Beneath Her feet

It is an open secret, to any interested party with patience enough to put the pieces together, that the Regime maintains a clandestine facility separate and apart from the notorious Lair.

The source of this information is not any one particular leak, but a steady stream of information.  The Regime’s upper echelon isn’t so much infiltrated as it is subverted.  An estimated 50% of the organization’s more important members leak information covertly to resistance forces.  A plurality of their collected reports have mentioned an underground facility.

This facility’s location was not directly available, as Prevailer generally insists that individuals entering this area do so while unconscious, but from travel times and details of the facility’s apperance it is possible to deduce its position.  The surmise which best matches the evidence is that Prevailer maintains an Ultra holding facility in the old bunkers beneath Washington D.C.

These bunkers have old world life support systems, doubtless upgraded since Prevailer took over.  These were originally intended to keep the old government’s key leadership active and connected in the event of a nuclear exchange.  By all accounts, Prevailer has turned this refuge into a prison.

A number of the narratives describing this area have been passed to us by human survivors of the torturous survival games Prevailer forces her Ultras into.  She pits Ultras against a dozen people, or two dozen, arming them as she sees fit.  She pits them against one another, or kills them herself.

The primary purpose of the facility seems to be to house those Ultras that Prevailer considers too dangerous to roam loose, or too precious.  Answerer and Torturer, of her Inner Circle, are both reported to be present within the bunker.

A number of the Ultras that made up the Regime’s Fists appeared on the world’s scene as if from nowhere.  They were skilled combatants, despite no reports from the any cooperating members of the Pantheon ever having mentioned any clashes with them.  It is the current consensus that these Ultras are trained beneath Shington.  To stiffen them for actual battle, Prevailer seeds her Fists with the most brutal combatants of her private arena.

With the Fourth Fist due for recreation all resistance contacts are being urged to find out the details of this prison, and of its inmates.  When the new fist comes forth into the world, it is likely that its most savage and ferocious member will be a graduate of this secret training ground.  Such a being will likely compete with the most dangerous members of the existing Fists.

Condemner 1:4

The Fifth Fist spread out as they advanced upon me, forming a wedge with their leader at the head.  Five of the Regime’s best killers, five Ultras who’d beaten small armies, now came for me.

Predictor, in the front, was their leader.  He was tall and good looking, one of the few guys whose power doesn’t have something to do with changing their body.  Instead of the sort of gussied up body armor that Queller had sported earlier Predictor wore a tailored tuxedo.

I knew his powers.  He saw the future, or parts of it.  That was the main thing.  I think he backed that up with Ultra strength and durability?

“Speed not strength.”

I clamped down on the portion of my thoughts that still sounded like my human form, even as I pulled in the edges of my being.  I didn’t need to waste any energy on Queller and the pockets of survivors when the Fifth Fist was getting ready to throw down.

Standing to Predictor’s left and right were the less combative members of the group.  Gardener, looming over his boss, looked like some sort of old movie special effect.  He was an animate tree/man hybrid, lumbering along with his roots pulling concrete out of the ground with every step.  Strong, tough…but very flammable.  Tamer, by contrast, still looked human.  She hadn’t merged with any particular animal yet.  Her human form had a wide radius influence over animal life’s behavior and some kind of enhanced mobility power.  She was also holding a fire extinguisher, for all the good it would do them.

I crafted the terrifying demon visage once more.  I built it up from out of the blazing grasses and trees until it towered over the Fifth Fist, at least as tall as Gardener.  I roared, a sound like stones cracking and timber shattering.

Slicer and Pitcher moved protectively forward, standing between the rest of their crew and my burning extension.  My avatar roared again, feigned a rush and they each reacted differently.

Slicer kicked the ground before her with thunderous force.  She actually looked a little bit like a soccer player, if I was honest, aside from the blades emerging from forearms and shins.  The stone flew into the flames a good ten feet to my manifestation’s right, to no effect.

Pitcher, by contrast, stepped back and reached out to quickly tap each of the other three.  I had a hazy idea that this would let her move them around with her gift, but I wasn’t sure of the exact particulars.

“Demner,” said Predictor softly and with an odd gentleness to his tone.  “Give it up man.”

I made no outward response, but off to the side, away from my demon shape, I started to burn a charred log’s splintered ends to a series of points.

“You can’t beat us.” He said, matter-of-factly.  “You can’t get away.  Fighting five Ultras with just your weak ass gift just isn’t going to happen.”

“Weak?” I bellowed, my voice the roar of a wildfire unchecked. “Weak?  You dare to call me weak?”

Predicter was already reaching into his vest pocket.  I waited, tense.  I’d strike the instant that he did, let him do whatever he was going to do to the meaningless flame construct before him, even as I’d spend some of my stored energy putting a burning log right through his smug face.

Instead of a weapon, he pulled out a sheet of paper.  It was white, and written on it in bright marker colors and huge letters was the same phrase I’d just bellowed.  “You dare to call me weak?”.

I subsided momentarily, pulling energy in and letting my awareness slip from peripheral flames.  How could he possibly have made that note in just the brief time since I…

“I’ve seen all of this, Demner.  Every last humiliating second,” said Predicter.  “It ends with you in our grasp, begging and shaking before we knock you out.”

I positively recoiled.  The force that I’d drawn during the battle clustered before them, white hot flames dancing and scorching the air.

I had sufficient power.  I’d taken human lives, turned the park into a wasteland.  I had energy to burn, as it were.  But if he’d already seen how this was going to go…

No, whatever he said I refused to believe that.  I couldn’t be anticipated, couldn’t be controlled.  I was wild flame, a self-causing calamity which swept the guilty from the world.

“Seen it, have you?” I called upon my power once again, this time sending forth my gathered energies to blind, and not to burn.

“SEE THIS!”

My blaze flashed suddenly, brightening past any normal flame’s ability to shine.  I banished in an instant every spot of gloom every single shadow that would ordinarily linger.  The Fifth Fist stood revealed in their entirety within the glow of my might.

No sooner had I blinded them than I lashed out.  They hadn’t walked onto the field so I had to lob myself across the stone at them.  Inconsequential.  Even after the blinding pulse I had plenty of energy.  I pulled myself into a huge fireball and shot across the street as though a cannon had blasted me forth.

