My watch alarm woke me up early the next morning, demonstrating my absolute commitment to becoming a hero. For a chance at a cape career I was willing to endure two six o'clocks in the same day.

I am not a morning person. I have never been a morning person. Before I got my powers I would run in the evening. It was nice, peaceful, and I had all the time in the world. Now that I have to do more than just cardio I needed to find another time to run. That turned out to be the ungodly hour of the day where no sane person would be active.

After downing a piece of toast and enough coffee to silence the voices telling me this was a terrible idea when I had a warm bed in a pocket universe waiting for me, I left my apartment and headed for the Boardwalk where the other mad people were exercising. I hated them all. Some had the ill manner to smile at me when they ran past. I know it's a Saturday, but there is no place for smiles at this hour of the morning. This is an hour of grimness that only the desperate would use for exercise.

Oh God, that person had one of those jogging strollers with them. You can subject yourself to the madness of early morning workouts but please spare the next generation. Break the cycle of abuse. Save your children from this hell.

My morning run was a straight shot to the coast then a loop up and down the boardwalk before swinging back to my apartment. It was roughly the same route I had taken when I ran during sane hours, but now I got to enjoy the piercing rays of the rising sun stabbing at me as they reflected off the bay.

I took a short break when I reached the road access to the Protectorate HQ. It was a glittering strip of the same force field that protected the Rig extending over the water to shore. The amount of traffic it saw was always light and at this time of day it was completely empty. It was an impressive piece of tinkertech, both in scale and in how long it had been maintained. That was true for most of the Protectorate headquarters as it hovered above the waves sending shockwaves out across the surface of the water from each of the emitters at its base.

If I was a typical tinker I would probably be reacting to all kinds of aspects of this technology. I wonder if that's another way tinkers expose themselves. Does the Protectorate have some kind of monitoring program that watches for people drooling glassy eyed over their installations? Maybe, but for me it was just some pretty looking sci-fi themed architecture.

The sound of a motorcycle rumbled from the city and I turned to see a man in blue and silver armor peel off the main road onto the force field. As Armsmaster vanished across the way various people cheered or fished out smartphones. It was early for tourists but even locals didn't see the heroes every day. I took another minute to watch as he reached the Rig and disappeared into one of the garages.

That could be me someday.

Well, not exactly. Judging by my passenger's emotional reactions he was not in favor of the Protectorate. I had initially worried it was some kind of aversion to heroics, but there was no reaction on that level for other teams. In fact the Guild got a significantly positive response. The thought of any of the city's gangs got various negative reactions with the most intense being connected with Coil. I don't know what it was about him that caused a mix of fear, hatred, and rage that overshadowed even the local Nazis, but it was enough to make me warry. Given the situation I was in I had decided to trust my passenger's judgment. It hadn't steered me wrong so far and considering it was where my powers were coming from it seemed like a good idea to listen to it.

The sighting of Armsmaster was the most interesting thing to happen on my run. Beyond that it was just a tour of the visitor friendly parts of the Bay at a time of day nobody should have to endure.

Did I mention I don't like mornings?

As I left the Boardwalk and was heading back through the docks to my apartment I considered how to spend the day. I didn't have enough of a handle on where my power was going to try to plan out anything meaningful about my hero activity. Until it settled enough for me to have a vague theme to work with anything I planned would be total speculation. I wasn't dumb enough to try cape work with my current powerset, so that left training and conditioning, since that was likely to pay off regardless of what I got from my next power.

I had just arrived home when I felt the excitement build from my passenger. I quickly focused on the Celestial Forge and felt a constellation swinging. This time my reach was twice what it had been last night.

I felt myself latch on to a mote of power. It was from one of the smaller constellations and a little less powerful than the mote that I had missed on my previous attempt. As my connection solidified I felt my knowledge of the power and its constellation expand.

This was not a tinker power. This was something better. This was a brute power that required tinker support.

That constellation was called 'Clothing'. I didn't have a good sense of the other powers within it, but this power was called 'Fashion'. Despite its name it had nothing to do with clothing design, other than the fact that it would allow me to wear anything as my cape costume. That was because what it did was extend the defensive properties of the toughest protective item I was wearing to both my clothing and body. I could wear a kneepad and have my entire body and every piece of clothing be as tough as the material it was made out of.

