Back on Earth, Gri Fel and Terapishim had examined the maps of the upcoming “gates” – and the set of new, underground (and totally environmentally friendly) support-and-transport manses that had been installed in the hills around Arcosanti and linked to the city – and the concealed security-manses that would mark the earth terminus’s of the gates.
Arcosanti – or at least the massive-capacity transport and storage ring now placed about the city – was about to become the central nexus point for the trade and communications of twelve extrasolar planets. Had… had Charles KNOWN this? Was THAT why he’d wanted two fairly major gods for this position – including the old god of the biggest and most magical city in creation – and had provided a legion of material gods to help out?
Had he ARRANGED this? It was hard for them (and for not a few others…) to believe that Charles hadn’t had motives beyond charity for this!
To be fair, Charles probably wouldn’t have picked Arcosanti as a major nexus if Gri Fel and Terapishm hadn’t been there… Those positions had mostly gone to larger cities with existing transportation networks! But Gri Fel would like a major city and Terapishim would like more importance… and so they’ were getting what they wanted!
In an otherwise-unimportant school in Middle America, Dubai was finding out that his middle-eastern concubines – and two of his high school girls – were pregnant.
In the Middle East… Leon was finding that there were more fanatics needing to be turned into things than was at ALL reasonable!
Out beyond the borders of shaped existence, on the edge of the Deep Wyld (it hadn’t been much of a trip compared to making it to the Empirical Galaxy in the first place)… Charles was looking for Hannya. Perhaps foolishly, he had very little fear of the Unshaped. Of course, with protection from shaping, multiple aspects, unbreakable sanity due to his privacy manses, and multi-tracking, he really could handle most things.
Even if they “caught him” it would simply stall that aspect – and there were plenty of unclaimed waypoints to pass through. Or would that be missing the point?
The Tsunami spread through the Wyld, touching, evaluating, and discarding a hurricane wind of seething narrative fragments, it’s own form of Wyld-Seeking sifting shimmering fruits of exotic materials, essence-constructs, strange realities, and curious artifacts to ornament it’s fractal branches.
For Mothra Leo the sparkling essence of chaos curled away from his wings in a contrail of brief, twinkling, realities where his immutability momentarily gave stability to the wonders cast up (and normally dissipated again in instants) by the energies of the Wyld. Trailing a cascade of change and wonder He flitted through the narrative waypoints of the Deep Wyld at what would have been great speed in Creation,, represented in the Deep Wyld by the rapid fluctuation of existence around him. He was bound to run across some unshaped at some point!
And Charles… was considering!
Ooh! New colors! Wait… my brains only wired for a limited set; how can I perceive new colors if the automatic reshaping doesn’t affect me? Ah! It’s produced by a mental impression – a memory of incomprehensibility that cannot be described! Rather neat! It goes well with the new tastes, new smells, and new textures not of the existence he was born in. There were even spaces of sensory deprivation that worked much the same way, interwoven with great coils of ever-shifting elemental, Celestial, Exotic, and Primordial Essence – or at least with reasonable simulations thereof anyway.
Wait! Was that twelve impossible things? That meant that it was time for PANCAKES! With peanut butter and jelly rolled up in them!
Er… Where had THAT come from? Oh! The Wyld couldn’t alter him DIRECTLY – but it was feeding him sensory inputs and experiences that didn’t fit into any pattern at all. Of COURSE his brain was throwing up random thoughts and finding short-term apparent patterns that fell apart as soon as they formed! It was being subjected to a random stimulus! It was probably a bit like being drunk or drugged!
Booze for Primordials? Was Creation an… addiction treatment center? A cosmic drunk tank? Or just a drug-free zone?
GAH. BAD BRAIN! BAD! STOP THAT! He needed to keep his mind on what he was doing! You cold lose yourself FOREVER out here!… Was that why the Primordials original quest was so indefinite?
STOP THAT! FOCUS!
Wait, could he see new colors if the necessary interpretive neural network was set up on the adenic-manse network that was integrated into his mind?
It got somewhat better with a little more practice. No WONDER people ran into Hannya! They had SOME sort of structure to immerse yourself in and that was what you’d be desperate for… unconscious Wyld-Questing in search of… random encounters.
Oh, that was just WRONG.
Did Hannya actually EXIST as something separate from the Unshaped Raksha, or was it just that Creation’s Raksha had gotten so used to elements of the world being stable that they were subject to wyld intoxication like a creature of creation was?
And then, after all THAT, there was something comparatively mundane. There was nothingness, then a shimmering in the waypoint of faux-Martian Essence, then, of all things, a heavy wooden locked and barred door, reinforced with metal. There was a face on the door, made of a black metal, that leered at him – but no apparent operating mechanism.
