We start the game in The Watch, where Dylan and Jonker are about to let Hank, La La, and Wisher through the maze of booby traps. Dylan hands Jonker a power drill and tells him, “I’m gonna need to find a shitload of electronica to make the armory locks work the way I want. It’s gonna take time. So if you want to check on your stash, take this and drill your way in. I’ve got some questions for the Loved. Here,” he says, flipping a switch, “the traps are off now. Do me a solid and just walk ten paces straight, then go northwest. That way if they’re watching, we can tell.”
Jonker heads to the armory and sees Fleece loitering nearby with a view of the armory door. He calls him over and tells him to get to the orange groves and find Furna, Jonker wants to talk to her. Fleece pauses a second, then whispers, “You do me a favor, I’ll do you a favor … I want out of the Loved. If you’ll watch my back to Cholo City, I’ll help you get into the armory.”
Jonker agrees, to which Fleece responds, “Hit me. Make it good.” Jonker lays him flat, and Fleece gets up screaming epithets and turns tail for the orange groves. Once he’s satisfied that Fleece is gone, Jonker breaks into the armory and is happy to find that most of the grenades are still in place.
He goes looking for Fleece and finds him up a ladder with Furna in the orange groves. Orders him to come down, and Fleece starts spitting bullshit threats, so Jonker turns and starts walking toward Chola City. When Fleece keeps shouting, Jonker turns and fires a warning shot right at Fleece’s feet. He then continues walking.
Fleece catches up to him on the road: “What the hell was that aabout?”
“You tell me,” says Jonker.
“Well, shit; I can’t get out looking like a pussy. This way you can follow through and lead me to Cholo. You go back and tell the Loved you shot me down when I tried to get the drop on you. They think I’m dead, you look hardass, everybody wins.”
“Fuck that,” says Jonker, “I’m not your patsy. Grow a pair. You walk your ass to Cholo alone.” He turns and starts back to the Watch, with Fleece screaming more epithets at his back before he kicks up the earth and does start toward Cholo alone. Seeing that, Jonker fades into the background and follows him anyway.
In the hospital, Absinthe – hir chest pierced by the obsidian dagger of the Maelstrom – well, s/he’s bent double over the Ascendant’s knee, only the balls of hir feet and crown of hir head touching the floor. The rest of hir is a bridge, being pulled upward by that blade from nowhere.
S/he hears the voice of Prim: “Joint them. Butcher them. Tear them in pieces. Make them bleed. Make them pay.”
S/he hears the voice of Rum: “Drown the fuckers. Drown them in blood and the tears of their kin. Drown them in the filth of this world.”
Smoke, like the smoke that makes up the death-totem of the swamps, starts seeping out of hir skin – out of every scar, everywhere s/he’s ever been wounded, starting just under hir left eye where hir father first landed a fist.
Hir wounds are threatening to open up again, but it’s black swampwater coming out of them, not blood.
As the smoke and swampwater seeps out of hir, the chain and leather armor begins to blacken, curl, and peel away. The once elegant green armor is now in shreds and patches.
And then, s’he hears the voice of hir father: “You’ve never been nothing anyway. Lay down and die. Lay down and die, you stupid little …”
S/he grips a shard of glass in hir hand.
The blood is pure. The blood is blood.
Her eyes snap open, but where they had been an arresting green, they are now flat and black.
Twice’s voice comes through the intercom: “You may return for your associate now.”
The Ascendant comes from behind the cover of the reception desk and pulls Amy back to safety. Winn starts covering his face with hot tears and kisses – a wrinkle the Ascendant hadn’t seen coming.
“Amy,” says the Ascendant, “what do you want?”
“I wanna not be fucking shot is mostly what I want.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah … guess I do.” He coughs up a good deal of blood. “I think I get it. I’m not mad. It was always gonna happen, right? That’s what you’ve been trying to tell us. It’s all so … quick. Spending our time fighting, kicking, busting balls … it’s pointless. I could have built something up instead of tearing it down …”
“Shut up, asshole,” Winn screams. “He wants to fucking live is what he fucking wants and you are gonna drop the jingle to make sure he does!”
“Shhh.” Amy wraps his beefy hand around Winn’s. “Stop being such a bitch. Stop being such a baby. Listen. The Ascendant’s right …”
That’s when his eyes roll back in his head.
Winn lets out this gutshot roar and grabs her hunting rifle, popping up to rain as much death on the hospital as she can, but The Ascendant jumps between her and the atrium. “Winn!”
It’s no use. She grabs him with every intention of using him as a meat shield, and he knows it. He looks down to Absinthe: “Absinthe. I need your help.”
It’s what s/he’s been waiting for. S/he reads the situation and realizes they’ve got a single sniper in the atrium – not the entire gang, not even any backup. S/he uncoils from behind the desk, levels hir submachine gun. “ONE? You send one person against me?”
