Monday, May 23, 2016

Valhallopolis: 5/16/16 - 5/22/16

"I'll hum the song the soldiers sing / As they march outside our window"

(Thor and undead allies)

(Art by the Lemonade Project)

* * *
* * *

Monday: 5/16/16

At first all he can see is the trees, swaying. 

Large pines, off somewhere. Waving this way and that, like they're caught in some kind of storm. 

He can't hear the storm, oddly enough. He feels cold and wet, but he isn't sure if it's rain or not. 

He can't move his head to look up at the sky. He can't turn his body to face the direction. 

He just lays there, on the ground -- cold and wet and so very weak -- and watches the trees sway, now illuminated by crackles of what might be lightning, or maybe explosions of some kind. 

Maybe both. 

If he thinks hard enough, he can remember why he knows it's both. He can remember the battle that's raging around him.

He can remember why he's lying here, on the ground -- wet and cold and unable to move. 

Someone stumbles into his field of vision. A Russian soldier, torn and frayed, walking like each step might be his last before he just drops his hands, lets his guts fall out of his chest, and follows them down to the ground. 

There, that did it. He trips over something and goes face-first into the dirt. Twitches once, then twice.

He doesn't do it a third time. He's gone. 

Wait, maybe not. He's moving again. 

He gets to his hands and knees. Looks up, then around. 

His eyes. They're white as milk. Skin grey as canned mushroom soup. 

("...all we can afford, dear," his mother is saying. Brother laughs when he cries...)

Black crud drips from between rotting teeth. Fingers tipped with long, sharp nails. 

The corpse raises itself up and shouts to the sky. He still can't hear anything. 

He can just see that it must be a loud shout -- the soldier's spraying black, chunky mist from his mouth from the effort. 

Then the corpse walks back over him, like he's not even there. Strides back into battle, guts out and all. 

Only now, he'll be on the other side. 

Now he'll be fighting his allies, his friends. The heroes who came here, this day.

The people fighting the Aesir, their deranged human allies, and their hordes of undead.

("...must share this power with your brother," his dying father says, but one look at Joey and he knows that's a mistake...)

Then the world goes as bright as the sun, then as dark as night. He feels his body jerked one way and the other. 

He lands, he thinks. He's facing a different direction. 

Still cold, still wet. Still unable to move. 

The battle. He can see it now. And it's horrible. 

("... we'll just have you pretend to die, is all," SPYGOD explains to the group: "What do you !@#$ing know about short-lived replicants...?")

Zombies rush and rage, brandishing swords and clubs and spears. The Aesir move among them, striking key blows and sliding back into the hordes of living and dead. 

And his own people? He sees very few of them. 

American Steel, flying above it all. Firing, screaming, wondering why they won't stay dead. 

Hanami, beside him. Dropping down to tangle with Aesir when she can. Not doing too well, but giving as well as she can. 

Dragonfly, there in the middle of the fray. Hands and feet moving faster than he can see.

Beside her, Red Wrecker takes the ones that get through. Punching low where her ally kicks high.

Beside her, Dr. Uncertainty, firing some strange weapon at the dead. It looks like tin cans attached to a large Geiger counter -- it very well may be. 

And there, not far away -- the source of the winds, the lightning, and the rain. 

It's Mr. USA and Thor. They're still going at it, however long later. 

Trading hammer blows and fist strikes so strong the world shakes, and yet neither deign to drop. 

He watches this, now. Unable to move or close his eyes. Cold and wet and all too still.


The wet is red and thick. The cold inside and out. 

The stillness nearly complete, as each breath comes slower than the last...

("... the helmet is your power. Always wear it. Never lose it. And never ever hit something you don't intend to...")

Pieces. It's in pieces. The weird rock it was made of crackles and shines.

He must have finally hit an immovable object with his unstoppable force. 

The hammer. Of course. He would have rushed at it, wouldn't he?

He would have tried to save his friend from having to kill another friend, here and now...

The helmet is in pieces. His skull is shattered like an egg. No wonder he can't move, or hear.

It's a wonder he's not dead, yet. 

("... right down your throat you goddamn son of a-" he says, just before the hammer hits him-)

Oh, now he can hear something. Buzzing. A cloud of something, buzzing. 

Lights, ahead of him. The world is going red-grey and still, but still there are lights. 

Dragonflies. Hundreds of them. Thousands. 

Inside the cloud, wrapped in her purple cloak -- there she is. The one they don't like to talk about, but is glad to have on their side. 

The Living Dead Girl.

"You know I hate that name," Tombo says, pulling her cloak back as she comes closer. Red, luscious hair -- curly and long, spilling every which way in the breeze her insects make. 

"No, please," he says, somehow able to talk again: "My body. They'll use it. They'll use me against them..."

"Yes, they will," she says, walking right up to where he sits -- still and wet: "And I'm sorry. But if it's any consolation, your powers are gone. You'll be just another shambling biter, and they're doing a good job dealing with them...

"Yes, you are," she whispers, looking over her shoulder at one knot of colored motion in particular, as if proud of her handiwork. 

"Please," he begs, crying worse than he did the day he learned that his brother had turned to crime: "Just one more chance. Just let me do this. Let me save them."

"I can't do that," Tombo says: "But you're the only one of the team who dies today. Take some comfort from that."

There's a loud explosion, and something not unlike a scream is heard over the entire battlefield. 

"What the hell was that?"

"That's... not something you have to worry about, now," she says grimly, shaking her head sadly.

"Is it what's going to happen?"

"Who says it hasn't already?" she sighs: "Time's all muddled up, here. Past and future, present and possibility. We look to the world of the living to say goodbye, or watch, but all we can see is a jumble. A stack of photographs knocked over onto the floor. 

"They call you a ghost, but from our perspective it's the world that's gone all funny and rotten."

He doesn't know what to say to that. He looks around, wondering if he can still see pieces of the helmet from here. 

