Eclipse and Exalted

And it’s another question! In this case it’s about Exalted d20.

I’m curious how you’d go about running an exalted game in Eclipse. I imagine there’d be an ‘exalt package deal’, some odd world laws and building most things (as) stunts and reality editing but it seems to be far enough away from standard d20 and superhero stuff to be confusing.

-Jirachi386

Well, Exalted (1’st, 2’nd, 2.5, and 3.0) has a number of distinguishing features. They aren’t all quite the same for each edition, but in general…

  1. You can buy almost anything you want at character generation. You start as a heroic mortal, get handed a can of cosmic power, and then get to throw in things like artifacts, wealth, power, ownership of magical fortresses, followers, leadership of organizations, or being worshiped by a quarter of the world. Maybe not all at once unless the game master gave you some extra points – but you start at the peak of most mortal ambitions.
  2. The action is usually completely over the top. Even extremely skilled normal people are generally irrelevant (and just have to grin and bear it) and you start off on a par with the mighty powers of the universe. You can build characters who can seriously damage the cosmos right out of the gate. This can be a lot of fun, but doesn’t leave much of anywhere to go – which may explain why most of the Exalted games I’ve seen that actually ran by the Exalted rules didn’t all that long.
  3. The special powers are generally based on your skills or attributes being enhanced beyond all reason while still following general themes set by your character class type of Exaltation. That’s a fun concept, even if you did wind up with lists of near-required powers that everyone of a given type tried to buy as soon as possible and occasionally ran into strict power limits based on your characters type and age.
  4. Describing your action in an over-the-top way to get a bonus on it is a fun idea. Of course, it was the normal way of running role playing games until game designers (perhaps influenced by computer games) started writing stricter rules sets and trying to downplay stuff you couldn’t put on a chart. The implementation in older editions of Exalted was a bit of a kludge and made many fights drag on and on, so the current version relegates the effect to nothing but a few bonus dice and relies on it extensively for excitement in combat.
  5. Effective Exalted characters are extremely complicated, with long lists of charms with evocative but uninformative names that need to be used in (unspecified) combinations with each other to work well. They take hours to build and are impossible, even as individuals, for most game masters to run properly without long study. In substantial groups they are nigh-impossible for one person to run properly. This means that small groups of PC’s, with players who are only running one character each, tend to run roughshod over everything.
  6. The characters all have tragic flaws, They may be grand, and powerful, but they have rules for their flaws that will lead them into disaster. Personally I’ve never seen much need for that – the players have their characters cause plenty of tragic disasters without a need for a mechanism built into the game – but the mechanism was basically “you occasionally go completely out of your mind”. I’d have preferred accumulating more limited flaws as your power level went up beyond the limit of a human minds ability to handle it safely and you saw ever further into the chaos underlying reality – but that’s just me.
  7. Attacks tend to be decisive or near-decisive when they do get through the defenses. If you were hit by that twenty-ton giant maul, you were in trouble. Of course, this turned a contest of grinding your way through hit points into a contest of grinding your way through defensive resources. In 3’rd edition fights tend to be short – but that only works because the PC’s pretty much always win. It wouldn’t really be Exalted if “OK, your characters are dead… make some new ones” was a routine part of the game.
  8. The universe, right down to the paths taken by individual raindrops, is 100% run by intelligent, and mostly not-at-all-powerful beings. If they have cheap “perfect defenses” (very few things do), punching them is fairly useless. If they don’t… then almost any problem can be solved by beating on someone. And when almost every problem can be fixed by kicking the stuffing out of someone, and you can begin the game as a Superman/Batman combo buttkicker (with or without a weapon depending on personal style), it doesn’t leave much of anywhere to go – or much point in learning other ways of dealing with problems.
  9. Organizations, overlords, large-scale resources, and managers all tend to be useless backstabbing bureaucratic nightmares that make you long to disassociate yourself from them. That, of course, is because the characters are supposed to do things THEMSELVES. You aren’t supposed to send in ten thousand men to dig a canal. You are supposed to smite the ground to open up a new canal and then fight the river god and make him consent to filling it.
  10. The game master is always supposed to say “yes you can”, although it might be difficult. For example, the rules made it quite possible for an Exalt hiding under a bush in the royal gardens to decide that he wanted to find a fabulously powerful magical nexus there that everyone else had overlooked for centuries – and if he could roll well enough (which wasn’t all that hard), so he did. Whether or not it had existed before was irrelevant; a player had wanted it and rolled well, so it had always been there. This ensured that much of the plot (if any) was in the hands of the characters, but made it VERY difficult to actually prepare for a session.
  11. The PC’s are always supposed to be the best and greatest. Sadly, since PC’s often come up with dumb ideas, this means that any idea short of “I hammer nails into my eyes!” still has to be better than the NPC’s best plans – so all canon NPC’s are incredibly short sighted and blind to obvious consequences – and their plans pretty much amount to “I set myself on fire and wait for it to start feeling good!”.
  12. You can’t go back in time or raise the dead. No do-overs and some stuff can’t be fixed. Of course, a lot of game systems don’t allow this stuff either. D20 usually allows Raising the Dead – but that’s easy enough to ban.

Now, I suppose that any given point might be argued – but those seem to be the core points where Exalted differs from most games.

Now to adapt that to d20…

  1. The power level implies being at least sixth level to start – the point at which a d20 character graduates to being more than mortal. It also strongly implies a maximum of level ten to twelve for anyone and everyone – the point at which d20 demigodhood really starts and about the last point at which a group of well-coordinated sixth level characters may still be able to win. Finally, of course, it means that normal mortals are usually level one and are limited to level two or so for heroes and elite types – mostly to figure out what they might be able to do on their own, since they’re never going to effectively oppose the Exalted.
  2. This is exactly what the Heroic Scaling rule does, so it is obviously in use.
  3. This implies that most “powers” are actually going to be Skill Stunts or something thematic (such as some Shapeshifting for Lunars or low-grade Elemental abilities for the Dragon-Blooded).
  4. This is the “Cinematic Combat” ability. It’s considerably more flexible than Exalted stunts are, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
    https://ruscumag.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/eclipse-cinematic-combat-at-the-narrative-convenience-store/
  5. This… is a bug, not a feature. Now admittedly, Eclipse can be very complicated too – but it can use all that published d20 stuff, doesn’t obscure what stuff does with needlessly flowery names, and rarely relies on complicated combinations of effects to make effective characters. We don’t need to do anything here.
  6. Tragic Flaws in Eclipse are basically either Disadvantages or Witchcraft Pacts. Personally I’d go with some Witchcraft; it’s a great way to pick up personal boosts at a relatively low cost.
  7. While the “decisive hits” idea can be taken to imply a reliance on high-damage weapons and damage boosters as well as on Blocks and Armor Class. On the other hand, “break through the defenses and try to land a decisive blow” is pretty much the classical first edition definition of hit points – they were “luck, skill, divine protection, evasiveness, and so on, with only the last few actually representing a serious physical wound”. This doesn’t match up well with many of the other game systems – such as “cure” spells – but at this level of abstraction it doesn’t much matter.
  8. When you come right down to it, this implies that there is no physics. Now honestly… I don’t like this. Philosophically it runs into infinite recursive loops, it’s a silly way to try and run a universe, and I kind of think that “hitting things is the ultimate problem-solving technique!” is bad for the game. My advice on this one? Go ahead and stress nature spirits and such if you like, but leave some basic physics in play.
  9. This can, once again, be covered by the Heroic Scaling rule. Mortal organizations simply are not important.
  10. Well, if the characters want to take a little reality editing to bend things to the way that they want them, that’s one thing. Rewriting your setting history to accommodate the players whims is a no-go for most game masters. TORG and a lot of other games have done this much better, usually relying on something like “Whimsy Cards”. Go ahead, use something like our own Runecards for this.
  11. NO. Just no. I don’t even do this when actually RUNNING EXALTED, and I do NOT recommend importing it into any other game system. The players will just have to put in a little thought and come up with decent plans of their own if they want to compete with the more competent NPC plans. Sure, NPC’s will do stupid things on occasion – but not ALL THE TIME.
  12. So no time travel and no resurrections – although reincarnations might work just fine. Banning a couple of relatively rare effects is not too complicated.

So:

World Laws:

  • Starting Level Five.
  • Heroic Scaling.
  • Limited Power Sets (Campaign Sheet Character-Building Restriction).
  • All characters are Human, but there are 6 CP Racial Variants. Exalts lose their old racial variant in favor of 6 CP worth of Innate Enchantment. Lunars get the Minimal Werething package. Solars get personal attribute boosts, Dragon-blooded get minor elemental powers, Sidereals get stealth boosts, disguise boosts, and “natural weapons”. Other third edition types get something appropriate, I’m not familiar enough with them to say what.
  • No time travel or raising the dead.
  • Beyond Fate: give every player one Runecard (or Whimsy Card) at the start of a session. Give them another during the session if they do something really fabulous. The game master gets (Number Of Players / 2, rounded up, +1) for his own use.

The Exalted Template: Cinematic Combat (18 CP), Witchcraft (Either as “thaumaturgic talents” or as some specialized personal boosts) with Two Advanced Abilities and Three Pacts (Personal Flaws) (12 CP). +2 Specific Knowledges (Knowledge from former possessors of the Exaltation, 2 CP). That’s 32 CP or a +1 ECL Template.

And that about does it. Your d20 game will now function a lot like Exalted. Just take Exalted’s Artifacts as Relics, Manses as Wards Major, and there really isn’t a lot more you need to do. Like it or not, most of what makes Exalted distinct lies in the descriptions and setting, not so much in the rules. After all, we had no trouble at all running Exalted with the Baba Yaga rules.

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CCVIII – The City Of Winds

Once the Potawatomi had gathered wild onion, and garlic, and rice, and the products of the swamp and prairie on the borders of the lake. But the Wheel turned – and first a trading post, and then a town, and then a city rose.

Vibrant. Active. A crossroads of trade and activity.

Yet ever the Wheel turned. The city fell in fire – but rose once more, rooted in railways and rivers and the great lakes, building towers and factories.

And the Wheel turned. Depression and crime struck at the city, and the tides which had once swept people and industries to it ebbed. Great portions of the web of rails and routes that had made it great had rusted and closed,

Yet the Wheel turned.

Chicago had all too many closed, abandoned, and decaying rail-yards. Great masses of rusting steel – once machinery, rail-cars, rails, and even locomotives – too dangerous and unwieldy for their scrap value to pay for the labor of salvaging them. Valueless until the city should rise once more to need room or rails.

Someone had bought several of them, bringing in private contractors, and restoring them – yet it all seemed pointless; those lines were closed, unneeded – useless, save perhaps to some devotee of rail. Even the local gangs were too “cool” to take all the nonsense seriously – and mostly smart enough to know that fiddling around in the train-yards behind the backs of the professionals was stupidly dangerous – but the contractors were (weirdly enough) rather soft touches…

All they’d been installing was a few stone pillars and a path to nowhere along an old railway sideline – probably to put scenic exhibits along. Still, the reopening of the old station, if only as a museum or some such, promised free entertainment and refreshments.

A few people were taking it more seriously. Some had signed up for the promise of “gates”. No matter how unlikely that sounded, there were always the lost and desperate. Others… had felt the use of Essence, and the power being exerted to reshape the rail-yards. Enough power that those absurd promises of “Gates” might have something to them – presuming that they weren’t a cover for an invasion from the underworld or some such.

The city officials were a mix. A few knew enough to take it seriously, many more knew that a grand opening party was worth attending even if no obvious payoffs, or tricks to expose, cover-ups to be bribed into, or opportunity for local profit has yet appeared… A couple of the local dragon-bloods (water aspects, mostly favoring Larceny and Bureaucracy) had heard enough to think it worth their time, and wished to corner this gate before others could! But first… it had to open!

And the Wheel turned.

It was that or explode – and that too lay in the balance of destiny.

In Yu-Shan, time and reality twisted, ripped and reformed by floods of warring essence, erupting into pockets of raw Wyld and cascading years where even the Loom of Fate working it it’s own realm with the direct backing of the Maiden’s could no longer sustain causality. Still, while the results of many battles – horrific struggles against Deathlords, neverborn Kaiju, creatures of the Wyld, and confused imports from Alien Creations – were as yet indeterminate, the overall course of events was clear. The Song of Creation filled the air, echoed by the uncounted voices of gods, men, and stranger beings and sweeping around, over, and under such struggles as if they were mere rocks in a mighty flood.

As the Song reached the edges of the dome it passed though both the ancient gates to the Blessed Isle or Earth, and the gates to other places, and the erupting galactic gates – spreading over more than a hundred worlds. On ninety-six worlds – the seventy-two prepared for colonization and twenty-four more prepared as nature preserves – a dozen gate-manses apiece went into operation as planned. Each gate to Earth completed the geomancy of the security-and-service manses that had been constructed there, bringing THEM into operation as well.

And the Song of Creation spread further still, gifting the worlds with health, youth, and long, long, life. Six of North America’s nearly 248 gates opened in Chicago, where the security and support manses had been designed in an interlocking and mutually resonant grid – providing power, weather moderation, and various other services for the entire metropolitan area.

One was at the old Chicago Junction Terminal on Lakeshore Drive… Now parklike, save for the restored old terminal, junction lines, and turning circles, there was some staff on hand to open things up.

And precisely on time a vortex of energy swirled into existence at the end of the train tracks and the “path to nowhere”, the stone pillars became an arch, several underground structures opened up – and the gate opened, revealing an early-morning vista of mountains, valleys, rich forests, a glittering city on the hills above the wide river that watered the valley, and flocks of birds and animals roaming the land and the air above it. The path extended to several structures, including a warehouse, a stockyard, a “general store” or “trading post”, and a yard full of classical covered wagons – while the train tracks extended towards the city.

The warding, reconstructive, and protective spells that the Song was carrying had been meant to sustain and rebuild Yu-Shan despite the battle in it’s midst. Across cities that were merely run down, the effect of spells designed to rebuild after a war of Gods, Exalts, Deathlords, and Kaiju were quite dramatic.

And a very classical wood-burning train (with the locomotives firebox and boilers thamuaturgically augmented so as to actually need very little wood or water) gently chugged it’s way through, to take one of the circle turn-arounds and pull up to the station.

And save for the music, there was silence – and agape staring. Even the essence users were reeling as otherworldly dragon-lines linked to Earths – and rank-5 demesnes with preconstructed manses flared to life beneath their feet, sending a wave of essence coursing across the entire city!

Perhaps most importantly… the Song carried with it an impression of Charles, of his granting relief from all injuries, and of the (rather absurd) level of compassion that fueled it.

The stillness lasted more than long enough for the thoroughly inhuman guides and gate guardians (Anthro-canine-metallic amalgams, Coatl, and Kickaha) to take up their stations while the security manses began generating their own staff.

A people few backed away – they’d seen some crazy stuff, but not like THIS – but most found the music thoroughly reassuring…

Not too surprisingly, the Dragon-Blooded agents were the first to regain their composure.

(Inukami Train Conductor – as dryly and matter-of-factually as he could possibly manage) “We have two hundred and forty-three names on our first-run passenger list for the city of Artolis, leaving at least seven seats open for additional passengers on the first run. Actual settlers do have priority over journalists and agents who intend to report back in. The train will make the run every six hours for now. Those individuals and groups who have applied for homesteading packages and seek to claim their own lands in the vicinity of Artolis should check in with the office on the other side of the gate to pick up their supplies, livestock, and vehicles. The settlement guides will assist in locating and setting up land-claims.”

(Young Kickaha, much more mischievously) “And you can land on Europa if you want to, but this train doesn’t go there!”

Quite a few gang members were already pushing forward and heading down the path… Whoa! They needed to get their stuff! It was REAL! And maybe they should pass the word around their neighborhoods too…

The Exalts and thaumaturgists in the vicinity were noting that both ends of the gate fed through newly-activated rank-5 indestructible manses. A teenage boy had built THIS? Certainly they had gotten an impression, and whoever it was was absurdly compassionate and powerful, but most Exalts couldn’t build a level-5 Manse… Perhaps one of these Solars who were supposed to be running around now? And he was apparently freely offering new planets and supplies to ANYONE who wanted a fresh start – apparently including those idiotic ganger ne’er do wells… not that their presence didn’t cause a lot of problems for higher-end activity.

Charles rather thought that a simpler life would help a lot with that – although, to be fair, his basis for that notion was pure general theory.

Several Terrestrials had put in for land claims as well. Why not? At best it was free, and at worst it wouldn’t have mattered.

And it looked like the pioneering supplies included assorted thaumaturgical talismans and even the occasional minor artifact, even if it WAS mostly set up for homesteading. That was interesting! Not as impressive as whatever links were powering the gate, but there were at least hundreds of times as many minor artifacts as gates… Besides, since there WAS land available, it would be best to go through and claim the best spots before the others got back! They needed the best land with the best view!

The thought was obvious, and the staff silently wished them good luck with that. There were a LOT of nice spots on an optimized planet. Even if they just wanted to be near the city (and it’s high-end service manses) there should be lots of choices…

A few were sensible enough to ask. They wanted someplace secure and defensible, so the staff provided several likely locations – throwing in geomantic surveys as needed.

With that kind of cooperation… the terrestrials asked for the best Water demesne on the planet – and were deeply shocked to find that a fine selection of rank-5’s was available.

What” Had these creatures already mapped out the planet? They HAD to ask!

(Map Expert) “Well, the planet WAS designed; and so the geomancy is just as optimized as the ecology and physical resources!”

(Terrestrial) “Designed? How long did this take to build?”

(Map Expert) “The planet only took a few minutes, the ley line network came up to full power within the next three months – which let us bring the gate- and city-manses online”.

A FEW MINUTES? For a PLANET? Just how powerful was this “Charles”?

The staff cheerfully pulled up some audiovisual records of the terraforming – which revealed that he HAD used an existing lump of rock at least – but the planetary transformation was still gob-smacking! Of course…. they were talking to a rather high-end magical construct – that seemed to be manse-powered itself…

(Terrestrial) “So… how many Manses has this “Charles” made?”

(Map Expert) “Well, he makes them as needed, so there’s no real count.”

(Terrestrial) “What, like utility artifacts?”

(Map Expert) “Are they really that different on this scale?”

(Terrestrial, after a brief and thoughtful pause) “I suppose not… I suppose that we had best take a look, and perhaps see the effects of this terraforming for ourselves!”.

Meanwhile the local governmental reps were talking to the station clerk. They really hadn’t taken all the ads seriously, and while they’d gotten some advance warning from the local Terrestrials that something was happening, they were startled to see the extent.

(Anthropomorphic Golden Retriever running the check-in counter at the station) “Can I help you gentlemen?”

Now that was WEIRD… and it didn’t seem like an animatronic or a costume, It seemed to be breathing and everything! Still… their sources had said that there would be a LOT of weird stuff – and while this was VERY weird indeed, if it could help with the city’s financial issues, it was well worth a look.

The police were bypassing the line however.

(Golden Retriever Clerk) “Do you need something? (Suggestively) There IS a line…”

Oh boy. No one was going to believe THIS incident report! Despite the pictures!

(Sergeant) “Well… We need to have a look around here, to see that everything is up to code! We’ll need a tour of the… facility? And Explanations! Definitely explanations…”

That got them a Coatl – and a fairly straightforward tour: training setups for people who needed more skills before starting out, the supply stockpiles, maps, advice on setting up – and otherwise a good look at a fairly conventional train station and a statement that “Charles believes that people need more room, and new lands to explore – and so he is providing them. This station and the gate system are self-maintaining and close to perpetual”.

The police were having a bit of trouble deciding how to approach the situation. They weren’t trained for what was obviously a first contact scenario of sorts! And other planets were certainly out of their jurisdiction anyway… were they going to be dealing with trans-galactic commuters? The “Gate” did seem to be instantaneous… Would the city try to annex a planet like it would a new development? Was there even a government there beyond this “Charles” announcing “Here’s some stuff! Don’t hurt each other! Have fun!”? Just how much of Chicago’s population was going to abruptly move out?

Not to mention the “everything is suddenly new and shiny” seemed to go a LONG ways past the station-park! Pretty much every report from around the city was of things being cleaned, repaired, reinforced, and restored!

How many people would THAT put out of work? But then… they had a brand new city and world to move to, where apparently much of what you needed was free, training programs were sponsored, and everything was very nice.

Wait. There was no breach of the peace going on and there was no law against opening gates or giving pioneering equipment away. This was POLICY. Not police work! They could safely shove it all off on the bureaucracy!

And so they did.

That would, indeed, take some time… the bureaucrats would want more information, and to meet with Charles, and to investigate the new planet, and perhaps even to send someone to Aden. City bureaucracy being what it was, it would take months, if not years, to implement – unless, of course, someone went under the table (which was probably inevitable).

And then there would be the feds.

Across the world there were local attempts to cordon off some of the gates – but there were too many worldwide, scattered over every nation, for that to become more than a very temporary procedure in most places – and the Inukami staff, Kickaha guides, and Coatl could spread out as the security manses generated their own staff and guardians to bring in those who wished to emigrate across the cosmos regardless of minor opposition.

Fortunately for the Chicago authorities peace of mind, the Gate-Guardians were quite cooperative in some ways. They were happy to tell those who asked that the destination planets were situated in otherwise uninhabited Hubble Volumes; so no immigration was likely for the moment. They also proved to be fully cooperative about restraining (and turning over to the authorities) lunatics, serious or violent criminals, and so on; they were screening to some degree anyway. There would be home-grown lunatics quite soon enough, there was no need to send any.

Unfortunately for the authorities peace of mind… even casual estimates on how many people would be leaving were fairly high – and the staff had no objection to simply giving pickpockets, shoplifters, and so on a bit of re-education and a fresh start!

Of course in actual war zones… things were going to be a bit trickier. As well as in the places where unwanted people were being dumped, or there was fighting over the gates, or oppressed populations wanted to escape, and so on. Charles would have them cared for of course – but the politics was going to be a lot tricker than he had hoped! The turmoil was already starting in the middle east and elsewhere as oppressed minorities, refugees, and similar groups were exiled, evacuated, or taking refuge through the gates! (Including many of the crazier folk from the middle east whom Leon hadn’t gotten to yet… He hadn’t cared if he had to transform 80% of the population. He was going to have a sane population that was willing to accept magic, the fey, and being ruled by a god-king or he would know the reason why! There had been insurgencies, ISIS, and maniacs everywhere!)

Meanwhile, back in Aden… that Raksha lady – Nimue’ – was back! She had returned to the Mardi Gras manse ans was waiting for him – and she HAD done him a favor, so it was only fair to find out what she wanted!

(Nimue’) “Ah, it is you, Aden? Your work was successful?”

(Charles) “So far anyway! It is nice to see you of course!”

(Nimue’) “I am glad! And I am glad to see you! Now, we must discuss our marriage!”

(Charles, with considerable alarm) “Uhrm?!?!?!”

He ran a quick check! He didn’t remember agreeing to get married!

No… no he HADN’T.

So why…

(Charles doubtfully) “I don’t really recall proposing… why do you want to get married?”

(Nimue’) “I must keep you from marrying the Celestial Plain! I have eyes only for you!”

(Charles) “Uhm… I really wasn’t planning to get married any time soon!” (By, of course, a kids notion of “soon”).

Oh geez! Had she seriously fixated on HIM? It kind of looked like it! AND she thought that Yu-Shan was the competition!

He consulted Malinda!

(Malinda) “Dearie? I think you’ve gotten caught up in her narrative! She might want to marry you and become a part of your nature.”

(Charles, planatively) “But I already have lots of chaos in my nature… I don’t see how she could add herself to it though!”

(Malinda) “You DO have many, many Graces that would be suitable for making regions of a freehold! Maybe she thinks she can become a part of you that way?”

(Charles) “But… they’re bonded to the poles!

Well, their narrative shaped everything about them and what wents on around them. He tried to figure out what it was with observation and passive detection!

It looked like… she was fascinated by, or fixated on, HIM – and was carefully scrutinizing him for any flaws (and not really finding many). She… “knew” (believed?) that he was a Primordial, and was also performing a careful study of the environment, and trying to figure out ways to turn him even more to the Wyld’s service. Basically… she wanted to be an associate, with a formal bond to make sure that she got listened to and protected. And if that let her influence him further towards chaos (however unlikely that was), that would be a bonus! And if she could show up another Primordial, all the better.

Charles didn’t really think that Yu-Shan even understood that idea, much less had such a plan – the primordials were pretty firmly in “sufficient unto themselves” territory – but he supposed that it was possible! Besides… no one ever said Raksha were rational.

Well, a formal connection to a Raksha would have downsides, but would something like oath-friendship or an advisory position be sufficient? Because he was much too young to get married! Even if she was pretty set on it!

He let her know that some form of courtship agreement was as far as he would go at the moment – but that he was perfectly willing to confirm that he had no intention of “Marrying” Yu-Shan! (She was busy with her own stuff at the moment anyway!).

And that satisfied Nimue’… for now.

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CCVII – Meanwhile, On The Sidelines

It wasn’t a big order – and it was in the “submitted by random persons” pile – but an Everlasting Flask of Alcohol? Who wanted THAT? And WHY? A pub owner? It… appeared to be one of the wealthier people in Aden. One “Ubab Shamoun”, one of the refugees from the Middle East. He’d come to Aden to escape militants… a muslim, but possibly not that observant?

Charles called him. That didn’t take up much of any processing power…

(Charles) “Mr Shamoun? I have a request from you. While that is not, in itself, a problem – although I do not guarantee their fulfillment – this one is a bit… problematic. It’s also unspecified; did you want rubbing alcohol? Ethanol for fuel? There are a LOT of kinds of alcohol.”

(Ubab) “Hello, my friend! I wanted a flask to hold my wine!”

(Charles, with some puzzlement) “What, to transport it in? Or just to disguise it?”

(Ubab) “No, to drink! Don’t tell me someone of your power is a teetotaler! I left partially because of that!”

(Charles) “Er… but don’t you follow a religion which says that drinking is punishable by death and Allah’s condemnation?”

Some of the Kickaha who were quietly bodyguarding Charles snickered. So naive not to think that Muslim’s would sneak around the rules a bit!

To Charles it was the logical disconnect; you subscribed to the Islamic belief system to gain Paradise. If you drank, then according to those beliefs, you wouldn’t gain Paradise. So… if you want to drink, why be a Muslim? It wasn’t as if going with another faith would make it WORSE, and there was always the chance that the other faith would be the right one…

The Kickaha caught THAT quite easily – you didn’t need to read MINDS, just FACES (if so many of the would-be manipulators weren’t convinced that the boys reactions HAD to be a carefully contrived front he wouldn’t be able to keep any secrets at ALL. Charles could barely even manage to say “No Comment!” They HAD to get him out more! He seemed to have no concept of a “social front” at all; Lacking all reasonable fears meant he had no notion of conforming out of fear” either. He just did it to avoid upsetting people!

(Ubab) “I’m Orthodox, my friend. Much less meddlesome!”

Which had presumably been another reason for coming to Aden.

(Charles) “Oh, so it’s just naughty in that system? Well that makes more sense! It’s still really bad for you though! Alcohol is a selective neurotoxin, and causes damage to the central nervous system… Wait, is that another reason why you live here? So that that sort of thing will regenerate?”

(Ubab) “I haven’t had any of the pains in months. Truly, THIS is Paradise.”

Oh dear! That wasn’t exactly what he’d put healing into Aden for… OK, Ubab wasn’t hurting anyone else, and he was only wasting his own potential – not hurting himself otherwise – but this was just not right! No matter how contented Ubab was as an alcoholic, people should learn and grow, not just get happily drunk! But he didn’t want to make him sad, even if denying him his addiction would be better for him – and it wasn’t like he couldn’t get alcohol anyway; he just wanted it to be more convenient, so that he wouldn’t even have to leave the house!

Ah.

(Charles) “Very well! I shall bestow on you a Flask of Wisdom…”

Flask of Wisdom (Artifact **): A Flask of Wisdom produces an ever-varying selection of marvelous “wines”, fortified with vitamins, minerals, fully nourishing, and with minor healing properties – enough to hold arthritis and similar ailments at bay and to reduce the effect of mundane illnesses. While non-alcoholic, and with no deleterious physical effects (and certainly no hangovers), the “wine” is magically intoxicating – but works best when shared socially and freely, and only works at all when the user makes reasonably regular efforts at self-development or helping others – studying, teaching, learning to socialize, caring for children, whatever. The user will come to understand that within a few days of coming to own the flask – well before the “reasonably regular” requirement kicks in. A Flask of Wisdom has no attunement cost.

