While the Sidereals did pay attention to the Carnival of Meeting, they rarely got directly involved any longer. They were much too busy these days, and normally delegated setting up booths, planning entertainment, and the like to their divine aides and – if they were really savvy – to their Half-Castes.
Which it why it SHOULD have been surprising that Valkith Vaskoda, that four-armed Chosen of Journeys who had showed such an interest in Charles’s space travel projects, had showed up just as Charles had finished up laying everything out! Even youngsters like him were busy, busy, busy!
Charles immediately sent any of them who needed it some help. He wouldn’t want quarrels to break out and possibly mess up his setup!
(Valkith) “Charles? (Looking around) Oh boy… This is big.”
(Charles, waving cheerfully) “Well, it will be a large performance! And a big audience too!”
(Valkith, over Telepathy for privacy) “Uh, Charles? The High Lord would really like to talk to you.”
(Charles, also telepathically) “Uhm… right away? Things are a bit busy… Anyplace in particular? Would a phone do? Is he having trouble?”
Valkith was somewhat shocked. The ENTIRE central pavilion and the area around it? It was worse than he’d thought! Just looking at what he could see… how much space and resources had the boy commandeered?! And essence-wards and channels attuned to all SORTS of creatures out in the seating areas? That mess ALONE would take days or weeks of study to figure out! And who or WHAT had been invited?
(Valkith, still telepathically) “He was really hot under the collar! Um… He said to get you to the Pinnacle as soon as possible! I WAS on a mission, but he told me to get my – oh, what’s the polite word? Oh yeah, my posterior. Anyway, He told me to get that back here and get you to the Pinnacle!”
(Charles) “Well, it is just for a scheduled performance… It’s on the program!”
(Valkith) “What program? Wait, are you actually performing for the Carnival? Surely you don’t need all THIS just for a musical performance!”
(Charles, still telepathically) “Well… OK! And it’s on the carnival program… towards the end, which is why all the arrangements will be shunted away to be pulled out for my slot! But I needed some setup time!”
(Valkith) “Whaa?! OK, I need to get you to the Pinnacle at once!”
(Charles cheerily handed him a program, pointing) “Here it is! “Symphony for the New Age“! Uhm… do we need to take the Canals, or is it really urgent?”
Now which was the Pinnacle again? Oh yes, where Harold and his siblings lived! Hmm… he’d better make sure that his other avatars were firmly anchored elsewhere. An Elder Sidereal could make a lot of trouble if he gets upset over something!
Valkith thought it was really urgent – so he used his transport amulet to pop over there with Mr Valkith! Just outside, so as not to upset any guards – despite the urgent objections from Gothmug!
(Gothmug) “Charles, this is a TERRIBLE idea! There’s no way he DOESN’T have some real understanding! And YOU’RE actually going!”
(Charles, to Gothmug) “Well… only a fraction! But if I trade out for a remote, I can’t do very much! And…. I doubt that he’d get directly hostile really! What does everyone else think?”
Malinda couldn’t see the High Lord actually ATTACKING Charles. Sure, he had a reputation as a behemoth slayer, but Charles was obviously more powerful than any behemoth at this point, and elder Sidereals wouldn’t be elders if they weren’t cautious.
Righteous Hala thought that he probably had some kind of psychological trick up his sleeve.
(Charles) “Well… that’s certainly possible. But better before the performance than during it!”
Oramus thought that he’d be delightful if Charles twisted him in on himself and let Yu-Shan play with him. She was probably bored senseless!
(Charles) “I think that would be both impolite and overkill!”
Wait… how did Oramus get on the private conference? Wasn’t that impossible? Oh yes, he’d let him get out a bit… Something told him that sooner or later he was going to regret that – but it would have been pretty mean not to do it!
(Oramus) “But he’s so lean! Wouldn’t he make a nice Möbius strip?”
(Charles, with some confusion) “For that you need to be literally flat! He can’t be a Mobius strip, he’s a multiply-pierced torus!”
(Oramus) “There are ways… Would you like to know them?”
(Charles) “Not right now! Perhaps later, when I have more time for topology?”
(Oramus, as Charles was being led in) “Spoilsport”.
(Charles) “Existential confusion can come later I think!”
