87 Close Out
Aisha tried to follow my movements as I brewed the tea, but that would have been a challenge even before One-Man Assembly Line had taken the speed of my construction from excessive to ludicrous. It took more time to cross through the portal to the Skyforge's overlook and settle into one of the tables than it did for me to actually make the tea. And the teapot. And cutlery and cups and trays and assorted accessory items.
Aisha blinked as she looked over my work. "That was without your Noble Phantasm, right? Part of the new super-super speed crafting?"
"One-Man Assembly Line." I confirmed. "Lets me make everything about a hundred times faster than before. Even stuff that's not technical." I explained as I began to serve the tea.
The workshop was currently half empty. Fleet was driving Survey to her meeting with Parian and Tybalt was still coordinating or possibly networking with the police and security team who would be managing the event. That left Aisha, Tetra, and Garment to enjoy the fruits of my latest blessing.
Technically Survey and Fleet were still here, but they had taken to interacting primarily through their physical bodies. Given the activity was the sharing of refreshments, attending via hologram would present some obstacles. Even with Dionysus's blessing I would be hard pressed to include them. I mean, it was possible, but a bit of a stretch for a new blessing.
Instead, their attention was directed towards the massively expanded 'laser tag' arena where the Ion and Tone titans were currently running through combat drills. Fleet was assisting the exercise with the help of support vehicles while Survey maintained her usual level of observation of the situation. The titans themselves seemed to be enjoying the chance to finally exercise the art they were built for, even if it was with orange nerf versions of their usual oversized weapons.
Survey was maintaining that level of observation of us as well, but she had a clear distinction between being aware of something and being present as part of it. That was probably for the best, or there would be no semblance of privacy left for anyone in the Workshop and probably the entire city.
At the table Tetra was sitting next to Aisha and looking at the surrounding landscape as it was lit by the late afternoon sun. There had been a level of tension between Tetra and Aisha that probably had its roots in the fact that the first time Aisha learned about Tetra was when the rest of the team was frantically working to find a way to split us apart without killing at least one of us. Medical emergency combined with killer parasite combined with the whole 'aliens are real' revelation had created a bit of a rocky start to their relationship, but one that was gradually smoothing out.
It probably helped that Tetra actually had a body and ability to interact with people now. Something that should only get better after her upcoming procedure.
Across from them Garment sat and watched as I served out the newly made and therefore ridiculously perfect, empowered, and stunning tea set.
"You're doing that thing again." I looked up at Aisha. "The thing where you get all melancholy about your crafting." She raised the back of a hand to her forehead and took on a dramatic pose. "Oh, woe is me, everything I touch turns into a perfect work of art. Will I ever again be able to create cheap crap?"
"Very funny." I said as I poured out the tea. "But yeah, latest power did kind of take things off the charts."
"I know. We take our eyes off you for a couple of hours and find out you've coopted another mythology, achieved invincibility, gained telepathic precognition, and weaponized a space elevator. Oh, and you're consorting with drunks. Tisk tisk."
"Hey, that drunk is the one who's helping with this tea. If you don't want it…?"
"I'm good." Aisha said, sitting up sharply. Next to her Tetra leaned forward.
"Are you sure I can drink this?" She asked, sniffing with her glowing mink nose. "It's… different. Not bad, but different." Her body pulsed with infrared light, letting Aisha hear her normally silent voice through communications transmitted to her watch.
"This is the Blessing of Dionysus. There's no way he's going to let someone go without a drink. Trust me, you can handle this."
She took the offered teacup in her paw-like hands, one of which still sported my Avid Glove. A brief shift in awareness showed me the word from its perspective before I refocused on my own senses.
Aisha accepted hers in a far more traditional fashion. She glanced across the table to where Garment was sitting patiently. "So, I guess that means Garment's the only one left out." Aisha said with a bit of sympathy as she savored the aroma rising from her cup.
I smiled at that as I poured the last of the cups. Normally Garment would keep hers as something of a prop during the conversation, but this time I picked it up and rose to my feet. Turning to her I raised the cup of tea and called out "Garment!".
And then I poured it onto the ground.
Aisha looked at the spilled tea in horror, but her eyes were quickly drawn back to Garment's own reaction. It was… well, it was pretty much the opposite of horror. She had one glove pressed to the breast of her dress and the other gripping the edge of the table in what would have been a white knuckled grip. When Aisha leaned in to check on her she quickly signaled that she needed a minute.
"Okay, okay." She assured Garment before turning to me. "What did you do?" She hissed in a whisper.
"Libation." I said. Aisha gave me a confused look. "Blessing of Dionysus?"
"I know about that. I thought that was all about brewing." I gestured for her to go on. "What? And the thing about offerings to gods and… spirits." She slowly turned to Garment. "Wait, she counts for that?"
"She's… close enough." I said. Garment wasn't exactly a spirit in the sense that effects specific to spirits generally wouldn't affect her, but she was still an animating noncorporal intelligence. Technically you could offer a libation to anything, but spiritual connections helped strengthen the effect. While Garment might not be a ghost, specter, or kami, she was absolutely a spiritual entity.
Plus, this was the work of Dionysus. If it came to a question of 'Can I give this person a drink?' it was a safe bet ninety-nine times out of a hundred his answer would be yes.
"So, you used your divine blessing to give Garment a cup of tea." Aisha said. "And that was her reaction." Garment was still processing the offering, with Aisha's reaction being somewhere between concern and envious looks back at her own cup.
"It makes sense." Tetra said, lifting her mug for a sip. "This is really, really good." She took another sip. "Really good."
Concern warred with envy on Aisha's face until she finally snatched her cup and took a long draw from it. "Oh fucking hell, yes." She said with a level of enthusiasm that made me slightly uncomfortable.
"I'm glad you like it." I said neutrally, taking a more modest sip from my own cup.
The mild floral aroma that built as I raised the cup bloomed into a complex interplay of luminous flavors. Hints of citrus brought forth the milder tones without overwhelming them, then faded to a soothing mix of mellower hints that had been overshadowed in the initial burst of flavor. The interplay balanced perfectly and settled into a texture of sensations that you could get lost in. It brought a feeling of solace and relief, the creation of a tiny moment where the warmth of the cup infused your very soul, banishing stress and pain and worry. Lowering the cup, the scent of the liquid seemed to take on a new texture, warmer and richer, with the promise of support and reassurance.
"Okay." I said. "I see what you mean. Three high level mythological creation powers might be a bit much for something like this."
"Ya think?" Aisha asked while jealously guarding her own cup. Tetra was mechanically working through her own tea in a cycle of sip, close eyes, glow in rippling patterns, open eyes, and sip again. "God, I remember when I thought your elf tea was the shit."
I shrugged. "I could probably take this a bit further by using the Alchemy Machine." Aisha's eyes widened and Garment redirected her attention towards me. "I just wanted to keep things casual."
"Casual, right. Because you can just knock out major mythological items casually now." Aisha muttered, but didn't stop working her way through her tea.
Next to me Garment lifted the immaculate saucer towards me with her empty bone china teacup balanced atop it. I accepted it with a smile, refilled it, called her name, then cast it onto the ground again.
Her reaction wasn't any more muted the second time.
"So, you can just make anything from Viking myths now?" Aisha asked after she finished mourning the spilled tea.
"Sort of." I said. "The power is something that needs time and practice. I'm still at the entry level for most of what I can do." Her eyes dropped to her teacup then back to me in near disbelief. "But yeah, even more than with Daedalus's Student. Anything I make, as long as it's from base materials, is going to have some mythologicalish features."
