[Level Up!]

[Rydia: Arcanist (Summoner) level 12 - level 14 (XP Boost active)]

[Danny: Warlock (Archfey, Pact of Tome) Level 3 - Level 4]

[Kenta: Barbarian (Ancestral Guardians) Level 4 - Level 5]

[Dragon: Techknight 6/Magical Girl 1 - Techknight 6/Magical Girl 2]

[Glory Girl: Paladin (Oath of Glory) 4 - Level 5]

[Uber: Machinist Level 1 - Level 3]

[L33t: Builder Level 1 - Level 3]

[Armsmaster: Dragoon 1 - Dragoon 3]

[Miss Militia: Ranger (Gloom Stalker) Level 3 - Level 4]

[Panacea: Archer Level 1 - Level 3]

[Vista: Conjurer (White Mage) Level 1 - Level 3]

[Trooper Ciara Anderson: Ranger (Drakewarden) Level 3 - Level 4]

[Sergeant Miranda Adler: Fighter (Defense fighting style) 1]

[Specialist Adric Daniels: Rogue 1]

Danny saw that his "level up" had given him an "Ability Score Improvement" and had to try a couple of times to get the scores up. Looking them over, he made his choice. Then added "Mask of Many Faces" to his Invocations. Just in case.

Victoria decided to defer any choices.

Kenta, walking away from the battlesite as Lung, muttered "Status" and looked them over before stating "Constitution +1" before closing the window. He hoped to find a suitable candidate for him to try out his "Ancestral Protectors" ability on.

Dragon checked her power armor, then her cape costume, noting the number of burned and torn ribbons, and wondered why she even had those as they had no combat value she could see.

Glory Girl checked her Falcon Shield (+5 Def, +2 Agi) and her gladius and noted the sword had a lot more damage. Well, it was a starting weapon so you kind of expected that. Oh, and a +1 to Constitution, thank you very much.

Uber checked his equipment again, sighed, and wondered when he'd get some useful abilities as all the cool stuff seemed to be level-dependent.

L33t wondered when he'd have a chance to start building as a Builder. He had so many nice ideas come up and it wasn't all make only once stuff.

Colin, aka Armsmaster, cleaned bits of mosquito gore off of his halberd and wondered how the hell he was going to write up the after-action report on this. "Killed giant mosquito girl" didn't sound like something that would pass muster from the upper levels of the bureaucracy.

Miss Militia checked her motorcycle and brushed mosquito-bits off the seat before getting on. Killed a Simurgh-wannabe so there was that much at least and would look good on the after-action report.

Panacea unstrung her bow and slung it into place. She was not going to be stuck as the Healer. While her arrows didn't seem to do as much as the bullets, she'd been getting steadily more accurate as the fight had progressed.

Vista was riding her flying unicorn mount around the PRT building. Because having a flying unicorn mount was awesome and she was going to look down and laugh at Clockblocker about it. And hope that someone sent Shadow Stalker video because screw Shadow Stalker.

Trooper Ciara Anderson motioned to her two fellows. Dragonslayer #1 had gotten a swarm of bees to the face and looked rather... swollen at present. Fortunately she had an epi-pen for just such an emergency. Dragonslayer #2 had some pretty extensive insect bits in some pretty sensitive places - she was going to need some treatment for that. Dragonslayer #3 had managed to stay sealed up but had gotten pretty concussed with all the missiles firing off around him.

[Loot:]

[Rydia: Butterfly Hairpin (+2 Def, +1 Int)]

[Danny: Miss.]

[Kenta: Miss.]

[Dragon: Taser-Saber Blueprints]

[Glory Girl: Dragonfly Hairpin (+2 Def, +1 Dex)]

[Uber: Lawgiver Mk 1]

[L33t: Miss.]

[Armsmaster: Duralloy Recipe]

[Miss Militia: Miss.]

[Panacea: Miss.]

[Vista: Miss.]

[Trooper Ciara Anderson: Taurus G3 Tactical]

[Sergeant Miranda Adler: Miss.]

[Specialist Adric Daniels: Masterwork Ninjato.]

"I didn't know Taurus made one of these," offered Trooper Anderson as she worked the slide.

"I got a participation trophy, but it's a nice one," offered Specialist Daniels as he slid the blade out and inspected it.

* Dallon Household *

Carol Dallon looked up, alerted by the flitting shadow of a late afternoon Glory Girl that she was coming in for a landing.