There! Endless bribery in a flask! After all, it wasn’t asking for anything MAJOR – just some slight regular effort. And well within what even the Orthodox faith required.

Ubab accepted the present… He was an ordinary man after all, and really didn’t devote any thought as to why it might be labeled a “Flask of Wisdom”. And, perhaps, he would grow. At least as long as he stayed in Aden, he had time.

On the way back there was a young man – of about his apparent age waiting for him.

(Charles, while checking for his name and such) “Oh hello!… Do you need something?

Hm. “Per Rosing”, a VERY recent arrival from a gate in Scandinavia.

(Charles) “Mr Rosing is it?”

(Per) “Hello, Charles! I went through that Yu-Shan place first. What a bunch of crazy sights! The lions directed me to one of your gates there, and I’ve been waiting for you. I wanted to talk to you about the colonization scheme!”

(Charles) “Well… the gates are already open (since the Song of Creation of course)… what did you want to talk about?”

(Per) “I wanted to see one of these worlds, and maybe get a tour?”

(Charles) “Well… most of the guides are busy leading colonists out at the moment, and a tour of a planet would take a long time – but there are several gates with rail lines to some of the new cities… If you just want a look around, perhaps one of those would do? Fifty or sixty miles of scenery, a look around a magical city, and a bit of exploration around it might be suitable.”

(Per, looking oddly disappointed) “I think I’ll do that. Will you be around after I’m through?”

That seemed a little odd really. After all, the papers on Earth had been FULL of planet descriptions and directions for going there for months now. Was there something more subtle going on here?

(Per) “If you don’t mind me asking before I go… why all this? It can’t be out of pure generosity.”

(Charles, with some surprise) “Why not? I don’t recall any rules about it… It was a certain amount of trouble, but while I had to invest some years in developing the resources and abilities it required I now I have them available for other projects… It was time well spent I think!”

(Per) “I don’t think most of Earth’s governments prepared for that.”

(Charles, indignantly) “Well I TOLD them!”

(Per) “But would they move fast enough even if they did take it seriously? The powers that be have hidden things for a long time.”

(Charles, sighing) “Well, all they needed to do was let people through…”

(Per) “It’s unstoppable now! So, I’ll take a look at one of these worlds, and then come back. Okay?”

(Charles) “OK!”

And he got… a wink and a hug???? That was weird! And very startling! And more than a bit uncomfortable… Normally only Grandpa and the girls spent a lot of time hugging him!

He couldn’t avoid stiffening up as he ran a magical check to see if this was a diversion from something sneaking up or something – or suppress the faint glow of defensive spells.

(Per) “Oh, right. You’re probably worried about other magical threats. Sorry! I’ll get going!”

Charles was mildly surprised and somewhat interested… most normal humans wouldn’t have spotted that at all.

(Charles) “Oh no worries! It was just startlement!”

Per went off, slowly, leaving Charles scratching his head a bit. Sure, people did pointless things – but that just seemed a little… off. Maybe he was testing for something? But there didn’t seem to be an y active magic on him.

It never occurred to Charles that Per could have just been testing his reactions to physical contact – and that his results had been pretty clear; he obviously wasn’t used to men hugging him. It wasn’t like he’d ever given that much thought!

Charles decided to consult a bit. He wasn’t really all THAT good at reading motivations and such! But he had some friends who WERE good at it.

And the handiest bunch were the Kickaha who’d been playing bodyguard.

(Berri) “Uh . . . that was pretty gay, Charles. I think he might be into you.”

(Charles) “Erm? But… that doesn’t really work… Elzeard said that sort of thing was mostly reproductive behavior… Wait; is it just the social bonding aspect by itself?”

(Berri, blushing) “Uhm… I don’t really know either. What, you mean you didn’t realize people had sex for fun? Or lust?”

(Charles) “Well, yes… I just thought that it was usually opposite-sex pairs, since that really has to be the dominant instinct. Anything else would tend to breed itself out without a secondary aspect which kept up it’s frequency in the gene pool.”

(A chorus of half a dozen of the snarkier Kickaha, albeit in an affectionate and friendly manner) “NNNEEEEERRRRRDDDDD!”

(Berri) “That’s a little beyond me, Charles. Oh, geez. I’m going to have watch you more around girls now. Ever hear the term ‘gold digger?'”

(Charles) “Uhm… just looking for wealth? It’s not like there’s a shortage after all; just living in Aden is pretty comfortable!”

(Berri) “Yeah, but it could still happen if some girl who doesn’t know that comes in here.”

(Charles) “Well, it would probably be good to make sure that people who seem to be making approaches become subtly aware that they can be very comfortable without, well… paying for it by spreading their legs! We don’t really need that sort of thing!”

(Berri) “I’ll leave that up to you, boss. Um… what ARE you going to do about that guy, though? I think he picked up on it, but he’s got to be disappointed.”

(Charles) “Well, I never tried to guarantee that no one would ever be disappointed… If that was really what he wanted, he should have checked on how to arrange it; it’s not like the servants aren’t there to tell him… Although I’m not sure about what I’d tell him; even if you clean things, the physical arrangements sound kind of uncomfortable, at least on the… er… well… receiving end.”

(Berri, who happened to be female, a bit sardonically. Boys!) “I really wouldn’t know about that!”

(Charles) “It doesn’t sound like much fun!”

Per was back by eventually, looking impressed and a little chastened.

(Per) “You’re something… sorry if I made you feel awkward.”

(Charles, somewhat flustered) “Erm, well… if you were making an approach, most of the others doing that have been much more direct about it!”

(Per) “Oh. So you figured it out too. I assume you don’t go that way?”

(Charles) “Well, it sounds sort of messy and not all that much fun…”

(Per) “That’s how sex with girls sounds to me.” (Shrugging) “I’ll be in touch, though… or someone from the family, anyway. We were going to start a colony.”

(Charles, much more cheerily) “There’s lots of places for them!”

(Per) “Well, shake hands on it anyway?”

(Charles) “Certainly!”

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice CCVI – Cadenza Allegro

Charles was almost out of time. Fortunately, he was also almost out of things to do. There were networks of well-guarded indestructible manses waiting to take over Yu-Shan’s control inputs to Creation, massive power reserves on tap, guards (second-circle equivalents; not enough to stop a top-end threat for long, but their perfect defenses should hold out more than long enough to sound the alarm and escape) assigned to every vital person and location that he could manage, a 500% overcoverage on his control artifacts, lots of geomantic backup and monitoring in place, quite a few unshaped roped into providing external security for Creation while his focus was elsewhere, crews of Raksha ready to help out, and more. Gaia had the Spike of Pole Unbinding, Yu-Shan’s Devas were ready to supervise through their remotes, the Tenders and Overseers had been briefed, the Celestial Lions were in position, King Ghidorah was attending along with many Third-Circle Demons, and every backup and precaution he could think of was in place.

It was time for the show to go on! Hopefully a lot of the major powers would attend peacefully, rather than opposing the project!

That could have been “more innocent bystanders to get caught up in things!”, but – fortunately – most of the most vulnerable weren’t important enough to get seats, and would have to watch remotely from Aden, which was much safer. There were still random carnival-goers of course, but some of them would have been around regardless.

There was, of course, muttering and some excitement when the Celestial Lions started clearing the central pavilion for a performance and it became apparent just how many sections of special seating were being set up – and just how exotic some of them were.

The discussion got louder as the performers began to arrive in all in all their eccentric glory – but the Celestial Lions were out in force, which was enough to send some of the more cautious carnival-goers looking for good vantage points a long ways away. If some little musical piece called for THAT kind of security something big was definitely up!

And then some even MORE eccentric entities arrived – the Deva’s of Yu-Shan using their remotes – and demonic cries of recognition joined the confusion of gods who both instinctively recognized and did not consciously know the Deva’s!

Except for the black hole in the shape of a kimono-clad sumotori, who just looked amused as he ate all the food.

Charles gave them a few moments to settle down since this WAS a performance! Quiet was expected, at least to start! And this sort of thing WAS why there were separate sections!

And as the drums and other percussion instruments of the first movement thundered, the energies of chaos flowed out across the Carnival of Meeting, the energies of oncoming transformation lending strength to magic, a sparkle of youth to the ancient streets of Yu-Shan, and a thousand transient touches of wonder drifted upon the very air.

And the gods wondered, as the beauty of the music spread, somehow infinite in potential and yet unfulfilled.

Far beyond the music’s normal range, something resonated, a subtle note in the darkness singing softly to itself. A tiny crack in an ancient ward, and a trickle of time flowing into timelessness… Within the Gallery of Captured Dreams minds stirred that had been sleeping since before the rise of Creation.

And the Adamant foundations of Yu-Shan trembled, as – in the wake of a massive stampede of panicked high-ranking gods fleeing the Jade Pleasure Dome – a massive, floating, cloud of elemental energies poured out of the southernmost entrance to of the Dome.

Charles sighed – having to multitask ALREADY. What a bother!

He threw up a series of wards around the performance area, and tried to clear a path for the elemental storm – and checked with the Celestial Lions on duty there to try to find out what was going on! Normally a bunch of high-ranking gods wouldn’t make such a commotion over anything even remotely reasonable…

Oh. There were hurricanes frantically howling at the edges, buffeting the infernos and oceans within while thorns, burrs, and massive stones of all varieties floated through the whole mass! And… those howling primordial energies made up draconian shapes floating around within the storm, only faintly visible even to magical senses.

The Elemental Dragons awakened or ascended? Gaia using the spike? Would they need a reserved section of seating?

The lions hadn’t been expecting this either, and since she was one of the Incarnae, they couldn’t exactly order her to cease and desist!

(Charles, via telepathic broadcast since voice was not likely to work through the hurricanes!) “Ah, hello there! Can I help you?”

All he got was a cacophony of crackles, howling wind, and raging water and sand. The mass was heading upward, toward the Pole of Adamant. It… wasn’t affecting the geomancy yet, but it felt like it was barely restrained. The raw power of most of Gaia’s physical Deva’s pouring towards a single, central, point where things were most closely tied together.

Probably to pour their power into the Spike… Charles had the guards herd people and gods out of the way and made a corridor! It was a good thing that his servitors were pretty affable and high-Essence… it made it a LOT easier to get the gods to listen!

Besides, it WAS the Carnival! As well as an elemental hurricane that no one sensible would stand in front of anyway… There was some fussing and bruised egos, but better that than being dissolved by some manifestation of Primordial power!

Charles damped the sound around the elemental manifestations, but he still had to turn up the volume a bit. Fortunately he was immune to laryngitis and it didn’t affect his supporting performers!

And the dreaming thunder of the wyld drums spread across the carnival as the brasses, and the second movement, came in.

Across Yu-Shan, ancient primordial demesnes, long dormant and decayed, flared into sudden life – and crackling spikes of essence began to build in the structures of manses long broken and buried. Once begun… the Music Of Creation, and the revival of Yu-Shan would precede to completion – or to catastrophe.

And the Drum Fey exalted in joy – even as reports began to flood in from the outskirts of Heaven of several massive entities appearing close to the Cornucopia of All’s subterranean Manse and its aboveground patch of fertile soil! The lions and guarding Devas reported most unwholesome energies!

Drat! Charles started to deploy some of his reserves… mostly on containment; attacking warded areas was a LOT more bother, so that should slow them up! It wouldn’t stop a geomantic attack – but that was usually one of the slower methods anyway. Unfortunately, he had only one Kaiju to deploy personally…

That… was holding things up, but one – a slow-moving snake of soulsteel, white Jade, and other, stranger, alloys, had begun burrowing into the adamant and emitting large amounts of death-energy! The local anti-underworld alert systems were going haywire!

Oh well! If the Kaiju were coming… that was a pain, but he had to stick with the sequence to make this work. All he could do was deploy distractions and delays!

And across the city… wards and defenses flared, as the divine legions fought a delaying action against the attacking Kaiju, hurling crackling bolts of essence, hurling missiles, and erecting barriers.

It didn’t have much effect, but the warding spells took the brunt of the counterattacks. They were still causing damage just moving around, but that was what happened when Kaiju payed your city a visit!

Charles… focused on reinforcing the wards and the structure of Yu-Shan itself. The would hold up the advance, provide cover for the defenders, reduce the damage to the city, and keep casualties to a minimum, as he had promised to attempt!

At least it was the Empty Quarters – and the Celestial Lions, Tenders, and Overseers were using their own methods of reinforcing things. Yu-Shan’s Deva’s were helping with that! It was a good thing that he’d given them multiple remotes to work though – and that their power was waxing as Yu-Shan stirred in her slumber!

And bursts of essence sparkled across the city like a myriad stars, as resident gods raised their own wards and defenses. Those were far less effective than the efforts of the Celestial Lions and Charles’s agents – but there were millions of them. It would not suffice, but it bought more precious time.

And the Third Movement began. The music of Creation built upon the infinite resources of the Wyld and the order-bringing Primordial Paean. Even within the Carnival Grounds… there was shouting from several angry and dismayed mortals – a good deal of “Where am I?!” In multiple languages, some not of Earth! More subtly – and more importantly – a number of Soulsteel and Starmetal artifacts shimmered gently, no longer creations of anguish, but merely of aspected essence.

Across Yu-Shan, echoes drifted upon the winds. Vagrant bits of themes in a sprinkling of ethereal notes, bearing one of the most elusive and powerful of thoughts – a new beginning, and new hope. The long despair and decay felt a trace of a new dawn upon the wind.

At Seven Whispering Winds there was a massive burst of energy as a dozen Kaiju made a fade-in appearance, towering over the ancient manse. Godzilla, Rhodan, Gamera, Anguirus, Mothra, King Caesar, Gigan, Kumonja, Biolanthe, Ultraman, Megalon, and Destroyah bestrode the canals of Yu-Shan – joining their scouts King Ghidorah, King Kong (the bioelectric version, who had gone up the Jade Pleasure Dome and was absorbing the energies of it’s defensive systems to redirect into blasts across the city), and MechaGodzilla. Behind them… an army of (mostly) Native-American styled Fey arrived to handle backup and crowd control.

Sure, they seemed to have arrived to defend Yu-Shan, and to make Creation more friendly to Fey – but just try telling the gods of the empty regions that!

(MechaGodzilla) “Bye bye everybody! I have to go defend the city! You humans have fun at the Carnival!”

MechaGodzilla left his hat behind as he grew to full size and headed off to join the defense – leaving a not-insignificant portion of the Carnival-goers wondering what had been put into their drinks!

And the fury of the Neverborn-Kaiju surpassed itself, as all too many of those Dream-Kaiju – empowered by their Exalted pilots, Raksha crews, and some of the mystic “Martial Artists” of the Besi Hentuperajin – turned their own, original, ancient powers against them (even if it was only the lesser ones!) How DARED these creatures of mere humanity use the powers they had lost in the Primordial War?

And – for the sake of Heaven and the salvation of Creation- rage, confusion, and chaos reigned supreme as Dream-Kaiju, with greater numbers, and the powers of their far more varied crews, warred against Neverborn-Kaiju wielding Ghostly Arcanoi and the terrible, high-essence, charms and sorceries of their ancient Abyssal pilots.

Night spread across the city as the lead in the Games of Divinity fell to the Lady of Journeys – who had slightly fewer powers of use in such a battle. Darkness, however, did not fall; the light of the constant barrage of blazing blue energy bolts, waves, and explosions as Kingukongu (King Kong or “Guko” for short) channeled the blasts of the defense systems of the Jade Pleasure Dome around his feet against the Neverborn-Kaiju burned with a supernal radiance.

Charles sent Mothra Leo to try and keep the Kaiju Battles to the open areas… OK, it was mostly more wards and containment, but the crew was pretty good at such things – and Leo gave them a good vantage point to work from! Hopefully his wings (and near-infinite use of the Raksha Perfect Dodge) would be fast enough to evade the Neverborn Kaiju strikes.

Fortunately, the Cauldron-Born appreciated drama, and sent their version of his mother Mothra to aid Leo!

And the fourth movement began, introducing strings and keyboard – and a considerable shock for the Humans (and anyone else who actually aged) who was attending the Carnival. As some of the mortals attending looked a little healthier (and younger), the jade bud in front of Charles grew into a flower… As the movement continued, it bore fruit – a lovely Celestial Pear.

Unfortunately, there was a commotion outside the pavilion… A Neverborn Kaiju had arrived via teleportation.

Grievous Shadow, the Dreamstrider Cloaked in Nightmare, embodied distraction and madness, the mind at war with itself, and the unformed terrors spawned from the damage to reality. It’s form was in constant flux – but it was forged of soulsteel, and black jade, and the deathly essence of the Neverborn. A hydra-like thing of many heads (their exact number forever uncountable) it struck along the myriad paths of thoughts and realities rejected. Once Mabhaddoth, Architect Of Locks, He Who Sealed, now a thing of Summoning Shadows and the Darkness that Devoured. Around it madness held illimitable dominion over the gods…

It shimmered momentarily as it’s soulsteel parts smoked in the music of the third movement – but it’s power relied but little on torment, and the departure of souls into Lethe meant little to it, especially when it’s mere presence unlocked a thousand routes long sealed for both the living and the dead. What mattered it that mere sanity could endure so few of those beckoning paths?

The Lions and Tenders were evading being pulled in – if only just – but for the moment a single figure confronted the immense Kaiju, locked in a battle of wills… Zanjaras, the Violet Bier of Sorrows himself, was staring it down – swathed in his bandages and glowing with a pale, colorless aura as he guided the spirits of the dead to Lethe. Even he was having trouble resisting Grievous Shadow’s aura, but he would not let the spirits suffer!

But his power was fading moment by moment though, as the last of the spirits poured through him and Grievous Shadow adjusted to their absence!

And, in the midst of the raging powerstorm crackling through the streets of Yu-shan, the fifth movement began – and Charles employed his Earthmaster’s Stone to help him replace most of the first KiloMote that he’d need to supply to Yu-Shan with Geomantic Relay Points. Since that also activated the Music of Creation’s carrier function, he threw in a repulsive blast attuned to the Neverborn Kaiju to try and drive them back a bit.

And the radiance within the pavilion cast shadows across Yu-Shan as a tidal wave of green and gold essence poured out, bringing the canals and dragon lines of the city to sparkling life – and fueling answering sparks of black and crimson as the deep energies of the city answered. Notes rose from the rushing waters and the incandescent earth as the Music of Creation swept outwards.

Charles channeled his (effective 22, which – thanks to the Honorable Diamond Gem – everyone touched by the music could feel) compassion into his desire to heal as ninety-six gates to ninety-six new worlds erupted around the edges of the dome and the portals to the stargate manses opened up at the central pavilion.

And the Neverborn Kaiju were driven several steps back – in part due to the repulsion he’d thrown in, but mostly in shock as the torment of their Soulsteel components was relieved – and the Guards, Gods, Celestial Lions, Tenders, and Overseers opposing them found strength in the music.

As the pillar of green-gold light fountained up to the apex of the sky dome and washed out across the city, it carried Charles’s Solar Sorcery spells with it – of primordial and general healing, of geomantic repair, and of renewal. A myriad voices responded, as the awakened little gods sang as well – and the beauty of the music passed through the Gates. In return… the power of renewed domains flowed into Yu-Shan, a sudden strength flowing into the domainless gods.

Gates were opening across the Earth as well – and from them too the music poured as the Earth sang. Ancient and long-forgotten gates too allowed the music to pass, although wyld zones did not. On distant worlds, and in strange realms, the music rang.

And ancient hatreds responded. There would be no peace, no healing, and no hope if they could prevent it. Creation was flawed beyond redemption, the sins of Gods, Mortals, and Exalted could not be forgiven. No kindly power could be permitted to interfere with Creations inevitable – if long-drawn – end!

Still, even as ancient enemies flooded into Yu-Shan, and the Neverborn Kaiju lumbered forward as reinforcements diverted the attention of their opponents… powerful voices joined the song – echoing from the central Manse of Project Stamewald, from Seven Whispering Winds, from the Embassy to the Dead, beneath which Zanjaras slept, from the Sorrowhands themselves, and from his School (of all places) in Yu-Shan alone. Stanewald and School were supporting Charles directly. The others, on the other hand…

  • The Embassy of the Dead was attempting to allow ghosts to manifest during the daytime, with increased cost to Arcanoi and no use of hostile effects.
  • Seven Whispering Winds was attempting to increase the level of Wyld energies throughout all regions of Creation by one level for purposes of counting as the Wyld, making the bare minimum a tainted land.
  • The Sorrowhands were attempting to boost the original geomancy on the City Level to 75%,, and were being supported by the other seventy-eight extant Tenders. (Why would they want THAT? They were getting their own level at 100% anyway!)
  • And across the many worlds the music reached… many minor voices were attempting their own geomantic manipulations.

Charles sighed… he really should have known better than to even hope for unity. Still… he had spent a LOT of time setting this up and accumulating ways to boost his control.

Charles had, in fact, managed to lower his target number to two, had – between boosted skill, boosted attributes, excellencies, and other boosts, managed to stack up nearly sixty dice on his Occult check, and was throwing in twenty-two more from Compassion. It came out to 82 successes (considered “perfect”), with the +10 boost to opposing difficulties for being in the lead. Perfect effects could influence things locally – but no one else within the Music’s reach had prepared for it nearly so thoroughly.

Even working together, the opposing groups couldn’t overpower him. It was enough for them to get some localized effects though, as the two melodies clashed! Charles focused on compensating for any variances from the plan that couldn’t be accommodated.

And the flow of geomantic power continued pouring out across the city as the Celestial Pear in front of Charles cracked open. Inside… was a young girl, no older than six, but massive enough that she had to crouch. She was wearing nothing but a simple robe and looked unremarkable at first… Until you realized that she was made of cloth of a massively high – almost immeasurable – thread count. The Essence signature matched Yu- Shan’s of course – which might be most unfortunate, as Grievous Shadow had merely been briefly stunned, but was once more advancing!

The giant girl turned that way, with a disgusted expression.

Charles unleashed the first of his major reserves, as three rings of the twenty-four symbols of Thaumaturgy began to orbit him, intersecting, releasing spells as the runes crossed, a total of three hundred and sixty Celestial to Solar Circle spells poured fourth each turn – focusing on warding and protecting the city, rescuing those entrapped, and healing the injured.

Basically Charles was running Aden at three times the normal timerate and letting the twenty four (one of each) of his seventy-two Guardian manifestations assigned there start unleashing their magic through him – each using the bonus dice from the Geomantic Flux to multicast.

And the structure of reality itself shimmered and wavered before that much sorcerous essence. The radiating light shown through flesh and stone like glass – although the Light of Creation brought not the slightest dazzle or discomfort to any but the enemies of Creation.

Charles himself was focusing on guiding his healing effects to try and fix everything he could reach.

On Earth, before crowds, military observers, and various other groups… the Gate-Manses were manifesting, showing alien suns shining above new worlds, rich fields and forests, pristine seas and mountains, and glittering (if empty) cities in the distance. Busy quasi-canine entities were laying down railroad tracks, canals, and other transport connections, readying stockpiles of colonization supplies, and preparing to welcome new emigrants across trillions of light years.

And even as the gates opened… The Music of Creation granted health and (relative) youth to the people of the Earth. There would be far more shock and unrest than Charles had anticipated!

Within Yu-Shan, the Kaiju battle raged on outside the Carnival of Meeting, as Titans forged of Wyld and Neverborn energies clashed with claw, breath, and still more esoteric abilities. Smaller Kaiju were attempting to attack Charles’s warded sites, but the outpouring magic of the Sorcerers Shere was holding most of them back.

Toho was indeed getting VERY impressive footage – but reports, messages, and complaints were flooding even Charles’s multitasking in his Synergistic Overmind! Still… the geomantic split WAS progressing mostly as planned. But… the mere presence of the Neverborn Kaiju was warping things, especially that of the snakelike thing that was still burrowing it’s way through the adamant. A gate of obsidian and soulsteel was forming alongside the others.

With more than a few Third Circle demons present, including those of Oramus, a gate of ochre adamant was also forming.

Bother! The Neverborn aspect was forming! That would never do!

Charles deployed the extra control artifacts to try and block that, and let the Sorrowhands and Tenders know about it! They might be willing to give up to prevent THAT.

Ochre… a Yozi aspect? Presumably to a “what if” Yu-Shan was banished with the rest of the Yozi’s instead of being taken over” aspect?

(Arelis Sorrowhands) “Gah! We can’t have that… But I’m not willing to leave the Weavers in their current state.” (Consulting) “We’ll give in for ten Weavers, two of each caste, already motophagic preferred.”

(Charles) “I can try to persuade them, but I can’t force them! But a fair number have already joined up haven’t they? And shouldn’t they be fine on the pure Yu-Shan level?”

Charles asked Yu-Shan – since she was manifested and awake – to help out with the Sorrowhands! After all, now that she was awake he had the plans and could explain instantly – even if, at this point, major adjustments were going to be HARD.

(Arelis Sorrowhands) “We’ll need to expose them to areas of at least 75 percent purity to awaken their full potential… Which this level will not have. Please, Charles… They were meant as our aides. And at least half were fine with that!”

(Charles) “Well, that should work! You’d just need to overlay the 100% pure level with compatible levels, or even just temporarily isolate them to that one to trigger things!

(Yu-Shan, yawning) “Dolly, now isn’t the time! Let Charles work. We still need to find Ayuji!”

And the Ochre gate… did indeed seem to be shaping up into a Yozi aspect. That didn’t even make SENSE in this universe! Oramus was forcing an impossible identity between alternate universes there!

Charles checked with Nox on that one! Otherwise they might have two universe’s versions of Yu-Shan converging into one, which could do some really strange things!

(Nox) “Eh, Oramus does that, kid. Just be glad only Feng got out-or that you’re not in a universe where Xiang was the deva Yu-Shan gambled away. Three words: doors to everywhere. Now THAT’S a pain.”

(Charles) “Er… Yu-Shan? Do you WANT to amalgamated with a Yozi version of yourself! That might well limit you somewhat!”

(Yu-Shan) “yucky! Bad Feng! Toss you time!”

Well… that was at least DISTRACTING Feng! Charles let the Calibration Gate slam THAT particular door; defining what WAS and what WAS NOT Yu-Shan was a part of his function, so he ought to be able to!

Dumenza and the other gates had started flying around soon after he’d started, although they hadn’t taken humanoid form until now. He was marshaling all the gates – his remaining subselves – for this one!

Charles provided more backup – but even where that was POSSIBLE, even he only had so much backup to deploy!

That left the Pinnacle of the Sky Dome and the Lattice of Vapors to take on the Neverborn Kaiju reinforcements! Additionally, with the Yozi energies present, the gate linked to the biogenesis laboratory was humming most ominously…

Fortunately, the combative Third Circles – including Kochige, Daimyo of Absorption – had moved to assist their uncorrupted colleagues. Still, even Charles’s geomatic reserves could not support this load for much longer – and despite his best efforts, the empty quarters were taking a lot of damage!

And more reports were coming in, some from the Loom… which was unfurling. It’s myriad dimensional folds… were falling into three-dimensional space.

Charles asked I AM to pick up as much of the processing load as possibly – asking the students at the Citadel of Enlightenment to authorize the use of their accounts to acquire the rights to even more processing power, even if that WOULD reveal to them that they had accounts!

Along the way, he checked the sympathetic looms to see what was going on. It looked like… it was unraveling to a central point in the Loom Chamber. The pattern spiders were giving chase. Unfortunately, given that causality was only a suggestion in there, he would need all the processing power he could get to find out where… Still, from the sympathetic looms, it seemed that Ayuji, and Nox with her, were becoming free! With one problem… the sympathetic looms were showing abnormally high readings of Neverborn energies within the Loom.

Charles sent requests to the Sidereals and the available Lunars too. Creation would need to do most of it’s own causality-computing if Ayuji unbound from it… fortunately, that WAS one of the predicted possibilities. MORE Neverborn energies? That had to be an OLD Deathlord… almost certainly the Arbiter of Games End! After all, success here would permanently ruin most of his plans! But… he was down to his final reserves (well, not counting things like the Kickaha kids) – his third set of Deva-aspects…

He sent his Devas for Compulsion, Countermagic, Linking, Divination, Fortune, and Shadow-Weaving to try to keep the Neverborn energies away from Ayuji and support her. Compulsion to handle secondary forces, Countermagic to neutralize things, Linking to let I Am help more, Divination to locate subtle attacks (the Arbiter WAS a tricky one!), Fortune could works with Destiny and Ayuji’s powers to relive the strain on her, and Shadow-weaving to misdirect attacks to non-existent targets.Hopefully Nox would help with that; with a touch of his power redirecting attacks to empty universes should work just fine!

