Regime Quest 36

“Finish them!” I roared, and my crew suited action to words.

It wasn’t very difficult.  These people were less numerous and less powerful than those we’d faced before, and while our own survivors had dwindled there was a weird characteristic of Ultra forces that made that less of a concern than it might have been.

Imagine that you faced a hundred enemies, and you had a bunch of friends with guns.  Say that half of them were bulletproof.  You start shooting, and you kill five, then ten in the next salvo, then you do some amazing shooting and you get 25 in the next volley!  You are feeling incredible, top of the world, but we all know that you can’t get more than ten more, just because that’s the total limits of those it is possible for you to kill.

This happens with Ultras.  For a given attack, you can affect a certain variety of our kind.  Once those susceptible to it are dead, you are just making us mad, you need to switch things up if you want to do any more damage.

What King Arthur was doing here flew in the face of modern military doctrine.  He’d started with his heavies, then followed it up with less augmented troops.  Anyone that was vulnerable to them would have already died in the first wave.

I pushed forward, thrusting my way gingerly into the back of the melee, trying to find an opponent who wasn’t quite dead.  I couldn’t be gimping my way along here any further, couldn’t risk angering Her with my passivity.

I found someone bleeding out on the ground, put a hand to their head, but they didn’t have ‘Living’, as one of their tags, so I pushed on.

Or, at least, I lurched on.  Bending over to touch a person laying on the ground had been easy.  Straightening up was apparently something my body and I were going to fucking negotiate about, so I sort of zombie staggered forward, grabbing one of my Ultras from behind.

She did a spinning backfist kind of move, but fortune was with me, and she didn’t have any Ultra strength, so it just sort of glanced off of my head.  I hadn’t stopped my forward momentum, so we both started to topple, ramming into the minion she’d been fighting and sliding down to the ground in yet another undignified heap.

Even as my hands scrambled around, looking for exposed skin on the Ar Harbour gal, I was ruminating on how many times I’d fallen over today.  It had to be some kind of tragic record.

I got my hand on her wrist as she planted it on the ground, trying to scramble back up, and I killed her with my gift.

Immediately I felt both better and worse.  Better in that I was ‘living’ for two once again.  Everything was clearer, crisper, and, critically, the pain in my chest felt half as bad.  I stood without difficulty.

Worse in that I wasn’t able to push my thoughts down random tangents any more, and I was looking at a giant red mess that had once been a few dozen people.

“Listen up!” I shouted, and then I repeated myself as people started going quiet.

There weren’t that many of us anymore, and no one on the other team was saying anything, so I could finally do some commanding.

“Force rules the world!” shouted one particularly enthusiastic warband member, so we did a round of the call and response, but I cut it off after one.

I looked around at the group, acutely sensitive to how badly this could all go.

My life had ended, in most of the ways that mattered, when Subtracter and some goons had showed up at our village and done basically what I was doing here.  They killed everyone who resisted and then terrorized and bullied the rest of us.  My brother had been a ‘sky burial’ which is what Ultras call it when we throw a dagger into space.  Another Ultra who’d seen it had started an argument about whether or not Subtracter hit the moon, and another dozen people were dead by the end of it, none of them Ultras.

I’d always told myself that I would rather die than become Subtracter.  We had killed, yes.  In the Regime’s service, yes.  But thus far the only ones who had died were those who had attacked us.  They’d chosen their fates, no different than if they had walked off a bridge.

But it wouldn’t stay that way.  Not unless I was very careful.  My crew’s blood was up now, they’d all lost friends.  I had to do this very carefully.

“Everyone!” I shouted again.  “We are going in after the enemy leader now.”

Another cheer interrupted me, but I gave them a throat cut gesture and they fell silent.

“We are going after the enemy leader,” I repeated, this time in a non shouting tone.  “This King Arthur.  She is probably up on the second floor, if any of you have been noticing those trails that come out of the enemy when they fall.”

No one spoke up, but I couldn’t believe that I was the only one who’d seen them.

“When we go in there,” I continued, “We are going to be facing whatever daggers she’s gifted, plus a lot of other daggers waiting their turns to be buffed, ok?”

