The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CXCVI and CXCVII – With Crystal Clarity

Aikiko was looking through the good old reliable tabloids – even if that STILL didn’t sound quite right – for more clues. There was the usual discardable rubbish about celebrities, stuff she was pretty sure of the cause of (including a modest epidemic of terminal cases – the extremely elderly, people in extreme pain, and so on – just dropping dead), kaiju reports, hysteria over the soon-to-be-opening gates, and more.

On the more inexplicable side… while Charles and company had been doing a LOT of rescue work, they generally didn’t do military campaigns – and the weirdness in the Ukraine had been steadily ramping up. Someone or some group over there had been eliminating supply bases, sabotaging vehicles, and otherwise bogging down the Russian forces with considerable effect.

Could that have something to do with all those amber thefts?

Well, of course it COULD – there were any number of ways to use almost anything when it came to ritual components and charms and things – but amber in particular was so strongly associated with entrapment, preservation, and stasis. If you wanted to bog things down… amber magic might well be a reasonable path to take. Still, it would be pretty hard to know without actually going on the ground and having a look.

So, most recently… the Russians were hiding it, but they appeared to have lost at least forty tanks. Not as casualties – but just gone missing, with no sign of their crews or the support infantry. That was weird. , very weird. Not even a sign of a struggle? None of the tabloids – or even the “legitimate press” – mentioned any. It MIGHT be being covered up – but the Russian commanders seemed more confused than that.

And if they weren’t even trying to hide that, something was definitely up! And who knew what they WERE successfully covering up? It wasn’t like they lacked experience at THAT game!

It also wasn’t like they could keep her out. She was a Night Caste, backed by Skoll! It – and her cloaking systems – was on! (Even if it WOULD have been pretty cool to zoom down into the Ukraine, descending from heaven like the very wrath of the Unconquered Sun, it would also have been more than a bit stupid). So it was well-cloaked wrath and a slow descent. The region was troubled enough already without adding omens and things!

And it wasn’t hard (at least with an investigation excellency, perception bonuses for nine successes, and a little poking around) to see that the Russians were getting the worst of it by far. There weren’t all that many signs of fighting – but they’d pretty much pulled back defensively. Even more tellingly, it wasn’t against conventional assault. There were lots of patrols, but little sign of land mines, barbed wire, gun emplacements, and similar fixed-position defenses. Whatever was hitting them wasn’t using conventional tactics or weapons. There were at least two places where tank tracks and signs of an advance… just stopped.

Taking a look over there with Essence-senses showed that rather a lot of essence had been expended there recently – not at very high essence levels, but spending lots of motes, mostly on divine charms. Some god of the region? Must be a busy one these days. Still… that would call for massive mote reserves and throwing charms around profligately. And… there were a few traces of Solar Essence. The Guardian she was looking for? Well, if those soldiers were in some Guardian’s world-body, at least they were probably not being poorly treated.

It was no wonder that the generals were obviously having a REALLY hard time explaining this! At least they didn’t have to deal with the commissars anymore. On the other hand, President Putin was not a man you wanted angry at you either – and at the moment…

“Well, we sent them to take over this area and they were apparently sucked into Avalon or bribed into scuttling their tanks and deserting or… no, it’s true, none of those ideas makes any sense at all Sir! But they’re just !@#$$% GONE!”

She headed into the Russian command post to get a look at their situation map. That should show the most recent operation – and given her current capabilities, the mortals wouldn’t be able to do a thing. There would be a FEW supernaturals supporting the Russians of course, but for the most part Russia wasn’t too welcoming of groups with special powers – although all those assassinations did put her in the mind of an Abyssal, as did many of the political considerations…

In fact, the generals who could work up the nerve to report supernatural opposition were finding Putin unexpectedly understanding. On the other hand, the aides and allies that he had been deploying to help them out were positively terrifying!

Unfortunately, Skoll’s cloaking was only perfect while standing still. She’d made it in to check the map easily – but then there was a problem; one of the guards was looking at her and smiling with far FAR too many teeth. It got worse when his eyes turned into smiling mouths full of teeth too.

Ugh, real life creepypasta pictures.

