The sample snippets continue. I had no internet access yesterday, so I’ll put up another one of these tonight. (most of you check in Monday morning anyway, what did people do at work before the invention of the internet? ) If you think TGC is going to be awesome, please spread the word.
For those of you just joining us, here are the earlier chapters:
Gentlemen, we have now reached the last point. If anyone of you doesn’t mean business let him say so now. An hour from now will be too late to back out. Once in, you’ve got to see it through. You’ve got to perform without flinching whatever duty is assigned you, regardless of the difficulty or the danger attending it. If it is steering the clouds and calling down lightning, if it is hurling fire or steel, if it is breaking the German’s will, or dragging their Battle Zeppelins from the sky, if it is the closest kind of fighting — be anxious for it. You must know your Power, how to shoot, and how to stay alive. No matter what comes you mustn’t squeal. Think it over — all of you. If any man wishes to withdraw he will be gladly excused, for others are ready to take his place.
General Theodore Roosevelt, from speech given to 1st Volunteer Brigade (Active) before second battle of the Somme 1918
Sullivan tossed and turned, fevered dreams eating at his peace.
Finally he gave up, and lay there, shirtless and sweating, miserable and sick, partially awake, his mind still running through the remnants of a muddled dream. Fields of mud and broken trees sticking out of the ground like splintered bones and so many Zeppelins in the air that they seemed to blot out the sky and the Germans that they just kept killing over and over and over while the Kaiser’s sorcerers would just wake them up and send them back into the fray until their bodies had been so pulverized that they could no longer hold a rifle and his brother getting half his face torn off by artillery and General Roosevelt dying in a spray of blood and fire under the claws of a Summoned and…
Then he was awake. Sullivan sighed, staring at the dark ceiling. His internal clock told him that it wasn’t even close to morning, but he wouldn’t be falling back asleep any time soon. He decided that the dream must have been from talking to Lenny. It had reminded him of the bad old days.
He heard flapping at the window, and at first he dismissed it as just a pigeon. But it had sounded too… leathery. Sullivan just kept breathing deep. Listening.
Amish McCleary didn’t like being called a retard, but he was too scared of Mr. Torrio to complain about it. He would prove to the boss that he could pull his weight around here, and that he wasn’t just good for eavesdropping on meetings with bootleggers and hustlers.
He was going to pop the Heavy himself. The big lug had a reputation. He was supposed to be a real tough guy, a hard case, but Amish knew nobody was that tough when they were asleep in bed and you kicked in the door and sprayed them down with a Tommy gun. Who cared if he was asleep? The word on the street would still be that Amish McCleary had been the man who’d had the balls to take down Heavy Jake Sullivan.
That would show Mr. Torrio. Even Al Capone would have to respect him after that, and maybe then nobody would make fun of his cross-eyes anymore.
The Jap sat next to him in the front of the Packard. Amish was scared of Mr. Torrio, but he was terrified of the Jap. One time Amish had gotten curious to see if the Japs thought the same as white men, so he’d used his Power to try to Read him, even though Mr. Torrio had warned him not to. It was like his Power had hit a brick wall. Amish wasn’t a very strong Reader. His Power barely worked once in awhile, and he could only really get into the heads of the really dumb. When he tried to read smart people he just kind of bounced off. The Jap hadn’t just bounced him, he’d booted him out of his head and across the street. Amish’s head had ached for the last three days straight.
The Jap didn’t bother to look at him, like he was too good to give Amish the time. “The demon returns,” he said simply.
The Jap must have had really good hearing, because Amish didn’t hear the wings flapping until ten whole seconds later. Mr. Torrio’s imp settled on the side mirror and squawked at him. Amish listened for a second. He didn’t speak Demon good like Mr. Torrio, but he could get the gist of it. “The Heavy’s asleep. Let’s go.”
The Jap held up a hand. “Send one man in first to make sure the lobby is clear.”
Amish hesitated. Mr. Torrio had put him in charge, not the Jap. He didn’t know who the Jap was supposed to even be or who he worked for, but all of a sudden he thought he could give the orders? But Amish hesitated, because first off the Jap scared him to death, and second, it was a good idea.
