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13 days ago
Current Graduation has happened - I am no longer a teacher. Won't have to work 12 hour days + weekends anymore, so maybe I'll actually have enough time for hobbies.
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3 mos ago
I sound like a broken record, but only 2 months left till I'm done teaching. Not sure what's next, but it feels like anything would pay more and be less stressful lol
5 likes
6 mos ago
Only 6 more months till the school years over. If I renew my contract, someone kill me lmao.
3 likes
1 yr ago
Teacher update: I feel like a villain from a cartoon. The laughter of teenagers gives me migraines, and I no longer feel guilt when giving bad grades to kids that sleep through my lessons.
10 likes
1 yr ago
First day as a Biology Teacher tomorrow - hopefully the kids will be able to read my handwriting.
10 likes

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As Ethan climbed higher and higher in the fire escape, the areas where the stairwell was compromised became more apparent by the second. Small flakes of silver, almost liquid metal were splattered across the railing and stairs, becoming more prominent and difficult to avoid with each story he climbed. Ethan wasn't a mover in a direct sense, but he knew how to place his body in just the right positions to avoid touching the liquid. Thankfully the individual puddles didn't seem to expand past a few feed in diameter, but considering the size of the fire escape, that didn't exactly leave much room to maneuver.

Too much spread, doesn't make sense with previous reports. Should take at least an hour for it to get this far down if it started at the top floor. Ironside located somewhere other than top floor? Unlikely. Climbing the elevator shaft is impossible. Main stairwell also likely shut down with liquid metal. Elevator shaft too dangerous to climb, can fall to death or be destroyed by a Sundown gravity well. Spread is far too fast paced, indicates some preparation or outside assistance. Possible trump support? Consider-

Ethan cupped his head in one hand, pausing at a corner as he wrestled with the constant flow of information. He had never been 'on the field' with his power before, and it seemed to kick into overdrive with the stress and conflict of the situation, overfeeding him with information that was unnecessary. Every glance around him told him the errors in architecture, the points that were coated in the liquid metal stood out like neon lights to his vision, making them almost impossible to ignore. The parts where the metal soaked into the stairwell, melding with supports and bolts, was especially concerning.

The short amount of reading Ethan did on the ride over here said that Ironside took quite some time to fully contaminate an area - he had only been here a dozen or two minutes, and had already filled several floors of this massive building with his metal. Ethan was too distracted to think on it deeply, constantly looking up to make sure Champion wasn't running down the stairs to drop kick his head off, or Ironside wasn't about to teleport behind him and push him over the railing. But he had a few guesses about what was happening. The most likely situation was that Blackburn arrived some time ago, subtly infested the area, and then launched the heist... but that wouldn't explain why they haven't done that in all their previous jobs.

Could also be any other number of reasons - a trump they recently hired for this gig is empowering him, maybe they commissioned some kind of power enhancer from Chemtrail. Hell, Ironside might have just second triggered and gotten a faster ramp up period out of it.

Doesn't matter. Not enough information to guess on the why - just need to focus on the facts right now. Ethan tapped the side of his helmet, talking over the channel as continued walking around each puddle in his ascent.

"Lot more metal here than I expected - I'm thinking something is boosting Ironside up more than usual. Maybe a trump, tinker tech enhancements or something. Hard to narrow it down with my power being distracted and pointing out every puddle to me. Just be careful if you guys see him, and watch where you step. If Tandem is free, covering the metal in containment foam would be smart."

Ethan didn't know if Ironside had some kind of Thinker perception towards his puddles, but it would make sense - a teleporter usually has some indication of where they are teleporting too, so having awareness around his 'waypoints' would make sense. Ethan was just kind of hoping it relied on touching the puddles, rather than just being around it.

Ethan was making surprising progress - already about halfway up the building, and not a parahuman in sight. A crashing sound somewhere below made Ethan pause, but a few questions towards his power helped him narrow it down to either being Richter, Shattercrash, or both. Ethan stayed where he was for a second, catching his breath as he ran through the worst case scenarios.

Kintsugi was most likely with the hostages since he was a liability in a direct fight, and his minions were probably very capable of keeping the hostages in check. At worst, a construct or two might come down the stair well, and considering the usual intelligence of Master minions, they would probably be easy to evade, even with the tight quarters.

Ironside was likely fighting down below with Shattercrash or Richter, since he was probably the only member of Blackburn that could tank a direct hit from either of them. His power allowed him to teleport anywhere he pleased though, so he could appear behind Ethan the second he let his guard down.

Champion was unaccounted for, but would perform very well in the narrow fire escape. She could definitely beat Ethan in a prolonged fight, but her power set was at least something he could try to fight against. Feint and bait, rely on her overconfidence. She'll crush you if she gets the chance, but taking advantage of the environment could let you evade her or knock her down the stair well. Stay at a distance, don't let her touch you, find-

Sundown was the worst outcome - if she launched one of her orbs in here, it would probably destroy the entire fire escape. Nothing to do there, juts run or die. Shoot her with your crossbow before she can attack, throw a knife to distract her and then pepper spray her eyes. She won't attack if she can't see, too much risk-

Ethan kept moving, his movements almost like a dance as he carefully stepped around each puddle, hand only brushing the railing when he needed to make the occasional leap over a larger pool of metal. His hand over over each of his weapons, weighing the options with his power before eventually settling on the pepper spray. It could debilitate anyone except a Kintsugi construct, and he'd be able to drop it and pull out a knife quickly after.



Ethan breathed an anxious sigh as he stepped out of the PRT van, one of the last wards to exit the vehicle. The building in front of him was cordoned off by police cars and officers kneeling around their vehicles, with a few setting up partitions of police tape to keep the especially curious pedestrian or reporter from getting too close to the danger. Ethan looked up at the bank itself, grimacing beneath his mask as he did so. It was a massive 25 story structure, the sides a sheer face of glass and concrete. Despite a significant portion of the building being composed of windows, the foundation and design of the concrete was clearly engineered with stability in mind - a focal point of Bridgewater architecture in a post-Confessor city. There were still weak points in the construction, but nothing that was applicable here, let alone useful.

