The fragments of cabal—Will, America, Sonia, Alex, Ren, and Dylan—find Matt sitting up against Jessica‘s fence, one knee drawn to his chest, watching the sunset. He looks tired, like he’s come to the end of a long journey. None of them can see his wounds, but they can tell he’s badly hurt.
Eleanor lies slain a few feet beyond him. Matt is glancing at her body until the others arrive.
“I don’t have a lot of time,” He says without preamble. “The Union will be here soon.” His cadence is slower than usual.
“Eleanor’s dead.” Ren states the obvious. “Why? How did you know?”
“If I were a ”/wikis/dreamspeakers" class=“wiki-page-link”> Dreamspeaker," Matt replies, “I could make the sun last as long as I needed to tell the story. But I’m not. The sun will set, the Technocrats will come, and my time will be up. Now hush, and listen. Sonia can verify my words are true.” It’s a simple matter for a student of entropy to discern truth from lie. Alex and America can do it it too.
“It was not ”/characters/c-cile-beauchene" class=“wiki-content-link”>Cécile who Awakened me, but your mother, Gabrielle. I was… a monster. Before she found me, I worked as an assassin for hire in the late 70s. I had power, but no understanding of my role in the pattern of the world, no moral code. Gabrielle told me I could be more, and showed me visions of futures that could be. I Awakened, and she took me to Cécile to be trained."
He began with an acknowledgment of Will, but his tale has expanded beyond his connection to the Adept’s mother, and so too does his focus expand, his gaze distant.
“Near the turn of the century, several of us became aware of the Network for the first time. There was me, Gabrielle Harrison, and Kal, the Batini. By this time both Gabrielle and Kal were Archmages.” If anyone in the party still hadn’t inferred that, they know it now. "The distance between a novice of the Sphere and an initiate is vast, but between Adept and Master greater still, and Master and Archmage… all of you are closer to my own power than I was to them. But we were bound by destiny and common purpose.
“Many things happened but ultimately we were too late. The Nephandi used the Network and all the power inside, and cracked North America like an egg. Whole cities were destroyed. Gabrielle took Kal and I, and we traveled back in time.”
“This time we knew what we were dealing with, and we knew our enemy. We thought forewarned was forearmed. We didn’t keep it to ourselves,” He makes eye contact here with Alex, sweeping across to Will. “We warned others. The Council of Nine, the Union. Most didn’t listen, and those that did changed the future. For every ”/characters/xifeng-lin" class=“wiki-content-link”>Xifeng Lin who will agree such power is too dangerous to harness, there are ten more who believe they are responsible and intelligent enough to handle it, and they are higher placed—though by that time Lin had become an Enlightened operative." He adds as an aside.
“We stopped the Nephandi from accessing it, but the Technocratic Union outstripped us, reached it first, and their hubris broke the world again. We traveled back,” He shakes his head, “A third time. A third time to make things right.”
“This time we had learned the lesson of speaking too freely. But there were other forces at play. The time mages had begun disappearing, and we suspected forces unseen organized against us. Kal suggested we use proxies. Guide heroes who could act as agents in the world on our behalf, while we collected information. Kal assumed the identity of a German ”/wikis/cult-of-ecstasy" class=“wiki-page-link”> Ecstatic named Johann, and befriended… I’ve forgotten her name, in all these loops. Gabrielle was the elderly benefactor of a Son of Ether, her father. And I found my second apprentice, Travis—I remember him—though in this world, you are the second," He adds to Sonia.
“We failed.” Matt says flatly. “At the end, Kal’s proxy chose to abandon her duties, choosing herself and her own life over the world. She talked Travis into going with her—they were lovers—and only her father was left. He made an attempt, but not a brave attempt, not an inspired attempt. And we already know the three of us were insufficient.” He shakes his head.
“Three worlds, three times ended in disaster. But Gabrielle would not give up. As many times as she needed to twist time and send us back, she would.”
“This time we went back farther—not the turn of the century, but the start of the 90s. At least, from my perspective. Each time we traveled there were fewer of Gabrielle’s peers, and Kal had seen the danger in acting openly. It was Gabrielle’s suggestion to use children.” He pauses, as if realizing how that sounds. “Gabrielle believed that they—you—had a stake in the end of the world as much as we did. If Boomers like ourselves had ruined the world, and Boomers couldn’t figure out how to make it better, we should get out of the way and empower the next generation to do it for us.”
He pauses before pointing to Will. “There was you. There was you,” this to Sonia. “And another, Aaron Spaulding.” Sonia and Will have never met Aaron before. But… they know him. They recognize the name, like a best friend from childhood, full of fond feeling that they’d all but forgotten until now. “Though there were some obvious connections, this time we shared duties. We worked to make sure all the kids—and others, like ”/characters/jahan-meshadi" class=“wiki-content-link”>Jahan, like Alex—were safe. Protected them from direct losses by the Nephandi, dropped the information they needed into their laps, but let them decide what to do about it. We thought we’d figured it out."