The OTHER guard looked horrified, until Mr Creepshow shoved a hand over his mouth as he started to yell – and first pulled his skin into his hand, then his muscles, and then his internal organs, and skeleton, with some REALLY nasty noises!

(Creep) “I haven’t felt THAT essence in a long time… So delicious it will be!

Gah! That was Gross! That was REALLY really gross! And she thought that she now knew which nation might be funding one of those kaiju at the Memory of the Void…

(Creep) “Solar is it? With… a major suit of Artifact Armor too… Very nice! But Armor has NEVER been sufficient! Why do you seek to disrupt Lord Putrefaction’s Plans? To quote him (as he spoke in Putin’s voice) “What in Oblivion have you done with MY TANKS?”

(Aikiko) “Wait, what? I’m here investigating those soldiers – VLADIMIR PUTIN? Hoo boy… Look, calm down. I know about as much as you do!”

Whoa, she never thought she’d have to say THAT to a head of state – or at least some horror in his service who could reproduce his voice. Abyssal it was though! “Lord Putrefaction” was pretty much a dead giveaway!

Come to think of it, that probably wasn’t the best response when said head of state or representative thereof turned out to be more than human, but she’d been pretty taken aback there!

(Creep) “Calm? There is no balm in all of Gilead to calm my hate… For it is old and cold indeed! As for YOU little spark…. do you think that I am fool enough to believe that a SECOND young Solar, wearing a mighty suit of technomagical combat armor, has entered this situation at random?”

(Aikiko) “Well… no… I came here to investigate the disappearing tanks! There’s another Solar here?” (That did match with her findings, but no way was she going to let on that she knew!)

For a moment, the other guards tortured face seemed to press against the skin of this creatures face from the inside, unable to make a sound but obviously screaming and pleading desperately for release before being sucked back down into the depths of this horror’s flesh.

Gah! She really should try to get that guy out! He had only been doing his job! Still… looking at this thing… it looked like some major horror of the underworld, not an Abyssal. Probably just using a remote link or the (un-)living tape recorder bit then. Still, a major creature of the underworld was quite bad enough! She was torn between the urge to PUNCH the wretched thing and the urge to pump it for information!

Well… it was probing at HER – and either it couldn’t get past the cloaking or it didn’t find “young solar and some sort of pocket dimension in heavy armor” all that odd – which was a good indication that she might be on the right track this time! Now if only she hadn’t gotten discovered… Could she reach into the thing and grab the guy inside?

Then the creature dropped the form of a guard and took the form of a pillar of blades, guns, chainsaws, and implements of torture, all of them apparently fractal – covered with spikes, which were in fact smaller weapons, and all whirring and moving. From it erupted the occasional scream, splatter of blood, or shred of flesh, as it’s inside appeared to be packed with miniaturized suffering spirits, constantly reaching for escape through the ever-shirting cracks and crevices, and constantly being ground up, only to reform in agony.

(Aikiko) “Whoa…”

OK, that was even worse than the creepypasta form! She had to give this thing credit for special effects!

(Creep) “Join me young Solar! Whether willingly in the Darkness, or as a part of me!”

(Aikiko) “Hah, I’d give you indigestion!”

She adopted her own fighting stance.

(Creep) “How melodramatic! But I have drawn into myself the souls and weapons of thousands, and your strength shall be mine as well!”

And the thing… erupted in a tidal wave of weapons, as Jade Chakrams, Firewand blasts, modern bullets, bazooka shots, arrows, and more, bombarded her, even as dozens of assorted melee weapons swung! Fortunately – at the worst – her Behemoth Cloak capped the damage from any one flurry (which this apparently counted as, thank the Incarnae) – but she had to find a more active counter to this overwhelming attack!

She drew on her Unconquered Ability Perfection with Martial Arts II – employing the Celestial Level to sear away all those projectiles seared away with solar light. Her whirling blade left an arc of blazing solar energy hanging in the air, a searing radiance that sent the barrage hurtling into the walls, the very air shrieking around the missiles in their superheated passage.

Skoll, her Behemoth Cloak, and a simple “Walkaway” effect could handle the blades for a moment – but that wouldn’t last! This thing was obviously quite powerful!