It was absolutely incredible in terms of mobility, not to mention cost. I could put resources into a single piece of armor, just enough to cover a tiny fraction of my frame, and I would get that level of durability for my entire body.

I needed to test this out. Not because I doubted it. That was one thing I was sure of. Every power I would get was as reliable as my key had proven to be. I had complete faith it would work precisely as described. The only limitation was that the item needed to be designed for protection and had a lower size limit of the aforementioned knee pad. Outside of that caveat it could be anything.

All my plans for the day were done. I needed to work on this. I could head to a thrift store and see what I could find, but I had a full magic metal shop to work with and just enough technical knowledge to get started.

I am not a master smith, not by any measure. As such the product of my morning's labor in the workshop would not be winning any design, beauty, or craftsmanship contests. It consisted of a steel wrist bracer that hinged and clasped around my left forearm. The whole affair had involved some less than perfect shaping and welding, meaning the seams were raised and lumpy and the fit was uncomfortable.

That was not important in the face of its effects. I had made the bracer out of the thickest, toughest steel I had in stock. Despite only covering half of my forearm it was noticeably heavy. I would have to replace it with something more ergonomic once I had a chance to refine things. The point was that now my entire body and everything I was wearing had the same level of reliance as the half-inch steel plate that made up the bracer.

I did not test that in the workshop. For one thing everything there was designed to work the same material I was using as a durability standard. Instead I hit the kitchenette and tried to see if I could prick my finger with one of my knives.

The end result of that experiment was that knife not having a point anymore.

A pair of scissors also completely failed to cut the fabric of my shirt and I found myself unable to tear even a single loose thread. A bit of cautious experimentation with the element of my hotplate confirmed the same level of resistance that steel would have to heat was applied to my body and clothing.

This was incredible. The big thing was it showed these weren't just crafting abilities. There could be all kinds of powers waiting in the Celestial Forge. The second thing was I now had a power significant enough to allow me to actually function as a cape. I wasn't completely sure I was bullet proof, but I was probably bullet proof. Maybe high powered rifles would give me some trouble, but I don't think most handguns would be a problem.

I still needed to figure out the limitations. I got the defensive properties of the strongest piece of equipment I was wearing. Theoretically that could apply to things like chemical and biological protection as well, but that was starting to approach fairly exotic levels. I'd need specialized equipment for that. Still, being able to carry around a selection of wrist guards that were each tailored to a specific type of danger had a certain appeal.

There were other limitations to consider. Obviously the defensive bonus was based on the item that was providing protection. If the details of this power got out it would be relatively simple to target or otherwise focus on removing that item. Also it was defensive properties only. It would probably protect my knuckles when fighting but it wasn't going to provide any increased offensive capacity beyond my willingness to fight recklessly by weathering more attacks. No increase to strength either, so if I got grappled, pinned, or otherwise swarmed I would be screwed.

So it was a powerful ability but not a perfect one. It did mean I could get better defense than a tinker in full armor without the bulk of an extensive suit or the time and resource requirements needed to make it. One downside was it only extended durability to my body and clothing, so any equipment that didn't fit the definition of clothing was still vulnerable.

I wonder if it would be possible to track down a piece of tinkertech armor. I've heard most of the sites selling tinkertech are scams, but there has to be some kind of secondhand curio or collectable market for old hero armor. All I'd need is a piece of some kind of advanced alloy and I'd get the full effect of its durability. But if something like that did exist I could safely assume it would be well beyond my budget.

My first tinker power had arrived and it worked out to effective invincibility as long as I played things smart. I would still need to worry about suffocation and probably chemical and biological attacks. Good thing there wasn't any cape in Brockton who specialized in the use of poisons.

Why was my passenger feeling nervous all of a sudden?

Maybe it would be good to go over some matchups. I got out my now seriously long in the tooth laptop and logged on to the PHO wiki. I'd gotten this thing in my first year and time had not been kind to it. It was a budget purchase back then and despite my attempts to look after it the screen had a tendency to flicker and the internal speakers were totally shot. I'm pretty sure I would end up laughed out of any serious cape organization if I showed up with this thing and claimed to be a tinker.

