Regime Quest 33

I shook my head, doubts and idle thoughts banished.

Guinevere.  She was what was keeping their bargain Ultras and enhanced mortals fighting with my killers, keeping them in this fight at all.  She was what was prolonging this madness.  Even if King Arthur managed to make another wave, without her gift they’d be lambs to the slaughter.  My Posse could fend for itself, or die if it came to that.  My focus had to be on Guinevere.

I suited action to words, storming back into the melee, shoving aside a few of my own troops to get at the enemy.

The first thing to do was get rid of ‘living’.  The enhanced senses were nice, but I needed my death touch back.  Guin had Ultra Tough 2, which meant the only thing I had that might touch her was my blending.  I needed to get my hands on her, take something from her that she could not live without.

I had my chance immediately, as an enormous brute with pushed his way through a pair of combatants and smashed his fists down at me.

I took a step back in spite of myself, nearly tripping for the dozenth time today as his punch shot past.  There was no reason, in an Ultra fight, to assume that a big guy’s punch was any stronger than the smallest waif’s, and in fact it was often best to assume the opposite, but I’d dodged anyway.

I powered forward to compensate, stepping into his reach and launching an open handed slap.  If people were too stupid to cover their faces in an Ultra fight then I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to use my touch based gift.

He turned his head to take the blow, raising a shoulder slightly, but I still made contact, and I let ‘living’ go the instant I could.

He staggered back, eyes wide and staring.  He didn’t collapse or anything, but he was plainly not in a good way.  I darted past him before he could get used to the doubled senses, hoping one of my followers would take him down.

Immediately behind him, naturally, were more of the Ar Harbour assholes, a trio of whom decided to tackle me all at once.  I couldn’t get my legs down in time to jump aside, and they caught me good, knocking me into the back of the big guy and sending us all down to the ground in a squirming heap.

I was extraordinarily sensitive to the peril I was in.  Close quarters with three foes, no idea about their gifts.  I didn’t have Ultra Strength, couldn’t just rise up and toss them off.

Instead I squirmed and writhed, hands reaching frantically about, searching for exposed skin.  I caught an ungloved hand, stole ‘moves’ from a form that suddenly stiffened, and used my suddenly greater celerity to contort that hand onto an unguarded face.

It was my foe’s turn to go into a frenzy then, as the new ‘moves’ clashed with whatever they’d previously had, it disrupted things enough that I could heave myself to my knees, then up to my feet, only an arm hooked around my knee impeding me.

My survival was most likely due to the nature of my enemy.  These weren’t Ultras, not really, just vessels for King Arthur’s gift.  They had a little strength, but not enough to hurt me.  They had no touch based gifts.  I hadn’t been in quite as much danger as I’d thought.

Wasting time with that thought earned me another trip to Ground City, as the arm around my knee wrapped my other and turned my attempt to leave the tangle into a headlong tumble.

I curled my stomach, bringing my arms back to wrestle with the person who’d grabbed onto me, when my head was rocked to the side by a thunderous kick from someone standing above us.  My ears rang and my vision flashed white for a second as I shot through the air, torn free of the hands that gripped me by the enormous impact.

My flight was interrupted by at least one other person, and I tumbled down once again to the ground atop them, then immediately caught fire.

Guin could see me again, which meant that I should be able to see her, which I could try to do as soon as I was not on fire.  I groped around, dragging the person I’d slammed into atop me, trying to use her to block my enemy’s line of sight.

That didn’t seem to help at all, as I found us both lifted into the air, her screams and thrashing a jarring, distracting cherry on top of the world of pain that was being burned.

I tried to use my gift on the fire itself, got nowhere, it didn’t give me any meta tags that I could distinguish, or maybe I was in too much pain to notice.  I writhed about, got a hand onto the side where the grip seemed slightly less strong, touched my hand to the bit of asbestos I’d tucked away for such opportunities.

I took ‘fireproof’ instantly, and could see for the first time in at least ten seconds as the halo of flames around me fell away.  By sheerest coincidence I was facing in the direction of Guinevere, and I marked her location among the throng even as I started falling.

She’d lifted me about ten feet up, and only my sudden drop saved me from an incoming Ultra gift of some kind, blue energy that shot by overhead with a crackling power that made me very grateful it hadn’t hit me.

I landed on my feet this time, finally, and immediately headed towards Guinevere, who had only seemed to be about twenty feet off.  I had pushed through a pair of my allies, and wonder of wonders they didn’t attack me.

I caught sight of her up ahead, she’d been tripped up by a brawl between one of theirs and one of mine, and she was using her flames to sort things out.  It had slowed her for a moment, and I got to within a few steps of her before being balked once again.

Flames surged around me, despite my gift’s defenses.  They did not burn, but jerked me back, shoving me away from Guinevere just when my hand was about to fall upon her.

It took me a second, and a strange difference in the way that I was being tugged, to realize what she was doing.  She’d set afire my clothing, rather than my unburnable flesh, and she was using it as handles on me, hauling me back by my pants and shirt. The bitch!

My first, immediate instinct was to strip down, but I’d be utterly vulnerable as I tried it, and I had no particular reason to believe that my strength was greater than her gift’s anyway, she might well be able to hold things on me until they were completely consumed.  Instead, I lashed out with a gift that I’d hitherto disregarded.

“Kill her!” I shrieked, pointing as well as I could with a hand blessedly flee of any confining clothing.  “NOW!”

There was a lot of shouting going on, enough that I’d given up on doing squad level stuff, but I’d put a lot of time into basic obedience drills, and those few who were close enough to hear my voice and recognize it obeyed instantly.  Blessedly, one of them had a blasting gift.

Guinevere stopped hauling on me for a moment as the beam closed in, setting herself afire instead, presumably trying to drag herself out of the way, but the timing didn’t work out.  It took her in the upper chest, spent her sprawling down into the ranks of her allies.

I shot towards the spot where she’d fallen, weaving around a furious enemy with a chainsaw, of all things.  If I could get her before she…

She was ash and char from the waste to shoulder, eyes wide and staring.  The flames which consumed her now were entirely natural.

I made a note to look back over our ranks, see who the fuck we had who could take out someone that Ultra Tough in one shot and make sure never to turn my back on them again.

Naturally, the instant I made this resolution I got shot in the back, but good.  A silver-red line ran through me and through the next girl ahead of me, coated instantly in a gusher of blood.

I tried to fall and twist away, but the line clung, searing and penetrating.  Only a desperate kick and thrash combination broke the line of effect, letting me away into a frantic roll.

I came to my feet with a shudder and a howl of pain, eyes already tracking my assailant.

It wasn’t hard to find her.  The overall scrum was ending, in my favor, but there was a knot of enemies still fighting hard, back around where Builder and Owner were supposed to have been.  Ar Harbour’s actual Ultras and some Union assholes were at the heart of it.  It was one of them who had tagged me, judging by the silver wires lashing out from her outstretched hand into the Ultras pressing in on her little group.

I took a step towards her, stopped as a shudder of agony ran up my side.  This was not a light or incidental wound.  I needed to take stock a second, figure out my next move.

 

Actions, choose one or write in.

  1. Go after the Union Leader who just impaled me. Will probably be one on one,  I’m confident I can take her despite my injury, I am VERY good at murder.
  2. Go intervene in the Lancelot/Smasher fight, if that’s still raging (HOW is that still raging??). Will probably result in a 2 on 2 as the Union leader follows.
  3. Go after King Arthur, leaving Smasher to fight 1 v 2 if the Union Leader doesn’t pursue me. May be in time to stop whatever she is up to, likely the creation of another fucking army.

Interlude, Battle of Istanbul:1

The differences between Pantheon and Union forces, coincidentally enough, were echoed by their commanders.

Vampire was in command of the Great Host for one reason, and one reason alone.  Her gift was the mightiest among their number.  Yes, Zeus had placed her in command, and yes, she had a certain bestial cunning that a number of the child soldiers who made up the Brides lacked, but ultimately neither of those would have sufficed to keep her in power if she hadn’t been able to back them up.

Her life up to this point had been a wrenching one.  She was born in Death’s camps, took the Process on schedule and been selected immediately as one bound for Olympus.  She’d been warped to the capital and placed among the Brides, and distinguished herself even among this elite by utter savagery and immense power.

Her plans were basically informed by her past.  The Host had moved steadily and without deviation for this point, and had met nothing but victory.  It would have defied reason for her to balk now, and she had no intent to.

The information that she had at hand was minimal.  Haunter had bent her ear, back when Fourth Fist had joined the Host, about the Union’s unlikeliness to defend the city.  Preventer, just last night, had griped about more of the same, presenting her with an alternate remedy in the case of an opponent who didn’t show.

She’d listened to them, but hadn’t been convinced.  Her life had been lived in preparation for this moment, for the conquest of the Union.  She felt in her bones that they would fight for their city, and she looked forward to meeting their feeble efforts in battle and breaking them.

The Union’s force, by contrast, was led by Marshal Hen.

For the usual Obscurocracy reasons it was impossible to say with any certainty who the greatest military leader in the Union was.  Such a person would have immediately become a target for their assassination happy enemies, and so the upper echelon of the Union’s leadership was a shifting fog of committees and sponsorships, with responsibilities overlapping and changing according to a bizarre and deliberately complicated schedule.

But this was a crisis, and the Union had built into its structure a simple way to respond to such things.  All possible candidates, all the ones among whom responsibility might devolve, were polled, and their accumulated wisdom was used to select the one who should lead the nation’s military in its last extremity.

Hen hadn’t merely won the election, votes for him had exceeded those for every other candidate.

This had come as something of a surprise to him, because he regarded himself as very much “yesterday’s man”.  He was the one who had issued the battle doctrine of the Intervention Groups, of the Union’s studious non-interference in the Pantheon’s political affairs.  He’d been General Greggs’ sponsor, and was as closely affiliated as it was possible to imagine with the way that things in the Union had always been done.

He’d seen the appearance of the Brides as a stunning rebuke to his views, a fatal sign that his guidance had tipped the country he loved into the direst possible peril.  In the immediate aftermath of the ruinous first battle against the Grand Host he’d sincerely considered suicide, abstaining only out of the possibility that his services might yet be required.

The officer corps had disagreed.  They saw him not as the architect of their peril, but rather as someone who had delivered them two generations of life, despite the opposition of every other polity on the planet.  His record, in their eyes, had only the one blemish, which was nothing like enough to offset the endless victories that the Intervention Groups had delivered.  There was no other choice.

He had prepared feverishly for this day, taking utter control of the Union’s military and intelligence assets in the region, and striving feverishly in meetings and briefings around the clock to put together an operation unlike anything they’d ever done before.  The close coordination that he achieved among the Union’s assets was a performance that few could properly appreciate, but if the Union was to endure it would have such efforts to credit as much as it did any battlefield heroism.

He had the satellite’s images, when they could be wrangled away from the assholes whose special ‘SOV War Project’ had stolen so much of SPARTACUS’ time.  He had the spook’s reports, most intriguingly those purporting to emanate from a captured General Greggs, and finally he was perched atop the report and response nodes of what he believed to be the finest military that the world had ever seen.

He was an ordinary human, like his protégé, and he was hundreds of miles away from the battlefield.

The Pantheon’s forces for this battle were substantially the same as those they’d had in the last battle, minus any casualties between.  They had the women of the Grand Host, the survivors of a hundred Pilgrimages, every one a bulletproof Ultra with at least some combat experience.  There were still thousands of them left, and they made up the main body of the Pantheon’s Host.

But the elites of the invading army utterly eclipsed them.  The Brides of Zeus were still here.  They’d taken some losses in the previous battle, and a few more carefully targeted losses on the march, but dozens of the strongest Ultras in the world still formed the core of the army.  They’d broken the Intervention Group’s Ultras, veterans with unbroken records of triumphs going back decades, in a single afternoon.  The world had never seen their like.

Atop even these was Vampire, and her tame Fist.  She was of the mightiest imaginable echelon of Ultras, another Prevailer or Zeus.  She had yet to show her gift in battle, but dark muttering among the Union held that she was stronger than all of her escorts joined together.  She had strength like that which had smashed the Defiances, and no Ultra of that caliber had ever been defeated.

The defenders of Istanbul, such as they were, had no such luminaries among them.  They moved in brigades, in squads.  Their edge came from their numbers.

Marshal Hen had, at his command, all of the strength of the world’s last civilized nation, and he could have had a hundred thousand soldiers for this battle.  He could have probably called upon twice that.

He’d refrained.  He believed that once you outnumbered your foe ten to one inflating the numbers beyond that served little purpose, other than to amplify the effects of a catastrophic defeat.

His troops numbered a little over forty thousand, a number that had staggered the Union’s deployment capabilities, but which, if lost in a sudden spasm of Ultra violence, wouldn’t automatically cause the nation’s collapse.

The hardest requisition that he’d filed had been to the nation’s Ultra Corps.  He had gutted them, striving desperately to match or exceed the Grant Host’s numbers in Union Ultras.

With the nation’s peril as a wind at his back, he had succeeded.  He outnumbered the enemy in Ultras, and had enough conventional troops, drones and specialized tech to pull off any exotic tactic that he might deem necessary.

From his point of view the problem was one of quality.  The Union’s most combative and experienced Ultras had perished with the Intervention Group.  The fighters he was fielding now had little experience, and many lacked the all important first degree of Ultra Toughness.  They could never be pitted directly against the Grand Host.

For elites he had the Gauntlet, a few dozen mighty Ultras, the sort of person who on the other side might have risen as high as Overseer.  They might defeat an even number of the enemies’ rank and file, or they might not.

Every imaginable onlooker would have agreed that the upcoming battle was a walkover, but there would have been a sharp disagreement over who would be doing the walking.