(Charles) “Allo! Since you’re not a featureless portal, that means that you can be opened! That’s good!”
(Face) “Allo! Are you another adventurer, come to brave the Donjon of Ineffable Menace? Hello, tree-adventurer!”
(Charles) “I think I’m more of a contractor, come to install some conveniences and new functions!”
(Face) “Whaa… you do not want to brave the dungeon, the horrible traps, and the adventurers inside for the treasure room?”
And he was being scanned! Rather extensively – and it was sizing up both HIM and everything inside of him… Well of COURSE an unshaped would be capable of that! It was like recognizing faces for a human…
(Charles) “I’ve got lots of room and treasures Mr Dread Portal! But I wanted to offer the Hannya some presents!”
(Face) “Ah, you wish to offer tribute! But I warn you, Mr. Rival Dungeon, the monsters, traps, and adventurers beyond will want to test your mettle! They are discerning of quality, you see!” (Leering more) “And you are full of tasty baubles indeed!”
(Charles) “Well, OK! I have lots of metals! Copper is really useful for mortals, and alloyed Illusium makes good stuff for shaped Raksha, and there’s always osmium, which makes great pens, and…” (he went on for some time. After all… indefinitely large quantities of metal were available).
The face licked it’s lips as it listened to that description! Charles was really making this easy by listing everything like that…
There was a familiar sensation of multiple sets of eyes (or the Hannya equivalent) on him – so he waved cheerily! After all… he had some artifacts to offer!
(Face) “Delicious. Why don’t you hook yourself up.”
If Charles had been more socially aware, he might have realized that the tone wasn’t exactly trustworthy! Still… he really wouldn’t have cared much.
(Charles) “Well, here’s an artifact for you! It will let you not be here to get past if adventurers are too powerful! It does only work as long as you stay reasonably friendly with Creation and I though!”?
(Face) “What, you mean shaped reality? That really hurts! And then there’s that ring around it that grows all these defenses…”
(Charles) “Well, you don’t need to go there – and with this you won’t have to be available when anything bothersome comes out of it!
Hmm… there was someone in Aden, skulking around near some of the mines… That really was to be expected! He provided a coupon book! After all, the mines were more theoretical than anything else…
The humanoid figure in dark leather armor (carrying a big bag and ludicrously stylized daggers) was quite surprised. The Donjon of Ineffable Menace was surprised too – mostly because Charles had neither begun smiting, Wyld-questing, or running. That was the usual reaction to hannya! Not… providing intruding emanations nice luncheons (with peanut butter cups for dessert) from hobbit inns.
The Emanation wandered off towards the inn, snagging trees, rocks, grass, and other stuff and sticking it into his bag along the way – pretty much all of which promptly restored itself in one way or another, which was apparently very frustrating for him! He seemed to be quite the kleptomaniac… As he reached one of the hobbit villages he started extending his efforts to roads, fences, idyllic hobbit-holes, and hobbit children – although Charles quietly took away all the non-plant living things that he tried to stick in the bag.
(Emanation, puzzedly) “Peanut butter?…”
(Face, meanwhile) “You smell kind of like that ring, you know!”
(Charles) “Well, there is some resemblance!”
(Face) “Not enough to hurt, somehow. Must be all that Wyld Essence in you… why don’t you come in”
(Charles, wandering on in) “OK!”
The door opened up into a red-hot corridor just wide enough for a single human-sized creature.
Charles pretty much ignored the heat. He was pretty well protected! It was sad Tsunami had to go back inside though. Fortunately, Mothra Leo could just shrink down and ride on his shoulder.
The corridor was full of twisty little turns, all alike!
Charles simply strolled along cheerily, with harmonica – until, as he rounded a corner, something clicked behind him. A rolling sound started following him, rapidly increasing in pace, even as the heat grew – and he continued blithely onwards.
Eventually he did look back.
(Charles) “Ooh! A giant rolling ball! I always wanted one of those!”
Unfortunately it turned out to be impossible to simply take that one to put in a temple somewhere, and install an upgraded one, with homing system and accelerator! (which, would, of course, have gone around him somehow). This giant red hot rolling ball had a great big glowering face on it! It was pulsing with the energies of a shaping attack intended to snatch one of HIS waypoints!
(Charles) “Would you like something? I’m not sure I have anything ready for giant rolling balls; could you give me a clue here”?
The ball opened it’s mouth most menacingly – so Charles gave it delicious pie! If it didn’t give up… he could launch a staff-shaping attack to make it enjoy pie!
He did indeed have to resort to staff-shaping attacks, and it had a prefect defense – but Charles was a great deal more mote-efficient, and had a lot more motes anyway. He could just spam it until is succumbed since it WAS insisting.
