Song of the Earth

The Panther

Daniel feels himself flying through the air, and then he’s in a place of all blurred green lines and no edges, as if the forest were moving by his periphery in front of him. He feels two tugs on his feet that then give way.

Then he’s back in regular space. He has second to register that does not mean regular time before his face collides with Karasi’s shoulderblade. She goes down, and Daniel blacks out for just a second.

Daniel is awkwardly entangled with Karasi, mostly on top but also under her right arm. The Darwushim pushes herself up on her knees, trying to disentangle herself from the now-conscious Ecstatic. “Are you okay?” She asks, turning to touch his face.

Once he answers in the affirmative, she looks up. “When are we?” The Batini asks, unable to tell for herself they’re clearly in the early 19th century. A forest. Possibly the same place they were in before.

This is not an experience he was expecting to have, but when does anything ever go as planned when you are still a toddling mage messing with the least understood sphere? He has stopped playing, the force at which he’s being dragged making him unable to concentrate on it.

When he comes to the other side, he lets out a shocked cry and falls like a rock after colliding with Karasi. He’s still slightly dazed when he comes to, as well. It takes him a moment longed to help dislodge himself from her. “Yeah. Yeah. Sorry.” He rolls away and slowly sits up. He doesn’t even bother checking himself to make sure he isn’t bleeding, but rather checks his violin. Is anything loose? Did it survive the fall?

It’s not until she asks when they are that he clues in. It’s always there, of course, that sense of perfect timing of his. He’s aware that they’re not when they were before, but not aware-aware until she calls attention to it. His eyes widen in shock at the revelation. “We’re in the past,” he offers softly. “Oh shit. Ninteenth century…oh shit.”

His violin is actually fine, it’s just his face which hit the other mage. “Nineteenth century… how wonderful,” Karasi exclaims. “We should go see if we can find the others… or anything really. You’re not dressed very discreetly though,” She observes to Daniel. It’s true, wearing a sackcloth in the early 19th century is completely period, it’s just completely weird. She tugs on his hand. “Let’s go!”

Daniel gets to his feet, dusting himself off as he does. “I’m not…” He glances down at himself. “Ah, wait…” He doesn’t budge right away, a little unsure of himself as he stays in place. “We have to be careful. The timeline is so messed up as it is, we really need to make sure we don’t make any further changes to it.” He looks around the forest. “But..yeah, we should see if we can find ”/characters/xifeng-lin" class=“wiki-content-link”>Xifeng and Alex." Before they make any changes.

A gentle rain begins to fall on the forest. “This is water from the 19th century,” Karasi laughs, giving a half-spin. Pulling on Daniel’s hand, the Batini runs downhill.

And comes to an abrupt halt. They are face-to-face with a tall man of about 5’10". He is clearly Native, with bronze skin, dark grey eyes and wavy black hair. He is incredibly attractive—very tall for his time, with broad shoulders and a broad chest, muscular forearms, and a clear complexion. His face is oval, his cheeks high, and his nose aquiline. Power flashes around him, so obviously for a moment Daniel believes there is lightning in the sky—there isn’t, but there could be.

“Make any changes like running into Tecumseh?” Karasi asks. She knows who this is, and even if she didn’t, it’s not hard to infer when you run into a Master of Forces. Ursula is the only person like this man that Daniel has ever met.

“Wait. I speak Shawnee!” Karasi says abruptly, and waves, calling forth a greeting in what Daniel assumes Shawnee. “I told him hi. In Shawnee,” Karasi clarifies as if Daniel didn’t figure that out on his own. “I have literally prepared my whole life for this moment.”

It’s hard to equate this woman with someone who used to work as a double-agent Nephandus. She’s so bright and full of life that Daniel cannot help but be pulled into her delightful wonder of the world. He glances up toward the sky as the rain starts to fall, taking a minute to let the fresh, clean water hit his face. Water that hasn’t been poluted by volcanic ash and isn’t going to freeze as soon as it hits the ground…it’s a nice feeling. A smile tugs at his lips as he looks back at Karasi. This time she wins the tug of war and he follows her downhill. Like he said, they just need to be careful.

Or not…

“Holy shit,” The Ecstatic breaths. “Yes. We definitely didn’t want to do that.” Too late! He grips tighter to Karasi’s hand as his eyes remain transfixed on the great man of history before them. “Oh my gosh. Can you feel his po—-wait, you do what?!” His eye widen as Karasi begins to speak with Tecumseh. “What? You’ve been what? Oh God…just watch what you tell him, alright?” Because Daniel clearly not dressed for the times isn’t already enough.

Karasi doesn’t reply, speaking back and forth with the man in Shawnee. The first time he speaks is a shock to Daniel—there’s such a rumble in his voice, he sounds like he could make the earth toss with its vibration. No wonder this is a man who made earthquakes. Ursula shook with power but it didn’t seem so… seismic.

“I’m sure he understands English too,” Karasi says as an aside. “But given you’re white…” She sounds almost apologetic. “I’m telling him we’re mages.” She drops back into Shawnee.

