Fisher 8:3

It was Dale who broke the silence.

“Betty, I don’t think that is a good idea.”

I turned the Lure’s face towards him, a polite smile forming on it.  Within, I was seething.  Dale was the key to steering our group.  If I could get him to side with Nirav and I then we’d have a majority.  Whatever his objection was it wasn’t as important as the simple fact that he was objecting.

“She doesn’t trust the way you think She does.  There’s no way we could get a Pantheon Ultra’s gift to work on Her.  Lots of people have tried to do similar stuff over the years, and it never works.”

“I get that,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Preventer, cutting off my response, “If we are going to be able to affect Her, why not use one of Lotus’ battle elixirs?  That would be worth considering long before buffing Her is.”

“That wouldn’t work,” I said.  “Look, I know how people have tried using stealth and Ultra gifts to kill Her.  There is obviously some unknown factor stopping that from working.  Fair enough.  I’m not saying we have a key to that power, I’m saying that we put ourselves in a category it doesn’t operate on.”

Haunter nodded slowly.

“You believe whatever force acts to defend Her does so in response to ill intent?  If so, you are saying that we would be unaffected by virtue of our genuine intent to aid Her?”

I nodded eagerly.

“Could we pull that off though?” asked Nirav.  “I feel like some of us would register as hostile towards Her no matter what we might think in any given moment, given our basic attitudes.”

I could always count on Nirav to tee an easy one up for me.

“It must be used to that though.  Haunter wasn’t stopped from joining our Fist.  Heck, Krishna ended up Her seat.  Nothing is stopping people who hate Her from being all around Her.  Things only go wrong when they try and act against Her.”

“So despite our, shall we say, unflattering opinions, you believe that so long as we acted only in what we believed was Her interest She would not benefit from this hypothetical protection?” asked Jane.

“Exactly,” I said.

She paused for a long moment, then shook her head decisively.

“Still a bad plan, even if we grant that” she said, with finality.

“What?” I asked.  “Why?”

Haunter pointed at Dale.

“Dale has been imbibing Lotus’ willpower extract for some time now.  Has it altered his values?” she asked.

“I hardly think that is a similar situation,” I said.  “We are ‘right’, are we not?  The sides are not symmetrical.  Increasing the intelligence of our foes and friends should give us more friends.  Making people better at math isn’t equally good for the 2 plus 2 is 3 team and their rivals who know it is four.”

Jane gave a rueful grin.

“It would be nice if it were so, but you must know that our disagreement with Her is one of values.  Think on what your gift can change, and what it cannot.  Do you believe that being smarter would have permitted Meghan to carry forward in her original beliefs, even as you used your gift on her?”

“I…” I stalled a moment, trying to marshal arguments.

“Also she teleports a lot, and that would probably reset her back to normal,” said Preventer, piling on.

I looked to Nirav, who shook his head gently.

So frustrating.  I was the only one who wanted to get us out of the war zone that had already cost us our Link, and I had to make up fake reasons to do it.  I leaned the Lure back against the wall, scowling.

“So back to talking about Fifth Fist’s goal,” said Preventer.

“Like I said before,” said Haunter.  “I don’t think they are here to fetch us back.  If that was their plan, they would have demanded our return right there with Zilla watching, ready to lend a hand if we refused.”

“Ok,” said Dale, “but they definitely want something from us.  I have a hard time believing that their showing up here is totally independent of us.  I know that we are trying to avoid speculating about Predictor’s power, but at least it should be good enough that if he didn’t want to meet us he could have avoided it.”

“I think,” said Nirav, “it is a constantly refreshing vision of all the ways that he can die or be hurt.  The fact that it is always current lets him win vs. other precogs, but he has no vision into anything other than stuff that is dangerous to him.”

Looks like we were playing the ‘speculate on Predictor’s gift’ game after all.

“Then how does he do the cards?” asked Dale.  “We’ve all seen him take out cards with what someone is gonna say on them, even in situations where there was no way he was getting attacked.”

“It might be that he gets the whole timeline leading up to his potential deaths,” suggested Jane, “though that might be pretty much omniscience, depending on how it worked.  There isn’t a rule that gifts have to be fair, remember.”

“I don’t think this is productive,” said Preventer.  “If for no other reason than that he has presumably foreseen it and acted in such a way that it reaches no useful conclusion.  Lets focus on what we do if they demand that we go back.  I know Haunter and I would prefer to refuse such an order.  What say the rest of you.”

The real question was Dale here.  She knew Nirav would side with me, and that I had no desire to linger in such a dangerous place.

“I…” said Dale.  “I guess I’m persuaded by Jane’s argument.  I don’t think that they are going to try and make us go home.  I feel like they might try to take us out, or they might want to work with us and do something with Preventer’s new influence over the Pantheon, but I think if they were just trying to get us to go back they’d have already told us so.”

“Fine,” I said, before I could help myself, “but what if they do?  What is your call, as our leader, if they come up right after this meeting and tell us we are going back to Her?”

“Oh,” said Dale.  “Then I say, ‘yep’, and we do.”

“Come the fuck on!” snapped Preventer.  “We took on the Host at your instigation, how can you suddenly decide to back out?  You sure that drink isn’t making your choices?”

“It isn’t complicated,” said Dale.  “We stand a much better chance with Predictor’s crew if Zilla’s hordes are not around.  If they are in favor of moving our fight a few miles away then I see no reason to refuse them.”

Haunter gave a big smile.

“I was going to say much the same.  We can’t fight the Grand Host and Fifth Fist at once.  If hostility is unavoidable, then the optimal course would be to allow them to split up before we engage.”

“You mentioned,” said Preventer, “the possibility of Predictor wanting to work with us in the capacity of seeing to my elevation.  Can you tell us what you mean?”

She pointed at Dale as she spoke, seemingly trying to smooth over her momentary anger at him by pretending that it hadn’t existed.

“Sure,” he said.  “You guys remember the stupidity with Commander Fidel, right?”

We all did.

“Well, it is important to recall how that started.  She sent us to offer an olive branch to the Union.  She knew that the big fight was getting ready to go down, didn’t want to distract them from it.  I think we have to figure that She cares a lot about what is happening over here, even if She doesn’t show it mostly.”

“Even if that was genuine,” said Preventer, “and we don’t think She was going to turn around and violate that treaty a day later, how does that accord with what’s going on now?  She wanted to help the Union.  We are on the other side here.”

Dale seemed like he was about to answer, but it was Jane who actually did.

“I’m not convinced that we are.”

I looked at her, expressionlessly.

You had to give Jane a sec, sometimes.  There would be stuff going on behind her eyes, stuff with her shades.  If you let them package it up their own way it was generally for the best.

“We are, to be sure, on the official opposite side of the combat,” she began.  “But from Her perspective, I doubt that that is the case.  I think She only really cares about Zeus and his immediate rivals.  Only Ultras of the greatest possible power can threaten Her.  Our influence over Legion and Zilla’s forces, whatever it is worth, certainly doesn’t extend to anyone who might match Her.”

Nirav chimed in.

“She only cares about Ultras like us to whatever degree we can help or hinder Her.  Her perfect scenario would be like what we managed with Death, where a powerful enemy dies, and the ones left alive can’t threaten Her.”