Much as she hated to yield the initiative that way… she settled for defense for the moment while she tried to scan this monstrosity. It couldn’t cloak the attacks, so they offered her a way to see how it worked. “Too damn well!” was not enough information to fight it with!

It looked like… those spirits were entrapped inside… According to the Coatl and Skoll’s sensors, they were enslaved to do most of the work. The “creature” forced them to do the attacking, used their defensive abilities, and choose where any damage that did get through went among them. A most horrific dark collective there! Worse, there was no apparent way to get them out of there or punch the bindings! Whatever was holding them was… deep inside. And the damn thing was flowing out around her, like a sea of screaming weapons, trying to surround her so that there could be no escape!

Going insubstantial would help for a few moments anyway. This monstrosity would certainly have countermeasures – likely dozens of them – but it would take it a moment to activate them. And the ceiling was high enough… Spider Foot Style and Lightning Speed would buy her a few more seconds to consider things in.

It did – but the horror flowed up the wall in pursuit, the clashing of it’s weapons and the shrieks of its prisoners forming curious piping words – nonsensical, but horrifying and carrying subtle whispers of terrible things – oddly familiar whispers at that. Very, VERY, like the Neverborn- if not a reflection of the real thing.

It might help to take this outside. If the Russian government was keeping this under wraps, she might be able to fight it in a more open area without causing too much trouble. It would probably be best to get away from the troops, though… She had Skoll activate the jet boots, held her gauntleted fist up in the air, and blasted out through the roof – come to think of it, rather like the sun exploding from a certain crypt.

The thing flowed after her into the sky, spreading out across the city below like an unholy stormcloud, dripping the cursed weapons of the underworld onto the city below like bolts of black lightning. It seemed to be slower than her top speed though – but there were people in the city! She had (gaah!) be a more appealing target than the cities people and lure it away!

(Aikiko) “HEY UGLY! CATCH ME IF YOU CAN!”

(Creep) “Well, you are certainly an improvement on random mortals. Still… Why pursue when I can bring you to me so readily? Flee me and thousands shall die! Will you leave them to agony and despair young “Hero”?”

(Aikiko) “Damn it!”

She’d have to stand and fight! Unfortunately that left her basically fighting an army, incarnate in a single entity! Not a good thing! But there was no way that she’d let it do more damage to the city than it just did! A punch to the face it was, with Aggravated Damage to Creatures of Darkness gauntlets from Skoll!

That… crushed one of the screaming faces inside, leaving her hand dripping with ectoplasmic blood and brains – which dropped off, evaporated, and poured back inside in streams of mist. The creature somehow combined thousands of screams into insane laughter and lashed out with dozens of weapons once more.

(Creep) “FOOL! THOUSANDS OF WARRIORS ARE AT MY COMMAND! I SHALL DRINK YOUR SOUL AS WELL, AND YOU CANNOT AVOID THAT FATE!”

It seemed pretty sure about that! She WAS linked to Aden. On the other hand, it was pretty obviously capable of effects that targeted the soul. Overconfidence, experience, or actual prophecy? Still… prophecy tended to be distinctly double-edged).

(Aikiko) “Who told you that?”

(Creep) “The shattered powers of eld are mine to wield! Much is hidden, but much is seen! None in all the ages of the world have escaped me!”

Well, if she was smart, she could change that . . . if only she were more skilled in occult matters! She might be able to yank someone out without killing them! As it was, all that came to mind was that a proton pack might be helpful here!

Well, she had lots of consultation available, and aides, and a bunch of neverborn soul-memories – possibly rather like this one except that they weren’t on the loose! She asked the memories in the waterpark what she was facing here!

(Memories) “Ah… Meslanshloch, The Void Which Gnaws The Soul. It draws it’s victims within and shares the memories of his own torment and death at the hands of the Exalted with them, thus binding them to his own agony. Their panoplies become his outer shell, their bodies his flesh, and their minds and souls his power. Perhaps if he devours enough of Creation he will become an anti-primordial of oblivion – or at least he so believes. Like all things his bindings have their flaw, but his is well-shielded, lying deep within, at the point where the souls are joined to his pain. Only there can that link be severed, and his victims freed – but few indeed could pass within, endure the pain, the whispers, the shaping, the mental influence, and the horrors of a forming oblivion-body to reach that place. What he foresees is likely true – but he sees only partially, for he is dead and his power broken.”

