Back at the pillar Astrid had managed to get an audience – but for later. She wasn’t saying anything else about it. Of course, she had just been handed a huge mass of secrets that she couldn’t share. But… she looked more sad than angry.
(Charles) “I’m sorry if it’s a problem… but it might be useful for you to know, and it is pretty urgent.”
(Astrid) “Sigh… I appreciate the knowledge – and it was badly needed! I’ll just have to keep it to myself.”
She didn’t exactly have a choice about it anyway.
(Charles) “Well… a few months and the need for secrecy will be past – for good or ill.”
(Astrid, smiling, still tinged with a bit of sadness) “I should meet with the guards – they’ve probably hurried this way after THAT.”
Charles looked around; after all, she was quite right! That kind of manifestation was rarely subtle or unnoticed! In fact… there was a massive group of deiphages headed their way.
(Astrid) “Bother. Well, more to heal for you.”
(Charles, to the Deiphages – since most of them were in on things – at least to some extent) “Uhm… what’s up? And who’s in charge?”
(A tall, fiery figure in the standard black robes) “Bahaha! I’m Thirty Dusk! I came to… well, well! I know you, girl! Out of your little hidey hole?”
(Astrid) “Watch it, deiphage. You know what my father will do if you harm me.”
(Charles) “Oh stop! You know perfectly well that this is too urgent for silliness!”
(Astrid, telepathically) “I must keep up appearances. Father would be cross with me if I didn’t give them SOME trouble.”
(Dusk, with-obviously-feigned shock) “Why, I had only come to investigate the disturbance! Now (mimicking a lion) what’s all this then?”
(Charles) “A bit of a conference really, with some rather old powers. I’m fairly sure that you know that I can’t tell you more unless you make some serious commitments!”
And Dusk was one he hadn’t met yet!
(Charles) “Oh! I have something for you…” (He produced the usual swirling orb again).
(Dusk, rubbing his hands together.) “Why, thank you!”
(Charles) “You’re welcome!”
(Dusk, Telepathically) “Oh yeah… how much does she know? She’s a princess of the Bronze, you know!”
(Charles, equally telepathically!) “The basic summary! She promised to keep it quiet, and she does have important information!”
(Dusk, still telepathically) “Arggh… I hope those were some good oaths, kid!”
(Charles, still telepathically) “I used the Primordial ones!”
(Dusk, still telepathically) “Whoa… (looking to the big pillar) “A soul?”
(Charles, still telepathically) “Of communications, and thus a link with the organizing principle”
(Dusk) “I see… I’ll just report a geomantic disturbance, OK? Plenty of those around here.”
And Dusk departed…
(Astrid) “Sigh… I’ll be pleased when this is all over.”
(Charles) “It should be much nicer then! But it’s better to have everyone talking instead of fighting!”
Regardless of how weird it would look to the bronze faction camp to have a bunch of deiphages approach, talk, and then retreat… When the Manseguard detachment arrived, they started out by asking about that.
(Guards) “You didn’t even cast a spell!”
(Charles) “I’ve been getting a lot of practice at getting on with people recently!”
That got him some very odd looks – but he WAS known for negotiating.
(Commander) “Are you all right, Lady Astrid?”
(Astrid) “I’m an Exalt now. I managed just fine.”
(Commander) “We should head back soon – they might have seen that one over at the Manse!”
(Charles) “And I have other stops to make… unless there’s something urgent on your end My Lady?”
(Astrid) “Ah! Could you make a substitute for sleep? Not for me, but for Gus. He’s so busy lately.”
(Charles) “Well… Partially! The mental rest part can be compressed with one of these (he produced a Conversation Piece), and physical recovery can be accelerated with one of these (producing one mattress of ultimate restfulness and rapid recovery), but you still need some!
(Astrid, with the tone of someone who had, for a very long time.) “Try telling him that.”
(Charles) “Well, maybe those will help some! And if there’s anywhere he regularly stays, I might be able to make a few adjustments to the passage of time…”
(Astrid) “Thank you, dear… the artifacts should be enough. He’s very wary about altering his living space.”
