The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CXCIV – The Fringes Of The Storm

Meanwhile, Aikiko was sticking with the trains. They were so nice for sightseeing, and there was quite a lot of spectacular scenery along the way, even if much of it WAS very big rocks. Still, one or two of the gorges seemed oddly deeper and more active at the bottom then they really were… She took lots of pictures for her mother, father, and friends in Yu-Shan!

And quite a few of those gorges, to see if the camera showed what she saw.

It did and it didn’t. Physically they were fairly normal gorges. They STILL were to essence-senses – but it was like there was a very faint overlay, a sort of a reflection of somewhere or something else that peeked through into reality occasionally.

Aikiko noted those on a map to come back and take a better look at sometime later.

Still, it wasn’t all THAT far to Minneapolis. The city had some destruction at the fringes – but the spot where the tornado left the ground was fairly clear, and rather obvious – and was pretty much a straight line on the ground.

OK, she was no meteorologist, but didn’t those usually swerve around? It looked like… it HAD meandered, but where it left the ground there was basically a line; on one side, the ground was swept clean. On the other, it was almost undisturbed.

The edge of a ward? There HAD been reports of a “dome”.

There were essence-traces of warding thaumaturgy, but on an immense scale. Someone had definitely been using Adenic thaumaturgy – but (on careful checking) there were traces of at least two additional major spells. Someone had invoked a low-grade but very wide area effect healing spell – and an equally wide area-effect repair spell. Both relatively subtle – but enough to keep injuries from proving fatal and to help them heal cleanly, and enough to prevent quite a lot of building collapses.

Secondarily there was a human component and quite a few bits of human-level (and not very skilled) thaumaturgy. Mostly repair, telekinetic stuff, and some minor probability warping. A few compulsion effects in the mix though, some of them very powerful and consistent. The origin point of the major spells was… much deeper in the city. The lesser stuff was scattered around.

That ruled out Charles.

The compulsion effects were pretty straightforward. “Aren’t I WONDERFUL!” effects. Pretty obviously designed to produce fascination and compliance – probably in mortals. It would be easy enough to resist if you had any real power though; they were high powered for basic thaumaturgy, but were nowhere near the exalted level.

That mostly ruled out the Guardians too; not skilled enough and too self promoting. The protective dome was probably someone invoking Charles though. Especially since there were multiple origins and it looked like they’d been directed at individual targets.

The current news in the city was mostly about rescue efforts (which were going surprisingly – at least to the mortals – well) and reconstruction. There were a fair number of missing persons though. It looked like… the percentage of kids was a bit high, there was a specific bias towards students at one (not destroyed) school, and there might be a bias there – but the sample size was far too small to be sure. Still, all last appearances were near the same school and two of the girls had reportedly been seen some time after the tornado hit – but that’s unconfirmed. At the moment, they were assumed to be victims. (Possibly too foolish as teenagers to pay attention to the tornado warnings).

Hm… The unconfirmed sighting had been at a McDonald’s near the school; possibly out for lunch (although, if they had disappeared in the tornado… they must have been cutting class for an early lunch. It wasn’t like SHE hadn’t done that more than once. Besides; she felt like a Big Mac anyway).

The Big Mac was nostalgically good! Sure, Yu-Shan was better, but a Big Mac pretty much said “new teenager on earth out with parents”. Ah, the memories! And… there was another trace of compulsion magic. Nothing to say if the girls had been here – they were just mortals, and wouldn’t leave any serious traces – but someone had been using rather mechanical magic at the restaurant!

Alchemical involvement? They did seem to be very protective of communities when they weren’t sick. Still, there weren’t many of THEM on Earth… much more likely just an artifact with a specific thaumaturgical function. Likely multiple thaumaturgists running about too, and no easy way to track who was responsible for what!

She set the Coatl to wide scale analysis of the area and poked around the school a bit. It was, of course, one of the emergency relief centers, even if that didn’t have much bearing on the disappearances. The school though… showed some serious magical traces. Adenic Thaumaturgy, and it looked like those three massive city-0assistance spells were cast in the parking lot outside.

And at least one kid was carrying an (unfamiliar) minor artifact and had a couple of minor thaumaturgies about him. According to the Coatl the artifact…. created instant minor forgeries, made it very unlikely that (mortal) authorities would take notice of you, deflected minor injuries, and provided minor good luck (+1d) on pretty much everything you did that wasn’t enhanced by better magic…

OK, that was pretty much every teenagers dream-talisman. Certainly something that Charles would be likely to make on request for somebody – at least outside of the forgery aspect. Still, he’d probably see little harm in it.

It was still pretty blasted unusual for a ninth grader to have ANY artifact. Shed need to talk to this one!

She used Invisible Statue Spirit, and dramatically stepped out of the shadows – and the kid “eeped!”, and looked rather surprised and disappointed about something, as he tried to back away.

(Aikiko) “Hey, where’d you get THAT” (Pointing to the artifact)

(Kid) “Er… Well, it just sort of showed up!”

(Aikiko) “What, like a miracle?

