Banshee and the four Ultras at her heels swept into the hold of the Strongboat.
No surge of water followed them in. Moses’s power still held the sea in thrall. They clambered into the outer hull of the Regime vessel bone dry.
It was a long thin room. There were doors at either end, one heading along the ship’s direction, the other continuing deeper into the vessel. The room served no immediately apparent purpose.
The Pantheon Ultras had no way of knowing it, but this was due to the haphazard and slipshod nature of the vessel’s agglomeration. The Strongboat was more like many boats welded together, and they had forced their way into one of the outermost and least used hulls.
Banshee blinked as vision returned to her, holding up a hand to bring the others to a halt. She wasn’t sure why the Regime Ultras gift had stopped affecting them, but it certainly made it easier to navigate.
She considered erasing a hole in the next wall, and simply continuing directly towards the Strongboat’s core, but ultimately decided to use the passages. She didn’t trust Moses, and falling into a space between hulls would leave them in her influence again.
The group headed towards the door that led deeper into the boat, even as the sounds of fighting echoed down from up above. They paid it little mind. Let their comrades bring Death her offerings, they had bigger game.
Banshee had her own friends in the higher ranks. She was Named, after all. She knew the rationale that Death had used to justify this strike. One of the Inner Circle was on board.
The Ultras who had followed her instead of Gorgon were those who she’d shared this knowledge with. They’d clustered together while crossing the sea, and even blindness hadn’t split them apart. Their motive was simple. Everyone involved in taking down an Inner Circle member would be Named. Banshee might even be made a warlord.
As they neared the door it swung open, and one of Haunter’s shades dashed into the hold.
It was obvious that he hadn’t expected to find enemies there, he hadn’t even paused to look ahead. He didn’t get the time to make up for his mistake.
The Ultra nearest the door, Zoe, simply stepped forward and slammed her fist, coated in her characteristic green energy, through the translucent shape. It popped like a soap bubble. She didn’t even break stride, peering into the next hold.
The inhabitants of this room, some sort of gaming chamber, had clearly seen their fellow’s destruction. They shrank from the door like it was the mouth of Hell.
Zoe led them into the room, Banshee dissolving the door away as they stepped past it. Their opposition was pitiful.
A pair of Knights shuddered in fear, holding their scythes up more like talismans than weapons. A trio of armed shades sheltered behind them, pointing guns at the new arrivals.
Banshee understood English, but didn’t speak it. She thumped Esha on the shoulder. Esha had come from the Regime.
“Where are your masters?” asked Esha, “The Fists you serve?”
One of the Knights seemed like he was about to speak, but whatever he was going to say was cut off in a burst of gunfire.
None of the Ultras even flinched as the shades opened fired at point blank range. Guns hadn’t stopped them on the water, and they weren’t about to now.
Bullets that neared Banshee simply disintegrated, while a shield of a strange green energy flared into being around Zoe with each impact. Esha’s body sprouted holes in front of each bullet, closing up again after they had gone through.
Neither of the two who brought up the rear had such flashy defenses. The projectiles simply bounced off of their iron hard flesh. Marta and Lana were bruisers, and it would take more than guns to slow them down.
Zoe, Marta and Lana advanced into the fusillade, blithely unconcerned about the impacts. The two Knights stepped forward to meet them.
Marta was overly cocky, the mere idea that a human could harm her by swinging a stick at her angered her. She hadn’t paid any attention to Esha’s stories of the Regime, and of its Knights. She didn’t bother to dodge, stepping directly into the swing and reaching out to pull off the human’s stupid skull mask.
The blade sank into her breast like a lightsaber. Refiner’s blessing proving far stronger than her enhanced endurance. She toppled to the ground still disbelieving, holding the scythe to her like a lover.
Lana made no such error, stepping back as the cumbersome scythe swung back and forth. On the second pass she caught the blade, and yanked it out of the Knight’s hands.
One of the ghosts made a run for a door, only to be popped by a blast from Zoe’s energy. The others kept firing, but things were over very quickly for the humans.
Banshee kept the one who killed Marta, the one who had looked like he was going to talk, alive. She disintegrated his robe and mask, grabbed his arm and wrenched it back.
“Your leaders, where?” asked Esha.
