World 58 – Soul Eater

Three by Three Stars of Brie

Previously: Of Slugs and Salvation

Themesong: Weapon of Choice by Fatboy Slim

“Everyone, this is Brigid. Brigid, this is everyone. Bao here is our director of Passenger Relations. He’s very good at making sure everyone’s having fun. Velma here is our Director of Science and Information. Tokimi over there is our Chief researcher and Technologist. Zane’s our Captain, and Kendra’s his… heh… First Mate. Ziggy is our mascot. Ahab and Joy you’ve met, though they look a bit different… especially since Ahab’s not in his Big Daddy Costume anymore. How’s that feel, buddy?”

“My throat still itches,” the grizzled super-spy muttered darkly.

“Aww… poor Mr. Bubbles.”

“Don’t call me that,” he twitched, then jumped as Joy elbowed him.

“Reggy’s our Director of Biosciences. Gaius is our head of security, and Toph is our gardener. Uriel is our construction specialist. If you need something built, talk to him. Franky and Mini are-”

“Her sex slaves,” Franky interjected, making Mini tickle her as I rolled my eyes.

“Actually… they’re our resident courtesans, yes. But more in the companionship and conversation mode. We’re essentially a triad… though I’m also in a couple of other relationships. It’s complex… but then again, I’m pretty complex myself. Ah…” I smiled as the two young men approached me. “These are Scipio and Invidius. Do not, under any circumstances, do what they ask you to do. They tried conquering the galaxy about 90 years ago.”

“It’s 100 years ago, Auntie.” Scipio said.

“Yes, well, 10 jumps, not 100 years,” his brother said, being much more blunt (and factual). “And that means we’re off being grounded, right?”

“You two do realize I am under no obligation to either be a reasonable adult or to ever allow you out of the Warehouse at all, right?” Their reaction showed how well they knew me, because they just regarded me with level stares and I chuckled. “Fine, fine. Yes, you are no longer grounded… now you’re on probation. That means you get to go out into the settings… but if you screw up anything, cause too much mayhem… I’ll put you right back on lock down so fast it’ll make your heads spin. Am I clear?” they nodded, so I nodded back. “Now. Prove to me that you’re worthy of trust and I might eventually import you into a setting… but right now you’re passengers like Raven and Brigid, not companions. And I have no idea if you’re protected by fiat, so don’t get yourselves killed or your mother will be very upset.”

I waved them away, then continued with the introductions, even including the various pets, demi-companions, familiars, and lurking quasi-real entities such as VIs and Furies. Dr. T just seemed a little overwhelmed, but that was usual. I left her to talk with Metra, who was the closest thing we had to a counsellor and stepped into the kitchen.

“How you holding up,” Zane asked.

“Mmm? I’m fine. Still worried… about a number of things. I don’t know if I can trust Mensarius. He’s clearly a bad influence on the Banker… but the Banker wasn’t exactly harmless to begin with. Remember Metal Gear Rising?”

“I remember. Or Avatar.”

“Or Avatar. Yes.”

“So, why are we trusting them?”

“Two reasons. First… I suspect either one could end all of us simply by willing it. I’m beginning to have an inkling of just how far beyond us they are… they throw around terms like ‘lifeforms’ the way we’d throw around the term ‘microbes’. I’m not certain they actually… exist… in any way we can conceive of. I think they merely are… like the void. I think they’re a space in which things happen, if you can understand that.”

“Vaguely… it’s like… the bubbles trying to fight the bathtub?”

“Yeah. Something like that. And that’s the other reason. I think, like all spaces… they need something inside to have value. They need us, maybe not us specifically, but beings like us. I have a part of Mensarius that only I or the Banker can return. So that largely means that Mensarius can’t afford to have me fail unless he can suborn the Banker.”

“And the Banker?”

“Investment. I can’t know how much of himself he’s invested in me… but after 62 jumps, it’s got to be an appreciable amount. It’s a loss leader… I think that’s the term… I hate economics… anyway… I’m a known quantity and a proven investment. Replacing me would be a hassle. We know that they essentially syndicate our adventures. It’s always better to continue a successful show than try and market a new one, right?”

Zane looked doubtful, but nodded. “I think you mean a Sunk Cost, but I get your meaning.”

I grimaced, nodding “Probably… And it’s not like the Banker has ever done anything to try and get me killed… just highly stressed and annoyed.”

“So far.”

“So far. Yes. But again, if he wanted me gone, he could just send us home. It’s a game to him… But yeah… He’s pushing it. I did not enjoy that.”

“Gonna do anything about it?”

“You really think bitching will solve anything?”

“Better than doing nothing,” he said with a shrug.

“Oh. I’ll say something, but I’m not sure how much good it will do. The Banker might agree with the best of intentions, but I suspect he’d be unable to keep himself from tweaking things just for drama’s sake. And say what you want about it, and I will… the unpredictable curveballs are a challenge if nothing else.”

“You’re kinda mental, you know that?”

“Course I am. That’s half the fun. I do wonder why we’re not going straight into BSI.”

“Maybe it’s down for repairs?”

“Maybe it’s occupied.”

“Oh… Oh… I know… Maybe we can’t go there right now because we’re already there but we don’t know it.”

I opened my mouth to retort, then shook my head, “For a moment, I thought you might have unexpected depths… then I remembered you’re Zane.” He noogied me, I gnawed on his arm. Good times. “Anyway, If there were more than one of me, I think the omniverse would asplode.”

“OH… No… not like parallels… I mean, we can’t go there now because future us went there already.”

“Zane. Future us can’t do things before present us. That’s how time works.”

“Oh… duh… right. Maybe we went already but don’t remember because of Tears?”

“Possible… but I suspect I’d have noticed a loss of time. My Chronokinesis may not be that good for much besides slowing or stopping time, as it’s a submanifestation of my mastery of Ice… but I think I’d still notice a flux in temporality. I don’t think anyone can time lock me for the same reason no one can freeze me. Manipulations of my timeflow rate would be like… trying to change my core temperature. I’m not certain I could stop it… but I’d notice.”

“Huh… prolly… I mean unless the Banker or Menche did it.”

“Yeah, well… Even they have their limits. This is probably just one of those. And who knows… maybe linking the two screwed up quantum timezones directly in a row is a bad idea and I just don’t understand why. It’s one of those things I doubt we’ll ever understand.”

“Soooo… what’s your bet, Higher or Lower?”

We had a kind of game. It was like that game where you flip up a card and try to guess if the next card is higher or lower than it, but with settings and level of suck. “Higher,” I said after consideration, meaning the next universe would be a more fun, lighter setting. “But not one where I can do a lot of fixing. I’m hoping for a vacation actually. It’s been a while.” In fact, my last Vacation had been Slice of Tenchi.

“I hear ya… hey, hand me the Sriracha.”

“It’s empty. They didn’t have Sriracha in One Piece or Bioshock, so we couldn’t restock. I think we have some Chinese Chili Sauce?”

“It’s not the same,” He grumped, but added it to the pasta anyway.

“Food supplies keep changing, bucko. We’ll get some more eventually. Just be glad I have stasis units to put supplies in, or the Sriracha wouldn’t last 20 years.” We usually stocked up on our favorite foodstuffs in various settings, especially wines, but running out of stuff we liked was just something that happened. Only food supply items refreshed endlessly, and some of those were just strange.

For instance, the Infinite Cheese from Redwall was awesome, but had some strange holes in what it offered. It was all European Cheeses… but it wasn’t every European Cheese. And the quality was all over the place. The Brie was excellent… the Camembert not so much. The Bell Passie tasted like off brand cream cheese. There was Asiago, but no Caseri. Parma and Romano, but no Port Salut or Bellavitano. There was Cheddar and Cheshire… but no Colby or Monterey Jack. There was Muenster but no Havarti, Jarlsberg but no Emmentaler, Edam but no Gouda. And there was no Vermont White Cheddar, no Feta, and no Cevre. So we had to stock up.

The basic Food Supply was basic. It was fresh veggies and college food. Mass Produced, prepackaged, and just waiting to be cooked. It also didn’t cover 50 plus people and pets. Thankfully, I’d added to it with CP purchases, and we always had enough to go around and then some, but a constant diet of Shawarma and Cheese could get old, so we stocked up big time.

First off, I had Star Trek TOS food synthesizers, the precursor to replicators, which could do a decent job of replicating basic foodstuffs. They were a primitive teleporter laying down stored chunks of amino acid and carbohydrate, tossing in trace nutrients, boom, you had a ham and cheese sammich. Replicators did the same thing, only using raw atoms of stored CHONPS… Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Sulfur… though personally I think the acronym should have been SPONCH… but that’s me. Toss in some trace elements, and you got some stuff that tasted more or less like food… but it wasn’t natural and it tasted like it. Close, but as they say, no cigar.

Second, we had Toph’s Lifestream Garden, now filling a truly massive Subspace Dome. It produced enough food to feed a small army most times, though availability ran in cycles and it took a fair amount of processing power and energy to keep it running. And even then, while the crops were bountiful, the micronutrients that flavored everything in food were lacking. It just wasn’t possible to create an entire ecosphere no matter how hard we tried. We worked on small batches of trace flavourants in the ground or, in the case of the hydroponics domes (they were also fish farms), water… and even some different air mixtures in the aeroponics bays… but getting an ideal mix was hard… maintaining one was harder. So we had basic megafarmed fruits and veggies… but it wasn’t the same as higher quality agriculture might produce… but then again, I’m jaded.

Third, we had Chronobaric Stasis Chambers, where foodstuffs would last eons, since time passed at one one trillionth of its normal rate inside as long as the door was closed. Food cooked a decade ago would still be hot when you took it out. In fact, 30,000 millenia would have to pass for the food to age even 1 second after you put it in there and shut the door… if people would keep the damned doors shut! There was a reason I’d installed Optical Sapphire front doors! You could see through them and didn’t need to let the Chronotons escape!

But storage was limited. They used up a frankly silly amount of power, and we had just over 800 such units, ranging from fridge size all the way up to shipping containers… but there just wasn’t any way to anticipate all the usage that might happen over a couple decades, and things ran out. We had a fairly ridiculous shopping list running now, as it just hadn’t been possible to buy most of what we wanted in One Piece or Bioshock… hell, even Teen Titans hadn’t had all the desired products. The last time we’d been where we could get most of what was on our basic list was Dresden’s universe… and even there the seven decades we’d spent there had seen product availability change drastically over time.

It was one of the reasons I made sure to buy as many food choices as possible. It made shopping easier and increased options were always nice. Granted, I could just program new dishes for the food synthesizers… but… the food from replicator technology was never quite right… and it was always the same.  Food is more than just the chemicals in it, and any kind of processing or storage leaves its own traces on it.  Granted, I think I’m the only person here who can taste chronotons and there is absolutely no way I can explain to you what they taste like.  Granted, I like the flavor, and it’s super subtle, so there is that… but anyway…

We took things pretty easy for the first two weeks back from Unda Da Sea… things are not better, down where it’s wetter, take it from me… before I visited the Banker, who was still glowering balefully at Freelancer, who was wubbling about in his tank being all sluglike. No higher brain-function for the sluggy one… not certain about the Banker or Mensarius.

“Hello boys. Miss me?”

“Are you ready to discuss your next destination, or just here to visit your pet?”

“Naw… Freelancer isn’t so much a pet as a part of me, you know? And that’s what I’m here to talk about. Don’t go putting things in me that I didn’t explicitly give you idiots permission to put inside me. You think of a little prank like that again, you bloody well ask. There’s a rape metaphor I’m going to bring up once, just to drive this home. Do you idiots get that?”

“Oh. I get it. I just don’t care,” Mensarius snarked. “The mating practices of lifeforms are all equally disgusting.” I rolled my eyes, not even looking at him, focusing on the Banker, who, after a moment, looked away.

“Yes. I… see how that might be an issue. I cannot promise anything, and I will continue to throw curveballs, as your people call them, at you, but I will try and anticipate your reactions to things better and…” he shrugged. I ground my teeth, but I guessed it was as much as I was going to get out of them. They really had no conception of what the concept of violation even meant. I was just lucky they seemed to understand the concept of ‘deal’ and had the faintest idea what ‘fair play’ was. I worried, deeply, about what kind of shit Mensarius put his field agents through, and what realities…

“Mensarius… just out of curiousity… your realities… they’re not based on the fiction of my homeworld, are they?”

Mensarius looked up at that, then shook his head. “Those are part of his purview. Mine are from a different Earth’s set of fiction. One where the individual you know as Gaius Julius Caesar was not assassinated by members of the Senate. He lived long enough to firmly establish the Empire and see Caesarian on the throne, establishing the idea of a living Emperor passing power to his son over a period of transition. Caesarian united the Five Great Tribes under his Empire; Romans, Greeks, Judeans, Egyptians, and Gauls, granting each of them basic equality and semi-autonomy. They attained their industrial revolution in 680 Anno Caesari…” he trailed off, looking almost wistful… or maybe just bored.

“The fiction must be totally different.” I was fascinated, alternate history has always been intriguing to me, but apparently the evil one had said all he intended to say, for he just glowered and looked off into the distance.

“We’ve decided your next jump, as we’re trying to deal with some quantum turbulence with regards to the jump we had planned.” the Banker began.

“It’s cause I stuck E-Prime and Bookstock into a stasis tube, isn’t it?”

“Most likely. Yes. It should be solvable… but not within the one month timeframe. So we’re sending you to Soul Eater instead.”

“Soul… Eater… wait… Manganime about Meisters and Death Scythes?”

“That would be the one,” the man behind the desk confirmed, bringing up the logo on the Jumpotron.

“Huh… Can’t think of anything particularly bad I’d want to fix there… it’s a strange mix of really silly and lighthearted… and grim as fuck… but there isn’t much truly horrible needing fixing. Okay, throw the thing up on the screens and I’ll peruse. And no, nothing from you, gloomy gus.” I pointed a finger at Mensarius. “I don’t need any of your poison.”

“Are you so certain?” he smarmed. “You don’t even know what’s on offer yet.”

“I’ll make do with that’s on offer from this document itself,” I assured him, but I still scrolled down to to take a look at the drawback limit and the offerings. I meant it. I would make do… regardless of how many or how few I ended up taking. There was a six hundred point limit, which was pretty standard, and four drawbacks at the 100, 200, and 300 point level… as well as one at the 600 level that I swear must have been written by Mensarius himself.

See, in the world of Soul Eater, there is a legendary weapon known as Excalibur… and no, you haven’t heard this one before. Now, normally, when there are legends of Excalibur, the sword is something awesome and portentous… but in Soul Eater? Not so much. Sure, E’s one heck of a sword… and the most annoying, self-centered, narcissistic, pain in the ass jerk of a being in that universe. He has a thousand guidelines that must be followed by the one who wields him… such as daily birthday parties… or 5-hour daily lectures on the ‘fascinating’ (i.e. mind bogglingly boring and badly told) history of himself, and more. His guardian fairies haaaaate him. He looks like a penguin and is just… there are no words adequate. The 600 point drawback doesn’t just force one to be around him… no, it striped the taker of most of their power and competency unless they actually wield Excalibur… which he may or may not allow them to do.

I would not take that drawback if someone put a gun to all my loved one’s heads and threatened to pull the trigger. I mean, first, I don’t negotiate with terrorists, but that Drawback wouldn’t just be a death sentence, it would be a death sentence by self inflicted wounds because I’d go Mad and kill myself before the first year was up. Excalibur was the type of being I’d inflict on Joker or Hitler… and then only if I was feeling sadistic. I’d sic him on Thanos in a heartbeat though. Mao too, if only for a larf.

Still, there was no reason to take that one… at all… when the lesser ones would serve just as well to get to a Jumper to 600. I think it existed merely to make the other seem reasonable by comparison.

At the 100 level were ‘Think of the Children’, which gave one a soft spot for kids… or anything that looked like a kid, and would make one put themself in danger to protect those little monsters… perfectly reasonable, if misguided; ‘Weak Soul’ was a nerf to one’s magical and spiritual powers, as well as decisiveness, self-assertiveness, and anti-Madness protection (Madness was a big thing in Soul Eater… We’re talking Cthulhu levels of crazy or close enough); ‘Slapstick’ meant that I’d become the butt of everyone’s physical assaults, but for ‘humor’… ah, yes, domestic abuse is funnneeeee… it would also give me bad luck… not serious bad luck… but banana peels and falling pots kind of bad luck; and ‘I Am God’… which would make me arrogant (shuuut up… more arrogant)… cocky, pompous, and narcissistic (shut it, you!)… and it would make me want to share my awesomeness at random people with impromptu declarations… actually, that one sounded like fun… actually, with my damage resistance… so did Slapstick. I mean… fun for Drawbacks… they both sounded irritating as fuck… but totally in keeping with the setting.

The 200s included ‘Obsession’ (which was exactly what it sounded like, and pretty much encapsulated actually obsessive behaviour, not just haha, she likes Justin Bieber ‘obsession’.  This was full on crazy person obsession… which was doable… but probably not wise), ‘Temptation’ (which was voices in your… my head… friendly, charismatic, and ‘helpful’ voices that wanted me to be happy and to give me good advice… like ‘kill them all, you know you want to’ advice no doubt. Yeah… we had enough of us here to hold them off, but it was already cramped, and the wording implied that, should I take it I’d feel a strong sense of alienation from everyone that wasn’t the voices.), ‘Witching Hour’ (horrific hallucinations from 3am to dawn.  Nooo thanks.), and ‘Fairy’ (shapeshifting lockout paired with a serious nerf to all my abilities for the duration of the jump… though it came with a free fairy alt-form once the jump ended. Yeah… no.).

And then there were the 300s, and you can probably already guess they weren’t nice. ‘Something’s Missing’ would leave the taker feeling hollow inside and susceptible to Madness… and leave them feeling like something is missing inside… yeah… fuuuun. ‘I don’t know how to deal with this!’ would make me terrified of everything… for every waking moment… numbing fear of everything around me… good lord, no thanks! ‘Killer Blood Lust’ would make me crave destruction quote like flowers crave sunlight unquote. Not only would it make me antagonistic, but if I didn’t manage to hold the rage in check, I’d quite literally explode and die.  Boom, Jumper bits everywhere.

Now, I can guess that you’re thinking ‘Well, that’s a lot of information of only marginal use to me the reader, but what the hell are you the jumper going to take?’ and I did have a reason for detailing all that. See, anyone who bothered to count the 300s would see that I only mentioned three, when earlier I said there were four… and the fourth is the one I took. Because I’m clearly insane already. It was called ‘March of the Clowns’… and it meant that I’d be hunted by Clowns for the next ten years. It would start with just one, and if I killed it, a new one would be along in a week.