“I don’t think it is quite that way,” said Dale.  “Like, the sense I got from Her was that the Pantheon’s main guys were like a treat that she was saving.  I certainly don’t expect Her to thank us for taking Death down.  She might think it was funny, but She wouldn’t feel safer because of us taking out a threat.”

It was always easy to forget how twisted up our ruler was.

“Alright,” said Preventer, “Let’s give up on Fifth Fist’s motives for now.  We’ve decided what we will do if they try to take us, which was the main thing.  If they come to us with anything else, we’ll convene then and hash out how to handle it.”

None of us looked entirely satisfied at that, but it wasn’t like we were holding back some brilliant idea for no reason.

“Ok,” I said.  “So, while we wait for Predictor to lay out their proposal, what is the plan?”

“I will pressure Zilla, or whichever of her Overseers I can get a hold of.” said Preventer.  “If we can get her to join her voice to Legion’s in pushing me for the Council we are set.  Once the Grand Host protects us, Fifth Fist can’t do anything.”

I remained skeptical of the idea that the Pantheon was actually going to let an outsider become one of the main leaders, and certainly that they’d ever throw lives away defending her.  Legion’s Gods hadn’t really even defended her when we showed up, and she’d run their whole setup for years.  I didn’t see a point in raining on what was clearly a cherished goal of Preventer’s though.

“I suppose that can’t hurt,” I said.  “Any chance we take, we emphasize that Preventer killed Death.  What else?  Should we be riling folks up against the other Fist?  Are we going to track down those healers that Jane is interested in?”

“I’ll take care of that situation,” said Jane, immediately.  “I owe it to my reserve.  I’ve been working at this for what feels like forever, and it is all coming down to the wire.  I’ll finish it.”

Oddly, she looked at Nirav as she talked about her dream ‘coming down to the wire’.  He didn’t really react to the look, so maybe it was just something related to her own thoughts.

“I’ll talk to the guys,” said Dale.  “If it is anything like the forward base here they will have their own parallel leadership setup.  If I can get their equivalent of Rag on our side it will be a big help.  They may not be in charge, but they hear a lot.”

I looked to Nirav.

“We know what those three are doing,” I said.  “What do you want to get up to?”

He grinned at me.

“Welllll,” he said, leering cartoonishly at the Lure.

Preventer cleared her throat.

“We should probably try and verify the notion that Arena is really in charge,” he finished.

There were nods all around at that.

“All right,” said Haunter.  “Let’s get back out there.”

Somehow, the ‘everyone be really careful, the Link is gone’ sounded louder for no one saying it than it would’ve if we’d all shouted it.

Dale brought us back up to the surface, and we went our separate ways.

Or, mostly separate.  Nirav tagged along behind me as I started walking up into one of the bright yellow ramps of this place.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey yourself,” I returned.  “Everything alright with you?”

He settled in beside me, keeping the Lure’s pace without needing to use his gift.

“Yeah…is what I’d like to say, but the truth is that there’s something.”

I knew it.

I stopped, turned to face him fully.

“You can tell me.  We’ll fix it.”

“It’s Jane,” he said, looking away from me for a moment.

I had the fleeting and odd suspicion he was about to confess that they were cheating on me.

“What about her?  I saw her looking at you in the briefing.”

“I think she still blames me for Irene,” he said.  “I feel like she is always talking about me to her shades, behind her face where we can’t watch.  It is making me crazy.”

I put the Lure’s hand on his arm.

“Nirav, no.” I told him forcefully.  “That was an accident.  Everyone knows it.  Jane knows it.  Her shades know it.  She is not the kind of woman who would let something like that go if she thought, for one second, that you might have done it deliberately.”

He looked back at me, gave me a kind of a weak smile.  I could tell he thought I was just saying this to reassure him.  His arm was trembling under my hand.

“Listen to me,” I told him.  “Your struggles with Condemner are in the past.  You beat him, alright?  You beat a fire monster with nothing but your own wits and courage.  I don’t know anyone else who is half as brave.  We believe in you.”

“But,” he said, his voice catching a little, “I missed the whole fight with Death.  I feel like that was my chance to redeem myself, to show everyone what I can do FOR the team, and I was just a few moments too late!”

Unshed tears glistened in his eyes.

“No,” I said again.  “You have nothing to fault yourself on.  She was a teleporter, Nirav.  She picked her moment, got Haunter away from the rest of us.  Nobody blames you for missing that fight.  I missed it too, remember.  That was the enemy being shrewd, not us making mistakes.”

He still looked miserable.

I leaned forward like we were going to kiss, and rested my forehead against his instead.

“No one blames you,” I said.  “Not for anything.  You did the best you could, and that’s all that we can ask for from anyone.”

“I love you,” he said, and now we were kissing.

I indulged myself for a moment, the Hook looming up to block us off from some gawking locals.

Predictor might be able to forsee the future, but right now I could too.  I could suddenly tell, with absolute certainty, that this boy was going to make it out of this.


To a Brother

Listen, you safe one.  I don’t have to justify anything.  I am not doing this because of the little bribes you send.  I do it because it Needs To Be Done.  I do it because of the future and the past.  Because answer must be given, yes?

You will understand soon.  All humans are Family.  We are not enemies, could never be.  I betray nothing.  I share with you freely.

So there’s no need for threats or bribes.  I’m happy to explain our ways to you.  Honestly, I didn’t realize that you hadn’t been given the key before.

And this system isn’t complicated, not really.  It is what I use, and it helps us manage them.  It is our own shorthand, our own thing, not from the past, not from the Ultras.  Just our little cleverness.

First letter is either K or N.  K is for killer, N is for Not Killer.  This doesn’t count wartime exigencies, just general interactions.  Gods start as N, they go to K if we can verify that they killed someone for no reason.

Second number is their Tally.  This is how many other Gods they have killed in somewhat fair circumstances.  This can be more than one digit.  If it is more than 3 though you are either reading about Zeus, the Demon or someone messed up the code.

Next letter is either a J or an N.  J is for jock, N is for nerd.  Nerds are very interested in what is going on.  They experiment with their power, get up to stuff and generally take steps to win.  J’s just have the power that the C-men tell them that they have, and don’t really go beyond that.

Next is a + or a -.  + means this God will argue and basically interact with humans.  Minus means that it will not.  ‘Argue’ is kind of shorthand here.  It means something like ‘think of humans as real’.  A – treats us like pets or furniture or slaves.

Beyond a + you will see a letter that represents how they argue/interact with people.  A B is a bully, who wins arguments by saying that those who disagree with them are unpopular.  An M is a martyr, who wins arguments by saying that those who disagree with them are hurting them.  And an L is a lawyer, who wins arguments by saying that those who disagree with them are inconsistent.

Beyond a – you will see a letter indicating how the God avoids arguing.  F implies that they will use use force to get their way.  I implies that they just don’t acknowledge humans exist.  U implies that they have an Ultra power that renders us agreeable.

After that you will see between one and five *’s.  These indicate how active/influential the Ultra is in terms of their relationships with other Ultras.  Lots of stars is more influential.

Another +/- follows the stars.  It indicates whether the stars are in the process of increasing or decreasing, basically whether that Ultra is getting more or less influential.

