The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CLXXII – The Sources Of Denial

While Charles searched out Yu-Shan’s hidden Devas, and Leon finished up with the last few details of the Hanging Gardens, and Aikiko and Ruki were talking about kilts, about driving like a madwoman, and about how Ruki did NOT believe in magic.

(Aikiko) “OK, the privacy warding’s up (and the Coatl were coming out for some exercise)… so yeah, you wanted to know why I was here?”

(Ruki) “NO, I was wanting to know more about everyone wearing skirts here in this chilly ass place.

(Aikiko) “I’m not sure if you’re being sarcastic… but” (at least according to the Adenic archives) “Tradition” is about all the answer there is. (There was a lot on meaning of the various patterns, and clans and such though – which Aikiko happily explained) “Oh yeah . . . and there’s this one fey market that forbids tartan and plaids in genreal, for some reason.”

(Ruki, sighing most dramatically) “I wasn’t serious you twit!”

Aikiko sighed herself… as bristly as a minor god being quizzed on it’s care of it’s domain… She had the Coatl spiral up and take a look around for any particularly interesting natural landmarks in the area. Those tended to lead to supernatural pockets in mythology… And there was an outcropping out in the lake, with a ruined tower on it. Quite the local landmark, although it didn’t seem to be in the local guidebook.

Well, there were rowboats and a few canoes for the adventurous available… A rowboat should be fine.

(Aikiko) “Hmm… that looks like what I’m here for.”

(Ruki) “You’re here for looking at ruins? When you’re driving like you’ve got a hit squad on your tail? What is WRONG with you?!?!”

The rental for the boats was very small; there is a warning about visiting the ruins though; rocks had been known to fall on people, and there had been several broken toes and such – although fortunately nothing worse. If they did visit, it was at their own risk!

Well, a few rocks didn’t sound like much of a menace to Aikiko.

(Aikiko) “I’m looking for this big city that’s supposed to be around here. The driving was because travel magic isn’t easy to control at times.”

She wasn’t going to admit that she drove like a madwoman even when she wasn’t using travel thaumaturgy!

Ruki… was fuming. What, a CITY? Hiding in a small resort? Yeah, SURE.Maybe one the bint realized just how ridiculous that was, she’d get a bit more sensible.

The ruins… were extremely picturesque, mossy, with vaulted stone ceilings, and looked to be in pretty decent shape. They had a spiral stair surrounding the central open shaft. The roof, however, was missing – which let in enough rain and sun for the moss to thrive. More importantly… the entire place was a creation of magic, strongest in the basement (the concealment effects were not yet all running).

(Aikiko) “Whoa! Man, that was just a hunch… feels like it’s coming from the basement.”

They headed downstairs – only to find that the basement had a complex little mosaic on the floor; it seemed to be a small labyrinth – the classical church variety, with one path only. There was even stronger magic at the center… Did you have to walk the labyrinth to open the gate? Assuming that there was a gateway here, and not some silly trap…

Yes, Leon would probably complicate things late on – but he couldn’t take care of everything at once.

Ruki followed her. At least the place was peaceful… And maybe she should keep the madwoman from hurting herself. With just a little luck she could soak the bint for her vacation…

There were several things to stumble over, and some slippery spots what with all the moss – but certainly nothing to challenge a pair of Exalts. As they reached the center, they found themselves on a set of ruby and emerald stairs, which spiraled up unsupported into the sky – headed for a massive floating mesa, carved into terraces and with a colossal statue on each side. Small streams trickled over the edges to drop to the earth a mile or so below and the clouds blew past.

(Aikiko) “Whoa… okay, this is the place for SURE. Check out those stairs…”

It looked like a long climb, but there seemed to be an oddly small number of steps making it up. The massive gemstone slabs were quite pretty though, sparkling in the sunlight. The railing was of gold and silver, intricately twisted, with ruby berries and emerald leaves for decorations.

(Ruki) “. . .”

