Re: The Golden Host

I must stress that all that follows assumes that Zeus’s praetorian unit keeps to its current pattern of slow, open, unconcealed travel.  There is no reason for them to do so.

Nonetheless, you asked for the odds on various methods of intervention, and we’ve run the numbers, with SPARTACUS backup.


The enemy are estimated at a thousand Ultrahuman combatants, with approximately two thirds of them rated at high Rank 2’s, and the remainder, we must assume, able to function as Rank 3 Ultrahuman combatants.

We have gamed out the following scenarios.  The confidence measures are included in the attached, report, but suffice to say they are low, and stacked against us.  The reality is likely considerably worse than these estimates, owing to our lack of knowledge as far as Pantheon military assets is concerned.

Details are attached, but I’ve taken the liberty of summarizing outcomes into a number, between one and a hundred.  Anything above 80 would be an acceptable military operation.

All scenarios assume full drone backup.

1: Kinetic Intervention by several thousand human personnel : 1

2: Covert Kinetic Intervention by several dozen human personnel : 5

3: Kinetic Intervention by several thousand Ultrahuman personnel : 15

4: Covert Kinetic Intervention by several dozen Ultrahuman personnel : 10

5: Kinetic Intervention by the Gauntlet. : 15

6: Covert Kinetic Intervention by the Gauntlet : 35

7: Kinetic Intervention by human, Ultrahuman and Gauntlet forces. : 25

8: Covert Kinetic Intervention by Gauntlet, Ultrahuman and Human forces, assuming total surprise achieved. : 40

10: Strategic intervention by fission weaponry. 5

11: Strategic intervention by full suite of Classified weaponry. 8


No unit or combination of units, no assets at our disposal, so far as this board is aware, have any likelihood of defeating this Pantheon deployment.  I urge you to consult with the intelligence services, with technical experts, and with any other individuals you believe have the potential for a game changing assertion..


Absent any unknown factors, or a stroke of fortune never before seen within human memory, our Union will be forced to surrender before the year’s end.

It has been an honor.

Preventer 7:1

I was vulnerable, for the first time in years.

I hung blinking from the frame, cursing myself inwardly for this unfixable blunder.  A decade of holding back my gift, leaving my reservoir untapped, pasting my skin daily so the world wouldn’t even know there WAS a reservoir, and I had flung it away in a few minutes.

I strove frantically to dredge up anything from the void in my awareness where the barriers should be.  Nothing.  Not the slightest sparkle, not the merest glimpse of a barrier.  My hand hung empty before me.

A strong hand grasped me, turned my shoulders away from the sky and towards a towering woman.  She’d been one of the most energetic of the close ranged attackers that Dale had thrown me into.  Ultra Strength at 1, Ultra Speed at 1, at the very minimum.

I’d laughed off her strikes, but I wasn’t laughing now.  Even her casual grip, where she was held me to turn me, pulsed with a fierce ache.  My barriers were expended, and I was as mortal as any other human.

Her other hand reached across me, parted the ropes binding my legs to the rough frame.  I’d have dropped to the floor like a sack if she hadn’t been holding onto me.

It took every ounce of my willpower not to let my relief and amazement show on my face.  I forced a commanding scowl onto my visage, wincing as the gouge She had torn in my lips protested.

“Thank you, thank you!” gushed another Ultra, speaking from beside me.  I turned my head so I could keep them both in view, even as another Pantheon member behind me added their gratitude to the first speaker’s.

What had possessed me to squander my power this way?  I’d never done so before, and the gain from seizing control of these children paled in comparison to the risk.

I turned my scowl into a tight smile, raising a hand to accept their thanks.

I could see Haunter’s ghosts circulating among the Ultras, bands of them spreading out to see if any of the Host outside of this pocket had survived the Union strike.  The Ultras didn’t seem to object to the shadows, conversing excitedly with them in a dozen languages.

I wasn’t quite so adrift as Dale, of course.  My contact with the Valkyrie, back before I set the Fist up, had taught me basic Pantheon battle cant.  That was how I’d understood that the mob around me were expressing their appreciation, rather than speculating on how best to resume our battle.

It was also how I’d understood their insults, their battle cries, when I’d been flung into their midst just a few minutes ago, when they’d done their level best to slaughter me.

“Go see to the others,” I told them, using English.  “I’ll confer with my associates.”

They seemed to understand, dispersing and wandering away, though what ‘see to’ meant to them was up in the air.  I made my way over to Dale and Jane.

Value drift.  It had to be.  Fist members, according to my research, demonstrated a strong tendency to align their moral systems to one another.  I’d presumed that my gift would shield me from it, but that might have been wishful thinking.

My gift had allowed Linker’s gift to bind me to the other four, after all.  Presumably the Link could still bring me back, though I’d had nightmares of being trapped in the Link forever, my own gift stubbornly ‘defending’ me from being recalled to life.

Haunter’s moral beliefs, or Indulger’s, must have infected me.  They’d fed into my own hatred of failure and caused me to misjudge priorities at a critical moment.

Jane had a broad smile on her face as I reached her, stretched out a hand to shake mine.

“Preventer, Rebecca, you were magnificent.  Dale is just telling me how you saved our new charges from the Union attack.”

I kept my smile in place.

“Thanks for the praise, Jane, I see your comrades are hard at work.”

I gestured to the shades around us.

“Are you still unhurtable?” asked Dale.  “No sparkles on your face, right?”

From anyone else I would immediately start calculating whether this was an attempt to alert our surrounding enemies to my weakness or a gambit aimed at gathering information about my gift in order to perform an assassination at a later date, but Dale really was just that dumb.

“They are,” I lowered my voice, “accepting our authority now?  I didn’t see your part of the battle, but it seems like you must have gotten the Overseers if no one is attacking us now.”

Dale looked at me like I’d grown a second head.

“Preventer, we just saved their lives,” said Jane.  “The vast majority of these young women would be dead right now if we hadn’t, very visibly, stepped up to wall off the Union’s attack.”