Daniel is in awe, listening to the Legend before them speak, watching closely as Karasi strikes up a conversation. He shifts his feet as if he expects the earth to start vibrating under him. He just needs a steadier footing to make sure he doesn’t fall. His grip on Karasi’s hand loosens and he keeps a step back behind her. To seem less threatening…not that he truly thinks Tecumseh would find him threatening. But it’s an attempted gesture at good will?

“No no, it’s okay. I understand.” Daniel says in reply. “Just…” Be careful. He must sound like a broken record. At least while they talk, he can take a moment to survey their surroundings.

“So he wants to know if we’re from the future,” Karasi says in a quiet voice. They’re still excluding him from the conversation, but this is kind of Daniel’s wheelhouse. “What do I say?”

“Ah…” Well, this is ground they have to tread lightly. What can they say that confirms without giving anything away? “Well, we can’t exactly lie. It’s pretty obvious after all. I guess we could be from an Umbral plane, but…” He nods. “Tell the truth. Just be firm about no details.”

“Hold on, I’m asking about verb conjugations,” Karasi shushes Daniel. How often does a language been travel through time?

“You know, I do understand English,” Tecumseh booms. “Your Shawnee is fine. Almost like a native. So what kind of future do you come from that you two travel together?”

Daniel feels something lightly touch his mind. Karasi smiles at Tecumseh. “Uh-uh. No mind reading. You know the danger that represents you.” The tendrils on Daniel’s mind retreat.

“You’re asking about what?” Daniel looks incredulous. He supposes that does make sense when he thinks about it. He remembers being confused by French and Hebrew conjugations when he had to learn them in school.

He looks surprised when Tecumseh addresses them in English. “It’s ah…well almost about 200 years in the future.” He admits. He’s not sure what to say outside of that. “We were probing a passageway through time. I clearly don’t have a good enough handle to control where we ended up.” His face reddens in slight embarrassment.

It’s a good thing he hs his own mental shields he can throw up if needed. He is halfway through raising his violin to his chin when the tendrils pull back. “Yeah. We really don’t want to alter the timeline.” He sounds apologetic.

“But there are some ways you can help us,” Karasi interjects immediately, controlling the flow of the conversation. “You know the Web you’re building of Forces? With the other native peoples of this land?”

Tecumseh’s jaw works. “Yes?” He seems unhappy with her knowledge of its existence.

Karasi holds up a finger as if to tell him to pause, and then starts spinning in a circle. He looks a little impatient. “Well we’re friends with your reincarnation in our time and,” Karasi begins while she whirls.

“You’re accessing it.” He says, surprised. “Stop it.”

“That’s what I was hoping you could show me,” Karasi says without stopping. “How do we keep others out of it, like the Nephandi? It makes earthquakes.”

Daniel watches their exchange, watches Karasi start twirling. He’s pulled in by it momentarily, the whirling and twirling causing him to space out. He thinks about her question, an idea popping into his own mind.

“Can we dismantle it or use it for something other than Forces magic?”

“I’m not going to tell you how to dismantle it,” The mage says shortly. He’s taking to meeting two time travelers pretty well though. Then again, he’s a Master—weird stuff happens to him all the time. “Can he touch it too?” He juts a thumb at Daniel.

“Oh, no, he has no idea.” Karasi answers. “It’s just me, you reborn,” She counts off" her fingers, “a 16-year-old boy,” He makes a face, “and a couple of Nephandi.” That’s about accurate.

“Is my reincarnation a Shawnee man?”

“Oh yeah,” Karasi lies so smoothly Daniel might see how she managed to pose as a Nephandus. “Totally. Well not Shawnee, I think… Lakota. But definitely Native.” She glances at Daniel.

Daniel frowns softly, not truly appreciating having a thumb jutted in his direction. He supposes he shouldn’t be offended and just keep is mouth shut, but it’s a difficult task to accomplish. “It’s not me who wants to dismantle it, but you reborn.” He offers, trying hard to keep his tone non-confrontational.

He doesn’t confirm nor deny anything, but rather glances at Karasi when she glances his way. “Either way, it’s been untouched for a very long time.” He’s sure Tecumseh can put two and two together in that regard. “If you could tell her how to turn it off, it would be very useful.”

“It’s not something you can just “turn off,” Tecumseh frowns. “It works off people’s connection to the land and each other, something a pair of nomads like you wouldn’t understand.” His tone isn’t mean (just powerful): they really don’t understand staying in one place.

“So, as I understand. You come from the future. I can’t know anything that would help me, but I can help you, because the Net I’ve made is being used by Nephandi to create earthquakes.” Karasi nods, still smiling as if his help it’s a given. “Very well.”

“How did you make it?” The Batini asks.

“With Prime. I strengthened naturally occurring links—with each other, and with the land on which they lived. The links became self-sustaining—the life and thought and spirit others channeled in was converted to Forces by the framework I laid. Any negative or contradictory resonance would be diluted by the sheer amount of proper energy—And in a way the Net itself grooms the energies it needs.”

