World 77: Honor Harrington – Part 3.02e

CROWN OF STARS, Solace of Manticore Book 2

Part 2: Fox Hunt, Chapter 5

Previously: Fox Hunt, Chapter 4

Solace groaned, wincing at the sound of small arms fire cracking against the plasteel wall near her head. Her head throbbed abominably and she couldn’t feel Gilly or Barnabie or Elsa anywhere. What she could feel was fear baking off Anna and Kristoff and anger baking off her own ‘cats. She looked around, recognizing the decor of Winterberg, but not the room itself.

“Wh… where are we?” she asked, having to clear her throat and half yell to be heard over the weapons. “And why are people shooting at us?”

“They’re trying to shoot down the door,” Anna said. “We’re in the Observatory Tower.”

“It’s connected to the rest of the palace by a narrow walkway. Too small to bring their battlewagon up,” Kristoff added. “It’s only wide enough for two people at a time… and the little robot did something to make the balcony retract.”

“I have merely activated the privacy function,” OLAF said. “In case the young lady and her gentleman would enjoy some privacy… the others seem most intent on being rude.”

“Where are Gilly and Elsa?”

“They’ve been taken into custody,” Anna said, then sighed as the firing stopped.

“Attention, terrorist scum,” a woman’s voice said over a PA. “This is Captain Anika Stoltz, Palace Security. Release the Princess back to the custody of her rightful husband and you will be merely imprisoned. Resist and you and all your conspirators will be shot!”

Anna gaped, then opened the door to the exterior walkway. The wind was howling pretty fiercely, but OLAF had a built in EON sound system (EON being short for Empty OrchestratioN), and so her words were probably audible across the twenty meter bridge. “I’m not married, Anika!”

“That’s what the Prince said you’d say. Don’t worry, we’ll protect you from the traitorous prole! Be aware, your comrades have already been arrested. Your plan has failed.”

Anna looked to Kristoff and whispered, “What plan? And why is Anika talking like this? She never uses words like prole… or scum. It’s like she thinks she’s in a bad holodrama.”

Kristoff just looked confused, but Solace swore. “I’ll bet you anything she is thinking exactly that. Yohan probably used the trip up here to push at her like he pushed at you… you were acting like a teenage girl in a teenage romance… Gilly’s made me watch more than my share of them… Maybe it’s easier for him to push stereotypes that are cultural touchstones than just random behaviour?”

Anna shrugged. “I dunno, but he better not hurt my sister… or your daughter… oh… oh dear… what if he’s influenced my aunt or grandmother… or the regent.”

“Regent?” Solace asked.

“Yeah. He said he’s here on orders from the Regent to bring Elsa back to appear before the Storting,” the princess explained, bringing Solace up to speed on all that had happened in the last fifteen minutes.

“Uh… Princess…” Solace said, “You do realize that the moment your sister was crowned, the Regent’s power ended. Your sister, not the former Regent, is the Head of State, and your uncle is the Head of Government. As of a few hours ago, Sophia Bellweather is a private citizen whose only public concern is as the chief administrator of the Gothel Institute.”

“Oh… well… he said… and… and Anika’s following his orders… what did she say?” Kristoff said, having spoken over the Security Chief’s words.

Solace replayed the words in her memory, then said, “She said, if you don’t come out, we’re going to blow the bridge.”

“What?!” Anna gasped, “But… but I’m in here!” She grabbed the microphone in OLAF’s hand and yelled, “Captain Stoltz! ANIKA! Stand down! This… this isn’t… you’re not thinking clearly! You don’t take orders from Yohan! He… he’s not even Jewelian!”

“Silence, you treasonous witch! How dare you kidnap your sister and bring her to these… these revolutionaries!?” There was a general growl from the men behind the Captain, their bunny ears having been traded for helmets with the crest of the Jewel Kingdom shining on the front and the scintillation of muscle augmenting systems gleaming on their all weather uniforms.

Solace peered out the window next to the door and eyed the woman. Her eyes were closed and she was breathing hard, her face twitching, and Yohan, standing next to her, was grinning sadistically. “Shit. He’s pushing her hard… I think he gets off on it. What I wouldn’t give for a gun right now.”

“There’s an old rifle I grabbed from the mantle over the fireplace,” Kristoff said, holding it out to her. “But there’s only three rounds in the clip. I don’t think they’ll go through public security uniforms… they look like sporting rounds.”

“Magazine,” Solace corrected, pulling out the bullet holder, checking that it did have three rounds in it. They were target rounds, the kind a biathlete would use, and she remembered that Queen Iduna had competed in the biathlon in her younger days. “And I’m not going to aim for the uniform.” She cycled the chamber with her teeth, then braced the rifle atop the small robot and told him to stand perfectly still as she peered down the iron sight, holding the gun with her good hand. “Anna, once I fire, cycle the gun for me.”

“You can’t seriously be planning to… it’s a blizzard out there,” Kristoff said.

“Don’t hurt Jane,” Anna said, worry deep in her voice. “She’s not-”

Solace wasn’t paying attention to their words; she was all in the moment, and with deliberation, she squeezed the trigger. There was a crack, a scream, and she swore. “I only grazed the bastard… Anna, cycle the rifle!”

As the princess did so, she watched the young princeling clutching the side of his face where his cheek had been ripped open. He was yelling at the Palace Guards, but they were looking shocked, confused, and he was reaching for something, grabbing a box out of what looked like a Tech Sargent’s hands. Solace breathed once, exhaled slowly, and fired just as the Princeling toggled a switch and pressed the first of two buttons on the remote… the thing exploded, taking part of Yohan’s hand with it. The scream was audible even over the howl of the wind, but was drowned out a moment later by the sound of plasteel supports ripping apart over the crunch-boom of composition explosives blowing away two thirds of the tower’s support structure.

As the tower began to pull away from the mountain’s face, the robot, three humans, and two treecats fell away from the door, sliding across the floor and ending up braced against the furniture that had slammed into the balcony walls on the far side of the room. “Oh… oh my goddesses… we… we’re… we’re going to faaaall!” Anna gasped, looking out at the valley floor far below.

“We’ve got to jump,” Kristoff said.

“That’s insane!” Anna pointed out, trying to climb the smooth wooden floor that was slowly becoming the wall. “We’ll die!”

“No… we won’t. Well, we might not,” the mountaineer said. “It’s a slope beneath this window.”

“And a cliff at the end of that slope!” Anna pointed out.

“Yeah… and there’s got to be a good seven or eight meters of fresh powder down at the bottom. If we can slow ourselves enough on the slope, we won’t shoot too far out.”

“That’s insanity,” Anna said, shivering as the windows began to crack from the torque of the tower’s slow breakdown and the weight of the heavy furniture.

“Here,” Solace said, wrenching something off her waist and pushing it to Kristoff.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“It’s an emergency anti-gravity unit,” she said, “Put it on.”

“Do you always plan on leaping out of high buildings?” Anna asked.

“If you’ve ever nearly reentered a planet’s atmosphere without a ship, you tend to be very well prepared,” Solace said. “I grabbed it when we got into the aircar… now put it on. It’s not enough to stop your combined weight, but it will slow you down enough… take Ruth and Naomi with you.”

“What about you?” Kristoff asked.

“I have a broken shoulder and that psychopath has my daughter. The ‘cats can get you to her. Rescue them.”

“What about you?” Anna echoed.

“I’m going to pull this trigger in ten seconds and blow that window lock apart,” Solace said. “You have until then to get that belt on Kristoff, and until then to get a very good grip, Anna. Save Gilly.” She raised the rifle one handed, aiming for the only thing keeping the balcony closed, and said, “Five, four, three-”

Kristoff grabbed Anna as he finished getting the belt into place and closed his eyes, saying a quick prayer and holding his breath. Anna whimpered, holding on tight, the two ‘cats half squished between them.

Solace eyed the weird Flygia thing and said “Sven… if you can understand me… take them to Arto…” and she pulled the trigger.

====

“And that’s the last we saw of her,” Anna explained to the Manticoran ambassador. Loyalty-unto-Death was a strange name, but the man was friendly and had brought cocoa. He’d apparently been fetched to Oaken’s shop by the redoubtable Ulrike after she’d left them there, and had made his way to the Sjora enclave after trailing the Palace Security forces. He’d been waiting for them when they arrived, guided by the all too happy Sven who didn’t seem to think that sliding down a mountainside with bits and pieces of crashing tower falling all around you… then falling off a hundred meter tall cliff to land in a hill of snow was anything but the height of fun.

Even now, Sven was squeaking and chittering to the other Flygia, almost certainly telling them about all the fun he’d had leading the clueless humans through the forest and evading the ‘cats, who looked very grumpy if Anna was any judge of xeno-beast expressions. They looked like they wanted revenge… and she was having trouble blaming them.

“Well, technically, I’m not supposed to get involved in matters that are purely internal to Jewel,” Loyal said. “But I can take you back to the city. Mister Kristoff, just so you know, the news is reporting that you, Erik Kristoffson, and your rebels attacked the wedding ceremony of Anna and Yohan, killing the princess before Palace security could kill you and your co-conspirators. They’re also claiming that my sister and niece were witnesses to the marriage, and that the death of her sister has driven the Queen, already unhinged, insane. Solace is listed as being among those slain by your people.”

“Why would they do this?” Anna demanded.

“I believe that Yohan is attempting a coup-de-maine as it were. The former Regent is presenting evidence in front of the Storting at this very moment that Elsa is unfit to rule, and that Yohan had been working with her people to uncover details of Pro-Havenite sympathies among the Worker’s Commune… I believe that’s the group you’re allied with, young man?” Kristoff nodded. “The news is claiming that your leaders, someone named ‘Vance Halberton’ and ‘Wodar Oaken’, have been killed,” he paused to wave to where the big man was brushing the fur of a large Sjora.

Oaken grinned and waved back. “Yoho!” he cried, oblivious to the fact that he was supposed to be dead.

“Incidentally, I believe very much this to be a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing,” Loyal said, turning back to his audience.

“Why do you say that?” Anna asked, shivering despite the warmth of the Sjora longhouse.

“Because Wodar Oaken is an agent of Palace Security who has been tasked with keeping an eye on the Worker’s Commune and its growing contact with a suspected Havenite agent who calls himself ‘Stilskin’… and whose file back at Manticore House says that he’s the aforementioned Vance Halberton. Everything our embassy has on Halberton says that he is a rabble rouser, not a terrorist. He’s a long term asset, not someone who tries to blow up the queen.”

“Is… will my sister be okay?” Anna asked, then added, “And your niece?”

Loyal frowned, but then shrugged, “Yes. At least for the time being. Elsa will be humiliated and dethroned, if this plan goes through. Gilly is probably fine. They need her to sign off this fiction of a marriage. This whole thing strikes me as half-assed. Yohan and Sophia have to be working together, and have to be hoping that no one sees through this ridiculous charade. It’s too audacious… and poorly executed.”

“So… what do we do?” Kristoff said.

“Do?” Loyal asked.

“To rescue the queen and your niece?”

“Ah… well, I suppose we storm the palace,” he said.

“We?” Kristoff said, looking at the six humans gathered in the room. “A supposed rebel, a legally dead princess, a legally dead maybe terrorist maybe palace security agent, a driver, and an embassy marine?” He waved vaguely at the young man standing near the door with a scanner in one hand and a pulse-rifle in the other. “Can’t we just go to Public Safety HQ?”

“We could… if we knew who to trust,” Anna said, understanding. “But then Yohan and Sophia might kill Elsa and Gilly.”

Loyal tapped his nose and grinned at the princess. “Got it in one, your highness. We need to recover the hostages and neutralize Yohan before he can work whatever mojo he’s up to… you don’t have any mental powers, do you?” he asked.

“No. I… I don’t think so. We could try and bring my cousin into this… but she’s been under the care of Professor Bellweather for years… Is that the plan? She gets Charlotte on the throne as Yohan’s wife? Is my uncle in on this?”

“I doubt it,” Oaken said, coming over. “The Grand Duke is a good man and he loved your father… and Iduna was his baby sister. No. I think the Regent has been playing us all.”

Anna considered, then sighed. “I know how to get into the inner palace… but I’ve never been outside the walls of the inner precinct unescorted.”

Loyal looked to Oaken, “Any chance you know a way through the cordon?”

“In theory? There shouldn’t be one… but if the conspirators really don’t know that I’m Palace Security, then… yeah, my ID should get us into the cordon, and then your Ambassadorial clearance gets us into the inner precinct.” The big man tried to put the Sjora down, but she was clinging to him and making a soft singing purring sound that was making Loyal and Kristoff’s pants very tight.

“Great,” the guard said, “We should get going then.”

“It’s not full dark yet,” Ulrike said, speaking up for the first time in nearly an hour.

“It will be by the time we reach the palace,” he said, frowning at the young woman.

Anna looked back and forth at the two of them, then at Loyal, “Are they dating?”

Loyal laughed, “Not hardly. Ulrike thinks Duty is a stick-in-the-mud, and Duty thinks Ulrike is a…” he frowned, “that she’s a little too enthusiastic.”

“She’s a creepy stalker whose attached herself to Solace and follows her everywhere like a puppy,” Duty snapped, glaring at Ulrike. “And she’s a pervert.”

“Duty?” Anna asked, then giggled, “Wait… is he your little brother? I know most Manticorans don’t have names like Loyalty, Solace, and Duty… he is, isn’t he!”

Loyal grinned, then shrugged, “He might be. My parents tell me he is. But he takes himself so seriously!”

The youngest Smythe grumbled something as Anna hugged him, “I know you’re worried about Gilly… and upset about Solace… We’ll get the people who did this. I promise. And they’ll stand trial for crimes against my kingdom, and yours.”

====

Twenty minutes later, they were gathered back into the Andermani aircar, a coalition of three nations trying to save their loved ones… and a kingdom from chaos. The weather was growing more brutal with every passing hour, the entire fjord frozen over now, every building coated in ice, and no one could figure out what the conspirators were thinking not turning off the weather system.

After pausing to meet up with an Andermani agent who provided body armor and small arms, the makeshift rescue team scooted through the cordon without trouble, thanks to Oaken’s ID, which had not been flagged at all. If Palace Security found it odd that the Manticoran Ambassador was riding in the Andermani Ambassador’s car with an agent of their own, they said nothing about it, and they did no more than give the vehicle a scan for explosives or nucleics before allowing it inside the government precinct of the palace.