The interior of the Pinnacle of Celestial Supremacy’s warded spaces were much as they were the last time – a small, orderly town in the midst of the abandoned regions. It was much, much less busy than before, though. The evacuation was probably nearly complete. The Manse tower itself loomed ahead, but this time it was nearly retracted into the ground and you had to enter through a hatch in the top.
Had they moved things up? Four years would be quite a jump, but it was almost inevitable that an overlap would occur and make things more difficult!
Well, unless they made things more difficult in some other way first, which was all too likely.
Valkith rushed him in too fast to do more than wave to the people on guard duty… They passed by Rosa Cress, Chosen of Serenity – but she seemed to be in a very big hurry herself, and she looked rather sad!
Charles waved to her too, and sent some happy flowers! She accepted them – but, rather oddly, looked sadder as she was heading off. He’d never seen her in obvious armor before either, although it looked quite light and flexible. She didn’t wait for him to improve it though!
There were a few other people around – mostly Ending Half-Castes. They were busily lading bags with thaumaturgic items. They got sack lunches in case they were too busy!
Which they looked at warily, and analyzed… and found that they were really very good, and with no potato chips of doom or anything, provided that you liked peanut butter cups for afterwards.
Meanwhile, Valkith was hustling Charles downstairs, to the same conference room where he’d spoken with Rosa before making the Brigadoons… It looked like the warding had been upgraded even further and there were a couple more red haired Half-Castes here. When they saw that Charles and Valkith had arrived, they headed off, presumably to get their father.
Charles upgraded the Wards some more, and then got bored and started making batches of adamant geomantic channeling pins while he was waiting. The more backup spares the better!
The High Lord of the Bronze, Kristoff Jorgensen, arrived quite shortly – before he’d had time for more than one or two batches! Charles had seen his picture in here before, and yes, he DID look almost completely like it – a lean, red-haired, bearded giant of a man in fine violet clothes (with a bit more fey ancestry then the average human most likely). He wasn’t nearly as red in the picture, though…
(Charles) “Allo! What’s up?”
(Jorgensen) “Boy! Do you have any idea how much interference the Gold Faction is running involving you?!”
(Charles) “Oh, it’s not so much on ME I think… but they wanted a school. Lots of other people are attending too though!”
(Jorgensen) “I’ve been struggling to contact you for the past few months! (He signed)… We need to talk about this ‘performance.’ Vaskoda, Rani, Othred, I’ll need you three to leave.”
Jorgensen just waved him away. Charles was a bit confused… Didn’t Mr Jorgensen have his phone number?
(Jorgensen) “Every time I try to call you, some OTHER Primodial energy blocks it! And the Gold interference hasn’t been helping either!”
(Charles) “Huh! That’s not very polite! I’m very sorry about that… I’ll have to set you up with a perfectly sealed link!”
(Jorgensen) “That’s not what’s bothering me. I have you here, and that’s what’s important. Milk? And . . . Peanut butter, is it?”
(Charles) “Uh-Huh! (Although he let Malinda check, and substitute if necessary – which it wasn’t). What do you need?”
(Jorgensen, thumping his palm on the table) “What in Malfeas are you doing with this performance, and WHY is no one saying anything about a boy your age doing this?! I know the Bureau of Geomancy is involved somehow! They couldn’t hide THAT from me!”
(Charles) “Mostly repair work for the Incarnae and Gaia!”
(Jorgensen) “That doesn’t answer the second question, boy… How old are you, again? Fourteen? Fifteen?”
(Charles, explanatorily) “See, Creation needs to be disconnected from Yu-Shan, and Yu-Shan needs some work, and we need a lot of new Yu-Shan gates installed, and the new planets need to be hooked up, and it’s been a lot of work! And fifteen last week! And no one is saying much since most people aren’t involved!”
(Jorgensen, looking horrified) “What the-in all my five and a quarter centuries… What gives you the right to meddle with the Celestial City in this way!?! What makes you think YOU can pull that off!?!”
(Charles) “Uhm… the Incarnae and Gaia! Didn’t I say that? I thought I did… And it’s pretty much ready now! I had the relevant sections checked by gods who never fail in their fields to make sure!”
(Jorgensen) “YOU’RE FIFTEEN! Where are your parents?! Do they know about this? Did you tell THEM you were doing this?”