The Knight wasn’t in any serious pain from the angry woman twisting his arm. Banshee didn’t have Ultra strength. It was fear, not anguish, which loosened his tongue.
“Go through that door, then turn right and you will get to Adder’s sickroom. That’s where they will be, I swear!”
Esha translated this for the others, and Banshee let go with a satisfied grunt. The Knight barely had time to begin composing himself before Lana kicked his head off. She and Marta had been close.
Banshee dissolved a hole in the wall next to the door this time, and they practically pounced through it.
The room beyond was clearly an engine room of some kind, with machinery churning away in the middle, extending down into the floor. Banshee and her crew barely noticed it, making directly for the door to the right.
This was a serious door. It looked like something that would be more at home on a vault than a ship. Banshee dissolved it anyway, reducing it to nothingness with an exercise of her gift.
Inside waited the Regime’s Ultras.
Condemner and Consumer crouched behind a small barricade, seemingly purpose built for the task. Adder waited between them, standing upright. Preventer stood in front of their line, one hand raised towards the intruders.
“That’s far enough, ladies,” she said. “I don’t know how you managed to fuck with Sixth Fist’s Link, but whatever it is won’t let you hurt me. I have Ultra Toughness Three, understand? Nothing but Her can kill me.”
Banshee had read the briefings, she knew that the tiny figure before her was speaking the truth. She didn’t care. She gestured Lana forward.
Lana had also read the briefings. As Preventer stepped up in response she didn’t waste any energy on punching an invincible woman. She simply grabbed on to Preventer’s shoulders and tried to shove her aside.
“Nuh-Uh,” said Preventer.
She didn’t move a muscle. She’d slipped barriers out of her flesh, hidden beneath her shirt, in the moment that Lana had grabbed her. They stopped her torso from moving, and her invulnerability kept the pressure on her upper body from bending her.
Lana grunted with concern, tried to pull her hands back, but Preventer had already grabbed onto them.
She struggled in silence for a moment, straining with everything she had to get this miniature pest off of her. It accomplished absolutely nothing.
“The mighty Pantheon,” said Adder gently. “How She would tremble to see you ALMOST manage to walk through a door.”
Banshee held up a hand as Zoe moved forward, looking like she was going to try and scramble by the two. It was obvious that Preventer would just grab onto her as well, turning this whole assassination into an idiotic farce.
She’d had enough of this buffoonery. She put forth her gift, focusing it on the walls on either side of the door where Lana and Preventer were grappling.
Banshee’s gift was incredibly powerful, though simple. She could cause any matter that wasn’t part of an ensouled form to dissipate, to vanish away. It wasn’t very long ranged, and it couldn’t destroy living flesh like Remover’s gift could, but there was no ray to dodge, no delay at all. She simply wished things gone, and they were unmade.
Which made it all the more baffling when the walls stubbornly refused to vanish.
Banshee’s gift was mighty. It had earned her a Name. It wasn’t giving her any feedback or resistance. The walls should be gone. Instead they were just … rippling a little?
In an instant, she realized what was happening. The Fists weren’t the only Regime Ultras that she had searched for influence on. This was Adder’s hand at work.
Without moving, without showing any sign of strain, from twice the distance that she was, from his goddamn deathbed, Adder was undoing her work. As fast as she deleted the walls he recreated them.
It was a humbling show of power. Somewhere in the back of her mind Banshee heard the woman that she had once been screaming.
But Death’s hook drove her forwards, along with her own ambitions. Retreat was unthinkable, whatever this servant of the Demon’s powers were.
“Kill them,” she told Zoe and Esha. Both moved forward as one.
Banshee kept trying to dissolve the walls, stubbornly pitting her gift against Adder’s. She knew he had supplied a nation for years. She had no illusions that he could run out of power or anything, she simply wanted to keep him from conjuring anything to deal with her agents.
Esha stepped ‘through’ the struggling pair. Her body contorted and ran in rivers of flesh about them, always maintaining a slight distance from the pair. She didn’t break stride, moving like a hologram through the struggling duo.
Esha was untouchable, save for when she willed it. Her form would contort and writhe to avoid anything she didn’t expressly permit.
The tall dark-skinned man, the one from Fourth Fist, stood up from behind his barricade and made a motion like he was pitching a ball. Fire appeared and sailed through Esha’s torso, passing through the gap without making impact.