Meanwhile, Mr. Big Bag / Larry Craft, Dungeon Raider – seemed to be scouting out Aden and grabbing stuff. He’d figured out that living things were a no-go though. He couldn’t find much of anything in the way of traps either, unless it was eating too much and getting fat…
Back in the Dungeon, the chase through super-heated tunnels, attacks by hordes of fiery goblins, and tripping of all manner of traps, ended with the ball enjoying a tasty pie.
(Charles) “Do you need anything?
(Ball) “I can pop out spikes if I want to, and go all superhot, and… okay, I can’t make pie.”
(Charles) “Would you like to be able to make pie?”
(Ball) “Pie is yummy now! But I’m supposed to snatch away some of your waypoints and make the dungeon bigger!”
(Charles) “Would you like some extra waypoints? They can come in convenient chancel form!”
(Ball) “Ooh! You’re just going to give me waypoints? But it’s no fun if you just give the dungeon waypoints! You can’t savor them that way!”
(Charles) “Oh… Well… maybe if they’re already dungeon-flavored”?
(Face) “Can they fight back”
(Charles) “Why not?”
The ball got a highly combative chancel, full of monsters and a boss! Distracting it enough for Charles to make his dramatic escape!
Or at least to wander off. He did feel a tingle; the dungeon, as focused through Mr. Larry Craft, was trying to analyze his interior fully! Charles wished it good luck with that! The Sidereals hadn’t been able to (much to their geomancers frustration), and they had made a pretty big effort! Still, a hannya had more familiarity with multi-bodied beings structure, and – as the effect was dancing along Aden’s dragon lines – it tickled with greed!
Charles offered the analytic spells some nifty artifacts – with the usual contingent effects! After all, if it just wanted to use them without side effects… all it had to do was wander away from Creation and not go out of it’s way to direct hostile creatures of the Wyld back to it. And if it wanted to stick around and protect Creation the benefits were even better! Besides… he didn’t mind being scanned a bit. All the really private areas were behind perfect privacy defenses anyway – although those were noted!
(Charles) “Could I just talk to everybody? I’m not really wyld-questing against you…”
Suddenly the ball got an odd expression on its face.
(Ball) “Um . . . they’re not available right now!”
It… seemed mildly concerned, actually!
(Charles) “Huh… is somebody following me and wyld-questing against you”
(Ball) “Err . . . everything is fine!”
(Charles) “You’re sure? I could make you a tailored artifact to help out!”
(Ball) “I can point you in their direction! They’re really busy though!”
(Charles) “That should work!”
The dungeon shifted with a loud rumbling, as the corridors straightened out. Way off on the other end he heard… gunfire and explosions.
Charles headed that way fairly quickly. Was another unshaped raiding this one?
At the end of the corridor the explosions and gunfire became louder, and he could hear loud shouting. There was light here, too., and beyond it… an open field. There was a small river flowing up ahead, and a bridge. On HIS side of the bridge, there was a fiery fortress with ominous faces lining the walls. They were much like the one on the initial door. There was also a small medieval style farmstead. On the other side, there was another fortress, although it was much more modern in construction, with turrets and spotlights – although it also had a farmstead, albeit a far more modern one. The essence felt different over that way.
Currently… there was a fight going on the bridge. A humanoid figure in black iron armor with fire bursting from it was engaging a soldier in modern body armor, wielding a machine gun! They both had military forces engaging each other too. It looked like… more soldiers on the modern side, and goblins for the knight. Bullets and ballista bolts alike were flying!
(Charles) “Erm… Am I interrupting something?” (Extra Loudly) I have tea and biscuits! Intermission!”
Unfortunately, the Black Knight and the Soldier were too busy fighting each other to listen to him. The Sword was strong with those two! The armies, however, were much lesser raksha tied to the emanations – and were more than willing to take a break. It looked like the Dungeon was having a territorial war with anither Hannya.
Charles sighed – and put a barrier between them for a moment anyway.
(Charles) “Excuse me! It’s break time!”
The two combatants found the barrier very annoying, as bullets and greatswords alike deflected off of it!
(Soldier) “Do you Primordials have to meddle in EVERYTHING?!”
(Charles) “Uhm… it’s only for a little bit, and since I found the way in first, it IS sort of my turn!”
(Knight) “Ooh, he has big innards…”
(Soldier) “And a tasty narrative of generosity.”
(Knight) “A little unsatisfying over the long term, but not bad for a snack.”
(Charles) “Well, I need a couple of favors – nothing major, or even specified, since all they have to be is solidified favors – and I can trade artifacts and waypoints and things! And that will give you extra prizes to fight over!”
(Soldier) “He DOES have big innards! Rip and tear!”