After the +/- we have a letter which refers to what we can glean of their desires.  P’s wish to be praised, to loom large and fine in the minds of those they interact with.  H’s wish physical pleasure, to eat well and screw fine partners.  C’s with to achieve something, these Gods are in a transitional state.  U’s are under the influence of their gift, seeking out opportunities to exercise it.  D’s want to learn, and interrogate the world around them to whatever degree they are able.  ? indicates a unique and dangerous drive, inquire further.

New letters are being added to the end of these codes all the time, and the explanations for them stream from one of us to another.  It is a process without definite beginning or end.  It must be, for our Gods are capricious ones, and there is no telling who will be seized and rendered on any given day.

I understand that this may seem confusing, or arbitrary.  You are a person of systems, of records.  No doubt your version of our little codes is far more complete, far more useful.  Perhaps you think me a fool for propagating this shorthand, so much poorer than what you would have done in my place.

I hope you can help.  I would be honored to pass along your better systems to my fellows, that all may weather the God’s tempers with a little more success.  Let me know what you wish to add, and I will see that it passes along.

Soon we shall be Brothers in truth.  Maybe you will be the elder.  If you can refuse the Goad, the Process’ song, then you will have much to contribute.

I will be listening.

Fisher 8:2

Fifth Fist.  The Trapper Fist.

The Fist that had subdued Nirav.  The Fist whose leader could see the future better than anyone, maybe even better than Answerer.

They weren’t much to look at.

Predictor stood out a bit.  He was still wearing the same black and white gentlemen’s outfit that he’d worn when he showed up to interrogate us.  Still bald, still tall, still smirking.

Mary hadn’t changed much either, just a hard woman with weird organic blades coming out of her arms and shins.  She was a bit more impressive to me now that I’d seen Twister in action, since it was common knowledge that Slicer was her better.

Gardener, Pitcher and Tamer were just about as I’d always pictured them.  Gardener was a hulking brown shape, about the size of the Hook.  I’d heard he could merge with vegetation and get to be enormous, but it didn’t seem like he’d done so.  Tamer was just a nondescript woman at this range, nothing special about her.  Pitcher was likewise not terribly distinctive, beyond the fact that she was wearing a weird harness on her shoulders that held a bunch of softball sized objects suspended in it.

I looked back over to where Preventer was nattering on to Winter.  I was reasonably sure that she knew about the other Fist.  Haunter’s shades would have noticed them instantly, and the two had been close enough for a whispered word or two prior to the start of negotiations.

I moved the Lure over to Nirav’s side, placed a hand on his shoulder.

Surprisingly, he wasn’t as tense as I’d expected.  He finally looked away from them to stare into the Lure’s eyes.

“We need you present on this,” I cautioned him.  “You don’t need to get revenge on these guys.  They were Condemner’s enemies, not yours.”

That seemed to reach something in him.  He gave a shy smile, and pecked a kiss on the Lure’s forehead.

“Thanks,’ he said.  “I’ll be alright, if any of us are.”

Even as we were going through with this reassurances the main conversation had apparently reached the point where they were dramatically presenting the Fifth Fist to us.  Their platform slid over to us with the same vision defying movement that the rest of the place showed.

“Fifth Fist,” said Dale.

“Fourth…Fist,” said Stuart, taking a little pause between the two words.

“Not going ride the strange glowing disks?” asked Pitcher.

Now that we were a bit closer I could see the things in her webbing.  They looked like Union devices, small and blinking with electronics.  I couldn’t really guess at their function, other than that they’d be weapons of some kind.

Dale shook his head.

“My power comes from the ground,” he said.  “It would be dumb to get up away from there, so we don’t do it.”

I almost choked.  I thought Lotus’ stuff was supposed to make him smarter?

An instant later I got it.  They already knew his gift’s limitations.  By answering them forthrightly he was cutting off an avenue of conversation that could be used to needle us, as well as keeping us from being maneuvered into a position of weakness by any kind of indirect maneuvering around it.  All that and he still remembered to sound like his old self.

“What are you doing here?” asked Haunter.

“We could ask you the same question,” said Predictor.  “As I recall you were supposed to be in Olympus, correct?”

Preventer slashed her hand in front of her chest in a violent gesture of negation.

“We were supposed to open negotiations with the rulers of the Pantheon.  Turned out the front line was a much more interesting place to do that.”

Predictor gave a polite chuckle.

“I heard about that.  I guess Death didn’t want to negotiate?”

“She killed Adder,” said Dale.  “We liked Adder.”

“Shit,” said Slicer.  “I liked Adder.”

“Everybody did,” said Pitcher.

Her voice was weirdly low, kind of a smoky burr.  It made me look at her again, like she was going to turn out to be secretly hulking or whatever.

“Anyway,” said Predictor, “our hosts put us together so we could hash out why there are two groups of us here.  It seems simple enough.  You were sent on a mission but deviated from it to a target of opportunity.  We were sent to pull you back from the original mission.”

I had the Lure raise a hand shyly, drawing everyone’s eye.

“Um, are you still bringing us back?” I asked, letting myself sound a little younger and more innocent than I usually did.

Mary shook her head.

“Haven’t decided yet,” said Pitcher.

Then the disk they were on was sliding away again, and the emissaries’ disk moved smoothly into place.

“You must be exhausted after that reunion,” said Winter.

“Sure,” said Preventer.

“Why don’t you take your ease in our Fortress, spent a day or two going over things?  Have some more talks with your colleagues, have some more talks with us, really sort stuff through.  Zilla thinks introductions are enough progress for this first meeting.”

There was a lot more to it than that, of course.  I’d learned enough in the Union embassy and then in our conversations with Legion to know that formal stuff was always ten times longer than it needed to be, but we still got out of there within about twenty minutes after that.

Dale slid our earth platform swiftly downwards, the five of us spending time placating the various others we’d brought, reassuring them that all was going according to plan.

Once we reached the ground, since all was of course, NOT going to plan, we got them settled in and then enacted the privacy plan that we’d worked out for this situation.

First off, Dale brought us into the ground, sucking us under like he did in Redo or the Host battle.  We figured it would be harder for someone to spy if we were out of their direct line of sight and blocked off by a few hundred feet of earth.

After that Haunter passed around some ghostly cords that we put into our ears and mouths, and Preventer put up some barriers, all the while a bunch of Haunter’s shades chattered and babbled all around us, filling the air with random conversations.

“Ok, this thing working?” asked Dale.

It was.  We could hear one another through the cords, somehow.  The buds in our ears carried his voice to us and also muffled the sound of the chattering shades.

“Yes,” I said.  “But it is about the only thing around here going right.  What the hell is a Fist doing here?”

“I tend to believe them,” said Nirav, “when they say they are here for us.  We know She made a booty call once before, no reason it wouldn’t happen again.”

Dale nodded, somberly.

“But if they were searching for us,” he said.  “then shouldn’t they be searching in the heart of the Pantheon?  Word of Preventer’s feat shouldn’t have spread to the Regime as of yet.  Peggy, with Snitcher gone, should have no way of knowing that we aren’t still escorting Adder in Olympus.”

Haunter raised a hand.

“I don’t think it pays to inquire too deeply into the Regime’s information sources.  Predictor is precognitive.  He didn’t pull out any of those stupid sentence cards up there, but you can bet he hasn’t lost his touch.  They also have Answerer.  If they wanted to track us down, it wouldn’t be difficult.”

