Chapter no 42 – War on Heaven

Red Rising

There is no time to waste in going back to the fortress. I have the boys and girls I need. I have the hardest of all the armies. The small, the wicked, the loyal and quick. I steal Apollo’s recoilArmor. The golden plate coils around my limbs like liquid. I give his gravBoots to Sevro, but they are ludicrously large on him. I strip off my own boots, his father’s, so he can wear them; they jammed my toes something awful. I put on Apollo’s boots instead.

“Whose are these?” Sevro asks me. “Daddy’s,” I tell him.

“So you guessed.” Sevro laughs. “He’s locked in Apollo’s dungeons.”

“The stupid Pixie!” He laughs again. They have an odd relationship.

I keep Apollo’s razor, his helmet, his pulseFist, and his pulseShield along with his recoilArmor. Sevro gets the ghostCloak. I tell him to be my shadow. And then I tell my Howlers to tie their belts together.

GravBoots can lift a man in starShell as he carries an elephant in each arm. They are easily strong enough to lift me and my Howlers, who hang from my arms and legs on belt harnesses as I carry us through the swirling snowstorm up and up to Olympus. Sevro carries the others.

The Proctors have played their games. They pushed and pushed for so long. They knew I was something dangerous, something different. Sooner or later, they had to know I would snap and come to cut them down. Or perhaps they think I’m still a child. The fools. Alexander was a

child when he ruined his first nation.

We rise through the storm and fly over the slopes of Olympus. It floats nearly a mile above the Argos. There are no doors. No dock. Snow covers the slopes. Clouds mask its glittering peak. I lead the Howlers to that bone-pale citadel at the top of the steep incline. It strikes up out of the mountain like a marble sword. Howlers unfasten their belts in pairs, dropping down on the highest balcony.

We crouch on the stone terrace. From here we can see the misty lands of Mars, the rocky hills and fields of Minerva, the Greatwoods of Diana, the mountains where my army garrisons Jupiter. I would be down there. The fools should have left well enough alone.

They shouldn’t have taken Mustang.

I wear recoilArmor of gold. It is a second skin. My face alone is exposed. I take ash from one of the Howlers and streak it across my cheeks and mouth. My eyes burn with anger. Blond hair is wild to the shoulders, unbound. I pull my slingBlade and clench the shortwave pulseFist in my left. A razor hangs from my waist; I don’t know how to use it. Dirt under my nails. Frostbite on my pinkie and middle finger of the left hand. I stink. My cloak stinks like the dead thing it is. It hangs limp behind me. White stained with a Proctor’s blood. I pull up the hood. We all do. We look like wolves. And we smell blood.

The Drafters better enjoy this or I’m a dead man.

“We want Jupiter,” I tell my Howlers. “Find me him. Neutralize the others if we come across any. Thistle, you take my gravBoots and fetch reinforcements. Go.”

Barefoot, I blow open the doors with my pulseFist. We find Venus lying in bed in a silk shift, her armor dripping snow from its stand by the fire; she’s only just returned from helping the Jackal. Grapes, cheesecake, and wine are on a nightstand. The Howlers pin her down. Four, just for effect. We tie Venus to the bedposts. Her golden eyes are wide with shock. She can hardly speak.

“You cannot! I am Scarred! I am Scarred!” is all she can manage. She says this is illegal, says she is a Proctor, says we’re not allowed to assault them. How did we get here? How? Who helped us? Whose armor am I wearing? Oh, it’s Apollo’s. It’s Apollo’s. Where is Apollo? A man’s gentle clothing is in the corner. They are lovers. “Who helped you?”

“I helped myself,” I tell her, and pat her shining hand with a dagger.

“How many other Proctors are left?” She has no words. This is not supposed to happen. It has never happened. Children do not take Olympus, not in history on all the planets was this even thought of. We gag her anyway and leave her tied, half naked, window open so she gets a taste of the chill.

The Howlers and I slink through the spire. I hear Thistle bringing reinforcements. Tactus will be here to bring his own breed of wrath. And Milia will come. Nyla soon. My army rises for Mustang. For me. For the Proctors who cheated us and poisoned our food and water and cut free our horses. We go room to room. Searching frigidariums, calderiums, steam rooms, ice rooms, baths, pleasure chambers filled with Pinks, holoImmersion tanks, for the Proctors. We take down Juno in the baths. Howlers splash in to wrestle her out. She has no weapons, but cloaked Sevro has to stun her with a stolen scorcher after she breaks Clown’s arm and starts drowning him with her legs. Apparently she did not leave like she ought to have either. All these rule breakers.

Vulcan we find in a holoImmersion room, a fire crackling in the corner. He doesn’t even see us come in till we turn off the machines. Vulcan was watching Cassius stand at the edge of a battlement as flaming missiles etch a smoky sky. They gave them fragging catapults. There was another screen showing the Jackal stumble through the snow into a mountain cavern’s mouth. Lilath greets him there with a thermal cloak and a medBot.