(Charles, after a moments consideration) “You do realize that that won’t work? Comeon! You’re a soldier! Strategy, Tactics! (He started rummaging in his pack) “I have some here somewhere…”
(Soldier, sighing) “I was joking… you’ve got protection against that. I’d have to send in the engineers. And even then… they’d have to be subtle about it and you’ve got anti-shaping up the keister. Sort of like those things the dead place keeps popping out sometimes.”
(Knight) “Ugh, I hate those. Not even good eating.”
(Charles) “Well, there is a relationship really, but I do get along with Chaos a lot better!”
(Soldier) “And they always have lots of demons, too.”
(Soldier) “Hey, can you do something about those? You seem to be related. Can’t you talk them into NOT eating everything”
Hm… The yozi’s?
(Knight) “Or lobotomizing us and using us as pack dogs.”
(Charles) “That’s not at all nice! I’ll make some artifacts to keep that from happening…”
(Soldier) “No, no! This roving book eater I assimilated had stories about the creators of the dead place getting maimed. You’re… like them, but not. THESE things are also that way, but . . . trust me, they’re not like you either.”
(Charles) “Hm… I bet they keep the same set of forms all the time… what do they look like? It could be Deathlords, lost neverborn souls, or a lot of things!”
(Knight, pulling a tankard of ale out of nowhere) “Same form as you, but USUALLY older. Some of them have mutations like the Shaped of old. Oi, Piercer, you fox, what did that one doing the eating look like”
(Soldier) “That depended . . . either an older humanoid woman or a collection of spheres. It was hell getting into her world-body! And that place was a jungle of poisons that ate everything. General sent in Skimmer and the cavalry and she didn’t come out, despite the flamethrower and the grenades.”
(Knight) “I wondered why she wasn’t on the assault.”
(Charles, once again clearing several conclusions and likely going entirely wrong with a single mighty jump) “Hm… Could be Deathlords! They don’t have direct internal access to chaos, and so – to build a tomb-body… they’d have to come out here and swipe waypoints to incorporate! They may not be able to truly create either, which could limit their shaping so that they’d need some preset themes. Were they picky about what waypoints they took?
(Soldier) “Pretty picky – seemed to be going for ones without any construction on them. General complained about it.”
(Charles) “Were they styled? You know… haunted forest, plains and mountains, or whatever?”
(Soldier) “The engineers were making them plains. Don’t know about haunted-that’s usually not good for digestion.”
(Charles) “Well, it would just be styling… Still, I guess that wouldn’t be required!”
(Soldier) “Took the engineers too… they walked off in this labyrinth pattern.”
(Charles) “Ah! That would handle it… just control THEM to give it structure… it wouldn’t be quite the old labyrinth – the power levels would be lower, even if it incorporated a demesne – but you could make it RESEMBLE the old labyrinth to any degree desired, and it would be effective as long as you were inside…”
(Knight) “What IS he talking about”
(Soldier) “The creators who weren’t maimed died.”
(Knight) “Oh. Well, not going to cry for them.”
(Soldier) “They want to eat us.”
(Charles) “Well, not exactly! The main part of the dead creators mostly went off to remake themselves and do something else! The Deathlords are sort of their creations after death. They were originally a way to try to get revenge on EVERYBODY, but the ones who currently possess that power have much more varied objectives… they’re still stuck being more or less dead though!”
(Soldier) “Dead, and not good eating!”
(Charles) “And probably well protected from it anyway!”
(Soldier) “Found that one out the hard way.”
(Charles) “Well, I could make something that lets you automatically slide a few hundred waypoints away whenever one of them comes close. At least that way they won’t be bothering YOU. There will always be other people for them to bother no matter what I do though.”
(Knight) “Do we really care as long as it’s not us”
(Soldier) “Huh. We actually agree on something!”
(Charles) “Would that be worth a favor?”
(Knight) “Depends on the favor! What were you wanting? Your own army? A big castle with walls that can’t be eaten”
(Charles) “Oh, it would be a charm activation of an unspecified but possible charm that you might in theory know! But it doesn’t need to actually be defined as anything in particular, so that can just be manifested with a few motes. That shouldn’t really cost you anything as far as I know. I just need a few to make more artifacts!”
(Knight) “Hah! As long as it’s nothing too complex, sure!”
(Charles) “It doesn’t have to be anything in particular really!”
Charles cheerily traded various artifacts for a selection of… hm. Raksha promissory notes? Materialized reputation points? Odd sparkling crystals of no apparent function?
Ah! Materialized achievement points from the soldier, and sparkling crystals from the knight that he referred to as “XP.” That worked!
HE provided various various artifacts that would (1) be protective, and (2) probably make them the terrors of the Hanya world! (But so be it! Random terrors of the Wyld… wouldn’t really change anything. Really, “look, in the infinite random chaos you found something marginally more dangerous than the average of complete randomness! How shocking!” It might be a problem later – but almost ANYTHING might be a problem later!