Song of the Earth

Xifeng is actually the first one to sense it, after they arrive in St Louis. The baby mage may not be able to do much, but she’s always been a perceptive person, and now that she’s learned to attune herself to Prime, what the Chakravanti call Vac or Speech, it’s easy for her to hear the vibrations of magick even when she’s not expecting to do so. Correspondence and Mind hum through the air, distinct flavors to the young Wheel-Turner even if she can’t wield them herself.

As soon as she alerts the others, Matt senses it too. The location may not mean much to Xifeng, but Matt knows where the Order of Hermes chantry is. He turns around, saying as much to Alex.

But Alex is hearing a different voice. Hello, old friend. Karasi greets him almost sadly. I need to see you. It’s time we put this emnity to rest.

Daniel abruptly brakes for the child who runs into the street, slamming Xifeng into the back of Matt’s seat.

The past few hours of driving have left the Ecstatic mage with a tightness between his shoulder blades and a nervous tension in his hands. He’s been oddly silent for most of the drive, or humming softly to whatever song comes up on his mixed tape. By the time they pull into St Louis, Daniel is ready to pull over and stretch, even if it’s just for a minute.

“I really don’t think we should stick around too long if we’re being corralled. It’s better not to give anyone that satisfaction, ri—”

He slams on the breaks as the child runs out into the seat, jerking himself forward against the seat belt and then back against the seat. “Shit! Sorry! Is everyone alright?”

Alex doesn’t pay much attention to Xifeng or Daniel either. He certainly doesn’t acknowledge the child or the jolt of the brakes. His attention lies solely on the familiar presence in his mind. Karasi, my dear. I’d hope you’d forgotten about me. There is no sadness in his thoughts. Slight resignation, maybe. You’ll understand if I hesitate to agree, given our history.

As the car comes to a stop, Alex taps his the side of his head with two fingers. “She’s right on schedule, and she wants to see me.”

Hooray, Xifeng gets about thirty seconds to be pleased that she was able to contribute before nearly breaking her nose on Matt’s headrest. “Damn it,” she mutters, gingerly feeling her face to make sure nothing is bleeding. At a more conversational volume, she asks, “Wouldn’t it be better to just deal with her? Then she can’t mess around in your brain anymore.” Do you even know how many Nephandi she’s shot?

We’re too closely connected for that, Karasi informs him. We both know that.

Matt turns his gaze over the child who ran out, as if suspicious. There is a certain amount of chaos inherent in cities after an event like the Cataclysm, though—the kid runs away without transforming into a Batini or a Werewolf. Matt looks back. “She’s what, a Disciple? We could send you to her with a weapon in your brain.” Something about Matt’s tone compels Alex to look at him, and as soon as he does, the Hermetic’s gaze is snared.

Karasi repels his intrusion. I’ve been here a lot longer, She informs him. Both of them. It’s going to take more than eye contact to sever that connection. Alex blinks involuntarily, the Euthanatos receding, for now.

Daniel watches the child run off, letting out a soft sigh of relief. His fingers grip tightly on the wheel. “What does she want, exactly?” His curiosity gets the better of him. He probably should just suggest death like the other two are.

“Unfortunately, she didn’t inform me skill level before she attacked me when we first met.” Alex replies to Matt as he’s compelled to make eye contact. He nods slightly at Xifeng’s suggestion, and grins. “Dealing with her is a fine idea, although, you may have to kill me a third time as well.”

And how far back do we go? Alex asks, continuing his conversation with Karasi without acknowledging Matt’s attempted entry. Back to the tower? Or have you been with me since before you revealed yourself?

With all the entities making themselves home in the Hermetic’s mind, he’s learned to switch effortlessly between conversations. He shrugs at Daniel’s question. “I believe it has something to do with the Network. I mean, I first became aware of my role with it when she kissed me. But she shouldn’t need me to access it anymore.”

Alex shifts in his seat, suddenly hit with a wave of uneasiness. “We shouldn’t linger here long, another tremor is coming.”

Xifeng shrugs, lowering her hand from her stinging nose. “I’m sure you’d get better again.” She sits back in her seat. “How can you tell there’s a tremor?”

“I think we ought to just trust Tecumseh on that one,” Matt replies. Neither he nor Xifeng can utilize Forces and detect an earthquake anyway. “We need to be somewhere more secured. The Order chantry will be safer than these streets. Daniel?”

