It’s not until December 30 that the cabal is recovered enough to travel to Lafayette, IN, in Tippecanoe county, Indiana. Besides the usual suspects (cabal and associates), Jianyu is making the trip as well, not just because he has nowhere to go but the guest bedroom, but because he’s truly intellectually fascinated by the Network and invested in answers as much as any of them.
Eleanor and Sapphira also want to make the trip, the latter more transparently to accompany and back up America, and the former for answers on what it will mean to her community. If any members of the cabal aren’t thrilled at a caravan, well, she wasn’t at the Juncture. She was physically capable of making the trip a week before the Avengers and waited, and it’s not like they have the whole Council of Nine bearing down on them. Yet.
It’s about a three hour drive, including a pit stop for bathrooms along the way. The Verbena bring their own car and borrow America as a driver/driving companion. Sonia expresses interest in going with them but ultimately doesn’t as she’s no longer a Verbena. Sonia angsts.
Tippecanoe is not New York City but it’s not a small county either. The Avengers have little else to go off but stopping by sites of historical significance like Prophet’s Rock—they have several members who can scry into the past. Luckily it doesn’t come to that. Alex literally finds a spirit trail that leads him to a house inside Lafayette, a trail left for him to find and follow. He opens the door without knocking.
Inside Alex, Will, America, Daniel, Sonia, Ren, Dylan, Davey, Sapphira, Eleanor, and Jianyu find a black woman in her early thirties, comfortably dressed in a blue tank top and black jeans. She doesn’t seem at all surprised to find a procession of strangers coming into her home, telling them they’re expected (of course) and welcoming any stragglers inside. She requests that they follow her down to her basement as it’s more ‘set up for this sort of thing’ and waves Davey away from looking in her dirty kitchen. “I didn’t know they were coming THAT far ahead of time,” She says, but not to Davey
Downstairs the Avengers find a finished, comfortable study with hardwood floors. There’s an extensive library in the walls, there’s also a built-in waterfall fountain along one narrow wall. Three fishtanks sit to the left, and narrow windows by the ceiling let in a small amount of natural light. It’s clearly a place consecrated to magick, and Jianyu immediately recognizes it as a Dreamspeaker Sanctum, mentioning that to Daniel.
The Dreamspeaker introduces herself as Jessica. There’s something otherworldly about her, and Alex correctly infers she is a Master. “I am,” She confirms, nodding. She has a seat on a rug on the floor. There are half a dozen scattered chairs and a bean bag, but a couple of people need to sit on the floor. Eleanor remains standing, perusing Jessica’s bookshelf after receiving permission.
“I’m also one of the ten remaining Adepts of time in the world. We’ve been in communication with each other, and ”/characters/kite" class=“wiki-content-link”>Kite. Including the Technocrats." She smiles a little at that. Five of those Adepts are Technocrats, Daniel and Alex would remember from their conversation with Kite.
Someone asks about the others, to which Jessica explains, “Well you’ve met ”/characters/kouam-bekoe" class=“wiki-content-link”>Kouamé Bekoe, the Chrononaut. I’m not sure if you’ve crossed paths with any of the others." Naturally this leads to what they’re talking about, but Jessica holds up a hand. “It’s not time for that discussion yet. You need a chance to ask your other questions first. Now, ask.”
Alex asks about the blue-eyed woman, the wraith inhabiting his dreams and mind. Jessica laughs. She has a really genuine laugh. “Excellent question, Tecumseh, come again. Hand me that book there, would you?” She gestures, but no one visible hands her the book—it simply flies into her hand. “Thank you doll.” She opens the book, gets up and hands it to Will, gesturing for Sonia to have a look as well. She looks back to Alex, and the rest of the cabal.
“We have you, Tecumseh.” She gestures. “The heir to William Henry Harrison,” She points to Will. “Who is the third person missing from this story?” Jianyu is the first to say “Ada Lovelace” at the same time Ren guesses, “Abraham Lincoln?”
It’s not Lincoln. Alex feels the blue-eyed woman almost preen in recognition, the first time to hear her name in a century’s time. Sonia and Will reveal the book is the same one that Sonia found authored by Lovelace—Jessica knew. The Dreamspeaker seems to focus on something that isn’t there before shaking her head in disagreement.
“This is a dangerous topic. I will tread lightly. Until recently,” She nods in recognition of Will, “Only two people had accessed the American Web of Faith in any meaningful way. I know, you call it a Network, but that just seems weird to me. One was Tecumseh, a ”/wikis/order-of-hermes" class=“wiki-page-link”> Hermetic, who created it. The other was Lovelace, a Difference Engineer, but to all intents and purposes what we’d call a Virtual Adept now."
She shrugs. “I’d like to say Tecumseh’s was the best way. If you were controlling it the way he did, though, it would require a lot of travel and a lot of… ritual. Time. The Adept way is faster. Likely you’re closer to controlling it than any unaided Hermetic would be.”
She moves across the room herself now, not asking a spirit to get her stuff for her. “I’ve guarded this information, or another has guarded this information, for 180 years. First Shawnee, but as they were killed or moved out, others. First a Hermetic, but… one can’t decide who Awakens, or what resources she will have in her community. Now, a Dreamspeaker.” She walks back with a book off her shelf. “This should be everything you need to know to access the Web of Desperation, and soon.”