I know what you’re thinking. ‘She’ll just freeze it in ice. Not dead, no new Clown. She think’s she’s so smart’… and now you know why I didn’t opt for the extra voices… I talk to myself enough as it is… but no… If the Clown wasn’t killed, an additional Clown would appear and join the hunt… and if multiple Clowns were left alive for too long, they might decide to fuse and combine into an amalgamation of two or more Clowns. And now you’re thinking, ‘But SJ! Even a hideous 520 Clown Amalgamation would surely be no trouble for you!’… and you’d be right!… if these were normal Clowns… but in the world of Soul Eater, Clowns aren’t slightly strange people in makeup… they’re a race of beings that are literally Madness incarnate. They would be incredibly hard to kill and would radiate Madness like a bonfire radiates heat. There was a reason this was worth as much as terminal terror, anger, or angst. I was effectively signing me and my companions up for Eldritch Horror of the Week Club. But 300 CP was 300 CP, and I’d fought way more than 520 enemies in a single jump before.

Plus, I had help. Counting my passengers (Raven and Brigid), and the twins (Invidius Vord and Gaius Scipio), I now had 32 companions… well, 33 including the slumbering Atura, 34 if one Sophie the Guard Dog of the Apocalypse… 35 if one counted the Maiden Astraea, though she’d been left behind in Marvel with her husband and sister-in-law (they were passengers in their day as well, though never imported). I also had a veritable menagerie of pets… a slug, many familiars, a host of owls, some horses, a squadron of furies (the genius loci of Codex Alera), and a brace of personal assistants… yes, yes I know PA’s aren’t pets, but Juno and Sabrina never seemed to change. They didn’t engage in social niceties, didn’t ask for time off, didn’t complain that we never paid them anything, and didn’t, you know, act like people. They acted like extremely competent PA’s… but nothing else. The only reason I didn’t think they were robots is I’d looked inside them just to make certain they weren’t fairies (they were from Gargoyles after all), but no… perfectly normal, hypercompetent, CP backed PA’s. I worried about that sometimes, to be honest.

So it wasn’t like the Clowns stood much choice, even if only 8 of my companions would be fully powered up at any given time… and maybe I could finagle more than that, if the need arose… still, what else could I pair with Clownvasion?

I put Slapstick on the shortlist… considered Obsession… but then figured that since Madness was a loss condition, I should avoid it like the plague. This wasn’t a funny setting to have psychological damage. Instead, I put I Am God and Think of the Children on the shortlist… they were there if I found enough stuff to buy. It wasn’t a guarantee, even in a setting as rich and weird as this that I would. Quality control was all over the place in the realm of the Jumpers. As for the potential of running into a childlike Clown… well, I did have companions for a reason. Killing spiders that looked like kids was just one of the facets of that reason. It was always good to know what limits I’d be pushing if I decided to overspend my basic grant, right?

Now… to spend the potentially 1600 CP. First, Origins. Of course, there was the basic Drop-In. No surprise there, though it did come with a sleeping bag and a backpack of holding and came with an extra helping of Madness Magnet for lols.  There was Student Meister (the ones who did the Deamon Weapon wielding at the Death Academy (Shibusen… Japanese name, in Las Vegas… oh, sorry, Death City, Nevada… still… madness). And of course Student Demon Weapon, which were humans who had weapon ancestry… yes… that’s a thing. These people turned into actual weapons, thanks to the actions of a rogue Witch about 800 years back.

But neither of those appealed nearly as much as being a Witch. Sure sure, witches in this world were typically bad news… I mean, as far as I knew they were the major villains of the piece. But still, they were an incredibly powerful, long lived, all female race with the innate ability to wield magic. Unfortunately, that native ability (and a general lack of fucks to give about the fate of humanity… which they might resemble but which they were not a member of) they were incredibly vulnerable to a phenomenon called ‘The Sway of Magic’… a kind of madness that made those who gave into it destructive and antagonistic to the natural order. Witch was [300/1300/1600] and, of course, set my gender to female (oh, the horror. So far I don’t remember any setting where a thing set my gender to male… maybe I was blocking.)

Witches also had a certain theme to their appearance and magic… a theme centered on a specific animal type… gee… I wonder what animal I should pick? It had to be a mundane animal… Three guesses what I went with.  That’s right. Monkey! No. Not Monkey. Good guess though. Two guesses left! No, not penguins, shut up Cirno. That’s right, Ferret! I shall be the Ferret Witch and absentmindedly push things off of other things and then look surprised when they fall. But not people off things… well. Maybe people off things. Some people needed to be pushed off things.

There was also a race section, which included ‘Earth Shaman’ (a naturalistic counterpart to ‘Demon Weapons’ and the only race a Demon Weapon could select), ‘Monster Cat’ (a quasi-witch with nine souls and a plant theme instead of an animal theme), ‘Immortal’ (a monstrous race more commonly known as ‘Werewolves’), and ‘Bloodsuckers’… i.e. vampires… but stupid… well, not stupid as in mentally slow… but lame as in just… goofy design. No thanks. I considered Monster Cat… but that was Cat, not Ferret, and didn’t seem worth the extra cost.

And so, with an origin selected, it was time to move on to perks… and the first thing I saw was a free for all perk called “The Face”, which was described as ‘A gift for projecting absolute disgust with a facial expression, an expression that would convey just how much disdain or annoyance or pretty much other negative emotion I was feeling at the moment. If it was targeted at an individual, even if that individual was blind or couldn’t see for some reason, they’d feel the weight of my irritation. They’d fucking feel it.

As a Witch, I gained ‘Portal Manifestation’ for free, the ability to conjure portals to and from the Witch Realm (a realm held separate from the normal world by someone named ‘Mabaa’ and her Spatial Magic. Only a witch could open a portal to that world and Mabaa apparently was the leader of all witches, with power comparable to Lord Death.). Opening such a portal required a ‘special motion of the body’… a dance actually… wherein the Witch draws a hiragana character in midair with her buttocks. And it had to be with the bottom specifically, so skirts, dresses, jackets, robes… anything more baggy than tights or panties had to be moved out of the way for the portal to open.

Now, normally I’d be like… whatever… but since the Witch Realm wouldn’t follow me from jump to jump, this could be used to open a temporary portal to somewhere else within a mile of my current location in other jumps. These portals would be the side of a standard door and last for around a minute… and absolutely nothing said that the mile had to be in standard three dimensions. I could safely assume it couldn’t be used to travel in time, but this was an ability designed to punch through dimensional boundaries, so I could safely assume that, as long as the target dimension was one I knew was there and it was, dimensionally speaking, close by, I should be able to reach nearby dimensions or realms. Maybe not parallel worlds, but things like Seireitei or Hueco Mundo in Bleach… but I’d have to see… and if reach was a problem, this seemed like a technique I could boost if I put my mind and technology towards. But that was for later.

Witches also gained ‘Levitation’, the ability to fly (barely… like a little faster than walking speed… though with a magic broom that would go up to the speed of an average car)… though with a lot of time and practice the ability would grow. Glad that was free. Might even practice it a little to see how it felt… different perks felt differently, even if I already had a couple of flight abilities and pseudo-flight abilities… tricks to boost each of them could be found in the strangest places.

But the freebies didn’t end there! Witch was the gift that kept on giving (once you paid for it at least). Magical Being was the third (of four!) freebies, which, of course, granted me the ability to wield the power of this world’s magic… stuff like potions, fireballs, broomstick flight… and of course destructive spells. It also covered ‘The Sway of Magic’, the destructive instincts of magic in this world, which would grow stronger the more I developed my local magic. Most magic in this world required a chant (and if my memory of the show was right, those chants were idiotic… like Pum pum pumpkin Smaaash!) combined with the name of the spell. I’d start with no knowledge of spells, but I’d have the capacity to learn / figure them out over time thanks to knowing how the local magic worked.

And last was ‘Totemic’, which was the factor that imparted my chosen animal theme to all my magic. So a fireball I cast might do the weasel war dance, or a lightning bolt sliding under doors or up people’s pants.  And when one combined Totemic with Magical Being, one got a variety of spells related to my animal theme, thus skipping the beginner phase. Totemic could be as direct as ‘Thread Magic’ for a Spider Witch or as vague as ‘Vector Magic’ for a Snake Witch. I think I’d go with ‘Confusion Magic’ for theme. Totemic also granted the passive ability to turn into my chosen animal and back with a bit of magic and concentration… and my chant could help heighten my focus even outside of casting magic.

There were a couple of mid-grade Witch perks, Arithmetic Magic and Familiar Familiars, that I considered and then passed on. The first allowed one to augment magic with math… but I knew that Calculation Spells and Spatial Magic could be learned without this perk, and the perk was pretty much just making the prospective witch good at mental math… which I’d been better than good at for all of my jumping career and which I’d only gotten better at… and the second was a last ditch ‘shunt my soul / consciousness into the body of a familiar animal to escape. Meh.

The lesser capstone, ‘Occult Practices’ was a technomancy skill, and not one I felt was worth the cost… but the same could not be said for the greater capstone, ‘Uplift’. Not only did it magnify the power of my magic fivefold, and not only did it render me immune to the effect of ‘The Sway of Magic’, but it granted me the ability to create ‘Demon Tools’, powerful magical artifacts that had all sorts of useful abilities, such as ‘Eternal Spring’ which could make any machine keep running without fuel or maintenance, or ‘Mortality Manipulation Machine’ which did exactly what it said on the tin. That was worth the [400/900/1600] investment, thank you very much, especially since there was no guarantee the Sway would leave one the jump was over… no sooner had I thought that than a pop-up informed me that ‘The Sway of Magic’ will no longer affect you after this jump ends, regardless of if you took ‘Uplift’ or not.’… well, that was handy.

I was about to check through the other perk trees to see if anything there stood out… and then I saw, in the undiscounted section, ‘Grigori Soul’. On the face of it, it wasn’t that interesting. It was 400 CP to give your soul wings, allowing you to manifest angelic energy wings, wings that could be altered in size, shape, and appearance to effect speed, maneuverability, flight efficiency, and more. But that was, essentially, 400 CP for flight.  But for 200 CP more, a total of 600, it was a different animal entirely.

The improved version not only allowed coloration control… okay, okay, that was a minor bonus… it’s primary purpose was to allow the Grigori to fire bullet-like feathers from those wings at machine-gun-like rate of fire, and if they weren’t, initially, as dangerous as real bullets, they’d grow faster and more dangerous with experience and training… and the more powerful the user’s soul, the faster the flight and the faster / more dangerous the bullets… And that wasn’t all. By sacrificing movement, and shaping the wings into a mouth-like canon, the Grigori could form a cannon, creating and charging an orb-shaped emotion powered projectile that could, at full power for even the beginner, blow away mountains. The emotion used to power the cannon would influence the flight characteristics (love is faster but linear, anger slower but homing, hate wider but more diffuse, etc.)

It wasn’t, really, worth 600 CP. but it just sounded like fun… and I had a pretty damned powerful Soul.I hmmm’d and hawed for a little while, then took it. Wing bullets are cool.

And that took me all the way down to 300 and I still had to check on companion imports, so I did. And there were a load of them. First off, a Student Meister got a free Demon Weapon and vise versa, but I was neither so it didn’t matter. I could also buy a single companion import as Drop-In or either form of Student for 100, or a Meister-Weapon pair or Weapon-Weapon pair for 200… or a Witch, Monster Cat, Black Blood Weapon, Werewolf, or Canon Companion for 200… or even import one of my existing weapons to become a Demon Weapon for 200… while for 300 I could get a Bloodsucer companion, or… and this was where the money was… get a Bulk Import which would allow me to import as many companions as I wanted as Drop-Ins, Meisters, or Demon Weapons.  That was awesome… and then I noticed the annoying bullshit.

“200 more to tune Soul Wavelengths?” I focused on the Banker, testing out my new Face of Disgust. “What is this happy horseshit?”

“Language, please!” he deflected, though I knew he had nothing like the sensibilities needed to actually give a rat’s arse about foul language.

“OOooh, no. You are not charging me 200 CP for what is essentially flavoring.”

“Then you take your chances with random chance,” Mensarius said with a sneer.

“No, I’d be letting you to fucknuggets screw me if I did that. Random means bugger all with you two. God does in fact play dice with the Universe… and the Dice are loaded. Anyway, you two morons owe me big for screwing me not once but twice… you’re going to let me tune them as I see fit, aren’t you?”

Mensarius opened his mouth to say something asinine no doubt, but the Banker waved him down. “We shall… if you listen to the proposal we’ve come up with and agree to give it serious consideration on its merits.”

“What, like a timeshare pitch? I listen to the spiel and, regardless of my answer, I get some token of appreciation for my wasted time?” They nodded, though Mensarius looked like he’d eaten a sour plum. No doubt he’d wanted me to have to agree before getting any consideration, but I saw where the Banker was coming from. Soul Wavelength compatibility was important enough that leaving it to chance with these two arround was the definition of Madness, but paying for it was an untenable tax. I’d have to be crazy to spend the 300 upfront without a guarantee of some kind… and as the saying went “I might be insane, but I wasn’t crazy.”

“Okay… make your pitch. If it’s good, I’ll listen.”

The Banker rose, walking around his desk, and sat on the edge furthest from Freelancer’s aquarium. “Food is a major issue for you, we’ve noticed.”

“She’s a glutton,” the odious one snapped.

“Yes, thank you,” The Banker retorted, “But such comments are not constructive, so kindly shut up and let me speak.” He straightened his tie, then continued, “And you seem less than thrilled  by the idea of interacting with the established storyline of this world?” I nodded. “So, to that end, we propose a challenge. As this is, despite some appearances, an Earth in the modern day, we invite you to take part in the Three-Star Cup.”

“Three-Star? Some kind of race? With Food?”

“Ah… no… not a race per se… more of a prize to be won. The challenge will be this. You’ll be given a restaurant to run, and a selection of perks from a separate document relating to cooking, and, within 10 years you must earn not one, not two, but three michelin stars.” My eyes went wide.

“Three Stars? In ten years? Uh… I’m an okay cook and all… but I’m not good enough to get even one standard star… Michelin 1 Stars make 5 Star Chef’s look like scrappers. 3… christ on a cracker… I mean, I guess with my powers-”

“Ah, ah, ah… none of that,” Mensarius oozed. “This challenge requires you to forfeit your powers, and warehouse… everything not bought in this world or imported into it, in order to get the prize.”

I stared at him, then laughed. “You can’t be serious! Give up my powers to try and accomplish the impossible? Well, highly improbable. I haven’t seen these perks yet. You’re mad. What prize could be worth the risk?”

“A restaurant,” Mensarius sneered.

“Or rather, your restaurant,” The Banker corrected. “It will follow you from jump to jump, and be attached to your warehouse, with all its upgrades and reputation intact, as well as perfectly normal versions of you and your staff, which you and your companions can slide into and out of at will. So you can cook yourself top of the line food… and all your companions would gain some degree of cooking ability, or at least have the potential. That’s up to how they spend their points.”

“Same no limit on numbers companion import?” They nodded, “and they’d be limited to whatever they bought from both documents too?” They nodded. “And if I fail to earn the three-stars… do I fail the chain?”

“No. You just wouldn’t get the prize. Chain Failure would only occur if you die or your restaurant is forced out of business.”

“And you’d be a looooser.” Mensarius added, unhelpfully.

“So… I’d be increasing the danger of Soul Eater greatly, have to run a restaurant and fight off Clowns, get 3-Stars and not die with most of my power sealed away… I assume my Astral Bodies would be put on hold, not be all fighting each other or collapsed into one?”

“Yes, you’d be essentially reduced to your Body Mod state plus your memories… though you’d no longer have a perfect memory… and then the perks from the challenge and the Soul Eater document would be added.”

“Umm…. hmmm… How much CP would the gang get? The import from Soul Eater is 600 plus one of the three non-Witch origins.”

The two shared a look, then Mensarius shrugged. The Banker looked a little sheepish. “This isn’t like when you applied a generic overlay… to get Challenge Points, you’ll have to take on extra limitations.”

I was about to protest that I’d done that in generic overlays, when the import of what they were saying hit. “I don’t get any CP at all?”

“Well, the challenge itself is worth 600 since the setting is so dangerous… but otherwise? No.” The big guy said.

Sleazy vonSleaze added, “You can take up to an additional 2000 CP… and your companions get a fraction of whatever you take.”

“What fraction?” I asked, knowing full well that 1/∞th was a fraction.

“Ahem… that all depends on which tier they’re assigned to,” The Banker added, tugging at his cuffs to try and even them out (something that was impossible as I’d tweaked the code in the projection software). “One companion can be imported or recruited as your Partner. They gain 3/4ths of the Challenge Points you gained. Eight more can be imported or recruited as assistant chefs. They gain half of your Challenge Point total. And any number can be imported, but not recruited, as front of house or utility… I’m not certain I understand what those mean.”

I rolled my eyes. “Front of House is waitstaff and bussers, hosts, bartenders, sommeliers, that kind of thing. Utility are drivers, shoppers, maintenance, cleaning staff, dishwashers… they don’t deal with customers very much, except as delivery… they typically don’t get much respect… and that’s in a business where almost no-one gets respect. It’s generally accepted that a trained monkey could do 80% of utility work… but in reality, it needs to get done or the whole edifice falls apart. No working ovens means no food. Dirty table settings is a crash and burn at the star level. And if the place looks like rubbish you aren’t even going to get the customers in the front door. I may barely know my way around a kitchen, but I know that much.”

“So? What do you say?” Mensarius wheedled. “Going to chicken out?”

“I’m sensing that the two of you have a bet on this one, and knowing you, you’ve bet against me, because you’re an asshole.” I looked over to the Banker. “Let me guess, he suggested this little game and bet you that I’d accept and fail, and you bet that I’d reject it as an untenable risk?”

“He did suggest it, yes, as it breaks with typical procedure… but I wagered that you’d accept and succeed, while he wagered you’d reject, then changed his mind saying that you’d fail the challenge while surviving the main jump thanks to taking too many “Beverages” as the drawbacks are called. That you are laughing implies there is a joke there?”

“Beverages… includes soft drinks and tea or coffee or juice, yes… but it also includes intoxicating or hard drinks. Drunk… on Power. Ya… a leetle yoke. Fine. If I can’t succeed with my support matrix, I don’t deserve a restaurant… though the menu for a 3-Star isn’t going to be diverse… might have to spiff it up once the prize is won. Before I finalize my acceptance, are there any rules I should know? And do you two dipshits promise to run a fair contest. No rigging things to be extra dramatic, right?”

Mensarius harrumphed. “Like we need to cheat to rig the game against you, but no, a wager is sacrosanct.”

“Indeed. If we interfered in any capacity, the wager would be invalid,” His Bankerness agreed.