Oh great. Another trip into a dead world-body – or at least one that was forming. Still… she’d been in one before, and it would be hard to find much better protection than Skoll, a Behemoth Cloak, Adenic Thaumaturgy, and Solar Charms. Could she grapple the thing and worm her way in? It looked like his normal strategy was to inflict mortal wounds and then swallow people up!

Perhaps an illusion? It would have to be either very very good or using something he’s never seen before. Basic thaumaturgy and Charms were probably out, and maybe even a lot of what Skoll could do too. Ah! The Toho Manse (illusion was a new aspect), Kaiju Powers, or I AM! I AM could probably provide a near-perfect illusion of pretty much anything at all just by thinking about it – and it might be old, but there was a pretty good chance that this THING hadn’t encountered its current powers.

It would have to be fast; even with HER defenses, it would soon batter its way through… She let through a little damage for verisimilitude – and to back up the illusion – and prayed to Mecha-Godzilla for an illusion of a fatal wound! Kaiju were GOOD at looking mortally wounded and then coming back!

And she received an illusion of – like Mechagodzilla itself – a massive segment of Skoll and flesh being stripped away leaving nothing but segments of Aikiko’s skeleton exposed! It was MOST gruesome! She threw in much wailing and gnashing of teeth, taking full advantage of her acting skills.

And the horrible laughter rang louder and louder as Aikiko and Skoll were sucked into the tomb-body, surrounded by horrific shaping effects (ignored), the dark whispers of the Neverborn (translated, corrected, and annotated by her memory-passengers), flayed by clashing weapons (which were pretty much ignored by Skoll and solar charms where necessary), the utter darkness and shared agony rolled in (and had little effect against immunity to UMI and a private pocket-universe of her own), the attempts to steal Skoll’s attunement failed since (1) he hadn’t any, and (2) she wasn’t dying, the toxic miasma bounced off the adenic immunity to toxins, the feeding of malevolent and corrupted data to her mind and senses failed what with (1) the privacy manse, and (2) I AM to correct incoming data, the entropic flux which would have aged her to death could not bypass the life-supporting power of Aden, and the terrible plagues failed before her manse-provided immunity, and so on…

It was still pretty unnerving, though… hopefully she could find this thing’s weak point soon!

The central furnace of agony burned like a negative sun – freezing all hope, and memories of pleasure, and every positive emotion, leaving nothing but the search for destruction.

It was all the more horrible to realize that Meslanshloch was simply sharing the torment that was originally inflicted on him. Once… he had been the gateway that allowed other creatures to join the Primordial Belriandathi, the Harmony of Voices (now Abhorrence of Life). Now, in vengeance – and knowing nothing else and no other way to reach out – as he used to take souls into the unity of Belriandathi, he was joining them to his own death and torment, forging the souls of others into himself and an eternity of pain. Whether that soothed his pain or increased it he did not, and could not, know – but his drive to incorporate others remained even in death.

Another Neverborn soul-memory, but one that was loose instead of being trapped in the void – presumably because Abhorrence-of-Life was one of the Neverborn tombs that the Exalted of the first age had broken open to get Necromancy (which was STILL one of the worst ideas that she’d ever heard of).

And that was the weak spot. She could strike – but shared pain was what held this mass of souls together. Adding to that pain… had not helped in forty millennia. A dead memory could not change. For that… it must be taken into a living mind, no matter how horrible it might be. But to take in THIS… Still, she was sure that Charles would take that risk – and you couldn’t let them suffer forever!

Decision made, Aikiko took the core of torment that was Meslanshloch into herself, to unleash upon it healing, and soothing, and comfort – with just a trace of Lethe to blur the edges of the agony and help her end a horror that had endured since the Primordial War.

The half-manifested Tomb-Body began to fall back into the void from whence it had come as a menace that had been a blight upon creation for forty thousand years was taken in to be healed.