Istanbul itself bore little resemblance to the shattered ruins of the Regime, or the occasional town that the Grand Host had torn through on its way there.  This was a thriving Union city, a great megaplex of steel and glass.

The Grand Host gaped, their minds reeling, as the city rose before them in all of its undamaged splendor.  It seemed a vision, a mirage, that the dusty plains and monotonous farmland could give way to suddenly to this impossibility.

They marched into it in stubborn defiance, refusing to be daunted by these impossible edifices.

Olympus seemed a slum besides this, a broken down hovel.  Its storied towers little more than service buildings when weighed against these impossible structures.  The Union’s monstrous constructions made the invaders feel, as never before, the vast gulf between their two civilizations.

The Pantheon being what it was, it also made them want to see what it would look like when they fell down.

No order was given to Indulger or his followers.  Once again, the armies were utter opposites.  The decision to move the Host, at speed, directly among the great spires of the downtown wasn’t one that Vampire was even consulted upon.  Dale simply acted as his instincts bid, secure in the knowledge that every one else would do likewise.

The Union had debated the next steps endlessly, weighing the impact on enemy morale of giving battle vs. falling back, of atomics and poisons.  There had even been a faction arguing that the best thing to do was ‘cock block’ the enemy by levelling the city themselves, before they even caught sight of it.

Ultimately, however, they would defy Haunter’s expectations, convinced by the Marshal’s plan.  The spires of Istanbul were not uninhabited, and as soon as the Grand Host moved among them they gave spirited evidence of it.

In the early days of the Pantheon’s march the enemy had lurked ahead of them, permitting their shield to be carried past them and then launching surprise attacks.  Indulger’s appearance among their enemy had brought an end to that tactic, his ability to sense along the ground forcing them to switch things up.  But now, by a trick of the terrain, it was revived.

The Union launched their attack from above.

Union operatives had hidden in tall buildings, and on cloaked skiffs, and as their battle harnesses gave the ‘go’ chime they leaned over the edge and let their enemies have it, a torrent of folded space and Ultra powers suddenly unleashed from directly above.

Nor was this all that they’d brought to the table.  The Union had continued to declassify and deploy their tech after the last battle, and had convinced themselves that the dreaded nanoswarms, not seen since the Second Defiance, had been made safe for their use.

They boiled up out of empty basements and specially concealed cannisters at the same instant as the Union soldiers attacked from above, millions and millions of gnat shaped drones whisked through the air by cunning lithnetics and directed with pinpoint precision by lethal computer intelligences.

The Grand Host convulsed, Ultras desperately trying to keep their eyes and faces clear of the drones while also defending themselves against an attack from above.  It was long seconds before the merest counterattack could be mustered, seconds in which their enemy picked their marks and shot unhindered.

The author of the Pantheon’s great shield fell during this time, her elimination a priority of the enemy and her silhouette marked in red on their goggles.  Indulger toppled too, shot down the spine by a folded space weapon.  Ouroboros was also killed, her foreknowledge insufficient to keep her alive when the earth and sky moved against her.

But this was no mere Host, no clutch of limpid pilgrims.  Soon enough they began to rally, and then to strike back.

Some few had ranged gifts, and there was nothing to block their retaliation.  Others were mobile beyond reason, and they swarmed up the buildings in a frenzy, desperate to close with their ambushing foe and take out some payback upon their flesh.  But most did the obvious thing, and smashed the bases of the buildings, annihilating the supporting levels of a block or more of Union skyscrapers.

Not since the Toppling of the Old World had there been such a crash, as a half dozen corporate towers and living habs toppled artlessly across one another.  Avalanches of building material spilled sideways across the streets, support beams toppled like battering rams from heaven, as the Pantheon pulled the world down on itself.

There were comparatively few casualties on either side from this, certainly nothing like one could expect from such an earth shattering calamity.  On the Pantheon’s side this was due to simple Ultra durability.  Anyone who could fall to mere tons of earth had long since vanished from their ranks, or at least had been disintegrated when the nanobots attacked.  On the Union side the answer was mostly preparation.

The Marshal had considered mining the towers, setting off something like this.  But the analysts had been united in their assertion that the enemy would, given any provocation at all, pull them down on their own heads.  So it had been planned, and so it had proven.

Not that the Union didn’t lose people.  The sheer force, the chaotic madness of a world where the sky fell from every direction, and the still deadly blasts that the enemy through their way all took their toll.  Skiffs toppled from the sky, exploded or otherwise, and the survivors fled west towards the river.

It was long minutes before the Pantheon could pursue.  They spent the time digging themselves out, smashing the nanoswarms and generally putting themselves back in something resembling order.  Oaths were shouted, fists shaken, and a few impromptu shoving matches broke out, but ultimately Vampire’s will prevailed.

They tore after their enemy at a sprint, bashing blocks and rubble aside with brute Ultra power, and pressing heedlessly towards the river at the city’s heart without fear, despite the fact that their path took them beneath yet more of the Union’s enormous buildings.

Waiting for them at the river was the Union’s best chance to halt their invasion.

This was the coordination that was at the heart of Hen’s strategy, the ancient art of ‘let’s you and him fight’.

The Grand Host weren’t the only invaders in the country, nor were they necessarily the strongest.  The Regime, utterly unwilling to sit out the battle that might define an age, had sent an almighty force of its own.

For the last week and a half, the Union had been tracking Third Fist as they tore their way through the countryside, and now, by dint of carefully ‘leaked’ intelligence, the heroic sacrifice of a few willing ‘captives’, and a lot more luck than they would ever like to admit, their enemies drew near to one another.

The Union forces which had fled the Grand Host had been given the option to flee in other directions, but they understood the stakes.  They’d fled, one and all, directly into Third Fist, and been summarily slaughtered, their lives forfeit in order to make sure that the enemy units encountered one another.

The sacrifice was not in vain, as the Grand Host, eyes smarting from dust, blood hot from vengeance, made no distinction between its fleeing prey and an enemy that no sane person would have ever engaged.  They charged without a second thought into Third Fist.

 

 

Regime Quest 32

It was a simple plan.  It should have worked.

The failure came, like all failures, from a disconnect between my expectations and the reality which actually developed.

I was familiar, like virtually everyone else from my time, with the concept of ‘circling the wagons’.  I’d seen it in ancient movies that I’d streamed when I was small, heard references to it in other media, and generally marinated in the concept.  It was a simple one, once learned it would be hard to imagine forgetting it.

Once learned.

My followers, of course, were creatures of the new world.  They’d grown up in an entirely different context, with its own patterns and memes to get used to.  The one they were applying was something like “Obey your leader or you will be immediately murdered.”

So when I turned my truck in the beginning of a U-turn, they didn’t follow directly behind me, hen & chick style, they made the same turn that I did, blindly mimicking my movements.

When I got to the next part of my maneuver, where I was to turn back the other way and form up with them, I collided violently with the truck behind me, who was attempting to execute a ninety degree turn.

There was no time even to curse before a violent shudder signaled the truck’s collisions, and an inevitable followup shudder the rest of the ridiculous pileup.

I clenched my teeth, eyes bulging with rage for which I could find no outlet.  Should I disembark?  Get out and yell at people, get the drivers to back up and do the right thing?

Useless.  We’d be here ten minutes.

I passed a hand over the steering wheel, right where the press for the horn was.  I used my gift, diving into the metadata, questing for ‘Loud’, or something similar.  If I could just steal a communications attribute I might still salvage this idiocy.

“Big, Vehicle, Cargo” came back.  My gift was applying to the truck as a whole.

Just perfect.  I’d need to open the hood, get at the actual horn itself, tear it out in order to get my gift to scan it right.

“Boss, should we get out?” asked a warband member, nervously.

I looked back over my shoulder, pushed my features into a pleasant smile.

She blanched.

Ok, it might not have been that pleasant.

“Yes,” I said.  “Let’s all get out.”

We disembarked pretty rapidly after that, as did the rest of the squads.  The third truck had managed to jam one of its doors in the slow speed collision, but they just tore a whole in the side and stalked through.

For a moment chaos ruled, a mob of fifty Ultras milling around, squad members looking to their leaders, leaders looking around in the confusion.

“Get the fucking smoke machines on!” I roared, “And get on those lasers!  4th Squad, you need to be doing what you fucking trained for!  Other squads, get ready to fight!”

I might not have had any special blends for my voice, but I could still make myself heard when I wanted to.  They leaped to obey, swarming back onboard the mass of trucks and jumping to their positions.

“All right, now…” I yelled, then paused.

Ideally, I’d like for the enemy to come to us at this point, but they hadn’t shown any signs of that so far.  If I sent the infantry forward into the precious zone then it would get ruined, but if I didn’t do anything then She might get antsy.  I paused for a moment to consider what to do.

It was a fateful pause, as the enemy chose that moment to launch their attack.

From the ruins around us they poured out, dirty figures in rags and ill matching uniform segments, essentially identical to my own Posse members.  They surged into us from where they’d been lying in wait within the basements and crevices of the wrecked buildings.

They’d chosen the wrong crew to try this on, though.

Lesser Ultras might have been thrown into disarray or panic by a sudden onslaught, but these were the girls of the Yard.  Unpredictable Ultra fights were their bread and butter, the thread from which their lives were woven.  They fought back instantly and without hesitation or mercy.

In the first few seconds of the battles joining I saw a woman slap another one’s head off and launch it across the fight street, someone torn literally in half and another one exploded from the crotch upwards. I was pretty sure that my team had been on the good side of at least most of that.

The corpses, at least those that I thought were enemies, had weird streamers of energy coming out of them, drifting towards the intact target buildings.  Like souls leaving the body or something, visible tendrils of energy.

That was all the time I had to observe, as the fighting spread to engulf my own position.  The Ultra who’d been standing in front of me was born to the ground by a pair of foes, their desperate faces distended with bloodlust and fear, and another leaped for me.

I ducked her grabbing arms, stiff armed her across the face and called upon my gift.  I didn’t waste time reading her metadata at any great length, just stole ‘living’, and let her topple to the ground as a corpse, another trailer of weird glowy misty stuff pouring out.

I stepped smoothly aside from the falling body as stolen life poured through me, every sense alight with doubled furor.  The battle seemed to slow around me.

I took a step towards my pinned soldier, but the enemy had already rammed some kind of bladed implement through one of her eyes, so I just turned my stoop into a brutal knee across one of the killer’s faces, sending her reeling into her partner.

Someone punched me in the back, but it wasn’t hard enough to be a focused strike, probably just an ally bumping into me.  I didn’t lash out, stayed focused on the two before me, kicked again, nailing the inside of one of their thighs.

A gust of smoke washed across our crew, far stronger than the haze machines should have created, I dropped to the ground as I misplaced a foot in the sudden violence, but I turned my fall into a desperate grab at someone’s shin.

My gift beckoned, but I couldn’t take another concept so soon, and I wasn’t about to give ‘living’, to what might very well be an enemy.  I just wrenched at their knee, toppling them down upon me and the dead girl from a moment before.

She came down across me, coughing and gagging, kicking and squirming.  I recognized her as one of my own a heartbeat before I’d been about to grab her throat, so I rolled aside instead, passing from smoke into actual goddamn flame.

I screeched in animal fury as the fire engulfed me.  No wonder there had been so much goddamn smoke!  My enhanced senses relayed the searing heat from every bit of exposed skin, worst of all, for some reason, from my fuckling hands.

I rolled through onto the other side, kicking and bucking in a frenzied bid to put myself out.  It hadn’t been Ultra strong fire, or not very much so, as I was still alive, but I was blind and mewling around, and She wouldn’t tolerate that from her point of view on a battle for very long.

At that chilling thought I shot back to my feet, fire momentarily put aside, just in time for some asshole to closeline me back into the goddamn fire!  I roared in pain as the flames washed over me again, ashes filling my mouth.

But I was ‘Living’ for two right now, and Ultra tough to boot, so I shot up out of the fire again, bouncing back out like a cork from a raging sea, eyes straining to get some point of view, SOMETHING for Her to see.  My hands swiped mindlessly before me as I pushed my way free.

A scene of bedlam met my eyes, Ultras brawling and blasting all across the trucks, or at least their wreckage.  Dusty figures in tattered rags cursed punched one another amid the smoke and flame, while striving always to avoid the esoteric energies which crackled and blasted across the battlefield whenever anyone found time to focus a gift.  Toppling figures streamed those strange patterns, always heading towards the same building.

Flames and smoke rose and died without pattern or reason all across the battlefield, scorching one fighter and leaving the next intact.  It was a picture out of an ancient painting, like some bygone monk’s depiction of the deepest hell.

She’d love it.

I glared furiously around, swiping at my body to try and put the fires out, even as I sought their source.  This was more than a smoke machine, more than just the after effects of some blasting gift, this was one of my enemy’s trump cards.  It was Guinevere’s gift.

It should have been impossible to pick anyone out amid that insane battle, but I was doubly alive right now.  It let my senses do things I couldn’t reasonably explain, and I found my gaze instantly arrested by a slight figure crouched on the edge of one of the ruined buildings upper floors.  She wasn’t hurling flames or doing anything obvious, but within a few seconds I saw her head tilt, and then a flaming Ultra crash sideways into another one of my minions, which was enough for me to go on.

I shot forward like a cannonball, shoving and pushing my way through the mess, but almost instantly had to fall back as some asshole tried to take my head off with a giant sword.

My backstep bumped me into someone else, who toppled over, but I was able to jump over their body as the sword came around again, narrowly missing me.  The woman singing it was using both hands, screaming something I didn’t bother to understand.

As soon as my back foot hit the ground I reversed myself, throwing myself inside her arc before she could come around for a third strike, driving my shoulder into her neck and upper chest and sending her reeling, sword flying from her hand.  I staggered a few steps after her and someone shot me.

