I regarded the closed door, musing over how each of my comrades would have handled it.
Haunter, no doubt, would have availed herself of the services of one of her passengers. Surely she had someone in there who had built doors, or walls, or whatever. Maybe a thief, or a construction expert. That person would take care of the matter in short order.
Preventer would presumably just wait around until someone else opened the door, or it aged off its hinges, or what have you. Her problem solving method seemed to be a mix of bullying and whining, neither of which worked particularly well on inanimate obstacles.
Dale would kick the door down. Even though it was a prison door on a prison ship, made to be totally unable to be kicked down, I had faith he would do it. The only real question was whether he’d try and open it normally first.
And lastly, my beloved Fisher. She would proceed as she already had, sending her shadow beneath the door, then surfacing on the other side. Out of all of us she likely had the best gift for doors.
I flattered myself that I was the only one who would do the obvious thing, and turn away from the locked door altogether. Let it keep its secrets. There was another door on the far side, and it was already open.
I could have melted down the door, to be sure. I had burned two Ultras, I had power to spare. But going that way might lead to a reunion with Fisher, and a return to playacting. I’d much rather have a bit of fun first.
The opposite door opened into another hallway, this one at right angles to the first. There were two doors along its right wall, one open and the other closed, and another door at the far end, also closed.
I was nearly to the open door when someone stepped out of it. She was young, fair skinned and uniformed.
“Hi!” I said.
She glanced over, surprise stark on her face. A second later she had a boxy weapon in her hand and pointed at me.
“Easy there,” I said. “Easy.”
I could see the weapon shake, see her hand where it gripped it. I poured every ounce of my Ultra speed’s heightened perception into watching that hand, willing myself to see the twitch of the finger before it fired. A headshot could end my game right here and right now.
“Who are you?” she asked, a heavy accent marring her voice.
“I’m a friend,” I lied. “I’m with Gauntlet. I’m here to help with the emergency.”
I was just straight up guessing at this point. The screens made it seem like there was a problem, and I’d heard talk about Gauntlet being here, but I didn’t know whether the story I was giving was actually plausible or not.
There was a ‘whick-whick’ noise as she shot me, put two right my center of mass.
I roared into flame in an instant, surged towards her, and made an unhappy discovery.
The floors of this place were entirely inflammable. Some kind of plastic or other. That meant that I’d be burning power when I moved from person to person.
She didn’t shriek or cower, just fired a few more useless bursts into the fire, then tried to shield her eyes and face as she was engulfed.
The person inside the room did scream, however, and I got my first glimpse of its contents as I poured across the floor towards its inhabitants.
There were three in all, an older fellow with a clipboard and full beard who was staring at a monitor, another woman much like the one I’d just killed, who was putting down a can of some kind of drink, and a guy who had been on the girl’s heels, who was scrambling back away from me as he let out that piercing shriek.
“Holy Shi-Aiiii!” he screamed, as I caught on his legs and began to feast. Even as he went up the woman was taking action.
She pointed at us, eyes squinted in concentration, and all of a sudden we were rocketing out into the corridor.
A Union Ultra. This should be fun.
I hit the far wall still clinging to the screamer, not killing him for now, caught mostly on his clothes and skin. I was trying to figure out what had thrown us.
Was it a telekinetic gift? There’d been no sense of that, no feel like I sometimes got when an Entity was acting on the world. I felt like maybe I wasn’t the target, like it acted upon a broader area that I just happened to be in.
Then I noticed the ashes of the girl who’d shot me. They had fallen onto the wall too. There was no tactical reason for the Ultra to throw them over here, it was just part of her gift. She was changing gravity, or what direction ‘up’ was, or something similar. I was basically at the bottom of a well here on the wall, ‘falling’ sideways into it.
I slipped back into human form, collapsing myself onto the screamer, locking him in a headlock and using him to shield me from their guns.
Screen guy was up as well now, pointing a gun at me with wavering hands.
“I surrender!” I tried.