That was a sobering thought.  I’d known it, of course, but when I tried to imagine Nirav and myself running free of all of this I had to kind of deliberately think past the prophets’ existences.  I had to convince myself that She wouldn’t bother to use one of Answerer’s questions to find me.

“Let’s focus on Zilla,” I said.  “I feel like she is the actor I am having the most trouble with.  Say you are Zilla, alright?  Your frontier fort has been taken over, from her perspective, by a Regime Fist, and your boss, Death, has been killed.  Now they are coming to you.  How does that situation lead to her introducing us to Fifth Fist?  What is her play here?”

We instinctively looked to Haunter.  She would have had shades inside her debating this stuff nonstop since it had gone down.

“Zilla’s motivation should be the maintenance of the status quo.  She has dominated this whole area for a long time.  We threaten to change that.  So she’ll be working to minimize our impact.  I expect Fifth Fist appealed to that desire.”

“Are you saying,” said Dale, slowly, like he was thinking it through as he spoke, “that she expected Fifth Fist to demand that we go home with them during that time when she brought us together?  Do you think they are at odds now?”

“Hard to say,” said Haunter.  “We are inclined to err on the side of Predictor’s gift having allowed him to arrange things such that he and his Fist don’t end up fighting Zilla’s hordes.  However he approached her, we expect that he will be able to deliver something that satisfies her.”

“Alright,” said Preventer.  “But say he had.  Say he’d demanded that we go back with them.  What would our reaction be?  It is very possible that he springs that one on us next time we meet.  If She wants Dale, then Her Fists will be all about making that happen.”

“I expect you are averse to returning?” I asked Preventer, with very little hope of a negative answer.

She nodded fervently.

“Death is gone.  We have, or I have, a legitimate claim to leadership in the body that governs most of Earth.  If She falls to Zeus, then the Council is the only claim to safety that will remain in this world.  It would be madness to relinquish this.”

“But if She doesn’t fall,” I pressed.  “If She wins, as She has done every time that She has battled, then that position doesn’t mean all that much, does it?”

“I think it does, babe,” said Nirav.  “We would be in a great position to keep on supplying Her with enemies.  Remember, Prevailer didn’t fail to take over the world, She just never bothered to.  She wants enemies.  Being part of an enemy government isn’t the worst way to serve Her.”

Preventer looked revolted at that thought.

“Also,” said Haunter.  “I have my own reasons for remaining here.  I know that we are not supposed to let personal considerations influence us in Fist matters, but I want you all to know that I want to stay here.  I need to, at least long enough to verify something.”

“Why is that?” asked Dale.

“My shades have been listening to stories of this place’s healers, and they sound like what we’ve always been looking for.  They can make new bodies for people, let them pass their gifts on into new forms.  Winter’s form is probably their work.  They might be able to clothe my reserve in flesh once more.”

She said this with a touch of emotion in her voice.  It wasn’t much, but Jane could be pretty stoic, so even a little bit was noteworthy.

“Wow, congratulations!” said Nirav.  “That is fantastic news, Jane!’

I piled on the congratulations, but I wasn’t so easily delighted.

“I understand that you two don’t want to leave,” said Dale.  “I get it.  Jane.  You have been working to bring these people back into the world for decades.  Preventer, you believe very strongly in the necessity of working with the Pantheon.  I don’t want to seem heartless here.”

I almost gaped at him.  Where was this Dale when it became our policy to fight the Pantheon army in order to save them?  Lotus’ drinks were really working a transformation.

“But I also don’t want to be foolish.  We have done too much of that, and some of it was on me.  So let’s face this squarely.  If Fifth Fist demands that we go, and we refuse them, no matter how good the reasons you give are, what happens next?”

Nirav’s face fell a bit, and I rubbed his hand.

“That would depend on Zilla, I suppose,” said Haunter.  “Whatever the ten of us in the Fists think, she has the ultimate decision as long as she can keep her people behind her.”

“Arena is the key there,” said Nirav, though he sounded like he was mostly guessing.  “If she is the Lotus equivalent then she is probably the real influence peddler around here.”

“But we just talked about what Zilla wants,” I said.  “And a very easy way to protect the status quo would be to back Fifth Fist up when they demand we walk.  She does that, then she has her world set to rights once more.”

“But if that was Fifth Fist’s goal,” said Haunter, “then they would have hit us with the ultimatum right out there on the platform.  No reason to give us time to set our feet, squirm around or whatever.  They could have just told us to get with their plan, or else they and Zilla’s minions would take us down.”

“They have no way to harm me,” pointed out Preventer.  “They wouldn’t chance, oh, wait…”

I blinked solemnly.

Even in here, in what we were pretty sure was total privacy, we weren’t going to talk about our Link being broken.  But it was pretty obvious to us that we had to assume Predictor knew it.  If he was forseeing stuff about us there had to be cases where it would get really apparent.

“Also,” I said.  “There is the obvious reasons for going back.”

I got a room full of blank faces, which kind of irked me.  Some of them had to have considered this.

“What do you mean?” asked Haunter.

“Lotus,” I said.

“I don’t follow,” said Dale.

“Preventer, you want to join the Pantheon to get insurance because of Her ruling style, yeah?  And Jane, you are all about protecting the daggers, right?”

“She doesn’t get to win,” grated Jane.

I smiled wryly.

“Force rules the world,” I quoted.  “If getting really angry about that made you stronger history would look very different.”

Jane’s scowl was answer enough.

“Can you tell me what you are proposing?” asked Nirav.

I smiled.

“We go back with Fifth Fist, whether they ask us to or not.  Heck, we ask them.  We bring Lotus.  When we get there, Dale is just incredibly happy to see his Best Girl.  He brought Her something, you see, something he’s sure She’ll love.”

“Oh,” said Dale.

“Oh,” said Nirav.

“Exactly.  Picture Her with the golden drink that Dale has been using.  Picture Her smarter, cleverer, or whatever else it is doing.”

“No need for a Defiance,” said Dale.

“Right,” I said.  “We are her Fist, after all.  We serve Her ably, and over time She realizes that her old values weren’t terribly optimal, and the world has adult supervision.”

I nodded over to Haunter, to Preventer.

“Just like you wanted.”

They didn’t speak for a long moment.

I filled the resulting silence.

“Unless this isn’t about a smart person making the decisions,” I told Preventer.  “As much as it is about YOU making the decisions.”

I looked to Jane.

“Unless it isn’t about healing the world, as much as it is about expressing how angry you all are about the person who hurt it.”

They stared back at me.  Neither spoke for a long moment.

Author here!

I’d just like to extend a hearty welcome to the folks who came here since the link from the parahumans reddit.  TFD made it up to 18 votes on TopWebFiction last week, and I saw four days of greater than a thousand views, which are pretty crazy numbers for TFD.  I hope you are enjoying the story, and that you stick around!

Re: Mission Objectives

Stuff is more complicated than we were expecting.  One of them is a big time leader in the Pantheon somehow, plus my gift is going nuts out here.  I think the big thing with the Union and the Pantheon is going down NOW.

You still want us to pull 4th Fist out?  If we work together we could probably get the Grand Host to do whatever, I think She would appreciate Her team having some kind of part in the big war.

