Regime Quest 9

Results from Previous round votes:

Three Votes:

Plan TalonofAnathrax, on SV forum

One Vote:

Plan CCC (on my blog)

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Winning Plan:

[X] Heal my wound

[X] Investigate Attack on me:

-[X] By asking Knights

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Day 5 Log:

5 AP at start of day

+0 for 6 hour sleep (no benefit due to blend maintenance) (5 AP)

-1 for [Morning] Heal my wound (4 AP)

No roll required

-2 for [Afternoon] Investigate attack on me [ Knights ] (2 AP)

Investigate roll: 2 (failure)

End of day, (2 AP).

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Heal myself with my gift:

“Damn it, Owner, I’ve explained this before!”

I’d elected to stay at home this morning, putting in the time to heal my wound before the world could get used to me in a wounded state.

I’d expected it to be a restful change of pace, but I hadn’t reckoned with my roomate’s insistent curiosity.

“I get that the plastic cards are worth more than the green paper,” she said.  “But why isn’t it the same every time?  Some of the ones I give my gift, I feel like it might actually be taking away from my total.”

“It isn’t that complicated,” I said.  “The card represents a big box of money somewhere else.  Each one is worth however much money is in the box.  That’s going to be more than any single piece of paper, but how much more is going to depend on the number of papers in the box, and what numbers are on each of them.”

The next worker stepped up, and she reached out and banished him into whatever alternate world her gift worked its magic in.

“So you are saying it doesn’t have anything to do with the numbers on the cards?  I know how cash is worth whatever the number is on it.  Why do the cards even have numbers on it if they don’t mean anything?”

“It’s like,” I struggled for a moment, trying to figure out the easiest way to say this without getting into the complexities of credit agreements, “the numbers are different on every card, right?  That’s how they know what box that card controls.”

“So the numbers are like the card’s name?” she asked, as the person who had worked the last shift winked back into existence beside her.

“Yes, exactly,” I said.

“So why do they also have names written on there?” she asked triumphantly.

I gritted my teeth and tried to make the time go faster.

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Investigate Attack on me [ask Knights]:

“A deplorable incident,” allowed the Knight Commander.

It was hard not to be intimidated by this woman.  The skull mask of the Knights was augmented, on their leadership, by a pair of antlers.  The robe had striping along the arms.  But the thing that made her frightening hung at her waste.

A shotgun, cut down for a quick draw, and no doubt blessed by Refiner’s power.

Only in Shington, only in their center of power within the Lair, would you find Knights so trusted.  Before such a firearm an Ultra was only a woman like any other, and could be cut down in the blink of an eye.

“An attack,” I stressed.  “not just an incident.”

But I couldn’t back down, couldn’t show any weakness or fear.  The Regime is no place for such things.  I had to put her in her place if I was to get anything out of this trip.

“Of course, Warlord,” she murmured.  “A deplorable attack.  We’ve taken the liberty of preparing the parties responsible.”

She stood and headed for the door, indicating that I should come along with her.

“Two of our newer members, I’m afraid, didn’t leave their regalia at home as they visited Blisser’s quarters.”

Blisser was an Ultra whose gift could induce mind bending euphoria in anyone she touched.  Ordinarily this would be too weak of a gift to allow one to operate within the Lair, but she benefited from the same kind of allowance that Owner did.

“I don’t see how that explains their actions,” I responded.

We left the ruined office complex, heading out into a courtyard, where she signaled a waiting Knight.

“They were not the ones who attacked you.  They spent their allotted time in Blisser’s den, where Resistance elements seized their scythes and used them against you.

I was pretty sure that they hadn’t been Resistance, but obviously that’s who would take the blame.  If this got back to Her there might even be a Decimation.  Ultras didn’t like it when anyone fought back.

The Knight returned, shoving a pair of blinking and abused figures before him.  These two had been stripped of their robes and beaten heavily.  Blood crusted on their mouths and nose, and I could see missing fingernails.

“We knew you’d prefer to handle their final sentence, Warlord.  Their carelessness put your life at risk, their own lives are scant recompense, but they are all that they have.”

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5 day progress report:

Goals:

Investigate Target:  I’ve learned the rough number of Ar Harbor’s defenders, as well as a brief description of their leadership.  I have also learned the rough contours of the kind of engagements that She will accept (open battle, we shouldn’t outnumber the enemy).  I can’t help but notice that that doesn’t sound like a recipe for victory.

I would like to learn more about the enemy’s gifts and overall situation.  The thought of putting my fate at risk in an even battle is hateful to me.  I’ve got to figure out some way to set things up so I’m sure that we will win, without that being obvious to anyone riding my senses.

Investigate Route: I was a Troubleshooter long enough to have few worries about getting to Ar Harbor.  The only thing giving me some pause is the news that the previous attack suffered Union strike before their arrival.  I’m relatively confident that I would ordinarily be able to evade Union patrols, but there is always the possibility that they are explicitly protecting Ar Harbor, which would be a huge complication.  I should probably double check that at some point.  If I’m going to be fighting the Union it would be great to know ahead of time.

Assemble Posse:  I’ve been focused on finding prospects for my Posse.  I am pretty content with the rate at which that is going.  I doubt I’ll need to search out too many more, just got to decide who I can trust.

Understand Snitcher:  I haven’t really started on this yet, but I think the time is coming.  Once I know the contours of his spying I can start contacting my KEM and Resistance contacts, and get them to take actions for me.  That should greatly increase the rate of my investigations, and they are also probably better at certain tasks than I am myself.

Assemble Warband:  I’m currently planning on leaving this until I have a Posse member to do it for me.  My time is too short to spend it herding young Ultras.

Complications:

Subtracter’s Errand:  I don’t have to take care of this till sometime after day 10.  Not looking forward to that.

My Attackers:  Someone is trying to kill me.  I’ll feel a lot better once I figure out who that is, and return the favor.

 

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Day 6:

Days remaining: 25

AP available: (2 end of last day + 0 for half night’s sleep while maintaining blend) = 2/10

Prestige: 3 (word of injury may reduce this if I don’t take public vengeance soon)

Timeslots available: 2 (morning, afternoon) + special action for responding to Knight scapegoat offer 

Posse: 0 out of 3 slots filled

Force size: 0

Condition: Healthy

 

(Ultra format: Role, Ultra Strength/Speed/Toughness, other gift description)

Ultra Allies:

Maker- Friend, and protégé of Snitcher, 0/0/1, can summon the spirit of things

Clawer – Ultra fighter 2/0/1, melee combatant, deadly hooks for hands

Stopper – partner of Clawer, 0/0/0, steals form’s velocity by looking at them

Sticker – Did dentistry for her brother, 0/0/2, Creates slime, can choose its stickiness

Ultra Enemies:

Masher- Enemy, and fellow protégé of Subtracter, 3*/0/3*, trades off strength and durability as she moves or stays still

Ultra Acquaintances:

Owner – housemate, 0/0/1 operates an imaginary firm, with real effects on the world,

Picker – First Fist protégé, 0/1/0, ‘selects the outcome of things’

Tracker – Running buddy, 1/0/1, Creates tracks, and can move things on them

Shower – Adder’s protégé, 1*/0/1*, gains strength and durability from witnesses

Echoer – Singer I am a fan of, 1/1/1, can duplicate any action that she sees

Bubbler – Operates Ultra clinic 0/0/?, traps things in bubbles that heal and move them

Sucker — Ultra entertainer, ?/?/?, pulls objects/people towards her at incredible rate

 Gunner — 0/0/1, she shoots tracking Ultra Blasts at roughly Ultra Strength One

Chiller —  1/0/1, can freeze any object she touches, leaving them brittle and easily broken

 Cutter —  1/1/1, she is a brutal front line combatant

Joker —  0/2/0, a woman who can change what other people/herself look like

Smasher —  3/0/1, a woman who is billed as the strongest Ultra fighter of all time

Swimmer —  1/0/1, she can ‘swim’ through solid surfaces

Burner —  0/0/1, she can summon Ultra fire from anywhere that she can see

Maxxer —  0/0/0, she can augment the gifts of other Ultras, pushing their gifts

Puncher —  1/0/1, her strength and speed both go up when she repeats her movements

Replayer —  1/2/0, she can ‘step back in time’ to undo damage that she takes

Builder —  0/0/0, a woman who can alter objects for miles around into other things

 

Faction Rankings:

Regime 7

KEM 8

Pantheon 2

Union 4

Resistance 9

Prevailer 3

 

Actions:

[ ] Respond to Knight Offer [0 AP, 0 time slots, gain 1 AP if I get rid of the bullet blend for Day 5 night’s sleep]

-[ ] Execute them.  These two are not actually responsible, but killing them will let me punish someone, thereby removing any possibility of losing prestige.  Further, I can rid myself of my bullet blend by transferring it to someone just about to die.  On the minus side, it will be next to impossible to continue to investigate the attack after officially punishing someone for it, and my rapport with KEM may be damaged (their membership and that of the Knights are rather intertwined.)

-[ ] Let them live.  Not punishing someone will allow me to continue investigating, and potentially find the actual responsible party.  My relations with the Knights, and potentially Second Fist will also improve, and KEM will hear that I had the chance to kill people and declined it, which may keep them from getting antsy about our continuing lack of communication.  On the other hand, the longer I don’t take revenge for this attack the greater the odds that I lose prestige over it, and I’ll still have to figure out a way to get rid of my bullet blend.

-[ ] Other (write in for details)

 

[ ] Get rid of my bullet blend (Timeslot cost: varies; AP cost 0, refunds 0 on success, unavailable if I already got rid of the bullet blend as part of resolving the Knight affair above)

Motives: I can’t rest until I drop this blend, and I can only do so on a person or an Ultra, or my turtle.

Concerns:  This blend would be practically a death sentence to anyone who doesn’t have at least Ultra Toughness one, and will have unpredictable consequences on the personality and capabilities of the recipient.

-[ ] Give it to an ordinary person (no timeslot cost)

Motives: If I can’t spare the time to find a proper target, I can just take the first person off the street.

Concerns: This would be acting like every Ultra I hate.  I’d be disgusted with myself.

-[ ] Give it to an Ultra I know [indicate name], one timeslot

Motives: An Ultra can survive this.  They would be a safe place for this gift.

Concerns: Strengthening a Regime Ultra won’t go over well with KEM.

-[ ] Give it to a weak Ultra from the outside, hopefully thereby generating a stronger Ultra who is likely to be loyal, two timeslots

Motives: If I don’t want to make a strong Ultra stronger, I can instead augment one of the weaker Regime Ultras.

Concerns: Leaving the Lair is always hazardous, particularly as I don’t currently have a warband out there.

-[ ] Give it to Napoleon (no timeslot cost)

Motives: Ultimately, it is just a turtle. 

Concerns: He is MY turtle, and turning him into a bullet turtle seems weird and bad.

 

[ ] Heal my wound (Timeslot cost: 1, AP cost 1, returns 0 on success)

Motives: I need more time to heal this wound, it is slowing me down

Concerns:  None (this action will automatically succeed)

 

[ ] Investigate attack on me (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success, not available if I punished the Knight scapegoats)

-[ ] By asking bystanders

Motives: The fake Knights came from somewhere, perhaps I can find someone who saw them don their disguises

Concerns: None

-[ ] By asking Blisser

Motives: She might well have seen who took the Knight’s scythes

Concerns: None

-[ ] Other (indicate specifics)

 

[ ] Seek Transportation

-[ ] Scavenge (Timeslot cost: 2; AP cost 4, refunds 3 on success)

Motive: My current transportation sufficed for me in my troubleshooter role, but I will likely require a larger vehicle, or several vehicles, in order to bring everyone to Ar Harbor. I can seek to find something in the suburbs and surrounding towns.

Concerns: Leaving Shington could be dangerous, and I am far from guaranteed to find a bus or truck suitable to my needs, as the area has already been heavily scavenged.

-[ ] Trade with existing owners (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: As above, but instead of fixing up ruined vehicles I’ll negotiate to get them from their current owners.

Concerns: Snitcher may disapprove of a warlord being civil

-[ ] Seize by force (Timeslot cost: 2; AP cost 4, refunds 3 on success)

Motive: As above, but instead of asking my contacts for vehicles I’ll just take what I want. My role as warlord and my Tally should minimize resistance

Concerns: People like their vehicles, and won’t like the one who takes them. I will make enemies.

-[ ] Seek Transportation [Adder + Company] (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: As above, but Adder can use his gift to make something for my purposes, and the Company can duplicate it and make it permanent.

Concerns: Adder and I are not close, he may decline to aid me, owing to his rivalry with my sponsor, Subtracter.

