Ch. 2.3 – Alex

Sara and Ben looked at each other, then gestured in perfect synch at Molly. “Ghost Dragons are your thing, lady Dunn,” Ben added. “I’d say this one’s yours.” Alex leaned over, looking past Sara to her protector.

Molly smiled. It was the first full, genuine smile he’d seen on her. “The Council Majestic is Ben’s lot. They’re the sorcerers supreme, wizards in the high towers, ritual lords of the Weaving of the world.” She leaned back into the couch, crossing her legs. “Thing is, most of them still break if you hit ’em hard enough. That’s where we come in.” Molly made a fist, and Alex could almost see the energy flowing into it. I think she could punch through the wall right now, he thought. “Ghost Dragons are the silent warriors of life and freedom. The Complex has always come after us, first and foremost. The Ghost Shirts, the Mawon, the Knights Templar, the Shaolin, they were all Adept champions who stood up, able to stop crossbows and guns, only to be knocked down when the Grayboys put their bolts and bullets to work.”

Molly’s smile became distinctly predatory. “So now, we fight quietly. Invisibly. A few years after the Boxers were put down, survivors from warrior paths all over got together and decided we had to fight smarter. We don’t paint targets on our chests any more. We’re not there until it’s time to strike, but when we do, our blows are the wrath of a wounded world. Clouds become lightning and strike like gods. Thunder becomes wind, invisible, untouchable. We honor our traditions, but we don’t let borders get in the way any more. East, west, north, south, they’re all just points on a compass now. We’re centered, focused and ready to fight for our world. Ghost Dragons.”

Ben clapped. Even Sara whistled. Molly glared at Ben for a moment, then chuckled as he froze in mid-clap. “Sorry, Ben. Thought you were mockin’ me for a second.”

“Mock a Dragon who could punch me into next Wednesday? I don’t think so,” Ben said a bit shakily. “That was just kind of awesome, is all.”

Alex looked down. “So you don’t think I’m Dragon material?”

“No offense, Alex,” Molly replied evenly. “You’re Anima is strong enough, and you can fight — you proved that — but being a Ghost Dragon is more than fighting. We have to disappear when the time comes, and you’re a bit…shiny.”

Sara nodded, then gave Alex a one-armed hug. “You’re all about the Blaze, Alex. The Four Allies all use it, but none of them specialize in it because shiny.” She grinned at him. “You could always apply to Division One. They bring the thunder when they have to.”

“And they can cover it up, right?” Alex asked, shaking his head. “If they were willing to protect you, would we be here?”

Sara’s grin vanished. “That’s…complicated. They can’t afford a fight with the Complex, and the Complex might be willing to go to war over me.” As Alex was taking the breath to ask, she added, “Yes, they’d risk Vortex crap for my Gift.”

Alex gently untangled himself from Sara and stood, pacing. The room seemed larger when I was sitting down, he noted wryly. “So what’s wrong with the Alliance? What about the other two groups?”

“All four are basically mutual support and defense groups,” Ben explained. “The Oracle Society is a network of psychics, oracles, mediums, miracle workers, and spiritualists of all stripes. More than any of us, they’re united by their Talent, for Vision in their case.” He shrugged. “The Seekers Eternal, on the other hand, are explorers. They’re everything from reporters with a handful of tricks to powerful summoners and world-walkers.”

Sara shook her head. “And the only way to unite them is with a common threat. Ben, I love you for bailing me out, but the Four Allies haven’t done anything but bicker since the end of World War II.”

“Yeah,” Ben replied heatedly, “aside from save the world a dozen times, protect the explosion of science and technology for over a century, fight for social justice, and basically make most of the modern world’s progress possible.” He leaned forward, eyes narrowed. “You think the Complex wanted the Sixties to happen? You think they want the Internet to be possible? Gods, Sara, they’re against public libraries — public education. They like their sheep dull and ignorant.”

“Too bad all that progress might kill the world,” Sara retorted, “and will let the Complex buy it if we survive.”

Ben was halfway out of his seat when Molly held up a hand. “As much as I want to hear you two go at it again, which I don’t, we’re still on the run from the Skeptic.” Her tone was mild, even, and brooked no debate. “What do you think, Alex?”

Alex blinked in surprise, stopping in mid-pace. “I’m sorry, those aren’t even the fact sheets I’d expect from an urban fantasy role-playing game,” he said slowly. “I get the feeling Sara’s being a little too hard on your Alliance, but for now it doesn’t really matter. The Complex getting its hands on her is clearly bad, and since I seem to have some resistance to this Skeptic, I’m elected.” He grimaced. “Can I even go home? Or is there a black helicopter over my apartment by now?”

They all chuckled at that. “Oh, gods, friend,” Ben said, clenching his jaw in the effort to fight the laughter, “not every paranoid fantasy is real. Unless the Skeptic made you, you’re clear.”

“You had the suit on before baldy showed up,” Sara added. “I was witching the cameras so no one on my side would get made, and Max won’t rat on you. You’ll be fine.” She looked at her feet with a sad grimace. “Actually, I could use a place to crash. Please.”

Molly threw a hard glance at Sara. Alex glanced from one to the other. Later, he decided. “I don’t make a lot of money, but as long as you don’t mind my box of an apartment, I don’t see why not.”

“Only if you can make room for a third,” Molly insisted. “You don’t need to worry about cash, not with Sara’s gift.”

“I only have the one bed,” Alex replied, holding chin in hand. “I was going to take the couch, but if we can scrounge up a futon-“

Sara looked up sharply and folded her arms. “I own a futon, and I’ll use it. Chivalry is all well and good, but if I’m going to beg for crash space I’m not going to throw my hero out of his own effing bed.”

“We’ll figure out the living arrangements when we get there,” Molly retorted firmly, the lilt in her voice thickening a touch. She frowned. “This’ll be temporary. We can’t stay in one place for too long anyway.”

“You can crash here for the rest of the night, at least,” Ben said, gesturing at the furniture around them. “I’ve got the space, and you’re going to want to go in fresh.”

Alex half-listened as Molly detailed a plan to retrieve Sara’s few things from her last hideout. Some part of his mind was recording it for later. That’s…I can hardly believe any of this. The air seemed filled with colors and tiny arcs of lightning. The world hummed with an eerie chorus of rhythms and echoes. His thoughts sorted themselves to his will with a moment’s concentration. Even Alex’s body obeyed his desires, his slight paunch replaced with a hint of a six-pack. What am I, now?

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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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