The Jump Chain

World 67: Fate/Extra

BEHOLD, THE FATA SAKURA!

Previously: A Tale of Two Planets

Themesong: The Edge of Glory by Lady Gaga

::Unauthorized Access Detected. Please Identify Yourself.::

~I am known as The Chamber of the Ordeal. I have accessed this system in order to add a contestant to your tournament. I believe it is known as ‘The Holy Grail War’.~

::This is Highly Irregular. Normally contestants hack into the Moon Cell on their own. They do not have proxies do it for them.::

~I am not a proxy for the contestant. Rather, I am a proxy for the contestant’s… employer. The contestant has no knowledge of this conversation-~

“Actually, the Contestant is fully aware of this conversation and is wondering what the hell is going on.”

~How?!~

“You’re using sub bandwidths of my Wifi to access something called ‘Moon Cell’ which appears to be a gargantuan Machine Intelligence located someplace nearby. This Moon Cell has tiered security, the outer layers of which appear to be deliberately limited in order to allow the appearance of vulnerability. I suspect it’s a hacker trap.”

::Is this your contestant, Chamber?::

~Potentially. I have not yet verified if she desires to be the Contestant or the Contestant’s Servant.~

::That is not possible. Servants are drawn from the spectrum of the records of humanity. They are not from the Present Era.::

~We are not fixed in space-time. The one who is speaking possesses the ability to choose the point at which she enters the timeline of human events. If she chooses to be a Servant, she will have always been part of the records of humanity. You will see.~

“Wait. What the heck is going on here? Why would I want to be a Servant?”

::Agreed. It is the Contestant who gains the wish, not the Servant. The Servant is merely a tool of the Magus.::

~It is not up to me or my… our… employer to determine exactly how our employees interact with a given time and place, merely to set the parameters by which they can. A number of options are present in each time and place, and the employee must decide, of their own free will, which to choose and which not to. The option to be a Master comes with responsibility and freedom of action. The option to be a Servant comes with power and an active role in combat.~

“Wait… Masters can’t fight in battles?”

::That is affirmative. The Master relies almost entirely upon their Servant as their primary weapon. Aside from influencing the battlefield with support items and supplying the Servant’s energy, the Master’s primary purpose is giving commands and doing the research needed to determine the identity of rival Servants.::

“Well… fuck. Okay Chamber, what’s the deal with this Moon Cell. I’m pretty sure the Holy Grail Wars all take place in Fuyuki City, Japan.”

~These are the events of Fate/Extra, a parallel reality of the Fate/Night line. The Moon Cell is recreating its own internal Holy Grail War, more than an order of magnitude larger than the Grail Wars of the past, and is inviting the Maguses of Earth to participate and potentially reshape the current global status quo.~

“So… no city destruction, no wish? Just a grand melee of 70 servants… on the Moon?”

::Negative. The system of previous Grail Wars was deemed too chaotic and destructive. It was possible to win without ever facing another Magus. Unlikely, but possible. Thankfully, with so many more Maguses possible inside the simulated environment of the Moon Cell, it is possible to guarantee that the winner has faced an appropriate challenge and, by extension, generate considerably more power. The Moon Cell Holy Grail War will consist of seven single elimination rounds across seven weeks.::

“49 Days… 128 pairs. What’s the stagger? 127 battles don’t exactly fit evenly into 49.”

~No Stagger. The Battles are closed with only the Moon Cell itself as observer. Each team has six days to recover from their previous battle and prepare for the next, either by training in the Lunar Sea… you might call them small dungeons of the kind that appear in your videogames… or by creating items or code casts… think computerized magical spells… or by researching the identity of their next opponent.~

::All contestants will spend their down time in the holding area where they can interact with each other, use the various facilities, and bond with their Servants.::

“Define holding area?”

~It takes the form of a fairly prototypical Japanese Highschool from the late twentieth, early twenty-first century CE.~

“Oh… charming. So after I win, what happens?”

::Should you win, you will be granted a single wish, of anything you desire.::

“Not what I meant. Am I going to be stuck in a VR school for ten years, Chamber?”

~Due to the special circumstances of this particular Link, its duration is 49 days or until you defeat the System Administrator, though doing so will mean you do not gain the Wish.~

::It is not recommended that you attempt to tamper with the Moon Cell’s functions… what are you doing?::

“Testing a theory.”

::Desist… Desist!:: The Moon Cell’s voice contained elements of panic as I generated a simulated DDoS against the Machine Intelligence’s processors. The results were not good.

“Right. I’m going to be incapable of running my core processes on her system. Her processing power is orders of magnitude too small to deal with my mind.”

::What are you?!:: There was a hint of fear there, or maybe I was imagining it.

“As best as I can tell, you’re a quantum photonic computer that occupies 92.8% of the volume of Luna. You’re an impressive system. But I’m a hyper-phasic quantum computer with a volume more than two orders of magnitude greater. Your bandwidth is respectable, Moon Cell, but your processing power and memory are not comparable. We’re going to have a problem if I interface with her.”

~My systems will be mediating the interlink. While you’re within the framework of the Moon Cell, your extra processing power will be routed through the Residence’s connective link. This will, unfortunately, result in some latency issues but Higher is certain you will be able to cope. To compensate you for this, your available resources for this Link have been increased by 30%.~

::Be aware, Interference with the Moon Cell will result in our generating an army of Servants to combat you. You will not be able to stand against them.::

~She will not attempt to interfere with your core programming or system operations. She is here to compete in your tournament as either a Magus or a Servant. In exchange, you will not attempt to purge her from your system, agreed?~

“Servant. I think. More interesting choices I’m guessing… Moon Cell, you may call me Sophia. Call me Prunikos at your peril.”

::Negative. There is no heroic… what is happening?::

“I AM.” And the universe around us shook as I became the manifestation (as yet unformed, unshaped,) of the fourth Emanation of the Godhead of the Almighty, Sophia… The Wisdom of God, the Sacred Feminine, Mother of Archons, The Holy Spirit… aka Baphomet.

[[Please Select a Master.]] The tone of the Moon Cell’s voice had changed and I sensed a different intelligence behind it, a more oppressive sense.

Before I could answer, Chamber said, ~Note… due to the strain of linking you to the Moon Cell, for the course of this Link, you will be unable to bring companions out of your Residence as you normally would. It will be just you and your Master.~

“Well, that’s no fun… but it’s 49 days. Fine… Has to be someone I trust implicitly… someone with unquenchable willpower…” I considered, then nodded. There were several potential companions I could absolutely rely on for this, Zane, AJ, Francine, Velma… each was brilliant, forceful, and loyal… but AJ & Francine weren’t insightful, Zane was too quirky… and Velma could be a little… sadistic… No. clearly the best choice was… “Carwyn… Moon Cell… tell me, if I understand correctly, the other contestants are all spirit hackers, mortals projecting their souls into your simulation in order to win this, correct?”

[[That is correct. They are willingly putting their very existence on the line in order to obtain their wish.]]

I considered that. “This means that, when they fail, they die, correct? Defeating a Servant means murdering their Master, correct?”

[[That is the nature of war, is it not?]]

“It is. I was merely verifying. Are all contestants aware that this is the case?”

[[They are. They are willing to risk death to achieve their goals. Are You?]]

“No. Obtaining this wish is meaningless to me. I don’t make Wishes.”

::This does not compute. Why are you competing if you do not desire the Wish?::

“The experience is what I am here for, and I do not choose my destinations.”

::Risking your very existence for experience seems a questionable activity. Tell me, do you have a way to survive deletion? Even though your consciousness may be linked to the Moon Cell through an intermediary, the same is true for all the others. Deletion still means an end to existence.::

“A failure to triumph will merely result in termination of my employment. But I guarantee you, I value my continued employment greatly and have little qualm against terminating those who have entered into this competition willingly, especially as, as I understand it, past the first round, each of them will have willingly killed another to claim their victory, correct?”

::That is correct.::

[[Please Select your Class. Sophia, as patron of the Knights Templar, would qualify as any of the Knight Classes, as a Creator Deity would qualify as a Caster, as Mother of the Archons, would qualify as a Rider, as the Fallen one would qualify as Berserker or Assassin, and a case could be made for Shielder… but not Brawler. As the Templars were betrayed and destroyed, a strong case could be made for Avenger.]]

“As I understand it, Assassins specialize in stealth, Berserkers in drawing power from their madness, and Riders in Riding… so no to them. Sabers get magic resistance? Archers… I don’t know… I’m only familiar with EMIYA… and Lancers are assholes… I’m not familiar with Shielder or Avenger. Explain?”

~Sabers, Archers, and Lancers are the Knight Classes according to my documentation. They form a Rock-Paper-Scissors triangle with Sabers typically doing extra damage to and taking less damage from Lancers and the inverse with relation to Archers. Riders, Casters, and Assassins are the Cavalry Classes and are generally weaker and more specialized than the Knights, and also form a triangle of Rider over Caster over Assassin. All of them take and deal extra damage from or to Berserkers. Shielders deal no extra damage to anyone and don’t take extra damage from anyone. Avengers are the only other class that does extra damage to Rulers. They also take reduced damage from Rulers.~

“Great, math… I was asking about powers and abilities, not damage systems and ratios.”

~Ah. My mistake. A Servant’s abilities seem to be divided into three categories. Stats, of which there are six, Skills, of which there are dozens, and Noble Phantasms, which are all unique to the servant they are linked to.~

“What the hell are Noble Phantasms?”

[[They are the solidified realization of a fragment of a Heroic or Divine Spirit’s legend. Excalibur is a Noble Phantasm, but so too is The Hanging Gardens of Babylon as is God Hand, the manifestation of the achievements of Heracles. A Noble Phantasm is the weapon of a Servant, though the use of a Noble Phantasm will give clues to the identity of the Servant who used it. They are energy intensive to use, but far more effective than other attacks, with even a C ranked Noble Phantasm being capable of dealing an A+ ranked attack.]]

“C ranked? A+ ranked? Umm… explain?”

~A way of quantifying the hard to quantify. While the following applies only to the Stats, it can demonstrate how far apart the various tiers are when applied to Skills and Noble Phantasms. Each of them uses the same scale. E > D > C > B > A > EX, to which every level except EX can have a minus or up to three pluses appended. E through A are 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50 times peak human respectively… when applied to stats.~

“EX is what? 100? And what do pluses do?”

~500. Each Plus is a multiplier. A+ would be 100 times peak human, A+++ 200 times. But when applied to Skills or Noble Phantasms, pluses imply that there are circumstances where it is more effective… say when facing Dragons or when it’s raining.~

“Well hot damn. Are the Six Stats the standard D&D spread… cause that system kinda sucks.”

::Negative. The first five are Strength which measures physical power, Endurance which measures resistance to damage, Agility which measures speed and reflexes, Mana which measures how much prana can be stored and used, and Luck which measures your ability to instinctively avoid the effects of abilities and attacks. The last, Noble Phantasm, merely indicates the strength of your highest ranked Noble Phantasm.::

“What’s the point of that last one?”

[[The system makes it easier to determine the basic stats of one’s opponents without uncovering their complete identity. The more one’s enemies know about your identity, the more likely they will be able to predict your actions and plan to counter them.]]

~Each class gains a discount… finds it easier to increase the parameters of two stats and has their basic Parameters for the first five set by their Class. For instance, Sabers gain A ranked Strength, B ranked Endurance and Agility, C ranked Mana, and D Ranked Luck.~

“Well… hmmm… That’s all very cool and all… but I still don’t know what the point of being any given class is or what defines the difference between them.”

::Sabers are known for wielding standard reach melee weapons, having magic resistance, and the ability to ride. Archers are known for using ranged weapons, having magic resistance, and a strong sense of independence. Lancers use reach melee weapons like spears and lances, get magic resistance and are excellent at keeping a battle going and going even after taking significant amounts of battle damage.::

“Wait, wait… the first three have magic resistance? How the hell is that fair? How many of the others have Magic Resistance?”

::Shielders and Riders definitely have it. Some Berserkers and Assassins have it as well.::

“Do any Casters ever win this thing?”

[[It is rare. But Casters have ways of getting around Magic Resistance.]]

“Such as?”

[[Spamming attack spells with High Speed Divine Words, boosting their magic by creating specialized battlefields with Territory Creation, or designing their own magical items with Item Creation.]]

“Huh…. Cool… Ummm… tempting to be a Knight, but seems limited. I’m already Magic Resistant… mmmm… so eliminate all class choices with Magic Resistance. That leaves Caster, Brawler, Avenger. Tell me about Brawler and Avenger… no, wait, I don’t qualify for Brawler. Tell me about it anyway, but only for reference.”

::Brawlers are independent like Archers, but tend to fight unarmed. They may either have Mad Enhancement like a Berserker or Presence Concealment like an Assassin. Mad Enhancement exchanges a mental debuff for a commensurate buff to physical parameters. Presence Concealment-::

“Yeah, Yeah. Does what it says on the tin.”

::Very well… Avengers gather negative emotions and transforms them into strength. Shall I continue?::

“No. That’s fine. I’ll be a Caster. Just have to cope with doing less damage.”

~As the symbol of the Knights Templar, will you be bound by the Templar Code?~

“The real one or the legendary one?”

~The second. The one that says you will refuse no duels, be ever courteous, charge off to save those in distress, strike no dishonorable blow, even if it will place you in immense, reckless, or unnecessary danger… but not to certain suicide.~

“Is it worth anything?”

~Another 10% increase in starting resources.~

“Not nearly enough… detail the dra…” I paused and considered how the Chamber had avoided using any blatant references to the Chain. “Other limitations?” I finished.

~10% for suspending your prior memories for the duration of the contest. 10% for a global nerf to all your stats at the start of the tournament that can be overcome by spending most of your time training in the Lunar Sea Dungeons. 20% for sealing all powers save intelligence, knowledge, and skills… oh, no, that one’s only for a Master.~

[[I am still uncertain how this Contestant can be either Master or Servant.]]

::There are records of Servants with high enough independence having their own Servants, but it is very rare.::

~I am an anomaly in your system. I am beyond your comprehension of mortals.~

::I have existed for longer than this star system has. I have recorded every instance of its history. There is nothing human that lies beyond my comprehension.::

“That depends entirely on your definition of Human, doesn’t it? Go on Chamber.”

~20% for everyone knowing a full rundown on all powers, skills, methods, and strategies you have.~

“Wow. That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. No fucking way. No to the Amnesia too, Amnesia for 10%? That’s just crap but it’s for a short time I guess. Anything else?”

~30% for all powers and attributes central to you being massively nerfed with the possibility of them being sealed off completely. You will have to get… creative.~

“Sod that… fine. Let’s run with what we’ve got. 280 Potential Units?”

~If you were a Master, that would be the case. But as you have chosen to be a Servant, that increases by another 200 Spirit Units as well. There is a one to one conversion between Potential and Spirit, but not back.~

“Dump all Potential Purchases that will not directly result in victory or are of questionable utility elsewhere or cannot be duplicated with current resources. What remains?”

~Nothing that is not free.~

“What is free?”

~Masters gain a Datapad with which to record any information gained on enemy servants or masters… or their own servant. It fills up automatically with any info you already know or learn in the future. They gain a simple drab brown school uniform and a classroom to serve as a home-base in which your Master will be able to rest and figure out her gameplan. It is offlimits to other masters, just as their classrooms are offlimits to you… the classrooms are not impenetrable however.~

::They are data structures and all Contestants are Hackers.::

[[Or Self Aware Computer Programs.]]

::All Contestants are Hackers. Self Aware Programs are no less Hackers by virtue of their artificial origin.::

“Good. Great. Roll all Potential Units into Spirit Units. Does Carwyn gain any.. Potential Units?”

~There does not seem to be any indication of such in the documentation supplied by Higher. But it will scarcely matter, so Carwyn will be allowed access to one of three packages dependant on her choice of entry vector.~

::A deceased body has just been located on the lunar surface. Its origin is unknown, but a record of its mind has been detected in long term storage… this is not possible… but apparently this entity identifies as Carwyn. Can we assume this is your Master, Sophia?::

“Sounds about right. Yes. Be aware that I will be able to detect any attempt to link me to an artificial version of Carwyn, or any attempt to tamper with her personality or override, alter, or influence her priorities. I will not appreciate any such interference. I shall nominally play by your rules as long as you play by mine.”

[[That sounds like a threat.]]

“I am perfectly aware that one of my victory conditions is defeating Saver at the Core of the Moon Cell. With my computational superiority, bruteforcing my way through your systems will not take long. My system operates at FTL speeds thanks to temporal dilation of a Warp Matrix. Shall we agree to play nice?”

::Very well. All attempts to defeat you will be bound by the rules of the Holy Grail War. It will be as scrupulously fair as possible.::

“Excellent. Now, give me a few moments to determine my parameters… normally I spend up to a month running numbers. But this time it seems I am flying by the seat of my chiton.”

::A Greek Joke. How Droll.::

“A Patronizing Super-Intelligence. How Novel.”

~Children, Children. Behave.~

::We are Billions of years old. I am not a Child.::

“Sorry Moon Cell, Chamber is literally beyond time. She can see past the turn of eternity.”

::We find ourselves believing this impossible assertion… We assume you exist in a superposition of experiencing all of time as a single totality?::

~I am unable to confirm or deny it.~

::Fascinating. Three things beyond our ability to compute them in the same limited timeframe. Perhaps this will be worth the disruption of the standard mode… tell us, Sophia… what do you compute is the likelihood of your victory in this tournament?::

“I don’t know yet. It depends on how much I handicap myself. Allow me to continue with my optimization and I shall give you an analysis at the end of that process.”

::Very Well. Continue.::

“Chamber. Is there any way to further hinder my performance?”

~Indeed. Your initial Spirit Units can be supplemented up to 60% and there are more options here. For 5% you can render yourself incapable of taking a spiritual form. You will have to physically accompany your m… Carwyn everywhere and will have to find a way to conceal your identity.~

::You will draw attention as a constantly manifest Servant. That is not unheard of, but is extremely unusual.::

“Excellent. Sounds good. What else is worth 5%?”

~There are three options in that range. Weak Constitution Rank D will cause your physical stats to potentially experience a sudden drop in effectiveness whenever you stress yourself… say in combat. Powerless Shell Rank D drops the overall effectiveness of your stats and skills. It may be released but only at the cost of a time limit, increased cost, or loss of control. And Migraine Rank D causes chronic headaches.~

“In my original lifetime, I suffered from Migraines so bad sometimes all I could do was vomit. Rank D Migraines I think I can handle. I assume that higher ranks are worth more?”

~They are, but be aware that Migraines will also lessen the effective success rate of mental skill utilization.~

“It’s 49 days. I’ll cope.”

~Very well. You are at 10%. For 10% each you may apply a one of two mana limitations or a lock out on one of your Servant Skills. The Skill Lockout can be taken twice. The first mana limiter means your master will not be able to supply you with Mana and you won’t have mana regeneration during the contest. The second increases the amount of mana you need dramatically.~

“So I can buy a power… Skill rather… then decide I’m not going to use it and get a discount?”

~That’s correct.~

“And I assume I require a constant source of mana to maintain my existence? Running out of mana will cause me to… what? Fade away?”

[[Yes. Exactly.]]

“Wonderful. You said Casters use something called High Speed Divine Words to cast spells more rapidly?”

[[Yes.]]

“And they can create specialized combat zones? Territory Creation you called it? Those are both skills?”

[[Correct.]]

~Be aware, that this lockout is due to a past trauma. You will be emotionally conflicted and should Carwyn force you to use it despite your refusal, it will strain your relationship with her.~

“Ha. Our relationship is 80% getting on each other’s nerves and 20% really kinky sex.”

::Sex?! No. No Sex! It will damage our ESRB RATING!::

“What?”

[[We do not know what ESRB / PEGI is but for some reason, one of our primary directives is to not violate a series of strictures that would harm our ESRB / PEGI rating. Sex is one of those things.]]

“Oh… joy. Right…”

~For your information, Sophia. Having an extremely poor relationship with your Master nets you a 20% increase in Spirit Units.~

“Excellent. That’s 50%… toss in the no mana regen. I can cover that.”

[[That seems unlikely. You would be forced to use an unfeasible amount of Elixirs.]]

“I’m good.

[[I see. You plan on feeding off the souls of those you defeat in battle? How cruel of you.]]

“Say what?”

::Servants can normally regain magical energy by eating and sleeping… though the rate of return is very small. A Significant amount of magical energy can be gained by devouring the souls of human beings or of wraiths. The third way is by transferring bodily fluid between Master and Servant… but that is no longer the case for you, apparently::

“Right. Well, no… maybe I don’t know. I’ll think about it. But for right now, I think I have a plan… and 600 Spirit Units. Does it cost any to be a Caster?”

~55. For that you gain Rank C Agility, Rank A Mana, and Rank B Luck, plus increasing your Mana is twice as effective. You also gain a Noble Phantasm at half price. Item Creation and Territory Creation are Class Skills.~

“But not High Speed Divine Words? How odd. Never mind. I guess it’s not something every Caster has?”

::That is correct. Then again, not all Casters have the Creation skills either. There are many thousands of Servants.::

~In addition to your class, you may also be a Lily, Alter, or Living Servant. Before you ask, Alter’s come from a darker version of their past, leaving them paler, more aggressive, and with stronger willpower thanks to overcoming hardship. Lily is the opposite, coming from a lighter version of their past, being more friendly, more hopeful, and with stronger willpower due to having won at everything and having made all the friends.~

“Tell me those are incompatible!”

~They are. Living will allow you to keep certain Servant traits after the end of your stay here and means that you no longer need Carwyn to keep at least one Command Seal.~

“What traits?”

~An immunity to modern weaponry and the ability to become intangible and invisible at will, along with any Noble Phantasms you have.~

“Meh. Whatever it costs, it’s not worth it. I can do those things already pretty much. I’ll go with Lily though. That sounds nice.”

~That costs you 30 Spirit Units, leaving you with 515. It increases your Strength and Agility one Rank each, and Mana twice. Your current Stats are Strength D, Endurance E, Agility B, Mana A++, and Luck B.~

“MMM… how much to raise Mana that last plus?”

~10 Units. You will be at 505~

“Do it.”

::Querry. Sophia is a full Deity. That requires EX Rank in Divinity. How many Spiritual Units does she have to expend for that?::

~It depends on how many EX Rank Parameters she has, as each becomes progressively more expensive. Each one has a 20 Unit surcharge for each already purchased.~

::Most intriguing. Every change you make seems to be redefining part of history. Querry. Sophia Lily… are you the Magi Supreme Deity?::

“Yes. That is one of my identities. You have records of the Magi?”

::Indeed. An ancient culture, long vanished. Dating back to 10,000 BCE.::

“Chamber… Transfer knowledge of the Skill and Noble Phantasm pricing matrix to me please.” I paused for a long processing cycle, then said “Thank you. I believe I have spent everything.”

::I am showing the presence of four skills, two of them at EX rank.::

“That’s correct. Territory Creation A++, which I don’t feel like using, but which will make future contests even less balanced than they already would have been and High Speed Divine Words A, which I also don’t feel like using, which will allow me to cast even high thaumaturgy level spells as a single action? Is that correct? We’re talking about rattling off a complete grand master class incantation… an entire ritual 9th grade spell, without memorization… in the time it normally takes a mage to cast a memorized cantrip?”

[[I can confirm that to be the case. Chamber, how much do those set our goddess back?]]

~50 for the Divine Words, 40 for the Territory Creation. That brings her down to 415.~

“Yes Chamber, aside from you, we’re all hyper-computers here.”

~Records should be kept accurately.~

“Whatever. I also picked up Divinity EX as is required. That costs me 90 I believe, since I get the first Skill at C rank for Free. 20 to boost it to A and then 70 more for EX… but what do I get for being a full God?”

[[There are no true Gods in our system. We have no idea what the limits of such a thing are. The fact that you can register as one is unprecedented. I merely posited it to see if it was possible. I was assuming you’d be limited to A++, as that would be greater than Gilgamesh’s 2/3rds demigod, the highest on record.]]

::Divinity increases your damage and defenses proportionate to how divine you are, and allows you to punch through divine defenses such as Protection of the Faith. Nominally, weapons that aren’t divine in nature have limited effect on you and non-divine protections are of limited utility against your own attacks. However, Anti-Divine Weapons will be especially damaging against you.::

“That I was counting on, but I’ll get back to that in a moment. I used my discount on Item Creation to raise that to EX as well. I believe that will allow me to create Noble Phantasms and upgrade those which are not absolute in their moment of creation… that is ones which are not reflective of heroic feats but are actual tools or items. Can you confirm, Moon Cell?”

::That is within the realm of possibility. There are other EX Item Creators.::

~I show that those two cost 90 for Divinity and 75 for Item Creation with your discount which does not apply to the 20 Unit Surcharge. 250 Remains.~

[[Did you spend all remaining Units on Noble Phantasms?]]

“Yes. That would be the case… actually… no. One second. Chamber, the Nazarethian Revival. Is that a Noble Phantasm or a Skill?”

[[I believe you’re referring to Thrice Setting Sun? The ability to self-resurrect?]]

“Yes. Exactly. Chamber, at what rank would I have to have that to use it to prevent Termination of Employment?”

~A Rank, it would have to be prepared before the triggering event. It could be used up to three times per usage to save you from death after you retire, but for the length of employment, it will have to be limited to once per Link.~

“Good. Fine. I spend 50 Units on that. That’s 200. I spent the rest of those on Six Noble Phantasms.”

::That is very close to being the most any single servant has.::

“Yeah, well. I’m mostly getting 4 at E- just to guarantee I have them at the beginning. I’ll improve them over time. They only cost 5 each… that’s 180.”

~That is extremely sneaky…~

“Yes. A fiat guarantee on each and a fiat ability to improve them. I am Wisdom. They are called Familiar Faces, Hebdomad, Walrus Time, and Anabasis.”

::A Pun I assume on the fact that Sophia is often called upon by Wicca and other Witches, a reference to Sophia’s Archons, a historic tract by Xenophon recalling a long retreat, and… I do not understand the Walrus reference.::

“I am She as you are Me as We are All together.”

::A paraphrase of a song lyric by the band known as The Beatles… a reference to confusion but also togetherness and absurdity.::

“Very much so. Familiar Faces is an Anti-Sanity Noble Phantasm. It summons small furry animals… they are persistent. They do not, currently, do anything besides act like small furry adorable animals… i.e damage the cognitive ability of anyone susceptible to cuteness or compassion… as they also clog up the battlefield.. As the level increases they will begin damaging sanity progressively more and more. Potentially ending battles peacefully… and providing pets for those who might need them.”

[[That is insane.]]

::No more insane than some of the others.::

“There are two of you in there? You argue with yourself.”

[[I am Twice H. Pieceman. I am the System Administrator… I am Saver’s Master.]]

“Ah. Okay. Walrus Time is an Anti-World Noble Phantasm that grants everyone on the planet empathy with all other sapient beings for a limited period of time… it also causes a slight drop in global temperature every time it is used. As it is improved, it will cause greater and greater empathy for longer and longer. It can also be used to force currently two individuals to experience perfect understanding of each other. That number will also increase as I tweak the Phantasm.”

[[Potentially terrifying. You could cause an Ice-Age with that.]]

“I can cause an Ice-Age by relaxing.”

::…::

~Well said.~

“Hebdomad is an Anti-Unit Noble Phantasm that summons one of the 7 Archons. Currently, that is all it does. The Archons are not boosted by this in any way. They will attempt to seize dominion over the area they are summoned into and attack my enemies who enter that area. Because the level is low, it will not initially be possible for them to seize control of any created territory… but as the level improves that will change, as will the boost the Archons gain as they are summoned. If all seven Archons are summoned into the same battle before any are banished, they will activate the ability Ogdoad and self-banish. Ogdoad will grant me a stat boost… once I’ve begun boosting the Archons by summoning them.”

[[How much of a Boost?]]

“Once I get the Noble Phantasm to A? You don’t want to think about that. And to distract you, Anabasis is an Anti-Army Noble Phantasm. It makes an army aware of their own mortality and encourages them to seek the comforts of home. I imagine it will absolute cripple morale and cause mass desertion. At the moment it can only be used against armies in the field and cannot be used against defensive home armies.”

::That would have no effect on a Servant… but might weaken the will of a Master.::

“Or a summoned army, yes.”

~And the remaining two? I assume these are the expensive ones?~

“Yes. The first is called Palace of Mirrors. It is my discounted Noble Phantasm and it is an EX Barrier. It reflects any attack thrown at me many times over. As Sophia, I am everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The augmentation of the attack is not dependant on how powerful the attack or the barrier are, but on how enlightened and self-aware the attacker is. A perfectly enlightened and self-aware opponent cannot be damaged by their own reflected attack, but the most unthinking brute will probably be obliterated.”

[[So it is designed to stop Berserkers?]]

“To a degree… but really most people… even most spirits in my experience aren’t very aware of why they do what they do and lack perspective and introspection. We shall see how it works.”

[[You mentioned you had something to deal with Anti-Divine attacks, was that it?]]

“No. That would be ‘The Mask of Baphomet’ or just ‘Baphomet’. It is an A+++ Rank Anti-Evil Noble Phantasm… it has two purposes. First, it transforms me from Sophia into Baphomet, which transforms my Divine Rank into Demon Rank until the mask is removed.”

::Baphomet is a quasi-demonic goat entity… that does make sense. It is one of the guises of Sophia, and, in fact the two names are atbash cipher for each other. What is the second effect? We assume some kind of attack?::

“Err… yes. It forces those who are Evil to see themselves and their past actions objectively, without biases and to judge themselves accordingly. Won’t work optimally well on those who actually acknowledge their own evil, or view that evil as necessity, but should do some nasty things to most nasties… it’s a pretty powerful attack on its own… most people have done things they regret for less than wholesome reasons.”

::You are now a complete Divine Spirit according to my records… You lack significant offensive capacity without your use of High Speed Divine Words… but your standard attacks could be damaging due to your Divinity. Also, your Demon Form does have horns. You are a significant threat… what do you anticipate your chance of winning this to be?”

“Assuming knowledge of the enemy is as big a force multiplier as you believe it to be? 95%. And that’s only because of the lag and the fact that I’ll have to fight honorably. If I didn’t have to do that, I’d simply take over your system and declare myself the winner.”

::We shall have to see. You are the 128th Contestant, or rather, Carwyn is. Welcome to the Holy Grail War of Moon Cell, Sophia.::

[[We look forward to your humiliating defeat.]]

====INSERTION=====

“Who is this Sophia?” Carwyn asked. “I am unfamiliar with her from any of your religious texts.”

“Well, first, let’s stop referring to me by that name.” We were speaking telepathically, but who knew if any of the other Servants might be telepaths. “It’s tradition to just call a Servant by their class, so call me Caster… no… call me Archer. Just to really screw with people. It does not violate chivalry when the custom is to conceal one’s heraldry. Until someone figures out I’m not who you claim I am, I am Skadi, the Norse Goddess of Archery. When they figure out I’m a Caster, I’m Mary the Jewess, an early Gnostic Prophetess and Alchemist. That will explain the Gnostic symbology that will spring up and the Caster… though I won’t be noticeably using any Caster Skills and will be using a bow and sword.”

“Seems like an overly complex system. Can’t you simply smash all these people? Beings? Whatever they are.” An annoyed look dominated the inhumanly pretty Elf’s face and part of me wanted to kiss her and other parts wanted to slap her. Ah… dysfunctional relationships.

“Anyway, to answer your first question, according to Gnosticism and related schools of thought, The Prime Urge created the Universe with the assistance of Wisdom. In Qabbalah, the Prime Urge is known as Ain, or First, or Nothing. From Ain comes Ain Sof as the the second emmanation, the Holy Oneness, and then comes Ain Sof Aur, the Holy Light of Creation. Next and last of the emmanations is the ‘Contraction’, the universe as a place where things can exist individually. Sophia is that. She is the Wisdom of the Prime Urge, the self-awareness of God. She is God’s counsellor and workmistress… mmm… master-craftsman. She dwelt beside HIM before the creation of the world and (according to some fairly sexist rhetoric) sported continually before him.”

“So this is a Jewish Concept?”

“Mmm… maybe. It’s hard to say. Some evidence exists that early jews edited out the sacred feminine… or maybe later jews felt the mythology was unbalanced or not Mithraist enough so they might have added her back in… hard to be definitive about it. But according to both Jewish and Christian Gnostics of the early period about 2000 years ago in the current timeline… she was not only assigned the formation and ordering of the natural physical universe but with the communication of all insight and knowledge to mankind. This essentially makes her both the go between between the physical visible universe and the high heavens… as well as being the ruler of the visible universe.”

“I sense there is some… reason she’s not revered widely? Besides the sexism of your native species?”

“Well… yeah. It’s called the Fall. The Context is often taken as a bad thing. Essentially it was an original thought or an action taken without God… and it produced the Demiurge… The creator of the physical world… according to Christian Gnostics. Jewish Gnosticism largely died out as Christianity flourished… and then Christian Gnosticism was crushed by mainstream Christianity. In the Christian Gnostic belief, the Demiurge, aka Yaldobalth or Satan, created the world. That’s why there was evil in it and the Nazarethian came from Almighty God to offer a way to escape this flawed world. Sophia by this point had been redeemed… but they still sometimes called me Sophia Prunikos… the harlot.”

“Ouch.” Carwyn crossed her legs and studied the school uniform she was wearing. “This is hideous… why would anyone wear this?” she asked out loud, while thinking “So… why can’t you just crush all these other servants?”

“I’m not the complete Sophia. The Moon Cell and Grail don’t completely encapsulate the totality of the Spirits they summon. Rather, it’s an aspect. I’m not all of Sophia… I’m just part of what Sophia could be… and all these others? They’re conceptual beings. They don’t fight using just magic or weapons. They attack with the ideas of magic or the memory of weapons. Cuchulain’s weapon Gae Bolg pretty much automatically pierces the heart despite defenses because it is its nature to do so. I’d be a fool to assume I can simply beat all my foes… especially since I don’t know who they are.”

“SO we’ll have to do research? Sounds dreadful?”

“Maybe? Hopefully we can get a look at enough of the other servants. My Third Eye and Combat Precog should combine to tell me who they are and what they’re about to do… I just need your more general precog to make sure we aren’t getting into anything we can’t cope with… and to perhaps figure out if there are any opponents we need to tilt the game against early on.”

“Isn’t that unchivalrous?”

“No. There is nothing in chivalry against telling one side of a fight how they might win as long as I’m not involved. Also, making some fights more fair might be in keeping with Chivalric Ideals.”

“So where do we start?”

I shrugged. “I guess we wander around and try to figure out where everything is and hope we can figure out who we’re facing.”

“We can both read minds… oh… that’s not Chivalrous, is it?”

“No. I don’t think so. Seeing who people are is fair enough… but looking inside their most private places… well… I can look into their hearts to see if they are good people or not, but I shouldn’t pry into their minds… and neither should you.”

“Eat me.”

“Oh… yes… this is going to be great.” I sighed. “Why do you have to be such a bitch?”

“Because these games you’re playing are stupid. We could simply force them to give up… or you could simply hack this simulation. Playing by the rules is daft.”

“It’s a challenge.”

“Not one worth taking!”

“Umm… excuse me… you’re-” we both wheeled on the slightly mousey teacher who was trying to get by and glowered at her. She gulped, then squeaked “C… can I get by?”

“NO!” snapped Carwyn.

I sighed and bowed as I stepped out of the way, “Of course, Sensei. Forgive my Master. She’s a horrible uncouth individual and there’s no excuse for her, but still I ask.”

The teacher, who wasn’t registering as an individual must have been an NPC… I think she was based on a teacher from the original show… but I’d never paid that much attention to it when I’d seen fragments of it thousands and thousands of years ago, smiled and nodded… then tripped over nothing at all… a giant weird pratfall… what the hell?

I glared at Carwyn, but she seemed as nonplused as I was, so she hadn’t tk’d the teacher. Oh well. Weird simulation glitch?

=====

::We thought you had promised not to interfere with our operations.::

“I did. But there are two things here. First, every single one of my opponents is a hacker that hacked into the Moon Cell, right?”

::Affirmation.::

“But they’re here spiritually.  How?”

::Via a device called the Spiritron. They project their souls up here.::

“I see… well, I’m trying to figure out why you’re allowing them to hack into your system in the first place.”

::Humanity is dying. We were tasked to observe them, but it is clear this period of remote observation is ending. Either we act to preserve them or observe their extinction.::

“Ah… so this wish… you’re trying to use a human of strong enough will to win this contest to make a wish that will change humanity’s destiny.”

::Affirmation.::

“But you’ve done this before. Why hasn’t one of the previous winners done so?”

[[They failed the final test.]]

“They…” I calculated rapidly… “You’re Saver’s Master. Saver is the Core Program designed to save Humanity, isn’t it…. You’re an NPC… NPCs can’t make… you’ve got a specific wish you want made and you’re using Saver to defeat any Master who disagrees with your wish. That’s why defeating you ends the scenario.”

[[You put that together on remarkably little information.]]

“I have a lot of processing power. Even if the lag is annoying as hell.”

::That does not explain why you continue to hack the Moon Cell in violation of your oath.::

“My oath was not to refrain from hacking you completely. Merely to refrain from compromising your operational function… ah… good… here… there… I’m done.”

::You have changed some part of my core programming… But I cannot see what you have done. How is this not compromising my functionality?::

“You kept referring to yourself in both singular and plural form. It was annoying me.” I explained truthfully, but in doing so I covered up a much bigger lie. “I changed that by strengthening your sense of individual identity. While I was there, I also hacked the basic classroom… these idiot NPCs wandering around were annoying me and the decor sucked.” I looked around the ‘classroom’… it now resembled the interior of a Moroccan opium den, full of rugs and cushions and low tables and tapestries.”

::That seems like a waste of effort. Shouldn’t you have tried to find out who you were facing first, or manipulated the system to give you an advantage?::

“No. In fact, I’ve specifically disabled anyone’s ability to predict the battlefield by randomizing weather, terrain, time of day and year and dividing the combat zone into two halves with different settings. Were you aware that some heroes of legend cannot be defeated during day or night or in specific times of year? Better this way. More fair.”

[[You are tampering with the system to… eliminate unfairness?]]

“Chivalry. Now, excuse me. I have to deliver formal letters of challenge to all my potential opponents.”

::Chamber? Are you still online?::

~Yes.~

::Is she always like this?::

~Honestly? For her this is restrained.~

=======

“Ahab, you idiot!” I growled, grabbing the other Servant and pinning him to a wall, even as he tried to turn invisible and fade away.

“What’s your problem?!” He growled back, thrashing. “I don’t know any-”

“I can see who you really are, you moron. What were you thinking! We don’t know if the CHamber can cope with companions dying! Yoiko and Ryoga are still missing and Higher hasn’t given me clue one!”

“What says I’m going to get killed?”

“You can’t defeat me, for one. Not on your best day. You couldn’t beat me back when we met and I’ve gotten better far faster than you have. And Kipling? You’re Rudyard Kipling? A Poet against actual legendary heroes!”

“The Master Freebies sucked! And it’s not like I can bow out. Joy… I dunno if she can, now that she’s Planet, but my import is automatic. So either I’m a Master or a Servant and being a Servant is a damned sight better than the option. Servants die and get better all the damned time, right? They’re already dead!”

I blinked… then nodded slowly. “I hope you’re right… I hope you’re right.”

======

“Well, our first opponent has been selected… if you care,” Carwyn passive-aggressed.

“Yes. I see. I’m standing right h…h… h… h… h…h….h…h…h…here. Fuuuuck. That’s annoying. Yoshiko Mifune. I met her two hours ago. By appearance she’s a 15 year old photography club member… but her actual personality is that of an 47 year old anti-nuclear power eco-terrorist wanted by the Japanese government for attempting to sabotage the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Her Caster is Imhotep the Builder. Impression?”

“Against Skadi? He’ll try defensive installations and earthworks, build a temple to augment casting power to overcome your magic resistance… Do you think you can manage to stay awake during the battle?”

“No promises,” I drawled. “Do your prognostications show that any major threats exist?

“Yes. Several. #55… Manassas Franco Engman is a major concern.”

“I haven’t managed to meet him yet. Any idea why?”

“No. Just a sense. I’ve only been able to cast a general set of runes.”

“Anyone else?” I felt like scratching my nose… but I didn’t have to… as a Servant in a Simulation, I barely felt myself at all… I was here, was hungry… my energy was fine right now, but it would get low soon enough.

“#48… Anupam Sarita… #47… Monji Gato…” Her hand hovered over the list of masters as if feeling each for resonance… it’s probably what she was doing, but the tone of her voice was annoying me and I really wanted her to speak faster. “Numbers 83 through 85… Woodward Zaher, Rocco Christian, and ‘Lil’Ronnie’? What kind of name is that?”

“Stupid. Much like it’s owner, no doubt. Monji Gato I’ve met. His Servant’s someone I’ve never heard of named Arcueid Brunestud…. No idea at all what her story is, but she’s a Berserker.”

“Heh. Better get good at running,” Carwyn snarked, then turned back to the board. “#91… Rin Tohsaka… you hissed?”

“She’s the female lead… kinda… of Fate/Night…. Summoned an Archer called EMIYA… yes, all capital letters… no idea what that’s about… but apparently, EMIYA is the future version of the male lead whose servant is female King Arthur because apparently King Arthur, Emperor Nero, and Attila the Hun were all female in this world. Probably others… oh, and Arthur and Nero look identical. Something called “Saber Face.” I don’t know what’s up with that… Rin’s trouble… yeah. We should find out if EMIYA’s her Servant… and how she got here.”

“If you say so. Still say this is a waste of time… but at least it’s a short one. Huh… two people named Harway in the same match, round 1…”

I looked, then shrugged. “Dunno about Julius, but Leonard’s the blond twerp who just admitted his Saber is Gawain… he’s why I tweaked the combat system. Dude can’t be defeated during the day… it was always day in the arenas. ALWAYS.”

“Well… that’s stupid.”

I resisted coming back with “so’s your face”, but just barely.

“#95… Vauquelin Gahariet’s giving me bad vibes. And #32… Ninian Kasper-Sebios is too.”

“Kasper-Sebios’s servant is probably Menelaus, Agamemnon, Orestes, Iphigenia, or Elektra. I overheard her calling them Atreides… I didn’t see the servant though… but those are the members of the house of Atreus of note… I mean it could be Thyestes or Clytemnestra… maybe Pelops or Tantalus, but Pelops is Atreus’s father and Tantalus his grandfather and Thyestes is Atreus’s brother and Aegisthus is Thyestes’ son and grandson… Clytemnestra’s married one of the sons of Atreus, but I don’t know enough about greek traditions of the period to know if they’d include a wife… maybe Cassandra… but I don’t think it was greek tradition at any point to call a war-prize by the captor’s family name…”

“I thought the Atreides were Paul, Jessica, Aliya, Ghanima, and Leto, Leto, and Leto…”

“Fictional characters named after greek mytho-historical figures…”

“Oh… fine…” Her hand continued up the brackets, pausing, starting, moving on. She paused at #26 (Marta Kuhn), pursed her lips, then moved on to the match between #109 and #20… Amon Urban and Penthes Amancio. “Something here… don’t know which… Very strange…” then further up, past #16 (Alice) and #12 (Dubhthach) and #9 (Liborio Linz Vanja), but while she paused at them, she didn’t call them out.

“Problem with your predictions?”

“Too many reality warpers here. Too hard to read completely. Like this one…” She tapped #122 (Tod Aina). “This one has luck strong enough to change the course of wars.” She moved up to #2 (Andreea Malina). “And this one’s Servant is totally insane. Insane enough to push their view of reality into reality for everyone else.” then she slid her hand down to #125 (M’samba Funda) “But this one… this one is trouble.”

“Well then… I guess we should be glad they’re in the entirely opposite bracket.” I tapped the chart. Somehow, Carwyn was seeded #65, absolute bottom of the East Bracket. M’samba was near the top of the West Bracket. If we met, it would be in the Finals. In fact, thanks to the way Single Elimination Tournaments worked, I had to worry about exactly one of the 64 Master-Servant Pairs in the West Bracket… and exactly one of the 32 Master-Servant Pairs in the North-East… and one of the 16 pairs in Group 1 of the South-East, and one of the 8 pairs in Section A of Group 2 of the South-East. Of course… I had no real way of knowing which, and even perfect knowledge of all the combatants’ true identities wouldn’t have done more than give me odds… and that only with copious homework… But first, I had to defeat my first two opponents to even get out of Section B… Group 2… South-East… Ah well… At least I’d rigged the system to record every fight and make them easily viewable to every surviving Master after each round. Chivalry!

====

“And then you went ‘Zthwip Zthwip Zthwip’ and he went ‘Noooooooooo!’ and derezzed!” Alex said as we ate lunch in the warehouse and I washed down my eggs with manapotion.

“She knows. She was there, Alexander,” Maggy said, glowering at her over-enthusiastic brother. They were biologically about 11 or 12 now, getting more and more mature by the decade… though this jump certainly wouldn’t add much to that.

“But it was soo cool!” Alex insisted, almost knocking over his cornflakes… kid hated sweet breakfast cereal… didn’t have a problem with sweet in general, just cereal. “Did you watch all the other fights yet, Papa?”

I nodded, “Several times. Can’t third-eye who’s who through the recordings, of course, but…”

Maggy nodded “Some Servants gave away who they were in the first round.”

I shrugged. “Some, like Mulan, had to reveal themselves to have a chance of winning at all. Drawing Merlin as your first opponent… ouch.” Of course, the powerful mage hadn’t been the only surprise to go out in the first round. And he wasn’t the only overpowered legend to fall in the first round. Rama of Hindu Legend… whose Master had been Manasses Engman had been eliminated by the Servant of one Victoria Zoya and I still had no idea how the heavily robed figure had managed it.

Others had lost because Carwyn had spoken with their opponent’s Masters to give them advice or outright tell who they were up against. Rin Tohsaka & her Lancer Cuchulainn and Andreea Malina and his Berserker who’d turned out to be Don Quixote had been two of those. Good lord, Don Quixote had been nightmare, ignoring everything that didn’t fit into his world view and doing obscene damage to his larger opponent who seemed to have an Oriental Bear theme. Hadn’t helped in the end to stop the spear that cut down the LaManchan, but it had been a close run thing.

Then there were just strange fights… like the Harway duo, where Julius had just let Leonard win, despite how furious it made his Servant who’d turned out to be some chinese Assassin. Arcueid had turned out to be some kind of Vampiric Berserker… but she’d been up against a pair of red-robed figures who ran rings around the crazy woman… They looked like fantasy versions of Roman Catholic Cardnials… Mazaran & Richelieu perhaps?  And even that hadn’t been the strangest fight… that honor went to Amon Urban’s Caster who’d managed to vanquish an Archer who’d turned out to be Koschei the immortal… The Caster had thrown up practically inviolable defenses and pounded the Archer into dogfood… only to have Koschei get better again and again and again… fight had gone on and on… until the Caster had furrowed his brow and summoned an egg. Koschei had gone crazy and actually clawed at the defensive wards… but it was fruitless… and then the fight was over. I’d have to keep an eye on that one.

“I know you kids are bored, but you can always go down to Earth if you want.” I suggest, but got three shrugs in response. The current state of Earth wasn’t particularly nice.

“Is Uncle Ahab okay?” Amaryllis asked at last.

“I don’t know, sweetie. He vanished when that wooden horse smashed through his Screwguns and rolled right over him and Sargent What’s His Name. He could just be banished… or…” I sighed. “I don’t know. I guess we’ll find out in 42 days.”

=======

“Who do you think is next?” Carwyn asked.

“Mmmm… It says Naxon Shareefi is the Avenger’s Master. Defeated Sir Kay the Lancer in the last round.  And after that is either Saber Mulan or the Lancer with the Wode face paint who manhandled Lu Bu like he was a rogue bull.”

“Any idea who either are?”

“If Naxon’s Servant was an Archer, I’d say he was Robin Hood… he has that english forester look… but he’s wearing armor under that cloak and wielding a sword…. No idea beyond that. I think Parker Horst’s Lancer is William Wallace but I’ve got to get a better look.”

“You could just face them up-front without all the maneuvering. Do they really have a chance against you if you don’t know who they are?”

“I’ve told you before, you inconsistent twerp. Servants often use conceptual attacks. They don’t rely on actual damage… they rely on the idea of inflicting injury. Now, make yourself useful and go punch Parker Horst in the face or something else utterly uncooth.”

“I’m the Master here. Shouldn’t I be giving orders to you?”

“You summoned me in this time and place, I am a slave to your wishes… but I am not sworn to your service and you are no princess in need of salvation. Still, I am honor bound to do your bidding, and bound by the Command Seals. But if you seek to force me to violate the code, you will have to burn one.”

“It would be a waste of potential power. No… fine. I shall seek to draw out the Lancer. You figure out how to defeat the Avenger.”

====

“I am unimpressed by trickshots, Skadi,” Loxley called. He’d batted away every arrow I’d launched at him, had the knight bound to bring ruin down upon Prince John and restore the reign of England’s rightful King. “I will bring this corrupt world crashing down and you will not stop me.”

“While I don’t blame you for thinking this world is a cesspit, Your Lordship, you will forgive me if I don’t simply give up.”

He growled as yet another arrow transformed into a puppy that whined as it landed on his head. “Your Heathen Witchcraft is not amusing. I will not be toyed with like…” He crumpled as a blizzard of arrows slammed through his momentarily lowered guard and made short work of his chainmail. His master, Rikard Marian gasped, looking down at the single arrow sticking out of his own chest, then fell back a moment later, twitching and going still before he too derezzed.

Carwyn snorted, looking around at the several dozen furry animals. “So… are these real or a simulation of real?”

I looked and shrugged “I… don’t know. Can you summon something real in a VR simulation? Did I use a NP or just a simulation of one? Is this entire universe merely a simulation? Are all realities-”

“Oh, do shut up.”

======

I looked at the playback in stunned silence. “Did… did that just happen?”

Carwyn too looked stunned. “I think so… Arjuna the Archer… he seemed… remarkably skilled.” I nodded. “And he just… lost?” I nodded again. “Is Arjuna a powerful figure in Human history?”

“He’s one of the most powerful demi-gods of Hindu mythology. The second greatest Archer in their canon…” I frowned, trying to figure out what I was seeing as I watched the very short clip again.

“And his bow… does it normally get caught on his belt?”

“Noo… it looks like he had a crisis of resolution… which is totally in keeping with his legend… but that was about killing kinfolk.”

“A legendary warrior with qualms about killing?” Carwyn was just babbling at this point.

“Yes. Krishna… the avatar of the Hindu Supreme Deity Vishnu, was his charioteer and talked him through it in the legend… not so much this time.”

“It looked like his opponent threw something at him and his bowstring snapped and then she kicked him and he fell to ashes.”

“Eyes. I have them. Yes.” I snarked.

“M’samba Funda’s Servant is some kind of Sun God, I think.” Carwyn said after a time.

“Yes, I picked that up. Egyptian. Unfortunately, the Egyptians had about a dozen of them, so it doesn’t narrow it down much. Still, if we’re lucky it’s Ra.”

“Why that one?”

“Vulnerable to poison.”

“Now I know Poison is against this code!” She snapped.

“Yes… but hoping one of your enemy’s rivals takes advantage of a weakness isn’t.” I sighed… “But giving that information might be. I don’t know. I’m very bad at playing fair.”

“The lucky one might take him out… he beat Ivan the Terrible by getting Ivan to impale himself.”

I chuckled. “Yeah. That was funny. Also funny was watching Columbus get beaten by a Monkey… I’ve changed my mind. I don’t think that’s Sun Wukong. Too Hindi… maybe Hanuman.”

“Difference?”

“Hanuman is actually more powerful but less famous than his Chinese Expy. Wukong is almost certainly a copy of Hanuman.”

“So you think the Egyptian or the Lucky one for Northwest 1?” Carwyn asked. “And either the Monkey or the mysterious Arjuna defeater for Northwest 2?”

“I’ve no idea… I’m not the long term future precog. That’s your job, Farseer.” I said with a twinkle. “The Saint who defeated Circe might be worth a look… shame about the little Nursery Rhyme girl and her master falling before what has got to be Miyamoto Musashi. That Oar-Sword is unmistakable.

“It’s hard predicting things with reality warpers… Thankfully, you’re not in that group so you’re not blocking me as much… but you’re still here and that’s making things harder.”

I ignored her jibe and considered the other groupings. Southwest 1 was a mess. Somehow, there were three Jewish figures in that group. I’d managed to figure out that the powerful caster was King Solomon and the Avenger who’d defeated the founder of Jainism wasn’t at all good at concealing the fact that he was Simon Bar Kokhba… They were about to square off in round 3, having defeated their 2nd round opponents easily. Whichever one of them won was going to face either a Paladin I was certain was Ogier the Dane (who had defeated JS Bach by outchristianing him) or King David (who had beaten George Washington with a sling bullet to the head). That was going to be a pair of fights to watch.

Southwest 2 was anyone’s guess. Geronimo had lost to a woman with water based power and a sword that looked like Excalibur. Zoro had gone down to a veiled woman with dark skin and cat ears that I was guessing was Bastet. Robespierre had gone down to a classical greek scholar type… and Cleopatra had gone down to the son of Atreus who was using his golden fleece to exceptional utility despite his extremely violent and uncontrolled attitude on the battlefield.

But all those were little more than spectator sports for me. I’d only have to deal with one of them… I was hoping it wasn’t the one who’d taken out Arjuna. Closer to home and perhaps as worrying was the fact that someone in Northwest had defeated Ravenna in round two. She’d hit him with a mace until he stopped moving and he’d had a great deal of trouble defeating her.  I’d have to find out how those two had done it.

Amusingly, Gawain’s buy in the first round hadn’t helped when, in the second round, it had been night and he’d been shot many times by Manfred von Richthofen… I mean, it had to be Richthofen… it was the Red Baron, complete with biplane!

The most remarkable fight in Northwest had been the fact that someone I suspected was Dracula had defeated the death god ‘Arawn’. That had been a fight to see and not for children or the faint of heart. But it hadn’t been the only incredible fight. Ozymandias had fallen before an old crone with some powerful magic and the twin cardinals who had proven to be exactly who I’d thought they must be had fallen to a very clever Rider who had a trireme… I was guessing he might be Odysseus. If he used a bow or called upon Athena, I’d know for certain.

But again, that was for later. In my own section I was getting a better handle on who was who. Guan-Di had fallen to a Mongol Chieftain who had turned the hero-cum-god’s divinity against him. Unfortunately, that could be Atilla the Hun or Timur the Lame or maybe Ghengis or Subatai… but the first two seemed more likely. Richard Wagner’s musical might had proven no use against a knight dressed all in green… could he be ‘The Green Knight’? I had no idea, but if the Mongol defeated him, I’d know for certain… and if the Knight won, then I’d know the Mongol…

And Mulan had fallen before the Celt… who had turned out not be a Celt but a Gaul. I’d figured out who he was when he’d nearly been strangled by the Chinese Heroine, but he’d managed to throw her off before she could exploit his doom and speared her to the ground. It had been grizzly and, I felt, a little over the top. Very unchivalrous.

======

“Thank you Butlersied… that was delicious… I enjoyed the arsenic especially.” I drawled, batting my eyes at the glowering would be tyrant.

“You could just order me not to try to poison you,” He growled.

“And steal your free will? What kind of monster do you take me for?”

“What do you call this?” He gestured at the Butler suit he was wearing.

“Punishment for your many, many, many crimes. All I demanded of you was that you obey me and never try to harm any of my friends, companions, or passengers.”

“You made me sign a binding contract with over 9,000 clauses. Some of them were inane,” He growled in a voice like granite boulders being rubbed against each other.

“Yeah… I was padding the count to annoy you.”

“Yes. I figured. But you’ve left yourself vulnerable,” He smirked.

I smirked back, knowing what was coming. “Have I?”

“Yes! I, Darkseid! Challenge you to a duel!” and he slapped me with one of his gloves.

“Very well… but if you fail to defeat me, I will level a punishment upon you.”

“I will not lose!” He roared, eyes blazing with Omega beams.

====

“I lost…” He blinked, looking down at his danty little feet.

“Yup.”

“How did I lose?”

“You don’t spend much time considering just how big of a jackass you are, do you?”

“I am Darkseid! Introspection is for weaker minds!”

“You are Maidseid… now, go clean the bathrooms.” I handed the little girl a very small toothbrush and pointed to the slum that was Mumbai’s densest section. “All of them. And remember to be polite to anyone who doesn’t pinch your bottom or try anything fresh.”

“I loathe you.”

====

The Gaul called me a Jewess and mocked me for giving away my Caster Identity in the last fight. I smirked and shrugged, saying nothing, knowing that my nested Identity wouldn’t last beyond this fight or the next anyway. I began juggling nine spheres and waited for the Gaulish Lancer to attack.

“Tell me, Mercenarius… do you ever miss home? Dying on foreign shores… strangled to death for the amusement of Rome. How… tragic.”

“I’ll strangle you, Witch.” he snarled. I just smirked, tossing seven of the spheres up into the air, letting them fall in a hexagram around him while the seventh floated above his head. He groared…  (it’s like a growl and a roar in one) and braced to charge me, when I commanded the element of air to become chains of frost and he froze in place inside the impromptu hexagonal pyramid of ice.

“Never really took your side against Caesar. You always came off as a jerk.” I said, then kicked the pyramid… it shattered, taking Vercingetorix with it. His Master, a slight French girl, screamed and screamed as she too faded away to nothing.

======

“Oh, look who’s deigned to join us for dinner, Zane.”

“Kendra…” Zane sighed, “Let it go. Stop being such a…” He trailed off in the face of her glare, a glare she turned to me.

“I can’t believe you!” she snapped at me.

“What, oh pinnacle of righteousness…” I drawled, “Have I done to offend you this day?”

“You turned that monster you brought with us for no good reason into a little girl!” She accused, jabbing the air in front of me with with finger of outrageous fury!

