"Iustitia!" - Regular Speech

'Mistress!' - Thoughts/Telepathy

[Justice For All!] - Skill/Ability Being Used

Beta'd by BigCC

Quest 2.4

Later

Rooftops and Streets of Brockton Bay

As I landed on the rooftop near the source of the noise, I flinched as the sound itself became much clearer. Metal grating against concrete...a lot of metal. Sneaking over to the edge, I peered over...and yup, there was who I feared it would be.

Hookwolf. The Chief Enforcer of the Empire 88, as well as one of the most infamous and brutal Capes on their roster, if not in the entire city.

'Mistress...even without using [Justice over Earthly Authority], I can tell that this person has committed innumerable crimes.' Iustitia said, a tinge of pure loathing tinting her mental voice.

That shouldn't be a surprise, considering my Embryo was pretty much Justice incarnate; seeing someone who'd committed so many brutal, hateful, and pointless destructive crime in front of her was probably like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

'Keep calm, Iustitia. Hookwolf isn't the type of enemy we can charge in against without a plan.' I cautioned my partner. 'For the moment, let's see exactly what's going on down there.'

Iustitia merely sent back a wordless feeling of agreement and support as I refocused on trying to take in as much as I could about the situation beneath me.

It was….grim.

Down below, it was an all-out war-zone between two large groups of men. A large number of men, most bearing the double swastika sign of the E88 somewhere on their clothing, were attacking a second, smaller group, all dressed in the green and red of the ABB. The Nazis seemed to have a numbers advantage but the ABB were better coordinated, forming tight knots to watch each other's back. The Police had already arrived, but hadn't interfered, instead they seemed to be focused on cordoning off the street and evacuating the civilians.

The reason why they hadn't interfered was obvious. On the opposite end of the street Hookwolf, in the form of a massive lupine monstrosity formed of spikes, blades, hooks, and chains, was ripping anything that got close to him apart as he fought against…oh hell. He was fighting Oni Lee.

Oni Lee was the ABB's Number Two, as well as the second of their two known capes, capable of teleporting and leaving copies of himself behind. He was a ruthless assassin and murderer, known for taking gristly and extreme measures to eliminate anyone he targeted. I watched as he seemed to clone himself into a small cluster around Hookwolf before each clone exploded...no, they had grenades on them, so he was pulling suicide bomber tactics using his clones as expendable fodder.

Hookwolf was knocked into the side of a building by the detonations, but quickly regained his feet/claws/hooks, letting out a screeching, metallic howl as he once more attempted to shred the teleporter, only catching clones that quickly dissolved into gray powder as they were struck.

'Were this an Embryo ability, there would be some limit on either the number of clones he could produce or how long they last.' Iustitia noted clinically before she seemed to catch something. 'Ah, the clones last about ten seconds before they crumble into dust. That makes sense; unlimited numbers but a short duration to work with them, which limits him to using them as last-minute distractions or disposable pawns. Combined with the fact he duplicates everything he's wearing or has equipped, and it makes the suicide bomber tactics he's using are actually quite effective.'

'...that's is quite the bit of tactical insight, Iustitia.' I couldn't help but note in surprise.

'A combination of several factors, Mistress. As an Embryo myself, I have an innate understand of some Embryo abilities that have and could manifest based on the original data of Infinite Dendrogram, some of which are similar enough to compare to parahuman abilities.' my Embryo explained modestly. 'Combine that with the knowledge and intelligence I inherited from you and then such deductions become quite simple indeed.'

I couldn't help the slight blush that spread across my cheeks at that indirect compliment to my own intelligence.

Shaking it off, I refocused on the situation below before grimacing. So far it looked like there had been no serious casualties, and it looks like the police had mostly gotten the civilians out of the area. But it was only a matter of time before this spilled out and someone got hurt. Worse of all, there was no sign of either the Protectorate or New Wave. What was going on?

A sudden, loud roar echoing in the distance made me wince as I realized exactly what going on. Lung, the Dragon of Kyushu and leader of the ABB, capable of transforming into a giant, draconic fire-breathing monster as he fought; he was fighting somewhere else. Given a choice between a rampaging rage dragon and a relatively contained street brawl and the priority became blatantly obvious.

Well, that made my situation a bit more problematic. Even with Iustitia, my upgraded armor, UBM rewards, and other abilities, simply jumping into a brawl like this would not be a good idea. There were simply too many enemies for me to fight on my own without using lethal methods. Then there was Oni Lee and Hookwolf…yeah, call me a coward but I did not want to get in the middle of a brawl between two of the most brutal capes in the bay.

The sudden rattling metal caused me to quickly break out of my thought and turn toward the fire escape. Five men, all armed with wooden or aluminum baseball bats, had just come up over the edge of the building's fire escape, spotting me at around the same time I spotted them. All five were dressed in the gray and red of the E88, most with the gang's double swastika marked on an armband or jacket sleeve.

"Cape!" roared one of them, waving his aluminum bat in my direction. "Get them!"

"Iustitia, Form Two!" I ordered quietly as I quickly hopped to my feet. If they wanted to fight me with clubs, then by all means, I'd respond in the same fashion.

Two of them rushed me at the same time, bats swinging at my head. Rather than staying still, I used my enhanced strength and agility to leap up and over their heads. I came down with both feet on top of one of the bats, my boosted agility easily allowing me to keep my balance, and snapping it in half before a quick swing of my tipstaff turned the other bat into kindling, leaving them with just the handles they were holding.

"No freaking way…!" One of the thugs managed to shout before I kicked him in the stomach, sending him flying into his friend, reducing both into a skidding, tumbling tangle of limbs before they came to a stop in a groaning pile.