It was a hell of a blow, just a massive impact to the side of my head out of nowhere, probably a high caliber rifle or something similar.  It rocked me on my heels, and I slid/dove forward into a tackle on the woman that I’d just staggered, closing in to deny whoever was firing on me anymore shots.

Her arms draped pointlessly over my back, and she actually did some hammer punches onto me, as though that might do any good.  My estimation of the quality of King Arthur’s soldiers dipped even lower.

She’d needed a sword, which meant she wasn’t Ultra strong, which meant she could punch away on me all day.  She ought to be covering my face with a hand, or grabbing for a tool on her belt, or doing anything which might matter, but she squandered the last instants of her life on meaningless rage.

I pushed her a few steps, eyes wide and staring, looking for the densest clump of boots and legs, then launched her off of me and into it.

I threw myself to the ground immediately after, dropping into a sort of crawl or dive, keeping my forward momentum without rising up for any distant sharpshooters to target.

Was I being insanely overcautious?  It was hard to imagine that anyone could have picked me out of all that nonsense to shoot for my head, but the impact had been real.  Most likely it had been some gift, or a thrown stone from someone off to my side, but I couldn’t take the chance.

I pressed ahead, slipping around the tackle of someone I was like nine tenths sure worked for me, and arrived at a solid press of bodies.

These assholes were shoulder to shoulder, and the instant I got close to them a pair tackled down on me, pressing me down into the dirt.

One of them had Ultra strength, and she immediately started wrenching at my head like she was going to tear it off.  The other had hold of my arm and was doing something similar, and also seemed to be jamming a knife or something into me.

I grabbed frantically for the blade, choking from the strong one’s grip, and grabbed ‘Sharp’ away from it.  Their hands loosened instantly, blood gushing from severed fingers.

I didn’t give my blend time to stabilize, immediately forcing ‘sharp’ onto the strong one, hoping it would be an unstable result.  Taking two blends at once was horribly risky, something I’d very rarely done.

I didn’t have time to see the result in detail, but she toppled off to one side.  Hopefully it had replaced ‘breathing’ or ‘thinking’ or something similar.

I got a hand under me and tossed myself forward again, passing through the gap in the line where those two had been and into the shade of a ruin.

The smoke and dust was just about as bad here as it was out in the scrum, but at least I wasn’t on fire for the moment.  I looked furiously about and spotted a ladder leaning against a wall, its top vanishing into the room above.

I didn’t spend another second in there, racing to the ladder instead, hearing someone at my heels and trying desperately to convince myself it wasn’t another Ultra Strong foe.

Heck, maybe it was an ally, following me to glory.  It wasn’t impossible.

I shot up the ladder onto the second floor, kicking away the hands that scrabbled for my feet, then the ladder itself, and turned to face Guinevere.

She was still crouched at the edge of the window, still doing her thing, gazing out over the scrum and directing the flames.  She’d heard me come up, however, and she spun around to face me before I could reach her.

Of all the possible things she could do I never imagined she would try and talk.

But, impossibly to believe, she thought we had something to say to each other.  She opened her mouth and held out her hand, like a total fucking idiot.

I tackled her off of the edge, sent us hurtling back down into the chaos, before she could get a syllable out.

Sorry for the fucking interruption, you bitch.

I landed on top, jumped back up for what felt like the tenth time today.  The instant I was on my feet I was stomping, aiming at her face and mostly connecting, I lost myself in a transport of violence.

I snapped back to alertness a few seconds later when I lifted a boot up and saw the intact spit curl underneath.  Right.  Ultra tough, I wasn’t hurting her at all.

The realization, and the instant’s paralysis that accompanied it, cost me dearly, as she twitched a finger and covered me in flame.

Her fire didn’t seem to have any ‘force’ behind it, it didn’t damage me through my Ultra toughness, but it did let her get her telekinetic grip on me, and a second later I was hurtling sideways, slamming back through a wall into the building she’d originally been lurking in.

I forced myself back to the edge, the flames dissipating as soon as I was outside her sight.  I took a quick second to look the battle over.  My team was winning, but it was a lot closer than it ought to be.  I needed to get moving.

 

Actions (choose 1 or write in):

  1. Fight through the scrum in the direction the ‘streamers’ are headed. They are likely pointing to King Arthur, and if she empowers another army the size of the first it will be very bad.
  2. Fight through the scrum to get back to Guinevere, her fire is the only thing keeping their inferior troops from getting utterly owned by my Utlras.
  3. Fight through the scrum to Smasher, she looks to be losing to Lancelot, and that would be a big hit to morale.
  4. Go check on Builder/Owner. They might be in trouble, and Builder’s gift could be doing a lot more than it fucking is.

Regime Quest 31

Union HQ, mid morning

“Say again?” asked the Captain.

“Intercept shows the attack on Builder as a no-go, same as Owner.  Asset could not find target.”

The Captain pursed his lips, furrowed his brow.  He’d been prepared for success, expected it.  He’d been dreading a possible failure, scaring himself by imagining ways that their preparations might have been insufficient.

But this…

“Any elaboration on that?” he asks the SPARTACUS system.  “Did the insurgents’ command network ask for any further details?”

“Negative,” comes the smooth, electronic voice.  “All information has been conveyed.”

He chewed his lip for a moment.

There could be a hundred innocent explanations, a thousand.  The bungling of their local partners was a constant thorn in his side, and the Lair was probably the most hostile operating theatre in the world.

But still…

“System, get me authorization on an immediate ping on our intel networks, get the spooks to cooperate if possible.  I want to know why those two didn’t get hit, and what’s going on today.”

“Processing…” said the computer.

The Captain sat in silence, resigned to the time required.  He’d spent influence making that call, resources and collateral that a man in his station accumulated over time.  The intelligence branch would want their own favors in return, and he would have to grant them.

But he hadn’t made his rank by ignoring his hunches, and something about this stunk.  Blender was a creature of habit.  Her minions should have been in place this morning for the attack.  One might have deviated, but both was a stretch too far.  Something was going on.

He just had to find out what.

 

Ar Harbour, late afternoon

“You couldn’t stop them?” asked King Arthur.

The Union soldier shook her head, unshed tears shading her eyes.

“By the time we realized they were on the move it was too late.  They could get here any second.”

The sound of flesh striking flesh echoed in the room like a gunshot.

Arthur regretted the slap the instant she carried it out, but she’d never been able to fully control her temper.

“Damn it!” she hissed, “You promised me an intercept!  I wanted to evacuate weeks ago, but you swore that we’d be good through one more cycle.”

The operative slowly turned her head back to face her assailant straight on.

“I have relayed the instructions of my superiors.  If you’d like to continue wasting time with me I don’t have any objections, but I think we both know that there’s something else you could be doing.”

Arthur gave a muffled curse and bolted out of the room, already calling for her guards.

“Get her up!” she shouted back over her shoulder, “I don’t care what you have to pump into her.  Get her up and in this fight or we are fucked!”

 

Ar Harbour, Dusk

“That’s it, that’s all, you are the last,” she said, slumping down upon the bench.

The Retinue didn’t cheer or chant, simply stood before their leader, every soul raising a hand in salute.

She barely acknowledged it, weariness bone deep showing in every gesture.

“There comes a time,” she said, her voice diminished by the afternoon’s expenditures, “For every nation, every country, every city.  There comes a time when fascists try and take over and kill everyone.  That’s today for us.  If we don’t win, our children will become slaves, and we will become cold bodies.”

They rushed off, brave men and women, their forms swollen with power to match the greatness of their spirit by her own gift, now utterly exhausted.

“It looks like you’ll have the numerical edge,” said the outsider, who had stood idly by during her efforts.

“No thanks to your masters,” said Arthur, bitterness curdling her tone.  “But I suppose I shouldn’t blame you for that.  Thanks for everything you’ve done up till now.”

The girl from the Union shook her head, mask swaying back and forth.  “Up till now?  We aren’t going anywhere.”

“Your bosses aren’t cutting us lose?” asked Arthur.  “We didn’t get either of those Ultras that they care about, and they made it plain that…”

A raised hand shushed her.

“They are here.  Ten to one, more.  My boss activated some of our own assets, and they can’t be found back in the city.  The targets will be on the field, and we’ll be sweeping them up.”

Arthur didn’t think anyone could possibly be dumb enough to deploy those 2 to a hot zone, but didn’t bother to argue the point.  Arguing the Union out of lending her aid in her time of need would be just about the worst blunder imaginable.

“Just thank your lucky stars,” the squad leader said.  “You’ve got a Union team backing you up.  You just might win this.”

Dusk, Front Truck

Blender peered through the windshield, glaring at the makeshift barricades ahead.

Would Prevailer mind that the downtown had been hastily walled off?  She shouldn’t right?  Fuck.

No one moved inside any of the windows, no one breathed in the streets they’d crashed through.  Give King Arthur this.  Given the choice, the woman had cleared the civilians out of the way.

Blender was profoundly grateful.  Their fate if caught in the midst of an Ultra conflict would have been grisly in the extreme.  It had been a narrow contest between the thought of reenacting the massacre of her home village, this time in the heavy’s role, and the thought of perishing in a Union drone strike which had been the more terrifying.

But neither had occurred.  Maybe her worries had been overblown.  Maybe they’d caught their enemies napping.  Either way, she’d delivered her whole force to the enemies door.  It only remained to kick it in.

She looked back at the In Your Face squad, at Smasher.  This was the time when a war movie would have a big speech or something.

Mia doubted She would tolerate that.

“Force rules the world!” she said.  “Let’s kill them.”

 

The Situation:

Blender is in Truck #1 along with Second Squad.

Smasher is in Truck #2 along with First Squad.

Fourth Squad are in Truck #3.

Third Squad, Blender and Owner are in Truck #4.

The trucks are currently idling in a column, 1 2 3 4.  In front of Truck #1 is a section of road that has been hastily blocked off, telephone poles and piles of rubble thrown across it.

In her opinion the Trucks could drive right through.

No one is visible in the road behind the barrier, but there are large intact commercial buildings on either side of the road, which are very likely to hold enemies.

The section of Ar Harbour that Prevailer is concerned with are the 3 blocks immediately behind this barrier, conspicuous and easily discernable by their basically repaired nature.

The area behind/around the trucks is urban wilderness, decayed buildings and such.  Blender is pretty sure she saw someone ducking back into a window just a second ago, so it is possible that there are enemy immediately around you, lurking inside of ruined structures.

Night is just falling, and the only lights currently on are the 4 truck’s headlights.  Vision isn’t a huge problem now, but as time goes on it might start to be.

The Plan

  1. All 4 squads will turn on their truck’s smoke machine and then disembark.
  2. Third squad will spread out to all 4 trucks and man the giant rifles and lasers, firing at anyone who comes into line of sight and isn’t in one of the protected buildings.
  3. Smasher disembarks along side squads 1,2 and 4. Owner and Builder hang out in Truck Four, with Builder peering out the front window in the hopes of seeing the enemy’s rumored Union Tank and using her gift on it.
  4. When the enemy sends troops at us we will fight them, with Smasher & Blender taking on enemy champions, Third squad going after any ghosts and fourth squad staying at range.

Worries that Blender has at this time

  1. Line of sight from the back 3 trucks isn’t great, will get a bit worse once we start spraying haze around. Most important (and worst of all) is the line of sight from the back truck, where Builder is.
  2. Prevailer is probably anxious to get the fighting started. I don’t know if I can afford to wait for them to approach.
  3. Don’t know where enemy’s main concentration is. Almost certainly some in target buildings ahead, some in ruined buildings around, but hard to know which side has the most.
  4. Still don’t know if invisible enemies are a thing in this fight. Nerve wracking.
  5. The darkness could be more of a concern as we go along.

 

For this week’s contribution please indicate any changes that you want to make to the plan, or vote for letting it continue unaltered.  Please note that changes to Blender’s actions are free, but if you want any other party to act in a different way from the plan you have to include how Blender tells them their new orders.

I can follow plans of a pretty arbitrary complexity, and I’ll use the character’s established personality to fill in any gaps, so feel free to use as many forks and branches as you like in telling me what she’ll do.  I’ll ask you if anything is unclear.

Preventer 10:2

I wished, with all my heart, that I could make myself believe that Haunter had been making it all up.

I could get most of the way there.  She had a huge host of collaborators, and she could call upon really good actors to drive her form.  Regardless of the plausibility of something, Haunter could sell herself as sincerely believing it.

So it was possible.  She could have seen Nirav/Condemner’s bizarre behavior and leapt to take advantage, painting a picture of a dark future where everything she wanted came about and my gift was taken away.  It would have been an effective lever to use to control me.

But if I posited that flavor of Jane, there were a lot of other levers lying around.  She could have invented a prophecy from Answerer, or a way to tattle to Her on me.  A Haunter without scruples could have come up with something a lot more plausible than this tale of weird reality bending creatures as the source of our gifts.

Not that I was letting her pull the ‘it is so implausible it must be true!’ trick on me.  I knew that evidence against couldn’t become evidence for or you could reason yourself into anything.  But it was a supporting thing, a bit of weight for the idea that she was sincere.

So I maybe believed her, I kinda believed her.  If I had to put it at a number it would be like nine out of ten she believe it herself, three out of ten Condemner was telling the truth.  I still thought it wasn’t the most likely thing, but it was likely enough for me to take precautions.

“She’s almost ready,” said Ouro.

I contented myself with a nod in reply.

I’d been the go between for our group and the Grand Host’s leadership ever since the beginning.  The reason I’d given for it was that my gift likely protected me from her foresight, but of course that wasn’t the primary reason.  The main purpose of positioning myself like this was simply politics.

If I wanted to be part of the Leadership Council after all of this, then I had to gain the respect of these women, and that meant interacting with them, doing the sordid work, day in and day out.