“Then… assuming the perks on offer in the other half seem acceptable and like they’d actually allow me to complete the challenge, I’ll agree to it. And now, I believe I have listened to your proposal, so that means I get to shape the wavelength compatibility of my Meisters slash Wait Staff… wait a tick… did you say recruited? So, like… I could recruit Nobu as my partner?”

“Who is Nobu?” asked Mensarius. “I didn’t see him in the precis on Soul Eater.”

“He’s not in Soul Eater. He’s on Earth. He’s a 3-Star Sushi Chef. Arguably the best in the entire world.”

“Ah… no,” the Banker said. “You cannot recruit any Michelin Starred Chef… or one of their apprentices as staff.”

“Drat… okay, hmmm… Let’s make Toph my partner for the Restaurant side… she’s got the hard work ethic down and she’s the most involved in our food chain. I need 8 cooks… chefs… Zane, because we work well together and he’s personable… AJ because knives are involved… Velma is hard working and good at picking up new things… Gaius is good with high stress jobs that take a lot of finesse… Bao… he’s a perfectionist and makes a mean cuppa… Yoiko, she already knows a fair amount of BBQ thanks to that stint in Alan Wake among others… Mmmm… Bart, he’s relentless and practical… and Joy for the same reason. Everyone else gets the leftovers… but let’s see… Invidius & Scipio don’t get to be near customers. Yuzuha and Dyna… Ahab and Ryoga…. I’ll take a look and see what’s available… most of the ladies will be on Waitstaff. Heh.  Make Cirno a busser, that way she’s playing with Ice… have to ask if Raven and Brigid want in on this one.  Assuming they’re eligible?”

“Passenger status is your own invention. As far as I understand it’s just a bar on non-drop-in origins, yes?” I nodded. “Well then, strictly speaking, you have 5 passengers at the moment and one absentee companion.

“I have… wait… 5? Raven and Brigid and… oh… right… E-Prime and Bookstock… but that’s four.  Who’s five?”

Mensarius sighed and his hologram made itself a hologrammatic vodka gibson with three onions and a twist of lime. “The boys.”

“The Gaius-Vord twins? Shouldn’t they be 5 and 6?”

“I have no idea how you lifeforms do such things, but where we come from, they are the same… existence.”

“Huh…” I’d have to think about that one. “Does that mean that importing them only takes a single slot?” Mensarius gave me a look that said ‘Of course, you simple ape.’ but I ignored him and looked to the Banker for confirmation.

He considered, then nodded. “It does, though of course, any perk applied to them will be of reduced intensity as it is divided between two nodes.”

“Wild.  Okay then. Let’s futz with some wavelengths… I can pick who’s the Meister and who’s the Weapon, or make someone a Drop-In… right?” They nodded, Mensarius sipping his non-existent drink… or maybe it did exist for him, who knew? “Meister Kendra will wield Zane. That’s the first thing. Mmmm… AJ will wield Francine, since he’s all stabby-slashy and she’s good at thinking… Mmm… let’s pair Meister Yoiko with Petra and Meister Ryoga with RayRay… those four will make a good team…make them crossover as well so each Meister can use either weapon. I’d consider doing the same with Gaius & Reggy and Kohina and her father, but Kagetane and Gaius have a rather intense dislike for each other… no… better equip Meister Gaius with Kohina and Meister Reggy with Kagetane and leave it at that. Meister Toph will pair well with Dyna’s aggressive and flexible techniques, so that’s a lock there. Since I don’t want a duplicate of Soul Eater resident moron meister BlackStar, I decided to stick Cirno into the hands of Meister Velma. That was all the easy ones, though.

I leaned back in my chair, bringing up a view of all my companions… and blinked. “Astraea? She’s back in MCU.” I commented, confused.

“Yes? And?”

“How can I import her into this setting if she’s in MCU?” I asked, which just provoked a snort of derision from Mensarius.

“As if physical location matters. She’s a companion. Her locality doesn’t matter.” the ‘Idiotic Lifeform’ was implied.

“Sooo… If I import her, does she just spontaneously show up?”

“Don’t be daft!” the wicked one sneered, “You left her there. You want her back, you’ll have to go back and get her.”

“Oh… good… right. ‘Hey! Astraea! How you been? Ohhh…. Right… it’s been zero seconds.  Anyway, I’ve been travelling and I brought you presents!’ Yeah…. That’ll go over well… fine… whatever… Mmmm… Heh… Make Bart and Meetra a duo… oh… no… even better, make both of them Demon Weapons, able to wield each other, but officially paired with Meister Caine.  I’m conflicted about Bao and Uriel.  Bao is by far the better fighter… eh… might as well make Uriel the Weapon of that pair and not stress over it.  Tokimi as a Drop-in… She’ll enjoy the Madness and might use it responsibly.  Send Invidius, Scipio, Raven, and Brigid invites as Drop-ins… hmmm… nooo… Invidius and Scipio causing Madness is bad… make them Weapons and make… hmmm… Make them Demon Weapons, like Death the Kid’s pistols… can’t make them compatible with their mom, that’s creepy… Hmmm… pair them with Tokimi… yes, I know she’s not a Meister… But she has a very powerful soul.”

“And the two in cryosleep?” The Banker asked.

“Err… no. for what I have planned, I need them unaltered from their current state. Plus, I’m very much not… I don’t think Bookstock… eh… I’ll worry about it later. Don’t need either of them screwing up my plans. But you distracted me. I’ll take Yuzuha, as she’d bite anyone who tried to wield her besides me and really can’t be trusted as a Meister… plus Ziggy for much the same reason… plus Mini & Frankie because they’re mine own, my precious…” I hissed slightly for no good reason, then giggled maniacally.  If you can’t giggle maniacally from time to time, there’s no point to immortality.

“Meister Joy can have Ahab as her weapon of choice,” I added, still chuckling… then paused as I had a really evil thought… well… not evil… cheesy. It wouldn’t do me much good as things stood, and it wouldn’t be terribly helpful, but Atura’s name was still on the Companion list for Import and, even though he/it/she was still an egg inside my Mind Palace, I could still import the Origin Spirit… which was part of my soul, and thus what powers he had, I had access to… or should, if sleepy thing would ever hatch.

“Astraea as Drop-In… no… Demon Weapon,” I chuckled at the inside joke even as I made it, “Atura as a Meister,” I said, finishing the list, at least for this side… then paused as a somewhat horrifying thought struck me. “Uh… wait… once a companion, always a companion?”

“That does, I believe, follow,” The Banker said, “Though I would not have used those words. Why? Also, you haven’t listed compatibility for Astraea or Atura.”

I grunted dismissively, “Oh, Atura is part of my soul, so I guess that means my wavelengths are Atura’s wavelengths. No… Okay… Garl and Selene… they’re dead. I never paid to import them. Could I just… wave my hand annn…” I trailed off as Garl, Selene… and the Kihara’s… and Vitiate’s names all popped onto the screen… along with a just… unsettling number of people I’d asked to accompany me along the way who’d turned me down, many of whom were very much dead now. Dumbledore, General Iroh, Ocelot… there were almost a hundred names on the list. “I… see… that’s… worrying.”

“Why would it worry you that we possess the ability to raise those you consider dead?”, Mensarius asked, sounding more confused than mocking.”

“Because I saw those people die. I lived through it in some cases… and-” I just couldn’t explain.

“You vaporized Bart just to prove a point,” The Banker said.

“I… yeah… but I’d already linked him into the matrix… doesn’t that make a difference?”

“Should it?” The Banker asked, and I considered for a very long time, then nodded. “I… think it should. I failed to save those lives. If I can just… retroactively bring them back, it’s… problematic.”

“You actually killed Uriel and witnessed the death of Astraea,” the Banker was being oddly gentle. “You murdered Vitiate yourself and are keeping his soul in a holocron. Death means very little as long as the soul hasn’t journeyed beyond. You have a quite impressive collection of Souls in that laboratory of yours. You could choose any of them to be a companion… you do know how to talk to them.”

“I… guess. So, all I’d have to do is return to one of these places and, what, find or summon up the soul in question, then invite them along… or kidnap them… and as long as they exit their reality in my warehouse… that’s it? It’s just like any other object?”

“Ontologically speaking, what is the difference?” Mensarius asked, and I honestly had no answer. Metaphysics and philosophy said there was one, but animism said that all things had souls… though I’d never seen evidence of that. I sighed. “Right. Well… fuck it then. Is there any limit to this?”

“Yes,” they said together.

“And it is?”

“You must be able to recall the soul of the person, or create a copy indistinguishable. Ocelot comes from a world where the dead can be reborn via technological copying as your Joy indicates. Albus Dumbledore exists in a world where paintings and ghosts are real. Iroh resides in the Spirit Realm of the Avatar Setting. Garl and Selen Vinland both come from a world where the souls of the dead are material and died in a world where death has proven highly transitory. And, of course, you have to intrust CP into them for them to be… protected, returning to your side in a day’s time. Should they die unprotected, their souls will be cast adrift, torn between two different destinations… or none at all. These Passengers of yours, however… shall be given special value, we have decided. All CP vested into them shall, until they, of their own free will, choose an origin other than Drop-In, be conditional. It shall not constitute the typical companion contract that the gift or imposition of CP and its… full faith and credit as some would call it… might construe. They are in a grace… no… a demo-period.”

I processed that, mildly disconcerted to realize that I didn’t actually know which of the two had explained it until I checked my memory and found that they’d traded off the discussion no less than twice without me noticing. “So… I can’t import them now, because they’re currently dead?”

“Garl and Selen?” The Banker asked, “You could import them in absentia. They have crossed the Dark Infinities and Bright Eternities with you. They are known to the Warehouse. The Kihara’s? No. They were never given privileges and so the Warehouse did not record them.”

“And my evil twin?”

Mensarius chuckled wickedly, “She is in other hands, as you well know.” I sighed, I did know and it worried me sometimes to consider what she and Trelane were up to.

“Right then… Garl and Selen, Meisters. Both attuned to Astraea, like the girl in Soul Eater Not. I guess I come with more presents… and Sophie can be a Drop-In. She’s a good doggy, the Madness won’t affect her.” I heard a bark from outside the soundproof chamber and chuckled.

“That spends you out, I believe,” The Banker said, “Shall I toss up the Challenge Document?”

“First off… hold up there, bucko. I’m guessing I get Free Stuff from the Soul Eater Item list and I’d like to know what, but I’m actually removing something from my own list.” I focused my attention on the checkmark for Grigori Soul and dragged the entire item off my list… and dropped it square in Atura’s box. 600 CP is what he got, and all 600 of it was what I was using to equip a fragment of my soul with wings. I had two souls… might as well install Grigori on the other secondary one. “There. 600 CP freed up.” I said, watching as Atura’s box also populated with ‘Weapon Partner Proficiency’, ‘Wavelength Communication’, ‘Declaration!’, ‘Comfortable Welcome Gift’, Death’s List’, and ‘Sick Wheels’.  I’d have to read those later as I now had to spend my remaining points.

First, I plunked down the 100 CP needed to buy Wavelength Communication, which the screen was flashing impertinently that as I was not a Meister, I’d need in order to wield a Demon Weapon. Apparently it opened a bridge between the soul of ‘Meister’ and Demon Weapon, allowing them to communicate on a spiritual level and (usually) safely transfer energy from one to another.  It was a good investment and I was satisfied with it.  But it did leave me with 500 left… and I decided to go hog wild and buy myself a Race… Immortal specifically.

See, in the world of Soul Eater, Immortals (aka Werewolves) were a monstrous race that normally appeared as completely standard humans (albeit a little more rugged or wild in appearance). In human form, my stats would be closer to the higher end of the human spectrum (which was good, since my Body Mod’s physical stats weren’t anything to write home about, since I’d never considered the possibility of being reduced back to it waaay back at the end of my first jump when I’d filled it out.) but my sense of smell and awareness of my surroundings would be quite keen, which couldn’t hurt. But at any time I wanted, I could transform into my true werewolf form… which (thanks to the silliness of the setting) had overly large hands, feet, and tails… and physical stats way through roof. Both forms had a very strong vitality and minor regeneration. They also had green souls rather than a Human’s white, a Kishin’s red, or a Witch’s purple. Not sure what color an Immortal Witch might have. Honestly wasn’t keen to find out.

“I thought you were only shortlisting Drawbacks just in case,” Mensarius snarked.

“Eh. This just became a matter of survival. I’d already locked in the Clowns. Those are the real danger. The others are just goofy shit I can cope with. Hopefully.  Okay. Now items.”

Everyone got “Comfortable Welcome Gift” as it turned out, which was a small package that included 7,500 USD and a stylish outfit custom tailored to be a perfect fit, flexible, durable, and suited for combat, self repairing, and designed to grow with the user. It was a pretty decent deally. Witches also got “Matching Pair”, which was a pointy black witch hat and an animal familiar, both matching my chosen animal theme. The hat come with some passive enchantments… it wouldn’t come off unless I wanted it to, and if lost or destroyed it could be summoned back to my hand as good as new. The familiar was a pet, friend, and loyal guardbeasty rolled into one. It would be smarter than most animals (but still animal intelligence) and almost completely black in coloration, and (even though it was a ferret) it would be the size of a large dog… a levitating large dog (not very good levitation, mind you, but comparable to the stuff I’d bought here). Loyalty, friendliness, and protectiveness was all guaranteed.

I checked for other freebies, but didn’t see any, so I gave a provisional lock to the Soul Eater document and nodded to Signore CP-Man, signalling that I was ready for the Challenge Document. I blinked, then chuckled… of course, it was laid out like a menu. There was a list of locations, all of them cities known for having a simply unfair number of Starred establishments. They ranged from the brutal (Florence, Berlin, & Copenhagen) to the sadistic (Paris, Tokyo, & NYC). I don’t think a single one of the ten cities listed had less than 40 Starred locations. NYC had at least 13 3-Star Locations alone. Paris was probably worse. With trepidation, I rolled the.. “Oh, for fuck’s sake!” I snarled, looking at the Eiffel Tower symbol on the dice. This wasn’t going to be pleasant.

I gritted my teeth and looked at the Appetizers selection, which appeared to be the Background selection. There were four choices, each a different position in a standard kitchen, though it did reassure me that, as this was to be my restaurant, I’d be the Chef de Cuisine (the Head Chef). The Appetizers were merely which Chef de Partie… which Line Cook Specialty I had. The choices were Charcutier (she who handles the meat), Patissier (he who is sweet), Sous Chef (they who are overworked), and Tournant (it fills the positions that are needed at the time… no, I kid. A Tournant was the kitchen’s pinch hitter).

The first two were specific chef types who often had their own subfiefs inside a restaurant, since they required the most specialized equipment and training. Charcutiers could often use the standard ovens and grills and fry pans… but aging cabinets, smokers, rotisseries, butcher’s blocks… none of those were out of place for a master of the meats… and no one else really needed them. Patissiers were the bakers and dessert makers, and the specialized equipment for one of them was practically a second kitchen.. one that had good temperature controls, since a lot of the stuff they made was heat-sensitive.

The other two were all rounders. The Sous Chef was the second in command and their job was literally to make sure everyone else could do their job. They assisted the Chef, expedited and finished dishes, oversaw the waitstaff, and typically handed all the various logistics. They were the manager that kept the restaurant ticking along. The Tournant was essentially the Sous Chef’s understudy, doing whatever needed to be done, filling any holes in the kitchen at a moment’s notice.

I glanced at the Entrees (the Perks) for each of the four, and they had some nice stuff each, but it was pretty much what I’d expected. Meat-Man was about heat and anatomy, the heavy part of cooking. Dessert-Girl was about delicacy and subtlety, the airy part of cooking. Sous Chef was about running the restaurant. And Tournant was about the purity of cooking.  I went with Tournant and promptly ran myself out of points buying everything that was on offer.

‘Superior Bladesman’ was the freebie for Tournant and it guaranteed that my knives would always be exactly as sharp as they needed to be, my hands perfectly steady, and my cuts exact, fast, and clean… unless I was dead on my feet. It was nothing to scoff at, as I’d known more than one chef relegated to skutt work because they didn’t have the knife skills for anything more complex or time sensitive.

‘Taste Tester’ cost 100 and transformed me into a Supertaster, allowing me to ID every ingredient in a dish as long as I’d tasted the ingredient before, up to and including age of ingredient, freshness, and where it was grown on the source farm (if I was familiar enough). ‘Jack of all Foods’ was 200 and designed to turn anyone into a savant of the kitchen. Memorize a recipe having heard it once, on the fly substitutions, mental dish composition, and it took the time required to learn a new cooking school from upwards of 2 years down to days or weeks… and it made combining different styles of cooking all the easier.

And then there was the capstone, ‘Your Heart is Pure’… for 300, I gained practically limitless endurance as long as I was pursuing a task I loved, and my productivity would equal that of half a dozen normal people… and though time would seem to fly by, I’d always seem to get things done with time to spare. Pacing in the industry was everything and there was almost never enough time. The utility of this was hard to overstate.

Just for accepting the Challenge, I also got ‘Commis’ which was the basics of knife-work, food handling & preparation, plating, kitchen safety… it was all the hundreds of little techniques and skills that would allow me to function in the best of professional kitchens without making an ass of myself. It gave me the lingo and the know how to take instructions and use them properly. I also got a ‘Speciality de Mason’ free, which was any one regional style of cooking. I could buy additional forms for 50, but I got one free. It wouldn’t make me an expert in it, but it would give me a decent grounding. Out of homage to my ancestry, I picked ‘Jewish cooking’, because I don’t think there has ever been a starred Jewish Restaurant, but if French Cuisine could do it, Jewish should be able to if I put in the effort.

Everyone got one Speciality. Of course, Patissiers and Charcutiers got Baking and Grilling (called ‘MEAT ME!’ for some reason), but Sous Chefs and Tournants got their pick from a list of 8. It included Eggs, Fish, Sauce-making, Fermenting, Veggies, and Brewing… It wasn’t an easy choice. I love tea and stews and Brewmaster was all up in that. Veggies and fruits are awesome, and a skilled Entremetier could turn them from delight to perfection. Baking is… well.. Have you ever had fresh, crisp, still warm bread? Fermenters were masters of pickling, winemaking… cheese making.  Eggmen were masters of breakfast apparently… that I could pass on… but Poissonnier was all about fish and included Sushi. Hell, Sushi was pretty much Easy Mode to 3-Stars… if you could somehow rise out of the sea of other Sushi Restaurants. Ditto Italian and French of course.

Still, I settled, finally, on Saucier.  Sauce-making may not be glamorous, but as a master of sauces and sauteeing, I’d be skilled in controlling heat to sear or crisp or char, to make roux and to mix up all the best ragus and salsas. It was a skill that the professionals valued, and the experts looked for. Though, if I had the points, I’d buy at least one more Speciality…

But I was now out of points and even a cursory glance at the other trees had shown me there were things I either wanted or wanted my companions to have, which meant that I’d have to take “Beverages” to pay for them. Right now Toph would get 450, my kitchen staff 300, and my front of house people 150… Not nearly enough.