I ask the Proctors where Mustang has been taken. They say to ask Apollo or Jupiter. It isn’t their concern. And it shouldn’t be mine. Apparently my head is going to roll. I ask them what they will swing. “I have all the axes.”

My army binds the Proctors and we take them with us as we descend, flowing down to the next level and the level after that like a flood of mad half-wolves. We run across highReds and Brown servants and housePinks. I pay them no mind, but my army in their rabid excitement sets upon any they see. They knock down Reds and absolutely obliterate any Grays that make the mistake of trying to fight us. Sevro has to choke out a Ceres boy who sits on a Red’s chest, bludgeoning in his face with scarred fists. Two Grays are killed by Tactus when they try to fire on him. He dodges their scorchers and breaks their necks. A squad of seven Grays try to take me down. But my pulseShield protects me from their

scorchers. Only if they concentrate fire and the shield overheats will I suffer. I dodge their fire and bring them down with my SlingBlade.

My army trickles in, slowly at first. But more are coming every four minutes. I’m nervous. It isn’t fast enough. Jupiter could destroy us, as could Pluto and whoever else is left. My army is exultant because they have me; they think me immortal, unstoppable. Already they’ve heard that I killed Apollo. I hear nicknames rippling like currents through the army as we swarm through the gilded, vast halls. Godslayer. Sunkiller, they fancy me. But the Proctors hear these things too. The ones we’ve captured, even the ones a little bemused by the idea of students invading Olympus, now stare at me with pale faces. They realize they’re part of the game they thought they escaped many years ago, and that there are no medBots directed toward Olympus. Funny thing, watching gods realize they’ve been mortal all along.

I send out dozens of scouts through the palace, telling them what I need. Already I can hear my plan being unwound in the halls beneath me. Jupiter, Pluto, Mercury, and Minerva remain. They are coming for me. Or am I coming for them? I do not know. I try to feel like the predator, but I cannot. My rage is calming. It is slowing and giving way to fear as the halls stretch on. They have Mustang; I remind myself of the smell of her hair. These are the Scarred who take bribes from the man who killed my wife. The blood pumps faster. My rage returns.

I meet Mercury in a hall. He is laughing hysterically and calling out bawdy drinking songs from the HC as he faces down a half dozen of my soldiers. He wears a bathrobe but is dancing like a maniac around the swordthrusts of three DeadHorses. I’ve not seen such grace beyond the mines. He moves as I mined. Fury balanced with physics. A kick, a crushing elbow, an application of force to dislocate kneecaps.

He slaps one of my soldiers in the face with his hand. Kicks another in the groin. And does a flip over one, grabs her hair when he is upside down, lands and slams her into the wall like a rag doll. Then he knees a boy in the face, cuts off a girl’s thumb so she can’t hold her sword, and tries backhanding me before dancing away. I’m faster than him, and stronger, despite his incredible gift with the razor; so as his hand goes at my face, I punch his forearm as hard as I can, cracking the bone. He yelps and tries to dance back, but I hold on to his hand and beat his arm with my fist till it breaks.

Then I let him spin away, wounded.

We’re in a hall, my soldiers sprawled around him. I shout the rest back and heft my slingBlade. Mercury is a cherub of a man. Small, squat, with a face like a baby. His cheeks flush rosy. He’s been drinking. His coiled golden hair droops over his eyes. He flips it back. I remember how he had wanted to pick me for his House but his Drafters had objected. Now he flourishes his razor like a poet with a quill, but his off hand is useless after I punched it.

“You’re a wild one,” he says through the pain. “You should have picked me for your House.”

“I told them not to push you. But did they listen? No no no no no.

Silly Apollo. Pride can blind.” “So can swords.”

“Through the eye?” Mercury looks at my armor. “Dead, then?” Someone shouts for me to kill him. “My, my. They are hungry. This duel may be fun.”

I bow.

Mercury curtsies.

I like this Proctor. But I also don’t want him to kill me with that razor. So I sheathe my sword and shoot him in the chest with my pulseFist set to stun. Then we tie him up. He’s still laughing. But farther down the hall behind him, I see Jupiter—a god of a man in full armor—storming forth with a crooked pulseShaft and a razor. Another armored Proctor is with him, Minerva, I think. We retreat. Still, they decimate my force. They come at us straight on in the long hall, knocking boys and girls down like boulders rolling through grain. We can’t hurt them. My soldiers scamper back the way we came, back up the stairways, back to the higher levels, where we run over new packs of reinforcements. We scramble over each other, falling on the marble floor, running through golden suites to flee Jupiter and Minerva as they come up the stairs.

Jupiter bellows laughter as our simple swords and spears ping off his armor.

