Charles was doing the last of the layout… runes and symbols, stage positions, seating, sectional arrangements, heights, audio equipment, the layouts for the various orchestral and choral segments, and more. A concert performance was one thing; laying out the most complex geomantic ritual in history called for rather a lot of finesse… The closer to perfect it all was, the more resources he’d have to deal with disruptions elsewhere.
And there were sure to be a lot of them. At least his assistants had the procedures down for diverting most of the minor gods now…
He didn’t really notice just how quiet it had gotten, other than appreciating the convenience – but the business of setting up the Carnival of Meeting had… completely stopped. The tables for signing up were empty, the other performers had cleared out VERY fast, the normally-officious gods who valued dignified movement had hustled away, and even his guardian Celestial lions were now at the perimeter, talking into the communication artifacts that Charles had provided for them.
Somebody important was probably coming – but Charles obliviously continued fussing with his measurements and setup! No one had come to move him or tell him anything… It was getting bothersomely bright in here, though!
Wait; that got through after a few moments. Even Lytek didn’t usually glow that brightly… Sol? Or perhaps Ligier? Or, if someone had been opening up portals and the universe really wanted to throw him another twist, Cthughu?
The light was golden, warm, and VERY bright indeed.
Oh dear! He hurriedly checked the protocol files! This WAS kind of public after all! And “ALWAYS expect Ninjas!” probably would not do…
It was indeed a youthful, four-armed golden man, his upper arms behind his back. The Most High was not carrying his four famous pieces of regalia, at least not openly, but he was wearing his usual set of armor.
According to the protocol files…. he was the King of Heaven, or at least the ruling regent! Ignis Divine or just the Unconquered Sun was also acceptable. He should be on his best behavior, show him the respect he’d show a head of state who fought outer horrors when he wasn’t playing the Games… and remember, that – to him -0 he was likely still pretty mortal! He DID outdate the current arrangement of the universe after all.
Also, he got the feeling that Luna was watching with popcorn.
Well, that called for a formal bow, a “My Lord?” (or similar phrase indicating waiting), and waiting to hear what he wants to say!
And so it was – although Charles straightened right up again. Sol Invictus was still a lot taller than he was anyway! And even though Charles had gotten MUCH fitter thanks to his own enhancements, the Sun’s physique was very much superior and very much innate. The craftsmanship on him was… perfect.
Charles, in fact, was pretty impressive for a mortal – having already maxed out his attributes, virtues, and relevant skills, and having stacked boosters on those. Sol Invictus was amused – and possibly even a bit startled – to see that Charles… was effectively more virtuous than HE was when he wanted to be. For his age, that was MOST impressive! Even if it was quite obvious that the boy was pretty much blind to status differences, so he treated everyone alike – nicely
(Charles, as Sol considered him) “May I be of assistance my lord?”
(The Unconquered Sun) “Charles Dexter Ward, also known as Aden Shining Dream. I’ve wanted to see you for a short while now (from his perspective, anyway). You are already of enough assistance. Some would even say too much… I want to see just how different you are from the other Solars.” (Said lightly, but knowingly.)
If it hadn’t been for the Lions that would have pretty much blown his cover – but it wasn’t going to outlast Calibration anyway. No echoing demands or cosmic pronouncements, but then Charles was – he thought – already doing pretty much what he wanted. Charles, however, was – after just a moments puzzlement – already off on a literal-minded tangent. With a moments concentration with the Synergistic Overmind portion of his consciousness he prepared a detailed report on all known ways in which he was different!
(Charles) “Hm…. Mostly these ways!”
He threw up a minor ward to blur things from the outside just in case someone had the nerve to be spying – and the absurdly complex displays started coming up, with numerous annotations and places to zoom in on!
Sol had the charms to process all that in a reasonable amount of time – and did so – but also started to laugh. From the tone, Charles wasn’t sure whether it was startlement, amusement, or if he’d driven the Most High insane with the ludicrous amount of power he wielded.
(Sol) “Charles. When your grandfather approached me, neither of us anticipated this exponential growth of power. I had not expected the merger of THOSE powers and the whims of small children to lead to THIS. You are performing a major geomantic alteration to a sleeping Primordial – one I had hoped to see for many millennia, mind you – with HOW many months of planning?”
He seemed more astonished and shocked than angry, but still.
(Charles) “Hm… (he looked momentarily vacant) Five months, two weeks, one day, and fourteen hours now Sir! Er… My Lord!”
Ah, the pitfalls of Social-1.
(Sol) “The Solars of the First Age… I would not have let them alter her in such a way. Most were not even interested. There was an infinite amount of space in the Wyld for experiments, and the few that the Twilights and Eclipses managed to get past My eyes experienced resistance from the sleeper and her guardians. You would not have liked many of them, Charles. But… Charles, even those were planned for DECADES. Meddling with a Primordial’s geomancy is no small matter, even if you are being benevolent!”
(Charles) “I would have preferred more time – but at this point, and with other people’s attempts, there are less than two months left – and working during Calibration is the best time. Next year… will be too late my lord.”