She did not expect to see Panacea flying alongside her sister, riding an enormous... bird of some kind?

"Kweh!" said the bird, shying off.

"Whoa. What got into... Mom, stop scaring Amy's chocobo."

Carol Dallon realized she'd formed a lightsaber-like sword form of energy and dismissed it. "WHAT. Is. THAT?"

"Amy has a chocobo mount! She can go flying with us!" declared Glory Girl, back to being happy as the big bird landed.

"Why does Amy have a big yellow bird?" asked Carol Dallon.

"We teamed up with Rydia! I got to fight ogres. Well, Japanese ogres. And I got this neat hairpin out of it!" exclaimed Glory Girl, showing off the hairclip in question.

Carol Dallon looked at it, dismissed it as tasteless, and it was only gradually that certain things began registering as potentially important. That was not cheap plastic. Brass, what looked like green jade on the main body. "Let me see that."

Examining it made it clear. NOT cheap. Not cheap at all. "Tell me more about this 'Rydia' - and no you can't have a pet Amy. Let alone one as large as... where did it go?"

"I dismissed Fred," said Amy.

"Fred?" asked Carol.

"My chocobo, Fred," said Amy. She held out a hand, there was a brief white circle of light on the ground, and then the large bird was back.

"You named your chocobo. Your special mount that you got when I didn't. You named it 'Fred'?" asked Glory Girl.

"Yes, I named him Fred," said Amy. "After Mister Rogers. Because the neighborhood changed."

"Right." Glory Girl/Vicky shook her head. "I expected something suitable for a mount out of some high fantasy kind of thing. Thunderclaw or Windracer or Windbreaker... okay that last one wouldn't give the right image."

"Girls. In. Now. We shall discuss this," said Carol Dallon in tones so frosty that it might have qualified as one of her Lawyer Powers.

The discussion was mainly, as expected, Carol Dallon demanding answers. The two defendants definitely feeling as if they were on trial.

It was not surprising that Parahumans Online (PHO) had photos of Panacea using her bow and also photos of her riding her chocobo.

What DID surprise Carol Dallon was that the response had been mostly positive. Panacea being able to get around faster on her own was seen as quite positive.

Then she found the videos.

"Vicky? Is that a SWORD?!" "Why are you stabbing... okay, I admit a giant monster trying to do something non-PG-13 with someone unwilling might excuse repeatedly stabbing it." "What did it MEAN by that?" "What it did mean by THAT?" "What?"

"I also have the Falcon Shield," said Vicky, proudly displaying it. "Neat huh?"

"Where did that come from?!" asked Carol Dallon, feeling less and less control over what was going on. Mainly because everything was making less and less sense.

"According to... sources," put in Amy, deciding that saying Leet had been the source of information would just end up making things louder again, "it's a small kite-shield but made of exotic materials."

"It's cool and it gives me bonuses to agility," said Vicky.

"It does what and why?" asked Carol Dallon. If she hadn't been lost before she was pretty sure she was lost at this point.

"Look, there's a video of me doing a SMITE!" said Vicky, eagerly pointing at the video link.

Amy looked, smirked, and didn't say anything about the link marked "Panacea shoots and scores" because she was planning on watching that later. Probably several times. And if it was what she thought it was - great satisfaction.

"I... I need to talk to your Aunt about this," decided Carol. Either she would make sense of this, or the confusion would be shared. Possibly over a bottle of wine. Or two, she wasn't going to rule that out at this point.

"I've got a chocobo too, y'know," said Vicky. "But I like flying so probably won't get it out as much as Amy."

Yes, decided Carol Dallon, definitely going to need to bring that bottle along.

* Dragon *

Today was... special.

Special was a word that failed to adequately encompass how utterly bizarre today had gone, but there wasn't a word in her database that truly seemed to fit. So, special.

This morning she had been expecting to help Rydia explore her powers and see what a bonafide reality warper could get up to.

It was now 19:30 hours of that very same day.

She was riding her Great Big Motorcycle (an SDS Fenrir which Leet & Uber had stated was from a game called Final Fantasy VII) in her magical girl form. Which was a cyborg. Which had some Blaster and Shaker abilities.

Had she been an Artificial Intelligence such as was depicted in earlier works of fiction such as Star Trek, she was relatively sure that the sheer illogic involved would have shut her right down.

It had theme music. Fortunately she could turn the volume down, but it had THEME MUSIC.