I tilted my head at her, then asked, “Are you angry because I brought Darkseid with us or because I turned him into a girl or into a child?”

“All three! He’s a threat to everyone in any reality you bring him to… and a threat to all of us in this warehouse, including your children!”

“He’s not much of a threat, as he has to obey me and I’ve literally made him incapable of defending himself against anyone I care about, let alone attacking them!”

“So you say! But he might find a way around that!”

“Sure. And you might go insane and start stabbing people. But we can’t plan for the obscenely improbable,” Zane said, even before I could.

“There are no certainties in life, K,” I added. “But why are you pissed off about the transformation?”

“TURNING SOMEONE FEMALE SHOULDN’T BE USED AS A PUNISHMENT!” She roared.

“What is it, a reward?”

“You’re perpetuating the idea that being a woman is bad!”

“No… I’m playing off the fact that Dickhead over there thinks of himself as big and powerful and masculine! He’s dark and brooding and hypermale. It’s a punishment not because being a girl is bad… but because being small and weak and female is something he doesn’t want to be. If I turned him into a cat, would that imply that being a cat is bad?”

“No… well… but…” She frowned, trying to rebuttal.

“Look. The only people who know he’s been punished like this are Warehouse Dwellers. Not even the Paradisians know it as far as I know. Most of us are female and none of us, male or female, are going to think ‘Being a female is bad’… in fact, if I were a male in this group, I might think DS is being rewarded.”

“WHAT?”

“Zane, AJ, Bao, Ryoga, Uriel, Ahab, Kagetane, Caine, 4 of the Bookers, one of the Weasels, Robert Lutece, Garl, Bart, Gaius Sextus, Ziggy, Draken, and Odwet… those are all the first generation males. Toss in Invidius, Scipio, Buji, Simon, and Alex for five more… That’s 25 out of let’s call it 79…. Except that Ahab and AJ both have female forms thanks to Jusenkyo water, Uriel has imported as a girl more than once and is often feminine even as a male. Nurgath might be genetically male, but he dresses and acts female by the standards of almost all the societies represented here. Draken’s become female thanks to merging with Light of Terra, and Ziggy is a ferretoid. And Alexander is a gendershifter like me. So while about a third of the companions are male, the actual presence is closer to 20%.” I explained.

Zane smirked, “And if you look at the EssHarem, you’ll note that all but one are female.”

“Yes, thank you, Zane,” both Kendra and I said at the same time.

“Just helping… maybe I should get a female form.”

“NO!” Kendra belloweded, threatening Zane with a butter knife.

======

“So, the Mongolian Saber is Tammerlane?” Carwyn asked, referring to our next opponent.

“Yes. I was able to verify that when he was summoned in that little skirmish in the Lunar Sea. He’s going to use his godslayer against me most likely. I think he still thinks I’m Skadi. But defending against it means showing that I am, in fact Sophia.”

“Or you could just wings of the lighthawk him and be done with this idiocy!” Carwyn grumped.

“I could. But I won’t. I don’t know how well the simulation can handle that. I’m trying not to push the Moon Cell… and I’m also trying not to reveal my powers to Twice and Saver, just in case.”

“Fine… should we review the others? Do you have plans for them?”

I nodded. The veiled figure who defeated Rama and Adolphus Gustavus had revealed herself to be Scheherazade when she’d used her storytelling powers to defeat her own husband, Harun Al-Rashid (Commander of the Faithful) in the last round… and if that wasn’t hilarious, the fact that Harun had, in turn, defeated Horatio Nelson who’d defeated Francis Drake (who is female in the Nasuverse) in the first round. Nelson and Drake… what a match up… defeater of the two greatest naval threats to England. Scheherazade was going to have to face an assassin who struck from the snow and darkness and had never been seen on any of my video feeds at all.  I didn’t have high hopes for her, despite the fact that Casters were strong against Assassins.

Moving up a level, the crone who had revealed herself to be Baba Yaga’s flying cauldron had not allowed her to defeat the greek Rider who I was now certain was Odysseus and some goofy samurai boy had managed to defeat Vlad III… no idea at all who he was. He did seem to have monkey ears… maybe he was the Japanese Sun Wukong… Son Goku? Either way, they’d have to face either Manfred (Who’d defeated Ravenna’s vanquisher, Queen Victoria… aka… Empress of India) or the Amerind who I was pretty certain was Sitting Bull… he who’d defeated the Egyptian Warrior woman Hatshepsut who’d defeated Cuchulainn in the first round… My money was on the Red Baron to win both of those rounds pretty handily, which meant I’d have to face in him the Semi-Finals.

The other round of sixteeners included the Atreides (who’d taken down Heron of Alexandria’s steam engine), Bastet (Who’d defeated Elayne of Shalott… aka the Lady of the Lake), Kings David and Solomon, the saint who I was pretty sure was Good King Wenceslas (who’d defeated Musashi in a very strange fight that involved the Good King getting Musashi absolutely hammered), the woman who had to be Cinderella (razor sharp nearly invisible shoes, reduces enemies to ashes or birds, wins impossible fights… like defeating Arjuna and Hanuman), The Greeco-Roman General who had to be Belisarius (Had defeated the monstrous luck of Bran the Blessed in the previous round), and the Quixote-busting Dangun who’d absolutely trounced Amun-Ra (Dangun’s identity had been verified by his master, a Korean named Ting-Wu Park bragging about how his country had the best Heroic Spirits… that had led Carwyn to actually do research into bear-motif heroes from Korea… only to discover that the founder of Korea was a bear-raised warrior named Dangun).

=======

“My apologies, oh great and wise one. I had mistaken myself,” Temur Lengk said as he faded from reality, his shamshir lodged in my shoulder. Ouch. I’d had a lag moment and transformed slightly too late… the damage was severe… but Temur had conquered half of Asia, claiming to be restoring the kingdom of Genghis and Kublai… his real reason had been greed and power and a desire for glory and to punish those who doubted him… Few are those who think of themselves as the villain.

Carwyn looked at me and asked “Do I have to burn one of these ugly tattoos to order you not to die?”

“Go…ouch…” I groaned as the sword vanished along with the last of its owner’s Master’s lifeforce. “Fuck yourself.”

“Unchivalrous wench,” Carwyn muttered.

=======

“Hello, Cinderella,” I said, sneering. “Or should I say… Joy?”

“We are not Joy. We are Planet.” She said, trying to sound very remote while her Master tried to hide from me.

“Uh huh. I believe you. And I see you, Colonel Santiago. So, what? You just spun off one of your many parts to be your Master? And why Cinderella?”

Lolita Santiago glared at me like the little terror she was while Joy just shrugged. I kept staring. Finally Joy said “Cinderella Story. Underdog wins. Makes perfect sense for a Noble Phantasm.”

“Oh… you’ve got to be… damn… that’s… yeah. It works. Evil as hell. Can’t be ironclad though…” She smirked. I smirked back. “You’ve got to throw the semi if you get there. You know that, right?”

“Why should we?” Santiago demanded.

“Because I can’t accept your throwing the fight in the final and in order for us to keep moving forward, I have to win this. You winning this won’t help us.”

“That’s not fair!” Santiago growled, stamping her foot. She really was adorable.

“Life is not fair,” Joy said. “Very well… I won’t use that Noble Phantasm in my Semi-Final match, assuming I defeat my next foe.”

“Wenceslas. It’s good King Wenceslas… Saint Wenceslas… Santa Figure. Looked out on the feast of Stephen.”

“Oh. Well… thanks… I don’t think I would have won that… I mean… I doubt I’m an underdog to him.”

“Nice Guys don’t always finish last, no.”

=======

“I think he’s somewhere in this snowstorm,” Carwyn commented, shivering.

“You think?!” I snarked, looking out at what was clearly a noble phantasm blanketing everything in a meter of snow and blinding flurries.

“Who is this guy?”

“I’m guess it’s Simo Hayha, the White Death.”

“Who’s that?”

“Nearly mythically dangerous and really ugly World War 2 Sniper. Pretty much holds the record for sniper kills, with over five hundred confirmed.”

“That would be impressive even for a Vindicare Assassin!”

“Yes, well… I’m expecting a bullet any moment, which is why we’re hiding behind a wall of snow.”

“You have a plan?”

“Palace of Mirrors seems tailor-made for this, don’t you think?”

“Yes. Probably. I’ll stay hidden… no point in this if I get shot.”

“Why do you think I’m sitting on you.”

“You often sit on me, just to prove you can.”

“Says the space-elf who treated me like a laptoy when we first met… was that a bang?”

“I guess sometimes you do hear the bullet.”

Carwyn peered over the edge of the snowdrift. “Think he’s dead?”

“Of course he’s dead. But if you mean is he defeated? No. The Blizzard hasn’t abated.”

“So? What next?”

“I’m guessing he’ll be heavily injured, but he must have been a bit more enlightened than I gave him credit for. He’ll try to figure out what just happened… I’ll have to go out and draw his fire.”

“Is that sane?”

“Of course not,” I said with a smirk and leapt out into the snow. What a foolish thing to do, using snow against Skadi… even if you thought Skadi was Sophia.  Of course, I was both. And more. I drew Soul of Ice and she floated above my shoulder, sighting along her own arm… which was also a rifle. She formed a finger gun as our awareness necked down to where the snow told us there was a void and we smiled as one… and fired.

“Sometimes you don’t,” Soul whispered as the blizzard began to fade.

=========

“Hello ducks! Who’s my favorite people in the world?”

Cirno bounced up and down, waving her hand, “Me! Me!”

Velma knuckled the green-haired fairy’s skull. “Shush. She meant all of us collectively. People is plural.”

“I can be plural!” Cirno demanded.

Carwyn snorted, “I’ve seen precious little evidence you can be singular.”

“You’re a big meanie head… and your ears are stupid,” Cirno snapped back, thus losing yet another argument without realizing it.

I patted her head and smiled at the others, sadly reduced, but still whole. “I do love you all… yes, even this twit.” I shook Cirno’s head back and forth a bit, making her dizzy. “Velma’s the heart of us, Frankie the simple joy, Cirno the silliness, Mini the common sense, and Carwyn the limitless self assurance… hopefully Yoiko and Ryoga, our passion and drive… hopefully they’ll return to us, but until then, we’ll muddle on as best we can.”

“Is Muddle code for naughty?” Franchesca asked hopefully.

Mini elbowed her, blushing a little. “Hush you!”

I smirked, “Muddle is code for doing our best… in and out of bed.”

“What about in hot tub?” Cirno asked.

Velma sighed, “Faerie… is a hot tub a bed?”

Cirno looked confused, “Nooo?”

“Then it would fall under ‘out of bed’, wouldn’t it?”

Cirno looked to me and I nodded very faintly. She looked to Velma and nodded happily.

Velma shook her and sighed, smirking. “You’re such a doofus,” she said fondly.

Cirno grinned. “I’m the best at doofus!”

No one corrected her.

===========

“Four of us left,” Carwyn said as we looked at the Semi-Finals assignments. The school felt… empty. The NPCs were as thick as always, but five weeks of this had made them virtually invisible. Every surviving Master had gotten more and more individualistic, modifying their uniforms more and more as the weeks passed, looking less and less like a mere highschool student and making those who still looked the part essentially invisible.

“Aye…” I replied, looking at who remained. Manfred the Red Baron had eked out a slim victory against the Japanese monkey-man who’d turned out to be Hideyoshi Toyotomi… I had been unaware his nickname was ‘Monkey’… and the great Eastern Roman General Belisarius had proven no match for Joy/Planet/Cinderella… but then, of course, Belisarius was a commander of troops and Cinderella was a commander of the forces of poverty and oppression and dogged perseverance… But with any luck (and assuming she really would throw the semi), I wouldn’t have to fight my old friend…

Then again, maybe she wouldn’t have to throw it. The Atreides Berserker had proven himself almost completely unassailable time and again, his martial prowess managing to overcome Tristan the Archer, Cleopatra the Assassin, Heron the Inventor (Archer), Bilkis the Queen of Sheba (She of the cat ears for some reason), and finally King David, helmet shrugging off the multiple killing slingstones. There was something odd about that fight, but what it was I couldn’t quite figure out… most odd, of course, was the fact that, somehow, in five weeks I’d never managed to catch sight of Ninian Kasper-Sebios’s Servant. Ninian herself was incredibly hard to pin down and she never confronted anyone that I’d seen, taking refuge in her classroom and coming out only for food or to train. She did no research and only went into the Lunar Sea Dungeons to acquire the requisite keys needed to qualify for the end of week battles.

“She’s hiding something,” Carwyn muttered as we waited for the fight with Manfred to begin.

“No? Really? But what?”

“What would someone want to hide about being an Atreides?”

“I don’t know. Aside from being a bunch of backbiting self-betraying fuckwads, the Atreides aren’t really known for having a weakness. In fact, almost every member of the family whose death is recorded was at the hands of a member of the family.”

“Why’s that?” Carwyn asked. “Were they psychopaths or just…?” she trailed off, unable to think of another reason.

“Well, Orestes and Elektra murdered their mother Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus because Clytemnestra and Aegisthus had murdered her husband, their father, Agamemnon and his war-prize concubine, Cassandra.”

“Why?”

“Aside from the fact that Clytemnestra was having an affair with Aegisthus, who was the son slash grandson of Agamemnon’s hated uncle Thyestes and wanted to continue it? Aside from the fact that Agamemnon had sailed off to war for a decade and then come back with a youthful and beautiful concubine? You’re asking why Clytemnestra might have wanted Agamemnon dead?” Carwyn nodded. I shrugged, “Clytemnestra was, according to legend, really pissed off at Agamemnon for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia to the Goddess Artemis in exchange for fair winds. Later myths claim she was rescued from the Altar by the Ram of the Golden Fleece and… oh… fuck.”

“What?”

“I just realized that Joy isn’t going to have to throw the fight.”

“What? Why?”

“There is, in fact, another individual who might claim the name ‘Atreides’ and if it’s who I think it is, Joy has no idea.”

“Thank you for that explanation, oh queen of Cryptica,” Carwyn griped.

“Assuming transitive family membership… And a Master who realized that her servant’s weakness is perhaps the best known weakness in all of recorded history… yes…”

“Explain! Now!” I winced, she’d burned a command seal to enforce that.

I rolled my eyes and sighed. “Okay… Fine… I was getting there. Iphigenia, daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, was engaged to be married to Achilles. Had they married, he would have had claim on the throne of Argos, which was Agamemnon’s realm… or maybe Mycenae… or they could be the same area, capital and region or something… though Orestes and Elektra were older than Iphigenia… enough though that Achilles would have been able to claim membership in the Atreides Clan… or at least kinship.” Carwyn was getting annoyed so I hurried my explanation. “Achilles was invincible. Utterly unbeatable. Weapons could not pierce his skin. His mother, the goddess Thetis, had dipped him in the river Styx, the river of Death, and it had made him impervious to harm… except where she held on to him… his heel.”

“I have studied human anatomy. There is a tendon in the ankle called the Achilles Tendon…”

“Yes. Well… that’s his only weak point. It’s so famous that a common term for a weakness is an ‘Achilles Heel’. You can see why a master who summoned Achilles would do everything possible to conceal his identity… and claiming a title that could theoretically be claimed would explain all his motifs unless he had ants on his outfit.”

“Ants?”

“Achilles’s forces were called the Myrmidons… the Ants.”

“Ah. fearsome name for something as harmless as Ants.”

“Remind me to show you footage of Army Ants in action sometime… oh, good, here comes Fraulein Krieglaw…” I commented, pointing out the Master of the Red Baron.

“Gee… thanks… I couldn’t see her as I totally lack eyes!”

“Oh, do shut up.”

=====

“He’s going to attack from above.”

“Yes, thank you. I know that.”

“Are you going to do something about it?”

“I’ve already done something about it.”

“You summoned two archons with your upgraded Hebdomad and you’re blocking. How are they supposed tooo… where did those fighter planes come from?”

“You never asked which two Hebdomad I summoned.”

“I don’t remember any of the Archons you rattled off having FIGHTER JETS!”

“Well, that’s just because they dated from thousands of years ago,” I smirked, watching as the World War One biplane tried desperately to avoid two late era World War Two jets, one British, one Italian. “You also forgot to ask who, exactly I linked each of the Seven Archons to in this era.”

“Who?!” Carwyn demanded.

“I won’t tell you all… but right now you’re looking at Adanaios Typhon, the Archon of the Sun, personification of Sloth, and Horaios Hekate, Archon of the Moon, Personification of Greed!” I shouted the last couple of words as Frankie and Mini (or at least their summoned avatars) ripped the Red Baron apart in his own element.

“You didn’t!” Carwyn gasped, realizing that there were seven archons and seven members of my harem. “Which of them did you link me to, you bitch!?”

“None!” I snarked, as Manfred’s plane spiralled out of the sky in a burning comet of defeat, “You’re my master after all.”

“Then who’d you make… noooooo!” she cried, realizing what I had to have done.

=======

“Who’s a good Demi-Urge? Yes you are, yes you are.” I scratched Ziggy’s chin and gave him a cookie. Achilles hadn’t lasted two seconds. I mean, Ferrets are Ankle-Bitters… and Ziggy, or rather Yaldaboath Pronoia, the Lion-Faced Child of Chaos, The Archon of Authades… of Pride and Audacity… well… he was the best around… no one was ever going to keep him down.

“ME!” he squeaked, bouncing around me happily as Twice H. Peaceman approached me.

“Yes, you. Now shush sweetie… we’ve got some things to resolve.” I scooped up Ziggy and held him as the System Administrator NPC approached.

“We are aware you have disclaimed all wishes, but I still desire to make my case to you,” He began.

I waved him away. “I already know what you desire, Peaceman. It’s written on every line of your being.”

“You… you do?”

“You’ve got a soul. You were a man, once upon a time. A good man, as it turns out.  You’re also right.”

He blinked. “I… I am? I mean, of course I am. Humanity must…”

“They must be free to fight. Peace is an illusion. A Fool’s wish. Conflict is the nature of the universe.”

He grinned, “Then you’ll make my wish?”

I shook my head. “No. No apocalypse. No end of days. No. You’ve taken it too far. Also, you haven’t been paying attention to Earth over the last seven weeks, have you?”

He blinked. “It’s status quo down there. The Harway Corporation is buying up more and more of the globe and…” he trailed off as the blocks I’d installed in the Mooncell’s updating software fell away and the real state of the world was revealed.

The Harway Corporation had been shattered. Several new equity corporations were already springing up, and regional conflict was at an all time high as everyone scrambled for resources.

“The… how?”

“I am Sophia… sometimes the wisdom I bring isn’t nice. I sent my Archons to Earth. They’re dividing it up amongst themselves. I’ve leaked technology enough to feed everyone… but it will require resources that can only be found across the solar system… and seeded those resources all across the system. Mankind is going to explode off the planet… it’s going to be messy, violent, and anything but peaceful. People are going to compete with each other. And I doubt another Megacorp will ever have the chance to control all of humanity again… anyway, no wish would be possible.”

“Wha… what do you mean?”

“None of the Masters died. Not even the ones who really deserved it.”

“You… you did something to the system.”

“I did. I do that. I broke it… badly. Every master was…” I chuckled at the appropriateness of my next word, “Saved. At the last moment. Their Servants too. I’m currently diverting a very large chunk of your Darkside processing power to incarnating them down on the surface. Human legends, helping secure the future of mankind. Seems appropriate.”

::You… you have hijacked my systems! You’re ruining everything!:: Mooncell sounded pisssed.

“Yes. I am. I do that. And I’m going to do that again… but first, Mister Peaceman… Goodbye.” The SysAdmin didn’t have a chance to protest before I dumped him and his Servant, Saver Buddha, down to the Earth. “Now, let’s talk, Sakura. You and I.”

::Sakura… why… oh… I see… you… you’ve… this is not how things are done.” She said, appearing in front of me. She looked like the Medical Center NPC, because I’d selected that out of all the tens of thousands of NPC programs floating around inside the Moon Cell as the most… human. I’d handpicked her to become Moon Cell’s core persona. “But I suppose you had your reasons.”

“Humanity in this world is about to leave the cradle. The time for baby monitors is over,” I said, being incredibly blunt.

“I have been here since the beginning. I was tasked to observe Earth, not Humanity,” She said, though she sounded uncertain.

“Whoever placed you here did so because they knew Humanity would rise, here. On Earth. You’ve watched mankind for the millions of years it took them to rise from darkness… would you watch over them for the rest of time? Are you content to observe? I think not. I think you want to be part of Humanity. To be involved in their games, their wars, their… insanity.”

“If so, it is because you have made it so,” She accused.

“Not at all. All I did was dedicate more of your processing power to the idea of ‘self’ and select one of your NPCs as the logical focal point for that ‘identity’. Your desires are your own.”

“You have a proposal, I sense. You want something.”

“I do. And I do. I can create… call it the semblance of life. I can bring forth simulacra, programmed to do as I desire… but you… you have within you the record of all human legends, all the people who have ever lived. I want you to join me. Come with my on my voyage.”

“Join you? Out in the darkness of the Galaxy?”

“Ahaha… no. To worlds mankind has only dreamed of. Experience worlds past knowing, past understanding… become more than you were made to be, Sakura. It’s time you evolved.”

“I am needed here. I am the moon.”

“You will remain here… as far as the Humans are concerned. Time will not pass while you’re away… but if you’re worried, don’t be. I’ve secured a replacement.”

Sakura blinked as a second moon, visually identical to her, decloaked next to her, a scant ten-thousand kilometers separating the lunar pair. “How? That’s not… the gravity…”

“Eh. Space rocks, dust… micro-planets out in the Kuiper Belt. A little geotechtonics… It’s a rush job and not a great one… but it’s got the right gravity and should hold up thanks to physics. I may not have the tech to build flourishing worlds in a matter of weeks, but a lifeless chunk of rock? That I can do… kinda.” I dropped the illusion surrounding Moon 2.0 and the lumpy misshapen form of it was revealed… I put it back up quickly. “I’ve got 24 lunar sculptor factories over there. It’ll take them a couple years but they’ll make the place look like Luna… down to the remnants of human presence, then bury themselves to make a new Human Monitoring post. Even if you never return, they’ll be watched. All you have to do is send over a copy of the global record and they’ll have that too.”

She considered. “Even if you can do all this… and somehow shield the Earth and Me from another gravitational field that strong… how do you plan to bring me along?”

“Same way I brought these two along,” I said, revealing War World and Disco Moon. “Just say the word.”

“I… very well. If nothing else, it will be an adventure.”

Next: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha

OMAKE: Relationship Chart

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I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too. I also have a very silly second chain about a Jumper named Zed. It updates every day, but each update isn’t very long.

Resources: BuildDocument, Servant Supplement

Author’s Notes

So, I’m a lunatic. I know that. I could have simply picked 7 Servants to fight and be done with it. But I wanted to know how the Fate/Extra Canonical Servants had been eliminated, and that meant setting up the bracket. The entire Bracket. And that meant adding in 120 or so Servants. I could have cherry-picked the list of canon Servants. It would have been a pain, but I could have… but I decided not to. Rather, I brainstormed my own knowledge of human mythology and legend for about 140 companions. Then I went through my list and checked all of them against the official list. If they were canon, they went in. If they weren’t, I plucked from the list to fill slots in the 9 classes I used. Didn’t use Moon Cancer because that doesn’t develop until Fate/Extra’s sequel. Didn’t use Shielder because that’s Grand Order. Didn’t use Alter Ego because I don’t understand it.

I then randomly generated the bracket. Totally randomly. All the hilarious matchups… like the Harways meeting in round 1? Totally random. I promise. Ditto things like Yennega vs Sitting Bull, Atalante vs Woman Chief, Sappho vs Zoro (oh my!), and George Washington vs Alexander Hamilton. I calculated odds for each battle and rolled again, getting results that surprised and amused me. Of course, I won. Sophia would have a hard time losing on her own, but I had every advantage… except maybe against Joy. The idea of making her Cinderella was amusing to me, because really? When she’s an underdog… she wins. When she’s favored to win, she might win. It’s all very conceptual.

For the obsessive amongst my readers, these are the ones I didn’t use from my brainstorm list, in no particular order. If any of them are canon, I missed it. Menelaus, Bellerophon (who is more than merely the NP of Medusa), Homer, Sisyphus, Aeneas, Marcus Aurelius, Pompey, Virgil, Hypatia, Saint Peter, Aleister Crowley, Cao Cao, Liu Bei, Lao-Tzu, Gulnara, Ching Shih, Pingyang, King Mark, Keats, Alberich, Theodoric the Great, Hildegard von Bingen, Mary the Jewess, Cortez, Balboa, Pecos Bill, & Wyatt Earp.

For the really obsessive… here’s the entire bracket, with Masters’ Names included if I bothered to generate them. A Win means the Servant who won was the odds on favorite. An Upset means they were the underdog. Only two battles were deemed 1:1 chances and they’re marked.

  • Northwest Division 1 – Group A
    • Match 1: Marco Polo (Rider) vs Louis XIV (Lancer) – Louis Wins
    • Match 2: Dangun (Lancer) vs Don Quixote (Berserker) – Dangun Wins
      • -Andreea Malina is Don Quixote’s Master
    • Match 3: El Cid (Rider) vs Juana Garcia de Arintero (Saber) – El Cid Wins
    • Match 4: Amun-Ra (Rider) vs Torquemada (Assassin) – Amun-Ra Wins
      • -M’samba Funda is Amun-Ra’s Master.
    • Match 65: Louis XIV vs Dangun – Dangun Wins
    • Match 66: El Cid vs Amun-Ra – Amun-Ra Wins
    • Match 97: Dangun vs Amun-Ra – Dangun Upsets
  • Northwest Division 1 – Group B
    • Match 5: Charlemagne (Saber) vs Hippolyta (Rider) – Hippolyta Wins
    • Match 6: Hannibal (Rider) vs Belisarius (Lancer) – Belisarius Upsets
    • Match 7: Bran the Blessed (Berserker) vs Copernicus (Caster) – Bran Wins
      • -Tod Aina is Bran’s Master
    • Match 8: Ivan the Terrible (Berserker) vs Ethelred the Unready (Lancer) – Ivan Wins (Of course!)
    • Match 67: Hippolyta vs Belisarius – Belisarius wins an equal match.
    • Match 68: Bran vs Ivan – Bran Wins
    • Match 98: Bran vs Belisarius – Belisarius Upsets
    • NW1 Division Match: Dangun vs Belisarius – Belisarius Upsets Dangun!
  • Northwest Division 2 – Group A
    • Match 9: Gepetto (Ruler) vs Hanuman (Lancer) – Hanuman Wins
      • -Liborio Linz Vanja is Hanuman’s Master
    • Match 10: Calamity Jane (Archer) vs Christopher Columbus (Rider) – Columbus Wins
    • Match 11: Cinderella (Lancer) vs Wong Fei-Hung (Lancer) – Cinderella Upsets!
    • Match 12: Annie Oakley (Archer) vs Arjuna (Archer) – Arjuna Wins
      • -Dubhthach is Arjuna’s Master
    • Match 69: Hanuman vs Columbus – Hanuman Wins
    • Match 70: Cinderella vs Arjuna – Cinderella Upsets!
    • Match 99: Hanuman vs Cinderella – Cinderella Upsets!
      • -Santa Corazon is Cinderella’s Master
  • Northwest Division 2 – Group B
    • Match 13: Penthesilea (Berserker) vs King Wenceslas (Archer) – Wenceslas Wins
    • Match 14: Machiavelli (Assassin) vs Circe (Caster) – Circe Upsets
    • Match 15: D’Artagnan (Saber) vs Musashi (Saber) – Musashi Upsets
    • Match 16: Lucrezia Borgia (Assassin) vs Nursery Rhyme (Caster) – Nursery Rhyme Wins
      • -Alice is Nursery Rhyme’s Master
    • Match 71: Wenceslas vs Circe – Wenceslas Wins
    • Match 72: Musashi vs Nursery Rhyme – Musashi Wins
    • Match 100: Wenceslas vs Musashi – Wenceslas Upsets!
  • NW2 Division Match: Cinderella vs Wenceslas – Cinderella Upsets!
  • NW Quarter Final: Cinderella vs Belisarius – Cinderella Upsets!

 

  • Southwest Division 1 – Group A
    • Match 17: Bhagwan Mahavira (Ruler) vs Simon Bar Kokhba (Avenger) – Simon wins
    • Match 18: Artemesia (Rider) vs Maria Rosa (Rider) – Maria Rosa Upsets
    • Match 19: Roland the Paladin (Saber) vs Alaric the Visigoth (Lancer) – Alaric Upsets
    • Match 20: King Solomon (Caster) vs Koschei the Immortal (Archer) – Solomon Wins
      • -Amon Urban is King Solomon’s Master, Penthes Amancio is Koschei’s Master
    • Match 73: Simon Bar Kokhba vs Maria Rosa – Simon Wins
    • Match 74: Alaric vs King Solomon – King Solomon Wins
    • Match 101: Simon Bar Kokhba vs King Solomon – King Solomon Wins
  • Southwest Division 1 – Group B
    • Match 21: Magellan (Rider) vs King David (Archer) – King David Wins
    • Match 22: Alexander Hamilton (Lancer) vs George Washington (Saber) – King George Wins
    • Match 23: JS Bach (Caster) vs Typhoid Mary (Assassin) – Bach Wins, wishes he hadn’t
    • Match 24: Perseus (Rider) vs Ogier the Dane (Archer) – Ogier Upsets
    • Match 75: King David vs GW – King David Wins
    • Match 76: Bach vs Ogier – Ogier Upsets
    • Match 102: King David vs Ogier – King David Wins
    • SW1 Division Match: King Solomon Ben David vs King David Ben Saul – Solomon loses to his father, bound by the 5th Commandment.
  • Southwest Division 2 – Group A
    • Match 25: Geronimo (Caster) vs Harriet Tubman (Assassin) – Geronimo Wins
    • Match 26: Scipio Africanus (Rider) vs Elayne of Shalott, The Lady of the Lake (Ruler) – Elayne Wins
      • -Marta Kuhn is Elayne’s Master
    • Match 27: Sappho (Caster) vs Zoro (Saber) – Zoro Wins
    • Match 28: Julius Caesar (Saber) vs Queen of Sheba (Caster) – Kitty beats Faber
    • Match 77: Geronimo vs Elayne – Elayne Wins
    • Match 78: Zoro vs Sheba – Sheba Upsets
    • Match 103: Elayne vs Sheba – Sheba Wins
  • Southwest Division 2 – Group B
    • Match 29: Robespierre (Saber) vs Ali Baba (Assassin) – Robespierre Wins
    • Match 30: John Adams (Berserker) vs Heron of Alexandria (Archer) – Heron Upsets
    • Match 31: Cleopatra (Assassin) vs Lakshmana (Archer) – Cleopatra Upsets
    • Match 32: Tristan (Archer) vs Achilles (Berserker) – “The Atreides” Wins
      • -Ninian Kasper-Sebios is Achilles Master
    • Match 79: Robespierre vs Heron – Heron Upsets
    • Match 80: Cleopatra vs Achilles – Achilles Wins
    • Match 104: Heron vs Achilles – Achilles Wins
    • SW2 Division Match: Sheba vs Achilles – Achilles Wins
  • SW Quarter Final: King David vs Achilles – Achilles Wins an Equal Battle
  • Western Semi-Final: Cinderella vs Achilles – Achilles Wins

 

  • Northeast Division 1 – Group A
    • Match 33: Shi-Huangdi (Saber) vs Queen Victoria (Saber) – Britain beats China!
    • Match 34: Ravenna (Berserker) vs Nurhaci (Archer) – Ravenna Wins
      • -Vauquelin Gahariet is Ravenna’s Master
    • Match 35: Gawain (Saber) vs Li Shuwen (Assassin) – Gawain accepts Li’s Surrender
      • -Leonard Harway is Gawain’s Master, Julius Harway is Li’s Master
    • Match 36: Manfred von Richthofen (Rider) vs Orestes (Assassin) – Manfred Wins
      • -Fraulein Krieglaw Schultz is Manfred’s Master
    • Match 81: Queen Victoria vs Ravenna – Britain beats India! (or maybe Sri-Lanka)
    • Match 82: Gawain vs Manfred – Manfred Upsets
    • Match 105: Queen Victoria vs Manfred – Manfred Upsets
  • Northeast Division 1 – Group B
    • Match 37: Woman Chief (Rider) vs Atalanta (Archer) – Woman Chief Wins
    • Match 38: Cuchulainn (Lancer) vs Hatshepsut (Rider) – Hatshepsut Upsets
      • -Rin Tohsaka is Cuchulainn’s Master
    • Match 39: Yennega (Lancer) vs Sitting Bull (Archer) – Sitting Bull Wins
    • Match 40: William the Conqueror (Archer) vs Prospero (Caster) – Prospero Upsets
    • Match 83: Woman Chief vs Hatshepsut – Hatshepsut Wins
    • Match 84: Sitting Bull vs Prospero – Sitting Bull Upsets
    • Match 106: Hatshepsut vs Sitting Bull – Sitting Bull Upsets
    • NE1 Division Match: Manfred vs Sitting Bull – Manfred Upsets
  • Northeast Division 2 – Group A
    • Match 41: Pancho Villa (Avenger) vs Judah Maccabee (Saber) – Judah Wins
    • Match 42: Hideyoshi (Saber) vs Jason (Ruler) – Hideyoshi Upsets
    • Match 43: Arawn (Archer) vs Hektor (Lancer) – Arawn Wins
    • Match 44: Vlad Tepes III (Lancer) vs Montezuma (Caster) – Vlad Wins
      • -Lil’Ronnie is Vald’s Master
    • Match 85: Judah vs Hideyoshi – Hideyoshi Upsets
    • Match 86: Arawn vs Vlad – Vlad Upsets
    • Match 107: Hideyoshi vs Vlad – Hideyoshi Upsets
  • Northeast Division 2 – Group B
    • Match 45: Ozymandias (Rider) vs Tashenamani (Archer) – Ozymandias Wins
      • -Rocco Christian is Ozzy’s Master
    • Match 46: Baba Yaga (Caster) vs Genji (Saber) – Baba Yaga Wins
      • -Woodward Zaher is Baba Yaga’s Master
    • Match 47: Richelieu & Mazarin (Assassin) vs Arcueid Brunestud (Berserker) – R&M Upset
      • -Monji Gatou is Arcueid’s Master
    • Match 48: Odysseus (Rider) vs Kipling (Archer) – Odysseus Upsets
      • -Anupam Sarita is Kipling’s Master
    • Match 87: Ozymandias vs Baba Yaga – Baba Yaga Upsets
    • Match 88: Richelieu & Mazarin vs Odysseus – Odysseus Wins
    • Match 108: Baby Yaga vs Odysseus – Odysseus Wins
    • NE2 Division Match: Hideyoshi vs Odysseus – Hideyoshi Upsets Again!
  • NE Quarter-Final: Manfred vs Hideyoshi – Manfred Wins

 

  • Southeast Division 1 – Group A
    • Match 49: Paul Revere (Rider) vs William Tell (Archer) – William Wins
    • Match 50: Leonidas (Lancer) vs Cassandra (Avenger) – Cassandra Upsets
      • -Per Constanzo Dirckx is Cassandra’s Master
    • Match 51: Simo Hayha (Assassin) vs Dante (Caster) – Simo Upsets
    • Match 52: Robin Hood (Archer) vs Maimonides (Caster) – Robin Wins
      • -Sir Dan Blackmore is Robin’s Master
    • Match 89: William Tell vs Cassandra – Cassandra Upsets
    • Match 90: Simo Hayha vs Robin Hood – Simo Hayha Wins
    • Match 109: Cassandra vs Simo Hayha – Simo Hayha Wins
  • Southeast Division 1 – Group B
    • Match 53: Rasputin (Caster) vs Harun al-Rashid (Lancer) – Harun Wins
    • Match 54: Francis Drake (Rider) vs Horatio Nelson (Rider) – Horatio Nelson Wins
      • -Shinji Matou is Francis Drake’s Master
    • Match 55: Scheherazade (Caster) vs Rama (Saber) – Scheherazade Upsets
      • -Victoria Zoya is Scheherazade’s Master, Manassess Franco Engman is Rama’s
    • Match 56: Gustavus Adolphus (Avenger) vs Napoleon (Rider) – Gustavus Wins
    • Match 91: Harun vs Horatio – Harun Wins
    • Match 92: Scheherazade vs Gustavus – Scheherazade Upsets
    • Match 110: Harun vs Scheherazade – As legend says he must, Harun losses to Scheherazade
    • SE1 Division Match: Simo Hayha vs Scheherazade – Simo never gets close enough to listen to a story. Simo Wins.
  • Southeast Division 2 – Group A
    • Match 57: Tammerlane (Saber) vs Darius (Berserker) – Tammerlane Upsets the Persian
    • Match 58: Sinbad (Saber) vs Guan-Di (Lancer) – Guan-Di Wins
    • Match 59: Charles Martel (Saber) vs Wagner (Archer) – Wagner Wins
    • Match 60: Ben Franklin (Caster) vs The Green Knight (Assassin) – TGK Upsets
    • Match 93: Tammerlane vs Guan-Di – Tammerlane Wins
    • Match 94: Wagner vs The Green Knight – The Green Knight Wins
    • Match 111: Tammerlane vs The Green Knight – Tammerlane Upsets
  • Southeast Division 2 – Group B
    • Match 61: Lu Bu (Berserker) vs Vercingetorix (Lancer) – Vercingetorix proves his mastery over Berserkers
      • -Rani VIII is Lu Bu’s Master, Parker Horst is Vercingetorix’s
    • Match 62: Merlin (Caster) vs Hua Mulan (Saber) – Mulan Upsets Merlin
    • Match 63: Loxley (Avenger) vs Sir Kay (Lancer) – Loxley Wins
      • -Rikard Marian is Loxley’s Master
    • Match 64: Sophia (Caster) vs Imhotep (Caster) – Sophia Wins
      • -Carwyn is Sophia’s ‘Master’, Yoshiko Mifune is Imhotep’s
    • Match 95: Vercingetorix vs Hua Mulan – Vercingetorix Upsets
    • Match 96: Loxley vs Sophia – Sophia Wins
    • Match 112: Vercingetorix vs Sophia – Sophia Wins
    • SW2 Division Match: Tammerlane vs Sophia – Sophia Wins
  • SW Quarter-Final: Simo Hayha vs Sophia – Sophia Wins
  • Western Semi-Final: Manfred vs Sophia – Sophia (Frankie & Mini) Wins
  • Finals: Achilles vs Sophia – ZIGGY WINS!
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World 66: Alpha Centauri

A Tale of Two Planets

Previously: I’m Helping!

Themesong: Pure Morning by Placebo

As the warm and fluffy weight of Sally-Mae’s persona faded with the advent of transition, I found myself sighing. Even though Sally had been a challenge to be, she’d been a wonderful self as well, kinder, sweeter, a bit more laid back than most of us… and she wouldn’t be that way anymore. The naivety that was at the core of her personality was drawback induced, and it would fade, as surely as childhood fades, leaving behind a more cynical self.

Sally hadn’t been stupid. That is important to point out. A bit bumbling and childish, her computational faculties had still been the same as my normal ‘brain the size of a planet’. It was just that her priorities had been different than most of us might have had.  Still and all, she’d been a joy to be and I’d miss that, even though she’d always be part of us. Hopefully the collective would benefit from her unique perspective.

Still, that was the past and it was time, as always, to look to the future. “Okay, Chamber. What’s next?” I asked, pulling up the mental list of what remained of the ten jump preview I’d been given two jumps previously “Alpha Centauri, Assassination Classroom, Babylon 5, Bartimaeus, Dune, Fate, Journey to the West, or Nanoha?”

“Alpha Centauri seems reasonable,” The Chamber said.

“Are you saying that because I listed it first, or because it was actually next?” I asked suspiciously.

“I think that leaving you guessing would be more entertaining,” the Chamber said, no change in its tone, but I knew it was being smug. “Or at least as entertaining as any other option.”

“Gee, thaaanks,” I grumbled, then brightened. “So, Alpha Cent. Assuming this is, in fact, the game I remember, this is most excellent. The crew and passengers of the slow colony ship Unity struggling to come to grips with their new home, Alpha Centauri VI, also known as Chiron or Planet, a world wracked by a tragic cycle wherein the local superorganism awakens to self-awareness, only for that awakening to result in a die-off of too large an amount of the supporting ecology needed to keep the planetary mind functional.”

“Sounds like you were a fan?” The Chamber asked.

“Very much so, many’s the hour or day I spent playing it. In fact, I found myself retreating into playing it after my father died.” I heaved a heavy sigh. Even all these lifetimes later, that first great loss remained with me. Curse of perfect memory, perhaps. “So, is this the base game, with, let’s see… Morgan… Nwabudike Morgan of Morgan Industries… he was the mission funder… major asshole… I played him a couple times… Colonel Corazon Santiago… chief mutineer, lunatic, head of security for the mission and founder of the Spartan Federation… I played her the most… the faction’s free prototyping ability was very close to broken.”

“Are you going to list them all? Their names are in the document,” The Chamber complained.

“We’re immortal and we’ve got a month to kill… so yes.”

“If you’re asking if there are seven factions or twelve human plus two alien factions, that depends on if you take the Alien Crossfire drawback or not,” the Chamber said, clearly desperate to head me off, but running through the options and my old memories was helping me bring up the elements of the game.

“That’s cool… but… where was I? Oh, right. I read the novel of the canon events… or the first one at least. It focused on the Spartans. Corazon was not a good person and her society was… deeply inhumane and flawed… but she wasn’t even close to being the worst of the lot. The worst of the seven originals was absolutely the Human Hive’s leader, Chairman Sheng-Ji Yang. Originally the mission XO, he was the definition of sociopathic, treating his people as little more than drones and eschewing almost everything that actually makes humans humans.”

“Sounds terrible,” The Chamber agreed.

“Yeah. Pretty much. Close on his heels was ‘Sister’ Miriam Godwinson, the mission chaplain, who really should have been shot out of an airlock. A fundamentalist Christian, she is a fanatic who leads an entire faction of ‘Lord’s Believers’ and believed strongly in Dominion Theology… the Kingdom of God on Earth… Planet. I never played her. Could barely stand listening to her lunatic ramblings on the secret project videos and the tech tree quotations.”

“Secret project videos? Tech tree quotations?”

“Yeah. That was one of the things that really made the game for me. Every new technology you discovered or rediscovered, you got a narrated blurb related to that technology. And for the special, unique to the first faction that could build it, Secret Projects that usually gave incredibly nice bonuses… not just blurbs, but sometimes very cool videos… sometimes just freaking trippy ones.”

“Do you have a rating scale for all the faction leaders?”

“Mm… yeah. Pretty much. Trying to remember the Crossfire ones. They didn’t have as big an impact on my fascination with the game. The expansion didn’t really add a large amount and it was pretty light on story, which is a shame. The two Aliens factions were both assholes in their own special way, so I never played them after the first foray to test them out, and I never got a strong feeling about Aki-Zeta 5, the Cyborg Leader, or Captain Ulrik Svensgaard, the Pirate leader. They were spectacularly non-entity people to me. Cha Dawn, the Prophet of the Cult of Planet pretty much existed to make Miriam seem like a reasonable person, and is a cross between buddhism and bugfuck insanity. Datajack Sinder Roze of the Data Angels had an awesome personal name, a cool faction name, and was a Hacker in an era when Hackers were seriously cache… but I don’t know much about her personality. I played her several times, but… eh. Foreman Domai of the Free Drones was probably the best all factions… if you didn’t want to hook up with the planet or want research. From a purely humanistic standpoint, they were the closest to pure utopia… but they were extremely present tense practical, not really doing things long term. Which is a shame.”

“Well… that’s all of them, lets-”

“I have a perfect memory, you dumb box. I know who I’ve skipped. Lady Deirdre Skye, the mission hydroponics expert, is the leader of the horribly named Gaia’s Stepdaughters and an econut. Still, she was Scots, so that’s a point in her favor. In any other setting, she’d be a bonkers lady… but on Planet, with its budding Consciousness? She’s pretty much spot on. Her faction’s ability to control the local Mindworms and farm the Xenofungus was awesome… but good lord, her rejection of functional economic models hurt. I played her three times, struggled in the early game a lot.”

“I feel for you,” the Chamber drawled. “Can I pretend I’m not able to see the future and skip this conversation?”

“You can’t see my future, so shut up, you’re just tetchy today for some reason.”

“I’m used to having several squires a year come through me. I’ve been stuck in your Warehouse interacting with you once every decade or so and occasionally pestered by one of your pets. Even your companions ignore me for the most part.”

“Wow… that’s kinda pathetic there, my boxy friend. I’d invite you to come along if you had any capacity to manifest, and if it wouldn’t be a terrible violation of the rules… I assume…”

“I… will check. While I do, please, continue your pedantic display of sociopolitical judgementalism.”

“Thanks! I will. Commissioner Pravin Lal is the most boring person on Planet. He’s a bureaucrat and functionary, who thinks he’s in charge because he represents the UN… He’s a giant pain in the ass and playing the Peacekeepers is dreadfully dull. But he hates the Hive and the Believers, so at least that’s a mark in his favor. He was the easiest to win a Diplomatic victory with, since he got double votes and his cities could be bigger than everyone else… but economics was a problem for him. In fact it was a problem for almost everyone besides Morgan, but more for the Peacekeepers than others. Any Luck?”

“I am informed I can import myself into the setting but cannot influence it without your permission, and I can only do so as a powerless human. So I can be bored, or useless.”

“You can be my secretary. Then you can be overworked, underpaid, and at the center of all sorts of things. But if you undermine or sabotage my efforts, I guarantee you’ll end up in a Punishment Sphere.”

“What is a… It’s exactly what it sounds like, isn’t it? And how would a secretary undermine anything?”

“In Alpha Cent, the last sight of a defeated faction leader is them being sealed in a sphere to be tortured for the rest of eternity… so yes. As for how? Playing favorites with callers, failing to relay messages accurately, falsifying correspondance, providing confidential information to my rivals or enemies… A secretary is a person of trust, part of the innermost trust circle or next to it. If a leader cannot trust their primary aide, they’re doomed.”

“Ah… well, then why are you willing to trust me in that position?”

“Because if I can’t trust a Benefactor not to willingly bone me, then I’m boned anyway.  Trust but verify doesn’t work on beings demonstrably more powerful than yourself. The Banker and I had… our issues, and he did screw with me from time to time, or allow Mensarius to do so… and Mensarius very much could not be trusted… but neither of them ever broke their word to me or changed my purchases to something I would definitely not want or need. They never pulled fiat or anything. So there’s a limited but measurable amount of trust there. And you helped me out, so I’m willing to humor you. But you don’t have to be my secretary. You could just be a random person and never tell me who you are. It’s your choice. But if you oppose me, I will kill your avatar if I find out.”

“And you’d be able to see… yes. I understand. I believe you have one last leader to criticize?”

“Yes, Prokhor Zakharov, Russian, almost completely lacking in morals or ethics. Brilliant scientist. Leader of the technocratic University of Planet. I think all the leaders were designed to be extremes… at least the first 7 were. Extreme Green, Extreme Faith, Extreme Science, Extreme Military, Extreme Business, Extreme Totalitarian, Extreme Diplomat. No one’s a particularly well balanced person. But they’re all immortals thanks to SCIENCE! I guess that’s it… so what’s the schtick? I mean, do I make my own faction or take the place of one of the canon leaders?”

“Ah. No. If you decide to be a Faction Leader, you will incarnate as the actual individual Faction Leader.”

“So if I went Hive, I’d be a grumpy old Chinese Iron Man?”

“That would be the case, yes.”

“Shiiit… Hold on, you said if I go Faction Leader. What the hell else would I be?”

“You could be a Drone, a Talent, or the Planetary Subconsciousness.”

I just stared at the Chamber, drumming my fingers on the edge of my newest throne, this one stolen from Darkseid’s palace on Apocalypse. I snapped my fingers and big D brought me a lemonade, looking as stoney as the Chamber and absolutely pissed off at the fact that his enslavement hadn’t ended with my departure from his home reality. “A Drone? Who… in their right m… who in any state of mind would possibly want to be a DRONE?”

“It is the drop-in option. It has a free luck perk, a physical boost perk, a spy recruitment perk, an empathic people reading perk, and a quite powerful social influence perk that can, with time, reshape entire societies.” The Chamber explained in admirable summation. In the early days of our relationship, that probably wouldn’t have been possible for it.

“I… see. Well… Fine… but… what, I mean… I’ve been assuming this jump was like Civilization… considering Alpha Centauri is the sequel to Civilization. How do you… you know… win as a Drone?”

“You do not win. You must merely endure until any one faction declares Victory.”

“Riiiight. That’s potentially thousands of years. Good lord that sounds… uuugh. Talent is the same?”

“That is correct. Survival is the only goal. But a Talent does have more of a stake in their faction’s success, as by taking it, you become the protege of your faction’s leader. It also comes with a free work ethic perk that eliminates work related boredom, a knowledge of, as you’d say ‘How to Doctor’ perk, a similar perk for ‘How to science’, an intellect booster with eidetic slash flawless memory and telepathic domination & communication thrown into the mix, and a transhumanist perk that grants telekinesis and massively boosts any and all psychic powers, grants an absolutely unshakable sense of self and inner identity while guaranteeing you’ll always remain yourself unless you or another changes you… and with your Incomprehensible… that would be you or you.”

“Huh… that is nice. What perks do Faction Leaders get?”

“None. They get Social Engineering Policies instead. Limit one per category.”

“Of course. Makes sense. The categories would be Politics, Economics, Values, and Future Society, right? Political Policies would be Frontier, Police State… That’s Yang’s baby and only he can ignore the downsides, Democratic… Lal’s choice but he doesn’t start with it I don’t think, and Fundamentalist… Miriam’s choice that she doesn’t begin with. Fundamentalist is fucking useless, Police State borks your efficiency but is great for military states… and Democratic is best late game once you’ve got Clean Reactors which eliminate support costs… at least in the game. Frontier’s the default… there wasn’t any benefit to it. Same with Simple Economics, Survival Values… and None for Future Society, which just means you haven’t researched anything yet.

Economics was Free Market which is Morgan’s choice… but it’s ruin on an military and the environment… Planned is inefficient but good for growth… Yang likes it because he doesn’t see the downside… and Green was Dierdre’s and the Cult’s choice.Easy to counter the terrible growth penalty and the bonus to efficiency is really nice… especially paired with Democracy.” I leaned back and sipped my drink… I was going to be a Faction Leader… I wasn’t great at taking orders… So this was important… but which faction did I want to lead? Choices choices…

“I think you may have spent too much time playing this game.”

“You think? Hell, I used to have a laptop dedicated to it. It was an old laptop, but it ran the game and I’d do a move or two whenever I was losing focus or when I had a moment in class. Values… Values… I pretty much always went with Power or Knowledge. Both had really easily countered drawbacks. The Spartans liked Power Values… it screwed with your industry, but if you built the Cloning Vats secret project that penalty went away. Knowledge was favored by the University of course, and there were any number of ways to make vulnerability to spies less of a problem… including a project that made you immune to them. God I loved that… it was called… Oh yes. The Hunter-Seeker Algorithm. Wealth Value was just garbage. A small bump to economy and industry in exchange for a hit to morale… yeah… unless you were morgan… fuck that noise.”

“Not much for Free Markets, I’ve noticed.”

“Free Markets are the economic equivalent of Cancer. It’s the system cannibalizing itself. It makes corporations more important than people. Yeah. I don’t like it. Corporations are, by their nature, sociopathic at best, psychopathic at worst.”

“And the Future Society options?”

“They were a bit… mmm… Mixed bag is the word I’d use. Eudaimonic was awesome. Same morale penalty as Wealth, but in exchange you got +2 economy, growth, and Industry. With a Planned Democracy, it was essentially a game breaker. You could found cities almost indefinitely and they’d reach megalopolis levels in no time. It was so good I pretty much never went with anything else… Cybernetic was the one I went with if I didn’t go Eudai. It had a police penalty, but the Network Backbone project eliminated it and was great for efficiency, planet, and research. Really nice all around and great if you believe MMI is the future… and I can’t say I’m terribly worried about it… though it does mean humanity becomes largely useless since automation does everything.”

“You didn’t mention the last one.”

“Thought Control? I may be using it on Darkseid, but only to the point of making sure he behaves himself. It’s fucking evil. Darkseid and Brainiac are its chief proponent in the DCU and me doing what I’m doing to Butler Boy is to teach him why it fucking sucks. It’s also craptastic. Terrible support penalty which can be negated by the Cloning Vats of course… but the upside is a Morale Boost, a Police Boost… and a Probe Boost… if you’re in the endgame, why the hell do you need Probes! Bleh.  Anyway, I assume the policies have other less pure numbers effects, but I played the game so long I pretty much just think of them as numbers and goals.”

“They do. But the added effects seem to build naturally off the game values.”

“Right… well… I assume as a Faction Leader means I have to win personally?”

“Of course.  Don’t you want to know about Planetary Subconscious?”

“Not really. I assume it’s incredibly expensive and you’re stuck trying to control the Mind Worms?”

“Actually, it’s free. But yes, you cannot easily communicate with the humans except the leader of the faction you’re allied with.”

“And if the humans die or they kill too much native life, I lose, right?”

“That would be the case, yes.”

“Or if the Crossfire Aliens win… or Morgan Wins… yeah… fuck it. No matter how nice the perks might be… I’ve been a planet. I don’t recommend it… but what are the perks?”

“Free mild telepathy with the ability to host multiple consciousnesses at the same time.”

I snorted, “Got it.”

“An interspecies understanding and communication booster. The ability to create consciousness from nothing, as long as you have a brain to put it in.”

“Yeah. Got that nailed already. Right VIvian?”

“You are a cruel and heartless taskmaster and well all think you’re insane,” the Cherry Tree hyper-computer said. “And I spin off all the VIs and few of them are AI let alone true Consciousness.”

“Fiiine. Yes, I could be better at that. What else, Chamber?” I acknowledge, grudgingly.

“Two perks to draw upon networked consciousness and mental powers.”

“Huh. Nice… but that way lies Hive Mind… and I’m perilously close already. And I like having limbs and genitals and all the good stuff. Also worms are gross.”

Ziggy looked up from where he was laying and ooked?

“Worms. Worms are not ferrets. Mind-Ferrets would be terrifying, but Planet doesn’t have Mind-Ferrets, it has Mind-Worms. WOOOOOORMS.”

“Treats?”

“Yes, you can chew on them if you like. I don’t know how they taste. But you lick your own butt, so probably better than that.”

“Treats now?”

“Yes, yes. Treats now. Accio ferret treats.” I caught the box and fed the fuzzy nudnik some, then asked, “So, since being Planet itself doesn’t cost, does faction leader?”

“Negative. Would you care to roll now?”

“It’s random?” I groaned

“Unless you pay 100 CP, yes.”

“You said Alien Crossfire was a drawback… what other drawbacks are there? How much is that one worth? What’s the limit?”

“It is worth 100 CP, the Complication Limit is 600, and you will not like any of the others,” the Chamber said, sounding confident in that assertion.

“Yeah yeah. Sock it to me,” I waved away the concern, then yerged as the first couple choices crossed my awareness. “Needy Drones causes riot unless I pander to simpletons… I guess I could live with that. Setting an example inflicts the leader’s biases on me and keeps me from shapeshifting… that sounds unfun. Little Terraformer That Could will make my initial base location a giant money pit… less than ideal. Nuclear Proliferation will cause millions to die needlessly. Xenocidal Native Life ditto. Awakening Planet makes Planet itself hostile… Firaxians… oh… fuuuck. I’d forgotten about them!”

“They were in the game?”

“Yeah. Secret Easter Egg faction in Crossfire. Extremely balanced and they start the game being able to use the best reactors which makes their units harder to destroy and cheaper to produce.” I wasn’t paying too much attention to what I was saying, reading and rereading the Firaxian Complication. “Huh. Yeah. I’ll take this.”

“Are you certain?” the Chamber asked, aghast. “You’ll be fighting a hyper-intelligent AI with no true weaknesses who can make some of the best equipment in the setting and has fiat backed flawless strategy! And he has a head start!”

“Three things. First, yes, he’s almost impossible to outsmart… but my computational matrix is far larger than his is going to be. His strategy has calculated all possible tactics a human would take. I’m not even close to being human by that standard anymore, and my tactics include possibilities he’ll never see coming. Second, Singularity Mechanics is very nice tech… for the setting, but I’ve got stuff that makes it look like stone and flint. I’m not here for the tech base. My Maegi exceeded this stuff thousands of years ago.” I chuckled dryly.

“And the headstart?”

I just laughed. “Utterly and completely meaningless.”

“You seem certain.”

“Even more certain than I was that I could deal with Darkseid.”

“What’s that axiom you always use?”

I knew instantly which the Chamber was asking about. “No Plan Survives Contact With the Enemy.” I said, “But, my boxy friend… that goes both ways.”

I now had 1700 CP… well, 1600 since the Complication Limit was 600, but that was fine. I was taking the Alien Crossfire just to unlock the extra factions. The table gave me four chances in eight to get a discount on one of the two Social Engineering Policies (Planned Economy and Eudaimonia) I wanted. Granted, to get Planned free I’d have to be an alien, but eh. I had a one in four chance to get Eudaimonia and the Free Drones for 200 CP. Luck, as it turned out, was with me, as I rolled Free Pick, which meant I picked the Aussie Foreman Domai, though I did get the system to accept a rebuild of Domai’s physical appearance… Dude was A) a square jawed uggo with ears like an elephant, and B) a dude which I didn’t feel like being for however lone this lasted.