One of the colossal statues – a falcon-headed thing – was keeping an eye on them.

(Aikiko) “Hi!”

There was a deep rumble, which was barely understandable as “Greetings! And welcome to the Hanging Gardens”

(Aikiko) “Huh, so that’s what this place is. I’d heard rumors about an entire city somewhere around here. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”

Ruki looked at the giant thing carefully… WHAT was going on here? Was she still tripping? A small mountain hanging suspended in the sky that no on else saw, a staircase that teleported you from the basement of an old ruin to an invisible midair staircase made of gemstone, and colossal talking statues?

(Ruki) “What the ~!@#$ is going on?”

(Aikiko) “If the rumors are true, a chancel holding a fairy city. Look at these stairs! They just wouldn’t work without magic holding them up. Oh yeah . . . a chancel is a portable alternate dimension.”

(Statue, in a deep – and geological – rumble) “It is the Hanging Gardens small one! The Realm of Leon… What else would it be?”

(Aikiko) “Is there a city in here… hmm, falcon head… Horus?”

(Statue) “Horus Indeed… and the City lies above, it’s gardens amongst the clouds.”

(Aikiko) “May we come in?”

(Statue) “There are few restrictions once you are past the labyrinth.”

(Aikiko) “Okay then… might as well have a look around.”

(Ruki…) “I guess…”

All right… either this was the LONGEST and most intricate trip she’d ever been on, or something was up! Some sort of virtual reality holodeck stuff maybe? There were supposed to be all kinds of tricks you could play with THAT. And who knew what had been hooked into her nervous system? That seemed a lot more likely than all this !@#$% “magic” baloney! She’d seen PLENTY of people who claimed to have magic powers as a kid; it was always tricks and flummery!

The stairs somehow wound up touching down on the side of a central step-pyramid/garden, with numerous paths, streams, and stairways wandering through it. It was surrounded by a fabulous city, rather like a mix between Ancient Egypt and the Arabian Knights. A local cabbie (it looked like a human teenager) stopped by with his flying carpet to see if they needed a ride.

Aikiko (vastly over-)paid with gossamer from the fair…

(Cabbie) “And where would you like to go madam?”

(Aikiko) “Where are all the tourists going?”

(Cabbie) “We don’t really get that many – but there are all kinds of places to see! What would you be interested in?”

(Aikiko) “Got any athletics facilities? What about rock climbing?”

There were indeed outdoor athletics facilities – mostly track and field style, although there was some provision for weight-lifting and such. If you really wanted climbing – and a dangerous thrill – there was always the outside of the mesa. That wasn’t too bad at all!

Then Aikiko looked at Ruki’s expression)

(Aikiko) “Er… is something wrong?”

(Ruki, dangerously flatly) “This ain’t normal.”

(Aikiko) “Of course not!” (As she lapped the track again…) “You’re in this Leon fellow’s personal world now!”

(Ruki) “That ain’t possible”

Aikiko lapped again – people moving at that speed on foot shouldn’t be possible either…

(Aikiko) “But it’s happening now. I could give you some Essence sight, so you could look for yourself.”

(Cabbie) “Why not possible? The Hanging Gardens are Lord Leon’s creation; I mean… just look at them!”

(Aikiko) “They’re really neat! He must be a powerful fey.”

(Cabbie) “Normally mountains don’t hang in the sky – but this one does because Lord Leon likes the view!”

(Ruki) “. ..”

(Cabbie) “Well, it was a bit startling for me too – and my great-mother was a naiad, so I was kind of used to the small magics – but Lord Leon has a GREAT deal of power!”

(Aikiko) “I don’t think she’s familiar with ANY magic at all . . .”

(Cabbie) “Oh! From one of the interdicted cities? People from those are often REALLY startled when they see any of the Feyborn!”

(Aikiko, to Ruki) “No clue. Hey, where are you from, anyway?”

