Day 18 continued
First things first. I shot Vower in the head a few times, the impact knocking it back and forth on her shoulders.
Probably hadn’t killed her, no time to check. I’d been heading towards the door while I shot, and I paused for only a second to check for more guards.
None were in evidence, so I pushed out into the street, left hand clamped on my wound, right holding my gun. I dashed immediately down the way, hearing the shouts of the two guards in the distance.
I didn’t retrace the path that I’d taken to get here, nor cut directly towards the warband’s barracks. There was no way for a wounded person to outrun a pair of people who left a minute before her, so I had to assume that the Dolls would get the message before or right as I got to their headquarters.
If there was no downside for Vower to setting up these conditions, then I could be walking into a meat grinder in any confrontation with the bulk of a gang. There could be literally dozens of Ultras irresistibly compelled to avenge their master. There were some Ultras who could take on a mob of their lesser brethren, but I had never been one. Getting caught by a pack of the Avowed (the name I’d picked out for Vower’s forces), would see me killed in short order.
I took a corner at a run, pushing through a shattered fence and over a pile of miscellaneous rubble. No one else was on the street, which would have been ominous if I hadn’t already known the drill.
The gangs owned their areas, just about absolutely. When their hue and cry went up, anyone they saw was prey. This street might have been bustling a few seconds ago, but the instant the shouts had started the humans had fled.
I pushed onward, forcing myself to ignore the pain from my chest and the ever increasing wetness sliding down towards my waist. I pushed myself into a veritable sprint, legs pounding the turf with mad enthusiasm, vision narrowing to the next archway, the next crumbled barrier.
Despite my mad dash, my mind was completely clear, even distractingly so. The extra ‘sentient’ kept my thoughts flying at an incredible pace, making it hard to keep myself moving, hard to ignore the temptation to plop on down and think everything through.
I’d chosen the path through the Broken Clock’s territory, or the ‘Timekillerz’ as their actual name turned out to be, for two simple reasons.
First off, Vower might not have her hooks in them. I didn’t think it terribly likely, if I had her gift I would make it a point to spread my influence far and wide, but the possibility was there. Never underestimate Regime stupidity, and all that.
The other factor was that I doubted that EVERYONE would be controlled. If I was pursued by Dolls Avowed, as seemed entirely probable when I made the plan, then some of the Clocks would presumably see them charging into their territory, and they might well make enough of a commotion that I could slip away in the confusion.
Best I could do, anyway.
I didn’t start as I heard the first signals going up all around me. I’d been prepared for this. Humans who lived in a gang’s territory would have no choice at all, not if they wanted to live. Anyone running on the street now was an enemy, and the faster I was tracked down and taken care of the less angry the gang would be.
Every gang’s calls were different. I didn’t know why they bothered, however. They were basically calling out the name of the street that I was on. The only information that they needed to convey was where I was, and where I was headed. In a pinch ‘over here’ would have accomplished much the same thing.
The Dolls went with bird calls, for whatever reason, and so a great hooting and whistling rose up around me. I didn’t pay it any heed, just raced on anyway. I’d heard that some people had tried, from time to time, to scare everyone into shutting up, but I didn’t think there was any way to outfrighten a gang of Ultras in the minds of the people they tyrannized. Even if you were scarier than they were, they would always be closer.
I heard the first sound of pursuit as I hit the edge of the Clock’s territory. Not footsteps, but collapsing buildings and tumbling walls. A glance over my shoulder gave me a glimpse of at least four Ultras, one of whom had just run straight through a building. They were maybe a couple hundred yards back, but I doubted I could keep that far ahead for long.
Terror gave me wings as I spilled through the archway and into the Clocks’ territory. I turned immediately, then again the opposite way, heading deeper in by an indirect path.
Vower’s gift bound the Dolls to kill me, sure, but I doubted it gave them any extra sense of where I was. If I could lose them for a few moments in an area where they didn’t know the local calls, they might well bump into their rivals and lose track of me entirely.
