Up in Yu-Shan, almost all of Charles’s preparatory work was actually done. He had the dragon lines mapped, manses and artifacts built, spike delivered, seating chart being drawn up, repairs made on most of the manses on Earth that were likely to blow in the power surge, gate manses ready to go, and local arrangements to handle the powerflows on the colony world gates both to Yu-Shan and Earth were almost complete. It was down to double- and triple-checking and the (inevitable) flood of last-minute explanatory-assignments…
And, of course, to dealing with the Carnival organizers, who had – of course – left distributing spots to the last week and a half.
And that meant that Charles had slowed his headlong rush enough to make a scheduled public appearance at the concert – and associated minor ones, such as to submit his application for the location!
And THAT was why he was currently waiting in line!
Around him the planning and preliminary setup for the Carnival of Meeting was underway as the surveyors laid out the areas around the Jade Pleasure Dome to put the various stalls and tents, the geomancers examined the sleeping (deva-)gates, celestial lions continued their patrols around the dome with oddly (at least if you didn’t know what was going on) heightened attention to various geomantic details, and the various Carnival hangers-on made THEIR preparations to take advantage of the increase of divine traffic and the no-doubt-astounded mortals who would be coming through.
The central pavilion was normally reserved for big events and major guests only – and the minor gods of scheduling had little time to pay attention to Yu-Shan gossip. There had been something about a “reshaping” a while back, but who had time for that when the god in charge of the planning council proper was CLEARLY wearing clothing in a new style and it was VITAL to make sure that your own outfits matched!
Some of the Cerulean Lute of Harmony’s Sidereals had once sat on that council, but they were far too busy nowadays for some reason. It was rumored that that ALSO related to that Reshaping thing.
Perhaps they should check into what the “Reshaping” had been one of these eons…
Charles, as usual, appeared to be… a kid with a pack and too many pockets full of junk – a nerd who looked like some craft-gods junior apprentice! And god-blooded to boot! And here he was in the line to request scheduling at one of the hottest locations in Yu-Shan! What was up with that? Supposedly his grandfather was some big deal, but again, that had happened after this fool Reshaping thing. Stupid Reshaping, making things more confusing. And what WAS in the boy’s pockets, anyway? It was rumored that LUNA had taken notice, and it had to be something truly horrific to get Luna’s attention! They had to find some way to keep him out, or at least make things harder! And there was some minor Canal guard letting him cut in line by yielding his place! The insolence! Why on earth would a CANAL GOD, one of the most disproportionately arrogant things in Heaven, do that? And there were a pair of Celestial Lions discretely keeping an eye on him too! No doubt looking for some cause to arrest the arrogant little pest!
(Tetzencol the Meticulous, a minor god of mayan record keeping, subtly looking down his nose at Charles – who did not even seem to notice! How could a mere GODBLOOD be so… oblivious to his betters?) “Hello, and who might YOU be?”
(Charles, who really DIDN’T notice) “I’m Charles Dexter Ward, and I need to schedule an event!”
(Tetzencol with a VERY icy smile) “Of course you do… and what sort of event would require the magnificence of this central pavilion? We have many, many people demanding a slot in here! And we have very high standards…”
(Charles, cheerfully) “A concert! Some musical work to go with Calibration! I’ll need rather a lot of seating too!”
An actual musical contest seemed in order here . . . not only did it establish the pecking order – or so she would hope! – but perhaps the child will wilt at the competition! He didn’t seem the musical type, that was for sure! Much too nerdy to stand the heat!
(Charles) “There will have to be some isolated seating areas though; some of the people who will be coming can only attend indirectly.”
(Tetzencol) “And what makes you think we will hand a God-Blooded child such a prime position – ESPECIALLY with additional seating required?”
(Charles) “Well it’s important – and I do have a writ for it! Besides… I don’t want to disappoint the people who will be coming!”
(Tetzencol, intent on being as awkward as possible) “A writ? Hmph! Few are highly enough placed to write a writ that will be relevant here! Are you sure that more signatures are not in order?”
(Charles) “I have the seating arrangements mostly planned out, but some are speculative… I haven’t got full responses from everybody yet!”
And he showed Tetzencol the preliminary seating chart – complete with places for the Incarnae, several Yozi Jouten, and numerous other major beings – including Raksha!
(Tetzencol) “What is this! Is this some kind of joke!” And the tone was indeed not questioning, but demanding! “Who put you up to this!”
(Charles, with puzzlement) “Why would it be a joke… Oh! An update! Ligier will be coming… That’s very good!”
(Tetzencol) “Get out! No one make a fool of me! Especially not a mortal child!”
(Charles) “Oh, stop being silly! I told you that this was important! Why do you think that Luna authorized it?”
(Tetzencol) “Well then! Why don’t you get the signatures of all NINE Incarnae! Yes! Luna, the Unconquered Sun, the Five Maidens, Gaia, AND the super-secret ninth Incarnae! Surely you must know about that one if LIGIER is coming to your party?”
