“You had a bad day and everything changed.”
— The Joker
8:00 – Morning
Like most bad days, it had started as a good day.
Chelsea was just returning from her pilgrimage, with higher mastery of Essence than when she’d left. The rush of newfound power was intoxicating, and despite the long trip she couldn’t bring herself to just go home and dream of Patterns again. So after a brief stop in a teahouse (where she noted that the distance the serfs gave her was a measure more respectful than it had been before) she headed to her workshop, intent on accomplishing something Interesting before the buzz wore off.
She Who Lives In Her Name had reserved prime facilities for her own Princes. Chelsea’s had a couple nice hangar-sized workfloors, suitable for Hellstriders and the like, both of which connected to a cozier workspace at the top where tools and benches for smaller projects were closer at hand.
There was also a bin for incoming mail, but the one item she’d expected to receive was outside the bin, as it was too large to fit inside: a crate of quartz from Gem that she needed for her next set of experiments. Chelsea checked the bin anyway and found, to her surprise, that there was another small package for her. This was unusual; most people who had things for her to see or work on brought them in person.
Inside was a necklace made of dichroic glass, sparkling with many colors. Before touching it with bare skin, Chelsea gave it a once-over with Essence-Dissecting Stare and saw that there was no magic in it. There was, however, a note written on the inside of the wrapper:
“This has no secrets yet, but perhaps you can give it some”
Chelsea felt a smile tug at one corner of her mouth, and she tucked the necklace into a pocket. There would be time to work on that later.
She spent the next hour unpacking quartz crystals, handling them only with her force of will to avoid smudging the clear facets. Several mixtures of vitriol, chalcanth from various sources, and other things from a locked cabinet went into glass petri dishes, and in these she immersed the points and slices of quartz, first cutting some with intricate patterns. These would have to sit a while, and her own newly-acquired powers of speeding up her own crafting skill would not accelerate time for them.
This hour passed in relative quiet, or at least as much as could safely be had in Malfeas. The sounds of bells and street noise were audible through the walls of the workshop. Chelsea did not generally employ angyalkae for white noise, rather filling in the silence herself by humming softly.
With the crystals set up, Chelsea put her things away and crossed over to the other half of the upper workshop. There was a larger project she’d been working on in her spare time, which could have great benefits both as a research tool and large-scale weapon. She swung open the door to Hangar #2 and found–
–nothing. The floor was empty.
Chelsea stood there blinking for several seconds, her mind jumping between possibilities–was this the wrong hangar? Was she still dreaming?–until a familiar voice finally broke the silence he’d kept since the end of her pilgrimage.
Oh yes, there was definitely a soul-draining machine here when you left.
“Wonderful,” she replied, then added in a rare recognition of irony, “I’m so glad I have a demon living in my head to remind me I’m not going mad.”
I wouldn’t say that. Suffice to say I’m as surprised as you are right now.
Chelsea walked downstairs to the floor and looked around. She’d swept the floor before leaving on her journey, and a light coat of dust had settled while she’d been out. The places not covered by dust exactly matched the area once covered by her machine, with no trails to show where anything had been moved or dragged. There were a fair number of footprints, and she sketched the shapes of these into her notebook, but none were quite distinctive enough for her to determine anything beyond that the people leaving them had been human, or mostly so, and wearing shoes.
It wasn’t just that the machine was gone; the extra parts set off to one side had been taken as well. And yet, she suddenly realized, there were lots of valuable things in her workshop that had not been stolen, despite being infinitely easier to take. The chalcanth and the crate of crystals had not been touched. Running back to the crate, she saw that the delivery date was only a few days after her departure, and by the look of the dust, the machine had been taken after that. So whoever had been here had wanted the machine, specifically, not just “anything valuable”…
“Felhart…I don’t remember telling anyone else about this thing! Am I missing something?” she asked. Even unspoken, the anxiety was clear in her words.
Stay calm. Pursuing your prey takes a clear head, and you obviously have quite the hunt before you. No, you never told anyone exactly what this was, but you did mention to–
Chelsea’s hand strayed to the pocket containing the glass necklace. “Amber Veins.”