(Charles) “I only found them recently, but they know now… they were outside creation, so it took a while to locate them!”
(Jorgensen, sighing) “No doubt Haldane’s work! And why haven’t they stopped you?””
(Charles) “Why would they?… Oh, I made ponies! They’re really neat!”
(Jorgensen, with exasperation) “You’re a good boy, right? You always give others what they want. Everyone should get want they want, right?”
(Charles, thoughtfully) “Mostly! Some people want bad things! Like the Arbiter of Games End… He’s very mean, and rather crazy, and I don’t talk to him any more… Couldn’t anyway; he tried to threaten me by smashing the communications drone, so I redecorated his planet with pretty colors!”
There was a brief pause.
(Jorgensen, after deciding to ignore that bit) “What about the other enemies of Creation you’re working with? Oh yes, I managed to learn about a few. I KNOW you’re working with (the venom is palpable) deiphages, boy! Do you seriously trust them?”
(Charles) “As much as the Celestial Lions do, or maybe just a bit more… They are working together on things! Most of them will be cured when the gates open up anyway; their domains will be restored.”
(Jorgensen) “How can we trust YOU, for that matter? You deal with enemies of Creation, you’re SOMETHING… Oh, you are joking. You have to be…”
(Charles) “Why? That sort of thing is why Luna gave me a writ. You can ask the Celestial Lions if you like. Surely you’ve noticed that there haven’t been any Deiphage attacks in quite some time? It needed fixing!”
(Jorgensen) “Yes, because you’re giving them support! At this rate, they’ll walk into central Yu-Shan and make it a banquet! And you still haven’t answered my questions! Do you trust those (counting) Deathlords, Raksha, Unshaped, Demons, and (more venom) deiphages you work with? How can you expect us to trust you?”
(Charles) “Because Sol and the other Incarnae do? And why would they want to make central Yu-Shan a banquet when they have the energy they need? I’m not actually working with any Deathlords though; I’ve only met two, one was crazy and hostile, so I set up defenses against what he’s doing, the other just wanted to know if I’d be eliminating death, which (and his tone went sad) I can’t… The Unshaped I contacted have taken jobs defending Creation, the Raksha took creations side during the reshaping and are a part of it now, and the Demons are just watching. Really… this is authorized by Gaia and the Incarnae and I’ve made the plans available to them. I haven’t asked you to trust me – but do you trust THEM? And if you don’t… is there any point in trying to convince you to trust ANYONE? What would it take to reassure you? Is it actually possible?”
(Jorgensen) “I know what I’ve seen. The deiphages might be playing nice for now, boy, but their ultimate aim is to destroy the Celestial Bureaucracy. They’ve admitted as much when interrogated. I can’t allow that to happen!”
(Charles, patiently) “And who’s the head of the Celestial Bureaucracy?”
(Jorgensen, sighing) “The Most High, the Unconquered Sun, of course… What are you getting at?”
(Charles) “The Incarnae have approved of this! (He produced some writs and records). Do you really think that I – at fifteen – have convinced them that they need to self-destruct? Or the Celestial Lions?”
Hm! There was something very wrong here… Poor Mr Jorgensen was a lot less than SANE on the subject of Deiphages! And it seemed to be oddly focused… Compulsion? But those would never last very long on an experienced Sidereal… Self-inflicted? People did that sometimes, but it wasn’t always – or even USUALLY – a very good idea. Was it that “Unhesitating Dedication” thing? Had he made it his personal mission to fight, or eradicate, or expel them or something?
(Charles) “Now, restoring their domains will restore the Lesser Deiphages to sanity – eliminating them as a threat. The Elder Deiphages will no longer need to drain essence once repairs are made – and so will no longer be deiphages. What’s wrong with eliminating deiphagy?”
(Jorgensen) “But… What in Malfeas! Is everyone in Heaven playing a joke on me? This isn’t funny! (More plaintively) “This isn’t funny…”
(Charles) “That would be awfully elaborate. Seriously though… would you like to attune to the privacy manse? That will let you know if something is messing with your head, and it IS just a manse attunement. You can drop it if you don’t like it.”
(Jorgensen, shaking his head) “How can I trust you!? (still very red, and now sweating.) You’re working with them!”
