This time She wanted to talk afterwards.
She lay sprawled across my chest. A slip of a thing. Sweaty and slightly warmer than I was. I had an arm around Her back, my other arm bent back so I could rest my head on it.
“What’s under your skin?” She asked.
She had an ear to my heart, maybe listening to it, and was looking up at me along my chest. I dug my chin into my throat to look down into Her face.
“Nothin,” I grunted.
Prevailer seemed to like it when I acted brutish, dumb. She probably knew that I was acting, but my general rule, ever since Redo, was to not worry about what She knew, and just do what seemed to make Her most happy.
She reached a hand up, lazily, and cupped one ear. She used it as a handle to tilt my head towards Her, painfully digging my chin into my upper chest.
“Kiddo, I can tell when someone is bothered. I’ve been at this for a little while now. Lying to me isn’t a great idea.”
“First Fist…” I managed, words hard to get out with my teeth jammed together by the pressure on my jaw.
She let go of my ear, let my head fall back.
“They attacked us, right before I got here.”
She didn’t, as far as I could tell, react. I could tell a lot, since She was resting on my body. Not even a twitch.
We’d talked this over. Haunter had wanted me to tattle right away, first thing. Try and get Her to kill off First Fist. Fisher hadn’t thought that would work, and I tended to agree with her. We’d settled on the ‘see if I can get Her to ask what was up and tell Her in answer to that’ plan.
“How many did they get?” She asked.
“None…” I said.
“Then they didn’t attack you.” She stated.
She said it like She was saying Her name, or that up was up and down was down. Just speaking a self evident fact.
“They killed one of our…” I trailed off again.
‘Friends’ didn’t work. Prevailer didn’t really approve of the concept. ‘Servant’ or ‘Dagger’ led to me pretending to be a much harder person than I could ever really pull off.
“Daggers?” She asked.
She rolled Her eyes.
“Dale, if Karen ever actually tries to kill you, you’ll be dead. She’s been with me a long time. You guys have been with me for a few weeks. You aren’t on their level. This was just…I dunno, some kind of hazing. I’ll ask her.”
“Ok,” I said.
There wasn’t really anything else to say. Remover and her crew backing down after Thui had gotten killed had kept them away from the line of no return. We couldn’t prove that they attacked us with no damage.
I was also kind of worried about how Prevailer’s chat with Remover was going to turn out. Remover was really smart, smarter than Her for sure. She could probably spin the story in such a way that we’d be the ones that Prevailer got mad at.
“Heh, hazing, that reminds me…” She started saying.
I stayed carefully still. I’d never really seen Her decide to tell a story before, but the obvious thing to do was pay careful attention. Plus, any movement that I made would jar Her, which wasn’t really safe.
“Way back, way before your time, there was a college. I didn’t go there, but I lived nearby, and the stuck up little shits that went there were always coming into my bars. They had lots of money, from their mommies and daddies, so the bartenders loved em. But what I loved was this one night, early in the semester, that I’d learned about.”
I was having a lot of trouble following this. I knew what ‘money’ had been, of course. I was aware of most of the concepts that she was using, or I could figure them out from the words around them, but the whole things wasn’t exactly coming together.
“The girls would come out to this bar, right? They’d get here and they’d get drunk, and their boys from the frat would be here too. Everybody drinking. Then they took out the blindfolds.”
She saw the look on my face.
“No, not for some kind of sex thing. It was like about trust or whatever. This was the first time they’d met, and people who liked each other were supposed to find each other blindfolded, just by their voices and what they were drinking or something.”
I still wasn’t really following, but Prevailer around a bunch of blindfolded people didn’t sound like a story that was going anywhere good.
“The point was, people were handing drinks around, giggling and shit, trying to find the right boy or girl to hook up with. I’d slip in after it had started and just take the drinks they were handing out.”
She slapped my side and chuckled, remembering the faces of people who had been dead for decades.
“Wow, that was smart!” I said. “You sure got them.”
