I woke abruptly. I'm not always a light sleeper; if I understand I'm in a foreign situation, I can adapt to rest in it, but when I sleep in my own bed, air currents moving across the surface of my skin is enough to rouse me. Falling, smelling odors that do not belong in my room, hearing a sharp 'crack' sound, this are easily sufficient to wake me. I did not fall far, and only managed to twist partially around, catching my fall first on my right heel, then my left, then absorbing the rest of the impact on my left side as I rolled into a crouch, adrenaline rocketing me to full awareness.

"This one comes with clothes," a bored male voice said to my right, and I snapped around to look at him.

Moderate height and build, brown-haired, relaxed, carrying some kind of gun in a comfortable manner. That probably did not bode well for me. I'm neither a gun enthusiast nor a gun nut, but I know enough from movies, games, and other exposures to recognize the gun followed the form that usual fit submachine guns. No uniform plus casual slouch plus familiarity with submachine gun equals probable criminal. I continued my surveillance of my surroundings, finding myself in what appeared to be either a basement or underground chamber, square in form, with a central area loosely divided off by two-foot-thick pillars of worked stone from the rest.

Before I could take in much more, words floated across my vision.

Choose class, they said, and a list began to scroll across my vision. Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter…

This was the D'n'D class list.

The hell?

After all the core D'n'D 3.5 classes were visible superimposed over my vision, another word appeared 'non-core,' and I focused on it sharply.

A new list began to scroll into view, this one a list of catagories; Arcane Casters, Combat, Divine Casters, Psionics, Incarnum, Martial Adepts. I focused on Martial Adepts, and a new, short list showed up. Crusader, Swordsage, Warblade. Boo-yah. Swordsage equals win, noobs. My jarring departure from my bed must have addled my brain, I don't think I've even thought 'noob' in months. Regardless; no prestige classes; this must just be immediately available options. Returning my focus to the world around me, I spied two more armed men, and an unarmed man who by garb and skin tone had to be a native American.

He was also standing just outside the circle of glyphs that surrounded me; if my series of gross assumptions was accurate, he was a caster, and I had just been summoned. Well, better get ready for nonsense, considering I had apparently just been ripped out of my bed into a fantasy world complete with guns. Focusing my attention back on the display superimposed on my vision, I looked for a 'back' option, and as the thought crossed my mind, I was given the prior menu. Regressing again, I focused on Monk.

To quote one of the first modern story characters with contractual immortality, 'First order of business, survival.' If you've got to be a D'n'D class, and you're alone and completely unequipped, Monk is your best bet for survival, all good saves, Improved Unarmed Strike, Armor Class bonus. Second level of Monk was nice too, but after that it very quickly lost ground relative to anything remotely powerful. Basically, Monk is a two-level dip, but it's a nice place to start.

Monk flashed for a moment in my vision, then another menu appeared 'Class Features,' and was given an excessively long list of Monk variants. Wow. This was even including content from Dragon Magazine; this was going to give me a lot of opportunities to abuse the hell out of the power curve. I could live with that, hopefully literally. I selected the Vigilant Monk variant, a hellaciously over-powered version if you were only hitting a two-level dip, which I was planning on, and Krabi-Krabong weapon school, seeing that in this more modern setting it replaced light&heavy crossbow proficiency with pistol and rifle. I could definitely live with that.

"What's taking so long?" One of the guard-types asked, reminding me I was probably under some time pressure here, "Others didn't take near this long to stabilize."

Maybe I was in some sort of demented MMO?

"Probably the pants," The guard who had spoken earlier, "Gotta mess with summoning, pants, y'know."

Ah, a smart-aleck. Continuing on, I selected Stunning Fist for my bonus feat, and then was put into skill selection. 28 skill points. Considering I'm human, that meant a 14 or 15 intelligence score. That I already had an intelligence score meant I apparently didn't get control of my ability scores, which could be good or bad. I've definitely got my strengths and weaknesses, but if whatever system was running this decided I have a low Wisdom score, half the point of taking Monk would be moot. Regardless; skills.

At level 1, you can have a maximum of four ranks in a skill in 3.5, so 28 skill points means 7 maxed skills; Hide, Move Silently, Spot, Listen, and Sense Motive were pretty much automatic, I decided to go with Tumble as well, and then for planning-ahead purposes, Concentration. I didn't see any knowledge options, which made sense, since those 'skills' would amount to cramming knowledge into my brain. Speak Language was on the cross-class list though. Hm. That could be useful later.

Feat selection; Able Learner, making all skill class skills for me, and… Crap. There are a lot of impressive first-level-only feats, and I only had so many I could choose from. Was I willing to take Flaws for extras? Could I? I focused on 'Flaws' and found the standard list from Unearthed Arcana, as well as many more. Definitely adapted for a more modern setting, as well as expanded to include Psionics, Tome of Battle, and more magic-related flaws. This is where things get interesting; Flaws are another semi-broken mechanic, the core flaws function because penalties to saving throws, armor class, and ubiquitous skills hurt everyone, not just users of a particular class, more specific penalties, not so much.

I picked a flaw related to Pact magic, and one related to Incarnum. I doubt I will ever dip those materials, Core, Psionic, and ToB are much more powerful. Unfortunately, only two flaws allowed in character creation, otherwise I'd have a lot more feats. Spellcasting Prodigy (Intelligence), and a feat called Superior Vision, granting me Low-Light vision, that I suspected would be very useful. Last feat… Two Weapon Fighting was not on the list, and neither was Power Attack, meaning my strength and dex scores were not particularly high… Screw it, I'm taking Dodge. Prerequisite for plenty of Prestige Classes and useful feats, and while not the most powerful right now I'd like every bit of AC I can get.

A flicker of text asked me if I'd like to re-select skills now that I had changed my skill list, I chose not to. 'Character creation complete.' Washed across my vision for a moment, then my sight went back to normal. Better than normal, actually, things were in sharper focus than I was accustomed to. Apparently Superior Vision didn't just apply to night vision.

"Finally," One of the guards breathed in irritation, "What's the story?"

The caster looked at me for a long moment, his eyes beginning to glow. Probably using Detect Magic, or Arcane Sight. Couldn't remember if Detect Magic made the eyes glow.

"Nothing," he said in irritation, "I have no idea why the pants came with, but he's as useless as the rest."

"Useless?" I asked, forcing bemusement into my voice, "Just because you have no clue as to my abilities, does not mean I am bereft of such. What of you? What is your class? What plane have you summoned me to?"

The Caster's eyes narrowed as he looked at me more sharply, and I smirked, focusing on trying to activate my brand-spanking-new Detect Chaos class ability. It activated by simply willing it to do so, and I swept my gaze over the three guards, then the caster. One of the guards showed up as Chaotic, nothing particularly strong, the guy couldn't be very high level in a job like this, none of the others did though.

"He's using some form of divination magic," The summoner said, "Maybe not so useless after all."

"Damn straight," I said cockily, "You lot aren't looking too bad yourselves. What did you summon me here for anyways?"

"Planar tasking," The caster said, "We need someone dead."

Damn good thing I'm a good actor.

"I don't usually handle assassinations," I said, then pointedly reached around to itch the large scar on my exposed back, "Knifings tend to disagree with me. Besides, you've conveniently stripped me of all my equipment."

Being a writer of fiction is very helpful in summoning bullshit at command, especially when you're a student of psychology the way I am.

"This is really more about practicing my summons," The caster admitted, "A useful summon is just a bonus."

I shrugged.

"I've been called a 'bonus' a few times before," I said casually, "Still a lot harder to pull an op when I have to kill someone with my bare hands than my 30/30 or Deagle. Where am I anyways?"

"Chicago, United States of America, Earth. You're currently on one of the material planes."

"I gathered that much. Near-parallel then. There a veil here? What year is it?"

"It's 1990," The caster said, looking slightly confused, "What do you mean by veil?"

"Veil of secrecy between magicals and non," I said, "It's always a pain putting up with it, isn't any where I come from. So who do you want dead?"

The caster gestured to one of the guards, "Take him to Sitting-Tree," The caster said, "I will continue my practice."

"This way," The guard, a beefy fellow even taller than I am said, and then slouched out of the room, keeping me in front of him.

"So," I said as we moved down a short corner towards a staircase, "Who's the target?"

"Some lawyer," Grunted the guard, "Won't take bribes."

By his attitude, that was all he needed to know; it was also all that I needed to know. At the top of the stairs, there was a corner, and as I moved around it, I focused on 'Stunning Fist', and whipped around, poising to strike. Let's see how this Monk shit works out when the pressure is on.

He stepped around the corner, and my fist slammed into the center of his chest, taking him off guard. That had to hurt, even through the body-armor I felt beneath his shirt. The sharp report of his SMG, however, very quickly proved to me that I hadn't stunned him, which was bad, and very painful as the bullet tore through the muscles of my right shoulder. Forcibly shunting aside the pain, I snarled and pushed my assault, pounding in a pair of fast but light blows that knocked his aim off even if they failed to do any real damage. My next pair of blows hit him hard, my right coming across his face and breaking his nose, while my left struck home in the same place as my first blow had been. His return shot took me in the thigh, and for a moment the pain threatened to overwhelm me, but I screamed and pressed the attack instead.

The loss of balance from the injured leg through of one blow, but the second, a glancing blow to his already bloody face, nearly dropped him, and he fired wildly about the hallway, completely failing to hit me. A straight jab to the chest again, then another to the throat dropped him. I ripped his gun out of his hand, then frantically tore through his pockets, looting two magazines for the SMG, a wallet, and a set of keys. He was still breathing when I left him, though with a wet gurgling sound from the throat. I don't know if I was ready to become a killer yet, but no need to find out unnecessarily early. '900 XP' flashed across my vision. That was good, and scary; the guy must have been rated at higher level than me, but now I was close to leveling up.

Rushing further down the corridor in a limp, another corner led to another staircase upward, with a door at the top. Carefully cracking open the door and peering around outside, I saw what seemed to be the inside of garage, and an unoccupied one. Something about the appearance of the whole place seemed odd, but I figured it was probably a result of my new quality of vision. It was a double-sized garage, with somewhat generic miscellaneous crap on shelves and stacked on the floor around the perimeter, with a minivan and a beat-up sedan occupying the central space.

Acting on a hunch, I moved up to the sedan, and stuck the key I had retrieved from my 'escort' into the keyhole, and attempted to turn it. Excellent. A quick search for the garage-door opener later, and I was pulling out of the house's driveway, and looking for an expressway.

For lack of a better idea, I got onto the expressway, and started looking for one of those blue signs that directs you to a hospital. My leg and arm burned with pain, and were still bleeding. As I drove, I began to get the shakes as I came down from the immediate adrenaline high, my hands trembling as I gripped the steering wheel tightly. From what memory serves, an encounter of equivalent level, or even a level or two higher, shouldn't give anywhere near enough experience to gain a level, so I had just picked a fight way above my level, and to top it off, I'm pretty sure most submachine guns in the D20 system deal something like a d-8 of damage, and as a newly-minted Monk, I probably only had nine or ten hit points. I'm damn lucky to have survived two hits.

Focusing on rules mechanics, that which I was familiar with, helped me keep from completely freaking out; being a student of psychology and knowing how to manipulate yourself can be freaky, but very useful. Especially once I realized I'd failed to activate my Dodge feat; who knows how much pain that could have saved me? Berating myself about that, and trying to figure out what the hell was going on, and why the other guards and caster hadn't come after me once the gunfire began occupied my mind until I spotted a 'hospital' sign, and pulled off the expressway in pursuit.

Turns out the Hinsdale Adventist Hospital has a level 2 Trauma center. Fighting the jitters, I followed the signs to the emergency room, pulled the sedan up directly onto the curb alongside, and looked at the assortment of stuff in the seat next to me. I suspected that my mind was not in the best condition, but I was still pretty sure I shouldn't walk into a hospital with a submachine gun in hand. Hopefully there'd be a police officer somewhere nearby. After rummaging around in the back seat for a moment, I found a happy-meal box, dumped a few bits of trash out of it, then, after removing the cash from the wallet. A lot of cash. Crime does pay ladies and gents, it just only pays in the short run. In the long run for 'Stephen Scrimshaw' it got his nose broken by my fist, and very soon it would also get his arrest.

Anyways. I dumped the wallet, gun, and ammunition into the happy meal box, which didn't fit the gun so well, and then elbowed the car door open, and lurched off towards the hospital lobby. My left hip had started stiffening up while I was seated, and my right shoulder burned with a fierce, consistent pain. Fortunately, there was a police officer in the lobby, chatting with the orderly at the desk. I stumped over to them.

"Excuse me, I've been shot twice," I matter-of-factly informed the orderly, then handed the happy-meal box with the gun-but sticking out of it, "Can someone do something about that? Here's the gun, and the wallet and keys of the man who did it. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go sit down and go into shock now."

As my body began to succumb to the shakes, I decided sitting down leaned up against the desk while the police officer stared at me, and the orderly dashed off for something or another, was a good idea. '+50' XP flashed across my vision. At some point, female hands urged me to stand up, and then to lay down on what was probably a gurney, but my eyes were tightly shut, and I was having a major freak-out, trembling and shaking and going over and over in my mind how close I had come to dying.

Some people would just have a complete panic attack and think like 'almost died almost died almost died…' over and over again. Paranoiacs and people like me, on the other hand, we tend to instead go over exactly all the various things that go wrong. Considering that I had both a fairly solid grasp on real-world mechanics, and on the rules of D'n'D, I could go over in detail all the things that could have gone wrong. For example, I had apparently picked a fight with someone much higher level than me; he would have been built as either a Warrior or a Fighter, if I was really unlucky a Warblade, and either way would have had probably at least twice as many hit points as me, not to mention hella better attack bonus. About the only thing according to the D'n'D rules I'd had going for me was Flurry of Blows, which gave me more attacks per round, and higher AC. There's a reason I'm a power-builder for AC; doesn't matter how much damage your opponent can deal if they'll never hit you in the first place. Also, I was getting a hell of a lot more than two attacks every six seconds.

Which brought it around to real-world physics. I had attacked somebody armed with a sub-machinegun with my bare hands. Sub-machineguns are dedicated-tight quarters weaponry, high rate of fire, low mass bullets, perfect for 'soft' targets at close range. Which is exactly where I was. If the guy had gone to full-auto fire instead of semi-automatic, he could have sprayed an entire clip into me in half the time it took me to down him with my fists. I've always known I might be over-confident, and think a lot of my abilities when I get going, but I guess I could safely say I was just flat out nuts now.

Heh. I smirked. I might be nuts, but it had worked dammit. Screw you Scrimshaw, didn't you ever hear that you should never bring a gun to a fist fight. I giggled madly at that thought, and opened my eyes as my mouth curved into a feral grin. There was a nurse with a surgical mask looking down at me with worry in her eyes.

"What's worrying you ma'am?" I asked giddily.

"Giddiness can be a sign of hypoxia," She said, glancing past me, "And you've lost a lot of blood."

"Sorry ma'am," I said happily, "But I just took down a guy with a submachine gun with my bare hands. I feel like a bit of a badass just now."

The nurse just looked more worried. I sighed. Buzz-kill.

"Look miss," I said, "I know I'm not in good shape, I took two bullets, but judging by the fact that I'm not dead from blood-loss after half an hour on the road to get here, they didn't hit any major arteries, so please calm down?"

She looked down at me in confusion, and I smiled weakly.

"Not planning on dying anytime soon," I said somewhat weakly, "Honest."

Shit. Weakly. I was finding my body heavy, and more so than the amount of fatigue I had experienced should merit. I also felt cold, and I remember that being bad. Just when the nurse was starting to look less stressed too.

"Um," I said, "My mother was a nurse, and I'm not exactly an expert, but shouldn't I have like an IV for blood-replacement or something?"

"Yes," She nodded, "But we don't know your blood-type, and you didn't have any ID on you."

"Ah crap," I said, "Computers slow as crap and no internet here," I grumbled, "I can't remember for sure what I am, but it's either A, B, or AB+, I know it's not AB-. I don't have any drug allergies, just peanuts and horses, and I sometimes get a rash from soaps with artificial scents. Ummm…"

"Any major surgeries? Medications you're on?" The nurse helpfully prodded.

"No," I said, "I've had oral surgery twice, and the scar on my back is from having a large mole removed, wasn't malignant anyways, but my mother wasn't sure."

"Your name?" She prodded helpfully.

"John-" I cut myself off.

She looked at me expectantly.

"I don't think I should give my full name," I said honestly, "It might cause your establishment trouble."

"What do you mean?" She asked carefully, and I could see wariness in her stance.

It hurt; so many people were afraid of me, but usually the ones that had no need to be.

"Nothing too serious, I think," I said with some disappointment, "My fight with Scrimshaw was the first time I've ever done serious violence upon another man in my life, but you could say I'm the sort who is rather vocal about things he disagrees with. People like me drive corrupt authority nuts more than irrationally violent people, because I'm more likely to be listened to."

All true, if somewhat misleading; my dad practically flips out at me whenever I try to engage him in meaningful discourse and call his judgment into question. She probably thinks I'm a political activist now. At least she looks somewhat less nervous or afraid.

"Besides," I said, smiling wryly up at her, "I'm too weak from blood loss to be dangerous to you at this point if I was the violent sort."

The nurse's eyes narrowed as she looked at me, and I could tell by the shift in stance and the look in her eyes that she was shifting modes from considering my character and personality, to the condition of my body. I looked down myself; my skin was even paler than usual; not a fun happy thing when it was because of blood-loss, not living in a computer cave because you're a nerd. Fun happy? I guess I was getting kind of loopy.

Fortunately, the doctor arrived then, and apparently they'd typed my blood while I was concentrating on other things, and stuck me with an IV.

"Did you get his name?" The doctor asked, with a rather generic male voice from behind a generic surgical mask.

"Just John," The nurse said, and I grinned goofily back up at her.

"Yep," I said, "I'm John. Ask people to describe me, they'll say 'he's John,' 'cause they don't know what else to say."

"Well," The Doctor said, leaning over into my line of sight and looking me in the eye, "Do you have any allergies?"

"Peanuts and horses," I said, trying to restrain the giddiness I was feeling, then deciding it wasn't worth the trouble, "No medical allergies of any sort, and I've been under general and local anesthesia, as well as on Antibiotics and Antivirals."

"Antivirals?" The doctor said curiously, and pulled a light around to shine directly into my eye.

Probably checking to see if my pupils were dialated.

"Oh," I said, "Right, you don't have those here yet. You'll see 'em in ten or twelve years, something like that."

"You're in shock, an may be hallucinating," The doctor said.

"Definitely in shock," I agreed, "And it's probably safer if we go with hallucinating."

The doctor began probing the wound on my thigh, and I realized I was in a hospital gown. Well, I guess sombody's had a peek at my privates for the first time in ten years. I consciously focused on keeping the muscles relaxed so he could explore the wound more easily, then decided to distract myself.

"You ever studied fiction?" I asked nobody in particular, "It's great stuff to study, reveals just as much about the human psyche as history, 'cause people put what they wish in there, and people who write it right can be very predictive."

"Is that so?" The doctor said absently.

"Yeah," I said, "Good sci-fi, for example, can be predictive of what's coming in the near future. Did you know that automatic doors came about 'cause of Star Trek? The original 'automatic doors' had a pair of stage hands moving the doors when people approached them. A couple engineers realized they could hook a motion sensor up to a control device, and voila! Automatic doors."

I groaned slightly as he did something particularly painful down there.

"Anyways," I grated out, "It's also good for understanding the human psyche, if you know how to read between the lines. I've learned loads about-"

"Excuse me John," The doctor said, "I'm going to apply a local anesthetic to your leg, the bullet is still in the wound, and I doubt you will want to feel me digging it out."

"Go for it Doc," I said, "I'll just talk your ear off until we're done here, I'll try to keep from being boring."

And with that, I launched into one of my favored diatribes about the fundaments of psychology, particularly relating to how people and children in particular react to authority. I have something of an ax to grind on that subject; people don't realize how much someone in authority, someone who is supposed to be the bearer of justice and law, being corrupt and propagating injustice and wrongdoing can screw people up. I've been having something of an argument with God about that; I know He'll win in the end, but I'm stubborn, and I HATE abused authority.

It took a couple minutes for the anesthetic to set in, and the doctor took that time to examine my shoulder wound, which he simply cleaned out and bandaged up. Disinfectant stings. A lot. I only interrupted my monologue to ask him why he wasn't pulling the bullet out of that wound.