Chasing the threads on the Loom worked for a time, but they were all converging on a single spot in a dark, remote region of the Loom Chamber. There, they disappeared into nowhere – and his Deva’s followed them. Blast it! Even the immortality HE bestowed wasn’t PERFECT! They ought to have SOME caution!

Weirdly, there was no sign of Neverborn, Deathlords, or even undead in the Loom Chamber… But Malinda was detecting the use of Void Circle Necromancy targeting the Loom and was peering into the threads.

Huh… Reaching through the remnants of Oblivion were they? Well… he knew just where the Arbiters planet was within a very small margin, and it was easy enough to locate. It was also where the necromancy was coming from, much of it cast quite recently.

He had the Djinn set up a one-way manse gate there as a firing port for the Spear of Aden. No doubt the Arbiter would fall back before even an orbital bombardment could exhaust his magical and defensive reserves – but with any luck he could chase him away from his materials, workspace, and casting… Not that he liked shooting at people, but the Arbiter WAS trying to destroy the universe – and releasing the ghosts in his service into Lethe would be doing them a definite favor!

Charles hadn’t thought about the fact that the combination of the bombardment and the Music of Creation leaking through the gate would send pretty much ALL the ghosts to Lethe – but that was all to the good!

Well, not the bit that would let the Arbiter defend longer – but you couldn’t have EVERYTHING.

The bombardment did, indeed, devastate the place, but there was no sign of the Deathlord himself, or his three ring-bound gods leaving. On the other hand, the wan, pale ghosts were now on to their next incarnations!

And Malinda had discovered something that had her startled, as she examined the Loom…

(Malinda) “Dearie, this spot… It leads to another universe!”

Well, that was a convenient point for Nox to interrupt the assault… and interrupt it he did!

(Nox) “Hey, kid, me and the pattern spiders could use a little support in here! The fleet’s taking heavy damage!”

Charles sent them another six Devas… Botheration! This was VERY rapidly reaching the “out of resources” point! Darn it! He’d been hoping that he was playing in God Mode!

The trouble with the Kaiju assault was that they’re all indestructible barring geomantic sabotage – and for the ones at full power that would only work from the inside. At least for the minor ones though… their geomancy was basically the geomancy of wounds in the cosmos; healing spells might mess them up enough to make them retreat – so Charles tried that!

That confused them and messed them up, and FINALLY drove off the snake assault! Quite a few fell back – but Grievous Shadow was built from truly hard stuff even without the souls of the damned powering him! He had reached the pavilion and was trying to tear the roof off!

Ligier was most displeased – and advanced alongside Zanjaras to distract and maybe figure out a way to immobilize the thing. The friendly Kaiju, including MechaGodzilla, Mothra, and Mothra Leo, were moving to defend as well. Despite the clashing, yelling, and combustion going on outside, and despite being an Exalt… Charles was not directly participating and had more important things to do!

(Charles sighing) “Hrm… And what is it you need? I can’t promise to give it to you, but it’s worth asking!”

(Grievous Shadow) “Your death and that of Yu-Shan!”

(Ligier) “How banal. Couldn’t you be more imaginative with your threats?”

(Zanjaras) “I suppose it was made for one purpose.”

(Charles) “Oh. Well, that one is EASY! There are lots of places like that!”

It was his last resort… Hit it with a manse! He opened up a manse gate to send it to a universe that had dissolved back into the deep wyld and slam the door closed behind it!

Unfortunately it was resisting – until Sol Invictus took a moment from his Sumi-e painting contest with Saturn to combine his power with Ligier’s to send the monstrosity plummeting into a devastated dimension.

That should hold it for a while! Now Charles only had to contend with the remaining forces assaulting Ayuji and any consequences of this – for Nox had been rather sadistically diverting many of the underworld attackers to shards with a perfectly functioning Lethe!

Charles tried to save at least one sextet of Deva’s in reserve for any final emergency – and did some reconstruction spells – but sent another six to reinforce Ayuji. That turned out to be a wise choice, as the Arbiter of Games End and his flagship had made their appearance, advancing on Ayuji and Nox’s location! The pattern spiders were marshaling their fleet alongside his Devas to stop him!

Drat it! Last reserves it was! At least he didn’t have that much longer to go on this…

Unfortunately, the Arbiter was getting close to the monolith where Autochthon and Yu-Shan had stowed Ayuji so long ago! Perhaps ten minutes before the Arbiter’s ship got into teleport range!

And at least an hour to go on the Music of Creation to nail down the details of Yu-Shan’s alternate layers. And his reserves were tapped out! Still, it was only one Deathlord at the moment… They were pretty nasty, but he was already up against eight devas and support.

And… he’d brought his own allies? Aaargh!

Charles reviewed frantically… He didn’t HAVE any more reserves except Kickaha kids and other non-combatants!

Wait.

He had Galileo ask the Solars and other Exalts at the Citadel of Enlightenment if they wanted to help stop a Deathlord who was attacking Yu-Shan and Creation!

They didn’t say “No” – and the Solar and Lunar who’d been trying to make Solar Bond mutual stepped up to the plate, backed by a contingent of the Gold Faction teachers. And they did have all the defenses and benefits that Charles had been handing around, which was good! They would need them badly as they assaulted the Arbiter and his allies!

They proved unable to take down the Arbiter and his allies – but they managed to sabotage his ship and force a retreat.

Even the Sorcerer’s Sphere was running down; having spent the equivalent of fifty kilomotes or so – drawn from several hundred Manses designed for sorcerous support – in the course of the operation…

Still, the Devas who had been were assisting Ayuji and Nox were now free (if low on motes), as the ancient monolith opened up and the pattern spiders danced in intricate patterns of celebration (well… maybe. They weren’t the most expressive creatures).There were once again reserves!

Even if they were on the verge of collapse.

Still… the heavily-outnumbered Neverborn Kaiju were being driven off (Details of Aikiko’s efforts will appear in a later log) – and some of the noncombatant reserves like those young Kickaha were moving in to serve as search-and-rescue, disaster relief, and emergency medical teams. There was a fair amount of call for it; more than a few free Celestial mortals lived in areas affected by the fighting and hadn’t cleared out in advance… not that Charles’s agents had been able to be clear about explaining why they should.

Darn it! He had been hoping to keep injuries down to an absolute minimum… There was guilt!

Not exactly overwhelming, but guilt anyway.

A little later Charles – clearly tired – finally let the music fade away – and there was much applause!

Checking the results… Well, even though the Sorrowhands backed down, there were some patches where both the Wyld and the underworld were a bit stronger. On the other hand, Yu-Shan hadn’t wound up linked to any unintended alternate versions of herself, and all of his planned layers were functional.. That was actually pretty good! He’d have to see how the outside universe had been affected later…

The entire city was somewhat in shock – which was only to be expected of course! Gaia had dissipated back into her usual self and had collapsed next to Yu-Shan. Luna had curled up next to her in cat form and was showing elaborate unconcern as only a kitty could…

Charles made sure that they had the equivalent of a blanket and some pillows and were not disturbed…

Hm… The Sun had lost his contest with Saturn,al though nothing had happened to him or to the universe. He had just completed his Sumi-e painting when an errant energy blast destroyed it. While the Incarnae’s reign over Heaven was probably finished in its prior form, they’d never done much anyway – so they might wind up even more in charge, at least of the city level.

In any case, the Most High didn’t seem put out by it.

The performers withdrew to Aden, as the Third Circles collected their snacks and carnival souvenirs and went home as the carnival closed down for the first time since… EVER. There were still two days of Calibration left, but after what had just happened, everyone was in shock!

Charles frowned! Aw! He’d become a party pooper!

As the crowd left, and the Incarnae retreated to the Jade Pleasure Dome with the exhausted Primoridals in tow, Saturn glanced back at Charles. She and her sisters felt… more complete and more concrete to him. It was nothing even HE could put his finger on… Just a weird gut feeling.

Well… this would be a major step towards their one universe of origin; this just pruned a LOT of major branches.

And Charles went to go rest. It would take weeks for his resources to rebuild to normal levels… And no doubt he’d have to field endless frantic phone calls.

That would turn out to include calls from countries that he knew existed, but had never really studied… And that was just the mundane ones. He hadn’t even THOUGHT about THOSE calls! It was very awkward! He would have thought that the advertising campaign – and the advisors and supply-depot operators – would have answered things! (They had, but it was just SO hard to believe!).

He delegated some telephone operators for repeated questions and such. That way even a lot of the noncombatants would get to participate.

And there were people wanting exclusive rights to a gate too. Charles wasn’t normally big on that – but if avoiding conflicts made it a lot more palatable.

In a little while there would be people fighting over them. Aargh! They were supposed to be for EVERYBODY!

(Siranaya) “Charles, what happened? You and Elzeard look pooped!”

(Charles) “Ah, I take it that you weren’t watching? Well, it was a major repair operation in Yu-Shan, and it took up a LOT of power and resources”.

(Siranaya) “no, I was too busy gardening for once! It’s cool not to kill plants when I touch them!”

(Charles) “Well I’m glad that’s working for you! And there was rather a lot of fuss in Yu-Shan; there were some attacks, and the carnival had some high-powered visitors this year!”

(Siranaya) “Oh no! I hope you were okay!”

(Charles) “I did all right, but it was very tiring!”

(Siranaya) “Did you win any prizes?”

(Charles) “Er… “Most Energetic Spellcaster”, “Most Dramatic Performance”, and the “Symphonic Music” award! As well as first place in audience participation!

Well, it HAD been a very lovely piece that would be remembered for centuries.

(Siranaya) “Cool!”

(Charles) “It was kind of neat! A lot of work though! I did promise to take a little time off afterwards!”

(Siranaya) “Let’s spend it together!”

(Charles) “Why not?”

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice CCV – A Forest Interlude

Because some weeks you just don’t have time for anything major.

Charles had made it known to his schoolmates and the mortals he’d invited to Aden so that they wouldn’t be endangered during calibration that he would be doing something quite important, and that he shouldn’t be disturbed except for serious emergencies – but not EVERYONE had gotten the message.

Especially not a few young women who’d already taken advantage of the fuss leading up to Calibration to slip into Aden. After all… Charles was endlessly kind and friendly, incredibly wealthy and willing to support hangers-on, was more handsome and appealing than most major gods, would get them away from their (rather weird) divine parents – and he understood humans just fine while still being rather naive… It would be hard to find more desirable qualities in one entity than THAT!

As it happened, Siranaya had been looking a little harder than most. Charles showed the quality that she valued above any other in a potential boyfriend – being completely unaffected by her uncontrollable poisonous touch. That meant that she could FINALLY get hugged, and cuddled, and have a little fun experimenting with pollination…

The palace (with all the guest rooms) and Charles’s major residence had been disappointingly crowded – but a few careful comparisons had revealed that Charles… was routinely in several places at once. That was a very good trick! And it also meant that he was also likely to be found in some considerably quieter and more… private… places!

She’d set off to find one.

Charles did have a semi-private retreat deep in one of the wilderness areas. The Kickaha liked to meet him in a less formal place – and he liked to mess around with small projects there. It wasn’t hard to find if you asked the Kickaha, but was pretty well concealed otherwise. There were trees growing a wide variety of fruits, herbs, and medicines (all on the same tree of course), small tree cottages, a few friendly Kickaha hanging about, some ice-caves, and lantern-birds (friendly birds that liked to follow people around. They had luminescent flesh and brightly-colored feathers in various artistic patterns. When it was dark they glowed like mobile stained-glass lanterns and sang like gentle flutes…

And everything was immune to poison, because it WAS Aden.

Siranaya had found her way there easily enough; the Kickaha saw no reason not to lead another girl with rather… transparent… intentions to Charles’s bed. A little sex was an excellent way to deal with stress! Charles had MORE than enough stress at the moment! Maybe they should lead girls to several more of his avatars? Even if THIS one was somewhat diverted by the opportunity to pet things without gloves and protective gear…

The birds glowed happily at her, and eagerly pecked up grains and seeds.

Although Siranaya waved at Charles quite happily when he turned up.

Charles, who had been trying to give squirrels matched to the trees advanced instinctive medical skills so that they could hand out the right medicines to passers-by, happily waved back! This avatar might be running on a background process in his Synergistic Overmind, but that was no reason to be RUDE!

(Charles) “Hello Siranaya! I didn’t know that you were coming to visit!”

(Siranaya) “You’ve been really busy lately, so I thought I’d find an avatar or something here.”

Charles was somewhat impressed! Most people didn’t yet know that he was using multiple avatars! She’d been paying attention or doing some investigating on her own!

(Charles) “Well, things are pretty busy – but there’s a little time until they need my full attention yet!”

(Siranaya) “Phew. That’s good… um, is everything OK? You haven’t sent one to school lately.”

(Charles) “Oh… well, there’s a big and urgent project underway, so I took some time off. The teachers didn’t worry much; I’m way ahead on pretty much everything anyway.”

(Siranaya) “OK! I was just worried about you, not that I think you’d get sick.”

(Charles) “Well, thank you! It is all right, but it’s always nice to have someone check!”

(Siranaya) “Um… (Hm… Charles must REALLY be busy! He seemed even stiffer than usual!) hey, I’m starving! Whey don’t we get something to eat!”

(Charles) “Good idea! Lunch? I’ve got all kinds of fruits and nuts and things here! The trees are turning out really well!”

(Siranaya) “Yeah, I saw! And they don’t bubble and rot when I touch them, so I can pick some for you, too!”

(Charles) “Well, toxins don’t really work around here – but they generally aren’t needed here anyway!”

(Siranaya, smiling) “Let’s see…”

She made sure to hold Charles’s hand while the two of them picked some lunch – and while Charles had no objections he now had enough experience to guess on where this might be going. He cheerily carried her selections, quietly leaving her more or less in charge of what to pick. He knew what the male role in “shopping” was! All the guides he was referencing said so!

It turned out to be a diverse selection of nuts, fruits, and some of the earthier vegetables – which made quite a good lunch, with nothing much to clean up afterwards. A VERY tiny bit of magic was quite enough to handle THAT.

Siranaya didn’t try to feed him any of the food – she didn’t want to chance being TOO forward – but she did sit fairly close to him. Charles… had engaged analysis mode! He offered HER some nibbles (even if they did tend to come with all kinds of details on them) and occasionally made small contacts to help judge her behaviors…

She was very receptive to contact – almost desperate for it, although she was trying to hide that. Pretty obviously touch-starved… That was rather cruel!

He “mistakenly” sat down in contact after getting up a bit to reach a fruit on the far side of the table for her.

(Siranaya) “Oh! Oops. Ha ha!” (She put both arms around him!) “I’ve got you now… It’s not often I get to hold onto people without gloves! Let’s see how soft you are!”

(Charles, cuddling back since she was obviously desperate for it) “Well so you do! I’m no leprechaun, but did you have a wish?”

(Siranaya) “Stay the week? Something big is happening, and Mom was probably going to send me here anyway. Is that OK?”

(Charles) “Oh certainly! I was inviting lots of people to stay during the event anyway…”

She did seem to be looking for the straight line. Evidently she thought that he was pretty naive – and it had been a while since he’d been at school. Well, why not?

(Charles) “There’s only one bed in this cottage though! Would you prefer to be alone?”

(Siranaya, with a wink) “Oh no! You can stay here too, right?”

Well THAT was fairly direct. And… her clothing was… ambrosial and a bit more revealing than usual, although not totally immodest.

And she HAD just invited him to share the bed with her.

Oh well! It WAS a pleasant diversion and relaxation! Charles offered an arm, pulled the curtains to show her the bed – and let matters proceed. Reading all the signals was a good deal more complicated than finding a couple of naked girls in his bed offering themselves (that had been really simple!) – but it was fun, and the fact that she blatantly knew exactly what she’d come for, and was only steering him through the motions of her “seduction”, was quite helpful. She’d even made sure to bring (and use) a contraceptive talisman…

And there was plenty of cuddling for several days.

Siranaya’s mother was only very mildly annoyed; her daughter could have TOLD her that she was running off with a schoolmate! She’d been trying to arrange a marriage among the medical and biohazard gods, given that Siranaya’s poisonous touch made her an awkward bride for anyone else! The fact that Charles was more than willing to send her lots of presents, and to make sure that her flowers were widely distributed and protected, on top of the fact that it would be hard to find her daughter a more powerful or obliging husband even WITHOUT her condition – was quite sufficient.

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CCIV – Wine, Cheese, and Yozi’s

Hopefully, now that the holiday insanity is over with, I can get back to updating here regularly…

The last few days had been filled with endless checklists, as Charles made sure that everything was ready, that backups were ready, that all important points were protected, and that all the normal people – like his parents, and the cheetah-kid messengers, and the girls, and the refugees were all in secure shelters. Even in Aden… some of those disruptors might figure out how to sabotage his geomancy. Hopefully he’d surrounded all the important points and people in Aden and Yu-Shan with enough protection

Geomantic Sabotage could really be trouble! His current limits were pretty high – but he’d never really been in a all-out fight and couldn’t claim to be good at it even when he wasn’t massively distracted and committing a huge chunk of his power. He’d just have to hope that he had enough reserves and powers that he’d never displayed to counter the stuff that he’d never seen.

Which, when you came down to it, was all sorts of things. Still… there wasn’t much for it but to assume that the number of creatures who wanted to hold the universe together would outnumber the ones who wanted it to come apart, at least locally!

That had been one of the “hidden” criteria on which third circles to invite after all, even if the main purpose was to make it clear that help for the Yozi’s was also on the schedule!

And then… buds suddenly rose from the ground at six locations in Yu-Shan, including within the pavilion! They were… made of adamant, with orichalcum and white jade grooves, and matched the local Essence patterns of their environments perfectly. The adamant portions glowed faintly from within.

Oh dear. A manifestation of Yu-Shan?

(Charles) “Uhrm… Hi?”

The bud didn’t respond to verbal communication, so Charles checked with the Lions and the Tenders. This seemed like it would be in their field!

(Arelis Sorrowhands) “Ha! It would seem the young mistress is freeing herself! THAT is what it looks like when the Celestial Plain grows her lesser jouten. From the ornate pattern… she’s growing her Third Circle self there.”

(Charles) “Hrum! Well… I’ll check to see if I’ll have to recalibrate anything… and assign some guards to them”

It wasn’t that the pattern itself had changed, just the strength of the geomantic energy flowing through it. It was going to bump up uncomfortably against the suppressive geomancy – but that was already going to be revamped and separated… so Yu-Shan would manifest on the tender/overseer/original version level. That ought to work out OK!

The least ornate three were scattered at the outskirts of the central quarter. A slightly more ornate one had appeared at the center of the Calibration Gate’s plaza; you could draw lines between the other gates inside and they’d meet right where that bud was. Another like it had sprouted near where the control Manse for Project Stanewald was.

A major geomantic control center at the boundaries of the geomantic conflict? Charles hoped that she wasn’t going to try to tinker too much! She was certainly entitled to, but there were problems with patient participation in delicate surgery when the patient was half comatose! There was a reason why surgeons didn’t let the patient take the knife and help out just as they were recovering from anethesia…

Charles checked with Cangha. This could get very awkward!

(Cangha) “Hello again, Aden! What a spectacular time this is!”

(Charles) “Yes indeed! Things are about to go! But… I was wondering what Yu-Shan was up to; if she starts trying to take control before she’s fully awake, things might go very wrong!”

(Cangha) “The progenitor wishes to investigate all the layers you are creating within her world-self. To fulfill this desire, she has decided to deploy all her jouten at once. They had to be reabsorbed into her greater self before she fell asleep. Thus . . . she’s regrowing them. But have no fears! Her contact with human wishes and desires means she won’t deliberately harm them!… I can’t promise that for the Shapeless as much. She gets rough when she’s playing with them.”

(Charles) “Oh well! I was mostly wondering if she’d be wanting to start tweaking things while I was working… She’s certainly entitled, but I didn’t think that it would really be a good idea.”

(Cangha) “Err . . . that’s VERY likely. I wouldn’t try to dissuade her, either. Remember, she’s deigning to let you alter her body.”

(Charles, sighing) “I was kind of hoping to hold down the number of active participants… oh well! At least she’ll be working towards a coherent goal, rather than disruption!”

(Cangha) “It should be interesting. She’ll want to get to shaping as soon as she’s awake-and probably on multiple layers.”

(Charles) “Well, I hope that she’ll study it a bit first!”

(Cangha) “I can’t guarantee that!”

(Charles) “I wouldn’t have thought you could… but the suggestion might get through. I know she’s going to be pretty impatient to get to doing things, but thinking first is almost always a good idea!”

Cangha agreed to try – and that was all that Charles could ask.

Meanwhile, a lot of the kids from school wanted to watch the concert – although most of them were sensible enough to not want to come physically! Well… setting up a remote panoramic experience for them and the girls and anyone in Aden who wanted to watch was simple enough. It didn’t even take much of a speciality manse! He made sure that there were invitations and guides and gates to get them there – although he also made sure to let them know that he was going to be involved with a major project, and that unless there was some really major problem that could not be solved with local assistance and resources, they should PLEASE not disturb him for a bit.

Huh! Quite a few of them seemed much more interested in getting into Aden, watching him, exploring the place a bit, and otherwise fooling around, than in the event! Sure, Aden had a lot of fun things to do, but the concert was going to be a once-off event! Why would they want to see anything else before it was over?

Oh yeah. They didn’t really know that.

Come to think of it, neither did he! He might have to do it again some time at that!

The shouting match at the Pavilion actually turned out to have nothing much to do with him! It was just an argument over who got to sit closest to the Sun and Saturn’s contest. This year, it was sumi-e painting, and it was taking place… right next door! Right next to the central point of a powerful ritual, with a Primordial growing a jouten there too. And the contest would be taking place… right at the climax of the music unless he intentionally tried to evade Saturn’s request…

Well, that could get a little odd! Still, nothing had come up to stop it – and the final moments of calibration were a time when energy naturally settled into it’s new patterns for the year – a very good time to finish the working.

With his preparations finally complete, Charles spent the last few hours greeting guests. Some of the ones who usually had a hard time getting invitations were showing up a bit early to have a look around the carnival before the main event!

First up among the important ones… There was a young man arriving in the pavilion, with auburn hair and fine, flawless robes of emerald sampling the wines of heaven – and there was much confusion, frantic messaging, and general upset! Why was Ligier the Green Sun walking around in the Carnival of Meeting? Even that did not normally have Yozi guests! Why were the Incarnae not doing anything about this? Why wasn’t he sampling MY wines?

Charles made sure that Ligier had an escort to keep people from annoying him, and that he was provided with a selection of celestial wines and went to welcome him to the concert!

Ligier… seemed to find him rather amusing – and was looking at Yu-Shan’s Jotun-bud with some satisfaction!

Charles didn’t mind the oldest powers in the universe finding him amusing – and got the sense that he might do a little more, if he didn’t have so many celestial lions watching! He didn’t seem dismayed by them, though.

Of course, he did have twice their Essence, and could crush them very easily. Still, as Charles usually tried to arrange… things were currently moving in a direction to his benefit, so there was no reason to! Or so Charles hoped!.

Orabilis arrived looking around with some disapproval. He too spotted the bud – although his facial expression was far more ambiguous. Was that some minor talent of his? He WAS a keeper of secrets, and would almost certainly be protected against simple expressions revealing his own thoughts…

Charles made sure that he too was considerately hosted!

Orabilis deigned to speak with him, while Ligier watched with much bemusement.

(Orabilis, in a voice of rustling pages forming the words of a tongue long extinct) “Charles Dexter Ward… You are very wise for your age, but much is still hidden beyond barriers that you have yet to breach. In that ignorance, can you accomplish what you have dared to try? That tale… is not yet written.”

(Charles, after an instant to get a translation program running) “Hello Sir! While what I know is very little compared to the End of All Wisdom, He who Sets Stars Against the Night, I make do with what I have – and I am glad that you could come!”

(Orabilis) “It is rare to be invited into Creation in such a way, and rarer still for scholars to be pleased with my visitations… In truth, I would have come for you sooner were it not for your ever-more unusual status.”

For knowing too many secrets? Oh, that had to be frustrating for poor Orabilis! Using the Privacy Manse meant that not even Orabilis could know if HE knew forbidden knowledge, and even if he did, he didn’t know it all the time… Not to mention that he might be sort of outside his authority and awkward to try to deal with anyway!

(Charles) “Well, I will have some work to do in Malfeas fairly shortly… almost everybody there needs help!”

(Orabilis) “Ah? Now how so?”

And Ligier became a little more alert.

(Charles) “Well… quite a lot of functions and freedoms were lost during the war, and many of the feedback loops governing the essence-flows in everyone were disrupted. Now, in some cases, that may have improved function – it can happen – but in a lot of cases things have gotten worse, and will need some fixing up! Leaving people hurt is not a good thing!”

(Orabilis) “I suppose that is one way of describing it.” (And now he was amused.) “Pray tell, how do you intend to do this?”

(Charles, happily) “I’ve been designing artifacts to make up for the damage and allow self-correction. Using artifacts is better because if the people using them don’t like the effects, they can just deattune them and turn them off!”

(Orabilis) “Huh. I see. That might or might not work. That would depend on whether or not you can learn certain things known only to the Yozis.”

(Charles) “You never know until you try! And it would be wrong not to try!”

(Orabilis) “I assume this would require you to enter the city and treat with the titans, yes?”

(Charles) “Uh-huh! That’s part of the work I’ll have to do there!”

(Orabilis) “I see. Well, it should be curious seeing how they react to someone of your unique nature coming into the city… or the desert, for that matter. The words from that should spawn several new libraries at the very least!”

(Charles, still happily) “More stuff to learn!”

Within the impenetrable privacy of his own mind Orabilis had to wonder… Was this child really that simple? He really seemed to think that he could simply… drop by and set to work fixing everything and anything! The child was well on the way to being a true Primordial – and perhaps even something beyond a natural Primordial – but there were older and far more experienced powers. The youngster had his elemental poles, his manse-emanations had become true devas, his mind was multiplex and nigh-unfathomable… but he had little to no idea of how crazy some of the Yozis were! While it would be nice to have his progenitor in solid form again, and the child likely DID have the power to fix things, would he be permitted to do so? As powerful as he had become… the massed strength of the Yozi’s could easily throw him out of Malpheas and bar the way to his return if he displeased them! Still, if he succeeded in healing Yu-Shan… who knew what that would lead to?

Over the next few hours, as more and more Third Circle guests arrived, the mood in the Carnival as a whole shifted from fear to curiosity. The Yozi’s didn’t seem to be attacking, despite the fact that they were at the center of Yu-Shan!

The Celestial Lions had to move gawkers along pretty regularly.

And then, there was shouting and the faint feeling of reality blurring a bit outside.

Oh dear. Had Oramus decided to attend in person? Charles had thought that he was going to settle for remote viewing… He went to check!

Outside the pavilion… there was a massively powerful being out there! It looked like a man made out of shimmering fractals, in a long white coat, with eyes like starry black voids. He was waving his four limbs around, looking very distraught. The air around him also shimmered with fractals, and those looked pretty maddening! Nearby gods were gibbering. Some had ducked and hidden their eyes as the Lions tried to hold him back!

Charles added a touch of memory-erasure where needed.

(Charles) “Hello there!”

(Being) “Where’s Ayuji!? I need to talk to Ayuji! “WHERE’S AYUJI?”

Time for a quiet area and a phone!

(Charles) “Is something wrong?”

His arms waved like springs cleaving dimensions as Charles maneuvered him into a quieter area. It was quite disconcerting even from his protected perspective, like one of those “Magic Eye” books when you got it right.

(Being) “Oramus sent me to find Ayuji! Where’s Ayuji?”

(Charles) “Well, she’s still manifesting as the Loom of Fate! But I’ve got a communications link right here…”

(Being, radiating – or extending – in strange fractal patterns that didn’t fit within reality) “I will bend reality to find Ayuji!”

Charles set up a direct link! It was much simpler than bending reality… besides, the structures around the Loom of Fate were visible from here anyway.

(Being) “Ayuji?! Where are you? What? Stuck? I’ll save you!”

Oh dear! Now he seemed to be intent on going straight to the Loom Chamber, and was looking out a window at it and starting to REALLY warp things!

CHARLES called Ayuji! With I AM helping and some extra manses – she surely had enough spare power to manifest or at least to use her new remote!

Ayuji sent her remote over right away. Oramus had to be worse off than she thought; that – as she informed Charles – was Feng, the Atelier of Realities Unshackled, and neither She nor Charles wanted him running around unsupervised. He broke the universe down into a selection of REALLY low-probability results and picked the one he wanted! A VERY frustrating sort to deal with if you were a part of Creation, since what he was doing operated both within it’s rules – the breakdown of future possibilities by negating Ayuji’s grasp on Creation – and without them! (Binding the results back together to avoid a localized Time of Cascading Years).