But he can't. He can't really see anything, now. Just a red-lit road with a couple thousand flashes of light on it. 

And the lights are growing fewer all the time...

"Did I..." he tries to ask, the words not coming easily: "Please tell me I made a difference. Please tell me it wasn't all just stupid costumes and fighting. I lost my family, my brother... friends. I've lost so much, and now I'm !@#$ing dead and I don't know if it was worth it."

"I can't tell you if it was worth it," Tombo says, looking around: "That's a decision you have to make for yourself. Maybe not today, maybe not in a hundred thousand years. But the worth of your life is in the eye of the beholder, and when history is dust and hearsay, and you alone can tell the tale of your life, you'll be the only judge.

"What I can tell you is that everyone makes a difference," she continues, looking down at him: "Everyone. Kings and queens. Heroes and villains. The great and the good and lowly and the bad. People everyone knows, and the ones no one can remember. 

"All of us have our part to play, great or small. 

"And this was yours."

Does that cheer him up? No, not really. What really could at a time like this?

But it does make him think. It makes him consider.

It makes him understand that maybe this isn't so bad, after all. 

And when Tombo reaches out her hand, and says "Kevin, come with me to ((GREAT MYSTERY))," while might take him a second or two to comply, Blastman does -- deciding that, for good or ill, he died here, today, and maybe that's the way it was always going to go.

That and when your time truly comes, there's no arguing with death...

And then they're moving along with the glowing cloud of dragonflies, far and away from here.

And then they're gone.

Tuesday: 5/17/16

"Yeah, an evac would be !@#$ing nice, right about now," SPYGOD mutters, looking out the very small, very thick window at a city that's been turned into an atrocity exhibition by its new masters.

The Syrian Army communicator he's found is useless. Something tore it apart like it was made of paper, rather than heavy steel and durable plastic -- tossed it into the far corner of the room like trash, along with the pieces of the Al-Hidhah soldiers they hadn't wanted to use for decorative elements.

The headquarters is a shambles, but at least it's still holding, still strong. The small, underground warren of concrete rooms wrapped around steel -- with more steel and concrete on the outside -- is a good model, made to withstand a lot of exterior punishment before cracking.

So it sound have still been intact by the time he and the Mahdi arrived, if only the morons running it hadn't !@#$ing opened the door during the night.

(At least, that's what he thinks must have happened, based on the mess he found when he got in here.)

There's evidence of a firefight in the entrance area. Bullets all over the damn place, along with blood, and the marks of long claws that could rip through steel like flesh.

An explosion, a little further back. Someone must have decided to blow themselves up for the cause. If it worked, there's no sign, but it wasn't a good holding tactic.

If anything, their attackers just swarmed their sorry asses after that.

Every room tells a different story. The skinny armory the forward-thinking locked themselves into, only to see the heavy, steel door get ripped to pieces, then torn from its hinges. The bunks where still-sleeping men died horribly in their beds. The office where the base commander shot himself instead of face what turned his men into meat and bone.

(The only whole body left in the whole place, oddly enough.)

And finally the command and control room, where the bravest of the brave made their last stand -- not knowing that their true leader, and his plus one, would come here in a couple days and actually !@#$ing need all the stuff they used to make a rude barricade.

Not that they needed to bother giving a roll-out for the Mahdi. He's long gone by now...

SPYGOD thinks he hears one of those things, out in the distance. A howl that chills his bones and makes him almost lose control of his bladder.

But no. It's just the wind. Or maybe a Russian plane, overhead, looking for more targets in the graveyard that Aleppo's turned out to be.

It's the day. They aren't active now.

They can't be active when the sun is in the sky, banishing them below the ground.

Or can they...?

* * *

As far as magical mystery tours went, this one turned bad almost too quickly to comprehend, much less survive. 

The two of them had been right to hunker down and wait for morning, rather than head into Aleppo with half the day gone, and no idea what they'd find when they got there. Not with the Wendigo in control of the night, there. 

Not with the few weapons they still had in their hands, either. They'd expended half their stolen stash on raiders, zombie viking attacks, and the occasional patrol of one !@#$ing faction or another of this crazy-ass civil war.

(No undead attacks, lately, though. He wonders what happened to make that change...)

So they dug out an existing hole to make it longer and deeper, threw some cover over themselves, and sat down to wait until morning. They kept quiet, as they had nothing they really wanted to say to one another. 

And they tried to ignore the everpresent, otherworldly howling that came from the city -- a terrible reminder of what they'd be walking into, the next day. 

It was a reasonable plan. It should have worked, too. 

Except that they weren't the only ones trying to get into town...

The first sign that the !@#$ was about to go straight down the toilet was when SPYGOD -- on watch, of course -- saw red lights coming straight for their position. Old-style military flashlights with the night lenses on, to cut down on visibility. 

Too bad they were in the hands of a bunch of Syrian loyalist yahoos who didn't know what the !@#$ they were doing. They were making enough noise to alert any decent sniper, much less a city full of carnivorous monsters. 

He'd almost thought to wake the Mahdi, except that he wouldn't have been waking him. He knew the guy never slept -- he just pretended to, perhaps out of politeness, but more likely to try and lull his unwilling ally into a false sense of security. 

(And SPYGOD saw no reason to let the Mahdi know that he knew what the creep was up to.)

But then there was a louder, closer howling. The desert exploded in storms of sand, antler, and claw. 

And all around their rude little shelter were the Wendigo -- bursting from where they'd been hiding, all around them, and preparing to destroy and devour the interlopers...

* * *

"... dumb !@#$er tried to talk them out of it," SPYGOD says, talking to the cracked, unseeing face of Free Fire -- the only remnant of the orange android he could readily identify: "That was a damn sight, let me tell you. 'I am the Mahdi and you will obey me!' Who the !@#$ did he think he was, that guy off Doctor Who?"