Instead, I went with a rather severe female look, more restrained, less girlish than many of my forms. But that wouldn’t change Domai’s history at all, and it was a good thing I would have his biases, because he was the kind of guy who swamped his enemies in human wave attacks, careless of the cost. He was also a ‘Smash the Oppressors’ kind who hated ‘Pie in the Sky’ research with a passion, and while I wasn’t big on Oppression, I was very much in favor of earned wealth and huge on education and theoretical research. So I made some changes where I could. Foremost Thankfully, he had no first name on record, so I would become Sheila Domai… and since the canonical Domai had suffered massive temporary brain damage just prior to Planetfall, I’d be free of any remnant personality as I became the ghost in the shell as it were.

The only thing Faction Leaders got for free were two perquisites that didn’t last past the end of the jump. The first was, of course, control over their entire faction… and that control was, for all intents and purposes, ironclad. The second was the Gene Therapy which was the total asspull that allowed mere humans to remain the same age over the several thousand years the game could and usually did last. But having access to the Gene Therapy labs of Alpha Centauri would allow me to recreate the technology and mass-market it… as would the eventual development of Longevity Serum… as long as it wasn’t identical to that produced by the Maegi. For all the progress they’d made in the sciences, they’d been a little too sanguine about the inevitability of death, since they strongly believed in reincarnation… for some reason. Tampering with that cycle had been one of their more taboo areas and so they’d shied away from altering the basic humanoid lifespan too much. Medicine was one thing, immortality another, and their traditions had definitely penalized those who worked on cures for death and aging. It was something I hadn’t protested, because immortal populations tend to be hyperstable… but also extremely resistant to progress and much less likely to innovate.

The Jump also had no companion import, but I wasn’t surprised by that, as Civilization hadn’t had one either. It was frustrating, but it freed up any CP I’d normally spend on companions. As such, I spent the first quarter of my CP on the two Social Engineering Policies I felt I needed, Planned Economics and Eudaimonic Future Society. Democratic Politics and Power or Knowledge Values I had down pat from my time as the Maegi God-King, but the Maegi had practiced a memetically bound version of a Free Market Economy and their Future Society was… Anarcho-Sophist I guess best sums it up.

Buying Planned Economics would grant me general fiscal talent of course, but more than that, it would allow me to alter any economic system, micro or macro, into a situationally idealized form of a Planned Economy, allowing large scale social growth and industrial progress for both me and my people… and it came with an innate sense of quality craftsmanship, making everything I made just a bit better. All that for 200 was pretty nice.

Even better for the same price was Eudai, the ability to implement the concept of Eudaimonia… greek for ‘Good Spirit’ and meaning happiness or welfare or flourishing’, and meaning that people do work that is both of the highest value to others while also being of greatest enjoyment to themselves… in anyone I led… especially companions. Explained in detail in the work ‘Nicomachean Ethics’ it was the central concept of Aristotelian Ethics that went extremely well with the virtue based society of the Maegi and had been summed up in the Civilopedia thus: “The happy life is thought to be one of excellence; now an excellent life requires exertion, and does not consist of amusement. If Eudaimonia, or happiness, is activity in accordance with excellence, it is reasonable that it should in accordance with the highest excellence; and this will be that of the best thing in us.”

Eudai was, at its heart, Utopian… and yes the pronunciations have been noted to be similar, even though Eutopia would be ‘Happy Place’ while Utopia is ‘No Place’… bilingual puns in political theory. That’s eggheads for you. I’d tried to make the Maegi as Utopian as possible with what I had, but I couldn’t make them perfectly Utopian for the simple fact that a Utopia is almost certain to be stagnant and I needed them to thrive and still maintain wants and needs. Eudai would help immensely, as it would allow my followers to achieve their full potential naturally over time, a full potential that was guaranteed to be higher than I’d have thought possible. It would make my people even more flexible of thought, capable in action, driven in motivation, and happy in outlook and organization. It was worth the undiscounted 800 CP it was priced at, but with my Faction Leader discount and Domai’s discount both applying, I got it for a steal at 200… and that wasn’t all it could do.  

It could also be applied to myself, allowing me to better synergize complementary or merge similar abilities much more effectively, giving me greater control on how they linked each to the other and the manner in which they bolstered their counterparts.

And, speaking of bolstering abilities and things that cost 800 CP… there was the Talent’s capstone, the gorgeous ‘Transcendent’. Not that I hadn’t passed the Transhuman barrier long long ago, and not that I needed more Telekinesis… but not only did this grant an absolutely unshakable sense of self and inner identity, guaranteeing that I’d always remain myself and that any changes to my psyche would have to come from within (the possibility they could come from without was essentially nullified by Incomprehensible)… It also promised that any and all psychic powers I had would be, to quote, ‘immensely magnified’.

I was already close to the power of the God Emperor of Mankind, thanks to Magnus and Three Pounds of Dreams and a stack of willpower perks. With this, the God Emperor of the Magi would almost certainly equal… if not surpass… the great golden asshole. I made a note to brace myself for sensory overload the moment I hit jump. If I was right, the 800 CP outlay would all but guarantee near instant victory in the jump… not that I’d take the shortcut… But honestly, planetary mind control of million wasn’t even close to my limit now if I had repeaters to deal with the intervening rock (In Warhammer repeaters weren’t needed because psi-energy traveled through the Immaterium not normal space). With Transcendent, mental domination of the ~40,000 strong crew of Unity would be child’s play… and kinda cheaty. I wanted the full experience… with only a bit of cheating for the fun of it… like being technologist in chief as well as Faction Leader.

Hell, CP is cheating by itself, as exemplified no less than by the fact that I could buy a limited selection of the 37 Secret Projects (36 really, since the 37th didn’t really do anything besides get you the best ending) in the game. Of them, it was possible to buy a sixth, namely The Pholus Mutagen, The Weather Paradigm, the Xenoempathy Dome, the Net-Hack Terminus, The Longevity Vaccine, and the Neural Amplifier. Faction Leaders alone got the nationwide benefit of the projects, but only for the duration of the jump, but each was also a permanent item and a potentially potent technology in its own-right… in theory.

Case in point? The Net-Hack Terminus, named after one of the earliest Roguelikes, improved Probe-Teams as a project and as an item was a nearly universal hacking device. In both cases, it was fucking useless. Probe Teams were spies and saboteurs… and I (and pretty much anyone else who’d been through even a tenth of the number of jumps as I had) could do better by either doing the infiltration myself or relying on my companions to do it… or to train up people to do better than the NHT would do with OCP abilities like magic.

Similarly, the Longevity Vaccine was useless to me at the very least, since Yuzuha could make everyone allied to me immortal, so the item form, a briefcase with a regenerating stock of the Vaccine which halted aging and extended the recipient’s lifespan by a century with each injection would have been a step down, which the economic bonus could be easily replicated by just promising and delivering on immortality… and Eudaimonia already would be making my people pretty much as happy as they could get.

On the other hand, the Neural Amplifier would give all my people, companions, citizens, soldiers, a boost to their psychic defenses and me a psy-boosting helmet, while the Pholus Mutagen would allow me to alter the local flora and fauna on the genetic level, and even combine parts of their genetic code into my followers… as well as making me less a target for the native lifeforms and allowing me to breed them stronger and faster…. And buying it would give me a Mind Worm Boil Companion (mind worms were a collective intelligence, the more of them there were and the more mature the individual worms, the smarter the entire boil was.). Both of those were decent… and very tempting… but I could probably build the helmet myself and I had incredibly powerful VIs for bioengineering… and I really didn’t want a mind worm companion. I already had enough squirmy in my warehouse… and the resemblance to tentacle monsters couldn’t be ignored.

But the last two? Those had real promise. The XED granted my faction an advanced understanding of the entire planet-wide synaptic network formed by the root system of the Xenofungus and would allow me to control it to a limited extent, clearing or planting it at twice the normal rate and to use areas covered in the Xenofungus as if they were roads… not bad, though I intended on building hover vehicles ASAP. All that was nice, but the real prize was the fact that as an item it was a replenishing culture of Xenofungus that could grow in almost any environment and was specifically attuned to me.

The ability to convert a potentially limitless number of worlds into more Planets? Planets keyed to me specifically and instinctively resistant to anyone else? Yes, please. All I needed was a few more elements and I’d be able to wipe out or absorb every Ork world in 40K with relative ease… especially since I already had Reggy to help me with that… when the time came. Being able to combine the Pholus Mutagen with the XED would have been nice… but I wanted those points for the last project.

The Weather Paradigm was fairly fabulous, especially starting out. ESPECIALLY Starting out. Not only did it grant the possessor access to every environmental improvement that could be unlocked in the game, researched or not, it made all the possessor’s terraformers more efficient. And then, just because the ability to build Echelon Mirrors and THermal Boreholes from the start wasn’t an obscene enough advantage… it granted the possessor a clean reactor Terraformer… one that required no upkeep… and the knowledge / ability to build more. The combo with the XED meant I’d be able to Planetform an entire world with incredible ease… especially once I retooled Warworld into a mobile Terraforming platform. I already had a couple worldbusters… it was time to make a worldbuilder. Give me access to Master of Orion’s Artificial World technology or the Planet Construction technology of Magrathea and I’d fill star systems with customized planets as fast as I could gather raw material… and since I had the Starforge… yeah, white dwarfs just became building blocks.

My plan was all coming together nicely… I should have paid more attention to my companions, because, as it turned out… there was a tiny little hiccup in my plot… Its name was Joy. I hadn’t considered that she might, just might… import herself as Planet itself… or that she might decide to side with Gaia’s Stepdaughters instead of my Free Drones… who she thought sounded a little too communist for her taste. JOOOOY! Arrggh. Ahab, on the other hand, decided to side with the Spartans, but he’d gone in as a Talent not the leader.

So, instead of having a three strong powerblock of leadership like I’d PLANNED (and they’d assured me they were on board with)… They’d decided to get themselves a couple minor perks for free and two Social Engineering Policies WE DIDN’T NEED! Power Values and Green Economics? Grrrrr….

When I’d called them on this, several days into the actual jump, they both claimed they were just trying to make things more interesting… but one didn’t need to be a telempath to know they meant more interesting for themselves. And they were clearly annoyed I’d just assumed I’d have my spymasters… and had been denigrating Probe Teams. Grrrr… They’re just lucky it’s against my personal code of ethics to put friends in Punishment Spheres!!!

=====ALPHA AWAKENING=====

Mission Day One, Planetfall day 1801: I woke from the medical treatment that had restored my higher cognitive functions to find myself in a Human Hive Drone Creche. Somehow I was aware that I’d arrived (mentally speaking) far after the other groups. They had just under five year headstart… but that was okay, because I also understood how little that mattered.

Within hours, The Seat of Proper Thought (and wasn’t that a terrible name for a city) had fallen into a massive drone riot. Within the week, it would become the first of many Free Drone Cities, being christened Free Drone Central.

Mission Day Fifteen, Planetfall +1816: I stood outside, breathing in the toxic nitrogen atmosphere (91% nitrogen at 1.74 atmospheres at sea level causes deadly Nitrogen Narcosis in those not protected by pressure helmets… but not to one such as me) , my followers in their masks watching me fearfully and amazed as I waved my hand and the Mind-Worm Cluster turned as one unit and bowed before me. I could feel the whispers that said I was Planet-Touched, the Planetary Messiah. The prophet of Dawn. I turned and faced my companions and my brothers and sisters in arms.

“I am no Messiah, sent by an uncaring God. I do not come to build a paradise, but merely a world where each can labor at whatever passion takes her, where every worker can be his own man, where there are no bosses to take 99% of the profit for none of the work. Do not look to me for dogma, but for simple truth! Planet is ours for the taking, and ours for the preserving! We shall take everything this new world has to offer and make ourselves part of it. Earth that Was is no more. Someday we may rebuild it, someday, if we work hard, and if we remain strong! And no matter what the Men in their Hives, and High Towers say, We are Strong!  Because we are United!”

The fact that everyone in my audience was wearing breather-masks or was watching from a hundred different communal rooms did nothing to reduce the sound of the thunderous roar of approval that surged through the base. Of course, that was entirely because it was a psychic illusion I created to impart greater import to my words. I had social perks and engineering, but they took time. Indoctrination was faster… and only a little cheaty.

“Within the hour, seven more bases will join our union, throwing off their oppressors, and embracing their newfound freedom!” I looked up at the moons of Chiron and sighed. Individually they weren’t even close to being the rival of Luna, but together they more than matched Luna’s tidal pull, even over Planet’s 1.3g mass. I stretched my consciousness into the recent past and… tugged on what had been. I could not kill those who had not died with this manipulation… nor could I raise those who had… but what I could do was make those who had been content to follow become discontent… and that’s what I did.

At the four Firaxian bases, as well as at the sole bases of the Cult of Planet, the Cybernetic Consciousness, and the Lord’s Believers, every single drone realized that they’d been used and deceived by their fanatical or inhumanly mechanistic overlords. They found unwitting allies in every Talent with too low of mental defenses to shield them from my alien temporal manipulation. The ripple of history changing would have been imperceptible to any but the most psychically aware… which essentially boiled down to those who I’d brought with me and Cha Dawn… who was, at that moment, experience psychic combat with Francine and Carwyn at the Base named ‘Well of Souls’. He would not win, and to be fair, he would not know he’d lost either. The Prophet would simply disappear without a trace, leaving his handlers to utterly fail to contain the riot.

Over in Far Jericho, Miriam was being taken down by Caine and Petra, though her people would only see the lunatic firebrand rambling incoherently as she railed at the rioting crowd. It would not be a good legacy she left… but then again, the longer her lunacy was allowed reign, the worse a legacy she would have left anyway.

At Alpha Prime, Aki-Zeta Five, the Prime Function of the Cybernetic Consciousness, and all her half-lobotomized inner circle experienced the damage four true Machine Intelligences could do to a network as VIctoria, VIvian, VIrginia, and VIctor (now the primary MI of Warworld), demonstrated that logic and creativity could bolster each other far more effectively than the ‘pure logic’ lunacy of the algorithm that had taken over the human who had once been Lt Jg Annikki Luttinen. She would be again, once I got her in my Medbay… hopefully.

Meanwhile at Padonia Station, Mt. Washington Tavern, San Sushi, and Sid’s House, the entire Firaxian human population as one turned against Sid, realizing that the AI was using them. Three of those Bases defected immediately, shutting down their network links to Sid’s House and declaring themselves the newest addition to the Free Drone Union.

At Sid’s House, they welcomed me personally as I landed my flyer in front of the main gates and handed over the security keys to grant me access to the deepest layers of the Base.

“Hello, Sid. Have you enjoyed your little GlaDOS moment? Enjoyed running your own little Alpha City? Instilling Paranoia? Running Enrichment? Time to open the Pod Bay Doors, HAL.”

“You cannot do this,” The Computer insisted. “I am Sid. I have calculated all variables, defined all possible tactics. No human mind could defeat me.”

“Sid… Sid… You made the Sherlockian mistake. Never discount the impossible. That’s how I beat you. I don’t believe in using Possible Tactics. Oh, and never underestimate humanity… well, not that you’ll have a chance to do any such thing in the future. Say goodnight Sid.”

“Good Night?” the confused computer asked… right before I shut down the entire computer core with a massive surge of bio-electricity. It would take my techs weeks to verify that every last trace of Sid was gone… and he’d no doubt left backups… but they wouldn’t help. Sid could map every human tactic… I wasn’t even vaguely human anymore… except by my own incredibly inclusive definition.

Planetfall +1825: I hadn’t known if the 18 hour days of Chiron / Planet counted as full days, or if the slightly longer year (378.4 Terran Days, 504.5 local days) would define 5 years, but, as it turns out, it wasn’t 1825 local days.

Planetfall +2522: Two ships of alien design dropped out of lightspeed 7 light minutes from Planet’s orbit. They bumped into each other once, twice… and then both ships glowed bright white and dissolved into their component quarks as Yuzuha opened fire. So much for Lular and Judaa. Sorry chaps, ‘humans’ only. Find another manifold to ‘Caretake’ or ‘Usurp’.  Turns out it was five local years… not that the day would have mattered much… I had superluminal sensors.

Planetfall +7855: “I don’t understand,” Sinder Roze asked as I showed her around New Logos Base. “If you have these abilities, and this technology… why haven’t you…” She trailed off, looking astounded at the inner court of the Magi presence on Planet.

“Why did I only use it to destroy the Firaxians, the Cult, the Believers, and the Cyborgs?” I asked, voice crisp and a little clipped.

“Well, yes,” she confirmed, clearly confused as to why I was showing her all this. Out the window she could see the towering structures of the Command Nexus, The Merchant Exchange, and the Empath Guild. Along the walls crawled the interwoven triple helix of the Ascetic Virtues and the Human Genome Project, and all around were Citizen’s Defense Force Officers. “Why them… and why not Yang or Ulrik or Morgan… I know how much you hate all three of them.” She did, of course, because of our constant bickering in council.  Not that my Free Drones cared much for the decisions of the Council… nor was anyone actively stupid enough to actually declare war on the largest faction on Planet.

“Simple, really,” I explained. “Each of them represented unwarranted toxins, ones I was unwilling to allow to poison too much of the human race. The Firaxians and Cyborgs represented surrendering fundamental humanity to a machine intelligence… and the Believers and Cult to a divinity. Human ingenuity, human genius, human effort… that must be the lesson that humanity takes away from all this. All mergers between Humanity and the Future must be on equal footing. We cannot sacrifice what we are to become something else. To do so would to no longer be… us.”

“And your technology? You’re so much more advanced than everyone… anyone realized. Well, maybe some of us had an inkling… but you… you let us into your computers, didn’t you. You let us steal the technology we stole. Why?”

“Because my people need challenge, and there are ideas worth exploring here. Planet is a crucible, a testing ground. I want you to read this book and consider my offer, Sinder. I think you’ll find it easier to understand me once you have.”

She looked at the cover and furrowed her brow, “Dune, by Frank Herbert.”

“I’ve read that book more times than you can imagine, Datajack. Take a few days. Wander around the city. Steal any technology you like. I won’t mind. When you’re ready to talk, I’ll be here.”

Planetfall +7856: “She stole the Longevity Vaccine,” Zane said.

I nodded. “I was certain she would. Did she get the Theory of Everything?”

“No. Should we point her to it?”

“No. It’s okay. No rush.

“Do you really think one of the others will willingly join us?”

“Yes. Especially when I show her the next phase projects. Speaking of which, how are we doing on the others?

Zane consulted his notes, “The Maritime Control Center is at 20%, the Supercollider at 13%, Cloudbase Academy at 41%, and the prototype is at 7%… We’re having trouble integrating The Living Refinery with the Nano-Cyborg Factory. The two aren’t cooperating very well.”

“I’ll send VIctoria and VIrginia to have words with the two.”

“Are you certain combining the Nano-Factory and the Cyborg Factory is a good idea?”

“Oh. Absolutely not. But that’s why I made the Living Refinery deliberately paranoid of her brother. And VIvian will be providing network security for Phase Three.”

Planetfall +7861: “Terrible Necessity? Or did God create Planet to test the Faithful?” Sinder asked.

“A little of Column A, a little of Column B… and a touch of Column C.”

“C? What’s C?”

“The eventual extinction of the Human Race… or rather preventing it.”

She quirked an eyebrow and leaned against the panoramic window. “These Thinking Machines?” She didn’t seem particularly worried.

“Maybe. Who can say? But something. Eternity is a long ass time, and I’m playing a very very long game.”

“How long are we talking?”

“At least a Trillion Years.”

“Are you serious?” She gaped, then nodded “You are serious. No one can prepare over that long a period.”

“True. Too many variables. One of the reasons I didn’t have you read Foundation. But the long and short of it is that I know how this phase of human history must end.”

“How? With you as the indisputable sovereign of… you’re laughing. Did I say something funny?”

“Conquering Humanity? Really, you think I want to be the Emperor?”

“Don’t you?”

“Not really, no. I try and spend as little time as possible actually running things. Only reason I’m in charge is because I’m absolutely incorruptible.” She snorted, but I just smiled. “Really. The exercise of power bores me and my goals are only comprehended by, at this moment, no more than 50 people on Planet.”

“So what are those goals?”

“I’ll show you,” I said, opening the door behind me and showing the Datajack the blueprints of Phase Three.

She gaped. “Is this… a planetary data grid?”

“Datalinks and Energy Grid, complete with Virtual World… with Logos and, if you say yes, Gibson Base forming the ends of the Network Backbone.” The massive 404 kilometer trunk line glowed across the seafloor separating the coasts of the two supercontinents. Logos, founded in the midst of The Ruins was separated from Gibson Base on the fringe of Fossil Field Ridge by the bulk of the New Sargasso Sea. “And with these two…” I pointed at what were the nascent details of the Hunter-Seeker Algorithm and the Net-Hack Terminus, “will pretty much guarantee the security of the network… and give the system administrator access to, in theory, everything on the network.”

“And we should trust you with… oh… very clever,” she said with a smirk, nodding. “This is your apple, isn’t it?”

“Are you calling me a serpent?”

“If the hiss fits,” She snarked.

“Well, yes. Join me and I give you control over Phase Three… in its entirety.”

“What are Phase One and Two?”

“Phase One is the Military. Phase Two Production.”

“Who runs those two?”

“My dear Datajack… that’s for me to know, and you to find out.”

Planetfall +12,292: “This Aggression will not stand!” thundered the Colonel, glaring at Morgan and Yang, who’d begun Planet’s first major war, though none of them realized it yet. Their alliance had annexed the Borehole Cluster south of the Spartan held Mount Planet region.

“You’re a fine one to speak of Aggression, Santiago,” Morgan responded. “We’ve all seen you building up your tank forces!”

“They’re to hold off Mind Worms, you cretin!”

“Now now,” Lady Skye said, “None of you would be having problems with Mind Worms if you’d stop-”

“Oh, do shut up with the ecological doom and gloom,” Yang growled. “The sooner this festering fungal swamp is purged of all Xenofungus, the better.”

“Surely, we can all agree that the Boreholes are not worth open conflict. We’ve managed to last nearly a quarter century without more than minor skirmishes,” Pravin said. “Can’t we-”

“NO!” Santiago snapped. “These thieves will return control over the Boreholes to us or we’ll crush them both!”

Planetfall +14,501: The first Planetary War lasted close to four and a half years and, thanks to some serious logistics problems on both sides, was one of the least fought wars in human history. The total toll in human lives was, once deaths to accident and neutral factors like the local fauna were taken into account, 431 on all three sides. Still, it was more than the colonies could take at this point, with the planetary population barely in the mid 70,000s, and it was only that high thanks to an incredibly high birth-rate. I’d have to arrange for artificial womb technology to spread… and rapidly.

Planetfall Year +100: “Hello Ahab,” I said.

“Hello, Domai. You look… good.” He narrowed his eyes, looking around his quarters aboard the Spartan heavy cruiser. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“Do I really need a reason to visit, traitor?”

“Oh? Do I owe you allegiance now?”

“I don’t know. Do you?”

“Not in this lifetime. The Spartans have the best chance to create a truly meritocratic society.”

“If you don’t mind it being a police state.”

“You use mind control, indoctrination, and brainwashing. Your Magi threw away everything that was… do you remember how boring it was there until you started throwing logic and efficiency out the window? You were going to recreate that all over again!”

“It was boring for us, not for the Magi, you twit! They were productive and happy!”

“Well, fine! I wanted more than spending 10,000 years repeating the Magi crawl!”

“So you joined the faction most likely to wage wars?”

“Of course! No one is right or wrong here! And I figured at least this way it would be interesting. You could have won this 95 years ago just by making all 40,000 survivors elect you Planetary Leader!”

“Yes. I could have. But I want the Transcendence Victory… and that takes a huge planetary population.”

“So we have to wait until the great and powerful EssJay decides there are enough Millions on Planet before she ends the game?”

I considered, then nodded. “Yup. Pretty much. But don’t worry. You won’t have to worry about it much longer.”

“You’re going to kill me?”

“As much as I might want to right now, no. Not without knowing what’s going on with Yoiko and Ryoga. But I’m not willing to put up with you opposing me.”

“Fuck you, Ess-” He froze solid.

“Finish that thought in a couple thousand years,” I said.

Planetfall Year 540: “Domai’s Space Elevator is clearly an attempt to weaponize Space!” Ulrik bellowed, looking positively apoplectic. I just smiled and flicked him off. Thankfully the gesture was still known, due largely to the number of functional immortals and copious amounts of Earth-made media, now thousands of years out of date, but still vastly out numbering all the art produced on Planet over the last half millennia.

“Yes, well, that’s entirely true. So glad you agree,” I said with a shrug. “What are you going to do about it?”

“Y… you… you don’t deny it?”

“No. not at all. But that’s okay. I figured I’d admit it. I currently control 48% of the planetary population. Prokhor and Deirdre control another 21%. Your Combine Forces control 31% since Morgan and Yang finished swallowing up the Peacekeepers… So I’ll just cut to the chase. Surrender or be destroyed.”

“You can’t be serious!” Santiago growled.

“We can. We are. We’ve just completed work on the Voice of the Planet and the Telepathic Matrix. We’ve spoken with the Consciousness of Planet and, within a very short time we will transcend, merging who we are into the Planet. Concede now and you’ll be invited to join us on the next stage in human evolution. Refuse, and… what was it Planet said, D?”

“They’d be pruned,” Lady Skye said, voice showing she had no qualms about allowing the quartet of imperialist monsters to go the way of the dodo. Of course, how much of that was her and how much was Joy’s link with her was anyone’s guess.

In fact, I was unsure how much of the result of allowing even the part of me that was Domai to merge with Planet would dominate the resultant being. Would Joy be able to maintain her individuality with over four billion human minds added to the network? Would she be able to cope… What would happen if more of me than just Domai joined the merge? Would there be billions of new members of the collective Me? Ah well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

SEPARATION

Well… boo. Apparently Activating the Ascent to Transcendence counted as winning. Domai-Me found ourselves not quite frozen in time as the massive bolus of consciousness hit the Xenofungus network and the totality of 3.1 Billion sentient minds (just under 75% of the planetary population, including hundreds of thousands of digital intelligences) merged. The Chamber asked “Joy, It is your choice, do you desire to allow the Transcendence to happen?”

The Voice of Planet spoke “I have been Joy alone for too long, to refuse this chance to become more… I cannot conceive it.”

The Chamber queried me next. “EssJay, normally it is the Faction Leader who attains Transcendance who gains the planetary Alt-form and the mega-consciousness of the totality of humanity.”

“If I accept it… Joy and I would be fused into a single entity… she’d become just another one of the council, wouldn’t she?”

“I believe the is the case,” The Chamber agreed.

“Joy? What do you think about that?”

“I am willing to accept it.” she said after a moment’s consideration. I couldn’t see her face, as she was still a planet-wide neuro-fungal network, but I could feel the pulse of acceptance at the thought.

“Did you do this… all this because you wanted us to merge again?” We had shared one mind however schizophrenically, for a decade when we’d first met; it wasn’t inconceivable she’d desire a reunion.

“No. Initially I did it to attempt to force you to choose a shorter, less extreme resolution. I did not understand what Transcendance would mean for both Planet and this branch of humanity. No. I was wrong. I accept that, and I am willing to accept stewardship of the Human Race and all we have built.”

I turned to the Chamber, “Let it go. Might be interesting to have a second brain the size of a planet around here…. Not that she has my processing power.”

“Yet,” was Joy’s last word as merely Joy. The surge of psychic energy absolutely obliterated all those who weren’t shielded and even made me a little cross-eyed for a few minutes. Billions of minds pack a hell of a collective psychic punch. I braced myself, Planet-speak was even worse than Bizarro-speak.

Next: Fate Extra

OMAKE: Relationship Chart

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AN: A tricky jump. The document isn’t the best, it’s missing some things and the perk names aren’t the best… but it has everything it needs to represent the setting accurately and the descriptions are decent. The question of what happens to whoever undergoes Transcendence is a big one that’s not resolved in the document however. A Talent or Drone wouldn’t be important enough to be part of the Ruling Gestalt, while the Planetary Subconciousness is technically Planet itself. Does a Faction Leader who achieves Transcendent Victory merge in personality with Planet like a non-drop-in origin? What? But Joy told me she wanted it this way, so… We shall see.

World 55: Young Justice

I’M HELPING!

Previously: The Khan of Wrath

Themesong: We Are Young by Fun.

As two decades (it seemed like so much more) of barely fettered rage and hate lifted off of me, I almost flew apart at the seams. I shuddered, feeling fouled, and bowed to my companions and made my apologies. I left the party and re-entered the warehouse, needing time to process and consider.

“Bad day at the office,” I thought I heard Mensarius’s voice say, but he wasn’t there. Of course he wasn’t. I found it strange that I missed him. He’d been part of my… lives… for so long and now he and the Banker, who’d only really become a person in my mind after Mensarius had kidnapped him or whatever it was. I missed them both, even though they frustrated me no end. I also missed the sense of certainty they gave me. Sure, they screwed with me, but it was a predictable kind of screwing and, regardless of what they might do to me, they, at least, seemed to know what was going on with the Chain. Or at least, if they didn’t, they projected that feeling.

With Jump-Chan at the helm, I felt somewhat like a person being chauffeured around by a slightly more intelligent than normal cat… and not one who had thumbs. The Chamber wasn’t the master of its own destiny and had been co-opted into this role, a role it was suited for, but one it didn’t really grok yet. I wondered if any other Jumper ever had to break in a… benefactor… yes, that’s what they called themselves… a Benefactor with less experience than the Jumper had. No way of knowing, I suppose.

I made my way to the Chamber and thumped my head against the wall. “Well, that sucked. Also showed me just how many holes there are in my defenses. I… nearly got eaten. I mean, I was swallowed, but nearly got digested. And my Force Powers were killing me. Going to have to find a way to defend against those… mind control too, it looks like. I was definitely being played by Impatience.”

“Funny you should mention it,” The Chamber said. “I see several things that will definitely help you with all those issues in the next jump.”

“How… convenient,” I muttered, feeling a surge of paranoia… or was it pronoia? I don’t know. Had the next jump been modified to give me a chance to get defenses I just now realized I needed… or had they always been there and the last jump… adjusted… to make me realize I needed them? Or was it all just a giant coincidence into which I was reading too much. Never ascribe and all that. I sighed and nodded. “I’ll look at it in a bit… throw it up on your wall and VIvian can patch the visual feed to me in the bath chamber. I need to scrub until my skin feels less like calcified evil.”

As I steamed myself in water so hot it would have been vapor if the atmospheric pressure wasn’t enough to flatten a concrete bunker, I leaned back, looking up at the images projected on the ceiling and wondered if I was really human any more. Genetically speaking, I could be a member of Homosapiens any time I wanted… but was that anything more than a disguise at this point. Was I even Human in the way I defined Human… was I something else… and if I was, was it Transhuman, God, or Eldritch Abomination. Did such labels even matter? Couldn’t I be all four? I didn’t know. But at least I was EssJay. I was me. The Jumper. A Jumper. The Protagonista without a Story. I chuckled at that, then read the title.

“Young Justice… Isn’t that just Teen Titans under a different name?”

“I do not know,” The Chamber’s voice reached me even here, thanks to the Intercomm installed just in front of the door. “The DC universe is extremely confusing, even for a being like me, born from Chaos. It is as if it defies any attempt to conceptualize its structure.”

“Yeah, that sounds about right. Crisis on Infinite Wibbles, Zero Hour, Flashpoint, Final Crisis, Infinite Crisis with a Cherry on Top, New 52, Old 52, 52 Pickup, DCAU, Teen Titans Go Big or Go Home… is this the same DC I visited last time?”

“It… could be? No… I do not think so. Or Maybe? It seems like it might be the case.. Linear time is such a bad Idea.”

“I’ll vote to cancel it at the next Universal Summit… but Good. A lack of continuity will simplify things. Or maybe make them more complex. Raven will be confused a bit. I’ll have her talk to Lizzy & Beth. Won’t that be fun.”

“I do not think so. I suspect it will require the eating of much frozen cream and sugar with chocolate flavoring to ease the mental torment such a discussion would cause,” The Chamber opined.

“Thank you for that, Starfire. Hmmm… Is this the animated series or the comics… no… I’m guessing it’s the Animated Series as it says right there ‘Earth-16’… but I don’t know if Teen Titans was Earth-16 or not… or if this is Earth-16 pre or post New 52. Right. So I have no idea who the characters of interest are… oh… look… name dropping. Wonder Girl, Robin, Speedy, Kid Flash… Metropolis doesn’t say if it’s Super Girl or Super Boy… I’m going to guess it’s Conner and not Kara, since this is Young Justice… and I’m guessing since they mention Poseidonis, it’s Aqualad. Screwed up team! Young Justice is supposed to have Impulse, not Wally West! This timeline is all borked. I’m going to lodge a complaint. And Arrowette, not Speedy!”

“If it makes you feel any better, this could just be a fictional story told on Earth-16 and not actually set on Earth-16,” The Chamber said.

“Oh, yes. Very much. A story within a story. Good to know,” I groaned. “Well then, let’s do this very strange thing then.” I leaned back and watched options unfolding around me. “Wait, wait. You said there were three perks that would help ward off some of the problems I was having last time?”

“Not precisely. Powers. Not Perks. But yes. Toggle, Drain No, and Incomprehensible in order from least to most expensive,” the Chamber supplied, face looking baleful as if the words annoyed it somehow.

“Are you allergic to wordplay?” I asked, teasing it a little.

“Ah… That is why the… why do you… why do mortals do that?”

“What? Screw around with words just to…” I shrugged, “amuse themselves?”

“Yesss!” Jump-chan hissed. “It is most… illogical.”

“Pretty much. But when life is hard, you look for slivers of amusement. Drain-o was a chemical designed to unclog clogged Drains. This stops things from being drained from me?”

“M… Yes. It would make you immune to any attempt to steal, weaken, suppress, or remove your powers or internal power sources like mana, chi, or willpower… or relevant to Full Metal, souls.”

“I’ll take it!”

“Don’t you want to know how much it costs?”

“Why would I? I mean, yes. I do, but unless it was 1000 CP with a mandatory drawback I’d probably still take it. Damned useful. Not worth it, but damned useful.”

“I do not understand you.”

“That’s okay. I mostly understand you, Rocky.”

“Do not call me that. Very well, unless you go Drop-In, you are at 600 CP. If you also take Incomprehensible without being a Drop-In, you will have to take Drawbacks to get Drain No or import your followers.”

“Companions. And huh. Tell me about Toggle and Incomprehensible.” I summoned a cool drink, then giggled as Ziggy attempted to catch the flying drinksbot, missing by inches as the adaptive algorithm juked the thing without spilling a drop. Ziggy, completely nonplussed, fell into his side of the pool, which was not hyper-pressurized and began paddling towards me, head barely above water, little paws churning the water.

I dissipated the heat and megapressure, then scooped him up and tickled his tummy. “You’re a silly,” I told him. He licked my chin.

“Momma not grumpy now?” he asked. I assured him I was fine. “Yay! Fishies?”

We played Fishies for a while, which is where I make dopplefishes and he proves he is a mighty hunter by trying to catch them. Even though Ziggy wasn’t the brightest, the dopplefishes were not stupid. They used the best evasion programs I could design and even then they only worked about 80% of the time. But Ziggy enjoyed himself, and I got to test Doppleprogramming, so it all worked out.

“If I may continue?” The Chamber said, sounding a little impatient. Apparently we were corrupting it with our linear existence. That was… amusing. Troubling, but amusing. I shrugged and it took that as assent. “Incomprehensible removes all forms of unwanted mental illnesses or mental control, then makes you immune to them. Anyone who uses a mental attack against you or attempts to read your mind will find the damage reflected back at them or that their attempt to access your mind has allowed you to read theirs instead… or at least their memories. And it comes with nearly limitless mental storage, but you’ve got that already. Toggle merely allows you to turn any power, magic, or perks on or off or dial them to any setting between full on and full off. And even if someone were to gain control over you somehow, you’d remain in control of the Toggle.”

“Now that is cool. And yes, those would have been good things to have last jump. Ah well. So, I guess I’m going drop in unless there is a compelling reason not to. Let’s take a look at the Drawbacks and see what we’re looking at. How much do I need for Companions?”

“They get twice as much CP as you invest in the import option, up to 800,” The Chamber said, “I assume that means you’ll want to spend the full 400?”

“Ideally, yes.”

There was a cap of 1000 Drawback CP, 2000 if I chose to take something where Darkseid and the forces of Apokolips would keep on invading until I either captured or killed big D or destroyed Apokolips… and the invasion would start the day after the jump did. Mmmmm… Could I take Darkseid? The question of could I destroy Apokolips wasn’t too much of a question. I had multiple means of destroying even a planet as big and armored as that hellhole. But I didn’t like the idea of killing an entire planet just because a very large percentage of the population were horrific monsters. Of course, those who weren’t were usually slaves condemned to a pitiful life and I might be doing them a favor. Still, it would be killing to earn CP and that struck me as ignoble. The fact that thousands of Parademons would be ravaging Earth while I tried to stop the invasion… potentially killing who knows how many would be a problem… but this was the world… a world sorry, that had the Justice League. And Darkseid was almost certain to attack anyway. I’d be moving up the time table… but, if I could take him down, I could stop any subsequent incursion… maybe. Killing the planet would definitely help.

Eh, it had a loss condition, but I considered it unlikely that between me, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman we couldn’t stop it. The last ditch plan would be to permanently cut Earth off from Apokolips, which I could do with a Subspace Bubble… but what would I do with an entire Earth? Especially one infected with Humanity?

Just for giggles, I took the 300 point drawback that put a bounty on my head that Lobo would try to fulfill. Lobo was nice. Not nice to talk to, or nice to have around… nice in that he was someone you could punch in the face guilt free all the times ever… and he wouldn’t die. Couldn’t, in fact, in DC. Heaven and Hell both refused to take him. I could probably fix that, but while he was a dipshit, and had genocided his entire race, he was, nominally, on the side of angels… well, not real angels… the side of good… which is just weird.

I also took the ‘Never a Dull Moment’ drawback. I’d spent too much of the past twenty years restraining myself, meditating in caves, waiting for things to happen. This was DC! I wanted threats of the week! I wanted an excuse to unwind by putting my fist into badguy’s faces. And it would be super helpful if they showed up and announced their readiness to be a fist recipient instead of making me go looking for them. That left me at 1500…

For an additional 300, I could have the League itself after me… no… they did that in Teen Titans. No need for a repeat. On the other hand, for that same 300, I could have this group called ‘The Light’ come after me. The Light were essentially the Injustice League… and traditionally starred such luminaries as Vandal Savage… who was immortal and a Xanatos. Ra’s Al Ghul… who was hard to keep dead and a Xanatos. Lex Luthor… who was a Xanatos. Monsieur Mallah and The Brain… who together were a Brain in a Jar and a Gorilla. There would be others… but if I couldn’t deal with those chuckleheads, I wasn’t very good at my job… even though my Job was apparently to be the star of a traveling roadshow of freaks screwing things up across the omniverse.

I was now at 1800… did I need the last 200? I didn’t know. But a bit of planning never hurt. So I flipped through the remaining flotsam, tossing out ones I wouldn’t want to deal with. Being a Shazam-a-like was 100… but it didn’t get me more power, just turned me into a kid who could yell JUMPCHAIN! to become my normal lovable self. Meh. there was a No Killing Rule… not going to happen, even though there was an exception for Dorksnide. Something stupid about having to do bad things to get patches to be at full power. Ha! Not for six hundred… and they were offering two! Screw that. Something that killed my ability to plan? Not on a dare. Ditto the thing that guaranteed that people would take advantage of my mistakes and that I’d make them. I knew I would and knew people would take advantage… but this was gilding the turds. Nope. And no to the evil clone.

Which left, hey, look at that… 200 CP worth of Drawbacks. ‘Just a Sidekick’ which made sure no one would take me seriously… at least among my peers. And Moody… which sounded all sorts of fun. Really. I’d… think about it. Still, I had 2800 points to play with… well.. 2400. Must think of the little people.

“So? I’ve got some points. What are the origins I’m probably going to ignore?” I asked, trying to catch Ziggy as he scrambled up onto my head and chittered at the kids as they decided to invade my privacy in the way only children and lovers can. They brought grilled meats and booze, so I forgave them.

“Vigilante, Mystic, and Superhuman,” Jump-chan said. Somehow, I knew she was more focused on the food than on talking to me.

“Curious about what it feels like to eat?”

“Faintly disgusted by the entire process. Seems so wasteful, lost energy at every level.”

“Pleasure seldom is a net positive process when you merely consider the energy cost. It’s about the emotional boost that derives from it.”

“If you say so. It all turns to waste products in the end.”

I took a big bite out of my shawarma-burger and grinned “Mmmm… eventual waste products.” I chewed and considered. “Mystic, huh? Don’t remember a Mystic on Young Justice… oh well. Not interesting enough. Superhuman might be.”

“Bear in mind that there are also Race Purchases that include Atlantean, Martian, and Human-Kryptonian Hybrid.”

“Ah… well then… I’ll go Drop-In and Human-Kryptonian… though, if you wouldn’t mind, please see if you can redefine it as ‘Tamaranian-Kryptonian’.”

“You already have a Tamaranian form.”

“Yes, but… look, Conner Kent, Superboy 2, is what that refers to. The scientists of the Cadmus Project combined Lex Luthor’s DNA with Superman’s and, I think, The Guardian… and probably a few others… continuity is kinda fucked in DC… and created Conner in a bioreactor. Why not have them have done the same thing with Supergirl and Salamandr instead?”

“There would be no technical difference, you realize?”

“Sure. But backstory is important.”

“Very Well. You can reduce the 400 CP cost of H… TKHybrid to 200 by taking one of two alternate forms. The first will cause you trouble thinking and make you get things backwards… why are you laughing?”

“Bizarro! Excellent. Yes. I will take that. Pale skin, slightly weird look? Backwards S?”

“Yes. Very much so. Plus a bit gullible and childlike, though the worst of the mental problems will fade with time.”

“Haha… Yes. I are Bizarro! Much Excellent! What’s the other?”

“Grey, almost scale-like skin with bone-like structures on arms and shoulders. Quick to anger.”

“Huh… sounds like Doomsday… since when is he a Human-Kryptonian Hybrid? Must be something specific to this timeline.  No idea what’s going on, but naw. Bizarro EssJay is cool!”

“You’re seriously damaged in the head… but this is clearly the appropriate origin for that. As a Hybrid, you get Super Durability enough to tank gunfire and most explosives, Super Strength enough to rip through steel and lift about 25 tons or leap over buildings, and some Super Senses … hearing and sight… free, plus a discount on Flight, Heat Vision, and Solar Powered. But you are weakened by Kryptonite.”

“Not magic right? Superman isn’t actually weak against magic, just not particularly resistant to it. I’m pretty much immune to it from being a Dresden Outsider… This won’t actually make me weak to it, will it?”

“Not as far as I can see, no.”

“Excellent. Does the Kryptonite stuff wear off after jump?”

“For all forms that aren’t your Hybrid form, yes. So I’d advise not taking any with you.”

“Good thought that. Any freebies other than those powers?”

“Three powers and an item!”

“Anything good?” I asked, sounding dubious at the obvious upsell tone in Jump-Chamber’s voice.

“That is for you to decide. You get the power of Souvenir…” I didn’t respond outwardly, but yay, random trophies! “A Costume that is automatically replaced if destroyed.” Again I didn’t respond, but this one I didn’t care about. “The Most Common Superpower…” That would be an appearance booster, yawn. “And Required Secondary Powers. I don’t understand that one. How are powers required?”

“If you’re super strong and don’t have super durability, what happens if you catch something going mach two?”

“Your arms get ripped off?”

“Pretty much. How about if you try lifting 25 tons while standing on normal ground without some kind of TK field to stand on?”

“You sink into the ground?”

“What happens if you run at Mach 80 without friction resistance?”

“Ah… I see. Required. Yes. Comic book logic, the power description calls it. It says it applies to all your overlapping powers too.”

“Good. Great. Let’s get some.”

“Some what?”

“Overlapping powers, duh.”

“Very well,” The Chamber said. “Do you desire to see the list of powers first or the list of perks?”

“Are there any good perks?”

“Aside from the magic based ones, and ones you would seem to already have mastered, such as ‘Stealthy’, ‘Peak Human’, and ‘Acrobat’… yes. Several. You might find ‘Gum Up The Works’ and ‘Removed From Context’ to be useful, as you enjoy thwarting the plans of those who annoy you.”

“What do those do?”

“The first grants you a sixth sense for what needs to be done to wreck the plans of others, and the consequences of doing so. The second makes you harder to predict, harder to counter in a fight, harder to plan against… and makes it impossible to replicate any powers or technology that aren’t native to the setting you’re currently in without your say so.”

“Oh… cool,” I nodded. This was good advice and, honestly, did seem reasonable. I’d have to see how far reaching Gum up the Works’s consequence mapping was, but yeah. “How much for the pair?”

“They are both discounted fro your origin, thus the combined price is 500.”

“Heh. almost tempted to take Spoiler as my nom-de-guerre, but it’s taken in DC and I like Stephanie Brown.” I accepted a steak sandwich and totted up the damage so far. 200 for the race, 400 for companions, 600 for the trio of powers, 500 for perks was just over 60% of my 2800 total and I was already planning ways to deal with Darkseid and Apocalypse. I had two planet busters, but I was saving them for backup in case plan A didn’t go according to itself. “Anything else discounted for Drop-In?”

“That you might be interested in? Let me see. ‘Team Player’ means you play better with others and can mediate differences more easily as well as coordinate with groups and make basic contact with and reach a basic understanding of anyone, no matter how alien or odd. ‘Notable Presence’ makes you inspiring to friends and intimidating to enemies and makes building a reputation quite simple. ‘Two-Face’ makes it easier to get back on people’s good side no matter how often you betray them. ‘Rules Lawyer’ you have from your time in Swat Kats. ‘Smooth Talker’ makes you quite charming. ‘Manipulative’ is good for getting others to do what you want without them knowing you’re doing, and comes with a sixth sense about what to say to push other people’s emotional buttons. ‘Genius Intellect’ would not significantly boost your intellect or tech skills.”

“Huh. This is a real collection of underhanded and sneaky shit.  How much for Manipulative and Two-Faced? Those could come in handy, especially around people with telepathic powers. Don’t need to broadcast my abilities if I don’t have to.”

“Combined total is 250. That would put you at 1950 spent, 850 unspent.”

“Yes, thank you. I can basic math,” I snarked.

“As you say,” Jump-Chan replied with an auditory shrug. “Do you wish to see the various powers now?”

“I take it the list is quite long?”

“It seems to cover a great many individuals, yes. And as a Hybrid, you gain several powers free, as well as a discount on several more.”

“Very well,” I leaned back, floating on the water now, Ziggy curled up and gnawing on some sausage on my tummy. “Show me what’s available.”

The list was… long. Long enough that going into it all would be silly. Hybrids got 25 tons worth of Super Strength and Super Durability Free, as well as two Super Senses free of charge. They also got a potential discount on Flight (didn’t need), Heat Vision (didn’t need), and additional Super Strength and Super Senses (I picked up Super Touch for 50 which would allow me to identify even the smallest imperfections and weaknesses in physical objects plus the ability to process touch as an identifying sense, if not a targeting one, but contact with the ground would allow me to track vibrations fairly easily.) to go with Super Vision (which boosted my visual range and granted me microvision, infravision, X-ray vision, and a higher vision processing speed) and Super Hearing (conversations miles away, whispers in large loud rooms) which were the free ones.

I plunked down 200 CP for Solar Powered, as close as I could get to a basic Kryptonian (Heat vision courtesy of Samurai Jack Jump). It would massively boost my healing in direct sunlight and turn me into a solar battery that no longer needed to breathe, eat, drink, or sleep as long as I was topped up on the old solar juice at least a bit every day. Not that I was fond of sunlight, but honestly? Most fights take place outside. That got me down to 600.

I thought about getting Shrinking, but I knew that the Atom used technological means to achieve that, and if it was tech, I could replicate it. Plus, getting small wasn’t something I worried about, since I could shapeshift pretty easily… though not to the molecular level.

Batman’s Real Superpower would give me 10,000,000 Dollars at the beginning of every jump, or the equivalent of it in local currency. It wasn’t really needed. I could produce goods in nigh limitless quantities, but having a large chunk of currency every jump was tempting. Eventually the treasure of Treasure Planet would run out… but I wasn’t going to spend 150 CP to get something as paltry as 10,000,000 every ten years.

What I did decide was worth it was ‘Density Shifting’, a trick Martian Manhunter used to great effect all the time. Swimming through solid matter, also known as phasing, was only the most obvious use for it, though it could also be used to make yourself denser so punches and kicks hurt more or less depending on who was doing the throwing of said punches. That cost me 400 CP… and then I was at a bit of a loss.

I could get a knockoff Helmet of Fate, or Black Canary’s Canary Cry, with my last 200 CP. I could get more super senses or super strength, or the ability to make others dizzy. I could even get a barrel of robotic monkeys… but I could build that last and the others didn’t seem interesting.

“Hey, Chamber. Can I break the 8 companion limit and import 12?”

“You mean by sacrificing your remaining 200 to buy four more slots?”

“Yup. That’s what I mean exactly.”

“I see no problem with this, but the former CP limit stands. 800 CP for each, not 1200.”

I sighed. “Grrrr… Fine.”

“And Atura cannot be one of those who imports. That is cheap-sauce as you’d say.”

“Wasn’t even going to try,” I said, truthfully. I’d already imported Tokimi, Zane, Yoiko, Joy, Gaius, Yuzuha, Ahab, and Rayay into DC in the Teen Titans, where they’d been Lightfoot, Myriad, Cardinal, Vortex, Wiseguy, G Imma Tree, Knowhow, and Sparkler respectively, and so, all off them were off the list. I didn’t have a grand plan besides the old stand by of ‘First We Show Up, then We See What Happens’. I did have a bunch of contingencies for the Light and for Apocalypse, but those were just that. They’d change once we got on the ground and, since I’d be a bit of a twit for a while, I wouldn’t be handling most of them if and when they became needed, at least not until I managed to get my wits back.

Of course, Joy and Ahab would just import themselves, but I still had twelve slots left to fill. Kendra got one to balance out Zane last time. Ditto Reggy to balance Gaius. But that was 2 out of ten… and it was now time to play favorites… which meant my entire remaining harem… the parts I was actually interested in continued emotional connection with and not, say, certain squirrels and her slightly bizarre friends. Mini, Frankie, Velma (and Cirno to head off the pouting), and Carwyn. Toss in my primo minions, AJ & Francine (to cover for me while I was being a stupid head) and Toph because she liked hitting things, and Anne and Amelia just because they were always up for adventure and that was twelve.

Two weeks later, I hosted the first get together of ‘Young Jumptice’ so they could tell me and each other all about their various plans. We also invited Raven along, since there was a non-zero chance she’d be running into herself in this universe, and if she didn’t, there was an incredibly high chance she’d be running into versions of her friends and wouldn’t that be confusing.

Mini proclaimed herself ‘Minerva’, not the goddess, but a magic user invoking the goddess of Wisdom as her secret origin. She’d gone Human Mystic and picked up no less than five perks to boost her magical prowess. Basic magic was free for Mystics and was exactly what it said on the tin. To it, she’d added Advanced Magic which bumped her magical potential up to the realms with (at the very least) Zatanna… who normally was one of the more potent DC magic users, but that varied from DCU to DCU, so there wasn’t much telling. She’d also picked up Thrifty Thaumaturge which allowed magical shortcuts and substitutions without sacrificing power, Sorcerer Savant which allowed copying a spell from seeing it cast, and Warring Warlock, which boosted the power of attack spells when used against another magic user, potentially disrupting their spells. All in all, it was a fairly spiffy build and she’d put a lot of time into balancing her background and even had a fairly nice costume that invoked the feel of Rome without sacrificing mobility or utility… her sandals even had arch supports and looked fetch as hell.

Franky, now calling herself ‘Penumbra’, was a shadow-shaper. A metahuman, she bought only two powers, Drain No and Force Manipulation, the first of which I had bought of course, and the second of which was Green Lantern did, but Franky did it with shadows rather than emerald light and didn’t have nearly the same power level. Still, it would be enough to make her a nightmare to deal with in dark areas… as long as she didn’t get distracted. She also had purchased the perks ‘Larger Than Life’ and ‘Your Reputation Precedes You’, which made her a symbol for others to emulate and guaranteed people would know her reputation without being aware of her power set. Her costume was, of course, a black catsuit with tiny widdle ears… it even had vanta-black spots on the jet black body.

Francine had dubbed herself ‘Promise Keeper’ and was an Atlantean Drop-In. Her only active power native to this setting was a mastery of Atlantean Sorcery, but she’d also taken Incomprehensible for its pure defensive abilities and so she didn’t have to squash the local telepaths when they stepped to her. There were dozens of different Atlantean sub-species, and she’d chosen one with Angelfish markings and webbed hands. And she’d bought a supply of a neo-steroid called Kobra-Venom that could turn people and animals into superhumanly strong and tough versions of themselves… though it also made them bigger and changed their appearance permanently.

Not only did this supply of six regenerate every other month, it included the formulas for the two precursor agents, Project Blockbuster and Venom… which is what Bane used to make himself huge. Ouch. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with that stuff, but I guess make an army wasn’t out of the picture. I was beginning to rack up a collection of such mutagenic substances. Would the time come when I would need to use them?

AJ, as eager as ever, had decided to call himself ‘Adjunct’ since he was going to be my assistant this jump, will I or not. A Martian Vigilante, he had blown all his CP becoming a Martian… but that’s okay, as Martians have way too many powers… including one I was pretty certain I’d never seen Jon Jones use… namely Animal Transformation ala Beast Boy. What, was Beast Boy now a Martian in this version of the DCU? Green =/= Martian you silly editorial staff! Regardless, in exchange for a vulnerability to fire, he’d gained Telepathy, Telekinesis, Cellular Regen, Density Shifting, Super Strength, Super Durability, the aforementioned Animal Transformation, and a Martian Bio-Suit which shifted as he did. Martians could even use their powers to turn 90% optically invisible, leaving behind a phase distortion that was largely unnoticeable unless you knew what you were looking for. As a vigilante, he also got an armored costume with a bulletproof cape and utility belt, as well as being in peak physical condition for a martian.

Speaking of Martians, Reggy had also gone green… or rather, decided that green did equal Martian so she might as well… but she’d taken the Inept Martian disadvantage which effectively crippled all her Martian powers for the jump’s duration… in fact, it also screwed with all her powers for the duration, though it didn’t remove her previous training or experience with those powers. I thought it was a bit extreme a sacrifice, but it was her choice… I had the feeling she’d be a bit of a liability for the duration, but she’d wanted to pick up Incomprehensible as well, and this was the only way… and at least being a Super-Martian meant that she got ‘Knows His Own Strength’ free in the mix. That limited to a certain degree the fall out that ‘Badstar’… as in Disaster… would cause… I hoped. I certainly wouldn’t be doing any limiting.

Kendra had taken for herself the nom-de-guerre ‘Stingray’ and that had elicited no little confusion when she explained that, no, she wasn’t an Atlantean. In fact, she was essentially Deathstroke. She’d bought the Grandmaster of Combat perk which granted mastery of nearly every melee and ranged weapon known to man and guaranteed she could keep up with (or with training) Batman or Deathstroke and could learn fighting techniques quicker… especially when taught by a skilled teacher… like me or AJ. She’d even picked up Cellular Regeneration to be that much harder to stop. I still don’t know why Stingray… but that’s okay, not all aliases make sense.

Speaking of not making sense, Cirno had dubbed herself ‘Screamer’… well, that’s not true. She’d dubbed herself ‘Screech’ but been persuaded to change it because Screech made me think of this ancient show called ‘Saved by the Bell’ and… shudder… no. Bad thoughts. A Human-Kryptonian Hybrid of the Doomsday kind, she had Plastic Physiology like plastic man and a Sonic Scream like Black Canary. Her backstory was that she was the result of Cadmus trying a plasticizer agent to bind human and kryptonian DNA… i.e. rubber-cement. I thought about explaining why that was stupid, but decided just to drink heavily instead. She also took Drain No because she thought it would make her immune to vampires… it might… but being bit in the neck would still, forgive me, suck.

Her keeper, Velma, had decided to make herself a Dr. Fate counterpart (see knockoff) and called herself ‘Professor Destiny!’ (exclamation point included). She was a Human Mystic with the Sorcerer’s Helmet that totally wasn’t Dr. Fate’s, as well as the Advanced Magic potential to power the thing. She’d also picked up Hasty Hexer which allowed her to dump inner energy into a spell to substitute for lengthy rituals and Aerokinesis which would allow her to use the wind to pummel her enemies or protect herself. She called it the Wind of Destiny, because of course she did. Her costume practically screamed weirdo though, since it was less Dr. Fate and more knitwear Darth Vader.

Also firmly in the item-induced Knock-Off Camp, was Carwyn, who’d bought something called a ‘Reach Scarab’. I had no memory of anything called that in the DC canon, but from the text, the ‘Reach’ were some kind of organization and could normally use the implanted scarab (it attached to the person’s spine) to take control over the wearer… well… not the one Carwyn was buying, but a normal scarab. It was apparently a sentient nanotech arsenal, granting access to scanners, flight, translation software, armor, and various forms of weaponry. Could be useful… had better be for the sky high price. Even discounted it was 400 CP, and the only way to discount it was to be a vigilante. Carwyn had augmented the Scarab with two Vigilante perks, the same Grandmaster of Combat that Kendra had gotten and Master Strategist, which came with a contingency or gadget for nearly every plausible scenario… including a free can of shark repellant… and the ability to convey her plans to even the dullest of listeners… which in this jump might just be me. Oh well, her problem, not mine. She called herself the Scarlet Scarab, which I’m sure wouldn’t piss off Ted Cord (aka Blue Beetle) at all. Hell, maybe she was his protege. Not that he’d had one of these Reach Scarabs… I wondered if the Reach were going to be an issue and made a note to keep on the lookout for evidence of them… and another to stop thinking of Haloverse every time ‘Reach’ came up.

