Interlude, Battle of Istanbul:2

There were very few survivors of fights with Third Fist, but one of those few had notoriously described the initial moments of Leveller’s onslaught as ‘like being in a hurricane that hates you.’

Her experience had taken place in a desert, while the current setup could charitably be described as ‘right between two seas, along a river’.

The first the Grand Host knew of their peril was a sluicing river of water, a 20 foot tsunami, closing in from all sides.  They shouted, used their gifts, and performed what evasions were possible, but very few had the agility to get up above the water’s reach.  Very few even realized that they needed to.

The Host hadn’t exactly conducted any briefings, done any particular preparation for this.  Those few who had the presence of mind to wonder where the water was coming from came up with explanations like a destroyed dam, or some new Union weapon.  None of them thought it might be an Ultra.  There was far too much water for that.

They realized the truth an instant later, however, because what had looked at first like an enormous current of water was nothing so simple.

Leveller’s attack was intricate and ever evolving, aimed at everyone in the enemy’s vanguard simultaneously.

Beams of water leapt from the general flood, incredibly thin and capable of carving solid forms like giant swords.  Ice mallets appeared and slammed into those who seemed capable of being moved, hurling them into one another when possible.  More than one Ultra with spiky parts found themselves used as a living weapon, their points mashed and ground into their own comrades.  Ultras who didn’t have enough Ultra toughness found their own moisture fleeing their forms, transforming them in instants into dried rags, withering in the midst of more moisture than you’d find anywhere but at the bottom of the ocean.

All of this within seconds, tens of seconds.  The Ultras who had been Overseers, champions, who had defeated the Intervention Groups in an afternoon, were only dolls to be broken before Leveller, their meager forms lashed in a tidal wave of annihilation.  The Grand Host suffered ruinous casualties right from the first moments of Third Fist’s onslaught.

But they hadn’t come alone.  The Brides were among them, and they were not so easily dealt with.

None of the Brides of Zeus could be taken down by Leveller’s easiest techniques, they couldn’t just be dried out or split by hydro beams.  Their forms, one and all, had at least enough Ultra toughness to demand her focused attention, and she could only give that to one of them at once.

They raced forward as soon as the water smashed down around them, as it was their natural response to any kind of enemy challenge.  They hungered to get to grips with their victims, to draw them into the sort of brutal Ultra fighting that they’d trained for, and that’s exactly what they endeavored to do.

Leveller’s preposterous range kept them out of this for a brief instant.  Third Fist, knowing their target’s legend, had at least respected their enemies enough not to get up in their faces and loom over them.  Mover was being used defensively, after all, and they were all five of them on this battlefield.  Even the Striking Fist, as they were known, had taken some precautions.

They weren’t out of range for long, however.  Their enemies split up too far, too fast, bullying their way through the water and ice or just using transport gifts.  The expanding formation of Brides couldn’t help catching sight of a five man group that wasn’t being terrifically stealthy, and pretty soon that’s exactly what happened.

The Brides who spied their enemy launched immediate attacks, and in the process of doing so drew attention to everyone who could see them, who followed up, and so on.  It didn’t take long for every Ultra still mobile to be headed in what was basically the correct direction, or at least, towards Third Fist.

This was not, as it turned out, the correct direction to charge, for most definitions of the phrase.

Blaster was waiting for them, her namesake gift flaring white hot as she opened fire on everyone that she could see, and quite a few that she couldn’t.

Goddesses who were struck by the glowing white beams collapsed or flew backwards, often in several pieces.  The gift that the Company hailed as the strongest of its kind was in fine form, and the target environment was as close to perfect as it was likely to get.

Blaster’s gift wasn’t optimal for masses of infantry, wasn’t necessarily ideal for an army situation, but she had decades of experience wielding it against the champions who could survive Leveller’s onslaught, and that was exactly what presented themselves before her.

Blaster’s beams slashed directly through or around every shield that could be raised against them, sought out every Ultra who thought themselves cloaked.  Leveller was the culprit, of course, using her gift’s affinity with moisture to locate targets, and plotting out their location with ice formations that formed arrows from Third Fist’s vantage point.  She picked Blaster’s shots, and her teammate had only to follow her directions.