Despite their blindness, the Fifth Fist weren’t caught entirely unawares.  Even as I flew towards them they themselves were sent flying.  Pitcher’s power caught them up and shot those she’d touched in all directions, sending Predictor, Tamer and Gardener rolling and bouncing across the street.

Only Slicer was left, unable to avoid the path of my blaze, and I made of her a human torch.  She was engulfed in my essence, buried in my blaze.  Even as I continued along my arc and took root in the house beyond the Fist’s earlier position I continued to pour energy into the flames which blanketed her form.

Slicer had Ultra toughness 2, it seemed.  Perhaps she thought that that would save her.  I’d killed more than one Ultras who had thought as much.  I poured heat and hate along the blaze and she thrashed uselessly about with the forearm blades.  What a meager gift, compared with my magnificent form!

“One down!” I bellowed, even as I filled the house.  This had been their refuge, where they’d bided their time until falling to my power.  It suited me to consume it, to condemn it.  I pushed my essence through every wall and cranny, turning their habitation into my strength.

Suddenly, a tremor swept through me, akin to my first setback in this battle, when Queller began fighting the flame.  I’d lost power, lost it so suddenly and completely that it took me a moment to discover what had happened.

It wasn’t the rest of the Fifth Fist, who were still regathering themselves and trying to get their vision back.  It wasn’t Queller, far away in the park.  It was Slicer, the simple brute of all people, who dared to strike against me.  She’d cut away the tendril of flame which linked me to the fires that I’d set on her, and they were swiftly guttering out.

That shouldn’t be possible.  I was flame, not gross and unsubtle matter.  No blade should do more than pass without impact through my form.  Even if my course was momentarily interrupted, it should have flowed clean once again the moment that the obstacle was removed.

There was only one possible conclusion.  Slicer’s blades were more powerful than my form, when the two came in direct conflict.  Unthinkable though it was, the truth was plain.  In this limited way, her power trumped mine.

I would not bear it.  With a titanic creaking and shuddering I extended myself throughout all of the hidden spaces of the old house, infiltrating my flames down into the basement and all through the roof.  Everywhere I hadn’t gotten in my last pulse felt the burn of my presence.  I’d take all the energy I could get before I struck again.  If I was fortunate, perhaps someone was seeking shelter within the structure.

Once again, a terrible pain welled up this time from within the core of my own form.  From the basement something was rising up, something terrible.  My body guttered out in a terrible and swift progression, death rising from the basement at incredible speed.

Only the fact that I don’t feel pain in my true form, combined with my Ultra speed, let me escape.  Without taking time to plan or think, acting almost entirely on impulse, I recreated my human form and forced my essence down into it.

I had no time to craft a new identity for myself.  I slammed the thought cluster that I’d been repressing throughout the fight back into it, along with an impetus to flee.  I had time for nothing more before I ceased, my thoughts guttering out as Nirav took over.

I gasped, panting, as smoke filled my face.  Where was I?  The floor beneath was hot to the point of pain, scorching my bare feet.  I jumped forward instinctively, banging against a blazing hot wall.

Better question, who was I?  Nirav.  I was Nirav.  I remembered that much.  I was a person, an Ultra.  I was Ultra fast.  I…didn’t have anything more than that.  No context, no past.  No SOURCE for all this information.  I held my breath and tried to think.

I was inside, somewhere.  The smoke and heat made me think I was in danger of fire.  The thought spurred me into motion.

I crossed the room quickly, hot footing it from step to step as my feet were burned.  Feeling around, I found a starewell, which I quickly started down.  Instantly I became aware that I’d erred.

Coming up the stair was a cloud of something.  It took the smoke away, and it was a cold and clammy gas.  I jerked back with a visceral reaction as it soaked me, a briny fluid condensing onto me out of the dank gas.

I couldn’t cope with this.  From smoke to cold fog, still no sight, scorched and now drenched.  No air since I’d awoken.  No idea where I was.  I put my head down and squeezed every inch of Ultra speed out of my gift, banging and crashing around the house in every direction.  I needed OUT.

An instant later, I got my wish.  I crashed through a window and out into a bright and shiny day.  I plummeted ten feet and slammed into the ground.  Ordinarily I’m sure my speed would’ve let me fall well, but I was in such a state of bewilderment and pain that I slammed into the ground in an awkward full body bellyflop.

The anguish of the past moments, choking on smoke, feet searing and sizzling, had been nothing but the faintest foretaste of the feel of slamming into the ground in a hail of broken glass and shattered window frame.  Every part of me positively radiated agony.  I writhed in mute and tortured suffering.

Some asshole chose this moment to kick me in the side.  Honestly, it barely made any further impression.  I was a ball of pain.  I couldn’t be hurt any worse.  I grabbed my knees and rolled away, letting the first scream escape me.  The first sound that I could ever remember making, and it was an anguished scream.

He, or they, didn’t let up.  Another person was in the other direction, and they kicked me back towards the first guy.  I closed my eyes and screamed for help as the blows rained down.

The beating probably only lasted a moment, not more than a minute certainly.  Kicks rained down from every direction, and I twitched and thrashed and strove to keep my head intact.  After an eternity, or what felt like one anyway, the attacks stopped.

I didn’t move my hands from their position shielding my face.  I peeked up between my fingers.  Had someone come to my rescue?

My hopes were instantly dashed.  The faces that stared down at me were a Fist, of all people.  The Regime’s most elite killers, taking time out of their busy schedule of screwing up the world at large to kick ten shades of hell out of me.

“Please” I begged.  “Just let me…”  What could I finish with?  Go?  Die?  Begging didn’t work with Fists.  How did I know that?

One of them, wearing a fancy suit despite the heat of the day, and the fact that there had apparently been a huge fire, spoke up.

“Can’t shift when you are soaking wet, now can you?”

That was incomprehensible nonsense, but I wasn’t about to interrupt the crazy ultrahuman whose henchmen had me surrounded.

“People don’t believe me when I tell them that I’ve got it all figured out,” he continued.  “I know what to say to set a hot headed fool off.  I know where to deploy my Fist to get him to charge.  I know how to rig a house to release an explosion of inert gas, if someone is dumb enough to set it off.

“You know a lot, sure,“ I said.  “No one knows more than you, sir.”

I had no idea what he was talking about, and humoring the crazy man seemed like the best way forward.

He chuckled then, and the burned woman with the blade things sticking out of her arms reached down and heaved me upright.