She nodded. "I get that, it's just weird seeing it with stuff like this." She said. I raised an eyebrow and she continued. "Like, you hear about someone making items of myth or whatever and you figure they're talking about weapons, shields, armor, all that kind of stuff. You don't really consider things like food." She lifted her cup to me. "Or tea sets."
The enhancements on the tea set were fairly utilitarian compared to some of the other stuff I could make. They were nearly indestructible and would keep the tea at the perfect temperature while preventing people from accidently spilling or burning their tongues on the liquid. There would always be enough cups for the number of guests and the teapot would hold as much tea as you needed to make. The set would clean itself and pack away on its own, while encouraging a calm and peaceful atmosphere while the tea was being enjoyed. It was also possible that it might generate small cakes or finger sandwiches if needed, but that was a feature I wasn't testing at the moment.
It was a demonstration of the fact that my powers didn't always need to be world shaking. Sure, I could make legendary weapons or devices that could track individual souls or tools that warped the metaphysical fabric of the universe, but I could also make simple quality of life items. And unlike all that other stuff, I didn't need to worry about what might happen if the tea set of the gods somehow breached containment or fell into the wrong hands.
"Are there any divine foods we should watch out for?" Aisha asked. "Like, can you make ambrosia or whatever?"
I considered the question. Even with 'divine' powers, it wasn't like I had a list of every mythological item and instructions for how to make it. Also, while the connection to specific mythologies was a bit tenuous, it was definitely easier to make items thematically aligned with the respective culture, rather than running at cross purposes or working from first principles.
Ambrosia was the Greek food of the gods with Nectar, or at least mythological nectar, being the liquid form. The problem was, without a specific example I wasn't sure if I could create it. Something like it, sure, but we weren't talking about ballparks here.
Ambrosia's main aspect was life, either longevity or full immortality. Taking aspects of food, specifically the way it nourished and sustained, it was definitely possible to focus on enhancing them. Take them further than physically possible with Daedalus's Student or alter their primal nature with Craftsmen of the Gods, and then further enhance everything with Master Craftsman.
And those were just the major boosts. There would also be bonuses from everything from the level of Elven Enchanting chosen to minimizing weaknesses with Lathe of Heaven, quality increases from Do One Thing at a Time, Lack of Materials, and various Unnatural Skills and Minor Blessings. Not to mention what could be accomplished from the alchemy side of things using Magecraft, Deranged Alchemist, or the Alchemy Machine.
"Probably." I admitted. "Or something close to it." I lifted my own cup. "At this point, there's not much difference between cooking and alchemy as far as my powers are concerned. It's just a question of how far I take things. There are plenty of bad stories, foods that bind people to other realms or incinerate them because of the energy involved." Aisha nodded. "I guess I could make that kind of stuff, but that's not really what I'd focus on."
"I get that." She said.
I nodded. It wasn't like I needed to trick someone into eating empowered food to cause them to burst into flames anymore. "The other side of things would be foods that heal or empower, grant strength or longevity or even wisdom. That's something I could handle. It's more of a natural extension of what food is supposed to do, so it lines up with Master Craftsman and Daedalus's student really well."
"Guess I'll need to be careful about the snack table." Aisha joked. "So you can make any god food out there."
"Sort of." I said with a shrug. "Items with specific origins or weird effects, like the Mead of Poetry, might be a challenge, but I could probably pull something off."
"The what of what?" Aisha asked.
"Norse myth." I explained. "So fairly disgusting origin, but there was some mead that made anyone who drank it really good at poetry." I considered how such an effect would come about, the way knowledge was distilled from blood and honey and the transfer of it through drink. It wasn't beyond the abilities of Craftsmen of the Gods, but it was something that would need more skill and practice than my introductory level.
"Huh." Aisha said, checking Survey's summary of the myth on her watch. Flickers of infrared light from Tetra showed her accessing the same information, as well as the rest of the mythological items that had been identified as possibilities by Survey or my duplicates. "So, would that stuff make you better at rapping?" She teased with a look of humor on her face.
"What kind of a question is that?" I asked. "Of course it would."
Aisha blinked. "Wait, seriously?" She asked.
"Vikings had this whole thing with rhyming contests." I explained. "You get divinely granted poetry powers, it's obviously going to help with that."
"Are you kidding…" She trailed off as Survey transferred another report to her watch. "What the hell is flyting?"
She took some time to read through the article while occasionally pausing to sip her tea. I refilled her cup along with Tetra's as she finished reading and I wondered how exactly we got on the topic of insult-based Viking rap battles.
"Right." Aisha said. "Setting aside all of THAT, I guess the point is you can kind of do whatever you want with this stuff, right? Like, not just through magic or technology, you can just build whatever?"
"Sort of." I admitted. "Honestly, it was a big relief to get a power like this. Combined with everything else, there's not much that's off the table, but it's not infinite." I explained. "There's a limit to how much I can add to something, so it still works best with magic or technology. Craftsmen of the Gods takes work and practice to hit the really high levels, and it has restrictions. No processed materials to start with. And the quality of the ingredients makes a difference as well."
"I'm guessing less of a problem with your super metals and the like than when you're making tea and booze?" Aisha asked. I nodded, taking another sip of my tea. You'd never guess the basis for it was a single Lipton tea bag that predated my current apartment. "I saw what happened to the 'storage space'. Remember I thought it was big when it started." She continued. "So, you going to start growing crops there?"
There was a slight rumbling beneath us as the arrival of a mote from the Personal Reality constellation caused the Workshop to shift. I took a second to review it, then smiled back at Aisha.
"Probably just going to use the Greenhouse." I said.
She gave me a blank look, then checked her watch for Survey's report on the latest addition. "Okay, your power is fucking with us, right?"
"Sometimes it feels that way, but I'm pretty sure it's just confirmation bias on a random system." I replied.
The power, which arrived immediately after the Blessing of Dionysus, was called Greenhouse. It granted exactly what you would expect, a separate greenhouse structure fully connected to the Workshops water, electricity, and lighting systems. It was half the size of my storage space and grew at half the rate, being forty by forty meters and growing by a factor of five rather than ten. The thing was, like the Garage, increases from Additional Size that were split between the Lofty Loft and the Storage space applied without a level of reduction. As such I currently had a Greenhouse that was twenty-five kilometers on a side for six hundred and twenty-five square kilometers of growing space, all able to support soil-ponics, hydroponics, or aeroponics.
For context, that was over sixty-two thousand hectares of growing space, equivalent to the amount of agricultural land in Luxemburg. I thanked Survey for that little factoid as I considered what I was going to do with enough dedicated farmland to outstrip a small European nation.
Oh, and I could still grow crops in the open storage area, it just wasn't perfectly set up for agriculture. Which meant it would take a slight amount of work to set up the irrigation and support systems. Given the volumes I was talking about here I doubted I would need to extend farming efforts beyond the Greenhouse any time soon.
Aisha finished looking over the report on the new extension, which was thankfully in its own overlapping pocket dimension. Not that I didn't have space for six hundred square kilometers of greenhouse, but it was nice to keep things separate even if the dimensional geometry was getting a bit convoluted.
"So, not to bum anyone out, but is this actually going to make a difference?" She asked. "I mean, we're talking weeks for long-term plans here. I know I made a joke, but it's not like there's time to wait out a growing season."
"Depends on the growing season." I said. I called to my pyrokinesis, forming an image in the air the same way I would have done with diagrams on mass fields. "We've got Mantic energy, natural energy alchemy, mana lines, questionable temporal technology from my household tech power, Elven Enchantment, Talismans, everything that can be done with divine crafting, and the Arcane Craft to take it all to the next level."