Daniel Garrett checked his pocket watch for the fifth time. It was almost three o’clock in the morning.
“It is exactly two minutes from the last time you checked,” Heinrich stated, not looking away from the window. The German seemed nonchalant as he watched the nearly empty street and the front of the Rasmussen Hotel, but Heinrich was always composed. The entire world could be exploding around them in flames and Heinrich would still play it cool.
“Well, sorry. I don’t have your Teutonic nerves of steel,” Daniel muttered. “Are they moving?”
“Nein. Only the one went inside, probably to check the registry. The others are still waiting. We should take them now.”
“There’s at least six of them.”
“All the reason to go now. Element of surprise, my friend.”
The two of them had arrived on the last dirigible of the evening. A contact at the Chicago police had told them where Jake Sullivan was staying. The Grimnoir Society prided itself on having contacts everywhere.
Daniel leaned forward so he could see out the stolen Chrysler’s passenger side window. He did not like stealing automobiles or blimps, but they were in a hurry, and besides, they always left the things they’d borrowed where they could be found when they were done. He had to shove his glasses back up his nose. His natural vision was terrible. “You don’t even know who they are…”
“We’re staking out this particular hotel because of our mysterious Heavy, and a group of suspicious men arrive and are also watching the same hotel… Coincidence?”
Daniel thumped his head dramatically on the steering wheel. “Figures. I wonder what Sullivan did to tick them off?”
“I do not know, but he seems to have that effect on people.” Heinrich rubbed his jaw. Jane had Mended it good as new, but Daniel knew from personal experience that a magically fixed bone would still ache for days afterward. It was obvious the Society’s best Fade felt guilty for letting a Heavy knock him out. You don’t sneak up on Fades, they sneak up on you. “I’ve already said it once, but I do not have a good feeling about this Heavy.”
“Don’t feel bad. You should have seen the information the General gathered on this one. You’re lucky he didn’t eat you. Wouldn’t be the first German he’s done in, I figure,” Daniel said, trying to make his young friend feel better, and failing. “They quit pinning medals on his chest when they ran out of room, and you saw how big he was.”
“I don’t trust him. Maybe the Imperium is here for the same reason as we are?” Heinrich mused. “What do we do then?”
Daniel didn’t answer at first. He didn’t think he had to. It was open season on anybody who worked for the Imperium, and if they hired the Heavy, then he was fair game too. “You don’t even know they’re Imperium.”
“I can smell s–” Heinrich shifted. “He’s coming back.”
Daniel leaned forward again so he could see a man walking quickly from the hotel entrance to the parked autos. They conferred through the windows for a moment. After some discussion, doors opened, and men began to pile out. Long guns were removed from the vehicles and quickly covered in loose coats. The man who stepped from the passenger seat of the lead vehicle was familiar, Japanese, dignified, and Daniel swore under his breath as recognition came. He looked just like the photographs smuggled out of Manchuria. “That’s Rokusaburo.”
“Told you so,” Heinrich said. “Imperium scheissen.”
The Japanese killer pulled a thin, three-foot, black object and held it under his long coat as he walked casually toward the hotel entrance.
“An Iron Guard, here in the US? I can’t believe this! Damn it. I wish we had the rest of the crew.” Dan moved to start the car. They would need to alert the General that one of the Chairman’s best men was in the States. There was no way just the two of them could take on an Iron Guard. There were other Grimnoir in the Midwest, and if he could raise enough of a force in time, they might be able to—“Heinrich, what’re you doing?” he hissed as the young German opened his door.
“I’m going to go and talk to this Heavy, like Herr General ordered,” he smiled as he got out. “Coming?”
“Are you crazy?” Daniel hissed. “Rokusaburo will cut us to bits. He can’t be killed!”
Heinrich shrugged. “He is magic. He is not immortal.”
Daniel banged his head on the steering wheel again.