It wasn’t a natural fit for my skillset.  I was most comfortable alone, or surrounded only by my inferiors.  I wasn’t the best at sucking up.

But I wasn’t the worst, either, and it wasn’t like the Brides had been selected for their political acumen.  By my own reckoning I’d done very well since my arrival, made the best I could of these fleeting weeks of travel and battle.

The glances that came my way from the rest of the Brides, up here on the leadership’s platform, were no longer envious or scornful.  Indulger had proven our worth by killing off Manus, and he’d proven our value by scouting out Union ambushes and speeding our journey.  Jane’s own contribution with the scouts was also something that most people had heard of vaguely, and would be another point in our favor.

I let my gaze wander around, looking past the Brides to the remnants of the old leadership, to Zilla and Legion’s cronies.  Arena, Lotus, all those girls.  They had become our staunchest supporters, clinging to us as a sane counterweight to Vampire’s arbitrary fancies.

I looked at the woman in line ahead of me, cringing before Vampire as she stuttered out some plea or other.  A front liner, maybe an old Overseer, no doubt asking for protection from the bullying of the Brides.  She’d be leaving disappointed, if she didn’t just disappear entirely.

That could happen, of course.  I’d seen it.  Vampire’s gift was awe inspiringly powerful.  She could teleport anything that lay in shadow, bringing it back into the world anywhere but inside another person.

At this time of night that meant that she could warp anyone and anything.  The woman taking up her time could suddenly find herself in deep space.  Ultra toughness might delay the effect, but not for very long.

Whispers put her as the third or fourth strongest in the Pantheon, a woman who only Zeus and Prevailer stood conclusively above, and who would contest the second of those statements.

With her patronage, my future would be assured, but only if Haunter was wrong.

If Haunter was right, however, then very soon her influence would simply be that of one young woman, not terribly bright.  She’d be irrelevant, a refugee or the victim of a drone strike, depending on fortune’s decisions.

What Jane didn’t seem to get was that the same was true of me.

If Ultra gifts were going to go away, if the Union were fated to seize back control of the world, then where would I end up?  Where could I?

Jane’s path, leaping to the Union for a safe landing, or to wage her solo mission, that couldn’t be mine.

Everybody knew that the Union knew everything.  My time in the Regime, as a leading light in Shington, would be utterly damning.  I’d be marched up against a wall and shot.

Jane had made noises about herself and her shades testifying on my behalf, assuming that her scheme with giving her shades bodies and thus keeping them once gifts went away even worked, but that was immensely dubious.

Another quick set of odds.  If this all happened, and gifts vanished, and Jane survived, call it five out of ten, and her shadows survived in their new forms, call that another five out of ten, then what were the odds that they wouldn’t betray me?  What were the odds that the Union would listen to their testimony, and allow ex Regimer-ers to tell them what other ex Regimer-ers they could or could not execute?

How many gates, and none of them very far in my favor?  Sum them all up and the possibility was vanishingly small.

I’d make a gesture, a motion in her direction.  Maybe it would save my life.  But for the most part I still had to place my faith in Ultra gifts.

Maybe they had had these doomsayers back in the old world.  People waving signs or shouting from corners that the end was coming.  Presumably they’d ignored them then just about as much as I was ignoring Jane now.  What else could you do?  How could it be rational to bet on the apocalypse?

The woman before me bowed her head and wandered off, leaving me to step up and face Vampire.

I took a second to marvel at how well rested and relaxed she looked.  She was leading an army into enemy territory, on the verge of what she thought would be a huge battle.  She’d broken the Intervention Groups, pushed into the Union proper and was about to sack one of their cities.

She just looked bored.  No lines under her eyes, no dirt on her skin.  Dull, narrow eyes squinted at me as she picked her nose.

“Vampire,” I said.  “Can we get some privacy?”

This had come to be something of a calling card for us.  Very few others bothered with it, putting their faith in the shield, but Fourth Fist invariably attempted to use what countermeasures we could.

“Ok,” she said.

I liked to think that it added to our mystique.  It certainly meant that I didn’t have to let people watch me cringe before her like the last woman had.

Without the slightest sign or gesture a steel square appeared around us, four great walls wrenched from some house somewhere, leaning against one another.  A split second later a roof appeared, then dirt and grime to clog up the intersections.

All told it took about two seconds, maybe less, for her to entomb us, leave us in utter darkness.

“I want to talk about the upcoming battle,” I said.  “Are you up for that?”

“Sure,” she said.

I’d come around to believe that her laconic manner was something of a front.  She was aware that she wasn’t the smartest, so she didn’t talk much, just kind of loomed menacingly and let other people dance around her temper.

The important thing was that she could tell the difference between people trying to help and people trying to bullshit her, or at least she thought she could.  I’d always been careful to be as sincere and helpful as I could, trying to stay on the right side of that divide.

“What do you think is going to happen?” I asked her, carefully.

I was spending our social capital on this, turning her usual method around and making her talk first.  She wouldn’t tolerate it from most, but I was betting that here, with no bystanders, she’d level with me.

“The Union are finally going to fight here,” she said.  “No more of this picking at us from a distance.  We’ll take on their big defending army and break it.”

I knew that Jane had broached this topic with her back when we first joined the Host, but I didn’t have the details on exactly how that had gone.  I had to be careful.

“I don’t…” I said, choosing my words carefully, “think that they will do that.  It doesn’t fit with what I understand of their mindset.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

There was no hostility in her tone, which was no guarantee of course, but was at least an encouraging sign.

“The Union doesn’t think like us,” I explained, “I mean their leaders.  They don’t understand about glory, don’t know how shameful it is for an enemy to take one of their cities.  They are like the idiots in the world that died, and they war like it.  They won’t defend a city, they’ll defend its people.”

“Isn’t that the same thing?” she asked.

I shook my head, which was of course useless in the blackness, but I expected she could sense my position through her gift.

“The people can move.  We’ve been marching towards this place for two weeks now, ever since your victory over the Intervention Groups.  I think they’ve likely evacuated the city by now, it will just be like the areas we’ve been trudging through, maybe with more traps.”

“Bullshit,” she said.  “They having no gift that can do that!”

“Remember that they are different,” I cautioned.  “They don’t rely on gifts.  Remember all those little flying things that they attacked with.  They could use those to carry their people away.  Why wouldn’t they do that?  If you were in their shoes, you’d do that, right?”

She didn’t say anything then, but I could feel her suspicion and skepticism like living things in the darkness.  I heard a sound that might have been a fist striking a wall.

“Think of it this way,” I said, “They haven’t tried a big fight since the one you won, right?  So they must prefer to pick away at us.  If that’s the case, why would they change that now?  If they move the people they can keep right on picking at us, even though we may be in one of their cities.  They can just rebuild it later.”

“Then how can we make them fight!” she snarled.  “How do we fulfill Zeus’ orders if these heathen weaklings keep on hiding?”

“I don’t know,” I told her.  “But I think the way we are trying isn’t going to do it.  We can’t sneak up on them with the shield on us, and they are much faster than Indulger’s top rock moving speed with their little ships, so I don’t think we can catch their units even if we race straight at them.”

“There HAS to be a way!” she insisted, more naked emotion in her tone than I’d ever heard before.

She wouldn’t have spoken that way in public, and it indicated, to me, that she at least mostly believed what I’d told her about the plausible evacuation.  It added up to me having become something of a confidant, so that was a private victory, but this still needed to be managed very carefully.

“Sacking a Union city is something,” I said.  “Just because they don’t have the wit to know their shame doesn’t mean Zeus won’t see it.  We can probably just smash everything and then move on from here, the main host will catch up with us in a few months, right?  Maybe we can make it to another city.”

From my understanding of our rate of attrition we could weather that time pretty well.  We were losing a few Ultras a day and killing less than that with the current situation.  We might be able to make some progress in stopping their raids, too, so that number had some room to improve.”

“I’m not looking for ‘something’!” she snarled.  “I’m looking for glory, I’m looking to put those other bitches in their places, make myself Zeus’s true partner, fuck Isis.  I want to kill these Union assholes by thousands, by thousands of thousands!”

“They aren’t going to attack you,” I told her, plainly.  “There is no way they haven’t found out what your gift does by now, with how spied on our column is.  Some of the people who disappeared in the first fight must have been snatched away, they would talk, they won’t cluster up for you to get them.”

“Then we attack them!” she said.  “Fuck the shield, rush them down, break them!”

“I don’t think that’ll work,” I said.

I didn’t think she was actually serious about abandoning the shield and charging across the countryside, this was more of a reaction or a test kind of thing.

“They will see us coming with their drones, fly away from anyone who isn’t fast enough to catch them, mob anyone who does manage to catch up once they break away from the rest.  The shield is a huge help, we can’t just abandon it.”

“There must be a way to get them,” she insisted.  “What do you suggest?”

“They will defend their people,” I said.  “If they can’t get them away in time the army will come and put itself in the way of the ones who can’t fight.”

She was quiet once again.

“Remember it is all backwards there,” I said.  “They don’t fight for their leader’s glory, they fight because they get money from all the ones who don’t have to fight, or something like that.  The bottom line is that if we can get to a city that isn’t evacuating, their army will fly over to rescue them.”

“But Istanbul is probably empty?” she said.

“I’ll bet on it,” I said, “if you like.  Nothing but some bombs or other inventive traps.  Maybe poison.”

“Do you think they have emptied their other cities?” she asked.

I shook my head, marveling at how well Jane had anticipated this line of conversation.

“I do not,” I said.  “They’ll only evacuate a place we are drawing near to.  They can’t, or they wouldn’t, just do it for everywhere.”

“I’m getting an idea…” she said.

“I think I had the same idea, I said, we strike another one of their cities!” I said.  “I think Berlin is probably the best-“

This was my gesture to Jane, a suggestion that she’d carefully considered, and one that she’d leaked to the Union a week and a half ago.  I doubted it would actually buy me anything from a victorious Union, but covering my bases was probably worth it.

“Why just one?”

Regime Quest 30

Results from Previous round votes:

2 Votes plan CCC

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

Winning Plan:

[Morning] Train the warband in combat with Mist around their feet

 

[Afternoon] Practice with Builder (see below)

 

[Owner] Purchase street maps of Ar Harbour, and the area between here and there. Her street maps won’t be perfectly accurate in this world, due to not showing roads that are no longer in repair, but they should still prevent us from getting totally lost en route.

 

[Builder] Practice the combat uses of her skill. I get hold of a bunch of balls (the polystyrene “particles” used in that museum should do) and throw them at her; while her job is to use her Gift to stop them after I let go but before they hit, largely by making them grow ‘sails’ or other bits in mid-air.

 

The aim here is for her to practice using her Gift on small, moving targets while under time constraints. This will be a useful skill under both a union ambush or an attack by the Tank.

 

[Smasher] Afternoon: Train the warband in combat.

Day 27 Log :

7 AP at start of day (6 at end of last day +1 for half night’s sleep)

-2 Train warband with smoke machine (5 AP)

Roll 9, +1 for success (6 AP)

-2 Practice with Builder (4 AP)

Roll 3, +1 for success (due to Builder’s roll), (5 AP)

Builder Train for combat use of her skill

Roll 10, success

Owner: Purchase Street Maps

Roll 9, success

Smasher: Train the Warband in combat

Roll 6, success

End of day, 5 AP

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

Train the warband in smoke impaired circumstances:

A single month’s training, or not even that, would never have been considered enough in the old world.  Expertise took ten thousand hours, or something similar, and even a simulacrum thereof wouldn’t come quickly.

I knew this, I did.

But it was still easy to look over the warband and think about how far we’d come.  Their ability to follow directions, their fighting spirit, and even their ability to integrate the exotic tactics and stratagems we’d planned felt like it had come leagues and bounds.

I had to remind myself that the proof was in the pudding.  I’d never seen them kill en masse before, and this new training had never been truly put to the test.  I’d given them a few weeks of discipline and instruction.  I probably hadn’t truly changed them.

But damn it felt like we had.  They had no trouble with the smoke machines, running through all of their drills while the ‘haze’ settings output pooled around their feat.  They dodged imaginary gunfire, kept track of sight lines, engaged imaginary enemies and performed as well as I could’ve imagined.

Thinking that, however, put another chill up my spine.

As well as I could’ve imagined.

If they had little to no experience in group fighting, how much less did I have in orchestrating it?  I’d never led a group of 50 Ultras into battle against an equivalent force on prepared ground.  I’d barely even spoken to someone who had.

Should I have spent more time with Subtracter?  The woman was a vicious brute, she’d stolen my life away, but if I put all that to the side could I have gotten more out of her experience?  She was one of the few living who’d done what I was about to do.

Long practice kicked in and I stopped second guessing myself, pushed instead of second guess the second guessing.  I had asked her things, had gotten minimally useful replies, and a loathsome task.  Her experience would have hinged on her gifts, which I lacked entirely.  Advice from her would have taken the form ‘fly rapidly around kicking everyone’s heads off until She appears, then lick her boots.’

Nonetheless, it was easy to fall into such patterns.  I’d had a month.  Looking at my warband, I thought I’d done pretty well, but had I done well enough?  Was there ways I could have done better?  Would it be sufficient?

Tomorrow, King Arthur would tell me the answer.

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

Work with Builder on training her gift in combat:

“This isn’t working,” I told her.

Builder didn’t say anything, but the brand new black eye made her agreement more than obvious.

“What’s going wrong?” I asked.  “Balls only fly because they are shaped for flying.  If you can just make them have protrusions that are a different shape they should miss.”

“You are throwing the balls too fast,” she complained, in a monotone voice, “Like I told you at the start, and again after the first hour!”

“No one is going to gently toss weapons at you,” I retorted, heatedly, “They are actually going to try and kill you.  We are talking about arrows, bullets, or at the very least slings and thrown rocks.  I’m not exactly a trained pitcher, here.  If these are too fast for you then you aren’t going to stop anyone who is trying seriously!”