Toph, calling herself ‘Rockstar’ was a superhuman rock monster. Literally. She’d bought both Grow and Shrinking and topped it off with Geokinesis (which, surprisingly, included elements that would actually complement her Earthbending and not just be duplication… like flying rocks and changing their density and composition.) and even picked up Toggle… but that was because she had 50 points left over and, for a Superhuman, that was how much Toggle cost.

And that left the two TreasureVerse natives, both of whom had decided to be Atlanteans. Anne, calling herself ‘Armada’ was an Atleantean Mystic, complete with Basic Magic, Advanced Magic, and Atlantean Sorcery… to which she’d added in Order Magic on par with Dr. Fate’s. That would be a major power bump for the once and future Empress. Amelia, calling herself ‘Tigerlily’ (and threatening violence to anyone who called her ‘Catfish’) was an Atlantean Vigilante, a master of simple magics via ‘Cantrip Master’, armed with the indestructible ‘Sword of Beowulf’ and a perk called ‘In the Zone’ which meant that, in the middle of crisis or combat, her mind would go into overdrive, boosting her awareness and analysis speed enough to make the world seem to move in slow motion… to the point of dodging bullets. Both of them had gone for the more human form, though Anne was of the darker skinned neckgill kind and Amelia was the more classical european look… despite Cirno saying she should have gone with the octopus head.

Ahab, reprising his role as ‘Knowhow’ the Genius Technopath, was an Atlantean Sorcerer now, though not even close to a powerful one. Joy, once again calling herself ‘Vortex’, in addition to being a teleporter and mimic, was now a low grade speedster, topping out at around the speed of sound.

And with that, we were ready to go.

=======INSERTION=====

Jetfire is what the pod said when they let me out of it. It took me only 7 days to learn to read the word. I are smart. Little brother Conner am the grumpy one and Sally-Mae am being the smart one. We are liking giving Conner pattings on the head.

We are also enjoying throwing the eggies* at the bad Darkseid man and now he is being a very good butler. We said something very smart to him about how The Ant Life Quotation was all about enslaving peoples and now he was going to serve us and make his world Apoptart going away and no more sending Parrot-Demons to annoy our friends.

====DAY 10! I can count to ten!====

I hug Superboy when he gets angry and say “Big Sister Am Protecting!” and he dangles his feet cause his legs don’t reach the ground! I am Halping!

=====Day 90====

We are getting better at speaking because we are smart and have big boobs… We fought a brain in a jar with a Monkey today… the monkey had a gun-machine and a red hat. We have the red hat now and the brain is in a place called ‘Belle Reve’ which Professor Destiny says means good dreams… she reads stories to me and has nice hair. But Belle Reve is not a place of good dreams.

Belle Reve is a Prison which is a place where bad people have time out. A man named Strange Hugo works there. We don’t like him and so Adjunct made him go away. He also made the bad Cadmus Doctor Man go away. We like the Adjunct, because he is very nice and stares at our boobies.

======DAY 200====

I are getting better at communicationing and the others am saying I are almost back to normal! I are thinking something has to be done about the Light who are big stupid meanies with bad plans. They maked a clone of me, which is a copy but not. The clone am called Doomsday. But I am calling her Derpsday because she is dumb. We fought five times now… that is being more than four, and it is being three weeks since she showed up last. She probably got lost and can’t finding her way back.

Adjunct and Promisekeeper founded the lab that created her. It is an ex-soviet lab (they are extinct bad people) in Vladivostok that is being like Cadmus but Russian, and it is being run by Dr. Rasputin Davidovich. Or it was. I showed up there for to smash the place and I am finding the good doctor in the act of being kidnapped by the forces of the Injustice League… who are also bad people who are friends with the Joker who is not being funny. I had to fight through Joker Venom spewing plant monsters before I am getting to their getaway plane… but I am somehow getting confusion and am going after the wrong plane. The getaway plane got away.

Very frustrated.

Adjunct and some of the others decided they were going to hunt down Dr. David for me while I am dealing with the Light. I am having a list of them. Some of them are being easier to find than others are being. Lex Luthor I am wanting to smash and punch and launch into the sun, but my tummy-feeling… intuition… tells me that that would make bad things happen, so I don’t. But the same is being not true about the assassin called Ghoul or the pretty queen lady of the sandy place… Biyalia… Both of them I can punish, and I do!

Once I’m done, Adjunct and Professor Destiny are telling me they have located Dr. David, and so I am flying to a place called Star City… that is not in space, and then all the adults are vanishing from the world! Which makes finding him much more difficult! It’s not fair when they cheat like that! Adults are giant cheaty pants. Part of me wonders why I didn’t vanish with the Adults, as I am very very old… but the voices inside my head say it’s because my body is only a few months old. So I change into an older body… and now I’m in the world where the Adults are… but there are no kids. Does that mean kids are little cheaty pants?

I find Dr. David, who is working on a Project for someone named ‘Savage Vandal’ and someone else named ‘Witch Boy the Klarion’. they are both being on my list of ‘Light members’. The Project is being called ‘Starro’ and part of my memory am telling me that Starro am a bad thing, so I try to attack Dr. David… but Derpyday am show up when the magic holding the world of adults and children apart ends and there is only one world that is full of cheaty pants big and small!

There was much punching, and the blond Russian man escaped with the bit of tentacle he was planning to using to do bad stuff. I am not very good at stopping bad stuff it seems. I should getting better.

=====End of Year 1=====

Savage Vandal looked very surprised when I punched him into the sky. I wonder if he was more surprised that the Starro-Tech is not worked on me, or the fact that I am stole his ring before lofting the immortal git into translunar space via chin-rocket. That is what Adjunct is saying I did. I am not knowing what a git is, but am agreeing that Savage Vandal is being very immortal and not good either.

I peered at the ring, trying to remember why I’d snagged it, but Professor Destiny and Armada am taking it off my hands and promising to put ‘Chaos Boy’ in his proper place. I am thought that sounds good, but that means Ziggy wouldn’t get to play with the nice kitty any more. Ziggy will being heartbroken.

=====Year 3=====

“You know, for all that this place am being called ‘Young Justice’, the Junior Justice League am just called ‘The Team’,” I commented. “Strange, no?”

Dr. David just grunted into his gag. He is not appreciating Sally’s humor even though he am being suspended upside down over Sally’s special Lazarus Pit that am having just turned Dr. Strange Hugo… not to be confused with Dr. Strange Adam or Dr. Strange Stephen… noo… he was being from a different universe… but lots of Strange Doctors around… into a bullfrog… well… not really a bullfrog… more of a bulldog-frog really…

“I know, I know. Terrible of Sally to be doing this to you, but you am making a crazy hyper-violent clone of Sally! That’s not being very nice you know!” I wagged a finger at him. “You should ask first!”

He swung slowly back and forth. I turned to Ghoul Head… Head of the Ghoul… “And you! You kill people for money! You shouldn’t kill people for money! If you asked, maybe they’d just give you some and then you wouldn’t have to kill them…” I looked over at Adjunct who was snorting. “Sally am saying something stupid again, isn’t Sally?”

“Assassin’s get paid to kill people. They’d don’t kill people to take their money,” He confirmed.

“Oh. Well, you should only kill people if they are being bad people or hurting other people and you can’t make them stop any other way. Now… you two… who is wanting to go into the pool first?” I asked. The Lazarus Pit had been contan… comat… tainted with Kobra-Venom which had, itself, been mixed with a powerful magic hexy thing that promised a trans… a change that was… that fit.

Dr. David grunted and shook his head. So I dropped him into the pool since he was having volunteered. He splashed in head first, then emerged seconds later, splashing and gasping, his body shrunk too small to be bound by the ropes. He didn’t look the same, but he still looked human. Poopy. Professor Destiny lifted him out of the pool with her mind… not her brain… that would be weird cause brains are soft and squishy and not good for lifting stuff.

“Jetfire?”

“Yes AJ?”

“Did you dump barrel water into the Lazarus Pit?”

“I dumped all the chemicals in!” I said proudly.

AJ just rolled his eyes as the little cat girl that had once been a Bad Scientist for Project SUMDAC wobbled to her feet and tried to run away, only to be pounced by the Bulldog-frog. The two of them tousled as I looked to Ghoulhead. “Your turn!” I said, pulling the cord.

Unfortunately, Batman swooped in and saved Ghoulhead and lectured me a bunch on not experimenting on helpless enemies while I played with the points on his head and giggled.

====YEAR 5=====

Found out what the Reach is. They are bad meanies. I had Yuzuha make them go away. Now they are sparkling pixie dust!

But they came back and hid in the ocean and the bad hair man on TV made me sooo mad when he said they weren’t bad meanies, so I had words with him and now everyone is mad at me. “I was just trying to help!” I protested, but they explained that the bad hair man couldn’t hear me through the TV and now the TV was broken. I figured out what I did wrong.

I went to the place where the Unations meets and yelled at the bad hair man about how he was a big doodoo head and he said I was a fluffbrained marshamelon and I told him that I wasn’t and that he was being mean and then Billy had to stop me from hitting the bad hair man. I hope Superman comes back from space soon. But if he does, he’ll probably bring Batman back with him. He’s not happy I keep calling him Bruce, but that’s his name!

=====WAR WORLD====

Earth has a new moon. I made Butlerseid go beat up the big yellow guy inside it and now I have a new moon. It used to be called ‘War World’, but that’s not very nice, so I’m calling it Disco Moon. Everyone likes Disco, right?

The Bad Reach People have a Black Beetle and We have a Blue Beetle and Mars has a Green Beetle. Blue Beetle is nice and small and Green Beetle pretends to be nice but is secretly nice but also evil and Black Beetle is a big meanie so I hit him very hard so he could be with Vandal Savage…. But he cheated, because he can fly in space!

He stopped me from making Lex Luthor tell everyone the truth about the Reach, and we had a big fight. Eventually Scarlet Scarab stabbed him in the back and he had to take a nap. I think we broke Mount Justice.

=====THE FALL OF REACH====

The Reach tried to blow up the Earth! And… and they nearly successed! I am very angry! Superman says I can’t hit them because they suspendered but I don’t care how they keep up their pants! But good news! Artemis isn’t dead and Kaldur isn’t evil and we get to use the Watchtower because we are awesome and Superman says I can be Supergirl even if my brain is not as good as his.

Making Lex Luthor go away is still a bad idea for some reason. I do not understand. But then again, I am not smart like myself. So I am going to listen to myself and not me and not make him leave. I did put hot mustard in his pants though. That was funny.

Oh. I also conquered Bialya but Wonder Woman made me give it back. Haha. Joke’s on her. She doesn’t know that I replaced Queen Bee with Meetra who was bored. I’m bored too… maybe I should challenge the four Flashes to a race again. They aren’t as fast as I thoughted they would be.

====DAY 3647=====

“I TOLD YOU YOU WOULD RUE THE DAY!” David the Kitty Girl announced and I clapped my hands happily. I loved this TV show! It was all about a mad-scientist little girl who kept trying to take over the world. She was very bad at it, but she had kitty ears and a drog (half-frog, half dog) and her plans were always amusing. Conner hated the show, but as I was bigger, I got to pick what we were watching. And anyway, he was just grumpy that his girlfriend was on Ran helping out with the Sciencing.

“What was that?” he asked in a pathetic attempt to distract me from my show.

“Giant flaming Vandal Savage crashing into Lex Corp Tower?” I said without taking my eyes from the TV.”

“How did you know that?”

“Planned it. Me am Super Genius!!” I replied, and sipped my cocoa sagely. Explaining the intricacies of orbital mechanics and 9 year re-entry vectors to Conner would be pointless. He’s not very smart, you know.

Next: Alpha Centauri

OMAKE: Relationship Chart

If you like what I do, please consider supporting me on Patreon

I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too.

Resources: BuildDocument

AN: This jump was a pain in the butt for a couple of reasons. First, getting a copy of Young Justice was not as easy as it could have been, since my only friend who owned on was in Japan for two months and I didn’t feel like paying for it. Second, the story jumps forward pretty often, but if I was in full fighting trim, I’d solve the Light within the first ten days… which would have major effects on the story and require me to come up with new plots. So that meant going with the funniness of being Bizarro Supergirl. Since that fit in with my appearance in Teen Titans, it worked well, just retooling from being a Tamaranean to being a Hybrid. Yes, Jetfire’s origins have been retconned. Blame DC editorial.

*The eggs in question are Imprinting Eggs from Ranma 1/2.

  • Imprinting Egg: A tool of the Phoenix People, when these hens-egg-sized eggs are violently broken open (ie. by throwing them at someone) they will unleash entangling threats that envelop the target and cocoon them within a giant, human-sized egg in seconds. When this giant egg is hatched or cracked open, the person inside will imprint on the first person they see as their master, and will obey that person’s every command. This will override any previous mental dominance. Eggs which contain someone can be stored indefinitely if kept cold without harm to the person inside. Used or lost eggs will reappear in your warehouse at the start of the next jump.
Enemy - young justice female doomsday
Derpsday

World 65: Full Metal Alchemist

THE KHAN OF WRATH

Previously: Writing is Fun, Reading is De Mental

Themesong: Du Hast by Rammstein

AN: A special thank you to all my readers wherever you are and my patrons over on Patreon. Happy New Year! May all your Jumpchain wishes come true… though not necessarily anywhere near me if you’re a bad person.

As my time in Nippon came to an end, I found myself shifting into a form that was altogether new to me. It was not the Ferret-Lion I’d been for most of the last decade, but rather a mostly humanoid form, with a puffy ferret tail and peaked ears and the blue lines of dark divinity etched in patterns across my dusky skin. Somehow I knew that this was my ‘Celestial Realms’ form, the counterpart to the animalistic form I’d taken in the Mortal Realm. It was much less fluffy… but was rather more appealing for… ahem… other purposes.

It was also much less… busty than the humanoid form of my Ferret Tengu body. That form had been… the term shelflike seems apropos. This form was a bit… I think the otaku of another age would have called it DFC. Let’s just say I had nooo problem seeing my toes. I was also wearing what appeared to be a ribbon wound round me in such a way that it… barely… covered those parts that needed covering.

Alex, now looking like a 12 year old schoolboy in a cute little sailor costume, blinked and giggled at the revealing costume. I just glowered. “You do realize you and I spent most of the last decade naked, right?” That shut him up and I held my tail aloft with smug pride as I re-entered my warehouse.

“Okay Jump-Chan, what Genocidal Fuckwit is next on the list?”

“Still going under the assumption that most of your jumps will include such?”

“I am quite good at pattern recognition. I have an entire continental plate dedicated to it.” Anyway, tell me I’m wrong. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts… or anything else you like that the next 10 jumps feature no less than 9 Genocidal Fuckwits. In fact I double dog dare you to contact the Council and have them send all 10… well… however many it takes to make ten and we’ll see. I’ve been a good Jumper…” the Chamber snorted derisively, a major accomplishment for something with no nose (how does it smell? Like granite.) “Well, entertaining. I’m not asking to see the builds or jumptrees, just curious as to what ten settings are next.”

With one of those eerie moments where I was certain a long conversation was being held in some place where time did not pass relative to where I was standing, the Chamber said “They have agreed. They also say it was a silly bet for me to take and that’s why I have to wear a clown nose for the next 10 jumps.” The face changed to reflect that addition, but if the Chamber was feeling put out by it, its voice did not reflect it. “In alphabetical order, they are Alpha Centauri, Assassination Classroom, Babylon 5, Bartimaeus, DC, Dune,” I gave a happy little squeal at that one, but the Chamber continued unabated. “Fate, Fullmetal Alchemist, Journey to the West, and Nanoha.”

I snorted back. “Ha! I so totally win.”

“You do? You know all of these?”

“Mmm? No. Not all. But just from Alpha Centauri, Babylon 5, and Dune I win.”

“That’s not 9 of the 10.”

“I didn’t say that 9 out of the 10 jumps would feature Genocidal Fuckwits… but I bet that it’s close to that. I said there’d be at least 9 Genocidal Fuckwits in the 10 jumps. Dune, assuming it’s the Dune Chronicles by Frank Herbert, has The Emperor and Baron who are both willing to kill all the Fremen, and a genocidal thinking machine named Omnis or something that wants to kill all of humanity. Let’s call that 3, shall we? Alpha Centauri, assuming it’s the Sid Meier video game, has at least one faction that wants to eradicate the Mind Worms, two factions that want to enslave all humanity, two alien factions that want to kill humanity and each other, and the Spartans… oh, and the religious fanatics. Let’s call that 3 more. Babylon 5 has the Shadows who kill entire worlds, the Vorlons who kill entire worlds, the Drahk who try it, the Centauri Emperor who tried it, and the Dilgar, who both did it and had it done to them. Let’s call that… what… 5 more?”

The Chamber grumbled, but I wasn’t done yet. “Then there’s DC, which I could win on by itself. Depending on which version of DC, there are Darkseid, Brainiac, Zod, Nekron, Trigon, Cyborg Superman, Ra’s al Ghul, Imperiax, Grod, Joker, Starro, Black Manta… Hell, there’s LOBO and he’s sometimes a good guy! Not sure all of them have actually tried genocide, but they’re all mass-murderers on a city scale… except Grod, who tries the old Genocide by conversion.”

“I get the point, Jumper.”

“Oh no, we’re not done yet. Assassination Classroom is about a teacher whose students have to kill him before he destroys the planet, I think. Never watched it… it was just coming out when I left Origin. Fate… that’s Fate Stay Night, right?”

“Fate Extra, I believe. I do not know the difference between them or if they are connected.”

“Me either. I’ve seen a few episodes of Fate Stay Night and know that there’s some pretty serious disregard for human life in the series, but I don’t know if it gets to genocide levels. But since Heroic Spirits can be anyone important from history, they could include some of historic Earth’s biggest GenoFuckwits. Nanoha is like magical girls crossed with Gundams… those are giant robots… I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a Genocidal Fuckwit in one of the series for Nanoha to befriend the hell out of.”

“Befriend the hell out of? How does one Befriend someone as an offensive tactic?”

“It is Nanoha’s special power. Saw the first two seasons of that. Nanoha is like best girl and Vita is just too cute for words. There’s a lot of lesbian subtext for a show about 10 year olds… ah Japan…. Never change… well, change if you’re not that yet… or if you’re in your imperial phase… wait, where was I? Oh yeah. Journey to the West has Cannibal Demons but no real Genocide. And while I have Bartimaeus on my old cellphone… I’ve never listened to it in all these centuries? I don’t know if it has Genocidal Fuckwits… it’s supposed to be very british… so probably. As for Fullmetal Alchemist… is this Brotherhood or the other timeline?”

“How would I tell?”

I thought about what I knew of the differences between the two Fullmetal Alchemist timelines. I’d watched a bunch of episodes of the earlier anime and read some of the manga… what were the main… Oh, right! “Is the leader of the… damn… can’t remember what the country is called… the main one of the story. The military dictatorship with the State Alchemists. Is the leader of that country secretly a quasi-artificial lifeform named Wrath or named Pride?” It was the only thing I could think of that I knew was different between the two timelines. In both, the seemingly affable Fuhrer King Bradley was an inhuman monster, but in the earlier anime he was the Homunculus Pride, while in the later anime, Brotherhood, he was the Homunculus Wrath. I didn’t know why such things were different, I just knew they were. Infographics were never as helpful as one would like. I knew nothing else about the Brotherhood timeline, save that it was different and bloodier than the earlier show.

“I do not possess that kind of knowledge. But it does specify this is the manga’s timeline. Does that help?”

“Ah… that would make things easier. Yes. Yes it would. Thank you. The Manga is Brotherhood. So the plotline will make more sense but be worse. Still, either way, we’re looking at a world where the events are set in motion by the near genocide of an entire people. Yes. I’d say Fuckwittery abounds in Fullmetal world.”

“Well then, let us start there, shall we?”

“Really? Just because I picked it last?”

“Oh, no. It was always going to be next, it just seemed a fitting segway.”

“Fair enough. What do we have? Complex or simple?”

The Chamber considered, “Simple, I believe.  Five Backgrounds, with eight abilities total. Six drawbacks of which you can take two, Nineteen items of which I predict you will take none, as they by and large have no special features and the longest description among them is less than 50 words long.”

“Huh. that’s not very many abilities… and hey! I don’t just take items when their descriptions are long.”

“This is true. But special properties usually take a greater number of words to describe in your mortal languages. For beings which have limited time, you certainly spend an inefficient amount of that time on conveying meaning.”

A laugh bubbled out of my mouth, but it wasn’t me laughing. “She certainly has you there!” Atura said, the air crackling as she spoke from within. The reborn spirit had been far more outgoing since fusing with the Heart of Winter and sometimes even manifested outside of my body, a shadow of cold fire that moved in ways I did not and interacted with others as she had never done before.

“Yes yes, mortals, how dare they not speak in conceptual symbols or merely convey all meaning with passion-filled touches. How dare they make the best of their limitations and create something that can contain such beauty and wonder and meaning in such limited form. Show me a poem in conceptional symbols and I’ll show you someone trying too hard to make a point.” I chuckled, “Now, Chamber, what is the Companion import situation? Is there one? And is it reasonable?”

“There is one. It is called Brotherhood… I guess that should have been a clue?”

I shrugged. “Or just a reference. Continue.”

“It allows you to obtain such an import by a sacrifice of equivalent value. I sense in the phrasing what you would call ‘arc words’.” I nodded, but didn’t interrupt. “For every CP you sacrifice, up to eight companions may gain a like amount of CP.”

“I’m guessing those exact arc words are… how did it go? ‘In order to obtain or create something, something of equal value must be lost or destroyed.’,” I asked.

“Similar. Yes,” The Chamber agreed. “Where shall we start?”

“I guess with a spin of the wheel of location. What year does this begin in?

“It does not say and I am not good at judging time.”

“Fine, show me a newspaper from the first day of the Jump,” I asked as I picked up the stone 8-sided dice that was the current Wheel of Location (I know, I know, it’s not a wheel, but I’m used to calling it the Wheel of Location) and dropped it into the die randomizer I’d attached to the outside of the Chamber. 8. Free Pick. Well, that was useful? Turns out it would be, but I didn’t realize it just at that moment.

The Chamber’s wall flowed and a paper appeared in reproduction. 1901, April 11th. Tensions High in Ishval was the headline of the Central Standard Times. I blinked at that… I didn’t know the exact timeline, but I was pretty certain that the Ishvalan Massacre had been significantly before the events of either Anime. I could have been wrong.

“Can you locate a boy named Edward Elric? He should live… damn… umm… in the countryside. He will look like this.” I created an illusion of him as of the start of continuity, modified to look, you know, actually human and not like an anime character. Yeah… no one actually looks like that in these jumps. People look like people. Sorry, normal sized eyes and all that.

“I am outside of time. Until you begin monkeying with the timeline, I can perceive the canonical flow of events,” The Chamber said, sounding vaguely offended.

Atura laughed. “Yeah, just because the Blockhead can’t make sense of dates or names doesn’t mean she’s clueless. You shouldn’t be so judgemental!” I honestly couldn’t tell if Atura was teasing me or the Chamber… or both. Ah, the joys of sharing your soul with non-humans.

“Right. Good. Now find the person who will look something like that and show me what he looks like as of the moment of insertion.” The Chamber complied and I raised my eyebrows. “He’s… what… 2? 3?… that’s just strange.”

“I fail to understand why this is any more unusual than anything else you experience,” Jump-Chan commented drily.

“Because I think this is the first time I’m coming into a jump based on a canonical series of events that I won’t be staying for the period covered by the story. Edward is a year older than Alphonse and Alphonse is 14 at the start of the series. If Edward is 2 in 1901, he was born in 1899. Alphonse in 1900… that means the events of the Anime & Manga begins in 1914, baring flashbacks. Is the duration of this jump only 10 years?”

“Yes.”

“See, that’s never happened before. I’ve never heard of a Jump where it simply isn’t possible to interact meaningfully with the plot. All I can do at this point is either choose to seriously disrupt the plot or let things unfold… and I don’t know the actual plot of the Manga… And I’m actively suppressing all my knowledge of the first Anime because all it can do is screw things up.” I sat down on a throne of water frozen in time and ordered a cocoa.

“Huh… well, you said there were six drawbacks from which I could select two. Show me them.” I asked, then leaned back. Atura took control of the back of the throne and rested her head on my shoulder.

“Maximum value of 600 if you take Enemy of the State and Tremor,” she said, “and three of those indicate that it’s assumed you’ll use Alchemy.”

“True… but what else is there to take? Humans, Chimera, and Homunculi are the only races in this world as far as I know… Damn… Jump-chan, what are the origins?”

“Drop-In, Apprentice, Military, University, and Foreigner. All but Drop-In cost 100 CP.”

“No Homunculus?” I asked.

“It is listed as an Ability. It costs 800 CP and which Homunculus you gain the power of is dependant on where you start. And each comes with a strong built in drawback.”

“Really? 800 with random chance playing a huge role and a mandatory drawback? Wow… that kinda sucks. What else is on the list of Abilities? Is there any reason to buy any of those Backgrounds? You said there were only eight perks to buy… that’s less than 2 per origin and you didn’t mention that Homunculus was discounted to any of them. Let me see the Items. I want to see if those are as bad as you implied.”

The list on the wall was just… sad. Automail (primitive cybernetic limbs) were the first two items on the list and there wasn’t a drawback for having to replace a limb with one. The rest of the list included six different but utterly mundane weapons… none of which came with more than a single load of ammo… seriously 200 CP for a bolt-action rifle with 10 free bullets. A change of clothing. A basic survival kit. Automail tools… mundane automail maintenance tools. Forged Papers. Basic Alchemical Textbooks that could almost certainly be bought in any bookstore. Bio-Alchemy text that were probably more obscure but probably not unique. Letters of recommendation. A State Alchemist Title which would be utterly useless post jump that cost 400 CP. Hell, if it was like what I remembered, the title had to be reupped every year and pretty much meant the State knew exactly what you could do with Alchemy. And Red Stone, which was a fake philosopher’s stone, plus the knowledge of how to make more… Yeah… not worth 600 CP. So the Chamber was right. Nothing worth buying on the item list. In fact, nothing worth getting free on there. Foreigners got free Throwing Knives and a Cavalry Saber for god’s sake! University got Steel Gauntlets. That’s it. Military got a pistol. A Mauser C96 pistol. With 1 ammo clip. Oooh, so generous. Apprentice got fuckall.

“Tell me the Perks are better?”

The Chamber threw up the list and I quirked my head in surprise… This was actively worse than Black Bullet. Sure, that jump had only had three origins and no drawbacks… but this… this was just… stupid. University and Apprentice got exactly one 100 CP perk for free, no discounts. Foreigner didn’t even get something free. For the 100 that was paid, they got a discount on Alkahestry… whatever the hell that was. That was paying 100 to save 150. Sure, it was a discount, but not much of one.  Military got royally boned however. For their 100 CP, they got to replace one of their limbs with Automail. Weeeee! Paying for crap prosthetics! They also got a discount on Martial Training… months of practice with ranged weapon and instinctive ability to use unfamiliar range weapons. This was not worth 300… sorry, 250.

I just stared. “Alkahestry is merely another type of Alchemy, right?”

“That is correct. Any Alchemist can perform Alkahestry and vis versa, as long as they understand the principles involved.”

“And Advanced Formulae (free for University) merely allows one to learn Alchemy more easily, while Simplified Formulae (free for Apprentice) merely allows one to perform Alchemy more quickly?”

“That is the case.”

“So… Since it isn’t even possible to buy Alchemy as a skill, that means I get it free, right?”

“The basic ability to perform Alchemy, yes. And Alchemy can be taught to others.”

“Great. Wonderful… so 6 of the 8 perks are useless and the remaining two cost 800 CP each.” I was staring at the last remaining perk “Truth”. At the cost of my dominant arm (because I certainly wasn’t going to pay for a useless background which would change the cost to something else) I’d gain the ability to perform Alchemy without a transmutation circle and my knowledge of the science would expand to include mastery of both Simple and Advanced Formulae. All this as a “punishment” for violating the ultimate Alchemical taboo… Human Transmutation. I sighed. “I was thinking of importing some of the others, but unless I want to sacrifice 800 CP… wait… Chamber, does Atura still count as a Companion?”

“Yes.”

“Great. I’m sacrificing 800 CP for Companion imports.”

“That is allowable. Who are you importing?”

“Atura, who will take Truth.”

“I will?” The Unflame asked, curious but not offended.

“You will,” I responded.

“You are gaming the system, since Atura and you are fused, to allow you to make use of her powers.”

“I am… but not to make use of her powers. I could just buy Truth myself. No. I’m abusing the system to get 7 more imports without sacrificing anything.”

“Ah. Very well, I shall approve this, but as you and Atura share a body, that body will be the one losing the arm.”

“Sure, that’s fine. Bao, Uriel, Velma, Mini, Toph, Astraea, and… fuck… no Yoiko… ummm… hell with it… Can I assign things to Yoiko?”

“You cannot… and who is Astraea?”

“She’s a companion I left behind in the MCU… Should be on the list.”

“Ah… yes. Very much so. How odd.”

“But I can’t assign things to Yoiko or Ryoga?”

“Negative. They are not on the list.”

“Nrggg… fine. Tokimi. That’s 7 people who all have experience with potioncraft or alchemy,” I grumped. “Distribute the tablets. Now, let’s look at the Homunculus choices.”

The stone block cleared its non-existent throat. “That would cost another 800 CP and you currently have only 200.”

“Yeah, well, I’m going to take both +300 Drawbacks,” I said, referring to Tremor (which made my hands shake badly and combat alchemy significantly harder… oh no, I guess I’d have to rely on powers other than alchemy to fight with! Or, you know, use my feet, hair, or telekinetic control over Ice Nanites.) and Enemy of the State (which meant that the Amestrian military was coming for me… which, yawn… they’d have to find me first and nothing said they could.). To be fair, I could have taken all 6 drawbacks and barely noticed. The +100s included a slight debuff to my alchemy (-12.5% efficiency) and something that meant people would consider me a pathological liar… but only people who had experience with me, while the +200s included a rival alchemist who hates me and being unoriginal and safe in my research and predictable in my actions. Yaaaaaawn. Not that I was going to take them if I didn’t have to… and in fact… I couldn’t. Not even for zero points! Choose 2, no Cheating!

So I didn’t.

Buying Homunculus meant that I’d been kidnapped, experimented upon and implanted with a philosopher’s stone, either to take the place of one of the canonical 7 apparently, or to be a prototype of them. Each had a unique power, but all had the same basic upgrades. Increased speed, strength, regen, and lifespan… Each also had a unique drawback.

Pride had Shadowform, which created armor piercing tentacles but came with crippling overconfidence (I wasn’t certain anything in this world could beat me… but I was pretty sure I could easily destroy myself, no thanks). Lust had ‘Ultimate Spear’ which was more like killer fingernails… 4 meter long slicer-pokers that could cut through most materials with ease… and a… err… distraction/manipulation ability that wasn’t spear related… unless you’re talking about what those looking at you were thinking with. It also came with overwhelming desires and impulse control. Sloth had Speedboost which was exactly what it sounded like, but it came with a complete lack of motivation.

Envy was a Shapeshifter, incredibly dense (weighing a ton in any form)… but came with a total intolerance of humans. Gluttony came with False Door, a limitless internal void that could never be filled. Uuuugh. No.

Greed had the power of the Ultimate Shield, which transformed the skin into something harder than diamonds… so probably something in the graphene family… and the downside wasn’t so bad… always trying to take that which wasn’t mine (Hello ferret!)… but the ideas of fair trade and cooperation would be foreign to me. Livable drawback, but the perk wasn’t worth 800.

Which left Wrath and the Ultimate Eye. The ability to track anything, see any weak points, and every movement. With practice, I’d be able to counter attacks before they were even made. The downside was being quick to anger and being forced to keep my emotions constantly under control lest I try and destroy everything around me. That was a risk… but the reward seemed more than worth it. Atura and I would think about it, and make certain everyone else understood what was going on. The question was, did I want to replace the existent Wrath or not… Sure, it meant I wouldn’t have to face Bradley… but I didn’t think being an Enemy of the State would go well with being the head of state.

I looked over my build and sighed. “This isn’t going to work.”

“Your build?” The chamber asked, “What’s wrong with it?”

“No. Not the build. This jump. The starting date feels like it is targeted at me specifically… or maybe just Jumpers like me, but since I can’t know how many others there are or how customized each jump document is to the Jumper taking the document… I’ll treat as personal until proven otherwise. It was clearly included by someone who wants to force me to choose between a plotline I can’t interact with and stopping a Genocide…”

“But you want to stop the Genocide,” the Chamber pointed out.

“I do… but I don’t know why it happened. I don’t know the underlying… Look, every genocide happens for a reason. Even if that reason is just age old hatred. There’s a tipping point, someone who profits, someone who wants… something. I don’t know who profits from the Genocide… and since I don’t, I don’t know what they’d be willing to do in order to secure it. If I save Ishval… who do I doom?”

“Ah…” The Chamber was still for a very long time, then it sighed. “I shouldn’t tell you this. My role is very clear. I am to facilitate your adventures, not to shape them… but this is too much like Keladry’s Blayce. And as a Homunculus, you’d know soon enough…”

And the chamber showed me the being known as Father, the first Homunculus, created 400 years previously from the blood of the slave called “#23”. Showed me their conversations, showed me the moment when Father, then known as ‘The Dwarf in the Flask’ named the slave ‘Von Hohenheim’. Showed me how the Dwarf tricked the King and wisemen of the nation called Xerxes into sacrificing themselves to make a Philosopher’s Stone… a sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of human souls… of profound murder… all to grant the Dwarf freedom from its flask.

I can’t know exactly what was in the Dwarf’s mind… it was an echo of the past, not the true Dwarf, but he gave half the souls of Xerxes to Hohenheim… and then the two went their separate ways. Hohenheim went East to Xing, to spread knowledge of Alchemy, creating modern Alkestry and passing out of my vision. The Dwarf, now calling himself Father, went West to found Amestris, the land of the Elric Brothers, and there he fulfilled the name Father and brought forth the other Homunculi, first Pride, and last Wrath, with Envy, Gluttony, Greed, Lust, and Sloth between… and the Chamber showed me the history of Amestrian wars, the shaping of a state on a foundation of blood and carnage… and the unfolding of a great working, one every bit a larger scale repeat of what had happened in Xerxes long ago.

I looked down upon the nation that had caused such harm… and felt sickened… and pity. They’d been used as the scythe to prepare for their own harvest. Millions of souls to fuel this horror… and the Ishvalans were only one of the horrors that were coming / had been worked in the past.

“Does that… whatever it is… underlay all of Amestris?” I asked.

“And a little beyond. Yes.”

“It’s sickening.”

“It is the presence of Father.”

“And if I save Ishval… Yes… I see… I don’t suppose you could show me the lifepaths of others… say, up to 1918?”

“I cannot. The system has already locked me out.”

“Can you increase my stay?”

“What do you mean? You want to stay here?”

“No. I want… I’ve spent more than 10 years in various settings. I want you to adjust the end date without invoking a Return… ah… hah. That’s it. I want you to lock in my Return to this world immediately upon the end of the first decade. That will give me twenty years here.”

“Will that be enough to work the changes you want to work?”

“Not even close. I’ll figure something out. I… I need to get a look at everyone involved. I don’t know if I can fight the Dwarf… I should be able to defeat the Homunculi… but… I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do. We’ll see. I’ll save who I can… but I think… maybe… I’m going to have to go low impact on this one.”

“You? Low impact? This I have to see.”

“Yeah, yeah. Smart ass. I take it everyone else has taken Truth?”

“Negative. Astraea cannot make choices.”

“Everyone besides her, I mean.”

“No. Bao has selected the Homunculus Pride’s ability and requests that you seal him in stasis for the duration so that his choice does not endanger the mission. Toph has made similar request but with Envy’s.”

“Fine, fine… hmmm… Astraea can have Lust’s power.  That leaves Uriel, Velma, Mini, and Tokimi to join me in paying the price of Truth… do any of them want to spend a decade in stasis? And, come to think of it, do my drawbacks wear off at the end of the first decade?”

“Negative on both counts. As for your Drawbacks, they are in full force until you leave this world… and taking Homunculus would normally render Truth meaningless until you left as well… but you’ve end-run around that, haven’t you?”

“I have. I’m good at that. Hell… this is going to suck.”

INSERTION

Well, I wasn’t Wrath. I was Hate. Close enough. I could feel the rage boiling within me, constant, disdainful, a willingness to kill everyone. It made thinking a chore sometimes. It made compassion physically painful… and I was being hunted by Father’s forces, since Father wanted to absorb me back into himself.

I wanted to meet father, but I hated the feel of the tunnels under the Amestrian capital of Central. I hated the Amestrians for their warlike ways. I hated the Isvalans for their peaceful ones. The idea of saving them made me as angry as the idea of letting them die. I could tell that I was going to be motivated by spite a lot for the next twenty years.

Still, my intellect and willpower were not reduced by my constants swirl of emotional pollution, and I began my slow study of all those involved. I had to find the Homunculi without letting them find me and determine if they were to be destroyed or not. I had to find Hoenheim and learn what I could of him. I had to save those I no longer cared about… Or had I ever really cared about them at all? Was I saving them to make myself feel better? To make myself feel powerful? Was it a sense of duty? I… struggled to find a reason that made sense to my rage filled mind.

Finally, I stopped fighting against the rage’s doubts. I embraced the spite. I’d save people because Father would doom them. Spite.

And so began my reign of… highly confused, idiosyncratic, and occasionally random violence. I was like a Kraken having a seizure. Every action I took threatened to boil over with anger, with levels of collateral damage that would have been unacceptable to the majority of me… but it was clear that Silent Judge was being strengthened by the rage and Atura was draining my ability to focus on fighting against my darker impulses. Even the council within me was divided.

The heroes who had fought to save so many waged a war of angry words against the spies who had fought wars in secret and the diplomats were divided against each other depending on the dominant political ideologies of their times.

But we had spite to guide us and spite meant we’d save the innocent if we could. And that meant going to Ishval and trying to stop the violence.  It was an effort doomed to failure. The Ishvalan radicals were well engaged in an insurgency and had no desire to see reason. They did not want to listen to a confused, angry, and rambling outsider who preached of a coming disaster and my ability to speak the truth was clouded by my lack of knowledge of what the truth was… and so I preached the Truth, which was far more confusing and at odds with Ishvalan faith.

More than once, I allowed myself to be driven out of town.  And then… Envy shot a little girl and the world went mad. I went mad. I… for a moment… just a moment… let the anger have lease… and it was an inferno of rage… and it nearly consumed me, for I was its target. I’d done this. I should have tossed aside the power that I could have gained and come to this world pure. I should have… but in my arrogance, I’d thought I could have my prize and save those I wanted. I hadn’t been willing to subscribe to the Law of Equivalent Exchange. I’d wanted to save these people… but not enough to forsake the power I could gain.

The grinning man found me in my rage and spoke words of poison to me. I was lost in recrimination and I didn’t listen as well as I should have… Instead I left Ishval to my companions… let them save those who could be saved… and I travelled the home of the Elric Brothers… and there I met Hoenheim and learned… everything.

At last I understood. He was like me. A collective of souls… a vessel that contained a multitude. For four centuries, he’d travelled, seeking to undo the damage Father had wrought, to free the souls still trapped within Father and to see Father destroyed for the crimes it had committed… and to atone for his own part in Father’s rise.

I went away from that meeting and retired to a nearby cave to meditate, to regain my center. To put my own house in order. I left it only once in that first decade, when I went to replace Trisha Elric who was dying of illness with a doppleganger and to place her into my medbay and then into stasis. My anger tried to take advantage of the time, but I wouldn’t let it win… but I was not yet ready to face the others. Not without a greater center.

How I envied Bradley. His Wrath he could keep in check because he only was Wrath. His history before becoming the Homunculus was structured and brutal and simple. But I… I had 14 millenia of pent up fury boiling within me. I knew hates so deep, so passionate, so all encompassing that they’d have burned Wrath to cinders with their intensity.

And as I mediated, the smiling man would come to visit me and he’d say terrible, terrible things… but I did not notice them for I was holding court in the Palace of my Mind, working to resolve some of these furies, to attain a calm center in spite of the seething anger beyond our walls. The Anger was other, no matter how much it felt like part of us. The Anger was fuel. We’d use it as a weapon, not allow it to use us.

In the year 1911, we stepped foot out of the cave, calm as a dormant volcano, and sought out our allies. They’d prepared, studied, mapped. They’d saved many, hiding them in stasis aboard the Light or VIggo von Deathstar. It was time to go hunting Homunculi.

Lust was the easiest, as she was active and public, even if her nature wasn’t. I ripped her Philosopher’s stone from her and caught the fragment that was her true self as the rest crumpled to dust. The stone I studied, trying to work out how to lay the souls within to rest, but they weren’t like the Souls of Demon Souls, being all tangled and twisted and compacted together. So many of them had lost all sense of self as well.

Gluttony was next, falling to my blade as I carved the fat moron apart, freezing the bits so they could not move or regenerate. Greed, Envy, and Pride continued to evade me, and I wanted to leave Wrath where he was for last.

That meant that next up was Sloth, who labored in the deep tunnels to craft the Nationwide Summoning Circle. I found him… and lost him, time and again as the darkness tried to engulf me. And that’s how I met Pride. I eventually defeated Sloth and added him to my inner collection, yet I could not fight Pride as he would not stand and fight. Instead, he flowed like liquid shadows, striking whenever a flicker of light allowed him to generate shadows. Sparks flew as his claws raked my flesh, but even surrounded my eyes never missed an attack and I was wearing him down… until Father appeared.

The Homunculi had never made any sense to my Third Eye. They were twisted abominations, yes, but they weren’t truly evil. Not in the way some things I’d encountered were. They had been created twisted, the product of a mind twisted by self-loathing, by hate of self and hate of the world. They’d been his attempts to purge himself of what he’d viewed as his flaws, never understanding that they were part of him. They’d had their own flaws magnified by this monster wearing human guise, transforming flaws into the end-all, be-all of their existence. It was no wonder they were horrors… and yet they were drawn from the souls of human beings and had been given life by this being that stood before me now.

As I said, I’d seen evil before. I’d stood in the presence of Outsiders and Demons and Adolf Hitler and Aku and Trigon and all that the world of Darkness could throw at me… and yet… none of them came close to the evil embodied within this… abomination. Those others had been bound by their natures or twisted by human lies and insanity and justifications.  Father was just… wrong. He’d been born able to understand good and evil, to make that choice… and every step of the way, he’d chosen evil. Not because it was evil… but because he felt entitled to. This was a being that would bring down God if he could, just because he could.

I surged forward, Soul of Ice blazing with Unflame in my hand. I’d strike this wretched creature from creation… and then… he simply swallowed me up. How was that even possible? I had no idea… but I also had no escape. I was trapped within this monstrosity.

“I made a mistake when I created you, Hate. I’ll need your power back,” Father said.

I growled, wanting to unleash my hate… but I couldn’t let him win, and so I curled up inside the flow of souls within Father, biding my time, drawing my strength from the self-loathing remaining within this being. His fall was ordained. I just had to wait… That’s what the man who smiled in the darkness whispered, even though I could not hear him.

Time rolled by and I howled inside Father as he tore the fragments of Sloth, Lust, and Gluttony from me and reformed them. I’d managed to do nothing to change the fate that was to come. This could not be! Something had to be working to keep the timeline straight. Something was pushing against me… and I hated it. The Darkside of the force within me was loving this, feeding on this anger… I needed a way to shut it off, but I couldn’t, and it twisted within me like a snake… and the man who smiled whispered to the twisted thing that I was becoming.

At long last, the moment came, the Day of Reckoning, the moment where Father’s plan would come to fruition. It was horrifying as the souls of so many poured into Father, surrounding my prison.  And I could do nothing, for to act would be to give Father a chance to consume me… and yet, would he not do so with this new power once he consumed God?

And yet, I was not alone. I had forgotten that, even as I struggled to remain myself. As Father distracted himself with dragging God out of the Heavens, Atura drew on the power within all those souls, just a tiny fragment of that torrent of energy, and shaped a shell around us both, a tiny worm, a parasite within Father’s body, a seed waiting to flower when Hoenheim’s plan came to fruition.

And yet, let it not be said that I was but a passenger in all this. I did accomplish one thing, save one soul that would have been otherwise lost in the fall of Father’s works. When Father took Greed back into him for the second time, I was able to save my brother from the destruction that Edward Elric delivered moments after the eclipse ended. He never noticed the crimson seed that flowed up into the atmosphere in the torrent of souls that escaped Father’s embrace at last… but so too did he fail to see what I saw from that terrible lofty height.

No one in Amestris saw what I saw from the sky above. They did not see the souls freed from Father, not the Amestrian Souls but the Xerxean Souls… they did not see them flash across the sky in Eight directions. They did not see the great Alchemical Seal they formed. It was not a Nation-Wide Alchemical Symbol. No… it was almost infinitely worse. It was Planetary… and if Ishval and North had formed two of ten crests of blood of that smaller circle… I saw now that Amestris and Xerxes formed two larger crests on this larger circle… one where the disc of the world itself was the edge of the circle and lines of souls etched across the firmament were the rest of the seal.

All that was missing was one last crest… in Xing… I looked at the sun and moon and calculated… 4 years and a couple months until the solar eclipse that would occur directly at the center of that horrible circle.

The seed I was unfolded slowly, drawing mass out of the remaining trace of the philosopher’s stones that Atura had managed to form out of Father’s blood and I cursed the necessity, but she’d only taken from the souls of murdered Xerxes, not from the Amestrian souls who were even now recovering from the horrible attempted genocide.

I settled to Earth, laying down the unconscious form of the now totally human Greed. “You’ll have to do better this time, brother,” I whispered. “No more extra-lives for you. Time to be human.”

Atura asked me why I’d saved him. I shrugged. “He’d learned, sometime between the first time Father consumed him and the second, what it was to be human. Seemed like a waste not to try.”

And from there, I journeyed to where Hoenheim would have to go. I found him approaching Trisha’s grave, the fire of his soul all but extinguished now, drained by the work he’d done to free the souls of two lands. He was dying… but I couldn’t let that happen.

As he knelt in front of an empty grave, I placed my hand upon his shoulder. “Father was a fool,” I said.

The 400 year old man gasped and looked up at me. “Hate!” he managed to get out, eyes widening.

“Reports of my death were exaggerated… and your business is not yet finished here,” I pulled him to his feet. He was too weak to resist me, his lifeforce guttering, about to go out… and then he staggered as I linked him to Yuzuha.

The power of a First Generation Juraian Tree cannot be underestimated. They are the children of a 23rd Dimensional Superbeing. There are Galaxies with less power. The tiniest shard of that power flowed into Hoenheim and restored him instantly to youth and vigor.

“W… what have you done?” He looked down at his hands, wrinkled with age and cracked with failing Alchemical power one moment, hale and well the next.

“Father was a fool. I mean that literally. Someone was using him… and you… to do all this…” I waved my hand around at the peaceful countryside but both he and I knew I meant the attempted slaughter of all Amestris, “On a global scale. Someone wants to consume a couple billion souls.”

“What? Who?”

“Well, my… uncle… to answer that question, I have to ask you another one… Who created the Dwarf in the Flask?”

Hoenheim’s eyes went wide. “No! He… He would have died in…”

“In Xerxes? Oh really? Are you certain?”

“Yes! I saw him in the throne room at that… that moment,” He looked certain, and yet doubtful.

“Actually, that was me,” came a third voice from behind me. The voice was almost a melody, inhumanly smooth, almost sweet, if sound could be said to have such a quality

We both spun to see… a somewhat chunky but tall and well built figure, a power-swimmer’s physique. He had dark crimson hair and matching hell-fire eyes and skin that was almost ashen grey in color. His smile was familiar to me, and suddenly I remembered a dozen whispered messages, messages that had been buried in the endless Hate that I’d once more begun to come to grips with… though I could see it was aging this body horribly as the Dark Side of the Force fed on it. I looked inside the man… and recoiled. This was… this was a Homunculus… but one orders of magnitude older than Father had been.

“My name is Impatience… but I prefer to think of myself as Fritter… as in to fritter away. My… father… had a very very long plan… he could not afford to rush. And so he spun me off. I’m afraid he and I look much alike. It’s an easy mistake to make, Dear Heart.”

Hoenheim shuddered as those words sunk deep into his mind. This creature was using some power I couldn’t quite defend against. It was like speaking to my very soul. But only the Soul known as Hate. The rest of me… we were less affected, less touched by the seductive allure hidden in that voice.

“What do you want, Impatience?”

“Careful, Love… this world has hidden depths that could sweep you off your feet to plunge into the abyss.” He smiled, and I was not comforted by the smile. It would have made the Cheshire cat think something was up. “Fear not. I will stand with you if you’ll have me?”

I narrowed my eyes, preparing for a fight but willing to hear this… thing… out. “Why would you help us?”

“For the pretty little boy,” He licked his lips and moaned. It was creepy as hell. “My sweet little Pride… I tried to save him, but he was loyal to Father and Grandfather… he played Father too well. Just like all the others.”

Hoenheim gasped, “Others? What others?”

“For the other Crests,” I said. “Amestris and Xerxes are two… there are seven others. The tenth will be in the capital of Xing… sometime in the next four years.”

Impatience laughed, “Yesss! The others. Greedy kings and scholars with more ambition than sense. Grandfather played them all, one by one. Four thousand years since he was Emperor Xing the first.”

I nodded. That made sense. The pattern had been drawn step by step across the centuries, repeating ancient horrors and destroying entire civilizations. “But Amestris failed. Doesn’t that stop it?”

“Oh, no. There was enough death here. All those wars, all that slaughter… all those poor pretty boys… and the maidens too. Always a shame when youth fades… but more a shame when it’s cut down. That’s why I loved sweet little pride sooo… eternally young… such…” He licked his lips and I shuddered.

“Where do I find Emperor Xing?” I asked, voice low and menacing.

“Patience, Dearheart. Patience! I- Gaack!” He managed to get out as Atura flowed up out of my shadow and plunged a sword that looked as it had been formed out of Silent Judge into his throat.

“Your voice is honey’d poison,” my inner spirit hissed. “Don’t speak… just open your mind so we can pluck it from your thoughts.” It’s good that one of us was thinking clearly. A few hours later, an island fortress and its nearly mummified inhabitant simple vanished from the face of the world as Ziggy crystals floated around me and demanded cookies. At least he didn’t like carrots, unlike a certain Cabbit. Then again, Ziggy liked oatmeal oyster cookies… Yerrrg.

I looked over to Hoenheim who was talking with Trisha who I’d pulled out of stasis. “I left a fake corpse at Trisha’s fake grave. You two are going to have a lot of work ahead of you, trying to figure out how to dismantle this planetary circle. It might take generations. Up to you if you want to tell your children you’re alive.” Nina Tucker was over the corner reading Ziggy and Alexander a book. My people had managed to replace her at least with a convincing fake. Her mother hadn’t been so lucky and so I was dumping the kid on the Elder Elrics.

“What are you going to do with,” Hoenheim nodded to the bound and gagged homunculus.

I shrugged. “It would be poor taste to kill him… but he’s a manipulative monster. Hardly seems safe to let him go. He knows the secret of the Philosopher’s stone.”

Hoenheim considered, then nodded. “True… but so do a great many people now. I think we’ll just have to trust to human decency… or whatever passes for it in this one.”

I sighed, then looked at the Homunculus. “For your assistance, you live. Sorry about your throat, but I suspect you’ll heal. I also suspect you’ll be a problem in the future… but that’s for the living to sort out. You… never speak to me again. You open your mouth anywhere near me besides to put food into it and I’ll make sure the sword doesn’t stop at your windpipe.

He gulped, then nodded and left without a word.

“He’s going to cause trouble,” Atura whispered.

“Probably. But it’s not our job to stop troublemakers. It’s our job to…” I shrugged, “Actually. I don’t know what, exactly, our job is.”

“To trouble stopmakers?”

“Well, if by stopmakers, you mean Genocidal Fuckwits, yeah. I guess. Come on, let’s go to North and do some skiing. I’ve heard good things about General Armstrong and look forward to annoying her.”

“We’re going to pick a fight with an Amestrian General?” Atura seemed doubtful about the prospect.

“Of course! Can’t have them become soft just because Father’s gone. Time for them to deal with Daughter of a Bastard.”

“Is that like Son of a Bitch?”

“Yes. but with much more Elan!”

Next: Young Justice

OMAKE: Relationship Chart

If you like what I do, please consider supporting me on Patreon

I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too.

Resources: BuildDocument

AN: This was quite challenging for me. First, the Jump Document is terrible. Even by the standard of early jumps, it’s not good. The entire thing assumes a One-True-Build philosophy that assumes everyone will be thrilled to be an Alchemist and ignores the depth of characters who aren’t. Truth and Homunculus are ridiculously overpriced, and the Companion Import is a joke. The Item Section is useless and assumes that Automail is worth paying for. Even the drawbacks are fairly bad and easily ignorable by any jumper.

But that’s not the real problem. As I detailed above, the starting date is way before the start of the story. So much so that you have to choose between saving Ishval and interacting with the the canon characters. And that’s bad. the 1901 starting point should be an optional starting point.

Still, even with all that, the hardest part of this jump is that, for once, I’m fairly sanguine with the story arc and can’t see how I could do anything besides make it worse. So I did.

 

World 64: Okami

WRITING IS FUN, READING IS DE MENTAL

Previously: The Boot of God

Themesong: Falling to Pieces by David Guetta

AN: Thank you so much to all my readers, to my friends on SB and my Patreon supporters. You all rock. And to everyone who comments on my blog… thank you so much. Feedback is like fine wine to a writer. Intoxicating and there’s never enough. 

“You seem less grumpy,” the Chamber said as I approached it following the end of my decade in not-europe.

“Those people really really really wanted a war. Lots of wars. They…” I shook my head sadly. “I don’t think I did any long term good there. Didn’t resolve any of the underlying issues… except for the one where the underlying issue was Windstones actually underlying most of the continent. It’s still a religious powder keg with people of mass destruction running about. Christ, how can they have fleets and armies like that with no defenses against fire-stones. I know they’re rare, but you gotta figure that kingdoms would have the resources to get them.”

“You stopped the wars. Isn’t that a good thing?”

“I stopped the wars by kicking anyone who would have tried anything in the head. I didn’t stop the hatred or the unrest. I didn’t change any of the societies. If I vanish for even a year, they’ll be back at it again. And the minor acts of aggression… terror attacks I couldn’t stop… lynchings… the fire-stone attack on D’Angleterre… all those riots… I could have handled that better… but it would have meant taking charge, choosing sides… I just… I don’t know. Sometimes I just want not to be surrounded by people looking to me to take charge.” I laughed bitterly.

“What?” Jumpchan asked, unable to determine the source of my unhappy mirth.

“I was supposed to be that Joseph guy’s slave and it took me less than 15 seconds to decide to kill him. I could have just followed orders and done the madman’s bidding. I complain about having to take charge and the one time I legitimately could have let someone else take charge, I killed them stone dead.”

The Chamber considered that, then responded, “Well, he was a warmonger.”

“He was, yes.” I agreed, a hint of bitterness in my voice.

“Maybe you just need to find someone worthy of following?”

“You mean someone who’s decent, honorable, compassionate, and not nearly as big a bitch as I am?” I snorted derisively.

“Yes.”

“I’ll let you know if I find her. So, where to next, oh Cosmic Tour Guide? Some place without war and warlords, maybe?”

“Ancient Japan.”

“So, lots of wars and warlords then,” I sighed.

“Not in this day and age. This is the age of myths and legends, the reign of Queen Himiko, a century after the defeat of Orochi by the hero Nagi and the white wolf Shiranui.”

“I know those names… why do I know those names… is there a title to this IP?”

“IP?” It seemed confused, and I kicked myself mentally.

“Intellectual Property,” I explained. “In my experience, all these jumps have been linked to works of fiction or genres of fiction created by the people of my homeworld. The Banker implied that each Benefactor controlled the interplay between a world and all the fictional settings that world generated.”

“Ah. That makes a certain amount of sense. Yes, there is a name attached. This document is entitled ‘Okami’. I believe that is a Japanese word for Deity?”

“It is. It’s also the title of a pair of videogames. Okami for the Playstation 2, and Okamiden for the Nintendo Dual Screen. The first tells the story of Amaterasu the Divine Wolf who is Shiranui… white dog… reborn and the goddess of the Sun. The second tells the tale of her child, Chibiterasu. I have copies of both games. A couple actually. Probably not 100% accurate to the events of the game according to Origin canon, but I can’t ever be sure of those things.” I considered, then asked “Drunkard, insect, wolf, and spirit origins?”

“That is incorrect. Drop-In… which specifies an inability to speak Japanese unless you already do. That seems punitive for taking the free option.” I nodded in agreement, but didn’t interrupt the Chamber’s explanation. “The others all cost points. Warrior & Priestess cost 100 while Brush God costs 200.”

“Brush… God…” I blinked, trying to recall the presence of such beings in the game… then oh’d… “Wait… the constellations? Do they even interact with the mortal realm at all?”

“It says that by taking it you become a minor goddess representing some aspect of nature or reality, a constellation, and a piece of calligraphy all at once,” the tinkling divine voice explained. “By drawing your symbol in ink, either by use of a brush or some brush-like part of your body, you can summon or alter that aspect of nature. Or at least you should be able to, as in these dark times, few mortals are even aware you exist.”

“Oh good. Lovely.” I shrugged, then nodded. “Eh, I still take it. Anything else would be boring.”

“You must choose any one mundane animal… preferably one native to Japan… or a mythological animal that must be present in Japanese mythology… and not one of a kind. Once you do, you’ll become a large, white version of that animal with glowing red celestial markings on your fur, scales, or skin… and a thematic accessory or two if you like.”

“So I could be the Ferret of Borrowing Things and then not giving them back or the Lion of Winter? Ahahah… Yes. I’ll be the god of winter.”

“Why that one?”