(Charles, calmly) “You have to start somewhere. After all, I already asked how I could demonstrate good faith – and you didn’t answer. If you don’t know what you believe in or what it would take for you to trust someone, how am I supposed to figure it out? Would you like to talk to the Celestial Lions? An Incarnae will be hard to arrange at short notice, but I could try.”
And there were voices outside. “My lord, are you all right? You seem to be under considerable stress! He’s… Not doing anything, is he, sir? It would be out of character.”
(Jorgensen) “Fine! I’ll talk to a lion! They need to explain WHY to me!”
(Charles, to those outside) “Perhaps he could use a backrub? Those are supposed to be very good for stress!”
(Voice outside) “I’ll get Mother!”
(Charles, to Jorgensen) “Are there any particular lions you’d like to talk to?”
(Jorgensen) “Implacable Shining Barrator is supposedly incorruptible. Seriously… If this is a prank, you are in so much trouble, Primordial or not!”
(Charles) “I’ll ask him to come over then – or would you prefer to send the message? That way you can sure that I’m not interfering”.
(Jorgensen, placing the call) “Oh no, if I let children do my business…”
It didn’t take too long to convince Implacable Shining Barrator to come over. Mr Jorgensen was head of the Bronze Faction – and at the moment anything involving Charles had a very high priority indeed.
And while they were waiting for an influential Celestial lion to clear out his schedule due to a matter of Heavenly Geomancy, the High Lord’s storm goddess wife gave him a backrub… Charles hoped that it would help!
(Ardent Wave) “Charles, what did you do to him?!”
(Charles) “Well… unexpected information! But he did ask! He’s worried about my current projects.”
(Ardent wave) “But why… Oh. That.” (Her hair stopped moving) “You know about it.”
(Charles) “Well, it’s my current projects, not his…”
(Ardent Wave) “Well. Let’s continue with your back massage before you get… stabby.”
That worked to some extent!
Barrator took his time – but arrived eventually.
(Charles) “It was kind of a giveaway that you were expecting major problems when you asked for ships to take refuge in. Problems need fixing!… Hello Mr Barrator!”
Implacable Shining Barrator was a truly massive Celestial lion, with even more jade ornamentation than usual.
(Barrator) “Hail and well met, Charles, or Aden. Whichever – we must resolve this issue before it gets out of hand. The safety of Yu-Shan depends on it.”
Mr Kristoff had quite a few questions ready to go!
(Jorgensen) “Milord… Thank you for granting me this meeting on such short notice. This must be a matter of great import. Please, is it true that the Incarnae authorized young (with quite some stress on that word!) Charles here to do – whatever-it-is that he is doing – with little or no supervision? Are the Celestial Lions really working with him and the deiphages with the intent to restore them to sanity? And… do you actually believe that this has even a gnat’s chance against Oblivion of WORKING?
Oooh! No shouting! Just some doubt and strong emphasis! The backrub was really working! Maybe he should try one sometime; he certainly had enough companions who’d be willing to give it a go!
(Barrator, smiling enigmatically) “Yes, the Silver Lady and the Most High have both authorized this project, and you know even I cannot gainsay them. They and the other Incarnae have judged him as competent. Yes, we are working with the deiphages. We… are responsible for their condition in some ways, and with Charles-Aden fixing it, we can double the city’s guardians. I cannot tell you more unless you accept a non-disclosure oath, which will expire in five days’ time.”
(Jorgensen, with considerable shock) “What do you mean, responsible?!”
(Barrator) “I cannot elaborate without the oath. Even at your rank, it is a matter of celestial security… I think we have gotten as far as we can. There is much I cannot say. Please. Won’t you consider it, Mr. Jorgensen? I would hate to see you even more stressed. Do think about it!”
And, after a few comments and small pleasantries, Barrator really had to go! He was helping plan the security for the concert…
(Charles after a few minutes of silent waiting) “Uhm… Would you like the oath or privacy manse link? Neither one hurts anything at all!”
(Jorgensen) “What did he mean by responsible? I don’t like what he was implying there!”
(Charles, looking a bit sad) “I can’t tell you without the oath… It’s only for five days though!”
(Jorgensen) “Can I look at your plans? I don’t have those either-no, really! My Chosen of Secrets can’t get them. Please?”