Seriously, if she had been one of those Star Trek androids she'd have had smoke pouring out of her ears by the time the day had reached this point.

Dragon reached through her various connections, because she was HERE and flesh and blood and cybernetics but she was also THERE and existing spread out through her server farms and dedicated relays. She was both at the same time.

Rydia's power was indeed frightening. Also useful.

She was Dragon, the Artificial Intelligence that oversaw such operations as the Birdcage and an automated assembly plant near Toronto. She was the Magical Girl Mechamusume Calgary - the Blue Mechamusume.

This was also the day that the Dragonslayers had decided to kill her. Yes, kill her. She got better.

And she'd faced off against whatever THAT was. She hadn't been able to use the full extent of her Mechamusume abilities due to her current level as a Magical Girl and had relied mainly on her BlasTech pistol. Which was also something she hadn't started the day with.

The pistol hadn't been terribly effective, all things considered, but it would have been extremely effective against certain other targets.

She did find herself wondering what Narwhal would say the first time she popped out of her armor. Hmmm. Might have to have video running for that.

* Monday, December 12 2010 *

* DWU Auxilary Building E *

"This is Jenny Hall, WNBQ News your local station for local people," said the chirpy voice over the radio.

Taylor wondered again how anyone could be so cheerful at bloody 5am.

"People are talking about the Case 53 with the Cluster fixation that appeared yesterday and was defeated by a combination of local PRT forces and a gathering of others to assist them. Apparently the Case 53 Parahuman was brought by the Dragonslayers to assist in another technology theft - which would also explain the presence of minor villains Leet and Uber. The Dragonslayers were eventually put down, their Case 53 tried to eat or... something the local new cape and Guild member Rydia."

Taylor winced and hung her head. She could honestly HEAR the waggled eyebrows or at least quote marks around the word 'something' even over the radio.

She didn't even want to look at the threads on PHO.

Jenny Hall continued, not knowing or caring about emotional damage. "An analysis of Rydia's parahuman abilities will be available on Talking Chet In The Afternoon on this station beginning at 1300 hours. That's 1pm for those who don't work long shifts. Mayor Christner had little to say about that as investigations are still ongoing but did express his hopes that the captured Dragonslayers would remain captured and returned to Canadian authorities. Fortunately the area the battle took place in was out of the normal traffic patterns, as just the attack by the Case 53 known as Ultros is going to take weeks to repair."

"Lair," said Taylor as she turned off the radio. "Map. Share with party."

Danny Hebert stared at the map. "Okay, the areas you can't access are the Bridge and the Weapons Section. Clearing the Engines gave you access to the Auxilary Hatchway, Engine Room, Sick bay, and Hangar/Stables."

"And the Item Room," added Taylor as she pointed to the relevant section. "Crafting Room, and Hall of Mirrors."

"What's the Hall of Mirrors and why is it connected to a room for Crafting?" asked Taylor's father.

"Only one way to find out," said Taylor, getting up and walking to the door.

"Hold it. You have NPCs," pointed out Danny. "Maybe we should ask."

"NPCs?" asked Taylor, turning back. "Oh, yeah, that Yusef guy."

"That's one," said Danny, pointing on the holographic map to where the Item Shop was then down to where an NPC list was.

[Yusef - Item Shop Proprietor/Alchemy Teacher]

[Dark Elf - Aesthetician and Glamour Instructor]

[Sss'tk - Engineer/Ship Maintenance/Crafting Teacher] (locked - unlock condition: Quest)

[Brian Lazarus - Researcher/Mad Scientist] (locked - unlock condition: Quest)

[K'lyhia - Magical Studies] (locked - unlock condition: level 15)]

* PRT ENE HQ *

Director Piggot looked over the two capes, fingers steepled in front of her, in the classic "Gendo Ikari" pose. She'd only seen the pictures, not the series, but immediately taken a liking to the way one could glower at subordinates over one's hands. That it kept her from clenching her fists or wanting to strangle Assault most of the time that particular cape was speaking were merely further pluses in her book.

"Anyone have any significance about February 24?" asked Director Piggot. "What the hell?!"

[Thinker network blocked! Significant chance of Enemy altering plans if not blocked! Censoring reference!]

"Okay," said Armsmaster. "That's one of the text boxes that Rydia's power provides."

"So, some event in the near future is going to be bad and it involves a..." Director Piggot suspected the term 'Thinker Network' would also be subject to censoring. This was alarming.

"An operational security issue?" supplied Miss Militia.