I knew that, of course.

“Yes, Haunter, I was there for that.  What does that have to do with our takeover?”

Haunter shot me the strangest look, I didn’t know how to interpret it.

“They aren’t about to fight the people who just fought for them, Preventer.  That’s why you used your glowing walls to stop the missiles, right?” asked Dale.

“Whatever,” I said.  “You killed the Overseers”?

“Yeah,” said Dale.  “They are dead.  But they got Nirav.”

I held my head very still as another jolt of pain crossed my face.

“Excellent.  It looks like the remaining Ultras are accepting our authority,” I said.  “Or at least not attacking.  Can we do anything about getting their information?  I want to know what our gamble has gained us.”

I was talking a little fast, maybe subconsciously trying to hurry my gift along.  The enemy could probably kill us, right now, if they knew to strike.  Assuming they could find Fisher, anyway.  That was intolerable.

“Already on it,” said Haunter.

I left them to it, moving off a ways to the edge of the ridge, and taking a seat on a stone.

It had been easy to dismiss the peril of value drift back in Shington, before the Fist was real.  I had told myself that my beliefs were based on logic, that I could resist any mental pressure that could be brought to bear, and that my gift would protect me anyway.

But it was hard to hold on to that certainty after watching Betty sway the Union officials to our cause.  They’d been professionals, who’d lived lives with at least some strain, some training, all of which had lead up to our embassy.  They had no doubt thought carefully on the beliefs that brought them there, had at least a nominal patriotism to the cause that they had professed.

And none of it had mattered.  Their conviction had melted away like ice chips in piss.  Meghan had been practically eating out of our hand by the end, and I had no reason to think I was substantially smarter than her.

I focused on my reasons, thought it through.

I wanted to live on.  Above all else.  Everything else was subordinate to this goal.  I’d started a Defiance for it.  Linked myself to brutes and gulls for it.  I would continue.

I felt no shame, no abhorrence as I contemplated this goal.  Whatever drift might be occurring, I was still myself, at the core.

I quashed the traitorous notion that Meghan would say the exact same thing, that she had sought to save the Union before, and was merely continuing to do so by serving us.

Her semantic games had been transparent, but would they have been so if I couldn’t see the puppeteer?

An approaching pair distracted me from my musings.

The girl in front was probably in her late teens, more mature looking than the rest.  She had on the usual old world leftover outfit, and carried a truly ancient firearm stuck into her belt.  She wore a bandana with some Chinese letters on it.

She was leading a boy along behind her.  He seemed to be blind, with a milky white glaze over both eyes.  He was younger, or less mature at least.  Maybe retarded, from the way his face was distorted, but that might also have been a side effect of the Process.

“Hello Preventer,” she said, without much of an accent.  “I am Aroha, I have brought you a healer.”

She indicated the guy, who groped the air before him with the hand that she wasn’t holding on to.

The edge of my lip curled.  Making one mistake didn’t suddenly turn me stupid.

“Your comrades were unable to harm me,” I told Aroha.  “and who told you my name?”

I thought she might bow her head, or look away, but she just stared straight back at me.

“You are a Fist,” she said.  “Everyone knows your name.”

It still felt like something Haunter would get up to.  Sending someone back here to make it clear to the Pantheon troops that I no longer had my invulnerability, leave me dependent on her for protection.

“I’m fine,” I said.

She pointed at my mouth with her free hand, but didn’t shove the healer towards me again.

“She did that,” I said.  “Not your Host.”

“Why did she hit you?” asked Aroha.  “You serve her, correct?”

“Why did She hit you?” I corrected.

It would be a ridiculous reason to go for Prevailer to snap over one of our new assets messing up Her pronouns, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t happen.  The world had a way of weaving snares for those who didn’t bother to check.

She flushed, turning her gaze down this time.

“I’m sorry.  The big man also corrected that.  She is your leader.  She.  Her. Sh-”

I kicked the guy, right in the balls.

He crumpled over with a cry of pain.

“I don’t need healing,” I told her.  “But I am sure that many of your friends do.  Please lead him back to those in need.”

She had a gratifying look of alarm on her face, but didn’t argue with me, leading the alleged healer back down to the camp.

Naturally my jaw took that as a signal to send another stab of pain into my face.

I clenched my teeth.  If I could still muster the appropriate caution for a temptation such as this, then I was still ‘me’.  I had no doubt any of the rest of the group would have allowed the ‘healer’ to touch them, allowing our enemies information about the state of my gift in return for nothing but an insignificant freedom from pain.

But anyone a healer could heal, they could presumably kill.  It meant that they had the ability to affect that person’s form, and most changes you could make to someone were fatal.

The corollary to my single minded focus on survival was, must be, an ability to disregard pain, or fear, or anything else other than reason.  I needed to be, once again, the person I had been back in Shington, who had bound her Fate with an untested Fist for no reason other than my deduction of Her instability.

I mused for a while longer in such a manner, striving to once again enshrine calm reason in the center of my soul, before I saw Irene waving to me from among the other shades, beckoning me over to where Indulger sat.

I walked over, taking the time to look around.  Haunter was giving some kind of speech, her shades translating her words in real time to the Host as they sat arrayed upon the slope of the ridge.  Fisher was still presumably in hiding, which was a huge boon to my calm with my gift expended.  The Link let me know she was crouched somewhere, and gave a general direction, but the last thing I wanted to do was seek her out.

Let her be the Anchor until I recovered my gift.

As I walked up Irene began to speak, addressing both Indulger and myself.

“As far as we can tell, there are seven hundred and eight survivors of the attack.”

We’d been careful not to kill any, of course, but the Union’s attack must have been more successful in its early stages than I’d realized.

“Wow,” said Dale.  “Seven hundred Ultras.  That might be more than there are in Shington.”

