Jacob’s fangs elongate, and he smiles as he feels his power returning.
And then he too is gone. Daniel is lying in a field somewhere—either not his own time, or not his own world, he can’t be sure. The afternoon sun lies shrouded by heavy clouds.
“That was incredibly dangerous,” The Pretty Girl says, standing over him. “If not nearly as much as actually trying to travel back.”
“He doesn’t have the understanding to use this much Time.” Kouamé opines. “You can hardly blame him for a bad decision, Niña Bonita. But he didn’t do nothing, either.”
Daniel stares at the sky overhead, once again trying to regain his bearings. He can hear the Chrononaut and the Pretty Lady talking about him, though it doesn’t seem like it’s registering.
At least, not at first. Perhaps he’s trying to disgest what did just happen and place that whole mess of a situation.
“You know…” he finally speaks. "It’s really hard to know what the “good” decision might be when everything is kept secret. What was I supposed to do? Languish there forever? Convince someone to come help me with yet another doomed timeline? What’s the good decision? Stop using Time altogether to keep hidden from this…devourer?" He lets out a soft breath of frustration, trying to calm his temper before he says something more infuriating.
“I need help.” He finally says…nearly pleaing. “I need guidance if I’m supposed to do this right. The world is going to come crashing down on our heads soon, and we’re just trying to do what we can to survive it.”
Both of their expressions smooth out. They nod in unison. “We will help you.” The Pretty Girl tells him. “You need to trust us, and let us guide you. We can’t just tell you what we know. You’ll have to experience it… ”/wikis/cult-of-ecstasy" class=“wiki-page-link”> Ecstatic." The Technocrat adds, a small grin on his face.
La Madrina bends down, and offers Daniel her hand. Dare he take it? “Come with me,” She tells him.
Daniel swallows, surprised he got the affrimation he desired so quickly. “I will trust you.” He promises, before starting to sit up. “And I will…I will experience it.”
He glances at the hand offered to him. He promised to trust them, that means no hesitations. He takes the hand and pulls himself up to his feet.
They walk, and the landscape changes. Daniel realizes he is walking into antiquity: this is Alexandria, the mid-first millennium. They are not time traveling, though—Daniel recognizes when he’s walking through a memory. Little details change here and there, as if the world were being actively rewritten by the thinker’s present—the placement and even direction of the sun, the vibrancy of the waves, the color of houses, the appearance and styles of individual people. Daniel’s clothing changes to match, patrician white robes over green, but Niña Bonita’s stay the same—she’s not part of this story, only here to guide her.
Her? Daniel realizes he’s not wearing his body anymore, but that of a Greek woman. When the thought returns to him, he is him again. Her. Him. The allegory isn’t lost on him—he’s living out her story.
“This is Alexandria,” The Pretty Girl says. “Do you know the story of Hypatia?”
Daniel moves through the world alongside Nina Bonita, taking in the sights and sounds of Alexandria…or the memory of this. Is this his…her memory, or is it her Guide’s?
It starts to dawn on him as they walk and she changes that perhaps these are her memories. It’s hard to keep it straight, but he thinks he gets it. She holds himself differently, her hips sway in a natural rhythm as she walks. She holds her head a little higher and straighter.
“Alexandria,” He repeats. “It’s beautiful. I do not. She was an astronomer, was she not?”
“An astronomer, a mathematician, a philosopher… a Mage. It would be appropriative to call her Ecstatic, but perhaps not too far off. Not far off from ”/wikis/order-of-hermes" class=“wiki-page-link”> Hermetic, either. She was a martyr." There is an element of warning in her voice. This isn’t just a sightseeing trip. “If you stay, you will be drawn into her last memories.” There is an undercurrent of consent there. Even if she leaves him here, Daniel could probably countermagick this memory before it got that far.
Daniel smiles softly. “Of course she was a mage. All the best minds in history seem to have been.” He takes a deep breath, eyes focusing on the Pretty Girl. “A martyr…if I stay and am drawn into those memories, will I die?” He asks. "Or just face whatever she faced as her life ended, then be pulled out? " He just needs to know exactly how much danger he is putting himself in.