(Charles) “Nox is already on the list, and Gaia will be helping out…. I’d rather you weren’t difficult about this! If I have to eject you from things this year I’ll have to assign someone else to handle your job here – and even if you’re being a bit upset now, I’d presume that you’re fairly good at it!”
Tetzencol just gaped at him. Whaa?… who was this “Nox”?! Did the child ACTUALLY think that there WAS a “Super Secret Ninth Incarnae”??? And that he, she, or it was COMING to his little performance? Was he oblivious and being used in a prank or was he just insane? It could be either! Even a foolish God-Blood would never BELIEVE that farrago of nonsense, and should have at LEAST called him on his nonsense!
(Charles) “Oh! Were you wanting a bribe? I’m not too good at picking up that sort of thing… (Distractedly) “Ah! More invitation-responses… good!”
(Tetzencol) “You’re completely insane, discussing that out in the open! We do not take bribes!”
Although heavenly politeness did require that she deny it, there were knowing smiles.
(Tetzencol) “Seriously, who put you up to this, you nutcase? Luna, is this you? AGAIN?”
(Charles) “Oh… OK!” (Removing the immediate area to the edge of creation) “ Is this a better place?”
(Yangzi, Celestial Lion Guard, who had failed to react quite in time…) “Charles, you might not want to teleport a bunch of influential – oh. Oh, boy, the report and audit from this are going to be FUN.”
Hanging between galaxies there was a magnificent view of the wyld, and deep space, and the insane galaxies of the other end of the universe! And a glimpse of Basalt and Crimson towers and the Edge of Creation and the realms of dream beyond. The little circle of plaza mosaic, Charles, himself, the registration desk, the two lions, several bodyguards, and a couple of random bystanders rotated slowly, offering a panoramic view – and making it utterly obvious, just in case there had been any doubt, that they were not in Yu-Shan any longer!
Charles kind of figured that – now that he had gotten the invitations out, and was making public arrangements to seat a lot of beings that did not normally attend functions in heaven, and there was just a little less than ten days left… “concealment” (at least of the fact that he was not a god-blood) was no longer a real consideration.
(Charles, in the silence) “Much more private here!”
(Tetzencol) “WHAT DID YOU JUST DO?”
(Charles) “So how big a bribe did all of you want?… Uhm, I moved us to the edge of Creation! No one from Yu-Shan will be hearing us here…”
There was quite a bit of panic and frantic questioning among the gods – and Charles’s escorting Lions were slapping their foreheads.
(Yangzi) “Um, Charles? I’m a heavenly POLICEMAN. I’m supposed to report on this stuff.”
(Charles, happily) “But if I bribe them enough then they won’t complain – and if they DO it’s because they were going against Luna’s writ, so it falls under the “any actions I think necessary” clause doesn’t it?…” (To the gods) “So how big a bribe were you all wanting?” (To the Lions) “Oh! Not to worry! The area we left just looks privacy-warded right now! We wouldn’t want to rematerialize on top of anybody when we go back!”
(Yangzi) “And you would be performing a meritorious act to save Heaven, yeah. AND we’re not supposed to be outside of Heaven without orders. I think we can let this one slide.”
(Tetzencol) “What did you just do!? What is this place?”
(Charles) “Er… I told you! It’s the Edge of Creation! One of the better views! You can see the deep wyld, the empire of Tarvail, the Emperical Galaxy, the Cosmic Storms coming off the Pole of Fire – that’s the quasar-source area over there – the towers of Gauderis Athelstane, the Guardian of Creation, the Borderlands of the Raksha and the realms of Dream, the living suns, and lots of other neat places! But we’re thousands of light years from anybody at all, and even then it’s Raksha and such – not anyone from Yu-Shan. Isn’t it pretty?”
(Tetzencol) “What did you DO?”
(Charles) “I moved us! From Yu-Shan to Creation and about 10 to the hundredth power light years. You wanted privacy didn’t you?”
Tetzencol just stared – rather literally – into space for awhile. Just WHAT was he dealing with here?
(Charles) “Anyway, we won’t need to start until midway through calibration since Saturn wants to conclusion to overlap with her competition with Sol…”
(Tetzencol) “What is going on here?! Why would you want to perform a musical piece when you could do THAT?”
(Charles) “I told you! I need to make some adjustments!”
(Tetzencol, rather more slowly) “To what?”
(Charles) “Well… I’m still required to swear you to a Security Oath to tell you THAT – but you’ll only need to keep it for about ten days now, so that’s not really a big deal any longer.”
(Tetzencol) “What have I gotten myself into?”
(Charles) “Uhm… Carnival scheduling! Same as last year!”
(Tetzencol) “No, really. What have I gotten myself into?”
(Charles) “Well, to tell you that, you have to swear to keep it secret for the next little bit!”