It was a sobering reminder of the Pantheon’s massive size and power.  Yet another piece of evidence to support my contention that our only route forward was to join with them, with the rest of Mankind, once She was taken care of.

“How useful will they be?” I asked.

Irene looked over a ghostly pad at her side.

“Against the Union, almost worthless.  There are maybe a couple dozen who would probably have survived a drone attack or conventional Union strike unaided.  Out of them, we’ve found two who would have likely survived the Union’s Ultras to become Overseers.”

“Is one of them that girl who keeps hitting me?” asked Dale.

“Dang?” asked Irene, “No, we think she’d have made it through the conventional attacks, due to Ultra toughness on the border between one and two, but she didn’t have any particular trick.  She’d have been dogpiled by Union Ultras.”

“Can you tell us about the Overseer potentials?” I asked.  “Would they have successfully fled, like Angel, or was it more like a Mireuk situation, where the Union would eventually have to leave them?”

“One of each,” said Irene.  “There is a girl who can return herself to any position she has occupied previously, and do the same to things she touches.  So bullets or shrapnel would be back in their guns, and if anyone got close she could hop back along her trail.”

“They might have gotten her with a formless attack,” I noted.  “The Union has got to have that kind of thing on hand.”

Irene nodded an easy agreement.

“Might have, but Her example makes us want to err on the side of people with teleportation winning.”

“What about the other?” asked Dale.  “The one who could have stood up to the kind of attack we saw in the video.”

Irene pointed over to one of the girls listening to Jane’s speech.  She had a trio of orb like gift effects orbiting around her head.

“She apparently turned down a lot of offers from Pantheon Warlords on the way here, was considered a cinch to get her Name.”

She consulted the pad again, flipping a sheaf of spectral paper back.

“Those orbs each have their own power, and she has a few more of them.  They can take instructions, and even act of their own initiatie.”

“Huh?” I asked.  “Forget being a Warlord’s guard, that kind of power should have gotten her a ticket to that super Host they are supposedly assembling.  In the Regime she’d be in a Fist.”

“One of the Orbs makes things insubstantial, as long as it shines its beam on it.  Another copies things, though the copies only last as long as the orb keeps the beam on the original.   The third apparently controls gravity, though only in terms of pushing or pulling towards/from the orb.”

She made a ‘the list goes on’ gesture.

“Why the fuck did she end up on the Pilgrimage?” I asked.  “No one could possibly think that being an Overseer, if she survived, was the best job for someone with that gift.”

Irene shrugged.

“Apparently her brother was blinded by his Process, and she wouldn’t abandon him.”

Report on Prevailer

Something is wrong with Her.

I can’t prove it.  There is no one irrefutable piece of evidence.  I know it seems impossible, but I am asking you to trust me.

I have watched Her, and Her city, for my entire adult life.  I know its rhythms, the feel of it.  And I am telling you, it is a steed bereft of its rider, a hound whose master wastes away.

The Sniper Court sits vacant.  What of it?  It has done so before, you might reply.  But the Fists are also taking no concerted action.  Two of their number are overseas, and the remainder…defend?  Patrol?  First Fist is the only Fist to have undertaken offensive action within the past month, and they did so with no support.

She issues no commands.  Again, not unusual, but She has also not been seen in any of Her usual scavenging zones.  She might be getting Her candies and trinkets further afield, but my gut says it is not so.

I don’t think She has moved her activity beyond our sight, I think She is hiding in Her Lair.  Ministered by Her company, feted by Subtracter, I think She is in seclusion.  For whatever reason, I don’t think She has warped in two months.

Even after going out this far on a limb, I couldn’t possibly imagine what might be wrong with Her.  Depression?  Found religion?  Really good video game?  No man can say.

But it might be worth another shot.  I know that I have no say in whether the time is right to attempt to remove Her from the picture.  I know the Decimations are tragedies, the retributive raids calamities.  I know She has withstood every effort.  But something might, just might, be different, right now, for who knows how long.

Can we let this chance pass us by?  I hope whoever reads this gives serious consideration to taking action.  We may never get another chance like this.

Indulger 6:3

A heavy blow to my upper back brought me to consciousness with a sudden start.  My gift let me know that I was deep down under the ground.

Mireuk must be dead, or no longer excluding my gift then.

I couldn’t tell, for a moment, whether my eyes were open or closed.  All was darkness.  Someone was shouting in a language I couldn’t understand off to the right.  My mouth was full of grit and rocks, and my face was laying on hard stone.

Someone was STILL perched on my back.  It had to be the woman who’d been hitting me before I fell, while Mireuk had been interrogating me.

I tried to say something, coughed, and was rolled onto my back.

One of my arms was still broken, and the agony that came from being rolled over let me get out my first successful attempt at communication with the women I had come to rescue.

“FUCK!” I screamed, “fuck Fuck FUCK!”

My gift let me know that whoever was on my back had stepped off as I flipped over.  Presumably she had been the one who had rolled me.

A small hand grasped my face, forced the back of my head into the ground.

“You don’t have to push my face into the, gah!” I shouted.  “Touching the ground is enough!  I’m already healing!”

She responded with something I didn’t understand, and a pair of other voices questioned her from out of the darkness.

I used my gift to take stock of our surroundings.  There were ten bodies in the cleft we’d tumbled into, and a total of seven people aside from me who were still alive.  One was unconscious, or at least very still, and another was on her knees in a corner crying.  The remaining five were clustered around me.

Whatever exchange they’d had hadn’t actually stopped the hitting girl from pushing my head into the dirt.  I exercised a slice of my gift, sank the stone beneath my head down, slid soft dirt underneath.

“Stop pushing on my head.”

This time I didn’t shout.  I spoke as calmly as I possibly could, given the way my arm was twisted around itself.

She let go.

Another voice, close this time.  It tried what sounded like a few different languages, then got to English as I listened.

“… understand me?”

“Yes.  I can understand you.” I told her.