Lots of nods, they followed.

Regime people, people of the new world in general, they weren’t actually any dumber.  It was just easy to make myself think that, because everyone was so fucking ignorant.  But it wasn’t stupidity.  There wasn’t something in the water.  They could reason just fine.

“We don’t have to kill the daggers,” I said.  “No glory there.  We are taking out King Arthur and anyone her gift has augmented, ok?”

People nodded and there were a few muttered answers, but I could sense the lack of enthusiasm.  It wasn’t enough.

“Look,” I said.  “You all saw how Smasher died, right?”

Now I had their attention.  They had revered their captain.

“She stopped THINKING!” I emphasized.  “She went with her gut, and they capitalized.  We can’t do the same thing.  Reason is what brings victory, reason is what we need!”

I was half dreading another round of the Regime’s mantra, but they didn’t interrupt, faces tight and intent on my next words.

“Time spent swatting daggers is time wasted!  It lets Arthur make another Knight, or two more!  We won’t give her that chance!”

Jumper spoke up.

“But if the humans are in the way…”

“They won’t be!” I insisted.  “We will yell for them to take up the Posture.  They’ll do it. They don’t want to die.  The helpless ones don’t have anything to gain from annoying us.  They will take the Posture, and let us focus on the ones who think they can win.”

I could see that there were still some doubts, but it wasn’t like I could talk forever after pointing out that waiting made the enemy stronger.

“Inside!” I directed, “And yell as you go, tell them all to take the Posture, or die!”

I wasn’t the first through the door, but I wasn’t the last either.  I passed into the interior of the building in the same rush as everyone else, and stopped alongside them to boggle at what awaited us.

The building had started its life as some sort of chain store, and it was still somewhat recognizable as such, even with all the furnishings gone.

I’d never really thought about just how large one of those stores would be, if you took all the shelve and merch and stuff out of it, but the answer turned out to be huge.  Just vast.  The entire block was this one store, and the entire store was this one room.

This one room and all the people inside it.

We had come through, the little knot of us, shouting for everyone to ‘get down’, ‘get in the Posture’, and similar.

Everyone was already in the Posture.  And I did mean Everyone.

There had to be two or three hundred people in this room.  Women and men, a few kids.  Old people.  Young people.  No fucking infants or toddlers, thank God for small mercies.  Everyone sitting silently in the Posture.

They were randomly spread around the room, seemingly, clumped up in what looked like family situations.  They were thickest around the spire.

The spire, or really, the staircase, was the only feature of this enormous room.  It was a huge spiral staircase that rose up around an elevator.  It would take us to the second floor, where Arthur would be waiting.

An Ultra pointed a hand, and I slapped it down.  That wouldn’t actually stop her from manifesting a gift, of course, but the gesture seemed to break whatever impulse she’d been operating on.

I had to be very careful here.

The second wave of Knights had been half the size of the first, and much weaker.  Earlier, I’d thought that there had been no point to that attack, but maybe it had been about buying time to set this up.

I took a step forward, moved up to the edge of my little knot of guys.

It wasn’t just the doubled senses.  The tension in this room was real and genuine.  I locked eyes with one of the kneelers, saw an intensity that was either frenzied panic, utter hatred, or most likely some potent combination of both.

My first impulse was to order everyone up and out.  But what the fuck would I do if they just sat there?  She would expect me to start a slaughter.

My next was for us to just start walking through them, just disregard them.  But I’d already been ambushed from all sides once today, and I wasn’t looking for a repeat performance.

Arthur was playing for time, before and still.  I had the sickening feeling that she was concentrating her gift on one person, trying to rig up a champion that we couldn’t affect, or something equally horrible.  She needed to be stopped, and fast.

Once Arthur was gone none of this would be a problem.  My Ultras wouldn’t necessarily snap on the civilians if they didn’t have the lurking fear that any of them might be able to kill us.  I could take control with the usual light bullying, without worrying overmuch over it turning into an atrocity.

Someone shifted on the other side, and I snapped my gaze over.  They were just repositioning slightly, adjusting their Posture.  But it made me realize how tense I was, that we’d been just standing here gaping for like a half a minute.

