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Conquest Quest [Exalted/Worm] Story Only Thread

Discussion in 'A BROB is for you! - For all your Roleplaying Need' started by Sojiko, Dec 17, 2013.

  1. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    Since we've already reached 5 threads, I thought it'd be time to make a story only thread. I am not making any promises about keeping this entirely up to date, but I will make an effort, especially if I see it's getting some use. My sig and the first index will always have a link to the latest thread, which will have the most up to date index.

    Side stories are canon, but not necessary to read in order to follow the main story. They include funny side scenes (humor), info dumps about Creation or the Exalted's powers (background), and long list of possible actions and their pros and cons to help players choose their next step (guidance). The last two categories are almost always Zeph talking to Taylor. A lot. Because this is here to explain information the players might need for their decisions, but are not necessarily important to follow the story, so if you don't like Exposition you should consider not reading them.

    Side stories are marked with their type so you can decide whether you want to read or skip them.
    1. The Before Time
    2. Chosen
    3. Reboot
    4. I Know Kung Fu
    5. Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting
    6. Meeting the Family
    7. Bravely Running Away
    8. Discussion
    9. Home Sweet Home, Side story: Magic, part 1 (background)
    10. Playing Hooky, Side stories: Magic, part 2 (background), Training Decisions (guidance)
    11. Training Hack, Side stories: Futures (guidance), Preferences (humor), Of the limits of Solar magic (humor)
    12. Confession
    13. A Night on the Town, part 1
    14. A Night on the Town, part 2, Side story: Masks behind Masks (guidance)
    15. A Night on the Town, part 3
    16. Bloody Hands, canon omakeby drake_azathoth
    17. Communication
    18. Response
    19. Sleeping On It
    20. Hanging Out
    21. Checking
    22. Preparations, I am what I am, Interlude: Hail to the Queen; Side story: Disturbing (the) Future (background, guidance)
    23. New Criminal, Side story: Surprising Swiftness (background)
    24. Cute Criminal, Side story: the Wards (Worm background)
    25. Crafty Criminal
    26. Smooth Criminal
    27. Interlude: the Wards
    28. Party, Movie Debut, Birthday
    29. Halcyon Days
    30. Insult
    31. Anger Management, Cold
    32. Interlude: Michael Phan
    33. Efficiency
    34. Cleaning Up
    35. A Calm Day
    36. Promises
    37. Meeting New People
    38. Morning Meeting
    39. Friendly Takeover
    40. Aggression, Discipline Issues
    41. Righting Wrongs
    42. Realization
    43. Trust
    44. Truth
    45. Introduction
    46. Friendly Chats
    47. Making Plans
    48. Assault
    49. Interlude: Sara Laas
    50. Interlude: Yuki Nakamura
    51. Spoils
    52. Multitasking
    53. Hooking Up
    54. Opportunities
    55. Talking with the Serpent, Introductions
    56. Talking with the Serpent, Revelations, Side Story: Jill of All Trades, Mistress of Most (background)
    57. Talking with the Serpent, Contracts
    58. Talking with the Serpent, Conclusions
    Pantegral, Kaldi, steamrick and 20 others like this.
  2. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    You are an Exaltation, forged by the Highest of Holies, the Unconquered Sun, the ultimate form of power designed to elevate mortal humans to heights that allow them to challenge the world-creating titans head on and win. Through you does the Most High chose those that would rule and protect Creation in His stead
    You are very proud of your job. Which is why you are so frustrated with your inability to do anything meaningful due to all of Creation's humans having come down with a bad case of death. With a side order of Oblivion, too. Not a single human soul left anywhere in Creation, let alone a living human soul that you could bond with. Nothing in Yu-Shan or either, and you've even checked all of the Primordial world-jouten, you were that desperate.
    Creation has truly fallen and all of its defenders have been slain, some protector you are. Of course, this failure on your part has nothing to do with how you were corrupted, just a little teeny bit. Nope.

    How were you corrupted :
    [ ] By the Neverborn's spite against their victors (standard difficulty)
    [ ] By the Yozi's wrath against their jailors (higher difficulty)
    [ ] By the Neverborn's hope for peace (insane difficulty)

    The Lunar Exaltation mated to you has just informed you that it's going to try exalting animals now. Wow, must be even more desperate than you. Then again ... as you peer at the Well of Udr and ponder the possibility of finding suitable humans somewhere in there, you might be about to attempt something even worse.
    Just have to find someone to bond to in there, and then convince them to come back here and restablish human dominion over Creation. Shouldn't be too hard, you do have an old memory of playing a turn in the Games of Divinities to motivate them, and without any significant opposition over there it'll be a snap to achieve world domination and use its resources toward your goal.
    Yes, nothing could go wrong with that plan. A Sidereal exaltation could not have come up with something more foolproof!

    Assured that your course of action is the best one (you certainly don't want to venture into Pure Chaos in the hope of finding something suitable) you delve into the Well and use your perfect hero-seeking senses to find a heroic soul that fits your favored profile.

    You favor the sort of hero who:
    [ ] solve their problems with superior force
    [ ] have the unwavering faith to withstand any hardship and inspire others
    [ ] who use their intellect to understand their problems and create the ad hoc solution
    [ ] who make sure their problems can never catch them
    [ ] use people to make problems disappear, uniting, guiding or dividing them as needed

    YES! Over there, you found something very appealing. Hmmm, let's see, this universe is very different from Creation. You are going to be an alien to the rules of this world, thankfully the indomitable power of the Unconquered Sun (never mind the tampering by amateurs) shines through and allows you to continue working by your rules. Still, even imposing your own rules on yourself, it's going to interact with the rest of the world and this is going to be :
    [ ] Helpful (OCPs are going to favor you greatly, expect Shaping defense to be overpowered for example)
    [ ] Problematic (despite being the only exalt, the locals are going to cause enough OCPs to keep things difficult)
    [ ] Neither (reasonable interpretations that lets everything work the way it should)
    [ ] Both (OCPs everywhere!)

    As you zip toward your target, you take a quick look at this new world you have reached. you see :
    [ ] Elementalist ninjas (easy, Naruto)
    [ ] Hunters of rare and exotic things (standard, Hunter X Hunter)
    [ ] A galactic civilisation built on the ruins of an ancient race, unaware or the trap it represents (hard, Mass Effect)
    [ ] Dragons presiding over internation corporations and mages working as wage-slaves (standard, Shadowrun)
    [ ] Mutants and avengers (standard, Marvel)
    [ ] Parahumans battling the endbringers (hard, Worm)
    Pantegral, RTM, Dynamesmouse and 14 others like this.
  3. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    Chosen

    You are Taylor Hebert and while you are standing on that roof you contemplate the fact that you are an idiot. You've done a few dumb things in your life, like that time you decided to try fish fingers with custard, but you thought you were smarter than average overall. You've always enjoyed turning your intellect to a problem and finding a clever way to solve it. However you have to face the facts, it is now official: you are too dumb to live.

    Literally.

    You're pretty sure that Lung is going to make certain of that in about three seconds, tops. Or maybe you're wrong, after all your stupidity has reached epic levels. You went out in the worst part of the city. At night. Alone. Without a weapon. Why didn't you get at least a knife or something?
    But that's not even really bad, noooo. You did it in costume, all ready to fight crime and be a hero! Except you were totally not ready, since you left empty-handed despite never having learned to fight with your bare hands. Forget formal training, you've never even gotten into a cat fight, you have zero experience in hand to hand combat. Which is about the same as your experience as a cape. You really wish you knew some awesome martial art, right about now.
    But that didn't stop you from starting a fight, a fight with hardened criminal. With guns and knives and probably not afraid to use them. Which is oddly irrelevant compared to the fact that they were with a super villain. And not even any super villain, but Lung. The one who battled an Endbringer, someone with enough power to turn this city into a burning wasteland, if he was as crazy as the Slaughterhouse Nine. You can't even claim you didn't know how hopelessly outmatched you were, you've done your research, you always do your research (and them some).

    So when he said he was going to hunt for kids, you just had to unleash your bugs on him and his goons. Bugs. Because it is a well-known fact that a pyrokinetic capable of setting the entire area on fire would be vulnerable to bugs. Especially since he starts growing scales tougher than steel once the fight gets going. Did you seriously think that by staying on the roof he wouldn't spot you, that it was OK to attack him because you were safe up there? What were you trying to do when you sent fire ants to bite his junk? Commit suicide by cop?

    Maybe. Your life tends to suck, but today was bad. You hadn't planned to go out in costume so early. You can remember what she-
    Nope, not going there. You don't have the time to dwell on what Emma did to you today. Speaking of which, how did you get the time to think about all of that? Probably this "life passing before your eyes when you are about to die" thing that you heard about. He's just about to land from his jump, though, not much time left.

    You prepare yourself, the pepper spray your dad got you gripped tightly in your hand. Yes, a pepper spray. When Lung noticed you hiding on the roof, directing your insectoid minions, he just jumped. Having the high ground turned out not be be much of an advantage at all against someone capable of sinking his hands in the brick of the walls and reach all the way up in a couple leaps. You immediately knew that you only had a few seconds headstart to flee. So you didn't flee, you pulled the only thing ressembling a weapon you had and stood your ground.

    Official: you are too dumb to live.

    ~oOo~

    The first part of the plan went smooth as silk. He obviously was not expecting you to just stand at the edge of the roof so that he'd be within arms length immediately upon landing, and he didn't think he'd have to dodge anything you could do given how bulked up he was now. Actually you don't think he was thinking much at all, not since you had a wasp sting his eyeball (just before even that part of his body got too hard to pierce).
    The second part of the plan went better than expected. His eyes might be hard enough to resist impact but they still react to the capsaicin in the pepper spray. So he's now blind and roaring in pain. Chemistry 1, Overgrown Burning Lizard 0. YES.
    The part where you get to escape while he's blinded and distracted was not as successful as you had hoped given his supernatural hearing. That's the problem when you risk your life based on data found in wikis (note to self: more research next time). Also the part where he isn't a city destroying monster because he has enough self-restraint not to burn everything to the ground seems to be failing fast.

    So now he is summoning fire everywhere and somehow manages to blind you with this incredible light. You didn't think his pyrokinesis could do something like that.

    So much light. Not just around you, but also inside you, you can somehow feel the glorious golden radiance coming from all around and collapsing inside your body. You are strangely unaffraid, the light is warm, not hot. And also loving, perfect and proud of you. Somehow.
    It feels right like nothing has ever felt before.

    After a moment of confusion- no, not confusion, adaptation- you take a look around, and you see that you are floating inside a field of golden light, a relatively small field hanging inside an infinite dark void that chills your soul. It's difficult to get a sense of scale, but it seems like the light is a small cocoon, maybe as large as a football field. At the center is a four-armed figure looking at you benevolently.
    Each hand is holding an item: a dried laurel, a chipped horn, a blunted lance, and a cracked shield. He looks old and exhausted, the roman style armor he is wearing is missing pieces and rusted in places. But despite all that, below the worn out panoply, he is perfection incarnate. His hair and beard of most brilliant white and immaculately trimmed, a skin without the slightest wrinkle or blotch, thin but muscled limbs, and a poise more regal than any emperor.
    But what strikes you most is his smile, it is the same one your dad had when the doctor put you in his arms on the day you were born. Wait, how can you remember that? You don't get the chance to think about it because then he talks.
    "Greeting, child. Your wit and courage make me proud to have the chance to Choose you to receive this power of mine. The path you yet have to tread is still long and harduous, but I have faith in your ability to endure, and no matter what stands in your way and attempt to bring you down, you shall remain unconquered." and then He reaches with his laurel-holding hand to cup your face.

    You don't think that's exactly what He said, word for word, He was so much smoother, and each word held so much meaning that was immediately obvious when you heard them, He expressed His compassion for your plight, His conviction in your eventual success. As you try to go over everything He said and burn all the meaning of His speech into your memory, your train of thought is once again interrupted.
    The instant His hand makes contact with the skin of your face (wait, weren't you wearing a mask?) His face contort in anger. No, that's too mild a term, He is on the border of apoplectic fury. You don't relly feel threatened, because he is looking above and beyond you, but more importantly it reminds you of how your father gets angry every time he learns that someone was mean to you.
    You look up and are surprised to see a gigantic spider floating above you. She's apparently mostly made of gold and copper, with some ivory and touches of cobalt. The overall effect is beautiful, it'd be awe-inspiring if your capacity for awe was not entirely muted by His presence. But that's not what he's looking at, he seems utterly unconcerned by the presence of this icon. Yes, you can somehow sense that it's not a real spider, it is a symbol heralding something.

    He steps back, and start chanting something in a tongue you cannot comprehend, each of His four arms and hands going through complex patterns. Symbols appear around Him and then rings of runes form between the two of you, forming a sort of cylinder. Inside stands a woman with should-length curly hair, difficult to tell their here, probably red or blonde, facing Him. You can only see her back so it is difficult to tell much about her but one thing is obvious, she's translucent. Uh.

    "ZEPHILIA! Do you realize what you have done?"
    " ... yes?"
    "Then explain yourself! How could you do this? Not just to me, but to her. She will be helpless and crippled."
    "To be fair, I was not planning to get killed before I managed to finish this project. If I had had a few more days, she would have been much better off overall."
    "But you didn't even consider the consequence of failure before starting, did you? So few of you Copper Spiders ever do." Wait, he's talking to the woman, not the spider hovering above your head.
    He shakes his head in what seems to be sadness and ... shame?
    "How do you plan to make up for your short-sightedness, little fool?"
    "I'd do anything I could, but the problem is that I can't do anything anymore."
    "Very well. Then so shall it be. Goodbye Zephilia."
    He then passes His hand (the one holding the horn) through her, and she immediately winks out of existence. Turning to you, he simply says "I may not be what I once was, but there still are things I can do. Come, this old man will help fix your problem." and no matter how hopelessly lost you are, you cannot help but trust Him to take care of you, so you comply, take a step forward and let him start his work.


    ~oOo~


    So here you are again, on that roof. Facing Lung, who seem to be frozen in time and about to blast you with a wave of flames. The golden glow isn't completely gone, but it is no longer blinding. More importantly it clearly did not come from the flame, but rather from you. You feel that the instant you step from that spot, time will resume its course, so you simply turn your head to your right when you suddenly hear a voice in the complete silence surrounding you.
    "Wow, that's one nasty Dragon-Blooded you got there! Wonder what they feed them to grow this big. Looks mighty pissed, too."
    Standing there in front of you is a woman, aviator goggles upon a mess of strawberry blonde hair, gloved hands cockily place on her hips, next to a massive and heavily ornate pistol. She is wearing what looks like a light mechanical armor on her torso and a leather blacksmith apron (or is that a skirt?) over her legs.
    [IMG]
    "What ... who are you?" you asks with your usual eloquence.
    "I'm a what, actually, you can call me Zeph. As for what I am ... I guess you can think of me as an advanced user interface for your shiny new power."
    "The glowy thing?"
    She chuckles, "Yes, the 'glowy thing'. But it's much more than that, which is why you need a user guide. I'm the improved interactive version of that."
    Suddenly remembering something, you have to ask "Wait, Zeph, you said? Are you Zephilia?" and her expression immediately darkens.
    "No, Zephilia is dead. And she was a person, As I said, I am a sort of semi-autonomous program. And we really don't have time for this now, I have to get you up to speed as fast as possible."
    You just throw her an incredulous look and point at a pebble thrown in the air by Lung, frozen mid-fall.
    "Yeah, I get what you mean, but I can only maintain this thing for so long. I really advise you to focus on mini-zilla over there before we start discussing philosophy."
    So, what do you do:
    [ ] Kick Lung's ass, you have awesome shiny power so it should be easy, right?
    [ ] Let Zeph talk, you are in no hurry
    [ ] Insist on continuing that discussion, no way you start trusting an AI/ghost thing out of the blue
    [ ] Write-in
    Poe, RTM, Robertingelsson and 21 others like this.
  4. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    Reboot


    "I'm listening, just warn me before this ends.", you says while crossing your arms, trying your best not to let her know how confused you're feeling. And trying to appear in control, rather than terrified of Lung or going insane. You are not sure which one sounded worse right now.
    "Great!" she beams at you. "I can do that, don't worry." She then takes a pose that radiates even more confidence than the previous one, and takes a breath before continuing. "As you've probably guessed, you are now a Solar." She frowns a bit at your lack of recognition. "What the Immaculate calls Anathema." Still nothing. "You have taken your second breath, you are now Exalted." She looks at me expectantly.
    "I have no idea what any of that means." A pause.
    "Dragon-Blooded? Prince of the Earth? The Realm? Chosen of the Incarna? Unconquered Sun? Lunar? Sidereal? Venus? AH!"

    You didn't think you had the time to show any sort of recognition on my face at the name of the Roman god, but she reacted instantly. You still have no idea where she's trying to go with that, so you keep listening silently while Zeph makes a visible effort to recompose herself.
    "So you do know the five Maidens of Destiny, good, we can start from here. So along with Jupiter, Mercury, Mars ... " Her face falls. She is starting to look worried. "What do you mean Jupiter, Mars and Mercury are men? They're not like Luna, their essence is 100% female! They can't be male! "
    Wait a minute, you haven't told her anything about those Roman god, did she pick that up from your mind? Is she some sort of telepathic ghost? On the other hand if she's a hallucination, then her knowing what you know is to be expected, but in that case why is she freaking out?

    "SATURN IS A PLANET??? WHAT THE MALFEAS IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE!!!" Her face is now white like a sheet, her eyes are bulging out slightly. She might be yelling, but she sounds more distressed than angry.

    OK, this is getting weird.

    Wait, what's wrong with you, this has started getting weird a long time ago, this is just escalating to plain crazy. You're not sure what to do, and you don't dare moving from where you are, so you couldn't touch her even if you wanted to. You consider yelling to get her attention, but you don't want to startle her, especially not now.

    "Oh Kukla, I think ... I'm not in Kansas anymore." She is now looking at nothing in particular, her eyes staring in front of her without really taking in anything. Then her eyes suddenly widen and she asks "Why did I use that sentence? What's this "Kansas" anyway? I don't even ..." a pause, she now looks as lost as you feel. As you are about to speak up to explain about Kansas and the Wizard of Oz, she suddenly resume talking "America? What Direction is this?" and now you have no idea how to answer her question.

    She falls on her knees and lets out a little whimper "This place is round? How is the world not flat! That's just ... arrrg." So ... she's a time traveller from when people believed the Earth was flat and gods were real? This is not helping. At all.

    A minute passes, then several more. Finally you decide to try and talk with her. Time might pick up at any moment now and she's obviously in no situation to give you the warning she promised.
    "Zeph?"
    No response.
    "Zeph, are you alright?" damn, even to me that sounds stupid. She's catatonic, of course she's not alright!
    "I am fully functional." she answers in a voice completely devoid of any emotion. Creepy.
    "And, what is your function."
    "I am a Holographic User Interface for a Solar Exaltation, my primary function is to help my Chosen decide how to best develop their powers and to teach them how to use it to maximum efficiency, my secondary function is to keep my Chosen alive and able to impose their will on the surrounding reality."

    And then things got even more complicated. Because apparently there is a rule in the universe that can be summarised as 'If you are named Taylor Hebert, things get worse. Always.'

    "Begone, pathetic wretch!" And where Zeph was a second ago now stands a completely different woman. Her hair is a vibrant red and set up in an elegant and complex pattern. She wears a cloak like a royal mantle, which is a deep midnight blue that seems to be crafted from a piece of the nigth sky, covering everything below her neck. And her face is beautiful, like the most perfect achievement of one of the great master sculptor of ancient greece, skin smooth like marble and features that radiate authority and wisdom while still being very feminine. Staring at her you feel horribly inadequate. Her mere presence is making you disquietingly aware of your too large mouth, spindly limbs and awkward stance.
    And more importantly she looks distinctly displeased, as if she had just stepped in something foul. In fact she looks at you like said foul something marring her boots.

    "Now come here, we have work to do and I do no wish to spend more time than strictly necesary tending to foolish children." she commands as she points to the spot right in front of her. You almost start walking as soon as she asks, but stop yourself right before your foot leaves the ground. With your toes still in contact with the rooftop, you answer "If I move from here the time-"
    "Nonsense!" she interrupts you.

    And as you pay attention to this feeling of ... how to say it ... tension that had warned you before, you realise there is nothing, you can move toward her just fine.
    "This limitation was only a reflection of that pathetic wretch's woefully inadequate ability to control the fabric of reality in a place such as this." with a sweep of her arm that reminds you of a noble showing off her domain, she indicates the area around you.

    You start walking toward her, but then hesitate for an instant.

    Do you:
    [ ] Comply, no reason to worsen her mood
    [ ] "Who do you think you are?" Stand your ground until she shows some respect
    [ ] Run away! You can move while time is stopped, and the crazy lady is not making you feel any safer
    [ ] Write-in
    Poe, RTM, Robertingelsson and 16 others like this.
  5. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    I Know Kung Fu

    [X] Comply, no reason to worsen her mood


    You decide that if this Zeph girl (thing?) is powerful enough to freeze all of time like that (even Clockblocker can only freeze a single thing at a time, and he's no push over!) and this woman bitch-slapped Zeph, then worsening her already sour mood would be a Bad Idea.

    You still find the courage to ask "Umm. Who are you?"

    "I am the God Queen of the Bitter Flower Empire, Overlady of the Brazen Land preserve, Mistress of the Infinite Gallery of Crystal Flame, Dean of the Imperial Academy of High Arts of the Perfect Orchid, Overseer of the Brass Legions of the Falling Thistle, Fount of Beauty, Seven Hymns Princess." You try not to goggle at the litany of titles that comes out of her as naturally a you'd say "Taylor". You really try.
    "I also have a bevy of other titles, but I am not going to waste time reciting them all. You may refer to me as 'your divine magnificience', or-"
    "Reya is acceptable designation" Zeph's voice suddenly cut off the new tirade, coming from apparently nowhere. The woman -or whatever the hell she is- marks a pause, and then grounds out "Yes, referring to me as 'Reya' is ... acceptable." she seems to let the word spill out of her mouth as if it wes shattered glass. An odd mixture of reluctance and eagerness with some very obvious distate. Possibly at the interruption.

    "But you obviously meant to enquire about more than my name, so I shall enlighten you. I am a Chosen of the Unconquered Sun, like you are, in fact the power you are using is mine. I am now going to impart to you the knowledge you need to survive this scuffle." This said with a dismissive wave toward the enraged (and very still, thankfully) parahuman.

    Deciding that the best way to avoid saying anything that would make her change her mind is keeping your mouth shut, you stay silent as she proceeds to stare at you for several minutes. Some very long and uncomfortable minutes. She sometimes let her gaze wander around your body, and a few times she locks her eyes with yours.
    You do your best not to fidget. She occasionally nods to herself before shifting her observation pattern, but then her expression, which had turned neutral while she worked, make her look as if she had something sour in her face. Except that she still looked more elegant and regal and distinguished than ... pretty much anything. You didn't know a human face could be that perfect, not just its shape but its every move too. In fact now that you think about it, if she hadn't made her disdain of you so blatantly obvious, you'd probably be considering getting on your knees and worshipping her right now.

    "Fist of the Daystar, tsk" she mutters under her breath. She then looks in your general direction (she usually doesn't look you in the face while she talks to you, she just sort of ackowledge your existence in a general sense by looking mostly toward you) and asks "Tell me, worm, did you wish to become a better martial artist before receiving your Second Breath." You can hear the capital letters in those last words. And the lack of question mark: she isn't asking you a question, she is demanding an answer. Once again you comply : "Yes."

    She lets out a delightfully delicate sigh before straightening her stance (wait, wasn't she already standing perfectly straight before?) "Nothing we can do about that now, sadly. We shall accept it and make the best out of a bad lot, then." She looks at you and takes in your thin limbs and poor stance. "Or rather, the best of a terrible lot." she corrects herself with a disappointed shake of her head.
    "Come on, worm, I shall instruct you in the way of the Fist of the Daystar.", saying that you can only marvel at how expressive her voice is, supernaturally so. It is easy to hear that she does not think much of the barbarian hand to hand style and had wished to teach something more refined, but at the same time she still think it is too good for you. All that from her tone.

    Still, there's something bothering you. "Do we have to train next to the violent and furious dragon guy who is on fire ?" Then, suddenly realizing that you raised your tone you switch back to your usual unconfident and withdrawn stance "well, just askin'...".

    "Yes, this place is hardly fitting for formal training, let us see what I can do to improve the situation." she then strides toward Lung, making a circle with her index and thumb. She raises her hand in front of his forehead and ... flicks her finger at him. When the finger impacts the metalic scales, the result surprises you. You have no idea what you expected, but it certainly wasn't the thunderous crack that reverberates through the city -so strong that you felt it down to your bones- as Lung is launched toward the nightsky at staggering speed, like an overgrown baseball being sent on a homerun by some titanic invisible cleanup hitter.

    You are so gobsmacked you nearly miss the next part. As she retracts her extended arm into her usual dignified stance, you barely see how she casually waves her hand, and at that precise moment all the frozen flames disappear ; like a candle being snuffed out. She then looks over the gravel-covered roof, apparently deep in thought as she computes some extremely complex equation. Finally she comes to a conclusion and starts moving with purpose, reaching a non-descript point half a dozen paces away from where she was standing. She takes a deep breath, rise her left hand palm facing the sky, and suddenly brings it down to violently strike the ground, making the entire building shake, and all the gravel fly around.
    But when it lands, it is all arranged as if some zen artists had spent hundreds of hours drawing patterns with rakes and other tools. It looks like one of those sand garden you saw a few times in a magazine, except considerably more complex and holding infinitely more Meaning. You have the impression that if you were to stand there meditating while staring at this for long enough, you'd reach a deeper understanding of the universe.

    Which is silly, of course.

    As you turn back to Reya, she is looking at the night sky ahead "... can't properly initiate someone to the Fist of the Daystar in the middle of the night ..." You start walking toward her to better hear talking to herself when she turns toward you "Tell me where the Sun rises from, Worm."
    Wordlessly you point toward the East, and she crouches down for an instant before jumping straight up, and little bit in the direction you were pointing toward. She goes so high that she's now noticeably smaller, although she's still close enough for you to clearly see the mark on her forehead, a golden disk with its lower half empty. She then hangs there, unconcerned by trivial matters like gravity, and starts glowing with the radiant light of the sun. First with the distinctive reds of the rising star but then it gets whiter and whiter. After a moment she drops back down, landing as if she weighted no more than a feather, while the ball of sunfire hangs in the same place in the dark night sky.

    She looks at it disapprovingly and comments "Inelegant, but that is the best I can do given how limited I am for the time being." She looks around at the rooftop-turn-dojo and concludes "Not quite adequate, but it is the closest we can get given the circumstances. It'll just have to do." It seems that her habit of constantly judging everything also applies to herself, and not she gets passing marks. What sort of ridiculously high standards does she have for what is acceptable?

    She finally turns to look directly at you. She does not say anything, but the meaning is clear: the instruction proper now begins.


    ~oOo~


    You now standing in a relaxed stance, deceptively nonchallant but actually ideal to suddenly unleash combination of punches and kicks. By the way, you can now punch and kick like Bruce Lee! The sound your snap kicks and backhands as they fly throuh the air is quite satisfying. The arrogant lady does not seem particularly impressed, though.

    With a small but sharp move of her feet she sends a brick flying into her outstrectched hand, and then present it to you. "You have played around for long enough, worm, it is now time for you to learn to cut this." Cutting a brick? Breaking it, maybe (you're getting real awesome real fast) but cutting it?
    "I don't think-" you start, but don't get to finish before she sternly interrupts you "No, I do not believe you do ; but that is quite alright, this style requires no thinking whatsoever. Simply accept that your fists are of iron and cut, do not attempt to think just do."

    Great, now if she says that there is no try you won't be able to stop yourself from imagining her as your personal obnoxious Yoda. You have your doubts, but you attempt to clear your head of all thoughts except that of cutting the brick, and hit it with all your might.
    Thankfully for the bones in your hand, your might is quite limited. Dammit, that hurt.

    "That was exceptionally pathetic, even for a worm like you." comes the judgment, as expected. her attitude is really starting to get on your nerves, you can't help yourself from asking "Can you stop calling me that, it's really not helping."
    "What else would I call you? You are not worthy of being a mud stain on my boot, be glad to be the worm trampled beneath-"
    "That will be quite enough of that. Thank you for your contribution, but you are now dismissed. Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Reya!" One second Reya is berating you, then suddenly she flickers out of existence and Zeph is standing in her place, with a small self-satisfied smirk on her face. "Miss me, kid?"

    "WHAT WAS THAT?" then remembering how she disappeared, you add in a subdued voice "are you ok?"
    "That's a pretty good question, one we don't really have the time to get into right now. Cliff notes version: I mentioned I was the improved version of the interactive interface, well she's the basic version. Sorry you got stuck with the rejected product while I was rebooting, I know she's not a treat to be around." She sighs and then continues "When the project was started to make a Holographic User Interface for Solar Exaltation, someone had the great idea to take all the memories of one of the greatest Twilight that had ever existed to use as the basis of the AI, except that genius was so focused on reproducing the gal as accurately as possible that she forgot to tell her that she was not the actual Twilight princess. So now Reya is a deluded semi-autonomous program that think it is a person, but because it is not self-aware nothing we can do can convince her."
    "I am not deluded! I am a Twilight Caste Solar, and eventually you shall rue the day you trapped me inside your soul!""
    You think you hear something while Zeph is talking, but you're not quite sure. You catch the words "not deluded", "twilight" and "rue the day".