Even as I did so I was bracing for the pain, then in a convulsive rush I straightened my broken arm out.

I tried to muzzle my shout of pain, but failed.

My gift let me feel the impact as the women around me leaped backwards, two of them toppling over in the pitch blackness as their feat caught on obstructions.  A petty part of me had wanted to trip my tormentor, but I’d refrained.

“Why are you yelling?” asked the English speaker.  “Aren’t you a strong God?”

“First, tell the one who keeps hitting me to knock it off,” I said.

A pair of voices addressed the others and received responses.  The girl I’d referred to sounded distinctly sulky, which was kind of an impressive emotion to have while trapped under the earth.

“Dang says she won’t hit you again,” the speaker said.

I breathed a sigh of relief, began testing my legs.

“But she lies all the time.”


After a little more healing I was able to stand upright.  Dang, if that was the name of the aggressive one, stayed close to me, but she didn’t strike again.

“You bring us back to the world above,” said the Speaker.  “We will let you go.”

Mighty generous of them.

“I will bring us back up,” I told them.  “But I am not letting YOU go.  Your Host is going to be under our command now.”

I reached out with my gift as I said this, feeling for the overall situation.  I wasn’t sure how long I’d been unconscious or dead, but it shouldn’t have been that long.  There was no sign that anyone had lifted my body off the stone, so I would have been healing the whole time.

My gift showed me the Host in turmoil, knotted together in a big clump around the pit we’d fallen into.  To judge by the footfalls it was some kind of big debate or argument, with a few fights going on around the edges.

I felt the distinctive tread of the Hook off to one side, partway down the ridge.  Fisher was close enough to observe the situation, but didn’t seem to be in motion.  Haunter was still in the cave I’d stashed her in, and a quick check confirmed that the air tunnels were still intact.  Nirav, of course, was in the Link, and Preventer… I couldn’t find any trace of Preventer.

“Your sisters, who will they follow, now that the Overseers are dead?” I asked.

A storm of argument passed by me in a foreign language.  I didn’t really need to understand what they were saying to know that it wasn’t just a name though.  So there was no obvious leader, or there were enough that they had to argue about which one would take over.

I reached out with my gift, took hold of the base of the shaft I’d dropped us in, began to gently elevator us on up.

Dang hit me between the legs.

I folded instantly, toppling to the ground in a spasm of pain.

“Aaaagh!” I screamed.  I’d done a lot of that today.

This time I wasn’t alone in my shouting.  All of her comrades were haranguing Dang, but I probably couldn’t have understood them even if they’d been speaking my language.  I was in a world of pain, writhing around as my healing gift attempted to compensate for the fact that a malevolent demigod had taken a random nut shot at me.

“She is sorry.  She felt the ground shake,” said the talking one.

“What the…Aaaagh…What’s that got to do with…why would…” I couldn’t make my words work together, debilitated by my body’s spasms.

“Sorry, bad translation.”

I reached out to one of my hips, pushed it inward, which seemed to be what needed to happen.

“She felt the ground shake, so she hit you!” said the translator, sounding proud that she’d gotten it right this time.

“That’s not better!” I protested.  “That’s the same-“

Distant explosions cut me off, along with a violent protest from my gift.

Heavy impacts were slamming into the ground throughout the cluster above.  I felt bodies hit the dirt, some taking cover, and some forever still.

I reacted instantly, or my gift did.  Our gentle ride up from the depths became a shuddering rocket ascent, the force of our rise pressing us against the ground.

Mercifully Dang didn’t take this as another sign from the universe to kick me.

Just before we broke the surface the blasts died down, or at least stopped hitting the cluster of Ultras.

I tried to look around and see what was happening, only to gasp as my eyes shut tight, watering and blinded with the brightness of the surface world after my time in the lightless cave.

I could still hear the explosions, the impacts and the Ultra gifts being fired off.  But the majority of it was somehow muted.  The Ultras shouting at each other was the loudest thing around me.

A pair of Host members approached us, yelling something.  Dang turned to me in response and I braced myself for another kick.

Instead she took my hand and pressed it into the ground.

I managed to get my eyes open, took a look around.  My mind boggled at the sight that met my gaze.

The Host was in shambles, craters and bodies sprawled unevenly throughout the clustered hundreds.  I could barely make out the whizzing drones which had rained this hell down, because they were obscured by an enormous, sparkly shield, which was even now cracking and shuddering under continuous impacts.


I saw her at last, tied to a big stick and hanging between a pair of Ultras.  Her makeup had smudged away, revealing a face speckled with lights like the starry sky.  She’d torn one hand loose of the impromptu bindings, and was pointing it up at the great dome she’d crafted above us.

Barriers whisked out of her wrist at an incredible rate, rising and flying up to support the larger barrier anywhere the enemy seemed to be concentrating their fire.  The little ones merged into the great dome and repaired the fissures and cracks that the enemy’s bullets and bombs were opening up.

She’d been holding out on us.  I had never seen her exert her gift like this.  I hadn’t the slightest idea that she could pull something so big off.  I doubt she had either.

The thought broke the spell, and I put my own gift to work.  Along the outside of Preventer’s dome the land rose up in a great surge, shrouding her ethereal ward in endless waves of sand and dirt.

The Ultras who’d been shooting out from gaps in her construct recoiled, apparently thinking it was some fresh attack, and one of them spun around in panic, pointing a deadly hand my way.

A great gout of some fluid splashed towards me, and I was already raising up the ground between us when Dang punted me out of the way.

I rolled across the ground, bowling a pair of Pantheon Ultras over.  I lost control of the earth dome, but fortunately enough it had already risen up into a sort of circular hill around us that its collapse only lost us a couple of feet of protection.

The Ultras I’d knocked over came up screaming, and those around quickly joined in the argument.  The bombarding drones were disregarded in favor of pointing at one another and trying to yell the loudest.

This was a farce.  I had to bring order, but no one could understand me.