The superspy shrugs, looking around the room: "Well, it didn't go too well for him. Lucky for me, I ran the !@#$ away. Just that there was nowhere to run to but the city. And somehow I !@#$ing escaped them all, two nights in a damn row. 

"And the less I !@#$ing talk about how I did that, the better..."

He sighs, grabs the remnants of a rolling chair, and plops his fine, gay ass down into it -- still holding Free Fire's face as though he were Hamlet, delivering a soliloquy to Poor Yorrick.  

"Of course, they might have !@#$ing wanted me to escape. Maybe they wanted to see where I was going. 

"And now that I'm here, well, maybe I'm tonight's !@#$ing entertainment..."

He looks around the room, then down the blood-soaked hall.

He wonders how much work he'll have to do between now and sunset to make this place Wendigo-proof. 

He thinks of how the Mahdi insisted they get here, because there was not only phones for him to call and fix his !@#$ -- all the booby-trapped people, out there in the world -- but some great thing he needed to have secured for the next phase of his big damn plan. 

And he wonders if he can find it, and make it work for him...

Wednesday: 5/18/16

"You have to be kidding me," Dragonfly says, looking out the window of the Russian Army bivouac she woke up in, a few hours ago, and looking at what's going on down the road.

Hearing it, even from here. 

"I wish I was, Gayle," a heavily-bandaged Mr. USA says, not wanting to look anymore: "After everything. After all that. They just never learn."

"No," Hanami says from the chair she's been put into -- shattered legs twitching as her systems try to heal her: "They never do."

And, as if to underscore that point, another cohort of all-too-familiar androids fly overhead, heading for the ring of steel and fire they've made around Moscow. 

* * *

Battle, as anyone will tell you, is intensely confusing.

No one can really say what happened to them with a full degree of certainty, once the bullets and fists start flying. Reality goes sideways, action is all there is, and details get lost in the adrenaline-fueled rush to survive. 

And just as it's incredibly hard to be sure of what happened to you, alone, it's even more difficult to say what happens to others. Even those with electronic brains or total recall are still dealing with their own filters and perceptions, so that what happens around you might as well be postcards from a foreign country you've never visited.

So, even among the Freedom Force -- veterans of scores of combats, large and small -- trying to put a finger on what happened when is next to impossible to do, even after a few days of rest and recovery. 

One thing they can agree on, though: control of the battle really did go out of their hands the moment they realized that Blastman wasn't coming back from the serious blow Thor delivered with that hammer of his.

Of course he would have tried something like that. He always joked about being the human battering ram -- pyramid, in his case.

And when he saw that not even Mr. USA could get the better of the son of Odin in a one-on-one fight, of course he would have tried to swoop in and take the Aesir's head off, or at least knock that damn hammer out of his hand.

Of course he would.

But Thor saw him coming, as he doubtlessly would -- even in the heat of battle. And he stayed his hammer until the right moment, just so he could swing it right at the tip of Blastman's rocky helmet...

The explosion flattened everyone in a fifty foot radius. The living and the dead went flying. Mr. USA tumbled back onto his ass and skidded twice that distance in seconds, actually falling unconscious for a crucial, scary second. 

And when he got back to his feet, and saw the mess the collision had made, he was grimly aware of two things. The first was that Blastman was lying in a bloody heap, some distance away -- not moving, and with his helmet broken into pieces between here and there.

The second was that Thor was still standing, holding his hammer in the exact same position. Not a scratch on him, not a scorch-mark. 

And the smile on his face was as black and evil as anything Mr. USA had ever seen in his nightmares.

That's when the Aesir redoubled, their Odal shocktroops leaping ahead of them into battle. That's when even more zombies came running up, a rotten army squirming between the cracks of the living and the divine.

That's when the dead allies around them came to unlife and joined the other side...

What could they do but fight? It was all left to them, now that strategy and containment had failed. All they could do was simply pound at their foes -- incapacitate the living, obliterate the dead, somehow beat back the gods -- and hope for some sort of miracle. 

But as the waves increased, and the dead multiplied, and the lightning bolts tore through all they held in reserve, they all soon realized that today might be the last stand of many a hero, and many a team. 

Until they heard a noise that they thought they'd never hear again, and looked up to see a nightmare rushing into save them...

* * *

The official story was that nothing had survived the cataclysm at Buryat.

The Metal Plague had been defeated, thanks to Mister Freedom's plan. And the defeated robots had all been inside the complex when it mysteriously self-destructed, denying all its secrets to the Russian government.

Officially, at any rate -- but the truth was much more complex.

The truth was that some traces had yet survived. 

Pieces the Freedom Force had left all over the landscape while defeating earlier, less sophisticated iterations of the self-improving robots. Parts found elsewhere in the world while mopping up. Chunks available for sale on the black market, stolen from private auctions, prized away from governmental lockups and the lairs of would-be world conquerors.

Over the last few months, in secret, the Russians had been reverse-engineering the menace they had unwittingly played host to, for all that time. And while they had not quite understood the transcendent genius behind the machines' workings -- much less fathomed their ultra-sophisticated programing -- they had produced a few working prototypes.

And once they exposed those prototypes to the same rigors of combat they might encounter in a battle with a large, mechanized army, or a few strategic talents, their metal beasts began to learn, to grow, to improve.

And, most importantly of all, to multiply. 

Thus was created the Russian Legion -- reborn from the ash and scrap of the Metal Plague.

And on that day, at what might have been the nation's darkest hour, its leaders decided to unleash the storm of as-yet-untested white, blue, and red androids upon the invaders, and hope for the best.

* * *

That was three or so days ago. Since then, there's been ample time to consider the consequences of that one, single action. 

There hasn't been much else to do, given everyone's condition.

Mr. USA is broken, but healing. Strong bones knit back together, superior muscles lash back to the bone. Even the telling, hammer-head shaped dent in his sternum -- almost enough to crush his heart -- is starting to push out, however painfully. 