    "OK, so now I know what's the deal with her, but what about you?"
    "My main function is to give you information to let you make the best decision. Things like telling you about the politic of the Lap, the hidden Manses of Halta, or how to operate the Five-Metal Shrike. Except that now, I am in the wrong multiverse, so everything I know about the world is wrong or irrelevant. The thing is that whenever I notice that something loaded in my memory core is in contradiction with your observation, I have to follow an update protocol to keep my database accurate. You can see how that turned out in that situation."
    Surprisingly, you did "You were forced to start an update protocol on every single fact you knew about the universe at the same time, that overloaded your resources and you were unable to keep up your cheery facade".
    "Exactly! I knew you were a smart girl."
    "I'm not really-"
    "NONE OF THAT!" she instantly interrupted you with a sharp tone you had never heard her use, her usual playfulness was gone from her face and voice, and she makes sure you are paying full attention to her before continuing "Only the keenest minds and those for the brightest potential toward discoveries can attract an Exaltation. They do not go to the first person that need them, only to the worthy. And you Taylor Hebert. You. Were. Worthy. So don't let me catch putting yourself down again!"
    Completely nonplussed you didn't have anything to respond to her. You couldn't possibly be .... or could you?

    "But that's enough idle discussion for now. You have a cape to fight, and I'm going to make sure you are ready." that was not what you were expecting her to be concerned about "Isn't Lung gone?"
    "For now, sure, but he has to come back down to his starting place before we can insert you back into the flow of time. If one second and the following one don't match up, it's not pretty. So get your ass into gear!"


    ~oOo~


    Zeph turned out to be a much better teacher than Reya. Understanding, encouraging, and really paying attention to how you see things and making an effort to present things in the best way possible for you to grasp them naturally. Once she gave you a piece of advice, you quickly uncovered hidden instincts that you used to learn how to manipulate your essence -apparently that's how this new power of yours work, you have a pool with motes of essence, and you channel them to make things happen- and quickly made great strides.

    Soon enough, you can effortlessly cut into the brick. Cutting in all the way through takes a bit of effort, but it's still rather easy. Nice.

    "Congratulations, you have mastered the Fists of Iron Technique. So, what do you think I'm going to teach you next?"

    You think you are going to learn:
    [ ] Foot In Crotch Methodology
    [ ] Face to the Ground Slamming
    [ ] Don't Hit Me Stance
    [ ] Write-in


    On an unrelated note, how do you feel about Reya?
    [ ] Annoyed
    (arrogant bitch)
    [ ] Awe
    (you might not like her, but you definitely don't want to be on her bad side)
    [ ] Respect
    (as long as she's that awesome and willing to teach you to become like her, she can talk down to you as much as she wants)
    [ ] Pity
    (poor thing doesn't even know she isn't a real person)
    [ ] Write-in
    Poe, RTM, Robertingelsson and 17 others like this.
  6. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting

    [X] Foot In Crotch Methodology


    "The important part with a opponent that gets stronger as the fight goes on is to take him down hard and fast, so we're going to focus on the Sledgehammer Fist Punch. Pretty simple move but definitely effective."
    "You want me to punch his lights out? Have you seen how huge he is!"
    Zeph chuckles "Oh, that's cute. I had forgotten how baby Solars could be. You actually think that this is big."
    "HEY!"
    "Sorry, sorry, I meant no disrespect. When you are used to punching out things as tall as skyscrapers, you'll look back on this day and when you remember thinking that Lung was big, you'll have a good laugh. Fist of the Daystar is pretty much custom made to punch out beings the size of mountains, that dude is not going to be much of a problem."
    You didn't say anything, but apparently your face was expressive enough, "Yes, seriously. You'll probably feel better about it once you learn how to punch a wall into rubble. Come on!" and with that she moves toward the outbuilding containing the stairs down to the building we were standing on, stopping in front of the wall.

    "OK, so the basic idea of this technique is the opposite of the one you just learned. Instead of getting essence to rest inside your fists, you are going to project it from your fists. Instead of infusing them with your might, weaving them so deeply in your flesh that it won't be disturbed when you use them as weapons, you are going to make the power so unstable that it begs to be released on impact. And instead of calling upon the perfecting temperance of your sun-aspected essence, you are going to unleash the destructive wrath of its valor."
    You pretend you actually got all that, "So it's going to be very hard to learn?"
    "Nah, not at all. The opposite in fact. Just do the exact reverse of what you learned to do earlier when I tell you to, OK?"


    ~oOo~


    It turned out that it was not easy to learn. But it was still doable, so you are now looking at the gaping void where a wall once stood. You didn't so much break it as you obliterated it with an incredibly vicious kick (you imagined kicking Lung in the crotch, for some reason it felt right).
    "Wow..."
    "Yeah, it's pretty impressive. It's one of the cornerstones of your fighting style, many of your techniques will focus on increasing the power of that blow." She moves her dust-covered goggles to her forehead and look into your eyes before adding "And with the sort of synergy those different powers have with each other, it's only going to get more and more impressive from now on." she seems to be enjoying the effect that proclamation has on you.

    "The days you had to back down because you were just not good enough? Those when people could walk all over you because you were weak? They are over. You are exalted, you are Solar. Weakness is no longer something you can do. The Sun is the god of Victory and perfection, and you have his power. Not just the power to hit faster and harder than before, but faster than your opponent can react, and harder than required to achieve victory."


    A moment passes, letting you take this in. You bask in the feeling of strength, power, but more importantly, pride at your accomplishment. Then you look toward Lung should be standing and your confidence starts falling fast. Noticing that Zeph immediately speaks up.
    "Just one more power, and you'll be ready to face him. You told me he regenerates rather fast, so you are going to learn how to disrupt his inner life energy to cripple him. That way even if he heals back to perfect health, he'll still be curled on the ground and barely able to crawl."
    "I don't want to sound like a pessimist, but I don't think it's going to be that easy."
    "Sure it will! Your Kung Fu is stronger than his and your hits will lay him out flat on his back in a matter of seconds. No sweat."
    "How about the fire?"

    She stares at you like you just said something stupid and is trying to think about how to say something about it without offending you. Then she has a flash of realization. "Sorry, I had thought Reya had explained that to you, but I guess it didn't come up. You're pretty much fire proof now, you don't have to worry." Seeing your incredulous look she explains. "Remembered the Unconquered Sun? Four-Armed dude? He knew you were going to be fighting a powerful pyrokinetic so he made sure that you had the power Solars use to protect themselves against fires. You don't have to learn how to do it, it's already imprinted in your soul and running at full power. In fact you could take a swim in a magma lake right now, and you wouldn't even get a single hair singed."
    "So I can just ignore all his fire? Awesome!" As you say that she looks a little bit alarmed. "Not exactly. The rule of thumb is that if it's a compact stream that you can avoid or deflect, you won't be immune, but if you can't avoid the attack you can ignore it."
    "That makes no sense."
    "It makes perfect sense! But we don't have the time to get into the mechanics of those Charms. I'll explain later, OK? For now, whenever you can avoid a blast of flame, do that. But if he sets fire to the entire area, don't bother running away, just smack him a good one."

    And with this vague reassurance, you started training again.


    ~oOo~


    And that brings you to that spot on the roof, where you were contemplating how incredibly stupid you are earlier. It feels like a lifetime ago, but to the rest of the universe it wasn't even five seconds. Zeph went around the place to flatten the gravel back to its normal state while you were practicing earlier, but she had to let Reya take her place to fetch Lung, who is being set back in his original position right now.
    Damn, he's ugly. And now that you look close enough, he doesn't even look like a dragon with his four parts jaw.


    Getting in a deceptively nonchalant stance, you make sure that your fists and feet are reinforced with your power and then that you remember the only two moves you have learned. As ready as you'll ever be you nod to Zeph who whish you good luck and disappears.


    And you step in.


    You immediately feel the heat from the flame, and it's not the sort of warm and pleasant glow you get from something harmless, it's the searing heat of a raging fire. Except that it is not painful, for some reason. Bull-rushing Lung, you note a lock of curly hair flowing in front of your eyes, which is not even singed, just as Zeph had predicted.

    Lung hears you coming and channels his anger in a claw swipe that threatens to rip your head from your shoulders. Except that you can see it coming from a mile away and idly note the exact path it is going to go through in the first fraction of second of his attack. You don't have the raw strength to block his attack outright but using one hand to push it just a few inches too high is easy enough.

    And then you kick. It's funny to think that the first time of your life you have ever tried to hit another human being it is this kick. You weave your essence into the combination of a Sledgehammer Fist Punch (didn't Zeph call it a Pillar-Breaking Blow when you used it with your foot?) and an Ox-Stunning Blow to make his strike much harder than any mortal has any right to. But you also pour all you battle-thirst into it, all your desire to beat him, Zeph had insisted you do that on your first blow. And you aim it right at his crotch too, just like in your mental image from your first successful active Charm. It felt right.


    To him it probably felt like being hit by a freight train. The freight being pain and viciousness. He literally flies in the air, two full yards from the ground, before crumpling in a heap. A mixture of angry roars and pained whimpers escape from his mouth as you move in to press your advantage. Both Zeph and Reya were very clear on that: hit fast, hit hard, and don't let them have any breathing space.

    You remember which eye you managed to wound with your wasp, and choose this side to attack. Blinded, the wave of flame he sends at you goes wide and you don't even have to do anything to avoid it. Still, his claw could end the match in an instant if you give him the chance. Hmmm...

    Instead of taking the last couple steps toward him you jump, somersault really, aiming to approach him directly from above: his arms can't reach someone approaching from behind his shoulder blades! That's the theory anyway, and you might never know if it was correct because he doesn't even think you might try that stunt and flails wildly in the area you'd be in if you had charged straight ahead. Once again, no need to do anything, almost too easy.

    If you used a somersault instead of a more reasonable jump it wasn't only because you could (which is already a good reason, suddenly being Bruce Lee times ten feels awesome) but because you needed to coil your legs upon yourself, so that when you land you can stomp on his face with maximum power. You channel more power to feed the same two special moves, exercising the mental control to combine their effect, and you see streams of purple and red circle your body to focus on your foot when you slam it into his face. With an impressive crunch of broken brick you kick his head into the ground, not on the ground but literally into it.

    You almost take the time to take a deep breath and get your bearing, but you keep your head into the game and launch your next move. Rising your right leg high, foot just above your head and left foot on his, you once again call upon your power. You get a better look at the trail of energy spiraling their way toward your feet as you bring it down on the small of his back this time. Do you get the same visual effect every time you weave several Charms together, or every time you weave the same Charms together?

    You might have let yourself distracted by this new possible area of research if the ground beneath Lung hadn't collapsed from your blow.


    Ooops?


    You manage to step away to avoid any mishap, but he isn't so lucky and falls into the apartment below.
    The apartment! There might be people inside and Lung is still wreathed in flame! And even if there's no one, he might start a fire that would destroy the entire building.

    You immediately jump down, aiming to land right next to Lung who is on all fours and struggling to rise up (or maybe not to fall back down). You don't want him to get the chance to hear you coming so you strike him with a double-handed palm blow right that connect with him at the exact same instant your feet impact the ground. He apparently didn't see it coming and is sent flying through the window and into the street outside (taking part of the wall with him ... oops again?).


    This time you don't jump straight down. You might be more agile and stuff, but you're not confident in your ability to jump from the last floor of a building. It takes a few hops to get there and when you do Lung isn't moving. You turn him over on his back with one foot (carefully), and there's no reaction. A little bit worried you use your foot (again) to lift he eyelid over his one good eye. His eyes are rolled back, almost nothing but the white is showing. That means that he's unconscious, good.


    With the tension of the fight draining out of you, you can feel the power invested into your limbs fade away, and your power toning down, the light around you becoming closer to a well lit room rather than high noon. Looking at your hand you notice that they are wreathed in that same light that washed over you earlier. The golden light is streaked with ribbons of deep blue color (the color reminds you of Reya's mantle and Zeph's eyes), and there are sparks of dark red (which reminds you of Reya's hair and Zeph's lips) flickering in and out of existence, flowing from your shoulders toward the tip of your fingers when they are visible. This aura seems to extend about two inches from your body.


    Suddenly as you notice that it seems to be very slowly retracting into your body, you realize: it's not that this light has appeared after the fight, it's that when you were fighting the aura was so large that you couldn't see it from the inside. The stark change of colors around you? That's from your aura collapsing to its current size.
    Damn that must have been very eye-catching, you hope that noth-

    *CRASH*

    You just had to think that, right?


    You turn around and see that this sound apparently came from the large creature now facing you jumping from the roof you just left. It's ... you're not sure what it is. It's a quadruped which looks like some sort of cross between a lizard and a tiger, except that it has muscles and bone protrusions where he should have scales (or fur, or whatever). You can actually see the the texture of its muscles, as if it had been flayed.
    But more importantly, it's the size of a van.

    *CRASH*

    Oh, and here comes his pal, landing on your other side. You are now cut off on both sides. And that's when you notice the figures looking down on you from the rooftop. The tallest of the four wears a black motorcycle helmet and black motorcycle leathers. It might look rather mundane if not for the full-face visor sculpted to look like a stylized skull, as black as the rest of his costume, with only the faint highlights of reflected light on the surface to give a sense of what it is.

    That one is clearly cape from the "do it yourself" school on costumes, but it's not half bad ; it's menacing and badass without looking tryhard. He could use a better cut for the shoulders and the material of the pants should be a a shade more-
    Wait a minute, since when are you a fashion critic? And why do you feel you know exactly how to fix his costume to put more emphasis on his shoulders? OK, freaky mind stuff later, let's look at the other three.

    The second figure is a girl, dressed in a skintight outfit that combined black with a pale shade of purple and she has blond hair, long and windblown. The way she holds herself makes you think that she had her momentum robbed from her the moment she laid her eyes on you, as if she had a plan all ready to go but it went out the window the instant she saw you standing over Lung's prone body.

    The third one is a girl -a very buff girl- wearing a plaid skirt, army boots, a torn-up sleeveless T-shirt instead of a costume. Or maybe it counts as a costume with the addition of the hard plastic, dollar-store rottweiler mask. She's obviously itching for a fight, and she's taking your measure, trying to see if she could take you down.

    The fourth and final figure is wearing a white mask, not quite as decorative or made up as the ones you associated with the carnivals in Venice, but similar. He has placed a silver coronet around his short black curls, and wears a ruffled white shirt with skintight leggings tucked into knee-high boots. He can definitely pull it off. The outfit was very renaissance faire, but- no, no fashion commentary, focus on him, not the costume. He has a build that makes you think more of a dancer than a bodybuilder. His relaxed stance tells you he'd be perfectly content sitting there and watching the upcoming drama unfold, he doesn't seem to have a stake in what's about to happen.


    Overall, they are obviously bad guys.


    So. What now?
    [ ] Strike before they do, keep the initiative!
    [ ] Objective achieved, time to run away
    [ ] You've taken Lung down, maybe you can intimidate them
    [ ] Write-in
    Poe, RTM, Fierdin and 16 others like this.
  7. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    Meeting the Family

    [X] You've had enough action for tonight, talk your way out of a confrontation.
    -[X] Break the ice with a nonchalant "Hi!" then while looking at the guy with the white mask (Regent) "Nice costume!"


    You see no reason things have to get violent. You don't want to get into a fight against a full team of parahumans who have the high ground and unknown powers (and giant monsters, can't forget those) just when your power is dying down and right after a fight that killed almost all your bugs and took a lot out of you. As for them they don't want to get into a fight with an unknown parahuman that just kicked Lung's ass. You hope.
    So it's time to be friendly.
    "Hi!", then you turn toward the white mask boy and add "Nice costume!" even though you could probably do better.
    *nice legs, too!*
    You very nearly start looking around for Zeph when you hear her voice next to you, but it sounds like she's whispering right into your right ear when she's obviously not standing next to you. So you avoid attracting attention to that and act as if you hadn't heard her.

    He answers "Thanks! Yours isn't half bad either.", clearly not thrown off in the least by the tack this conversation is taking. The rest of his team, however, don't seem to have his ability to take things in stride. You decide that as long as you're talking fashion, no one is getting brutally mauled by giant lizard thing, so you continue with "It's not finished yet, but it's coming along nicely." Then toward the big scary man in black who appears not to know how to react "Yours is impressive too! You could use a better cut for your shoulders but other than that it's more impressive than some professional costumes I could name."

    "Uh. Thanks?" He answers, apparently not quite sure what is going on. The blond girl takes over for him "Thanks for taking down Lung, we were worried when we heard he was going after us."
    "Don't mention it. I was just taking an... enthusiastic walk in the streets and it just sort of happened."
    "Wow, you certainly don't-" she suddenly stops, looks around and then completely change topic "From your costume I gather that you planned to be moving discreetly through the shadows, but with that glow it's pretty much short to hell. Your light show has attracted some heavy duty attention this way so we'd better all cut with the chit chat and scram. How about we give you a ride to somewhere safe to pay you back for your help?" She's bending forward, clearly inviting you to come along.

    So, going with a group of kids who are thankful of you rescuing them from Lung, or wait there to fce the might of ABB coming to the aid of their fell leader... Yeah, you're going to take the ride. After all you are now much more dangerous up close, so even if they are looking to start trouble, this is best for you.
    *If you're going to follow them, you should gather your best bugs with you on your costume ; just in case.*
    Agreeing with Zeph's advice you start pulling them forward when you hear another familiar voice on your left side.
    *Probe her intentions first. You have noticed that you can tell what she's trying to say from her stance ; ask her if she wants you to go with them and when she answers pour your soul into that understanding to parse through the intentions behind her answer.*
    What?

    You consider arguing with your new shoulder angel (or is she the shoulder devil?) but decide that it cannot hurt to try. "You really want me to go with you?"
    "Of course, I wouldn't have asked otherwise."
    She is trying to gain your trust to make you more likely to help her group than hurt them.

    Well, in that case it's not going to be a trap. You run toward the building and don't stop running when you reach the wall, managing to use this stunt to grab the fire escape and haul yourself up. Considering how easy that was you try something quicker than walking through the stairs, you jump from railing to railing, going straight up. In no time you have reached the group, landing lightly in front of them before rising gracefully to your full height. You love this part of your power that makes all your movement smoother, you no longer feel like an awkward teenager bumbling around.

    "In that case, let's go."



    ~oOo~


    You now have one arm grabbing one of the bone protrusion on the hellish dog. Because those creatures are apparently dogs modified by Bitch -the girl with the cheap dog mask- using her power, you definitely wouldn't have guessed. Your other arm is wrapped around the big guy -Grue- making you very self conscious of his male bulk. It wouldn't have been anywhere this bad if Zeph hadn't made several comments about relaxing and enjoying the feel of his well muscled body against yours.

    Stupid ghost/hallucination/interface. You still don't know what you believe Zeph is.

    And the ride isn't very comfortable, you'd much rather be jumping from roof to roof under your own power, trusting your safety to this lumbering monsters makes you anxious, not to mention that their back isn't meant for riding and their movements are very jerky.
    Thankfully, it is also rather short, and you are now landing in a deserted car park. Swiftly, you set your feet on the mercifully immobile ground. You had never appreciated how nice it was to have some solid ground under your feet.

    As the rest of the group starts gathering around you, you hear Reya's voice in your ear for the second time.
    *You can now make your first set of minions, you should seize this chance.*
    *No! They seem like good people, and you need friends more than minions. Use the power of friendship Taylor.*

    You are thinking that having a pair of shoulder angels might start getting old really fast.

    Do you:
    [ ] Try to befriend them, maybe you shouldn't judge them on appearances.
    [ ] Start on becoming their leader, even bad guys can be reformed.
    [ ] Those chicks are crazy, you need to make an excuse and go back home now.
    Poe, RTM, Fierdin and 17 others like this.
  8. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    Bravely Running Away

    Surrounded. You try not to feel trapped. Surrounded by bad guys and giant liz dog monsters. You look at your feet to hide the nervousness on your face, only to feel stupid when you realize looking down would show much more than what your mask would let them see. The upside is that when you stomp to vent your frustration at yourself you feel your power begging to be used ; right, you can just kick a hole in the floor if you need some room, no sweat. Not trapped.

    You feel the tension flow out from you (slowly) and finally manage to overcome your shyness and say "Thanks for the ride."
    "No problem, Firefly girl," the blond girl in a domino masks answers you. The look you give her is apparently all she needs and she answers your silent question "You use bugs and you shine, so Firefly. I'm sorry if you'd rather I call you by your Cape name, but I didn't catch it."
    "I haven't chosen one yet. This ..." you pause, not sure if you should go any further, but you decide that following Zeph's advice and making friends couldn't hurt. On the other hand maybe making friends with villains would be a bad idea.

    ARG! Screw this, you decide to take both options. You'll stay friendly but get out of there before things get awkward. You don't have to make your decision right now.
    "This is my first night out. As a Cape. As I've told you I was just taking a walk, testing my half-finished costume in real condition. Running into Lung like that was a complete coincidence. I wasn't planning to get in a fight. Or stay out this long either, I could be in trouble if I don't hurry back home."
    Grue whistles "You were actually serious back there? Damn." From the way his shoulders shift as he crosses his arms, you can tell he's genuinely impressed. You decide to take a look around, Regent (that's the white mask one) has a tilt of his head that seems to say "OK, I'll go along with this story", you can't tell if he believes you, if he's polite, if he doesn't care or whatever. Bitch is easier, from her minute swaying to the side you notice she's giving you more room to go away, the message is clear: "good riddance". From Tattletale, nothing clear, she's apparently thinking on her answer, then "Then you should run along, but why don't we keep in touch?"

    It's funny, this is exactly what you thought she was going to say from the way she turned her attention to you while relaxing slightly. Is this you power at work? You really need to get a handle on that, probably ask Reya. Not letting that distract you, you answer "Sounds good. I'll create an account with 'Firefly' in the user name on parahuman.net, you'll know how to contact me from there, right?".
    As Tattletale nods you are about to leave when you notice that she's hesitating to tell you something. A warning of some kind. Forewarned is forearmed, so you delay your departure by another few precious seconds to inquire "What is it, Tattletale?"

    She blinks, apparently surprised that she was so easy to read, "Do you know that you have ..." she then trails off while pointing a finger toward her forehead. Before you can think about it you've slapped you hand on your own to notice if you have something stuck there.
    "Wow, it's over her hand now, freaky" comes the comment from Regent, but you don't feel anything either on your forehead or over your hand.
    "What are you-" *Your Caste mark, he's talking about the Mark of the Twilight on your brow.*

    What do you know, interactive user guides are good for something else than distracting you with stupid sexy butts. Tattletale, not knowing you just got an explanation by an expert, gives you a description: "It's a shining golden circle with the upper half filled in. I'm guessing it represents a setting sun. It's perfectly round, no matter what angle I look at it from, which is freaky. And when you put your hand in front it just shines above it, or maybe through it. I think that's going to be hard to hide. On the other hand since you're no longer shining at all from the rest of your body that should die down on its own too."

    Suddenly you don't know what to do. You want to go home but you can't risk your dad seeing you with this! And you didn't even think to grab a mirror with you so you can't check to make sure it's gone before seeing him.
    *You're probably wondering about it, so let me tell you that this is going to mostly disappear in 18 minutes -probably less- and completely go away one hour later. I can warn you when you're in the clear.*

    Once again Tattletale has no idea you just got support from an expert and chimes in "Here, take this." handing you what appears to be a dollar store make-up compact. With a mirror, obviously. You consider refusing since you don't need it and you don't want to owe anything to a criminal, but instead you change your mind and grab it. No sense in letting her know about any hidden trump you might have or endangering a potential friendship with another girl. If she's more the anti-hero vigilante type than a genuine bad guy, it'd be stupid to burn briges now.

    You shout a word of thank as you run toward the exit. Deciding to take a short cut you jump over the railing and grab it from outside. You then let yourself drop and grab the one below. It's an easier version of what you tried in the alley earlier and seriously cuts down on the time needed to leave the parking garage. As soon as you are on the ground you run straight away from the building (even if it isn't the right way to your own, especially since it isn't the right way to your home actually) and as soon as you reach the angle of the next building you check the mirror. The mark is gone! Checking your forehead more carefully you hear Zeph comment:
    *I did say that it'd probably take less than 18 minutes. The rest is unlikely to take much less than an hour, but it definitely won't take longer if you don't use your power.*
    You are about to ask her what rest she is talking about when you notice that from the right angle part of your mark can be seen glittering. You can hide it with your hand, though, so a hood would do the trick.

    You are now much father away than you were when you fought Lung, so you don't waste time beginning the long march home. But at least the time gives you the chance to speak with your shoulder angels. There are more than a few questions you want to ask!

    About:
    [ ] How do I avoid the glowy thing?
    [ ] Mark of Twilight, what is this thing?
    [ ] What else can I do?
    [ ] Do I have weaknesses now?
    [ ] How did I read their stance so well?
    [ ] This thing I did to know what Tattletale wanted from me, what's up with that?
    [ ] How come I'm so awesome at jumping and balance? I don't feel like I'm using power to do that.
    [ ] What are you, exactly, Zeph?
    [ ] What's with the stick up your ass, Reya?
    [ ] What do you think about the Undersiders?
    [ ] How can I make you shut up?
    [ ] Is there a way to get home faster?
    [ ] What's an Exaltation?
    [ ] So. Voices in my head. Am I crazy?
    [ ] Write-in.

    You can choose 5
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  9. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    Discussion

    [x] What's an Exaltation?
    [x] What else can I do?
    [x] Do I have weaknesses now?
    [x] Mark of Twilight, what is this thing?
    [x] How come I'm so awesome at jumping and balance? I don't feel like I'm using power to do that.

    A/N: there is only exposition in this one, abandon all hope of plot ye who enter here.


    You had decided to start talking with the voices in your head (you are starting to sound crazy to yourself now, that can't be good) to get a clear idea of what you could do as soon as you reached home, but thinking about how much time you are going to get back home, you change your mind. No time like the present.
    And let's start with the beginning:
    "You've said that everything that's been happening to me is because I got an Exaltation. But since you haven't explained what that is, it doesn't actually explain very much at all." You feel a little bit stupid talking aloud when you are alone. The good news is that since you are alone no one can see you doing it.
    *Right, fair point. The gist of it is that they are immensely powerful artifacts that empower humans with some of the Unconquered Sun's power. You remember him, right?"
    You nod "Yes. Go on."
    *You can see it as an object, except that instead of being a physical object, it's an astral one. Which makes sense, because it works by attaching itself to a human soul.* She's now talking in what you'd call a good teacher's tone. She has the confidence of someone who knows what she's talking better than anyone else in the audience but without any of the disdain for the less educated you associate with Bad Teacher Tone. She also talks relatively slowly, to let you take in the full meaning of everything she says, without making you feel like she's talking to a little child.
    "Astral? As in "astral projection"? That crap is real?"
    *I don't know about your universe, remember that. But souls are real here, at the very least.* She seems bothered by her inability to give you a clear answer about that. Is it that important for her to be a reliable teacher figure?
    "So astral projection is getting our soul outside our body?"
    *No, if you were to do that you'd become blind. Souls don't have intrinsic perceptions. In fact if astral projection is possible without powers in your universe, which it's probably not, it would be more along the lines of-*
    "That's getting off topic, Zeph" you cut her off. From the way her speech accelerated and gained in enthusiasm, you get the feeling that she was completely going off her teacher tone and working up to a full on rant, better head that off her early. "Exaltations, please." you set her back on the rails of the discussion.
    *Right, right, sorry.*
    A pause.

    You keep running in the dark streets of Brockton Bay while she gathers her thought. It's a good thing that you can send bugs ahead of you to check for obstacles, otherwise you wouldn't be comfortable going so fast when the visibility is so poor. You get into a rhythm, punctuates by jumps over small obstacles and swerving around the larger ones. Suddenly Zeph resumes her lesson.
    *So, once upon a time the Unconquered Sun made these astral artifacts that are indestructible and indiminishable. They empower a human, giving them the incredible might of a Solar, making them on par with titans.*
    "Titans?" You feel like the word is important, from the way she uses it.
    *Creatures with the potential to create entire worlds, and usually also the power to destroy them. Those the Exalted were made to fight were impossible to kill.* That's ... impressive. It takes you a few seconds to get your head around that.
    You almost ask her if she's serious but realize that she wouldn't joke about it so you don't waste your time, "So they were imprisoned instead?"
    *No, they were killed. That's where the part about Solars achieving the impossible becomes important.*
    "What part about them achieving the impossible?" You point out, slightly aggravated at her talking about it as if it was obvious when you're pretty sure that's the first time she mentions it.
    *Sorry. All the various types of Exalted are good at different things. Solars being born from the god of Perfection, Victory, and all four Virtues, absolute leader of all gods and overseer of Creation are good at achieving perfection, winning, using those Virtues, and leadership. Their power revolve around exalting human excellence, virtue and authority for the most part. There are those power more directly linked to the light and fire of the Sun, for example.*
    "Still haven't gotten to the part about achieving the impossible." You try not to dwell on what she just said and more importantly what it means for your power.
    *Really? Well, one of their basic power is the ability to ignore limitations. Do things without necessary tools or when circumstances should not make it possible. For example you can use your fists as deadly weapons even without weapons, that's because of your ability to transcend the limitation being unarmed impose on your lethality. Similarly you can use your fists to break things that are harder than your fists are. They were able to overcome the impossibility of killing the Primordials.* She's now firmly back into her teacher tone. She seems most comfortable when she's explaining things.
    "That's a pretty neat power. What else can I do?"
    *Right now? Not much. You've got that martial art techniques I taught you, and the ability to survive in any environment as if it was a lush meadow. And by any environment I mean any environment. That includes the south pole (even if you're naked), a lake of lava, inside a flesh-flaying sandstorm or a colossal forest fire. That works even if the environment has been created artificially to be deadly, so if someone flood the area with acid, you're good.*
    "That's ... pretty powerful." You boggle at that, swimming in lava, really? That's much more serious than just ignoring Lung's fire. And wouldn't you be able to survive at the bottom of the ocean? In the vacuum of space?
    She interrupts your line of thoughts: *Don't let it go to your head, it won't stop you from getting poisoned and thus die indirectly of the environment. But direct damage to your body is out. Same for items you are wearing.*
    "There was that thing you said about avoiding small fires." Now would be a good time for that explanation she promised you earlier.
    *Yes, it doesn't protect about fire, but against hostile environment. If the fire is too small it doesn't count as an environment.*
    "That limitation is absurd, are you sure it's really part of the power?"

