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.
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.