Aisha watched the array of plans, diagrams and explanations that played out in precisely controlled flames. With my new Firecraft skill, manifestations like this were as easy as breathing and flowed more naturally from my mind than any graphic interface I could have used through my implant or cybernetics.
Aisha took in the display, the lights of the flames dancing in her eyes. Garment, mostly unmoved by my new display of power, tapped me on the arm and raised her empty cup once more. Aisha watched as I offered her another libation, then shifted back to the diagrams.
"See, this is what I was talking about. Not the crazy weapons, but all the other stuff that gets boosts that nobody thinks about." She said.
"I wouldn't say nobody thinks about it." I said in my defense. "It just gets overshadowed by the proper threat responses."
Tetra nodded. "They talk about it a lot online." She said, and I was reminded how extensively she could connect herself to the workshop networks, sometimes literally when she deactivated her zoanthrope power and dispersed herself into her fibrous form.
"They do it with Dauntless too." Tetra continued. Pulses of infrared light issued commands to the Workshop's network, bringing up a holographic screen of a PHO thread. "Most of the time they talk about what he can do with his weapons and armor, but someone always brings up enhanced coffee machines or pillows or frying pans."
I had to smile at that. It was somehow reassuring to know I wasn't the only cape with unlimited potential being drawn, or at least theorized in random areas. Though the fact that I had basically stepped into the role that people had previously only reserved for Dauntless was a bit harrowing, and the fact that I was speedrunning things in weeks rather than years was even more so.
"Yep, even talk about gardening supplies." Aisha said as she scrolled through the thread on her own screen. "Damn, some of the stuff here is scarily similar to shit you've done."
I shrugged. "Makes sense. Dauntless is basically enchanting his equipment. It's the same principles in play."
Aisha looked up at me. "That's the whole 'powers are actually magic' thing, right?"
"Magic, or close enough for my power." I explained. "Which I guess means close enough to count as magic in whatever worlds my powers come from. It's why that charmed flying broom worked for you. Parahumans count as 'magic users' under any other system I have access to."
"That's…" She shook her head. "That's still crazy to deal with, you know?"
"Believe me, I know." I assured her. There was a look of understanding between us that wasn't shared by the alien symbiote or living manifestation of fashion that shared the table. Probably the difference between being born into the craziness of the Celestial Forge and having to adjust to the change from a 'normal life'.
"So like, if Dauntless showed up in Web of Magic he'd just be a guy with a lot of mystic codes or something?" She asked. It was the kind of question fans of the series would throw around online, usually for the purposes of sparking twenty page debates about conceptual magic and magus origins. The difference was I could actually answer the question with some level of authority.
"Sort of." I said, thinking back to the time I had seen Dauntless in person back at Garment's debut. I didn't have the level of understanding of magical effects or the type of sensors that I did now, but I could still recognize the enchantments on his spear and equipment. Especially his spear. My power had been, and to a degree still was, particularly focused on weapons.
"Dauntless grants special properties to his gear, but they're powered by him. That's why nobody else can use them." I explained. The Arcane Craft was a great help in breaking down effects like that. "In terms of mystic codes, it would be like something that had a bunch of serious powers, but still needed to be supplied with mana in order to work."
Aisha began to nod, then recoiled slightly as five copies of Dauntless's Arclance appeared floating above my shoulder. The shimmering weapons looked like solidified lightning, but had a slightly blue tint to them.
"Right." Aisha said. "That's from the same thing as your teleport power?"
"Dark Slayer." I said. "On top of everything else, it lets me make copies of any weapon I've seen before." I plucked one of the Arclances out of the air, leaving the other four floating in place. "Of course, the rest of my crafting powers kick in, so I need to pick between getting five of them, or one three times the normal size."
Aisha nodded. "What about the rest? Like, are they divine objects or whatever?"
I shook my head. "Need to make something by hand for that. The copies don't count, though they do get the benefit of Daedalus's Student, and the energy they're made from counts as a base material for Craftsmen of the Gods. You also get other quality and production effects that apply, which is good because normally they'd be pretty sub-par compared to the original." I explained. "Fortunately, they don't form the same way as things from projection magic so I don't need to worry about explosions."
Aisha and Tetra leaned in, examining the glowing spear. Well, Tetra had to pull herself half up onto the table, seeing as her zoanthrope form was more than two feet shorter than Aisha. Meanwhile Garment seemed to be considering the spear on an aesthetic level. And indicated that perhaps it was time for another libation? I released the spear, leaving it to float with the others while I dumped out a forth cup of tea, much to Garment's appreciation.
"Does the power let you use the spear, or can you copy whatever Dauntless uses to run his gear?" Aisha asked.
"Both, really." I replied as the Resources and Durability constellation missed a connection. "The Arcane Craft lets me use any item if I understand the function, even if it wouldn't normally be possible, while Dark Slayer copies items in the state that I saw them in. I can't improve the spears, but they're as good as what Dauntless was using."
That was something of a rare case. The quality of the copy was based on my familiarity with the weapon in question and my level of training in weapon replication. While I had the second factor in spades, I had only seen Dauntless's spear once in person and had done minimal levels of analysis on it.
I let the cluster of Arclances fade back into a blueish miasma of demon energy. "It's a power I haven't pushed too much. Used it a bit in training, and it has some advantages over using projection or digistruct technology, but limitations as well. It also can only make copies, so generally I'm better duplicating some of the stronger weapons I've made than anything from someone else."
"Yeah, I guess there's aren't many parahumans with weapons that can top the stuff you churn out." Aisha joked. I began to nod, then froze as a realization suddenly hit me.
"Fuck." I said in a hollow voice.
"Uh, Józef?" Aisha asked in concern. She shared a glance with Tetra before turning back to me.
"God damn fucking hell." I growled as the weight of the revelation fully dawned on me.
"What is it?" Aisha asked.
"March." I spat.
Tetra tensed and Aisha's eyes widened in concern. "What? What about March?"
"Stupid fucking god damn." I continued. Even Garment was starting to look concerned now.
"What's wrong?" Aisha asked, leaning forward. I took a breath to steady myself, then turned to Aisha.
"What's wrong is if March didn't have such shitty taste in swords then my most powerful attack wouldn't look like this." With a surge of demon energy five overdesigned broadswords appeared above my shoulder, their blades pointed forwards as they slowly rotated like the barrels of a rotary cannon, which was the basic idea.
The design was instantly recognizable. The last time I had seen it was when March was swinging the idiotic blade around like a toy, which it basically was. It was a stainless steel display piece with terrible balance, no sense of ergonomics, and a stupid fucking chain attached to the pommel.
It was also imbued with the force of March's ridiculous striker power, or at least the best emulation of it that my Dark Slayer power could manifest.
"Fuck." Aisha said, looking up at the assembled blades. "Are those…" She looked back at me. "Seriously, you can just copy March's power?"
"Sort of." I said, calling forth my familiar. There was the familiar poofing sensation as my ear tufts and tail manifested, and the expected poorly concealed reactions from Aisha and Garment.
Damn it, they weren't THAT cute.
I ignored them and focused on the enchantments on the emulated blade. Well, it was closer to an active spell effect, but it had still been duplicated to a point. The duplication was an emulation through demonic energy, which was like taking a black and white photocopy of a picture and saying it was the same thing. It did the job, but there were details that were hard to pick out. Data from my magic sensors and the full weight of Survey's analysis began filtering in, along with results from my duplicates who had immediately dropped everything they were doing and rushed to the magic laboratory for a full analysis.