The Ultra had a look of intense concentration on her face. If I had my guess she was trying to figure out if she could kick up the pressure on us both and knock us out without killing my hostage.
The older guy yelled something back, gestured ‘down’ with his guns, like I was to drop the guy between us. That didn’t seem wise, so I ignored him. Well, mostly ignored him.
I desperately needed my burden here to be quiet so that me and the two enemies could hear one another, but killing him was a nonstarter. I slid one of my hands down into his mouth, pressing his tongue down and noting with distaste the way part of his face slid along with it.
Humans, even a little heat and they started going to pieces.
“… Surrender!” I could make out now, as my hostage fell silent for a moment.
“I accept,” I said, delighted. It was a dumb move, but hey, it would make my next meal a lot easier.
“YOU surrender!” said the Ultra, and we both creaked against the wall, made ‘heavier’ by an exertion of her gift.
Oh, yeah, I guess that made more sense as a demand. I must have missed the first part of his yelling.
“What will you do if I surrender?” I asked. “Will you throw me in with the other prisoners? Cuz I’d be totally ok with that!”
I saw them look to one another with confusion at that line, it would have been an opportunity to move if I’d been craving that, but I wanted a bit more information.
“Who sent you!” asked the guy. “Are you part of the Grand Push? Are you one of Zeus’ Valkyries?”
“Help!” yelled the woman, shouting out into the corridor. “We have an intruder!”
On the one hand, that was probably the smarter thing to do. On the other, who did she think would come who hadn’t already started heading over when the burned guy got started?
“Sure,” I said. “I’m a Grand Push Valkyrie. And I’m going to kill you if you don’t tell me where the prisoners are stashed. I’m not even after Andy. I just want to know where you keep your unconscious Ultras, and I’ll be out of your hair.”
“Shooth me!” screamed my hostage, who had somehow wormed his tongue out of my grip when I stopped paying so much attention to him.
That seemed to decide the older fellow, because he did exactly that, shooting right through the guy in order to plug me twice in the chest.
Second time with that shot pattern, they must have been trained for it.
Even as I thought that I assumed my true form once again, flattening along the plastic wall and searing my way into it.
Her gift had definitely intensified. It wasn’t just like I was at the bottom of a hole, it was like I was at the bottom of a hole and somehow I was ‘heavy’ fire. The body of the guy he’d just shot was sort of digging into the plastic, so there was definitely a lot of pressure here.
I flung a hand up, grimacing at the power it required, and detached a bolt of fire. She didn’t even bother to dodge, and its arc wilted long before it could reach her, falling back ‘down’ to where I smoldered on the wall.
I wracked my mind, trying to find an answer to this. I could go left or right, along the wall, but that would let her out into the corridor, and I was loathe to do that. The blind spot in the archway was my best shot at lighting her up. I needed to get at her from a vector she wasn’t looking, or she’d just make me ‘fall’ away.
“Yes!” yelled the man. “Hold him there. I’ll get help!”
He rushed back to his computer.
I wasn’t terribly frightened about him calling for backup. First off, that would be bringing the fuel to me, and would actually be kind of convenient. Next, there were a lot more Ultras than just myself intruding into this facility, so backup was probably really busy. Lastly, fright didn’t seem to really be an emotion that my Entity had seen fit to grace me with.
Could I go left or right and get across the hall fast enough to catch her as she came through the door after me? I didn’t think so. It was the obvious play, and it seemed like she’d be careful enough to avoid something like that. What could I…
I flung another firebolt, but this time I put a lot of effort into it, spent freely of my reserves. This one wasn’t aimed at her. Condemner had made something similar once, when we were fighting with Fifth Fist. The great demon form.
I crafted it and flung it along the wall to my right, a great fire beast racing away. I flared the light of my being as I did so, hopefully causing her to avert her gaze by the smallest amount.
As I did this I withdrew myself from the wall’s surface, smothering down to merest embers, burning in the remnants of the crushed, shot body of their colleague.
