Battle plans have been made and, once again, Xifeng doesn’t really have a lot to do. With her mentor in India without much more than a ‘wait here and we will contact you,’ she doesn’t have much to do besides wait and try to coordinate in the event of an emergency.
So the downtime is the perfect time to go see Kouamé. There are a few changes happening outside of the sometimes-ashy snow falling onto the city: by now, the Prince is the undisputed ruler of the city. At least here, the Technocracy has found it easier to bend: John Taylor is a pretty benevolent ruler and he keeps the vampires in Cincinnati in line, and the broken Technocrats can’t take on anymore problems than they already have.
Consequently, Taylor’s territory is larger. Before the Cataclysm, she would have gone to see him in a warehouse or on a boat. Now he owns an entire district of the city. Fortunately, Xifeng herself is on a short list to be admitted entry. In just a few conversations she finds Kouamé.
He’s standing on a bridge over frozen water, looking up at the city skyline—more specifically, the Scripps Tower that both of them use to work out of.
Will pressed one of his trackers upon Xifeng before she left the chantry. She hasn’t become particularly close to any of them, not even Sonia; her former status as an enemy has left her feeling like an outsider. So she appreciates the gesture.
Xifeng is thumbing the device in her jacket pocket as she approaches Kouamé. Her eyes drift past him, taking in the familiar skyline, and then fix again on his back, trying to get a read on his state of mind by posture alone. “Miss it?” she asks quietly, stepping up alongside him.
“Yes.” Kouamé says simply. His voice is just loud enough to hear. He was a always mysterious and strange, and becoming a vampire has allowed him such stillness to seem even more alien.
On the other hand, he was an Adept of Time. Being with him wasn’t like being with Kite or Gabrielle, but he had such uncanny timing as to seem more than human, and that’s gone now. “Do you?” He asks, turning to face her.
Xifeng drums her fingers on the bridge rail, giving the question some genuine thought. “Some parts,” she admits. “I liked our team, I liked my boss. Sometimes we were doing the right thing. But I wouldn’t trade what I have now for that.”
She might have been arrogant enough before to think she could imagine how Kouamé feels to lose his Avatar. Now the thought of having her newfound power stolen from her absolutely repulsed her. But Xifeng keeps all pity from her face as she looks at him, certain he doesn’t want it. “I wanted to come and see you sooner, but Matt sent me on an errand. How are you?”
The railing is cold even under her presumably-gloved fingers, unpleasant if she holds them there too long. The cold doesn’t seem to bother the vampire. “Well,” He gestures across his face. “You’ve seen me.” There is a grace and easy dexterity to the movement of his hand that wouldn’t have been there before—Kouamé’s movements were always deliberate, nothing wasted, but not so fluid.
“I am glad you Awakened, however it came about,” He adds after a moment.
“Thanks. Funny how we both died to get here, huh?” Xifeng replies with a sardonic smile. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there to help you. ”/characters/america-anders" class=“wiki-content-link”>America‘s really grateful for what you did." She shoves her hands back into her pockets. "I haven’t had a chance to talk to you since New Year’s. Bren and Matt told me you had been looking out for me. I wanted to ask you why." Scuffing her toe off the ground, she adds, “Not that I’m not grateful.”
Kouamé chortles a little. He hadn’t considered it from that perspective. “There are worse fates. My Genius was gone regardless—it’s funny how impersonal the Technocratic word for it is.” Some Technocrats are theists, not that he and Xifeng ever had that conversation. “At least this way I can finish the work I set out to do.” He nods at her question.
“The Adepts of Time, as you know now, have been in contact regarding ”/characters/kal" class=“wiki-content-link”>Kal for over a decade, even if we didn’t have a name for the phenomenon. The collusion was kept from the highest levels of the Union and the Traditions, though at least in the Union there were some who suspected and I think allowed it. Understanding of Time is vital to the practices of the Union. At least it was. But a deeper conspiracy than the Adepts was the Daughters of Mnemosyne. In some ways we were less cooperative, driven by need, taking care that no information would be lost by the removal of one member, but also working in secrecy from one another—at least, until Will Harrison publicized the entire drama." He doesn’t sound judgmental or approving of that fact, it just is.
“Part of this knowledge was the loops, and how key individuals were identified as core to stopping the Cataclysm. Will Harrison, here and now. ”/characters/aaron-spaulding" class=“wiki-content-link”>Aaron Spaulding the last time. It’s a bit more complicated than that, there are a lot more pieces. But we identified you and Charlotte Bailey as important at least six or nine months ago." Are we counting January through March here? “Either as possible new foci should Kite reset the loop on his own, or…” He shrugs. “To play a key role yet to come in the world as we know it.”
