At the Heart of the Canals, several gods were standing near the edge of the pool when Charles came back up…
(Charles) “Oh hello! What’s up?”
They’d removed their helmets, revealing the standard never-gets-wet canal god caps beneath. There were some released breaths as they saw him emerge, apparently no worse for wear.
(Head of Maintenance) “I see you’re all right… is the Heart? The leaks have stopped, but how is the mechanism itself?”
Yao Xin was definitely feeling much more relaxed now. She was still a little hot, but as long as the geomancy was still where it was, that was inevitable.
(Charles) “It should be working much better now! The deterioration should be backed up several thousand years or perhaps more!”
(Head of Maintenance) “I can’t believe it… in such a short period of time.”
It was obvious that he’d be a bit offended by how Charles had done it better than he could – were the state of the canal domain not critical.
(Charles) “I have some special techniques available!”
(Head of Maintenance) “Not panoply, I hope… they would make our jobs so much easier.”
(Charles) “Mostly geomantic and manse-based really.”
(Head of Maintenance, mildly disappointedly) “Oh… surely you could spare an attunement for me and my subordinates?”
Hmm… he could set up a manse that bestowed a few useful charms for them and attune them to it. That would probably do nicely! And perhaps the essence boost too!
(Charles) “Well… It will take five or six minutes to set it up!”
That wasn’t long to a god at all.
After a brief delay… Charles produced the swirling globe of magic for remote-attuning again.
(Charles) “This should do it”!
There was some trepidation – but they recognized a remote vision questing soon enough – and a boost in Essence was always appreciated!
(Head of Maintenance) “You… you just created a tailored high-order manse to… how can you create these places so quickly!?”
(Charles) “I like manses!”
(Head of Maintenance) “That’s not an answer!”
(Charles) “Isn’t it? I like them, so I set things up to make lots and lots of them!”
(Head of Maintenance) “But how?”
The child had been just… SITTING THERE.
(Charles) “Well, you use acceleration magic, and a boosted factory-cathedral, and instant-design effects, and so on! So when there are problems I make manses to fix them!”
(Head of Maintenance) “Oh dear. That explains so many things…”
Yes, the boy was in charge of Dudael… but he must have resources on par with the Incarnae! And where could he be putting them? Finding demesnes was not easy! Inside himself? That would call for an entire inner world!
(Charles) “Anyway… was that all?”
(Head of Maintenance) “Yes it was. We’re glad you emerged safely.”
(Charles) “It’s not a big thing. I made some armor and things!”
The various gods looked at each other – he was MAKING behemoth cloaks and other high-end artifacts? No doubt as casually as he made manses? – but did not comment.
(Charles) “Anyway… there are lots more things to fix! If things start going badly wrong again please call me though!”
The gods agreed – and Charles headed out for his next errand, leaving even more confusion – and a certain amount of developing hysteria – in his wake.
Back in the Hanging Gardens… Ruki wasn’t feeling that well. With blatant weirdness all around her – in such detail and over so much time – denial was becoming impossible unless she decided that she’d gone completely mad. Things were starting to ring that way to her right now – but a complete retreat from reality wasn’t something a celestial exaltation would allow.
Fortunately, it wasn’t the Hanging Gardens first case of culture shock, even with the place being around for such a short time.
(Ruki) “That crazy so-and-so slipped me some acid when we were talking!”
That was quite ignoring the fact that the weird stuff had started WEEKS before she’d met Aikiko – but the floating mountain and the faerie city had pushed it quite over the top!
(Kid) “Hey, she’s gone all funny! Want to go and lay down for a bit Miss?”
(Ruki) “Yeah, thanks kid.”
The kids took her to a pleasant little cafe, with comfortable chairs and couches behind a gurgling stream. Various beverages were served, and there was a (fairly normal) menu from which she could order food if she wished. It was comfortable, and quiet, and mostly sane by mundane standards.
Ruki considered… that crazy girl was going to pay for slipping her some drugs!
Meanwhile Aikiko was winding down her interviews, totally unaware that Ruki was blaming her anything… Come to think of it, where’d she run off to? Oh well! It would be easy enough to run a tracer spell; the city wasn’t THAT large! And she HAD been a bit distraught.
Ruki… wasn’t particularly trying to resist the magic she didn’t believe in.
(Aikiko, finding Ruki) “Hey, are you all right? You seemed pretty confused.”
(Ruki, pulling out a pistol and shoving the barrel in Aikiko’s face) “What the !!@#$% did you slip me you !@##$!!! Where do you get off doing that?”
(Aikiko) “Whoa! I don’t think you want to do that. And I didn’t slip you anything at all! That’s not cool, dude! You could get hurt that way.”
Aikiko’s Coatl friends started busily denaturing nearby gunpowder…
(Aikiko) “You… don’t have any knowledge of the supernatural at all, do you… Argh. This is REALLY awkward.”
(Waiter) “Beer? Akavit? White Mountain Peach Brandy? Scumble? Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster? Ambrosia? Celestial Wine? We do have to check your credit if you order that though!”