 

[ ] Seek Target Information

-[ ] Company (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: The Company logs every Ultra they create. Their Ar Harbor records would be useful information

Concerns: Ultras migrate and conceal their gifts, this information would be incomplete

-[ ] Subtracter (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 3, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: Subtracter is the military leader of the Regime, she will have information on this target

Concerns: Subtracter is stupid and violent, I don’t like to be around her

-[ ] Survivors (Timeslot cost:1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: There have been 2 other attempts at Ar Harbor. I can seek out and question survivors in the outer city.

Concerns: I may be unable to find any survivors, and I may be misled by liars.

 

[ ] Seek Posse Members

-[ ] wander & gossip, (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 1, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: There are dozens of powerful Ultras in the Lair. I know only the barest fraction of them. I can learn the basics on 1-6 of them in a few hours of socializing and gossiping, opening up in depth investigation options on them and adding them to my list of acquaintances.

Concerns: None

-[ ] At Ultra Fights, (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 1, refunds 1 on success)

Constraint: Only available in the afternoon or night on days divisible by 4 (day 4, 8, etc)

Motive: There are dozens of powerful Ultras in the Lair. I know only the barest fraction of them. I can learn the basics on 3-12 of them in a few hours of socializing and gossiping at this kind of event.

Concerns: Ultras associated with the Fights are more likely than most to be melee combatants.

 

[ ] Seek Warband Members

-[ ] At the Yard, (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: The Lair is surrounded by hundreds of Regime Ultras.  The strongest come to the Yard to show their power and appeal to those like me, who would give them purpose.  I should be able to gather between 5 and 20 Ultras of such caliber.

Concerns: I will need to provide housing and direction to these Ultras, or risk them wandering off.  I can expect to spend at least an action a day on them, and training them might well eat up more.  Ideally a Posse member will be tasked with this.

-[ ] [Gang name] From a Gang, (Timeslot cost: 2; AP cost 5, refunds 3 on success)

Motive: The Ultras that surround Shington are organized into Gangs dozens strong.  If I can recruit such a force I might have my whole Warband right there.

Concerns: These Ultras likely already have patrons in the Lair, who I would need to negotiate with.  Their leader would also likely want a place in my Posse, and she would be the primary locus of their loyalty until I’d had time to win them over.

 

 

[ ] Investigate Acquaintance:

-[ ] [Name], (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success, 2 if we become allies)

Motive: I can spend some serious one on one time with an Ultra I’ve chosen, evaluating the capability of their gift, the alignment of their values with mine, and their basic ccompetence. If all checks out, I might move them into my Ultra Allies column.

Concerns: None

 

[ ] Invite Ally into Posse:

-[ ] [Name], (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 3, refunds 3 on success)

Motive: If I want to bring an ally into my posse, get them to take actions on my behalf and rise or fall with me, this is the way to do it. I will only take this action on those I’ve already made allies, and once this has been taken it is difficult to undo.

Concerns: Posse members are most of the way into my circle of trust, and will operate on my behalf, representing me to stranger. A mistake here would be dangerous and damaging. I should be careful before taking this step, potentially investigating a prospect several times.

 

[ ] Seek Information on Snitcher’s patterns

-[ ] Passive listening (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 1, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: Snitcher can ride my senses at any moment, and bring Her along. If I am ever to contact my KEM allies, my resistance allies, or show any kindness or weakness whatsoever, I need to understand when this is likely to take place. Gossip can hint at this, particularly if I carefully steer conversations. This action would be mostly undetectable, even if he was riding me when I took it.

Concerns: None

-[ ] Active interrogation of Snitches (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 3, refunds 2 on success)

Motive: As above, but rather than listen for random gossip I will seek out other linked individuals and directly ask them how often he rides their senses, and what actions he has reacted to in the past.

Concerns: More likely Snitcher notices this, unknown consequences of that.

-[ ] Confront Snitcher Directly (Timeslot cost:1; AP cost 4, refunds 3 on success)

Motive: As above, but take the simplest possible route. Go to Snitcher and ask him for the deal.

Concerns: I am sponsored by Subtracter, not Snitcher, he may not wish to aid me. He may demand favors or other services in exchange for the information.

 

[ ] Seek Information on Regime military operations

-[ ] Ask Subtracter (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 3, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: My life depends on doing this right. I need to get a basic understanding of what She is expecting from my attack on Ar Harbor. Do I need to seize the Company Facility? Kill all the enemies? Are there any constraints on how I go about it? Subtracter is the leader of the Regime’s military, and my sponsor, she will know these answers.

Concerns: Subtracter is stupid and brutal, and she killed my neighbors, I hate spending time with her.

-[ ] Ask Around (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: As above, but ask survivors of previous missions instead of my evil boss.

Concerns: My predecessors may not have told them everything, their views of their missions may omit certain command level details that I need to worry about.

 

[ ] Relax and Recuperate

-[ ]By lounging around, (Timeslot cost: 1, AP cost 0, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: I could do with some rest.

Concerns: None

-[ ]By patronizing entertainment ares (Timeslot cost: 1, AP cost 1, refunds 3 on success)

Motive: I could do with some rest, and I might learn some things by socializing

Concerns: None

-[ ]By using my gift to repair the city (Timeslot cost: 1, AP cost 2, refunds 5 on success)

Motive: It needs to be done.

Concerns: This is not becoming behavior of a warlord, Snitcher may take notice, and people may talk

-[ ]By using my gift to heal people (Timeslot cost: 1, AP cost 1, refunds 5 on success)

Motive: This is why I have my gift.

Concerns: This is not becoming behavior of a warlord, Snitcher may take notice, and people may talk

 

[ ] Organize Armory [Timeslot cost: 1, AP cost 2, returns 2 on success)

Motive: I carry, in my backpack and on my person, various items to blend with if the need arises. I am overdue to look through my setup and take an inventory, once that is done I could seek out new objects if I am missing anything useful.

Concerns: None

 

[ ] Seek new residence [ Timeslot cost: 3, returns 1 if successful ]

Motive: I could get a lot more done if I got a full night’s sleep

Concerns: Owner and I have guarded one another’s rest for a long time. I wouldn’t necessarily be able to trust a new person to the same extent.

 

KEM Actions: (Sealed until I figure out how to deal with Snitcher’s surveillance, or resolve to defy him)

Resistance Actions: (Sealed until I figure out how to deal with Snitcher’s surveillance, or resolve to defy him)

 

[ ] Action: Other (Timeslot cost: x, returns x if successful)

Motive [Write in]

Concerns: [Write in]

 

Regime Quest: 8

Results from Previous round votes:

Two Votes:

Plan Nevill, on SV forum

One Vote:

Plan CCC (on my blog)

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Winning Plan:

[X] Defeat the Knights them (Timeslot cost: Special; AP cost 0, refunds 1 on success)

-[X] Incapacitate them

[X] Investigate Acquaintance:

-[X] Sticker, (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success, 2 if we become allies)

[x] Seek Posse Members

-[x] At Ultra Fights, (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 1, refunds 1 on success)

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Day 4 Log:

4 AP at start of day

+0 for 6 hour sleep (due to blend maintenance) (4 AP)

+1 for victory over Knights (5 AP)
roll of 1 provokes injury/destroys evidence

-2 for [Morning] Investigate Sticker (3 AP)

Roll of 5 (-1 for injury = 4)

Success, returns 2 for alliance (5 AP)

-1 for [Afternoon] Seek Posse Members [ Ultra Fights] (4 AP)

Investigate Acquaintance roll: 9 (Success)

+1 for Success (5 AP)

End of day, (5 AP).

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Defend myself from Knights [Do not kill, ok to use arsenal]:

The blade dropped down at me like an implement of execution, but a last minute roll saw it sink instead into the pavement.  I’d rolled towards my assailant, my shoulders and side impacting with his boots and robes.

I swung a hand up, capturing my attacker around their knee, toppling them over onto me.

I rolled again, desperate.  In my haste to knock my immediate opponent off their feet I’d lost track of the other Knight.  I had to assume he was coming in for another swipe, and with robes fouling my gaze I had to guess about the trajectory.

If I rolled and he was swinging his blade across the ground like a farmer I’d roll right into it.  If I sprang up and he was swinging down like someone hammering in a tent stake then I’d rise up directly into the strike.

Fortunately, I didn’t lack for resources.  In the split second where the falling Knight shielded me I reached out with my gift for the bullet that I had taped to my arm, pulling for Fastness and ‘firing’ myself the instant I felt the capacity rise within me.

‘Fastness’ was an imprecise description, of course, the actual quality was something more like ‘firingness’ or ‘bulletness’, whatever it was that let a bullet zip through the world faster than the eye could follow.

I shot out of my predicament with similar celerity, altering my trajectory at the last second so that I didn’t slam into my attacker, unwilling to chance my gift against Refiner’s famous blessing, and also hoping to leave something to interrogate.

My alteration was, perhaps, a little hasty.  I ended up digging a furrow across the street, grinding my head and shoulders through the pavement as I shot away from my assailants.  My durability protected me from serious damage, but my head was spinning and my eyes were watering as I finally got back to my feet.

They didn’t give me any time to rest, charging at me the instant I slipped back into human time.  I had to be careful now, my blend with the bullet could blast me off at any moment if I wasn’t careful.

I stretched out my arm as the first Knight closed, reaching around the Scythe and grabbing it by the handle.  He wrenched at it, but I let him drag me back along with it, my hand clenched firmly beneath the blade, controlling the arcs he had access to.

The Knight’s scythes were terror weapons, for the most part.  There was a reason that nobody had ever equipped soldiers with scythes.  They need a lot of room to swing, they weren’t terribly hard to carry, and they had a tendency to get caught up on things.

Consequently I didn’t have to worry about the second Knight as I grappled with the first.  The only swings he could make were large and predictable, and it would be simple enough to push his partner into the way.

The guy whose scythe I was holding made a quick decision, letting go of one hand and trying to pie face me with it, smooshing his fingers and wrist against my Ultra tough face, presumably in an effort to keep me blind and off balance.

I didn’t fall for it, ignoring all of his efforts and focusing on the scythe.  He couldn’t hurt me, couldn’t do any lasting harm.  He was just trying to let his partner get the clean shot that they needed in with the other blessed scythe.

I was ready for it when his partner swung, dragging him into the way, fouling the swing with the blessed cloth of Refiner’s-

The cloth wasn’t blessed.  These ‘Knights’ had real scythes, but fake robes.  The blade swung unhindered through the first guy’s robes, through his torso and sunk deep into my side.

No more time for mercy, no time for anything.  If they didn’t have real Knight’s robes, then there wasn’t anything stopping me from ending this.  I put my hand to the wound and called on my blend again, blasting forward through my last assailant and simply obliterating him in a brutal full body collision of my ultra tough form and his human body.

He just shattered, blasted into unrecognizable gibbets of flesh.

I reeled in place, hand pressed to the deep bleeding wound in my side.  I swayed where I stood.

I gave a quick look around.  Both Knights were indisputably dead.  The first had nearly been bisected, the second obliterated by my bullet speed body check.  There was nothing more to them.

“Nice job,” said Owner.

I nodded to her and stepped inside, every ounce of my energy going to keeping my stride unwavering, my face relaxed.

Only after the door had closed did I permit myself to crumple to my knees, the stain on my side spreading despite my best efforts.

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Investigate Sticker:

I wasn’t a hundred percent the next morning, but a long night of using my healing gift had born fruit.  The gash in my side was mostly closed up, and as long as I didn’t put too much pressure on my core I could generally ignore it.

I’d been tempted to stay in my house and rest up, but the Regime had a nose for weakness.  The most important thing was to show no weakness, no disruption to my schedule.  I set out to investigate another prospect without any delay.

I’d known Sticker on and off, for quite a while.  She had a good head on her shoulders, and her gift was stronger than I thought she realized.

First off, she was Ultra tough two.  I could occasionally ape that capability, when I used my blends to steal durability or endurance.  But she had the real thing, the full time invincibility to conventional weapons that had allowed the Ultras to destroy the Old World’s militaries.

Her other gift, the one that she was named for, was also better than I thought she realized.  She didn’t secrete her slime, she just kind of conjured it, and that amount didn’t seem to be limited in any real way.

I’d made arrangements to meet her for breakfast, so we dropped by Owner’s facility, picking chips and what I’d once have called bad gas station food, sausage biscuits and the like off of the rack.

“What’re you up to nowadays?” I asked her.  “I haven’t seen you in a minute.”

She grinned, reaching up and scratching her nose.

“Still doing my building thing,” she said.  “I really think She will realize what a big deal that is one of these days.”

“Oh?” I said.

It was rare for anyone to deliberately try to come to Her attention.

“Yeah,” she said.  “You know how my slime can be as tough as I want, right?”

“Sure,” I said.

“I hadn’t realized it before, but it can actually be Ultra Tough.  I got some Knights to try and test it, and my hardest slime is about as tough as their ropes.”

I chuckled, doing my best not to start at the mention of Knights.  Anyone else and I might think that they were trying to provoke me, drawing attention to my attackers to throw me off or something, but Sticker didn’t have a sneaky bone in her body.