At least as far as what he did fit into words anyway.

(Ayuji) “Oh yes! A friend of Xiang’s! Very helpful for dealing with Shapeless!”

(Charles) “Well, Ayuji’s here, and doing fine… was there anything else you needed Mr Feng?”

(Feng) “I don’t want to go back in the wings! The wings are scary and I can’t find anything in there!”

(Charles) “Well, there’s no real reason to… would you like to spend a little time on a nice quiet private planet?”

(Feng) “I want to talk to Yu-Shan! Er… if she’ll let me.”

(Charles) “Perhaps in a couple of days when she’s awake? That’s hardly any time at all!”

(Feng) “Can I watch? I want to be in the pavilion with the others!”

Somehow, despite being with Feng in a private reality-fold…. Charles could see Ligier, behind Feng in the pavilion proper, making eye contact with him and slowly shaking his head.

(Charles) “Err… How about a private spot? That way you can do without all the concealment spells; they must pinch!”

(Feng) “Terribly!… Can I get sprinkle cupcakes there?”

(Charles) “Why not?”

(Feng) “Hurrah!”

Charles set it up for him and Ayuji’s remote; she was quite pleased to be outside and getting to watch “in person”, even if only in spiri – and it was nice to get a chance to talk ot Feng again. He was one of the few who really understood her work. Charles was simply pleased to be able to accommodate people!

For now anyway. Things would doubtless get more awkward if he did manage to start curing the Yozi’s; he was REALLY hoping that the “there are plenty of empty galaxies to play in!” thing worked out – because if it DIDN’T there was going to be an awful lot of damage if he couldn’t keep the peace! And he really couldn’t have that! Still, even getting them fixed up without letting them back into creation would be a BIG improvement! It would make Malfeas more pleasant at the very least, and make devas like that Feng and Ligier a lot more happy. And if it took a few millennia of study to improve on that…. well, no one had mentioned the quick approach of the end of time yet!

Charles was busy for some time – and was SO glad that he’d been selective about sending invitations to the saner third circles only even if a fair number of more difficult ones had shown up anyway.

Well, he’d TRIED to hold down on the unnecessary complications.

Exalted Index IV

And it’s time to update this cumulative index again. There’s material here for first edition, second edition, and the 2.5 revision. Currently at well over 200 sessions (even if the log is a bit behind), I suspect the Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice to be a very long-lived Exalted game indeed.

The Dualistic Exalted:

  • The Dualistic Exalted (first edition) were designed for dimension-hopping, or lower-powered, Exalted games. They’re reasonably formidable, but no match for an army, and can fairly readily be opposed by a group of experienced mortals or by a dragonblooded character without massive delving into charm combos.
  • Zareth Elaris, Dualistic Exalt from Creation, and expert magician. Includes the Coat of Flames, the Sigil of Issilor, and quite  a few bits of alchemical magic.
  • Sergeant Jack Rackham: A dimensional wanderer from modern earth with superhuman strength.
  • Deadlands to Exalted Conversions: Characters and Magic,  Bestiary.
  • The Minions of the Dimensional Auditors (AKA “When Dice Attack”).

New Charms:

Solar Charms:

Raksha Charms:

  • Dreaming Thunder Guardian: Summoning defenses from the Wyld.
  • Mysteries of the Raksha: The sorcery and thaumaturgy of the Raksha.
  • Dreaming Narrative Conquest: Includes a couple of new Raksha charms;  one for feeding and one for accessing universal dreams. See Raksha Charms II, below for an updated Harvest of the Winds.
  • Raksha Charms: Summoning better beasties, summoning yourself, the easy button, splitting your mind, material fantasies, adding mortals,  to yourself, private realities, and temporary abilities.
  • Raksha Charms II: Bypassing Charm prerequisites, incorporating hearthstones, producing temporary grace-copies, creating temporary grace-magics, updated Harvest of the Winds (for harvesting motes from Mortal populations), entering mortal dream-nexi (update for Continuum of Dreams), updated Forge of Dreams for making better fantasies and Wyld Stunts, Wyld Stunts per Session (not “story”), finding cheaper ways to use charms, drawing on the mythic traits of your assumptions, getting passive bonus dice, virtual artifact armor, defensive Wyld Stunts, gaining multiple health tracks, and mutating mundane animals/producing shaping weapons.
  • The Aspiring Ishvara: High-essence Raksha Charms – Boosting your Glorious Hero Forms, learning how to drop the Shaping keyword,  how to Respire in Creation, how to resist Iron and order-imposing charms, accessing spirit charms, engulfing others in your narrative, and empowering better freeholds.
  • In the Style of the Renaissance Masters: Lending your own perfection to your tools and items.
  • Veiling the God’s Eyes: Raksha Thaumaturgy, updated to fit with the Errata and Grace Magic (Scroll down).
  • Transmigration Of Mortality: How a Raksha can share his or her powers with a mortal host.

Martial Arts:

Lunar Charms:

Spells and Thaumaturgy:

Primordial Charms:

Sidereal Abilities:

Nocturnal Charms:

Abyssal Charms:

Manses and Geomancy:

Geomancy and General Effects:

  • There are several geomancy-related spells in the two collections of spells, just above.
  • Geomantic Engineering: Usable rules for engineering demesnes.
  • The Way of Manse and Demesne: Charms for enhancing manses, binding artifacts, and advanced geomancy.
  • Manse Enhancement and The Dragon Vortex: An extension of The Way of Manse and Demesne to upgrade geomantic effects – and some notes on Design Beyond Limit (and why it really doesn’t work).
  • New Manse Powers: Spiritual Stronghold and Nexus, Ambrosial Font, Essence Battery, Awakened Little God, Sacred Ground.
  • Yet More Manse Powers: Integrated Enhancement Artifacts (for adding manse construction points), Staff Artifacts, Guardian Loa, Thaumic Resonance, Thaumic Puissance, Dance of the Dragon Lords (Essence Boosting).
  • Wyld Revocation and what you can do with it: Ways to use Wyld Revocation to create exotic powers.
  • Kaiju, Manses, And Building On A Cult: Mental Demesnes, the Kaiju Aspect, the Wyld Kingdom manse power, and Mechagodzilla (Kaiju Manse-5). New artifacts – the Absolute Zero Cannon, Accumulative Temporal Labyrinth, Shinamaic Lance, and Wyldstorm Cannon.
  • Factory-Cathedrals: Basic features, Helpful Artifacts (Essence Forge, Essence Charger, Essence Scriber, Wyldsphere), Narrative Construction, Forgestones (variable level crafting hearthstones), and the Prefabrication Protocols crafting charm.
  • Geomantic Focus (Artifact 1 to 5): A way to emulate Hearthstones – albeit with some serious downsides. The Belt of Cruatch (example).
  • The Path of the Smiling Tiger: Crafting and Invoking your own Inner World – and the Whispering Lore (Charm Access Bestowal) Manse Power.
  • Manse Augmentation Rules (scroll down): Rules for adding boosting artifacts to manses to increase the manses powers.
  • The Abyssal Entrapment Package (scroll down): For when you really do need to hit some Abyssal Exalts with a Manse.
  • Manse Seeds (3) (scroll down): For when you want a manse without all the trouble of actually building one…
  • Galileo (scroll down): A Synergistic Overmind – and librarian.
  • Relocating Manses: When you really need your manse moved RIGHT NOW (Scroll Down).
  • Fantastic Freeholds: Revised rules for Freeholds – to make them actually worth bothering with. Includes several new freehold elements – the Treasury, Hedge, and Manse with revised rules for the usual ones.
  • Guardians, Gods, and Devas (Scroll Down): Improving Guardians and Guardian Forces, Creating “Devas”.

Specific Manses:

  • The Orrery of Istalian (Sidereal-3): A Celestial Manse for observing the Stars of the Underworld. The Cloak of Twilight Stars power and some new Artifacts – Celestial Forge, Agathean Pool, and Veil of Maya.
  • The House of Phantoms (Lunar-1): A small library that lets you talk to simulations of authors and characters.
  • Hoenheim (Wood-5): A mystical headquarters for young mage-crafters with MANY advantages. The Willow-Branch Stone, the Lesser Provider and Local Surveillance powers, new Artifacts – Whispering Echoes and the Athanor of Devon. With it’s upgrade, a list of it’s gates can be round HERE (scroll down).
  • The Halls of Alternity (Lunar-5): A manse offering access to other realms. Two sample realms – The Last Refuge and the Temple of the Fallen Sun (with the Provider II power), and the Shadow World and it’s Eternal Spires.
  • Mardi Gras (Earth-5): The Grace Stone, artifacts – the Heart of Rakastan, Gossamer Loom, and Multitracking Amplifier.
  • The Bazaar of the Bizarre (Manse ****): A manse that empowers mortals to defend creation. The Unbindable, Binding Word, the Assumption of Purpose  and Greater Magical Conveniences. Converting Mortals into Manse Guardians.
  • Seed of Worlds (Manse *****): A recursive dimension-creation manse of nigh infinite power. The Fate-Linked power (provides proper souls for those born within).
  • Sakoda Springs (Water-1):  A minor manse now known as the Fountain of Youth.
  • Rasarin’s Vista (Water-1):  An author’s retreat, to watch the antics of small sapient water mammals.
  • Dudael, the Hierarchical Forge (Solar Celestial Manse-5): A primordial Factory-Cathedral in Yu-Shan, New Artifacts – the Veilward and Essence Scriber. New Powers – Narrative Construction, Unbindable, Advanced Magical Conveniences, the Primordial Archives, notes on Other Dimensions and their Perfect Defenses.
  • Yggdrasil, the Tree of Worlds (Wood-5): A gate to the Green Galaxies. Includes Advanced Magical Conveniences, several new artifacts  – a Portal Control System (or “Stargate”), a Pocket Dimension Generator, a Sampo, and a Thaumaturgic Forge.
  • The Oberian Geomantic Academy (Lunar-4): A manse for training and equipping Masters of Thaumaturgy. Includes seven new Artifacts; The Spirit Forge, the Breath of Magic, and the Five Thaumaturgical Foci – the Sigil of Mastery, Spellwright’s Wand, Journeyman’s Seal, Elemental Athame, and Mirror of the Essence.
  • The Roanapur Manse (Travel-5): A manse for creating dimensional overlays. Exotic Aspect (Travel), Advanced Magical Conveniences (Talisman Powers), the Alternate Gate Locations power. Also Ruki, Chosen of Battles/Alchemical Hybrid, and two Artifacts – the Necklace of Cinders and Shard of Dream.
  • The Winding Way (Sidereal-4 or Any-5): A manse that empowers greater thaumaturgy. The Gem of Vision, Major Magical Conveniences (all to boost thaumaturgy), tweaked versions of the the Five Thaumaturgical Foci – the Sigil of Mastery, Spellwright’s Wand, Journeyman’s Seal, Elemental Athame, and Mirror of the Essence. New manse powers – the Tidal Surge, Multipresence, and Thaumic Puissiance.
  • The Reiskaer: (Sidereal-5, subordinateWood-3 and Earth-2 manses). The flying cities of the Jadeborn. Includes thaumaturgy-boosting artifact Control Panels and the new powers of Wyld Spaces, Geomantic Bounding, Metric Isolation, Spatial Scaling, and Harmonic Convergence.
  • Hidden Twig Village (Wood-5): A training camp for God-Bloods, run by Oniwabanshu (“Garden Keeper”) Jun. Includes three new artifacts – the Perceptor of War, the Harp of Losselyn, and the Secret Fire. The Lesser Aspect of the Divine spirit mutation charm, Kuji-Kuri Mastery spirit thaumaturgy charm, the Talisman of Swift Fortune, and the Bracers of the Night Warrior.
  • The Hospitable Paths (Wood-5): A medical center that heals all those who come it’s way. The Advanced Life-Sustaining power.
  • Aden Shining Dream, the Third Circle: Charles’s manse-based Quasi-Devas.
  • Brigadoon Starship-Manses (Aden-5): Starship-Manses, for when you want to travel in comfort. Includes the Sympathetic Loom, Ansible, Observation Dome, Orrery of Antikythera, and Tik-Tok the Clockwork Autopilot.
  • The Pillars of Irem (Fire-1): A small firedust-collecting manse belonging to Zareth.
  • Body And Spirit Symphony Style (Terrestrial Martial Art): How to mutate yourself with inner power. Also, the Mutation Manse (***).
  • The Hundredfold Resplendent Academy: A peerless martial arts training center. Includes the Arsenal Sphere.
  • The House of Winds (scroll down): A minor wind manse repaired and amplified.
  • Starlight Path’s Manses (Sidereal-5) (scroll down): Adding additional gateways to Yu-Shan.
  • Toho Studios: Notes only.
  • Alora Nagandurga, the Citadel of Enlightenment (Aden 5): Notes. A school for Exalts and replacement for the Cult of the Illuminated. Includes the Natural Learning and Personal Training Montage manse powers.
  • The Privacy Manse (notes): A manse for restoring sanity to broken minds.
  • The Okavango Springs Manse: A manse for rendering a region once more moist and fertile – and for helping out the local tribes. (Scroll Down).
  • The Preceptor Of Ancient Ways and the Preceptor Of Rising Minds: Two infernal manses – one for the Reclamation, one for founding colonies of animal-people. Includes the Forge and Lathe of Souls, the Metamorphoses Chamber, and the Molecular Assembler.
  • Nachdenken-Dammerung– Reflection on Falling Shadows: A sun-stalling manse (notes only).
  • Mechagodzilla: A Greater Kaiju Manse and how to build him.
  • Mothra Leo, a Greater Kaiju Manse.
  • The Hanging Gardens – a Raksha Freehold of immense power. Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI. Includes the Forge Of Ways sub-manse (scroll down).
  • I AM / The Nebular Man-Of-War (Notes only).
  • The Primal Forge: How to build your own – and produce artifacts in minutes.
  • The Occluded Observatory (Celestial Manse ***, Sidereal *): A stronghold in the deserted quarters of Yu-Shan.
  • Thornhaven (Wood Manse ***): A terrestrial base in the Amazon.

Hearthstones:

  • Building Hearthstones: Rules for making and upgrading Hearthstones.
  • Hearthstones I (First Edition): Armory, Artificer, Augmentation, Essence, Eternal Forest, Eye of Issaril, Gem of Supernal Clarity, Ironhands Gem, Living Stone, Philosopher’s Stone, Powerstone, Savant’s Eye, Spellstone, Speakers Stone, Spellbinder’s Stone,
  • Hearthstones II: Ambrosial Chalice, Iron Master’s Stone, Merchant’s Stone, Pheonix Star, Prayerstone, Protean Stone, Quartz Mirror, Sorcerer’s Eye, Wraithstone.
  • Hearthstones III: Build Rules Examples – Builder’s Stone, Surgeon’s (or Franken-) Stone, Radiant Sunstone, Shadow Warrior’s Stone, Earthblood Stone. Includes rules for Biothaumaturgy.
  • Hearthstones IV: Black Opaline Inkstone, Lens of the Moon, Stone of Radiant Purity.
  • Hearthstones V: Philosopher’s Stone (second edition version), Specter General Stone, Destined King Stone, Wall of Octri Stone, Happy Wanderer’s Azurite Songstone, Earthmaster’s Stone, Soothing Heart Stone, Honorable Diamond Gem, Xaverite Cubicon, Grand Gem of Vision, Song of the Spirits Stone, Silicon Mind Stone, Phantom Castle Stone, Sardonyx of Elemental Mastery, Wyld Heart Stone, Adamant Cascade of Sorcerous Mastery, Black Emerald Before the Dawn, Nising Weirdstone, Essence Armoring Carbuncle, Fate Defying Ruby, and Grace Stone. Also, Social Units, War, and Virtual Behemoths.
  • Hearthstones and Motives: The Radiant Heart Ruby – and Charles’s Intimacies and Motives.

Artifacts:

General Theory:

Artifact Designs:

Raksha Items:

Setting:

Characters:

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice

The Chronicles are an Exalted: Modern game, most consistently played by Charles Dexter Ward (a Twilight Artificer), sometimes joined by Aikiko, Ruki, and various others. Unlike most games, however, there’s no hard division between PC and NPC; players are free to adopt interesting NPC’s and to play various other roles. Thus, at any point, any character might be a PC – and therefore the focus of things.

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CCIII – Bronze Edges

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.”

(Valkith) “Sir?!”

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!”

(Jorgensen) “Teachable?”

(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.

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CCII – The Primal Forge, Manse-Spirits And Guardians

There were still many minor gods trying to set up arrangements for the Carnival of Meeting outside – and one of those, some sort of technological god dotted with LED lights, was watching Charles’s work with some interest. Charles, unsurprisingly, didn’t mind a bit – although it was obvious that the guards were keeping an eye out while he single-mindedly adjusted things. He did notice eventually though – and opened up a line to find out if the god needed something!

(Illuminating Cryptic Radiance) “Hello, Charles. You’re busily working as usual, I see.”

(Charles) “Lots to do! Did you need something?”

(Illuminating Cryptic Radiance) “Yes… What did you find in the Primal Forge? I’m dying to know!”

(Charles, thoughtfully) “Oh! Well, the principle is fairly straightforward really… the basic design is an optimized factory-cathedral, but it taps into the wyld through wyld revocation and an adjustable gate (more wyld revocation and some dynamic architecture there). It establishes an identity-link, and reality overlay, with the most perfectly possible optimum situation and setup for whatever task you happen to be working on right now, complete with assistants and appropriate materials. If that ideal location happens to exist in Creation, someone could open their shop and find that Autochthon – or the manse consciousness – was working in it. If it’s in the Wyld, then Creation won’t notice of course.”

Illuminating Cryptic Radiance managed to hold a poker face – but it wasn’t easy! The boy was both ABLE and WILLING to talk about how the PRIMAL FORGE actually OPERATED?! No one had ever been able to read deeply enough into it to get that much information! Attempts always gave insane results, like you were trying to… trying to analyze the structure of the Deep Wyld… The Primal Forge was designed to reach into the Wyld and pull structure out it? Did it actually date back to before there had been anything else to work with?

Oh of COURSE Autochthon operated by pulling structure out of the Wyld! He long predated Creation and had helped to build it! Was the Forge basically a quasi-independent fragment of Autochthon rather than – or perhaps as well as – a manse-artifact? And a quasi-independent fragment of a Primordial was… a Deva. Was that why it was so heavily guarded and why no one was allowed to interact with it? Was it doing little or nothing simply because Autochthon was occupied elsewhere?

Why hadn’t that – rather obvious! – thought ever occurred to him before? He’d been studying the Primal Forge and Autochthon for YEARS, bringing illumination into dark and hidden places as was his nature! Was it something to do with young Charles? The boy seemed to carry something with him… a breath of freedom, that loosened all constraints whether of the body, of the mind, or of destiny itself. Like the Wyld, but not of it.

(Charles) “The trouble is that, while interruptions wouldn’t be optimum when someone IS working, and so there won’t be any while a project is underway, when they’re not working or are just seeking inspiration the place can act as an uncontrolled gate to anywhere in the Wyld – and thus could let almost anything in. Thus the need to have it powered down and under heavy guard when no one is working there – and the varying reports; if someone without enough focus and control goes in, it will look for the optimum workspace for any project they have in their unconscious, which can get quite weird! Plus, of course, most people expect traps – so they get them!”

That seemed like enough detail. That much had been pretty obvious if you knew how to look – but he didn’t want to violate the Primal Forge’s privacy!

(Charles) “I thought about building one for myself – but since I don’t spend ALL my time crafting things, it isn’t really required and would be more than a bit hazardous! Slightly below perfect optimization is generally quite enough!”

Charles didn’t bother to mention that the manse consciousness was a Deva – not that he saw much of any difference between a Deva and a manse spirit. Perhaps there really wasn’t any if you just made them with the right modifiers in primordial demesnes? Certainly he’d cheated quite a lot while he was making his own – but it did seem like there were likely to be simpler ways; he’d actually gone quite overboard on empowering his Guardians! Now that he’d studied deva-demons a bit more… rather a lot of third circle types weren’t all THAT powerful. Hm… Were Primordials so focused because they created their Devas as expressions of particular interests, and wound up locked into those? If so, he’d been lucky! Patterning his after the various fields of Thaumaturgy did mean that they were just as magic-focused as he was, but the twenty-four fields of Thaumaturgy – of course – covered pretty much EVERYTHING.

Illuminating Cryptic Radiance was rather more interested in “building one for himself”. Was that really within the boy’s capabilities? Or was it just that… Wait. Nothing in what he’d mentioned – which DID seem to account for the properties the place was supposed to have AND for having it so well guarded – was necessarily beyond the capacity of a relatively modest network of fairly normal manses. Yes, you’d have to be a brilliant designer of manses to fit all the pieces together and you’d have to be able to design and build a Factory-Cathedral, but you didn’t HAVE to have a legendary manse or demesne to work with. That would just make it easier to keep all the pieces in one place. Had Autochthon simply been… being tidy?

On Manse Spirits and Guardians

  • Awakened Little God (1): The manse’s little god is an awakened ally of the hearthstone bearers. Such a god cannot be truly slain while the manse endures, and can usually be constructed as an Essence-3 spirit if the manse is rated at *** or less, essence 4 if it’s rated at **** or higher.
  • Awakened Guardian God (Variant on Guardian, 3): The Manse’s “little” god has essence (Manse Rating +2), but this is otherwise similar to Awakened Little God. This means that it’s a bit less powerful than a standard guardian, but comes back if it’s destroyed more quickly.
    • Improving on this is actually pretty awkward: Buying a Guardian gets you a second circle demon or creature of equivalent power – an essence range of 5 to 8, most commonly around 6-7. Adding +1 point for a Guardian Force gets you hundreds of them. That’s a lot of power and it’s hard for a single entity to improve on it much. Ergo lets just use a modifier.
  • Greater Guardian / Guardian Force (Requires Guardian or Guardian Force): For +1 point added to the base cost of Guardian you may increase the Guardians essence rating by +2 and add up to (Essence) panoply charms or abilities. Such a guardian cannot be truly slain while the manse endures. If you increase the cost of a Guardian Force one of it’s members gets those benefits and an additional seven linked to the first get +1 Essence and (Essence/2)+1 panoply charms or abilities. In either case, Greater Guardians cannot be truly slain while their manse endures.

On The Primal Forge:

The Greater Guardian of the Primal Forge is Muquinas, The Weave of Mothers and Maker – and it is through his power that the Forge produces wonders so quickly and easily. The Manse’s Gate and Overlay functions let Muquinas go Wyld-Questing in the Deep Wyld without ever leaving his chair – and he’s very good at it.

Muquinas: Ess 9, Per 13, Occult 12, Occult Speciality / Wyld-Questing 3, Madwands Lens (This Artifact-5 provides continuous Essence Sight, Spirit-Sight, +6 Perception, +6 Occult, and – due to the dazzling visions it grants – counts as using hallucinogens when the user is Wyld-Questing, reducing the time required to two intervals rather than three).

This gives Muquinas a forty-die Wyld Questing roll with a time requirement of two minutes. At Difficulty 12 he can pull Artifact-*****’s directly out of the Wyld in two minutes apiece. He mostly employs his other astounding skills to assemble groups of tailored Artifact-V’s into Artifact N/A’s – using Wyld Time to speed the assembly.

Plus, of course, there are the efforts of the seven secondary consciousness and the rest of the “Guardian Force” of Crafter-golems.

During the construction of Creation Muquinas and his minions were very busy indeed, forging intangible – but very real – artifact-links between Yu-Shan’s various aspects and Deva’s and Creation – a task that has continued (if on a far smaller and occasional scale) to this day. The splendor of his craftsmanship is evident in that those links have endured despite many tens of thousands of years and the Reshaping of Creation.

Charles, who is young, and over-enthused about making even minor artifacts with his own skills, shaping, and wyld-questing, hasn’t actually thought about the true power of Muquinas and the Primal Forge. He is thinking of it as a slightly upgraded version of Dudael – a facility that helps you work and arranges some mass-production, rather than an independent font of artifacts.

Illuminating Cryptic Radiance tapped a finger to his face, which caused some of the lights on his cheek to change color.

(Illuminating Cryptic Radiance) “Were there REALLY no guardians?”

(Charles) “Oh some! But they’re associated with the consciousness of the installation, so they weren’t deployed! If it had wanted to optimize for traps, that would have been very awkward!’

(ICR) “So if you come to it with no expectation of traps…”

(Charles) “Then there wouldn’t be any as long as the Forge accepted your presence. If it objected… it would pull the most perfectly optimized possible set of trap-tools to expel, capture, or kill you (depending on it’s judgement) out of the wyld.”

(ICR) “Hmm . . . hmm . . . if I wanted to talk to the Primal Forge, what would I need to do to get on its good side?”

(Charles) “Well, it was transferred to Yu-Shan to help create the links between it and Creation and to forge artifacts. Plans along those lines might engage it’s interests! You might want to wait a while though… at the moment access is quite restricted and – honestly – a slightly lesser facility suffices for most things!”

(ICR) “Oh… how disappointing. I was wondering if it would want an arrangement of LED lights in its honor, since it was sapient and everything.”

(Charles) “Well, it certainly has it’s own moods and ideas… it’s grand purpose is one thing, it’s personal desires are quite another – and they aren’t something I really had much time to explore.”

(ICR) “Sigh… it must be fascinating to talk to…”

(Charles) “Well, maybe I can arrange an introduction later on! At the moment… I can talk while I work, but doing two tasks at once is considerably harder!”

Illuminating Cryptic Radiance decided to be satisfied with that for the time being. It was more than he’d really expected to get after all!

Plus, of course, he had some REALLY juicy speculation to chew on.

Meanwhile Charles had – finally! – completed the layout, even if the section for the third circles was full of thaumaturgic essence-baffles designed to compensate for him not being sure who would actually come. Unfortunately… A lot of them were simply very awkward and a LOT of the rest were a bit too crazy (he wasn’t inviting anyone who was too likely to run amuck). He’d been more or less forced to limit invitations to the saner ones with reasonable manifestations (although he’d made dimensional-fold viewing space available for the ones who were just too big and such), and less than half of THOSE had responded (or even given evidence that they’d been reached and understood). Hard to blame them of course! Coming would mean setting aside a great many old arguments for the moment – and would mean putting a good deal of faith in the Occupying forces in Yu-Shan to do the same. A bit tricky for some even if it WAS guaranteed by the Unconquered Sun.

That left out a depressing number of souls – but it should be more than enough to spread the word, which was the real point. Even better, Ligier, Ninsei, Jacint, Demirkol, Michio, Orabillis, and Kochige had all RSVP’d… They might even be inclined to help! And even if they weren’t… they would be witnesses that repairs were indeed under way. Going to Malfeas to fix the Yozi’s was going to offer more than enough challenges anyway.

Meanwhile, Aikiko was considering her upcoming role as Ultraman. Finally, a major lead role! Too bad it was not going to be stunts and special effects, but real danger! Still, direct battle with the Neverborn Kaiju would provide some GREAT footage! And, unlike the Primordial War, it would be somewhat comprehensible, mostly in one dimension, and properly recorded… perfect for future newsreels!

Even if the Neverborn were pretty lovecraftian and might drive viewers a bit crazy. After the changes that are likely to hit the universe, that would just be one bizarre phenomenon among many. Despite Charles’s obvious hopes, breaking Creation free from Yu-Shan, opening hundreds of gates and erecting hundreds of major manses, along with the echoes of the song of creation rolling across a hundred or so worlds was not going to pass without a LOT of special effects. Hopefully he had enough allies and helpers to keep those effects down to “annoying” rather than “reality-shattering”.

Elsewhere, the Bronze Faction leadership was considering. The question of what Charles might be – even if it was a Solar! – paled next to the question of what he was up to. It had to be more than a concert; the INCARNAE, and only-the-Maidens knew WHAT else was coming!

It was time to ask the “boy” some hard questions!

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice Session CCI – Mortal Voices

Charles was beginning to wonder if something was orchestrating interruptions… A strong destiny charm or good astrological manipulation could arrange it easily enough. That wouldn’t cover the latest one – which was coming from inside Aden, and thus was out of reach of astrology. Still, it was also minor enough to let an aspect cover it – which pretty much put it off the list. This one was probably just random.

Besides… it was just a whole bunch of people complaining on top of a few of the young women who’d moved in on him wanting his attention. A sub-process should be sufficient to deal with it!

At least it wasn’t the Kickaha again.