(Aikiko) “Not right now, you’ll freak her out more. Maybe some beer though?”
It was very good beer. And there were pretzels and breadsticks to go with it.
(Ruki) “You have got some !@#$ explaining to do you crazy !@#$!!!”
(Aikiko) “Okay, what do you want to know first? Please don’t shoot!”
(Ruki) “Start spilling your fucking guts, anything about this shit or your going to get a third fucking eye
Hm. It wasn’t like the gun by itself was any real menace – the Behemoth Cloak and her own defenses could handle plenty of gunfire without any trouble at all – but there were ordinary people around and smashing up the city probably wouldn’t go over well.
(Aikiko) “Okay, okay… just don’t shoot. When I walked that labyrinth back there, that was a gateway to that place with the stairs from before. That place led to where we are now, which is this flying city. It’s hidden from the human world because it’s in a separate world. The controller of this place is a powerful fairy lord.”
(Ruki) “So you’re telling me that fairies and magic are real.”
(Aikiko) “That’s right… as hard as it might be for you to believe right now.”
(Ruki) “Now THAT is a !@#$ understatement!”
Meanwhile, a small winged snake was happily dipping breadsticks in oil and swallowing them.
(Aikiko) “Oh yeah, don’t mind him. He’s my assistant. Save one for me, Diego! He’s a coatl. He knows a lot of helpful magic.”
(Diego) “There are lots!”
(Aikiko) “Oh yeah… see if they have any chili powder! I like mine spicy. Anyway… I came here because I’d heard rumors at another fey pocket about this place. I think they understated things up here!”
(Ruki) “And what is it you do for a living? Chasing down fairy tails or something equally !@# crazy?”
(Aikiko) “Pretty much, yeah… and I act in Toho films.”
(Ruki, rolling her crimson eyes and looking her over intently) “You, an actress?”
Well, Toho had released the film… she had Diego show it! It had been a relatively minor role, but it was still breaking into the movies! And she hadn’t done too badly, either…
(Ruki, whom a nice mundane insane Toho movie had greatly soothed) “Alright…”
(Aikiko) “The world gets pretty weird sometimes… I got into that as part of my investigating.”
(Ruki) “You obviously had a better life growing up than I did kid.”
(Aikiko) “Yeah, I guess so…”
(Ruki, giving a shrug) “But yeah, I’m needing to do something to get that behind me.”
(Aikiko) “I can’t blame you. So… I guess you don’t know if you have any magic. You sure drew that gun fast, though . . . ever had anybody take a look at you? Because that wasn’t human reflexes.”
(Ruki) “Yeah, I had someone take a look”
She was not about to tell this girl that she’d been examined by someone who looked a lot like Doc Brown and acted like a complete loon.
(Aikiko) “Did they find anything interesting?”
(Ruki) “Still waiting on the results from that crackpot doctor!”
Sure, she had a copy of the report – but she wasn’t about to tell this girl THAT. Besides… if someone else, independently, got similar results… she’d have to take it a good deal more seriously.
(Aikiko) “I see… huh. If the lord of this place has done his job, he probably has someplace for testing people!”
She checked – but there wasn’t anything too elaborate unless you either visited a diviner or checked out one of the local body-alteration shops. Well… why NOT a body-alteration place? It was far closer to mundane surgery than a diviner and more likely to have some form of technological analysis. Those red eyes – and their starry looking pupils – certainly did suggest something – although the robotic-looking tattoos were rather obvious.
(Aikiko) “Where’d you get those tattoos? And (double-checking the eyes) has anyone ever mentioned Sidereals to you?”
(Ruki) “It’s kinda part and parcel with where I grew up, tattoo’s or guns take your pick. I opted for both. As for “Sidereals”… what are you talking about?”
(Aikiko) “Um… they’re agents of Heaven. Red eyes with stars in them mean you’re one of the Chosen of Battles.”
(Ruki, to whom “heaven” – and most other religious phrases – had some serious negative connotations) “Yeah, and I’m actually just scamming you to get you into bed! – waving a hand dismissively and slipping the pistol back in the under-slung shoulder holster.”
(Aikiko) “Okay, now I know that’s a lie. But Heaven IS real… and really screwed up in a lot of ways.”
(Ruki) “Yeah, tell that so some bible thumping ass who thinks your useless because you don’t go to church every sunday.”
(Aikiko) “Oh, he’d be surprised if he knew where his worship was going… as unbelieving as you are right now, I think! Really… Christianity, Judaism, Islam? If it wasn’t for the Bull God, Heaven’s economy would be completely in the pits.”
(Ruki) “I know there’s a God alright, I’ve been in his hole for the past twenty years of my life scraping out just to get by.”
(Aikiko) “There’s MILLIONS of gods. Ahlat’s just the one propping Heaven up.”
(Ruki) “And I’ll bet my bottom yen coin your going to try and sell me on the idea that I should care about whether or not they’re real!”
(Aikiko) “Nope! Most of them are big jerks anyway.”