He steps forward then, reaching out and touching Karasi’s hand. He says something in Shawnee, and withdraws his hand. A line of white connects the two. He speaks again, gesturing, and a line runs from Karasi to Daniel. Daniel feels some… connection or subconscious awareness of her. Nothing so dramatic as to alarm a Sleeper, but this is Prime.

He creates a third connection between himself and Daniel. “Three points is the minimum number to create a shape.” He shouts a word, louder than before, and thrusts his fit downward, the boom hurting Daniel’s ears. Lines run down to the ground, and the lines have turned red. They coalesce, the lines to the ground running together into one, while separating—red and white now. Prime and Forces.

“It’s easy to start. It’s strengthening it, making it big enough that the energy coming into it is greater than the decay of paradox.” Gesturing, he drops the whole net. Daniel feels his vague awareness of them drop.

Daniel has never fully recognized Prime before, or so he thought, so the awareness of it comes as a bit of a shock. “Prime.” He repeats softly, as if repeating it will help him remember this feeling in the future. He stares at the white lines on the ground, then at Karasi and Tecumseh in turn as he adjusts.

He covers his ears as best he can when the boom sounds, the violin in his hand not helping matters. “Holy…” He gasps in shock. He works his jaw a few times, as if that would help the ringing in his ears.

“So hypothetically,” He finally asks, “if it has been drained of energy, would the decay of the paradox cause the whole net to collapse? Or would it begin to gather than energy on it’s own once more? Or is it possible for it to get stuck in some sort of feedback loop while no one maintains it?”

“It might collapse,” Tecumseh allows, answering Daniel’s question distastefully. “But if people are still connected to it and feeding into it, it should sustain it even if there’s a negligible amount of power. What do you mean by a feedback loop?”

Karasi looks really intrigued by this whole conversation. She lets Daniel and the Master mage interact since she got her questions answered.

“Okay…but what if the people who have access to it are more concerned about using it rather than repowering it. Do they repower it just by having that connection or is it a conscious effort?” Daniel knows he’s probably saying more than he should. He keeps going, regardless, giving Karasi a significant look. Are any of those connected feeding back into it?

Daniel thinks about his question, both unsure of how to describe what he means and if maybe that was too much information. “It’s…lets say someone uses it to drain it dry, then no one maintains it after that. Would it continue to cause quakes on its own while paradox begins to erode it?” He pauses. “And how would one stop that from happening if it had already started?”

“It wouldn’t cause earthquakes on its own,” Tecumseh frowns. “It has to be triggered for that to happen. If it’s empty it will start to refill itself as long as there are living people around to power it.”

“Random question!” Karasi says with a smile. “Your incarnation is also ”/wikis/order-of-hermes" class=“wiki-page-link”> Order of Hermes and is having something of a crisis of faith. Why would you choose the Order?"

The question throws him off a little, but he answers. “It’s the most structured and organized of the Traditions. Much of the membership might be European but they are heirs, as usual, to knowledge coming from Egypt and western Asia. I have brothers and sisters all over the world who will shelter and aid me, or at the very least share knowledge of me. But more than that, the work is there. All of the principles I could learn are in writing. Nobody taught me to make the Net, I applied existing principles and theory together into something new, something creative. I could go my whole life without talking to another person in the Order, but its great body of work is there, and I will add to it, as will those who come after me. The other Traditions can’t compare to the wide-scale, reaching body of work that the Order maintains, and it would be a mistake to simply cede that to Europe because they are the conquerers who hold most of it right now.”

Karasi looks fascinated, but she shoots Daniel an apologetic look for interrupting him.

Daniel nods his head. It answers his questions, mostly. He opens his mouth to ask one last question when Karasi interrupts. It’s a valid question, though, and it does help derail him from getting too specific in any of the other questions he might have.

“Ah. Wow.” He says softly. “That is true. Really, all Traditions are built on the back of knowledge that comes from cultures outside of Europe. Europe just sort of…does what it always does.” Takes things and appropriates them for it’s own use? Ruins the lives of the others around them? “Maybe the Order just needs to reinvent itself.” He mutters this under his breath as he thinks of Alex, then smiles at Karasi.

“I have just one last question about the Net. Do you think it would grow more and more powerful if time was turned back to before it was last used, or would it’s level of latent magic stay constant?”

Tecumseh looks like he’s about to reply. He opens his mouth, but then an expression of surprise comes over his face. “Get down!” He calls out. There’s suddenly a staff in his hand. Karasi is almost the same height as Daniel—she throws her arm over Daniel and pulls him down in the kind of twisting maneuver her body knows how to make almost without thinking…

And they look up to see some gigantic lavender creature that is little more than a face with an 8- or 9-foot mouth opening wide as Tecumseh blasts it with seismic energy. The creature shatters, filaments of its body passing over the mages with a sensation like someone stepping over their grave.