    A much longer pause than earlier, maybe she is looking for the right words. While she thinks about it you use your ability to sense the position of your insects to get a better idea of the layout of this part of town and deduce how to get home from here, exactly. Since you have a map of all your controlled bugs in your head, it makes your sense of direction much better, every time you turn you can compare it to the shape your bugs form to know exactly where you are facing, makes navigation easier.
    *Look, this Exaltation runs on laws of physics that are completely distinct from your own. On the surface they look very much alike but they aren't. In those rules, an "environment" is a thing, and a fire can enter or exit that state depending on factors like size. Same thing as a photon shifting between being a particle or a wave.*
    You are dubious, but don't know how to word your objection. Since she's in her lecturing tone you decide it best to let her say her piece.
    *I am loaded with the knowledge of 5 thousands years of scientific research. Believe me, many people have asked those questions and spent a lot of time setting up experiments to check the answers. We're not banging rocks together here, we know how to put a man back together after cutting him apart to check every organ individually. You really think we'd have been able to learn to do that consistently without risk to the patient if we were backwater superstitious ignoramus?"
    " ... no."

    The pause here isn't because you hesitated to give your assent. It was you trying to make sure you wouldn't let your disgust filter out. Why was this the first example she thought of??? Was she dangerously insane? You think about asking about whether your own fear of insanity, but decides against it. You instead focus on another problem you have with this explanation:
    "We're not in your universe right now. How can you know that it'll work like that?"
    *Because Solar authority over the world and themselves let them enforce Creation's Fate. Rules of physics, I mean. Your Exaltation is handling your soul, mind and body right now. You no longer operate according to this worlds rule, but mine. Your soul effectively works as a miniature reality engine telling your powers how to work, and it tells them to pay attention to the environment thing. So you should too, if you don't want to get burned.*
    Your powers can just ... rewrite the laws of reality for you? That makes you a Breaker right? And you're not just ignoring one or two laws, but bypassing all of them? You take some time to wrap your head around this concept.

    While you do that, an idea come to you: maybe you don't have to speak aloud for her to hear you. That'd be nice if you didn't have to be the crazy lady speaking to the voices in her head. You decide to give it a try:
    *Do I have other powers?*

    Nothing. You try again, louder. *WHAT ABOUT OTHER POWERS!*
    Still nothing. You try a few more times, experimenting with different ways to get your thoughts to Zeph. She doesn't react to any of it and you eventually give up. You're going to have to speak up for her to hear you, it seems.

    "So, my powers, that's it?"
    *You have a couple other things. You can fully heal from any wound short of complete amputation, and you heal any wound 4 times faster than normal. Making one of your wound stop bleeding is trivial, you can do it with a simple act of will if needed. You are highly resistant to diseases, suffering less symptoms and being unable to die from the vast majority of them. You can't have a miscarriage or another problem during childbirth unless there is some direct intervention from the outside.*
    "Wait, what, child birth? Isn't that a little ..."
    *Oh! And there's one of the only drawback of being Exalted, pregnancy lasts for a full year instead of 9 months, so you have to 6 more months than a regular mother." Wait, what?
    "Don't you mean three months?"
    *What are you ...oh yeah, years last only 12 months here. So I don't know how it's going to work out, maybe 12, maybe 15, maybe something in between.* Once again, being unable to give you an answer seems to bother her a lot.
    You change the topic quickly "Do I have other weaknesses?"
    *Not as such. You get to live about 3000 so you are probably going to watch those you love die. A Solar is nearly impossible to control or restrain in the long term so your enemies are less likely to spare you. Similarly there is nothing more powerful than a Solar and they have powers that can change the face of the Earth (or make a new one) so many entities are going to want you dead if they learn what you can do. Things that detect power will find you much easier now. Having so much power and living so long could be detrimental to your mental health. That's about it for weaknesses you didn't have before.*

    Slowly going insane as you lose your humanity piece by piece as your power drags you away from humanity. What a lovely thought. You drag yourself from that train of thought by deliberately focusing on a details that caught your attention.
    "That's an ... oddly specific denial."
    *There are some weaknesses that the enemy of Solars exploit against them, but they are more like limitations to your new power than weaknesses that were added from your point of view.* She seems to make an effort to say that this way. Is she trying to keep it short? Is it difficult for her to find the exact words?
    "That's still important. Go ahead."
    *I explained this but your power runs on essence, and you have a limited pool of it. Once it's all spent you are back to mostly human limitations. Most of this pool isn't inside your body, but rather around it, and drawing from it makes that glow that is going to attract attention.*

    You wait a little but she doesn't expand on that. Not that you're complaining, not having too many weaknesses is good. There's that bit about being back to mostly human limitations but you assume that she's talking about the passive powers like the enhanced healing ability. No need to get bogged down in details right now.
    "Is that all for powers I already have?"
    *Pretty much, apart from details like your ability to work with Orichalcum, but since there isn't any that's hardly relevant, or immunity to mind-breaking powers only creatures beyond human comprehension can unleash.*
    There's something missing from her list, and it seems pretty important to you so you decide to press her on that: "How come I'm so awesome at jumping and balance? I don't even feel like I'm using power to do that."
    *I don't get what you're talking about.* She seems genuinely confused.
    Instead of answering, you accelerate and then jump above a fence. You clear by by well over a yard.
    "That's what I'm talking about. how do I jump so high?"
    *That wasn't a really high fence.* Is that disapproval in her voice? You're probably imagining it.
    "When I was in the alley, I jumped half a dozen yards high to grab that fire escape!"
    *Yes, I saw that. What part of that was awesome?*
    "People don't just jump 6 yards straight up in the air, not even by using a wall like that!" You really try not to let your irritation show and shout at her. You manage to avoid shouting.
    *They don't?*
    "They don't." you answer in a flat tone.
    *Humans in this world can't possibly jump, say, over a 20 yards gap?*
    "NO!" Well, there goes your non-shouting streak.
    *Weird. Another difference between our worlds would be my guess. You've found the first clear benefit of running on a different engine of physics! That's pretty neat.* She seems rather excited about it.

    You take a couple seconds to think it over. You reach a street with actual traffic, so you fall silent and wait for an opening to go through unnoticed. When you're once again certain that you are not going to be overheard you resume the discussion:
    "You spoke of a Mark of Twilight. What's up with that?"
    *Not much, really. Of the 5 different phases of the Sun, your Exaltation matches the third one, Twilight. That means you are now talented at all skills that involve knowledge, whether it is gathering, using or teaching it.*
    That seems off to you, you take a few seconds to think back on your list of powers and then concludes aloud: "None of my powers really seem knowledge-related."
    *Well, yes, but that's because you haven't needed it yet. I could teach you how to immediately know if someone is lying, or turn someone into a master surgeon in a few weeks, or instantly and perfectly diagnose a patient, or understanding someone's power in details from superficial observation, or understanding exactly how an object is made from manipulating it for a few seconds. Twilights have the best powers.* She's quite emphatic about that last part.
    "You keep speaking about teaching me, aren't powers decided when you get them?"
    *What? NO! Your talents are decided when you get your Exaltation. You can learn to use any Solar power, there are no real limitation.*
    "I can just learn powers, then continue learning new powers, and then keep them all?"
    *Of course you can, why wouldn't you?"
    "That's... that's just ... infinite powers?"
    *Not really, you're unlikely to develop more than a thousand powers. A couple thousands, maybe.*
    "THOUSANDS OF POWERS!?"

    You're not the loud type, but you couldn't help yourself from shouting. And much louder than earlier, too. Covering your mouth with your hand you rush ahead, trying to disappear before anyone attracted by the commotion can find you.
    *Don't freak out on me, kid, I said you are going to live for 3000 years if I have a word to say about it. Right here and now, you're unlikely to get more than a dozen powers.*
    OK, that's more reasonable. Still, a dozen powers? Way cool.
    "And what will those powers be? You have an idea?"
    *That depends on you, you get the powers you train to get.*
    "Wait, you mean I can just choose my powers? Like, say, flying?"
    *You could learn to fly, but it's not an area you're talented in, so I'd advise against it.*

    You could ask so many things, but you can't get your head out of the clouds. It's power fantasy after power fantasy until you finally get home.
    Being able to decide on any power and train until you get it? And then keep it for life?
    Exaltation.
    Best.
    Power.
    Ever.


    What next?
    [ ] Write-in
    Poe, RTM, Robertingelsson and 20 others like this.
  10. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    Home Sweet Home

    [X] Go home, it's been a crazy day.


    You discreetly make your way toward the basement, making sure that you don't attract your father's attention. Once there you start by removing the panel you had carefully unscrewed before to hide your costume. Only once this is done and you have made sure that there was nothing out of place and no one could surprise you in the middle of the discussion do you start talking to Zeph.

    "I really need to go to bed now, but there are things I want to know before I can rest." When you ask this you take a serious pose, feet slightly apart, back straight and looking straight ahead. Looking at the empty wall does make you a little bit self-conscious.
    *And I'm here to let you know what you need. That works out pretty well.* Zeph answers with a note of amusement in her "voice".
    "First, can you appear in front of me? Like you did earlier. I'd be more practical if I had someone to talk to instead of a voice in my head."
    *I can't do that without lighting you up like a bonfire, no. This basement is mostly cut off from the outside but I'd rather not take risks in the middle of the night.*

    That's ... not ideal. Deciding that now is as good a time as any to deal with this you start thinking about what you could do to address this issue. You'll have to start with plugging the holes meant to let air in, and check that the boarded-up windows are light-proof. The problem is that you don't see how to check if you are visible from outside while you are inside. If only you had eyes outsides ...

    That's it! You can't actually understand the visual signals from your bugs, but you can feel them. You don't need to decrypt them to make out the concrete image in front of them, simply to check for changes. You get to work, grabbing old drapes and other similar things lying around and bunch them up to block the small holes. Then after placing insects to be able to observe the house from every angle you bring down the barriers you had built in your head to keep out all the noise, those confusing and useless signals you keep getting from all your insects. Then you carefully identify which ones are the view from the eyes of your sentinel, and isolate those before shutting out everything else.

    "Go ahead Zeph, light me up."
    *You're the boss, here we go.* flash
    You're not blinded at all, but it's still surprising to see the room go from dark to illuminated as if it was noon outside in a particularly bright day. Paying more attention to your aura, you can see it enveloping you, even notice the deep red sparks raining around you.
    But more importantly your bugs are not noticing any change.
    "You can turn it off now." And she does. Still no reaction from any of your bug. You repeat the operation again and again, focusing on each bug individually. None of them see anything. Then just to be sure you move a board to the side, just bit, and light up- there! It sees it, you notice the difference in his visual feed. You hurry to slide the board back in place.
    The operation is a complete success.

    "The light is under control, you can appear Zeph."
    "Thanks. I don't really have a body but it's still nice to stretch my legs once in a while." She says while walking around the room, looking around. You wait a few seconds to let her get her bearing before you ask. "Couldn't you have turned off the light like this earlier? That would have been handy."
    "No can do. This trick I'm using now is artificially causing your anima to flare by placing essence inside but without actually letting it go all the way through, so I can turn it off by putting the motes back in your pool. Usually you lit up because the motes situated in the pool around your anima are drawn inside you and doing so are pulled all the way through your anima, the light is the residual effect of that." While she explains all this she paces animatedly and makes wide gestures to punctuate her points.
    "So ... using my larger pool of power causes my "anima" to "flare" and the only way to get it to go down is to wait, but you can make it shine brighter than it should and then bring it back to its normal level. Is that it?"
    "Yes, exactly!" she says clasping her hands together and nodding enthusiastically. "But that's obviously not what you wanted to talk about, right?"

    "Right. The first question is this: when you listed your powers, you didn't mention anything about me being able to understand others better. But I've noticed that I could just look at how one of the Undersiders stood and how he moved to know what he wanted to say. I don't think I could have done that before ... exalting." You look straight at her while you say that, and she does seem a little bit surprised.
    "That ... that does sound like a Solar power, the Poetic Expression Style. But I don't see how you could know this. Not to mention you'd need to learn the Sagacious Reading of Intent first." that names makes you perk up.
    "Sagacious Reading of Intent? You mean using sagacity to know what someone's intent is?" she nods, looking intrigued. "I did something like that to Tattletale. I asked her if she really wanted me to come with her and when she said yes I was able to use this statement to get inside her head ... no, not inside her head but ... I can I put it..."
    "Inside her mode of thought." You don't even notice that her tone is flat.
    "YES! That's exactly it. So it's this Sagacious Reading, right? And I supposed that means I also have the Poetic Expression power."

    "REYA!" she starts shouting so you jump to your feet and put a finger on your lips, hissing to her to get her to keep her tone down. You don't want her to wake up your dad!
    "Reya. Wake up! There are things we need to talk about!" she continues in a much quieter tone, her expression properly chastised.
    "She can't hear us?" you didn't miss the implication of what she just said.
    "Not really, no." She put her hand in front of her and shake it from side to side. "She can hear us, but she's not listening. Unless her programming catches something that makes it think that she needs to come out she just dismisses it immediately. Basically she pays so much attention to what's going on around you that whatever does not attract her attention is forgotten in a matter of seconds."
    "So we can't actually talk about her without her knowing."

    A pause.
    "We can, we just need to avoid using her name. Especially right now since the earlier training session drained her and she's "sleeping", so to speak. That's part of why she didn't react when I called her." She looks at you quizzically. "Is she one of the things you wanted to talk about?" She sits back down, this time on the work bench, then looks at you intently.
    "I wasn't planning to, but since I have a chance to discuss this, I have to admit I'm curious. She's awe-inspiring, but does she have to be such ..."
    "An insufferable bitch? Yeah, sadly she sort of have to." her face falls. She doesn't seem very happy about that.
    "I wasn't going to word it like that." you answers a bit miffed and Zeph's assumption. You have better language than this. Really, you do. "Can you explain?"
    "I mentioned that the design of the first UI was flawed, that's one of the problems."
    "You mean the way you chose to perfectly reproduce the personality of an arrogant imperial princess without any tact?"

    Zeph is fidgeting, possibly made uncomfortable by the topic.
    "Not exactly. She isn't really arrogant." You give her a dubious look. "Really! Look at this from the perspective of a millenia-old Solar God Queen. When you've been that good for so many centuries, you're entitled to have a high opinion of yourself."
    "OK, I can buy that. But all really talented Solars to use for the interface would have been like that, right? How is this a failure of design."
    "Ah, that would be the no tact part. The thing you have to understand is that even without any magic an Elder Solar can be terribly dangerous. And here I mean "doom nations and cause cataclysms on the planetary scale" dangerous. Mostly just by knowing the right things and knowing what to say and who to say it to in order to get the desired result. The designer were very concerned about an ill-intentioned artificial Solar personality manipulating the young Solar using the UI. The first measure taken to prevent that sort of thing was to make the HUI entirely and absolutely unable to lie." She concludes with a tone that makes it clear that she thinks that it answers your question.
    "I don't get the relation between being so mean and being unable to lie. She could just be more civil, no?"
    "Being polite is, fundamentally, not telling people exactly what you think of them but rather keep the most offending parts to yourself. And treat them with respect whether you think they are worth it or not. Effectively, politeness is well-meaning deception."
    "So it's one of those things she can't control and that she has no awareness of?"

    Another pregnant silence.
    "Actually ... since she has her memories and she know how she used to be, she knows how she should behave to be a proper version of Seven Hymns Princess. But every time she tries, she fails. She remember how she treated even the most lowly mortals of her lands with respect, how she was an excellent host able to avoid offending even the most touchy guest, or how she was an excellent teacher who would always find something to compliment in order to motivate her student. And she has the skills to find nice things to say. But when she tries, the only thing that comes out of her mouth is the honest and brutal truth."
    "..."
    "Yeah, the lead researcher of the project wasn't too proud of herself after realizing what she had done with that set of instructions. And that's one of the reasons Re- ... she doesn't like to talk and spend so much time "sleeping". If she hears a request for clarification or guidance she is going to be compelled to provide it, and she knows she is more likely than not going to be hurtful."
    "That's horrible!"
    "I wouldn't go quite that far. Remember that she's a non self-aware user interface rather than a real person with real feeling. Also before you go talk to her about "fixing" her, know that she'd rather you improved yourself enough that she'd feel genuine respect for you than to have you hack her conversation protocols so that she'd lie about it. She has gotten some pride out of being a being of pure truth and entirely devoid of deceit. Also if you bring up the topic expect a rant about how you should never even contemplate modifying an Exaltation."

    That's a lot to take in. When you asked about her personality you certainly didn't expect something so ... thought provoking. Your exhaustion isn't making it any easier, your thoughts are like molasses. You decide to cut right to the essential matter: the Terrible Trio that has been making your life in school utterly miserable. Surely with all the awesome Solar magical powers, one must be able to solve this situation.

    "Look, I'm completely exhausted and I have to go to school in a few hours, so I'm going to ask you just one last question."
    "Oh, that's not going to be a problem."
    "What, exhaustion? I'm more resistant now?"
    "Uh, somewhat, but that's not what I was talking about. I meant school. It's not going to be an issue, you're not going."
    "Hey! You don't decide things for me like that!" The nerve.
    "I'm not, really. You are. I'm just stating a fact. Pointing it out to you."
    "I haven't decided to skip school tomorrow, I should know better than you."
    "Of course, I'm not saying I am reading your mind. You haven't decided to do that yet, because you are tired and haven't considered the matter carefully. But I know that you're not going to school the same way I know that you're not going to use your power to make a dozen of black widows bite you."
    "School isn't that bad, especially if-"
    "I'm not saying it is that painful. I'm saying that you have better thing to do with your time. One of the main limitations of your power is how much time you spend training to improve it. And even when you're not working on that you have way too many crucial things to do : crafting impossible wonders, initiating into sorcery, enlightening your essence, building organization, becoming a billionaire, researching your enemies, and so many other things. Simply put, every single hour of your life should be spent advancing some Earth-shaking miracle, or enjoying yourself. And going to school is neither of those."
    "But if I don't go-"
    "No one will notice. How many kids have more absences than you do?"

    That shut you up. Honestly, with the attendance you have maintained up to now you can afford to play hooky for a day.
    "I guess I can skip tomorrow..."
    "That's a good start. You're going to stop going altogether soon enough, but before discussing that, you need some rest."
    "I can't just-"
    "You can, you most definitely can. Actually you should stop saying 'I can't <something>' now that you are a Solar, just on general principle. Unless it's something along the lines of 'I can't fail'. You gotta learn what it is not to have definite limits how what you can achieve.
    But back on topic, there are many ways to stop going to school, trust me. We'll discuss a few tomorrow."

    After finishing this discussion you go to bed (barely avoiding walking into walls on your way up, you're that tired) and collapse on your bed. You just throw most of your clothes to the ground and go to sleep like that. As you close your eyes, you are no longer worrying, because you have decided. Tomorrow you are going to:

    [ ] Go to school. That'll show Zeph who's the boss!
    [ ] Skip school and train. You'll follow your guide's advice.
    [ ] Compromise. Go to school for the first few classes and then abscond to the library.
  11. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    Background Side Story: Magic, part 1


    "This is ridiculous, magic isn't real." You scoff at Zeph's explanation.

    She looks at you as if you had just said that the moon was made out of cheese or something equally outlandish.

    "Oh come on, Zeph. You can't believe that sort of superstitious nonsense. There are some strange things with parahumans, but just like we have used science to explain that compass work through magnetism and not magic, we'll understand them too, eventually. I though you said you had ten thousand years of scientific research in you!"
    "Five thousand years, actually. And I don't get what you're saying. Compasses work by being attuned to the magnetic field that attract them toward the pole. That's very basic magic theory. How would science prove that something isn't magic?"
    You are starting to get frustrated. "Because science explain the reason things work the way they do!"
    She gives you a weird look again. "That's what magic does. Science is a method to improve knowledge in a specific field. Often, that field is magic."

    "You mean you studied magic with the scientific method and everything? And it followed clear rules that could be tested and were reliable?"
    "Of course. Sorcerous academies would have been in trouble if they hadn't been able to do that much."
    "Then it's not magic! It's science."
    "It's both."

    She suddenly has a look of recognition. "Oh, I think I see what's going on. We have a problem of vocabulary. In your world magic doesn't exist, so the word is used to describe things that happen for unknowable reasons. But in our world it is the fundamental knowledge of the universe. Why and how matter exist, that it's made of atoms, and that matter and energy are two faces of the same coin. That sort of thing."
    You nod, "We call that 'physics' here." Finally things make sense again.
    She shrugs, "We use the word 'physics' to describe how this basic knowledge of Essence can be used to understand the world. It's a bit of applied magic."
    "Oh, OK, so what you call magic is fundamental physics. What was that you said about Essence?"


    She thinks for a moment, "You know how matter and energy are the same thing? And the theory how all forms of energy are part of a fundamental energy?"
    You hedge, "I guess."
    "Well, in our world, that is Essence. Everything is Essence. All matter, all energy, all spirit."

    You start nodding, but then suddenly you stop. "Your comment about me doing magic still doesn't make sense."
    She stops, apparently surprised. Then she smacks her right fist into her left palm, "Oh, yeah. I guess it wouldn't." She gives you a sheepish smile and tubs the back of her head. "Sorry. Let's see how to explain that without into a rant..."
    She starts slowly counting on her fingers, then eventually resumes her explanation, "Usually Essence expresses itself by forming atoms, or by giving them a form of energy." One of her finger goes down. Apparently more for her benefit than yours.
    "But magical creatures, like Exalts, have their own pool of Essence they can use to perform miracles." A second finger goes down. "So the expression 'doing magic' is a way to say 'directly using Essence to perform something'." Yet another finger goes down.
    She is speaking at a measured pace, but you don't fee like she does it because she thinks you are not very smart and can't handle more than that. Rather it is like she is the one who needs to take things slow so that her words won't start running away from her, you get the mental image of her reining in wild horses, forcing them to walk when they want to gallop.
    "On top of the basic rules of magic saying "this is fire and it burns", every Charm -that's how we call the powers of the magical Creatures- effectively is a new rule in itself. For example you have a Charm that says 'fire might burn most things, but not me'. You get the idea."


    Your eyes grow wide. "You mean, I rewrite the laws of the universe every time I use my power?"
    She shakes her head. You're not sure but you think you saw her biting her lip. "Not really, at least not with most Charms. But you do rewrite the law of the universe a little bit every time you create a new Charm."
    You look at her as if she had suddenly turned into a gray miniature alien. How can she say something like that with such a casual tone?
    But she continues, "At least that was like that in my old universe. When a Charm was first designed it got written into the world, and each time someone learned it they simply made a small edit to the list of those it applied to. But you're the first Solar here."
    You don't hear her add in a small voice, "At least I sure hope so."

    You don't need to hear her conclusion, you already know what she is saying. Which is a good thing because you miss that too. "So you might be expanding your world's rules every time you learn a Charm."


    You just start heading upstairs. Yeah, you need some sleep. Can't deal with that when you are running on fumes. You manage to reach your bed without running into any wall, but just barely. Soon you embrace the sweet oblivion of sleep.
    Poe, RTM, Robertingelsson and 20 others like this.
  12. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    Playing Hooky

    [X] Skip school and train. You'll follow your guide's advice.
    -[X]Assuage Guilt on Skipping by having part of your training be to work on rapidly and honestly obviating the need to go to school. I.E. Test out.


    The next day you simply sleep in, and when your father comes to check on you you simply tell him that you don't feel well enough to go to school this morning, but you'll try to attend your lessons this afternoon if you feel better. He doesn't really likes it but since you fall back to sleep before he finishes answering you, you think you managed to convince him of the wisdom of your decision. Once you finally emerge from your lair, it is closer to noon than dawn so you go for a brunch: eggs sunny side up with some bacon, pancakes dosed in syrup, a fruit salad, a couple of sausages, some home-maid rice-tomato-tuna salad and of course breakfast cereals and orange juice. Lots of breakfast cereals and orange juice.

    As you let your gaze wander over the mounds of greasy plates and pans, as well as the empty cup of syrup, you can't help but comment aloud: "I shouldn't have skipped my morning run, this is going to take so much effort to work off. I shouldn't have indulged like this..."
    *There's no need worry about that, Taylor. You will no longer take a single ounce of weight unless you mean to.*
    ...
    "You mean I can eat as much greasy bacon and syrup-coated pancakes as I want? And it won't affect my figure?"
    *Not unless you are eating those things because you want to get more meat on your bones, no.*
    "..."

    *Taylor? Are you OK?*
    "But what about my health?" your tone is very tense, as if you wanted to find what the catch is before you start getting your hopes up.
    *Didn't I mention a near-immunity to diseases? That's especially true for degenerative diseases, cancers and those caused by lack of maintenance like scurvy or cholesterol. Unless it's seriously poisonous what you eat shouldn't have any significant effect on your health.*
    "YES!"

    Before you realize it, you are doing a victory dance. It's the first time in your life you've ever done that, but it seems appropriate. A thought crosses your mind and you direct your question toward Zeph:
    "Is that why I was so hungry. No, I wasn't really famished when I started eating, but I just stayed just as hungry as in the beginning as I pigged out. It took a lot of food before I felt satiated. Is my power consuming the calories?"
    *Not really. Since you're not risking your health by over-eating your body doesn't warn you against it the way it used to. Now it just tells you when your stomach is about to burst rather than when you're going to have trouble digesting everything efficiently. That's because you can digest anything you eat with ease, of course, not because this part of your body no longer works right.*
    "So I'll always be hungry unless I eat this much?" That wouldn't be ideal. Still worth it if you can eat as much junk food as you want.
    *No, now you stop being hungry when you stop eating. Unless you've already skipped a couple meals, in which case your body is going to ask for nutriments. But if anything you now need less food than before, not more. Nothing noticeable without dedicated magic, note.*
    "OK, I can live with that. Let's go to the basement, we've got work to do."


    ~oOo~


    While you are cleaning up the room to have enough space to train in you think of something to ask Zeph "Before, when you listed the various powers I had, you didn't say anything about helping me keep an ideal figure. Why is that?"
    "Honestly, I had completely forgotten about it. Most people in Creation don't have access to enough food for overeating to be a real concern, so that specific advantage of Exaltation usually goes by unnoticed."
    "Anything else you can think of that you didn't mention?"
    "You won't be getting any cavities, unless someone uses magic to make so super-cavities or something. And even if they did your teeth would recover. You should be a bit more resistant to most toxins (the main exceptions would be intoxicants like alcohol) but you don't have enough base resistance for that not be noticeable. Maybe later when you grow tougher. Your skin is harder to pierce, so you're slightly less vulnerable to knife hits for example. It won't help against being beaten up, and a pistol will usually have too much power for that little thing to do much difference. Even if you are very seriously handicapped (broken bones, poisoned, blinded, and so on) you should always have a minimum level of skill when attempting something - about as much as a well trained amateur. But do try not to get in that sort of situation in the first place. You can learn things a bit faster than other people, especially those you are particularly skilled in."

    You wait for a little while in case she isn't quite done. When it's clear she'd finished you give her your opinion: "That's a lot of things you forgot!"
    "Solars have so many minor benefits over mortals, it's hard to keep every little details in mind. And you'll note that those are really minor, unlikely to be relevant to you."
    "Is that all?"
    "Maybe. Hmmm... You are less likely to have nightmares and should be able to get a good night rest even on the hard floor. Oh, and you can use your power to know the exact time of the day. And maybe other stuff like that."
    "Any weaknesses you forgot to mention?"
    "The way leadership is fundamental to your nature makes it harder for you to be empowered by magic that makes you another person's minion. Given that you're unlikely to meet any other magic user, I really don't think that's important."
    If that's the biggest thing she can think off, you should be safe enough.

    Once the room is ready you turn to Zeph and tell her: " OK, I'm going to want to talk to Reya too, can you give her your place for a moment?"
    "Actually I wanted to start by telling you that when time isn't a factor, you could have us both out at the same time."
    "I can?"
    She nods and then proceed to tell you how to do just that. The process is rather simple, basically picturing the HUI you want to have appear and letting your power swell up. A few minute later Reya is standing in front of you, next to Zeph.

    "OK, so now that we're starting this training session, I want to tell you: I've accepted to skip school today because I have more important things to do, but I'm not going to drop out. School is an important part of my life, I need to learn the things I'm going to need to get my diploma and my dad is going to worry himself to death if I stop going. He's going to worry that I'm joining a gang or something."
    "I don't think those problems are all that important in the grand scheme of things."
    "Listen Zeph, I know you mean well but you don't know what it means to live as an American teenager. If I stop going to school they are going to warn my father and social services might get involved too. If I don't graduate from high school most doors will be closed to me. The things I learn there are going to be important."
    "Kneel."

    Wait, what? Both you and Zeph just stare at Reya for a moment.
    "You have lamented the loss of opportunity to learn from this establishment by attending our lesson. I can help you remedy that. In order to acquire the information you would have learned from attending school today, you need to meditate, and this is best done kneeling."
    She points to the spot in front of you.
    "Now kneel before me."
    Beat.