She held up both hands in a congratulatory gesture.

“Ex-act-ly!”  she said,  “I’m not a combat Ultra.  I made that clear to you when I joined up!  My conjuration isn’t like Adder’s, it takes time for things to manifest.  Even a brisk walk makes it hard for me to put something on someone.  Something at any kind of pace? Forget it!”

I scowled at her, trying to figure out how to motivate her.

“And shouldn’t your gift be protecting me?” she complained.  “That hurt a lot, and I know Ultra strength doesn’t go along with projectiles.”

“I made you bulletproof,” I told her.  “That has nothing to do with thrown objects.”

She pulled a face.

“That’s dumb.”

I shrugged.

“It’s how my gift…”

Ok, yeah, I got the irony.

“Look,” I said, “I’m not pressing you because I enjoy it.  Or because I’m trying to emphasize how you much you depend on us or anything.  You know me well enough to know I’m not about that.  I’m trying to save your life.  We are going into battle.  Tomorrow you will live, or you will die.”

She looked up at me.

“Throw again,” she said.

I grabbed the museum prop, took aim.

Life wasn’t a movie.  You didn’t suddenly get better at something just because you needed to.  I drew my hand back to throw, already sick with the certainty that the ball would fly unhindered, would slam once again into my friend’s form.

I threw it.

Or, at least, I tried to.

But something had joined my hand to my waste, and something else had grown rapidly across my eyes, a sort of stone visor.

“Shit!” I snarled, moving a hand up to push the visor aside.

Builder had moved, while I’d been distracted, and was now hunkered comfortably down behind the couch.

“That wasn’t the drill!” I objected.

“You said to stop the objects, well, they move too fucking fast.  So I stopped the stationary target.  Best I could do.”

I chuckled, dropping the prop down to the ground alongside the powdery stone she’d built up on me.

Life wasn’t a movie.  But movies were made by people, people drawing on their life experiences.  Desperation wasn’t magical, didn’t give you new capabilities that you’d never had before.  But it was certainly inspirational, and, on the right day, if you were lucky, it might let you make better use of the abilities you already had.

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

Debrief Posse:

“You already know how my part went!” said Builder, cheerfully.

Owner shot me a dark look from where she knelt at her side, a cold cloth pressed to the bruise around her face.

It was possible, I’d allow, that I’d thrown the props a bit too hard.

“And yours, Owner?” I asked.

“I didn’t beat up any of our friends, if that’s what you are asking!” she fired back.

I looked over to Smasher, finally invited to a briefing, letting Builder settle Owner down a bit.

“Training’s going well,” said Smasher.  “They were all talking about your morning thing, so I put them through their paces, tired them out.  Stuff went pretty good.”

I grinned.  I could tell that things had gone well because Smasher had arrived without her characteristic haze of alcohol.  I had no idea how long her straight edge my last, but we’d been lucky enough that it got her to the edge of the battle.  If it went one more day she’d actually fight alongside us.

“I got your maps!” interrupted Owner.  “They are great.  And I didn’t just get the ones of the Old world either?”

I looked over dubiously.

“I also bought maps based on what the situation might be if, say, there’d been a few decades of decay and urban war.  It didn’t cost me anything to try, and my gift came through!”

I still figured the maps of the old world, or at least of Owner’s version of it, would be more useful, but there might be something of worth in these.  Worth a look, anyway.

“I’ll check them over,” I said, “Now get some rest.  Tomorrow is a big day.”

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

Walter Note: The battle will be more than one update long.  You are deciding on your initial approach in this week’s response.

 

The Plan:

– We attack on the 28th. The only person who finds out about this early is Prevailer, who gets to discover this on the 25th. On the 26th, those members of our Posse that we can trust not to blab find out.

-On the 28th, Smasher and the warband find out. Preferably while being herded into the trucks.

– Merlin’s invisible troops are, of course, invisible. They are also carrying Knight equipment. Picker’s assassins carried Knight equipment. Hmmm. But what the Knights are asking for in exchange for the use of their equipment is morally completely reprehensible. I can’t countenance that, and would lose my Resistance contact if I did. (I would deserve to lose my Resistance contact if I did that. I would be truly a monster.)

– I need to bear in mind that Merlin and Arthur might have empowered the same people. That is to say, some of Merlin’s invisible assassins might have Ultra Strength, or Speed, or Toughness. They’re already hitting above their weight – on top of that, they may actually have some weight to hit on top of.

– Another option for dealing with Merlin is to take advantage of KEM. I know where she lives, what she can do and who she cares for; leaving that report on Merlin in the right place should be enough to get her killed outright. However, I shouldn’t use KEM on more than one person. Merlin is a greater threat than Guinevere.

– Third option – use Owner to demolish Merlin’s house in the middle of the night (buying and demolishing the property).

– Fourth option – take advantage of Builder’s stuff-stretching ability to ensure that our confrontation happens in an ankle-deep flood. Even invisible people can be seen walking through ankle-deep water – if nothing else, by the foot-shaped hollows in the water.

– We hope the KEM managed to take out Merlin, and we further hope that doing so reversed her Power’s effects. However, if not, we have a multipronged strategy against those invisible troops. Firstly, Merlin herself is killed quickly – sniper bullet, if necessary (no showboating here). Second, a smoke machine may make invisible people visible, and a laser can blind their spotters, effectively making them ineffective on the field.

– Guinevere is easily handled. I need merely imbue my Posse with fireproof; after that, Smasher can take her out easily. (Ankle-deep water should mess with her, too, by extinguishing a lot of fires).

– Lancelot and Arthur are unlikely to be trouble in the final confrontation.

– That giant Union tank, on the other hand, is a problem (and not a small one). But Builder should be able to deal with it; her power works at any range. She can close off any gun barrels by extending the barrel material _inwards_, she can mess up the engine by making the internals just grow crazy spikes everywhere, and so on. Once she can see it, she can ruin it utterly – and probably without even leaving any external sign of her sabotage, so it can all be blamed on the Union being idiots.

– Builder is our go-to person for ranged anti-Union-tech operations. No machine can long survive her vengeful gaze, once she’s decided to smash it. And if the Union gets wise to the point of limiting our visibility (say, with smoke), the Smasher can just smash the smoke…

– If the Ar Harbour team don’t want to come out and fight, we can draw them out by taking hostages. from the people they care for. This strategy is unpleasant and distasteful, but it will work, and will draw them away from buildings. Moreover, I don’t actually need to permanently harm the hostages, not if I’m threatening enough.

-Talking of Smasher, if she can smash *fire*, then Guinevere doesn’t stand a hope.

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

 

Day 28:

Days remaining: 0- Go time!

AP available: Not tracked in crisis situation

Prestige: 3

Timeslots available: Not tracked due to crisis, you will be assumed following the plan unless votes contradict

Posse: 3 or 3 out of 3 slots filled

Force size: 45

Condition: Healthy

[spoiler=Ultras]

 

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

Posse:

Builder — 0/0/0, a woman who can alter objects for miles around into other things, blessed with a ‘Bulletproof’ blend

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

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

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

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

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

Ultra Enemies:

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

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

Ultra Acquaintances:

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

[/spoiler]

 

[spoiler=Crisis]

Travel Arrangements:  We are traveling to Ar Harbour by truck/buses.  How many trucks has Builder crafted for us?  The minimum is 2, in order to fit the whole Warband.  The maximum is 6, just based on how many people we have who can drive.  Please indicate in your Travel Arrangements vote how many trucks you want to take, the order they will travel in, and where each member of the Posse (including Blender) will be riding, as well as where the 4 squads of your warband are going.  Owner and Blender are 2 of the six drivers, along with 4 Warband members.

Travel Route:

Blender has worked out 3 routes to get to Ar Harbour.  The Direct route is the fastest, and will see you reach the area at the very end of afternoon.  She used it when she was a troubleshooter, and isn’t a hundred percent sure it will easily accommodate the buses, and it is also what anyone who works out that you are driving here on this day will take.  The Indirect Route is the safest, sticking to main roads that will definitely take the trucks, but it will take a little longer, seeing you arrive at dusk, which assumes a degree of patience that She might not show.  The Circuitous Route is better for the vehicles than the Direct Route, but not so good as the indirect, and you’ll arrive solidly in the night.  Its saving grace is that it sticks to back roads, and renders it incredibly unlikely that the Union will be able to launch a strike on you before you arrive in Ar Harbour.

For ‘Travel Route’, vote for one of those 3 choices, please.  Your secrecy screens you off from leaving earlier, since the Warband won’t assemble until dawn.

Attack Distance:

You’ve worked out a few possible places to start the attack.  Outside Town sees you stop the buses from beyond where you hope the people of Ar Harbour will see them, then launch an attack on foot, charging into the city and taking out the enemy as they come.  Inside Town sees you drive the buses into Ar Harbour and pull them to a stop immediately outside of the downtown storefront area you are supposed to preserve, whereupon you will launch the aforementioned infantry attack.  DownTown will see you drive the buses right into the center of town before you disembark, delivering your Ultras to the center of Ar Harbour’s population.

If you’d like to propose an option other than those 3, please comment on this post or in the SV thread, and I’ll give it a yay or nay as a vote choice.

Ultra Equipment:

Specify how many (if any) warband members you would like do anything other than fight using their Ultra gifts (remember the patterns that you’ve had Builder memorize during the quest .  Note that if you set them to use the truck’s smoke machines, lasers, or large guns they will have to stay with the trucks for as long as they do so.

Warband/Posse Tactics:

Your warband is split into 4 squads, and can’t be commanded at any smaller levels than that.  Broadly speaking, its basic behavior is to engage and defeat any enemy forces it can.  But the details can be quite important.

First squad is the largest, and has the best close range fighters.  Second squad is another close range squad, just less good than first.  Third squad is about as good at fighting as second squad, but did the best on all of the ‘oddball’ drills, the smoke stuff, laser stuff, etc.  They are also a close range unit, but Smasher thinks they would be best for anything strange that comes up.  Fourth Squad are the Ultras with ranged gifts.

You believe, at this point, that Arthur has Ultras, Knights (that is, beneficiaries of her gift), humans with guns, and Ghosts (that is, beneficiaries of Merlin’s gift), their Union tank and the Round Table members themselves.  You can assign any squad or Posse member any particular target priority you’d like.  This can’t be incredibly detailed for a squad, but Posse members/Blender can manage strategies of arbitrary complexity.

Note that due to setting KEM to action and not getting their report you aren’t sure that Merlin/Ghosts are still going to be factors in this battle.  It is also possible that there will be other forces you didn’t manage to discover.  Future votes will allow you to react to developments on the field, but anticipating them now will be more effective.

Another note to keep in mind is that your command and control technology is yelling.  If you send a squad away from Blender it will follow orders/its own judgement until and unless you link back up with it.

As a last note, and the most important, consider that She will be watching through Blender’s eyes.

Please give a response for each category, votes will be tallied as a whole.  (Given our quest’s particular participation pattern, it is likely that any vote slate which is seconded will carry the day.  I encourage you to question one another before you place your support, work together to come up with something you believe in.  You’ve put months of effort into this, don’t falter at the finish.)

[/spoiler]

 

 

Preventer 10:1

Haunter, Indulger and I finally got together on the last day before we were to reach Istanbul.

I was actually surprised.  At first I’d been expecting Jane to call me up on the carpet basically the minute we started working with the Pantheon in earnest.  When she let it slide I figured that whatever was going down with the healers was her endgame, and she’d let us do as we liked forever.

Split the difference, as it turned out.

“Should we invite the other two?” asked Dale, looking nervously around.

I shrugged, shot a quick look to Jane.

She shook her head.

“They don’t care,” I told Dale.  “Fisher is ok with whatever as long as she gets to moon around Nirav, and he’s so weird nowadays I have no idea what his take on things will be.  Easier to hash things out ourselves, then put it to them as a thing we all three agree on.”

“If we can reach agreement,” temporized Haunter.

“Sure,” said Dale, and he gave an unnecessary ‘scooping’ motion.

His gift kicked in a moment later, and it was as unsettling as always.  No matter how many times the world had collapsed away beneath me, I’d never be quite used to it.  We were hardwired to fear the darkness and the deeps.  It made me think of graves.

It made us all think of graves, I suspect.

But morbid thoughts couldn’t cancel out the obvious privacy advantage of conducting our meetings inside of Dale’s gifts.  We’d simply have to put up with it.

“How have things been going with your plan?” I asked, seizing the opportunity to speak first as the cave subsided.

I didn’t really think that it was possible to put Jane in a better or worse mood, she listened mostly to her inner voices, but if we were going to have to have a fight it would be best to have it after we got all the useful information out.

“Excellent,” she said.  “The gifts work together like Andy suspected they would.  I’ve embodied several hundred scouts for our hosts, with more to come.”

“Monster bodies?” I asked.

“Some,” she allowed.  “Monsters based on animals and old stories on the outside, with their inner parts made up to be as human as possible.  They don’t know anything about biology, fortunately, so they have to make every form human on the inside, it’s the only way their creations stay alive.”

“Some?” asked Dale.  “What are the rest?”

Even through the darkness I could sense Haunter’s smile.

“Dogs,” she said, “And people.  Things that can blend in and bring back useful information from the Union refugees.”

Zero points for guessing whether any of them had done so, or would be doing so.  Jane’s passengers had worked hard to bring this about, and I didn’t begrudge as many of them as wanted to take it their precious escape hatch.  Her capacities didn’t really change if she had a dozen shades or a few thousand, it wasn’t like anyone under us was going to be counting them.

“Congratulations, “ I said.  “I know you’ve been working for this for a long time.  There must have been days where it seemed like it would never happen.”