“Imbuer!” I yelled.  “King Arthur, whatever you call yourself, you need to-“

I was interrupted by a wild yell from up on the second floor, a man’s voice, so presumably not my adversary herself.

“Nazi says what?”

I clenched a fist.  Just standing here and getting taunted would piss Her off.  I had to do something, but a lot of roads here led to these people getting slaughtered, my death, or, somehow, both.

 

Note from QM: Another write in plan.  I’m out of the country for the next week, so I’ll start work on the response to this on the 15th.  I’m sorry for the delays, things are crazy around here!

Regime Quest 35

“Fucking Stop!” I shouted, and this time I was heard.

The survivors looked over at me, battle scarred and furious.  Their blood was well and truly up now, the beasts of the Regime in the full flush of their fury.  I could give them any order and be obeyed, as long as that order was some variation on ‘Kill’.

“Check everyone who is down!” I shouted.  “If they are an enemy, make sure that they stay that way.  If they are one of ours, see if you can get em up!  We aren’t done yet, maybe more incoming.  Take advantage of this opportunity!”

It was a staccato series of instructions, more about getting them calm and human again, back into a state where they could understand my words, understand any words.  They’d just fought for their lives and won, they wouldn’t be anywhere within a stone’s throw of calm, but if I wanted to live through this I needed them to do my fighting, and thinking soldiers were far better than brutes.

I suited action to words, climbing up onto the mound of machinery that had once been the back two trucks.  They’d both been wrecked by Ultra powers, the one in the back by the same string attack that had gutted me, and the one in the front by some kind of explosive gift, probably one of ours.

A nearby Ultra moved to assist me as I let out an involuntary groan.  I’d tried to hold my torso perfectly level as I’d climbed, but obviously that hadn’t gone to plan.  I set myself against the truck and waved them off.

Bad enough to bore Her with a moment of stillness, but getting assistance while She was riding my senses would be actively dangerous.

I shouted again, as much to buy time to feel a bit better as for any useful reason.

“Check on Smasher!” I directed, as though I hadn’t watched her all but bisect herself.  “Check on those Union fucks!  See if they left us any useful toys!”

I doubted any Union gear would work, but it sounded smart and it bought me a few more moments.  Moments that my ribs would hopefully use to stop being on fire.

I took a step over to what had once been the backdoors of the back truck, looked within.

“Builder?” I called.  “Owner?”

No movements.  What little I could see of the inside, with the coming night stealing away most of our ambient lighting and the fucking smoke machines actively interfering even more, just looked like debris.  I didn’t see any blood or bodies.

“I don’t have time for this!” I insisted, not in a shout, but in an urgent mutter.  “I need my Posse.  Get your asses out here.”

I heard movement inside, someone shifting position, something that sounded dangerously like a stifled sob.

Shit.  If a member of my Posse was crying and She saw it I’d lose points, or at least I would unless I got a lot meaner than I was comfortable getting with them.  Had She heard that?  It had been slight.

“Whichever of you two that is!” I said, talking in a rush to cover any more incriminating sobs, “I want you out here and coming after us as soon as you get your wounds bound up!  We’re pushing on the core of the enemy’s strength, you catch them in a pincer!”

This was nonsense, of course.  They were both borderline noncombat, and wouldn’t be pincering anyone, and I had no idea if they were wounded, but the point was it gave me an excuse to turn confidently away from the door and head back to my Ultras.

The natural move here would have been to drop down off of the truck, but the way I was feeling I probably would crumple to the ground and spend a few more minutes healing.  Instead I sort of walked along its edge, stepping around the top of the cab and down off the hood onto a mound made out of a piece of the back of the next Truck, then onto the ground.

Looking back, it had been a borderline graceful series of steps.  No one else was watching, but I gave myself some imaginary full marks.  It would have been easy to flub that and fall off.

The Ultras had regrouped by now, dividing back into their original squads.  I gave them a ‘move out’ gesture, and we all started stomping into the repaired zone.