"It's not as strong." I said, which was to be expected. I might have been able to perfectly copy Dauntless's weapon, but March's striker effect was on an entirely different level. "It takes longer to place the marker, and a lot longer for it to detonate. Also a much smaller explosion, but it looks like that part is as powerful, or as close to it as we can tell." I said, relaying my own assessment along with experimental results from my duplicates. Who also confirmed that Armsthrift fully protected us from the effect, leaving nothing more than a bit of scuffing or discoloration.
Aisha nodded while Tetra kept her eyes on the blades. Her expression clearly spoke to the exact experience we had shared the last time we encountered March. I let out a breath and quickly dispersed them, with a feeling of good riddance to bad designs.
"You just realized you could do this now?" Aisha asked a bit incredulously.
I shrugged helplessly. "At the time I was a little focused on building bodies for Fleet, Survey, and the Matrix. On top of getting ready for the summit. Also, Tybalt had just shown up and my duplicates were tied up with other projects." I said. "I hadn't really seen that many parahuman weapons at that point, so it didn't occur to me at the time."
Even perfect recall and creativity enhancement powers weren't really helpful if you weren't inclined to use them. I hadn't exactly been dwelling on that moment with March and her stupid, stupid sword.
"Plus, look at this thing!" I said, projecting a image of the idiotic blade out of fire. "Dark Slayer works on weapons, but this thing barely qualifies. It's like someone was trying to create an insult to swordcraft. Given what it's made out of it's not even good as a club. You'd probably have more luck holding it by the blade and trying to beat someone with the stupid spikey handle, which is probably the only way you could avoid hitting yourself in the crotch with that pointless pommel chain." I ranted as my projected image zoomed in on specific aspects of the offensive design. I probably would have been less pissed off if the most powerful offensive effect I had access to wasn't tied into such an unbelievably stupid sword.
"Weird how the Protectorate is convinced you were a power tinker and it ended up that you kind of are." Aisha said.
"That happens a lot." Tetra added.
I nodded, dispersing the burning image of the stupid sword. Survey commented that while she acknowledged the versatility of my new ability, she would prefer the use of image rendering programs for ease of archiving, as opposed to freeform display methods that relied on secondary recording methods. I compromised by promising to present a digital backup of anything I created before replying to Aisha and Tetra. "Power copy stuff has kind of been a thing from the start." Aisha gave me an intrigued look. "Call beads, remember? They can connect to passengers, emulate abilities."
"Only you were using them as batteries." She said. "And phased them out after March."
I nodded. "Yeah, but that was just a stopgap. I never got into the whole passenger connection thing." Probably would have helped if I had more information on parahumans than just the scans from Aisha and the Undersiders. I was talking about using call beads like it was a simple thing, but the mechanics of forging a connection to a passenger and emulating the expression of a parahuman ability were insanely complicated. Even with the data I was getting from the exploration of passenger space I wasn't nearly ready to make the attempt.
Though considering it was basically the holy grail of trump powers, it made sense that it was a bit of an involved process. Probably the kind of project that's meant to take more than a couple of weeks of side research.
"Outside of that, the runes I use for elemental effects can copy magic weapons, but aside from Miss Militia I never got too far with that. Magitech had similar potential but once again, limited research and a difficult process. Well, easier with Mega Bomb, but still complex." I explained.
Aisha nodded as she gave me a contemplative look. "Hey, the call beads? They let you connect to passengers, right? How is that supposed to work?"
I waved a hand, shifting my floating flames into an outline of a call bead. "You break the bead and that opens the link, providing the energy needed for an expression of some ability. Providing you have something to link to, otherwise it's just a source of energy." There was also the question of what exactly March did that somehow inverted the connection. That was so far off the map that I wasn't even sure how it could be possible. There was also the frightening fact that I could try to recreate the effect, but given what it did to the container yard I wasn't inclined to subject any part of my workshop to blind experimentation.
"What if they already had a connection?" Aisha asked. "Like, what if I used one?"
I blinked, considering the proposal. "I'm not sure." I said. "Probably what would happen if someone used a bead to connect to someone they had a very good link with. It might let you manifest a stronger application of your power, or use it without strain, or even allow for other applications of your ability, things you could have triggered with, but didn't."
"So, we're going to test that out, right?" She asked eagerly.
"We… could." I said. "But it's something we need to be really careful with. You already have a global ranged power, and the Protectorate is scared enough of you already. Also, this will probably hit a lot harder than the boost from your striker unit. I'd recommend we wait until we have some more data from passenger space." It was possible that libations could be used to strengthen or stabilize her connection to her passenger, but that was a significantly more nebulous idea than using them for Garment, and uncertain enough that I was reluctant to dive into it.
Aisha nodded. "Sounds fair. I doubt the world can handle any more global freakouts over the Celestial Forge. Another thing for the schedule, you know, along with psychic training and nanobots." She said. "And ninjutsu, and combat alchemy, and elemental weapon practice, and chi use, and Aura manipulation, right, and Dust too." She said as Garment indicated to the design she had embroidered into her dress, which was both stunning and a potential violation of strategic arms non-proliferation agreements.
Given the number of things we were trying to cover and the timeframe they were being crammed into, it was no wonder something as significant as emulation of March's power through her blind and tasteless idiot choice in swords had been overlooked. It made me wonder how many other synergies or combinations had been skipped in favor of focusing on my latest power.
Probably a lot, if I was being honest. It was a combination of the sheer volume of abilities I had, and a certain level of redundancy. I was past the point where additional firepower was really needed. Piling on more ways to wreak destruction just meant they would get lost in the shuffle. I mean, I could emulate March's power, but I also had vortex grenades, super dimensional energy, and subspace weapons. Maybe not the equivalent of what March had hit me with before she died, but nothing to sneeze at either.
And honestly, they were much more dignified options than swinging around a piece of shiny scrap metal from a mall kiosk. I swear, if I had to kill an Endbringer with March's sword I was giving Aisha enough call beads to erase all memory of the event and blaming it on Scion instead.
"The bonuses from Craftsmen of the Gods should help with a lot of that." I said. My duplicates had already taken advantage of the speed boost from One-Man Assembly Line to rebuild most of the key infrastructure including the Psi Lab and training room. "Add in some higher-level Elven Enchantment and a boost from the Glove of the East and we can take things even further. Nanites are going to be a major project, but with psionics we can probably bring things down to a reasonable timeframe."
"How reasonable?" Aisha asked.
"Based on estimates, a few hours for full training, not just the key powers we were talking about. The complete set." A week ago I would have been understandably concerned about handing Aisha the range of powers that a fully trained Psi Operative could put out. Now there was a level of reassurance in knowing that she wouldn't be caught helpless if somehow separated from her equipment. And if her Aura was depleted. And if she couldn't deploy an alchemy array.
Okay, the Psi abilities were basically fallbacks for fallbacks which in themselves were fallbacks, but they still included the key powers that would make her fireproof and highly resistant to master effects.
Aisha whistled as I felt the Knowledge constellation pass by without a connection. "Well, sign me up." She looked over to Tetra, then back at me. "Anyone else getting in on this?"
"I'll be taking point." I said. "Survey's been chasing me about Psi Operative training since Friday morning anyway. Tybalt isn't really interested, but he's offered to pick up some of the attack powers if you need help training them. Tetra…" I trailed off, but she was happy to jump in.
"I'm too alien for it to work." She said proudly. "But we're going to try to introduce some of the genetic markers into my human DNA tonight. I can't go through the conditioning, but I should be able to adapt to the abilities eventually."
"It's kind of what life fibers do." I explained. "Speaking of tonight, are you good to stick around? It's been kind of a long day for you."