She seemed to realize that I wasn’t in the spirit of this. I was being very careful not to let sarcasm get into my tone, but I must have messed up somehow.
“Look, I hated these twerps, right? And they were all blindfolded. But, and this is what made me think of this from what’s going on with you and Karen, I didn’t kill them. I didn’t even rob them, except for the drinks thing. It was just hazing, get it? Just play fighting.”
“Ah, I see now.” I said.
She peered at me for a long moment, then turned Her head to the side again, put Her ear to my chest.
“You think you do,” She murmured. “You can’t possibly. I’ve tried, from time to time, to tell someone born in my world about the old one. It just can’t be done. No matter how I try, you can’t really get it.”
“Try me,” I said.
I’m not sure, exactly, why I said that. I just sort of ‘felt’ that She wanted me to engage with Her stories at this point. It felt like I was safer by being an active participant than I would be by passively agreeing that I couldn’t ever understand.
“Ok, sure…let’s see,” she mused.
She traced circles on my side with Her hand.
“The biggest difference is that the strong people weren’t in charge. I don’t mean Ultras, those weren’t around yet. I mean, look, the daggers with guns are more dangerous than those without, right?”
I nodded, confident that she’d feel the motion without needing to look at me again.
“So you’d think they’d be in charge, but they’d never admit it. The cops…do you know what cops were?”
“Knights of Purity?” I guessed.
“No, hah! The Knights were little bitches back then, they needed cops to protect them from random people whenever they had their marches. No, the cops were guys with guns.”
“And they were not in charge?” I asked, tying this part to her earlier statement.
“They were, I mean, they had the guns, but they acted like other people were in charge. It was always changing. Teachers would tell you what to do, lawyers would, basically anyone. But these guys didn’t have any guns of their own. But you had to do what these wimps said or they would call the cops on you!”
“Why did the cops go along with that?” I asked.
I actually knew the answer to these. I’d talked with enough of Haunter’s shades to have a basic idea of what cops were and how cops worked. But it was clearly something that She wanted to explain to me.
“They were afraid of guys with bigger guns, soldiers like the Union has. Those guys were afraid of planes or drones or some shit, I don’t know. I puzzled about it for a long time, but I never figured out how the weakest people were in charge.”
“Well, You set it right, anyway.” I ventured.
“Mmmm,” she made a sort of humming sound, “I did do that.”
We lay in silence for a moment or two. She seemed content to be idle, and I certainly wasn’t about to try and prod her into motion.
“Aside from First Fist, though, something is still bothering you.” She said.
I took my time answering that.
“The skulls, I guess. What’s up with those? The new Snitcher, this Spyer, he sees through skulls?”
“Nah, no such thing. Spyer! Ha! I haven’t found anyone even halfway qualified to replace Snitcher. Nobody so far has been anywhere near as useful as he was.”
She cut me off.
“To make everyone THINK that ‘Spyer’ is watching them. Make em a little crazy, like I’m always watching. Keep em from planning anything.”
I tried to figure out how to phrase my dismay at this idea.
“That seems like, hmm, a lot of faith to put in them not figuring it out. Won’t they eventually get wise? I mean, after the first time they do something that should make you mad in front of a skull, won’t the game be up?”
She moved her head sideways, tapping the top of it against my collar bone.
“Some will. Others will still believe, think we are playing a longer game. A third group will make up something twice as scary as anything we could even come up with. Nobody will have any facts about it, so there will just be a bunch of people trying to prove how smart and insightful they are by explaining the skulls to everyone else. It’ll be hilarious.”
“Haha, yeah, you are right.” I said.
I was worrying that this might be too much sucking up, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say in the face of that.
She seemed to sense something about how I felt.
“Hey, seriously. It is to punish the daggers for letting in the assassins that killed Snitcher. We can’t let that go, it would make us look weak.”
Greatly daring, I shook my head slightly.
“Nobody will ever think that you are weak.” I said, meaning every word.