"There's an exit wound," The doctor said succinctly, and then proceeded to deal with my thigh.

Have you ever had surgery while under local anesthetic before? It feels creepy; you can feel the pressure of someone poking around inside of your body, and there's, at least for me, a sort of burning tingling sensation that aches, and if you're experienced enough, you'll know that the more substantial pokes and prods are going to result in aches and pains after the anesthetic wears off. Sucks. Majorly sucks. Beat having a bullet stuck in me though.

"Well," The doctor said finally, dropping something into a tray that went 'plink,' "It's out. You're going to want to go easy on that leg for a couple of weeks, and stay off of it for at least a few days if you at all can. Will that be possible with your profession?"

I snorted.

"I'm a novelist doctor," I said, "My profession is anywhere with a computer and an ergonomic keyboard." I scowled. "It's going to stink if I have to go back to using floppy disks though."

I would have liked to say something about CD's, or even Jump Drives, but the IV had helped, and I wasn't all giddy anymore, and held my tongue.

"Nurse Young here will finish patching you up," The Doctor said, "And the PD will probably be sending someone down to talk with you in the morning. Anything I can put your mind at ease about before I go?"

I thought for a moment.

"Can I keep the bullet?"

'+50' XP.

Leveling hit me like a hammer of vitality coursing through my system, filling me up with a fulmination of awesomeness. All I'd had to pick this time was class and skills, and once it did, I could feel that I had new hit points. Felt damn good, considering how hard I'd been hit in my fight earlier. Picking up Evasion and Uncanny Dodge would be damn useful, and the rest of the night was as good a time as any to start trying to sort out what the hell had happened to me now that I had some privacy in a hospital room. The meal they gave me, though not all that appealing, also helped keep me calm to focus; eating is something your body appreciates, and it lets your mind know that. So, on the whole, what do I think of this whole ripped-across dimensions and getting shot at thing?

Awesome. I don't exactly hate my normal life, but it's not that far a thing. I write fiction for a reason, I thirst for the significant, the meaningful, the epic. And beating down an armed criminal with my bare hands? A good start to a badass-normal superhero story. Monk was a good class for that kind of hero, especially now that I had two levels, but Monk was only the beginning. I immediately began constructing a power-build in my mind to take advantage of things as much as I possibly could, then realized I didn't know the kind of challenges I would be facing, and so stopped. A couple levels of monk at the start were great for keeping you alive, but I needed to have a plan of offense, to take the initiative; where do I pick that up?

Gestalt. I needed access to Gestalt, and I needed it badly. Next time the 'menus' popped up, I was going to look into Gestalt. Gestalt essentially gives you two classes at each level, including the better of the two's hit die, skill points, attack bonus, combined better saves, and the class abilities of both. It's an addicting system to use as a power-gamer, because much like the story of the peasant that asked the emperor for a grain of rice, the potential growth is deceptive, but not to as ridiculous a degree. I can generally get two, maybe two and a half times the power out of a Gestalt build, but usually it also will have a lot more versatility or endurance with that power, possibly both.

Some time during my ruminations, I drifted off to sleep; I woke when a pair of somebody's entered my hospital room. When in unfamiliar environments, I wake up fast, some might call it paranoid, and maybe it is a little, but part of having an active imagination, is being able to imagine what can go wrong, so I tend to want to immediately be able to do threat analysis. Considering that two people had moved into my dimly lit room, and not bothered to turn the light on, I was immediately pegging them as threats, especially since both were wearing business suits. My low-light vision allowed me to see them almost as clear as day in the dim room, and I don't pay too terribly much attention to clothes, but they looked more like what I've seen in real life, less what I've seen in 'rich people' movies, so I'm guessing they were going for presentable but non-descript rather than imposing.

Which in almost any story ever tends to mean trouble. Well, they were obviously here for a reason, so had some idea who or what I was, meaning best to keep them off balance and take the initiative.

"Can I help you gentlemen?" I asked politely, and had the pleasure of seeing them both jump slightly, while I carefully slid the blanket most of the way off of myself and reached for my pants.

I focused on 'Sense Motive' and 'Assess Opponents.' One rated solidly as 'Tough Challenge,' the other rated as 'Dire Threat.' Both were higher level than me then, one possibly a hell of a lot higher level than me. Neither one I wanted to fight then, especially not the both of them. Give me a few more levels, especially if I could somehow get ahold of Gestalt, and I'd be willing to pit myself against opponents of higher level, but it takes time for power-building to stack up advantages to meet these foes on equal ground.

"Yes, 'John,'" One of them said smoothly, and by the body language and bearing I immediately pegged him as the leader of the two, "We're terribly interested in how you managed to pull a bare-handed escape from one of our competitor's summoning sites, especially someone with as little apparent magical potential as you."

I snorted, deliberately in a derisive manner.

"I was summoned out of my bed all but naked," I said, "If I'd had time to prepare, or just about any decent amount of equipment, I would have destroyed their summoning site for the presumption of their intention. Especially for bringing me to a world with a veil. I'm not powerful enough to plane shift on my own yet, and I've no intention of taking on this entire world during my endeavors to find a way back. I hate worlds with veils."

"We didn't think that Bear was powerful enough to summon someone as dangerous as you," The lead man said matter of factly.

"If I'd been at my peak power," I returned in the same manner, "He wouldn't have. However, I had expended essentially all of my magical reserves in the last two days, and he summoned me directly from my bed where I was only beginning to recover. Hence having to take down a man with a submachine gun while all but naked and with no magical shielding."

If you define the peak of my power as some of the more absurd level 20 gestalt power-builds I've made before, such as the one with over 100 AC, that was certainly true. For reasons different than most would think, I'm rather guiltily and highly skilled at deceptions centered around statements which are part of the truth or partially true. For reasons of conscience and ethics, I've more or less dropped that half-truths, but I still often only tell part of the truth, and let people draw their own conclusions.

The lead man was staring at me with a measuring gaze, and I met his gaze levelly.

"What do you intend now?" He said at length.

"Get the hell out of town," I said, "That group is going to be pissed at me, and I don't know enough about the local situation to enact any retaliatory plans of my own. I'll either find a return vector and leave, or else blow up some of their shit and then leave, depending on if I decide it's worth my time."

"You're being awfully forthright about this," The man said.

"I have no reason not to," I said, "And while I'm at it, if you're looking to recruit me, I'm not interested. I don't know you, don't trust you, and my prime agenda is returning to my own territory, whatever else I do along the way."
"And if we decide that we do not wish you to leave?"

"I've already recovered enough to have more than twice my resources upon summoning at my disposal," I said harshly, "If you decide to interfere, your superiors will find they are short two subordinates and they have a new enemy. The summoner bringing me here has raised my ire, but it was unintentional. You do not want to see what happens when you intentionally piss me off."

The leader of the two stared at me evenly for a long moment, then nodded, and the two of them left. I maintained a level glare at them as they left. Keeping up the external façade of 'pissed off powerful warrior/mage,' I lay back down on my bed, keeping my muscles tensed up as part of the aggressive body language, and began mentally running over what had happened, looking for clues about the magical underworld of Chicago in this dimension. A couple minutes after the duo left, '+100 XP' rolled across my vision, and I relaxed, hoping sleep would come soon.

All this bullshit was pretty exhausting. Apparently whoever was awarding experience for role-playing liked it when I bad-ass bluffed my way through things. I sure as hell didn't mind.

In the morning I had a jolly-fun discussion with the police about my run in with organized crime; it was a bit dicey, but essentially I got the fat old cop who was doing things by rote rather than interest, and he took my 'failed kidnapping attempt' story straight-up, without asking about the means of the attempted kidnapping. That would have been hard to explain in a veiled society. It wasn't hard to convince them that I was essentially a street bum new to town; I kind of look the part, long hair for a guy, scruffy facial hair, beat up pants and no ID. After that little detail was taken care of, I was left with the lovely little task of figuring out what to do next. Safest course of action, no doubt, would be to cut town, and try to find some place that would be willing to deal with someone with absolutely no identification or documentation of his existence. All kinds of legal trouble from that, but imprisonment at worst, and even that unlikely, from my estimation of things.

I considered that for some time, thought of some tentative plans for how it could be done, until I realized something. I had just been ripped across dimensional boundaries by a band of criminals, given an opportunity at super-powers, and beaten an armed thug into submission with my bare hands. Like hell was I going to run. I'd always wanted to work powerfully and effectively to break down injustice and build up justice in the world, and I had just been forcefully shoved face-first into just such a situation. So.

I decided I was going to gut the entire magical criminal underground of Chicago, and while I was at it, I might take down the non-magical parts too. I want to make a difference? Well I damn well was going to make a difference.

So, obviously, if I'm going to take on the entire criminal underworld of Chicago, I need to be a bit higher than level 2, and some decent equipment wouldn't hurt either. So where to start? How can I gain experience quickly without threat of death? I'll go around to all the martial arts dojos and pick fights. Maybe I watch too much anime. Anyways, after leaving something like six hundred bucks at the cashier's at the hospital, I managed to bum a ride off of someone who was leaving towards a place where I could acquire a couple essentials; namely shoes, socks, and a shirt. I considered getting a knife while I was at it, but decided against it, since by the 'rules' I dealt as much or more damage with my bare hands anyways.

Thanking the orderly that drove me to the department store, then asked if he knew where the nearest dojo or martial arts instruction academy was. He didn't know, so I wandered off in search myself, asking a few random passersby if they did. The third knew something, and directed me to a street address about 13 blocks away. I ambled on down to the place, trying to consider what sort of opponents I might end up against; level, attack bonus, AC, saves, all such things. When I arrived at the dojo and entered, however, I'd made the classic 'roll' player mistake, and discounted something.

Who I was fighting, not their stat-block. It was not difficult to see who was in charge of the dojo, he looked like his black stripped variant of a gi was right out of the Cobra-kai from Karate kid, and by the way he moved he was at least as arrogant, and nowhere near as good as that teacher had been. I suppose he could have been letting his gait show his arrogance rather than his skill, but that spoke of excessive arrogance as well, even if there was more skill than there appeared to be backing it up. Still, I waited for him to notice me and pay me some attention; didn't want to be rude, and I could be wrong about him.

While I was waiting, I Assessed him with Sense Motive, and according to the little words in my eyes, he was a "Dire Threat." I checked him three times to make sure. Guess there was more to him than it seemed, though judging by his arms, it might just be that he had a damn high strength score. Eventually, he noticed me and approached me, leaving his students to practice their forms

"A new student then?" He asked with a somewhat mercenary grin.

"Maybe," I said nonchalantly, "That really depends. I'm planning on going around town and challenging all the dojo masters to a fight, and if one of them impresses me enough, I might submit myself for teaching."

The man's grin became positively feral.

"Class!" He bellowed out, "Clear the floor, seems our dojo has a challenger!"

In short order, I found myself in the middle of the room pitted against one of his students, a cocky kid with a brown belt and a wiry build.

"No hits below the belt," The 'instructor' said, "And no maiming or killing blows."

We both nodded, and I settled into my own improvised ready stance, drawing some odd looks from the audience, while my opponent settled into a standard 'I know kung-fu' stance like on TV.

"Start!" The instructor bellowed, and the student immediately rushed me and lashed out with a snap kick.

He was faster than I expected, and I took the blow straight to the chest, but it didn't even knock the wind out of me.

"Nice speed," I said, even as I struck back, making sure I consciously intended to only deal subdual damage.

I laid a lightning-fast one-two combination onto him with my fists, and he took both right to the chest, and I definitely knocked the breath out of him. Full points for determination though, once he realized that he wasn't going to be able to block, he counter-attacked instead, and I was unable to block his return blow, a back-fist to the ribs, which actually hurt a fair bit. I grinned as he deflected one of my return blows, but I pounded the other in, right to the chest again, trying to intimidate him by showing no pain and dealing a relentless assault.

Judging by the way he suddenly lurched backwards and onto the defensive, I succeeded. His counter-attack was a pitiful attempt, I barely had to lean to dodge it as I moved in for the kill, his focus on defense staving me off for a couple seconds, but costing him any real chance at managing to land another blow on me. I laid him out a little harder than I intended with a blow to the head, one that made my own knuckles sting, but hey, I'm not all that experienced anyways.

+1350 XP. My eyes bulged; what the hell kind of fight did I just pick? I just dominated that guy, even if we were only dealing subdual damage (and after taking a couple bullets, I could tell the difference), what level was he? Oh. Right. Probably a Commoner or Expert, neither class really lending itself to being good at unarmed combat, whereas I'm a Monk, which at low levels is practically the king of unarmed combat. I grinned fiercely. Playing on a field where all your strengths and all your opponents weaknesses come into focus brings power-gaming to a whole new level. I turned to the black-belt.

"So, you up for a jingle?" I asked with a deliberate smirk. This time I would remember to use Dodge…

Another couple minutes found me across the mat from the dojo head, and this time one of his students shouted "Begin"

As I expected, he immediately took the offense, landing a straight punch to my chest, staggering tightly. He was a power-fighter alright. I immediately shifted to a more defensive posture, intending to get him on speed and evasion, and struck back with a series of fast but light blows. Only one blow breached his somewhat sluggish defenses, but I got him in the hip, a nasty spot for a blow. He managed to get in another shot at me, another staggering blow, and I dropped all posturing.

That hurt, and I didn't think I could take much more of this. Time to get serious. I brought out my Stunning Fist ability, getting more aggressive, and dropping a pair of harsh blows on him, penetrating his defenses, but failing to stun him with the Fist. His return blow, while powerful, I managed to redirect, and he was too slow and over-committed for any more attempts before I regained the initiative, becoming recklessly aggressive, and almost knocking him over with a pair of flying kicks I didn't know I could do to the chest. He lurched under the blows, but lunged at me, and I narrowly evaded a powerful jab to the face.

I was out of stun attempts for the day; it was down to pure damage output. Spinning past his lunge, I planted my right fist in his kidney and managed to tag the back of his head, but the second blow was about as weak as the first was strong. I snarled in frustration as he still refused to fall, and glared murder at him, but he just smirked when he came about and saw my snarl, before reaching out to try and grab me. He grabbed my newly-acquired t-shirt, and dragged me to the ground in a bear-hug. A small part of me felt vindication; in the end the guy was a brawler, not a martial artist.

Unfortunately for him, so am I, and I fight, mean, not to mention smart. He had failed to mention any rules for my sparring match with him, something I was not sure whether was intentional or not, but I was going to take ruthless advantage of it. I tried to knee his groin. He immediately twisted around, decisively evading my strike, but I could feel the instinctive fear reaction that I had evoked; that instinct always manifested especially strongly in macho idiots. He attempted to retaliate in kind, but was trying to hard to deny me a shot to succeed. I went for his groin again, but he blocked me again, extremely zealous in the defense of his family jewels. He managed to work a fist free, but I dodged the ensuing blow by moving in closer as we wrestled, but he continued to frustrate my attempts to knee him in the nuts.

Having had enough of that risk, he attempted to disengage, and I let him; he rolled to his feet and took a more defensive stance. I rolled a few feet away from him before likewise returning to my feet, and facing him down. He tensed, waiting for me to make my move. Throwing caution to the wind, I charged, faking a blow to his groin, which he recognized for the feint it was, and managed to partially deflect the real shot at his chest, and struck out in retaliation, but was still playing too defensive to breach my defenses.

His defensive posture did allow him to ward off my next pair of blows, however, and the last thing I consciously saw this time, was his fist heading towards my face.

When I woke, I hurt. Sure, it had all been subdual damage, but without adrenaline to fend off the pain, I was very well aware of how badly I had been worked over. Especially the blow to the face. I'm glad I don't bruise, 'cause my eyesocket ached enough as it was. '+1350' XP was hovering over my vision once I opened my eyes, though it faded after a few moments.

Whoever is 'DMing' this game, they sure like crazy-aggressive people. Maybe it's Kamina? That would explain a lot. Grunting, I forced myself to sit up and take in my surroundings. It passed from midday to afternoon, and some of the adult students I had seen earlier were seated around me; there was no sign of the dojo head. Interestingly enough, the student I had laid out was still there. They were all looking at me expectantly, but I held up a hand.

"Gim'me moment," I mumbled out as 'level up' flashed across my vision, and I immediately began focusing on 'gestalt.'

A new line of text slipped into view. "Gestalt costs double XP to level, once engaged, cannot be disengaged."

Let me think about that a moment; power more quickly, or more reliable power, more versatility, and more power period if I was willing to wait.

Engage Gestalt. I thought purposefully, and was shunted over to class selection. Two levels of Warblade were quickly added, and I picked up Improved Uncanny Dodge, more hit points, and +2 of my int bonus to reflex saves, and four maneuvers and a stance. I picked Stance of Clarity, useful for these duels, and there wasn't much else Warblade's got at 1 that I wanted, as well as Sudden Leap, Steel Wind, Stone Bones, and Sapphire Nightmare Blade for my maneuvers, readying all but Steel Wind. Warblades don't get any more skills than Monks, and no bonus feats until 5th level, so that was it.

Once I finalized it, I grunted as I felt my wounds healing to some degree, as the overall proportion of hit points to damage shifted in my favor. This time, there was not a rush of power, but I hadn't really 'gained' any levels, it felt more like a subtle broadening of what I am. I appreciated the sensation. Then I directed my attention back to those around me.

"Hi," I croaked out, then cleared my throat, "Anyone got some water?" I said in a rough, but much more human voice.

A woman next to me passed me a bottle of water; it cracked slightly as it left her fingers, and I frowned, reading the tension in her body language.

"You're upset with me?" I said, then gauged her age, "Did I beat up your son?" I asked, nodding towards the brown belt I'd downed earlier.

Kid looked to be somewhere between 16 and 18.

"No," She practically growled, "I'm a doctor. What the hell were you doing picking not one, but two fights when you have a pair of bullet-wounds?"

I looked down at my shoulder, while feeling around my thigh, finding that the wounds had been freshly dressed.

"Thanks for the fresh bandages," I said, "And I'm on a tight schedule. Powerful, nasty people want to do painful things to me, and I need to be ready to deal with them."

"That's no excuse," The woman snapped, "Judging by those wounds and dressing, you were shot what, three days ago?"

"Last night," I said with a fierce grin, "Fought someone who had a gun with my bare hands. Figured I'd better get some more practice so the next guy doesn't get the opportunity to shoot me."

Her hands twitched.

"Where'd the Kobra Kai teacher go?" I asked, looking around.

"He left," The brown-belt kid said, smirking, "Once Lyn said that he'd almost lost, and had three ribs cracked by someone suffering from gunshot wounds, especially after I'd already softened you up, a lot of the class was laughing at him, and limped off to get his ribs fixed."

"So you laughed him out," I said grinning past the aches in my body.

He nodded.

"Good," I said, my grin turning fierce, "He was a fraud anyways; standard Karate does not involve grappling like that, and I really don't think a reputable sensei would put people into knockout matches so callously."

"You don't think?" belt-kid asked again, "According to Grant, our teacher that is, you're at least a second dan."

I snorted.

"Look brown-belt," I said, "I've never taken a lesson on karate or any other martial art in my life; a friend in high school once told me part of the trick is to punch 'through' something not 'to' it, but that's about it for me, I just fight hard."

There was a long silence, and for some strange reason, maybe, I don't know, knowing that a fraud had been outed, I felt my grin return again, forcefully.

"I think I'll be withdrawing from the Grant Kent school of marital arts," Brown-belt said, anger and betrayal running deep in his quiet voice.

"Great!" I said enthusiastically, "Welcome to the real world!"

+100 XP

Some of the assorted students asked me if I was willing to teach them; I said to show up here at the same time next week, and I'd see what I could do. I spent the next four days alternating between waiting for 'Grant Kent' to come back to the dojo, sleeping in said abandoned dojo, and going around to pick fights with other dojos. I went through four others, and they were all much more respectable, if boringly generic; the teachers went with much more sensible point-sparring, which I'm nowhere near as good at, and between the students and teachers I sparred with, I only picked up another 1000 XP.

Guess sparring matches that don't end in knockout aren't worth anywhere near as much experience. I was glad for the abandoned dojo; sleeping in it was a helluva lot cheaper than a hotel, and though I'd pulled two grand from Scrimshaw's wallet, I didn't have any idea when I'd be able to acquire any more. Fortunately, my tastes in food run to the 'good but cheap' category, and buying a small electric griddle, a camp stone, a colander, and a pot gave me all the cooking supplies I needed to cook breakfast, steam green beans, and cook meat for tacos. Things are cheaper in 1990 than in 2010, less inflation occurred so far, so the money should hold for quite a while, and there's a reason I bought fairly portable hardware.

