They’re beautiful, Ekaida thought, leaning against the cabin wall, feeling how much a home it had become to her rescuers.
Powerstar and his mortal love were in a corner, cuddling while she scrolled through countless screens of reactions on her tablet. Rose, Alex, and Councillor Nicole were discussing the particulars and ramifications of the still-healing Schism with considerable animation. Akira and Sara observed with subdued amusement, occasionally sharing annotations. Molly was shaking her head, smiling through a facepalm, as Nicole’s friend David reenacted some of the stadium battle’s more impressive blows. Eve was speaking with Lucas, another member of Nicole’s band, in a far corner. Maxwell and Victor were talking in a corner, Victor’s gentle smile in stark contrast to the genderfluid warrior’s unsteady gaze.
Marie emerged from the kitchen with a small plate laden with sugar-covered beignets, heading for Ekaida herself. When Ekaida raised an eyebrow, taking a sip of the delightful coffee Deleon had brewed, Ms. Perrault giggled and shrugged. “I know, as a Frenchwoman, I’m supposed to turn up my nose at American variations on my homeland’s delicacies, but I can’t help it, they’re yummy.” It appears my attempts to be attractive were successful. The Daimani wore a form as close to her birth flesh as she could remember. Swarthy, curvaceous, with long black hair matching her short black dress, Ekaida remembered kings falling to their knees in awe of her. I would have thought, in this era, I would be told to lose weight.
Ekaida accepted a beignet. “You are an enlightened young lady, Ms. Perrault, and if you are trying to flirt, you’re off to an excellent start.” Marie smiled and blushed, looking away. As I thought. Well, she is cute. The Daimani glanced at Lucas, her Vision talent letting her see the echoes of his ancestor’s curse around him. “First, though, if you would kindly satisfy my curiosity, where were the rest of your ‘Vortex Smasher’ friends yesterday?”
“David and Nicole were helping Lucas deal with Iron Wolf’s curse,” Marie explained, shrugging. Ekaida hissed before she could stop herself. That Nazi bastard, she swore. Murdering a man for winning while black. Eisenwulf’s death was too swift. Flashes of memory swallowed the Daimani for an instant: Doc Powers fighting Eisenwulf atop a mountain fortress in ’43, cinnamon on Powers’ lips as the hero’s eyes widened in surprise in newly-liberated Paris, far sight finding the Nazi too late as his claws pierced the doctor’s fearless heart a year after war’s end.
She suppressed the flashback with a grip of diamond will, returning her attention to the present and Marie. The half-Anshin heroine was checking on the murderous wolf’s noble descendant. “Hopefully,” Marie sighed, “it’s gone for good this time, but we’ve thought that before.” She blinked at Ekaida, then turned a wide, gleaming smile on her. “So, about that flirting.”
“One step at a time,” Ekaida demurred, putting down her coffee and stroking the lady’s cheek. “I need time to recover from West’s betrayal,” she said, and Marie’s jaw fell, apology already forming, “though not as much as a mortal would, so you can stow any budding guilt. “When I am ready, if you remain available, we will speak again on the subject.”
Marie nodded. “Don’t worry about the availability. I’m not the settling down type.”
Neither was Clara, Ekaida mused, the lack of pain at memory of her lost love comforting. “For now, I seek the Weaver and her knight.” Marie nodded, and Ekaida worked her way to the ongoing Schism discussion.
“…still festering in humanity’s collective Vision,” Alice explained. The Captain levitated a fresh cup of coffee to the table. “Thanks, hon. We’ve got a lot of work to do yet, and some people are still going to get wonky around us. Still, no one even remembers a victory this big. The world knows about us. We can teach people about majestas, maybe even help people reach their Majestic potential. There’s no downplaying the awesome of that.”
“We should be cautious all the same,” Nicole warned, and Ekaida suppressed a nod. They don’t know what else is out there, where the Vortex Lords really come from, the Elder Dragon realized. “Not everyone is ready for us. They still squabble over differences of pure perception. Majestic powers are real, and will require sea changes in law and culture to address. Those are serious challenges, and the fearful and exploitative will have their usual painful non-solutions.”
“So we need to be ready with good answers,” Alice replied, looking up at Ekaida. “Hey, big gal, you’ve been at this long enough to have given it some thought, right?”
Ekaida shook her head. “Not in centuries,” she admitted. “There were eras where I considered the notion, but until yesterday, the Schism was getting worse, not better. The ideas of the witch or wizard, demigod and dragon, were more accepted in ancient times. My solutions are for worlds that no longer exist.” She held up a hand. “I will join your council momentarily. Might I borrow Miss Taylor and Mr. Deleon for a moment?”
Sara laughed and stood. Alex nodded and joined them. Ekaida led them outside, the Schism discussion bursting back to life behind them. “Okay,” Sara said the moment the door closed, “let’s start with the easy one. You want to flirt with Alex, go for it, but he’s a boy scout.” Alex gaped, mouth working wordlessly. Sara chuckled and hugged him. “Sorry, love, it was too easy.”
“Perhaps another time,” Ekaida demurred. “While I wish to express my gratitude to you both, and Wonder Rose most of all, there are other ways, and Marie has moved to the front of the queue.” Sara moved to speak, and the Daimani held up a hand. “Please, let me finish.” As one, the humans nodded. “Thank you. It will be nearly a century before I can repay West for what he did to me. Until then, I cannot fight him directly, nor those carrying the energy of his Vision. That does not mean I am incapable of joining you in battle.” Ekaida’s fingers ached, and she looked down to find she was wringing her hands. Oh, Maker’s Forge. She forced her arms to her sides, shaking them out. “Once I have had some time to grapple with what I have done and what was done to me, I hope you will give me a chance to rejoin you.”
Sara hugged Alex, glancing up at him. The Bastion – I would have thought him unready for this, but the Captain seems to grasp his role better than I imagined – held out a hand. Ekaida blinked and accepted it. “This is your home,” he said, “whenever you want it to be.”
For a few seconds, Ekaida stared. I can’t be at a loss for words. That doesn’t happen. Impulse drove her to hug them both, letting the Daimani hide tears that threatened to burst free. Okay, maybe it does. Distantly, she felt her embrace returned twofold. “You belong among the stars,” she whispered, Vision showing her a possible future. There, they held one another while they watched the setting of a sun forged by cosmic gods. Maker, let this Dream be real, she prayed, her first since Clara died. “One day, I mean to see you among them.” When they let her go, she grinned and turned into a huge golden eagle, flying towards the horizon. *Until then,* she sent, *be well, and ready. The future is always stranger, and more wondrous, than we imagine.*