[I’m experimenting with a third person narration. Let me know how you think this works, vs. my usual first person stuff.]
“Crusher”, said Fisher.
She leaned back with a smug smile, craning her neck around one of the many extraneous pillows that all of the furniture in the Game Room seemed to come with.
It was a great pick. Not too strong, but definitely good enough to handle Smasher. Best of all, she doubted that her opponent had ever seen him.
Blinder, for her part, just mirrored the motion, leaning back into her own chair and drumming her fingers on the arm of her seat. Or, at least, that’s what it looked like she did. It had only taken a few pranks before Fourth Fist had developed a healthy skepticism for visual evidence when Blinder was around.
Nirav wasn’t part of the game, and he kept on talking to Joey. The two were seated at a nearby table, not nearly as opulent as the chess area where the Ultras were having their match.
“You used to deal cards? That was an actual job?” he asked the shade.
“Yeah, you’d be surprised how long the casinos stayed open, in one form or another. I dealt for most of my life, now that I think about it. Poker and blackjack, they outlasted America.”
“That’s, wow. That must have been a weird life.”
Joey rolled his eyes.
“This, coming from a guy who sublets his body with some kind of fire demon.”
Nirav gave a big grin.
“Not anymore! Condemner got the boot, didn’t you hear?”
“I heard, but tell me, what do you think will happen, the next time you have to take fire form? Condemner saved everyone when the Union betrayed us. You might need that same trick when we talk to the Pantheon.”
Nirav lapsed into silence, considering. Before he could speak up Blinder made her next move.
“What are her powers?” she asked.
Fisher gave a smug smile. You only got 4 questions, and this was Blinder’s third. She still had 3 left.
“His powers, actually. Crusher is a dude. He has tentacles, like Twister, or me, but they are much longer and stronger. They seem to be basically all he has going on.”
“So…stronger than Smasher, and has reach as well. Yeah, he could beat her, fair pick.”
“How much longer you think this goes on?” Joey asked Nirav.
He spoke in a hushed tone, so as not to distract the two Ultras. They weren’t terribly far away, a more conversational tone might have been overheard.
It was an old Ultra game. You take turns naming an Ultra who can beat the person that the other one named. Whoever gets to Her first loses. If you name someone that can’t beat their choices, or are wrong about who’d win, you’d take a shot.
The game had been going on for a while. Both Fisher and Blinder had a short row of glasses between them, sitting on the chessboard where the pieces would have been.
Neither of them were terribly affected by alcohol, in truth, as long as Blinder had a light source and Fisher wasn’t drinking with both bodies at once. The game was mostly about killing time.
“Condemner,” said Blinder, making finger guns at Nirav.
He looked back at Joey.
“We are, what, a third of the way there?” he asked.
Joey shook his head.
“I’m not sure. We are still in the Atlantic, though. Plan is to go through the Mediterranean and then down the canal. We have a long ways to go yet, and we are getting slower every day.”
“I can’t say I mind, but it immensely weird to have time off like this. Like, we’ve been more or less struggling at one objective or another since we got Linked. Now we just sit around on a boat and wait for Adder to talk to some Pantheon clowns?”
Nirav was voicing something that the whole Fist was feeling. They hadn’t really had downtime like this before, not in such luxury anyway.
“Didn’t you guys spend some time in the Lair? Why is this so different?” asked Joey.
“She isn’t here, for one. But it more than that. We don’t have First Fist creeping around, or the possibility of suddenly getting told to do some random crazy thing. We are just kind of vegging out, and I’m not used to it, if that makes any sense.”
Joey gave his best dealer’s nod, the one he reserved for players telling him their unbeatable system, and turned his attention back over to Fisher and Blinder.
“Queller,” said the Lure, looking over at them.
Complicated feelings welled up in Nirav. On the one hand, it was nice that she remembered the story of how Fifth Fist had captured him. On the other, well, it wasn’t a terribly flattering story. He hoped she wasn’t going to spread that around.
“I might’ve-, “ he began, but was cut off when a door slammed open.
Indulger and Twister stomped into the game Room, chuckling at some joke that they’d just shared. They were both sweat stained and disheveled. Nirav figured they’d either been sparring or Indulger was just asking Her to kill him.
“You can’t be serious,” said Twister. “Blinder, tell me this guy isn’t serious.”
“Probably not,” allowed Blinder. “Esther, quick, which of us killed Queller? He was yours, yeah?”