Still, it served the purpose for basic internet use. I was obsessively cautious about doing anything cape related online from my own computer and especially from my own apartment but a little wiki walk wouldn't raise any flags.

I had the added advantage of my passenger's insight while browsing cape profiles. I didn't know exactly how accurate it was, but things like the seriously negative reaction to the newest member of the local Wards team yielded some interesting results. She seemed to be a dependable if slightly edgy hero, but a little digging into cape forums produced some fairly convincing evidence that she had a history of excessive violence and a rumor that she joined the wards as part of a probation deal to avoid being charged with attempted murder. None of that had been on my map beforehand, so it lent some credence towards trusting the passenger's judgement.

Some of the insights were still completely mystifying. I had no idea what the weird feeling of offense that was shared between Battery, Triumph, and Gallant meant. It was similar to what he seemed to be feeling when I reviewed Faultline's crew and looked at the listings for Newter and Gregor the Snail, though it was much more sympathetic for the Case 53s. Any browsing of reports on New Wave triggered a mess of emotions, mostly concern, fear, and compassion that spiked when I focused on Panacea. Also my passenger did not like Armsmaster, but it was more a level of distrust than actual hostility.

I started with the page for the Archer's Bridge Merchants. No surprise there, general disgust, though the feelings connected to Skidmark were more wary then I had initially expected. That confused me enough that I had dug into cape theories and found someone who had done the math on the effect of Skidmark stacking his propulsion fields. Calculations based on various video clips and the movement rate of different sized objects suggested that there were no diminishing returns with his power. If the man layered a field enough times he would be able to launch something into orbit or create a mass driver that could wipe out anything in the city. Brocton was only kept safe by the restraint and limited ambition of a drug addict that kept him at a shaker 2 rating.

So, defense against the Merchants. Assuming that durability worked as advertised and wasn't just skin deep I could probably survive anything short of a massive layered field launch from Skidmark or one of Squealer's larger vehicle mounted weapons. Nothing else should be able to seriously injure me, but I could end up trapped by Skidmark or Mush fairly easily. In short, I should be alright if I ran into them and needed to escape, but taking the fight to them was out of the question at this point.

I looked into the ABB next. Lung would be able to scale to a point where he could literally rip me apart, but if I kept fighting him long enough for him to reach that point then it's my own fault. As far as I could tell I should be able to endure most of Oni Lee's arsenal, providing he doesn't shove a grenade down my throat. The Wiki page had been updated with a new member since the last time I had checked it. They had a new tinker in the gang. Bakuda.

The scream of fear from my passenger was incredible. I quickly clicked the link while trying to parse through the mess of emotions. Whoever this was she was incredibly bad news. This was nearly the level of response that Coil triggered.

The Wiki page was sparse, mostly focusing on her assault on Cornell. Her activities with the ABB had been limited to a few appearances mostly to show the flag to other gangs rather than any demonstration of new technology. That probably meant she was still setting up. Not everyone carried their workshop around in their pocket. The loss of tools, research, and materials could take a tinker nearly back to square one. Once she was set up, that's when things would get serious.

There was a limitation in the fact that she had to build consumable devices. I didn't know how good her manufacturing was, but if the ABB was willing to throw enough resources behind her things could get messy. There had been something of a stalemate between the gangs for years but every time a new cape showed up there were flare-ups. If they were strong enough then territorial lines could be redrawn, but things would usually settle eventually.

Tinkers were different. They were pure force multiplier. Tinkers were capes that didn't typically operate based on a limited set of powers so counters were only effective to a point. Squealer was probably the only reason the Merchants were still a proper gang rather than a couple of parahuman thugs operating out of the bad part of town. If Bakuda was half as good then the city could be heading for a gang war.

I clicked on the video link 'Bomb Threat Cornell' and watched it play out. The video did little to reassure me, particularly the effect of the detonations.

So, tinker that triggered in relation to their college life. That hit close to home. Well, she might not have triggered due to that but somehow I doubted she'd make the college her first target if it hadn't had some connection to how she got her powers. I knew how messed up tinkers could get, the long drawn out nightmare that lead to their triggers and how nightmarish the powers could actually get. When I think about what kind of power I could have ended up with it makes it hard to sleep.