Worth a shot, anyway.
The Clocks’ territory apparently hadn’t gotten the message that they needed to be off the streets yet, as I saw a trio of people without Sigils going briskly about their business. Perhaps they thought the ruckus from the Dolls side of the border was going to stay there.
I didn’t bother to puzzle over it, well aware that my running energy was pretty close to giving out. Instead I kept running along this street, my attention wholly engaged with the alcoves and openings in the buildings along the way.
After a few more strides I saw one that looked promising, and I ducked quickly inside. It was a low crevice, leading into a room formed by walls collapsed upon one another, a dim triangular refuge.
I stepped immediately out of the door’s view and collapsed against a wall, hyperventilating and clutching my wound. This was it. I needed a few minutes to breathe and rest before I went any further, far longer than it would take them to catch up.
If they didn’t miss me in here, then I would have to fight them. As wounded as I was, it would be brief.
I prayed quietly that the humans hadn’t seen me, or didn’t understand the situation, or just hated the Dolls. I prayed that the Clocks had intercepted the enemy in force. I prayed for anything and everything to salvage the situation, my accelerated mind unable to do anything but continuously leap from one hypothetical to another.
All too soon I heard what I’d dreaded, the humans in the area calling out code.
No code phrases this time, simple “She went this way!” kind of calls, presumably because the pursuing Ultras weren’t a part of their particular gang.
I dragged myself erect, leaning heavily against the wall. I didn’t have any particular confidence in my ability to win this fight, but I wasn’t going out on my knees. I’d try and pull an attribute from whoever touched me first, hope for something that was a game changer.
A few seconds passed before I realized that the calls were coming from another street, and then spreading yet further away.
I felt a warmth within me that my wound couldn’t banish. The people of the Regime were shielding their healer. Every Monster, apparently, didn’t include me just yet.
I sank back down onto the ground, listening to my pursuers’ clamor as they passed by, a good dozen or more by this point. They followed the shouts down the street and through an opening, then presumably continued on after it.
It was tempting to stay here. To just sit down and rest for a few hours, let the gangs chase one another’s tails through the streets. But I couldn’t.
Every minute I hid from my enemy was another that Snitcher might decide to check in on me. The Warlord couldn’t hide from her enemies in a hole.
I slipped back out onto the street a few minutes later, as recovered as I was going to be without spending some serious quality time with my healing gift.
This time I didn’t run. I paced myself, putting foot in front of foot, stride after stride. I put my trust entirely in the people, forcing myself to believe that they wouldn’t change their minds and pinpoint me for my pursuers.
Step by step, the outer barrens of Shington faded away, becoming the more familiar inner wards. Step by step those inner wards grew ever more familiar, until I was approaching the Warband’s barracks, where Owner would be training my followers.
I had the horrific thought that they might have gone out of the city to train maneuvers or something, but it was quickly banished. No profit in worrying about things I could do nothing about.
I forged ahead, continuing at my slow and steady pace, glancing nervously over my shoulder from time to time, listening for any sounds of pursuit.
None came. They were still off on their wild goose chase, or the gangs had crossed paths and were now trying to sort things out.
I couldn’t know, and didn’t care. All that mattered was that they’d missed their chance at me. I stepped across the threshold into the barracks, bursting through the main door that led to the lecture hall.
At least half the warband was here. I felt an overwhelming feeling of relief. I’d made it. Absent yet more complications I wasn’t going to die today.
“Lecture over!” I shouted. “Get your asses outside and kill anyone who attacks!”
There was a tumult of curious questions that I ignored, stepping off to the side of the door and leaning back against it as though I was too cool to be bothered with the whole thing.
Leaning was better than standing, and miles better than walking. I made a mental note that I should do more leaning, and to investigate the nearly holy possibility of sitting as soon as the situation allowed.
Soarer was the first to stop in front of me, as the rest moved on by, it looked like she was about to ask me something.