That thought triggered a better one, and I set about moving Haunter’s cave this way, simultaneously repairing the gap that had begun to develop in the dirt redoubts I’d surrounded us with.

An Ultra stood above me, a dusky creature with some kind of shoulder pads fastened onto the usual rags.

She said some things I couldn’t understand, and then grabbed ahold of an ankle.

I tried to stay focused on my gift, even as she started binding my legs together with the same kind of improvised ties they’d used on Preventer.

An instant later I got it, she was going to have me hoisted up just like Rebecca.  I would lose contact with the ground, with my gift.

I cried out in protest even as another Ultra grabbed my arms.

Dang showed up, I could tell it was her from her voice, and the fact that she immediately kicked the Ultras binding me away and shoved my hand into the ground.

I accelerated Haunter’s progress, and soon she was rising up in the midst of the Ultras.

I’d tried to place her in a position where no one was paying attention, but there wasn’t really such a thing, and she instantly drew the eye as she rose from the ground, Sigil firmly on her head.

Hands and voices were raised in a throng about her, but she was already dispensing her shades.  Their voices rose in answer, a dozen languages or more.

The Ultras about her subsided, even as her more militant shades were making their way to the edge of the formation, where Preventer’s barrier dome rose from my more mundane dirt barricades.

I formed firing ports wherever I saw a rifle, and the shades began to return fire.

I wasn’t actually sure how that would play out.  The drones had a lot of advantages.  They were far smaller targets, for one, and presumably their computer aiming was better than a person’s could ever be.  Their weapons were also way more advanced than the old army stuff that Haunter’s guys had.

On the other hand, Joey had told me that the stuff they’d read on the Union’s computers had included a lot of data on the drones.  These weren’t the top of the line for the Union, rather these were the ones that they didn’t mind if the Pantheon got its hands on.  They were older models, sufficient to deter Hosts but not necessarily built for battle against enemies with high quality firearms and the training to use them.

It felt weird to think that, to put Ultras and humans on a battlefield scale and come out with the humans the more dangerous, but really it was all about what kind of threat you were trying to deliver.  Ultras were good at hitting ‘hard’, in terms of breaking Ultra Toughness.  Low power Utlras like the ones the Pantheon put in Hosts were mostly strong versus other Ultras.

We’d seen in the video how it went when that kind of force went up against a modern army.  Their power didn’t gain them anything when they took fire from outside their range.  The drones or Union troops just picked them off.

But Haunter’s men were a different target entirely.  They shot back at the same range as their enemies, didn’t need to close in to do their damage.  They were also behind good cover, and the Drones had probably wasted lots of their ammo on the wall already.

I couldn’t think of a way to help.  I made a few waves of earth out in the field beyond, shot the occasional stone spikes skyward, but I doubted I’d caught any of the Union drones.  Mostly I just lay there, wincing whenever one of Haunter’s men popped.

Suddenly, with a great crack, the top of our protective structure fell away.  Preventer had ceased to send out the barriers, and the big one that had hung over us this whole time had finally fallen away.  We were open above.

I called out to my gift, demanding the walls rise up to form a dome.  Even as I did so I knew it wouldn’t be fast enough.  The drones would get a missile or two in here, finishing what they’d started with the Host.  It had all been for nothing.

Even as I despaired the Host was acting.  Someone opened some kind of portal across a large section of the top, and another Ultra grew to an enormous height, filling a section with her Ultra Tough flesh.  Someone’s hair grew out into a dense matting, and another Ultra began emitting silhouette versions of herself, which rapidly began to assemble into some kind of protecting wall.

If they could do this kind of thing why hadn’t they… and then I saw the common denominator in all of the effective responses.

Haunter’s shades stood at the demigod’s shoulders, providing adult supervision, clarity and direction.  They had been talking during the whole time the other shades had been firing, organizing the Host into defending itself when Preventer’s shield failed.

I looked over at Preventer.  She’d been lowered down from where they’d hung her, and now sat slumped against the ground.  Her face was still streaked with the smidges of her paint, and no sparkles twinkled behind her visage.  A Pantheon Ultra was hugging her legs, shuddering with the enormity of whatever emotion she was trying to convey.

I had never seen Preventer at a loss for words before, but this did it.

She didn’t speak, even when the drone force flew away about ten minutes later.

Chatter : 2

Roy: Are you online?  This is urgent.

DRex: I’m here.

Roy: The Second Intervention Group are refusing sortie orders.

DRex: What?

Roy: They have signaled receipt but not compliance, and they aren’t moving.  Monitoring enlisted social feeds makes it seem as though the leadership are not passing the orders on.

DRex: A mutiny?  By an Intervention Group?  That doesn’t make any sense.  And why are you asking me about it?

Roy: We are also dealing with a few other things at the same time.  The one that relates to you is a message from Ambassador Meghan, offering Fourth Fist’s services in our time of need.

DRex: How did they know about this problem?

Roy: Yeah.

DRex: Ok, so you want my read on them?  Like, beyond what I’ve put in the reports?

Roy: No.  I want your read on our own people.  Does the Fist have their girlfriends tied to a railroad track or something?  Why didn’t we get any advance warning about this?

DRex: No way.  I haven’t seen any hostility here at all.  Honestly my squads have been regarding this as basically a soft assignment.  This Fist seems practically tame.  I know how that sounds, but I swear these people aren’t evil.  Or they are AMAZING actors.

Roy: For right now, what I need to know is that they haven’t coerced our staff.

DRex: I can’t rule it out, but I think we’d have known.  Protocol gives them several silent alarm variants they could have reached out to us with if the Regime tried to pull anything.

Roy: And the Second Intervention Group, can you think of a way the Fist could have known about this disturbance before it happened?

DRex: Nothing comes to mind.

DRex: No, wait.  I think there was an inspection a while back.  It should be logged somewhere.  That’s a possible connection.

Roy: Ok.  Command is shuttering the whole operation.  Get our people out of there.