"Don't just stand there! Get the bastard already!" the one with the metal bat, the apparent leader I guessed, shouted before charging in himself, the other two quickly following after.

In all honestly it was…kinda pathetic. I honestly doubt these guys could handle a single monstrous rat working together. Sure, they were bigger and likely a bit stronger, but they were just so slow! Compared to those darting little bastards, these guys were practically moving in slow motion.

As soon as they were within reach, I swung my tipstaff in three quick and efficient arcs. The two wooden bats were reduced into kindling while the aluminum one was bent so that it actually looped around itself.

All three men skidded to a halt as a I stepped back, staring at the broken remains of their weapons.

"Now might be a good time to run fellas." I offered coolly, causing the two followers to start backing away. The would-be leader on the other seemed to purple in rage.

Apparently, the big bad Nazi didn't like being talked down to by a teenage girl.

Sucks to be him.

"Don't screw with me, bitch!" he roared furiously, reaching into his jacket and pulling out a flip knife. With a single practiced motion, he opened the knife and lunged at me again.

Seriously was this guy that stupid?

"[Despairflame Shroud]!" I intoned flatly, invoking the power of my new UBM reward for the first time outside of a dimensional pocket. Just as before, I erupted in a corona of green flames, the heat slamming into those around me and making all five men flinch. The leader rapidly halted his lunge, quickly backpedaling away from me in fright.

"Play with fire, and you end up burned, little man." I informed him coldly, extending a single hand and forming a fireball. "Last chance, drop the knife and get out of here. NOW!"

Finally realizing just how outgunned he was, the lead thug did so; dropping his knife to the ground and quickly turning tail. The other four quickly following his lead, nearly trampling over each other as they made their way back down the fire escape. Letting out a breath, I cut the power of my shroud and dispersed the fireball harmlessly as they did so, absently noting that I'd used about 200 out of the 6000+ MP in the [Well of Despair] for that little trick, although it was rapidly refilling as I stood there.

I waited patiently for a moment, but the telltale dings I'd come to expect after a victory failed to materialize. 'Did I not get any EXP or loot from busting those bozos?' I silently asked my Embryo.

'I'm afraid not, Mistress. In order to earn EXP and Loot you must remove the enemy as a threat by killing them, restraining them, or simply knocking them unconscious. The enemy fleeing does not count as a victory since the threat still exists.' Iustitia explained apologetically. 'My apologies for neglecting to mention this earlier, it simply never came up when dealing with dungeon monsters.'

'It's fine. I doubt I'd have earned much from those five stooges anyway.' I mentally waved the apology off, gently patting the tipstaff before moving to pick up the discarded knife and sticking it into my mirror-inventory. A sudden commotion from the street below drew my attention.

Advancing down the street from the police barricade boldly strode two members of the Protectorate, Miss Militia and Triumph. The former wore her 'mask' of a stars and stripes flag bandanna, as well as a scarf of the same around her waist, with the rest of her costume being camo-patterned clothes and solid black boots, while Triumph wore a white and gold gladiator-themed costume, with a lion-shaped mask/helmet.

'It appears as if the cavalry has finally arrived.' Iustitia offered, a bit of dark amusement entering voice. 'Should we join them, Mistress?'

'I think so, Iustitia.' I replied, sensing her slight irritation that it had taken the Protectorate who knows how long to respond to such a big incident. I kinda agreed, but I also reminded myself that Lung was likely out there as well. Lung, who had gone toe-to-toe with an Endbringer, who'd supposedly beaten back the entirety of the ENE Protectorate shortly after he'd arrived in Brockton Bay. At least according to PHO anyway.

Repulsing or simply containing that kind of monster had to take a lot of forces, so the fact that two members of the Protectorate had managed to break away at all was actually kind of encouraging.

With a simple jump I leapt over the edge of the rooftop, activating [Dimensional Shift] on instinct to move me directly to the ground and reducing the fall to only a few feet. My sudden appearance made every skinhead and gangbanger nearby jump in fright, putting their attention directly on me.

Predictably, one of the idiots reacted in the worst possible way to the arrival of a new and unknown Cape: He tried to rush me.

Let me repeat that. A new Cape appeared out of nowhere in front of them. They had no idea who I was, what my powers were, or even who I worked for. And one of the untrained, unpowered mooks decided it was a good idea to charge straight at me.

And this year's Darwin Award goes to…

'Mistress...there are so many enemies here...you have never been this powerful while wielding my Second Form before…!' Iustitia informed me, sounding caught somewhere between delighted and worried at the idea.

I didn't have time to respond to that, instead focusing on the gangbanger, a bald Asian man dressed in ABB colors and wielding what had to be a replica katana. Even if it was just a replica, I could tell that the man had somehow managed to sharpen it to a razor's edge, so I quickly decided that letting it hit me would be a bad idea.

With a quick twist of my wrist, I brought my tipstaff up to deflect the blow. Only rather than simply knocking the blade aside, the blow shattered the steel like it was glass. Both the mook and I starred at the broken piece of metal attached to his handle in shock for a moment.

I guess that explained why Iustitia sounded worried. Had to be careful with this or I might break someone's everything just by tapping them.

So instead of my tipstaff, I settled for punching the idiot in the face. My enhanced strength, while no match for my club's damage bonus, was still enough to break his jaw and send him flying across the road.

"Get that bastard!" one of the remaining ABB grunts ordered, but I'd already decided that I should join up with Miss Militia and Triumph before getting involved in another brawl. Luckily, dealing with the sword-wielding idiot had been enough to let the cooldown on [Dimensional Shift] run out. So with a single step forward I activated it again, reappearing in a swirl of colors a meter in front Miss Militia.