The variety of the explosion types either means that she is an incredibly versatile tinker or she has little control over what she is making. Knowing what I do about tinker powers I'm leaning towards the latter. Unknown crafting is a dangerous combination with any tinker ability, but combine it with an explosive specialist and you have a nightmare.

I felt my power try and fail to latch onto a mote from a new constellation. The rate my reach was growing wasn't constant, but it seemed to be getting faster on average. As the mote of power moved past me my reach continued to grow in preparation for the next chance to gain a new ability.

Not for the first time I thanked my lucky stars or whatever gods had blessed me to allow me this ability instead of the tinker powers I would have had coming to me. A passenger obsessed with crafting was a million times better than the alternatives waiting for anyone who triggered conventionally.

It was clear Bakuda was going to be a problem. With those effects I couldn't rely on any level of physical durability to hold me together. I needed a better way of countering her, or I needed to stay out of her way. Right now that seemed like the best option.

I navigated away to the E88 wiki site. There was the common level of general disgust my passenger felt for all members of this gang. The emotions around Purity were a bit more complicated, but no less negative. From what I knew she had somewhat split from the main group and had been doing independent raids. Still, that wasn't what I was here to figure out.

My defensive prospects against Purity weren't looking good. She could bring down buildings and was rumored to have blasts that hit like Legend. I doubted anything short of full tinker tech miracle armor would save me from that. She was the worst of the possible match ups though. Rune, Kreig, Hookwolf, Night , or the twins could probably overpower my defense, though it wouldn't be easy for them. I didn't know how I would stand up against Crusader's ghosts. They apparently worked on some weird Manton Effect interaction, so probably best not to risk a confrontation. Storm Tiger could probably hurt me, but not that badly. With Victor it would depend on how Othala juiced him up. I think I could handle the pyrokinesis she could grant, but I didn't know the limits of the super strength she bestowed. People like Cricket and Alabaster could be difficult to deal with but probably not that threatening.

I probably had nothing to worry about directly from Kaiser. From what I could tell he had limited ability to direct his blades through people. Without significant force I would be looking at a few scratches at worst. Of course, he would also have the easiest time capturing me. That was something I would be doing my best to avoid.

Of the major gangs that just left Coil. My passenger's reactions had convinced me he was a threat, but not why or how. His wiki page still had no hint on his power and just a few clips of the mercenaries he used. His men were at least well equipped. The high powered rifles they used could be a problem on their own, but I didn't like my chances against the tinkertech lasers they had attached. Fortunately they limited their actions considerably and I wasn't likely to run into them at random.

That covered the major threats in the city. I could keep digging through every third string villain or hypothetical matches against the heroes, but that wouldn't be a productive use of time. Likewise I decided against jumping over to the forums. That was a time sink that I couldn't afford anymore. I had a limited amount of time off and still had a huge amount of preparation to do before I was ready to be a hero.

I started making a basic lunch and considered how to spend the rest of the day. I needed to keep working on my physical conditioning, so that meant keeping my diet and getting to the gym. I had to be careful about overdoing my workouts, but I could manage that by lowering intensity and focusing on different muscle groups. I had pretty much stolen my entire training and diet program from a fitness forum and those places tended to have people shouting down any stupid risks in training.

Also, as good as the bracer was for overall defense I could use a subtler option. I would hit the Market and see if someone was selling old kneepads, wrist guards, or some other similar type of protective equipment. If I could get a basic kneepad I might be able to wear it under my jeans to get some constant level of protection without attracting attention. It wouldn't do much against guns, but should boost my durability to the point where melee weapons wouldn't be much of a concern. I didn't want to get my cape career cut short because of a mugging gone badly.

The Market would have to be my first priority. It was already noon and the stalls would have been set up for hours. They would already be pretty well picked over so I'd need to go there right away to have a chance at anything decent. I wolfed down my lunch and headed out.

Because of the nuances of Brockton Bay's public transportation system if you were starting in the Docks it was actually faster to walk to the Market than take the bus. The road access to the Lord Street Market looped around the outside of the city through seldom used and poorly maintained back roads. Bus service to that area was a trial that used the weird fifth color on the bus schedules and varied based on time of year, day of the week, and probably whether Mars was currently in retrograde. Unless you were hauling an amount of goods that made walking impossible it was better to just cut through fields along the coast past the north end of the Boardwalk. It wasn't a clear route, but it wasn't a route for anyone outside the city. You live here long enough and eventually someone would show you the shortcut across abandoned lots, old industrial areas, and the weedy fields in the no man's land between the Docks and Lord's Port.

