World 45: Divinity-Dragon Commander

DIPLOMACY IN REAL TIME

Previously: Meddling Fool

Themesong: Just Dance by Lady Gaga

I think I might have pissed the Banker off. Either that or he’s just fucking with me. I have literally never even heard of the next world. I’ve been to jumps where I knew almost nothing going in… but I actually do know nothing at all about whatever “Divinity: Dragon Commander” is.

I read the intro blurb “With great machines of war, the old Emperor bound together a fractured realm. The Emperor married and sired many children. He even had a love-child with mysterious Aura, an ancient dragon in a woman’s guise. Once united, peace was declared in Rivellon and bloodshed soon forgotten. This peace was shattered when the Emperor’s sons and daughters rose against him. Desperate to safeguard the Emperor’s legacy, the wizard Maxos sought the help of the one child that never betrayed their father. They would be the one to save the empire from ruin and, to aid him in his quest, Maxos delivered unto them the Imperial Command Ship known as “The Raven”. This is your story, Dragon Commander!”

Great. I see from the footage that there are airships and stuff. Dragons and Airships, wizards and emperors and asshole siblings. I was 23… and had to choose between Human (Politics), Elf (Nature), Dwarf (Business), Lizard (Military), Imp (Technical), Undead (Luck), and Drop-In (bugger all). The canonical MC was a human male… well… half-human, half-dragon male. But it was clear that whatever I picked would be the half that wasn’t dragon… that was new… must be a video game jump. Only Video Game Jumps (and not all of them) placed me into the role of MC instead of being added to the canon. Human or Lizard were both tempting. I’d come back to this. Either one would cost me 300 CP for their racial perk.

But before that, I got Dragon Form and Political Marriage as freebies. The first gave me a dragon form that I could slip into and out of at will. While in that form I’d gain considerable passive health regen while not in combat (huh… wonder how that would stack), the ability to shoot fireballs (from my mouth, I assumed) and (obviously) flight. While in other forms I’d lose the regen and flight, but could keep my Dragon Skills… and as a Dragon Knight my lifespan would be much longer than it would be otherwise.Not sure how useful any of that would be aside from the whole being a fire-breathing giant lizard, but that wasn’t nothing.

The Political Marriage was just lovely. I was, apparently, going to have to marry in order to bind together the peoples of my empire. Whether princesses or princes, I’d have an option from each of the 6 civilized races. I could choose to take my new spouse as a companion… or I could import a companion as one of my prospective spouses, giving them a race of your choice and history for free. It was, in a word, a disastrously bad and nearly pointless perk. It offered nothing besides an insider in in-world politics… while at the same time creating a potential rift in my companion group’s internal politics. I didn’t need precog to already be able to hear the squabbling over who was going to get that coveted slot.

Zane would demand (half jokingly, half seriously) that he’d make the best possible ally and that the marriage would be political, not sexual or emotional. AJ would want in simply out of fanatical loyalty to me. Francy would want in because of the dresses, she was the biggest clothes horse in our group aside from Bao. RayRay would object to anyone besides her being picked as Dragon Princess… if she woke up. Uriel and Bao were two shades of politician; both were almost certain to toss their hats into the ring to defend their claim on the post of second in command in Imperial Politics. Cirno would be a pain just because she was one… and she wouldn’t give up because seeing logic wasn’t her just not her strong point, it wasn’t in the same universe as her.

And all that before my actual lovers got into the debate. Decades are a long time and we were a close knit group, but relationships are fluid, changing and evolving and convoluting. We were family, most of us, Kagetane notwithstanding. Yoiko and Ryoga were as competitive about me as only siblings can be. Velma seemed to view our relationship, never super serious, as a challenge, constantly coming up with ways to surprise me, though of course I wasn’t the only one, since she did the same with Kendra and even Cirno from time to time. Mini & Franky… well… outside of the military’s rules… don’t ask and I won’t tell. Yes, this perk was going to be sooo much fun. I needed a place to hide before I was forced to take sides. That wouldn’t go well.

Aside from the racial perks (one each), and the freebies, there were two general perks, one for recruitment, one for production. But instead of an item list, there were dragon form upgrades. Oddly enough, I wasn’t particularly thrilled by any of the drawbacks… and with nations at my beck and call, I didn’t exactly feel like upping the challenge by, say, making myself a drunk, a coward, a snob, a straw feminist, or a demonic thrall, nor did I feel like inflicting saboteurs, mercenaries, or bad luck upon my forces. That left “Phantom Limb” which would merely deprive me of a limb and give me frequent, intense, and incredibly unpleasant surges of pain. A decade of pain, fighting a massive war… I’d consider if the 300 CP was worth it after I looked through the Dragon Form upgrades.

There were three different Draconic Forms; Sabre, Mountain, Zephyr. Sabres were versatile, Mountains were powerful, and Zephyrs were magical. I went with Zephyr, Proud and highly gifted, hands off and supportive. The Zephyr form came with Purifying Flames (Your dragonfire turns blue and can be used to heal you and your allies.) and Friends with Benefits (A shield you can cast on an ally, reducing all damage they take by 50%. Any hit inflicted on this shield also heals you for 100% of the damage done.). Zephyrs also got a discount on Ray of Power (You may choose an ally within 2,000 meters of you. This ally will become roughly 75% more powerful in both physical and ability strength.), Mass Restoration (You fully heal a friendly target and all friendly units within a 500 meter radius around it. 30 second cooldown.), and Charm (You can charm an enemy unit so that it temporarily fights for your side. After 150 seconds, it becomes an enemy again. 30 second cooldown.). All that cost me 500 CP, and it was kinda nice to see concrete numbers for once… even if they apparently offered no room for growth.

AAA - Dragon

I considered that, if I took drunk I could get another 100 and swap it all for a second racial perk… but I wasn’t feeling it, and a mass charm, mass heal combo wasn’t anything to sneer at.

That left me with just a race to pick. The Lizardman’s Tactical Genius was incredible… it really was. “Your plans are so brilliant, elegant, and complex that even history’s greatest tacticians could never understand them in full.” But it had two counter indicators. Lizardmen in this world were fugly… (as were the Imps)… though attractive in an alien sort of way. I wouldn’t have a problem looking at one across the table… but I certainly didn’t want to look at one in the mirror. The other problem was the limited scope. Tactics are battlefield level. Strategy is campaign level. If it covered both, I’d be all over it… But I couldn’t tell if it did, and the battlefield was too small a context to take it over the Human’s “Politician” which said “You are the consummate politician, capable of gaining and keeping support of even the most ornery and diametrically opposed parties. As well as clear judgement, this requires charisma, which you have in spades. You are a master manipulator, capable of always having the perfect line, tone, or expression to best facilitate getting what you want.” A charisma boost fit with my general theme. One that came with clear judgement and a manipulation booster, especially when getting opposed forces to work together… that was almost cheating! And so that’s what I took… plus, I like having human ears, Elfin ears keep catching on things.

My last 200 went into Mass Production “Factories and other areas of manufacturing under your control are strangely efficient. There are no accidents, they produce little waste, often work under cost, and produce things very quickly.” Couldn’t pass that up.

As it turned out… Cirno won the battle for Dragon Princess. Never play poker against an idiot fairy apparently. Luck, huh… though I can’t tell if that’s her good luck or my bad… especially since she picked Imp because “They’re soooo kyoooot!” I can’t believe I’m not getting CP back for this.

Ahab went Undead, picking Mountain Dragon as his dragon form, and Joy completed the trifecta with Sabre Dragon, in her case Elfin. The Mountain Dragon had Acid Blaze (highly corrosive, sticky, acidic fireballs.) and Rejuvenation (improved regen in both dragon and normal forms). Sabre Dragons had “Advance!” (all allies within 1600 meters more 60% faster for 10 seconds, 1 minute cooldown) and Soar (50% faster flight speed.).

What made me laugh was who’d ended up winning the lotto to be their respective Ducal consorts. Zane was paired with Joy (only he and AJ had signed up for it), and Toph was paired with Ahab (Petra was sulking a bit at that). Zane had picked Dwarf for the beer… and Toph had chosen Lizard simply to complete the six-pack. All it got them was a history, friends & connections in this world, and a new alt-form… but it was better than being a nobody.

=INSERTION=

I appeared on the bridge of a massive armored airship, being talked to by a dude with glowing eyes. He was rambling on about great generals and how I’d have to reclaim the empire from my brothers and sisters and I held up a hand. “Whoa, dude. Chill. Ain’t gonna happen.”

“What?”

“Look, I have approximately Zero interest in ruling an Empire right now. I have… things… I need to work out. It’s nice that you think I’m all that, but really, my qualifications to be Emperor, as far as you can see, are… One… My daddy was Crownhead and Two… I didn’t betray him. These are not good qualifications to choose a leader. Granted,” I said, forestalling the old guy’s sputtering protest, “My idiot siblings have even less good qualifications, seeing as how they did betray dear old dad and shatter the empire into feuding fiefdoms. But we’re not going to repeat a cycle of civil wars every time the Emperor gets old. No. We’re doing this up right. Head towards my nearest sibling.”

“But… the enemy fleet is in the way.”

“Heh. Right. Sure they are.”

Collecting my erstwhile siblings took a month. Fuck a duck dad had a lot of kids. They were, to a man and woman, not pleased at how me and my crack squad of miscreants had disabled every airship we’d come across. They also were less than pleased that my command ship, The Raven”, had impenetrable shielding (thanks Star Trek… if Romulans are having a hard time getting through it… ain’t noooo way Steampunk Elves are.)

“You assholes are assholes,” I said as I entered the very comfortable council-room slash prison cell I’d locked them all in. “I can’t trust any of you, and the people would have to be insane to trust any of us after the bullshit you just pulled. Which is why each and every one of you morons and patricides are going to help me turn the Empire into a Republic.” They all looked confused and outraged. I explained my plan. They looked more confused and outraged. I explained that each of them was free to challenge me to single combat anywhere, any time. Then I applied fists to faces as they tried dogpiling me. I think Dad might have been a carrier for some neurological problems.

Three weeks of much the same nonsense later, I’d finished giving each of the sociopathic heirs of empire so much needed Psychosurgery. Might not have been entirely ethical, but good god… these people were assholes!

Putting out the fires they’d started took a couple of years, but then again, teaching the subjects of the Empire about Republican Government took pretty much the entire decade. Yeah, I could have spent it gloriously at war, crushing all who stood in my way… but where’s the challenge? At least this way I got to wear a silly hat, pound a desk with Mjolnir, and yell “No! You’re out of Order!” a lot.

Being Emperor is hard work. Being Prime Minister? Now that’s fun! Also, the sex is better when you’re not trying to establish a dynasty.

Egg hasn’t so much as twitched. Dunno if I should be doing something about it.

Next: World 46 – Killing Me Softly

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World 44: Mistborn

MEDDLING FOOL

Previously: Broadway Bound

Themesong: Mado Kara Mieru by Christopher Tin

Apparently, the Banker decided that there’d been enough fun and games, because the VMoD that awaited me upon our return to the Warehouse was Brandon Sanderson’s “Mistborn”. Ever go into a world looking for a fight? Yeah, that was me and Mistborn. Don’t get me wrong, great book, interesting characters, fascinating magical systems… but it also featured lots and lots of death, a brutal tyrant, a psychotic god, and ultimately a “They Died for Us” ending that fed into the sequel series where the massively powerful “Mistborn” were no more, but had been replaced with the terribly focused “Twinborn” or whatever they’re called.

See, there are two things anyone going into Scadrial (the world of Mistborn) needs to know about. One is the magical systems of the world… of which there are three. The Metallic Arts; Allomancy, Feruchemy, and Hemalurgy. Allomancers burn metals that they have ingested to produce a specific result. It is net positive. Feruchemists store things in metal objects for later use. It is net neutral. And Hemalurgists steal traits from one person then install them in another by use of metallic spikes. It is net negative. The traits vary a little from Metallic Art to Metallic Art, but the metals are always the same… 8 pure metals, 8 specific alloys of those metals, always in pairs, and then in quartets, 16 metals. In the era of Mistborn, there are Mistings and Mistborn. A Misting is an Allomancer who can burn 1 metal. A Mistborn can burn them all. The other two arts are rare and largely unknown. In the sequel trilogy, Mistborns are unheard of, a legend out of the past, the bloodlines too diffuse. But so too are the other Arts strengthened. And that’s where the true power of this setting comes into play.

Combined Arts. Take a Feruchemist’s stored reserve and burn it using Allomancy, and you Compound the power drawn from it by an order of magnitude. Store the new, boosted supply, repeat. Geometric returns… but Twinborns, those who can burn and store in the same metal, are unheard of in this era. Only one twinborn exists in this time, a Compounder, a Mistborn and a Full Feruchemist (a single element Feruchemist is called a Ferring)… And his name is… well, that’s a secret, and much of the plot of the series is tied up in discovering it, but he is called “The Lord Ruler” an immortal living god who has enslaved most of the population of this ruined world for over a thousand years.

A thousand years ago, The Hero of Ages travelled to the Well of Ascension to gain the power of Preservation and save the world from the Deepness. And he… kinda did. Spoilers here, but the real Hero was betrayed, murdered by his asshole guide, who did horrible things to his own people, the Terrismen, and who turned his people’s long time rivals into the Skaa, the hereditary slaves that make up 99% of the population and have no rights. None.

With the power of the Well, he changed the world, reshaping the land, leveling mountains, and even moving the planet closer to the sun… only to realize that would kill everyone… so he created volcanoes to blanket the world in ash… then modified plantlife, animal life, and even the people to survive in this horror. The Lord Ruler is an idiot, an asshole, and a tyrant of epic proportions. And through it all, he was being played by one of the two gods of this world, Ruin, trapped within the well of ascension by his counterpart, Preservation. But before you give the Xanatos Crown of Ages to Ruin… Preservation had plans of his own, plans that involved playing an even longer game in which not only was Ruin a pawn, but Preservation used himself as a sacrificial lamb. That, dear friends, is serious Keikaku Dori.

I had instant plans for this jump. They wanted exciting? I’d give them exciting. But the forms had to be obeyed, and there were things I wanted from this jump.

First thing’s first. Maxing out my CP. That means Drawbacks and looking through the list I instantly see the two I want. First, Public Enemy #1 [+300/1300] which makes me the enemy of the Lord Ruler’s Final Empire, making my face and name known to the Luthadel city guard, the Ministry of Orthodoxy, and their Steel Inquisitors, nearly immortal Hemalurgic monstrosities. To be sure, the Steel Inquisitors would be a threat… if I didn’t know how to kill them and only had the resources of this world to deal with… but any self respecting pyrokinetic, telekinetic, or anyone trained to kill monsters without using metal weapons who’d read the books should be able to deal with them… plasma rifles, plasma grenades… anything that kept you out of their immediate range… crystalline weapons… as long as they couldn’t catch me, they couldn’t kill me.

And speaking of the Inquisitors, the reason I wasn’t concerned with having them as my enemy is because I’d already planned on making their boss into my enemy… The Lord Ruler himself. And there was a Drawback for that… either for the Lord Ruler (their apparent boss) or Ruin (their real boss). Both were 600, but the limit was 800, so either one would put me over. I could take them. I was pretty sure I could deal with the fall out… but it would have been insanity to do so. Both of them provided my enemies with knowledge of who I was and what I could do. While it was fun to imagine the Lord Ruler bowing to me and begging for his worthless life, I knew he wouldn’t and he might do something horrible just to spite me.

No, there were safer paths. Inquisitive [+200/1500], which Public Enemy #1 didn’t rule out, would sic a particular Steel Inquisitor on my path, one with the ability to punch through Allomantic anti-tracking abilities or perks. If I was going to have to kill them all, one more wouldn’t make a difference. And Destitute [+300/1800] would make me broke… though it didn’t say anything about keeping me destitute, just that I’d ended up without money or status. If it did, it did. I had more important things to worry about than money. And that was that.

I toggled the menu display to Companions… and got a blank screen. Fuuuuuck. Now I had to figure out how to get the damned Lerasium beads from the Well of Ascension, as those were the only way to turn any of my followers into Allomancers. Granted, those beads would turn them into first generation Allomancers, not the weak ass Allomancers of this era. I was hoping there was more than a single bead in the Well.

There were four origins; Skaa (which you’d have to be a masochist to take), Cultist (which you’d have to be insane to take), Noble (which was the sane choice), and Terrisman (which you’d have to be extremely pragmatic or have a plan to take). Since Noble’s had Allomancy and Terrismen had Feruchemy, it was pretty much split between them. As I wasn’t male, I didn’t have to worry about being a eunuch, though there were no canonical female Terris Stewards… I mean, they existed, that was canon… they just never showed in the books. But since it was possible to become an Allomancer by consuming Lerasium or by absorbing enough of the mists somehow, and there was no known way to become a Feruchemist besides being a Terrisman… and Feruchemy was arguably more useful on its own… Terrisman [-100/1700/1800] it was.

Because of the climate of Scadrial, everyone got “Choked by Ash” for free , the biological alterations required to survive in the harsh environment of Scadrial, guaranteeing I’d suffer no ill effects from the massive amounts of ash in the air, and could survive off the meager food grown on the few plants that continue to thrive. Useful in this setting, not so much elsewhere… and the lack of it for my companions meant that, if they wanted to help me, they’d need breathing gear… though food supplies from the warehouse were ample. And as a Terriswoman, I got “Classically Trained” as a freebie, which made me literate and well read, knowledge on many topics, having read books by many a well regarded thinker. It also gave me a thorough grounding in proper etiquette, with knowledge of how to conduct myself in sophisticated company.”

Unfortunately, the next two Terrisman perks sucked. Above Your Station was a boost to my social standing… in this jump only… and Ferring was just a watered down copy of the capstone, 1/16th the power for 2/3rds the price. Insanity. So I skipped them and spent the extra 100 CP to get “Feruchemist” [-300/1400/1800] which gave me the “unique abilities of a Keeper, known as Feruchemy.” It meant I could store attributes in a metalmind… a hunk of elementally pure metal… reducing my abilities now for a boost in ability later. Steel stored physical speed, Iron physical weight, Pewter physical strength, Tin the senses, Zinc mental speed, Brass warmth, Copper memories, Bronze wakefulness, Gold health, Atium age, Aluminum the sense of self, Duralumin the ability to connect with others (charisma), Nicrosil stored Investiture (whatever that meant), Chromium luck, Electrum determination, Cadmium breath, and Bendalloy nutrition and hydration. And best of all, what was stored didn’t have to be removed at the same rate. Store 2 hours of strength and you can be double strength for 2 hours… or triple strength for 1 hour… or quintuple strength for half an hour… it was an excellent power, especially if one was well prepared, though a Feruchemist could only tap their own metalminds. That was half the package.

Allomancy was the other half… and I could have it for 600… or buy the Lerasium Bead from the Item list for 800… Both were terribly expensive. I could, in theory, claim this power in jump, one of two ways. But if there was only one bead in the Well? What if I couldn’t claim it? I could try and figure out a way to absorb the mists… but if I did that, I’d run the risk of becoming the Shard of Preservation and claiming either Shard was a chain ender. Of course, I had to actively claim a Shard for that to apply. I was pretty sure that actively fighting off the possession wouldn’t count… but still.

And speaking of that… I scrolled back to the Skaa list and double checked something “Aluminum Mind” [-400/1000/1800]… Aluminum is the only metal known to be allomantically inert; it cannot be effected by any form of Allomancy. Buying this was useful in this world, since it made my mind similarly impervious to Allomancy… including detection by Bronze burners or having my emotions Rioted or Soothed. It was also useful beyond the borders of Scadrial, in that it wasn’t limited to Allomancy either… unless I chose to allow it, my mind could not be affected nor detected by any mental abilities going forward. It was similar to being protected by a Coppercloud… but could not be pierced by even the most powerful of Allomancers. Mental defense and invisibility? Get! For the price it was a steal.

The Item list was a hilarious mix of the insanely useful and the titanically worthless. In the second category included “non-metallic wooden & leather armor”, “obsidian daggers”, “perfectly normal horseshoes”, “a single object made from aluminum”, “an easily replicated cloak”, and a pathetically small amount of money that respawned as long as you didn’t actually spend it. The first category had the single, expendable, irreplaceable, Lerasium bead… a pet warband of 20 monstrosities, a pet shapeshifter… and a regenerating supply of Atium. If I hadn’t just come out of Strike Witches and gained combat precog, I would have been all over that… as it was? I didn’t care too much. The primary counter to Atium Precog was to burn Atium yourself, since two precogs cancelled each other out… but I was effectively invisible to precog and had my own without burning anything.

So the Lerasium [-800/200/1800] was it. It was 200 more than just buying Mistborn straight up, but it was orders of magnitude stronger than that ability. Lerasium was the single rarest metal in Scadrial, even rarer then Atium. It was solidified essence of Preservation, just as Atium was solidified essence of Ruin. According to the text, only a scant few beads of Lerasium existed hidden in the Well of Ascension… but somehow, buying this meant I had one. If the bead was consumed by someone who was not an Allomancer, they became a Mistborn of unparalleled power, many times stronger than any modern Mistborn. I didn’t have to consume it myself, but I would have to be very, VERY careful about who I did give it to, and letting it out of my sight was ill advised! I wouldn’t get a second one if the first was lost or stolen, and the text stated that it could not be reproduced by any means. It did, however, indicate that this bead was, functionally, identical to the ones in the Well of Ascension, which meant that, yes, stealing those would give me more beads with which to create more Primordial Mistborn

I’d have to be very careful with it… and with the other beads I got my hands on. Burning Lerasium when you already were a Mistborn was said to be able to rewrite your own spiritual DNA… somehow. Of course, burning enough to become a Savant (the ultimate and often disastrous result of Allomantic over use) of Lerasium would make me the Shardholder of Preservation, and that would be chain-endingly bad. Not sure that much Lerasium existed, but taking a chance seemed… unwise.