My sudden appearance must have startled her, since she suddenly had a very large handgun formed and pointed directly at me when the lights faded, only to relax a moment later.

"Justitia, I presume?" she asked cautiously.

"The one and the same." I nodded before gesturing to the massive street fight going on around us, several of the packets having broken up to focus on us since. "Need any help dealing with this mess?"

Her eyes crinkled slightly in what I'm guessing was a smile. "Any help would be greatly appreciated. Lung's going on a rampage further down the Docks, so I'm afraid the rest of the Protectorate is busy keeping him contained."

I fell into step beside her and Triumph as we continued to march into the street-fight. "What exactly is going on? I was preoccupied for most of the day and when I stuck my head out again, we were in the middle of what looks like an outright gang war."

"Backlash from the debacle that happened with Hamelin a few days ago." Triumph offered tersely, his focus on the two rampaging villain Capes. "After everything died down, the Empire decided to remind us that they're still around and not intimidated by us by making a grab for territory in ABB lands. Lung didn't take kindly to that."

"Even after he's gone, that bastard is still causing me no end of headaches." I groaned, before holding out my Embryo. "Iustitia, Form Three!"

"Yes Mistress!" my Embryo replied, voice echoing out of nowhere to my fellow capes. In a flash of light, the [Lone Gun and Star of Frontier Justice] appeared in place of the [Cudgel of the Law].

Miss Militia blinked in surprise. "I take it you've advanced to another evolution of your power?"

"Yup." I replied as I felt [One Riot, One Ranger] activate, the chaos around us making my ability thrum with energy. "Let's just say that Hamelin left some unpleasant surprises that I'll have to tell you about later."

Glancing at me curiously, the older heroine nodded. "Understood."

"Attention! All of you are to disperse immediately!" Triumph shouted as we reached the center of the chaos. "Any of you who refuse to do so will be seen as rioting and will be detained as such!"

"Has that ever actually worked?" I quietly asked Miss Militia. Just shouting something like that seemed…a bit of a waste of breath.

"You'd honestly be surprised. We're legally obligated to give a warning before we attempt to disperse a crowd of unpowered people unless its officially been declared a state of emergency." the older Cape answered simply. "Besides, even if it rarely clears up everyone, not every gang member is stupid enough to think challenging a couple of capes to a fight is a good idea. The smarter and skittish ones will make a break for it, just watch."

Sure enough, a handful of both ABB and Empire goons quickly broke ranks and ran off, darting off into the various alleyways and side roads after Triumph finished speaking.

Huh, I honestly hadn't expected that to do anything other than get us dog-piled.

'Mistress, to your right!' Iustitia suddenly shouted out a warning. Instantly I whipped my arm in the direction she indicated and fired a single shot in the direction she was indicating.

The bullet slammed into the figure of Oni Lee, causing the kamikaze cape to dissolve into a mass of dust.

"Holy shit, how'd you manage to track Oni Lee like that kid?" Triumph shouted in shock, eyes already darting around in search of the teleporter.

"My Embryo. As long as I'm holding her in weapon form, she has a 360 degree of sight around me." I answered, keeping my gun up and ready.

"Here they come." Miss Militia stated grimly, her green-silver energy morphing into a combat rifle of some kind as the remaining thugs regained their senses and started to charge us. "Justitia, unless you have a less-lethal mode for that gun, I'd suggest switching it out for the tipstaff."

"Roger that." I nodded. "Iustitia, Form Two!"

"Yes, Mistress!" my Embryo replied, the small club replacing my pistol in a flare of light. Just in time too, as the wave of gang members charged at us. Quite what they were hoping to accomplish by charging a trio of Capes en-mass, I had no clue.

I'm starting to get the feeling that 'thinking' was not something most thugs were actually capable of.

Triumph was the first to respond, letting out one of his famous sonic roars that blew the first couple of dozen E88 and ABB scrubs back a handful of feet and onto their rears, most of them didn't try to get up, being too busy clutching their bleeding ears from where their eardrums had been destroyed.

Miss Militia quickly followed up, her rifle firing off three-round bursts at any gangbanger that had managed to avoid Triumph's sonic blast. I quickly realized that she wasn't using live rounds as one shirtless Nazi fell back, hands going to his chest where several dark bruises were forming. Looked like she was using rubber bullet rounds, less-lethal rounds designed to cause pain and incapacitate rather than kill.

Only a handful managed to get through both her expert shooting and Triumph's roars. Unfortunately for the gangbangers and skinheads, I was there waiting for them. With my tipstaff still thrumming with power from the sheer number of enemies about, I had to be careful not to go all-out. Even holding back, every casual swing of my club sent an ABB or Empire grunt flying, most either landing insensate on the ground or clutching at broken limbs or busted ribs. A few actually acted like flying projectiles in their own right, slamming into their fellows and sending them all to the ground.

'These criminals are quite weak Mistress. I'd honestly be quite shocked if any one of them was beyond Level Ten.' Iustitia offered with an annoyed sniff.

'Yeah, but until a few days ago, neither were we, Iustitia.' I quietly reminded her as I sent another 'banger flying. 'Don't forget of just how far we've come in such a short period of time. We're not the only ones that can grow stronger.'

'My apologies, Mistress, you are correct.' she said, suitably chastened. The last thing either of us needed was for us to get swelled heads, so it's good that I nipped that in the bud.

"Where's Oni Lee?" I asked Miss Militia in between waves.

"He used you shooting his clone as an excuse to cut and run; he usually does that when facing more than two Capes." she replied. "Lung's standing orders for him, as I understand it."