On the fifth day, I found the White Fox Dojo, and there, I found a serious fight. The conversation leading up to me entering a spar with a brown belt student was fairly standard, except they offered to have the round extend to knock-out or ring-out as well as a win on points, and I took them up on the offer. My opponent looked to be about 20, and was substantially shorter than me, but both my personal judgement and an 'Assess' put him as a tough fight, so I was wary, sliding into Stance of Clarity and focusing my Dodge feat on him.

Kid was fast. He fought more like I did, relying on speed and volume of blows rather than power to try to overwhelm his opponent. This would be a much more interesting match. I could immediately feel the effects of the Stance, it was noticeably easier for me to read the kid and react to his blows than it had been against any of my previous foes, and I fended off his initial assault with relative ease. He was not so lucky against my return barrage, two blows slipped through his defenses, hammering into his gut, but he took it like a man and pressed on. So did I, and though his defense tightened up a little, I still got another blow through, and his offense still completely failed to penetrate.

He shifted to a more defensive posture, focusing more on defense, and making fewer attempts to penetrate my defenses. It almost worked; but I got another blow through, and kid dropped. Plus nine hundred experience. I was quite pleased with the result, especially since I was still fighting opponents higher level than myself, but specifically did not allow myself to become overconfident. Next up, I was fighting the Dojo leader; I'd impressed him, and his red/white belt meant things.

If kid was fast, this guy, a tough looking codger either in his thirties or fit in his forties, was a roadster. He was instantly on the offensive, and penetrated my defenses almost before I had the chance to raise them, landing a painful blow on my shoulder, but nothing I couldn't handle. Focusing, I activated Sapphire Nightmare Blade, and concentrated. It must have worked, because I could suddenly see a hole in his defenses, and deftly slipped my fist directly through it, landing a solid blow on the right side of his ribcage.

He was clearly surprised by the blow, and fell back, looking me over consideringly. He hadn't expected that. I took advantage of the moment's respite to refresh the maneuver; which meant to the outside world, I looked like I was just standing there, watching him. He moved in again, this time more cautiously, probing my defenses carefully. I fended off his cautious assault, and attempted the maneuver again, but this time both it and the attack failed. Nodding to himself, he attacked again, continuing with his more defensive posture.

I retaliated, attempting a Stone Bones strike, and happily landing the blow, which with the maneuver succeeding, ended with an odd tingling sensation in my skin, and me in a more defensive posture. Seeing the defensive shift in my posture, he shifted his own stance, though there was something odd about his expression as he did so, and went on the offense. He managed to land another blow, and I felt it hit, but it did nothing through my augmented skin, and his eyes took a cast between surprised and satisfied. Unsure what to make of his shifting moods, I refreshed my maneuvers, and went on the offensive, managing to land two right jabs on him, one to the side of the head, but he was just grinning at me as he pressed his own offensive.

He clipped me with a kick when I fell to much into the groove of blocking his barrage of fists, but although painful, it didn't do much real damage. Sapphire Nightmare Blade failed again, and without a blow landed, he was able to take advantage of my concentration on the maneuver to seriously breach my defenses for the first time, and laid a pair of powerful jabs into my ribcage, knocking the breath out of me. Grunting, I tried for Stone Bones, but failed to connect, and he took the initiative again. Fortunately, I was able to fend off his latest assault, and refreshing my maneuvers again, took the offense, but was just as unsuccessful at penetrating his defenses as he was mine.

I began to lose the initiative as he pushed back, and he almost slipped another blow through my defenses, but I activated Sapphire Nightmare Blade again. I failed to spot a hole in his defenses, but still managed to smack him anyways, though only dealing minimal damage. Though not dealing much damage, I'd still managed to push him back again, he'd recognized what I'd tried. Unfortunately, Stone Bones failed as well, and we were quickly stalemated again.

I refreshed my maneuvers, and pushed another assault, but he must have gotten the measure of me, because he read me like a book, and slipped a blow straight through to my brow, and I went out like a light.

Turns out I get 900 XP for losing to a guy with a Red/white belt. Not bad, but not a level either. In all honesty, when I woke up aching all over, and with someone again having taken my shirt off and poked at my gunshot wounds, the guy's crazy little grin was worth more to me than the XP.

"I'm James Sorenson," he said cheerily, "And you're a ki adept!"

I blinked. Well, Tome of Battle does mention Ki use, but that's generally more for Swordsage than Warblade.

"Something like that," I said, carefully pulling myself upright on the training mat I'd been laid out on, "My name is John."

"Nice to meet you John," He said with near-manic cheerfulness, and extended a hand, which I took, and then he shook fiercely, "That's the most exhilarating fight I've had in years, and you're not much more than a talented amateur! Where'd you get that kind of drive?"

I grinned a little, and let the madness show in my eyes a bit.

"I was never much good at doing things by half," I half said, half growled, taking Sorenson slightly aback.

He recovered quickly though.

"I haven't seen that level of intensity since… Ever?" He said half to himself.

"I get that," I said shortly.

"Are you insane?" He asked directly, and my respect for him notched up a few levels.

"No," I said, "But as anyone with enough understanding of the human heart and mind can tell you, there can be a fine line between genius and insanity. I tend to walk it."

Sorenson looked at me intensely for several seconds before nodding.

"So," He said, "Where'd you find someone willing to teach you ki techniques before you mastered the basics?"

I gave him an enormous, toothy, feral grin.

"Entirely self-taught," I said, and that left him shocked.

+100 XP. I smiled.

Sorenson exacted from me a promise to return the next day before I left, smiling brightly in spite of the assorted bruises I was carrying, after he'd fed me, watered me, and plied me for stories of my background. I gave a limited amount of them, telling him simply that I was unwilling to share some parts of it, which he accepted with refreshing forthrightness.

Something nasty interrupted my thoughts.

"Hello Grant," I said, staring the unpleasant man in the face.

He said nothing, just attacked me. He missed. I retaliated with Sapphire Nightmare Blade, and he took it in the chin. His second blow took me in the chin, and I staggered under the blow, nearly passing out, but kicking at him as I rocked back, the blow missing terribly and wasting Stone Bones. He lunged at me, and failed. I Flurried him as I refreshed my maneuvers, hitting once as I fought defensively, but the blow was weak. His return was wild, driven by anger rather than skill, and I wasted another SNB trying to hit him. He missed again, horribly.

I failed at Stone Bones, again, but his return failed just as miserably. This was pathetic. Another flurry as I refreshed my maneuvers yielded another pair of hits, solid but not crippling blows, enough to fend off his defense though. I went for Stone Bones first this time, failing miserably, almost as miserably as his retaliation, finally landing a SNB, and snarling in an attempt to intimidate the man, but just pissing him off more. He fights stupid when he's angry, he tried to pull me into a grapple, but failed to even touch me, and a final flurry dropped him to the deck.

Idiot.

Something tingled in the back of my mind, and I hurled myself to the ground, narrowly avoiding an of electricity, and a thick bolt of fire. I focused, and reality shimmered in the alley I had been walking down, revealing the two suits that had had a chat with me in the hospital the other day, and my eyes narrowed as I glared at them.

"I thought I warned you not to piss me off," I barked at them, refreshing my maneuvers.

"You said you would be leaving town," The one who wasn't the leader said bitingly.

"I changed my mind," I said, "It happens."

"Consider this your warning then," The leader said, "To change your mind again."

That was it. Something inside of me snapped, and I said nothing more, just charged. The leader took the blow onto the chin, the pair of them were apparently too shocked to do anything about it right then. The one with the attitude tried to slam me with another bolt of fire, but I ducked out of the way of the blow, also evading the leader's repeat attempt at zapping me. A flurry all but finished him, and I interrupted attitude boy's attempt to manifest with an elbow to the jaw. Unfortunately, leader got off a power, and judging by the way his skin just deflected my next two blows, it had been inertial armor. Attitude boy raised the same power, though in a much more noticeable manner, and leader tried to hit me with another arc of lightning, failing again. I tried to drop a blow on each of them, but the screens of force protecting their bodies were annoyingly resilient.

They had no more luck at hitting me though; Psions attack bonuses suck, and I had to have reflex save through the roof at this point, well, for this level. I managed to get leader in the jaw again though, and he went down, while I sawed off a kick at his friend. Another bolt of fire, another barrel roll for me. I love Evasion. I managed to smack attitude again, a good solid knock to the head; armor didn't seem so thick there, and cut off his next attempt to manifest with a repeat, dropping him. I really need Combat Reflexes.

+6300 XP. Damn. Time for some leveling, and to call the cops.

By the time the cops showed up, leader was dead. After taking my statement ('some kind of fire attack, and the other guy kept trying to zap me' sums it up nicely), and riding in the ambulance to the nearest hospital; ending up someplace else this time, I didn't really notice the name of the place, I waited until after the doctor looked me over before leveling up. Coincidence of Coincidences, it was Lyn.

"What the hell have you been up to?" She demanded of me, as she none-to-gently probed my assorted welts.

"Well," I said, sourly, "I fought at five more dojos in the last five days, and on my way back tonight, Grant ambushed me, and a couple thugs took the opportunity to try and jump me after I put him down."

"You have been shot," Lyn said forcefully as she began doing doctorey things to my abused body, "You have no business going out and picking fights!"

I grunted, irritated, and hoping I finished before she was done looking at me, finally focused on the blinking 'Level Up.' Indicator before me. Time to break the power-curve. Especially since I had apparently just edged over into gaining two levels. By all of 100 XP. I grinned fiercely. I sacked a level on the gestalt track to the Spellwarped template, bought it back using the Unearthed Arcana's Level Adjust buy-back system, then took my second level on that track as the second level of the template. On the other side I took one level of Psion, and one of Wizard.

Psion netted me Inertial Armor, Force Screen, and Defensive Precognition, as well as 4 PP per day to spend on powers, while with Wizard I took the Abrupt Jaunt Conjuration specialist variant (dropping Necromancy and Enchantment), sacrificing Scribe Scroll and the Wizard bonus feats for Fighter feats instead. Wizard with those variants granted me Combat Reflexes, Abrupt Jaunt 4 times per day (10 foot teleport as an immediate action, which essentially means in response to someone trying to do something.), a spell-book with every cantrip I was allowed to cast in it, 5 cantrips per day, eight 1st level spells for my spellbook, and 4 slots for them each day, and 4 spell points.

Spell points? This world was using the Spell point system? Talk about overpowering wizards. The Spell point system is a break from Vancian casting (which is actually a screwed up system in the first place), allowing a caster to choose which spells to have 'available' for the day, filling out his or her spell slots, then spend spell points on each. The usual spell system allows a Wizard to cast a spell prepared in a spell slot once, meaning unless you prepare a spell multiple times, you can only cast it once. This variant meant that you could prepare a different spell in every slot, and cast whichever you needed as many times as you wanted.

Well, I'm glad I decided to pick up Wizard; arguably already the most powerful class in the game, now it was even more powerful. Of course, Cleric and Druid would be too, the other most-powerful classes in the game, as they were also prepared casters, but I really don't want to screw around with 'divine' magic in real life. I take God seriously. For my 8 Wizard spells, I picked up Alarm, Endure Elements, True Strike, Magic Missile, Ebon Eyes, Blood Wind, Comprehend Languages, and Feather Fall. I prepared Alarm, True Strike, Magic Missile, and Feather Fall.

For skills, I upped pretty much everything I already had, except for Spot and Listen, and pumped Spellcraft by 4 points. I took Psicrystal Affinity for my bonus feat from Psion, and Magic Item Familiar for my third level feat (I had sacrificed Scribe Scroll from Wizard for the Sudden Jaunt ability; not much of a loss between Magic Item Familiar and getting a Psicrystal). Interestingly enough, the only item I had that the 'rules' considered valuable enough (equating to 2000 gold D'n'D currency) to be an item familiar, was my braces, so I made the brace on one of the canines still in the roof of my mouth into my item familiar. Let's see someone get that away from me!

"Hey Lyn," I said, distracting her from her painful probing of a cut on my temple, "Watch this," And I finalized the leveling process.

Her eyes bulged as most of my injuries faded to nothingness, and a sturdy leather-bound book appeared in one of my hands, a fist-sized gem in the other. If leveling up before had been like a hammer of power striking me, this was pure, addictive euphoria, far more intense than either of my experiences before; probably because I was gaining two levels of gestalt. My mind was suddenly clearer, and I found myself able to process things faster, and I knew that my intelligence score had been increased. My skin toughened and my flesh hardened, probably the natural armor bonus that comes with Spellwarped, and I felt something all about me… shift. Looking down at my bare chest and arms, I saw that my skin tone had changed, becoming a crude mottling of dark moles and more regularly colored flesh.

Looking back up at the doctor, I saw wild disbelief in her eyes.

"I pick fights for a reason, Lyn," I said, "I'm playing by rules you don't understand, and probably wouldn't want to. While I appreciate your concern and your care, and my basic physiology is entirely human, it does so at what is close to the peak possible for human durability, and occasionally I can trigger what amounts to supernatural healing."

"Wh-what are you?" She asked, reaching down to the surgical table I was on to brace herself.

"A week ago," I said to her, smiling gently, "I was on my home plane, and was a normal human, just like you except, taller, male, and younger. Also, it was 2010 there. Then I was summoned here by someone practicing their summoning skills, and things got interesting."

For about a minute or so, there was silence while she stared at me.

"When was the last time you slept on a bed?" She asked.

"About six days," I said, "When I was in the Adventist hospital after getting shot."

"Where have you been living?" she asked softly.

"Kent's dojo," I said, grinning, "The fraud's been in hiding since I showed him for what he is."

Lyn frowned, and I could see where her thoughts were going.

"Don't," I said gently, "I've declared war on the entire magical crime network of Chicago, and bringing yourself close to me will just bring you trouble."

Lyn blinked.

"The entire criminal network?" she asked disbelievingly.

I grinned, and I knew it was a mad, mad thing.

"I never was much good at thinking small," I said with a tense eagerness.

+110 XP

Lyn still insisted I let her drop me off at the Dojo after another night in a hospital, which I did, but insisted she stay in the car and allow the rain to conceal her as much as possible. I spent the ride studying the new HUD I had apparently developed, which showed me my power point and spell point reserve, as well as my XP total, currently sitting at 13,210 XP. The fact that I was fit as a fiddle by the time Lyn picked me up from the hospital in the morning, even the bullet wounds nothing more than faint scars by this point, seemed to take a great deal of the wind out of her sails, I suspected that usually, she was a much more implacable woman. The fact that I'd be seeing her and the rest of Kent's old class again the next day probably also helped her willingness to let me out of her sight. I could almost feel the desire to mother me rolling off the woman.

I was glad it was just mothering, I would have been seriously weirded out if the woman had wanted to get romantically involved with me. I'm 23, full adult and everything, but she had to be in her late 30's or early 40's, and 20 years difference is a bit much for me. Besides, I have crap luck with romance anyways. Hopefully, she'd take me seriously, and not get involved; I'd hate to see her end up dead because she decided to butt into my mad little war with criminal Chicago.

War. That brought up the issue of the fact that I had just killed for the first time last night, or at least the first time I knew of. I still don't know what all to think of that, but it added a certain bitter, cynical edge, to my already somewhat bitter, cynical self. He and his side-kick had both attacked me without warning, with clear intent to maim or kill, and I needed no more justification to defend myself violently, knowing they probably had, and certainly would if they already hadn't, do such things to others. It was still a terrible waste of human life that things had gotten so bad that violence, and violence to the point of death, was the best solution I could come up with.

In all honesty, as a Monk using unarmed strike, I could pretty much incapacitate people just as easily as kill them, the two types of damage were freely interchangeable, but such measures would not win a war against those willing to indiscriminately kill, especially those who would indiscriminately kill with magic, when their victims had none. They would neither fear nor respect me if I was not willing to cross that line, and this was a war, I had declared it such myself, and by the way they fought, it was a war to them as well.

Speaking of war, after a quick dinner, I went out to look for trouble. That essentially meant activating Detect Magic, and walking around, looking for magical signals. While I was doing so, I idly toyed with my new psicrystal, keeping it out of sight in my pocket as I did so, feeling it resonate with myself. A Psicrystal is a physical manifestation of a Psionic character's personality; in this case my single-mindedness, which could also be interpreted as my dedication to complete something I have genuinely committed to. Heck of a reminder of commitment, especially since it could speak into my mind.

It took me six hours to find something magical, and it was a bitter old man in a park, who had the look of a native American about him. Strong magic too, he was a spellcaster substantially more powerful than me. He was also one of those old men so bitter you could tell he was an unpleasant person just by looking at him, and not 'grouchy but not actually mean old man' unpleasant, as in 'I hate you, go away or I'll hurt you' unpleasant. So, since he'd conveniently cleared a space around the tree he was seated against with his unpleasant attitude, I walked right up to him and asked,

"I'm planning on wiping out the magical criminal underworld of Chicago, what can you tell me about them?"

He glared up at me, but it was hard to tell if it was because of my question, or because I was talking to him in the first place. He got up, and walked into a thick clump of trees, turning his back on me, and for lack of better things to do, I followed. He started muttering to himself under his breath once we entered the trees, and as soon as I was far enough in to be out of sight, he whipped around and gestured violently towards me with both hands.

An intense pillar of flame slammed down over me, but I saw it coming in time to dive out of the way, and escaped without so much as singing. Me and my bad-ass Evasion. I lunged at him, but tripped over a root, and ended up face-planting at his feet.

"Pathetic," he said, and cast another spell, this time I remembered to activate Spellcraft.

Poison. Crap. He touched me on the back of the head, and a sick, disgusting feeling coursed through my entire body. I threw up, but snarled, lurching to my feet, and activating Sapphire Nightmare Blade. Failed. Again. I suck with that maneuver. He cast Poison again, but as I was no longer prone on the ground, failed to touch me with the spell.

I lashed out at him, but only managed to clip him in the shoulder, as I was still reeling from the very unpleasant effects of the poison. He managed to touch me again, and I felt a barrier between me and him almost repel the effect of the spell, but he managed to push it through. Another, much milder dose of poison hit me, and I snarled, concentrating and activating Defensive Precognition to up my AC and saves. I refreshed my maneuvers and managed another blow on him, this one connecting more solidly. He cast Poison, again, like a freakin' broken record, but I evaded the touch attack, and laid into him with SPN again.

Finally it worked, and I landed a solid blow to his solar plexus, staggering him slightly. About damn time something went right in this fight. He touched me again, but this time I resisted the poison, and smacked him again, another moderate blow. Poison. Again. I ducked out of the way of the blow, and refreshed SPN blade as I finally managed to regain my focus through the sickening sensation in my body, striking him twice, though one blow was glancing at best. Another SPN blade managed, to hit, and for the first time in the fight, the old man started to look worried.

Then he cast Baleful Polymorph on me. Something I was very glad to resist; I wasn't looking forward to life as a penguin, or whatever the hell else he was trying to turn me into. So I tackled him, dragging him into a grapple to stop his spellcasting. Unfortunately, that allowed him to deliver his last attempt at a poison spell, fortunately I'm apparently a tough enough nut to resist it. We wrestled back and forth for a few seconds, but he was an old man, I'm not, and I managed to pin him.

"Who the hell are you working for old man?" I growled, but he just snarled back, so I pounded his face into the ground a couple of times, but it just seemed to piss him off more, judging by his attempts to break free.

I grew up as one of those guys who are so skinny that it's creepy; 6'2", and 115 pounds. Once I got out of high school, I started putting on weight, I'm something like 180 now, and not much of that is fat. While I was Captain Scrawny, I learned tricks to wrestling with skill over power; then I got power. Old man was at a pretty sad disadvantage, even though I could tell he was a clever wrestler himself. We wrestled back and forth for about a half a minute, before he finally managed to break my pin, something I repaid him for with a broken nose.

"Who do you work for?" I snarled again, but he just spat blood at me, and I bashed his face with my knee for his troubles.

He was running out of stamina, and we wrestled back and forth a bit more, before I managed to pound his head into the earth again, before asking him again, but he just laughed weakly at me, and made a couple more weak attempts to break free, before I switched to subdual damage, and knocked him out.

+7040 XP flashed across my vision, and I winced, very glad that I'd decided to engage the old man in a grapple. Had to be level eight or nine, maybe even ten by the experience total, and some kind of 'divine' caster by his spell selection. I was just lucky he hadn't been a Druid, otherwise I would have found myself grappling a bear.