Red Wrecker is still unconscious from blood loss and shock. Dragonfly was in the same boat, though her problem seemed to be more to do with over-exertion -- she hardly had a scratch on her whole body. 

No one's sure what's up with American Steel and Dr. Uncertainty. At some point he fell under the weight of the undead, and she swooped in to get her. After that, they've been mysteriously absent from view.

(Had they been forming some kind of relationship? Mr. USA thought he detected some level of familiarity there, between them, but noted they went to great lengths to keep it under wraps.)

Hanami is the worst off. One of the Aesir decided he'd had enough of her swooping in and out of their ranks and took an axe to her pelvis -- several times. She can still fly just fine, but everything below the waist is a mess of cracked skin, exposed wires, and broken gears. 

And then there's Blastman -- though no one wants to talk about him, given what the Russian Legion did to all the undead fighters they encountered. 

There's also all the other heroes -- Russian or otherwise -- who are here with them, recuperating, though keeping track of who's alive, maimed, or dead is not a concern they care to deal with, right now.

They're a little more concerned about the legion of self-repairing, ever-adapting androids that swooped in firing, three or so days ago, and have never stopped shooting since. 

They made short work of the viking zombies -- using flame-throwers and high explosive rounds to turn them into black, sloppy smears and charred parts on the ground. 

Then they turned their attention to the living thugs, who were just crazy enough to run at them. They used short-range, high-energy lasers in a slashing pattern to cut them to pieces -- ensuring their worth as resuscitated casualties would be next to nil. 

As for the Aesir, they suffered heavy losses at first. After all, these were gods of war they fought, and they were merely beasts of plastic and steel. 

But as the initial wave of androids was smashed down, inch by inch, it was replaced by another. And this wave was that much tougher, that much less easily damaged. 

As was the wave after that. And the one after that. And the one that followed that one.  

On and on, wave after wave, until at last the Aesir found they could no longer destroy them with magical weapons, or words of power. Could no longer fry them with lightning bolts, or bursts of heat or cold. 

Could no longer even best them in rude hand to hand combat. 

And them came the horrible moment -- ominous on both sides -- when the gods of battle and Ragnarok heard a horn calling for their retreat, and gladly obeyed...

The respite gave the Russians time to get their wounded from the field, and the heroes time to pull one another out of the fray. And they decamped to an area some distance away, there to sit and wait as the city of Moscow was surrounded by wave after wave of the Russian Legion. 

And each wave linked with the other, to form a wall of machine creatures with one order -- CONTAIN AT ALL COSTS. 

That was three or so days ago. Now the outskirts of the city lie in flaming ruins. Now the dead lie in burning, broken heaps on the streets and bridges. 

Now no one is getting out -- alive or dead. 

* * *

The Russian hero National Man has been by a few times, mostly to check up on Mr. USA, but also to act as a liaison between the teams, the Russian Army, FAUST, and everyone else who'd got a finger in this pie. 

(He doesn't look too bad for having had a magical spear go right through his guts. He's been told the colostomy bag is only temporary, and laughs it off with what might be black humor, or maybe a lot of vodka.)

The last time he stopped by, he said that the Russian Legion was only a stop-gap measure (much like the bag he still needs help putting on). He has been assured that there is no way they are going to allow a massive phalanx of god-killing, self-willed androids to remain operational after this matter has been put to rest.

He says that, and something in his eyes betrays the fact that he doesn't know if it's true.

He says that, and somehow he knows it's a lie. Either because they have no intention of deactivating such a weapon, or they have no ability to do so. 

And every time he leaves them, the Freedom Force members look to one another, remember Buryat, and wonder if the cure for this divine disease isn't going to kill them all.

Thursday: 5/19/16

"Sir, we can mourn later," Josie says, doing her best to appear professional in front of the image of the Interim President, broadcast over the screen in her office on the Flier: "Blastman wouldn't want us to dwell on his death. He'd want us to fight on."

"I know that, Director," Dan Quayle says, looking rather displeased: "He'd also probably remind you that I've been cooped up in your Heptagon basement for far too long."

"Just until we can guarantee your safety, sir. And I know they're taking good care of you."

"Oh, excellent service," the Interim President says: "Your sister Katy's in here all the time, making sure I'm okay. Offering me extra blankets and a pillow. A mint on my pillow."

"Well, sir, after what's been going on back home-"

"Yes, let's talk about that," the President says, tapping his fingers on the bare, metal desk he's been leading the country from for the last couple weeks: "Because to be frank? Right now I could really care less about one dead American hero. Not with a damn space war going on over our heads and this mess in Moscow. That's just the headlines."


"No Director. You and me? We know what's going on behind the headlines. And that's that my Secret Service has been having a damn field day chasing assassins, and a lot of them are coming from the Secret Service. They're targeting me, my cabinet, the candidates of every major party, and some of the damn minors."

"I saw that, sir," Josie says: "I'm shocked anyone would go after the New Green Party. I didn't even there was a New Green Party until they killed-"

"And do you know what those mother!@#$ers say when we catch them alive?" the man interrupts her, clearly not caring about how the NGP's candidate was blown off her bicycle on the way to a rally anymore than he cared about poor Blastman: "Do you?"

"I did read the reports, sir-"

"They say they're doing it for Allah, Director," the man says, scowling: "They're doing it because the man on the phone stopped calling them, telling them not to do it."

"Which means the Mahdi is dead, or otherwise incapacitated," Josie says, nodding: "Which means SPYGOD's team succeeded in its mission."

"Which means we're going to have the mother of all blowbacks if we can't find out everyone he had on his call list!" Quayle shouts: "It's not just me, Director. It's not just us. It's the whole damn world. I'm getting calls from every major head of state. Their own people are trying to kill them. Their own ministers are sabotaging things."