I could follow the logic behind that at least. The Azn Bad Boyz only had two Capes, Lung and Oni Lee; losing either of them would seriously impact their ability to hold and protect their territory from the Empire. Lung was not only the ABB's strongest force, but their undisputed leader, and Oni Lee's mobility practically allowed him to patrol their entire territory on his own.

The grinding screech of metal scrapping against concrete drew my attention as Hookwolf started to prowl toward me. A massive wolf-like monster, formed out of countless steel blades, hooks, and other implements of death and torture, glared down at me through far too human eyes.

I bit back a curse; I'd let myself be drawn away from Miss Militia and Triumph in the melee, and now Hookwolf was too close for either of the other Capes to attack without risking catching me in the crossfire.

"So, you're the little bitch that killed that multi-colored faggot?" the monstrous Cape growled. His voice was loud but oddly human, but the hiss and shriek of metal rasping against metal accompanied every word. "You don't look like much."

"Well, looks can be deceiving." I returned, forcing my voice to stay level despite who I was staring down. This was Hookwolf! A living monster that had enough murders on his record that he'd already earned a one-way ticked to the Birdcage if he was ever caught.

"You've got guts." the Changer commented blandly, metallic form tensing. "Let's see how long they last, little bitch!" with a snarl he barreled straight toward me.

I vaguely noted Miss Militia and Triumph trying to reposition so that I wouldn't get caught in the crossfire, but they were too slow. If I was going to survive, I had to deal with this by myself.

Compared to the countless rats, golems, and Undead I'd dealt with, a gigantic bladed wolf charging at me was still pretty scary, but after dealing with Pequod it would take something a lot scarier to make me freeze up. Planting my feet, I braced myself and swung my tipstaff with everything I had, activating my first [Maceman] skill at the same time. "[Mighty Blow]!"

My tipstaff slammed into Hookwolf's massive metallic maw with the force of speeding truck, sending him flying back and over the few men who were still standing. The great beast slammed into the side of a building back-first, cratering it slightly and sticking there thanks to the hooks and blades that made up his body.

There was a moment of stunned silence as the various gang members looked between the giant, metallic monster and the teenage girl who'd sent him flying. Most were staring slack-jawed in disbelief, and I honestly couldn't blame them. I mean, Holy Fuck! I'd just sent on of the most feared and dangerous capes flying like he'd been hit with a wrecking ball.

Sadly, one hit wasn't enough to deal with the Empire's Chief Enforcer. I watched quietly as the mangled jaw shifted and reset itself, the metal unbending and smoothing itself out almost organically. Instantly, the feeling of impending violence suffusing the area practically doubled.

Skill: [Danger Sense] has leveled up! LV2 – LV3!

Yes, thank you, Iustitia. Moving on…

"Fucking…little...bitch…!" Hookwolf snarled out as he ripped himself free from the side of the building, landing on all fours and glaring directly at me.

"Not very imaginative in the insult department, are you?" I asked dryly. Hey, my [Acting] skill was coming in handy here! I was successfully pretending that I wasn't scared shitless!

Skill: [Acting] has leveled up! LV2 – LV3!

Really, Iustitia?!

With another roar, Hookwolf surged forward, the blades and hooks making up his body seeming disassembling into a whirling dervish of metal. I'd have about as much luck hitting that as I would trying to deflecting a boulder with a flyswatter. Luckily, I was no one-trick pony and had a few tricks up my sleeve.

Or in my cloak as the case may be.

"[Dimension Warping Barrier]!" I shouted. A large, multi-hued barrier suddenly shimmered into existence in front me, just a few feet in front of Hookwolf's charging form. It was a solid, translucent rectangle about the length and height of an eighteen-wheeler's trailer, and Hookwolf ran right into it like a blender being dropped from a forty-five meter tower. Every blade and hook that slammed into the barrier either bent like a banana, broke in half, or was flattened like a pancake. The entire front of the Changer's body crumpled in like an aluminum can, leaving his body hanging in the air for a moment before slamming down to the ground with a metallic thud before starting to revert into his human form.

He'd knocked himself out cold from the force of his impact.

As my barrier vanished from existence, I deliberately hefted my tipstaff as if it weighed far more than it did and propped it on my shoulder innocuously. "Next."

The shriek of wind heading towards me and the thrill of my [Danger Sense] skill was all the warning I had to dodge back. As soon as I did, a blade of wind slammed straight down in my former position. I jerked my head to look at the point of origin and narrowed my eyes at the sight of another one of the Empire's Capes.

Stormtiger, another of the Empire's enforcers, and one of Hookwolf's direct subordinates too if I remembered correctly.

As something of a minor Cape Geek before I got Iustitia, I'd trawled PHO on my (practically steam-driven) computer and collected basic (albeit entirely unsubstantiated) information about a lot of the Bay's Capes. Stormtiger was supposedly an aerokinetic, able to control the air and using it to attack. Rumors stated he was even able to fly with it.

Standing loosely next to a nearby corner, Stormtiger wore only a pair of black pants, a few chains wrapped around his chest, brown shoes and a white tiger mask with light-blue accents. One of his hands was gripped into a claw-like shape, and I could see distortions in the air around it. Stormtiger's infamous wind claw, able to be used in both close combat and as a ranged weapon.

"Back off, race traitor." Stormtiger said simply, gesturing with the clawed hand. Now that he was moving it, I could faintly hear a low shrieking sound, which I presumed was the wind being formed into blades around his fingers.

"Iustitia, Form One." I said softly.

Without a verbal response, the [Sword and Scales of Justice] appeared in my hands, the blade already moving into a guard position without a second thought on my part.

"You think that you can fight me, greenhorn?" the bare-chested Cape asked scornfully.

"She doesn't have to." Miss Militia interjected, stepping beside me, now carrying a shotgun of some kind. Pumping it once, she stared down Stormtiger unflinchingly. "Back off. All of your members are either down or have fled."