Not directly anyway.

It was a bunch of human and near-human adults, at one of his residential Manses.

(Charles) “Er… Do you need something? Is this about your “true inner selves”? Those letters were WEIRD! Or is this the Jyhad? I was told that there was one coming!”

(Mother) “what are you doing with our children?!”

(Charles) “Er, what? What children? Aden should be very safe!”

(Middle-aged man) “The ones you turned into wolves!”

(Charles) “Oh! The Kickaha have been recruiting again! That’s kind of naughty there… at least without permission! Well, they aren’t hurt any, but I’d better get them in here!”

(Mother) “So that’s what you call them!”

(Charles) “Well, the kids they recruit get a variety of powers, life spans of several millennia, enhanced personal attributes, extremely rapid regeneration, shapeshifting – at least to wolf-forms – and quite a few other benefits, like sensory boosts, so it’s not like they’re doing anything harmful. It’s still naughty to do it without permission though!”

He sent for the kids, and the (likely) kids who had recruited them, and the pack alphas! It was a lot of kids!

(Charles) “Hrm… Human forms please!… Now, who has parents here?”

More than a few of them did of course. That was why he’d sent for them!

(Charles) “Now then! Did you kids tell your parents what you were up to?”

Unsurprisingly, not all of them did!

(Charles) “I take it that you just ran away to play with the Kickaha packs?”

Some of them, at least… Others wanted to help out with the colonization projects.

The general babbling and child-versus-parents arguments went on for some time. Eventually, however, Charles opted to interrupt it.

(Charles, to everyone) “Now honestly… I don’t have a lot of power over this! I have some authority over the first generation – but I have no idea how many generations they’re up to now and even the first generation were and are free-willed people! Now YOUR children have run away to accept a power-imbuement, and – in at least some cases – to be pioneers, or heroes, or some such. The ones who gave it to them to them are kind of naughty here – but they certainly were entitled to take in runaways, orphans, refugees, and other kids on their own. So you Alphas… I expect you to insist that prospective recruits with reachable families at least get into touch with them and communicate about this first! You kids who have already been taken in, but have accepting families… I expect you to at least spend some time with them regularly! Staying here is a privilege you know, not a right!”

There was some complaining from some of the kids, and some grousing from some of the pack members – but the Alphas could readily deal with that. The parental complaining, however, had more of a point…

(Mother) “You would just give them all this power without knowing how they would use it?”

(Charles) “The older-generation Kickaha kids did actually. But they will make their own choices; yes, they now have more personal power than most humans do – but the Kickaha will never organize themselves to build atomic weapons or such; their natural unit is the pack. Between the two… The Kichaka are likely safer, both personally and for the universe.”

(Father) “How can you be so sure?”

(Charles) “I can be sure that they are personally safer since they are regenerative, can recover from most forms of “death”, and are superhumanly strong and durable. For the universe… they will not tend to build destructive technologies, mass armies, or similar things. The power of tooth and claw – even backed with midrange supernatural powers – cannot cause destruction on that scale. Their creation was more or less an accident of research. I think, however, that it was a fortuitous one. What with the new planets to settle… pathfinders, guides, guardians, and healers will be of great benefit – and they are ideally suited for the job. Finally, of course… I cannot take from them what has been given. It was not my gift to them, and removing it is not within my power.”

(Appalled Mother) “Wait, an accident?”

(Charles) “I had not expected the four original test subjects – all older volunteers in desperate need of transformation – to be able to pass on their new abilities.”

(Father) “Oh. So this was deliberate.”

(Charles) “When it became apparent that they could, the initial tests indicated that it should stop when they reached the limits of the original power source – some six hundred and fifty individuals. They found a way to bypass that on their own.”

(Chorus) “What? How?”

(Charles) “They found a way to make a somewhat more limited set of their basic powers self-generating. That was something of a surprise; entities with such abilities may normally pass on a small part of their abilities to their children, they cannot normally simply bestow them. I wasn’t really watching for that since it’s kind of unprecedented!”

He really had thought that they’d stop at the six hundred and fifty the manse would support. How had they done that anyway? He’d been so busy that it had never really occurred to him to look into it…

Wait. Had they just asked some of the Djinn to help them build a few more Kickaha manses? That would be a lot more limited than them turning into a major magical species on their own and it would make more sense – even most magical species started off at far lower essence levels than the Kickaha seemed to – but it would almost be a little disappointing… it wouldn’t be a major new breakthrough to look into later!

Oh well, still no time. He’d just have to check later on.

(Charles) “They went completely independent!

(Various) “We INSIST on Regular Visits!/Schooling!/Some Discipline!/Doing something about the nonhuman appearance! (That was mostly parents from earth; the extraterrestrial ones had few or no problems with THAT bit).

Charles sighed and held a discussion with the Alphas. Most of them were first generation, and should listen! Regular visits was CERTAINLY reasonable enough – even if the parents had been abusive the kids could appeal and humans attempting to abuse a Kickaha would be hard on the humans at best – and schooling was for EVERY kid in Aden! That was easy enough! And some extra instructions on a bit of Thaumaturgic Shapeshifting would let even the ones who were having a bit of trouble with their shapeshifting easily cover up the more obvious traces. And it wasn’t like they couldn’t get all the training they wanted; Aden was full of tutors.

Later on most of the parents were pleased to find out how much more useful their kids were to have around – but that would take a while.

Meanwhile… Probes were very much an ongoing thing these days, and not just from Yu-Shan and Creation. There were two from the Underworld today alone, four from Malfeas, and one from Oramus. There had been hostile shaping attempts sent from some of the Underworld ones. Of course, Adenic shaping defenses being what they were those remained attempts only, but they would have had nasty effects if they could have worked – raining the Essence from the land and setting up underworld overlay zones.

Charles promptly set up a department of answers, sneding out polite form letters, brochures, and so on to the “friendly” (or at least passive) ones, but allowing the actively hostile ones to “pass unnoticed”. No underworld overlays outside the underworld communications manse boundaries though!

Huh… Weird… At least one of the attempts to set up an underworld overlay came from Yu-Shan. Perhaps that had been the guy who handled Lethe?

Charles called Zanjaras to see if it had been – and if it had been, what he wanted or needed!

(Zanjaras) “Er… No, I would just ask through Cangha. Is there anything YOU need?”

(Charles) “Not really right now… you did get your invitation didn’t you? Unless, maybe, unbinding Yu-Shan from Creation will interrupt your work; you indicated that it wouldn’t, but the plans weren’t quite finalized then.”

(Zanjaras) “Of course. How is that proceeding?”

(Charles) “Well, it should be underway in five days now!”

(Zanjaras) “I see.”

(Charles) “Well, I don’t know who else might have been trying to set up an underworld overlay zone from Yu-Shan… but there’s not enough time for any major investigation at the moment! Maybe afterwards!”

(Zanjaras) “Hmm… Yu-Shan be with you, then.”

(Charles) “Well, thank you!”

There were thousands of last-minute checks to perform! He’d… have to delegate additional interruptions from now on for the most part!

And a very short session this time. Ah well!

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CC – Lazing About In The Sun

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…

(Luna) “Popcorn?”

(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.

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CXCIX – Divine Fixations

At the central pavilion Charles was still busily setting markers… it wasn’t CRITICAL, but having everyone in just the right place would make things just a bit easier – and every little bit would help! But… there was something in the way! A formidable figure of iron and jade, along with a servant trying to get his attention!

(Charles) “Urm… Can I help you while I’m getting the performers positions blocked out?”

(Lykenestes Mail-Splitter) “I would like to place an order for a Lesser Exaltation! It’s for my son Jascen!”

(Charles) “Hrm… Well, I do have some of my share of those left over; they aren’t usually something you just order though… why does he need one? Is something wrong?”

(Lykenestes, proudly) “It’s his twentieth birthday!”

(Charles) “Uhm… what would he DO with one? Do you know?”

(Lykenestes) “Why, serve mine and his mother’s interests! Serve as an aide, perform minor missions that don’t require our attention, assist his less-gifted siblings in battle… You know! Glorious things to serve Heaven!”

(Charles, thoughtfully) “And is that what HE wants?” (Checking Lykenestes essence level… he seemed to be a fairly minor sort – essence 4; reasonably potent, but certainly not a big deal in Heaven) “after all, you’re asking for him to be given a rank and abilities pretty much equivalent to yours. He’ll be entirely his own person then!”

(Lykenestes) “Of course it’s what he wants! It is what he has been raised to be-and goodness knows his mother is her own person! I know just how frustrating mortals can be!”

(Charles) “Well, if you want to send him to Aden for a bit… even if he’s not suited to one of the Lesser Exaltations, there are other possibilities – and I’m afraid that even Lesser Exaltations aren’t on the list of things you can simply order at the moment.”

(Lykenestes) “What?! This cannot stand! You can make anything!”

(Charles) “Not even I can make ANYTHING – but that isn’t really the question! Changing someone in such a fundamental way – even if it DIDN’T include bestowing quite a lot of power – is not always good for them. Will it hurt to give him some time to find himself before meddling?”

(Lykenestes) “No – but can’t you bottle time? How much of that can you bottle up?”

Charles had to think about that for a moment! It was possible to store up a little time to use later, or to modify the flow of time in an area – but there were major problems in pushing either too far. In practice, even with Solar Circle magic, you could squeeze in about (Bottler’s Essence) worth of combat actions before Creation engaged it’s OWN perfect defense against interacting with someone who didn’t follow the rules and dumped you into the deep wyld just like almost ANY realm did when you wouldn’t play nice with it! A Primordial with his, her, or its own time flow could get away with a time-flow differential – but pushing the multiplier or divider past about half their essence rating would risk causal disconnection from Creation, and there was no way of knowing where you might wind up; you might never get hooked up to the right Creation again… You could push it a BIT further in a properly-designed manse of course – at least if you wanted to go slower – but even with a manse-structure to buffer the effect you could get a leveling entropic flow or incursions from other temporal streams and zones…

Wait, that probably had little or nothing to do with what the guy really wanted! Was he just wanting to speed up the process of his kid finding himself? You couldn’t squeeze in any real amount of self-discovery, in any amount of time you could bottle, and it didn’t shorten the process any from your prospective… You really had to go out into the world for that sort of thing! Otherwise, every Solar would have just come up with a spell for that to make increasing Essence faster!

Was Lykenestes looking for an essence boost? A champion would be pretty good for that for a god… No… Malinda said that he wouldn’t mind an Essence boost, though he IS a god of forging and armor-piercing weaponry, and wouldn’t think to do it through petitions. A champion would be less direct, but would be the first thing he’d think of.

(Charles) “ Time… somewhat less than a minute for general purposes – but more is possible for more specific reasons and there are other ways. What do you need time for?”

(Lykenestes) “Oh, no, it’s for my son, to help find himself.”

(Charles) “Ah. THAT I can probably help with – but things are rather busy now. Can I set him up for an appointment in about two weeks? If it’s more urgent than that, or he’ll need sanctuary until then, or something like that I’ll need to know what the underlying problem is.”

(Lykenestes) “That’s not very long at all… very well, then! I shall arrange for his twentieth birthday party to be in Aden!”

(Charles) “Very well then! Parties are always fun!”

And the Hobbits and quite a few other Citizens and Guardians were quite pleased! Charles NEEDED to be attending more parties that DIDN’T have cosmic implications!

And that made it the turn of a duo of whirling spheres of flame and light to barge in! Right after Lykenestes left!

(Charles, making sure that the work was adequately covered even if HE wound up totally unable to do any of it…) “Er… Hi?”

(The Red One) “You cut in line! How dare you do that!”

(The Blue One) “How very sad this makes us! How are we supposed to rehearse with this nonsense happening?”

(Charles) “Well, I had the authority and more or less had to! Did you need a place to rehearse?”

(Duo) “We must do our dance of the Night Sky’s Joy, for the edification of the Carnival! It reveals the mysteries of Creation!”

(Blue One) “And the way our lights reflect in here is best suited to it!”

(Charles) “Would an exact physical duplicate do?”

(Red One) “You must let us practice in here, authority or not! Unless you can mimic the conditions PERFECTLY…”

(Charles) “That’s certainly doable!”

(Duo) “We shall be the judges of that!”

Charles had a small Chancel and a series of precisely duplicated venues set up in a side-tent, just in case anyone else was hacing the same problem. ue… in fact, a series of them, so anyone else with the same problem could handle it. One of the Balgrogs could organize it!

Then it was Gothmug reporting the that the Reininger Dragon-Blooded – the necromantic types – had sent someone to talk to him! (Although the conversion from necromantic Dragon-Blooded to normal Dragon-Blooded was progressing well – which was a good thing!) It looked to be one of the Half-Castes who hadn’t undergone the process yet. Other than the red hue of her skin, the wildly different essence-signature, and all the other giveaways, he’d never have known that she was any different than any other human in Victorian-era clothing.

Well, OK; it was pretty easy for him to spot. A lot of normal folks would have been fooled though!

(Edith) “Ah, you must be Aden. Mother and Father send their regards, and their gratitude.”

(Charles) “I hope that they’re doing well – and they’re quite welcome”

(Edith) “Well, I hope so… I’m not entirely certain about what they’ve requested.”

(Charles) “What’s that?”

(Edith) “Well, Aden… Mother would have you sneak Father and a squad of my relatives into Heaven. I wasn’t informed of WHY. She said it was confidential information… Is something the matter up there?”

(Charles) “Uhm… various things really! Did they say why or when? There are some spare tickets!”

(Edith) “I do know WHEN. Timing seemed very important on this one.”

Naturally enough, it was the day the Song of Creation was scheduled to begin.

(Charles) “Hm… Well, that’s easy enough; anyone can walk in on the days of the festival anyway!”

(Edith) “Festival? Oh, that’s right-there’s a legendary festival that’d take place that day. But… why wouldn’t Father just find a way in on his own? Why would he want to be smuggled in? Does he want to bring some weapons or surprise someone? (Shrugging) “I suppose it’s none of my business… oh yes. It was to a specific location, as well.”

(Charles, curiously) “Where?”

That… matched up with one of those Bronze Faction manses slated to be used for Project Stanewald… the central one. Nowhere’s near the Carnival of Meeting’s site in central Yu-Shan.

(Charles) “Hrm! Now that might be a problem… Although I suspect that a friend of mine will be there! I’ll have to check on a few things!”

(Edith) “I understand… I heard you had a Manse that was in contact with the Underworld. Shall I wait for you there?”

(Charles) “If you like! It’s over this way!”

He directed Edith there – and called Astrid. He’d have to check with her about that. At a guess she would be there, trying to keep someone (most likely Jorgenson) who had made Stanewald his life’s purpose from getting suicidal, and that this batch, with less information, wanted to stop any interference with the concert… He REALLY doubted that they wanted to see the universe blow up – and they might well be expecting a Deathlord (they had, after all, been in contact with at least one) to show up and try to use Stanewald to mess things up. They probably didn’t want to admit to HIM that they were willing to use violence to do it.

Astrid, was working on some sort of project with young Argentia and Vaal. Maela Tengu was there too – although last he’d heard she was down in Japan for safety. Well, if she felt safe in Yu-Shan again, why not? And… indigo Essence shimmered wildly about them!

Since they were busy he left a message – and got a response about fifteen minutes later.

(Astrid) “Whew. I’m exhausted… what did you need, Charles?”

Charles described the situation and the request.

(Astrid, thoughtfully) “Oh. I see. So the House of Reininger has gotten involved.” (Rubbing her temples) “I suppose this was inevitable.”

(Charles) “Well… it does basically involve the entire universe in the end. A lot of people will be taking an interest!”

(Astrid) “Hmm. There might be a personal motive in this, too. People would do a lot to protect their friends, even enter places where they’re not technically welcome.”

(Charles) “Oh dear. Well… Should I allow it?”

(Astrid) “Did you inform them about the Song of Creation? I’d like to know if they know about that first. Actually… better yet. Ask them if it means anything to them BEFORE you tell them anything about it, and watch their thoughts.”

(Charles) “Well, I’ve got a representative here… I think direct talks are in order! (To Edith) “Hrm… I think I’ll need to talk about this directly. Would that be all right?”

(Edith) “Has some concern arisen? I will see what I can arrange. Mother and Father were very ardent about this.”

(Charles) “Well… things will be very busy and quite complicated around that time, and extra factors… well, it could get very messy indeed!”

(Edith) “I see. Well, if you wish to talk with Father directly, I will see what I can do.”

(Charles) “I would appreciate it!”

That went on hold for a bit – and about a day later Charles noticed people looking at something behind him – and eventually looked himself, to see an enormous three-headed , two-tailed dragon. No one, not even most of the gods assembled at the pavilion, seemed to consider that to be much out of the ordinary though… .

He was also wearing a very silly hat, with all three heads crammed in!

(Charles) “Uhrm… King Ghidorah? Can I have your autograph?!!”

(Ghidorah) “Hrm?”

He shrugged and produced a pen and paper out of nowhere. Since he has no arms, he signed with one of his mouths!.. It… was about the quality you’d expect from that kind of manipulation.

(Charles) “Thank you! I’ve got tickets for you…”

(Ghidorah) “Hrm! Thank you very much! Demien sent me to see how progress was coming along!”

(Charles) “Quite well actually! Everything is ready, it’s just the final concert setup that needs taking care of!”

(Ghidorah) “Do you need me to drive these interlopers away? Your work must not be disturbed!”

(Charles) “Uhrm… which ones?”

(Ghidorah) “Well, there will probably be attempts! It’s likely to get confusing what with everyone who will be attending too… Shall I grow to my full grandeur and chase them away?”

(Charles) “Well… not unless someone really is interfering? If they’re just attending, that’s fine!”

(Ghidorah) “I will report that all is well, then, and stay here!”

(Charles) “And you’re quite welcome! Would you like some refreshments?”

(Ghidorah) “Of course!”

Charles made sure that there were enough for the entire crew AND King Ghidorah! He was probably a VERY big eater!

He was – and his table manners were atrocious. Oh well! So were Terapishim’s!

Still, it wasn’t all THAT long before his appointment with a centuries old necromantically tainted Terrestrial Exalt about his visit to Yu-Shan… Otto Reininger was civilly sipping some cognac in the Underworld Communication Manse and discussing distilling with one of the Halflings when he got there. Well, that was mostly fixed now! And privacy warding was already set up!

(Otto) “Ah, Charles. I believe you wanted to discuss the… visit.” (With a noticeable weight on that last word.)

(Charles) “Well, yes… It’s going to correspond with rather a LOT of delicate activity. (He will be passively open to pick up thoughts – but mostly be boosting the relevant skills for conversation and reading people). Have you heard of the Song of Creation?”

(Otto) “Some would say the entirety of life is a song, but I assume you mean a specific song?”

It looked like he really hadn’t – but he did seem to be expecting heavy opposition on this “visit.”

(Charles) “Yes indeed. Creation… must be renewed, or it will fall back into chaos – and there are far too many complicating factors already. If there is to be another… I must know what and why, so that I can compensate if that is required.”

(Otto) “I see… and what do you know about the Emperor of Coruscant? For – while he is not why I am here – he does have something to do with this.”

(Charles, sighing) “I know that he is extremely powerful, that he is almost certainly what was once known as a “Deathlord”, and that that he is ancient – and I know of many powers he is likely to possess . but I have few specific details.”

(Otto, very seriously) “Are you willing to accept help from a Deathlord, Charles? And… are you willing to keep that a secret?”

(Charles) “When the alternative is seeing Creation die, I have little choice about what help I will accept.”

(Otto) “Mmm… that’s more sensible than you’d hear in Heaven these days, or so my source says. Which brings me to why I was sneaking in, at least initially… that source will be in grave danger of dying. Now, that person has found ways of circumventing that fate, but there are those who would oppose their plans. This person is a loyal friend who was responsible for our introduction. You can understand why Sylvia and I would want to protect them.”

Charles could indeed.

(Otto) “We weren’t terribly surprised when the Emperor found out. What surprised us was that he SUPPORTED me infiltrating Heaven. He didn’t tell us what was happening, but that Creation was at stake. So… young man who does a convincing Primordial impersonation. What threat faces Creation this time?”

(Charles) “Hm… I must ask that you take oath not to reveal this information for another six days. If you can’t do that… I’ll have to leave out a lot.”

(Otto) “No doubt my source has… I thought the story had holes as big as the Memory itself. I shall do it.”

He got the usual oath and summary!

(Otto) “So… you intend to reshape Heaven itself-herself? Do you have any idea how big a beacon that is to Creation’s enemies?”

(Charles) “Well, it will most likely spread to a hundred or so additional worlds – but I do have a great deal of support at this point. And the Yozi’s seem to realize that they ‘re getting fixed up next, so they have no reason to interfere.”

(Otto) “You certainly are ambitious.. I do hope none of those nasty kaiju wreck your ritual.”

(Charles) “It kind of looks like there’s going to be a set of Kaiju battles during the concert I’m afraid.”

(Otto) “Or any of the OTHER Deathlords… or that it causes new Deathlords to arise. Oh dear! A good thing my children and I will be underground – though we will have to watch for digging kaiju. But you do have tickets. Would you mind if we used Aden as a staging ground while we wait?”

(Charles) “It’s ok! You can stay at the Citadel of Enlightenment; it’s got all the facilities.”

(Otto) “Ah… the school, correct? That would be perfect. We can shore up some of our tactics there. Unfortunately, I anticipate Sidereal resistance as well as Underworld resistance. (Sighing) I had hoped to reason with them, but my source tells me it’s futile.”

(Charles) “Well, some of the factions are all right and some are helping!”

(Otto) “That’s a relief. Could you get me in contact with one? I know I can trust him. He’s just… notorious for his wanderlust, you see!”

Ah, now that just HAD to be Jose with his Lacuna martial art! He… wasn’t one of the ones who’d taken the Oath, but he certainly seemed to know some things. He hadn’t seemed at all surprised to encounter him in Gauderis Athelstane for one.

Charles opened up a full audiovisual link!

(Jose) “What’s up, Charles? Whoa! Is that who I think it is? Guten tag, Lord Reininger… not as dead as I thought, I see.”

(Charles) “He wasn’t well for awhile! But I was wondering if I could discuss something with you – but you’d have to promise to keep quiet about it with other people for another six days!”

(Jose) “What’s that, Charles? Anything to do with your nana?”

(Charles) “In a way! But more related!”

(Jose) “Okay, shoot. I’m under several vows and curses about that anyway. What’s one more on my back?”

And there was yet another oathtaking and explaining.

(Jose) “Wait, but that means – oh, BOTHER.”

(Otto) “Yes… our mutual friend is in great danger.”

(Charles) “Needs fixing!”

(Both) “Yes!”

(Otto) “I won’t lose Creation, much less my greatest asset in Heaven.”

(Jose) “And… that explains why Astrid has been so evasive with me lately.”

(Charles) “Well, at least you can talk to her now!”

(Jose) “Thank the gods for that! Ergh… how am I going to fit in protection duty with all my other missions? The paperwork can wait yet again, but everything else… No, no… this overrides that. Your nana will be angry if Creation gets… whatever this going wrong would cause, Charles!”

(Charles) “Want to come aboard Mothra Leo for a bit? It’s very safe there! Even if Creation did collapse…”

He covered the various horrific results of failure again.

(Jose) “Yeah… I’ll bring Sailor. I’ll have to look this over – have Astrid help me out with it, and whoever else knows. Who else knows other than me and Otto? Oh yeah, and Astrid, since she’s in on this too…”

Charles shared the list. It wasn’t all THAT long, even if it did have some VIP’s on it, and the Celestial Lions, Tenders, and Overseers made up a fair chunk.

(Otto) “I see. My source was wise to get you involved… so these ‘Tenders’ and ‘Overseers’ are the maintenance system? Is there any way to let them know we’re coming? I wouldn’t want them to think we were invading.”

(Jose) “Yeah… and I’m not… special… but I don’t want them attacking me either.”

(Charles) “Oh easy enough… I’d better make a communications and coordination manse!”

(Jose) “Hah. He makes a Manse for everything. Best get used to it, Otto.”

Otto just shrugged and offered Jose some cognac.

(Charles) “I like manses!”

It WAS getting a bit too busy to make do without a communications center for the mission. Too many participants… He set up sealed unbreakable links, perfect privacy, etc – and it was much appreciated. It seemed fairly dangerous and Manse-links would save up on artifacts and have the usual more-motes side effect. Very handy when you were expecting combat.

Jose asked if those could be linked to someone on the fly.

(Charles) “Well, within a few minutes anyway! An immediate link is possible, but will be strictly temporary and more than a bit unstable with that much power passing through it.”

(Jose) “Hrm… how long would that last? Can you also do healing that way?”

(Charles) “Hm… With a spell a few minutes to an hour, with a prayer only a few seconds, but it’s automatic – and I can do some healing that way!”

(Jose) “Okay then… enough to bring somebody back from the brink of death?”

(Charles) “Well, they might still be injured! I’d have to send more treatments if they were REALLY badly hurt.

(Jose) “Good enough! I just want to be prepared for everything. Or as much of everything as I can, at least.”

(Charles) “That’s always a good thing!”

(Jose, far more gravely than was usual for him) “Yeah… I just hope all of us make it through this.”

(Charles) “Well… do you think you’ll need some other boosts?”

(Jose) “Not me, her.” (Pointing to Sailor) “I think it’s about time for those upgrades you two talked about. I know you don’t usually do weapons… but upgrade her armor and drives, maybe?”

(Charles, doing so) “If she likes!”

(Sailor) “Thank you very much, Charles. If Mr. Cisneros will have me fighting kaiju and Deathlords, I will need all the anti-shaping defenses and hardening I can get. May I have an Aden-link as well?”

(Charles) “Certainly! Do you do Thaumaturgy?”

(Sailor) “To a certain extent… I am trained in the Arts of Attack, Travel, and Warding, among others.”

(Charles) “Would you like an upgrade?”

(Sailor) “I would not refuse such an upgrade.”

Charles threw that in too.

(Sailor) “You are very much like THE Maker, Charles. I had heard you visited the Primal Forge; was there anything of interest inside?”

(Charles) “Lots and lots of very nice workshops, and some interesting machines and facilities… I did an analysis while I was there and duplicated a lot of the more interesting bits later! Not the Deva though!”

(Sailor) “I see. You must show me these after the current trouble ends… if we both survive.”

(Charles) “I will certainly try to arrange it!”

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CXCVIII – The Carousel of Worlds

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!

(Charles) “Allo!”

(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!”

(Tetzencol) “Hmph!”

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?”

(Charles) “Usually!”

(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!”

(Aikiko) “Huh…”

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…”

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!

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CXCV – Calibrating Chaos

OK, she’d been impatient what with the waste of her time, and had simply left the RPG club turned thaumaturgy class with her contact information, but Aikiko had to wonder… a compulsion artifact? That didn’t seem like Charles’s usual style at all. Had he been silly enough to – somehow – put artifact-bestowing on some sort of automatic system based on what people wanted? That WOULD be just like him! He’d never even think about the fact that quite a lot of people wanted things that they really should not have or which were more than a bit unethical… nerdish teenage boys wanting to catch some girls with little effort was just one of the more OBVIOUS cases.

At least none of the gamers had seemed at all violent; like most RPG clubbers they were intelligent, inclined to fantasy rather than activity, and a bit socially outcast.

Oh well. Arranging to get some film crews into Yu-Shan wasn’t that hard; it would be during the festival anyway. Now finding the last Guardian… that was turning into quite a project!

Meanwhile, Charles was calling ahead… He had a bunch of artifacts ready for Gauderis Athelstane. The sonorous geological grandeur of the primordial tongue echoed through space and time, whispering across the universe – carrying a message that wasn’t so grand at all.

(Charles) “Hi Again Grandmama! I’ve got most of your artifacts for you!”

After a considerable delay, and the vague sensation of that message being run through a lot of precautions…

(Gauderis) “And the others?”

(Charles) “Those are all ready! And the manses and things!”

(Gauderis) “Very well, child! I shall open up my defenses to let you in!”

(Charles, busily making sure that nothing snuck up on “grandmother” while there was a hole in her defenses) “Let me know when to come over!”

And with a faint shimmering of the Wyld, a portion of it resolved itself into one of Gauderis’s deva-towers.

Gothmug didn’t even need to say anything this time… Charles actually took a good look at it before heading in. It might have been someone being mean, whom he’d have had to make go away!

It did show her basalt-and-crimson theme of course, but Even Charles recognized that a color pattern wasn’t that hard to fake. Still, he sent Tsunami and Mothra Leo back inside once he was actually at the entry – another one of those tunnels with the razor arms crawling around.