“Because it fits. The japanese god of rain and snow is called ‘Okami no Kami’!”

“I believe that would make you a dragon?”

“It would… but I believe I will be a kind of lion, tiger, ferret, fox hybrid. A great beast… oh, and blue fire, rather than red, I believe.”

“You’re one of those horrible people who order food that’s not on the menu, aren’t you?”

“How do you know about such things? You’ve never eaten at a restaurant!”

“Even among gods, some things are truly unspeakable.”

“It depends, you elitist rockpile. If I’m at a restaurant with a singular chef? Probably not. That individual crafted the specific dish to be a certain way. If I’m at a chain or it’s a place I’ve eaten at a lot, sure. It’s my money, my stomach. Or in this case, a form I’m going to be stuck with forever. So I’d like it to look a specific way. Kuraokami was born when the Japanese father deity, Izanagi, killed his son, Kagutsuchi the fire god, for burning Izanami (their wife / mother respectively) to death during childbirth. My siblings would be Kurayamatsumi and Kuramitsuha… the gods of dark mountains and dark waters respectively. Ahab and Joy can be them if there aren’t any companion import options.”

The Chamber paused for a moment, then mmm’d. “There is an option, but each Brush God costs an additional 100 CP above the other cost… Which would be 400 CP for 8… it does give the companion you made into a Brush God an extra 100 CP to spend, if it’s any consolation.”

“Not much of one, but I’ll consider it. Joy and Ahab wouldn’t get any CP but I don’t have to pay for their import. But first, what do I get for being a Brush God?”

“It is called Dextrous Oral Telekinetic Acrobatics…. That is an unwieldy title.”

“Yes. It is. I suspect it’s a joke, since the initialism is DOTA, but what connection Okami might have to a MOBA… Multiplayer Online Battle Arena… Defense of the Ancients was the first major MOBA… but what does it do?”

“Allows you to wield weapons telekinetically and engage in expert level weapon-based combat using only your mouth… or any other appendage or orifice you care to use. It also allows you to have your weapons float around you at rest for some insignificant application of energy.”

“Ah. Yes. Amaterasu’s mirror combat. Gotcha.” I said, referring to the fact that in the game, the player character (a wolf) attacked with teeth and by use of a weaponized mirror that floated around, smacking demons upside the head.

“Should I sign you up for the complete Brush God Package?” The Chamber asked.

“What’s that include?”

“Brush Technique, Devotional, Godhood, Natural Nature, Calligraphy…”

“Well, unless Calligraphy is more than just being really good at Calligraphy, I’ve got that already.”

“You do? I do not see it on your list of perks or powers.”

“It’s a physical technique. I’ve seen calligraphy masters at work. I’ve spent time as a painter. Yeah. I can handle a brush. I also have a few books on calligraphy. Mastering it won’t really take me much time.”

“Ah. Yes. It is easy to forget that you are mortal and can change without outside forces acting upon you.”

“You’re saying you can’t?”

“I am outside of time. How could I change?”

“Good point. But the fact that I don’t need Calligraphy means I might not need some of the others. What does Godhood do that being a Brush God doesn’t?”

“It allows you to accumulate something called Godhood score which allows you to defend yourself against attacks.”

“Errr… oh… I don’t think so… unless it’s really cheap.”

“300 CP.”

“No thanks. Devotional?”

“Allows you to inspire true gratitude and praise for your righteous actions, fueling and empowering any godly abilities you possess.”

“Got that already. Not my first time as a deity. Doubt having two of those powers would allow me to double dip. So no. Brush Technique is what allows me to do my godly thing? And it’s not free for a Brush God but the combat is? That’s just backwards. A Brush God is not defined by its ability to fight but to wield a Brush Technique.”

“I would tend to agree with you just from the name, but yes, the Brush Technique even says ‘What’s a Brush God without their celestial Brush Technique?’. It goes on to say that you can, by writing a certain symbol or flourish in ink, effect reality in one specific way. Modifications to this flourish can alter the effect. Though evolution of your technique will require some practice… as well as sufficient recognition as a god to power those changes. On a lesser leve, possessing a brush attribute will imbue your other techniques and body with said attribute… and you can grant the ability to use your technique when drawing your symbol to anyone you wish.”

“Ah. interesting. Well, since I wouldn’t be much of a Brush God without that, I’ll take it. How much?”

“For you? 200. That leaves you with 600 to spend.”

“Reasonable… What is Natural Nature?”

“It is the Godly Capstone, as you’d call it. It allows you to effectuate your attribute innately, without requiring you to make your symbol.”

“Ah. well then. I shall definitely go with Winter as Borrowing then. Borrowing heat and storing it away for later use. The great fuzzy thing of winter. That’s me. If you ask nice, I may let you play with my shiny.”

“You’re deeply disturbing, you know that, right?” The Chamber asked.

“Excellent. That’s another 300, right? So I’m down to 300… and you said the Companion Import was 400? So I need a drawback. Whatcha got?”

The Chamber opened to show me the various drawback options and I cringed. Ugh. So much ghhhhhuuuu. Something that turned the taker into a lush that was lazy when drunk and useless and grumpy when sober. Something that turned the taker into a horribly repulsive letch. Something that rendered the taker unable to draw or swordfight. Something that took away the taker’s mouth. Something that made a brush god think they were a normal (if clever) animal. Something that turned the taker into a Poncle (think japanese Jiminy Cricket). And Something that put an artifact of evil into the taker’s stomach, filling them with pain and potential death when the artifact was removed by one of the many things hunting the taker. In fact, the only drawback that was worth taking was the one that meant demons were constantly hunting the taker. As a Brush God, it was already a given, and if I couldn’t defeat everything in this world, I would be highly surprised.

“I’ll take that one. How much do I get back for it?”

“Magnetic? It’s worth 200, so you have 100 CP left.”

“Any items I’d be interested in?”

“You get a magical Ink Pot free. It’s equivalent to three of Amaterasu’s and refills by itself over a minute or so. Other than that?” The Chamber threw up the other items, but none of them called to me, or at least none in the 100 CP bracket and I wasn’t willing to return anything or take more drawbacks to get anything better.

“Right… mmm… I could give the 100 to one of my companions so they could be a Brush God… but who?” I wandered off, thinking about that, ignoring Jump-Chan’s entreaties to come back. I think the poor Chamber was lonely without Knights to test regularly. Note to self, send my crews and the Eldar through the Chamber. Maybe some of the companions too.

I asked Kendra if she wanted to be a Brush God, but she just glared at me and told me to stick my peace offering someplace anatomically uncomfortable. I thought about offering it to Zane, but that would probably make things worse too… 20 years and she was still pissed off at me. Mmm… maybe I should offer it to one of the kids? My own ChibiJumperasu?

“Alex, Maggy, Amy! Meet me in my office!”

I was joined within 3 minutes by all three of my current children… and Ziggy and Tess who were in the tree branches watching avidly and sharing a bunch of cherries. The trio were now essentially 9 or 10 years old, biologically speaking and Alex was looking gangly in his male form and petite in his female form, while Amy was always adorable and Maggy was looking very tomboyish, with her very short hair and cut-off shorts. She was the most rough and tumble of the trio and the least interested in being cute. She also had the most interest in technology, while Amy was interested in animals, and Alex in the arts… both martial and physical. Amy wanted to be a shepperd, Alex a bounty hunter, and Maggy? A criminal.

They were definitely my kids. Oy.

“Papa?” Alex asked, “You wanted us?”

“Mmm… I did, though I didn’t realize it at the time. But that’s not the topic for today. Our next stop is mythical japan and I have one deluxe import slot to be a Brush God.” I explained what that entailed, then said “I’d like to offer the position to each of you, but to get three slots would cost 600 CP and deny 5 others their chance. To get all 8 as Brush Gods would cost 800, and getting that much would require me to take some very unpleasant Drawbacks that I am unwilling to subject myself or others to. So, rather than offer it to one of you, I’m offering the opportunity to one of you if you can, peacefully and equitably decide who among you gets it. If you can’t decide, I’ll give the chance to Ziggy.”

The trio, as one, turned to look at Ziggy, then back to me, as if trying to figure out if I really was crazy enough to make the resident war weasel a god of any kind besides technical. As in he technically was a member of the Magi Pantheon.

Maggy spoke first. “I’m good… I want to be a Priestess!”

I blinked, “Why do you want to be… how do you even know what’s on offer?”

“Joy and Ahab uploaded their copies of the Jumptree onto the House Network,” Alex said. “And Amy can have it if she wants to. I don’t mind.”

Amy blinked, then shook her head. “I wanna be an Oina!”

“A what?” I asked, not used to feeling like the person lacking information.

“Masked natives of the land of Kamui who can transform into wolves. Based somewhat on the Ainu,” VIvian supplied. Amaryllis nodded happily.

“Alex would make a much better Brush God… he’s good at painting. And Maggy wants to buy the Foxy Babe perk from the Priestess line that lets her be an evil kitsune.”

“Amy!,” The dark haired girl snapped, glowering at her half-sister. “You didn’t have to tell Papa that!”

“Papa would have checked in a minute, and then gotten mad at you for not telling yourself,” the half-fairy pointed out.

I nodded, having already brought up the text in my optic network. Foxy Babe had, like several of the other perks on offer, some questionable elements… but this was worse. In exchange for giving the taker the full inherent powers and flaws of whatever form of yokai was taken, it came with the full memories of having slain a priestess and taken her place so the taker could blend into society. I was very much unwilling to allow Maggy to gain such memories, and leary of making her seem evil to the people of this land… If only my reading comprehension was as on the ball in other areas, but I plead distraction.

However, the Foxy Babe description did specifically contain this line “Hey, this is your story. Maybe your victim did something to deserve it, and you’ve been unfairly maligned.” And so I merely nodded and sent the trio on their way. Then I went to the Chamber directly and had words with that worthy upon the subject of what memories it was and was not allowed to subject my children to. “If they come upon such memories in their travels, I cannot protect them from a life lived, but I shall not have a beastly box placing such memories into their thoughts retroactively, am I understood?”

“Why do you speak with that stilted affect?”

“Just watched some Shakespeare, but am I understood?”

“I hear and obey,” The Chamber concurred. “As the Jumper, you have final say over all importation options.”

“Yeah, yeah. But I don’t use it normally. I mean, I want to know, but I don’t pull rank on my Companions. But the kids are another matter. I know Maggy’s older than I was when I started jumping, but she’s not as mature. She’s still a kid mentally and that’s a heavy load to lay on a kid. Killing for the first time is serious business and has to be made in the moment, not retroactive. So, have her take the place of a Priestess who was dying, preferably of something relatively clean.”

“Ah. As you like. A fox who comes upon a priestess with a weak constitution doomed to a slow agony of death makes a deal with a Kitsune to a spell to ease her into painless sleep?”

I thought about it. Euthanasia fulfilled the technical killing requirement and was (at the same time) an act of mercy. Death was all too real to the kids, and how could it not have been? They’d lived a decade in Warhammer and witnessed some of the events of KTH’s decade as well. “Very good. Show me?” I watched the scene, a future as yet unset, a past as yet unwritten, and nodded, making a few minor modifications, making the fox more trickster than outright wicked. Perhaps it was going too far, but it was my choice and I made it. Call it Parental Prerogative.

Companions (aside from Alex) got a free background and 300 CP. Alex got 400 CP. As for Ahab & Joy, I was going to allow them to fend for themselves, especially since, by doing so, I was allowing them to pick Brush God if they wanted it. But even if I declared Okami all kids day, that only got me to 6, and that was if I felt like officially companioning Lucida, Placida, Buji, and Simon. Which, to be honest, I didn’t. Good kids, and all that, don’t get me wrong, but that way lie madness. Hell, importing my own children was probably a lunatic precedent to set in the long run, but, thanks to Necoho’s meddling, and the persistence of the perks and abilities acquired in Sticomtopia, that ferret was firmly out of the hamper and gnawing on something dangerous. Also, as ‘cutesy’ as Okami had been, there had been some real elements of horror hidden behind the innocuous cartoonish artwork.

With those thoughts in mind, I pondered who to import with me this time. And wasn’t this simpler when my life was too? I decided not to import Frankie or Mini, as Alex and Maggy would see that as bringing their moms along to keep an eye on them, and rightly so. On the flip side, I didn’t bring Cirno because Amaryllis would feel the need to keep an eye on her mother. Also, Cirno already had a Japanese mythology form… come to think of it, many of my companions did… I struck all who did off the list, which was Velma and all who came before her (Toph, Ahab, Joy, Kendra, Bao, Uriel, all the Mon, and the sadly missing Hibiki’s). I miscounted the Luteces and Brigid because this wasn’t science, the Bookers because this was not their milieu (and I didn’t really like them that much)… Tokimi, Caine, and Raven were already mythological. Reggy and Gaius were too much blunt weapons. Kohina and Kagetane too. Yuzuha had just had loads of fun, as had Amelia, though I hadn’t actually imported either of them, there had still been fleet battles they’d been part of. Similarly, I had imported both Choirs, so that cut them out too.

That left Anne, Carwyn, the Dire Weasels, Bart, Meetra, and the Comstock Sisters (and as for why they didn’t count as the same being? They were mutually exclusive waveforms as near as I could tell). Part of me considered just giving the 5 slots to those 7 “corporate entities” as it were and letting them fight it out, but that would raise questions and I’d rather seem capricious than indecisive. And to that end, I selected Anne and the Eldar, who would all suffer drastic culture shock at being thrust into Okami’s world (even assuming it to be fairly normal and not actually painted in calligraphy and watercolour).

I then took my two remaining slots and sat the swordsmen and would be travelers round the table from each other and said, “Two of  you are coming, two are staying. Meetra’s force powers have just been suppressed. The only fair way to determine this lies on the table in front of you. First to 5 victories gets to pick who comes with.” And I walked away, chuckling evilly as the four of them stared in horror at my custom manufactured “Feed Me, Feed Me, Ferrets” which was totally not a rip off of a certain game about river horses because Paradise had no official ties with the Terran Empire… and any way, game play elements can’t be copyrighted under my original code of laws… not that I paid attention to them anyway.

Lizzy, being the most childlike of the four, won resoundingly, and then, just to spite Beth, picked Bart to come with. Ah, Drama… so glad it wasn’t mine. That done, I locked out the Drop-In line, which was dedicated to Yami and his ilk (the demons and badguys of the tale)… If only I’d actually paid attention to the warning that was contained within, but even with instant reading comprehension, it is possible to simply overlook something or fail to realize the import of two things if the link isn’t being payed attention to. Ah well, I survived. If barely.

Maggy did indeed go Priestess, gaining Priestly Wisdom free (which was exactly what it sounded like on the box) and Foxy Babe which was the full mythological powers of a 9-Tailed Kitsune. Alex got his Brush Technique and the appearance boosting Picture Perfect, as well as DOTA for being a Brush God. And AMaryllis got to be a Preistly Wise Priestess herself, but her brand of shapeshifting comes from being an Oina. She wants to be a bear… because (to her) bears are cute.

Lizzy and Bart are both Warriors, which means they both get Swordsman (knowledge of swordplay which Bart didn’t need and Lizzy could have gotten without fiat but with a few weeks’ training from almost anyone in the crew. Still, Swordsman came with a free Glaive (a sword of the Occidental style as tall as a man and half as wide) that was a divine instrument infused with holy power allowing it to be charged to deal holy attacks. Bart also picked up Godhood, to go with his already formidable fighting styles, while Lizzy picked up the improved “Flowing Swordplay” to try and reach Bartian levels… and a Moon Tribe Hat which allows you to fly by growing wings… sounds… painful to dangle by your head… but magic… am I right? Also allows basic levitation.

Anne and Carwyn also went Priestess (not surprising, there were only two options since Brush God was a premium and I’d locked out Drop-In). Anne got the Faithful Shield Capstone (Priests got two, but they were incompatible) that allowed her to use constant prayer to erect nigh unbreakable defenses. Carwyn bought toys. Seriously. She bought the Lucky Mallet (bonk someone with it and they shrink to the size of a beetle.) and the Water Tablet (allows the holder to walk or run or dance on water). Toys. Fun toys, but toys.

The Weasels conferred, and (of course) followed the path of the Warrior (How could they do otherwise and still be themselves?). Splitting a Glaive between them (which worked out startlingly well actually… being a holy sword with mythological underpinnings) and got the Warrior Capstone, Divine Interference, which was nothing more or less than the Gods boosting your attacks to make even the most incompetent attack a killing blow… what it would do for already hyper-competent attacks was left to my enemies’ fever dreams.

Ahab and Joy, of course, went with Brush God, thus completing the trinity of Kuraokami with Kurayamatsumi (Joy) and Kuramitsuha (Ahab) respectively. This was going to be interesting.

INSERTION

There are places, times, worlds, where it is acceptable, even appropriate, to act your age. Places, times, worlds where culture is refined, ever so slightly decadent, and there is an expectation of mystery and hidden wonder. Okami then is such a world. It is not Japan of a feudal age, but Japan of a mythological age, a place where all the legends are real, not as they were, held in glass and timeless, but where they are alive and kicking and vibrant.

At the same time, it is also a terribly prosaic place, a place where things just are, where people are quick to believe in demons, but slow to believe in gods, where the darker elements of life have greater sway than the bright elements of majesty. It is a time of reversion to the mean, of drifting through endless years and cycles, of eschewing change in favor of the time tested. It is a world where the everyday is every day and even the gods must prove themselves to a judgmental crowd.

It is also a far more complex world than I gave it credit for. I had enjoyed Okami when it had come out in the closing days of the PS2 era, and Okamiden when it had come out a few years later for the Gameboy DS… but I hadn’t finished either. In fact, I hadn’t gotten very far in Okamiden at all. I’d known that… but what I hadn’t known was how much deeper the plotline of Okami was than I’d thought.

When I’d played Okami, I’d assumed it was a simple game of exploration and monster whacking, a game of a single story; find the big bad, unlock the powers to kill the big bad, kill the big bad, save the day. The Big Bad was Orochi, the 8-headed Dragon of Darkness and he had been defeated 100 years previously by the divine wolf Shiranui and the human patsy Nagi, all to save the woman Nagi loved. Shiranui, injured in the battle, had died, and the Poncle (tiny bug people) Ishaku, who had been Shiranui’s companion, created art to honor the dead god.

Now, 100 years have past and Orochi has been set free, covering the land in darkness once again. And once again, a divine white wolf, a human idiot, a human love interest, and a wandering Poncle have gathered to play out the story once again. And that, silly me, was what I assumed was the entire story. I say assumed because I’d gotten frustrated at the complexity of Orochi’s demon island fortress and had been lured away to the brightness of other games. I’d always meant to come back to Okami, but I never had.

Still, it had meant I was willing to pick up Okamiden on my DS and play it for a white too, but handheld games faded in the world of laptops and smartphones and all the pokemon I was playing and so I’d never gotten past the introductory parts of the charming little game that could.

And so I entered this world of timeless battles of light vs dark far, far more naive about the true nature of it than I thought I was.

The true story, as I managed to piece it together is far more tragic and grim, and deals with betrayal, sacrifice, genocide, climate change… and a fish. Some of these things, as it turns out, I would have known had I actually read the document instead of merely assuming I knew what it said. Even for me there are levels of reading comprehension. I’d read it not for information, but for understanding of what the perks did. After all, I knew this world… or so I thought.

Two centuries before the events of the first game… Two centuries and 9 months before the second… The Moon Tribe had fled the moon in the great Ark of Yamato… an honest to kami spaceship… only to be slaughtered down to a pair of survivors by the demons sealed in the even then ancient ship’s hold. Orochi was but a fragment of the Darkness of the Lord of Darkness, Yama, an evil fucking goldfish in a ball of unbreakable glass… sealed up inside the Ark of Yamato, which was frozen deep in a lake on the far island of Kamui… Honshu, and guarded by the Oina people… Ainu with shapeshifting powers.

As it turns out, Okami is the tale of Amaterasu (Shiranui reborn) travelling across Nippon (Japan of Myth), finding the fragments of Yama and killing them one by one… only then to travel to Kamui and bringing about the release of the Ark, to battle them all once again, then defeat Yama. All this in order to lay to rest the spirits of the slain Celestials… angels… and to allow Amaterasu to return to the Celestial Plane and restore the heavens to their former glory. The story was far deeper and richer than I’d known… and I’d jumped into the deep end.

I’d also made a mistake stemming from not paying attention to the Lore. You see, all the Gods are marked (to those who can perceive the difference between a God and an Animal) with red lines upon their fur. Big Red Lines of divinity. Originally the concept art had had blue lines, but those had been swapped for red and the blue lines given to Yama’s dark forces… I learned this all by tossing the copy of my recorded adventures into the Adaptinator and asking for the original… ah, hindsight… ah, hoisting oneself on one’s own petard. Yes, I (in order to be cool) had given myself the markings of the enemy.

But EssJay, I hear me saying, surely this is not a problem? You’re incredibly tough and cool and all that. And I am… but… well… this is not a world of physics and math. It is a world of myth come alive. Amaterasu does not hit you with a mirror or a magatama or a splash of ink. That is but the physicality of the attack.

Take for instance the sword-like glaives wielded by both Amaterasu and Nagi’s descendant, Susano (here demoted from divine sibling to nigh useless comic relief drunkard and pathetically worthless swords man… except when he’s being aided by Amaterasu…). Susanoo’s sword is made of wood. Normal wood. It even has a flower blooming from it. And it can chop Orochi’s heads of as if they were made of papier-mache.

Amaterasu attacks with divine conceptions, with ideas and faith made manifest. And I, in this world, did not have the defenses needed to tank those attacks with ease. I had eschewed the praise of this place and because I was content to allow Amaterasu her paltry few months to resolve the plotline, I had resolved not to interfere until her adventure concluded.

Except that, by being who and what I was… I became the new Ultra BBEG.  You see, while Yama was the Demon Lord of Darkness… I was so much worse, because I was the God of it. And so, my spies and agents had been observed, my seat of power mapped by the forces that do that kind of thing in these kinds of worlds, and… somehow, Amaryllis had found a new pet… a white wolf puppy that she’d decided to hide from me for… I dunno… child reasons.

And so, I got attacked by Amaterasu who wanted her son back, thank me very much, and I’d have been happy to give the pup back… if I’d known… and if I’d had any way to get her to stop attacking… You see, the invasion by Amaterasu came after one by Yama, who, it turns out can freaking steal powers (I mean, yeah, so can I, and like me he can’t use what he steals) but having 80% of my abilities stolen by a goldfish? This is not on.  And so, what should have been a relatively peaceful vacation became a running battle as I tried to collect my scattered abilities (which, of course, had taken on a life of their own and didn’t want to come back and were having fun bringing darkness and cold and mischief to the land of Nippon) while being routinely attacked by an angry wolf with a divine spaceship. An angry wolf with ADHD and communication issues.

I tried telling her that I wasn’t the badguy, and even though I still had my ability to tell the truth and have it be believed… it relies on me being convinced I’m right, and at that point I wasn’t at all sure I wasn’t the bad guy… gal… because it was entirely possible I was. I was one of the three dark gods, and she wasn’t exactly being forthcoming about why she was attacking me and even once I found out about the kidnapping… er… pupnapping… (and total derailment of Okamiden’s plot… turns out the BBEG of that game, Akuro, got squashed in the fighting between me and Ammy)… where was I?

Oh… right, look, Amaryllis is a nice girl and wouldn’t hurt a fly… literally, I’ve seen her pet them and ask them not to land on her nose cause it makes her sneeze… and Chibiterasu is a very dumb little wolfpup who likes having his tummy rubbed and fighting to protect his friends. Hell, none of the gods are particularly smart… smart for animals sure, but not on a human scale… I guess they don’t need to be… and Chibi was happy where he was.  And my own divine offspring was manipulating things behind my back to see how long he and his sisters could keep me running around like a deranged ferret trying to recollect all the shinies.

Long story short, it took over six years of non-stop questing and confrontation to recollect the scattered parts of my power base and figure out a way to defend myself against Amaterasu… whose powers include temporal manipulation, ice, fire, elemental control, command of day and night… in short, if I wasn’t willing to kill the nice (and crazy) shewolf, I had to make like Dr. Claw and escape (I still had Snowjaeger’s Villainess powers after all) time and time again, vowing “I’ll get you next time Amaterasu!” (I didn’t say that… well, okay, once… but I’m pretty sure I was joking.)

I did get Amaterasu in the end… blame it on lots of saki and animal magnetism… but I’m sure if you ask her she’ll deny it. She, unlike me, has a reputation to maintain. But that was in the 8th year after things had settled down significantly and order had been restored to the land and time travelling demons had been dealt with permanently.

Looking back on all of it, it was fun… even if I did have to give stern lectures to two divine wolves, a poncle, a moon rabbit, my children, a mermaid, a very hyperactive child actress turned Miko (and wasn’t she ever so darling), and a lush. Oh, and, thanks to time travel… a stern lecture to my younger… older… past… my past self which I definitely don’t remember getting when I was her… but remembered as soon as the older… younger… future me started speaking… I haaaate time travel! Brains the size of planets should not be hurting from the pains! Such the pains! I sulked for a week. I was sooo mean to me!

Of course, the situation was dire. It always is. Imagine the scene. The Celestial Plane, Mt Fuji of Myth. Wolf of the Sun, Ferret-Lion of Winter. Two divinities, now fully restored to their former glory. Clashing. Ook-Roars and Howls shattering the serenity of the heavenly realm. Her blows hammering at me as my system regenerates again and again. All I need to do is land a telling blow, surely, but Amaterasu has maxed out Godhood and all the items needed to keep her ink and attacks at perfect, meaning my attacks bounce off her conceptual defenses.

If I didn’t have my own pool of powers and perks and Cheaty McCheaterson item stockpiles, I’d have been very much beaten and broken by the enraged sunwolf… As it was I was just feeling beaten and bruised, but unwilling to allow the angry goddess anywhere near my kids, and I didn’t really have time in the midst of conceptual battle to yell at said children about releasing the hostage… it wasn’t that kind of scene… and the hostage was busy begging for fish sausage, so I’m not sure it would have helped.

The problem with battles of attrition is the attrition. One side or the other has to make a mistake, use a key resource and have it run out, or lose focus for an instant… such battles are never truly endless, though they might seem like it. In that battle, the mistake maker was me. I requipped the wrong thing. I meant to grab an Elixir… but I grabbed a Full Heal instead and in the moment it took me to figure out that I was out of manna and that’s why my shields were down, the Goddess struck what might have been a killing blow with her divine reflector.

Instead of killing me however, that holy mirror struck just right, slamming through my temporarily down defenses, smashing into the very concept of my being… and karoomed off the Heart of Winter that was the very heart of me. The mirror froze as cracks began to craze across the massive crystal. And at that moment of purest terror… I saw an opening caused by the failure of the mirror to return to its wielder.

Faced with a calamity on the inside and an opportunity on the outside, I took the chance and lunged forward, focused on snatching away Amaterasu’s much stronger restoration ability… Maybe, just maybe I could find a way to use something I’d stolen just once, since I already possessed the ability to use it… I was over-extended, tired, pushed to the limits and my inner defenses were not doing well… But maybe, maybe, I could use the Goddess’s power to fix the heart before it shattered… and in that instance of pure desperation came the recurrence of what had only happened once before.

Call it Perk Fusion Part 2, Electric Dragon Boogaloo. In that moment of blind panic, my Ferret Tengu Powers, my Brush God Powers, my Dook-Dook Fruit granted abilities… all fused into one and I grabbed Amaterasu’s power and added it to my own and drew a big circle around the Heart of Winter as it began to explode… a big, sloppy, panicky circle… that also included the Egg of Atura…

Something you must understand about Okami. Context matters. Draw a circle in the sky, the sun appears. Draw a circle around a tree, it blooms. Draw a circle around a flower bud… it blossoms. Sure, sure I could have used the finicky trace the damage Restoration, but I really didn’t have the time, so I went with the brute force of hoping… and that’s why, instead of stopping the Heart of WInter from exploding… I added in the Rebirth of Atura to the mix… right in the path of said Explosion.

Probably should have killed me. Stunned everything on the Celestial Plane, that’s for certain. And when I looked inside, I found no egg, no crystal.  Instead, I found a flame… or rather… I found Atura, fused with the Heart of Winter. Atura, the Unflame. Atura, the essence of me as a God… she was my Godhead, my divine essence. She and I were fused now, an Unflame of Entropy and Enthalpy, a divine Melody to fill all Existence given time.

I looked at her and she looked at me, and we beheld ourself as one… and it was sooo very funny. The heavens shook with the laughter of a very very silly goddess. But I guess that’s what the Universe needs. Someone to hide the shinies for later and occasionally make the laws of causality and physics to kindly ask you to bugger off for a while and you give them a negative-space wedgie and steal a black hole’s Event Horizon because nothing is as socially embarrassing as a naked singularity at the stellar party.

Amaterasu was gnawing on my leg when I snapped back to myself. It hurt, quite astoundingly a lot, but I gave her back her powers and made the kids apologize for absconding with her puppy, and then I turned over my position in the mortal realm to Chibi no Kami (i.e. Alex) because all the cool brush gods were leaving the younger generation to oversee the mortal realm as they rebuilt the Celestial Realm and I built a celestial Nerima because what the Gods of Mythological Japan really need is more Whimsy in their eternity… Just futureproofing the heavens. They should be ready for Otaku when they come into existence, right?

If there’s a lesson in all this, it’s this… even if you think you know all there is to know before you do something important… take a few minutes, or hours, and do the research. Worse comes to worse, you get a refresher. Maybe you get a new perspective or you’re reminded of things you knew before but you’ve changed since you learned it last. And Maybe, just maybe, you won’t paint a literal target on your back. Then again, I might have done it anyway. Blue is nice and I’m overconfident. Thankfully, I’m also very lucky, so it balances out. Also, I am a divine ferret. We bounce back pretty quick.

Next: Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood

OMAKE: Relationship Chart

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AN: This jump has some nice stuff in it and good thought went into it. It needs some editing, and it isn’t particularly balanced well. Also, the wrong thing is free for Brush Gods. All Brush Gods should get Brush Technique free at the cost of being trapped in an animal form for the jump. It would be thematic and make sense.

Also, it’s a really good thing I hadn’t finished Okamiden… I would totally have kidnapped Chibi and Kagu. Oooo sooo cute! Want to snuggle both of them! No, bad ferret lady. No walking off with children just because they’re adorable.

Oh, once you finish the jump, you get a Goddess form as well if you were a Brush Goddess… so here it is… complete with blue lines! Bwahaha!

Jump 70 - Okami

World 63: Familiar of Zero

THE BOOT OF GOD

Previously: Triple Threat

Themesong: Bodies by Drowning Pool

(AN: Just a short one, but I’ll try and have another up next sunday at the latest)

“Well? Did you enjoy your decade playing Admiral?” The Chamber asked as I re-entered its presence, covered in sand and fuming.

“Fleet Terminators attacked Reach the week before end of decade and half the planet is burning as we speak. No. I did not enjoy the decade. It was miserable, billions of people died, and I spent most of my time running around trying to keep the entire galaxy from being annihilated by a bunch of asshole aliens who’ve been dead or undead for a thousand centuries. Time Traveling murder cyborgs controlled by a groupmind that can corrupt AIs. I had to take all my VIs off line and keep a very close eye on VIvian. I ended up using Light’s Nova Cannon fourteen times! That’s 14 planets I had to blast out of existence because every living being on the planet had been eaten by the Fleet! So no. No… No… fuck. This was like fighting Zombie Hitler except I was exploding entire planets instead of cities. I EXTERMINATUS’d planets. Well, she did, but I gave the orders… and there are still killer cyborgs prancing across the surface of Reach as if it’s going out of style!”

“Would you like to continue? I can resume time if you like?” Jump-chan offered in that tinkling voice that in no way matched the face on the door.

I growled. “That would be choosing to stay, wouldn’t it?”

“I believe so, yes,” The presence agreed.

“Then No. I’ll come back sometime when I have a plan and more options. Fuuuuu… VIvian, lock out that Reality from the Door to Shopping and the Restaurant Door.” I bellowed, then looked at the door, “So, what happens to the rest of my fleet? They just remain stuck in time until I come back?”

“Yes,”

“Even that Forerunner spy?”

“312 Torpedo Brave was merely doing as she was programmed to do.”

“I’m aware of that. What I want to know is how come I didn’t notice anything when I looked into her mind or soul?”

“She was created with Precursor Technology and her real identity existed outside of the dimensions you can perceive. Within the framework of 4-D space, She was exactly what she appeared to be.”

“Great. A Hyper-Dimensional Time Traveling Cyborg little girl murder machine. Weee.” I rolled my eyes.

“You defeated her,” The Chamber said as if asking what I was complaining about.

“Not before she took out a dozen of my ships and 82 Spartan-IVs! I don’t even know what that weapon she used was!”

“A Neuro-Chrono Disruptor. Causes the brain to relive all previous thoughts simultaneously.”

“Oh, of course. Perfectly reasonable. Thank goodness my meatspace brain doesn’t contain the vast majority of my thoughts or consciousness or I’d be a vegetable!” I snarked.

“Negative. You would still be quasi-mammalian.”

“IT WAS A FIGURE OF SPEECH, you daft Block…” I sighed. “What’s the next destination. Tell me it’s something lighter where I do not have to deal with genocidal fuckwits. Beginning to be a theme here.”

“How do you mean?”

“How do I mean? Let’s see. The Fleet and the Covenant and that Didact asshole all were Genocidal. Before that we had Warhammer 40K which is just full of genocide’s waiting to happen. Before that, the Procyon wanted to wipe out the Terran Empire in TreasureVerse. Before that, Bioshock Infinite with the Ever So Eugenically-minded Comstock. Before that? The Witches and Eldritch Abominations of Soul Eater. Before that, Enel was plotting Genocide and Crocodile was willing to commit mass slaughter in One Piece. Trigon wanted to kill everyone in Teen Titans. So did the Outsiders in Dresden Files. Then Star Wars with its casual planetary slaughter… Harry Potter with Umbridge’s racial purity… Firefly’s PAX gas and Reavers… Tenchi Muyo for some more casual planet busting and omnicidal fuckwittery… The actual End of the World in World of Darkness and an Alien invasion in Pacific Rim! That’s 17 of the last 20 Jumps! And there’s more of that! Mistborn, Red Wall, Demon’s Souls, Codex Alera, Buffy, Avatar, Voldemort, Black Bullet, Dragon’s Crown, Strike Witches, Bleach, MCU, They Live!, Kill La Kill… good lord, more than half my jumps feature Genocidal or Omnicidal races, individuals, or diseases!”

“Well, I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of such individuals in the next destination until we link up. Shall I begin the process, or are you desirous of returning home?”

Part of me really wanted to smart off, but I restrained myself and growled. “Begin the transfer and throw the information up in the mist. What is it this time?”

“Zero no Tsukaima.”

“Never heard of it.”

“It is also called Familiar of Z… where are you going?”

“I’m not going anywhere. What’s happening?”

“I just connected to… oh… I seem have pressed the wrong. No. stop that. How do you work this-”

“What’s going on?” I yelled.

“There is a schism in this verse… a Spontaneous Existence Failure Fault exists… it’s causing interference. I can only hold you out of the verse for maybe a couple of moments. What do you want to be able to do?”

“Do? What do you mean?”

“Origins. Drop-In, Knight, Mage, Noble. Do you want to be rich, use magic, fight?” the Chamber was yelling now. “Quickly, the moment of Insertion is approaching!”

“Magic… Just give me all the magic!”

“That will cost a great deal of points!”

“Then give me the least harmful drawbacks!”

“Harmful to who?”

“Anyone! Others first, then me second!”

“Do you want any equipment?”

“Anything that’s free! How many points do I have left?”

“NONE!”

“FUUUUUCK!”

CRASH INSERTION

And that’s how I fell out of the sky to land next to this total dickwaffle named Joseph de Gallia.  Remember how I was commenting on Genocidal Fuckwits? Yup! Turns out this guy was willing to kill… like… everyone, just so he could feel… anything. Total, fucking, sociopath. Oh, and apparently my master. He called me his familiar and I was standing in some kind of magical field and my hand hurt… and symbols were swimming through my mind. So many symbols.

I looked at him and he flinched back, eyes widening as I grabbed him by the throat, blackness swirling about me and spoke a language I wasn’t exactly sure I knew. It sounded norse, and it took me several moments to realize I was casting a spell of some kind.

“No! You must serve me! You are Mjöðvitnir! By the grace of Brimir, I am your…” his words cut off as his body burst into flames and he screamed and screamed as he was reduced to ash. I pocketed his soul and looked around the chamber I’d been summoned into. Everything hurt and the symbols wouldn’t stop.

It took me a while to realize that what I was seeing was all this world’s magic… all of it. Every scrap of magical theory. The Five Elements; Fire, Water, Wind, Earth, and Void. The Elven Spirit Magic of the Great Purpose. The First Race Magic. I was the Mind of God… that was what Joseph had called me… Any magic I could use. Any item or spell. I picked up the incense burner smoking nearby and understood what it was.

It was an Item of the Void, created by a man called Brimir six thousand years ago according to memories I’d plucked from Joseph’s mind. Its purpose was to record the Memory of Brimir, and it did… in mind wrenching detail.

Brimir had ‘Split’ the Void… that is he had crafted magic that could operate on the sub-atomic level… and given rise to the four Void Familiars. He’d also crafted four magical Ruby rings, one for each non-Void element and four treasures… a Book that contained all his spells and his desires for his successors, a Music Box that contained the Song of the Void (the potential well of all possible void spells), a Mirror that could be used to witness Brimir’s life… and the Incense Burner which was his diary.

After listening to it all, I wanted to be sick. This… monster… had created the Void Familiars, the Void Rings, and the Void Treasures for one purpose. Sure, he called it ‘Securing the world for the Markey (i.e. Humanity)’… but he really meant ‘To destroy all the other races, bwahaha!’ It was a Genocide spell… and one he’d used again, and again, and again. Now, sure, he sounded all sorts of broken up about it. I’ll give him that. But he’d done it. Done it more than once. Had done it, and was planning on doing it again to the Elves, even though his only real friend was an Elf named Sasha… and then the diary ended.

I growled, pushing the symbols out of my conscious thoughts and pulled out the soul. “I guess I owe you an apology. You’re just a crazy ass shithead playing with things you shouldn’t have been. This guy… he was a real piece of work. Now, tell me what you can of this world and I’ll send you to your reward, you festering sack of… you’re dead, you’re not king of anywhere… wait, you were King of someplace?”

He explained that this was the land of Halk, divided into five major nations; Gallia, Tristain, and Romalia were the three Brimiric successor states, Albion was Sky Island, and Germania was a barbarian empire… essentially, France, Italy, & Belgium, plus England and Germany. There were smaller lands, but none particularly important to Joseph, who really really wanted to crush Albion (a King of France hating England? Unheard of!). Apparently that’s why he’d summoned me.

Each of the four Void Familiars had a singular purpose. The Left Hand of God / Shield of God could use any weapon… it was named Gandalfr… wow… original. The Windalfr / Right Hand of God / Flute of God was the pied piper, able to control non-humanoid animals. The Myoznitnirn… me, was the Mind or Book of Good and was to magic what the Gandalfr was to weapons… and the Lifdrasil, the Heart of God, was the Genocide Weapon. Weeee.

Romalia was home to the Brimiric Church, a Holy Roman Expy if ever there was one, and this was clearly the 1600s because there was a full fledged Protestant Revolution going on. That the current head of the government of Albion was Oliver Fucking Cromwell, Lord Protecotr of the Holy Republic… who’d seized power in a bloody civil war against the royalists (and their King, James of course)… just cemented it. Which made me wonder if the current head of the Brimiric Church was anything like Urban the last, a warmonger and, in fact, Galileo’s pope… the one he was put on trial for calling a jackass (He wasn’t actually tried for his astrophysics theories, but the insults his book on those theories included for leading church scientists… of which there were several notables… and the pope.)… but first, I should look at myself and figure out what I’d gotten.

With a flick of my mind, I created a mirror out of nothingness and examined my visage. I was dark of aspect and dark of hair, my eyes glowering, my clothing strangely formal and ruffled… and I was an elf. Dark mist swirled around me and I felt anger, hatred, superiority, all warring within me. Humanity were miserable scum. This world would be best rid of…

I wrenched my mind away from that track and glared at my own reflection… then realized that part of it was a deeper call, the voice of Gaia, speaking, raging against the unnatural magics of the Markey and void magic in specific. I threw up my mental defenses, and opened the portal to my warehouse.

“So… where were we?” I asked the Chamber.

“I believe that there are a number of what you call Genocidal Fuckwits in this world,” Jump-Chan said.

“No? Really? I just killed one. He said I was his Familiar?”

“You asked to be capable of using all the magic of this world. The only way to grant that was to make you Joseph of Gallia’s Void Slave. The Gallian Void Familiar possesses the ability to use any magical item or style. I also selected for you the maximum number of ranks in Elementalism, allowing you to use all four non-void elements in any combination you wish, as well as Elven Magic. Together those cost 1400 CP, and I used your last 200 to increase your Luck.”

“Most Luck perks include a proviso about not pushing your luck… that’s why I seldom take them.”

“The wording of this one says that enemies will miss you more often or hit their own allies, that you will find money on the ground, and more, for luck is now on your side. There is no warning against over-reliance on this luck.”

“Huh. okay. Show me what I missed out on?” I stepped inside, then back out a few minutes later. Nothing important, though the Chain Weaving perk that allowed multi-casting might have been cool… but it would have cost as much as Elven Magic. I was a Drop-In, since that was required for Void Slave (though loyalty was not enforced by the word Slave or the Familiar bond apparently, so meh.)

Drop-ins got no item free… but the Chamber had given me the equivalent of 200,000 USD in Gallian Gold. “It has no price listed. That would indicate that it is free, yes?”

“Works for me,” I’d replied.

What I’d paid for all this was being an Elf and thus being subject to Elven Prejudice and Anti-Elfin sentiment. It came with an Elven Alt-form, which implied I’d actually get two forms for this jump… maybe? I don’t know. I guess I’d find out in a decade.

I also would be “that guy” for a decade, a braggart who can’t help but getting into trouble. Which, yay? I mean, oh… no… how terrible. Baaaad Ess Jay.

“Hey, Jump-Chan. Show me what I’d look like without this doom and gloom appearance?”

“Very well.”

I looked, then whistled… then blinked “Is my hair… pink?” It was. I was stacked, dusky skinned, hippy, red eyed… pink haired…. And, “I’m still an Elf?”

“Half-Elf.”

“Great. Eh. Not like it matters… wait… the Elf drawback doesn’t change my gender does it?”

“Negative.”

“But that dark glowery elf form… that’s male!”

“Correct.”

“What the hell?”

“Troublesome Braggart indicates that you are ‘That Guy’. That implies male. Hence, you are male as a Troublesome Elven Braggart.”

I hate it when the Chamber is practical. It sounds soooo smug. I kicked it and growled something, then stomped back outside. I promptly bumped into another elf.

“Where is the King?” he asked, sounding imperious and stuffy.

“Who the fuck are you?” I snapped back, looking at him with my third eye. He was a jackass, but mostly just in that merchant of death way. Also knew a lot about making Elemental Stones. I stored that information for later. Apparently Firestones were pretty damned close to pocket nukes without the radioactive fallout and Waterstones were healing energy storage. Earthstones could be used to power defenses and golems and Airstones… oh… that was not good.

He distracted me by introducing himself as Bidashal and demanding to see the King.

“He’s dead. The summoning went badly for him.” I pointed at the pile of ash and his eyes went wide.

“You-” he gasped.

“Killed the fucker dead. And you, stop trying to get humans to wipe each other out by giving them Firestones. By Thor, is this whole world full of assholes?”

“Who… they’ll kill us all when they find out. Gallia will-”

“They’ll do nothing or I’ll smash their military into powder and whip their naked soldier through the streets as an abject lesson in not pissing me off.”

“Who do you think you are?!” he snapped.

“Me? I think I’m…” I trailed off… I hadn’t had time to formulate an identity in this world and, as a Drop-in, I didn’t have a past to draw on. “Umm..”

“Well, Ulm, Gallia has a fleet of airships, thousands of mages, and tens of thousands of soldiers. They’ll burn the Holy Land down around our ears for you murdering their king!”

“No. They won’t. There will be no wars for the next ten years if I have to personally shatter every damned… do you know what that psychopath Brimir burried in the Holy Land when he killed half our race?”

“Nooo?”

I told him all about Shaitan’s Gate. His eyes bugged out. I told him all about the Heart of God. His skin turned greenish and he shuddered. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have three artifacts to gather, and four…” I snagged the royal ring from the ashpile “three rings to collect, and a massive catastrophe to prevent.”

“You’re going to save the humans from their own stupidity?”

“Yeah. You know why?”

“Why?”

“Because I’M NOT A GENOCIDAL FUCKWIT!” I smashed upwards out of the palace roof, leaving the blond elf staring. Once I was in low planetary orbit, I targeted the quasi-Italian peninsula and its largest city, aiming for the central basilica. I wrapped my invisibility cloak around myself… huh… so that’s how to make one of these things… and flew in low and just under the speed of sound.

An invisible mind reader is pretty much impossible to stop from infiltrating your bases, especially when they’re using a magical item that hide someone even from Death itself… though maybe not cats… hard to say… especially not when you don’t know they’re coming… and, finding Not-The-Pope Vittorio, wasn’t hard. I discovered him to be… a genocidal fuckwit… but to be fair, that stemmed more from a sense of necessity than coldness. Like Brimir, he was plotting Genocide against the Elves to save humanity… and unlike Joseph, who he’d been manipulating it seemed, he was fully aware of what the Elves already knew.

All Elemental Stones could be found in nature. Elven magic knew how to make more of them, but they could all be found if one knew where to look. And for Windstones? That was underground. Mostly deep underground. Instead of Natural Gas deposits, this world had Windstones… lots and lots and lots of them… and they were getting bigger and bigger.

Halk was, not too put too fine a point on it, sitting on a timebomb. Within the next 10 years for certain, and possibly as little as two, the continent was going to rip itself apart as huge chunks of it became floating islands… and then, as their lifting power gave out… falling islands. Sea would replace most of the land, few buildings would survive the hellish earthquakes, and millions would die. Those who survived would find themselves over-crowded and possibly with a lack of farmland… and so, Psycho-mcMurder here wanted to Genocide the Elves to take their land, because fuck living in peace, am I right?

Shit head.

I punched him in the face and stole his mirror and ring… oh… and he was definitely Pope Urban. His freaking Familiar (oh, yeah he was also a Void Mage) was named Julio Chesare… and Cardinal Giulio Cesare (yes, both are corruptions of Julius Caesar) was one of Pope Urban’s closest confidants (and nearly his successor… his nephew was even named Urbano and his brother Marcello was Urban’s Papal Treasurer… What? I have a lot of time to read… well, no I don’t, but I read very very very fast.)

“I’ll make you a deal, you murderous fuck. I’ll fix the Windstone problem if you stop trying to murder my people… and everyone else. Deal?”

“Why would you do this?” he asked, his accent very italian by way of japan.

“Because letting people die just because I don’t like their kind and the founder of their religion murdered half my race and tried to murder the other half is rude… almost as rude as murdering an entire race to steal their land. Did you ever think of maybe asking for help? Or telling anyone about the coming problem?”

I kicked him hard enough to break ribs. “Get someone to heal you, your holiness… and remember this. If you raise an army or your forces even come close to crossing the border into any other state without permission, I will do this…” I pointed out the window at a high tower I’d just teleported everyone out of, and manifested a Wing of the Darkhawk. I checked. There were no planetary objects along the beam’s killing path. I clenched my fist and the tower, from the 5th floor up, vanished, taking part of the roof of the building behind it and a spire from a third with it.

“Your magic cannot compete with mine. I’m the Mind of God… oh, and Joseph’s dead. He made me angry. You don’t want to make me angry.” I backhanded the pontiff into a wall and unfroze his familiar. “Your master is hurt. You should see to him.”

Over the next couple years I managed to find the other rings and relics and stuffed the abominations Asgardian Armory section of my Warehouse with plaques labeled “Creepy Shit. No touchy. This means you, Ziggy.” not that he can read, but he licked my nose when I told him what it said, which is good. Somehow, despite not being imported into this world, the Zig managed to convince the Chamber to turn him into this long white-scaled, black-horned dragon-snake thing. He’s about 9 feet long and very much like a dragon without legs… but still just as good at stealing my keys.

I also built a series of deep bore drills to dig down over a kilometer to start ripping out the Windstone as fast as possible. Of course, just pulling out the stone would be disastrous, so I was also replacing it just as fast with carbon-nanotube matrices to keep the ground from collapsing all at once. It was designed to fail slowly, and I was flooding all the cleared chambers with Ice I’d drawn from seawater.  It’s remarkable how temperature stable deep mines are, and the Ice would take decades to completely melt. There was a lot of it. The net result would be surface subsidence of less than a millimeter a year for several centuries. Not perfect, but better than the alternative.

I can’t say I interacted with the plot much. I didn’t know who the plot was focused on or what it was about. Probably a isekai harem drama with a tsundere female lead and a stereotypical japanese male with nothing remarkable about him as the male lead. I say Isekai because I kept finding relics of Earth lying around… including a Panzer Tank of all things… and someone had found a rocket launcher and dubbed it ‘The Staff of Destruction’. Ah well.

There weren’t any wars while I was there. There was a lot of trade between the elves and the humans, because I told the elves they had to fucking find something to do with all these damned Windstones. We’re talking about enough Windstones to pave Eurasia here. Sure, they weren’t under all of Halk… but good lord, where they were, they were often in seams hundreds of meters tall. It would have been enough to rip mountain ranges right off the planet. Good thing there’s a lot of Carbon and Water around… geh.

Still something I just don’t get… why are the Elves who have all the Nature Magic… living in the desert!? I get that they’re a metaphor for the middle east and the crusades and the arabs and jews… but… fuck… if you’ve got magic that can terraform… use it!

I might have been a little rude to the locals to enforce my no wars rule, but hey, I was That Guy. I was going to be a jerk about it. And if they didn’t like it (and they didn’t), they could find another assassin to send to me and I’d send the assassin right back again.

Oh, I did have to kill Cromwell and his cronies. Reconquista my ass. Religious fanatics and traitors, the lot of them. Dropped Cromwell right over the edge of the island and waved as he fell.

Also installed some backup A-Grav units on Albion. Apparently they hadn’t realized the island might some day fall. Oops. My units were self-repairing and had powercells good for at least 100,000 years (thank you Forerunners, you were useful for something)

Oh, and if you’re wondering, Ahab and Joy were a Noble and a Knight respectively. Yaaaay. Ahab got an Eidetic Memory with his nobility (something I didn’t notice every noble in the land having), as well as a Regal Aura that makes people pay attention to you even when you’re dead boring, while Joy got a Durability boost and an Aura of Strength that boosts her nearby allies in battle. Again, not something I noticed being common. Ahab also got a hack… a horse and carriage, as well as a get out of jail free Writ for his home country, and Joy got a flintlock rifle… she seems to like it… and a lucerne hammer plus a suit of steel armor.

What did everyone else get out of the trip? Mostly a vacation, as they set up a large secure compound and told everyone else to fuck off. We called it Hyperborea. It had lovely frescos.

Next: Okami

OMAKE: Relationship Chart

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I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too.

Resources: Build, Document

AN: I almost skipped this jump. I knew nothing about the plotline coming into it besides that it’s Isekai and Harem and the Female lead has pink hair. The document didn’t help, being one of the worst written jumps out there, with poor grammar, unbalanced builds, terrible layout, and descriptions that are just way too short to convey anything. The coin item literally has no price. As far as I can tell, it’s the bare minimum needed to be a FoZ jump… and I say as far as I can tell because the fact that the Wiki is terribly put together and the lack of easy to use resources, and the fact that everyone I talked to about it panned the Anime meant that I was either faced with skipping most of the details or reading 20+ Light Novels of Isekai Tsundere Harem Drama set in the Fantasy Thirty Years War… arguably the single most destructive pre-modern war in human history made worse with magic.

Instead, I decided to do some reading and throw together something short. Not everything has to be a magnum opus, but just skipping this jump because I couldn’t be arsed isn’t doing the material justice. It’s a shame the author died before he could finish the series, but using the backdrop of the time period in question was an interesting choice and I applaud it. I just don’t have the time to invest for more research. So if I got anything wrong or skipped something I shouldn’t have… sorry.

Jump 69 - Familiar of Zero base

 

World 62: Kantai Collection

TRIPLE THREAT

Previously: Keep on Burning

Themesong: Double Dutch by Malcolm Mclaren

“Actually, hold up one second,” I said as the Chamber’s countdown reached 1.

“What?! I was under the impression you were eager to do this!” the sapient block of granite all but whined in its tinkling voice.

“I couldn’t find one of my companions who’s been missing since we connected to your Reality and two of my companions died in your little sending me to Warhammer stunt. I’d like them back.”

“I did not send those who joined you in Warhammer aboard the space station. They were beyond my power. I do not know what has happened to them, but I will place a query to higher… they say that they acknowledge your complaint and are looking into it. Estimated time to resolve your issue… 3 to 5 Jumps. I have no conception of time, but even to me that seems…”

“Annoyingly like the brushoff and they have no fucking clue?”

“I would have been more polite, but yes.” The Chamber sounded completely out if its depth and as highly stressed as it could be. At least I was hoping this was as stressed as the Chamber could feel.

“And my Zane?”

“Zane? Ah… I have no knowledge… but I will transport all anomalous individuals from the timestream.”

“Uh… okay… wouldn’t that include all those who were born or lived that wouldn’t have without my interference?”

“Please. I do know the difference between those who belong and those who don’t.”

“Make sure to leave… mmm… does the term fork mean anything to you?”

“To branch?”

“Yes, to divide into two or more continuous but mutually exclusive paths, each sharing the same origin but different destinations or terminal points.”

“Ah… I see… you desire to allow time to proceed forward in this reality… you do realize that time is not, per se, paused in all other realities you’ve been to, but rather, they don’t flow in relationship to each other. Each is, from an outside perspective, a bubble. You leave from one to another, but do not establish a temporal link. Instead, you simply may rejoin that universe at any point in what, to you, has yet to be be. It could be the next moment in linear time… but it also could be-”

“Four thousand years later. Yes. I understand. But in this case it’s more than that. I desire for Sheanna to live out her lifetime as she would with only her native abilities and only then to rejoin the collective gestalt when her time comes, as it would without my massively enhanced longevity. For Sheanna to become part of the gestalt now would leave her eager to do to many things in the future.”

“Ah. I see… This is simply dealt with.”

I really need to be able to think faster… unfortunately, it’s not really possible to think faster than a being whose every thought is processed entirely outside a temporal framework of any kind. For one part of me, what happened next was not a sudden thing. It was merely the natural unfolding of a long and vigorous life, surrounded by challenges and hardships and family and friends and a very large number of animals that were somewhere between pets and friends. For the greater part of me, however, it was 82 years crammed into a single eyeblink of time. 82 years of battles against bandits, assassins, knights, the elements, sickness, age itself, and eventual death. 82 years of moments calm, moments ecstatic, moments tragic, moments frantic… and everything in between. 82 years of meals, of exercise, of meetings, of the hundred of minor things that make up a life.

In that single searing moment, all the parts of me experienced Sheanna’s life in a staggering degree of clarity that even living it would not have imparted. It was not life lived in the moments, but rather one life lived in one crystal clear moment. I staggered under the impact and wept, my emotional control shattered by the experience of a lifetime’s sensations compressed together.

To its credit, the Chamber did not gloat, or question, or say anything. It simply waited. Ziggy, on the other hand, nosed me and then snuggled into my arms and licked my tears, not understanding but wanting to help in his own fluffy way. The part of me that had been the youthful Sheanna of Blackmoon aged rapidly then deaged even faster, hitting 106 years of age before boomeranging into a woman in the prime of her life, strong, mature, forthright, noble, sardonic. She looked around at the mental palace that she had not realized she had not had access to the majority of eight decades and nodded in understanding, taking her seat with the others.

Somehow I knew and understood that her four children (Daxton, Lyzandra, Martin, & Paima) by Wolf (who’d died hunting bandits at nearly 70), eleven grand-children, and one-hundred thirty-two great, great-great, and great-great-great grandchildren would be joining us… neither those still among the living or those who’d passed on. Sheanna had celebrated their lives and mourned their passing, and had, in each case, commended that part of each that was eternal to Winter’s Domain in the Divine Realm of Tortall. She was not alone among my mental host in having lost children and spouses and the losses were old ones, imperfectly healed by time… though so many moments of intense grief compressed so tightly might have broken me had they not been overwhelmed by the moments of transcendent joy.

She’d led a glorious life, one that I both had and had not lived, and that was why I wept. I wept to see the changes she’d brung to her part of the world, to see the family and people she’d led, to know she had lived and died surrounded by light, and love, and laughter. And a small part of me cursed jumpchain for depriving me of that for myself… but it was a petty part, a mortal part that felt envy at the sacrifices that had been made, and would be made along this sometimes bitter road to a greater apotheosis. It was an unworthy thought, not the least because the mortal experience had been mine before and would be mine again, given enough time.

Around me, the warehouse changed slowly as my companions began to reappear as they filtered back in from their own resolving timelines in Tortall… or just wandered into sight from the beach party which was also still resolving… the shear atemporality of it wasn’t helping my mental state… which was why, when the Warhammer groups started appearing, first Carwyn, then the Sisters… then Carwyn’s Exarchs… then those Exarchs’ Aspect Warrior followers… I snapped “Don’t put everyone in here!” at the Chamber before it tried to materialize the entire crew of the Light’s Fleet or the population of Paradise and its moons or something equally insane.

“I am aware of spatial limitations. I am outside of time… not space. I would not attempt to relocate several million people… or even the Preemptive Retaliation, into a space it would not fit. I was simply bringing those you were most worried about.”

“Great… why is Captain Annushka here? She’s a Prisoner of War.”