“I’m serious!” protested Dale. “I think we are going to get attacked by another boat. Piracy is a classic! No way this whole trip goes off without us getting boarded.”
Nirav suddenly remembered that Indulger didn’t have his power out on the water, so if he’d been sparring then he’d done it without getting hurt. Looking at Twister’s spines, that didn’t seem terrifically likely.
“I’ll take that action,” said Joey. “Two favors to one it’s a plane that attacks us, or one of those weird flying boxes like we saw when the Union jumped us.”
“You guys got jumped by the Union?” asked Blinder. “Shit, that’s crazy! Preventer is Ultra Tough Three, right? What were they hoping to achieve?”
“We never found out,” said Fisher. “I think the plan was to freeze her, there was this crazy strong cold powered Ultra. They were going to interrogate and kill the rest of us, put her on ice somewhere or something. We didn’t get the details.”
“I’m kind of surprised that the Union did that,” said Twister. “They are good guys, right? Jumping either of our Fists isn’t so much a blow against the Regime as it is help in disguise.”
“I think the main dude was just off his rocker,” said Dale. “Can happen to anybody. We shouldn’t judge the Union by that one clown.”
“Sure,” said Blinder. “And I’ll say Twister, for beating Queller. We took her down a while back, and I think she got the kill shot.”
Twister nodded her confirmation, snatching up a shot glass and pouring herself a round.
“Wait, what?” asked Fisher. “How the heck did Esther beat Queller? You are Ultra strong and tough, sure, but she has a death field! I call bullshit!”
Blinder gave a quiet chuckle.
“Why don’t you guys try and figure it out as a group?” she asked. “Call it a friendly test from your adoring upperclassmen. Don’t think too hard, it isn’t anything special.”
Dale moved over to where Nirav was, and Fisher joined them.
“What were her powers?” asked Fisher. “I know she had a Death Field that was stopping you from burning her. Was there like a weak spot or something?”
Nirav shook his head.
“No, it was a big bubble around her. She could reshape it to reach out to someone, but I can’t imagine that she’d ever pull it off enough of herself to let someone get to her. It stopped something I threw at her, too, so Twister can’t have just used a gun.”
Joey piped up, calling across to Blinder and Twister.
“Were you fucking with her vison at the time? Maybe made her not see Twister?”
Blinder shook her head, lazily, and snatched a shot glass away from Twister, who had apparently worked up a heck of a thirst.
“Nope, it was one on one. Queller called Twister out, accused us of being Union spies. She wanted to go one on one with Esther.”
“She should have picked Ted, if she did it at all.” said Twister. “Fighting a single member of a Fist is idiotic, though, so there was probably more to the story.”
“You had a sword!” said Indulger.
Blinder golf clapped, Twister rattled her quills, which presumably served the same purpose for her.
“A club, actually. I dodged her aura and slapped her in half with it. My strength beat whatever the kill field was trying to do to the beam’s momentum.”
It was easy to forget that Fader and her gang were a Fist. Their easy demeanor and general pleasantness was the furthest thing from First Fist’s lunacy. Something always brought it back up, though.
“Welp, can’t argue with what actually happened. So…someone to take down Twister, huh” mused Fisher.
“Ooh, TallyPath?” asked Dale. “How long has this been going?”
“Maybe fifteen minutes,” said Joey. “They play pretty slow though, so it isn’t as many names as you’d think.”
“I play carefully,” corrected Fisher as she slipped into the chair at the chessboard again. “Blinder plays slowly.”
Blinder stuck out her tongue.
“Put up or shut up, Miss Carefully.”
Fisher held up a hand.
“Wait a sec. Does my pick have to take down your whole Fist? Or is killing Esther enough for the win?”
“Queller couldn’t have beaten all of us,” Nirav pointed out. “Fists aren’t counting in this game.”
Blinder nodded agreement.
“Yeah, Fists don’t factor in here. Just pick a name to beat Twister.”
“Easy enough,” said Fisher. “I’ll go with Pursuer. He’s got more strength, more toughness.”
She looked over at Twister.
Twister shrugged. “It’s true. No use in denying it.”
Dale gave an involuntary snort of laughter.
“What?” asked Twister.
“I’ve fought you both,” he told her. “You’d rip him apart, wouldn’t even be a contest. The dog man would do better to play dead than go one round with you.”
Twister and Blinder looked at each other, then back to Dale.