I was stunned at her power.  Ultra force of the second degree, at least.  She pulled me to my feet as though she held nothing in her hand.  Her other arm was poised to lash out, and I had no doubt whatsoever that she’d slash that blade right through my body with a similar lack of difficulty.

“Woah, wait a sec…”I started, despite not really having any way to end that sentence.

“Easy Slicer,” said the man with the suit.  “She wants this one for Her own use.”

Something about the way he said the female pronouns let me hear the capital letters.  A little pause right after them, a one beat rest.  He was talking about Prevailer.  The devil herself.

“She…wants me?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“Kind of,” returned the suited man.  “She wants mighty Ultras to put into a new Fist.  We’ve picked you.”

A flash of hope kindled within me.  This was all some sort of ghastly misunderstanding.

“I’m not mighty though.  I have no idea, to tell you the truth, where I am or what I’m doing.  I don’t have any idea how I got here.  I don’t know why you attacked me.  I don’t-“

I’d started to blur my speech, words slipping into the space after the previous one.  A consequence of Ultra speed, when I got excited.  I clamped my mouth shut, stopping the babble.

They stared down a me for a moment, and then the leader spoke up again.

“You are actually telling the truth.  You aren’t mighty.”

“Then…?”

“But I said that She wants strong Ultras for her new Fist.”

My gaze hung on him, showing my confusion, even as the great tree man on my right raised a clubbing fist.

“That’s what She wants.  We, on the other hand.  We aren’t so eager to guarantee the quality of our competition.  You’ll do.”

I started to protest, but he was already nodding to the tree guy.

His fist struck my skull like a falling star, and my all too brief awareness tumbled back into blackness.

War in the New World

Since the First World War, or even before, human warfare has been primarily governed by the arms race.  Rifles rendered line-and-volley tactics expensive, the machine gun rendered them obsolete.  Tanks changed the nature of the trench line, before air power changed it again.  Smart systems, drone units and information warfare…the beat went on, unceasing and unstoppable.

Predictions which have been preserved from the time before the Process was discovered posit future wars waged entirely by Artificial Intelligence, carried out by ever smaller and more complicated machinery.  What went wrong?  Why did their estimates bear so little relation to the modern conflicts?

The first reason is that their view of the nature of reality was incomplete.  The dominant paradigm of the time viewed the observable universe as complete-in-itself.  Physics governed all.  When they posited that one day machines would think, they thought they were being perfectly rational.  Where could thought arise, but from matter, if matter was all there was?  And if matter in the form of a brain could think, why not in a microchip?  The notion that consciousness arose from a soul, or from something outside of physics, was tangled in the religions of the time, and not given serious consideration.

This reason made itself felt when the expected advancements simply stopped coming.  Drones never began to think for themselves.  Nanobots couldn’t be made to work.  All of the glorious promises of science fiction were always “ten years down the road”.

The battlefield, consequently, remained recognizable.  The wars that occurred, never declared or named, were small conflicts, superpowers dispatching soldiers that millions of dollars had been spent training, outfitted with a fortune in precisely engineered weaponry, to kick over militias carrying stolen weaponry, engineered for a war at least two generations past.

 

The second and most obvious reason, however, that the nations of the past couldn’t conceive what warfare would become, is that nothing like Ultras existed back then.

The modern battlefield is a struggle for resources (in the form of human population centers), carried out by small gangs of Ultras.  Human forces exist, but function primarily as support forces.  Vehicles are all but nonexistent.

Ultras generally fall into 3 categories on the battlefield.

Type 1 Ultras are not defended by their powers in any way.  They may able to wreak great devastation, but they are ultimately fragile.  These Ultras rarely go to the battlefield, as it is a place of great peril for them.

Type 1 Ultras would not, by themselves, have disrupted the expectations of old world military experts.  They would be seen, roughly, as infantry bearing exotic man portable weaponry.  Dangerous, to be sure, but they can be neutralized by human infantry in sufficient numbers, or through targeted anti personnel interventions, or ultimately by theater clean-sweep protocols.

Type 2 Ultras are those who are defended, in some way, by their gifts.  Ultra toughness of the first degree is the most common form of this, but Ultras who take large combative forms, those who are able to swiftly heal from injury and the like all fall into this category.

These Ultras are superior to anything that the ancients could have imagined on the battlefield.  They possess endurance similar to, or superior to, the old armored vehicles.  They combine this preposterous resilience with the infantryman’s traditional ability to evade and endure through obscene amounts of expended ordnance.

It is these Type 2 Ultras, main battle Ultras if you will, that make up the bulk of Pantheon, Regime and Union forces.  Bullets bounce off of them as they advance, lashing out with their gifts and destroying any opposition.

Defeating a force of Type 2 Ultras is difficult, but possible.  Another force of similar size and higher quality is the preferred method, but on rare occasion human forces have, through exceptional effort and, if I’m being honest, heroism, occasionally defeated them.  The fifth battle of London saw the Dirty Thirty fall to a Union force that was nearly entirely human, over the course of eight days of ferocious battle.

Lastly, there exist the Type 3 Ultras.  Zeus, Prevailer, etc.  Ultras of this class are entirely unstoppable by anything except their own kind.  In aggregate, this is what killed off the military forces of the old world.  They are the reason that modern conflicts never concentrate more than a few dozen Ultras in one place.  These cruel titans rule the current battlefield with an iron fist.

As a consequence, the modern battlefield is a place of skirmishes, a series of blisteringly fast duels or scrums between squads of mixed Type 2 and 3 Ultras, striving to gain the upper hand on their rivals and seize the humans that they control.  Machines are used primarily for transport.  Human forces are sacrificed for little gain.  Terrain is gained or lost by the mightiest nations in the world as the result of the action’s of less than a hundred Ultras on both sides.  Civilians, where their paths approach the conflict zones, invariably become casualties.

It would be entertaining to predict what will change this status quo, but this very report makes it clear that such action would do naught but provide amusement to the historians of tomorrow.  Instead, let us close by hoping that, tomorrow, there exists anyone to read these histories.  It is far more likely, however, that the earth will suffer the moon’s fate, and that this evolution of conflict will be the last.

Condemner 1:3

Stinker pulled me by the cuffs towards the center of the field.

Despite my Ultra speed, my mind refused to come together.  It couldn’t be me.  Hadn’t Stinker heard Elder Tanya’s instructions?  There must have been some, indicating that she should spare the Righteous.  What was the point of having a secret cult if we didn’t help each other out?

