A TWIST IN THE TALE
Previously: Brothers Grim
Themesong: Closer to Fine by the Indigo Girls
“Oy, SJ… something weird over here.”
“Zane… this is the Warehouse. There is always something weird everywhere. Not to mention I can’t find anything because it’s all been moved around.” It had been. Following the end of the second decade of Tenchi Time, everything in the compound had simply been dumped back into the warehouse, including several hundred cubic meters of topsoil. Thankfully, all the storage units were now much bigger on the inside than they had been, so I simply ordered the buttlerbots to sweep all the dirt and its attendant bugs and vegetation into a new subspace area and flatten it out to serve as a pasture… I’d have to get more dirt, as I only had enough to cover about two acres… maybe four if I only went ten centimeters deep on the soil. Ideally, I’d like a meter or two of topsoil, maybe more for some hills… and maybe about 40 acres… hectares… still had trouble converting between metric and imperial for those two… the metric hectare was more… never mind, rambling
Sweeping all the dirt away hadn’t helped though, since there were sheds and cargo containers that had been previously buried and garages and outdoor furniture and several buildings just jumbled everywhere, often stacked atop each other. Sorting the mess out had taken days of backbreaking work… or what would have been backbreaking if 90% of it hadn’t been telekinetic and the other 10% technomagical. But I still had no idea where any of it was, since I hadn’t done any of the moving. No. I’d been busy trying not to plunge the entire Warehouse into an arctic hell.
Back on Tenchi World, there was much more matter to pump cold into. Here in the Warehouse, with its closed loop system, my mere presence had made it so that, unless the system was running at full heat, with every BTU producing object pumping out as much warmth as possible, everyone was still bundling up as if they were at the South Pole. And it hadn’t really mattered what form I was in. In the end, I’d locked myself in the Onsen, messed with settings until I found “Plasma Bath” and tried to feel warm. I was telecommuting from there.
“Yeah, yeah. I know… but there’s a second VMoD. Well, a little one.” Victoria swung around and I perceived, through our link, what Zane was talking about. Next to the primary VMoD was a smaller one, more of an ATM style than a fully fledged Vending Machine… did you know that the Japanese for Vending Machine literally translates to “Self-Moving Selling Device”? Always loved that. Anyway… neither machine showed any markings yet, and I was about to shrug and say we’d come back to it later… when the ATM flickered to life and the words “Tenchi Muyo Ultimatum” appeared on screen.
I… or rather Victoria looked at it quizzically. “Ultimatum?” Zane grunted. I (just… it’s easier than explaining which part of me is doing what…) walked over and poked the machine’s touch screen.
“End Jump Option Engaged. Do you wish to return to the world of Tenchi Muyo and attempt the End Jump Scenario?” There were Yes, No, Info buttons below the question. Of course, I hit the Info button and the following information appeared on screen:
“Having spent 20 years in the world of Tenchi Muyo! you’ve likely gotten a pretty good bead on the situation and so, if you wish, you may come back for a third and final stay. Doing so won’t get you any more CP, but it will allow you to select your choice of one of three Ultimate Perks. However, it also locks you into the Endgame Scenario.”
“In the Endgame Scenario, you have two objectives: Disrupt the Chosin Experiment and then survive 10 years. The timer does not begin until the experiment is dismantled. If Tenchi (or anyone else) ascends to their full power, the Scenario has failed and you will be returned to your home reality. Full power is defined as something in excess of 10 Lighthawk Wings, which even the Chosin cannot accomplish. It should go without saying that proving the existence of Jumpchain would complete the Chosin Experiment, and thus you would lose the Scenario.”
“You are not required to kill Tenchi, but it could be considered the quickest way to starting the timer. Be aware that once Tenchi is sufficiently imperiled, at least one Chousin will take interest… Your reward for accomplishing this is a Plainswalker Spark and the ability to chose your own path from now on.”