There are more of these now, ranging from an opalescent pink to a glow-in-the-dark yellow-green, descending from the sky or emerging from the woods, floating like ghosts. The smallest are only about as wide across as Daniel or Karasi, while the largest are nearly twice that. They move in complete silence, a rictus grin across their features, displaying teeth paler and just slightly whiter than the rest of them. Their eyes are yellower, or whiter, or oranger than their bodies, their noses just tiny veined nostrils, the rest of their features becoming transparent the further away from the centers of their faces.

Daniel can spot 9, none of them closer than a few hundred feet, but closing with the kind of languid speed of a hunter that knows it can outlast its prey. “They’re here for you,” Tecumseh says. “Run! I’ll try and hold them off.”

One question he’ll never know the answer to. Daniel turns his head toward whatever it is that has the elder mage surprised, his eyes going wide. He starts to duck his head as Karasi pulls him down and out of the way of Tecumseh’s magic.

“Holy shit!” He gasps. “What the hell is that?!” The fingers of his free hand grasp tightly onto Karasi’s arm, body shivering as the filaments pass over them. His eyes focus off in the distance as more of them start to appear. “What the hell are they…” He breaths out.

“For us?!” Oh shit oh shit. It was only a matter of time, right? He scrambles to his feet, violin and bow still in one hand while he makes a grab for on of Karasi’s with the other. “C’mon. If we can get to a safe distance, maybe I can slow them down.” He glances at Tecumseh and swallows. “Thank you.” Then he’ll make a run for it as told.

Karasi reaches for Daniel’s hand, and stops. The pieces of the monster Tecumseh exploded are reforming… no, they’re attracting smaller ghosts out of nowhere, ghosts which eat the debris and become larger. There are so many—5—immediately around them that moving closer to Daniel would be a death sentence. Karasi spins out of the way, running in the only direction she can. Daniel’s path will have to be 90 degrees away from her.

Despite their proximity to the Master mage, the monsters don’t seem interested in Tecumseh—one actively avoids him, and the others all turn to face either Karasi or Daniel.

Man, did they ever piss someone off.

“Karasi!” Daniel exclaims. His voice takes on a high-pitched, desperate quality as he watches his friend take off away from him. Of course it would be a death sentence to come closer to him, this is something he has to deal with. It doesn’t make him anymore ready to run from this and run away from her. So much death. Hasn’t there been enough death?

He glances around for his escape route and takes off in the only free direction he has. His heart races and his blood pumps loudly in his ears. How do you destroy something that so easily puts itself back together? For now, he’ll try to use the anxiety and the blood surging through him to propell himself forward, faster than he would normally be able to manage.

Daniel starts to increase his speed, but he has another problem: the forest floor is slick with rain. Between wet leaves loosely clinging to the ground, pockets of mud, and sloped terrain, and the heady pursuit, Daniel can only just keep his footing.

Karasi runs directly downhill. As a dervish she’s better able to keep her footing, and if she can gain some distance—

Karasi steps on a patch of wet leaves, and unbalancing, immediately shifts her other foot. She lands in a patch of mud and drops down on her back, the monsters in pursuit. Tumbling downhill, she pulls her elbows in and throws her body into a roll—

And teleports just beside Daniel, reaching out her hand for his. “I can’t take you with me,” She says, breathing heavily. In the moments since Daniel saw her, her body is covered in mud. “We’ll just have to help each other.”

Daniel does his best to keep his footing, slipping and nearly falling here and there. It’s only going to be a matter of time before he falls on his face.

He’s weaving through trees when Karasi appears and reaches for him. The shout that escapes him is involuntary and it takes him a moment to realise who it is. “Karasi!!” He grabs her hand, squeezing tight. “It’s okay. Are you okay?”

He glances behind him, trying to get a sense of how far they are from the ghosts chasing them. “We’re not going to be able to run forever. We need to do something…”

Its hard to think when you’re running for your life and hoping not to slip and lose ground. “Can you teleport ahead and cast? I will try to lead them right to you. Maybe if we create some sort of…spirit cage or something?” He speaks between huffs of breath.

Karasi frowns, thinking about that while she runs. “Oh, the paradox…” She grimaces. They are well past worrying about paradox right now. Daniel estimates he’s managed a 15-20 second lead on the creatures chasing him, that he can see. The forest isn’t great for visibility, and for all he knows he’s going to run into another one.

Karasi stops abruptly. “Go,” She says, letting go of his hand as she starts to whirl, faster and faster.

“I know…” Daniel replies apologetically, giving Karasi’s hand a tight squeeze in sympathy. It’s better to die fighting than running, right? “I’ve got a good lead on them, though. We can do this.” He’ll ignore all the creeping feelings of doubt he has. They’ve gotta try something.

He turns his head briefly as Karasi stops. But he keeps going forward at her urging. Focus on him ghosties, look at him run!!

Alex and Xifeng appear in the same forest they left, but it is twenty or thirty degrees warmer. Rain falls from the sky, and the air is fresher and cleaner than it is in their time. They hear footsteps pounding through the forest, hear hagged breathing as they spot what has to be Daniel running on the edge of their vision, or a very similarly-dressed white man.