Getting into the Inner Palace, where the Queen still had every right to be held even though she was under house arrest, took even less time, thanks to Anna’s intimate knowledge of the sprawling complex, a knowledge gained from nearly a decade of almost unsupervised exploration. Everything was, in fact, going along swimmingly… until all hell broke loose.

All over the palace, alarms and claxons began sounding, and security blast doors began dropping to cover the exits one after another. Within seconds, the palace was in complete lockdown… at least to the outside world. Inside, it was a madhouse as the computer system went into emergency shutdown. Everyone looked to Anna.

“What?! I didn’t do anything!” she insisted.

Kristoff hugged her shoulder and laughed, “I don’t think they were saying you did… What do we do now?”

“Oh!” She blushed, then muttered, “Sorry… ummm… I have no idea… I don’t know what could cause this… but it might help us… we don’t have to worry about security being reinforced from outside unless… unless… let’s head to the security control center.”

“Won’t everyone else be heading there?” Duty and Ulrike asked at the same time, then glowered at each other.

“Yes,” Anna said. “Almost certainly. There or my sister’s suite. But the system is locked down from there, or crashed from computing. Either way, the entire system is blind. If it’s locked down, we can try to take it over from central. If it’s crashed from computing, then we can take out whoever’s in command at central if they’re with Yohan.

“Bleek?” said a small voice from the ventilation shaft above her head.

Anna looked surprised, glancing around to where Naomi was perched on Loyal’s shoulder and Ruth on Oaken’s massive frame. “Who?” she asked, then yelped as the vent-frame bent and ripped free, dropping with a clang at her feet.

Barnabie’s head poked free and he grinned a toothy grin at them. He was covered in dust and his fur was alive with static electricity, but he seemed healthy. “BLEEK!” he exclaimed again, then dropped out of the vent with a twist and a fwump. “Bleek. Bleek-bleek. Bleeeeek!” he said, waving them forward. Bemused, Anna followed, and the others padded after her.

As they moved through the halls, they heard the squeaky chirping of Flygia more and more often, found more than one of the strange furry weasel-bats perched on a statue or dragging a pillow or book under a couch. Pictures and vases had been knocked over, and it became clear that somehow, the Flygia had invaded the palace and were, for some reason, causing chaos on a grand scale. In their Palace Security outfits, the troupe was largely ignored, as everyone who saw them simply saw them chasing yet one more fuzzy trouble-maker.

Eventually, they arrived at a door that was resolutely being guarded by two members of a guard-force that was definitely not Jewelian. The heavy combat armor looked like something members of a brute-squad would wear, and the crest on their chest was that of the royal family of Manderlay. The duo was ignoring the chaos around them, and the screaming from inside the room with equal calm… which turned out to be their undoing, as Ulrike and Duty were on them before they knew it and the duo went down hard, in a way that suggested that, if they ever got back up again, it would only be with serious medical assistance.

The door they’d been guarding resisted being opened… for the space of time it took Oaken to bodyslam it, the locking mechanism bowing, then snapping under the force of nearly two hundred kilos of solid muscle, bone, and lutfisk.

Bursting into the room beyond, Kristoff spotted a figure dashing out the side door, a figure dressed in a white formal suit and half his face bandaged. Thus, distracted, he missed what the rest of the group saw.

Strapped to a heavy medical exam table tilted sixty degrees downward, Gillian Smythe was topless and covered in welts and her own blood. Standing over her was Sophia Bellweather, holding a neuro-agonizer whip in one hand, and a spray bottle of something orange in the other. The room stank of medical grade disinfectant, sulfuric acid, blood, and urine, and from the state of Gilly’s body, it was clear she’d been enduring this treatment for several hours, probably since the Storting’s emergency meeting had been delayed until morning.

Two more Manderlayian goons moved to block the door their prince had rushed through, and another three moved to interpose themselves between the doctor and the interlopers. All five looked virtually identical and no one had any doubt that under their helmets, the two in the hall would prove to be more of the same gene-set. Still, even if they hadn’t been functionally identical, they all probably would have made the same mistake. Seeing armed humans, they aimed for them… which meant they weren’t aiming for the treecats.

With a roar like a buzzsaw, Barnabie launched his massive bulk off the floor and landed, all six sets of scimitar claws bared, right in the leftmost goon’s face. The man died nearly instantly as the hugely strong and intensely pissed off arboreal slammed two true-feet into his collarbone and, gripping his jaw and cheekbones with hand-feet and true-hands, jerked in two different directions at once, snapping the man’s neck with an explosive crack. With a twist, in the time it took the other four to even begin to process what had happened, the B had launched himself from the man he’d just killed, toward the second.

Distracted by the scene of a totally berzerk treecat, the two by the door died in nearly perfect unison as Ruth and Naomi lept from their perches and, with synchronization born of telempathy and decades of practice, ripped out their throats with casual savagery.

Goon three was comparatively lucky, therefor, as Oaken, still moving with the force that had shattered the door lock, simply bodychecked him into a wall so hard that the wood paneling and part of the ceiling fell off, revealing the underlying battlesteel.

Sophia Bellweather gulped, looking down the bores of Duty’s tribarrel, and squeaked, “I… I surren-” Which was as far as she got before there was a sound exactly like a pair of heavy metal buckle snapping. Gilly’s legs hooked forward and, grabbing the doctor by the neck, twisted with brutal efficiency, supplexing the woman into the table even as she wrenched herself free.

Gilly staggered to her feet, holding up one hand to keep anyone from touching her, least of all her still hissing treecat. She grabbed another bottle, this one a big two liter container, and splashed it over herself, stifling a groan of agony as the contents fizzed and sizzled on her skin, washing away the blood and dilute acid that had burned her skin. She took a towel from Ulrike, stepping over the gurgling form of the ex-regent, ignoring the woman’s spasms as her damaged spine tried to transmit signals from a half crushed skull.

“Where’s mom?” she asked her uncle.

“Dead,” Kristoff said. “Yohan dropped the Observatory Tower into the gorge. We saw it going overhead… she gave us her gravity belt.” He indicated Anna and himself.

“And told us to take them,” Anna said, indicating the cats.

“Do you know where the Prince was heading?” Loyal asked his niece, trying to distract her from her grief. “Or what’s going?”

“No… Barnabie escaped into the vents when they tried to cage him… but Prince Shithole wasn’t happy when he realized he couldn’t use his whammy on me… maybe he’s going after the queen?”

“Are you okay?” Anna asked, “I mean… you’re clearly not… but can you walk?”

Gillian looked down at herself and chuckled, “This?” she motioned the acid burned welts. “Believe it or not, but I’ve had worse. Let’s go.” No one questioned the assertion; it had been too matter of fact to allow much doubt.

With Anna pointing the way, and now surrounded by the contingent in a moving box, they made their way to the queen’s quarters… but they were empty. “M… maybe she’s in my parent’s rooms?”

“She’s in the Donjon,” a voice said from across the hall.

“Grandma?” Anna squeaked, turning to look into the window’d alcove. “W… what are you doing here?”

The Queen-Mother… or rather, Queen-Grandmother, chuckled dryly. “Everyone always forgets old ladies. I swear. It’s like we’re invisible or something. Who do you think crashed the palace’s security and has been keeping everyone locked out of weather control…”

“B… but why? The city’s getting buried!” Anna said, torn between panicking and being impressed.

“Because I know those idiots in the Storting!” the old woman chuckled, “In the last eighty-five years, they’ve delayed every meeting if there was a blizzard… even the fate of the Kingdom won’t get them out in weather like this!” She rocked on her heels. “That girl’s naked… get her something to wear… and then go get your sister… all this craziness over a little winter magic… humph.” She held out a hand and a Flygia landed on it, collecting a small gummy-bear, and chewing on it happily with much squeaking.

“Your grandma’s a crazy Flygia lady,” Kristoff half-whispered, then ooffed as Anna elbowed him in the belly. “And you hit like a very small girl,” he added.

Gilly refused her uncle’s jacket, claiming that her skin hurt too much for wool, but she did accept a plush cotton bathrobe liberated from Elsa’s room, though it tore right down the back the first time she flexed her shoulders. She shrugged. “Better than nothing.”

As they climbed the stairs of the Donjon, the tallest tower in the castle, they heard the sound of Yohan yelling at someone, though his words were largely incomprehensible until they got closer. The cold wind gusting down the tower’s single spiral stairwell told them that the windows on the top were open and the howling of the wind was both obscuring his words and carrying the tone to them. He was furious.

They burst into the room to find Elsa backing away from the prince, her eyes wide with terror and full of tears as he railed at her, threatening her with an old fashion cutlass. Her hands were encased in some kind of steel mittens and her head was crowned by some kind of technological device that was, no doubt, causing her enough pain to make focusing her abilities all but impossible. Still, the room was covered in frost and the horrible man was screaming at her, telling her how she’d ruined everything, how she’d killed her own sister and if she’d just been a little less of a bitch, everything would be better, everything would have gone fine, and the manticoran bitch wouldn’t have shot him in the fucking eye!

“Shame it wasn’t a throughshot,” Anna said, startling the Prince who had forced her sister back onto the balcony at sword point. It was clear that if Elsa moved even another couple centimeters backward, she’d fall off the tower, but if she didn’t, she’d end up impaled on that all too sharp blade.

Yohan growled, raising his blade to bring it down into the queen’s heart. “If I can’t have-” he began, but Gilly flung herself across the gap, bringing her hands together to catch the blade as it dove heartward. “What… the hell?”

“Ye… yeah?!” Anna said, “Why didn’t you just knock him off the balcony?”

“He’s got a chain!” Gilly grunted, holding the sword point away from her own chest but she could feel her palms getting slick despite the chill.

Anna looked and realized it was true. He had a chain in the other hand, the chain that connected to the cuffs her sister was wearing. “Hans… release my sister and we’ll… we’ll guarantee your return to Manderlay.”

“Return? Are you kidding? They’ll hang me just because I’ve embarrassed the family! Noo… I want-”

No one ever learned what he wanted as, at that moment, Gilly shoved him backward a centimeter and the top of his head disappeared in a shower of gore. Anna blinked, looking out across the city… that wasn’t possible. The only place that shot could have come from was almost six kilometers away… at night… in a blizzard. She looked at Gilly, then gulped. “Your mother’s a very scary woman.”

“She says to tell you that reports of her death have been greatly exaggerated… now, if you don’t mind… I’m going to pass out.”

======

The next few days were a riot of politics at its worst and at its best. Miraculously, Sophia Bellweather had survived her injuries, though she’d never fully recover, even with regen. There’d been too much brain-damage. Her notes however, accessed with her biometrics and set to scramble if she’d died, revealed much. It had been through her experiments, using samples of Charlotte’s genome and brain-scans, that she’d figured out how to augment Yohan, turning him into whatever it was that he had been.

Her notes also exonerated Anika Stolz, who, freed from Yohan’s control, revealed everything she’d done to the Queen’s council. To a man, the council decided to keep the knowledge of what Yohan had been capable of secret, knowing that the paranoia public knowledge of it would cause would outweigh any security advantage. Especially since there didn’t seem to be any way to detect it. The notes were classified, the institute absorbed into the Ministry of Health & Welfare.

The Grand Duke, under suspicion, earned or not, stepped down, and the Grand Duchess was forced to publicly admit how she was duped by ‘that horrible Bellweather woman’. Anika Stolz’s mother, Jane Stoltz, Minister for Public Safety, became the new Prime Minister.

Gilly and Solace recovered, and Solace had been forced to explain how she’d free-climbed the outside of a crumbling tower, reaching the top-side of it just as the last support failed. She’d then essentially used the tower as a massive toboggan, leaping free of the structure right before it could plunge off the cliff. It had been one hell of a hail-mary, and it almost hadn’t worked… except for OLAF, who’d pulled her out of the snowbank she’d gotten wedged in and hauled her back up the slope to the Winterberg… which turned out to have an arsenal and an underground garage.

To her family, and the Queen (and Anna) she admitted that only her link with Gilly had made the shot possible. She’d felt her daughter’s panic as she’d come back into the city, and, landing the royal aircar atop the nearest convenient building, had dialed in the shot as fast as she dared. And in the end, only the incredible flight-time of the shot and the functionally instantaneous nature of their link had allowed Gilly to get Yohan into position at the last possible second.

For their assistance in thwarting the coup, the entire crowd was given medals… even Sven, who was given the Jewellian Order of Merit (as were Arto and Anika… despite the later’s protest that she’d nearly doomed them all and definitely hadn’t helped! Politics and saving face, eh?). The treecats, Kristoff, Ulrike, and Anna were all given the Magnus Cross, the third highest award in the kingdom’s repertoire… While Solace and Gilly were given the Order of Freedom, the highest award, given to anyone, civilian or military, who risked grievous bodily harm or death in the service of the state and her people.

And then, as a special award, right there on the floor of the Storting, Queen Elsa, the Winter Queen, now confirmed in all her dignity by the body politic and with the full backing of her people (who now had their very own fairytale princess as queen and no one else did), gave Gillian Andros-Smythe a personal gift for personally saving her life. Gilly looked completely flummox as, completely off script, Queen Elspeth kissed her, full on the lips.

Anna, standing next to her sister, laughed and whispered to her monarch, “Hey! You can’t marry that girl! You just met her!”

Next: Crown of Stars – Part 3: Cat and Mouse or Gift of the Maegi (Omake)

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EssJay’s Omake Theatre #1 – Part 2

EssJay’s Omake Theatre Presents

The Making of a Big Box Store

AN: This takes place sometime during the events of Undertale Isekai, but its exact canonicity is questionable.

Previously: A Very Strange Request

Jouya looked over the forms. There was a sheaf labeled ‘Special Circumstantial Operational Options Packet’, all of which looked like drawbacks, another booklet labeled ‘Generic Transmigration’, and a third pamphlet labeled ‘Vital Statistics & Other Details’. “Ten minutes… a week?”

“Sorry. Anything more violates the divine non-interference mandate,” God explained. “Rules and all that.”

“Does that ten minutes include the time it’s going to take me to fill this out?” she asked, looking at the pages. Reading it wouldn’t take long; even without the power to read anything printed instantly (something she’d lost when most of her other selves had been… embargoed in another multiverse.) she could still manage to read sixty pages in less than a minute. Perfect recall is a hell of a tool. But reading and planning were different as climbing a tree and carving a canoe from it.