Regardless, a Mistborn could use Steel to sense all nearby metals (besides Aluminum) and push it in a form of TK called “Coinshot”, either to move the object if lighter than the allomancer or to move the allomancer if they were lighter than the object or the object was blocked from moving (say, by being wedged in place. Didn’t work on metal in the body unless the Allomancer was terribly powerful. Iron did the same, but pulling instead of pushing, i.e. “Lurching”. Burning Pewter, “Pewterarm”, enhanced all your physical abilities (Strength, speed, balance, endurance, pain threshhold, healing rate, stamina, and resistance to hunger or thirst.), while burning Tin, “Tineye”, enhanced the senses and made the mists appear transparent. Zinc allowed the Allomancer to boost (“Riot”) the emotions of those around them, while Brass “Soothed” them, but neither granted the ability to read them.

Copper-burning “Smokers” create a metaphysical… (or was that metalphysical?) “Cloud” that hid Allomancy usage from Bronze-burning “Seekers” who could hear Allomantic pulses and track them back to the Allomancer. Copper not only rendered one immune to emotional Allomancy, it would protect against any form of supernatural detection or mental influence while being burned. Bronze , I was assured, would allow me to detect any form of supernatural power… at least once the jump ended.

Gold-burning “Augurs” got to see a brief vision of the people they might have been. Electrum “Oracles” could predict their own actions in the immediate future… which made it useless except to block Atium-burning “Seers”, who could see several seconds into the future, as long as the Atium lasted (it didn’t last long)… and could be countered by any other form of immediate precognition.

Aluminum was useless, since burning it simply burned out all the other metals in your body… but Duralumin, which was useless on its own, was anything but to a full Mistborn. When burned with another metal, Duralumin would burn the entire store of that metal in one massive jolt, giving a huge boost in power for a few seconds. Chromium-burning “Leechers” could do the Aluminum thing to anyone they touched… and in future would be able to drain the power source of any supernatural ability. Nicrosil (a nickel chromium alloy) burning “Nicrobursters” could do the Duralumin trick to any others, and would be able to supercharge any one supernatural ability at a time… though doing so would utterly exhaust the target and/or empty whatever power supply that ability used.

And that brought us to the Cadmium-burning “Pulsers” and Bendalloy-burning “Sliders”. The first created a bubble of slowed time around themselves, the second created a bubble of accelerated time around themselves. The bubbles were typically only a little bigger than the user was tall, visible and tangible enough to interfere with the vector of projectiles. All in all, it was a useful and highly flexible powerset…

And that was before Compounding entered the picture. If a Compounder burned their own metalmind (i.e. a chunk of metal they’d stored power in), the results were amplified by magnitudes. Store a bit of strength in Pewter, burn the Pewter, store the new superstrength in a second bit of Pewter… burn it to get megastrength… have fun breaking all the things.

I considered what to do with my final 200 CP. There were a number of somewhat useful 200 CP items and perks… but ultimately, I snagged two 100’s. The first was the Noble’s “Privileged” [-100/100/1800], which meant I’d be treated deference and respect by anyone who was not demonstrably my superior. People, even my peers, would take pains not to offend me, and give me all the respect and privilege due to whatever my current rank was. People who had good reason to hate me, or who were noticeably superior to me, wouldn’t defer of course, but they’d still treat me with at least a modicum of respect even if that respect was merely a thin veil hiding a vicious, seething hatred. It wasn’t much, but I had a feeling that very soon I’d be demonstrating my superiority to most, if not all, of Scadrial.

The second… was the Cultist’s “Ruinous Font” [-100/0/1800], which gave me the power Hemalurgy on my own, rather than calling upon the power of Ruin to do so. In this world, one didn’t have to belong to a specific bloodline to use Hemalurgy. All one needed was the desire to do harm and to draw on Ruin… which allowed the god to influence the Hemalurgist and actively manipulate the beneficiaries of Hemalurgy towards his own destructive ends. Ruinous font gave me the smallest sliver of Ruin’s power, just enough to fuel my own Hemalurgy without Ruin’s help. Hemalurgic spikes I created would have no connection to Ruin, and their users could not be controlled by him or by emotional Allomancy. I also could make Hemalurgical spikes outside of the jump… asuming I found a source of knowledge on Hemalurgical processes… Ha! I figured, let’s make the lunacy complete. Fuck Sanity. Fuck playing it safe. I was going to rip the entire crumbling edifice of this sorry world apart. I was gods-be-damned scanning tunneling mind reader. If I wanted knowledge of Hemalurgy, I’d snatch it from the skulls of the members of the Canton of Orthodoxy as I tore their heads from their necks.

I stepped back from the machine, blinking. I was… angry. Huh. I hadn’t even entered the world and I was seething for a fight. I needed to meditate on this.

When I emerged from my contemplation, feeling calmer but no less worried about why I was getting so deeply and personally upset, Ahab and Joy both presented their plans to me. Joy decided to import herself as a Noble (Privileged, Choked By Ash, Coin Pouch (500 boxings, pocket change to a noble, a vast fortune to a skaa, useful for transportation or ammunition to a Mistborn, regenerates coins used as other than currency)), while Ahab decided to go Skaa… just because it came with “Beneath your Notice” (You are unimportant, or are very good at seeming so. So long as you make no effort to draw attention to yourself, the majority of people will regard you as beneath them, and not worth bothering with. You blend in with the background easily. Note that if you do something attention-grabbing, such as attack someone or try to enter a restricted area, no amount of unimportance will hide you.)

I signed off on them, hit confirm on the VMoD, locking my choices in… but didn’t drop immediately. Instead, I spent just over two weeks crafting a complete set of metalminds, as well as prepping hundreds of vials of allomantic metal flakes and numerous metallic beads. The alloy balance for all the Metallic Arts metals was the same, and my Feruchemy made sure I knew them back to front. I also made myself an enchanted Mistcloak (good for moving through the mist, hiding in the mist, and having no metal in it), Carbonfiber Hazekiller Gear (no metal weaponry), and just under 80 score diamondoid knives… fuck this low tech bullshit.

Once my cadre and I were outfitted (the backup squad had metal-free envirosuits that would have fit right in with HYDRA-shock troopers), I dropped.

INSERTION – SCADRIAL

Luthadel, capital of the Final Empire – 1016 FE, 6 years before the book’s begin. I was 19 and I had a plan. It was a good plan… or so I thought.

Step 1 was locating the Pits of Hathsin, the place where the Lord Ruler’s Atium was mined. That this would also be where Kelsier (first of the doomed heroes of this tale) and his wife Mare would end up in a few years… assuming I couldn’t find them first… was just a bonus. It was also the location of the secret Kandra Homeland, hidden in the cave networks deep underground… and inside that network, the Trustvault, the Lord Ruler’s massive stash of Atium. A stash I had every intention of stealing.

Finding that information was as simple as… finding the home of Straff Venture, the richest noble in Luthadel… and the man in charge of the Pits. Also father of Elend Venture, a bookish reformer and second of the doomed heroes of the novels. Straff was a monster and I snatched the information from his mind, giving him a migraine that left him bedridden for a month.

While I was dealing with that, Ahab was searching for Camon’s crew among the skaa thieves of the city. Camon was a tool, but his crew contained the now 11 year old Vin, an Allomancer and the third doomed hero… or heroine as the case may be. Joy, it should be said, was officially my Mistress, since I was, under the law, a slave and her servant. She knew better than to take advantage of that. Also, thanks to my drawback, her boxings were fake and we were pennyless… until I stole 5,000 boxings from Straff. Solution set for being broke: earn money, steal money… very simple solution set.

The pits were not far from Luthadel, and I decided to walk the distance, seeing the world of Scadrial in all its depressing unsplendor. Mist, Ash, brown plants… poisoned water, poisoned sky… a thousand years of this? No wonder everything sucked. It was on the road to the pits that two things happened. One was the arrival of my Steel Inquisitor stalker. Two was as a result of me cutting his head off.

I received a flicker of awareness of thought moments before he smashed out of the nearby trees, steel spike filled eye-sockets fixed on me as if he could see like normal people. He was fast, very very fast, superhumanly. But so was I. He was reaching for my metals, for my emotions, for anything to use against me… I was reaching for my Zanpakuto. Hyperfractal Ice is essentially strange matter. It can’t possibly exist. It was Ice so cold it was negative Kelvin, its edge was monomolecular… it cut through steel and bone like paper.

As he fell, I wrenched the lynchpin spike out of his back. Inquisitors are much less scary when one knows how they work and what their weaknesses are (Beheading, removing the lynchpin spike). That was two problems solved… and another one gained.

I watched in, at first fascination, and then mounting horror, as Soul of Ice began drinking the Mist. What one mist… er… must understand is that the Mists of Scadrial aren’t normal. They’re persistent over centuries. The Lord Ruler rose to power because he was searching for a way to end something called “The Deepness” a perpetual choking mist… which now covered all the world. That mist was the body of Preservation… its mind trapped in the Well of Ascension to keep Ruin’s mind trapped as well and thus keep Ruin from destroying the world.

Those mists were pure Preservation… I slammed my sword back into the scabbard… then cringed as it kept drinking up the mists. I could feel the power building in me, feel… Preservation noticing me. A god, noticing me. I had to stop it before I became incapable of action at all. That’s Preservation’s curse. It couldn’t destroy. I stuffed my sword into the warehouse, feeling instantly a little naked… part of my soul was cut off from me.

Then another sense of horror washed through me… this wasn’t the first time I’d encountered soul mist. It was, in fact, the third time. The first wasn’t a big deal. The mists of the Spiritworld in Bleach were essentially harmless, just spirit particles forming mist. No different than the spirit particles that formed trees or rocks or buildings… The second time… that was Demon’s Souls. And that… that was the Colorless Gray Fog. It was… shit… how much of that stuff had gotten into me?

I had to find… Shit… I apparated back to the safehouse in Luthadel, pausing long enough to steal all the spikes and store them in blood filled jars, then cremate the body. Once there, I sealed the place with every spell I could think of, threw up a force bubble, then stepped through into the warehouse. Once there I entered my private workshop, that room no one but me could enter. The bead was where I’d left it, still unconsummed, sealed in elemental ice. Soul of Ice was pouting on a workbench.

“How much of the Gray Fog did you drink?” I demanded. She flinched. I tempered my words “It’s poison. It’s…. It’s pure selfish megalomaniacal evil.” She grumbled “It tasted good!”

I sighed. “Crap…. Crap Crap Crap… you’re… you’re a power junky. We… we have to find a way to get it out of us.”

“Whyyyyyy?”

“Because I think it’s been making us do less than completely rational things. I think we’ve been… I think…” I sat down. “A little pragmatism is good. It’s fine. A little arrogance is good. Also perfectly natural. But we’ve been going off the deep end a bit. Shit. I… I’ll have to think about this. I don’t know how to get the corruption out. But you can’t come out unless you promise not to drink the mist.”

“But it’s all yummeeeeee.”

“Right. And if you drink too much of it-”

“You become an Allomancer!”

“And we run the risk of becoming the Shardholder of Preservation and getting stuck here. Forever. I don’t like the Cosmere enough to stay here. Certainly not with Odium running around trying to kill Shardholders. And Hoid being fucking creepy.”

“Boring!” my inner hollow said, manifesting herself as well… thankfully in her less eldritch horror Resurreccion state. Pretty was not the word for us in Silent Judge Released form.

“Hush you. No… wait… do you know how to get rid of the Gray Fog we’ve absorbed?”

“No. Of course not. We don’t know what you don’t know.”

“Right… of course.”

VIctoria, the fourth part of our quintet of me, my symbiotic clothing, armor, wand, personal computer, tricorder… wasn’t any help either, which wasn’t really surprising. Atura, as always, simply watched, considered, offering support where possible, but seldom interfering.

Still, now I knew… and knowing was the first step… though I had no idea how to get rid of this contamination.

Long story short, I found Hathsin. Many slaves, lots of crawling through pitchblack cracks in the ground looking for a geode that contained a bead of Atium, reaching through crystals that scratched and scarred. Find a geode a week or you were beaten to death. It was not a life that lasted long and no one got out alive. I flowed into the pits as a ribbon of darkness, releasing mapping microspiders as I went, each programmed to locate part of the cave system and map it, to tag geodes and the crystal deposits where they grew. After dropping off a couple thousand of them, all rigged to self destruct if captured, I headed back to the city.

Finding all the players, Vin, Kelsier, Mare (his wife), Marsh (his brother and eventually the primary Steel Inquisitor of Ruin), and Sazed (the prophesied Hero of Ages, the one who would unite Ruin and Preservation into Harmony… a Terrisman and Eunuch.)… it took 4 years. Luthadel isn’t huge, but it’s not exactly tiny and, to be honest, I wasn’t moving fast. The well wouldn’t be ready until 1024 FE, and, while people were suffering and dying, they’d been doing it for a thousand years and more. It wasn’t very nice, but I wasn’t going to be the one to put the world back together again, bring back the sun, all that happy horseshit. I was just going to be the one who eased the transition.

Getting Vin away from Camon was easy. Getting Mare away from the Pits of Hathsin before she could be beaten to death before Kelsier’s eyes was only slightly more challenging (dopplegangers for the win, woo woo). Waiting for Kelsier to show up in Luthadel and put together a team to lead the rebellion… that was nerve wracking. Mare was anxious to see him, but was more than happy to play mother hen to Vin… who’d had the hemalurgical spike her mother had implanted in her, and which Ruin had been using to shape her into his prison key, removed and stored away in a vial of blood. Those vials were necessary to preserve the enchantments on the spikes, which would otherwise degrade over time if they weren’t in a host.

I’d studied the minds of dozens of Hemalurgical experts, and their documents, gleaning everything I could find. I’d also mapped the entire Kandra homeland by now and replaced all the shiny Atium with titanium ballbearings. They wouldn’t be able to tell the difference unless they actually tried to use them. I had an empire’s ransom of Atium in my warehouse. Now all I needed was Sazed. And once he arrived in the city, all my plans could begin.

I arranged for Vin to join Kelsier’s crew, since she and Elend were a cute couple, and Vin needed training. I spent long, long hours talking with Sazed, explaining everything I could about the Cosmere and about the prophecy and the Kandra and the Kollos and the Lord Ruler and the Shards. I could also have restored his manhood, The Medbed is one very nice piece of tech. All I needed now was The Slab…. But I explained it all to him, showing him the prophecy I’d etched into metal, the text of the book that would be written in another world. I explained that we had to find Ati and Leras and he must claim their powers and remake the world. I promised him my help in all this.

And then, I entered Kredik Shaw, the Lord Ruler’s Fortress. I made my way through the Steel Inquisitors like they were nothing to me, and they weren’t. They had no protection against my elemental control, which could melt and shape the spikes within them without touching them, pulling the Lynchpins as if they were nothing but offswitches.

The Lord Ruler was… displeased to see me. He was also displeased to realize I had no metal for him to use, no emotional state for him to twist… and then terrified as I began pulling his hemalurgic spikes slash metalminds from his body one by one with deliberate cruelty. “You are a horrible person, Rashek. A thousand years of tyranny, out of hatred for the Khelenni people… a thousand years of brutal murder, slaughter, and repression against your own people. Has it made you happy? Has it done anything but made people suffer? A world choked in ash. You’ll go down as evil beyond any other, you know that?”

He growled that he’d done what was needed, that he had saved the world “You saved it from what? The Deepness? The Deepness is all around! You saved the people by enslaving them to your own twisted will! I hope you rot in hell, but I don’t believe in Hell and I’m pretty sure the Cosmere lacks an afterlife!” And I ripped out the Atium spikes he was storing youth in, watching as he aged into dust in moments.

Yes yes, I’d stolen Vin and Kelsier’s thunder, but in the books, the battle had claimed many lives and been fairly one sided until Vin exploited the single weakness in The Lord Ruler’s defenses… stripping him of that which made him unbeatable.

And then I opened the way to the Well of Ascension and showed it to Sazed “This is the prison of Ruin” I commented “What happens next is for you to decide.” Preservation’s Mist Spirits objected to my twisting of the prophecy. I shrugged. “Your way killed a great many people, Preservation. Plunged a world into darkness and decay for a thousand years. How many died in suffering? I know you had no other way. And that life would not exist here without your actions… But now you must help us. We must draw out Ruin’s Shardholder and you… will be the bait.”

The events that followed were… transformative. Sazed remade the world in all its splendor and, to a certain degree, I helped, offering suggestions where I could and providing references from my travels where possible. Harmony, as Ruin and Preservation were when combined, had nearly unlimited local power. He was a god of creation and recreation. Better him than me.

I spent the last few years helping the transition of power from Final Empire to newly born nations, all trying to adjust to life amid the greenery and warmth of the sun, green plants, animals, and more.

I realized how close my meddling had come to throwing the world’s balance totally off. I could have looted everything and ruined Preservation’s plans. They were delicate enough. I wondered if there were other jumpers in other versions of this world and how much damage they’d done, even as I attended the Coronation of Elend and Vin as Emperor and Empress.

I’d found 7 beads of Lerasium in the Well, given one to Elend, one to Mare… that left 5, plus the one in my lab. I consumed one from the Well, feeling the power awakening within me. It would bear experimentation. Sazed laughed when I asked him if he could create more… or what, exactly, would happen if I alloyed Atium and Lerasium? Would they make Harmonium? For the first, he could, but wouldn’t… not yet. He didn’t know about the second. I nodded. I gave Zane the original bead. I wasn’t sure if the others would turn someone not native to this world into an Allomancer. That left four. Four beads with which to experiment.

And other metals too. Vibranium & Adamantium… Uru-Metal… Mithril… Valyrian Steel… Oh… those were interesting. Vibranium could store loudness when used by a Feruchemist, and when burned made the skin of the Allomancer absorb light. Adamantium stored durability, and when burned transformed the Allomancer’s bones and nails to metal. Uru-Metal stored creativity, and burning it allowed for storm generation powers, wind, lightning, thunder… that kind of thing. Mithril stored grace, making one clumsy and awkward when storing, but fluid, smooth, and beautiful when tapping it. Burning it allowed the user a sense of where to go next, though the more certain you were of what you were looking for, the stronger the pathway became. Valyrian Steel allowed one to store anger and passion… a strange thing… storing it made one apathetic and listless. Burning it allowed one to breath fire. Much more reasonable. Aurium, of which I had a tiny amount, I didn’t want to burn, but I could, of course, store aura in it, which would be damned useful if I ever went to a Dragonball type setting. I still hadn’t experimented with the Hemalurgy, so I wasn’t up for messing with spikes of ultra rare metals, and I certainly didn’t want to exhaust my supply of any of those limited things before I had a way to acquire or produce more.

I was also looking forward to getting my hands on some Orihalcum at some point. That could be most interesting.

“Sazed. Harmony. One last thing. Can you sense the presence of any of your mist within me? Or of another mist, possibly darker and nastier, a colorless gray mist?” Sazed shook his head somewhat sadly.

“I can sense you want those removed from you, but they are part of you now and if you want them gone, you will have to remove them yourself.”

“Doesn’t me having some of your mist weaken the part of you that is Preservation?”

He considered, then smiled. “It does. Would you be willing to take part of Ruin within yourself?”

I gulped…. then nodded. “Just enough to balance out the Preservation. A little Harmony would probably be a good thing.”

The passing of that tiny fragment was beyond what I had imagined. The three soul mists shifted, twisted, merged, the Gray of Discord mediating between the forces of Ruin and Preservation. The sensation was… unpleasantly like being stuffed back into an eggshell. If Sazed was Harmony, I was… Melody? A counterpoint woven into the fabric of the song. I was an element of contrast, drawn to extremes. Atura flowed into the mixture and… the whole thing thunked into the atrium of my Mental Palace, an egg the size of a minivan.

I was not at all certain I’d enjoy what eventually hatched.

Next: World 45 – Diplomacy in Real Time

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World 43: Gargoyles

BROADWAY BOUND

Previously: Danger Zone

Themesong: Candyman by Christina Aguilera

The second I stepped through the Pillars of Time back into the Warehouse, I noticed that the new VMoD had finally been installed. It was very fancy… and looked like a pizza making machine. There was a slip of paper attached to the surface. There were also a number of animals flying, running, and lounging around. They looked familiar, but it took me a moment to realize they were our collective Strike Familiars. Ziggy looked like he was freaking out from sensation overload. Two foxes, five dogs, two cats, two birds, a sheep, and a beaver were making themselves at home in the normally quiet warehouse. Joy’s horse, Sorrow, was flicking an ear and looking annoyed as the smaller animals ran round and round. Fliagor, the oldest of the pets, was resigned to all this and didn’t bother getting up from his patch of grass. Of course, aside from Sorrow and Fliagor who were horses and Ziggy who was a Mon, the others were familiars and thus mostly sentient.

I’d seen the ears and tails of those creatures many times over the last decade, but never seen most of them manifest. My own Alegra, an italian red fox who was white (not albino, white… yes that happens) was poking Ziggy as the two of them tried to establish dominance… or rather, the fox did and Ziggy yawned hugely. Alegra was smarter and magical… Ziggy was a Mon and a ferretoid at that. A full grown male ferret can bring down a full grown male fox seven falls out of ten… Ziggy could take Alegra, but he wouldn’t hurt her. He’s a good boy. The others, though, might be a problem.

I eyed the massive bald eagle, then wandered over and very pointedly told the Eagle “They aren’t prey.” The eagle just flared his wings and fluttered. I hate birds. But that was for later. I wandered over to the machines and snatched the note.

“Sorry for the delay. On thinking about it, Have decided to change my mind. An exchange is acceptable. Therefore, we have refunded your purchase of Flawless Awareness and replaced it with something you’ll enjoy more. Please press the change return button to receive your refund.”

