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.
“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.
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!