“Uh, we’ve fought,” said Twister. “He literally tore my head off. I’ve seen him knock over a skyscraper. He is absolutely, quantitively, provably stronger than me.”
There was a moment of silence.
“So…what you are saying, is that this is a righteous pick, yeah?” asked Fisher, breaking the tension.
“Yep, fair cop through and through. Tough one for you, eh Blinder?”
Blinder shook her head.
“Eh, I’ll go Remover.”
“I dunno,” hedged Joey.
“Yeah, I’m not buying this one,” said Betty. “Pursuer might be tougher than her power can affect, in which case she’s totally hosed. Even if she can get him, he’s plenty fast. He can just dodge those energy beams and shoot her or whatever. She’s basically a human.”
Blinder nodded this time.
“You’d think that, but, wait, do you guys know about the immortality thing that First Fist does?” she asked.
“Yeah, Preventer told us about it,” said Nirav.
Blinder made a ‘there you go’ kind of gesture.
“Ok, so, fine, we he’s not too tough for her power. He could still dodge them or something,” objected Fisher.
Blinder gave an appealing look to Joey, who seemed for some reason like sort of the unofficial judge of this contest. He thought about it for a moment, then nodded.
“Can’t bet against Remover. She’s killed basically everyone. I gotta figure she wins a fight against her own guard dog.”
Blinder and Twister did a quick high five.
“Gah, we are basically back at the beginning again,” said Fisher. “Anyone with a gun can kill Remover. She dies all the fucking time.”
“Want to call it a draw?” asked Blinder.
“I guess,” said Fisher. “No point in going another round. You guys want to tag in?”
Indulger shook his head, as did Nirav.
“I guess that’s that,” said Blinder. “But it did bring up something I’m curious about. Do you guys do the immortality trick like my little sister’s Fist?”
Fisher and Nirav exchanged glances, weighing their options. Indulger just spoke up right away.
“Nah, it wouldn’t work for us. Also, it is sort of creepy.”
“What do you mean?” asked Twister, even as Blinder was nodding her comprehension.
“They’d have to kill Haunter’s whole reserve to get it done, with the way her defense works, and they don’t have anyone who can kill Preventer.”
“Do you guys?” asked Indulger.
Now it was Sixth Fist’s turn to exchange significant glances.
“Sometimes…” allowed Blinder. “We don’t do it as religiously as Remover’s gang, but we do it about half the time. It Isn’t as risky for us as it is for them, because Fader is a much better anchor than anyone in First Fist. She was the best of us all, until you guys got Preventer.”
Fisher waved her hand in negation.
“She can kill Preventer. No one can kill Fader. You guys are more immortal than us. Shit, ‘more immortal’, what a weird concept.”
Nirav was nodding in agreement.
“And Preventer can get, like, shot into space or sunk in the ocean or whatever. Fader is totally safe. You guys are still the best Fist at surviving. We aren’t trying to take that from you.”
Esther looked like she was about to go into a discussion of the relative merits of each anchor, but Blinder shut her down with a hand on her forearm.
“Let’s just agree that we are, jointly, the two best anchored Fists. None of the others have anyone near as unkillable as ours.”
Joey raised a hand, as though toasting with an invisible cup.
“How does First Fist survive without someone like Preventer, anyway? Aren’t people trying to kill them all the time?”
“My little sister is hard to kill,” said Blinder. “The slightest sound is enough to start her healing up again. Averter is the same way. You need a specially prepared plan to get that guy. Then there’s Pursuer. He’s been variously reported as Ultra tough two or three. He’s no Preventer, but he is still damn hard to put down. The three of them, jointly, have kept that crew safe.”
Esther cut in.
“Also, they hide under Her skirts a lot. When they go out on missions they are always on the offensive, blasting into towns or whatever. It is hard to get them on the defensive like people can do for us. They mostly hole up in the Lair.”
“Yeah, we ran into em,” said Fisher. “Damn near threw down, to be honest. You can ask Preventer if you want the details, she has a real mad on for that Fist.”
“Who doesn’t?” asked Nirav. “They don’t exactly attract fans.”
“She doesn’t, unfortunately,” said Joey. “And that’s the one that matters. They are like a big dog with a bigger owner. Can’t do nothing about the little problem until you come to terms with the big one, you know?”
There was a lot of nodding, a lot of solemn looks.
“Well, anyway, not much point in talking about what group is the most immortal now, is there?” asked Blinder.
“This mission will probably give us the answer.”