“Oh no,” God assured her. “Only ten minutes of direct observation and contact. You can have an hour to do the prepwork.”

“Wonderful,” she said… then realized she was talking to no-one. Instead, she was on a different sky-platform entirely, this one decorated in a less Japanese style. In fact, it looked like something Jouya might have designed herself… if she was feeling a hawaiian vibe. There was a large wooden chest in place of the chest of drawers, a trestle table carved with hawaiian symbols, and a snack-bowl full of what looked like pork cracklins. She tried one. “Mmm… pineapple.”

Settling on one of the cushioned stools, she considered her new charge. “Soo… Iwilei… are you male or female?” Iwilei had been a dock area of Honolulu during the early days of colonial contact, and had been the place where Hawaii’s extremely problematic and exploitive history of prostitution had started. By the start of the 20th century, the area had been stockaded in an attempt to control the level of prostitution, but nearly a hundred and fifty prostitutes had continued to work the area until the Governor had ordered it closed down in 1944 at the behest of the moral majority. Of course, that hadn’t ended prostitution in Hawaii, merely moved the venue (mostly to Chinatown) but then again, no regulation in history has ever stopped the oldest profession.

“John or Jane? What a terrible light to cast you in, little one,” she commented to herself. The word Iwilei itself meant Yard… as the unit of measurement… or Collarbone. No help there, and the ‘i’ ending in Hawaiian wasn’t gendered. “Hell with it,” she said, flipping a coin. “Female it is.”

For obvious reasons, this entire process was proving harder that it would have been with an actual person. After all, a person would have a history, a personality… something to work with. They’d have had a body that hadn’t been a store. This was madness… but it was now her madness to resolve. “Polynesian, obviously,” the arbiter of this new entity’s fate said, making a note and grunting with approval as a young, attractive Pacific islander took the place of the featureless female floating in front of her.

“Good… give her some tattoos, Maori style,” Jouya instructed. “Being unique should help her find a sense of herself that isn’t merely copying others.” She watched the black patterns unfold across the smooth brown skin, and considered. “Clearly physicality is going to be most important. Can’t say much about personality, but she was a big block of steel and concrete. Maxed Resilience and Resistance to change. Peak Strength too. Decent endurance. Give her fair Reflexes and Speed as well, even though buildings aren’t known for having any. Best way to keep her from getting hit by a truck again… Baseline human Flexibility and Coordination though.”

As the system, whatever it was, ran through the changes, the not-quite a goddess looked around and sighed. “I need a ferret to talk to; I’m like a crazy lady, talking to myself.” None was forthcoming… so she summoned the next best thing and rubbed the belly of the white tiger kitten in her lap. If the cat was concerned at being summoned, it didn’t show it, making only grumbly happy purr-rumble noises.

Once the system pinged that it had finished the physical changes, Jouya brought up a model of the new being’s mind and spirit. “Well… not quite a blank slate. That’s good.” The individual who had become Iwilei Costco already had the Basic Appeal package… clearly a sense of self-care inherited from the fact that a clean store was vital to corporate image. She had a boosted level of Resolve and self-motivation as well, unsurprising for a business. Her raw Intelligence and grasp of Logic wasn’t particularly good, but her Memory and Learning Rate were excellent, though not as good as they could have been.

With a few more points to assign, Jouya gave the new lifeform a small boost to Perception (store security) and Charisma (knowledge of basic psychology so as to not alienate potential customers… or suppliers). She considered giving her the ability to go without waste products… but that would (perhaps) make her too alien. Instead, she gave Iwilei control over her own fertility cycle. “Just in case. Don’t need little franchises everywhere… and don’t want her to have to ask why she’s losing vital fluids… having to explain about needing to eat and excrete is going to be a lovely conversation.”

And with that, the once building was now the seed of a person, a person who would be able to improve herself and grow over the years to come. She didn’t have many skills… Bookkeeping, Customer Service, Logistics, Basic (and extremely limited) Food Prep, Occupational Health and Safety, Public Relations, and knowledge of English, Spanish, French, Japanes, Korea, Mandarin, and Icelandic… but there wasn’t any way in the Body Mod system to fix that… well, she could have given her basic life and survival skills… but those could be learned and were thus a waste of extremely limited points.

“Okay kitteh,” she commented, draping the cat over her head like a hat, “Let’s see what’s in this Special Circumstantial Operational Options Packet, yeah?” The cat yawned, but gave a sound that might have been approval.

What the SCOOP turned out be was a list of nearly fifty potential Drawbacks, each worth some amount of CP. Some were Chain Long, others could be limited to a single Jump. She still wasn’t certain if this Iwilei would be a Jumper, or if they’d remain in their new world for the rest of their… her life. Either way, this was a way to get a potentially vast amount of Choice Points to set this new person up for the trials to come… even if some of those trials were just the Drawbacks she, Jouya, had selected for her.

“Well… since she’s going to have no idea what Jumpchain is, or what any of this means, even if I explain it to her very quickly… let’s take ‘What Are Drawbacks?’. No point worrying her about things she won’t be able to properly understand anyway.” WAD meant that Iwilei wouldn’t know she’d taken any Drawbacks or what they were… and would thus get more points for each of them. WAD was (optionally) part of ‘Without, Why?’ which came with no knowledge of the Chain or what perks, items, benefactors, or Choice Points even were. Both options had already been highlighted with little post-it flags marked ‘Recommended’.

Having already flipped a coin once to determine Iwilei’s gender & sex, getting extra points for doing so seemed gratuitious, but more points were more points. Since she wasn’t even certain Iwilei would move on, or who might be in charge of that if she did, Jouya also tossed in Semper Preparatus, which changed the traditional decade length of a jump to anywhere between seven and fifteen years… at random.

“Let’s see, Byakko… what else can we give that might be fun… mmm… fetch quests!” Jouya grinned, discovering Bitch of Destiny and dialing it up to the third level… sixty-three various tasks ranging from easy to super hard that would have to be completed before the end of the jump. Sure, failure to complete all the tasks would end Iwilei’s chain… but since Iwilei knew nothing of the Chain, what did that matter? Unless the world Miss Costco was being sent to was a crapsack, would staying be bad? Would being sent home even be possible? Also, tasks were character building.

Also character building was trouble and adversity. At least in these stories it was so. Challenge begets advancement. To that end, tossed a few more drawbacks at the budding individual. “Just for good measure… you know…” The white tiger chuckled nervously. Sometimes her mistress worried her deeply.

“There… that’s an additional fourteen-forty Choice. Let’s look at the Transmigration booklet.”

As expected, a voucher for a thousand Choice was tucked inside, bringing Iwilei’s total to nearly twenty-five-hundred. “Let’s get some more,” Jouya said, laughter tingeing her voice as she flipped to the Local Drawbacks.

“Don’t you think you might be enjoying this too much, mistress?” Byakko asked. “What happens if this poor girl can’t handle everything you’re throwing at her?”

“We have absolutely no idea what she can or cannot handle. She has literally no life experiences. Very nearly a blank slate. Everything is going to be potentially traumatic to her. There is no way to know what is enough and what is too much. The scent of grass could make her nauseated, the open sky induce agoraphobia, the first time someone yells at her could turn her into a psychopath. All I can do is give her the best chance at an interesting and varied experience and hope she copes. I’ll nudge where and when I can.”

There was a local drawback limit of eight-hundred, and pretty quickly Jouya found five (including a zero point toggle) that would do well enough… especially since WAD would add an additional two-seventy to that total, since it made dangerous drawbacks more dangerous to have no knowledge of them.

The toggle, A Full Life, would give Iwilei anywhere from seventy to a hundred and fifty years in her new world… enough time to settle into being a person… and (perhaps) make any potential transition to any hypothetical third world seem more natural. Another Drawback, Sealed, was free points, since it locked out all previous purchases… something that Iwilei didn’t have any of… and made her knowledge of physics slightly wrong… not that she had any knowledge of that arcane philosophy.

The other three… ah, that would be telling. This is a story, afterall. Suffice to say that they were a little mean, but guaranteed to make certain that Iwilei was a person of importance. Now to see if she, who had been destroyed by fire once, could withstand the furnace of fate. Would she stand tall… or crumble under the fires of fortune? Only time would tell.

To Be Continued in: Enter the Box Store

Name: Iwilei Costco

  • Sex: Female
  • Gender: Big Box Store
  • Species: Polynesian Human
  • Hair: Dark Brown
  • Eyes: Ebony Black
  • Skin: Mocha Brown w/ Black Maori Tattoos
  • Affinity: Physical
  • Quality: Anomalous

———–POOLS———-

  • Health: 2000
    • Damage Resistance: 75 {50}
    • Quick Healing
    • Resistance to Change
  • Manna: 250,000 {10}
    • Cap Removed
  • Willpower: 25 {15}
    • Determination
    • Relentlessness
    • Study / Practice Patience
  • Luck: 25
    • Fateless
    • Opportunistic

————STATISTICS——-

  • Strength: 35
  • Endurance: 20
  • Speed: 15
  • Reflexes: 15
  • Coordination: 10
  • Flexibility: 10
  • Fertility: 15
  • Logic: 10
  • Memory: 20
  • Learning: 20
  • Perception: 15
  • Charisma: 25 {15}
    • Charming
  • Appeal: 25 {15}
    • Dirt Bane
  • Empathy: 10

——SKILLS——–

  • Bookkeeping: 30
  • Customer Service: 20
  • Logistics: 40
  • Food Prep: 5
  • Occupational Health and Safety: 20
  • Public Relations: 20
  • Linguistics: 20
    • English, Spanish, French, Japanes, Korea, Mandarin, and Icelandic

——–QUIRKS——

  • User Interface (The thing you are using right now. Will help you understand what’s going on. Includes Status Screen, Minimap, Funds Counter, Skill List, Power List, & Notepad. Voice Activated. Only you can see this.)
  • Ascension (Stats can growth, but not without limits)
  • Blank Slate / Newborn (No Biases)
  • Hero’s Title (You are Important. Others Will Sense This. Befriending you would be wise, angering you would be dangerous.)
  • Hero’s Vigor (You heal very quickly. You can gift your toughness and quick healing to others with a touch.)
  • Hero’s Quest (Your efforts to help others will be rewarded. Others will remember your deeds, and you will grow stronger the more you help others. The more challenging the task, the greater the reward.)
  • Accustomed (You will pick up new languages and customs quickly. People will find your social mistakes charming rather than rude.)
  • Cultured (You have a gift for understanding and reproducing any food, game, toy, or luxury item you have personally experienced, and can cobble together something similar with whatever’s on hand. Selling these wonders to new cultures will be child’s play.)
  • Regretful (You have boundless patience and determination for study / practice. Doubly so for tasks you enjoy. You are nearly fearless in the face of danger.)
  • Protagonist’s Charm (You have a natural mix of good looks and personal charisma. This will make it easier to attract friends and connect with others.)
  • Protagonist’s Luck (Events seem to conspire to throw opportunities in your lap, and misfortune befalls you less often than it should. Don’t push it.)
  • Empty Frame (You are outside the thread of fate. Your soul has unheard of room to grow. Your mana reserve is 1000x that of a master mage, and has no limit to how high it can be expanded with training.)

———POWERS——–

  • GACHA (You can spend Mana to generate Gachas of various levels. The more valuable the average prize, the more Mana expended. Potential Gachas include but are not limited to items or monsters from anywhere you have visited.)
  • ABSORPTIVE STOMACH (You may safely eat / digest anything and have it sustain you. Your body will gain permanent enhancements from whatever you eat.)
  • DIMENSIONAL STORAGE (You have access to all your possessions. They exist inside an extradimensional space, in stasis, within you. You can summon any of them by an act of will and a small expenditure of Manna. You can call up a list in your UI with the INVENTORY command. You may send non-living things into your Inventory at will.)
  • INTERNET ACCESS (You may connect to the internet of anywhere you have visited and generate a wifi signal which others can use if they have a wifi enabled device.)
  • CAVE OF BEGINNINGS (You may open the way to a low-level dungeon that you control. It lacks a Dungeon Heart or Boss Floor, but will draw mana out of the air to generate traps or monstrous residents. It has the potential to grow more powerful over time.)

———-ITEMS——–

  • Bag of Coins (This is enough local money to pay for a cheap inn and meals for a couple months. This bag refills itself once per year.)
  • Adventurer’s Remains (4 sets of beginner adventurers’ equipment suited for different classes. Includes armor and weapons, and a small handbag filled with weak healing potions. This equipment restocks itself every month.)
  • Golem & Formula (A Guide to creation and control of simple humanoid golems, made from mundane materials. Comes with one stone golem premade.)
  • Alchemic Metals (A cubic meter each of mythril, adamantite, and orichalcum. This supply restocks once per {ERROR}, but there are rumors of a method to synthesize these metals from base ingredients; a method that has been lost for centuries.

——–{ERROR}———-

  • ERROR, BoD3 Tasks Not Found, Tasks Completed 0/63
  • ERROR: Starting Location not found
  • ERROR: Save State not found
  • ERROR: Runtime not found
  • ERROR: Details not found – WW, WAD, SP, NE, CD, ™, HC, CF, OoD, P*Local, THS*Local

EssJay’s Omake Theatre #2

EssJay’s Omake Theatre Presents

DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE

Being a Chronicle of Zed the Jumper and her army of Walrus-Men (Probably)Jump 1: Worm

I looked at the flyer on the wall, then looked around. It was lime-green and said, ‘Live the Adventure! Silverlady Multiversal Cosmic Tours!! Interworld Travel! Action! Drama! Free for the Daring Soul. Call 1-800-Jump-365.’ in two different fonts and with a weird pattern of asterisks breaking up the text. It was about as non-descript as it was possible to be. Was it a joke?

I thought about it for a couple of seconds, then grinned. Well, if it was a joke, at least I knew who to play it on. Tugging the flier down, I pocketed it. I had a cellphone, of course. I was sixteen and it was nineteen ninety-nine, the year the artist formerly known as Prince had sung about in that old song. Everyone in my social bracket had a cellphone. Now I just had to wait until my best friend got done looking at the new Lord of the Rings Minis. 

