Understanding flooded into James and his mind blanked before the enormity of what was revealed. The four virtues were conduits, means to connect with beings that were exemplars of each concept.
A way to summon an avatar of Justice and embody it.
James felt vertigo as he attempted to trace the channel that linked him to that being, Dikastís. His mind couldn’t wrap itself around the sensation. Not just distance, nothing as simplistic as Dikastís hovering above the clouds, but rather a distinct realm altogether. As if the conduit punched through time and space into a different realm altogether, a place outside of reality. It was as if a wormhole had opened between him and Dikastís, connecting him to this being, this embodiment, this exemplar of the Virtue.
And James realized he could summon it. Invoke Dikastís and bring its power down upon himself. Doing so would bring it to Earth, would cause it to manifest its glory upon him, but only in situations where great injustice was being done. Invoking the avatar frivolously would not only result in its not appearing, but in earning its displeasure. James didn’t know what that meant, exactly, but he recoiled at the very idea.
Nor was the general apocalypse sufficient cause; he had to be faced with a particularly unique example of injustice to warrant invoking Dikastís. As to what would happen when the avatar manifested? James couldn’t quite tell. He felt the equivalent of a choir singing, saw vision of golden light pouring down in radiant shafts.
It would be a true blessing.
Fuck me, he whispered. Jelly, you ever hear of a Dikastís?
Yes! The Anima’s shout was exultant! The name, I know it, knew it the moment you spoke it, though the second before it was lost to me. Dikastís, the avatar of Justice, one of the Quartet Virtues, as morose as he is grim, feared for his scythe and implacable will. Ah! And Jelly let loose a trill of sheer joy. It is as if doors have been flung open in the depths of my mind and understanding and consequent comfort come flooding in! You chose Dikastís? A bold choice, and I cannot say I am surprised. Be wary, James. Summon Dikastís only in times of true need. Of the four Virtues, he is the least tolerant of gratuitous summoning’s. But when he comes…
Wait. What is Dikastís? A Virtue? I feel him, just… there, on the edge of my mind. Like I could reach out and touch him, but… at the same time, so far away. Farther than… fuck, I don’t know, the Moon, or the center of our galaxy.
Dikastís resides within your heart, is everywhere and nowhere, omnipresent and yet wholly absent. Think of two sheets of paper.
Uh, all right.
Set them both upon a table, separate but close. Now draw a dot on each. You cannot connect the dots by drawing a line between them. Your pencil scratches a bold line to the side of your sheet and there must stop. The second dot is unreachable in such manner.
You’re saying Dikastís resides in a different… dimension?
Not even as you understand it. But in truth the two sheets of paper don’t lie apart on a desk, they are stacked together. At any time you can reach Dikastís not by traveling across your own sheet, but by punching through your sheet into his. Wherever you go, there Dikastís is, waiting, resplendent, terrifying, holding the universe to account and prepared to lay down judgement.
James tried to process this. The War Hound was still making rapid progress by leaping from car to car, Jelly maneuvering the great machine adroitly, allowing James to ponder.
I still don’t get it. Dikastís is, what? The philosophical embodiment of Justice? An angel? A… person on a different plane?
You aren’t yet capable of understanding, James. Your Aeviternum is a mere 4 points.
So if I raise my Aeviternum I’ll understand.
Yes, I believe so. The threshold is 10. That is a ways away for you.
Well, fine. Whatever. OK, so, I can now summon the avatar of Justice. Do you know what that does?
It allows you to lay down judgement upon thine enemies, James.
Well all righty. Guess I’ll find out soon enough.
James considered the last element of his sheet. 20 unspent points. He could easily dump them into Arete, raising his Aura a staggering 4 levels, but…
Aeviternum now cost 20 points.
Damn it was getting expensive.
With the War Hound he had access to plenty of juice. Sure he was coasting on the accumulated power of hundreds of Blue Light operators, but for now he could drop Heavenly Assaults at will, could lay waste to the Nem3’s. But long term?
He needed to understand such things as Dikastís. He needed to understand what was going on if he was to figure out a way to win.
It was painful, but he pushed the 20 points into Aeviternum, and watched his amount tick up to 5.
Flatbush Ave changed. Large cement berms rose up to channel traffic onto the bridge, and the avenue rose up to become an overpass. James continued to crunch his way forward, occasionally demolishing a Nem3 with his Vault Cannon.
The concentration of demons diminished as he reached the bridge proper. Cars had been abandoned along its length, blocking it completely, and people had fled the vehicles to leave the lanes empty. The suspenders rose dizzyingly to the main cables which arced up to the towers. The bridge was so massive that James’s 9 tons didn’t so much as cause it to shiver as he pounded along, the towers of the Financial District rising to the left, massive brick residential high rises on the right facing the East River gleaming below.
Serenity slid into view, flying just overhead, followed moments later by the rest of the crew. “James! You’re out of the loop! We need to figure out a way to hook that thing to a radio!”
“True,” rumbled James, his War Hound voice making her own shout a whisper. “What’s happened?”
Denzel moved alongside his other flank, careful not to get in the way of his jumps. “Fucking disaster, man. Jersey’s a warzone. Manhattan’s got more Nem3’s than a dead dog’s got fleas. Everywhere you look the fuckers are rampaging. The death toll…”
James felt his wonder and musings sluice away as the reality of what was happening hit home again. “The other teams?”