The Boardwalk disappeared behind me with its designer boutiques and twelve dollar ice-cream and the reality of the city opened before of me. Fifteen years ago this would have been the heart of the city's industry. Lord's Port would have been running constantly and the surrounding region existed to support and sustain the shipping industry. Since that dried up the entire area had decayed to a shadow of its former self. There was still the odd business still active, probably too invested in their equipment to be worth moving and just profitable enough to squeak by, but abandoned lots and decayed buildings were a much more common site.

However, when you approached the market you could be forgiven for overlooking all of that. Gradually the human element of the city started to grow, beginning with the cars of people who parked further out to avoid having to deal with the nightmare that was the Market's parking situation, then the occasional person that had begged off from the crowds for a smoke break. Then the sound started. The subtle roar of hundreds of people in the same place, talking, laughing, bargaining, and haggling. You heard the Market long before you caught site of it.

The place was packed today. It made sense that it would be. Brockton didn't have horrible winters but it wasn't exactly comfortable in February and March. A clear Saturday in early April would be one of the first good outing days of the year and it looked like plenty of people shared that mindset. The people running the stands seemed to have seen it coming since there didn't seem to be an unmanned stall in the entire Market.

I started working my way through the crowd. Most of the stands I could skip after a glance. Handcrafts, surplus designer clothing, costume jewelry, vintage records, or artwork held no interest for me. Unfortunately there wasn't a stall labeled 'Loose Athletic Protective Equipment' that I could make a bee line for. Some people were selling old electronics and tool sets that held a lot of appeal, but I had committed myself to holding back on the tinker scrounging until I had some crafting powers to work with.

It wasn't that I was worried about being exposed. I'm pretty sure whatever hypothetical thinkers monitored purchasing habits wouldn't be tipped off by me buying an old game console and vcr/dvd combo. The thing was I have very limited funds to work with. I didn't want to invest in electronics only to end up with a specialization in vehicle engines or chemistry. Case in point, before I got my last ability I would never have considered the need for isolated pieces of armor.

It was a shame because there were a lot of tempting possibilities here. Even without power assisted crafting abilities there was an appeal in taking apart old machinery. I guess I would never have ended up in an engineering program if I didn't have those instincts. Still, I pushed them down and pressed on.

A quick, and I use that term loosely, circuit of the market didn't reveal any stand specializing in protective sports gear. That left me hunting through individual stalls. For a good portion of Brockton Bay the Market takes the place of a yard sale when the time comes to clean out the garage or declutter the house. It's easy to spot the people using it for that purpose. People who make their living from the Market have a professional attitude. They have well-made signs, neatly organized merchandise, and proper cash boxes. Some of them even have those new smartphone card readers. They provided a stark contrast to people with optimistic expressions and a table full of random junk. Those people were my best chance to find what I was looking for.

It also turned what should have been a simple shopping trip into an ordeal. If I wasn't being strictly conservative with my finances I could have walked into a department store and picked up a whole set of pads in five minutes. Instead I was hunting around through a heavy throng of flea market shoppers trying to find a budget piece of skateboard equipment. It was not exactly the shining start to a cape career I would have envisioned.

Still, given what some tinkers had to go through for supplies this counted as a cake walk. An hour sorting through junk was nothing compared to tinkers who ended up having to rob chemical depos or required rare earth elements to be able to accomplish anything.

I didn't have a problem finding skating pads. The problem was every set I had found so far was child sized. And by that I mean designed for preteen or younger. I don't know if I was seeing the residual equipment from abandoned skating hobbies, or if once they reached teenage years their parents stopped insisting on full sets of pads. Sizing was going to be a problem for me. I had my growth spurt late, but it had decided to make up for lost time in spades. Even stuff sized for teenagers wouldn't work for me.

I felt activity in the Celestial forge and moved out of the flow of shoppers to focus on it. One of the largest constellations was swinging towards me and my power latched onto a small mote from it. I took a moment to focus on the new power. The constellation was 'Quality' and this particular power was called 'Bling of War'. This power didn't strictly speaking give me any new crafting abilities or technical knowledge. Instead it allowed me to design and build things in a much more 'stylish' manner.