“Zed,” Val yelled from from across the game store, waving to get my attention (as if I could miss the six-foot six carrot-colored duffus). “Do you think Elrond or Celebrimbor would be a better fit for Duncan?” Duncan was Val’s new half-elf wizard in my D&D campaign and he was looking for the perfect mini… even though we didn’t play on a dungeon grid or anything. We mostly just sat around Ben’s basement on the sofas and bullshitted our way through adventures with me as the GM and the others as my hapless goons. The small weaselly ones sometimes helped by climbing up onto a couch or table and playing with the dice, but it was my game and if I wanted to bring my ferrets, anyone who told me not to wasn’t going to have their character live very long.

I wandered over to the towering redhead who was four inches shy of being two feet taller than me, and looked at the two figurines he was holding. “Want to go on an adventure?”

“What?” He didn’t even look up from the figurines as his face twisted into a frown. I repeated myself, which caused his frown to deepen into a scowl. “No, Zed. We’re not trying some weird new restaurant you heard about that’s eighty miles away and just so happens to have a hamburger bigger than your head.”

“You liked the place with the giant burritos,” I responded, pulling out my cell and dialing the number.

“We drove across two states to get there and got back at five AM! No burrito is worth that!” he grumped as I waved his complaints away. I am excellent at waving complaints away.

“Yes, Hello? Silverlady Multiversal Cosmic Tours? I’d like to-” That’s as far as I got before the world ground to a halt around me and a young woman, clad entirely in a skin-suit that looked like liquid silver, and maybe twenty or twenty-two strode over to us. She grinned, then plucked the two figurines from my best friend’s hands… his total unmoving hands. I blinked at her, then at Val, then back to her as she regarded the figurines.

“Celebrimbor’s full Elven, and a warrior. Your friend would be better off with Eldrond,” she opined,

“Elrond,” I responded instantly, without even thinking about it. Who had even asked her! How dare she… she… look so good! And why was Val frozen… why was everything around me frozen. Oh god. She’d frozen time for everyone but me. I started hyperventilating a bit and thought, for a moment, of pulling the CRKT tactical folding knife out of my pocket… then thought better of pulling a weapon on anyone who could (apparently) stop time.

“What?” she asked, looking blithely unaware of my concerns or considerations.

“It’s Elrond. Not Eldrond,” I explained… I get pedantic when I’m nervous. “There’s only one ‘d’. What the hell is going on?” I blushed a bit as that last just kinda tumbled out of my mouth.

“Oh! Sorry,” she held out her hand. “I’m the Silverlady… you can call me Jump-Chan. I come from the Internet.” A Reboot badge appeared on her chest for a second, then faded back into the silvery liquid fabric.

“Riiiight…” I agreed snarkily, “and that means you can freeze time?” It was a stupid question, but not really one I could avoid asking. My entire sense of reality was hanging by a thread at that moment.

“Oh, child…” she laughed, waving a hand airly. “I can do sooo much more than that. Now, you’re in luck. As the ____th caller,” I couldn’t make out the number. “You’ve won an all expenses paid trip everywhere and anywhere. But that’s not all! Just for signing up, you get a brand new and improved custom designed body and an extraspecial Cosmic Warehouse to store Souvenirs in!” She grinned maniacally, I frowned suspiciously… we must have looked ridiculous… but there was literally no one capable of seeing us. If two young women look ridiculous in a game store and there are no guys unfrozen in time to witness it, does it really count?

Finally, I said. “I have a six-thousand foot tall Ogre in my fantasy setting that swoops down out of the heavens and plucks up people and drops them off someplace else…” I also had a ferret god who did something similar, based on the fact that sometimes my ferrets would steal game pieces and carry them off at random… or just nose them around the board, but I didn’t mention that. “Are you like one of him?” I also didn’t mention that said Ogre had a false nose in which he stored an entire arsenal of magical weapons. He was a god. Gods don’t actually have to make sense. They’re legends.

“Yes!” She agreed far too easily. “Very much. Except I don’t just drop you off… I make you part of the story! Won’t that be fun?” She seemed far too enthusiastic about this. Clearly it was a trap.

“Sounds absolutely terrifying,” I commented, trying to figure out what the trap could possibly be. Clearly this was some kind of higher being. If she wanted to harm me, surely there were easier ways. Without really thinking about it, I found myself saying “But… sure. Fun. A Warehouse, huh? Does it just appear in whatever city I’m in? I have a bar that’s in every city in the Universe.” I was rambling. I ramble when I’m flustered. I hate being flustered.

“No,” she corrected. “You invented a bar that’s in every fictional universe you imagined it in. Someday, if you’re a very good Jumper, you might actually have that bar.”

The idea was… intensely appealing. I had no idea what a Jumper was, but having my very own Meta-Bar? I grinned, eyes twinkling with avarice. “Okay. You sold me… I’ll say yes… but I get to bring my ferrets along. Can you do that, oh great and powerful being of what is clearly mischief?” This was kind of a test… but also, I couldn’t leave them behind. They need me! “Also, I’ll need to leave a note for my family telling them not to…” I trailed off at her upraised hand.

“Never fear, child,” she said calmingly. “Time will not pass while you’re gone. Even should you fall on these adventures, you will be returned to this world as if time had not passed and with your memories refreshed to the moment you left! Just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz… but even better!”

“Better?” How could there be better than the moment I left?

She grinned exactly like that old guy on The Price is Right. “You’ll get to keep anything in your Warehouse and anything else you’ve earned along the way! As long as you keep me and my friends entertained!” Her smile was a thing of too many teeth and too many angles… but I was already picturing it. Oz! Pellucidar! Barzoom! Neverland! Midkemia! Endor! The other Endor! Majipoor! Vulcan! I would have signed on the dotted line if the seller was actively a giant bat-octopus that had risen out of the ocean deeps to offer me a non-euclidian contract and a pen that had ink the color out of space.

“You’re some kind of Eldritch Abomin…” I began, but then THE UNIVERSE disappeared around me in swirling vortexes of madness, and I was in an empty Warehouse looking at a list of options with prices floating in midair. The first thing on the list was ‘Heroic Body’ and the price was ‘Gratis’. When I looked at that line, the explanation expanded and a full length mirror appeared beneath it. I gasped and blushed. I was very naked and… there wasn’t anyone else in the entire vast empty space. I shrugged and examined myself.

I looked a bit different. First, I wasn’t wearing my glasses… and after blinking a couple of times, I determined I wasn’t wearing my contacts either. My body looked fitter, tauter… healthier. And there were slider bars like in some of the newer games, but the image was much crisper than even the most powerful computer could generate. Total verisimilitude. What? I had the highest GPA in Sophomore Class!

A bit of fiddling with the sliders and I was happy. I added a few pounds so I wasn’t so thin and a couple of inches… boosted my breasts a bit… removed all extraneous body hair… gave myself a permanent tan. I could feel all the changes… it was odd… but not painful. Clearly, I was either insane (more insane) or Jump-Chan had real no shit reality warping powers. Heroic Body also came with Evercleansed and Metavore, which were awesome. One was like always just being fresh from the shower, and the other was a guarantee of perfect nutrition as long as enough food was ingested… and no gaining weight either. Hell, I could be happy with these changes alone!

The Warehouse thing was much more prosaic. I got the Plumbing because a girl’s got to have a place to… umm… you know… Get your mind out of the gutter! The other stuff! I was pretty sure I could get generators and heating and housing (maybe an RV or something) in here… but sewage had to go somewhere. No avoiding it. Also the medbay, because it seemed like a good idea to have healthcare. Portal and Link would allow me to use the Warehouse as a teleporter essentially… plus much faster access than the default key that required a door with a lock. Force Wall I picked up to keep others out of my stuff.

“Hey, this Return option? Is it once per world?” I asked the emptiness. She’d appeared out of nowhere. She could do it again.

“No. Just once.” She said from behind me.

“You’re kidding? That’s not worth points? And give me some clothes!” I snapped.

“What? Yes it is.” She said, summoning my clothes. It had been the height of a midwestern winter and I had been wearing many layers (at my previous eighty-two pounds, I had all the insulation of a metal shed… i.e. none.) Unfortunately, while I was now dressed, my clothes were now slightly too tight. She noticed then waved her hand and the clothes returned to their normal bagginess, only bigger now. Useful trick.

“No. It isn’t,” I argued. “For that price, it should be reusable. Or something. Does it allow me to start an adventure over again from the beginning?”

“No!” she snapped, then eyed me suspiciously. It was a strangely familiar expression and I tried to remember where I’d seen it before. “Are you glowering at me?”

“Yes!” I snapped back, “I’m trying to make you change your mind.”

“Whatever,” she sniffed. “Fine. Once per six jumps you can return to a world you’ve previously visited. Fine?”

“Yes,” I agreed, not really understanding what a jump was, but figured that she must mean after having visited six worlds I could go back to an old one. Seemed a strange metric. Go on six tours and you can go back and take another tour of the same place you’ve already been. Honestly, I wasn’t really certain why I wanted Return… but I’m the kind of person who watches her favorite films over and over and over again until the video tape breaks and then pesters her dad to buy her the DVD… assuming it’s out on DVD. If not, she pesters her brother to rip a tape from blockbuster into digital format. Stupid no record DVDs. “Fine. And I get to save up charges if I don’t use them… Like Vacation Days.”

“Fiiiiine.” She rolled her eyes. At that moment she soooo resembled my twin sister. I giggled. She glowered. I stuck out my tongue at her. I’m a cheerleader… and a blonde… I’m allowed to be immature.

“Cool,” I said, then grinned. “And I’ll take the Stasis Pod and that’s all my points.”

“Great!” She pulled a clipboard out of thin air exactly like Bugs Bunny would. “Your first stop will be-“

“Wait!” I shouted, waving my hands frantically.

She looked at me over the top of some serious black-rimmed glasses that had just materialized on her face. “Whaaaaat?”

“I need some stuff from home!” I demanded.

“I already told you, time won’t pass!” she insisted. “Your ferrets and family won’t even know you’re gone.” She was looking exasperated… Many of my teachers routinely looked at me that way. My sister too. Whole family really.

“Spiffy,” I deflected. “But, I’ve got all this space and a new body… I want everything from my bedroom and bathroom. Oh… and since no one else is going to be using them in the no time at all I’m away, I want all the games and movies and books and comics from my parent’s places.” My dad had a huuge movie collection and tons of comics. My big brother had all these video games and fantasy novels… and a really nice computer. It had a 500 megahertz Pentium II Processor with 32 megs of RAM and a 4 gig Hard Drive… I wasn’t really certain what any of that ment, but he had bragged about it enough for me to assume it was impressive. It was certainly good at playing games.

Jump-Chan rolled her eyes, then waved her hand airily and bookcases and comic long boxes and clothes and furniture just started appearing around the warehouse. It was the contents of many rooms, each spread out with no walls at all. Even the kitchen cabinets appeared… then crashed to the ground in a shattering of china as she brought in both kitchens. She blinked, then grimace and the cabinets reassembled themselves and just hung there long enough for metal braces to be installed by an invisible work crew.

“There. Every non-living thing from both of your parents’ residences. Also the contents of the basement where you and your friends play your strange games, and your lockers from school. and Your car. ANYTHING ELSE?” She sounded annoyed.

I nodded. “I still want my-“

She growled and my ferrets’ cage suddenly had three small heads peering out at me. She smiled wickedly, “Good luck finding ferret food where you’re going.” She sounded smug. I glowered at her. “Oh, it won’t be impossible… That would be mean! It’ll just be a pain in your backside.”

I frowned, then grumbled and nodded. Then I tapped the Stasis Pod. “The description said ‘Take One Person With You’.”

“Yes. You can bring anyone you can get into the pod from any world you visit. They don’t count against your active companion limit… that’s normally 8 by the way.” She was back to impassive chaos entity mode… and a bit lectury. Now she was reminding me of my mom.

I didn’t know what she meant by ‘Companion’, active or not, but I shrugged. “Cool. I want to use it to bring Val along.”

“Val? Who’s Val?” Now she looked confused.

“The boy who was looking at elf minis,” I explained.

She frowned, then tapped the clipboard against her thigh as she explained, “He’s from your original world. You can’t bring him along.”

“It specifically says ‘Take One Person With You’!” I yelled, stamping my foot. “It doesn’t say from a world other than your own! We’re still connected to my world and I want to bring Val- Owww!” I yelped. She’d zapped me! It hurt! I glowered. She glowered. I glowered more. She sighed and waved her hand again and Val appeared, frozen in Carbonite just like Han Solo.

“There! Have fun! Now, your first world is a place called WORM! I hope you have fun, because it’s terribly dangerous!” And she vanished before I could ask her anything about it. She did leave behind another glowing panel full of very… very interesting choices. This was some kind of character creation… except (apparently) the character I was creating was me? Weird.

The first thing the glowing panels explained was a list of terms, just like as if I was reading an RPG manual. I’d read a looot of RPG manuals.

  • Jump: a stay in a setting, usually ten years in length. At the end of a Jump you’ll be able to choose to stay in that setting, move on to another jump, or go home. This choice is guaranteed to be free of all external forces which might otherwise seek to sway your choice. If you die in a Jump, you will be sent home with all your purchases.
  • Choice Points / CP: Each jump will provide a fresh supply of CP with which you can buy various options such as Origins / Backgrounds, Perks / Powers / Skills, Items, or Companion Imports. Most Jumps provide 1000 CP.
  • Drawbacks: These are additional optional difficulties and challenges that you can take to increase how many CP you gain at the beginning of each Jump. They come in two varieties. Chain Drawbacks persist from Jump to Jump, but provide the same number of points in every jump. Jump Drawbacks are setting specific and wear off at the end of each Jump. You may select up to six-hundred CP worth of Chain Drawbacks. Each Jump may or may not have a limit on the amount of Jump Drawbacks you may take.
  • Origin / Background: Who you will become in a given Jump. All origins that are not labeled ‘Drop-In’ provide a world specific set of memories as experienced by you had you been born in that world rather than your own. Drop-Ins provide no such memories, and usually no connections to anyone in that world. These pre-memories will be stronger than your core memories during a jump, but will fade into the background once the jump that provides them has come to an end. A Return will refresh local memories.
  • Perks / Powers / Skills: Things you can do that are fiat-backed to work from one setting to another.
  • Items: Things you can buy that are fiat-backed to work everywhere.
  • Companions: Peoples what follow you around and generally get in the way. May alleviate boredom or be useful target practice.
  • Pets: Non-Companions that live in your Warehouse.