There’s a way of looking at someone that I consider to be ‘the Regime stare’, where you convey exactly how little you care for their existence and how readily you would slaughter them. I used it now.
She didn’t finish her question, and instead, wisely, joined the rest in their scurry out the doors.
I took a beat inside, alone.
I hadn’t intended for Owner to join the rest, but here we were. I hoped she’d be ok out there.
I pulled on my healing gift, just a bit, doing what I could for my wound. In just a minute I’d have to go out there and lead my forces to victory, but I could pause for as long as I could make Snitcher, and maybe Her by this point, think that I wasn’t hiding.
To that end I dragged myself down to the lectern, where Owner had been going over the fundamentals of Ultra combat, and looked through her rather sparse materials. I thumbed a page or two aside, nodded approvingly and kind of grunted a bit, and all the while I kept my healing gift flowing.
This was going to suck. My forces should be superior to the gang members on a one for one basis, in that my gals were the people who’d left the gangs to enter the Yard, and those tended to be the strongest among their number.
But, on the other hand, the Dolls and Timekillerz each outnumbered my warband alone. Taken together they could probably mob us under, though at horrific casualties.
I wasn’t terrified, because I just didn’t find it to be plausible. I hadn’t heard Vower’s name a few months back when I was going up. There was no way that she’d had time, in the brief spring of her ascendance, to Vow every member of both gangs. She would have taken the leadership, sure, but they’d only have the backup who were down for both teaming up with their hated rivals and attacking the Warlord’s forces, all with no warning or prep time.
Gang morale also wasn’t the greatest. Even if they did show up in their full numbers, they’d probably break and run once the casualties got heavy, especially if the Avowed, the only ones who were enthusiastic about the whole fight, couldn’t stop themselves from leading the way.
A clamor from outside, shouting and explosions, broke my concentration.
I turned away from the lectern and stalked back out towards what sounded like an ongoing battle, still clutching my wound and pouring on my healing gift.
When I got to the door I flung it open, but didn’t step through immediately, instead peering out into the plaza and taking cover in the archway.
Ultras were slamming one another all over the opening, letting loose with the full fury of their gifts. I flinched back behind the doorframe as some kind of sonic thing went off, one of the Ultras who’d had her arm ripped off screaming like a banshee.
It seemed like we were winning, as far as I could tell, but of course we didn’t exactly have a uniform, and the gang colors weren’t incredibly clear in all the dust and the tumult.
“Get the traitors!” I shouted into the confusion, hoping Owner had found herself a pocket of safety. “Kill them all!”
I glimpsed a pocket of the enemy pushing forward, their way fronted by a Doll with striking read hair, and I threw myself out into the scrum.
I couldn’t just stand back and command. If Snitcher was watching, then I had to be more than triumphant, I had to be dominant.
I charged forward, pushing through a pair of my own who were hanging back and lobbing their gifts at the enemy, then into the midst of the fight.
A pair of my Ultras were grabbing at the red haired Doll, but she’d avoided their arms and flung her hands around one of their heads, which was rapidly aging in her clutches.
I took advantage of the moment, stepping off to her side and slapping a hand onto the back of one of her hands, activating my primary gift in the second of contact.
She had no Ultra toughness to work through, and it was the matter of a bare moment to slam Vower’s ‘sentient’ into her, afflicting her with the same runaway thoughts I’d been battling.
She pulled her hand away before I could steal another attribute off of her, but she seemed groggy, hesitant, in the half second I could observe before the other friendly Ultra caught up with her and bludgeoned her down into the ground.
I took a step back, eyes darting from left to right, trying to make sure no one else was rushing me. It looked like I had a moment.
There was still a knot of fighting behind where the red head had been charging, and another off to the other side. I drifted between the two, furiously pointing towards one and then the other, shouting inaudible commands.