Those who sought to avoid the blasts found themselves balked as well.  The ice and water which surrounded them didn’t obstruct all of them uniformly, it seized up and solidified about anyone who was targeted, trapping them as well as it could at the instant that they most needed their mobility.  Even an Ultra who had the strength and durability necessary to forge ahead through Leveller’s tempest didn’t necessarily have enough of these qualities to dodge beams in it, particularly not given Blaster’s ability to swerve and guide her gift.

Ultras who fired back were also pitting themselves directly against Third Fist’s gifts, albeit in a minor way.  Ultra after Ultra found that what they’d targeted was only an ice mirror, or a bit of rubble raised and camouflaged into what looked, through the lashing spray and flashing lights, like their enemy’s silhouette.  More than one Bride whose gifts let them see through such things drew a bead and fired, only for their targets to jerk or slide out of the way as Mover played her part.

But even with all of this mayhem, all of the brutal slaughter that five had somehow brought  to thousands, there were still so many of their enemies.  Some few of their number, luckier or more brutal than the rest, closed in upon Third Fist, desperate to take the battle to their enemies.

Killer was waiting for them.

Those who speak of Third Fist tended to gloss over Killer.  Any half decent plan for the Fist’s annihilation was a surgical one, an attempt at a fivefold assassination.  Killer was the reason why.

Her gift strengthened her, in the midst of atrocity.  The deaths of humans empowered her.  The deaths of Ultras turbocharged her.

The deaths of the Grand Host, of dozens or hundreds of the world’s mightiest Ultras, was on another level entirely.

Those luckless few who drew near to the core of Third Fist could have been forgiven for believing that Subtracter was waiting for them, or even Her.  A form blurred almost beyond perception tore into them with brutal Ultra Strength, and what retaliations appeared to land on it did nothing whatsoever to slow it down.

She slaughtered champions lauded by Zeus himself in instants, tore mighty Brides, the victors of dozens of Ultra combats, limb from limb, giving her victims precious little time to move.  She grew faster and stronger with each victim, and soon enough she was ranging out into the tsunami, seeking those who had yet to make it through Blaster’s range, eager to test the limits of what her gift could give her.

Slasher, the name given to the Ultra who had singlehandedly carried out the Third Defiance, had been the go to response for the mightiest Ultra who had ever lived, aside from Her.  Pantheon loyalists would loyally name Zeus, but most everyone else agreed that the pinnacle of Ultra Speed was the only thing that might rival the pinnacle of Ultra Strength.

Killer, in this moment, sought to combine the two.  Her ability to conjure weaponry, her immunity to the same, was set aside for the moment.  She focused instead on pure power, shredding everyone she could get to, as fast as she could get to them, desperately chasing the pinnacle of her gift, killing to get the power to kill more, a snowballing process that would end only when the enemy did.

Vampire intervened.

The only reason that she hadn’t done so earlier was disbelief, shock.  The Grand Host, the Brides of Zeus, these names had the solidity of granite in her world, weighty existences that loomed large in her future.  When the tumult had first come upon them, her presumption had been that they were the ones doing the slaughtering, that this was some weak Union trick which would be undone by superior Ultra force.

It took long seconds for the truth to set in, carried back to her on her gift’s sensory side, her ability to detect everything that lay in shadow.  She witnessed the fall of Ultra after Ultra, Bride after Bride, without glimpsing the foe.  This was a massacre, a colossal failure, and she had led them right into it.

The thought of what Zeus would do to her for this was what finally galvanized her action.  A thought and the Bride that Killer was drawing nearer to vanished, then the one that Blaster was targeting, and so on.  She put forth her gift and absorbed all of her fellows into shadow, dragging them away from these enemies and sending them off to fight others on an entirely different battleground.

She had her doubts about the ‘skip directly to Berlin’ plan, but it had to be a better use of her fellows than feeding them to Third Fist.  Whatever damage they would do the Union would have to content Zeus, alongside the destruction of Her strongest minions.