“Holy shit,” I said.  “That’s incredible.”

I meant that.  I’d believed in her gift even before knowing it, but with this power she would be easily powerful enough to be a Posse member.

“I know, right?” she gushed.  “So I’m putting it to use.  I’ve been sliming the wall, putting my gunk all along the inside.  We are gonna have an Ultra Tough wall, nobody is gonna expect that!”

I grinned, almost in spite of myself.  The notion that anyone who would dare to attack Shington, the seat of the Regime, would be put off by some gunk along the inside of the wall was ridiculous.  But it was characteristic of Sticker, the product of her endless belief in herself.

“Genius,” I said.  “That’ll catch em off guard.  Imagine trying to bash through a wall, only to get stuck like fly paper.”

She laughed easily, munching on a chip.

“What’re you up to nowadays?” she asked.  “Did that whole fighting thing pan out?”

“A little,” I said.  “I’m actually the Warlord now.”

“Oh wow!” she said, eyes wide.  “You get to take the fight to our enemies.  That must be so exciting!”

I took a bit out of my sandwich, relishing the taste as I mentally checked ‘willingness’ off of her entry in my list.

*************************************************************************************

Seek Posse Members at Ultra Fights:

The evening found me at the Deeps, an old toppled skyscraper that had been cored like an apple by an Ultra gift.

I was given a place of honor, the fans crowded away from me by the officious staff.  Ordinarily I might have objected, might have sat squarely in the midst of the crowd, but the Knight attack had me careful.  I had a hidden enemy, one who had no qualms about striking through anonymous pawns.  Crowds had become dangerous to me.

I didn’t relish the thought, but facts had to be faced.  I let the workers keep me sequestered and gave my full attention to the matches.

Someone had clearly told the participants that I was out here,  because throughout the night they directed their performances my way.  It seemed like every one of them got a moment in the spotlight, their gifts carefully trotted out for my perusal.

The Ultras that I thought might be Posse material were as follows:

1: Gunner, 0/0/1, she shoots tracking Ultra Blasts at roughly Ultra Strength One
2: Chiller, 1/0/1, can freeze any object she touches, leaving them brittle and easily broken
3: Cutter, 1/1/1, she is a brutal front line combatant
4: Joker, 0/2/0, a woman who can change what other people/herself look like
5: Smasher, 3/0/1, a woman who is billed as the strongest Ultra fighter of all time
6: Swimmer, 1/0/1, she can ‘swim’ through solid surfaces
7: Burner, 0/0/1, she can summon Ultra fire from anywhere that she can see
8: Maxxer, 0/0/0, she can augment the gifts of other Ultras, pushing their gifts
9: Puncher, 1/0/1, her strength and speed both go up when she repeats her movements
10: Replayer, 1/2/0, she can ‘step back in time’ to undo damage that she takes
11: Builder, 0/0/0, a woman who can alter objects for miles around into other things

I took furious notes, and was utterly unsurprised when, on my way out the door, the manager let me know that they’d be happy to put me in contact with any of their prospects that I might be interested in.

I might well take them up on it.

*************************************************************************************

Day 5:

Days remaining: 26 ***

AP available: (5 end of last day + 0 for half night’s sleep) = 5/10

Prestige: 3 (word of injury may reduce this if I don’t take public vengeance soon)

Timeslots available: 2 (morning, afternoon) 

Posse: 0 out of 3 slots filled

Force size: 0

Condition: Moderate Injury (-2 on fight, -1 on socialize with Regime members), will last till day 8 if not healed with an action

 

(Ultra format: Role, Ultra Strength/Speed/Toughness, other gift description)

Ultra Allies:

Maker- Friend, and protégé of Snitcher, 0/0/1, can summon the spirit of things

Clawer – Ultra fighter 2/0/1, melee combatant, deadly hooks for hands

Stopper – partner of Clawer, 0/0/0, steals form’s velocity by looking at them

Sticker – Did dentistry for her brother, 0/0/2, Creates slime, can choose its stickiness

Ultra Enemies:

Masher- Enemy, and fellow protégé of Subtracter, 3*/0/3*, trades off strength and durability as she moves or stays still

Ultra Acquaintances:

Owner – housemate, 0/0/1 operates an imaginary firm, with real effects on the world,

Picker – First Fist protégé, 0/1/0, ‘selects the outcome of things’

Tracker – Running buddy, 1/0/1, Creates tracks, and can move things on them

Shower – Adder’s protégé, 1*/0/1*, gains strength and durability from witnesses

Echoer – Singer I am a fan of, 1/1/1, can duplicate any action that she sees

Bubbler – Operates Ultra clinic 0/0/?, traps things in bubbles that heal and move them

Sucker — Ultra entertainer, ?/?/?, pulls objects/people towards her at incredible rate

 Gunner — 0/0/1, she shoots tracking Ultra Blasts at roughly Ultra Strength One

Chiller —  1/0/1, can freeze any object she touches, leaving them brittle and easily broken

 Cutter —  1/1/1, she is a brutal front line combatant

Joker —  0/2/0, a woman who can change what other people/herself look like

Smasher —  3/0/1, a woman who is billed as the strongest Ultra fighter of all time

Swimmer —  1/0/1, she can ‘swim’ through solid surfaces

Burner —  0/0/1, she can summon Ultra fire from anywhere that she can see

Maxxer —  0/0/0, she can augment the gifts of other Ultras, pushing their gifts

Puncher —  1/0/1, her strength and speed both go up when she repeats her movements

Replayer —  1/2/0, she can ‘step back in time’ to undo damage that she takes

Builder —  0/0/0, a woman who can alter objects for miles around into other things

 

Faction Rankings:

Regime 7

KEM 8

Pantheon 2

Union 4

Resistance 9

Prevailer 3

 

Actions:

[ ] Get rid of my bullet blend (Timeslot cost: varies; AP cost 0, refunds 0 on success)

Motives: I can’t rest until I drop this blend, and I can only do so on a person or an Ultra, or my turtle.

Concerns:  This blend would be practically a death sentence to anyone who doesn’t have at least Ultra Toughness one, and will have unpredictable consequences on the personality and capabilities of the recipient.

-[ ] Give it to an ordinary person (no timeslot cost)

Motives: If I can’t spare the time to find a proper target, I can just take the first person off the street.

Concerns: This would be acting like every Ultra I hate.  I’d be disgusted with myself.

-[ ] Give it to an Ultra I know [indicate name], one timeslot

Motives: An Ultra can survive this.  They would be a safe place for this gift.

Concerns: Strengthening a Regime Ultra won’t go over well with KEM.

-[ ] Give it to a weak Ultra from the outside, hopefully thereby generating a stronger Ultra who is likely to be loyal, two timeslots

Motives: If I don’t want to make a strong Ultra stronger, I can instead augment one of the weaker Regime Ultras.

Concerns: Leaving the Lair is always hazardous, particularly as I don’t currently have a warband out there.

-[ ] Give it to Napoleon (no timeslot cost)

Motives: Ultimately, it is just a turtle. 

Concerns: He is MY turtle, and turning him into a bullet turtle seems weird and bad.

 

[ ] Heal my wound (Timeslot cost: 1, AP cost 1, returns 0 on success)

Motives: I need more time to heal this wound, it is slowing me down

Concerns:  None (this action will automatically succeed)

 

[ ] Investigate attack on me (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

-[ ] By asking bystanders

Motives: The fake Knights came from somewhere, perhaps I can find someone who saw them don their disguises

Concerns: None

-[ ] By asking Knights

Motives: They had real Knight scythes, those must have come from somewhere

Concerns: I don’t like associating with the Knights, or their master.  They may well be behind the attack, and could take the opportunity to strike again.

-[ ] Other (indicate specifics)

 

[ ] Seek Transportation

-[ ] Scavenge (Timeslot cost: 2; AP cost 4, refunds 3 on success)

Motive: My current transportation sufficed for me in my troubleshooter role, but I will likely require a larger vehicle, or several vehicles, in order to bring everyone to Ar Harbor. I can seek to find something in the suburbs and surrounding towns.

Concerns: Leaving Shington could be dangerous, and I am far from guaranteed to find a bus or truck suitable to my needs, as the area has already been heavily scavenged.

-[ ] Trade with existing owners (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: As above, but instead of fixing up ruined vehicles I’ll negotiate to get them from their current owners.

Concerns: Snitcher may disapprove of a warlord being civil

-[ ] Seize by force (Timeslot cost: 2; AP cost 4, refunds 3 on success)

Motive: As above, but instead of asking my contacts for vehicles I’ll just take what I want. My role as warlord and my Tally should minimize resistance

Concerns: People like their vehicles, and won’t like the one who takes them. I will make enemies.

-[ ] Seek Transportation [Adder + Company] (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: As above, but Adder can use his gift to make something for my purposes, and the Company can duplicate it and make it permanent.

Concerns: Adder and I are not close, he may decline to aid me, owing to his rivalry with my sponsor, Subtracter.

 

[ ] Seek Target Information

-[ ] Company (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: The Company logs every Ultra they create. Their Ar Harbor records would be useful information

Concerns: Ultras migrate and conceal their gifts, this information would be incomplete

-[ ] Subtracter (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 3, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: Subtracter is the military leader of the Regime, she will have information on this target

Concerns: Subtracter is stupid and violent, I don’t like to be around her

-[ ] Survivors (Timeslot cost:1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: There have been 2 other attempts at Ar Harbor. I can seek out and question survivors in the outer city.

Concerns: I may be unable to find any survivors, and I may be misled by liars.

 

[ ] Seek Posse Members

-[ ] wander & gossip, (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 1, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: There are dozens of powerful Ultras in the Lair. I know only the barest fraction of them. I can learn the basics on 1-6 of them in a few hours of socializing and gossiping, opening up in depth investigation options on them and adding them to my list of acquaintances.

Concerns: None

-[ ] At Ultra Fights, (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 1, refunds 1 on success)

Constraint: Only available in the afternoon or night on days divisible by 4 (day 4, 8, etc)

Motive: There are dozens of powerful Ultras in the Lair. I know only the barest fraction of them. I can learn the basics on 3-12 of them in a few hours of socializing and gossiping at this kind of event.

Concerns: Ultras associated with the Fights are more likely than most to be melee combatants.

 

[ ] Seek Warband Members

-[ ] At the Yard, (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: The Lair is surrounded by hundreds of Regime Ultras.  The strongest come to the Yard to show their power and appeal to those like me, who would give them purpose.  I should be able to gather between 5 and 20 Ultras of such caliber.

Concerns: I will need to provide housing and direction to these Ultras, or risk them wandering off.  I can expect to spend at least an action a day on them, and training them might well eat up more.  Ideally a Posse member will be tasked with this.

-[ ] [Gang name] From a Gang, (Timeslot cost: 2; AP cost 5, refunds 3 on success)

Motive: The Ultras that surround Shington are organized into Gangs dozens strong.  If I can recruit such a force I might have my whole Warband right there.

Concerns: These Ultras likely already have patrons in the Lair, who I would need to negotiate with.  Their leader would also likely want a place in my Posse, and she would be the primary locus of their loyalty until I’d had time to win them over.

 

 

[ ] Investigate Acquaintance:

-[ ] [Name], (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success, 2 if we become allies)

Motive: I can spend some serious one on one time with an Ultra I’ve chosen, evaluating the capability of their gift, the alignment of their values with mine, and their basic ccompetence. If all checks out, I might move them into my Ultra Allies column.

Concerns: None

 

[ ] Invite Ally into Posse:

-[ ] [Name], (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 3, refunds 3 on success)

Motive: If I want to bring an ally into my posse, get them to take actions on my behalf and rise or fall with me, this is the way to do it. I will only take this action on those I’ve already made allies, and once this has been taken it is difficult to undo.

Concerns: Posse members are most of the way into my circle of trust, and will operate on my behalf, representing me to stranger. A mistake here would be dangerous and damaging. I should be careful before taking this step, potentially investigating a prospect several times.

 

[ ] Seek Information on Snitcher’s patterns

-[ ] Passive listening (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 1, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: Snitcher can ride my senses at any moment, and bring Her along. If I am ever to contact my KEM allies, my resistance allies, or show any kindness or weakness whatsoever, I need to understand when this is likely to take place. Gossip can hint at this, particularly if I carefully steer conversations. This action would be mostly undetectable, even if he was riding me when I took it.

Concerns: None

-[ ] Active interrogation of Snitches (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 3, refunds 2 on success)

Motive: As above, but rather than listen for random gossip I will seek out other linked individuals and directly ask them how often he rides their senses, and what actions he has reacted to in the past.

Concerns: More likely Snitcher notices this, unknown consequences of that.

-[ ] Confront Snitcher Directly (Timeslot cost:1; AP cost 4, refunds 3 on success)

Motive: As above, but take the simplest possible route. Go to Snitcher and ask him for the deal.