>Go get Fourth Fist back.  She misses Dale.  They should be in Olympus, or in its smoking >crater if Adder already did his thing.  Bring them home.

>You are the only ones I can trust to do this right.


Fisher 8:1

The central fortress didn’t look anything like the forward one.  I leaned both of my forms forward on the earth wave that Dale was carrying us on, and spent some time really taking in the sight of the Grand Hosts’ main headquarters.

Legion’s so-called ‘fortress’ had basically been a dingy building.  Formidable enough, in a region where most everything in the world had been knocked down by decades of intermittent warfare, but nothing that could actually be confused with a fortification.

Shington had been pretty much the same way.  Yeah, there was a wall or two, some humans marching around scowling at people, lately even skulls mounted on the walls.  But ultimately the thing that was scary about the place was always what was in it.  The fortress itself never really seemed like it might actually be protecting its contents.

The Pantheon’s central fort was far more serious looking.

Just for starters, it was plainly the source of the immense dome that we’d entered when we approached Legion’s place.  The energy that made up the dome rose out of the center of this place, rising thousands of feet into the air like a great fountain of light and rushing over our heads towards the horizon in every direction.

The buildings also weren’t  reconstructed ruins of the old world.  In fact, ‘buildings’ might not have been the right term.  It was something like a hologram, or like a bunch of shining tubes.  The linked modules that formed the central fort were constructed of some kind of gift byproduct, they had to be.  It looked like they were made out of various colors of lightning, crystallized and harnessed.

The nearest one to us was a vivid blue upside down pyramid.  Tubes descended from each of the sides, and other tubes linked it to other structures, seamlessly changing their shade to that of the other building as they passed the halfway point between the two.

“Buncha show offs,” said Lotus.

I made the Lure chuckle ruefully, giving her an appreciative nod.

Presumably the whole ‘laser buildings worn like weird ornaments by a colossal woman’ vibe was something one got used to.

That was the other part of this that set it apart from anywhere else that I’d ever been.  The entirety of the central fortress was built upon the kneeling form of a woman who could be no one other than Zilla.

She was colossal, absurdly huge.  My mind kept sliding away from the sheer scale of her, fixating instead on the buildings that hung about her.  She would tower to the size of an old world skyscraper if she stood up, I was sure.

“What do the colors mean?” asked Kevin, one of Haunter’s shades.

We’d split up the platform for this trip.  It let us look more formidable, spread us out in case of enemy attack, worked Dale’s earth moving muscles and did a whole host of other useful things, but the not so secret real reason for it was that a number of us got on each other’s nerves.  It was a big improvement to have what amounted to different rooms we could go to, each with its own dynamic.

Haunter, Nirav and Preventer, or Death-Preventer or whatever, were up on the front one.  They had Legion up there with them, and a few of the more gifted Pantheon people we’d met along the way.  That was definitely the grown up platform.

I was slacking on the back left one, hanging out with the blind healer guy, Fox, Ragnarok and the ever present shades.

Two of them were making out with one another, which from what I understood was actually dangerous for Haunter’s guys, but I wasn’t about to stop them.  They’d paused briefly when we’d first caught a glimpse of the central fortress, but it hadn’t bothered them for long.

“It is a status thing,” said Lotus.  “Arena makes the whole place out of her dreams, see?  And she can change the colors or the shape of it any time she wants.  It transpired that her idea of badass or authority or whatever was kinda dark, and over time it became a status symbol to be in a darker colored area.”

“Is Arena one of the Overseers?” I asked.

My Hook was being used as a kind of obstacle course by a few of Haunter’s child shades, which made me a bit nervous.  I made sure it stayed completely still.

It was probably Irene’s death that had me constantly worried about Jane’s people.  Nirav had been a wreck for days afterword, he still didn’t seem quite back to normal.

“Yup,” said Lotus.  “One of the main ones, actually.  One of the ones who actually would be hard to replace.  A little like me, to be honest.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

She pulled out a glass, waved a hand over it, filling it with a blended liquid.

“Some Overseers are like Angel, like Genie.  Deadly combatants, sure, but ultimately pretty much just that.  They are in charge because if you tried to boss them around they’d throw down all over you until you were dead.  Get it?”

“Sure,” I said.  “That’s pretty much how She does it, too.”

Lotus chuckled, threw back her concoction.

“There’s definitely a lot to be said for ‘Rule by the ones everybody is afraid of’.  But there are other kinds of Overseers too.  Like, it can’t have escaped your notice that I’m not exactly the most deadly Goddess, right?”

I felt like she was selling herself down a bit, but I understood the impulse.  I had a lot of experience being the weakest in a crew.

“But what I provided is useful to people who are stronger than me.  The distraction that I bring to the idle warriors’ lives is important to Legion.  The housing that Arena provides, the mazes and palaces and such, that is important to Zilla.  So Arena and I are unofficially shielded from Contests.  We hide under the skirts of our stronger sisters.”

“Tell me about it,” I said, pointing a thumb at myself.

“You are plenty strong,” said Kevin.  “I can tell because you don’t mind if I think so.  Weak people think that it is really important that everyone thinks that they are powerful.  You know?  Whenever you hear anyone get all riled up because someone doesn’t respect them you know that person doesn’t respect themselves.”

I rolled the Lure’s eyes at him.

“Thanks Kev,” I said.  “I was talking about a different kind of strength though.”

“Even then,” he said.  “You are in a Fist.  You come back if you die.  That’s enough, right there, to make everyone afraid to take you on.  Don’t beat yourself up so much.”

I made the Lure give Dale’s sheepish grin.

The reserve knew that we’d lost the Link, of course, and there was no way they were going to give our secret away deliberately.  But I was starting to worry about the reverse.  Sometimes I felt like every shade I’d talked to in public since the big fight had gone out of their way to mention how strong and great the Link was.

“Yeah,” said Fox, “If anyone is going to get beaten up it is Zilla and her crew.  If they aren’t willing to recognize Preventer’s Advent then things might get a little messy, and the ones in trouble are the ones who aren’t invulnerable.”

“Is Zilla invincible?” asked Lotus.  “I know her strength goes up as she gets bigger, but does that also go for her toughness?  Or is she just one toughness all the time, getting stronger the bigger she gets?”

It was kind of worrisome that she didn’t know that, but I supposed that the Overseers would make the same kinds of efforts to obscure their gift’s ins and outs as we did.  Mine wasn’t the only gift that was vastly more useful when the enemy didn’t know everything I could do.

“Nope,” said Fox.  “High one, or low two at best.  Her big trick is rapidly increasing and decreasing in size, lets her kind of simulate Ultra speed, or just make the targets on her big enough that whatever attack is hitting her doesn’t do enough damage to put her down.”

“Does she fight much?” I asked.  “It seems like if anyone wants to take over they can just go to the building up by her ear and blast her brains out.  How does she keep power?”

Fox gave an elaborate shrug.

“According to our best intel,” said Kevin.  “It is mostly shrewd organization.  There are a series of tournaments for the right to fight her, which whittles down the competition.  Then there are wars over housing colors, stuff like that.  She divides and conquers.  Legion might actually be more powerful, Zilla mostly just uses old school management tricks.”

“Don’t forget about dumping the most disobedient on us,” said Fox.  “She has a stick that Legion doesn’t.  She can always send her troublemakers up to the front lines, make them into our problems.  The ones who are still here are going to be easier to deal with by virtue of not having made enough muss to not be here.”