I quirked my eyebrow “What? Wait! I like Flawless Awareness! It’s useful!” but no one answered. I pulled the coin return and two thunks echoed from the dispenser unit. I fished around in the slot and found a pair of wristbands with a computerized display. Hmmm. The tag Identified them as Universal Locator Beacon Bracelets. The display on each was a list of names. I blinked… those names were the names of everyone I’d met in the last world! I scrolled down the list, then selected Francesca. “Francesca Lucchini, confirm?” I mmmm’d, then hit yes. Lucchini, looking exactly the same as she looked at the party not ten minutes earlier, appeared, looking around “Whaaa?”

I held up a hand. “Hold on, let me just…” I hit confirm on the second and Mini McGonagall appeared, 20 years old and gorgeous and equally confused. Explaining took… a few days. Getting them over the culture shock would be an ongoing thing… but first, I had to boot up the new VMoD and find out what the next Jump was going to be. Turns out it was Gargoyles.

I recognized the font but it took sifting through tons of millennia old memories to remember that that was the name of a Disney cartoon show about some winged monsters who turned into stone during the day and fought some guy named Xanatos. I’d seen maybe a third of an episode and only knew about Xanatos because of an old trope called a Xanatos Gambit… i.e. the American version of “Just as Planned!”

I knew nothing about the story, except that there was a love story triangle between the head Gargoyle “Goliath” and some human cop lady and a crazy evil female gargoyle… and that Commander William Riker played Xanatos. The blurb was pretty much the same info; “The world of Gargoyles is mostly just like your own. Mostly. Scattered around the globe are a few clans of winged humanoids called gargoyles, technology is significantly more advanced for those who can afford it, and the Children of Oberon occasionally meddle with human affairs. Magic and aliens are real, but rare enough that most people don’t know they exist yet. The year is 1994 and the Manhattan Clan have just woken from their millennium long slumber.”

I really had no interest in any of this, not being a fan of the show, but the 1990s in the US was an interesting time and I could use a bit of a vacation in a world that wasn’t in the midst of post-war reconstruction. The wheels of age and location gave me 23 years old and NYC. I could cope with both, so I started with the companion import options and drawbacks.

Importing 8 was [-400/600/1000] and gave each of them a race, an origin, and 400 to spend. Not bad. Could get it half price if I was a drop in but I really didn’t see any particular advantage to that.

Crash Artist [+100/700/1100] made it so that any non-CP vehicle I built or acquired would go up in flames within a day. New York City, home of the Taxi and Subway. I didn’t think I’d have to worry. Friendly Enemies [+200/900/1300] made it so all my enemies would team up with each other, creating a snowball of enmity… so I just had to avoid making enemies.

But then I hit a snag. There were three things total I… wanted is a hard phrase to use… could use? No, that’s not right either. There were two things I felt like paying CP for on the perks and items list. Undiscounted, they were 400 points. That left 900… and I wasn’t feeling it. And I wasn’t feeling like being a “Super Snooper”, “Business Man”, or “Warrior” either. Screw it. I took Drop-In, which changed my total to [1100/1300]. Then I pressed Import Companions option again. “Error, option already selected.”

“I’m aware. I’d like to import 8 more companions.”

“You can’t.”

“Why not?”

“…”

“No answer?”

“That is the way things are done.”

“That’s boring.”

“Still, that is the way things are done.”

“Awww… come on… I’m willing to pay the CP cost. Just let me have 16. You dropped a Neuroi version of my Assault Shuttle on me and cloaked a Neuroi Hive just to give me a hard time last time.”

“…”

“So, that’s not a denial?”

“I might have… nudged the scenario. Slightly.”

“So…”

“I also gave you Mini. Twice.” I could swear the words were almost plaintive.

“Mmmm… “

“And Lucchini.”

“This is a point. How about this… I promise not to use any of my companions in combat during this jump.”

“You’re not planning on getting into combat this jump!”

“Seee! There you go! No combat, No group beatdown.”

“You think you’re clever.”

“I am clever.”

“Give me one good reason I should bend the rules for this.”

“It’ll be amusing.”

“How so?”

“SJ’s crew does New York City? How could it not be?”

“I… hmmm… Why can’t they just swap in and out like normal?”

“Parties. Plays. Shopping. Ice Skating at Rockafeller. Hanging out in Central Park, playing football.”

“Doesn’t seem like a great reason.”

“No. It’s not. It’s a terrible reason… Of course, I could just move to Idaho and play farmville for a decade. I’m certain it would be riveting.”

“Could send you home.”

“And how would that be entertaining?”

“Look. Just spend the CP, you obnoxious blonde!”

“Ooooo… is the big bad Quasi-omnipotent being getting grumpy?”

“Grrr…”

“Would it help if I said please?”

“Your entire argument hinges on the “But, I wanna!” defense!”

“Not entirely!”

“Yes it does!”

“It also hinges on the I’m bored defense!”

“Oh, that’s sooo much better!”

“It’s your reason for doing all this, as far as I can tell… unless you’re selling viewing rights to other bored QOBs.”

“QOBs?”

“Quasi-”

“Oh, right… fine… this once… just… just don’t do it again.”

“Cool.”

I pressed the button again. It pinged in a most satisfactory fashion. [-200/900/1300]. Then I pressed it again.

“You don’t have 24 companions!”

“I wanna give my companions 400 extra CP.”

There was a noise very much like a QOB banging their head against a desk.

“Is that a no?”

“Why would you think that?” The Banker’s voice dripped sarcasm all over my floor… so that’s what it looked like… eww.

“Please?”

“I have a meeting-”

“Pretty Please?”

“What good does making a please pretty do?”

“Dunno. I’ll wear Ziggy as a hat?”

“You do that anyway.”

“Come on… what could it hurt?”

“They’d be able to buy things they normally couldn’t, for one.”

“Only Grey Goo, Eye of Odin, and The Arcanum Grimoire. Everything else that costs over 400 has a discount and could, in theory, be acquired if they picked the right background. So how about if they can’t get anything they normally couldn’t with 400?”

“I suppose… wait, you’re trying to trick me into saying that that’s okay.”

“You just did.”

“I did not.”

“Did too.”

I kept poking the button. For 19 hours.

“You’re going to keep doing that until I say yes, aren’t you.”

“I might take a nap eventually. I’m very patient. Something about spending 12,300 years as God-King of the Magi… Something I haven’t abused nearly enough.”

“What do you mean?”

“My Magi were a star spanning hyper advanced empire, ones who I bootstrapped to Star Trek / Mass Effect Level tech in under 3000 years and who only got more advanced from there. I should be able to find their ruins in every jump, right? I could go looking for lost Magi artifacts.”

“Err… their artifacts?”

“Dude… were you sleeping while Trelane was tormenting me? It was a 12,000 year old culture that had a functioning star empire 3300 years in. 9,000 years is a damned long time to build stuff. On thousands of worlds.”

“Oh… well, right…”

“I could go find lost Magi colonies… make an empire… invade earth and outlaw pizza.”

“You’re not taking this jump seriously.”

“It’s a Disney TV cartoon about talking rocks and a bad guy named Xanatos. What’s to take seriously? It’s only slightly less goofy than Gummy Bears. Ooo! Can I do that instead?”

“No.”

“How about Kim Possible. I would make sooo much better a supervillain than Draken… ooo… oo… I could totally get Kimmie and Shego to-”

“You’re a KiGo Shipper?” The horror was palpable.

“Ayup. You didn’t read the contents of my drive before handing it over, did you? I have dozens of KiGo fanfics there. Hell, I spent a year or so animating one of them during my imprisonment just because.”

“What? Where? I don’t remember that!”

“Memory Palace. I don’t need to have copies of anything I’ve ever read or seen. And I don’t need a computer to animate things in my head. Hell… I’ve got like fifteen seasons of The Lesbian Adventures of Korra and Asami, plus an additional 12 seasons of Ranma in my head. Also World War Smurf. And the Aliens Musical. And Carehammer 40k-”

“What is Carehammer?”

“Warhammer, except the Space Marines and the Emperor were all Carebears. They attack with Carebear Stare out of their tummy plates.”

“You’re insane.”

“Dude, you’re just figuring this out now?”

“Fine. Just… Hold on.” A machine appeared in front of me. It looked suspiciously like the dream recorder from Red Dwarf.

“What’s this?”

“Memory Capture device.”

“How’s it work?”

“Bring up a memory, focus on it, run it through as sharply as you can. It will record it.”

“Oh. Cool… If I do this?”

“Yeah, sure, whatever. No extra CP or anything, but I’ll bend the rules. Give.”

So I traded nearly 60 years of animated daydreams for a bending of the rules. I’d have to build myself one of those… or go to Red Dwarf and steal one. Hummm… how hard could it be?

Fifteen hours later I finished uploading the first season of The KiGo Chronicles to the Banker’s server… I know he’d be horrified… but he hadn’t specified what he wanted, thus leaving the upload order to me.

Of course, that means I’d spent 800 of my 1300 on the minions. 500 left for me… hmmm… now I actually had to spend them. I considered buying the Grimorum Arcanorum, which claimed it contained almost every spell a human mage has ever created and the energy to cast it… but it didn’t say it would update… and that was a dealbreaker.

Instead, I snagged Pragmatic [-100/400/1300] which would give me a supposedly accurate idea of when someone could be useful in the future, as well a similar sense of when it was time to cut my losses. Know when to hold ’em, when to fold ’em, and when to run. It guaranteed I’d pretty much never show more of my hand than necessary for a plot to succeed. It was manipulative, but it wasn’t like that was anything new for me. A small boost to my instincts, one that didn’t rely on mind reading, couldn’t be blocked by shielding… it wasn’t nothing.

Add to that Suspicious [-300/100/1300], a sense of when someone is lying to me or being manipulative… even if it’s my most trusted friend or partner, I’d recognize the tell-tale signs that someone wasn’t being forthright with me… and it worked even if the creature wasn’t human… or even sentient. How cool is that? AI’s are insidious. Even a technopath isn’t going to know if one is lying most of the time. Demons likewise. Reading non-humans is not easy. I know from experience.

And finally, Machinist [-100/0/1300], a general boost to my practical engineering and toolwork skillset. Rebuild and improve a helicopter in half a day or build a functional motorcycle from spare parts. If honed, should let me make nearly anything from incredibly advanced robots to nanite swarms in only a few months time. It wasn’t a beat down boost to my tech skills, but it was one, and for the price it was right.

And, though I nearly missed it, as a Human, in this world I got Tech-Adapting for [Free] which meant that a few moments examining a machine would allow me to figure out its most basic functions and how they worked, and the longer I spent studying a device, the greater my understanding would grow, obviously… but even so, it promised I’d be able to pilot craft I’d never been in before or operate alien computers with relative ease.

Now the problem was deciding who got to come with. It wasn’t an easy thing to say to someone that they couldn’t join in the fun and games. Well, I could say it to Kagetane, who I still hadn’t bothered letting out of the egg. And I could say it to Dyna, who wouldn’t care. Ditto the often aloof Rayray, could tell Cirno she couldn’t come… in fact, keeping the monumentally foolish fairy locked in the warehouse seemed the best idea I’d had in ages. So she wasn’t coming. Kohina too. Stability wasn’t her strong point in any way shape or form.

Wow… I was considering taking a Vord Queen to NYC over a highly unstable… borderline psychotic… young woman. Say what you want, but Kohina did not play nice with others. Reggy at least understood the concept of restraint… and was, astoundingly, more human and more humane. She could use more time socializing, though I knew I was taking a risk. It was either her or Rayray… I flipped a coin… Reggy won… for certain values of the term won.

While I meditated on the Dream Machine, one by one my chosen companions filed through, though I had to help Reggy, Mini, and Lucchini figure it out, and do the picking for Senior von Squirm.

Zane opted to be a Human Businessman, then bought The Phoenix Gate (a medallion that allows a bubble 3 yards in diameter to be projected back in time to create a stable time loop where the past could not be changed)… it wasn’t the best time machine, but it could be invaluable for observing past events.), a Personal Assistant (stone-faced, serious, loyal, practical, well rounded, might be a secret fairy/demigod), and pocketed the $400,000 that came with his background. In the perk arena, he snagged Pragmatism and Tech-Adapting for free, then picked up the troperiffic Xanatos Gambit (i.e. master planner and detailed contingency anticipation) and Machinist. He named his PA “Sabrina”… I instantly didn’t trust her.

Gaius also went to Human Businessman school, getting the Personal Assistant, Pragmatic, Tech-Adapting, and $400k… heh, should have been 401k… He also plunked down the CP for Teamwork (a kind of sixth sense team flow perk) and Doing Machiavelli Proud (a manipulation and scheming perk) even though he really didn’t need the second and the first he was spectacularly unlikely to use. He named his PA “Juno”… I looked back and forth between Gaius and Zane and glowered “Ha… frickin… Ha.” They pretended to be innocent, but I didn’t need mind reading or suspicions to see through their little show.

Joy, importing herself, followed in their footsteps, which bagged her all the same freebies and brought our spending cash to $1.2 million.

On the flipside of the racial divide, Velma and Ahab went to Our Lady of Stone Business School for the Gargoyly inclined. They traded Tech-Adapting for Durable (a toughness boost that turned their skin to leather armor, but guaranteed it was suede soft. Which was nice. Smoooooth.) $2 million dollars. It was a drop in the ocean of our ever expanding Bank Account at First Warehouse, even before we sold the gold and gems we had in shipping crate safety deposit boxes stacked 6 high. Velma too got the Gambit of Xanatos and the Prouding of Machiavelli, but tossed in Gargoyle Strength (Toss cars), Well Read (versed in all the classics of fiction and philosophy), and CEO (ownership of a largely self-running company, and the business acumen and luck to keep a business chugging along and progressing, complete with bonuses… Often. And it applied to any business she acquires or builds in the future.)

Francine, Toph, and Reggy all went to The Academy of Human Super Snoopers, nabbing 9mm Glock 19 Pistols, Lucky Badges (which was a defensive perk against small objects like bullets, darts, & throwing stars), and of course Tech Adapting. Francine and Reggy picked up Mad Biologist, a mastery of genetic engineering… Francine to study the biology of Mon… Reggy to figure out how to modify her own genome so her Daughter Queens wouldn’t keep trying to kill her and also to figure out her own origins. It was almost painfully cute to see her try and hide that information from me, as if I’d be angry and she was a child to be spanked. Of course, since she pretty much never aged, she still looked like she was 12. Toph and Francine both plucked up Quick Thinking (the ability to find a solution to any emergency, even if it’s suboptimal) and Illuminated (Membership in this world’s Illuminati, and the Illuminati of all future worlds.). Francine got Pragmatism. Toph got Undercover (mastery of simple but effective disguise skills), Unstoppable Guardian (A willpower boost, eyeglow, intimidation boost… especially when defending something), and Suspicious. Reggy bought Maneuverability (a boost to ground and flight maneuverability), Detective (a deductive reasoning boost), Undercover, and Well Read… to better understand both the human condition and the nature of her own existence.

Petra was their Gargoyle counterpart. Detective, Gargoyle Strength, Durable, Lucky Badge, Quick Thinking, Well Read, the Glock… She supplemented it all with Warrior’s Instincts (an immunity to feints and over-reach in combat) and Lucky Sleeper (A general aura of “don’t attack me when I’m unawares/asleep.”)

Uriel, Bao, Kendra, Mini, and Yoiko all went Drop-In for various reason, though Yoiko was the only Gargoyle, though I suspected her brother had talked her into that, since she didn’t seem particularly thrilled by it. Thus everyone besides her got Tech Adapting and she got Durable. The number one reason to go Drop-In was, to my way of thinking, the ability to pick up Fae-Blooded (increased lifespan and rhyming word magic) and Yoiko, Bao, and Mini all had.

Uriel was a Quick Thinking, Machinist, Mad Biologist… with a specialty in Technosorcery (Combining Magic and Tech). Bao was a Maneuverable CEO. Kendra was a Well Read, Suspicious… Mutant (someone named Anton Sevarius had Mutated her so that she could stun people with short bursts of electricity, had wings, and looked like a jungle catwoman.) She also picked up Advanced Gliding (expert flyer) to better use the wings. Mini and Yoiko were both Cyborgs (metal tentacles out to 15 feet, ability to have additional tech installed at a cybernetics machine shop). Mini was also an Unstoppable Guardian, a Machinist, and a Clan-Sister (an allied Gargoyle Clan, and increased luck in finding and working with non-humans of any sort in future jumps). Yoiko was the same, except without Machinist and with Gargoyle Strength and Warrior Instincts.

And that brought us to the Warriors 3 and a half: Francesca, AJ, Ryoga, and Ziggy von Ziggster. Of them, only Frankie was human… though Ziggy was a Gargbeast (a gargoyle version of a dog that looks like a dragon was humped by a bulldog, and still not sapient). All of them got Warrior’s Instincts free and all of them were durable (though Frankie had to pay for it). Of course, that’s because she got Tech Adapting for free. All four of them also got an authentic and still sharp Viking Sword… except for Ziggy, who got a preternaturally durable and loud squeaky toy (the Banker had delivered it early and Ziggy was annoying everyone with it… except me, because I am the soul of calm… and I think it’s funny). Frankie, AJ, and Ziggy got Teamwork and One Man Army (a boost when facing multiple enemies, keeping them from being too distracted by the crowd to dodge or defend themselves, with situational awareness enough to know of someone’s vanished in the middle of combat). Frankie & Ryoga got Maneuverability & Masterful Tactician (Natural leadership and combat tactician, with an inherent sense of how to use all perks and abilities to get out of any current situation). Ziggy was an Unstoppable Guardian and Lucky Sleeper. AJ added Well Read, Gargoyle Strength, Advanced Gliding, and Weaponsmaster (Proficient with most common and many uncommon weapons) with Frankie picking that last as well, never forget that for all her goofiness, she’s a warrior maiden… well… for some definitions of maiden. And Ryoga got Quick Thinking as well as “My Home is a Castle” (the ability to find the most defensible position or safest hideaway in any area, to set up patrols that are perfectly timed, and perfectly laid out traps. Supernatural methods of infiltration and assault won’t escape his notice, up to and including the Illuminati.)

===INSERTION NEW YORK===

Cue Vacation Montage. No. Seriously. I was in New York City! I had friends, cash to burn, and nothing to worry about. I mean, what the hell was I going to do? Fight Crime? Stop whatever fiendish plot Xanatos was up to? I stopped by his office once. A little megalomaniacal, a bit of a criminal. Not a psychopath. I toned down his desire to win at all costs, smoothed some of the more “I will dispose of them once they’ve served their purpose.” tendencies, then went back to the second half of Les Mis on Broadway.

If there was a world ending threat in the offing, I didn’t know about it. If someone was planning mayhem, I didn’t know about it. 9-11 was, if it still was coming, 7 years off. I knew nothing about the timeline, had plenty of funds, and had friends who wanted nothing more out of life than to live it up. Sex & the City, FRIENDS, Home Alone 2… we did it all. There’s no story here.

Any time a threat appeared, we defused it, got people to make nice, had a party. Demona was a bitch. Ran into her while she was shapeshifted into one of the main business tycoons of the city (you move in those circles when you have friends like mine… and a VI powerful enough to influence the stock exchange… seriously, they need better protections. I made millions off of micro fluctuations, but then I was cheating… but never enough to hurt anyone who’d even notice.) Read serious badjuju in that mind of hers. As in kill all the humans bad juju. I tossed an egg at her and then told her to behave herself. Oh, and I hung up a shingle as a top notch shrink, under a different identity, and made her come see me once a week.

Her and several others in fact. Dr Saj, Therapist to the rich and deranged. Meanwhile, I entertained myself in weekdays by traveling around the world, Shinigami’ing drug barons, human traffickers, and the occasional terror cell leader. They all died of natural causes, or turned state’s evidence, or had changes of heart. Not trying to help where I could wouldn’t have been very nice, and no one on earth was beyond my reach. Making enemies is hard when none of them survive.

Of course, it all caught up to me arround the 7 year mark when it turned out that someone I’d arranged the death of wasn’t exactly human and that their kinfolk had looked into the matter, then somehow backtraced and sicced several highly unstable and vindictive individuals on me.

They started by kidnapping the “weakest” of my cadre, the diminutive Reggy. I got a call from her asking if she was allowed to kill them. I asked where she was, then picked her up and sent her for ice cream while I examined their memories, then edited them to remove all knowledge of me, my friends, or anything other than having come to New York to see Cats and Chorus Line, then healed them up and sent them on their way.

After ice cream and soothing the angry Vord Queen’s wrath with soothing words, hugs, and a new teddy bear and a promise to take her to laser tag on the weekend, I backtracked through their layers, clearing each one of people they’d told, people who had a vested interest in bugging me. Seven layers up the layer cake, I ran into him, a member of the Third Race, the Fair Folk.

He smirked like a smirking smirker when I walked into his presence chamber, tucked away in a small Himalayan nation. A chinese kingpin of a non-chinese nation, a usurper, psychopath, and murderer. Apparently I’d eliminated one of his allies and thus brought me to his attention. He offered me some crab rangoon.

“Thanks. I’ll pass. You know why I’m here.”

“I do! You’re here to kill me!”

“Naw. If I was here for that, you’d be dead already.”

“Haha. I’m sure! You’ve killed several hundred people in my line of work already… of course, I’m a little harder to kill than your other victims.”

I chuckled. “You really think you’re the shit, don’t you? Oberon’s Children, Mab’s Children… you’re a fake little godling, a trickster, a sham of fairy pretending to be a pagan god. Just like you’re pretending that your hair is really blond or you’re just a human. But… here’s the thing. I’m not human either.”

“You’re not? That’s funny! I agree. You’re really… a tree!” I felt the magic trying to transform me, but I flowed my form into that of a tree before the magic could do it. I’d tested the limits and power of Fae magics long before this encounter.

He laughed and laughed, capering around me, snake-skin shoes sliding in a scuffing little dance around me… then he gacked as one of my branches wrapped around his neck and, squeezing tight, lifted him off the ground, legs flailing, his shoes flying off in two different directions.