The nearby knot of the enemy collapsed a minute or so later, our numerical advantage proving to be too much. My Ultras didn’t waste any time celebrating the victory, instead running over to join the fight on the other side.
Maybe Owner’s days of training was worth something after all.
The end came not long after that, as the numbers were simply too great for the remaining gang members. We took full command of the plaza within a few more minutes, the last of the enemy fleeing, broken and in full retreat.
“Listen up!” I shouted, taking immediate charge, before anyone else could take the chance.
Heads turned in my direction, a half ring quickly coming into being as my forces rallied to their leaders call.
“Everyone see to the wounded!” I continued. “Anyone who is dead, we need to know who that is. Anyone who is fucked up, we need to know how long till they get better. Watch for more enemies! I want people up on those buildings!”
I pointed at a few nearby structures.
“If I hadn’t warned you we’d have been caught completely flat footed!” I went on, letting the momentum carry me along, “You need to understand that you are the Warband now! We are ALWAYS on war footing! Always ready! I never want to see us caught unprepared again!”
Heads were nodding, and people were scrambling to obey.
“Owner,” I called, heart in my throat.
She moved out from behind a line of Ultras, the gun Builder’d made for her in her hands. She seemed unharmed.
“Yes Warlord?” she asked.
“Take care of the rest of this. I’m going to go brief Her.”
People looked down at the dreaded pronoun, and no one questioned any further as I slunk off to dubious safety of the Lair.
Afternoon: Healing my wounds:
I’d blocked off this time to expand the Warband, and after the casualties that we’d taken this morning I needed to do so badly, but that would have to wait.
There was simply no way I could function as the Warlord in my current condition. My enemies would smell blood, and my allies would be disheartened by my damaged state. It would be suicidal to carry on with my previous plans.
Instead, I holed up in the Packer House and worked on healing my form.
I’d been hoping that the Avowed would act a lot more zombie like than they had. I’d even dared to imagine them being cut down without resistance by my allies, if their single minded focus on obeying their imperatives had not permitted them to pay attention to their attackers. That hadn’t happened, which left a disturbing possibility.
There might be more of them out there, ones with more sophisticated Vows, or maybe just more room to interpret them. Her outside guards had ran off to raise the alarm while her inner ones had immediately tried to kill me, after all, so there was precedent for their obedience to take different forms.
I’d have to be careful, from here on out, for their efforts. My current thought was that they’d thought Vower was dead, and some kind of ‘avenge her’ vows had triggered, driving them to do something as suicidal as attacking a Warlord. All of that crew should have been cleared out, but the odds were pretty good that she wasn’t actually dead.
I’d left her mindless and battered, splayed on the floor of her own office, but eventually someone would probably get around to checking on her. If she had another set of contingency people set aside for the possibility of her becoming incapacitated, then this might not be quite done.
They’d need my cooperation to restore her, which I wouldn’t willingly give, but if their Vows didn’t permit them to give up…
I sighed, pondering hostages taken and the like, as well as the Union’s reaction. More stuff I’d have to keep an eye out for.
Somewhat surprisingly, the afternoon passed quietly, with no one coming by to demand an explanation or drag me off to Her. I finished healing my wound and got ready to head to the evening’s meeting.
It was incredibly tempting to skip it, or postpone it by a day or something, but Her timetable wasn’t going to waver. I still had to hit Phis, and that meant keeping my Posse working each and every day.
Evening: Debrief Posse:
“Training go alright?” I asked Owner, wryly.
She grinned a bit, looked away to hide a chuckle.
“I think they learned some things,” she told me. “Definitely not a boring day.”
“Did you two work together today?” asked Replayer. “I’ve had that thought a couple of times, that maybe the Warband needs to see us all as a unit. I dunno if the extra benefit would be worth losing out on us each doing things separately though.”
“I could teach the Warband?” asked Erupter, surprise obvious in her voice, “But I haven’t yet smote Her enemies myself.”
“What’s the damage?” I asked Owner.