As I passed my fellow townsfolk some few spat, another set nodded mournfully.  I tuned them out.  I was going to die.  Right here, right now, I was going to die.  I was going to be executed with a whole bunch of humans to scare people away from messing with Her.

I dug my heels in and pulled to a stop, pulling back with my wrists and momentarily arresting our progress.  I didn’t have any concrete plan or strategy, I was just reacting to the thought that this was the last time I’d ever walk anywhere.

Stinker looked past me, even as I started to say something, and somebody hit me in the back with what felt like a sledge hammer.  I folded up, crumpling to the ground, a scream of agony escaping my lips.

As I toppled I saw that it was a Knight who had struck me, who now grabbed ahold of my legs.  I told myself to kick and fight back, but all I did was twitch and writhe.  I only had a few months of actual, lived experience, and I’d never been seriously hit in all that time.  It hurt more than it seemed like it possibly could.

Immediately another two Knights grabbed my upper half and started to carry me along with Stinker.  I pulled furiously with my arms, made abortive efforts to kick with my legs despite the iron grip that the Knight who’d struck me had on them.  I used every bit of my Ultra speed.  Any fear I had of revealing myself to be an Ultra paled in comparison to what they were taking me to.

It was for naught.  Ultra speed doesn’t grant any extra force, any more power, and frantically thrashing and frantically thrashing twice as fast apparently look pretty similar.  Or maybe my powers had never been a secret.  Whatever the case, no one remarked or seemed surprised as I was dragged along.

The Knights slammed me down in the center of the Field, near a group of similarly thrashing folks.  I couldn’t see much more than red robes and boots as they pinned me down, but from the yelling and screaming rising around me they weren’t bothering with gags.

I hollered along with the rest, incoherent threats and pleas, focusing primarily on the fact that I was an Ultra.  I didn’t know if Ultras were supposed to be killed in this way, didn’t know if it would even be a factor, but it wasn’t even going to matter because I was completely drowned out by the other folks yelling.

I raised my voice as well as I could with a boot grinding my upper body into the ground, but everyone else was raising their voice as well, and I wasn’t any louder than they were.  I screamed in animal panic, frantically arched my shoulders and strained to get free.

That wasn’t happening.  Three guys, each stronger individually than I was, were pinning me down.  Someone was sitting on my thighs, someone else was pressing my arms down and there was that bastard stomping on my upper back.  Writhe as I might I was accomplishing nothing.

Strangely, the screaming started to quiet down.  I let myself fall quiet as well, sucking in air in huge grass smelling gulps.  Why would the other prisoners…out of the corner of my eye I saw the approaching shimmer of Queller’s murderous nimbus.

She wasn’t taking any chances.  The other prisoners were falling silent because she was killing them here and now, leaving soulless shells to be publicly tortured.  I didn’t have minutes left, I had bare seconds.  I felt a strange heat, furious and boiling within me, at the thought.

I reached into my gift, somehow, or something in it reached into me.  As Queller’s distortion slid soundlessly towards my face I had the sudden strange impression that my mind was a glove, that it was a wrapper around something else, and that something else was taking action.

I…spread.  The Knights screamed in mortal agony as I raced along their limbs, caressing their flesh and blackening it, changing their robes from blood red to the more honest red of flame.

As I shucked my mortal form I felt my memories returning.  I, my human frame, had been an egg, a case, a decoy body.  Built from as much of my real essence as I could slam into meat and bone, but really nothing more than a pointer, a marker, a symbol of my true self.

I was Condemner, and now I exercised that name.  I was the one who determined fates, who chose endings.  More, I was the one who made those endings happen.

The initial flash of my birth, the brief explosion of power which had let me race through the gathered Knights, was doubled, again and again and again, as they baked.  These thugs, these brutes, they lost their lives to my faintest efforts, flesh scorched black and bones charred to ash.

People screamed and ran.  The same good folks who had been willing to watch me die weren’t so willing to lose their own lives.  They’d been alright with watching me die, but didn’t seem to be on board with the reverse.  Bad news about that.

I was, distantly, aware that the self that I’d been for the past months wouldn’t have agreed with that.  It was a passing realization though.  He was just a decoy, just a shell.  If he wanted his qualms to count he shouldn’t have called me forth.

Nothing about my true form cost me any of my Ultra speed.  If anything, it enhanced it.  I surged along the ground, racing and spreading through the grass, growing with every instant, straining to encircle the field.  None would escape my condemnation.

Even as I did so I felt a pang.  Distant, as all feeling was distant when I was incarnate, but clear and real all the same.  I refocused my awareness back to the center, slowing my expansion as I put my attention back to the tangled knot in the middle of the field.

Queller and a few other Ultras, crouching in the midst of her nimbus.  Correction, Queller, and the soulless shells of a few other people.  No one else in her aura needed a name any longer.

I surged forth against her, supremely confident.  Her power cut the ties between soul and body, but I had no body.  Once again I felt the twinge of knowledge, that just a moment or so ago I wouldn’t have been so reckless.  This time I heeded it.

Before my flames could touch her aura I cut them off from my awareness, drew my ‘self’ out of them.  It was a trick I rarely needed, but just as I could claim fire so I could return it.  The fireballs I hurled from my form into her aura would burn hardwood, melt plastic and reduce human frames to ashes, but for all that they were simply mundane fire.

They went out, instantly.  As soon as the flames reached the edge of her aurea they were snuffed out, disappearing without a trace.  Queller didn’t visibly react, didn’t twitch or jerk or seem to exert any power.  My trick of observing facial features using Ultra speed confirmed it.  She didn’t have to try to blot out flames from her aura.  It was a constant effect, not one she’d brought forth and maintained.

I reared up a huge flame body before her, 20 feet high and dancing with rage.  It was vaguely demonic, horns and hooked talons.  It spoke with the roar of an inferno.

“Decimate me?!”  I shouted.  “You’d Decimate Condemner?!”

I was ready and waiting for her to extend that aura at me, to lash out towards the terrifying flame demon with her zone.  I’d let it fall to earth and come at her from whatever part of her aura she weakened, see if I could bake her with heat.  But she betrayed my expectations.

Without a motion or command her bubble dropped down and spread out along the ground, cutting me off from the grass in a wide swathe around her.  She paid no attention whatsoever to the body I’d built, instead striving to push me as far back as possible, recognizing that I couldn’t hold flame above an area with no fuel.