Concerns: I am sponsored by Subtracter, not Snitcher, he may not wish to aid me. He may demand favors or other services in exchange for the information.

 

[ ] Seek Information on Regime military operations

-[ ] Ask Subtracter (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 3, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: My life depends on doing this right. I need to get a basic understanding of what She is expecting from my attack on Ar Harbor. Do I need to seize the Company Facility? Kill all the enemies? Are there any constraints on how I go about it? Subtracter is the leader of the Regime’s military, and my sponsor, she will know these answers.

Concerns: Subtracter is stupid and brutal, and she killed my neighbors, I hate spending time with her.

-[ ] Ask Around (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: As above, but ask survivors of previous missions instead of my evil boss.

Concerns: My predecessors may not have told them everything, their views of their missions may omit certain command level details that I need to worry about.

 

[ ] Relax and Recuperate

-[ ]By lounging around, (Timeslot cost: 1, AP cost 0, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: I could do with some rest.

Concerns: None

-[ ]By patronizing entertainment ares (Timeslot cost: 1, AP cost 1, refunds 3 on success)

Motive: I could do with some rest, and I might learn some things by socializing

Concerns: None

-[ ]By using my gift to repair the city (Timeslot cost: 1, AP cost 2, refunds 5 on success)

Motive: It needs to be done.

Concerns: This is not becoming behavior of a warlord, Snitcher may take notice, and people may talk

-[ ]By using my gift to heal people (Timeslot cost: 1, AP cost 1, refunds 5 on success)

Motive: This is why I have my gift.

Concerns: This is not becoming behavior of a warlord, Snitcher may take notice, and people may talk

 

[ ] Organize Armory [Timeslot cost: 1, AP cost 2, returns 2 on success)

Motive: I carry, in my backpack and on my person, various items to blend with if the need arises. I am overdue to look through my setup and take an inventory, once that is done I could seek out new objects if I am missing anything useful.

Concerns: None

 

[ ] Seek new residence [ Timeslot cost: 3, returns 1 if successful ]

Motive: I could get a lot more done if I got a full night’s sleep

Concerns: Owner and I have guarded one another’s rest for a long time. I wouldn’t necessarily be able to trust a new person to the same extent.

 

KEM Actions: (Sealed until I figure out how to deal with Snitcher’s surveillance, or resolve to defy him)

Resistance Actions: (Sealed until I figure out how to deal with Snitcher’s surveillance, or resolve to defy him)

 

[ ] Action: Other (Timeslot cost: x, returns x if successful)

Motive [Write in]

Concerns: [Write in]

 

Interlude : Battle : 2

The first that General Greggs knew of the growing calamity was a soft tone from her earpiece, an automated warning from SPARTACUS’ lower functions. It indicated an unacceptable rate of attrition.
Her brow furrowed, eyes rapidly scanning the field before dropping to the screen at her side. She saw nothing to concern her, at first.
The Grand Host still roiled and churned under the onslaught of her drones. The Union forces still encircled their foes, still poured their own gifts and exotic weapons into an enemy rendered as vulnerable as they could possibly ever be.
“No,” she gasped softly, as she saw the source of the computer’s alarm.
The Brides Of Zeus had moved to the front of their mob, true enough, but they hadn’t stopped there. Hadn’t really even slowed down. Instead they surged ahead, charging madly into the encircling forces, hymns and wild laughter rising to contend with the bedlam of battle.
The members of the Union’s Intervention Forces, perhaps the single most elite and decorated Ultrahuman combatants on the planet, came face to face with their enemy’s ultimate weapon, and they could not cope.
In the camps and training grounds of the Union there was a question which was occasionally bruited about.
“Which was more important, skill in battle, or raw Ultra power?”
The military’s answer had always been that, Prevailer aside, the two went hand in hand. The Pantheon reliably squandered its mightiest Ultras, deploying them piecemeal in the midst of hosts of disposable fodder, leaving them easy prey for outnumbering throngs of Union forces to pick apart. The forces of the enemy could never become veterans, never really master their gifts, not when their first engagement was so often their last, while the Union’s forces would grow strong on the fruit of hundreds of victories.
This answer had held for a long time. Year after year the Pantheon tide had risen, and year after year they had been utterly broken. The Union’s way of war could no longer be doubted.
It didn’t hold any more.
The gifts that the Brides deployed in this battle would not have been out of place in Regime Fists, had been carefully selected by Death and her minions as the best of all possible weapons. They were utterly lethal.
Comet waved a hand, and the trajectory of every incoming attack within the area she mastered altered in an instant, lines of folded space and projectiles alike seeking their points of origin. Darwin clenched a fist, and a wave of insanity rippled forward in a great cone shape, humans and Ultras without sufficient durability dropping their weapons and leaping upon one another in a frenzy of violence. Sodom made no gesture at all, but a statue of salt bloomed where once a Union officer, a champion in the Gauntlet had stood.
These Ultras and dozens more just as mighty pushed into the Unions’ ranks, and there was simply no answer to be found.
The Union had always relied upon greater numbers to subdue the occasional Pantheon God who proved too strong for their usual tactics. Their computers would analyze the enemy’s gift, they’d search their own membership for appropriate countermeasures, and they’d ultimately execute the optimal counterstrategy.
There was no time for that here, and not nearly enough resources for so many threats at once.
SPARTACUS had been trained on the Interventions, and reacted to a powerful Ultra by making it the focus of its battlefield control, tasking nearby assets to appropriate countermeasures. Its instructions were worse than useless in this situation, as the enemy’s threat profile scaled towards the apocalyptic. Each Union combatant heard the chimes for their nearest foe over and over as each exceed the other’s threat profile, were ordered to the aid of their colleagues a dozen times in as many seconds.
General Greggs saw all this as it happened, watched the Pantheon’s champions press into her forces’ ranks, and knew that she should call the retreat. But no words came out.
They had bested this enemy. They’d done it so many times. She had bet everything that today was no different, had pressed forward with this bold strategy and had ultimately wrong footed her foe and forced them into a bombardment that should have proven lethal. Everything she’d done, in her whole career, had been leading to this moment, the moment when she defended her nation, broke the Grand Host and saved the world.
The soft chime of the com broke the spell, after wasted, fateful seconds.
“Retreat!” she shouted into the com. “Get out of there!”
There would be no need to specify the order of withdrawal, or the nature of departure. The com system was better at that than any human could be. It would interpret her words, would filter the directives to those who needed to hear them. She’d done the important part, she’d made the choice, provided the agency that the computers could never have.
“Gut face”, said her com, its voice a young girl’s, her accent harsh and irregular, like someone sounding out the words.
“Retreat!” she repeated, even as it responded “Boot face!”
General Greggs didn’t waste any more time on her com, gesturing instead for an associate to lean over, making a handing gesture at him.
“Fuck bitch!” said her com.
“Who is this?” she asked, though she had a pretty good idea.
“Vampire talks!” said the com. “Your words go through dark, so they are mine!”
Even as the enemy spouted their propaganda she could see her delegate giving the retreat order, see its effects propagate out across the force. This communication interdiction seemed to be confined to her own person.
“This is General Greggs, I’ve been authorized to offer amnesty and accommodations, contingent upon your immediate surrender…”
She hadn’t, of course, but the longer she could keep the enemy commander distracted the longer it would be before their Host took any further decisive actions.
“No Surrender! We kill you, kill you twice! Even suffer more, suffer like stars, cold in high sky!”
Across the field, the Union fell back. More accurately, they fled. There was no way to really give cover fire when your enemy was invincible, no way to shield an ally when the attack in question would pierce through you both.
The Intervention Forces appeared to rout, their fate the same as any of their victims over the years. In the face of superior power they could do nothing else.
“We will beat you!” shouted General Greggs to her adversary, trying desperately to keep her occupied. “Your losses today will seem like nothing compared to-“
A burst of girlish laughter cut her short.
“No losses, see Easter work?”
And, appallingly, impossibly, the Pantheon’s shield climbed back into the sky.
A second Ultra with such a gift? The Pantheon had held back such an asset all this time? The general grabbed for an imager, cursing under her breath as impossible and nightmarish explanations warred within her mind.
In the heart of the Pantheon’s throng a pile of corpses was being assembled. Ultra bodies were passed hand to hand through their ranks, arriving at the feat of a dusky woman in white, and then rising, beyond all reason, to their feet, alive once more.
“Losses for you!” chirped her com. “All you be losses!”
With that pronouncement the Ultra who generated the shield took action, pushing her arms up and exerting her gift once more. The shield shot outward, passing rapidly through the pursuing Host, through the retreating Union personnel, and reestablishing itself around the entire battlefield.
It might have passed through the Host, but it didn’t show the same courtesy to the drones, barging them out of the air with brute power and pushing them back beyond its boundaries. The Union’s air superiority was stolen away in an instant.
“All forces…” said Greggs, having now grabbed her subordinate’s com and brought both devices to her mouth.
And then she stalled, her words turning to sand in her throat.
What could she do? What order could she give? If they withdrew the enemy would recover all of their losses, this ‘Easter’ unmaking the effect of their assault in the span of a few hours. But if they did not withdraw they would fall.
That much had become apparent. These Brides were simply too fearsome to face in a pitched battle. She didn’t need to read the detailed casualty ratios to know that. She’d pit her troops against anyone in the world, if the power was even remotely equal, but these Goddesses broke all the rules.
“What do we do?” cried a junior officer, com discipline breaking down in the face of annihilation. The device showed a brief video broadcast from his location, where a Bride was hurling Pantheon forces into them like discuses.
“We fight!” she said, not realizing until the words had left her mouth what she was going to say.
But as soon as she said it, the truth of the matter was obvious.
Retreat was a trap. The shielding Ultra had a range that was measured in miles, and with the skiffs hedged out the Pantheon forces were no slower than their quarry. No matter how far they withdrew they couldn’t expect to escape.
Beyond that, this battle’s outcome was unacceptable. They’d done damage, had given lives to deal damage. Half of the Grand Host or more, perhaps ten percent of the Brides. If they left now it would all be undone, the attrition vanished away and unhappened by the Pantheon’s arbitrary horseshit.
“You die!” sneered her shadow, the voice no longer pretending to come out of her com. “Easter let us kill you ten times! Burn to death, maggots in cunt! Your time over!”
She put aside the threats of the enemy’s teenaged commander. She was irrelevant, save for any weaknesses that she might betray. She’d already blundered badly by revealing their resurrection trick before the withdrawal could be completed. Greggs felt no compunctions about leaving her in command for the Fourth Army to take care of.
“Move out, targets as indicated. Let’s finish the job!” she told the com, sketching out a hasty plan across its screen.
It was rushed, was flawed, but it would have to do. She could have done better with a few hours of preparation, could have benefited from the usual rehearsal session with her advisors, her commanders and SPARTACUS, but the option wasn’t there. War had returned to its roots, and her training had emphasized, should the situation come up, that a bad plan now was better than a great plan later.
And hers was a bad plan. They needed to kill Easter, needed to cut off their enemies attrition protection at its root. But they had no way to reach her, no way to cut through the Brides in order to force her to expose herself.
No way but one.
The Brides were not soldiers, they were barely warriors. They were murderous children, and they had no restraint, no discipline. Given the chance, they would charge.
Greggs orders gave them that chance.
At her command the Union’s forces reversed course, headed back into the teeth of their pursuers.
The sudden reversal gave them the advantage at first. The Pantheon’s forces, heedless and slipshod in victory, hadn’t bothered with anything so lame as a formation. Their pursuit had stretched them out by their speed, each gathered only with those who shared their particular velocity.
As the Union turned about they enjoyed a brief numerical advantage, catching their fleetest pursuers off guard with a sudden swell of numbers, disposing of those among them who weren’t invulnerable before the next wave caught up.
Greggs watched the action on her com, giving rapid fire orders as both surrounding forces collapsed onto their enemy, as the chase became a battle once again.
Their brief advantage couldn’t last. The Brides among the enemy’s number were still too resilient, too fierce to be defeated in detail. They stalled the push long enough for more Host members to arrive, for the Pantheon’s throng to recover its weight of numbers.
“Pull back,” breathed Greggs, and the veterans of the Union fell back once more, uninterested in a straight up battle.
This time there was no call to feign a route, no attempt to present this as anything other than a tactic. They rushed away from their enemy without subterfuge, hoping that the Pantheon would repeat its earlier mistake, would once again segregate by speed and give them a brief numerical edge.
They weren’t disappointed.
Even as the process was repeating Greggs was scanning frantically, swiping the com’s viewpoint between all of the sniper units she could find. None of them could draw a bead on Easter, the enemy still clustered too thick around her.
It wasn’t any deliberate attempt to shield her, of course. It was simply the natural consequence of her gift, that Ultras were constantly converging on her with the bodies of their sisters, or pushing their way out after resurrection.
A tone dragged Greggs attention back to the main forces, whose hit and run tactics were becoming ever less effective. They’d never figured out a way to counter the Brides who struck at range, and their losses were beginning to preclude even momentary numerical advantages.
She had to do something more, this wasn’t going to work.
“Piss nose!” snarled her shadow. “Rot heart!”
She turned to face it straight on.
“Coward!” she yelled at it. “Vampire is a coward!”
An incoherent yell of anger was her only reward.
She pressed on.
“You are afraid of me, afraid of General Greggs! I am too strong for you!”
“No one is-“
Now it was her turn to interrupt the murderous child.
“I am too strong for Zeus! I am the strongest general! I am better and stronger than all of you!”
“I kill you! I kill you! KILLL!” shouted the shadow, its voice filled with a baffled rage.
How old was their enemy, to throw such a tantrum? It reminded Greggs of her own daughters when a toy was taken from them.
“You kill no one!” she shouted back at it. “Hide behind all the strong Goddesses, hide away so you can’t see me! You are too scared to show yourself!
She paid no attention to the shadow’s response, simply turning instead to the sniper’s perspectives.
There, as always she could count on her enemy’s arrogance and stupidity.
The Goddesses in the middle of the Pantheon formation were dropping down to their knees, deliberately crouching low so that their leader might lock eyes with the one who taunted her.
In exposing Vampire they also exposed Easter, too busy with her own work to bother dropping down for her bosses pleasure.
Weapons cracked, their fire inaudible in the general din of battle, and Easter toppled to the ground, her self the only Goddess on the field that her gift couldn’t save.”
“Coward bitch pussy!” shouted Vampire, not realizing that she’d already thrown away her greatest asset. “Where you? I kill you to death!”
Greggs couldn’t bring herself to formulate a reply, helpless laughter rising to her lips, wild and despairing.
Had she done enough? It was tough to tell, but it looked like, with the bullshit resurrections over with they’d taken out about a little under half of the enemy’s forces, about a third of their elites. With these losses, maybe the Fourth Army could finish the job.
“I’m right here,” she told the shadow, when her voice was her own again. “We’re not going anywhere. Come and get it.”
The Pantheon’s Grand Host did exactly that.
Observers throughout the Union’s leadership structure flinched away from their screens, wiped tears from their eyes and took careful notes as the heroes who’d defended them for decades made their last stand.
They lasted until the fall of night.

