Proxy Tribunal Channel Transcript

P1 joined ‘Secret Real Tribunal chat’

P1: Anyone here yet?

P1: That name is really asking for it, folks. We are agreed on the issues with the official process, but come on.

I1 joined ‘Secret Real Tribunal chat’

I1: Lol, love the name. Who’s here?

P1: Just me, have you done the reading?

I1: Doing it now, but a direct report gave me the rundown, they are just Nazis, right?

P1: It is more complicated than that, there are nuances here. Too complicated for public dissemination anyway.

P2 joined ‘Secret Real Tribunal chat’

P1: Intelligence has a rep here already.

P2: Great, everyone else should be getting on soon.

J1 joined ‘Secret Real Tribunal chat’

J1: This is a waste of time.

I1: Hello to you too.

P1: Any other Justice personnel joining us?

J1: Yes, momentarily, but we remain dubious on the overall merits of this whole subprocess.

J2, I2, M1 and M2 joined ‘Secret Real Tribunal Chat’

M1: Ha, love the name.

M2: Are we all here?

I1: Yes, this should be a quorum.

P1: Intelligence, would you give us all the elevator version?

I2: I can do so, if my superior assents.

I1: Go on.

M2: Let’s get this over with.

J2: Do you find your duties tiresome?

M2: We are all going to die in a few weeks, but let’s spend some of our last precious hours doing back channel stuff for Regime assholes.

M1: He’s fine, go on.

I2: He doesn’t *sound* fine.

M1: We just turned back the enemy’s greatest attack in the middle of our capital, and we are facing an even more devastating one imminently, cut him some slack.

I2: Fourth Fist is a Regime Fist, the newest and presumably last of such formations. It is comprised of Haunter, Indulger, Condemner, Fisher and Preventer. We hold three members of this Fist in custody. This panel, or rather the greater panel of which we are all members, is empowered to determine their fate.

I1: It isn’t as simple as throwing them in jail forever, though. From what I’m reading here things are a bit murky around this particular crew.

I2: They were the source of the tip off that helped out so much in the recent battle.

M1: The destination of their backup attack? That was critical. We trusted these totalitarian fucks for something so important?

I2: Not just them, they have, hmm, ‘transported’, might be the best word, or perhaps resurrected, a number of civilians from before the First Defiance.

I1: They also saved General Greggs, it was ultimately her testimony that swayed us as far as their credibility.

P2: Weighing against that, however…

I2: I was getting there.

P2: Their conduct has been unremittingly vile and problematic, they have committed exactly the excesses that we might expect from any other similar formation. They’ve waged war on our Union, destroyed a judicial installation and committed a brand new capital crime we are tentatively calling ‘mindrape’ on a number of our diplomats and officers.

M2: We lost a number of assets to Indulger’s attacks during the final battle. If they were actually cooperating you’d think he’d have surrendered.

I1: It looks like the other two did, and their testimony is that his judgement was affected by another Ultrahuman’s gift, causing him to take actions not representative of his overall character.

I2: That’s correct, sir, they worked against the Pantheon unit during its onslaught, taking out a number of its key personnel, and ultimately surrendered to our forces.

P1: If it was just that, however, well, we wouldn’t need to meet like this. Our policy on ‘useful idiots’ from the Regime has always been to take what they give and kill them as soon as possible. If you’d care to explain what makes Fourth Fist different? That is, why they aren’t just another Third Fist situation, where we were able to get some benefit against a mutual foe?

I2: Haunter’s testimony pertains to future events, and it is backed up by the majority of those that her gift has resurrected. She is talking about an apocalypse, with respect, about the end of the world. We can’t just thank her for her service and throw her in a box if doing so will kill us all!

I1: I…hadn’t read that far yet, um, I’ll stand behind my junior here, they have my complete trust. If they are taking this threat seriously, then you can bet there is good reason to.

M1: I appreciate that, but if we are talking about an apocalypse, we don’t exactly need to rely on the testimony of people from across the ocean to see it coming. The Brides have marched. The Pantheon falls into ruin. Zeus is practically here. Nobody is under any illusions that our future is guaranteed.

J1: Beyond which, we have always lived under the threat of annihilation. Our glorious Union is founded on, and lives to this day through, the goal of preserving our dignity in the face of naked threat. We will not compromise, we will not change who we are, just because the hour is late.

I1: Haha, politicians, you better scoop this guy up! He wants to write speeches for you. Seriously, how long did it take you to come up with that stuff?

I2: My senior is maybe a bit rude, but what he means is that there is no audience here, that’s why we opened this chat. We are here to work without oversight, free to come up with the best solution, not the one that reflects best on us. You don’t need to posture.

J1: I wasn’t posturing. I was speaking the simple truth.

M1: Can we move this along?

M2: Maybe just list out the pros, the cons, and let us vote? The whole point of this channel is to get things done without the dick measuring and posing for posterity. Let’s take advantage of it.

P2: I’ll take cons. These are the same maniacs who betrayed us overseas, killing Commander Martinez. They mindraped everyone they came into contact with at our embassy, they interfered with an intervention group, destroyed a prison and fought alongside the Grand Host, killing numerous civilians in the attacks on Istanbul and Berlin. If we do anything other than deal with them as strictly as possible we are inviting anyone who wants to to walk all over us, forever.

I1: The incident in the Regime was a lot more complicated than you are making it out to be. Your counterparts ignored the reports on Martinez’s increasingly erratic behavior, and there is a lot of reason to believe that he was at fault.

J2: Awesome, literal Regime apologism in our deliberations. How dare Fidel fight back against the monsters who destroyed the world? He clearly provoked them into destroying him. Let’s all lick Peggy’s boots like good little humans.

I2: If your stance is going to be that all our aggression is justified and those of our enemies is always the opposite then I don’t know what you bring to these deliberations, we could replace you with a query to SPARTACUS about what country’s uniform someone was wearing, get exactly the same value.

J1: Not productive, can we get back to the pros and cons?

M1: Yes, that. Zeus isn’t going to wait for us to wring our hands over this. I don’t want to spend a lot of time.

P2: I’m done with cons from the past. The remainder is just the obvious one, that letting a Fist go free probably means we’ll have to fight them at some point. Disregarding what they’ve done in the past, they will still obey Prevailer, and presumably at some point she’ll tell them to attack us.

I1: It would be out of character, usually She uses First Fist for that kind of thing.

J2: Did you really just do the capitalization thing? Do we have a genuine bootlicker in the channel?

I2: We are occasionally required to meet with covert assets. If we relax our vigilance when we are among friends we might slip up when the need is more dire.

P1: Pro’s? Intelligence seems to be the only ones leaning that way, so maybe you can take care of this?

I2: Gladly. Haunter has rescued a thousand plus people from the distant past, who have invaluable skills and knowledge. She can use her gift on our key personnel, allowing them to persist beyond death, as in the case of General Greggs. Their Fist is also willing and begging to execute an immediate strike on the Regime homeland, its target to be First Fist, which is debatably our greatest enemy.

P2: This strike is tied somehow to the threat of apocalypse?

I2: Yes, exactly, Haunter claims Remover is the lynchpin of mankind’s peril. She believes destroying her and her fist will either end the Process, kill all Ultras or remove all gifts. Her resurrected allies are generally believers in this theory as well, for whatever that is worth.

M2: What do you believe that is worth?

I2: The testimony of dozens, hundreds of witnesses? All of whom experienced the events in question first hand? Quite a lot.

J1: Unless, of course, they are brainwashed.

I2: Excuse me?

J1: It’s the natural suspicion, right? We know these monsters mind rape people, and then they show up with a bunch of people who suspiciously agree with their ridiculous lie? I wonder how that could have possibly happened.

I2: I’m…I…that’s literally a fully general counterargument. The only way for someone to prove they aren’t being mind controlled is to agree with you?

J2: Honestly it is a nicer hypothesis then the idea that you are literally willing collaborators.

P1: That’s quite enough of that.

I1: That’s way out of line!

J2: Capitalize another pronoun, why don’t you?

P1: Enough!

P2: No one is going to be convinced like this. Let’s enumerate the options, vote and get on to more important business.

M1: We have confirmed confinement of 3 members of a Fist, and we’ve maintained it for greater than twenty four hours. This proves that the other two members are alive and distant.

M2: So executing these 3 is obviously off the table. The remaining options are continued confinement, with execution being revisited when and if the other two appear alongside them, and Intelligence’s scheme of collaborating with them.

M1: The Military’s position remains that no possible gain can equal the risk of putting a Fist back into play. Istanbul was a reminder of the terrible power of these units. We speak for confinement.

I1: We speak for utilizing them. Our Union faces a terrible crisis, and we must use all means to avert it.

J2: Fuck Fascists, we are for confinement.

P2: Is your junior glanding something?

J1: I’m sorry for his behavior, there will be a full investigation, you have my word.

P2: And your standing?

J1: Oh he covered it.

I2: Come on!

P1: We speak last, and loudest, for the people are always the leaders in our Union. We take the counsel of our experts in this matter, and hereby accept the stand of confinement.

J2: You can’t see us, but M2 is playing a tiny violin for your fascist buds. This must be so harsh for you. I guess force doesn’t rule this part of the world, eh?

J2 has left the channel

P2: I’m sorry to boot a standing member, but we are pretty clearly done here.

M1: We’ll make it official through the actual official Tribunal channels over the next few weeks then?

P1: If we all survive that long.

J1, P1, P2 and M1 have left the channel

I1: Not leaving M2?

M2: I just wanted you to know that J2 wasn’t lying about me. Smallest violin.

M2 has left the channel

I2: What the hell is wrong with them?

I1: What did you expect? I noticed you didn’t pitch Haunter’s “you should surrender to Zeus” line to them.

I2: Reason? I expected reason? Something resembling it anyway? The actual consideration of our evidence?

I1: People in despair will lash out if you give them a target. You let them reduce a complicated exercise in figuring out what would maximize their population’s chance of thriving to ‘do you hate Nazis, yes/no’. You are surprised they did it?

I2: I wanted them to do their jobs. I wanted them to actually exercise the responsibilities they have been entrusted with.

I1: Was I ever that young?

I2: This is rank idiocy. We are going to turn around on Haunter, on Jane Trent, and say ‘thanks for saving all these people, now stay in a cell until Zeus shows up to kill you.’

I1: I don’t love it.

I2: What will we say when she asks ‘why?’

I1: She’ll understand. Of all people, this Haunter will understand the dynamics of what just happened.

I2: This is a mistake. We lose nothing by taking her up on her offer. We stand to gain everything. Our cohorts managed to screw up Pascal’s Wager!

I1: Mario, I know you were close to the catastrophe with Martinez, but don’t let your personal feelings control you. The Union can’t work alongside a Fist so soon after Istanbul and Berlin.

I2: You are really going to talk about prestige and reputation? I’m talking about existence. I’m talking about us continuing on for more than another month, another day!

I1: The military-

I2: They are full of it. You’ve read the reports. Zeus isn’t called the Light Speed Lord for nothing. He is lightning alive, a formless monster faster than sight or sound. He killed a Fist. He broke the old Pantheon Leadership Council and he shattered our offensive, and none of those victories took even ten seconds.

I1: I’m aware-

I2: He fears exactly one thing in all the world, and that’s Prevailer. She’s just the same, instant death at teleport speed, unavoidable and absolute. Fear of Her is the only reason he hasn’t attacked long ago. He doesn’t know if She would kill him.

I1: And so he sent his minions, his Brides, I KNOW this.

I2: And Prevailer didn’t show up! Forget that we don’t even know who killed Vampire. Forget that he has ten times as many Brides again as he lost, the only question that matters has been answered. She isn’t going to save us.

I1: We can’t be seen to collaborate with the Regime. You aren’t wrong, but I was hoping what we just went through would make you understand. The politicians can’t go for it, and the judicial crew will literally die first.

I2: You’ll let them snuff out our last chance then? Because that’s what this is. If Haunter isn’t right about this thing ending Ultra gifts, then Zeus will wipe us out. You are saying we should just wait here to die, just because some other people want us to?

I1: They’d be hauling you in for arrest if they heard that. You doubting the wisdom of our appointed leaders? You think decisions should instead be made by those with the power to enforce them? Pantheon thinking, there. Maybe the leader should be the strongest Ultrahuman?

I2: I believe in our system. I do. I’m not longing for some king to show up and cut through the decisions of the stakeholders. I understand the reason for it all.

I1: But?

I2: But this is wrong! This is a stupid decision, and we shouldn’t abide by it.

I1: I agree.

I2: But you just said…

I1: We can’t BE SEEN to collaborate with a Fist.

I2: Oh thank God.