“That describes your own ambitions as well,” she responded.  “Have you enjoyed your time atop the Pantheon?  I know you wanted to be a part of their peacetime leadership, but I hope that the present situation is an adequate substitute.”

“It is amazing!” I told her, deliberately acting as enthusiastic as I could, “The Goddesses here have gifts I never could have imagined, back in Shington.  This is the center of the world, here with the Brides.  We are at the fulcrum, the core of it all.  The decisions that we make here will shape everything.”

“Except Her,” said Dale, his dour tone an instant antidote to my own energy.

“Even Her,” I insisted.  “She’ll react to what we are doing here.  We are creating reality, Zeus and Prevailer will own what comes next, but our choices right now set the stage that they’ll act on.  Will they come forth to a Union dominated by Ultrahumans, by Zeus’ Brides, or to yet another Union victory?”

“I know which one you’d prefer,” said Jane.  “I’ve heard things, even closeted with the healers.  You’ve been giving genuine advice to their warriors, helping them out as much as you could.”

She didn’t make it sound like an accusation, but of course it was.

“Yeah,” said Dale.  “I have.”

The darkness hid my shock.  I’d been prepared to answer that directly, been expecting a two on one situation.  I’d never seriously considered that Dale might take my side.

“May I ask why?” asked Haunter, her voice cold and formal.

“Well,” said Dale, “I got to know the Pantheon people.  They are just people, you know?  Like, all the talk about Gods or whatever is just talk, these are people.  I like them, so I’m helping them.”

“These ‘people’,” said Haunter, “intend to bring ruin and war to a civilization, Dale.  They will kill the Union citizens wholesale, conjure rape and ruin in the midst of the last bastions of human culture left in the world.”

“I get that they are fighting some other people,” said Dale.  “And I get that you want to be on the other people’s side, but I guess I don’t really get why you want that.  Like, the time we were with the Union we just had Fisher do her mind control stuff on them.  Why do you like the people from back when we were in the embassy and not the people who are marching with us?”

I felt my lips curl up in a smile.  I could never, in my wildest dreams, have imagined such a reversal.  Watching Haunter defend her nonsense against Dale’s questioning was something I’d have cashed in serious favors to experience.

“It isn’t about ‘liking’, Dale,” said Haunter, exasperated, “Its about choosing between barbarism and reason, between a culture which reveres a God King and a pluralistic democracy.”

“Ok,” said Dale, “So why do you like one of those better than the other?  Like, what’s so great about democracy?”

“It’s fair, Dale,” she responded, “It lets us avoid corrupt maniacs abusing their power, and the people are governed by the policies that their chosen representatives enact.  Quality of life improves under it, no one is forced to worship a false God.  There are less rapes and murders!”

I controlled a chuckle.  Haunter could be far more articulate, of course, but it looked as though she’d been taken as off guard by this as I was, and she’d defaulted to a sort of ‘open mic’ state, where her shades just kind of rattled off facts without organizing them into a centralized argument.  It was rare, but we’d seen it a few times.

“Ok,” said Dale, “But wasn’t Fidel a maniac who abused his power?  And, like, I feel like the Brides are under the policies that they choose to be under, because they are so powerful that no one could tell them what to do.”

“Fidel was…”

She trailed off.

“Fidel was not representative,” I allowed.  “Guys like him are going to happen in any system, I don’t think he is a good place to look for the overall character of Union leadership.”

“Thank you, Preventer,” said Haunter, obviously distrusting me but unable to rebut a generous concession without looking like an utter asshole.  “The point is that he was an outlier.  Vampire is not.  She is the point of their system, a powerful Goddess who thinks the world belongs to her.”

“Doesn’t it though?” asked Dale.

“What?”

“Well, like, what’s going to be better about pretending that she isn’t in charge?  There are two people in the world who are more powerful than her.  You want to give her one vote among millions and see if that makes things better?  How is a lie going to make things better?”

“The idea of ‘powerful’ being defined by Ultra powers is inherently toxic,” snapped Jane.  “In the old world we didn’t have weight lifting competitions to pick who decided public policy.  It is just as easy for assholes to get strong, or, in this case, fortunate in the Process, as it is for virtuous people.  The point of reasoned debate is that the only ones who can win it are the ones who are correct.  Logic is a blade that only the righteous can wield.  Both sides can agree on letting the one who turns out to be correct win, and you can decide major social issues without enormous bloodbaths.”

“So you should be fine with this,” I interrupted.  “We are picking what to do by talking about it, no fighting or anything like that.  Just like you like, right?  And at the end of this, if Dale and I say ‘Pantheon’, and you say ‘Union’ you’ll let yourself be bound by majority rule?”

I kept the sneer out of my voice with effort.

“That’s not..” said Jane, before stopping her sentence to compose herself, “You aren’t debating in good faith.  Your positions were determined before you began, and no matter how good my points are you aren’t about to shift them.”

Was this actually the real persona of Haunter at last?  I couldn’t imagine that that line had come from her mass mind, it was a gross mistake on at least two levels.  The only thing I could think was that I’d offended her so much that her people were giving her the reins, letting her run wild for a bit so that they wouldn’t snap off entirely.

“Jane,” said Dale, hurt obvious in his voice, “That doesn’t make sense.  I used to agree with you and now I’m on the other side.  How can you say that I don’t change my mind?  I think you are the one who can’t change their mind.”

My hands flapped gleefully before me, and I did nothing to quiet them.  How long had I waited for someone else to have to answer this sort of nonsense?  How sweet was it to be in the clique that got to win in our little Fist?  After so many times where Haunter had gotten her way?

“Dale,” she said, desperation coloring her voice, “I answered hastily, accepted false pretenses, the majority would have to be calculated with all of my passengers, in order for this to be truly democratic, and I was referring to Preventer as the one whose interests were fixed.  I know that you’ve swung recently, and I was hoping to talk to you about why that might be.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, disregarding the nonsense about her gift giving her the final say in our conversation.  “About Dale I mean.”

“Yeah,” he echoed.  “What did you want to ask about?  We could use some talk that isn’t fighting, let us all cool down a bit.”

“Ok,” said Haunter.  “How many of Lotus’ potions have you used today, so far?  My shades have reported you drinking a lot more of them than-“

“You are spying on me?” he asked, the hurt returning to his tone.

“I’m concerned about you,” she said, which I thought was a solid dodge, “I know that your gift heals you up when you touch the ground, but I don’t think it affects these potions.  I’m worried that you might be changing, becoming more like Lotus and less like the rest of us.”

“You don’t like me smarter?” he asked.  “I guess maybe I would have been okay with that before, but it kind of feels insulting.”

“Its-“

Dale cut her off.

“No, sorry, let me work through this.  It isn’t that you don’t like when I’m smart, being smart lets me understand that.  What you have a problem with is that I’m choosing my own things now, not just doing what you say.  That’s really…I hate that.”

“Dale, you don’t-“ said Haunter.

This time he didn’t cut her off by speaking, but with his gift.  The cave rose up beneath him, bearing him back out into the camp.

I stood in the darkness for a few seconds, not trusting myself to say anything, for fear of laughter unbalancing my tone.

“This,” she said after a moment, “This is bad for both of us.  You understand that, right?  Dale’s subversion can’t possibly be any use in either of our endgames.”

“I don’t think he’s subverted,” I said, “I think he’s become a different person, but I think he is still the boss of him.”

“It’s the same thing,” she insisted.  “Like someone with a drinking habit or an addiction to a dangerous drug.  The new person he’s becoming is one midwifed by Lotus.  Her gift is carving new grooves into his soul.  She doesn’t need to control him explicitly in order to wield tremendous influence over him.”

“Like Blisser,” I said.

“Who?” she asked.

“Back in Shington there’s an Ultra who just makes people super happy.  It doesn’t do mind control or anything, she just makes you happy.  But people get addicted to her, hang around, do favors and stuff.”

“Then yes,” she answered, “Just like that.  Dale is clinging to Lotus’ gift, he likes what it brings him, and it is making him do things he wouldn’t otherwise.”

“Alright,” I said, “But what if I like the new Indulger better than the old one?”

“Excuse me?”

“Nobody forced him, right?” I asked.  “He chose to get smarter, and now he agrees with me that the Pantheon is the way forward.  Why should I want him to go back?  What’s so great about dumb Dale’s old decision?  Isn’t it ok to change your mind?”

“Think about what you are saying!” she snapped.  “He isn’t ‘changing his mind’ in the sense of making a different decision, he is literally ‘changing his mind’.  He is embracing a despotic and cruel culture despite the kindness of his nature, entirely because he couldn’t stand to lose his augmentations!”

“What’s your evidence of that?” I asked.

I didn’t particularly care, mind.  I wasn’t infected by Jane’s particular mania for everything following some unwritten set of rules.  But I was interested, and as long as we were down in a hole I figured we might as well get some talking in.

“What else could it be?” she asked.

I shrugged, which was a wasted gesture in the darkness.

“Dale’s gotten some experience now with Pantheon culture, at the fort and now with the Host.  What if he finds it to his liking, entirely aside from whatever the drinks are doing to him?”

She scoffed.

“Constant jockeying for leadership?  A perpetual war?  Life and death struggles every week?  What could anyone find appealing about this?”

“Comradery?” I suggested, “Other people looking up to him, a context for where his gift makes him a figure of power and influence, rather than a humble builder of roads?  Remember that he was an Ultra Fight-er before.”

“That’s not Dale,” she said, certainty rock solid in her voice, “He chose to build roads instead of working for Her for most of his life.  He chooses to leave his opponents alive, when possible.  He is the furthest thing from these people.”

“Was,” I corrected her.

She was quiet for a long moment after that.

“Jane,” I said, “What would it hurt, for us to back the Pantheon?  You are intelligent.  You have to understand that whatever happens with this attack, the Union is doomed.  Zeus is coming, along with the rest of the Brides.  The Union will follow the old world into ruin, and from it will rise a renewed Pantheon.  We have a chance to be part of that.”

She was silent again, and I was about to keep talking when she spoke up.

“I’ll have to share something with you,” she said.  “Something I hadn’t planned to.  I’d always nursed the fantasy of letting you get your happy ending, letting reality do the rug pulling there.  In a perfect world you get torn apart by the women you had raped in your Gardens.  But I shouldn’t let poetic justice obstruct the real thing.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.  “You shouldn’t be stupid enough to think a threat from you matters to someone who is invincible.”

“Reality,” she said.  “I’m going to have to give you a broader picture, bring you inside a secret that almost no one else knows about.”

“As tricks go, this is a pretty shitty one.” I told her.

I could sense her shaking her head.

“Your argument for the Pantheon, for Ultra dominance, it is entirely based on the rule by the strongest, right?  We shouldn’t fight fate, it wouldn’t work.  Since Zeus will win we should be on his side, regardless of which side would be better for the future.”

“Force rules the world,” I agreed, not sure where she was going with this.

“Well,” she said.  “Condemner let me in on some truths about Force, and about the World, and you aren’t backing a winner.  The Pantheon is doomed, and so is the Regime.  The only thing that’s left is trying to make sure Humanity doesn’t go down with them.”

“Come again?” I asked.

“Condemner, all gifts really, are extradimensional entities, they provide their benefits in exchange for our experiences.  It’s a game for them, and the most important thing is that that game is about to be over.”

“What?”

“Let me explain in more detail…”

Regime Quest 29

Results from Previous round votes:

1 Vote plan CCC (More than one voter is a luxury!  The best quests are…uh…really small and unpopular?  I’m not very good at this…)

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

Winning Plan:

Plan:

[Morning] Mess around with the smoke machine settings. Try to find something that makes a light mist – easy enough to fight in, nothing that’ll block anyone’s view – especially nothing that’ll block my view, and by extension Prevailer’s view through my eyes – but enough to outline invisible, tangible people.

 

(If I run out of smoke canisters, Builder should have no trouble refilling them from the drops left at the end).

 

[Afternoon] Ask around, finding survivors of previous Ar Harbour expeditions. I want to know where they met their Union ambush on the way; so that I’m ready if the Union is lazy enough to repeat their ambush at the same approximate location.

 

Posse:

 

[Owner]: Get hold of some fire extinguishers. We might not need them but, you know, better safe than sorry. And we will have at least one pyromaniac Ultra to deal with, so…

 

[Builder]: Memorise pattern: Fire extinguisher. It’s basically a cylinder of pressurised gas; we might well appreciate having some *big* fire extinguishers handy on the day.

 

[Smasher, afternoon]: Train the warband in anti firearm maneuvers, while using the smoke machine. This keeps her sober, reinforces the bond she is forming with the warband, and ensures that they are used to working in smoke.

Day 26 Log :

6 AP at start of day (5 at end of last day +1 for half night’s sleep)

-2 Experiment with smoke machine (4 AP)

Roll 10, +1 for success, +1 for Crit (6 AP)

-2 Seek Target Information (survivors) (4 AP)

Roll 10, +1 for success, +1 for Crit (6 AP)

Builder Memorize pattern, Fire Extinguisher

Roll 6, success

Owner: Get Fire Extinguishers

Roll 6, success

Smasher: Train the Warband

Roll 5, success

End of day, 6 AP

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

Work with Smoke Machine:

There were a few settings on the smoke machine, helpfully labeled ‘smoke’, ‘mist’ and ‘haze’.  I messed around with all of them.

The smoke setting was the first thing I tried.  It was thick, heavy stuff, caused some minor coughing in the less durable Ultras and reduced the visible range.  It billowed out pretty fast, at least, and people moving around in its produced visible eddies and whirls in it.

Obviously I didn’t have any invisible people to test on, so I was making due by testing with the Parkers and trying to pretend that I couldn’t see their actual forms.  I couldn’t be sure that I wasn’t fooling myself, but I was on guard for the possibility at least.