“You aren’t in my league, little man. You aren’t in the league of most of my followers. You’re a small, petty, vicious little fae who thinks he’s a god simply because he can do a few magic tricks. You don’t know the real meaning of power. But I’m feeling generous, since you provided at least a few days worth of challenge to spice up my vacation. I’m slumming, you see, relaxing, enjoying the shopping and food. New York’s got great food. Great theatre, great museums, great people. President Gore’s doing a fine, if wooden job, and global terror and crime are both down. The people of North Korea are experiencing freedom from tyranny for the first time in decades. And so, in the spirit of generosity, I’m going to let you live. Don’t worry… you’ll like being a ferret.”

I found him a nice 8 year old girl as an owner, got him a three level cage and a bunch of tubes to play in. Best thing about the ferret form curse… no ability to speak at all. Of course, it wasn’t the only thing keeping him in that form, but this jump had reinforced to me that I needed to find a way to increase my magical power. But only after buying a copy of every game in the known universe. Shame the golden age of boardgaming was another decade off in this world. Still, at least I had every M:tG card ever printed in this world and card game night was getting seriously competitive.

I know, I know, having 4 different game nights a week (Cards, Boards, Vidya, Tabletop) wasn’t the definition of enthralling, but vacations are serious things, and Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are dead for the most part, socially speaking. Thursday was Theater night, Friday date night, and Saturday clubs, parties, or more Theater. Days were spent training, shopping, working (some work can be fun), building things, or just hanging out and talking… or often, playing more games or writing. Nights were exactly what you’d expect them to be, stalking the night, drinking, eating, and more than a little snuggling.

All the gaming was also causing me to prioritize future planning, making lists of perks to look for in future jumps. I needed more magical defenses, more magical variety, emotional manipulation and editing abilities, more charisma, more tech… And something, somehow, to remodel the Warehouse. My makeshift Holodeck tech had allowed me to make the walls and ceilings look, sound, and even smell like the outside, but it wasn’t terribly convincing and had considerable room for improvement. I really needed a paddock and a couple of acres of runabout space for the animals as well.

Still, by the end of the decade, just as Gore was running for his second term, we were getting pretty anxious to get back on the road, to see what was next in store for us. We threw an end of decade bash, as usual, but without serious challenges, it lacked… pizzaz. This was the second time we’d vacationed, the first was carribean, the second hyper urban… Have to do something really special for the third one… but it was probably a century or more out. I goosed Frankie and Mini as we passed through the Pillars of Time.

“Well? How’d you enjoy your first world jump?”

Mini responded, “The Future was so bright, I had to wear shades.”

I laughed. “You’ve been waiting to use that one, haven’t you.”

She just grinned at me.

Next: World 44 – Meddling Fool

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World 42: Strike Witches

DANGER ZONE

Previously: Going Deep

Theme Song: Angel Witch by Angel Witch

“Zane?  Why is there a 2800 pound gorilla-thing smashing the Vending Machine of Destiny?”

“Says he’s from the repair service. Said there was a system-sync runtime buffer underflow issue. Says we might have to replay the last jump.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Yup. He said they’re bringing in a new model and needed to widen the slot a little.”

“He said all that?”

“Well… no. But why else would a 1.3 ton gorilla-thing be attacking the VMoD?”

“Ahab! You speak Animal.  Go speak!”

“SJ! You’re a telepath. Go think!”

“Baah.” I walked up to the Gorilla. “Excuse me, why are you getting bits of quasi-wood and glass all over my floor?”

“System-Sync runtime buffer underflow Issue. May have to replay the last jump.”

“What?!”

“Gotcha. Naw, I’m bringing in a new model. Snazzier. But this one resisted. Got uppity. Had to put it down.”

“They’re alive?”

“Naw… just programmed to defend themselves from Jumpers what demand more points or specific worlds or stuff like that.”

“Disgraceful. Who’d do something like that?”

“Yeah, like you never had yer Technopath try and influence the machine.”

“Ummm… actually, I didn’t. Figured it wouldn’t work.”

“Oh. Well then. My mistake.” He doffed his newsies style hat at me then vanished, leaving behind a mess.

“Wait! Where’s the new Machine?”

A piece of paper floated down. “Allow 6-8 weeks for delivery.”

Rassafrassin. A newspaper fell on my head. Strike Witches Gazette. I flipped through it. Zane looked over my shoulder. “Strike Witches?”

“Cute teenage girls fight flying Alien Superweapons in their panties using high caliber weapons.”

“Um… what?”

“The Alien Superweapons are not in the teenage Girls’ panties. I just phrased that badly. Panty clad teenage girls are fighting Alien Superweapons.”

“No, seriously, what’s the setting about.”

“Seriously. Pants and skirts have either never been invented in this world or are exclusively for men. Teenage girls walk around in tops and panties… sometimes socks or tights.”

“And they fight aliens?”

“Giant flying hive aliens.”

“From broomback? How do they aim?”

“Brooms have been replaced with airplane shoes.”

“You’re having me on.”

“Really. I’m not. They’re called Striker Units, they function by magic, which only girls in this world can use, and look like the fuselages of fighter planes from World War 2 and later. Some jets, mostly prop planes.”

“In their panties?”

“Yup.”

“Why aren’t there any, you know, actual fighter planes?”

“Probably because they’re not able to shield themselves like the witches can, or maneuver like them either.”

“Of course. Silly me. Logical really.”

“Shush. It’s cute.”

“It’s pervy.”

“Yes, that too. Clearly the show is for men who like cute girls and military hardware.”

“I like the busty babes on the sides of Bombers. Does that count?”

“Zane? Where did you… MCU?”

“Ayup. Bomber crews are the best.”

“Right. Well, this time round, the Neuroi, the Aliens stopped WW2 dead in its tracks… took out most of mainland europe too.”

“So the Neuroi are space Nazis?”

“Hard to say, they don’t talk much. But yes, an implacable black-and-red foe which Japan and her allies, the rest of the world get to fight.”

“So… fantasy revisionist history?”

“Pretty much. Italy gets the cutest girl though.”

“Oh? Why do you say that? She the lesbian?”

“Naw. There are plenty of those. She’s the youngest of the canon witches and the one who naps all the time, steals other girls panties, and gets up to shenanigans.”

“Really?”

“Oh yeah. Seriously, naps everywhere. Oh!  I forgot to tell you, these witches have familiars.”

“They often do.”

“But these Familiars aren’t separate beings… they’re manifested as animal ears and tails when the witches use magic. At least in the Anime. I think it might be different in the Manga, but I never read that.”

“Neko-mimi panty clad teenage fighter pilot witches.”

“Yes! It’s like a perfecta of moe tropes!”

“I’m going to hate this, aren’t I?”

“Dunno… do you like teenage lesbians?”

“No comment.”

“Then we’ll have to see. Hand me a marker. Looks like I’m going to have to fill this out longhand.”

The headline was “Britannia Expects That Every Witch Will Do Her Duty.” The date was Monday, September 04, 1939… so clearly the prop department was unaware that Brits, like most of Europe would have formatted that Monday, 4th September, 1939. Of course, both systems are stupid. The year should come first, then the month, then the day, then time. General to specific. But still, that’s right. It wasn’t Japan and Great Britain in this world. It was Fuso and Britannia. Not Germany but Karlsland. Not France but Gallia. Not America but Liberon and South Liberon. Not Russia but Orussia. Sooo much difference. Couldn’t remember if they’d changed Italy or Finland… I’d find out I guessed.

A scratch off card fell out of the pages, with 8 boxes. It said “Starting Location”. I missed the spinny wheel already. I scratched a box.  Italy… or rather Romangia. Fabulous. They had a front on the Neuroi and the regional familiar was a red fox. Well… could be a worse tail. Already had a form with a cat tail. Still, a Husky or Shiba might have been cool. I flipped the card over and saw that it had 8 more boxes and said “Age”. Gold coins are not the best for this, btw. Little too soft. Arrowheads work much better. 14 years old. The paper said that I’d have to pay to be male… as if that shouldn’t be a drawback… anyway… I was fine with staying female, so I considered the background options.

There were OpEds touting each of the 4 choices: Drop-In once again was the boring choice. Witch Doctor was for healers and pacifists, with strong protective spells and healing magic… but came with naivety and idealism… something I’d lost 7 years before I’d been 14 for the first time. Night Witch had enhanced sensory abilities and long distances coms… but also personal tragedy. Ace… ace was for speed demons and other gung ho aggressive types.

I flipped through to the Situations Wanteds. As I’d imagined, this was where the Drawbacks lurked, lurking like lurky lurkers fresh out from the lurkaverse. The maximum drawback total was 600… but everyone above the 100 level looked horrifying. Striker units constantly broken. A CO who hated me. Chronic Magical Fatigue Syndrome. And those were just the 200s. The 300s were worse. Low tech ceiling, daily attacks… or WW2 with actual witches trying to kill each other. That last was terrifying. Turn a battle against evil aliens that might kill 100 million into a war that would almost certainly kill that many. I’d rather take the humanity unifying enemy on, really. Thanks.

Still, I could cope with the Rival, a witch who hates my guts and tries to be better than me. Since it wasn’t possible for her to be, she was clearly there for the pity factor. No Pants Allowed was… pretty much a given anyway, so eh. And Forbidden Love would make me… frisky. Right. +300 for the set. 1300 points, ready to spend. Let’s get … rolling.

The Classifieds was the Item list. Wasn’t big. Bomber Jacket and Call Sign were both free however. Aside from that, there was a compressed weapons’ bay for more weapons space (didn’t need), an avionics watch (didn’t need), a kit for building my own strikers (mmm possibly), and a bracelet that let me recruit anyone from the Strikiverse. That said, there was a much bigger section reviewing all the military hardware.

Still, I was getting ahead of myself. First, a background. Might as well go with Ace. Had to take the fight to the Neuroi, right? [-100/1200/1300] The instant I circled it I became aware of my family’s proud military tradition, that my father had fought in the Great War, an officer with my mother as his adjutant. I remembered the news of the Striker unit’s invention and the reap of the age restriction for witches to join the various Air Forces. I’d been down to recruitment office the very next day. Memories of the joy of flying fast, of pushing my Striker and body to the limits flooded me and I knew the joy of competition and the thrill of being the tip of the divine spear as we struck back against the Neuroi in sortie after sortie.

Defensive Sign “Directional Shield” was free, because all Strike Witches are trained to produce a two-dimensional circle of energy a short distance directly in front of them which can deflect light attacks. It was both iconic and cool, but pretty much impossible to fire through, so attacking meant lowering your defenses. There weren’t any background specific freebies this time out, however.  

Still, Ace had Perception Sign “Precognition” for [-200/1000/1300] which was precog I was actually willing to take, for a couple of reasons. The first was the duration, or rather depth of scan. It only worked up to three seconds into the future, so it wouldn’t make everything boring, and with my speed, three seconds was nearly an eternity. The second was that it required using magic to shift my consciousness slightly out of phase with time, something I’d pretty much only do while in combat, since maintaining it outside of combat would be draining. All in all, it sounded great, despite the article’s assurance “It might not sound like much”.

Ace also had Offensive Sign “Light Heat Attack” for [-300/700/1300], which boosted the directional shield into a flying circle of doom… seriously. It was designed to keep witches from flying into solid objects… by vaporizing almost anything that came into contact with the shield. It worked pretty much instantly on all but the densest materials… useful when dealing with debris from an exploded enemy at mach speed.

I passed up the last of the Ace items for now, flipping through the profiles of the other backgrounds… then blinked… well, well! Drop-In wasn’t useless. I wasn’t willing to switch, since ACE had already saved me 400, but Drop-In had “Technomage” for the reasonable price of [-200/500/1300]. It made me a skilled Striker mechanic… in fact, it made me better, much better actually at tuning and repairing striker units than the service crews who did so for a living. It gave me the ability and knowhow to modify my Striker (or the Strikers of others, obviously) so as to focus my magic into a specific area, such as speed, defense, or offensive capacity. But those were just gravy. The real meat of the perk was the ability to incorporate the technology of other jumps into a Striker, or… with enough time… to build my own from scratch. I was already running the numbers as I circled it in blue.

With 500 left, I decided to check on companion import… only to discover that it was free for up to 8. No CP to spend, but the freebies, a female form if needed, a Striker, and weapons to their maximum ability to carry them. With that, I went looking at the Striker units.

I could spend CP to raise the generation of my striker… but I’d already done exactly that, though in a roundabout way. 800 CP would buy me modern Strikers… or 600 would make everyone have that level of tech… or I could just build Asgardian Strikers with 23rd century shielding and nanite repair systems. All I needed was my knowledge of the Striker tech to kick in fully and a bit of time. Thus, a 1st Gen Striker was fine… for now. My personal Striker, I decided, was going to be a Super Fortress, as big as possible. Not because I needed the carry weight… but because I needed the shell to be huge in order to hold all the tech I was going to cram into it. I also didn’t feel the need to spend CP on weapons that were centuries or even millennia behind what I could build. Hell, my sniper rifle could use a work out to start with and I had a few Barret 50 cals lying around, in addition to a minigun or two. That said… I was tempted to pick up the Guided AAMs (Anti-Air Missiles), Guided Penetration Bombs, and Unguided Bombs, because the were all an unlimited supply of them. But the first two required 3rd gen tech. The UGBs I could pack 48 into my massive striker. Maybe… but I suspected there was better ways to spend my CP on unlimited booms.

Like Drop-In’s Perception Sign “Flawless Awareness” [-400/100/1300].. I read the article aloud to Ziggy, dropping my voice to sound like an old timey propaganda film narrator, “Now that our Witches are being thrust into the front of war, Officer Colleges around the world have been working hard, developing magic to improve a commander’s ability to to observe the battlefield. Flawless Awareness gives a Strike Witch a spherical field of innate situational awareness up to a kilometer in diameter based off of line of sight. In testing, cloud cover and physical obstructions hinder this ability, but a Witch Commander will innately know the position of every visible enemy and ally within that kilometer radius.” Wait… what? I pulled out a piece of paper and wrote, “Dear Sir or Madam, re: the article on “Flawless Awareness”, you list first a volume 1 km in diameter, then a volume 1 km in radius. As the second covers a volume 8 times the size of the first, I must ask for a clarification. I would also question why such a small size, as even the larger volume can be crossed in less than 7 seconds at the speed of sound at typical cruising altitudes for planes. Sincerely, StrikeJumper.”

A letter fluttered out of the firmament. “Oh, my me!  Are you complaining about me lacking a sense of volume again? What should it be? 10 kilometers? 100? 10000000000000? Sincerely, The Entity wot provides the CP.”

I started another note. “Dear CP Dispenser, 10km would be very nice, thank you.”

The response appeared below mine. “I didn’t say I’d give you the 10km just because you complained.”

“Hello Tom.”

“What?”

“This is like Harry writing to Tom Riddle in the diary.”

“You’re a nurd.”

“Nerd. But yes. That aside, 1km in midair at that altitude and speed is like 10 meters on the ground at normal combat speed. It really should be about 20-40km radius. But I’ll take it regardless.”

“Gripe gripe gripe. 1km. On the ground. Ten times that in midair. Splitting the difference. Good?”

“Fine. You’re still a Tyrant.”

“You’re still a pain in the ass.”

“Only if you ask nicely.”

Right, where was I… Um… you’d think with a perfect memory, losing one’s train of thought would be impossible… but it’s remarkably simple to go off on tangents and then you have to trace the mental pathways back… Down to 100 CP… Hmmm…

Bollocks. I’d like Ballistic Stabilization, which would allow me to aim in a category 2 hurricane without trouble. But it’s 200 more than I have… and looking above it, I see Top Gun Conditioning for 200, which allows me to use my magic to increase my resistance to G forces by an order of magnitude… and it occurs to me that I might need to buy the tools to make a Striker unit to actually build strikers out of this setting… grrr… 1939 era jump editorial writers don’t clarify. Meh.

Okay, first, let’s buy the tools “Striker Artificer Tool Kit” [-100/0/1300] “Professional Quality Toolkit for sale. Never used. All the tools you need to make a Striker. Act Quick, Limited Stock. O’Malley’s Toolmart.” Hmm… I picked up the stationary and wrote, “Oy, Banker… you still there?”

“What now?”

“This Striker Artificer kit… do I need it to build my own Strikers outside of this jump?”

“Yes.”

“So I can’t just buy, borrow, or steal a set of tools… or make them… in the jump?”

“No.”

“Well… ummm… why not?”

“Because.”

“Ah. Reasons. Right… so… if I make Strikers… does that mean I can turn people into Strike Witches?”

“Uh… what?”

“Like… can I turn people into Strike Witches? Assuming they’re girls?”

“Why?”

“Cat ears. Cat tails. Shield powers.”

“I… guess…”

“Excellent. Oh… wait… can I train people in Harry Potter magic? I have all my textbooks. And all the references I bought. Or copied.”

“If you can find people with potential.”

“So… anyone who has an inherent magical talent, pretty much, right?”

“Errr… Look, this isn’t Harry Potter’s Strike Witches.”

“It could be.”

“What?”

“Could be. I mean, Hermione’s grandma could have been a Strike Witch. The HP books never mention Striker Units… oooooo… a Nimbus 2000 Striker… Heh.”

“Go away now! Before you annoy me.”

“Look, it’s not like I’m suggesting “Fairy Tail Strike Witches”. HP and SW both take place on Earth. There could be a Hogwarts on StrikEarth.”

“Magic is publicly known here.”

“Ooo! So Hogwarts is a Military Academy? Cool!”

“That isn’t what I said!”

“Shush. SJ’s imagining Minerva as a teenager in tartan panties… with a tommy gun.  No Hagrid, which is sadmaking… but no Voldypants!”

“Yes, yes… Neuroi. Attacking. Europe.”

“Huh… wait… how old is Minerva? Books take place in the 90s… she… she could have been 11 during the Blitz! Heh. Minerva McGonagall could be a Strike Witch in this world! Hah. Excellent!”

“If I arrange that, will you stop bugging me?”

“Yes! Go. Make Witch Striker Minerva! Ooooh, that would a fun name for an Anime! But it sounds like she runs around bopping Witches.”

“…”

“You know I can see your ellipses, right?”

“Headdesk.”

“Yes, well… thbt!”

So, I can, in theory, teach HP Magic, FT Magic, and turn people into Strike Witches if I build them a Striker Unit. Now… I have to find a drawback I don’t mind so much to get Restoration Sign “Top Gun Conditioning” [-200/-200/1300], which took the normal Strike Witch tolerance for G-forces and ramped it up to 11, giving me possibly the highest extant G-force tolerant and allowing me to pull off some of the craziest aerial stunts with ease… and I could use magic to increase this passive resistance 10 fold, though it would quickly deplete my mana if I push my limits, though it probably wouldn’t cause active depreciation during maneuvers.

Funny how necessity makes bad things not so bad, right? Gremlins, Discipline, Not Enough Energy. First one fucks with my tech… no thanks. Last one fucks with my energy level and combat range… no thanks… which means Discipline [+200/0/1500]… which just saddles me with a bitch for a commanding officer, one who saddles me with punishment detail for stuff that’s not my fault. Sigh. Sounds like no fun… but fine. I can be serene for a decade. I can. I’m a big girl. Or I can use mind control on her to make her lay the fuck off… Serene… huh… I shall be Serena… what’s a good Italian last name starting with J… ah… got it. Serena Juventas, after the Roman goddess of youth.

I’m square. Now to find out who’s coming with me… aside from Joy and Ahab. Ahab is already trying to pretend he’s got a head cold while Joy chases him with a glass of cold water and laughs maniacally at the idea of Venom Snake-Chan in panties.

Zane is pretending to be a potted fern. Bao claims he needs to meditate. Gaius is looking uncomfortable. Boys are amusing.

“Okay kids! Listen up! I’ve made up my minds. Cirno! Velma! Rayray! Petra! Kohina! Reggy! Gaius! Kendra! Joy! Grab your bags. You’ve been drafted.”

Gaius blinked, then ummed, “I… umm… I’m not certain-”

“DRAFTED!”

“But, I’m not a-”

“Teenage Girl? No… but you will be… you… will… be… And you’re a top notch combat flyer with a mad-on for invading alien monstrosities. I picked Kohina because she’s a monster hunter… ditto Kendra. Reggy because she’s a flyer. Ditto Rayray, Petra, Cirno. And Velma and Joy are CNC experts. It’s a good set. Ahab I can’t make you come, but you’ve been a girl before. Could use your help.”

Joy and I ended up having to help all the others outfit their strikers, since they weren’t really experienced in such things or with gigantic guns.

Cirno, Kendra, Kohina, Gaius, and Joy got Fighters. Ahab, Velma, and Petra got Bombers. And Reggy and RayRay got Superfortresses. Everyone got Defensive Sign “Directional Shield”, the Bomber Jacket, and a Callsign. And everyone’s Striker (besides mine) was stocked up with weapons to their weight limit. Light Weapons cost 1 space, Medium Weapons 2 spaces, and Heavy Weapons 4 spaces. Fighters had 4 spaces, but unless the witch had superhuman strength no Heavy Weapons could be installed. Bombers had 6 spaces, and Superfortresses, those slugs of the sky, had a whopping 16 spaces.

Cirno was from Fuso, giving her a Shiba Familiar, and her Fighter, Callsign IceDancer, was outfitted with one each of the four light weapons… a Katana, an Assault Rifle, a Rifle, and a Pistol.  Kendra was from Xaymaca (Jamaica), making her Familiar the Doctor Bird (a green hummingbird with a paired tail several times longer than its body). Her Fighter, Callsign Hummingbird, was outfitted with an Anti-Tank Rifle and a General Purpose Machine Gun.

jamaica_national_symbol_bird-pagespeed-ce-h6jncordn6

Kohina, also from Fuso with a Shiba (patpat the Kohina), was callsign “Psycho”, and, while she’d be using her Varanium Wakizashis most of the time, her Striker was officially outfitted with two pistols and 6 UGBs (Unguided Bombs). Gaius, joining me in coming from Romagna, was callsign “Caesar” and got two cavalry sabres, a pistol, and a rifle. Joy, from Liberon (bald eagle), was callsign “Boomboom” was outfitted with two General Purpose Machine Guns.