I1: So make sure nobody spots you on the way out.

Regime Quest 41

Day 5: (Night)

 

Supplemental Action: Merlin. I’m not normally one for night activity, but some deeds are best done without witnesses, and with any luck at all Snitcher will have decided that I am generally only active during the day, and will not have been checking up on me.

I hadn’t heard back from the Union, which wasn’t terribly surprising, it wasn’t even clear my offer had made its way to their decision makers, but I went to deliver on my part of the proposed bargain anyway. They didn’t have a lot of reasons to believe in my goodwill, so it was time to start giving them a few.

I stole out from the dwelling I’d commandeered under cover of night, steering my way towards the building my Resistance contacts had indicated contained her comatose form.

I spared a thought for the possibility that it might be a trap of some sort, but dismissed it. My warband were sleeping within shouting range, and everyone in this town with the courage to oppose us had died in the battle with Arthur.

The possibility existed, of course, that the Union had snuck back in in order to setup a kill shot at me, but I dismissed that too. I couldn’t go through life assuming that assassins were waiting in every bathroom. I was a strong Ultra, I had no reason to fear, I resolved not to do so.

The door was unlocked, I snuck within. There were no lights, not many amenities. I could dimly make out a figure in a sort of an egg shaped pod thing. Like a clear plastic couch that also had a top, if I had to describe it. I walked over to it and groped around on it, looking for a catch or some other way to open it up.

I’d originally planned to deliver some hammy lines about ‘really make you suffer’ or something similar, but I’d been working off the idea that there’d be anyone to talk to here. I’d fall back on that if anyone showed up, but in the absence of anyone to talk to I felt like even Snitcher might realize that he was the target audience of a monolog delivered to an unconscious person.

I didn’t find a hook to unlock or anything, but there was a section of the top middle area where there was no plastic, like a kind of window. I stuck a hand down in there and felt around until I got it on her face.

I released the first of the two ‘Living’ attributes that I’d got during the battle, to my immense satisfaction.

I was immediately aware of two things. First, it was very fucking dark in here with my vision only doubled, and second, the figure under my hand immediately started to stir.

I wasted no time, retreating rapidly from the premises like I was on fire. I might not actually have any Ultra Speed, but I like to think that I can scamper with the best of them. I was back out on the street in less than ten seconds, walking away like I’d never actually entered.

Day 6:

Departure: I got rid of the other ‘Living’ while we were getting ready to go. The Resistance contact who’d pointed Merlin out to me had ultimately decided that she wanted it, so I slapped her five on my way to departing.

It’s hard to describe how much relief I felt as I finally got rid of the last extra attribute, went back to the spirit I’d been born with. I also have my death touch back in tip top shape, so that’s fun too.

Travel: We spent today heading back to Shington, taking the same route that we’d taken to go there.

I’d been considering relying on the bikes a bit, but between the truck, the sedan and Soarer we were able to get everyone motorized without squeezing people in too much.

I rode in the truck, and I also used that as, essentially, a kind of mobile court, where those in my good graces carried on with plenty of space, under my watchful gaze. The car was my purgatory, hot boxed and crammed with seven Ultras, filled with those with whom I was less thrilled.

Soarer took Peeler with her on the trip, they seemed to get along, and from what she tells me flying gifts are great fun. If I can spare the time, I might try going flying with Soarer sometime in the future. It might be revealing to see Shington from the air, and I know I’ll need relief from the pressures of my situation at some point.

We got back late at night, and I left the Warband back at their old Barracks, while Owner and I evicted the chumps who’d dared to move into the Packer House while I was gone.

###########################################################

Day 7 (Trying to simplify the format to make the quest less impenetrable to new readers) ? until next battle

 

Ultra rolodex: (#/#/# is Ultra strength/speed/toughness)

Tracker – Running buddy, 1/0/1, Creates tracks, and can move things on them

Shower – Adder’s protégé, 1*/0/1*, gains strength and durability from witnesses

Echoer – Singer I am a fan of, 1/1/1, can duplicate any action that she sees

Bubbler – Operates Ultra clinic 0/0/?, traps things in bubbles that heal and move them

Sucker — Ultra entertainer, ?/?/?, pulls objects/people towards her at incredible rate

Gunner — 0/0/1, she shoots tracking Ultra Blasts at roughly Ultra Strength One

Chiller — 1/0/1, can freeze any object she touches, leaving them brittle and easily broken

Cutter — 1/1/1, she is a brutal front line combatant

Swimmer — 1/0/1, she can ‘swim’ through solid surfaces

Burner — 0/0/1, she can summon Ultra fire from anywhere that she can see

Maxxer — 0/0/0, she can augment the gifts of other Ultras, pushing their gifts

Puncher — 1/0/1, her strength and speed both go up when she repeats her movements

Replayer — 1/2/0, she can ‘step back in time’ to undo damage that she takes

Maker- Friend, and protégé of Snitcher, 0/0/1, can summon the spirit of things

Clawer – Ultra fighter 2/0/1, melee combatant, deadly hooks for hands

Stopper – partner of Clawer, 0/0/0, steals form’s velocity by looking at them

Sticker – Did dentistry for her brother, 0/0/2, Creates slime, can choose its stickiness

Grower – 0/*0/1, an outside Ultra I sponsored into the Lair, has a bullet blend from me, can rapidly increase the size and mass of objects

Joker — 0/2/0, a woman who can change what other people/herself look like

 

 

Assets: (physical)

1 truck

1 sedan

Owner’s Shington Store

Packer House

Fog Machines

Lasers (diverse)

 

Posse: (4 slots, 1 filled)

Owner (trusted friend, housemate, gift hard to describe) 0/0/1

 

Warband:

16 Veteran Ultras

Hexxer, Peeler, Guager, Soarer are notably less evil than the rest.

 

Blender AP: 10/10

Actions cost 3, return 2 on success 0 on failure unless otherwise specified, Blender gains 1 AP every morning

 

Available Actions:

 

Posse Recruitment tree

Meet more Ultras (describe method, adds d6 to contacts)

Get to know specific Ultra better (describe method transitions Ultra to potential Posse member)

Invite Ultra to Posse (must have got to know target first, if accepted, Ultra joins Posse)

 

Warband tree

Get more Ultras (describe method, adds Ultras to warband of quality/quantity dependent on method)

Train warband (describe method, makes QM kinder to Blender in combat sections re: her troops actions and numbers)

Task warband (describe, needs Posse member or Blender to lead them, sets warband to a task)

 

VIP tree (Used for Regime Luminaries)

Visit VIP (explain, explain Blender’s motives and methods) (only returns 1 AP on success)

 

Contacts tree: (Blender currently believes morning is safer from Snitcher)

Get info from contacts (specify KEM or Resistance, method if different from usual dead drop)

Request mission from contacts (ask KEM or Resistance for action)

 

Relax tree: (Actions which, on balance, regain AP)

Lay still: Cost 0, auto succeed, returns 2

Relaxation activities, Cost 0, returns 3 on success, 1 on failure

Healing work, Cost 1, returns 6 on success, Snitcher hazard

Blisser session, auto succeed, returns 4 per timeslot, cannot be ended until Blender is back at 10

 

Miscellaneous action: (Anything not covered above, scavenging, info gathering in person, etc, describe what Blender is going for)

 

Player Input:

Blender Morning Action

Blender Afternoon Action

(Owner is busy today, mollifying angry Ultras about her absence)

Condemner 9:3

“-Fuck?” she yelled, finishing the sentence that I’d interrupted.

I fumed inwardly, but made no visible response. I kept myself in my true form, clinging to a toppled beam for sustenance. She’d already proven that she could escape my rush from much closer than she was now. Blitzing her would just wear me out.

“What the fuck do you think you are doing, you Regime shit?” she elaborated. “You want to go at me? At ME? I can see you don’t have a fucking brain in that form, but I thought you could still think.”

I ignored her words, thinking furiously. I could rush towards her again, or just throw flames at her, but all she’d have to do to avoid the attack was to put herself in shadow and teleport away. She could obviously do that extremely fast, but I just needed a way to get there with the slightest bit of my essence. Once she was aflame nothing could save her.

“Whatever,” she concluded. “Fuck you.”

There was no shadow to warn me, my own light driving it away, but I didn’t need one to see the enormous chunk of stone suddenly plummeting down at me. I shot across the ground in an instant, spreading myself rapidly to another toppled strut.

The clash the falling stone made was earth shaking, or at least it felt so to one tethered as I was. The pillar I was clinging to bounced and jostled, rolling end over end. I looked in every direction at once, trying to keep her in sight.

It wasn’t hard, as she hadn’t moved, but it also wasn’t what I needed to do. With my attention focused on not losing track of her I nearly missed her next onslaught, a huge cloud of sand and dust bursting into existence above me, raining down like a granite hailstorm.

This was a lot more serious for me. I could probably have just let myself be crushed by the boulder. I wasn’t solid, wasn’t anything that could be smashed. I’d have just shaped my form into the cracks of it, flowed up and around as though it hadn’t been there.

I’d dodged it instinctively, and also to conceal my lack of substance. But this time the dodge was in deadly earnest, and she’d started this payload a lot closer to me.

I spread across the ground again, forcing my essence to burn that which nature would not ignite. It took all of my Ultra speed, but I managed to outpace the cloud of grit and sand, blazing out of the edge of it and into the superstructure of one of the toppled buildings.

The dust load would have been ruinous for me, an environment with no paths, no air, and nothing flammable. I’d have been stuck burning through it, wasting life force on pebbles and sand of which she had an endless supply.

I’d landed, however, on considerably better terrain for me. The toppled building was at least somewhat intact, a vast and shattered cylinder crammed to bursting with combustibles. I grew through it with alacrity, snaring insulation, wooden furnishings, and a hundred other traces of man’s existence, all ripe with vital essence.

Her third attack was as I figured, a thick sludge of ground and stone, dropped inches from all of the parts of my form that were in the open. I couldn’t dodge at all, couldn’t move nearly fast enough, and she extinguished a swathe of me in an instant.

I coiled through the building, staying within walls and floors, along carpets and furnishings. I kept myself to places where the world around me was solid enough to resist her strikes, places already cluttered and obstructed, where she would have to place each pebble individually.

I was gambling, of course, that she couldn’t teleport forms into other forms, but it seemed a reasonable bet. An Ultra who could do that would be greater than Her, and there was presumably a reason that Vampire was out here scrapping with me instead of running the Pantheon.

There was no fourth strike, or at least not one on the tempo of the other three. My gambit had bought me a little time at least. I tried to put it to good use.

She’d had me cold at the opening, had me out in the street without any cover. She’d been angry and impetuous, probably still terrified from the fiasco in Istanbul, and she’d let me get away. That would be smarting. She’d be looking to simplify the situation, and with her gift I could think of a lot of ways to do that.

The most obvious way, simply hurling beyond the limits of the world, was closed off to her. That was probably the only reason I was still alive. I shed my own light, brought it up out of the core of me and gifted the world around me with it. She had mostly trained against people holding lights, or standing near them. She’d be good at putting things between people and their illumination sources, but that wasn’t going to work with me.

To kill me she needed to extinguish me. If she could get me into my human form then death was easy, in any of a hundred ways. But putting me out wasn’t the most impossible task. I spent energy with every second I burned. Keeping me away from souls or materials would do the trick, or she could use water or inert substances to stop my reaction if she was impatient.

Would she crack my refuge open? Just crush the entire building beneath a larger yet? I wasn’t sure that wouldn’t actually give me more nooks and crannies to hide in, but the thought birthed another a heartbeat later.

Could she? She hadn’t used water to smother me, hadn’t hit me with anything exotic or especially potent. There had to be water in shadow, somewhere, and her range was great enough to bring us here all the way from distant Istanbul. She might have limitations, checks on her gift that I couldn’t easily understand. It would do a lot to explain why the battle with Third Fist had gone on for so long.

“Condemner!” came her shout, filtering its way through the building’s wrecked corridors. “Why are you hiding? Aren’t you some kind of badass?”

I gritted imaginary teeth, wracking my mind. All of my thoughts were being bent to survival. I’d made nothing even resembling an attempt to strike her since my first failure. Was I that outmatched? That overwhelmed? Could the world let me fall without even giving me a chance?

She taunted me again, but I didn’t bother to listen, forcing myself to think of attack, of devouring the bitch, to ignore the fear and focus only on my truth, only on gathering experiences for my greater self.

Her fortress was distance, location. She attacked with control of it, defended herself by changing her location within it. Aside from this petty trick she was only human. All I had to do was cross the intervening area, bring my force to her flesh, and this would be over.