"I do need to get going." She said, checking the time. "My dad's having a family dinner tonight. Having my brother over and wants to talk about something." She sounded a little concerned, but I didn't want to pry into her family business. Besides, I'm sure Survey had the prying well taken care of. "I can sneak back later for Movie Night and Tetra's big event."
"Thank you." Tetra said, nodding to Aisha. Despite the care that was being taken over contact between them, there was a level of comfort that I hadn't noticed before.
Garment reached into a hidden section of her dress and offered Aisha her key. The girl's eyes widened slightly and she was hesitant to take it, but Garment pressed it into Aisha's palm and closed her hand over it.
"Um, thank you." She said. "This will make it a lot easier. I'll get it back to you right after I use it." She looked down at the key, feeling the weight in her hand. "Probably should use it on a few doors, huh?"
"It's a good idea." I said. "You should take the tablet that came for you when the Computer Core showed up. They're tied into the Workshop intranet, so if the workshop is closed off you can request access without needing to contact Survey through the internet." I explained.
They were also ridiculously overpowered after my duplicate's decision to take advantage of the 'perfectly integrated upgrade' feature to convert them all to run on spiritron processors. And by that I meant ridiculously overpowered by my already admittedly warped standards. At least they still superficially looked like a mid-range computer tablet rather than an artifact that exceeded what was actually computationally possible within the physical universe.
"I'm going to text my dad to pick me up." She said, bringing up her interface screen. "What about the rest of you?"
Garment proudly drew out a set of slim letter-sized envelopes with handwritten labels, Survey's work. She proudly spread them across the table where they sat with more solidity that their thickness would indicate.
"Gifts for the volunteers." I explained. "She's heading back to the Center after Survey gets back to help close out the night and give them out. Duplicates are handling the rest of the deliveries."
"Shipping the product?" Aisha asked. I nodded. She was getting better at remembering the names of my powers, probably thanks to Survey's precise documentation of them.
"I've got an appointment later." I said, dancing around mentions of therapy with the expected level of awkwardness. I'm confident Aisha knew what I was doing and equally confident she was politely pretending to be completely oblivious. "After the next set of duplicates. Until then I'll be helping out with the upgrades. The new divine crafting needs practice and there's the whole sword thing to get into."
"Got it." She said. "So, you going to hit the club with Tybalt and Fleet later?"
I let out a short laugh. "No. They can get away with something like that, but I think Apeiron making an appearance is still DEFCON 1 as far as people are concerned." Besides, it was nice that Fleet and Tybalt were making their own plans. I was acutely aware of how tied to the workshop they had been, so the ability to head out and enjoy themselves without it turning into a mission or something that needed clearance from me was actually reassuring on a lot of levels.
With the last of the tea consumed, or dumped on the ground in Garment's case, the impromptu break came to an end and everyone sprung back into work. Aisha collected her things and met her father outside Garment's studio. Garment went out to see her off, but without Survey the conversation devolved into a good-natured game of charades that Mr. Laborn decided to end before it crossed over from confusing to frustrating.
Garment returned to her clothing workshop with Tetra where she bounced between updating the plans for the event, final modifications to Tetra's Kamui design, and her own media releases. The demands of planning a charity event hadn't slowed down the rate of Garment's release schedule, with her channel including promotional videos for both the auction and the event as well as a special Brockton Bay focused feature length video focusing on the styles of both architecture and fashion dating back to colonial days.
That got rather poignant at times, covering damage to historic buildings that had been largely overlooked in the Docks. Okay, for them 'historic' generally meant late nineteenth century, but it was a more intimate look at the damage than you got from the various sweeping shots of ruined streets that showed up on major networks. The precision editing and custom music tracks from my duplicates also really added to the emotional gut punch. Well, technically from the Boundless Music channel, but the only difference was an extra set of videos on that channel for the soundtrack.
Speaking of which, I split off to join my duplicates in the magitech laboratory for the fun task of trying to decipher the magical properties of a demonic energy-based emulation of a parahuman power imbued into a mall souvenir with pretensions of being a sword.
"It really is a stupid sword." My duplicate muttered for what must have been the fiftieth time.
"Yes, March was a kidnapper, a mass murderer, and had shitty taste." I agreed, also for what must have been the fiftieth time. "And now she's dead."
"And good fucking riddance." My second duplicate added as we continued to ponder over the effect.
Describing this as the strongest striker power on record wasn't an exaggeration in the slightest. Even the watered-down version I could project with Dark Slayer was terrifying. Without the benefit of Touched by the Protoculture's insights into higher level dimensional interactions and a truly staggering amount of advanced physics theory I would have been completely lost. Just rigging a scanner to try to capture the scope of the effect was a daunting task, and one we had thus far failed to complete. The best I could say at the moment was 'more than a quintillion universes'.
I was aware that parahuman powers could be bullshit. I should know, I had my own example in Miniaturization and Efficiency, but this was bullshit on top of bullshit on a foundation of bullshit. It was bullshit all the way down.
Looking at things mechanically, I had a watered-down version of March's striker power at my disposal. March could freely swing a blade through anything, leaving the watermark of her power. My emulated swords moved through materials like a cold knife through colder butter. You could punch through, but it would take time, and the effect was specific to the power. You couldn't just power through with raw strength.
The detonation was also significantly more delayed than when March had used her power. Rather than the sparking trail of gunpowder it was more like a loading bar for an older computer or a particularly frustrating download. It got there eventually, but it was definitely a drawn out process.
Then there was the explosion. I had first hand experience with the scale of March's blasts, but the effects I could create barely extended past the borders of the mark. The only consolation was that they seemed to be exactly as stupidly overpowered as March's blasts, able to tear through magically reinforced divine objects constructed from mythical materials like paper. Actually, exactly like paper. There was pretty much no difference between the amount of damage done to cardboard and the amount inflicted on reinforced divine lathe metal.
But that was the starting point. Dark Slayer could produce better copies based on my familiarity with the weapon in question and my skill with duplicating weapons. Both were seeing rapid growth through the experimental process. Most of that was based on frustration and spite, but I would take whatever motivation worked. Over the course of examination I advanced from shitty copies of March's alleged-sword to slightly less shitty copies of a still very shitty sword.
Despite the horrible design of the blade and the watered-down effect, I did have some advantages compared to March. Dark Slayer was an incredibly over the top power and it thrived on excess. It was already capable of throwing out stupid numbers of weapons without my Workholic power amping things up. The blades might only be able to achieve shallow 'cuts', but when you could literally rain them down on your opponent it added up. At that point I could only imagine what it would be like to recognize the slow detonation as the marks began to fill. Drawing things out like that just seemed like excessive cruelty.
That thought brough Jack Slash to mind, particularly his tendency to hide under the effect of the Siberian's invincibility when taunting people. Well, another one for the Slaughterhouse Nine preparation pile.
Unfortunately, magic emulated with demon energy wasn't easy to deconstruct. We had made some progress in breaking down the runic pattern for emulating the weapon, but it was more advanced than any project we had taken on before. Honestly, without my duplicates deciding to attack each other and activate Countercraft from my Noble Phantasm I doubt we would have made any progress. Then again, I was tracking the progress made in deciphering a cosmically powerful striker effect in terms of how much we learned in less than an hour of work.
"We could always go to Flechette." I suggested again. The link between March and Flechette hadn't been obvious to me until Somer's Rock. Still, there was a living person out there with a version of the same striker power who didn't use knock-off movie props in combat.
"Not going to be any better." My duplicate said, once again pulling up the scan we had from Flechette's idle use of her power in Garment's shop. The difference was clear as day and made it extremely obvious who had the primary striker power in that cluster.