Three points of exit and entry on the ground floor, no readily accessible rooftop exit. Windows are reinforced, but a strong blow can knock them out of frame - much easier pushing from the inside-out, though this will lead to the hostages falling to their death. Push some of the Blackburn capes out the windows? Two should be able to circumvent this or survive the fall, but the rest are dead from a high enough drop, easy kills. Likely have some parahuman mechanism for escape after they finish the heist - exploitation of Ironsides portals? Flying Kintsugi minions? At least two stairwells in the building, one for daily usage, and a fire escape. The main stairwell likely cordoned off by Blackburn, but fire escape potentially overlooked due to lack of time. Access the fire escape through the back entrance, the code to enter the back is 58-

Ethan grunted a bit under his breath, his glove clicking lightly against his ceramic helmet as he moved to cover his eyes. His power was even more active than usual, flooding him with information. Was it the fact he was finally in a real 'cape situation'? The stress? The proximity to other parahumans?

Didn't matter. He had to work through it, couldn't get lost in the input before he pulled together what he needed. He fished his PRT issued phone out of his pocket, looking over the text messages from hostages, blueprints of the bank, and various other documents that were shared with him by the PRT on the ride over. He did his best to glance over everything he couldn't finish on the ride, allowing his power to fill in the blanks as he read and as Shattercrash began talking to the other Wards.

The elevator system was already taken out? Had to be Ironside or Sun- okay, definitely Sundown. Leaves the stairwells for most of us, fire escape being the safer option. Hostages were probably moved to higher floors to prevent escape, but the question is where... Worry about it later, would take too much time to play 20 question with my power for that answer. Bird boy can maybe fly some of us up- can't support the weight, could maybe haul Tandem or some lighter Wards at best.

Ethan frowned, looking up at the bank once more. Scaling it was out of the question, even with Ethan's ability allowing him to pick out optimal hand points and climbing pathways. It was clear that the stairwell was the only real option for him, as well as most of the other non-movers.

He was about to speak before Shattercrash raced forwards, leaping through one of the shattered windows as a trail of neon pink light trailed behind her. Several tense seconds passed before a crashing sound could be heard from within the bank, Tandem teleporting away an instant later. Ethan snapped back to the reality of the situation, a wave of cold tension washing over him.

Yeah, he could probably die in this situation.

There were experienced capes here, but Ethan sure as hell wasn't one of them. Despite this, he was surprisingly calm about that - a far cry from his panic attack only a dozen or so minutes ago. With his power acting in overdrive like this, he was able to detach himself from the situation, focus his attention elsewhere to distract himself from the danger and the fear.

This was a puzzle, and it had a correct answer. He just had to figure out the pieces and what he had at his disposal, work out a plan that he could focus on. He followed the trail his power laid out for him, speaking out to the other Wards. He fumbled his words for a second, before figuring out how to turn on his earpiece and share his message with anyone who had already left the main group.

"Don't know exact positions, but I'm leaning towards the hostages being pretty high up - Sundown broke the elevator system to limit their escape, and the lack of external fire exits means they can't safely get out from higher floors."

He turned towards Hornet quickly, barely pausing in his rapid fire speech.

"Can you sense the hostages from this range? I can probably narrow their location down while looking over the bank schematics, but that's gonna take some time with all the rooms I'd have to check over - might be quicker for you to pop in and look around first. Just knowing the floor would cut down a lot of time."

Ethan barely slowed enough to allow her to respond before continuing.

"There isn't an entrance on the roof, but I doubt helicopter extraction would be an option anyways. You might be able to break into the higher floors through the windows, Bird boy, but I'd avoid it - might break your neck, the laminated glass is pretty tough. Easier to pop out of frame or slice a hole through than it is to break."

A pause as he unlocked his phone again. Ethan quickly began typing on the phone as he spoke, screen flipping between schematics and the text message he was typing every few seconds.

"There are two stairwells we can use, a main one and a fire exit. Both are probably compromised, but I'm thinking the fire exit might've been overlooked - they only had so much time to lock down the main stairwell and elevator. Probably the safest way up for the non-brutes. Shattercrash and Richter might be able to climb the elevator shaf- Nevermind, stupid idea. Sundown's gravity distortions might still be active in there. I'm headed to an employee entrance near the back if anyone wants to take the fire exit."

Ethan finished typing his message a few seconds after he was done speaking, sending out an updated image of the bank schematics, with the entrances and stairwells highlighted, and some of the unlikely hostage locations (bathrooms, storage closets, etc) already crossed out. He was making his way towards the back entrance of the bank, not bothering to look to see who was following him. He was too busy looking over the building more, checking the officers on sight, noticing the tarnished remnants of metal and asphalt that littered the ground - didn't even need his power to tell him those were some of Kintsugi's minions.

Vault and high security safety deposit boxes located in a basement level, but unlikely to be the primary target. Mercenary groups like Blackburn most likely going after documents and deeds on higher floors. Kintsugi likely to be guarding the hostages, his minion creation keeping larger groups in check more easily. Rely on stealth and assassination to take down quickly, minions should be easier to handle without coordination from a Master. Sundown probably keeping an eye over the main stairwell and elevator shaft, maybe support from Champion? Avoid confrontation. Ironsides has almost certainly diffused teleportation waypoints throughout the building, but unlikely to have gotten to all parts yet. Identify metal growths in environment, request Tandem cover them in containment foam or trap with explosives. Maintain stealth as long as possible, rely on Shattercrash to cause as much havoc as possible to pose as a distract-

Ethan got to the back entrance, barely slowing as he hammered a code into the keypad next to the steel door. Against most of the capes in Blackburn, Ethan was cannon fodder. This was his first time in costume, all his combat experience coming from schoolyard brawls and practice in the PRT training room. In every way imaginable, he should not be ready for this - he thought as much less than 15 minutes ago, when he had calmed himself by telling himself that he probably wouldn't even enter the building, just go over schematics and plans.

