Ch. 12.3 – Victor

Victor was cold.

With a demigod and an amazon fighting a freight train of a dragon, a witch and a vampire protecting him from a telepathic mastermind, and a magical girl holding off four men in black, he thought it an odd thing to notice. Still, he was wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, the night air was chilly, and it was the first time he’d been outside in — weeks? Months? Definitely months, he decided wearily.

Victor remembered being exercised through magical puppetry, not permitted freedom even when he was released from the slab. Music and television had been his rewards for obedience. Punishments had become a merciful blur. I’m not going back, he decided. Whatever’s blocking my spacial Rifts isn’t stopping me from doing other things. He reached out, fingers dancing through the air. Ekaida slowed, time itself rippling around her. It felt frustrated. I’m sorry, he thought to the continuum. It won’t be long. One way or another. Again Victor attacked the shield between his mind and the gateway within it. It was like scratching at steel with his nails.

“Sara, I don’t think his block is Weaving,” Max noted, androgynous enough that Victor couldn’t guess a gender. Max stood at Victor’s side, claws extended, eyes pulsing red, long hair flowing in the breeze.

“I know,” Sara retorted, her hands moving much like Victor’s did when he beckoned to space and time. Instead of commanding the weft of the continuum, though, she conjured strands of the reality that made up everything — objects and the emptiness that held them alike. Travis responded with his all-too-familiar power, conquering spirit waging war against a liberating destiny. “It’s Travesty, he’s programmed Victor with Vision blocks.”

Max growled in frustration, scanning the battlefield. “I could swap with Rose, try to buy her time to un-whammy Vic.”

“Here?” Sara’s eyes widened, and a pulse of her gift — Weaving, Victor realized, the word forming in his mind — had them all ducking when Bastion, Dunn and Ekaida flew overhead, the massive Daimani hammering at both would-be rescuers. “Even Wonder Rose needs time to do her thing. I might be able to do something, but…” The Weaver hissed and spoke in a language Victor didn’t recognize, almost dancing in place. Her magic blocked a psychic storm of claws and chains West sent at them, if just barely.

Again, Sara gaped, head whipping up to watch the incoming helicopter. Victor’s chill deepened when he saw her shudder, jaw trembling. “It’s the Skeptic,” she whispered, taking a step back.

Max gasped, shaking as badly as Sara had. Holy…after West and Ekaida, they’re afraid of a skeptic? Victor let his own gift reach out, peering at the reinforcements he’d forgotten until then. Eight men and women in black military garb were packed tight in the vehicle, but in their center was a ninth. Except this figure — he’s the Skeptic, he has to be, Victor realized, his scrying leaving the young Prime as frightened as his protectors — didn’t have the feel of anything human. The body was ordinary enough, if extremely fit, and somewhere deep within was the spark of humanity, but between the shell of flesh and the remnant of soul was the antithesis of all Sara’s enchantment. The cold, gray figure was somehow the opposite of them all, even Travis — a pitiless engine of weaponized banality. “What do we do?” Victor whispered.

“Sara, do what you can,” Max replied, then dove into shadow. He leaped out of the darkness around Travis, slashing at the telepath wildly. West grunted, reaching out with his hand and making a fist. Max screamed and became male, a pale, thin figure that shocked Victor in how similar the vampire — Reanimate? — was to himself.

After an instant’s indecision, Sara turned to Victor, holding out one hand. Victor took it, and felt them both still trembling. “How long do you need?” she asked.

“You mean being free?” Victor tried to smile for her. He could feel it waver, but refused to give up on it. “All I need is an instant. The continuum is my companion, my friend. Give me an opening, and I’ll get everyone out, I promise.”

Sara glanced away. Bastion and Molly retreated briefly, dodging Ekaida’s wild, grasping talons. Then Bastion darted over the two Primes, a crackling dome of sapphire motes forming around them. Sara nodded, and glanced briefly at the Ghost Dragon fighting alone against the ancient behemoth. Then she placed her hands on the sides of Victor’s head.

All at once, Victor could feel the block. It was like a massive bruise, a sore, blocky lump that was stuck inside his head and protruding from it at the same time. Even while overwhelming Max’s will, Travis had already turned his attention to keeping the shield in place. No, not a shield, Victor realized. A door. A massive vault door, but he needs it to open sometimes. Sara’s Weaving threaded through the locks, forced the wheel to turn. Victor felt his captor try to resist, but the Rift master threw everything he had into making the door open. Knowledge flowed down from Bastion, and a strange trick let Victor turn his Rift-making gift inward. It’s just another locked door, he realized. The first thing I ever used my magic for was getting away from locked doors. Just like that, the block was somewhere else, and Victor was free.

The first thing Victor did was slow time inside his head. Once it was almost completely stopped, the Rift Prime examined his surroundings. Sara had just started to smile, the worry lines around her eyes smoothing. Above them, Bastion had gathered power in a kaleidoscope of beauty to deflect the first wave of the Skeptic’s death-gray assault. The other battles on the roof were easy enough to track, with Max barely able to move and Wonder Rose as unmistakable as her name implied. The one they called the Ghost Dragon was the trickiest. Ekaida had struck Molly across the torso with her massive tail, and the human warrior was about to tumble wildly through the air. Victor concentrated, taking almost a minute in his mind, with none of the others having had time to blink. He compensated for Dunn’s momentum, neutralized the force of the blow, and brought her into the web of connections he’d constructed.

With that, they all vanished.

* * *

“Where are we?” Max breathed, looking from the lush, vivid green of the jungle behind them to the turquoise water lapping at the beach around them.

Victor shrugged. “Somewhere near the Solomon Islands. It’s quiet and private. I don’t know which country it belongs to.” He rubbed his head. “Block’s gone — thanks, Sara — so I can get us out of here whenever you want, but the first time I came here, I wanted to be somewhere safe, as far away from the pain and hate as possible.” He looked around, with eyes and Rift alike, and sat down heavily on the sand. “We should be okay here for a while.”

“‘Okay,'” Rose drawled. “That’s one way of putting it.”

Bastion walked up to Victor, the armor dissolving to reveal a Captain Beacon T-shirt and blue jeans. I can’t get over how normal he looks, Victor mused. “How are you managing, Victor?”

Victor’s smile broadened, and he let himself lay on the warm, gentle sand. As it had two years before, it felt like freedom, like peace. “I’ll probably be a wreck later,” he admitted, “but right now? I’m great. I’m home.”

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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