(Charles) “Well, trying to do too much of that does very odd things to entropy anyway. And Yu-Shan probably doesn’t need any more of that at the moment anyway.”
(Astrid) “Definitely not.” (giving the artifacts to the detachment’s commander) “I’ll be right behind you… the personal ward against deiphages should hold. There’s just a private matter I want to discuss.”
(Commander) “Yes, my lady.”
They headed off.
(Astrid) “Charles… you’ve heard of the Spell That Is Not a Spell, right?”
(Charles) “Well yes – but it’s a very silly one!”
(Astrid) “Is there any means of stopping it at all?”
An odd question for her to ask, perhaps… she hadn’t demonstrated any sorcery at all.
(Charles) Well… yes and no! ANY spell can be disrupted if you catch it in time. But… the trick there is that the “spell” is really only a formality to make it neat and clean up loose ends. If the decision is true… if someone really wants to renounce existence… it’s just like a Raksha who shatters it’s heart grace; the chaos within their own soul will dissolve it into chaos again.
Astrid was still looking a bit sad, but now was either feeling it too intensely to hide it, or wasn’t bothering.
(Astrid) “I see… for both our sakes, then, I hope your plans work without interruption or interference. Thank you, Charles.”
(Charles) “Uhm… If you can catch them even a moment before they start, this should work!” (And he produced one Crystal of Endless Distraction – a Raksha artifact guaranteed to keep anyone interested – although it hindered them in no other way).
(Astrid) “Ah… thank you. I hope it doesn’t come to using this.”
(Charles) “I certainly hope not! When there are endless possibilities, giving up on existence really isn’t a very sensible decision – and that’s a good reminder that improvements are ALWAYS possible!”
(Astrid smiled, looked relieved, and bowed to Charles.) “I should go – the Manseguard are probably getting suspicious. I appreciate all your help.”
(Charles) “You’re welcome! I like to help people!”
Astrid stowed the crystal in her robes/commando armor and headed back to the camp – sadly unable to share what she had learned, but still looking a bit happier. Charles hoped that she would still have some influence – and that she would not need to try the distracting crystal! It couldn’t be any fun worrying about someone committing magical suicide… Presumably it was someone who would find the loss of Yu-Shan unbearable – most likely someone who felt responsible for it. Ergo, a major figure in the faction – and deeply involved in Stanewald. And she was related to at least two of those. Still, hopefully it would not come to that – and the messing up of their plans should be much more bearable than the universe being annihilated.
And Charles headed off to visit some more of the souls that he hadn’t been able to get into touch with… Quan Pen, the Conduit of Pleas, was associated with the Quintessence Fountains and Ambrosia production – and Mr. Montague was hearing SOMEONE trying to communicate with him near the “malfunctioning” fountains. Getting in contact with her would be wise; after all, he’d already been meddling with the fountains… and he had a few questions as to how quintessence and ambrosia were made. He had some pretty good ideas on Quintessence since it could be dissolved into essence again. It was basically liquid motes – already linked together and thus easy to bind into new shapes. Ambrosia was harder… although he guessed that it has at least some “life” to it, since some of it it can be forged into magical materials and it might be what Raksha Graces were made of on a fundamental level.
Traces on the Conduit of Pleas led to a location in northern Yu-Shan’s abandoned quarters: a suspiciously clean prayer plaza, with a cheerily bubbling fountain. That definitely wasn’t normal; the Quintessence should simply flow into the jade basin… The fountain had been warded against intrusion and tampering – also odd, since fountains in the abandoned quarters were normally either not secured at all or were watched by some unemployed but powerful god. This one… didn’t need repairs, and was… pristine. A scan of the ground beneath showed no damage whatsoever, although there was some powerful magical energy bubbling beneath there, and extra pipes. They registered as being much warmer than the others. It DID need some adjustment to pick up interstellar prayers.
(Charles) “Excuse me! But there’s a small adjustment to make if that’s ok!”
He definitely got the feeling that someone was indeed listening – and the ground around the fountain had definitely warmed up. Charles made the adjustment – but gently! It felt… rather weird for a geomantic adjustment. Still, Quan Pen was connected to the Elemental Pole of Pleasure too.