How did she know when to dodge? It couldn’t be just sight. She’d have died long ago, shot in the face by some Union scumbag. She had to have another sense, one that would warn her, some aspect of her gift that let her flee from the death due her, a cheater trick to keep her flesh uncooked.

Most Ultras didn’t have multiple Entities. Most who had multiple gifts were just misdiagnosing two separate aspects of the same gift. Say that was the case. Say this bitch was just a teleporter, just someone with control over forms that were unlit. How could that be twisted into a sense?

She probably sensed light, or dark. Something like that. I couldn’t get the details, but I felt confident that that was basically what was going on. When the fire had drawn near to her she’d registered the change of the light, of her body leaving her gift’s protection, far faster than her human self could act. She’d vanished away on instinct, on automatic.

What did that mean? The only way to kill her would be with something that didn’t change light and dark? I’d have to strike from within the dark, but to do so would be to submit to her power.

“You sure you don’t care about your colleagues?” came the taunting voice? “You don’t mind at all if this one perishes?”

I pushed myself through the ruins, pressing a tendril of my conflagration against a window, looking out over the street.

I couldn’t have planned a better twist. Would she kill Haunter to hurt me? Grant my fondest wish in the hopes that I’d suffer for it? Or that oaf Indulger, Dale’s altered cognition betraying him to the very faction he’d sought to join? Maybe waste her efforts on Preventer’s impervious smugness?

Fisher’s Lure dangled beneath Vampire’s perch, impaled on a jagged hunk of rebar, her blood flowing down the wall in a crimson river.

“Wait!” I shouted, back in my human form. “This is all a misunderstanding!”

What was I doing? I’d left unliving flame burning on the walls around me, but it was a pale and flickering barricade. One gravel attack and I’d be at her mercy.

“Oh yeah?” Vampire asked, voice rich with well-deserved skepticism.

Betty tried to shout something, but she was too gravely injured. Her eyes were glassy, her mouth opened and closed, but I could hear nothing of reason in the pain stricken moan that issued forth.

“Go ahead and kill her!” I shouted, clambering up onto the window sill to look at her directly, burning a flame in my hand at ruinous cost to keep myself safe from her gift. “She’ll just come back to life tomorrow!”

“Did a pussy like you really take out Zilla?” she asked, her voice softer now.

Vampire was hidden in shadow, lurking back on the edge of a ruined hunk of a toppled structure, while Fisher suffered beneath her.

I forced my hate away. What was it Haunter was always saying? Hate couldn’t deliver victory. Prevailer had taught the world that. I needed reason now, in this moment of crisis.

“Let her go,” I called. “You don’t get anything out of her death. I’m just as tough to take down after she’s gone.”

What was that? She’d smell bitch all over that little speech.

“You couldn’t have,” she said. “I heard about Zilla growing up, how she was this ultimate Ultra, how she ruled the Host like a Bride, how she’d have been one of us if the Master didn’t need her to keep the Union in check. Nothing like you could have taken her out.”

I gritted my teeth. The mistake she was making was obvious to me, an idea that a lot of Ultras were seduced into, the notion that people could only be killed by those of their own stature, but I’d gain nothing from pointing it out.

“You are the one who couldn’t have,” I countered. “Just like you couldn’t stop Third Fist. I bet you didn’t even get one, just ran away like you always do!”

Most people get unpleasant truths thrown in their face, from time to time. They get used to it, develop defenses or patterns for it. Not Vampire.

“You guys are nothing like them,” she answered, ignoring my statement “Not a challenge at all.”

“Wow, not even one?” I went on, like she hadn’t even spoken, ignoring her in turn. “They ran you off without even trying? You know the Union killed Leveler once without even a single Ultra?”

She stomped the edge of her platform, face coming out of the shadows. Her teeth were gritted and her eyes were wide and staring. A more perfect picture of fury I’d never seen.

“I killed one!” she shouted, then stopped instantly, a hand rising to her lips as though to catch the errant line.

“You admit it?” I gawked. “Just one? Oh wow I was just guessing. You ran off without even getting Killer? You know she’s not even 20 years old? You ran from a girl with all her teeth?”

Her mouth worked for a second, nothing coming out. She was literally speechless with anger.

And it was doing nothing for me. I wasn’t getting any advantages from my opponent being out of her mind with rage because how the fuck could I beat her? Vampire was invincible. I needed to get out of here before-

“I haven’t killed enough Fist members for your taste?” she yelled. “I guess I should kill one more?”

“No!” I shouted, even as her hand fell like a guillotine to point down at Betty’s drawn face.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, the strong’s elemental contempt for weakness in her voice. “You can’t stand to see your friend gone for even a day?”

I stood mute, flame guttering in my hand. What could I say? What would improve my odds?

What would Haunter do?

“If you don’t want to see…” she drawled, voice thick with an almost elemental cruelty, “Then put out the light.”

I looked back to Betty, looked long and hard.

She was anguished, face contorted in anger. Her human form, always the frailer of the two, was utterly-

Wait.

Where was her other form?

I looked again, striving for precision despite the distance. Where was her shadow?

Vampire’s hand turned on its end, one finger pointed towards Fisher, the thumb rising and turning the hand into the universal sign for ‘gun’.

“Ok!” I shouted, “Ok, I’ll-“

And I let the light fade. Stood before her as a human entire, helpless and weak.

She smirked at me for a moment, then leaned back into her shadows, hand rising again and moving into a finger snap.

I moved my hands up reflexively, as though there was something to dodge, something that I could do, but found myself instantly gagging for breath, an impossible pressure forcing my form to the shattering point.

I convulsed, uselessly. The airless void around me had nothing to kick off, nothing to burn. My lungs gagged for breath that would never arrive, my hands clawed at nothing.

Above me, or below me, the Earth rose vast and blue, a great glistening sky substitute that blotted out half of the darkness around me, cold and distant.

I flared my gift uselessly, burned a mote of power and lost a foot to a partial transformation, my flame form fading even faster than my human life.

A timeless infinity of pain, of shame and rage, seemed to pass before the crowning humiliation. Fisher appeared in front of me, superimposed over the gleaming world below, her forms both ravaged and damaged, convulsing and choking like me.

I strove to keep my life from fading, flailed uselessly as though I could swim to her. Vampire’d dropped us maybe ten feet away, maybe closer, but it might as well have been miles.

She caught my eye for a moment, her Hook catching sight of me in a moment of synchronicity, wordlessly saying something I wasn’t capable of understanding, but that the defective part of me that had brought me to this pass already knew.

A moment later she raised its hand, a gesture voluntary and deliberate, in stark contrast to the fevered writhing of her human self.

Her claw was bloody for the entire last foot, maybe further along. The blood was dissipating and fading out into the void around it, but I’d been fast enough, had seen it in time.

I dragged my hand up, pointed at my mouth. I was trying to make a ‘fangs’ kind of gesture, but I was fading fast, my vision going rapidly.

I hung on long enough to see her solemn nod, my last act to return her triumphant smile.

Regime Quest 40

Day 5:

Main Action: Social stuff. Lots of things got done today, bleagh. Ok, let me split my summary up into smaller stuff.

Outreach: I got a message to the Resistance to give to the Union, which feels like a safe channel to assume exists. I want to give Merlin one of these ‘Living’ attributes and in exchange get a truck or a bus from them, maybe some guns.

It’s a bit of a long shot that they are going want to work on the level with me after we just tried to kill each other, but I’m willing if they are. Having some covert understanding with the Union would be AMAZING, going forward, for my odds of survival and accomplishing my goals. Fingers crossed here, I really want this to work.

Recruitment: I asked Viber and Soarer to join my unit today, which went over about as well as you’d figure asking people to join the people who killed their friends/family would. Soarer is saying Yes, but I get the feeling that she is only doing so because she assumes the alternative is getting murdered.

She might not be entirely wrong. She is a timid/diffident woman, and the Warband are a pack of bullies. She would be in danger in their company, though I *think* they are well trained enough not to kill her. Or, at least, the ones who survived are. Nothing like lots of death to get rid of the undisciplined.

As far as Viber goes, hrrngh, she’s like Blisser, one of those weird Ultras that doesn’t really comprehend the world around them, sort of seeing everything through their gift. The dude I sent into her house to pitch the offer came out with a day or so’s growth of beard, which is rather alarming.

I was ultimately able to use her to get our truck repaired (more on that later), but moving her presents its own weird difficulties. If I go in a truck with her, and she gets sad, I could miss my next deadline and be killed by Her. I’m not willing to risk it, if we are going to move her (and she is ‘willing’ in the sense that she doesn’t understand anything about where or who she is) then I need to take some precautions, ideally be in a different vehicle.

It is a ridiculous chicken/bear/sack of grain style problem, but it is somehow relevant to my life. Infuriating. My understand of her gift is that it won’t protect her vehicle from a drone strike, but it isn’t like anyone has ever actually done that experiment.

Truck Repair: This went great. We got the best people together, got them to take a look at the trucks and sent the local Viber-whisperer to move her into position and get her happy. The rest of us moved away and hung out for a few hours, and when we got the call clear the workers had done a month or so of work on it, enough to get one truck back in working order, at the cost of cannibalizing all 4 of the wrecks. (Fortunately, I remembered to leave an appropriate amount of food and water in there.)

I’ll indulge in a moment of mourning for Builder here. I’ve mourned her as a person for a week now, but this moment is about her sheer goddamn utility! It feels heartless to say, but right now I’m sad that I’m going to spend the rest of my goddamn life struggling to do things that would have been trivial if she was alive. RIP Builder, you were so very convenient.

New Boss: All hail Adapter, Sad Queen of Sad Town. May her reign be long and just. I’ve detailed the Ultras that I thought did the least in the battle to stay behind as her guards, and I’m going to carefully not think about how long she’ll be able to keep this place above water. At the every least, she isn’t actively maniacal, and honestly, the Regime being how it is, I’m going to call that a win.

Owner stuff: Owner spent today selling things to the people of Ar Harbour. They really love the idea of trading useless plastic cards they find in the ruins for Old World stuff, and I think some of the things I saw her selling will be actual Quality Of Life improvements. Owner doesn’t know it, but I think she’s just guaranteed herself a place in future excursions, at least in the aftermath.

For her part, she is always happy to sell when/where she can, but best of all is a place she hasn’t been active before. Credit Cards are a couple thousand bucks each in her private world, and when she trades them for beers and candy it helps to build up her operating funds.

Warband stuff: They were mostly hopping about on my errands today, and what time I left them for their own devices was mostly about celebrating the new Boss and the stuff leading up to and following away from that. They are getting a bit restless, methinks, so it is a good thing I’m planning on leaving tomorrow. The DID do some practicing on those bikes. I’d say that they are adequate, at this point, did wonders for their morale, at least. I’d forgotten that bike riding is a lot of fun.

Very weird to observe the warband enjoying anything. For a group of merciless killers they sound a lot like a bunch of teenagers/twentysomethings when they let their fists down.

Frightening Trivia: The guy who attacked me at the end, who staved in my skull, was apparently Arthur’s lover, went by ‘Mordred’. Warband asked around about him, apparently he still had his buffs after Arthur died, ran out of town, and was heard, and I quote, ‘swearing vengeance’. Jesus. I expect I’ll see him again sometime, hopefully I won’t go into our next bout with a crippling chest injury. If I’m lucky he’ll be pissed at Her, not me.

I’m never lucky.

 

Tomorrow (that is, Day 6 of Mission 2, where I’m assuming She will have something for me to do on or around Day 30): We set off, first thing in the morning! Time to go back to Shington.

 

 

Player Votes:

  1. Pass on ‘Living’ to Merlin or no? Doesn’t look like the Union is going to get back to me before I set out on the road. If Yes, give a brief synopsis for Blender is setting this up for anyone Snitching on her.
  2. Let me know what you want to do about recruits. They will both come along if you push, Soarer seems like she might be a flight risk (ha ha), but doesn’t need any transport at all. Viber needs special transport (Can’t ride a bike, Blender won’t share a vehicle with her.)
  3. Give me the basic plan for getting back. You have a car, a truck and a bunch of bikes. Shington is a day’s driving, a week or so on bikes. Blender is the best navigator of the crew, but now that you’ve made the trip once it is much less likely that anyone gets lost.
  4. Getting rid of ‘Living’ tags. Blender must get rid of at least one of these. She can keep another extra, though she’d be more comfortable getting rid of both. Let me know who gets the tag she is definitely dropping, with choices ranging from a local (after your healing none are in poor healthy, but an extra life never hurt), your Resistance contact, a member of the Posse (builds loyalty?), Merlin, or anything you want to write in.
  5. Last minute actions? It is pretty set in stone that Blender and Co. are heading back on the morning of Day 6, but you still have the night before if you think of anything you want to get done.