DRex: You want us to deploy to the Intervention Group afterwards, try and get to the bottom of what is going on?

Roy: Negative.  Gauntlet is handling that.

DRex: How about their mission?

Roy: Drones will take care of it.

Indulger 6:2

For some reason I’d imagined that Angel dying would make the women around her surrender immediately.

It did not go that way.

Even as Nirav was reaching for me a dozen or so Ultra attacks lashed out from our surroundings.  Some sort of energy whip struck him in the midsection, slashing through his body and spraying blood across the sand.  I got hit in the shoulders and back with something that burned worse than just about anything I’d ever felt, and I shuddered as the majority of the barrage whistled overhead.

The only reason that I survived was that I’d already been dragging us back into the ground, even as Nirav spoke.  I felt him enter the Link as the ground closed over me and Haunter.  She had definitely lost a few more shades in that volley.

I pulled us down into the cave, then yanked it laterally as my gift alerted me to a few makeshift shafts following us down, as Pantheon Ultras blasted the ground beneath them.

I formed a wide enough space to talk once we were a few hundred feet away.  My gift was healing the burns across my back and shoulders.  I tried my best not to let them impact my voice.

“I’m sorry,” I told her.  “They aren’t stopping.”

She said nothing for a long moment.  In the pitch black of the cave I couldn’t see what expression she was making.  I imagined her disappointed.

“That’s alright,” she said.  “We knew they wouldn’t give up immediately.  We have to take out the rest of the Overseers, then get them at our mercy.  Losing Nirav was a blow, but we knew that if he stayed in human form it was a risk.  We can still do this.”

I nodded, then realized that she couldn’t see me nodding.  Then I thought about Fisher and Preventer, up there doing their best, and I got on with it.

I pulled us along, just under the ground, towards the big grouping on the crest of the hill.  I could feel that the back group, where Angel had burned, was sitting still for now, and the melee cluster was still apparently kicking the shit out of Preventer.  I didn’t have a clue where Fisher was at.

I pulled myself out of the ground, right in front of the main cluster.  I had my mud and rock armor about me, but I was still anticipating that they might let me have it.

Just like in the back, nobody fired.  I hoped that meant that the Overseers were here.

I raised my hands in the universal ‘I come in peace’ gesture, and strode towards them.  They spread out, looking grateful that the ground had grown suddenly cooperative again.

A few called out in languages that I didn’t understand.  I turned my head from side to side, scanning for Mireuk or Cyclops.

They were, if possible, even more ragged than they had looked on film.  These ‘gods’ were emaciated, ulcerous creatures.  My eye skipped past skinned knees, gaunt visages and the occasional open cut.  They pointed guns, and more importantly, hands, and yelled at me in the tongues of another land.

“Where are your leaders?” I asked, almost plaintively.  I felt like I should have just been able to pick them out, I’d studied their pictures, but there were hundreds of people here, and I couldn’t seem to find the ones I was looking for among the mass.

They had to be here somewhere, since no one was shooting, but I couldn’t see, wait.  I saw Cyclops.

She was standing mostly behind another pair of them, speaking quietly to one of her subordinates.

“Cyclops!” I yelled, pointing at her.

Her head snapped up, and she pushed the other two out of the way, standing braced as though my pointing hand was about to blast her or something.

“Indulger!” she yelled back.

Shit.  I guess I wasn’t the only one who could read files.

I wasn’t sure, if I started walking towards her, would they attack?  I’d have to wade through a few rows of them to get to her, and I couldn’t really think of a way to do that without looking aggressive.  Even popping under the ground was out, as I’d lose track of her in all the footfalls.

I couldn’t understand what she was saying, but whatever it was had girls stepping off to the side and clearing a path between us.  She strode up, regal as a queen.

“What the fuck is a Fist doing here?” she asked.

She hadn’t got all the way to me.  There was still about thirty feet between us, as well as a few Ultras that I had a feeling didn’t want to be there.

For a sec I wondered why she would want to talk to me after Angel had just died doing the same thing, before realizing that they didn’t have any communication between the clusters.  Nobody up here on the ridge would have been able to make out much more than a commotion going on back where our brief struggle with Angel had happened.

It just made me more mad.  Going about stuff that haphazardly, and fighting an army of soldiers like the ones that Haunter had was super dumb, even if you had more powers.

“We’ve come to take command of your Host,” I told her.  “She sent us from the Regime all the way here.”

I emphasized the caps pronunciation, pretty confident that even a Pantheon person would be able to hear it.

She scoffed.

“Take Command?  It isn’t a thing you can just steal, Indulger.  We command by Divine Right.  Ours is a holy mission, a quest to-“

I cut her off.

“Divine Right, yeah?  That’s the thing where the strongest Ultras are the biggest Gods?  Well, no one is stronger than Her, so knuckle the fuck under.”

I was surprised she didn’t interrupt me in the middle of that.  It actually made me nervous, like she had more of a plan for this situation than she ought to.

A few of the other girls chattered to her, she replied with a harsh and commanding tone, and they subsided.  If I didn’t miss my guess they were asking to just attack, and she was shutting them down.  Or telling them to circle around behind me, or something.

“If She were here,” said Cyclops, “I would waste no time telling her to drink of my knife.  I am the Sword of Zeus, demon, and your master holds no terror for me.”

I managed not to gawk, my mind instantly going to Her for a second.  Cyclops was either brave as the Colonel, or totally fucking insane.

“Well,” I said.  “It sounds like we have a difference of opinion.  Do you guys have a way for two Ultras to settle that kind of thing?”

Mireuk strolled out from behind another clump of Ultras.  She had a dude carrying a fucking umbrella trailing along behind her, holding it up over her head.  On a fucking battlefield.

“As it happens, we do.  Cyclops, would you be willing to engage our beloved visitor in a Contest?”

Well, that was super convenient.

“I win, you have to fight next,” I told Mireuk.   “She wins, my Fist surrenders.”