I stared at the screen for a long… long time. Then shook my head “Well… guess I blew that.” I kicked the machine in frustration. “Seriously? The only possible way I can think of to not blow this is to know from the very beginning that you’ve got to sabotage the experiment… but really, why would you want to? Just to be a dick about it? No thanks. If you come up with a better challenge in the future, let me know… but it’s going to have to be more realistic than pulling the wool over the eyes of three quantum goddesses.”
The ATMoD shut down with a “Vutvutvuuuutttt” noise and the VMoD powered up at the same time. I glanced over… and cringed “Hellblazer? Seriously? Vertigo DC? Oh… this… this is not going to be fun.”
“What? A jump where you get to be a demon? That sounds cool!” Zane supplied, sounding pumped.
“No. Not. Very much, not. Hellblazer is the story of John Constantine… hardboiled detective, chain smoker, and eternal thorn in the foot of both Heaven and Hell. At least this one is called Hellblazer, so it’s probably the comic book version, not the Movie version. Small mercy, that.”
“Oh… Oh well. But being a detective was fun… I vaguely remember.”
I cringed… I really needed to find a way to get my companions memory perks. Some of them had been with me so long they no longer really had the faintest idea who they’d been once upon a time. Thankfully, time was more subjective for most of them than it was for me, as those who didn’t accompany me into jumps typically spent only a year to my decade… or less. More than once I’d put the Warehouse on lockdown, freezing all those within in time.
Maybe I’d do it again this time. I’d never read Hellblazer, it wasn’t my thing, though I’d heard about it from others, and leafed through a couple of issues. Most of my knowledge came from those conversations and, of course, Keanu Reeves in Constantine… which I’d had to watch, since it had my favorite actress… what was her name? I couldn’t remember anymore. Must have lost it at some point. She played the Witch in Narnia and… some cross dresser in a movie I used to like… not everything was perfectly remembered from my first couple of lives even for me… I’d have to deep dive my consciousness to find the information… later. First, let’s look at the options.
I stepped up to the machine, palming the screen to get the CP Keys… and nothing happened. “The hell?”
The Screen Flashed “Due to your… incapacitation… and recent ascension to a new state of being, you’ve been granted a vacation from your Jumper duties. Enjoy your time off. In the spirit of partnered detective fiction the Universe over, Zane and the companion of your choice will be jumping this time. Each of them will receive your full CP allotment, but may not take any option the other took. Sincerely, The Powers What Is.”
I stared for all together too long. My thought processes were so fast that I could for all intents and purposes parallel process a dozen threads at once and I was effectively immune to unwanted emotional states… so why was I completely poleaxed by this development? I twitched, then said to Zane “Go get your wife… time for you two to have some quality time.”
“What’chu talkin’ bout SJ?” Zane asked, then gaped as I stepped away from the machine to show him the display that said “Jumper Zane, place your hand here to receive CP keys.” It occupied the left half of the screen. The right half was identical, except it said Jumper Kendra.” This was not how Companions got their choices. Those were supplied on tablets, moving around little CPKey Icons… not with the metal physicality of real, solid keys.
I twitched… this was… not how things were supposed to go… I Shook myself. I would not begrudge Zane, of all people, this experience.
Well, I’m officially freaking out. Big Sis is in time out for becoming some kind of quantum Ice Entity… which I think means she broke something and the Banker’s either punishing her or honestly can’t figure out how to turn her back to normal… or normal enough to interact with reality… or maybe the Banker is just being weird. Anyway, I get to be the jumper this time… which isn’t normal at all. Even back in Scooby-Doo when SJ was an idiot-savant, she was still (technically) in charge.