Reflecting on what little she knows of Will’s life for the past year, Xifeng can’t imagine that she’d want to be the focus of something like this. Better hope this is the last one! “What about us, though? Do you know if Charlotte’s still in Cincinnati, should I be looking for her?” Charlotte was one of Xifeng’s closer friends in her old amalgam. There is, perhaps, something a bit selfish in her motivation for wanting to see the Void Engineer. Without Matt around, she’s feeling a bit untethered from those around her.
“”/characters/daniel-amar" class=“wiki-content-link”>Daniel is headed to Davenport right now to try to find Aaron," she adds quietly. “In spite of Gabrielle’s warnings about the Starlight Passage. I met her recently.”
“She is here, yes. I checked on the old amalgams. Bern and ”/characters/mel-clarke" class=“wiki-content-link”>Clarke are dead, and al-Shahrani doesn’t seem to be active, but the rest are operating under Charlotte’s command." The last time they were in Cincinnati, Matt would have taken pains to keep Xifeng away from the Technocrats. I mean, how embarrassing to Awaken your Technocrat, and then immediately get them captured and reprocessed as an Enlightened Technocrat? You’d have to be a pretty incompetent mage to pull that off.
“I wish him well,” Kouamé says. “None of us are perfect, so perhaps he will succeed. What did she say to you?” The former Chrononaut asks, his interest piqued.
“I heard about Mel and Bren,” Xifeng replies softly. “I was sorry to learn they didn’t make it. I guess it’s good to know Charlotte is keeping an eye on things without me.” He didn’t say anything either way about whether she ought to touch base with Charlotte, so she doesn’t press the point. She can certainly imagine what Matt would say.
“”/characters/alex" class=“wiki-content-link”>Alex, Karasi, Daniel, and I went to Tippecanoe." Wait, does he know who Karasi even is? “Alex and I were skipped back in time, and Gabrielle caught us in the 80s to speak with us. It sounded like she had expected Matt to Awaken me.” Xifeng rolls her shoulders, trying to recall as many details as she can. “She gave us some advice about Kal. She told us he was the one who corrupted the Starlight Passage, and that we likely can’t kill him. We’ve come up with a plan now to try to harness the Network and trap him in it, though there’s not much I can do to help with that right now. Mm, what else… she explained that he’d been removing all the time mages from the Book of Fate. So…” She flashes a wry smile at Kouamé. “At least you’re probably off that particular chopping block.”
Kouamé chuckles mirthlessly. “Yes. I suppose that for whatever else, there will always be a time in which I was Enlightened. The same can’t be said for Kite anymore. Despite our memories of him, there never was a devia—an ”/wikis/cult-of-ecstasy" class=“wiki-page-link”> Ecstatic named Kite." It’s surreal. It feels like dealing with Joshua again.
“I didn’t expect Matt to Awaken you. It became apparent he wanted to. I actually complained to ”/characters/c-cile-beauchene" class=“wiki-content-link”>Cécile about it. Still I thought with everything happening you would remain with the Union." His lips twist a little. Unlike her, he left the Union by force. He was loyal for decades. “You would have made a fine Woman in Grey, and, eventually I think, Awakened.” He wonders if the line of questioning is rude. She made her choice, and whatever might have been, this is the reality they have now. “Are you going to see Charlotte?”
Xifeng doesn’t seem offended in the least. “I couldn’t leave Matt to be tortured to death by a Nephandus, or risk that she’d take what he knew back to the others. I mean, in hindsight, I know that wouldn’t have prevented all this…” She gestures broadly at the ashy sky. “But I don’t regret that choice, and I am nothing but grateful to him for seeing this potential in me.” The former Technocrat flashes a soft smile at him. “But I appreciated, and still appreciate, your confidence in me. I know I could have been successful where I was, in another way.”
She has a sudden thought when he mentions Cécile and softly clears her throat. “Did you hear that Kal killed her? Cécile. Matt and I found her in ”/wikis/st-louis" class=“wiki-page-link”> St. Louis." His actual relationship to the Euthanatos is a bit unclear to her – they were allies against Kal, but on different sides. To his question, she only shrugs again. “I don’t know. I want to. But I’m not sure if it’s safe. Maybe Will can arrange a secure way for me to contact her and get a read on her first. I won’t go back there now.”