Not even I know that, Karasi admits to him. But you’ll know some of these answers soon. She recedes from his mind, waiting for him to come to her.

Daniel takes a deep breath and nods his head. “Yeah. Sure. Hermetic chantry it is. I’ll make sure not to break too hard next time, Xifeng.” The baby mage gets an apologetic smile from the rear view mirror. With that said, he steps on the gas(gently) and gets them moving again. The quicker they’re off the streets, the better. Hopefully. Right?

“I don’t really know how, Xifeng, but I can.” Alex replies, a little more relaxed now that Karasi has stepped back. “I don’t feel Karasi’s presence anymore. Perhaps we can find a solution to her once we’re at the chantry.”

It was curiosity that lead her to ask, not disbelief. Xifeng nods, keeping half an eye on Alex now. She waves Daniel’s apology off. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

It’s true. Just because they’ve never seen Karasi display a level of power equal to him doesn’t mean she doesn’t have it. Matt’s never even used the full extent of his Life magick in front of Sonia, but he still has it, as Eleanor learned.

The four drive up to the Hermetic chantry, an old, stately brick building. Despite its ordinary appearance, the chantry can withstand quite a bit of Forces, as evidenced by it’s relatively undamaged exterior. Daniel parks, and Matt completely disappears from sight—it’s a moment before Daniel, Alex, and even Xifeng remember he was supposed to be in the front seat. “If you say so,” Ren says to the air.

However the remaining mages choose to enter, they will find a deserted foyer of luxury. Almost deserted. There is a young man on the stairs, shivering and holding himself. Alex will recognize him as one of the junior members of the chantry.

With a sigh, Alex makes his way through the front door, presumably being follow by Daniel and Xifeng. He looks around at the familiar decadence of a Hermetic stronghold, although this one pales in comparison to the memories he has of London. As he looks around, he addresses the man on the stairs. “I expected more activity here, given recent events. Are you alone?”

Xifeng defers to Alex when it comes to the best way to head inside. She flanks him, stepping softly a few feet behind him and off to the right. Her X-5 is already in hand, though aimed at nothing in particular as she sweeps her eyes around the room. A mantra repeats in her head, providing focus as she tries to remain open to Speech. She may not be able to use magick to fight most things, but at least she might sense it coming.

At one point, Daniel almost dropped his walk man and the tape ejected from the car’s tape deck into Matt’s lap. That was the point when he remembered the mage was sitting there to begin with. “Oh. Shit. Sorry.” He mutters. He gets out of the car while shoving the walk man and tape into a jacket pocket. From there, he takes out his violin and follows the other two inside. He flanks to the left and experimentally pulls the bow across the strings of his instrument. In tune and ready to go.

The young man—Victor O’Hannigan, Alex abruptly recalls—looks up, still shuddering. There are tears in his eyes. “Alex?” He asks mutely. “Most of the others are dead or gone. It’s just us. But, but, but—” Abruptly Matt is there, holding the boy’s face in his hands and looking into his eyes. “Your Nephandus did a number on him.” Xifeng can clearly hear the Mind Effect, the notes of her Mentor’s distinctive flavor of magick becoming familiar to her. “I can unravel it, but if his memories are right he was with ”/characters/yorick" class=“wiki-content-link”>Yorick when she ambushed them." He doesn’t break eye contact, but adds for the benefit of others. “The Master of Mind and Entropy.” The Hermetic who did one over on Jahan.

“You’re OK now, Victor.” Alex attempts to console the man as best he can give the circumstances. “Can you tell me what happened to Yorick? Was he a victim of the attacker?” Or was he in league with her? Alex removes a lighter and gun from his jacket, and the places it around Victor to provide him some relief. He utters a brief incantation to trap his own body heat close to him, creating a barrier from the cold.

“Great, so we have a Mind-using Nephandus with a Mind and Entropy Master in her grasps,” Daniel mutters. He turns to look over the rest of the chantry and starts to softly play his violin. While Alex and Matt do what they need to do, he is going to stand watch for any potential threats that might pop up. A few second’s warning never hurts, right?

Victor, with Matt’s help, shakes it off. Matt makes eye contact with Alex for a moment. “Make your move,” He tells him. “If you don’t know where I am neither will she.” The aura of death comes over him again, causing all the mages to avert their mind’s eyes, and he vanishes.