(Charles) “Well… I can show you some of the manse designs and things. For the full thing… It’s not all my secrets!”
He produced about a thousand pages worth of the non-critical information.
(Charles) “I’m sorry… the full briefing uses a LOT of compression!”
Fortunately, Jorgensen did read very quickly indeed.
Of course, an awful lot of it was manse designs for elsewhere in the universe, artifact designs, geomantic maps, and all kinds of other stuff – with little or no indication of how it all fitted together. Not that that would be easy to make out anyway given the level of compression involved!
(Jorgensen) “You ARE trusting… Okay, be honest with me. How many of my people are leaking information to you?… Oh. You can’t tell me, can you! They’ve taken that damnable oath!”
(Charles, thoughtfully) “Huh… Honestly, I don’t think any. Several people in your faction have taken the non-disclosure oath to get information, but they didn’t need to give me any for the most part – well, except for some about personal problems that I might be able to help with, and I’m not sure that counts – but most of what I got came anonymously, and I think from an ex-member of your faction. I got more of what I needed from direct examination, Primordials, the records of the Forbidden Manse of Ivy, Luna, the Primordial Archives, the Tenders, and lots of other sources! And some of the other Incarnae helped fill in bits!
(Jorgensen) “Ergh… Traitors everywhere! But… Are the Incarnae really helping you? None of these writs are forged.”
(Charles) “Yes; they know that it needs doing – very urgently – and are too busy to do it themselves.”
(Jorgensen, rather slowly) “And if I take this oath… I can still pursue my plans as usual.”
(Charles) “You can.”
And for all his probing… that was a simple truth. Save, perhaps, in defense… the boy would take nothing – not even choices – but only give.
(Jorgensen) “Even if they’re opposed to yours.”
(Charles) “You can. The Oath covers non-disclosure, not participation. Now, if you want the privacy manse link that will help you store the information and it helps with logical processing and mental stability.
(Jorgensen) “I’m perfectly fine!” (Even Ardent Wave, behind him, rolled her eyes at that one.)
(Jorgensen) “What? Just because I have a temper doesn’t make me crazy!”
(Charles) “That’s quite true – but the full briefing is about sixty thousand pages of information even with the compression. Getting it all in a fairly brief time can be quite a strain.”
(Jorgensen) “Sixty thousand… Okay, which Primordial told you your information? Since you didn’t say Yozi, a new one?”
Well… the Silver Faction Sidereals know of Gauderis, although the other factions certainly suspected that they were Primordial backed. Still, the name alone wouldn’t mean much.
(Charles) “Gaia, Gauderis, indirectly Autochthon – through one of his Devas – and another I’m not free to discuss without the Oath. The Yozi’s have not contributed; I suspect that they’d be pretty unreliable anyway. I AM may qualify as a primordial now, but I’m not too sure. It’s been very helpful anyway.”
(Jorgensen) “Never heard of Gauderis. (He sighed again)… Fine, I’ll take the oath. If other people have taken it under my nose, I need to know what they know. But no tricks!”
(Charles) “Uhm… Tricks are bad! People make poor decisions when their information is bad!”
And one Oath, and the privacy manse link (Jorgensen took it, if only so that he could absorb the full briefing in time) – and the full briefing, courtesy of the briefing manse. For good or ill… once he was linked to the privacy manse even the “add a motivation” compulsion that he’d put on himself was notably artificial, and could be easily ignored!
(Jorgensen, after some hours) “Soo… Heaven is a baby Primordial who ate something she shouldn’t have, the adult Primordials used her to power and make reality, and the deiphages are her life support system. Why would you make a life support system that EATS PEOPLE? That’s why we started the project in the first place, you know!”
(Charles) “It wasn’t supposed to; when the Incarnae took over Yu-Shan, they were forced to contain the Games of Divinity – and more and more motes have been diverted from her to powering city services and such. She’s dying – and when she dies she will become a Neverborn, the city will collapse into the Labyrinth, the lucky gods will fall into oblivion, the unlucky will become twisted creatures of the underworld, her links to Creation will drag the elemental poles after her, and it will become a race between Creation falling into the underworld and dissolving into the wyld. Rather than see the Cosmos destroyed… the Incarnae have supported my efforts to fix it.”