For a split second I pushed my mind elsewhere, to the blazing periphery, where a wall of flame held the stragglers trapped in the park.  I pushed that wall over a pocket of them, harvesting the energy of their passing and dragging it back to where Queller stood at bay.

She was still worryingly calm.  She hadn’t responded to my taunts, hadn’t drawn her guns and fired into the smoke or done anything else foolish.  Now, as the flame wave approached, she reached into her vest and brought out a mouthpiece, which she pushed up and fixed to her face.

An oxygen tank perhaps?  All of a sudden I realized that I could have attacked that way.  Smoke her out if I couldn’t burn her.  I was already committed to this attack however.  With the energy of those I’d just condemned I sent a titanic wave of flame cascading over her.  It rose up over the top of her bubble and crashed down, burying her puny field in an almighty firestorm.

“Know your fate!” I exulted.  “Burn, worm, BURRRNNNNN!!!!”

The energy of my victims was soon exhausted, and I let the flames die down above the field.  Queller was standing, entirely unaffected.  She immediately repeated her stratagem of extending her field along the ground, just as she had before my assault.

My rage rose within me, and once again I swamped a captive pocket of Nectady’s folk.  Once again I harvested their power.  Once again I repressed the pang of a conscience I’d somehow grown.  The idiot voice of the human who’d walked here wailed within me.

I hate them because they were willing to watch me die, yet I’m willing to slaughter them?  I hate them because they are the same as me, but I am desperate to preserve myself?

I pushed the thoughts aside.  This time I put the pulse of power to a different use.

Lifting objects was hard for me in my true form.  I was fire, with no substance.  But somehow, when I burned people or things that people value, I could do it.  Maybe it was something like how fire could knock down walls.  Heated air or something.  I didn’t need to know.

I did it now, using the hard won energy to hoist one of the Knight’s scythe blades and sending it flying towards Queller.  I wasn’t sure exactly how their blessing worked.  I thought Refiner’s gift would cling to the weapons he blessed unless someone with the wrong skin picked it up, but I didn’t really need it to hold out.  Queller wasn’t Ultra tough.  A flying metal thing should do for her.

Even as I was flinging the scythe blade at her I was working to mask it.  I made another flame form on the opposite side, even as I pushed myself higher all around her, shielding the incoming blade from her sight.

“DIE!!” I shouted.

The blade came to a complete stop as it crossed into her aura, then clattered to the ground.  She glanced briefly at it, then returned her attention to controlling her aura.

“She’s been fighting on the Regime’s behalf.  If flying metal things could kill her someone would have shot her!” The thought flashed through my mind.

It wasn’t as though my human form could really communicate with me.  He was just a way that I sometimes was, like humans when they dream.  Still, that stung.

I pulled back from her, pushing my attention through the fire and taking rapid stock.  Most of the people of had either gotten away at the start or burned up already.  There were some pockets of humans still left in the blaze, those who’d stood on ground with nothing to burn.  I could sustain myself for a while longer on the vegetation and the trees here.  No one was coming that I could see, no one to change this battle.

It was more like a siege.  I couldn’t affect her in her bubble.  At least, I couldn’t without risking pushing the flame that I inhabited into it.  She couldn’t get at me, couldn’t catch Ultra fast flames and extinguish them in any real way.  She had air, and she got more every time I let her spread out.  I couldn’t burn her, couldn’t throw anything at her.

Stalemate, but…

“Snitcher!  She’s linked to the Regime!  They won’t let a fight like this pass by.”

A ridiculous thought.  How would anyone watching out her eyes even know she was in a fight.  All they’d see is fire.  Even She wouldn’t run out to punch a wildfire.

I circled and pondered, flicking my attention from one point to another within the flames and considering every way that I might get at her.  Where was Stinker?

No sooner asked than answered.  I saw her with another pocket of humans, crouched among the Righteous as though I’d forget about her.  Betray me, would she?  Would they?

I didn’t surge the flames over them this time.  I had a better plan.  I pushed them from one side, even as I pulled the fire out from the other side of them.  Coughing and gasping, they pushed and shoved in the only direction that I left them.

“They aren’t pushing and shoving, they are helping one another up.  The weak ones are being supported by the strong.”

I ignored the thought, continuing to herd them towards Queller

There was a pleasing irony in this sentence.  They’d planned that I die of Queller’s field, and that the soulless flesh that was left over would be tortured before a bloody mob.  Only fitting that that be their fate, stripped of their minds by that same field and then roasted.

The oxygen tank was what made me think of it.  Why would she have that, if her aura protected her from gas attacks?  What I knew of it was that it quenched flames and stopped projectiles.  It worked on forms, in other words.  But Stinkers defence was reflective, formless.

When she was cut, tear gas.  When she was stabbed, mustard gas.  I was willing to bet that when Queller cut her soul away it would be nerve gas, or something similar.  Let her little mask save her then!

“DIE!” I roared again, consuming another pocket in my exultation.  I rose all about them, the fleeing Righteous and the death towards which I drove them.  My forms rose throughout my flames, blazing giants roaring my condemnation to the cringing gnomes who’d thought themselves worthy of taking my life.

“Look!”

I jerked my attention away from my prey, cast my gaze once again out into the town.  I saw them then, advancing from a basement where they’d waited for this moment.  Five forms, forms that I recognized.

Predictor led them, looked into the future to ensure that they could pull off ambushes like this.  The Fifth Fist, the Trapper Fist.

It looked like my execution was back on.

Regime War: Southern Front

Confused by reports of fighting in America between seeming everyone?  Don’t be ashamed!  The battles ongoing in what was once the South/Southeast portion of the United States are, to put it bluntly, a huge mess.  This article intends to clarify matters at least a little bit.

Factions:

The Regime:  The evil empire is playing defense in the South.

-Bases:  Phis and Son form the westernmost cities definitively under Regime control.  New Orleans, Dallas and Houston are heavily influenced by the Regime, but not officially part of it.  The Company Facilities in those cities answer as readily to the Pantheon as they do to their masters.