“Not directly,” Kouamé replies. “But I know there are only two Adepts left. Cécile wasn’t an Adept of Time but it’s not surprisingly Kal’s kill list includes her.” He doesn’t seem too shaken up—from his perspective, it’s been days since he watched Kite murdered in front of his eyes and left La Niña Bonita to die, only to be stabbed to death by his own Convention. Cécile was an ally, nothing more.
“I doubt she would do anything to harm you, or hold you. The Technocracy doesn’t have the resources it once did. They are working with the Traditions to save lives, and here they tolerate even the vampires. I’ve heard they have an Adept in Scripps—a Virtual Adept—working on the atmosphere problem. You might not be a powerful ally but they’re not going to risk angering Matt again.”
“I’m a more powerful ally than I was before,” Xifeng replies. “Maybe I will reach out to her, then. The cabal doesn’t seem to want to work with the Union, and I won’t tell their secrets for them, but it can’t hurt to see if we have other allies here in Cincinnati. Matt has understandably been trying to keep me from getting in contact.” Matt Awakened someone who used to ignore her superiors’ orders to do what she felt was right, sooo… can he be that surprised? “Are the vampires treating you okay?”
“From what I understand there aren’t many secrets left to tell,” The vampire responds.
“They have, actually.” He sounds a little surprised. “”/characters/alethia" class=“wiki-content-link”>Alethia and especially John have honored our bond through Gabrielle. And they respect that I’m not the same as some hotheaded 18-year-old," He must be referring to Jacob, “However new I am. I have a place here. Perhaps in time I can even learn to accept it.” He tilts his head. “And you? With your Traditions?”
“I meant the next steps of their plan, now. They might figure it out once the kids put it all into motion, but I can’t let the Union have a chance to interfere.” Xifeng smiles at him, her relief at knowing he has somewhere to belong flashing across her face. “I’m really glad to hear that. If everything works out, I hope we can stay in touch.”
Drawing her hand out of her pocket, Xifeng wiggles it back and forth in a “so-so” gesture. “Not all of these ones. Alex has been pretty welcoming, in spite of how many times I’ve shot him, and Sonia. No one’s being difficult, but it’s kind of uncomfortable, trying to fit in with a bunch of kids you repeatedly tried to bag and tag…” As if she even feels a need to befriend a bunch of teenagers. “But the others I’ve met while travelling with Matt have been fine. It helps that most of them don’t know I defected, I guess. He’s been a very good teacher.”
“A vampire and a necromancer. Seems like an appropriate combination.” He listens to her explain the situation. “They’re teenagers, outside of Daniel.” He shared memories with the man, so of course he feels a little closer to him than any of the others. “These are also very stressful circumstances. They already have their cabal and they will tighten bonds within it. You’re an outsider, or at least a latecomer.” He shrugs. “From what I understand the ”/wikis/virtual-adepts" class=“wiki-page-link”> Adepts and the Sons of Ether will care less about the defection. But it’s not an easy yoke to bear."
“I’m not worried about it.” Xifeng sounds sincere about that much. “Matt has left me with them for now, so I’ll aid them however I can. If we pull this off and he and I both survive, I’m sure I won’t be spending an excessive amounts of time with them afterwards. And the Technomancers would understand it because they did the same. Matt is of the opinion that other Traditions might have been interested in Awakening me as well. ”/characters/sedna" class=“wiki-content-link”>Sedna sort of made a sales pitch when we saw her in Nunavut. So, maybe it won’t be so bad."
“Any being capable of Enlightenment is a resource.” The Ivoirian gives a little shrug. “But you’re not just ‘any being,’ you’re capable and competent even when surrounded by much more powerful beings. It doesn’t surprise me.” He looks back out on the horizon, the construct. “When you see them—” He chokes a second, not sure what he wants her to tell them. “Tell them I fought Kal, and you don’t know what became of me since. Don’t tell them I’m a vampire. They may learn of it, or they may not. But I’m not ready for that reunion yet.” Something about his body language says he’s ready for her to leave him alone, now.
Xifeng’s eyebrows quirk in sympathy, watching Kouamé as he speaks. “Of course. Whatever you think is best.” Her fingers twitch in her pocket. If he were anyone else she might touch him, his arm or his shoulder, for whatever small comfort that might allow. But they didn’t have that kind of relationship even before they changed sides. So she doesn’t do it. “It was good to see you. Please get ahold of me if you need anything from me, Kouamé.” She backs up, turning to leave. “Goodnight.”