Chatter

DRex: Alright, just so we are on the record, the reason I am muting you is that she thinks that this is some kind of Ultrahuman only secret chat.  I want her perspective on the whole thing with Fourth Fist but she only speaks frankly around other Ultras, and I don’t have time to wait for the usual Ultra to Ultra gossip.

Roy: Understood.

DRex has removed Roy from the channel.

DRex has added Dragon to the channel

DRex: Hey, you receiving this alright?

Dragon: Yes, but I don’t know how that can be.  I thought we didn’t have point to point in realtime.

DRex: This is a special relay, I’ve rigged it up just for us.  The humans don’t know about, and they won’t.

Dragon: Haha.

Dragon: So what’s up?

DRex: A Fist washed up on Crete, it is your favorite people.

Dragon: 4th Fist?  U r joking.

DRex: Nope, and they say they wanna negotiate.

Dragon: AGAIN?!

DRex: Haha, yeah, so what am I in for?

Dragon: I am on my way.

DRex: NO!! Don’t get yourself in trouble.

DRex: Don’t throw away your career for these fuckers.

DRex:…

DRex: Don’t let them win.

Dragon: Ok.  I’ll stay put.

Dragon: They are ice cold killers though.  I know you aren’t as powerful as I am, so you better be really careful.

DRex: I’ve got Autumn and Reshi’s squads.

Dragon: I had people, it didn’t matter.  We got their main guy, Indulger, off of the ground.  Didn’t help.  They are animals.  Whatever assurances they give you, it just a trick to drop your guard.

DRex: The ambassador is Meghan, do you know her?

Dragon: I know a Megan, but I think it is a different one.

DRex: Ok, well, what I’m asking is what I should tell her?  The recordings on your sesesion cut out when you guys took off.  Did they have a tell or something before they jumped you?  Any warning at all?

Dragon: Nothing I can think of.  They said they wanted to give us information, but when the humans were asking them things they got all squirmy, like they didn’t want to cooperate.  I can almost respect that, it is hard sometimes to let the daggers boss me around.

DRex: Uh…

Dragon: Hey, you are the one who said they wouldn’t be seeing this.

DRex: Yeah, sorry, just not used to being able to be open about things.

Dragon:  We should have had something like this years ago.  It is so dumb how we can only talk through them.

DRex: Glad to oblige you.  But nothing more about Fourth Fist?  I am cube up in a few hours.

Dragon:  We  been through ‘don’t trust em’, and ‘they are scum’ right?  I think that’s it.

DRex: Thanks a bunch.

Dragon: Save me a slice, haha.

Dragon has left the channel.

DRex has added Roy to the channel.

Roy: Anything useful?

DRex: Well, by her description they are basically another First Fist.  Murderers and such.  But, I’m not sure I believe her.

Roy: You don’t think she is a credible witness?

DRex: I’m not sure.  She gives off a very Pantheon/Regime vibe.  If there isn’t already a forest of red flags on her file somebody has been slacking off.

Roy: Her sympathies have been noted, but she remains a potent military asset, and you know how lax the disciplinary boards are with folks like that.

DRex: Yeah, not my business.  I’ll take her warning to heart, but I’m not going to be guided by it.  I know there have been a number of more generous descriptions of this team.

Roy: Meghan has polled her contacts separately, and most of what she has heard has been good.  Consensus is presently that this is a genuine outreach.

DRex: Well, ‘Consensus’ won’t be in the room with them, but I guess I’ll take what comfort I can get.

The Eastern Front

[Sorry, this was a day late.  I got caught up in other things.]

In the land that was once known as Turkey, the fiercest battles rage.

This place, between the Black and Mediterranean Sea, has become the greatest battlefield of the New World.  It is here that the forces of the Union and the Pantheon clash directly, every year.

As the snow melts and the days grow longer the Pantheon camps send forth their progeny.  Teenagers swollen with divine power, indoctrinated with dreams of glory and given minimal training, they undertake their Pilgrimage with glad hearts.

By far the greatest number come from the heartlands of the Pantheon, from what used to be India and China.  They trudge west in endless columns, Ultras and humans, Gods and daggers.

Some fall along the way, lost to internecine squabbling.  Others desert the migration, joining one or another of the Pantheon’s many subfactions.  But the vast majority, aided by their divine gifts, arrive intact to the Great Hosts’s fortresses.