I panted fitfully as the poison burned itself out of my system, trying to what to do. If anybody noticed the Flamestrike spell, and came to check, it'd basically look like a young man had come along and beat up an old man; not a good situation to be in. Why hadn't anyone come to investigate the Flamestrike? After a few moments thought, I activated Detect Magic, and had a look around. The entire grove reeked heavily of some kind of Abjuration/mind-affecting magic, though I wasn't skilled enough with Spellcraft yet to figure out just what, but it gave me enough to work on. The local magicals would want places they could go to defend themselves with their magic without tearing the veil; it made sense that the old man would try to lure me to such a place.

While I had just beaten the pants off of another higher level opponent and tanked large quantities of XP for it, I had done very little to accomplish my primary objective; gaining information. Plus, I now had an unconscious evil old man to deal with, and was not comfortable with killing a defenseless opponent, but could hardly turn him over to some sort of local law enforcement. 'He tried to kill me with magical fire and poison' would not win me any points at the local PD.

What to do then? I guess it was time to try using my as-yet-untapped ranks in Hide and Move Silently. So, I moved to hide myself, and wait for the old man to wake up.

Stalking him back home almost worked, right up until the point where he stopped outside the building he apparently lived in to check around himself again, and spotted me. I waved at him and grinned fiercely, and he snarled, and after a moment of indecision stalked up to me. It was getting late by this point, but there were still plenty of people around, so an out-and-out confrontation was out of the question.

"What the hell do you want?" he snarled at me, and I grinned.

"I'm here to wipe out the entire criminal underworld of magical Chicago," I said with a fierce glee, "And you were the first possible source of information I found today. The suits yesterday were nowhere near as tough as you, and about as talkative. I don't like beating up old men, so you're not dead. If I fight again, you won't be so lucky."

He glared at me, but held his tongue.

"I'll tell you what," I said, "Tell me where your competitors hang out, and I'll go pick on them first."

He did, so I did. +110 XP.

My next day featured first some time spent at Kent's Dojo drinking crap-tons of water, trying to purge my system of the poison, and eating lots to keep from watering myself to death (which can actually happen, I'd recommend you look up Wikipedia, but it doesn't exist in May of 1990). Eventually, Lyn, Brown-belt kid, and the others showed up for my version of martial arts training. Lyn was not happy with how pale I looked, but I managed to stave her off for the rest of the class.

Most of the class consisted of picking a student, getting him or her pissed off enough to attack me for serious, then ruthlessly putting them into a submission hold. After an hour of this, and going through all fifteen of the students twice, I was gasping for breath, and most of my erstwhile students didn't look so hot either.

"So," I asked them between breaths, "What did you learn from watching all this?"

"You're a better fighter than any of us?" Someone said tentatively after a while.

"In a way," I panted out, "But not what I was looking for."

A minute or two passed.

"You fight harder than any of the rest of us," Brown-belt kid said after a while.

"Bingo!" I said, smiling, "What's your name kid?"

"Zack," He replied.

"Jolly good Zack," I said, "Now this is the one, and only real lesson I have for you, the single most important factor that anyone brings to a fight, is how hard they are willing to fight, and how far they are willing to go. Most physical fights in this country are little more than pissing matches for dominance; I don't get involved in fights like that. Outside of sparring, if I fight, I fight for keeps. I go for the throat, the face, the eyes, the groin, the solar plexus, I will use every damn dirty trick in the book."

I took a deep breath, regaining some equilibrium.

"Because when I go to fight," I said, deadly serious, "I'm already where I expect losing to mean death or something close to it, so I hold nothing back. Go home and think about that."

I didn't ask, but the various students left twenty bucks a piece behind, apparently what Kent had been charging them for an hour's lessons. Cheap fraud. I hadn't asked them to pay me though, so I took what they freely offered. Again; don't know when I'll have more income available, so take what I can get. After the rest of the students left, Lyn and Zack cornered me for a chat.

"What was it this time?" Lyn demanded.

"Poison," I replied non-chalantly, "I picked a fight with a spell-caster and he tried three times to poison me with his magic, it worked twice."

Lyn gritted her teeth, and rubbed her forehead.

"I don't suppose you'd let me take you down to the hospital and let me pump you full of anti-venom?"

"Sure," I said, catching her by surprise, "But not till I've had my fight for the day."

+275 XP

Lyn watched, champing at the bit in her frustration, as I lined up against someone Sorenson had brought in to 'evaluate' me today, who was wearing an all-red belt over his gi. He'd not given his name yet, but had told me to use every ability I had, including Ki abilities, so I activated Dodge, Stance of Clarity, Inertial Armor, and Defensive Precognition. I didn't use Force Screen, because I figured that would be a bit to blatant. Through liberal use of the Concentration skill, I managed to suppress the more obvious signs of manifesting psionic powers, but the first time he landed a body-blow, he'd feel the armor.

"Begin," Sorenson said.

I suppose it really shouldn't surprise me that this red-belt was even faster than Sorenson had been. He charged me, and landed a hammer-blow to my chest, and it seemed like my armor did practically nothing to stop it. Clenching my jaw against the pain, I focused, and successfully pulled off a SNB. Damn thing finally worked the way it was supposed to. He lashed out at me thrice more, and I only managed to block the first blow, but this time my armor mattered, and it absorbed the other two blows. I attacked again, attempting to use Stone Bones, but the guy moved like a snake, and danced out of the way of my blow. His retaliation made it blatantly obvious that if it weren't for me using Psionics to 'cheat' the system, I would be totally outclassed. I contented myself with being just aggressive enough to keep him wary while I refreshed my maneuvers; I really need Sapphire Nightmare Blade against this guy.

He still managed to hit me twice more, somehow striking hard enough that the impact translated even through the force-energy protecting me. For what had to be the first time ever, I pulled a second SNB off on him in a row, though he still managed to avoid most of the force of the blow, and his riposte hurt like hell. I guess red belts come for a reason. I flurried while refreshing my maneuvers, but the only hit I managed to land was rather pitiful, the guy was moving with the blow before it even struck; I managed to stave off his offense in the process though.

Sapphire was producing consistent hits for what had to be the first time since I'd learned the maneuver, and the man's expression seemed to gain a grudging respect. I sure hoped it was respect, because his fists hurt. When I managed to deflect his next volley of blows without the aid of the Inertial Armor, his respect grew a notch. My offense was lacking while I was so busy with defense, but I was counting on my next round of SNB for that.

I didn't see the blow that dropped me, but I sure felt it when I woke up on the mat, Lyn looking disapprovingly down at me while she put away her smelling salts. On the plus side '+3520 XP' was floating across my vision, so whoever this guy was, he was high enough level that even losing to him gave a nice big chunk of experience. My ego could live with that. That, and it was time to level again. One more level of Psion and the rest of Spellwarped did nice things to my stats and abilities. After that skill point distribution was covered; on the whole it was a pretty quick level.

It wasn't until I finished, and the now-familiar sensation of power coursing through my being struck, that I realized I'd basically be healing up right in front of these people. On the one hand, there wasn't much in the way of visible evidence of the beating I'd just received, but one of the 'audience' members was a medical professional.

"You just did it again, didn't you?" Lyn said, "Your supernatural healing."

I grinned.

"Some of your abilities bear resemblance to the advanced martial teachings I'm familiar with," The red belt said in a surprising Afrikaner accent, the first words I had heard out of him, "But you are not simply a ki adept, are you?"

I shook my head, and pulled myself to an upright seat.

"I," I said, "Am a bastardized mixture of Monk, martial adept, Psion, and Wizard abilities, and my body has influenced by magic to the point where I'm not entirely human anymore."

"You told me that your body functioned as a human," Lyn said accusatorily.

"That was yesterday," I said with a grin, "Picking all these fights is helping me change faster."

"The important question, I think," The Afrikaner said, "Is why are you changing?"

"I decided to clean up the magical underworld of Chicago," I said with a grin, "And I doubt I'm quite powerful enough to pull it off quite yet."

"That is quite the ambition," The Afrikaner said gravely, "How do you intend to pull this off?"

"Brute force, sheer-bloody-mindedness, and a willingness to go to extremes like they would not believe."

+110 XP

Apparently, the place that the 'Knuckles' liked to hang out at, was a dive. One of those basement-bars that you go down a set of stairs from the sidewalk to get into; it was moderately sized, and there were about two dozen 'patrons' in the hole when I entered. I ordered a drunk, and idly looked around the bar, sizing up the various tenants. It quickly became very apparent that there was no way in hell I was ready to take this lot on just now, too many of them, at too high of a level. I got four separate 'Dire Threat' assessments, and nine 'Tough Fights.' I dropped a Detect Magic, and made sure to get as survey of everyone on my way to and from the bathroom, and there were like two patrons who weren't significantly magical.

After that, I walked out of the bar, and laid in wait for one of the thugs to come out on his way home, so I could frisk him for information. I ended up following a trio of them home; they seemed anything but observant, and were making no effort to hide their brash and arrogant attitudes. With a tinge of guilt, I realized their attitude reminded me of myself lately. Shaking my head, I forced myself to recognize the difference; I was cocky these days, partially as a method of psyching myself up for a near-suicidal war, but I didn't look down on others. Or if I did, it was subtle enough, I didn't notice myself; I'd have to look into that, later.

The trio lead me into an apartment building, and I, gutsy, nut-job that I am, decided to step right into the elevator with them, even 'absent-mindedly' pushing the same button they already had. If they'd been any kind of wary or on guard, they would have been suspicious of someone they'd never met before heading for the same floor as them. Of course, maybe they were, and were also really good actors. I doubted it though. We got off on the seventeenth floor, and I casually followed them as they made their way to apartment 1723. These three were 'tough fight' types, so I decided to play it safe and simply strolled on past them as though I were headed for a different apartment, but doubled back as soon as they closed the door behind them.

I checked the door, but they did have the sense to at least lock it. Locked doors, however, were no barrier for the senses of a Psicrystal, at least when they're made merely of wood. A Psicrystal is 'Sighted,' a somewhat under-descriptive term for the Psionic senses it employs, which allow it to see and hear anything within thirty feet, providing there isn't too much insulative material. A couple inches of door is not enough material. I passed the silent command for my Psicrystal to extend its ectoplasmic legs, which it did, and then stuck it to the top of the doorframe, and strolled off to find the stairwell. The building had 25 floors, and I took a stroll up to the roof, which was the 26th floor of the stairwell. The door was locked, and after a moment's consideration, I used Sudden Jaunt to get out onto the roof.

It was windy up here, but the view and breeze were refreshing, and I settled down, then sent an order for my Psicrystal to begin relaying the conversation it was eavesdropping in on down in apartment 1723.

Over the next three hours, I was able to put together a basic picture of the magical underworld of Chicago. There were three dominant criminal organizations, the 'Knuckles' gang I was currently eavesdropping on were the newcomers to town, and were very confident of their strength compared to the other two gangs. My best guess through and around the ego-posturing the three Knuckles were doing, placed the other two groups, the Trent Syndicate and the Gray Cartel as the older groups, with a long-standing rivalry between the two. Both seemed to have their own ideas as to how to pursue greater power, the Syndicate apparently working on enchanting war machines, and the Cartel on performance-enhancing drug research. All three groups basic income was based off of drug production and trafficking, though the Knuckles also seemed to be involved in racketeering and collected 'protection money' from local small businesses.

Well, the Knuckles would make an excellent first set of targets; the other criminal organizations were at least not primarily focused around violent crime. I know it's very unusual for a Christian, but I'm not against drug use in general, just drug abuse. The way I see it, God gave you your body, and it's up to you to take care of it, not me to tell you how to take care of it. I still don't think drug abuse is right, and I'd be in favor of similar limits to alchohol; limit of influence while driving, etc, but ultimately it's your body, your business, until you start screwing with someone else. Doesn't mean I'd ever want to use the stuff myself, if I'm going to have a euphoric high, I'd like it to be more natural, and I HATE dependencies. I've been offered before, and turned it down every time, high school or college.

I took note of the three Knuckles first planned shakedown for the next day, and planned an intercept.

I staked out the little bakery that the three Knuckleheads were planning on shaking down, planning on hitting them after they left with their money. If I stepped in while they were there, they might think the proprietor had tried to stand up to them, and that could lead to retaliation. If I struck after they had their money, it'd look like a snatch and grab from a rival gang.

That plan was shattered when the leader of the trio groped the cute cashier behind the register. I immediately broke from my hiding place, and began stalking towards the bakery, raising Defensive Precognition as I did so. By the time I reached the glass door, the leader was across the counter, practically smothering the girl against the wall, and she was in tears. My blood boiled.

"Hey jackass," I said, "Leave the girl alone."

"Buzz off," The leader said, snarling as he turned to look at me, and deliberately flashed the sub-machinegun he had stored in his jacket, "This is none of your business."

I let my fists do the talking, Sudden Leaping, and unfortunately clumsily, across the counter towards him. I completely failed to do any damage, but I did knock him away from the girl, who tried to hide under the counter once he was out of the way. He responded by ripping out his SMG and blazing away at me on full auto. Tumbling around like mad, I managed to avoid direct hits, but still took a few grazes, then leapt to my feet, and slammed a SNB right into his jaw.

He noticed that. All of them stepping back, he and his two pals opened up on me with their SMG's, but I ducked out of the way of his two allies blasts, eating a painful barrage of lead in order to keep the cashier girl from taking it instead. I moved in to attempt a blow on the leader, but it deflected off of what had to be Inertial Armor, though I did succeed in forcing him to target either me or the girl, not both. Shame to waste Stone Bones in the process though. The leader reloaded while the other two emptied the rest of their clips into me, a painful experience even through the armor. Where the hell is my Evasion? Does my reflex save suck that much?

Pushing that aside, I refreshed my maneuvers and flurried on leader-boy, getting one solid hit in on him, and driving him back around the counter. Now I had all three in the open customer area in front of the counter, the leader continuing to back away as he opened fire again. This time I managed to evade the entire burst, and managed to fail at another attempted SNB while his pals reloaded, then showed them just what Evasion is good for when they opened fire again and hit nothing but air. I was doing the most insane impression of a break-dancer you could imagine, evading the sheer volume of fire the three SMG's were producing. While in a hand-stand, I smashed a kick into the leader's face, and managed to activate Stone Bones in doing so.

Leader backed off, but I managed another kick as he was retreating, though to my immense displeasure he was activating Force Screen. Damn guy was going to be almost impossible to hit now. The other two emptied the rest of their current clips into me, I dodged one, and ignored the other's bullets bouncing off my skin, while I charged the leader, refreshing my maneuvers along the way. To pounding my fist into his chin yet again.

He didn't look like he was having fun anymore. Backing off, he activated another power, though I failed to identify it, it was probably another defensive ability. His pals dropped their guns and manifested something that turned their hands into nasty claws, but all three of their manifestations and movements opened them up to a trio of attacks of opportunity on my part, only one of them managing to dodge. Speaking of dodge, I declared my dodge against the tricksy one, whilst merrily dancing out of the way of the duo of clawed attackers, and watching as leader-boy pulled out a large-gauge pump shotgun.

That was something I would want to avoid. Another failed SNB at the boss, and a fusillade of claw swipes, a wasted Stone Bones, a shotgun blast to my back, dodging another barrage of claw swipes, and I dropped a one-two combination on boss-boy, putting him down. Hard.

Whipping around to glare at the other two thugs, I glared at them. Hard. They took me in; bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds, including a close-range shotgun blast, having taken down their boss with my bare hands, and staring at them in a manner that clearly said they were next. The fact that their claw attacks had been utterly useless so far probably helped me scare the shit out of them.

They ran, breaking for the back door. I went after them, but they beat me to the door, and I didn't feel like taking this fight out into the open. By the time I got back to captain shotgun, he was dead, my last blow having crushed his throat. The bakery was a disaster, bullet-holes and my blood spattered everywhere. I sat down in one of the more-intact chairs, and shuddered as I began to catch my breath.

+8525 XP. Level up. I decided to wait until after someone had picked the buckshot out of my back to gain the quasi-healing effect of leveling. I didn't want my wounds closing over it.

A scraping, crunching sound notified me of movement in the bakery, and I snapped my head up to see the cashier-girl tentatively moving towards me, a first aid kit in her hand. She jumped slightly when my gaze locked on her, but she could tell that I immediately recognized her as not an enemy, and moved up closer.

"Thank you," she said very softly, "They've been getting worse and worse lately."

"Only what any decent man would have done," I said gruffly through the pain, "Any decent man would try, anyways."

"I'm Cait," she said, "Thank you for protecting me. I called 911 while you were still fighting."

"I'm John," I said, "Sorry about messing up your store so much in the fight."

She was a smart girl, only working on bandaging up the lesser wounds, not even trying to handle the buckshot on my back.

It was hard to miss it when the ambulance and police arrived a couple minutes later, screaming sirens and flashing lights, but I had to laugh when the paramedics and doctor walked in.

"JOHN!" Lyn bellowed, "DIDN"T ANYONE EVER TELL YOU NOT TO PICK FIGHTS WITH ARMED MEN?"

I laughed, even though it hurt.

"What did you expect when I said I'd declared war?" I finally asked Lyn, wincing slightly at the prickly sensation as she dug another piece of buckshot out of my back.

"Something more along the lines of a metaphor," She said with tightly reigned aggravation. The nurse attending her during this was understandably confused.

"I think we've perplexed your nurse," I said.

"This patient here," Lyn said to the nurse, "I first met a week ago when he picked a fight with my Karate instructor, and was beaten unconscious. I chose to have a look at his wounds, and discovered he had two partially healed bullet wounds. Five days later, he was in my ER from a street brawl that left one man dead and two hospitalized, again he was beaten half to death."

"Oh," said the nurse, as she took another lump of buckshot from Lyn's forceps.

"The day after that," Lyn continued forcefully, "When my karate class was taking lessons from him instead of our old, apparently fraudulent instructor, he showed up severely poisoned, but still spent an hour fighting with every member of the class twice. That was yesterday."

I was impressed with her ability to not take her frustration out on my body.

"Now," Lyn pressed on, "Here he is with multiple gunshot wounds, and a full spread of buckshot in his back. I am understandably frustrated with his inability to go more than five days without being seriously injured. That's the last of it."

She moved away from my back.

"Doctor," The nurse said respectfully but nervously, "That isn't really possible with human recovery rates."

"I'm not entirely human," I said, drawing her attention back to me, then finalizing the levels of Psion and Wizard I added this time around, causing a surge of vitality to wash through me, partially healing my wounds visibly in front of her, "And it's a good thing too, I've got a war to fight."

+55 XP

I got back to the Dojo the next night, mostly healed of my assorted injuries, and finally over the effects of the poison the other day. It was dark inside, completely dark, something that was not right, as the 'Kent Karate' sign was automated to turn on at sunset, so I was slightly on edge. I activated Inertial Armor before I entered, and stealthed my way in, just in case. It was an odd feeling, deliberately being stealthy; it was the first time I was using a motor-skill that I had taken ranks in outside of combat, and it left an odd tingly feeling throughout my body. Very effective though, I was damn stealthy as I moved into the dojo.

Something else made a noise, and I immediately leapt back, activating Force Screen. A massive hulk leapt out at me from the pitch-black interior of the dojo, slamming into the just-activated Force-Screen. I struck it with a pair of kicks, but it had a thick, tough hide whatever it was, and it did not seem to even notice the blow. I focused my Dodge on it, but didn't go for Stance of Clarity just yet. Two more shadowy forms attacked me out of the darkness, one literally going for my kidney, and another large one wrapping me into a bear-hug and trying to slam me into the wall. I activated Sudden Jaunt to get out of close combat with the thing, then tumbled back to the light switch and flicked it on.

Shit. Wererat. Werebear. And that had to be a Dire Werewolf. I am so screwed. Weres get damage reduction in D'n'D, 5 points if they're afflicted, ten if they're a natural, and I'm not packing silver to get around it. Wait a minute, I am, as of now, packing Crystal Swarm, a nasty little psionic power…

After a moment to size me up, the trio attacked again, the two larger ones charging me, and again being deflected by my Psionic defenses, while the rat tumbled around me and tried to flank; Improved Uncanny Dodge, sucker. Judging by how he failed miserably to hit me, he's not a high enough level Rogue to get around that. I tripped SNB on the rat, but the maneuver seemed to be trying to work back down to its terrible average, and so I tumbled back towards the internal entrance of the Dojo that led to the building's greater interior.

