Song of the Earth

Sedna creates 4 different dimensions, all tied to Xifeng and Kouamé. She can’t predict everything a Marauder might do (or outmatch him in Time) but she can allow for everything and pick the version of events she prefers. So long as Xifeng and/or Kouamé remain alive, she can collapse the other three dimensions and select the victorious one. Sedna might be an Archmage.

Events in each dimension mirror each other. In one world, Joshua kills Sonia and Alex before they can escape from the Umbra, trapping Jianyu on the other side. Joshua and Jahan join forces to push Will’s sanity and turn him Marauder, leaving Daniel the only survivor of the encounter. In another, Joshua is able to corrupt the spirit of Cincinnati, who possesses Jianyu. Daniel, Will, America, and Alex are all killed in the encounter, leaving Sonia as the only survivor. Sedna rapidly removes Xifeng and Kouamé from Cincinnati in both of these dimensions, leaving their teams to get slaughtered by either the Marauder trifecta or two Marauders and the city of Cincinnati itself.

The teams are more successful in the other dimensions. Alex and Sonia are able to cross over with little interference while the Technocrats distract Joshua, and Alex is able to help Jianyu contact the spirit of Cincinnati for help. In both worlds, the false Cadence kills the Technocrats dispatched to rescue Ben, and the Technocracy isn’t able to expend more resources to go after him immediately. In both dimensions, Cincinnati is able to absorb Joshua, one with much more difficulty than the other, although the battleground travels to the historic PNC Tower in the process. _In one dimension, most of the cabal is non-lethally incapacitated. All Technocratic combatants (except Brendon, Xifeng, Lacey, and Thomas) and the cabal (excluding Davey and the chantry) are brought by Cincinnati through to the Tower, and all of them are summarily and violently defeated. The city is thrown into chaos and rioting through the madness effects of Joshua and psychic wounds inflicted on the spirit of Cincinnati before the Marauder is sealed away.

Jahan tries to kill America in retribution (even though Alex, Charlotte, and Siera are more directly and visibly responsible for removing Joshua). She is rescued by her mother, Sapphira Wilson, finally well enough to make good on America’s faith in her.

Sapphira confronts him with the fact that he’s a Marauder and has finally betrayed Will and the rest of his cabal, like every Marauder. Jahan insists he is a lucid Marauder and has control over all aspects of himself. Sapphira challenges to prove it, producing a cobra. “If you’re so sure you have complete control over yourself, then this shouldn’t harm you at all.” Jahan agrees, and while he is magically distracted neutralizing the venom, Sapphira guts him with her hands and knocks the stunned teenager off the tower with a vulgar fireball._

*In the other world, the cabal is able to take Joshua down, without Cincinnati needing to bring the Technocracy along… with the exception of Xifeng Lin. In this world it is ultimately Daniel and Jianyu, not Alex and the Technocrats, who shut Joshua away (after Xifeng disrupts his connection to the world by rejecting him, something she did not have the opportunity in any other world). And in this world, Jahan blames Will, deciding to system restore Will to a version that didn’t know he was a Marauder, a version that never really existed, in the vein of his construct Cadence. Will is rescued by Matt Coronas, returned to Cincinnati after three months. With some difficulty, Matt is able to overpower Jahan and kick him off the tower. Mountjoy appears after.

Matt is angry at Mountjoy. He brought him and Jahan’s unsuspecting mother. The plan was for him to be distracted by her so Mountjoy could blast him off the tower while he was engaged with Matt. Mountjoy refused to let Matt kill Tamara’s son in front of her, and knocked her out inside. Most of the cabal is disgusted with Matt but he defends himself saying that the longer both Marauders lived, the more likely it was others would die or be corrupted.*

As soon as he is sure he is dead, Jahan picks himself off the street of Cincinnati. He wipes his body off the sidewalk and tries to put the parts of himself that fell out back inside, but decides he doesn’t need them, his will reshaping the integrity of his form. The Prime-sensing Mages (and Sapphira and Matt, in the dimension they are present) sense the power he’s drawing on the street below, but he escapes before he can be pursued.

_In the another world, Matt appears, bringing with him Mountjoy and Brendon. He explains Jahan’s madness has “grown stronger than I ever imagined, stronger than life itself. He will soon match Joshua in power.” Any attempt so salvage his soul will fail—he’s not even truly alive.