(Charles) “Allo Razorcarls!”

The Razorcarls crawled over him, performed some analysis, and cheerily let him through. This time his grandfather’s deva-tower was open to him; the door slid aside when he approached and shut when he entered (Huh… he had to wonder; was using those same doors for heavy-duty entryways in Star Trek something conscious or unconscious? Or was it patterned after the Jadefolk, who’d lifted the concept of fortification from Her? Hard to say at this date!). Anyway, since his nana didn’t function on the fastest time scale, he’d have a few minutes even if she expected him more-or-less immediately. That was handy sometimes! He could drop by to see Gramps if he wasn’t busy with something! (Or, even if he was busy, if he was being attacked or something).

(Charles) “Is Grandpa in?”

One of the First Circles – an armored man carved of stone – pointed him upstairs; Gramps turned out to be upstairs in the study, which, while it was also basalt and Crimson, had a very classical selection of books and furniture. The ceiling provided a view of Creation, in all its distant, numinous splendor – although Charles suspected that that was much more useful before Creation expanded so much! Still, that was one reason that he’d brought along a very, VERY, powerful artifact telescope with autolocator functions!

(Charles) “Hi Grandpa! I finished up with armor for everyone, and a lot of other stuff! And for Great Grandma!”

Grandfather had been doing some doing some reading before Charles came in, but smiled benevolently when he saw him and got up to give him a big hug – which Charles happily returned.

(Charles) “I brought you some artifacts and things!”

(Richof) “Ah, Charles, my boy! I trust you had a productive trip, then!”

(Charles) “I’ve got pretty much everything ready!… Oh, and I got a pretty good self-updating map of the ley lines and energy flows for a few hundred billion light years around the Milky Way! You usually have to zoom in a lot though…”

(Richof) “Excellent… That should help me at work, though I suspect things will be VERY different soon… Ah, and is this telescope for me as well?”

(Charles) “It should update for that, although it may take a little while! And it is! And this stuff too…”
And there was much setting up of telescopes and donning of artifacts, especially the protective ones!

(Charles, helping) “They’re very good ones! And they include the wyld-based self-duplication-and-decide-which-one-was-“real” later on effect! That one was kind of tricky to get; I needed a lot of Raksha help to make that one!”

(Richof) “I assume the progenitor – your great-grandmother – is getting much the same?”

(Charles) “Yep! Hers interlocks with the rest though, so she can take care of it for everybody if she needs to!

(Richof, thoughtfully) “It’s a rare Exalt that would do such a thing for a Titan.”

(Charles) “Well, I don’t really see why… a lot of Exalts get pretty weird though!”

(Richof, looking a little sad for a moment, but then returning to smiling.) “So, tell me what you encountered out there!”

And there was lots of showing!

(Richof) “Hmm. It would seem Creation has affected even the Hannya! Aren’t those two from those video things? – Though, I must admit, they do make good predatory narratives.”

(Charles) “Well, sort of! But when they hang around near Creation… it’s narratives and imagery can be quite consistent, so it’s no big surprise that it echoes!”

(Richof) “Ah, it’s good that it has held up!”

(Charles) “Well… it does provide a common frame of reference so that everyone can interact!”

(Richof, thoughtfully puffing on his pipe) “And isn’t that grand… Even if it has persisted beyond its creators’ intended stay.” (Another puff) “What would you do if they came through? Your plan is grand, to be sure, but it IS possible.”

(Charles) “Say hello? After all… once the place is unbound from Yu-Shan, they can always just leave it behind!”

(Richof) “Even if they lash out at you, or Yu-Shan?”

(Charles) “Well, that’s what defenses are for… I’d have to try to find out why and make it better!”

Oh dear. The boy was so bound and determined to fix anything and everything. No matter if it wanted to kill him! Good character, but not necessarily the best at knowing what Yozis could do! At least… his inner world had gotten considerably bigger and more defined too. He might well be a primordial himself soon – or even now – but how would he fare against multiple Yozis? His defenses were very good though – and he’d done well so far in a dozen impossible situations. SOMEHOW all his random meandering was taking him just where he wanted to go.

He’d earned some trust.

(Richof) “I just hope you can protect everyone else if such a thing were to happen.”

(Charles) “I hope so! I have to go fix the Yozi’s next anyway.”

(Richof) “And good luck to you, my boy!”

(Charles) “Thank you!”

And it was off to see Great Grandmother – who once again greeted him in the form of her fetich (she wasn’t ready to show him the non-world one yet).

(Gauderis) “You came back, child! And… With many MORE powerful items within. And very quickly indeed…”

(Charles) “Allo! I got your artifacts ready! I’m sorry, but it turned out that I can only set it up so you can make a few dozen exalts not exist for you and vice-versa at any one time… There are lots of other defenses and self-duplication effects though!”

(Guaderis) “Humph. This is why one needs to have outriders, to see threats. Your grandfather is a quite capable outrider!”

(Charles, happily) “I brought him some more boosts too! And armor and stuff for all your Deva’s.”

(Guaderis) “And some for me to apply across my entire hierarchy, I see . . . You must have no fear of these being used against you.”

(Charles, rather blankly) “Should I? they’re almost all purely defensive of course… I suppose you could be hostile with the duplication, but it doesn’t seem to be your thing and they are made just for you!”

Ah… the child had no idea how dysfunctional the Primordial family was.

(Gauderis, sighing) “Not me, but some of your relatives are… Dysfunctional.”

(Charles) “It needs helping!”

And no doubt he was already planning on doing just that as soon as he was done with Yu-Shan. The child’s tactics adapted freely, but his overall strategy was completely predictable and he’d stated his goals often enough.  A pity that Yu-Shan was one of the few who wasn’t sick or corrupted! The others would be harder. She could hear him now. “Oh well, it needs doing!”

It wasn’t like she had any objections anyway; if they left, so could she!

What? Oh… the boy was “hugging” her again. Still so human – despite the fact that he’d… already developed or installed a set of poles, started to unify his essence flows, and was well on the way to transforming his “false” souls into real ones. With physical contact that was easy enough to feel! That left little doubt – but so FAST.

(Gauderis) “I wonder how soon your transcendence will be…”

(Charles) “Will it matter much?”

(Gauderis) “No, but it will be fascinating to have Richof report in on it. (Shaking her head) it won’t be very long at all, a mere few weeks.”

Or a mere few hours from her point of view.

(Charles) “Well, probably while I’m very busy… things tend to work like that!”

(Gauderis) “And thankfully not like the last one.”

What would the child expect? He was ALWAYS very busily rushing about at an insane speed! That was the only time that anything HAD to happen in!

(Charles) “Ooh! There was a last one?”

(Gauderis) “Humans… Such a short time to accomplish anything, or so you were made to think. And you are not even the first! You probably won’t even suck in any waypoints, with those means of powering it. You have more than enough as is!”

(Charles) “Well, I can always just generate some more!”

(Gauderis) “Now THAT I can appreciate! No energy wasted on theatrics!”

(Charles) “Too much to do for that!”

Gauderis looked rather proud (or at least provided a good simulation thereof), while Charles was pleased to see that she wasn’t upset that he hadn’t been able to simply let her opt out of dealing with the Exalted totally. Still, at least that meant that he could still visit!

Gauderis had never really expected him to find a way to do that even in part, much less to find a way to get some Ishvara to cooperate on it. Exalted were GOOD at finding ways in! She had witnessed some of that, even if it was fairly obvious that the days of massed attacks were long over. Being able to just “not exist” with respect to a couple of dozen Exalts should be quite enough – or so she hoped. It was certainly an improvement anyway.

The boy was obviously shaping extra time to do his shaping in; hopefully he wouldn’t accidentally put himself in a loop! That had been a big pain when his Uncle Oramus did it! It took even more time-shaping to fix, and it was all too likely that the kid wouldn’t know when to begin. They could find themselves with a bunch of him all too easily!

Regardless… She gave him the Spike of Pole Unbinding to give to Gaia.

It was surprisingly mundane looking: just a long, sharp piece of chilly iron – but it’s aura was frightfully powerful indeed! It was coruscating with the power of all five elements!

Back in Yu-Shan, Gaia was deep, deep underground, where the Heart of the Canals was – so Charles sent her a message that politely waited until she wasn’t busy. That took a couple of days – but Gaia sent an avatar to Aden after that time. A rare occurrence! Even Aden looked more vibrant and vital with the Emerald Mother present! She arrived at the Eternal Forest Pavilion in the Singing Forest; it was a bit regulated for her tastes, but Aden really didn’t have any “untamed wilderness” outside of a few manses for exploring and camping and training and such, which really didn’t count. Her presence made the area resonate to the wilds call of course – not strongly enough to revert to a wilder state, but things certainly FELT more untamed around her as the music grew substantially wilder and explored evolving new subthemes!

(Charles) “Hello! I got the Spike for you!”

(Gaia, who was pleased to see him!) “Good! I was worried she would let her paranoia get the better of her! That thing is no toy, and if you didn’t prove yourself, she would never part with it.”

(Charles) “A bit perhaps! But I made her some things!”

(Gaia) “Just like brother…”

(Charles) “It’s sort of what he does too I suppose!”

(Gaia) “Now I must go, and actually USE this.”

And she looked a bit worried.

(Charles) “Hm… I wonder if his illness makes him more inclined to consider things that might hurt him? Oh, there’s not a BIG rush… I’ve got to get the concert set up first! Oh! I don’t think you’ve seen the more recent plans? Things have gotten a long ways past just Wyld Stunting and hoping to maintain control!”

(Gaia, with much relief) “Oh, thank the shinma. There’s only so much even a Primordial can do with THAT.”

And Charles proceeded to show her the whole absurdly detailed and intricate mess, including the hundreds of major artifacts, the Song of Creation, and the rest.

Gaia did the primordial equivalent of blinking. Just how much was the child accelerating himself? Yes, Autochthon had mode… more elegant and sophisticated things, but he liked to leave enough time to think about what he was doing! Charles seemed to be barely allowing enough time between whimsical conception and shaping things into reality to figure out what he was actually making, much less to consider the ramifications and consequences. Was he really shaping things into existence before he’d actually finished deciding what he was making? That would explain some of his… odder… creations. Still, she might have started the avalanche – but he was still a monomaniacal Solar.

(Gaia) “You did this in HOW short a time?”

(Charles) “Uhm… Four months now I think… It needed doing! Oh, and on the Creation side… This is the manse network to stabilize things there….”

That was most ambitious! Even by Solar standards! None of them had ever sought to redesign redesign a primordial, much less by giving them multiple linked aspects that would vastly increase their versatility and redesigning Creation at the same time! Much less moved the feat so close to reality right under everyone else’s nose with… honesty, kindness, and random acts of benevolence. Perhaps there was more to the Raksha and their notions of “Karma” then she had ever given them credit for.

Charles was pleased! At least Gaia didn’t seem so worried now!

(Gaia) “Charles… Can you stop the energies from bleeding out of Yu-Shan? I don’t think Dumenza and his subselves can hold all that back!”

(Charles) “Well, at least some of the essence backflow will go out through the old and new gates – but there are manses on the other end, and a bunch of new planets to take the backwash! There should be plenty of margin!”

(Gaia) “Well, then. There will be more than enough happening that it shouldn’t matter! What are a few more energy reactions when we have a sister to save?”

(Charles) “It is pretty urgent, even if a bit of cleaning-up is likely to be needed afterwards!”

Oh the child had NO IDEA. There would be CLEANING. LOTS of CLEANING. Especially considering how many others were likely to get involved! It was pretty obvious that she had a much better idea of how much opposition was likely to pop up than Charles did! Power or no, he wasn’t even fifteen yet.

Still, he did have to beat out Stanewald – which she had NOT have known about and which was still ongoing, ever faster; the Sidereals were pushing their own schedules too!

Charles… had to go and make concert arrangements – and after that a LOT of people would need tickets! He might have to send another aspect to take care of that! Even if the Cauldron-Born would probably just pull thoroughly official original tickets out of the Wyld (who was he to complain? He’d pulled six originals of Luna’s writ out of the Wyld so that he’d have spares…), the time of Calibration, and the Carnival of Meeting, was coming close! Scheduling was tight even for him, and to get the right spot he’d need to be registering early. After all everyone in Heaven with any Performance skills of note wanted to play close to the festival grounds! It was a decent way to get a worshiper whose prayers actually meant something!

And Saturn HAD asked him to time the event to her annual competition with the Sun, too.

The best location would be the Central Gate Pavilion. At least violence was impossible (for most people anyway) for the duration of the festival… That was available on a limited basis, but you needed to keep paths clear for emergencies and for people going in and out. That was fine though! He wanted to divide up the seating to keep the various groups at least symbolically separate… Come to think of it, given the likely audience size, some space-warping to make more room was likely in order.

A good thing he had the Celestial Lions onboard for this! That would make getting through the bureaucratic maze easier! And it being festival time would make it easier for a lot of the guests to attend… Yu-Shan seemed to like having a wide variety of guests as long as they behaved! Even better… what with all the other things being set up, the odd people turning up, and the energies of calibration flowing around… it should make it easy to keep the initial setup quiet.

Charles double checked to make sure that Calibration wouldn’t call for any changes in the plans though!

Actually… When he added Calibration to the mix he got this weird feeling of approval. That was good!

He made sure to reserve spaces for major visitors. He had a feeling that some were likely to come! And for Mothra Leo on the roof! And for school friends, and museum scientists, and masons, and Raksha… Oh dear. It was going to require I AM to figure out the seating wouldn’t it? Especially since some of those seats would be for his opponents.

It wasn’t the first time that I AM had had to do this. The first age Solars had often been even harder to seat amicably, even with the need to set aside seating for Yozis and their third circles on this one.

Oh well! I AM had LOTS more experience and capacity than Charles, even if Charles had expanded his mind a lot. He didn’t argue!

I AM also wanted to what he wanted to do for concessions.

That… had never occurred to him! Some of the food gods would doubtless set up near any major event, but… He’d have to establish a manse-aura effect to handle basic drinks and snacks, invite the Cornucopia of All and Nine Grape and such to send Avatars and/or representatives, a Raksha table was definitely in order, and… well, as wide a variety of food as he could get!

Huh… Did Oramus do catering? It was obviously impossible for him, so he probably did! After all… he might be trapped in his own wings, but he was the avatar of doing impossible things and it was impossible for him to partially escape that trap, and therefore it would be something that he could do. Escaping totally was possible with the help of the Exalted, and thereby wasn’t something that he could do on his own.

Of course, by that logic, he was partially free already and doing weird stuff at whim… So asking about catering would be the quickest way to test! It was quite impossible for Oramus to hear and answer him without massive workings and potent magics… So he could just look at the nearest blank wall and ask!

(Charles) “Hm. Oramus? would you like to talk to me? I should be coming to help all of you out fairly soon!”

Insanely enough, what with solar-circle level wyld stunting, shaping, quasi-primordial powers, a thread of Nocturnal essence (which no one had known about to block), and kids being a part of Oramus’s mythos… that actually had a snowball’s chance of working. And as it happened…

(A wry, playful, but deep voice) “That took you long enough. I was worried you would never figure it out… You wouldn’t happen to have some quantum scissors, would you?”

(Charles) “I’d had the thought a few times, but I’ve been very busy!”

Would that be the third-rank lesser version quantum scissors or the major ones at rank five? The grand ones – beyond the ranking system – would be pretty hard to make!

(Charles) “Hm… I can try to make some! They sound complicated enough to take a little while though… I could whip up some Lesser Quantum Scissors for proof-of-concept pretty quickly though!”

(Oramus) “You really are a child, aren’t you? Oh, I’ve heard. You would fill the entire universe with quantum scissors if you thought it would help. But what happens when you run with quantum scissors?”

(Charles, thoughtfully) “Well, there’s a strong possibility that SOMETHING might get hurt or damaged! Or so I’d think anyway…”

(Oramus, with a lot of broken cackling) “The Divine Ignition! Thank you, I’m here forever!”

Charles was puzzled – but Quantum Scissors (whatever it was they did) were definitely going on the list!

And he got the feeling that something was knocking – not on the door, not even on the manse he was in… but on his soul… Which was, of course, also a world.

(Charles) “Anyway, it was obviously completely impossible for you to attend the concert and do catering, so I was wondering it that would happen? Although, to be fair, there are LOTS of things that are impossible and so you might do…”

He checked to see who it was – and there was an area near one of the Aden gates that was somehow a little fuzzier or more wyld-like than usual. It couldn’t actually be CHANGED that way of course, but – just like with Gaia – even perfect defenses didn’t block out alterations in FEEL.

Charles set up a manse area that overlapped to allow a sort of an “Embassy” effect.

(Oramus) “I see the door, and the door is open, but I can’t work the knob! Why can’t I work the knob?!” (Almost sobbing) “OF COURSE! I HAVE TO USE THE WINDOW!”

Charles consulted Malinda and some of the others! This was OLD crazy, and it was confusing him!

And in the embassy area he got the briefest glimpse of an enormous iridescent wing slamming up against something.

Hrm… Elsewhere contained at least Aleph-3 dimensions, and Oramus simply could not have transfinite power or he could not have been contained by finite means. Ergo, he had to be blocking himself in any realm he tried to access! Ergo, a Manse Gate could get in, but any attempt on his part to use it would be blocked off by his own power. Thus the wing. Ergo, he needed to give the gate a perfect defense against being blocked by Oramus during a moment when Oramus wasn’t trying to use it, and he’d be able to use it afterwards!

Well, in part. The portion of his energies that automatically tried to block him wouldn’t be able to pass, and so only a very limited portion of him would be able to come through. A third circle most likely, or perhaps two at the very most.

(Malinda) “Oh, goodness, dearie… Whatever those Solars did to bind him was at least equal to what you could do, and they were working together! This might take some more time to unseal him!”

(Charles, busily working) “Well… It should be much easier to give him a LITTLE access than breaking the binding entirely… Wait! Oramus governed the quantum probability-fans to maintain separate Creations…”

He asked Nox about quantum scissors effects. It rather sounded like a tool used to delimit the boundaries of the Creation-dimension anyway!

And… there was a mighty iridescent dragon, oscillating with the maddening energies of Possibility that even creatures of the Wyld could not handle without going mad! Perfect mental defenses were helping against that, but there was still a temptation to drop them to get a full appreciation of how he looked – and THAT was natural influence. His multiple wings were wrapped around him in fractal patterns that even Galieo was straining to handle… and he was weeping piteously.

(Charles) “What’s wrong? How can I help?”

And there was the voice of a young man in his head, familiar, but much clearer this time. He sounded like he was talking in his sleep.

(Nox) “Wow. It stinks seeing him cry like this… Still a good thing this is only affecting YOUR reality, kid. Otherwise Sunny would be on you like a ton of orichalcum.”

(Charles) “Well… I have a lot of compensating factors at least… What’s wrong with him? Or is it just being stuck that way?”

(Nox) “Eh, how’d you feel after fifty millennia of being stuck in yourself, when your whole self-conception is ‘I do the impossible’? With not even, say, a kindly old craftsman and some rash kid to give you an out? By the way? Thanks.”

(Charles) “Stress relief then! It may only be limited space to act in at the moment, but at least he can meet and talk to other people and such until I can get things straightened out more… And you’re welcome!”

(Nox) “It REALLY makes a difference, even if it’s just one being.”

(Charles) “Lots of things to fix!”

(Nox) “Ah well! One more Creation with me up and about very soon!”

(Charles) “Oh good! And the sanity-restoring manse construction has been moving right along too…”

(Nox) “Seriously, though, kid… Dad will wear on you if you just leave that open. And if you make the quantum scissors? 50/50 shot of you getting those to him in Malfeas. I’m figuring this out from him bursting out, of course . . . Can’t see in the King without his permission!”

(Charles) “Well… I can set it up to be a bit more isolated – and to automatically permit visitors minds to handle it safely. That way he can have lots of visitors, some influence on events outside, and even remote excursions without necessarily inducing madness in random passers-by. Would that do?”

(Nox) “With the way you’re warping Ayuji? Yeah. Don’t worry, you’re not hurting her! It just happens when she’s sharing reality-space with a Primordial!”

(Charles) “OK then! That should work nicely for the moment… And I can route in some events from history and the current time so that he can gossip with Yu-Shan; I suspect that the only thing that made HIM a “Yozi” was being so trapped.”

(Nox) “I think they’d like that. He always seemed sad about… You know, the whole sleep thing.”

(Charles, while busily setting things up) “Oh good!”

Oramus had been just staring blankly ahead while weeping, like he wasn’t really comprehending that someone was there- but now he was calming down. He still looked really freaked out!

(Oramus) “Is that really you, Gauderis Athelstane?”

(Charles) “That’s great-grandmother! I’m Charles! Unless she’s got a link set up… that would be sensible!”

What appeared to be a blue cabbage with tentacles had just materialized next to Oramus. Weirdly enough, Charles got the feeling that it was… what he’d been using as a Yu-Shan substitute. Oh dear. Things were going to get very crazy within this pocket reality interface weren’t they?

(Oramus) “Yu-Shan, do you hear that! We can finally escape, and I’ll never never let you eat strange objects again! But that would make that Possible. Hmm… Is that little Nox I sense? Bad Ayuji! You ate Nox! You know the Incarnae are off limits!”

(Nox) “Actually, it was more like… Eh, you know what, kid? I’m just going to let you deal with this mess! You can handle it!”

Well, he had to test sometime! Charles offered Oramus some of the yozi-sanity-restoring artifacts (one per Deva and one more) based on the Privacy Manse effects in the forms of a selection of impossible puzzles, to attune by solving! An opportunity that he could not resist even in the best of times, which these were not.

It did seem to help, even if it took time… There were millennia worth of insanity to work through after all! Still, anything to do other than escape was something. It was fortunate that Charles had persistent mental defenses, or it would have been quite disastrous. Still, Charles could easily devote a sub-aspect to it; he wouldn’t need his full concentration until Calibration…

Keeping the link open took up a not-insignificant amount of Aden’s processing… Not to mention attracting attention in Malfeas as Oramus thrashed around less. It was still a good thing to be doing! If not exactly a prudent one! Particularly since – as was true of quite a few Primordials – there was no record at all of Oramus actually doing anything objectionable. For the “grand villains of the universe, vanquished in glorious and righteous war”… there was little to no mention of them actually DOING anything except annoying Autochthon and MAYBE the occasional natural disaster equivalent, but it wasn’t like those didn’t happen anyway – and even more often when the Primordials were not around to keep things organized.

Well, Charles had always assumed that the winning side wrote the histories to make themselves look good – and events must have been DEEPLY ambiguous if a bunch of Solar writers couldn’t make themselves look totally righteous. Gramps had made sure that he’d learned to THINK about what he was read and told!

———————————————————————————————

Meanwhile, over at Toho Studios, Aikiko had pretty much blown her cover – and the air-aspected studio head and the rest of the senior management was wanting to know if Aikiko – who clearly had a much better idea of what was going on than they did, even if it WAS their movie monsters who were out and about – would be willing to be a part of their delegation to address the United Nations Security Council.

Of course half the delegates there were supernatural beings anyway, and most of the rest knew Thaumaturgy. After all, if you didn’t know THAT much you’d be lost at least half the time! Especially when it came to discussing how best to cover up the Raksha UFO’s!

(Aikiko) “Whoa… Well, I guess we’ve got no choice. I’m the one with the most experience on this, unless anyone else wants to speak up.”

(Morinopu/Forest Wind, the Studio Head) “Well, if giant Kaiju from our movies are going to be fighting over the fate of the Earth while stargates open up… there’s not a lot of point in hiding any longer! And if you can offer some explanation for it… we might as well send you to do the talking. It’s not like WE’VE got one.”

(Ariskari Mekan) “What, holding meetings without me?”

(Morinopu, sighing) “It was urgent, and we had no idea if you would come Sensai!”

(Ariskari) “What, you think that I would miss a meeting this important? The Kamikaze comes for the third time, this time across the greatest of seas, and the Gate will not hold against it. We must ride with it or we will surely fade into obscurity!”

There was a brief pause.

(Ariskari, sighing) “What, confused looks again? Many common fortune-tellers can see THAT much! Foresight may be clouded, but a warning of peril is hardly useless, even if you can see no quick and easy way to victory!”

Aikiko was considering… An Exalt she might be, and she’d been up to a lot in the past few years – but she was no politician and, as a teenager, might have a hard time impressing the Security Council. Ariskari obviously had a LOT of experience though – and was capable of impressing Dragonblooded. Clan enough to be called “Sensai”. Even if it was just age and experience, that might help a lot!

(Aikiko) “Sensai Ariskari? Would you consider talking to the Security Council as well? Your wisdom would surely be of great assistance!”

(Ariskari) “Are you sure that you are not just seeking to replace one crutch – the construct-servant you have taken from the great darkness – with another to aid you where it cannot? With training and discipline you should not need such things! Still, I suppose that you are still very young. I will be expecting rapid improvement though!”

Aikiko… was more than a bit taken aback! Of course he’d see Skoll that way – but the old guy was perceptive as hell, sharp as a razor, and obviously didn’t put up with much of any guff! And…. he wasn’t exactly wrong, although he probably never dived into interstellar beasties.

Not that she was going to open her mouth to say so.

And he was a hundred and eighteen years old? Even at his age… his stance was perfect, his confidence huge, and his reflexes better than most! He was obviously a bit weaker than he was at his prime, but there was still a fair amount of muscle under that wrinkled skin. A most irascible old man indeed!

And… a man who made her wonder what she could have been like if she hadn’t Exalted. Granted, he might well be one himself at that age, albeit possibly not of a type she recognized, and there might well have been an anima flare by now!

Although the details of his face were oddly hard to make out. Perhaps… a Sidereal who had dared to LIVE, rather than work all the time? A discreetly cloaked use of her perception excellency showed her… ambrosial… arch supports and compression stockings to help with very elderly feet and varicose veins. His cane was a minor artifact that provided unfailing balance and – as a stick – could be used with pretty much any martial art as a form weapon. He COULD be a well-connected Thaumaturgist of course – but those of his movies that she’d been able to track down often seemed to be teaching tools for very high end martial arts. Either a Sidereal playing hooky from the Bureau for some reason, a God doing the same, or a relative of either… With the difficulty of remembering the facial features and the fact that gods didn’t age… likely a Sidereal (although it would take a LONG time for a Sidereal to get THAT old) or Sidereal half-caste. Which made the whole discipline-and-training thing more understandable. Who would be more likely to put his faith in those things than somebody who knew just how badly people with more power than sense could mess things up?

Ouch. That probably described a painfully BIG chunk of Heavenly politics.

Still… hard to say without asking, and how to do so politely? Unless… He was wondering why she hadn’t asked already. She had just admitted to being involved with the supernatural.

His apparent age fit in well enough with 118 for a human. What little there was on him said that he’d looked abolut the same since he started making movies, shortly after Toho had built their studio-manse. His actual age was… Oh for Lytek’s sake! Very FEW people had protections against people determining how old they were! She could just check!

11,147 years old. And pretty much wearing an occult sign saying “Bug Off! I’m RETIRED!”

Erk! Now that was OLD. While even THAT wasn’t old enough for him to have seen the earlier ages without time-distortions or some such it was still quite old enough to have seen the earliest beginnings of the current human civilization.

She checked his Essence signature. She’d been assuming that he’d be hiding it – but at THAT age, why bother? Anyone who’d care, depending on what he is, would either be way out of his league, a possible worthy student, or someone to mess with.

An Elder Sidereal Exalt. Essence in the 8 to 10 range. And, obviously… not too much longer to go.

By the Incarnae… probably with all the longevity they could have. Probably Journeys – not that the distinction would mean much to HIM any longer! At THAT age he’d likely mastered every scripture, probably had ways of getting every Anima, and quite blatantly knew a LOT of martial arts! Even some of the old-type charm-cascade styles full of really weird stuff!

He’d likely pegged her style – and type – just from her own stance. She’d better stay on her best behavior with him, and maybe even use Skoll a bit less! It would be nice to get some of his knowledge before he died!

Come to think of it, he’d been recording all kinds of martial arts styles in his films – and had asked that she appear in some of them. That probably meant that she was in for some martial enlightenment whether she liked it or not!

————————————————————————————–

The Security Council. Who would have thought that she’d beat Charles to this? He was the one who liked to talk to people! Representatives of some of the most powerful nations on Earth – and these days that was no joke even for the Exalted. Humans these days… had LOTS of powerful weapons right up through nukes – and not a little power of their own, even if they mostly didn’t know it! Humans… were not so helpless any more!

(Chairman) “So; given your appearance here in response to our request, I take it that Toho Studios wishes to answer some of our questions? You do not seem to have been selected for bland denial, so it seems likely that you have some information to share with us.”

