It took us most of the morning to get used to the Link.
I dunno if that was fast or slow, never having seen anyone else go through it, but it felt like we took to it quickly. Jane and Betty talked a lot about how it worked weird with their powers, but the rest of us didn’t have a lot of trouble.
I used to have a sense of where my body was. Now I had a sense of where all of my bodies were. It was pretty much that simple. Yeah, other folk’s thoughts controlled some of them, but they were all mine.
I think that Preventer had the hardest time with it, because is so smart that she over thinks things. For me, though, I’m kind of used to things happening to me without much reason. I mostly just let happenings carry me along, and that worked fine for the Link.
Around noon there was a knock at the door, so I went to answer it.
I didn’t give much thought to who it might be standing out in the hallway, but on some level I was expecting more of Mang’s guys. Maybe bringing lunch. When I opened the door, though, it was Subtracter.
Now, everyone in the Fist has a boss that they are particularly afraid of. Betty is scared shitless of Torturer. Jane can’t stand Remover. For me, though, Subtracter has always been the scariest.
It isn’t just that she’s got Ultra Speed 2. It isn’t just that she’s strong and tough and mean. There are a lot of mean people in the Regime. It goes with the territory. What makes Subtracter so tough for me to take is that she flies.
She was flying now, even though she didn’t need to be. Just hovering a few inches off of the hall’s floor for no reason.
“Everything work?” she asked.
“Uh…” I searched for a word, my mind was suddenly just empty.
“Yeah, I think ev-“
The next instant I was flying in the air.
Subtracter barged through me like I didn’t exist, shot into our midst. The Link went crazy.
Preventer was trying to make a barricade, Haunter was summoning her shadows, and I was cratering into a wall. Fisher was…
Subtracter had moved faster than anything I’d ever seen before, rushed up on her and slapped her head off right where she was sitting on a bed.
I tried to say something, but I was sucking in air. Inside a building, my gift was useless. I couldn’t do anything that a normal guy flung into a wall couldn’t do. That is, lie here and bleed internally.
Nirav shouted something, a few of Haunter’s ghosts shot, and Subtracter was moving again, this time catching Betty’s monster body and tackling it into Preventer. All three of them fell out of my sight.
I had to move. I pushed myself to my feet with arm strength alone, the body I’d worked so hard on suddenly limp and useless with the insides all messed up. My legs worked, after a fashion, but I was limping and staggering, something seriously broken somewhere.
Nirav skidded by me, sliding out into the hallway through the door. He was the only one who was anything like fast enough for this.
I felt through the Link, as Betty’s second body died. She was gone.
I was already heading for the door. I could pretend like I was going to check on Nirav, but this was just too abrupt, too sudden. I was going for my gift. I rushed into the hallway in a wild panic, stumbling over him in my need to get out.
I heard voices calling behind me, but I ignored them. I just kept on moving, half dragging, half falling. I had to get outside.
I saw Mangs ahead, pushing the door open. I pushed past her and fell onto the blessed turf, onto my brother.
Instantly I was healing. Immediately I was aware. I could feel the world around me again, my gift enclosing the building where Subtracter had blitzed us. The Castle seemed a small thing now.
A thing I could crush.
I started to pile up rock, pulling it from deep underground, even as I realized that I could still feel Betty through the Link.
That stopped me for a second, as did realizing that if Subtracter had been chasing me there was no way I’d have made it down that hallway. What the hell was going on?
It was Mangs. She was shouting at me from the door.
That wouldn’t have been enough to stop me on its own…but I also realized that Haunter and Preventer had stopped fighting. They were…angry, frightened, but not in a fight right now.
“What’s going on?” I asked, realizing as I did that I was already at the top of a pretty big pile of rock.
“Go back inside, Subtracter wants you!” yelled Mangs.
She wanted us? She’d been trying to kill us. I didn’t get it.
But, like I said, I rarely got stuff. I pushed the ground back down, sinking back down to the door’s level. Crushing the Castle wouldn’t have done any good in any case. Subtacter was too strong for rocks to hurt, and it would have killed Nirav.
