Lara didn’t seem terribly disturbed for someone who was going to be killing a number of her close associates. To the contrary, she actually seemed excited.
“So, you are going to be pitching in, right Scylla? None of this standing by and judging nonsense that lets you claim I acted alone if things don’t work out?”
I shook the Lure’s head.
“I wouldn’t have this job if it didn’t let me get my hands wet. Charybdis would skin me in a week.”
Lara smiled. She seemed to approve of this response, which meant that I’d calibrated my persona decently well. I’d been aiming for pompous and bloodthirsty, and it seemed as though that was the right path to take.
“I’ll get the girls,” she said, and floated back up the elevator shaft.
I stood, quiet and unconcerned in a dusty basement. Ironically, this was just about where I’d been standing when we launched this whole plan.
I wasn’t terribly concerned that she might be gathering a posse to take the Lure out. Partly, this was because I didn’t think they could pull it off if they tried. Indulger’s power unleashed in the confines of a basement didn’t even bear thinking about. Unless one of her Ultras was much stronger than I had any reason to expect I’d be alright if she confronted me.
The real reason, however, was that I was pretty convinced that she was buying what I was laying down. Every bit of her demeanor rang true. Her ambition was becoming reality at last. Finally, she would be done with biding her time, and let the world see what she could do.
Shortly thereafter Lara and select members of her posse came down, and we got to planning.
It was an eerie mirror of the other basement where Preventer had confronted us earlier. Same general objective, same battle field. The big difference was in the group’s dynamic.
Where our Fist was sort of lead by consensus Lara was very clearly in charge of her gang. There was little to no protest when she revealed that we’d be taking action against her own comrades. She mentioned my cover story almost off handedly, very pro forma. The real story here was that she was telling them that the time had come to strike, not that I’d delivered orders from above. I got the sense, listening to them talk, that I was more of an excuse than anything else.
On reflection, this wasn’t as shocking as it first seemed. The Pantheon was rife with infighting, with treachery. Lara had gathered about her like-minded souls, ambitious and black hearted. She ruled them with a furious, instinctual charisma. It couldn’t survive being perceived as someone else’s errand boy. In the planning session she quickly embraced my bogus mission, making it her own and laying claim to the concept. Her followers were clearly on board.
I’d been prepared for a much harder sell, to be honest. Haunter had talked up how old world military units had an iron regard for their comrade’s lives, fighting to protect the man beside them. I’d envisioned a grand verbal battle, pitting their loyalty to Zeus against their loyalty to Thor. I was relieved to be proven wrong.
The actual planning was, again, easier than expected. I had the sense that they had thought this out a number of times, probably in preparation for an overture from Krishna.
They zeroed in on Thor and Karen as the two main targets, reasoning that Dozens and Inferno would fall in line once those two were down. I knew that Lara had a bit of an ulterior motive here, probably wanted Dozens alive to be part of the band that she would take on the Council’s mission after they were done.
I was a bit surprised that they didn’t seem to be planning an early morning attack. It seemed like catching their foes asleep would be a critical edge, but it wasn’t even brought up. I couldn’t risk revealing ignorance and compromising my disguise in order to ask, so plans went forward for an evening attack on Karen’s compound.
“Thor sees explosions from over there, he’ll come flying. He ain’t going to miss a chance to protect his girl.”
Lara put a lot of venom into the word girl. It hinted at a jealousy that was right in line with what I’d sensed of her. Someone desperate to prove themselves would naturally loathe someone else who seemed to be advanced unfairly. The idea that Thor might sense Karen’s loyalty, and Lara’s utterly mercenary nature, wouldn’t occur to her.
“Yeah, that sounds like him.”
I was trying to give the impression, without actually saying as much, that Thor and I were associates from unspecified higher level activities. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for an Agent of the Leadership Council to have met a front line warlord. The idea lent my words some prestige, and I was also still feeling that strange enthusiasm. It was hard to avoid being carried away by the spying.
“Can you take him out?”
