The fight on the deck was about to resume when Twister gave a horrific shriek.
Ordinarily a scream wouldn’t have been sufficient to delay this confrontation, but Death’s minions knew what this signified. The hooks in their souls had gone slightly slack, their master was enjoying this moment. They hung back a second as their battle lust dimmed.
“Our link…I can’t…”
Blinder slumped to her knees, gasping incoherently. Tears streamed unheeded from the corner of her eyes as she sought in vain for the forms of her Fist. It felt like a terrible dream, the senses that she’d grown accustomed to over decades suddenly stripped from her.
“You…Marching…Towards…Die!” said Gorgon, who knew a little English.
“Get up, get up,” muttered the Lure, manifesting alongside Blinder and dragging her to her feet. “If you let them see we are fucked!”
Haunter’s greatest fear was that the Pantheon Ultras would charge while something was wrong with Sixth Fist. They didn’t, however, seeming content to stand and wait. Whatever was going on with Blinder and Twister, they didn’t seem to be worried that it would end soon.
“What’s wrong?” asked Indulger, not taking his eyes off of the enemy. “Are you ok?”
He said it with a genuine concern that no one else could have summoned up, in that moment. His was a kind soul, and he responded to Blinder’s unreasoning panic with calm reassurance.
“All…Die! Forever!” said Gorgon, thumping her fists together.
She wasn’t stalling for no reason. She knew the longer this dragged out the better the odds that Banshee would finish off the rest of the Regime down below and come up to take her enemies from behind.
Gorgon didn’t have a great opinion of Banshee’s bunch. As far as she was concerned the best Ultras had followed her. But Banshee was only up against four Fist members, none of them anywhere near as fierce as the ones who’d shown up on deck. It seemed like she ought to be done with that before too long.
Gorgon’s knowledge of Adder was hazy, in her mind he was some kind of support Ultra or something. She omitted him from her battle calculations entirely.
“Jane, Dale,” said Blinder. “Our Link is broken. We aren’t a Fist anymore. I don’t know how they did it, but we can actually die in this fight.”
She was breathing heavily, but the mindless frenzy of a moment ago had passed. She stood under her own power and faced down the Pantheon.
“Poor…White…Girl…” grated Gorgon. “No…Continues!”
Her posse gave a raucous chuckle, even as Death spurred them to battle once again.
They rushed forward as one.
The Regime forces shrank back, fighting defensively, their minds still grappling with the fact that their enemy had a countermeasure for the Link.
The fat Ultra grappled with Twister, the spines sinking into her body without dealing any lasting damage. She was far weaker than her Regime foe, but Twister’s damaged arm and general distracted state allowed her to hold the clinch, keeping Twister from saving her comrades.
The Ultra who controlled her density faced the Hook, and their fight was also fairly even. It used its longer limbs to keep her away, and with her body so solid and heavy she was unable to close. Fisher was still keeping the Lure by Blinder, so her Hook didn’t have the strength or speed to do more than evade her antagonist.
The warping Ultra set upon Haunter, passing undeterred through a wave of bullets and striking several heavy blows to Jane’s upper torso. Each one destroyed a shade, but had no other obvious effect. Haunter’s retaliation simply caused her to skip in space, each punch and shot only serving to better position her to strike back. She kept at it, striking again and again, unsure what else to do.
Gorgon swept down upon Blinder.
Blinder, with her ability to steal her opponent’s vision mostly parried by Death’s gift, could only retaliate with another of her beam attacks. She released her collected energy in a shining bar. It flashed between them, far faster than Gorgon could even imagine dodging.
Any onlooker would have had to avert their gaze. The shining bar that connected Blinder’s hands and Gorgon’s chest burned more brightly than the sun at midday. Even the nearby warriors who were not its target unconsciously shifted their battles away from it.
Gorgon took a step forward.
This wasn’t a case of her being incredibly tough. In truth, Gorgon’s durability was at the high end of Ultra Toughness One. Nothing exceptional. It was just that Blinder’s beams weren’t, at the best of times, all that damaging to another Ultra who had any Ultra Toughness. Her Fist relied on Charger and Twister to handle those kind of enemies.