(From the fountain) “Ooh… ah… oww…” (As the interstellar connnection boots up…) “Ow. So much prayer…”
(Charles) “There is a lot more these days – but Yu-Shan needs the increased power flow very badly I think! Is it too much to handle? I can make some artifacts to help!”
(Fountain) “My, Creation must have grown for this much prayer at once. (She sounded pleased.) I think I’ll be fine! I just need to make some adjustments.”
(Charles) “I’ve set up some systems to adjust the other fountains!”
(Fountain) “I’m Quan Pen! And who might you be? Your Essence signature is complicated!”
(Charles) “I’m Charles Dexter Ward! Or Aden Shining Dream! I fix things!”
(Quan Pen) “I see… my, my, and made of meat, too? I knew shaped existence was a good idea – you’re channeling a lot of Essence through that meat. And… how fascinating! You have multiple souls! And Manses, and many, many artifacts!”
(Charles) “Well, I’ve been expanding things! And I just got some poles installed too!”
(Quan Pen) “A Primordial born of meat, then?” (And there is another feeling, similiar to watching someone scratch their head.) “What a wonderful development of an inferior material!”
(Charles) “Well maybe! I’m not sure whether there’s really a distinction any more… But Yu-Shan really needs some help, so I’m setting up for that now!”
(Quan Pen) “Can you do me a favor? It will help you with that!”
(Charles) “I can’t guarantee it – but I usually can!”
(Quan Pen) “Not too long ago, one of those fates – not the big ones, the little ones made of meat like you – paid me a visit. I think it was one of the ones associated with the emerald Fate. She was always so elusive, you know…”
(Charles) “Did they hear you?”
(Quan Pen) “Ah, yes! Yao Xin and I told them not to do it, but they said it was for Yu-Shan’s sake.”
(Charles) “Oh dear! Wanting to do a very big geomantic redirection ritual?”
(Quan Pen) “Actually… no. Yao Xin’s so lucky to have one of the little fates tied to her. I almost got one a short while ago-but the silly little thing wouldn’t listen, and sealed off my ability to claim another!” (There was the sensation of pouting.) “How can you crush someone’s hopes of greater power that way? It’s not fair!”
(Charles) “Well, I don’t think any of them reaqlly understand!”
(Quan Pen) “Can you please reopen those channels? I want to help… it wouldn’t be my first time assisting one of them!”
(Charles) “Er… I don’t know; I never really looked… where are the channels and what do they look like?”
(Quan Pen) “They’re within the Quintessence pipes – they should be grooved to channel the Fate-based Essence. Yao Xin has similiar grooves, but I can link those to the little meat-fates’ Essence much less painfully.” (And there was a sense of loneliness.)
Charles had a look… Apparently someone had filled in those grooves with shimmering protective Essence, gluelike in texture. In the Essence-glue he could see tiny tubes in clusters of 25. There was a lot of sympathetic energy with Sidereal Essence in them, linking to this deva, and a two-way Essence link: Essence went in – and Charms went out)
(Charles) “Huh… so unplugging things will allow them to send you essence to use some of your charms? Well, that should be simple enough…” (He unplugged things).
(Quan Pen, brightly) “Oh, thank you! Now what about bringing me a tiny fate?”
(Charles) “Well… I can check if someone wants to talk!”
Ms Chisaru was caught up in a meeting at the moment – but that gave Charles time to do his explaining and get feedback from Quan Pen!
(Charles) “You’re… going to expand the young mistress as well? Are things really so bad that you have to split everyone up?”
(Charles, gesturing at the “current situation” sections) “It’s that or geomantic collapse… it’s really too late for cautious measures! But everyone will remain linked!”
(Quan Pen, sighing) “This is why I argued against us being put to sleep. If Gaia hadn’t been in such a rush, none of this would have happened! But it will be nice to truly awaken, and harvest the dreams and wishes of those who would address the young mistress!”
(Charles) “Well… it’s too late for me to fix THAT. That was a long time ago!”
(Quan Pen) “Anyway… I’ll think about the fey region. That could lead to some interesting new curios-I’ll have to speak with Xiang about it.”