The list of Beverages was… eclectic to say the least. Some of them were just… not advisable (Squeamish, Vegan, Key Ingredient Allergy)… while others were interestingly idiosyncratic (Celebrity Chef, Down Home, OCD), and others were more traditional fare (Financial Trouble, One Arm, Organized Crime)… and a couple were just… aack (Fruitarian, Rampant Sexism). For those not in the know, Fruitarians are Raw Food weirdos, those who believe that cooking damages food. A Fruitarian restaurant has never even been Starred as far as I knew. Removing the cooking from cooking was just… stupid. Rampant Sexism was what the normal world dealt with with regards to professional cooking. In the entire history of Michellin when I’d left Origin Earth long long ago (or 1 second by their reckoning) only 1 woman had ever earned 3 stars… in 2014. That’s it. Rampant Sexism made sure the taker stayed female and made the world as rampantly sexist as it was in 1980s.

I avoided both. Instead, I took ‘A Little Bit Crazy’ (worth 100 and guaranteed that everyone knew I was a little bit off), ‘Nouvelle Cuisine’ (worth 100 and made my food cutting edge, overpriced, and bizarre… easier to get press, harder to keep a customer base), ‘Midget’ (worth 200 and made my head height equal to that of most cooking surfaces), ‘Om Nom Nom’ (worth 200 and made me a rather compulsive eater and guaranteed I’d put on weight), ‘Bad Press’ (worth 200 and ensuring a lot of bad press until I got my first star), ‘Less Than the Best’ (worth 200 and made it hard to get the best ingredients until I earned my first star), ‘Down Home’ (worth 200 and meant I had to focus on something traditionally viewed as lowbrow… which I’d already planned on with traditional jewish cooking), ‘Celebrity Chef’ (worth 200 and giving me a horrible personality, yelling at people who didn’t ‘get’ my cooking, screaming at my staff, and throwing tantrums when I didn’t get my way… went well with ‘I Am God’ from the Soul Eater side), and ‘Fusion Cuisine’ (worth 300 and required me to fuse two wildly different styles of cooking… I considered, then smiled Chinese-Jewish Tapas… it was fusion and neuvelle and down home all in one. Perfect. And jews have word of mouth and money. I’d just have to bust my butt… PARIS? Fuuuck!)… and that meant I needed a support structure so, grudgingly, I took one last drawback… Beverage…

It is a sad fact that ‘Organized Crime’ funds a staggering number of restaurants. Since so many of them go out of business, or are marginal at best, restaurants make great cover for money laundering, especially since they deal with so much cash and loads and loads of supplies. Allowing my restaurant to be financed in that way was worth 300 CP, even though it essentially cleared up my debts since the mob would make me seem profitable… but I’d have to deal with shady business dealings, police (and anti-terror) investigations, and making sure that the local armed psychos liked my cooking… and in Soul Eater, they very much might want to dine on Human Souls if they were anything like Soul Eater really minor badguy ‘Don Alcapone’ (no, not a typo. All one word.). Combined with the 600 from the challenge, that gave me a total of 2400 and gave Toph 1800, the Kitchen Staff 1200, and everyone else 600. It was now, probably, doable… and I had 1800 left to spend.

First up, I bought ‘Meat Me!’ [200/1600/2400] to give me an instinctive knowledge of how much heat any given piece of meat could take and how to cook it to bring out the best flavour and texture. I had to start out as a Roast Chef, Grill Chef, or Fry Chef and it would take about 5 years each to master the other two… Meat is Serious Business. I went with Roast, since most of Jewish cooking is roasting and I could hedge with Fry Chef using Saucier until I mastered it. Grilling would be very little use this time round, but I should have mastered it by the end of the jump.

I also snatched up the 100 CP abilities from Charcutier and Sous Chef. The first was called ‘God’s Only Begotten Sandwich Maker’ [100/1500/2400] (a reference to Arthur Dent from the Hitchhiker’s Guide novels… and something of a Jumper himself), which gave a sixth sense for which ingredients would work best together, masking negative qualities and accenting positive ones… it also synthed brilliantly with Shaggy’s Sandwich Supplies from Scooby-Doo… and I could supplement my business with a sandwich truck if I could get the fundings. Trucks could be good advertizing and do bang up business if I could find the right location. Apparently the rules were that my Restaurant itself had to be open for dinner at least Tuesday through Saturday, all of which I had to work. Other than that, I could let the junior chefs handle lunch service if I wanted to.

The second was more important, however. ‘Attention to Detail’ guaranteed that no matter how stressed or tired I got, the details of familiar things wouldn’t escape me. I wouldn’t forget key steps (like I used to). I wouldn’t forget garnish if I was rushed. I would spot anything out of place or dirty, or wrong. It was mission critical and for [100/1400/2400] it was a steal.

I wanted more Specialities, and some of the other perks were quite nice, but I figured I should check on the items, since cooking is as much about ingredients as it is skill… and it’s a damned good thing I did, because there was an entire section dedicated to customizing the restaurant itself. ‘Brick and Mortar’ it was called, and it was a small (15 table) restaurant with a functional kitchen, spirits (wine & beer) licence, and 200,000 dollars in debt (which was, for me, essentially owed to the mob). It also had a basic restaurant supply company like Sysco (think big white labeled cans). As a Tournant, I got my Spirit’s License upgraded to a full Liquor License for free (hard liquor and mixed drinks).. Which was nice because the Liquor License was required to buy the Wine Cellar [200/1200/2400] (an excellent selection of wines and two of my front of house staff became instant wine experts… and it came with a special wine supplier, who got rare and excellent vintages for less, which was nice.). I had to have the Wine… it was FRANCE!

I’d also get a free restaurant upgrade depending on what position Toph selected. If she went Tournant too, it would be the Wine Cellar, but we’d be overspecialized there, so I was hoping she wouldn’t. I sent her a message to that subject and she sent back “Thinking of Patissier. It’s the one furthest from your direct control and means I can work early shifts while you work late. Also, comes with the Supply Upgrade… unless you think we need the Kitchen Upgrade from Charcutier instead?” I send back that I didn’t and that Patissier was fine.  The Supply upgrade meant we went from big cans to upscale ingredients with priority from speciality providers… it wasn’t the best… there was a 200 CP upgrade that made it top of the line, but that would be pointless to start with since I couldn’t get the best ingredients until I had my first star anyway. The supply upgrades followed the restaurant from jump to jump if upgraded, otherwise you’d have to shop or source yourself.

There were any number of options, but some were less useful than others. For instance, the B&M could be upgraded to 30 or 60 tables… which was better for business, yes, but made starting out harder since it made the place look empty. I could upgrade later (though the prize would not include the add on most likely) as the business expanded, but space in Paris is at a premium and intimacy is valued. The smaller upgrade came with high end self-updating menus, which was something to consider, but not worth it for me. The larger had always pristine and appealing menus… but it was more of the same.

There Dining Hall and Banquet Hall upgrades, and they’d be great for an established business to make money from… but starting out I wouldn’t have the word of mouth, and they’d be an economic drain that would sit empty. It would be better to rent halls than own them anyway.

There was a pair of kitchen upgrades, taking the kitchen to modern and then to state of the art… but upgrading as I went was fine, and it was a waste of points I couldn’t justify. Sure, the first was self-repairing and the second was also always clean… but that’s what elbow grease was for. Making do with functional would have to do until I could bring in the top dollar crowds… in fact, I think the place should have as rustic a kitchen feel as possible. Not dirty and dingy, but very much period. Wood fired ovens and wooden boards instead of stainless steel and plastic. Marble Slabs, oak and bamboo… it was doable. Functional but down home appeal. I added that to the notes.

Other upgrades were less about the restaurant and more about running it. Apparently I’d start with a small 8 year old car that I’d have to keep running and share with Toph, and an apartment that I couldn’t quite afford… but both were upgradable. For [50/1150/2400], the Car would be brand new and never break down, but still require fuel, maintenance, taxes & Insurance. Another 100 would free me from the need for gas & maintenance, making it self-repairing and always up-to-date on paperwork and insurance… but I figured I could just pay for those things… though the 10 minute respawn time for the upgraded car was tempting.

But more tempting were the other business vehicles. For 50 CP each, I could buy delivery vans that would respawn if stolen or totalled, and kept food at the right temperature and from getting jostled. For 100 CP more, I could upgrade all my vans to be self-repairing, self-fueling, always insured and licensed… and to never break down or get stuck in traffic. Catering is great for word of mouth… especially among Jews… trust me on that. Never having to worry about a dish getting rekt in the horror that was Parisienne traffic… priceless… though NYC and London were just as god awful for that matter. So I spent [200/950/2400] to get two upgraded vans.

And that wasn’t all… for [100/850/2400] I picked up a Food Truck. It was always licensed for any city I took it to, with all the fees needed to legally vend food already paid. It was self-repairing, self-cleaning, and guaranteed to build world of mouth rapidly… though it meant working longer hours.

I could have paid down the massive 200,000 dollar debt for 200 or erased all non-supply or maintenance fees for 400… but that had no lasting benefit and seemed silly when I was already dealing with the mob.  So, instead, I bought the Apartment Upgrade [150/700/2400].

Instead of an overpriced apartment, I now owned a Parisian Apartment Building large enough for my companions to live there (which they could do for free). It was tax free, but I couldn’t sell it, self-maintaining, and in future jumps I could rent it out, as it would appear in my starting city. The apartments were nicish and newish, which would make everything a little better to deal with over the decade… a decade we’d be working our collective asses off.

That left me with 700… and I still hadn’t reached the actual items part of the Desserts menu… shit. This thing was a CP Vampire. No wonder you could get 2600 CP if you were insane… you needed it. But even taking all the drawbacks it was impossible to get everything I’d want… but that was generally true in my experience… at least 1/3rd of all the jumps I’d been to I’d wanted more than I could afford. Which I guess was part of the game to the Bankers. Choices. They were Choice Points for a reason.

“Is there another me out there making different choices?” I asked, but didn’t get an answer either way. Huh. tough crowd.

From the Desserts menu I picked up the universal freebie, a set of Knives that were balanced, comfortable, stylish, and guaranteed never to cut what they weren’t supposed to cut… my fingers were instantly and preemptively grateful. And then I looked at all the awesome things on the items menu and cursed. It was like… a real dessert menu. I wanted almost everything (besides the carrotcake which had no business ever being on an actual restaurant’s menu. Carrotcake was just too plebeian for restaurant fare. Unless the restaurant served potato chips and hotdogs… then it was fine.). There was a Radar device that always found the best restaurant given any set of qualities (Price, style, distance, etc.). There was a spice rack that had every spice and never ran out! There was a perfect table setting set for up to 3,000… with tables and chairs included.  There was an infinitely large Pantry that kept food perfect… forever and was self-sorting… and could maintain or age food you wanted aged. There was even an option to get the phone number from a Random Omnipotent Being who’d pick up food from any restaurant anywhere and deliver it to my current location… ingredients and supplies too!

But those weren’t what caught and held me the most. No, that was the Door of Shopping [400/300/2400] and the Grand Opening [200/100/2400]. The Door went to any shopping district in any world I’d ever been to (as long as it was still extant when I left). It would always be the day after I came last, and I couldn’t do anything to shape that world while shopping, and I couldn’t leave the district except to come back through the door… but they took whatever currency I had at its source’s face value. The Grand Opening was similar, but for dining instead of shopping. The first time I used it, I’d step through the door to find myself at a valet stand that would take me to the opening day of any restaurant I’d even been to, with a reservation. I could then visit that restaurant once for every day they were open (twice if they had a lunch menu). It had the same limitations… but when you’re as old as I am, there are restaurants that I’ve loved that have vanished to the sands of time enough to fill a city with them. I had to have the Opening, and the Shopping was just… nice.

I considered going back through the perks… then shook my head and locked in the Spice Rack [100/0/2400] as well. It promised high quality spices and those could get pricy as hell (saffron runs to thousands of dollars a pound). And with that, I was out of Choice and Challenge Points and hungry. So I waved to the Banker Boys and Sluggy, and exited the room to consider staffing options. I had a stack of tablets waiting outside the door and I motioned for the butler holding them to follow me to the kitchen.

The first I looked at was Toph’s. She’d specialized in Spanish Cuisine for some reason… maybe to do with Tapas or just for a mediterranean feel? She’d also picked up Master Shopper and Gardener from the general Entrees, as well as taking Entremetier (Veggy Chef) in addition to the free Baker from being a Patissier. I hadn’t even noticed the Gardener option, though my memory confirmed it was there the whole time. Master Shopper was a knack for finding the very very best of anything that could be connected to the restauranting world… be it ingredients, uniforms, artwork… and all at the best possible prices. Gardener seemed largely redundant for her, at least until I read it. It wasn’t just growing your own ingredients… it was about cultivating dedicated suppliers… and it came with its own Garden for free.

The Garden was 4 acres of premium farmland perfect designed to support whatever food crops we might wish to grow there. They all had the same microclimate, but could be divided into 16 equally sized blocks where a command console would give us control over the micronutrients and flavorants in the soil. It would attach to the warehouse after the jump and would be as close as possible to the restaurant as local zoning permitted. And the acreage could be doubled multiple times, each costing 100 CP, with each 4 acre plot having its own microclimate.  Toph had doubled it five times… that was 128 acres of premium farmland… it wasn’t huge… but it wasn’t tiny either. Waaay more than a restaurant could use unless we were raising our own cows and sheep. I was slightly surprised she hadn’t doubled it more, but she’d bought some of the Patissier perks as well.

Patissiers got ‘Try It, You’ll Like It!’ for free which was good for getting someone to try something at least once… but only if you liked it and it wouldn’t cause them harm or be unethical by their standards. It wasn’t limited to food. She also took ‘Keep it Cool’ which allowed her to control her own body temperature so she wouldn’t heat things up when she touched them (it also made her invisible to heat sensors as an afterthought), and she could keep things from getting hot… up to the temperature of boiling water. And she took ‘Art on the Plate’ which would allow her to turn anything into art… especially but not limited to baked goods… including actions (pouring tea, watching the rain fall… it would all be art if she wanted it to be). Tossing in the Commis and Knives that all staff got and she was out of points.

I found her and Zane in the kitchen… arguing about partnership and who was the more partnerific. I bonked their heads together and sighed “Children! Behave yourselves. Zane, you’re my partner in combat, and often in shenanigans, but business isn’t your strong suit. Toph is dedicated, hard working, and grumpy.” I favored the Earthbender with a smirk as she glowered at me. She still looked blind though she had any number of forms that weren’t. Some of my companions were forever changing their forms, but Toph wasn’t one of those. All her forms looked pretty much like Toph Bei Fong, just with working eyes and cultural differences depending on the setting.

“Zane, go tell everyone I want them to rotate through the kitchens and make three individual dishes. Something sweet, something savory, and something surprising. They’re not to consult with each other, nor assist one another. I’ll be in my office and they’re to come to me whenever they’re ready. Toph, you’ll be the second judge. Zane, you can either sulk or be third?”

He considered, then grinned. “Can I do both?”

I hit him with a snowball to the mush, then headed upstairs, looking through Toph’s build for Soul Eater. Meisters got three freebies (in addition to ‘The Face’ that everyone got) from the perk list, and two (in addition to ‘Comfortable Welcome Gift’ that everyone got) from the item list. In addition to Wavelength Communication, they got ‘Weapon Partner Proficiency’ and ‘Declaration!’. WPP was an instant ‘years of experience fighting together with your Demon Weapon Partner’ that allowed the Meister to wield the Weapon like a seasoned swordsman might swing their sword, as effectively as if they were of the same flesh, one body in two parts, while ‘Declaration!’ was entirely about sharing your emotional state by yelling about them… this setting really didn’t know if it was slapstick or horror. The items were ‘Death’s List’ and ‘Sick Wheels’, the second being a flying skateboard and the first being a list of targets, evil human beings whose souls were on Death’s ‘you done fucked up son’ list and whose inhumane crimes had rendered them worthy of direct punishment by a Meister and Weapon. A Meister could upgrade their Demon Weapon Partner to a Death Scythe by hunting down and killing 99 such humans and feeding the Weapon the souls of those on the list… and then the Soul of a Witch. The list didn’t have the locations of Witches. And yes, there were very unpleasant implications of that list… but oddly, eating the souls of the evil didn’t corrupt a Demon Weapon… but eating the souls of those not evil enough to be on the list could do that quite rapidly.

I was about to read the rest when I got a strange pop-up on the screen of Toph’s Tablet. “Error. Build may be invalid. Would SJ please report to the Arcade.” I blinked “Build may be invalid? What the hell?” I set down my coffee and headed to the Arcade… it’s strange. I can teleport pretty much as fast as I think, and fly, and move at hypersonic speed… and… I don’t. Not normally. Sure, I jump off the balcony all the time, as stairs are for chumps. But under normal circumstances I just walk wherever I’m going at a normal rate… at least if it’s close. I guess Flash does too, come to think of it. Why does God Need a Starship? Because it has comfortable seating.

“Wazzup, funky butt?” I asked the Banker as I entered the Arcade. He favored me with a look that seemed pained, and a little abashed.

“Please. Do not call me that,” he said as an opener, but I didn’t apologize and after a moment he said, “Ahem… very well… we’ve had an update to the Jumptree. It is a fairly major revision, and so, rather than merely updating the individual builds and sending point corrections…” He trailed off and Mensarius finished.

“He means his ‘staff’ are inept and can’t just make things perfect on the first pass, so they occasionally have to fix oversights.”

“Wait… Update? The Hell? Have there been updates to places I’ve already been?”

“Of course!” Mensarius sneered. “You just don’t notice because they’re minor. A change of wording here, an option that wasn’t there before. Remember the Harry Potter Jump? An ability to control Fiendfyre has been added. And the price of the Philosopher’s Stone reduced slightly.” I mmm’d, then shrugged. It was like… finding out your cable provider had a new deal that you couldn’t get because you’d signed up last month when the deal was different.

“So… when it actually affects me?”

“We try to keep on top of such things, though obviously we can’t know how you would have chosen…” The Banker assured me. “This one just came through at the exact right time. In fact, an update to Bioshock Infinite’s Jumptree came through within the same window, so had you gone there immediately, there would have been an issue as well, though not of the same scale.”

“Okay… so… what’s changed?” I asked, flopping back into my command console.