-Forces:

  • The Sixth Fist are a relatively immobile unit focused on defense.  They generally occupy Regime cities and coordinate the local Ultras in protective actions.  Their mobility is limited to the Regime’s primitive conventional means (helicopters and automobiles for the most part).  Their fighting capability is excellent, and like all Fists they are immune to attrition.
  • The Third Fist are a mobile strike force generally focused on assailing Pantheon positions.  Leveller’s hydrokinesis provides them exceptional maneuverability so long as they remain active in coastal regions.  Third Fist generally operates independently of other Regime assets.  They have more destructive capability than the Sixth fist, but lacking Fader’s invincibility they must be more careful of enemy retribution.
  • The Knights of Purity’s Second Crusade is deployed to this region, comrpising several hundred humans armed with equipment and melee weaponry augmented by Refiner’s blessings.  This unit is predominantly deployed to deal with suspected resistance efforts in Regime cities, or in terror attacks on civilians in the no-man’s-land.
  • Phis and Son have garrisons of a small number of Regime Ultras, perhaps several dozen each.  These Ultras are not trained in any particular military techniques, beyond the general savagery of Regime existence.  They have experience fighting with the Pantheon, and should be expected to perform about on par with its Ultras.

-Leadership:

  • The Sixth Fist are third in command in this region, and predominantly deploy their forces in an attempt to conserve the Regime civilian’s lives.  What little offence they do undertake is generally better considered and more successful than their superiors.
  • The Third Fist are second in command, and concern themselves with destroying enemy assets.  Their true purpose appears to be entertaining their master, which makes their actions more predictable than one would expect.
  • Subtracter is nominally in charge of Regime forces in this region, when she flies down from Shington to take charge.  She generally prioritizes expanding the Regime’s grasp, ‘taking’ enemy cities or conducting terror raids deep behind the front lines.

The Pantheon:  Our enemies are also the Regime’s enemies.

-Bases:Forth Worth is Quetzalcoatl’s fortress, and her men generally return there between raids to the east and south.  Laredo is the Pantheon’s other stronghold in the area, divided in allegiance between Thor and Krishna.

-Forces:

  • Quetzalcoatl has several hundred Ultras under her command, and more flock to her banner every month.  These Ultras are predominantly lacking in actual combat experience, but observations indicate that she has acquired several renegade Union military personnel and put them to work training her mob.
  • Thor has approximately a hundred Ultras.  His recent defeats at Subtracter’s hands have seen his forces dwindling, leaving him for more successful commanders or simply departing the war zone entirely.  Nonetheless, he remains the most experienced commander that the Pantheon has in this area, and his forces have the most battles under their belts.
  • Krishna’s Ultras number between Thor’s and Quetzalcoatl’s, but where their troops are locals Krishna’s are veterans of the Union conflict in Asia.  Zeus and the rest of the leadership council are believed to have sent or exiled her from that area, but the purpose and circumstances of this development are unknown.

-Leadership:

  • Quetzalcoatl is mostly an unknown quantity.  One would expect an untried commander to do poorly, but she has met success so far. She seems to have a knack for avoiding the obvious mistakes.  If she can avoid drawing Prevailer down upon herself she will probably continue to be successful.
  • Thor’s simplistic tactics and strategies would have brought about crushing failure against any enemy less predictable than the Regime.  Even against an enemy hamstrung by their leader’s manias he has achieved little.  Personal power aside, Thor must be accounted a poor commander.
  • Krishna was a successful and respected commander in the Union conflict.  Given her that she faced an actual integrated military force in that campaign it is logical to conclude that against the Regime’s rabble she should encounter great success, if she can avoid assassination.  Rumor has it that she has some kind of Ultra Wisdom.

Aside from the two major factions, there exists minor military efforts by the following organizations:

-Union forces:  Our leaders have confirmed that our observers play a limited role in the Regime’s southern front.  It is believed that they take advantage of the chaos to eliminate war criminals from either faction as they become vulnerable.  Our elite Ultras, employing superior technology and cooperating with trained human professionals, are without question the most effective units of their size in the region.

-KEM kill teams:  The human hate group ‘Kill Every Monster’ has its sympathizers and supporters in every region.  In this open war zone they can discover their targets and launch attacks with far less repercussions than they’d suffer in civilized zones.  A number of Ultras on both sides have fallen victim to their ambushes.

-Resistance cells:  The human inhabitants of both the Regime and the Pantheon have no love for their oppressors, and from time to time take quasi-military action to relieve their situations.  Their lack of military hardware and Ultra support means that they are predominantly only able to perform recon work, but these courageous men and women should not be underestimated.

Condemner 1:2

The Decimation came around a lot sooner than it felt like it should.

It was a funny thing about Ultra Speed.  You’d think, each day twice as long and all, that everything would take an eternity to arrive.  But what happened is that events started to cast a sort of shadow.  The time before something you dread wasn’t just time, it was time spent dreading.  That anticipation, fear if I was being honest, seemed to help speed up the process.  All too soon the day was upon us.

I was working with the others when I heard the sirens, chit chatting with Daphne and half-assedly assembling a broken piece of machinery.  Their whoop-whoop-whoop spread out over the town, turning every head towards the facility, and filling every mind with a sick dread.

Daphne gave a strange smile as we stood up, leaned in and whispered to me.  I couldn’t hear her over the distant alarms and the rustle of folks rising to their feet, but I could lip read a little, and it wasn’t hard to guess.

“It’s going to be me,” she’d said.

I just shook my head resignedly.  Nectady wasn’t exactly small.  We were probably as safe today as we were most days.  Daphne believed in her hunches though, and attempting to quell her anxieties wouldn’t really do either of us any good.  Besides which, what could I say?  She might be right.

Our little group merged with others, tributaries merging into rivers.  Every face was fixed, sallow.  With my gift I could read every expression, but it felt pointless.  Everyone had on the same expression.  I probably did too.  Fear, shame, dread.  Afraid we’d be called on.  Afraid that someone we love would be called on.  Afraid that we’d stand up and try to be put a stop to things.  Afraid that we wouldn’t.

Nectady doesn’t really have a grand stadium for these sorts of things.  It had a few smaller ones, but they’ve been used for Ultra fights and knocked down over the years.  Stretcher, the city’s current Boss, used a big old field for this sort of thing.

Maybe it had once been a sports field, back when games were played by folks old enough to know better.  Maybe it had been a park, there were a few scraggly trees around the edges.  More likely than either it had just been some buildings, and they’d erased it down to ground level and planted grass.  No way to know, but the last would fit.  The Regime was firmly planted in the old world’s corpse.  Repurposing a place of business, a place where things used to be done, as an execution ground felt like it was exactly in their wheelhouse.