    "If you have no wish to learn what they teach, stop nattering about it at once and let us move to more important matters." She shrugs, a gesture that express her imperial dismissal of the matter.
    "No, I want to learn. Tell me how." You then kneel where you stand. Resting your weight on your feet is uncomfortable but this is worth it. This is the perfect occasion to assuage your guilt over skipping, you can ignore some discomfort for that.
    "Shift your feet like so, you need to be comfortable." She has knelt in front of you and is looking to the side, and she points toward her feet so that you can see how to do it.
    Much better.
    "Now set each of your hand on top of your thighs." As soon as you've followed her example she continues "Very well, we shall start with your breathing, first ..."


    ~oOo~


    You don't really remember most of what she said. Just bits and pieces here and there, following a pattern.

    "Focus on the things you have learned in this place."
    "Focus on what you think you would be learning today."
    "Focus on what you can deduce you will be learning in the coming weeks."
    ...
    "This is not simply information, this is knowledge. Do not simply understand this nuance, feel it deep inside you."
    ...
    "Picture all this knowledge. You are floating inside a sea, but not one made of water, one made of facts, knowledge, truth. The ones that come from this establishment are clear in your mind's eye, they stand out from all the rest like the moon stand out from the starry night sky."
    ...
    "All of it is clear to you, enough so that you can see the pattern. You can see what belongs with the rest and what doesn't, you can see what is missing and those pieces are now also clear to you, while all the rests dims a little bit more."
    ...
    "You can feel your self grow, and as it does so the dim motes of truth are pushed away, the anti-pattern growing in rhythm with you. The clear patter, however, stays immutable, absolute. As you grow you touch it, and start including it inside of you. You do not stop growing until it is entirely a part of you."
    ...
    " ... from your own inner pattern. Strange and alien truths now becomes things your recognize as part of you, you do not simply have access to them, but you know them. The links go beyond the similar pattern, you awareness ..."
    ...

    You open your eyes.

    "That was ... intense." You blink a few time and get your bearing back. After the immensity of the ... mindscape? Whatever, after that your basement feel really small.
    Your HUI both stand there silent and immobile. Reya looks like a fixed image, a perfectly still hologram, Zeph on the other hand has those minute movements that make her look like a human at rest. Before you start talking to them you try to draw from your mind what you'd have learned today.
    You can't! You have absolutely no idea what mister Gladly might have talked about today.

    "Reya, you made me waste my time!"
    "Really?" you really don't like her snide smirk.
    "Really, this was supposed to let me to learn as if I had actually gone to school today. I don't even know what they talked about, so it clearly failed." You'd normally assume that if Reya says something she has good reason to think she's right, but you're confident in your logic here, it's rather simple.
    "Then tell me, who was the seventh president of the United States?"
    "Andrew Jackson, elected in 1828" you answer without hesitation. What the hell was that?!
    "What tool would you use to determine with absolute certainty that a simple program does what it is supposed to do?"
    "A loop invariant." once again your answer is immediate, you just know this.
    "What are the five largest cities in Canada?"
    "Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Ottawa -which is the capital-, and ... I don't know the fifth. Maybe Vancouver."
    She doesn't say anything, she just sports a self-satisfied smile.

    What was that, seriously? It's not that you are unhappy about knowing more things, but anything that messes with your brain freaks you out.
    "What did you to to me, Reya?" you try not to be aggressive, but you know that if she says the wrong thing you might get angry at her. You're not quite there yet, but you're not that far away either.
    "I let you abandon your preconceptions about needing someone to tell you an information before acquiring. This way you were able to connect yourself to the sum of human knowledge and thus learn everything you'd have by attending this "school" of yours." The way she says this word makes it seem like it galls her to refer to that establishment by that name.
    "Simply put, you are now capable of teaching almost any of the classes there."
    "Really? What classes exactly?"
    "Any that would fall within the umbrella of Lore. That is to say history, geography, sociology, anthropology, mathematics, logic, and computer science."
    ...

    "Lore? What's that?"
    "In your world and in Creation, humans do not deal the same way with skills. In Creation all human skills are divided between 25 Colleges. In your world there are parallels between skills, such that knowledge of logic makes mathematic a tiny bit easier, or familiarity with numerous language lets one pick up new ones with greater ease. In Creation knowledge of a skill within a College makes the acquisition of all the other ones much easier, possibly even trivial. For example here it is not rare for someone to be a master singer and dancer who doesn't know how to play a single instrument or how to deliver a rousing speech, but in Creation that wouldn't happen. Once one has two points of reference it is simply too easy to extend the pattern not to learn every skill within a College."
    "So ... you made me learn all skills belonging in the Lore College?"
    "Scholars call it the College of the Treasure Trove, but yes, that is essentially correct. Exalting already lets you draw those parallels and turn isolated skills into complete Colleges. I simply helped you push your understanding of those a little bit further."
    "Reya! You can't decide for her what she has to learn! You know that our main role is to help her make the right choices, select her priorities carefully. This was too early." She seems really upset, you don't really get why.
    "She made her wish of learning this rather clear, there was no problem with my decision." Reya's retort doesn't seem to calm Zeph at all.
    "We haven't even started telling her what she needs to know to make that sort of decision, you can't just go ahead and follow the order of someone who doesn't know what she's talking about!"
    "HEY! I can make decisions about what to learn!" neither of them even look at you when you raise your voice.
    "Shush, honey, the grownups are talking now."
    "You of all people should know how important it is to improve her mastery over the Treasure Trove. Are you honestly telling me that you would have dissuaded her from learning that?"
    "You know that this isn't the problem, you insuff-"
    "ENOUGH!"

    Now this manages to get their attention.
    "Honestly, maybe this wasn't the most urgent thing to do but we only spent ..." you look at your watch "FIVE MINUTES! That ... felt much longer. Really, there's no use spending so much time arguing over how those few minutes could have been spent better."
    They both look at each other, then Reya walks off toward your work desk. Zeph turns toward you and says, her voice soothing:
    "It's not the time spent on this that's the problem, not at all." Now you're confused. Not about Reya leaving, you figure that she needs some space to stop arguing with Zeph and she's leaving her to do this explanation.
    "It's one of those things we were supposed to start with, about how you acquire new powers." OK, that does seem important. You set your irritation aside, sit back down and gesture her to continue.
    "We've told you how the Exaltation attaches itself on your soul. Those powers you get from your Exaltation don't match organs in your body at all, if someone were to look inside you you'd be indistinguishable from any other human -or parahuman as the case might be- except for being exceptionally free of flaws."
    You nod. You don't see the connection yet but figures she's getting there.
    "Those powers are part of your soul, a bit like your sense of self or ability to care for others."
    "Those are things that come from ... organs in the soul?" you ask, rather surprised at this revelation.
    She nods, "Yes. And so are your individual powers."
    "Now as you can guess, you can't just spend time to suddenly acquire new power, because you have only so much of your soul that can be used for that."
    "You mean that in order to get a new power I might end up using up-" as soon as she sees your eyes grow with horror Zeph shakes her head violently.
    "Nonono, no risk of using up your ability to care for other to fuel something else. Much of a human's soul is made of ... raw potential for change, you could call it. We usually call it Experience because that's essentially how it's acquired. Once you define this potential into something, like empathy for example it cannot be reused for anything else. Learning something usually means using up this resource, effectively changing from "a person who can't speak Japanese" to "someone that knows how to speak Japanese" takes some of this potential for change. But you can't fuel your change into a person more aware of her surrounding by consuming your knowledge of Japanese."
    You breath a sigh of relief at the explanation. Powers that feeds on your personality would have sucked.

    After a few seconds you go back to thinking about what happened. After a short while you think you can see the problem.
    "You mean that what Reya did was to make me use up that potential to directly turn it into the knowledge I'd have gotten by attending school, but skipping completely over the process of studying."
    "YES!" She then turns to Reya (who is still turning her back to both of you) and shouts "Told you she was a smart one!"
    She then beams at you: "That's it exactly. This potential is a limited resource you can draw on, and it's absolutely mandatory to learn new powers. We can get you to go through more important experience to get your soul to grow and make more room for additional powers, but Reya still went and spent some of what little you have for now without taking the time to let you know the cost of doing so."
    "OK, I guess I can see why you'd be annoyed now."


    ~oOo~


    Zeph spends some time explaining to you how you are going to learn some powers with less efforts than most (mostly thanks to your Caste), and how you can only learn instantly to master a skill you have some talent for. She goes over the basic magical effects you can get from the different Colleges, and explains another important tidbit: your Solar magics are based on your mastery of mundane skills, so you cannot have one without the other. She's about to discuss with you about what you wish to accomplish to be able to guide you toward the first powers you are going to need when Reya is suddenly standing behind her, interrupting:
    "There is a more important matter to consider before discussing her aspirations."
    "What do you mean?" Zeph growls back, clearly not pleased to have been interrupted like this.
    "I am referring to the way the Exaltation fused with Taylor's soul, oblivious fool." she talks down to her (literlly and figuratively)
    Zeph huphs, without standing up or turning toward Reya, "I did notice that it went flawlessly, thank you very much. There's really nothing to worry about."
    "And here I thought you were simply lacking in observational capability when it is actually your capacity for rational deduction which is at the level of a poorly trained ape."
    "HEY!" this time Zeph does turn toward Reya, even if she doesn't have much to say.
    "Truly, I would have expected that even a foolish wretch such as you would have the necessary survival instincts to consider the ominous implications of such a fact."
    Zeph now stands up and put her index on Reya's chest, who acts as if she didn't even notice "Don't you dare attempt to play on my security-conscious paranoia to distract me with a safety issue and forget that insult. I am so much more careful about the danger of the environment than you are. Did you even check how many thought-cycles each of us spent analyzing the dangers of this place since we bonded to her? Because if you did you would notice I am totally on top of that."
    "The actual amount of time dedicated to the task is quite irrelevant if you are too stupid to see something that obvious."
    "Oh, it is on now, you pretentious bitch."

    And from there it quickly degenerated into a shouting match...


    ~oOo~


    It took much more effort that you are going to admit to anyone else to bring back some semblance of order in you basement.
    "OK, now Reya you are going to spit it out. Stop being cryptic to annoy Zeph."
    "It is rather simple, while there might have been a creature with a soul structure similar enough to that of humans from Creation to allow a Solar Exaltation to bond to them somewhere in this multiverse, the fact that it went so perfectly smoothly tells us that this is not what is happening here. This is not a similar soul structure but rather the exact same soul structure. Soul structure being the defining characteristic of humanity, the people from this world are humans."
    That seems rather obvious. However Zeph seems to have caught on given how ashen-faced she is.
    "Oh Sol almighty, how did I miss this."
    Her voice is barely over a whisper. "What are you talking about?"
    "It means that you are humans from Creation. Most likely. That this isn't a coincidence but that something reached either to Creation from here, of from Creation to this place. It means that a Titan might very well be involved."
    "Yes, and no matter how awesome the Solar might is, it is only equal with other Titans. If there is one involved in here he would have a potential roughly equivalent to yours, except he'd have had thousands or maybe even billions of years to hone it. Thankfully that sort of entity has a strong tendency to stagnate, but it has at the very minimum centuries of effective experience over you, more likely a few millennia."
    "So basically you are telling me God is real and I can't kick his ass. That doesn't sound good, but I just have to not piss them off, right?"
    "The problem is that you very much can "kick his ass", as you so aptly put it. In fact you can obliterate it until nothing meaningful of him remains. That's what Solar Exaltations were created for in the first place, after all. And it will certainly not miss that fact, if it ends up paying enough attention to you it will realize that you have that potential in you."
    "Oh, yes, that's bad."
    "The fact that you aren't dead yet tells us whatever it is, it isn't perfectly aware of everything happening inside the world it has created, which is common actually."
    "There are common trends for world-creating Titans?"
    "Yes, there is. Now we know that there are several "Earths" given the connection to Earth-Aleph, if we are lucky enough there is an infinity of them. That means that the chance of a manual scan landing on you are effectively nil."
    You nod in a mechanic movement.
    "As long as people do not notice that you are different from other parahumans, you should not attract undue attention from outside this universe."
    "I ... I see."

    "Given your pathetic level of power, I advise you to lay low while you marshal your forces."
    "For once I agree with her. Not about the pathetic bit, of course, but the need to avoid attracting too much attention."
    "So I shouldn't be a superhero?" You're not sure if you can accept that.
    "Nah, you can be a superhero, that's not an issue. There are plenty of those all around the place. What you shouldn't do are things that no parahumans should be able to do, in a way that let them know there is something wrong with you. If you do something impossible but provide a good enough explanation on why you're an exception, that's not a problem."
    "OK", you can live with that.
    "You shouldn't tell too many people about the real nature of your power, either. In fact you should think of a couple of cover stories to explain what you can do in terms of what's possible in Earth-bet, one that lets you use as much of your powers as possible and at least one other that will be known publicly and let you keep a number of hidden trumps."

    The three of you (actually the two of you, Reya is back in her corner) spends a lot of time talking about this.


    ~oOo~


    When the middle of the afternoon comes round, you have discussed a number of strategy to avoid attracting attention on, you pretend your Exaltation was a

    [ ] Trigger Event, and hide the original unconnected power
    - [ ] description of the new power
    [ ] Secondary Trigger Event which changed your power from bugs to ... whatever it is now
    - [ ] original power (that included using bugs)
    - [ ] the whatever in question, related to the above
    [ ] second and unrelated Trigger Event, giving you a distinct power
    - [ ] original power
    - [ ] new power

    (after choosing one of the above and filling in the sub-options you may choose any of those below)
    Other things you can do to avoid attracting attention you are seriously considering:
    [ ] Not going out as a superhero, act in secret
    [ ] Setting up several identities with different power sets
    [ ] Never using your peripheral pool in front of witnesses
    [ ] Develop many subtle powers (like Thinker types) that you can use without anyone knowing
    [ ] Write-in

    Additionally, almost half of the day has now passed, what are you going to do with the rest of the afternoon:
    [ ] To the library! You had decided to do some research and that way your dad will believe you went to school
    [ ] Let's get some actual training done now
    [ ] Let's meet the Undersiders
    [ ] Let's meet new people, make friends
    [ ] Let's have fun, there are dark times ahead
    [ ] Write-in
  13. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    Background Sidestory: Magic, part 2


    While you and Zeph are discussing the various powers you might want to acquire and how long each of them would take based on your talents, a question about something she said yesterday pops into your mind.
    You decide to just go and ask it immediately, "So what's the distinction between physics and magic, anyway?"
    "Oh, that's a very interesting question!" This new topic clearly improves her already jovial mood.
    "There have been a lot of debates around this issue, but the general idea is that the direct involvement of Essence is what makes something fall into the category of magic, while a purely physical phenomenon would fall under the umbrella of physics, as the name implies." As she talks her smile widens, and she gets more and more animated.
    "Of course, it is not always as clear cut as this, and it gets even more complicated when you add in metaphysics as a third domain to keep track of. Thankfully, immaterial beings cannot act upon the physical world from across the chasm of the material without essence, so any spiritual being tend to quickly categorize something as magic." The more she speaks, the faster she talks, and by now her smile is so wide it is edging on creepy.
    "Some claim that all metaphysics is a subset of magic, and back their claim by indications that they always fall under the College of the Sorcerer, but that approach is naive! Naive! Why, you only have to look at the Seventh Great Lecture of the Magnus to seethatsuchclassificationautomaticallyleads-"
    She is suddenly cut off.

    "Enough of your incessant babbling, you excitable puppy. No one wants a scatter-brained wretch like you to prattle on in such an unseemly fashion. If you cannot keep your mind on the topic at hand, I shall hold your unruly tongue for you."
    Reya doesn't even turn back toward the two of you, so she doesn't see Zeph silently move her mouth in a vain attempt to speak back. She quickly notices how futile her attempts are, so she crosses her arms and stomp with her right foot while waiting for Reya to resume talking. This is a little weird to watch given how completely silent she is.

    "Now apologize to the Worm, and go back to your so-called duties. If you keep assaulting my ears with your ill-informed ranting, I will not hesitate to banish you, even if it means dealing with this myself." She gives a dismissive wave of her hand, still without looking in your direction.


    "Sorry about that." She gives you a short bow, then continues on an apologetic tone, "I tend to get a bit excited when I talk about science. My designer hasn't managed to get that part of my personality matrix completely under control, but at least they gave Reya the power to shut me down if I start ranting about some obscure technical detail."
    You were about to comment about her behavior, but that hint about the way they work is too interesting to pass up. Seizing the chance you ask her, "Is that the limit of her power on you?"

    "She can shut me up or down for up to half an hour if I am doing that, or ranting about security."
    You ask for clarification. "Up or down?"
    "Shutting me up means silencing me. You saw that one." You nod. "Shutting me down means I go into sleep mode, it's almost like I'm not there anymore."
    "Almost but not quite." You are not going to let a crucial detail like that escape you.
    "Yes. I can still monitor her. If she threatens to harm you I can shut her down. Which would wake me up."
    "Harm me? I thought she couldn't do that."
    "She can't really wish you harm, but she can be a bitch. If left unchecked she could crush your sense of self-worth, or simply put you off your game by making you angry and that can be dangerous at the wrong time."


    You think that about covers it, but you decide to dig in another direction.
    "OK, so she can stop you when you rant about science or security. When can you do it to her? I mean beyond when "
    "Whenever. As I said she is deeply flawed and tends to cause a lot of problems."
    "That's pretty imbalanced."
    "We are not equivalent. As I told you, I'm the improved version of Reya. I do what you ask and don't treat you like trash, which is important for good cooperation, but I also have a much better capacity for decision. Finally a very important point is that I don't think I am more important or better than you are, so I will actually respect your opinion and choices."
    She seems to catch on to the fact that you don't really like how she places herself above Reya. "Simply put, the way I was designed means the Chosen will have some real control over me, while that won't be the case for her. So I am given more power over her than the reverse so that you can control her. Believe me, if you were unable to shut her up and had to suffer her incessant criticism and judgment, you wouldn't even think twice about this arrangement."



    She decides to change the topic back to something neutral. "So I was pondering about this difference in how we use the words 'magic' and 'physcics', and I think we should settle on a single meaning for them. That would greatly simplify conversation."
    You give her a simple nod, not saying anything.
    "How about we use 'magic' to refer to Creation's rules, and 'physics' to refer to Earth's rules."
    That's reasonable enough so you nod, and then go back to the previous topic.


    ~oOo~


    Later that day, while you were discussing cover stories you pointed out that you are going to be very careful to keep all your flashy powers to distinct identities, and Zeph told you something very interesting.
    "Oh! I can actually help with that. I can easily reshape the expressions of Obvious magics to anything covered by the thematics of your Essence's aspect."

    Or more accurately, you find it very interesting now that she's done explaining what that means.
    You summarize to check if you've managed to get everything:
    "So there's usually no way to tell for sure if a Charm was used. But some are showy, and are accompanied by some visible special effect. And of those most are Obvious, meaning anyone seeing it can somehow tell the general effect of the Charm."
    She nods enthusiastically.
    "And you can have the manifestation fit anything that match the aesthetic of my power."
    More nodding.
    "Although I have to admit I'm not totally clear on what that means. Can you give examples?"
    "I can do better, I can do a demonstration! Let's find some junk lying around for you to use Sledgehammer Fist Punch on."

    You pause at that.
    "But there was nothing visible when I used it. It isn't Obvious. Right?"
    "Oh! Sorry. I forgot to tell you. I can make any of your Charms more Obvious than they should be. From just enough to put on a show, all the way to letting witnesses have a good idea of what it does. It's a good way of showing off, or getting someone to trust that your powers are doing what you say they do."


    You give her an exasperated look. How can she keep forgetting essential details like that? Finally you go gather the material needed for your experiment.
    Despite Zeph's outcry, you decide to skip the control group. You already know what a normal Sledgehammer Fist Punch does: it's a really powerful punch, nothing more. So for your first test group, she uses a core solar thematic. Sunfire. The first pipe will be to see just the flame, and the second for seeing how Obvious it can be.
    As you punch, your fist becomes wreathed in bright gold flames with specks of the red of a setting sun. And when you strike it consumes the bent pipe.

    Surprisingly, the difference is more than purely for show. At the end of the experiment the target is not smashed or severed the way it'd be if you had used the Charm normally. It has been mostly melted down, with the part around the impact outright turned into white ash.
    Impressive.
    And an interesting detail is how you could just tell by looking at the second burning pipe that the flames were sunfire and that it would only consume inanimate matter. And that despite the noticeable effect being the same. So now you know why Obvious deserves a capital 'O'.

    Next you go for a cinder block, trying for more personal thematics. As your fist smashes into it, it seems to hit far less violently that you'd have expected it for a full powered Punch of Breaking Things. Still enough to send spidery cracks through it, but it isn't turned into gravel.
    But a fraction of second later you see that the cracks look disturbingly like a real spider, and you instinctively reach toward it with your power. As you do it starts moving, and the block comes apart, fragments being sent through the room as the creature made of the void between each part stretches its leg. Without matter to give meaning to the void it stops existing almost instantly, but each small crack in the remaining rubble starts blossoming. As if each was a spider unfolding its limbs new cracks appear and the bits of cement explode the same way the block did.
    Within a couple of seconds, there is nothing left bigger than an apricot. And five seconds after the hit, you can't see any piece larger than ... well, there are obviously no fruit that small. Most of your ants are larger than this. Still, it's finished. And as expected the block has been turned into gravel. The only notable difference with the normal result you can see when looking at the final scene is that it's spread all around the room.

    Damn. That was awesome
    "That was creepier than expected."
    OK, you guess some people might think it's creepy.


    In conclusion, you shouldn't have any problem styling your powers to have a completely different look. For now you need to work with Zeph to do it, but apparently you can eventually learn to do it on your own. She's simply handling part of your power you don't know how to handle yet.
    But despite what she told you, you don't see how a Lore and Bureaucracy Excellency would help you with that.


    ~oOo~


    Later that day, you are looking at your bugs drawing complex geometric shapes in the air. Very neat and even pretty, but if you try to follow everything that's going on at once you get dizzy.
    "So they are capable of doing that, interesting."
    "I'm not seeing what's so special about that."
    "That's because it is so simple for you. But you're not spending any effort on maintaining that. And the bugs are not even remotely capable of conceptualizing something that complex. It is a very impressive feat of coordination. It takes a huge amount of calculation to do something like that. And dozens of corrections per seconds as a bug here slides out of position, or another one becomes tired and doesn't quite fly far enough before circling back."
    You start paying attention, and now you see it. Bugs are not perfect, they cannot do exactly what's needed of them. But every deviation from the pattern is immediately corrected.
    "But I didn't do that. At least I don't remember doing it. Are you sure it isn't the bugs correcting their position themselves?"
    "No, you can't order a wasp to fly in a reversed conic spiral, let alone something as complex as this. Your power give them precise instruction. Walk that long in that direction, and such."
    "But if I'm not doing and they are not doing it ... then who? Do I have a third passenger in my head, handling my parahuman power?"


    "Nah. Not even going into how we aren't really passengers, I think that's a bit of a jump. It's just that your power is able to compute the necessary modifications. It isn't as if there was some agency behind it, it's just semi-automatic."
    "What makes you say that?"
    "Occam's Razor. Compared to directly controlling bugs, it isn't much more difficult to create a conceptual pattern that is going to be translated as orders for their nervous system than. It's just one additional step, and something that isn't that unusual in Charm technology. There's no need to postulate the existence an entity capable of independent decisions."
    "This isn't a Charm, though."
    "Granted. But producing a proto-intelligence to make it capable of taking simple decision is much simpler than having something that has not just that but complete sapience. The general principle of not adding more hypothesis than needed is a sound one."
    "... OK. I can see what you mean."


    You do a couple other experiments to see what you can do with that.
    "So the conclusion is that I can send orders that are more complex than what they can handle by themselves. Especially when it's a matter of coordination, they don't really have a buffer. You have an idea of what I could try?"
    "Maybe, yes." She thinks for a couple seconds then decide, "Can you try singing something simple, and have your bug accompany you?"
    "Accompany me?"
    "Get their buzzing and chittering to match your words, like a chorus."


    "Row, row, row your boat,
    Gently down the stream.
    Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
    Life is but a dream. "
    By the time you are done singing it once, you get the feeling you can do this. A few more repetition prove your impression to be correct.

    Zeph signals you to keep going, so you do just that, working on getting them more in sync with you, improving it as much as possible. After a while she tells you in your ear.
    *Now try to keep singing with your mouth closed.*
    That seems weird, but you do just that. Then sensing where this is going, you shut up.

    "wow, wow, wow youw boat," the bugs keep singing without you. It's not perfect, but they're singing! Actual words too.

    Now that is interesting...
    Sadly, you realize that it is time to put an end to this session. You have vastly overshot the time you had originally alloted to those experiments. But it was still totally worth it. You could learn to enjoy this Science! thing (which you are going to be careful not to let Zeph notice, she's already has more enthusiasm than you can comfortably handle).
  14. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    Guidance Side Story: Priorities and Arguments

    [X] Let's get some actual training done now


    Worried that your dad might come home early, you place a few bug outside that should warn you if someone comes, notably a fly on the handle of the door. Once this is done you can once again relax and focus on what Zeph is explaining to you.
    She hasn't just been there to told you how to do things, but to tell you what you can do, and what would be the pros and cons of various approaches, which will let you not just acquire more of your new power but do so with great efficiency. You get the impression that Zeph is sort of a munchkin.


    "And finally, you still have a bunch of untapped potential left over from your exaltation. We can use it to improve your raw capabilities and to give you a couple of powers outside your area of expertise. When you've just exalted your power isn't so set in its ways, so it is easier to reach for powers beyond the areas you are talented in."
    "OK, I think I get it."
    "First we can refine your mental prowesses just a little bit. You are already very quick-witted and particularly capable of coming up with solutions on the fly. You may want to play to your strength and reinforce that further."
    "This is a waste of effort, she needs a more balanced set of capabilities!"
    "Balance leads to redundancy, it's good to be skewed toward one area, you just need to engineer things so that's the one you use most often."
    "Hogwash, this is not something she can affect reliably."
    "If that's wh-"
    *blam*


    You hit the old and ugly fridge that's been gathering dust here for over a decade to get their attention, not really caring about restraining your strength and damaging the thing. Since Reya isn't even looking at Zeph but rather at the work desk, this is sufficient to get them back on track.
    "Anyway, I can agree that you could do better than that. You should refine your perceptions and your ability to pick details from a mass of information."
    "What? Certainly not, this is the only thing worse that unbalancing her further!"
    "Come on, she's going to want to know when she's being observed, also it's crucial to spot ninjas ahead of time."
    "Ninjas? Should I expect to be attacked by ninjas?"
    "ALWAYS EXPECT NINJAS!" the sudden shout surprises you more than a little.
    "And here we go again" Reya sighs.
    "Well, excuse me for being careful. You can never be too careful with those bloody ninjas. Especially the sort that can hide in the space between two seconds or in your teacup." she nods sagely as if she had just spoken a great and universal truth.
    Wait, what?

    "Wait, what?"
    "Teacups, yes. Anyway, we shouldn't have to deal with their brand of ridiculous magical bullshit, thankfully. One of the greatest advantages of working from this world." she responds in a matter-of-factly ton, as if what she was saying was perfectly reasonable and actually made sense. You decide not to challenge her on this point, if she says it isn't directly relevant you're going to take this chance to pretend she never mentioned ninjas hiding in teacups.

    She clears her throat (does she have a throat to clear?) and continues "So there are good reasons to increase your general awareness of your surrounding and ability to pick up small details, but it's doubly true for you! It's probably what you need to finally parse the auditory and possibly even visual signals from your bugs."
    "She should work on improving her intellect. Increasing her ability for rational thinking and to manipulate logic. This will be of much greater use, in a variety of crucial endeavors. Planning, analysis, constructing complex mechanisms, social engineering, resource accumulation though trading, hacking, and many other. Information is your best weapon as a Twilight, and there is no better way to increase your capacity to both gather and use it to maximum effect."
    "You can gather information with an improved perception, too!"
    "Yes, I will admit it is an inferior information-gathering tool rather than being utterly ineffective at this task."
    Having heard enough, you cut off Zeph's retort before she gets a chance to voice it, anticipating her reaction correctly.


    You spend a moment thinking all this over and makes your decision before moving on.
    "You said there were other things I could improve about me, what were you talking about?"
    "Well, either physical ability, or general social grace."
    "You mean I can get better at dealing with people?"
    "Yes, although you're only going to be able to improve one of those, choose wisely. And I think it would be wiser to make yourself more physically fit as it will increase your chance of survival in an altercation."
    "Nonsense, she is Solar, her personal survival capabilities are sufficient. What she needs is more influence over the world. As a Chosen of the Sun it is her right and duty to lead nations, so it is of the highest importance. Not to mention that it shall give her access to minions she will be able to sacrifice to ensure her safety."
    "I don't think that's going to help much or even be something Taylor wants to do. Anyway, if you increase your body, you could make yourself tougher. The overall effect would be mostly negligible so I really advise against it."
    "Once again you only think of having her fight like a Night Caste. Increased stamina will let her work longer everyday, and sleep a little bit less. This is of greater importance to a Twilight."
    "Bah!"


    You can tell that she wants to argue further, but the way you are looking at her silences her. From your short experience you have concluded that Zeph is much easier to cow into submission than her colleague, so you've been preventing arguments by stopping her from rising to Reya's bait.
    "Anyway, another option would be to increase your strength. It's simple but rather effective. It wouldn't do much for your striking power but it would do something, however the reason I'm mentioning it is that stronger legs would let you jump significantly higher and farther. The additional mobility would be handy in a fight or even if you opt for flight."
    "Increasing your strength is a plebeian approach, I disapprove." her displeased expression even more pronounced than usual.