Now he was walking into danger of his own volition. He had no idea why he was so calm as he snuck towards the fire exit stairwell, avoiding the shattered remnants of the lobby. His power needed more input to help him out here, input he couldn't get from outside the building. Or at least, not fast enough to matter. Not for the hostages.

Was that it? His power needed more information to work off of, so he was risking his fucking life to get it? What stupid horseshit was that-

Shallow and rapid breathing, must relax to conserve stamina and avoid hyperventilation. Adjust your gait, ease into balls of feet for softer foot falls. Avoid shattered glass on ground, noise may attract attention.

Ethan drew his knife, measuring his breathing carefully as he continued to climb. He made a stupid mistake - he relied on his power to ease him into this mission, to keep him calm and avoid letting his fear and anxiety get ahead of him. And it, for some reason, didn't tell him how stupid of an idea it was to enter here.

Ethan paused as he rounded the stairwell, reaching the second floor. No point regretting it and thinking logically now. His power got him into this mess, now he just had to hope it could bail him out too.

He continued making is way up the stairs.
1. I'm fine with any age, though the description of the academy's classes being high-school level makes me lean towards 16-18. Maybe we can change it to university-level courses?

2. I think the Fate Core ttrpg system has a very good mix of narrative and mechanics-based combat. Characters have inherent advantages over others in different tasks, either from skills or their aspects, and players can spend resources to get further bonuses based on aspects in the situation (such as leaving a trail to give yourself a better tracking check when retracing your steps, or having an advantage at hiding because you are well acquainted with the area and know where blindspots are).

I'm more of a fan of narrative-based combat, but it seems like the dice system is mostly there to help if we can't decide things on our own. Might I suggest switching to 3d6 instead of 1d20? Gives a nicer probability curve, and makes it a lot harder for a random peasant to stumble into a victory against a master fencer in a sword duel. Just a suggestion!

3. The skim option sounds better in my opinion - leave things open, maybe give a small factoid to keep in mind about the npc (The second rank knight has a serious temper problem, the Noble of the 5th rank is a master of gravity magic, etc). That way we can expand on them later if necessary, and give a bit of mystique and mystery to the various other students at the academy.

4. Usually prefer darker stories, but definitely not against fluffy SoL stuff - I'm just used to seeing those fizzle out. Maybe start off with SoL and branch off into some heavier subjects once we get settled on a defined plot? Up to everyone else.

If we need some plot ideas, I don't have anything super concrete - I usually like seeing the characters everyone has in mind before getting into that kind of stuff. Maybe someone on the newspaper club starts spreading gossip in the paper (which has some pretty severe consequences considering how rich and influential the nobles attending are) could work in a lighter plot?

5. Nothing I can think of right now - maybe a few examples of classes that the Nobles can take, or any advantage Ranks may have (other than reputation)? I'm planning on making my knight a bit of a delinquent, so if anybody is interested in pairing up, let me know!
Interested if there is still space! Would prefer to play a knight, but I don't mind rolling with a Noble if pairings are skewed.

When you get the ooc up, do you mind throwing up some example talents (minor and/or major)? I want to get a feel for where to aim when making those.

My favorite characters change pretty often, but Lain Iwakura from Serial Experiment Lain and Kaoru Yamazaki from Welcome to the NHK are pretty high up there.



Ethan noticed that one of the cloner girl's bodies had approached, and when a lull in conversation appeared, she was quick to interject and start speaking with him.

“Hey Keystone. If your power hypothetically maybe at some point tells you that I’ve got something in my inventory that I could get in trouble for could you keep it a secret? I promise it’s not to hurt anyone, just for emergencies and stuff like that. You seem like you get being prepared, right?”

Her voice was a hushed whisper, so quiet that Keystone doubted Axiom would be able to hear despite only being feet away. Axiom smirked a bit beneath his mask - his power had already filled him in on this girl's paranoia, so it made sense that she'd be trying to get on his good side before he snitched on her.

"The only reason I'm using a crossbow is because they said no to a pistol - still pretty pissy about that, so I'll keep quiet. Just don't point shit at me or set something off when I'm in the room, and we're cool."

Ethan hesitated as he finished his whispered response, a second or two of pause filling the conversation as his power started filling in more details on the situation. Some of the things this kid had was pretty fucking dangerous, but if she was able to hide it from the asshole PR department, more power to her. No, what made Ethan hesitate was something a bit deeper than something related to her power.

"...Hey Clone gi- oh, Tandem, you're Tandem apparently. While we're talking favors, you mind partnering up for the patrol tomorrow? You and Shattercrash look like the most experienced ones here, and I could use the pointers. Plus I don't want to get randomly assigned with Bird Boy, he's setting my powers off like crazy."

Pointless. All the Protectorate heroes here are more experienced than any Ward, ask one of them for help instead. The changer probably heard that last part, you might have hurt his feelings. Keep it up.

Ethan was trying his best to be friendly, but damn it was hard to do that without stepping on toes or invading people's privacy. Offering to tutor her would probably offend her, and Ethan doubted he'd be patient enough to handle teaching her anything substantial. Asking to hang out after work would be way too annoying - he wanted to be friendly, not waste all his free time with people he worked with every day. This way he could make small talk with a Ward that didn't set him off too bad during work hours, and he'd probably be able to badmouth the PRT without too much retaliation on her end.

Plus he'd be able to tell his dad he made a 'friend' without lying to him. Win-win.

