“What’s going on?” asked Preventer.
I didn’t think she was talking about whatever monster Fisher had summoned. She ought to know more about what thing had been doing than I would, because I had blacked out after it stabbed me in the chest. Also, we could see it right now, by the light of Preventer’s sparkly things, and it was just shuddering and hugging Nirav.
It didn’t seem super fair that I got stabbed and he got hugged, but I didn’t know what I could say about that. Maybe when we found Fisher again I could ask her.
Nirav gave a wracking sob, and Haunter sort of cleared her throat at me. She was looking at me expectantly.
“What?” I asked.
“What’s going on?!” repeated Preventer, louder. That didn’t really help.
“She means up top. What is your gift telling you about the situation on the ground?” clarified Haunter.
Oh, right. It felt kind of mean to not pay any attention to Nirav when he was crying, but I was the leader, so I had to do what the girls said. I put a hand to the wall, soaked in the ground’s concern.
“Well, he’s kind of messed up right now. That dude who Fisher was fighting smacked the ground real hard, and also I just got messed up…”
I trailed off. They weren’t saying anything. Ok, no excuses.
I tried to ‘force’ my gift to tell me what was going on up on the surface. Sort of push it, with my mind. It was like when I wanted to make sure that some rocks were going to be a road instead of stairs, or when I was in a fight. My buddy wanted to focus on what was right around me, since I’d got hurt so bad and the monster was still in here. I pushed him to look up, tell me what was up with the surface.
I must have looked pretty goofy during this. I had a hand sunk into the wall and I was scrunching my forehead like that helped at all. It was a habit, but until I saw how Preventer and Jane were looking at me I didn’t realize how silly it was. I tried to stop.
“Uh, there is a lot going on. All over the city, people are running around, and the ground is getting tore up.”
“Make a map!” said Haunter, kind of impatiently.
“Uh, ok…” I sort of fidgeted around.
Another moment of silence.
“I don’t know what you mean by that.” I admitted.
“I think Haunter wants you to make the walls bulge out into a map of the city,” Preventer said. “Show us where there are people, and where there are explosions, and such. Like I did with my barricades when we were planning.”
The light of her sparkly walls got brighter while she said this.
“Oh, um…that’s, uh…that’s a really good idea. But, like, I can’t do that.”
Something about Haunter’s disappointed look made me so sad. It was because she was old, I thought. It was like letting down my aunt.
“The ground only mostly does what I want. Like, I can’t make him do things that complicated.”
The dirt rubbed against my hand where I had it in the wall. I rubbed him back. I wasn’t dissing him by telling the truth. Lying was for heels.
“Alright, well, that’s disappointing.”
I wasn’t sure which of them had said that, and then they did that thing that ladies can do where they talked with their eyes. Like, I’m not crazy, they sort of looked at each other, and after a bit they started talking to me again, but all of a sudden they were on the same page.
“So, Dale, can you attack from down here?” asked Haunter. She said it in her best ‘old grandma’ voice, which made me suspicious. She wanted something.
“Uh, I guess. That’s how I helped out Fisher with that bouncer.”
“How did you know that Fisher needed help?” asked Preventer. She was doing the fake niceness thing too, but much worse. Preventer wasn’t really nice, so she was much more bad at faking it.
“Well, I felt it through…” oh, I got what they were getting at.
“It’s different with people I know. I can tell where they are. Or even what a few people I don’t know are doing. But I can’t tell you what a whole city is doing!”
Only thing was, saying this and thinking about it while I had my arm in the dirt, I sort of could. Like, I couldn’t track each person, but in general there were two groups. Most people on one side faced the other, and most people who fell bounced away from the line between them. They were probably two teams fighting.
I told them as much, and Haunter answered by saying “That makes sense.”
Preventer gave her a look.
“It does. As far as Thor knows, Krishna just tried to bump him off. He’s striking back.”
Preventer had that sour look she sometimes got when Haunter was being smarter than her. I figured that of the two Preventer was mostly the bigger nerd, but Haunter had like a hundred ghosts inside her, so she was usually right about stuff.
“Ideally, yes. But we don’t know how things ended up with Fisher. He may well know what’s going on, even our involvement.”
Preventer waved with her glowy walls at Fisher and Nirav, like to make a point.
“Irrelevant,” said Haunter. I was surprised she’d go that far. That was a fighting word for the big brain types.
“Whatever he knows, Thor just got handed a golden opportunity. He couldn’t move against Krishna before, not without the leadership’s blessing. He just had to wait for the axe to fall. Now, though, he can proceed as though she struck at him first, and defend himself. If he kills her, then he’s safe, at least until they get a new replacement.”
I was kind of getting impatient at sitting around underground while a big battle was happening. Like, Haunter and Preventer would say smart stuff at each other all day and all night if I didn’t break it up.
“That doesn’t necessarily follow. If he is sufficiently canny, he may realize that he needs to rally all of his forces against the outside threat. He saw Fisher, and perhaps interrogated her. Given that she could have revealed Indulger’s power set, this may be a carefully orchestrated charade.”
I didn’t really understand exactly what they were meaning, but it seemed like that was a weak line, judging by Haunter’s raised eyebrows.
“First of all-“ responded Haunter, and my impatience got the better of me. I didn’t have time for First Of All’s, I was going to miss the whole battle. I asked brah to pull in the rest of me, slowly, so they wouldn’t notice.
They noticed instantly.
“Indulger, where are you going?” asked Preventer. Haunter had been about to say the same thing, I could tell. It was like the only thing they could agree on was that they knew better than me. Lame.
“I’m just…well, we are gonna miss the fight.”
I hated the whine that came into my voice when I spoke. It would be gone once I had my mask on, when I got up to the surface.
“That’s the plan,” said Haunter. “We are letting them kill each other.”