I could tell from the way her head snapped to the side that she’d fallen for it. Seeing one big fire race off and smoldering remnants stay in place, she naturally assumed that I was ‘in’ the larger, active one. She stepped closer to the door, and the body I was burning toppled down to the ground.
I was right about her caution. I’d never have caught her with a simple pounce form the doorframe. She swept it with her gravity before stepping out into the hall, her eyes wary and attentive, not entirely fixed on the place where my demon fireball was rapidly going out.
Still, though, she was just a human mind, in the end, and she didn’t have Ultra speed. For all her caution there was an opening, and I struck. I roared up out of the dead body and onto her in the instant her gaze went back to the fireball.
No screamer this one, instead her gravity rose against me, but it was too late. She had to pick a direction for it to push, and I was all around her now. In a scant few seconds her resistance was at an end, and she wilted away to ash.
I stepped forth in human form once again, as the man cringed in front of me, sort of hiding behind his chair, his mouth working frantically at a sort of call thing.
He raised his gun, I dove aside, hurling another firebolt as I did so.
His shots whizzed through the air behind me, even as the bolt caught on his gun hand. He waved it frantically in the air, trying to put it out.
Even as he did that I was rising up, and I neatly kicked him in the head, knocking him to the ground.
“P-please!” he said, sweat and tears streaming down his face, grinding the mangled hand against the plastic in an attempt to smother the fire.
I let it go out, reached down and dragged him up.
He let out a pained shout as I did that, but bit it off as my glare made my annoyance clear.
I slapped him back down into his chair, pushing the ‘off’ button on the communicator.
“What was that about a Grand Push?” I asked.
“Your unit,” he said, not seeming to fully understand. “That’s what we’re calling it. It isn’t an insult. I’m not trying to deny your divinity-“
I cut off the flow of pleading.
“The hoard?” he asked. “The Grand Host?”
“I’m from the Regime,” I told him, distaste in my voice.
I don’t have anything in particular against the Pantheon, of course, but it has always seemed obvious to me that the Regime is a cut above.
“That doesn’t make any-“ he clamped down again, eyes widening in fear.
“Why did you think we are in the Grand Host?” I asked. I put the pieces together.
“Wait, is the Grand Host on the move? Is that what your Grand Push is?”
He nodded furiously, pointing to the screen.
I looked at it. It was a map of the local area, and there was certainly a red arrow coming from Zilla’s fort, heading out into the badlands. It looked it had already reached the edge of the Pantheon’s shield.
That must be the emergency. That was why no one had spotted us on the way in. The Pantheon’s great attack had finally begun, and the Union was thrashing about to prepare a response.
Wait, this was a prison, what would it have to do with that?
“Why are you guys here?” I asked. “Are you just using Andy to help the Intervention Group, or is there another mission going on.”
“I don’t know!” he said. “I’m just a technician.”
“No,” I said. “You are just ashes.”
I burned him up, took his soul, all that stuff. It didn’t taste as good as usual, the experience soured by my lack of understanding of what was going on.
“Wait a sec,” I said out loud. “Wait a damn sec. The Grand Push can’t be happening. It doesn’t make any sense.”
I glared at the machine, but it just kept shining its idiot screen at me, entirely unintimidated by my gift.
How could this be?
Start at the beginning. Predictor had to have known about this. It must be why he’d launched our operation in the first place. The Union weren’t about to track a jailbreak in the middle of their long awaited final battle. That made sense.
And our objectives weren’t any different. They made sense too.
But the Pantheon’s, what on earth was going on there? How could Zilla’s army be on the march, when she was the only one who could give that order, and she was on a heist with us?
Wait, that wasn’t right.
Zilla wasn’t the only one who could give an order to the Grand Host. Death could have done it. Or Preventer, if they were serious about making her a leader.
I looked back at the arrow on the screen, grinning in appreciation of what was about to jump off.
“Welcome to the war front, Mr. Ruling Council Member.”