Kouamé, who has recovered consciousness, knows when the Juncture ends Sedna will have to choose a dimension, and almost everyone is dead in two of the others. Sonia asks if Jahan can even be killed, to which Matt replies, “It must be metal. Metal is the only thing he fears, and the only thing that can destroy him.”

Kouamé relays this information to the other Technocrats, who make a last-ditch effort to stop him. Thomas Way approaches him while he wanders disoriented, reassuring the boy he is unarmed and offering to help him understand what’s going on. The Technocrat is utterly cool while Lacey Norton, the final remaining Technocratic combatant, snipes at him from a nearby building. It’s only dumb luck that she misses. Before Jahan can destroy Thomas, Xifeng appears. In retaliation, Jahan withers the fat and muscle on her body, leaving her to die of starvation._

*In the next dimension over, Matt parts ways with the cabal and Mountjoy. Xifeng shares the details of why they need to make one last attempt to take out Jahan before the Juncture ends, but she isn’t sure how Jahan is still alive. In this world they are joined by Cécile, who Sonia recognizes as Matt’s teacher. Cécile explains what Matt did in another world, that Jahan is only vulnerable to metal.

Thomas, Lacey, Siera, Kouamé, and Brendon, who were not present in the final attack on Joshua, make an immediate assault on Jahan, without the benefit of Cécile’s intelligence. He resists their incendiary rounds. Cadence appears, saving Jahan from Siera by killing her, and provides suppression cover against the Technocrats packing bullets. Jahan breaks Brendon’s back, and scatters Thomas, Lacey, and other Technocratic backup with teleporting hyperlinks, sending them across the city and in some cases into the Umbra. Thomas doesn’t survive the teleport, falling to his death at a different elevation.

Before Jahan and Cadence can kill a defeated Kouamé, the calvary arrives. Sonia and Russ strike first, attempting to pincer Jahan. He shifts gravity 90 degrees, swinging Russ into Sonia and sending her plummeting down the sidewalk before she grips a crack to hang on. Russ hits a flat surface and breaks into blue goo.*

_As Jahan leaves, Matt arrives on the scene, offering the starving Xifeng a pomegranate. She devours it, metaphor and all, and the magical sustenance prevents her from starving in minutes (though she is in no condition to fight). Far fewer combatants are in immediate shape to travel: of all the heroes who confronted Joshua, only America, Kouamé, Alex, Sonia, and Charlotte, plus Sapphira, Mountjoy, and Brendon, pursue Jahan with Matt, all of the former except America in bad condition. The heroes regroup.

Jahan’s destructive rampage hasn’t gone unnoticed. Kristin, the librarian Will met months ago, strikes Jahan multiple times with lightning and even tries to drown him, but it’s ineffective; Jahan boils her in her water form, and she rematerializes, unconscious.

The metal-bearing heroes move in, and Cadence wounds Alex and especially Sonia when they move against Jahan; Brendon alone is sent flying when Jahan wounds gravity in this world. Charlotte and Mountjoy takes on the false Technocrat in defense of the Traditionalists, and Sapphira distracts Jahan with his fear of her.

Jahan is outnumbered, but all save Matt, America, Sapphira, and Brendon are in bad shape, and Jahan has the Juncture going for him. He counters almost every attack he sees, and his opponents begin responding as if they’re seeing him take different actions. America and Sapphira keep him from killing anyone with non-lethal distractions or by drawing his attention, even while Ben remotely interferes with weaponry._

Xifeng and Charlotte; Will, America, Alex, Jianyu and Daniel; Mountjoy and Tamara; and Cécile confront Jahan with Kouamé. Cadence immediately engages in a firefight with Charlotte; even while that happens, Will, Cécile, and Tamara manage to get Jahan to calm down. Ben remotely jams Charlotte’s weaponry, causing her to get shot in the gut. When others leap to her defense, Jahan gets agitated and attempts to finish what he started, rewriting Will to be on his side. He glitches him like a faulty Nintendo game, killing Will instantly. Horrified, he loses what little control he had.

The Juncture begins to draw to a close. Sedna begins collapsing the various dimensions. In the one where everyone is dying, she directs Daniel to defend Kouamé, and the Cultist of Ecstasy trades his life for the Chrononaut’s so the timelines can collapse properly. Sedna chooses the other one, prioritizing the lives of Will and Daniel, two Traditionalists, over the loss of many Technocrats.