I hesitated at the building’s edge. I could see Nirav down the hall, looking into the room. His fists were clenched, but he wasn’t doing anything. Mangs nodded encouragingly, but I didn’t really trust her very much.
Finally, I stepped back into the building. It was the babyface thing to do. I tried not to think about how often they got tricked and beat.
The room was a wreck, furniture broken and shattered. Betty was dead. Her head had been pulped against a wall, and Subtracter had put her entire leg through her monster form’s toso.
Nirav clapped a hand on my shoulder as I stepped by. I could feel his support through the Link. Considering how him and Betty were basically joined at the hips, if he wasn’t going crazy, then she wasn’t really dead.
That calmed me. The Link would bring her back. It all started making sense.
That was why Haunter and Preventer were just standing in front of Subtracter, not fighting her. She hadn’t permanently killed one of us. It was just temporary. Just a work.
“Hope you right about that Link working,” said Subtracter.
She barely looked mussed up. Some bloodstains on her face, looked like a scratch along a cheek. A few bullet holes in her clothes. Not even breathing heavy.
“What the fuck was that?” I asked.
I felt everyone’s panic through the Link, even as I said it. Subtracter moved again.
She flashed through the space between us, sailing across the room and catching my jaw with a resounding hook.
I took a step back, fell over.
It hadn’t actually hurt that bad. She’d clearly pulled that punch. Falling over was a reflex for me, just something I did when I got hit. When I was outside it was a really good move for combat, got more body contact with the ground, sped up my healing.
In the Castle it just gave me a taste of the carpet.
“Show some respect, bitch!”
I made a production out of climbing back to my feet. I used the time to calm down. I could feel my team urging calm at me through the Link, willing me to be the leader that they needed.
The thought steadied me. Raging at Subtracter would be letting my team down. Again.
“Sorry, Subtracter. I mean, what is going on?”
I kept my gaze down while I said it, looking at her face instead of over her head.
She looked me over for a moment, and I could swear she was thinking about hitting me again. It took a lot to avoid bracing myself.
“I got sent to talk to Her newest Fist. I wanted to make sure that that’s who I was talking to.”
“You didn’t think it was us?”
“If the Link didn’t work, then you ain’t a Fist.”
That made a certain kind of sense, I guessed.
“Well, it did. So Fisher will come back tonight, right?”
“Let’s go outside.”
I was more than happy to follow along with that idea. Normally I was ok with being inside, but right now my body was practically screaming at me to get in contact with the earth again as soon as I could.
I liked the idea a little less when we started walking and she gestured at the rest of us to stay behind. Alone time with Subtracter wasn’t on my wish list, or probably anyone’s.
We walked away from the Castle, or, at least I walked. Subtracter continued to float just above the ground.
Distance didn’t really diminish the Link as much as you’d think. I could still feel the others. I could tell that three of them were back that way, and the last was… I guess inside? Like, there was a direction, but it wasn’t a direction in space.
Eventually, after we had walked past a number of trees, we got into a clearing, and Subtracter turned to face me. Then she dropped into the Posture.
I couldn’t have been more surprised if she’d suddenly taken her shirt off. I might be the leader of a Fist, but Subtracter was the leader of ALL the Fists. The only person she had to submit to was…
The ground rumbled against my feet, letting me know that someone had just dropped down behind me. I was already falling into the Posture when She spoke.
I didn’t look up, didn’t open my eyes, but I had to answer.
I cringed as I felt Her hand on the top of my head. But, unlike Subtracter’s blow, this was a gentle gesture. She patted me on the head like you’d pat a dog.
“Call me Peggy.”
I just knelt there, hands crossed behind my head, heart racing a mile a minute. I was more on edge now than I was when Subtracter was attacking us.
It was hard to say. Hard to go from special capitalized words to using Her name. But the one thing that I knew about Prevailer was that you do what She says when She has her hands on you.