“That’s…” I groped around in my brain for the word. ‘Heelish’ was what I was thinking, but that wouldn’t persuade her. “super unfair.”
They stared at me for a moment.
“Indulger,” said Preventer, “I’d like to ask you another question, that’s been bugging me. I promise it’ll be quick.”
“This tunnel thing that we are in, could you do that any time?”
“I guess. It isn’t very hard.”
Haunter jumped in, seeming to be able to see where this was going.
“So, all of the time when you are fighting, you could just sink down into a tunnel, and never get hurt? But still attack with rocks and things?”
“Sure, I guess.”
“And you don’t…because that would be…’super unfair’?”
That had been Preventer again.
“Well, yeah. But more, like, it would be lame.”
It was hard to put into words what I was trying to say.
There was a long moment where neither of them said anything. I wasn’t going to talk again, so we all just kind of stood there, paying no attention to the murmurs from Nirav and Fisher’s monster. Jane was the first to break the silence.
“Indulger…Dale…you get that people are dying. This is for real.”
“Kind of, but it isn’t like you can get in any trouble.”
She was mad.
“Well, like, if somebody tries to hurt you it just hurts one of those things you make.”
Haunter’s face screwed up like someone was tightening a key on the back of her head. I turned my attention to Preventer before she could blow up at me.
“And you are invincible.”
Before Preventer could answer that Haunter walked across the room to where I was sitting and slapped me across the face. I could probably have blocked her, but I didn’t for some reason.
“THEY ARE PEOPLE!” she hissed at me. It was kind of frightening. Her old grandma face was all screwed up, like a rag with someone crinkling it.
The hell with this. Hell if I stood around and got hit by 2 members of my own stable. They could fight each other just fine without me.
She was saying something else as I asked the ground to suck me in, but I didn’t hear it as my head went into the wall.
I floated for a moment in the dirt, breathing air that he carried to me in through tiny channels. I concentrated carefully on keeping the cave that they were in safe, moving stuff around so it wouldn’t collapse while I was gone. It took a little while, because I was being very careful.
I knew that Haunter thought her ghosts were people. I did. She’d gone on and on about it when we were out drinking. It was just…hard. It was hard to think about them like people when I never saw them, and they were always willing to do what she said.
Like, if they were people, they were her slaves, right? That was all kinds of messed up. She was supposed to be one of the good ones. It was easier to pretend in my mind that she made them up whenever she needed a helper, like Fisher’s monster.
I stopped myself from thinking about it. I had an awesome fight waiting for me. I asked the ground to bring me up, and he carefully pushed towards the sky.
As I got closer I angled myself, using the skills I’d learned when I was making roads. I would only get one chance to look awesome in this fight, and I’d have to make it count. I planned to rise up right between the two sides, roaring and raising my arms up.
The air was cold against my face as the earth spat me out.
I pushed my arms above my head.
It was awesome.
I was in the middle of a pitted, shitty street. Lights zipped by, and I heard a bullet noise. My eyes weren’t ready to see anything, so I was mostly getting directed by the ground. I rubbed at them with the heel of a hand, getting the dirt out.
Something hot and clingy slammed into my back. Fire or acid or something. It didn’t have an impact, but it hurt like hell. I dropped and rolled, nearly blacking out in the instant when I wasn’t getting healed by the earth. He kicked up a wall behind me, then that got knocked onto me by something.
I had never been in a fight like this. So many Ultras, dozens in just this area. I didn’t have any time to even get a bead on what was happening. I was just standing up out of the rubble of the wall when whatever knocked it down slammed into me, sending me skidding along the road.
Someone out there had some kind of grenade power, and was blasting the big idiot who had stood in the middle. Not my proudest moment.
I lay still on the side of the road for a second, wincing as a red streak shot by me, letting him fix me up. Round 2.
Once again I got to my feet. This time nobody shot me immediately, and I had a second to see what was going on.
The side that had mostly been shooting at me was further away. They were in the direction that we’d camped, which probably meant that they were Thor’s ladies. That made the closer squad kind of our friends. Or at least they were against the guy we were fighting.
“Hey-“ I tried to yell.
It wasn’t that it was so loud that nobody could hear, but it was loud enough to make most conversation impossible, plus just doing that much had made me a target again.
The close side, the ones I’d been talking to, turned their attention to me. A pair of light streaks slammed into me, blasting holes clean through me. A big woman with a lion’s mane of hair came bounding over, ducking and dodging as the other side fired something or other at her.
I wasn’t even close to healed up when she got here. I couldn’t move at all, the damage was real serious, so I just kind of stood there. Was she here to talk?
She was not.
As I held my guts in she punted me into the air.
Anguish. The wounds that had been healing suddenly weren’t, and they were bad. Plus, her kick broke a bunch of things. My mind blanked, I just kind of screamed as I flew through the air.
The next instant wasn’t the next instant. I was laying on the ground, sometime later.
I’d died. It happened sometimes. My gift brought me back when my body touched the earth. Lucky that I didn’t hit a building. The girls had been right, this was dangerous.
I looked around. I’d been moved about a block away from the front lines, landed in someone’s front yard. I got up carefully.
I’d never known my power to fail to heal something, unless I was actually stuck on an object that was in the way, but I’d never taken damage like this before. Fisher’s monster had ripped me open, and then all of this. I moved gingerly, not totally sure if I was entirely healed.
I felt better, just like always, but it didn’t seem possible that there could be no side effects from being killed twice in ten minutes.
I knew that I should head back towards the fight, but I couldn’t make myself do it. Was I afraid? That would be so lame. None of the wrasslers that I’d watched were ever afraid.
Suddenly, from behind me, a man’s voice boomed out.
“Who are you supposed to be?”
My gift hadn’t warned me. I spun around to look.
Thor was just landing.