That seemed to mollify Her, and She subsided once again, lying against me as though She’d happily stay here forever.
“Dale,” She said.
So much for that.
“Yeah?” I answered.
“This thing with First Fist, can you guys get past it, if you need to work together on something?” She asked.
“I… I don’t think so. Jane and Preventer, at least, really can’t stand them. Sorry.”
She looked up again at that.
I jerked in a convulsive panic, realizing what I’d said. How long had it been since someone had told Her ‘no’.
I was frozen in place for a heart stopping moment, fighting visions of Her tearing me in two.
“Your team can’t stand them, huh?” She asked.
“I didn’t mean. I mean, of course we…I mean, if you order us to work together then it would be weak to not do what we are able to work…” I was babbling.
She cut me off, resting a finger on my mouth in a ‘shush’ gesture.
“It’s fine. It’s all right. If you can’t work with Karen’s gals, that’s useful to know. I’ll find another group for you to work with.”
I said something or other about that being very considerate of Her, still mentally boggling at my own slip up.
“I don’t have Linker anymore, remember? If one of my Fists kills another, and I kill the ones who did that, that’s a real pain. So I’m trying to make sure that I don’t waste you like that. I can’t just go around making new Fists right now.”
I nodded. Prevailer admitting that She couldn’t do something was also not a thing that happened every day. She was being much nicer than She was supposed to be, mixed in with terrifying talk about how putting skulls on walls made sense. It was making it very hard for me to know what to do.
“Which Fist would y’all be comfortable working with?” She asked.
I froze, suddenly paralyzed by uncertainty. We hadn’t considered this, hadn’t game it out or anything. I didn’t have Haunter or Preventer to ask.
“Working with…at what?” I asked.
“Pretty much what you guys tried up north.” She said. “Diplomacy, talking stuff out. I want you guys to be my mouth. You are cute, people will like you.”
There wasn’t a lot to say to that.
Prevailer spoke again.
“I felt bad when your mission was such a crap shoot. Union didn’t want to talk. I don’t see any reason we can’t try the opposite, right? If the Union doesn’t want to chat, maybe the Pantheon will go for it?”
“Uh…” I hesitated, “are you actually interested in having peace with the Pantheon? I thought the whole thing of the last time was that you wanted to fight the Pantheon alongside the Union.”
She laughed, a surprisingly joyful sound.
“Haha, yeah, you got me there. But the Pantheon doesn’t know that, right? So maybe they’ll bite for a cease fire. They are losing enough people here for it to be an attractive idea, anyway.”
“So we are lying to them?” I asked, trying very hard not to sound like I was judging or anything. I was trying to give the impression that I just wanted to understand our mission.
“Kind of,” She said. “It is true that I’d like to not fight them here for a bit, I’m pretty focused on the upcoming big fight between the other two countries. I’ll probably take them on during that, or maybe before. You can let them know that if you have a problem with tricking people or whatever.”
“Ok, well, we would probably work best with Sixth Fist,” I said. “They seemed like they were on our level when we spoke with them during the interview.”
I had been thinking about this while she was talking about Her motives, but hadn’t come up with anything really clever. Sixth Fist was the nicest Fist, so I’d prefer to work alongside them. I’m sure it wouldn’t be what Preventer would come up with, but they didn’t seem likely to try and kill us.
“Great! That’s settled then.” She said.
“Your team and Sixth Fist will go and meet with Zeus and his pals, let them know that I’m calling off our fight for a little while.”
“Go and meet the Pantheon leaders? Are they gonna let us do that?”
“Tell em you want to talk to the big bosses. Kill em if they won’t make that happen.”
“But, the Council is in Australia, right? How are we going to get them to come all the way to the Regime?”
“No,” She said. “You are going to them. We are rebuilding an old boat, you just ride that all the way to their capital. Easy as pie.”
I didn’t try to react, but She read my face again.
“Don’t worry. Adder will be going with you.”