Ch. 14.1 – Alex

“Oh my God,” Alex breathed.

Alice Robinson, in full Majestic Champion Wonder Rose attire, held a breastplate out for him. It was brilliant sapphire blue, with three golden disks forming an upright triangle. The plate itself harmonized with his Blaze power, while each disk provided protection from a different element: one each for Vision, Rift and Weaving. It was edged with red trim that hummed faintly with healing Anima energy. “Yeah, and this isn’t even the best part,” she said, winking. “Put it on.”

Alex obeyed. The moment the armor clicked into place, he felt the Blaze surge around him. With a flicker of will, power rushed from the plate, and he was armored in light metal that overflowed with Majestic force. Like the original chest piece, it was blue with red trim, with a small golden disk on each shoulder and hip. A blue cape hung from the pauldrons, a hint of feathering where it ended around the knees, and Alex sensed it caressing the air. One thought, and it becomes wings, he realized. “How long did this take you?” he asked, incredulous.

“A few months,” Alice replied. “It wasn’t a big deal, really.” Alex felt his jaw sag. Sara grinned and gently lifted it, teeth clicking together. Maxwell lounged on a sofa, munching on a bar of Swiss chocolate, while Molly stood by the door looking casually indomitable. “Your talent wants to flow with armor. Anyway, that’s field mode.” Alice tapped one shoulder with her wand. “Concentrate on it being a uniform.”

Once again, Alex followed her lead, and the armor changed. The conjured plates and helmet became white with blue trim, shrinking slightly. The scale mail between them turned into white cloth, flowing into a white military-style jacket with blue embroidery and gold buttons. Only the cape remained unchanged. “Wow. I almost look good.” Sara slapped him on the back of the head, then swore and shook her hand. He couldn’t help a smile once she Wove away the sting, admiring how regal the Weaver looked in her elegant, long black dress.

“You look fine, Cap,” Alice retorted. “Now you’re ready.”

Looking around, Alex wasn’t so sure. I’ve never been outside the States before, and now I’m in a Swiss castle, about to meet the top wizard and psychic in the world. He bit back a chuckle. Well, at least in the non-jerk category. The castle was exquisite, with vaulting wooden arches atop pillars of ancient stone. The floor was an off-white that hinted at subtle rainbows of color. This place would probably kill the Skeptic if he tried to walk in. It’s right out of a fairy tale. He, Sara, and Molly walked out of the sitting room to Max and Alice’s encouraging waves, down the waiting hall. He stopped when he noticed the pair standing outside the room where Chairman Schnyder and Professor Nehru waited. One was a black woman in an exquisite purple robe, the other an East Asian man in a pristine, sculpted gray business suit. To his surprise, they both smiled and nodded. He bowed slightly back.

They stepped aside. Gathering his courage, Alex Deleon, Captain Bastion, marched to his destiny.

* * *

Well. Didn’t see that coming, Alex mused, crushing the storm of nerves in his belly.

Molly stood beside Schnyder, conferring with the Councilor, while Ms. Nehru chatted with the suited man from outside in the room’s far corner. The purple-robed woman sat at the table with Alex and Sara, making notes.

*Why is Molly with them?* Sara sent, a frantic river of thought clamped down beneath a veneer of iron shadow. *She’s not going all Ghost Dragon on us, is she?*

Alex radiated as much calm as he could gather. *She is a Ghost Dragon, Sara. I’m sure she’s on our side, but the Alliance is obviously important to her.* Sara radiated mutinous frustration back at him, watching Molly with worried disappointment. Alex narrowed their Vision bond before her emotions could meld with his any further.

“Thank you, Molly,” Schnyder said, and after taking a half-step towards Nehru’s chair, he sat down. “Shall we begin?”

“Only after I note your continuing difficulty restraining your chivalrous impulses, Michel,” Nehru quipped, smiling as she sat down beside him. “It’s sweet.”

Schnyder rolled his eyes. “My colleague here is Marie Wenezoui,” he explained, indicating the robed woman. “Lakshmi’s companion is Liang Hui Gao, representing the Seekers Eternal.” The Councilor smiled slightly. “Ms. Dunn, you know.” Molly nodded curtly, still standing.

“I am here as Professor Nehru’s advisor,” Liang explained, a single chuckle escaping him. “Some felt that each of the Four Allies should have a presence, but my union — the Seekers — is notoriously politics-averse.”

“Unlike the Council Majestic,” Wenezoui added dryly, clasping her hands and glancing mildly at Schnyder, “for which it is as mother’s milk.”

“The disdain for politics is a tragedy based on its misuse by domineering villains,” Schnyder insisted. “That is sheer folly, as domineering villains will use any and all tools at their disposal.”

“Shall we begin?” Molly cut in. Her voice was quiet and reserved, but even Mr. Schnyder and Ms. Nehru glanced in her direction.

Alex took a deep breath, let it go, then glanced at the Councilor and the Oracle. Schnyder and Nehru looked at each other, then nodded to the Prime. “Thank you. Foremost among your concerns is likely a fifth member of your alliance, falling like a stone into the political pond you just described.”

Schnyder began to nod, but stopped cold at Nehru’s dismissing wave. “My dear boy,” the Oracle noted, “that is barely a concern. Whatever issue we might have with your proposed Bastions, you have proved yourself a person of noble intent and wise action.”

“An entire order cannot be judged by a single leader,” Schnyder objected, “let alone based upon them. Should they join, the Bastion Knights will have a role in Alliance decision-making.”

“Here we go,” Sara sighed. Schnyder’s gaze fell on her, cool and disapproving. “Don’t give me that look, Switzerland. There’s practically no chance you didn’t plan this ahead of time, which means you’re playing good cop/bad cop.” She smirked. “Or is this amateur hour?” Alex forced himself not to groan.

“A discussion between adults,” Nehru retorted, “often involves the resolution of differing opinions. It usually involves some attempt at being polite, as well.” The Oracle’s smile was as frosty as Schnyder’s stare. “Have you come to contribute, or simply snipe from afar, as ever?”

Sara raised one eyebrow. “I’m here, aren’t I, prof?” She glanced at Alex. “I’m still dubious, but this is your show, Captain.”

“Good to know,” Alex quipped back. “Okay,” he continued more evenly, glancing at Schnyder, “let me try again. At the very least, I’ve learned that Majestics with a predilection for Blaze often have trouble fitting in with the Four Allies. Can we agree that an order or union that gave them a place and a role would be good for everyone?”

“Not necessarily,” Nehru replied. Schnyder nodded. Alex carefully didn’t sigh. It’s going to be a long day.

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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