“You’ll die,” The Pretty Girl says bluntly. “But it’s not like you’d be the only one. ”/characters/sonia-farooqi" class=“wiki-content-link”>Sonia has died. Matt has died. I have died," She adds softly, tilting her skull. It’s so easy to ascribe facial expressions to her, sometimes, easy to forget that under all the adornment and beauty he’s looking at a literal skeleton. “But this is a memory of death. Your body and mind will endure regardless.”
Sometimes you just need to die to accomplish things. Daniel lets out a soft breath and nods his head. Her head? “Alright. I will deal with that when the time comes.” He seems to consider her words seriously. It is true. Death is just another means to an end.
Niña Bonita steps away, fading into the background without really disappearing. She’s here, to walk beside him for this.
And walk he—she does, experiencing relatively normal memories as Daniel becomes immersed in Hypatia, immersed in Alexandria. The moments last… minutes, hours, longer. He’s not sure, his subjective memory of her experience hard to scrutinize. She eats, and walks, and debates, and learns.
She is on her way home when she is accosted and abducted by men—Christians. They bind her and take her to a church, their place of power. And while they are there they strip her, and murder her with tiles.
“With tiles” Scholasticus’ impression is almost laughable to experience. While she is still alive, they strip the flesh from her skin with oyster shells, sharp pieces of pottery, and roofing tiles, until she dies from the flaying.
Or maybe they strip her, bind her, and drag her through the streets until the rocks do the same. For a moment, the story shifts, and she is being dragged to death. If Daniel ever heard that phrase before, he knows what it means now.
Through it all, the Pretty Girl is there in the background, watching, though in the most horrific parts of it she fades into the background as Daniel is focused on Hypatia’s agony. Later, he might reflect that everything he experienced was within the realm of sensations he knows, and he’s never been tiled or flayed. It feels like being cut, over and over again; but he can see it; but she can identify it as happening to her.
At what must be the moment of death, a brown hand reaches for Daniel’s own, and pulls him up out of that dream of deeper despair. The landscape has changed again, this time to a university campus. Daniel’s not even sure how long he spent in antiquity. This place isn’t that, but he’d be surprised if it was completely modern. 70s or 80s? And definitely moneyed. Kouamé studies him curiously, trying to gauge how he came out of that scenario.
The life of a scholarly mage is interesting to him, especially in ages since past. Academically, he knows some of the things that she debates and learns are not true, but they sound so true when he hears them. A learned woman, a beautiful woman, and clearly a respected woman. These experiences please him, and he seems to forget that eventually this ends in pain and death.
When it comes, though, it is humiliating. Bound and stripped, she is bare to the world, helpless against her opressors. She—he knows it is coming, now. He feels the desperation she must have felt in that moment before it began, the agony of that first cut against her skin.
And another. Another after. He watches as her skin is forcefully peeled away, she screams in agony as he experiences cut after cut. How can any one person endure this? At which point does the pain fade from existence?
The pain brings him to such a heightened state of consciousness. He almost feels as if he could step out of his body, watch this happen in a purely academic sense.
The dragging feels worse, he thinks. At least her head was not in danger of being crushed. But maybe that would be a mercy rather than watching the skin slowly but surely be rubbed raw and bloody as she is dragged through the streets.
He experiences it all, until the very end. Until his senses and laboured breath starts to fade from him. She cannot hold on much longer, she is on the precipice of overstimulation and pain. Everything begins to go numb as she bleeds out. This is the end. There is no escape from this nightmare.
Then he is on a university campus, collapsing to his knees as he breaths heavily. His ecstatic state continues, the afterthought of the pain still somewhere in the back of his mind. It causes his heart to race, as if he’s just woken from a particularly awful nightmare. He’s not running or screaming, though, so that’s a good start? “Jesus…” He finally exclaims. It’s a soft exclamation, but one all the less. “How can…how does anyone do that to a person? It’s so…” His heart hurts for that poor woman. He eventually looks up at Kouame and tries to shakily get to his feet.