You can smell the piss from the first floor as the sniper clatters to the ground and begins crawling away.
Jonker’s near the guardpost and son of a bitch if Fleece doesn’t start rooting around in his muscle tee as if he’s got a gun in a shoulder holster. Jonker can’t take it any more and calls out, “What the hell are you doing?”
“Oh, thank God,” Fleece says, and sinks to his knees. “You came back.”
“Yeah, I came back,” says Jonker, “You show me every piece you have on you, right now.”
Fleece pulls a knife out of his boot, a one-shot zip gun out of the shoulder holster, and a grenade – a fucking grenade – from the belt loop at the small of his back.
“What the fuck are you thinking?” Jonker asks.
“You don’t know, man.” Fleece shakes his head. “You don’t know how the Ascendant gets you. Listen … you watch them. Let me tell you. It’s like, you ever get so angry you just stop seeing anything but the red?”
Fleece sits down, hard, on the tarmac, weeping. “You can’t see anything but the red, and your head is pounding, and the only way to let it out is to make something bleed, and it’s either bloodlet yourself or stick it to someone else. And the Ascendant says he’ll cure you, and you come along, but in the end all he gives you is more targets. More targets. Each other …”
“Get off your ass,” says Jonker. “They’re coming.”
The guards are indeed coming, as is Barr, shouting, “Jonker! JONKER!” There’s a tense moment but in the end, Barr explains, “The freaks in the hospital shot someone. The Ascendant wants us all up there, but I’m supposed to follow your lead.”
Dustwich looks between them. “I have a Jeep. Who’s coming?”
Jonker looks at Fleece. “You get lost.”
Fleece, he gets lost. Everyone else piles in.
At the OP, The Ascendant decides to push the edges. He opens a portal into the Psychic Maelstrom and tries to make contact with Amy.
Amy comes in loud and clear, though the smoking totem is clear in the background. The edges of his form are being pulled backward toward the totem, and Amy smiles. “Listen, boss. It’s time for me to go. Trust me, you’re gonna want the last two on the totem to have been through the forgiveness. It doesn’t end well otherwise …”
Winn jumps to her feet, screaming, “You son of a bitch, don’t you go, don’t you go …”
She’s about to throw herself through the portal. Absinthe jumps up in between her and Amy, and goes all dangerous and sexy. S/he stops Winn from the leap, but what’s more, s/he beckons to the shade of Amy within the portal …
Amy’s corpse coughs. He tries to sit up.
Winn’s covering him in hot kisses and tears while the Ascendant and Absinthe trade glances. The voice comes over the intercom again: “Take your associate. We are repaid.”
The pressurized door begins to open, and the group bugs out of the hospital; right into the path of a parked limousine with five muscleheads packing submachineguns around it.
They take this in a moment – Absinthe’s wounds still smoking, Amy in dire need of treatment. That’s when the Jeep with Barr, Jonker, and Dustwich wheels around the corner.
The limo’s window rolls down, and a rangy, muscular Latino in a linen suit appears. “Hello, Ascendant. Let us talk, you and I.”
The Ascendant gives Absinthe a warning glance – s/he props up Amy on the other side of Winn. At the Jeep, the others pile out but hold at a signal from Dustwich.
The Ascendant goes to the window, where the limo rider exhales a bit of smoke. “My name is Rothschild. This is my corner of Cholo City. You’re the Ascendant. You look after the Watch?”
“That’s right,” the Ascendant says. “What’s this about?”
“I want you to ask yourself,” says Rothschild, “What’s the larger hold? A functioning hospital, with surgeons who know what they’re doing? Or a grove of oranges and a handful of psychopaths?” Rothschild blows another smoke ring. “You need to understand that I am going to keep this place operating, no matter what.”
He hands the cigar to the Ascendant, who takes it and puffs a moment. “There are other places to get work done?”
“Will you see to my follower?” He looks back to Amy. “You don’t need to try too hard.”
Rothschild nods. “I can do that, if it keeps things quiet. I like things quiet.”
“Not a peep,” says the Ascendant, and hands the cigar back. Rothschild takes it and puffs again.
The Ascendant motions for Amy, and Absinthe and Winn carry him to the limo. Winn asks, “Look, boss … I don’t … I mean, I don’t know what all’s gone on. But I wanna be with him. But he says to keep following you, it’ll be good for me … so can I go?”
“She gives up her guns, I’m fine. And by guns, I mean everything.”
An exchange of glances. Then Winn hands all her weapons to Absinthe, even as Amy is focusing hungry eyes on Absinthe …. “I’ll give it up,” Winn says. “Someone’s got to look after him.”
The limo drives away – no faster than the five guards can walk, a show of power, not speed – and Jonker, Absinthe, the Ascendant and Dustwich are left in the streets of Cholo City.