(Riku) “Roanapur”

(Aikiko) “Wait, from that phony – well, maybe not so phony – documentary? Damn… I had no idea that it was real. It looked so… over-the-top! Like a really BAD action movie with all that gunfire and relatively few deaths…”

Aikiko was a lot more used to that occurring off-planet! Well… perhaps best not to mention that either.

(Aikiko) “It’s really that violent there?”

Meanwhile, a werewolf and a small dragon were having a wrestling match in one of the rings. That was going to be good!… It was, in fact, very busy! The werewolf eventually won – and noted that he did teach the Mountain-Hurling Style – a grappling form – in exchange for relatively small amounts of Gossamer.

Huh. It wasn’t like she couldn’t afford it… Why not take some lessons from the werewolf? It was good to learn multiple styles! She wouldn’t be deploying Skoll though! That would be grossly unfair!

The werewolf fellow turned out to be quite a decent teacher – also fairly young and certainly friendly enough!

Ruki shook her head and wandered off to see just how far the insanity extended… A long ways! There were numerous shops selling magic, transformations, exotic pets, odd foods, clothing, and so on – and an archway that opened into a building full of staircases with people walking on both sides of them, some standing on the walls, and others on the ceiling.

The city was bustling, and full of cheerful people, and many strange and fabulous creatures, and it’s geometry made no sense at all even where it was paying attention to gravity. Fast travel seemed to be by flying carpet or by ducking through the kitchens (it seemed to have one giant set of kitchens, that connected to everywhere food was needed, regardless of how far away that ought to be).

Ruki… was utterly confused – and then was… hit by a ball, and a small mob of children looked quite embarrassed and wanted to know if they could have it back. MOST of them were human…

(Ruki, tossing the ball back) “What’s all this then?”

(Kids) “Er… a ball game… Or do you mean something else?”

(Ruki) “What sorta game kid?”

(Kids) “Soccer! (they happily explained soccer, and all the special rules for nonhumans, and and shapeshifters, and for space-distortions, and what magic was allowable – not that any of them could actually do all THAT much of it. The ball had been sensitized though; it responded to even very tiny charms, and that helped them learn!

Aikiko was considering… a Kickaha? He seemed older than most of them. Still, they were tracing dragon lines, and someone had just knotted together several here, and dropped an incredibly powerful demesne filled with massive amounts of magic on the new nexus. One might well drop by and try to fit in while surveying and investigating! Plus… the boy was teaching some pretty high-end stuff! Mountain Stance, Coils of the Dragon, Hurl to the Horizon… essence around seven and wrapped up in some VERY familiar protections.

(Aikiko) “You’re a good teacher! You’re not a Kickaha by any chance, are you? You’ve got some interesting magical effects going – and I suspect that the name Charles Dexter Ward means quite a lot to you!

(Werewolf, sighing) “Well, yes…. I suppose it is pretty obvious if you know what you’re looking for! This place though… Whoever put this place here… I don’t think it’s more than two months old! It’s still pretty underpopulated really! The “Lord Leon” has to be POWERFUL – even if he doesn’t seem to be doing all that much with it at the moment!”

(Aikiko) “He did a really good job. I don’t think there was even a DEMESNE here before.”

(Werewolf) “I was kind of afraid of that! Charles does that sort of thing, but he’s CHARLES. This is pretty obviously a Raksha – or maybe even an Ishvara!”

(Aikiko) “So what’s your association with Charles? He’s got so many people in Aden that even he probably can’t keep track of them.”

(Werewolf) “Oh, I’ve been surveying Earth’s dragon lines for him – but I got a younger boy in to run around England while I looked into THIS.”

(Aikiko) “You’re a bit old for a Kickaha, aren’t you?”

(Werewolf) “A few of us were older when we were recruited back in the early days! Mostly because some of our younger siblings had become Kickaha…”

(Aikiko) “Ah, I see. So you’re poking around here, then. Have you seen Leon around?”