Amish and two Torrio men, Brick and Hoss, stepped out of the elevator on the tenth floor. The Jap trailed them silently a few feet behind, his long black coat almost hitting the carpet. Amish had left the other two covering the lobby. He wasn’t expecting this to be too hard.
The imp couldn’t tell them a room number. It wasn’t like it could hop down the brightly lit hallways like a miniature kangaroo checking room numbers. It peeked through windows. That’s about all the stupid thing was good for, but the logbook at the desk had Sullivan’s blocky signature under Room 109, so that’s what Amish was looking for.
He’d draped his overcoat on top of his Tommy Gun, not that he needed to bother. The desk clerk had been passed out drunk. He tossed the coat over his shoulder as he rounded the corner and spotted the gold letters for 109.
Daniel Garret went straight for the front door while Heinrich went for the side. Fades worked better in the dark. Mouths always preferred the public.
There were two gangsters in the low-class lobby. One was sitting in a chair next to the desk, pretending to read the newspaper. The other was acting like he worked there, behind the counter, except he hadn’t even bothered to remove his hat. Both of them looked good and stupid. Dan kicked his Power up a notch.
“Good evening!” he said, friendly as could be. “I’m in need of a room.”
“We’re all full. Go away,” grunted the man behind the desk. His posture told Daniel that he was holding a gun under the table.
Dan always did enjoy a challenge. He reached out, his magic telling him the emotional state of the two. They were small-minded and brutal men. The beauty of being a Mouth was that the dumber your audience, the easier they were to steer. Strong minds were much harder to sway, and they could usually sense the intrusion. “Hey, don’t I know you guys? You look really familiar.” So far, so good, so Dan pushed harder.
The two men glanced at each other, feeling a sudden deep sense of camaraderie. “Uh, yeah… I think I know you,” said the one with the paper.
“We’re friends, don’t you remember… that one time? We all got together?” Dan asked, pushing as hard as he could. There was no time for subtlety. He was their buddy, their old pal. His magic was based on lies and coercion, but any moral qualms he’d had about using it had been put to rest once he’d seen the Imperium schools in action.
“Oh yeah!” said the one behind the desk.
“I need a favor.”
Both of them were smiling now. “Anything, bub.”
“What room is Jake Sullivan staying in?”
The goon flipped open the book and scanned down the page. “Tenth floor. Ninth room. Our buddies is up there now to whack him.”
“Good. Good. Thanks a lot. That really helps me. You know what else would help a ton?” Both were smiling and nodding.
“Anything for a pal!”
Dan hesitated. He wasn’t as heartless as he’d thought. First he had to know. “Are you bad men?”
“I’ve killed three people for Lenny Torrio!” said the first one proudly.
The second one snorted. “Big deal, I once broke an old lady’s hip because she owed Mr. Capone protection money, then I beat her head in ‘cause she got lippy.”
That would do. “Great, guys, just great. Do me a favor, would ya?”
“No problem.” They both were grinning stupidly.
“Give me a second to get out of the way, then I want you to kill each other.”
A Mouth couldn’t force someone to do something that they normally wouldn’t consider. It didn’t work like that. Even someone as strong as Dan could only sway someone down his natural path. All he could do was push what was already there. If he’d asked a decent person to murder a friend, it would simply break the spell. Only a real piece of work would take such a small amount of Influence to do something so heinous. Dan wasn’t even in the elevator before they started shooting.
Heinrich caught the door right before it closed and slipped inside. “That didn’t take long.”
“Not much loyalty amongst gangsters, I suppose. Tenth floor, please.”
Amish checked the safety on his Thompson. He wasn’t going to screw this up. Brick was the biggest, so he moved up to kick the door. Hoss reached up and unscrewed the hall light, plunging them into shadow. The boys had done this kind of thing before. The Jap just hung back, looking bored.
There was a big glass window at each end of the hall, and enough street light was coming in that Amish could still see his buddies. This was going to be great. He squeezed the Thompson tight. “Do it. Do it!”