It was an aesthetic upgrade. I could add style or even a certain theme to what I built. While it wouldn't help me with the practical requirements of construction or design it would allow me to sidestep the early tinker cliché where they initially debut in a set of gear that looks like it was the product of a junkyard screwing a trash compactor.

Hell, most capes outside of the Protectorate and major gangs fell into that category. I'd seen forum threads joking about the number of capes whose debut costume was either a ski mask or a hoodie. I thought back to the bracer currently resting in my workshop. The bulky hinge, the crude weld lines, the ill-fitting bend of the material. My mind was suddenly filled with a thousand ways I could have done that better. None of them would have improved the protection or accessibility of the item, but it would make it look like the thing was made by a professional rather than a twelve year old left unsupervised in a metal workshop.

I badly needed more crafting skills. I had a very limited ability to make things, but with this power at least everything I made would look excellent, even if it wouldn't function any better than whatever crude thing I could pull together. I made a point to check some of the book stands before I left. If I could get a couple of how to books I might be able to make decent progress on a costume. Since my durability boost extended to my clothing it really didn't matter if the costume I pulled together was terrible quality or poorly made. It would hold up as long as I had a piece of armor to buff it. I knew enough metal work to get something functional bashed together and this power would make sure it looked good.

This did mean I would have to completely rebuild my bracer. It should be a bit easier this time now that I'm not making things up as I go. Still, that was hours of work wasted. That's the life of a tinker, I suppose, it never stops.

One interesting thing was that connecting with this power didn't take all of the reach I had built. Rather than start from zero I still had about half of what I had accumulated. The next time a constellation came within range I would have a much better chance of making a connection to a new power. It was an interesting aspect of the mechanics, and anything that helped me get on my feet faster was good by me.

In the end the best I was able to find were a pair of soccer shin guards. They weren't that tough, but I should be able to wear one without attracting attention. I could probably copy the design and make something out of steel when I had a chance, which would give me better protection, close to what I got from my bracer, without attracting attention. The book search turned up dry. The only 'how to' book I found was on the basics of carpentry. I would really do better at a used book store for that, and that's assuming I didn't end up with my power giving me enough technical knowledge to make everything in those books redundant.

So I had killed two hours and gotten a pair of shin guards out of it. Grant it they came at rock bottom prices, but I had to get better at managing my time. I actually had some projects now, considering I had a crafting boosting power, if a completely superficial one. But I also needed to get to the gym. I promised myself I wouldn't let my workouts lapse because of tinkering. If I wanted to exist outside the workshop or lab I would need to be able to handle myself in a fight. That meant training was essential. Which meant not skipping my workouts just because I had a shiny new ability.

So I left the chaos of the market, looped back through the docks to my apartment and grabbed my gym bag and a snack. The food requirements for trying to build muscle were absolutely insane. When you had to eat, what you had to eat, the ratios, before or after workout, it was nuts. I honestly miss the days I would just focus on distance running.

The gym was fairly quiet and I was able to power through my training without much issue. I finished with a long cooldown and set of stretches, then headed back home. I made an early dinner, then headed straight into my workshop.

The first thing I did was try to recreate my bracer. Fortunately the stock of materials constantly refreshed. I don't know if it would be possible to deplete it with a major project, but none of the light works I've done so far have made a dent in it. All the metals I have in stock are basic stuff. Standard grades of steel, aluminum, and other metals. I have sheet and bar stock and a small supply of simple mechanical parts like hinges and latches. Nothing high tech or even cutting edge. No exotic alloys or treated metals, nothing fiber reinforced, nothing more advanced than the higher end of hobby work.

It did mean I didn't have to worry about restocking. With the state of my finances this was a godsend. Once I got some better crafting abilities I could only guess at what I would be capable of. Most likely I would run into a block in terms of tools and supplies. This was fine for simple projects like this one, but I would need a supply of more advanced components to put out things on the level of a professional tinker.

With an idea of what I was doing the project went a lot smoother but I still couldn't get the fit perfect. I suspected I'd need a lot more experience with metal shaping or specialized equipment for that. Despite sitting a bit awkwardly on my wrist and not being any more durable than my first attempt the bracer looked amazing.