(Werewolf) “So far… I haven’t approached him directly, although he DOES hold open audiences sometimes. He doesn’t show a lot of patience though! There are apparently a couple of people who tried to demand things from him in his kennels now…”

(Aikikp) “Ohhh… definitely a raksha.”

(Werewolf) “It certainly seems that way – but a Raksha with THIS kind of power… it’s a creature out of legend!”

(Aikiko) “Scary… and definitely something I need to investigate!”

(Werewolf) “Well… if you want to head in, I suppose I can back you up! At worst I’ll just get killed and sent back to Aden!”

(Aikiko) “OK then! Thanks!”

(Werewolf) “You’re certainly welcome!”

Hm… The place was… over the top just like Aden, but in a different way. It would be best to be careful what deals you made here, but the opportunities for pleasure were considerably wider than in Aden. Not quite on the level of the Algedonic Palace in Yu-Shan – but not all that tremendously far behind it either. And the ancient Babylon theme was pretty exciting, even if it WAS a lot smaller than Aden!

And for that matter… the humans seemed pretty happy, and were definitely being provided for and granted at least some minor abilities… Just like Aden. Almost SUSPICIOUSLY like Aden! Perhaps Charles really HAD spontaneously created a raksha through his subconscious? He certainly had more than enough power, and he WAS keeping a sea of chaos at the center of Aden – or himself. Well… not much to do about that other than visit this Leon and determine which urge he was based on.

That would be easy enough, he did hold audiences and a limited audience was permitted…

Leon… was a Lion-man, surrounded by a golden glow, attended by a bunch of scantily-clad teenage catboys and catgirls being servants. He was holding court – and holding a scepter and wearing a coronet. Except for the cat-theme, it looked like a bookplate from the Morte de Arthur, showing Arthur sitting in judgement. Definitely some kind of rulership narrative going on there! At a minimum… a very strong part of his current story. There was a cross between Merlin and an Hollywood Evil Grand Vizier presenting cases – mostly people looking to take refuge. Also very much like Charles, if a bit more organized.

The current one was… a young man who was currently looking horrified as the query about “and why are YOU seeking refuge here?” somehow dragged out of him a story about killing three people in a botched carjacking and the rest of the Feylands wanting to uphold their deals with the mundane police…

(Leon) “So! You seek to take advantage of my generosity! The sole thing in your favor is that you did not start your theft intending to kill! Therefore you will be permitted to retain your life, if not your form!”

Leon… transformed the man into a plowhorse with a wave of his hand and wrapped his mind in “good horse” compulsions.

(Leon) “Have him gelded and put to work!”

Fairly impressive! The transformation was a raksha charm, the compulsions… the power seemed a bit familiar, but she’d never seen it being used like THAT before. Raksha-magic boosted thaumaturgy with other powers backing it. Also very similar to how Charles operated. Uncannily so, really – although she’d NEVER seen Charles simply… hammer a cage of compulsions around someone’s mind, even when he was about as upset as he ever got! Leon certainly wasn’t restrained in THAT fashion… Perhaps Charles really had sublimated some of his urges in this fellow? He was obviously enough deep into the “King and Judge” narrative, the scantily-clad entourage were all good looking and the girls exceptionally so – if he’s following the “Cat” theme, his pride – and that golden glow tended to begin to grow into a blinding aura when he was annoyed – such as now. For a moment there… it was starting to look like a giant cat made of white and gold flame.

Very Solar! Way more so than Charles anyway! And yet he still seems to be a fairly decent… conglomeration of Graces and narrative. Wait… if he was an expression of Charles’s surpressed urges, what would those be? To relax, to rule outright, and to be harsh toward those who offended him? To be… classically solar. Was this is the result of him suppressing those desires to do what he believes must be done? There was a Lawgiver back on Earth – and he was a RAKSHA…

That was just SO WRONG! They were supposed to embody chaos!

