Ch. 3.3 – Molly

“You know,” Alex said, tone light, “when I dreamed of becoming a superhero, expeditions into the friendly neighborhood sewer system were not part of the image.”

“I don’t think ‘image’ is the problem here,” Max retorted, voice pinched along with his nose. Sara chuckled wryly.

Ah, Daimani senses, Molly thought amusedly. Lighting the way was simple enough with their faux-Captain Beacon at the rear. The tunnel was rough concrete, and as clean as a sewer could get. All the same, Molly carefully kept her sense of smell turned down and filtered. Hearing enhancement more than compensated, gentle echoes hinting at Alice’s presence ahead.

Her security concerns briefly allayed, Molly turned her attention to Sara’s anomaly. Deleon was in his solid-Blaze armor, still mostly blue and white with gold trim, but decorated with a more elaborate network of lines connected by dots. There were also hints of red at the extremities, something she doubted he’d noticed. He stayed close to Sara, though it seemed to Molly that it was more accurate to say Sara didn’t stray far from Alex. It’s hard not to like the boy, she mused. Well, if Alice passes him, I won’t have to make the effort for much longer.

“Hey, hero guy,” Max called quietly, “I get the armor, and the sword, but what’s with the gauntlet?” The Reanimate gestured vaguely toward Alex’s left arm. “Does it do anything?”

Alex slowed for a moment, looking down at his hand, then quickly catching up. “It’s a thing I designed for Smith – one of my characters,” he said quickly. “It flares out to create a shield, shoots animated cables from between the knuckles, and fires blasts of force. At least, that’s what it’ll do in my comic, if I ever get it going.”

Sara blinked. “Can yours do all that?” she asked, looking him up and down for the fifth time. She can’t believe he’s real. Can’t blame her – not sure I do either.

“Hey, I’m still the flying bumblebee here,” Alex retorted gently. “I think I can make it do all of that, but I don’t know how I do any of this stuff.” He shrugged. “It’s just me. It just is, and when I want something to happen, it does. I can’t explain it.” Sara patted him kindly on the arm.

“We can,” Molly cut in, “later. We’re close.” Anima flowed behind her eyes, and she peered into the heart of the world. Even in the leavings of man, a remnant of life’s flow waited patiently to give birth to the cycle anew.

Two much stronger nodes of Anima rippled several yards away. One radiated strength and passion. The other was both sickly and fierce, with a power that somehow burned with endless hunger. Both were moving towards them. “Crap. Vortex spawn!” Molly barked. Sara gasped and shielded them with a net of Weaving. Max snarled, added twenty pounds of muscle, and grew claws.

Alex shifted into a clumsy ready stance, looking at his companions in alarm. “A Vortex what, now?”

“Exactly what she said, new meat,” Max hissed, “spawn of the Vortex. A scout of Hell – death and hate made flesh.” He glanced at Molly. “Just one, right?”

“For now,” she replied pointedly. Max nodded, and they stalked forward for a few moments.

Then Vision and Rift swirled together, adapting to each other to become as one, and the spawn’s Anima signature vanished. Max’s jaw dropped. Sara whistled appreciatively. Molly permitted herself a bit of a smile. “All clear,” Molly said to Alex, who warily lowered his sword.

Just then, Alice rounded the bend, breathing a bit heavily. She stopped when she spotted the group, grinning lopsidedly and waving with her right hand. In her left was her wand, Life Blossom. The shaft looked like some impossible alloy of green wood and emerald gem, while the top was something like ruby shaped to look like a flattened rose blossom.

Her costume was designed with a similar motif. Her sleeveless top was vivid crimson, adorned with forest green vines along the sides, as was the masquerade mask covering the upper half of her face, nose included. The matching green skirt went down to her knees, red stockings below that also bearing the vines. Completing the ensemble were red gloves that almost reached her elbows and green boots that didn’t quite come to her knees. Only her belt stood out as incongruous, with its polished-steel utility pouches, and even they had green buttons, with matching buckle.

Bet she’s glad she went with the practical boots, Molly thought dryly, remembering the ankle height and higher heels Alice had preferred. She’s been working out, too. The Ghost Dragon gave the young heroine a quick once-over. Aside from a tiny scar on her left arm, stark white vivid against deep brown, Alice was unblemished, sculpted muscles clear along her arms, abdomen and thighs. Girl’s in great shape. Molly blinked. Woman. Gods, she’s eighteen. I feel old.

“Wonder Rose?” Alex asked. Alice smiled winningly and curtsied. “A pleasure. I was expecting something more goth, though.” He glanced at Max and grinned wryly. “And maybe a little more sailor.”

“Magical girl,” Max objected, waving his hand up and down at her.

Alice laughed. “I hope you’re not disappointed,” she said, hanging Life Blossom from her belt and walking up to them.

“Are you kidding? I was starting to feel like a freak in my get-up,” Alex replied emphatically. “Were you hunting that…thing?”

Alice nodded, smile fading. “Your first Vortex Spawn?” Alex nodded back. “I don’t know if you could say I was ‘hunting’ it, exactly. I just banished it.”

“Oh, is that all?” Max asked dryly. Alice rubbed the back of her neck, smiling weakly.

Molly sighed. “All right, everyone’s gotten the meet and greet. Alice, I need you to clear these two as soon as possible.” She pointed at Alex, then Max, in rapid succession.

“Still every bit the people person, that’s our Molly,” Sara added, shrugging. “Sorry, Alice.” Just ignore her, Molly told herself.

“It’s all right,” Alice replied, looking from Sara back to Molly. “Vortex, Complex or Havoc?”

“Complex,” Molly said. “The Skeptic was involved.”

“Oh, is that all?” Alice asked, her voice a near-perfect echo of Max’s. “Why is it never easy with you, Molly?”

Molly folded her arms. “If I had easy, I wouldn’t need Majestic Champion Wonder Rose, now would I?” Alice grimaced. “Come on. At least we can get you something to eat first.” Alice lit up. Ah, to be young and omnivorous.

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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