The formerly chunky placement of the hinges and latch now smoothly blended into the design. The weld seams looked so professional that it could be mistaken for being molded in a single piece. There were little touches on the edges that added a sense of sleekness and the surface was beautifully finished.

All the little stylistic touches had taken some extra work, but nowhere near the amount they should have. If I tried to build something like this before getting that last power it would have taken weeks and not come out anywhere near as finished. It was beautiful and it was only my first attempt.

Once I had a theme, an idea of what kind of hero I wanted to be, then I would have to rebuild it to match. For now it was just a beautifully made wrist guard that, thanks to my other power, effectively made me bullet proof.

It was getting into the evening, but I decided to take a crack at another project. With my durability boost I could theoretically head out for hero work. The thing was I would need at least some kind of offensive ability. I may have had access to a magic metal shop, but my knowledge of how to work with it was limited. I'd considered trying to throw together some basic weapon, but given how crude my earlier work was I'd decided to wait until I had some ability to facilitate things.

Well, I had an ability now. Not one that would help with anything advanced, but one that would at least stop me from embarrassing myself when I showed up with a basic weapon.

I was making a baton. It was absolutely the simplest weapon I could make, a metal club. I was adding a little more flourish than just taking a piece of bar stock onto the streets. A bit of work on the grip, some rounding on the top, texturing on the handle, but generally it was a foot and a half of metal that I would be able to hit people with. I wasn't expecting much from this project.

Once again my new power came through. While the function was no better there were little design touches that added a professional air to it. A sense of sleekness and elegant craft seemed to exude from it, despite the incredibly basic design. All the little shortcuts I'd taken were made to look completely intentional rather than as cheats for someone who barely understood what he was doing.

I took some experimental swings with it. The solid metal had a heft to it that would probably mess someone up badly if they caught a blow. The balance was a bit off, probably to be expected what with my complete lack of weapon smithing experience. I had gone for the design because it was the most basic thing I could think of. No worries about technique, grip, or proper form. Hold and swing. I'm sure there were ways to improve upon that, but mainly I wanted a weapon that I couldn't screw up, and this fit the bill.

So there I had it, basic cape equipment. Significantly heavier towards defense than offense, but that was better than the alternative. With this I could actually do it, I could go out and be a superhero.

That led to another problem. Two items, no matter how powerful, did not make a costume. I had a power that could pull together any style I'd want to go with, but I didn't have much to work with on that front in terms of skill, materials, or even a theme.

I had not given much thought to what my cape debut would be like. Sitting before the Celestial Forge had been so intimidating that I kind of assumed whatever I ended up with would create a self-evident identity. Well, now I kind of had one, but what identity was I going to go with? If I went out now I'd be debuting as a highly durable low strength brute with a couple of pieces of nicely made equipment. That was a far cry from the technology hero I had been imagining. It was by no means a bad powerset to have, but considering most of my other powers were going to be tinker based, did I want to go with that?

Not really, but I didn't know what I was going to end up with next. If I got another couple of support or utility powers before I landed something that let me start making high tech items would I be comfortable waiting around for whatever my first crafting power would be? Probably not. I didn't have the burning need to head out and seek combat that some passengers created. All mine wanted was to complete the Celestial Forge. While that would normally make him risk averse there was better growth of my reach when I was active. It had sped up over the last week as I settled into my hero prep and had been getting much faster recently. I knew that getting active in the cape community would be my best bet for landing new powers.

As I considered things I felt my passenger's excitement as a constellation swung close. I closed my eyes and focused on it. It was the same constellation I had failed to connect to with my first attempt. This time my power was strong enough to latch onto a mote as they flew past. Unlike last time this took every ounce of my stored energy to secure the link. Finally I had the connection and could tell what that constellation was.

It was the 'Alchemy' constellation and the mote I had connected to was 'Evermore Alchemist'. With the connection made knowledge flooded my mind. Specifically knowledge of how to combine twenty two mundane materials in thirty five unique combinations that would produce instant effects on the level of a parahuman's abilities. I had not gotten a crafting ability. I had gotten a combo platter of superpowers. And they were serious powers. Some of these could duplicate blaster effects that were strong enough to maim, if not outright kill. I would need to be very careful about how I used them.