I shook my head a little at that dizzying sentence, but I got the gist.

I was just about to reply when the platforms shuddered to a halt.

I looked forward instantly, pulling the Hook into my shadow in case I was going to need to spawn it elsewhere.

Zilla’s emissaries had appeared before the front platform, and were even now stepping forward to talk with Preventer and the rest.

“Sorry, I got to pay attention to this,” I told my immediate surroundings, before sending my shadow flowing forward.

I manifested the Hook alongside the rest of my team, even as Dale was rising from the ground.  We all confronted the Chief Overseer’s henchmen directly.

“Hello again,” said Beth.

“You can teleport?” asked Dale, cutting off a greeting that Haunter or Preventer was about to give.

“Not us,” said Winter.

A teleporter who could send other people to distant places.  I was suddenly intensely interested in our little trip.

I’d been considering leaving the Fist before, mostly idly.  It was hard to persuade myself that being away from Dale and the rest could possibly be safer.  I would still be a target, still in the middle of a war zone, just without any of my mighty friends to have my back.

But if there was a teleporter here, then there might be an opportunity.  I’d still have to persuade Nirav, still have to work out a way to make the Goddess do what I wanted, but with Snitcher dead and the Link broken it was entirely possible that we could just sort of vanish to some out of the way place.  Maybe a human tribe, out where there were no other Ultras for miles around.

Somewhere I could actually be safe.

“Your impressive arrival aside,” said Preventer, “has Zilla come around on the central question of our visit?  Is she willing to concede that I, having killed Death, have assumed her authority?”

It was weird how Jane had been so willing to back Preventer’s play here.  I knew that Preventer had been looking to run things for the Pantheon ever since she’d been a teeny weeny little maniac, but it felt odd for Jane to be so ready to rock the boat.

I really should have given some thought to that before now, but I’d mostly been just freaking out over the Link being gone.

“Something like that,” said Monster.  “She just sent us to escort you up, and clarify your position.  Make sure she knows what you want to talk about before you get here, you know?”

Dale put his hands on the ground, getting 4 points of contact.  The entire area around us slid back into motion.  Not as separate platforms, but just sliding the world along.  It was easy to forget how little of his gift he usually used.

“It isn’t complicated,” said Preventer.  “I killed Death, before dozens of witnesses, high ranking Gods who have no reason to lie.  Death was superior to Zilla, and therefore I now occupy that same slot.”

“We know that part of your claim,” said Beth.  “We’re wondering about the rest of your Regime associates.  Are they still supposed to be advising Legion?”

Preventer and Jane exchanged a look.

“It was deemed appropriate, in light of our being Linked into the same Fist, for us to advise Preventer, instead,” said Haunter.

“We are attending this meeting in that capacity.”

Strangely, that caused the emissaries to look to one another and smirk.

“Understood,” said Winter.  “Thanks for clearing that up.”

The buildings of the fort, and the colossus they ornamented, soon loomed above us.  Even as we watched a golden ramp slid down to greet us.

“Dale,” cautioned Jane, but he was already on it.

Rather than taking the ramp Dale formed the ground around us into a slim peak, bringing about a thirty foot wide crag up into the midst of the gaudy buildings, following the same path that the ramp they’d extended had.

For my part I was boggling at the ramp alongside us, and the great cubes that were hastily sliding aside from Dale’s ever widening peak.  Arena’s gift was fascinating in action.  I could never see any aspect of it moving, when I focused my gaze on it.  Instead it looked like the world moved around it, like I was part of the moving thing, not something apart and observing it.

I turned my gaze to Zilla as we rose up in front of her.

She was quite a sight.  My mind rebelled at considering something that vast to be anything other than scenery.

Her appearance wasn’t terribly remarkable, aside from being huge beyond reason.  She was a thin Asian woman, with age lines just beginning to appear.

She had a pair of hanging creations on either side of her face, holding about a dozen Gods on each one.  They were presumably her Overseers, and I was sure Haunter’s nerds were no doubt matching each of them with the gifts that they’d heard about.

I didn’t bother to count them.  They were an overpowering force.  A few dozen Ultras, each almost on our level, backed up by the majority of the Grand Host.  If this shook out to any kind of a fight, we’d be utterly screwed.  But it didn’t really have any reason to.  Even if they rejected Preventer as a boss, which most reasonable people would, they wouldn’t want to waste lives trying to kill foes who they thought would just return to life.

I looked back to Nirav, trying to lend some reassurance, and I saw his gaze was fixed on a knot of Gods on one of the platforms.

“WELCOME,” boomed Zilla.  Her voice was siren loud, drone strike loud.  I actually double checked to make sure it hadn’t popped Haunter’s shades.

They swayed a bit, but none of them popped.

“I accept your gracious hospitality,” began Preventer.

I knew the formalities would take a while.  Whenever anything became official it was automatically ten times slower.

I looked around again as Preventer nattered on.  The other side, after Zilla’s initial statement, was having Beth do the actual talking, which my ears appreciated, at least.

Nirav still hadn’t looked up at Zilla.  He was still fixated on the right plate, staring down that same group of Gods.  I looked at them more closely.

No, not Gods.  Ultras.  Five Ultras, that I recognized.  Another Fist.


Incident Assessment

Incident Summary:

Pursuant to its stated objectives, the SOV moved into position to fire upon Zeus’ position.

It did not do so.

Instead, it fired approximately an eighth of its unrestricted payload into the middle of the ocean.

From that time till the present (~two days, two hours) it has remained in position, cutting off all communication with the systems assigned to control, support and monitor it.

Further Details:

Investigation has revealed the following facts judged to be relevant to this case.

0: No signal of any kind was detected contacting the SOV at the time of malfunction.  This result was confirmed by local resources as well as its own final logs.  If anything on earth caused this via synchronous action it would have had to be an Ultrahuman gift.

1: The SOV’s failure to fire on Zeus proceeded its errant discharge into an invalid target area by a slight but measurable margin.  Further, during this time it continued to faithfully log its operations.  It reported an error in the firing system, but did not log any further errors, and ceased logging shortly thereafter.

2: The SOV’s errant fire was conducted with weaponry differing from that selected for the Zeus strike, and was placed in such a manner that it would cause no civilian casualties.

3: The SOV’s errant fire spelled out the letters BLA, and an upright line which was likely the beginning of another letter, before ceasing fire.

4: The SOV is no longer accepting transmissions, meaning that the self destruct module cannot be engaged.


The obvious and immediate conclusion to this incident is that another party has seized control of the asset, and given it a new mission profile.


There are, broadly speaking, two methods by which this outcome might have been brought about.

The first would be a hack. The SOV’s software was updated numerous times over the course of its existence.  It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that that our precautions were breached at some point, with said breach going undetected until being triggered by present circumstances.

The second would be an Ultrahuman ability.  An Ultrahuman of sufficient power might be able to seize control of the asset despite its remote location and great size.

Responsible Parties:

0: The Pantheon.
– The Pantheon proper is deemed unlikely, as our infiltrators reported no such effort, and as the Pantheon would have deployed the SOV’s munitions against Union population centers.