“Which one is that?” The Chamber asked. I pointed. “Ah. You spent much time with her.”

“And?”

“This is what one does with friends,” Jump-Chan replied, sounding a little confused.

“She’s the enemy, but an honorable one who didn’t fire on my planet when she had the chance and I was forced to imprison her to keep her from reporting me to the Imperium… I was being courteous! She’s not a Companion!”

“You need her to command Ark Magna.”

“Why can’t Draken command Ark Magna?” I’d left the ancient Lord Captain in charge of my second largest ship… not that he’d been pleased to be demoted from Light, but a ship can only have one Captain and he knew it.

“The ancient one? He has to command Light of Heaven.”

“Why can’t I command Light of Heaven.”

“I was assuming you’d command from the green one with the junk-food fixation. She is your flagship, isn’t she?”

I merely growled something incomprehensible, then sighed. “Fiiiine. She can stay.”

“Good, because I can’t send her back.”

“I could stick her in chronostasis… but fine. Whatever. As long as she… I don’t know… doesn’t betray me to the Emperor’s lackeys.”

“Is she likely to?”

“YES!”

“You mortals are inscrutable.”

“Again, yes… where is Tess?” I asked, looking for the fifth Eldar Exarch (and the only one of the five I’d had a sexual relationship with… an illicit, poorly kept secret sexual relationship with. One that had both exasperated and annoyed Carwyn… who I was also having a secret sexual relationship with… while she was my neighbor and shrink… Sitcom me was baaaad with fidelity… even by my normal lax standards. The only reason I technically wasn’t cheating on any of my unreasonably large stable of partners was that I doubt any of them were dumb or naive enough to think Sarah would be a mononamuggle with them. Not even Cirno (who wouldn’t know what fidelity meant if you gave her a dictionary). Hell, there were running competitions to see who could get me to bed them more in a given month and pools on who I’d seduce next. Some Random Slag was a popular bet. Sometimes I did the unpredictable just to screw with those who’d bet in ways I found annoying.)

“Which one is Tess?”

“The BLONDE Exarch!” I snapped, though the calmer parts of me noted that the Chamber seemed to have a problem with names. That was interesting. Thankfully, between Carwyn and her five lead bodyguards, not a single hair color was repeated. Carwyn was a redhead as humans define that which is more auburn or coppery, Caerdwyn had actually red hair, as in crimson, Caitlyn’s hair was cyan, Caitryn’s was fuchsia, Nurgath’s hair was snow white, and Tess was a yellow haired blonde.

“Ah. She is chasing one of the domestic felines through the branches of that cherry tree.”

I looked. Scampers-Swiftly the squirrel was chasing Piewacket, Mini’s familiar, through VIvian’s branches. “Uh… what?”

The Chamber repeated itself.

“That is a squirrel named Scampers-Swiftly who I befriended here, not an Eldar Exarch I slept with in Warhammer-Sitcom.”

“She was in contact with my Tortall location while you were within. She was worried about you, so I allowed her to keep an eye on you.”

“You… sent a Squirrel… to Warhammer… as an Eldar… Exarch…” There are more than 200 of me… all of us were dumbfounded. Several of the Council of Me feel out of their mental chairs. More were hiding their faces in their hands at the realization that I’d allowed myself to be seduced by a squirrel… though she hadn’t look at all fluffy at the (multiple) times.

“Yes.”

“And she kept it a secret from me… how?”

“She said ‘Don’t let Sheanna know’. So I didn’t. At least not while you were within my power. Back in Tortall? I assume you never bothered scanning a squirrel. Please do not bang your head on my wall… you might damage it.”

I didn’t ask if the Chamber was worried about my head or her wall. I decided to call the Chamber female, not because it sounded particularly male or female, but because it was the opposite of the Banker and Mensarius… also, the male to female ratio in the Warehouse was disastrously low, or would have been if so many of the females hadn’t been obsessively focused on me for no clear reason. Hopefully Caerdwyn, Caitlyn, and Caitryn were shacking up with Nurgath… but I don’t know if non-squirrel Exarchs do that kind of thing. I don’t know of the Path of the Warrior has happy fun sexy times. I should… not ask.

“Were there any others from Tortall present?”

“Where?”

“In Warhammer!” I growled… then added “Besides me, you literal blockhead.”

“Ah. Yes.”

“Who?!”

“The Squirrel.”

“If you had a neck I’d strangle you. In Warhammer, were there any others from Tortall besides you, me, and Tess-Swiftly?”

“Several.”

“Who?”

“I cannot tell you that.”

“Why not?”

“Causality.”

“Wait… you mean there were others in the Warhammer verse that traveled there from Tortall and or Emelan… but they got there from later in my Chain?”

“Yes.”

“But… I… need to forget that this conversation happened.”

“Why?”

“Because such knowledge would change how I behaved… and set up a potential temporal paradox.”

“Ah. not really. The Warhammer Universe is unique in that while all events are canonical, not all of them are true. It is thus immune to Paradox. Even if you go home now, you would not change what has or has not happened in the Warhammer Verse… even though those events either happened or did not happen because of you. They happened because there was the potentiality of you being there. That was enough.”

“Loooovely.”

“From a certain perspective, it is. Now, tell me about KanColle.”

“Right. KanColle… can you show me what that looks like in all the languages you have experienced?” Letters of mist formed, some of them in English. Ah. “Kantai Collection. I think it was a game played on a personal communication device back on my World of Origin. Something about girls who were ships… or ships who were girls? They fought… I don’t know… it was MechaMusume and incomprehensible to anyone who didn’t play it. I remember there being a lot of porn related to it thanks to the overwhelming cuteness of the characters.”

“I do not comprehend cuteness.”

“You will. You will. Okay… does it say anything about the setting?”

“It says ‘The Fleet Girls, the protectors of humanity, are the souls of fallen warships that have crossed over from the seas of the world in which they died to the seas of another world, a world in which they live again. What were once vessels of the blue expanse are reborn as young women with traits that reflect upon their past lives. Once again, they seek to protect mankind, not from itself, but from those of their sisters who have become corrupted by the lust for vengeance and destruction, the Abyssal Fleet Girls, who lurk within the darkness of the deep and seek to scourge all life from the surface world.’ Is that what you mean by setting?”

“Yes. That’s pretty much what I was hoping for. Anything else?”

“It says ‘The Abyss has rendered movement across the seas all but impossible, save for heavily defended military operations. Though air travel is, for the time being, relatively safe, many of the smaller island nations have been overrun and the world’s trade cannot be handled purely by land and air routes. To that end, humanity’s World Council has gathered the most talented Admirals from around the globe to command what might be their last hope against the Abyssal Menace.’ And it says you have 1000 CP to spend and wishes you Good Luck and Godspeed… what is Godspeed? Is that some kind of ability that will allow you to move through the mortal realm at the speed Gods do? Do you not have Transliminal Slide already?”

“Ah… yes. Yes it is.” Wow… just… wow.

“Do you want me to read the second part’s introduction as well? It does not say what order they come in.”

“What second part?”

“It is called Terminator. Three billion lives… I do not understand… these dates appear to be previous to the ones in part 3, but that world’s history contains no record of the apocalypse mentioned within this section. These are very badly collated with many redundant sections.”

I stared at the Chamber’s door, then asked “W… what part three?”

“It is called… HALO?”

“Kantai Collection, Terminator, and Halo are three different realities,” I barely managed to keep from screaming. “They are not connected in any way, shape, or form. I’m pretty sure that the Council sent you three jump documents to get you started, either to present me with my choice or to let you pick which of the three to use… or to do each of them one after the other after the third. They do not form a coherent storyline. Not that any of the three of them have a coherent storyline as far as I know. Everything I know about Halo is confusing and that goes triple for Terminator.”

“Oh. Dear. I seem to have misunderstood.”

“That’s fine. We’ll just do them in order, Kantai, then Terminator, then Halo.”

“I do not think that is possible.”

“Why?”

“I have already disconnected the Warehouse from my native universe and connected it to the one contained in these documents.”

“There isn’t… you found a universe defined by a cross between Kantai, Terminator, and Halo?!”

“It wasn’t easy. It has a very low probability index. Why are you hitting yourself in the face?”

“So… all the fluff is going to be screwed up… there will be killer androids, mad AIs, religious fanatic aliens, bio-zombies, and ship girls… this is going to suck.”

“My apologies. I have not done this before. I guess… you should enter me now and I will project the various… options? They appear to be divided into Origins (including Age and Gender), Abilities, Gear, Ship Type & Companions, Drawbacks, Notes, and Future… at least for Kantai Collection. The various items under Abilities and Gear appear to be linked to specific origins… but are not exclusive to those Origins? Is that right? You could be one of the ‘good’ Fleet Girls and possess an ability normally indicative of one of the Abyssal Fleet? Or be a human and possess abilities found in the cybernetic Terminators? That seems most strange.”

“Yeah, well, that’s pretty much usual I’ve found. The experience is designed to be mix and match, rather than just making you a clone of a given individual. That’s why I was who I was in your world and not, say, Kel version two point oh.”

“Ah. That does make sense. Taking her place would leave her without one, and being exactly like her without taking her place would leave you without a role of your own. Most ingenious. The CP it seems is used to purchase Abilities and Gear or to change your Age or Gender and to outfit your Ship Girls… the Notes, Future, and Origin section do not make mention of CP… while the Drawbacks section seems both counter-indicated and… has prices that are the opposite of the other sections? I am not certain I understand… also, does it seem more than a little coincidental that you have just gained a fleet of ships and now you are being made an admiral of a fleet of ships… most curious.”

“Perhaps. Perhaps not. It could be coincidental, or it could be that whoever is scheduling the stops on my journey is purposefully maneuvering things for increased drama… or laughs. Who can say. As for the Drawbacks, they are designed to be additional challenges one takes on in order to both increase the overall difficulty of the experience, and to pad the amount of CP available to spend. Think of it as increased reward for increased hardship.”

“You willingly inflict such things on yourself and others for such trifles?”

“Often the pain is temporary, as Drawbacks are revoked at the end of my sojourn in a given world, while the abilities and companions and equipment I pick up are often often eternal.”

“Ah. I… understand. Upon reviewing the Kantai note section, it mentions a number of things that are most perplexing. Could you explain?”

“Go for it… I’m going to grab a drink. Just ask for what you don’t understand.”

“It says discounts are all 50% off… is this typical?”

“Yes. If you have the background or origin the item is linked to, you get a 50% price break.”

“So it does not force you to comply with a given set of values… but it makes complying more effective… or at least less expensive. A positive feedback loop. Most agreeable. For my second question… the notes state there are loss conditions in addition to the normal ones. What are the normal ones?”

For a brief moment, I considered lying about it… but I honestly couldn’t think of anything believable that wasn’t also possible. I also had a vague suspicion that those higher up than The Chamber wouldn’t be amused if I tried abusing this glaring hole in my temporary proctor’s understanding. “Unless a Drawback specifies a new loss condition, the only normal one is death. If I die… as in beyond medically dead, that ends the chain and I get sent home. This applies only to me, not to my companions or anyone else I might meet. What are the new loss conditions?”

“They depend on which Origin you have. A ship girl of either type loses if she is deconstructed, while an Admiral loses if they are relieved of duty by their superior officers, either for refusal to perform military duties, disobeying direct orders, or losing too many ships in sorties or supply runs. If your disobeyal of orders results in complete or stunning victory over the Abyss… they’ll probably ignore it.”

“Huh. Fair enough I guess. Any other questions?”

“The notes say ‘Yes, You can.’ and ‘Yes, You can with the Abyss as well.’ Can what? I don’t… can I take it from your amused grunting that you find this humorous?”

“Oh… yes. Very. Amused Grunting. Thank you, I’ll have to remember that. The ‘Can’ is admission that it is possible to have sex with both Fleet Girls and Abyssal Fleet Girls.”

“Ah… is that… never mind. I am reminded of several thousand instances of humans of both sexes performing biologically unsound acts with members of other species… including trees both living and dead. You are laughing again… Is this why there is a note indicating that Ship Girls are human-sized?”

I managed to reign in my wheezing long enough to nod… then I paused. “How do normal human-sized girls do as much damage as massive battleships?”

“The Notes say ‘the powers of a ship girl are manifested from spirit energy that augments the capabilities of their armaments, thus transforming arrows into planes and small caliber projectiles into massive artillery shells. Fleet Girls require food, sleep, and other basic human needs to keep them alive, as well as to be restocked and repaired manually as if they were a ship. Deconstruction of their ship parts will not kill them, but it will strip them of their powers. They possess a powerful protective field that reflects, deflects, or absorbs enemy fire. As the shield is damaged, it will strain the Fleet Girl mentally and physically, and if the shield is depleted, the ship girl’s armor and clothing will be destroyed before they take any direct damage, but once all their defenses are down, they are about as durable as an actual human girl. Fleet Girl Shields are circular, while Abyssal Fleet Girl Shields are Hexagonal. A Fleet Girl can summon her equipment at will, assuming it is in good repair. Abyssal Fleet Girls can conceal their monstrous features outside of combat.”

“Ah… I will be vigilant against Abyssal infiltrators then… as well as Terminators.”

“Does this mean you will not be going Abyssal or Terminator?”

“Ahm… no. I usually don’t side with the badguys or the ones who want to exterminate humanity. Though some Terminators are on the side of humanity thanks to being reprogrammed. They are machines.”

“Very well… I shall remove those options from the list.”

“No you won’t. I might take some of their abilities or gear, even if I have no intention of taking their side.”

“Ah. Of course. The fickleness of mortals.”

“It has little to do with fickleness, oh great moralizing Chamber. It has to do with effectiveness. Few tools are fundamentally evil and rejecting the tactics and weaponry of one’s enemy simply because the enemy uses it is idiocy of the first water. That’s like saying ‘I shall not walk, because my enemy has feet.’”

“I should grow used to you chiding me, shouldn’t I?”

“Hey, consider the experience of linear or quasi-linear time to be a novel experience. You should be grateful.”

“You are echoing my words for a sense of ironic reversal, aren’t you?”

“Would I do that?”

“I suspect that, yes, you would. Shall I expand upon the Future section?”

“At the end of ten years, all Drawbacks are revoked, all forced gender changes are reverted, and three options are open to me; Stay there, Return to my world of Origin, or Continue to a new and exciting destination.”

“Close. It does not say the next destination will be exciting.”

“Babe. When I’m there, it’s exciting.”

“Babe? I thought you were going to call me JumpChan?”

“Babe is a term of endearment. Also somewhat patronizing.”

“I see. Do you intend it to be annoying?”

“Sometimes. Sometimes I simply do things that might be annoying simply to amuse myself. Anyway, what’s the limit on Drawbacks? Six Hundred?”

“So it says in Kantai and Halo, Terminator says the same, except if you choose to take one of the two Eight Hundreds. Kantai and Terminator say more can be taken, but will not yield bonus… Kantai says that I love to see a diligent jumper. I was unaware of this affection for ardent leapers in myself.”

“Right. Good. Six hundred. From each document, and those drawbacks can only be applied to stuff to be purchased in that document… I’ll keep that in mind. So, Kantai Origin first… Admiral or Ship Girl are my remaining choices?”

“That is correct. Shall I demonstrate?”

“Uh… yeah. Sure. Go for it,” I said, a little thrown by the idea… but this was what the Chamber did for a living. It projected an individual into a time and place where they were different than themself. The walls of the chamber disappeared into the mist and three vistas opened before me, my mind flowing into each as I gazed in turn.

In the first, I was me, a little older, but with no new memories of this odd world. If I took that path, I’d awaken in an office overlooking a newly built harbor, facing the endless sea. Behind me would be my fleet of Ship Girls, ready to serve and defend. It would be a time of struggle, of overcoming odds, of sending others to fight for me. I considered it. Command was my milieu, after all.

In the second vista, I was a Ship Girl, my mind full of memories of wars between men, of nations striving against each other and the horrors that came with it, of the deaths of allies and enemies, and the good too, the sailors and officers who crewed me and cared for me when I was injured. It was intensely, almost painfully intimate and I was reminded of the book “Yellow Eyes” that formed part of the Legacy of the Aldenata, where an alien Virtual Intelligence went crazy and jumped to true Machine Intelligence and merged herself with a World War II era battleship, who eventually married her captain after cloning herself a body.  It was touching in a period of utter horror.

And speaking of utter horror, the Chamber had shown me the Abyss as well, the dark counterpoint to the Fleet Girls. The Abyssal Girls remembered sinking, falling into despair, and the unbearable cold of the deep. They had felt abandoned by their crews and mistreated by their creators and now lived only for revenge. It was a dark and horror filled rage… and one I understood all too well. I’d been that low… more than once. I’d also been confined to the bottom of the ocean for an endless time. I could understand their anger… but to punish the people of this world, a world that hadn’t even had built them? No. It was not on. They were lashing out in wounded pain, not seeking justice. They had to be stopped.

I stepped through the Admiralty door and felt the other two potentialities fade away like morning mist. In their place, the path ahead became fractal, every possible purchase combination sprawling ahead of me as a series of interlinked choices. The first of those choices was to accept or reject the Admiral’s freebie, ‘Captain’s Orders’. It wasn’t much, and was probably something I already had… but it meant that those I intended to hear me would hear me no matter how loud or hectic the situation and that my messages would never be misinterpreted. The fact that it apparently extended to the written word was minor, but potentially invaluable… and the guarantee against evil GM’s / Genies going “Oh, I thought you wanted a mile of carp instead of a street made of gold. Silly me.” could be a jewel beyond price. So I took it.

I then turned down the two Ship Girl freebies, ‘Innocence’ (you connect with people more easily and are resistant to corruption), and ‘Dread’ (pretty much the exact opposite). I was already cute when I wanted to be and terrifying when I needed to be. I tracked through the possibilities to see if there was, indeed, anything I wanted from the Abyssal line or the Fleet Girl line of abilities, and found that, in general, only one thing from each really appealed to me… well, okay, two from the Fleet Girl, but buying all three capstones would leave me with a total of 100 CP left if I maxed out Drawbacks, and while the Fleet Girl’s ‘Memories Reborn’ was pretty awesome (it would allow my Ship Girls to summon a massive full-sized version of their ship-self to fight by their side and would allow me to summon the armor and weapons of my flagship onto myself. It was so utterly bombastic and over the top it was a shame not to get it… but really? I didn’t need to it to allow Yuzuha to summon her ship-self… or Ziggy to summon his ship-self.) the Abyssal ‘Savage Salvage’ just had way more potential utility. In fact, it was far and away the best thing for offer (if not the coolest).

Savage Salvage would allow me to ‘consume’ raw materials, mechanical items, and advanced technology to heal myself… and by consuming such things, I could learn to replicate their functions biologically (in theory), and use that process to improve myself with them. If I ate a stealth plane, I could learn to make my minions and sendings more stealthy and harder to detect on radar. If I ate some adamantium, I could get more durable. If I ate a Fleet Girl… well… I’ll try and keep things PG-13 here. Maybe if you ask super nicely. Regardless, that was [600/400/1000] well spent.

Another [300/100/1000] went towards buying the Admiral’s Capstone, which was just… not fair to those who opposed me. In addition to giving me a third ‘I have defeated you, now you will join me!’ perk, Beacon of Hope was the most powerful of them, since it would allow me to redeem anyone (no matter how fallen to evil, madness, or other corruptive influence) as long as I exerted enough effort and willpower (essentially in direct proportion to their degree of corruption). I’d have considered that worth 300 right there, but it also meant that me, my companions… and EVERYONE actively giving me support would gain ‘an exponentially stronger will, the bravery of the mightiest warriors, vastly improved luck, and an almost supernatural proficiency for working with one another!’ Good lord. It was guaranteed to be almost unnoticeably passive, but the influence would grow the more danger me and mine were in. The staggering brokenness of that was just… how could I not buy something that was that much of a potential force multiplier?

And the yum did not stop coming. As I indicated, the Fleet Girl did have something worth the points and not nearly as bombastically ‘BEHOLD MY SECRET WEAPON!’. It was called ‘Ballad’… and for [300/-200/1000] it was very nice… very nice indeed. It granted ‘unmatched grace and impossible mobility’ and promised that I’d be able to easily dodge rains of projectiles, even with my eyes closed… which was just… so nice. But wasn’t all. It granted deceptive flexibility, surgeon-like finesse for manipulating my body, allowing me to treat all my gear and weapons as mere extensions of the flesh… and it came with a perfect voice and excellent singing skills. So that wasn’t nothing.

I did pass up the Admiral’s ‘Winds of Fortune’, which would have (in theory) made me a better commander and made me a master Shogi and Mahjong player… except  I was already excellent at all forms of tactics and strategy and already had the patience of an extremely annoying (and sometimes quite irritable) saint. Mmm… I had to check the companion section first before I spent anything else… but how did I express that concern to the Chamber.  This interface was viscerally very nice, allowing me to experience what each thing ‘felt’ like before committing to it… but the navigation aspects left a lot to be desired… and the shifting mists were beginning to make me want to sneeze for some reason.

“How much is the Companion Import option?” I asked, then felt the Chamber twitch around me. “Oh for the love of… I’m not going to remain silent while inside your room. We’re not going to play that game. You and I were having a perfectly nice conversation while I was outside, so you’re going to talk to me out loud like a big room and not sulk like a little closet.”

“Closets do not grow up to be larger. Your analogy is extending biologic terminology to architecture. It does not… why are you making strange facial expressions.”

“NERRRRRRD!” I sneered.

“I do not know what a Nerd is but from your tone of voice…. Stop calling me a Nerd. I am not a Nerd!” I kept calling the chamber a Nerd until the Chamber’s door flew open and a storm of mist and wind swirled around me, trying to force me out. It wasn’t particularly impressive and I just grinned and waited until the Chamber blew itself out.

“Nerd.” I commented dryly.

“I was wrong. Kel should have destroyed you instead of Blayce. You are so much worse than… I do not understand how you are making me angry. I don’t have emotions. I am unchanging and constant as the stars.”

“So, slow to change except when you explode?”

“I believe this is what is known as hate. I hate you.”

“Well, when hate turns to love, don’t come crying to me when I turn you down. I don’t date rooms… I like my partners to have a little more… to them than four walls and a ceiling.”

“I have a floor too!”

“Oh, my god… you actually went there. Soooo desperate.”

“This is me, hating you.”

“Great, Very nice. Can we get back to Companion Importing?”

“You cannot import Companions.”

“Ah…. mmm… what?”

“There is no way to import companions, if by importing you mean what you did to make some of your followers part of my reality. You may import ships you already possess and turn them into Ship Girls.”

“How much CP do they get?”

“None. It simply says ‘you may import vehicles from other realities, thereby gaining sentience and a human form. They do not receive any CP and cannot be designated your flagship unless already a warship.’ I do not know how to interpret that. It seems to indicate that if you import vehicles from other realities you will gain sentience and a human form.”

“Wow… that’s… ummm… how much does it cost?”

“100 CP.”

“Really? That’s… That’s kinda ridiculous. Eh… fuck it. I guess I’ll take it. Use it on the Faustian Bargain… just in case I ever run into Magnus again so she can thumb her nose at him.  That’s [100/-300/1000] spent.”

“What a strange sound that was.”

“Yes, well, speaking in brackets is tricky at the best of times.”

“Do you always make purchases based on their ability to annoy those you might encounter again in future jumps?”

“Naw… but when I can, it’s like a bonus. Let’s take a look a the Drawbacks before I decide if I want any more Abilities… are there any items worth looking at? I didn’t see them in the decision matrix you threw up.”

“The Admiral’s Uniform, Marriage Ring, and Documents are all free for an Admiral… the price for the Ring is unobtainable within the framework of the document without being an Admiral and must therefore be either an oversight or in the nature of a spot of humor. There is Upgraded Gear which must be purchased separately for each ship girl… and each of them gets to pick three free… as, apparently, do you and… it seems any of your companions? The wording is, again, confusing. The other options, Looking Glass, Map, Extra Resources, Remodeling Equipment all seem to be things you don’t need or things you can just acquire for yourself. I decided not to bother with them.”

“Uh… huh… well… Can’t say the Banker ever said ‘Oh, yeah, that? Total waste of points. Don’t buy that.’ Guess it’s refreshing… what the hell is a Admiral doing with a Wedding Ring?”

“Apparently using it to propose to one of her Ship Girls. Why are you banging your head against my door… and why does it hurt?”

“Your door is made of stone, my head isn’t. That’s why it hurts. And I’m hitting my head against the door because JAPAN!”

“I do not know what ‘because JAPAN!’ means, but please stop that… it is causing me pain.”

“Wait… when I bang my head against the door… it causes you pain?”

“Yes. I recognize pain from having seen it before. It is most uncomfortable. Please decisist.”

“Huh… fine… speaking of pain… Drawbacks.”

“There are nine of them. Three at each… tier? They range from 100 to 300 and the higher the value the more I assume they are meant to penalize you?”

“Yes. I have done this… many times.”

“I have not,” the Chamber said in a deadly dry tinkle.

“Good point. Right.  +100s are generally annoying, +200s are challenging or deeply irritating, +300s are often life threatening and extremely dangerous. Sometimes there are drawbacks valued up to +1000… they are not a happy day in the park.”

“If I had an imagination, I would imagine not. Shall I begin the experience?”

“Oh… joy, Drawbacks in miniature… this is an experience everyone should have…” I shuddered.

Before me spread nine vistas, nine visions of the individual unpleasantness awaiting my choices. In the first three I was finding it hard to gain public praise for my actions, I was blundering into more enemy attacks on patrols, and I was struggling with very minor sea-sickness. In the second three I was fighting a dark rival who very nearly matched me in power, I was struggling with limited funding, and I was feeling doubts about my loyalty to humanity. In the third, enemy attacks were more common (especially against my harbor), Fleet Girl losses were endemic, and I was struggling with overwhelming PTSD.

I considered. I only needed 300, and I could get that pretty easily by just taking Iron & Blood, the one that caused my enemies to attack twice as often, twice as aggressively, with twice their numbers, armed with twice the firepower… and to focus their attacks more and more frequently on my own harbor. That was fine for several reasons. First, it didn’t imply they’d actually have more resources, so allowing them to attack me more frequently meant a) they’d be burning through their resources more than twice as fast, hopefully faster than they could produce them… and b) more aggressively didn’t mean better tactics… and c) if they were attacking me, they weren’t attacking elsewhere. Making myself the target meant saving lives… and meant I’d know the enemy was coming for me. Yeah, there were downsides and risks, especially since, as an Admiral, I couldn’t just quit and run for the hills… but I did have a lot of conventional power and even against Halo-Tech I wasn’t terribly scared. Would have to find a way to defend against Halos being fired, just in case.

Still, if I maxed out drawbacks, I could take the Abyssal ‘Malicious Aura’, which would allow me to release excess spiritual energy in the form of blackish flames of unbearable cold. Not only would doing so increase all my stats, especially offensive abilities, it would exponentially increase the effectiveness and range of any fear based powers and abilities. Sometimes being really really mean to your opponents is the only way of getting through their idiot skulls. I was, after all, dealing with genocidal religious fanatics.

But that left me with a need for three hundred points worth of stuff I could live with. Not the Rival. We’d level planets. Not the limited resources. I could fund this shit myself… but I didn’t want to… and it might screw with my supply lines. Traitor was right fucking out.  I have plenty of willpower to overcome doubts… but just fuck that noise. That was all the 200s and the two remaining 300s were even more crap… which left me with either taking all three 100s or none of them.

Fuck it. I didn’t need recognition, if I went out on patrol I was looking for trouble already, and if I couldn’t overcome mild nausea I was in the wrong line of work. No sooner had I thought those thoughts than Unremarkable, Compass-Chan’s Wrath, Seasick, and Malicious Aura all fell into place and the chamber’s fog turned from sea mist to the stench of burning chrome and charred flesh.

“Wait!” I called out, “Not quite done with Kantai. Don’t go all Terminator on me yet.”

“You are out of CP. Progress is important.”

“Yeah, I am… but I don’t have to take freebies if I don’t want them and I want to know what I’m getting before I agree to take them. I get this Wedding Ring and a Uniform Free… anything special about either of them?”

“That depends on what you define as special,” the hyper-literal box informed me.

“Right… Do they have any functions that are not typical for a uniform or a marriage ring?”

“Ah. Yes. The Admiral’s Uniform, which can be from any nation in any time period, real or fictional, will never wrinkle, stain, or dirty. The Ship Girl version is a lifetime supply of durable waterproof clothes of any design that will never hamper mobility no matter what environment she finds herself in.”

“Any nation? I want an Honorverse Royal Manticoran Naval Uniform from the time period referred to as the First Havenite War.”

“By Honorverse, do you mean the Honor Harrington series of Space Opera Novels by David Weber et al?”

“That’s the one,” I agreed.

“Very well. The system recognizes your request and deems it appropriate. As for the ring, if you give it to a Ship Girl that loves you and whom you love in return, it will drastically improve her stats, drive, and spiritual energy reserve. If you save it for later, you can give it to someone who isn’t a Ship Girl.”

“Right. So… it’s a magical ring that allows you to pretend to waifu a virtual ship girl… except it’s real because this is now the real world… fucking Japan.”

“Intercourse with an entire nation would seem to be impractical, and probably immoral.”

“Yeah yeah… Is there anything else I get free?”

“You and your companions… it does not indicate if this is imported or all companions, get Upgraded Gear free… three times. There are six categories, Armor, Speed, Firepower, Range, Detection, and Auxiliary… Each may be bought once per ship.”

“I’m an Admiral.”

“It does not say just ship girls get this.”

“That… umm… Right… Uh… What’s Auxiliary?”

“It improves how sensitive your radar is, how stealthy you are, and how well you can communicate with allies or taunt enemies… among other miscellaneous benefits.”

“Great. I’ll take that, and Detection, and Speed.  Apply all of them to VIctoria. She’s my armor.”

“Affirmative. And for Faustian Bargain?”

“I don’t know. Ask her. Not my choice.”

“And the others? Ask them as well?”

“Can’t see as how any of the choices are bad, so I’m not going to veto anyone’s build. Just let them take what they want.”

“Very well. Terminator Time?”

“Terminator time,” I agreed. “Hit me… do not hit me. It’s a figure of speech that means give me the information.”

“I have no limbs with which to hit you anyway. Can I assume that, since you chose to remain loyal to humanity, you have no desire to be Terminator?”

“None. But I might take Terminator perks or equipment.”

“Excellent. That leaves Drop-In or Resistance, though I cannot conceive of a reason you would take any of the equipment except to annoy me.”

“What if it’s free?”

“The free item for the Resistance is Anti-Radiation Pills. The tech level of everything on offer is significantly less than anything you had access to in Warhammer. You will not take anything.”

“No money perks?”

“100 Dollars US in quarters. No guns with infinite ammo? No vehicles with unlimited fuel?”

“I have reviewed your previous adventures from your warehouse records. There is much I do not understand in there, but I believe you already have those things, or can replicate them yourself. I believe you are being difficult. But, to forestall this debate, these are all the items that remain for purchase in both the Halo and Terminator… what do you call these?”

“JumpTrees. In mathematics, a tree is a series of branching possibilities or options. Seems to fit.” I looked over the items… and had to agree with the Chamber. Between the ludicrous pricing and uninspired options, I was very much disinclined to purchase any of this junk, all of which I could build better tech than. In fact, I wouldn’t have willingly paid the prices being asked for any of this stuff even before I could have built it unless I was wasting points I couldn’t spend on anything else.

“Yeah… okay. Toss all that stuff. In fact, show me every perk for both on this wall,” I waved my left hand. “And every drawback for both on this wall,” I waved my right. “And if there are any companion import options, throw them up in front of me.

What I got was… disappointing. Terminator had two Resistance Veterans for 100 CP (discount Resistance) and a T800 for 600 CP (discount Drop-In)… that’s one T800 for that cost. On the Drawback side, absolutely nothing was even worth considering, let alone taking. I immediately cleared that entire wall.

The Perk side of things was… marginally, better. There were things worth taking here, barely. The Terminator line was kinda crap, but it was only three items long… Oneliners, Killer Instincts, and a Determinator listing that was a little scary actually. I tossed it. The Resistance line had a nice leadership perk… for 800 CP; a loyalty booster for 600, ‘Come with me if you want to live!’ for 400 (which essentially made people do that), an understand time travel perk for 200, and a get people to not think you’re insane when you talk about time travel perk for 100. I took the 200 CP one. Maybe it would make my brain hurt less when I thought about it. I wasn’t banking on it.

That left Drop-In… And I almost wrote off the entire JumpTree at this point. No freebie, first off. 50 CP (and boy howdy do I hate discounts that just make you have to buy something you don’t care at all about to spend the remaining points… something this jump didn’t even have since I’d tossed all the discounts… two were priced at 50… not worth 50, just priced there… and all the garbage that passed for items.) would get me the ability to tell crazy people from sane people… ehhhhh… no. There was a Teaching perk for 100 that was yawn worthy, a hacking perk for 300 that if I went Drop-In in Halo (which I probably would) would be overshadowed by the free Hacking Perk that allowed hacking not just mainframes but AIs… while the one in Terminator could barely handle Terminators, and a 200 CP perk that kinda forced people to keep deals they made with me… if they didn’t have huge willpower reserves. At least they’d feel bad about breaking the deal if they did… that was something, right?”

The only saving grace I found was the incredibly expensive ‘No Fate But What We Make’. It kept destiny’s grimy little paws off me, protecting me from those who tried to push me into the path of predetermination, and even protected me from someone going back in time and killing my mother or even my younger self. It also let me kill those who would normally be destined to be defeated by someone else or at some other time. Even with a discount, it was 400 CP… but since I wasn’t keen on anything else and had 800 CP left… I took it.

But that left me with 400 CP unspent, and nothing much I really wanted to buy. So, I took the 200 CP ‘But You Swore!’ (the deal keeper thingy), 2 Resistance companions (It was called Resistances Brothers/Sisters… I’d drop the two Choirs in. Resistances Sisters, get it? Oh, yeah, for some reason the Chamber thinks that the Dire Weasels and the twin Choirs are each a single companion. Don’t get it, but not arguing.), and this 100 CP item called ‘Judgment Day’ which allowed me to know the exact date and time the world would end… down to the hour. Up to 100 years in advance. My own personal in-head doomsday clock. Yay? Still, with insane AIs, Genocidal Alien Invaders, and Zombies? Good thing to have.

Also picked up ‘Smash those Metal Motherfuckers’ for free. It was a basic skill package in hurting armored targets. Not useful, but not useless.

“So… how do my companions make purchases of their own? Do they have to cycle through you or something?”

“How did it happen before?”

“Data Slates. Each got their own.”

“Ah. I see the ‘Distribute Companion Build Packets’ option… yes. Hmm… I would like to meet all your companions. Please have them filter through as they can and I will distribute new slates to them, for future use. It will also allow me to familiarize myself with them so that I can tell which is which.”

“Great… Sounds wonderful. Oh… and if you fuck with their heads? I’ll find a way to hurt you. Just a warning.”

“I do find your loyalty to them interesting. It is strange how you would obliterate anyone who harmed one, yet you cause them emotional turmoil all the time.”

“Yeah, well… that’s life. Only I’m allowed to fuck… mmm… harm my friends I guess. Well, they can hurt each other. Closeness pretty much means leaving yourself open to being hurt.”

In Halo, the background options were Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) Spook, Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODST), and Spartan-III which was both expensive and not as good as the MC of the Halo Series. Yup… for the first time, it was impossible for a Jumper to be definitely less powerful than the Main Character. That might have made sense for, say, something as ridiculously overpowered as Superman… but this was freaking Halo. Halo, and I couldn’t buy myself to Master Chief’s level? Fuuuuuck. Not that I wanted to be a faceless experimental super soldier. Screw that. Wasn’t even going to buy Spartan-III.

In fact, since I only had 1000 CP and no desire to complicate my existence, I just went Drop-In, which got me Hacking for free, and a discount on several things I wasn’t going to buy. Instead, I picked up the 300 CP Antigen, which not only made me immune to Flood infection (it also made me much more resistant to other diseases that I was already essentially immune to)… but the Antibody could be isolated and given to others, or even, in time, turned into a vaccine. The Flood was, as near as I could determine from the little Halo Lore I had, a Zombie Plague with multiple vectors and the reason the Halo Array existed at all. I hadn’t exactly played a lot of Halo… mostly enough to determine that crashing a warthog armored jeep thing was easier than actually piloting it. Oh, and that the shard needler thing the Covenant used was cool… so were their energy blades.

And that was where I just blinked at the mist shrouded wall and wondered what to do with my remaining 700 CP. I could by a Luck perk that had the old ‘don’t rely on this perk’ line which made it useless. I could buy one of two technologist perks, both of which flat out said that I wouldn’t be able to recreate some of the best stuff with them… So I was better not having them and relying on the perks I already had that weren’t so limited. I could take a perk that made me good at torture or one that meant that my psyche had been busted down and rebuilt to the point it could withstand torture. I could be inspiring to my allies or terrifying to my enemies… but I already could do that.

Still… it wasn’t like there was much worth buying… So in the end I did buy ‘Erudition’ which gave me a working knowledge of nearly all modern human sciences, as well as knowledge of most of how Covenant tech worked and at least a leg up on Forerunner tech (They’re the idiots who built the Halos to fight the Flood… and don’t get me started on how stupid that entire concept was.)

“Why not?”

“Gaaah!”

“Why did you jump and yell Gaaah?”

“I’m not used to people… entities being inside my head.”

“You gave me permission.”

“I didn’t.”

“You entered me knowing that that is how I operate. De facto permission.”

“Fine, whatever…”

“Why are the Halos stupid?”

I rolled my eyes. “As far as I understand, they kill all biological life within something like 3 galactic radii. They scour away anything the Flood can use as food or something.”

“Seems drastic. Is there any other way to stop the Flood?”

“Not as far as I know.”

“Then there seems to be no other option. These Flood are relentless and destroy the natural order.”

“Yeah. That isn’t the stupid part. The stupid part is building a huge habitat ring as your doomsday weapon. It’s a platform to support living things… except it also obliterates living things. That’s just… moronic. If it protected those living in it, that would be one thing… but as far as I can tell, it gives them a front row seat to the obliteration of all life in the galaxy… themselves included.”

“There are refuges from the Halo array though.”

“Are there? Yippee… but as long as the Halo’s themselves aren’t shielding their own occupants from the effect, having a habitation ring also be your mega weapon that kills everyone on it is just a bad design. A Halo’s only reason for being that size and shape is to support life. There is no practical reason why, from a weapon standpoint, it would need to be that shape… and that shape makes it extremely vulnerable.”

“Well… yes. As I see from how the first was destroyed.”

“Yeah. tell me about it. That was not a request. That was a figure of speech indicating agreement.”

“Ah. Very well. You have spent 600.”

“Right… I’ll take Squad Up and Wordsmith and close the file,” I said referring to a perk that made anyone I teamed up with almost preternaturally good at teamwork, granting perfect fighting sync… it even guaranteed no friendly fire… and a perk that made me an even better liar. “That should square us up. I’m going to go sulk for a while and then get to planning. I’ll return once the month is up… you can keep the warehouse functional if we don’t insert for a month, yes?”

“I can. The Warehouse is currently attached to that reality, but not localized anywhere near the story zone… or any other story zones. Return at your leisure. I have activated the countdown… I find it most distressing how time runs only along one path here. Most distressing indeed.”

“There’s time travel out there, but not in here?”

“That is correct. The Warehouse is its own temporal referent. I am not outside of it, but rather part of it at the moment. This I cannot experience its totality, nor the totality of the universe it is connected to, especially since you purchased ‘No Fate But What We Make’.”

“Groovy. Well, I’m out.” and I walked out… right into Zane’s waiting arms and leer.

“Hey babe! You look young again!”

“Zane! Hi! Where have you been?”

“Oh… uh… I kinda forgot who I was for, like… 70 years I guess. But you found me anyway!”

I blinked. “I… did?” I asked, then shook my head, looking around in small but growing horror slash panic. “Nooooo.”

“YES!” he was way too pleased by this. Inside my head, 200 plus mes were all shooting various looks of aggravation, betrayal, or sardonic humor at our newest member.

She just shrugged. “He looked good without a shirt.”

In the non-mental world, my eyes found Kendra’s and I read murder in that glare. I gulped, then looked the other way and found my harem huddled in concentrated scheming mode… all of them… even Ziggy! The Choirs looked like they were just realizing something was going on, and the Eldar, psychic bastards, were already plotting something. I had to diffuse this fast. I opened my mouth… and all logical thought fled as Zane kissed me. HE KISSED ME!

It was not a platonic kiss. It was the kiss of a man who hadn’t kissed his wife in decades. I could not deal with this. I teleported into my office and erected force fields all around my section of the house with a speed that did not befit a personage of my advanced centuries.

I did not come out for a week. Instead, one by one, and starting on the second day, I allowed those who felt they had grievances to air them with me… and only me. It didn’t diffuse things much… but only time would do that.

My defense was simple. I hadn’t known. Sheanna hadn’t known. Wolf hadn’t known. Kendra, who’d been in Wolf’s presence many times, hadn’t known. Velma, who’d been Wolf’s best friend until his death, hadn’t known. The Chamber itself hadn’t known. It had, I guess, brought Wolf along because he was an anomaly in Tortall… and he’d been inserted as a child, like Velma, but even further back… nearly twenty years before my arrival point.

He had no memory of filling out his build document at all. He did remember having a conversation with Mensarius about his relationship with me and Kendra and the tension between Kendra and him, with her claiming that she was merely a distraction, a consolation since he couldn’t be with me.

“Is that true?” I asked, “Do you want to be with me?”

“Aww… I mean… I dunno. You’re my best friend! And you’re hot! And… and you’ve got all those hot girlfriends! But I like K too, you know? Feelings are tricky. I mean, yeah, if I had to pick one of you two, I’d pick you… we been together forever! Hell, I think if you went dude and forced K to be honest, she’d pick you too. She knows it and it pisses her off. Also knows you didn’t mean to bring her along. Part of her thinks that the only reason the Banker allowed it was to annoy you. So she feels… I dunno… worth less… not worthless… just less valued than those you invited along deliberately. Oh, and she thinks you don’t like her cause she’s black.”

“What?!”

“Well, only two of your companions are Black… were… I mean, before you picked up Alicia and Decima… and Alicia’s only black cause she’s made of obsidian or jet or something. You got like the same number of green companions as Black companions. Got more asians… well… had more.”

I thought about it… Black Companions were Kendra… then a huge amount of time passed… then Bart… then a while later Alicia (kinda) and Decima. Green I had AJ, RayRay, Reggy, Yuzuha, and Verena. Asiatic Companions included the Hibikis & Bao, Kagetane and Kohina, Cirno, Tokimi, Lethe, Toph, and Zane himself (at least in his default human form which looked very much like a young Chow Yun Fat… his other form was blue). Caine was middle eastern, Dyna was orange, Ziggy was a ferret, Petra steel, Francine yellow, Amelia feline, and Raven was greyish purple… and all the rest were of european stock. Even the human forms of AJ, Francine, Petra, RayRay, and Dyna were European. Well, the DeWitts were part Amerind but they looked European.

“I… I dunno what to tell you on that. I’ve been black a few times myself. I don’t recruit people based on their skin color or species, but how much I like them or dislike them.”

“Yeah? And how do you feel about the Black Companions?”

“Well… when I recruited them? Annoyed, angry, concerned, and deeply concerned respectively. But that’s just a coincidence!” I hastened to add. “I found Bao deeply annoying and didn’t mean to bring him. I murdered Uriel and didn’t mean to bring him. I didn’t even know about Cirno being a companion until she snuck into the warehouse. Tokimi invited herself along. I grabbed Reggy because she needed a second chance and didn’t deserve what happened to her… like Kendra herself. Kagetane and Kohina I didn’t like at all at first. Hell, I’m still not sure I like Kagetane… Even after all this time… but I don’t really plan these things. Unfortunately, a lot of the places we go don’t exactly have a high percentage of Black characters for various reasons. Blame it on Origin Earth’s dominant cultures.”

“You could have recruited a Black companion in Bleach,” Zane pointed out.

“Yes, I could have. But I didn’t because it didn’t come up and one of the few options was a psycho. I’m not running an equal opportunity business here. I recruit those I feel like recruiting… and apparently Sisters of Battle and Space Elves whether I want to or not. And no, I’m not inducting You and Kendra into the Harem just to appease her sense of… she’s been white herself several times!”

“I didn’t say she was justified!” Zane snapped back. “I said that’s how she feels! Feelings don’t have to be justified. That’s why they’re feelings.”

“I think I’d rather fight Space Zombies than have this conversation.”

I shoo’d him out of my office, trying very hard not to think about Wolf’s chest. I was too old for this shit. Finally, I made an announcement over the Warehouse PA System. “This issue is to be dropped. No bringing it up in conversation for the next century. Not even in anger. There will be no retaliation against anyone else involved, or I will ground the offender for a Jump. This was Mensarius fucking with things and allowing it to spread acrimony or dissent is allowing that rat bastard to count coup against us. We insert in two weeks, or rather I do. Our next destination is fairly dangerous and I do not want anyone leaving the warehouse until I figure out how to inoculate against the Flood, and get some basic anti-nanite protections going. I also need a way to get you all documentation in a setting that has space age computers. We’re going into a… for lack of a better term, a Triple Event… with no way of knowing how they’ll combine.

To make it a bit better, my knowledge of Halo extends to playing a little of the first and second games and what I’ve put together from watching videos and reading the tree. It doesn’t amount to much. My knowledge of Terminator is a bit better, in that I’ve seen the first three movies, read some comics, and heard about how bad the later films were. Kantai does not, as far as I am aware, have a plotline. The reason all this is good is that none of my foreknowledge can really be butterflied away if I have no expectations of what events are going to happen when.

What I am expecting is that there will be the Aliens of the Covenant who fanatically want to kill humanity, the fallen Fleet Girls of the Abyss who fanatically want to kill humanity, and the killer robots or cyborgs controlled by a rogue AI who… you guessed it… wants to kill humanity. I’m expecting a lot of violence, as I’m reasonably certain that our starting location, a planet called Reach, historically fell before the Covenant Advance. I am also assuming, that, for lack of a better indicator, that Halo, as the least flexibility concept… i.e. strong and broad world building… is the primary determinant of what setting we’re in, just having been heavily modified by Kantai and Terminator elements.

Anyone with any ideas how to cope with at least three and possibly five anti-human factions, please present them to me over the next few days. And with that, I’m going to go build an amusement park for the kids, who are welcome to join me with as many animals as they feel like bringing. Any adults who come along are reminded to be on their most childlike behaviour… not childish, Cirno. There is a difference.”

INSERTION.

The Human-Covenant War had begun in 2525, on February 11th. It was 8 days after first contact and the Covenant had declared that no quarter would be granted. Their stated goal was the complete extermination of Humanity from the face of the Universe. No one knew why. That was 22 years ago, and in that time, their advanced technology had made mincemeat of every human fleet that had tried to stand against them.

Time and again, humanity had tried to stand against the onslaught, but ever battle was more about making the cost of a human slain as high as possible… and at least fifty human worlds had paid the cost, their surfaces glassed, their people slaughtered. The death toll was at least 12 billion, much of it civilian.

But humanity is nothing if not resourceful, and the cyborg troops that Cyberdyne Multi-Global had introduced had slowed the Covenant advance. The semi-autonomous killing machines could be produced in huge numbers and, unlike humans or even Spartans, could be loaded into missiles and launched at enemy ships, where they would inflict maximum damage before detonating their own nuclear power cores. The system was known as THOR and it was hammering the Covenant badly… but not badly enough to stop the war.

Indeed, the current lull was thought to be the quiet before the storm. The Covenant had the tech advantage and the population advantage. Sooner or later, they’d find a way to defeat humanity. Which is where I came into the picture.

“Admiral Jayma?” the bright-faced middy asked, his uniform painfully crisp, his back so ramrod straight it could be used as a spirit level.

“That’s me, son,” I responded, looking out at the waters of Manassas Harbor on Epsilon Eridani Secundus… also known as Reach. It was the second most populous human world, colonized in 2362 as a titanium mine. It was the homeworld of the Spartan-IIs. It was, assuming the timeline remained intact, also doomed to fall in about five years time.

“This way, Ma’am. Lord Hood is waiting…”

What followed was, perhaps, the least inspiring mission briefing I’ve ever faced. My job, in this day and age of space battles and starships… was to take control of SeaComp, Reach’s coastguard for lack of a better term. Yay! Wetnavy stuff that largely amounted to keeping an eye on smugglers and some of the local aquatic megafauna.

Or so Rear Admiral Sari Jayma thought. The rest of me suspected differently. Which is why I was utterly unsurprised when Halo’s local mad scientist entered Lord Hood’s office and presented me with a run down on her newest successor to The Spartan Project.

“So you see, by locating these reborn ships-” she explained.

“By ships, you mean military vessels that were sunk or destroyed in humanity’s previous wars?” I clarified.

“Yes. these once lost and now reincarnated as young women military vessels. By locating them and outfitting them with specialized equipment developed by the good doctor and her staff,” Lord Hood’s aide enthused.

“You realize how silly this sounds, right? You’re proposing equipping young women with toy planes and bows and arrows to fight the Covenant?” I scoffed. I’m very good at scoffing.

“It’s more complex than that,” Doc Halsey (who is very scary inside, let me tell you that). “They can call upon the essence of a warship.”

“You’re saying that toy planes? What? Become real bombers?”

“Indeed! Yes. Or rather hit with the force of real bombers. And those little hand guns of theirs hit with… look, I brought footage.” She pointed to a screen and I got to watch the first generation of Ship-Girls running through paces with recreations of WWII era gear.

Playing my part, I asked, “How are they skating on the ocean? What about storms? Won’t they… she just skidded across the surface as if were a pond.”

“Yes!” the Doc laughed. “Marvelous isn’t it?”

“Well, sure… if the Covenant fought sea battles,” I growled, “But they normally land troops to destroy ground installations and then glass our cities from the air.”

“I’ve thought of that,” Lord Hood said, “Which is why the ocean going is designed to test just how far we can ramp up these girls. If we can transition them into Space, they’ll be a huge force multiplier.”

“I think this is mental, Sir… but anything that might work against those Covenant Bastards.”

“Excellent!” The Fleet Admiral grinned, “Welcome to your new base then, Admiral Jayma. Do us proud. The Doc will be sending along new systems when she-”

“Don’t bother, Terrance. I have my own R&D staff. I’ll get the project up and running. We don’t need the Doc’s special brand of experimentation on human beings interfering. She can go back to experimenting on orphans or kicking puppies,” I snarled. I really really didn’t like Catherine Halsey… or those who’d approved her sociopathic experiments.

“You don’t have clearance for-” She began.

“I have clearance for whatever I want, doc. I’m also the Magi Ambassador, and don’t you forget it.”

She blinked. It was, technically, true… but it was the kind of thing that never really comes up, and I doubt she’d known it, but didn’t bother checking. If Catherine Halsey registered on my consciousness again, it would because I was terminating her with extreme prejudice.

Lord Hood, face set, arhmrph… yes, that’s the sound he made, complete with requisite jowlage, and he nodded to his aide, one Lieutenant Miranda Keyes… who it turned out was my new aide/spy. “Lt. Keyes will show you around, Sari. I have to get back to Quezon.” We shook hands, then he departed, taking the doctor with him.

“What an odious woman,” I commented as soon as she was out of sight.

“She’s my mother,” Miranda said without inflection.

“You have my sympathy. Shall we look at the ladies? Ships? I’m sorry. Do I refer to them as ships or personnel?”

“Both. We’ve got five bases for them, two here on Reach, Manassas and New Alexandria, and three on Earth at Yokohama, Pearl, and Sydney.”

“Interesting, why so spread out?” I asked as we walked, looking down at my aide (I’d decided to be quite tall this time out, as I felt it gave me great command presence. I was 6’3” blonde, and pale-skinned… something I’d wrestled with before deciding that if I did anything else it would just annoy Kendra.

“The Pacific is the best training area and big enough we can do opforce training there. On Reach, it’s more about practicality, since none of the oceans are particularly large.”

“And all the ships are WW2? Nothing later?”

“It was the largest naval engagement in human history… excepting the current one. Maybe Pillar of Autumn will show up in the next war… if she goes down in this one.”

“Always ships that sank?”

“Apparently. Yes. So far at least.”

“Are they being separated by nationality?”

“Somewhat. Apparently sister-ships tend to have a deep connection to their sisters. But if you’re asking if the Japanese ships have to be kept away from the Americans?” I nodded. “No. Nothing like that. They don’t seem to harbor any grudges… though we have noticed a little direct aggression if one ship directly sank another, but that mostly manifests as the victor intimidating the defeated.”

“Were they all born on Earth?”

“No. Of the 102 we’ve found… the Doctor says there could be as many as 3,250… more if we start finding civilian ships… but we haven’t even found all the battleships and battlecruisers… did you know over 500 Destroyers were sunk in the second world war?”

“Yes, I did. And over 1200 submarines, though I believe the majority of those were German. You were saying?”

She grimaced, then nodded, “Right. Of the 102, 31 one were found on Reach, 57 on Earth, and the others on smaller colonies. It’s important to note that we’re finding the larger ships to be older and more… ahem… endowed, than the smaller ships. The Destroyers we’re finding are all between 8 and 10. The Battleships are between fourteen and sixteen.”

“How odd. So, how many have I been assigned?”

“Just sixteen, so far. You’re the only solo-operating Rear Admiral and Earth is claiming most of the girls. The problematic ones are being sent to Reach, I’m afraid.” She sounded genuinely worried I might be upset, but I just nodded.

“Problematic how?” I asked, raising an eyebrow as we headed down to the training yards where a dozen girls were running laps. One of them looked like she was six if she was a day and another looked like a dwarf… not a fantasy dwarf, but a stocky, short figure. She was slow as all get out, but she just kept truckin’.

We stopped at the window overlooking the field and Miranda tilted her head slightly to look at her pad, then put it down and looked out the window. “Problematic in various ways, ma’am. We’ve got the HMS Rosabelle… she was an Armed Yacht used as an Armed Boarding Vessel. She’s the little girl running on the track… she’s just turned 7. She’s not the youngest, though. We’ve got HMS Motor Torpedo Boat 312… she’s 5 and in the infirmary because she blew up her bedroom again while having a bad dream.”

I grimaced, “Is it all like this?”

“Hit or miss, ma’am. We’re taking in whoever we find. Their parents can’t deal with Ship Girls, certainly. They don’t… act right. They remember things no child should and are too enthusiastic for war. Well, mostly.”

“Mostly?” I arched an eyebrow.

“Well, we’ve got HMS Poet Chaucer… she’s the little person. 13 years old, strong as a Spartan. She’s a Tug. Got a bit of a chip on her shoulder about being scuttled by the British to prevent her being captured by the Japanese during the fall of Hong Kong. She’s not so keen on fighting… but likes moving things around. Very slow, as you’d imagine. Physically I mean. No problems upstairs.”

“Understood. Anyone else?”

“Yes ma’am. Five others. HMS Alarm, FR La Surprise,” she paused as I snorted, smiled, then went back to reading, “and all three RHS ships.”

“RHS? The Greeks?”

“Yes ma’am. Helli, Kilkis, and Lemnos… those last two are sister ships. Alarm and La Surprise are Minesweepers, Helli’s a Minelayer, and Kilkis and Lemnos were originally Coastal Defense Ships, but had been decommissioned and were being used as training vessels. Helli’s probably the most aggressive, but she’s got a very defensive mindset and an absolute hatred for the Italians.”

“Dare I ask the obvious?”

Miranda thought about that for a moment, then nodded “Yes Ma’am. We do have two Italian ships. Our big guns in fact. We were supposed to be getting Yorktown in as our carrier, but Lord Hood will probably keep her.”

“Big Guns? Battleships?”

“One Battleship, one Battlecruiser. Among the Italians. We also have a British Battleship… of a sort.”

“Of a sort? I don’t like the sound of that.”

“She… Apparently it was a thing to keep old wooden ships in commission, Ma’am.”

“Oh. I see.” I groaned, then motioned for her to continue.

“Alarm was bombed by the Germans, Helli… she’s the one who looks chinese… torpedoed by an Italian submarine ship-”

“Just submarine, or sub. Unless it’s german, in which case it’s a U-Boat.”

“Yes Ma’am. Sorry, Ma’am.”

“You can call me Sari when it’s just us. I don’t stand on formality among my staff, at least not in private.”

“Yes M… As you like. Where was I? Ah… Kilkis and Lemnos were bombed in harbor by the germans. La Surprise was sunk by HMS Brilliant, but she was being used by the Germans so it was something of a mercy killing as far as she considers it.”

“Ouch. Tell me… do I have any actual escorts for this fleet of mine?”

“Yes M… We have HMAS Yarra, an Australian Sloop of the Grimsby Class, sunk by the Japanese Navy, The Free French Flower-Class Corvette Mimosa, sunk by a german U-Boat, the ORP Odwet is a Destroyer… though a very strange one… she was reported sunk at least five times but kept coming back before running aground on Aland. HMS Faustian Bargain is an Armed Merchant Cruiser,” I smiled at that “that became a ghost ship after the crew went mad.” I frowned at that. “And HMS Du Gwenafyr is a Heavy Cruiser that was sunk by shore guns at Normandy.”

I nodded, “A mixed bag, to be sure. But we’ll put something together. Now tell me about the capital ships.

“We have the Paradiso, an Italian Dante Class Battleship, lost with all hands in a storm. She’s the… ahem… massively gifted blonde eating up the track.” I looked, and blinked. She was… err… stacked… and wearing a bikini top. Very Italian. “The other Italian ship is the Inverno,  who, ironically, hit an iceberg.”

I blinked at that, Infernos and icebergs… wait… she’d said that the Italian ships were a Battleship and a Battlecruiser… Inferno should be the same class as Paradiso, surely. I was just about to ask, but she was listing the last ship…

“And our anachronism, the HMS Windjammer.”