(Jorgensen) “And now that I look at OUR plans without certain ‘aids,’ they look like a great plan for killing a Primordial. Sure, we were expecting the deiphages to resist, but… Oh gods. How much do you know about Stanewald?”
(Charles) “Well, I have a reasonably recent copy of the project data. That’s why there are provisions for incorporating it if it goes live before my own renovations are complete.”
(Jorgensen) “Heh. You probably won’t have to worry about that anymore. But you intended that all along. Right?”
(Charles) “Well… I try to make all my projects advantageous for everyone I possibly can. It makes it much easier to gather support for them!
(Jorgensen, consideringly) “Somebody’s going to backstab you with that someday.”
(Charles, more seriously than usual) “Yes, I suppose so… but it would be far worse to stop looking for help, and friends, and to improve the universe. Giving up… is far worse than being betrayed.”
(Jorgensen) “Heh. Can’t stop being the idealist, can you?…”
(Charles) “ Probably not! And… I can’t see any reason to want to.”
(Jorgensen) “I guess it’s better than destroying the universe by accident, after someone’s been telling you that was going to happen for fifty years.”
(Charles) “I think so! There are some billions of inhabited worlds out there now. Whatever it requires of me… I will not let them die.”
(Jorgensen) “The universe wears on you after a lifetime, Charles. After SEVERAL mortal lifetimes… well, you saw how I was acting!”
(Charles) “I have set that up already. Eventually I will fall – all things do, although it is possible that the universe will go first – but I have set things up so that I can still answer those who call for help.”
(Jorgensen) “That’s a big trick. I thought you said you couldn’t conquer death.”
(Charles) “I can’t – but there are ways to work around it!”
(Charles) “I installed the necessary channels in the conceptual framework of creation for that – and yes, some ways are teachable and others can be bestowed. Do you need some?”
(Jorgensen) “You probably handed it out to my people. Yes, I would. I can’t be the top man if others are hiding power from me!”
(Charles) “Well, what I usually give out is a thaumaturgic upgrade with a lot of subfunctions: there are several other methods, but that’s the best general boost! If you want to try that, it’s basically another manse attunement; you can visionquest it – and if you want to stay remotely attuned, you envision leaving a blood droplet at the final stage to maintain the link. There’s a charm series that also works, but I’d have to bestow access to the set – which will block off other avenues of development and might not be your think anyway.”
Jorgensen) “So this is that powerful stuff Harold – or at least that toy of his – can throw around, then? Please tell me that it’s restricted somehow and can be turned off? You’ve got to have that much sense!”
(Charles) “Well, yes… Some of the early testers wanted me to be sure to!”
(Jorgensen) “Huh. Well, okay then. You know why they wanted that, right?”
(Charles) “Well, yes. They noted that someone could misuse it!”
He was already deep in manse-attunements… What was one more? He took it – and spent a few minutes considering what it included.
(Jorgensen) “Well, this should be handy against the Gold Council if they try to push me around again – if we survive the next six days. Are you REALLY sure you can pull this off? I mean, you’re still a kid, and not even a worldly one.”
(Charles) “Well… the Maidens see a future. I cannot guarantee a total success – but I have apparently taken enough precautions to ensure some level of it!”
(Jorgensen) “I hope you don’t warp Creation too much, or accidentally merge Sidereals with Devas. I… didn’t even realize we were merging Sidereals with Devas.”
(Charles) “Well… there are a lot of things going on out there! And I will do my best!”
(Jorgensen) “Argh… I have to apologize to some people now. I hate apologizing!”
(Charles) “Well… It can wait a bit if you need to! And there’s Gustav and Astrid to talk with for a start! Uhm… I’m glad you’re feeling better about things; they were kind of worried about you!
It was SO nice that the privacy manse helped a lot with not doing silly things under stress! No one will be killing themselves to destroy the universe or threatening other people’s lives to make them do it!
There were some inquiries on the way out – mostly about how he’d gotten the High Lord to calm down. He was pretty temperamental!
(Charles) “Mostly I gave him the information he wanted!”
Well… they were glad that the High Lord hadn’t drawn the reaver daiklave on him. That could have gotten ugly.
Charles had to agree that that would have been unpleasant.