Now it’s just me and Kendra… well, I’m pretty sure Ahab and Joy are coming too, they always do, but SJ’s not in charge of that process at all. Never had full control before. Kinda like skydiving without a… oh… shit… if Kendra or I cop it… we’ll be breaking Big Sis’s chain…. Okay… now I’m really freaking out… keep it call Zane… you’re a good boy… no… I got this. Gulp. Never had my life be actually, you know, be this important to anyone. SJ loves me, I know that. Kendra too… hell, most of the crew does. I’m awesome. But normally I just respawn if I bite it. The rest of them too.
OOookkay… gotta be logical about this… and I know next to nothing about this Blazing of the Hell. “Welcome to the world of Hellblazer. From the outside looking in, it resembles the world you experienced Great Detective, a modern Earth, c.2000 AD. But as you get closer, you start to see through the seams and you realize that under the surface is a dark world of magic and corruption.” Oh… cool… like Harry Potter or the Buffy world Kendra came from.
“The average person will unconsciously forget the world’s evils and overlook its wonders, but you see the darkness as it billows and feel the magic as it swirls and eddies. And, as you notice the darkness, you realize that the darkness has turned its gaze upon you.” Well, sure… but Yuzuha’s not that creepy once you get to know her… really. No matter what Ryoga says.
Let’s seee… says we get funds free… I’m assuming we each get the free stuff. 10,000 dollars cash in local currency, plus a small house or condo in our starting location. What is our… oooo, I get to spin the… probably should let Kendra spin the wheel. Eh…. she’ll never know… heh… heh… Look at it go. Sooo worth it. Come on Milwaukee! I dunno why I said that. Not Hell, Not Hell, Not… Oooo London! Comes with bonus Accent!
What else… Mana is free, we gain the ability to practice magic and a pool of mana, raw magical energy… why did they repeat themselves? “Your Power and Efficiency will grow with practice.” Well, I hope the fuck so, otherwise it would be kinda pointless.
Something called “Synchronicity” rounds out the freebie package, a talent defined as “the tendency to show up at the right place, make it in the nick of time, or to have just the item you need when you need it.” Well… that’s pure narrativium there. “Can be enhanced with practice or manna.” Wait, I can enhance it so I show up right on time instead of, say, 5 minutes early? That’s just weird. “Oh great and powerful spirits, make sure I pack all the random mcguffins I need to get me through the day.”
Oh, and would you look at that… a mandatory drawback. This should be the not at all fun times that Sis was on about… “Last Man Standing… you are a survivor. In even the worst of situations, you will somehow make it through. All around you, friends, lovers, and allies will die. Every mistake you make, every accident, every potential wound or beating… all will somehow spare you and take someone else instead. Companions will not respawn during this jump.” Oh… well, less chance of Chainbreaking, more chance of getting everyone killed. Loverly.
Eh… well, let’s look at our options for Background… Drop-In (of course), Scholar (a bookworm), Mystic (a weirdo), Magician (a nerd), and Slayer… better stay away from that one, Kendra might want it. Eh. I’ll go with Drop-in, “You awaken on the floor, no new memories, a notebook sits on a rickety wooden desk. Inside, handwritten lists of contacts, rambling stories, bizarre illustrations. Everything is in your own hand.” Spooookeeee.
Drop-In Capstone is “Confidence: You become more Charismatic, Strategic, and Intelligent.” Doesn’t sound so bad for [300/700/1000]. Next down the list is “Mind’s Eye: You have additional senses, allowing you to perceive magic, both as it is cast and extant enchantments. You will also be able to pierce illusions and sense the possessed.” That seems worth the [150/550/1000] price tag. And I might as well scoop up the freebie for that line… it’s free, right? “Stage Magic: You become an expert at escape, slight of hand, misdirection, and showmanship. Become the next David Copperfield (whoever that is).”
I looked over the list, then sighed. I really should go get K. She’ll throttle me if I take all the good stuff… I’ll text her. Okay, I texted her. Not my fault if she doesn’t hustle. Right? Okay, back to shopping.