(Aikiko) “I can answer at least some of them.”

(Chairman) “Well then, perhaps it will be most efficient for you to provide a general outline? A barrage of uncoordinated questions seems inefficient.”

(Aikiko) “Where would you like me to begin? I know there’s a lot of weird stuff going on lately. What concerns the Council the most?”

(Chairman) “Most obviously… Stargates and Giant Monsters. Those may or may not be related – but it does seem likely that Toho knows something about the monsters; they seem to have been depicting them quite accurately for decades now.”

(Aikiko) “The Stargates? You mean from the ads pretty much everywhere? Yeah, those are real. A friend of mine is working on those.”

And there were various murmurs and much note-taking.

(Chairman) “So… in your own words… what is going on? And does it endanger the people of the world?”

(Aikiko) “Hmm… My friend, Charles, wants the universe to thrive with life. So he’s been constructing gates to other, habitable worlds out in space. They haven’t opened up yet. When they do, though, he and his creations will be there handing out supplies to anyone who wants to colonize space. He’s also been recruiting. I bet there’s multiple offices in New York City.”

(France) “So… your friend controls the resources to organize the colonization of seventy-two worlds by himself?”

(Aikiko) “To minimize potential complications my friend… has been terraforming those worlds from lifeless hunks of rock in otherwise uninhabited galaxies. Sending supplies to a few dozen worlds is probably trivial to him.”

(Chairman, with a censorious look at the French representative) “Your friend can terraform planets more or less to order? And he is concerning himself with the people of the Earth?

(Aikiko, sighing) “Charles is pretty much a living saint. All he thinks about is fixing things… And peanut butter.”

(Japanese Special Representative) “And the kaiju?”

(Aikiko) “Not him – well, except for Mothra Leo; I think he just made him to figure out what was going on with the others. Not Toho either. This group called the Cauldron-Born made them. Um… They’re a merger of fairies and powerful humans. Normally fairies want to eat your soul or your emotions, but I think the Cauldron-born just want a place in our universe.”

There was more muttering, and some unhappiness with the gibberish – but the United Kingdom representative spoke up; “Obviously there are rather a LOT of things going on – but there are at least two obvious things to do! First up… Ms Aikiko? Your “Friend” is apparently something quite incredible… Do you and the other two here possess some relevant special abilities? And is there some sort of history of all this we can look at?”

Aikiko looked at Morinopu and Ariskari… Were they OK with being outed? Oh of course they were! They were letting her act as spokesman and had already pretty much agreed just by coming along!

(Aikiko) “Well… He (nodding to the studio head) is attuned to the magical Essence of Air. He (indicating the director) is a master martial artist – and not just physical martial arts, but the kind that provide supernatural powers – and as knowledgeable about nearly every other discipline as anyone I know. I’m a skilled martial artist too… And I have my companion Skoll (as she called “him” forth). Now, if you want to know the history of the world before, here’s a download from the library in Aden, Charles’s… base.”

And the demonstrations, explanations, air effects, and bits of the WEIRDER Sidereal Martial Arts (teleportation-based, phasing based, elementally based, and more), went on for quite some time.

Aikiko found herself even MORE impressed with Ariskari! Even among the Sidereal Masters quite a few of those styles probably qualified as lost arts! Any ONE of those would be BEYOND handy!

Ariskari… was rather having fun! It had been some time since he’d actually had to USE most of his styles… Even the Sidereal Brotherhood hadn’t argued much when he’d decided to retire and make movies after more than ten thousand years of active service, even if he HAD had to arrange the construction of a manse capable of supporting such a project first.

They wound up taking the Security Council to visit Aden for a bit – after which Aikiko took the opportunity to get back to the tabloids.

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.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice CXCIII – Forging Chaos

Back in his workshop in Aden – another speciality factory-cathedral manse of course – Charles was considering. He WAS very good at artifacts, but for these he would need the assistance of a Raksha – and preferably one who’d originated out in chaos without his meddling rather than a Mardi Gras Raksha. A high power level would be best; proficiency in shaping went with that, although a reasonable level of sanity might or might not. It would be best if they actually were a reasonably skilled artificer, although knowing how to play the drums was obviously more important. Having some reasonably content (if heavily mutated) humans under their control would also be useful. It would help provide the link via a few prayers.

He asked Kierroth if he had any advice; it seemed like he’d be looking for an Entertainer / Worker noble, whether by notifying freeholds or by sending out a call – and it would be best to have something to offer the noble in return for such aid. He was sure that the price one of his peers would ask is going to be steep. Raksha don’t meddle with Primordials unless they’re certain they can get the better end of the deal. He had to admit that that was very likely with Charles though.

(Charles) “Well, I can make them some artifacts and things!”

That WAS his purview, and they did have benefits that fey treasures didn’t.

Still, he had books to read, geomantic artifacts to make (he still needed some of those for the Song of Creation)), manses to build (to expand Aden) – and, for that matter, various girls climbing into his bed.

Malinda kept saying that would lead to all kinds of complications, but nothing too odd had happened so far! Maybe she meant later?

It wasn’t long before the Balgrogs and Kickaha reported that he had some visitors aboard!

  • There was a mass of golden fire that had popped up in one of the concert halls and plucked the orchestra’s drums up into itself (It had a nice rhythm, though!.
  • A rather imposing looking avian lady had arrived at the Mardi Gras Manse.
  • And General Koiiyana (the rabbit-army guy whom Charles had met earlier) had responded to the message – although he hadn’t actually come aboard.

There might be more later; Charles hadn’t really explained much beyond the fact that he was making some high-end artifacts dealing with Wyld powers, and was willing to pay with more artifacts and/or immunity to calcification and the ability to respire in creation at a substantial rate, for a couple of day’s assistance (from individuals meeting thus-and-such requirements) in making them.

He went to see the golden fire with the drums first. Gothmug approved! The beat was not at all bad – although they had to be careful approaching that concert hall. The vibrations were making the ground rattle even outside, and golden light was spilling from the windows and doorways. It wasn’t much trouble for Charles and Gothmug – but it was quite a problem for nearby mortals and supernaturals without eye and ear protection.

And yes, that was an amorphous golden flame infused with rhythm and the beat, playing the entire drum section! That was some impressive drumming!

(Charles) “Hello there! That’s very good!”

He wasn’t sure about the humans – but the drums and power level seemed high enough, and he could always get the human input from someone else!)

(Drums, in Morse Code) “Are you the one who sent that message? You are very small and fleshy, but the drums are of fine enough quality.”

(Charles) “Yes I am! I’ll need about a day of your time to make things… What do you need in payment?”

(Drums, still in Morse) “I must spread the beat everywhere! Even into the things that cannot hear or feel!”

(Charles) “Hrm… EVERYWHERE is a bit large! To a really large audience then? If they remember it, they will produce secondary echoes for a very long time to come!”

It looked like… its definition of “audience” included the environment, too. Ideally, even the stones should dance!

(Charles) “How about a specialty manse for the performance? It can be an amplifier and have all kinds of music-related powers and share those with you everywhere!”

Drums found that awfully tempting – but held out long enough to get Charles to throw in some anti-silence measures (and the drums; they had a really good resonance and the sticks weren’t melting or shattering like a lot of them did). His flame-and-music assumption made silence effects quite awkward however interesting and fun it was!

Hm. Perhaps throw in “producing instruments” as a minor power?

Next up… it was General Koiiyana, the rabbit fellow! Charles had saved him a lot of trouble retrieving his brother’s birthday present – those rabbit-soldier poppets. He wasn’t in Kadia, but he had responded to Charles’s message. He wanted Charles to drop by and have a meeting!

Well, why not? It looked like… he was in the cabin of some craft, having his tea. He was very rabbity, as always. Charles brought along a selection of herbal teas with a randomizer so that which one would always be a surprise!

The craft… turned out to be a giant rabbit flying fortress, crewed by rabbit airmen and pilots a lot like the ones that Charles had returned to him!

(Koiiyana) “Ah, Aden! Thank you for replying… what a pleasant gift. I do like a good herbal tea.”

(Charles) “Ah good! And I like the flying fortress… Is it by any chance the Ether Bunny?”

(Koiiyana) “No no, the Moon Jumper. It’s my own design.” (Although he had an aide write that one down – and sank into thought)

(Charles) “Also good!”

(Koiiyana): “I was wanting to stretch myself a little. My Brother, President Noriishana, is back to being an Imperial Raksha thanks to you and is leaving me alone for the time being. Thus, no need to build vehicles to protect myself! Tell me a little more about this project of yours!”

(Charles) “Well… Fundamentally it’s a big repair project! But to make it work I need assistance from some very old powers indeed – so I want to make some artifacts to pay them for it!”

(Koiiyana) “Ah, maintenance! A chore to be sure, but not as much for one such as yourself. What are you repairing?”

Well it wasn’t much of a secret any more at this point!

(Charles) “Yu-Shan and some chunks of the universe!”

(Koiiyana) “The Celestial City… or the Celestial Plain? I’ve heard some bizarre things from the Unshaped, you know, and it’s a distinction.”

(Charles, happily) “Both!”

(Koiiyana) “Hmm…” (He leaned back in his seat) “You’re going to keep that Gallery of Captured Dreams in check, yes? One such as myself would no doubt get its attention. Its? She? He? I suppose it’s immaterial with devas.”

(Charles) “I think I might be able to get some of the people there free of it… And it kind of is!”

(Koiiyana) “Wouldn’t that be nice… hmm. I could loan you some of my troops and craft. The crew might not look it, but some of them were originally of human birth. You human born are so malleable without that divine power! And the craft… well, I’d need at least one to command from! I doubt your project will go unopposed, and the Plain is just like Creation for calcification!”

(Charles) “Well, that should work! And Immunity to Calcification and related menaces is part of the payment!”

(Koiiyana) “Hrm. You can do that… could you give it to Brother, too? If I had THAT, and he didn’t, it might cause another (cringing) incident.”

(Charles) “Certainly! But he’d either have to come to see me or wait until I dropped by to see him!”

(Koiiyana) “I suppose I could stall him. I warn you, though, he loves big tastes and big entrances, so be ready if you want him to visit!”

(Charles) “Thank you for the warning there!”

(Koiiyana) “And a nasty temper!”

(Charles) “Well… THAT can probably be managed if he wants something from me!”

(Koiiyana) “Yes… well, let me know when you need me and my men! And do get those Shapeless free!”

(Charles) “I shall see what I can do!”

And it was off to see the Avian figure! It was a rather stunning emu-like lady poking around in the Mardi Gras Manse, asking questions and examining the merchandise. She made Charles feel just a little funny again! Pesky Primordials, making the standards of beauty so universal! Still, for once having multiple aspects might prove a defense… If she got too distracting, he could always run on computer HERE for a bit and let some of the girls distract him from HER. Still, that wasn’t necessary at the moment…

(Charles, somewhat hesitantly) “Er… Hello?”

She looked up at him, and met his eyes – and the gaze was quite enthralling!

(Nimue, Radiance of the Heavens) “Hello. I am Nimue, Radiance of the Heavens… Are you the master of this place? You’re younger than I thought. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This place has a child’s imagination about it.”

(Charles) “Well yes! And I do like making things… Can I help you?”

(Nimue) “I had heard that you needed assistance with a project. You had some most fascinating requirements for it… what were you going to make?”

(Charles) “A few devices to tap some of the greater creative powers of the Wyld mostly – to empower solipsism and multipresence mostly!

(Nimue) “What a fascinating idea.” (Scooting in closer) “Surely you wouldn’t be using these on yourself? Especially the solipsism.”

Oh dear! She was being even more appealing now!

(Charles) “I might make a set for that too – but it’s somebody else that might need them!”

(Nimue) “Well, if you insist on making them… I can help you! I’m good at dealing with creative things.”

She casually adjusted a nearby musical note so that it played tones that you couldn’t normally hear in Creation.

(Nimue) “You don’t need to play the drums if you can do that.”

(Charles) “Well, the drums are more of a metaphysical requirement – but the creative abilities could really help! It should only take a day or two though. So… what were you looking for?”

(Nimue) “I would like some time with…” (She delicately touched his chest with a finger -and there was that funny feeling again) “you.”

(Charles, becoming more than a bit flustered) “Uhrrm… doing what?”

(Nimue, looking mildly disappointed for a moment) “Oh, all manner of things. In bed, even”

(Charles) “Er… blank checks are a little… worrying! Tell you what… if you’ll talk to Malinda about what you have in mind, I’m quite willing to accept her judgment on the matter.”

Malinda… was a little concerned about this one; whatever Nimue’s narrative was, she’d very much like a romantic involvement with Charles! She’d like a token of his affection, and sympathetic links weren’t good things to give out to fey! That was just WEIRD! Even if Nimue knew for sure what Charles was that would be worrisome – and if she was that willing to gamble on a mystery things might get very odd indeed! Still, there was no point in evading her; any stone or flower from Aden was as much a part of Charles as any link he could create (or you could just get some human to pray) – and she apparently wasn’t intending to use any horribly addictive charms or anything.

Secondarily… she wanted Charles to make her an artifact – although she didn’t much care what! It just had to be an artifact, made specifically for her. Charles would doubtless give her some extra defenses of course, but that was just Charles being Charles – and he made personalized artifacts for anyone who asked for them anyway.

Malinda approved, if rather reluctantly – and Nimue gave Charles a deep kiss. That left him pretty fuzzled! The girls who’d moved in on him weren’t so… weaponized!

The Chronicles Of Heavenly Artifice CXCII – Hassles with the Hannya

Back on Earth, Gri Fel and Terapishim had examined the maps of the upcoming “gates” – and the set of new, underground (and totally environmentally friendly) support-and-transport manses that had been installed in the hills around Arcosanti and linked to the city – and the concealed security-manses that would mark the earth terminus’s of the gates.

Arcosanti – or at least the massive-capacity transport and storage ring now placed about the city – was about to become the central nexus point for the trade and communications of twelve extrasolar planets. Had… had Charles KNOWN this? Was THAT why he’d wanted two fairly major gods for this position – including the old god of the biggest and most magical city in creation – and had provided a legion of material gods to help out?

Had he ARRANGED this? It was hard for them (and for not a few others…) to believe that Charles hadn’t had motives beyond charity for this!

To be fair, Charles probably wouldn’t have picked Arcosanti as a major nexus if Gri Fel and Terapishm hadn’t been there… Those positions had mostly gone to larger cities with existing transportation networks! But Gri Fel would like a major city and Terapishim would like more importance… and so they’ were getting what they wanted!

In an otherwise-unimportant school in Middle America, Dubai was finding out that his middle-eastern concubines – and two of his high school girls – were pregnant.

In the Middle East… Leon was finding that there were more fanatics needing to be turned into things than was at ALL reasonable!

Out beyond the borders of shaped existence, on the edge of the Deep Wyld (it hadn’t been much of a trip compared to making it to the Empirical Galaxy in the first place)… Charles was looking for Hannya. Perhaps foolishly, he had very little fear of the Unshaped. Of course, with protection from shaping, multiple aspects, unbreakable sanity due to his privacy manses, and multi-tracking, he really could handle most things.

Even if they “caught him” it would simply stall that aspect – and there were plenty of unclaimed waypoints to pass through. Or would that be missing the point?

The Tsunami spread through the Wyld, touching, evaluating, and discarding a hurricane wind of seething narrative fragments, it’s own form of Wyld-Seeking sifting shimmering fruits of exotic materials, essence-constructs, strange realities, and curious artifacts to ornament it’s fractal branches.

For Mothra Leo the sparkling essence of chaos curled away from his wings in a contrail of brief, twinkling, realities where his immutability momentarily gave stability to the wonders cast up (and normally dissipated again in instants) by the energies of the Wyld. Trailing a cascade of change and wonder He flitted through the narrative waypoints of the Deep Wyld at what would have been great speed in Creation,, represented in the Deep Wyld by the rapid fluctuation of existence around him. He was bound to run across some unshaped at some point!

And Charles… was considering!

Ooh! New colors! Wait… my brains only wired for a limited set; how can I perceive new colors if the automatic reshaping doesn’t affect me? Ah! It’s produced by a mental impression – a memory of incomprehensibility that cannot be described! Rather neat! It goes well with the new tastes, new smells, and new textures not of the existence he was born in. There were even spaces of sensory deprivation that worked much the same way, interwoven with great coils of ever-shifting elemental, Celestial, Exotic, and Primordial Essence – or at least with reasonable simulations thereof anyway.

Wait! Was that twelve impossible things? That meant that it was time for PANCAKES! With peanut butter and jelly rolled up in them!

Er… Where had THAT come from? Oh! The Wyld couldn’t alter him DIRECTLY – but it was feeding him sensory inputs and experiences that didn’t fit into any pattern at all. Of COURSE his brain was throwing up random thoughts and finding short-term apparent patterns that fell apart as soon as they formed! It was being subjected to a random stimulus! It was probably a bit like being drunk or drugged!

Booze for Primordials? Was Creation an… addiction treatment center? A cosmic drunk tank? Or just a drug-free zone?

GAH. BAD BRAIN! BAD! STOP THAT! He needed to keep his mind on what he was doing! You cold lose yourself FOREVER out here!… Was that why the Primordials original quest was so indefinite?

STOP THAT! FOCUS!

Wait, could he see new colors if the necessary interpretive neural network was set up on the adenic-manse network that was integrated into his mind?

FOCUS!

It got somewhat better with a little more practice. No WONDER people ran into Hannya! They had SOME sort of structure to immerse yourself in and that was what you’d be desperate for… unconscious Wyld-Questing in search of… random encounters.

Oh, that was just WRONG.

Did Hannya actually EXIST as something separate from the Unshaped Raksha, or was it just that Creation’s Raksha had gotten so used to elements of the world being stable that they were subject to wyld intoxication like a creature of creation was?

And then, after all THAT, there was something comparatively mundane. There was nothingness, then a shimmering in the waypoint of faux-Martian Essence, then, of all things, a heavy wooden locked and barred door, reinforced with metal. There was a face on the door, made of a black metal, that leered at him – but no apparent operating mechanism.

(Charles) “Allo! Since you’re not a featureless portal, that means that you can be opened! That’s good!”

(Face) “Allo! Are you another adventurer, come to brave the Donjon of Ineffable Menace? Hello, tree-adventurer!”

(Charles) “I think I’m more of a contractor, come to install some conveniences and new functions!”

(Face) “Whaa… you do not want to brave the dungeon, the horrible traps, and the adventurers inside for the treasure room?”

And he was being scanned! Rather extensively – and it was sizing up both HIM and everything inside of him… Well of COURSE an unshaped would be capable of that! It was like recognizing faces for a human…

(Charles) “I’ve got lots of room and treasures Mr Dread Portal! But I wanted to offer the Hannya some presents!”

(Face) “Ah, you wish to offer tribute! But I warn you, Mr. Rival Dungeon, the monsters, traps, and adventurers beyond will want to test your mettle! They are discerning of quality, you see!” (Leering more) “And you are full of tasty baubles indeed!”

(Charles) “Well, OK! I have lots of metals! Copper is really useful for mortals, and alloyed Illusium makes good stuff for shaped Raksha, and there’s always osmium, which makes great pens, and…” (he went on for some time. After all… indefinitely large quantities of metal were available).

The face licked it’s lips as it listened to that description! Charles was really making this easy by listing everything like that…

There was a familiar sensation of multiple sets of eyes (or the Hannya equivalent) on him – so he waved cheerily! After all… he had some artifacts to offer!

(Face) “Delicious. Why don’t you hook yourself up.”

If Charles had been more socially aware, he might have realized that the tone wasn’t exactly trustworthy! Still… he really wouldn’t have cared much.

(Charles) “Well, here’s an artifact for you! It will let you not be here to get past if adventurers are too powerful! It does only work as long as you stay reasonably friendly with Creation and I though!”?

(Face) “What, you mean shaped reality? That really hurts! And then there’s that ring around it that grows all these defenses…”

(Charles) “Well, you don’t need to go there – and with this you won’t have to be available when anything bothersome comes out of it!

Hmm… there was someone in Aden, skulking around near some of the mines… That really was to be expected! He provided a coupon book! After all, the mines were more theoretical than anything else…

The humanoid figure in dark leather armor (carrying a big bag and ludicrously stylized daggers) was quite surprised. The Donjon of Ineffable Menace was surprised too – mostly because Charles had neither begun smiting, Wyld-questing, or running. That was the usual reaction to hannya! Not… providing intruding emanations nice luncheons (with peanut butter cups for dessert) from hobbit inns.

The Emanation wandered off towards the inn, snagging trees, rocks, grass, and other stuff and sticking it into his bag along the way – pretty much all of which promptly restored itself in one way or another, which was apparently very frustrating for him! He seemed to be quite the kleptomaniac… As he reached one of the hobbit villages he started extending his efforts to roads, fences, idyllic hobbit-holes, and hobbit children – although Charles quietly took away all the non-plant living things that he tried to stick in the bag.

(Emanation, puzzedly) “Peanut butter?…”

(Face, meanwhile) “You smell kind of like that ring, you know!”

(Charles) “Well, there is some resemblance!”

(Face) “Not enough to hurt, somehow. Must be all that Wyld Essence in you… why don’t you come in”

(Charles, wandering on in) “OK!”

The door opened up into a red-hot corridor just wide enough for a single human-sized creature.

Charles pretty much ignored the heat. He was pretty well protected! It was sad Tsunami had to go back inside though. Fortunately, Mothra Leo could just shrink down and ride on his shoulder.

The corridor was full of twisty little turns, all alike!

Charles simply strolled along cheerily, with harmonica – until, as he rounded a corner, something clicked behind him. A rolling sound started following him, rapidly increasing in pace, even as the heat grew – and he continued blithely onwards.

Eventually he did look back.

(Charles) “Ooh! A giant rolling ball! I always wanted one of those!”

Unfortunately it turned out to be impossible to simply take that one to put in a temple somewhere, and install an upgraded one, with homing system and accelerator! (which, would, of course, have gone around him somehow). This giant red hot rolling ball had a great big glowering face on it! It was pulsing with the energies of a shaping attack intended to snatch one of HIS waypoints!

Pie time!

(Charles) “Would you like something? I’m not sure I have anything ready for giant rolling balls; could you give me a clue here”?

The ball opened it’s mouth most menacingly – so Charles gave it delicious pie! If it didn’t give up… he could launch a staff-shaping attack to make it enjoy pie!

He did indeed have to resort to staff-shaping attacks, and it had a prefect defense – but Charles was a great deal more mote-efficient, and had a lot more motes anyway. He could just spam it until is succumbed since it WAS insisting.

Meanwhile, Mr. Big Bag / Larry Craft, Dungeon Raider – seemed to be scouting out Aden and grabbing stuff. He’d figured out that living things were a no-go though. He couldn’t find much of anything in the way of traps either, unless it was eating too much and getting fat…

Back in the Dungeon, the chase through super-heated tunnels, attacks by hordes of fiery goblins, and tripping of all manner of traps, ended with the ball enjoying a tasty pie.

(Charles) “Do you need anything?

(Ball) “I can pop out spikes if I want to, and go all superhot, and… okay, I can’t make pie.”

(Charles) “Would you like to be able to make pie?”

(Ball) “Pie is yummy now! But I’m supposed to snatch away some of your waypoints and make the dungeon bigger!”

(Charles) “Would you like some extra waypoints? They can come in convenient chancel form!”

(Ball) “Ooh! You’re just going to give me waypoints? But it’s no fun if you just give the dungeon waypoints! You can’t savor them that way!”

(Charles) “Oh… Well… maybe if they’re already dungeon-flavored”?

(Face) “Can they fight back”

(Charles) “Why not?”

The ball got a highly combative chancel, full of monsters and a boss! Distracting it enough for Charles to make his dramatic escape!

Or at least to wander off. He did feel a tingle; the dungeon, as focused through Mr. Larry Craft, was trying to analyze his interior fully! Charles wished it good luck with that! The Sidereals hadn’t been able to (much to their geomancers frustration), and they had made a pretty big effort! Still, a hannya had more familiarity with multi-bodied beings structure, and – as the effect was dancing along Aden’s dragon lines – it tickled with greed!

Charles offered the analytic spells some nifty artifacts – with the usual contingent effects! After all, if it just wanted to use them without side effects… all it had to do was wander away from Creation and not go out of it’s way to direct hostile creatures of the Wyld back to it. And if it wanted to stick around and protect Creation the benefits were even better! Besides… he didn’t mind being scanned a bit. All the really private areas were behind perfect privacy defenses anyway – although those were noted!

(Charles) “Could I just talk to everybody? I’m not really wyld-questing against you…”

Suddenly the ball got an odd expression on its face.

(Ball) “Um . . . they’re not available right now!”

It… seemed mildly concerned, actually!

(Charles) “Huh… is somebody following me and wyld-questing against you”

(Ball) “Err . . . everything is fine!”

(Charles) “You’re sure? I could make you a tailored artifact to help out!”

(Ball) “I can point you in their direction! They’re really busy though!”

(Charles) “That should work!”

The dungeon shifted with a loud rumbling, as the corridors straightened out. Way off on the other end he heard… gunfire and explosions.

Charles headed that way fairly quickly. Was another unshaped raiding this one?

At the end of the corridor the explosions and gunfire became louder, and he could hear loud shouting. There was light here, too., and beyond it… an open field. There was a small river flowing up ahead, and a bridge. On HIS side of the bridge, there was a fiery fortress with ominous faces lining the walls. They were much like the one on the initial door. There was also a small medieval style farmstead. On the other side, there was another fortress, although it was much more modern in construction, with turrets and spotlights – although it also had a farmstead, albeit a far more modern one. The essence felt different over that way.

(Charles) “Allo!”

Currently… there was a fight going on the bridge. A humanoid figure in black iron armor with fire bursting from it was engaging a soldier in modern body armor, wielding a machine gun! They both had military forces engaging each other too. It looked like… more soldiers on the modern side, and goblins for the knight. Bullets and ballista bolts alike were flying!

(Charles) “Erm… Am I interrupting something?” (Extra Loudly) I have tea and biscuits! Intermission!”

Unfortunately, the Black Knight and the Soldier were too busy fighting each other to listen to him. The Sword was strong with those two! The armies, however, were much lesser raksha tied to the emanations – and were more than willing to take a break. It looked like the Dungeon was having a territorial war with anither Hannya.

Charles sighed – and put a barrier between them for a moment anyway.

(Charles) “Excuse me! It’s break time!”

The two combatants found the barrier very annoying, as bullets and greatswords alike deflected off of it!

(Soldier) “Do you Primordials have to meddle in EVERYTHING?!”

(Charles) “Uhm… it’s only for a little bit, and since I found the way in first, it IS sort of my turn!”

(Knight) “Ooh, he has big innards…”

(Soldier) “And a tasty narrative of generosity.”

(Knight) “A little unsatisfying over the long term, but not bad for a snack.”

(Charles) “Well, I need a couple of favors – nothing major, or even specified, since all they have to be is solidified favors – and I can trade artifacts and waypoints and things! And that will give you extra prizes to fight over!”

(Soldier) “He DOES have big innards! Rip and tear!”

(Charles, after a moments consideration) “You do realize that that won’t work? Comeon! You’re a soldier! Strategy, Tactics! (He started rummaging in his pack) “I have some here somewhere…”

(Soldier, sighing) “I was joking… you’ve got protection against that. I’d have to send in the engineers. And even then… they’d have to be subtle about it and you’ve got anti-shaping up the keister. Sort of like those things the dead place keeps popping out sometimes.”

(Knight) “Ugh, I hate those. Not even good eating.”

(Charles) “Well, there is a relationship really, but I do get along with Chaos a lot better!”

(Soldier) “And they always have lots of demons, too.”

(Soldier) “Hey, can you do something about those? You seem to be related. Can’t you talk them into NOT eating everything”

Hm… The yozi’s?

(Knight) “Or lobotomizing us and using us as pack dogs.”

(Charles) “That’s not at all nice! I’ll make some artifacts to keep that from happening…”

(Soldier) “No, no! This roving book eater I assimilated had stories about the creators of the dead place getting maimed. You’re… like them, but not. THESE things are also that way, but . . . trust me, they’re not like you either.”

(Charles) “Hm… I bet they keep the same set of forms all the time… what do they look like? It could be Deathlords, lost neverborn souls, or a lot of things!”

(Knight, pulling a tankard of ale out of nowhere) “Same form as you, but USUALLY older. Some of them have mutations like the Shaped of old. Oi, Piercer, you fox, what did that one doing the eating look like”

(Soldier) “That depended . . . either an older humanoid woman or a collection of spheres. It was hell getting into her world-body! And that place was a jungle of poisons that ate everything. General sent in Skimmer and the cavalry and she didn’t come out, despite the flamethrower and the grenades.”