The ‘mist’ setting produced smoke that clung low to the ground, down around feet/ankle level.  It was much less thick and then the first level I tested, pooling mostly around corners and obstacles.

It didn’t hinder vision at all, and I could still see the effects of people walking around in it well enough.  On the other hand it was much less obvious, much easier to miss people’s ‘wakes’, in it, and it came out quite slowly.  If I used this I’d need to figure out a way to deploy it well before my troops moved in.

The last setting, ‘haze’, was also interesting.  It was much more subtle than the other two, just kind of adding a bit of a twinge to the air.  It didn’t cling to the ground, and we could see through it just fine.  It deployed rapidly and spread wildly.

The problem was that I couldn’t really see any wakes in it.  I tried to tell myself that they were there, but the truth was that if I couldn’t see a person the haze wasn’t really distinct enough to make out where they were, particularly if they weren’t moving all that fast.

I also messed around with the lasers in conjunction with the mist, remembering concert experiences from a world long gone by.

The haze was definitely the winner there.  That was, in fact, its principle purpose.  The lasers were visible in their entirety within the haze, flickering lines cast from their generators to their targets.  The mist worked well with the lasers too, except of course for the fact that it was a much lower bank to begin with.  The smoke didn’t really play well with them at all, blocking and diffusing them like it did the rest of the visible spectrum.

I think there are two viable alternatives.

The first is to do a smoke assault, accept the limited sightlines in exchange for seeing invisible antagonists and just rush them under the gas’s cover.  This will outline their invisible troops, hinder their ranged attackers and can easily be achieved by just giving people smoke grenades to hurl as we go.  I thought it was likely that She would tolerate my limited vision as long as I was up front and in the thick of things, but this might well annoy her.

The second is the haze/laser assault, where we’d go in with the light mist and a grid of lasers effects.  This wouldn’t hinder their ranged attackers, unless we blinded them with the lasers, but it would outline their invisible warriors and we wouldn’t have any coordination problems.  It would confine our battle to the zone around the trucks, however, as the lasers/haze machines weren’t portable.

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

Seek Target Information (Ambush Location):

“You were with Burier?” I asked.

Massacrer nodded.

“Yeah, that whole fucking trip.  I stayed the whole time.  Not like that Defamer bitch, I know she talks some shit about how she was with the Warlord, but take it from me, its just talk.”

“I know,” I told her.  “That’s why I’m talking to you.”

I didn’t bother to tell her that I’d already spoken to Defamer, and that I was checking both their stories against one another.

So far as I could tell, the actual situation had been that Burier was with both of them, but neither knew about the other.  They’d both gone on the attack, and both bailed out at some point.  Defamer first, when she found out about her rival, and Massacrer second, after the ambush.

“We got ambushed,” she said, warming to an old gripe.

I nodded sympathetically, sliding another one of Owner’s beers across the table.

“We’d just bedded down, shit, day like any other, you know?  No one was watching out or anything.  We had our minds on getting some sack time, get an early start the next day.  Burier was starting to worry that we might not make it by when She said we should be there.”

“Where had you actually got to?” I asked, casually, not letting on that this was the whole point of our interview.

“We were, shit, we’d just crossed over a river, we were by the coast…”

I drummed my fingers, impatiently.

I’d brought her into the Lair for the interrogation, figuring it would help her understand that disappointing me was a bad idea.  We’d met up my usual Company Facility, taken a booth.

“We’d just stopped following 295, started going along the coast.  We’d had to go back a day, make sure that we didn’t miss it.”

So they’d been lost.  That made a lot of sense.  The old maps were probably pretty inaccurate nowadays.

“Maybe Swick?” she guessed.

I shook my head.

“That’s Union territory.  You wouldn’t have entered there without a fight.”

“Oh, right,” she said.  “Now I remember, we had to go around Swick, we were up past it, a way inland.”

“Can you remember any markings?” I asked.  “Any signs or anything like that?  Did any of the locals that you hit up for supplies say anything about it?”

“On the last day?” she asked.

I nodded, impatiently.

“I remember a lot about the battle,” she said.  “We were-“

I waved a hand, cut her off.

“They came out of nowhere, you never saw it coming, you wouldn’t have fled except you knew we needed to be warned…that about it?”

She subsided a bit.

I pushed subtlety to the side for a second.

“I’ve heard about the ambush.  I know how it happened.  I know you ran.  I don’t care about that, not at all.  The only thing I want to hear from you is where it happened.  Exactly where.”

She was quiet for a very long moment.

I reached out towards her, a friendly gesture, like I was going to put a reassuring hand on her shoulders.

She shrank away from my hand, gazing at it like her life hung from it.

Which, of course, it did.

“Gusta!” she finally blurted out.

“What?” I asked, thinking of the famous city down south.

“We’d just crossed the river at Gusta, we were going almost straight towards dawn, we’d stopped for the night in, like, a big building.  I think it was an old store or something.”

I pulled my hand back.

Close to Ar Harbor, near Gusta, almost due west, a ruined building.  That should be enough for my purposes.  I wasn’t planning on camping anywhere near Ar Harbor, but if I had to, for whatever reason, I’d make sure that I wasn’t in the last place the Union had struck.

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

Debrief Posse:

“You guys get the fire extinguishers?” I asked.

Owner and Builder nodded, wordlessly.

“And you can make more?” I asked again.

They nodded again.

It was nice that sometimes things weren’t huge, dramatic productions.  Their gifts should let them do this, and, hey look, they did.

“How’d things go for Smasher?” I asked.  “With the training?”

Owner chuckled.

“She tried to teach them how to smash bullets,” Builder explained.  “And it kind of came about that, you know, being Ultra tough she hadn’t really got any idea how to avoid getting shot.”

“She just, I guess, gets shot?” I asked.  “Like, doesn’t really try to dodge?”

It kind of made sense.  Smasher didn’t really value her own life.  I couldn’t see her really putting any thought into it.

“Worse yet,” said Builder.  “No one has ever tried shooting at her.  Apparently her gift got well known pretty quick, and from then on all her fighting was with Ultras.”

I rolled my eyes.

“It wasn’t a total loss, though,” Builder continued.  “Some of the other Ultras had good advice on the topic, they shared it around the Warband.  I don’t really know much about how to stay out of rifle sights myself, but it seemed like Smasher was confident that they’d gotten better at it.”

Hierarchy continued to be the worst, news at eleven.  It was a good thing I’d encouraged my followers to share their experiences with each other, apparently that was still paying off.

“They should be ready, I think,” said Owner, “For the attack at the end of the week.”

I looked down for a moment.

There’d been no going back ever since I confirmed it with Her, of course, but it was still somehow sobering to say it out loud.

“About that,” I cautioned.

They both looked over, concern and surprise on their faces.

“We go the 28th,” I said.  “We’ll set out in the morning, before the dawn, and hit them just as the sun is going down.”

“What the-“ said Owner, before Builder interrupted her.

“That’s the day after tomorrow!”

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

The Plan:

– We attack on the 28th. The only person who finds out about this early is Prevailer, who gets to discover this on the 25th. On the 26th, those members of our Posse that we can trust not to blab find out.

-On the 28th, Smasher and the warband find out. Preferably while being herded into the trucks.

– Merlin’s invisible troops are, of course, invisible. They are also carrying Knight equipment. Picker’s assassins carried Knight equipment. Hmmm. But what the Knights are asking for in exchange for the use of their equipment is morally completely reprehensible. I can’t countenance that, and would lose my Resistance contact if I did. (I would deserve to lose my Resistance contact if I did that. I would be truly a monster.)

– I need to bear in mind that Merlin and Arthur might have empowered the same people. That is to say, some of Merlin’s invisible assassins might have Ultra Strength, or Speed, or Toughness. They’re already hitting above their weight – on top of that, they may actually have some weight to hit on top of.

– Another option for dealing with Merlin is to take advantage of KEM. I know where she lives, what she can do and who she cares for; leaving that report on Merlin in the right place should be enough to get her killed outright. However, I shouldn’t use KEM on more than one person. Merlin is a greater threat than Guinevere.

– Third option – use Owner to demolish Merlin’s house in the middle of the night (buying and demolishing the property).

– Fourth option – take advantage of Builder’s stuff-stretching ability to ensure that our confrontation happens in an ankle-deep flood. Even invisible people can be seen walking through ankle-deep water – if nothing else, by the foot-shaped hollows in the water.

– We hope the KEM managed to take out Merlin, and we further hope that doing so reversed her Power’s effects. However, if not, we have a multipronged strategy against those invisible troops. Firstly, Merlin herself is killed quickly – sniper bullet, if necessary (no showboating here). Second, a smoke machine may make invisible people visible, and a laser can blind their spotters, effectively making them ineffective on the field.

– Guinevere is easily handled. I need merely imbue my Posse with fireproof; after that, Smasher can take her out easily. (Ankle-deep water should mess with her, too, by extinguishing a lot of fires).

– Lancelot and Arthur are unlikely to be trouble in the final confrontation.

– That giant Union tank, on the other hand, is a problem (and not a small one). But Builder should be able to deal with it; her power works at any range. She can close off any gun barrels by extending the barrel material _inwards_, she can mess up the engine by making the internals just grow crazy spikes everywhere, and so on. Once she can see it, she can ruin it utterly – and probably without even leaving any external sign of her sabotage, so it can all be blamed on the Union being idiots.

– Builder is our go-to person for ranged anti-Union-tech operations. No machine can long survive her vengeful gaze, once she’s decided to smash it. And if the Union gets wise to the point of limiting our visibility (say, with smoke), the Smasher can just smash the smoke…

– If the Ar Harbour team don’t want to come out and fight, we can draw them out by taking hostages. from the people they care for. This strategy is unpleasant and distasteful, but it will work, and will draw them away from buildings. Moreover, I don’t actually need to permanently harm the hostages, not if I’m threatening enough.

-Talking of Smasher, if she can smash *fire*, then Guinevere doesn’t stand a hope.

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

 

Day 27:

Days remaining: 2!!

AP available: (6 at end of day + 1 for 6 hours sleep) = 7/10

Non AP Action: Swap in a new plan.  You write in a new plan, I’ll give you Mia’s assessment of it.  If you don’t do this then the existing one will be executed.  The plan that is in force when its execution date arrives will be used for the actual battle, though there may be mid battle votes that could alter it in process.

Non AP Action: Make clear whether Smoke Grenade Attack or Haze/Laser Trucks is your plan.  If you don’t specify either we’ll proceed with Haze/Laser Trucks

Prestige: 3

Timeslots available: 2, morning and afternoon

Builder Timeslot Available: 2, morning and afternoon

Owner Timeslot Available: 2, morning and afternoon

Smasher : Timeslot Available: morning or afternoon, but not both

Posse: 3 or 3 out of 3 slots filled

Force size: 45

Condition: Healthy

[spoiler=Ultras]

 

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

Posse:

Builder — 0/0/0, a woman who can alter objects for miles around into other things, blessed with a ‘Bulletproof’ blend

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

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

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

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

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

Ultra Enemies:

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

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

Ultra Acquaintances:

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

[/spoiler]

 

[spoiler=Actions]

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

-[ ] 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  competence. 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 visiting Blisser (Timeslot cost: X (slots spent until AP reaches max), AP cost 0, returns 3 per time period. DANGER, this action may cause addiction)

-[ ]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 areas (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

 

[ ] Action: Direct the Warband (Timeslot cost 0, AP cost 1, returns 1 if successful)

Motive: If I need to set my warband in motion, give them a project or whatever, it is as simple as telling them to jump.  My will is their command.

-[ ] Let [Posse Member] Supervise, takes up the Posse Member’s action, modifies success chance based on which Posse member it is, and which action

 

[ ] Action: Train the Warband (Timeslot cost 0, AP cost 1, returns 1 if successful) [Requires a timeslot from the teacher, who should probably be an Ultra combatant]

Motive: Yard Ultras are fierce, but undisciplined.  They are warriors, not soldiers.  I can get better outcomes if I teach them some basics.

-[ ] In Ultra Combat (Gives bonuses on their battle rolls)

-[ ] In anti firearm maneuvers (Makes them suffer less casualties under fire)

-[ ] In obedience (makes them more likely to obey my orders)

 

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

 

KEM Actions:

[ ] Assign Assassination mission [Timeslot cost 1, AP cost 3, returns 1 on success, can only be done in the morning, uncertain Snitcher risk]

 

Description: KEM are the only humans who fight back on a consistent, day to day basis.  We’ve come up together, they and I, and pointing them at my foes is only common sense.  If I give them a target, then I trust them to make a good faith effort to put that Ultra down.  Their odds of success, of course, vary wildly depending on how much info I can provide, and the gifts of the Ultra in question.

 

Resistance Actions:

[ ] Assign Information Gathering Mission [Timeslot cost 1, AP cost 2, returns 1 on success, can only be done in the morning, uncertain Snitcher risk]

Description: The humans are the ocean in which the Ultras swim, the saying goes.  The Resistance’s capacity to gather information about Ultras is unsurpassed.  If I give them a target, then they will give me every bit of public information on the target, and often times a little bit more.  Ultras are people, after all.  I believe this with all my heart.  And people trust other people, even those that they ultimately shouldn’t.  I can assign as many targets as I wish, but the more I assign the less details I will probably get, and the longer it might take.

 

[ ] Debrief Information Gathering Mission [Timeslot cost 1, AP cost 0, returns 1 on success, can only be done in the morning, uncertain Snitcher risk]

Description: The information that the Resistance gathers is worthless if I never regain it.  Using protocols I’ve worked out ahead of time, and my recent discovery of Snitcher’s habits, it should be possible for me to take the Resistance’s reports with minimal risk.  I expect I should give them a day or two for local targets, and possibly as much as four for targets in Ar Harbor or further afield.