"Kaiser will hear of this." the tiger-themed Cape snarled.

"He would regardless of what happened here." the older woman replied, clearly unimpressed with the bravado.

With one last glower in my direction, Stormtiger slunk around the corner and vanished, allowing me to slump in relief.

You have defeated X4 [ABB Grunts], X6 [E88 Minions] and [Metal-shifting Enforcer of Massacre: Hookwolf]! You earn 3800 EXP!

Congratulations, you have Leveled Up! Please select which Job Class you wish to Level Up.

I quickly placed it into [Maceman] and moved on.

Due to not slaying [Metal-Shifting Enforcer of Massacre: Hookwolf], you do not gain a UBM Reward for defeating him. Instead, you gain one rare piece of equipment generated at random. This is not a UBM Reward and can thus be sold or traded to other people.

Randomly Generating Loot...generated.

You receive [Talisman of the Armored Wolf]!

You receive $4000!

Title Gained! [Rookie Independent Hero]!

Well...Hookwolf's descriptor did not inspire any sort of confidence in my victory. On the contrary, I was now fully aware that only the fact that he'd severely underestimated me, and didn't know anything about my powers were the only reasons that I'd managed to pull off a win against him.

Also, UBM Rewards were kick-ass…

"That was quite the impressive display." Miss Militia said with a slow nod, breaking me out of my thoughts. "Never seen Hookwolf go down that quickly."

"Beginner's luck." I replied modestly, idly noticing that Triumph had cuffed Hookwolf's arms and legs, and was about to detonate a grenade of some kind on him. "Err...is that…?"

"Containment Foam Grenade." the older heroine explained, following my eyes. "More effective at holding Brutes and Changers than any kind of cuff. Once a wagon from the PRT gets here, they'll load him up, foam and all."

"Huh...sounds efficient." I said.

"Whatever works." Triumph agreed as he jogged over, the foam grenade going off and making a Hookwolf meringue. "Unfortunately, Changer/Brutes can be problematic to hold once they reach a certain level, Hookwolf included. Keeping him locked up is gonna be troublesome."

"Armsmaster and Dragon have been working on special cells for the major villains in Brockton Bay, fortunately enough." Miss Militia informed him. "Considering he's got a Birdcage order waiting on him, Hookwolf's cell was one of the first ones they made. Once we get him back to the Rig, he won't be going anywhere until a proper transport arrives."

While I was glad to hear that Hookwolf wouldn't be able to escape easily, a casual glance to the sky told me that it was far later than I was comfortable with. "Er, if that's everything, I'd better go. I've been out for longer than I was anticipating."

"Family?" Miss Militia asked simply, raising a single eyebrow.

"Yes." I nodded, no point in lying about it.

"I see. Would it be alright for you to come in for a debriefing regarding Hamelin at some point?" the older heroine asked. "There are some questions that we would like you to answer regarding everything that happened involving the events in tat pocket dimension of his, not to mention you'll need to collect your reward."

"Eh?" I blinked at her.

"The PRT issued a Kill Order on Hamelin shortly after the Wards were abducted, which automatically put a standard bounty for A-Class Parahumans on his head." Triumph explained. "That's something like half a million dollars. You took care of the threat, at great personal risk, and so you get the bounty."

"Ah...um...wow." I really didn't know what to make of this newest revelation. While I'd needed to put Hamelin down, for multiple reasons, I wasn't especially proud of killing someone, even insane scum like him. Still, if the government wanted to give me a cool half-mil for protecting myself, who was I to complain?

"I'll...see what I can do." I said carefully. "If I do come, it'll be in the afternoon, sometime this week."

Without giving the other woman a chance to reply, I silently used [Dimensional Shift] to blink away to the upper limit of the ability, ten meters. Fortunately, that included nearby rooftops, so I was able to get clear easily.

'Mistress, why did you leave so abruptly?' Iustitia asked after we were a few rooftops away.

'Several reasons.' I answered as I continued heading for home. 'First, I really am late and I don't want Dad to worry more than he has to. Second, I'm tired and the last thing I need is to be tired when I'm likely going to be faced with subtle attempts to worm the limitations of my powers out of me, as well as fend off blatant recruitment offers. Third, I just really want to eat something. I haven't eaten since lunch. Fourth...Miss Militia looked as if he was about to insist I set a solid date.'

Something that Dad had said over the years when he came back, exhausted, from meetings, was that you couldn't let the other party hold the advantage in negotiations. I was tired, battle-weary and in no way in a fit mental state to agree to anything; a perfect target for a wily negotiator to get one over on, in other words. By randomizing the day that I came in to talk to the PRT, I would hopefully catch them off guard and be able to hold the advantage, and thus be able to firmly reject every offer to join the Wards and tease more information out of me about my powers.

'I see…' Iustitia replied thoughtfully, using her link to me to read my thoughts.

As she thought on my explanation, I ran, jumped and used [Dimensional Shift] to traverse Brockton Bay on the way to my house. I didn't go straight towards it, I knew better than that; instead, I doubled-back every now and again, and took a roundabout route to it, eventually landing in my back garden, whereupon my Embryo transformed into her Maiden Form.

Taking out my mirror, I unequipped my armor before heading inside, with Iustitia following behind me.

"Dad, I'm home!" I called out, closing the door behind us.

"Taylor!" Dad called back anxiously from the living room. He was already getting up from the couch when I walked in, but quickly slumped back down in relief when he saw me. "I just heard on TV that you were at a gang fight! What were you thinking?!"

"Sorry." I said, shuffling uncomfortably at the worried look he was hitting me with. "I just wanted a better debut than one where I killed a guy."