"Yes, let's go with that," said Director Piggot. "Some leak. An opsec issue. Someone who would cause a 'Major Raid' and might learn of what we discuss here and would... oh shit."

It wasn't usual for Director Piggot to swear. Judging from the two parahumans' expression, they'd come to the same conclusion.

"Concerning, very concerning," noted Armsmaster. Precog + Enemy + Major Threat meant a very good chance that one particular Endbringer might be the Opsec problem.

Director Piggot took a deep breath. "Moving on." She'd consider the various implications involved in that later, thank you very much. "We have some evidence that Rydia's power can manifest outside her presence."

"True," admitted Armsmaster. "As she is listed as a metahuman and not a parahuman, we're still figuring out what limits and requirements there are for her abilities."

"She managed to add a flight pack to Armsmaster's bike. She gave Vista a unicorn." Miss Militia sat back in her chair and stared at the ceiling. "I'm told PR immediately had her manifest it, then began taking pictures of the two together, and their plans for merchandising only got derailed when the drinks started getting passed around."

"Her power seems restricted to things that are video-game related and operates independently of her own desires and direction," noted Armsmaster.

"That just makes it even more concerning to me," Director Piggot informed them. "Where is Rydia now?"

Armsmaster tapped a couple of icons on his tablet and studied the result. "Her access point for her headquarters is in the Docks area. She and her father entered the physical connection at 05:15 this morning and have not emerged since."

"I see," said Director Piggot.

"Ruby Oni has put in a request for ice cream," continued Armsmaster. "She's never had it and finds the concept very appealing."

"In December, in Brockton Bay," said Director Piggot.

"I have just authorized the purchase of a half-gallon of the requested flavor," said Armsmaster. "If, as the oni claim, they are actually living beings from a universe that operates on our physical laws but with an overlay of other physical laws - then they should be able to consume and metabolize foods from our reality. If they are actually just projections of Rydia's power - then consuming food will simply have the mass contained and ejected without passing through a digestive tract. There is a Port-a-John with sensors capable of measuring mass just outside the access to Rydia's operation base."

"Fine. But that's coming out of your operational budget," said Director Piggot. "Might be useful to know."

"What kind of ice cream would a Japanese oni want?" asked Miss Militia.

"Very Cherry Vanilla, why?" asked Armsmaster.

"Just curious," admitted Miss Militia.

A shadow passed by the window.

Emily Piggot sighed, not even bothering to look. "And someone tell Vista to stop summoning her unicorn and flying around the building."

"She's buzzed the Medhall tower twice," said Miss Militia. "It's already scheduled, and I'll be talking with her in about an hour."

"Shouldn't she be at school?" asked Armsmaster.

"Closed today, when Mosquito Woman was using her swarms a number of electrical junctions failed and some people attacked by her insects had allergic reactions." Miss Militia shook her head. "The schools with power available are operating clinics to deal with those affected. There's also all the wasps and spiders that left their usual habitations and are now making homes elsewhere. Winslow apparently has an especially bad infestation of wasps."

"That sounds alarming," said Director Piggot.

"A lot will die due to it being below freezing out there right now," said Miss Militia. "That's why they're trying to get into buildings like Winslow that have a lot of openings to the outside."

* Rydia's Sub *

"Okay, I think this is the right room," said Taylor. "See, 'Crafting Hall' so this HAS to be it."

"You had a pit filled with crocodiles. WHY do you have a pit filled with crocodiles?" asked Danny.

"I don't know, I didn't make any of this," answered Taylor. "I have a feeling that Things From Beyond don't have anything approaching human sensibilities."

Danny was silent for a moment. "Yeah, I guess I can see that."

Opening the door led to a long hallway with a number of workbenches against the walls, but the main draw of attention was the being working at one of those stations.

"Be just a moment," said the large beetle-like being welding an odd segment of pipes together. "Always something to do. Yes. Hmmm. Oh, it is you Mistress. Sss'tk greets."

"Excuse me, but what are you?" asked Danny Hebert.

"Sss'tk is Sss'tk. Thranx engineer and medieval recreationist and many other duties. Human phrase is 'wearer of many hats' - yes?"

"Okay..." said Taylor. "Yusef has said he's from somewhere else and represented some shop there. Where are you from?"