Cyclops scoffed.

“No need for you to surrender, chump.  After I beat you I’m bringing your ass to Death.  She’ll turn off your come back to life power.”

That was where she’d gotten her info about us.  This was one of Death’s stooges.  Just when I thought I couldn’t want to fuck someone up any more.

“Get these hands, bitch” I told her.

Despite the taunt I wanted her to move first.  She had her people all around me, and if they suddenly decided that I’d jumped off ahead of the starting gun or whatever things would get real bad, real fast.  The backup to something like that going down was supposed to be Nirav going full Condemner, but that was obviously out for now.

Cyclops walked towards me, hands dropping to her sides and flexing.

For want of an obvious attack to block I just kind of stood there, but I started making an enormous empty space down under the ground, extending it gradually up towards the surface.  I also positioned some rocks near each other and took a fighting stance.

She stepped closer, seeming to soak up the stares of her followers.  I could see it in her, she lived for this shit.  No wonder she wasn’t just having her troops mob me.  She wanted them to watch her beat me, to grow her legend just that much more.

How many others had died for that purpose?  I thought of Her again, who at least killed for honest hatred.

I moved, swinging my arm in a broad arc like I was throwing something, even as I used my gift to send a stone spear flying through the earth towards the bottom of her feet.

She stepped aside, as though I as throwing something, and then, just before my spear reached her, she suddenly went ghostly and shot towards me like she was on a train or something.

It was my turn to dodge aside, relying primarily on my gift to skate myself out of the way.  I wasn’t fast enough, as she passed through my arm, rock armor and all.

My strafe turned into a stagger, as anguish lanced from my shoulder.  I couldn’t feel anything at all in the arm that she had passed through, but where it joined the rest of me it felt like I was on fire.

“Aaaagh!” I couldn’t stop myself from giving voice to my pain.  It really hurt.

She had come to a stop, resuming her solid form once again on the other side of me.

“How’s that, big guy?” she asked.  “You want another hug?”

Even my healing was having trouble with this.  I could feel my shoulder writhing around, but it didn’t seem like life was seeping back down my arm or anything.  It felt more like I was trying to regrow the limb, pushing the existing one out of the way.  Her gift must have killed every bit of flesh she passed through.

I waved my undamaged arm at her, send my gift out again.  I raised a great wall in front of her, then collapsed it down onto her.  Maybe she couldn’t stay ghost form for a long time, I could get her by holding rock through her location until she ran out.

Before my earth wave could swallow her she had phased again, transforming into a silhouette and sliding forward, up and through my wave without the slightest care.

I tried to hold it back to stay superimposed over her, but her angle was too high, and she passed through my medium and up into the sky.

This time I had a better look at her transition.  She became living flesh again a few moments after she passed the last of the stone, and gravity immediately took hold of her.  She only fell for a split second before she became a wraith , angling straight towards me at a phenomenal speed.

I cast myself aside once again, using earth to basically hurl myself.  I let my useless armor crumble away around me, as it wouldn’t protect me at all from her attack.

This time I was able to dodge, mostly because her angle was very shallow.  It seemed like she couldn’t change direction in her attack form, so presumably she wasn’t interested in passing into the ground while I was in the area.  The shallowness let me get under and around her, and we parted without me getting tagged.

“Get it?” she asked.  She was phasing rapidly in and out now, making a tiny triangle in the air.  “Everything I touched dies.  She can’t hit me.  You can’t bury me.”

That was it?  That was the gift that she thought made her stronger than Her?

Strangely, the thought calmed me.  I had been most heated when I thought of the Overseers as puzzle masters, wasting the next generation of the world’s youth for their schemes.  But if they were mostly like Cyclops, then they were just like their minions a few years down the road.  A bit smarter, a bit stronger, but not nearly enough to have set up a system of atrocity like the one that was going on here.  They were victims too.

“You…gnnnrr…you want to give up?” I asked.  It was still hard to talk, my shoulder was still paining me awfully.  I had to give her the chance though, if I were going to think of her as just another one of Zeus and Peggy’s sacrifices then I had to make the effort.

“Ha ha ha!” she spoke-laughed.  “You are the one who will be given up…to Death!”

She flashed forward again, not towards me directly, but like she was going to move right by me on the right.

Preventer had mocked my Ultra Fight experience, but here it let me know what she was going to do before she did it.  She’d shown me straight dives twice now, and she was angling towards my side.  She’d expect me to strafe away again, which is why she was going to solidify for a second and change angle, get herself pointed directly after the way I was going so that I couldn’t dodge fast enough.

I let her see what she was expecting, moving away, but more slowly than I had to.  At the split second before she got to me I smashed those rocks together, beneath the ground behind her.

Blam, blam BLAM!

Prevailer’s signature noise. Loud soft louder.

I was already swinging my arm.  In my minds eye I’d seen it, her fake courage crumbling under the sound of Her arrival, the fatal transition back into her human form for just long enough to turn her angle away.

It happened exactly like that.  The noise made her turn her head away.  In her mind I was dodging, so there was no need to be worried about transitioning back to flesh for a second as she searched the scene frantically for Prevailer.  She slipped back into her human form, and I hit her in the head with my rock covered arm.  Her skull staved in down to the shoulders with a sickening crunch.

Her body toppled at my feet.

I turned my gaze to Mireuk, doing my very best ‘slow and ominous’.  Everyone would have seen that Cyclops died panicked and afraid.  I should be at my most intimidating, blood and brains dripping from a rock armored arm.

Mireuk slow clapped.

Behind her, a string of her gift joined with its own tail, forming a great ring around the area.  Excluding something.

My armor fell from my body.  My new arm ceased to grow, leaving me with an awkward stub on the side Cyclops had hit.  I toppled to my knees at the sudden overbalancing.

She had excluded my gift.

I steadied, popped back to my feet.

“Now you!” I shouted, fiercely.  If they stopped fearing me I was done for.