Oh! Magicians get Mesmerism for [100/450/1000] “You know the techniques to hypnotize and control the minds of others. Requires Mana.” That could be useful. And I’ll scoop up the Magician’s Protective Magic too, just to stay in one zone. That costs me another [300/150/1000] “You are versed in sigils, wards, and other rituals of protection. This can defend against physical and magical assault. Requires Mana.”
On to equipment. Says I get a Trench-Coat and a Car free. The Trench is described as “Durable, not bad looking. Will resew, patch, and clean itself if unobserved. Acts as camouflage, making the wearer less obvious…” well, that’s good… I’m kinda large… usually. The Car is a “Luxury sedan. It will always be parked nearby, will self-repair, and does not require refueling.” That’s kinda cool, actually. Have to get the big brains to go all 007 on that bad boy.
I also get a discount on a gun called the “Ace of Winchesters” costing only… [75/75/1000]? Whaa… this jump is weird. Don’t remember another that had 25x costs. Well, okay. I guess. “The Ace is a rifle that will never break, never jam. Its bearer is deadly accurate, and it can harm supernatural creatures, especially demons, as if they were mortal.” Boomstick. “The steel of a halo, gems from Hell, and the bones of a saint.” Damn son! Get some! Hmmm… Now I had… lesseee… there were only 2 different 25 items, Armory and Life Debt… if Kendra ended up needing one… which would she like? I think she’d like the Armory… so that leaves me with “Life Debt” [25/50/1000] “A regular person owes you a life debt. They will give you minor help freely, or major help once. They will probably die while providing major help.” Major honor… also… little bit creepy. Note to self, do not squander dude’s life.
With my last 50, I bought Cigarettes [10/40/1000] (seriously? A 10 spot? What’s up with this jump?) “You’ll always have a crushed, half-full pack of cigarettes in one of your pockets. May be given away, but not sold.” Oh, good, cause… you know… the market value of half crushed cigarettes is major. But they’ll come in more useful than one would think. Tobacco is useful in several ways. Also, opens people up when you share a smoke. I rounded the last [40/0/1000] out with four purchases of additional funds, each netting me another $10k in a discrete bank account.
K arrived just after I’d finished and asked “What kind of bullshit drawbacks did you saddle us with?” I opened my mouth to snark that I hadn’t… but the reality was I’d totally forgotten because I’m not the Jumper (normally)… I don’t pick the Drawbacks! Instead I said “I left that for you, dear.” I yam super smart, yup.
Well, this is new. Novel even. Zane didn’t screw things up. I paged through his purchases. They seemed reasonable. He’d left enough that I could work with… though I suspect he was assuming I’d buy the Slayer background… Been there. Done that. But looking at the drawbacks was the first step, and one the muscle-brain had clearly forgotten, but covered well, so I pretended he was being gracious and stepped in.
There weren’t a great deal of them… in fact, the entire offering seemed stripped down to bare bones, as if the Baker was subtly insulting our intelligence… or had ratcheted things back because we aren’t in SJ’s class by any stretch of the imagination. It was very much like being attendants to the gradual apotheosis of someone who had, even by the time we met, already been much more than mere human. She’d shaped and reshaped our entire world, stepping up to face foes I would not have had the courage to face… and saved my life entirely because my death had offended her sensibilities. How could I do anything but worship her? She’d crossed realities to bring me back to life, then saved my entire homeworld as an afterthought.
And she’d given me Zane. I had to wonder if this was what Jesus’s apostles went through… though for a much shorter time… unless Jesus was a Jumper. I suspect there was a great deal less interesting fiction to jump into in that day and age. “Another Greek Mythos Jump?” “Shut up Thaddeus.” Maybe that’s why Judas rebelled; he wasn’t being imported into any of the cool jumps.