“I can help you,” Victor says. “She won’t get in my mind again. And if she does there’s more of us.” He defers to Alex’s authority in this, but his legs are steady. “They’re upstairs, in the ritual temple.”

Alex is doubtful, given how shaken Victor was, but he’s willing to help, and they need allies. “Good. Just don’t let me know what you’re planning. Karasi is a frequent guest in my mind. She knows what I know.” He leads the way towards their target, pausing momentarily to look behind at Xifeng. “If things go south, try to hit one of the other holes you put in me. No fresh ones, please.”

Daniel stops playing when Alex indicates they are on the move. He will take up the rear in the group of mages, letting anyone with any sort of physical firepower go first. He is quiet for a change, keeping any other offhand comments he might think of to himself.

“Can’t make any promises,” Xifeng replies quietly. She supports her revolver in both hands now, her index finger coiled near the trigger and her dark eyes scanning the halls as they move.

Since Alex and Xifeng have guns, Victor follows them, letting Daniel take up the rear.

The stairs creep despite their best efforts—if she’s listening, then she’s definitely heard them. The ritual room is down the hall—almost like a cathedral interior tucked inside the upper foyer. There are built-in seats along the exterior walls, a smooth polished marble floor, and an altar. Karasi is seated cross-legged in the middle of the end of the room, her back up against the dais. She’s wearing a literal sackcloth—grey and shapeless, it hangs from her shoulders to thighs and leaves her arms bare. Beside her, Yorick lies sprawled on his stomach. The Master is a black man, impeccably groomed, apparently somewhere in his early 40s (though appearances can be deceiving).

Karasi’s hands are up when Alex clears the room. “Don’t shoot. I surrender. I’m a double agent working under the authority of the Qutbs,” She adds. Xifeng detects no magick active on her person.

Alex keeps his gun trained on Karasi, although from past experience he realizes that he doesn’t pose much threat to her. He doesn’t shoot, or take any other action against her. “You’ll forgive me for being skeptical, given our history.” He responds in the friendly, familiar tone their conversations have always had. “As much as I want to believe you, I don’t have much reason to.” Aside from her potentially killing 45 nephandi, anyway. He nods towards the Master on the floor. “What’s this about?”

Daniel will stay back, right inside the door and out of the way. He at least is nice enough not to block it, but he does not make his way toward the dias. He’ll leave any advancing up to the two with guns. He reaches out to gently touch Victor’s shoulder, urging him to stay back and allow Alex and Xifeng to advance first.

Again, Xifeng allows Alex to take the lead. Her gun is trained on Karasi, an incendiary round in the barrel. But she continues to watch the rest of the room as well, not least the man on the floor.

“Think about it, Alex. The level of access I’ve had. You didn’t even live in the chantry most of that time: I could have picked you up at any time.” She keeps her arms steady in the air. A Darwushim in motion is more controlled than most people are at rest: despite her apparent surrender, that could change in an instant. She glances down at the Hermetic. “I knew I couldn’t just show up and tell you I was on your side. Someone skilled in Mind can verify what I’m saying.” For that matter, anyone with Entropy can tell whether or not she’s lying—or at least whether she thinks she’s lying. “I needed to not be killed the moment I walked in, but wake him up. He can verify,”

“I’ll be verifying,” Matt says, appearing in front of her, kneeling, with his face into her face. Her body stiffens a little at the Chakravanti’s intrusion. Matt begins humming, and turns around, locking Alex’s eyes with his own. The song he starts to sing is Thai or Burmese or something from that part of the world, and the tune catches Alex along with Karasi. His eyes fan outward, to Daniel, to Xifeng, and he looks like he’s about to pull them in and decides against it. They don’t need all of them pulled into a psychic mindscape with just the dumb bird to watch their backs.

He returns to his song, pulling Alex closer, allowing them both to journey into her mind. Images flash through Alex’s mind, of Karasi as a young girl—privileged, naive even, but sharply intelligent, fascinated by history and geography and the world. Growing up in a relatively secular household in France with occasional trips to their home in Nigeria, traveling through Europe and North Africa—it was in Italy she Awakened, and converted to Roman Catholicism, though the Celestial Chorus was never able to get her to embrace their paradigm. No, it was to the Batini she was drawn…

Matt guides the mindscape away. Her childhood is of less interest to him. He skips through her training as a Darwushim in the Middle East, learning to whirl and focus and achieve oneness, and instead focuses on the Nephandus. How did they snare her?