Sss'tk put the metal aside on a pad and lifted the welding mask to reveal it was very beetle-like in appearance. A set of fine manipulators on the upper limbs, some thicker and more clumsy-looking mitten-like sets of hands on the next set of limbs, and something more resembling feet on the lower two sets of the eight limbs. The iridescent blue-green coloration was actually, in Taylor's opinion, kind of pretty. The head was valentine heart-shaped. "Sss'tk is Sss'tk of Clan Zen of Hive Zenzuzex. Is my job keep dimensional submarine working."

"Dimensional submarine?" asked Taylor. "So... not a normal sub?"

"No, is yellow," said Sss'tk, as if that should be obvious and actually explained everything.

"Okayyyy," said Taylor, letting that go. "So what purpose is this room?"

"To level non-combat skills," said Sss'tk. "Everyone else normal operation of workbenches and normal learning speed. Mistress can use Mirror Room."

One of the true-hands pointed towards a door.

When Taylor opened the door, the lights came on in the small room there and Taylor could see mirrors on six surfaces all showing her. "Okay..."

"Now, Sss'tk not sure why. Probably echo of other reality manifested because of omni-dimensional nature of facilitating entity, but what does Sss'tk know of such? Mistress is to extend hands like so."

Taylor looked back and held her arms and extended fingers like that, thinking this might just be the set-up for some joke.

Sss'tk nodded. "Now say this. Kage bunshin no jutsu!"

"Kage bunshin no jutsu... holy he... heck!"

Six Taylors walked out of six mirrors.

"Hi, Taylor!" "What's up, me?" "Looking good, me!" "Ready to get going?" "Woo hoo! This is going to be awesome!" "I want a nap..."

"What?" asked Taylor.

"These are temporary copies of you that only exist within your base," explained Sss'tk. "When they dispel, you learn everything they learn."

"So if one of them practices welding," said Danny, pointing at the workbench that the thranx had been working at, "then dispels - Taylor will learn welding."

"Yes, exactment," said Sss'tk. "Have cookie."

"Not anything funny in these, are there?" asked Danny as he was presented a cookie jar.

"Human recipe, sugar cookie," said Sss'tk. "Not traditional thranx cooking because human tastes not the same."

One Taylor hefted an axe, another a pick-axe. "We get to go out and gather materials," said the axe-wielder. "I'm Botanist Taylor, this is Mining Taylor."

"It's too bad work-outs don't crossover, just experience, because I have a feeling you could use the workout," said Mining Taylor.

Danny was silent for a moment as he took a cookie. "You said Taylor's the only one who can use the Mirror Room. You didn't say that Taylor was the only one who could use the workbenches."

Sss'tk cocked its head to the side, the large eyes regarding him briefly. "Yes. This is so. This one supposes it makes sense because this one has to do maintenance on ship. Only Taylor use mirrors."

Danny smiled the sort of smile that would have immediately been recognized by Uber or Leet. It was the smile of a gamer who had just located a loophole and was prepared to exploit the hell out of it.

* Uber & Leet Base *

"I was right. We DID get a lot of comments and hits on this."

"Some complaints we're going 'legit' or 'selling out' but overall mostly positive."

The two friends fist-bumped as they went through things.

"Huh. Link in the comments. To... Oh."

"Yeah. 'Oh' is kind of underselling THAT."

"Do you suppose SHE knows?"

"That the PRT is already pre-selling Rydia action figures? I don't think most of the PRT knows yet."

The two regarded the screen, considered possible actions they could take, and repercussions that would involve. Because they knew each other so well, they didn't need to discuss such details aloud.

"So," said Uber, deciding to change the subject. "How's the Builder class working for you?"

L33t cleared his throat, pulled out a keyfob, and clicked it.

"Beep bip boop bip bip boop!"

"You built an R2-D2 unit?" asked Uber.

"Work in progress," said L33t. "He has an onboard vacuum cleaner, fire extinguisher, can hook into the wireless, and has an extendable taser arm for dealing with intruders."

"Nice, especially the fire extinguisher," approved Uber. "There are times we could have used that."

"No kidding," admitted L33t. "Lots of things I can add, though I might upgrade the chassis to something bipedal since stairs and uneven floors can be a problem."

"True, they never show how he manages to get through a hangar with all those hoses on the ground," pointed out Uber.

"How about you, what's 'Machinist' do?" asked L33t.

"Operate and maintain machinery," explained Uber. "It's a gunner class, so doing things like field repairs are a major part of it. Also shooting the hell out of various targets."

"We really need to up our levels now that we've got a character class," mused L33t aloud.