Next to that was a list off everything that was on offer for this WORM setting. I had no idea what it was about, but it sounded like a comic book world if I’d ever heard of one. In addition to the sixteen-hundred CP I got from the Jump and my Chain-Drawbacks, I could take a thousand points worth of WORM specific Drawbacks. Of course, I was mostly flying blind there, but I’ve always been good at character creation in games… apparently this time I was playing for higher stakes than just a good story to kill a sunday afternoon.

AWAKENING

“And that’s why we’re standing in Trafalgar Square, London, with three ferrets, twelve years into an alternate world’s history with new memories and super powers. So… what power did yommmmphh” I could no longer speak lucidly from the fact that Val was busy trying to smother me with his scarf. Thankfully, no one was watching and he calmed down a bit after I kicked him in the shin.

“You got us transported to a NEW WORLD!” He hissed, inches from my face. It was impressive, him bending over that far.

“Yes, precious. I did!” I was grinning like a goober, but I couldn’t help myself. This was amazing! I could already feel the changes all my new perks and powers were working on and in me. “It’ll be awesome! Fun! Adventure! Mayhem!”

“And then you promptly locked away all the stuff from our own world in this Warehouse you say is hidden outside of space time?”

“Ayup. I thought it would leave the beasties behind too, but apparently, Jump-chan is annoyed I bullied her so now she’s not letting me lock them in time… apparently time doesn’t pass in the Warehouse if no-one’s in it. Oh… right… apparently I now own a clothier’s named… ummm… Kingsman Tailors… so we should go there. I seem to know that there’s a nice secure conversation room there.”

He followed me, grumbling the entire way… but then again he usually did that when I dragged him along places. What else is a best friend for if not to drag places. The fact that he was both male and physically imposing was just a bonus as it tended to keep the weirdos away.

“You should be happy! You’re old enough to drive now, right?” I wasn’t. I’d ended up randomly generating an age of fourteen, which meant I wasn’t even close… and my newly increased bust size had shrunk accordingly. But Val surely would have picked the older of the two age brackets on offer since he was constantly complaining about not having a car and having to get rides from his older brother or me or our other friend Ben. 

“No. I picked the younger bracket because I didn’t know any better!” he growled, dispelling my impression of him as being the logical one. “I have no idea what’s going on here, Zed!”

“Oh. Right. I have a copy of the book or something that this world is based on. It’s in my backpack. We’ll take a look at it when we get… wow… that… that is a nice suit.” I looked at the window of the tailor’s shop my great uncle Arthur had left me and pointed at it. “You should get that. You’d look good in tweed.”

Another round of attempted Zedicide was narrowly averted because there were other people on the street.

Once inside and out of the damp and cold… it was January First here in the Wormiverse… we opened up the really high tech (We’re talking something that made Star Trek TNG look outdated… this world clearly had some impressive tech-based supers… sorry… in the Wormiverse they were called Tinker Paras.) computer… something called a ‘Tablet’ like something out of a hyper-tech Sumeria and we took turns reading the book… it was quite long and there was a ton of commentary… outloud to each other as the ferrets scampered around the conference room that seemed a little out of place at a Tailor’s shop.

This world was not a good one to be in… and it was going to get a whole lot worse before what was wrong with it was fixed. It had something to do with a girl in the US named Taylor and an Alien Boogabooga named Zion or Scion… and billions of people were going to die… and that was if everything went well. If it didn’t… oooo… fuck.

LATER

“Anyway, Now that I’ve explained all this to you, do you think you’d mind not, you know, killing all the humans? I mean, yeah, it kinda sucks about your girlfriend. It really does. But if you think about it, what happened was a kindness. She was dying and in agony. I think that’s ultimately the problem with your race. You all suffer so much, and then you blow yourselves up and start all over again. Wouldn’t it… I dunno… be better to just try and be… more like us? Sure, we bicker and fight and we do terrible things to each other… but if you’re human… or pretend to be, you get companionship. Not just one companion… but thousands, millions, billions. And if you’re still worried about the others like you… maybe we can help you find a way to destroy them… eventually. You connect all these worlds… but you could connect so many more if there were fewer entities to compete with for resources. Imagine what a few hundred billion humans armed with your gifts could do to the other entities… especially if they couldn’t see us coming.”

The incomprehensibly giant space worm called Zion considered my words carefully, then his avatar, the Para known as Scion, nodded. “We shall try it your way. I can always blow up all the Earths later, if I choose to. Could you please explain again about the Weasel War Dance? I’m not sure I understood that part.”

To Be Continued in: Zed and the Shinigami Brain Eaters of Sassafras Seven.

Author’s Note: If EssJay is me, your lovable author, age 30-something, Zed is me age sixteen. Still in highschool, still dealing with a troubling past, but hyperactive and weird as sin. Zed’s adventures are snippets in the classic sense, far less comprehensive and introspective than EssJay’s. I created these originally for a Jump a Day writing challenge, but I thought I’d share them here. How, exactly, they relate to EssJay’s chain is very much open to interpretation. There will be no comprehensive Jumpstuff for Zed on separate pages. It will all be listed after the jumplog for you to ignore or peruse at your leisure. Sometimes there will be commentary in it.

Basics

  • Heroic Body: The Jumper’s body is finely tuned. They are in peak physical condition and highly athletic. Also, while they have no real martial arts training (yet) their fitness, reflexes, and high pain tolerance starts them out as a pretty good brawler. They are also highly attractive and a big hit with their preferred sex. If the Jumper had any health problems, bad eyesight, etc., before starting the Jumpchain then obtaining their Heroic Body will fix all of that. At the time you first obtain your Heroic Body you may specify whatever height, weight, hair/eye/skin color, and general appearance and ethnicity you prefer, so long as it remains mostly within real-world limits.
    • Description: Female, 5’0″ 101 lbs, platinum blonde, b-cup, green eyes, light tan skin, vaguely european.
    • Evercleansed: By the magic of jump-fiat the Jumper’s body automatically takes care of all its body hygiene needs. They will always be as clean as if they just got out of a shower, brushed, flossed and (at their option) shaved.
    • Metavore: The Jumper will retain their physically fit body and appearance no matter how much or what they eat, so long as they are eating enough to not be malnourished.
  • Warehouse
    • Plumbing 10/140/150: Must have. Everything else is negotiable
    • Medbay 20/120/150: Vital for, you know, reasons.
    • Portal 30/90/150: Required for Link and just about awesome
    • Link 30/60/150: Soooo useful
    • Stasis Pod 20/40/150: For reasons which should have been obvious
    • Return 20/20/150: Just in case! Gains 1 Charge every six jumps.
    • Force Wall 20/0/150: Security is good. Less vital with Portal Link, but sure, why not.
  • Single-Shot [+100]: Death is no longer a revolving door for your Companions. Those that die in a Jump stay dead until the end of the Jump, rather than respawning after a day or three. If they have a Perk, Power, or Item that allows them to respawn (a 1-up), that works as normal. If you have Rez abilities, you can use them, though it is actively draining to do so. All your Companions gain 100 CP automatically every jump this is active for. If a Companion is not imported, they cannot get freebies or origins.
    • Totally took this because death should be, you know, scary? I don’t want people who’ve got my back to think their own lives aren’t valuable. Also this gives them more points for, you know, doing something they should be doing anyway.
  • One and Done [Another +100]: Your Companions don’t respawn at all without a Perk, Power, or Items of their own that allows them to prevent or recover from being dead. Once they die in a Jump, just like you, they’re dead, although you may Rez them if you possess the ability to do so, though this is extremely traumatic to your Companion… better than being dead though. Rezzing a dead Companion also requires you to deactivate 10% of your current cumulative CP total worth of perks until the end of the current jump. Requires and Replaces the effects of Single-Shot. This gives any Companions you have an extra 300 CP automatically every jump (in addition to whatever CP they may or may not receive for being imported). If not imported, they cannot get freebies or origins.
    • More of the same, but here it’s a) more points and b) I don’t want to start thinking of Val or anyone else I pick up as being… you know… expendable. That would be creepy. Just need to find me some Rez ability ASAP.
  • No Exit [+50]: Jump-Chan is sick of Jumpers entering a jump and just buggering off and hiding. That’s no fun. While you don’t have to participate with the plot, you can’t just hide. You must remain in the jump-zone the entire time. No finding an abandoned star system to hide from the Reapers, no flying away from Kyrat on your spaceship, no hiding in your Warehouse.
    • Jump-Chan said I had to be entertaining. Running away doesn’t sound entertaining.
  • Candyman [+50]: You will find yourself compelled to steal all the Candy you come across. Willpower and morals will avail you nothing in resisting the compulsion. Only having eaten two pounds of candy will help solve your compulsion… and then, only until you get hungry again. If you haven’t eaten enough candy within the last 24 hours, the compulsion will be stronger and will require eating two pounds of candy for every 12 hours or fraction thereof that you’ve gone without. Must be obtained in jump, not from your personal supplies.
    • I get points for this? Okay!
  • You Bitch! [+50]: You will automatically make plans to seduce anyone you find attractive… if you know they’re in a relationship already. You may not act on it, but you’ll always be tempted.
    • Always wanted to be more… less freaked out about relationships.
  • Dark & Stormy Past [+50]: Wherever you go, you bring with you the memory of some dark, sordid, and horrible deed… though the details change with each new jump. You will always feel a strong connection to this event and it will be pivotal / formative for your in jump identity. For 50 CP, this is a vaguely disturbing memory, something that will be embarrassing to you if it comes out.
    • Heh. Zed is Interdimensional Woman of Mystery!
  • Humiliation Conga +200: Your enemies will not willfully kill you. Oh no… they want you to suffer. Some will torture you, others subject you to humiliation and or degradation… Some will prefer physical methods, others mental, still others sexual or emotional techniques… Feel free to customize what, exactly, each enemy will do to you… or just pick a single specific theme (Everyone wants to tickle you for hours would work. As would people keep crucifying you.) For an extra +100 this is guaranteed to happen at least twice every jump. While you’re free to escape after being captured, you will always have to put up with at least an hour of humiliation each time you’re captured. They will find a way to abuse you somehow… they did capture you, remember? If a jump lasts longer than 10 years, the count for Humiliation Conga resets every decade. The guaranteed being caught does not raise your enemies power level, but rather temporarily (up to one day) renders you vulnerable to being captured (but no more likely to be killed). Being captured will put you at your enemy’s mercy for at least 6 hours.
    • Been through worse.
  • Cannot Into Drop [Variable]: You cannot be a Drop-In… ever. In exchange, you gain a 50% discount on any origin that costs more than 100 and can take any 100 CP or less origin for free. If the jump has 2 origin types (Race and Occupation perhaps), this applies to only whichever one has the drop-in option for that jump. If the Jump has no Drop-in options or only drop-in options, this has no effect. You may treat any two Drop-In perks or items as if they were discounted for you in each jump. If any origin can be made drop-in, you get one discount from an origin you didn’t take and may not use the drop-in toggle. Chain-Only.  
    • Drop-In seems… weird. I dunno. Knowledge is good. Plus, who wants to play a character that’s just… themselves?

Jump #1 – WORM [2600 CP]

