I’d walked around Redo as the Lure before, but this was different.
In a matter of hours, if all went to plan, we’d turn this place into a battlefield. Not just a battle field, a killing ground. I was here to set hundreds of Ultras at one another’s throats. I’d be surprised if there was a single building standing.
For all that, I had a big smile on my face as I strolled down the main drive.
Part of that was due to it being in character. I was Scylla, agent of the Leadership Council. I should have a big, cocky grin. It felt right. Part of it was that Nirav cared about me. I’d known it, of course, through my gift, but for some reason hearing him try and get himself assigned to accompany me felt…pleasant. Mostly, however, it was because I could finally stretch out.
My time in the Pit had accustomed me to folding up my forms inside one another, but it was still incredibly taxing. This trip had irked me, disturbed my equilibrium. My gift didn’t allow me to see my own priorities, but I’d imagined that if it did I’d see “Get both forms out” rising slowly and steadily up the ranks.
I didn’t realize how much I’d missed this until it happened. Manifesting the Hook took a weight off my shoulders that I hadn’t even realized I’d been carrying. It was like a low grade migraine suddenly going away, like a toothache miraculously vanished.
As I walked the Lure along the streets of the city I took pains to move slowly and deliberately. Less a march, more of a saunter, a strut. Beneath me, the rest of the Fist was moving too.
Indulger’s gift allowed him to tunnel, or, more like ground surf. The rest of them were in a kind of moving cave, pacing me beneath the road. Indulger felt my foot steps and pushed the cave along. Within it, I’d placed the Hook.
The shadow that connected us was string thin, a tendril of darkness sliding down through a pinpoint hole that Indulger kept open in the soil. Both of my selves, joined by this tendril, walked in tandem. The Lure grinned as the Hook leered. I felt complete.
I reminded myself not to get complacent as we neared Lara’s camp. This plan was, to be honest, not at all foolproof. I couldn’t use my gift on the Pantheon troops while I kept my shadow stretched down into the ground. I was relying on my new comrade’s assistance to make up for it.
I couldn’t make myself heed my own warning, though. I didn’t feel like I was walking into danger. I felt great. Top of the world. A mad sense of invincibility flowed through me. It was…intoxicating.
Lara’s compound had been…some kind of human dwelling in an earlier life. I had the sense that I had once known a word for it. A place where lots of people lived in one room each, with doors opening onto the outside. It had a fence around it that had been shoddily repaired, and there was steady traffic going in and out.
I didn’t check my pace as I walked up. Just strode through the comers and goers like I was the most important person that they’d ever see. In a certain sense, after all, this was true.
There wasn’t an organized guard arrangement that I could pick out. I’d come pretty close before when Nirav and I were scoping out Thor’s lieutenants. But now that I looked important, or rather, like I thought I was important, a pair of Ultras ambled out to challenge me.
They were plump, very dark skinned. They didn’t have the Asian features that I’d seen on most of the Ultras of Laredo. Their voices were also different, they spoke their challenge in a language that definitely wasn’t Mandarin.
I gave them a blank smile, posturing for a second while Haunter consulted her shades to figure out what they’d said.
“Islander dialect, we have some people who mostly get it. They want to know your name, but it is a very disrespectful, derogatory way to ask it.
I could have picked that up from their body language. Somewhere in the world there is a surly guard master class that everyone attends. These ladies could teach it.
“SCY-LLA” I told them, loudly and slowly. It was the way you spoke to someone who you weren’t sure could understand you. Pompous, and unafraid who thought so.
They switched to English.
“Who are you, hey? Where you XXXX been from? Yeah?”
I’d been warned that the Pantheon had a wildly diverse lingua. They picked up words from a dozen languages, used English as the broth and mixed them up.
“I’m from Australia. You know Australia? Where your bosses live?”
I kept up the slow, loud tone. It established that they were beneath me, that I didn’t fear them.
Apparently the obnoxious tone was getting through, because the one on the left, the heavier of the two, drew back her arm for a telegraphed punch.
It was a thug’s punch, not a warrior’s. A wide, menacing swing, more gesture than anything else. If I dodged I’d be showing fear. If I blocked it, the same. If I let them hit me, that too was a bitch move.