It wasn't even two minutes after Grandmaster left when another figure entered - well-dressed, somewhere in his 30s, and clearly annoyed with the situation at hand. He gave a sweeping glance across the room, taking in the various wards that were present, before introducing himself as Vice Director Fukuda. The name sounded vaguely familiar - Ethan might have seen him in a news report a year or two ago, or learned it via cultural osmosis. What mattered a lot more than this guy that Ethan didn't really care about was the news he was bringing them - instead of the relaxed schedule overview, team building exercises, and whatever other bullshit Axiom had planned for everyone, the Wards were apparently going to be stopping a bank heist.

On the first day.

Ethan had never even went out in costume before, so the fact that they were going up against a group of seasoned mercenaries was making a pit form in his stomach. The fact they only had 10 minutes to prepare was even more concerning - within seconds Ethan was already sliding his helmet off so he could equip the earbuds, throwing anonymity to the wind.

The changer almost seemed to explode, limbs and torso shooting vertically until he was pressed against the ceiling, chest shifting rapidly as he hyperventilated. Surprisingly, this helped ease some of Ethan's own anxiety around the situation - the buzz of his power in his head was able to hold his attention much more easily than the fact he might die in a half hour.

"Ugh, fucking piece of... Okay, someone calm him down before I have an aneurysm..."

It took a lot to not demand one of the master girls try to fuck up bird boy's perceptions or emotions (wouldn't work, they'd ignore you at best and attack in relation at worst. Better to bash his knees in, then go for-), and if the Engineering department had actually made the tranq bolts that Ethan had requested, he almost certainly would have unloaded half a dozen into the changer on the spot.

Instead, Ethan pried himself away from the scene, walking over to the small kitchen area to look over his costume. He breathed slowly. In. Out. In. Out.

Don't look, don't listen, don't think. Focus on the now. You're about to go fight mercenaries who you don't know, so ask Axiom or Nightstalker about them once everyone settles down.

Ethan patted himself, feeling the various pieces of equipment hidden beneath his cloak. Knives, crossbow bolts he barely knew how to load let alone aim, his phone, pepper spray. The first aid kit he felt at his side was probably his biggest contribution to the team in this situation, though he wasn't sure how useful it would be for wards like Richter or the changer.

Ethan saw a small bag of flour sitting at the edge of the counter, and instinctively snatched it, already jamming it into one of the many pockets lining the inside of his cloak. It could be useful - blocking line of sight was a pretty good defense against most powers, and worst case scenario it's combustibility would surprise an opponent and create an opening.

Excuses. Scared, looking for distraction. Painfully aware of your own inexperience, you're afraid of dying like he did. Focus on the others, hide behind them and rely on striking from range. You know more about this than any of the other wards - use that to your advantage.

Ethan stopped himself from scavenging anything else from the room, moving on to making final adjustments to his costume and cocking his crossbow. He would return to the group as soon as things settled down more, not trusting himself to not lash out right now. He could get filled in on the details and make a plan on the drive to the bank.

I'm a 14 year old, a thinker, and this is my very first day in costume. I'm probably just looking over the blueprints and asked to comb through strategies, not throw punches or some shit... Yeah, that's probably it. Nothing serious, relax.

The breathing exercise and logical reasoning helped ease some of Ethan's tension - he hadn't expected to get so wound up over this, but then again, he also hadn't expected to be stopping a 'real' crime within the first month, let alone the first day.

Ethan unconsciously gripped one of the knives at his side, practicing his quick draw to distract himself.

Practicing something Grandmaster remarked on, doesn-

Shut the fuck up already...



The girl, Ethos, laughed as Ethan finished speaking.

"I dare you to fucking try me."

Shoot her in the throat with your crossbow, even if you miss you can lunge with knife or smash her head in with-

Ethan shrugged his shoulders, not bothering to respond to the other Ward. He expected some pushback from the little display he did, but not that much direct hostility. Guess she has some emotional hangups. Probably like everyone here...

Everyone in this room had gone through a Trigger Event at some point, and if it was anything like what Ethan went through for his, then every kid in this room needed some serious therapy. He tried keeping that in mind, hoping it would help him cut the others some slack when they didn't use a coaster or some other inane shit that would piss him the fuck off.

“Shit, that sucks.”

Ethan was knocked out of his internal monologue, turning to face the girl in the body armor. She quickly elaborated, sounding apologetic as she did so.

“Sorry! I mean, it seems like a useful power, both for the obvious and because pointing out our weak points means we know what to work on. It’s just… no, that sucks. It sounds like a lot to deal with, all the time.”

A few tense seconds passed before Ethan let out a light chuckle, a stark contrast with his demeanor this entire meeting thus far. He seemed a little less tense, shoulders slumping slightly as he spoke.

"You're right, it fucking blows."

At least one person here could kind of get it. Ethan wondered how long she'd be able to hold onto that sympathy - it was only a matter of time before he snapped at her, and she didn't seem like the type that would take it lying down.

The girl, Hornet, introduced herself and gave the briefest of comments on her power. Nothing for him to work off of, but teleporting was always useful.

Another Ward, the boy who had a similar outfit as Ethan, was next. They boy introduced himself as Richter, and decided to give a demonstration of his power rather than a direct explanation. He held the coin that he had been playing with most of the meeting, and promptly caused it to disintegrate.

...Well, that explains why his power didn't recommend he get close to the kid. Some kind of disintegration ability? No. Vibration Manipulation. Don't let him touch you, he'll find your resonance frequency and turn you into a puddle. Trigger a fight between him and Ethos, worst case scenario one is seriously-

So he's one of the heavier hitters on the team. Between him, Shattercrash, and Hornet, the team could probably compensate for having so many non-offensive capes. The thought of throwing a smartass comment about how descriptive Richter was crossed Ethan's mind, but he decided against it. For some reason, annoying the guy that could disintegrate shit didn't seem like the smartest idea.