Brick reared back and kicked hard. His considerable weight tore the lock right through the jamb, and the door flew open with a bang. Amish leapt through, screaming, turned toward the bed, spotted the lump in the middle of the blankets and mashed the trigger. He fired from the hip, stitching hot slugs through the bed, the headboard, and the wall. He jerked the foregrip back down and kept ripping the bed, flinging feathers and bits into the air, until he’d hammered through the entire 50 round drum in one continuous smoking burst.
“Take that, stupid Heavy! Yeah!” Amish shouted. “That’ll learn you up real good.”
Hoss rushed past him, double-barrel shotgun in hand, grabbed the blankets and yanked them off the bed, revealing nothing but a pile of bullet riddled pillows and clothing. Hoss started to shout, “Where is—“ but then his chest and head erupted in a shower of red as a swarm of giant bullets stitched him. Hoss tumbled dead to the floor.
The Heavy stepped out of the bathroom, shirtless, holding an enormous black cannon to his shoulder. The smoking muzzle swiveled toward the doorway where Brick had appeared and there was a terrible thunder. Brick disappeared back into the hall and Amish blinked as something hot and wet splattered him in the face and it took him a second to realize that he had just been hit with part of Brick’s skull.
The cannon settled on Amish last and the Heavy paused, with a little smile that seemed almost sad. “Lenny couldn’t even bother to come himself?” Amish pushed the release and yanked the drum out of the Thompson, then fumbled at his pocket for a stick mag. The Heavy just shook his head, disappointed.
Then everything was wrong, down was now behind him, and Amish screamed as he fell through the door and into the hallway. How– He felt his collar bone snap as he hit the wall. Gravity came back suddenly and Amish spilled onto the hall carpet. Pain washed through him in waves. The Heavy appeared in the doorway, glanced quickly both ways, and saw the Jap.
“Who are you supposed to be?” The Heavy asked.
The Jap didn’t answer. He just opened his big coat and showed his sword. Amish looked back and forth between the two terrifying men and knew that he was about to see one hell of a fight.
But the Heavy just did his trick with gravity again, and now down seemed to be the end of the hallway. The Jap began to fall, but whipped his sword out and jabbed it into the floor, and he was hanging there as Amish tumbled down the carpet past him. The window barely slowed him.
Amish opened his eyes inside the shower of glass to see that he was gliding over the street ten stories below. I’m flying! It was the most wonderful thing he’d ever experienced, until he reached the end of Sullivan’s range, then gravity returned to its normal direction and the street rushed up to meet him.
“Who are you supposed to be?” Sullivan asked.
The man at the end of the dim hall threw open his coat, revealing the blue-wrapped hilt of a sword. His hand hovered over the handle of the blade, waiting.
Jake’s curiosity did not run as deep as his apprehension at facing a crazy guy with a giant razor. He Spiked, bending gravity’s pull to a different angle. The dead body and the cross-eyed Reader slid down the floor, but the other drew his sword in a flash as the Power hit, took it in two hands, and drove the silver blade deep into flooring. The Reader zipped past, hit the window, and took the whole assembly with him into the city.
The swordsman hung from the end of the blade, parallel with the carpet, dangling, patiently waiting for the Spike to subside, watching Sullivan curiously the whole time.
The Power needed to distort gravity for so long was too much, and Sullivan let go, letting himself fall against the doorway. The swordsman landed on his hands and knees, then took his time getting up. He pulled his blade from the wood, then spun it once quickly through the air, before letting it dangle loose in his hand. His fedora had gone out the window with the Reader, but other than that, he seemed fine.
“I did not realize the Americans had developed their Heavies to this extent.”
“I’m big on self improvement.” The man was an Oriental. Sullivan had worked in a few Chinatowns before, and the truck drivers that had driven the 1st Volunteer around France had been Vietnamese, so he had more cultural exposure than a lot of his countrymen, but this man spoke English better than Sullivan did, and had a much nicer suit. Probably almost fifty, but strong and fit, he was remarkably tall compared to the other Asians Sullivan had known, probably just under six foot, and appeared a little too confident. “You ain’t from around here, are you?”