 

Thanks for responding, as always!

Condemner 9:2

I climbed up onto a higher level of the toppled structure, flickering my form back and forth between human and flame in as needed. It was bare seconds before I got onto the vantage point and looked out across a toppled city.

I wasn’t ‘that’ high, really. Just twenty or thirty feet up, having scrambled onto a section where two walls had fallen against one another, improbably retaining their integrity.

It was enough, however, to get me up above the dust clouds, and give me the basic layout.

I was close to the middle of a great and expanding ring of ruin, a cancer of disorder within a metropolis of tangled and looping buildings. All the havoc we’d sown, all the destruction and chaos, was still confined to the city’s heart. This place was goddamn enormous.

The Union’s skiffs filled the sky, zipping about the edge of the ring letting people on and off of the few still intact buildings. Drones whirled and flitted between them, clearly acting according to some kind of complicated pattern that I couldn’t immediately follow. The overall impression was one of gathering menace.

I dropped back down into the ruin I’d climbed without a second thought, heart pumping a mile a minute.

I knew too much to believe that I hadn’t been seen. Their weird thinking machine had no doubt had a camera pointed below, and it would be tagging me and bringing me to their Ultra’s attention as soon as the matter could reasonably be seen to.

Shit!

I rolled into a sort of a crack between the learning wall I’d been climbing on and the ruined foundation that had risen up against it.

I forced myself back to a simulacrum of calm, forced myself to think. I was Condemner, damnit. I was not tinder, but fire! Not a victim, but the calamity which came upon them!

The Union were gathering their forces above the city. They would launch a descending strike as soon as they had enough, dropping down and taking us out.

The Pantheon troops were leaderless and already decimated. If a third had made it out of Istanbul I’d be shocked. They were doomed, their deaths already woven into destiny, to be actualized as soon as the enemy got sufficient force here.

My time, therefore, was brief. My only path to survival was to grow, to become a conflagration that nothing and no one could overcome, to burn up the Union’s forces and the Pantheon’s alike, render all and sundry down into the black ash.

I felt a twinge of something at the thought, but I couldn’t grasp it before it had fled. Some remnant of thought from the pattern that had once been my Nirav mask. I brushed it aside in annoyance.

If there were shelters to be found, if there were humans, souls, to be taken, then they would be underground. I wasn’t going to find them up here on this heap. But climbing had served a purpose, nonetheless.

The entrances to the shelters would have been beneath buildings, not out in the streets. People would have gone in by climbing down stairs or pushing buttons on elevators.

It wasn’t immediately obvious, down on the ground, where the buildings had previously touched down. Their writhing construction veered heedlessly here and there, and the rubbles and dust clouds further obfuscated the issue.

But from above it hadn’t been hard to see the pattern. In my brief peek out I hadn’t been entirely consumed with the sky. I’d memorized the location of the nearest foundation, just across the street, past a burning vehicle of some sort.

I rolled to my feet, already starting my sprint. I felt a tension across my shoulder blades, like at any moment a beam would descend from the sky, a one shot kill to my human form. The temptation to change, to get quickly back into my formless glory, tore at me.

But I couldn’t indulge it. Not yet. The human form conserved energy. My fire form expended it. If I wanted to last through the Union’s assault then I would need endless energy. I couldn’t be spending any here. Not so soon.

That nagging sensation again, but I pushed it aside as I made it across the street. I threw myself down in the dirt once again, pressed my flesh against the ground like I’d done when I was trying to get the water out.

This time, however, my attention was not on my form, but on the space in my mind where I liked to think my master’s voice lived. The space I leaned on when I saw the nature of other Ultras, or tried to speak to them. The area where my musings about the Entities had come from.

I didn’t get anything at first, but I persisted. The me that lived there, the greater me, the Entity, it was watching our universe from the outside. It was perceiving from a vantage that was beyond physics, an ultimate perch, utterly beyond detection and countermeasure.

It made sense that I, Condemner, couldn’t tell whether or not there were humans a few dozen feet below me. Physics inhibited my gaze, my hearing. There were obstructions.

But not such obstructions would exist to the being that should be controlling me, to the outer being, the greater one, the one for whom I was gathering these experiences. If I let it control me, let its impulses guide me, then I should be able to find my prey with ease.

I lay still for a long moment after having this thought, and the main thing I thought was that I was being ridiculous. I was wasting precious time just laying on the ground. I should be doing literally anything else.

As revelations went, it wasn’t the best, but I decided it meant that there were probably no targets here.

I sprang back to my feet, feinted towards the way that I’d come and then sprinted off in the other direction, looking to cross the street and hit up another foundation.

It was over in seconds, I hopped through a gap in a cracked wall and found myself in another ruined building, one that had kept maybe a floor or two intact from the ground.

I was just about to move on when I felt a sort of a twinge, the very thing that I’d just been begging for. I squinted into the dusty dimness of the wreckage.

Nothing moved. No sound. But I had a hunch that there was someone here.

“Hey,” I whispered. “Hey help! I’m bleeding and I need help!”

I tried to sound urgent, panicked but keeping it under control.

No response. They were either not here, not willing to expose themselves, or, it occurred to me a little too late, English was their enemy’s language.

I bit back a snarl and erupted into flame, spread myself rapidly into the depths of the structure.

I found what I was looking for almost instantly. A woman and her child were huddled behind a sort of a cracked pillar, their hands raw from scrabbling at an unyielding portal.

I was a lot more interested in the portal than I was in them. Their nourishment was paltry, barely justifying the transformation, but anywhere they were trying to get into was somewhere I wanted to be.

The doors were sealed tightly, it was true. Nothing solid could penetrate them. But they were still just doors, just solids. I pushed my glory onto them, pitted my boundless contempt against their idiot solidity, and saw them glow cherry red in weakness and surrender.

In a heartbeat I was within, clinging to upholstery and wiring, snaking my way down a buried staircase, tasting the fear and weakness on the wind.

A fancy grew in my mind that these people had called their own fate down on them. They had left the other outside, left her with a child, even! They invited disaster, their doom would be justice itself.

Another door stood at the end of the staircase, another futile insult to the reaper. Would I have done such a thing, hidden in such a way, if I had been blind to the truth of the world?

I took on human form again, unwilling to waste the energy on another door, not when there was an easier way to breach it.

“Hey!” I cried out. “Hey, help! I’m stuck out here!”

I heard motion behind the door, and my grin grew broader. The fools thought that charity in the present could wipe out the sin of their past, that what they’d done to the pair upstairs would pass without answer.

Gunshots were the next thing I heard, holes appearing in the door.

I staggered, my hands going automatically to a torso pierced and shattered. How had their, they, had I…they were guilty they…

I slumped, more gunshots ringing out, more bullets whistling by, my eyes arrested by the flood of red dripping down in to the dust.

Had I been wrong? Could I be wrong? The notion was absurd, but the world made its judgements in pain, and I had been hurt. My form had been pierced, shot down from ambush.

My form…the thoughts connected, and my gift flared once more, saw me reborn majestic and calamitous.

I’d assumed the door was armored as the one above, and put my form foolishly before it. The Entities had allowed me to be gunshot, remonstrating me for my error. I had only their mercy that no bullet had struck my brain.

More bullets followed, but they found only formless horror, only my searing rage. I swelled forward and pushed myself through the holes that they’d made, flaring with the urge to avenge and destroy.

The room beyond was nothing like the tomblike and cramped hallway leading up to it. It was lit and spacious, more like a large meeting room than the squalid shelter I’d been imagining. Nor was it filled with refugees.

Instead, a posse of soldiers were scrambling away from me, guns barking wildly as they blasted this or that segment of the flames, bullets hunting for anything they could hurt.

A pair of women stood back from the tumult, back where the other head of the big table would have been were this in fact a meeting room. One raised her hand and sent pain flaring through me as an almighty boom resounded through the hall.

I writhed and curled, dropping myself down to the carpet as the door exploded above me. I hadn’t had the slightest chance to dodge or avoid the strike, and it had taken a sizeable portion of my power.

Was this a lightning gift? Was that awful noise it’s thunderous herald? The dreadful power that She was rumored to fear? A gift that gave no time to dodge, no way to mitigate it?

She began to lower her hand, adjust the angle of her gift’s attack, and I reacted preemptively, instinctively. I split myself, pulled my being out of the flames that had entered the room, centered myself within those I’d left in the hallway.

Another bang, another blast, and the portion of me I’d left in the room beyond was eliminated, along with a huge section of the floor. I fled in gibbering terror, licking rapidly along ceiling and wall, cringing and clinging to keep my profile low, hoping that her gift had destroyed the area that she’d need to stand in if she wanted to pursue.

No one pursued, or at least no one who could match my Ultra Speed. I went hand over feet up the stairs, reverting to humanity in my panic, stubbing newly created fingers and toes in my heedless haste.

I passed into the ruins again, back into the dust and the smog, striding through the ashes of those unfortunates who’d been stuck here before, mind awhirl with revelation.

That hadn’t been a shelter, it had been a living space, or a working space, at least. The city wasn’t just on the surface.

I wasn’t sure why I’d jumped the conclusion that it would be, but it made perfect sense for it to be otherwise.

The Union had mastered technology, harnessed for themselves the arts of our world. They could put their dwellings anywhere they wanted, and they had enemies aplenty. Why wouldn’t their cities extend beneath the ground?

There was no reason to think I’d been unlucky in my choice. They probably had Ultras beneath every building, soldiers creeping about beneath us, their supercomputer coordinating so they could strike at the perfect time.

The soldiers above were only half of the trap. The other half would come from beneath, an envelopment in three dimensions, and a fatal end to the Brides of Zeus.

Another of those idiot thoughts flickered through me, of Dale, the brute who had sought to command me. But one more Ultra worth of power couldn’t save me in this predicament, and there were probably plenty of Brides with more than he had.

I took off running from the building, fleeing back into the streets, seeking desperately.

The clock wasn’t out just yet. There were still Ultras all around, still humans even. I turned my head frantically as I ran, seeking any motion, any sign of life.

The dust had fallen yet further while I’d been occupied, now I could see all around me. The streets were barren, for the most part, rubble choked and barren.

The Brides must be in the distance, pushing the perimeter of destruction still further into the city. The Union lurked, preparing to pounce, their forces mustering above and below. I was mostly alone here, the fire at the center of the spreading ruin.

I refused to accept it, refused to wait cowering for the Union to snuff me out. I sprinted through the streets, Ultra Speed letting me eat the distance up.

I tripped and fell a few times, rolling and jumping back to my feet without letting my momentum drop.

There had to be something, anything, in this wreckage. Had to be Ultras, humans. I couldn’t be done, not yet.

And then, there was.

Vampire popped into existence, her once pristine form chipped and battered, twenty feet up and dropping.

I sprinted straight for her, only pulling to a stop when she got back to her feet, ten fateful feet away.

“Condemner, right?” she asked, holding a hand to a bleeding cut across her forehead.

She was squinting in the dust, obviously woozy. Could I get her?

Prevailer had spent a lifetime proving the infallibility and superiority of teleportation, the ultimate power of existing only where you wanted to. It was an article of faith among Ultras that such a defense could not be beaten.

“Yes, Vampire,” I said, taking another step towards her. Eight feet now, or less. I could cross the divide in a fraction of a second.

Vampire’s teleportation had a weakness that Hers did not. She could only move that which was in shadow. Once I was on her there would be no escape, once the bitch was afire there would be thing she could do, she wouldn’t be able to move herself.

“What the-“

I hurled myself towards her while she was still speaking, bursting into unquenchable flame.

Stone appeared before me when I was inches away from her, rubble and wreckage that I burst through without effort.

Only to find her no longer there. She’d warped herself in the second when the obstruction had shaded her from my light.

It took me a second to locate her, she’d placed herself on a nearby section of rubble looking coldly down at me through the haze.

Looking down at ME! Looking down on the fire itself!

Death was too good for this one, but it was the best I could do.

Regime Quest 39

Day 0:

Main action: I rest, using my gift to heal myself.  All day.  All goddamn day.  I’m stir crazy by the end of it, but there isn’t any way to make my gift work faster.  I endure tripled sensations all day long as I force life force into my shell of a body, repairing damage I never should have survived.

Owner: Owner is mostly sad today.  I told her to get started on working out a way to get back, but I don’t think she’s doing much more than crying about Builder.  She tells me Builder threw herself across her when the Union busted into their truck.  She tells me Builder took out that enemy tank right at the start of the fight.

I never even saw it.  It must have been during one of the times I was getting tackled.  I’m honestly a bit broken up about Builder too.  I liked her.  KEM or whatever, but I wish she hadn’t died.

