Ch. 9.2 – Alex

Alex sat near the roof’s edge and looked out over the city. This might not be the best time to admire the view, he thought idly, watching Los Angeles become a field of stars brighter than the night sky, but it’s hard to care right now. He indulged in a long, deep breath, feeling almost cleansed of their encounter with that Vortex…thing.

One of Nicole’s group – Eve Hawk, Alex remembered – strode over to his side. “May I?” she asked. Alex nodded, and the woman sat cross-legged next to him. “Your first Vortex Beast?”

“Yeah.” Alex looked the newcomer over, careful to keep his Vision locked down but otherwise examining Eve with a discerning eye. The long black hair and dusky features were merely heritage; it was her aura that spoke volumes, a mixture of fluid resolve and jagged fury forever at odds. “You all right?”

“As much as ever,” she replied evenly. “Being a Sword of Harmony is never easy.” She smiled then, surprising Alex in spite of the brevity of their contact. “What important role is?”

After a few seconds, Alex nodded. He looked around, finding the others gathered in small knots. Molly and Nicole were reminiscing, while Sara and Marie listened with fascination. Alice and David were still talking to Powerstar, which Alex guessed involved further explanations about the bizarre world of the Majestic. Maxine was laughing as she went on about something to Akira, who smiled gently in response. “It seems harder for you than most of the others,” he noted.

“Your role is just as tenuous,” Eve noted, swirling her hand in the air. A mug formed in it, filled with hot mocha. Alex let a smile creep out, accepting the cup and taking a sip. His eyes widened. That’s not possible, he thought, realizing a moment later that she’d formed it, whole cloth, out of the Weave. “Perfect” flavor hardly counts in comparison. “You defend one who rejects the forced choices of the Complex, Alliance and Absolutists. I have the Swords. What do you have?”

“Sara,” Alex replied immediately. “It’s enough.” He blinked. Huh. That’s completely true. After a moment’s pause, realizing that Eve had conjured some mocha for herself, Alex nodded toward her. “I’m sure you’ve been waiting for me to ask – who are the Swords of Harmony?”

Eve didn’t splutter out her coffee, but it was a near thing. She set the cup aside and chuckled. “Please don’t tell David you knew.” Her good humor vanished. “In as brief a tale as I can make it, the Swords are a warrior band as ancient as the Council Majestic. The last few centuries were hard on us, as we faced an increasingly hostile Mandate and the growth of the Heralds – the Vortex’s human cultists.”

“The White Herald…” Alex muttered, eyes flickering back toward where they’d fought.

“Indeed.” Eve took a quick sip. “Both World Wars were started entirely by humans, for human purposes, but many other parties took interests. The Vortex gorged on the misery and death of the Second, in particular. I’m sure you’ve been told about the rise of Gray Company and the formation of Division One, but I doubt they mentioned us.”

Alex’s eyebrows shot up. “Neither Sara nor Molly would ignore your contributions.”

“Oh, I doubt their omissions were deliberate,” Eve agreed, waving him down. “The Allies see themselves as the sum total of sane Majestics. In fairness, we were few by the end of the war, and two-thirds of our number joined Division One to form the Blaze-powered backbone of the Vortex hunters.”

“So the Swords focus on Blaze?” Alex asked immediately. “Your remaining membership would be a perfect fit for the Alliance. Ben and Molly have been trying to figure out what to do with me, and none of us are sure how to handle a full-on superhero.” They both turned and looked at Powerstar, who was staring wide-eyed at David as the Ghost Dragon gestured wildly.

“We teach all members how to wield that Element, true,” Eve noted, “but we are too few now to dedicate ourselves to one the way the Allies do, let alone present ourselves to them as a possible fifth faction.” She scowled. “Every time the potential has arisen, it has fallen apart as they suggest absorption into one of their existing unions. It is a legitimate point, and yet we do not fit any of them for the same reason you do not fit.” Eve leaned forward, elbows on legs, chin on hands. “Is this pride making a noose, or an identity we refuse to sacrifice? Even now the Swords struggle with this question.”