Ahab, Arcadian (Canada), was a Beaver, and callsign “Harpoon” (which is just overcompensating) and had a bomber with a Dual Linked Turret System and 6 UGBs. Velma went Danish… well, Jutlandian, which I couldn’t figure out why for a moment, then I laughed as “Great Dane” familiar popped up.  Riiiight.  (Sweater) Puppy Power. Her callsign was “Mystery” which was very cute, but bound to confuse. Her bomber had a Gau-8 and an Anti-Tank Rifle. Which was insane.  Petra, call sign “Asura” was from Persia (Iran), and her familiar was a ram.  Huh… Her bomber was equipped with six Pistols. Oh dear. She should have named herself Sixgun.

Reggy didn’t really understand the concept of familiars, but thanks to her time in MCU she’d learned very well what nations and callsigns were. She was slowly coming round on the subject of entertainment… but had now been a human long enough to be utterly appalled at the idea of walking around in just her panties while men could see. Her green skin got very very green and she got very flustered when the setting was explained to her and then the mighty Vord queen tried to hide. Ah, emotions. Sooo confusing. Anyway… she was from Orussia and her familiar the Husky, because a) Husky’s are cute and b) the Vord remind me of the Red Army. Callsign “Tsarevna” (Princess).  Her Superfortress had the whole suite of insanity; a Gau-8, 12 UGBs, and 2 Fliegerfaust Rocket Launchers… each of which could fire up to 9 unguided rockets… at least until I modified the damned thing.

Rayray was of Qin (China), familiar the Chow (such fluffy!), and callsign “Mercy”… her Superfortress was just… insane.  It was equipped with not one, not two, not three, but four Gau-8s. Gau-8s are terrifying… 7 barrel miniguns capable of firing a simply astounding 4200 anti-tank rounds per minute. A 3-second burst was 210 rounds and the witches were trained to group them into a 2-meter target from 400 meters out. Brrrrrrrt. It was even more insane, because I’m reasonable certain the “Peace Through Superior Firepower” weapon (each of which was the size of a car, though much of that was the Ammo Feed) wasn’t invented until the 1970s when the Thunderbolt II, i.e. the Warthog fighter plane was developed. The gun is so powerful it momentarily pushes the jet plane backwards in midair. Of course, these were scaled down minigun versions of the Warthog’s Gau Autocannon, but still… 4 of them? Many Many holes.

****

We dropped, literally… the jump starting not with us asleep, but in flight. Which was jarring. Or rather I was in flight, alone, 28,000 feet up, one of my Strikers misfiring. 2,000 feet above me was the rest of the squad, fading in the distance as I tried to stabilize myself on one striker while I hammered at the recalcitrant other, trying to get it to function correctly by applying brute force.

“Mistral! Get back in formation!” snapped Wing Commander Adolfine Galland. I sighed, “Wooorking ooooon iiiitttt.” Fucking machine. I blinked, then stopped my fall in midair. I could fly without this thing. I could stand in midair without a Striker. I had no reason to be falling. I undid all the screws on the unit’s exterior with my mind and tilted my head trying to get a better look at the bits and pieces. It wasn’t easy, but after three or four minutes, I spotted what I was looking for. A fuel line had leaked some gunk onto one of the switches, fusing it open. I pried the gunk off, did a tiny bit of spot welding, then reattached the case. All while occasional deflecting incoming fire from Neuroi with a combination of Witch Shields and TK. It was like juggling hand grenades while performing brain surgery on a boat in a storm.

Now I was pissed. I was going to get yelled at for someone else’s shoddy maintenance, I was hungry, I was tired, my thighs were chaffed from the wind… seriously, had anyone who’d ever ridden a motorcycle been involved with writing this Manga? Wind rash at 600mph. Joy! I pulled out Soul of Ice. “Neuroi are just giant hollows, right?” I asked her… She responded with a growl. My sentiments exactly.

Note to self. It is impossible to use martial footwork techniques like Flash-steps or Shunpo while wearing several tons of metal covering your legs from mid-thigh down. It is not flight, no matter how the Manga makes it look. You have to actually run on the air, or leap from temporarily hardened bits of air. Doing so would have trashed my Striker… and while it wasn’t the only thing keeping me aloft, it was boosting my magical output drastically. Neuroi blasts are no joke. They are “Destroy Heavily Armored Battleship in One Shot” level of bad news. Thankfully I had a lot of mana, even if I hadn’t figured out how to incorporate the new mana pool with the others. That always took a little time.

Thankfully, I do a lot of damage too. Especially when I accidentally fly face first through a Neuroi. Hey, I’d only been using these things for a few minutes, no matter what my memories said. Smashed face aside, that was one Neuroi down, all of them left to go. Back at base it was pushup time. I created a copy of myself and went into my warehouse. I had building to do.

Lucchini had naps… (or would, she was 7 in the current timeline, since Season 1 of Strike Witches was 1944 and this was 1939) I had projects… okay, one Project. Project Anvil. Strike… Anvil… you had to be there. VIctoria wasn’t thrilled about her upgrades, at first. Didn’t see the need for them. Getting daughter VI’s from VIvian was a little easier, since she generally likes media and likes my companions. Project Anvil had three steps

  1. Operation ‘Hold the Line’: Outfit my Current Striker with a working loadout of decent weaponry. Mostly selfguided micro-photon torpedos, but also Bullet Bees… machine gun drones each the size of a rugby ball and packing enough HEAP-rounds to swisscheese an armored-car.
  2. Operation ‘Get in Gear’: Build a Striker Unit that made Generation 5 Strike Fighters look like sopwith camels.
  3. Operation ‘Angel Witch’: Build the Neuroi Buster Strikesuit, a full body Striker Unit designed to go toe to toe with a Neuroi… and get me what I wanted most… a Neuroi Core, intact… and that meant making something the Neuroi couldn’t take over.

Everything went fine, I was making progress. I’d finished ‘Hold the Line’.  It had taken me two months to get all my systems up and running, but I had, and they worked. Much Daka. Such Boom. ‘Get in Gear’ took 16 months. I couldn’t spend more than 4-6 hours a day on it, I had boobs to cha… I mean socializing to do, a war to fight, a commander who despised me to placate. But finally they were ready. And then Angela Salas Larrazzabal transferred into our unit. She was the darling of the Wing Commander’s eye. A go getter, rule follower, perfect little spanish princess with a flat chest and an attitude. She also smelled of horse.

I don’t know how she did it… but she stole my freaking prototype. Everyone believed her when she said she built it. Everyone was sooo impressed when she broke every speed record known to man… and everyone blamed me when she crashed, destroying more than year’s work because she didn’t know what she was doing. They said I’d sabotaged it. Brought me up on charges. I’d had to freaking mind control the court to get them to let me off with a warning.  Angela, who’d survived thanks to medical witchcraft, swore revenge on me forever and ever and ever. She actually tried hexing me, the bitch!

Still, I had supporters. I had my friends, I had a penpal in Britannia, an 10 year old girl named Mini who was Scottish but lived with her nan in london ‘cause her dad was off fighting the Neuroi. She wanted to be a witch more than anything. She even had a black kitty. Of course, a year into my stay, the Neuroi started bombing Brittannia and she’d disappeared, but by the time of the Angela incident, she’d reappeared, having enlisted in the Brittannian Witch Corps as a technician third class. She wanted to be a pilot, but she was too young yet.

Anyone who thinks you just wave your hands and get working magitech has never had to actually build it. Every piece has to be perfect, and that’s at the molecular level. Every bit has to be tested, everything shielded so it only works with that it’s supposed to and doesn’t interfere with what it’s not supposed to. A hundred subsystems. Tony Stark makes it look easy, but he’s not working with magic or sufficiently advanced technology, just… bleeding edge and a bit beyond. I was Asgarding Federation stuff into Strike Witch, Harry Potter, Samurai Jack, and Elven components. And more. Sure, I was also taking the time to advance Strike Witch Tech to Generation 3 as fast as possible, but no one besides my inner circle knew Domon Hyfax was secretly female. Just a reclusive inventor who supplied bits of tech to the various world militaries at random, selling them to one group… then having my own spies steal the information and selling it to other nations a couple months later. I had a Rolodex, I was going to use it. Politics was not dead just because everything was cutesy and panty clad.

Still, by the time the 501st Joint Fighter Wing was established in 1942, I was a top Ace with a rep for being a loose cannon, never following orders, and often going AWOL to hunt Neuroi. My kill total was obscene, and while it wasn’t the highest, I had the highest melee kill count by a margin even Sakamoto couldn’t match if hers was doubled.

So that’s why I was bumped to the 501… and bitch queen of the universe became freaking Vice Air Marshal! FML. Thankfully, Lucchini was there to give hugs to, and Mini showed up as well, looking prim and proper and very Scotts with her wee little tam on. I hugged the stuffing out of her and set about showing her the ropes.

Things were finally looking up. We were going to start taking back the continent. And then Angela showed up and screwed up my plans again. While I was on punishment detail, she convinced Mini and Lucchini to sortee with her on a raid. Two junior pilots up with a hotshot with an attitude problem. Last anyone heard of the trio was Lucchini sobbing that the others had gone down behind enemy lines before she too went radio silent. Why the hell didn’t any of my companions have freaking clairvoyance? Well, I mean, we have the Spirit Camera ability, but all that showed was Neuroi territory that none of us could localize. Crap. Scrambling VIctor (my stolen and heavily modified Starfleet Assault shuttle) took twenty minutes and I could barely get my emotions to settle down. I wanted to swear. 3 hours, 9 minutes. That’s how long it took me to get the information, go AWOL and get my shuttle into position to scan Gallia for Strikers on the ground.

I found them, Neuroi signals all around, and ordered VIctor to land on his own as I accelerated downward at a hundred times the speed of sound, aiming for one particularly large cluster of Neuroi. The aura of cold air I brought with me only grew as I dropped, but when I stopped suddenly 200 meters up, it didn’t, slamming into the Neuroi like a hammer from god. The supercyclone my action created sent the ground Neuroi flying and I launched myself from group to group, murdering the alien machines that had come to hurt my friends like a whirlwind of icy death. My Bankai flowed from me like a starving avalanche, ripping through the mutant landscape of Neuroi Gallia as I cleared a fifty mile wide circle around the crash sight.

After a seeming eternity, Joy and Velma announced that they had all three girls and were heading back to dock. I sank through a portal into the warehouse, prepping the medbay’s systems to receive them. Minerva’s injuries were severe, so she’d go into the Medical Pod first. Lucchini was curled up and non-responsive, and Angela was unconscious and had several broken bones and a missing foot. While the Medical Pod fixed up Minerva, I stuck Angela in the Medbed so she could be stabilized, and I gathered Lucchini into my arms, singing to her softly while she shook with delayed reaction.

I brought them back to base three days later, their memories altered subtly to remove the impossible, and Angela and I were both thrown in the brig for going AWOL, our subordinates being given a pass since they’d been following orders. I could tell that the boss lady wanted to throw the book at me, but I’d rescued three Witches from behind enemy lines… though I’d endangered nine to do so. So I was restricted to base, busted a rank, and given a medal. I also gained two girls who wouldn’t leave my side. The Black Cat Brigade, Mini and Lucchi, they appointed themselves my protection detail… and Lucchini stopped napping in random locations and started napping within sight of me as if afraid I’d vanish without constant supervision.

In the end, I did, of course. But that’s for later. First I had to deal with a major crisis. I’d been waiting for the Warlock Trials, the appearance of a Hive over Gallia so I could actually get readings on a Hive so I could locate the others. Unfortunately, the turning point of 1944 wasn’t the appearance of Warlock… but the appearance of a new Neuroi that looked suspiciously familiar. It was a copy of VIctor, and the weapons it packed.

The ‘Assault Vector’ as Higher Command called it appeared in the middle of a furball and forced 83 Witches out of the sky in 12 minutes of combat, clearing the way for a swarm of Neuroi fighters to descend on the 501st base. I had moments to decide if I dared bring Angel Witch out of the cradle for her first testflight. Of course, it wasn’t really a choice.

To this day, I have no idea how the Neuroi managed to copy VIctor. None. But it was a fully Neuroi’d clone of my warcraft and it unleashed the full might of Neuroi technological might backed by the godawful hodgepodge of technologies inside the cloned ship against me. The fight lasted 15 gruelling minutes as my friends and companions defended the base from the unending barrage of Neuroi drones and lasers with their shields and guns and I tried not to get cored by cannons powerful enough to punch through the Enterprise’s shields hammering me as I struggled against shields I’d designed to be all but impenetrable.

My Angel Witch Striker Suit was half Gundam-Wing, half Ironman in looks, pinpoint Asgardian shields, Life Fiber and nanotech. It made me 15 feet tall, responded to thoughts, and amped my magical output to a degree that meant I’d sleep like a log after eating about a dozen dinners worth of protein paste and sugar syrup. In fact, I felt like a humming bird in the suit as it fed me a constant stream of nutrient fluid, keeping me hydrated and topped off. Stupid Neuroi copying my tech. This was not supposed to happen. I somehow suspect this is the price I pay for arguing with the Banker.

VIctor Vector finally went down as I power hammered Mjolnir through its shields and then followed it up with throwing Ziggy into the interior and letting him unload with the Fourchain in Chaingun mode. The machine dissolved into black snow and I caught Ziggy as he fell out of the sky.

That’s when the Hive dropped out of the sky right on top of us. I just gaped. The Neuroi had suckered me. Flawless Awareness? Ha! The thing was a kilometer off when it hove into view and I was missing 2/3rds of the Angel Witch Armor and half its systems were offline, most of the Witches were drained, and the base looked like it had been transformed into swiss cheese. Of course, this meant I had resort to something I hadn’t used in a while.

I used Requip to pull a crate of specialized crystal spheres out of the Warehouse, lobbing them into the air, then called upon the powers I’d gained in Academy city. I called upon Meltdowner, focusing the electron beams through the network of prismatic spheres, creating a super conductive channel… into which I dropped a cryogenically cold rod of iridium. The rod weighed 2 kilograms, and it hung inside the magnetic field created by the beams of bluegreen hell-light… a slug of the second densest element… that in the space of 120 meters accelerated to 88% of the speed of light, swathed in a field of pure electronic destruction nine meters in diameter.

The hole it left in the atmosphere was… stupefying. The hole it tore in the Neuroi Hive was apocalyptic, and the recoil punched me back through the entire base and through 21 meters of solid rock, shredding the last of my Angel Witch Strike Armor and taxing my nanite infused body to the limits of endurance. I was in a coma for a week… but I got another medal when I got out, plus a whole bunch of hugs from the squad (Mini even gave me a kiss on the cheek… which prompted Luchinni to lick my nose as she clung to me.) I handed off the goofy cat girl to her other favorite person, Charlotte Yeager (who had bigger breasts and thus was more fun to snuggle against) and went to face the music.

The Air Marshal was livid with me for unauthorized use of military resources, until I pointed out that I’d supplied all the parts myself… and then she accused me of dealing with the black market, because that was the only way I could possibly have smuggled the parts onto the island. Since I’d saved the day, KP would be my punishment, she said. I just sighed and shook my head “No. Not this time, I’m afraid. I’m not doing that. I’ve got a war to win and you’re now in my way. I got what I was looking for. (Indeed, VIvian had already mapped the location of every Neuroi hive on or in Earth during my coma.) Write me up if you like. I’ve got Neuroi to hunt. They can’t hide from me anymore… plus, the 501st will be disbanded within the month, now that Gallia has been liberated.”

She just gaped as I walked out of her office. The cradle in the Warehouse had already spun out a replacement armor… Burstone is creepy as fuck that way, and the rest of Strikeforce Angel were already suiting up. All except my friends from this world. I gathered them together: Sanya & Ilya, Erica & Ursula, Charlotte, Minerva, Francesca, and Heinrike (I’d manipulated a few people to get her transferred to the 501st, just because she amuses me.) and presented them with the Striker Suits I’d built for them.

“I analyzed the wavelength coming off the Hive I fought. And off the Vector Pod. The Neuroi are making more of them. But I’ve located every Hive on Earth, or pretty close to it. Adolfine won’t listen if I tell her… but I think, if we move fast enough… We can take them down… all of them… before they can adapt.” And so, even though it meant disobeying orders, that’s what we did. 22 battles in 37 days, 19 cores, 5 Vector Pods… the small army of us smashing all resistance as we purged Earth of the Neuroi, as killing a Hive killed all its spawn as well. Thus, on the 14 of August, 1944, we secured VE day… but not for Europe, but for all Earth. Which left me and the witches just about 5 years in which to vacation… or, you know, rebuild the parts of the world the Neuroi had destroyed.

Victory in war is sometimes bittersweet. Victory is great… but friends and compatriots go their separate ways, go back to their lives, to their families. The friendships can last a lifetime, but they grow distant as the horrors of war fade into the background of rebuilding your life.

I missed them all, even Adolfine… but I couldn’t bring them all with me. Couldn’t bring even the best of them with me. If only I could have swapped Kagetane and Kohina for Minerva & Lucchini. Huh… went back into the warehouse and was about to write on the Tom Riddle page that I’d tacked to the bulletin board, when the words “No.” appeared. Drat. Ah well.  I’d miss them… I guess I’d have to maximize my time with them. And so I did.  

Next: World 43 – Broadway Bound

Resources: Build, Document

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World 41: Dragon’s Crown

GOING DEEP

Previously: The Promise

Themesong: Stamp on the Ground by ItaloBrothers

“Dragon’s Crown?”

“Yeah.”

“Are we going to be Dragons, or is this like Demon’s Souls, where we collect Crowns for a Dragon?”

“Zane?”

“Yes’m?”

“Shush.”

“Can’t make me.”

“True. You know… you’re very silly for a nonagenarian.”

“I’m feeling muuuch better now.”

“That was a long jump. Much longer than I planned on. I did not reckon on being in Odinjail for most of the 20th century.”

“That musta sucked. We were super worried about you when you didn’t check in for… years. We might have started to worry You’d moved on, but the Warehouse was there and you wouldn’t leave Ziggy.”

“Awww, Zane… I wouldn’t leave without any of you guys… and not just because I don’t trust a couple of you. You’re my friends… For most of the time I was in prison I was just worried about you guys freaking out or dying of old age. I wasn’t sure how respawn works with that.”  We’d found out from Ahab that companions just keep getting older. He’d started the jump at 30 and ended it at over the hundred mark. Thanks to the medbay, medical problems are pretty transitory, especially since I added a Star Trek Medbed that can restart heartbeats, which the Medbay’s normal medbay can’t for some reason.

“Well, we did okay… but nice of them to let you out.”

“Yeah… I wasn’t looking forward to waiting for Asgard to rot away. I’ve no idea how they blocked my access to the Warehouse or our com net or the PHS.”

“Sufficiently advanced Technology?”

“Well, it did stop Loki.”

“SO, about this jump?”

“Videogame. Action Adventure sidescroller… I think. Never played it. On my Steam account I think… No… just on my wishlist. Damn! If I had access to it while I was in Odinjail I could have probably had time to play like half the games on my account. Anyway… infamous for the vast tracks of land on two of the female characters.”

“Jiggle Physics?”

“At its most ridiculous, yeah. The sorceress was… top heavy. The Amazon was… bountiful in the thighs and wore a bikini into battle.”

“Sexist?”

“The Dwarf, a guy, wore a belt and a helmet… and nothing else. So… not really. It was over the top fantasy. Not realistic.”

“Anyone else?”

“The Elf had pretty big legs, but she was fully clothed… I don’t really remember what the third male class was, probably a spell user or something, but he didn’t make the news. There was an armored knight who was always being contrasted with the sorceress, but it wasn’t a good comparison… the Sorceress might have been sexist… but she had an identity. The warrior knight guy was completely faceless, utterly disposable. Also, I remember him having tiny ankles. All very stylized.”

“Groovy. Shall we?”

“We shall… also, if there’s an import, you get to be the dwarf.”

“Why? So you can rest your massive boobs on my head?”

“You wish, perv boy. I’ll probably go Elf anyway.”

“Elves not having giant boobs?”

“Hard to judge, since she wore one of those chest flap archer outfits, but… probably not.”

“Curses! Why, oh Universe, do you thwart me at every-” He glowered. “You hit me with a pillow.”

“Wasn’t me. Was the Universe acting through me.”

“Liar!”

“Do they know we’re watching them?”

“Do they care?”

“I guess that’s the advantage of being ageless immortals.”

“She’s not ageless or immortal… except as an elf.”

“Or a Shinigami.”

“Or a Shinigami. Okay. But he’s not.”

“We all might as well be. We keep resetting whenever a jump ends. I’d just gotten used to being 100 years old, and now I’m 20 again.”

“More like 25.”

“Thanks for that.”

“You’re welcome, spike head.”

“Do Joy and Ahab know we’re watching them watching SJ and Zane?”

“Shush… hand me the popcorn.”

“Can’t. Ziggy ate it all.”

“Darn. We need more.”

“Kitchen’s right there, big bro.”

“You’re not cute.”

“Am too.”

Repeat… also, they’re wrong. I’ve been Immortal and Ageless since Supernatural… and I’m not sure Asgardians could die of old age at all, Supersoldier or not.

So, let’s look at this thing. Says it takes place in the Kingdom of Hydeland. Dark times, blah blah blah. Monstrous Armies, Orcs, borders, Dragon’s Crown to protect the realm from the evil Ancient Dragons… dead goddesses, dark plots, evil cults. Pretty much basic fantasy RPG nonsense. Let’s… not going to say it.