Regime Quest 7

Results from Previous round votes:

Three Votes:

Plan TalonOfAnathrax, on SV forum

One Vote:

Plan CCC (on my blog)

*************************************************************************************

Winning Plan:

[X] Organize Armory [Timeslot cost: 1, AP cost 2, returns 2 on success)

[X] Investigate Acquaintance:

-[X] [Stopper], (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success, 2 if we become allies)

************************************************************************************

Day 3 Log:

3 AP at start of day

+1 for 6 hour sleep (4 AP)

-2 for [Morning] Organize Armory (2 AP)

No roll required, success

+ 2 for Success, (4 AP)

-2 for [Afternoon] Investigate Acquaintance [ Stopper] (2 AP)

Investigate Acquaintance roll: 10 (Critical Success)

+1 for Success, +1 for add Stopper as Ally (4 AP)

End of day, (4 AP).

*************************************************************************************

Organize Armory:

I didn’t even head outside this morning, simply stayed in my house.  I pilfered a few cans of Owner’s soda, got the Packers to fetch me some breakfast from the Facility.

It was time to get organized.

I carefully spread the contents of my various pockets onto my work desk, pushing the papers aside for a moment.

I didn’t need these for the primary usage of my gift, of course.  My gift fell under the overall category of ‘death touch’, in Regime terms.  That is, I could kill most anyone that I touched by taking a quality that they needed to live away.  The actual qualities available varied based on the person, of course, but in most cases there was something that they couldn’t function without.

When you combined that with my Ultra toughness, you got a fairly complete combat package.  I could take most hits, and strike back with an unendurable draining effect.  I was, on the surface, a simple Ultra melee combatant. 

A simple melee combatant, of course, would never have made Warlord, or at least not one with my 2/0/1 selection of gifts.  What truly made me deadly, what I’d exploited to win my fights thus far, was that the qualities that I stole didn’t just vanish away, they clung to me, augmenting my natural abilities.

And it was this secondary effect which gave rise to my collection.  It wouldn’t due to be caught in a fight without something to drain.  I kept a decent array of objects in constant contact with my skin, ready to blend their effects at any given time.

My present reserve was as follows:

1.       Knife, strapped to upper arm, contains Sharpness, Metalness and Throwability

2.       Other Knife, strapped to thigh, contains Sharpness, Scariness and Brittleness

3.       Sponge, strapped to thigh, contains Bonelessness, Water Absorption and Lightness

4.       Engine scrap, strapped to belly, contains Drivingness, Explosiveness and Tirelessness

5.       Dog bone, strapped to belly, contains Tracking by Scent, Loyalty and Aggressiveness

6.       Bulletproof Vest scrap, contains Bulletproofness and Bulkiness

7.       Lightbulb shard, strapped to belly, contains Glowingness, Fragileness and Inconspicuousness

8.        Bullet, strapped to upper arm, contains Fastness and Explosiveness

9.       Pliers, strapped to upper arm, contains Grip, Sharpness and Metalness

10.   Microchip, taped to upper back, contains Smartness, Obedience and Soulessness

I still had a lot of space left to put more things on.  If I had to put a number on it, I’d say that I had spent about half of the total real estate that I could manage without getting conspicuous about it.

I looked over to Napoleon, who was mostly just sitting there being a turtle.

“You think I ought to start looking for more stuff?” I asked him.  “Or would I be better off spending that time getting my group together?”

This wasn’t entirely rhetorical.  For no reason I’d ever understood, Napoleon could take qualities, which was normally something that my gift only let humans do.  A long time ago I’d won a fight by stealing someone’s ‘thinkingness’, and when I got tired of maintaining the blend I’d dumped it on my pet.  He was presumably pretty smart, but had never given any sign of it.

As ever, he maintained his silence.

I rolled my eyes and gathered up my gear.  I might decide to scrounge up some more stuff.  I might not.  No reason to make that decision right now, I’d keep my options open.

*************************************************************************************

 

Investigate Acquaintance: [ Stopper]

I’d arranged to meet Stopper immediately after lunch.

We got together in the ruins of a wrecked old church.  She had a bunch of people gathering up stained glass for some kind of art project, and that had seemed as good a way to get to know her as any.

She actually had a bit of talent, as far as I could judge these kind of things.  She’d taken an old fur coat and was carefully attaching the bits and pieces of stained glass that her human helpers brought back in order to make it look impressive.

Judging by the dimensions of the cloak it was probably for Clawer.

“Have you told him about it?” I asked.  “Or is it going to be a surprise?”

She chuckled.

“He hates surprises,” she said.  “And this is too important to screw around with.  He knows its coming.”

“Does he take an interest in that sort of thing?” I asked.  “He didn’t strike me as someone who was terribly concerned with his appearance.”

“Its just an act,” she said, carefully inserting a red fragment into a section of the cuff.  “No one in the Ultra Fight business can afford to stop thinking about their first impressions.  The spectacle of the whole thing is very important.  He needs to stand out.”

I kind of felt like the whole ‘hooks for hands’ thing was enough to let him stand out, but a cool coat probably couldn’t hurt.

I hung around making more small talk until nature called her away, then got to the real purpose of my visit.

“You,” I said to one of her workers.  “You know me?”

He dipped his head in a sort of half bow.

“Doctor,” he said.  “Everyone knows you.”

I waved the remark aside.

“This woman, Stopper, what’s really up with her?  Should I think about getting into bed with her?”

They looked to one another, then back to me.

“She told us you might ask,” said the man who had bowed.  “She told us to tell you that we are well treated, spared from a life of pain on the outside and grateful for her attention.”

I nodded, looked to his companion.

She shook her head, sharply, pulled down a collar to expose a pair of old cigarette burns.

“Ah,” I said.

“It’s not all bad,” said the first guy.  “She’s actually-“

I waved him to silence, not terribly interested in hearing any more along that line.

“Before she gets back,” I said.  “Is it him too?  Or just her?”

They looked to each other.

“Clawer doesn’t really care about us,” said the one who was doing all the talking.  “He doesn’t stop her when she gets in one of her dark moods, but he’s never started anything on his own.”

“He needs our hands,” said the woman, speaking for the first time.

“I bet,” I said.

Stopper got back a few minutes later.

“Anyway,” she said.  “I hope you are thinking about us as part of your Posse.  We bring a lot to the table, you know.”

I nodded noncommittally.

“I’m still deciding,” I said.

“Clawer’s appeal is obvious, of course, he’s one of the city’s finest warriors.  And my own gift is really helpful as well.”

“Oh,” I said.  “You stop things, right?”

She nodded appreciatively, dropping a grin sliver of glass and holding it in place, then reaching out and plucking it out of the air.

“If we bring people who aren’t Ultra tough, then guns would be a big worry, right?  Well, not with me!  They’ll just halt in mid air, as long as they are in my line of sight.”

“I thought you had to see the target,” I said.  “Don’t bullets go too fast?”

She chuckled appreciatively.

“It doesn’t work like that,” she said.  “I can stop anything that doesn’t move under its own power.”

I waited a bit, but she didn’t seem inclined to elaborate, instead turning the conversation to more conventional topics.

I made my excuses and departed a little bit later.

*************************************************************************************

Encounter

The sun was just going down when I got back to the Packer House.  I was unpleasantly surprised to see a pair of Knights out in front, talking to Owner.

“What’s going on?” I asked as I walked up.

We didn’t really have a lot to do with the Knights of Purity.  I’d never seen them here before.

“Blender?” asked one of them, turning to face me.

“That’s right,” I said, “Who sent you to-“

I didn’t finish the rest of the sentence, as he hauled off and swung his Refined Scythe at me.

I very nearly died, my reflexes dulled just slightly by the fact that I’d been talking and looking to the other one, but I caught his slash in my peripheral vision and dropped quickly to the ground.

My gift meant that falling on my back didn’t hurt at all, but that was little comfort at the blade whistled by overhead, his comrade stepping up to swing his scythe down at me like a woodsman splitting a log.

*************************************************************************************

Day 4:

Days remaining: 27

AP available: (4 end of last day + 1 for half night’s sleep) = 5/10

Prestige: 3

Timeslots available: 2 (morning, afternoon) + bonus combat timeslot for encounter

Posse: 0 out of 3 slots filled

Force size: 0

Condition: Uninjured

 

(Ultra format: Role, Ultra Strength/Speed/Toughness, other gift description)

Ultra Allies:

Maker- Friend, and protégé of Snitcher, 0/0/1, can summon the spirit of things

Clawer – Ultra fighter 2/0/1, melee combatant, deadly hooks for hands

Stopper – partner of Clawer, 0/0/0, steals form’s velocity by looking at them

Ultra Enemies:

Masher- Enemy, and fellow protégé of Subtracter, 3*/0/3*, trades off strength and durability as she moves or stays still

Ultra Acquaintances:

Owner – housemate, 0/0/1 operates an imaginary firm, with real effects on the world,

Picker – First Fist protégé, 0/1/0, ‘selects the outcome of things’

Tracker – Running buddy, 1/0/1, Creates tracks, and can move things on them

Shower – Adder’s protégé, 1*/0/1*, gains strength and durability from witnesses

Sticker – Did dentistry for her brother, 0/0/2, Creates slime, can choose its stickiness

Echoer – Singer I am a fan of, 1/1/1, can duplicate any action that she sees

Bubbler – Operates Ultra clinic 0/0/?, traps things in bubbles that heal and move them

Sucker — Ultra entertainer, ?/?/?, pulls objects/people towards her at incredible rate

 

Faction Rankings:

Regime 7

KEM 8

Pantheon 2

Union 4

Resistance 9

Prevailer 3

 

Actions:

[ ] Defeat the Knights them (Timeslot cost: Special; AP cost 0, refunds 1 on success)

Motives: They are trying to kill me.  I don’t want to die.

Concerns:  I don’t want to expend any of my arsenal on this random assassination attempt, and I’d like to interrogate them, but doing anything less than fighting to my utmost and using everything available will increase the odds that I lose this fight, and die.

-[ ] Kill them

-[ ] Kill them (don’t use arsenal)

-[ ] Incapacitate them

-[ ] Incapacitate them (don’t use arsenal)

 

[ ] Seek Transportation

-[ ] Scavenge (Timeslot cost: 2; AP cost 4, refunds 3 on success)

Motive: My current transportation sufficed for me in my troubleshooter role, but I will likely require a larger vehicle, or several vehicles, in order to bring everyone to Ar Harbor. I can seek to find something in the suburbs and surrounding towns.