The scales on Gorgon’s chest were glowing hot, burning the flesh beneath, but she walked forward anyway.
One step, Two steps.
Blinder tried to back away as Gorgon reached her, then toppled to the ground, a victim of her paralyzing field. The laser died away as she started to frantically suck in energy for another pulse. It wasn’t going to be in time.
Gorgon brought her fists down in a massive arc, starting from above her head. She intended to smash her paralyzed enemy’s torso into paste, or crush her through the deck. She wasn’t picky. She could have done it, but stalled at the last second and changed it into a grabbing attempt. Death wanted Blinder’s gift, badly.
To her amazement, Blinder slid out of the way. To her shrouded eyes it seemed like the glow of Blinder’s gift simply moved laterally away, despite the impossibility of her body actually propelling her anywhere.
Only when she stopped to take a second look did she see the faint sign of Indulger, his gift nearly invisible to Death while he was far from land. He had grabbed Blinder as she fell and dragged her away from Gorgon’s blind and groping swipes, taking care to stay out of the range of her paralysis aura.
Meanwhile, Twister had finally worked out a way to harm the fleshy Pantheon soldier who was holding her down. She worked her functioning arm around her own back, then up her spine and into her enemy’s face.
The Pantheon Ultra, unable to see her enemy’s limbs, had no way to avoid Twister’s plan, even if she could have guessed what it was. Her gift allowed her flesh to flow like clay around the impact of an enemy’s strikes, but didn’t allow for more exotic body transformations. When Twister shoved her fingers up her nose and mouth she began to gag and strangle.
Fisher ran out of room to retreat from the dense Ultra, the back of her Hook nearly sliding into Gorgon’s paralyzing field. She pulled the Hook through her shadow, manifesting it behind the Ultra who had been cornering her. She sprang at her enemy’s back, finally submerging the Lure and striking with full power.
Her opponent, however, had seen the blur that was her enemy’s gift slide around enough times to have some idea of how fast Fisher could move. As soon as Fisher stopped registering in front of her she turned her density all the way down, and leapt high into the air.
The tackling Hook passed harmlessly under her.
Haunter finally worked out a way to fight the warping Ultra, calling out a rhythm that allowed her shades to keep their target constantly transitioning, never letting it solidify long enough to land a strike on Jane.
Mortal troops would have run out of ammo in the first few moments of a plan like this, but Jane simply dipped her men into and out of the reserve as fast as they ran out of bullets. She could keep this up indefinitely.
Gorgon lunged at Indulger, who blocked with his hammer. It bent beneath her power, and she easily reached past his guard and seized him.
She could have tossed him overboard to Death, but Gorgon was lost to anger. Her prize had been pulled away from her by this weakling? His gift was barely visible to Death’s sight, and he had dared to confront her when Blinder was finally in her grasp?
“Fucker!” she said, an English word she knew very well. She threw him down, then stomped down on his head and popped it like a zit.
Death’s gift twisted in her mind, but she pushed it back, reasoning that no one with a gift so weak could possibly have been part of a Fist. He must have been some other Ultra, just some random servant that they brought along.
She didn’t give Death long to consider that, and immediately moved towards where Blinder lay.
But Indulger’s sacrifice was not in vain. The seconds he had bought had been time enough. Fader rose from the deck before Gorgon.
Gorgon didn’t know who it was that was suddenly before her. All she knew was that this was a mighty gift, perhaps the strongest she’d ever sensed, and it was fully inside of her paralyzing aura. She threw out her arms to grab the enemy, and was perplexed when they hit nothing but air.
Fader, for her part, was shaking. She had started floating up here the instant that she felt that the Link was gone, and still she had only barely been in time to obstruct this creature. She stood before Gorgon in image form, considering.
“What…you?” asked Gorgon, sweeping another arm uselessly through Fader. Prevailer herself had failed to harm Fader when she wasn’t material. No form could touch her unless she made herself real again.
“Angry,” said Fader. She put her left hand out, superimposing it through Gorgon’s head. She bit her lip, anticipating the pain.
“Wh-“ began Gorgon, and then she was dead.