Origins… all free. Fighter, Dwarf, Wizard, Amazon, Elf, Sorceress. Three male, three female. No apparent option for being cross gender. Hummm. Interesting.  Fighter is the drop-In option. Also the boring one. Oooh, stats! Yay! Where the hell did the convention of having things ranked EDCBAS come from? Who decided S was better than A? Sigh.

I could read through all the options, min max my choices, do all the things… but I just can’t be arsed to be a minmaxer… not this time. I’m going Elf. Fast, Precise, ultimately lethal. Strength B, Constitution C, Intelligence B, Magic Resistance C, Dexterity A, Luck A. Or really. Strength so far off the scale it isn’t funny… ditto Constitution, Intelligence, Dexterity. Luck? I don’t even know how to measure that, and Magic Resistance… no idea either. Huh. We’ll have to see. I was almost tempted to go Dwarf, just so I could scream incomprehensibly as I flung hammers at people’s skulls, but I promised that to Zane. Age 122. Weeee!

Holy heck, there are a lot of freebies. Palette Swap… the ability to recolor the outfit I’m currently wearing so the pattern and color scheme complement each other based on my preferences. Nice. I can use that. Soundtrack… a sweeping heroic score to accompany my heroic journey. I can control who hears it and how loud it is. Also works for the morally ambiguous or downright villainous. Got a few of those now., they seem popular with whatever poor souls make these things. And speaking of things I don’t need… another Narrator! But this one only follows me if I pay, so I won’t… though I could pay to get Brian Blessed bellowing narration at me for all times to come. But then I’d just grow to hate Emperor von Giant Ham, and that would be a shame… though if I’m ever in a Jump with a character he played… say, Blackadder… he’s coming with, just to keep me amused. And Basic Attack… you know the basics of melee combat, you can swing a sword, an axe, or something similarly medieval without injuring yourself. Shieldwork free, magic users can channel small amounts of magic through a staff to boost attack strength. Yippee!

The last ‘Common’ Freebie was Epic Proportions, three free enhanced physical features, the more specific, the bigger the boost. I could go really perverse and turn myself into a psuedo-hermaphrodite, but I don’t think an enhanced clitoris is what this had in mind… hmmm… you know… fine. I’ll go with the flow. Differentiate this Elfin form from my other Elfin form. Boobs, Legs, Figure. See what that does for me.

I also pick up “Guild” [400] (600/1000) from the Common section. 8 companions, each with origin, all the freebies, and 300 CP, but no items or drawbacks. I’ll hold a raffle or something.

Elves get “Rapid Fire” free, which allows me to fire arrows in rapid succession with no penalty to accuracy, and the number can increase with practice. Yay. I am Lego Lass! Knife-ears also get Elemental Lore [200] (400/1000) which allows me to temporarily empower my bow so my arrows carry an elemental charge, dealing spirit damage and elemental damage based off of whatever strong elemental source was nearby.  Interesting. Arrows fired near a flame will take on the properties of that flame, arrows fired while standing in water will take on properties of water. The intensity and nature of the nearest element, depth of the body of water, intensity and type of fire, for example, will shape the effects of the fired arrow.  I wonder if I cloak myself in ice if I’ll be a ‘strong elemental effect’? Not bad.

The Elfin Capstone was Clone Strikes [300] (100/1000), the ability to move… bound really, about the battlefield, while causing fired arrows to multiply in flight. First doubling, then tripling, and so on until a single arrow becomes an entire flight of arrows.” A flight of fire or ice or wind arrows… that was… insane. My arrows could potentially rival Persia’s.

I kinda want the elfin ability “Oil and Water” (Most of the time poking a hole into someone is a solid way to end an argument. For those other times, there’s this skill. With moment of preparation and a thought you can cause any weapon in your possession to be coated in either flammable oil or deadly poison. The coating of the weapon will not harm you and if you select the oil, you can mentally trigger its ignition.), but since it costs 150 CP, I’d be over. Probably will go over anyway, but I don’t know if O&W is worth it.

Scrolling through the listings of the other classes, on my way to the drawbacks and gear, I spot something in Wizard that’s a really nice effect “Extract” [100] (0/1000), “Low-Level magical attacks generate more mana than they cost, provided the attacks are against animate enemies and are successful.” Recharging attacks… cool. Of course, that spent me out, and I hadn’t even seen the items.

So I skipped down past the Gear section and took a look at the Drawbacks… Limit 2… only one for 300… Lockdown… no powers, no warehouse… in a combat happy world…  yeah no. Pallet Pain makes food taste like crap… No Looty makes there be no looting…  Not that I know what loot is available… but it sounds boring. Single Player means no talking to anyone and my companions abandon me… ewww… not for 600 CP.

But Barturbate [+100/100] a love of bartering coupled with being horrible at it… a refusal to pay the listed price for a product or receive the listed pay for a job… even though I will always come away the worse for it… but I’ll always feel like I’m getting the best of the deal? Okay. I can do that. Especially since I totally won’t know I’m coming off worse. Restless [+100/200] means I fidget constantly? You mean… like I normally do? Well I can twirl, twiddle, and squirm with the best of them. I also toggled on the “Fantasy Kitchen Sink” option which fleshes out the world of Hydeland to be a bit more well rounded. So that’s good, right? No idea. Don’t know I’d recognize the bits that were there originally and those that weren’t. But in general, a more complete world will be more interesting to live in and it shouldn’t change anything for the worse.

Then a screen came up that said “B-b-Bonus Dungeon!” and offered me the option to install the “Labyrinth of Chaos” patch, a dungeon of infinite depth where the inhabitants grow stronger the farther down one goes. Apparently it was a thing in the game that you got once you killed all three Ancient Dragons… whatever they were… but with this patch, it was available from the start and in order to free the trio of apparently not dead goddesses I’d have to reclaim the Dragon’s Crown before it got too deep in the dungeon… or the jump would never end. Apparently the Labyrinth never stops getting harder. Huh… sure, why not. Sounds like a challenge. But a serious speed run one at that… considering that my last jump was 70 years… I could use a shorter jump. At least I’d know where to search. [+600/800]

Sure, the gear wasn’t awesome or anything… but there was a Flamethrower… A regenerating, magical flamethrower, fancy, hand held, a supersoaker of the fire world… and something I could shape. Yes. I could use the Fire Thrower [-200/600], a well made, artisanal even, hand carried flamethrower, roughly two feet in length with a wooden pistol grip, two tanks full of flammable liquid of unknown origin, and an attractive barrel fashioned after the fantastical animal of my choice. It carried enough fuel for several medium-length combat engagements, after which the fuel needed a day to replenish. It was… sooo pretty. The flames were pretty tasty too!

And I couldn’t pass up the JS Vita [-300/300], a nexter than nextgen handheld similar in design to a PSVita but moreso. The reason it was worth points, especially since it was (according to the description) unhackable and couldn’t be used for anything other than entertainment or it would self-destruct, was because it could, on demand, turn any of my past adventures into a videogame… or rather a whole series of them, as not only was the jump selectable, but the genre was as well. I could have a puzzle version of Codex Alera, or a fighter version of West Wing, or a ero-g version of Avatar… clearly some options were better than others, but it would update with each new setting.  It was pretty cool, a thing that turned all my past jumps into games, but it got better… because, wait… there was a perk… Hah! “Let’s Play!” [-200/100]… which provided a complete video recording of any completed jump, with commentary dubbed over the top, with me and my companions explaining why we did what we did… or just randomly chatting about stuff.  Which would be both amusing and odd, hearing commentary we never made. Together, it was videos with commentary of everything I’ve done and games based on those actions as well! Haha! Now all I needed was the novelizations! Hope the Camera work in the videos is good… and the commentary isn’t too distracting. I’ll probably not be the one watching it or playing it… but still, it’d cool to have.

That left me with 100 CP left, and that couldn’t cover the cost of Oil and Water… so I grabbed “Gymkata” [-100/0] instead, a gymnastics ability that reduced the chances of me being hit in combat, though over-use could, in theory, fatigue me.

So… I was maxed out… let’s do this… oh wait… everyone else. Riiiight. Already getting fidgety. Ryoga was coming with me, that was a mega-nobrainer. I needed his particular expertise to make this work. That left 7 positions open. Reggy wasn’t. No bringing a kill crazy Vord Queen into a hack and slash… though the idea of just using an endless swarm of Takers to eat the dungeon was tempting. But I wasn’t that crazy. Ahab and Joy could sit this one out, not that they would, but that was their thing. It had been a while for Bao and Uriel, and most of the mon… in fact it had been a while for most… so I let the others toss for it, though Gaius still hadn’t come along on a jump, but this was his choice. I wonder if he’s gunshy. While the others were talking it out, I went to talk to the closest thing I’d had to a father in centuries.

“You okay?”

“I am. As I was the last few times you asked me that.”

“Right. I know. It’s just… you’re very quiet a lot.”

“I fell out of the habit of talking to people much. I talked at them as First Lord.”

“I get that. But, look, just try it. Tell me how you feel, as a certain Vulcan was once asked.”

“I am not sure how to feel about… things. Many things. Like… who you are… are you Septima, did you replace her? How can I know? And what you did to Alera… so many dead… And there is… you saved…” he stumbled over his words and then trailed off.

“Her. Saved her.”

“Yesss!” he hissed. “How could you after everything she did?!”

“Same reason I saved you after everything you did, Sextus.”

He paused, then fell back against the wall and sank down it, hugging his knees like a child. “I suppose that is what I’m asking, yes.”

“You know who and what I am. You know what I do. I both am Septima and not Septima. Think of it like a soul being reborn. I was always Septima. There was no Septima without me. So in that, she is me. And you can know because I said so. As for Alera… I could have destroyed the Vord in the Valley before there was ever a threat to Alera. And then there would still be war with the Marat, with the Icemen, with the Canim. And there would still be stagnation… and Tavi would never have come into his full powers and potential. I could have killed Kalare and treated you like a puppet, ending slavery by decree. And it would have lingered, festered for generations. The south would feel hard done by and after I left you’d have had to place Aquitaine on the throne because Tavi would never have earned the respect of everyone… and in 10 generations, or 20, or 30… the Canim would have overpopulated their lands and come across the sea and… either there would be no Canim or be no Alera. You cannot know just how many there of them. Their biggest cities could have swallowed Alera Imperia five times over. And they had hundreds of cities. Each of their ranges had a population several times that of all Alera.”

“So you let them die to save us?”

“No. I let Alerans and Canim and Marat die to save everyone. Some… thing… in that universe, engineered the Vord. They’re too good at what they do, too obsessed with purity… It’s an enforced ideal. And the Vord are everywhere in that reality. The Marat had faced them before and been destroyed. That left a cultural imprint on them that allowed them to defeat a queen within months… and if they’d had written records… or more advanced technology… it would have been faster still. I gave Tavi and Kitai the seeds of a force to hunt the Vord across the Universe. And the desire to do so. Canim, Marat, Alerans, maybe even the Icemen… Some day they will spread forth from Carna and when they do, the Vord will become the hunted. I cannot express how much I despise the Vord and all like them.”

“Then why?”

“Because she had already surpassed being Vord. That which the Vord would destroy, I would save. Simple as that. If the Vord want her dead because she has evolved past them, I want to give her a chance to continue that evolution. To become something other than what she was born to be.”

“She was born to destroy worlds.”

“She was born a slave to genetic destiny. I don’t believe in destiny.”

“What was that line? From the movie about the killer robots?”

“No Fate but what we make. Yes.”

“And me?”

“I didn’t pick you as a father figure. I’ve had parents in other jumps, but seldom knew them. There was seldom a reason to. Some have been good parents, others bad. But most of all… none of them ever had your troubles. I saved you because you are incredibly powerful, even without Alera to draw upon. I saved you because it amuses me to have two Romanesque Emperors… and I saved you because you too deserved a second chance. I think you loved Septimus and that his death grieved you no end… and then you had to smile and make nice to his murderers. I think you loved Tavi too. And maybe even me,” I laughed. “But I can’t be certain.”

“You can’t? You’re a… a telepath… a powerful one according to the others.”

“Okay, yes, I could be certain. Hell, I could make you love me… but that’s not how someone treats their friends. Or family. So… you coming to this jump?”

“Oh, a dungeon crawl through endless enemies? It sounds like soooo much fun! Can I?”

“Ah, Sarcasm. I’d almost forgotten what being sassed by mortals feels like. I take it that’s a no?”

“Mmm… No. Indeed. I’ll stay here and… mind the story.”

“Store.”

“Right.”

I left him there, then went back over to the others to ask how they were doing, only to spot a face I hadn’t seen in 88 years looking back at me from one of the windows of the Warehouse Arms. I crossed the distance in a heartbeat and knocked on the window. “Open up, Mask boy.”

Kagetane opened the window, smirking under that creepy ass mask. “Yes?”

I snatched it off his head, making him wince as the force of my motion tore some of the skin from his face, revealing a handsome (if bleeding) man in his mid 30s. “What the fucking fuck are you doing in my fucking warehouse?!”

“Can’t say. Kohina and I woke up here about two hours ago. Last thing I remember was fighting a most annoying teenage Promoter and his Initiator… then something silver flashed past and I had a bunny stamped on my hand and… then nothing.”

I groaned, then handed his mask back to him. “Fuuuck. I forgot about that. You’re Public Enemy #2?”

“Number Two? I’m offended! I should have been Number One!”

“Yeah, well, I destroyed your whole civilization just to cure the… damnit… Requip!” I snapped, summoning one of the few phials I had left of the cure. “Get out of the way.” I snapped, slamming him into a wall as I entered the apartment. “Kohina?! Get out here now or I’ll twist off daddy’s arm and club him with… ah. Hello.” She tried to attack me… but I am orders of magnitude faster than her on her best day and injected her while she moved slowly through the air, then snatched her swords away and tossed them across the room.

“First, you two are guests. I can send you back to your homeworld with a thought… and you’ll find that civilization is gone. There aren’t any more cities. None. If humanity survives on that world it will be a humanity that has evolved to survive the Gastraea, because it’s their world now. So you two psychos need to fucking chill. Got me?”

They both stared. “Riiight. Fuck it. I didn’t need this shit. Two more lunatics to deal with. This place is a sanctuary for dimensional travellers. I visited your world 80 some years ago, rescued 12 million people, including all the damned Cursed Children I could find and many of their guardians… and then let the rest burn. Found a new world for the innocents… guess that didn’t include you two. And now I’m fucked because if I send you back to your original world, you’ll end up dead and that’s two lives I could have saved if not for you. Not sure the Marvel world deserves your special blend of crazy, but that would reflect badly on the other Cursed Children and I can’t have that. So here’s the… huh.” I reached out my hand and snapped “Requip” and an egg I’d bought a long time ago appeared. I smashed it into Kagetane’s face, pulling my hand back as the fibers wrapped around his telekinetically immobilized form.  

Kohina protested as her father got swallowed by a massive egg. “He’ll be fine. He’s just… resting. Meanwhile, you’re going to spend a while without him around.” I teleported the giant egg to the secure lockdown, then faced the girl. “Until I, and only I explicitly give you permission to do so, you will not pick up anything that is a weapon, nor will you be able to use any object in a hostile manner against any of the residents… or any object at all. You may defend yourself only in so far as it causes no damage to anyone or anything. You may eat, of course… food is an exception, but no sharp knives. Someone will have to cut your food for you.” I bound her with the geas and patted her head. “If you’re a good girl, you’ll get to see daddy in a year or two. Now, you get to come and meet the others.”

I took her down to meet the others and explained about the rules. “Kohina here will be living with Gaius until her father gets better. Kendra, Toph, I’m trusting you two to make sure she learns some discipline.” I looked at the group who’d won the Crown Lotto; Bao, Velma, AJ, Zane, Dyna, Cirno, and Yoiko. I sighed at the inclusion of Cirno. Really? Again? Then again, she was more than a little dangerous, once you took off the Spell Card Limiters. Still would have rathered Gaius or Rayray, but the big sky dragon was hibernating or something.

“Velma, this is pure combat. You sure you want to come along?”

“Oh, yes. It sounds like fun. Plus, there might be interesting lore.”

I shrugged, “You guys got builds ready?” They had. I looked them over. There were some… strange choices.

Everyone got Epic Proportions?, Palette Swap, Soundtrack, Narrator!, and Basic Attack for free. AJ and Ahab both went the Fighter Path (Str-S, Con-A, Int-D, MgR-C, Dex-B, Luc-B), netting them both Vitality Boost, which was a massive health, vitality, and endurance boost that also protected against the effects of most poisons, toxins, and intoxicants. AJ blew his discretionary points in one go on a perk called Tempest Edge, which was a power attack like wind-slash times a bunch, since it was a series slashes so fast and powerful that they could create vortices that would persist for some time after your last swing and that attacked all nearby opponents.

Yoiko went Amazon (Str-A, Con-C, Int-C, MgR-C, Dex-B, Luc-A), snagging Air for Free, making her a master of aerial close-quarters combat and leaping attacks. It also granted her a ground-slam attack and the ability to alter her direction-mid jump, and she spent her discretionary on Shockwave, which would allow her to augment the kinetic energy in her weapon attacks, dealing more damage and creating a shockwave that had a chance to stagger or knock down nearby enemies, and Crit Champ, which did exactly what it sounded like… made it more likely for her blows to hit vital targets and deal, shall we say, augmented damage.

Ryoga went Dwarf (Str-S, Con-S, Int-E, MgR-D, Dex-C, Luc-B)… and Dyna joined him… which was interesting. Dwarves (alien or not) got ‘Punch’ free, which increased the damage of their punches several-fold. It promised that they could probably punch someone through a wall… of course they both could, but a boost is still a boost. Ryoga picked up Rock Skin, which reduced the damage he’d take from all physical attacks and was boostable with conscious effort. It was essentially the dwarven version of Chi Gong, and even conferred limited immunity to minor attacks eventually. That he also got Physical Resistance which, yes, increased dramatically his resistance to physical attacks, was just boggling. He wasn’t impervious to physical attacks and effects, but at this point it would take armor piercing supersonic rounds to damage him and even that wouldn’t do much more than slow him down…

Dyna snagged Grappling which made her… him… it an accomplished wrestler, which seemed like a good use of tentacle arms… or giant dwarven muscles. The Alien Pokemon also grabbed Elemental Attack, which allowed the user to charge a weapon so it became the focus of elemental energy. A weapon so imbued will add elemental damage to its attack. Ranged weapons will create ranged elemental attacks and melee weapons add elemental effects to their melee strikes. It apparently takes a few moments focus to create this charge, and the same to dispel it, and while making a weapon into an elemental focus requires mana, the individual attacks do not drain mana. That left her with 50 unspent and only one thing to buy with it, “Ammunition Opportunism” which was an ammo recycling / scavenging skill that made sure anything she scavenged from corpses or even the battle ground would be perfectly useful to her. Arrows wouldn’t have broken and thrown melee weapons… axes, hammers, and the like will still be sturdy and have keen edges.

Joy decided to be an Elf (Str-B, Con-C, Int-B, MgR-C, Dex-A, Luc-A) to pick up Rapid Fire. Not that she used bows much, but just in case. I did tease her about copying me and she did a great impression of a seven year old, claiming I was copying her, then telling me to stop copying me, then complaining to “Mom” which just made Velma glare at her.  

Velma went Sorceress (Str-E, Con-D, Int-A, MgR-S, Dex-B, Luc-A), which gave her Create Food as the freebie, which, as the name implied, allowed the caster to create food ad nihilo by drawing on the raw energies of the universe. At first it would merely create enough fruit to satisfy one person for one meal, but as her skill grew, she’d figure out how to create more food and a greater variety of food. Unfortunately, it could only create mundane food, as attempting to create magical food would result in junkfood copies instead. She also bought “Cheating Ass Magic Users” which would allow her to teleport rapidly over a short distance in response to being attacked, although doing so would steadily drain her mana reserves, as well as “Animate Skeleton” which transformed the bones of a formerly living being into a guardian / soldier for the next 24 hours. The power of the animated skeleton was comparable to that of the caster, and masters of this art could maintain up to 4 such minions at a time. They will follow simple commands only and are considered undead… it was creepy… but not too bad a skill. She finished her list with “Concentrate”, which was a way to focus the mind to rapidly recharge one’s mana pool, though all she would be able to do while concentrating would be to walk… and slowly at that. It was a useful mix, though skeletons… eeep.

Zane and Bao went Wizard (Str-D, Con-C, Int-S, MgR-A, Dex-B, Luc-D), a little bit out of character for Zane mcPunchy-face, but very in keeping with Bao’s refined attitude. Dude could totally pull off the “Emperor of all China” look. But Cirno went Wizard too. I don’t think she realized it was a male only class… Or what Meteors are. I think she got them confused with comets. Regardless, all three got Extract.

Zane went for the Cheating Ass Magic Users Teleportation Option too, and picked up “Magic Resistance”, which did pretty much what you’d expect and gave him serious resistance to the direct damage dealt by magical attacks and a reduction to the chance that non-damaging magical attacks would have any effect at all. Bao went a totally different way, picking up ‘Concentrate’, “Slow” (which creates a sphere in which your enemies’ actions are slowed… with sphere size and degree of slowdown commensurate with skill), and the Wizard version of the skeleton thing, “Golem”, which was almost identical but used wood instead of bone, save that instead of getting more Golems, you got tougher and stronger Golems.

Cirno got Meteor Swarm and nothing else… it was a spell, which was totally not called METEO, but could be called METEO, that summons down a torrent of meteors into a not insubstantially sized target area. All enemies inside the target area will suffer significant damage, and those enemies still inside the target area afterward will suffer from fire and radiation damage. It even worked underground and indoors, much to the horror of innkeepers everywhere. Unfortunately, it was not exactly instantaneous, having a casting time of a minute or more. Practice could increase the damage and area of effect… but the casting time could not be decreased by practice alone.