Daniel has been running for a good ten minutes since Karasi left him, it seems. He is out of breath. It’s just terror keeping him going, but at least he has no problem accessing ecstasy.

And behind Daniel closing in, Alex and Xifeng can see a… thing. There are around eight or nine of them around if they take a look, round ghosts ranging from opalescent pink to glow-in-the-dark yellow-green. The smallest are only as wide across as Daniel or Karasi is tall (a few inches short of 6’) while the largest are nearly twice that. They are little more than a mouth and a face on some ectoplasm. They move in complete silence, a rictus grin across their features, displaying teeth paler and just slightly white than the rest of them. Their eyes are yellower, or whiter, or oranger than their bodies, their noses just tiny-veined nostils, the rest of their features becoming transparent the further away from the centers of their faces.

The one pursuing Daniel is of the pinker variety, somewhere over 9 feet in diameter.

Xifeng is going to be the only one to react with any speed, as Alex is there dumbfounded. Straight off the vision of the future Gabrielle showed him, he came here and he felt him. Xifeng can feel the Master’s magick too, and if it seems similar to Alex’s this isn’t really the time to focus on it.

Alex wouldn’t even normally sense magick half a mile off, but it’s him. Alex would recognize his own resonance anywhere, and that’s Tecumseh. No one he knows, except maybe Gabrielle, has ever felt like this before. And the selfish part of his Avatar recognizes he could go to him, go to Tecumseh, and learn. He would be a Master, he has no doubt of it, with himself as a teacher. It’s not enough to make him abandon Daniel and Karasi to die, but his self-love is powerful. What Avatar wouldn’t want to be with itself? There is no one alive who has felt the way he’s feeling, who could understand this drive and desire.

Daniel has been running for a while. He let Karasi leave him with some half-baked plan of running until he can lead them right into a trap or…something. It was the best idea his terrified brain could come up with at the time. But hey, he’s been in these sorts of high-energy, dont-stop-till-you-drop situations before. They just haven’t been while running for his fucking life.

He’s done his best in the time he’s been running to reach out with his magic to figure out what these things actually are and if he has an chance of facing them or dying in the meantime. Not to mention trying to keep on his feet and get further ahead with magic or anything. It’s not going as well as it could for the toddling time mage.

He doesn’t notice the appearance of Xifeng or Alex, but rather just keeps running forward. Hoping beyond hope that playing bait is eventually going to work and that he’ll find Karasi again sooner rather than later.

Xifeng inhales, swaying in place as the ground returns to a natural unevenness beneath her feet. She glances at Alex, trying to assess his state, but the sound of running footsteps pulls her attention away. Her heavy revolver in her hand, she circles sideways, drawing a bead on the sound in the trees.

“Daniel?” The first time she says it, it’s in a puzzled undertone, her eyes catching on the creature in hot pursuit, but then she draws in a deeper breath and raises her voice. “Daniel!” She squeezes the trigger, wasting a regular bullet in firing a few feet behind him – less because she believes it might do some damage to the thing and more because she hopes to distract it. “Time magick, not Spirit!”

Alex shakes of the disorientation of Gabrielle’s vision mixed with the calling of his own avatar as best he can while Xifeng attempts to distract the creatures.

He searches his mind for the familiar presence of Karasi or her past self, and calls out to them blindly. Karasi, Ada. I have a way home. Come to me. You aren’t fighting spirits, but Time.

Without waiting for response the hermetic begins a chant, playing with the tempo of his words as he lays an enchantment on his fleeing friend, to hide him from Time’s gaze.

Daniel hears his name from a familiar voice, head turning toward the sound. Whatever Xifeng shouts at him sort-of registers in his mind or is starting to register in his mind when the loud bang goes off from the gun and he loses his footing.

Tim magick registers too as he tumbles forward down a hill and the world spins out of focus. “Son of a…” Of course it’s Time magick, you dumbass. He tries to brace himself and stop the fall by reaching out his free hand to grab onto something. Instead, he feels the sickening crack of something in his arm breaking, plus the immediate shock and pain that follows from the nerve ends. His arm. Holy shit. His arm.

When he does manage to stop, his violin has rolled somewhere away from him, his arm feels like it’s on fire while grasps it to his chest with the other and he stares toward the spirit time creature things intent on eating him. All of the pain, all of the running, all of the everything and he could have just been fucking dealing with this from the beginning. He lets out a frustrated, pained yell while trying to focus outside of his head, outside of his body and this place and everything to countermagick the Time being threatening to eat him alive. He throws his good arm out, making a gesture as if he’s trying to tear the being apart.

Daniel crashes into the clearing. Ahead he can see Karasi facing off against two time phantoms.

In Alex’s brain, Karasi is silent a moment. /Oh,/ she thinks at him. /Well that’s a problem./ The Batini makes a run for it. The spirit traps she set don’t do jack.

Alex’s ward on Daniel is successful. He feels the energies flow from him and erect around the Ecstatic, redirecting the time phantom’s perceptions.. To him. It, and two like it, break away to surround Xifeng and Alex.