1: The Regime.
– The Regime is deemed unlikely, due both to infiltration and to its master’s expressed disdain for such warfare.  Bluntly, Peggy Martin would have personally struck any target that attracted her displeasure rather than hijack one of our machines to do it.

2: Civilian Hacker.
– Presently deemed the most likely culprit.  An aberrant ideology could have radicalized a Union member with the training and access necessary to carry out this terrorist act.  Such an individual might well cancel the strike on the Pantheon forces and then attempt to discharge the SOV’s payload.

3: Ultrahuman unaffiliated with factional leadership.
– An Ultrahuman whose gift gave them control of the SOV might well command it erratically and without consistent end.  This is particularly likely if the perpetrator is a Pantheon Ultrahuman who is presently a low ranking member of their pecking order.


1: The party who has seized control of the SOV may have lost control of it.  The failure to fully spell out its message in the ocean points to a master unfamiliar with or not fully master of this asset.

2: The SOV’s restricted payload is able to eliminate Earth’s ability to maintain human life.

3: The SOV’s failsafe measure will destroy the vessel from within if it fails to receive the passive confirmation signal from a Union infosphere transmitter for a period of 24 hours.  It is unknown whether the controlling party is aware of this avenue for striking against their hijacked asset, nor how or whether they would respond to such an attempt.



Fourth Fist: Meditations on Death



Have I ever had such a need for clarity?  Has anyone?

Revelation has piled upon revelation, momentous event upon the heels of momentous event.  I have spent the month since the fight with Death struggling to make peace with everything.  I needed the time to sort this out, to work it all through.

Most importantly, there are Condemner’s assertions.  The Ultras are the puppets or partners of alien life forms, our very universe their plaything.  It might not use the term ‘simulation’, but that’s the scenario we are looking at.  Our God is revealed, and he is a careless and cruel race indeed.

We must be so careful.

If Remover can be destroyed, then the age of Ultras may come to an end.  The world may be given its chance to recover.  But to do so would almost certainly mean the destruction of my reserve, the ultimate failure of my mission.

Condemner isn’t certain, of course, but it stands to reason that when the Grabby twinned to the ‘Jane’ grub awakens and departs it will stop fastening all of these other souls to me.  To strike down Remover and her goons will be to destroy all those who I’ve striven to protect.

They are, amazingly, at least nominally alright with this prospect.  The second of my great discoveries is this, the fact that my sleep has allowed another, far more fluid version of my reserve to develop.

To hear Joe tell it, this has always been part of their experience.  They abide by my rigid rotation in the day time, but at night their situation is far more freeform.  In the absence of my rules they have developed their own, parliaments and markets and the like.  It was this capacity for self-organization that saved me, when Death’s gift laid me low.

And it is this expressed will that I must trust.  They know their own minds, they have made their choices.  When I abdicated my responsibilities to our joint form they pressed me back into service.  I have become a Schelling point for them, a known figure, my personality the object of decades of study.  They freely choose my reign, and this sacrifice.

To say that I am humbled would be to understate the matter.  They are heroes, all.  I will not let them die.

Our wicked stunt with Betty’s gift has closed off the Union’s resources to us, likely forever.  If salvation for my passengers is to be had, it must come from another Ultra’s gift.

I have inquired carefully of every God in the forward base.  None of them have a suitable ability, nor anything terribly close.  But there are interesting prospects in Zilla’s central base, a pair of Ultras who function as the main healers for the Grand Host, who are reputedly able to construct new bodies for injured Gods.

The third great event, of course, is that our Fist is no more.  We will each lead but one more life.  We can’t hide that forever.

One of us will die, in a stupid fight or a worthwhile one, one of us will fall.  And they will not return.  And the rest of us will be exposed, mortal once more, having pissed off the Union and the Pantheon both.

Before that happens, we have to do something.  We have to take advantage of this brief time, of this window where our enemies still think we are Linked, are still daunted by Snitcher’s great shadow.

I have to tell the others, get them to work with me on this, get them to believe in Condemner’s revelations, and take action.

I will do this.  I must.

Any day now.


We lost the Link.

I lost the Link.

I lost it in the same careless, heedless, STUPID way that I screw up everything.  I just saw Death standing there and I flew at her instantly, not pausing to think, and she took full advantage.

I was acting like I always have, like I always did before.  But that was only ok before because before I used to be the only one who would have to pay the cost if I messed up.  As long as I didn’t make other people rely upon me then I thought that I could just try only as good as I liked, and I didn’t change how I did stuff when I became the leader of this Fist.

Some leader!

I can’t even let being dumb be an excuse.  I had been dosed by Lotus’ potion the night before.  Literally less than 24 hours earlier, I had been clear as a bell.

All I had to do was wake up a little sooner, go find Lotus and make a deal for some more of the good stuff.  That is all it would have taken.  I would have been clear by the time I saw Death, could have approached things in a more measured way.

It is so easy to just sit here and beat myself up about past stuff.  I’ve known a lot of people that did that.  I catch Rag looking at me, sometimes, and I know that he is just working out ways that our fight could have gone different.  I get it.  I’m not trying to get myself into one of those things where you just sit around and grouse forever about how you should have done this or that.

But just because people who mope around are lame, doesn’t mean that it is ok to never ever learn stuff.  This was on me.  I have to own that.  This all happened because I didn’t take seriously the idea that it could happen.

Really, it wasn’t just me, it was kind of all of us.  We knew Death was out there.  We knew she could break Links.  We should have had a plan in place, a way to deal with her suddenly showing up beyond hoping that things would work out.

That much, at least, I have corrected.

Every single new structure that I’ve built around the main fort has sections of dirt flooring in it.  Each room, each hallway.  I am never going to take a step off of real ground again.

I have an arrangement with Lotus.  She has made a few of her substances available to me, in return for minor construction favors and some directions to the fortress males.  I think our arrangement is probably about the same thing that she has with Legion, and that suits me fine.

I won’t make the mistakes of the past again.  If trouble comes to our Fist, it will find me ready.  I am being as careful as I can think to be.

But, when I take the Yellow, I sometimes worry.  Fixing all the problems that I know about is one thing, and it is a good one, but the real dangers are the stuff that we don’t know that we don’t know.

How do I protect against that?  How do I guard against what I can’t see coming?

Because it is coming.

Even if I can’t see it, I know it is coming.  I can feel it.  Danger, some kind of danger, is getting close, and very soon, it will be here.

Any day now.


Fate is a strange thing.

I schemed to get myself added to this Fist, fought for it and ultimately achieved it.  I did so out of worry that one day She would kill me.  That one day the only being I knew with certainty was able to do me harm would decide to do so.  I sought to make myself a less prominent target by becoming part of the apparatus which serves Her.

And then, on a whim, after I had successfully joined the newly reformed Fist, she mangled me anyway.

The pain this caused me led me, ultimately, to trust in the benevolence of a healer, and in order to do so I had to extrude all of my barriers.  The limited space I had to do this in led to me figuring out my ability to layer the barriers within one another, and thus to my triumph over Death.

When I lay it all out like that, the coincidence is staggering.  Any single thing done just slightly differently, and I would never have won.  If She had restrained Her cruel impulses then I wouldn’t have needed healing, and thus would never have found my gift’s other application.  If Death had come with her troops when they struck the Strongboat, before I found the courage necessary to use my barriers, then we would have died.