Alex sees the naive, curious girl again, not much older than most of the cabal. Karasi wasn’t the first Batini to be drawn into the Black Labyrinth out of simple curiosity. It was that easy. For an Ahl-i-Batin, who use labyrinths as a tool for enlightenment, it never occured to her that it could be use to corrupt, and even inside she didn’t fully believe it could transform her.

And she was right.

About half the Batini who enter the Cauls come out Nephandus. Of the remainder, most wither up inside their minds, reaching a point of catatonia that no amount of telepathy, torture, or magick can break through. Some just disappear. No one knows where they go, but Karasi believes they use their understanding to teleport to safety—or to God. And a few, a very few, manage to endure the Labyrinth untainted, something no other Tradition can do.

Almost no one. Karasi’s thoughts flash to James, and what she knew him to be—coerced or forced into the Cauls, but with strength of self so sure that he refused to yield even when his Avatar was corrupted. But ultimately, he too Fell. What is it that separates Karasi from James? Alex doesn’t know if the thought comes from him or Matt.

Because James didn’t have faith. Is the answer. Karasi has always known herself to be a part of the body of God.

From that day, Karasi put aside girlhood even as she embraced the childhood delights she had almost forgotten—running in the rain, riding a train through a new country—for any day might be the last before the Nephandi caught her and tortured her for her transgression.

But what of Alex? Karasi has always been plagued by dreams and nightmares of her past self (selves?). Knowing the Network, and finding herself drawn to North America. Seeking out Alex, compelled intellectually to seek out what she failed to comprehend last time, no matter the cost, and knowing too that if she opened that Pandora’s Box she would be responsible for containing it. But not alone.

Karasi has always been gifted with the Spirit sphere. She doesn’t know when their connection began, but one day she found the wraith, the shadow of who she used to be, and knew she could use its perceptions to reach out and connect to the person that some part of her was still haunting, the person she was drawn to…

Matt ends the connection, settling them back into their bodies. “You’re Ada Lovelace.” He says, surprised.

“The same woman,” The Batini confirms.

Alex slowly lowers his gun and stares at Karasi as he absorbs her memories, and sorts through his own feelings of mistrust, paranoia, and somehow, betrayal. He has to apologize to Will again. “So where do we go from here?” His voice is barely audible.

Daniel keeps by the door while Matt takes Alex on a trip. His back straightens, and his bow is raised over the strings of his violin. He is ready to cast as necessary, judging by the tension in his shoulders. He’s thankful that he doesn’t need to, though. Instead, his eyebrows arch up in surprise at Matt’s exclamation. “Wait…what?”

Xifeng is absolutely still as Matt investigates Karasi’s mind. Her gun remains trained on the woman well after Alex’s, given she can’t see what he’s seeing; in an absent sort of way, she is trying to follow the threads of magick in the room instead, listening to the unique timbres of a Mind effect.

She’s slower to lower her weapon, and newer to her belief in reincarnation besides, so Matt’s proclamation is a bit strange to her. Like, obviously this woman is not the founder of a traitorous Technocratic convention. Bear with her, she’s still toddling. At least she keeps her mouth shut, giving Alex and Karasi whatever space they need to sort this out between them.

Beside them, Yorick begins to stir, sitting up. Matt glances at him expressionlessly, and then says aloud (for the benefit of the Hermetics as well as the Avengers): “Karasi is not a Nephandus. She walked the Labyrinth but was able to avoid Corruption, like she said. She’s been working as a double agent this whole time.” He spares her a glance. “Not a very good one, evidently.” Apparently he’s going to drag every ally they have outside the Traditions.

Karasi holds her head high. “I was working off limited information. I didn’t know about the loop or about ”/characters/kal" class=“wiki-content-link”>Kal. If others had seen fit to share, perhaps working together we could have accomplished what individuals could not." She makes it sound almost like a Batini aphorism and not a slam at Matt.

“So you came here just to make a dramatic announcement?” Yorick asks. Matt begins to chant. Something about it is different, this time, to Xifeng. It’s not the same language for one—Hindi, this time. The Hermetic glances at him, but Karasi answers.