Warband: They mostly settle in, bossing people around and stealing stuff.  I try to distract them with a party, and that kind of works.  I don’t think anybody has died since the end of the battle, but honestly I don’t have any real control right now.  They follow strength, and I can’t even fake that.

 

Day 1:

Main Action: I continue to heal myself!  Today I am much better, hat tip to being magic, it is great.  I go out with the Warband this time, getting them in line and planting the idea about their needing to be a Boss for the city.  It will be nice to have a carrot to use on them.

Side note, my forehead has healed and it is horrific.  It looks like a divot in a golf green.  Like a piece of my skull a little bigger than a silver dollar spun on its side, so I have a kind of protruding horn with two dips on either side, all skinned over.  I’ve pulled my Sigil across it, after some vague modifications.

Side Side Note: I tried to give ‘Living’ to a body, no dice.  I can only give attributes to people (and my fucking turtle).  This tripled senses thing isn’t getting any easier.  I fucking hate this.  I will find someone who wants this.

Owner: Owner is very sad about Builder.  She has been commiserating with some of the Warband, who share her feelings, and they made a kind of a little shrine for our dead.  Flowers and the like, much more tasteful than I’d have guessed.  No big progress on getting home.  She did pull herself together enough to say that renting things in her imaginary world doesn’t let her pull them through.  She has to own them.

She’s started ‘hiring’ some Ar Harborers, not sure how I feel about that.  If she can open up a location here, however, she can pop out some Old World goodies, which will help morale a lot.  I kind of missed my chance to stop her while I was healing though, so I’ll just have to trust that the funds will work out.  I *think* each new location is a net plus, like, gas stations are profitable in her imaginary world.  We’ll see.

Owner Side Note: Someone told her that the old department store was once a business and it may have given her ideas.  She was talking to someone about ‘how much that would cost if it was new’.  My hazy recollections of the time before the collapse kind of say that big box stores and little stores are in different economic worlds, but who know how her bullshit gift works?  At least she seems to be doing something other than crying.

Warband: I’ve got the warband trying to do the ‘hearts and minds’ thing with the locals.  Framed it as a favor to the new Boss (which they each think will be them).  Get the locals in an easier mood to handle.  The truth, of course, is the opposite, I’m trying to work on my Ultras, get them in a better mood.  If they are proud of getting the Ar Harborers to respect/like them they will be less likely to start a pogrom as soon as I’m gone.

I don’t know how likely this is to work, basically everyone involved has lost loved ones at this point, but I don’t lose a lot by trying.  Let the flowers of community blossom, fertilized by the manure of ‘or we kill you’.

Warband Side Note: Some casualties weren’t fatalities, looks like we have 19 survivors, plus me and Owner.  If I leave 2 or 3 behind to run Ar Harbor I will have a veteran squad to be the core of my new warband.

 

Day 2:

Main Action: I am healthy  again!  I can move around, jump up and down, whatever.  It is very freeing.  I’m naturally celebrating by not moving or jumping, but instead doing a bunch of boring interviews as I try to find out who the Boss should be for Ar Harbor.

I’m DQing sadists, idiots and blatant Ultra supremacists, which leaves me with the following 4 candidates.

Candidate One: Hexxer.  She seems essentially untroubled or phased by what has happened.  Acts no differently than she did back in Shington, never really shows emotion.  Asked what her responsibilities would be, other practical questions.

Candidate Two: Adapter. Owner’s partner in sorrow, Adapter was the one who reached out to Smasher when she was in a bad way.  She’s deep in a funk right now, but from what I remember of her back in Shington she’s normally a fairly kind and upbeat person.

Candidate Three: Peeler. Peeler is a ragingly ambitious Ultra, the sort of woman who might want to be Warlord some day.  She has twice the energy of any of the other candidates, would definitely take actions, just no way to tell if they would be good or bad for the people of Ar Harbor.

Candidate Four: Guager.  A dude, strangely enough.  He doesn’t communicate, but he can sense what people intend when he looks at them with his giant eye.  He is a people pleaser, driven to satiate the desires of those he sees.

I’ll have to pick one of them to leave behind when we leave, and probably one or two of the Ultras to stay and be their guards.  Most any of them should be strong enough to hold the place from bandits and stray Ultras.  The only trouble would be if the Union came back.

Owner Action: Owner got her Ar Harbor gas station up and running.  I can only imagine that in her imaginary world there was already one in operation and she just walked in and bought it from its owner, because there was no way you could set up a business that fast in the old world I remembered.

Today, for her, seemed to be mostly about getting it set up properly.  Making sure she had enough hires from the town, making sure everyone knew to bring credit cards and cash, that kind of thing.  Once that was done she brought some old world panache to our party, let us have a proper (that is, lubricated) celebration of our victory.

Warband: Today they mostly were waiting to meet with me, but I did start to notice that my efforts to paint our time here as an uncomplicated victory was meeting with some success.  I started seeing people walking with a little pride, people bragging about how awesome they’d been during the battle.

It was a point I’d been pushing ever since the end of the battle.  This was a win.  We were winners.  I was awesome.  Best Warlord ever.  That kind of thing.  Flattery applied with a fucking shovel.  They seemed to be buying into it.  Hopefully by the time we got back they’d have echoed it enough times to really believe it.

 

Day 3.

Main Action: I spent today with the vanquished, doling out healing to the people of Ar Harbor and giving them an idea about what to expect from being part of the Regime.  This was important work, but the actual goal I had was a lot simpler.

That was to understand what the fuck I’d just walked into.  King Arthur and their whole deal had never made a lot of sense to me, and I didn’t like not understanding things.

What I got back was hard for me to understand.  I am, down at the core of me, something of a consequentialist.  So I judge actions by what happens when you do the actions.  There are knock on effects and incentives to consider and all, but at my core I’m the kind of person where to convince me to do something you should tell me what it will accomplish.

That’s…not what happened here.

There’s a kind of person who, back in the day, would have sold essential oils or tried to get everybody ready to board their ark.  They have the ability to, I dunno, sort of change everyone else’s calculations.  King Arthur was that kind of person.

She didn’t get everyone to think that rebuilding some buildings was going to lead to anything good.  They weren’t thinking about where things were leading.  They weren’t, I’d say, thinking at all.  They were Restoring America.  They were Fighting Back.  It was about Dignity, about Freedom.  Lots of capital letters flying around.

She tapped into a vibe I see a lot in KEM, a lot in my resistance colleagues.  The idea that there just has to be something you can do, you know, just world kind of thing.  “Are you just gonna sit there and lick nazi boots?” is a powerful argument to some people.  The counterspell is to ask how their course of action will actually work, but it doesn’t seem like anyone around here had the necessary combination of being practical enough to go there and powerful enough to fight the zeitgeist.

The Union came along at some point, metaphorically sitting down next to her and sliding their tongue in her ear.  They were trying to recruit her and Merlin, take them off to fight the Pantheon across the ocean.  It would have prolonged and improved their lives, would have let them do far more actual good, and might well have kept Ar Harbour from being sacked.  Naturally they turned the Union down flat, came up with excuses and reasons to stay here.

Apparently the Union had been getting steadily more strident about them needing to evacuate for all three months of Regime attacks.  People were quietly confident that if the Round Table crew had won this time the Union was going to just try and abduct them.  Funny to think about.

Still not answered is HOW they rebuilt all these fucking buildings.  The negative space in these stories is basically Ultra shaped, if you take my point.  I expect that somewhere in the vicinity of Ar Harbour, or maybe in the town itself, there is a woman who has a powerful gift indeed.

Also not answered is where I’m going to put these fucking ‘Living’ attributes.  I nearly slapped one on an informant as a ‘reward’ today, only barely came to my senses.  This isn’t getting easier.

Owner: Owner was on bike shop duty today.  My reasoning is that her alter self, the gas station owner, can go around town and by bikes for cheap, then turn around and sell them back for even cheaper.  The selling is whatever, just try and get a little profit, but the important thing is that while she owns them they will spawn copies in the real world, copies that we can ride back.

No progress yet, but she assures me that she understands the plan and is working on it.  I suspect that she’s mostly still grieving Builder, but I think her gift is primarily unconscious on her part, so that shouldn’t stop much.

Maybe she’d get over her grief faster if she was ‘living’?  She pointed out that I’ve always said giving an attribute is dangerous to the recipient and declined.

Warband: More partying, more celebration.  More interactions with the people of Ar Harbour for me to observe!  Peeler and Guager are the ones who seem to be getting on best with their prospective subjects.

The gals also found us a car!  It is just a sedan, and the engine makes a troubling noise, but it technically drives.  It belonged to an Ar Harborer, but they’d already donated it to Lancelot, so our thinking is that it kind of belongs to us in some weird, primitive way.  More honestly, they would probably be glad to lose a car if it also took a carful of us far away.

The band also tried to round up some people who knew how to repair trucks, but that went less well.  They found a few people, but there aren’t really any tools here for the job, and the trucks aren’t of a make/model that they might recognize, since Builder just spun them out of whole cloth.  They might ultimately get a truck fixed, just because with 4 to draw on their might be undamaged versions of every part, but doing everything by hand it will probably take too long.

 

Day 4:

Main Action: Today is about getting into contact with KEM/Resistance assets who are local, seeing if they have anything for me.  Snitcher is almost certainly not watching my current doings, so it should be safe.

Not that I’m abandoning protocols.  We’ll do the usual dead drop, etc, but I just can’t see him watching what I’ve been watching for the past few days.  No one who had the option to not have the tripled senses would fail to exercise it.

Resistance doesn’t have a lot for me.  Some stuff on local Ultras that I’m putting later on with the Warband’s queries.  Makes sense that most Resistance would be in the Regime, since that is what they are ‘resisting’.  There are some in Ar Harbour, of course, there are some anywhere that there are humans, but most of their info was about the Round Table gang.

KEM comes through with a doozy, though.  Merlin is apparently still alive, in some sort of Union medical pod on the outskirts of town.  She’s in a coma or something.  (My first thought is that here is someone who needs to be ‘Living’).  Interesting possibilities there.

Owner: Owner came through with the bikes.  Lots and lots of bikes.  I suspect she got more than we needed deliberately, with the idea that the Ar Harborers can use the ones we don’t take.

The pattern of being a reseller is a really good one to remember.  It should cut way down on our expenditures of her other selfs capital.  She needs to move into some kind of middleman business.

A snag, though.  Of the 21 of us, only 5 know how to ride bikes.  I’m one of them, of course, it turns out riding a bike is a lot like riding a bike.  You never forget it.

It’s also a lot like itself because tautology, but that’s less surprising.

The rest of the Ultras never had bikes, so they are going to have to learn how to ride if I want them to use these.  It could be a bit tricky.  Ultras don’t take humiliation well at all, and learning to ride a bike involves a lot of falling off bikes.  We’ll see.

Warband: The Warband had the assignment of finding out who the local Ultras are.  Not the ones we killed, obviously, but any others. There were a few lurking about.

Soarer is an Ultra who lives in the town, who can fly.  Like, super hero flight, like Subtracter has.  Just go any direction at any time.  She can also grant this to someone else while she is in skin to skin contact with them.  No Ultra strength/toughness/speed (what we call combat attributes), so she didn’t become part of the Round Table.  We were able to find her easily enough.

Sprouter makes plants grow really fast.  Not, like, ‘vines rise up and throttle her enemies’ level of fast.  But fast enough to get multiple harvests per season out of a patch or two of veggies.  If the Company didn’t exist Ultras like this would be really valuable.  She has low level Ultra Strength, scaling up as the number of plants under her influence increases.  We haven’t found her yet, but she lives pretty close to town, we could probably round her up.

Viber um…controls time.  I dunno, yeah.  This is the answer as to how the buildings got repaired.  Her gift makes time around her go at the speed of her general energy.  If she is happy it goes fast.  So happy her spends long time, but only short time goes by in the outside world .  If she is sad it goes slow, so she spends a brief time sad and a long time goes by in the outside world.  The resistance was nonspecific about how bad the dilation can get, but the impression I got was like 10x either way.

We haven’t gone in and got her yet, but the area she is in is known.  The Ar Harborers avoid it, but I could send someone in or go myself.  The Warband doesn’t know about her yet, I only found out because of being tipped off.

Gorger is an Ultra who can eat anything.  Stuff they eat just vanishes away into an extradimensional space instead of actually reaching their stomach.  They keep the traits of whatever they much on for a while.  I feel a bit of a kinship with her, our gifts have some stuff in common.  We found her easily, not hiding, just one more citizen.

 

Time for player vote as to how to proceed at this point!  The following things must be addressed.