Amber Veins was one of the few people who actually supported her research, and she had mentioned to him, offhand, that she was working on “something for large-scale warfare”. Plus there was the fact that everyone who drove a Hellstrider into Hangar #1 could see that there was a Hangar #2, just that it was never open…and that might lead them to speculate on what might be inside.
12:15 – Noon
Chelsea locked the workshop and headed straight for Amber Veins’ house, but he wasn’t home. That wasn’t a surprise; he was usually out in Creation, Doing Things.
Back at the workshop, Felhart quietly pointed out a few demons he recognized as guards, and after some mild interrogation Chelsea had another lead: apparently one of her covenmates, Xeroclea, had for the past few weeks been going back and forth between Malfeas and Creation via the Gates of Inauspicious Passage. She’d been seen in the vicinity of Chelsea’s workshop, which was certainly odd considering Chelsea hadn’t been there to take orders.
Back once again at the Conventicle Malfeasant, Chelsea was starting to feel as though she were running laps. As luck would have it–since Fate wasn’t really a thing, down here–Xeroclea’s windows were lit. She knocked on the door.
Xeroclea answered. “Chelsea!…How pleasant to see you. I trust your absence was fruitful?”
“Fruitful enough,” Chelsea answered, though the buzz had long since worn off. “I heard you’d stopped by while I was out. Was there something you needed from my workshop?”
Xeroclea paused a moment before answering. “Nothing I needed, no.” The statement tested as true, but…
That’s meaningless. She herself may not have needed it, but–
Chelsea decided to just cut right to the chase. “I had a project sitting in my second hangar when I left. It’s missing. Do you know how it came to be absent?”
Xeroclea narrowed her eyes, and a smile twitched at the corners of her mouth. “All right, since you ask…yes. You remember Ja de Veon from a year or so ago?”
“I met him briefly,” Chelsea replied. “You were working with him more than I was.”
“He’s been put on some project collaborating with our masters’ dead siblings. Rather strange process. Anyway, he needed something destructive, and your boyfriend mentioned–”
Chelsea was startled at her choice of words. “I don’t have a–”
“Well, whatever you and Amber consider yourselves,” Xeroclea replied. Her smile broadened, but not in an especially judging way; their usual concepts of morality in relationships had been paved over long ago. “He mentioned you had some big powerful thing you were working on. Veon and I were intrigued–most of your work is so small-scale–and when he saw it he decided it would be useful.”
“Useful for what, exactly? Deployed where?” Chelsea asked. “And you couldn’t wait till I got back?” Anger rose in her as she fired off the questions.
Careful. Stay calm. Hysterics will not help.
“You were out for three months. Personally, I would have waited for you, but Veon was impatient.” She shrugged.
“Where is it?” Chelsea asked again.
“Somewhere the First and Forsaken Lion’s got his eyes on. That’s all he’d tell me.”
Chelsea managed to keep her outward calm, but asking more questions was all she could manage; a properly scathing speech was beyond her wits to generate on the spot. “So…you’re telling me…that a weapon of mass destruction is out in Creation somewhere…one I hadn’t even properly finished yet…and you don’t actually know where it is?”
Xeroclea lifted her head a bit so she could look down her nose properly. “It is where the Yozis will it to be. It’s not like it was going to do any good sitting on your workshop floor for another hundred years.”
17:40 – Evening
Chelsea had never concerned herself much with the Deathlords. Remaking Creation was Interesting, and even more so if Chelsea could have a hand in how it was done. Wholesale slaughter was, frankly, boring. Anyone with a big daiklaive could end life; creating and improving it–even for Hell’s definitions of “improvement”–was far more rewarding. She’d always considered the Deathlords and their servants to just be more targets for the weapons she developed.
She had, in fact, been wondering if her destructive weapon could even be used to disrupt a shadowland, to change it back to a place that could support life. Maybe if some of the soul energy used to fuel it was replaced with Wyld energy…
Now suddenly she needed intelligence on Deathlord intentions–which thing did they want to kill first? Luckily, even the intelligence she could gather hastily on the First and Forsaken Lion all pointed to one obvious location: Gem.
The exact same place providing the crystals she needed, which could not be found anywhere else in all Creation. The vast amounts of crystal under that city meant that if her weapon were set off there, specifically, that would shatter every mineral deposit in the whole place, shake the mountains and probably set off all the volcanoes. The Essence in the area would be too unstable to form into a shadowland, even taking the resulting mass slaughter into account…and that might well let in a Wyld incursion.