“I felt it was important that my identity be verified, and I knew you were here.” She focuses on Alex now. “There’s this: I’m sorry.” She says sincerely. “I did what I did to maintain my cover with the least amount of harm.” She reaches out for him, needing touch for what’s about to come. “And there’s this.”

When her hand brushes his face, she releases the compulsion she placed on him, to trust her, to make him easily pliable to her. The connection remains, though, through the wraith, through time and fate.

She smiles. “There’s more. I have an idea—”

Yorick cries out as lesions appear on his body, wounds and rot, and Xifeng hears the song of Matt’s Entropy and Life upon him. Matt looks at him pitilessly. “For what you’ve done to Jahan, it would be enough.” He begins. “But did you think I wouldn’t recognize your Entropic magick? The signature you left in Karasi’s mind when you compelled her here?”

Victor takes a step forward. “What are you— Ateh,” The young Hermetic says, touching his forehead. “Malkuth,” He touches his breast, then the right shoulder. “Ve-Geburah, Ve-Gedulah,” Left shoulder. “Le-Olahm, Amen.” He clasps his fingers on his breast.

Prime rises all around Victor. He turns, drawing a pentagram in the air with his finger. “Ye-ho-wau.”

This is a lot of information to take in all at once. The Ecstatic mage stares between the three at the altar. “Alright. Well…one more ally is always a bonus. Don’t mind Matt, he shits on everyone.” He waves his bow through the air dismissively. He’s about to say more when all hell starts to break lose.

You’d think, by now, the Time mage would see this shit coming a mile away.

Or maybe he did? Either way, he goes from listening and in awe to gracefully playing like a professional in the blink of an eye. It’s a soft song, not very suiting for the atmosphere of the room, but it’s not meant to follow the mood. Rather, Daniel plays to mellow out the individual closest to him. His song is directed to Victor, a delicate ear worm with a soothing melody and tone. The sort of song you might put an infant to sleep with. He takes a step closer to the casting Hermetic mage, his attention focused entirely on him. Sleep, little Hermetic. Sleep.

Ren also shares some uncertainty. Are they fighting? Does Matt have this? He lands on Alex’s shoulder, knowing the contact will make it easier for Alex to do magick.

Yorick might be vulnerable, but he’s still a Master. Reaching out to touch an open wound, he draws a sigil on the marble in front of him with his own blood. Xifeng senses Prime rising in his as well, stronger than Matt’s—he’s going to counter, and redirect this attack back to him.

Matt continues his chant, relying on momentum to override power. “You have transgressed, Yorick. You violated the trust placed in you. You violated an Awakened Mind. You created a Marauder.” His words carry an echo of finality and truth that can be felt even without the use of magick.

More and more Alex finds himself in the odd position of actually trusting Matt. Between destroying Jahan’s mind and apparently compelling a hidden ally, they may have found a horcrux. Especially if he knew Karasi would draw them to her.

As Yorick draws his bloody sigil, Alex begins an incantation of his own. He takes aim with his gun, relying on arcane calculations to guide the bullet into the hermetic master.

Smoothly, Xifeng lifts her gun again, fanning out to the right to get a clearer bead on Yorick. She whispers, softly, something new she picked up from Matt, inaudible to the others so as not to interfere with her Mentor’s magickal effect. She has a better sense now than ever of the right moment to pull the trigger. At the last second, she aims down just slightly, targeting the floor in front of Yorick instead of him. It’s an incendiary round; she hopes to destroy the sigil he created to interrupt his counterattack.

‘Wait," Karasi says, grabbing Alex’s arm and spoiling his shot. It goes into the ceiling; Xifeng’s obliterates the rune he was making. “Are we sure it’s him?”

Victor whirls, turning to the south and repeating the motion. “Adonai.” To the west, “Eheieh,” To the north, “Agla.” Daniel feels his magick flow over the student, but breaks apart like dust before a whirlwind. Victor moves much more confidently now, faster, throwing his arms out in the shape of a cross. “Before me Raphael, behind me Gabriel, on my right hand Michael, on my left hand Auriel.” Xifeng feels an immense surge in power from the student, Forces and Prime alike. “For about me flames the pentagram, and in the Column stands the six-rayed star.” Literal fire blazes around him, and shining columns of light around. Matt and Yorick turn their heads, their feud almost forgotten, but the sudden wind that rips through dissipates every magickal effect Matt, Yorick, Karasi, and Alex were holding, sending Ren fluttering almost off his shoulder. Xifeng loses her focus too, even getting only the periphery of the spell.