“It was completely awful. Savage, even, what human beings will do to each other.” The Technocrat called Kouamé Bekoe is completely emotionless as he says it. At his age, not a lot gets him riled up, and the torture and murder of a woman some 1500 years ago doesn’t make the cut. Time mage he may be, but that’s even further away to a Technocrat than it is to a Traditionalist.
He turns his back, and starts walking, and Daniel will need to keep up. “We didn’t show that to you to be capricious or cruel. There is a reason.” His face softens, lip quirking a little at the joke. “All of us—us Adepts—face annihilation in much the same way as Hypatia, but of the spiritual variety rather than our bodies. If you’re going to join us in that danger you need to understand that on much more than the just the detached, academic way the Daniel Amar before you understood.” He talks about Daniel 10 minutes ago as if they’re different people.
The Chrononaut pauses, glancing over his shoulder at the Traditionalist before they enter one of the buildings. “You can rest easy. You’ve passed the hardest part. As Niña Bonita helped you through death, I will help you through reason.”
Daniel nods his head in agreement as he stands and dusts himself off. Not that there is much dust on him to begin with. He rubs his arms as the memories of being flayed alive still tingles across his skin. Slowly, they fade and he grounds himself in his new reality. That will be a death he’ll never forget.
He misses the first two steps of Kouame walking away and has to step quickly in order to keep up. “No, I didn’t think you did. You told me I needed to experience this, and I believe you that I do.” Daniel seems to carefully consider the Technocrat’s words, his footsteps slowing down a moment as he realises how devastating at a spiritual level that annihilation would be. There is a difference between bodily death and spiritual death, after all. “I think I do understand that, now. Truly.” He says.
He stops behind Kouame, his shoulders relaxing as the Chrononaut explains the hardest part is over. While that is a relief, there is still more testing to face. “Alright. Well…let’s make our way through reason, then.”
They walk through a security door which Daniel doesn’t even realize is security until the memory of it opening has passed, and find themselves in a hallway of computers… a room with one giant computer, actually. It’s vaguely discomforting. This is a place Koaumé feels comfortable, it’s not a place of safety for him.
“What you wanted to do with ”/characters/aaron-spaulding" class=“wiki-content-link”>Aaron, to time travel, wasn’t wrong exactly. Gabrielle tried to time travel multiple times. Kite might try it if an Archmage hadn’t already tried and failed. But it’s like trying to bandage a wound while there’s still a bullet in it, while the wound is still infected. You need to deal with the threat first, before you can fix things. You need to figure out what is killing the Time mages."
It is defintely discomforting, and Daniel shifts his feet as he stares at the numerous computers. He reaches out to touch one of the conduits to the supercomputer before thinking better. Instead, he focuses at Kouame.
“That was my second thought,” He admits. “To scry back and look for the differences. I wanted to see if we could find traces of whatever it is that’s killing us.” He purses his lips. “Not that it worked out that way. How do you figure out what is killing Time mages if it can find you while you’re looking for it?”
He chuckles mirthlessly. “A very good question. One way is that we’re all exploring different options in different paradigms. One of those options is you,” The Void Engineer says, looking directly at him.
“We can give you everything we know. If we’re correct about how this mechanism works, you won’t be targeted until Kite and all of the Adepts, and all of the Disciples of Time are gone. You may not be able to time travel but you can use that knowledge in tandem with others. But there is a large risk for you. We could be wrong, and it could be what we know that makes us a target. In which case…” He shrugs. “You’d be next.”
Daniel worries on his bottom lip. That is a huge task to bear, especially knowing it may not work and he may not have much time left between this point and the other mages disappearing.
“Plus, what if I were to perish in our final push to the end.” Daniel offers. “If this fails again, if this ends with the same results as last time, does Gabrielle’s loop keep repeating? That seems to be what causes the disappearance of the Time mages to begin with, right? Or is it the network itself?”