The bear charged me again, and I ducked to the side, allowing its clawed fist to slam into the door, putting a sizeable hole in it; unfortunately I dodged right into the path of the wolf's claws, but pulled another Sudden Jaunt to get to the other side of the door. The Rat shifted from hybrid form to straight rat, and leapt through the hole the bear had knocked in the door. I faded back from its attempts to claw and bite at me, wary of being cursed, and ran for the building's stairwell. Behind me, I heard the door explode outwards as one of the larger were's summarily destroyed it, and the chase was on.

I had a healthy head start, but the werewolf shifted to full wolf form, and was very rapidly catching up with me. It's hellishly freaky to be sprinting up fifteen flights of stairs with a six foot tall, ton or more wolf chasing you up. He caught up with me for the first time on the sixth floor, but was over-eager and his lunge to bite me was clumsy; I leapt off his snout and continued up past him, while his companions closed up the distance. He caught me again on the eighth floor, wrapping his huge jaw around my abdomen and throwing me to the ground, chewing the hell out of me in the process. Shaking off the staggering amount of pain, I lurched to my feet, and Jaunted up a floor when he almost got me in his jaws again, continuing to flee. By the time he caught up with me again on the eleventh floor, the bear and the rat were right behind him.

I only had one jaunt left, and it was my only real way out of grapple, so I focused my Dodge on the wolf, as well as Stance of Clarity. I managed to deflect his next attempt to take a bite out of me, but he got me again on the twelfth floor, hurling me down on the stairs, and almost finishing me. Desperate, I managed to tumble to my feet, and lurched up the stairs again, resisting the urge to wretch as I the Inertial Armor barely kept him from tearing my guts out, and I fought back the urge to vomit as rising nausea assailed me. Again and again, I barely managed to evade his snarling attempts get me in his jaws again, at the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth floors, pushing myself to the absolute limit to keep myself out from between his jaws.

Bursting out onto the roof, I whipped around to the side, and faced the doorway, bracing myself. The three weres tore out onto the roof, and I loosed a Swarm of Crystals right into their faces. Swarm of Crystals is a bitch of a power, relatively low damage output, and it only covers a 15 foot cone, but there is no saving throw, no attack roll involves, no spell or power resistance involved. It's just damage, bitch, and it's a power, so it gets around damage reduction. This will hurt you.

A hail of razor-sharp crystals tore into the creatures hides, bloodying them for the first time since our fight began.

"That's right, dog," I snarled from my place at the roof's edge, "You're not the only ones that can dish it out in this fight."

They responded by shifting back and laughing, the Rat falling back a bit to get out of range of the power.

"I hope you can do that all night long, little man," The Wolf growled through his harsh, barking laughter as he drew an enormous sword and brought it to bear on me, "Because it's going to take a lot of that to kill one of us."

I responded by loosing the power again, but to my dismay, the Wolf and the Bear just grinned through the bloody hail. Then the werewolf did exactly what I wanted; he charged me.

Now for things to be properly understood, I must explain that I have a visceral fear of heights, it's one of the few things about myself I have not entirely psychoanalyzed and puzzled out, but I think it has something to do with having all too clear a knowledge of just how much damage a fall can deal me, and how fatal it could be depending on height and landing surface. I'm one of those guys that when he's at the edge of a cliff, gets vertigo, and starts loosing equilibrium and sense of balance when he looks off of it. My way of dealing with this is to climb trees, rocks, mountains, ropes, walls, and go cliff jumping. I hate letting anything control me, but for all my self-enforced exposure therapy, I still get struck by near-crippling fear being too close to the edge of anything over a three story drop.

Which was why I was facing away from the edge I was standing on, so as not to risk being terrified by it, and my guts and heart both locked up when I used Sudden Jaunt to put myself ten feet off to the side and over the edge just as the Wolf was about to slam into me, and we both fell. I dealt with the mind-numbing fear as I began to fall, in my customary way, by staring it in the face, or in this case, staring down, and screaming defiance in its face.

I also drew a deep and intense satisfaction from watching fear blossom in the Wolf's eyes as he fell. As we fell, I bitched him out twice more with Swarm of Crystals; by D'n'D rules, 150 feet of fall is 15d6 damage, but I had no idea how many hit points he had, and didn't feel like taking chances. If this fall didn't finish him, I was screwed. I would have hit him with a third, but we were almost to the ground, so I activated Featherfall instead, and as he slammed into the ground with a wet, smacking sound, I landed much more softly directly beside him.

Bastard was still alive. Barely, but still alive. I stared him in the eyes, and his were filled with pain mixed with anger and hatred.

"This is why I'm going to win," I told him forcefully, "Because I'll take this fight farther than you scum ever will."

Then hit him with Swarm at point blank. He passed out, but was still breathing, so I grabbed his sword to chop his damned head off. The instant that I touched the sword, a flare of power rose in my mouth, and I was forced to drag the oversized sword up to my mouth, where with a strange sucking sensation, it was dragged in. Whatever it was doing, the thing nearly tore my cheeks out when it pulled the hilt into my mouth, but it was compressing as it was drawn in.

After a long moment passed, I felt around my aching mouth with my tongue and discovered I was bleeding from the roof of my mouth, right under where the brace I'd made my Item Familiar was. I recalled that Item Familiars are supposed to be magical items before they're made familiars; I guess whoever made the 'house rules' for this world decided it would absorb the first magical item I touched to fulfill that requirement. I felt a tingling sensation across my body, especially in my fists, and guessed that the sword's enchantments as a weapon had apparently been passed along to affect my unarmed strike. I wish I had a way to test for sure.

Looking up, I saw the Bear and the Rat staring down at me in a mixture of shock and anger. Looking back down, the Wolf had stopped breathing and was reverting back to human form; bled out I guess, and good riddance. He was quite a sight without the fur covering his wounds, Swarm of Crystals is nasty business, and it had ripped the hell out of him before he'd finally died. Tough bastard. Hissing as the adrenaline slowly began to drain out of my system, I looted anything else that seemed unusual off of the Wolf's body, including a pair of gloves, a cloak, and his wallet.

I would have loved to try for the body armor, it looked expensive as hell, as did the rifle, but the Bear and Rat had moved out of sight, and I needed to be in a public place before they caught up with me and finished me off. So I ran, looking for crowds and a way to call 911 for an ambulance. Again.

+6160 XP

When I woke up, I felt sick, and was very aware of how close to dying I'd just been. My head felt weird, stuffy but more aware of certain details than usual. I heard someone leave the room I was in, and belatedly recognized that I was in the hospital again, though my memories about arriving here were fuzzy. I honestly hurt too much to care about someone leaving the room. I was cataloguing my injuries first by internal senses, then gingerly feeling around my midsection with my hands. Fortunately, it seemed like aside from the mauled abdomen, I was pretty much fine, light a few scrapes.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned mauling of my middle, was pretty damn serious. Was really wishing I'd taken Body Adjustment as a Psion power just now; supernatural healing for power points sounded great. Speaking of bodily condition; the Werewolf managed two bite attacks on me; had I contracted Lycanthropy? The moon was full, so I would find out tonight. What mechanic did this world use for the mind-altering effects Lycanthropy has in practically every fantasy setting ever? If I could control such transformations, it'd be insanely useful, if I couldn't, I'd be a hazard to everyone and everything around me.

Pants.

"This time was different, wasn't it?" Lyn's quiet voice came.

"Not really up for another scolding," I grumbled tiredly.

"I can tell," she said kindly, and I turned to watch her approach my bed, "You were out of the hospital for less than three hours before you were back in the ER. That's pushing it, even for you. What happened?"

I looked her in the eye for a moment, and to my surprise found general concern there.

"Were-creatures laying in ambush at the Dojo," I said, "A Bear, a Dire Wolf, and a Rat. Too powerful me, and the Wolf was to fast for me to run from."

She sat down next to me, and met my gaze calmly, waiting for me to say more of my own volition. It's a tactic that is rarely, if ever employed against me, and combined with the fact that I could see actual compassion in her eyes, extremely effective.

"What?" I asked, somewhat defensively.

"There's more to it than that," She said, "Isn't there?"

"It was a werewolf," I said somewhat grouchily, "It bit me. I don't know if I'm tough enough yet to resist the lycanthropic curse myself."

She reached over and hugged me. I instinctively tried to tense up in response, but the sharp pains through my abdomen shut that idea down right away. Lyn hugged me gently, carefully avoiding my savaged midsection, before pulling back to look me in the eyes.

"I take it that's a bad thing?" She said.

"Depends," I grimaced, "If I have picked up the curse, it was a Dire Wolf; picture literally half a ton of wolf, with a hungry disposition. Strong enough to tear a hole through wooden walls, and in hybrid form, potentially tear the bars off of a jail cell. Immensely tough; I killed the one that bit me, by dropping it off a fifteen story building, and shooting it full of shrapnel four times. The fall alone didn't kill it. The problem is, I don't know if I'll be able to control it, and since we're at the full moon, if I don't find some place to get myself restrained tonight, very bad things could happen."

For a long moment, there was silence, and then:

"How can I help?" Lyn asked, and I jumped slightly in shock.

Not the sort of reaction I am used to getting.

The door bursting in twenty seconds later was exactly the sort of reaction I was used to getting.

"Run!" I shouted to Lyn, leaping off the bed as adrenaline pumped into my system, activating Inertial Armor.

The Bear stormed in, swinging a massive axe around into me, punching right through the just-raised armor, and dropping me to the ground, axe sticking out of my chest. Pain. Like nothing I had ever felt before. I screamed in pain as the rat ran past me; a thought gripped my mind. Lyn. I lashed out once at the rat as it dashed past, but it still made its way past me. The Bear laughed, a harsh guttural sound through its half-human throat, and ripped its axe from my chest. Fire coursed through my veins, and I screamed again as my body seemed to explode around me. Gasping, I focused both my Dodge and my Stance of Clarity on the Bear, then lurched to my feet.

He brought his axe around at me again, but I slapped the blow aside with my suddenly much-larger hand. Rage burned hot in my veins, and I growled low and feral at the encroaching were. Then Lyn screamed from behind me. Whirling around, I ignored the Werebear and his pair of attempted swings at me as I charged the rat, slamming my fist damn near through the thing. It squealed, and tried to tumble away from me, but tripped over Lyn's bloodied form down on the floor, and I slammed another blow into it as it fell. Moving up behind, the Bear took another swing at me with its axe, but I ignored it, my rage focused white-hot on the rat that had just attacked Lyn.

My right fist slammed it into the hard hospital floor, my right foot kicked it up into the air, where I caught it in my jaws, and ripped the thing in half. The bear howled in rage from behind me, and slammed its axe into me again and again, but between my now thick, tough, furry hide, and my Inertial Armor, the blows did nothing. Then I turned on the Bear, and tore into it with tooth and claw. It screamed in pain as I shed its blood, and entered a blood rage, abandoning its axe to assault me with its own teeth and claws. I dodged, parried, and blocked its attacks, but at the cost of failing in my own.

Moving aggressively, it managed to push me slightly off balance, but my IA made up for where my skill faltered. I lunged at it, clawing its face and sinking my jaws into its shoulder, but left my right flank exposed in the process, and it finally slipped past my armor, slashing its claws across my belly, and I was exposed to the horrifying sensation of my guts slipping out past my muscle wall. As I collapsed, I returned the favor, with interest, driving my right claw into the things abdomen, and ripping it out along with some of its innards.

Snarling through the pain as the Werebear collapsed next to me, making a flailing attempt to claw at me as it did so, I reached over and bit down on its neck, then tore its throat out, almost decapitating it in the process.

Then I passed out from the pain.

The next time I woke up it was slowly, and very groggily. After a while, I recognized the effects of something like a general anesthesia, next I recognized that my body was not what I was used to. I wasn't used to waking up shackled down either. Opening my eyes, I was immediately confronted with the fact that I now had a muzzle. Normally, I would have loved to reach up and feel it, testing its texture, etc; unfortunately my neck, arms, and legs were all bound. Next to strike me was scent. A lot of scent. You know the at least marginally unpleasant, sterile smell of a hospital? Yeah, imagine that multiplied a hundredfold. Not fun.

I recall reading that dogs and wolves can have up to a thousand times the olfactory sensitivity of humans. I could believe it. Even through the disinfectant, I could still smell traces of blood, different chemicals, perfumes, scented soaps and shampoos, and what was probably a person's underlying odor.

On the whole, it was an extremely disconcerting experience, and that was not even counting the pain. My chest was a bloody mess; turning into a werewolf had managed to recoup some of the damage. Feeling the blade of an axe inside of my chest had to have been the single freakiest experience in my life. And I'm saying that as someone half again as tall as he should be, covered in fur, and with teeth measured in inches.

With the immediate distractions out of the way, I turned my attention to more important concerns; leveling up. Wizard 3, and first level of Cerebremancer. Cerebremancer is a nasty-powerful class; every level pushes up your caster level for an arcane caster class, and your manifester level for a psionic manifester class. It's a prestige class, requires being able to cast second level spells and manifest second level powers; I planned to yank a lot of power out of the class. Next level I'd be hitting Cerebremancer for another, and Swiftblade. Swiftblade is for speed freaks like me who always want to react first, move fastest, and move last.

I had come to the tentative conclusion that my initiative modifier sucked, as I think I managed to move first on one opponent, and that was back when I was mostly sparring at dojos. Swiftblade would help with that too, and maybe some Swordsage too. I was having a hard time figuring out how to balance everything I wanted into my growing build, especially without the Excel spreadsheet I usually use to keep track of all the details. It was thinking over this in part, that made me realize my mental capacities had been expanded. It was hard to miss when taken into consideration just how much 'space' I had to actively hold thoughts in my mind just now.

Think of it like a computer; my RAM has just been expanded, and my processor runs a bit faster. I'm still running all the same software, as none of the template-based stat changes affect my character, but it runs faster and more efficiently now. Damn useful when you're constantly hurling yourself into life-and-death situations. And that was something else that probably would have made me feel all chilly, if not for all the fur. It had taken next to no effort whatsoever to go from living in a 'normal, everyday' part of society, to fighting for my life with hardened criminals on a regular, nearly daily, basis.

What does that say about this nation at large? Well, this nation is an alternate reality with a magical criminal network hiding out in a major city, avoiding the law using, well, magic. Still, it provoked thoughts; I have no real, personal knowledge of just how close to the surface crime is in my own society back home, could it be this close there too? Such thoughts continued for some time, but were interrupted when the door opened, and a nurse walked in.

A red haze overtook my vision, and I lunged towards Prey. Restraints shrieked in protest, but held, and I forcefully slammed my head back against the table.

"Please leave," I said, the words coming out in a growl through my half-human throat.

The sounds of the woman moving and the door closing affirmed her departure, though it took some time for her scent to settle, and the mad urge within me to hunt Prey subsided from the near-compulsion it had been. I still felt as though I were maddeningly hungry and there was a meal hiding in the room, but I've dealt with starvation diets before, and I could handle that. A few minutes passed, and the door opened again, admitting a heavily bandaged Lyn in a wheelchair, escorted by a police officer who had his hand on his gun.

This time I was prepared, and the officer's presence caused me to shiver slightly, but no more. But only the officer's presence, not Lyn's.

"The Rat bit you, didn't he?" I rumbled, and Lyn nodded almost involuntarily, surprised by my unexpected words.

"You've picked up the curse yourself now," I said, grinding my enlarged teeth in frustration, and to keep my mind off the scent of the officer, "Next full-moon night, you're going to be a were-rat."

"I thought you said-" Lyn began, but I cut her off.

"That it could be resisted?" I rumbled, "It can, but this new nose of mine can tell."

Lyn nodded tentatively, and winced slightly. From the look of things, the rat had probably slashed or stabbed her midsection; she was braced and bandaged there, as was her shoulder.

"Do you know of any cures?" She asked with some resignation.

"High level healing magic," I said, "Maybe a Break Enchantment spell. I'm not a healer, and I'm not powerful enough to cast Break Enchantment, won't be for a long time. Even then, I'm not sure if it would work, it might take some of the stuff that only the most powerful mages can cast."

"You are in serious breach of Veil law." The police officer abruptly interjected, and instantly had the entirety of my attention, while I reflexively strained to break my bonds.

The blood-haze attempted to overcome me again, but I beat it back. Barely.

"Who the hell are you?" I growled out.

"Marshal Magi," He said, "James Conner. What the hell do you think you're doing talking so loosely with mundanes?"

I strained at my bonds again, but they resisted my pull, my body still weak from all the injuries it had sustained.

"What the hell is some form of supposed law-enforcement doing that they only show up when someone tries to clean up this city?" I spat back at him.

"If we could," Conner growled, "We would. You know there's no way in hell we've got the manpower or equipment to clean this place out.

"Bullshit," I said, and a metallic shriek sounded as I ripped the restraints out, and stood, towering over the man, "If you've got the resources to send someone to cuss me out, you've got the resources to do something against those thugs. I've taken down a half-dozen of them by myself, and I arrived on this plane a little over a week ago."

"A half dozen?" Conner said derisively, and I practically saw his ego flaring up defensively, "There are hundreds of them in this city, and they've got the mundane politicians in their pockets."

Rage coursed through my system, my nostrils flared, my eyes, widened, my jaw twisted as I snarled and strode directly up to the man. Then I turned and slammed my fist into the wall, driving it an inch into the concrete.

"I would suggest you control your tongue, Conner," I growled, still facing the wall, "I customarily have excellent control of my temper, but this new form conspires against my control."

Nobody said anything for a few moments after that; the only sound was chips of concrete clattering to the floor as I pulled my fist out of the wall. I considered attempting to intimidate the man, but decided it would ultimately be counter-productive, since if he survived being in Chicago, he would eventually be reporting to his superiors.

"Regardless of your temper," Conner said in a more restrained tone, "I'm putting you under arrest, and taking you for your hearing by the Veil court."

I snorted in derision.

"No," I growled, turning to stare the man down, "You won't."

"Are you resisting arrest?" He asked, gaining something of a cocky smirk as he did so.

"No," I said, "I'm denying your jurisdiction. You obviously cannot enforce laws effectively here, so I see no reason to subject myself to whatever organization you claim holds sway here."

"The Treaty with the mundane government is pretty clear on this," Conner said, "Veil breach within U.S. territory falls under the jurisdiction of the Marshal Magi."

"Common law and sense is pretty clear," I countered, "If you can't enforce the law, you're not a governing legal body."

"For clarification," Conner said, "You are resisting arrest."

"I deny your power to arrest me."

His smirk turned into a grin, and he manifested a psionic power on me. Mind Thrust. I felt the surge of supernatural power strike me, and my body drank it in eagerly, while I instinctively directed the energy towards my wounds, where it had a restorative effect. Seriously, Mind Thrust? Will save negates, and my will save had to be massive by now, with all the caster and monk multi-classing I was doing, on top of Lycanthrope giving me Iron Will and a +2 Wisdom bonus. Oh, right. I've fought almost exclusively with melee up until now, and the only enemies who saw me use active magic are dead. Makes more sense with his inaccurate information.

Snarling, I reached out and wrapped my right hand/paw around his neck, and hoisted him into the air.

"You have no idea who you are dealing with, little man," I said, "I guess you missed the part where I'm from another dimension, or maybe the part where I've decided to take on the entire criminal underworld of magical Chicago and I'm winning."

You ever seen someone lifted off their feet by a choke hold in a movie? Let me tell you right now, it's a real power-trip to be the one doing the lifting. This time I did go for intimidate, and I was impressed by the defiant expression on Conner's expression as he glared back at me. Conner tried to manifest another power, but I smacked him upside the head, breaking his concentration with liberal quantities of subdual damage.

"Do you know what happens to Weres registered as rogue here?" He gasped out.

"I don't know," I growled back, pulling him directly up towards my lupine face, "Judging by the three that attacked me last night, nothing."

"Hunted down like dogs," He said, glaring up at me. Oh, he was actually trying to intimidate me. Interestingly enough, there was enough intensity to his gaze that it almost worked. Damned impressive.

"If your Marshal organization," I replied, "Can't commit the resources to take down the criminal underworld, but can commit the resources to hunt me down because I broke rules I didn't even know, they're worse than the thugs I'm hunting. I've been on this plane for less than two weeks, I arrived with nothing more than pants, and I'm already arguably more than five times as powerful as the moment I arrived. Don't mess with me."

Then I beat him upside the head again, knocking him out, and grabbed the handles to Lyn's wheelchair.

"Let's go," I said, "There's going to be more than just him."