And with that… I didn’t know about anyone else… But I was ready. We hit the ground running. Took a week to get used to our abilities, new forms and all that. We had one mission. That was it. Punch through the Labyrinth as fast as possible. Of course, that meant finding it. Hurray for Ground Penetrating Radar and Star Fleet Scantech. Under the assumption that the first few levels wouldn’t have much we needed, we pavewayed them into rubble, punching through the first fifteen floors literally, thanks to Exploding Point technique. The monsters finally got to the point where they were no longer a joke, with one Demon Lord (apparently from the 9th level) chasing us down complaining that we were sequence breaking assholes and to come back and fight him fairly. We let Cirno play with him as we went deeper.  

I’m certain that many of the things in this dungeon would have been tough opponents to an actual elf from Hydeland, but I was a duel sword & Hammer wielder with magic up the yinyang. It was… practice. Really. That’s all it was. I’m certain this world had a storyline, but this was pure combat, and the enemies couldn’t spawn fast enough. We could clear a zone, then head into the Warehouse for a recharge without ever heading back to town. I sicced Ziggy on the second Demon Lord, as everyone else was inside the Warehouse getting some sack. Level 18 cleared… Day 10.  

Day 20 saw us on Level 81. No crown, no goddesses. Enemies were now dealing actual damage and developing what I like to call “Bullshit Hitpoint Syndrome” seriously. It was more like hacking wood than a living being. Finally, Level 99, day 38. Ancient Dragon. I sat on its head and berated it while it flailed and roared and otherwise tried to get me to get off and fight fair. Of course, I’d taken the precaution of freezing its legs in some of the 90 million gallons of water I’d brought to the fight, then frozen so hard that firebreath had as much chance of melting it as… well… this dragon had of beating me. “Look, give me the crown and the goddesses and I’ll let you live. I’ve fought bigger and nastier than you.”

“Then why aren’t you just killing me?”

“By the logic of this place, you’ve got to have just insane health bars.  My arm would get tired. I could just nuke this place, but I don’t want to damage all the loot. We like loot. And the crown might melt. I get that you’ve got this whole “Grrrr… I yam evil.” thing going, but you don’t actually want to win, do you? Have you seen the world outside this dungeon? It’s full of things to eat, hot babes to make out with… or… if you’re into manmeat… in the purely not eating way… have you seen the dwarves? Talk about ripped.”

“You are suggesting we, the forces of Chaos, give up our plans for world domination and go out and… get laid?”

“Well, you don’t actually have a plan do you? I mean seriously, you have the resources to build an infinitely deep labyrinth… and you fill it with slime monsters and ruins. Is this comfortable for you, because it looks like a dump. Have you ever had a really good home cooked meal?  I mean, I’m sure scarfing down a sheep or cow or elf is all very tasty… but, look, try this.” I nodded to Zane and he rolled a massive ball of shawarma bound with edam towards the dragon.

“What is it.”

“Cheese, lamb, spices, onions. Nothing poisonous. I scanned your biology. Might give you a little gas, but that’s okay. Just firebreathing from the other end, right?”

The dragon took a bite of the 3 meter sphere. Considered… then grumbled, “Ith had to kew.”  

“Shift it back to between your molars. You know, powerful dragons in most worlds can shapeshift. Have you ever tried it?”

“Hmm? Why would I want to?”

“Well, for one thing, drinking booze is easier if you don’t have to lap it up. Also, being as long as two barns makes it hard to get service in most bars.” The dragon shimmered, becoming more humanoid, though still at least sixty feet tall, then swallowed hard. “Like this?”

“Better, now, I’ll free one of your hands, so you can pick up your food.” The ice flowed and Ancient finished his snack. “So?  Which is better, raw sheep, or spiced, cooked, and mixed sheep?”

“Ith a little dry.”

“Ah, well, then let me introduce you to booze. This is what mortals call “Mead.” I snapped my fingers and a cask rolled out of the Warehouse. “It is poisonous, but not very. Bad for your body, good for your mood. Thirst quenching too. Made from honey. Careful, that barrel isn’t made for your strength so don’t squeeze it.”

He drank deeply, then grunted. “I like this.”

“Yeah… figured. Look. You guys of Chaos don’t get that the world needs you just as much as it needs the Goodygoodies. You don’t have to get along with them, but their blessings are useful. Lots of things to eat for one.”

“But everything’s so bright, and static, and the mortals get everywhere and hunt us.”

“Okay, yeah, bright… during the day. Topside. That’s why there’s night and underground. And it’s not static… not as long as you guys keep supplying chaos. Things change… just slower. Constant change isn’t good. Sometimes you like the same thing more than once, right?”

“Yeah?”

“Well, imagine if every gold coin was a different shape? Hard to sleep on, right?”

“They are-”

“I meant radically different shapes… like triangles, cubes… or look, you like certain things the way they are, right?”

“Yeah?”

“Well, without some order, they’d be statistically unlikely to be the same from time to time.  As for the mortals killing your people… you pretty much do the same… and what’s more, the mortals kill each other just as much as you chaos gits kill each other. Because the humans are chaos and order… of course, Chaos and Order are the same thing.”

“WHAT?! No they’re not!”

“Awww… sweety. They are.” And that’s why I spent the next four days teaching the BBED about Mandelbrot sets, chaos theory, and the value of e and the Golden Ratio.

“My head hurts.”

“Yup. Mind blowing, huh?”

“Mind… Blowing?  Yes.  I like that…”

“It’s called a Paradigm Shifting Informational Overload. You’ve just been exposed to information that makes you reconsider your most basic frameworks.”

“The others won’t go for it.”

“Are you or are you not the Ancient Dragon?”

“I am… one of them.”

“Yes, well, look you and the Demon Lords can continue to be assholes and damage what’s essentially a giant opportunity for you, or you can try coexistence. Beer, Mead, Cheese, Shawarma… I’m certain I can teach someone here the recipe. Look. Tell you what. You free the goddesses, hold onto the crown… give me twenty years. I’ll work with you and your people to get things done. We’ll set up a cultural exchange… plus, you guys have the whole building shit underground down pat. I’m certain you’ve got the resources to pay for anything you want.”

“Pay?”

“Exchange gold, gems, and valuable ores or even scales that you’ve lost for goods you want.”

“You can… exchange… my scales… for…”

“Cheese, mead… look, shrink down to my size and I’ll take you to the city, show you the marketplace… and bring some of your scales… and that ruby… and here, fill this with coins.” I tossed him a pouch as he shrank, moving some of the ice around so the coins were accessible. And then I took the Ancient Dragon shopping.  

I’m not going to pretend it was easy. The Goddesses weren’t exactly thrilled at the idea of working with their ancient enemies… and some of the forces of Chaos weren’t exactly as easy to convince as a highly materialistic and gluttonous dragon. But when the demons found out that there were people in pain to feast on the emotions of even if they weren’t actually causing the suffering, and that some mortals actually liked pain… and turns out that demons are quite fond of incense. Slime monsters were stunned to learn just how much garbage and refuse mortal cities generated… and that they could eat as much as they wanted… without getting burned or stabbed.

Sure, there were some purges amongst the forces of Chaos as the coexist crowd clashed with the hardliners, but unity is everything and the forces of chaos didn’t have that at the best of times. I doubt I solved everything long term, but ultimately, it was a big ol fantasy world and I really hadn’t relished the idea of clearing the jump in sixty days. It became a twenty year working vacation, where much of the work was in beating up anyone who wouldn’t listen to reason. Conversion by defeat is a great ability. Glad I picked it up.

Ultimately, Ancient decided I’d held up my end of the bargain and handed over the Crown, thus ending the jump for me and satisfying the victory condition. I’d gone deeper into the Labyrinth both physically and spiritually than had been the original plan, but done something more constructive than beat up everything that looked like it was animate.

Next: World 42 – Danger Zone

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World 40: Marvel Cinema Universe

THE PROMISE

Previously: Unforgivable Deeds

Theme Song: Waters of Babylon by Don McLean

Stepping back into the Warehouse at the end of that jump filled me with dread. I’d just gambled the fate of an entire world on the next jump being somewhere better than Black Bullet (not hard), as well as somewhere that could support 12 million modern humans (fairly easy), and somewhere that wouldn’t be instantly destroyed by the arrival of two and a half million super powered adolescent girls (bwahahaha! yeah, right). Imagine my initial horror when I saw the Marvel Logo on the Vending Machines of Destiny. For a minute I had visions of having to destroy Sentinels to protect the girls and their guardians against the anti-mutant crowds… then I realized it was the MCU logo and relaxed. Much better, no mutants. Just Tony Stark and HYDRA. Weeeee!

I was almost looking forward to this.

Step 1… spin that wheeel! Click click click! West Virginia! Woooo. Site of the Hulk’s rampage in 2005! Wait, what was the year? 2009… ah… Tony Stark is just breaking free of the cave in Afghanistan. Interesting time. Wait… ooo, this should be funz! 2009 is Iron Man, 2010 is Hulk 2 and Thor, 2011 is Avengers, 2013 is the Fall of SHIELD… hmmmm… busy busy busy.

Options options options. Who do I want to be? Drop in had a style perk, a find the plot perk, a steal the macguffin perk, and a screw things up perk. Eh. Tech Expert was the Tony Stark line. Operative was the Black Widow line, and Tac/Comm was the Nick Fury line. Hmmm… none of them screamed at me.

Maybe I should look at drawbacks first. 1600 CP maximum. That might be enough… might be overkill honestly. Corpse of a Hero caught my eye immediately. Phil Coulson stays dead after Loki kills him? Wait, that’s it? SHIELD falls apart and Coulson stays dead? Excellent! Bringing back Coulson always bugged me. Sorry Phil, you should have stayed dead. It was a great moment in cinema, how the sacrifice of a mere mortal could galvanize these great beings! And they wasted it… but then again, they wasted Loki’s redemption, which would have been an awesome and memorable cinema moment, a “Even the Bad Guy can change” in a comic movie… but that’s Comics for you. No one stays dead.

And SHIELD falling apart pretty much will derail the events of Winter Soldier, which might stop Civil War… especially if I can limit Ultron’s depravity. All around good news in my book [+300/1300]. You Owe Rocket also amused me. Being followed around and having my plans messed with by Rocket just because he thinks I owe him? Excellent! [+200/1500]. Horrible Costume? Catch Phrase? Both worth [+100] I can cope with that. Hulk has purple pants. Too edgy or too corny or both, and I keep repeating a catch phrase. Sure, why not [+200/1700].

End of an Era would make the Chitauri personally attack me on the regular and their tech self-destruct upon their defeat… and they’d keep coming, even after their invasion failed… Heh. gives me someone to smash on the head. [+300/2000]…

I could max myself out by taking one of the 600s, but those were freaking scary… so I settled by shifting my starting point to 1942 and pledging to obliterate HYDRA… seriously… I couldn’t leave the world until HYDRA was gone… actually… I could do that… Help end WWII early… though I suspect I’d make things worse… and if I left before modern times, what was I going to do with the kids? Did I really want to live through the 1950s, 60s, and 70s again? Eh, why the heck not. Glory of a Monster for [+300/2300] and that was that. Starting Point 1942, Austria… and I’d be here until at least 2011? Oh good. 70 years. I had that long to make a world that was a decent place to release the Cursed Children of Black Bullet.

To do so, I was going to need help. And that meant it was time for JumpVengers Assemble! [200/2100]. Honestly, a free background and 500 CP for perks and items was pretty damned nice, not super, but I’d make due.

I’d been an Operative last time I’d been through this section of world history. This time I was going for Tech Expert. Granted me incredible intelligence (sure, I could use a few more IQ points) and the capability to understand the greater workings of the Universe (as if I didn’t have that already) as well as meaning I’d pick up on information and science a lot faster than most (which was a bonus worth having).

Everyone got Soundtrack of the Galaxy and They Call Me “Star-Lord” for Free, and Tech Experts get Professor of Asskicking free just for signing up. Universal Freebies are nice. The Boss’s way of saying, “Here, these are barely worth the bother, but we like making you feel appreciated.”

Soundtrack of the Galaxy was a BGM perk that ensured I’d have a fine selection of music that defined the moment, whatever it may be. Superb orchestra, rock music, even a hefty dash of songs from the 1980s if that’s what was called for. It even came with a handheld cassette player capable of function in deep space. See what I mean by barely worth the bother?

They Call Me “Star-Lord” was for those times when I really needed a codename and for people to know that codename was mine. Apparently my real name… not that I used it and hadn’t for… a while… wasn’t intimidating or awe inspiring enough. With this I could designate an alias and people would associate that name with me… even if it didn’t guarantee they’d actually call me by it. So, apparently, with this, I could pick my nickname. I’d just come off like a douche for mentioning it. Wooo! Even less worth the time and effort. Professor of Asskicking on the other hand… that was 3 free PhD’s in a science or tech field. Quantum Physics, Computer Engineering, and Chaos Theory. There. A science, a tech, and a math. STEM for the win! I felt nerdier already.

Before I purchased anything else, however, I’d noticed one perk I had to have in the non-discounted section… Asgardian [400/1700/2300]. If I was going to be here for 70 years fighting monsters in human guise, I might as well become a Godlike alien. I already was Skadi, right? “You are an Asgardian, a member of a powerful alien species often mistaken for gods. As such, your strength is enough that you could bench press an APC, your speed would let you outrun a car at 80MPH, and your toughness enough to take an RPG and survive with minor bruising. This is on top the ability to heal wounds noticeably faster than the average human and immunity to any Earth disease. As a bonus, your appearance and physique have been improved to pleasing effect. May you enjoy your perfect, immaculate hair that could only belong to one as grand as you.” I already was immune to diseases and my hair was already omni-spiffy, but more spiffy could always be achieved. A small hammer symbol appeared on the screen and I poked it. “Your hair and body only get dirty enough to make you ruggedly handsome/beautiful.” Well that was nice. “It also works on body fur, fluffy tails, scales, or chitin.” Heh. Covering bases. Excellent. I would have to check out how I looked as Asgardian Snowjaeger. It also set my age into the thousands. That was going to be a lot of memories to sort through. Oh, and you know who Odin’s wife was before Frigg? Thaaaat’s right. Skadi. Well, according to the legends.

I didn’t really need Unusual Specialization or I Am Iron Man… I already was pretty scientifically skilled and I already knew how to build half of Tony’s tech… and as long as he developed it before I left, I could steal his actual specs. On the other hand, I had to take the Tech-Expert Capstone, Retro-Engineer [300] (1400/2000) which granted me the basics of tinkering with alien technologies. As long as I take the time to study something and experiment properly, I’ll eventually figure out a use for any tech I find. As a bonus, it made me far less likely to accidentally break whatever I’m tinkering with. I noticed that hammer symbol flashing on the text box for Retro-Engineer and poked it curiously. “Since you’re Asgardian, this grants a basic understanding of Asgardian Technology and comprehension of how they work. In time, you’ll be able to make technology on par with that of the best of the Asgardian Technical Elite, such as Bifrost or weapons that can focus abilities through them.” OOOoo…OOO Yay!

I scrolled around, intrigued. Were there other Asgardian synergies? There were! Especially on the other capstones. The Tac/Comm and Operative capstones were both combat boosters, and the Tac/Com one was nice, combining leadership and morale boosts… but the synergy for Operative was right up my alley… I really wanted the elemental boost… but I decided I could do without. Leadership and negotiation solves more problems ultimately than freezing everyone solid. That meant the choice of “Old Fashioned Asskicking” [600/800/2300] was pretty much an unavoidable expense, though it meant giving up several other choice options. Ah well, can’t have everything. Any group I fight with will have their morale drastically improved, and their battle tactics improved just as much. Synergy, accuracy, reflexes, and coordination will all noticeably increase, and they hit just a bit harder too. As an Asgardian, my charisma and intellect increase greatly, allowing me to lead armies and negotiate with hostile forces without difficulty. As this develops, I could become a wise and powerful queen whose rule is almost never challenged. And those who served under me would find my wisdom increasing their own competencies and skills in a fraction of the usual time. See why I had to have it? That’s twice I’d given up a nice elemental power for the demands of leadership. Siiigh.

On the other hand, I could make up some of the loss by taking “Super Soldier” [200/600/2300] “You’ve been bathed in Vita Radiation and have taken the eponymous Super Soldier Serum, and have found yourself enhanced as a result. You are at the very peak of both physical and mental Asgardian ability. Things like increased agility, speed, strength, mental calculation, memory, and more are all enhanced. You could potentially take an army by yourself, or even laugh in the face of a tank or two… to say nothing of mental comprehension. You are considered part of the Royal family and could even be seen as a god to lesser beings.” Yeah, that would do. Say haaalooo to step-mom, Thor my boy!

That left me with 600 unspent. Time for Items, there were bound to be some good ones. Oh, wait! 300 CP Item Stipend? Excellent! Hee hee hee. Everyone got a Tactical Suit for free “A standard bodysuit made of a polymer blend with ten layers of treated composite materials, allowing for state of the art protection, in the style of your choice.” I plugged in something that looked good before my drawbacks made my sense of style fly out the window. Tech Experts got their own free Holotable “A device in the shape of a table used to create holographic models that allow the study, analysis, and reconstruction of a vast array of items, weapons and events. Comes in any color of holograms you like and each hologram is capable of being interacted with. Naturally this performs better with additional data.” (bonus! Gaming Table! At least until I get Holodeck tech.) and Nitramene “The formula for the chemical compound known as Nitramene, this compound has multiple purposes. A typical Nitramene bomb has a blast radius of five hundred yards after which it creates a vacuum that causes an implosion as matter rushes to fill the void that it has created, but a grenade of that size will do considerably less damage. On the other hand, Nitramene also emits low levels of Vita Radiation, which has a specific wavelength that has stabilizing properties.” (Huh. No idea what I’ll do with this crap, but whatever. Source of Vita Rads. I could use them if I had the Super Soldier Serum.).

As an Asgardian, I got my own shiny shiny self-repair Asgardian Armor. Exquisite and custom design work too. Hee hee. Also available was an Asgardian Armory [100/200/300], a collection of pedestals and plaques that would grow ever more opulent and spiffy as I added relics and other doo-dads to it. For 200 CP more, I could upgrade it so that I could summon stuff from there, but as it was part of my warehouse, I could already do that with Requip.

As it turns out, said Serum or rather the “Strange Formula” cost [100/100/300] “This chemical formula is the brainchild of the German scientist Dr. Erskine, and is directly responsible for the creation of Captain America. As is, this is only the formula, and you must make it yourself… but as a result it could possibly let you modify the serum for other uses. Beware its tendencies to amplify the personality traits of the user, or be prepared to find a way to fix that fact.” Experimentation needed. Very true, didn’t need to exacerbate some of the crazy on my squad. I wonder what Ziggy would be like on Super S… Ferret Serum?

And now I had 100… and Infinite Shawarma was on the list. I bought it and SHIELD Membership for [50] each, running me out of my stipend points. Sure, I could make damned good shawarma in my kitchen… but this hooked my warehouse up with an infinite supply of Shawarma of all kinds, perfectly cooked to my specs, regardless of ingredients or meats. It had better come with the complete pickle bar and tahini on tap. Probably have to source Israeli Fanta myself… it’s more tart, less sweet than American Fanta. The SHIELD membership was of negotiable usage, but by purchasing it I got a legitimate position within the organization that is S.H.I.E.L.D., whether that is as a consultant or an agent or a scientist. Or would once it began. If there were other Marvel jumps later, having an in at SHIELD might be useful.

Mmm… that left me with 600… and I had an idea that was just too evil for school. Skadi was not only the Asgardian Goddess of Winter, but of archery. What if I took Funny Thing Happened (the elemental powers)… and made it arrows… a blizzard of arrows. Yess… that could do nicely. [600/0/2300] And I was out.

I retired to the kitchen to make dinner while the others discussed who was coming with me and why and what builds they wanted. “Astraea gets right of first refusal. Then Sextus. And I’m taking Zane and Reggy. Ahab, Joy, I’m going to need you to help me destroy HYDRA, so you can come too, but I don’t know if you want to import normally or what?” I said over the counter.

“What kind of world is this?” Garl asked, looking like a pretty boy outside his armor. “Is it like the last one?”

“Tech level is lower. If you come with and stay you’ll probably die of old age before it gets to that level. You’ll be able to adjust. Right now, the world’s in the middle of the worst war in recorded history, a war against two genocidal empires… one so bad the forces of liberty and justice have allied themselves with a tyrant who rules a third empire in a pact of mutual protection. It’s complex, and bad news. But there’s a Catholic church here that worships the Son of God and the Virgin Mary. And the war will be over soon and a lot of worthy people will need help.”

Astraea umms, “But you’d be giving up a chance to improve one of your constant companions to import, that’s the word, yes?” I nodded. “Import me? Why?”

“Because it’s the only way to give you a new body. Otherwise you’ll just be a ghost. You and Garl could start a family.”

“You’d do that?”

“Sure. Least I can do. I could turn you into an Arrancar if you’d rather. You’d still be a ghost, but a really dangerous one. Could hook you up with a Gigai too… but you’d outlive everyone and I don’t think you’d like that.” She nodded slowly. “So it’s resolved.”

Over tacos, the roster was decided. Reggy, Zane, Velma, Cirno, Kendra, Ryoga, Yoiko, and Astraea. Ahab and Joy would import themselves. Sextus had bowed out and Bao had decided he could do without living through Maoism again. We promised to see if we could stop that from happening this time around. But there were a lot of things that needed doing first. Cirno was coming because everyone said I was being too hard on her. I’d been outvoted in favor of the idiot. I was clearly in charge here.

I walked Astraea through the decision process for the first and almost certainly the last time. “If you take any origin besides Drop-In you’ll end up with another set of memories, the memories of who you were in this life, in this world.”

“And if I don’t?”

“Drop-Ins are just you. As you are.”