"You were fighting who-knows-how-many gang members and Hookwolf!"

"It wasn't really all that scary." I mused with a shake of my head. "After what happened with Hamelin, not to mention what I just faced in that dimensional bubble, Hookwolf...just wasn't all that scary. He's just…human, a scary human with dangerous powers, but still just a human. I was anxious, apprehensive and wary, but not really afraid."

"That does not fill me with any kind of reassurance, Taylor." Dad deadpanned at me before sighing. "Go get cleaned up. I'll order take-out, and once we're done eating, we can talk about what you got up to while you were out."

I didn't need a better excuse to make a quick getaway, I trusted Iustitia to make sure Dad ordered what I wanted while I showered. Dad might have known what I liked, but he could be a bit absentminded when talking over the phone, particularly when ordering takeout. One time he'd tried to order using a Fugly Bob's menu after calling a Chinese restaurant.

After having a nice, relaxing shower and a nice change of clothes, I went downstairs and made another couple of sandwiches for Iustitia, remembering that she had to eat home-cooked meals whenever possible. She was delighted at my remembering, and gave me a hug before she dug in.

Once the takeout (pizza) had arrived and we ate, I sat down and told Dad about Pequod's lair of despair, pulling out a belaying pin to show him.

"This is...huh…" Dad looked at it critically before nodding. "And you think there's other pockets with Hamelin's remnant emotions in them?"

"Absolutely." Iustitia assured him confidently. "The object that we acquired after defeating Pequod, the [Dimensional Astrarium], would not have been generated had there been no others to detect in the first place."

"A fair point." Dad nodded. "So this time was despair...what other emotions do you think he'd have felt...at the end?"

"Anger was probably the biggest one, he was practically foaming at the mouth after I messed up so many of his plans and refused to go down easy." I stated. "I'm not looking forward to that one, it must be said. Er...possibly envy, because I had a power that he couldn't steal, for whatever reason...remorse, anguish...pride, or broken pride at least...there's no telling, aside from none of them being beneficent."

"We can set up the astrarium later to have a look at what state the dimensional pockets are in, as well as how many there are. I doubt there are any in immediate need for attention, the one at the original location of Hamelin defeat would have been the most unstable." my Embryo reassured us. "For now, we should discuss the PRT and Protectorate. They want to debrief Mistress regarding her fight with Hamelin."

This last was an aside to Dad, who nodded.

"A lone rookie goes up against someone who'd been leading them around by their noses and wins...yeah, I can see what they're likely to do here; probably try to press you to join." he sighed. "Well, if nothing else, I can give you negotiating pointers and the like. When are you meeting them?"

"I told them I'd come in some time in the next week...without telling them exactly when." I replied with a small smirk.

"Clever, Little Owl." Dad smirked back. "You should go in the next couple of days though; no point letting them have enough time to find their feet, after all. We can spend tomorrow afternoon coaching you a bit so you can have a better chance of seeing probing questions and the like."

"Thanks Dad." I said with a smile.

"Can I ask why both of you seem to be exceptionally wary of the Protectorate and PRT?" Iustitia asked curiously. "You're both law-abiding people, so I cannot fathom this."

"Ah." Dad and I chorused, exchanging looks before I spoke up. "Well, in my case, it's a combination of Mom's skepticism regarding the competency and motivation of the Protectorate, and my...fifteen months of hell at Winslow."

Seeing my Embryo was puzzled at the first part, Dad elaborated. "Annette was formerly a member of a Cape group the PRT's calling a gang these days, way back in college. She worked under Lustrum, a strong advocate for feminism, female empowerment and equal rights for women everywhere. The problem was that Lustrum started losing control of her followers as the movement grew too large. Annette left when she saw that things were starting to get out of control, and sure enough, a number of Lustrum's followers started...castrating...men for seemingly no good reason, in spite of Lustrum ordering them to stop."

I took up the story then. "Even although Lustrum helped in apprehending the ones who were actually behind the attacks and had never supported them, through either words and actions, she was still arrested, tried, and found partially responsible for their crimes as a 'Parahuman Influence' and sent to the Baumann Parahuman Containment Center, better known as the Birdcage. Once you set foot inside that place, there is no leaving. Mom thought that, while holding a leader responsible for the actions of their followers is the right thing to do, they had taken Lustrum's punishment went well beyond the pale. She always stressed that just because the government is in charge, it doesn't mean that they are always right, nor that they should always be trusted."

"As for me, I've been working as the Union Representative for the Dockworker's Association for a good while, almost since I graduated from college, actually." Dad started with a sigh. "I've watched as the National Protectorate and PRT has gradually pruned back the number of Capes, troopers, funding and equipment over the years. Add in that I've had to fight the mayor's office, State government and even the Federal government time and time again to keep the workers I represent able to feed and clothe their families, and you get the fact that this family has a healthy dislike for the government at large. They might not be the enemy, but they're definitely not on our side."

"I see...justice has truly been twisted in this world, hasn't it?" Iustitia said sadly.

"That's why we're going to make it better, Iustitia." I said firmly. "Maybe only in Brockton Bay, maybe only by a little, but we have to try."

"Yes, my Mistress!" the blindfolded Embryo agreed, vigor quickly returning. "We shall enact justice, even in the face of those working for their own ends!"

"Glad to see you're enthusiastic." Dad chuckled. "Now, you've shown me the stats for that cuirass that you got from Pequod, very impressive, but what about those books, the two chips and the talisman you received from Hookwolf?"

"Your 'Inner Gamer' wanting to see my loot, Dad?" I offered with a teasing grin.

"Can you blame me? You just did a Dungeoneering expedition all on your lonesome; doing that in any MMO means you should get some pretty good loot." Dad said knowingly.