“Did you really think I’d be a Master, Matt?” Victor asks, advancing, the crying young man on the stairs a thousand miles away. “Or that I couldn’t make my magick look like Yorick’s?” Another step, and the wind and flames surge forward, targeting Matt and Yorick and hurling them, burned, into the far wall. The heat singes Alex and Karasi, stinging their faces from proximity. “But by all means, kill the most powerful one in the room.”

He turns his gaze to Tecumseh and Ada come again. “You two just won’t give it up, even in death.”

“Shit shit shit…” The Ecstatic curses, taking a step back as his magick breaks apart before it can take any effect. He doesn’t stop playing, the music taking on a higher, faster pace as Victor advances on the rest of the mages. His violin makes a high-pitched squeal as he rapidly vibrates the bow across the strings. He’s forgotten any idea of putting the Homonculous to sleep and instead focuses on giving his friends the advantage of quicker impulses and movements.

The music seems to embolden Daniel’s allies. Their hearts beat faster, into their throats. Ren grips his feet into Alex’s shoulder—it should almost hurt, but the sensation is a solid comfort.

Matt rolls over while Yorick groans. They’re alive but not in any condition to help right now.

As inspiring as Daniel’s song is, Alex is still faced with writhing flames approaching. He’s uncomfortable enough when he’s in control of those flames. When he’s not, the freak him the fuck out. He instinctively backs away until he’s up against a wall, chanting all the while. He grasps at Victor’s winds with his words, driven by the need to snuff out the flame.

“Matt!” Seeing him flung across the room might have broken her concentration even if Victor hadn’t. Xifeng’s eyes follow him, but when he rolls over she snaps her focus back to the issue at hand. She swallows hard against the racing of her heart, thumbing the switch under her thumb to change the ammunition in the barrel.

While Alex’s instinct is to put the fire out, hers is to use it to her advantage. Xifeng takes several swift steps back as well, but it’s to create distance before she fires an explosive round right into the centre of that inferno.

When Alex backs up, Karasi starts to spin, the dervish losing her focus in ecstasy.

“I think gilgul will be sufficient,” Victor muses. Alex manages to seize control of enough wind—aided by additional powers—to mute the flames around him significantly, but it’s still an impressive spectacle, especially with the columns of light. “It’s not as if I need to worry about you going back, only for—”

Xifeng’s incendiary takes him by surprise, in that he didn’t have his eyes on it. It whips around in the still-chaotic winds, before being flung toward Alex.

And then Karasi is there, taking the bullet. The fire explodes across her chest, and part of it she manages to correspond to the edge of the room, a nimbus of flame unraveling against the wall… but not all of it. She drops like a stone.

Victor smiles a little. “Don’t worry honey, there’s plenty to go around.” Alex may have taken his fire but he’s concerned with more holy energies. “Quod Superius Sicut Inferius!” He begins. Alex and Karasi both begin to rise off the floor. He draws his finger to his lips and their struggles grow still. Their bodies float toward each other, Karasi straightening in the air. “Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum.” His words and tone are… calm, but Alex and Karasi feel anything but. Victor has begun the process to gilgul them, simultaneously. The pain they’re experiencing is only going to grow.

Ren, in defense of Alex, flies toward Victor’s face, only to be rebuffed by wind and flame, skittering back across the marble.

This can’t be how it ends. Alex fights past the pain of his soul being ripped to shreds, struggling to keep hold of the winds. He orders full force of them at his command into Victor’s mouth, to cut of his speech. To fill his lungs to capacity. Beyond capacity. Great Spirit, be with us now. Tecumseh needs you.

Maybe it’s the super-speed, but things are happening way too fast. “Shit,” Xifeng hisses as her bullet takes Karasi in the chest. She licks her lower lip, taking a firmer, two-handed grip on the revolver, and thumbs over to a regular bullet. Repeating the same soft prayer for luck as before, she squeezes off another shot, aiming right at Victor’s head this time. Alex’s Forces effect tugs at the edge of her awareness; one of them has to be successful.