  1. How to get back to Shington. We have plenty of bikes, but only 4 people proficient with them.  We also have a car, and Soarer could probably be persuaded to lend a hand.  Blender is a pro at travelling, and won’t do anything terribly stupid, but the Union might be watching for you.  You have 19 in the Warband, plus any locals you are recruiting, minus any you are leaving behind, plus you and Owner (you can ride a bike, Owner can’t).
  2. Who will be the boss of Ar Harbor? How many minions are you going to leave with them?
  3. What will Blender do with these ‘living’ tags? If your answer has her still holding onto them you need to get at least 2 votes behind it, to represent the strain.

You can also address other things beyond those 3.  Lots of possibilities, just make sure you hit those 3 at the minimum.

Thanks as always for participating!

Condemner 9:1

In a blink, a flash, I went from cowering in one city to cowering in another, entirely different one.

The new city was far larger, for more elaborate.  If Istanbul had cowed and intimidated the Pantheon’s Gods, then this would practically traumatize them.  The Union city we found ourselves in now looked like something from another world entirely.

It wasn’t just that the buildings were tall.  It wasn’t just that everything was immaculate.  It was that it was built, architected, like nothing I’d seen anywhere else.

Buildings rose into the sky, of course, but they didn’t do so in straight lines.  They meandered and twisted around one another, crossed whimsically and without any particular rhyme and rhythm all over the place.  It was creation without constraint, a godlike design scheme that acknowledged no restrictions whatsoever.

I looked around almost instantly, tearing my gaze away from the bizarre architecture to look for other people.

The first one I saw was a Bride, a tall, gangly woman that I didn’t know.

The second one was another Bride, a short woman who did some kind of spatial distortion thing.

Those were the only people visible along this street.  The metropolis was otherwise deserted.

“What the fuck is going on?” I shouted to them, jogging quickly in their direction.

Their body language was cowed, hunched.  They didn’t look like they had any more idea than I did about what was going on.  One minute we’d been struggling to survive Leveller’s tempest in the ruins of Istanbul, the next we were here.

“Where are we?” asked the taller one.

I was soaking wet, so a surprise attack was right out, but this fucker had the goddamn gall to look away from me, obviously not even considering that I might be able to threaten her.

I controlled my irritation.

“Somewhere in the fucking Union,” said the short one, who had a squeaky voice.

“What should we do?” asked the tall one, gawking at a set of skyscrapers that had been built to look like they were sort of ‘swallowing’ another, like enormous concrete and glass serpents.

“Break everything,” I said.  “Kill everyone.”

They looked at me for a second, then nodded.

A third Bride appeared out of nowhere, sort of off to one side.  I didn’t know her either.  I was starting to think I should have maybe paid more attention to these fuckers.

Off in the distance there was an explosion, but it was a bit too far away for us to see what had blown up.  Still, after the insanity we’d just escaped from, we all jumped a bit.

The short one reached out, stretching out her hands like she was grabbing ahold of something, then made a jerking motion.

One of the overhanging skyscraper/snake things sort of glitched across the sky, exploding through another building and bursting into a shower of rubble.

I took two quick steps to the side, my Ultra Speed working over time to track all of the pieces flying towards us.  A slab of something hit the tall Ultra, but just cracked in half on her upraised fist.  The other two were unscathed.

“Nice one Ymir!” said the new arrival, or something like that.  It wasn’t easy to hear over the cacophony, but I was alright at reading lips, and I liked to think my overself, the Entity that had made me, was helping a little.

The tall one seized a big chunk of rubble and heaved it like a shot put towards another building, even as Ymir reached out to do her spatial thing again.

I moved back towards the pair.

“Where are all the people?” I asked, but nobody seemed to have heard me.

The third Bride pointed in a direction neither of the other two had lashed out in yet, and a rushing column of oily brown smoke shot forth, writhing like a serpent as it rapidly expanded.

I decided to call them Ymir, Strong, and SludgeDragon in my mind.

“Ymir!” I shouted, trying to get her attention as she reached out for another pair of towers.

She shot me a questioning look.

“What?”

Once again I didn’t so much hear her as lip read.  Even that was starting to get harder.  Dust clouds were sort of rolling out from all the buildings we were damaging.

“I need to dry off!” I insisted.  “Can your gift help with that?”

She looked away from me, clapped her hands together and caused the buildings she’d been looking at to lurch towards one another.  Their fall started another cataclysmic propagation of rubble and smoke.

Guess that was a no.

“The Union!” I tried, this time yelling at Strong.  If I couldn’t get them to dry me off here, then maybe I could get them to escort me to somewhere that I could get it done.

I pointed frantically when she looked at me, trying to imply that the Union was over there, in the rubble and the billowing dust clouds.

As opposed, of course, to over the other way, in what was rapidly becoming rubble and billowing dust clouds.

She looked back to me, nodded furiously, then started running in the direction that I’d pointed, hands held up before her like she was boxing.  She nearly collided with another Bride who suddenly popped into existence.

I ran quickly over to the new bride, who had dreadlocks, before she could get to the other two.  I opened my mouth to ask her a question, but before I could get anything out she threw herself at me.

Only my gift let me react in time.  I twisted the foot I was stepping with and kicked my planted foot out from under myself, while simultaneously ducking/hunching over as much as I could.

It was just barely enough.  Her reaching arms missed me with inches to spare, and I rolled past before she could pivot and track me.

I didn’t think this was a deliberate move against our Fist, or anything like that.  I figured this was just an Ultra surrounded by chaos and debris lashing out at anyone she could see who wasn’t wearing the Brides’ characteristic outfits.

I kept on moving after my initial dodge, quickly losing myself in the dust and tumult. I wasn’t going to be able to usefully engage with them anyway, just a lot of mouthing stuff at each other while waves of grit and rubble swept over us.  Better to be on my own.

That had been an easy decision to make before I actually tried it.  I quickly found that my world diminished to a tiny sphere of haze and smoke.  I tasted dirt behind my teeth, and my eyes were constantly threatening to squint closed underneath the endless waves of irritating grit.

Being human, having a human form, it was the worst.  I longed for the purity of flame.  But there was no point in looking for towels or a heat source here.  I could hardly tell whether I was on a street, clambering over a toppled building, or pushing through the rubble where a building had once stood.  I wasn’t sure that there was a meaningful difference, at this point.

I reached up to rub some dirt off of my face, trying to force myself to think.

We had appeared in a city, obviously one of Union construction.

There were no people in evidence, and there had been no time to evacuate.

Put those two together and it made me think that Vampire’s move had been anticipated.  Wherever she’d sent us, if they knew enough to evacuate, they probably also knew enough to have a welcoming committee incoming.

The Union would be attacking soon, if they weren’t already.

All of a sudden my smothered surroundings took on a sinister cast.  I crouched, hunched down as though I could feel the snipers lining up their shots.

Did the Union have lenses that would let them see through this foul cloud?  Did they have computers to do that?  It felt like a thing that they would have.  The images we’d seen of their attack on that one Host hadn’t seemed to have a lot of dust in the way.

I moved quickly, set my back to the next piece of rubble that I could find.  I had to force myself to think.

I’d survived the maelstrom of the original attack through blind luck and staying near the back.  That wasn’t an option now.  Vampire’s teleport, presuming that was who had warped me, hadn’t dropped us in anything like a formation.

I was in the middle of a city busily being demolished by the Brides of Zeus, presumably surrounded by Union forces.  Which meant I was in the middle of an utterly disorganized set of Ultras who were about to be besieged by their enemies, who would deliver continuous attacks until they fell.

Our march before had been enabled by the shield, and, I guess, the sheer numbers of the Grand Host and the Brides.  But after what I saw of the battle with Third Fist, those probably weren’t going to be a factor anymore.  Which meant that we would be open to constant and unremitting enemy assault.

Which meant, basically, that I was on borrowed time.

I was probably safe for now, for whatever value of ‘safe’ I was assigning my current status of being almost blind in a collapsing city where the world’s most powerful Ultras were rampaging.

But give it an hour, maybe two, the dust would have settled enough for military operations, the Union’s scouts and spies would have taken our number and measure, and they could start a surgical dismantling of our forces.

I was pretty sure I would be one of the first targets in such a campaign.  If I were the enemy I would pencil in a bullet to my own head pretty much instantly.  Even if they only thought it would keep me gone until the end of the day that would still be plenty of reason to bother with it.

I spared a thought for the idea that Haunter’s vague schemes with the scouts might have brought us some kind of truce or friendliness with the Union, but I couldn’t make myself believe it.  We’d mindfucked their ambassadors.  They’d tried to slaughter us back in the Regime.  We were enemies.

Besides, did I even want to be friends with them?

I squinted, kneeling there in the grit.

How had I gotten so twisted around, so thoroughly ‘human’ about all this?  I was Condemner!  I was the devouring flame!

And right here, right now, I was surrounded by some of the world’s strongest Ultras, with their enemies in yet another ring around that, and I was mewling and whining about the possibility that I might not win this glorious battle?

And these idiots thought I was their fucking friend!  Their ally!  They thought the raging inferno could be reasoned with!

This was what I wanted my greater self to remember?  Crouching helpless in the rubble and bewailing my fate?

No.

I rubbed my wrists across my eyes, looking to dramatically wipe the tears away.  There weren’t any.  The dust had already taken them.

The dust.

I flopped myself down in the muck and the rubble, rolled frantically about like I’d lost all control of my limbs, like I was trying to put out a fire.

The truth, of course, was just the opposite.

I didn’t need a towel to dry off, didn’t need heat.  This gunk that was all about me would do the trick.  I writhed vigorously against the stone, pushed my form across the ground as though I was a snake myself.

In due course my efforts were rewarded.  I could feel the change, the potential suddenly there.  I was myself again.

I did not, of course, turn instantly into my true form.  There was little to burn in this particular ruin.  It would be a waste of my gift.

What I needed was the fallen buildings themselves, they would no doubt have had wooden furnishings, plasters and fibers.  All sorts of flammable things.

What I needed was people.  Souls to fuel my rage.

The flying jail had been an appetizer.  The battle at Redo had been a cheat, my meal thwarted by Haunter’s gift.

Haunter.  That fucking bitch.

Behind a veil of murk and smog I let my face twist into a veritable rictus, a grin so wide it was fucking painful.

Haunter.  Indulger.  Preventer.  Those fucking bitches.  It was time to settle things with them.

I wasn’t terribly introspective.  I didn’t bother to ask myself why I’d suddenly decided to finish those fools off.  That wasn’t interesting.

What would be interesting was cooking them.  Baking them.  Raising the temperature just enough to hear them scream, but not enough to vaporize them.

I was going to fucking SEAR the rest of my fist.  Cook them for long minutes.  They had kept me restrained, kept me docile, for far too long.  The world believed that Torturer was the Ultra who could inflict the greatest pain, but I would throw my Sigil in the goddamn ring.

I stood up from the ground, hunched over and loped back into the streets of this collapsing metropolis.  I moved with all the speed my gift could grant me, changing direction constantly in an attempt to baffle hypothetical shooters.

Where were they?  Where was anyone?

A Bride loomed out of the smoke ahead of me, one that I recognized.  She was named after some mountain or other, she could changed the directionality of things, make any direction ‘up’ or ‘down’ to friend and foe alike.  I think she also had a little Ultras strength.

She saw me coming, raised a hand, then lowered it as she recognized me.

I pointed behind her, let her turn, then set myself alight and descended upon her.

She didn’t even have time to scream.  I couldn’t chance her flinging me off, surviving and warning others.  I pushed my flame to the max and burned her flesh away before she could so much as gasp.

I was human again before a moment had passed, my motion carrying me into a roll and back into my hunt.

Had I passed through her gift anyway?  I dimly recalled that she’d been surrounded by the effect at a low level, enough to push bullets and weak foes away at least.  Once again I gave thanks for my formlessness, for fire’s divine lack of structure.

Lack of structure…something about that phrase caught at my mind.  Something about the city.

I found a mound of wreckage, alighted once again and began to rage through it, behaving as any flame might.  There was a considerable amount of flammable material within the fallen skyscraper, and none of the anti-fire devices humans loved to put in things would do any good when the whole place was a jumbled wreck.

Lack of structure…lack of structure… I mulled the notion over.

Earlier, I’d concluded that they had evacuated this city.  That certainly seemed to be the case, but this place was massive.  Could they have possibly gotten everyone out?

I gorged myself on a particularly fancy pile of cloth and wood, probably used to be a king sized bed.  I devoured a dog’s body and a potted plant that had somehow come down intact as the building collapsed.

It didn’t seem plausible.  How much warning could they have possibly had?  Someone had left a fucking dog!  How efficient could their moving systems possibly be?  The people couldn’t all be gone.

