Ch. 11.4 – Alice

Alice Robinson strode confidently through the halls of Purity West tower, one story below their host’s penthouse. Behind her, over a dozen guards slept peacefully, their dreams untouched by the building’s tainted Vision-shell. We joke about him, she thought, her smile fading away, but “travesty” is pretty much the perfect word to describe that slime ball. Just about everyone else is a thing to him. Her Wonder Rose garb resonated with the power of all five Majestic Elements, Woven together into a defensive tapestry that would shield her from nearly any conceivable assault. Feeling pretty magical right now, she mused, grin returning. Just a matter of making the bait tempting enough. Another check of her own Vision talent kept her up to date on her four astral clones, each striding through different parts of the office complex. Come on, Travis. You really don’t want to get between Irresistible Force Dragon and Captain Immovable Object, do you? I’m shielding my friends. To find them, you need to deal with me.

“I must admit,” West’s voice echoed behind her, and it took all Rose’s willpower not to jump, “the Vision replicas are impressive. You do realize I have security cameras installed?” Some part of her mind noted that his Texas accent was faint, but convincing.

Rose turned slowly, but West wasn’t holding a weapon. He was leaning against a wall, watching her with casual amusement. The building shuddered, and his shark’s smile slipped. “They’re not supposed to be working,” she replied cheerfully. “Nice suit.”

He bowed just slightly, smile returning. “Thank you. I don’t suppose you’d consider employment with Purity West? We can find a position for a genius of your caliber, or failing that, make one.”

“Not even bothering with the faux-racism? I think I’m flattered,” Rose quipped, holding the wand lightly at her side. “A pity your chauvinism is real. Besides, you kidnaped my friend.”

West rolled his eyes. “This again? Honestly. You abduct one goth, and suddenly you’re Sauron.” That’s when he struck, a lance of hyper-focused Vision piercing her outer shields. Alice forced herself to look nonchalant as she bolstered her layered aura shield, preventing the Prime from reaching her last line of defense in his first attack. Okay, he really is that good. Noted. The eponymous blossom at the end of her wand glowed faintly when she struck back with an Adapted blend of Vision, Weaving and Anima. I’m good too. West’s shields wavered at the combination of Elements wearing away at his body, will and reality. “You wear boxing gloves to a knife fight?” he grunted, no longer smiling. “Either you’re weakened, or a fool. Possibly both.”

“Some of us,” Alice retorted coolly, “value human life. Even yours, Travis.”

Travis raised an eyebrow. “Fool it is.” His next attack was like a dozen sawblades, each ripping at the weaving holding her defenses together. Alice could even see the images of sawblades around the true assault, spirals of cruel, dominating will ravaging her protective identity-preserving icons. He’s using Vision models to their full effect. The jerk does have an imagination. Not good.

Alice leveraged his images quite literally, picturing her sense of self as iron bars going through the centers of the saws, then twisting them. Ignoring another, more threatening shudder through the building, she shattered his attacks with torque applied on both conceptual levels. Wasting no time when he reeled for an eyeblink, Wonder Rose created a fog both physical and psychic, teleporting just around the corner in the moment of his recovery. Then she added a soporific to the cloud, again adding it to matter and Vision alike. “One of us is, Travis.” Rose couldn’t help a smile, even as she raised the wand to Conduct the fog.

“You’ll make a fine addition to my collection,” West drawled, the hint of Texan drowned in his sneer. He made a fist, and a burst of wind both atmospheric and astral cleared the air around him. “Unless you take off the gloves. You might manage to be dangerous, then.” West unclenched his fist, and the wind blast shot out down every corridor, clearing Rose’s fog.

Alice quickly flew a circuit through the corridors to come up behind Travis, peering around the corner to examine him more carefully. I really should have examined Alex or Sara more closely, she reflected wearily. Well, this sort of hindsight will have to do. Peering carefully into West’s aura field, she was surprised how quickly the knot of majestas that was the Prime spark revealed itself. Amazing. The Prime field appears to be less about strengthening or enhancing, and more about teaching. An unconscious, self-sustaining guide through the process of Majestic rebirth and growth. She landed silently, then grinned. Which means everything he can do is just human potential. Teach me, Travesty.

Rose unleashed a dozen spears of thorn-covered Vision branch at Travis. Her attack ripped at his Vision with jagged contempt and razor-sharp outrage, roses blossoming around him with defiant beauty. West gasped, then bared his teeth, unleashing his buzzsaws as an orbiting defense. They tore her attack to shreds, but she saw how he constructed his whorls of self-entitled sadism. Her roses became red diamonds of clarity and confidence, and his blades of arrogance broke their teeth on her blossoms. “Pride goeth, Travis.”

He didn’t say a word. All the same, Rose felt rather than heard the racial slurs ripple through his Vision-self as Travis defended himself with a whirlpool of acid contempt. Well, I guess some of it had to be real after all, she sighed. Then her eyes widened in time with the vortex as it expanded in every direction. I’ve got the momentum, but he could still win this. I have to wrap this up fast.

Just then, Sara, Molly and Max appeared at her side, along with a half-naked young man propping himself up on Max’s shoulder. She blinked. That’s the Rift Prime. Before she could do anything else, Travis swore and vanished. “Hey, Sara,” she called. “Plan’s working, right?”

“Yeah,” Sara replied quickly, and Alice couldn’t miss the strain in her voice, “except that shaking is Bastion fighting Ekaida.”

“What?” Rose blurted, glancing reflexively at the new guy. Some part of her mind insisted on noting the Purity West shorts. “Why’s the Hydra here?”

“She works for him,” Gym-shorts explained. “I’m Victor. Thanks for the save.”

Rose flashed him her best we’ve-got-this smile. “Our pleasure, Victor. You stay with Max. We’ll handle the dragon.”

“I can manage a ride,” Victor added quickly. “They kept me strapped down, but I’m in decent shape. I,” he continued bitterly, “was a ‘valuable asset.'”

Sara’s grin seemed both inspiring and inspired. “What do you think of going into Purity West’s liability column, Vic?”

Victor smiled back, and the five adepts vanished.

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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