Regardless… there were only 6 choices in the Drawback list and a limit not on the amount of points that could be gained, but on the number that could be taken… in this case 3. Which maxed out the potential at +650. Not great, but not terrible. Except that would have meant taking the +300 “Personal Vendetta” (A greater demon has been offended by you. He has intricate plans and nearly limitless resources.) I was loath to take it. I assume that SJ could handle this demon without significant effort, but this was about us proving ourselves to her, not about her coming to our rescue. No. Personal Vendetta was out.
Also out were the +100 Disease (you have an incurable disease and 9 years to live.) and the +100 Sold Soul (a demon owns your soul. If you die during these ten years, the normal jumpchain rules don’t apply. Instead, you are sent to hell). The first seemed like a no win. If it it was incurable, it would kill us before the end of the jump, unless we went into stasis for a year plus. The second was just… who the fuck needed CP bad enough (and had brain damage enough) to take that? No, serious bullshit.
That eliminated 3 of the 6… what about the others? Demonfoe and Demon Marked were +150 each, Criminal was +200. DFoe meant that lesser demons would know our names and reps. DMarked meant we’d been touched by a demon and good guys would be wary around us. Criminal meant that we’d get attention from the Police, Feds, and other Shadow Groups. They’d total out at +500… I think we could handle that… and if we didn’t need the points, we could ditch Demon Marked.
As for origins… I decided to go with Mystic [100/1400/1500]: When you were a child, you were possessed by a True Demon (not far off the mark, considering where Slayers come from). An Exorcism forced the demon out, but it had already altered your mind, granting Mystical Sensitivity (and explaining the Mark). Your Family understood the risks, and took you to various spiritual experts to train. You managed to survive since then by luck as much as skill. You lack the power of a Wizard or the knowledge of an Occultist, but instead have an innate understanding of the mystical forces and how to tip them into your favor.”
The Mystic Perktree contained “Mental Fortitude” [Free], “Gateways” [150/1250/1500], and “Demonology” [300/950/1500], and the items “Membership” [Free], “Native Guide” [Free], and “Grimoire of True Names” [75/875/1500]… and that pesky 25 had only one option I could buy to get rid of it, so I paid two bits for the Armory [25/850/1500]. Mental Fortitude granted the power to resist possession and hypnotism. Gateways meant “You know how to get around, able to find and travel paths to physically enter other worlds, such as Hell, Dream, and Faerie… and to teleport within the Real World. Teleportation requires mana.” Demonology was the ability to summon and exorcise demons. The knowledge of how to draw protective circles and symbols needed for those tasks… and a copious knowledge of contract law. Requires Mana.” The Membership was in an exclusive society dealing with the occult, which (while occasionally helpful) might be evil.” The Guide was a servant who exists in another plane, such as Heaven, Hell, or Faerie, knowledgeable and powerful, but unable to leave their home plane. The Grimoire was a small book containing details on demons both greater and lesser, including their true names. Whispering a demon’s true name will bind it to your… my… service for a year and a day, and prohibit them from seeking vengeance. Shouting the demon’s true name will “ruin” the demon and it will assuredly seek vengeance. Oh, and the Armory was an assortment of modern and ancient weapons. Which was… useless. Probably.
I wanted the Book of Eternity, Merlin’s spellbook… but buying it meant I couldn’t (quite) afford a second capstone… so I might as well pick up the Dreamstone as well. The Book of Eternity [300/550/1500] was a true history of the world, as written by the M himself, and contained many potent spells which could be learned with time and practice. The Dreamstone [200/350/1500] was a mystic stone, imbued with the powers of Dream. With it, one could force waking dreams on others, and if held while asleep or in the Dreamworld… it granted near omnipotence.
I also wanted the Dresden Files knock-off Bob the Skull. The Magic Skull cost [150/200/1500] and contained exactly “1 Spirit: Improves both your power and the rate at which you improve your skills. Excellent knowledge of Reference Tomes.” Talk about copyright infringement.