March's power set up a marker that eventually formed an interdimensional explosion. Flechette just kind of expanded whatever she was touching over an insane dimensional range. The effect was like a version of March's explosion that didn't stop exploding.
There were orders of magnitude of difference in power and complexity. I didn't have a version of one of Flechette's weapons that I could emulate, but I was guessing that my sub-par version was going to be considerably more sub-par than what I had from March. As in, potentially not even useable.
Still, in the face of the complexity of the effect and the stupidity of the sword, it was an appealing prospect.
"What if we just make Flechette a sword?" I suggested. "Like a nice arming blade? Something that doesn't look like a Halloween reject? Then we just wait for her to use her power and-"
"Have ten times as much trouble deciphering the effect?" My other duplicate cut in.
"Probably." I admitted. "Still, we should get some more scans, and at least see some effects in person."
"She's been on limited shifts since last Thursday." My duplicate reported. "Daytime foot patrols, so not much chance of seeing her in combat. Not even really showing off."
"Maybe she'd be willing to do private demonstration if Garment asked her." My second duplicate joked. I smiled at that.
"I doubt it." I said. "But she is confirmed at the charity event. Survey can scan her and I keep an eye out if there's anything I can copy."
It felt a little skeevy to be chasing after Flechette like that, but this power was no joke. I knew how important she was to the impending threat. If I could emulate or supplement her ability then that would remove a point of failure from an impending situation that I was on uncertain footing with.
Providing I could actually figure out this damn effect.
Eventually our efforts ran dry, all the low hanging fruit having been picked clean. It was clear that the only way forward was going to be an extensive examination of the magical effect and emulation through trial and error. It would have been a lot easier if I could have just thrown the sword into the Crucible of Eight Trigrams, both to recover the enchantment for study and for the satisfaction of destroying that stupid prop. Sadly, even with my new mastery of fire I couldn't sustain a projected magical effect independent of the item it was projected on.
Just the fact that I was considering it spoke to the significance of Firecraft. That power wasn't just pyrokinetic tricks. It was a fundamental understanding of the process of combustion. Fully leveraged you weren't so much burning something as transforming it into combustion products. Or, as one of my duplicates had somewhat crassly put it, casting 'Flesh to Charcoal'.
The Crucible of the Eight Trigrams was an incredibly powerful item, able to separate out the base components of nearly any object, including any magic or enchantments. The problem was the amount of time it took to completely render down an object. In the original myth it had taken forty-nine days, but considering I wasn't trying to separate immortality elixirs from a monkey god it was generally much faster. Still, I ran into the now common problem of my best weapons going into the furnace, and their enchantments being obsolete by the time they finished being processed.
That's where Firecraft came in. Honestly, the application of 'make things burn faster' didn't seem like the kind of thing that would be the key to unlimited power, but then again I had gained invincibility through a combination of a renaissance dueling weapon, a weapon durability power, and an ability centered on protecting clothes from damage. I was kind of used to this kind of thing by now.
With Firecraft, burns that should have taken a dozen hours could be completed in minutes. My most powerful enchantments could be forged, rendered down to pure magic, harvested, and recombined into even more powerful items. And those items could be salvaged again later on if needed.
It turned enchantment from a question of 'what works best for this item?' to 'how much magic can I physically cram into this object?'. Given the fact that I was using some of the most magically resonant materials possible, the answer was 'a lot'. That said, there was a difference between a item designed to optimize a magical effect and an item built to hold a stupidly large amount of magic. It was the kind of thing that actually called for those overly large gems that you saw embedded in swords, staves, and pieces of armor.
I mean, March's idiot sword had one, but that was cheap glass, not a thaumically empowered magical stabilization nexus. The fact that they looked almost identical to the laymen was a particularly sore point.
I tracked the movement of my Avid Glove as Tetra left Garment's workshop, making her way through the various facilities towards the foundry room holding the crucible. I turned just in time to see a glowing red mink the size of a small child dash into the room.
"Hi Tetra." I called. "Is Garment finished with the revisions?"
Tetra scrunched her nose, which created a particularly complex pattern in the fibers that made up her body. "She keeps coming up with new ideas. And new designs. It's hard to decide."
"I understand. It's a big step." I said as the Knowledge constellation passed by once again.
"But it's almost here!" She exclaimed, bubbling with excitement.
It was reassuring to see Tetra's complete lack of doubts over the conversion. Personally I was still feeling trepidation, both because of the significance of the work and out of concern that some upcoming power would be the one that would make the critical difference. But Tetra had been right, I'd been waiting through critical power after critical power, and the Forge was showing no sign of slowing down.
Perfection was unattainable. It was a concept I was constantly reminded of in everything I touched. Feel It Out would break down the history and potential future of every object I made contact with, and there was always a future. Nothing was a final piece, just a step in a long journey.
There were some effects that could only be included on creation, but for everything else I had a wide range of upgrade and modification powers. Plus Tetra was a life fiber entity. The idea that she would be in any way static was laughable. I knew that firsthand from the fibers that had been hybridized into my own body. Trying to delay growth for the sake of a better starting point was laughable.
"Is this for tonight?" Tetra asked, standing on the tips of her mink toes to look over the lip of the massive crucible.
"Yep." I said, lifting the heavy iron lid. My control of fire was more than enough to contain the heat, though that was more for the benefit of the process than any safety concerns. I was ridiculously fireproof and it took very specific conditions to injure Tetra in a way that wouldn't see her healing the injury before the attack had even concluded.
Inside the crucible was a range of items, all immaculately crafted and all gradually being rendered down by celestial flames. Weapons, armor, clothing, tools, scarves, cables, and pretty much anything else that was even tangentially applicable to something constructed from life fibers.
"We can harvest enchantments optimized for other objects, then combine them into your Kamui." I explained. "It means we can get a wider range of more powerful effects than we'd normally be able to include."
"There are weapons in there." She said, peering down into the crucible.
"Because a Kamui counts as a weapon." I confirmed. Weapon, armor, clothing, living creature, and probably a half dozen other qualifiers.
"So, you could use runes, right?" She asked.
I was using runes, but not the type she was talking about. Unnatural Skill Runes had expended my ability with all forms of runic magic. In addition to the specific ones tied to the Well of Urd, with all its insightful revelations about my personal history, the skill had enhanced my magecraft, my striker's directional shield, my understanding of ancient languages, large portions of my talent for making magic objects, and of course my first rune-based power.
"The runes from Enchanting can be added later." I assured her. "We might even be able to handle multiple versions of them, or deploy them in the field." That was the advantage of something as inherently variable as a Kamui.
"But you can use them to copy other weapons, right? That's what you're trying with March." I saw her tense when she said the name. It suddenly struck me that we had never actually talked about what happened. There were apologies and reassurances, but never a proper discussion of the situation I had led us into that nearly resulted in our death. Well, my near death and Tetra's most traumatic experience to date.
I looked down at Tetra. "After what happened, I understand if you don't want me messing with something like that."
"No." She said sharply, her tail thrashing back and forth as her eyes glowed. I had spent an incredibly stressful night fused with Tetra, feeling her every emotion as she tried to contain the movement of her fibers. After we had been imperfectly separated we had a connection, one sufficient for me to hear her voice despite the lack of any actual sound. I could have pieced this together from my sense of the Dragon's Pulse or my read of thermal patterns in her fibers or even my slowly developing telepathy, but I didn't need any of that.
"You want the power, for when you become a Kamui." I said. She gave a slight nod.
"I thought we were ready, when we finally went out. When we fought the ABB. Everything we did together, everything we accomplished…" She looked up. "Back then I couldn't see properly. It was hard to think sometimes, but I knew what we were doing was important. And then…"
"March." I said, and felt awful.
