Previously: The Promise
Themesong: Stamp on the Ground by ItaloBrothers
“Are we going to be Dragons, or is this like Demon’s Souls, where we collect Crowns for a Dragon?”
“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.”
“At its most ridiculous, yeah. The sorceress was… top heavy. The Amazon was… bountiful in the thighs and wore a bikini into battle.”
“The Dwarf, a guy, wore a belt and a helmet… and nothing else. So… not really. It was over the top fantasy. Not realistic.”
“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.”
“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.”
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”  (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  (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  (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”  (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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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?”
“Well, imagine if every gold coin was a different shape? Hard to sleep on, right?”
“I meant radically different shapes… like triangles, cubes… or look, you like certain things the way they are, right?”
“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.”
“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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