"I saw that, sir," she says: "Now that we're actually talking with FAUST, thanks to this thing in Moscow, we're more in the loop with Europe. It's a mess."

"Well, hadn't you better do something about it?" the Interim President rages: "Before we all wind up getting nuked by someone that bastard isn't going to be calling in the next couple of days?"

"Yes, sir," she says, nodding: "I've got top people working on it, right now."

"They've got 24 hours to get me an action plan and execute it," he says, pointing a finger: "Or I call for your resignation. And I will not be replacing you with one of your sisters, Director. I'll be bringing in someone who knows what they're doing."

He turns off the phone. She absentmindedly thinks about turning off the oxygen supply to his quarantine cell, but sighs, and disregards that idea.

"You heard all that, gentlemen," she says, turning SPYGOD's team's viewer back on: "That's what we're dealing with."

"That's... pretty bad," Myron says, flanked by Gosheven and Shining Guardsman: "And I don't know what to tell you. Last we heard from SPYGOD, he went in with Free Fire to deal with the guy, and told us to vamoose so we didn't get hit. Then we heard nothing, so we came to the base in Turkey to rendezvous with him."

"And we don't have the slightest idea-" Gosheven starts to say, but then Josie puts her fist down on her desk -- hard enough that something cracks.

"Shut. Up." She hisses, looking very upset: "I've played dumb up until now, but I'm through. I know, gentlemen. I know."

"You know... what?" Shining Guardsman says, hoping having his suit on will make his poker face somewhat convincing.

"She knows," Myron says, shrugging and looking at the two of them, and then back to her: "And as leader of the group, now, I have to take full responsibility. It was one thing while SPYGOD was calling the shots. Now..."

"Now, I'm going to give you one chance," Josie says, pointing the finger of the she didn't just break on her desk: "The President wants a !@#$ing action plan? Well guess what, boys. You. Are. It.

"You got 72 hours to go find me a list. Find me anything I can use. I don't care if it's partial or full. I don't care who's on it. You get that list and you get it to me, and we stop this !@#$ before it gets any worse.

"Or I swear to mother!@#$ing god, the last thing I do as Director of the COMPANY before they toss my big, tattooed ass out of this office is stick you all in a hole in the Heptagon so damn deep down that they might not even remember to !@#$ing feed you!"

She turns the viewer off. Looks at her hand.

"!@#$ goddammit mother!@#$#ing !@#$," she mutters, shaking it and wincing at the pain: "Let's not do that again."

Friday: 5/20/16

"Well, it was not a complete loss," Tyr opines, looking down at the remnants of his latest plan to overcome the angry, mechanical wall that the humans threw up around the city: "At least we now know one thing we did not know before with complete certainty."

"And what is that, brother Tyr?" Heimdall asks, his gold eyes perceiving much -- including how badly beaten their living servants are, even when clad in armor forged from dragons' flame.

"That our thralls are weak-willed and feeble-minded," the God of War says, stepping to the side just as one of the android snipers takes a shot at him -- the blast going wide and hitting some glass and steel tower, somewhere.

"I saw that from the beginning."

"Yes, well, we do not all share your perspective," Tyr chuckles, running a hand through his blood-red hair: "And sight is merely the seeing of things. Seeing is not always knowing."

"And knowing is not always seeing," a dark-complected woman says, striding up behind them. She wears a long cloak of green and black, and holds a leather bag between her two spindly hands.

"You would know of such things, Vor," Heimdall says: "But tell me, seer. What do you make of this? What do the runes say of this?"

"Nothing good," the woman says, holding her bag up: "I have thrown many times, since the day we were bested by this foe."

"We were not bested!" Tyr insists, not deigning to turn and meet her gaze: "And you had best not say as such around Thor, else he shall best your face with his hammer."

"Even the son of Odin knows not to try the hand that throws the runes, good Tyr," Vor says, chuckling as she shakes the bag: "He has learned too well from the words of his father, All-Seeing and All-Knowing."

"Yet for all his sight and knowledge, he lies dead upon the floor in Valhalla," Heimdall says, casting his sight back to that sorry tableau -- far, far from here: "Else we would not be here, under the rule of Vili and Ve."

"There is that, yes," the woman says, turning somewhat pale at the thought of it, and putting a hand to her throat: "A strangeness that was unforeseen. A fate unknown, even to us."

"Feh!" Tyr snorts, finally turning to see her: "Words upon the ground. I need no foresight to guide my sword, woman. Not this day nor any other. And I will find my fate as it comes."

"Then hear the words I have cast upon that ground, Tyr," Vor insists, shaking the bag at the red-haired god of war: "Every cast, every time, the same story unfolds. Evil and temptation. Chaos and unrest."

"Is it to come, then?" Ve asks, appearing from seemingly nowhere -- his eyes turned to blazing balls of fire, his pale hands smoking.

"No, my lord," the woman says, turning and bowing to their leader: "It is here, now. We have entered a time of doom, simply by being here."

"That is known to me," Ve says, gesturing to the wall of metal warriors that surrounds their taken city: "As it is known to us all, surely. This is the fire that precedes the blazing forest. The cough that portends the plague.

"The darkening skies and broken shields that tell the coming of Ragnarok," he hisses, raising his axe high, as if to some point in the sky -- far, far away: "Here and now, in this time."

"My lord, no," Vor says, disregarding the hand of warning that Heimdall holds up before her: "I beg you to listen. You have misunderstood my words. This is not the wolf-time. This is not even a tenth of that black day, when we shall all fall before Fenris, as foretold. 

"This is merely a shadow of that doom. An echo of the war to come. This is not our time.

"But by being here, now? We bring something far worse to this world than the Wolf-Time. We bring-"

Vor doesn't even see his hand as it drops the axe upon her head. And she bursts into flame and becomes ash before she can utter a single scream.