"Yeah, yeah…" I rolled my eyes in amusement as I brought out the four books that I'd found. "Iustitia said these are [Job Books]. Activating them lets you learn a Job Class, at the cost of resetting your EXP Gauge to zero."

"Sounds pretty standard. What jobs are they for?" Dad asked in interest.

"Lessee...[Spearman], [Priest], [Mage] and...[Bestial Knight]? First three are pretty obvious, but I've never heard of that last one." I said with a blink. I took a quick look at all of their descriptions just to be sure I wasn't getting anything mixed up here.

Job Name: Spearman

Job Grouping: Spearman

Job Rank: Low-Class

Requirements: None

Description: A warrior who fights with a polearm tipped with a blade. An oft-overlooked but highly useful base job-class can offer up several powerful High-Class and Superior Jobs to those with the tenacity and gumption to master this Job. As a close combat job, it focuses on increasing Strength, Dexterity and Toughness.

Class Skills Learned Upon Acquisition: [Spear Sweep], [Health Boost], [Spearman's Eye], [Spear Thrust].

Job Name: Priest

Job Grouping: Priest

Job Rank: Low-Class

Requirements: None.

Description: A priest of the gods who focuses on casting healing magic. While not useful for individual adventuring, a Priest is a must-have in most parties. A pure support job that focuses on increasing the MP stat above all others.

Class Skills Learned Upon Acquisition: [First Heal], [MP Up].

Job Name: Mage

Job Grouping: Mage

Job Rank: Low-Class

Requirements: None.

Description: A user of magic who learns the basics of several schools of magic. A practitioner of the magical arts who knows a wide variety of offensive and defensive magic, although none are especially powerful. Depending on what magic you use, the higher-ranking jobs unlocked can become especially powerful. A long-distance combat job that focuses entirely on raising MP.

Class Skills Learned Upon Acquisition: [Petite Fire], [Petite Wind], [Petite Rock], [Petite Water], [MP Up].

Class Name: Bestial Knight

Job Grouping: Knight

Job Sub-Group: Monster Knight

Other Groupings: Atavist, Ritualist.

Job Rank: High-Class

Requirements: Slay 20 Beast-type Monsters in three different dungeons (1/3), Possess a Close Combat Low-Rank Job above Level 10 (2/1).

Description: A Knight who possesses the ability to absorb and utilize the strength of those beasts that they slay. Unlike most Knights, who use heavy armor and a steed, a Bestial Knight favors speed over protection and fights on foot. They possess the ability to increase their EXP gain by absorbing the power of their slain beast-type monstrous enemies. A close combat class focused on fighting monsters. Focuses on Strength, HP, Stamina and Dexterity.

Class Skills Learned Upon Acquisition: [Charge], [Beast EXP Boost], [Beast Ability Theft], [Greater HP Boost], [Greater Stamina Boost].

"OK, wow…" I said with wide eyes. "The first three are rather basic, but that last one...I think it's worth getting it if that third ability means what I think it does."

"You would be able to acquire a special ability from a beast-type monster, such as that water ball spitting ability from those rats that we fought in the Despair Pocket." Iustitia said with equal shock.

"Speaking of that...I've already gotten one of the dungeon clears necessary to get [Bestial Knight]." I noted with a grin. "Hopefully the next couple of dungeons have beast-type enemies too…"

I wrote down the information on all four for Dad to read, which he did, whistling at the last one.

"OK, that is an interesting one." he said. "If I'm parsing the information here, this is a High-Rank Job from not just the [Knight] grouping, but [Atavist] and [Ritualist] as well. Is that common?"

"It isn't uncommon." Iustitia replied thoughtfully. "While most Low-Rank Jobs fall into a singular grouping, it's fairly normal for powerful High-Rank, and particularly Superior, Jobs to belong to more than one grouping. One example would be a [Dark Knight], a High-Rank Job which specializes in using curses in combination with close combat, they are also a part of the [Knight] grouping and a part of the [Sorcerer] sub-groupings. Another is the [Temple Knight] which is part of the [Knight] grouping and the [Priest] grouping.

"Huh. Makes sense, the more advanced a class, the more areas it would fall into." Dad nodded. "Is a [Temple Knight] the same as a [Paladin]?"

"No. While both are High-Rank Jobs, [Paladin] is far harder to acquire than [Temple Knight]." my Embryo replied with a shake of her head. "To acquire [Temple Knight] as a Job option, you merely need to be a [Priest] and heal over a hundred people other than yourself and ask for no reward in return. To become a [Paladin], you need to...hm...I need to translate it into applicable terms for this world...done. Mistress would need to get a letter of referral from the head of the local Protectorate, donate $100,000 to a church, temple, synagogue or any other house of worship of her choice and kill a Demi-Dragon Class monster by herself."

"A hundred-thousand dollars?!" I squeaked in mortification. The thought of spending that much money just for the sake of a job was making me physically ill.

"A Demi-Dragon? If that is a bad as it sounds…" Dad frowned.

"Demi-Dragons are...if not rare, at least very uncommon." Iustitia temporized. "Mistress is unlikely to come across them until she is Level 50 at least. Even then, they are solitary creatures so she would only face a single one. Until she enters a sufficiently high-level dungeon, the odds of running into a Demi-Dragon are very slim."

"Iustitia, we are going to have a talk about invoking Murphy at some point." I sighed, pinching the bridge of my nose. If my luck held true, then I was going to run into either a Demi-Dragon or Lung soon. "Before we move on to those chips that you picked up, let's have a look at this thing that I got from KOing Hookwolf."

Manipulating my mirror-menu, I brought the item up on the 'screen' only I could see.

