Song of the Earth

Night falls, and time marches inexorably on. The surviving members of the Avengers, plus allies, make their way out of Tippecanoe, Dylan driving them toward Chicago. The Virtual AdeptsWill, Linda, and Kate—meet in the Web to discuss the information they got from Jessica. They think they have enough to finally access the Network in less than a day’s work. Kate and Linda talk Will into sleeping in the next 24 hours, in shifts starting with Kate (in London).

They stop off in a hotel in Gary, an Indiana exurb of Chicago. Most of the cabal needs rest if not sleep, either from physical wounds sustained or from leaving their mentor for dead. Jacob is however is alert and wants to contribute—he and Sapphira drive Eleanor’s old vehicle into Chicago (because she won’t let him touch it) to see if any of his old pack, excluding Kianna, are willing to help him. They return a few hours later with Cudro. Jacob gives him his coffin-closet and returns to the crawlspace.

America works late into the night. Ever since her confrontation with Jahan, when she took his life to save Davey’s (for another week), her understanding has advanced dramatically. What once took her months she completes in hours, armed with the ability to shape metal and other matter. She incorporates Davey’s periapts and weaponry into a new armor.

In the morning, Will and the Adepts have a few questions for Alex, or more specifically Ada Lovelace, as she had previously studied the Network in their paradigm. He finds Alex cooking breakfast. Alex is at first hesitant—as is Ada, as these Adepts are not Technocrats—but his Avatar (in Nadira’s form) coerces him:

“You are never to match what you were, yet alone exceed it, if you don’t embrace your greatest creation.” Nadira seizes his hand, and no matter how he tries to pull away, his Avatar’s grip is inviolable. “Don’t speculate on what others might do—this is your birthright, and you need to accept it.” She moved the frying pan, and places his hand down on the active burner. As Alex screams, she holds it there, letting his flesh sear until he agrees to allow Will access to the spirit. From Will’s perspective, it looks like Alex just puts his hand down onto a burner and holds it there for several seconds.

That afternoon, Daniel decides to go seek answers from Kite, unsatisfied with what he knows. Alex, who has realized his Avatar is concerned with only his spiritual advancement and utterly unconcerned with the potential ramifications of the Network, goes with him. They don’t return, not that they are expected.

The Avengers—along with Kate—are expecting the Nephandi to come after them. Dylan keeps them moving, away from previously-established stomping grounds, driving them south. America makes whatever domestic preparations she can for an attack, moving Will into her more easily-fortified lab. Cécile shows up wherever Linda is, disturbing the introverted Adept, but she can’t really turn down a multi-Master protector. Kate insists that her boyfriend, Kibo, is sufficient protection—not to mention she’s an Adept of Correspondence in her own right.

At America’s urging, Kate and Sapphira both contact other allies to act as decoys—Sapphira in her hometown of Detroit and the Verbena in Cincinnati, Kate with other netizens to drive around places the Nephandi would be looking for them—like Davenport, Chicago, St Louis. The Avengers stick to a circuitous route around and over the Mississippi—some things with the Nephandi are confused or halted by travels over bodies of water.

The Avengers manage to misdirect and evade until evening, when they are ambushed on the road by werewolves outside of Memphis. America, Sapphira, and Sonia, chiefly, manage to repel them (even if Jacob accidentally shoots Cudro in the confrontation—at least, out of everyone he could have shot, Cudro takes the least damage from it). They turn around, back into the city and away from the open roads, when they are attacked by actual Nephandi. The chantry takes several direct hits, getting knocked off a bridge by several rounds of explosives (Will’s inert body knocked around while the rest of the Avengers fight); however, like any VW, the chantry floats, giving them time to defeat and drive away their attackers.

Will, Kate, and Linda can tell multiple other users are trying to access the Network at the same time; most seem to be using a Technocratic focus, but Will and Kate work out one of them is Christine. With Octavia gone, Christine is really the most experienced left on the Nephandus’ side. Bypassing several safety protocols, she beats Will to be the first one to access the Network in over a century—and the resulting rush of power doesn’t just burn her alive, it gilguls her.

Jerusha, who had been focusing some of her power to help Christine, is at a loss—there are several Technocratic Nephandi working on the problem, but it’s not a paradigm she can understand or participate in. Luckily James takes over, providing leadership and strategy, reassuring the Technocrats and reaffirming that they know what they’re doing.

A third, much greater force begins gathering, and the Avengers are driven north, back on the highway toward St. Louis.

“You need to vent any excess power,” James instructs the Void Engineers, “So you don’t end up like her.” Nobody needs to be told who ‘her’ is. “This is what Octavia was doing. Use these coordinates—44.428 N, 110.586 W.”

As no one’s trying to kill them for a hot minute, Jacob puts the TV on so he can ‘watch 1992 die.’ “10, 9, 8…” They count down in Times Square, an hour ahead of the cabal.

Sapphira and America are aware they’re being driven but don’t have an immediate choice. Jianyu, though, connects where they’re going. “This is New Madrid.”

“Isn’t that where Tecumseh’s earthquake was centered?” Sapphira asks, but she’s talking to the air, for both America and Jianyu are gone.

“7, 6, 5, 4…”

Will and Linda, in their turn, find themselves involuntarily disconnected from the Web, just as Will realizes there’s a problem with the code.

“3, 2, 1…”

“There’s a problem at one of the work sites,” James informs Jerusha. He hands her a sheet of technobabble he knows she doesn’t have the requisite knowledge to understand. “This means?” She asks him, trying to hand the paper back.

“Just take us here,” James insists, pointing at the coordinates. Trusting him as he’s gotten them this far, she takes James through a threshold…

…And winds up in a ring of stones in the middle of a vast winter wilderness. Nearby, hot springs burble. “What?” She wonders, turning around to see James collapsing the archway. “Where are—NO!” The demon screams, attempting to throw herself through the threshold, but there’s no doorway with which to travel through. James is laughing now, a hysterical belly laugh that makes tears run down his face as he clutches his midsection.

“Happy New Year!”

One by one, America, Jianyu, Sonia, Will, Ren, Jacob, and Linda find themselves teleported into a room of vast monitors, Alex and Daniel conspicuous in their absence. Some of them only Will and Linda understand—readouts of the Network, its power level, their progress accessing it. Some of them, like satellite views of North America and the western United States, any of them can see. Some are strange—tectonic readouts?

They are not alone. The seven find themselves face-to-face with a smiling Kate, satisfaction smug over her features. “Game over. You lose.”

The entire payload of the Network detonates beneath the Yellowstone Caldera.

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