Fader had solidified her hand inside of her head, colliding both forms in a way that should never have been possible. She choked back a scream as her hand was amputated, her ordinary human flesh utterly destroyed as it was forced into the same space as Gorgon’s Ultra Tough form.
Fortunately for Fader, Gorgon’s brain wasn’t as tough as the outside of her body, and suffered fatal damage in the process of whatever reality did to resolve the paradox of both objects existing in the same place. Fader had tried this on Pursuer once, way back in the day, and had simply lost her limb without harming her foe.
With the death of their leader, the tide turned against the Pantheon.
The fat one was choked out by Twister, her gift unable to protect her from the absence of oxygen.
The dense one couldn’t cope with the Hook once Fisher had put all of her power into it. She was forced to go totally defensive, making her form so tough and immobile that she resembled a statue of herself more than an active combatant. Fisher booted her over the side.
The warping Ultra, perceiving how the battle was trending, made her getaway. No one on deck had any way to harm her as she blinked off.
On the shore Death brooded, drywashing her hands as she felt her pawns fall one by one.
Useless, the lot of them. She didn’t even know why she bothered.
She took hold of the hook that she’d set in the warper’s mind and yanked, pulling her gift out of her. She growled with disappointement.
It was a weak thing, inferior in most regards to her current mobility power. She let it go.
“Moses,” she said. “I think it is time for us to get our hands dirty.”
Moses groveled, throwing her face to the ground and praying that Death’s attention would be pulled away by something else. Her dread of her Mistress was such that she barely cared what that something else might be, so long as it would divert Death’s gaze for a moment.
“That means make the ocean a path, once again. I wish to come before our prey in person.”
Moses, shaking with terror, stretched a hand out towards the surface of the water. She had nearly reached it when Blinder’s attack struck.
Blinder, on the deck of the Strongboat, utterly paralyzed, had little to do but contemplate the readings of her gift. Even as Fader had confronted Gorgon she had been analyzing the light, bringing this or that portion to her eyes as she desperately tried to figure out where their assailants had come from.
When she found the two figures standing on the African shore, she knew that she had found the attack’s origin. She had begun absorbing light, preparing another blast.
Death sensed the oncoming attack before it struck. Blinder’s rays didn’t actually move at the speed of light. They were fast, but not that fast. She had time to summon up a gift to defend herself.
Death was currently Ultra Tough Two, and didn’t know of any projectile that could harm her, but she hadn’t reached her current exalted state by taking chances. Even as Blinder’s beam crossed the ocean Death was summoning up a swirling vortex in front of herself. She wasn’t certain that a shield of destructive energy would work against a formless attack, but she didn’t have any time to think of anything else.
The beam slammed into Moses.
Moses, for all of her gift’s undeniable power and flexibility, didn’t have any unconscious defenses. The only way that her gift could ward away danger was for her to form a sea about her like a shield, and use her control over objects touching it to redirect incoming attacks. In the absence of water to shield her Moses had no way to resist Blinder’s ray.
She cooked, giving voice a burbling scream as her she fried in the golden beam. She tried to topple into the water, desperately intent on warping herself back to treatment, but she was dead in an instant, and only her melting corpse kissed the surf.
Death reeled, her gift taxed momentarily as she absorbed Moses’s power.
It was an exotic power, an odd and foreign gift, very different from most of those she had stolen over the years. It would take time to learn how to use it fully.
Another beam shot out from the Strongboat, this one faltering uselessly on encountering her shield.
Death stared, considering her next action. There were still, presumably, at least nine Fist members on that boat, as well as Adder. She might be able to win that fight, but she wasn’t confident. It wasn’t a risk worth taking.
She had achieved something momentous this day, she had broken the Link. Prevailer’s deathless soldiers were mortal once again. It would be ridiculous to risk her life in the midst of such a triumph.
She reached out, mirroring Moses’s dying gesture, and touched her hand to the sea.
Her estimate of Moses’s gift’s degree of complexity hadn’t been off. She could barely understand all of the things she could do with it. But what she wanted to do was simple enough.
She sought out the knot of the gift that was snared around the Strongboat, replaying it over and over through the same stretch of water. She twisted it, turned it violently north.
Let the Union deal with this broken Fist, at least until she could master this new gift well enough to get reinforcements.