 

Concerns: Leaving Shington could be dangerous, and I am far from guaranteed to find a bus or truck suitable to my needs, as the area has already been heavily scavenged.

-[ ] Trade with existing owners (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: As above, but instead of fixing up ruined vehicles I’ll negotiate to get them from their current owners.

Concerns: Snitcher may disapprove of a warlord being civil

-[ ] Seize by force (Timeslot cost: 2; AP cost 4, refunds 3 on success)

Motive: As above, but instead of asking my contacts for vehicles I’ll just take what I want. My role as warlord and my Tally should minimize resistance

Concerns: People like their vehicles, and won’t like the one who takes them. I will make enemies.

-[ ] Seek Transportation [Adder + Company] (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: As above, but Adder can use his gift to make something for my purposes, and the Company can duplicate it and make it permanent.

Concerns: Adder and I are not close, he may decline to aid me, owing to his rivalry with my sponsor, Subtracter.

 

[ ] Seek Target Information

-[ ] Company (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: The Company logs every Ultra they create. Their Ar Harbor records would be useful information

Concerns: Ultras migrate and conceal their gifts, this information would be incomplete

-[ ] Subtracter (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 3, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: Subtracter is the military leader of the Regime, she will have information on this target

Concerns: Subtracter is stupid and violent, I don’t like to be around her

-[ ] Survivors (Timeslot cost:1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: There have been 2 other attempts at Ar Harbor. I can seek out and question survivors in the outer city.

Concerns: I may be unable to find any survivors, and I may be misled by liars.

 

[ ] Seek Posse Members

-[ ] wander & gossip, (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 1, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: There are dozens of powerful Ultras in the Lair. I know only the barest fraction of them. I can learn the basics on 1-6 of them in a few hours of socializing and gossiping, opening up in depth investigation options on them and adding them to my list of acquaintances.

Concerns: None

-[ ] At Ultra Fights, (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 1, refunds 1 on success)

Constraint: Only available in the afternoon or night on days divisible by 4 (day 4, 8, etc)

Motive: There are dozens of powerful Ultras in the Lair. I know only the barest fraction of them. I can learn the basics on 3-12 of them in a few hours of socializing and gossiping at this kind of event.

Concerns: Ultras associated with the Fights are more likely than most to be melee combatants.

 

[ ] Seek Warband Members

-[ ] At the Yard, (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: The Lair is surrounded by hundreds of Regime Ultras.  The strongest come to the Yard to show their power and appeal to those like me, who would give them purpose.  I should be able to gather between 5 and 20 Ultras of such caliber.

Concerns: I will need to provide housing and direction to these Ultras, or risk them wandering off.  I can expect to spend at least an action a day on them, and training them might well eat up more.  Ideally a Posse member will be tasked with this.

-[ ] [Gang name] From a Gang, (Timeslot cost: 2; AP cost 5, refunds 3 on success)

Motive: The Ultras that surround Shington are organized into Gangs dozens strong.  If I can recruit such a force I might have my whole Warband right there.

Concerns: These Ultras likely already have patrons in the Lair, who I would need to negotiate with.  Their leader would also likely want a place in my Posse, and she would be the primary locus of their loyalty until I’d had time to win them over.

 

 

[ ] Investigate Acquaintance:

-[ ] [Name], (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success, 2 if we become allies)

Motive: I can spend some serious one on one time with an Ultra I’ve chosen, evaluating the capability of their gift, the alignment of their values with mine, and their basic ccompetence. If all checks out, I might move them into my Ultra Allies column.

Concerns: None

 

[ ] Invite Ally into Posse:

-[ ] [Name], (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 3, refunds 3 on success)

Motive: If I want to bring an ally into my posse, get them to take actions on my behalf and rise or fall with me, this is the way to do it. I will only take this action on those I’ve already made allies, and once this has been taken it is difficult to undo.

Concerns: Posse members are most of the way into my circle of trust, and will operate on my behalf, representing me to stranger. A mistake here would be dangerous and damaging. I should be careful before taking this step, potentially investigating a prospect several times.

 

[ ] Seek Information on Snitcher’s patterns

-[ ] Passive listening (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 1, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: Snitcher can ride my senses at any moment, and bring Her along. If I am ever to contact my KEM allies, my resistance allies, or show any kindness or weakness whatsoever, I need to understand when this is likely to take place. Gossip can hint at this, particularly if I carefully steer conversations. This action would be mostly undetectable, even if he was riding me when I took it.

Concerns: None

-[ ] Active interrogation of Snitches (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 3, refunds 2 on success)

Motive: As above, but rather than listen for random gossip I will seek out other linked individuals and directly ask them how often he rides their senses, and what actions he has reacted to in the past.

Concerns: More likely Snitcher notices this, unknown consequences of that.

-[ ] Confront Snitcher Directly (Timeslot cost:1; AP cost 4, refunds 3 on success)

Motive: As above, but take the simplest possible route. Go to Snitcher and ask him for the deal.

Concerns: I am sponsored by Subtracter, not Snitcher, he may not wish to aid me. He may demand favors or other services in exchange for the information.

 

[ ] Seek Information on Regime military operations

-[ ] Ask Subtracter (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 3, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: My life depends on doing this right. I need to get a basic understanding of what She is expecting from my attack on Ar Harbor. Do I need to seize the Company Facility? Kill all the enemies? Are there any constraints on how I go about it? Subtracter is the leader of the Regime’s military, and my sponsor, she will know these answers.

Concerns: Subtracter is stupid and brutal, and she killed my neighbors, I hate spending time with her.

-[ ] Ask Around (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: As above, but ask survivors of previous missions instead of my evil boss.

Concerns: My predecessors may not have told them everything, their views of their missions may omit certain command level details that I need to worry about.

 

[ ] Relax and Recuperate

-[ ]By lounging around, (Timeslot cost: 1, AP cost 0, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: I could do with some rest.

Concerns: None

-[ ]By patronizing entertainment ares (Timeslot cost: 1, AP cost 1, refunds 3 on success)

Motive: I could do with some rest, and I might learn some things by socializing

Concerns: None

-[ ]By using my gift to repair the city (Timeslot cost: 1, AP cost 2, refunds 5 on success)

Motive: It needs to be done.

Concerns: This is not becoming behavior of a warlord, Snitcher may take notice, and people may talk

-[ ]By using my gift to heal people (Timeslot cost: 1, AP cost 1, refunds 5 on success)

Motive: This is why I have my gift.

Concerns: This is not becoming behavior of a warlord, Snitcher may take notice, and people may talk

 

[ ] Organize Armory [Timeslot cost: 1, AP cost 2, returns 2 on success)

Motive: I carry, in my backpack and on my person, various items to blend with if the need arises. I am overdue to look through my setup and take an inventory, once that is done I could seek out new objects if I am missing anything useful.

Concerns: None

 

[ ] Seek new residence [ Timeslot cost: 3, returns 1 if successful ]

Motive: I could get a lot more done if I got a full night’s sleep

Concerns: Owner and I have guarded one another’s rest for a long time. I wouldn’t necessarily be able to trust a new person to the same extent.

 

KEM Actions: (Sealed until I figure out how to deal with Snitcher’s surveillance, or resolve to defy him)

Resistance Actions: (Sealed until I figure out how to deal with Snitcher’s surveillance, or resolve to defy him)

 

[ ] Action: Other (Timeslot cost: x, returns x if successful)

Motive [Write in]

Concerns: [Write in]

Regime Quest 6

Results from Previous round votes:

Two Votes:

Plan Nevile (on SV forum)

One Vote:

Plan CCC (on my blog)

*************************************************************************************

Winning Plan:

[x] [Morning] Seek Target Information

-[x] Survivors (Timeslot cost:1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

[x] [Afternoon] Investigate Acquaintance:

-[x] Clawer, (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success, 2 if we become allies)

*************************************************************************************

Day 2 Log:

3 AP at start of day

+1 for 6 hour sleep (4 AP)

-2 for [Morning] Seek Target Information from Survivors (2 AP)

Seek Target Information roll 8 (Superior Success, more detailed information gathered)

+ 1 for Success, Seek Target Information from Survivors (3 AP)

-2 for [Afternoon] Investigate Acquaintance [ Clawer] (1 AP)

Investigate Posse Members roll: 6 (Success)

+1 for Success, +11 for add Clawer as Ally Investigate Acquaintance (3 AP)

End of day, (3 AP).

*************************************************************************************

Seek Target Information from Survivors:

I resolved to hit the Yard early on in the day, looking to get some conversations in before the action could heat up too much.

It seemed to work out, as I got there during one of the rare quiet periods.  There were a bunch of Ultras clumped in their little gangs around the edges, but no one was actively staking a claim.

The Yard, of course, is the mechanism that we use to sort out what Ultras get to stay in the Lair and who doesn’t.  If you can press a claim against everyone else there for a few days then you can come in, otherwise you stay out.

I was surprised at the intensity of my feelings, looking at this place again.  I’d held court here for a goddamn week, piled up my rivals and strutted my way in.  It had been the start of my rise to power.

It had also been a carefully calculated performance, an illusion of effortless power and carelessness masking weeks of meticulous scouting and KEM’s covert assistance.  It felt like I’d been inwardly screaming the entire time.

But it had payed off.  I’d achieved what I set out to.  Hopefully that would be the precedent for what I was currently working on.  Lots of work for a glorious success.

“Shit, Blender?” asked someone as I walked up.

I didn’t recognize her.  Short, with mangy hair and a cloud of pot smoke around her.

“Looking for someone,” I said.

A few others jogged over, eyes narrowing.  An Ultra from inside was an uncommon sight out here.  They probably thought I was already starting to build up my band.

“Who?” asked the first person, scratching away at her head.

“Anyone who was in Menacer or Burier’s attacks.”

Almost involuntarily she looked to one side, and so did a few others.  They were all glancing at a tall blonde, her face disfigured by a big old scar on one cheek.

That was a stroke of luck.  I’d been trying to figure out how to make sure that whoever I sent out to look for survivors would come back, but it looked like I wouldn’t have to bother with that.

I whistled, and when she looked over I beckoned.

Scarface jogged up, her angry bearing crumbling into a servile humility as she realized who I was.

“You went to Ar Harbor?” I asked.

She flinched at the name.

“Yes,” she said.  The scar went up through the edge of her mouth, and it gave her a sort of whistling accent, so it sounded more like ‘Yesh’.

“Last time?” I pressed.

This time she just nodded.

“So you were part of Burier’s team?” I asked.  “Posse or band?”

She sort of gestured to the Yard, which I took to mean she’d been in the band.  If she was Posse quality, why would she be out here?

“Tell me how the fight went,” I said.

I was getting the idea that she didn’t like to talk much, probably took a lot of shit for that lisp.  I sympathized, but I was mostly just impatient.

“We got hit by the Union, the night before.  They sent flying things to blast our camp, Burier didn’t see it coming, didn’t have anyone watching.  She was fucking when they hit us.”

That wasn’t terribly surprising.  It was a bit of a bit of a warzone up there.  I’d need to establish whether Burier had crossed into Union territory, or whether they were actually working to protect the Ar Harbor gang.  My tentative bet was on Burier’s band getting lost.  She’d been a city Ultra, wouldn’t have known shit about navigating.

“Did she die in the Union hit?” I pressed, “Or did you make it to the target?”

I left out the possibility that they’d survived but turned back.  Burier would have been joined to Snitcher, and, like me, she wouldn’t have had any choice about continuing on.

“We made it,” she said.  “But we’d lost most of our people.  The locals knew we were coming, mobbed us.”

Hard to say whether that was just Ultra braggadocio or whether she’d actually been outnumbered.  She had ever incentive to build up the people who’d beaten her.

“How many Ultras do they have?” I asked.  “Who are their leaders?”

“Maybe forty?” she said.  “Couple dozen anyway.  There were four main ones.  Called themselves by some pussy old world names, they talked a lot, had flags and shit.”

Flags?

“Oh,” she continued.  “There was a tank or something, some kind of big floating machine.  It didn’t do shit that I saw, but I bet it would’ve if they’d started losing.”

“Go back,” I said.  “They had flags?”

“Like stuck to their backs, or to sticks they carried,” she said.  “Boss was called King Arthur, Burier said she could loan Ultra gifts to daggers, make them fight for her.”

I blinked.

“Were the other leaders named stuff like Merlin, Lancelot, stuff like that?”

She nodded enthusiastically.

“Yeah, that’s right.  Merlin’s gift let her make stuff go through other stuff.  Gwen’s gift let’s her set stuff on fire and Lance was like a fighting Ultra.  There was something weird about her though.”

I had a lot more questions to ask, but a stirring in the Yard cut me off.  I’d never lost my familiarity with the place’s overall vibe, and this meant that a fight was getting ready to jump off.

“Gang coming?” I asked.