Only my weapons can hurt him. They aren’t enough. Jupiter’s razor goes through my pulseShield and slips my recoilArmor on the thigh. I hiss with pain and shoot the pulseFist at him. His shield takes the pulse and holds, but barely. He flicks a razor at me like a whip. It grazes my eyelid, nearly taking my eye. Blood sheets from the small wound, and I

roar in anger. I fly at him, past Minerva, breaking my pulseFist against his jaw. It ruins my weapon and my fist, but it dents his golden helmet and sends him reeling. I don’t give him time to recover. I scream and hack in swirling arcs with my slingBlade even as I stab clumsily with my razor. It’s a mad dance. I take him through the knee with the unfamiliar razor. He cuts open my thigh with his own. The armor closes around the wound, compressing it and administering painkillers.

We’re at the end of a circular stairwell as I push him back. His long blade goes limp, then slithers around my leg like a lasso, about to constrict and slice my leg off at the hip. I push fast as I can into him. We go down the stairs. Then he rolls up and stands. I tackle him backward. Armor on armor.

We smash into a holoImmersion room. Sparks fly. I keep screaming and pushing so he cannot rip off my leg with the razor, still limp and looped around flesh and bone. He’s backpedaling, off balance, when I take him through a window and we spill out into the open air. Neither of us have gravBoots, so we plummet a hundred feet into a snowbank on the mountain’s side. We roll down the steep slope toward the one-mile drop, toward the flowing Argos.

I catch myself in the snow. I manage to stand. I can’t see him. I think I hear his grunt in the distance. We’re both muddled in the clouds. I crouch and listen, but my hearing still hasn’t recovered from Apollo.

“You’ll die for this, little boy,” Jupiter says. It comes as if from underwater. Where is he? “Should have learned your place. Everything has an order. You’re near the top. But you are not the top, little boy.”

I say something pithy about merit not meaning much. “You can’t spend merit.”

“So the Governor is paying you to do this?” I hear a howl in the distance. My shadow.

“What do you think you’re going to do, little boy? Going to kill all us Proctors? Going to make us let you win? It’s not the way things work, little boy.” Jupiter looks for me. “Soon the Governor’s Crows will come in their ships, with their swords and guns. The real soldiers, little boy. The ones who have scars you can’t dream of. The Obsidians led by Golden Legates and knights. You’re just playing. But they’ll think you’ve gone mad. And they will take you and hurt you and kill you.”

“Not if I win before they get here.” That is the key to everything.

“There may be a delay on the holos before the Drafters see them, but how long a delay? Who is editing the gorydamn holos while you fight? We’ll make sure the right message gets out.”

I take my red sweatband off of my head and dab away the sweat on my face, then wrap it around my head once more.

Jupiter is silent.

“So the Drafters will see this conversation. They will see that the Governor is paying you to cheat. They will see that I am the first student to invade Olympus in history. And they will see me cut you down and take your armor and parade you naked through the snow, if you surrender. If not, I will throw your corpse from Olympus and piss golden showers down after you.”

The clouds clear and Jupiter stands before me in the white. Red drips from his golden armor. He is tall, lean, violent. This place is his home. It is his playground. The children his playthings till they get their scars. He is like any other petty tyrant of history. A slave to his own whims. A master of nothing but selfishness. He is the Society—a monster dripping in decadence, yet seeing none of his own hypocrisy. He views all this wealth, all this power, as his right. He is deluded. They all are. But I cannot cut him down from the front. No, no matter how well I fight. He is too strong.

His razor hangs from his hand like a snake. With the press of a button it will go rigid, a meter in length. His armor shines. Morning breaks as we face one another. A smile splits his lips.

“You would have been something in my House. But you are a little stupid boy, angry and of House Mars. You cannot yet kill like I can, yet you challenge me. Pure rage. Pure stupidity.”

“No. I can’t challenge you.” I toss my slingBlade down at his feet and throw my razor with it. I can barely use the razor anyway. “So I’ll cheat.” I nod. “Go ahead, Sevro.”

The razor slithers up from the ground, stiffens, and goes through Jupiter’s hamstrings as he wheels about. His slash goes two feet too high. He’s used to fighting men. Invisible, Sevro wounds Jupiter’s arms and takes the man’s weapons. The recoilArmor flows into the wounds to stop their bleeding, but the tendons will need real work.

When Jupiter is silent, Sevro winks off Apollo’s ghostCloak. We take Jupiter’s weapons. His armor wouldn’t have fit anyone except Pax. Poor

Pax. He would have looked dashing in all this finery. We drag Jupiter back up the slope.

Inside, the tide of the battle has shifted. My scouts, it seems, have found what I told them to seek. Milia runs up to me, a content grin on her long face. Her voice, as ever, is a low drawl when she tells me the good news.

“We found their armory.”

A host of Venus Housemembers, only just freed from slavery, thunders past. Their pulseFists and recoilArmor shimmer. Olympus is ours and Mustang has been found.

Now we have all the axes.

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