Finally, Daniel’s countermagick shrinks the creature, from nine feet to just over three in diameter. It could still eat a limb or two, though. The attack makes it turn around, as if it senses Daniel now.

“Um.” Xifeng edges back in closer to Alex again, having just watched Daniel nosedive down the hill. Her focus is on the creatures approaching them, and she’s trying to position herself between them and the Hermetic. She can hear the vibrations of time and space; whatever he’s doing is more than she can directly contribute, so they need to not chomp on Alex first. “We need Daniel and Karasi to get closer to us, not farther away. Can you do something to make these things keep their distance so we can get downhill?” She watches for patterns in the monsters’ movements, their sway and gait, trying to detect the best moment to make a run for it after the others.

Strengthen your connection to me. Alex sends back to Karasi. I have an anchor to the present waiting, but we must be in contact, physically, or otherwise.

“If they were corporeal, yes.” He replies to the fledgeling mage while searching for any indication that the creatures are affected by natural forces. “What I can do, is cloak us from their senses. While we run to Daniel.” He begins his chant again, while watching Xifeng, ready to run when she does.

Karasi sends back a quick, /Done!/ She’s not going to be able to physically get to Daniel running from two of these things, but why would that matter to an Ahl-i-Batin.

Alex is on fire. When he and Xifeng disappear, the two that were chasing them turn around and start down the hill to Karasi, their pace gliding and swift. The one after Daniel hesitantly makes its way forward, as if it knows Daniel is there but can’t see him.

Daniel will just keep doing what he’s already doing. Lying around. Hurting. Scrambling backwards. Trying to destroy these things with countermagick. He tries to get to his feet as he does so and reach out for his violin. His arm is making him feel a little woozy. Unfortunately, he’s not in the perfect state to really assess who is where at the moment and where he should move to.

“Good enough.” Xifeng keeps her useless weapon trained on the nearest one, moving closer still to Alex as he chants. As soon as the creatures turn away, she gestures for him to follow her, picking a swift path downhill towards Daniel. “Over here!” she calls to the Ecstatic as soon as she spots him, skirting around the time monsters to close the distance as quickly as possible. She’s the only one here who can’t do anything at all to these things, but that doesn’t seem to shake her confidence. Just gotta trust Alex is keeping them distracted, right?

As the apparitions start moving away, Alex has to blink a few times to clear his eyes. When the stars align just right, one of his effects works as intended, but two is simply unheard off. Even in his bewilderment he registers Xifeng’s cue and follows her down to Daniel. When they approach the injured Ecstatic Alex pushes himself to overtake Xifeng, grasping her arm as he makes contact with Daniel. Bring us back. Now! He calls through time, hoping his link to Ren remains strong across the century.

The sensation of being ripped forward is like being in the front row of a roller coaster as it accelerates. The three of them move forward, and Karasi’s connection is at least as strong as an arm—she follows.

Then the four of them are sitting together at the bottom of the same hill, but inside at least three feet of black snow. The ash in the atmosphere is coming back down in precipitation, and it’s freezing.

“We’re back,” Karasi says, pushing herself out of the snow. She looks at the Ecstatic for confirmation, offering her hand to help him up due to the state of his injury.

Well…that’s a strange sensation. Much like being ripped through the portal to begin with. Daniel has his violin still desperately grasped in his good arm, held tightly to his chest. He’s a little shell-shocked at the moment while he falls back into the cold, black snow.

“Shit.” He murmurs softly. He takes a deep breath and looks up at Karasi. “We are. Are you alright?” Nevermind himself, he is more concerned about her state of being and the mess he got her into.

He looks to Alex and Xifeng after that. “Thank you.”

Xifeng is faintly pale when they arrive back in the present – she doesn’t look scared, but a bit like she might be sick. Maybe she’s not into roller coasters. She struggles back to her feet, holstering her gun before dusting off the worst of the ash on her upper body. “Of course. You want me to hold that for you?” The woman offers a hand out for his violin case, her brown furrowing at the broken angle of his arm. “Did the two of you learn anything useful? We ran into ”/characters/gabrielle-harrison" class=“wiki-content-link”>Gabrielle Harrison."

“No thanks necessary, sir.” Alex puts on his most authoritative voice. As he lies on his gets himself to his feet. He mirrors Karasi by offering a hand to Xifeng. “We’re here to serve and protect.”

Xifeng can use the hand steadying herself, sure. She snorts softly, then throws a lazy-looking salute in Daniel’s direction. #buddycopadventure

“Did we learn anything useful?” Karasi repeats, clearly excited to tell what they learned. “We—” She loses steam for a second when she hears they met an Archmage. But only for a second. “Well we ran into Tecumseh and learned how to make a Network.”

Daniel nods his head, offering the violin to Xifeng. “Thank you.” He offers again. He’s still a little dazed, not getting to his feet very quickly or really even making much movement at all. At least he was until Xifeng mentions who they saw. His head turns a little too sharply as he stares at her. “What?” That’s a little harsher than he means.