The crowd of people that was forming up in the field didn’t merge into one immediately.  We clung to our divisions, gangs glaring hatefully at other gangs, folks from one block looking with suspicion upon folks from another.  It was more like a mob of mobs than a united crowd.  Lots of distinct smaller clusters of people, each hoping that no one from their circle would be called upon.

The Ultras walked among us.  They were marked out by their hats, and by the little waves of people nodding their heads or making other gestures of subservience.  I didn’t see Queller, but she was probably closer to the center than I was.  Stinker, dressed in much more typical ‘fierce Regime Ultra’ garb, was prowling around our section with the rest of them.

I could see the Knights though.  They were unmistakable.  Red robes and skull masks, scythes and jackboots.  They stood out in the crowd, more even than the Ultras they served.

The Knight uniform was utterly ridiculous, I’d always thought.  Invented by Refiner long ago,  when he was spinning off his hate group from a larger and more successful one.  It was a look made for backrooms, for uniting like minded souls by getting them to embrace something that the outside world would laugh at and hold in contempt.  He’d probably got the first few on clearance from a movie store or wherever the old world sold such things.

My context free knowledge was frustrating about such things.  Somehow I knew that Refiner had been one of the first prisoners to volunteer for the Process, back when it was first being tested.  Along with Remover he’d been one of the first Ultra-villains, the folks that they’d recruited Her and Her ilk to put a stop to.  This wasn’t exactly common information.  It wasn’t suppressed or hidden, but I was the only member of the Righteous who’d known it, even Larry had to look it up.  It made me worry that before losing my memory I might have been part of the Regime, maybe a big part.

Absurd, of course, Larry would definitely have known, and he couldn’t keep a secret from me, but the thought kept cropping up.  The area where they found me was scarred and pitted with the force of a major clash between Ultras.  The Regime had definitely been one side of that.  Had I been with them, or against them?

There wasn’t a raised area in the middle for everyone to see, so when they were satisfied that we’d all been herded together the Ultras started telling everyone to get on their knees.  I dropped down with all the rest, a whole human landscape felled by an invisible axe.  At least the ground wasn’t wet.

Every eye was turned to the middle of the field, where Queller and Stretcher were standing.  They didn’t have the victims in the center, which sort of surprised me.  I’d figured during the “everyone mill around time” at the beginning that they’d been picking out the offerings, but apparently we were going to do it live.

Stretcher rose up, limbs extending and contorting like pool noodles as she ate up the space around her.  She was an imposing figure, arms and legs winding around one another like pythons even as her spine twisted her 360 to pass her gaze over everyone.  Still, it spoke volumes to her insecurities that she did all this after forcing everyone to their knees.  As though a rising tower of Ultra flesh wouldn’t have gotten our attention all by itself.

When she’d grown to twelve feet she started speaking.

“Force rules the World!” she bellowed out.  Her voice was loud, but a little too high for this sort of thing.

“Has ruled it, Shall rule it!” chorused back the masses.

I couldn’t help but recall the Righteous’s call and response, and mull the similarity.  Was Elder Tanya a little Prevailer, a dictator in embryo?

“Some idiot,” she went on, “didn’t believe that.  They tried to use poison, a coward’s weapon, to take Her down!”

Poison?  Against a woman who created a new body every time she teleported?  In every city in the Regime ten people would be dying for this stupidity.  If it was even true.  I wouldn’t have put it past the Regime to make up a reason to put the fear into everyone.

“Some of you gathered here remember the old days, when Prevailer fought off these attempts daily!  Some of you might even have a certain sympathy for these rebels, these deniers of the obvious truth of Her power!  Some of you…are going to die, right here, right now!”

Queller spoke up, a softer voice, but it cut through Stretcher’s ranting like someone had pulled the plug on a nonexistent microphone.

“She is eternal, you understand that, right?”

Queller actually paused then, like someone was going to answer.  I took a good long look at her.

Queller was a big strong looking woman.  Mannish, built like a tank.  Her powers hadn’t distorted her form like Stretcher, but she still stood more than six feet tall.  She was wearing a military uniform, or a riot cop’s.  Black fabric with metal plates wherever that was possible.  She had a gun on each hip.

“Prevailer has ruled the Regime since its founding.  She is ageless, a new body every day.  She is undefeatable, with a Tally in the four digits.  Folks, She’ll be in charge until She decides differently.”

Her form, her guns, they weren’t what made Queller dangerous.  I could see what did though, by squinting at her.  The nimbus of her power hung in the air around her, a dome with about five feet between her form and the edge of it.  Anything that entered that dome would be Quelled.  People lost their will and became her helpless puppets.  Bullets lost their force and fell limply to the ground.  Fires stopped burning and water stopped flowing.  She could extend it out like a limb, although it had a constant volume.  She could swallow it into herself if she didn’t want it active for some reason.  Those Quelled never recovered.  They were like the Company Men after that, flesh without soul, understanding without volition.  It was a fate some thought worse than death.

“Rising against Her is, accordingly, a seductive notion.  Who doesn’t, on some level want to fight with God?”

Queller had it.  Whatever it is that lets people speak publicly, address a mass of their fellow sentients without losing their interest.  In another time she might have been a preacher or a teacher, instead of what she’d become.

“Who doesn’t want to burn out, burn brightly away instead of the gradual decline that we all have to look forward to.  Heck folks, I’m a powerful Ultra myself, and I’ve got to say that the thought has crossed my mind a few times.”

She didn’t quite have them chuckling.  The ‘aw gee we iz all folks here’ routine doesn’t exactly work in this context, but she was almost there.  It was far more effective, judging by the expression’s I was seeing, than all of Stretcher’s shouting.

“But what you aren’t taking into account is Her rights.  Its Her time that you waste, when you pit yourself against the infinite.  Her that you disappoint when you try the same things she’s seen time and again.  You let Her down, with your frailty, with your lack of invention, with your general humanity.  And so She has taken the privilege away from you.”

That was certainly one way to spin it.  It wasn’t that the big bad boss was afraid of being knocked off, oh no.  It was that She didn’t like having her time wasted.  Sure.

“But how to punish someone who is already a smear on Her fist?  How to enforce a consequence on someone intent on ending their life?”

Like we didn’t all know the answer to that one.

“The Decimation.  The killing of ten people from every city, every town, in the entire Regime.  Even people hellbent on taking the easy way, the coward’s way out, and dying at Her fists, even they have those they care for.”