(Charles) “And it’s certainly time for everyone to wake up…”
(Chisaru, a bit later) “This is totally between you and me… but that meeting was about our little mutual problem with the Bronze Faction.”
(Charles) “Ah! Well, on that front I have good news… I’ve located Yu-Shans Devas and spoken with Yu-Shan, so there should be minimal upheaval and confusion. But Quan Pen, the Conduit of Pleas – the quintessence fountains and prayer-recievers – would like to talk to either a Sidereal Exalt or to one of the Maidens! I’m not sure which, but I thought I’d ask if you’d like to talk to her!”
(Chisaru) “About what? I’ve got a mission I need to run to, and a directive from that meeting besides. Not that I want to turn down a chance to talk to… a deva, right? Wow.”
(Charles) “Well… she says that she’d like to help; I THINK that they can interact with the Sidereal Charmset; they are linked to the Vault of Heaven. And yes, she’s a Deva… I can give you a lift, so it shouldn’t take too long!”
(Chisaru) “Urk… I don’t like where this is going. But – eh, I’ll tell you when I get there.”
(Charles) “Well, I don’t think that it’s in any way required – but more information is always good!”
(Chisaru, after requesting privacy warding) “Okay. The Elder Council pretty much wants to set it up so somebody can counter the Stanewald ritual. (Shrugging) I’m not sure how one Sidereal Exalt, elder or not, can do that, but then the Bronze are going to have one person doing it. It… sounds like one of those plans formed in committee. And looking at our history, those never work out as expected.”
(Charles) “Oh dear! More meddling… I’ve already set up to counter it if they start at the wrong moment of course! I take it that the information got leaked to them or they found out on their own? Still, with any luck… it may take them more time than is left before I start to try to set it up!”
(Chisaru) “That’s good…” (And she held a hand to her temples.) “Gah… is that Quan Pen? My head… yeah, I pretty much had to tell them. Sorry, Charles! I couldn’t let a threat like that go unreported!”
(Charles, looking mildly disappointed; another possible random factor to watch for!) “Oh well… how long do you think it will take them to get ready? Staneweld was scheduled for about two years from now of course. And that’s Quan Pen! There seems to be an interaction with the Sidereal Exaltation that goes back to before the Primordial War. It involves energy transfer – but here’s a temporary ward for it!
(Chisaru) “Augh… thanks. She says she can fix these damned migraines for good if I just hop into that fountain. That’s her, right? And I’d give them about a year; they’re scouting demesnes for our network right now.”
Charles relayed what Mr Montague was told.
(Charles) “Well, that shouldn’t be too big a problem then! And Ms Quan Pen? It might be best to just speak aloud; your current mode of communication is a bit awkward!”
(Quan Pen) “Please jump in me! Not only will you feel better, I can teach you some very helpful techniques!”
(Chisaru) “Yeah, and drain motes from me every day, too. And make me go berserk with hunger for them.”
Charles tried to figure out what would actually happen… It looked like mote draining every day, about as a much as a Tender. He couldn’t see anything that would indicate going berserk with hunger, though… It was only about (Essencex2) per day…
(Charles) “Hm… the drain would be relatively minor – far less than what you pick up by being linked to the privacy manse – and there’s no apparent danger of going berserk… I’m not quite sure what you would get out of it though; it should be additional charm-options, but I can’t tell what!”
(Chisaru) “I got a note saying that was a risk of this.”
(Quan Pen) “But that shouldn’t happen!”
(Charles) “I could be wrong; I am looking directly, but I can’t tell if their information is more complete than mine! It shouldn’t be a risk with the manse link though even if I’m wrong about the level – and I can always set up more manse links. Quan Pen? What exactly comes back to the Sidereals over the link?”
(Quan Pen) “In the time before what Cangha calls the Occupation, the Tenders and Fates performed some alterations to some of us! I was confused at first, but when the first tiny fate was immersed in my waters, some of my power was converted to theirs.”
(Chisaru) “Was there a little poem related to this?”
(Quan Pen) “Er… the Fates did recite one!”
Chisaru kept holding one hand to her temple, but moved the fingers slightly to her forehead.