“Mmm Gabrielle’s loop can’t repeat without an agent to do that, and she left a body. With ”/characters/joshua" class=“wiki-content-link”>Joshua gone that leaves Kite, now—he’s already said he can’t change the loop—or a happenstance travel through non-human means. You used the Cave of Tears already. The Starlight Passage is corrupted, and Jessica—the Dreamspeaker you met—guards the other known passage in this area for that reason. Perhaps time could be repeated, but it’s not going to without a direct effort."
The Chrononaut paces as he thinks about it. “Gabrielle played her cards very close to her chest, especially, from what I can tell, in this final iteration. Maybe it is something she caused but it’s gone on without her.” He looks up. Something about his eyes bores right through the Ecstatic—he can’t look away, as if the Technocrat had pinned his mind like an entomologist pinning a butterfly. “There’s a lot of what ifs. You came here for answers. You can get them, but only if you’re willing to toss the dice like the rest of us. Only if fixing this mess is more important to you than anything… including your own life.”
“Perhaps it’s a good idea for us to stop looping in the first place.” Daniel murmurs. “How many times can you face a situation and know what to avoid, anyway.” He finally reaches out to brush his fingers along one of the consoles, eyes straying to it before he looks back to Kouame.
He wasn’t expecting to be locked in place by the Technocrats graze. His first instinct is to pull away, it’s possible he was snared like this the last time they met face to face as well. It’s a survival tactic, one he’s used for so long to protect himself.
But protecting himself has always meant running away. From his brother in Canada, and again in New York. From a terrifying sect of his own Tradition in Buffalo. From an abusive ex, and dangerous friends. He’s been running for so long that he’s not sure he knows how to take a stand.
The Escatic takes a deep breath, battling with his inner dialogue as he considers the words. Sometimes you might to die in order to make a change, and this change needs to be made. He recalls the memory of Hypatia’s death, of the excruciating pain he felt in her place. She died a martyr…was that the purpose of that particular death?
He swallows and finally nods his head. “It is,” Daniel proclaims. “I am willing to put my life on the line for the sake of the other Time mages. For the sake of the world.”
“Then you will swear it,” Koaumé says coolly. “Repeat after me: I will protect the Tellurian, and it’s manifestation through time. Any changes I make will be for the greater good. If I have an opportunity to protect the world, and what I see as the proper timeline, I will take it: no matter the cost to me, my Avatar, or what I hold dear.”
It’s a simple oath, but Daniel feels something weighing on him as he is about to speak the words. The violins break out and he doesn’t understand what they’re trying to tell him. It feels like his Avatar objects to him promising to allow it to be destroyed if that’s what it takes to protect the world and simultaneously understands and agrees with that action?
“I will protect the Tellurian,” Daniel starts, listening to the soft symphony of his avatar. “And it’s manifestations through time. Any changes I make will be for the greater good.” He listens to it get louder, while the weight on his shoulders gets heavier. “If I have the opportunity to protect the world, and what I see as the proper timeline, I will take it: no matter the cost to me, my Avatar, or what I hold dear.”
He does understand how his avatar feels, Daniel doesn’t want to die either…but his needs are secondary to making things right.
A distasteful expression crosses Kouamé’s face. He doesn’t like being part of a deviant ritual, even if he’s not using his Enlightened science directly. But he’s not the Master here, so he has to play by Kite’s rules to some extent… him, and the Pretty Girl. Daniel feels as though he were being touched, all over and inside, as if by water or gravity, but there is no one there.
“Your Avatar has been branded,” Koaumé says, not lightly. Branding is normally only done in the Traditions as a punishment; virtually any mage with Prime or Spirit will be able to see and read what’s been done to him, and it will follow him through every incarnation. Funny, Daniel would have expected it to hurt more. Maybe his ecstasy just translated it into emotion. “Any mage can see what you’ve sworn to, and if you choose to break that oath for self-preservation, well, they will see that too.”
The great computer and the university fade out, replaced by the field in Kite’s place again. “Now, little Daughter of Mnemosyne,” Kite says without preamble. All three face him, placing him at the center of an equilaterial triangle. “It’s time to learn what we know.”