I’d originally been planning on a bit of a speech there, mostly to buy time for my torso to sort out whatever fresh hell it was planning, but I’d axed it in favor of getting us moving.  I didn’t know exactly how fast King Arthur’s gift worked, but with enemy soldiers literally increasing in number the longer we waited it didn’t feel like a good idea to do too much talking.

I had to turn us a bit as we started into the enemy’s repaired area.  The mob had originally been just kind of mindlessly going forward, but I pointed us towards the building that the wisps I’d seen from the enemy had been headed towards.

I didn’t like the idea of my Ultras storming a defended building, of course.  There’d be nothing left of the structure, but I liked the idea of us missing the enemy and wandering around for an hour or so a whole lot less.

I wasn’t incredibly worried about it.  King Arthur could certainly hide herself away easily enough.  Thirty people were nothing like enough to search a ruined city, especially as we didn’t intend on splitting up, but the thing of her gift was that she didn’t get to just be alone.

If she was making fighters, then she needed to be near a bunch of civilians who hadn’t been turned yet, and all the fighters that she hadn’t sent out yet.  That was a much more reasonable sized group to expect to find.

As it turned out, they found us.

This time there was no surprise.  A surly mob of people slipped out of the building as soon as we drew near.  They were hard bitten settler types, brandishing guns and clubs.

There were, thankfully, only about twenty of them, but even so, as I saw them, I felt a coldness in my chest that hadn’t actually been there before.

King Arthur, in my models, was trying to protect people.  Like, she had chosen the other half of the collaborate/resist fork from me, but I’d still felt a basic kinship there.  But looking at the people she sent out to fight I found within myself a growing hatred.

Maybe it was Smasher’s death.  KEM could have all the slogans that it wanted, but we simply weren’t wired to secretly hate people that we hung out with.  It was hard to think of them as monsters, not when we worked and fought together.

But I chose to believe it wasn’t that.  I chose to believe it was rage at the fact that she was shoveling her citizens, dozens of them, the people who’d believed in her promises, into the furnace of my Ultras, just to buy a few more seconds of life.

Because it was immediately obvious that they didn’t have a chance.

The first crew had started out encircling us, they’d had surprise on their side, or at least we’d been startled.  They’d been the enemy’s best trained troops, and she’d had time to buff them as much as her gift was able.

They’d been supported by Guinevere, bolstered by real Ultras among their crew.  These guys had none of that, and instead of like sixty of them there were about half that many.

The Ultras waded into them like men into kids, dashing them to the ground and slaughtering them, hardly breaking stride.  In the first seconds of the fight I saw a half dozen of the enemy fall, for maybe one on my side.  In the next few seconds it got worse.

By the time I limped my way up to the line of battle it had moved forward, pushing the enemy back and trampling upon their wounded.  Half of them were already dead, streamers of mist exiting their forms and heading up into the building.

Fuck, this could get really messy.  I needed a plan.

 

Situation was as follows.

Minimal losses since the first battle, I have a little more than 15 Ultras with about that many of the ‘Squires’, as I’m calling the second batch of King Arthur’s people, fighting them.  We should win through momentarily.

King Arthur is very likely inside this building right ahead of us (an old shopping center on the edge of an old mall), judging by the streamers.  It is one of the buildings I am to preserve intact for Her use.

She may or may not have more gifted soldiers in there.  Either ‘Knights’ or ‘Squires’, to use earlier designations.  She almost certainly has a lot of unpowered citizens in there waiting for their turn to be powered up.

Lancelot and Guinevere are dead, Merlin has not been seen or heard from since the start of this battle, neither has the Union tank.  The enemy seems to have lost all of their Ultras and Union allies as well.

Some of my Ultras have ranged gifts, others have close combat gifts.  They are brutal combatants, but I have very little confidence in their restraint.  I believe if I send them inside they will kill everyone in there, and likely wreck the place.

We have a few smoke cannisters, and someone is lugging a laser, but I don’t think it has its power source.  A few of us also have guns.

Either Builder, Owner, or one of their guards survived and is presumably coming up behind us, but I’m trying not to see them while they might be in a state of weakness.

I myself am basically not combat fit.  I still need a lot more time to heal, but I do have Ultra toughness one, and the Squires didn’t seem capable of damaging that.  I might be able to engage certain enemies with my death touch without exposing to Her how damaged I am.