Here the Valkyrie and the Gods of the Pantheon sort them and arrange them, test and train them.  These Gods, who have earned their Divine Names in previous years, now take part in the culling of the next generation.  They divide the output of the camps into warhosts suitable for battle, contesting among themselves for the right to lead the mightiest and most useful.

As the year goes on these hosts march west, and meet the Union’s forces in battle.  Sometimes they go one at a time.  Other times they set forth in larger coalitions of hosts, always they test themselves against their godless foe.

The Unions forces, for their part, have also been receiving reinforcements.  Throughout the year their straining motherlands send them every new machine of war that can be constructed, every Ultra that the stingy Company will grant them and every new son or daughter who has passed their strict training regimens.  They hope (for prayer is of their foe) that it is enough to keep the Faithful at bay for another year.

Their champions are always outnumbered, and inevitably strained to the breaking point, but every year the miracle repeats itself.  The armies of the Union, stretched thin and overwhelmed by numbers that should be beyond defeat, pull through and gain their victory.  The Pantheon’s proud Hosts are left broken and crushed upon the battlefields, the spurious divinity that mankind’s rambunctious children claimed revealed to be a lie, as their elders lay them low.

It has been estimated that the Pantheon sends as many as twenty thousand Ultras a year against the Union, and the same again in human servants and auxiliary forces.  As many as seventy percent of them are lost in the battles, in one way or another.  Most are killed.  Some few are captured by the heathen enemy, dragged off to be interrogated in bunkers of dread repute.  Many more abandon the crusade, vanishing into the dust and chaos of battle, wandering back into the Pantheon.

The remaining survivors fall back, and rejoin the Great Host.  Some of them have earned their Divine Names, and become leaders of the incursions.  Others escaped death in a more prosaic manner, and join their fellows in the great waiting.

As for the Unions forces?  Estimates are far less certain as to the number of their Ultras, but most guesses place their numbers at a mere eight or nine thousand.  It is likely that as many again are spread throughout the Union proper, awaiting their turn on the front lines.

They do not fight alone, of course.  The Union’s Ultras are shielded by its drone forces, which number probably half again as large as their Ultra contingent, and by the finest human military that the world has ever seen.  Union battle doctrine calls for ten humans per Ultra, minimum, and often times the numbers climb well beyond that.

The question that hangs above the fields of war is always the same.  “Is this the year?”

Civilians tap it into forum threads.  Soldiers ask it in their free time.  Officers mutter it to one another, and anxiously query it into their com bands.  Newly minted Gods scream it to their masters.

What ‘the year’ means varies depending on who is asking.  Pantheon forces wonder if this is it, the year that the Great Host, the accumulation of decades of Pilgrimages, finally goes west.  Union forces wonder the same, and also whether or not the endlessly rumored preemptive assault will finally sally forth, and see them wrong foot their enemy by engaging the Great Host directly, before it has the chance to send out its smaller war hosts.  Conspiracy theorists scratch their heads and rake their cheeks,  wondering whether She will finally send Her forces into the greatest battle in the world.

Those who know the truth, meanwhile, ask a far more sinister question.  They know that even the Great Host is merely a smokescreen, a frightening apparition meant to mask the creation of a far deadlier weapon.  The Army of Sunset, they ask.  Is this the year that it makes its move?

They need question no more.  None of them.  This is the year.

In Council : 2

[Note from the author:  November is upon us, and once again this year I’m going to try and do NaNoWriMo.  I know that readership dies off if you leave your serial idle for a month, however, so I’m going to try and get some updates up.  I’ve got some pictures that an artist I know online drew, there is a recording of the first chapter of the serial, etc.  There should still be SOMETHING each wednesday/sunday, even if it isn’t a full updates.  I hope you will stick with me!]

My fellow Divinities, let none say that Death hides her failures from the eyes of the Pantheon.

The servants given over to my keeping have been rendered up unto the slaughter.  Banshee, Gorgon and Moses are no longer among the number of our worthy minions.

At that last name, well do I know that lamentations arise.  ‘Was she not to be kept far from danger?’ will be the cry of Isis and her faction.  ‘Was she not of substantial rank within the Army Of Sunset?’

I have few excuses to offer in the face of these accusations, other than the trite truism that war follows its own internal logic, and is rarely considerate of our most energetic pleas.

Ah, there is one other thing, I suppose, that I can mention as a mitigating factor.