Tetzencol and the bystanders did – and found the summary quite horrifying! He’d never thought that he would be involved with a secret project of this magnitude! Even if he WAS a bit peripheral Charles could really use someone to run interference with the rest of the fair organizers…
(Charles) “Oh, for a bribe… would boosting your essence a level do?”
(Tetzencol) “You can do that?”
(Tetzencol) “We shall see, then!”
Charles went ahead with that – and it did work just fine…
(Charles) “So… can we get things scheduled?”
(Tetzencol) “Yes. Yes, I think so! But you had better get me back to Yu-Shan in one piece!”
And back it was, and in one piece – and to generate more rumors, as the gods involved were noticeably more vital-looking – and FAR more respectful of Charles. Charles, of course, paid no attention to that, and got right back to getting things set up – although even he realized that he might have to deal with gods who would be trying to unofficially horn in and displace the god-blood who somehow got a plum spot.
By that time, Aikiko was giving her latest report to Lytek. After all, she’d just taken in a major horror of the underworld AND found her last Guardian!
(Lytek) “Gah…. So in a way that armor of yours is STILL fulfilling it’s purpose – releasing the soul-fragments of the neverborn – as you use it to go into apocalyptic horrors and offer them mercy.”
(Aikiko) “Apparently so, Lord Lytek. But at least I’ve tracked down everyone-and that last one REALLY needed the help.”
(Lytek) “I begin to wonder if the universe has about run out of problems best resolved with violence? It might help explain why so many of the Exalted spend so much time at each others throats.”
(Aikiko) “All that power, and not that much to do with it?”
(Lytek) “That – and the Exalted WERE created to be the ultimate expressions of violence. While the Exalted have also been amazingly creative, and noble, and corrupt, and many other things… has anything else been even remotely as destructive?”
(Aikiko, with some startlement – she’d never thought about it that way before) “Hmm… not even the Unshaped can kill stuff permanently. I don’t think even hannya can, can they?”
(Lytek) “Not entirely so in any case.”
(Aikiko) “No… man, everything’s really coming to a head, isn’t it? The world – no, the universe – is going to change big time in-wow, only ten days. I’m… not sure how everyone else will react!”
(Lytek, sighing) “Variously I suppose – but at least – according to the seating chart Charles sent – it doesn’t look like most of the major powers are going to be surprised. He seems to be sending invitations to virtually everyone except the more unpleasant deathlords!”
(Aikiko, peering at the current chart) “Wow! I can’t believe Ligier RSVPed… does he know something we don’t?”
(Lytek, sourly) “Almost undoubtedly – I don’t think that I’d even WANT to know many of the things he knows – but in this case… I’d suspect that the Infernals Charles dealt with have at least told him that something interesting is likely to happen, and invitations to even limited aspects of Calibration are rare enough for those of his nature!”
She had to visit Malfeas some time, even if it WAS pretty dangerous there.
(Lytek) “Besides… after forty thousand years of exile, you get an invitation to Yu-Shan by someone who apparently has both the authority and a tendency to try to repair everything he encounters. Why pass up a visit?”
(Aikiko) “I definitely wouldn’t.”
(Lytek) “At least he seems to be setting up overlay zones, so they aren’t quite technically in the city… That’s something! I was beginning to think that he had no trace of caution whatsoever!”
(Aikiko) “You and me both… That’s quite a setup he’s already got, though.”
(Lytek) “A final throw of the dice I think. At least that is one thing the Solar Exalted have always been good at; rising to save the day at the very last moment.”
(Aikiko) “I hope it all works out… even if it’s not going to be as smooth as he thinks. I think that I’d better be standing by on guard duty for this!”
(Lytek) “It never is – but he, like you… has almost never failed in his specialties, even if your aid will almost certainly be needed!”
(Aikiko) “That’s another thing we do.”
(Lytek) “I shall deploy what resources I can in support of this endeavor. Charles… rarely thinks of the darker possibilities. It is endearing, and perhaps a part of youth – but at this point I do not think we can afford to leave any path to failure open if we can seal it up.”
(Aikiko) “What were you thinking of, Lord Lytek?”
(Lytek) “I do have some aides available – but he will need at least the forbearance of the Sidereal Brotherhood. He and you… are, I think, pointing out the way to get it. Before watching you in action, I had not really appreciated the power of “forgiveness” as a bargaining chip.”
(Aikiko) “You can’t mean… you’ve gotten over that attack so long ago?”
(Lytek) “Perhaps it is time too. Haven’t you just shown that a grudge held too long becomes a poison to all Creation? And I suspect that there will never be a better time to play that card.”
(Aikiko) “I guess so!”
(Lytek) “Lessons from the souls of the Neverborn… That “Privacy Manse” of his has… most UNEXPECTED ramifications!”
(Aikiko) “Yeah… it might just save us all a whole lot of trouble… Huh. I wonder how many Heavenly officials could use a trip there. Charles would never force anyone in there, of course, but…”