Song of the Earth

This time, Daniel isn’t able to resist the allure of sleep. He’s one of the first to go after the rush of battle and ecstasy has passed. For some time, Will and Dylan stay awake talking quietly while the others slumber. His paradigm is suspiciously… loosey-goosey. On the other hand, his understanding seems to work along the lines of correspondence and communication, so perhaps he is an Adept.

Then Dylan falls asleep. Will is notoriously able to go for long periods—and they did bring caffeine on this leaf—but eventually he too passes out. Only Jessica must remain awake the duration, traveling through space.

Several of them awaken a few times, but with nothing to see, fall back asleep. Will is the last to fall asleep and the first to Awaken. He travels in silence with Jessica. As Saturn becomes a fingernail sized sphere in the sky, one-by-one the others come to.

They are still far from the planet when it dominates their viewpoint. “This is much larger than the Earth,” the Dreamspeaker observes. “We could spend lifetimes searching it. But I think my connection to her…” the Daughter of Mnemosyne takes them down, into the gas clouds.

The air on the leaf remains clear, and breathable. The terrain is terrifying to some, and wondrous to others. Without the Dreamspeaker’s magick, they would freeze, or suffocate. Even the mystics would eventually perish without a connection to Earth.

Soon they come across a platform, floating in the gas. It looks like an old-fashioned street corner, with a gas street lamp illuminating what is sometimes dark metal, sometimes stone. The scene flickers to steel, and modern glass and ceramics that would be suitable to a place like Dubai or Vegas before returning to cobblestone.

“There,” Jessica says. She pulls her leaf up. “I will be the last to go.” They talked about this some—if Jessica dies, they have no way home, and no way to survive Saturn without her. She will only enter the Shade Realm when and if the six of them have perished, because at that point it won’t matter. “The platform starts in our world. Past the light—” It becomes hazy there, “You’ll be in the Shade Realm.”

There is a jump in time, and all six are standing on the platform in a line, hand in hand. Will holds Dylan, who holds Ava, who holds Aaron, who holds Daniel, who holds Kouamé. Ava is the first to squeeze her companion’s hands. “Good luck.” Jessica tells them. “Don’t feel the need to go in together. Step forward past the light when you feel it’s safe to do so.”

A few steps in this world. Beyond the light… the violins start playing in Daniel’s head, a sad, mournful tune. Some of them will die today, that is for sure. Maybe him. Maybe in just a moment.

The sleep was much needed after the past few days of being cramped in cars and dealing with time anomaly after time anomaly. Perhaps it was the release of so much pent-up tension that allowed him to crash as hard as he did, sleeping deep and long into the last leg of the journey.

He comes to long after everyone else has, watching the never-ending darkness pass them by as Saturn starts to come closer and closer. He spends a lot of the time humming softly to himself, a mix of contemporary and classical music that seems to bleed together after a while.

When they draw close enough to Saturn that it is all they see, the humming fades out in favour of awe. “It’s huge…” He murmurs. He’s in the same state of awe as they descend into the gas clouds and toward the planet itself. “If this place wasn’t so dangerous, it would be fascinating to explore.” Too bad they have more important things to worry about.

He falls into a reserved silence once more until they are clasping hands on the platform. He, too, squeezes his companions hands. “Maybe we should go in pairs.” He offers. “I doubt any two steps will be the same between us all, considering every dimension is a dimension of time.” He lets out a deep breath. “Or we can go one-by-one. Either way, I can go first.”

Whatever decision they reach, when they finally begin to pass beyond the threshold of the lights, Daniel feels his heartbeat speed up. Some of them will die today, but he must find a way to make it as few as possible. Already, he attempts to use the song in his head as a point of focus so he can look ahead in time and plan for what lies before them.

“In pairs,” Will agrees, with a glance to his newly-Awakened father. Dylan can’t navigate this place on his own. With his free hand, he tweaks the output from his handheld, highlighting anything related to Time on the heads-up display.

He nods at Daniel as the Ecstatic offers to go first. It probably makes sense for the strongest Time mages to lead.

Daniel and Kouamé step off first. At first, nothing seems to happen to Kouamé. “Hmm.” He observes. “Human again. Still no Avatar.”

They move forward again, and Kouamé is beset by increasingly younger tides. He starts becoming more and more youthful in appearance, becoming a teenager.

Next is Ava and Aaron. The Ecstatics step forward. Ava is immediately catapulted to nearly 10,000 years in the future, while Aaron goes back 6500 years in the past. At least, those are their timelines relative to Saturn. Here inside the realm named for the god of time, they are together no matter what time they now belong to. Aaron ages gracefully into his mid-thirties, while Ava is just a couple of years beyond him. Both are balancing their steps pretty well.

All of the travelers find themselves in a grey world of mist and steely floor. Behind them, they can make out Jessica standing on the ‘boat,’ as well as the waiting Dylan and Will.

Dylan squeezes his son’s hand. They step forward.

Daniel can see it coming a mile away. Or a few steps away. Or a few hundred years away. He squeezes tight to Kouame’s hand as they go forward. “Human is a start.” He offers shakily. “Right?”