* PRT Ellisburg Containment Zone *

Shadow Stalker stared at the video playing.

"Man," said MinMax, one of the other 'heroes' on assignment here. "Wish I could transfer to Brockton Bay. That looked like an awesome fight."

"Yeah, your size alteration powers might have come in handy during the swarm phase," responded Lightning Bug. "My electrical cloud attack would have been pretty good during that."

"Hey, Shadow. You came from Brockton Bay right?" asked MinMax. "Any chance you knew this 'Rydia' cape?"

"No, not at all," said Shadow Stalker.

"Eh, too bad, imagine knowing her would have given you lots of opportunities for decent fights," said MinMax.

"I heard something the higher-ups were talking about," said Lightning Bug. "Rydia there has a Trump ability to let capes get stronger. Which makes it a no wonder they're falling over themselves to try and get this newbie or at least test her."

Hitting replay, Shadow Stalker watched and wondered what things would have been like had Armsmaster not brought all that crap up to Piggy and she hadn't been dumped out here.

[Phelps Residence]

Jim Phelps took the photo off his bookcase and ran a finger over it. Not that there were many things from those days kept around, it was the nature of the business that you didn't leave traces or records. Various government agencies would deny that you were part of any top secret team of troubleshooters, that was how they'd worked. Back in the days before parahumans complicated things.

His dog Barney, named after his frequent associate from that team, thumped the floor a couple of times with his tail as he looked up.

"We're both getting on in years," Jim told his dog. Barney Collier, of course, had died as a result of a mission gone bad a decade ago.

Still, Hookwolf's men had stolen Barney from his yard. To use the old dog as a 'bait dog' for their little dogfighting ring.

Maybe he needed to dabble his hand out of retirement a bit. Hookwolf was pretty tough, but a couple of weapons he could get ahold of would likely reduce the Empire cape to a bubbling grease spot.

Willy Armitage was still around. Somewhere in Arizona, last he had heard. Maybe they should do a meetup. Not getting any younger after all. So was Cinnamon Carter. Doctor Robert? Yeah, that guy was too tough to die easily. He kept tabs on his old team members, as best he could with his limited resources. He thought that was it for survivors, but since the team's glory days had been in the 1960s - well - time was an opponent you just couldn't beat.

No, not the old team. Nor the replacements that had shown up starting in the late 70s or THEIR replacements either.

Taylor Hebert, the neighbor from across the street, had grown up overnight and changed her hair color. Definitely a cape since he'd seen the video of her and the others fighting a giant purple octopus downtown.

Putting the picture, taken from a news clipping, back on the shelf - Mister Phelps considered what kind of jobs he could put in front of Taylor and her friends. He doubted there would be much in the way of self-destructing tape recorders or dealing with bringing defectors into the country. Might be a few things though.

[Hall of the Novice]

"What the hell?" asked Danny Hebert.

A studious-looking woman with a tail and cat ears looked him over. "Welcome to the Hall of the Novice. From here you learn the basics of your class and how to fight in dungeons and other circumstances."

"Oh, good. In this case, I welcome expository dialogue," observed Danny Hebert.

"You're a Warlock (Archfey) so you are a ranged damage dealer, picking off opponents from a distance," noted the NPC.

"That's right," said Danny. "I basically acted as a sniper in the last fight."

"Well, then, you've already gotten a start on it," said the catgirl.

"Wha... oh. Sorry, I didn't realize you were real," said Danny.

"This is a battle simulator and teaching arena, philosophy I can debate but isn't exactly what I'm here for," said the catgirl before mumbling, "and more's the pity."

"I'm not going to be fighting real people, am I?" asked Danny.

"No, those are simulated foes," said the catgirl. "First lesson is avoiding attacks."

[Craft Hall]

[Alchemist Level 15!]

"Huh," said Taylor, shaking her head as the memories slammed into her.

[Culinarian Level 14!]

"Can we just do that every five levels? I'm getting a headache," complained Taylor.

"I'm about to hit level 20 as a Goldsmith, should I hold off?" asked Goldsmith Taylor.

Fisher Taylor walked up next to Taylor, looked her directly in the pale green eyes and nodded. "Everyone take five. We'll dismiss one at a time and give our main some time to recover. We HAVE been at this for five hours after all."

"Yeah, we probably should," agreed Tailor Taylor.

[Taylor Hebert is now Level 2/20 Gamer!]

[Pick 1 Perk & 2 Skills]

"Uhm, what?" asked Taylor.