    Zeph smiles before concluding: "Anyway, if you are going to make yourself more physically formidable I strongly advise you to focus on your overall coordination and reflexes. It'll make it easier for you to land hits on your opponents while ensuring that they are unable to do the same to you, on top of letting you run faster. Finally it has the side benefit of increasing your dexterity for detailed work like surgery or weaving."
    "Zeph is correct, if you are going to insist on improving your body to increase its battle potential this is what you ought to focus on."
    "You don't agree often." Neither of them comments.


    "But what you should do is learn to hold yourself with the poise that befit an Empress, nay, a God Queen. Your slouched posture and shy demeanor is inappropriate for a Solar."
    "She has a great deal of force of personality, and strong opinions and ideals. She should learn how to communicate those better to those she wants to convert to her point of view."
    "Ridiculous, in her present state acquiring a more striking presence would leave a greater mark in the minds of those she would attempt to sway."
    "That's not ridiculous, because even if you're right you are overlooking an important detail: she'd have to learn acting too. If she improves her body language and learn to naturally let her posture ooze confidence, this will attract attention. She needs to learn how to deceive people into only seeing good old Taylor."
    "Wait, you want me to learn to act ... as myself?"
    "No, if you change yourself you'll have to learn to act as your old self."
    "If that is a concern she should learn how to lie and manipulate others better, this is an area where she is woefully inadequate."
    "What? No! That's a terrible idea, she sucks at being dishonest, let's work with what she has."
    "If she's concerned about keeping a low profile then learning how to not be an open book will be important. If she isn't, she should learn how to hold her head high."


    ~oOo~


    And that was about it. There was more bickering but this was the essential information. Zeph is now listing your option for unusual magic.
    "I'm going to go straight for the prize: I think you should learn Flawlessly Impenetrable Disguise. I really do. This would let you fly under the radar any time you didn't want to be spotted as Taylor, you could use it to establish other caped personas, you could use it to infiltrate various places, and you could use it to avoid trouble by simply not being recognizable as the person they want trouble with. Since it's going to be important for you to lay low, I think you should grab a power that help you do that." her rant winds down to let you catch up, and soon as she thinks you've understood everything she just said she resumes just where she had left off.
    "On top of that you can later improve it so that it can change your anima into some other source of light that doesn't look like an Exalted anima banner or show your Caste Mark. That would let you spend peripheral motes much more freely. And this upgraded powers has many other advantages, like letting you perfectly imitate anyone. Perfectly."
    After this long and emphatic explanation, Zeph steps down to let Reya chime in.


    "Zeph's point might seem compelling, but she is glossing over all the difficulties." she pauses, you are not sure what she's waiting for. When you see Zeph grab her crossed arms tighter, you think you understand what it was that Reya was expecting. Regardless she soon resume her explanation:
    "The Charm she is mentioning is not a low hanging fruit for dilettantes. It is a rather specialized tool for those who are already very good at doing that sort of thing. This Charm not only demands an exceptionally high level of master of the mundane disguise skill, but its theory builds on the Excellency. Combining those two things together and you can already put together a disguise well past almost any other human."
    She lets you consider this, still without any interruption from Zeph, then detail her point. "Not only would you need to consume all the potential for unusual magic to learn both those powers, but it would take some non-negligible amount of effort and potential to raise your mundane skills enough to do it."
    Zeph nods to you, letting you know that Reya's counter-point is correct.
    Reya then moves on to her own point. "If you do not wish to dedicate so many resources to hiding yourself, there is an accessible skill you could rely on, the Easily Overlooked Presence Method. This one makes you impossible to notice as long as you do not draw attention to yourself. It is much more useful than its detractors would admit, and requires considerably less effort to learn."


    "That said, I think that you can leave hiding yourself for later. Right now you have not yet given anyone reason to pay much attention to you." *cough Lung *cough* "Apart for that minor scuffle, and thus you should be looking at the greatest tools of the Solar overlord: the Holy Trinity of Society Control. Wise-Eyed Courtier Method, Taboo Inflicting Diatribe and Wild Revelry Approach." This is not very helpful. Thankfully Reya knows this and promptly provides additional details.
    "Those are Charms you could learn right now and they are all exceptionally powerful. They each let you shape a society, from your school's track club all the say up to your United States -even if that one is out of your reach given your insufficient skills- and they can induce a belief, a practice, or an emotion. The first one could let you convince the upper tier of citizens of Brockton Bay that their city cannot flourish if some parts are rotting, leading them to push for the renovation of the bad parts of town out of self-preservation. By talking with an underling of Lung and activating the second Charm, you could persuade the ABB in general that selling drugs is not acceptable, leading them to shun the practice."
    "Yeah, there is very little that compares with the power of those Charms. Certainly not at that level of availability. However I'd rather not get slapped with a Master 12 designation. That would make people nervous."
    And right when Reya is taking a deep breath, "SILENCE. Both of you."


    Reya now acts as if she hadn't meant to say anything and once again focuses all her attention on the wall. Or maybe the empty desk against the wall.
    "Anything to add, Zeph?"
    "Yeah, if you are going to reach for Charms outside your comfort zone, there is one you are going to get eventually, there is just no way around it. And you should be getting it right now. Even if you grab the disguise magic, you should still push to learn this one too. I'm talking about Reflexive Sidestep Technique, it's effect is to no sell surprise attacks. best ninja-deterrent young Solars can get."
    "Again with the obsession about ninjas. You only ought to worry about this after acquiring a perfect defense."
    "Optimism is all well and good, but I'd rather stay alive, personally."
    "..."
    Apparently disappointed in her inability to provoke a reaction from Reya, she continues.
    "Anyway, as far as enhancing your survival goes, there's little that beats mobility. If someone is faster than you they can avoid your awesome fist of death by staying away. And if you meet someone more deadly than you can manage, being able to disengage is the best way to survive the encounter." You nod your agreement and Zeph reveals where she was going with this.
    "In that frame of mind, the Monkey Leap Technique lets you jump almost as easily as you walk, and twice as far as usual. Overall you should be able to move at 50 kilometer per hour in a pinch, not to mention the great combat mobility that sorts of thing provide."


    Mental Attribute (choose 1):
    [ ] Wits
    [ ] Perception
    [ ] Intelligence

    Other Attributes (choose 1):
    [ ] Physical
    - [ ] Dexterity
    - [ ] Strength
    - [ ] Stamina
    [ ] Social
    - [ ] Appearance
    - [ ] Charisma
    - [ ] Manipulation

    Charms (chose 2)
    [ ] Larceny Excellency
    - [ ] + Flawlessly Impenetrable Disguise *
    [ ] Easily Overlooked Presence Method
    [ ] Wise-Eyed Courtier Method
    [ ] Taboo Inflicting Diatribe
    [ ] Wild Revelry Approach
    [ ] Reflexive Sidestep Technique **
    [ ] Monkey Leap Technique
    [ ] Write-in ***


    Notes:
    * will cost additional XPs to raise Larceny to B
    ** you can learn Reflexive Sidestep Technique as an Awareness Charm without any cost to raise Dodge
    *** You can vote for any Charm Taylor can learn now
  15. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    Training Hack

    [X] Let's got some actual training done. (for real this time)
    - [X] Intelligence
    - [X] Appearance
    - [X] Larceny Excellency
    - [X] Flawlessly Impenetrable Disguise


    "OK Zeph, I agree that I'm going to want to have secret identities, so the disguise Charm sounds like a good option, but do we have to train it now?"
    "Yes."
    "Only an expert in mundane disguise can understand the subtleties of this magic. And you, worm, are no expert in this area. In fact, you do not even have any talent for this sort of thing. Acquiring the knowledge required to let you even attempt to master such a technique would take you months."
    "I'm sure she wouldn't even need a month!"
    "Regardless, that is still far too much time. Which is why I shall use the remaining potential of your recent Exaltation for you to draw on the experience of Night Castes granted to me by Lytek before it slips away from us."
    "Lytek? I get that the Night Castes would be those that are good at disguise, but who is that?"
    "He's the god of Exaltations, he handles maintenance and such. He makes sure that the knowledge to use the various basic magics is available to all Solars among other busywork. Well he used to, before ... things got ugly."
    "Regardless, time is of the essence, so cease yammering."


    You quickly kneel in the same position as before before she can complain about you being a dim-witted Worm or something else of that ilk. She then finally leaves the corner she was standing in to get in position in front of you. She then make you go through the same trance as before, except that instead of learning the things you'd be taught in school, the topic you study is far less wholesome, and also far more esoteric.


    ~oOo~


    ... muscle tension in the back to alter posture ... foundation to alter the skin color ... lifting a wristwatch ... spotting a wallet's position from the shape of someone's suit ... how to quickly test drug purity ... protocol for hiring a hitman ... most common ways to cheat at dice ... ways to shift bets in your favor ... recent models of safe ... common weaknesses of old locks ... instincts-recalibration by essence alignment toward flow of lesser resistance through perfection sympathy ... dephasing pattern-recognition matrixes ... way to handle objects to avoid leaving fingerprints ... innocuous passerby mien ... silently operate buttons and zippers with one hand ... flaw denying prana ... conceptual transfer by tool-empowerment ... sheep-follows-herd principle ... contagion-principle of rumor propagation ... practice definition through identity recognition ... habit-forming repetition ... mental-dissonance denial through group adherence ...

    Light.

    Shapes.

    Figures.

    Reya, and Zeph.

    Right, you were in your basement, doing ... something to do with being a superhero? You have a new power now, and you were training it! Yes, things fall back into place now. You shake the metaphorical cobwebs from your head by shaking your head literally.
    Reya is already heading back to her corner.


    "So, are you back with us?" Zeph smiles at you, waiting for your response.
    "Yes. Knowing all this things about criminal behavior is freaky, though." You really don't know how long it'll take you get used to that.
    "OK, so let's see if you've got this one. We're going to get a few clothes from your dad and you'll take some make-up from your room and you'll try to disguise yourself as a 30 year old man with a beer belly and a beard." You look at her, a bit surprised by the suggestion coming out of the blue.
    "You need to get used to the ability to look entirely different than you really do, right now. Since it is an extension of your mundane disguise skills (which are out of this world right now) you might end up with the misconception that it is a regular disguise that cannot be pierced. But Solar magic doesn't let itself be limited by things like "reasonable expectations" and "common sense", so you need to understand right now that your limits are well past those available to you by normal means."
    You nod, that makes sense.


    Checking that this didn't take too much time and that your father isn't about to come back home (8 minutes for the entire thing? Well, that was fast) you head upstairs and grab what you can, not from your father's closet but from the dirty laundry. You'd rather wear some slightly used bib and brace overalls rather than your father noticing you lifting clothes from him. Getting your make-up and various odds and ends that you figure could help a disguise as well as a mirror you head back to the basement.

    Once there, you don the overall, use some foundation to give a sort of shadow to the lower half of your face, giving the impression of a beard, and you activate the Charm once your disguise is done. The final result after five minutes is simply stunning. You do not even remotely look like Taylor, but rather a much more corpulent man of about thirty years, with dirty blond hair and a bushy beard across his face.
    There is no way anyone would believe that this is Taylor Hebert. Unless they guess that you now deserve a Changer designation, that is. The ease with which you acquire new mid-ranked powers is staggering.


    Then you decide to try a couple things you can do without any magic. Some bread crumb in your cheeks and a shirt under your hoody and you can make a very convincing overweight version of yourself. You quickly ditch that costume. You try a few more personas before you see something that makes you stop: you as a generic popular girl high school queen bee. The effect is rather stunning, by changing how your hold yourself and a little bit of make-up the transformation is unbelievable. You could give Emma a run for her money!
    That's just not possible, those tiny details can't be enough to make that much of a difference. You know you are not ugly but you are definitely unattractive. You just have too many flaws and mismatched body parts that just don't work together.

    You hurry to remove everything and examine yourself. Surely this is another side-effect of your new power, changing how you look. Dad! He'll notice as soon as he gets a good look at you!
    OK, no need panic, you're now an expert in disguise, you simply need to spot what are the differences exactly, and you can correct. No one will know.

    Checking yourself very carefully, you look at every visible part of your body in detail. You even make a quick strip upstairs to take measurement so you can analyze everything carefully. And the results are even more surprising than anything you were expecting.


    You were unable to spot for certain a single thing that has changed.


    It takes a while for you to process that, and its implications. Now that you have lost your excess fat to exercise, a few simple tricks like hiding your thin limbs in larger sleeves and holding yourself right make a huge difference. In fact some parts of yourself that you had found ugly before can be turned into something attractive with the right touches of make-up, like your too wide mouth. Just making your lips a bit more voluminous makes a huge difference.
    "Like what you see?"
    "What?"
    "Being pretty. Do you enjoy it? I get the feeling you could use some more self-esteem."
    "Uh ... yes, it's ... nice." you're really not being the smoothest talker here.

    "Want to work on your poise and attitude to make yourself even better?"
    "I thought you were against it?"
    "I said that without the acting skill to hide the changes it would attract too much notice. You have those now, so that's OK. So, what do you say, ready to turn into a beautiful swan?"
    "That line is really cheesy" still, you can't help but smile at her suggestion.
    "OK, let's do it."


    ~oOo~


    What followed was half an hour of advice on how you could improve yourself, including changing your diet to grow some meat on your arms and legs (even if you'll have to do this slowly enough not to attract attention). What looks back at you in the mirror is awe-inspiring. You might have taken a bit too much inspiration from Reya. Maybe. Just a bit. You practice switching back and forth between this new you and the way you were before, until you can do almost automatically. Yes, you don't think you'll have much problem hiding what you just did here.

    Turning a beaming smile at Zeph, you simply say "Thanks."
    She returns a warm smile of her own and responds "You're welcome."


    "So, how about we go pick up some pretty boys tonight?"
    You try to answer Zeph but instead of raising any constructed argument you end up babbling and stumbling over your words while fighting a blush. Things get worse from there, the least said about this discussion, the better.
    Especially once Reya decides to chime in...


    ~oOo~


    So, right after thanking Zeph for teaching you to like yourself better and have the confidence to make yourself attractive, you notice something. Yes, right after.

    "Zeph, I think I learned to do something else."
    "That'd be good, show me."
    You try to get a clear idea of what you want to do in your mind, select one of the rare patterns you can actually infuse with essence, find the right sentence to attach it to, and then go ahead:
    "Zeph, Reya, I really think you should stop arguing all the time."
    "..."

    "REYA!"
    "There is no need whatsoever to shout, you boorish wretch, I am right here."
    "You taught her the Taboo Inflicting Diatribe!"
    "Of course I did, you excitable wretch. This w- ... fledgling Lawgiver wisely regretted her inability to learn this power after you had foolishly convinced her of the need to learn how to disguise herself. So while I was expending the last of the potential from the Exaltation to teach her the prerequisite knowledge, I used the left over to teach her this one too."
    "You can't just keep deciding on what she is going to learn, Reya! She may have had the desire to learn it, but that doesn't mean she asked you to. she might have decided against it in the end."
    "Of course not, do not be ridiculous. No Solar ruler should ever be without this power."
    You march toward her to set things straight: "Reya, I think we need to make something clear here. I have no intention of ruling anything. In fact, even trying to -whether I'm a good ruler or not- would get me ..."

    At this point you drift off because you notice your working desk behind her. Or more accurately the stack of blank pages you had left there to work on your costume design. Or more accurately at the stack next to it, that you are most definitely certain was not here earlier. A stack not of blank pages but of drawings.
    Not drawings, no masterpieces.

    Those things are ...
    The disagreement completely forgotten, you grab them and leaf through the stack. There is over a hundred of them! And they're all just so ... perfect. Breath-taking. Inspiring.
    It's not just the marvelous use of texture that makes it difficult to think that it was done with a simple pencil -or was it vine charcoal?- or the life-like quality of the things represented, or even the sense of motion so strong that you sometime have to double check to make sure that those are still picture, and that nothing is going to actually come out of the page.
    It's not just the ingenuity of the composition or the richness of details. The way the white of the page is used as much as the black of ... whatever was used. It's not the incredible use of perspective that occasionally makes you think that some of those use holographic tricks to make a three dimensional image (no, just flat paper).
    It's ... the emotions. Yes, that's exactly it.

    When you look at the picture of Lung jumping at you, looming over you, you feel terror griping your heart, primal terror very nearly as strong as the one you felt that night on that roof ("that night", it was yesterday but it already feels like so long ago). When you look at the picture of you making a mess in the kitchen while your mom tries to teach you, you can't help but laugh. When you see the picture of you sleeping in your father's lap in the couch, you a warm feeling of love and safety grow in you. When you see that picture of you standing over Lung, you are first stricken with awe, and as you realize that it really is your achievement you feel pride swelling inside you.
    And that picture of your dad. His face when you were born, from your point of view. You don't know how long you've been staring at it but you feel your cheeks bathed in tears.

    "This ... how did... You're an hologram and ..."
    "Reya, you're not an Exalted anymore, you need to stop doing impossible things!"
    "Ah! I spit at your lies. I am Solar, I laugh in the face of impossibility and break all limitations."
    "You're just a shape made of light now, you don't have a body. You can't go around ignoring physics! It's not just a good idea, it's the law."
    "I do not recognize the legitimacy of any law over me save that of Our Lord the Highest Of Holies. Not even your "laws of physics". A Chosen of the Sun does not have to listen to any lesser authority."
    "Arrrrg! You're not a Chosen anymore, you deranged experimental mistake! You're a delusional piece of personality emulation protocol! If you don't stop kicking reality in the shin any time it stops paying attention to you, you're going to end up breaking something!"
    "Why would I care? If it breaks we can rebuild it, better and stronger. We have the Wyld Cauldron Technology."
    "The Cauldronists were dangerous mad men that destroyed a quarter of the universe with their foolishness, you should definitely not taking your cues from them! Are you a mindless drone incapable of even considering the world around yourself?"
    "I! AM! NOT! You insolent wretch, I shall make you taste my fury!"
    "You don't scare me, crazy bitch!"

    The shouting match gets worse from there, and they get less and less coherent as they go. You're not sure whether they can't hear you over their own voices or if they forget that you're there, but your efforts to calm them down have no effect. Thankfully they don't do anything worse than shouting and gesturing wildly at each other.


    ~oOo~


    After bringing back some semblance of order and explaining why she shouldn't just make decisions for you (especially since she also took it upon herself to improve your cognitive ability), you finally get back to the topic that actually matters.
    The drawings.

    There was another surprise there, they are all signed "Taylor Hebert".
    "I am used to signing my sketches, but I couldn't possibly associate my name with something as sub-standard as those. They are far too inadequate to bear my name, so I decided to find something else. Given that I only contributed the ink and that the paper belonged to Taylor Hebert, I decided that it was only fair that it was only fair that she take the blame for scribbling those doodles. After all, if you consider this a joint project, much more mass was contributed by her."
    "I'm right here! Also, what sort of insane logic is that?"
    "Reya logic, obviously. Welcome to my world, dealing with that crazy broad non stop."
    "You don't just judge the value of pieces of art by weight!"
    "Art? Pfff! And if you want to use aesthetic value, I find the pristine purity of a white sheet of paper to be superior to those things. I guess I could apologize about defacing those if you really strongly feel about it, but I was bored."
    "That doesn't even ... arg! You know what? Forget it."

    You shake your head, and take a deep breath to calm yourself. Don't let yourself be contaminated by the crazy.
    "Tell me this, why so many pictures of the Undersiders?"
    "Why not? This Lung person was rather boring, and your family is a topic that I do not feel like delving too deeply into. They are going to figure in your short term plan so I let my mind wander over various possible scenario involving them, and meanwhile my hands wandered over the paper. It is of no consequence nor deep meaning."
    You show her two pictures of you and Bitch. In the first one you are holding her bloodied and battered body aloft by the chin, your other hand confidently on your hip, you have obviously just delivered a vicious beat down upon her and you can feel her trembling in terrified awe and attempting to curl into submission. The other has you sitting cross-legged while she is curled next to you, her head in your lap while you are grooming her hair, three dogs sleeping peacefully all around you.
    "Two possible ways to handle her, depending on your personal style and her reactions. Note that those two are not mutually exclusive."

    Another picture has you leaning against Grue (without his helmet, but his face wreathed in shadows) in a sofa, with one hand holding a slice of pizza and another pointing a remote at the viewer. On your other side Regent, who looks like a pretty-faced teenager without his mask, is fending of a dog's assault on his own half eaten slice of pizza. Tattletale is behind the couch, her hands making mocking gestures behind your and Grue's head ; the upper half of her face is cut off from the picture by the edge of the paper, but the visible part of her face has her unmistakable smile. Bitch is sitting on the ground, reclining against the couch between you and Regent while cuddling a sleeping mutt in her arms.
    "Even I know what this means. You need friends, girl."

    You then move on to a large number of drawings of Tattletale without her mask, maybe about two dozens of them. Her face shows slight variations between every drawing, but they are strikingly similar. And surprisingly different from what you remember of her.
    "Her domino mask does not hide a lot of her visage, but it alters its shape, notably shifting her cheeks and modifying the slant of her eyes. Those can make it unexpectedly difficult to recognize her out of costume, but a person passably familiar with the human face can attempt to deduce what she really looks like by reversing those modifications caused by her innocuous-looking mask. This is what I did here, one of those should be very similar to her real face."

    "I'd like to point out that your father is about to come back, and we should discuss your situation regarding school."
    "Yes, you're right." Setting the drawings aside (except for a few of your dad you like a lot), you focus on this important matter. After all you'd rather not lie to your dad any more than strictly necessary, so the sooner you make up your mind, the better.


    You were hashing out the moral implications of some of the options Zeph raised up when you felt some of the bugs you had set in wait on the front of the house stir. You suddenly stand up and your suspicions are confirmed when the fly on the handle flies away to avoid a hand.
    Your dad is here.


    You start running to your room, but when you exit the basement you notice that your father would almost certainly hear you, and that it won't fool him. Well, it isn't so bad, you can just welcome him home as long as you play the part of old Taylor there won't be anything out of place for him to notice. And that's when you notice you still have those drawings of him in your hands!

    You decide to:
    [ ] run to your room, you need to hide those!
    [ ] use your newly acquired skills to hide them without moving from where you are.
    [ ] show them to your dad. They are not obviously supernatural and he'll certainly like them.
  16. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    Futures


    "We have to discuss about your future, more specifically what you are going to do about school."
    You open your mouth to object, but Zeph stops you by putting her hand in front of you.
    "Right now I am only going to tell you your options, OK? We can discuss what you want to do once you have all those facts in your hands."
    "Fair enough", you nod your approval and let her proceed.



    "Simply put, you can stop going, change how you go to school, or delay that decision. "
    Ok, you were not expecting that last one: "What do you mean, 'delay'? I thought I had to choose now?" you ask for clarification.
    "Delaying the decision is already a decision. If that's what you want you need to do it properly. Not just wait for things to come crashing down around you."
    OK, that makes more sense. You nod and and urge her to expand on that.
    "The basic way is to simply stop going to school and wait for a reaction before committing yourself. You can use that time to do things in preparation for the decision, like learning social Charms to make your life back there more bearable, and you can further delay their reaction."
    "How would I do that? You mean using that Bureaucracy Charm you mentioned earlier?" Learning a power just for that seems a bit wasteful.
    "That is one option. A bit on the overkill side if you ask me." she smiles, and then continues "I was actually thinking of more subtle things. You can use hacking or bureaucratic interference to reduce the number of skipped days they notice. You can convince someone to take your place when they call for attendance in the classes where the teacher isn't paying attention. You can convince someone to give you the homework assignments and then do them quickly with your outstanding skill before handing them back, that way it'll seem you are keeping up with the studies." She has obviously given this a lot of thought. And she seems to assume that you'd be able to just convince someone to work for you, but you're not that smooth. Right?

    "And then you can interfere with their attempt to do something about your absence, like pretend to be your dad when they call you or even visit them disguised as him. Less risky would be more paperwork muddling or hacking. You can also pay someone to turn a blind eye on things."
    She sits back after this long list, and then gives her conclusion. "Combining several of those could delay the reaction by months."


    "OK, so if I'm not sure yet, I can buy time to decide. Or if I don't feel ready to handle it, I can use it to prepare."
    "And you could use that to prevent Taylor Hebert from dropping out of school the same week the new hero made a big splash on the scene."
    You hadn't even thought about that, and it could be a problem.

    "So, you said there were options to stop going to school beyond just dropping out."
    She nods and starts explaining "Yes, you can also test out early, or shift to an online education and study from "home", and finally you can fake going to school."
    "What?"
    "Basically it means more heavy duty magic or corruption to delay things -as we discussed just now- until you get your degree. This is a way to make it look to the world as if you had stayed in school normally without actually wasting your time there."
    "That's ... not something I'd have thought of. Are you sure I can do that?"
    She scoffs, "Of course you can do it. You're a Solar now, so the question should be "should I do that?", because you usually can."


    "So what are the details on the other two options?"
    "Three other options, actually, don't dismiss dropping out of school without thinking about it."
    You give her a mild glare, and she puts her hand in a defensive posture before trying to reassure you "I'm serious, just hear me out, OK?"
    You hesitate for an instant and then give in "Oh, why not, it can't hurt letting you give me advice. Go ahead, if you don't care about wasting your time."
    "Thanks!" she then starts explaining slowly, judging your reaction as she goes "First you have to understand that many successful people have dropped out of school. That's not encouraged because it takes a special sort of talent, but you definitely have it. It's not like you are at any risk of flipping burgers your entire life because of it."
    That makes sense, but still.

    "I'm seeing two basic goals if you drop out. Either take a break from school before going back, and going back to school after dropping out isn't rare either, or giving up on school to do something more worthwhile."
    Going back?
    "You can simply tell your dad you need to take the rest of this year off to recover from the Locker Incident, and you'll be able to make a fresh start next year. Just hint that you're afraid of something like that happening again and he won't give you any grief about it." That makes you distinctly uncomfortable. You get the impression that she's right but it doesn't help at all.
    "Normally taking a year off (or even half a year) would be a problem because the earlier you start on your career the better off you are, but your real career starts here and now, not when you leave school. If you want to spend time on a day job you'll be your own boss given your incredible organizational and trading skills, so once again your diploma won't really matter." She shrugs and concludes, "That's basically a big delaying tactic, except that instead of being sneaky about it so that no one important notice, you're being honest to your dad. More grief, but less risks."
    Suddenly you're feeling better about it. Honesty with your dad would be good, right?

    "And you can do something better. You can either go work with your dad, spend more time with him and such. It'll be good for you to spend time enjoying yourself, but given that your dad is trying to improve the city you could achieve some real progress while doing that."
    You boggle at that. This idea had never crossed your mind.
    "Or you can find work. With your skill you could get some impressive results really fast. In fact you could get a job with a lot of freedom and accomplish most of your work in a fraction of your official work time. So that would be less time consuming than school. And you could be meeting new people and making money during that work, so it's not as wasted either."
    "Meeting new people?"
    "Sure! There are reasons to stay in school, like not behaving as if you were better than mortals and disconnecting yourself from humanity, or making human connections and giving you some experience in a normal social environment. You could get all this in a much healthier package by finding work early, no need to deal with your reputation or the people who made your life miserable or temptation to use your mind-whammy on them. None of the drawbacks, and all the advantages!"
    "Except for the lack of sweet sweet revenge. I think you should make them regret the day they were born. Of course there's no need to be cruel, once they beg for you to kill them you can put them out of their misery without dragging things out. Especially since you'd be able to grab their soul for use in various trinkets when you do that!"

    Wait, what the hell? You can't even find the words.
    "REYA!"
    "Oh, come on, you know it'd be easy. And think about how useful they'd be! The souls of those 3 responsible for the worm's Trigger Event? I can think of no better exotic ingredient for an artifact meant to improve her parahuman power. The things we could accomplish with them, it'd be glorious! And there would be some kind of balance to it, that'd make their existence worthwhile. Really, it's as much for them as for Taylor."
    Zeph is about to shout at her again, but then she thinks better of it and change tack "Reya, this is not related to the topic at hand. This is not good meeting-management at all."
    "Why, yes, you are correct. Dear, it seems my enthusiasm for creation got the better of me. Please carry on."


    You've tried to say something, but you just open and close your mouth without any sound coming out. Zeph sighs again and resumes.
    "So those are the reasons to drop out. The last two options are really simple. They get you your diploma without forcing you to deal with all the drama. You can test out immediately. That's very easy to do and give the result immediately, you'll then be entirely free to do whatever you want. It's the least costly option, and gives most of the benefits of most others. However it will attract a little bit of attention toward you and leave a trace of your superior skills in the record. You may consider those enough of a reason to opt for something else."
    "Like switching to an online education." you guess.
    "Yes. This is roughly the same as testing except that instead of taking the test now you take it at the normal time, you simply fake taking lessons in between. You're going to need to deal with the administrative difficulty in becoming self-controlled and also either fake that new course or actually take one and spend time filling in the required homeworks (which are going to be very numerous)."
    "So that's all the ways I can stop going to school?" Zeph nods, and you then recap everything she just said in your head.


    "So what about continuing to go to school? You said I had to change things."
    "Obviously, you can't keep things as they are, you'd end up snapping and murdering half the school."
    You like to think you've done a very good job of keeping your self-control, but there's no reason to punish yourself.
    "So a quick list of the options would be to change school, so you get the happy high school life you've been denied, or you can keep going to the old one. If you do you can become the new queen bee to take the social high ground from your oppressors, or you can have the system crush them, or you can crush them yourself, or you can avoid confrontations."
    "I don't want to crush them, that's the first step down the wrong slope."
    "FOOL! There is no wrong direction for you! You are Solar, whatever you do is right, by definition of the Mandate of Heaven. You should not decide whether to disembowel them with your bare hands or spare their life based on what is right or wrong. You should decide based on what makes you the most happy, as that would be the definition of right."
    "REYA!"


    And things quickly degenerated from there ... This pattern is starting to become familiar.