“Everyone’s doing their best,” called Serenity. “But we’re taking big losses. There are just too many. It’s the bone spears. They overwhelm circles too easily.”
James processed this, had nothing to add.
“Also,” added Denzel, “we can’t find Yadriel. The idiot’s gone missing. We searched but decided to stick with you.”
“He’ll follow,” said James with certainty.
Jason swooped a little lower. “What’s it like being in there? Dude, you fucking wasted those demons. That machine gun of yours is insane.”
Dude. James felt like grinning. At last Jason was moving past calling him ‘sir’. “I won’t lie. It feels good to hit ‘em with both barrels. Gave me a taste of what it’s gotta be like to be Serenity.”
“Ha.” Serenity stuck her tongue out at him. “That’s sweet, but I don’t believe you for a second. I leveled up six times just because of your kills. You were dropping those blasts like a sick dog dropping deuces.”
“Oh c’mon,” protested Denzel. “Really?”
James rumbled his amusement, the sound rough, mechanical, and reverberating. “I’ve got access to the Hound’s Aeviternum pool. 692 points left.”
“No fair!” shouted Serenity. “What? I want one!”
“Just wait,” said James. “You’ll get one soon enough.”
“Let’s go scout,” called Kerim. “We’ll wait for you at the bridge’s base.”
“Good idea,” said Serenity. “Hurry the fuck up, yeah James?”
And the seven Wings flew forward, following the length of the bridge.
James pounded on, crushing cars, the War Hound tireless, till at last the double lanes dipped down to the streets of Manhattan. Part of him expected to see plumes of smoke in the air, for buildings to be on fire or falling over, but from the vantage of the bridge everything seemed disconcertingly normal; the demonic war took its toll on humanity, not the buildings and infrastructure.
The streets, however, were awash with panicking people. Millions had crowded in over the past twenty-four hours, and now had nowhere to go. As such they thronged and pushed at each other, wrestled in large crowds to find safety and escape.
But there was none.
The result was bedlam. People hammered at doors, climbed walls to smash in windows, climbed light posts and onto the tops of trucks and buses. The sound of wailing and screaming filled the air, combined with sirens and the roars of demons.
Choppers scudded overhead, but the sheer press of humanity made it reckless to just open fire on the enemy; still the Apaches and Black Hawks dove down to unleash streams of blistering attacks on opportune targets.
Military forces were also in evidence, but they were grounded, tanks and hummers and Bradley’s trapped in traffic and swamped by the crowds, people trying to clamber onto them in the terrified hopes of finding safety. Most of the soldiers had abandoned their vehicles to proceed in squads and platoons, opening fire with Smite-enhanced bullets or working with greater cohesion where possible.
James slowed. There’d be no leaping or charging through these rivers of people. Instead he powered forward slowly, booming his warning through the War Hound’s grill: “Please get back. Move aside. Coming through. Please move back!”
The intersection with Canal Street was a mess, bodies strewn and splattered across the street, people screaming and shoving at each other as four or five Nem3’s wreaked havoc. Serenity and the others flew overhead, having already killed six or so Nem’s, and now training their attacks on the remaining demons.
James paused as the intersection came into view, still standing on the last span of the bridge, and opened fire with his Vault Cannon.
Unlike everyone but Serenity, he could fire into the crowd with impunity. His barrage of Gloria-enhanced bullets scythed through the demons, tearing them apart, and he raised his gun to track the last one as it sought to leap away, catching it mid-flight and shattering its body, shooting off its left arm and cutting it into bloody chunks as it fell.
The crowd fell silent, shocked, and as one turned to stare at him.
James put up the Vault Cannon. “Help is here. Stay calm. Blue Light’s gonna take care of the demons.”
Kimmie raised her megaphone. “You’re safe now. Please stay calm and help each other and make way for James to come through.”
A ragged cheer rose from hundreds of throats, and several people began to sob in relief, falling to their knees as they did so. James made his way forward, navigating between the cars and toward his crew. The crowd cheered him on, reaching for him, but moved out of his way as he proceeded.
“Let’s follow Canal Street to the Holland Tunnel,” James boomed to the others. “Jersey sounds the worst off.”
“Agreed,” said Serenity, lowering her Wing alongside him. “I just made Acolyte 1. Chose Fortitude. You must have hit it, too.”
“Acolyte 2. I chose Justice. Haven’t tried it out yet. Jelly told me not to fuck around with that power.”
“I got the same impression.”
The others clustered their Wings in close.
“I chose Prudence,” said Olaf. “With my Circle, my power, it felt right.”
“Justice as well,” called Jason, raising a fist.
“Temperance,” said Kerim. “I cannot believe how fast I am leveling with you all.”
“Prudence,” said Kimmie.
“Fortitude,” said Denzel. “I feel like I’m gonna need it.”
Miriam raked her black hair back, her eyes wide. “I’m, uh, still just a Novitiate. Level 8, though.”
She looked mildly shell-shocked.
“Good stuff,” said James. “We’re just getting started though. I’ve a feeling we’ll blow through Acolyte before the day’s done. Ready to head up Canal? The real fight’s waiting for us on the other shore.”
“The real fight is in the burning hive,” said Olaf. “Joanna demands vengeance.”
“Justice,” said James. “And don’t worry. I aim to bring it. But let’s get there first.” He lowered the Vault Cannon and began striding forward. “Let’s get to slaughtering.”