So where were they?  Something I’d been thinking earlier…

I returned to my human form, materializing within a section of the fallen structure.

The battle at Redo.  The people, their souls vouchsafed in Hunter’s bullshit gift.  Their bodies, crammed tight inside of a shelter.

Shelters.

I laughed derisively.

There would be no shelter from me.

Regime Quest 38

The next TFD update goes out tomorrow (Friday) night, thanks so much for all of your patience!

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“So, you’re Ar-“ I began, taking a step and a half forward, reaching down to one of those kneeling in the Process.

I didn’t get any further than that because the speaker flung himself towards me, body blurring with Ultra speed. He crossed the distance between us in an eyeblink, a fist flying towards my face.

I was reaching for a person, and now I transformed that motion into a grab, spent my final free moments dragging an obstacle into his path, hoping desperately to delay the incoming strike.

It didn’t work, his feet hammered out a rapid rhythm on the ground as he orbited nimbly to my right, his first punch landed in the hollow of my armpit as I dragged the human into a direction of attack he’s already abandoned.

I reeled away from the strike, agony racing through me. Having two ‘living’ attributes meant that I was feeling everything so much more intensely, and that was a huge problem when you were being beaten to death.

I didn’t get far, a bare few inches at most, before another hook slammed into my upper side, Ultra Strength burrowing it inches into my torso. I felt bile or blood rising in my mouth, my hands clenched convulsively.

This was how Smasher had fallen. Well, not the end, obviously, but how things had gotten that bad. An opponent with superior Ultra Speed and the strength necessary to hurt you was a nightmare.

I grabbed at his hand as it withdrew from the second punch, trying desperately to get a moment of skin to skin contact, but I missed it by a foot or more, moving in slow motion next to him. He ducked around back to the other side, rammed his fist, muffled by a shirt or gloves or something, into the wound I’d taken earlier.

I collapsed entirely, knees buckling and eyes rolling in my head, the pain utterly beyond my ability to cope with it. The human I’d grabbed fell with me, two bodies sliding towards the ground, limp and unresisting.

I didn’t make it to the ground unscathed, of course, as my opponent somehow pulled off some kind of hook kick to the side of my head. But even with my doubled senses at this point it was just pain overkill, I barely registered my neck wrenching to the side, my ear slamming down into my shoulder as I hit the ground.

I’d landed on my back, so I could see his heel rising up above me, the stomp incoming, a straight shot to my forehead that would put an end to all the pain.

The Ultras were almost here, but they could never stop this. He’d already begun the descent, choosing to kill me rather than jump away from their rush. I might have done the same in his place.

The heel descended, boot filling my view. The pain numbed me, tyrannized and cored me apart, leaving me helpless to move or twitch as death approached.

It was hardly the first time, after all.

A voice from the past came back to me, hard and thuggish, Subtracter in the full confidence of her idiot youth.

“Anybody know who threw that?”

Another voice, Blisser’s this time.

“You’re so *bad*!”

And finally Hers, curiously slower than all the rest.

“Heeeeeyy Aaaasssssshhhooo….!”

I regained my agency with the boot a centimeter from my face, no time to do anything physical. I called, at the last, upon my gift.

The person I’d grabbed, at the first, still hadn’t got my hand off of her face. She was ‘living’, and then she wasn’t.

The boot arrived, my skull cracked, buckled in. Tripled pain devoured the world as my head dug into the ground.

But I Did Not Die. I was living, living, living.

I’d never worn three of the same attribute before, rarely dared to pull two in to my being. Had I lost something? Was I no longer ‘mobile’, or ‘smart’? Would I know what I’d lost?

The enemy champion had jumped back after the deathblow, but the hands that were reaching for him wilted into subservience, my Ultras falling to their knees before him, taking the Posture.

Not before him, before Her.

Prevailer was here, all of a sudden, standing right behind my attacker. Her voice had been no flashback.

The enemy turned around instantly, blur quick, his side step placing him right between us and obscuring my view of Her.

Things fuzzed for me then, a spike of agony breaking past the numbness. I gasped aloud and arched my back, to the degree that I was capable of movement. My field of vision tilted as I did so, neck driving my head across the ground and leaving me staring off at the side wall while my attacker and my boss did their business.

I’d read somewhere that there were no nerves in the brain, but that turned out to be bullshit, because I was in a world of pain. Or maybe it was just all the other damage finally having its turn to be heard, the broken ribs and ruptured organs giving their threefold signals with all they were worth.

I lay there, frantically calling on my healing gift for all that I was worth, for a timeless infinity. It is a total cop out to say that something is indescribable, but that’s what I’m hiding behind. Ok, like, until you’ve been savagely beaten beyond the point where a body can sustain life, but hung onto it anyway by stealing other people’s life force through a gift, twice, you can’t know my pain.

It was bad, is what I’m getting at.

I think I got enough wind back to start screaming at some point, which would have been the end of me, except someone clamped a hand over my mouth the moment I started, leaving me making forceful and energetic vibrating/humming noises instead of the full throated screams I was trying for.

All that time ensuring my Posse and Warband were loyal was paying off in spades.

Even more helpfully than muzzling me, or, at least, equally helpfully, that same person began to pick the bone bits out of the mess of gore that was my forehead, pulling things up and out to where they ought to be, or at least a sort of simulacrum of that.

The question of who the fuck would possibly put their hands on their boss with the death touch in this state was the start of my return to being a thinking, acting creature. I wasn’t even surprised when I got my stuff working again and saw Owner, stooped above me, with a knee across my throat and her hands clamped over my mouth.

I tried to move my arm, and shockingly enough it did the thing I wanted it to, which was to thrash weakly against her leg.

She ignored it, continuing to grind my jaw closed with both hands, not even really looking down at me, her gaze locked on someone else, presumably Her.

I was about to push more forcefully, then tried something a bit more complicated, tapping my arm rapidly against her leg in the Ultra Fight ‘tap out’ gesture.

She looked down at me then, and I saw face ravaged by grief, now breaking into the smallest hint of relief. We locked eyes, and hers widened slightly.

I’d known Owner for a long time, so if anyone was going to do the ‘wordless communication’ thing, it should have been us, but actually all I got out of that was ‘my eyes are slightly wider’.

I gave a slight nod, because, you know, nonverbal communication is bullshit and I was in a lot of pain. She let up on the muzzle hold that she’d been sustaining for however long I’d been laid out, hands relaxing just the slightest bit.

I managed, through what I’d like to describe as a colossal feat of willpower, but was more likely just a general inability to do things at this time, to not scream as soon as it was possible.

I’m not saying that I was choosing to scream and it was not something I could pull off, to the extent that I was the driver of my brain ship I was all about being silent in case She was still around, but that extent wasn’t nearly as large as I would like, and the involuntary caucus was worryingly influential.

I tucked my chin, slightly, bringing my gaze back to where things had been going on last time I was able to watch. Things hadn’t got too much farther, which meant that either I hadn’t been brain locked for a terribly long time, or King Arthur was really good at verbal tap dancing, and had kept herself alive in front of Her for however long it had been. Or both.

She’d been unmasked, at least. King Arthur was a slight woman of middle years, she was currently standing in front of Prevailer, saying some stuff that I was a bit too far away to hear. Her champion was inconspicuously backing away towards one of the windows, and the other locals were down in the Posture, along with my guys.

I tried to rise to my feet, and was almost unable to recognize my situation when I actually did. Like, I was rising, my point of view was going up, how had that happened?

Owner, peerless saint that she was when she wasn’t kneeling on my goddamn neck, had recognized my straining and lent a shoulder to me, hoisting me up and supporting me. I decided to tell her not to, to let her know that She took a dim view of people aiding one another.

“Bluhhh…” I said.

Work in progress, clearly. I focused on my healing gift again, reasoning that if I wanted it to work faster it might.

Across from us, people were saying words.

“Why did you rebuild all this stuff?” asked Prevailer.

“We are bringing America back.” retorted King Arthur. “We are bringing civilization back!”

“Oh,” She said, sounding a little disappointed, “You are just dumb. I was hoping that there was a cool reason.”

“You can’t stop all of us,” said Arthur. “One day someone will put an end to your tyranny.”

She didn’t say anything to that, not directly, just kind of looking around a bit.

I flinched away from what I assumed would be some kind of extravagant vivisection, but nothing happened for a long beat.

“Look, Imbuer,” said Prevailer, after thinking a bit. “You did me a solid by fixing this place up. I’ve wanted to come here for a while, kind of regretted that Karen knocked it all down, so, like, what do you want?”

“My name is King Arthur!” snapped my adversary, who was apparently out of her fucking mind, “And I want nothing from you!”

This time I knew there wouldn’t be a beheading or whatever. She was playing with Her food now, a bully chasing the high.

“You know Arthur was a dude’s name, right?” She asked. “Well, whatever. I can tell what you want easy enough. You kept fighting after you’d already lost, tried your best to kill my Warlord over there.”

She waved a hand lazily at me, then did a double take when She actually saw me.

“Cover that shit up!” She snarled. “Gross!”

Owner, in a moment of dubious sainthood, instantly pulled my shirt up from my waist over my head, leaving my arms kind of hanging up in the air and an exceptionally irksome pressure on the still healing broken part of the skull in the front.

On the other hand, it was to prevent Her from ending me, so I couldn’t be all that mad.

“Yes,” admitted King Arthur, “I strove to destroy your fearsome champion.”

Prevailer took a long look at her ‘fearsome champion’, who was presently doing the what I’m hoping was an awesome power pose of ‘shirt over the top of my head, you don’t even know where I’m looking!’.

“It’s Your,” corrected Prevailer. “And that’s a fair trade.”

“What?” spluttered King Arthur.

Hidden behind my shirt, I winced. Here it came.

“Kill yourself,” said the ruler of the Regime, “And I’ll kill Blender.”

“You wouldn’t!” she snarled.

“Sure I will,” said Prevailer. “What do I care which one of you idiots does which job?”

Another long beat. I couldn’t exactly bring myself to feel sympathy for King Arthur, not after what she’d done to my friends, and the danger she’d placed her followers in with her conduct during this battle, but I was rooting for her right now.

“You’ll really kill her?” she asked, voice not so strident now.

Even though she was my enemy, I was hoping that she could hold onto her dignity right now. But I probably would have broken in her place. Everyone would.

“It’s ‘You’ll’“, She said.

“You will really kill her, if I kill myself?” asked Arthur, and God help me, she capitalized the pronoun.

“Sure,” She said.

“Goodbye you fucker!” snarled Arthur, and made some kind of quick motion.

With my view obstructed by the shirt I couldn’t really see well what was happening, but I heard the gunshot clearly enough, saw her vague form topple down to the ground.

Prevailer walked over.

“Get your people back to the Lair,” She said. “Subtracter will tell you the next place in a few weeks. Leave a Boss behind in this dump to take over.”

I stood helpless, head muffled in a shirt, but Owner kind of flexed me in a manner that She hopefully took as a nod.

“Oh,” She said, “Make sure you keep the people out of the fixed up buildings for a few hours. I’d like to be alone.”

I didn’t think that would be all that hard.

**************************************************

 

That completes the first arc of Regime Quest! Thank you all so much for voting and reading along. Very lucky to survive this last update, a clutch role saw you through!

Some choices for you to make in the aftermath of the battle. Keep in mind as you form a plan that Blender is essentially going to need 2 days of healing from her own gift to be back right. The first day makes her not an invalid, the second gets her back in fighting shape. She can’t do a lot during the first day, and can’t really fight until after the second, but her followers can still get up to things.

 

  1. How do you pick which of your surviving Ultras you will leave as the Boss of Ar Harbour? (Interviews, random, other? Let me know the methodology and how much time you feel like spending on it.) Do you want to leave them any of your other followers as supporters?
  2. How long are you going to spend in Ar Harbour before heading back? What will you/your minions do there during that time? This answer can be as ‘if/then’ as you like, I will do my best to follow the logic of particularly complicated plans.
  3. With the trucks wrecked and Builder dead, how are you planning on getting back? Walking will take weeks, driving the better part of a day.
  4. Blender’s forehead divot seems like it will be permanent. Is she going to pull her Sigil down to conceal it, or push it back up to make it very obvious?
  5. Who is Blender going to give her two extra ‘Living’ attributes to? Remember that while you can pull them from anything, you can only give them to people and certain animals.

Regime Quest 37

Walter Note: Sorry for a short quest update after all this time.  Things have been, to overuse a worn out excuse, very crazy.  I’m about 3/4 through the next main story update, so it should drop fairly soon.  Thank you so much for your patience.