Unfortunately, that left me too little points to buy one of the more interesting mid-tier abilities, and only one of the remaining items seemed all that interesting (aside from two that seemed like they’d been stolen straight out of Big Trouble in Little China or Dresden Files respectively). That was the Demon Blood, which could be used to cure anything completely, as well as permanently making the drinker tougher… though multiple doses could turn someone into a demon. Still, a panacea wasn’t something to sneer at. Might as well take it. Which spent me out.
I turned to Zane. “Your turn.”
“Uh… I’m spent out.”
“No, I meant, to spend the points we got from Drawbacks.”
“I didn’t get any.”
“What? I bought 500 points of Drawbacks.”
“Yeah. And you spent them. That’s fine.”
“Wait, you don’t get points for them as well? That’s no fair.”
He shrugged “Eh. Not a big deal.”
“Look, you spent the points on things that might be useful for both of us.”
“Yeah, but you’ll be penalized for the Drawbacks just as much as I will.”
“Hey, normally, we have to put up with whatever SJ saddled herself with. This isn’t that much different.”
“Maybe you should take the Disease Drawback, we’ve got the cure after all.”
“That would give me 100 CP and cost us the use of a 200 CP item. Seems like a waste of resources.”
“I guess. Still seems like you’re being shafted.
“Hey, Normally that’s you-”
“Don’t finish that line, mister.”
I suppose I should mention that Joy decided to enter this world as a Scholar (Abnormally dull life until she applied to college, earning a scholarship from Yale’s department of Arcane Studies… despite never having heard of the program. Years later, she’s learned a vast amount about a world she had never before noticed. Broad knowledge base, little magical power, relying on complicated rituals for most magic), giving her “Encyclopedic” as her freebie… It granted a radically improved memory and a broad knowledge base in the occult… and yeah yeah, I know I said I needed a better memory, but “better” isn’t good enough. I ain’t blowing 100 CP for “Improved” I want a memory like SJ has with all the “I remember exactly what color shoes the Emperor of Ba-Sing-Se was wearing the fifth time we met him.”… which was probably black or green… maybe with a little yellow fringe. But she’d know for certain! [SJ’s Note: Zane is forgetting that he already has a memory booster (Got it Memorized, Great Detective Jump), somewhat ironically. This shouldn’t be surprising, as it is a passive effect (aside from the ability to forget things on demand). He’s a goof, but a lovable one. Oh… and the shoes were gold.]
Ahab, locked out of the boring stuff by the girls, decided to be totally kick ass (and not at all girly, because this is Hellblazer and not Buffy) and be a Slayer. Galvanized by a tragic event in his youth, he was forced to deal with the magical world and has trained since that day to hone his body into a lethal tool. It’s the least magical of all the backgrounds, but has contacts in both the magic and hunter communities, and comes with a reputation as a serious player, respected and feared by those who know of him. Plus it came with Tough (Take a beating and keep on kicking. You’ll be fine tomorrow.)… of course, dude already is freaking tough as nails to begin with. He’s so grizzled his grizzle has grizzle… is that a thing?
As far as gear went, Joy got a set of Tarot Cards & a Crystal Ball (actually magical and able to actually assist in divination), as well as a library of tomes both expensive and rare. Ahab got the personal journal of one of his ancestors, describing demon species and their weaknesses and a real true honest holy relic which can repel demons and other monsters on sight and burn they on contact. Oh, and they both got the Synchronicity, Manna, and starting cash and pad too. Woo as SJ would say.
I looked over by brave little soldiers, all ready for their first solo without me. I definitely didn’t have a tear in my eye… it would have frozen solid and been difficult to deal with… but I felt like a mother sending her child off to their first day of preschool… though the effect was somewhat spoiled by Kendra giving Zane a wedgie.
A piece of paper fluttered down out of the ether and I snatched it out of the air. It was, of all things, a permission slip. Har… de… har… har. I signed it “Fuck You and the species indeterminate steed you rode in on.” Then the world shivered… and the quartet was gone.
Next: Conversations With God