He pauses. “Yeah. Yeah. He showed us how to make a network and explained how it works.”

Xifeng carefully tucks the violin under her arm. “Yeah. You first. Why’d he show you? Is it something we can use to fix this?” A large magickal effect to heal the world instead of break it?

“Maybe? I’m not sure. It felt a little over my head. It’s Prime and Forces. You build the links in the land and the people with a Prime groundwork and lie Forces over top. You need at least three points. The problem is the bigger it gets…” Daniel carefully moves his arm so he can more easily look at it. It’s not at an extremely awkward angle, but the shape of the forearm is definitely off. A normal arm doesn’t seem as loose as his currently does. He curses softly. “I need to set this. Fuck.” Give him a moment, he’s losing his train of thought.

He takes a few deep breaths before he does or says anything else. “The bigger it gets, the more paradoxical it gets. So feeding it was the problem. Something about…feeding it the right energies and negating the stuff you don’t need. It’s built off of the ideas of living off of the land, setting down roots and communities and neighbors and connections between people and the land. It self-sustains with the connections between the people and the land and each other.” He glances at Karasi. “Right?”

“It’s a good summary,” Karasi smiles at Daniel. She is quiet for a moment as she thinks how to add to it. Daniel was there for the explanation, but he doesn’t have the same experience of accessing the Network. “Or the Net, as he called it.” She says to herself. “Three points is the smallest number to create a shape, but his Net has many more points than that. It’s an easy principle once he explained it. I could make one right now, but it would dissipate eventually from the weight of Consensus, like any working. Tecumseh brought his Net to a point where the energy coming in was greater than the decay experienced from Paradox: as long as there are enough humans feeding into it, it will exist in perpetuity. And while I’m sure he imagined it to consist on Native peoples, anyone who lives in one place long enough can feed into it. He specifically said a pair of nomads like us wouldn’t understand that.” She gives a small half-smile at that. Really, of everyone here, how many of them have lived in one place their whole lives? Maybe Will, before he was forced to leave Davenport.

“He made it out of Prime, but it converts all energy into Forces—seismic energy.” She looks directly at Alex as she says it.

Alex listens intently to everything Daniel and Karasi are saying, especially upon learning that it all came from Tecumseh himself. Their reaction to learning about Alex and Xifeng’s meeting with Gabrielle certainly mirrors his own reaction to their encounter. “So he created this Network to be a one trick pony? Then we’ll need to make one that focuses on meteorological activity. Did he give you an idea of how long it takes to form a connection with the land? Did he define one place? A city? Country? Land mass?”

He pauses, embarrassed by how many questions he’s throwing at them in one breath. “Sorry, your encounter sounds much more interesting than our own. Gabrielle wasn’t all that pleased that we came here, by the way.” He directs that last part at Daniel, “And she wants you to know that returning to the ”/wikis/davenport-iowa" class=“wiki-page-link”> Starlight Passage is a horrible idea. I’m inclined to agree with her."

“Not necessarily,” Karasi interjects. “The Net is going to turn anything out collects into Forces. I suppose we won’t know for sure until we try it, but I think it could be reprogrammed,” A smile ghosts on her lips as she thinks of the Adepts, “To manifest differently. And what we want is still Forces.”

“I’d like to know exactly what Gabrielle says,” She adds, “But can we get to the car first?” It’s hard for even an ascetic to deal with this cold.

Daniel shakes his head softly. “He did say he built everything based upon the knowledge available to him from other Hermetic mages. So there might be something we can find or look up that will give you an idea of how to use it to the ends you wish. Maybe back in St Louis?” He pauses. “Haven’t you used the Forces in it for other means, before?”

He finally gets to his feet and braces his broken arm against his chest. “Yeah, warmth would be nice.” Being soaked and covered in mud is not going to help keep the chill at bay, either. “I’d like to know what she said as well.” He agrees with Karasi. “I would have liked to talk to her myself.” Much like Alex would have preferred to talk to Tecumseh. He’s clearly ignoring any comment on the Starlight Passage at the moment.

“Yeah, we can get to the car. Why don’t you pass me the keys. You look like you could use a break.” Alex holds his cupped hand out to the broken mage. “Have you considered a career in Forces? Manipulating heat is going to be a useful trick for the next 15 to 20 years.”

“”/wikis/st-louis" class=“wiki-page-link”> St. Louis is a great place to start," Alex mods in affirmation. “Unless anyone objects, Ren can fly back to the Chantry, and have poor ”/characters/yorick" class=“wiki-content-link”>Yorick begin collecting any material we have either from Tecumseh himself, or from settler hermetics prior to and contemporary to him."

Alex repsonds to Daniel’s question as an after thought, caught up in the lead they now have. “Yes, I’ve used the Network once without triggering an earthquake, to control the winds created by Victor; although, that was on a very small scale.”

“Didn’t you also use it against Kate, with Ava?” Karasi interjects. “And wind is exactly what we need.”