+1265 XP. I honestly hadn't even thought about experience gain for beating the marshal; I guess it was a good sign that I wasn't just 'playing the game' for the sake of the game.

Lyn stared at me over her kitchen table. It wasn't a pointed stare or anything, it was mostly just a 'you're not getting away from me without accepting my help this time' stare. She probably didn't know it, but that was more disconcerting than just about any other stare someone could have leveled at me. I'm not used to that kind of stare. Not many people are, I suppose. Still, she was looking at me. I, of course, was looking back, I have a thing about staring contests; I refuse to lose them. She did not seem to be at all concerned by the fact that she was staring down someone she knew was a were-wolf, though I suppose me being in human form again probably helped with that.

Honestly though, I don't know what she was expecting me to do, not easy to meet that kind of stare for extended periods of time.

"What?" I finally aid, slightly irritably.

She just smiled in response, and took a sip of her hot chocolate. Since it seemed like a good idea, I did too. For some reason, her smile grew at that, and I allowed myself to scowl at her.

"You," she finally said, "Are a very large boy."

I cocked my head at that. Remark, attempting to divine just what she meant.

"I'm not sure if I should be insulted by that," I finally said.

"It's not meant as such," Lyn said kindly, with a smile, and that weirded me out even more.

I'm used to Lyn bearing down on me in a well-meaning but forceful manner, 'this is for your own good,' etc, etc. Frustration, aggravation, irritation, a little anger, not calm and kind. Who are you and what have you done with Lyn?

"You're a lot more agreeable than usual," I finally said.

"Yes," She said, nodding, "A combination of seeing what one of your fights is really like, and realizing that you are in large part just a big kid trying to prove something."

My gaze sharpened.

"Do you think that is all there is to me?" I asked, not quite keeping all the edge from my voice.

She was slightly taken aback, and looked at me carefully before responding.

"No," She said, "I don't, but I do think it is a large portion."

"Dominant portion currently, certainly," I replied forcibly, "Let me make something clear to you, Doctor Gray, I am very well versed in psychology, and know quite well how to analyze myself. Two weeks ago I was ripped from everyone and everything I knew. Before that, I spent five years in and out of employment, kicked between over a dozen different houses, homeless three or four times, and on and off a starvation diet. I'm under a lot of psychological pressure. I know this. I was brought here, forcibly, by criminal elements, engaging in an ongoing criminal enterprise, who were ready to kill me if I was unwilling to join in. I already had issues with wanting to prove my worth; when I gave myself a purpose in cleaning up this city, it became a new way to try to measure my worth. Not a very healthy attitude, but I've not been able to completely overcome that problem yet."

Silence, for a while.

"That was unusually verbose for you," Lyn eventually said.

I snorted.

"Not really. Once I get started, I'm very talkative."

"How do I get you started then?" She asked.

I snorted again, this a more forceful thing, a thing of aggression and frustration.

"You either be the right kind of person, or be there when I'm overflowing anyways."

She nodded, and there was silence again, broken only by the occassional slurping of hot chocolate.

"How do you intend to continue this war?" she asked.

I was impressed, again. She knew well enough not to ask if, simply how. Woman was dangerously perceptive.

"Rest tonight and tommorrow," I said, "I think I can control myself when transformed, but you're going to need me here to make sure you don't go out of control."

She winced slightly at the reminder that she was not entirely human anymore.

"And after that?" She asked with only slight hesitation.

"Tommorow," I said grinning wolfishly, "I hunt."

+55XP

I think Lyn was even more weirded out, seeing how fast I heal, when I was staying in her home. I spent most of the day idly watching TV; amused by some of the speculations in news reports, and watching the mid-term election campaigns. Bush senior was still president, though that wouldn't last. I wondered if I could somehow keep Perot from splitting the conservative ballot, and try to keep Clinton out. Not that I wanted Bush Sr. to stay in, but Clinton did nasty things to this country, signing the single largest tax increase in history, committing felony crimes while in the White House and getting away with it, making adultery more socially acceptable.

I wonder how much better shape the country would have been in by 2010 without him screwing things up, and if 9/11 would have happened if a the US president had accepted when the Taliban offered Bin Laden's head on a platter during the 90's. Twice. I decided to leave Political thoughts off until I knew whether or not I'd survive cleaning up Chicago, then spent the rest of my down time figuring out the optimal use of my assorted abilities for combat.

Then the next day, I set out for trouble, and went back to old man grumpy's apartment building. Detect Magic and process of elimination revealed only one apartment in the entire building with magical items in it, so I used Invisibility, and Spider Climb together to plant my Psicrystal on the external window of the old man's seventh floor apartment, and then explored the surrounding parts of the city. Found a sweet anime, manga, and used book store, and got to listen to a 90's first-generation western Otaku hold forth about the manga and anime he was into, extolling its virtues. Seemed to add up decently well with what I knew about anime that far back. I told him to be on the lookout for Sailor Moon, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Cowboy Bebop. Warned him that Berserk would never seem to finish.

It'd be interesting to see what he made of it when those series came out later. Eventually, the old man came back, and I settled down with an old Macross manga, reading it as I listened in on my Psicrystal's eavesdropping, then following him when he went out. Old man was pretty quiet; I suppose that made a certain degree of sense. This time, I managed to evade the old man's detection as I followed him. He went into the Sears tower. I found an out of the way point, then dropped Invisibility and followed.

He took the staircase down, and once he reached the sub-basement, entered an 'Employees only' door, me following directly behind. Unfortunately for me, there were a pair of guards in the next room, one with glowing eyes. Reacting on a near-instantaneous flicker of understanding, I used Abrupt Jaunt to cross the room the instant I saw the man, ending up beside him, and outside of his direct line of sight. He frowned, then stepped out to the doorway while his partner watched the old man use a hand-print scanner, but didn't stop the old man from entering, or me moving in behind him. There was a larger guard station behind the antechamber, with something like a dozen guards, all wearing business casual or semi-formal wear, though they were lounging around, playing cards, napping, and such-like, and merely glanced at the old man as he passed through.

Beyond, we walked out onto a catwalk, overlooking a massive multi-story room, that seemed to be a combination of research lab and machine shop, with several military and civilian utility vehicles in various states of assembly. The catwalk crossed the length of the room at one end, spurs branching off to offices built into the wall, with windows that overlooked the work area below. One of them was twice the size of the others, and it was the office that the Old man walked into. Taking a paranoia-based precaution, rather than entering the room, I held back and placed my Psicrystal to eavesdrop, whispering a casting of Detect Magic after the door closed.

Yep, Abjuration and Divination magic on the doorway; looks like the boss-man is intelligently cautious/paranoid. Too bad it wouldn't help him here. Concentrating for a moment, I activated Inertial Armor in case of trouble, then a Spider Climb and Chameleon, and hid myself beneath the catwalk to listen in.

"Long Claw and his team are dead," Old man said matter-of-factly.

There was silence for a long moment.

"Did they kill him?" Another voice asked, a sharp, focused voice.

"Not likely," Old man said, "But I am unsure. Marshals showed up to deal with Veil integrity after the fight spilled into the open, and they blocked my scrying. He was unconscious on the floor, bleeding, last I saw."

"Threat assessment?" Sharp voice asked.

"He took out Jang and Jorg without magic, and killed Long Claw with two light magics. Once he had taken the strength of the moon from Long Claw, he ripped Red Tree in half and killed Horn, after Horn drove his ax into his chest. He said he was going to destroy the criminal underworld of magical Chicago. Either send Jarl and all of your hit teams to kill him at once, or prepare to move out of Chicago."

There was another long silence.

"Where is he now?" Sharp voice asked.

"Staying with the doctor. She was bitten by Red Tree."

That was a very very bad thing for them to know. I started dropping every combat buff I had. Force Screen, Thicken Skin.

"I'll send Jarl and four teams tonight, with heavy load." Sharp voice said.

Defensive Precognition, Offensive Prescience.

"I want you to watch, and make sure they both die."

Invisibility. True Strike.

Some sort of intercom was turned on, and Sharp voice spoke. "Jarl, get in here."

Sudden Jaunt.

I was in the office, and I leapt up onto the desk, then slammed my fist down onto the head of the only man in the room that wasn't Old Man, though he was pretty middle-aged himself. Blood flew from his face as I shattered his nose, and the guy was knocked back into his chair, tumbling to the floor. Old man started casting a spell behind me, and I kicked back as my invisibility failed, almost knocking him out of his chair as well, but failing to interrupt his spell. Tough old bastard. He was trying to hit me with Baleful Polymorph again, but I shrugged off the spell, and lay into Sharp Voice man again, dropping down onto him from the desk, pounding another pair of blows into his head, and knocking him senseless.

Behind me, Old Man growled, and cast a spell at me again, another Baleful Polymorph, and I could feel the euphoric energy coursing into me as my Spell Absorption ate the spell. I focused the energy into enhancing my speed, then whipped around and used Sudden Leap to close the distance to Old Man, slamming my feet into his chest, and knocking him into the large office window that overlooked the work space below. Contrary to what you see in movies, he did not crash through, but he did take a lot of hurt from my feet. Growling and spitting a curse at me in some language I didn't recognize, Old Man shimmered and became transparent, then phased through the window.

+13,860 XP. Damn, boss-man with the sharp voice must have been pretty hot stuff, when not caught with his pants down in the middle of his office. I immediately stepped out of the office, and using Spider-climb, moved around beneath the the catwalk, hiding as I began to blitz through the level up process. +1 Intelligence, level of Cerebremancer, level of Swiftblade, picked up Haste and Arcane Sight for spells, Body Adjustment and Energy Burst for Powers, and spent skill points like a madman. Interestingly enough, it only let me designate Haste as a readied third-level spell, retro-active prerequisite meeting for Swiftblade I guess.

Levelling completed, my combat buffs still hot, I added Protection from Arrows to the mix, dropped to the floor of the larger room smoothly, and began beating the shit out of every member of the Syndicate I could get my hands on. Considering the boost to speed that I had acquired from absorbing Baleful Polymorph, there were a lot I could get my hands on. After a couple minutes of mook-pwning, while bullets dinged off my multi-layered magical protection, a man charged into the room with a huge, freaking sword, slashed me across the chest, then reversed the blow, then finished with a thrust. The guy was fast, and not just fast, but he was skilled. He handled his sword like an artist. Plus I wasn't actually able to dodge the third blow, and it got through my Inertial Armor.

Have you ever had someone stick a sword in your gut? It hurts. Like hell. I'm guessing this was Jarl, and he was pissed. In all fairness, I did just beat his boss to death in his own office. I focused my Dodge, and Stance of Clarity, both on sword-man, and then laid into him with everything I had. My fists bounced uselessly off of him, the man didn't even flinch. I danced out of the way of his counterattack, and he snarled at me, again ignoring my attempt at attacking him. He slowed for a moment, then lashed out at me with a single blow, but I ducked out of the way of it, and made a failed attempt to hit him with Sapphire Nightmare Blade.

Then he spat acid at me. I completely evaded the jet of foul black liquid, but the wall behind me was not so lucky, and began to melt under the effects. I responded to his acid blast with something of my own; Energy Burst, blasting a wave of fire across half the lab floor around me, and finally doing some damage to Jarl, though apparently nowhere near enough to even get him to slow down. I had enough power points for 4 more shots of that, and I doubted it would be enough to finish Jarl off. Jarl responded with an Energy Bolt, flavored cold, blasting huge amounts of damage at me; my Spell Absorption ate the blast, washing me with euphoria, and I pumped the energy into restoring my vitality.

I felt a lot better after that; and so decided to try out Stone Bones, just for kicks. Failed, of course. This guy probably had as much, or more, defensive buffing going on as I did. Just to see if I'd have any better luck, I tried another Energy Burst, and it managed to scorch Jarl a bit more, but didn't really do much to actually slow him down. Jarl tried the frost bolt again, and this time I directed the absorbed energy into boosting my strength. That was an addicting. I tried using my newly-enhanced strength to make another stab at pounding through Jarl's defenses, but it was useless. Really wish I had a dispel about now.

Jarl snarled at me, and switched back to trying to sword me, and unfortunately meeting with some success, though nowhere near as painfully for me as last time. Deciding discretion was the better part of valor, I split, ducking out through the convenient spot in the wall where Jarl and I's Psionic blastery-ness had combined to make a new exit. On my way out, Jarl kicked another Frost bolt at me, this time connecting with it. 'Cold' did not even begin to describe the experience. Probably should have used the spell energy for cold resistance instead of strength enhancement. My body began to lock up, muscles cramping, organs freezing, and my thoughts, clouded, becoming muzzy, and I realized this was almost certain to kill me.

Then the rage poured through my blood, and my body spasmed violently against the cold, and I nearly blacked out from the pain. Bones stretched, joints cracked and popped, and I go bigger. Bigger and a hell of a lot madder. Turning around, I screamed in rage and charged Jarl, but he deflected my attack. I Jaunted out of the way of his counter-thrust, which would have taken me through the chest otherwise, deflected his following slash, then kicked down onto his hand as he attempted another thrust, knocking him prone. Growling, I laid into him, penetrating his supernatural armor for the first time with a claw.

In a blinding display of skill, he twisted around from flat on his back, planting a single hand to tumble upright, evading my attempts to knock him back down as he did so. Then laying out another precise series of blows that I was hard-pressed to evade or deflect. He was not quite so lucky, and I managed a slash across his chest, though his armor protected him any serious damage. I was forced to use my last Jaunt of the day to avoid another Energy Bolt. Was he ever going to run out of power points?

Grunting, I bore down on the blood-rage enough to gain some more active control, cast Haste on the defensive, then used Tumble, a move action, and Sudden Leap to get the hell out of Jarl's line of fire, this time successfully making it out through the hole I had been making for earlier. Our earlier energy damage had apparently forced entry into a secure cavernously large corridor earlier, and I tore down it at speed, following a downward slop, then a ninety degree corner to a huge two-story, thirty foot wide blast door. And me all out of Sudden Jaunt to try to break through it with. I moved back to the corner of the passageway and waited for Jarl.

I didn't have to wait long, and I smashed him full in the face as he came running around the corner, managing a good old-fashioned nose-breaking. He was, understandably, pretty pissed about this, and fired another frost bolt at me. Fortunately, he failed to penetrate my Spell Resistance, and I ate the shot, charging my vitality from the energy. Now that I was no longer on deaths door, I was feeling much less desperate, but apparently still very incapable of punching through his armor with any consistency.

As my haste wore off, he stepped up and laid into me with his sword, but my defenses are fully as formidable as his, and his blows deflected off my magical protections. I popped another Haste, and he managed to slip a slash past my defenses while I was distracted, drawing blood, and almost sending me into the blood-haze again.

I finally found a hole in his defenses, and ripped his head off. +15400 XP. I roared in triumph as my second level in twice as many minutes arrived. Closest I'd come to dying yet. The leveling experience was a bit odd, as I buying back another level adjust, then picking up a single level of Swiftblade, and not increasing my actual total level count, just balancing out my gestalt track a bit more. The hit points I gained during the experience were a serious blessing. I still tried out the brand, spanking new Body Adjustment power, restoring a few more hit points for good measure. Leveling quickly completed, I turned my attention to the large security door in front of me, considering. Since I didn't think that the technology to avoid it was common-place, I averted the problem by dragging Jarl's corpse over, and sticking his hand onto the print reader, and just like that, the door opened. Looking around the massive chamber inside, I dragged Jarl's body in, in case I needed to use it in order to get back out, and then had my jaw drop in shock.

There was an honest to goodness Transformer locked in place at the center of the cylindrical chamber's floor. I did not see that coming. Have you seen the recent movies? Things are damn big, or at least this one was. Massive hydraulic metal clamps had it pinned in place, and judging by its blue 'eyes' (or 'optics' as I think they're generally called,) I had its full attention. Even in my large hybrid form, the thing was still half again as tall as me, and I stopped looking in its eyes to look for Decepticon or Autobot insignia. Autobot. Good.

"Hi," I growled, in as friendly a tone as I could manage as a were, "I'm John, who're you?"

It was some time before the 'bot responded. I spent the time climbing up to the catwalk that wrapped around the third floor of the chamber.

"Blaze," He eventually rumbled back.

"I'm here to clean this place out," I said, moving over behind Blaze, "Looks like you could use a hand. If I let you out while you start killing human indiscriminately?"

"No," He practically snarled, "I'll be very discriminate."

"Alright then," I said, and slashed the hydraulic tubing feeding the clamps that held Blaze in place.

Lightning reflexes were all that saved me from serious injury as intense jets of pressurized hydraulic fluid geysered out of the lines, and the thick tubing whipped around wildly with the thrust. The clamps quickly depressurized though, and I leapt down to the chamber floor, and watched as Blaze forced his way free from the weakening clamps, and stepped forward to stare down at me. He was as tall as I had expected, and overall big, metallic armored, and probably hideously strong, but he was not as bulky as I would have expected an Autobot to be.

"Thank you, John," He said, and his optics shifted, focusing and refocusing on me, "I am an Autobot, from the planet Cybertron. What are you, and where are you from?"

"I'm Human," I said, "Or close to it, and I'm from the planet Earth. Technically, I'm a Spellwarped Lycanthrope now, from Earth on a different plane, with a creature type of Aberration/Outsider with a sub-type of Shapechanger, but I was straight Human last month."

A couple moments of silence passed after that.

"Lycanthrope," Blaze said, "Man-wolf?"

"Pretty much," I said, "Come next dawn I should revert to my basic human form. I would be there anyways," I pointed a thumb/claw at Jarl's corpse, "But tweedle-dum there almost killed me, and on comes wolf-man."

"Wolf-man or man-wolf?" Blaze asked with a note of confusion.

"Either works," I said, "The English language tends to be a highly versatile, flexible, and too-often confusing thing."

"So I have learned," Blaze said, "Now, I suspect we should depart before more humans arrive to accost us."

"You're welcome to leave if you wish," I said, "But personally, I intend to clear the rest of the scum out, and take their stuff. I already killed their boss, and probably their top enforcer, and I'd hate to give them time to recover."

Blaze let out a booming, metallic laugh.

"That plan sounds like a lot more fun," He said, "After all, I am an assassin."

"Well then," I said, "Let's go clean up."

And we did.

+1100 XP.

Blaze, it turns out, had picked up an over-sized 4-seater Dune Buggy, something he said was a Baja Buggy, as his alternate form. It was a good thing too, because we picked up a lot of loot, between paperwork, guns, a couple enchanted guns, various other magical artifacts, including a trio of tomes I was itching to take a closer look at, and Mr. Sharp Voice himself, unconscious. Turns out I hadn't quite killed him, though he was damn close to it. He'd make an excellent source of information before I handed him over to the Marshals. I was really looking forward to that part.

We hauled the whole lot off to Lyn's place, making it there shortly before sun-down, which was good, because I wanted to be there when she experienced her first change; she was not going to enjoy that. When I got back, I found that she'd doped herself up on some sort of sedative, set up on an IV, and directions for how I should up the dosage if it looked like she was going to lose it. Clever woman. Fortunately for her, Were-rats don't get any strength bonus out of their alternate forms, just a nice +6 to dex and like +2 to con. I spent the rest of the night manifesting Psionic Identify on 5 of the items, the three books, and two stones I'm sure were Ioun Stones. I'd already figured out that a massively gaudy helmet was a Helm of Brilliance, which was a damn sweet find, even if I'd have to paint the whole thing over to keep it from drawing absurd amounts of attention.

By the time I finished manifesting the power, it was almost dawn, and five hours had passed. I'm really glad that whoever modded these rules made Psionic Identify a bit more reasonable; 24 hours for one object was not something I wanted to try. 'Concentrating' on one power for five hours had left my mind in enough of a fugue state as it was. I'm not entirely sure, because I'm pretty sure I passed out as soon as I finished the power, because I woke up spread out on the couch, in human form, with assorted bandaged and treated wounds. Once again, I was made far more aware than I'd like, that mortal combat with really tough nasty bad men hurt. Especially when you were shifting forms, and losing your constitution bonus at the end of it.

"Lyn?" I managed to croak out after I'd finished cataloging my aches.

Add dried out throat to the list.

"Coming," She called from the kitchen, and then walked in with a quart-sized bottle of water.

She looked pretty good, considering yesterday she'd been stuck in a wheelchair. Then I realized that she was probably running on player-character rules now, and had restored at least double her hit dice in hit points over the last twenty-four hours, and was unlikely to have taken much more than that in the way of damage.

