Ch. 10.2 – Alex

Alex grunted and fell back a step. The volley of Quadrum force-bursts hammering his shield were bad enough, but each bolt carried with it a knot of soul-numbing emptiness. He cast a second layer of Blaze into his barrier, and rainbow bands rippled out with each strike. The displays seemed to ward off the worst of the desensitizing blasts. “God. The Skeptic must love these guys.”

“The Quadrum aren’t that far gone,” Sara explained, Weaving desperately to bolster Alex’s defenses. “Thank the Goddess.”

“Maybe not,” Alex hissed, “but they have gear he could only dream of.” With a flash of willpower, the Blaze-knight shot out a tendril of crackling energy. His lash wrapped around one of the Quadrum soldier’s blocky rifles, squeezed for a few seconds, and finally crushed its barrel. The weapon whined and died. The soldier merely whined.

*Remember,* Sara sent, *I’m supposed to get captured.*

Alex tried a mix of Adapted Blaze, flowing it beneath the Quadrum and erupting semi-liquid concrete around them. He let go, and the substance cemented around their armor, trapping the aliens. *Not by them,* he replied emphatically.

The four soldiers grunted, and bursts of force erupted from their armor, shattering their prisons. Then Molly and Max hit them, and the Quadrum were too busy to attack anyone else.

From behind Alex, Rose tapped his field with the bottom end of her wand, and he extended the bubble around her. “Handy,” the magical girl said with a grin, which vanished quickly. “We have more inbound. Another Quadrum squad from the other direction, some Mandate agents approaching behind them.”

“Wonderful,” Alex sighed, firing a tight beam of electric disruption at one of the Quadrum fighting Molly and Max. “What are they doing?”

Rose’s smile returned. “Well, the new Quadrum are fighting off a serious case of which-way-is-upism.” She traced a symbol in the air with Life Blossom, one Alex didn’t recognize. Vision defenses flowed into his Blaze shield. “The Mandate thugs have pretty tough mind shields around them, more travesties from the gift that keeps on giving.”

“West,” Sara whispered. “Not good.” Her fingers plucked at invisible strings, playing the Weave with subtle mastery. *Well, actually, it is good, but let’s not tell them that,* she added psychically.

*For varying definitions of good,* Alex grumbled telepathically. “Wait,” he said, turning and looking down the hall they’d come in from. “Anyone else feel that?”

“Yes,” Sara and Rose said in unison.

Rose glanced at Sara, chuckled, and traced an infinity symbol in the air with her rose blossom wand. “The Complex guys are doing something.” She gasped and gripped her wand fiercely. “Wait, are they helping the Quadrum?”

“What?” Sara gasped. “Why would any humans help them?”

Alex glanced sideways at his companions. “The Complex wants us ignorant. The Quadrum want to feed on us. They both want us docile. They wouldn’t make common cause?”

Rose and Sara stared at Alex with twin expressions of horror. Then Rose shook her head. “No. Not the Complex as a whole. That’s too far, even for them.” She braced herself, planting her feet, gathering her Majestic power. “West, on the other hand…”

Sara whimpered. Alex kept his expression carefully neutral. *Too much?* Sara asked mentally.

*A little, I think,* Alex replied. Through their link, he could sense that she wasn’t really worried. Definitely not as much as I’d like, anyway, he brooded.

Then a wave of Weaving, Adaptation and Anima hammered into them, and Alex felt dizzy and weak. The sensation was exacerbated by the Vision bond, Alex feeling Sara and Rose struck by the same power. “Life drain wave,” Rose explained, “but stronger than anything I’ve ever felt! Even the Quadrum can’t – they’re working together!”

“It’s a trap!” Alex snarled, and he Conducted all the Blaze energy he could gather into a single counter-strike.

*Alex, remember the plan!* Sara blurted in his mind. She Wove desperately, her workings ragged and feeble. That’s deliberate. I hope, Alex thought. *Max, as soon as they have me, get the team out of here!* The Reanimate radiated a mutinous discontent, but poured his Rift Talent into the shadows around them while Molly covered him. They only had three Quadrum foes left, one of whom wavered on his feet. *Yes, good, make it look like you’re trying to get me out too.*

Then the Quadrum soldiers and human agents used a Rift of their own, appearing right in front of the trio. A rip in space tore at Alex’s shield. After a moment’s stubborn denial, Alex gasped and fell back, his force field bursting with an explosive crash. All four humans piled onto Sara, while the Quadrum divided themselves between Alex and Rose.

Alex flung one into the ceiling, but the other clamped powerful hands around his neck. They only had four fingers each, but the fingers were thicker and more muscular than a human’s, and the alien’s armor resisted Alex’s Blaze powers. He glanced at Rose, who was holding off both of her assailants – barely – with waves of deadening Vision from her wand. Alex’s attention returned to Sara.

One of the Mandate agents pulled her bracelet from her wrist. Sara barely had time to shout “No!” before she and all four of her attackers vanished.

Alex screamed a roar and brought lightning down on the Quadrum. When the alien only shuddered, the Bastion-to-be redoubled the bolt’s power. Twice. The Quadrum’s fingers flew away from his neck as the world went blue-white from the brilliant display. Once Alex could see again, the alien was lying face-down on the floor, body smoking and unmoving, but breathing.

Then the world went dark, and Alex flailed in a sea of shadow with no up or down. It only lasted an instant, and then the four teammates were on the rooftop they’d retreated to after the Vortex Beast. Alex fell to his knees, gasping, fists clenched.

*It’s a good thing losing Sara was the plan,* Rose noted dully. *That was…unpleasant.*

Molly walked over to Alex, kneeled beside him, and gently placed her fingertips on his throat. Alex retracted his armor to let her touch it directly. “Easy, Bastion. Quadrum are strong, but you’ll be all right.” To Rose, she added, *Sara would never have come along on that if that hadn’t been the plan. Speaking of which, can anyone sense her? I’m not picking anything up.*

Alex nodded. Max and Rose both looked at him in surprise. *Sara and I performed an…extra ritual last week. I can feel her.* Molly raised an eyebrow. *It was intimate, but we didn’t go that far.* He concentrated. *She’s about…halfway across the country. East-southeast, I’d call it.*

It was Molly’s turn to look surprised. *West’s corporate headquarters is in Houston, but that’s insane.*

*That’s hubris,* Alex replied, standing with a helping hand from the Ghost Dragon. “Thanks.” He scanned the horizon to the east. *He’s cocked himself at an arrogant angle.* The Blaze Prime’s eyes narrowed as he felt Sara in the distance. *Let’s go knock him down.*

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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