The tinker-looking girl seemed to skip introductions - must have had her cards close to her chest?

... Attack fast before she can react... Crossbow? Sneak behind and stab in the back of the neck...

Ethan frowned, shaking his head a little bit. At first he appreciated his power not really working too well on the girl, but when he actually wanted some information, the delayed and imprecise responses were a little annoying. Thankfully, Shattercrash's introduction quickly drew Ethan's attention, as she flicked a blast of violet energy into the nearest wall. Thankfully, the tinkertech material the wall was composed of did its job, and Ethan didn't even sway on his feet as he felt the vibrations echo through the floor.

Kinetic energy manipulation sounded strong on paper, and based on the few pieces of information he knew on Shattercrash from the news, Ethan could tell that she was experienced and her power was strong. But the complete lack of subtlety was definitely gonna be an issue in the future, he didn't even need to use his powe to figure that one out...

Grandmaster answered his phone and was making his way out the door within seconds, leaving Axiom to take over the rest of the meeting.

”Any questions?”

Ethan had a lot of questions - 'Do we get to pick our babysitter hero' and 'Does the health insurance cover getting brained by a lead pipe' were some of the big ones.

"How many hours are we working on average? Dad wants to make sure I get caught up at the new school you guys set me up with." Ethan paused for a few seconds before adding; "You guys probably already covered it, but I didn't read the documents that much. The weird margin spacing and small font kept fucking me up."

He'd save some of the questions about pay and benefits for later, but this one was pretty important and would at least fill the silence.



"Power dampeners are a little hit-or-miss on if they work. They're hard to find, and harder to apply to one person in particular. I'll ask around, I know a tinker or two who can try and work something out. But I can't promise anything right now,"

Ethan grit his teeth in annoyance. Of course it wouldn't be that easy - if it was, why aren't all the villains slapped with power dampeners the second they're arrested?

"Fine, whatever. But try and talk to them as soon as you can, got it?"

Abrasive, demanding - you're being an asshole. Keep it up an-

"...Please."

From someone as socially obtuse as Ethan, that was about as pleasant as you could ask for. Grandmaster's commentary was a bit annoying, but Ethan felt that most Thinkers would feel that way when someone was a step ahead of them.

Axiom removed her helmet, before having a heart-to-heart and reassuring the Wards. Her words did little to assuage Ethan's anxieties - he could see the platitudes and falsehoods, the little cracks whether known or unknown, the fact that it wasn't guaranteed they would make it to 18, let alone graduate to the Protectorate.

But of the Heroes present, Axiom was probably the one whose attempt at comforting the youths was the least aggravating.

"Trained to do what exactly? Feds never gave me anything I didn't already know how to do. What exactly are we all workin' with here? What powers do we all have around here?"

Ethan smirked. He actually found the training to be pretty helpful - over the last few weeks he got workout routine and dietary advice, experienced some basic close-quarter combat, and most importantly received first aid training. His power allowed him to make a lot faster progress than almost all of the other Wards in that regard, and while still a novice, he felt confident in his ability to stop someone from bleeding out.

Ethan would have brought that up and tried making Shattercrash feel like a dumbass, but he was thankful she brought up the power question, so he let it slide. He was planning on broaching the subject after the meeting with each member, but this was a lot more convenient.

The first to respond was the clone girl, one of her bodies speaking up. The fact she had multiple bodies was obvious enough, but her storage ability was unexpected. Some kind of pocket dimension? It was a great power for shoplifting and general thievery, especially if she could create clones through walls or barriers...

Thick barriers are a good counter - her items displace objects when drawn out of her storage space, allowing her to bypass locks and damage objects, but this doesn't matter if a large enough barrier impedes her. Avoid direct combat, has dangerous weapons within her storage that could prove lethal in close quarters. Clones must maintain a set distance from one another, area of effect attacks should prove use-

Enough of that. Ethan grabbed a handful of the candy that the girl offered, shoving it into one of his many pockets absentmindedly. He couldn't eat any with his mask, and he sure as hell wasn't gonna be the first ward to take his mask off. He cringed as the massive canine-bird changer grabbed one of the candies that was offered, some kind of taffy or gum, shuffling about nervously and carefully placing the sweet in his mouth. He almost immediately relaxed, his form shrinking slightly and fur evening out.

Clearly had some kind of effect on him, maybe his power was reliant on his mood? Positive emotions weakening him? Could be useful, give him a false sense of security and then slit his throat, he might bleed out fast befo-

The guy bowed and profusely thanked the clone girl for the sweets. The entire interaction lit him up like a Christmas tree to Ethan's power, and the boy's discomfort was clear despite the full body covering his costume provided.

"Jesus fucking christ, this guy..."

Ethan muttered under his breath as he glowered at the Changer until another girl, the blond one in the dress, decided to introduce her power next - thankfully providing a distraction. She revealed that she was the Master who warranted the creation of the earpieces. He could have guessed that, considering his power was practically screaming at him to stop her from speaking at all costs... Masters were always a hot topic on the news - Ethan wasn't a big cape geek, and even he could recount incidents of Masters forming cults or trying to rig elections across the globe. At least this girl had the decency to give some warning about her powers, so she could be worse.

And having a tinker-made device that rendered Ethan immune to her was some insurance. He wasn't sure how his power interacted with Master abilities like that, but Ethan felt confident it would provide at least some protection - at least enough to last the meeting, and let him put his earpiece on in private.

The Changer decided to take initiative and go next, and Ethan was already biting his cheek to stop from verbally lashing out at the stuttering wreck. He couldn't speak for an entire sentence without pausing or inserting an 'um' or 'ah', and he kept glancing at everyone in the room as he spoke like some kind of prey animal.