“We lost 13,” she told me. “Most of those are killed, a few crippled too bad to fight. It was a real shitshow.”
“You don’t have to tell me,” I reminded her. “I was in the middle of it.”
“What went down?” asked Erupter, frowning dubiously at us, clearly trying to imagine a training session that killed a dozen people.
“Gangs came at us,” I told her shortly, “We slaughtered them.”
“The gangs attacked the warband?” asked Replayer. “I’ve never heard of that happening before. Do we know why?”
“Vower sent them at me,” I simplified, “I took her out for it. Hell of a fucking morning.”
Erupter gave a lot whistle.
“Damn boss!” she said, “Your eagerness to take out Her enemies puts me to shame. I’ll have to work harder at that shit! I didn’t know we could use the Warband before the attack.”
“I can,” I cautioned her, “Your role is just to do what I tell you. How’d that go today, anyway?”
“Four recruits!” she said, proudly, “And I can vouch for every one of their smartness and honesty. They are great.”
I sat in silence for a second.
“Are they,” I asked, “Are they perhaps the women who previously formed your patrol?”
She nodded rapidly.
“I see,” I said.
I didn’t have the energy to fight about it, I turned to Replayer instead.
“Got any Posse prospects for me?” I asked.
“I did,” she said, “But I’m kind of concerned you keep fucking killing them. If you just want me to find targets I wish you’d tell me, it’d be a lot less work.”
“Ha ha,” I said, drily.
“We have Battler, first up,” she said. “Bitch tried to join up with the last Warlord for the Ar Harbour strike, didn’t make the cut because she doesn’t play well with others. Strong as shit though, and hardcore dedicated. She tried to chase the Warband out into the countryside, only came back when she got lost.”
“What’s her gift do?” I asked, warily.
“Ultra strength two, Ultra toughness one,” she said. “Just basic fighting stuff, but you pare that with somebody who is absolutely ready for this shit, someone who lives and breathes to take down Her enemies.”
“She sounds fantastic!” agreed Erupter, enthusiastically.
I thought she sounded a lot like another Smasher, but there was possibility there.
“Who else?” I asked.
“There’s also Sniper,” she said. “She can look through stuff with her gift, and has some kind of shooting attack that goes along with that.”
“How do you mean?” I asked.
She made a circle with her finger and thumb, held it in front of her eye.
“When she does this she can see through things,” she said, “Like she has another eye out in front her that is flying forward. I think she turns her hand to move it forward or backward.”
“Is it just for aiming?” I asked, “Or can she use it for whatever she wants?”
It would be just like the Regime to have someone with an amazing spying gift and fixate on using it to shoot people.
“I don’t know,” she said, “But she has an eye beam gift, and she’s mostly known for using it to target that at her enemies. She made it to the Lair without Ultra toughness, so she must be pretty smart.”
“How?” I asked.
“Worked with the Knights, I think”, she said, “Though my informants weren’t clear on whether that was a thing that was still happening, or a one time deal in the past.”
I reflected, not for the first time, that Replayer’s people skills left a bit to be desired.
“All right,” I said, “Any more?”
She shook her head.
Two prospects was a bit on the light side, but at least she didn’t completely strike out this time. Really it was hard to care too much about it when I’d only narrowly escaped with my life.
But that had only been a stay of execution. I still had the looming deadline of the attack on Phis to prepare for. I forced myself to focus.
