Later on, once things had cooled down, I begged off from the group’s debate and went to find Legion.
It wasn’t that I didn’t care about the argument. They were discussing whether or not to stay with this plan, or to pull up stakes here and bail. It was an excellent debate to have, in the wake of the appearance of Zilla’s embassy.
For my part, I figured that the newcomers were one complication too many. Since the ship we’d been scurrying, scrambling from one mess to the next. Our only real objective was putting off Her punishment for our failure. Staying in this rat’s nest put us at a lot of additional risk, and didn’t actually help us in any measurable way.
The thing was, though, that they couldn’t actually decide that. I could see it, and Nirav might, if I coached him a little, but the rest were hopeless. Preventer was living out some kind of dream, where our position was a lot less tenuous than it was, and she could just sort of settle here, boss these Gods around forever. Haunter might go back and forth with her shades, but I’d seen her in the wake of the Redo disaster. Haunter wasn’t really, when you got right down to it, reasonable. Dale had phrased this whole debacle as a quest to protect people, and that was Jane’s weakness. She would bleed herself dry to defend anyone who’d let her.
As for Dale, he was the most irritating of all. Dale was guided by Jane and Preventer, who were only doing this because he’d told them to back in the Union embassy. He’d been perfectly willing to allow the war to continue, right up until he’d seen it, but now that he couldn’t lie to himself about what was going on his heart demanded he do something. Even if that something was ‘get killed’.
So they’d talk for a while, argue and get mad, and we’d stay. I wasn’t needed for that.
A God I didn’t recognize showed me in to a private room where Legion was waiting for me.
It was a pretty nice room, as far as this building went. I’d put it above the Castle, below the Union embassy in terms of comfort. It had been patched up well enough over the years, and she had a rare electric light to see by.
She had another friend, or guard, in here with her. I recognized Yaga from our meetings, nodded to her. She looked back with expressionless wariness, her gift chilling the portion of the room where she waited.
“Was it any great trouble to accommodate our visitors?” I asked, by way of small talk.
Legion shook her head.
“I just booted some dudes out into the field, promised them rooms in those fortifications your guy is supposed to be putting up.”
I chuckled momentarily.
“You can’t blame Dale for not getting that done today. Three Contests! Your subordinates don’t seem to understand what kind of Ultras get selected for a Fist.”
“You can’t begrudge them their hostility,” interjected Yaga. “You are, after all, the enemy. Many Gods are not well practiced in the fine art of delaying our gratification.”
It was somewhat alarming that she spoke of delaying in regards to attacks on us, rather than denying, but I wasn’t under any illusions about the precariousness of our situation.
“It’s their lives,” I said, dismissively.
“We might lose a few more,” said Legion. “If Zilla’s crew are challenged. Everyone knows not to mess with Monster, but Winter might draw some heat. Despite everything, there will still be some people who assume that anyone who looks like that can’t possibly be strong.”
A roundabout insult, I supposed, but it wasn’t worth responding to.
“Infighting?” I asked, “Is that common?”
They both gave knowing smiles.
“Positively endemic,” said Legion. “We have little to do other than to fight one another. The Grand Hosts’s growth is checked only by our tendency to fratricide.”
“I suppose you’d know,” I said. “But there was one piece of Divine violence today that we can’t forgive quite so easily.”
They looked to one another.
“What are you referring to?” asked Yaga. “Our agreement covers the Contests that Indulger got involved in, and as far as I know whatever was going on with Preventer last night was at her instigation.”
I waved that aside.
“I’m talking about Annubis using some kind of poison on Dale. No Contest. No challenge. She just drugged him in a corridor and interrogated him. It happened right before Beth and her people arrived. We are lucky he made it to that meeting.”
“Poison?” asked Legion. “On one member of a Fist? What would the point of that be?”
I scowled. I was pretty sure she knew what I was talking about.
“Not fatal poison. Something that knocks you off your mental balance. She was probably trying to get him to screw up in the meeting, start a fight.”
Legion’s brow furrowed in concern.
“That sounds like something I’ve heard of before. One of our Goddesses creates various elixirs. Perhaps Ann sought to get something out of your leader while he was in a suggestible state.”