So many possibilities.  So few led to this place.

It makes me wonder whether this is the same kind of fortune that lets Her survive, year after year, though every being in the world wishes Her end?  Am I being aimed by some future seeing Ultra, carefully positioned without my knowledge?  Is everyone?

I recognize that these thoughts are, for the most part, fruitless.  Any countermeasure that they might inspire you to take would itself be foreseen by these hypothetical puppet masters.

Strange, to think that now I might be one of the very few people to whom this hypothetical becomes grimly important.

Zilla has indicated, through her intermediaries and only in a temporary capacity, that she considers my Contest with Death to be legitimate.  I am unsure whether to take her at face value, or whether she is only trying to lure me to her ground, but it is hard to keep the elation at bay, when I consider that the Pantheon warlords who control their largest and strongest standing armies believe I will find my place within the Leadership Council.

I dreamed of this, back in Shington.  The ultimate goal of my efforts was always exactly this.  To stand atop the government of the world, safe forever within the strongest group of Ultras, of Gods, in all the land.  So much had to go right.  So many narrow gates to pass.

I had to join a Fist.  I had to defeat one of the Council.

Now, all that needs to happen is for Zeus to kill Her.

Any day now.


I have done it.  There is no turning back now.  I provided Jane Trent, and her thousands of passengers, with the information that I’ve been given about the true nature of the world.

To my knowledge, no other woken gift has ever made this move.  I am the first.  My larger self will reap the prestige for this daring stroke.

I amuse myself, as the days crawl by, with speculation about what my next move will be.  Will I be prompted to strike against Haunter?  Burn her to ashes, and let my greater self feast at last upon her wild despair?  Or will I strike out alongside her, Linked no more by the arts of our fellows, but only by common purpose?  Would I truly be permitted to strike against Forbidding Entity, without the all permitting cloak of unconsciousness that my fellows wear?

I’ve learned from Nirav’s memories.  I do not flatter myself that these decisions could ever truly be mine, or even that these are the only two possibilities.

Perhaps I will simply feed upon this castle, render these Gods down into fuel.  Striking from within, and using the knowledge that I’ve gained in my time here, I fancy I could destroy most of them.  They are far too cavalier in my presence, utterly ignorant of the monster which stands among them.  A third of them would be dead before they even realized that the blaze wasn’t mundane, and my power would rage beyond all control.

For now, I feel no urge to do any of this.  I while away my days, sporting with Betty and playing cards with the locals.

Can Delighting Entity truly be satisfied with such?  It seems so utterly mundane for such a creature.  Such commonplace day to day joys, can they really be worth anything to the being who put Redo to the flame?

Perhaps its true pleasure comes from observing Haunter.  That wretched woman has been utterly wracked by the information that she was given.  I can practically taste her distress.

So far as I can tell, she has shared the truth of the world with no one aside from her thralls.  It isn’t beyond possibility that she might have whispered it to a few close confidants, but it doesn’t seem likely.  No one else is flipping out, no one has come to me to beg our masters for favors.  I think the truth remains between us.

It won’t last.  It can’t last.  Whatever Jane wants, she is the vessel for thousands of lives.  Humanity has never been one hundred percent united on anything in its entire existence.  Among all of her shades, there will be at least one who makes the same choice that I did.  One who sees the distinction to be gained by being the first to breach the wall of silence, being the one to tell the world what it desperately needs to know.

One of them will squeal.  They will run to an Ultra and tell them everything, moved to action by some impulse or other.  I can’t say precisely why it will leak, but no secret has ever been kept by so many for long.  It is coming.

Any day now.


I can’t believe that the Link is gone.

I can’t believe that we are still here.

I have never had the enthusiasm that Nirav and the rest mustered up for this excursion.  I never longed for a foray into the Union’s lands, nor was I moved like Dale when I saw the recording of the Host’s battle.

I wanted to stay in Shington, or better yet in Redo.  Failing that, I’d have happily whiled away the time in the Union’s embassy.  Look how that worked out.

This is what comes of letting people bully you around, just because they care about something.  This is exactly the sort of thing I was worried about, when I noticed that our ingenious leaders had positioned us directly between the world’s warring nations.

But I let myself fall in line.  I told myself that as long as we had the Link, as long as Preventer was invincible, then no matter how bad things might appear, there wasn’t any real danger.  Even if the infiltration failed, or the Union figured out what was up with their embassy, it wouldn’t really matter.  All that would happen was that we’d end up fleeing.

Maybe I would die for a night, or Nirav would, but Dale and Preventer were rock solid anchors.  I told myself that internal dissension was the only real threat.  That the only damage that wouldn’t be undone every night was cracks in our unity, and thus allowing Dale’s bleeding heart and Jane’s soft head to lead us into peril was the lesser evil.

Even after Fader’s Fist was sundered by Death, I didn’t change course.  I can’t say exactly why I didn’t speak up, why I didn’t demand that we leave such perilous environs and seek to satisfy Her command in some safer way.

Perhaps it was laziness, on some level?  I’d already made the decision, and I was loathe to revisit the issue?  I had trained myself to never really look hard at the question, told myself that it wasn’t worth reopening that can of worms, even when new evidence arose.

But that is likely wishful thinking.

I suspect, in the end, I stayed because my memory is gone, and these are the only friends I have.  I stayed because Nirav has made me his anchor against the seductions of his dark gift, and because Dale makes me laugh.

Foolishness.  Utter foolishness.

And now I reap what I have sown.  The Link is gone.  We play act that it still protects us in order to cow the Pantheon, but we are, all of us, mortal once again.

I cannot go on like this.  There is no more Link.  I am not made more safe by the existence of these people, certainly not when compared with the danger that they draw down.  I have to leave.

Any day now.

On Humans

Inviting Entity,

I am honored to recommend for your performance the magisterium that I have been studying.  The life there is noble and successful, commanding its surroundings and thriving in endless numbers.

I have to disabuse you, however, of the notion that these are ‘permanent Entities’.  That notion has been debunked on numerous occasions, but it just keeps coming back.  Humans are something else entirely.

These creatures live for a time, and then do not live.  Their existence ends, and their parts do not go on to contribute to other Entities.  They simply cease.  These are not the eternal Entities of popular fiction, but a sort of sometime life, a maybe life, here one time period and then absent the next.

Instead of continuing itself, however, these beings create new beings, handing information and power over to their replacements, even though those new beings contain no trace of their selves.  No matter how tempting this is, you must not see their succession as raveling, for it is a different process entirely.

This ladder of being has gone on for the entire span that their race has existed, a span that no one of them has experienced more than a fraction of.  The implications are dizzying, endless.

Their leaders CHANGE, rather than being guided by Leading Entity they are directed by peer beings, beings which are no more or less able to perform tasks than they themselves.

They cause one another to cease living, but sometimes they also allow them selves to cease living so that others do not.  They have finite time, like they are always at the end of a ravel, but this knowledge affects them all in different manners, even though the situation is the same in every case, they deviate wildly.

They are, frankly, adorable.  Without the slightest desire to gain merit for their components, without our noble precursors alongside them, they have crafted an incredibly complex series of systems and customs that give their constantly updating population a uniform seeming, though even this changes over time.  It is absolutely fascinating.

Pledged thus,

Studying Entity


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