One of the only good things about him was that his desire for approval pushed him to share far more about his power than the other two - enhanced strength and durability, flight, silent movement, improved senses, and natural weapons in the form of talons. That, alongside what Ethan's power could pick out (-form grows stronger the more anxious he is, calm him down and then go for the kill. Bash his knees in, his bones are hollow and will give way with a good wack from a club or tire iron. Grab the nearest chair, that can work if you hit him in the right s-) gave him a more detailed understanding of the Changer's power than any of the other wards present.

Didn't make up for the constant stuttering, the hunched posture, the little neck turn thing he was trying to show off, and all the other little minor annoyances that meant nothing but still pissed Ethan the fuck off. As soon as he finished and awkwardly shuffled off behind the blond girl, Ethan couldn't help himself.

"Keep practicing, I'm sure you'll be able to do the neck thing eventually. Will definitely come in handy against guys like Necrophage and Sundown."

Not missing a beat, Ethan took a small step forwards and continued speaking, his tone immediately shifting from sarcastic to nonchalant and uncaring.

"Keystone. Thinker. Hypersensitivity to flaws and vulnerabilities in systems. I know the best ways to break things, literally or metaphorically. I can crack most locks and passwords within seconds, bash a guy in the face with a bottle just the right way so the shards blind him, and can emotionally abuse someone into the fetal position if I get long enough to read them."

He pointed a finger at the girl in the black catsuit and dress with the ponytail. "I shouldn't get close enough for you to touch me, but other than that you're just a normal person - pepper spray you, throw a knife, anything to keep distance and keep others away from you. Definite Striker vibes, maybe Master or Trump ratings too?"

Not a trump, Striker/Master. Shoot her in the neck with your crossbow-

Ethan's finger moved to the changer, rising a few inches until it was pointing at his chest. "Your bones are hollow, so I hope you don't fly into any buildings. And avoid dudes with baseball bats or lead pipes."

And avoid me if you keep being a neurotic mess...

"The first four digits of the admin computer account password is 4I82, the tinkertech material the walls are made of are great at absorbing kinetic energy but can be fucked up with rapid heating and cooling, and if I was suddenly bleeding out-" Ethan drew a knife and quickly pressed it against his own throat, pausing for a few seconds as he observed the reactions of the crowd. "...At least three people here would have the first aid training necessary to attempt to save me, and the clone girl already has a first aid kit on hand. You win points for being prepared."

Ethan smirked a little beneath his mask as he flashed a thumbs up in the girls direction. He could do this all day, but he had probably burned more bridges than he wanted to already with that - people didn't really like getting their flaws pointed out, even if he avoided the emotional and personal shit.

"I don't get Thinker headaches, but seeing a lot of this shit without pointing it out or attacking it really pisses me off. Can't turn my power off either, so if me knowing your computer password or emotional baggage creeps you out or you have a lot of shit going on around you that aggravates me, we should keep interactions to a minimum."

Ethan stepped off to the side, not bothering with any other pleasantries now that he finished introducing himself. Even with the mask covering his face, his body language was notably more positive - clearly the chance to talk about brutally assaulting his fellow Wards had helped ease his mood.



"There are exactly nine of you. Have some faith, Keystone. You will find that your teammates aren't as inept as you think,"

"Nine!? Jesus, did you guys drive to the local high school for crime fighters or something!? Offer puppies and bikes as a sign-on bonus? I mean c'mon, before getting nearly a dozen cape kids, shouldn't you guys be replenishing-"

DON'T

Ethan stopped in his tracks, a cold insight brought on by his power. To him it was stupid, hiring nearly double the number of capes in the Bridgewater Protectorate to join the kiddy team. But Ethan knew when to pick his battles, and bringing up the dead teammates of one of the most dangerous capes in the city was a pretty stupid move. A tense few seconds passed before Ethan backed off, the light from his eye lenses dipping a few centimeters as he tilted his head down.

"...My bad. You're right, they've probably been drilled for this or have experience. Shouldn't judge a book by its title or whatever..."

Cover.

Several more Wards entered the room, each a few minutes later than the last. Normally Ethan might have been a bit annoyed at the lack of adherence to deadlines, but anything to distract him from the scene he just caused was more than welcome. He needed to watch himself a lot more carefully here, especially considering the room was filling with people who could kill by looking at him the wrong way or something.

The first brat was freakishly tall, draped in massive wings and black feathers. A changer of some kind, or at the very least a Case 53. The guy looked like a crow and a fox had a bipedal mothman baby, with green scales near the end of his limbs. He was slouched and anxious-looking, and still dwarfed everyone in the room. One of the more intimidating figures at first glance, giving Ethan a bit of pause... but as soon as the boy finished introducing himself, he immediately lunged for the nearest sofa, and curled into as tight of a ball as he could manage.

Hollow bones to reduce weight during flight, snap his arms and legs with well-placed kicks to the joints before going in with a hammer. Call him a failure, he's feeling inadequate joining the wards and his self-confidence can be tanked even further. Desperate for any social connections, especially with peers - sabotage him, degrade him, ruin his connections, he will break down, then cave his skull in with a rock and-

Ethan physically had to turn and look in another direction, a look of disgust hidden under his mask.

Jesus fucking Christ, this kid needs therapy. Er, well, more than everyone else here, at least.

Landon was a ball of neuroses, and despite having a brute rating, had physical vulnerabilities that could easily be exploited - all things that lit him up like a Christmas tree to Ethan's power. If he wasn't trying to have good behavior, Ethan probably would have lashed out then and there. Whatever respite Jen gave his OCPD, Landon more than made up for it.