(Diego) “And old horn-head is just riding on other people’s efforts for the most part! All those prophecies were about other things entirely!”
(Aikiko) “That’s right, Diego… anyway, if you have a better idea what you can do, that might help you figure out what to do next.”
Because if she WAS a Sidereal, a life in the Celestial Bureaucracy probably wouldn’t suit her! Too many restrictions and too little time to kick back!
The body-alteration place… offered all kinds of rebuilds and changes, including fully functional sex-changes. The Shopkeeper was a shaggy, friendly, humanoid english sheepdog with a Kilt and bagpipes.
(Ruki) “Yeah, this is normal.”
(Sheepdog) “Hello there! Are you having a Ruff time with your self-image? (He peered at the poor reaction) Well, it was just a little joke, no need to look THAT sour!”
(Aikiko) “For this place, probably… sorry, sir, she’s not very used to the supernatural.”
(Sheepdog) “What can I interest you young ladies in?”
(Aikiko) “If it’s okay with you, Ruki… how much for an analysis of someone’s current body and powers?”
(Ruki) “Oh sure, on your dime though!”
(Sheepdog) “Well, I can do a physical analysis if there isn’t too much essence-work involved. I can’t tell all that much about motonic abilities however!”
(Aikiko) “Eh, I can probably handle that part, or have someone help out.”
(Sheepdog) “Well then! If that is what you wish, the fee is fairly small. Would you step this way Miss?” (As he pointed towards a set of mirrors with a privacy curtain).
(Ruki, shrugging and walking over) “Sure why not? What have I got to lose?”
(Sheepdog) “Very well then! The mirrors can reflect the truth of your self on several levels – if you are willing to see it… We can start with the simple, physical, level – which may be all you are interested in.”
(Ruki, shrugging) “Alright.”
And the mirrors shimmered – and then (rather disturbingly) reflected the inside of her body – displaying rather a LOT of nonbiological replacements…
(Sheepdog) “Oh my… evidently you’ve had a great deal of work done already! And superb workmanship it is! I’d say that at least half your body mass has been replaced!”
(Aikiko, listening in) “Wow, neat… does it have anything to do with those tattoos?”
(Sheepdog) “There seems to be a relationship – but I’m a cat if I can tell what it is! Half of this is supernatural, and well beyond the kind of alterations I can provide… Most of my business is people wanting tails, or curing baldness, or sex changes and such – not supernatural cyberware! It looks like you have spinal modifications, extensive muscle and bone replacement, rerouting of the digestive system to make room for other implants, armoring and replacement of the deep skin layers, replacement of the eyes, metallic taps into the nose and ears, cranial implants, and more!”
(Aikiko, attempting to analyze Ruki’s essence) “Huh…”
(Ruki) “That’s news to me.”
(Aikiko) “Looks like a stealth combat setup… (to the Sheepdog) wow, you’re right on the craftsmanship. That looks like a LOT of magical materials.”
(Ruki, blinking) “So I’m basically some kinda robot or something.”
(Sheepdog) “Oh, most of your vital organs and endocrine system still seem to be intact, as is most of your brain! VERY fine work – but all I could try to sell you at this point would be superficial modifications, basically cosmetic only.”
Aikiko… was picking up a mixture of Sidereal and unknown (Alchemical) essences from her.
(Aikiko) “Okay, that’s weird. Diego, do we have any way to show her what her own Essence looks like?”
(Diego) “I guess we could superimpose it on your (nodding to the shopkeeper) internal projection.”
(Sheepdog) “Oh, easy enough! Let me just change the settings… I’ve got no interpretive settings, but simply looking is easy enough!”
The essence-view showed blazing patterns of energy flowing through the cyberware, an incandescent core of power linked to the overall pattern – albeit mostly the organic pieces – and various overlays.
That was finally enough to get Ruki to faint from the shock.
(Aikiko) “Bother… Diego, could you take a picture of that? Let’s get her to an inn or hotel or something… I’ll explain when she wakes up.”
(Sheepdog) “Certainly Miss… your credit rating is excellent!”
He sent for a couple of centaur-porters and had her carried off to an apartment that was reasonably mundane-seeming to sleep it off.
Aikiko looked after her for a moment – but decided to call in another Coatl and leave some explanations of that essence-image him or her for when Ruki woke up. Babysitting another Exalt just didn’t feel right! Besides… calling up Charles let her tell him about the Hanging Gardens. He might already have heard about them (and about Ruki) – but it was only polite.
Charles could get Dr Smith’s report on Ruki easily enough – but the report on the Hanging Gardens was sort of startling!
(Aikiko) “Huh! He definitely does things a lot like you do in Aden . . . but he’s more ruthless about it. I saw him transform a guy into a horse-though he did deserve it!”
(Charles, thoughtfully) “Well… if he’s not making problems, there are way more urgent things to fix!”
(Aikiko) “I just thought you’d like to know, in case he starts messing around with you for some reason!”
(Charles) “I’ll keep an eye out!”