Moses’s death was not in vain.  The Demon’s Sixth Fist is shattered.  Its leader may cling to life, but the  majority are dead, and unlike on previous occasions, will remain so.

Oh, and judging by the light and great cloud to the north, the Demon’s left hand, Adder, may have also been blasted from this world.  That’s probably worth something.

Hmm, and also I should say that we have not lost Moses’s gift, because I took it from her when she died.  Maybe that makes the loss sting a bit less.

Right, I should probably note that I drove the survivors of my attack, which is likely just the new Fourth Fist, up into the Union. We need no longer fear that the Thousand will be struck down by Adder’s fury.

So I guess I am not apologizing for a failure after all, but reporting a great triumph.  Funny how that works out.  It is almost like I am a mighty Ultra, and my doubters fear my terrible power, and vent through jealous carping and whining the feelings that they would never dare bring up to my face.

Hmmph, I’m sorry for the muddled messages there.  I guess I am an old woman, after all, as Isis is so fond of pointing out.  No doubt she’s killed two Adders during this time, or at least broken all of the remaining Fists.

I’ve decided to stay on the battlefield for a while.  I’m going to take charge of this season’s attacks on the Union.  Maybe I’ll have a few more failures to apologize for.

Preventer 6:3

It didn’t take long for Haunter’s minions to track down the garrison.

I’d been half expecting a big civilian presence.  It wouldn’t have made a lot of sense, this close to the front lines, but it was hard to imagine the Union telling a bunch of its people that they’d have to leave their homes.

The Union garrison was a squat pyramid shaped building, located a decent distance from one of the abandoned cities.

The ghosts assured me that no one had seen us approaching, as they led me towards it.  We’d hiked for about forty minutes from where I’d left Haunter and Fader, and the Link assured me that Haunter, at least, hadn’t moved.  She was probably buried in something, trying to hide from fallout.  I hoped she’d managed to find some decent clothes.

I took in some more details of the base as I got closer.  It had a fence around it, a tower with a lookout post on top, and some rectangular things which presumably would have been doing something impressive if the nuke hadn’t knocked out all of their machinery.  The only people I could see were a pair of silhouettes on the top of the tower.

Haunter’s shades pointed me toward a path that would let me creep up a bit nearer before being spotted, but I shook them off.  I got up and started walking down the road towards the building, waving to attract attention.

Sneaking up on them would be counterproductive.  My main goal was to establish communications, get them to understand that the blast hadn’t been an attack on them, and ideally persuade their leaders to not dispatch whatever their anti-Fist plan was to attack us.

I half expected them to start shooting when they saw me, but instead the guys up in the tower called down, and someone came running out of the gate towards me.

I didn’t alter my stride or react in any way, and the woman they sent nearly got to grabbing range before she suddenly pulled up short.

She was taller than me, naturally, and wearing some kind of tactical gear.  Everyone was taller than me, but this lady was exceptionally tall, she’d come up to Indulger’s nose.  I wasn’t sure whether Ultras and daggers wore different uniforms in the Union, but decided it was better to err on the safe side.

As she came to a stop she had a shocked look on her face.  She jumped back in alarm, spitting out a burst of some foreign language or other.

It took me a second to work out what she was so shocked about.  Of course, they hadn’t jumped to the conclusion that I might be an enemy.  They’d probably assumed that I was one of their people, caught outside for whatever reason when the bomb went off.  That’s why they hadn’t fired, and instead sent this person to get me.

“I only speak English,“ I told her.  “Do you understand me?”

She didn’t respond directly, instead speaking rapid fire into a thing on her arm.  That was worrying, I’d been assuming that their handheld devices would have been damaged by the blast.  Maybe this had been inside the garrison when the bomb went off?

“I only speak English,” I said again, slower and louder.  “I am from the Regime.  Take me to your leader.”

This time she reacted, unmistakably.  At the mention of the word ‘Regime’ she whipped out a weapon and trained it on me.  It was a thick, short gun with some kind of coiling around the end of it.

I feigned an elaborate yawn, stretching a hand up to cover my mouth in a deliberately slow and casual fashion.  She didn’t relax in the slightest.

“That won’t do anything to me,” I told her.  “I just walked out of that big bomb.  I want to talk to your officers.”

She started backing off, keeping the gun aimed at me.

I shrugged and started walking after her.  I only got a step before she stopped and yelled again.

“Stop right there!”

Not even an accent.