The formulas were divided into light and dark alchemy, essentially offensive and defensive. The defensive formula had combinations that could be used to heal. Heal! I was new to the cape scene, and having Panacea in the same city kind of skewed perception, but healing powers were incredibly rare. I'd read a theory that there were no healing powers, that all healing that happened was either a side effect or creative application of another type of ability. That was definitely not the case here.

I took a breath to calm myself down. This was something I would need to assess carefully. I had been expecting maybe some kind of mechanical expertise, or the plans for a set of ray guns or jetpacks. I was not expecting thirty five new powers to be dropped into my lap.

Actually, reviewing the nature of the formula it wasn't right to call them powers. There was a mechanism to this that was a lot more nuanced than most powers. I knew how to trigger base effects by combining reagents, but there was an immense amount of space for improvement and refinement of technique. I would need practice to be able to get the full potential of this ability.

Fortunately, in most cases, the required reagents are fairly common. There was one formula that required a specially built amulet and another that needed a specific and obscure breed of pepper, but most of the rest could be managed with things like wax, water, vinegar, or grease. Some would be harder to find but still relatively easy. Gunpowder was the only one that would be likely to raise red flags and that was only needed for one formula, though that formula was a doozy.

One of the trickier reagents to supply would be the plants. Aside from the aforementioned obscure pepper the formulas also used roots, mushrooms, and acorns. Getting a good supply of those would take some doing.

So, what did I have to work with now? My workshop had replenishing supplies of grease and iron that I could raid. That alone was enough for a couple of defensive formulas. I had water to work with, but that didn't open up any new possibilities. Likewise, cooking oil could work in formulas, but not as well as petroleum products. Still nothing possible there without additional reagents like wax or roots.

Still, I wasn't going to let this go. I got some stock and milled off a small piece of iron. Then I got two lumps of grease. In a movement that felt both completely natural and totally alien I mashed them together and threw the mix into the air above me. It burst into light and coalesced around me, wrapping my body in a reflective barrier.

The Reflect formula created a field that reflected any supernatural effect back at its source. It only lasted a minute, but it was a phenomenal defensive ability and I could pull an effectively infinite source of reagents to power it.

I decided that was enough for now. I had a major power here. Tomorrow I would head out and seriously stress my finances. I needed reagents and more importantly a way to carry and access them in the field. The components of a formula weren't that bulky, barely a handful, but they were consumed on each use. I would have to go out well supplied and would be on the clock in any drawn out fight. Also, if anything would trigger tinker warnings it would be my upcoming shopping spree. There were not that many mundane reasons to buy large quantities of sulfur.

Still, limitations or no, I had an incredible ability. This was a serious power that someone could build their entire career on. For me it was just an incidental part of the Celestial Forge.

I went to bed that night with more optimism at my situation than I had felt in the entire week since my trigger.

Jumpchain abilities this chapter:

Fashion (Highschool of the Dead) 200:

Your clothing and entire body acquire defensive properties equal to the most superior protective items you have currently equipped. Emphasis on protective item- an iron or steel ring won't give you metal-tough skin- the minimum is things like knee pads from extreme sports, helmets- even an apron would count, though all that'd do is protect you from the dangers of a kitchen...

Bling of War (Macross) 100:

It's one thing to have a weapon or vehicle of mass destruction, capable of rending an entire ground force or a squadron to shame. It's another to make it look so damn good your enemies would not dare get near it if they had a lick of sense. By purchasing this perk, you can design your equipment to look much more stylish and carry a 'theme' you prefer. This can range from the clothes you wear, to the weapons you wield, to even the vehicles you pilot into battle. It's all about style.

Alchemist (Secret of Evermore) 200:

Considered a lost art, the science of Alchemy has reawakened in Evermore, and you've been trained in its use. By combining ordinary ingredients together using an alchemical formula, you can transform them into effects that can only be described as magic. You know both Light Alchemy, the art of healing or protection, and Dark Alchemy, the art of attacking. While it's theoretically possible to learn Alchemy at a later point in Evermore, this will let you skip the training and get straight to the mixing and casting, and will make you significantly better at it to boot.