It was a question from one of her subordinate Ultras. She was one of what I’d call the more conservative of the crew. She wasn’t exactly dubious about the prospect of a battle with Karen’s unit, but she seemed to be approaching this more like a military operation, and less like the grand score settling that the rest seemed to be envisioning.
“If he lands.” I responded. “I’m not a flyer.”
Everyone around the room had been paying careful attention to that. It was a delicate dance, getting details on another Ultra’s power. You couldn’t just ask, but you really, really wanted to know. We were doing pretty much the same thing in the Fist. It was idiotic, but unavoidable.
The remainder of the conversation turned around how to take out Thor. One of the women had the ability to shoot a sort of energy lance that could harm an Ultra tough two opponent. Another had a disorienting field, which she thought could probably make him crash. Lara seemed to be surprisingly up for matching her own flight and energy projection against his equivalents.
The plan which prevailed, however, was the obvious one. They would assault Karen and, with the advantage of surprise, quickly kill or drive off their foes. Thor would fly over and, seeing only his own Ultras, land. They’d act confused until, on Lara’s signal, they’d kill him with everything that they had. It was roughly what I’d come up with in their shoes.
We went back upstairs and Lara’s lieutenants fanned out, gathering the remainder of her followers, or at least those that she felt she could trust. I should have been nervous, any error at this stage could lead to a clusterfuck, but my odd high spirits continued.
As each one of Lara’s minions returned with a few more of her followers in tow it seemed like the world was talking to me. It felt like it was cheering me on, confirming over and over again that this would work. Not one of them had run into resistance. Not one of them had had one of their followers break off and attempt to communicate with Thor. Lara gathered her forces without a single hitch.
We split up as we left Lara’s base, several small groups of Ultras wandering away on their own paths.
This too had been planned. It would be conspicuous for an entire gang of Ultras to walk together, threatening even. Lara never gathered her followers together and strolled around under normal circumstances, so why take the chance of doing so now.
I stuck with Lara, walking slowly and letting the Hook keep me in contact with the Fist in the traveling tunnel that Indulger was moving beneath us. We had another four Ultras around us, one of Lara’s larger groups.
Several times on our way over acquaintances and the like called out to Lara. There were a few catcalls at the Lure, a number of invitations to socialize. Lara rebuffed each one, feigning a personal errand. She seemed unstressed by the covert nature of our mission, surprisingly at home with deception. Ironically, she probably would have actually been a good candidate for this kind of operation, if I’d been a genuine agent of the Pantheon’s leadership.
Karen’s hangout was a ruined subway terminal. It stood mostly alone in a ruined block, the rubble around it having been cleaned away from a couple of paths. There weren’t any visible sentries, but Lara had assured me that Karen would have been alerted that we were coming. Dagger lookouts were in common use among Pantheon Ultras, presumably there had been some runners ranging ahead of us that I hadn’t perceived.
Lara led us through the ruins of the surrounding buildings, drifting just above the ground. Her flight seemed to be much more controlled that what we’d heard of Thor, she could hover in place or change her velocity at leisure. It lent her an intimidating air, allowing her to maintain an intimidating lack of motion as she led us forward as well as adding a few inches onto her height.
Another of Lara’s groups, as we’d arranged, started walking in from another side path. The other two groups would be on nearby parallel streets. Lara had judged that the coincidence of half her force approaching at once was acceptable, but that more might provoke Karen to gather her own troops.
An Ultra stepped out of the tunnel mouth to greet us. He was a fat guy, mutated with a strange bone growth on the front of his gut. His head had sunken down into his neck as though to compensate, leaving him looking kind of like an animate gumdrop. He raised a hand as we approached.
“Karen,” said Lara “and be quick about it, Weng.”
Weng nodded, as much as his neckless physique would allow, and turned back into the base. It wasn’t immediately clear whether he wanted us to wait or follow, and Lara seized upon the moment by drifting into the door before he could clarify.