She strove, in the next moment, to make that plan into a reality.  She stretched out her gift to seize the Fist, but could only get a grip on Killer.  The rest of them, somehow, despite all the dust and debris that the city’s collapse had kicked up, despite the tempest and deluge of Leveller’s fury, must still be in light.

Killer would do.  She focused in on her prey, pushing on her gift in a manner that she rarely had to, feverishly attempting to banish the Regime warrior before she could withdraw back into the light.

Killer, for her part, was casting furiously about for more victims.  She’d been so close, she felt as though there had been a threshold before her, a plateau from which she could’ve seen infinities unglimpsed, but to rise higher would take more.  She made no effort to get back to the Fist and their protective lights, took no actions to evade.  She was heedless in her hunger, berserk for more kills.

Leveller, with no other targets to focus on, found Vampire’s location quickly enough.  The moisture in her form betrayed her, and soon enough the tempest began to batter away at the collapsed tower top she’d perched on.  Vampire found her efforts split between attempting to warp Killer away and keeping herself in motion, chased from place to place by Leveller’s endless storm.

She was the equal to this pressure, however.  It wasn’t for nothing that Zeus had selected her, out of all of the Brides, to lead this force.  She went after the same weakness in Third Fist’s defenses that She did, the inability to focus on a rapid teleporter before they were gone again.  It took her some effort, to be sure, but every time she vanished and reappeared there was a long second or two where Leveller had to find her, then another for her to bring a concentration of moisture against her location.  During all this time Vampire was free to work her gift against Killer, and finally she succeeded.

Killer was tearing her way down into a subbasement, having convinced herself that her enemies must have fled beneath the ground somehow, when Vampire’s gift finally took hold.  She found herself without transition in deep space, spinning wildly about within an infinite vacuum, cold stars burning impossibly far away.

Their foremost attacker annihilated, Vampire turned her attention to the rest of the group.

Here she was on much shakier ground.  The remainder of Third Fist had stuck to their plan, and they huddled together in an impossibly well lit bunch, each of them surrounded by lights, torches, and anything else they could imagine.

The Union had played a favorite in this fight.  They’d long since accustomed themselves to the raids of the Fists, grown expert at giving up only what had to be given up and gained hard earned practice in threatening them into retreat.  The Fists were a gnawing pain in the side, an anguish long suppressed, but the Host was an existential threat, a cutting of the throat.

Third Fist had been wandering blind before they’d happened upon a group of Union soldiers who’d been carrying full briefings on the Grand Host, focusing in particular upon Vampire.  That information was what had led them to this battle, let them know when and where to catch up to their enemy.  They’d known, coming on, about what her gift could do, and they’d taken what precautions they could.

It had, of course, been forged.  The Union hadn’t used paper briefings in its entire history, these had been custom forged by enthusiastic spies with an eye towards tricking Third Fist.  They weren’t, in their opinion, exactly dealing with a brain trust here.  Their biggest worry was that their enemies might be illiterate, and there was an entire ‘pictures only’ version sitting in an office somewhere that had been rejected as too much.

Mover’s absence during the majority of the battle was simple to explain.  She was their insurance policy against Vampire.  Her incredible telekinesis had been leashed back and constrained, focused entirely on holding their group in place, in case that was an adequate countermeasure against Vampire’s banishing ability, and on holding a host of light sources around them.

Vampire, in her youth, had thought about what countermeasures to her gift might look like, and she’d persuaded a some of the other Brides-To-Be to do some drilling with her, so she had some idea of what she needed to do.

She just had to warp something into their presence which would destroy the lights, thus granting her gift purchase upon them.  It had always been simple enough in practice.

She fled from questing ice tendrils, putting herself in the driest shadow she could sense, then warped a bunch of rocks onto her enemies.  There were stones aplenty in the ruins of the toppled buildings, most of them in shadow.  She smashed them into the general area of Third Fist, hoping to shadow them or crush their lights.

There was no obvious response, no way to know how well she’d done.  Leveller’s pursuit continued unabated, and once again Vampire was forged to warp herself, finding shelter in a nearby subbasement that had somehow avoided collapse.

