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Ch. 15.1 – Alice

“Whose idea was this, again?” Alex groaned, leaning against the wall as he looked out a window.

The sunset was spectacular. As usual, Alice thought, grinning. “Yours,” she said, then laughed gently at the aggrieved glance he tossed in her direction. “I know, Akira planted the seed, but you tended and watered it. The Bastion Knights are a thing because you made them into one.”

Alice’s smile vanished at her friend’s soft growl. “The Bastion Knights being a thing is great. Me being in charge, not so much. I got drafted before I knew what hit me.”

“Alex, you handled Schnyder and Nehru like a master,” Alice insisted, putting a hand on his shoulder. “You need to relax. We’re not going to force you to handle everything.” She gave the Prime a gentle shake. “We’re not going to let you, either.”

Alex’s proto-frown vanished, and he raised an eyebrow in her direction. “‘We?'”

Unable to help it, Alice laughed again. “I’m a magical girl! You think I’d miss a chance to be a founding member of the secret hero squad?” Alex smiled back, the fading sunlight framing the expression in gentle gold. “That’s better.”

“Thanks, Alice. I’m not sure how I’d do this without you.” He shrugged. “Honestly, I’d offer you the job -” Alice’s eyes widened. Alex chuckled. “- but I was pretty sure you didn’t want it. Now I know.”

“God, why would you want me in charge?” Alice shuddered, looking away. Towards my workshop. Always, when I’m nervous, she noted, annoyed with herself.

Alex straightened, mild surprise flickering through his aura. “Um, genius? I get that you’re an introvert, Alice. So am I. But you’re the most brilliant person I’ve ever known.”

“I’m good with magic, science, and magic science,” Alice insisted. “Tactically, you can control ten objects with your brain, and move them in ten different directions at the same time. You can do that with people. In terms of leadership, I think I mentioned Schnyder? He’s only a three hundred year old master Majestic. Oh yeah, and he basically made Switzerland.”

Alex’s jaw sagged. “Switzer – wait, he’s three hundred?”

“Okay, the Switzerland thing’s a bit of an exaggeration,” Alice admitted, indulging in another chuckle. “He’s nudged in places, but Schnyder spends more time preventing Majestic interference than actively directing things. But yeah, three centuries and still going strong. You notice how Switzerland’s renowned for being the nation of diplomacy and neutrality, yet they’re so invincible Nazi Germany didn’t try to invade? Schnyder’s been working on that for most of his life.”

Alex frowned. “He supported neutrality during-”

“No,” Alice interjected. “Even with Division One walking off with half the Alliance’s Blaze masters back in the day, Schnyder considers that his greatest failure. He saw fascism for what it was and tried to get Switzerland in the fight.” She gave Alex a one-armed hug. “Not even the world’s greatest wizard can make a whole country do what he wants. Remember that when we give you fits.”

“Is he angsting again?” Sara asked, striding in with fluid confidence. “That’s my job.”

Alice let go as the Bastion leader turned, his whole demeanor brightening at the sight of Sara. “Hey,” he whispered.

“Don’t ‘hey’ me,” Sara retorted, albeit without heat. “Talk to me, hero boy. What’s bugging you?”

Alex looked out the window again. “I’m not sure. It’s been two weeks with everybody being all ‘rah rah’ about the Bastions. Travis and the Quadrum – that sounds like a band – have been way too quiet. Maybe I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

“Yeah, on our heads,” Sara added dryly. “You’ve got a point. Travesty’s been out of the game for a while now. What has he been up to?”

“No good,” Alice quipped.

Sara folded her arms. “Dog bites man, Alice. What kind of no good? He hasn’t come after me, or Victor, since the great escape.”

The three of them looked at each other, and Alice felt the spark of inspiration alight in them as one. “Let’s find out,” the Wonder Rose said, waving Life Blossom in the air.

It took less than a minute for them to be sitting in a circle, Majestic Arts flowing between them. “Okay,” Alex murmured, “this isn’t my first ritual, but not by much.”

“Relax,” Sara advised, stretching languidly. “We may have lots of great tricks, but this is what Majestic are best at.” Alice watched, admiring the Weaver’s technique, as Sara used her stretch to gather threads of luck and power. “Anshin and Daimani are generally better at the immediate stuff, but if you want witchcraft, find a witch.”

The Bastion smiled, shaking his head. “What does that make me, then?”

“One badass battery,” Sara shot back. “Charge us up.”

Alice closed her eyes, feeling the Weaver and her knight fill the Vision working with their respective powers. “Whoa, slow down, Cap,” she breathed, shuddering at the raw power he brought to bear. How does Sara handle that? Brushing against her Weaving with a psychic touch answered Alice’s question in a heartbeat. Right. Sara might not be able to pull that kind of power through her wound, but she can still manipulate it. The Vision master let the two finish their conceptual lens, then slowly poured her own gifts into it. Okay, West. Taylor’s quip aside, there’s no way you haven’t been playing your own games all this time. What have you –

The screams echoed through the Vision world. Three Weavers, like fates – in ritual style, dubbed Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos – held prisoner. Two Rift masters, one skilled in Anima, the other in Blaze, their minds utterly transformed to serve West without question. A tiny sliver of Ekaida, writhing in uncertainty. In the center of it all, the living Travesty, grinning like a rabid wolf.

Alice recoiled, the ritual collapsing around them. Sara’s metaphoric lens shattered, leaving shards of horror and disgust. The Weaver waved her hand, and the shards vanished. Alex leaped to his feet, arms wreathed in lightning, a shining knight with nowhere to charge. “That monster,” the Bastion hissed, shuddering in place.

“We knew that,” Sara whispered, twisting her bracelet around her wrist. “Question is, what do we do about it?”

Immediately, they both looked at Alex. He blinked, then sighed. “Gather the troops. Hard as it is to believe, this whole thing just got uglier.”

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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