(Knight) “I wondered why she wasn’t on the assault.”

(Charles, once again clearing several conclusions and likely going entirely wrong with a single mighty jump) “Hm… Could be Deathlords! They don’t have direct internal access to chaos, and so – to build a tomb-body… they’d have to come out here and swipe waypoints to incorporate! They may not be able to truly create either, which could limit their shaping so that they’d need some preset themes. Were they picky about what waypoints they took?

(Soldier) “Pretty picky – seemed to be going for ones without any construction on them. General complained about it.”

(Charles) “Were they styled? You know… haunted forest, plains and mountains, or whatever?”

(Soldier) “The engineers were making them plains. Don’t know about haunted-that’s usually not good for digestion.”

(Charles) “Well, it would just be styling… Still, I guess that wouldn’t be required!”

(Soldier) “Took the engineers too… they walked off in this labyrinth pattern.”

(Charles) “Ah! That would handle it… just control THEM to give it structure… it wouldn’t be quite the old labyrinth – the power levels would be lower, even if it incorporated a demesne – but you could make it RESEMBLE the old labyrinth to any degree desired, and it would be effective as long as you were inside…”

(Knight) “What IS he talking about”

(Soldier) “The creators who weren’t maimed died.”

(Knight) “Oh. Well, not going to cry for them.”

(Soldier) “They want to eat us.”

(Knight) “OH.”

(Charles) “Well, not exactly! The main part of the dead creators mostly went off to remake themselves and do something else! The Deathlords are sort of their creations after death. They were originally a way to try to get revenge on EVERYBODY, but the ones who currently possess that power have much more varied objectives… they’re still stuck being more or less dead though!”

(Soldier) “Dead, and not good eating!”

(Charles) “And probably well protected from it anyway!”

(Soldier) “Found that one out the hard way.”

(Charles) “Well, I could make something that lets you automatically slide a few hundred waypoints away whenever one of them comes close. At least that way they won’t be bothering YOU. There will always be other people for them to bother no matter what I do though.”

(Knight) “Do we really care as long as it’s not us”

(Soldier) “Huh. We actually agree on something!”

(Charles) “Would that be worth a favor?”

(Knight) “Depends on the favor! What were you wanting? Your own army? A big castle with walls that can’t be eaten”

(Charles) “Oh, it would be a charm activation of an unspecified but possible charm that you might in theory know! But it doesn’t need to actually be defined as anything in particular, so that can just be manifested with a few motes. That shouldn’t really cost you anything as far as I know. I just need a few to make more artifacts!”

(Knight) “Hah! As long as it’s nothing too complex, sure!”

(Charles) “It doesn’t have to be anything in particular really!”

Charles cheerily traded various artifacts for a selection of… hm. Raksha promissory notes? Materialized reputation points? Odd sparkling crystals of no apparent function?

Ah! Materialized achievement points from the soldier, and sparkling crystals from the knight that he referred to as “XP.” That worked!

HE provided various various artifacts that would (1) be protective, and (2) probably make them the terrors of the Hanya world! (But so be it! Random terrors of the Wyld… wouldn’t really change anything. Really, “look, in the infinite random chaos you found something marginally more dangerous than the average of complete randomness! How shocking!” It might be a problem later – but almost ANYTHING might be a problem later!

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice CXC – Waiting For Godot

And to continue with Aikiko…

A little research was easy enough… The train had been crossing Wolvertons Gorge in Colorado, headed for it’s next stop in Fort Collins. It had consisted of several passenger cars and an assortment of freight cars. The manifest listed… a selection of assorted exotic reagents for a research project at Colorado State University (a set of sealed crates, not individually described except for being noted as minimally hazardous, originating from a defense department laboratory), a selection of Indian relics reclaimed by a lawsuit being returned to the tribes to be reburied in rifled tribal graves (any supernatural importance was not, sadly, listed on the computer manifest for the train), several crates of old-style rifles (reproductions of early military rifles, from the Indian Wars period) for a re-enactment group, biological samples (sealed, not otherwise identified), and gold-veined black facade marble for some fancy building. It was supposed to be picking up… microbrews, refined silver, computers, solar panels, and waterproof smartphone cases. A solid majority of the passengers were university-related or escorting freight. It looked like… most people with money opted to fly in. No surprise there, it was a long hot trip on a train.

Well… the mine was going to be a minor shadowland – and she wasn’t all THAT well equipped for investigations in the underworld. Tracing the essence-users who’d tried to stop it would be a good trick given how little there was to go on. Next stop… Fort Collins, and some supernatural detection effects.

Fort Collins was a rather interesting place! She picked up a bicycle at the Bicycle Library – which was fine with an untraceable cash deposit (well within her current means) and provided a local GPS locator/map. Even better, the city was EXTREMELY bicycle-friendly! Very convenient! And really quite lovely!

So… the reagents might be tricky to check on if they were already at the laboratory – which was likely; there’d be no reason to delay delivery. What else was there around the place?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology time signal transmitters WWV and WWVB were nearby, as was the Roosevelt National Forest – and the Poudre Valley Hospital (that she hopefully would not need) provided a regional health care center.

Well, that was interesting, although likely less than vital.

The city itself hosted… the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation, the Human Genome Project, an Atmospheric Chemistry and Aerosol Laboratory, the Vectorbourne Illness Laboratory of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a USDA Seed Lab Storage facility, Headquarters for SCUBA Schools International (SSI), a National Wildlife Research Center, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Western Regional Headquarters, and the University of Colorado.

Hm… those reagents had been addressed to the department of physics and chemistry, Professor Marnot – the Nanosecond Imaging Project.

Well, that shouldn’t be TOO bad to sneak into. Scientists tended to be more than a bit focused on their work, rather than on looking for possible magical spies.

Besides, that sounded intriguing… it was supposed to be imaging rapid chemical reactions mixed with neuroscience; they were trying to chart the activity of neural networks fast enough to trace the actual pathways involved in image-recognition and such to see how the brain actually worked. That would be worth a look even if she HADN’T had some business with the place!

The laboratory had a security guard – but it was one rather bored man, who spent most of his time directing wandering new students to the correct buildings. After all… few people really CARED all that much about this stuff! Easily Overlooked Presence Method it was, then, with the old clipboard and labcoat trick.

And the odds of someone being up to something had just gone WAY up! There was a well-concealed ward! Thaumaturgy, against detection – and according to the Coatl and Skoll it functioned… by diverting probes directed at the current building to an older version of the lab, torn down in 1928 but still existent in the underworld. That neatly provided results, and some reasonable-looking information, and even some activity – but concealed what was currently going on very nicely indeed! Someone… was quite clever! If she hadn’t walked through it while running essence-senses, she might never have noticed it; from just a few feet away, you just got the impression of some decrepit old-fashioned scientific types puttering around in a lab.

What was so important here as to require concealment like that?

Inside… there was a hell of a lot of complicated equipment, not to mention lots of samples of brain tissue. At the moment, a couple of researchers and some grad students were busily turning their equipment to the atomic-clock tick from the NIST transmitters to achieve the precision they needed for plotting thoughts moving through the brain!

Checking on the more detailed delivery manifest and looking things over with her (cloaked) investigative excellencies… It looked like about half the reagents were tissue-dyes, bioluminescent compounds, enzymes, and so on – used to make the reactions of the tissue more easily detected. The other half… were going into a graduate students lab, and were MUCH stranger stuff! Adrenaline, graveyard mold dust imbued with temporal energies, blood (greatly enriched with iron and apparently a mixture from many donors), neurotransmitters, ATP suspension, bone dust, and waters of lethe… Was somebody trying to raise the dead, or make their own Frankenstein? Didn’t they read their Mary Shelley? Or watch any of the movies? At least other than Young Frankenstein?

Wait, you could ORDER Waters of Lethe and the rest of that stuff as a part of a shipment of scientific reagents from the DEFENSE DEPARTMENT, and LIST THEM ON THE MANIFEST (even if it WAS the detailed one in the box rather than the public one), and no one paid attention? The Masons and thaumaturgical underground had to be a whole heck of a lot more active than she had EVER believed.

Of course… her FATHER had regularly dealt with magic, there were all those psychic power experiments the CIA was supposed to have run, psychic hotlines, astrology was a big business… Was the only thing keeping magic undercover a cultural assumption that getting involved with it – or just paying too much attention to it – was bad?

Which – for most mortals – was ALSO true.

Heh. So the Underworld and blood magic based assaults of WWII had simply left most of humanity unconsciously aware that even paying too much attention to the magical stuff was the equivalent of standing in a metallic bucket of water, wetting your finger, and sticking it into a powered-up light socket. No wonder so much stuff was just casually ignored. If you didn’t look at it, it might go away and leave you in peace! You saw it every day with people just… avoiding eye contact and going around “crazy” people on the street.

Blast it! It was just like YU-SHAN! She could probably stand on a streetcorner blazing with supernatural power and throwing explosions into the sky, and all she’d get would be a citation for illegal fireworks and creating a disturbance and some attention from the cranks who were too crazy to leave it alone! No wonder the Terrestrials were managing to cover things up… most of the population was quietly cooperating with them whether they knew it or not!

It looked like THAT lab was unusually magically active too – which was no surprise – but it was also Warded – this time against supernatural entities and with an alarm. Some very nice work there – but she had to admit that she counted as a supernatural entity. It was going to be tricky to disable it without triggering the alarm though. Still, she had Adenic Thaumaturgy and her Coatl (who had it too) to assist her…

It was still tricky – the caster was GOOD and she was well out of her specialties – but she managed to get rid of the alarm without triggering it eventually. After that, taking down the ward itself was fairly simple!

Even if it did require a lot of dice and bonus successes.

The laboratory looked normal enough visually. On the essence-side… it was actually functioning as a midrange manse, and had several areas available that didn’t exist for ordinary folk. Weirdly enough… Air Aspected. Not at ALL what she might have expected! Especially given those ingredients!

She kept a careful eye out. After all, at this point, any resistance was likely to be supernatural, and therefore not wanting this place exposed.

The obvious centerpiece of the main area that did not exist in normal space was a complex piece of electronic apparatus. It was surrounded by forty-six strange sculptures, apparently made of gold-plated platinum, each about three feet high and covered with countless tiny symbols that she needed to have Skoll turn up the magnification to make out. Twenty-two of them were paired, but there were two unique ones. They made up the outer border of a magical circle laid out on the floor. There was a minor artifact nearby – a perpetual power cell.

Hm. Some Sidereals used those in their cell phones and such – but this one was a good deal bigger and more powerful. It was also… connected to a dozen smartphones, each of which was sitting on a zodiac symbol in the inner part of the circle. There was another power cell for the mechanism in the center.

OK. This was WEIRD. The Smartphones seemed to be very minor (essentially merely being nigh-indestructible) artifacts in themselves, but were all basically just Samsung Galaxy Smartphones and components of the greater system. The mechanism at the center was pretty odd too; a sort of a sphere with crystal tubes sticking out all over it, a port showing an internal mechanism, and various wires. Part of it appeared to be a clock display too – and that might be some radio circuitry in there.

The clock display was digital – with rather a LOT of decimal places – and was mounted on a few support struts and some wires. It currently showed… “10.04.2014:03.14.12 – with another eighteen or so decimal places which were changing REALLY fast. Presuming that it was right… her watch was a couple of minutes off. It was counting up of course, the last eighteen digits or so too fast to see, and the one that seemed to be seconds at… one second per second.

OK, if this was all a project of some obsessive timekeeper trying to compare time in the Underworld to time in Creation or something, she was going to laugh SO hard.

According to various detection effects and her excellencies… the output… imposed some sort of essence-signal on radio waves that broadcast from the central mechanism and through the cell phones. Part of that modulation – the fine-tuning – came from the weird statues. The actual effect wasn’t yet in place – but seemed to involve some of those reagents and something to do with time.

Was that going faster around here? Then why match her watch reasonably well at all? And why would you need such precision?

Wait a moment… the Samsung Galaxy… Hadn’t Charles somehow given those things limitless range… A time standard for the universe perhaps?

The “Obsessive Timekeeper” theory was looking better and better, if it wasn’t just someone trying to study that effect. Looking for lag across the light years maybe? Trying to communicate with aliens? E.T. Phone Home? Nah… no need for the clock function with either of those.

Come to think of it, with this manse setup… was she even still ON Earth?

Ah. Yes and no. She was on the borders of the underworld – although not in it. Sort of between life and death. A shadowland of sorts. No wonder the place looked a bit old-fashioned – although that machine certainly looked up-to-date. The grad student probably wasn’t a ghost then.

Time for some deep analysis.

Traces of Wyld Thaumaturgy and Abyssal Energies. Some Necromancy. Also Energetics and Enchantment. Another Cauldron-Born? Well, she couldn’t blame an Abyssal for accepting Demien’s offer, although that HAD to have some awkward side effects.

No… it was just wyld thaumaturgy, not wyld charms. Still, someone was DEFINITELY fooling around with some oddities!

As for the sculptures… twenty-two paired, and two unique ones. All abstract spirals. The two that didn’t match looked rather like a cross and a an upside-down “Y”. Some kind of antenna? They did seem to have something to do with tuning. They were covered with tiny symbols though – somewhat stylized groups of letters: ALA, CYS, ASP, GLU, PHE, GLY, HIS, ILE, LYS, LEU, MET, ASN, PRO, GLN, ARG, SER, THR, VAL, TRP, and TYR.

What the hell?

OK, time to Google!

Peptides? That looked like DNA! So this student WAS trying to make a person, or at least an organism. No, definitely human; those matched human chromosomes – presumably accurate ones, given that the Human Genome Project was in town. But they were modulating a broadcast of some sort – which, for some reason, included an incredibly accurate clock and wyld thaumaturgy and something that needed intergalactic range and was being tuned with representations of human DNA.

And that an Abyssal was interested in… Perhaps it was Hubert Farnsworth’s Death Clock! After all… a world a lot like Futurama almost certainly DID exist someplace in the universe. More likely though… if it was being tuned with DNA, it might be some subtle working to alter people. It wasn’t ready to broadcast yet – but she knew the layout and the reagents and could ask some of the greatest occult experts in the universe for help.

It looked like the broadcast would be tuned specifically to humans (although that did cover an awful lot of “aliens”), using wyld thaumaturgy to attune human minds that were within reach of the broadcast and on the edge of death to the clock. It had probably originally been meant to tap into the time broadcasts from NIST and cover the earth, but now used the Smartphones to cover the universe instead. There was a secondary information-providing function, but what that was was buried in the machine since the broadcast was not currently going out.

An attempt to extend Lethe? Waters of it were among the reagents.

Well, Skoll DID have perfect stealth (barring physical contact) as long as you stood still. Why not hang around and ask or watch? It sounded as if someone was coming anyway. Blast. There must have been an electronic alarm as well as the magical one!

It looked like… a woman in her early 20’s, quite obviously an Abyssal. There was a rather careful search – but after it turned up nothing, the woman went back to installing various reagents. Rather single-minded there! Was this about ready to do whatever it did? Still, she didn’t seem at ALL hostile.

Watching the various reagents being installed allowed her occult advisers to find a solution; the broadcast would allow (but not force) dying human minds to operate on the zeptosecond time scales of the clock – and would inform them of their options; a smooth transition into Lethe or becoming a voluntary ghost (or, for those with the skill, taking over an animal body). You would, however, only have a few effective hours to think about it if your brain was being destroyed at the speed of light or something. Otherwise… you could basically take as long as you needed.

Huh. That was really rather benevolent! Likely a Daybreak, or possibly a Midnight. Time to reveal herself!

(Abyssal) “Hrrmph! I thought there was someone in here! One moment!”

She added the last reagents.

(Aikiko) “Oh, take your time.”

And the entire mess… sank into the floor as the Utility Artifact Suite for the manse was completed.

(Aikiko) “Whoa! So… why do you want everyone to know their options about their afterlife?”

(Abyssal) “So that it won’t be messy and random! It’s inefficient and intolerable! People need to die properly, and without all this insane, unnatural, attempts to keep a dying body alive! We’ve got ghosts handing about who don’t realize that they’re dead, others stuck in weird situations, people who would have wanted to be ghosts who don’t figure it out in time, people who can’t find the right way to go! There should be ORGANIZATION! Plenty of time to leave dream-messages and haunting impressions for family and friends on the way out BEFORE going straight to Lethe! The ability to voluntarily check out when it is time to go! And so on!”

(Aikiko, sighing) “Let me guess. Daybreak Caste?”

(Abyssal) “I never paid much attention to labels!”

(Aikiko) “Well, I’m not opposed, so I’ll keep quiet about this.”

(Abyssal) “Surprisingly sensible of you! So many of your sort are maniacs who believe that everything they do is heroic and right!”

Gah. Social Skills = Zero, natural talent for dealing with people… about as minimal as a human being could get. Rather like Charles when she’d first met him, but without his self-effacing way of fading into the background. It hadn’t even been MAGIC, he’d just… stood around being naive, and everyone just talked over him while he gave people what they needed… Aargh! Could this be some sort of… abyssal aspect of Charles? Like that bit about the Neverborn aspects of Primordials? Given that he was ALREADY being a quasi-primordial and had spawned a near-Ishvara aspect… And this one was… obviously… kind of focused on… manses and artificing…

Oh SURELY not!

(Aikiko) “Anyway… I came up here because of the train accident.”

Aikiko told her about it – although it was likely that she already knew; she’d been looking for someone who might have pulled a bridge out of the underworld to get the train through, and here she had an Abyssal who’d wanted the train to get through. Circumstantial, yeah, but it did seem pretty solid.

(Abyssal) “Hmph! Panicky Idiots! I couldn’t be having that! I may have to do something about them!”

(Aikiko) “What, talking about the ghosts in that mine?”

(Abyssal) “They need some straightening out, but it’s the local terrestrials who need to learn to behave!”

(Aikiko) “Oh? I can see how they’d be freaking out lately, what with all the weirdness going on.”

Unfortunately, the game was already overtime at this point. Investigation takes a good deal longer to play out than it does to summarize.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice CLXXXIX – Planes, Trains, and Kaijumobiles

In the morning, Aikiko was back to her search – and had opted to go back to the tabloids. They’d been informative enough last time!

As long as you were a hyper-investigator with the ability to sort the clues from the trash anyway.

She discounted the stuff about mysterious power sources, collapsing oil and coal industries, Gilgamesh, blatant sorcery, and a winged golden angel fighting demons in Mecca.

  • The Amber “Thefts” (or “unauthorized but vastly overpaying purchases”) seemed to have wound down; whoever was doing THAT evidently got enough for whatever he or she had been doing with the stuff. Perhaps a ritual or some artificing? Presuming that it wasn’t just some creature that ate the stuff or something. Well, at least it hadn’t been an obvious catastrophe.
  • A small town in Scotland had abruptly been placed under martial law, and mostly cut off. The current speculation was “Terrorists”. It was some distance away from the one that Leon’s city opened up to though. Wait… it was a bit of a stretch… but if you read the towns name as if it was Old Realm… “The Place Of The Moon’s Gate”? “Where The Moonlight Enters In”? “The Path Of The Moon”?

Bah. A little more reaching and letter-substitution and she could turn it into “Vortex Of Occluded Stars” or “Where The Moon Knocks”, or any of a thousand other things. As if someone would found a town and name it in a long-dead language anyway. Next thing you knew she’d be trying to interpret Nostradamus.

  • A gigantic plane of some sort was reported as having traveled from New York to Tokyo at supersonic speeds, but details were sketchy. While several chase-planes had been deployed, no pictures had been released. That… was a bit odd; unless the thing had been dragging along it’s own private storm or was cloaked or something there should have been plenty of time for all kinds of cameras to get a shot of it. Still, that could be all kinds of things.
  • In the southwest, a train had apparently managed to cross a major gorge on a bridge that had collapsed in an explosion some twenty minutes before. It was reported that some passenger had cold-cocked the engineer and taken control of the train, despite attempts by the crew to intervene. Additional reports of a bandit gang chasing the train on horseback were mostly being disregarded since no one had seen any sign of such a group otherwise.

OK: That one was kind of weird. Air Aspect? Guardian or Chosen of Journeys? Raksha playing hero?

  • The EPA had approved plans to construct a water system using “emerging technology” in the midwest. So… they’d decided to get Charles to build them a water-supply manse. Well, it wasn’t as if he was going to keep them a secret otherwise, what with his being about to open up hundreds of stargate-manses across the planet.
  • There were claims that Mechagodzilla had been sighted in Oregon again. There were some photographs, but they were mostly being disregarded as publicity stunts for Toho – and while no one knew for sure what had stopped that flash flood, trees forming a temporary dam seemed a lot more plausible to most than Mechagodzilla.

Well… she did need to talk to Mechagodzilla anyway.

  • In the Ukraine, there had been massive disruptions of the Russian military forces, lots of equipment failures, and a few command disappearances – although those individuals were popularly thought to have skipped out rather than attempting to explain the sillier failures. Of course… in a semi-invasion situation, any number of creatures might have opted to get involved. Even without the political factors half the magical beings out there were pretty territorial. Still… could that be connected to the amber-gathering?
  • Iran and Iraq were both gearing up their military forces while they still had the currency reserves to buy things. Not too surprising that; even if they weren’t both so paranoid about each other they probably found Leon kind of threatening. Still, a LACK of hostilities in the middle east would have been a lot more surprising.

What was semi-serious reporting like that doing in the tabloids anyway? Oh; framing for a series of much sillier stories about mercenaries and such.

  • Hm… the largest beaver dam in the world had been discovered in Canada. There were pictures. And… an attempt to vandalize it was supposedly driven off by Bigfoot? Clearly the beaver hired Bigfoot as a bodyguard once the first humans invaded his turf!

OK, that was kind of cute – and a friendly sparring match with Bigfoot had it’s appeal – but that was much more classic woo. Probably not worth investigating; at the most she’d just find some interesting scenery and someone out being “Bigfoot”.

  • An F5 tornado headed through Minneapolis ran into a “dome of light” over the city which it apparently could not penetrate. The current scientific speculation was that it had lifted off the ground (which was not at all unknown, even if it was mildly unusual) and had thrown up enough clouds and dust to reflect the cities own lights.

Now THAT sounded like a Guardian. Or at least like someone with a good deal of power and willingness to oblige. Or possibly one of Charles’s agents? He certainly had enough of them running about and a “dome of light” could EASILY be a ward.

  • Satellite Surveillance had revealed a massive structure in the antarctic after a massive iceburg (115 miles long, 16 miles wide at it’s widest point) cracked off of an ice shelf. It was apparently buried under the ice and appears to be made of crystal. Current speculation is that the pictures have been doctored to add a “Fortress of Solitude” for publicity for the new Superman movie; it will be 27 days before the satellite is back in position for more decent shots.

Likely a Manse. Anything else would have been ground to powder under the ice sheet a long time ago. Still, that also implied that it had been there for quite some time and hadn’t turned into a catastrophe yet. That would probably keep – at least as long as the humans didn’t get too far into some kind of investigation. Still… the most urgent thing at the moment was to get in touch with MechaGodzilla. She needed to ask him for a Kaiju-Boon, just in case! Ergo, a trip to Crater Lake was in order.

Of course, the Cauldron-Born knew that SHE knew about Crater Lake – and might well meet her there – which could be VERY bad…

Oh, wait! She was one of MechaGodzilla’s shrine maidens – and thus a priest of his! She could just hype up a prayer with a little linking magic and basically phone him up! That was a LOT less likely to result in being ambushed too.

And she managed 11 successes on 16 dice.

(Aikiko) “Hey there! What are you doing, performing civil engineering like that?”

(MechaGodzilla) “Greetings small worshipper! You have shown my grandeur to another potential shrine maiden! Congratulations! And why not protect the little ones? A simple blast of the Absolute Zero cannon in passing to preserve many worshippers! And putting in an appearance is no bad thing!”

(Aikiko) “Thanks… anyway, I was wanting to ask you for a boon! I think there’s going to be trouble in Heaven soon, and I want to help protect it. Is that something you’d be interested in?”

(MechaGodzilla) “Ah, protect a giant city from some terrible attack? This seems appropriate!”

Aikiko facepalmed. Of COURSE it did.

(Aikiko) “Can you… heh. Can you make me and Skoll Ultraman-size when the time comes?”

(MechaGodzilla) “Hmmm…. Grow to giant size? Easy enough!”

(Aikiko) “OK then… now if I accept that, what were you expecting in return?”

It did seem wise to ask! Deities could get weird, and Kaiju Deities might be even weirder!

(MechaGodzilla) “It is a small enough thing! Do show my movies at your parties though!”

(Aikiko, with a breath of relief) “OK, done!… Um… so what are your creators up to in there?”

(MechaGodzilla) “Preparing for something or other! Some sort of battle I think… It should be fun!”

(Aikiko) “Do you know where?”

(MechaGodzilla) “Off in the god-city I think!”

(Aikiko) “Do you know whose side they were on?”

(MechaGodzilla) “Must be against other Kaiju! What else would be worthy? Maybe Tournament!”

Was it possible that the Cauldron-Born knew about the Neverborn Kaiju?

(Aikiko) “I don’t think the Heaven-and-Earth Invitational allows kaiju, unless there’s some style that makes you into one…”

(MechaGodzilla) “Less silly than some styles! Heard about one that involves nothing but going to sleep and contagious yawning…”

(Aikiko) “Sidereals are weird-but then one made you, sooo… Not that I think you’re weird or anything! You’re pretty cool, all things considered.”

(MechaGodzilla) “Of course! I am MECHAGODZILLA! How could I be anything BUT cool?”

(Aikiko) “Exactly!”

She rather hoped that he was not wearing his distracting hat right now, because that WAS silly. Of course it WAS a Raksha artifact. So many of them were silly.

(Aikiko) “Well, thanks, Mechagodzilla. Stay out of trouble, now!”

(MechaGodzilla) “Not likely! But you are welcome!”

(Aikiko) “Huh… Oh, is your pilot still after me?”

He or she might already be headed her way!

(MechaGodzilla) “Off in Chaos at the moment!”

(Aikiko) “Ah, okay then…”

Well… it was hard to scry from outside Creation into Creation. Unless they had some Manse for it. Or were using the Eye somehow (who knew what all that thing could do?). Or were using Sidereal charms. Or…. Well, OK; there were a lot of ways.

Time to look into that train incident. The more she thought about that, the odder it sounded. Sure, temporarily fixing a bridge wasn’t one of the great acts of magic – but who would have a charm for it? That was kind of specialized. Even if it was a general “repair road” effect… it would still be kind of specialized!

It was easy enough to get to the area. Not too surprisingly, one of the drier areas of the west (they could REALLY use that water supply). The bridge was currently being repaired – and the current speculation was that the timeline of the incident must be wrong; it must have held up just long enough for the train to pass.

She was no demolitions expert – but while there might have been some dynamite stored around or something – even if no one sane would store it under the supports for a train bridge in the middle of nowhere – but the placement had been awfully convenient; the main support struture. Overall, it looked more intentional than anything else, but there wasn’t much of a crater or any other signs of a large enough blast. Essence-senses said… there had been an essence-blast here – fire essence, and apparently well-targeted. Those traces were almost drowned out by the flood of necrotic essence however… Of the fifth or sixth essence rank. Some sort of high-powered – if fairly transitory – summoning from the underworld. That was a pretty powerful ghost or Abyssal, though! Not a neverborn Kaiju – but perhaps its charms?

Nah. There should be a lot more destruction and dismay if it was THAT. Hekatonkire? But how would it imitate a set of train tracks well enough to avoid a derailment.

Oh! There HAD been something very big that had just been sent to the Underworld! The bridge itself! Now… that was a clever (if likely mote-intensive) use of a MUCH more sensible charm. That must have really irritated the people who’d blown it up! Those horse riders… Ghosts? Train robbers? After all, presumably the point of blowing up the bridge was to wreck or stop the train. The train crossing a spectral bridge must have been quite a sight.

Were there any shadowlands nearby?

A small and minor one; a ghost town that once centered on a gold mine that collapsed, sealing several hundred miners underground. No one knew how long some of them might have survived – but attempts to reopen the mine had never gone well. There were a number of robberies of course; a sizeable load of gold was a very tempting prize. Most of the bandits were caught and hanged eventually – but no doubt at least some found their way to the other side of that shadowland.

She might have to pay that one a visit.

Still, somebody had really wanted to stop someone or something on that train – and possibly acquire it. Perhaps she could get the passenger and cargo list?