“I concur,” I said. “And I’d like your leave to retaliate.”
There was a moment of silence.
“Are you asking me to side with you, with the Regime, against one of my own Overseers?” asked Legion. “I’ve known Ann for four years!”
I was tempted to banish the Hook, slide my shadow into hers, just to get a look at how much of this was performance and how much was genuine, but I kept both forms manifested. Whatever information I got wouldn’t be worth the possibility of my efforts being detected.
“You sided with us yesterday, when you made that deal. I’m no great judge of character, but I didn’t get the impression that Annubis was fully in agreement with your sentiments. I think she might consider you something of a traitor.”
Yaga gave a short nod.
“First Fist killed her city,” she said. “She lives only to take your kind down.”
She looked to her leader.
“She’s going to keep on stirring the pot, Lee. She won’t rest while the Regime has any kind of presence here. You know it as well as I do.”
Legion twined a finger through her hair.
“The optics would be terrible,” she said. “Ann isn’t entirely alone in her sentiments. If I let you guys lynch her, five on one, then others would be moved to her position. The fort would simmer, there’d be griping and maybe some covert action. It would be an opening for Beth and her crew.”
“So make it a Contest,” I suggested. “Preventer can give her the Ninja treatment. Nobody can gripe about numbers then.”
“She wouldn’t accept,” said Legion. “She knows her gift can’t overcome any of yours. And issuing a challenge like that would make you look exactly like the Regime we have grown up despising. Jackals, preying on the weak.”
I figured it might be that way. Honestly, I was kind of glad.
“I guess she has to disappear then,” I said. “Tonight. People will think she headed to the central fort to lobby against us or something.”
They both looked a little taken aback.
“Indulger is the one with the scruples,” I said. “I’m not so burdened.”
“You can’t,” said Legion. “Your movements will always be noted. Your crew will still be novelties a month from now. If you try and creep up on her someone will see you. They might not raise an alarm now, but later on when everyone is wondering where she went they’ll put it together.”
“Let me worry about that,” I told them. “You just tell me what her gift does, where she’ll be at this time of night.”
They looked dubious, but after a moment Legion shrugged.
“If she gets a part of anyone’s form, she can control it. A little blood, maybe some spit, and you are her puppet.”
“That’s enough to be an Overseer?” I asked. “Nobody has just shot her? How’d she survive her baptism, her first battle with the Union? Shouldn’t some drone have blown her up?”
“Her gift works on herself,” said Legion. “And her puppets benefit from a degree of Ultra strength, speed and toughness. Enough for her to survive the Union, anyway.”
“The movements are jerky,” clarified Yaga. “And she has to move everyone she’s got linked up through the same motions. One puppet controlling everyone.”
I could see it. A gift that let her work from behind the scenes would make her feared, and a few carefully arranged demonstrations of her self puppetry would let her give the impression to the common throng that she had enough Ultra toughness that nobody would just try and rip her head off.
“Simple enough,” I said. “Will I need to take care of any bedmates?”
Yaga shook her head.
“She was with Ninja.”
“I’ll arrange a reunion.”
I left the room after that, not willing to step on that badass line with any more practical questions.
It meant that I had to work out where Annubis was staying myself, but that turned out not to be terribly hard. Legion had spread the Overseers throughout the fortress, and I was able to work out where she had to be without ever explicitly asking anyone.
Everyone wanted to talk with the Lure, of course. I flirted my way along the halls towards my target’s room, talking with anyone and everyone.
Legion had entirely the wrong idea about how stealth worked. It wasn’t about making sure no one noticed you. It was about making sure that you weren’t connected to the narrative in question, making yourself a glittering distraction, waved aside in the pursuit of consequential matters.
The hallway in front of Annubis’ room wasn’t promising. A few Gods who were definitely not guards loitered there, conspicuously checking out everyone who walked by. Well, checking the Lure out anyway.
I passed them, headed into a room one door down from her, where the crackle of firelight announced some kind of impromptu social event.
My entry caused a minor hush, as everyone looked over to see who had appeared, but when I didn’t take immediate action people turned back to what they had been doing.