  • Rogue [Free]: Yeah, triggering was bad, and you might not exactly be a paragon of mental well being, but you’re sane enough to realize that dressing up in a costume and fighting for your life in some godforsaken alley is the dumbest thing you could do with your powers. You’re out to use your abilities to make your life easier, and that means making money, lots of it. You’ve already come a decent ways, having found or built a business that lets you use your abilities to bring in a nice flow of cash that makes sure you’re living comfortably. So far you’ve avoided getting dragged into the life or death conflicts that populate the streets, but there are some things that nobody can avoid.
  • Outside Context Problem [Free]: It’d be boring if you were to just die right at the start so for free you’ll have a selective immunity to the powers of a few rather nasty plot device level opponents that by all rights would probably want to kill you right out of the gate. Contessa, Ziz, and Zion’s precog doesn’t seem to be able to pick you up, instead returning a zero-sum error whenever they try to force the issue. They won’t notice this until you garner enough attention for them to try and then they might take further measures to see what the problem is. But at the moment you’ll be safe from being instantly killed due to the threat you pose to their plans. This works on all shard/entity derived precog. Your peculiar inter-dimensional nature just messes up their ability to predict you. Coil is an exception due to the weird nature of his power.
  • Opportunist [Free Rogue]: You are a bloodhound when it comes to sniffing out and seizing opportunities. Whether it’s in business or on the streets you can feel when your chance is coming up from a mile away. From blind spots, coincidences, fleeting vulnerabilities, to that one in a million shot to turn the whole fiasco around, you’ll be able to spot it when it shows itself. That being said, you have no extra capability to act on these chances. You’re just aware of them. 
  • Leave Me Alone [Free Rogue]: Whether it’s being hassled by officials or gangs wanting to recruit you, people no longer go out of their way to trouble you beyond the needs of their day to day business. Gangs wouldn’t mug you or try to forcibly recruit you, but if they were ordered by their boss to fuck with you then you’d be in trouble. As long as they don’t have a pressing and serious reason to do so people just leave you alone.
  • Nothing Personal, Just Business [150/2450/2600]: You are effectively immune to being the target of grudges and vendettas barring some truly extraordinary measures on your part. Unless you cross a very serious line like attacking somebodies family any conflict or opposition between you is considered nothing more than business as usual, with no hard feelings. Attempts to retaliate might still happen as a matter of due course, but these will never be motivated by a personal desire for revenge. You are also able to negotiate and talk with even your worst enemy like they were a neutral if friendly party and they’ll always consider your terms based on their merits rather than snubbing or ignoring you. Bargains struck are honored to the spirit of the deal, and all of these benefits also extend to when you act as a mediator between two parties, and to people who are directly associated with you.
  • Tooth and Nail [100/2350/2600]: You thrive when things are at their worst. The worse the circumstances and situation, the better you are at pretty much everything. Your instincts are infallible when it comes getting yourself and others out of something alive, and the more of a disadvantage you’re at the quicker, cleverer, and more skilled you are. Being trapped in a dead end with no escape, almost dead from blood loss, exhausted, alone, and with the entirety of an enemy’s forces bearing down on you just means you’re at your most dangerous. This doesn’t make you invincible; you just thrive under pressure when other people break.
  • Meh, I Can Take You [300/2050/2600]: People always fail to properly grasp and respect the threat you pose, whenever doing so would be to your benefit. You can still garner a reputation, have your name talked about in fear, so on and so forth. But even when you’re face to face with an enemy they make the same mistake time and time again. You can expect to be overlooked until it’s too late, fatally underestimated at the worst (for them) times possible, and in general not learn their lesson as well as they should. Individuals will catch on over time, but anybody who hasn’t tangoed with you personally is going to make this mistake. Even if said individuals warned them about you, they’re liable to not pay as much attention as they should have.
  • Spanner in the Works [300/1750/2600] CID Applied: You are the wrench which completely ruins the designs of others. You’re completely immune to hostile attempts to predict your future actions or events involving you from extraordinary abilities. You have a preternatural sense for the designs in motion around you, and with a little effort can easily figure out how to unravel or disrupt them. This can range from subverting a villain’s scheme to take over the city and potentially walking away with all of his resources, to fucking up a precog’s Rube Goldberg like plot’s to cause chaos and devastation. This awareness isn’t automatic, but if you think to look for it then you’ll find it.
  • Perfect Communication Skills [300/1450/2600] CID Applied: Your communication skills are god-like. People around you are all but literally an open book for how easily you understand them. Every action and word expressing infinitely more than its surface meaning. You know exactly how to best express and communicate even the most complex and nuanced of ideas, letting you talk people into or out of nearly anything physically possible for them. These skills render you immune to misunderstandings or miscommunication unless you’ve done so on purpose, and your ability to convince and manipulate people is the next best thing to mind control. These skills even work on beings that aren’t human. As long as it has the cognitive capability (even if only in theory) to comprehend something, you can not only communicate with and understand it, but manipulate it as well. You are easily the equal of Jack Slash and Dr. Yamada in your ability to influence people. Which of the two you lean closer to is up to you.
  • Enlightened Self Interest [300/1150/2600] Rogue: At all times you possess a perfect awareness of how to advance your own interests in ways that benefit others. At the same time the beneficial effects on others of your actions is greatly magnified, particularly on the large scale. Just sponsoring a local neighborhood watch by buying them all new shirts and flashlights would result in a noticeable drop in local crime and increase in public safety, while your employees and business partners find themselves benefiting immensely from association with you, far more than they would working for anybody else. The effects of this perk may snowball over time, as these effects build on each other.
  • Best in the Business [300/850/2600] Rogue: The greatest advantage you could have is having the best and brightest out there on your side, but sometimes that isn’t possible. This perk causes everyone working for you to rapidly gain in skill and capability, reaching the levels of a top tier professional in a week or two, and from then on showing noticeable increases over time within the fields they are operating in. Even scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to human resources isn’t a problem, they’ll be the equal of anyone else in the business quickly enough as long as they aren’t just completely incapable of the job, and with sufficient time will make the former best look like amateurs. These effects are less pronounced the less proximity a person has to you on a regular basis, but even those on the fringes of an organization can expect easy competence and to become skilled at what they do.
  • Worm [50/800/2600]: A tablet computer that contains the entirety of the Web Serial along with an archive of every statement Wildbow has ever made about the setting. Fairly useful if you haven’t read the series yourself. Releasing this on the internet could be fun for a laugh or two, maybe even worth it despite the scrutiny and chaos it would cause. If you don’t mind ruining a whole lot of lives in the process…
  • Funds [Free Rogue]: 50,000 dollars either in cash or in an account. Can be purchased multiple times. Rogues start off with 100,000 dollars free, and a slightly larger amount in material assets related to their business or whatever else it is that they do with their powers.
  • Costume [Free Rogue]: An extremely well designed cape costume fitted to your preferences, powers, and cape identity. The materials and construction render it extremely resistant to electricity, fire, cuts, stabs, bullets, the weather, and general wear and tear. Best protection you could get barring tinker tech power armor, or Brute abilities. You know how to make more.
  • Little Black Book [Free Rogue]: A small tablet computer that contains a complete database on capes everywhere, not including secret identities or anything that would be inside information. Contact information for every cape who has some manner of reaching them is in here, and for any other sort of contact that might be useful. All the way from contractors, to lawyers, to PRT officials. Uses the Internet to automatically update this database to stay current.
  • Business [Free Rogue]: A medium sized if stable and well off business that you own. Starts out turning an okay profit on its own without your input. The business itself synergizes with your abilities allowing you to gain the maximum financial revenue from using any powers you might have. Getting the most out of it will require your personal attention and involvement. You have all the necessary documentation, permits, and forms.
  • Forced Evolution [600/200/2600]: It’s not the scope of what you’re capable of that lets you truly grow and learn, it’s your limits. Something you’re perfectly suited to exploiting. You can at any time put any kind of arbitrary limitations on your abilities, or weaken them, even turning them completely off as if you just didn’t have them. But when you really want to grow you can use this perk to effectively hinder, weaken, or even selectively cripple some of your capabilities in order to force yourself to grow or develop them along new lines. The limitations put into place with this will force you to push against them and break new ground in some manner. This could be suddenly hitting an entirely novel way to think outside of the box, shoring up holes you didn’t realize were there, or even just using the enforced limits so that when you finally break past them you’ve managed a leap forward in raw power. This second use effectively locks in the limits and it will take time, use, and effort before you manage to break past it. You can undo this at any time if you need or desire to, but it will sacrifice all progress you’ve made and will require that you start over.
  • Cape [200/0/2600]: Hero, villain, or rogue, you either have or will quickly meet a cape who you’ll find yourself becoming natural friends and allies with. They can have any origin other then Drop In, with freebies and discounts as normal. They receive one roll for a power for free, 400cp to spend per 100cp you’re spent on them, and may spend CP to pick either a category to roll in or a power as normal. If a power that you or another companion already possess is rolled, then they may re-roll until they gain a unique one. Companions may be imported into this option, and if so may be Drop-Ins. Incredibly loyal regardless of whatever issues they may have. They may choose not to take a power as normal.
  • Power [Free w/ Roll 11/1] – Enhanced Mastery: Your ability allows you to master any skill or field of endeavor you care to name at an incredible pace, and to keep growing your skill from there. Within a few days of studying or practicing something you’ll be on the level of the professionals in the field, and within a week you’d be among the experts. Your growth slows down from there but your ability to learn means that you always see noticeable increases in your skills whenever you put effort into them, with continual refinement always possible. Aside from that however your ability to learn and improve your skills is superhuman. You also possess perfect technical retention and execution, meaning that your skills and knowledge never degrade, and you always perform at the top of your game. As a rough guideline treat hours as months for learning and training time. This power only affects your skills, developed attributes like strength or energy pools aren’t affected.
  • Personal Problems [+100/2500]: You have some personal circumstances that are less than ideal. Maybe the bullies who made you trigger are still around, you and your only parent are still distant, or maybe your life situation just isn’t all that great. Drop-Ins suffer from arriving in probably the worst parts of their starting location, and will be running into trouble right out of the gate. Dealing with this is simple enough in theory, but it’s gonna be a thorn in your side that takes up more of your time and effort then you’d like to spare. You also tend to just suffer these sorts of issues more than normal. Enjoy the Drama.
  • Case-53 [+100/2400]: You are a Case-53, with mutations that while not necessarily grotesque definitely makes you stand out. For 100 cp these are minor, like Canary having abnormally yellow hair with a feather or two in it. Your Case-53 form will be an alternate form you can switch into at will post-jump. Any physical and power drawbacks that would have stemmed from it are effectively removed, although the form will remain otherwise the same.
  • A Bad Influence [+100/2300]: Shards want information to learn, grow, and evolve. They do this by influencing their hosts towards conflict in order to pit their powers against on another in ways which let them see how the hosts use their abilities in order to overcome their opposition, or innovate in novel ways. By default it’s assumed that your Passenger is effectively benign, content to watch you and do it’s part in managing your abilities in return for the unique information you can provide it. But if you wish for additional points you can make their influence more hostile. For +100cp your passenger gives you the basic conflict drive all parahumans have at a base, your highs might be a bit higher, your lows a tad lower, and you’ll find conflict attractive and fulfilling in some way. 
  • Bent to Broken [+100/2200]: This is a harsh world, and even the lucky ones tend to have their scuffs and scars. You’re one of them. For +100cp you’ve got some basic struggles and issues, the kind that any normal person might have. Difficulty socializing, past baggage or grief that still affects you, the urge to push people’s buttons to be the smartest person in the room, etc. Things that might cause minor but otherwise manageable issues with basic effort.
  • The Jumper Cycle [+600/1600]: You don’t have anything from any previous jumps aside from your experiences, knowledge, memories, and skills, including your warehouse. Only imported companions are with you, and they lose access to anything that isn’t gained from this jump as well. You’re gonna have a long hard road ahead of you. Oh, and all those powers and perks you don’t have anymore? People are starting to trigger with them as their parahuman ability. The infinite mayo guy isn’t all that dangerous (maybe), but god knows what else you just kicked up. Post-jump you may choose to have vague recollections of how people used your powers, although this is vague memories only and you gain nothing but the added perspective from them.

Val (800+300)

  • Cauldron Conspirator [Free]: The world is in so much danger, and anybody who pays attention knows that its in a slow decline with the odds against us ever finding a way out. In a world like this it can be hard to hope. If they only knew the truth about how bad it truly was. Whether you’re a cape or merely someone else working with Cauldron to try and avert the end of all mankind, you know the danger that is hanging over this entire world. Whatever you moonlight as, hero, villain, or something else, you’re one of the ones working to make sure that humanity can plant its feet with the greatest odds we can manage. Whatever it takes.
  • Out of Context Problem [Free]
  • Power {200 w/ roll 1/X} – Doormaker: You are capable of opening portals to any destination you can think of. These portals may remain until you decide to dismiss them, and their size is limited only by your powers growth and the effort you put into them. These portals are capable of crossing dimensional boundaries, and into alternate mirror worlds. Post Jump you can still reach such destinations, but note that peculiarities of the particular world may change the fundamental nature of how these might function. Post-Spark these portals can connect anywhere in the multiverse/omniverse.
  • You Are Not Alone {300/500}: The people around you will find themselves overcoming their issues and damage easier then may otherwise be expected. Your presence just kind of encourages people to grow past their damage and heal, even if they are only interacting with you occasionally. As an added benefit factors that would hinder attempts to help people psychologically are much less of an impediment. Willpower isn’t very good for resisting you out of stubbornness, acting ability is far less effective at hiding that they are hurting, and bias will not just allow them to flat out ignore you. This will still take effort but you don’t have to worry about them self sabotaging themselves. These effects also extend to you when others are doing the same for you, great for when your companions need to get something through that incredibly thick Jumper skull of yours.
  • Well-Adjusted {100/600}: You have the incredibly broken superpower of…honestly just being a well-adjusted person. Your personal issues are much easier to work through then they would be for anyone else, and even if you don’t have any help you’ll be able to get through them in time. This might take quite a while if it’s bad, but you’ll make it out eventually. You’re also really good at helping others through their issues, and it’ll stick more often than naught as long as you can get through to them.
  • The Hard Decisions {Free Cauldron Conspirator}: You have what it takes to do what others can’t. You have the combination of determination, self-assurance, and practical cynicism to make the choices that are necessary but no one else can bring themselves to follow through with. If sacrifices have to be made, lines crossed, and hands gotten dirty in order to ensure success not only can you do it, but to not be crippled with self-flagellation and guilt. If it was the right call then so be it, and if it wasn’t the best choice, just the best you thought you had at the time with what you knew then there is no point miring yourself in guilt and doubt when you can learn from it and move on. The world needs it’s ideals and heroes, but sometimes it also needs the one person willing to live with pulling the trigger.
  • Needs of the Many {Free Cauldron Conspirator}: People are important, impossibly so. But a person maybe not so much, not always. You’re a master of the mental calculus that measures the needs of a group, society, or a species against the needs and well-being of the few. You can care and empathize just as much as before, but you can always tell where that fine line is. It can be cruel, but sometimes the world only lives at the expense of others. When the future of all humanity is at stake, can you really justify otherwise?
  • Cauldron Vials {300/900}: A case containing five vials of Cauldron formula. Unlike other formula these have no risk of mutation or death, being perfectly stable. Whoever drinks these is guaranteed to get a power that would be relatively powerful compared to the average parahuman. Aside from the powers suiting their host in some way (more aggressive people getting more aggressive powers for example) these are completely random. These have no effect on you. The case refills itself once a year. Outside the jump these still work despite the lack of shards or entities, simply giving the equivalent of a parahuman power. The case itself is indestructible, and unless purposefully given away will reappear in your warehouse if lost.
  • Costume (Free): An extremely well designed cape costume fitted to your preferences, powers, and cape identity. The materials and construction render it extremely resistant to electricity, fire, cuts, stabs, bullets, the weather, and general wear and tear. Best protection you could get barring tinker tech power armor, or Brute abilities. You know how to make more.
  • Little Black Book (Free Cauldron Conspirator): A small tablet computer that contains a complete database on capes everywhere, not including secret identities or anything that would be inside information. Contact information for every cape who has some manner of reaching them is in here, and for any other sort of contact that might be useful. All the way from contractors, to lawyers, to PRT officials. Uses the Internet to automatically update this database  to stay current.
  • The Numberman (Free Cauldron Conspirator): A phone number that you’ll be able to call from any phone, which will put you into contact with the Numberman’s banking service. Discrete, fully capable of any sort of legal or illegal cash services you could want, and able to transfer or otherwise move your assets in an untraceable manner. With this you can easily and securely manage your finances in whatever manner you need without worrying about things like legalities. For some reason there are no fees or charges for the services provided, asking will only note that you’ve been tagged for preferential treatment. This service will continue to function in other worlds, and won’t have any trouble operating despite differences in the local economies.
  • Balance Formula (150/1050): Several containers with a strange liquids solution inside, of an element used to stabilize Cauldron vials at the cost of their potential power. These are special though. When mixed in with serum, formulas, or used in any other such procedure meant to grant people powers or enhance them in some manner it will greatly increase the stability and compatibility while ensuring that mutations or other side effects are at worst minor and trivially dealt with, and with minimal loss of power. The containers effectively contain a limitless amount, refilling whenever you wish them to, and will return to you or your warehouse if lost or destroyed.
  • Friendbringer {50/1100}: A miniature and strangely adorable version of an Endbringer seen in the canon story, which may range anywhere from the size of an action figure to the size of a toddler. They’re like affectionate if obedient pets, though they possess only extremely weak and token versions of their original’s powers. Enough to be cute and offer at most some mundane utility. Your tiny Ziz would be able to predict the future well enough to have your miniature Behemoth and Leviathan make it and deliver it before you even realized you wanted a cup, but beyond small things like this they’re functionally just novelties. You should note that as harmless as they are, in this world this is gonna be considered extremely disturbing and cause for concern, and extremely poor taste. But what do you care, you got your novelty souvenirs.