He's scared of you. Use it - stare at him the whole meeting, don't let-

Thankfully, another Ward entered only a minute later, giving Ethan something else to shift his focus onto. A blonde girl, tall and a little older than Ethan himself. Her costume was much more 'formal' than Ethan expected, a white dress with gold highlights, with a white mask made of some kind of paper-mache or plaster. She didn't look half bad, though while the aesthetics of her design were appealing, the lack of practicality threw Ethan off.

Inexperienced in costume, trip her up quickly and slice her throat before she can speak. Pepper spray in the eyes, mouth, and sinuses can also serve as a distraction, give you time to cover your ears. Takes solace in her religion, can really get under her skin-

This was getting annoying - Ethan was starting to remember why he disliked parahumans even more than normal people. It was this kind of shit nonstop... He sighed, resorting to the breathing exercises the Bridgewater PRT Therapist told him about.

It helped a bit, but that was probably more a result of closing his eyes and shutting out the disturbances. He could hear the two new arrivals talk to one another briefly, presumably trying to break the ice and fill the silence.

God it would be so easy. 'Turds of a feather drop together', maybe throw in a Jesus quip for bible thumper over there.

He stayed like that, breathing and ignoring the chatter that was spreading throughout the room. A few more Wards came in - two girls, one in thick yellow-black armor and the other in a simple black bodysuit. Ethan managed to focus on the tiles on the floor and the ventilation system before his power got too into the nitty-gritty with those two, and Ethan allowed himself a small smirk of satisfaction at that. When three more girls who looked and dressed identically came in, Ethan's smirk quickly disappeared.

She looked vaguely familiar - probably on the news at one point or another, but Ethan wasn't into the cape scene enough to recognize her. Hopefully, that was one of the 'hivemind' kind of cloners, and not the 'throw a bunch of flailing bodies at the bad guy' kind.

Eventually, Grandmaster and Axiom began to talk amongst one another, presumably about the missing 9th Ward member. It didn't last long though, and Axiom quickly manifested several cases of tinkertech origin, containing earpieces. Ethan was one of the first to snatch his from the table, already looking over the device and muttering to himself while Axiom spoke.

"Casing is hard enough, and I don't see any cracks into the wiring... probably observes brain waves rather than neural connections, and I'm guessing bone conduction and vibrations to clear deviated thought patterns? No fucking clue... How would it work against something like that super-LSD Chemtrail made a few months bac-"

Before he could continue muttering to himself like an idiot (or speak louder and get talked down to by the actual Tinker around here), the door to the room slammed open with a crash. A knife was already in Ethan's hand by the time he turned around, raised to chest height as he shook with adrenaline.

Embarrassing. It was just the last ward, looking to make an entrance/disturbance. Thankfully the annoying boy's scream was enough to conceal Ethan's surprise, and he quickly sheathed the knife. He wasn't a cape geek like a lot of the kids at his school, but even he knew who Shattercrash was.

At least Ethan wasn't the only bad kid on the team. That was a plus.

Poison and sneak attacks works best, don't attack with blunt force and avoid melee combat as much as possible. Grenades? Not an option, pepper spray and a lighter can work as a sudden distraction. Overconfident with her experience, play into it a-

"Hmph, quite the entrance. Must have been a nice catch for you guys, isn't this the chick that made the Protectorate look bad for, like, a year? Two? Pretty crazy. How come Miss Breaking and Entering here-"

Temper, instigate a fight with authority so she gets humiliated in front of everyone. Complex about joining the team of her old friends, tell her how she should be bloody ashamed after everything Karnstein did-

Ethan bit his tongue before continuing, backing off. He didn't look into the gore pics about the Karnstein incident, but shitting on dead loved ones wasn't something he usually did. A bit too close for comfort.

And he didn't want to get his chest caved in today. Ethan shook his head, turning to the protectorate heroes and shaking the small earpiece case.

"Whatever, not important. Axiom, can I put in a request for power dampeners too, or is that a privilege after a month or two of baby's first drug bust or whatever we're doing?"



Pierce Residence, 6:54 AM
June 19th, 2021


Sunlight beamed in from the kitchen window, the only source of light in the dreary room. Ethan grabbed another egg from the nearby carton, cracking and pouring the contents into the pan with a single fluid motion. He grimaced a bit as the oil from the pan splashed, stinging his arm.

High temperatures, can cause first degree burns with extended exposure. Handle is loose, will detach with enough force and/or when swung at a 60 degree angle. High in cholesterol and saturated fats, this meal can contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease.

Ethan sighed as he continued cooking, turning the temperature on the stove top higher as the information from his power flowed in. The meal wasn't the healthiest, but right now his dad needed comfort food.

Eventually Ethan's power signaled that any more cooking could burn the food, and he slid the eggs and bacon onto a plate. Ever since the incident, he had taken over the cooking in the house - and while he wasn't the best at it, his power and the last few weeks of practice has made a massive improvement.

Ethan grabbed a fork and knife before going upstairs, stopping at the door to the master bedroom. He knocked twice. Paused.

No response.

That scared him the first few times, but he had gotten used to it over the last two weeks. Ethan walked into the dark bedroom, maneuvering past the bundled piles of dirty clothes and bags of trash. His father was laying on the bed pretending to be asleep, some wildlife documentary playing on the TV. Ethan gently placed the plate down on the bedside table as he spoke.

"Morning dad. Made your favorite - eggs and turkey bacon. Breakfast of Champions."

Exposed jugular, slicing his carotid with the knife will result in death by blood loss within 10 seconds. Depressed. Holding it together for his son, say you hate him and he can be pushed-

"I know you're probably tired, so I'll just leave it on the table for you, okay?"

Ethan turns around and begins making his way out of the room.

Focus on something else, anything else. He's fine, don't worry, everything will turn out okay. Just get out of here. Don't break down. Don't let him know that you know how bad things are.

Ethan stopped at the door, resting his hand against the frame as he spoke.