Aikiko sighed as Skoll, blazing with solar radiance, emerged from the heart of darkness. It probably wouldn’t have been a menace if it had been allowed to live…

And then realized that the most ridiculous rain of artifacts in history was being scattered over a small Ukranian city.

Oh dear!

And not the kind of artifacts that humans should have, either! It was the stuff carried by thousands of heroes, tens of thousands of humans and wraiths, and rather a lot of terrestrials, god-bloods, and various kinds of Exalts – quite a few of whom fell to Meslanshloch across the last forty thousand years! Pretty obviously, turning him loose had been just as bad an idea as making the Neverborn in the first place! At a glance… it included any number of weapons and suits of armor as well as warstriders, vehicles, modern tanks, artifact vehicles, and even some farm carts and a rain of boulders that some really courageous peasants once tried dropping on it. Not to mention all the modern infantry stuff that wasn’t artifacts but still killed quite effectively!

She called for reinforcements from Aden to scoop up as much of that as possible. Even if things were suddenly going to be out in the open soon, mortals did NOT need to be wielding weapons like the ones you’d use to fight this thing!

There were still be some casualties – just from having stuff fall on them – but Meslanshloch would probably have eaten the entire city for dessert if she hadn’t stopped it.

Not to mention that she could easily have died too. Meslanshloch had been well on it’s way to being a primordial-of-eternal-agony-in-death. Fighting from the outside it had dozens of attacks and all the power and defenses it could ever need.

Had it simply been allied with Putin? Or had it had some other reasonfor backing the Russian invasion? Something beyond just getting more materials.

Although, speaking of materials… it looked like she was going to have quite a stockpile of random artifacts. There were plenty! Not even CHARLES generally dumped this many artifacts at once! Even if artifacts – or fights with an underworld horror – had not been what she had in mind for this trip, there was much to be said for opportunism! Besides… if there was a Guardian around who was snatching tanks, he or she would probably come out to snatch some warstriders and things; that display should have been enough to attract any supernatural types in the area!

It had been. It didn’t take long to turn up a young man wearing crystalline armor (that was more or less teaming with spirits), who was currently sweeping up artifacts and opportunistic Russian troops with the help of yet more crystalline spirits.

Aikiko was still wearing Skoll openly – it WAS a warzone after all! – but waved cheerily.

There was something of a squaring-off, and a demand to know who she was – in Ukranian of course. A good thing that she’d picked up some language amulets for the region before starting; it had been a pretty obvious thing to do.

(Aikiko) “I’m Aikiko Tanaka, a… neutral party in this dispute. I was investigating the disappearances around here. Someone pretty powerful is doing a good job of defending this place!”

(Crystalmancer) “A neutral party? Then how did you become involved in whatever that was?”

(Aikiko) “I’ll just say Vladimir Putin is a real bastard and pure evil… honestly, I don’t want to talk about that where people might listen.”

(Crystalmancer) “Heh… I cannot argue there! He has sent a great deal of men and material here to make trouble for those who have done nothing to him!”

(Aikiko) “Looks like it… he’s even more dangerous than you think.”

(Crystalmancer) “Apparently… I would never have dreamed that he would or could send anything like that storm of darkness.”

(Aikiko) “So… YOU’RE the one who’s been making tanks disappear, right? The spirit-armor’s a dead giveaway. Good work!”

(Crystalmancer) “Why thank you! And I must say the same about you – defeating that horror was most impressive!”

(Aikiko) “Yeah… if I hadn’t figured out its weakness, we’d all be dead.”

(Crystalmancer) “Ah… I must admit that I was mostly gauging on the sheer quantity of war materials scattered about. That… THING… must have been an army in it’s own right!”

(Aikiko) “Literally. It had eaten the souls of thousands of heroes and many thousands of lesser people. What we’re scavenging here is all the stuff they used to fight it!… But now it’s where it can’t hurt anybody.”

She hoped, anyhow! Surely being restrained and soothed by dozens of other soul-fragments would suffice! Maybe after some time it will be able to enjoy the water park like the rest of them!

(Crystalmancer) “So… Are you here to aid the resistance? Neutral or not, I think that you have already done quite a bit to help!”