"We bring fire to the world," Ve says, shaking her black god-dust from the edge of his weapon and looking back to their current concern: "Much as untold others before us, only this time the fire shall not merely enlighten. 

"This time it shall cleanse..."

With that, Ve turns and walks away, leaving two gods and a pile of what was once a goddess -- her bag of runes mysteriously untouched.

"You spoke of the difference between seeing and knowing, Heimdall," Tyr says, clearly unmoved by all of this: "Here then is a further lesson, for those who would be wise. The difference between knowing and saying, or merely keeping one's mouth shut."

With that the god of war laughs, and walks away, leaving Heimdall to contemplate things.

And make a decision he's avoided, up until now.

Saturday: 5/21/16

"If you do not do this now, it only gets worse," Mister Freedom says, for what is clearly the seventh time in almost as many days: "I do not know else to say it, my King and Brother. Not in words, not in deeds."

And Lordly Seranu looks to the Olympian -- banished, then recalled -- and turns his head to avoid this weighty decision, once more. He stares at the empty, black throne that their dark brother sat upon, here in the chamber of the Gods, and wonders.

"He has the power to end me," he speaks, at last, turning back with what may be actual fear in his eyes: "The power to end us all."

"Not all of us," elder Synchro says, stroking his long, white beard: "'And with strange aeons, even death may die,' they say."

"He cannot take the dark into itself," shadowy Soubre counsels, though he seems a little dubious at that claim.

"And I'm not letting him turn my night into a travesty," Noyx insists, his round head of hair glowing with the power of the approaching full moon: "Not any more than he already has."

"And if all else fails, you can say I will come to speak with him," Mister Freedom says: "And he knows how that will turn out, should I have to consider his puzzle too complex to solve."

Seranu looks to them all, and then to his sister-wife Kanaan -- still sitting on her throne, her needles jammed into her eyes, her prophecies stilled.

"But I... am unsure," Seranu says, looking away from his sticken queen: "What if he does not listen? What if I am slain-

"You rule because you lead," Noyx finally says, clearly good and disgusted with this sorry display: "If you will not lead, then rule is no longer yours. Is it?"

"I can think of no more direct a thing to say," Mister Freedom says.

"Or more impertinent!" Seranu shouts, clearly unhappy to have his right to be king questioned: "You would do well to watch your rocky tongue-"

"We must be as one!" Synchro says, stepping between them: "Horror comes from the stars! Terror stalks the skin of the world! If we do not do all we can to stand by our pledge to these, our children, then what sort of parents have we become?"

"Bad ones," Seranu sighs, nodding and taking Synchro's hand, and then reaching another out to Noyx: "Forgive me, brother. Forgive me, all of you. I have been afraid, and in my fear I have been foolish."

"Also in your pride and presumption," Mister Freedom says: "But these are matters we can address later, once we have dealt with this matter before us."

"Yes," the King of Olympos says, clearly not looking forward to that conversation: "Then it is decided? I shall go into the black pyramid of Satanoth, there to speak sense to our wayward brother."

"And we shall await outside, should you need us," Synchro says: "All of us on the leeward side of eternity's arc. He shall not dare strike you when we are all close."

Seranu nods at that, but the fear in his eyes is still there. Still clear.

* * *

"What the goddamn hell happened here?" Gosheven says, dancing around the ruined floor of the tent like it was filled with big, evil spiders: "Poor Free Fire!"

"Poor everyone," Myron says, getting some equipment out of the back of the drill tank: "It looks like they got ambushed by the walking dead."

"The Viking Dead, more like," Shining Guardsman says, picking up a helmet and a sword from the moldering corpse on the ground: "Look at this mess. You think they made it out alive?"

"I'd say they did," Myron says, waving one of the equipment pieces around, and then finally stopping in one direction: "Heat sensors are damn near useless out here, but I got the kind that works below ground."

"What's that got to do with anything?" Gosheven asks.

"Well, the further down you go, the hotter it gets," Shining Guardsman says: "Jesus, man. Didn't they teach you any geology in school?"

"I didn't need to go to school to know that," the metamorph says, laughing as he mimes giving a blowjob to an invisible !@#$: "Saturday night at the back of the bar, ladies!"

"Does gaydar work like radar?" Myron says: "Because if you can find SPYGOD's direction that'll be half the damn battle, right there."

"No, it does not work like radar," Gosheven grumbles: "Good Jesus !@#$ing Christ in a pink Easter basket. You guys are so rude."

Shining Guardsman snorts at that, shrugs, and goes back to looking for some semblance of a working computer system. Myron moves about to get triangulation.

And Gosheven -- angry and fuming as he stomps around the outside of the tent -- makes the most important discovery of the whole damn day. 

* * *

The ghost whimpers as it crawls along the ground -- its legs chewed-through stumps at mid-thigh. It looks up at Seranu with a silent pleading in its eyes, as its jaw has suffered a similar fate.

"I told you I would kill you if you came back," Satanoth says, looking down from his ebon seat, dead center in the inverted, black pyramid of his throne room. The lights are all out, and he sits in shadow -- deep and cold.

"I know, brother," Seranu says, holding his hands before him: "I spoke to you rashly, before. I was frightened and worried, for I did not understand. And I did not handle your... your sickness very well.

"And so I come to apologize, and plead with you once more."

"You should not have come, fucker," Satanoth mutters, leaning forward so that his King-Brother can see the full horror of what has happened here.

He has become bloated, the lord of Death -- grotesquely fat, with pendulous belly and breasts. His jowls are pronounced, and wet with the dead blood of corpses and the cold ichor of ghosts.

And the look in his eyes is that of a madman -- just gone insane after seeing the true face of the gods.

"Yes," Seranu says, stepping forward: "I should have. And I should have come before you did this to yourself. Before you fell further into this madness.

"Forgive me, brother. I was afraid."

