Ch. 1.3 – Alex

It amazed Alex that he didn’t waste a moment in paralyzed confusion. Something just clicked, and he was moving with the mismatched pair of women.

The woman in the dark red coat was an amazon by anyone’s standards, but next to Sara, she was almost a giant. Six inches taller than Alex, with hair almost the same color as her coat, her powerful physique was apparent even through the thick leather. I don’t want to be in the same city with whatever has her running like this, Alex decided.

Dancers and minglers alike parted preternaturally for them, and in moments they were in a heavily-graffitied back alley. The blue double doors painted on one wall were particularly striking. “I don’t suppose that’s a real exit,” Alex said with a calm that surprised him, pointing at the spray-painted portal.

“Yes,” Sara said, running to the ‘doors,’ “but probably not the way you mean.” She began gesturing, tracing something in the air. After a moment, he could see symbols glowing silver-gray in his mind where her fingers moved.

The amazon stopped and stood at his side, both of them between the club door and Sara. She regarded him coolly for a moment, then held out her hand. “Molly Dunn,” she said simply, with just a hint of an Irish accent.

He shook her hand readily. “Alex Deleon,” he replied. “I should warn you, I just…um, Empowered…tonight.”

Molly rolled her eyes, but the smile seemed genuine. “Oh, Sara, not another stray.”

“They got to Max. New boy saved me,” Sara explained in a distracted tone. “He’s a strong one. You must feel it.”

“Yeah, an’ if the damned Skeptic weren’t on my heels, it’d matter,” Molly said acerbically. “Your friend from the Council better not be asleep at the wheel.”

Alex opened his mouth, about to ask what made a skeptic so frightening. A colorless, toneless nothing that made Max’s dark chill seem brotherly by comparison came towards them through the club. “God,” he whispered. “Is that…”

“Christ,” Molly swore. “Yeah, it’s him. Summon up every mote of power you’ve got, lad. Every dream of adventure and hope and wonder you’ve ever had, call them like the cavalry.”

“Huh.” Alex concentrated. “Not what I expected you to say, but…” Alex stopped. The emptiness was on them. Every color was muted, the music from the club grew faint. “No!” he shouted drawing on all the reasons he loved art and stories, the belief that people were more than accidental bags of mobile water. Wonder, he thought fiercely.

Armor that was more power than steel sprang into reality around him, blue and white and gold. A sword of lightning took shape in his right hand, while a shining gauntlet-buckler encased his left. Wings of light spread behind him. Light and sound were vibrant once more. The hollow aura couldn’t touch him. For a moment, Alex felt invincible.

Then the door opened, and a pale man with a shaved head walked into the alley. He was every inch the black-suited agent of myth, a ruthless enforcer of the mundane. He wore banality like a shroud, armor and weapon in one. Mirrored glasses hid his soul, if he had one. “The Skeptic,” Molly rumbled. “Sara…”

“I sent the signal! That’s all I can do!” she half-wailed. Alex spared a glance, and saw her working frantically at the air.

When Alex returned his attention to the Skeptic, he found the man focusing on him. “Absurdity,” the man said in a voice of dry paper. “Stop.”

For a moment, Alex’s newborn Talent wavered, white noise wiping it away, erasing it. “No,” he said again, gauntlet forming a fist. No more erasing, not tonight. The feeling of unmaking slowed, then stopped. “I won’t.”

The Skeptic, turned halfway on Molly, stopped and glanced back at Alex in surprise. “You’re drunk, high,” he rasped. “Clad in tinfoil stupidity. None of this is real. Fall.”

Where the hollow shroud had been a presence, it became a hammer. Alex felt all the glory he’d become immersed in become liquid lead poison. For a terrifying moment, he wondered if the Skeptic was right, if this was all some weird hallucination, maybe someone spiked his drink…

“I said NO!” Alex roared, and punched the air with the hilt of his sword. A wave of power rippled out. Boxes flattened. A garbage bin clanged against the alley wall. The Skeptic took a step back. “You listen to me, Grayboy. This is my life you’re trying to erase, every dream I ever had made real, and I — will — not — allow it!”

“You can’t hit him directly,” Molly shouted, and Alex realized that the burst he’d unleashed had become a howling wind. “He can block any Talent! If you throw something at him — “

Alex smiled ferociously. “Sometimes, a bin is just a bin,” he said, reaching out with the gauntlet. The Skeptic reached into his jacket, but a savage yank threw the dumpster straight at him. This is — this is easy! Alex exulted. When the Skeptic backed up against the door, ready to jump over the bin, Alex flipped its lid up, holding it open. The strangely-flat pop of gunfire made him jump, but the dumpster was solid metal.

“Got it!” Sara shouted over the wind. “Let’s go!”

Alex backed up, not wanting to take his eyes off his work. “I’ve got you, kid,” Molly rumbled, grabbing his shoulder and guiding him back. Alex could feel his control weaken when the Skeptic grabbed the bin, but he almost literally threw the wind at the agent. The lid fell towards the Skeptic, and he was forced to duck.

For the briefest of moments, everything became overwhelming, blinding light. When Alex’s sight recovered, he found himself in a ritual chamber that was more impressive than what he’d designed for the Divine Host’s cathedrals. “Whoa,” a new voice said, “where’d you get the anime guy?”

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Written by Peter Flanagan

Peter Flanagan was born in the Bronx, New York, giving him the right to root for the Yankees while making less than six figures. After a long, largely pleasant interregnum in suburban Connecticut, he moved to the Inland Empire, California to be with his wonderful wife and muse, a stepson, and a crazed feline. An occasionally too-avid player of and writer for tabletop roleplaying games, his other passion is metaphysics, which informs most of his fiction.

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