"Drink," she said, plying me with the water, "You look like you lost a lot of blood," Irritation entered her voice for a moment, "again," and then it was gone just as quickly, replaced by simple concern, "So you'll need a lot of re-hydration."

Rather than attempt to disagree, I just slugged the water down in about three rounds, and almost immediately began feeling less sore and crusty. That, I knew, was just the way of the human body, nothing to do with D'n'D rules, your body likes having its water.

"Here," I said, handing her back the now-empty bottle, then sat upright on the couch, pulling the blankets off of me, then very carefully unwinding the bandages as I continued talking, "Watch this."

Once my injuries were clearly visible, I began using Body Adjustment to restore my hit points. It took six applications, and three quarters of my power points for the day to bring me up to just about full, and to the point where massive wounds had shrunk down to a couple deep scratches. Taking a deep breath, I flexed my various muscles, and grunted in satisfaction. It felt good to be fully healed; it had been a while since I'd actually attained such.

"That was impressive," Lyn said honestly, "Why did you want me to see though?"

"Well," I said, unsure whether I should feel guilty or not, "I was hoping to get a bit of a freak out from you again, but I guess you're past that phase."

"John," Lyn said, "When you wake up in the morning to find a Werewolf sleeping on your floor, his fur matted in blood, and a talking car-sized robot in your garage, it does things to your 'freak out' threshold. I'm sure I've got one somewhere still, but it's a long ways off yet."

She smiled with some irony at that, and I found it hard to resist smiling back, so I didn't. Continuing to smile, she sat down next to me on the couch, and wrapped her arm around my shoulders. Lyn is somewhere around average height for an American woman, probably somewhere between 5'5" and 5'7", I'm 6'2". That made it a pretty serious extension for her to get her arm that far round without me slouching, and unsurprisingly, to me, I tensed up under the contact. When I tensed, she turned it into an outright hug.

"You know," she said gently, "Just because you are developing all these powerful abilities, just because you're able to keep winning, doesn't mean that you need to go through all of this without any support. I'm here for you."

My jaw clenched, I hunched forward slightly, and my hands clenched into fists. Dammit, it's rough when people start getting past my defenses.

"You were stabbed through the stomach," I ground out, "Almost had your throat torn out, have been turned into a Were-rat, and just yesterday had a hit ordered on you, just for associating with me. That's what you get for 'being here for me.'"

"I'm here for you anyways," She said, pulling me in to a tighter hug.

Dammit. Defensive reflexes kicked in, and I found myself curling into a fetal ball, failing to fight back tears as Lyn pulled me sideways into her lap. Dammit.

It was a long time before I stopped crying, but Lyn held me the whole time. Eventually, I cried myself out, and just lay there, limp, before eventually finding words.

"Why?" I asked, and her response was prompt.

"Because," She said, voice full of compassion, "Everyone needs to be loved."

I spent another five hours identifying a few more items, sorting by strength of caster level, and between the two batches of identifying, I successfully identified Bracers of Armor +6, an Orb of Storms, a major Cloak of Displacement, a +2 Freezing Burst sniper rifle, Cloak of Charisma +4, an Ioun Stone for +2 int, an Ioun Stone that sustained you without air, and tomes of Int, Con, and Strength +5 each. Damn. For those of you not up on D'n'D lingo, the tomes were some of the most expensive items you could get non-epic, and after reading them eight hours a day for six days each, would permanently boost one of your ability scores by said amount, in this case +5. To put that into proportion, average humans have strength scores of 10 or 11, and the strongest man in the world would be like 20. Thanks to spell-warped, I'm already sporting at least a 14 strength, more likely 15 or 16, this would put me about on par with the strongest man in the world, little more, little less. Not even counting the effect it would have when stacked with my were-form.

Priorities though, I spent the next eight hours reading beginning on the Int tome; higher intelligence, aside from its real-world benefits, would also give me more skill points per level. Something I very muchly want. Between those two tasks, I chatted some with Blaze, discovering he's an engineer turned demolitions expert/assassin by the war, and specializes in dropping an enemy's base on him to take him out. Considering how tough Transformers are, that can be about what it takes to successfully kill one of them. I went looking for Lyn to talk with after I finished reading as well, but she was sleeping, so I rustled up some dinner.

I only cook like half a dozen recipes, but I do them all so often that they're pretty much all permanently ingrained in my memory, which is useful for situations like this. When Lyn woke up and came downstairs, I was just putting sauce and cheese on some little meat-loaves, and I think she was rather shocked to see that on top of being a nigh-unstoppable combat machine, I could also cook. Wait until she tries my pancakes.

We talked a bit over dinner, eating at a card table out in the garage so that Blaze could be part of the conversation, and we mostly ended up talking about music, since it was one of few conversational topics that was fairly universal between us. It was interesting being in a time when Michael Jackson was still black and on top of the pop industry, and eighties rock wasn't quite dead yet. Once we finished eating, and Lyn and I were cleaning up in the kitchen, I asked her, somewhat awkwardly, if she needed someone's shoulder to cry on. She thanked me kindly for the offer, but said she probably wasn't going to break down for a couple more days.

Odd that.

The next day continued with a similar pattern, me identifying another set of the items, and then reading another chunk of the book. The thing was supernaturally pagey, and with small text. Fortunately for my sanity, it read like an engaging and escalating series of intrigue stories, murder mysteries, political intrigue, espionage stories, etc, all set in probably the first millennium AD. It would have gotten repetitive, but somehow each story seemed to be slightly more well written than the last. I identified a +2 Cha Ioun stone, +4 Int and Strength items, as well as a Cloak of Resistance +4, and a Vest of Drazzac, I think it's called. The Vest boosts your spell resistance by five; by the Syndicate's notes, they had no idea what it was, I was very pleased to have it. Damn useful thing to have.

Again, the next day followed the same pattern, and during my time between tasks talking with Lyn, I realized that my level of stress was substantially decreasing. Going three days without someone killing you can do that for you. It was the nineteenth day since I had arrived in this world, and it was both comforting and frightening to have some sort of stable routine. Lyn was in a similar boat, she was going back to work tomorrow, and it was unsettling to her how quickly she'd recovered her health. I identified a Ring of Protection and an Amulet of Natural armor, +2 each, that day, as well as a Lyre of Building, a Horn of Blasting, and a +2 belt of Con.

The fourth day proceeded in a similar manner, until on the evening news I saw that a bakery had been attacked, the owner killed, and his daughter was missing. I doubt I would have recognized it without the mental enhancements I'd undergone over the last three weeks, the place was an absolute disaster, but it was Cait's bakery. Damn. I should have realized that the Knuckles would retaliate. I ran for the garage.

"Blaze!" I shouted, "I need to get downtown, fast, can you give me a ride?"

"How fast?" Blaze asked.

"I need to be there this morning." I said.

Blaze grinned, then twisted around into his transformed state.

Seeing no need to be subtle, I smashed the door open with a flaming fist, and strode into the Knuckles favorite bar.

"I'm here for the Knuckleheads," I said, "Anybody not in their gang get out, there's going to be bloodshed."

Saying something like that while your fist is on fire, gets people's attention. To my surprise, more than half of the bar's patrons flowed out, while the remaining dozen pulled guns. Shotguns and submachine guns mostly, though one had a full-up machine gun.

"This morning," I said, very calmly, "Someone hit a bakery, killed the owner, and took the daughter. One of you will tell me where she is. At that point, I will allow that individual to leave without further harm. Four days ago, I killed Jarl and the head of the Syndicate."

"You killed Trent?" One of the Knuckle toughs said, and I turned the full weight of my gaze on him.

"That was his name?" I said, "He was not enough of a challenge for me to have bothered learning it."

"Fire," The tough ordered harshly, with a voice accustomed to command, and they all opened fire, spraying the bar with lead.

To quote Star Fox I 'did a barrel roll.' Evasion, magical protection, and a rather extreme amount of agility combined, I didn't take so much as a scratch. They didn't even begin to deplete my Protection from Arrows. I retaliated with an Energy Burst, and the entire bar exploded into flame. The Knuckles continued to fire on me in spite of the blaze, and the one with the machine gun actually managed to injure me a little, nicking my chest. Another blast of flame downed all but three of them, who looked to be the toughest customers in the first place, and they all took a moment to drop Force Screen.

I dropped Haste in response. They opened fire again, but utterly failed to injure me in any way. I leapt forward, slamming a pair of fists into the chest of the one with the machine gun, the two flanking him with shotguns stepped back and opened up on me again, their buckshot harmlessly bouncing off the Force barrier around me, while the man with the MG attempted to club me with it. Actually managed to succeed to; tough bastard. Twisting around him, I finished him off with a snap kick, then planted my elbow into his pal's face.

Faces showing desperation now, the two still standing emptied their shotgun magazines into me, with as little effect as before. I had some difficulty penetrating my primary target's defenses, but still managed to break his nose. He manifested Defensive Precognition, and backed off, so I switched my attention to his teammate, who had been busy reloading, and maneuvering so that the burning bar was between me and him. Didn't really help him as I leapt the bar, planting my burning fist in his solar plexus. He stumbled backwards, firing wildly as he attempted to stave me off, as I pounded his defenses to pulp, knocking him unconscious.

I turned to face the other foe, but he had fled. I surveyed the burning bar, seeing that a few others I had thought down were gone, and one body was still breathing. I dragged the two survivors out of the bar as it continued to burn, hurling them into Blaze's back seat, then leaping into the front.

"Did he get them?" I asked.

"Yes," Blaze said, and rapidly took off in pursuit.

+13640 XP. Lot of dead mooks. I tried Assess Opponent on the unconscious shot-gun wielder; 'Tough Fight,' technically he was higher level than me, and he hadn't even been the most dangerous.

It was during the drive to the Knuckles base of operations at the edge of town that I really went to war. Cait's probable abduction brought a few points pounding home to me. First, that I was the only one trying to bring some law and order to Chicago. Second, that there was no law enforcement agency I would be able to remand custody of these thugs to. And third, that my enemies had openly shown they were willing to kill. My hands were trembling with the possibility of what else they were doing to Cait in the meantime.

The little niggling doubts I'd had about whether or not I should be using lethal means shriveled up, and a terrible purpose grew in their place.

"Blaze," I said quietly, "Do you know what rape is?"

"Forced sexual intercourse," He responded in a matter-of-fact, but tentative matter, aware that it was not something to be taken lightly.

"About a week ago," I said, "I saved a girl who was being harassed from a group of thugs. On the news today, a report came in that her father's bakery had been destroyed, he had been killed, and she was missing. She's a young, attractive woman. Odds are very good that they will abuse and rape her. Rape is one of the, if not the, most invasive, destructive things that can be done to a human without outright killing them."

For a long moment, the only sound were those of Blaze's engine and the road.

"What will you do?" Blaze finally asked.

"Destroy the Knuckles, and break Cait free if I at all can. Would you be willing to broadcast a warning into their base for me?"

"Yes," Blaze said after a moment, "What would the message be?"

"Repent or Perish."

+110 XP

The Knuckle HQ wasn't what I expected, it was a mansion. Seemed more appropriate to the Syndicate, or maybe the Cartel, than a street-gang. We entered the grounds via the front gate, after Blaze blasted the front off of it, an alarm began to blare, and men began to pour out of the outbuildings. Blaze transformed a hundred feet short of the mansion itself, hurling me towards the entrance as he did so. I tumbled madly through the air, my game-ingrained skills guiding me as I smashed the door in with my feet, landing in a badass crouch in the mansion's foyer. The foyer was exactly what you'd expect of a fancy-shmancy mansion, two oversized stories tall, marble-floored, elaborate artwork, curved staircases leading up to a large balcony on the second floor. A quartet of guards opened up on me, I dropped a haste and rushed them, knocking them flying with an Energy Burst, and setting the mansion ablaze in the process.

Then a cloaked figure came ripping towards me so fast I could barely see him, leaping down on me from the second floor of the foyer. Twisting around in place, I evaded an overhand smash with one of the two swords he was carrying, which practically exploded when it struck the marble floor, sending chips of stone ricocheting off my Inertial Armor. Backing off slightly, I kicked up Force Screen, immediately aware that this was a powerful opponent.

The man, slightly shorter than me, wearing simple clothes but blatantly powerfully built, grinned ferally at me, and rushed me, drawing his left sword up for... I activated Martial Lore, suspecting a Maneuver from Tome of Battle. Shit. Crap crap crap CRAP. Strike of Perfect Clarity. Ninth level maneuver, this guy was level 17 or higher, not to mention the fact that strike was practically guaranteed to kill me instantly if it hit. It takes a normal strike, and tacks another Hundred damage onto it, which can be multiplied into a critical hit. Short-swords have a good crit range, he probably was packing Improved Critical; a crit would kill me, no questions asked.

I cheated. Sudden Jaunt, completely avoiding the blow, then spat a Swarm of Crystals in his face. Opponents that high level, you don't take chances on them, anything else he was going to make the save on. The swarm didn't even phase him, and that as a high level Warblade he had to have hitpoints out the wazoo, I probably didn't have enough power points to be capable of killing him. He wound up for another attack, leaping directly at me. When I say this guy is fast, I mean he's so fast he blurs, you can't even see him clearly. He slashed down at me with his right sword this time, and I Jaunted again. Failed the Martial Lore to identify what he was doing, but that looked way too much like Feral Death Blow for me to want to be anywhere near it.

Feral Death Blow? Fort save or die, take an extra 20d6 damage if you make the save. Almost a guaranteed kill if I made the save. Before I'd even had the chance to move from where I jaunted to, he was on me again, slamming his left sword through my defenses. Fire, Lightning, freezing Cold, Acid and a Sonic blast coursed into me through his sword, as it tore a trail of pain across the right side of my ribcage, even through my protections.

Tumbling away from him, I activated Defensive Precognition, Dodge, and Stance of Clarity, fought defensiveily, then used Sudden Leap to gain as much clearance from him as I could, jumping a good forty feet, reaching the staircase, then running up it and onto the second floor. He was even faster than me, and only my jump bought me any kind of breathing space at all, but he still managed to take a swing at me, blasting five different kinds of energy and major pain through me all over again.

The red haze swarmed over my vision as I raged up into were mode, barely restraining myself from attacking in thoughtless rage, instead continuing to flee deeper into the mansion as I activated Thicken Skin, rounding out my full set of defensive powers. Without Sudden Leap to give me a speed edge, I caught him activating Girrallon Windmill Flesh Rip. Yes, that maneuver is every bit as nasty as it sounds, and I was forced to spend another Jaunt to keep out of reach of his blades. His smile intensified as I lashed out at him with my hand-claws, and completely failed to hit anything, and he activated Dancing Mongoose.

I now had every available defensive measure at my disposal raised; I was forced to Jaunt again as he windmilled into me with a blinding series of attacks. I tried to use Sapphire Nightmare Blade on him; both the maneuver and the attack failed, but this time I didn't feel it was some sort of bad-luck. Just being completely outclassed. I had two Jaunts left, I'd hurt him once, and even in my were form, I was one or two mundane blows from death, much less other things he could pull out on me. Like casting Lightning Ring. A cascading ring of electrical energy wrapped itself around him, and he directed a pair of discharges at me, then leapt directly over me, and I used another Jaunt to get my head out of the path of his sword. One of the energy bolts still caught me, and the horrid stench of burnt hair rolled off my fur as it seared my flesh.

I beat off the rage that roared in my blood, refreshed my Haste, and did the only thing that occurred to me as helpful at this point; cast Magic Missile. It missed. Magic Missile never misses, save for one factor. This guy was a Swiftblade, minimum fifth level, more likely nine or ten, it would explain the blinding speed, and my continued inability to pin a blow on him. While I was working through the implications of this, he attacked me twice, and I actually managed to avoid one of his blows for a change.

He followed up with Feral Death Blow, but I managed to avoid that too. Damn, maybe I did stand a chance after all. I let him have another Swarm of Crystals, actually drawing a little of his blood, and continued my retreat through the mansion, running up a flight of stairs. He held even with me, and I put my recently acquired level of Swordsage to use, and Zephyr Danced out of the way of his first attack, while my various protections deflected the rest of his assault. For lack of something else with any chance of succeeding, I cast Bladebane on my fists, buffing my attack and damage capabilities.

He pulled Strike of Perfect Clarity again, forcing me to spend my last Jaunt. I forwent the use of Tumble this time, and ran like hell, winding up the final flight of stair and bursting out onto the roof of the mansion, casting True Strike on the run. All told, my internal time sense said I'd spent barely a minute inside the mansion, and I was already almost completely out of options. Boss man burst out onto the roof behind me, leaping at my face in another attempt at Feral Death Blow, an insane grin spread across his face, but I ducked out of the way, twisting to avoid another pair of bolts off his Lightning Ring

Emerald Razor. All I had to do was touch him, and I stacked Burning Blade on top of it just for more damage potential. For the first time in the fight, I managed to hit the bastard. It just seemed to excite him more, and he moved into a blistering array of strikes, but I actually managed to evade or deflect them all, including another pair of lightning bolts, as I dropped another True Strike, still falling back before his assault as I retreated across the roof. I attacked again, and managed to hit even without the help of Emerald Razor.

I began to get the distinct impression that this man, no doubt the head of the Knuckles (I sure hope they're not holding someone even more powerful in reserve), was the sort who thrived on a real challenge. He activated Windmill Flesh Rip again, and came at me like a blender. His first two blows knocked me off balance, and the third came whistling in towards my throat.

A massive metallic hand blocked the blow, interposing itself between me and my foe for a moment. Then Blaze's cannon, held in his other hand went off, and the roof exploded in front of me. I lunged away from the stone and wood shrapnel, avoiding most, my protections absorbing the rest. Knuckle avoided the brunt of the blast, even though the cannon was pointed right at him, but took some damage. Looks like whatever else he has in his build, he isn't packing Evasion. Too bad I'm not packing any AOE spells, and I don't have enough power-points for much more. I wondered how Evasion would help me in that kind of firestorm.

I slipped around Blaze's fist as the 'Bot climbed the rest of the way onto the roof, and took advantage of Spring Attack to take a swipe at Knuckle while avoiding any immediate retaliation, managing to tear another strip out of his hide, then tucking myself around behind Blaze's flank, cast Haste again. I didn't see what happened next, but it sounded like someone had put a steel rod on a blender. All I know for sure is that apparently Knuckle had decided to come through Blaze's leg to get at me, tearing the limb to scrap in the process. I fired off my last, under-powered Swarm of Crystals, and fell back.

Then Blaze pulled out a second gun, and, standing on one foot, shot the hell out of Knuckle. Knuckle did a hell of a job avoiding the worst of the blasts, but he was directly in front of Blaze's cannons, and there was simply too much Shrapnel flying around for him to avoid all of it. I was glad I was a good eighty feet away. Another unfortunate thing for the Knuckle, was that Blaze had completely destroyed the roof between himself and Knuckle, forcing the blade-blender to put some distance between the two of them. Snarling through his blood-streaked face, Knuckle directed a pair of lightning bolts at me, then made a supernatural leap at Blaze, smashing his sword directly into the Autobot's head, and stunning the Autobot.

I easily evaded the lightning blasts, and gritting my teeth, cast True Strike again as I ran towards Blaze, leaping across the hole in the roof, which was now venting thick columns of smoke, attempting to distract Knuckle from the damaged and vulnerable Autobot. Knuckle cast Haste, and then turned to lay into me with everything at his disposal. I managed to evade the whirlwind of blows, even if the Strike of Perfect Clarity that he ended with passed within a centimeter of my jugular vein. Unfortunately, my focus on defense made it so that even with True Strike on my side, I still couldn't hit him.

Seeing Blaze begin to bring his cannons to bear on Knuckle though, I realized it probably wouldn't be neccessary.

"FIRE!" I screamed, the first time any of the combatants had addressed each other since the beginning of the fight, and Blaze did.

The roof exploded around me and Knuckle as Blaze loosed hell on the already damaged surface, and I lost sight of Knuckle as I obeyed my reflexes screaming instructions to jump, duck, twist, bounce, and spin myself about like a demented acrobat. I got to find out just how well my Evasion did stack up, and it did so perfectly. Once Blaze finally let up on his triggers, the only sound remaining was my own breathing, and the crackle of flames on the roof around and below us.

Once the smoke cleared, I found the pieces of the leader of the Knuckles. I won't go into detail, but there were at least three of them. +21780 XP. Bastard was worth 20K even splitting the experience with Blaze, though I don't know if he gained anything from it. I cast Detect Magic and efficiently stripped his belt, a ring, his cloak, and the pair of short swords he'd been tearing the hell out of us with. They were the only things on him that registered as magical. Then I smashed what was left of his face in, but managed to resist the urge to eat him I was getting from my Were side.