Mireuk laughed, pointed to another exclusion around her.  This one was a small cylinder around her feet.

“It blocks everything, I’m afraid, and it moves along with me.  You can’t harm me, so our duel would seem to be unnecessary.”

“We’ll see about-“

She cut me off, barking an order in whatever language their battle cant was mostly made of.

Ultras rushed towards me from all sides, eyes alight with cruelty.

I swung my good arm once, before being slammed down on my face in the dirt.  One of them held me around the shoulder, another slammed my knee awkwardly into the ground.

My power wasn’t fully blocked, I could tell.  It just couldn’t affect anything inside of the cylinder she’d excluded it from.  Thus,  I couldn’t heal, or stab them with knives from the ground, or anything.

“So much for Indulger,” she mused.  “Fourth Fist’s mightiest member.  I suppose the poor girl being strung up out there is Preventer?”

I strained against my captors, but at least one of them had Ultra Strength.  The muscles I’d rigorously trained were utterly useless against a power that came from outside our world.

The girl holding my upper body cuffed me about the face, and my head rang.

“Did you really think you could overthrow our divine reign?” Mireuk asked, more to herself than me.  “Did you imagine that you could succeed where the Union failed?”

She walked up, squatting in front of me.  The girl holding my head forced my face down into the dirt, breaking something in my cheek in the process.

“You sought to bring us down?  To cast divinities into hell?  Who put you up to such foolishness?”

I spat to clear my mouth of dirt, focused on sucking in a breath.

Cast them into hell.  Inspiration struck.

They were holding me against the ground, I could call upon my gift so long as what I manipulated was outside of her excluded zone.  I reached down, down into the depths, and began to widen the great pit I had begun earlier.

The woman holding my head back reached a hand down and yanked my face up out of the dirt, turning my gaze to meet Mireuk’s.

“Who ordered this?  I can take Preventer to Death instead of you if you cooperate.  Did She send you, or is this of your own recognizance?”

I gasped, stifling a cry of pain.

“She sent us.  No one else could-“

I cried aloud.  Partly to stall, but also because the girl on my back was digging some kind of spike into my mini arm.  It hurt immensely.

Mireuk spent a long moment looking into my eyes.

“Stay here”, I thought.  “There is no urgency.  Just stay here and gloat a little while longer.  Don’t you want to impress your followers?”

“I’m trying to decide if I believe you,” she said.  “I suppose I have to.  What a disappointment.”

I felt the last of the rocks beneath the excluded cylinder slipping out of the way, soil moving frantically around.  We were held up now only by the cross pressure of dozens of feet of earth holding us from outside of the zone, poised above a sinkhole greater than any found in nature.

“Did they tell you that you were powerful?” I asked.  “That you were s-“

Another punch to my ribs from the girl on top of me.  She was rapidly moving from ‘innocent victim that I wanted to rescue’ to ‘arch nemesis’.

Mireuk made a motion, let me keep talking.

“That you were strong?  That you might one day match Her?”

She started to answer.

“Did you always know they were lying?” I asked.

Her eyes narrowed.  I pulled the soil around us away, let the exclusion zone tumble downwards.  Dozens of feet of earth, me, Mireuk, that harpy on my back, and a half dozen or more Ultras who had drawn close to gawk were in the zone.

We fell together into fathomless darkness.

Pantheon Rankings

Everyone knows that the Pantheon is an alliance of explicitly Ultra supremacist states, holding the subjects of the Process alone to be worthy of leadership.  Less well understood is how they determine which Ultrahuman gets to stand above all the others.

The Pantheon is, of course, a heterodox collection of city states and warring bands.  Any description of a unified process, to be followed regularly by all components, is a delusion.  The exception is the rule.

That said, certain similarities can be observed.

The lowest rank, the bottom rung, is populated by those who have just been Processed.  Most notoriously, this is the rank inhabited by the products of the Ultra camps, born and bred only for the Process.  These Ultrahumans tend to be young, poorly trained, and new to their power.

Ultras of this level make up the rank and file of the Pantheon’s armies.  They have authority over human citizens, and that’s about it.  They are deployed in waves, used as cannon fodder.

In order to escape from this ‘nameless’ rank, the new Ultrahumans have a few options.

The most widely known is the Pilgrimage.  Pantheon soldiers who survive a battle with the Union forces are elevated to a slightly higher rank.  They do not yet have Divine Names, but they are no longer considered nameless.  They have the right to follow the warlord of their choosing, to challenge other Ultras, etc.  They are full participants in the brutal dog-eat-dog competition which is the Pantheon’s day to day operation.

Even those nameless who do not undergo a Pilgrimage may ascend in rank.  Those who compete certain particularly grueling training courses may cease to be nameless.  Those sponsored by a Pantheon member with a Divine Name are likewise graduated to full membership.  There are probably a few other possibilities.

In order to rise above the regular rank the Ultrahumans of the Pantheon must earn their Divine Name.  There is no Pilgrimage for this, no regularly recognized means of ascension.  Every Named Ultra of the Pantheon has performed a recognized feat of heroism.  They may have scored singular battlefield success against the Union, survived a battle with a Fist, or wracked up a massive Tally in the Pantheon’s incessant warring.

Those Ultrahumans gifted with a Divine Name, plucked seemingly at random from the world’s religious traditions, ARE the Pantheon.  The very name refers to their alliance.  In the Pantheon’s armies these are the commanders of its Hosts.  In its cities these are the rulers.  They are the Warlords.  They are the Valkries.  Throughout the vast majority of the Pantheon’s territory, and thus the majority of the Earth, they reign supreme.  Only the Leadership Council stands above them, and they only to the degree that their personal power can enforce their writ.

Zeus and his compatriots do not occupy any official extra class.  The Leadership Council, as a whole, has the authority to give orders to the Divine Names, but any individual member of that Council is only a God like all the others, able to bully their kin only to the degree that their might allows.