“I could use a shower, if anything.” Daniel agrees. “I’ll try to heal this once we’re back in the car.” He nods down at his arm and begins to dig into his pockets for the car keys before depositing them in Alex’s hand. “All yours.”

“I think Forces and Life are going to be the coveted spheres to learn. We’ll need to keep warm and also make things grow without the help of the sun. And then somehow polinate them so we can make food.” He looks up at the dust-clouded sky…part of him wishes they could have stayed in the past. It was warm and clear and fresh there.

“Well, even a small scale is a good indicator that it can be used for other Forces, right? And yeah…I though you used it on a larger scale against Kate.” Daniel pauses. “He mentioned that he had help from everywhere in the world to build this. That even if Europe is currently the seat of power for your Tradition, so much of what they have and know has been borrowed from all other cultures of the world. Maybe ask Yorick if he has any contact with other Chantries?”

Xifeng has been listening quietly to all of this. On a conceptual level it’s not hard for her to understand; even as an Unenlightened Technocrat she had to comprehend the intangible power of networked energies. But she has little to contribute in terms of how it might be accomplished from a magickal perspective. She’s just lugging Daniel’s violin and trudging along a foot or two behind the others, watching their backs.

“We have allies beyond the Hermetics. Ursula is a Master of Forces and she’s running the Technocracy right now. Not that I think the Union can be trusted with stewardship of something like this,” she adds hastily. "But she said they were already working on clearing the atmosphere. She’d be interested in anything to accelerate that process. I guessWill might have some ideas too." That sounds a bit begrudging. Maybe Matt’s dislike of the Virtual Adept is rubbing off on her.

When they reach the car, Karasi offers Xifeng the choice of shotgun or the backseat, though she’s quite happy to be inside once they all pile in.

“I asked him why he was a Hermetic,” Karasi confirms, building on what Daniel said. “He mentioned that he has brothers and sisters all over the world who will aid him, or at least share knowledge with him. But more than that he believes… believed in their body of work. He considered it to be the most structured and organized of the Traditions.” Karasi doesn’t exactly agree but she’s not snide about it like certain mages. Hell, it might even be true. “The work of the Hermetics the world over is there, and European mages just heirs to the knowledge coming out of Egypt and western Asia. He said he could go his whole life without talking to another person in the Order, but its work is still there, and he will add to it.”

“I mean, Tecumseh was a Master. Maybe other Shawnee only had contact with tribal nations and settlers, but he and his peers could travel the world. His sources might have come from anywhere. Maybe even the Ahl-i-Batin.” She smiles a little. Did not the Web of Faith precede him?

She doesn’t comment on Xifeng’s idea. That’s something there will need to be consensus on, and maybe deep thought before then.

Alex would certainly agree with Tecumseh’s assessment of their tradition. He starts the car as the others decide their seating arrangements. “Yes, there is the Union,” he replies to Xifeng, almost dismissively. “We’ll keep them in mind if we meet a dead end. I’m sure none of us really want to risk another fiasco like Jahan.” At least with the St. Louis Order in his charge they shouldn’t be a threat like that. He turns to Ren, who has no doubt perched himself somewhere on Alex’s body. “Would you please tell Yorick to start working on gathering whatever information he can about the process. And to try and make contact with the surviving chantries worldwide.”

Ren squawks in affirmation. “Sure thing boss. Please try to stay in this time zone.” He waits for Alex to roll down the window and then takes off into the air. Without access to a plane or a functioning internet, message by raven is probably the fastest they have at their disposal.

Daniel is getting comfy in his seat and setting his arm in his lap. There is a soft hiss of pain from him as he digs his fingers into the bruising skin…you know, to up the pain and therefore keep his ecstatic state high enough that he can try and reset the pattern of his arm to it’s previous state. C’mon bones, go back to how you were before.

He grits his teeth and swallows, somehow managing to speak in the interim. “So Alex…” He starts, voice strained. “Spill. What did Gabrielle have to say?”

Daniel certainly does grit his teeth. He feels reality pull away from him, and his first Backlash since the Cataclysm, while magick has felt easier.

His arm appears the way it was before, and then again. And again. It’s sort of like looking at a series of still frame images on an old-timey movie machine, where each arm is in a different place, but when viewed rapidly create the illusion of motion. Each arm is where his arm was at some point in the past, and they’re not all attached to his torso. They are blurred and look more like memories than matter, but one is solid enough to materialize on the outside and open up Daniel’s car door, flooding the car with subzero air.

Another opens Alex’s door, sending more cold wind into the car, and then suddenly there are arms all over the steering wheel, in his lap, one up high blocking his vision.

Alex crashes the car, though not at the speed he could have. He and Xifeng both hit their air bags. They, and Karasi, are actually pretty okay. Daniel, though, his a wall of bony limbs, which not only break him but break on impact. The effect dissipates, leaving Daniel much worse off than he was before.

And Xifeng, dazes, hears Matt‘s voice in her mind. _You’ve got to be kidding me, Daniel wasn’t even driving and he crashed the car._

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