"March." She repeated, and I felt worse.
It was my fault that we had run into that ambush. It wasn't something I could have seen coming, but I had made the decision to take point, to bring the fight to the ABB myself. I could have used robots or drones. I could have hidden and drawn out the conflict…
And more people would have died. More damage would have spread. March might have gotten away, like Bakuda did. It was easy to look back and declare that one change, one different decision would have made everything better, overlooking the fact that making that decision wouldn't be possible based on the information you had at the time. I had gotten over beating myself up even before I had the benefit of Mental Fortress. I wasn't going to let Tetra fall into that trap.
"You want to be strong enough in case something like that happens again." I said, as if a divinely crafted, mythically enhanced, magically imbued Kamui Teigu that was Sung to the Unseen would be somehow deficient in power.
But concerns like this weren't rational, I knew that, and it was something I probably should have addressed long ago. Looking back, how much of Tetra's rush to become a Kamui was based on this concern, rather than her desire for evolution or connection?
"Can you do it?" She asked me.
"I can." I said. "It isn't ready yet." It probably wouldn't be for a while. This was maddeningly complex work and a testament to the kind of power I was actually dealing with in the world of parahumans. "But I promise, when it is, when we can emulate it with runes you can be the first to have it. It and any other parahuman weapon we can copy."
Her eyes lit up. Literally, they glowed red with excitement. "Like Chevalier's sword? Or Gavel's hammer?"
"Gavel might be a problem." I said. I hadn't looked into the Birdcage that extensively, despite the obvious concerns around a compromised Dragon acting as manager. Nobody was exactly sure what kind of effects blocked teleportation and other travel methods into and out of that place, so the chances of popping in to get a look at Gavel's power in action were fairly slim.
"Chevalier should be easier. We can definitely get down to Philadelphia to see him in person at some point." Definitely easier done in civilian identity rather than as Apeiron. Then again, if I wanted to meet the leader of the Philadelphia Protectorate then I could probably just show up in the city in full costume and wait five minutes. Eh, probably not worth the ensuing headaches, amusing as it would be.
Tetra bounced with excitement as I replaced the lid of the crucible before allowing her to scamper up into her usual shoulder mounted piggyback position.
"So, what else are you working on, before you have to go?" She asked, resting the hand wearing the Avid Glove on my shoulder where it began to do its best to eat my shirt.
"Making more scrying equipment for Survey." I said. Tetra wrinkled her nose again but nodded.
"Will you be able to find the Slaughterhouse Nine with them?" She asked.
"We should be." I said. "The last batch really just had a problem with targeting. Craftsmen of the Gods has mostly sorted that out."
"Mostly?" She asked as I continued walking.
"Still need something of a preexisting link to the person you're trying to find. Pictures should work, rather than hair, blood, or personal possessions, but none of us are as good with scrying as Survey. We'll see how it goes when she gets back."
Tetra nodded. "Do you think they'll have anything that can hurt us?" She asked.
"They probably think they do. They wouldn't be coming if they thought only the Siberian could do anything to me. Bonesaw had been experimenting with cape powers and how to combine them. She has probably come up with something." I said in disgust. "If we find out what it is we can prepare for it, and figure out how to help anyone she's hurt. And stop her from hurting anyone else."
"Garment wants to fight Shattebird." Tetra said.
"I know." I said, holding back a sigh. There were clear consequences to Garment publically associating with the rest of the team, even against a threat as severe as the Slaughterhouse Nine. We hadn't made a clear decision about her inclusion in the mission, but that hadn't stopped her from throwing her all into her preparations.
"She's really excited about it, especially since she unlocked her Aura. Have you seen the Dust weaving she's been doing?" Tetra asked.
"I have." I said flatly. The stuff she had made back when she discovered Dust weaving was already terrifying, but that had been fixed effect 'fire and forget' stuff. Her current work was on a whole different level, and was only going to get more so as effects of things like Craftsmen of the Gods were rolled into her materials. It was just a small mercy that we didn't have Light Dust.
That is, we didn't have it yet. There were theories about precise combinations that could lead to a kind of solidified photonic effect. Given what Garment could do with regular elements it was anyone's guess what she could manage with something that synergized with her nature.
My power failed to connect to a large mote from the Alchemy constellation as I searched for a way to change the subject. "Hey," I said to Tetra. "Want to check out the Greenhouse?"
A short apparition later and we were in one of the small patches of the incredibly huge greenhouse that were actually being used. Tetra jumped down from my back to examine the crops. One of my duplicates had done a quick seed run and the combination of a truly excessive amount of enhancement effects was causing the plants to visibly grow before our eyes.
The reason for immediate use of the Greenhouse was simple. My duplicates and I had run into an extremely frustrating problem that we couldn't solve. In the face of such frustration we, like so many people, turned to alcohol for the answer. The main difference was instead of drinking ourselves into a stupor and hoping the problem went away we instead resorted to bringing the various deities that decided they were willing to listen to us with the best booze we could make in the hope of getting a little extra help.
Garment may have been the first person to receive a libation, but she was far from the last. The spiritual aspect of a libation could strengthen the bond between me and one of the gods, empowering the abilities granted from their blessing. Unfortunately, even the most masterfully crafted liquors offered up to the goddess Athena weren't enough to bring her blessing up to the point where I could crack March's power.
Normally that would be the end of it. Dionysus had granted me the ability to empower one of my blessings, but my empowered blessing wasn't enough. Nothing else to do but give up, right?
Except Dionysus had granted me the ability to empower any of my blessings, including my blessing from Dionysus. And an empowered blessing from Dionysus allowed improved empowerment of a blessing, which could also be from Dionysus.
The feedback loop was obvious, and considering we were talking about the god of wine, potentially intentional. Offer up massive amounts of libations to Dionysus until the blessing grants such skill with winemaking and libation offering that it could take things over the top with any other god, then switch things up and offer the absolute best alcohol you can possibly create to whichever god can help you with your problem. They get a spiritual offering that exceeds even the greatest divine craftsmanship I was already capable of, and Dionysus gets an open bar for as long as the exploit holds.
So a lot of the progress on researching March's power had come from basically getting Athena drunk enough for her to give us the answers. Well, actually it came from beseeching her with a brew that exceeds the wonders of ambrosia given with grace and ceremony befitting of the wisest of Olympus that she might grant her guidance upon me. Through massively ramping up the power of her blessing of craftsmanship to the point where we could pick apart even the emulated enchantment of a demonic energy copy of an imbued parahuman weapon.
The problem was there was a limit to how far you could push that kind of thing, and the limit was set by the quality of your offered libation. I could take base ingredients pretty far, but to really go over the top I needed to start from the ground up. Literally, considering the fact that the soil was something that we mixed by hand.
Divinely imbued soil, Mantic circuits in the earth, technological enhancements for the growing environment, precise light levels with scanners monitoring plant health, a bit of minor gene augmentation before the first planting and we had a decent start.
At the moment it was only a couple of grapevines and a few plots of grains, but Garment was already inquiring about growing cotton, flax, and other plant fibers. She already had access to the best synthetic fibers I could create, but the 'base materials' requirement of Craftsmen of the Gods created a bit of a shift in priorities.
Given that the Greenhouse was a controlled environment and the fact that there were a truly ridiculous number of enhancement effects present it didn't really require much tending, but that hadn't stopped my duplicates from providing Fleet with a set of tiny tractors, tillers, and harvesters to join his fleet of tiny vehicles. They were already excitedly working around the plots and preparing expansions and sites for new crops.