(Chisaru) “This is a crazy idea… Charles, you think there’s some mental illness affecting all us Exalts, right? And the Sidereal variation’s based on group plans going badly.”
(Charles) “Yes – unfortunately. I can’t tell whether it’s innate or a consequence of the war – but apparently prophecies and such worked during the war, and – while the exalts might have been ruthless and cruel, the most blatant madness was all after the war. I’d bet on it being some aftereffect of the war, and this would definitely predate it.”
(Chisaru) “Huh… I’ve got a theory of my own about that, and these migraines, and that note. And (looking to the fountain) that’s the only way to test it without getting someone else mixed up in this. And I’m sure as Malfeas not going to toss Sasa in there.”
(Charles) “Well… if it turns out to go wrong, I will certainly try to fix it!”
(Chisaru) “Does this sound totally idiotic to you?”
(Charles) “It sounds like a gamble – but the alternatives… have failed for thirty thousand years.”
(Chisaru) “Okay then…” (She adjusted the collar of her very nice designer suit – which turned it into a modest swimsuit.) “Here goes nothing!”
Chisaru went in – and Charles observed and analyzed carefully. After all, he might need to undo it! Besides… the link with the privacy manse provided perfect mental stability.
(Quan Pen) “Hurrah! At long last… ooh, a ruby fate this time!”
The Quintessence in the fountain was bubbling, and the newly unsealed grooves filled with Martian Essence… the hooks connected to that Essence… There was a shift going on in Sorina Chisaru’s mental state; the formerly mitigated hubris and tendency toward groupthink was fading, with a gnawing hunger replacing it. Evidently there was a trading of prayer motes with fate motes. The hooks burrowed further, draining motes steadily; at this rate, her mote pool would be completely empty when she re-emerged. It was also adding channels into the occupant’s Essence, to facilitate feeding.
Charles poured in more motes – and a scripture was coming into full flower! The Scripture of the Hungry Maiden, written in the customary cramped and ragged hand. And a martial art based around this deva’s abilities – the Conduit of Pleas style. As Charles poured additional motes in, the spot where Chisaru dove in bubbled ever-brighter, with a crimson glow in that area. Ms Chisaru emerged about an hour later, her anima and caste mark in full brilliance… and veins glowing. Her hands were also glowing, and she was gasping. There was a bit of moaning there – reminding Charles of some of the zombie films he’d seen – but she wasn’t attacking him, which was good! He hooked her up to some more manses…
(Charles) “Are you all right?”
(Chisaru) “That was something else… my migraine IS gone, at least.”
(Charles) “Well, that’s something!”
(Chisaru, looking at her veins) “I don’t feel many mental changes… other than that she’s in my head for good now.”
(Quan Pen) “I’m supposed to advise you! You should be honored; only the best of the tiny fates are supposed to get this gift!”
(Charles) “Well, you should be able to evaluate them precisely by running a comparison against the privacy manse…”
(Chisaru, making that comparison) “Huh.” (She provided Charles with m ore details on the mental changes.)
(Charles) “Hm! Well, that’s probably an improvement… the hunger is fixable with some power boosts, and that’s easier than the other problems were to fix!”
(Chisaru) “But it’s still there… so those contacts with me and Sasa WERE warnings about this.”
(Charles) “Will it be much of a distraction with the extra input?”
(Chisaru) “I don’t THINK so. With the extra motes coming in, this should be much easier to deal with than making bad plans for Creation.”
(Charles) “Oh good!”
(Chisaru) “Uh… but here’s what bothers me. How would the person sending us notes know about any of this? I’ve got one possibility in mind, but that one’s got some scary implications.”
(Charles) “Well… they could have experienced it themselves, or have found some old texts, or have misunderstood a prophecy about it… Or they could just date back to before the war!”
(Chisaru) “I’m… going to keep a lookout for information, and try to keep my seniors from blowing up the place. You stay safe, okay? Because if there is some other Sidereal like this running around, I don’t know anything about their motives.”
(Charles) “I’ll try! And… hm… I’d bet that all of Yu-Shan’s Devas are set up to allow this in one fashion or another…”