Fortunately, I had another option. The Hook made the agreed upon sign.
Even as she stepped forward to throw her punch, the ground slid and twisted beneath her feat. Her step to strike became a sort of skate to fall. She averted the splits by sitting down hastily.
Indulger was damned convenient.
“Aus-Trail-Ee-ya” I said, looking down on her the way you look down on someone who suddenly falls over.
The one that was standing up looked from her friend, who was wide eyed with fury, to the Lure. She made the right call, stepping between us and giving an open hand gesture to the fatter guard.
“Oh, you from the bosses? XXXX XXXXX XX?” she asked.
“Just an insult.” Haunter said on the heels of that.
“Do I need to introduce you to Charybdis?” I asked, with a hint of menace, and another hint of eagerness. Honestly, I wasn’t entirely feigning. The exuberance that was flowing through me would welcome a fight.
She put up both hands, not in surrender but in an ‘easy, easy’ kind of gesture. Behind her the other guard climbed to her feat, muttering something I couldn’t understand.
Beneath the Hook made the gesture for ‘give me a cutting put down’, and Haunter began to work a rejoinder out.
“I’d like to see Lara, please.
“Sure thing, lady,” said the thinner guard. “But you try any of that shit with her and we’ll scrape you off the walls.”
She turned and started walking. I fell in behind her.
As we passed the stout, hostile guard I murmured the phrase that Haunter fed me. She blanched, visibly taken aback.
Lara’s area turned out to be on the building’s ground floor, which was a piece of luck. My connection remained unbroken as Lara led me inside what used to be the commercial area of the old structure. Couches, tables and miscellaneous furnishings covered the inside, as well as a pack of perhaps a dozen Ultras.
All eyes were upon me as we entered. The immediate reaction was people rising to their feet, alert and hostile, but a motion from the guard seemed to take them off battle stations. She steered me over to Lara where she sprawled across a couch, her head in another Ultra’s lap.
Lara was a statuesque woman, shaved head, angry stare. She was considerably more muscular than your typical Utlra. Not really in Indulger’s category, that is, she probably didn’t spend hours every day lifting weights, but she fundamentally looked strong. This provided no clues as to whether or not she had Ultra strength, of course, but I somehow had the idea that your more muscular types didn’t typically have it. Prevailer, for example, hadn’t lifted a weight in Her life.
Lara began speaking in Mandarin, Haunter was much better at translating this. It came across with just a half second or so’s delay.
“Who are you supposed to be?” she asked.
“Scylla. Agent of the Leadership Council.” I responded. Or, I trust that’s what my response was. Trying to repeat a sentence in a tonal language that you don’t understand is very hard. We’d rehearsed this one, or the words in it, and I was still certain that I’d have a dreadful accent.
Still, it would be worth it. The Regime’s Ultras, without exception, spoke English. She had told everyone that anyone She caught speaking a foreign tongue She’d kill. Even speaking another language badly would help immeasurably with the notion that I couldn’t be Regime.
“An agent, huh. Five Oh One Two Three Four Seven.”
Lara still hadn’t really moved, staring me down from a reclining position. Nonetheless, as she dropped this code phrase on me I had the sense that she was prepared to move, and move fast.
“Orange, Falcon, Tradition.” I responded. At least we were speaking English again.
This was the response that Preventer had given Valkry when they met. If the Pantheon had any kind of decent infosec there would be a code for every situation, some kind of one time pad deal.
We doubted that they were that organized. The idea of Thor and his brutes sitting around and keeping a careful schedule was simply too absurd. Thus, this response. I was mostly convinced that Lara didn’t have ANY actual codes and responses memorized. I was gambling that she was merely stating a challenge, and waiting to see if the response was confident or hesitant.
Lara sat up.
“An agent, huh,” she said again, but this time in a very different manner. Before she’d been skeptical, sneering. Now she was intrigued.
“Let’s take a walk,” she said.
We walked across the room, and she pried open some old elevator doors. She gave me a look about halfway between a sneer and a smile, and she stepped through the doors, dropping down into the basement.
I waited for a moment, covering the Lure’s hesitation by giving the assembled Ultras a quick once over. The Hook, meanwhile, froze. We were just yards away from Lara.