“Dolls,” said the mangy Ultra I’d talked to first.  “Some of their crew are pressing claims, Second Fist is supposed to be coming up to watch.”

I walked off without any more interaction.  I didn’t need to encounter Refiner’s crew today.  It was a start, at least.

*************************************************************************************

Investigate Acquaintance: [ Clawer]

Clawer wasn’t terribly hard to find.  I caught up with him just as he left a Company Facility, carefully cradling a bowl of protein powder in his hooks.

“Trade ya?” I offered, holding up my secret weapon.

I’d stopped by Owner’s gas station on the way here, filled up a bag with candies, chips and various other junk food.

He grinned.  Nobody liked the powder.

I reached out towards him like it was no big thing, draped the plastic over his hand.

I figured a lot of people probably shrunk away at the sight of his hooks, or stared at them.  I’d resolved to act like it just wasn’t an issue at all.  Hopefully that’d get us off on the right foot.

“What’s this about?” he asked.

I tried to look innocent.

“I’m curious about the Ultra Fight thing,” I tried.  “I’ve heard its fixed, but I know there’ve been deaths. What’s your perspective, as an actual fighter?”

He grinned again.  Most people liked a chance to explain something to someone who didn’t know it.

“It’s not all real, of course.  You don’t see the same people fighting for or five times if they are trying to kill each other.  We set it up ahead of time, work stuff out like the old world pro wrestling.”

“Sure,” I said.  “But the deaths?”

“Well, there are real matches too.  Sometimes people don’t like each other, or She shows up or whatever.  Same rings, same stuff, but actual fighting.  It makes the fake stuff go down better.”

“You aren’t worried?” I asked.  “Someone sets up a fake fight, then sneak attacks you in the middle?”

He looked somber for a second.

“It’s a concern,” he said.  “But I only work with people I trust, and a reputation for doing that sort of thing is a really bad thing to get.  People don’t want that, so if they have a problem with me they’ll be better off if they work it out in other ways.  Nobody wins if that kind of thing gets started.”

Most Ultras wouldn’t know about the prisoner’s dilemma, but it was apparently a universal concept.  It spoke for his intelligence that he’d realized the dynamic, and could put it in words.

“Clawer?”

We looked up as someone called his name.

A short Ultra with a sporty beret for a sigil came trotting up.  She casually reached out and scooped the bag of junk food off his arm, dumped it into a sigil.

“This is Stopper,” he explained.  “We work together a lot.”

That was interesting.  I hadn’t heard anything about her when I’d asked around about him.

“Haha, yeah,” she said.  She had a way of speak-laughing that immediately got on my nerves.  “We’re a unit, right babe?  I’m the hands, he’s the hooks.”

“Sure,” I said.

It made sense that he’d have a partner of some sort.  Even I had Owner to watch my rest, and I had thumbs.

We talked some more, and I got a better feel for their basic situation.

Clawer was the main one to consider, of the two.  He had the fighting power to live in the Lair, she coasted along in his wake, her own gift was the ability to steal momentum from forms by looking at them.

They seemed to have a genuine affection for one another, or at least they didn’t bicker in my presence.  It wasn’t the worst afternoon I’d ever spent.

“It was nice hanging with you today,” he said, as I was getting ready to go.

“Sure,” I responded.

“Listen,” said Stopper.  “You are recruiting people for your Posse, right?”

“Not just yet,” I said.  “I’m still in the early phases of-“

“When you do,” she said, speaking over me, “We’d be very interested.  We’d be a huge asset!”

I said something noncommittal, made my goodbyes and let them there.

*************************************************************************************

Day 2 results:

Incomplete information gathered on Ar Harbor defenders.  I need to know more, but this is a good start.  I could get more information from another questioning of the survivors, but what I’d really like is to get the Resistance’s take on the Round Table gang.

Clawer added to Ultra Allies after a day hanging out.  He seems to be on the level.  If I decide to bring him into the Posse, however, I will need to decide what to do with Stopper.  Should I bring her into the Posse as well, or just the band, or leave her behind?

The actions I started formulating yesterday should be done by tomorrow.

*************************************************************************************

Day 3:

Days remaining: 28

AP available: (3 end of last day + 1 for half night’s sleep) = 4/10

Prestige: 3

Timeslots available: 2 (morning, afternoon)

Posse: 0 out of 3 slots filled

Force size: 0

Condition: Uninjured

(Ultra format: Role, Ultra Strength/Speed/Toughness, other gift description)

 

Ultra Allies:

Maker- Friend, and protégé of Snitcher, 0/0/1, can summon the spirit of things

Clawer – Ultra fighter 2/0/1, melee combatant, deadly hooks for hands

 

Ultra Enemies:

Masher- Enemy, and fellow protégé of Subtracter, 3*/0/3*, trades off strength and durability as she moves or stays still

 

Ultra Acquaintances:

Owner – housemate, 0/0/1 operates an imaginary firm, with real effects on the world,

Picker – First Fist protégé, 0/1/0, ‘selects the outcome of things’

Tracker – Running buddy, 1/0/1, Creates tracks, and can move things on them

Shower – Adder’s protégé, 1*/0/1*, gains strength and durability from witnesses

Sticker – Did dentistry for her brother, 0/0/2, Creates slime, can choose its stickiness

Echoer – Singer I am a fan of, 1/1/1, can duplicate any action that she sees

Bubbler – Operates Ultra clinic 0/0/?, traps things in bubbles that heal and move them

Sucker — Ultra entertainer, ?/?/?, pulls objects/people towards her at incredible rate

Stopper – partner of Clawer, 0/0/0, steals form’s velocity by looking at them

 

Faction Rankings:

Regime 7

KEM 8

Pantheon 2

Union 4

Resistance 9

Prevailer 3

 

Actions:

[ ] Seek Transportation

-[ ] Scavenge (Timeslot cost: 2; AP cost 4, refunds 3 on success)

Motive: My current transportation sufficed for me in my troubleshooter role, but I will likely require a larger vehicle, or several vehicles, in order to bring everyone to Ar Harbor. I can seek to find something in the suburbs and surrounding towns.

Concerns: Leaving Shington could be dangerous, and I am far from guaranteed to find a bus or truck suitable to my needs, as the area has already been heavily scavenged.

-[ ] Trade with existing owners (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: As above, but instead of fixing up ruined vehicles I’ll negotiate to get them from their current owners.

Concerns: Snitcher may disapprove of a warlord being civil

-[ ] Seize by force (Timeslot cost: 2; AP cost 4, refunds 3 on success)

Motive: As above, but instead of asking my contacts for vehicles I’ll just take what I want. My role as warlord and my Tally should minimize resistance

Concerns: People like their vehicles, and won’t like the one who takes them. I will make enemies.

-[ ] Seek Transportation [Adder + Company] (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: As above, but Adder can use his gift to make something for my purposes, and the Company can duplicate it and make it permanent.

Concerns: Adder and I are not close, he may decline to aid me, owing to his rivalry with my sponsor, Subtracter.

 

[ ] Seek Target Information

-[ ] Company (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: The Company logs every Ultra they create. Their Ar Harbor records would be useful information

Concerns: Ultras migrate and conceal their gifts, this information would be incomplete

-[ ] Subtracter (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 3, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: Subtracter is the military leader of the Regime, she will have information on this target

Concerns: Subtracter is stupid and violent, I don’t like to be around her

-[ ] Survivors (Timeslot cost:1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: There have been 2 other attempts at Ar Harbor. I can seek out and question survivors in the outer city.

Concerns: I may be unable to find any survivors, and I may be misled by liars.

 

[ ] Seek Posse Members

-[ ] wander & gossip, (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 1, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: There are dozens of powerful Ultras in the Lair. I know only the barest fraction of them. I can learn the basics on 1-6 of them in a few hours of socializing and gossiping, opening up in depth investigation options on them and adding them to my list of acquaintances.

Concerns: None

 

[ ] Investigate Acquaintance:

-[ ] [Name], (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success, 2 if we become allies)

Motive: I can spend some serious one on one time with an Ultra I’ve chosen, evaluating the capability of their gift, the alignment of their values with mine, and their basic ccompetence. If all checks out, I might move them into my Ultra Allies column.

Concerns: None

 

[ ] Invite Ally into Posse:

-[ ] [Name], (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 3, refunds 3 on success)

Motive: If I want to bring an ally into my posse, get them to take actions on my behalf and rise or fall with me, this is the way to do it. I will only take this action on those I’ve already made allies, and once this has been taken it is difficult to undo.

Concerns: Posse members are most of the way into my circle of trust, and will operate on my behalf, representing me to stranger. A mistake here would be dangerous and damaging. I should be careful before taking this step, potentially investigating a prospect several times.

 

[ ] Seek Information on Snitcher’s patterns

-[ ] Passive listening (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 1, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: Snitcher can ride my senses at any moment, and bring Her along. If I am ever to contact my KEM allies, my resistance allies, or show any kindness or weakness whatsoever, I need to understand when this is likely to take place. Gossip can hint at this, particularly if I carefully steer conversations. This action would be mostly undetectable, even if he was riding me when I took it.

Concerns: None

 

-[ ] Active interrogation of Snitches (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 3, refunds 2 on success)

Motive: As above, but rather than listen for random gossip I will seek out other linked individuals and directly ask them how often he rides their senses, and what actions he has reacted to in the past.

Concerns: More likely Snitcher notices this, unknown consequences of that.

-[ ] Confront Snitcher Directly (Timeslot cost:1; AP cost 4, refunds 3 on success)

Motive: As above, but take the simplest possible route. Go to Snitcher and ask him for the deal.

Concerns: I am sponsored by Subtracter, not Snitcher, he may not wish to aid me. He may demand favors or other services in exchange for the information.

 

 

[ ] Seek Information on Regime military operations

-[ ] Ask Subtracter (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 3, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: My life depends on doing this right. I need to get a basic understanding of what She is expecting from my attack on Ar Harbor. Do I need to seize the Company Facility? Kill all the enemies? Are there any constraints on how I go about it? Subtracter is the leader of the Regime’s military, and my sponsor, she will know these answers.

Concerns: Subtracter is stupid and brutal, and she killed my neighbors, I hate spending time with her.

-[ ] Ask Around (Timeslot cost: 1; AP cost 2, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: As above, but ask survivors of previous missions instead of my evil boss.

Concerns: My predecessors may not have told them everything, their views of their missions may omit certain command level details that I need to worry about.

 

[ ] Relax and Recuperate

-[ ]By lounging around, (Timeslot cost: 1, AP cost 0, refunds 1 on success)

Motive: I could do with some rest.

Concerns: None

-[ ]By patronizing entertainment ares (Timeslot cost: 1, AP cost 1, refunds 3 on success)

Motive: I could do with some rest, and I might learn some things by socializing

Concerns: None

-[ ]By using my gift to repair the city (Timeslot cost: 1, AP cost 2, refunds 5 on success)

Motive: It needs to be done.

Concerns: This is not becoming behavior of a warlord, Snitcher may take notice, and people may talk

-[ ]By using my gift to heal people (Timeslot cost: 1, AP cost 1, refunds 5 on success)

Motive: This is why I have my gift.

Concerns: This is not becoming behavior of a warlord, Snitcher may take notice, and people may talk

 

[ ] Organize Armory [Timeslot cost: 1, AP cost 2, returns 2 on success)

Motive: I carry, in my backpack and on my person, various items to blend with if the need arises. I am overdue to look through my setup and take an inventory, once that is done I could seek out new objects if I am missing anything useful.

Concerns: None

[ ] Seek new residence [ Timeslot cost: 3, returns 1 if successful ]

Motive: I could get a lot more done if I got a full night’s sleep

Concerns: Owner and I have guarded one another’s rest for a long time. I wouldn’t necessarily be able to trust a new person to the same extent.

 

KEM Actions: (Sealed until I figure out how to deal with Snitcher’s surveillance, or resolve to defy him)

 

Resistance Actions: (Sealed until I figure out how to deal with Snitcher’s surveillance, or resolve to defy him)

 

[ ] Action: Other (Timeslot cost: x, returns x if successful)

Motive [Write in]

Concerns: [Write in]

Interlude: Battle: 1

The Faithful advanced.  The Grand Host, bestirred at last, come to put an end to the last remnant of the world of reason.

They wouldn’t have looked so impressive, from a distance.  Ten thousand or so people, trudging steadily westward.  The old world had single structures, stadiums and such, which could accommodate so many.  It’s military forces had been ten times as large.

They had few weapons.  Few vehicles.  No uniforms, no obvious supplies.  Their appearance, to be frank, resembled a refugee column far more than it did an invading host.  They seemed an insubstantial threat, dusty figures toiling forward, chatting, laughing and singing with one another as they came.

A few things gave the lie to their harmless appearance.  The great shield which had once defended their fortresses was the most obvious.  It stretched a few hundred meters over the heads of the Host, descending to earth a similar distance around them.  It was fashioned of translucent blue light, but those who watched knew it had turned aside every weapon ever pitted against it.