“Two new races have been added, Fragment… the ‘child’ of an Old One, and Icon… an Artificial being from a magical tome called ‘The Book of Eibon’. Monster Cat’s exclusivity to those who take the Witch Origin has been removed. Witch and Earth Shaman have been updated. You can now buy a Hybrid Racial Origin and there are Racial Perks now.” The Banker began, and I raised my eyebrows. That was a lot… and he wasn’t finished.

“Maka Chop’s price has been halved. The Ripper Perk from the Drop-In line has been given greater flexibility and rebranded as ‘Slasher’ Soul Perception has an upgrade tier. Anti-Madness Wavelength’s price has been reduced. There are 8 new Drop-In Perks, 15 new Meister Perks, 8 new Demon Weapon Perks, 9 new Witch Perks, 36 new items…” I gacked. I was going to have to reconsidered everything… and where was I going to get points for this nonsense? I manifested a slab of ice and banged my head against it. Too much of a good thing.

And he kept going “Magical Being and Totemic have been combined into a single perk with optional upgrades. Levitation has been clarified. A number of Deamon Weapon customization perks have been added, with discounting and pricing changes all across the board. There are two new Companion Import Options… plus 5 new Drawbacks… and,” Mensarius smirked as the Banker said the last, “The Drawback Cap has been raised to 1000.” I banged my head against the ice again and groaned. “And notes explaining who the Old Ones are have been added.” I blinked at that.

“Oh? Really? Huh. They hadn’t come up in the Anime, so I wasn’t even aware that they were a thing. Who are they, anyway? Cthulian abominations?”

The Jumpotron cleared the center screen and five beings appeared in silhouette. Two were instantly recognizable as Death and Excalibur, though they bore the subtitles ‘Great Old One of Order’ and ‘Great Old One a Wrath’. “Excalibur is a Great Old One? I thought he was a Demon Weapon… lovely. No wonder he tries to drive everyone crazy by making them so angry they can’t think.” the other three were listed as ‘Asura, Great Old One of Wrath’, ‘Eibon, Great Old One of Knowledge’, and the fifth was nameless as ‘Great Old One of Power’. I shuddered “Lovely. Two Wrath GOOs. this world is borked. The screen shivered, then the Wrath after Asura’s name was erased and replaced with Fear.

I looked over at The Banker. “Are you subcontracting with otaku to write these things?” I asked, eyes narrowing in suspicion.

“They prefer to call themselves fans. We call them Crafters. And… err… yes. If an author composes a Jump I deem worthy, and it gets enough… you’d call it ratings… from those beings who are subscribed to syndication… then the author gains a free subscription to the syndication and access to their own reality to play with and shape to their desires.”

“To play God,” Mensarius explained, unnecessarily.

“Err… yes. But also to potentially create more interesting experiences.  Of course, most fail to even earn that prize, and of those who make it that far, most fail in the later tests.” The Banker explained.

“I see? So… Benefactors fund Jumpers to create content, and fund… Crafters to define the parameters that a Jumper will use to interact with a Setting. The Jumpers are paid in power to interact and grow, the Crafters are paid in subscription to the adventures of others, and get their own sandbox if they do well enough at Crafting.  Sounds like a racket, and if you can profit off it, I guess it works.”

I shook my head and sighed, then rolled my gaze to look at the drawbacks section… and regretted it. Yeah, there were new Drawbacks… two in the 200s and three in the 100s… and all of them were just… agony. ‘Maddeningly Lost’ was the least ghastly and it would make me ‘Disturbingly prone to getting lost, even in places I should be incredibly familiar with’. Like… ‘You need a guide all the time.’ Lonely Melody’ would make me deaf to all sounds besides Music, and only music for music’s purpose could be heard. Geeeh. ‘Cut Off Uppercrust’ would make me painfully oblivious to the realities of commoner life… and all three of those were 100s!

The 200s, ‘Working out the Kinks’ and ‘All Black’ were just horrifying. The first would make  all my old skills (and powers, but I’d already sold those to the Challenge Mode) beyond rusty… as in worse than not having them at all. Try to fight someone with Karate and kick yourself in the head kind of garbage. The second would strip away all my ability to find fulfillment that didn’t stem from destruction, schadenfreude, or sadism.

“Wow… this is just… evil. Fuck.  I… guess, if I need them, I can take Maddeningly Lost, Working out the Kinks, and Cut Off Uppercrust… in that order… but I’m faintly hoping I won’t.” I then went to see what they’d done to Witch. The first note said ‘You may choose two 100 CP Origin perks to be free, and Witches gain Totemic Magic’ for free… which meant that two 200 CP perks that had been free were now one 200 CP perk that was still free… I didn’t know if I should feel ripped off or not. Then I read the changes, and did feel ripped off. “I have to pay to turn into my corresponding animal now? Seriously? You took away part of the power and now want me to pay to get it back?”

“In trade, you get two new items for free!” the Banker explained rapidly, waving his hands and looking a little annoyed… at Mensarius for some reason. Mensarius on the other hand shrugged “Not my fault. Don’t blame me.” he seemed to say.

“Okay? Thrill me with these new things that are designed to make up for the nerfing.”

“You get a Style Signature… it’s not an item per se, but something similar. If you take it, you may restyle all your possessions, past, present, and future with a theme of your choice. And you can pick whether that representation applies to an item or not, and if the representation is literal or esoteric!” I blinked, then yawned. “So I can make everything I buy have a ferret theme if I want? Yaaaaay.” I mean, it wasn’t a terrible thing, and I could turn into a ferret with my Dook-Dook fruit powers… but still… shapeshifting vs thematic branding? Siiigh.

“And the other?”

“You get an Apothecary Station… it’s a nice big cupboard full of glass bottles to store potions in, and a recipe book full of minor potions with a variety of effects… cosmetic changes, to weight loss to poisons, acids, and elixirs of youth… though no ingredients-” I frowned at him and he hurried to explain, “Whatever you put in the bottles will be preserved pretty much forever!”

I sighed… then nodded, reluctantly. “Fine. I’ll take it. I guess. But only because I have another way of doing it and because I haven’t finalized. You try stripping out sections of powers like this again and we’re going to grandfather that bitch, you understand?”

The Banker looked puzzled for a moment, then nodded, slowly. “I understand. That’s fine.”

I spent quite some time considering the new Witch Perks… but finally decided against taking any of them… well… almost. I did trade in the largely useless Levitation for the only marginally more useful ‘Mother May I’, which was one of the new options and granted me skill at raising children so that they’d grow up into the kind of adults I’d want them to grow up to be… regardless of outside corruptive or protective influences. It might come in handy… and wasn’t something I could already do particularly well, having never actually tried to raise children. I barely had a clue how to deal with the Twins.

I honestly considered taking nothing new from the revised document. It was nice stuff, but I already had a vision for myself in this jump and it didn’t benefit from most of these frankly insane abilities or items (I could buy the Fucking MOON!)… but one dinky 100 CP perk from the Meister line shown out in the darkness. It was called ‘Ambition Without Arrogance.’ and it meant that, no matter how proud and confident in my abilities I became, I’d know my limits. I’d always be crystal clear on my limitations, lacking the capacity to overestimate myself or blind myself to my shortcomings… it was a sense of perspective, and as I was becoming more and more powerful, that might be a very important thing to have. So that got added to Maddening Lost and rolled into my build. I was about to discard the other two drawbacks and closed my build for the second time… when I considered that maybe having Clowns attacking my restaurant every week might be worse than being super rusty at old skills and being a clueless rich girl. I swapped in those 300 CP for the Clowns and breathed a little easier. Now my companions would have to deal with me being an idiot savant instead of being a trouble magnet. I think Mensarius looked crestfallen.

Double checking the list, I discovered a new Immortal Racial Perk I’d gotten as that race’s Freebie and smirked. It was called ‘This Works!’ and made me absurdly good at finding and using improvised weaponry… and made those things I used as weapons more durable than they otherwise would be.

“Right… now I have to go explain to the rabble why they have to reconsider their own builds. I’ll be out there, ducking bricks and tomatoes.”

“Better you than me!” Mensarius called as I exited the chamber.

By the time I got back to my office, every single one of the tablets was flashing a “Build Update” warning, though some were flashing “Approval Needed” or “Invalid Build” or “Rebuild in Progress” or “Master Input Required” as well. I sorted them into piles by type, then looked at the MIR pile first. It consisted of the tablets for Atura, Sophie, Ziggy, and the Astraea trio.

MASCOTS & TEAM ABSENTIA AD ASTRA

I selected Atura’s tablet first to see what was up. The screen showed two sections, one for Soul Eater, the other for Three Stars… and how appropriate, since Meisters were ranked from zero to three stars…. The first thing I noticed was that the list of freebies from the Soul Eater Side had changed. In addition to the Sick Wheels skateboard, there were two new items; ‘Here Lies Jumper’ and ‘Spin Me Right Round’. Figuring that I’d need to know what those were sooner or later, considering how many of my companions were about to become Meisters, I hit the info button… and cringed.

Here Lies was a personalized headstone, a stupidly durable, weaponizable, comes with an open grave in a nearby graveyard headstone. That was spectacularly unuseful, especially for a being like Atura which was not just immortal… Atura was amortal. Spirits didn’t mature and grow. They were just… were. Spin Me was, potentially, even less useful for a spirit, since it was an extremely comfortable swivel chair which doubled as a recliner and never feel over accidentally… it even came with swivel chair combat training so Atura could fight while rolling around in the chair… which is fine (if a bit silly) for normal companions… but Atura had no physical form. Well, at least I could use the chair, I guess. Not this jump, thanks to my reduced height, but… yeah.

The only other change was that, instead of getting ‘Declaration!’ Free, there was now a choice of five… including the ‘Ambition Without Arrogance’ that I’d taken myself.  Atura didn’t need that. The Spirit was pretty much free of either ambition or arrogance as a default. Mostly it was just curious.  The others were ‘Rebel Yale’ which would make Atura a really good and smart student… not necessary… but potentially good, since Atura was keen on soaking up experiences and information; ‘Because We’re Friends’, which which meant that Atura’s friends would put up with his bullshit more… except I was Atura’s only friend (well, me and Soul of Ice and Silent Judge… who were just major parts of me)… and would help Atura put up with our bullshit… which he did automatically by virtue of not really understanding that any of it was bullshit; ‘Patience of a Saint’… which Atura didn’t need because, as far as I could tell, the only way Atura could get mad was if someone spirit bent him into one of those dark spirits; and of course Declaration!

Since four of the five were useless to the spirit (Atura pretty much only talked to me and the various bits of me, and wasn’t the most emotional of spirits, thus negating the value of  Declaration!) I clicked on Rebel Yale and sealed that side. Which left the cooking side… and there were very few of those that didn’t require having a body… so I pretty much took ‘Bistro’ (get coworkers to work faster and more efficiently if you help out) and ‘Staffing Solutions’ (any business you’re a manager or similar at won’t be short staffed or have absenteeism or staff meltdowns) which spent the spirit out on that front too, and locked the build. Then I hit myself in the forehead for signing up for reviewing all these builds. Things I do for friends.

Ziggy’s tablet was, of course, empty, since he only used it to play that game where you bop hologramatic fish. Well, not empty. He’d spent 7000 CP on every regional cooking style on Earth and then some… and Baking. Knowing my little buddy, he’d just poked the strange pictures until they went away and gave him his game back… or got bored and fell asleep on the tablet. From 3-Stars I bought the little fuzzbutt ‘Your Heart is Pure’ since his was. Soul Eater was trickier… Demon Weapons had their choice of two free perks from a list of three, and figuring out what would be useful for a very silly fluffbrain was tricky… or should have been… but the answer was, as it often is, obvious once you think like a ferret.

The choices were ‘Better to Ask Forgiveness’, ‘Backseat Driver’, and ‘Perfect Pitch’. Backseat was all about providing emotional support and catching things that went unnoticed by a busy and hyper focused partner. So that was a yes, since he was my emotional support snugglebuddy most times. Perfect Pitch was all about being a music prodigy… Ziggy had no interest in music at all. Not only did he have no sense of rhythm (his idea of dancing was pretty much just flailing about wildly) he couldn’t actually speak besides making ooks, dooks, and squeaks. Singing was right out. Which pretty much ruled that out and left Better Ask… which was about doing something wrong and getting forgiven by honestly apologizing. Not that Ziggy would use it, since he had no idea what he was being scolded about…ever. Ferrets have no concept of negative reinforcement. None. He’d run headfirst into a wall, then do it again because the wall hadn’t moved yet. Still, it guaranteed that people would forgive him easier, which he frankly needed.

I wasn’t really feeling what kind of weapon Ziggy should be… well, I mean, I was already picturing him as a Chainsaw Halberd, but that was just a form. I didn’t know what to do to make the form a reality. So I read through the various Student Weapon perks… and found what I was looking for at the very end. It was called ‘Wavelength Entity’ and cost half of Ziggy’s points. It would allow the Zig to take on a purely spiritual form and bond with the soul of his meister (me) as a host, empowering me while entrusting me with his weapon form. It would grant a form of serene resonance with anyone he formed a genuine connection with, a link that would bind their souls to him upon their deaths, becoming one with him, a kind of gestalt soul… one that would only grow over time. It would allow us to take on a hybrid form, allowing his meister (again me) to share his powers. It was nice… and it referenced another perk called ‘Uncanny Blade’, which was 200 more, and was also nice. It granted the Zig a kind of super mode that would boost his and his wielder’s physical abilities while granting thematic abilities based on a chosen theme… one based around an element or basic object… for which I chose fangs, because, well… Have you seen the teef on a ferret? Ouchie.

Demon Weapons had their own customization section as well, all about shaping their weapon form. As a default, they had the ability to safely control their weapon transformation and shift between normal and weapon forms quickly and easily. Not only could they transform between the two forms, they could do so piecemeal, though the transformation was one to one, so a hand that turned into a blade would always turn into a blade.  

They could also communicate with the people wielding them through direct soul to soul communication. They also had ‘Mundane Weapon Form’ a basic melee or ranged weapon, such as a sword or gun, but not a chansaw. It was free, so I picked Halberd for some reach, well… more of a Chinese Dragon Blade… though Ziggy would have a ferret / luck dragon motif. Also free was ‘Energy Amplification’, which meant that, while in weapon form, Ziggy (or any of the Demon Weapons) would amp their wielder’s natural energy rather than producing their own. It was like the Meister was a musical instrument and the Demon Weapon was the Amp. That was Soul Wavelength Amplification in action, the sound of the Meister’s Soul amped by a weapon they were in perfect sync with.

Rather ridiculously, the tablet told me that Ziggy also got ‘Alternative Ammo’… which was unlimited spiritual ammo… powered by the Meister’s spiritual energy and useful only to Ranged Demon Weapons… which ZIggy wasn’t. But if I changed my mind, or for the others, it would mimic the shape of whatever it was replacing, arrows, bullets, grenades, etc… and would reflect any elemental affinity the Weapon might have. I guess it was nice, though Ziggy was more stabby bitey than shooty… unless I strapped on his chaingun… and then everything just got holes as he danced about.

Demon Weapons could also become Death Scythes as I’d outlined previously, and that meant they had to have the power to consume souls, though it was a negligible boost they gained from doing so up until that final transformation. I’d have to keep an eye on Ziggy to make sure he didn’t eat any souls he shouldn’t be eating. He was goofy like that.

There were a great many customization options, some discounted, some free… but I knew what I wanted for Ziggy, and went looking for it. Adjustments was a free pick and allowed the Zig to manifest only parts of the weapon form, such as being a staff instead of a Halberd… or just a big knife, that kind of thing. But the real gold was ‘Mechanical Weapon Form’ which cost the last 100 he had, and that added a Chainsaw blade to the top of the Halberd staff. All was good.

I was about to close it out, when I noticed that the Item tab was flashing. I’d forgotten that Ziggy would get items even if he couldn’t use them. Apparently Demon Weapons got a Forest Hotspring that wasn’t so much an item as the fact that, no matter where he was in the world, no matter how unlikely it might be to find one there, every forest would contain a hotspring just beyond the treeline if we looked for it. Weapons also got a pair of ‘Dead-Phones’, which were magical noise canceling headphones with perfect sound quality leading to a hammerspace Ipod with all of Ziggy’s favorite tracks… I don’t think he had any favorite tracks… maybe I’d borrow it. He’d let me if I asked, right? And last was a ‘Love & Care Kit’ which was essentially a first-aid / maintenance kit to be used by the Meister on the Weapon for cleaning and repairs. I’d add it to the basket of Ziggy brushes and vitamins and nail clippers.

Closing out the Ziggy report, I picked up Sophie’s slate, expecting to have to run through it as well… but it was filled out already. She’s a good doggy, and much smarter than her brother (Ziggy, not Mouse… Mouse is plenty smart). Sophie had also taken ‘Your Heart is Pure’ from the Challenge, possibly to balance out the inherent craziness of the Soul Eater Drop In Line. As freebies from Drop-In, she’d selected ‘Sorrowful Howling’ and ‘Family’… neither of which I remembered reading. I hit the info and chuckled. Apparently either my dog or the system was being a smart ass. Howling was a relabeled version of ‘Despair Corner’ which was all about making sad, depressing art, while ‘Family’ was a relabel of ‘Thicker’ which enforced familial relationships, so a mom would have to treat a daughter like a mom should… weird, but from Sophie’s standpoint, probably important.

With her points, she’d bought ‘BARK!’ (a rename of Declaration!) as well as Strong Soul, Unclear Fate, and Mad Moves… none of which had been renamed. Strong Soul was exactly what it said on the tin and granted additional potency to any soul based abilities she possessed and came with peak physical condition as well. It was also a threat, since a Strong Soul was worth 99 normal souls. Mad Moves I had to read three times understand what it was saying. It essentially was permission to act as insane and weird as possible without sacrificing any effectiveness. Crawl as fast as you can run, flick someone with the full force of a haymaker, walk on two fingertips… with your body parallel to the ground, wield a sword with your vagina… didn’t matter how illogical, as long as it was tangentially related to the action you were approximating.

Unclear Fate, on the other hand, was just freaky-weird. It would allow her to submerge herself into a material and melt into it… all without losing any control over her body. So she could bury herself in sand, or sour cream, or water, and become sand… or sour cream… or water. Very strange. But if it made her a happy puppy, who was I to argue?

As a drop in, she also got three items potentially even more useless than those the Meisters got. They were Loose Screw (a screw-shaped knob used to tune your thinking… mounted to the side of your skull… or rather, mounted into the side of the skull. I deselected it for her. I don’t need frankenpooch.) plus Death’s Mask and Cloak (a face mask that reflected your emotions to comedic effect and an all concealing shadowy cloak that hid the wearer’s true shape and size). Sophie didn’t wear clothing… not even a collar.