“I am impressed with your level of mastery, Mr. Sullivan,” he gave a very formal bow. “It is a great honor to battle one such as you.”
Sullivan raised the Lewis gun to his shoulder. “There’s nothing honorable about battle,” he replied, pulling the trigger.
A short burst of thirty caliber bullets hit the swordsman square in the chest. Sullivan lowered the machinegun, but the swordsman was still standing. “Impossible.” A string of .30-06 should have put even the toughest Brute on their ass.
The swordsman started forward slowly, raising his weapon, both hands on the hilt, blade held rigid next to his head.
Sullivan leaned into it this time. When the first Heavies started drifting into the 1st Volunteer, they had been put to work as machine-gunners. Even the least powerful Heavy could carry five times as much weight as a Normal. An Active Heavy could lower the tug of gravity on his weapon, so even a pig like the Lewis Mk3 was handy to run around with. But the less a gun weighs, the more it recoils, and the harder it is to control, so a clever Spiker actually increases the pull on his weapon when it was time to put the hammer down.
The giant barrel barely moved as Sullivan pounded the remainder of the drum magazine into the swordsman. Each 30-06 bullet hit with an impact sufficient to quarter an elk, but instead of tumbling through flesh, the bullets exploded into fragments against his body. The hallway was pummeled with noise, the air was thick with unburned powder, and shining brass cases bounced along the floor.
When the Lewis bolt finally fell on an empty chamber, the swordsman was still there, clothes tattered, but flesh unharmed, and his slow walk turned into a charge. The sword descended as Sullivan desperately used his Power, hurling his attacker back. The swordsman fell a few feet but instantly adjusted, caught a door knob with his foot, and drove himself back toward Sullivan in a leap. The big man shouted as the end of the blade flickered through his skin.
Sullivan stumbled back, blood pouring down his bare chest. He Spiked again, totally reversing gravity, and the swordsman fell toward the ceiling. Again, he adjusted, twisted, and took the impact with his hands, rolling across the roof, getting closer. Sullivan cut the Power and the swordsman dropped, hitting the ground in a perfect crouch, coat billowing around him, sword extended behind. He looked up and smiled.
“What are you?” Sullivan gasped, reaching deep, gathering Power. He had one last trick.
“I am Rokusaburo of the Iron Guard, Herald of the Imperium, warrior of the Emperor of Nippon. Know that before you die.” he said with pride. He rose and extended his sword, aimed directly at Sullivan’s heart. “I represent the future.”
“Not if we can help it.”
A grey shape appeared through the wall, colliding with the swordsman, locking up on his extended arm. Both of them crashed into the wall, cracking through the boards. The swordsman roared, the grey shape was instantly flung off, and the German from the stolen dirigible landed at Sullivan’s feet.
“Need a hand?” the Fade asked.
Sullivan shrugged. “I suppose.”
The swordsman came out of the wall swinging. The blade was insanely fast, and Sullivan was barely able to raise the Lewis. The metal cooling jacket around the barrel split in two. The German started pumping rounds from a pistol into the attacker and Sullivan was rewarded with bits of bullet jacket hitting him for the effort as they ricocheted off the Jap’s skin.
Rokusaburo spun into the hall, and they had to leap back to avoid being eviscerated. The sword lanced forward, and Sullivan barely blocked it, the Lewis flying from his hands under the impact. The blade instantly returned, humming through the air, and the tip pierced his bicep. The steel came out in a splash of red that painted the wallpaper, and Rokusaburo stepped back, triumphant, as Sullivan crashed, bellowing, into the wall.
The sword flicked back to finish him, but the swordsman’s head rocked as he was struck from behind, and the blade passed within a hair’s width of Sullivan’s throat. He jerked his eyes up to see a bespectacled man walking down the hallway, firing a handgun repeatedly into Rokusaburo’s back. It was just as ineffective as before, but at least it was distracting. The swordsman turned toward the new threat.