"How you doing?" I asked Blaze as I worked.

"I'll live," He grumbled, "Tough bastard, wasn't he?"

"Yeah," I said, "A lot tougher than the head of the Syndicate, or their Champion for that matter. How'd they manage to capture you anyways?"

"Decepticons helped," He growled as he began picking up the pieces that the Knuckle had carved off of his leg, "This is going to take me a good quarter hour to jury rig well enough to leave."

"That's fine," I said, "I need to go look for Cait and any survivors anyways."

Blazer laughed, a sharp short sound.

"Don't worry about survivors," He said, "They broke and ran after I killed the first thirty and blew up their RPG's."

I nodded, then walked over to the hole in the roof, and dropped down. I hadn't seen through the smoke, but it turns out Blaze had blasted through two floors of the mansion in his mad barrage, and I almost took the fall poorly, but grabbed hold of the edge of the hole in the second floor on the way down and checked my fall. Once I was back on the ground floor, I used scent to track for females in the building, and it didn't take long to find the bedroom where they'd been keeping Cait.

As soon as I opened the door, I could smell fear, blood, and sexual juices. The odor brought the mad wolf inside raging forward, and I had crossed the room in a blur before I realized consciously that I was moving, and I almost took a bite out of Cait, but the sight of the blood mess on the bed brought a wave of horror forth in me that overwhelmed the blood-lust. Cait was tied spread-eagle to the bed, was wearing the rags of a blouse and skirt which no longer did anything to preserve her modesty, and there were bruises over her face and chest.

As well as blood and other fluids pooled between her thighs. I screamed in rage and frustration, and the girl flinched as terrified eyes stared up at me. I forced myself to an appearance of calm, and used my claws to sever the ties holding her.

"Hi," I said as I worked, "I'm John, the guy who saved you at your father's store last week. I'm sorry I'm late."

She just looked at me, terrified. I glanced down at myself, and realized that I was covered blood, and lots of it. It was almost all my own, and I had the wounds to match. Between the blood and my frankly feral form, that on top of what had happened to her today, I guess it wasn't really surprising that she was too terrified to speak. Closing my eyes for a moment, I came to the realization that Werwolves can cry. Gritting my teeth against the rising rage, pain, and frustration within me as I opened my eyes, I gently reached out to the girl, who scuttled back across the king size bed.

"I'm sorry," I said again, and my voice was thick with emotion, even through my distorted form, "I came as soon as I found out your father's place had been hit, I'm sorry I didn't come in time to stop..." I looked down at the congealing blood and sexual fluid on part of the blanket, "That."

"Are you really John?" She whispered, as though afraid to be heard.

"Yes," I said in a quiet rumble, and extended a claw to cut out a half-circle from the blanket that included the bloody spot.

I realized with some surprise at that point, that I had not really been tempted to ogle the first adult human female I'd ever seen naked in person. I guess the shear amount of emotion involved in the situation had shut down my libido. The possibility occurred to me that Weres didn't find human females attractive, but I really doubted that, as I still had very human-shaped parts. Forcing my thoughts back to the present, I flipped the rest of the blanket up over Cait's abused body before temptation could become a real issue.

"Wrap that around yourself," I said as gently as my muzzle let me, "I'll carry you out."

She slowly began doing so, and it hurt me to see her wincing as she moved; she probably had deep tissue bruising. It took her a good half minute to wrap the blanket tightly around herself, and work up the courage to speak again.

"What about the Knuckles?" She asked, fear barely suppressed in her voice.

"Dead or fled," I said harshly, "Blaze drove most of them off while I fought their leader, "Then he helped me finish the bastard off."

Cait nodded slightly, and I could tell she was trying to reassure herself. With my body-language as non-threatening as I could manage, I reached out and carefully picked her up, lifting her into a bridal-style carry.

"What now?" She asked as I walked back to the foyer, some strength returning to her voice.

"I'll take you to Lyn Gray's house," I said, "She's a doctor."

"What about the Police?"

"Damn magical police won't mess with Chicago," I said, "It was too heavily under the control of criminal elements for them to take on."

"Was?"

"Five days ago I killed the head of the Trent Syndicate," I said, "As well as their top enforcer, and a lot of their rank and file. Today Blaze and I probably took out half of the Knuckle gang, and killed their leader. All that leaves is the Gray Cartel. Once Blaze finishes repairing himself, we'll go clean them up too."

"Repairing himself?" Cait asked, starting to sound more like a normal human being, not to mention a highly inquisitive one.

"Blaze is a robotic being," I said, "You'll see."

We stepped outside, and she did. I expected a bit of a freak out, but I guess by that point, she was either so far into shock, or so far past the 'weirded out' threshold, it wasn't really surprising. Blaze managed to transform into a banged-up buggy, and after loading a small army's worth of weapons and ammunition into the back seat and activating his hologram of a normal human driver, we headed back to Lyn's place.

Lyn wanted to work me over/fuss over me when I arrived, but I told her I would be fully healed after a good night's rest and change, and that Cait needed the attention of a female doctor. Lyn's smart, she picked up on what I was implying immediately, and had me put the young woman on her own bed; I left before she could kick me out. I more or less went and collapsed after that, and when I woke up the next morning in human form, my body was covered with ill-fitting bandages. I also felt like hell, but after draining all my power points into Body Adjustment, I was close to fully healed. Guess I overestimated my healing capacities a bit.

I spent the morning around the house, cooking breakfast for the ladies and myself; Lyn ate with Cait in her room, I didn't even bother asking if I could join them, figuring it would be good for Cait to have some alone time. After that I took a shower, and got a good look at the scar collection I was developing. It was pretty extensive, which wasn't really surprising considering the number of times I'd been stuck with swords, or been shot, over the last three weeks; pretty much everything but my head had picked up something, though my legs only had the faint aftermath from a couple nicks and light gashes. The mottling of my skin that Spellwarped had brought on had faded for the most part, now it mostly just looked like I had an extremely irregular suntan.

At around ten, someone knocked on the door, and since Lyn had left for work, I answered it. A man in a business suit holding a letter was on the other side of the door, and he looked somewhat nervous.

"This is the residence of Lynette Gray?" He asked.

"Yes," I answered, sizing the man up and coming to the conclusion he was largely irrelevant as a potential threat.

"Your name is John?" he asked, and suppressing the visible signs of manifestation, I raised Force Screen at that comment.

"Yes," I replied in a more guarded tone.

"Then this is for you," He said, and handed me the letter, then left.

I opened the letter; it was pretty simple.

To John.

I light of your recent activities and ultimatums, the Gray Cartel has left Chicago.

-George Gray, Cartel Head.

Well. Saved me another near-death experience, I guess. I'd hate to see what the law of narrative causality would throw me for a boss after the Knuckle's leader. Would it jump straight to epic? I was not ready for that yet. Well, I could probably take an epic Fighter, but that's not exactly hard. Fighters suck.

I spent the rest of the day continuing to read the Intelligence tome, and was impressed by the sheer quality of writing the book was beginning to display. The material I was getting through now was comparable in quality to Dune. When Lyn got home from work, she was pretty run-down, I guess she didn't get a whole lot of sleep the night before, and was happy that I'd already cooked, even if it was just spaghetti. She ate with me, but then took a plate for Cait into her room, and I didn't see her for the rest of the night.

The next day I wasn't up early enough to cook breakfast before Lyn left, and I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon finishing the tome, then leveled up. I broke at around noon to eat lunch, and checked to see if Cait wanted anything, but she didn't answer when I knocked on Lyn's door, and the door was locked, so I assumed she was not interested. I picked up another level of Cerebremancer, and my fourth level of Swiftblade. Dispel Psionics, Body Purification (restores ability damage), Improved Invisibility, and Polymorph, as well as a move speed bonus and adding my caster modifier to initiative roles from Swiftblade, and upping my skills. I started taking ranks in perform dance, so I could get into Shadowdancer.

After that, I spent four hours using Identify on the Knuckle leader's equipment; Cloak of Resistance +5, Ring of Protection +3, the swords were +1 Shadow Hand, Flaming, Freezing, Shocking, Thundering, Acidic, and then there was the Belt of Magnificience. Belt of Magnificience is without question, the most hard-core awesome single stat-boosting item in non-epic; one item that boosts all your ability scores by +6. I optimized my equipment, then whipped up some dinner for when Lyn got home, finishing about five minutes after she got in.

That night, for the first time, Cait came out and joined us for dinner, though she didn't say anything. We ate in the garage, with Blaze, who was mostly finished with his repairs now, and had apparently absorbed Lyn's snow-blower, and quite a few of the gun's we'd captured to replace his lost and damaged mass. I told Lyn I'd go out with him to get a replacement; Lyn said that we should hold off on that, it might not be necessary.

I spent the next week scouring the town for remnants of the Knuckles or the Syndicate, or any sign of the Gray Cartel, and reading the tome for Constitution. It seemed like they'd all fled. That was a hell of an ego boost, knowing that I'd almost single-handedly broken and/or driven out three major criminal cartels. On the other hand, the Con tome was nowhere near as engaging as the Int one had been, I was almost afraid of what the strength one would be like. During the seventh day of that week, I spent all 24 hours of it binding my Item Familiar to a special purpose, upholding Justice and Mercy, and granting it the special ability of upping practically everything I did by a +2 luck bonus. Doing this woke in me a very strange appetite, and I ended up eating eighty grand in cash, or more accurately stuffing it into the roof of my mouth where the brace absorbed it. Seriously weird experience.

Over the next three weeks, I practiced some old-fashioned vigilante justice on the mundane criminal underworld of Chicago, this time fortunately having the option of dropping off captured thugs at the local police stations. By this point my static armor class was somewhere in the thirties, without buffs, so the thugs didn't really stand much of a chance. During those three weeks Cait healed up, and began to work around the house, cooking, cleaning, etc, though she would not leave it, not even just out into the front yard. If Blaze, Lyn, and I all were gone at the same time for whatever reason, we'd get back to find Cait trembling with fear, still trying to go about her self-appointed tasks.

I made a point not to touch her, or move within a few feet of her unless she clearly invited me to. She would occasionally hand things to me, but never initiated outright physical contact. She didn't really speak much either. I was worried for her, but for all my experience with human psych, this is one thing I really had no experience with, and did not know how to handle.

In spite of all of that, however, I don't know how to adequately describe the sheer thrill of those few weeks. Through various means, my mind and body had been multiplied in capacity, I could run at speeds only Olympic sprinters could come close to matching, and what was more, I could keep it up for far longer than they could hope to. I could jump forty feet straight, and ten feet vertical; my reading comprehension and capacity to absorb languages was nearly obscene, I was easily recalling Spanish, Arabic, and French that I had not studied in years, and gaining a mastery of the languages I'd never had in the first place.

At the end of that month, however, the Marshals came calling. During the middle of the day, when Lyn was out at work, there was a knock at the door, and when I answered it, James Conner was on the other side.

"Hello Mister Conner," I said pleasantly, with a somewhat manic grin, "What are you here for?"

"To place you under arrest, of course," He said, arrogant smirk firmly in place, "Did you think you'd get away with resisting arrest and assaulting an officer of the law, did you?"

I looked around outside, but didn't see anything. My nose, enhanced by my acquired nature as a were, smelled five distinct other scents.

"That would require me to have done so," I said calmly, "As I said last time we spoke, you are outside of your jurisdiction."

Conner smirked again.

"Whose Jurisdiction would you say this is then?"

"Right now," I replied, "Mine. I've been policing the area for the last fifty days. It only took me the first three weeks to clear the primary criminal organizations out."

"Right," Conner snorted, rolling his eyes, "Regardless, this time I came with back up. Are you going to come quietly, or are we going to have to kick your ass."

My grin turned positively feral.

"Are you asking me if I'm resisting arrest?" I asked.

"Yes," he said, his grin just as fierce as mine.

"Yes," I said, "I'm resisting your unlawful attempt to arrest me. Continue to try to exert force here, and I will place you under arrest."

"Unlawful," He said, affecting shock and dismay, "But I have here," He pulled a slip of leathery paper out of his suit-jacket, "A warrant for your arrest endorsed by the head of the International Confederation of Wizards himself."

My eyes narrowed as I stared at the indicated piece of paper. I, of course, completely lacked the experience to know if it was the real thing or not, but the name on the piece of paper did.

"So," I growled, "He's here. I will definitely be resisting arrest. I mean to have words with him, and I won't be doing it from the inside of a pair of handcuffs."

"I was hoping you'd say that," Conner said fiercely, then raised his right hand and clenched it into a fist.

You'd think the black-painted helmet, badass longcloak, and pair of swords I was wearing would have clued them into the fact that picking a fight with me was not a good idea, but apparently they missed out on that part. Oh well.

Six swarms of crystals ripped out to pepper my body and the house around me, tearing into my flesh and driving me instantly into the blood-rage. Screaming in rage, I just for a moment, lost control. I lashed out at two of my now, revealed assailants with my newly-formed claws, and stepped up to Connor, wrapping my jaws around him. Conner's comrades switched tactics, laying more precise fire on me, specifically an array of Energy Bolts, Cold, but my Spell Absorption ate them all, and blazing euphoria surged through my veins, snapping me out of the blind blood-rage. I dumped the energy into health, cold resistance, and strength enhancement.

Conner stepped back and added his own Crystal Swarm to my list of maladies, but the damage was nothing to what I had already endured from his comrades. Dropping haste, I lashed out, seeking to incapacitate my foes, a swift Flurry of blows dropping two of the already-injured, and one of the injured, Psions into unconsciousness. Conner and the two survivors hit me with Swarm of Crystals again, but it was not enough to stop me, and I dropped the other two Psions, leaving just Conner.

By this point, the man was just staring at me in shock as I turned to face him, blood running down my muzzle. He made no further move to attack, either him realizing pissing me off would just get him killed, or too shocked to care.

"What the hell are you"?" He demanded, "That would have put down a war troll."

"I'm someone with purpose," I replied, ripping a crystal shard out of my chest as I activated Body Adjustment, "A purpose larger than myself. You came here for petty revenge because I stepped on your damn ego, and managed to bamboozle your co-workers into helping you. You're damn lucky I have so much restraint, or you'd all be meat. If you're still a marshal after this mess is over, I highly recommend you take a long hard think about why you are a marshal."

I smacked him over the head, and he went out. +4290 XP. Not bad for a bunch of mooks, though they were clever mooks, and I let them set me up to be ambushed. Turning away from the unconscious bodies, I found Cait staring at me intently.

"Are you leaving?" She asked, her tone strong and forceful for the first time since...

I looked away, as a tinge of guilt washed across my conscience.

To my complete shock, she reached up and grabbed my head by the muzzle, and pulled it down to face her directly. It would have been absurdly easy for me to resist, but I didn't.

"You're taking me with you," She said forcefully.

"Did you not see what just happened?" I asked incredulously, "I quite possibly just made enemies out of the magical equivalent of the U.N. I am not safe company, and that's not even getting into what happens at the full moon."

"You," She said dangerously, and tried to pull my head further down so she could glare at me more effectively, and I almost lost control as the scent of human flesh came so close to me, "Are the only place I have felt safe since the Knuckles started blackmailing my father when I was fourteen years old. I get that you turn into a half-feral creature sometimes. I get that powerful people are out to kill you. It's still safer around you than away from you."

"You have no idea how fragile you are," I replied, and she began lowering her hands from my snout, "You're-"

I was cut off by her jamming her arm into my jaws, deliberately raking it across my teeth and drawing blood. Not clamping my jaw down on that bleeding limb was one of the hardest things I'd ever done.

"That should take care of most of your objections," she said calmly, pulling her bleeding arm out of my jaw, "And point out how ridiculously paranoid you are about losing control. I know that blood and human flesh are the most tempting things while you're in that form, and all you did was lock up for a second when both were in your mouth. I am coming with you."

Turning my face away from her so that she would not bear the full brunt of my snarl, I shoved her into the house, slammed the door shut, cast Invisibility and called for Blaze.

It's a lot easier to cross a thousand miles of interstate when you're riding in a sentient car that can break three hundred miles per hour, and handle safely at those speeds. I had a point I wanted to make to the head of these Marshal Magi, and I think my ferocious enthusiasm had infected Blaze. When we reached the rather out-of-the-way location that the Marshal Magi had their headquarters at, Blaze simply drove directly into the lobby, smashing through the glass doors, and ejected all his passengers. I landed on my feet, the unconscious marshals did not.

"We're here to talk with whoever is in charge," I growled out, "In the meantime, no-one gets within twenty feet.

"Who are you?" One of the lobby's occupants shouted, as swarms of men with guns and magical-looking implements formed a broad firing line around Blaze and I.

"I'm John," I said, "The guy who cleaned out Chicago last month," I thumbed towards Blaze, "He helped."

Once I identified Blaze as a 'he' rather than a 'it', he had the lion's share of the marshal's attention. Considering the fact that I smelled silver, which probably was in bullet form, they likely considered him to be by far the larger threat. In all fairness, he probably was.

"What is he?" Demanded the same man.

"I"Blaze said with some edge to his deep, metallic voice, "Am an Autonomous Robotic Organism, I am not a native of your world. I am perfectly capable of speaking for myself."

For a while no words crossed the gap, though my sharp hearing picked up word moving through the Marshal's that they were to wait for 'the boss' to come down and handle things. That suited me just fine. While I waited, I sized up the various marshals, and was somewhat impressed. I'm all of level ten now, and half of them were registering as within a few levels of me. A couple of particularly grizzled looking older ones registered as higher level than me, though I doubt they had the equipment or absurd build I did. Technically, I didn't even know if they were following the same rules as me, or just something similar enough that they were somewhat compatible.

An older man with an unmistakable air of command walked out into the lobby and faced Blaze and I with a measuring gaze. My own measuring gaze registered him as at least four levels up on me; reason said I was unsure whether I wanted to mess with him or not. Passion demanded it.

"What the hell,"I screamed at the man, and reached my clawed hand down into the pile of unconscious men at my feet, "Is this!"

I lifted up the unconscious form of Conner and shook him for emphasis.

"That looks like one of my marshals," The head marshal said evenly.

"Really," I said with harsh sarcasm, "Because it looks to me like a self-righteous, egotistical bastard, willing to kill to assuage his own ego, masquerading as an officer of the law."

I hurled the man into the crowd of marshals surrounding Blaze and I.

"You're damn lucky," I growled, "That I believe in justice and mercy, otherwise I'd be mailing you a box full of corpses. Your subordinates injured me seriously before I brought them down, but only because I made the mistake of assuming they would not immediately resort to lethal measures."

I paused, glaring at the man. He simply gazed coolly back at me, waiting for me to continue.

"Blaze and I have cleared out the big three criminal organizations in Chicago," I said forcefully, "Conner said that you lot didn't have the manpower to confront them directly, so I did it for you. I'm leaving the country, and I expect you idiots to take care of Chicago now. I'll be back in a year for a performance review. And if you, or any of your subordinates attack me again, I will not hesitate to respond in lethal force. Keep that in mind."

There was silence for a long moment, then Blaze spoke up.

"What he said," Then twisted around, transforming back into his vehicular form. I jumped in, and we sped away.

+550 XP.

When Blaze and I got back to Lyn's house late the next morning (Blaze had kept to the speed limit this time), Lyn's car was still in the garage, to my considerable surprise. When I walked into the house proper, I found Cait and Lyn rather efficiently packing boxes.

"What's going on?" I asked, confused.

"We're leaving, obviously," Cait said, and though the obvious meaning behind her words sparked anger and frustration within me, the happy and light-hearted tone with which she said them inspired a much stronger feeling of relief within me.

Looking around at the large supply of packing boxes and peanuts, I looked directly at Lyn.

"You've been planning this for a long time, haven't you?" I asked.

"Yes," She said, nodding firmly, "It wasn't hard to tell you would feel the need to move on before long, and you need someone to look after you."

I stood there, staring at the pair of women packing up Lyn's household for several long moments. They occasionally looked at me, but for the most part let their actions speak for themselves. I'm not used to depending on people, especially them volunteering to make such a commitment on my behalf. I was more than a little choked up about the whole thing. Eventually, I caved.

"Alright then," I finally said, my voice husky with emotion I was desperately trying to not show, "I'll help."

And I began helping them pack.

Chicago Arc completed, +11,000 XP

52 days.