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Ch. 4.2 – Alex

Oh crap.

Alex could see the wards infused in the walls, floor and ceiling, now that Alice had shown him how. Beyond them, the sickly-white Vortex Spawn, creatures that seemed a cross between human and octopus, were swimming like circling sharks through the spirit-stuff. The insight as a whole was still a jumble in his mind, but relevant parts of it floated into his conscious thoughts. Vision, and how to use it to banish Vortex Spawn. The methods of Weaving shields, cages and weapons to deal with ephemera. Anima’s uses in defending the physical form from invasion and corruption.

At the top of the list, however, was a concept burning like neon: In its normal state, Blaze is ineffective against creatures of Vision. Alex gritted his teeth. So I need abnormal states. Which would be fine, if I had a few minutes to sort through this stuff!

It was strange at first to see Sara as calm as she was. Molly was loose, but to Alex it seemed a very tense sort of loose, deliberate and forced. Her stance wasn’t anything he was familiar with, seeming closest to some wrestling he’d watched years ago. Sara, on the other hand, was almost smiling, her hands practically dripping with Essence, the stuff of “Weaving.” A turn of her wrist, and the fluid became threads. Another twist of her fingers, and the threads became daggers of energy. Essentia, his mental database filled in. The dreams that stuff is made of, added the annotation of some long-gone wit. Whatever they were, Sara directed them to orbit her at shoulder-height with a circle of her finger, then began working the aether once more.

There were several Vortex Spawn pressing against the wards as they circled. Alex’s guess at their numbers kept wavering between five and eight, as they blurred into one another. It was hard to tell if they were creating after-images, or if their ephemeral nature allowed them to pass through one another. They each had a head, a torso, two arms and two legs, but that was where their similarity to primates ended. No bones at all were in evidence, with craniums pulsing as they ‘swam’ through the essentia. Their arms were whip-like tentacles, each ending in four smaller tentacles in a radial pattern that served as fingers. The legs were identical, only thicker, and the feet had shorter, broader tentacles than the hands. Only the fingers and ‘toes’ had the suckers Alex associated with octopuses. The way they were moving, he couldn’t tell anything else about their bodies.

Their intentions were another matter. They were projecting malice, exuding it, slashing at the wards with it like a weapon. No, Alex realized, feeling like someone had poured Freon down his spine, not like a weapon. It is a weapon. Insight that had been grafted onto his mind let him see what they were doing. It was psychic and magic, transforming their emotion into a corrosive of spirit. More than anything else, though, it was alien – not just different from humans, but a willful, absolute alienation from everything not of its kind. All things not of the Vortex were the Other, and thus, enemies. “What do we do?” he asked finally, warily watching the things circle their haven.

Molly’s eyes flickered along the creatures’ path. “We have to take the fight to them,” she said tersely. “They’re making Alice’s work harder, and whatever the damn Mandate did to Max, it’s nasty stuff.” Alex glanced over to where Alice was staring into Maxine’s eyes. Neither was moving except for the occasional twitch. “They get in before she’s done…” The Ghost Dragon snorted. “It’s not an option.”

“Won’t opening the door let them in?” Alex asked quietly.

Sara smiled like a hungry knife. “Even if it would,” she whispered, “I can take care of that.” Her hand lashed out, fingers spreading fan-like, and a filter of Weave latched onto the trap door.

“Are there passages outside I’m not aware of,” Alex asked, “or is this more phasing?”

“I’ll phase,” Molly explained, “and Sara will hit them with pure Weaving.” She glared at the door above them. “You levitate her out, then follow and close the door. Protect her if any of them are stupid enough to turn solid.”

Alex watched the circling horrors warily. “You don’t want me to help with offense?”

“I’ll watch your back if you watch mine,” Sara said with a grin.

“Sara and I can do this,” Molly said. “She could be in trouble if one of them emerges in our reality, but one manifest Vortex Spawn is no match for your Blaze.” She crouched. “Open the door on my word.” Alex nodded. “Now.”

With a flicker of thought, Alex turned the latch and let the door drop open. Molly leaped up, Sara’s Weave letting her pass through it harmlessly. The martial artist sprang from the wall of the short shaft leading to the basement above, jumping through the wall to swim through the rock alongside the Vortex creatures. Alex floated Sara and himself up after, back to back, then closed the door behind them.

The shaft was wide enough to fit them both, but left little room to maneuver. Alex risked a glance over his shoulder. “You good, Sara?”

“Oh yeah,” she replied with savage mirth. Weaves like razor wire lanced out around them, catching two of the Vortex Spawn. They struggled in her grip, but Sara didn’t seem to be having any trouble with them. “I may have to rely on the kindness of demigods with other Adepts, but spawnlings?” She looked over her shoulder and winked. “You’re about to see why the Mandate’s resident travesty wants me on a leash.”

Her eyes widened then, and Alex had less than a second to realize something was very wrong before his body was wrapped in living whipcord. Suckers clamped over his mouth and nose, thick tentacles pinned his arms to his body, and a lashing limb hammered his legs, leaving him to stumble into a corner. Alex couldn’t breathe, could barely move, and felt pure wrong trying to burn into his mind – into his soul.

Oh crap!

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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