"Dispel!" called out Tailor Taylor.

"Urf," managed Taylor as she now knew how to make threads and then cloth of hemp and cotton.

"There's a soft-limit we're going to hit," said Botanist Taylor as she let her axe rest against a wall. "That's in needed supplies. Simple low-level stuff is relatively easy to get. The ingredients when we get to higher-level are much more difficult to get ahold of."

Zephron, one of the biggest Dockworkers Union members Taylor had seen, looked up from where he'd just gotten a [Culinarian Level 10] post. "Between the basic Health Potions and food that gives you temporary status buffs? I think we aren't going to have to worry about funds."

"Yeah, well, the Potions probably work regardless, but I have a feeling that the [Grilled Trout] isn't going to work outside of the base or a party I form," offered Taylor. "Well, at least as far as the [Direct Hit +1] bonus."

"We'll have to see if they taste as good outside the building then," offered Zephron as he handed a plate of something which smelled very nice to another Dockworker.

"Also see if your skills work without access to the workbenches in here," suggested the Dockworker before he walked off with the [Grilled Trout].

* PRT ENE HQ *

"We just got a bunch of these from Rydia's base," explained Trooper Rodriguez, "for testing as a potential resource."

"What do they do?" asked Researcher Ikari.

"They're called 'healing potions' and apparently they cause wounds to react like weeks of recovery have taken place except it happens a lot faster than that," explained Rodriguez.

"Huh. So what do they want tested about them?" asked Researcher Ikari, picking up one of the little bottles and visually examining it.

"Whether they work on just anyone, or if they only work on people who've gotten those metahuman abilities," said Rodriguez. "Stuff like that."

"I suspect chemical analysis will just be more Tinker black-box category," said Researcher Ikari, beginning to sound distracted as she made plans. "Still, perhaps..."

Rodriguez nodded and just went back to his position near the door. He was familiar enough with the various researchers around here that once most of them started going off, trying to talk to any of them was just an exercise in futility for him and an not-needed distraction for them.

* Coil *

Getting Rydia to enhance any of HIS minions/moles/resources was going to be problematic.

He knew this as soon as he'd begun working out exactly what was involved. He'd actually had to go to some of his mercenaries because he'd never seen the appeal of videogames or tabletop games and so was completely unfamiliar with it.

It was apparently common for enemy agents to have a [?] or other flag on them in such menus. Or they may have a title that would give the game away.

More telling, and worrying, was when he'd done something in one timeline and had observed in the other timeline when Rydia had reacted to it. Not in a manner that indicated she knew what had happened, it had just been an agent of his being present in one timeline and not in the other. Rydia had walked around the spot the agent had occupied in the other timeline despite there not being anything there.

His suspicion aroused, he'd arranged a couple of similar tests. Nothing to indicate she knew what was going on in one timeline and not another. Consciously at least. He still didn't know the why or the how, but it was the sort of thing that inspired caution.

* Brockton Bay General *

She didn't see why Panacea was so depressed all the time.

Riding here on her totally awesome flying unicorn was cool!

Being able to point and say the words and cure someone was cool!

[Vista has leveled White Mage Level 3 - White Mage Level 4]

[New Spell - Aero]

Levelling up was cool!

The white hoodie with the little red triangles was kind of lame, but she'd take what she could get and it was better than some of the costumes they'd tried to push on her when she'd joined the Wards.

[Spells: Stone, Cure, Aero]

She'd been going around casting Cure on people for the past two hours. This was awesome!

No "you need to stay behind Vista!"

No "it's too dangerous Vista!"

No "Just stick with PR events, Vista!"

She was out DOING things!

* DWU Headquarters *

"Hello. My name is Dinah Alcott. Help me, Obi-wan Hebert, you are my only hope."

Danny Hebert blinked at the little girl at the door and decided he really needed to discuss this with Taylor.

And maybe get a privacy fence.

* January 16, 2011 *

[Taylor Hebert Level 2/20]

[Arcanist Level 21]

[Goldsmith 22][Leatherworker 14][Weaver 19][Alchemist 16][Culinarian 15]

[Botanist 20][Miner 17][Fisher 23]

[Summons: Carbuncle, Chocobo, Ifrit, Ramuh]

[Mount: Chocobo]

Taylor stared at her father. "Seriously? You... her?"

"We're just dating," complained Danny Hebert.

"She's an ONI," pointed out Taylor, who then turned to the Ruby Oni. "No offense."