Alex interjects he would like to destroy it, and she shakes her head. “Destroy… the point of access, maybe, but the energy is still there, and it’s been building for 180 years, off a signfiicantly larger population. Even if you destroyed the mechanism on which it feeds, the power is still there.” Back to Will. “You don’t have long now. Days, perhaps, before the Nephandi access it first. Your ”/characters/christine-morris" class=“wiki-content-link”>sister has already been here, and she is accessing it the Hermetic way. She’s only half a step behind you."
Will doesn’t think he has a sister, but Jessica shakes her head. “The vengeance spirits you brought know better. A half-sister, but still the scion of William Henry Harrison.” She seems unaware she dropped a bombshell. “I never—” Dylan begins, and as she spells it out he looks toward the standing Eleanor for an explanation. “Eleanor—?”
Jessica holds up her hands. “Regardless of origin, she’s still more closely connected to the Web than any Hermetic—” The Dreamspeaker screams loudly as Eleanor drives a dagger through her heart. She drops to the floor with a thud as the Verbena pushes her off. “Masters. They spend so much time defending against magick they’re never prepared for a physical threat.”
Of course everyone is up at once, but Eleanor is prepared to take them all on. Ren launches himself faster than anyone can react and she bats him away with her hand, redirecting him into Will’s handheld (so he can’t do anything like, oh, melt her with gas), destroying it and taking out the raven without so much as a cut. Thorns grow from the walls, the bookshelves, rapidly snaring Dylan, Will, and Alex. Jianyu runs for it, and America asks why she’s doing this. Dylan wants to know how he fathered her child when they’ve never slept together.
“Stop whining about it, you know exactly how it’s possible.” She turns to America, the others at least content to let America diffuse or buy time as she holds several of their members hostage in thorns. “You hate them as much as I do, but even you can’t know what it’s like. I was in a cabal with them for years.” She jams her finger at Dylan. “Him. ”/characters/gabrielle-harrison" class=“wiki-content-link”>Gabrielle. Everyone_ loved_ her. Everything she did was perfect. Everywhere we went, she had adoring fans. They ‘liked’ me too, you know." Her face turns ugly with scorn as she adopts a mocking tone. “You’re almost as powerful. You’re almost as wise. You’re almost as pretty. You’re almost as good.” Eleanor sneers. “We love you almost as much.”
Jianyu, who had moved behind the table with the aquariums when the Verbena wasn’t paying attention, abruptly starts to push it over during her villain monologue. She snaps her fingers, hardly even glancing that way as she electrifies all the fish in the water and the boy with his hands on it. Daniel and Sonia scream his name, and Sonia runs over, trying to bring him back. Davey and America can detect the massive amount of Prime energy coursing through her—power she carries and power she’s actively drawing, more power than their whole cohort combined.
“Gabrielle had everything. I just wanted to take something of hers.” She thrusts her chin toward Dylan. “It was just a matter of pushing his desire until he wanted it. Afterwards I… regretted bringing him into it. I took the memories and found a better way.” Sapphira moves over to Jianyu, helping Sonia stabilize him.
It’s about now that Will realizes she killed his mother. She nods to that. “Some fucking Time mage, never even saw it coming.” Davey quickly activates his gauntlets and lobs a ball of electricity at her. It breaks apart harmlessly on her body. “Do you think I’d come to Tippecanoe unprepared? I can make artifacts.”
Sapphira transfigures her hands, coming in and slashing low at her legs, since powerful mages never expect physical threats and all, hamstringing her. Eleanor hisses. Will manages to break free of the thorns, bleeding, but makes a bee-line not for Eleanor but for Davey. He grabs some of the Etherite’s equipment.
The blue-eyed woman—Lovelace—takes control of Alex and uses his power and her perspective to burn the thorns holding him, behind him. She has too much deviant magick on her, She warns him. Just shoot her. Alex take a shot, and gets her in the hip, though it only seems to stagger her. She’s not bleeding. The wraith takes control of Alex’s hands and moves them up to aim at Eleanor’s head.
Sonia draws the katar, but Eleanor flips her bodily into Sapphira, stunning them both. She touches one of her necklaces and her body begins lacing up from where Sapphira wounded her. She twists a ring, activiating another talisman, and a ring of kinetic force like a whirlwind around her.
Daniel fires a shot as well, but Eleanor’s whirlwind directs it right back into his body. The thorns advance, snagging hold of Daniel, Sapphira, Sonia, and Alex (again). Eleanor directs her plea back to America. “Help me, America. You can be done with these people, and be with me. I won’t kill Sapphira. Or Sonia.”
America considers her offer, and lobs a Tranq Flash at Davey. Davey fries it in midair with another bolt of lightning. “The hell, America? You can’t even negotiate your roommate on that list?” He starts adjusting a piece of equipment on his arm.