Astraea, Garl, and Selen were ‘Team Not-Appearing-In-This-Jump’, but I still had their authority passcode master, so I could pick anything I wanted for them. I selected ‘Your Heart is Pure’ for all of them, because that’s the kind of people they were, then decided to emulate Soul Eater Not (the Slice of Life spin off of Soul Eater all about the remedial program at the school and full of yuri / teen lesbian themes), in which the MC was a Demon Weapon girl with two other girls as her Meisters. To that end, Astraea became the Demon Weapon (Better Ask Forgiveness & Backseat Driver plus Adjustments) with Black Blood / Black Blood Weapon, while the Vinland Siblings became Meisters, Garl getting Patience of a Saint and the upgraded Grigori Soul, Selen getting Because We’re Friends… plus the Icon race (Totemic Magic – Lion, Stranger Things, Reading Rainbow), Maka Chop, and Trump Card.

Black Blood was Soul Eater’s version of the corruption of Demon Souls and thus something I knew Astraea would have embraced, as she was very much a martyr, willing to take on personal damnation to save others. It replaced the blood in the victim’s body with a substance that improved recovery time, strength of immune system, blood circulation, as well as physical strength and speed… effectively turning them into a Kishin (an evil monster)… and induced insanity in the person infected by it… which would have been terrible… but that insanity was lessened in impact after the end of this jump, a jump which she would quite likely never visit. The quality of the insanity varied from individual to individual and the specific insanity was up to her… or me. I selected ‘Martyr Complex’ and the system accepted it.

A Black Blood infectee could, if they were in control, make use of the blood’s other properties… such as it could become hyperdense at will, giving the infectee incredibly durable subcutaneous armor, armor that could quickly seal and heal any open wound… such as being able to control, harden, sharpen, and launch any blood that was outside of the infectee’s body… and that was for a normal person. But she was a Demon Weapon now (or would be soon), and Black Blood Weapons had additional abilities. They could liquify for a second or two, self repair thanks to being essentially memory metal, and transform into other weapons for a time. But most horrible of all, they could transmit their own madness to those they injured, spreading the infection. Yes… she was now a sword that could inflict the desire to sacrifice one’s self for others upon those she cut. There was a horrible kind of poet justice in that. After the jump, the Black Blood’s infectiveness would be at will only.

The Icon race was an artificial form of witch (all male, so Sorcerers), and all named Noah (besides Selen), created by Ebion, Great Old One of Knowledge (didn’t know Knowledge was Madness… very Cthulhian logic there). In fact, Icons weren’t just created by Ebion… they were the 7 chapters of the Book of Ebion given physical form. By making her an Icon I was making her a kind of appendix to the book… and I’d made her as powerful as an Icon normally was (far beyond that of a normal Witch). Shame she wasn’t here to help out. Icons got a power called ‘Stranger Things’ which was a guarantee that she’d be fated, even in the most boring world, to meet, see, or experience the most fantastical, interesting, or outright bizarre things that would had to offer. Reading Rainbow was another Icon ability which granted her the power to turn books, or chapters from them, into living beings based on the book, chapter, or even a specific fictional character. The amount of effort Selen pushed into that process (and yes, she could use external energy sources to fuel it) would determine just how powerful the created being was.  It was a fascinating ability.

I also gave her the Soul Eater MC’s primary attack, “Maka Chop” which was a powerful blow with a book summoned specifically to smash in the top of someone idiot’s head. It was purely comedic, bypassing normal forms of durability and protection and leaving a temporary dent in the victim’s head. She could then read the book if she wanted. And I tossed in Trump Card, which made secret attacks that one had been holding back extra effective the first few times they were used. Seemed like Selen’s style.

By the time I’d finished with the MIR… though I really hadn’t had to do anything with Sophie’s tablet, all the others were clear except the Approval Needed flashing on Raven, Brigid, Cirno, and the Twin’s tablets, all of which had specific restrictions in the system

PARTNERS, PASSENGERS, & PROBLEM CHILDREN

Figuring I should deal with the problem children first, I put that off just long enough to check what changes had been made to Toph’s build… not that I’d gotten past the freebies last time. The only change there was that she’d replaced ‘Declaration!’ with ‘Patience of a Saint’, which was a good change. D was more Sokka’s thing.

She’d also grabbed up ‘Strong Soul’, ‘Soul Perception’, and the amusingly named ‘I Will Surpass God!’. Being able to see the souls of the living was a common ability among pretty much all the beings of this world who weren’t vanilla mortals, but Soul Perception was more powerful than that. It could detect hidden or invisible enemies, ID the type of soul and its race of origin, the power of the soul… and even see the mental health of a target. With time and practice, someone with that gift would be able to identify a familiar person based only on their soul data, or even leave the sense on in passive mode. ‘I Will Surpass’, clearly based on the idiotic Black Star (and I refused to even think the star between those two words), was entirely about training, and training hard… and made any such training not only more effective but as effective in training the body as the soul. Meditation could make her stronger… and weight lifting could make her more enlightened… and even effects that amped the physical would amp the spiritual… and vis versa. Any Meister with IWSG would even find that the Soul Amplification from syncing with their Demon Weapon would make them stronger and faster as long as the sync lasted.

I was about to move on to the actual problem children… when it occurred to me that I’d paired Toph with Dyna… might as well check out what the alien had picked up. I’d assigned the least human of my companions to the roll of Utility in the restaurant, simply because she didn’t exactly act like a person at the best of times. That might not matter in as strange a setting as this, but she also wasn’t a people person and found humans a bit confounding. I didn’t want to stress her by putting her in front of crowds.  Which made her part of the supporting crew, where she was happiest being. She too had taken Gardener, which brought the size of the farm to 256 acres, as well as ‘Attention to Detail’ and ‘Talk the Talk’, a general perk that allowed the taker to describe anything so that it sounds fascinating or amazing, or whatever other emotion the speaker desired. It worked especially well on the jaded and dismissive, overcoming ennui and striking at what had made them interested in the first place.

As a Demon Weapon, things got more dangerous quickly, of course. She’d taken Backseat Driver and Perfect Pitch (yes, Dyna liked singing, at least when no one was watching), and the Enhanced Mundane Weapon Form, a gauntlet… to which she’d added Mechanical Weapon From, and Organic Weapon Form… to create Technorganic Power Armor… ouch… She also had ornamental ribbons and active stealth… and the Active Transformation ability, which would allow her to leap across the space between herself and Toph or tackle people even while in weapon form… and she’d scooped up the Drop-In’s Slasher perk to give herself bladed appendages… oh… so unpleasant.  But she seemed to think bladed limbs would help with gardening… and she was probably right, if E. Scissorhands was any indication. With her last 100 she’d picked up the Witch’s ‘Lonesome Toad’ perk which made her easy to overlook. Sad, but in keeping with her character.  I labeled them ‘Team Whipcord’.

The twins too had been assigned to Utility, which I suspect their minder (Tokimi this time round) had taken as an opportunity to banish them to the farm as well, since they too were Gardeners (512 acres), and also had Attention to Detail… but they’d managed to convince someone to allow them to take Superior Bladesmen… I let it slide, since it was knifework not swords… and they already knew more swordsmanship than Aragorn. As a Demon Weapon… I went into their build and replaced Better to Ask Forgiveness with Perfect Pick… didn’t need thos brats with BAF… no sireee. Administrator Privileges for the Win! They’d taken Unorthodox Weapon Form… then taken Multiple Weapon Transformation, which gave them a total of 5 Unorthodox Weapon Forms. They had a list. They were all very silly… a pair of car doors from a 1974 Buick Skylark… I don’t even know if that’s a real car… a pair of comically large boxing gloves… a pair doublebarrel winchester repeating rifles… a double ended Buddhist Priest’s staff with storm lanterns on either end… and a pair of cartoon cannons. Why? I’ve no idea, but they’d paired the weird weapons with the ability to modify the form of damage they did via ‘Melee Damage Alteration’… have you ever been pierced by a boxing glove? Didn’t think so.

They had also spent points getting a Special Ability, in their case one called Twin Teleportal which allowed one two teleport to the location of the other, or the two of them to open a standing portal between their locations… and they’d taken Wavelength Communication so they could link up and use each other as a Meister-Weapon Pair if Tokimi wasn’t around. I suspected that last was her idea, since the boys were not, exactly, simpatico. They fought constantly and schemed against each other no end.

Having checked them, I figured I might as well check Tokimi-chan herself… and found myself wondering why she’d slotted herself in as a Busser. I sent her a querry on the subject, and got back a complete staffing chart that I hadn’t created. It even had a name for the restaurant… “Bar Ziggy”. Toph must have whipped it up at some point while I was with the Bankers. Tokimi, Cirno, and Raven were listed as Bussers, with Frankie, Mini, Kohina, Kendra, and Francine as Waitstaff, Reggy as Maitre D, and Kagetane and Meetra behind the bar. That was Toph’s idea of a Front of House breakdown… and it was so reasonable I almost wanted to argue with her about it.

She’d also broken down the Utility personnel into Supply Side (i.e the Farm… Brigid, Yuzuha, Dyna, and the Twins… which meant the total farm size was about 2048 acres, or just about 3 square miles… which was silly. An acre could produce, with modern techniques, 100 bushels of wheat per harvest… and could do so three to four times a year. A bushel is 60 pounds of wheat… or roughly 56 pounds of ground flour. Sure, we probably weren’t going to be growing our own wheat… wheat isn’t really that difficult to get right… but 2000+ acres was waaay more than we could eat… or a restaurant needed. I guess it was for experimentation.) and Drive Time (Uriel & Petra were assigned to Maintenance, RayRay and Caine as Drivers, and Ryoga and Ahab as our Utility people… i.e. dishwashers and floor scrubbers. Well… at least I hadn’t had to tell either of them that was their new assignment. Yes… yes… I was passing the buck… that’s what partners are for, right?)

Tokimi’s restaurant skills were Attention to Detail (a good thing for a busser to have), Fermenter (i.e. master of pickles, cheeses, and wines… something essentially useless for a busser), and Master Shopper (which suggested she was, perhaps, not particularly invested in being a Bussgirl… I didn’t hold out high hopes for Cirno either… maybe Raven would… naw… Bussing sucks.).  On the violence side, Tokimi had taken Eternal Question (is it male or female? Is it a goat or a waffle? It made figuring out specifics about her… frustrating… and I could see why she took it… besides the fact that it was free) and Slasher (Tokimi the Horror Movie Icon… I didn’t like the sound of that actually.) as well as Wavelength Communication (needed to be a Meister, even if you weren’t one by class choice) and Mad Moves. The two new perks she’d selected were Madness Wavelength (a toggleable and mild Aura of Madness that begins to corrupt the area and people around you very slowly to match your own particular madness… Tokimi’s theme was Answers) and Devoured One (Swallow someone, mind, body, and soul, and gain access to their full suite of powers and abilities… usually by manifesting part of them out of your mouth… and then regurgitate them later, shaken and unaware of what had happened, but otherwise fine… to free up space to do it to someone or something else. Limit one ingestee at a time.)

I dubbed Tokimi and the brats ‘Team Lighthawk’ and moved on to my passengers. Both had, apparently, opted to join this little vacation getaway to the land of Eating… although it was a working vacation. Why not pick up some free skills, or at least experiences, since their CP backing was entirely provisional. The good doctor had Gardener, Attention to Detail, and Try It, You’ll Like it (which coming from here was all kinds of creepy) from the food side, and ‘Thicker’, ‘Slasher’, ‘Madness Wavelength – Discovery’, plus something called ‘Big Top’ and something else called ‘Mad not Bad’. MnB turned out to be a haha, I’m not this I’m that kind of thing. If a damage type targeted the insane but not the evil, she was evil. If it targeted the evil but not the insane, she was insane. Very sneaky. Big Top, on the other hand, would allow Dr. T to manifest her very own Clowns out of her own Madness… infinitely curious Clown-monsters… this in noooo way could go disastrously bad. Why had I invited her along again? Riiiight… I’m not sane. Good note. Thanks me!

As I’d expected, Raven had taken Bussing terribly seriously… not. She’d picked up Brewmaster (for the tea no doubt), Attention to Detail, Iron Stomach (thinking back to the cooking chops of Beastboy and Starfire no doubt), and Talk the Talk. She’d also taken Slasher and Darkness Corner free… plus Strong Soul… and something called Enchanter (it came with free Enchanter’s Gloves)… as well as Maka Chop (which she no doubt was eager to get back home and try out on Garth… Beastboy) and an item called Halloween Year Round… which turned out to be an all but endless supply of candy (complete with bags designed to preserve freshness and keep out ants). Turns out Enchanters mix soul and similar materials with magic to create things… mostly golems… hence their other name, ‘Puppet Engineers’.

I looked out at the pile of tablets still in front of me and decided to go for a walk, clear my head… after one more pair. I should check on my normal partner before I went out among the hoi polloi. Kendra was to be the head waitress… and her build reflected it. She had Talk the Talk, Attention to Detail, and Iron Stomach, plus two of the three staff boosting perks; ‘Front of House’ (pretty much the perfect waitstaff deal… composed and or cheerful no matter what stressors they’re feeling, plus the ability to get even the grumpiest customer to open up and enjoy themselves… also guaranteed never to forget or mess up an order… unless she wanted to) and ‘And What to Drink?’ (Which was a sixth sense for what drinks people will like and what will go with which food, along with bartender and sommelier training).

As a Meister, she had the Patience of a Saint (seemed redundant… she’s put up with Zane for ages, despite his goofball attitude and frankly ridiculous number of affairs… not that I was better, of course, but I wasn’t even pretending to be monogamous… and I think he still out partnered me by a large margin. Not that any of my companions were actually saints in that regard… well, okay, I don’t think Astraea and Garl ever cheated on each other… and Sophie had only been with Mouse that I knew of… though she was a total cuddle slut… she just barked at me… apparently she knows when I’m thinking mean thoughts about her.), Strong Soul, Soul Perception… and something called ‘Anti-Demon Wavelength’, which sounded useful as hell… and it would be. The ADW was a special soul wavelength that specialized in driving away evil in all its forms. Defensively, it was a powered ward against madness, allowing passive sanity regeneration… even if driven over the edge into fullblown crazy. It could even be used to pull others out of madness (though that depended on how insane they were and how strong their soul was). Offensively? It could be infused into attacks to make them extra damaging against beings of madness (even normally intangible ones). And, through resonance, the ADW bearer could grant its benefits to allies… which was bad news for Clowns and Witches, Icons and Fragments alike.

It was all as practical as I’d come to expect from the ex-Slayer. The question was, had Zane been as on the ball? His build was bigger, since he was kitchen staff, so I was curious to see.

He’d gone the path of a Sous Chef… probably hoping to be my second in the kitchen since Toph would be running her own fief in the baked goods department… and specialized in Tamil cuisine… I really should spend some time in India some jump… though I’d never tried tamil food before… huh… should be interesting. His specialty was Poissonnier (not poisoner… a fish chef, including sushi… indian sushi… huh… He’d taken the entire Sous Chef line of perks, going all in; Attention to Detail, Staffing Solutions, Bistro!, and the capstone, Logistical Mind, which granted a constant awareness of the state of our supply chain and how much we had of every ingredient. A thought could fill out paperwork or place orders… orders guaranteed not to contain mistakes (though it didn’t prevent screw ups on supply side)… and once per week he could retroactively place an order so that it would arrive within the next quarter hour. That was cool.

He’d then squandered the remaining block of CP one the Charcutier capstone, ‘Baucher’… i.e. Butcher… which was a mastery of anatomy that meant any weapon or blade he wielded would cut where and when and what he wanted it to cut… on a living being.  I say squandered because a) Zane used guns almost exclusively, b) he was going to be the weapon in this jump, c) fish aren’t hard to cut up, and d) the defensive value (your skin also deflects all but the strongest cuts) was pretty much guaranteed to fail against anything we had to actually fight this jump. It was a good perk… but not one Zane could or would take the fullest advantage of. Maybe it would apply to guns… but cut wasn’t pierce… I guess we’d see.

As a the Demon Weapon of Team Warpath (They’d named themselves) he had Backseat Driver & Better Ask Forgiveness (good… even with perfect pitch Zane should not be singing), plus Enhanced Mundane Weapon Form (Anti-Materiel Rifle), Alternate Universe Weapon Form (Protonic Cannon), the Special Ability ‘Charge Up’… and more wasted points to buy ‘Autonomous’ which would allow him to transform any part of himself into any part of his weapon forms and fight as a half-transformed weapon. Talk about not trusting Kendra… Siiigh.

BOSSES & BADASSES

Setting down the tablets, I walked onto my balcony and yelled “Oy! Team Mini-Boss, Team Vampire, Team Fine China… get your asses over to the Atrium and pick a spot. I’ll be by in ten minutes to try out your dishes. Team Bicker and Team Pigbear… I’ll meet you in the Grand Hall in an hour. Try not to disappoint me.  Team Cassandra, Iceheart, Sundown… you’re last… three hours, poolside.” I didn’t tell any of them what teams they were on, I didn’t have to. We’d been together too long for that to be necessary.

I took my time changing into a fleece jacket and uggs (purely an affectation, since I didn’t experience discomfort being cold… or hot… or really at all), then wandered into the Atrium Dome… it was essentially a botanical garden full of footpaths and small semi-secluded hot tubs and seating areas. I found Joy & Ahab by the model of Trevi Fountain and sat down at one of the small bistro tables and accepted a macciato from one of the butlerbots. Zane and Toph joined me a bit later.

“So… what have you prepared for us today?” I asked, looking all spiffy and bosslike. Joy had gone with a deconstructed grilled cheese and tomato sandwich… it was a bit of a mess, but surprising and not terrible. “And your builds?”

“French cuisine… because someone had to. Eggman Specialization… thats eggs and all the breakfast foods… because someone had to.  Sous Chef all in… because someone had to.” I elbowed Zane to keep him from interrupting, but Joy saw it and smirked. “Someone competent.” she added, then continued, “Saucier Specialization too, since it’s pretty much vital from what I understand… and I Am the Walrus for three reasons. Delicate touch, stamina… and because the Beatles rule.” I nodded, she was right on all counts… Kookoocachu.

“But I changed your design,” she said. “I know you designated me as the Meister of this team… but we talked,” she crooked a thumb at Ahab who gave me a look that said ‘Joy talked, I grunted’. “And decided that we’d both be Autonomous Demon Weapons with Wavelength Communication so we could pair off with each other. Gives us more flexibility. And we work together often enough that in future it’ll be useful. So my weapon form is designed for Ahab’s hands and his for mine.” She waited for me to respond, but I just raised an eyebrow. She sighed “Look, I know it was blowing 66% of our CP, but it made the most sense. I’ll be a Harpoon with Pinprick… that’s essentially extra damage  with the tip… and I took this thing called Eternal Question… I see you know it.” She smiled as I chuckled.