There were a trio of Ultras lounging about in here. One young woman was reading an old paperback book, another two were making out. I felt as though the lack of attention that they gave us was deliberate. They were making a point of some kind. Not that it mattered.
We stood in awkward silence for a few moments. Outside Lara’s second group would be drawing closer. None of Karen’s Ultras spoke to us. None of us had anything to say to them. The reader put down her novel, glanced at me with obvious curiosity. I was an unknown, and something about the Lure made her understand that I was important.
Before she had time to do anything about it Karen came back. She was with another woman, probably an Ultra by her lack of fear.
‘What’s all this-“ Karen began, but was cut off when Lara shot a green energy blast directly into her chest.
The shot took Karen off the ground and threw her bodily back through the door she’d just come out of, a fantastic spray of blood erupting forth in response. Lara’s gang threw themselves at Karen’s Ultras.
Here I saw the flip side of the Pantheon’s readiness to destroy itself. The free shot on Karen was all we got. Being assaulted by their own comrades was apparently entirely within Karen’s followers world view, and they came up fighting.
Still filled with that bizarre battle lust, I flung the Lure at the reader, who came off the couch swinging. I checked my lunge before we could actually come to grips, hearing the whistle of her fist through the air before me. I pulled my shadow out of Indulger’s spy hole and started to manifest the Hook.
Before I could finish an Ultra of Lara’s was barging by me and punching at Karen’s sentry. They locked arms for an instant and then dropped to the ground, rolling and thrashing. Terminal floor splintered about them as the collateral damage of their Ultra tussle demolished a section of the building.
Lara forced her way deeper into the complex. From what I could see without following she started encountering serious resistance over Karen’s prone form. A group of four Ultras held the path deeper in, momentarily throwing our side back and beheading one of Lara’s own Ultras with some kind of spectral axe.
As Lara’s reinforcements flooded in I held back, Hook and Lure side by side. My earlier vigor had abruptly deserted me, and I was only too aware of how easy it would be to die here. I was in the same building as a dozen battling Ultras. This wasn’t a duel, wasn’t some kind of formalized skirmish. That Ultra who had lunged at me, the one who’d been reading, had had Ultra Strength. If the Lure had been a step closer it would have been shattered.
The sounds of battle must have seemed like they were going on for much longer than they actually were. It felt like approximately a thousand hours, standing in the terminal’s old ticket office, but it could only have been a couple of minutes. Lara’s third and fourth groups arrived and I pointed them in, following along with the last.
We arrived to a scene of utter chaos. Karen’s defenders had fought with desperate ferocity, piling bodies into the same hallway that I’d seen Lara start down at the beginning of the fight, and engaging the invaders in a buckle to buckle close quarters battle. I couldn’t begin to make sense of what it must have been like.
Ultras that close together had no chance to understand or engage one another’s powers. They just hit and get hit, blows slamming through flesh. Casualties had been horrific. Karen was dead, of course, laying on the floor with her chest blown out. It looked like she actually gotten back up at some point, and the blast that put her down had taken off an entire leg.
Most of Lara’s first and second group were dead. Karen’s band, or whatever part of it was here, were dead. Lara herself was clearly injured, her abdomen leaking blood through a wadded up shirt she’d stuffed in there. And yet, there was a look of victory about her. The air of one who had at last achieved a dream that they had spent their life working towards.
If it was triumph, it was premature. Her gaze roamed the battle scene until it locked with mine. I shared a meaningful look with her, pointing up towards the roof where blasts had apparently shot holes in it. She took my meaning immediately.
A fight at one of his lieutenant’s bases wouldn’t go unnoticed, not if energy bursts were rising into the sky. Thor would investigate. His leadership was based on his willingness to take the fight to the foe. He’d be here in moments with whatever he could quickly muster.
Lara and her crew started to move outside, and I found myself caught up in the jostle and rush. I wasn’t sure exactly how she’d given the order to pull back, or that she’d stay conscious long enough to do it, but we all made it out of the building before Thor showed up.