The Fade came off the floor, leaping past Sullivan, and kicked the Imperial in the back of the legs. The Japanese went to his knees, but simultaneously reversed his sword and drove it up, right through the German’s guts. The Fade was too quick on his Power, and the silver blade erupted through a nebulous grey smoke. The mass sidestepped, reformed into solid flesh and bone, and kicked Rokusaburo square in the skull.
The swordsman’s head snapped back hard, but then came right back wearing a vicious snarl, and the German had to dive back to avoid the sword.
Apparently hitting him did about as much good as shooting him. Sullivan pushed himself off the wall and stumbled forward, splattering blood in great pulsing gushes from his arm, but still he was calm, analytical, trying to find a way around Rokusaburo’s Power. Even while bleeding out, Sullivan was able to note that the Jap’s clothes were shredded, but it was like his skin turned to hardened steel on impact. He had never heard of the Power of indestructibility before, but like any other Power it had to have limits. It had to run out eventually, or break when pushed too far.
Sullivan cleared his head, using his Power to see the world as it really was, mass, density, and force. He could feel the Power of his opponent, and he understood then what was happening. The Jap was like a reverse Fade. Instead of making himself hazy until his body could pass through solid things, this one was increasing it until nothing could pass through. It was taking a staggering amount of energy.
It was time for Sullivan to play his final hand.
He needed to get real close for this to work. He was too big and slow to get past that three foot razorblade without loosing a limb. He needed a distraction. The man in glasses had reloaded his pistol and started shooting again, diverting Rokusaburo’s attention long enough for Sullivan to hiss, “Fritz. Take the sword again. Then get back.” The German nodded quickly and moved in.
The Fade charged in one way, going grey, just as Rokusaburo swung through him, and Sullivan dove straight at the swordsman. Superbly trained, the sword was already coming back around in a killing arc.
They collided. Sullivan took every bit of Power he had and let it all go at once, channeling it through his body, increasing gravity’s strength, bellowing at the world to pull them down under the strength of fifty Earths. The swordsman gasped as the magnificent force crushed down on him. He fired his own Power, and Sullivan could feel his own hammering like bombs against a bunker as the two magical forces slammed together. The floor beneath splintered and exploded, and the two dropped through, hitting the next floor down without even slowing, blowing through landing after landing, ten stories in an every quickening cascade, until they crashed through a series of pipes and into the concrete of the foundation.
Still Rokusaburo’s Power held, invulnerable, struggling, taking the impossible force. The foundations cracked and turned to powder under the pressure, but Sullivan kept pushing. The walls bent. The lights crackled and died. Sullivan could feel something burning beneath the swordsman’s clothing, some other alien source of Power that he was drawing upon to sustain his invulnerability. Then finally, inexorably, he felt his enemy weaken. Rokusaburo screamed in frustration. His Power flickered like a flame deprived of oxygen, and then it was extinguished.
The full impact of Sullivan’s Power hit him then, and Rokusaburo was just gone, replaced by a sudden pressurized red mist that instantly coated the entire basement.
Sullivan lay there for a moment as the world returned to normal. It took a few seconds before he could breathe again. He slowly pulled himself out of the dripping crater, and spit a mouthful of blood that he was relatively certain was his own. His Power was gone. He’d never felt so tired. Gradually realizing that he was bleeding, he mashed one big hand against his torn arm, but the blood just leaked between his fingers.
The Japanese sword was twisted like pretzel and embedded in the floor. The damaged boiler was hissing and screaming. It hurt to turn his head, and he was certainly no boiler mechanic, but all those gauges breaking and steam shooting out like that had to be a bad thing.
A grey shape fell through the broken ceiling and the Fade landed softly next to the indentation. He took in the majestic mess in awe, then looked down at his shoes in disgust and kicked away something that had probably been one of Rokusaburo’s more elastic organs. He paused long enough to pick up a piece of the broken sword. “Souvenir,” he explained with a smile, then noticed the hissing boiler. “Come, my large friend. I believe this building is going to fall down on our heads very soon.”
Sullivan didn’t know if he could trust the German, but he was too tired to argue.