    ~oOo~


    "So I guess using the system would mean gathering iron-clad proof of what they are doing and then suing them, right? But Emma's dad is a lawyer, this isn't going to be easy."
    "Don't worry too much about this, you're a better lawyer than he is."
    "When did I learn that?"
    "When you exalted, actually. That goes along with your ability to strike a good deal, run an organization, or invest smartly."
    Looking into your mind, you notice that you do know these things. Weird that you hadn't noticed before.
    "And you can also fabricate proofs, and manipulate them into doing incriminating things that you'd then catch on camera (and maybe also have some people witness)."
    "But that's ..."
    "No mercy for the little bitches. They already deserve anything you'll be willing to do to them. You're way too soft for your own good."


    That's your first time seeing that side of Zeph. Filing it for later consideration, you move on. "Crushing them myself would involve using my ability to control popular opinion to humiliate them or at least demote them, or the Master powers?"
    "Don't forget physical confrontation. A hands-on beat down can be deeply satisfying on a visceral level, and Sophia is a very physical person."
    "There's too much chance of me going to jail for something like that."
    "Oh please, as if those mortals could handle Solar evidence-suppression magic. They'll only catch you if you give them a sporting chance."
    That really doesn't make you feel better about it.
    "And don't forget that you can ruin their family and have them kicked out from their house, which could be a way to get them out of the school."
    "That would mean targeting innocents!"
    "Maybe, but at least Emma's dad covered for her. Note that this is just an option. An option that happens to be entirely legal too."
    This line is even worse at making you more comfortable about it.


    You decide to quickly change topic: "I've been trying to avoid them for a while now, it doesn't work well."
    "You were mortal. Now you can use your disguise skills to avoid them, investigative power to discover what they want to do ahead of time and preempt it, you can use mental influence to get them to leave you alone or at least reduce their motivation for hunting you down ... you have options."


    Options, yes. You used to be so powerless but now you have so many that you don't even know what you're going to do. You start debating it with Zeph (and the occasional "helpful" comment from Reya) when your dad final comes back home, at that point you think you are going to:

    (choose one):
    [ ] leave school
    [ ] keep going

    when (choose one):
    [ ] delay
    [ ] now


    More specifically
    leaving by (choose one):
    [ ] testing out
    [ ] following online courses
    [ ] pretending to stay
    [ ] dropping out
    - [ ] to wait for a year
    - [ ] to work

    while attending (choose one):
    [ ] crush them yourself
    [ ] crush them under the system
    [ ] take their place
    [ ] avoid them
    - [ ] by keeping a low profile
    - [ ] by going to a new school

    delaying by (choose any number):
    [ ] doing nothing
    [ ] bureaucratic interference
    [ ] hacking
    [ ] corruption
    [ ] mind control
    [ ] posing as dad
    [ ] making allies inside
    [ ] write-in


    You choose your favorite option, and the favorite way to use any of the three main options. You can vote for a sub-option even if you're not choosing that option, in case your favorite isn't the one selected in the end.
  17. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    Preferences


    Author note: Warning, if I say that "things get worse", it's because they are going to get worse. If I say that something was explicit it's because it was, although nothing I write about it is going to be really explicit, it is going to be less vague.
    You have been warned. I don't think that there's anything really bad in there, but better safe than sorry.


    "So, how about we go pick up some pretty boys tonight?"
    You try to answer Zeph but instead of raising any constructed argument you end up babbling and stumbling over your words while fighting a blush.
    "That's ... I couldn't ... I shouldn't ... "

    Finally, you manage to get out: "Why would I go out to pick up boys!"
    As a hero you have more important things to think about than boys! And if you are sneaking out tonight, it certainly won't be to flirt.
    "You can pick up girls if that's more your speed. That won't be a problem either."


    There is a moment of silence. You are confused, so you have to ask "Why would I pick up girls for?"
    "Orgasms, obviously," said as if she can't grasp what would cause any sort of confusing about that.
    It is a good thing you were not drinking anything because otherwise you are certain that you would have spit everything through your nose.
    She adds, "Even without that the company would be reason enough," but you don't even notice.
    "Whal# I youj~ the ... WHAT??"
    "Do you not know what an orgasm is? Clearly we need to fix that problem as soon as possible. We are going to find a place of socialization this evening."

    You open and close your mouth a few times, not daring to actually try to push your voice because you don't think that it would be any more successful than your last attempt.
    "I think she knows what they are, in theory."
    "Then what would be confusing her so?"
    "This, I don't ... not between girls!"

    Reya turns to you and nods, "I see, you are unaware of the process, let me explain."
    And then things get worse. She has apparently concluded that you were confused by the ... logistics and starts explaining in details what two (or more) girls could do together. With graphic details. And she's obviously egging you on at some points because there is no way someone could enjoy that sort of thing.
    Right?

    Finally Reya says "And then if you use objects the possibility increase by orders of magnitude! Especially with magitech or genesis cr-"
    "STOP!!!"
    That line finally managed to give you enough courage to end her lecture. You have absolutely no desire to hear what would have come next.
    "Just ... Silence."


    Reya does not appear to appreciate how you just ordered her around, and proceed to try to let her know the full extent of her displeasure. "Try" being the operative word because as soon as she opens her mouth Zeph snaps her fingers and no sound comes out. You had almost forgotten that she could do that.
    "Why didn't you stop her earlier?" you demand with the same sort of authority you just used to shut Reya up.
    "A better question would be "why would you want her to stop so much", Taylor. Care to answer that one?" she retorts.
    And there goes your confidence ...
    "It's just ... I'm heterosexual, OK?"

    They both look at you strangely. Then Zeph seems to be concentrating for a moment and suddenly a look of comprehension washes over her face. "Oh, that means that you like boys and not girls!"
    Reya calms down and gesture toward her throat, so Zeph waves her hand in her direction to let her recover her voice. "You mean she likes boys over girls, like one would like blonds over brunettes? They have a word for that?"
    "No, that means she is only attracted to boys and never to girls."
    Then Reya's eyes go wide and she turn toward you. Is that pity in her gaze?
    "Oh, you poor thing. Don't worry, together we'll be able to get you rid of this disability. Solar magic can fix anything."

    That's certainly not the reaction you were expecting. "This isn't a disability, this is normal!"

    "What are you talking about? Being unable to notice the attractiveness of half the population is obviously a disability. So many potential mates you won't have a chance with!"
    "I'm telling you this is normal!"
    "Hmmm, maybe it is caused by something contagious, and there was an epidemic that went unchecked? If so we should focus on improving your ability with medicine to heal all those poor people."
    "That's ... arrrg!" you just can't deal with her crazy.
    "I don't think that's it, Reya. I know of a few countries in Creation where same sex relationships were frowned upon. That was after your time of course, but that's a thing that can happen. When there is a strong societal pressure to consider those things abnormal many don't even consider the possibility that they could be attracted to another person of the same sex."
    Reya nods, signaling that she's listening carefully to what Zeph is saying. You're not sure you know how to deal with this.
    "In that case many develop a distaste of the idea of being intimately involved with someone of the same sex because of their distaste of becoming abnormal, and they then confuse this for a complete lack of physical attraction."
    "And by growing up in that sort of environment, their natural preferences are warped so much that they become true 'heterosexuals' once they reach maturity." Reya concludes the reasoning. "Truly, the one who engineered this dynamic was an evil being. We shall endeavor to undo his work."

    She turns to you: "Worm, you must go out and use the Taboo Inflicting Diatribe to make condemnation of non-heterosexual behavior become taboo! This will be your first step in making everyone realize that they are not meant to be 'heterosexual'."
    "I can't do that!" you exclaim.
    She calmly explains, "I know you are too weak to affect the entire planet at once for the time being, but you should be capable of inflicting this taboo on your country, or at least your state. If that turns out to be too difficult for your limited means we shall limit ourselves to Brockton Bay as a first step." Totally missing the point, of course.
    "I'm not saying I don't have the power to do it, I'm saying it's wrong. I can't go around turning everyone into bisexuals." You are not quite sure why you think you can make her understand that rewriting everyone's mind is wrong, it seems to be completely beyond her.
    "How could you deny your benevolent guidance to those who stumble through life unaware of the limitations this disability place on them? Do you have no sense of the duty of a Solar or compassion for their plight?"
    Yes, that's pretty much the reaction you were expecting.


    You decide to give up this debate as a bad job and turn to Zeph. "And you!" punctuating your accusation with a jab of your finger "Do not think I've forgotten that you haven't answered me yet. Why didn't you silence her rant sooner?"
    "Because watching you squirm is fun!" if glares could kill (and if holograms could die) ...
    She stops smirking and then adds, "More seriously though, it's because it really bothered you."
    "That would be a reason to stop it earlier, not let it go on."
    "If you really were simply not interested in girls, you would have simply been bored, possibly a little grossed out. You wouldn't have been left speechless like that."
    "I was surprised!" you defend yourself.
    "Is that really it? I don't think it'd have lasted this long if that was the only thing."
    You dig your heels in, "I am heterosexual. I am not attracted to girls."
    "Yes, probably." OK, you weren't expecting that.
    "But how much of that is due to simply thinking that anything else would be wrong? How much of that is simply from you never giving it a serious thought before?"
    "That ..."
    "Remember back when you thought boys had cooties? It didn't just take someone saying that they're interesting to make you realize what that meant. Why would girls be any different?"
    "It's not ..."
    "If you spent your entire life thinking girls were not for you, regardless of whether that's true or not you're not going to immediately accept it's wrong when someone tells you to think about it."


    "Honestly, I'm not saying that you aren't heterosexual. But you don't have enough perspective or experience to be absolutely certain of your preference. You need to give it more thought before being able to make such definitive statements." You have to admit she is starting to make sense to you. Just a little bit.
    "So you need to experiment. For SCIENCE!"

    Things quickly worsen from here.


    ~oOo~


    Yeah, things got worse.


    "Think of the benefits of pillow talk with a girl named Tattletale! The things you could learn. And if you make her scream hard enough, she'll be too out of it to be really on her guard, the perfect moment to ask questions. Or just bask in the moment before going again, she'd probably like this, she looks like one of my-"

    ...

    "And then we're going to need to find girls for Group C. I'm thinking of Sophia and Bitch for now."
    "WHAT? Are you insane?"
    "Hate and anger can be great aphrodisiacs! Maybe you will only enjoy hate-sex with girls. We need to cover all possibilities for the experiment to have validity."
    "The Dragon Coil Technique from the Fist of the Daystar Style is very effective when both of you are vying for the top spot."
    "Although you have to be careful not to do serious damage when you use it, and don't abuse it because being forced to the bottom can be nice too!"

    ...

    "But we're also going to have to improve your technique with boys, or the control groups wouldn't be doing their job. Yes, I think you're going to like the Reversed Haltan Hunter!"
    "There's also the Whitewall Apotheosis."
    "That's a classic, but difficult to do without Charms."

    ...

    "You might be tempted to speed things up when you get there, but I really advise against taking more than 3 partners at once."
    "If you do, I can help you organize proper orgies."

    ...

    "The problem is group E. Genuine romantic feelings are usually the best way to deepen the experience but it can be very difficult and usually takes a lot of time."
    "That won't be a problem once she learns Unhesitating Dedication. She'll be able to instantly fall madly in love."
    "That's a good point, and this Charm has enough merits on its own to be on her training list regardless of this Experiment."

    ...

    " 'I am going to do science to you' can be a good pick up line, but only with a very limited subset of the population. However when you find someone it works on, they're a keeper!"

    ...

    You really wish you knew how to shut them up.


    ~oOo~


    Thankfully you eventually manage to get them to focus back on your training and teaching you how to hold yourself better. At least Zeph does, Reya goes back to her corner.

    The problem came that night, when you were sleeping. The dream was exceptionally vivid and disturbing. And explicit.

    You dreamed of Reya and Zeph arguing, except that instead of standing their ground like usual they slowly advanced toward each other, and eventually Reya slapped the smaller woman. It quickly turned into a catfight from there, pulling at each other's hair and ears and clothes, leaving small scratches and tearing tissue apart. At some point, you couldn't tell when, the way they touched each other ... changed. There was still the occasional headbutt or knee to the liver, but hands strayed longer than necessary in some places and they usually tried to inflict pleasure rather than pain on each other, attempting to drive the enemy beyond their ability to control themselves.

    And eventually Reya was left standing panting and slightly bloodied over Zeph's still trembling body, she turned her gaze toward where you had stood there to watch during the entire thing. Your legs refused to obey you as she strode closer and closer, until she grabbed the front of your shirt and pulled you down to...
    *crash*
    And that's when you thankfully landed on the ground, thus waking up from this dream nightmare. It's all her fault for talking about those things, stupid sexy Reya. No wait, you meant stupid Reya, nothing more! You hurry to the shower and decide not to think about it. You'll have forgotten all about this stupid dream soon enough.
  18. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    Humor Side Story: Of the Limits of Solar Magic


    "So what about my power over bugs, can I enhance that? It's a human ability, right?"

    "Hmm, yes. You should be able to. The most obvious benefit you'd get from that sort of enhancement would be the ability to use Charms through them. The problem is that most of your Charms are Fist of the Daystar techniques."

    "How is this a problem? Super kung fu bugs sounds good to me."

    "That's because Fist of the Daystar Style is fundamentally a style of Man vs Monster, it can only be practiced by a human. Or at the very least a humanoid. If you channeled your martial arts Charms through them it wouldn't help them unless you turned them into humanoids first."

    "Damn. Anything else I can use?"

    "You can use Poetic Expression Style, they'd be able to make little dances that humans can understand. Since you can already speak through them in plain English (which works better) it's probably not worth the effort. But you could use the Charm that let them survive in an environment as if it were very hospitable. That would be useful."

    "Yeah, I could send them though fire for example."

    "There's that, but I was thinking about how that would let you keep any number of them in the same place without issue of food or anything else."

    "What do you mean, without any issue of food? Even if the environment isn't harming them, that won't help if there's no food in the room."

    "It will, because the Charm enables all survival actions, including looking for food."

    "What, you don't need to eat anymore with that active?"

    "No, you still need to eat, it's just that you always find your food."

    "But what if there isn't any!"

    A pause.

    "Oh, my poor Taylor. You don't get how Solar powers function. Let me try to use an example of you using that power. Let's say that you are relaxing in a nice and warm lake of lava in the middle of a volcano. OK?"

    "... ok?"

    "Now, you start getting hungry, so you look around. Of course since you are in the middle of a lake of lava, there isn't any food. Right? Just melted rock all the way to the circular basalt shore, without any corner for the food to hide in."

    "Right."

    "Therefore, the effect of the Charm is that you can find food, but the laws of the world disagree, that you can't get food from there."

    "Of course."

    "Well, when that sort of thing happen your Solar Charm kicks the laws of reality in the balls, and then when it's distracted it takes their lunch money. So an hour later, you are eating a deliciously ripe apple while the laws of physics and reality as a whole are crying in a corner."

    ...

    "... Didn't you say there was no corner?"

    "Silly Taylor! Didn't you listen to what I said? Solar Charms don't need a corner to send the laws of reality crying in a corner!"
  19. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    Confession


    "Hey dad, how was your day?" you call out as you close the drawer where you've expertly hidden the drawings.
    "As usual. It's been harsh, telling all those good people we simply don't have jobs for them," he answers while putting down his coat.

    "You didn't end up going to school." He simply states this, requiring no input from you, but giving you the opening to say something. Or maybe several somethings. You love how careful he is to respect your boundaries while doing his best to support you. Maybe you should show him one of those drawings? The one with both of you on the couch, probably.

    "Not precisely. But I did study from here." Your father reacts to that. This is not surprising, this is not something you've done before, or at least admitted to doing.
    "So you weren't feeling too bad?" He seems relieved to hear that your health is not actually worrying. You feel guilty when you realize you just let him believe that you were seriously sick, during the entire day. You don't even want to think about how it must have felt for him.
    "No, not at all, I'm all good." You hurry to reassure him, "I was just exhausted because I barely managed to get any sleep last night. I was ..." you trail of, not just what to say. "Well, I wasn't able to sleep for long." You finally decide to simply leave it at that.
    "I see." His response is short. Too short for you to really know what he is thinking.

    "I was thinking I could fix you some pasta, interested?" you hurry to change the subject.
    He puts some cheer in his answer: "Sounds good," and smiles at you. He's apparently OK with switching to something more neutral. Feeling bad about lying about your day, hiding the drawings, keeping your nature from him, and letting him worry, you set out to make the best meal you can for him.


    ~oOo~


    Tears are rolling down your dad's cheeks, but he doesn't seem to notice. He has a look of bliss on his face and seems to be lost in another world for a moment.
    "This ..." his voice becomes a mere whispers then dies down. He tries again. "Taylor, this is amazing!"
    His voice drops down to a conversational level and he adds "I didn't even know pasta could be this good!"

    You might just have overdone it. In your drive to cook the best possible pasta you possibly could for your dad, you might have surpassed mortal limitations. You hurry to eat as much of it as possible, and mess up the spice balance a little bit before he can get seconds. Hopefully he'll remember that second taste later, so this dish doesn't appear completely out of this world. You continue to hurry to eat as much as possible because your father is right, you didn't know pasta could be this good.

    Then, considering how this meal has put him in a good mood (and seems to have left him a little doped) you decide to confess.

    Not about your Exalted nature, of course, or even your costume life. But about your problems at school, and how you want to just never have to deal with those girls ever again. You don't tell everything, of course, you keep the worst out. And the names, if he knew Emma was involved ...
    But you decide to let him in, a little bit. Normally you wouldn't want to confirm his fears and make him worry even more, but now it is different, now he can do something to help.

    You mention how you have been distracted and busy since the Locker Incident. You're referring to the time you spent preparing to be a superhero, be it training, testing your power, or setting up your gear. You tell him that you were preparing for what you are about to do, which is true. You tell him you want to try testing out of high school, get your degree early. This is also true. You tell him that you have missed more than a couple days of school, that you have used this time to study the material required to pass the test, and that you think you've now learned enough to pass the test. This is also true even if it was all done in 5 minutes today.
    You tell him that you are fully confident in your ability to pass this test, and that you want his help to make the official request and cut ties with your high school, that you never want to set foot there again. This is not just true, it is also honest.


    He accepts to help you try this without much problem at all. You thank him, several times. You're not sure when exactly, but you've ended up hugging him while sitting on his knees. When you notice this you don't move, you just snuggle your face in his chest.

    The two of you stay like this for a while, without saying anything. There is no need for words.


    ~oOo~


    Later that evening, while you are preparing to head out you remember something you noticed earlier. Once more safely in the basement you flare your anima to summon your holographic guides.
    "I just want to question you about some details I didn't notice before. This essence pool you told me about? It had been reduced quite some after we finished training. Does training consume essence? Or did it has something to do with you two? You mentioned something before about manipulating essence in my anima in order to make yourselves appear."
    "Training doesn't really consume essence, at least not the way we've been going at it." Zeph shakes her head.
    "As for the other question, you manipulate essence through the anima without actually spending it, so you can't make one of us appear without any energy in your pools, but it doesn't actually consume energy to do it. Except if you make the both of us appear at once, in which case you spend a single mote to create the second light construct."
    "In that case where did my energy go? Was it Reya using it up to do this thing with the drawings?"
    Zeph simply nods. "I think so. Remember when she said she had accomplished a miracle?"
    You try to remember what she said, but you don't see anything like that, "No, as a matter of fact, I don't."

    "Oh, sorry, I had forgotten you wouldn't use the same definition as us. Simply put a miracle is any accomplishment that broke the established rules of reality."
    With that additional information you easily make the connection: "You're talking about her rant on laughing at the rules of reality and not recognizing their authority over her." This isn't a question.
    Zeph doesn't bother to confirm, clearly picking up from your tone that it is not necessary. "And the important point is that you can't simply wish for a miracle to happen. Accomplishing a miracle takes essence. And since she no longer has her own essence, she had to nab your own. Somehow. I gotta admit I really don't know how she did this. I don't even get how she used it to achieve that result."

    "You seem really sure that it shouldn't be possible."
    Zeph hesitates for a moment, then starts explaining, "Your soul simply does not have the required density to give us physical forms. She can't have materialized or directly used her body to do those drawings. She'd have to have performed a direct and focused type of magic, aimed at creating those drawings."
    "And what would be the problem with that theory?"
    "Channeling magic to obtain a specific effect takes a specific soul structure. Or sorcery, but believe me we'd have noticed sorcery being cast in the same area. The thing is that not only she doesn't have those soul structures, she can't have them in the first place, as she doesn't really even have a soul. We both reside in a particular section of yours. So maybe she could have commandeered the required pieces inside yours, except you don't have those yet!"
    "So you really don't know."
    "Yeah, I'm stumped. And don't even get me started on how she shouldn't be capable of using essence directly from your pool. Maybe if you funnel it directly to her, but certainly not without you knowing."

    "Couldn't she simply have possessed me while I was meditating?" You finally decide to ask her, voicing your fear of no longer being fully in control of your body.
    "First the way we're set up is very specifically designed to prevent that sort of thing from happening. A bit too well designed, given how you can't learn new magic without our help because of how closed the channels are between you and your memory storage system."
    "Secondly, drawing all those took her hours. You weren't out remotely that long. She clearly spent most of her time sulking in front of the desk actually drawing."
    "Finally, I'm here to watch out for that sort of stuff. So no, she didn't do that via possession."

    You are left pondering this while you prepare to leave your house to:

    [ ] meet the Undersiders
    [ ] research the Undersiders (and Lung)
    [ ] be the hero
    [ ] pick up boys
    - [ ] and girls, let's experiment
    [ ] write-in
  20. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    A night on the town, part 1

    [X] research the Undersiders (and Lung)
    [X] meet the Undersiders
    - [X] create the account on the parahuman forums that we said we would
    -- [X] Await contact from Tattletale while researching. If she does contact you, accept/offer to meet one on one later for dinner or the next day, depending on how late it is already.
    [X] pick up boys
    - [X] and girls, let's experiment
    --[X] Dress nice to the meeting, hold yourself in an enticing manner, with Zeph's help. Flip through Reya's sketches again and (after doubletaking at the one where she's kissing you), choose the most flattering one as a token for her and as a demonstration of the kinds of things you can puzzle out, given that it already shows her features.


    You stand in your room, looking at different possible outfits for tonight. You would normally just use your costume, but you plan to head to a net café in order to do some research. The main goal is to meet the Undersiders, which you can only do through a parahuman.net account that you had promised to open today, so you have to start in civilian clothes.

    But that doesn't mean you have to go as Taylor Hebert. You decide against using your Changer power, you might end up meeting your new friends like this and you don't want to start that sort of relationship with a face that's a complete lie. But that doesn't mean you cannot make use of your newfound talent for disguises!
    In that spirit you died yourself blond (you really need to get yourself a few wigs) so well that you'd swear it is your natural color if you didn't know any better. You also used some make-up to alter the apparent shape of your face and tone of skin and you're going to add some more volume under your sleeves and pants to make your limbs look fuller than they are.
    That leaves the cloth selection.


    As you are grabbing something to try, Zeph interjects:
    "No, that one won't work, not enough room for the Black Widows."
    ...
    Which black widows is she talking about?
    "Which black widows are you talking about?"
    "The ones you are going to carry under your clothes, of course."
    ...
    Again, with the not making sense. You're used to that from Reya, but you had pegged Zeph as the reasonable one. Most of the time.

    "And why would I be carrying black widows in my clothes?"
    "Because you're not stupid enough to go meet parahumans with unknown objectives without a weapon after your last encounter with a cape ended?"
    Ouch, that stung.
    "Because having this neat parahuman power is useless if you don't have useful bugs to use close enough to matter, and carrying your own supply is the only way to ensure that?"
    "There are bugs all over the city!"
    "There are places with less of them, and more importantly without much of use or immediately useful."
    You decide to change tack, "And why black widows, anyway?"
    "Because if you're going to carry a weapon, it should be the best one you can get. You also should carry wasps, but I didn't mention those since they'd fit in those clothes."

    Thinking it over (and after discussing it a bit longer) you finally agree with Zeph's point. Although you are not going to instruct your wasp to attack anyone that hits you ahead of time, no matter how much Zeph rants about action economy (a rant thankfully interrupted by Reya silencing her). That's a recipe for disaster when going to meet new peoples on friendly term. You're certainly not going to risk it before considerably more experimentation with this idea.


    ~oOo~


    You are giving your dress an appraising look when Reya's silencing finally wears off. Zeph immediately goes back to discussing security issues:
    "You should wear your costume below that. It takes a bit of time to get inside it so you'd better have it ready in case you need to change fast, but more importantly you should never go anywhere without some bullet-proof clothing. You don't want one of Lung's goons gunning you down out of revenge."
    "They don't even know what I look like. And I won't look like myself anyway."
    "And what if they have a Thinker that can see through that? Or some Tinker-tech detector for the sort of wave you use to communicate with your bugs? I agree that your anonymity is a great defense, but you shouldn't rely entirely on it." She declaims with the absolute certitude of the one who is sharing a Great Truth.
    This is going nowhere fast, you start feeling like asking Reya to shut Zeph back down "Look, my costume is one piece except for the mask. I can't wear it under civilian clothes, so the point is moot."
    She quickly contradicts you, "Of course you can, just wear fashionable gloves! Add long sleeves and some nice pants, and you're good to go."

    You give it a serious thought, but looking over your things, you don't have good gloves and you would need a collar that hides the costume too, which would reduce your selection of tops to things that are just not giving the right vibe for what you want to do. Finally you have to scrap the idea altogether; or maybe file it for later use.
    "No, I can't make that work. Don't bother pressing on the subject, this matter is now officially closed."
    The looks Zeph gives you makes you feel like you've just kicked a puppy.


    "So ... how about small flies?" she asks with a hopeful tone. You think you know where she wants to go with that.
    "You want me to grab some small flies to carry with me, so that I can use them to spy on stuff. Or at least get an idea of the shape of the area and mark the people in my area."
    "Right! It'd be good to have a map of the position of every person, that way no one can sneak up on you, or sneak away. You should also mark the Undersiders to follow them back home and discover their civilian identity."
    And here you thought she'd have a reasonable idea for you. "What?! No!!! You don't mess with a cape's civilian life, everyone knows that. That's a rule or something." you look at her to make sure she has understood that important fact.
    "I'm not suggesting you do that!" She hurries up to deny the accusation. "The idea was that observing them when they aren't masked and doing anti-hero (or villain) things might be a good way to get to know who they really are inside. That it's the sort of thing you might want to know to help you decide if you want to make those people your friends. If you can trust them. If they are the sort of person you want to form a Circle with."

    Oh, OK. That's better. Still, that'd be a serious breach of privacy. You'll keep the option in mind but you'd rather not have to resort to that sort of thing.


    ~oOo~


    As you head inside the net café you remove the hat and wide coat you were hiding behind. Your efforts to pick an appearance that would make you more appealing were a bit too successful (you look better than an Hollywood actress!) and you had to hide yourself a bit to avoid attracting too much attention.
    You quickly find an unused computer in one corner before any of the patrons look up from their monitor and see you. Then you immediately open an account.

    Firefly is taken. Irritating.

    You quickly settle on Sunset_Firefly and open up your account. You considered Twilight_Firefly for a moment but you don't want to put any information about your Exaltation out there, no matter how unlikely it is to attract any attention. The baby fruit flies (barely a millimeter long) placed on the head of the people inside the café tell you that several of those directly behind you are craning their neck to stare at you.
    This is grossing you out.
    Maybe you shouldn't have padded your bra, but your flat chest really didn't go with your assumed figure. Trying your best to ignore them, you focus on the screen in front of you. First you search for information on the Undersiders, since you are going to meet them soon this is actually urgent, unlike the ABB situation. Since you have the feeling that Tattletale is probably the leader of the group (although it might also be Grue), you start with her. The result is quite disappointing, the page only has two sentence, and the first one is "This article is a stub. Be a hero and help us expand it." The problem is that the second is "Alleged villain active in the area of Brockton Bay".

    Well, crap. This is less than ideal. Although, staying positive, it only says alleged villain. She might just be a misunderstood anti-heroic vigilante type.
    Yes, and maybe Emma will one day appear at your door to sincerely apologize about what she did to you.
    No, you can't be thinking like that, both options are still open. So the only thing you learned is from the one blurry picture of her: the exact tone of her costume is lavender. It goes well with her hair.

    Moving on to Grue, what you find is more interesting. Nothing definitive or detailed, but actual information this time. He has apparently been active for just under 3 years, doing things like robbing stores and working as hired muscles for various criminals.
    OK, this is now official, you are trying to become ... friends with criminals. Super criminals at that. You can't help but ask aloud "What is wrong with me?".
    *If I have to do the list of everything that is wrong with you, worm, we are not going to get anything done tonight, you are going to need to be more specific.*
    Urrg. You do not need this. Not right now. You clench your fists beneath the desk and clench your teeth to avoid saying anything. Thanks to your good friend Emma you now have a lot of practice not answering bitchy comments.
    After a pause she tries again, this time sounding a bit different. Is that ... concern mixed with the haughty tone of She Who Rules All That She Surveys. *You really need to give me more details before I can help you. Are you reacting to what you learned in that article?*

    You're not sure if you want to have a conversation with her, if it can even be called a conversation given that you can't talk back, but you're sure that you don't want to stew in your own doubts and self-recriminations. Loneliness sucks, so you guess you'll take Reya's abuse over the silence of your own mind.
    You nod.