Someone had also decided to deploy the M6 Bushnell ARMSLAVE as an oversized gardener in what I'm sure they felt was a hilarious joke.. Well, at least the suit's dexterity was certainly up for the task when directed by Fleet, so I could probably write that off as harmless amusement.
I left Tetra to help Fleet with his new set of vehicles, which honestly was mostly tractor rides, which was adorable, and seeing if she could form a combine harvester out of her fibers, which was slightly less so. Meanwhile I left to get started on the next set of Survey's scrying tools.
The earlier set were ones we were reasonably confident would be able to find the Nine. They were a massive step up from my first attempts, and not just because of the benefits of Craftsmen of the Gods. Like with the Greenhouse, we had taken things from the ground up. Every step of construction handled personally, starting with base materials and processing everything by hand. It was divine craftsmanship folded into divine craftsmanship.
Some parts were taken further than was probably reasonable. Scrying through the act of gazing into a pool of water was a common practice. It made sense to construct the basin for the purposes of divination, and the vessel for pouring the water. Constructing the water was probably a bit much, but ice technically qualified as a mineral and was thus a valid material for combination with other metals at my volcano without even needing to lean into Exotic Compatibility. As a result you had water melted from ice that was divinely crafted and imbued with the magical nature of celestial metals.
It was the same stuff we were using to water the crops in the Greenhouse, which was probably a big factor in why they were literally springing up before our eyes. The jokes from my duplicates about filling water coolers with the stuff were probably just for laughs, but it was the kind of thing that needed to be filed away with the whole 'divine food' issue.
I was seeing to another run of scrying tools thanks to the recent empowerment of Athena's blessing. Really, any way to get an extra edge and close the noose around the Nine was worth it, and it wasn't like we were short on materials.
There was definitely a certain artistry that came from working under Athena's enhanced blessing. The crafts that fell under her authority were generally softer subjects than what was found in Hephaestus's domain, though that didn't mean they were inferior. Just the enhancement to weaving was enough to ensure that we'd be sure to get her blind drunk before Tetra's Kaumi conversion.
The main thing was Athena's work was artistry first, leading to function, where Hephestus was the essence of utilitarianism. The effects worked incredibly well together, but the 'minor' part of Athena's minor blessing meant it was usually overshadowed, particularly after my demigod powers were enhanced by Fate Finds You Interesting.
The work didn't take long at all, thanks to the help of One-Man Assembly Line. In addition to updates to Survey's mirror, runestones, crystal ball, Palantíri, scrying pool, and divination crystal I had included a brazier for fire divination. A little benefit from Firecraft, pyromancy divination could be conducted by either watching for images in the flame or reading the fracture patterns of a bone or other item cast into the fire. I doubted it would come quite as naturally to Survey as it did to me, but I wanted to include everything I could.
Survey reached out to thank me for the final set of upgrades and provide an update that she would be unlikely to return to the Workshop before I would need to depart for my therapy appointment. Her meeting with Parian was running long due to a comprehensive presentation of planned contributions to the event. Parian had requested Survey's opinion on several aspects of her work and the choice of her models. Survey noted that there had been several humorous inquiries made as to her availability for modeling, at the event or otherwise.
I smiled at that and wished her luck as I made my way to my duplicates. Their duration was running short and we needed to complete another memory transfer. I quickly checked in with Tybalt and confirmed things were going well at the Regency Center. And apparently they were going well enough that he'd needed to turn down offers to go drinking with the security team that evening, so apparently nothing to be concerned about there. I shook my head and teleported to the omni-spheres.
I found my duplicates waiting by the devices which were showing the same level of Athena-enhanced upgrades I had recently completed on Survey's scrying gear. I gave them a quick nod as I got ready for the mental connection.
"Sure we all need to be hooked up?" I asked. "It went alright last time."
"Probably not, but no reason to take chances this early in the process." My first duplicate said, climbing into his own pod.
"Right. Training wheels on?" I asked.
"For the moment, at least." The second duplicate replied. "Should get easier as time goes on, but for the moment."
"Yeah, all the help we can get." I said, leaning back and letting my mind immerse itself in the Tau Wave.
A large part of that waffling had been based on nerves. The process of merging with my duplicates' memories and absorbing their ideas and experiences was still more than a little jarring in concept as well as practice. In addition to a fundamental merger of perspectives and the introduction of entirely new ways of thinking into my own memories, the act itself seemed like cheating somehow.
Honestly, the guilt and concern over the nature of my duplicates had never fully disappeared. Despite all their assurances there was always a sense of dread attached to them. To the idea that I was bringing people into existence for no reason but to serve me and die. Even the twenty percent time, the concessions, and the acknowledgement of their perspectives hadn't fully addressed that. The Exsphere had been a bandaid, a way to make the problem a little less horrible, but then I got Whispered, and seemingly that was that.
It felt like a cop out. Like making my duplicate's memories live on was an excuse to not worry about the limits of their existence, even if those memories showed a perspective that was emphatically not concerned with the limits of their existence.
Even if my duplicates, being versions of me and thus aware of my concerns, were sure to transfer memories and perspective specifically addressing that concern, communicating both acknowledgement of my concerns and their own feelings on the matter. And what they thought about the idea of disregarding their view on the situation for the sake of my own guilt and limited perspective.
I was being specifically called out over negative thoughts by alternate versions of myself through a psychic link that directly conveyed memory, perspective, and emotions. It was the kind of thing that it really seemed like I should talk to Dr. Campbell about, but hell if I had the faintest idea of how to bring it up.
Three hours of work, innovation, and experiences flowed into my mind before we broke the link. It was still a strain, but less of one than it had been. I wasn't sure how much of that was improved skill with telepathy and how much was the latest run of upgrades on the equipment, but I wasn't complaining.
After the last of my duplicates' duration I did a final check of active Workshop projects and downed another duplication potion. A batch had been brewed when we were about two dozen layers deep in libations to Dionysus, which was enough to boost the duration from the new baseline of over three hours to a solid four. It was hard to believe I had started out with less than five minutes of time on the potion. Then again, that was a lifetime of divine powers ago.
"Alright, final boost of the glove." My first duplicate said, handing me his copy of the Glove of the East. I slipped it on and focused. After two runs of upgrades the Glove was nearly unrecognizable. Energy flowed through it effortlessly and what had been a desperate drain before was effortless. Unfortunately, that just meant there was more room for effort.
I knew the boost that the Glove could grant functioned on diminishing returns. The upgrade cycle mitigated that, but it was still harrowing to complete the third upgrade, not just because it was exactly as draining as the previous two, but because I was acutely aware of how much energy this would have taken if I hadn't found this particular cheat. Without the upgrade chain exploit nothing would be seeing more than two enhancements from the glove, not with the kind of spiritual energy I could put out.
"Damn." My duplicate said as he observed the interactions of energy.
"I know." I said panting slightly as I peeled off the copy of the glove as the Magitech constellation passed by. "Still, three upgrades. That's enough for tonight."
"It will cover Tetra." The second duplicate agreed. "We've got things here, you need to go recover."
"Sure you're alright?" I asked, checking things over once more.
"We're fine." My first duplicate said. "Now get you ass to therapy."
Jumpchain abilities this chapter:
Greenhouse (Personal Reality) 100:
A greenhouse in which you can now grow some of your own vegetables and fruits. I hear that strawberries are especially popular this season. The Greenhouse requires Pipes, Pipes, Pipes and either Natural Lighting or Powa. It is set up for soil-ponics, hydroponics, or aeroponics and is contained in a separate structure that has a footprint of exactly half your Starting Size in all dimensions. Any increase in size to your main space multiplies your Greenhouse's space by a factor of 5.