She is likely growing impatient.  I should wrap this up quick, or at least make sure the action continues, if I want to live.

 

Notes from QM:

This is a write in plan, Blender doesn’t have any particular suggestion to form the core of it.  She needs your help!

Interlude, Battle of Istanbul:2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Killer was waiting for them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vampire intervened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four figures, fortyish light sources.

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

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

She changed position again.  She could do this!

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

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

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

She stopped for a moment, breathing heavily.

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

Fuck that.

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

 

Regime Quest 34

Before I could take down anyone else, I’d have to deal with this Union bitch.  If I tried to make my way over to where Lancelot and Smasher were, she’d shoot me again.  If I tried to go after King Arthur, ditto.

We were in this now.  I couldn’t live unless she died.

I suited action to these bitter thoughts, deliberately throwing myself back down to the ground where I’d spent so much of this fucking fight.

I stifled a scream as my bleeding side protested.  Something felt like it had become unseated within me, a curious wrenching sensation that promised agonies to come.

As soon as I got down I started to scuttle, one arm pressed to the bleeding wound, focusing my healing gift with everything I had.  I scurried around a pair of my soldiers who were rushing towards the rear, then drifted back into their wake, using them as cover against the Union bastard’s perch.

Out of sight, out of danger, I was hoping.

Ahead of me I could see the forest of legs and knees pressing in on the ruined trucks, one form after another vanishing as they climbed up.  Everyone seemed to be pushing in the same direction, so they’d been pressed back entirely off the ground, or I was missing something.

I paused as a wave of pain shot through me, unable to keep a keening shriek from escaping my lips.  Holy SHIT being impaled hurt!  I’d never suffered this badly in my entire life, my world was a scintillating curtain of pain.

I abandoned any further attempts to get closer to her, focused every ounce of energy on keeping my head up off the ground and turning slightly from side to side, keeping the illusion that I was still combat effective intact.

She might tolerate a point of view that took a second to recuperate, but if I passed out, if I box blocked Her before the end of the fight could take place, then I was done for.  I had to seem badass, however I could pull that off.

If I thought I’d used all my energy before, it was nothing compared to what it took to stand up.  I dragged my leg in, put it underneath me and pushed, forcing myself as much by fiat as by any actual sensation to get back up, desperation pushing me on.

I knew, intellectually, that my healing gift was at work.  If I hadn’t died in the initial hit, then it had to be getting better now, didn’t it?  I’d been standing up just a second ago, surely I should be able to stand up now!

My body refuted these cogent arguments with pain and nothing more, which didn’t seem super fair, but was actually really convincing.  I made it about half way up, back to a stoop, and then I had to reach out and grab someone, one of my gals who was passing by.

She recoiled instinctively, raising a fist, then lowering it as she recognized me.

I didn’t react or acknowledge the moment, I couldn’t.  It took all my effort to drag myself up her arm, look out over the crowds once again.

In the back of the battle, or at least where the back had started out, I saw the Union making their last stand atop the crashed trucks.  The bitch who’d shot me struggled with a pair of my Ultras, and so did all of the other enemies that I could see back there.  None of them seemed like they would be winning.

I looked over to my right, over to where Smasher should have been finishing off Lancelot and her Knights.  She was showboating, as I expected.

That was the reason this had all gone to shit, or at least one of them.  Fucking Smasher.  Fucking drunk.  If she’d just done like her name suggested I wouldn’t have gotten fucking shot.

As I watched she thrust out an arm, sending Lancelot dancing away.  Or, not dancing, moving with Ultra speed.  I dunno, it always seemed like dancing to me, legs hitting the ground far faster than they would for anyone moving naturally.

Both of the two were wounded, and they fought alone, surrounded by a clear space at least ten feet around.

“How the fuck had she managed that?” I said, half under my breath.  I couldn’t get a goddamn second to myself but she managed to arrange an out of bounds space on her private duel, and everyone was apparently buying it?  It wasn’t fucking fair.

Lancelot feinted towards her, jumped aside as Smasher’s fist whipped through the air before her.