Obviously it didn’t happen that way. “But they—you—were teenagers. In that version of events, Aaron was the leader, and you were not as powerful or prominent as you are now,” He says to Will. “The three of you had some kind of love triangle, centered on Sonia. Aaron tried to balance it out by fostering a relationship with Will, but Will didn’t want it. You had a fight,” He says, slipping back from third to second person. “And Aaron decided he was a bad person for trying to force the relationship. He went to fight the end of the world alone.” Matt rolls his eyes. “Sonia and Will went after him, to help him. But, something. Happened. I don’t know what.” The Chakravanti shakes his head. “The world reset again, and Aaron was gone. But this time, so were Gabrielle and Kal. All three time mages, to some extent. And all three missing in the fifth timeline—your timeline. I couldn’t think it a coincidence.”
“I’m unsure when I came back to. Things were different here stretching back at least until 1980, but the first thing I remember was finding Sonia and Awakening her. Unless, that too, was a memory I remember but didn’t live out.”
“But I remember some things that happened here, before I came to consciousness as a time traveler. In this world, Gabrielle tried to interrupt the curse on the American Presidency. I can’t think of why—she wouldn’t have risked herself for a war criminal, or future war criminal. I think she tried to interrupt the power of Tecumseh’s workings. She took the entire power of the curse into her own body.” He glances at Eleanor. “Perhaps she was just a working of it. Gabrielle didn’t last out Reagan’s term. If Kal sacrificed himself, he was too subtle about it. He was gone just like the other time mages. And though Aaron was from Davenport, I couldn’t even find proof he ever existed.”
“If you remember the time I violated your boundaries and went through your memories,” This to Will, “I had to find discrepancies in the timeline from what I remembered. Dylan’s mind was a fortress, and you were my only option. But if there is an outside force acting upon us, I needed what I was doing to seem natural, unrelated… and for this I am sorry. But I really did think that if you knew all I knew, that you would die.”
He leans back against the fence, closing his eyes. “You still may. I am all out of time, and this time, there is no Gabrielle to send me back. She is dead, Kal is dead, and now I face my end. This is all up to you now.”
“I’m sorry,” Jessica says. Dylan takes the kid’s body in his arms.
“It was all we could do to make him look peaceful.” And not the bloodied mess he was when they left, Sapphira does not add.
America is the first to question him. “That can’t be the whole story. What’s the deal with all the Js?”
“Js?” Matt questions. “Yeah. ”/characters/joshua" class=“wiki-content-link”>Joshua, Jahan, Jeffrey, Jerusha, Jessica…" As America elaborates, the blood drains from Matt’s face. He looks… terrified. None of them have seen him like this before.
“Matt, what is it?” Sonia demands. Matt doesn’t answer. When Jianyu questions what’s going on, Sonia says, “If I were that frightened, I’d be screaming my head off.” Alex, if he’s chosen to truth-detect Matt, can feel it too.
“It doesn’t matter,” Matt says, and now he looks and feels only of grim determination. “I will do what I have to do.”
“You need to go,” Jessica says insistently. Distantly they hear the sounds of choppers. Sapphira hands Davey’s equipment, including his electro-shock gloves to America. “He’d want you to have this.”
“We need to take him with us,” Sonia says, about Matt. Matt says “No,” At the same time Jessica says, “His wounds are too great. He’ll die if we move him. He’ll die if he doesn’t get help, now, and we don’t have time to give it to him.”
Dylan loads Davey’s body, gently, into the chantry. They really do need to leave now. Sonia is crying. Matt hushes her.
“Sonia, you have made me prouder than any student and any friend I’ve had in any timeline. I love you like a daughter, and if I could I would walk with you and shield you from all harm. But now you need to walk on your own.”
Sonia is shaking her head, tears leaking out of her closed eyes. “No, no, I won’t leave you! I won’t—” She gasps as America’s hand lands on her shoulder, discharging a shock from Davey’s gauntlet. She collapses, and America catches her. “Come on.” Sapphira helps her take her unconscious form to the car.
Under duress, the mages scatter in the chantry and Eleanor’s old car, leaving Jessica. The Dreamspeaker stays with Matt a moment, her eyes offering Matt release. He shakes his head, and she slips into the Umbra.
He is peaceful when the Technocrats come. They surround him with weapons drawn, kicking him in the ribs. He’s thrown onto his stomach and tased, with three of them at once. He feels them ziptie his hands as the plastic bag goes over his head.