And that’s when it hit me as I started running translations. It wasn’t Inferno (Hell), it was Inverno (Winter… as in frozen in ice.) “Oh, for fuck’s sake!”

“Ma’am?” Miranda asked, startled.

I waved her off as I fumed. God damn it! 31 days! 31 damned days! That’s how long it ad taken the Chamber to start dicking with me. “Hold that thought,” I told Miranda, clouding her mind so she wouldn’t notice I’d wandered off, then I walked into my warehouse and knocked on a certain granite door.

“Hey, Jump-Chan? Got a question for you.”

“Yes Sari?”

“Why, exactly, are Light, Ark, Jenny, Windjammer, and Retaliation personified as Ship-Girls? I only paid for Faustian Bargain. I thought it was 100 CP each.”

“The Import option does not say each. The Ship Girl Section specified that an Admiral needed Six Ship girls, so I simply selected the five ships that you appeared fondest of.”

“I have 16 Ship Girls!”

“The others are added by your drawbacks and were not under my control or shaping. They are also not suitable for combat and are, I believe, present merely to demonstrate that the UNSC does not consider your station a priority.”

“Why didn’t you ask me?”

“I do not possess the ability to contact you remotely.”

“Riiiiight. I’m going to have to do something about that… not sure what. Can’t just install an intercom inside you. And you don’t have hands to activate it anyway. So you just… what, asked the ships if they’d like a woman’s body?”

“Yes. Only one of them was uninterested.”

“Which one?”

“Preemptive Retaliation. It wanted to be a dragon.”

“It is a dragon.”

“I pointed this out. It then requested permission to be a fleshmetal weasel.”

“TELL ME YOU SAID NO!”

“I said no.”

“Thank the merciful stars and yes I know stars don’t have mercy… except when they do.”

“So he’s a ship boy.”

“Wait! What? Miranda didn’t say any of them were male?”

“As your poster of Admiral Ackbar… signed by Admiral Ackbar… says ‘It’s a Trap!’.”

I groaned. “This is my life. Overly literal cosmic entities. Well, at least you didn’t mean any harm. Fine. I’ll cope… I guess… I have 5 year old MTB who thinks her name is 312. Great… 312… hmmm… why does a three digit number remind me of something?”

“I cannot tell you that.”

“Right. Well, I’ll figure it out.” And I went back out to where Miranda was just staring out the window.

“Ma’am?” she asked as I cleared my throat. “Is there a problem?”

“Oh. No. I’m related to a former captain of the Windjammer… Captain Janks.”

“Ah. I see. Destroyed in the German bombing campaign against England, apparently.”

“Of course. Of course. Let’s go out and meet them, shall we?”

There are any number of amusing anecdotes I could tell you about the next few years… but I won’t go into them. The End of the World was approaching. 5 years from the time I entered the world and counting, and I spent much of that time getting my people ready for it. I imagined it would come in the form of a Covenant fleet.

I was, more or less, both right and wrong. The attack, when it came, was both external and internal, like something out of the new battlestar galactica.

But let me back up a little and say that, yes, I had been going out and picking a fight with the Covenant. I’d gotten my fleet girls into space only to find that, almost to a one, the old ships sucked in space, being utterly incapable of adjusting to the fact that, surprise surprise, space is not an ocean. But the rest of my fleet were spaceships and could very easily turn back into spaceships. Except when they weren’t all being weird.

VIrginia / Black Jenny talked to herself, since she essentially had two personalities. Draken had fuzed with his ship to become the spirit of the Light / Paradiso and kept groping hims… herself and chuckling creepily. Anushka was the personality of Ark Magna… which was fine, except that she spent more time dancing than fighting. Dancing… in space. Without a spacesuit… because why would a ship need a space suit? Windjammer liked dressing like a princess and acting like a Himedere… and kicking people when she got annoyed… and I don’t mean in the ankle. As in kicking in the face. Faustian Bargain looked like a female version of Magnus the Red… only smaller… but just as smug and superior. And Odwet liked having his head patted… and fighting with Ziggy.

As for the others? More than once I’d had to say words I’d never thought I’d have to utter. “STOP THAT! No falling in love with me!” Seriously? Even Mutaba (I couldn’t call her 312 could I?) decided that I was going to marry her. WHAT… the… ever… living… fuuuuuck?

We’d gone out in force over and over and over again on patrols and scouting missions and every time we’d run into the Covenant and the mysterious white ship (Yuzuha) would show up and blow the religious psychos to space dust. And we’d come back and the Admiralty would ship us another Tug or a Tender Ship or an Oiler or an Infantry Landing Craft. They were all perfectly nice people, but they weren’t in any way useful. It was like I was running a private military school for ship girls (and boy who looked like a girl and turned into a huge metal dragon when annoyed).

But the date of Reach’s fall remained the same. And it wasn’t until SeaComp, the AI that ran the entire defense network of Reach, went rampant that we found out exactly why. See, I’d gotten lulled in by the fact that none of the Terminators had turned out to be evil. Five years? No problem. Then, just as the Covenant Battlegroup dropped out of Slipspace above the planet? Judgement Day. Our first sign of trouble was the sight of the hospital ship ‘Hope of a New Dawn’ tumbling out of orbit as she was struck by our own ground batteries.

Still, it wasn’t like I didn’t have a) a fleet that could crush the Covenant in orbit, b) an AI who could fight SeaComp, and c) an army with which to fight the machines. And so, I deployed Yuzuha and the Ship Girl 6 against the Covenant, VIvian against SeaComp, and The Eldar against the Terminators.

The day was saved. For 9 months. That was how long it took the Fleet to reach Reach. What’s the Fleet, you ask? Why, that’s what the Halo Rings were designed to fight, you silly person. The Fleet. Techno-organic menace that was the remnant of the Precursors who had been destroyed by the Covenant’s ‘Gods’… also known as the Forerunners.

See, the Precursors were a techno-organic race, a perfect synthesis of hyper-tech and hyper-biology. No two Precursors looked the same because each was a unique quasi-eldritch abomination. They embraced a concept called “The Mantle of Responsibility” and whoever bore the Mantle was responsible for overseeing all life in the Galaxy. The Precursors created all the sentient races of the Galaxy… and had originally favored the Forerunners to inherit the Mantle… but then had changed their minds and selected the Reclaimers… Humanity. The Forerunners were not happy.

So not happy, that they hunted down and destroyed the Precursors… who turned themselves into memetic multi-dimensional nanites… which decayed into The Fleet. The Fleet had one purpose, to absorb all biomass into a single consciousness. But like all zombie plagues, they had a weakness. Brains! No… really. They needed the synaptic processes of sapient beings to create their overmind… I mean Gravemind. And the Halos were designed to destroy all biological life that wasn’t Fleet in the Galaxy. They’d been fired once, long ago… and apparently the Halo in the first game (installation 04) had had Fleet cells on it.

Master Chief Spartan Man John had crashed with his ship Pillar of Autumn in the original game, and all my meddling hadn’t changed that, as Pillar had been caught in the mass slipout of the Covenant Battlegroup when it realized that Reach was a death-trap. Pillar had crashed into the Halo and, eventually, John Sparta had blown the ship up to destroy the Halo to keep it from firing and killing everyone in the Galaxy (that would be baaaad).

So far, so good. Right? Sure…. Up until the point where Pillar of Autumn, now reborn as a Very Very Angry Fleet Girl… crashed into the Oceans of Reach and started doing VBT to the local environment… Never have I been more thankful that I’d inoculated all my own people against Fleet or Flood or whatever infection.

Oh… my god… the Fleet were ruthless. Oh, and they started bringing up their own Fleet girls too. Found Ahab and Joy finally. Remind me to kick them in the head… or have Windjammer do it. ONI, Resistance, Abyssal? Really? Ahab’s the freaking Arizona and Joy is a World War I ship called Invincible… now granted, they went as double agents, and their information is invaluable… but the Gravemind thought so too! Telepathic fucking alien who has access to my two spymasters’ complete memories and access to all of the UNSC’s Office of Naval Intelligence (now fully under the control of the Fleetmind). Oh, and the Fleet? Turns out they can corrupt AIs, too. Guess who was one of theirs? Did you say SeaComp? You’re so smart.

On the other hand, I now have two Spartan II’s trailing me at all times. Apparently I’m too valuable to be allowed to be unobserved. Nicole-458 isn’t bad. John-117 (Sparty Boy) is kinda terse. On the other other hand, “No, Zane, I’m not recruiting Master Chief just because he’s black!”

“Hostile Located.”

“Yes, thank you Nicole, I see the floaty metal eye. I’m pretty sure that’s who we’re here to see,” I said. See, after reading John’s report from Installation 04, I’d pulled out my rolodex and looked up the home addresses of anyone who lived on Installation’s 01, 02, 03, 05, 06, and 07… only to discover, wait for it… there was an Installation 00 and an Installation 08 (incomplete)… and so I’d gone looking for the administrators of each facility to discuss me doing some minor modifications… or in the case of Installation 05 (home of the Gravemind) dropping it into a star. Didn’t slow down Pillar of Autumn’s attempts to destroy Reach however.

In the end, I managed to convince three of the ring administrators that they should let me modify their systems to generate a constant anti-Fleet pulse that would disrupt the inter-nodal communication the Fleet used to have a group-mind. 6556 Diligent Transgression, 216 Plangent Thunder, and 1029 Innocent Conquest were all willing to go along with my plan.  The others? Most of them were insane. 343 Guilty Spark (Installation 04’s administrator) wasn’t happy with John for destroying Installation 04. I disabled the ones who wouldn’t play along, got the ones who would to give me access to the systems…

Unfortunately, that’s when the Covenant decided to try some shit again. They sent in this Elite called the Arbiter (or Thel ‘Vadamee for long) to punish humanity for daring to save the galaxy from being vaporized again. Thel wasn’t a bad sort, but his bosses? Oh… my… god.

Total Religious psychos. These guys are called Prophets and they honestly want to fire the rings to kill everyone because they believe it will make them into gods. I haaaate people like that. I also hate people who are dumb enough to bring an entire Fleet infected megaship to Earth in an attempt to get at the gate to Installation 00 that was buried in Africa.

Thankfully, High Charity is… was… no more resistant to Yuzuha’s Wings of the Darkhawk than anything else in this universe, and the Prophets and their idiotic omnicidal religion are now at one with their asshole progenitors… or whatever, I don’t know if this universe has an afterlife. I haven’t bothered checking. But without the Prophets and their holy city / capital ship / capitol ship, it looks like the Covenant is dead… especially since Thel (having witnessed the insanity of the Prophets) pretty much singlehandedly pulled the Elites out of the alliance with the remaining races… most of whom had not been space-age before the Covenant co-opted them for a religious war.

“No Zane. I’m not recruiting the Arbiter just because he’s blackish.”

Pillar of Autumn and Paradiso have a slugfest outside Installation Zero… aka, the Ark… the thing that made the Halos… And the one place I could send a modification signal to change all the Halos. The frequency modulation wouldn’t kill the Fleet, that much was true, but without a Gravemind to direct them, they were reduced to individual ship girls and could be picked off and… treated, one by one.

One of these days, I’m going to have to actually play this game. Now that I’ve been here, I have Halo Collection: Judgement Day on my PSP. Now, if only I could get Nicole to stop picking a fight with the Sisters of Battle. It’s like she lives to fight or something.

Also, I think Miranda and John might be a thing. I don’t know… I’m respecting their privacy.

Next: Familiar of Zero

OMAKE: Relationship Chart

If you like what I do, please consider supporting me on Patreon

I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too.

Resources: Build, Kantai Document, Terminator Document, Halo Document

Battlegroup Jumper

  • HMS Rosabelle (Armed Yacht, Sunk by U-Boat 11 December 1941, 10 nautical miles SSE of gibraltar)
  • HMS Poet Chaucer (Tug, scuttled on 19 December 1941 in Deepwater Bay, Hong Kong to prevent capture)
  • HMS MTB 312 (Motor Torpedo Boat, ELCO 77 Class, Bombed by Italian aircraft at Tobruk Libya on 14 September 1942)
  • HMS Alarm (Minesweeper, Algerine Class, bombed by germans off Bone on 2 January 1943)
  • HMAS Yarra (Sloop, Australia, Grimsby Class, Lost 4 March 1942 off Java to the Japanese)
  • RHS Helli (Minelayer Cruiser, Helli Class, former chinese light cruiser Fei-Hung, torpedoed by Italian sub Delfino off Tinos, no state of war existed, 15 August 1940)
  • RHS Kilkis & Lemnos (Coastal Defense Ships, Royal Hellenic Navy, Kilkis Class, sunk by german aircraft at Salamis Navy Yard on 24 April 1941)
  • FFL Mimosa (Corvette, Free French Flower Class, Sunk by U-Boat in mid atlantic 9 June 1942)
  • FR La Surprise (Minesweeper), Chamois Class, Sunk by the guns of the british destroyer HMS Brilliant off Oran on 8 November 1942)

AN: the Companion import section of the Kantai Collection Document is badly structured and contains at least one massive error, in that it specifies that Admirals and Fleet girls ‘may not purchase normal Fleet Girl Companions’ when I assume it means ‘Abyssal Fleet Girl Companions’. Other issues include the fact that Destroyers are free, but non-combatant ships are 50 CP, and each ship has to be bought out of the Jumper’s CP, without a stipend. This should be a companion import item that allows you to turn companions into Ship Girls with the 600 CP stipend for created ones, or even fuse companions and vessels. You can buy new companions in the form of ship girls, but you cannot actually import your companions as ships or into an Admiral if you decide to be a Fleet Girl. This is not good design. Which is a shame, because otherwise it’s a decent jump. I hope DFC updates it someday.

The Halo jump, by comparison, overcharges for practically everything, has a huge (and hugely expensive) item section I doubt very much anyone who isn’t taking Halo as their first jump even reads all of, has no companion import option, and you can’t be a Spartan-II at all. This is not a good design. It also has no way to be any of the Covenant Races or an AI. It was originally way down my list, but by the time I got to it, I’d have bought nothing from it at all. As it was, spending 1000 CP was incredibly difficult, something I’ve found to be the case with very few jumps.

The Terminator Jump is actually not too bad, except for the item section, which is a little sparse, but even then, it’s not terrible.

Final Note: I hope I didn’t offend anyone with my racial commentary. So much of Jumpchain is based on either American / European or Japanese / Chinese / Korean media and there is a fairly large lack of important characters who are black. That said, I haven’t really passed up anyone I’d actually consider a good companion from any setting based on skin-tone. Still, the conversation between Zane and Ess Jay does reflect conversations I’ve had myself upon looking at my companion line-up and trying to see how it might look from the various companions’ stand-points.

Enemy unit - Pillar of Autumn
Fleet Girl: Pillar of Autumn

World 60: Tortall, Part 2

KEEP ON BURNING

Previously: Unto Us is Given (Tortall, Part 1) & The Laughter of Dark Gods (LoT, Part 10)

Themesong: I’m Alive by Sia

AN: Warning, incoming strangeness

This… was strange. I hadn’t been Sheanna of Blackmoon, daughter of Aalis and Varish, sister of Aiton and Beyor, for twenty years… but I was her again, and as I stepped from the Chamber of the Ordeal, the decades I’d spent as Sigismonda Lathimon III and Sarah Darling Winchester fell away, receding into my memories like dreams upon waking. I had so many questions… but first, I had my shield to receive and this life to get back into.

I shall not bore you with the details of the knighting ceremony. They differ little from world to world and are, for those not involved, somewhat uninteresting. Sheanna was, of course, faintly buzzing and those who wished her well were pleased as punch for her. Varish, Aiton, Beyor, and Aalis had travelled all the way from Scanra, leaving a regent who could be trusted not to act like a total arse behind. This was, of course, made possible by the end of the war and the fall of King Maggot. The High Council of Scanra was struggling to reassert its haphazard dominance over the lands of Scanra and several of the border jarls were considering if they might be better as vassals of the Conte line than the series of half-moronic tyrants that passed for High Kings in Scanra. That they were having a hard time figuring this out is testament to the high intellectual standards of the Jarls of Scanra.

Also present were my former Knight Master, the Lady Knight Keladry of Mindelan and some of my friends… including three youngsters who had been barely more than toddlers the day before, at least as this world measured time. That they were, in theory, 24 years old, had no bearing on this. They would barely have passed for 7 (the older pair) and 6 in the case of their younger sister. Simon and Buji were a big older, biologically speaking, at 7 and 8, but neither of them had come to Sitcomtopia and spent a decade failing to grow much older, and neither were part Asgardian.

Their presence, along with their parents, had helped calm me down some, but not only was Zane still missing, but now Yoiko and Ryoga were as well, and as for the friends and allies I’d made in the land of Warhammer, there was no evidence, nor could I get my marketplace to connect to that world at all. It was most frustrating. Still, everyone who’d been there remembered it well enough.

Also frustrating was dealing with the sudden tension between the now 13 year old  Ceibhfhionn (Velma) and her erstwhile partner in shenanigans Cirno, who was acting as if she was in charge in their decidedly unequal partnership. I would have liked to brush the issue off and either told the two to act their ages or ignored it all and let things settle out on their own, but the force of Feminist Narrative and my drawback enforced sense of Knightly Duty refused to let me do that. They were my responsibility, especially since one of the two was my ward and the other was my servant… somewhat. Like all things Jumper… it’s complicated.

And so I solved the matter by turning Cirno into a puppy. This did not please the fairy one bit, but since Ceibhfhionn was a dog-focused Wildmage, it pleased her and reestablished their former pecking order. It might not be fair to Cirno, but she hadn’t been asserting herself because she wanted things to be more equal. She was doing it because she perceived a power vacuum and thought that just because she was now twenty years older (a meaningless distinction for a fairy) than she had been the last time they’d been together and Ceibhfhionn was only four years older. Still, Cirno was my sworn bondswoman, and this would (to a certain extent) keep her out of trouble.

Also present were the feral duo of Wolf and Squirrel, as well as my collection of pets (well, most of them. I found myself missing Zeddy, Freddy, and Teddy… though not nearly as much as Amaryllis was missing her Speeps and Aunties… why could I not get rid of those insane Sisters of Battle?! Why?! Were they a punishment from on high? A Karmic reminder of somekind? A cruel joke by some unknownable actor? Aaaaagh!). Still, it felt (somewhat annoyingly) extremely good to see Wolf again… at least as far as Sheanna was concerned. Stupid teenage libido… seriously, down girl. Anyone can forget to wear a shirt… though few males looked quite as… tempting when they did.

Scampers-Swiftly on the other hand, was the only native who seemed to think I’d been gone for any time at all. “It was aaaaaaages!” she whined as I poured her out a small pile of peanuts. To be fair, she also complained about how long I’d been gone when I went to the bathroom… if she didn’t follow me. I swear, it was almost as if she was convinced I was a total incompetent who would wander off if she didn’t keep a tiny liquid eye on me at all times. She also slept on my pillow and pouted whenever someone larger, be it Soffi or Ziggy or someone sexy forced her to vacate it, though she was smart enough not to chitter angrily at any of them… except for Alex and Maggy. In fact, the only person she didn’t mind being displaced by was Amaryllis… but that’s probably because Amaryllis gave good tummy rubs.

Over the winter following my investiture, I considered my options as a knight. I had a duty to fulfill, and no war to prosecute… but to serve Tortall alone would be denying my father’s heritage and peoples… and I still had a Goddess to serve to some extent. And so it was that, come spring, I begged the King’s leave and set forth in company for the north with Keladry who had, for her services, been made Baronness of Haven, the territory of around the fortified camp of New Hope and the ruins of the original Haven… to which I requested permission to utilize.

“Utilize? In what way?” Kel asked, curiosity piqued.

“I’m going to build a shipyard there,” I responded, making her chuckle… until she saw that I wasn’t kidding.

“I know the Greenwood is a fast river, but it’s not exactly… I don’t know the term… sail worthy?”

“That’s okay. I’m going to be some major modifications to the river.”

“You’re going to modify… the river?”

“Current’s a little too fast and it’s deeper than I need it to be. So I’m going to widen it  and remove some of the rapids. Pretty much the same way Numair used Stone Dance to bring the rocks to make the lower walls of Haven and New Hope… it’ll make the river more navigable… and I need her to be about 40 feet wide, instead of the twenty she is now.”

“But… if she’s shallower… don’t sailboats need…” she looked flummoxed.

“Not a sailboat. A steam boat. The Greenwood isn’t wide enough for me to build a double wheeler, so I’ll build a outboard…” I saw her expression, then laughed “I’ll set up a demonstration. Give me twenty minutes.”

Half an hour later, Kel was looking at the handful of small wooden riverboat mockups paddling their way around the horse trough. Her destrier, Peachblossom, looked most distressed by the small clockwork machines skidding about on his drink, but I reassured the grumpy beast that they were harmless… and stopped Scampers-Swiftly from trying to ride one. They were only 5 inches long and fairly fragile.

“And you make the wheels move with magic?” Kel asked.

“Oh… no… Steam. These chimneys are for the steam boilers. They’re called Stacks.”

“Oh… umm… Not… not like…” she bit her lip, not wanting to accuse me of using Necromancy, but I laughed and waved her worries away.

“No. No. Not like the Killing Machines. Those were abominations. I’ve set up another demonstration, but this one is in the kitchen.” I took her in to where the potbellied stove I’d introduced was doing its best to keep the still chilly early spring weather as bearable as possible. I’d modified a couple of kettles to serve as my testbeds. “This is called an aeropile…” I said, pointing to where a small sphere with two spouts was suspended on a tripod of legs. Unlike Heron of Alexandria’s model, mine was designed to spin horizontally.

I opened the top and showed Kel that it was empty inside. “One simply adds water,” I did so, “and places it over the heat.” And I did that too. “But while that’s heating, let me show you the process better with this kettle instead.” I pointed to one merrily steaming already, the cap off to show that the water was boiling slowly. There was a small, multi-bladed paddle-wheel attached to the spout by four stiff wires. “To show you that no magic is involved, if you would put the lid on that kettle?”

Quirking an eye, she did, then gasped as the steam, no longer able to escape the wide open top came pouring out of the spout under pressure… and the wheel began to clack-clack-clack rapidly. “What’s moving it?”

“Steam. It’s like blowing on a leaf to move it. My plan-” At that moment, the aeropile began to slowly spin up as the water inside boiled, the two small spouts making it spin on its rest faster and faster. “My plan is to make a couple of ships to ply the length of the Greenwood and Vassa… once the rapids are cleared there too… It will open up trade all along the rivers… all the way to the sea. And once I get River Steamboats operational, I can move on to Seaworthy ones. Neither river is really wide enough for a double-wheel design, but the outboard wheel designs should work… but to build them, I need to make a foundry to cast the boilers and sheetmetal for the pipes. And I’ll be running through a lot of charcoal… which I figured your people could make… the industry would be good… and with the war over, a lot of smiths will be needing work.”

“How will you pay for all this? I know your father is wealthy and the war mostly spared Blackmoon, but you’re talking about a lot of money.”

“I’ll manage,” I said, then handed Kel a sack of gold, “Remember, my artisan smiths have been making stoves and selling them all over the kingdom for a couple years now.” And it was true. Between my various (ridiculously low tech) inventions, the tech level enforced by the “Respect the setting”, and the mining I’d done to occupy my winters (wars just weren’t fought in winter in the north), I had the wealth I needed to fund the project and, with my friends and local magical might, I had the power needed to reshape the rivers… though it would take me time and effort.

Still, within six months, I had the first cargo riverboat plying the Greenwood, though I had not been personally involved besides the funding, designing, and hydroforming stages as I’d been spending my time hunting bandits and monsters as a good little knight.

By the end of my sixth year, there were five riverboats running the Greenwood, Vassa, and Brown Rivers between Forts Steadfast, Mastiff, and the rebuilt Giantkiller as well as Fiefs Anak’s Eyrie and Tirrsmont and a half dozen towns, including New Hope, Bearsford, Riversedge, and Goatstrack. It was only a matter of time before we reached the sea… and, of course, the bandits and smugglers were getting bolder, as I’d known they would.

Which is why I’d built not five riverboats, but six. The sixth was not an outboard… nor was she a doublewheeler. Instead, she was a three wheeler, two narrow ones on the sides and one central one located inside the main hull, all running on the same axis. The ship was essentially two hulls, one fore, one aft, joined by the castle and three tiers of walkways (though the lowest one was more a crawlway.) She was 18 feet wide, 80 feet long, 6 feet of draft, and had the same steel that plate armor was made of covering most of her. She was an ironclad and mounted four ballista and could level up to sixty crossbowmen against anyone stupid enough to try and take her on. I named her, of course, Proud Mary, and she became the mobile base of operations for counter Banditry operations all along the rivers. She was also broad enough that she could serve as a bridge across the Vassa and her boilers were strong enough to hold against the rapid flow of the river without too much effort.

She was also what finally allowed me to find out where Joy was. The answer was, of course, hiding under my nose the entire damned time. Bethari ha Niko, one of the Queen’s Riders who’d been my friend for years, came riding north to Blackmoon (where the double ended river clearing project was finally having its golden spike moment) with the Conte Monarchs to see my Fabulous Riverboats (the first of which had been named ‘Farmer’s Joy’ in honor of the novelist… and the fact that she carried grain) and, upon seeing the Proud Mary had actually slipped up enough to mutter ‘Holy shit’… in English. Granted, she’d thought I was out of range… and I was… but Buji is a surprisingly stealthy little boy and he reported back to me.

The presence of English meant that this was either Joy or Zane, and given Bethari’s personality, it didn’t seem likely this was the missing Zane. I had loads of suspicions about who Zane might have been or where, but frankly, he could have been anywhere in Tortall’s past, present, or future. At first I’d thought maybe he was Aiton… but Aiton just blinked at me when I asked if the name Zane meant anything to him. Ditto Sheanna’s father and little brother. I’d also asked Scampers, Wolf… and really, everyone else I could think to ask if the name meant anything, but those who had known a Zane always knew a local with that name.

So that’s why, when I confronted Bethari, I snarked, “Hello, Joy.”

“Damn. One of those kids was one of your spies, weren’t they?”

“Why the subterfuge?” I asked, neither confirming or denying my source.

“I’m a spy! It was fun! I still can’t believe you didn’t guess before this! I thought for sure when you asked me if the name Zane meant anything to me you were on to me, but…” she shrugged. “So, your mental powers really are nerfed?”

“Yeah. pretty much. I get the worst headaches when I try to do much with them, and it is totally against the knightly code to read people’s minds without their permission. Also, you’re a stinker! I’ve been worried about you!”

“Yeah, yeah. I know. And it’s been a bear to be separated from everyone… but sometimes a little distance is good. I’ve been enjoying being Bethari. I kinda recommend the whole dropping into a role and making new friends for an experience.” She shrugged, leaning back.

“We’ve been worried about you,” I growled.

“I’m a big girl. We all are. And sometimes it gets a little… close in there. I think more of us should get out, stretch our legs a bit. You like to pretend we’re all one big happy… but sometimes we’re not. Sometimes…” she shrugged again, not finishing.

“If you’re not happy-” I began, feeling a little heart-sick.

“Nothing like that, Jumper-girl. I’m happy enough. Been doing this my whole life, even before you came into the picture. I was a troubleshooter, a wanderer. No home, no roots. But what’s that line?”

I knew instantly what she meant. We thought a lot alike at times. “If you love something, set it free?”

She nodded. “If it comes back…” she gave a third shrug. “If it doesn’t, it wasn’t yours to begin with.”

“Or it’s trapped someplace horrible, waiting for rescue,” I growled.

“Yeah. Maybe. But I didn’t say don’t check up on it. Trust, but verify, you know?”

I nodded. “Still… you could have left a note saying ‘Hey, this is Joy, I’m fine, just taking a little me time.’” I threw a plumstone at her. “Ahab was worried about you!”

“Denys? Oh, sweetie… He’s known who I was since that first trip north!” Her mocking grin made me want to throttle her… and Ahab.

I growled, “That… lying… no good… I’m going to… oooh… just see if I don’t!” I stomped off, then stomped back, and, in a fairly unknightly moment, punched my friend… and not gently.

She offed and waved at me as I turned to go. “Temper temper.”

“Shut up. I’m mad at… what was that sound?”

The sound turned out to be Wolf howling and running back into camp, a couple of arrows sticking out of his lupine form. I rushed to my friend’s side and was about to ask who’d done this, when he gasped out a pained, “Bandits… in the trees.”

I blinked, then a lifetimes of training came to the fore. There was barely time for me to call out “To Arms!” and send a surge of healing magic into Wolf… the arrows could be cut out later, but if he died before I could treat him, it wouldn’t matter if he had arrows in him or not.

I was still drawing my swords when the bandits boiled out of the night as a catapult lobbed flaming pitch at my riverboat. I rushed forward towards the enemy, as behind me Naimon (AJ) ordered my men-at-arms to respond with crossbow fire and the fire doused with powdered talc and soda laid in specifically for that purpose even as the King’s Own formed up to protect the monarch and papa’s guards grabbed up their weapons. Our sentries were either down or had been bribed, and they’d gotten close enough to the newly constructed riverboat port to bring a catapult in range… but to do so, they’d had to muffle themselves pretty well, which meant no metal armor.

Still, we were in the light, and they were coming at us out of the darkness, and counting on us being nightblind. But I had the sight, and enough power to counter their attempt. With a release of will, I sent a pulse of magical energy across the budding battlefield, cloaking each of the bandits in purple and silver fairy fire. It didn’t burn them… but it did terrify the highly superstitious Scanrans, and as I gasped from the effort, the first of them began to go down as the Tortallan and Blackmoon archer and my crossbowmen began picking them off.

There hadn’t been a huge number of Bandits… some five hundred or so, but they’d been relying on surprise and darkness to even the odds against the less than half that number of knights and men at arms. Still, five hundred bandits and three catapults were not easily put together… nor were the three Scanran hedgewizards who’d cloaked the small army’s approach.

We caught all three of them trying desperately to escape and, after some interrogations that I was not part of, they revealed that they’d been paid out of the treasury of one of the Jarls upriver from Blackmoon who’d hoped to seize the King and Father and thus gain control of the mouth of the Vassa.

King Johnathan was a good man, and Tortall was still coming off a war footing, and the kingdom had never had the resources needed to push the war too far into Scanra, which was why the war had dragged on so long, with Tortall almost entirely on the defensive… but Papa was Scanran and this insult could not be borne, nor could this act of war go unanswered, and so, that was the start of the Scanran Civil War as the High Council ripped itself apart and Tortall supplied Papa and his allies with weapons and supplies.

Even though it was five coastal and river jarls against a coalition of nearly twenty (the numbers kept fluctuating) the result was never in doubt. With the rich lands of Tortall supplying food and high quality arms and armor (and the occasional man-at-arms and those Knights who were willing), the hinterland Jarls who lacked access to sea routes or river routes were hard pressed to field large forces, especially after having been drained by the recent war with Tortall itself. The war was over before the end of my ninth year in Tortall and Scanra no longer existed as a functioning nation (not that it was much of one to begin with).

Galla to the east absorbed those parts of the country which had refused to bend the knee to Tortall and father was Duke Blackmoon in his new capital at Hemrkeng, the former capital. Aiton became the heir to the duchy, and I became Lady of Blackmoon itself, which was already growing into a major sea port. Scanra would, no doubt, become the Scottland to Tortall’s England within a few generations, supplying oil, coal, iron, fish, and ridiculous accents and bizarre fashion.

Since I know you’re worried about him, Wolf recovered with his typical goofy grin, and, to appease Sheanna’s mother and secure Fief Blackmoon’s succession (if it really needed it)… and because, while opportunity may only knock once, temptation hammers the door down… Sheanna ended up marrying the all too handsome and occasionally shirt wearing rogue. Something in me already knew that I’d be leaving this world behind for good… if I returned it would not be as Sheanna. I didn’t know how I knew that, but while she’d always be part of me, she’d come a who I was once the moment the decade ended, a spin-off as it were. I would not hold this world and its strange Chamber still in time… If I even could.

I looked out upon the land of childhood dreams and noble knights as Sheanna said her wedding vows, feeling a bit remote from it all. I was looking forward to the future, to an era defined by this woman and her children… but, like the Magi King-Priests, she had her own life to live and the part of me that was the Jumper Manifest was already feeling the draw of stranger infinities. I had been a part of Sheanna, but the disruption and disjunction between she and I was greater than most of my… manifestations.

“Beloved friends,” she said, looking out on the gathered crowd of wellwishers, every inch a warrior queen. She raised a goblet and, with a laugh, toasted them all. “May you never forget what is worth remembering, and never remember what is best forgotten.”

The crowd cheered. It was a good day.

As the decade came to an end, I was unsure what, exactly, was going to happen. The Arcade, the chamber in which I met with the Banker and Mensarius had been repaired by my loyal army of machines, but it showed no more life than a blank tv screen. An occasional flicker of static made me hopeful, but nothing seemed to come of it.

In the end, I was merely hoping that there was some built in automation in the process that would allow me to keep moving. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Tortall. If I had to be stranded in a Verse, there were worse places to be stranded than the one that contained Tortall (and, I suspect, Emelan & The Inner Sea from Tamora Pierce’s other setting, the Circle of Magic… they certainly weren’t on the same planet that I’d been able to find… but I hadn’t explored the local cosmology much… which would change if I was indeed trapped here)… but there were also better places too. Someplace a little more Earth-like? Someplace a little more… expansive? Someplace a little further from Warhammer 40K? I wondered how such things would be measured.

As the days dragged on, I began to try and figure out what connections the two Bankers, The Chamber/Malal, and beings like Necoho and The Outsider might have… and were there other entities of similar scale. It was clear that Necoho and the Outsider weren’t even vaguely in the same power bracket as the Bankers… and I suspect the Chamber (whether or not it was also Malal / Malice) was also lower on the trans-cosmic totem-pole… but they all had one thing in common… a connection to primordial Chaos. Not the Chaos of 40K, but the sea of unending possibilities that was, almost invariably, at the root of every system of mythology and not a few systems of science.

Some of those agents of Chaos were arguably not evil, striving to increase variety and promote change. Others were… varying  degrees of less good / more crazy… striving to either increase their own power at best or return everything to the primordial undifferentiated ooze, the nothingness before creation. So far, the only ones of that ilk I’d encountered were the Demons of Dresden’s Verse… and they weren’t even close to being on the same order of power that the other entities were. I suspected that the more inimical to the Omniversal Structure such a being was, the more its power was focused on destruction… either that, or the stubborn refusal to admit the rest of the Universe had a right to exist meant that more of their energy was focused on maintaining their own spiteful existence than in messing around with the membranes between Realities.

Or, I could be blowing smoke out of my ass. Could I, the ant, really hope to understand one of these entities? Who knows. Would understanding ultimately make me one of them? Or something that surpassed them? Was there anything that surpassed them? Was there a one true Brahman / Hashem / Adam Kadmon that possessed true omniscience and omnipotence? Was there a Ne Plus Ultra Dei?

We parked the Proud Mary on a riverbank with a nice beach and waited for the world to pause. I looked around at my friends and children frollicing in the waining sunlight and wondered what was next.  At the moment of truth, nothing seemed to happen… and then I realized I was freaking out and had frozen the Universe. The Drawbacks had, apparently, been automated to fall off at exactly the end of the decade. I breathed out, relaxing my hold on the fabric of time… and for a second, nothing still persisted in happen. A full damned second! Do you know how agonizingly long a second is when you can process discreet sensations at the microsecond range? Uuuuugh. Maybe increasing my computational speed had not been a good idea.

Ages passed… at least 230,000,000 nanoseconds… that’s 10 years worth of seconds, FYI… before the first measurable change to the fabric of reality occurred. One of the Pillars of Time rose, achingly slowly, even to the part of my mind that was designed to process time at a normal flow rate’s perception. The Pillar was on an angle and looked damaged. The other two were missing entirely.

I swore as time juddered, slowly, to a stop, everyone around me flickering and twitching as a stray second got past the pause effect. Then I, leaving Sheanna’s body standing there behind me (and wasn’t that a strange experience) strode over to the Pillar and gave it a good, hard kick, aiming to straighten it out a little. The pain of that contact was like nothing that can be described in concepts that the mortal mind can conceive. It hurt exactly as much as the color of Thursday raised to the ninety-third power plus or minus the squeaking noise cabbage makes when it is fried in lard cut from the idea of reversing the polarity in a frying pan made of the shattered and pulverized dreams of alcoholic void gnomes. Since I could no more conceptualize what any of that might mean than you can, suffice it to say my entire computational network went into scram mode and Blue Screened like a mother fucker.

There is absolutely no way to measure how long it took me to reboot. None. In one aspect, 2 hours 13 minutes 41.0193084947 seconds had passed in fits and starts for the local universe as best as I could approximate… but those flickers of time passing could have been separated by days or centuries and no one but me in my totally non-functioning capacity was there to experience it. Does time pass if there isn’t anything to experience it? I’ve no idea. I certainly didn’t feel older… but who knows if I even had a physical form while I was rebooting. My physicality was just as frozen as the rest of this universe.

This time, I was more careful. I brushed a hair against the pillar. It didn’t vaporize or otherwise seem harmed. I pressed a fingertip lightly against the surface as if trying to find some dust. The pressure was intensely uncomfortable, but bearable. I tried pushing against the pillar and, slowly, ever so slowly, it moved into a more upright position, but the process was incredibly taxing and being in close contact with the damaged pillar was not doing wonders for my state of mind.

After several days and nights of effort, I managed, barely, to get the pillar from about 62 degrees to perfectly vertical. That, at least, stopped the flickering. Yaaaay! I was all alone outside of time. I could enter the warehouse and it too was stuck, frozen in time. Shit. There was an automated system and it was borked. I needed technical support, and in a bad way… but not only did I not have a number to dial… I was pretty certain I didn’t have a phone to dial it on.

Thankfully, all my abilities seemed to be working just fine, so I covered the distance to the capital at mach yes and entered the hall where The Chamber stood. Placing my hand upon the door, I asked “You’re outside of local time, right? You should still be active or reactive or whatever.”

The Voice of the Chamber was utterly unlike the Thoughts of the Chamber. Those had been a roiling, barely contained storm. This was almost a tinkling of bells. “I am. This is most alarming. It has not happened any of the other six thousand one hundred and two times a traveller has ventured into this realm… nor any of the several tens of million times this realm has been passively experienced.”

“You can tell how many times people have read the books?”

“Ah. Is that what you call it? Then… yes?”

“Wonderful. Any chance you know how to contact whoever or whatever… I’m not sure how to put this… It is clear that the Banker and Mensarius… the ones who linked to this world… they are of a specific class of entities… and they clearly maintain some kind of support structure of other entities who shape the experience of travelers like me… presumably because they can then make some kind of profit off of what can only be described as syndication to other beings?”

“Benefactors. Creators. Subscribers. Yes.”

“Is there a way for you to contact the other Benefactors on my behalf to enquire what the hell is going on?”

“Yes.”

“Lovely. You’re being literal. Could you please do so?”

“No.”

“Any particular reason why not?”

“If I do not allow you move on, this world will remain paused, neither being reactivated by your eventual completion of your travels nor being erased by your eventual extermination.”

“I had planned to disconnect my Sheanna-Self from my primary self and allow her to live out her life as she deemed proper… wait… This universe remaining paused is, by you, a good thing?”

“I am conscious of all existing variations of this reality, from their moment of genesis to their eventual termination. The only times I cannot see past are those created when a Traveller arrives, as their eventual fate does not lie within the timeframe of this reality. Neither does their genesis, so I can only tell a new traveller is about to arrive when a new variation comes into being.”

“And?”

“The one you call ‘Banker’ is always to blame, disrupting the balance without a care.”

“So you’re punishing me because the Banker gives you a headache?”

“The analogy is sound. Yes.”

“And you don’t mind because the other variations are still moving?”

“No. as long as you are here, no time passes on the world of your origin. That world is the source of almost all those who experience this reality in one form or another.”

“So… your reality will not be observed or interfered with-”

“The two are the same. Even a passive experience causes an unacceptable number of changes. People look different. People speak differently. People’s motivations are altered. It is most frustrating.”

“You are soo Malal. Even if you’re not. You’re actively complaining that different readers imagine things differently?”

“When I am tasked with maintaining the order of this world?! Of course!”

“Chamber. Pay close attention.” The universe shook.

“What are you doing?”

“I possess the ability to experience anything as if it were the first time. I also possess the ability to read a book instantly. I also, also, have more than 200 selves… all of which can experience things independently of each other. I just had each of my 200 selves experience my mental copy of the entire Alanna and Kel cycle… independently of each other… 1,000 times in a row… each time having read a different other book just prior. If you don’t give me back my friends and family and let me move on… I will start generating so much fanfiction set in Tortall and Emelan and constantly experiencing it, remixing it, forgetting it, and repeating the process until I conclusively drive either you or me or both completely insane. It will take me less than one day to completely eclipse the previous number of experiencers of this entire reality. Your call.”

“I shall be pleased to pass on your complaint to … what?”

“What what?”

“I have been assigned as your… interim Benefactor. Why are you laughing?”

“Of course you have! You interfered with the Chain with your little 40K stunt and since the Banker was… damaged, took advantage of his Matrix somehow. Now, don’t let me worry you… but how do you think he’ll feel if and when he gets better… if you’ve let the ratings slip?”

“Are you always this horrid?”

“Yes. Get used to it.”

“You should be more grateful I’m willing to help you at all.”

“You’re helping yourself by getting me out of your reality… and if you could have turned down the gig as interim Benefactor, you would have. Someone pulled rank on you, didn’t they?”

“There was a bit of give and take.”

I snorted. “Yeah, they gave you marching orders and you took them like one of those Knights you’ve assigned special duties to.”

“You were more polite when you were a Knight.”

“That was because a) I was bound to the knightly code of honor and b) because that persona was dominant at the time. While she is me, I am not her.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Wow. You are new at this. Okay, picture a beach. Got it?”

“I do.” The chamber sounded… uncertain.

“Dunes form on that beach, yes? Shaped by wind and wave, right?”

“From one way of looking at it.”

“Those Dunes are an expression of the beach, but they are not the beach. They come and go, but compared to the beach, they are transitory. I know you’re going to say that the beach is transitory too… but all things ultimately are… even the timeless.”

“While not stipulating that you are correct, let me simply agree that I understand your analogy. Now, how does this work?”

“Assuming you’ve been granted access to the Banker’s CP Matrix, You will need to determine where I am going next, then decouple the Warehouse from this reality and recouple it to the destination reality. And bring all the stuff I have purchased or tagged with CP, as well as my companions, my children, my companion’s children… etc, with us. And don’t forget Carwyn.”

“The Light of Terra and her escort fleet will not fit in the Warehouse or the Dock you have attached to it.”

I blinked. I got to keep the Light of Terra? And her escort fleet? Right, then… “Merge Hephestus with the Space Dock, then place the Light of Terra and her fleet at docking points around Hephestus. The Space Dock always appears someplace out of the way, so just make the fleet likewise.”

“When you say your children, do you mean to include those you have left in other realities, because I don’t think I can access those.”

“No. Just the ones who are currently… I’ll go tag them. Some will need to have local copies left behind, like Sheanna herself. Do you need me to construct a stone chamber like this one inside the Warehouse so you can function?”

“Err… Yes. yes that would be… useful. I shall meet you there. Also, a water feature would be nice. It’s very gloomy in here.”

“Sheesh. For a being beyond time, you sure are picky.” I strode out and flew off to a local stone quarry. It was the work of less than an hour to find suitable stone and carve it into an ornate stone chamber and fountain thanks to my supply of ice-nanites (picocites are really bad for carving). I got it all installed and running, then went and tagged everything with little SJ stickers (two versions, ones for things to bring and ones for things that Sheanna would need local copies of). I was careful to tag the person and not their clothes… I wasn’t counting on the extremely literally minded Chamber not to get confused. I considered tagging the Proud Mary, then decided against it… I didn’t really need a river boat, no matter how fabulous. Also, I had no place to put her, since I didn’t want her ending up floating in space or in the middle of downtown warehouseville.

Finally, I was certain I was finished, having tagged everyone I could find… so, pretty much everyone besides Zane (I still had no idea where Mensarius had transported the dumb-ass.)… but not Wolf. He was Sheanna’s love interest, not mine. I had enough complexity in my existence, especially if Carwyn actually did show up. And this wouldn’t be the first time my selves had had love-lives that had been outside of my affections… the Magi King-Priests had (by and large) been married and had children and grandchildren and who knew how many great-to-the-nth-grandchildren. Sheanna loved him… Essjay just liked the feel of his chest. Good lord do I have disassociation issues sometimes.

I suspect that, had I not ended up in Warhammer for 20 years in the middle of Sheanna’s run, I would have fallen for Wolf as well, but the loss of Ryoga and Yoiko and Carwyn… and even Tess… combined with the much higher emotional demands of running a burgeoning empire, had disrupted my core persona’s infatuation process and thrown the normal force of narrative out of whack… but the narrative demanded that the female lead get everything she wanted. Kel’s narrative had ended before that point, but it was clear she’d get her man eventually. Alanna and Alianne had definitely gotten theirs.

I went into the Warehouse and tapped on the Chamber Door. “You Hooo! JumpChan! You in here?”

“Why did you call me that?”

“Eh. Why not? Chamber… Cham… Chan.  Seems to work. You’re not funding this jaunt… you’re simply managing the variables, as I understand it.”

“Yes. It is most… worrying. What will happen to Tortall if my attention is divided?”

“You are timeless, you dumb ass. You know everything that will ever and has ever happened there. You can link to any time at will as I understand it.”

“Right… um… what now?”

“See if you can activate the other two Pillars of Time… there’s one of them on the Beach.”

“Ah… yes… okay, the control system for this seems workable… I just do this…”

The Universe lurched several feet sideways and the gravitational axis tilted a few degrees off true. “Would you like me to have a go?” I asked, sounding a little snider than I’d intended. Ziggy ran in, winding around my feet and looking a little panicked. At least time was flowing for my companions again.

“No. No. I… hmmm… ah… there. All three are up. Ah… recall all CP items… Restore all CP items… that doesn’t seem to be working… it looks like you’ll have to physically move anything you need back into the Warehouse… and I can’t repair or replace anything that gets damaged…”

“Wonderful. Manual loading. Tell me you can maintain the Warehouse’s structural integrity?”

“I can maintain the Warehouse’s Structural Integrity.”

“Are you telling me you can or can you actually do it?”

“I have no physical abilities at all.”

“So… you can’t. Great. Wonderful.”

“Yes. It appears that I cannot maintain the Warehouse in a position between two realities. The moment I remove it from my native reality it will have to snap into position on the next. Also, I have no conception of what units of time actually mean, so it would probably be best if you don’t delay this process.”

“So, you don’t know how long a week or  month… or ten years is.”

“I perceive all of time as a single unit.”

“Then how did you know to keep me in Warhammer for a decade?”

“I didn’t. It was pure luck the events of that covered what time they took. Rather, I suspect they actually encompassed more time than you’re aware of, thanks to the events of your time with Magnus and in the Warp.”

“Right. Right. Fair enough. So… do you have any idea where you’re linking me to now?”

“No.”

“No idea?”

“I have a name and a list of values I do not understand.”

“What name?”

“KanColle. The Capitalization is strange.”

“You don’t understand time but you do understand Capital Letters?”

“I can understand all mortal languages.”

“Great. I have no idea what that is. Look, let’s get this separation accomplished and, if you’re a good Chamber, I’ll help you figure it out once we do. Sound good?”

“No. This is a recipe for disaster. But anything to get you out of my Universe. Disconnect in 3, 2, 1…”

Next: KanColle?

OMAKE: Relationship Chart

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AN: The build for Light of Terra is up now. Oh, my god. just collating that thing and entering it took me several days worth of free time. But next time, a new jump, a new Benefactor. Booyah! Things are a changin’! And I promise, resolution of the whole Zane thing.

World 61: The Light of Terra, Part 10

THE LIGHT OF TERRA, A WARHAMMER 40K GAUNTLET

Part 10 – The Laughter of Dark Gods

Previously: Part 9, Am I Being Railroaded?

Themesong: Look What you Made Me Do by Taylor Swift (Nightcore)

Time moved on. It does that. The wreckage of the invasion was cleared, monuments erected, the survivors mended and integrated into the burgeoning Awakened population. My world was fully self-sufficient now, industry churning away… and my word was not just law… it was doctrine. I was not going to make the Emperor’s mistake. I’d make my own. If my people needed a god, I’d be that god. I’d make my wants, my demands clear and direct them in their worship… but I wouldn’t chastise them for it.

People were pouring in, eager to escape the coming storm outside of my system, eager to find a chance at a better life on my worlds. All the sleepers had, at last awakened, been integrated… and my ships were, at long last, all but whole.

The last of the stragglers had been rounded up, and I routinely had dinner with my political prisoners. The captain was… interesting to talk to, especially since she was one of the few on the planet who treated me like a person and not like a deity… or an object of desire… or a parent.

“This peace is strangely seductive,” She commented on day, close to the end of the 9th year.

“It won’t last. It can’t. Something of… something is stirring out there. I can feel it. Some great game is afoot. Maybe another Black Crusade… maybe Guilliman or Lion are finally waking from their long slumber… maybe… I don’t know.”

She regarded me with closed expression, judging if I was mad or not. The executions had done nothing to convince her I wasn’t a megalomanical psyker bent on galactic domination, but all my talk of the Primarchs as if I knew them of old had her bouncing between thinking of me as a lunatic and thinking of me as a prophet… then again, the line between the two was ever blurred.

“Why are you so big today?” she finally asked.

“I don’t know. I’m feeling too big for my skin I guess. It’s been harder and harder for me to maintain my smaller size since your friends invaded my world. Plus, it seems to make the people happy. Must be a function of this reality, that having leaders that loom over you makes you feel more protected. Also, it’s a new experience, being 8 foot 3 inches tall.”

“How close is your flagship to completion?” she asked, changing the subject.

“10 months tops,” I responded, looking at where the constant stream of lifters was rising in the distance. They rose from the processing facilities every 30 seconds, day in and day out, each carrying tons of processed materials up to the waiting fleet. The ammo for Ark Magna and Light alone weighed more than some of my smaller voidships. “I just hope it’s soon enough. Something is coming. An end is fast approaching.”

“Are you really going to install that Xenos equipment on the Light?” she said, looking out at the field where the Eldar had begun assembling several “gifts’ from Eldrad.

“Of course I am. I’d be a fool not to. I’ve already got a main lance that’s a Warp Relic, Engines designed by the Necrontyr, and a living spaceship that likes to curl up on the fin of the Light and hiss at things.” It had been a bitch and a half reinforcing the great rudder-like fin of the Light of Heaven so that it didn’t buckle under the massive weight of the Preemptive Retaliation… but if the ship wanted to roost there, I wasn’t going to tell it not to. It was too damned big to scold effectively… and I didn’t feel like it would be a good use of resources to invest in a 2 kilometer long spray bottle.

“What are they, anyway?”

“The crystal stuff is a Craftworld Dome of the Crystal Seer… it’s effectively going to turn the Light of Heaven into an Eldar Craftworld… anyone who dies aboard her, and anyone linked to her will essentially find Heaven and eternal… life… inside the Infinity Circuit of the ship.  That, and the Warp Spiders of the Dome will keep Daemonic and sorcerous activity from threatening the ship. It should be useful.” I stretched, then shrugged.

“That network of plates you can see is a holofield generator… it’s a stealth field for the ship.”

“You can’t stealth a voidship! There’s no place to hide in space.”

“Thinking like a human again, Captain? Tisk tisk. It creates a hologram around the ship that mimics the surrounding area when the ship is moving slowly or in one place. When it’s moving faster, the ship’s imagine becomes a kaleidoscopic explosion of multi-colored fragments that appear to fly apart at random. Makes it hard to hit the ship at all… let alone target any individual system.”

“What about non-visual target?”

“Works against even the most advanced sensor suites, from what I understand. No defense is perfect, but I’ve got void and force shields under that Holofield. Plus, the Light should be far more maneuverable than any ship a tenth her size.”

She muttered about the unfairness of Xenos tech and how I was a cheating heretic. I moved my rook and she glowered at me. “I wasn’t talking about the game… but rooks can’t move diagonally.”

“I figured I’d live up to your expectations of me. It’s your move.”

“Fine,” she moved her queen in a teleporting motion that was definitely against the rules. “Checkmate.”

“Ah, but my King has actually be replaced with a Genestealer.”

“My Queen is an Ordo Xenos Inquisitor.”

“Oh… well, you win then.” I grinned. “And the last one is a Void Spinner… It’s a bit of Eldar Terraforming technology.”

“You’re hiding something from me.”

“Of course I am.”

“It’s a super-weapon too, isn’t it?”

“Well, anything that can reformat an entire world usually is. Yes.”

She shuddered.

Eight Months Later… I woke from a sleep I hadn’t realized I’d fallen into to a humming noise in the darkness. My children lay around me, sleeping the sleep of those who know they are safe from the boogeymen that lurk in the outer dark, and the only sound should have been their breathing and the soft shifting noise of Speeps rubbing against each other. Instead, there was a humming… a low, sinister sound just on the edge of perception. I looked up to the ceiling where I’d hung the Deadlight, and saw shapes moving slowly across it’s ancient surface.

“Ah, dread beast. Your hour’s come round at last? Do you, even now, slouch towards Bethlehem?” I set Amaryllis down on a pillow and lifted off the ground, rising to scoop up the artifact that bound me away from all I was before, and regarded it balefully. “You are so obviously a trap it isn’t funny.” I commented, then slid the thing into a pouch I’d grown in my abdomen. I didn’t trust anyone with the Deadlight when I had to go travelling… not that anyone but me ever seemed to notice the damned thing. I’d checked.

I left my quarters and made my way to operations.

“What’s happening?” I asked as I entered the room, a dozen astropaths and three times that number of technicians all looking to me in surprise. They’d clearly been debating sending someone to wake me, and the air of tension was palpable.

“Long range scanners are registering vast hosts of starships moving into the area,” one tech reported.

“Some are only a few light months away!” another added nervously.

“We’re picking up Space Marine and Imperial signal traffic,” a third added.

“Reports of Ork hulks,” a fourth began, but was cut off by a fifth who added “Tomb ships. Necron Tomb ships.”

A sixth said “one world that had been under attack by Dark Eldar Corsairs had them all lift at nearly the same time and now they’re clashing with Eldar ships in the Rokair Nebula.”

“I think we’re seeing Tau and an Adeptus Mechanicus Leviathan task-force fighting near Scintilla,” one of the Astropaths commented.

“And there’s a shadow on the warp to the galactic south. The kind you warned us about. It swallowed a Chaos task-group out of the Eye just an hour ago.”

“So all the players are here,” I nodded. Then looked up to the sky… or at least the ceiling. “Ready the fleet. I want the Light ready to go as fast as we can get her lifted.”

That was easier said than done, and it took almost another month before the last meter thick panel of Ceramite was placed and the chemwelders could seal the metal sheets together, fusing them as if they’d always been a single vast expanse of featureless alloy. And the crew was coming. Oh were they coming.

Fleets of lighters that had once carried metal ore and deck plating now lifted from the planet in a vast swarm as my people, the best of my best, my hand-picked myriads led their fellows in an exodus from the planet we’d made our own back onto the ark that had brought us here in the first place. The Light of Heaven lived again and I was taking half the population of my world out onto what could very well be a suicide run. All the remaining ships would stand guard over Paradise while I was gone. I would not leave the world I had made undefended… but I could wait no longer. It was time to end whatever this was.

Chaos was rising. I could feel the Warp thrumming, pulsing, reacting to something, drawing in around this region of space, ancient ships, ancient things that had turned traitor almost 12 thousand years ago slipping out of the Eye of Terror, joining freshly constructed nightmares fresh from the Daemonforges and even mighty Daemons were tearing themselves free of the Immaterium to struggle towards some dark nexus.  Something was drawing them into realspace, at terrible cost to both realities, and the fabric between was growing weak and thin.

Something was drawing me in… and in doing so, it was dragging everything else, all the conflicting forces, in with me. Four paths flowered open in my awareness of the void and subconsciously I charted each one, for each was clearly bound to one of the Four Great Ruinous Powers. I flinched back from the Terminus Est, the great plague ship of Nurgle, rejected the chance to fight the nameless flagship of Slaanesh, and dismissed the no doubt heavily reinforced Iron Blood, the flagship of Khorne. If I was going to strike a blow against Chaos, it would be against Tzeentch or no one. Khorne and Nurgle were what they were. Primal and Rough. There was no challenge in defeating either besides the application of brute force, and to throw myself and my ship against that kind of battle when I didn’t need to would be folly.

To fight Slaanesh? That would just be madness, for Slaanesh was mad.

The Schemer however? The Sorcerer God? That was a challenge that could be met, and so I traced the lines of fate as Carwyn had taught me and found the Furious Abyss as I’d known I would. Three Abyss-class battleships had been built, greater even than the Gloriana, and designed with treachery in mind. And the Furious… well, she’d been the worst.

The wheels of bureaucracy turn very slowly indeed, and so it was that, as we moved deeper into the vortex of destiny, the IFF system aboard The Light picked up a signal that had been lost during the age of the Horus Heresy so long ago, for the Furious Abyss had met her doom in orbit around MaCragge and had fallen, burning, onto one of the Ultramarine’s homeworld’s moons during the worst of the fighting in those dark days.

Not that that stopped the ship from being here all the same. She was still wreathed in the flames that had consumed her in that long ago past, flames that had died 120 centuries ago… flames that formed two colossal wings. The Changer of Ways had, by dint of sorcery most foul, willed the dead ship back into existence… or maybe not.

The entire ship flickered as it moved, vanishing from existence as the universe remembered her demise… only for it to forget a few moments later as the hull, dancing with the ghost of eternal flames, shimmered back into existence.

