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.

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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.