"And you should still be!" Satanoth screams, leaping from his throne -- his weight seeming to be no impediment -- and landing before his brother and king: "How dare you come before me!"

"I dare!" Seranu says, stepping close enough to allow his brother to do more than return the blow he struck when last they stood before one another, should he care to: "I dare everything, brother, because I am afraid!"


"I look to the other side of the world, and I see what they are doing, these newly-returned Aesir, and I am afraid! I see the ruin left of my sister-wife Kanaan's eyes and I am afraid! I see this world slipping from our hands, and into theirs, and I am afraid!

"And I see the doom our exiled brother created, so long ago, as it comes towards this world in pieces, and though we have given these mortals the tools to save themselves I am seeing what these Aesir can do, and wonder what they might do to those tools, and I am afraid!

"And you sit here, in your dark world, and abuse ghosts and their corpses?" Seranu says, gesturing to the throne behind Satanoth: "You, one of our mightiest? You, the one not even I can command?

"Well, brother, I know not what has taken place inside your heart and mind. I know not what malady afflicts you. But I do know that something has poisoned your spirit. You speak not as yourself. You act not as yourself.

"You are being commanded, brother. Even now, some alien spirit squats within your mind, soul, and heart, voiding selfishness and uncaring into the spaces between, and wiping that filth across your virtues when it finishes.

"Are you going to tell me that the Lord of the Dead, who not even I may command, is content to be commanded by the likes of a ghost?"

Satanoth turns purple, then. He howls. He rages and raised his fists, as if to strike.

And then... he raises an eyebrow.

Then furrows both of them, looking one way, and then the other.

"My... oh..." he says, shaking his head as if in disbelief: "I... I am..."

"You are, yes," Seranu says, reaching forward to put his hand upon his brother's swollen belly: "Indeed, if you put your hands upon mine? Perhaps you can feel what I have sensed. The cancer within you. The rot."

"Indigestion," Satanoth rumbles, and then, doing as his brother and king bids, closes his eyes as if in deep concentration.

And then, with a turn of his head, vomits something vaguely humanlike out of his gloriously distended mouth.

"Fuck you..." the ghost of Loreli says, squirming on the floor in a pool of blood, ichor, and half-digested flesh: "You fucking piece of shit faggot..."

"I... remember you," Seranu says, uncertain: "And yet I do not. How can this be?"

"The creature my creature found, killing our children," Satanoth says, remembering the actions of the White City's guardian, once he'd removed her from her god-body: "Somehow, we can now see her. Perhaps because of her time within me."

"I'll kill you..." Loreli goes on, fingers scrabbling for purchase upon the floor.

"I think not," Mister Freedom says, appearing nearby along with the other dark brothers of the Olympians: "Senchro? I think you may have the key to this puzzle."

"That I do," the bearded god of time says, waving his hand. Suddenly the woman on the floor contorts and screams as she is made into a mortal, once more.

And then screams as a hole opens in the floor beneath her, slamming shut not long after she passes through it.

"My realm will give her no further chance of perfidy, or revenge," Mister Freedom says: "Perhaps in time I will learn the true question of her existence. Perhaps I will cure her of the disease, much as you, my brother, have been cured of hers."

"I thank you for that, Brother Restriit," Satanoth says, clearly humbled: "I thank you all."

"Once more, we see that killing does not always solve a problem," Mister Freedom says, somewhat happy to be referred to by his rightful name: "At times it merely makes it worse."

"A lesson we should take some time to digest," Soubre says, becoming immediately crestfallen when no one gets his joke -- or at least cares to acknowledge it.

"There may be no time," Seranu says, looking off in a certain direction: "The world is invaded, my brothers. Laid low by another pantheon, their motives not their own, their actions cruel."

"And usurping of my domain," Satanoth hisses, the skull of his eyes becoming very cross indeed.

"Then we are agreed?" Noyx asks: "We must go show our returned brothers the error of their ways?"

"Oh yes," Seranu says, thinking of Kanaan's blindness, and what most likely caused it: "At the very least." 

Sunday: 5/22/16

"It happens, my lord Ve," Heimdall says, looking around to the southwest. All the other gods atop the roof of the Mayor's former home turn and do the same.

"As we thought it might," Thor spits, patting the handle of Mjolnir: "Let them come. I am eager to taste their blood."

"As are we all," Tyr says, laughing: "Should we stride forth to meet them, or let them endure the wall of fire and steel first?"

The Aesir laugh at that, and Karl -- who lurks nearby, waiting for Ve to command him -- finds himself hoping to every god he can't see that the Olympians kick these people's asses something fierce and hard.

It's about damn time something went right around here...

* * *

... on the main floor of the Heptagon, it's pure bedlam.

AGENTs run every which way but up the damn walls. Pads ring, pages are omnipresent, and everyone needs to talk to everyone else right the !@#$ now. 

Because SPYGOD's team came through, and in a big way.

"They didn't just a list of names the Mahdi got his hooks into, Katy," the recently-awakened real Peg is telling her sister, over her pad: "They found several, all more or less lying all over the floor."

"What do you mean?" the large clone with the green bob cut asks, heading for the secure elevator.

"Well, apparently he had a bunch of pre-programmed phones he was using. He'd use them to call up so many people that day, and then they'd smash them. Only they got caught in mid-call, and all the phones on his desk weren't destroyed."

"Awesome!" Katy says, showing her official pass to the guard and getting in: "So how long before we know everyone?"

"Maybe not everyone, maybe not ever, but they're going through the ones that were destroyed right now, to try and salvage numbers. Who knows what they'll find..."

* * *

"... after a good night's sleep," SPYGOD grumbles, getting up from his makeshift bed, in the most secure room he could make, and heading to the door to be sure he's still alone down here.

No noise. Nothing. He decides to risk it.

He unwinds the claymores, and the other boobytraps. Then he opens the door, just a crack, and looks outside.