“Alright,” I said, “Here’s what we’re going to do tomorrow…”
11 days until next battle
Ultra rolodex: (#/#/# is Ultra strength/speed/toughness)
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
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
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
Grower – 0/*0/1, an outside Ultra I sponsored into the Lair, has a bullet blend from me, can rapidly increase the size and mass of objects
Joker — 0/2/0, a woman who can change what other people/herself look like
Stormer – 0/0/*, a woman who controls weather, does so for Regime big shots
Stomper – 2/0/1, can blast herself along with explosive stomps, problems with authority
Sworder – 1/0/1, Replayer’s flunky
Singer – 0/0/0, Buffs listeners with 1 in Ultra strength/tough/speed
Battler – 2/0/1, straightforward combatant
Sniper – 0/0/0, X ray vision and eye beams
Vower – 0/0/?, a woman who can enforce oathkeeping
Caller – 0/0/0, a woman who can grant and use telepathic communication
Nailer – ?/?/?, a woman who can merge objects and people into composites
Hater – X/0/X, a woman whose effectiveness depends on how much her enemy is hated, and by how many people
Resister – */0/1* Grows steadily more effective vs. each opponent
Finisher – 0/0/0 Can rapidly kill wounded foes in her line of sight
Limiter – ?/?/? Makes ‘rules’, or ‘shields’, that restrict her enemies, unlimited range, limited by being ‘used up’ by target’s attempts to take the banned action
Murderer – 0/0/1, Death Touch
Owner’s Shington Store
Posse: (4 slots, 3 filled)
Owner (trusted friend, housemate, gift hard to describe) 0/0/1
Replayer — 1/2/0, she can ‘step back in time’ to undo damage that she takes
Erupter – 0/0/2, a woman who retaliates against attacks on herself
11 Veteran Ultras, 23 Rookie (that is, haven’t worked with me before) Ultras
Hexxer, Peeler, Guager, Soarer are notably less evil than the rest.
Driver, Defender and Infecter possess interesting capabilities.
Blender AP: 5/10 (Trauma Reset to 4+1)
Actions cost 3, return 2 on success 0 on failure unless otherwise specified, Blender gains 1 AP every morning
Union Kill List tree, if you feel any indication to play along with their proposal (note that KEM/Resistance missions tie in well with these matters)
Get basic info on 4 Ultras (indicate names, this is a gossip based approach unless you specify otherwise)
Get detailed info on 1 Ultra (indicate name, this is a ‘track them down and speak with them’ based approach unless you specify otherwise)
Kill an Ultra from the list (indicate target name and your basic method, may cause rebellion or discontent in any Posse or Warband assets you use, may not, use your best judgement and be clever)
Send Union a Message (indicate text of message, this is actually a Resistance action, but I’ve placed it here for ease of use)
Posse Recruitment tree
Meet more Ultras (describe method, adds d6 to contacts)
Get to know specific Ultra better (describe method transitions Ultra to potential Posse member)
Invite Ultra to Posse (must have got to know target first, if accepted, Ultra joins Posse)
Get more Ultras (describe method, adds Ultras to warband of quality/quantity dependent on method)
Train warband (describe method, makes QM kinder to Blender in combat sections re: her troops actions and numbers)
Task warband (describe, needs Posse member or Blender to lead them, sets warband to a task)
VIP tree (Used for Regime Luminaries)
Visit VIP (explain, explain Blender’s motives and methods) (only returns 1 AP on success)
Contacts tree: (Blender currently believes morning is safer from Snitcher)
Get info from contacts (specify KEM or Resistance, method if different from usual dead drop)
Request mission from contacts (ask KEM or Resistance for action) (This can go in either direction, asking them to do something from you, or asking if they need you to do anything for them.)
Relax tree: (Actions which, on balance, regain AP)
Lay still: Cost 0, auto succeed, returns 2
Relaxation activities, Cost 0, returns 3 on success, 1 on failure
Healing work, Cost 1, returns 6 on success, Snitcher hazard
Blisser session, auto succeed, returns 4 per timeslot, cannot be ended until Blender is back at 10
Miscellaneous action: (Anything not covered above, scavenging, info gathering in person, etc, describe what Blender is going for)
Blender Morning Action
Blender Afternoon Action
Owner will take either a morning or afternoon action at Blender’s direction.
Replayer will take either a morning or afternoon action at Blender’s direction.
Erupter will take either an afternoon action at Blender’s direction.