“So, you are Linked?”
She walked around to the front of me as She said this, standing in between me and Subtracter. I opened my eyes, but I didn’t try to raise my head. That left me staring at Her knees, which were pretty much just normal knees.
“Yeah, we are Linked now. It got done last night. Subtracter was just testing it.”
She didn’t look to Subtracter to see if that was true, didn’t really seem to care. She certainly didn’t seem mad that Subtracter had ‘tested’ it by killing Betty.
“So, what do you want?”
Was I supposed to be responding to all of this petting? Like, I’d seen how she was looking at me earlier. But if I was wrong about that…
I stayed silent, said nothing. Nothing seemed safe enough to do.
Her hand stopped the ‘good dog’ stroking, and lingered on my forehead, then slid to the front of my face and casually pushed back.
Trying to fight it would just break my neck. I let Her force my head up until it was nearly level, until I was looking at Her face.
She didn’t have any particular expression, just staring at me. As I watched, She pinched my forehead and turned my face from side to side.
“For your gift. When a Fist is first formed they get a favor from Her,” Subtracter said from behind Her.
We’d been planning on having a talk about it, after we made sure that the Link was working. It had been something we were planning on doing tonight, in fact. Suddenly I was wishing that we’d gotten to it sooner.
Prevailer’s hand moved lower, a small squeeze on my jaw popped my mouth open, she peered inside like she was counting my teeth. It made talking a bit tough.
“Um, what kahhnd ub favver…”
I trailed off as it became clear that it was hard to talk while someone else moved your jaw around. She seemed to realize this, taking Her hand away for a moment.
“What kind of favor can we have?” I asked, once my mouth was clear again.
“Whatever you want.” She said.
“That’s mighty nice of You…” I stalled. I was still reeling from all of this. What would be safe to ask for? What wouldn’t get me killed?
I could tell through the Link that the others felt my emotions, if not the reason for it. They were urging caution…but what did caution mean in this case?
“We want… to stop fighting with the Union.”
“What?” shouted Subtracter, looking up from the Posture.
I’d blurted out the first thing that came to my mind. I’d had to say something.
“Why do you want that?” asked Prevailer.
She still didn’t really have an expression on Her face. Maybe a little scowl, but nothing I could read. It was like She was wearing a dark mask. What would be a reason that She would accept?
Subtracter looked like she was starting to say something else, but something about Her posture made her subside. I was emboldened.
“I fought with one of them just before I applied to be in the Fist. They were nothing like Thor. Just one wimpy Ultra and a bunch of daggers as shields. Not worth fighting.”
“That’s bullshit!” Subtracter erupted again. She stopped talking as Prevailer looked at her.
I stayed quiet as She walked over to where Subtracter knelt, and slapped her, once.
Subtracter gave a scream of agony, and collapsed. Teeth embedded themselves in a nearby tree.
Prevailer looked back to me.
“Sorry about that, Dale,” She said. “You were saying that you want to make peace with the Union?”
I nodded, desperately trying to keep my terror out of my gaze.
“Sounds fun. Answerer told me that they were going to get spanked by the Pantheon in a month or two anyway. They’ll probably know that trouble is coming. They got prophets too, but not as good as my pet. We can let them have a little breathing room, let them deal with the Pantheon’s new army without us messing them up.”
“Thank You, thanks so much.”
She grinned. Finally, a human expression from Her, and it was a terrifying predator’s smile.
“You guys will be worth it, I bet.”
I smiled back at her, trying to keep my jubilation in check.
We’d done it! Peace with the Union. We wouldn’t have to go with First Fist on terror raids, or fight with people who were just trying to protect themselves in a rough world.
“Your first job is to go to Brussels, tell the Union that we are willing to lay off them for a little while…”
“You got it, Peggy!” I said. The happiness from before was threatening to overwhelm me. Peace with the Union, AND it looked like She’d be letting us go away from Her for a while.
“…IF, they are willing to pay my price.”