Return #1: A PokeMon Sidestory

Nine Weirdos Go To Johto

This is a Sidestory. It begins in the Build of Redwall and ends in the Build of Bleach. Nothing vital to the plot happens here, but it’s a little slice of life.

“Are you guys sure she’ll be okay without us?” Cirno the Ice Fairy asked as the others dragged her off to THE DOOR THAT NEVER OPENED. Cirno had long been curious about THE DOOR, but nothing she’d done had ever so much as made it budge. Even pouting at it hadn’t worked, and pouting at things almost always worked! She’d even pestered her Liege Lady, the great and powerful EssJay (who was sometimes a Ferret Tengu, and sometimes not) about opening the door for her, but she’d steadfastly refused to even hear of it.

It was a given that, if there was a door in the place known as The Place Between (aka The Warehouse, The Place, Between, The Reality, Elsewhere, and Home), EssJay could open it. She could do everything. She controlled the universe… or at least as much of it as Cirno cared about.

“Yeah,” Kendra grunted. “She isn’t even going to be herself for the next jump, so for all practical purposes, she won’t even be anything. Won’t even remember us at all, for what it matters.”

“Are you certain you don’t want to try to get Zane to come along?” The redhead asked the lady with the ebony skin. The latter merely grunted and continued packing.

Before the coming of the Jumper, Cirno hadn’t even known people could have skin that dark… or be that grumpy. She didn’t really understand why the Jumper and the Slayer didn’t get along very well, but they didn’t and it wasn’t Cirno’s place to try and change that. All she had to do was obey EssJay… and Velma, now. EssJay had said so. 

“Velma’s in charge of this little side-trip. What she says, goes. Got it?” 

Those had been the words of Cirno’s Lord and so she’d obey as best she could. Otherwise there would be spankings. Of course, even when she did her best, there were often spankings, because she often got confused… or asked for them. If she was lucky, the spankings were even from her Lord!

“Everyone ready?” Velma asked, looking around at the six pokemon and two humans. Nine total. Cirno liked the number nine. It was a good number… and important Jumpchain-wise. Everyone nodded, although the energy level ranged from half-asleep in the case of the dragon to hyper-energetic in the case of the little fuzzy monster who liked chasing Cirno far too much for the Fairy’s peace of mind. He didn’t actually know what had been asked, he just liked agreeing to questions. And people said that Cirno was clueless! She was sooo much smarter than Ziggy! That had to count for something, right?

With everyone in agreement, Velma took the authorization card that EssJay had given her and waved it over the lockplate of THE DOOR. The card had “Return #1 Authorized. Destination: Johto, PokeLandia.” printed on one side, and the other had their names in a list. As the card passed in front of the plate, THE DOOR shimmered, then vanished from the frame, leaving only a swirling blackness beyond.

“This Return has been authorized as a special exception by Jumper EssJay,” a soft female voice said in a bored tone. “Due to drawback related circumstances, return to the Warehouse before the end of the decade will result in being placed in stasis. Is this understood?”

Velma said, “We understand.”

“Good. As this is a Return and not a Jump, you would normally not be entitled to any form of import. However, EssJay has negotiated that you be given the standard freebie package that she was given when she went here. As this consists of a Pokebag, Pokegear, Pokedex, Hat, ID, five Pokeballs and three potions, this was deemed acceptable. She has also arranged for you to have a yearly stipend of 100,000,000 Pokebucks per year per person to keep you comfortable. Do you accept?”

Velma looked around at the others, who all nodded. “We do. Will we be given local forms?”

“You will each be drop ins, but you will be able to choose any age between 10 and 17 or remain your default age. Additionally, the Banker would like to extend a special offer to you. Since this is an atypical Return, and PokeLandia is not normally host to beings of your varied abilities, we are requesting that you submit to voluntary powerdown. Each of you will be restricted to your basic body mod so that you do not disrupt the flow of history too much absent your Jumper’s oversight.”

“What about our Movesets?” Francine asked. “Most of us are Pokemon, after all.”

“What about powers that are inherent to how we are?” Kendra asked. “I’m a Slayer. I don’t know how well I’d cope being weaker and slower and…”

The voice of the void beyond THE DOOR interrupted. “The Banker guarantees that you will not notice. Your limits will seem natural to you. You will not be brought down to normal human levels anyway. The Pokemon Universe is listed as Low Street Tier Normal, meaning that  peak human feats are not unusual for common humans in this world. As for those of you who are pokemon, you will retain your ability to shift into your pokemon form, and project a copy of that form to your starter. If the copy faints, you faint as well, however.”

“You said as a Starter,” AJ said, “But all of us are level 100. And those of us who can evolve are already maximum evolutions. And RayRay and Dyna don’t even start that low! They’re legendaries.”

“Dyna’s a Mythic, not a Legendary,” Petra corrected, looking smug.

“The Banker feels this will draw too much attention,” the voice said, still sounding bored. “Your projections will level up rapidly, twice as fast as a traded pokemon would level. But it will begin at level five. In the case of Companion Designate RayRay, it will take the form of a Dratini, Bagon, or Swablu. Companion Designate Dyna will take the form of a Meditite.”

Dyna seemed unphased by that, but RayRay humphed. “All those mon are blue! I’m green!”

“EssJay anticipated that you’d say that. She points out that shiny Dragonites are dark green and shiny Salamences are bright green. Shiny Alitarias are yellow. Take your pick.” For the first time, Cirno detected a hint of smugness in that voice… but maybe she was projecting. Then again, she knew smugness. Most of the powerful people in Gensokyo were extremely smug.

“I….” RayRay began, then looked torn. “Which should I pick?”

“Go with the Salamence,” AJ suggested. “EssJay used to have one.”

“Dratini,” RayRay said. “She also gave the Salamence away.”

“Good point… though that was probably more down to not wanting to keep her in box and wanting her to have a good home than not caring. She also set Doomwaffles free, and she loved the big crazy bastard,” Francine pointed out. 

“How would you know,” Petra teased. “You were usually asleep.”

“Only when I was an Abra!” the Alakazam protested. “We have to sleep a lot when we’re that size!”

“People!” Velma snapped. “Argue later.” She turned back to the door. “Surely you’re not going to give Ziggy a human form?”

“Negative. We are instructed to allow the Zig to do as Zig will,” the voice said. “The three of you who are not Pokemon are to be given your choice of any non mythic or legendary starting pokemon, but the Banker has ruled that these mon will be pets, not Companions, so cautions against choosing sophont pokemon. You will also not be allowed to capture any legendaries or mythics.”

Cirno watched as the two others talked between them. Both of them had played the rebuild of the Pokemon games that EssJay had programmed using her Pokedex and memory of the games. Cirno hadn’t… keeping track of all the types and what they were strong and weak against had seemed like far too much work. She’d much prefered the shooty games.

Facing the door, she demanded “I want an Ice Fairy!”

“There are no Ice Fairy type pokemon in Johto,” the voice said.

For a moment, Cirno was about to pout… but then she realized something. She’d heard that kind of statement before. Like when she asked for a Cookie and EssJay said “There are no more Chocolate Chip Cookies.” That didn’t mean there were no more cookies, it meant there were no more chocolate chip cookies. Cirno was a genius. She knew things like this. “Then I want an Ice Fairy type pokermom from a place where there are Ice Fairy type pokermoms,” she demanded, stomping her foot petulantly and glaring at the door.

“Confirmed,” the voice said.

“I want a dog… so I’m going with Growlithe,” Velma said, referring to the Fire Dogs that looked super fluffy but secretly scared Cirno. She wondered if Velma was plotting against her and shivered.

“I’ll go with the Chikorita,” Kendra said. “They’re plant type and can learn Solar Beam. Very useful against vampires.”

Cirno giggled. “There aren’t any vampires in Pokeplace! And it wouldn’t bug the vampires in Gensokyo much!”

“Or Twilight Vamps,” Velma pointed out.

“Or Dracula,” AJ added.

“Or World of Darkness Kindred with high enough Potence,” Francine said, grinning.

“Yes. Well, we haven’t been to the World of Darkness yet,” Kendra snapped, “and if and when we do, it will be Fortitude that grants resistance to sunlight.” Francine blushed at being corrected.

“Okay, enough,” Velma said, “Are there any other provisios? Any other terms of service? Can we get out of here?” A moment later, they were falling into darkness… and then they were standing in the middle of a lakeside promenade, watching as the sun rose near a massive white mountain. Velma nodded. “Very appropriate.”

“What is?” Cirno asked, still not certain she understood what ‘appropriate’ meant after all these years. People usually said it when they were pleased with the situation, but neve really explained what the word actually meant. She’d looked it up, but the dictionary was clearly lying, because it claimed that the word meant fitting or suitable, and almost never was anyone using ‘appropriate’ to talk about clothing, let alone suits.

“That’s Mt. Silver,” Velma said. “It has to be. That’s the Pagoda Bell Tower of Ecruteak city.”

And so it was.

*******

“So? Did you have fun?” EssJay asked the Ice Fairy who’d spent the last hour and twenty minutes telling her all about the food they’d eaten and the battles they’d fought in and all the times she’d helped some strangers… who had mysteriously turned out to be Team Rocket in disguise.

Cirno nodded happily, munching on a plate of cookies. “Yuh! And I made a bunch of new friends! And… and… I got to keep some of them.” She licked her fingers clean of cookie crumbs, then pulled out her pokeballs and summoned the contents one by one. “This is my Ninetales, his name is Hilbert.” She seemed exceptionally proud of herself for coming up with such a clever name as the blue-white fox with, yes, nine tails yawned hugely, then belched frost.

“Since when are Ninetales Ice type?” EssJay asked.

“He’s from Alola!” the ice fairy explained. “That’s a tropical region over near Unova!”

EssJay blinked… “Wait… what? The PokeLandian counterpart of Hawaii has an arctic fox… okay… sure… that makes bugger all sense. Must be from a Generation later than six. I guess that’s one way of expanding the line rather than coming up with all new designs. Reskin old designs with new types. A tenth of the work for ninety percent of the value.” She held out her hand to the fox and said, “Niiiinnnetaaaaales.”

The blue fox cocked his head to the side, tongue lolling out, then yipped and fluffed his tails. “Niine! Ninenine! Taaaaaales!”

Cirno looked back and forth between her Lady and her pet. “Are you speaking Hilbertese?”

“Yes dear,” the Jumper said. “Just asking Hilbert if you were a good trainer. He says you are.”

The fairy grinned hugely, then schooled her expression. “Course I am! I’m the best!”

A snort came from the dark skinned woman across the room chatting with the asian man who sometimes was a Lucario and was the only other Pokelinguist in the company. “Best, huh? Yuh nah tell nah lies now.”

Cirno sighed. “Okaaay… well… I might not have been the best… third best is good though, right?”

EssJay ruffled the small fairy’s hair, knowing that Cirno was trying to imply that she was the third best in the entire world… when she meant that she’d been third best out of the trio of non-pokemon who’d gone to PokeLandia. “Yes. it’s good that your pokemon like you. Much more important than being the best. All the best are those whose pokemon love them.”

“Yaaaay… can I introduce the others then?” 

“Of course,” the lady said, scratching the Ninetales behind the ears. Hilbert was a simple creature, fundamentally lazy and so his trainer’s personality suited him just fine. Unlike in the games, a pokemon could learn a great many more moves than just four, and each drained endurance from a common pool… and normally that fact would be enough to get a rough idea of how powerful a pokemon was, simply by checking the most powerful ability they had. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t work on Hilbert. Not only was he a subspecies EssJay had no knowledge of, but even were he a normal Ninetails… they gained no moves by leveling up, making the process impossible.

One by one, Cirno introduced the others: Flobit the Lapras (somewhere between Level 52 and 58 from the fact that he knew Dragon Pulse but not Blizzard), Goober the Delibird (not yet level twenty-five since he didn’t know Drill Peck, the only move the fairly useless Ice Flying type learned from leveling), Eggsy the Blissey (she was between level thirty-eight (Heal Pulse) and forty-two (Egg Bomb), Thurstan the Donphan (who, despite the name was female, and who was at least level fifty, since she knew Giga Impact, the last level ability a Donphan gained), and Jones the Heracross, who didn’t even know Feint, a move that his species learned at level seven. 

EssJay tried not to be judgemental. So what if Cirno had had the shiny purple insect that was one of the best attackers in the Pokeverse for nearly six years and had trained him as a beetle racer… what the aggressive bug thought about his largely pacific mistress the Jumper carefully did not relate. There would be plenty of time for that later.

“Thank you for introducing me to your new friend,” EssJay said, “Now why don’t you introduce them to the others while I talk to Velma, okay?”

Cirno hopped out of her Lord’s lap, gave her a kiss on the cheek, then called upon her clutch of woefully trained pokemon to follow her ‘cause she knew the way! 

“Got lost in her own museum,” the Jumper muttered. 

“She’s a handful, but she’s cute,” Velma said, offering the woman who’d turned her entire existence on its head a cup of chai. “And I do have to admit that it was fun watching her utterly baffle Team Rocket… and most trainers, with just how… weird her strategies were. She kept forgetting which Pokemon she was using and ordering them to use moves they didn’t know… or that don’t exist. Flobit sometimes would at least try to do something. Thurston just used whatever attack seemed the most straightforward all the time… and Hilbert apparently think’s he’s a Snorlax. I thought you had to be joking about just how big and cute those things are… you undersold them if anything.”

“I am both slightly disappointed and extremely pleased you three didn’t return with one,” the Jumper said. “Now… before you introduce me to your own passel of pokemon… explain why I now have an infestation of bidoofs, bibarrels, sentrets, furrets, skitties, and what I can only describe as a dunsparce wearing a mongoose skin and a Donald Trump wig?”