The violins grow louder with each forward step and the young time mage doesn’t age or deage as gracefully as his companions. “I’m not ready for this.” He whispers softly. “I thought I was, but I’m not.” Each step forward adds more years onto his life than a body could handle.. Soon he’s an old man, wispy grey hair covering his head and his back hunched forward.

As the orchestra of his soul takes over all senses, he keeps continuing forward toward his own death. “In my beginning is my end.” He recites in a croaking tone. He turns toward the ex-Technocrat, old eyes locking onto young. “Good luck. Please stop him.”

It’s the next step forward that does him in. His earthly body cannot handle the strain of the hundreds of years added onto it. His foot barely touches the floor before he collapses, lifeless.

When Daniel turns his gaze to see Kouamé, the Technocrat is a child. He could have withstood any amount of Time going forward, but not this. Soon he collapses too, unable to walk, but there’s no one to carry him when he no longer has the strength to support his head. The end is rapid as he descends back into a fetus, shrinking beyond sight.

Ava and Aaron share an alarmed look. Daniel’s name is on Aaron’s lips, but like a nightmare he can’t find any air to speak. They step forward.

Very little changes for Will as he steps forward. He gets a few inches shorter, as he reverts to a time before he ever tasted the vampire blood which caused an unnatural growth spurt, but he seems all right. He shoots a quick look at Dylan to be sure his father is as well, and then looks ahead again just in time to see Daniel and Kouamé fall. His stomach lurches, his eyes fixed on yet another dead member of his cabal. There is nothing they can do but move forward.

Dylan is younger than Will himself when he looks at his father—12, maybe 10. His clothing reverts to the style he wore at that time—a checkered red shirt tucked into blue pants. The boy’s face is filled with alarm at the changes—he has all the same memories as he did, the same understanding of his mission, but his reasoning and emotional capacity have been reduced with their journey, changes Will likely doesn’t notice in himself.

Ahead, Will and Dylan can see a white figure in the mist. Ava and Aaron too are spurred forward—both of them gain in years. A lot. They are white-haired, bent forward and shrunken with age. Perhaps if they were human they’d be dead—but a mage can expect to live beyond a century, even if they are long past the strength of their prime.

Will is eleven, so hardly much older. Between what he sees of his father, and what he witnesses ahead of them, he’s beginning to believe they made a mistake coming here. But there’s no guarantee they could survive by going back, and up ahead he can see what might be his mother. Taking a deep breath, he grips Dylan’s hand more tightly and steps forward.

Dylan’s hand is ever smaller. Soon he is an infant, and then he too is nothing at all. Now Will is 48, a man again in his own right.

At last Aaron crumples, unable to go on. “One last kiss?” He jokes to Ava. But he’s gone before she can respond. She steps forward, a youthful 20 once more. Ahead of them Gabrielle can be clearly seen, her arms outstretched, promising renewal. If Saturn is the God of Time, then she must be the Goddess. If they succeed, perhaps she can undo the damage that has been wrought.

Will holds tightly to his father until he can’t anymore, even lifting him into his arms to try to carry him along. Something snaps in his chest as he loses him, too. Silent tears roll down his cheeks as his father vanishes from existence, and he pauses for a moment to try to catch his breath. He sees Aaron drop, and feels the weight of a timeline he doesn’t remember, a friendship he can’t quite recall, slip through his fingers.

Scrubbing the heel of his hand over his cheeks, he pushes himself forward. Someone has to make it to Gabrielle. They have to make this count.

Another step, and Will is 3 years old. He knows his mission, at least as much as he can understand it, but he doesn’t have the capacity to carry it out in any logical way. His mind isn’t even developed enough to make total use of his eyes, or the time sense his equipment gives him. With his father gone, he runs toward his mother.

…And steps right into an area of extreme temporal distortion, reaching the ripe age of 97 in moments. Lucky, though, that it remains inside his lifespan. Will regains control of his emotions and actions, in time to see the scene play out behind him.

Kal has arrived. So far nothing in the world strained him, but he used all of his power to get here in time to stop them. He tries to advance, and Jessica puts her hand on his shoulder. He looks at her.

“I don’t have to kill you,” The Dreamspeaker says calmly. “Just buy time.”

Her voice rises, telling the story of the Dreamspeaker and the Batini at the edge of time and space. She retells the stolen stories of her compatriots, drawing on their power to achieve the ending she wants, and she does it all in seconds, the memories passing before her and Kal’s eyes. But the story doesn’t end with his gilgul. He brushes her aside, into the gas giant, and her body is gone before it can be pulled into the planet’s gravity well.

He wades carefully but quickly, because Will and Ava are far ahead of him. Will actually passed Ava when he ran as a child, so he reaches her first. He doesn’t even bother killing her, batting her out of the Shade Realm of Time so the old woman can die in the gas giant.

There’s nothing you can do. There’s nothing you can do. Will focuses on that thought to the point that it almost ceases to lose meaning, catching sight of Kal ending Jessica and then Ava in a glance back over his shoulder. He can’t save them. The only one who might be able to is waiting before him, as shining and beautiful as he remembers her in memories gone hazy over the better part of a century.