Everyone, even Jahan stops fighting as the worlds come back to one and the Juncture closes. Then the feeling passes. Most of them don’t remember any other timeline but this one, where Sapphira saved America, where the city is broken by riots and rampaging reality deviants, where the combined forces of Technocrats and Cabal took out Joshua. Some, like Sonia and Will, Alex and America, have the strangest feelings, like certain events in their memories played out differently than they should. A few, like Brendon, Charlotte, and Mountjoy, remember greater details of the other timelines, including their own deaths. But only Xifeng, Kouamé, and Daniel remember everything.

Because Mountjoy is distracted by memories Cadence doesn’t possess, she is able to kill him when he and Charlotte lose their groove, nearly taking Charlotte’s life as well. Likewise, while Daniel is safe and Xifeng is not engaged in combat, Jahan cripples Kouamé. Now only Matt, America, Brendon, and Sapphira remain standing.

Crude oil seeps up through the ground, soaking Kouamé, but America blinds Jahan with a flash grenade, delaying his actual ignition of the oil. Ben blocks America’s weaponry again, and Jahan remotely breaks America’s arm in three places in retaliation. Brendon gets Kouamé out of the line of fire, but the oil fire Jahan starts serves to distract more heroes with damage control and saving lives. Matt breaks off his attacks to save Sonia. Sapphira is occupied keeping the flames from spreading to bystanders, and Cadence attempts to assassinate her right there, but Xifeng shoots her in the back from where she’s slumped against a wall, ironically saving Sapphira’s life, though not actually killing the false human Cadence.

Elsewhere, Jacob enters Ben’s safehouse over the bodies of the Technocrats false Cadence killed, sluggish and bleeding out of his face but compelled onward by the spirit of Cadence. He easily knocks the Iterator out, haphazardly throwing his monitor to the floor before staggering out, covering himself again in his coat. “Dylan!” He calls, waiting for the driver to maneuver him back into the chantrymobile.

Davey appears through a portal by a commercial garage, driving a modified electric car into Jahan at 20-25 mph, as fast as he could manage without making noise. It throws Jahan to the ground and into a roll, and exterior of the vehicle becoming more sinister and frightening as it plows into him. The demon Jerusha materializes by his side. Matt, alarmed, whirls toward the disturbance, but Jerusha gives him a curt answer, “The Prophecies of Gabrielle Harrison said if Jahan isn’t stopped today, he’ll access the Network before I can.”

Davey tries to run Jahan over a second time, and Jahan stops the vehicle. The seats, steering wheel, and other non-metal components of the car begin expanding, the better to crush Davey… and America is forced to break her vow of nonviolence, killing the distracted and vulnerable Jahan. She is forever changed by the experience.

By Sonia and Matt, Jerusha and Kristin recognize each other as having died for truth and beauty. “I know what you are. Join me, my brother. Together we will rewrite this world with the power of human faith.” Jerusha offers, to which Kristin declines, calling her “Anjerahael” and rejecting her intentions even if she doesn’t understand what it is Jerusha wants to do.

Double-crossed by Zahir, Technocratic reinforcements arrive and surround the cabal. Jerusha abandons cabal and Kristin alike. Matt, Sonia, Alex, America, Davey, and Sapphira are forced to surrender, none of them strong enough to put up a fight.

The last to arrive on the scene is Cécile. Warned of the double-cross by Sedna, she runs into the street, charged with a massive amount of magick from the Juncture. She tosses the contents of a bowl onto the nearest Technocrat in a maneuver Sonia might remember, the battle-weary agents no match for a fresh and supercharged Master. The Technocrats are ravaged by a terrible disease that jumps quickly between them and she locks eyes with Kouamé, who shouts her name before she dumps a viral load onto him as well.

Calling to Matt to lead the Traditionalists out, she scoops up the mortally wounded Jahan, cradling him against her chest and running away from the scene, back toward the tower where the others were left behind. With both preternatural speed and endurance, she takes the boy Marauder back and dumps him in front of Will and his mother Tamara.

Cécile blows off any demand for introduction, saying simply she’s here to ease suffering. Jahan is dying, but it will be better for him—and them, in the long run—if they can hold his hand while he goes. Jahan apologizes to Will and Tamara for everything. He knows he’s a Marauder but thought he was different. Before he goes, he bestows a gift of his madness and insight on Will, whispering to him a name.

When he passes, Cadence is there to take him on to where he belongs.

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