It was something like a party. An older Goddess was softly playing an old instrument with strings, didn’t sound half bad. Another few people were sitting on a pile of dirt, carefully cradling pink elixirs. But the people who drew my attention were sitting by the fire, turning over cards and tossing dice.
I walked up, slid onto a ruined couch next to a Goddess who hovered slightly above it, and blinked artlessly across the firelight, spreading Dale’s innocent smile across my face.
“English?” I asked.
They looked at one another, the urge to shun the outsider and the urges awakened by the Lure warring within them.
“Yes,” said a dark haired woman, sitting on a stool to my right. “We understand you.”
I clapped with delight.
“Wonderful!” I said, breathily. “Can I play?”
The last of the tension dissipated from the area by the fire. People, and for all their airs the Gods were just that, could only really work on story at a time. Preying on a clueless stranger had trumped their worries.
“Absolutely,” she responded. “I’ll spot you in.”
She explained the rules, briefly, but I wasn’t paying too much attention. I was scoping out the place for my purposes. I’d ended up on the wrong side of the fire, the opposite side from my target’s room. If I sent my shadow over now it would be visible to anyone paying any attention at all where it crossed the firelight. I needed to get my form over there, ideally into a shadow where nobody would be paying close attention to the Lure.
“Ready?” she asked.
“Ready,” I answered, and tossed the dice.
From what I’d gathered you used tokens, which the dark haired woman had spotted me, to purchase rolls of the dice, which earned you points that got you cards. The cards compared with the cards that other people had earned with their rolls and there was a kind of bidding system at work. It was more than I could keep track of.
I lost quickly, and thoroughly.
“I’m afraid you are down twenty,” she said.
“I don’t have any tokens,” I told her, and put a hand on her thigh. “However will I pay you back?”
It didn’t take much guidance after that to get us into the alcove across the room, the knowing smirks and good natured hooting of the rest of the gamblers seeing us off.
Even as the Lure embraced my patron I was already threading my shadow down across the wall. The position was perfect. Nobody else was watching us too closely, and my benefactor wasn’t going to be looking at my shadow anytime soon.
I traced my shadow along the room’s edge, soon finding the tiny crack I needed, and then slid it into Annubis’ room.
She was still up, unfortunately, frantically scrawling away on some kind of journal.
I didn’t have any reason to suspect she might be using her power, but better safe than sorry. I watched for a moment, distractedly nuzzling at the Goddess in my arms even as Annubis worked.
Her movements were fluid, controlled. I decided that she wasn’t puppeting herself.
I studied the room’s illumination. She was writing by a candle, which would do. I positioned my shade behind her, and drew forth the Hook.
Soundlessly, it rose above her. Soundlessly, it lowered a killing spike.
I bit down savagely on my gambling friend’s lip, drawing a shrill cry in order to drown out any noise Annubis might make as I struck.
Simultaneously my other form thrust the spike into the back of my target’s head, penetrating her brain and killing her instantly.
The dark haired woman pulled back, slapped the Lure across the face. She was going for another slap when I caught her hand. I pulled her back into the Lure’s embrace. She resisted for a moment, then relented, kissing me hungrily.
In the other room, the Hook set to work. I couldn’t take forms into my shadow. But I’d learned that dead people didn’t count.
Carefully, tidily, and thoroughly, the Hook devoured Annubis, stripping and engulfing each and every slice of her form.
Much later, we got to the talking stage, where I learned that my paramour went by ‘Raven’.
“I am also going to keep it when I get my Divine name,” she enthused. “Pretty smart, huh?”
I agreed with her.
Meanwhile my darker half scrutinized the room, trying to see whether I’d left enough for someone to realize that Annubis had died here.
It wasn’t perfect. She’d bled as she was cut apart, and I hadn’t been able to slurp it all up fast enough. It had soaked into the carpet, stained the floor. It would be apparent that something had happened.
Well, so be it. Maybe they’d think she’d only been wounded here, that she was still active elsewhere. Maybe they’d realize she was gone. The important thing was that nobody would connect it to us.
“You want to go back to my room?” asked Raven. “Some of the Gods are coming over and we are going to keep the party going. I even hear Lotus might show.”