(Aikiko) “Heh… might as well. Putin’s probably going to be on my rear from now on. Ergh. I’ll help you guys out. Besides, I need to tell you about some of the other stuff he can do.”

(Crystalmancer) “And evidently we need that information very much indeed… I thank you!”

(Aikiko) “What’s your name, anyway? I told you mine!”

(Crystalmancer) “Ah, my pardon! I was not thinking of my manners… I am Mykola Sernulka.”

(Aikiko) “Nice to meet you, Mykola!”

(Mykola) “And a pleasure to meet you as well!”

Now… the youngsters power signature said… “generic god-blooded”, albeit with plenty of Alchemy and Enchantment effects on the armor. LOTS of divine energies too – but there were also a lot of solar motifs about him, and definite world-body traces. It looked like… the armor was more or less an artificial shell; it allowed the wearer, and a limited number of spirits, to pool a bit of their power and to share the effects of some charms.

Handy!

(Aikiko) “So how did you get all those spirits in there?”

(Mykola) “Oh… they’re friends of mine! So I made the armor to help them ride along and link their powers with mine. It helps a LOT.”

(Aikiko) “How’d you run into them? Most kids can’t even communicate with them.”

(Mykola) “Well… They are from the realm of Perun, from the divine realms of the crown of the great tree.”

(Aikiko, after being momentarily taken aback) “Neat! I… guess he’s a local god? I mean, I’m assuming a god, not a goddess.”

The explanation was somewhat tangled – but Mykola apparently had access to some extra-dimensional realm; given that it seemed to be located at the top of some cosmic tree (a fairly standard theme of the local mythology), he had assumed that it was the realm of Perun – the most prominent sky king / thunder god in said mythology.

Evidently he didn’t realize that he’d created the world-body himself – or realize why the local “angelic powers” of the temples that he’d found there were so cooperative.

(Aikiko) “Why don’t you take me there? That sounds like a place worthy of protecting too.”

Fortunately, Aikiko was so blatantly another shining figure of light that it was pretty easy to convince him. It was indeed a neat realm – but it wasn’t really all THAT large. It looked like the youngster had been hiding other members of the resistance there (it made a nice, and very secure, base) – and had been locking up Russian troops, collecting tanks and equipment, and otherwise making the annexation attempt very, very, expensive indeed. He had about three thousand troops and a LOT of gear. He wasn’t quite sure what to do with them, but the “angels” could easily keep them contained.

Aikiko was pretty sure they hadn’t been expecting to be imprisoned like THIS, even if the conditions here were probably better than in the army camp, much less what they were expecting from being captured.

Actually a very few had some idea of what was going on – they were stuck in a sanctum or some such – but most of them were totally confused.

(Aikiko) “Do you have any angels who can see through lies, Mykola?”

(Mykola) “Well, yes! It’s very handy when you’re doing interrogations!”

(Aikiko) “I think we should send the ones who didn’t sign up to kill your people… elsewhere. Not home. I don’t think that’d be good for them living.”

She could think of a lot of things that a necromancer head of state could do with soldiers who had failed him, very few of them good! Still, Charles had no shortage of places to send people. Even if that had just been his voice being copied… that strongly implied that he’d known exactly what he was sending… She told Mykola about the encounter

(Mykola) “Hm… was he replaced and fed to that thing, or was he employing it? Either could be rather bad!”

(Aikiko) “I have no idea…”

She’d have to case the Kremlin to know for sure! Not that it was really important from her point of view, even if it was important to HIM. If he’d been eaten and replaced, his soul was in a better place now. If he was employing it, it’s no longer controllable by him. What mattered was that it was getting medical treatment! The best thing to do with ancient incredibly destructive evils that have slain tens of thousands!

Or at least an approach that actually worked. Maybe all those people who talked about “ending the cycle of violence” were actually on to something. It wouldn’t have BEEN an ancient incredibly destructive evil if her predecessors had tried NEGOTIATING with its progenitor. Particularly since said progenitor was pretty much the patron primordial of cooperation and everyone getting along!

Had they just been afraid that it would incorporate some Celestial Exalts into it’s soul-hierarchy and become REALLY awkward to deal with? At least now she could try to fix some of the consequences of that!

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