This wasn’t how she liked to operate.  She liked to stand before her enemies, warping anything that they shot at her away, and so some talking before banishing them.  She liked to summon things onto her foes, squash them and burn them like a child toying with bugs before going in for the kill.

But Third Fist were just too dangerous.  She couldn’t warp Blaster’s formless attacks, couldn’t possibly stop all of Leveller’s endless storm.  She had to resort to this measly hitting and running, this unsatisfying picking away at them.

She sent another wave of boulders, to no obvious effect.

Vampire had to think.  The one who could move stuff was probably just catching it when she shot things at them.  She could drop water, but they had someone who seemed to control all of that, so that wouldn’t extinguish anything.

Water was creeping up on her, she changed locations again, appearing in a hollow that had formed when two buildings collapsed against one another.

This would all be so much easier if she could tell what was going on in their area!  She would be able to precisely place her attacks, smash or extinguish each light source.

She went the other way with it, warping sand all over the place, just indiscriminately placing a smothering blanket all over their location.  It shot away nearly instantly, but she got a brief glimpse of what she was up against.

Four figures, fortyish light sources.

Vampire grinned for the first time in the battle, leaned forward and sent the sand back in.

This time they were ready, Mover hurling the sand away the second it manifested, but so was she.  During the brief second when it was shadowed she took a flashlight, dropping it somewhere over the ocean.

She changed position again.  She could do this!

It was very nearly her last thought.  The second she arrived one of Blaster’s volleys carved through the low trench she’d warped into, carving straight through the place her body occupied.

Only fantastic reflexes saved her.  The beam had been one of the glowing ones, and she’d sensed the shadows vanishing as it tore through a wall, activated her gift just an the merest split second before its glow would have reached her.

This time she’d taken no chances, appearing well away from the battle, back on the outskirts of the city.

She stopped for a moment, breathing heavily.

She’d nearly died.  The tiniest bit of hesitation and they’d have got her.  She’d be just one more corpse in the wreckage of a Union city.  She wouldn’t go on to rule the world at Zeus’s side.  She wouldn’t grind it into the noses of her rivals in the Brides.  She would just decay, her story ended.

Fuck that.

She raised her middle fingers towards the distant foe and then vanished again, following her minions to Berlin.

 

6 thoughts on “Interlude, Battle of Istanbul:2

  1. …well, that’s a victory for the Union, indeed. Thousands of the Pantheon troops killed, and those been the fastest and most eager for battle, leaving alive only those that Vampire could pull out of he way in time.

    I wonder what this means for Fourth Fist? Were they pulled out and to Berlin?

    And I seem to recall that Berlin was suggested to Vampire *by* Fourth Fist, who had already leaked that suggestion to the Union… or, in other words, the Union will be ready and waiting for them there, too… it seems that Zeus’ great war band is not quite doing as great as Zeus had expected.

  2. This is very anticlimatic (but very cool, too!)… Fight has happened, lives were lost, but in the end nothing important has changed. Vampire is still alive and the host is still a thing despite heavy losses.

    It does show that besides being a spoiled brat, Vampire is a coward, which is interesting. I would have expected her to fight to the death instead of escaping (or at least go back and work on a way of killing the Fist).

    Although it’s still enjoyable, it looks like the story is moving really slowly.

  3. Also, an important question: is Vampire all-powerful at night or does she need a real shadow for her gift to work? Supposedly, at night half of the Earth is under the shadow of the Earth, but gifts don’t work that consistently.

  4. All caught up (minus Regime Quest). Still cool stuff so far, interesting to see how the status quo is shifting around, from powers to politics.

  5. Also, now that Killer is out in space, I’m assuming she’s just stuck out there, huh? The Link’s not gunna drag her back, so she’ll keep coming to life and immediately dying. I guess Third Fist should technically know where to find her, but getting out there to reach her might not be possible. Guess that’s one way to do it!

  6. Wait a minute. Wait. Hold up.

    Does this mean that Ultra Beasts are now a thing?

    Like, can Jane’s body-infused hosts now undergo the process?

    Not that I’d recommend it by any means, but still.

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