We advanced in a line, five across.
They were just coming around the edge of one of those low hills that filled the whole area. We’d timed it so we were a few hundred feet off.
The first girl to see us leaped into the air, shouting something I couldn’t understand. I felt its impact down the chain, however, as their footsteps halted and then broke into a dozen different directions.
Some of them rushed to the front. Others were joined by impressions of the rest of their body, as they flung themselves behind cover. A few got heavier all of a sudden, like they were taking on battle forms.
Pitiful. No organization at all, and they flung these kids at the Union? No wonder they got slaughtered.
I tried to imagine what was going through the mind of the three bosses. They’d have been expecting a sudden ambush, they’d have plans to fight their way free with the coterie of survivors they were recruiting for their power struggle. What would they make of this? Of a sudden encounter with no shooting?
Somebody shot me.
In the face.
I flinched back, raising a hand to cover my face as she took another shot. It missed, but I could hear the bullet wing by. I shouted in anger and pulled mud and stone up over me, layering them on me in an impromptu suit of armor.
It wasn’t ‘that’ impromptu. One thing I’d talked with Her about was how to get better at fighting, and She had suggested that since my power was all about moving rock around I should make sure that my body was surrounded by that.
The rest of the group weren’t so vulnerable. Nirav and Haunter were hiding in a cave below me, dragged along by my gift. Their places in the line were occupied by a pair of shades, who Haunter would be drawing back now that my scheme to get them to talk had failed. Fisher was in her monster form, with her human form hiding back a few hundred feet behind a tree to anchor her, and Preventer just didn’t care about bullets.
“We want to talk!” I roared at the group clustered at the corner.
There were about forty or fifty of them now, with more coming up. None of them seemed to be in charge, and I could feel an organized formation being developed back along the ridge a couple hundred feet. A few enterprising souls were even scaling it, and would presumably begin attacking from above whenever they got high enough to be satisfied.
This time the answer wasn’t just bullets, there were only three guns that I could see in the front cluster, they shot a variety of Ultra powers at me.
I saw ice, fire, what looked like a cat made out of mist and a variety of other dangerous looking gift manifestations in the instant it took me to raise a wall in front of myself. As soon as their line of sight to me was cut off I was dropping into the ground behind it, not trusting even a little bit in my gift’s ability to hold off however many Ultras were blasting me.
I propelled myself and the Fist, other than Fisher, who was presumably fine on her own, through the ground towards the first cluster of the Pantheon.
I was mad. It was such a simple plan. We’d confront them suddenly, like from around a corner. They’d bring up their leaders to negotiate. I’d take them on and once the main Gods were gone the kids would roll over for us.
Jane and the others had probably known that it wasn’t going to be that easy, but I hadn’t let them tell me that. I was trying to be Her or something, just making everyone do my plan. Stupid. Jane had a thousand brains. I should let her do the planning.
Nothing for it now. I wrenched the first enemy group into the ground in a kind of an antlion pit even as I rose up on the other side of them. This time instead of having the Fist stand beside me I had four mud figures. It was important to keep the Five theme going, try and get them to understand what they were facing here.
I made sure to rise up far enough from the pit that I was out of its line of sight. It seemed like a lot of the people trapped there had projectile powers, and I was going to have my eyes off it for a while.
It was my first time laying eyes on the Second Host.
It wasn’t as impressive as I’d pictured. A thousand Ultras, minus however many were trapped in the pit beside me, pretty much just looked like a thousand people. Or rather, like a thousand teenagers, ragged and scared.
They had rearranged themselves into three blobs, with lots of floaters and stragglers. There was a front blob with maybe a hundred Ultras. There was a big middle group that was partway up the ridge, a little over half the total in there, and then there was a rear group that seemed more organized in the back.
“Listen!” I yelled to the front group. I knew they weren’t allowed to speak English, but I was sure that some of them would understand me. “We are a Fist, we work for Her! I want to talk to your leaders!”
I had more to say, but they simply shouted and charged at me.
It took me a sec to realize that the reason they weren’t firing was that this was the melee group. That was why they’d pushed them to the front, these Ultras wanted to fight from up close.
I wasn’t sure if the middle group wasn’t firing yet because they didn’t want to risk hitting their own people, or because they figured their comrades could handle five enemies.
They’d have been right about that, but I doubted they could handle one.
I pulled Preventer up from the ground.
She had an instant to look around, a moment to see the basic situation.
“You mother fu-“
I gave an apologetic shrug and tossed her into the charging melee group.
Unsurprisingly, they collapsed around her. These weren’t soldiers, not really. They were aggressive, they had been taught to kill, but they hadn’t got any discipline. They’d go for the closest enemy till she was dead. Or, in Preventer’s case, till something else occupied their attention. As long as I didn’t interrupt I should be able to leave them to it.
I made a snap decision to leave the big group heading up the ridge for last. I set the ridge to trembling around them to keep them occupied.
‘Trembling’ and ‘Antlion pit’ were about the limits of what I could do for so many people while also doing careful fighting stuff elsewhere. It meant my gift wouldn’t react to them, wouldn’t move the pit, or tremble in time with their footfalls, but I was hoping it would be enough to let me face the back group without worrying about the stuff I’d already dealt with.
I set off towards the organized rear group, only to falter as a number of the floaters collapsed onto me.
A trio of girls dashed towards me from the opposite directon of the ridgeline, while another half dozen or so made their way closer from where they’d been running between the groups. They sprayed gunfire at me, along with a few Ultra powers.
Their shooting wasn’t super accurate, and the mud and stone armor basically stopped me from feeling the impact, but I had to be careful to dodge the Ultra projectiles. I used the ground to skate myself, lending me and my four mud buddies a degree of mobility we never could have managed on our own.