Close.  A bit closer and she’d have had her, and the least little contact would be enough.  Nothing Smasher hit full on would stay on the planet, much less in one piece.

“Fucking finish her!” I snarled, pressing my hands violently into the Ultra I was clinging to.  I was pretty sure I could stand on my own at this point, but pretty sure was nothing to bet on.

Smasher’s fruitless pursuit continued, she hurled out a windmill of punches and kicks, every one of them narrowly missing as Lancelot continued to dodge back, orbiting and chasing around the cleared out space.

The last of the Knights had fallen over there.  Lancelot was alone in a knot of my people, but none of them moved to help Smasher.  She apparently wanted to do this alone.

Fuck that.

“Kill her!” I screamed, or tried to scream.  It turned out that some part of my injury had something to do with my lungs, because taking that deep breath had not been the greatest idea.  I clung to my supporter and shuddered for a moment, focusing on not passing out.

Meanwhile the stupidity continued.

Smasher tried to get tricky, instead of going for another punch or kick she threw her whole body at Lancelot, trying to maximize the sheer volume of space she could threaten.  Lance leaped right over her, kicking down as she passed, a bruising Ultra shot to the ribs.

It was a savvy move.  Any attack from a direction Smasher was going would see you obliterated, but her gift didn’t protect her from attacks that she wasn’t moving into.  That must have been how she scored the initial hit.

I looked back the other way.  The Union were all down now, my Ultras were tearing bodies apart, breaking the Trucks and in other ways celebrating their victory.  A number of them were heading over to where Smasher fought, since it was the last battle that was going on.

“Kill her!” I shouted again, successfully this time.  The Ultra I was leaning against, at least, heard it and picked up the cry.

Those who heard me echoed me.  They’d taken it as encouragement for Smasher.  It started to become a chant.

“No YOU-“ I was shouted down, the ‘Kill Her chant drowning out what little other talking was being done.

I clawed at my Ultra, then shoved her aside and started staggering towards the fight.

Or, walking, rather.  I was well enough to walk, albeit a sort of stilted walk that didn’t bend my torso in any way.

Ahead of me Smasher finally did the obvious, stepping back from her pursuit and striking at herself, moving to ‘smash’ her own wounds away.

My eyes widened and my hands raised as I saw what was about to happen, but no one could hear my warning, and I wasn’t nearly close enough to do anything about it.

Lancelot dived in the instant the move began, punched furiously.  She moved a little faster than she had previously, she’d been lulling her victim, hiding her true capabilities.

Her punch landed, but not on Smasher’s torso or head, she hit the back of Smasher’s arm, added her own force to the self directed strike, before it landed.

Smasher slapped her arm right through her own torso, cut herself nearly in half.

I felt like my rage was going to dig a hole in the world, like sheer frustration and anger should rip out and stop this stupidity from happening, but it didn’t.  Nothing did.  Smasher coughed up blood and toppled over, torn nearly in fucking half by her own fucking gift!

Cold comfort that the Ultras around Lancelot promptly mobbed her, tore her apart.  Cold comfort that there wasn’t a living enemy left to be seen.

Warm comfort, actually, that I could walk and talk again.  I resolutely didn’t look down at the wound.  I couldn’t take the chance of Her seeing any more goddamn setbacks or wins for the other side.  I wouldn’t be doing any more fighting, but I could at least lead.

Fucking killed herself!  By PUNCHING!!

I pushed it aside, with immense effort, as I plotted out my next move.  Looked like I had 18 Ultras left in my warband, and no one from my Posse that I could see, though I still held out hope that Builder or Owner were alive somehow, hiding.

I had to act.

Actions, choose one or write in:

  1. Push army immediately into the restored zone, find Arthur before she has a chance to generate a new force or get away.
  2. Consolidate, check over those downed, look to see if Builder or Owner are alive, grab any supplies we didn’t time for. This will also give me time to heal, hopefully enough to fight in any future conflicts.
  3. Declare victory, start speechifying, act like King Arthur isn’t even a thing. Hopefully She will show up, at which point the battles are over and the target zone is secured.
  4. Other? (write in?)

 

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?”