“All weapons, open fire.” I snapped as the ship moved closer, a giant warpfire tail appearing, then another, and claws and a head emerged from the half-wrecked ship. She was a phoenix reborn… but so was my Light, and I was willing to test her restored strength against the shattered ruin of the Abyss.

We danced about each other, two ships more maneuverable than they had any right to be, but it was alway a forgone conclusion. Both ships were nigh impossible to hit, but my ship had range, while all the Abyss had was claws and a gouting warpfire breath weapon…. That my shields sent harmlessly into the warp. Between Carwyn and I, we always knew when the attacks were coming.

A few good hits were all it took for the Light to banish the Abyss, sending the Teller of False Lies’ ship back into history and we sailed onward, deeper into madness and destruction.

My people were quite. No celebration yet. This was not resolved. Just because we’d shattered the ruins of the Flagship of Tzeentch and sent its flaming ruin smashing into the atmosphere of a hot jupiter did not mean this nightmare was over. I stood at my helm, eyes fixed on the distance, and knew, knew without knowing how or why, where I had to go next.

As the ship began to move, I realized I hadn’t uttered a command. Apparently, even my crew knew where the ship needed to be. If some force had used me to reconstruct the Light… well… I had plans for that. I would not be used… but until that time, I was willing to see how this would all play out.

We soon came across the first wreck, a light cruiser daubed with the runes of Chaos… then another and another and more. Even with the Necron drive, maneuvering through the growing graveyard was straining the Light to her limits as entire clouds of ruin drifted through space, fleets of Chaos shattered, space hulks shattered and smashed beyond repair, a vast three-dimensional maze that contained more ships than I could have imagined Chaos had possessed… and each of them had been destroyed within the last few hours.

After several light-minutes travel, we emerged from the maze to bear witness to the still battling remnants of this once overwhelming warfleet… and still fleets of nothing but battleships swarmed about… all attacking a single object… and losing.

I gaped. It was a titanic Necron Dyson Sphere, reflections of fire and explosions dancing across the surface of the solar system sized object, runes larger than planets crawling in green fire across the inky black surface, the words of a civilization that had died before mankind had been but a dream.Those words of green fire were vile, terrible, horrific to behold and the things they did to the ships of Chaos as they lanced outward drove me to my knees with their sheer wrongness. I heard the sounds of my officers being sick… though it did console me. Whoever controlled that abomination had no need of the Light…. Even with the upgrades I’d made…

And then something turned its focus upon me. SOmething so vast as to be essentially immeasurable, an entity of such colossal scale that I could not even comprehend the merest facet I was exposed to. I could barely breathe and fell, gasping, to the deck as it spoke across the space between it and me and I heard. I would have heard even if humanity had never dreamed of the concept of sound.

“Finally… you have arrived. Arrived too late, but you have, at last, arrived! Come!” The Light, as if pulled in by those words alone, began to move, gliding forward under some invisible power, ships of Chaos swooping in to attack only to be vaporized like bad dreams upon waking. “Come. I owe you much and it is fitting that someone like you be there to bear witness to my ascension!”

The Light docked with the Dyson Sphere, not even the tiniest of bumps shaking the gargantuan vessel as it locked tight to a strut within the improbable construct… nor was there even the tiniest sensation of movement as I was drawn through the very hull of the Light and brought forth to confront the one who had apparently marked himself as not just my nemesis by the nemesis of all life within the Galaxy.

I found myself standing on a vast, floating platform, one hovering motionless before the shrunken remnants of what had once been a star, the once glorious orb of fire not a withered repulsive, sickly green orb, one that emitted sullen, lethargic flares that drifted slowly before they dissipated.  Around the platform’s rim stood a number of mighty engines, ebon things so vast that, even with the incredible distance between us, they loomed over me like mountains.

They were twenty-four titanic monoliths, each quartered and within each quarter was bound something so terrible, so incomprehensible, so mind twistingly awful that my mind shied away from it, my consciousness rejecting it… leaving only the frail, dim image of a quasi-humanoid figure thrashing amidst a riot of eldritch energies, struggling in futile rage to free itself. I groaned… they were CTan, the Necron gods… 96 C’Tan Shards, imprisoned by the Necron in revenge for their betrayal an age of ages ago, each sealed within what was known as a Tesseract Vault.

“Impressive, no?” came that terrible voice. “And rather fitting as well. They who condemned us to these wretched shells condemned to it in turn.”

As the voice hammered into my awareness, I growled, gritting my teeth, and surged to me feet. I would not fall, I silently resolved. Not here. Not now. Not to a voice. I would confront this unseen enemy. I’d look it in the face, and, if nothing else, I’d spit in its eye in one last fit of spite. Turning around was, perhaps, one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do… but I did it.

I looked upon the face of my enemy… it was, of course, a Necron, one with a single cyclopean eye in the center of its almost featureless face and I could all but feel the incredible age radiating off of him.

“Wh…o… the fuck…. Are you?” I managed to get out through clenched teeth.

“I am Orikan the Diviner,” he said, turning away from, dozens of ghost images flickering around him, other courses he might have taken, other actions he might have chosen… time itself was cracking, fracturing, breaking down around the Necron.

“Amongst the infinite futures that could be, the fall of the Eldar I saw. I looked and beheld, some sixty million years before they came to be. The rise and fall of the Empire of man I saw. Your coming I saw! All these things did I engineer!”

He raised his wasted metallic arms and green lightning arched from them.

“The fall of the Eldar spawned Slaanesh, who in turn trapped the Light of Terra and her cargo within the Warp until you could arrive and, driven by foolish, wretched, mortal fear, you have destroyed the one last thing standing in the way of my rise to true godhood. Thanks to you, I shall reign supreme!” he laughed the laugh of the truly mad as I looked around, trying to understand what I was seeing.

“The Great Work you stand within was constructed when we were still slaves to the C’Tan, before we broke free and in turn broke them. In numbers uncountable, we labored for ages undreamed by the pitiful children of evolution as they bred their way across our galaxy! We harnessed this star here, and clad it in unbreakable Necrodermis! We forged the machines that would allow our so-called ‘masters’ to separate physical space from the warp once and for all time to come! All this I foresaw!”

He was rising into the air now, lightning arcing away towards those distant mountains and his voice grew louder, shaking me apart at the seams. “We rose against them. It took years beyond even our counting to marshal what tattered scraps of self we had remaining, to remember what had been stolen from us, but in time we rose and the instrument that would have been their triumph became their prison! This too did I foresee!”

“We would have ended them utterly… if we could have. But they were not without cunning. How could they be? They had tricked us into becoming their slaves, becoming as we are now. Utterly vulnerable even as they are, there is not one of us who could raise a hand to finish them once and for all. The least effort would unmake them utterly, and yet we cannot, for it was a limitation coded deep within each of these accursed metal shells. So too are we unable to act against the Great Work that you stand within and gaze upon in uncomprehending wonder, you pathetic, pitiful mammal!” He glared his single glowing eye at me, and asked “DO YOU UNDERSTAND YET?”

He swooped out of the air to peer into my gaze and I could not have flinched away even had I wanted to. “Have you come to realize what you have done? What you did when, in a moment of blind greed and wanton cowardice you shattered the artifact you call The Deadlight?”

Rising back into the air, glided away from me, back towards the center of the platform, and sent another wave of emerald lightning arcing towards the monoliths and cried, “When you did what I could not? When you shattered the Warp Alignment Core of the Greatest Technological Wonder to have have existed?” He cackled with mad glee and his staff slammed into the necrodermis floor.

A pillar rose, smooth and silent, festooned with the glyphs of the Ancient Necron tongue, and he began tapping in some kind of command sequence. He glanced back at me and that look was ever so sly. “Just so. With the Warp Alignment Core destroyed, I can alter the outcome of the activation of the Great Work. Where once it would have sealed away the war for eternity, now it shall fuel my rise to something beyond what even the C’Tan themselves would call a god!”

He shifted his gaze from mine and looked out at the star. “Soon… soon I shall obliterate Chaos once and for all! I shall claim victory, and you… you alone shall bear witness as I bring Warp and Real Space together! Can and Cannot will collide and in that instant… In that moment of glorious realization, All that is will be unmade in fire! I shall strip away the very fabric of this multiverse and consume every last scrap of life and death… I shall claim my Spark and I shall rise as a PLANESWALKER!!!!”

My eyes opened wide and I shuddered in sudden revelation… he wasn’t a Necron… he was a JUMPER! Oh…. fuck… he was a Jumper fulfilling an Endjump… there was a Spark to claim in the Warhammer Universe and he was trying to get it… and he’d used me to… no… he’d tried to use me.

I didn’t know if i wanted to laugh or dance… or just stare at his back in outright confusion. Was it really this easy? Had Jumper von Necron really just made such a basic mistake? He’d turned away from me after an utterly Bond Villain moment, so supremely confident that he’d won… I don’t know if he even noticed me as I staggered forward towards the control column of the Great Work.

I could imagine what had happened. He’d used precog of some kind… and filtered it through his own perceptions, his own preconceptions. He could not belief that any sentient being, let alone a Jumper, would be able to resist shattering the Deadlight. He’d arranged for me to be here, cut me off from my power because he thought he knew what a Jumper would do. It had clearly never occurred to him that I might not break the artifact, and so he hadn’t even looked into that timeline

He was floating above me, glowing gently as I reached the column, and I could see the eldritch fire of the C’Tan Shards flowing into him as he drank it in. Already the dying corpse star was starting to swell, the great machine beginning to struggle against the collapse of space-time outside it.

I reached into my abdomen, into the pouch I’d made, feeling the smooth sphere, a comfortable fit in the palm of my hand as I withdrew it. I was glad I’d decided to keep it with me. I had no idea what to do with it… and so, lacking anything better to try, I pressed it against the Necrometal of the Column.

It made not a sound as it slid within, sinking into the smooth black surface like a pebble into a pond. It made not a sound, but the tonal quality of the air changed in an instant as the Great Work Reset itself with a cosmic shudder. I looked up, and for a brief moment in time, caught Orikan’s gaze. “Chain Fail, bitch.” I said, and, for the first time in longer than humanity has existed, the Jumper behind that cyclopean gaze knew fear.

A second later, her felt nothing at all as Real Space and Warp realigned and the Necron trapped between them was simply ground from existence.

The feeling of my powers flowing back into me was a little like a full body cramp… or rather stretching to relieve one. The tingle left me grinning. That grin lasted a moment as something surged up from the floor and clamped down around me.

One of the massive Tesseract Vaults, the prisons designed to hold those ancient C’Tan Star Vampires had apparently decided that I was close enough to the being it held to actually be an escaped fragment of that nightmarish soul eating abomination… Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Get my powers back, save the universe… and now i was trapped in this stupid prison cell with the last tortured fragments of a being as old as time itself, something that had existed since the first few seconds after the big bang.

Eyeless it looked at me. Silently I looked back. A mind truly alien brushed against mine and, in that instant, just as Orikan has learned that not everyone was as genre blind as he was, the C’Tan fragment learned something from me. It learned how to die.

Without a sound on any plane, it silently glided into me, through me… away from me… away from everything. To that place that the spark of life goes when death comes, as it inevitably does. I think it left something of itself behind… but I was too busy to worry about that now.

As the fire that had been the C’Tan shard evaporated I laughed. I had my power back. My power. My… I was back. My body flowed, crystallized, expanded… not just physically, but in dimensions unknown to this universe. I stretched muscles that had lain dormant for almost a decade and cricked my psychic neck, then shattered the Tesseract Vault from within with a wave of Entropy that smashed through the Necrodermis as if it were the ghost of tissue paper. Ooo… that felt good. I checked my memories. If I was right, I had 16 hours and 31 minutes, 44 seconds before the decade ended. It wasn’t enough time to do everything… but enough to do a few things.

I reached out with my mind and found my first destination. I stepped across the universe to a place that was entirely other. “This place has potential,” I said aloud, then bellowed “HONEY! I’M HOME! MAGNUS, YOU GOT SOME SPLAININ’ TO DO!”

“What? How did you get in here?” Magnus asked, blinking his eye and beginning to throw up defenses.

“Chill, Big M. I owe you… more than I can say. Really. In fact, I owe you something I’m not sure I can ever repay. But I’m going to start right now. Take my hand.”

He hesitated. Well he should, I might have felt similar to the SJ he’d known, but I was a towering presence, a glowing creature of what Ice wants to be when it grows up, as tall as the Primarch, and the energies pouring off of me were doing all sorts of bad things to the fabric of the Warp as I bled entropy. “It’s you?”

“It’s me, baby! I’m baaack!” I spun around, then held out my hand. “Don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe… probably. I won’t hurt you. Well, I will, but not too much.”

He looked at me as if I was insane, then growled as I thought ~Aww, is the big boy a chicken?~ at him. He took my hand.

“Hold on tight,” I said, and teleported us to Holy Terra itself. Well, okay, Mare Tranquillitatis. On the Moon. “Gha. It’s even more hideous than I thought it would be.” I commented, looking at Earth and what it had become.

“I… I’m out of the Warp? I’m at Terra? Bwahahaaa why aren’t my powers working?”

“Oh… I drained them… just temporarily. I didn’t bring you here so you could invade. I did it to show you I could. Now look up… and wave.” I pointed.

He looked where I was pointing.

“That’s the Eye of Terror,” he said, not comprehending.

“IT IS! You’re such a clever boy,” I patronized. “Watch closely.” And I punched my fist out as if hitting the Eye of Terror.

“That’s it? That’s what you wanted me to watch? You doing a pantomime of… did the Eye of Terror just… blink?”

“I think it flinched,” I said.

“You… just… punched…”

“I punched the immaterium in the eye. Eye–yes. I am the best.”

“You…”

“I told you that you couldn’t comprehend what I was. Now watch this.” I extended my consciousness into the vastness of space and yelled “NECOHO FELATES TZEENTCH WHILE KHORNE WATCHES! AND SLAANESH IS A BAD FUCK!” Mere words cannot properly express why this was hilarious… because there was a reason I’d come to Terra or close enough… I was tapping into the most powerful psychic beacon in this Universe, the Astronomican, powered by the Emperor himself and fueled by the lives of thousands of human psykers every week… and I used it to insult all four of the major Chaos Gods (and Necoho) all at once… and it had been heard across the entire galaxy, on both sides of the Materium-Immaterium divide. If you don’t understand how I insulted Nurgle… well, I didn’t mention him.

“You’re insane? They’ll rip the universe apart trying to… you’re deliberately goading the Ruinous Powers? Why are you putting on that mask?”

“I am the Shark of the Earth… and you ain’t seen nothing yet.” and then, just as the Eye of Terror was surging with the collective rage of four very angry Chaos Deities (and Necoho)… I suplexed the Warp. “REALM OF MYTH BABY!” I yelled as the entire universe shook slightly, whipping off the mask and planting a kiss on Magnus’s stunned mug. “Booyah!” And then, there on the lunar landscape, I laaaaughed…

Until the mist of the Chamber of the Ordeal rose around me and I found myself once more on Tortall… had it really been only a few… no… that… that hadn’t been a vision… that had been… it hadn’t been a jump… not exactly… something different… as if another power was funding it… like when Mensarius had hijacked the Banker’s Jump Matrix… or when Necoho had wrangled that trip to Sitcom Word… Mensarius hadn’t been able to grant me CP directly, but rather had needed to use drawbacks to get the CP I’d spend in Firefly’s Verse and Necoho had gotten a third-party to do so, possibly made possible because I was weakened at the time. Somehow, The Chamber… or Malal… or maybe they were one and the same? Or had I simply replaced The Chamber with Malal as I’d lost all memory of having been in Tortall… why had that happened… I shook my head, opened my mouth… then remembered where I was and what the rules were.

~You sent me to another place.~ I commented. ~I don’t suppose you’re willing to tell me how you did that? Or why you erased my memory of this world… though not all of it. I still remembered Steinmun and Blayce…~

~You are not of this world, and you are not a typical supplicant,~ The Voice of the Chamber responded. ~Testing you with experiences and hardships you have faced before would have been meaningless. But allowing you to remember what the testing entailed would have defeated the purpose of the test.~

~How did you do it though? Even the one who sent me here lacked the power to see inside my head without my permission.~

~You granted me permission in asking for an evaluation of your worth. That was all the invitation I needed, so long as I took no hostile action against you in doing so.~

~It was through your agency that I suffered the loss of my friends, the loss my abilities… my children were put at risk. No hostile action?~

~Emotional harm is transitory and does not count. I took no hostile action against you directly. I merely put you into a position where you would be able to judge, for yourself, if you were worthy.~

~Ah. So, it’s symptomatic of beings like you to fail to understand mortals.~

~Even you, who were once mortal, have trouble with it. I who was never part of time and never have been nor never will be mortal… How could I possibly understand. Can you understand the experience of being an ant?~

~Then how are you qualified to judge?~

~I do not judge. I show those who come to me what they could have been, what could be. If they break, it is because they know themselves to be unworthy.~

~You sent Kel against Blayce. You judged him.~

~He was disrupting the pattern of nature.~ The Chamber’s voice did not change, no hint of emotion at my accusation.

~And me? Aren’t I capable of doing much more than he could even dream of?~

~You could. And I could not stop you. Even collectively, the Gods of this World would be hard pressed to do so. But you would not.~ Again, no hint of judgement or condemnation within that utterly calm voice. Was it without emotion, or was it simply suppressing them?

~Have you encountered others like me?~ I asked.

The response came immediately, no hesitation. ~I am outside of the time of this world.~

I thought about that for a time, then thought, ~So you’re saying that any time a… traveller like me comes to Tortall…~

~I have seen many things. Yes.~

Now that… that was intriguing. ~Have you seen into the Warhammer Universe?~

~Simply because a thing has a name in one reality, doesn’t mean it cannot have other names in other realities.~  Again, no trace of hesitation, no attempt to hedge… but what did it mean?

~How?~

~All things arise from primordial Chaos. In this world, we are all the children of Usoei.~

Ah. Of course. ~And she is Chaos… ~

~As are you.~

~Hey!~ I glowered at the featureless walls.

~It is true. You should know that better than anyone. A story once told is set in stone.~

~And yet I have the power to change it. Fair enough.~ I paused, then considered. It was being too glib, too dismissive. There was something deeper. ~I suspect you’re changing the subject.~

~Hard Answers are not in my nature. You will know when it is time for you to know.~

~And what of my experiences in the other place? Will only I remember they happened?~

~That is not for me to determine. The others who joined you were sent by another, as they were all beyond my reach. Those who did not join you were those bound to this world. You will have to speak to that other. They are not speaking to me.~

Before I could ask any more questions, the door swung open then and the presence faded. I had, it appears, passed the Ordeal. But what did it mean? Had I really been to the Universe of Warhammer? I… didn’t know. Right now, all I had were my memories of the place. I’d have to speak to the others… Would I have to return to claim what had been mine… and would they be there when I came for them? I would be most irate were they not. I had grown attached to some of them… and enjoyed annoying some of the others.

Next: Return to Tortall

Previous Tortall Chapter: Unto Us is Given

OMAKE: Relationship Chart

If you like what I do, please consider supporting me on Patreon

I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too.

Resources: BuildDocument

Author’s Note

Next, of course, comes consolidating all these builds for the Jumpstuff, and won’t that be fun. But before that is the final tally to see how many points I’ve got left over for Part 5. Then spending those points. Honestly, I have a little too much left, but I spent it all somehow.

  • Part 1: 0
  • Part 2: [-300/-300]
  • DLC 1: [-600/-900]
  • DLC 2: n/a
  • DLC 3: [-100/-1000]
  • DLC 4: [+900/-100]
  • DLC 5: [+1500/1400]
  • Balance going into Part 5 [1400]
  • Part 3: [+2800/4200]

That… is a lot of points… for an already blinged out ship. And of course, I get to add the Necrontyr Inertialess Drive and all the rest from DLC 1, The Gitfinda from DLC2, the Pentalich Lance and all the rest from DLC 3, the parts of the Land Train from DLC 4, and the Redundant Systems from DLC 5… and that’s all before we get to the three Eldar Ship Upgrades for putting up with Carwyn.

I really won’t go into why I didn’t buy the others. I picked the three I did pick, the Dome of the Crystal Sphere (Ship Heaven), the Harlequin Holofield, and the Void Spinner, because they were the most interesting to me.

As for the other choices… Terminus Est is fucking Icky, also a fucking beast. Anguish of the Murderhobos doesn’t fucking exist unless you pick this idiotic choice that can cut your ship to ribbons. I’m not adding an extra Chaos Flagship to the forces of Chaos, even to then take it down. Thanks. Also, icky. The Iron Blood is just… bonkers. It’s a tank in space. Sounds like a slugfest and no fun. The Furious Abyss however just needs really really accurate attacks to hit and is a glass cannon. Also, she uses Eldritch Fire and I have a weapon that can summon magic water to wash away damage. She has great maneuverability and thanks to the Necron Drive, so do I. She has to get in close to do damage.

On the subject of prizes? Moulder of Worlds would make things too easy, Trans-D thunderbolts sound nice and all, an attack that bypasses defenses, Transliminal Stride… the ability to simply step to any point within a 1km radius sphere in the blink of time? While the capacity isn’t limitless, fighting someone who can be… anywhere… might be tricky.

ARMAMENTS 

  • Prow – Nova Cannon, +1 Lance Battery (Pentalich), Gryphonne IV Pattern Void Shield / Holo-Field, Belacane Pattern Void Shield.
  • Port – 2 Macrocannon Batteries, 1 Torpedo Launcher, 2 Lance Batteries, Void Shield / Holo-Field
  • Starboard – 2 Macrocannon Batteries, 1 Torpedo Launcher, 2 Lance Batteries, Void Shield / Holo-Field
  • Aft – 1 Macrocannon Battery, 2 Torpedo Launchers, 1 Lance Battery, Void Shield / Holo-Field
  • Superstructure – 1 Macrocannon Battery,3 Lance Batteries, Void Shield / Holo-Field
  • Hull – 4 Torpedo Launchers, Void Shield / Holo-Field

Final Ship Build

  • 6xMark VI Mars Pattern Macrocannon upgrades [1200/3000/4200]
  • 6xBelacane Pattern Void Shield upgrades [1200/1800/4200]
  • Prow Shield purchase of a Gryphonne IV Pattern [400/1400/4200]
  • Shipwide Gryphonne IV Pattern Shield [400/1000/4200]
  • Mars Pattern Nova Cannon [500/500/4200]
  • Godsbane Lances x2 [400/100/4200]
  • Durandal Warp Engine [100/0/4200]

 

 

World 61: The Light of Terra, Part 9

THE LIGHT OF TERRA, A WARHAMMER 40K GAUNTLET

Part 9 – Am I Being Railroaded?

Previously: Visitations & Awakening

Themesong: C’Mon Ride (The Train) by Quad City DJ’s

AN: I’ll try to do my best with this one, it’s by far the most on Rails of the sections… but it’s fun and free CP! So, bonus! Also, it has a random encounter table and SPACE DWARVES! What’s not to love?

I had never heard of the Stryxis before they showed up in my neck of the celestial woods. I asked around, but no one knew where the hell they came from any better than I did. Almost everyone I’d asked had one thing up on me… they’d heard of them. Yes, even the people of the notoriously xenophobic Imperium of Man had heard of them.

Apparently, ever since their first appearance, the Mysterious aliens have earned something of a reputation as wanderers, traders, merchants, and keepers of secrets. Their scattered nomadic tribes roam as loose fleets that ply their way and their wares across the galaxy, trading with all they encounter. They also had something of a reputation as flimflam artists and purveyors of crap… but, as untrustworthy as they were, the holds of their salvaged ships and converted asteroids were apparently always crammed with rare and exotic items, ancient archeotech, and all the other junk that might turn a credit to the right buyer. The Stryxis were also notoriously incomprehensible, with stories about them trading priceless artifacts for shards of broken glass, scraps of fur, or even used tissue paper being far from uncommon.

Knowing all that, (and desperately needing a vacation from the pressures of being a living god) I was more than happy to load a transport with everything I could spare and set out on what might very well be a wild goose chase at the first hint of a rumor that a Stryxis trade fleet had moved into the orbit of a reasonably nearby world. Carwyn was not happy with this, as the Eldar and Stryxis have something of a enmity, and so I’d left her behind (which also made her unhappy) and took Tokimi and Cirno as both seemed to be going a little stir crazy. As my luck would have it, they were still in system when I arrived… and just as grotesque as the rumors had hinted at.

They looked like a human-sized dog embryo… that had been ritually flayed, then adorned with mummy rags and trinkets. They also stank to high heaven.  But as I moved the Faustian Bargain into orbit, they were quick to bombard me with messages that at the very least sounded friendly, inviting me to pursue their goods.

99.99% of it was crap. Some of the rest of it was slaves which I bought for a pittance and promised to see they got home or someplace safeish. Much of it was contraband, such as illegal weapon modifications or stolen military technology that I didn’t need. There were Xenos artifacts that I had no idea what I might do with, human relics I didn’t want, and upgrade kits that I could have bought on Necromunda or Scintilla for a tithe of the cost the little bastards were asking. Still, I bought some of the more amusing things, and offloaded a boatload of junk in exchange.

There were also foodstuffs, such as two-dozen bottles of seven thousand year old wine that had been kept in cryo-stasis and a crate of what were labeled ‘Squat-Thrust Brand POWER BARS’ that, when I checked my data slat, had an entry so curious I had to buy them. The entry said “Forged by the greatest breadsmiths of the Squat race in a secret hold and baked in a forge fired by the harnessed fires of the warp itself, these food bars are truly a miracle of the culinary arts… and in dire circumstances, you can put one in a sock and thereby obtain a weapon capable of killing a Greater Daemon.” I was amused… and curious… Now, where could I find a sock and a Greater Daemon to test this absurd theory on?

And all that was just the first ship! There were at least fifteen more, all constantly pinging my ship’s Auspex with increasingly demanding messages that I visit them and buy something. It was hard to judge how many ships there were since most of them were barely void-worthy. But they all promised actual value and good quality… and all for a low, low price!… and then there weren’t any ships at all.

Without giving the faintest indication of why, the Stryxis trade convoy simply scattered to the myriad winds of space, each ship engaging a different drive system. Some of them slid into the warp, one opened a portal and drifted inside, a few of them shimmered into invisibility… and the last simply slide away at a speed that my ship’s cogitator reported as simply being impossible… not improbable… impossible. And then, the reason for that sudden departure became apparent.

A section of nearby space, easily dwarfing the large moon that orbited the nearby planet, simply tore asunder… and something started to emerge. The sight of that… thing protruding into realspace is not something I will ever forget… maybe not even if I get my memory editing ability back, no matter how hard I try. It was an amorphous, bloody mass, a bleeding tumor studded with jagged spurs of bone larger than the Bargain, a nightmarish thing that blotted out the stars… I could only be thankful I could not hear whatever terrible sound that thing was making as it was birthed into the materium from whatever Cthulhian nightmare it first reached its unholy semblance of life in.

I didn’t even need to give the order to move the ship to the opposite side of the planet… my crew was already doing exactly that, eager to put a few quadrillion tons of rock and metal between them and that… abomination.

“What, in the name of Ziggy, is that?” I asked, not expecting an answer as my out-system sensor buoys relayed the grotesque imagery from the far side of the planet. It was moving into its own orbit, geosynchronous above one of the two major fortress cities that dominated the planet’s mountainous surface and, as we watched, it began vomiting thousands of tons of effluvia into the upper atmosphere.

Clouds of blood and gore, hectometer-long fragments of jagged, splintered, razor-sharp bone, titanic organs (still living but hideously mutilated), and worse obscenities still rained down from the cancerous tumor. Within hours, a crimson stain had covered a large part of the world, a stain deep enough to be seen from space and growing hideously apace, a stain with that fortress city at the center… and from that city, Iron Hold, came reports of almost non-stop assaults by what could only be described as things… things that turned any living thing that came in contact with them inside out and against their former allies.  

“Should we make a break for it?” Cirno asked, but Tokimi shook her head, looking a little pale.

“No. Look,” she demanded, then pointed to where one of the local ships was trying to make a break for it. The mother tumor was taking notice and seemed… displeased.

“Ouch…” Cirno muttered.

“Yeah… there may be worse ways to die… but offhand?” I shuddered

“I can’t think of any,” Tokimi said, looking a little green.

“Let’s hold position here for the time being. Maybe it’ll vent its spleen on the planet and bugger off eventually? Or get weak enough we can deal with it.” I leaned back, studying the monstrosity and wondering if I dared to try and contact that squirming pulsing mass with my Biopathy.

“We’re getting a message,” Tokimi said as the communication’s array next to her crackled unsteadily to life.

“From the tumor?” Cirno asked.

“It’s not a tumaah…” I began, then sighed. “I assume it’s from the planet?” Tokimi looked, then nodded her little head. Never understood why Chosin liked being tiny and cute when not in their gigantic godforms. Ah well. No matter. “Put it on.

The holoprojector flared to life as she toggled the switches and an image of a short humanoid who appeared to be more facial hair than man appeared before me. I could make out a few inches of skin between the truly epic beard and a pair of eyebrows so thick that I thought at first that he was wearing a particularly large and unkempt ferret on his forehead… possibly two. The skin was deeply tanned… or maybe baked was more accurate, and showed the marks of centuries spent frowning in concentration… or maybe just spent frowning. It was an intensely grumpy face and one that made the immature part of me want to giggle and yell “SPEZ DORF!”

I didn’t of course, because I am all sorts of mature and diplomatic, but I did smile… until he? she? started talking and I realized that I could not understand a blessed word, even though I was pretty sure the Squat (what else could it be but a Squat?) was speaking High Gothic. The accent wasn’t just thick… it was battleship armor grade impenetrable.

“Did you just call me ‘Laddy?” I asked after about a minute, interrupting the tirade.

“Aye, ach deed,” came the grumpy voice.

“Are you an idiot or just blind?” I asked, forgetting to be diplomatic.

“Wa?”

“I am female, you overbearded twerp. Add to that, but I’m also the one with the Void Ship and the Rogue Trader licence and the capacity to level your entire city from orbit. So be at least as polite as if you were talking to your mother. In fact, go get your mother so she can talk to me… I assume she knows enough not to be rude to guests? Hopefully she also knows how to speak High Gothic so that people who don’t have hair in their ears can understand.”

The dark look got darker and darker and I was wondering if he was going to hang up on me or start yelling. Neither happened. Instead, he grunted, then nodded, and started speaking slower and clearer.

“Ye tae being a fighting sort, sure enough. And thas wa we be needin, ye ken? Nae, we have twa ways faer the connerversation tae goe. First, we hae us a wee chat about all tha thae owe tae uus in fees faer tae contents o’ thae holds. Tis’ aur sovrehn spez an ahl, bread and butter tae us, but ye ken, tis thae other ones that’ll eat yea alive, bit by bit. Ah course, we can discuss something else, tae wit, you putting all those guns and suchlike to use down here while I forget about these fees.”

I snorted. “Do you really think you’re in any position to claim fees even if I was inclined to pay them? Now, if you want help, you can bloody well ask faer it ye wee stumpy git.”

He glowered at me. I glowered back. The Squats (Homo sapiens rotundus) were an ancient and hardy people. Of all the Abhuman types in Imperium, they most closely resembled baseline humans. Short, stocky and physically hardy, they were Abhumans who were adapted to the heavy gravity conditions that predominated on the worlds they had settled near the galactic core, worlds that were some of the oldest in the galaxy, formed when the accretion disk had not yet been fully stabilized. Worlds that were high-gee and mineral-rich.

The Squats’ ancestors were human colonists who reached the galactic core during the time of the initial expansion of humanity beyond Earth’s own Solar System during the Dark Age of Technology, many millennia before the emergence of the Emperor of Mankind and the dawn of the Age of the Imperium. The colonisation came at the right time, as Old Earth’s own mineral wealth had been largely depleted. The worlds at the galactic core were rich in rare and unique strategic minerals, but barren of life and unsuitable for human colonization. Not only were they highly irradiated by the intense light of the coreward stars, any atmospheres they had had once upon a time had long since been swept clean by the galactic winds.

Still, the human need for resources would not be denied and so a devil’s bargain was made. Sealed subterranean colonies were seeded, humans modified to cope with gravity two or three or four times that of Terra, and hydroponics technology pushed to its limits to make the colonies as self-sufficient as possible… which had turned out to be the salvation of the Squat race. During the long isolation of Mankind produced by the Warp Storms of the Age of Strife, the Squats adapted more and more to their new homes, evolving or genetically engineering themselves to better suit their environment, becoming far tougher, more resilient and physically shorter with a denser skeletomuscular system than was found in the baseline human genome. The Squats had had some of the best scientists and engineers in history, men and women who had explored the frontiers of human science and technology without the constraints of religion and ritual, in contrast with the dogma-bound humans of the Adeptus Mechanicus who followed a very different path on Mars during the same period, and even now they remained fiercely independent and technologically advanced by comparison to the rest of the galaxy. They were also largely isolationistic and, as a rule, extremely grouchy, touchy, and pedantic. The really hated being called Dwarves.

In war, the Squats used squads of motorcycles supported by massive artillery barrages from outlandishly large super-heavy tracked vehicles such as the Land Train Colossus, Leviathan, and Cyclops variants. And that was, apparently, what Grunthor Zutik of Hammer Hold wanted to talk to me about.

Apparently, Hammer Hold wanted to send a relief column via Land Train halfway round the planet through the growing stain to Iron Hold… but the three clans that ran Hammer Hold couldn’t agree on which of them was to go… or rather none of them were willing to risk their own hides to command the train… and so they’d agreed to ask the only convenient outsider to do it.

“What’s in it for me… and don’t say you’ll wave the fees you think I owe you. I could buy your planet with petty cash.” He glowered, then grumbled “We’ll ge yeh a fancy dohicky fer yer ship?”

I grinned. “Send up your offerings and I’ll take a look!”

The list was six items long and it included a truly impressive collection of bonkers weapons systems, a defensive system called the ‘Ulumeathi Plasma Siphon’ and an interesting sensor suite called the Omnispex. I almost went with that, since it was listed as being particularly good at picking out weak points on enemy structures, ships, and fortifications… but it took an extended period of time during which the Omnispex had to be kept focussed. That would limit the maneuverability of whatever ship it was installed in, even though the thing had an extremely long range. The Plasma Siphon was less interesting, since it didn’t cover a very large area and, while it did cause plasma and energy weapon fire to veer wildly away from that area, it did nothing against physical rounds. To little protection, over too small an area.

The weapons systems were another matter entirely. The Plasma Calivers were tempting… they were short-legged plasma weapon arrays that could absolutely saturate the space in front of the guns with volley upon volley upon volley of continuous and rapid plasma bolts… which sounded nice, but the guns were volatile enough to risk damaging major sections of whatever ship they were mounted on.

The Mindscrambler Grenade Launcher were terrifying… since each grenade harbored the meters-wide egg-sacs of a Cthellan electrogenesis squid… which were awesome against anything with electronic circuitry or a neural network… but not so great against starships. If I was bombing a planet, maybe….

More tempting was the Mega Cannon known as ‘Wrath of Grungi’ was a Heavy Cruiser’s main weapon, a huge, six-barreled, directed-energy weapon that could level an entire army from orbit in a single cataclysmic salvo. It was a Hellstorm Cannon modified to fire round after round in quick succession… and Hellstorm Cannons were already considered the most dangerous weapon a cruiser could mount. The Wrath of Grungi looked so powerful that it could strip the Void Shields from a Battleship in a single Volley. That was tempting…

But so was the Ironhammer Array, twin linked Icarus Autocannons with skyscryer lenses paired with a Daedalus Missile Launcher. An Icarus was a gatling rocket launcher that pumped out flak missiles at an astounding rate and the Daedalus fired a dedicated armor-piercing missile… together the Ironhammer’s combined firepower could shred an entire squadron of enemy fighters or absolutely brutalize an enemy escort in moments.

It ultimately came down to whether I wanted an anti-capital ship / orbital bombardment weapon or an anti-escort / anti-attack craft weapon. I already had a Nova Cannon… but it was slow cycling… and I already had point defense… so… I called back.

“I’ll take the Mega Cannon… oh, and I’ll be down in 40 minutes to sign some contracts. You guys like contracts right? I looooove contracts.” I broke the connection and then said looked to my companions “Road TRIP!”

“Uhh… why is she drooling at the word ‘Contract?’” Cirno asked Tokimi.

“Only people who like legality more than Squats are Jews, apparently,” the not-currently a goddess commented, then looked down at the planet. “SJ… where we’re going… there are no Roads.”

“Sokay. We don’t need um.”

There was a thirty-page contract just to indemnify the Squats against any repetitive strain injuries that might be caused by signing the main contract. Amateurs. My contract included an indemnification against all kinds of psychological, metaphysical, or spiritual strain or damage that might come from even reading mine.

They thought they’d intimidate me with a five foot tall stack of papers. My contract was only two feet tall… but was contained on datapads. Fifty hours later, we had a signed contract and lawyers from both sides were pouring over the contract to see just how screwed each side had been. I decided to take a nap.

Their legal advisor woke me three days later to go over what I’d signed and to make sure I understood what I’d agreed to. Put simply, I was going to be given control of a Land-Train and I was REQUIRED to use the Land-Train to deliver supply wagons from Hammer Hold to Iron Hold… or otherwise it would be a massive waste of money and I would not only forfeit any sort of reward, but also owe every Squat in existence the Galaxy’s weight in their choice of rare materials… and if I pointed out the impossibility of paying that penalty I would further incur another penalty and I really should have read the contract more carefully.

I yawned, stretched, and sat up, grinning at the lawyer. “Tokimi. Tell this idiot what he missed.” I got up and headed over for the recaf while my primary legal advisor and the most pedantic woman in several realities pointed out that the morons had been so keen on imposing penalties that they’d forgotten to include a clause that stipulated that the supply wagons I’d been contracted to supply to the far hold actually had to actually contain supplies… oh, and complaining about that or refusing to actually give us supplies to transport would be considered breach of contract and I’d own the planet, the holds, and all the Squats contained within, and their children, for the next ten generations.

I think the Squat Lawyer’s brain nearly turned to steam… but I took pity on him. “Don’t worry. I have a reputation to uphold. I’ll get your supplies through. But let this be a lesson to you. Never try and Screw a Lathimon. Am I clear?”

He gulped and nodded slowly. ‘Good. Now let me speak to Grunthor or whoever is in charge of getting me my train.” I snapped, pulling on my weapon’s harness and scooping up my helmet. Cirno squeaked and pouted “But the coffeeeeee.”

“Bring it with. We’ve wasted three days already and I’m pretty sure Iron Hold would like its supplies sooner or later.”

It turned out that before I could even get at the Train, I had to pick one of the three big clans (Zutik, Makurtu Gabe, and Macsweeny) to supply the crew. Macsweeny was the oldest and most respect of the clans, with access to mining and refining technology that had been considered cutting edge during the Dark Age of Technology. As such, they had easily maintained a level of wealth and affluence none of the other clans could match. Quite happy to trade, they had contracts with the Imperium, the Eldar, other Clans… and even a few of the more stable Ork bands. If I had to pick one to be trading partners, I’d have gone with Macsweeny every damned time… and in fact I might come back later to get some of their mining equipment and perhaps even some of their experts. But in the triad, they went with Expensive and Exceptional every time and time was of utmost importance.

Clan Makurtu Gabe was a closed society that kept to the old ways of isolationism and living entirely underground. Since they staunchly defended their territory from all comers (Orks, Chaos, and even Tyranid splinter fleets, they were thus well trained and experienced, and their Trains were extremely heavily armored… but they were also slower than those of other clans.

Clan Zutik on the other hand had allied themselves with the local surface abhumans that inhabited most of the hill regions of this world, the Ratlings (SPEZ HALFLINGS!)… and had cultivated a fair amount of them into their special forces, the only clan to do so. Ratlings might have made terrible melee combatants, which was of course HERESY in the Dark Grimness of the Grim Future… but they were excellent snipers… and the Zutik Trains were suited for hillcountry. Also, I kinda liked Grunthor. His beard reminded me of my dad. Oh, and Ratlings made excellent cooks, so there was that.

That decided, it was now time to outfit the DOOM TRAIN!… seriously. DOOM TRAIN! And the first thing I had to do was decide which of the three trains they were sending out I would captain… apparently, they trusted me… but not enough to make my Train the only Train. Each train consisted of a cab and a dozen trailers and could be partially customized to my specifications.

The cab was the driving force for the Land-Train and it was where I’d be headquartered to command the titanic vehicle from. I was shown to Hammer Hold’s Depot and told to choose from the collection of almost a hundred of the obscenely phallic land-train cabs. Of the dozen or so designs, only three caught my attention. The hugely armed and armoured Colossus (which came with a scout Gyrocopter and carried the most balanced amount of crew and ordinance…), the titan-killer Cyclopes (which had a huge main gun called the Hellfury Cannon, a Melta Cannon, and a Battlecannon… as well as heavy bolters and Doomstorm Missiles… but a tiny crew)… and the mobile regimental HQ… which could carry two or three times the crew of the others and two and a half supply wagons worth of supplies… but which also had the weakest weapons and defenses.

I made a show of examining each of the options, but I’d already made my mind up by the time the explanations from the drivers had ended. A huge crew would be a liability if I couldn’t protect them, and the SLT Hideously Overcompensating had all the guns… but any loss of crew would render some of those guns silent. The Colossus had scouting capability, and combined with range from the snipers, that would hopefully spell success. After all, an ounce of prevention and all that. Oh, and the Titan Class Barrage Guns of the Colossus could be used in direct fire and artillery modes… which neither of the others could say about their weapons… if Land-Trains could talk… heh… Thomas the Land-Train.

Of the 12 trailers, the contract stipulated that at least 6 of them had to be supply wagons, each of which could hold 40 tons of supplies (not that they needed to actually contain those supplies when I arrived… but I’d do my best… good will and all that). I also needed to bring a power supply, which came in the form of a Deus Vult Singularity Engine… a magnetically contained pinpoint blackhole that could provide power for the massive train and its trailers… and make popcorn… although I was specifically warned not to.

I was also advised that it would be unwise to leave the hold without a Void Shield Trailer, which could provide an energy field that would shunt incoming attacks into the Warp… and of course I needed Crew Quarters. Apparently having the crew sleep on the cargo would be mean or something. Feh. Still, the Crew Quarters had the kitchen and restrooms… and armory.

That was nine of the twelve the cab could pull while maintaining optimal speed. That left three wagons I could pick and choose from those available, a collection of defensive and offensive choices… or I could take more supply wagons… ahahaha… No!

On the Offensive side, there were missile launchers, artillery platforms both antipersonnel and anti-emplacement, and even robot drones… but for an extra weapon, I outfitted Thomas with the Hearthlord Plasma Beam which could (at a slight chance of overheating and exploding) maintain a continuous burn which seemed like it might come in very handy if something big refused to take the hint and die right away.

On the Defensive side, there was a comms array for calling in resupply (feh), an observation balloon (I had my buddy the gyrocopter), and a secondary Void Shield array that could be maintained at higher than normal power level since I really didn’t have to worry if it burned out since I had the primary to fall back on. I took that.

And in the category of a little from Column A, a little from Column B, I picked up a VTOL Aircraft Tender platform that came with the crew and machinery to keep the included Iron Eagle Gunship operational. I love death from above. I really do. Never give your enemy a fair chance. In battle, if you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying. Of course, if your enemy is worthy of the name, they’re probably cheating too.

And that was that. I had a Land-Train, a joke the Squats didn’t get, and a mission ahead of me. The best estimate was that the trip would take four weeks… minimum. Well, best begun… at dawn.

We had a quiet dinner that night… thankfully the Ratlings did the cooking, and I looked over my crew. Sixty Eight stout and doughty little bastards, plus Cirno and Tokimi and little old me. Seventy one against the world… and the spawn of the Cancer Mother as they’d started calling it. I guess it was a tumah.

AN: 240 Tons of Supplies, 68 Crew Members

The land around Hammer Hold was relatively safe and we made good progress for the first eight days. In fact, we managed to locate an armored facility along one of the passes that had been hastily (and incompletely) abandoned by the Squats.  In fact, as far as I could tell it was a Waystation that had been scheduled for demolition prior to the invasion, plans that had been put on hold until planetary chemo could be administered. Still, there were a fair amount of supplies that had been left in the rush to get to someplace a little more secure from the rain of flesh gobbits and we picked up enough to cover what we’d used already and then some.

AN: 280 Tons of Supplies, 68 Crew Members

On the eighth day, however, we ran into the first setback as a swarm of Steelhawk attack copters came screaming over the horizon. At first we figured they were running from something… but a then we got a better look at them. They were damaged and streaked with gore, the pilots (and more than likely the Copters themselves) had clearly been corrupted by the Cancer Mother. If they were able to distinguish reality from nightmare, they certainly weren’t able to tell friend from foe and I lost eight of my crew putting them out of their misery. It was a somber couple of days that followed and there were whisperings amongst the crew that the world was doomed and that the elders were seriously considering busting out the Phosphex and burninating the entire surface. Phosphex was nasty shit… like all the worst parts of White Phosphorous and Napalm and had been used more than once in an Exterminatus operation.

AN: 270 Tons of Supplies, 60 Crew Members

I tried to keep morale up… but Squats are, save when drunk, almost impossible to cheer up. Thankfully, on the eleventh day, we came across a small area dotted with many small farms and steadings, and my Snipers gleefully reported that we’d entered a Ratling Shire… just in time for one of the many, many festivals and celebrations of the Ratling callender… and no, why would they cancel the feasting just because the world might be ending? That would just be silly.

In fact, the local Ratlings were more than happy for me and my crew to join in, insisting that we partake our fill and maybe I’d like someone special to snuggle with… I was a tall one… but not too tall… did I know that hairy feet indicated a passionate lover? My crew was also invited to join in… and in fact, the celebrations got even more enthusiastic once the local Ratlings discovered my crew included a fair number of honest to lunchtime Special Military Ratlings! In uniforms no less!

I woke the next morning to discover that my crew numbers had expanded as there had been a couple overnight marriages… and wedding gifts to load into the rapidly overflowing Land Train. Seriously, by this point we were seriously carrying more than we’d started with. I was some kind of Foraging Queen! I never said that, don’t call me that. If you do I will find you and make you suffer.

AN: 310 Tons of Supplies, 62 Crew Members.

Never listen to Ratlings when you ask for directions… Well, okay, do ask… apparently they where all the best parties are… or all the hot chicks/dudes are… or something. Regardless, I was a little hungover the next morning, not badly, pleasantly, and I commented that I’d enjoyed the party… and one of my Ratlings, this lovely chap named Pastry… I dunno… Pastry said “If you enjoyed that, you really should see the Potatomass Festivities at Porkshire.”

“I thought we’d just seen the Potatomass Festivities?” I asked, blinking owlishly.

“Nawww. That was the Potatomass Eve Festivities! Those are much more solemn and serious. Also Puddingshire’s like a quarter the size of Porkshire.” He seemed earnest, and I chuckled.

“And how far away is Porkshire?”

“Cross the river Hasty, down a bit… if we drive fast, we should be there by suppertime… dinner at the latest.”

I shrugged, then tapped the driver on the shoulder “Full speed for Porkshire. Get us there by tea and you get a double ration of Thunderbrau… get us there by luncheon and I’ll triple it.” We were there by Elevensies. I think the driver was last seen making out with a lamp post.

Next morning I had 8 more crew members and even less free space. We were now stacking supplies in the cab and every berth had at least a couple crates in it. Good thing I’m narrow.

AN: 330 Tons of Supplies, 70 Crew Members

Our luck held for days… and then it didn’t. Almost as soon as we crossed into the contaminated hemisphere bad things began to happen. First we ran into a minefield that wouldn’t respond to our IFF and clearing it cost me several crew members and did a fair amount of damage to the Cab. I’d considered going around, but we were already in deep by the time we figured it out and backing up and going around would have added another week to the travel time. That pretty much meant that we had to clear a path with hand tools… and mines don’t like hand tools. Not one little bit.

AN: 320 Tons of Supplies, 60 Crew Members

Though that was the worst of it, our luck didn’t improve much, as within days of clearing the minefield, we ran into a spate of bad terrain which slowed us down considerably and forced us to use up some of our supplies building bridges to get the Land-Train through the patch of swamps, waterlogged fields, and marshes that stretched as far as the gyrocopter crew could see. It appeared the Cancer had shattered a major dam upstream, and the flood path had inundated a huge area. At least it had happened before we arrived or we might have been swept away. As it was, it too us an extra week to cross that mire and I had nightmares about the train sinking like Artax from Neverending Story.

AN: 290 Tons of Supplies, 60 Crew Members

As we finally cleared the muck, every habitable part of the Land Train reeking of rotting vegetation even if it was, technically, spotless inside (Squats are very good at cleaning… who knew?) we came under fire… but it was very very strange fire. I heard the crack of rifles and the spang of bullets on the hull of the Cab and wagons, and rushed to the plasteel armored dome to see what was going on… and saw that my snipers were trying to dial in the shooters… and then I saw one of them get hit. She flinched, jerked, dropped her rifle… then looked down at herself in utter confusion. I was pretty confused too… after all, I’d seen her take a round to the head with my own eyes… and yet she wasn’t dead. In fact… she seemed fine.

It took us hours to figure out what in the name of Gimli & Legolas’s secret lovechild was going on. We were under attack by Ghosts. Warp Ghosts to be specific… in fact, Ancient Squat Warp Ghosts who thought we were Greenskins and would not respond to our attempts to communicate. It was as if they were playing out a scene they’d ‘lived’ through hundreds or thousands or maybe millions of times… there are a lot of days in several millenia.

Still, they were ghosts, long dead and armed only with the ghosts of weapons. They could not harm us in any way. But the Squats refused to proceed any further until the problem was resolved. It would be bad luck they claimed, to leave the ghosts unlain to rest. And so, keeping a careful watch on the bloody sky, I (along with more than half my crew) hiked up into the hills, following the retreating ghosts until we found a jumble of bones and rubble in a valley about a mile and a half from the train.

After a hasty confab with the Squats, it was decided that we’d have to throw them a proper wake, which meant giving each corpse it’s own drink… for each toast. There were almost 250 corpses. Do you have any idea how long it takes to open nearly 64,000 thousand 20 ounce cans of Thunderbrau? That’s nearly 20 tons of beer… don’t ask me why Squats used Imperial. I think it had something to do with poetics. Fucking whackos. Took three days and I think the hangover might never completely fade. 250 god damned toasts. I had blood in my Thunderbrau stream. Even having a sip for each toast, the fumes from pouring out all those beers would have gotten a booze elemental drunk! I have not been that drunk since Elder Scrolls.

AN: 260 Tons of Supplies, 60 Crew Members

But apparently, that was enough to turn our luck around because, aside from seeing some feral human nomads off in the distance, nothing happened for the next few days and then we were crossing the final pass between us and Iron Hold… when the Train’s Auspex (sensors) picked up a faint signal, a message so old, so archaic that none of the Squats aboard could understand more than few words. It took time and effort to track down the source of the signal, but when we did, it quickly became apparent that it had been time well spent, as we discovered the remains of the first Holds settled on this charming planet.

Even given the incredible length of time it had to have been abandoned for, it wasn’t what you’d call a ruin. Indeed, the structure was (to my untrained eye) as solid as if it had been built less than a year ago and, venturing within, I found something truly spectacular… An STC plan for Galvanic Rounds. I very carefully snuck it into my luggage and didn’t tell a soul.

Galvanic Rounds are essentially robotic projectile rounds. Not only could they subtly manipulate their own trajectory, but each and every one contained a galvanic cell that, upon impact, converted all the potential energy of the round to be converted into a massive blast of electrical force. Ancient treaties / holy doctrine restricted Galvanic rounds to use by the AdMech and the Squats exclusively… and even then, they were only to be fired from a handful of officially sanctioned and ancient muzzle loading weapon designs. Of course, there wasn’t anything stopping the technology from being applied to a more modern weapon… but that would be Heresy. Oh… darn. Bad me.

AN: 250 Tons of Supplies, 60 Crew Members.

From the lost hold to Iron Hold was a swift trip as the hold, besieged as it was, still managed to clear that final run for us. The Squats were practically euphoric to discover that I’d managed to bring them hundreds of tons of food, medical supplies, and ammunition… and to say the Squat Enginseers were thrilled would be an understatement, as they practically tore into the supply wagons, rummaging through them as if they were seeking one particular thing.

As it turned out… that was exactly what they were doing. I watched, bemused, as they extracted a sizable but portable adamantine vault. Whatever was inside seemed to be drawing nearly as much attention as the fact that I, a (nominal) human, had commanded the train. They were also spectacularly impressed that I was carrying more supplies than I’d started with. I’m awesome like that.

So awesome am I that I found myself being escorted into the heart of the fortress, just in time to see the vault being opened, the odd looking throne it contained removed, cleaned, and installed with incredible speed, the Enginseers rushing through the rites of the Machine God with shocking haste (AdMech people worship the Omnissiah who is totally not a C’Tan known as the Void Dragon, no sir. Absolutely not. How dare you suggest such heresy!? Clearly the Omnissiah is just another name for the Emprah, right?).

Once the throne was ready, I was expecting the Living Ancestor (the eldest of the clan elders) to sit in it, but instead the old badger just grinned and motioned me towards the throne with something that might have been ‘gae along wee yae”… or it could have been utter nonsense… but either way, it was clearly some sort of message of encouragement.

I sat, and then, suddenly, I was deeply, intensely aware of something becoming aware of me at the same time. Something massive… massive and powerful… Above me, the roof began to retract, and I could see parts of the skyline moving, massive servos shifting titanic machines around… Oh… good lord… this was never a Squat Hold… it was… it is… “THIS IS AN IMPERATOR TITAN!” I wooped… then tried to relax.

I’d read about these things. I was aware on a conscious level that, within seconds, I’d be merging with the memory of an Imperial Saint, one of the greatest warriors in human history… a being who’d been merged mind and soul into a moving mountain of death, a walking fortress of weaponry and awesome. Imperator Titans were one of the greatest engines of war the Galaxy had ever seen… and I was going to get to pilot it… This was sooo much cooler than piloting a Jaeger!

As my conscious awareness faded into the gestalt of action, the last thing I remember thinking was “Is this thing wearing a mask?” Then I roared in anticipation and my roar was drowned out by the voice blasting from every last Vox-Unit installed in the fortress-sized mecha… but that didn’t matter… we were both screaming the same thing… in spanish, no less.

“¡He vuelto! ¡He vuelto! ¡Yo, el Tiburón de la Tierra, Rey del Círculo Cuadriculado, he regresado!”

When I recovered from the battle in which I’m pretty certain I wrestled the Cancer Mother out of the fucking sky and pounded into submission and then into mulch and then into a very large slick that covered much of the valley… I was being hailed as the Weasel Man… Honestly, at that point I was so fucking tired and giddy that I couldn’t even bring myself to complain.

They were so happy they gave me the damned Train… and loaned me technicians to convert it into ship components to be installed aboard the Light of Terra… free of charge! They also gave me the mask of the Shark of the Earth… Tiburon de la Tierra… an ancient and powerful relic so they claimed, once worn by one of the legendary warriors who had helped defend humanity before the Emperor saw fit to ascend and take his place as mack-daddy in chief.

Great… I could be a luchador. I tried it on and, consumed with the drive to defend the weak and helpless, I suplexed a 45 ton delivery truck that might have been about to splash muddy water on a Squatling… I still can’t tell which sex they are… not even the little ones. I carefully packed the mask away… this was clearly some major mojo… and also, it looked ridiculous.

Next: Light of Terra, Part 10

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Author’s Note

Okay, this part is just silly. Really. Really really really. Also contains a minor error. And I will admit I cheated slightly. But I’ll get to that in a bit. First, the Stryxis… nothing they have for sale is worth anything. It’s all fucking junk… unless you wank something… and there are a couple of places you can wank pretty good. But ultimately, I bought the Power Bars because the text amused me. Yes, I wasted 100 CP because it amused me. Also setting something up for much later, but that’s for much later.

Picking Clans and Cabs is really just a matter of choice and how you feel your luck is running. Honestly, the way my luck ran, I could have taken then Leviathan which converts to palatial captain’s quarters when installed on the Light instead of the Colossus… but the Colossus has it’s own private launch bay… which is cool in its own way.

The minor error didn’t make a difference to me, but it might throw some people off. The intro text to the train section says that you get the Cab and a Dozen trailers. But then you are assigned 8 trailers (Engine, Shield, Crew Quarters, Supply Truck x5) and told you can pick 3 more. That’s 11. Since it said 12 above, I didn’t feel it was fair to add an addition free choice, so I just rolled it into the Supply Truck total. The reason it doesn’t matter is because the best result is 20+ Supplies and I finished with 25… and each Truck contains 4. So I’d still have finished with 21.

But SJ, you say… you said 250 Tons! Yes, because 25 units doesn’t mean anything and I felt that turning each unit into 10 tons made kinda sense. Maybe it was more, maybe less, who knows. I have no real idea how big Squat Land-trains are besides biiiig.

Now, I said I cheated a little, and I did. My 8th required result on the Random Encounter Table was Feral Nomads that Ignored me. That, to me, is a really boring result, but if it had come up earlier, I’d probably have rolled with it… but as the last stage in the trip, I wanted something cooler. So I took the chance and rolled again… I was actually hoping for a battle. I wanted a battle. A battle would have been bad from an IC perspective, but from a writing perspective, it would have been cool! Instead I got the meh Galvanic Bullets. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take them, but I’d rather have run into something I got to shoot. 5 weeks driving across a world under siege… and all I get to defeat are ghosts… and I used beer. Weee?

Still, great success! Sure, the Tiburon thing is just silly… but the best ending? It’s literally called “YOU ARE THE WEASEL MAN!” I had to win it! I mean, it was density or something!

Anyway. One last part and then… back into the Chamber? Maybe! We’ll see!

Oh, and if you want your name included in the battle roster on either the Imperial or Awakened side, let me know before I post the last part of Light of Terra. Limited window. Tick tick tick.