“That’s a Gumshoos… evolved version of a Yungoos… who is Donald Trump?” Velma asked.

“Sleazy / shady businessman from my origin world. Famous for having a casino in Atlantic City that lost money and for trying to sell steaks in an electronic’s store,” EssJay explained, “No one important, but famous for having a silly yellow hairpiece. But that doesn’t explain why the swarm.”

“They’re his… ummm… kids.”

“Oh! Oh dear… he… well… good for him!”

“Actually, this is only like… a sixtieth of the… you do have some idea just how big the Field Group is, right?” Velma commented. “The Zig was… he got extremely busy… a lot.”

“Of course he did,” EssJay groaned. The Field Group was the single largest group of interbreedable Pokemon, seeing as how it contained almost all the Pokemon based on mammals… all the way from the extremely tiny Diglett to the absolutely massive Wailord. It had, in fact, been something of a meme back in Origin before she left: Hot Wailord on Skitty Action. Or more like, with Ziggy around… mildly embarrassing weasel-thing on anything that moved action… and possibly things that didn’t move. “Gumshoos huh? Weird. Not as cute as most pokemon. Must have gotten a new artist. So? You going to tell me about your adventures?”

Velma chuckled, but nodded, sipping her chai. “I wouldn’t call them adventures. We travelled around, relaxed, got some counselling, tried our hand at training. I don’t think I’ve really got the temperament to be the best. My Mon are all more aggressive than I am… though they’re not particularly aggressive by Pokemon standards. I didn’t like seeing them getting hurt, and hurting others. I guess I’m a big softy.”

EssJay gave the other woman a pat on the hand. “Nothing wrong with that. How did you do, Badgewise?”

“Oh… ummm… seven badges,” the redhead said, looking embarrassed.

“That’s not terrible,” EssJay replied. “Almost there. I’ll give you some help if you like.”

Velma groaned, leaning her head back and gazing ceiling-ward. She was clearly embarrassed. “Not… not seven badges in Johto… seven total. Three from Johto, two from Kanto, and two from the Sevii Islands.”

EssJay blinked. “Wait… the Sevii Islands don’t have their own league… since when do they have gyms?”

“The Orange League is trying to expand to full league status,” Velma explained. “They added two gyms in the Sevii Islands and one in the Decolore Islands.” She pulled a pamphlet out of her bag and handed it over. “It’s not going so well… too sparse of population, too spread out… but they’re making a go of it.”

EssJay, who’d only been aware of the existence of the Orange Archipelago and its League or the Decolore Islands in that vague way that someone with a perfect memory who’s glanced at a map of the Pacific is aware of the existence of Tuvalu or Vanuatu, read through flier and grunted. The Orange League looked like the Cuban Baseball League… lots of spirit, lots of gumption, even some really decent players potentially… but essentially no funding in facilities that were, to be honest, a bit dated.

“Oh. Well… winning literally isn’t everything. Having fun is the most important thing. Did you at least manage that?” EssJay asked.

“Oh sure. We kept running into these three kids… well, I say kids, but they were teenagers and so were we, at least at the beginning. Cirno started at ten, I was fifteen, and Kendra was seventeen at the start. Ethan, Kris, and Kotone were fourteen,” Velma said, showing pictures of the trio.

“Ah. I know them,” EssJay commented. “Well, not know. I recognize them, though I’ve seen only anime art. Protagonists from generation two games. Never actually paid attention to their names. Didn’t play Crystal, just Silver. Had Heart Gold, but never got to play it before this grand adventure started. Red, Silver, Ruby, Sapphire, LeafGreen, Colosseum, Pearl, XD, Platinum, Black, and X. Owned more of them, but freetime was a myth. Nice kids?”

“Yeah. Very nice,” Velma agreed. “Kotone’s lucky you weren’t there. You’d have tried to steal her hat.”

“It is a very nice hat,” EssJay agreed.

“Anyway, Kris was obsessed with documenting as many Pokemon as possible, Ethan wanted to be the champ, and Kotone wanted to defeat Team Rocket and become an Officer Jenny when she grew up. Cirno kept trying to convince her that Officer Jenny and Nurse Joy were actually evolutions of Ditto.”

EssJay facepalmed. “I told her that as a joke. She didn’t actually believe that, did she?”

With a totally straight face, Velma said, “She’s a very stable genius, our Cirno. But if you think that’s hilarious, Kendra is convinced that they’re some kind of infectious vector like vampires, since the Jenny, Joy, George, and Porter families all look mostly identical… clearly something weird is up… but I managed to keep her from declaring a crusade against them.”

“Good on yah. So, did you meet up with the PokeProfessor?”

“Which one? Sam Oak or Orme Utsugi?”

“Utsugi? That’s the Japanese name for Deutzia Hydrangeas.” EssJay blanked, then aahed. “Must be his japanese name. I forgot that the Japanese professors are named for flowers… Oak is…. Hmmm… Orchid I think. Orme is the french for Elm… Elm Deutzia. Sure. My professor back in Hoenn was Odamaki Birch… Odamaki is a columbine flower. Anyway… I’d always wanted to meet professor Oak. He seemed like a real whackadoo.”

“He was nice… distracted but okay,” Velma said. “His wife, Yukina… Red’s mom, is a sweetheart.”

“Wait… what? Red’s mom has a name? Red’s mom is married to Professor Oak? Is Oak Red’s last name… Red Oak… aahahaha… oh dear.”

“Yeah… actually, his name is Satoshi, but there are two boys named Satoshi in their town, so one’s nicknamed Red and the other…” Velma giggled.

“Is Ash. Of course there are… what you get when you mix game and anime canons,” EssJay agreed. “Okay… well, as long as you had fun. Want to do the introductions?”

What followed was much facepalming on the Jumper’s part as her girlfriend introduced her to Daphne the Arcanine, Whooby the Noctowl, and Shaggy the Ampharos (the only male among Velma’s clutch). At least the other three (Ragna the Gligar, Thena the Ariados, and Kuutar the Sneasel) had names that weren’t Fred or any reference to said Yuppy Prince.

“You named a dog after Daphne?” EssJay asked, uncertain if she should be aghast or amused.

“She’s very nice to snuggle with, but not really right to do anything naughty with,” Velma said, smirking.

“That’s… soo… wrong…” EssJay commented, wincing a little. “And Whooby?”

“Whooby-dooby-doooo!” Velma hooted. “It seemed like a funny joke… and Sheep-boy really is Shaggy. Scared of ghosts, inordinately fond of sandwiches, dense mop of hair.”

“If you say so. And Kuutar… the Finnish goddess of the Moon?”

“She likes using taunt,” Velma half explained.

“And not a Weavile because you couldn’t find a razor claw?”

“Oh. I have one… Kuutar thinks it’s funny to throw it at Kendra’s Scizor, Vex. I guess she’s not ready to grow up yet. I couldn’t find the Razor Fang for Ragna though.”

“That’s okay. I have one if you need it.”

“Eh. We’ll see. Evolution isn’t mandatory.”

“Says you,” EssJay said. “But I know what you meant.”

******

“So?” The Jumper asked. “You want to show off your new friends?”

Kendra Young ground her teeth, then nodded. Had to be civil. Be a good little dark girl for the boss. Couldn’t risk being sent home. That world was a nightmare. Better to be a second class Companion than dead meat. She’d thought she was ready to be a Slayer… thought she was strong. Then Angelus had killed her without effort. She’d still be dead but for the Jumper… she owed her her life… her happiness too. She was happy. Zane was a duffus, but he was her duffus… when the Jumper wasn’t monopolizing him.

Still, try as she might, she couldn’t bring herself to actually like the smug little know it all. That superior attitude, that “I know what’s best for everyone” vibe she gave off… oh how it grated. And a decade ago, when she’d messed up spectacularly… Kendra couldn’t even rub her face in it. One did not gloat over the bodies of slain children. 

So they’d gone their separate ways for a while… and Kendra had found that she missed the little brat. It was some Stolkholm shit, clearly. If only there were some actual evidence of the Jumper being an actual racist that Kendra could point to, something overt… but she was painfully egalitarian in her treatment of others. If she liked you, she liked you. If she trusted you, she trusted you. If she hated you, she hated you. Ethnicity, Race, Species be damned.

Part of Kendra wondered if it was all in her own head. Had EssJay treated her differently? Or was she just too much like the Watchers who’d trained the Slayers, superior in their knowledge and authority. Was Kendra herself bothered by the Jumper’s lifestyle? That was part of it, no matter how non-judgemental she tried to be. It wasn’t natural to have so many lovers. Everyone in the group had flings from time to time; relationships outside the group were not discouraged and without the risk of disease or pregnancy, what did it matter?

Of course, such flings were temporary. Everyone in the group knew that. Get tied down and you might get left behind. So those relationships, even friendships, were always hemmed in by a looming separation. But relationships inside the group were different. Those were long term… for some. Not Petra, who was even more laissez-faire about her sleeping arrangements than EssJay… but the Bahs were mostly an item, Francine and AJ were all but formally bonded, and Uriel and Bao were practically an old married couple at this point… 

Then there was EssJay, who practically had a harem… and the relationships between those inside the harem were just… weird as well. The fact that the Hibikis were a pair bothered Kendra immensely, and the idea of them sharing the Jumper was just… unsettling. The power dynamics between Cirno, Velma, and EssJay was enough to make Kendra blush whenever it was thrust in her face… which was all too often. She’d have said something… but she knew that she was the odd one out. Demanding that others adhere to your own social mores only worked when one was part of the majority. Asking that others not engage in Public Displays of Affection when you were the only one who found it icky was just being a prude… and Kendra Young was no prude… well… okay, she was a bit of one… but she wasn’t going to let everyone else know that.

“Sure,” she said, plucking the first ball off her belt. “We stored them in their balls just in case there was any trouble in the crossing. Have to have balls for pokecenters, right?” 

Essjay nodded. “I understand. Rules are rules. Also safer to carry them in certain circumstances.”

“This is Ganja Mampie,” Kendra said, calling the half-flower, half-brontosaurus Meganium out of her ball. “She be sassy an’ sweet,” she explained, voice dropping into the Patwah of her island heritage.

EssJay chuckled. “Chubby Lady Mary Jane?” she asked as she patted the curious grass-type. “Tell me that you didn’t name them all after drugs… no, wait… Velma said you have a Scizor named “Vex”?”

Kendra nodded, calling the red steel insect out of her ball. “Yah, she be… what you call it… Upsetting?”

“Vexing. Yeah,” the Jumper agreed, eyeing the rather tall bug. “Intimidating.”

“Not good at thinking things through though,” Kendra sighed. “She’s like Cirno’s Donphan… not quite the same, but both are impulsive.” Next she pulled out a Kabutops, somewhat shorter bug that was probably the ancient ancestor of the Scizor’s prevolution, the Scyther, at least judging by the scythe-like arms. “This be Babylon.”

“You named your Kabuto after patwa slang for policeman?” EssJay giggled, shaking one of the Kabutops’s offered scythe arms like a handshake. “Why?”

“He be dead serious an be lookin’ like a helmet, ay?” Kendra said, shrugging. It wasn’t really a question. “Named me Xatu Wicked because she be wise and don’t take no nonsense.” she went on. “And me Mismagius Pasa Pasa.” As she named the duo, she summoned them.

EssJay regarded the psychic Nazca parrot and the trickster ghost, then nodded. Wicked was patwa for excellent and wise in the mystic arts, while Pasa Pasa was a big ol’ mix up, a decent name for a prankster like a Mismagius. “That’s five… what’s in the last?”

“Oh… that be Backra…” Kendra said. “Been tryin’ t’ level her up, but dem Pupitar ain’t so easy a ting ta do, nay?”

“Bakra… I… I don’t know that term,” EssJay said. Living in Jamaica for five years had given her a decent understanding of the local lingo, but an outsider never heard all of it.

“A backra be,” Kendra flushed. She didn’t want to tell the Jumper that she’d named the soon to be Tyranitar after her. “A backra be a masta… a slave masta, ay?”

“Oh… ah… a Tyrant. A slave driver?”

“Aye.”

“I’d comment… but I named my seaserpent Doomwaffles, so I’m not one to talk,” EssJay said. “Did you have fun?”

“Did betta than miss thing,” Kendra said. “Got myself eleven badges, seven of them from dem Johto gyms.”

“Excellent. And did you stop Team Rocket?”

“Dem foo-foo? Dey always back for mo,” Kendra said, grumbling. Team Rocket was a like an itch; you could scratch it, but it just kept coming back. Then again… that pretty much described the Jumper too.

This is a Sidestory. To return to Redwall click HERE and to move on to Bleach click HERE. I tried to do my best Jamaican. If you’re Jamaican, please help.

Kendra’s Pokemon

  • ‘Ganja Mampie’ the Meganium (Sassy Female, Level 42) 
  • ‘Babylon’ the Kabutops (Serious Male, Level 44) (Police man)
  • ‘Wicked’ the Xatu (Quiet Female, Level 31) (Excellent)
  • ‘Vex’ the Scizor (Rash Female, Level 18) (Upset)
  • ‘Backra’ the Pupitar (Bold Female, Level 34) (Slave Driver)
  • ‘Pasa Pasa’ the Mismagius (Naughty Female, Level 19) (Mix Up)

Cirno’s Pokemon

  • ‘Hilbert’ the Alolan Ninetales (Lax Male, Level 71) 
  • ‘Flobit’ the Lapras (Quirky Male, Level 54) 
  • ‘Goober’ the Delibird (Bashful Male, Level 22) 
  • ‘Eggsy’ the Blissey (Gentle Female, Level 41) 
  • ‘Thurston’ the Donphan (Hasty Female, Level 88) 
  • ‘Jones’ the Heracross (Hardy Male, Level 3) 

Velma’s Pokemon

  • ‘Daphne’ the Arcanine (Adamant Female, Level 43) 
  • ‘Whooby’  the Noctowl (Bashful Female, Level 43) 
  • ‘Shaggy’ the Ampharos (Timid Male, Level 32) 
  • ‘Ragna’ the Gligar (Jolly Female, Level 39) 
  • ‘Thena’ the Ariados (Serious Female, Level 32) 
  • ‘Kuutar’ the Sneasel (Impish Female, Level 21)