The light spilling down from the shaft shone on her, and didn’t illuminate the rest of the team, but one move, one noise, and we’d be busted.
“I prefer to take my walks on stairs, if you don’t mind,” the Lure called down, using a voice taut with annoyance.
Lara floated back up the shaft, rolling her eyes at me. She pointed towards a door midway down a hall. The Lure stepped aside and made an ‘after you’ motion. Lara grudgingly floated out and proceeded me down the hall. Before I left the elevator I sucked the Hook into the Lure. There was no way I could stretch the shadow if the Fist had to submerge beneath the basement.
As we walked down the hallway, and then down some rusty old stairs, I could only hope that the rest of Fourth Fist was making a quick getaway. With Indulger’s power it wouldn’t be difficult.
Once on the sublevel Lara led me, floating all the way, down the hall to a door leading back into the room she’d dropped down into earlier. She pushed it open without knocking, conjuring some kind of lambent green energy on her hands as she did so. The energy lit up the room in a burst.
Unsurprisingly there was no one there. Nonetheless I found the Lure breathing a sigh of relief. Preventer was invincible, and the rest could handle themselves, but I’d found myself…concerned, by the thought of Condemner in battle. Would my fledgling arrangement with Nirav survive his rewriting by his gift?
Lara turned to face me.
“So…what does the Leadership Council have to say to me?”
She didn’t give away anything with her tone. It was neither skeptical nor eager. She would be hard for an ordinary person to read. But with my gift…
I slipped my shadow around and across hers the moment I began to speak. The Hook slid easily into her essence, filling my mind with the core truths that made her up.
“They think that your time is now.”
This was what she wanted most to hear. She had a hunger, a positive need, to have her contributions recognized, her efforts praised. She wanted to be acclaimed, revered.
Despite the hunger, she played it cool.
“They do, do they? Is that why they have me cooling my heels, subordinate to a warlord so obviously out of favor that…”
And hear she trailed off into more Mandarin. Without a way to relay the message to Haunter I had no idea what she was saying.
“Not cooling your heels, Lara. Biding your time. Think about it.”
She fell silent, staring at me. I chose to believe that she was obeying my instructions to consider her situation, and not wondering why I hadn’t responded to whatever she’d said after she stopped speaking English.
“The bad blood between Krishna and Thor, everyone knows of this. What is the Council to do? What would happen, if we told Krishna to take care of everyone’s least favorite leader?”
“There’d be war in Laredo,” she said. “Everyone would throw down. Thor has told us all to be always careful around Krishna’s folks. He thinks that she’s going to come for him any day now.”
“Exactly!” I said, “Internecine squabbling. Which would help only our adversaries. If the Pantheon fights itself, here on the front lines, who will win but our foes?”
I think a real Pantheon messenger would have known the slang that the Pantheon uses for Regime and Union enemies respectively, but I had no idea what that might be. I was trying to keep things as formal as possible so as not to accidentally betray that I didn’t know the thousand ins and outs of their organization’s culture.
“So, if Krishna isn’t going to move against Thor…”
“You will take on this mission. Gather your loyalists. Take down Thor’s most stalwart patrons, those whose fortunes cannot be pried away from his. Take down the failure himself, and the remnants of his warband are yours.”
“I like the sound of that. You guarantee that I won’t end up hailing Krishna when this is all said and done?”
I shook my head.
“The leadership has need of Thor’s forces, if not Thor himself, down south. You’ll be heading straight to Old Brazil on special assignment. Krishna will take over here, along with any of Thor’s old unit that you have no interest in taking on.”
“Smart,” she pronounced. “Would have been a lot of bad blood if Krishna had stepped in. This way I’m the lightning rod. Any of Thor’s loyalists who survive will blame me, and I’ll be hundreds of miles away.”
I gave a broad smile.
“Take this as your first task from the Leadership Council. My partner and I look forward to hearing of your success.”
If this sudden mention of a partner discomfited Lara at all she didn’t show it.
“Hearing? You’ll witness my success. I’d like you to come along with me, Agent.”
I nodded, feigning a reluctance that I didn’t feel.
Everything was going according to plan.