“Then I would still be a ghost?”

“Naw, it always gives you an… I don’t know. Maybe.”

“That is alright then. Hopefully she and I will be of a mind. And I could use knowledge of this world and its peoples.” I nodded. It was her choice. She read through the choices, then, after several days, announced, “I have decided.”

I was surprised it hadn’t taken her longer. Deciding who you want to be for the rest of your life is a heavy choice… even if there are only three options. She picked Tac/Comm, which came with a fair amount of resources and a position of authority in what would one day become SHIELD… and a wanted woman. Had to admire her gumption. She was going into a global war that would morph from active combat to a war of spies in only a few years armed with only her native magical skills and 200 CP worth of perks, to make a home and life for herself and her friends, and to help people she’d never heard of before.

She took “Super Soldier [200] (healthier kids, she said), Enhanced Senses [200] (better fieldcraft… didn’t remember Daredevil showing up in MCU yet, huh.), Grootologist [50] (the ability to understand the general idea of what anyone is saying, regardless of language barriers or simple phrase repetition), Smooth Operator [Free Tac/Com] (the ability to bring confidence and calmness to those you talk to, or become intimidating at will), Tactical Suit [Free], SHIELD Membership [Free Tac/Com], Mouse Hole [Free Tac/Comm] (a laser cutting device that cuts through almost any material and is handheld)… and Infinite Shawarma [50]. I asked why. She said, “Shawarma is good… it is also food. With this, I will have a way to feed many who would otherwise go hungry.” It was a good answer.

Ryoga, Kendra, and Ahab also went the Tac/Comm path, with Ahab getting just the freebies. Ryoga picked up Tick Tock [200 Tac/Comm] (a planning and timing perk that made him instantly a master of preparation and scheming) and Super Speed [300] (Quicksilver level zoom) in addition to the freebies, while Kendra picked up Data Disassembly [100 Tac/Comm] (a super hacking / cyber-security perk) and SHIELD SUV [100 Tac/Comm]. It was a self-driving, flight-capable, armored, machine-gun / grenade launcher equipped, self-repairing mobile command center that was guaranteed to be easily upgradable. Not a bad ride… I wonder what it ran on and how far it could go without refueling. She also picked up Radiation Resistance [300], which seemed like overkill since it covered pretty much any kind of harmful energies, scientific, magical, or otherwise.

Reggy, Zane, and Joy went down the road of the Operative, with Joy getting the freebies from what was for her “Old Home Week” of course, which in this case consisted of “Vehicular Manslaughter” (Ace Pilot, Ace Driver… especially when trying to kill people… even with alien vehicles.), “Collapsible Bow” (Hawkeye’s bow essentially), and “Thunderstick” (A sonic stungun / shockhammer.)

Zane added “Armed to Disarm” (How to appear Harmless and Innocent for non-suckers.) and “Destroyer Armor Prototype Gun” (A gun dangerous enough to serious imperil an Asgardian based off of Asgardian tech co-opted by SHIELD) and a set of Hydra Blueprints which seemed to be a method by which items could be combined, to the mix… and Reggy would surely benefit from my picking “Way of the Widow” (The whole super spy package… stealth, infiltration, cover identities, etc.) and her own copy of A Funny Thing Happened (The beat down perk, but without the elemental arrows of dooooom. It was a total martial arts, marksmanship, situational awareness package that would make her ever more dangerous… you know, the Green Widow) for her. I wanted to increase her ability to understand humanity from the inside out. I doubted it was possible to make her more of a sociopath than she already was. Still, by my best guess, she was now about 16 years old. After this jump she’ll have experienced far more time as a human than she had as a Vord. For good or ill.

Yoiko joined me on the path to Tech Expertise, enjoying the Intelligence and learning boost, and becoming a Professor of Asskicking in Electrical Engineering, Computer Sciences, and Computer Engineering all at the same time. Triple threat. Then she added “I Am Iron Man” to the collection, which made her essentially a decent knock-off of Tony Stark with regards to technological inventiveness, if not retro-engineering. It would be nice to have another techgirl around, finally… we were going to do very dangerous things together. She also picked up Psionic Will, which was a whole suite of psy powers (tk, shields, psi bolts)… who was a telepath without being a mutant… couldn’t recall off the top of my head.

Velma and Cirno went Drop-In, for two different reasons. Velma wanted Darcy Time, which was the ability to locate all the cool alien invasions and rampaging gods and supernatural cataclysms instead of avoiding them like a sensible person, and Yondu’s Yaka Arrow, which was seriously armor piercing and could be controlled with sound… though Velma might need a piccolo to do so, since she wasn’t that good a whistler. Drop-In was the best way she could afford both. Thus, intelligence. She also picked up Star-Lord’s Helmet of the Stars (Collapsable space helmet that syncs with all your technology) and her own set of enhanced senses. Good thing I have Evercleansed, eh?

Cirno on the other hand wanted to pick up the shinies and so she took “This Looks Important”… a perk that let one track the MacGuffin and maybe even figure out what it did… even in the heart of a battle royale. At that point, I was vaguely hoping someday I’d look back and think “That was a useful choice.” but right now I’m mostly suspecting she’s going to bring a doomsday device into my warehouse claiming “I found it!” This is not a happy-making thought. She also picked up “Monkey Wrench” which is the Drop-In Capstone, and designed to screw with everyone’s plans… like mine. Ah well. That’s Cirno for you. And that meant it was time for planning how to plan around her.

And so, dear friends, once more into the… wait… this is my 42nd jump! We must make Pangalactic Gargleblasters! That done and the party well and truly burned into our drunken memories… Reggy was like “I do not understand the purpose of this. This substance is poisonous?” But after twelve of them she was trying, rather incoherently, to make the harmless Pseudo-keeper she’s allowed as a pet dance, despite understanding the concept only poorly herself. Yes, it’s harmless. No poison production ability and way too big to be a Taker and both she and it are allowed to participate in group activities only through a transparent Aluminum box on the edge of the living area. If I sound paranoid about her… I am.

I’m not the only one. Sextus keeps coming up to me and asking if I’m sure she’s safe and telling me that he’s certain he saw something sneaking around the warehouse. I point out that, in addition to Ziggy, there are several hundred anti-vermin hunting pseudo tree-spiders (courtesy of VIvian) making sure that there aren’t any rats, roaches, silverfish, or vord scooting around and that I don’t exactly trust her either. I think he’s a little traumatized even though I’ve cleaned out his emotional baggage twice now. I need a Starfleet Counselor. Closest I’ve got is me, and while I could in theory mindmeld (Vulcan, remember) or genome meld (Asari too) I’m not sure either would be helpful.

Honestly, I wasn’t certain even with all my telepathy and soul reading if I’d ever be fully able to trust the Vord Queen. But time would tell, I guess. Until then, I had to stick to the program.

Our planning was intensive for this jump. We had to strike hard and fast. No, not to destroy HYDRA… no, for higher stakes. There were millions of Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, and Political Prisoners to save from Concentration Camps, millions of Russians to save from the battles of 42-45, Dresden & Berlin to save, and even a couple of atomic bombs to stop. Plus, maybe I could save Patton, Rommel, and FDR from untimely deaths… but that wasn’t top of my list. Top of my list was giving the lives of a handful of people a very short shelf-life. Rolodex, Rolodex, I love you so much.

We dropped on the first of August, 1942, into Austria. My followers (Cirno and Reggy still in the warehouse) fanned out, heading for the various operations which would, in time, allow us to map all of HYDRA. My tech started churning out anti-Chitauri sensors, remote combat drones, and other bits and baubles to make them die rapidly… like anti-mothership homing torpedos. If any of them got through that, I’d introduce them to Soul of Axe. She was feeling feisty.

I on the other hand had a few individuals to look up. Imagine a Norse Goddess sitting on a throne of ice in the middle of an Austrian forest, flipping through a Rolodex, muttering “Lavrentiy Beria… Isamu Cho… Zhu De… Oskar Dirlewanger… Adolf Eichmann… Zhou Enlai… Hans Frank… Odilo Globocnik… Joseph Goebbels… Hermann Göring… Reinhard Heydrich… Heinrich Himmler… Adolf Hitler… Shiro Ishii… Kan’in Kotohito… Iwane Matsui… Josef Mengele… Mario Roatta… Joseph Stalin… Hisao Tani… Deng Xiaoping… Mao Zedong” Twenty-two names. It wasn’t nearly enough, and I was letting others get away with crap, but these were the worst of the worst. In fact, they were so bad that I briefly reconsidered my stance on the Kiharas. If I just executed these war criminals… why was I so bent on punishing the pair of them. That made me pause, reevaluate my plans. So I changed them.

First, I had to gather them. With my list and a bunch of cryopods I installed in my Safehouse on Svalbard, I collected the butchers of WWII set. One by one I held trials for them all, summoning up their deepest secrets and desires to confront them with. Then I left them, one by one, to their victims. The chinese peasants were more than happy to take care of the Japanese commanders. Yugoslavians took care of the Italian. Poles took care of Frank and Globocnik. Dirlewanger I just staked ala Vlad the Impaler… though I did it over a fire ant nest in Mexico. The German High Command I deposited, naked, chained, and sobbing, begging for release from the terrifying apparition in the middle of Trafalgar Square. Mengele I left blind and naked in Siberia. As for the Communists… Stalin and Beria, Mao, De, and Enlai… Them I just shot… in space suits… into re-entry… of Venus.

The war in Europe ended with a stalemate as the German Military seized power (under the guidance of HYDRA) and Nazi party members began finding out what it was to be rounded up and imprisoned. Khrushchev took over in Russia… Hirohito surrendered unilaterally after a visitation from what he believed to be Amaterasu told him too. By July of 1943, the war was over and the face of the 20th century was changed forever. No nukes, no Communist revolution in China, lots of tension in Europe, but no Iron Curtain and Soviet Puppet States. No UN… no Israeli mandate, but nevertheless, an Zionist state did rise in the region, with the help of the Demon’s Souls crew, helping settle so many refugees and keeping peace as only a Saint could. I was deep in political manipulation mode, trying to explain what “Let’s Getter Dun” meant, trying to keep the 20th century more or less ticking along as the map of HYDRA grew and grew and grew and the Chitauri kept dying like moths to a very cold flame.

Rocket of course showed up, decades before he should have been born and experimented on. And got hugged and told how cute he was and got kisses on the nose. He tried to bite and claw me, but I’m harder than I look. I couldn’t get rid of him, of course… but I could make sure he kept falling for the same transparent lies over and over again. He did, for some reason, keep joining HYDRA, but I kept erasing his memory of that fact.

I was trying very hard to stay out of the limelight… which is why it came as so much of a shock when Thor and his Warriors Three… and Syf… showed up to arrest me on Odin’s orders for messing with the timeline. And that’s how I spent the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and most of the oughts, trapped in a cell in Asgard. Weeeeee! No idea how they managed it, but I had as much luck escaping (I couldn’t even open my warehouse.) as Loki did… but thankfully, Loki got me out. Okay, not really. Turns out Loki was running amok on Earth and had killed some temporal lynchpin according to Odin and if I promised to be very very good, they’d let me out to help hunt down the rogue prince. I gave Odin (Frigg can have him) a kiss on the cheek that must have chilled the All-Father to his toes, then asked where Thor was.

“Midgard. With some people who call themselves “The Avengers or SHIELD.”

“Right. Let’s getter dun!” I snapped, then summoned my armor and sword-axe as I headed towards Bifrost. “Oh… wait… You haven’t fixed the Bifrost yet have you?”

“How did you know it was broken?”

“I am that excellent.”

“You look ridiculous.”

“I Yama Doctor.”

“Yes, that’s what your coat says. In 15 different languages… and it’s always misspelled.”

“It’s a joke.”

“Not a funny one.”

“Shush you, I’m being awesome. Wait for it…” and with me out of my cell, calling Zane for a pickup wasn’t hard. PHS has no range limit. Boom. “Hello boys and girls, did you miss me?” I asked as I appeared aboard a damaged SHIELD Helicarrier. Most of my people looked… old. I sighed “Yeah… well… it wasn’t fun for me either. Report?”

Look, you’ve seen what Hulk can do to a Helicarrier… right? Who hasn’t. This one wasn’t in great shape. And Loki was about to bring the Chitauri down on New York City, totally bypassing my anti-Chitauri grid by use of the Tesseract. So that was great. Part of me wanted to rush over there and help save the day, I’m not going to lie. But the rest of me was like “I have a mission. Let’s getter dun.” I opened my mouth to start giving commands, when Rocket, wearing a janitor’s costume, leapt out of a vent and pointed a gun at me.

You owe me!”

I sighed and squirted him with Jusenkyo water, then picked up the wet raccoon and said “It’s in a forcefield atop Stark Tower in New York city. Go get it yourself.” and tossed her down the corridor. “Now… HYDRA.”

My people had not been idle during my hiatus. Rather, they’d been busy saving the world and, while doing so, they’d mapped the rise of HYDRA very carefully (and killed many Chitauri). The list was a long one. But I had places to start… still… it would take awhile to deal with. I could spare an hour to save NYC. “Okay people, let’s getter dun! Time for I Yama Doctor to make her appearance!”

Laugh all you want. The Chitauri weren’t laughing as I flew up through their rift and smashed their spaceship with Meltdowner Beams. I’d had a lot of time to practice in that cell. So that was tuesday. With their primary mission to observe HYDRA done, my team went to work shoring up SHIELD and doing all the stuff Coulson would have while I tracked down every member of HYDRA I knew about and first scanned their minds to learn everything I could about the organization, then erased their memory of ever having been a part of it. Sure, it was mind control, but my alternative was to kill over 28,000 people. Thankfully, most of them were drones who barely knew what they were doing, or who they worked for. Yeah, there were cells of Neo-Nazi’s and hate groups, but they were controlled by HYDRA, not HYDRA directly. Still, I made them go home and dedicate their lives to not being dickheads.

Some of the HYDRA heads were good at shielding themselves from my mind reading… others resisted my personality editing. A couple put up a fight. It’s amazing how hard an Asgardian Super Soldier can kick. I actually managed to punt one of them across a city. Finding Bucky and deprogramming him was actually the hardest part of the operation. Dealing with Odin and Rocket was more annoying, and I don’t think The All Father appreciated me sending the kleptomaniacal raccoon to Asgard via Bifrost express, but I did anyway. I also found time to have a Mjolnir duel with Thor. He wasn’t amused to see me wielding a copy of his hammer.

That taken care of, I was racking up a simply huge collection of HYDRA memories for the Pensieve I’d lifted from Dumbledore’s office (I’d replaced it with the one I bought in Diagon Alley… his was nicer) when I ran out of HYDRA. That wasn’t how it was supposed to work. I was supposed to leave when the last of HYDRA was gone. None of my companions knew what was going on… until I looked around the warehouse and spotted the pink bunny box. Crap. Crap. Crap.

I’d forgotten about them… well… not forgotten… I don’t forget anything… but there’s a lot of stuff to take care of and some events get shelved for later.

I picked up the box and took the occupants to Detroit. “Yes.” I said, looking at the shambles of the once proud city. This will do nicely.” And then I abused SHIELD Resources, construction robots, Asgardian technology (I’d had a lot of time to read, and no one felt it odd that I asked for tech texts… I was one of them), and even some of my own money… and rebuilt vast swaths of the city in a matter of months. Housing for 8 million, Egyptians, Russians, Japanese, and Native Detroiters. Then I released the seals and watched as people started appearing. Took over 2 years, releasing 10,000 a day, getting them settled… killing Chitauri. I could have done it faster… but my ability to change history works only once a month. Each month I just… rewrote history to add another few hundred thousand people, mostly children, to the Detroit area. Businesses that had been having problems suddenly found they were thriving… but had no memory of the problems. And the families remembered having moved here legally… and of being families.

Oddly enough, Detroit was a good fit. The city already had sizable populations of russians, japanese, and muslims, and of course the natives were natives. But that didn’t solve the problem of 2.4 million Cursed Children and their guardians. I could have released them into the general population… but that would have turned Detroit into Superheroine capital of the… universe. And made them targets. No. For this I sought out Odin’s help.

“Yo, Big Daddy!”

“All Father.”

“Yup, swat I said. Anyway. I need a place to stash 4 million humans and quasi-humans where they won’t starve and won’t get used as pawns or experimented on. Come on, tell me we can getter dun.”

“Quasi humans?”

“Virus mutated little girls who have superhuman strength, toughness, and speed. Cured of the disease, but still transhuman. 2.4 million of them.”

“Two… million… little girls?”

“Yup. Can they move in?”

Odin choked. “To Asgard?”

“Sure! Think of them as Next Gen Valkyries, only instead of bringing you the spirits of the dead, they bring you stuffed animals and you get to pretend to be Santa.”

“What? Why would I-”

“Dude. Read a book some time. Also, they’d be nothing like you know who with the swords and the crazy… well, a little like her… but not much. Anyway. I’m going to be unloading them in like… a few hours, so can we Getter dun?”

“You do not have my permission-”

“Oh. Cause, see… I wasn’t actually asking. I’m going to release 4 million humans on the streets of Asgard in an hour’s time and you’re going to help me find a new home for them where they’ll be safe.”

“I am am I? I am ODIN!” he thundered. “You do not-”

“And you chide Thor for his anger? Don’t you snap at me. I’m trying to do a solid here. Show your wrath to me again Borson, and I shall bring down Fimbulwinter… you know I can… or I could tell your precious boy about you know who.” I mentally blinked… I didn’t even know… oh… retroactive motherhood… yay? Take a spot in canon and find yourself filling holes in canon. Not that Skadi was angry about Odin banishing Hela to time out… she had been a bitch. And I say that as her mother.

Odin slumped. “Humans, in Asgard.”

“It’s a big world. You can put them on the other side of the mountain.

“Where will they live?”

“You’re Odin. You’ll figure something out. Oh. This is Enju. She likes bunnies and kicking jerks in the head.” I pushed the redhead towards Odin, then backed out, signalling to Zane to unleash the flood. Still took 200 days before the box was finally empty (and the Chitauri tried to invade Asgard twice!). Still, not only are Asgardians good at fighting, they are also much better about figuring out how to handle refugees than they thought they’d be, as it turns out.

And yet… Still… no pillars. “There must be some HYDRA left somewhere.” I growled… “Fine. Let’s do this” and I focused hard… and changed history so all the remaining members of HYDRA had signed onto a website called “HYDRAnet” and given their own home address and full legal names two days ago. There were four names on the list. HIVE, Rocket Raccoon, Brewster Morgan… and Astraea Vinland.

I cursed myself for forgetting Hive, a.k.a Alveus, the Inhuman behind the cult that was Hydra. Of course… he was on the planet Maveth, a barren world he’d been banished to centuries earlier. I sent him an Asgardian planet buster for his birthday, vaporizing the ancient entity via Bifrost.

Rocket was a matter of erasing his memory… again… Brewster turned out to be a 97 year old man in a coma, dying of being 97 years old. He’d joined a HYDRA cell in the 70s and outlived everyone who knew he was a member. He’d woken up, tobbled to the nurse’s station, logged into HYDRAnet, then passed out again. No one knew why or how, as he hadn’t moved from his bed in 6 years. He was a raging bigot, hating everyone who was different from him. I checked his brain function and vitals. He was permanently vegetative. I eased him into darkness, which didn’t make it any less murder, but I’d done worse and would again.

Then I went to Jerusalem and met with Astraea. “So? HYDRA?”

She blinked, then nodded softly. She was an old lady now, but her eyes were still bright and her body healthy thanks to the serum. “You knew all along, I’d do whatever I needed to help others. No matter what demon’s bargain I had to strike.”

I groaned. “And I wasn’t around… what about the others?”

She sighed. “Garl and Selene are both long gone. Garl of Cancer in the 80s, Selene in the 70s in a car crash. I had my children and grandchildren to keep me going… I thank you for that Sarah, Skadi, Sunny… whatever you call yourself. You gave me a life I never would have had. And my family owes you so much. More than we can ever repay.”

“But HYDRA?”

She laughed. “Oh. I’m not really one of them, not officially. I just… I wanted to make sure you didn’t leave without saying goodbye. So I decided I was a member of HYDRA decades ago. Never told anyone. Just myself.”

I chuckled. “You’re a piece of work, Astraea.”

“Astrid. I was Astraea in another life. I’m Astrid in this life. Or for a little longer.”

I asked, “What would you have of me, Astrid?”

“I want your guarantee that this world… that my children and my children’s children… that they’ll survive what’s coming.”

“I-”

“I know you can’t guarantee… so I want you to stay until this Thanos has been defeated.”

I gaped “I… I… I don’t know how to defeat him. I’m sorry. I… wait… Do you trust me?”

“With my children’s lives.”

“Then let me go. Time will not pass here while I am gone. I will find the answer… somewhere out there. And then I’ll return. Then I’ll return… I pledge my word. I’ll find a way to defeat the Mad Titan and I’ll come back and I’ll getter dun.”

“You so swear?”

I nodded solemnly. “I’ll be back in a moments… by your time.”

“Then I, Astraea, do hereby… wait… you do this on the beach, don’t you?”

“Usually.”

“Then let’s go there.”

“How about the river?”

“Alright.”

And we went down to the River Jordan and there Astraea washed away her membership in HYDRA and as she did so… Rocket came leaping out of the water yelling about how I owed him and I froze him in a ball of ice and said “I’ll be back.” as the pillars rose from the shore. It was May of 2016. I’d been here for just under 74 years.

Next: World 41 – Going Deep

Resources: Build, Document

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AN: This has been edited to reflect changes in the MCU vol.1 Jump Document and to add a few details. Nothing substantive was changed in plotline, but all the builds (SJ’s and Companions) were modified accordingly. Since modifications to the scope of Asgardian Capstone Boosts would have changed my choices, but such choices are already temporally locked, I was forced to ignore the drawback limit to take 300 CP more than permissible to adjust the build accordingly.