Smasher Actions:

[ ] Recuperate [Timeslot cost All]

Description: Smasher hangs on the edge of death.  Her body and gift will try to knit her back together each day.

 

Owner Actions:

[ ] Acquire Funds [Timeslot cost 1]

Description: Owner takes action to get more and more valuable assets within our world, increasing her overall funding, hopefully permitting her gift’s actions to be swifter and larger in impact. (Requires Write In clarification on how to do this)

[ ] Change Company [ Timeslot cost 1]

Description: Owner presently runs a package store, located in downtown Washington.  She has, as near as I can estimate, a low six figures saved up.  With this action I can direct her to acquire licenses, expand locations, purchase other businesses, or perform similar deeds, all based around changing the operation and activities of her imaginary franchise. (Requires Write In clarification on how to do this)

[ ] Company Action [ Timeslot cost 2]

Description: This is a catchall action for anything I might think of that could let Owner impact the main battle in Ar Harbor.  Buying up local real estate and demolishing it on a certain date seems like the obvious course of action, but there are a lot of other fringe ideas that I’ve been entertaining. [Requires Write In clarification on how to do this.  The first Action spent on this is about Owner doing tests to make sure this effort will work, the second actually kicks off whatever changes I want in the imaginary world.]

Builder Actions:

[ ] Repair Structure [Timeslot cost 1]

Description: Builder can repair most any structure any structure in just a few hours, spreading broken portions back into place and generating new matter as needed.

 

[ ] Construct Known Structure [ Timeslot cost 1]

 

Description: Builder can construct any easily described structure with the same ease that she repairs them.  Her present education limits this to extremely primitive structures, but that might well be changeable.

 

[ ] Construct Known Items [Timeslot cost 1]

 

Description: Builder’s gits aren’t limited to buildings.  If she can get a perfect understanding of an objects, and samples for every component, then she can form any items that I might desire.  The easiest way to accomplish this, of course, would be to provide her with a sample.

 

[ ] Memorize Patterns [ Timeslot cost 1]

 

Description: Builder’s gifts are heavily limited by her imperfect education.  The more patterns I can get her to learn, the more she can construct from any given material.  If I provide her with patterns or specimens I’m pretty sure she can memorize them and add them to her arsenal.

[/spoiler]

 

 

Indulger 9:2

“You got this, man,” said Ragnarok.

I nodded at him, then at Lotus, and stepped out from between them, walking out onto the platform like it was nothing at all.

The Brides had been watching us approach, of course, but they would never admit that, so it was only now that they ‘noticed me’.  Ouroboros and Vampire were chief among them, but I’d learned enough about their pecking order over the past three days to know that the others around here were pretty high up there.

This was the Grand Host’s leadership, or almost all of it.

“Regimer,” said Vampire.  “What do you want?  We are pretty fucking busy.”

I rolled my head around on my neck, apparently just cracking it.  Really it was a move that was about bringing to their attention how swole I was, how deep my head was set between my shoulders.  This was a real dangerous talk, so I needed to take every little bit of good stuff I could get out of my look and vibe.

“I know,” I said.  “That’s why I didn’t come before.  But I figured maybe you could make time for me now, and maybe I could help you out a bit.”

The night before, as we sheltered down in our cave, I’d felt the camp erupt in turmoil.  Gifts had scoured and shattered the ground, bodies had fallen upon it, and there had basically been a big uproar.  Everyone had run every which way without anything like a plan.

It had been a lot like the shield was a big bowl and the Gods were ants trapped under it. They’d been fighting and struggling for what seemed like the whole of the world, while their enemy watched from outside and above.

I made a mental note to maybe tone down the Green a little in my daily.  That last thought had been kind of like someone else thinking.

“Help us,” said Oro, frowning at me like she didn’t believe me.  “I feel like we heard about that before, from another finger of your little Fist.  She was going to help us with scouting, so that we didn’t get ambushed.  How’s that going?”

I gave a big shrug, trying to get across that I could make them wait for my answers without actually making them wait for my answers.

“I think fine?” I said, making it a question.  “I haven’t been hanging with Haunter too much lately, but I know she’s been working with Goddesses, so I imagine y’all are in charge of whatever is going on there.”

That was actually true.  She’d been distant with the rest of us ever since we got to the Grand Host, staying closeted up with the healers.  I could get it, to be honest, she’d been trying to do the whole ‘give her shades bodies’ thing for a long time, and conveniently Lotus could do the same ‘wise advice giver’ thing  that Jane did.

“He thinks fine,” said Vampire.

“Fine,” echoed Ouroboros.

I let that sit there a bit.  The pressure was on me to answer them, and ordinarily I would’ve, but something about how stuff was going made not saying anything seem like a power move, but one that I couldn’t get blamed for.  Like I was just believing them, so if anything was going to happen it was going to have to start with them saying that they’d been wrong.

“If things are so fine,” said Vampire, breaking the silence after a half minute or so, “why didn’t we get any warning about last night’s attacks?  She’s supposed to be all over this scouting thing, right?  So what’s the point if it doesn’t actually warn anyone!”

I pulled a mug look at her for a bit, eyes bulging and mouth agape.  Ultra Fight hadn’t taught me to do acting at all, like, drama was mostly not a thing in the old wrestling gradition.  But it had taught me overacting just fine, so I’d serve up some melodrama.

“Your girl Manus tried to kill us!” I protested.  “We’ve been super busy killing chumps.  How are we going to have time to help with your other stuff if we are busy helping with the discipline part?”

It would have been lame to openly boast about killing a Bride, but working it in while I talked about something else should be fine.

“It isn’t my job to protect your life,” said Vampire.

“Your value to us is dependent on what you bring along for the ride,” continued Oro, “And so far it is the ability to kill our own.  You can see why we might not put too high a value on that, after last night!”

We’d surmised that the Union hitters hadn’t done the majority of the bloody work last night.  It had been the confusion, the chaos, Pantheon Goddesses killing one another in the dark, paranoid at the shapes around them.

“Scouting wasn’t going to solve that one,” I pointed out.  “You get that they are all around us, right?”

“What do you mean?” asked one of the audience members, an older Bride with a shrewd cast to her face.

“Go more than a few miles in any direction, you run into a Union patrol or two, stealthy and fast, keeping an eye on what goes out.  They move way faster than a walking pace, with their skiffs and such, so they just keep a loose cordon around us.  How you going to scout in that situation?”

“I don’t know,” grated Oro, “maybe fight them?”

“That would kind of break the point of the whole ‘send out powerless scouts’ thing, right?” I said, “Like if they could beat Union troops we’d make them part of our army instead.  They are in stealth forms for blending in, but anyone we send out of the shield gets marked.”

“What’s Haunter’s plan to deal with this?” demanded Vampire.

I made a note in the ‘Vampire is smarter than she usually acts’ column in my mind.  It might be an obvious play, to turn the dilemma around on the one posing it, but it still would have been easy to miss, to sit there like an asshole just guessing how it might be done, letting me tell them they were wrong over and over.

“Me,” I told them, pointing a thumb at my own chest.

“What can you do?” asked Oro.  “The thing where you move the ground and speed us up is helpful, sure, but how are you gonna get the scouts out among the Union squads surrounding us without them seeing them go through the shield?”

I turned the thumb down, pointing to the soil beneath us.

“We go under it,” I told her.  “I’ve been pulsing the ground all around us ever since we joined this column, pushing waves out at the same times every day, different directions, different distances.  Playing havoc with their equipment.”

“Just false alarms,” said Oro, getting it, “But you are going to turn them real in a bit?”

I nodded curtly.

“Haunter is almost done with enough scouts for the first run.  Her ghosts stuck in animal bodies or Union looking bodies.  I’ll push them out through the ground tonight, pop them up out around where the Union probably is.  They can try and get rescued or whatever, and we’ll know where the surrounders are exactly by how fast each one gets picked up.”

If they asked how I’d track where each one got picked up I was prepared to lie about Haunter always knowing where her shades were, but it would be better not to.  The real play was that they had codes from the general, and would hopefully be able to establish communication with the Union, who could feed us some ‘scouting successes’.

“And maybe scouts isn’t all you can send out,” said Vampire.  “Maybe some Brides go along on one of these rides, jump these surrounding units, get a little payback!”

She was a vicious one.

“I don’t see why not,” I allowed.  “I love being helpful.”

“Do you?” asked Oro, dubiously.

“Sure,” I said.  “I’m a helper!  Ask anyone.”

They looked to one another, then to the others who’d come along with me.

This was actually a part of the reason I hadn’t brought any of the Fist along.  I was trying, very hard, to kind of nail into everyone’s mind that we had gone native, that we were basically Gods and Brides like the rest of them.  Rags and Lotus were the two Pantheon people I felt closest two, for opposite reasons, so they were the ones who’d come with.

“He helpful?” asked Oro, pointedly looking to Lotus.

“Sure,” she said, echoing my phrasing.  “Sometimes you wanted a man around, you know?”

She made an obscene gesture as she did so, drawing a small wave of chuckles from the crowd.

“Alright,” said Vampire, once that had died down, “Well if you are so helpful, do you think you could maybe lend us a bit of that help with the problem we are currently facing?”

I gave an amiable shrug, like they’d asked me to paint a fence.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“How did they get through the fence!” she responded, her tone making it more of an answer than an actual question that she was asking me.

“The shield Goddess says they didn’t come through?” I asked, figuring that there wasn’t much harm in restating the obvious.

“She does,” said Vampire, “And we’ve assured herself that she is telling the truth.”

There was a dark undertone to that sentence, which made me think that I didn’t exactly want to know how the Brides satisfied themselves that someone was being honest with them.  No normal army would torture one of their most crucial guys, of course, but I wouldn’t put much past this gang.

“So it was just the ones that hid in front of us then?” I asked, artlessly, without guile, keeping it all on the surface.

“What?!” asked nearly everyone at once.

I kept up the dumb show, only letting my face wrinkle just a bit, like I didn’t understand what they were so surprised at.

“What do you mean ‘hid in front of us’?” demanded Oro.  “Nobody came through the shield from the front either!  She can tell no matter what side they move through.”

“Sure,” I said, nodding along like I didn’t see what she was getting at, “If they move through.  But she probably isn’t all the time getting told by her gift that, like, another step of air has come through right?  Or that she walked another tree into it?”

I saw the moment, the spark as they got it, first one than the next, faces going from open and angry to closed and full of murder.

“So they just sat in front of us,” I rambled on, “Let the shield get carried past them, then got up and walked on in with none the wiser.  Simple, right?”

“Bullshit!” said Oro, instantly.  “We’d have seen them come in!”

Vampire had actually gotten it faster than her supposed minder, I’d noticed.  It seemed to me more and more like Oro was here for some weird trick of her gift, and that Vampire might be both the smart one and the strong one.

“I felt them,” I told her plainly.  “They just sat there like I said, then when we were close they just mixed on in.  You didn’t see them.”

The faces went back to angry on the drop of a dime.

Tough crowd.

“You felt them!” snarled Vampire.  “Your fucking dirt mover gift warned you?  And you didn’t think to tell anyone else about it?  Or do anything yourself?  Just sat on your fat-“

“It isn’t my job to protect your life.” I told her.

No expression on my face, not a hint of smugness.  I just let her own words ring out, stood tall and calm in the silence that followed.

This was the drinks, of course.  No way original flavor Dale could have baited out those words then set them back in her face.  But with Lotus’ upgrades it hadn’t even been hard.

There was a an instant of silence.  I could see the emotions playing out over the crowd, the instant desire to retaliate and shut me up, strangled by the knowledge that to do so would be to criticize Vampire’s stance.

“That’s…” said the one Bride from the crowd who’d spoken up before, but she fell silent as no one else joined in, wilting from the attention in a way that she hadn’t when she’d last drawn it.

At last, after what seemed like entire minutes but must have been really much shorter, Vampire gave a forced chuckle.

It wasn’t convincing at all, sounded nothing like genuine humor, but it didn’t really have to.  Everyone seized upon it, joined in with their own strained mirth, and the tension just kind of leaked away.

“Maybe it should be,” she said, when the fake chuckling had run its course.  “Maybe it fucking should be.”

I gave a shit eating grin, just totally honored to take her orders like the dumb male that I was.

“I’m so busy though,” I mock protested, “I don’t know when someone is going to need fighting, I might not do a good job…”

I trailed off at the end, making it clear that my refusal was sarcastic, the kind of cloying whining that only someone who wasn’t as cool as those of us who were here would bother to do.

“That’s done,” she said, now sounding like Her, the voice of someone who accustomed to stating orders as facts, “No one else will fuck with you.”

She looked over to the rest of them, brow just the slightest bit furrowed.

“Right?” she asked.

A general noise of approval and agreement came from the crowd, Brides all but falling over each other to agree with Vampire.

I let my tension lapse a bit.  I’d been prepared to go on a bit further, to point out that the way that the Union troops had infiltrated into the column after they got through the shield had probably been the same disguise stuff that Rags told me they’d used in the last fight, to offer Condemner’s aid alongside mine and other stuff like that.

It was nice that it hadn’t been necessary.  I could leave those points for future fights, trot them out if I needed anything else from Vampire.

We weren’t supposed to be with them long, after all.  We were three days into a 2 week trip, and any day could see the Union make a big play.  As soon as Haunter got her stuff taken care of we’d be out of here.

“Indulger,” said Vampire, pushing me out of my reverie.

I’d have to watch that.  The yellow and green seemed to encourage racing thoughts, where as soon as you relaxed you kind of fell into your own mind.

“Yeah?” I asked.

“From now on, you are with me.  We’ll burn the Union down together.”

To my surprise the smile that came to my lips was genuine.  It was nice to be wanted, after all.

“Sounds fun.”