Banshee actually barked a laugh at that. THIS was Condemner’s power? The flame that reports pictured as an inescapable inferno?
Zoe, meanwhile, was pushing her way past where Marta and Preventer were filling the door. Her energy field sufficed to ward off Preventer’s grasp.
Banshee took a step nearer, decreasing the space between her and the walls. Her gift was faster the closer she was to her target. Maybe by getting nearer she could overpower Adder’s ability? At the very least it might tax him more.
Esha rushed Adder, then slammed directly into a steel pillar. It hadn’t erupted from the ground or the ceiling, it had simply sprang into being from nothingness.
“Your gift doesn’t prevent you if you are the one causing the impact, I see,” said Adder. “An unfortunate weakness.”
Banshee took another step closer, practically standing on the door stop now. Had the walls wavered slightly more when Adder made that pillar? It was hard to tell.
Esha stepped back, shaking her head slightly, as though to clear it. She was about to spring again when Adder raised his hands above his head, as though in surrender.
“I don’t wish to fight you. Can you understand that? Fighting is stupid. She would laugh to see us like this, squabbling among ourselves instead of opposing Her. We are on a mission of peace.”
During all of this babbling, the walls didn’t cease their constant recreation. The pillar faded away, but Banshee felt like that was more so that he could look Esha in the eyes, rather than any inability to maintain it.
“Of course, you don’t want to fight us. You don’t want to die,” said Esha. “But you don’t get to choose when you die. Your killer does that part.”
Zoe reached her side at this time, and Marta finally got free of Preventer somehow, punting the gnome off into the corner of the room.
“Child,” Adder said. “You are right about that, and She has already picked my fate. But there is no need for you to accompany me into the next life. Go back to your homes, back to the men and women who love you.”
The scary part of it was that he sounded totally sincere. His minions crouched motionless, seemingly content to let this madman speak for them.
Banshee stepped into the room, standing behind the three.
“Kill him,” she said.
She braced herself to unmake anything that he conjured.
Lana charged forward, head down in case of another pillar. The loss of Marta filled her heart, leaving no room for fear.
A loud explosion sent her flying backward so fast that only Esha’s gift saved her from colliding. Banshee glimpsed bare bones in a wet red mess.
What had he done? Banshee’s mind unhelpfully tried to answer the question, telling her what a conjurer might form if he wanted something to detonate.
She focused absolutely on her gift, deleting absolutely everything that wasn’t already there in a tiny radius around her own form. She clearly couldn’t match his abilities at any kind of range. She had to hope that her immediate vicinity was safer.
Zoe sent her energy towards him in a thin beam, which was deflected when a wall appeared. She crumbled to the ground an instant later, sizzling and screaming.
Maybe some sort of acid? Created inside where her field would intercept? She couldn’t worry about it now. It would distract her from her gift, which was the only thing protecting her from being blasted like Lana.
Esha moved up.
“You can’t touch me with anything I don’t choose to touch me. Your gift won’t hurt me, slave of Prevailer!”
Adder shook his head, still with that gentle sadness.
“You chose to step on the ground, child. I could have made that a landmine.”
She froze, eyes wide with dread.
“You chose to suck in that air, air I could have filled with nerve gas.”
Esha slumped over.
“I did the nerve gas thing, actually.”
Banshee stood alone. He had destroyed every one of her colleagues in short order, without effort.
So this was the power of the Inner Circle. This was the power that Prevailer had set above her Fists. It was overwhelming, utterly unfair. She couldn’t even begin to think of a way that it could be defeated.
She moved towards him anyway.
“Your gift…disintegration? I can’t make anything at all right by you. Marvelous.”
She didn’t let him shake her concentration. Continued to exert her gift, destroying absolutely every form that might impact her, taking one step at a time.
She was fit, even if she didn’t have Ultra strength. He was like a hundred years old. She could rip him apart if she got her hands on him.
Consumer suddenly blasted a gray beam at her. Banshee tried to dodge, but it came midstride and she’d been entirely focused on Adder, almost forgetting the others were still there.
The beam hit home, and her gift was leached away.
Her gaze met Adder’s.
“I’m sorry, Goodbye.”