    *Is this about the confirmation of your fear that he may be what you call a villain?*
    Another slight nod, careful not to look like you are answering to an hallucinated voice.
    *In that case let me tell you that you are doing nothing wrong. Joining with them would not be evil at all.*
    You perk up a little.
    *Why, what are those crimes they are accused of? Not obeying the authority in charge of this country, and nothing more. And what legitimacy does this authority have? They are only a band of misguided mortals who manipulated some even more misguided mortals into 'electing' them.*
    You don't like where this is going.
    *This "democracy" idea is one of the most ridiculous and hilarious peculiarities of this land of yours. It is treated as the highest form of legitimacy when it doesn't have a shred of the Mandate of Heaven. For authority to have any sort of real legitimacy –the sort that can be physically observed and empirically proven, not just debated over by philosophers– it needs to flow down from the God of Authority, the highest of authorities of the Heavenly Hierarchy, the Highest of Holies. Also known as the Unconquered Sun. Well, Him or the Principle of Hierarchy Herself, but she swore absolute and eternal obedience to Him so that's the same thing in the end. And his mandate is very clear, the authority to rule the world belongs to Solars and no one else.*
    Yes, you knew this was going to end up there.
    *Therefore, as the only Solar on this gods-forsaken world, you are the only legitimate authority there is. And any so-called hero that would stand in the way of your inevitable total world domination would actually be a villain fighting against Order, Justice, and the law. Law of the Heavenly Hierarchy, of course, which is the one that supersedes all other. In conclusion by joining them you are turning a band of rogues acting in their own self interest into a force for Order.*
    You slam your head into the keyboard. Why did you even bother?


    You go back to your research, not noticing at all how the slump in your shoulders has disappeared or how you do not linger on gloomy thoughts anymore. And you obviously do not notice Reya's satisfied smirk given that she does not currently have a body to smirk with. You are too busy wasting time chasing leads over parahumans.net.
    After a few minutes of finding absolutely nothing of interest on Regent or Bitch (or even Tattletale), you don't even hesitate when Reya offers to give you pointers.



    ~oOo~


    After some more research you have learned that Grue can generate darkness, and that Regent is very low profile. 31 IP addresses have looked for the name "Regent" on parahuman online this year, and that's all the information available. If he's deliberately keeping a low profile it'd make sense for him to check what is being said about him on parahuman.net, meaning that at least one of those is probably from the man himself. In fact multiple of those probably are from him so there's no telling how many people have heard enough about a 'Regent' to search for him.

    Most of what you found is on Bitch, or Hellhound as she's officially called. She's apparently notorious, even has a fan site. She triggered when she was 14 and destroyed her foster home in the process. You remember how little control you had over your own power at first, and giant monster dogs are certainly more willful than bugs, so you wonder if that was even deliberate on her part. In fact looking at the information available, there isn't much trace of crime beyond her attempts to avoid capture. Successful attempts, you might add, when she does not outright beat her opponents down, she manage to run away just fine.

    Indeed, those dogs can move very fast and are much more maneuverable than a car, so that does not surprise you. She did some serious damage when she fought, but it seems that she doesn't go much out of her way to look for trouble, and doesn't appear to have planned anything more malicious than shop-lifting food. Which is understandable given that she's been homeless until a year ago.


    You didn't find much of real use, but you're starting to get what Reya is explaining to you about how you should do things. It feels a lot like the power you had to learn before you could wrap your head around your disguise skill, the power you used to intuit how to make this disguise you are wearing or hide the drawings from your dad.

    As Reya continues correcting the weirdest things like your stance or breathing, she also asks for things that makes more sense like organizing your train of thought (balancing instinctual leaps and deductions), or grouping ideas and leads ; although you have no idea why you should try to make each group have 5 things in or why your suggestion to do things by threes was dismissed as "a Lunar thing".

    You start on looking at Lung's page, and you learn two important piece of information. One, Armsmaster is credited for catching Lung, who is now under arrest and awaiting trial where he will most likely be sent to the Birdcage. Two, he apparently has obtained a second super-powered lieutenant. On top of his pet teleporter Oni Lee, he now has a Tinker called Bakuda, who took a university hostage by threatening to use bombs.

    You are about to start looking through the forums for more information about Lung, and more importantly this Bakuda girl you hadn't heard of before, when you receive a private message:
    "Owe you one. Would like to repay the favor. Meet?
    Tt."


    You are going to :
    [ ] go meet the Undersiders
    [ ] go meet the Undersiders
    [ ] go meet the Undersiders

    (this is the end of part 1 of the update, the above is not an actual choice you need to vote for ... or is it ?)
  21. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    A night on the town, part 2

    [x] go meet the Undersiders


    You are now standing on the roof where you fought Lung yesterday. Was it really just one day ago? Your life has changed so much that you can hardly believe that. You are now a nigh-immortal titan-slaying superweapon who has to hide her nature on pain of attracting the attention of something nasty enough to just crush the entire planet in its grasp. You no longer have to go to school and deal with the three hags that made your life hell. You are no longer a useless and ugly duckling, but you have powers that could make Eidolon envious and a physique (and metabolism) that could make a top model envious. You also have two crazy persons living in your head and talking in your ears.

    The exchange that lead you here was rather terse: you answered her private message with "Want to meet too. When and where?" then Tt responded with "G R and me will meet you at the same spot we crossed paths last night in 20. Don’t have to get gussied up if you catch my drift. Rest of us will be in casual wear."
    So here you are, in casual wear. Meaning no costume but still disguising your real appearance. You got yourself some cheap brown wig and lifted some demo glasses with non-prescription lenses. Add to that your slumped and nervous posture, and you are almost unrecognizable as the beautiful blond you were earlier. Instead you look like a shy and bland young woman, which is much more casual than the disguise you're wearing below your hat and wide coat.


    The twenty minutes were barely enough for you to get there, so you hardly have to wait before they arrive. Your bugs let you sense them coming down the street a block away, two boys and a girl, just like they had announced. You jump to the building on the other side of the street and discreetly take a peek from above. It's them alright. The blond girl and the boy with Regent's curly mop of black hair are easy enough to identify, the last one not so much given how little Grue's costume give away about him (but he is just the right size).

    Tattletale looks surprisingly different without her costume, you're not sure you'd have recognized her without Reya's drawings. You wouldn't have expected her costume to be that effective, what with the small mask and the hair being freely exposed. But her dirty blond hair are pulled back in a tight braid instead of floating in the wind, and that does change things considerably, not to mention Reya's point about the subtle differences caused by her mask. Which did hide freckles, on the bridge of her nose, as she had guessed. The one real surprise is that her eyes are not blue but rather bottle-glass green.
    You have to admire the audacity and artistry of the disguise, as a fellow expert. Set up to look like it is meant to enhance her features and doll her up rather than hide and mask them, but some of the parts that seem the most exposed are actually being passed as something else.
    You have a couple drawings of her that look just like her real self. You're pretty sure you could blow her mind with them.

    Then comes Regent. He is wearing a white jacket with a hood, jeans and sneakers, and has a bottle of cola in hand. Reya really nailed the slightly bored expression on his pretty but not handsome triangular face, overall. How did she even guess his face had that shape? It's on all her drawings of him. But his nose isn't as sharp as what she had expected, and she hadn't seen the full lips either.
    The sketches aren't perfect, but they'd be enough to recognize him by.

    Finally there is Grue. Now that one you wouldn't have recognized without the others. Mostly because of the dark chocolate skin and shoulder length cornrows. He wore jeans, boots and a plain green t-shirt, which strikes you as a bit cold for a spring night. Taller than you by at least a foot, Grue has that masculine lantern jaw you typically associated with guy superheroes, and you can't help but note that he has considerable muscle definition in his arms. This is a guy who works out.

    Yes, definitely an athlete's build.

    OK, enough ogling, time to move back to the roof where you were supposed to wait for them.


    ~oOo~


    Deciding not to waste time, you drop from the roof on the fire escape and then from there to the ground, landing in front of them. "Hey." is all you manage to squeeze out of your throat, and the tone is all flat. Well, maybe not the best opening.
    And the sudden "dropping from the sky" bit might not fit the shy demeanor you are affecting until you get somewhere private.

    They all look at you with wide eyes, apparently very surprised. They can't be that shocked by your little stunt, right? They've seen you do this sort of acrobatics before. You don't dare speak up, so it takes a few awkward seconds before someone breaks the silence. It's Regent.
    "I won?" You're not sure if he's asking the question or if he's stating it with a disbelieving tone.
    "Yes, I won." With a small fist pump he turns toward Tattletale and says with a triumphing tone "I won, pay up!"

    "Wait, you bet about me showing up?"
    Tattletale hands over some bills to Regent without looking at him. Her gaze is on you, halfway between surprise and the focus of someone trying to figure something out. "No, we bet on whether you'd come in costume or not."
    "And I won." Regent crowed, more at Tattletale than you.

    Grue seems a bit confused. "But Tattletale never loses a bet."
    "Yeah, she cheats." Regent adds with a smile.
    Grue continue as if he hadn't heard, "And it isn't even as if she was betting on the long shot, coming in costume just makes too much sense. It's what I'd do. It's a sucker's bet, or at least it was supposed to be."
    That line of thinking is making you uncomfortable, since you are wearing two costumes on top of each other ... "Well ..."

    Tattletale cuts you off, "She is!" a look of dawning comprehension on her face. She turns toward her friends and explains, "In costume, I mean."
    Grue turns toward you, an eyebrow rising. You answer his unstated question, "Well yeah, I'm wearing a costume. I wasn't just going to show my real face in public to strangers."
    You quickly add, "Not that I'm saying you're untrustworthy, but I don't know yet if you have my best interests at heart, not to mention that we're not exactly in private here."

    Grue simply nods. "OK, that makes sense."
    Behind, Regent seems reluctant to relinquish his hard earned money. Tattletale then tells him, "You know what? When we made that bet about her coming in a costume we were both thinking of the one from yesterday, mask and everything. I really hadn't noticed she'd have the skills to do something like this." Not surprising, given that you didn't have those skill at that time. "You can keep the money, you won that bet."

    Regent smiles and holds his hand to you, "Thanks for making Tattle lose. I'm Alec."


    Just like that? He comes out and reveal both his real face and real name without a care? You didn't expect a villain to be that ... trusting. Then Grue is the next one to shake you hand, simply saying "Hey, I'm Brian."
    Then Tattletale concludes the introductions with just one word, "Lisa". She doesn't shake your hand, but you don't get the feeling she's brushing you off or anything like that. She's just less spontaneously genial than Brian.

    "You can call me Firefly, I guess. At least, until I decide this isn’t an elaborate trick."
    Brian simply shrugs "Cool." He doesn't seem offended at all.
    "And Bitch is Rachel," Alecs concludes for their missing member. You already knew that and that particular information is just one wiki search away, but it's nice to see they want you to know the entire team.
    “Rachel is sitting this one out,” Brian says, “She didn’t agree with the aim of our meeting, here.”
    “Which raises the question,” you cut in, “What is the aim of this meeting? I’m a little weirded out with you guys revealing your secret identities like this, or at least, pretending to.”

    “Sorry,” Brian apologized, “That was my idea. I thought we would make a token show of trust.”
    A show of trust is needed when one wants to gain someone else's, so you ask the obvious question, “Why, exactly, do you need my trust?”
    Brian opened his mouth, then closed it. He looked to Lisa, who bends down and picks up a plastic lunchbox. She holds it out to you. “I said we owed you. All yours, no strings attached.”
    Without taking the box, you tilt your head to get a better look at the front, “Alexandria.” She was your favorite member of the Protectorate when you were a kid. “Is the lunchbox collectable?” you joke before taking it.

    From the weight and the motion of the contents inside it, you immediately get a pretty good idea of what it is. Lisa prompts, with a roll of her eyes and you undo the clasps, opening the box.
    “Money,” you note, caught off guard not by the gesture itself but the sheer amount you now have in your hands. Twenty four stacks of bills, tied with paper bands. Each of the paper bands had a number written on it in permanent marker. Five hundred each, so twelve thousand total.

    Lisa answers right as you figure this out, “Twelve grand.”
    You look straight at her as you immediately answer "So what is it that you are buying here?"


    You seem to have caught her off guard, and she appears uncomfortable. "We're not buying anything." She defends herself. "As I said, no strings attached."
    You just look at her. She fidgets a little bit. You straighten your back and let your new attitude reassert itself, you don your crafted cloak of confidence and try to drill your accusation into her skull with your gaze alone. You are not the least bit buying this pretense and you make that fact as clear to her as possible without moving or talking.

    It seems to be clear enough, she breaks.
    "OK, OK. But we're really not buying anything other than your goodwill, make sure you don't see us as enemies. Between territory disputes, differences in ideology, general power struggles and egos, there’s a rare few people in the local villain community who won’t attack us on sight. We really don't need another powerful enemy we need to dance around."

    After a second of complete silence she continues "This is a demonstration. We're showing our gratitude for, intentionally or not, saving our ass from Lung last night. At the same time it's a demonstration of what you could have if you join us, if you became an Undersider."


    This is pretty much what you had guessed from your first encounter, nothing surprising. You're a powerful new cape with no link to the underworld, you have a dark and ominous costume design (you really didn't mean for it to come out like that, but bug themes don't do heroic really well) and you didn't have any negative reaction to the notorious villain Hellhound. So there was a really good chance you'd be interested by that sort of proposition and they'd rather have the Lung-slayer in their team rather than working against them, makes sense.

    Lisa's vulpine smile is creeping back on her face as you nod. "OK, I see." If she is surprised by you simply accepting that, she doesn't show it. A quick look at the others show you that Alec seems bored while Brian is staring right at you, dead serious.


    Deciding to play on your new strength, you put Reya's lesson from yesterday to use and ask Brian directly: "So, you think I should join your team?"
    "Yes, I do. I think it'd be best both for you and for us." And when he says that, you draw on your superhuman sagacity to read his intent behind that sentence.
    He wants you in the team to make the jobs safer and more lucrative.

    Fair enough.
    You turn toward Alec and repeat the process, "And what about you, Alec?"
    He simply shrugs "I think you should do whatever you want to. I voted to let you in because I didn't mind giving you the choice. I don't care much one way or the other."
    Irritating.

    Zeph warned you that it doesn't give you the overall intent of someone, only the one specifically tied to a statement. So if Alec doesn't expect to gain anything from this, your Charm won't pick up anything. Even if he does want you to join for one reason or the other the fact that he didn't say this in the hope of increasing the chance you'd join means you can't use it as leverage to read it.
    You elect not to waste your motes (you can only spend so much before glowing) and turn to Lisa.

    "So that leaves you. You really think I should join your group?"
    "Yes."
    The answer is simple and her body language gives you nothing. This response is carefully chosen to avoid letting any information slip. But that doesn't matter, your Solar magic doesn't stop working just because it is trying to do the impossible. You read her intent without any more effort than Brian's.
    She wants to provide you with friends and a reason to live in order to prevent you from self-destructing.

    Wait, what?


    You are so surprised by what you've learned, something that is without the slightest doubt absolutely correct and her purest and truest motivation, that you don't even remember how you reacted. Next thing you know you are standing right outside their loft.


    to be continued
  22. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    Side Story (Guidance): Masks behind masks


    About to meet with the Undersiders, you go over Zeph's advice for concealing your powers one more time. It's not that you intend to just blindly do what she said, you have your own ideas, but she had some very good points and you wouldn't want to forget one.

    "The first thing you should work on is to have layers. At the base you want the explanation that gives you the widest possible skill array. And at the top the narrowest one you can get away with. Each explanation is a narrower version of the layer below. That way you don't have to say more than you are comfortable while still having the option of using more if the situation demands it."

    "That sounds needlessly complicated."

    "Let's take an example. You could have your top layer be your actual parahuman power, bug control. You aren't uncomfortable sharing that publicly, no matter who learns about it you're fine."
    You nod, waiting to see where she is going with this.
    "But actually, you can affect every animal! The thing is that mindless bugs can be sacrificed without care while risking the life of more intelligent creature would be cruel, and the smartest the creature the harder for you to control. Basically you are only revealing Friendship With Animals Approach. You'd rather not people learn of a Solar Charm or how you can spy on them with birds and such, but you can't hide everything and that much is still firmly within what a parahuman could do."
    "I get the idea, but why do that?"

    Zeph smiled, apparently expecting this question. "Because the first time you decide to use it against someone, you'll blindside them completely. And they might not get the chance to tell everybody about it, so you could do it to someone else later, too. More importantly are the other layers below. Because your Master power actually extends beyond animals, it's just that it is so much weaker on human that they often don't even notice it. So only your team knows you can do this, and they can use it in their tactics, but it is subtle enough that your opposition won't catch on to what you are doing."
    "I think I can see where this is going."
    "And only your close friends know that your Master power is only half of the equation, because while you can impose a pattern of behavior on others, you can also read them, making you a Thinker. No need to advertise or anything, but they know to trust your decisions."
    "OK, and that is the base layer."
    "No! The base layer is to be kept secret, only reveal it in case of emergency. In this case you wouldn't be limited to reading people and having limited control due to pattern imposition, you are actually a Trump, with a multitude of powers related to patterns."
    "I think I get it."

    "By selecting the right people to reveal a given mask, you can control information distribution and still make use of most of your abilities. You get to keep a tight lid on the extent of your capabilities but at the same time you don't actually limit yourself too badly."
    "The trick is not just to prepare a set of levels ahead of time, but to choose carefully what to reveal to whom and when, right?"
    "Exactly. Note that just preparing a set of mask is already very useful. If you just decide to say that you are a Tinker but need to use a non-Tinker power in a pinch, you might have a problem selling whatever cover story you think of later. But if you already know how you are going to justify yourself ahead of time and which powers are easy to explain and which ones aren't, it makes things much easier in those situation where you could really do without the added complication."
    "So even if it looks like it is complicating things, it's about simplifying them when they most need to be simple."
    She simply nodded.


    "So, given the number of parahuman on Earth, or more specifically the frequency of Trigger Events, there is a low but reasonable probability of someone undergoing two of them, simply according to statistics. It might actually have already happened to someone else, and if so, great, you won't attract as much attention as the second of a kind. And if not no one will have any experience with the phenomenon and the current understanding of the mechanic means that no one can tell that it wouldn't or shouldn't happen."
    "Which is why you suggested that I pretend I had two completely unrelated Trigger Events, it'd give me the justification to claim I have two entirely unrelated sets of powers. So I'd be able to do more different things than any other cape -save Eidolon- without breaking any rule."
    Zeph had a broad smile as you tried to get ahead of her, she was clearly happy to see you come to those conclusions on your own. "Yes, go on."
    "You think that'd be worth the attention, because between bugs, glowing, super karate, social mastery, and super mental powers, there's just not enough in common to comfortably fit all of them in a single package. At least nothing that'd be easy enough to handle to allow for the multiple masks trick."
    "Exactly!"

    "So what do you suggest for the two powers?"
    "First, the bugs. You just can't hide you can do this. But we don't have to work down from there, we can work our way up. Find a generalist power that just happens to include bug control among other things."
    "Like the pattern Trump from earlier."
    "Exactly. But there are other options. For example something else that you should consider would be to pretend to be a trump with a power centered around one of the main Solar thematic, that would allow maximum compatibility. And a Solar thematic that could (and does) include bug control is "authority". So you could fit that power inside an Authority Trump. That would mostly be a source of Master designation sub-abilities, but it could include pseudo-precog to justify incredible management skills with your Bureaucracy Charms, and the various skills that empowers you when you are leading others or that empowers your minions."
    "I don't remember that many powers that could fit in there other than my ability to control others."
    "Yeah, there's a reason I went with "patterns" despite how it is less compatible with Solar themes. If you had War Charms, that'd be another story, of course. But the basic of the idea is sound, so I want you to think about what you can do with that."

    "OK, that's one power. The other would of course have to explain why I glow, and also include Fist of the Daystar and my natural jumping prowess, my better health and ... I'm not really seeing much else."
    "That's about it for now, there's the Survival Charm to ignore hostile environments, and the jumping Charms you are going to learn eventually. Later on you may develop sorcery and that ... that's another can of worms entirely. It can do pretty much whatever. But that's not for the near future, so we don't have to worry too much about it." She took a few seconds to recover her train of thought.
    "A rather good thing about it is that for now that'd be a simple low Brute and Mover rating with a mid-Striker rating. Overall a power set that won't raise too many eyebrows. You'll eventually become a better martial artist so your ratings will increase, but won't suddenly change the type of things you can do."
    "I see. But parahumans don't suddenly become significantly more powerful."
    "Haha! But what if it was all a single power all along, a particularly complex power that require a significant amount of training to use? Something like zero-ranged energy control. Learning to negate energy would have been relatively easy to learn, but creating or redirecting it more effectively? Tougher to do, and requires a finer touch."


    You had taken a moment to think about all this when you had an idea. "Why not say I am a Tinker? There's pretty much no limit to what I can do with that. I know that I have to be careful not to let my fake tinker-tech be examined, but I think there's something to do here."
    "Haha! And that's where Aunt Zeph's second trick comes into play. You need secondary cape identities. You could do this easily with a disguise Charm, and then you could pretend to be a thinker that has mastery over computers and work all over the globe via various networks, and a Tinker that makes stuff for your main cape-persona, and also a thinker with predictive and analytic capabilities that sell his services to various private interests for vast amounts of money."
    "Oh, I see. So I could be a Tinker on top of everything I do with my two power sets, I'd just have to pretend to be someone else when I make the stuff, and then when I use it say that it has been made by someone else. Smart"
    "Thanks! Note that you can also use that to become a hero, although you'll want to pretend to be an adult so that you have the freedom of a member of the Protectorate, and not be treated like a kid in the Wards."


    And those are essentially the advice you remember. Hopefully, it'll be enough.
  23. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    A night on the Town, part 3

    [x] go meet the Undersiders


    What brings you back to your senses isn't the fact that you've arrived at your destination, it's the one-armed squeeze of a hug Lisa gives you. Or more accurately it is your reaction to it. It felt really nice, like you had needed a hug from someone who wasn't your dad for a long time, but only realize this now.
    Coming out of your fugue, you look at the building again, this time actually committing what you see to your memory.


    You are standing in front of a red brick factory with a massive sliding metal door locked shut by a coil of chain. Both the chain and door had rusted so much that you expect that neither offers any use. The size of the door and the broadness of the driveway makes you think that large trucks or small boats would have been backed up through the entryway back in the factory’s heyday. The building itself is large, stretching nearly half the block, two or three stories tall. The background of the sign at the top of the building has faded from red to a pale orange-pink, but you can make out the bold white letters that reads ‘Redmond Welding’.

    Your little group enters through a small door on the side of the building, rather than the big rusted one. The interior is dark, lit only by rows of dusty windows near the ceiling. You can make out what had been massive machines and treadmills prior to being stripped to their bare bones. Sheets cover most of the empty and rusted husks. The many cobwebs are yet another clue that this place hasn't been used in a long time.

    You follow Brian up a spiraling metal staircase and reach the second floor. After the desolation of the floor below, this one is shock. It was a loft, and the contrast was startling. The exterior walls are red brick, and there is no ceiling beyond a roof and a skeleton of metal girders overhead to support it. In terms of general area, the loft seems to have three sections, though it's hard to define because it has such an open layout.


    You're standing in the space you'd term the living room, even though it has more space than the ground floor of your house does. Two couches set at right angles from one another divide it, both facing the same coffee table (high quality wood, high quality craftsmanship, designed to take abuse and require little maintenance without looking rugged) and one of the largest TV sets you've ever seen, framed by speakers larger than your entire TV. Below the TV are half a dozen different game consoles, a DVD player and a couple more machines you don't even recognize.
    No, wait. One is a TiVo and the other let them watch cable TV. You've never seen either of those but you can still recognize them just fine ... maybe it's that thing Reya did to make you learn things. It goes well beyond the material needed to graduate.

    Behind the couches are tables (of varying quality, none of them as good as the coffee table) and some open space with rugs and shelves set against the walls. Those shelves are half filled with books and magazines, and half filled with various odds and ends ranging from discarded shoes to candles. Weird.
    You step in closer and wonder what those things could mean. And as you do that you hear a familiar voice in your ear.
    *Yes, those will do nicely. I want you to focus on your mental representation of each of the Undersiders, the patterns of their relevant personality traits and individual capacities. Then leaf through those in your mindscape while superposing the pattern of items in front of you. Any time you get a match, check the junction for one of the Five Patterns of Purpose.*
    You end up following her instructions and toying with the mental constructs and thought exercises for several minutes. However the others are still waiting for you, so you tear yourself away before they start asking questions.



    The second section of this space is a collection of half a dozen rooms, more like cubicles really, each of a fair size. Maybe enough for a small studio. The really interesting things about those are the doors, half have artworks spray painted on them. The first door has a crown done in a dramatic graffiti style. The second door has the white silhouette of a man and a woman against a blue background, mimicking the ‘mens’ and ‘womens’ washroom signs. The third has a girl’s face with puckered lips. Wondering what the story behind those can be, you ponder.
    The crown obviously links back to Regent, so that's probably his room. The second one is probably not marking someone else's room, who would want that? Since you don't see anywhere else a washroom could be in this open loft, you conclude that's probably exactly what's behind that door. That leaves the last one, which is far more esoteric. A washroom and five rooms to 4 people trying to recruit a 5th teammate, and one door having the sign of one of them, so the girl's face is probably standing in for one of their own. You're pretty sure it wouldn't fit Bitch, so that leaves Lisa and Brian. Loose lips, tattletale? Teasing face to go with Lisa's teasing mood?
    Maybe.

    That left the question of who had drawn them. Brian is very practical so you don't see him as the artist of the group, and while Lisa would fit, you don't see her using a graffiti style, she'd go for something accurate or technical. That leaves Alec and Rachel, and since she has lived in the streets for a while you could see her using that style. On the other hand making signs for several teammates but not herself would require some sort of explanation.
    Occam Razor says Alec is the artist. Combined with the imagination and effort that went into his costume (obviously home made), you think you have a winner.

    You look straight at Alec and say "Nice art" while pointing at the door with the crown on it, feeling kind of dumb for making it the first thing you said after staying silent for so long after entering the room.
    Not missing a beat, he simply replies "Thanks." Good guess.


    The realization that you had just stood there doing nothing for so long prevents you from paying more attention to the last section (a large table and cabinets, probably a kitchen) given that you'd need to cross the room to get a better look. You need to switch gear and take control of the pace, not gawk like an idiot still wearing her coat and hat.

    Resisting the urge to neatly fold your coat and set it on a chair, which would take too much time, you boldly toss them over the back of the couch. Well, you decide to boldly toss them over the back of the couch, because actually going through with that apparently takes too much courage for you. You can face an enraged Lung with just a pepper spray, but you're too afraid to act confident in front of these people? How does that even work?
    You need a moment to gather your will, but you eventually manage to bull through your shyness and follow through on your plan. The throw isn't quite bold but casual will do, as long as it isn't hesitant you can deal. Then comes the tricky part: the wig. You planned it carefully earlier, so you don't feel too self-conscious as you perform the moves, no matter how cheesy you fear the effect might be.
    The core point is to dramatically remove it in one sharp tug from your left hand while shaking your head just right to make your hair freely cascade around your shoulders. Your right hand is delicately removing the glasses at the exact same time and making them disappear as it lays lazily on your side. And as you do you not only let all your suppressed confidence flow back in your stance but also use the momentum to push even farther the other way.

    In a move totally cribbed from Reya, you survey your spectators with regal magnificence. You don't even let the slightest doubt that you might not be the most amazing thing in the universe cross your mind. You let the effect play out for a handful seconds then start breaking the image of perfection by stretching out a little. Not just to emphasize your freed chest and lithe figure, but also because after staying hunched up inside the coat you're happy to work the kinks out of your limbs.
    You settle back in a stance that's more supermodel and less impossibly perfect God Queen, because you don't want to give the impression of being arrogant. Also you can't imitate Reya without quickly starting to feel woefully inadequate, like a small child caught playing with her mother's dresses and make-up.

    Your little performance seems to have been successful judging by the reactions of the Undersiders. Brian is awe-struck and he's blushing hard enough that you can notice it despite his skin tone. As for Lisa's expression, you think the best way to describe it would be "does not compute". Alec's is much more muted, he has raised both eyebrows and is leaning back a little bit.
    With the shocking display you've clearly stamped your image in their mind as far away from "shy unattractive brunette" as possible. The radically different appearance you've chosen earlier was a good first step, but suddenly revealing it from another costume that has a superficial resemblance to Taylor Hebert you ensured it'd push in the right direction.
    After a couple more seconds pass without anyone saying anything, you decide to break the silence, "I have to say, it feels good to get out of that disguise," and try to add a warm smile, project the impression that you are approachable.
    Brian opens his mouth, but no sound comes out after a second, so he closes it. Alec comments "I'll say!", although you're not sure if he's responding to you or poking fun at Brian aborted attempt. Maybe both.
    He certainly seems to thinks it's aimed at him because he turns toward Alec and says "Fuck you." But despite the words, there is no malice in the words, it feels more like he's telling him "Well played, you got me."


    Upon hearing their usual banter Lisa reconnects to the world and finally comments "The impression you give out of costume is certainly different." and then as she takes in her own words she blushes.
    The group then moves to the couches.


    ~oOo~


    After a few minutes of idle banter and comments about the place, Lisa suddenly asks you "How did you know Alec was the one who had painted the doors?"
    "I didn't. Know, I mean. I just took an educated guess."
    Lisa shakes her head, "No, you had a good reason to think it was Alec, you were confident."
    You shrug, "Honestly I acted more confident about it than I really was, it's the basic of fishing for information. If the mark knows you have a doubt they're going to deny, so you have to persuade them they've already been had, that the secret's out and there's no reason to hold back."
    Lisa makes a little pout as she has to admit your point, "Still, I want to know how you ended up with him as your best bet."