And – while even Charles wasn’t really aware of it – Sol could easily read the little whisper in the back of the boys head that said “Since they knew this was coming thousands of years in advance, couldn’t they have gotten a bit more of this stuff ready?”.
That was very good! If the child had had no doubts about undertaking a project of this magnitude on such short notice he’d have to question his sanity. And there WERE all kinds of reasons for it, starting with giving away far too much information to the crazier Deathlords, but they’d take far too long to explain even if the kid even if the boy had had enough concentration to spare to think about the question… in fact, keeping him FROM asking had been a delicate part of the balancing act for the past few months! If he’d gotten focused on THAT instead of on working it could have been quite disastrous.
While he didn’t regret taking Richof up on the offer, it was certainly FRUSTRATING!
(Charles, enthusiastically filling in the pause without really noting it, was busily pulling up yet more vast heaps of information) “At least everything is ready my lord!”
He was displaying the Creation end of the plans with the manses ready to take over the various functions Yu-Shan had been providing, and the new planets, and the gate network, and the new cities, and the species–and-doman-revival programs, and the ecological work, and the powering up of the dragon lines, and all the rest.
Sol was looking at the plans. The boy had been even busier than he’d thought out where he couldn’t readily see; their original projections had indicated that quite a lot of THAT work would have to wait until later – not be integrated into the primary project.
(Sol) “In-the-nick-of-time is part of the job for Solars, but this is too much!… At least you have used your internal resources and infrastructure to their utmost potential, and ensured that there will be reinforcements to Heavenly forces. This… argh! I… will have to leave my seat at the Games unattended to resolve all the political issues from this!”
Considering that his ministry had been run by other, mostly-corrupt gods for millennia at this point! That was genuinely frustrating too! If only he hadn’t been so constrained for so long!
(Charles) “Well, Gaia will be helping, and Luna gave me a writ, so it may take them some time to get past complaining at me… I can give them some very complicated forms to fill out about how I have drastically overreached myself! Will that help my lord?”
Was the boy actually proposing using phony forms? No, no… he was technically running a small department at the moment thanks to Luna’s writ, and so he was entitled to make internal forms if he wanted… and he had plenty of links with the Department of Geomancy, which was already one of the slowest departments in the entire Celestial Bureaucracy – and THAT was SAYING something. Offended gods would surely be happy to spend months filling out complaints as long as they were sure that it would indeed result in harassing their target. Still, that was a fairly common tactic in the Bureaucracy.
(Sol) “That won’t be enough. I need someone to play in my place and strengthen the ward.”
Charles was off on a tangent again.
Wait; “strengthen the ward”? The Jade Pleasure Dome and the Celestial Lions sufficed to keep out intrusions in general, so it had to be an inward-facing ward, meant to contain something.
With a new Datum, Charles’s mind immediately dumped several old theories and spun a new one. He’d had a look, there wasn’t much in there except the Games, the Sorrowhands, some supplies and stuff (presumably, being inanimate, immune to mental influences) – and the Incarnae. The observing gods were around the edges – almost certainly outside the wards…
So THAT was what the Incarnae had been doing all this time and why they had to be waited on by the Sorrowhands! He’d already known that the Games of Divinity couldn’t be destroyed and that something in there needed lots of motes. Ergo… either the games had a passive influence or they couldn’t be shut down without something (more Primordials than were currently available?) that the entire first age had been unable to supply. In either case, their influence would reach far beyond the Jade Pleasure Dome – possibly across all Yu-Shan or beyond – without the Ward, and that would be really bad for all the gods who (unlike the Sorrowhands and, presumably, the Tenders and Overseers) lacked the right qualities to resist. Since the Ward obviously required regular attention from multiple Incarnae, whatever the Games radiated had to be incredibly subversive; no passive ward would hold it for long. That made a lot of sense!
Unless the next words from Sol ruined that theory too of course.
(Charles) “Perhaps one of Akkados’s aspects could stand in for a bit my lord? He’s very good at wards.”
(Sol) “The Hand of Perfected Guardianship? Your warding soul, I believe… only because he is not a deva as the security systems understand it. We might have to close that gap depending on the other Guardians. I will save that for after THIS is complete.”
(Charles) “Well, one thing – or (thoughtfully) at least the smallest practical number of things compatible with a successful outcome while considering other factors – at a time… my lord!”
Sol almost had to applaud. A mere three words in passing and the boy had instantly discarded forty millennia worth of highly respected theories, inverted his assumptions, and come so very close to the truth – in seconds. It was no wonder that he’d come so far so fast; that willingness to instantly discard cherished beliefs and assumptions and draw a new pattern from new facts… was one of the rarest of all talents.
Perhaps especially among the Exalted. So many mortals AND Exalts had chosen death over admitting that they’d been wrong. Still… he couldn’t have the child spreading that information around.
(Sol) “To tell you any more I’ll need you to take a non-disclosure oath, to last until there are enough – seven – Primordials available for a full round of the games.
That was probably enough to confirm half the boys new theories, but he was obliging enough that he’d take it regardless. He’d held onto his own secrets well enough!
And there he went. More frenzied theorizing.