“I’ll stop right here, as long as you are bringing me your captain, or lieutenant, or whoever.  I want to talk to your leader.”

“Don’t move!  I am taking you into custody in the name of the-“

Might as well get this over with.  I reached for my gun.

Her weapon didn’t make any noise when she fired it, beyond a muted whirring noise.  It also didn’t do anything to me, unsurprisingly.

I bent over to examine the pile of twisted spiky things that had suddenly appeared in front of me, even as she threw herself sideways and fired again.

Her gun seemed to be some kind of upgraded shotgun, firing a whole bunch of tiny drones instead of unguided pellets.  From the fins and things on the projectile I’d picked up I was willing to bet they aimed themselves once fired.

I looked up from the dart just in time to see her scramble to her feet, and shoot me in the face.  I kept my mouth closed so none of the shots would end up in my mouth.  One of them knocked my Sigil off.

“Hey!” I said.

She turned around and ran back towards the garrison, even as I was going back to pick up my hat.

It was ruined.  The drone had torn a huge gap through both sides of it.  I turned my head slowly back to the pyramid building, and began to march after her.

I wasn’t surprised when a pair of Union soliders came running through the gates before I could get there.  If I’d been worried about an oncoming Ultra it is what I would have done.  Their job would be to buy time, to get me to reveal my gift.

They spread out, one heading to either side of the road, keeping weapons trained on me.  These looked like more conventional rifles, although I wasn’t close enough to get a good look.  It didn’t really matter.

I ignored them, just kept heading for the gates.  One of them shot me a few times, but I didn’t break stride.  No reason to deal with these chumps.  If they were Ultras they’d come for me, as soon as I got their boss, and if they were daggers then it wasn’t worth it.

A few desultory shots came from the tower as I walked up, but these slackened as I drew near.  They had enough evidence to start treating me as bulletproof now, at least.

“Regime Combatant, state your intentions!” blared a voice from a hidden speaker.

I couldn’t tell if it was someone with a voice amplifier who was crouched down behind something, or an actual speaker relaying the words of somebody deep inside the base.

“I want to talk to your leader.  Stop wasting ammo and get out here.  I promise, in Her name, I’m not here to harm you.”

There was a momentary delay.  It made me think that this was an actual loudspeaker situation, and the wait was their command staff talking among themselves.

“Who are you?”

That was a decent question.

“I am Preventer, I am part of Fourth Fist.  You should have files on me, somewhere in there.  My Fist sent me to talk to you, we want to avoid the problems that broke out the last time we tried to speak with the Union.”

Another pause.

“Prove it!”

I shrugged, then brought forth a barrier.  It rotated around me once, then passed back into my form.

“Satisfied?” I asked.

There was a sort of a ‘schunk’ kind of sound, and the gate cracked open.

I hadn’t actually believed that they’d go for it.  It spoke well of their commanding officer’s rationality.  It would have been easy to just hunker down and fire, hoping that reinforcements would arrive before I could do anything too serious.

I walked through the gate, into a courtyard.  There weren’t all that many Union troops around, they’d mostly relocated.  A few watched me from behind low walls scattered around the yard, presumably put there exactly to be of use in a firefight.  I was tempted to wave, but controlled myself.

The door cracked open in front of me, the tall woman from before was behind it.  She led me into a meeting room.

The guy on the other side of the table had was old and fat, and had on the same kind of black pseudo armor outfit that she’d been wearing.  I couldn’t get a grasp on what determined who got the ninja stuff and who got normal camo.

“Hello Preventer,” he said.  “I am Major Hobes.  I’m the highest ranking officer present.  If you have demands, or intend to take a hostage, I offer myself.”

I rolled my eyes.

“I don’t want anything from you.  I am just here to tell you some things.  I’m certainly not about to take you hostage.”

He smiled, gestured for me to be seated.

“That’s reassuring.  Your file suggests that you have indulged in that kind of behavior before.”

I fought down a sudden, irrational desire to read my file.

“I usually have Knights do that sort of thing.  It turns out to be a huge hassle, especially if you are keeping a kid or two.”

He blanched a bit, at that.  This guy was no diplomat, and probably didn’t play cards all that well.

“Well, why don’t you say what you have to say, Rebecca?”

“Fourth Fist is here to offer our assistance to your Union, in the upcoming battle with the Pantheon.  I don’t know if you have the records of the last time we tried to meet with you people, but this is what we were about that time as well.”