(Kid, attempting to duck through a nearby door and close it between him and her). “Er…”

Of course, to Aikiko through Skoll… he was mortal, a bit nerdish, and no athlete even WITH his little boost. For her, he was moving in slow motion – so she just ducked and blocked the door with her arm (accidentally shattering it as it impacted on Skoll) as he tried to close it.

(Aikiko) “I don’t want to hurt you, I just want to ask some questions.”

(Kid) “Eep!”

(Aikiko, bringing out the Coatl to make the point) “No, really, hurting you would be pointless, and I’d say things would be worse without you around. So why don’t we go get some pizza or something? I’ll pay!”

Weird! The kids eyes widened when he saw the Coatl – and he came along quietly with a most respectful attitude.

Aikiko put Diego back in and headed off to a pizza place with a nice quiet Wardable booth.

(Kid) “Uhm… How can I help you Lady?”

(Aikiko) “Did you have anything to do with that dome of light? It popped up and deflected that tornado.”

(Kid) “Ah… That was the Lady Penelope! She called for assistance, and it was granted!”

(Aikiko, sighing) “Let me guess, Aden”

(Kid) “She usually calls him Charles… but he seems to have a lot of names!

(Aikiko) “Yeah, he’s like that. What can you tell me about Penelope”

(Kid) “Uhm… Well, she transferred in about a month and a half ago – and she… well, she had POWERS. And she was willing to show some of us how to use them – although she’s WAY more powerful – and how to meditate to get Charles to grant you magical tools to use and how to ask for help in a real emergency. All of us in the RPG club have been studying with her! She’s great!”

Aikiko ran a search in Aden… It looked like… one of Charles’s thaumaturgy students from Atlanta. Should be seventeen now. Moved with her parents a few months back. Did kind of like teaching the younger students. Evidently she’d considered the RPG club a perfect place to pick up some students.

Well, there was no harm in that!. Especially considering that Charles was going to blow the covers out of the water in a few months.

(Aikiko) “Huh! I think I met her back in Atlanta. Nice kid. Good work on protecting the city. Charles will be pleased! But what was with the compulsion effects?”

(Kid) “Well, I’m glad that Charles will be pleased… but… compulsion effects? Those are pretty rude!”

(Aikiko) “Yeah… And not pleasing to Charles, either. Um… You haven’t seen anybody with a mechanical Essence signature running around, have you? I was getting that vibe from the compulsion effects.”

(Kid) “Nothing like that!”

(Aikiko) “It felt like an artifact, but they’re usually not THAT mechanical.”

Although, to be fair… she hadn’t dealt much with thaumaturgy-casting artifacts. Did they tend that way? It would be sort of a formulaic thing?

(Kid) “Do want to come to our meeting this evening?”

(Aikiko) “Hmm… Yeah, I was about to ask. I might need help tracking those compulsions!”
The meeting turned out to be a gathering of nerds! Quite a few of them with minor artifacts.

It looked like most of the dedicated gamers had had most of occult-I anyway… Play enough games and you’d soon have been exposed to every system of magic known to human history… Ah, the unintentional lessons of Gygax!

She had Skoll scan for artifacts, to have a look at what the nerds were into for artifacts.

Penelope had a couple of minor ones – some lesser armor and a pouch that stored things – along with a mid-level Staff of the Magi, which was probably a handout from Charles. The other kids mostly had two each; heavy on magical boosters, ways of dealing with the authorities, minor protections, and alchemical transmutations.

Yep. Ways of avoiding adult attention, protection, and sources of money – mostly in the form of gold.

A few had more exotic stuff, including one boy with something relevant – glasses that corrected his vision, allowed him to see through small amounts of solid matter, and could exert a fairly powerful and reasonably long-term obedience/fascination compulsion and a ring that maintained and shaped a very small pocket dimension for him.

And a match on the signature from the compulsion effects.

(Aikiko, pointing to him) “Hey, what’s with the compulsions all over the place”

(Kid, with a slight hesitation) “Emergencies can make you get pretty public with things! You’ve gotta cover up somehow!”

(Aikiko) “Well, yeah! But why was it an ‘I’m so wonderful’ and not a ‘please ignore me?'”

Unless he was running distraction for someone else, but even then, that was really unsubtle!

(Penelope) “That’s an excellent question… and why haven’t you mentioned this to the rest of us?”

(Kid) “Well, I knew that you didn’t really approve!”

(Aikiko) “Urgh… Now you’re probably going to have people infatuated with you. That has… Side effects.”

(Kid) “I think I can manage!”

Oh good grief. Nerdy teen, artifacts that tended to focus on granting his desires (no one said that they had to be good ones), secret hideout, fascination spell, and a couple of young women gone missing from the school he attended. Pretty obvious – and as distasteful as it was… Charles’s problem and not exactly worth her time when she had more important things to do!

Aikiko gave him a icy look. He was just going to have to learn the hard way, Dawai and Leon style.

Still… dead end, at least as far as finding another Guardian went. She’d just have to go after another clue! Perhaps… no, definitely; Scotland this time.

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