Hm… There was meant to be a display of the games on the dome, so a display on the outer surface of the jade pleasure dome seemed likely… enough Primordials to complete a round? So it was probably the “couldn’t be shut down” possibility. Would the games keep trying to draw in suitable players unless contained? Hm! If the four other Guardians transcended, and he and Gaia and either Yu-Shan or Authchthon played, that would be enough!
Oh yes! Stop thinking and swear the oath!
(Sol, confirming most of that) “We have not bothered to correct the misperception. From the perspective of those outside… is there a difference? We seven Incarnae are bound regardless.”
(Charles) “Hm… More fixing!”
The cheery innocence – and those absurd effective virtues (having someone around who had effective virtues higher than his own was really a most uncomfortable feeling!) really DID pull you in. Without even thinking about it he’d just notified CHARLES of a problem. Attempts to fix it were now quite inevitable… The child didn’t have his perfect effects tied to those virtues though; he’d somehow tied how quickly he learned to them instead. And THAT… was actually a bit frightening.
(Sol, sighing) “You are impulsive, and unrestrained, and grandiose even by Solar standards – even by the standards of the Guardians, whose imaginations run unfettered by many social constraints. However… there is no one else with the power and – more importantly – the benevolence to fix the problem to my satisfaction. YOU, at least, will not manipulate Yu-Shan to selfish ends, or perform harmful experiments on her.”
Charles looked absolutely blank, since such a possibility had never occurred to him.
(Sol) “You failed to consider the possibility of that, of course. The cantidate-priorities that led to your selection almost preclude such thoughts.
Actually there was a lot to unnerve a god about Charles! The child reminded him of the first time the Solars succeeded at killing off a Primordial, except that he was altering the structure of EXISTENCE ITSELF. Even though it was a change that he supported, the speed, the naivete, and the total goodwill coupled with youthful impatience about fixing everything was less than reassuring. Most unnervingly of all… That story about him giving himself up to the Primordials for a single mortal’s life was an exaggeration. It had been an entire city’s worth of mortals and Essence-using nonhumans. While he was pretty sure that Charles wouldn’t buckle for a minor threat, he wasn’t so sure about a neighborhood. He didn’t regret permitting the Guardians’ creation (too much Conviction) but the consequences were as great as making the Exaltations themselves.
(Sol) “Now… you WILL protect as many gods as possible from the inevitable battle, and ensure as little of the Celestial City is damaged as possible. Since I will have to remove Myself from the Games for this, I will organize the defenders. You will allow me to command any guardians and combatants you send into Yu-Shan for the defense. And… if I remove Myself to fulfill a certain obligation to Saturn during the Carnival of Meeting, you will not complain. I suspect it is a component of this as well.”
Complain? What’s… Oh yeah!
(Charles) “Of course my lord!”
(Sol) “I will hold you to that.”
Not, obviously enough, that it had ever crossed the child’s mind to do anything differently. Still, it was good to have certain orders on record – and the best orders were the ones that you knew would be followed. Never issue orders that you knew wouldn’t be followed, were stupid, or were repulsive! That way the troops would learn to obey habitually!. Staying in charge of a bunch of armed and upset people was a lot trickier than military anecdotes and army movies made it look. They WOULD have chances to “accidentally” undermine you!
(Sol) “Ah, yes. One last thing before I must return to the Games . . .”
And he picked Charles up with all four sets of arms, lifted him way off the ground -he WAS easily twelve feet tall – and gave him a firm hug.
(Sol) “I AM proud of you, Charles – but you have no need to be in such a rush. You have made yourself immortal, and unlike those Solars who have been corrupted, you have no outside forces to manipulate you. I order you to RELAX when this is all done!”
(Charles, hugging back) “I guess I can relax some once everything is fixed!”
(Sol) “THIS project Charles! “Everything” is virtually never-ending!”
Oh well! He just hadn’t been sure how much “all this is done” covered…
As Sol departed, one of the chairs transformed back into Luna. The lions were still around, the pavilion was still nearly empty, and…
(Charles) “Sure! Thank you! Sol’s aura makes the very BEST possible popcorn!”
(Luna) “Whew! I’m disappointed in you! Not a single big breach of etiquette?”
(Charles) “I pulled up an Etiquette file my lady!”
(Luna) “Aw, come on… the big Sunny needs to be tweaked on occasion. You know, like SO!”
And she tweaked him on the nose!
(Charles, doubtfully) “Gramps says that it’s inappropriate to do that in public with major gods my lady! Much better in the privacy manse!”
(Luna, with blatant sarcasm) “Oh, fine… it’s not like you’re involved in anything serious anyway!”
(Charles) “It’s too bad, but I’m beginning to think that I’m scaring some people!”
(Luna) “Scaring people is entertaining! Case in point: I gotta go back to the Games or HE’LL take my lead! But why not have a little fun first?”
And she held a finger to her lips and transformed into a snake. She slithered off – and Charles soon heard cries of shock and much shuffling outside!
And no one could complain about her slithering into their robes and other clothes because she was an Incarnae.
Oh dear! Charles promptly sent someone in her wake with chocolate and other refreshment-treats! All quite delicious!
And – despite “privacy” – another wave of rumors rippled out across Yu-Shan.