[Talisman of the Armored Wolf]

Accessory, Rare

A snarling wolf's head made of burnished steel. Generated from the defeat of [Metal-Shifting Enforcer of Massacre: Hookwolf], this handy little talisman applies the strength of steel to the wearer's armor and clothing, increasing their defensive values by +30 across the board.

+10 Strength

+15 Toughness

+5 Dexterity

+250 Stamina

"Sounds like a useful little trinket." Dad opined.

"Yeah...two secs…" I said. I quickly equipped my [Pirate's Sword and Pistol Belt] and then opened the previously unused sub-equip menu that it had, selecting the [Talisman of the Armored Wolf] and equipping it to the belt.

In a shimmer of silver light, the talisman appeared on the right side of the belt. It was a diamond-shaped hunk of metal with the surface shaped into a snarling wolf's head as seen from the front. All in all, it looked pretty cool.

"So what are these chips that you've been talking about?" Dad asked Iustitia.

"These." my Embryo replied, pulling them out from...somewhere. Each was about the same size as a standard playing card and were striped with black and a different color; one had mauve, while the other one was turquoise. "They're [System Cores]. When I was being implanted into Mistress, something else was trying to infest her. As a result, a great many sub-systems are unavailable due to being throttled by whatever force interfered with my Zeroth Form being implanted properly. It took advantage of the Dimensional Pocket of Hamelin breaking up to conceal them behind the last bosses of those pockets. By releasing them back to their proper place in the system, not only will new parts of the system be open to my Mistress and I, but a number of errors in the system will be cleared up in doing so."

"There are errors?" I asked in concern.

"I can sense them." Iustitia confirmed. "I don't know what they are, and only a handful will be fixed with each [System Core] returned. I don't even know what they will be...but getting the System fully operational is to our benefit in the long run."

"True…" Dad nodded. "What do you need to do to return them?"

"Mistress, can I borrow your hands for a moment?" Iustitia asked, turning to me.

"Uh...sure." I replied, nonplussed. She had me hold her hands while the cards were laid on the floor beneath us, directly in the center of the circle formed by our linked hands.

"Infinite Dendrogram Earth Bet System Access: EB_Embryo 001, Iustitia, Maiden of Justice." she chanted as a glow sprung up around us. "Uploading System Core 05: Gacha System, and System Core 07: Player-Monster Interaction System. Commencing upload...now."

Under my astonished gaze, the cards floated up to my eye level before dissolving into motes of blue light and vanishing. In all, it took about thirty seconds to do. The next moment, Iustitia let out a cry of pain and cradled her head, letting my hands go in the process.

"Holy…! Are you OK?!" I asked in horror. Had the system hurt her?!

"Information...overload...I'm fine…" the blindfolded girl whimpered. "Just...give me a minute…"

After a moment, Iustitia straightened up, a look of relief on her face. "Well, that was unpleasant. Remind me in future to only upload one per day to prevent that from happening again."

"Noted." I said after exchanging a concerned look with Dad. "So...have any errors been fixed?"

"Several." the Embryo replied ruefully. "That error causing us to get randomly transported from the dimensional pocket after completing it has been corrected. Several minor interactions between Embryos and whatever the source of Parahuman powers is has also been dealt with. The largest change has to do with your Stats, Mistress."

"My...stats…?" I blinked. "In what way?"

"In Infinite Dendrogram, the Wisdom and Intelligence stats do not exist." Iustitia explained. "Instead, the size of your MP pool determines your resistance to magic effects, abnormal mental debuffs resistance and fatigue. The larger your pool, the lesser these effects are, with fatigue kicking in as your pool gets depleted. As such, the stats of Intelligence and Wisdom have been removed, and their numerical value has been added to your MP pool, giving you a grand total of 680 MP. Additionally, my [MP Up] skill has been upgraded to [Greater MP UP], which will raise your MP by 300 every time you level up from here on out."

"That seems like a fair redistribution." Dad said thoughtfully.

"Yes...unfortunately, a restriction to do with skills has been reinstated as well…" Iustitia frowned. "The skills generated by all Low-Rank Jobs have a Cap at Level Five, so your [Swordsman] job's skills have all been dropped down to that limit. On the upside, the accumulated experience from those Skill Levels has unlocked another [Swordsman] Skill. It's called [Lesser Sword Art: Howling Pierce]."

I frowned at that one. Restricting the strength of a Low-Rank Job that way did make sense, they were low-rank for a reason, but it was irritating as all the jobs that I had access to were Low-Rank Jobs. I had to get [Bestial Knight] soon; there was no guarantee that the Empire would hold back the next time I ran into them after I helped capture their strongest and most feared fighter.

The Empire 88 has the most Parahumans in their ranks bar none, even outnumbering the Protectorate. Add in the large amount of unpowered muscle they have at their fingertips and you had a single gang more than able to hold their own against the Protectorate, the Wards and the PRT standing united.

"Well then...we'd better start on that coaching you promised me, Dad." I said with determination. The sooner I dealt with the PRT, the sooner I could get back to taking care of Hamelin's remnants and getting stronger!

Name: Taylor Hebert

Cape Name: Justitia

Gender: Female

Level: 18

Title: None (*)

Job(s): (1) Swordsman (LV10)

(2) Maceman (LV4)

(3) Gunslinger (LV4)

EXP:1973/2800

Embryo: Maiden of Justice, Iustitia

Embryo Type: Maiden with Arms

Embryo Forms Achieved: 3/7

Stats:

HP: 1140

MP: 680

STA: 5050 (+250)

Strength: 95 (+10)

Toughness: 95 (+15)

Endurance: 95

Dexterity: 55 (+5)

Luck: ?