If Ja de Veon set off her weapon in Gem, her material source would be gone, and he and the First and Forsaken Lion wouldn’t even get the shadowland they were no doubt after. No one on any side would benefit from this.
Chelsea returned to her workshop and sat at the bench overlooking the now-empty Hangar #2. The crystals she’d already prepared were still soaking, as they ought. They were about to become an endangered species.
Anxiety clenched ever-harder at the edges of her mind, crystallizing inward like a geode, and inside a thick fractal forest of fears, her Coadjutor strove to make his voice heard.
This is a setback, but you can make the best of it.
Chelsea took a deep breath and tried to grasp at the wisdom she’d glimpsed during her pilgrimage. A story rose to the front of her mind: how her patron had shattered three of her own spheres at the end of the Primordial War, and in so doing, had made unknown numbers of things impossible and undefinable. Who could tell how many unique Ways Of Being were destroyed? And who could tell what incredible things could be made from these crystals in Gem, which would never be if that place was destroyed?
There are infinite places where knowledge may be found. With time and understanding, you can duplicate what these toys do for you. And you can turn the theft itself into a gain.
“How so?” Chelsea asked.
The machine is yours, is it not? Own the design. Come forward in support of its use and make yourself known as the one who made it. Those who bear witness to this cataclysm will pray to you for mercy for generations.
Chelsea’s heart leapt as her borrowed Primordial instinct savored the thought of worship from lesser beings. Yet the thought soon turned bitter. She had dreams of other ways to earn that reverence: paths of construction, rather than destruction.
Besides…a sudden realization came to her.
“How would I take credit for it now, when I don’t know where it is or when my esteemed colleagues are going to set it off? How can I claim credit for anything related to genocide in Gem when the First and Forsaken Lion is there, planting his flag and drawing more fear from those doomed little people than I could manage in a thousand years?…He’s a Deathlord, for Kite Flute’s sake! As soon as he rolls in, any ‘remaining witnesses’ will all be dead!”
The effects will be felt throughout Creation. Others will see, even those out of range of death. Our worshippers will know what was done in our masters’ names.
Our worshippers. The problem with that, Chelsea knew, was that she had very little direct contact with any actual Yozi cultists. She stopped by a cult once in a while when she needed resources in Creation, and they always welcomed her with some mixture of fear and admiration, but she was not much involved with “rallying the troops”, as it were. That sort of thing was for Malefactors and Fiends, like…
…like Xeroclea and Ja de Veon.
“They have three months’ and fifty gallons of charisma’s head start on me,” she muttered aloud. “And…how can I possibly condone them just taking my work and using it? And if I am right about all this and no one gets what they want…they can just blame me for building a faulty weapon, after they took it before it was done and without asking me how it worked!”
All that you build is in service to your masters. Is it not right and fitting that it be used?
“And if they don’t even consult me about how to use my superweapon, who else are they not consulting because they’re ‘in a hurry’? Suppose they’d set this thing off while nitrogen was broken?”
For a moment there was silence, because that particular incident had given even Felhart pause. He’d seen it through her eyes, of course, when a spark placed mercifully inside a sealed glass chamber had scorched the entire inside rather than just burning, and a few more experiments had confirmed the change. Chelsea had run in (slightly spiraly) circles trying to find someone who could reverse the damage, only to find, a few hours later, that the change had reversed itself.
Drastic methods, yes…even for us.
“Is it, now? If Ja de Veon is tasked with collaborating with Deathlords, how much distinction is left between re-Creation and…just…Death? …And I can’t just go confront him alone, not when he has those kinds of allies. Veon scares the Hell out of me.”
The conclusion of all this seemed inevitable: with every “practical” thing she made given full license to just raze Creation to dust and ashes, there would be nothing left of the Primordials’ old masterpiece on which to create her own. Things that had survived the Three Spheres Cataclysm would not survive the Reclamation, and though the Yozis would be “free” again…they would be so in a world so much less than the one they had left. There would be too little left to build upon, and too little left of them to make it any better.
And then an idea surfaced.