Heedless now that he’s so close, with death waiting just behind him, Will pushes himself forward as fast as his aged body will go, stretching his left arm out to reach his mother. His right hand grips his handheld like a lifeline, his thumb feeling for the slider for his personal firewall. He has no idea if or how Correspondence will work here, but he is doing what he can to shield his body from Kal.

It’s not enough. There’s nothing he can do to stop Kal from freezing him in place. He remains there, unmoving in time and space, as Kal picks his way into the safe zone.

“You had a good run. You almost made it.” The Archmage is out of breath like he just ran a marathon, bringing his hand to his chest as he walks around to stand between Will and Gabrielle, careful not to brush her statue with his clothing. Talking is easier than wiping Will out of existence. “But all things come to an end.” He moves on, around Will’s side, and stretches out a hand. “Like you.”

A figure appears in the space between them, a boy who, like Gabrielle, remains as youthful as he was before he died. Jahan. “No.”

The Archmage blinks. “Go away, little wraith. You’re not even a mage anymore, yet alone a Marauder.”

The once-Avenger stands firm, crossing his arms. “You’re right, I’m not a Marauder anymore. But there will always be a time in which I was one, just like there will always be a time you weren’t even an Archmage. And we’re in the Shade Realm of Time.” Now Will sees a shadow, an apparition around his friend, stretching thirty feet or more in the air. Part volcano, part mecha, part insect, part earth and flame, a green bubble and a sculpting wave. It is the blue glow of a monitor and and the crystalline perfection of a digital Avatar. The memory of his Marauderhood is always changing, and never holds fewer than several shapes at once.

Kal hesitate, but he won’t back down. “Unless you want to know True Death little ghost, you’ll get out of my way. Scamper through the cosmos with your dead Technocrats.”

Jahan smiles. “It’s true, you could end me. So what are you waiting for? Touch my thread,” the once-Marauder threatens. “Let’s see what all of that resonance does to you when you do.”

Kal doesn’t say anything else. He grimaces and turns, leaving the Shade Realm. Will is freed from his grip, and Jahan, after watching him go, turns to his friend. “Will.”

Now, a few steps away from his mother, Will can feel the frustrated scream build up inside him, trapped in his throat as Kal freezes him. They’ve given everything for this. His friends have died. His father has died. He doesn’t know how things are going back on Earth, but he’s been quietly mentally preparing to find much of his cabal and their allies dead, too. In all of this, with the typical arrogance of a Virtual Adept, his own death hadn’t factored into that matrix. Now he stares it in the face, with nothing but ice cold hatred in his eyes.

When Jahan appears, he experiences something almost like vertigo. This isn’t possible. He held his best friend in his arms as he died. Bits and pieces of their conversation are drowned out by the ringing in his ears, Will’s eyes following Kal’s movements as he threatens to end Jahan a second time.

And then he doesn’t.

Off-balance, he lurches forward the instant he’s free to move again, windmilling his arms to keep his feet. “How are you always there when I need you?” he asks quietly, turning to Jahan. He’s tearing up again and he’s not even next to the stupid pillar of salt. “I miss you every single day.”

“I’m your best friend,” Jahan says with a smile, so different from the one he gave Kal. “Always.” He holds out a hand, but even here he has no substance. Not matter anyway, only will. He lets it fall.

“I miss you too. It’s hard to keep going and know you’re still on Earth, and that I have to have new friends now.” He admits.

“You need to hurry before Kal finds a way around. Tell ”/characters/america-anders" class=“wiki-content-link”>America… tell America I understand." Is the best he can come up with. “You can take it from here. I have faith in you.” He starts to fade away, to leave Will all alone on Saturn.

“I’ll tell her,” Will promises. “And I’ll see you again, if not in this lifetime then in the next.”

And then he’s alone, facing Gabrielle’s likeness. Aaron and Daniel had said grief was the key, tears, which Will has in great supply now. Cautiously, he approaches her, aware now that Time no longer plays tricks with his body and his memories.

Ava, Aaron, and Daniel died to get them this far. If the Ecstatics hadn’t been along they may not have had the Time they needed to make it here. Jessica and Kouamé, allies he hardly knew, had given their lives to his mother’s cause long before Will was aware of it. Fresh tears spill down his cheeks at the thought of his father: newly Awakened, with only hours to experience reality anew before he blinked out of existence. If this doesn’t work, Will has no way back from here.

Will sinks to his knees in front of the statue. Too much has happened in the span of a year; to this day, he has never allowed himself to pause and reflect on it. Sid and Christine and Davey and most of all, Jahan. The fractured foundations of his cabal. Betrayal upon betrayal: Jerusha, Eleanor, Kate. Gavin. The blood bond.

It’s been a shitty fucking twelve months. Will’s chest heaves as he sobs over the salt, willing literally any of that to have been worth it.

There is a wind, that picks up in the distance and then carries over his sobbing body. Will feels his mother’s arms close over him as he embraces one of the Nine Ecstatic Sacred Passions. His skin grows firm and youthful as his body returns to his teenage years, his vision growing dark as if he were falling asleep. He feels himself carried, accelerating.

And then he wakes up.

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