“Okay… yes… know it… and I’m thinking of the ‘Get the Point’ style puns now… so fine. You’re big boys and we’ve got enough combat depth going into this that we should be able to fight off the entire Shibusen even if we’ve been stripped of all our other perks. Though the goal is pretty much to lay low and be restaurant types.  Ahab? What’s your form… tiny little pistol?”

“Boom Box,” he grunted and I looked a Joy.

“Big, heavy enough to hurt, and sonic damage is seldom something things have defense against,” she explained. “He’s got Elemental Manipulation… which means he could even be a boombox that produces silence. He also picked Backseat and Better Ask… and Little Ogre, which is this weird thing that allows you to manifest your inner issues and weaknesses… then beat them up to grow stronger and overcome them.”

I blinked… that hadn’t been in the original I’d read, must have been added in the update. It was kinda funny. “Sounds good. Okay, we’ll go with that. What about on the restaurant side?”

“Master Shopper, Attention to Detail, Brewmaster.” he grunted and I grunted back. Wasn’t like being a UT took much besides Attention to Detail, and with Master Shopper I could send him to get supplies… and he could help with our inhouse microbrews.

“Good. Good. Now get lost and go have fun. Tell everyone that while having fun will be, of course, tolerated, anyone who goes mad gets put in stasis for a decade after this jump ends… and then gets therapy for another jump… same for anyone who OD’s or gets hooked on any narcotics or booze. If I get hooked, I’ll find a way to punish myself. We’re here to work, not to party.” They nodded and left, then i looked to my partners.

“Well?”

“I hope her cooking gets better… that was the worst grilled cheese I’ve ever had that wasn’t on white bread with fake cheese.” Zane commented.

Toph shrugged “It was okay… but the tomato was sliced too thick and the bread was soggy.”

We walked and talked on our way across the Atrium to the New Orleans Jazz Bayou… I’d never been a fan of Jazz, but Zane was, and I could tolerate it if it was upbeat enough. I got a mint Julep and looked to Caine, Meetra, and Bart. “Bart, you’re in the kitchen, so that officially makes you the team leader, even though Caine’s the Meister… I want everyone to be clear on this… the restaurant side is what’s important. The fighting is only for defense of that and the customers. Hunting the bad guys is for the good guys… we’re the food guys. Got me?” Caine shrugged, Meetra looked doubtful, but Bart nodded… intensely practical that one. “That said… Caine, you’ve been slotted as a Driver… I assume that means you’ll be doing pickup of supplies and delivery. You okay with that?”

He nodded, then grinned, “Not like I wasn’t a driver when we met, right?” I chuckled and nodded back. “I figured you’d rely on me to get you what you need, so I went Master Shopper, Attention to Detail, and Taste Tester. If I can get good supplies without needing too much guidance, it’ll help, right?” Zane gave him a thumbs up and Toph raised her ice tea to him. “I picked up Madness Wavelength – Bloodlust… I know it pretty well, after all… and it could be useful… plus Strong Soul and Soul Menace.”

“Menace… that’s the one that allows you to focus your soul wavelength into an actual attack, right?” Zane asked.

Caine grinned… “Yeah… and my wavelength is pure bloodlust and hunger.” I gulped despite myself… he wasn’t joking. He could very well qualify as the Great Old One of Hunger without much trouble if the Challenge wasn’t nerfing him… then again, I could be the GOO of Ice, Entropy, or Sarcasm without trying if I wasn’t limiting myself to try and win a restaurant.

“What about Chuckles and Giggles over there?” Toph asked, hooking a thumb at the Demon-Weapons-to-be.

“Meetra took Empathetic Response… that’ll allow her to sense whenever one of us are facing emotional troubles and figure out what’s causing them and help deal with them. She’s essentially volunteering to be the Counseling department… or part of it if anyone else takes it. She’s also going to be a Light Manipulating Lightsaber… which can modulate what kind of damage it does.”

“So… like… a Lighthammer?” Zane asked.

“A light noose!” Toph chuckled.

“Something light… er… like that. Yes,” the Jedi commented. “As the bartender, Attention to Detail, Brewmaster, Fermenter, And What to Drink… I get that free because you picked the Wine Cellar?” I confirmed and she continued, “Plus Try it, you’ll like it… it was either that or Talk the Talk, but Kagetane took that, so I took TIYLI instead… he’s the other Sommelier apparently?” I confirmed, then turned to Bart, who presented me with a very nice chinese style steak… as in all things he turned his hand too, Bart was a perfectionist.

“Meat is your specialty?” I asked.

“Yes. Argentine style cooking focuses very heavily on meat, so I went with both… plus went all in on Charcutier’s perkline. Sandwich Maker makes me good at pairing ingredients and makes me tops at layering them into a stack or wrap.  Method to Madness gives me control over heat and is thematically appropriate,” I thought about it and then chuckled… he wasn’t kidding. “Don’t Get Out of the Kitchen makes me heat resistant to the boiling point of water, and Baucher-”

“I have it. She knows.” Zane said and Bart nodded.

“I also went with Attention to Detail, Superior Bladesman, Taste Tester… though that’s more for personal pleasure… and spycraft… and Fermenter, since I know how much you like Pastrami, chief.” I laughed.

“Suckup,” muttered Toph.

“I’ll make Thousand Year Eggs for you,” The operative offered and Toph laughed in turn.

“Okaaay. Okay. You win.  But I’m holding you to that.”

I tried not to gag.  Uuuugh. Deliberately rotten eggs. Gross. In a bid to change the subject, I asked for his weapon build.

“Special Ability called ‘Tracker’… Enhanced Mundane Weapon for vibro-sword. Perfect Pitch… SOul Perception… Pulling Potential.”

“What’s that?” Toph asked.

“Means I’m a better amp, able to get more ooomph out of my partner’s soul.”

“Oh. Cool. If you get bored of him Caine-”

“Mine!” the Vampire Progenator snarled and Toph grinned.

“Oooo scary. The Boulder is intimidated.”

“Who?” Caine asked.

“The Boulder does not have to explain herself to you.” Toph snarked.

I flicked her ear, “You are not the Boulder.”

“I could be the Boulder.”

“You could be the Pebble.”

“I can bite you.”

“Later,” I promised, “We’re keeping Bao and Uriel waiting.”

Five minutes later, we found the duo at the duck pond (yes, complete with real ducks and some koi and catfish and minnows) having a picnic and not at all bothered by the wait. Uriel handed me a card that read

Uriel Septim VII – Restaurant Technician

  • Attention to Details – I am aware of my surroundings and coworkers needs
  • Bistro! – When I help out, things go smoother and faster
  • Keeping Up Appearances – I know how to maintain a restaurant
  • Professional Demon Weapon – I kill Kishin and eat their souls. Witches too.
    • Dragon Sword Form
    • Adjustments – I can change my weapon form at will
    • Soul Resonance Finisher – Me and my Meister can combine OOC special abilities into a big finishing technique
  • Earth Shaman of the Wind – I’m a member of the Earth Shaman Race
    • Doe Eyed – I can revert to innocent childlike appearance at will.
    • Elemental Manipulation – I can control the wind

I looked at the mini CV and chuckled, then glanced at Bao to see if he was in on this… he handed over his own.

Scholar Bao-Feng – Tournant

  • Favored Cuisine – Hibeian Chinese
  • Speciality – Brewmaster, focusing on Tea
  • God’s Sandwich Maker – I am expert at mixing up Teas
  • Gardener – I grow Teas
  • Attention to Detail – I notice things about Tea
  • Taste Tester – I am extremely discerning of Tea
  • Heart is Pure – So is my Tea
  • Jack of all Foods – I can make many kinds of Tea
  • Meister – Some call me the Meister of Tea.
    • Patience of a Saint – As long as I have Tea, I am sanguine.
    • Ambition Without Arrogance – I shall be the best at Tea, but humble too.
    • Rebel Yale – I study Tea
    • Path of the Warrior – I walk the just and honorable path of Tea, thus allowing me to grow stronger, learn faster, and become more powerful as long as I stay faithful
  • Earth Shaman – As a Water based Earth Shaman, I have the purest water for Tea.
    • Doe Eyed – This was free for Earth Shaman… I don’t think I shall be using it, as it does not relate to Tea.

“Har, Har, Har… Funny.  You two are real cards… I take it you’ve got some tea for me to… ah… very nice… oolong, with some orange peel and ginger, right?” I revised my count on the Farm upwards… 4096 acres… nearly 6.5 square miles

Bao placed a finger over his lips and pointed at the ducks. I rolled my eyes… it was good tea, but they were ducks… they didn’t care if I talked. I tossed them some crackers… then chuckled as Ziggy leaped from the bushes and chased one big mallad around for a while.

FAMILIAL FOURSOMES

I looked out at the two groups arrayed before me in the Subspace Ballroom / Great Hall I’d had crafted, the shining oak and high glass windows… It was a lovely room which was totally excessive for the number of people I had. It was fit for hundreds. But right now, it held 11… 12 if one counted Ziggy… or my various parts more than once. Soul of Ice and Silent Judge  and Victoria sat in chairs with Zane and Toph, facing me. On one side, standing behind a table with a sign that said “Team Bicker” were Gaius, Reggy, Kohina, & Kagetane. Facing them across a gap was another table, this with a sign that said “Team Bigpear”, and behind it were Yoiko, Ryoga, Petra, and a sleeping RayRay, coiled in a pile, massive head resting on the table.

“That’s Pigbear… not Bigpear, you twits.” Toph snarked. Yoiko gave her the finger and Ryoga bit his thumb at her.

“Today, on Family Fued,” I began, then ducked the various power attacks that lanced my way. “Heeey! This is my show, we do things my way. Yoiko, Gaius, you’re the team leaders, if you’ll come up to the front.” They did so, though my girlfriend was glowering at my father (he was the only parental unit I’d decided to drag along with me on my trip, that made him my defacto father) as if to say ‘This is all your fault.”

He shrugged, “You’ve been with her much longer than I have been alive. Don’t blame me. I’m not even from the world this stupid gameshow came from.”

“Shush you two.  Okay… Gaius… tell me about yourself… and make it a profile, not a list of perks please.”

He rolled his eyes, sighed, then said “Thanks Pat! I’m a Tournant from Italy, a real Utility Meister… that means I can use any tool that comes my way, often more than one at a time! I specialize in Fermenting things, mostly cheeses, but I am an expert in bladework, with a discerning sense of taste and and pure heart! I… hmmm… I’m a Walrus in the kitchen, though there’s method to my madness and I’m a fast study, both in the kitchen and out. One could say that my Trumpcard is keeping the surprises coming!”

I chuckled, “Very good!  Very good!… and Yoiko?”

She glowered bailfully, muttered, “This is stupid.” then monotoned “Hi all. I’m Yoiko, and I sleep with this idiot. I also cook meat. Meat good. Japanese meat. Japanese meat good. Good for sandwich. Good for meat cooking. Cut Meat. Cook meat. Meaaaat!” She pounded her fist to her chest, then grinned “Use Bear Magic for Meat! Turn into Bear! Eat MEAT! People think I am weak link. They are stupid! I am stronge! I am J-Star Strong. J-Star Bear with pure heart! Pure Heart Bear Smash! Uhh… plus, I can use tarot cards to totally see the future and stuff. Am Smart! Also? MEAT!”

Everyone looked at her as if she was mental, which (being a Hibiki) was probably true. I patted her on the head. “Great stuff! Now, we polled 100 people… okay, 25 people four times… and asked them ‘who is the best Jumper?’ Why are you throwing scones at meeeeee!?”

Gaius won that round… there was only one answer at 1200%. I may have cheated on the accuracy of the polling data.

“Reggy, Ryoga, you’re up next. And remember, both of you are human…oid. Use words, not snarls or growls or grunts.” They looked at me with the deep-seated disdain of longsuffering friends. “Ryoga, your team’s behind. Why don’t you go first… Yes, you have to.”

“Look you little brat, I’m going to tan your ass for this later,” he said, looking annoyed, “But sure… fine. I’m Ryoga. I wash dishes, scrub floors, clean toilets because my girlfriend’s partner doesn’t trust me around customers… and she’s probably right. I’m pretty scary. But I took the A… I mean… I… ummm… fuck it… Attention to Detail, that Kitchen thing that makes heat tolerable… Superior Bladesman, even though I don’t use blades much, it says blows or some shit.  Declaration from the Meister side cause the other stuff sucks… Immortal, cause being a werewolf is cool plus they’re good with improvised weapons and I’m all into that shit… Oh, and the despair artwork thing, because I totally understand despair… I mean… not so much now that I’m not an angsty teen lusting after my best friend’s girl who was totally… not into me… that’s fine… whatever… I mean… I’m over it… but I still get what despair can do and it’s totally underappreciated… I’ll shut up now.”

Reggy didn’t even ask me before she started on her spiel. “I agree with him. This is stupid. Talk the Talk. Attention to Detail. Bistro… whatever the hell that means. I thought a Bistro was a restaurant… why would anyone yell “RESTAURANT!”?”

“It’s russian for ‘Faster’. Russian aristocrats would visit france and shout ‘Bistro! Bistro!’ at the lazy french waitstaff who were being all french and totally not falling all over the asshole russians like good peasants should have. The French started calling faster style food service establishments ‘Bistro’ to indicate early fast food.” I explained.

“Well, that’s stupid.” Reggy commented in her typically blunt way. “Anyway… I took Patience of a Saint, because I have to put up with you idiots, and Half-Weapon… I turn into a railgun… because I have to put up with you idiots.” She flicked off Yoiko, picked up one of the tossed scones, and bit into it. “This is dry,” she muttered, then walked off, leaving us behind.

“And that, ladies and gentlemen, is who Toph decided was to be our Maitre D,” Zane snarked, elbowing the earthbender.

“I’ll talk with her. She’s very good when-”

“No. no… it’s fine. A little dry scorn is fine. Maitre D’s are gatekeepers. If she’s a problem, we’ll deal with it then,” I soothed. “Kohina, RayRay, you’re up.”

The perpetual teenager (seriously, she never seemed to age past 16) came up to the podium, while the fiercest of my Mon stomped up looking like the ground should be punished for daring to force her to walk on it (She often hovered for no other reason than she could). “I’ll go first,” Petra said, not even pausing to let me or Kohina say anything. “Pigbear is a stupid name. Bigpear too. The team should be called Rockhead… because that’s what they all are… and my name means rock. But anyway… Since I have to fix things, I took Attention to Detail, that Walrus thing, and Keeping up Appearances… so I can fix things… because restaurants are lame and I didn’t want to be a cook anyway. Can’t we go someplace where we can smash heads in? I liked that Marvel place. Smashing people left and right. I miss pokebattles.” I gave her a look and she siiiiiighed way to melodramatically and continued, “Forgiveness, Backseat Driving… and I turn into a Spider Tank Assault Vehicle because I can… I am totally going to stomp cars.”

“Do you have Autonomous?” Kohina asked.

“Noo… What’s that?”

“Then you’re not going to stomp cars unless your Meister steers you at a car,” Kohina said, smirking.

Petra opened her mouth to retort, then stomped off to go look at a tablet. We all just watched… a minute later Petra snapped “ARCEUS DAMN IT!”, threw the tablet at Ryoga, and stomped out.

“And that’s why she isn’t dealing with people,” Toph said and Zane nodded in agreement.

“Should I go now?” Kohina asked, then introduced herself as I nodded. “Well, you assigned me to waitstaff, so I took Talk the Talk and Front of House and Attention to Detail and And What to Drink… and Keep it Cool… the last just because it seemed like a nice name and I had 200 points left over… I didn’t take Backseat Driver because I don’t want to be a nuisance to Gaius and… ummm… Strong Soul… I mean I took Strong Soul and Pulling Potential… and the Special Ability called Magic Deflection… I can deflect things… attacks I mean… even if they aren’t solid… like energy and spells… and I took the Elemental Manipulation for Madness… cause… Elemental Madness seems like it would be a thing in this universe… is that bad?” She looked around for approval and Gaius gave her a hug while her actual father rolled his eyes and thought murderous thoughts at Gaius.

Kagetane snarled “Don’t ask him for approval. Do the choices make you happy?” the unspoken “you little idiot” was crystal clear to the mindreaders in the room… empaths like Gaius too. Even Kohina seemed to hear it, because she flinched and clung to Gaius even more. I considered stepping in, but this really wasn’t my business. Meddling in intersubfamily drama was something I tried not to do. I didn’t mess with Kendra and Zane’s issues or Bao and Uriel’s spats. I didn’t intervene in Ahab and Joy’s infrequent but highly destructive spats… and I didn’t play favorites when my sextet of lovers were feuding… unless Cirno was involved in which case she was, invariably, in the wrong.

Tokimi, Meetra, Bart, and Toph had relationships outside of the group and so far hadn’t tried to invite anyone to join us. None of them were geared for permanent things really. For the Mon, the idea of long term mating didn’t really occur to them, and Dyna, Petra, and RayRay might be biologically female, but all were essentially asexual. Kagetane was dismissive of the idea of emotional closeness… not surprising since he was a complete sociopath, and Caine had given up sex millennia ago and hadn’t gotten back into the habit as of yet. Raven wasn’t averse to it, but was looking for more than she’d found so far from what I could tell… and Brigid was a survivor of the Camps… I didn’t know if anyone ever really got over that. My own great grandmother had never willingly spoken of her experiences there.

I looked over to where RayRay was sleeping, then went and sat on her head, poking her until she woke up “Your turn, sleepy snake.”

“Can’t I just not?”

“You sleep too much.”

“I’m a dragon. Sleep is what we do.”

“Well, you’re going to be a driver, which means delivery is what you do… on time and accurate and courteous.”

“Fine… but I can sleep once stuff is delivered, right?”

“Yesss… So what did you take.”

“Art on Plates… so I can make things look nice… you know… like setting up the buffet tables or whatever. There aren’t any driving skills… and, it’s not like…” she yawned, then lost track of what she was going to say… which had been ‘driving is hard.’ She did manage to stay awake long enough to say that she’d also picked Forgiveness, Pitch, Soul Resonance Finisher (which made sense since she actually had a massively powerful finishing attack normally), Uncanny Blade, Ornamental Piece (She was very fond of ribbons), and Slasher… (Also fond of blades mounted on her body).

I glanced over at Kagetane. “Meetra said you took Talk the Talk. What else?”

“Sandwich Maker for drink mixing. What to Drink was free… Taste Tester so I’d know what things taste like… Iron Stomach to protect me against things that are a bad idea.  Unorthodox Weapon for gunblades. Active Transformation for the flying gunblade tackle… Death Dealer and Pure Bloodlust.  Uhh… weaponized desire to kill to become faster and stronger the angrier I get… that’s Pure Bloodlust… Death Dealer makes any wound caused by my weapon for to be more lethal… and instilling a sense of impending doom… also good at beheading. If I become a Death Scythe, I will have the capacity to kill that which is normally unkillable.”