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“This is REGIME territory now!” I shouted.

No one moved, no one looked me in the eye, no one flinched.

Blessedly, the big mouth up the stairs didn’t answer either, he just let the shout echo.

“You belong to Her!” I continued.  “You always did.  Your children will.  Everyone will.  The world does.”

I took a step forward as I said this, walking between the first pair of kneeling humans, my doubled senses alert for the slightest hint of movement.

Nothing.  They knelt and stared straight ahead.

“The Ultras who lead you belong to Her as well!” I told them, as I continued.  “They exist to entertain Her, their defiance is permitted only so long as it amuses Her.  The story that they told you, that they were somehow an independent power?  It was all a lie!”

I made my voice deliberately harsh, sneering and condemning.  I was really speaking over their heads, making my case to my boss back in Shington, trying to get Her to let me keep this going.

Flattery rarely hurt with insecure tyrants, in my opinion.  She should eat this kind of thing up.

I was approaching the bottom of the stairs now, presumably surrounded by a number of enhanced foes, hiding among their kin.  My Ultras were following at a discrete distance, maybe twenty feet behind me.

A few, visible in my peripherals, were shoving humans that they passed, roughly pushing them onto the ground.  None of them seemed to be killing yet, though, which was probably all I could ask for.

“A lie propped up by the Union, by a bunch of losers!” I shouted.  “A lie built on the backs of the Company that She controls!  Every one of these rebels, every last one of them, they all got the Process from Her.  Do you think She gave them a gift that could win against Her?”

The idea that the Company stacked the deck was a popular rumor, but I had no idea whether it had any validity to it at all.  All that mattered now was that it was plausible.  If it kept even one of her augmented warriors from jumping up and getting killed when all the rest made their move then it was worth the breath I was spending.

I took my first step on the stairs, bracing myself, ready for anything.

“King Arthur!” I yelled.  “Are you going to come down here and face your execution with pride?  Or are you going to hide up there, like the sniveling coward you are, throwing waves of daggers to their deaths because you are too much of a coward to come out and face me yourself?”

Up I went, step by step.  My crew were hanging back a bit, just now getting to the bottom of the stairs.  I was really hoping they remembered the whole ‘no more fucking dueling’ hint I’d dropped earlier.

I got to where I could see the second floor.

A similarly cavernous space.  Some old shelving, some old display stands, presumably replaced when they fixed this place up.  Some lights in the middle distance, and a small crowd of figures clustered around the top of the stairs.

In the Posture.

I couldn’t just stop and count, but there were about a dozen or so, perhaps a bit more nicely dressed than the folks downstairs.  More ladies then dudes.  I didn’t have time to really take them in because of the one guy who was standing up.

He was at the back of the group, maybe ten feet off the stairs, standing in front of one woman who was just kneeling, not actually in the full Posture.

He was a mean looking guy, not really built, but with the kind of look where you knew that if his beat ever produced brutality complaints they wouldn’t be about him, but they would be about him.

“Hey bitch,” he said.

He didn’t shout, wasn’t going for volume here.  Just a conversational tone, like we were buds.  But it was enough for me to verify that he was definitely the owner of the voice that had been taunting me before.

My mind went into overdrive, thoughts racing through at an impossible pace, faster than they’d ever gone in my life.

First, this guy was almost certainly the other half of her second set, all the power crammed into one champion.

Second, holy shit that makes him Subtracter, minus the flight.

Third, no, if she could do that she wouldn’t have fucked around with the army in the first place.  He is probably more like another Lancelot.

Fourth, my death touch ‘should’ work on him, but it might well take a more sustained contact, which will be very hard with the Ultra Speed deficit I’m staring down.

Fifth, my gals are coming up behind me, they will be here in an incredibly long ten to fifteen seconds.  They can definitely handle this guy.

Sixth, if She will let them.  This is a trap baited with the knowledge of what She likes.  Backing down will make me look like a bitch, which is extremely dangerous.

Seventh, the implication of the setup up here is that King Arthur is the woman behind the champ, but I don’t necessarily believe that.  There is another woman on his left and a dude on his right who would have both been in touch range before I got into view.

Eighth, time to act.

Regime Quest 36

“Finish them!” I roared, and my crew suited action to words.

It wasn’t very difficult.  These people were less numerous and less powerful than those we’d faced before, and while our own survivors had dwindled there was a weird characteristic of Ultra forces that made that less of a concern than it might have been.

Imagine that you faced a hundred enemies, and you had a bunch of friends with guns.  Say that half of them were bulletproof.  You start shooting, and you kill five, then ten in the next salvo, then you do some amazing shooting and you get 25 in the next volley!  You are feeling incredible, top of the world, but we all know that you can’t get more than ten more, just because that’s the total limits of those it is possible for you to kill.

This happens with Ultras.  For a given attack, you can affect a certain variety of our kind.  Once those susceptible to it are dead, you are just making us mad, you need to switch things up if you want to do any more damage.

What King Arthur was doing here flew in the face of modern military doctrine.  He’d started with his heavies, then followed it up with less augmented troops.  Anyone that was vulnerable to them would have already died in the first wave.

I pushed forward, thrusting my way gingerly into the back of the melee, trying to find an opponent who wasn’t quite dead.  I couldn’t be gimping my way along here any further, couldn’t risk angering Her with my passivity.

I found someone bleeding out on the ground, put a hand to their head, but they didn’t have ‘Living’, as one of their tags, so I pushed on.

Or, at least, I lurched on.  Bending over to touch a person laying on the ground had been easy.  Straightening up was apparently something my body and I were going to fucking negotiate about, so I sort of zombie staggered forward, grabbing one of my Ultras from behind.

She did a spinning backfist kind of move, but fortune was with me, and she didn’t have any Ultra strength, so it just sort of glanced off of my head.  I hadn’t stopped my forward momentum, so we both started to topple, ramming into the minion she’d been fighting and sliding down to the ground in yet another undignified heap.

Even as my hands scrambled around, looking for exposed skin on the Ar Harbour gal, I was ruminating on how many times I’d fallen over today.  It had to be some kind of tragic record.

I got my hand on her wrist as she planted it on the ground, trying to scramble back up, and I killed her with my gift.

Immediately I felt both better and worse.  Better in that I was ‘living’ for two once again.  Everything was clearer, crisper, and, critically, the pain in my chest felt half as bad.  I stood without difficulty.

Worse in that I wasn’t able to push my thoughts down random tangents any more, and I was looking at a giant red mess that had once been a few dozen people.

“Listen up!” I shouted, and then I repeated myself as people started going quiet.

There weren’t that many of us anymore, and no one on the other team was saying anything, so I could finally do some commanding.

“Force rules the world!” shouted one particularly enthusiastic warband member, so we did a round of the call and response, but I cut it off after one.

I looked around at the group, acutely sensitive to how badly this could all go.

My life had ended, in most of the ways that mattered, when Subtracter and some goons had showed up at our village and done basically what I was doing here.  They killed everyone who resisted and then terrorized and bullied the rest of us.  My brother had been a ‘sky burial’ which is what Ultras call it when we throw a dagger into space.  Another Ultra who’d seen it had started an argument about whether or not Subtracter hit the moon, and another dozen people were dead by the end of it, none of them Ultras.

I’d always told myself that I would rather die than become Subtracter.  We had killed, yes.  In the Regime’s service, yes.  But thus far the only ones who had died were those who had attacked us.  They’d chosen their fates, no different than if they had walked off a bridge.

But it wouldn’t stay that way.  Not unless I was very careful.  My crew’s blood was up now, they’d all lost friends.  I had to do this very carefully.

“Everyone!” I shouted again.  “We are going in after the enemy leader now.”

Another cheer interrupted me, but I gave them a throat cut gesture and they fell silent.

“We are going after the enemy leader,” I repeated, this time in a non shouting tone.  “This King Arthur.  She is probably up on the second floor, if any of you have been noticing those trails that come out of the enemy when they fall.”

No one spoke up, but I couldn’t believe that I was the only one who’d seen them.

“When we go in there,” I continued, “We are going to be facing whatever daggers she’s gifted, plus a lot of other daggers waiting their turns to be buffed, ok?”

Lots of nods, they followed.

Regime people, people of the new world in general, they weren’t actually any dumber.  It was just easy to make myself think that, because everyone was so fucking ignorant.  But it wasn’t stupidity.  There wasn’t something in the water.  They could reason just fine.

“We don’t have to kill the daggers,” I said.  “No glory there.  We are taking out King Arthur and anyone her gift has augmented, ok?”

People nodded and there were a few muttered answers, but I could sense the lack of enthusiasm.  It wasn’t enough.

“Look,” I said.  “You all saw how Smasher died, right?”

Now I had their attention.  They had revered their captain.

“She stopped THINKING!” I emphasized.  “She went with her gut, and they capitalized.  We can’t do the same thing.  Reason is what brings victory, reason is what we need!”

I was half dreading another round of the Regime’s mantra, but they didn’t interrupt, faces tight and intent on my next words.

“Time spent swatting daggers is time wasted!  It lets Arthur make another Knight, or two more!  We won’t give her that chance!”

Jumper spoke up.

“But if the humans are in the way…”

“They won’t be!” I insisted.  “We will yell for them to take up the Posture.  They’ll do it. They don’t want to die.  The helpless ones don’t have anything to gain from annoying us.  They will take the Posture, and let us focus on the ones who think they can win.”

I could see that there were still some doubts, but it wasn’t like I could talk forever after pointing out that waiting made the enemy stronger.

“Inside!” I directed, “And yell as you go, tell them all to take the Posture, or die!”

I wasn’t the first through the door, but I wasn’t the last either.  I passed into the interior of the building in the same rush as everyone else, and stopped alongside them to boggle at what awaited us.

The building had started its life as some sort of chain store, and it was still somewhat recognizable as such, even with all the furnishings gone.

I’d never really thought about just how large one of those stores would be, if you took all the shelve and merch and stuff out of it, but the answer turned out to be huge.  Just vast.  The entire block was this one store, and the entire store was this one room.

This one room and all the people inside it.

We had come through, the little knot of us, shouting for everyone to ‘get down’, ‘get in the Posture’, and similar.

Everyone was already in the Posture.  And I did mean Everyone.

There had to be two or three hundred people in this room.  Women and men, a few kids.  Old people.  Young people.  No fucking infants or toddlers, thank God for small mercies.  Everyone sitting silently in the Posture.

They were randomly spread around the room, seemingly, clumped up in what looked like family situations.  They were thickest around the spire.

The spire, or really, the staircase, was the only feature of this enormous room.  It was a huge spiral staircase that rose up around an elevator.  It would take us to the second floor, where Arthur would be waiting.

An Ultra pointed a hand, and I slapped it down.  That wouldn’t actually stop her from manifesting a gift, of course, but the gesture seemed to break whatever impulse she’d been operating on.

I had to be very careful here.

The second wave of Knights had been half the size of the first, and much weaker.  Earlier, I’d thought that there had been no point to that attack, but maybe it had been about buying time to set this up.

I took a step forward, moved up to the edge of my little knot of guys.

It wasn’t just the doubled senses.  The tension in this room was real and genuine.  I locked eyes with one of the kneelers, saw an intensity that was either frenzied panic, utter hatred, or most likely some potent combination of both.

My first impulse was to order everyone up and out.  But what the fuck would I do if they just sat there?  She would expect me to start a slaughter.

My next was for us to just start walking through them, just disregard them.  But I’d already been ambushed from all sides once today, and I wasn’t looking for a repeat performance.

Arthur was playing for time, before and still.  I had the sickening feeling that she was concentrating her gift on one person, trying to rig up a champion that we couldn’t affect, or something equally horrible.  She needed to be stopped, and fast.

Once Arthur was gone none of this would be a problem.  My Ultras wouldn’t necessarily snap on the civilians if they didn’t have the lurking fear that any of them might be able to kill us.  I could take control with the usual light bullying, without worrying overmuch over it turning into an atrocity.

Someone shifted on the other side, and I snapped my gaze over.  They were just repositioning slightly, adjusting their Posture.  But it made me realize how tense I was, that we’d been just standing here gaping for like a half a minute.

“Imbuer!” I yelled.  “King Arthur, whatever you call yourself, you need to-“

I was interrupted by a wild yell from up on the second floor, a man’s voice, so presumably not my adversary herself.

“Nazi says what?”

I clenched a fist.  Just standing here and getting taunted would piss Her off.  I had to do something, but a lot of roads here led to these people getting slaughtered, my death, or, somehow, both.

 

Note from QM: Another write in plan.  I’m out of the country for the next week, so I’ll start work on the response to this on the 15th.  I’m sorry for the delays, things are crazy around here!