Of course… there was Charles. Hiding in plain sight, being ANYTHING but a weapon, convincing people that he wasn’t at all dangerous by pretending to be a PRIMORDIAL… Was there something that he DIDN’T do backwards?

If Leon WAS a creation of Charles’s, he was probably ultimately benign – but he was obviously willing to be ruthless in pursuing his goals, That could be bad news for any unlucky humans who were in his way and not innocent enough! Although… three murders. Life as a plowhorse. It was severe and VERY high-handed, but somewhat fair.

Aikiko lurked in the audience while Leon dealt with several more cases – including one pair arguing over the details of a contract who BOTH refused to accept the ruling of the treasury official. The dummies insisted on opening their mouths – and get three months each as dogs chasing sticks for children with appropriate compulsions – but no neutering.

And with that closer look…. It was hard to be sure (just like Charles) – but his essence was even higher than Charles’s. At LEAST ten – which certainly explained the power source behind this place! If not an Ishvara, on par with one – and… a fair match for Charles’s other major creations. To think that sublimating his urges could create THIS!

He certainly sounded like the fellow who’d called her on your phone and knew a lot more than anyone but her, Charles, and Lytek should. A good thing that she’d checked up on the rumors! Although… that fellow had been recruiting her for anti-abyssal action in the far east… She might have to take him up on that… She could use a rematch now that she had some more charms and Skoll was doing what she directed! They’d never know what hit them!

And she’d… actually fight a battle… She’d never really done that before, and the thought was a bit scary! Even at the Mouth of the Void, she had only intended to run from them. Nonetheless, if pilgrims in Mecca were getting killed, she had to stop that! Especially if the souls of people who very firmly believed in their faith were being stolen to make soulsteel out of! That
would produce a quality of soulsteel not normally seen. And pilgrims on the hajj undertook purificatory rituals and practices too, which would boost the strength of their souls. They’d be… one of the few good sources of Soulsteel-quality souls left in the universe!

Well… Leon apparently did allow limited numbers of interviews for young men and women who wanted to see him more privately. It was obvious enough what he’d usually expect of course – but it didn’t have to be that way. He seemed to be polite enough as long as you didn’t try to lie to him!

She requested one – and that easily got her in to see Leon, who was relaxing at the moment with a hooka, a book, a smoking jacket, a roaring fire, and various other (increasingly odd) things about. A servant-boy and girl were present (still not wearing much) and so were drinks.

(Leon) “Ah, hello young woman!”

(Aikiko, bowing) “Hello, Lord Leon!”

(Leon) “Well now! You don’t seem to fit the usual profile! What is it you’re wanting?”

(Aikiko) “Well . . . you called me about a bad situation in Saudi Arabia a while back, and I’d like to help you out with that.”

(Leon) “Ah! You’re looking rather different these days… Fire and Steel! Indeed yes, some supernatural force is preying on the Pilgrims to Mecca – as silly as the Haiji is.”

(Aikiko) “I think you’d mentioned something about the Abyssal Exalted?”

(Leon) “That is what it sounded like! And up against those, allies are always handy!”

(Aikiko) “Well… I can’t let them continue with that. If the hajj gets disrupted too much, who knows what problems it will cause?”

(Leon) “I would bet on another Iran-Iraq war personally!”

(Aikiko) “Ergh… with their main income source suddenly not so important, that could still be nasty! And with them squabbling over abruptly-diminished resources… It’d be truly vicious, a fight for survival.”

(Leon) “ And just the place to open up a new Shadowland – in the midst of desolation plentifully soaked with blood! Quite unacceptable!”

(Aikiko) “Quite. So, what do you want me to do?”

(Leon) “Well… we had best visit the middle east! Fortunately, I had one of the minions head over there last week! So it’s just across bridge 27!”

Minions were nice to have… she had those kids up in Heaven, but mortals couldn’t stand up to even moderate threats like she’d be facing. Maybe she could find some supernatural ones?

(Aikiko) “I see…”

And the boy with the fan continued gently waving it.

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