. There was a lot of pathos though, since a fair number of the memory-Devas of Dhengu-Gata, She Who Enables And Brings Wealth, The Bringer Of Purpose To The Inanimate, were patrons of assorted raw materials, with second-circle subaspects in making things out of them. It was a bit like hosting a massacred artists colony with some philanthropists and patrons of the arts thrown in!

She’d… probably gotten along with the Raksha pretty well; they’d always appreciated beautiful things. Probably the one in charge of deals for gossamer and graces! She’d notified the Mardi Gras Raksha that the Devas might be interested in trades when they got a little better.

Wait… was this why so many of humanities greatest artists had been more than a bit crazy and tormented by inexpressible visions? Were they tapping into the shattered remains of something beyond any humans ability to handle easily through the racemind links with the resurgent devas – and through them, the memories of the Neverborn? Was that why matters had been slowly improving and art had been becoming steadily more sophisticated? Heh! What kind of charms did a primordial artist grant? Perhaps “Harold and the Purple Crayon” was more than a fantasy for children?

More seriously… how many great works of art had inspired revolutions? That was a bit less direct than the “mighty blow of doom” sort of Charm – but at some things it was much more effective if less immediately lethal.

Oh well! Time for another acting job… looking properly chastened!

That… had worked quite well enough to keep her on the invitation list to the cast parties – and networking was very important in the flim business! She was charming (to help make contacts) and humble (to help avoid rivalry), and it worked out quite well. Besides… it WAS only a minor roll in the current film – and, while Ariskari Mekan was widely respected, his movies only reached VERY limited audiences – and Aikiko possibly getting a role in one was still a secret anyway. There were a few casual attempts to pick her up (once by the actor playing her boyfriend in the movie to seduce her in the name of “method acting” – which was, at least, an unusual pickup line), a bit of comparing martial arts, a bit of preening over the starring roles by the people who had them, some discussion of what to wear to the premiere, and some general flattery pointed at the Director just in case he heard something second-hand. Aikiko had no trouble at all fitting in – and it was rather relaxing; an artistic pursuit to distract the Devas and some rather normal socializing! She developed several new mortal friends!

Even if she DID turn down the “Method Acting” bit. If there’d been a bit more tension between their roles in the movie she might have started an appropriate scene with him to deflect the flirting. There wasn’t a lot though; there were a few establish-the-relationship bits, a commitment to victory, a bit of us-against-the-world byplay, and then the heroic/tragic death scene – which inspired the boyfriend later on to make his own heroic sacrifice willingly so as to join his beloved in death… There wasn’t any bickering or anything; it was very much secondary to the hero-team-against-the-horrors main plot. She settled for acting oblivious.

(Aikiko) “We just finished filming for the day! I don’t want to play someone else right now. Isn’t this ramen delicious?”

(Minoru, with a flicker of minor disappointment… Oh well!) “It is quite good isn’t it? I’ve always been partial to adding a few fried noodles as well; it gives it more crunch and an interesting underflavor!”

(Aikik0) “Huh. What else do you usually put in it? Where I’m from, a lot of people just eat it plain.”

That… got her a small riff on noodle cookery! Minoru was actually pretty good at it (and would, of course, be angling for a cooking show at some point…

Huh! Perhaps “Exalted Orichalcum Chef! In this corner it’s Chejak Kopek, hurled forward through time by the Ebon Dragon, who landed in our studio today, squashing the scheduled contestant! In THIS corner it’s Aikiko and her Artifact-Golem-Stove Skoll! Our ingredient today is Vampires! Classically they’re served Baked and Stasted, but who knows what our Chef’s will do!”

Er… OK, where had THAT come from? Still… in something like that she just might have a fighting chance!

She listened attentively, but as platonically as possible.

Minoru… shrugged. Aikiko was cute, but he was a movie star! Even if a fairly minor one as yet! It wasn’t like he couldn’t find companionship – even if there WAS something intriguing about Aikiko. She might not be the greatest movie actress of all time (yet), but she was a pretty serious martial artist, which was a big benefit to a Japanese movie career! Fortunately, she was more than happy to be friends!

Charles had, however, told Aikiko about the Lunar Bond – and Aikiko… abruptly realized that there might be someone out there in the universe capable of turning into, say, a tyrant lizard, who might take exception. Hopefully the Lunar Bond wouldn’t express itself romantically, though… that would be a pain!

There were no serious disturbances, although Aikiko spotted a few minor manse-guardians doing some quiet bodyguarding and security work outside. “Looking after the actors” (at least until the movie was done) seemed to be a part of their function. Judging by the actors… evidently a normal human could get a few similar boosts by signing an exclusive employment agreement with Toho. It wasn’t anything major – some modest boosts to acting-related and basic security-guard skills – but it was enough to make the competent actors and guards that the studio signed up into something well above the ordinary. It was good to know that things were generally safe around the place! It wasn’t like they were running a war-manse or something!

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