Queller stopped talking for a moment, letting that sink in.  It was nothing we didn’t already know, but the act of pausing, after talking conversationally, lent the moment an artificial gravity.  If the general pitch hadn’t been ‘feel guity because someone stood up against the person who is having you killed’ she might have persuaded a person or two.

Queller remained silient, and Stretcher stepped back into the void, shouting once again.

“Ultras, pick your daggers!”  Nothing like a little racism to make the mass execution go down easier.

I was actually a little shocked.  For some reason, and despite the obvious absence of any lottery equipment or other mechanism for doing the picking, I’d been convinced that they’d select the victims at random.

I’m not sure how I convinced myself of this.  Maybe someone had told me somewhere along the way, or I’d just always presumed, but thinking about it, OF COURSE they’d just round up the usual suspects.  Why even pretend that the whole ‘collective punishment’ schtick would be any fairer than anything else?

Stinker was coming our way, a set of handcuffs in her hand.  I guess we were one of the blocks that would be donating a victim to the cause.

It seemed absurd.  Stinker was such a comic figure, such a caricature of what a repressive authority would actually be.  She trudged towards us with the cuffs dangling down like she didn’t know what they were.  Like she’d rather be literally anywhere else in the world.  The idea that this woman, who I knew, who I’d seen whip her own fingers with a dime store bullwhip, would condemn one of us to death just seemed preposterous, impossible.

At least, I didn’t need to worry about my friends.  Stinker was Righteous.  She knew all of our little cabal, and we were all in this group.  We’d make it through this.

I felt a wave of relief wash over me, instantly followed by crushing shame.  Was I so low?  To be thrilled that another, equally innocent, would suffer in my stead?

Stinker’s eyes passed mine and focused on the figure next to me, on Daphne.  My teeth snapped together.

Daphne was probably my best friend, though that didn’t exactly mean that we were close.  We worked together every day, ate together, walked home together.  We joked about Stinker together.  Now that I thought about it, that might not have been the smartest idea.

As Stinker got closer I let my gaze fall to the ground, inwardly writhing.  Could I do it?  Could I make myself try to take her place?  I mean, I liked Daphne, I found her amusing, but could I die for her?  That was crazy, right?  But could I live with not doing so?  Live with all my illusions of virtue stripped away?

Was I already lost, just for caring so much about one victim instead of all the other, presumably equally innocent, anonymous ones?  9 more in this crowd, and ten more in every other city?

I clenched my teeth, feeling a surge of resignation eating up the trauma.  I saw Stinker’s feet heading straight for us, each step taking me closer to the moment when I’d do nothing.  I didn’t have it in me to stand up, couldn’t make myself fight the machine.  Greater love hath no man than this, and I didn’t have it.

No, no way.  I wouldn’t let myself just do nothing.  I gathered up my courage, searched my scant memories for inspiration.  I clenched my teeth.

I looked up again as Stinker came to a stop in front of us.  She looked back, seeming to understand that before she addressed Daphne she needed to reckon with me.  I looked into her eyes and…. said nothing. Did nothing. I just knelt there, hot shame and relief chasing themselves through my mind.

The moment seemed to prolong itself.  My gift at work, letting me writhe inwardly.  No, it was too long for that.  What was she doing?

Daphne surged to her feet, trying to intervene, but Bruce pulled her back down.  I couldn’t process it, even as Stinker reached out and clapped the cuffs on me.

“Nirav, you are hereby picked for the Thousand Two Hundred and Fifty Second Decimation,“ She said, staring at me right in the eyes.  “You will die this day, slowly and with great pain. And when you’ve shed your mortal flesh, when your spirit flies free, may She have mercy on your soul.”

KEM : Condemner

KILL EVERY MONSTER

Ultrahuman Designation: Condemner

Birth Name: Nirav (unknown last name)

Occupation: Outlaw

Appearance: Male, Indian, age varies, dark straight hair.  Usually somewhat muscular.  Often wears lower status or occupation clothing. NOTE: This Ultra is not Regime, and does not typically identify itself as such.

Sigil: None

Super strength:  None

Super durability: None

Super speed: Level 1.

History:

Nirav ‘Patel’ functioned as a member of a resistance movement against the Regime in upper New England for a long period of time.  When cornered by Regime forces the creature was compelled to reveal its Ultra nature.  It is not known at this time when the Process was carried out, nor what KEM information Condemner had access to before its unmasking.

Since then it has cropped up twice.  The first time it made itself look like a teenager and joined a gang in outer Ston.  Once again an outbreak of violence forced it to reveal its true form.  The second reported siting came from a group of patriots heading between cities when they came upon the creature destroying a bandit camp.

Powerset:

Condemner possess the ability to transform itself into a living wildfire.  Its human form vanishes entirely during this process. There is no flesh body controlling the fire when it is in this form.  It retains complete control of any portion of this fire still connected to the main mass.  Any portion which is no longer connected, however, reverts to an ordinary blaze.

Condemner’s flame form can grow to any size, merging with and seizing control of natural flames or simply spreading across combustible surfaces.  In addition, when it burns humans or Ultras the fire spreads far more rapidly than it ought to.  In conversation it has stated that it is using their souls for fuel, but this might simply be an intimidation tactic.

Beyond the obvious combat application of its change, there is also the fact that its body is recreated after each transition to consider.  Condemner’s wounds and ailments are not carried over when it recreates its body, and it has shown some ability to customize its form each time it forges it anew.

Finally, Condemner has Ultra speed of the first degree and this speed applies to both of its forms.

Crimes against Humanity:

Condemner has never initiated hostilities, preferring to allow others to make the first move and give it an excuse to exercise its mass murdering impulses.  After battle begins, however, Condemner takes no care to safeguard bystanders or its former allies, attempting to render all other combatants and witnesses to ash before assuming its flesh form once again.

Kill Priority: Medium.  Condemner has killed dozens, and if constantly active would certainly rate a high priority.  Since it has a long dormant cycle it currently rates only moderate attention.

Kill Method:   Condemner’s flesh form displays no particular resiliency.  A kinetic intervention to its brain would likely result in destruction.  However, due to its Ultra speed it might be able to attain flame form at the last moment.  A more thorough and certain extermination should entail the creation of an environment which would destroy either form of the creature, perhaps burying it beneath an avalanche or drowning it within a considerable body of water.

KILL EVERY MONSTER