Will manages to figure out how to do Adept magick with Etherite technology, which is a testimony to either his genius or his rage. His Matter effect coalesces around Eleanor and dissipates with a resulting wave of Prime. Eleanor hisses and rips a ring off her finger, the metal burning hot from overuse, and waves her hand. “Someone’s shooting to kill.” She weaves a field of anti-magick around Will, making magical effects drastically more difficult.
Since Sapphira is physically immobile, she begins spitting poison at Eleanor like a cobra. This startles her so much that Alex’s bullet catches her in the side of her head. It’s clear that she has something protecting her, because it doesn’t have the kinetic force to penetrate her skin, though the bullet succeeds in staggering her, her gaze unclear.
Davey activates a wall of force that pushes America back, before he, like Will, is taken by the thorns, growing wildly out of control in such a confined space. America whirls around and hits Eleanor in the chest with a sticky grenade, cutting her jewelry off with contact from her skin. Davey laughs—if no one else, he knew the play she was making.
Eleanor looks startled she would choose her cabal. “America?” Then her gaze hardens. “Fine.” Her dagger, thus far unused since killing Jessica, glows white and then seems to lengthen, a luminous blade. She thrusts the point of the sword down and a wall of force batters all of them, pushing them further back into the thorns. Her hands, at least, are free now. She holds her blade at America, off-balance. “You’re dead to me.” She shoves her fist forward—blade turned away—and throws America back into the body of thorns.
With everyone pushed too far back to maneuver, she rubs her upper torso, the sticky-solid breaking apart. “I think I’ll leave you this way,” She says, not having the guts to stay and watch any of them die. The thorns part for her, and she heads back up the stairs.
The thorns are an ever-growing problem. Members of the cabal check in with each other. Ren is still out, but they’re not growing down at his level where he is. Daniel is bleeding out of his gut. Jianyu is breathing again but beyond that they’re not sure. Davey is really in pain though.
Eleanor wipes tears out of her eyes as she heads out of the house. Most of her talismans aren’t working anymore, and America… she puts it out of her mind. Betrayal hurts but there is always somebody else, and her daughter is close. She will find her, and the Web she is working on. She will—
She stares at the black man walking intently toward her. That can’t be a coincidence—someone who detected magick? “Who the hell are you?” She asks bluntly.
“Eleven years ago,” Matt Coronas begins. “You killed a very, very, good friend of mine.” Eleanor starts talking, but Matt pays it as much mind as a gnat. “Fate conspired to keep me from delivering justice. Until now.” A dagger slips out into his hand.
She laughs at him. She just took out eight kids and a Master. “You really want to go with me? I’m an Adept of Life.”
“So am I,” He says, charging at her.
The cabal struggles to free themselves from their bonds, offering encouragement to Davey. Sapphira’s attempts just caused her to wither and age in front of them, and the technomancers can’t reach any technology. Daniel’s attempts to slow them make the vines near him and Davey go faster. Sonia alone manages to slow the growth of the thorns. They start to disentangle from around her.
Ada Lovelace rages in Alex’s head._ You’re in a Dreamspeaker’s Sanctum, and she was attacked! Call to the spirit world!_
Inanely, America’s prime detector goes off, not that she can reach it, and Sonia gasps. “I can feel Matt’s magick. Him and Eleanor. It must be such a massive amount if I can feel it down here.”
“They’re inside me.” Davey says suddenly, and starts coughing blood. Sonia redoubles her efforts.
Matt and Eleanor are indeed throwing around a lot of magick, more than enough to kill everyone in Lafayette. Matt visits deadly poxes and fatal missteps upon Eleanor; she counters with shining power and direct attacks on his living Pattern. Sonia has never witnessed Matt visit this much magick on one opponent, and he has never fought for his life as fiercely as he does now. Even fatigued from her earlier battle, Eleanor matches his power—she plateaued after she killed her adversary, but she plateaued high, and she’s had decades at a level Matt has only been at for years.
Ebola. Crushing gravity. Step on a crack, break your back. Flames of purification. Command. Memory Wipe. Matt’s Life and Entropy and Mind vs. Eleanor’s Life and Forces and Mind and Prime (and all of her ability to draw power from the Tellurian around her). There is no quarter given and none asked—the first one to falter will die.
Alex’s call into the spirit world for help activates something, some failsafe. Jessica gasps and brings her hand to her chest, holding it there as her body knits itself back up. Shakily, she runs one hand along the wall. “Enough.” The vines fade into nothing.
She gestures toward Davey, and Jianyu and Daniel. “I will see to your wounded.” Daniel is mobile, but Davey looks bad, covered in so much blood. “Go! Help your friend.” Sapphira stays, still dealing with too much paradox to be very mobile. The rest can rush upstairs.
Eleanor gave a most satisfying gasp as Matt drove the dagger into her gut. “This is for Will, who had to grow up without a mother.” He pulled it out, and she tried to hold him off with her hands, both too exhausted for the kind of magick they had moments ago. He hacked off a finger as he thrust it into her sternum. “This is for Dylan, who you raped, whose wife you took.” He pulled the blade back. As much as he’d like to draw this out he can’t afford to.
“And this is for Gabrielle.” He stabbed the blade through her eye, and shoved the cadaver away from him.