"I'm headed to meet with the other Wards, so I left your lunch in the fridge. I'll try putting myself out there a bit, maybe make some friends - order a pizza or some Chinese if I'm not back for dinner... I, uh... I love you, dad. Just want to make sure you know that."

The man didn't stir from the bed, and Ethan closed the door behind him.

He stood there for a dozen or so seconds before he heard the creaking of the bed, and the clinking of the knife and fork on the plate as his father ate. Ethan smiled a bit to himself, before grabbing the duffelbag with his costume and heading out for work.



Protectorate HQ, 8:42 AM
June 19th, 2021


Ethan bristled under his costume, thick cloak wrapped around himself as he walked down the hall. The costume took a lot of time to design and still didn't match his specifications. The name wasn't his first choice, all of his coworkers were going to be traumatized teenagers that would probably be as annoying as the kids at his old school, and the less said about the douchebag PR department the better. This hero gig would have been an instant rejection if the protectorate wasn't Ethan's best shot at getting these powers under control.

The only upside was the paycheck and the new school. Fuck saving people, making six figures before he could legally drive was the real reason he was playing dress up.

The security checkpoints were a nightmare for someone like him - when he saw one guard walk past the gate without going through proper Master/Stranger password protocols, Ethan nearly had an aneurysm. At least after the first checkpoint things seemed to be more up to standard - metal detectors, patdowns, access cards and passwords, the whole nine yards.

Ethan suspected that the guards were pulling out all the stops to try and annoy him or make him late, but he preferred the full view of the protocols. Let him see all the little steps that they were fucking up. He planned on writing up some notes for the Director later - a fingerprint reader at the very least would protect against a lot of Strangers.

Ethan ran his hand along the wall as he walked down the hall, feeling the cool material against his hand.

Kinetic force won't work to break it - tinker-made material, crystalline structure and shifting resonance frequency absorbs impacts to a nearly perfect degree. Rapid temperature fluctuation can help destabilize the chemical properties, causing fissures in the-

Ethan shook his head, continuing to walk down the hall. Not the fucking time. He was about to meet his coworkers and superiors, and meeting new people always triggered his power the most. Didn't want to lash out too bad, especially when everyone else in the room could probably shoot lasers or breath fire or some shit. Especially when his dad would be happy to see Ethan make friends with kids his own age.

What the fuck am I thinking. I'm gonna die here.



Protectorate HQ, 8:45 AM
June 19th, 2021


Ethan walked into the spacious meeting room with a measured gait, the glowing eyes of his costume scanning the surroundings. Just in time - showing up late or early put him a bit on edge, so this was already better than it could have been. The architecture in this part of the building was decent enough - several exit points was nice, the one-way windows were reinforced decently enough, and the TV and consoles nearby should keep his coworkers too busy to annoy him.

Ethan bit the bullet, and took a look at the people who had already arrived. Three of them were recognizable Protectorate members, all of whom Ethan had gotten the chance to familiarize himself with since joining the Wards. Grandmaster was (relies on melee and throwing knives, keep barriers or enemies between one anoth-) decked out in formal wear, two swords at his side and a number of throwing knives hidden in his sleeves. Next to him was Nightstalker, the (highly adapted for night vision, can use flashbangs and high-powered flashlights to disorien-) only case 53 that Ethan knew off the top of his head and Axiom, a tinker who (clog air intake on larger pieces of tech with flour from the kitchen, can further capitalize by striking joints with a knif-) Ethan had already spoken with a few times for recommendations on his costume design.

The other two figures in the room were new - presumably other Wards that had arrived early. One was another boy who was seated on a nearby couch, his costume superficially similar to Ethan's. He actually gave Ethan a bit of pause - he was spread out on one of the couches, and Ethan noticed several parts of his costume seemed a bit tattered or damaged already.

Internal or indirect damage such as poisons or drowning is best. Avoid direct strikes, might break your hands. History with the foster system that he doesn't talk about. Lacks empathy for others, may-

The lack of direct physical vulnerabilities gave Ethan pause. Most people couldn't handle a knife in the throat or having thumbs jabbed in their eye sockets. A brute of some kind, with a focus on durability? Not relevant, he'd reveal his power later. Ethan stopped in front of the couch the teen was sitting on, looking at the coin moving in the other ward's hands as he spoke.

"Let me know if you want me to put a word in to the engineering department for you about that costume. They do alright work, but you gotta needle their ass if you don't want something subpar. Either they're fucking something up or you don't know how to put your clothes on, and I really hope it's the former."

Ethan didn't bother waiting for a response, already turning and scoping out the last person in the room. To be honest, he just wanted an excuse to go complain to the engineering department again.

The other ward looked like some kind of tinker, an older girl with an armored bodysuit and some kind of high-tech helmet. Pretty similar looking to Axiom in that regard - maybe they compared notes?

Cover the oxygen vents with adhesives or pepper spray before they seal. Spray paint on the helmet to reduce visibility, can kick out the knees while shes wiping it clean. Bodysuit doesn't provide protection against blunt trauma, shouldn't be too useful if she gets kicked out of the window... Physical assault difficult due to power, requires sneak attacks or exceptional timing...

His power was working, but when it was targeting the ward herself and not just her equipment, the responses were slower. Less accurate. It was... nice. Less aggravating when his power wasn't pinging like crazy. Ethan wasn't sure if it was some kind of tinker tech she was using or if she had a trump ability of some kind, but whatever the case, she was the least annoying person in the room right now thanks to it.

Ethan thought about sitting on the couch that the other boy was taking up a lot of space on, but quickly decided against it when his power signaled how stupid that would be. Instead, he stood a bit off to the side, standing somewhat near the older girl and Axiom. He leaned closer to Axiom and murmured a question.

"How many kids did you guys pick up for this? I don't want to get you in trouble since you're cool, but I'm not very good with big groups. Especially if there are a lot of dipshits."
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