He spread his hands.

“We are having some difficulty contacting the network, at this time.  It makes it complicated to look up the information that you are referring to.”

“You found my dagger name easily enough, Major.” I said.

“Oh, sorry about that,” he said.  “We had the file on your Fist, and others, cached locally.  I don’t have any records of this meeting that you are referring to though.”

That sounded plausible.

“It isn’t important.  What matters is that we are here to help, if you’ll let us.”

I was actually coming on a little stronger than we’d talked about before, but I thought it was warranted.  For all Fader’s talk of them being willing to let us swim for a while as long as we didn’t make trouble I still felt like the safer route was in getting them to think of us as allies, rather than merely inactive enemies.

“You must realize, I have no authority to negotiate with agents of a foreign power.  Even if she sent you to come to terms with us, even if you compel me, my assent would be meaningless to my nation.  My promises would not bind them.”

“Even if She sent you,” I corrected his pronunciation.

He looked duly chastened, and a bit worried.

“Yeah, I get that.  I’m not asking you to sign us up or anything.  I’m just trying to get across to you that that big explosion wasn’t step one in us attacking you.  Can you relay that up the chain?”

“Then what was that blast?” he asked.  “No, more important question, how did that bomb get past the Umbrella?  If you truly have no hostile intentions, would you mind sharing what you know of the event?”

He hadn’t answered my question, but at least he hadn’t said ‘no’.  I didn’t see any harm in filling in the blanks for them a bit.

“The bomb was on our boat.  Your Umbrella is probably some kind of interception system, right?  This explosive was never in the air.”

He shook his head, slowly.

“It should still have been caught, even if you carried it in along the surface.  It picked up a Pantheon suitcase nuke last year, inside of an armored truck.”

I just shrugged.

“Then I don’t know.  Maybe it is tuned to pick up the kind of bombs that the Pantheon uses on you, and they make up different ones when they try to take out a Fist.”

Actually, given what we’d pieced together, it seemed likely that there had been no bomb for their system to detect, right up till the instant of detonation.  That was too complicated to explain here, however.

“So this explosion was the Pantheon’s work then?  They were attacking you?”

I just nodded.

Lying to the Union was a terrible way to kick off whatever friendship Haunter hoped to form, but the truth wasn’t really an option, not if we wanted to keep Sixth Fist’s broken Link a secret.

“Very well.  I will let my superiors know what we have discussed, as soon as our communications are restored.”

“Excellent,” I said.

We sat there in silence for a bit, until he kind of awkwardly stood up.

“Agent Raindrop will see you out.”

The tall woman who’d been my escort thus far was apparently waiting for this cue, as she opened the door.

I started leaving, then stopped on a sudden impulse.  I reached up and swiped her beret, set it on my head in place of the Sigil she’d ruined.

She jumped back and pointed her gun at me, again, but an impatient gesture from her boss got us moving.

There wasn’t any incident as we left the gates, and she stopped there.  I walked back down the road alone.  Haunter’s ghosts joined me once I was out of the tower’s sight line.

“How did it go?” asked one.

After I told him he flashed back to Haunter, leaving me and the other to trudge the rest of the way back in silence.

They’d made a campfire, I saw when I got back to the beach.  Or at least Haunter had.  Fader was still in her image form, and judging by the unbandaged state of her hand she hadn’t gone back to flesh since the explosion.

“Good job,” said Fader.  “I appreciate you keeping your calm when they were shooting at you.”

I shrugged.

“Comes with the gift.  I think they will probably keep back for tonight, at least, but I doubt that little song and dance will have any real effect in stopping them from filling this island with countermeasures tomorrow.”

Haunter looked somberly across the fire.

“Diplomacy is no mere ‘song and dance’, Preventer.  I wish you wouldn’t be so flippant about the possibility of cooperation.”

The paradox of Haunter was that she was impossible to ignore, but when she said things like that it was incredibly hard to take her seriously.

“Sure Jane,” I said.  “I bet this will just go great.”

“It needs to,” said Fader.  “The Union is a lot meaner than most Regime Ultras realize.  If it bends its efforts in our direction we might be in real trouble.  Remember, until just a few hours ago we ‘knew’ that there was no way to break a Link.  What else might we be about to learn?”

That was a good point, actually.  A bit sobering.

“Hope you know what you are doing, Haunter,” I said.

“I don’t,” she responded.  “We do.”