The colossus was another.  The woman who went by ‘Zilla’, who had feigned leadership of the Grand Host, strode within it.  She stood as tall as a skyscraper, the dome a mere blur about her lower legs.  She took a step every minute or so, and still kept easy pace with the remainder of the column.

And there were, of course, countless other smaller incongruities.  Here a woman absently juggled fire.  There another spat forth an endless procession of reflected images, her quantum selves surrounding and shielding those near her.  Miracles, of course, but such were only to be expected when Gods went to war.

Their adversaries were not impressed.

The men and women of the Intervention Groups had always known this day would come.  It would not find them unprepared.  They moved smoothly into position, followed paths long planned and drilled into their collective psyche.  There was no panic, no terror.

Their foes might be Gods, but that was nothing new to the defends of the Union.  They had faced Gods.  Their gifts might prompt respect, but it was that of a skilled hunter towards noble game.  Gods were nothing to fear, to these men.  They were the operators of a deicide machine, grown unsurpassably efficient over the course of decades.

In truth, they didn’t even think of themselves as warriors.  These were soldiers of the old world.  They sought no glory, lusted for no plunder.  They were technicians, employees, professionals.  They would follow the procedures that time and experimentation had proven sufficient to all previous tasks, and hope that they would do so once again.

And so as the Pantheon marched forth, the Union shrank away.  The Intervention Groups didn’t give battle during the long hot morning of their enemies advance.  They were barely even sighted, their lithnetic skiffs bearing them back and away at appalling speed as their foe came forward.

They had to be careful, had to triumph.  The Fourth Army was the official defenders of the Union, and it had a force strength that was greater than theirs, but no one in the Intervention Groups believed that.  They were the veterans.  They were the ones who had known war for all their lives.  They saw the Fourth Army as a paper force, untested and untrusted, and they knew that only they could safeguard their homeland.

Let the enemy waste their breath on hymns, let them shriek at the cowardice of their foes.  The soldiers of the Union would let their weapons speak for them, when the command came down.

But it didn’t come.  All morning long the strange stillness held, with the Great Host marching forward at a languid pace, while the Union forces moved around them, taking and abandoning a succession of strongpoints as their orders moved them about.

General Greggs, the Union’s theatre CO, was in no hurry.  The longer she delayed, the better SPARTACUS’ estimations would be.  The Goddesses betrayed their capabilities with every stride they took, as profiles were matched to escapees from previous Hosts and intelligence reports. Delay could only help her.

Vampire, by contrast, was a fuming ball of rage.  She’d been expecting an awesome battle as soon as they marched out, and this cockblocking was getting to her.  Oroboros stopped her on two occasions from ordering mobs of Goddesses out from under the shield, pointing out that Zeus would not be forgiving of a woman who got his armies killed piecemeal.

Left to her own devices, Greggs would probably have let her enemy be for the entire day, maybe for several.  She had little to lose by falling back, and there was always the opportunity for her opponent to err preposterously.  That had always been the plan.  The Great Host was to be chipped away at, to be gnawed from the edges as it floundered around in the barren landscape at the edge of the Union.

But this year everything had changed.  Greggs was highly placed in the Obscurocracy’s hierarchy.  She knew of the Army of Sunset, knew that the Host before her,  vast as it was, did not partake of the Pantheon’s true power.  She saw the hundred figures at the heart of it, clad all in white, and knew that she must strike before their master could join them.

A little after noon she gave the go order, and the battle was on.

The first the Pantheon’s warriors knew of it was the blooms of fire and metal erupting all along their shield.  Distant drones had slipped over the horizon, unleashed their payloads and danced away.  The hymns of the Pantheon were drowned out as a rolling blast rocked the Shield, a pounding, driving sound that swallowed up their words and gnawed at their spirits.

It went on and on.  The drones were everywhere, released from the strange skiffs that could occasionally be seen, when a gap opened in the rain of death.  Goddesses clutched one another’s arms, shouted with no effect into the endless roar, or lashed blindly out with their gifts.

Nothing got through.  Bullets impacted on the shield, energy weapons reflected from it and explosive force was turned aside.  It threw back the Union’s onslaught with obdurate indifference, a miraculous barrier utterly indifferent to the works of mortal hands.

Few within the Great Host were looking behind them.  Their eyes were on the dome, wincing at each bright flash, screaming imprecations.  They knew that this could not last forever, and strained their senses to pick up the first hint of its end.

But the end that came was of a different kind.

SPARTACUS could enable tactics that would otherwise be insane.  The skiffs and blocks of the Union gave them a mobility that no one else could manage.  Greggs’ plan took advantage of both factors.

The Shield of the Faithful was a known quantity.  It had protected their forts for years.  Greggs knew full well that the drones’ munitions would do nothing to it.  Honestly, considering that these Ultras were survivors of previous battles, they would likely do little even if they pierced it.  She was, instead, using these explosions as a matador uses a cape.

The relentless barrage drew the eye, smothered sound.  It was overwhelming, awe inspiring.  It was an excellent distraction.

Skiffs swooped in, invisible behind a curtain of explosions, and the Ultras of the Unions dropped down behind the enemy column and moved quickly out of the way of the next group to disembark.  It was a display of awe inspiring precision.

Each skiff slammed into place, moving with utter disdain for the ordinary path of objects through the air, stopping just long enough for their precious cargo to leap onto the ground before zipping away.  The troops in question were moving almost before they hit the ground.

In an appallingly short time, less than a minute, the Union had landed several thousand Ultras within a hundred feet of the back of the enemy shield.  They wasted little time in making their presence felt.

The Shield, so sturdy against enemy fire, was useless against an infantry rush.  Its creator spun around as she felt the enemy stride through it, shouted uselessly into the crash of noise and grabbed furiously at the Ultras around her, trying to make them understand their peril.

It was too late.  Here and there a Goddess turned.  Some lucky few had already been facing the attack, and others were wrenched about by more alert neighbors, but the by and large the Union achieved total surprise.

Union Ultras struck home, blasting their gifts into their enemies backs, leaping forward and snapping spines, tearing off heads.  These Ultras had years of experience in the Intervention Groups, had faced down Host after Host and mastered their gifts through a hundred battles.  Their impact was devastating.

Similarly vicious was the onslaught of their allies, as the Union’s human forces played their part.  They had made do with guns and bombs for years, even as their tech had raced ahead.  They’d fought and died without showing what their science could really do, all to prepare for days like today.  Now the Pantheon learned at last what their foe had been hiding.

Strange fissures ripped into the Pantheon throng, folded lines of space tore through even hardened Ultra flesh, denying their enemies form any space to exist in.  Burning lines of strange green foam flew forth, enveloping Ultras in its grasp and freezing instantly fast, depriving those captured of air and sight, locking their limbs in a grip like hardened stone.

It was a shattering impact, Gods toppled like wheat, divine Forms exploding, hymns turned to screaming agony.  The Pantheon forces, caught unaware by this strike, cried out and fell, dying like rats as their foe wrought a fearful slaughter among them.

For long seconds the Grand Host could muster no meaningful counterattack.  A sizable proportion of the Ultras still hadn’t noticed what was going on, the screams and blasts around them masked by the all encompassing fury of the Union’s continuous strike on the dome.  Those who did turn about, often glimpsing an attack in their peripheral vision, were confronted by the next layer of Greggs’ strategy.

The Union’s attackers were wearing exactly the same kind of outfit that the Gods themselves had donned.  Or at least so they appeared.  A simple visual masking, crafted from the data collected during the mornings’ retreat, left the Pantheon’s forces gaping as they fell under attack from what appeared to be their own ranks.

As each Goddess turned they were confronted with a furious melee, as identical dusty figures tore into one another with Ultra powers.  Some hesitated, screaming for explanations they couldn’t have heard even if they were known.  Others lashed out, striking indiscriminately at friend and foe, desperate to secure their own lives, even if it meant destroying their allies.  Still others turned and ran, fleeing away from the confusing scrum, desperately hoping someone, somehow, could reestablish their command structure.

The Union forces suffered no such confusion.  Lenses in their eyes outlined their allies in green, their foes in red.  They struck only at the Faithful, and they taught their ancestral enemies the old lesson.  That those who came west would never return.

Any other Host would have broken then and there.  Dozens, hundreds of casualties in seconds, Ultras falling to weapons never seen before, confused and shellshocked, SPARTACUS had calculated that the Host would flee.

But this wasn’t any other Host.  This was the Grand Host.

The Goddesses who made it up might be confused, might be suffering, but still they were mighty.  The Union’s Ultras were veterans, true, but their experience was in gunning down their foes at a distance, then mobbing those too hardy to shoot.  Now they were toe to toe with Zilla’s finest, and they found for themselves the caliber of their opposition.

Overseers shouted and gestured, Ultras turned and stood.  The Pantheon forces, bloodied and battered from the ambush though they were, didn’t rout.  They spun about, sought out their foes and closed with them, striving to bring their gifts to bear against an enemy they still outnumbered, still overpowered.

SPARTACUS didn’t understand the enemy, not really.  Its data had been compiled over the long years of attrition.  It didn’t know Vampire, hadn’t considered that the enemy might fear their own commander far more than their foe.

Now the casualties began to mount on both sides.  Union forces and Pantheon in a grinding Ultra scrum, as figures wrenched and tore at one another.

Greggs, however, had been expecting this.  She understood something of what was coming.  She knew that one strike, however well executed, could never break a throng of such size.  She knew the deadly density of the Ultras in the center, knew a meat grinder when she built one.  All was still as she planned.

It would have been nice if the enemy had shattered.  She certainly wouldn’t have complained.  But she wasn’t counting on it.  She gave the order, and the second wave of skiffs raced forward.

The Pantheon, reeling and battered, had finally pulled itself into something resembling a line of battle.  They were all facing their enemies, all moving and acting in something like unison, gestures and shoves functioning as a kind of rudimentary command network.

Their mob roiled and clashed with the Union’s lines, those most suited for close combat bullying their way back through their comrades to get at the enemy.  They had been caught by surprise, but that was all over now.  Now it was just the mob and press, just two blobs of Ultras lashing out at one another, and they had the numbers, still.

Then the Union’s second strike him them, exactly like the first.

This one came from the front.  Greggs’ second wave disembarked and penetrated the shield in the same manner as the other crew, and once again they caught Vampires’ forces with their backs turned.  Once again the din of the bombardment and the general chaos of the Ultra brawl made the Grand Host slow to react.  Once again the Union forces had the pick of their targets, and took full advantage.

Now the battle was joined in earnest.  Union forces were all around their enemies, blasting away with exotic weapons and Ultra powers.  The Pantheon forces reeled and struck, lashed out with their gifts.  They backed away from their enemies, shrinking into the press of their colleagues as foam sprayed and space folded.

The Unions disguises were still active, and now they were even more effective.  The Goddesses couldn’t just strike in one direction anymore, they were all but surrounded, and so the direction that someone who looked like a comrade was firing didn’t mean anything anymore.

If another Goddess hurled fire at you, was she an enemy?  Or did she just think you were one?  Or was she trying to hit some Union foe who was behind you?  Internecine slaughter broke out, as Pantheon warriors entered instant cycles of retribution, striking down those who they’d seen take down friends, and so perpetuating mistaken identity into wholesale massacre.

I the midst of all of this chaos the Union achieved its real objective.

A sniper in the original band, carefully protected by a squad tasked to that purpose, finally got the shot that he’d been craving.  He drew a bead on the woman who was at the center of the shield, turned a nob on the top of her projector, and blasted a beam of folded space right through the core of the Goddess.

The target tottered and fell, and the shield vanished away.

Instantly the Grand Host erupted.  Explosions stitched across it, hurling Goddesses hither and thither, blinding and deafening those who could not be moved.  Clouds of smoke and debris rose up, and the world itself seemed to come to pieces around them.

Once again, the hand of SPARTACUS was at work.  The computer knew where every Union asset was, where every drone was firing.  It calculated every shot, saturated the Great Host while entirely avoiding friendly fire, and the Union forces backed rapidly away, freed up from the brutal grappling by this sudden change in circumstance.

This was the plan of General Greggs in its entirety.  This had been her aim all along.  With the shield gone her drones could strike at will, and not just the ordinary drones, armed with conventional weapons.

Other drones had hung among them, waiting for their chance.  These were armed with the same kinds of exotic weapons that the human forces had brought, and now they sited in and took their shots.

The general clenched a fist as she saw it all going to plan, as the projected casualties of the Grand Host rose above fifty percent.

The Grand Host, ha!

It had been growing for decades, had shaped the nightmares of a great nation, and now it would fall in the space of a single day of battle.  A smile crossed her face, for the first time since the border alarms had first rung out.

It vanished a second later, as Vampire finally let the Brides take action.