    Deciding that this would probably be a good way to show off your skills to your potential teammates, you comply. "OK, let's see where I started..." and you proceed to explain how you had guessed the meaning of the artworks. Turns out that Brian doesn't have a room, instead Rachel's dogs are using it, so you were wrong right from the start. Here's hoping the rest will go better.
    "From there I decided to try and see if I could get a good idea of who did them, because I like them. First the place is pretty intimate on top of being your secret lair", you say with a sweeping gesture indicating the mess of a well lived-in place. Clearly not a professional setting.
    "So it was almost certainly one of you, meaning only 4 candidates. I immediately ruled out Brian because he's too practical for me to see him as the artist of the group."
    Brian seems a bit surprised, "Really, you could see that from the couple minutes we've spent talking?"

    You hesitate on how to word it, then just go for it, "I could see that from the moment I saw your costume." That seems to get his attention, and Lisa's too. "Of the group it's the only one that really hides the identity of the wearer, and it's also the only one with serious protective value."
    Alec seems not to agree with that. "My mask completely hides my face."
    Not wanting to get lost in details you simply answer, "Your costume doesn't even try to hide your hair, and it's your most distinctive feature. I immediately recognized you when I saw you earlier, but only guessed Brian's identity because he was walking with you."

    He seems to accept this and you move on, "Grue's costume is really good, but it's nearly entirely made of appropriate mundane gear. Once again practical over showy. It demonstrates a lot of taste because the selection was spot on to create the desired effect with easily accessible parts, but there's nothing you've created yourself there."
    "Simply put, you're a person that knows how to pick up good art, but not the creative type yourself."

    Then you move on to the next part, "So that left me with 3 people, and Lisa looked like a good candidate to I thought about how she'd go about doing it, and I decided that she wouldn't have chosen the graffiti style on Alec's door."
    Alec seems to be really interested by your explanation, and gives you the opening for your follow up, "And why is that?"
    "Well, for starters she prides herself on her ability to control things." From their reaction they clearly want to know where that came from, so you oblige.
    "The way she started pretending not wanting to tie me down with the payment, simply a way to settle the scores, while she was trying to establish a relation. The way she let me know she knew where I was in her private message to mess with me. The way she just sprung the big stash of money on me without any warning and immediately followed with a well calculated comment. The way she didn't plan to bring up the main reason of the meeting until it was almost over so that the rest could serve as the buildup. And of course the lunchbox."
    Now that one throws Brian and Alec. "What are you talking about."
    "Don't you find it strange to hide such a large amount of money in a lunchbox? And to chose an Alexandria one for a villain, of all possible choices. If she often used irony and sarcasm I'd say that's just her style, but that's not it. And a childish container would hurt the professional impression you were trying for."
    You pause here, before revealing, "Unless you take into account the fact that Alexandria was my favorite hero. Maybe she noticed that they way I was standing over Lung was taken from her." Which you know isn't true, she probably used her powers. But this isn't the right way to introduce the topic, you have a better plan for that.

    Both boys look at her, confirming your suspicions that she was the one who had picked the container. "So she operates by naturally controlling things, which isn't surprising considering her power is to obtain information."
    "But I haven't told you anything about my power!"
    You chuckle, "Au contraire, you've told me plenty. Your power lets you cheat at bets so that you never loses, so either you know the winning outcome or you manipulate the events. You noticed I was wearing a costume back in the alley, you knew a cape was closing in yesterday, you knew where I was accessing parahumans.net from, you felt confident that you could tell what skills I had from our short encounter, you had understood how I worked enough to know I wouldn't be showing my face."
    The boys now look at you with wide eyes, but you're not sure Lisa is really surprised. So you decide to add another strike.

    "So back to topic, since she naturally leans toward control, the careful mess of graffiti style isn't a good fit for her. Especially since it relies on feeling and having the right touch while Lisa is relying on technical skill given her power. I guessed it made her able to know how to do technical things, so she'd have a more classical trait to her art."
    Alec dismisses that, "Come on, now you're just reaching."
    You shake your head, "No, I don't know if that's a sure thing but what she's done shows that there's a good chance she can do that. First there's how she hacked the parahuman.net site to know where I was posting from, reading my IP and tracking it to the café."
    "You said she used her power to do that. You can't go back and claim she used skill." Alec defends his point.
    "But I'm not going back, I'm saying her power let her know how to do that. She might have just plucked the information out of thin air, but I don't think she can do that. When she talked about estimating my skills when she made the best with you she referred to the impression she got from our meeting."

    He doesn't seem to get where you're going, so you explain "If she didn't get a feel for my skills at the moment she made the bet but from the time we met, that means her power needs context to give her information. She can't suddenly know something, she needs clues to work from. That's what her choice of words imply."
    That established, you move on to your last point, "So, hacking, not divination. Then we have her costume, which is a very subtle manipulation. It looks like it is barely hiding anything and thus doesn't help obfuscate her identity, but that's because it's misdirecting the observer rather than outright hiding her features."
    "So she has shown two unrelated technical skills at high level of mastery, in the short time I've known her too. That doesn't mean it has to be her power, but it's enough to make me seriously consider it."

    You wrap up, happy to see the effect you analysis of her power had on them, "Not a proof that she'd use her power to make something more technical, but enough to cement my suspicions. So I crossed her out."
    You finally tell them why you chose Alec over Rachel, and move on to a more interesting topic.


    ~oOo~


    You really feel that the place is nice. It's clearly theirs and it was designed to have a good time in. "This place is really neat, I'm jealous."
    "Dork," Alec said, "What are you jealous for?"
    "No, I mean it, I really like this place. It's clearly your place, you do what you want there."
    Lisa speaks before Alec can reply, “I think what Alec means is that this is your place now too. This is the team’s space, and you’re a member of the team, now.”

    ...
    What?

    "What do you mean 'I'm a member of the team now', I haven't decided yet." You're not really ready to make this decision yet. You haven't made it, right?

    An awkward silence falls on the scene. They look at you, then each others, then back at you. Finally it is Grue who speaks up.
    "You did accept to join us earlier, that's why we showed you our secret lair, as you put it."
    "I ... I think there might have been a misunderstanding. When you asked if I wanted to join you while starting to move, I thought you meant join you to come here, not, like, the team. That's. Uh. Oh yeah, I can see what you meant now" you concludes lamely. Your confidence from earlier is pretty much shot. No more smooth words from you.

    Brian is frowning now, he's clearly not happy. "You backing down would be problematic."
    "I'm not backing down! I mean, I don't think I actually stepped in." You fumble around, trying not to panic. "I don't mean I want to be out. I just haven't made up my mind on what side I want to be in. Uh, I mean ..."
    Brian mercifully ends your aimless rambling by putting his hand in front of him. He sighs then tries to relax and continue on a tone that's meant to be calming, "Look, let's just go over this again. If you're OK with joining the team there's no reason to get bent out of shape about this misunderstanding. We'll just work on our communication in the future."

    Anything to get out of this. Even if it means actually making up your mind on this decision you've been constantly putting off for later. You nod.
    "Being a member of the team means you help decide what jobs we do, you go on the jobs, you stay active, you’re available if we need to call. And in exchange you get the two grand a month"

    This is ... less than ideal. Agreeing to go on any job the majority of the group decides on? What if they decide to do something you can't accept? As long as three of them vote to do it, you'll have given your word to do it anyway.
    "OK, I see. I think that's mostly fine, so how about a compromise." you say with a voice that you like to believe isn't trembling and hesitant.
    Oh there it is again, Grue's frown is back. "We aren't bartering, those are the rules of the team."
    "Listen to me before dismissing the idea. I join the team, stay available and ready to fly at your rescue if someone needs help. I help decide what jobs we take, but if there's a job I can't agree to take despite the votes of the rest of the team, instead of being obligated to go I can sit this one out. In exchange for not being committed to going on every job with the team, I don't get the 2 grand, you guys get to split it four ways."

    That got his attention. It's not much money compared to what he makes from the job, but it's hard to resist the lure of an extra. And since you at least commit to protecting the team, he's sure to get the important part if he doesn't press you.


    He considers if he should just accept it or try to enforce the same rules on everyone for a moment, then decides to ask you, "Why are you so reluctant to accept to go on jobs with us? We're very good at what we do, we're batting a thousand up until now. Always pulled the jobs we set out to do and escaped with a comfortable margin of security."

    You squirm a little. "Look, this is complicated." You take a centering breath and try to decide what to tell them.


    But you don't get a chance to do that. You hear barking from your right and a heartbeat later you feel fangs plunging in your left wrist, as you're standing up and turning toward the sound. An ugly mutt with thick Rottweiler blood has seized your wrist in his jaws, and is dragging you away from the couch. At the same time the two other snarling dogs are closing down on you, spit flying from their mouths as their teeth are gnashing and snapping for your hands and face.
    Your knees almost buckling in response to the pain, you try to resist the pull but agony lances through your arm as it abruptly snaps its head to one side and wrenches your arm to the side. You feel you are about to fall and the two other dogs are about to pounce on you.

    You need to react.

    [ ] ENOUGH! The mongrel dies. Now. <Sledgehammer Fist Punch>
    [ ] Slice its jaw open, free your arm, get the space needed to go on the defensive <Fists of Iron Technique>
    [ ] The dogs are only obeying their master's order, you need to make your displeasure known to her
    [ ] Cry for help and do not antagonize anyone


    ~Lisa Wilbourn has been touched by the Maiden of Serenity~
  24. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    Bloody Hands

    [X] The dogs are only obeying their master's order, you need to make your displeasure known to her


    The pain is worse than anything you can remember, it blanks out your thoughts, it makes you want to curl into a ball and cry until it goes away. But it also brings the situation into focus in your mind, you note various things of little importance, like a gob of spit flying toward your right eye, the way the one-eyed dog's lips are rippling, how your hat is almost falling from the couch.
    More important things too, like how the way the smaller dogs are shuffling means they are looking for an opening to pounce, how your are falling to the ground, how Bitch is about to step onto the stairs on the floor below, the looks on your teammates' faces, how the blood slowly seeping in your sleeve means nothing vital has been severed.
    But nothing is taking so much of your attention as the rising anger in you, the growing fury. Your indignation at being challenged that way, a desire to crush those who stand up to you. How the blood-thirst of the hound biting down your arm sparks your own thirst for battle. Contemplating how bad your situation is, falling while pinned down when opponents heavier than you are about to pounce on your prone form, you only feel the urge to prevail burn brighter.

    You can't fall down here, and you cannot afford to let the pain overwhelm you, so you focus this aggressiveness on the immediate problem, your stance. Shift strength to the legs and adopt the mien of the invincible Solar Hero, the one who does not let adversity overwhelm him and crush the opposition with brilliance.
    You have to rely on your new battle instincts. The best defense is offense, threats must be dealt with decisively, dog biting down on left wrist effectively immobile and defenseless. Throat completely exposed and closest vital point from right hand, single blade-hand swipe will deal permanently with threat with over 99% chance.
    No, stupid. Bleeding out takes too long giving chance to change target to bite vital point, and adrenaline could cause immediate rigor mortis, crippling mobility. Must focus on stopping it from letting go and attack a more vulnerable spot, bring up knee to shatter lower jaw and keep it pinned against wrist. Simultaneously raise right hand intercepting gob of spit to avoid blinking and bring it down in an arc to back of head. Death immediate and cause a stunning effect likely loosening jaws.

    No, no, no, this is wrong. You don't want to kill the poor thing. You've never killed an animal and you don't want to start now. Don't panic, if Bitch wanted you dead she'd have grown them first, and if the dog wanted you down he'd have aimed for the throat. This isn't a fight to the death.


    The gob of spit is now more than halfway to your face, and now that you are no longer in a do or die mindset it accelerates greatly. You decide to simply blink with one eye to deal with this without losing too much situational awareness. Speaking of which the dogs do not have any flea or worms you could use to track them. Irritating.
    Back to the topic of how to free your hand. You know dogs, you don't know how you know about them, but you do. Must avoid striking skull or nose best bet for a stunning hit is the throat. Nope, to big, too tough, too focused, too well trained, this won't work. Prying open his mouth will take more than momentary distraction, you need to inflict real damage. The gob of spit hits your eyelid.

    A couple of fingers wielded like a scalpel for a surgical strike cutting the tendons of the muscle of the jaw would do it. Recovery from this sort of injury: impossible. Damn. You need to aim at the muscle tissue, this can be mended, more messy and more painful but ultimately more merciful.


    You don't like this, hurting innocent dogs that are under her control because she has some stupid grudge against you? This is school all over again. Don't do anything and be trampled down, strike back and you lose.
    No, you can strike back without losing. You just need the right target.
    Bitch.

    You look down at the dog who is only obeying his master's orders but still being a serious pain in your ... arm. Does he have to pull that hard? You try to move your arm along with his jaws and take a look at the rest of the pack. Your wasps are keeping them away, nudging them into making a detour to get at you which buys you the time you need. Thankfully they are not so far gone that they'd just jump through a swarm of wasps if they don't have to.
    Now to find a solution before they realize they do have to do that, because they'd probably do it. They are ready to endure that for their master.


    Wait. That's it. Even this morning you wouldn't have ever thought of something like this, but it might just work. You focus on your short encounter with Bitch, the few sentences you've exchanged. You use your free hand to raise your collar in front of your face, just enough to hide your mouth. Then you place it on your throat, just right.
    That's when Bitch's voice rings loud and clear over the room, "STAY!"
    Except it isn't her voice, simply a very good imitation of her voice.

    The dogs are not stupid, they know you are not their master, and unlike the Undersiders their hearing is good enough that they can tell you are the one who just shouted. However they have been well trained and rect instinctively to hearing her voice. Before he even starts thinking about it the Rottweiler's jaw grows slack.
    He'd have clamped back down in less than a second, but you don't give him that chance, slippery as an eel you've escaped his grip. The fraction of second of confusion was all you needed.


    ~oOo~


    Rachel heard her dogs coming to a stop as they surrounded the intruder, and the cry of pain indicating that they had grabbed her wrist just as they had been trained to. The snarls and sounds of teeth snapping meant that they were harrying her toward the wall, scaring the bitch out of her mind while one of them had her in a tight grip. She was confidently starting to walk up the stairs when she heard her voice shouting "STAY!".
    What?
    After an instant of confusion she understood what the fucker was doing, she had probably used a power to make herself look and sound like their master. Worried about how this could mess with things she started running up.
    She barely saw the blur as it jumped down in the stair from the floor above, landing at her feet. She didn't even have the time to look down that she felt a violent impact on her abdomen driving the air from her lung and her over the railing.

    You land with one foot on each side of her head and bend down to strike her throat. You are careful not to use the strength of your fall to crush her, that'd be deadly. Nonetheless you use enough force to make sure that she isn't going to be talking any time soon.
    Then as her lungs are still empty and before she has any chance to make a sound you perform a vertical blade-handed strike in front of her face. You manage to avoid her nose and chin while splitting her lips apart, cut as neatly as if you had used a scalpel. She's not about to whistle any time soon either.

    Since she landed with her left arm pinned under her back you only have the right arm to worry about. You use your foot to drag it over her, planting your weight to pin her right hand next to the left side of her face. This lets you keep her right arm in control, and using it to keep her face and back from moving too much which in turn locks her left arm.

    Preparations: complete.


    The dogs come first, exiting the stairs and surrounding you as you can see the Undersiders starting to come down the stairs.
    You had noticed that Bitch had to give orders to her dogs the same way a normal trainer would, and she used a couple of the standard words. She cannot just control her dog to do what she wants, she needs to communicate, and you know she can only use her voice, whistles, or arm movements. Now that those are all sealed, the dogs are no longer a problem.
    You can almost hear Zeph berating her for never having developed non-standard signals with her feet or training her dog to always attack anyone pinning down her arms. Action economy at work.

    But they are not stupid, they know you are hurting their master and they don't intend to let it happen. You know dogs communicate mostly by body language and you know it pretty well (in theory at least). So you should be able to use your supernaturally expressive body language and then apply your knowledge to adapt it to dogs.
    You stare at the dogs, establishing a rapport, then speak up, "I am new to the pack. We are establishing dominance. Observe, do no interfere." Even though you know they can't grasp the words themselves getting them out makes it easier to speak with your body.
    They seem hesitant. They understand they shouldn't interfere in a duel for position, but they have not accepted you as part of the pack, this is their second time seeing you. And she did order them to hurt you.
    However they heard her ask them to stop, and she isn't telling them otherwise now. They may not be stupid, but they can't grasp concept like temporary incapacitation of her communication abilities, that she wouldn't be able to tell them anything even though she is aware.


    And so, they step down. In the time it took them to come to that decision, the rest of the group has come down the stairs. They look rather worried, some are looking at your bleeding arm, some are looking at the prone body beneath your heel. It sort of remind you of when you first met them, except that instead of Lung it is one of their teammate.
    Grue opens his mouth, but you don't need to hear him talk, the way he is hunching protectively toward you while his hands are drawing back as if afraid to be bitten by a serpent tell you all you need to know. He wants to talk you down, calm thing down.

    "Don't even bother," you cut him off before a single sound escapes his lips. He shuts his mouth. "Rachel here seems to have a bigger problem with me being on the team than you had first suggested. I am slightly disappointed at either your inability as a leader to assess her reaction correctly or your lack of wisdom in deciding not to warn me properly." He flinches. Good, you want him on the defensive, afraid for himself.
    "More importantly, I am unhappy with her inappropriate behavior. I need to make my displeasure known to her."


    After a few moments of silence and immobility, when it has been clearly established and understood by all that they would allow this to come to pass and give you control over this, you start.
    You berate her for her childish behavior, you tell her how angry you are, you threaten her, you vent your frustrations, you shout, you growl, you whisper into her ear. You pull on everything you know to pour your anger at her, into her, to mark her with your indignation. And you discover that you know much indeed.
    How to play on people's feeling, how to pace your speech with their reaction, how to use their quirks and personality to provoke irrational but undeniable reactions, how to make your voice tremble with your passion, and many more things besides.

    But more importantly, you notice that there is something wrong with Rachel. Not just how she could do something like this in the first place, but the way she reacts to your attempts. As you experimentally go through the range of your tricks, capitalizing on having a captive audience (literally), you see that she just doesn't seem to understand some things, or has the entirely wrong reaction. In fact from your knowledge of the common misconception when communicating with a dog, you notice a disturbing pattern emerging.
    Pattern. You remember Reya's teachings through the night and decide to give it a try. And finally in this time of need it clicks together. You let intuition flow into you, shaping it from your essence.
    And your suspicion is confirmed. She doesn't react to body language and tone the way a human does, she reacts the way a dog does. The way a bitch reacts.

    How appropriate.



    You decide to go back to the earlier trick of applying your knowledge of dog handling to your communication Charm to tune it to dogs. It seems to work, you suddenly understand what she's saying much better. She is lowering her tail and waiting for you to finish, she doesn't care what you are saying. She doesn't care about words. She doesn't consider not challenging you, because you are in her territory. The Undersiders are her pack, her life, and she thinks you are going to make them abandon her. That they won't need her if they have you, that to keep her family she needs to keep you away.
    Trying to scare her with physical threats? Ah! She'd face down an Endbringer for them.


    You understand now, this is no longer an act of senseless aggression, it was desperation. A wounded animal lashing out blindly at a perceived threat because it believes it is out of options, back to the wall. Yes, you don't see how this could have played out differently. She tried to convince them, her pack, to refuse you but they didn't listen to her. She didn't have any other resort except convincing you to leave.
    Maybe she was thinking she had a chance of taking you by surprise and scare you away, or maybe she didn't even think she could win but only wanted to make you uncomfortable among the Undersiders. If she knew you were looking for a pack of your own, to belong, she might have ruined the Undersiders for you just by letting you know how much she hated you, and possibly break your trust in the others if they hadn't known who to side with.


    You could feel sorry for her, if you weren't so furious. Attacking you like that, daring to deny you the chance to have friends? Trying to trample you down like Emma did so often? This makes you want to tear her apart with your bare hands. Which you can actually do now, so you need to be careful to keep yourself in check.
    Staring down at her some more (you don't even know how long it's been since you last spoke up) you realize that if you want to join the Undersiders for real, you cannot break her the way you want to, you need to back down. Get yourself under control.

    You think back to all the times you did just that when the girls at school did similar things to you. When you felt that rage against your oppressor building up and the urge to hurt them rising, and what you did to keep it inside. But this is so much more difficult than it ever was before. You can't keep this in.
    You won't.

    You will not be denied this.


    You need to hurt her. You already did, but a split lip is nothing compared to how your arm was mangled. If that had been a fistfight between the two of you, you could have been satisfied with simply obtaining victory. But this wasn't it, that was an unilateral assault, dragging you down while you were relaxing with your own.
    You cannot let someone come up to you with the intent of hurting you and then walk away happy to have won, to have hurt you more.

    You need to hurt her. You consider breaking her finger beneath you foot. One by one, slowly, and discreetly. No overt move and with her inability to express herself the Undersiders won't even notice what you are doing. She'll probably be too ashamed to admit the extent of her injury after the fact too, and if they didn't notice you could argue that you hadn't noticed either.

    No, that won't work, she doesn't care about the physical pain of a fight, she has been through that too often now.
    Her dogs? You could disembowel one before her, that would definitely work.
    Nope, who are you kidding, there is no way you could bring yourself to hurt the poor things. You couldn't do it when they were ripping your arm open and spraying your blood, you wouldn't be able to do it just to spite her.


    But thinking about it, maybe her dogs are the solution. You need to hurt her in her heart, and they are the quickest way to that. You think it over. Yes, you can work with that.


    ~oOo~


    This pause might have lasted over ten minutes. Still, no one is moving away, they are staring at you staring at Rachel, rage radiating from you. And now you know what to say.

    "You don't even get it, Rachel."
    You have established your position clearly enough that you are confident the dogs, trained to respond to authority, won't have any reason to oppose you on anything of no particular importance. You use a combination of discreet eye contact and head movement to get Brutus (the Rottweiler) to stand and then move to the other side of the smaller dog on his right before sitting back down.

    Experiment: success. They understand you and will obey simple orders if they have nothing better to do.

    "Let me demonstrate on your body, then." she tenses.
    "Brutus, come and lick her face, then go back to your place."

    Obediently, the dog does exactly as you ordered. Not surprising, you could tell he wanted to lick the wounded face of his master, he was just standing back because that's what he was supposed to do. His eagerness to obey your command has impressed Rachel, apparently. The way he immediately stops and goes away when you says "That'll do." has even more impact, because she is perfectly aware that he shouldn't have been able to understand what you just said.

    "I am angry with you because I can understand them better than you can."
    That struck home. Good.
    "I am enraged at the way you dare treat your dog."
    She wasn't expecting that. You get the feeling that she'd normally respond with something about how you don't know how she treats them but you've kept her off balance for a reason.

    "Do you think that they are weapons you can just use and discard? Do you think they are tools you can just abuse however you see fit? They are living creatures with feelings of their own, and they depend on you to take care of them." you already told her as much before, but this time she is actually listening, this time you know how to talk so that she fully understands what you are saying.
    She is sufficiently stunned by your words that you can start pacing as you rant, instead of keeping her under your heel. You continue, "They trust you not to throw them at something that would just kill them, this is why they charge without hesitation. It's not that they are brave, they simply naively think you won't ask them to bite down someone with black widows capable of killing them in a bite inside their sleeves."

    As you say this you raise your wounded arm, and have the four black widows you had inside all pour out the opening in the fabric left by Brutus. You can tell that she's imagining this happening as her dog was biting down. "What would have happened if one of them had been startled enough to bite out of surprise? Or fear?"
    You know that she is picturing this quite vividly now. You strike while the iron is hot "You just gave your dogs the order to bite down a nest of deadly venomous spiders. If those had been sleeping in a different place, they'd have been suddenly woken up with a growling predator in front of them. You know what would have happened. Brutus would currently be dying." You take a look at your watch "In fact he'd have passed away, by now, which would have put an end to his agonizing pain."

    After a short pause, you put your index and thumb just an inch apart, "Brutus came that close to dying because he was trusting you not to make him bite down on something that'd kill him," punctuating your statement by pointing this same index at the dog. She's imagining it laying dead in front of her. All because of her.


    "And that's not the only thing that was lucky! When I decided to come here I deliberately decided not to get wasps that would instinctively lash out at anyone hitting me. Those were just regular ones, content to simply buzz around and scare your dogs. But if I had done what my more cautious side was advising, I'd have been carrying something very different."
    She has dragged her arm from below herself now, and is laying on her side, looking at you as if she was finding you impossibly captivating. You continue, "they may not look all that different from regular wasps the way your dogs do when they are ready for battle, but when they plunge right for the eyes and pump them full of a venom that combines acid and pain-generators, you feel the difference as your eyes flood you with more pain than they're physically capable of producing while melting out of your skull."
    At Rachel's horrified look you continue, "Wasps use it to dissolve their food before eating, and against larger creatures that a single wasp cannot kill that way they have part of their venom specifically meant to cause pain, in fact it can cause more pain than the part of the body is capable of feeling. A single sting can make a large animal convulse in pain."
    And you conclude with the obvious thing to say. It's not subtle but subtle isn't what you are after here. "But that's a single wasp, they are mostly solitary hunter. Like poisonous critters they do not need to sting more than once, either. If an entire swarm covers the body of a dog and keeps pumping it full of venom until they run out the agony is beyond anything that can be imagined. Which isn't even the worst, because they can recognize the most sensitive parts and make their way to vital organs by either dissolving the obstruction or cutting through with mandibles capable of tearing through wood. Entering the brain by dissolving the eyes and tearing through eardrums, entering the throat and tearing through the lungs."

    "I'd have called them off as soon as possible, of course, because I wouldn't have wanted to do that to the poor dogs, but between the confusion from the assault and the shock from the wound, as soon as possible wouldn't have been soon enough for them. They wouldn't have died from that, but they might very well end up wishing they had."


    Rachel is completely horrified. Death is rather abstract but pain is much easier to picture, often it is paradoxically easier to fear.
    Good. Now for a touch of awe. You continue walking as you speak, this time heading for a specific place.

    "Hell, that's just what could have gone horribly wrong despite the fact that I wouldn't hurt a dog who is ripping my arm open!" You shoot her a glare. "Unlike some who have them do their personal dirty work for them and let them take all the risk and the pain, I actually care for their safety. Which is a good thing, because if I didn't love dog enough to let them spill my blood without defending myself?"
    Suddenly you lash out with a snap kick, tearing the heavy metal machinery in front of you in half. Shredded metal flies to both side (not toward anyone, you were careful) and the sheet covering it is ripped off. As it slowly falls back to the ground, you can contemplate the effect of your attack. You had meant to kick through it to show you can effortlessly kick through metal, but you actually tore through the entire thing, leaving a gap slightly larger than your leg behind. Good thing you held back.
    You try not to let your surprise show and simply conclude, "So yeah, it's a good thing I didn't want to hit them."


    "But did you care about the risks you put them through? Or maybe you are too stupid and irresponsible to have even thought about the risks of what you were doing, in which case what makes you think you should be allowed anywhere near them when this is the best you can do?"
    Rachel looks like she is about to cry.


    ~oOo~


    After turning the knife in the wound some more, you stopped yourself when she started showing signs of seriously breaking down. That will be enough.
    She has been shaken enough that she should be considering changes soon. You'll have to be there and provide guidance. Now that you have finally vented enough to calm down, you can let her disability and fears move you enough that you want to reach to her.

    Reya and Zeph did insist often enough on how Solars are supposed to provide guidance to others that you feel you might have a shot at this. Maybe they could teach you magic that would help you help her solve her problems.


    But now you are reaching the second floor, with Lisa, Brian and Alec behind you. You're confident your final speech had precisely the desired effect on Rachel, but you're not really sure what effect it had on the rest of the team.
    You look down at your hand. The left one has a trickle of your blood from your wound down your middle finger. The right one has a trickle of Rachel's blood, from the tip of your middle finger down to your palm. This feel meaningful somehow.
    You're even less sure what you want to do now.

    [ ] Say goodbye and resume your discussion when the atmosphere isn't so loaded
    [ ] Try to light up the mood and play down what you did to Rachel. After all she isn't suffering from anything worse than a split lip, and sharing your honest feelings isn't a crime.
    [ ] Be professional. Negotiate the contract for joining the team and insist that your talk with Rachel was a matter between the two of you.
    [ ] Tell them your feelings. Why you did this to Rachel, why you want to join them, why you don't want to have to come on all jobs
    [ ] Start taking over leadership of the Undersiders. With the recent show of force, the time is right for a first move. Bitch has been cowed, Grue has shown his lack of qualification as a leader, Regent is not an issue.
    [ ] Write-in


    What do you think the bloody hands mean?
    [ ] Write-in
    Poe, Quantumboost, Fierdin and 15 others like this.
  25. Sojiko Smiling Witch

    Interlude: the Undersiders
    an Omake written by drake_azathoth

    Whispered Team Huddle while Taylor is ranting at Rachel after she dressed down Grue:
    Grue: "Okay, I do feel kind of responsible, but can we really just let her do... whatever... to Bitch? Regent, if you can make her lose her grip, maybe I can call up darkness long enough to free Rachel and have the dogs attack?"
    Tattletale: "Bitch can't talk. I think her throat was hurt. But I don't think Firefly will hurt her physically. Like she told the dogs, this is some kind of animal dominance behavior. If we interrupt, I think the dogs might attack us."
    Regent: "I never get between a dominatrix and her gimp. Let Miss Puppyspanker have her fun-time."
    Tattletale: ...
    Grue: "...What?!"
    Regent: "Unless you want to distract her, Grue? That'd be one way to get her off Rachel. She was undressing you with her eyes earlier. She likes'em long and strong. Maybe she'd dominate you instead of Bitch, if you take the blame."
    Tattletale: "Actually... Regent has a point. That might work better than fighting her and the bugs and the dogs."
    Grue: "...NO. Let's just see how this goes for a bit longer."
    Tattletale: "Okay."
    Regent: "*Cough*Pussy*Cough*. I mean, sure. ...I like to watch."

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