I nodded, though I made a mental note to seriously consider if I wanted Kagetane to have that ability. It could, in theory, be used against me and that… that my friends is never a good thing to think about one’s allies.

THAT WHICH IS MINE

Shaking my head to clear it, I dismissed the Judges and went to tend to my own private collection of misfits. Team Cassandra was Yuzuha, Mini, Frankie, and Ziggy… and me. Four Weapons and me.  Because they were mind and I wasn’t going to let anyone else link up with them. Hell, Yuzuha was bound soul to soul, life to life, essence to essence with me. Team Iceheart was Velma and Cirno… and I was more willing to share them, at least with each other… but then my relationship with either was… more complex in many ways than my relationship with Mini and Frankie. Velma was close to being my intellectual equal (at least as close as anyone besides VIvian and Francine could be… certainly as close as a human could get)… and Cirno was very very much not. But relationships are built on emotions not logic and the complexity was… hard to explain. And speaking of Francine, she and AJ were Team Sundown. I honestly couldn’t remember when I’d started referring to them as that… but they were so similar and so diametrically opposed… like Sundown and Sunrise… Somehow the name had just stuck in my head.

Cassandra was a somewhat ironic name I’d given myself, since when I spoke the truth, people believed me, unlike the actual Cassandra.  Maybe she hadn’t believed it enough, or hadn’t been passionate in speaking truth to power. However, for this jump, I’d be a litteral Cassandra if I tried it, since I wouldn’t have my treasured ability. Ah well, the things we do for food.

I walked into the poolside area, set aside for my inner clique (minus the Hibikis) and hugged AJ from behind. “Heya kiddo. Wazzup?”

“M… Mother! I… umm… nothing. We were just waiting for you and Yuzu was claiming that… ummm… you weren’t perfect because a perfect being wouldn’t associate with us… well, her…” I ruffled his hair and shook my head.

“I’m not perfect. Not by a long chalk, but, and this is important, a perfect being wouldn’t judge others for their imperfections. That’s part of being perfect. And stop claiming I’m perfect. I just do the best I can.” I kissed his hair and hugged him until he stopped trying to protest… then picked him up and tossed him into the pool, though he wasn’t dressed for it. “Would a perfect being toss their most faithful friend into a pool wearing a hoodie and jeans?”

He sputtered, then growled “I’m going to steal your hamburger for that.” I used the water to pat his head.

“You go on thinking that. Go get your sister and grab me some eggsalad and a coke.” I walked over to Yuzuha and sat next to her. “Still doubting yourself?”

“N… no… well. I mean… I’m kinda evil and crazy and I do stupid… noooo hugs!  Hugs do not solve… no tickles!!!!!!”

Telling someone they’re being silly never works, but letting them go on with their doubts isn’t a good idea either. When a friend is depressed, all you can do is be there for them. If it’s an enemy… mind control works too. “Tell me about your build… and just because you were stuck in the Farm doesn’t mean we don’t trust you. It just means you do better with nature… you’re a tree, remember.” She frowned… but I’m very good at lying too. “We do love you, you insufferable goofball. ANd we’ve all done bad things when we were hurt.” I didn’t mention that those bad things usually don’t include eating children… but they probably would have. Power and opportunity plus alienation and anger can do terrible things to the nicest of beings. When you’re the other, lashing out becomes second nature. I wondered if that was applicable to Soul Eater?

“Ummm… I took the Sandwich thing cause I like Sandwiches and Gardener and Attention to details cause Toph said I should.” I nodded, making a note to ask Toph if she’d suggest before being asked. “Weapon stuff was easier… I like singing and don’t drive,” I had to bite my lip to keep from pointing out that Backseat Driver had nothing to do with driving. “And I figured you had a sword… so maybe one of those grenade launcher pistols from that movie about the sky pirates and the blue stone?” I nodded to indicate I knew she was talking about Laputa, but didn’t interrupt her ramble. “So I took this thing called Soul Eater that lets me gain abilities reminiscent of the people whose souls I eat… and a Special Ability called Trap Layer that’ll let me shoot traps out… and Wavelength Communication incase you’re not around and someone needs to wield Ziggy.”

I ruffled her head. “Sounds like you put a lot of thought into that. Good choices… go get some hotdogs and watermelon… it’s fresh from the Lifestream. You did good.” Slightly terrifying how similar my most powerful weapon was to an abused dog rescued from a pound.

My next stop was the kittens, Mini and Frankie, who were, as always, together, plotting no good (though always fun). “How’s my girls?” I asked, approaching with arms wide to demonstrated that I had no water balloons up my sleeves… not that it mattered, but the gesture is what mattered. It was an unspoken rule that if you approached someone in that mode, no pranks would be forthcoming… when dealing with what amounted to a pantheon, intention and gesture were all one could rely upon.

“We’ve been plotting against you,” Mini announced, while Frankie shook her head and pointed the finger of accusation at her coconspirator and sister-wifeling. I scooped them up in my arms and hugged them both with a little more force than was needed.

“You two are a delight as always, but plotting against me works much better if you don’t tell me that you’re doing it.”

“WOuldn’t work. You’re a mind reader and those two,” Mini indicated AJ and Francine, “Are too. So are Dyna and Joy and… you have too many bodyguards.”

“And prankcognition,” Frankie added, then bit me on the shoulder. As it wasn’t combat and she’d spontaneously decided to do it, I only knew she was going to do so as fast as she did. I could have prevented the strike, but where was the fun in that.

“Betrayal! Treachery most foul!” I cried, then blew a raspberry on Mini’s stomach. “Ha! Two can play at that game!” Mini of course protested that it was Frankie who’d bitten me and I lied and claimed I was unable to tell them apart… which prompted them to prove how different they were… but those details aren’t for the eyes of others.

As we floated on the pool on an iceflow covered in soft warm furrs, I asked the question. “Okay you two, what did you buy?”

Frankie, as the slightly older, began “We bought Talking the Talking, Attentioning the Details, Fronting the House… stop tickling me! I’m Serious the Being!”

Mini continued as I stuffed a cookie in Frankie’s mouth to shut her up momentarily. “Beverage Sixth Sense, and Iron Stomach.”

“Did you two buy the exact same thing on the Soul Eater side too?”

They shook their head and Frankie opened her mouth to explain, but I silenced her (and prevented a cookie crumbsplosion) and let Mini explain.

“Oh… no. We have different specializations… her’s is Shadow Strike… you know, stepping into and out of shadows or attacking through them…” I indicated understanding by poking her nose then twirling my finger to indicate that she should continue. “And mine is Bullet Time… Since you won’t have your time control abilities and you rely on them… and they’ll be useful for me too… and we have different themes to our magic.”

“Magic? You’re not Witches.”

“We’re Monster Kitties!” Frankie said languidly.

I wrinkled my brow, “I thought Demon Weapons couldn’t buy racial options.”

“Hybrid Monster Cats… costs an extra 100… but comes with two bonus abilities… Totemic Magic… Plant based. Mine’s the Thistle… for Scotland. Hers is the Briar Rose…”

“For Bitey!” the black kitty explained. I rolled my eyes at the terrible joke (Blighty is Britain… Bitey is kitten… see, I can be horribly punny too.”

“And the other ability?”

“It’s called ‘Good Kitty’… I think it guarantees we’ll run into new people… er ‘friends’, every day no matter where we go, and if we help them with their problems, they’ll become fast friends… cute, able bodied types mostly…” Mini voice of reasoned.

Then Frankie ruined it by explaining “It’s also almost guaranteed to be silly!” I pinched her bottom in retaliation. She grinned, “Just consider yourself lucky we couldn’t afford ‘Nice Pussy!’ It was naughty!’

“It wasn’t that naughty… it was a beauty, seduction, and err… flirtation booster.”

“Aaah. Well, I consider myself lucky to just have you two at all… so I won’t worry about the niceness of any… feline references.” I waggled my eyebrows playfully. “Anything else?”

“Just the Backseat Driver and Perfect Pitch freebies.”

“Does that mean you three are done flaunting yourselves in front of impressionable children?” Velma snarked from the side of the pool. I looked over and smirked “AJ and Francine are older than you and you’ve got a naked ice fairy on your lap.”

Cirno protested that she wasn’t naked… she was, in fact, wearing a ribbon in her hair and a collar. I conceeded the point, then apparated off the ice to land behind them… and pushed them into the water. “Just for that, I’m going to talk to the ‘children’ first.”

Velma and Cirno shared a wet look, then smirked, “Just means you’re saving the best for last.” I ignored them.

“Okay you two. Report.” I demanded, standing at parade rest and allowing the ice vapor to coalesce around me into the semblance of clothing.

“Ah… I decided to help out Toph… so I took Patissier… so did Velma in fact… and both of us are Bakers, of course… Though I specialized in British cooking, while she specialized in New England Cooking… I think it was intended to be a joke, but she says New England has moore focus on seafood and less on bland cookies, too sweet chocolate, and beans on toast. I like beans on toast,” he protested.

“You like beans. No matter what they’re on.”

He considered then nodded happily. “And fried foods!” He wasn’t kidding. Didn’t matter what it was. Fish, Sausage, Tomatoes, Potatoes, Rice… if you fried it in a pan (not deep fried, just fried) he’d eat it. You could fry cardboard and he’d probably scarf it down before he noticed… then ask for more. “I wasn’t creative or anything. Just took the whole Patissier line, plus Attention to Detail cause I figure that’s got to be imporant, Superior Bladesman because I am one… Jack of All Food so I can learn fast… Ambition Without Arrogance… that’s got to be useful if I ever run into a swordsman that’s actually my equal… besides you of course.” I nodded but didn’t comment. He was almost certainly better than me in terms of pure skill with a blade, but he’d never admit it.

“You went Witch… so I got Portal Manifestation… just in case you need rescuing… since that power is the only way to get to the Witch World unless we capture a Witch and force her to take us.” He blushed as I gave him a hug.

“You’re too good to me, kiddo.”

“Not at all. You’re… everything to me… to us.” Francine tried to act as if he wasn’t speaking for her; not because she didn’t feel the same way, but mostly because she didn’t like to express emotions… or show weakness… or depend on others… she was almost a cat. “I also took Sleepwalker, which will allow me to fight at full power and skill while asleep or unconscious.”

“He also took War God,” Francine reported, making AJ yelp.

“B… Bushin! It’s called Bushin!” he protested.

“Either way, what does it do?”

“Uhh… makes me a war god… kinda… it said absolutely unbelievable physical abilities from strength to speed to durability… hand to hand combat skills greater than even fully trained Meisters, reality / physics defying feats of pure awesome… like breaking laser beams with my bare hands and then throwing the chunks of light… or punching someone twice with the same hand at the same time… though it’ll take ‘furious training’ according to the document.”

“Huh… Cool. No reason to be embarrassed by that.”

“Seems like bragging,” he muttered, then looked to Francine. “You want me to tell her what you bought?” I couldn’t quite tell if he was teasing her or not, but she pinkened, but nodded.

“She bought a perk called ‘I Beseech Thee Oh God’… it’s designed to allow the user to call upon whatever they believe in most to gain a temporary power up.” He looked up at me and I nodded, understanding who would be the focus of that belief.

“Gotcha… what else? I assume Talk the Talk, Attention to Detail, Front of House, and And What to Drink… those seem popular among the Waitstaff.”

“Brewmaster, Strong Soul, Her weapon form is a Giant Spoon because she’s mental… and something called Death Dealer. I don’t-”

“I know. Yeah. Kagetane’s got it too. And no, he worries me much more than your sister. She’ll be fine. It’s not an instant kill and requires being a Death Scythe to even pull off.”

“I… yeah.”

“And you wouldn’t use her against me anyway… and I’m pretty sure your wavelengths would both collapse at the idea of attacking me seriously.” I left him to think about that with a kiss on the forehead, and one for Francine too though she pretended she didn’t enjoy it.

“Okay, talk.” I addressed Velma. “Patissier, New England, Baker. All in on Patissier. Attention to Detail… that left you 500 CP left. What did you buy?”

The ex-detective didn’t question how I knew. Either AJ had told me or I’d deduced it. I was right, so she continued from there. “Master Shopper, Entremetier… veggies are good for you and have lovely flavors if you do them right. Rebel Yale… it’s a study guide perk… Anti-Demon Wavelength, it’s… I can see you know that one… do you know Light in the Dark?” I shook my head. “Allows me to channel anti-fear emotions into physical or spiritual power… and brute force my way through any fear I do feel… plus a willpower and courage boost.”

“Sounds nice. Cirno, can you give a breakdown I’ll understand?”

“Yes! I bought the Saucy thing! And Eggs! And Poisons!  And… and… I’m really good at cooking… you shoulda put me in the kitchen! I can totally make cakes and cookies… But I also bought the Empathy so I can help everyone feel good… and that one where I get to do whatever I want without Velma having to fondle me… and… and… oh, I can control an Element!”

I sighed, and asked “Which Element?” dreading that she’d wasted points buying Ice… again.

“LOVE!  It’s the best element!  Well… after Ice!… Velma? Why is she hitting her head against the table?”

INSERTION

“WHAT KIND OF PASTA DO YOU CALL THIS, YOU FECKLESS GARBAGE EATING USELESS SHITWEASEL!” I panted… I really shouldn’t let the incompentence of useless beings get to me… I really shouldn’t, but it was damned hard not to when THEY KEPT MESSING UP!

Things had been going… eh… not great for the first few years. I’d remembered enough of the show to know that the Witch Medusa was the catalyst for most of the drama and seriously considered just having one of my followers assassinate the bitch, or just calling Shibusen (the Death Academy) and saying “Hi! Did you know your school doctor is actually a Witch named Medusa trying to bring about your destruction?” But I didn’t.

I had no real interest in saving this world, as it was pretty terminally fucked up and “saving it” was pretty much impossible without becoming worse than Death. Anyway, I had a restaurant to run and a criminal syndicate to appease.

Of course, that criminal syndicate turned out to be Arachnophobia, the secret world spanning organization that had been built by the Witch Arachne over the last 800 years since her supposed death… which essentially meant I was working for Hydra… but my cell was focused entirely on cooking and anyone who came near my restaurant (or my truck) with anything even vaguely resembling orders for me to do anything I didn’t want to do very quickly learned that YOU DON’T FUCK WITH ME!

It’s possible I was insane. It certainly seemed likely. Hyperfocus is a form of insanity, right? And I was hyperfocused. Clueless at times about the reality of normal people… as in why they didn’t think tiny mouthfuls of food were perfectly proportioned… or why they felt they deserved to be treated as if they weren’t scum! Vile, awful, horrible scum… HOW DARE YOU ASK FOR SUBSTITUTIONS! EAT THE FOOD AND GET OUT!

Still, I managed to learn differently, slowly… to appreciate the customers… just a little. I spent a lot of my free time in my Food Truck, trying out new dishes and spreading word of mouth… and occasionally beating the ever living crap out of whatever supernatural baddy thought it could step to me. I WAS UNTOUCHABLE YOU FUCKING HACKS! YEAH, YOU WANT SOME! COME GET SOME! I DIDN’T THINK SO!

Really, it was all very restful running a restaurant and not getting involved in the meaningless garbage of saving the world. I had a strict schedule. I was in bed by 2am, up at 6am to get to the markets, then down for a nap at 8 while the prep team did whatever I DAMNED WELL TOLD THEM TO DO, and in the truck from 11 to 2… then another nap from 3-5 and it was time for dinner. Repeat, Thursday through Saturday. Sunday and Monday were for training, Tuesday and Wednesday was dinner only for me, with other members of the staff running the truck those days, and the restaurant on Sunday and Monday.

Things were tricky for a while, but I set very high standards and Bar Ziggy slowly began to overcome my extreme unpopularity… YOU FUCKING COCKSUCKING COWARDS! I’LL MAKE YOU EAT THOSE YELP REVIEWS YOU UNCULTURED HEATHEN BASTARDS!

As I was saying, I worked hard to overcome negative press and supply problems, and the raging incompetence around me, and even managed to limit my snacking… well.. Not so much limit as assigning an assistant chef named BRAD! (no, it was not possible to speak of BRAD! in lowercase. This is because BRAD! was utterly FUCKING INCOMPETENT AT ANYTHING BESIDES MAKING SNACKS.) I swear, I think he enjoyed being yelled at. Apparently he had a cousin at Shibusen who was, if anything, an even bigger fuckup.

Still I kept at it and by year five I had my first star, thanks in part to cheating by having a tarot reading every day to predict if the Michelin people were coming that day. Sure, sure, I earned my star, but it’s much easier when you know damned well there isn’t a SPY FROM THE STAR PEOPLE in your restaurant on any given day.

I even began catering to the growing number of lunatics by making and selling ‘Anti-Insanity Wavelength Potions’… and my establishment had several “Wavelength Cancelling Pillars” within it to ease the… let’s call them issues… of both staff and patrons. I wasn’t allowed to cheat about earning the stars, but I was going to use every iota of magic to improve my chances with the strange… sorry, with the FUCKING INSANE METAPHYSICS OF THIS FUCKING INSANE WORLD!

But then, then… three more years passed before that second star… and that took a total menu overhaul and a restaurant redesign to achieve… fucking hell, that… that kept me up nights, gnawing on some really excellent baguettes courtesy of Toph… who’d opened a side business as a bakery called “Better than Sex” next door… and the press tried excoriating her for sensationalistic marketing… but fuck them.

By that point, Arachnophobia had long since gone the way of the dodo and things had settled down largely in the metaphysical world, with most beings of any calibur knowing enough to stay the hell out of Paris or the Bar Ziggy Coven would EAT THEIR MOTHER FUCKING EYEBALLS… then their souls… though… of course, their custom was welcome.

Any friend of Death was welcome, as long as it wasn’t a Meister trying to murder me FOR MY SOUL! I mailed more than one of those LITTLE ARROGANT COCKWEASELS back to the academy postage paid.

All that changed, though, a few months shy of my nine year anniversary, when the EVER LOVING QUEEN OF THE WITCHES DECIDED to have her EVER LOVING BIRTHDAY BASH at my restaurant… I couldn’t say no, could I? COULD I? I COULD NOT!

And that’s when the VAMPIRES AND WEREWOLVES ATTACKED! EN MASSE! GOD FUCKING DAMN IT! I… may have lost it at the point where they shattered my fishtank and someone stepped on FREEELANCER. Some big foot moron squished my SLUG!

I yelled… really, really, really loudly… so loudly, in fact… that something inside my soul… cracked… and I fell into darkness.

Next – A Bioshocking Twist

Resources – Soul Eater Document, Three Stars Document, Build

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