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Ch. 15.2 – Alex

“Okay. I think we’re ready,” Alex noted, nodding. The cabin’s spacious living room held a full house. Sara sat to his left, with Victor and Max on the couch beside her, Alice lounging in a chair near them while angled toward him, and Molly leaning on the far wall, watching the Bastion leader. Across from them were their guests. Akira watched placidly near Molly, while Eve Hawk and Marie Perrault were at a small table, and Powerstar was on the other couch with his wife Heather. The room was brightly lit, sunlight streaming in through multiple large windows. “Are there any questions before we begin?”

Marie gulped down the cracker she’d been munching. “Yep. What are we waiting for?” she asked, grinning. “West is past hunting the Gifted, and well into collecting. He needs to collect bruises instead.”

A few people chuckled, and Max nodded. “I sympathize, Marie, but he’s got to be expecting us this time,” Alex explained, one hand resting on the other at his waist. “If we rush in, Travesty won’t be the one collecting injuries.”

“We need a plan,” Molly interjected, seeming as cool and unmoved as stone, “and this time, it shouldn’t involve one of our own being captured.”

Sara rolled her eyes. “Relax, Molly. You don’t try a trick like that twice.” She flashed Alex a smile. “Even West isn’t that stupid.”

“He’s not stupid at all,” Alex replied. “Which makes our recent discovery that much more unsettling.” He held out his hand, and five glowing outlines of people appeared. They were fundamentally abstract, three of them women, the other two androgynous. “Based on our ritual, led by Alice and guided by Sara’s Weaving, West has several Majestic prisoners manipulating events to his will. The three women have been psychically molded into captive Fates, subtly guiding events to his ends. The other two are transportation and enforcement. We’re not certain, but Alice believes that West had this system in place before he took either Sara or Victor, and I agree.”

“Terrible,” Eve admitted, “but not surprising. I take it that there is more to this situation than West’s established willingness to dominate the minds of the useful.”

Alex nodded. “It appears that he’s planning on taking his Fates to the Olympics.” He replaced the outlines with an image of Maracanã Stadium. “Why, we’re not certain, but given how many people watch the Games, it can’t be anything good.”

For several seconds, the group was silent. “He means to change the world,” Akira whispered. “The question is, to what end?”

Molly folded her arms and shook her head. “That doesn’t matter,” she insisted. “He’s Travis West. Whatever he wants, it will be selfish and cruel. The only question we need to answer is, how do we stop him?”

“We rescue his captives,” Alex replied. “That’s the real trick, of course. Chances are, he’ll be expecting us.”

“Why?” Victor asked, blinking. Max held his hand.

“Majestas begins with connection,” Alice explained. “It works both ways. West almost certainly felt our ritual’s contact with his plan or captives.”

Alex nodded. “Fortunately, there’s a glaring weakness in his defenses. The only loyalty West seems capable of generating is artificial, forced through abuse of his Vision talent. Anyone we can free of his control, we can turn.” He held out his hands, and the stadium rose and expanded to fill the ceiling. “We’ll form three teams. Sara, Alice, and Eve will be the core of each group, tasked with liberating the minds of West’s slaves as we find them. Everyone else in each team is there to back them up.”

Powerstar raised his hand. Heather chuckled. “What kind of opposition are you expecting, Captain?”

Alex grimaced. “Complex enforcers. Quadrum soldiers. Ekaida. Maybe the Skeptic, if West can get him from Gray Company again.” He let his eyes flicker to a window, the peaceful landscape a sharp contrast to the topic at hand. No point in sugar-coating it, he decided. “West himself is probably the real danger. Just as we hope to turn his people, he’ll certainly try to turn us.”

“How do we fight that?” Max breathed, shuddering. Victor gave his hand a gentle squeeze.

“Together,” Alex replied, grimace vanishing. “Everyone in all three teams will be connected by Vision and Weaving. He hits one of us, he fights all of us.” The Bastion thought his sudden burst of confidence felt strange. “This isn’t just feel-good talk or hyperbole. As long as our minds and souls are connected, West will have to overcome our collective willpower to take even one of us.”

“Unless he manages to cut someone off,” Heather muttered.

Again, Alex nodded. “He shouldn’t be able to do that, but the Skeptic might.” He looked down, fingers drifting to his chest. The breastplate beneath his T-Shirt was less comforting than he’d have liked. “That’s why, if he’s there, I’ll be facing him. Alone.”

Everyone straightened. Sara’s eyes went wide. “What happened to teams?” the Weaver gasped.

“He’s the only human who’s ever truly resisted the Skeptic’s power,” Molly explained, casting a sympathetic glance towards Sara. “Akira’s going to be with Wonder Rose.”

“Alex, you’re amazing, but you haven’t faced him since that first day,” Sara insisted. “The Skeptic is a monster. Besides, what if he has backup?”

“I’ll be the only one physically present,” Alex replied, holding up his hands in placation. “I expect the rest of you to take out his backup at range.”

“Through the Vision bond,” Eve noted, rubbing her chin. “All of us, in full communion like that…you’re asking a lot, Captain.”

“I know,” Alex admitted. “Our thoughts, our minds, are supposed to be our most inviolate places. Travis makes a mockery of that.” He clasped his hands behind him. “To beat him, we have to trust each other, completely. I know that sounds corny, but it’s the most important thing we have that he doesn’t.” He looked around the room. “I’m not asking anyone here to do something I won’t do myself. If any of you want out, I understand.” He ignored the sudden pounding in his chest as they all looked back at him.

Max, of all people, grinned suddenly. “Hey, nothing ventured, right? Let’s give Travesty the biggest black eye he’s ever had.”

Alex exhaled. Didn’t even know I was holding my breath, he realized. “Let’s not get too excited. Now comes the fun part.” Small red lights formed in the depths of the stadium. “I’m going to start with the worst-case scenario: Travis has all the forces he could hope for, and knows how we’re coming in.”

“Yay,” Sara quipped.

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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