They had a purplish energy beam, some kind of shimmery field that acted like a big yo yo, and someone throwing baseball sized spheres of zappy stuff. None of it seemed to change course after firing, so it wasn’t that hard to dodge at first, but they were getting closer.
Ultras didn’t like to talk about it much, but it was a rare Ultra power that was actually better than a gun in a fight. The ‘ultra power’ of shooting a lead bullet very very fast had been all the world needed for quite a long time. Those who had better powers had MUCH better powers, of course, but they would never have been sent out on a Host to begin with.
I sent the mud figures into them, joining them with another few that rose out of the ground around them. They dutifully turned to fight the doubles, smashing them with abandon. They had a few more powers for short range stuff, one of them was actually creating lava. I dirt skated around the area and headed towards the cluster again.
Finally, I saw one of the Overseers.
Angel was hovering over the top of the group in the back, a pair of subordinates holding her hands and standing strong beside her. She looked just like the briefing snapshot Meghan had shown.
“Angel!” I yelled.
I was moderately surprised when nobody answered my shout with an attack.
Instead, she called back something I couldn’t make out.
They didn’t seem to be shooting , so I risked a quick look around.
The floaters were finishing off my statues, which couldn’t track them anymore without my attention. They’d be coming up behind me in a few minutes. The pit and the ridge groups both seemed secure, and the rugby scrum around Preventer was actually sucking in a lot of the other floaters.
The back group was about three hundred strong, split up into small units of ten or so, spaced out. They had actually dug foxholes, which was super counterproductive for them, but did indicate at least a modicum of organization. They also weren’t shooting, so she was definitely exerting some serious command influence.
I made a beckoning gesture, brought up another four earthmen to make the ‘Fist’ connection obvious.
Angel beckoned right back.
I winced inwardly. Walking into their midst was suicide. But a Fist doesn’t fear. I skated forward, scowling out from my mud mask.
Angel floated to meet me, just as compelled as I was to project strength. She still had a henchmen in each hand, and she stayed a dozen or so feet up off the ground. Her squads moved to surround, taking up new positions to my flanks and rear.
“Regime?” she asked.
She had a bit of an accent, but it wasn’t hard to make out.
“Fist!” I said.
I felt the urge to thump my chest, controlled it. As much as I wanted it to be, this was not an Ultra Fight. No one was here to be entertained.
“Why are you interfering with our Pilgrimage?” Angel asked.
“Your warriors have suffered much,” I began. “She looks well upon them. They may serve Her from now on.”
There was a beat of silence. Once again, no one attacked. My thought from before that this Host didn’t have any discipline had been way early.
Then Angel began to laugh. Mocking stage laughter. It looked like I wasn’t the only Ultra Fight fan.
“You think forming shapes with your gift makes me believe you are a Fist? You think I am so stupid that a little English is enough for me to believe you are from America?”
More laughter, it spread to the two alongside her.
“Come off it. Tell me your Divine Name? I don’t recognize you, but you must be a powerful God to stifle a whole Host on your own. If you want to Oversee alongside us, you will not find us unwilling. End this charade and join our march against the godless Union!”
I formed the cave beneath into five channels, the agreed upon sign that they would be rising up, and then held out a hand sideways, palm up. I made a clawing gesture and brought forth my colleagues from the ground.
Of course, with Fisher off doing who knows what at the front of the line, and Preventer currently being enthusiastically pummeled by a mob I only had two colleagues, but Haunter had chosen a pair of intimidating shades to fillout their numbers. I doubted the others would get much notice, with me doing all the talking and standing in the middle and stuff.
Their laughter died away as the Fist rose from the ground around me.
“I said your warriors could serve,” I reminded her. “Not you.”
“Oh? Am I not worthy?” Angel asked, the amusement gone from her voice.
“You hide behind kids, you piece of shit,” I told her. “Year after year you send them to die. What do you fucking think?”
Beside me, Haunter’s shades were multiplying, forming a ring of guns pointed back at the Ultras surrounding us. Much more importantly, they were talking, letting the people on the ground hear, in their own languages, whatever Haunter had thought up to convince them to let me settle this with Angel.
“I’ve had enough of this,” she said. “You are clearly deranged, whatever your-“
“You still trying to claim we are not a Fist?” I asked, mostly stalling for time and trying to rile her up. “Or you want to admit you don’t know a Fist when you see one.”
She flung the woman on her left hand at us.
‘Flung’ wasn’t the word. The Ultra hurtled down from on high, arms changing into deadly bone sabers, but even as I skated back she was curving in midair, smashing into Haunter with her arms outstretched.
Even as her right hand puppet had been flying down on us Angel had been in action herself, flashing down in a mirror of the curve to fall upon Nirav, reaching out to touch his forehead and dragging him up into her formation. It all happened in a split second.
I raised a hand, then lowered it, trying not to gape at our good fortune.
“Still want to call yourself a Fist?” she asked. “With 2 fingers broken in a heartbeat?”
I looked over to where Haunter had managed to extricate herself from the fight with the slashing Ultra. It was easy to forget that she was like a dozen ninjas on the inside. Still, she had almost certainly lost some shades there, and that was on me.
“I hope it hurts,” I told Angel.
Nirav’s form was utterly bound by her telekinesis, but his other self was formless. Our eyes met for a moment, and I saw his resignation, his fear, but beneath it all, his resolve.
Also he made a motion with his eyes that I ought to not look at him right now.
Angel, her left hand minion, and Nirav became in an instant a second sunrise, a searing fireball that struck blind every eye that gazed on it.
She had time to scream, a sound of utmost agony. I hoped really hard it was because Nirav was trying not to accidentally burn up the girl on the other side, and not because Condemner had returned and it liked to hear people scream.
I got my answer when he landed in front of me and took on his human form again.
“One down, two to go!” said Nirav.