"Awesome," he says,  and goes about his morning. Which means taking a long slash and !@#$ in the office with the dead guy (can't smell any worse), making coffee and breakfast using that man's stash of rations, and then going about searching the compound one more damn time to find whatever the hell the Mahdi thought was so !@#$ing important he just had to get his damn self killed getting back to Aleppo.

Unless he was just suicidal...

* * *

"... they have to be," Mr. USA says, looking up at the gold and marble chariot of the Olympians as it flies overhead, and goes towards Moscow.

"I wouldn't be so sure," Hanami says, hobbling along beside him -- her legs are getting better, however slowly: "These are gods, (REDACTED). I am sure they can hold their own in a fight."

"They're not perfect, though," Dragonfly says, knowing their flaws all too well.

"You do not have to be perfect to win the battle, my friends," National Man says: "Merely one step ahead of your opponent..."

* * *

"... Karl Josephson," Heimdall says, waving his hand before the face of the burned young man: "Nor am I your ally. But in this time, at this place, I think I must be your salvation."

"What do you mean?" Karl asks, watching as the others go along the main road -- flanked by their human subjects, and the dead -- to greet the chariot that's just arrived.

"I mean that it is not your doom to die here, commanded by a man who would be a god," the gold-eyed Aesir says, following the black-haired kid's eyes to what's about to happen: "Your true fate lies far afield, and at a more fitting time.

"But should our commander, my king, ask me to say what I see of you? I cannot lie. And you will be dead."

"I don't know what you mean," Karl says.

"Mayhap you do not," Heimdall says, smiling -- his teeth as gold as his eyes: "But I see your hands behind many things unseen, young man. In those moments you are not bidden to act? You take action. You arrange things from afar. You hide objects, and people. You make the truth known to others, as always you did."

Karl nods. Then gulps. He's got him, alright -- dead to rights.

"So go," the god says, waving his hand before him again: "When you see your moment, take it. And be elsewhere, then, and in good and strong company. For the desire to come back and serve shall strike you as it does all others, and you can only free yourself by not being here."

And Karl...

* * *

... exits the elevator, and walks down the long, curving hall towards the quarantine berths.

"Let the President know I'm on my way, as usual." she radios ahead to the guard: "I've got some good news for him..."

* * *

"... where the !@#$ing !@#$ would I !@#$ing hide something secret?" SPYGOD shouts, not caring who hears him. 

The Wendigo know he's here. He's heard them creeping around outside, and howling on the roof of the thing. They haven't figured out how to tunnel in or he'd be dead ten times over, he's sure. 


"It'd help if I knew what the !@#$# I was looking for," he grumbles, tossing the armor one more damn time: "Bigger than an elephant? Smaller than a dildo? About the size of an elephant dildo?"

He thinks, once more. He considers the ruined door, and what's across from it. 

"If it's too big, how can you turn it in here?"

He goes over to the wall across the door. Taps around. 

Feels something that shouldn't be there...

* * *

"... should you?" Lord Seranu says, looking down at the Aesir from the prow of his chariot: "You said you would not return until your Ragnarok befell this world. But that event is billions of years from now. You know this."

"And you know that all prophecy is in the hands of those it foretells the doom of!" Ve says, pointing a pale, smoldering finger at the lord of the Olympians: "So if we say the Wolf-Time is now, then it is now! And you have no say in the matter."

"Oh, I think we do," Satanoth says, stepping forward, and then leaping down to stand before the Aesir -- most of whom take at least one step back: "Especially when one of you decides to tamper with my domain."

"What would that be, Olympian," Thor chuckles: "Stuffing your face ere your belly splits?"

The skull-faced lord of death steps forward: "Speak that to my face, little thunder god. You will find my reply most interesting."

"Here is mine!" Thor shouts, pulling his hammer out and...

* * *

... smacking her hand on the ID Panel by the door. 

"Well, about time," the Interim President says, sitting at his desk and munching his bowl of oatmeal: "I think we've talked about this, Katy. I need to have a proper breakfast. This Quaker State stuff isn't cutting it."

"I know, sir," she says, clearly out of breath. And when he turns to see what's up, he sees why. 

She's clearly been in a fight. She's bleeding from her nose and her ear, and has stains all over her uniform. 

Other people's blood at a guess.

"What happened?" he asks, dropping the bowl of oatmeal: "Is... did someone just try to kill me? One of your people?"

"Not yet," Katy says, holding up the gun she stole from the guard outside and saying...

* * *

"!@#$ goddamn son of a !@#$," SPYGOD says, gasping at what the armory was holding inside of it -- and who exactly is in the stolen COMPANY cryo-tube: "How the hell? How the !@#$ing goddamned hell are you still !@#$ing alive..."

* * *

... after the beating Thor gives him is unknown. But before the badly-broken Olympian can get to his feet to try and return the favor, Hel steps up behind him and -- with one smooth motion -- shoves her fist through his chest to take out his beating heart.  

And Seranu screams...

* * *

... as she watches her clone sister, Katy, execute the Interim President on COMPANY telecom with six well-placed shots to the face and forehead.

Then she turns, looks at the camera -- perhaps directly at Josie -- and says the words Josie's been afraid she's going to hear since she learned that Katy's number was on the broken phone they just decrypted.

"In the name of Allah, most merciful, most beneficent."

Then she puts the gun to her mouth, and pulls the trigger one last time.

And then...

* * *

... every single necromancer, all over the world, feels their heart seize up for just a second.

... blinded Kanaan begins to weep, knowing full well what is about to happen even if she couldn't see it a moment before.

... Straffer is woken from his sleep to be told that another 8-Ball attack is on the way.

* * *

... and the trees around Moscow sway in the wind, as another storm, even more terrible than the last, begins to brew...

(SPYGOD is listening to Hunger of the Pines (Alt-J) and having a Shorts Bloody Beer

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