“Perhaps,” Akira said quietly, “the answer lies somewhere in between.” He strode over, Marie peering over his shoulder with wide, curious eyes. Alex glanced over at Sara, finding Maxine with her as they listened to another story, this one setting Molly to a broadening grin while Nicole slowly hid her face behind a rising palm. “The Swords of Harmony might not have the numbers to satisfy politics, but they could form the core of such a group.” Eve raised an eyebrow, and the Anshin shrugged. “Please forgive me. The Anshin are not meant to meddle.”

Alex snorted something like a chuckle. “Alice certainly appreciates your meddling. So do I, for that matter.” With a shift so profound Alex felt Sara’s Woven blessings flow through him, a memory popped to the surface of his thoughts. “You said something about bastions, when we got back from the Magnarium…”

“Ooo, busted,” Marie giggled, while Eve’s eyebrow inched up further.

After casting an aggrieved glance over his shoulder, Akira sighed. “During most cycles of cosmic civilization, the elder powers encourage the formation of a heroic Majestic order to defend those societies. With the current cycle near its end, there is no such order. The name most commonly used for this force translates as ‘Bastion,’ as in bastions of majestas.”

This time, there wasn’t so much a shift as a blow, the idea striking Alex with thunderous force. “Bastion Knights,” he said, feeling almost possessed as the words formed.

“I believe that martial appellations are generally avoided…” Akira trailed off, watching Alex curiously. Eve stood, and Marie practically bounced around the angel to beam a grin at the Blaze Prime.

“It’s perfect!” Marie gushed. “Don’t mistake me, I love the Seekers, but people like us have never really fit with them.”

Eve nodded, almost as much to herself as the others. “Knights,” she observed with quiet force, “will need Swords.”

“Okay, what did I miss?” Powerstar asked, Alice and David just behind as they approached.

“Whoa, everybody slow down,” Alex objected gently, holding up his hands. “There’s a metric ton of organizing and political ground work to do, not to mention figuring out our niche in the Alliance.”

Eve shrugged. “That seems obvious. Ghost Dragons fight quietly. When the Vortex screams, we will be there to silence them.”

“They’re not the only loud bad guys, either,” Powerstar added.

David grinned, stepping around to face the superhero. “Wait, so you’ve got a rogue’s gallery? We’ve got to compare notes.”

“Okay,” Alex jumped in, squelching the unnerving sensation trying to slither up his spine, “I think we all need to take a step back here.” Sara glanced at him, then excused herself and started heading in his direction. “I wouldn’t have said anything if I didn’t think it was a good idea, but we don’t even have a group, let alone a leader.”

Marie folded her hands behind her, and flashed Alex her brightest smile. “Well, we’re in, right, Eve, ‘Star?” The other two Blaze-wielders nodded. “And I’d say we’ve got a leader right here.”

“Wait, what?” Alex blurted, then groaned.

Sara grinned gently and put an arm around his shoulders. “Congratulations, Captain Bastion,” she quipped. Alex sighed deeply. “Hey, we’ve got your back. Besides, it’ll be better for everyone concerned if we join the Allies, right? At least this way, we can join on our terms.”

“Yeah, if we can sell this to them,” Alex noted. “I’m nobody.”

“Hardly, Deleon,” Eve insisted. “You may not be connected to any one faction, but you’ve proven yourselves to the Alliance. Marie is a Seeker, I’m a Sword, and Powerstar’s been independent long enough to spook a lot of people.”

“They’re right,” Molly insisted, and Alex forced himself not to jump at her sudden appearance. Ghost Dragon, he reminded himself wearily. “I know you’ve heard this many times, but I don’t think you appreciate what it means to have held off the Skeptic on your first day.”

Marie’s jaw dropped. “He did what?” Eve said, surprisingly quiet.

“The who, now?” Powerstar blurted.

Even Alex chuckled.

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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