Nitrogen had not fixed itself. Things in Creation did not just fix themselves. Fate had fixed nitrogen. And if Fate knew where her weapon was, then all she had to do was find someone who understood Fate, and they could find it.
Chelsea, you can’t be considering that!
With other methods seemingly unfeasible, she was, and with desperation driving her, there was little time to turn aside.
22:00 – Night
After passing through a Gate into Creation, Chelsea had gotten her hands on a Jade Butterfly and addressed it to “one beloved of the Maiden of Secrets”. At first she wondered if that had been too vague an address, but after considering for a moment, the butterfly took off towards a nearby city, where there was likely a gate into Yu-Shan or perhaps even a Sidereal simply living in relative obscurity.
Chelsea, you do not understand the price you are paying for this vindictive indulgence. The Maidens’ bastards will not be satisfied with what little you think you can tell them. Theirs is a vast web of deception, and once they have caught you, they will drain you like a trapped insect until nothing remains.
“They’re not omniscient, or we’d never have lived to build weapons in the first place. And I can see through lies.”
Oh, as you saw through Xeroclea’s little twist of words? Do you have Essence enough to test every speech the Sidereals feed you? They can craft lies even from the truth, and they mimic your patron’s talent for wresting secrets from unwilling minds…an art you never bothered to study yourself–
“It’s on my list.”
–and if you collaborate with them, every Charm you cast in their presence, or within sight of their allies, betrays the scope of our powers to them. Every word you speak to them is a weapon they can use against you and your brethren: a lens through which they can see the scope of our plans.
“At this point, that’s a pretty confused picture.”
…Chelsea. Years ago I brought you power enough to escape the consequences of your betrayal against a little conclave of mortal scholars. There is no one who can give you such a gift against the Yozis. If you devote yourself to any act in defense of Creation, their wrath will find you wherever you try to hide.
“I am defending what will be theirs again! If they wanted the world burned to ashes they’d have let their dead cousins take over the project from the start, and had done with it!”
You remember the empty chairs at this year’s Hellthing?
Chelsea did remember. It wasn’t uncommon for a gathering to go by with one Prince absent, especially considering that so many gatherings were specifically for the purpose of welcoming the successor of one killed in action. But news of those two deaths had come in quite some time previously, and no one had any word on why successors had not yet been appointed.
If you continue on this course, yours will be the next one vacant. Any great thing you might accomplish, in this or any world, will never be–not after Fate’s minders have given you your traitor’s reward. That is the only reward they will give you.
Chelsea stood alone for a moment. The wind on her skin was cold and unfamiliar, for it was never that cold in Malfeas.
You can still turn back. Go back and find some other way, before Fate knows your name and your history. Before all you and we have accomplished is sacrificed on your altar of revenge.
The butterfly returned. Chelsea examined it and found it no more magical than it had been when it left, so she unfolded the note it contained.
On the corner of the 7th and 8th streets is an apartment building with an empty unit on the third floor. Go there alone and wait. Have no Charms active when we arrive.
“If I do not go forward,” she finally said, “All that I and we have accomplished will be sacrificed on the altar of my esteemed colleagues’ madness. They are conspiring with Deathlords, and if I have to conspire with Fate so that Creation will be Ours instead of Dead, and for my work to continue, then so be it.”
24:05 – Convergence
You could still strangle him!
Despite the shouted ongoing monologue in Chelsea’s head, she managed to convey an outward calm. Most Green Sun Princes were good at this, having had long practice with their Coadjutors, but to maintain it even in such company as this was probably worthy of note in whatever story might be told of the meeting later.
On the other side of the table, a dark-haired man in green robes held out a flat stone etched with Old Realm runes and set it between them. “Now, I’m going to proof this room against mind-reading,” he said–a true statement–and he and the room glowed green for a moment. He then placed his hand on the stone and spoke clearly to it. “By the graces of Heaven, I hereby swear that what we speak in this room will not go beyond it, except by the wish of all who here converse.” He nodded, and Chelsea laid her hand on the stone beside his.
“By the gifts of Hell, I hereby swear that what we speak in this room will not go beyond it, except by the wish of all who here converse.”
The dark-haired man nodded again. “So, tell me, miss…what leads a follower of the Principle of Hierarchy to break ranks?”
Chelsea took a deep breath, selected her words carefully, and began.