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Ch. 17.2 – Alice

Turn. Parry. Dodge. Spin. Majestic Champion Wonder Rose barely evaded Quadrum suppressor Weaves, rushing between multiplying chunks of rubble. This was funnier in my head.

Avoiding alien fire couldn’t distract Rose entirely from the growing collection of minds outside the stadium. Life Blossom allowed her to filter the growing mass of psychic noise, but with the Schism itself keening with outrage, the Vision world’s protests were impossible to entirely ignore. They’re getting footage, wondering what’s going on, she sensed, stopping behind a truck-sized chunk of rubble. Expecting lies, hoping for truth. Majestic senses unfolded, watching her friends battle the Elder Dragon. Doesn’t matter. I have to reach Ekaida.

Max appeared from an eddy of Rift-shadow, surprising Rose with a powerful masculine frame. “Sorry,” he grimaced, making a fist. Rose followed the trail of majestas to watch a Complex agent’s rifle implode, and she grinned. “Trying to watch your back and Sara’s at the same time. Where’s the angel?” Sara pointed a thumb at the titanic battle taking place halfway across the field. Max’s jaw sagged. “Oh boy.”

“I know,”Alice sympathized, “but we can do this. The Skeptic’s down. If we liberate Ekaida, Travis becomes a cornered rat.” Rose’s smile slipped, and she scanned the Vision world for certainty. Blood pain blunt crush dark flashed through her mind, and the heroine pressed her back against the rubble for support. “Oh, God. The Skeptic’s dead. Murdered.”

“The Captain wouldn’t do that,” Max insisted.

Rose shook her head. “He didn’t. It’s part of the Schism patch, this…ritual,” she explained, waving vaguely overhead. She followed threads of Vision trickling through images and wires, Travis’ protective Adaptation transmitted by the news coverage in a vast mystic working. “The footage is actually carrying the patch all over the world.” She shook her head. “I know he was – well, the Skeptic – but it was an awful way to go.”

“Cap tried to reach him,” Max assured her, a gentle hand on Rose’s shoulder. “We can’t help the dead. Focus on what we’ve got.”

Rose nodded, breathed deeply, and concentrated. Physical contact is out of the question. She peered over her cover. Line of sight’s almost impossible not to have. This’ll have to do. Ekaida had grown to forty feet tall, her body becoming more human-like. She was still covered in brass-like scales, and her wings and tail had lengthened to match her new height. Anima flowed through Ekaida’s titanic frame at her whim. Beneath her power, Travis’ insidious control nudged her onward, the predator within all Daimani encouraged with each breath she took. His Vision narrowed hers, controlling her awareness and direction. She drowned in an ecstasy of obedience, the inky depths enforcing ignorance of his treachery. Time to shed some light, Rose decided, diving into the Elder Dragon’s spirit.

Ekaida’s mind was everything Alex had described. The whole of human civilization seemed writ on her soul. Here, she was worshiped in pre-Pharaonic Egypt. There, she brought down Messerschmitts with bursts of sun-bright flame. It really is almost endless. With a moment’s effort, Rose restored her focus. Stay on topic.

Once Alice was past the ocean of memory, the fetters were everywhere. Iron gossamer. Ethereal chain. Travis’ indoctrination was contradictory, absurd, and brilliant. Ekaida feels only the rapture he promised, sees only the fight against the Schism. She tightened her grip on Life Blossom’s Vision-echo and concentrated. One chain link snapped open. Two. Three. No traps? That’s impossi–

Razor-thorned vines of command and pride shot out to ensnare Rose. In a flash of caution and empathy, she joined the memory of prehistoric Egypt, and the vines slashed the astral “air” with impotent fury. Eep. In a few hundredths of a second, they were joined by stalking shadows of possession and privilege. West’s vines snaked across buildings and through alleys, while the shadows darted ghost-like through walls. Rose sank under the “ground,” watching and waiting.

When West’s monitors spread out, dividing their attention to track her, Rose willed herself to be in another portion of Ekaida’s mind. The sight of battlements confused her briefly, until she saw the bright letters “Cyclorama” and saw Ekaida – looking almost nothing like she did at Travis’ side, but unmistakable in her own mind – walking beside a shorter woman. Both women wore ornate, colorful dresses, with Ekaida carrying a book and her companion glancing at a newspaper. Boston Herald. 1888. Why this period? Rose focused on Ekaida’s book. Jekyll and Hyde. A clue?

“Another butchering in London’s East End, poor girl,” the shorter woman muttered. “Edna, look at this.”

“Don’t be a voyeur, dear,” ‘Edna’ replied, gently closing the paper. “It’s horrible, but it’s also half the world away. America has enough troubles.” Ekaida glanced around with practiced care, then took her companion’s hand. “Come, Clara.”

Now. Rose strode up to the pair. “Edna? Do you recognize me?”

Clara glanced in shock from the masked woman to Edna. “That is an excellent question. Do you recognize her, Edna?”

For a moment, Ekaida studied Rose coolly. The entire tableau froze, Boston’s teeming crowds halting mid-stride. “One thought from me, child,” the Daimani rumbled, “and West will grind your Vision-self to fragments.”

“Sure, but you haven’t yet,” Rose blurted. Control yourself, Alice, she admonished herself, and straightened. “I think part of you even knows why.” Razor vines slithered around the memory, hunting with proprietary avarice. “Travis betrayed you, Ekaida.”

“He wouldn’t dare,” Ekaida insisted.

When the vines pierced Ekaida’s memory, earning an angry hiss from the dragon, Rose shifted them inside the Cyclorama. Instead of a 19th Century painting surrounding them, however, Alice had folded a memory inside a memory. Ekaida gaped as her own thoughts played out around her, Captain Bastion pleading to a much more recent past self: “A century might not be a long time for you,” he said gently, “but it’s more than a lifetime for most of us. How much human arrogance have you seen in your life? You can at least check, can’t you?”

“This memory,” Rose noted gently, Ekaida staring in horror around them, “that woman, they’re precious to you, aren’t they?” The razor vines sliced through Boston, crashing through the Cyclorama ceiling, tearing at the image Rose had revealed. “Should West be in here? Will you let him trample this place? Can you check?”

Every question made the city quiver, but Ekaida didn’t move. The vines slashed in, West’s shadows following. Boston collapsed around them, the fragment of Bastion flickering like a dying candle flame. Rose held up Life Blossom, ready to fight.

Then Ekaida howled, and the Vision-world itself quaked at the sound. The vines withered and disintegrated. The shadows froze and shattered. Rose snapped back to herself, lying on the arena field and staring at the sky. A still-male Max hovered protectively over her. “Rose? What happened?”

Ignoring the tilt-and-whirl ride the world had become, Rose forced herself upright. Ekaida roared at the heavens, turning furious draconic eyes on the airship. She took one step toward it, flaring her wings wide –

– and vanished, shrinking so fast Rose lost track of her. Alex darted frantically overhead, while Molly sighed and held her forehead. West’s black-armored avatar advanced on Sara, who gathered the Weave with reality-shaking force.

Then Rose could spare them no more worry, ducking the Quadrum suppressor beams that converged on Max and her. I think we made West mad.

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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