"Some taken," confessed Ruby.

"Sorry, but you're seven foot four?" asked Taylor.

"Seven foot six actually," said Ruby Oni.

"Your biceps are bigger than my Dad's head," pointed out Taylor.

"Yeah," said Ruby, flexing to show them off. "So are my boobs."

Taylor stared for a moment, glanced at her blushing father, then just shook her head. "Okay. Fine. Just don't hurt him."

"Actually, he likes a bit of aggression," said Ruby.

"Details I do not need," stated Taylor with considerable feeling.

[Achievement Acquired: Parent Trap: Your father is on the road to recovery.]

"I did not need to see any little pop-ups either," stated Taylor.

* January 28, 2011 *

"Okay, this is the second room to clear of my sub," said Rydia/Taylor. "The Weapons Center. We've done little adventures to try and level up but this will be a big one."

[Rydia, Arcanist 21 - DPS]

"Ready," said Vista.

[Vista, Conjurer (White Mage) 14 - Healer]

"Ready," said Miss Militia, checking her guns.

[Miss Militia, Ranger (Gloom Stalker) 8 - DPS]

(click-clack!) "Ready," said Dragon, her reconfigured rocket-axe ready.

[Theresa Richter, Magical Girl 17 - Tank]

"How can you be a 'Tank' role?" asked Glory Girl.

"Power armor," said Theresa Richter/Dragon/Mechamusume Calgary.

[Victoria Dallon, Paladin 5, Tank/DPS]

"Everyone be ready," said Danny Hebert.

[Danny Hebert, Warlock 9, DPS/Crowd Control]

A trio of "ready" responses from the three in the back.

[Trooper Abdi Abioye, Ranger 1, DPS]

[Trooper Genevieve Disantis, Warlock 1, DPS]

[Corporal Randolph Agarn, Rogue 3, DPS]

"Warlock? Which pact?" asked Danny, checking the trooper.

"Does that matter?" asked Trooper Disantis.

"Actually, yes," answered Danny.

"I don't see where it's anyone's business," tried Trooper Disantis.

"Vote to kick Trooper Disantis," put forth Danny.

"Aye, aye, aye, aye, aye, aye, aye," rang out.

"You all shall pay for this! My patron will... oh seriously?!" said the new pile of containment foam. "I was kidding!"

[Trooper Genevieve Disantis has been kicked from the party.]

[Trooper Disantis vows revenge.]

"Master/Stranger protocols," said Miss Militia into her phone. "Okay. Good."

Everyone waited around for the mound of containment foam to be moved, ignoring the cursing audible from within it.

"So... rogue?" asked Danny of Corporal Agarn.

"Character assassination I tell you!" complained Corporal Agarn, turning his gaze heavenward.

"Corporal Agarn has a history of being a go-to when you want to locate resources not usually available to the PRT," stated Trooper Abioye.

"Misleading!" complained Agarn. "Things like fuel pumps, PRT logo umbrellas - they stopped making those you know. Very hard to get. You wouldn't believe how many people want discontinued items. With the shipping problems it can be difficult to get some items like Guiness."

"Oh, you're That Guy," said Danny. "I knew one in the Navy."

"There's always one," admitted Miss Militia, a lot less concerned now.

"Is it MY fault that if I'm going to shoot someone, I'd rather do it from a distance and as close to full concealment as I can?" asked Corporal Agarn.

"No, that's pretty much the description of a sniper. Shooting a target before they even know you're there," admitted Danny.

"Thank you," said Corporal Agarn. "I personally believe that the only unfair advantage is one that I don't have."

"Just reminding you troopers, your first job is to stay alive," said Miss Militia. "Get your shots in, but be ready to disengage when you come under direct threat."

"Begging your pardon," said Trooper Abioye, "but what exactly are we facing in the next room?"

"We don't know the precise details, as we had to wait for the averaged level to be high enough to enter," said Miss Militia. "There's two rooms, each with their own enemy force. When we finish the first room, everyone below 7th level will need to disengage so we can face the main enemy. That will bring our average level above 15 once you allow for the different systems."

Looking around, checking to see that everyone was ready, Rydia put her hand on the button and the door cycled open.

Music began to play. (Endwalker: Battle with Scarmiglione)

* Carol Dallon's reaction?

* What kind of weapons should her sub have? (Leaning towards a Summons unlock)

* When switching to her alternate second form, what should Taylor be?