The Forces effect staggers Victor—Karasi and Alex both drop painfully to the ground, but the sensation of their minds being on fire doesn’t go away, and it’s much more painful than being set on fire ever was. The Hermetic homunculus grabs at his chest—if he’s not maintaining it, but their minds are still burning, does that mean the Effect will continue until it gilguls them?

There’s no way Karasi is going to manage even something as simple as whirling, but Victor has taken her to a place of ecstasy already. She reaches across that connection between them, and shares with Victor the feeling of having your soul burned and purified away. He opens his mouth to scream, letting more air in.

That’s when Xifeng’s shot takes him in the back of his head, blowing his brains out. He drops to the floor, and the burning vanishes from Alex and Karasi’s minds, leaving them in the kind of agonizing pain that comes from being wounded and tender.

Xifeng is beyond being startled by her own prowess with a gun in hand, especially with the new, added boost magick gives to her. Her finger is tense on the trigger, regular to pump another bullet into Victor; the smoking muzzle of the gun traces the arc of his body as he collapses.

Satisfied that he’s no longer moving, she thumbs the safety on and skirts the room to Matt’s side. “Alex, Karasi, are you okay? Sorry about the stray bullet…” She stoops next to her Mentor to see how he’s recovering, not that there’s a lot she can do for burns.

The quick-paced playing of the violinist in the background comes to a stop only moments after Victor drops. He tries to slow the effect down, making the world shift back into regular time for those in it’s grasp.

Holy. Fuck.

He doesn’t stop, though, but rather steps closer to the two fallen reincarnates and moving back into a softer melody. Something soothing for the wounded mind and body. Much like the original song he played, it’s meant to be comforting and soothing. This isn’t something to put them to sleep, but rather to help them feel slightly less tender.

Daniel can reduce their perception of pain, but the wounds are still there. There is magick to make you walk on a broken leg, but your leg is still broken. In this case everything hurts—their whole being—and there’s no quick remedy that will change that. This, at least, takes the edge off.

Matt sits up when Xifeng comes to his side. He already looks less worse off than he did a moment ago. “You would have been wasted on the Dreamspeakers,” Matt says to her proudly. Yeah, he knows Sedna made a recruitment pitch. “Congratulations.” Yorick is stirring too, in worse condition than Matt.

Alex rolls over onto his back, and lays there, breathing deeply and savouring the chill around them. A nice contrast from the terrifying burning of the gilgul rite. “No.” He answers Xifeng. Nothing about what just happened is okay. He looks over at Karasi, and grasps her hand. “Are you still with us?”

Xifeng laughs, tucking a stray bit of hair back behind her ear. Yorick hardly gets a glance. For all she could tell, Matt was going to kill him anyway. “I hit Karasi. She might need a little healing.”

Karasi squeezes his hand. She’s not too badly injured from the flames—hurt, definitely, but the attempted gilgul did a much bigger number on them both. Until Daniel’s effect moves over them, even breathing hurts. Thinking with her brain. Everything. “Yes. And I will be okay, given time.” The Darwushim chuckles. “Who could have imagined a few months ago? You, me, and Xifeng Lin on the same team.”

Daniel won’t stop playing until someone with more experience and magick in these matters can take a look at Alex and Karasi. His music fills the room, the song light and breathy so it does not impede on anyone’s ability to have a conversation around it.

“O’Hannigan was one of the homunculi the whole time?” Yorick says breathlessly. He winces a little as Matt looks at him. “Are you still going to kill me?”

“No,” Matt says coolly. “I can learn from my mistakes too. We may need someone of your power. Your punishment will be different.”

“Are you going to heal me?” He asks. Matt scoffs. “Heal yourself.”

“Don’t you see? If Kal was by my side the whole time, he must have influenced me to do that to Jahan. I’m not responsible.” Matt makes a disgusted sound, and glances at Xifeng, gesturing to Yorick with his eyes. Go on, use all that Chakravanti philosophy I taught you. He moves down to see to Karasi, closing his eyes.

The mage replicates her posture for a moment, with a few fluid gestures—flipping his palm up, touching his breast, movements that look yogic even if in a language that doesn’t make sense to the others here. “There’s nothing I can do for your spirits,” He says, opening his eyes. “Not that I know how to do. The fire will be diffi—”

The earth starts to rumble. “Under the pews, everyone!” Matt calls. He knows how to deal with an earthquake. He starts dragging Karasi to the end of the room, though she cries out as she’s moved.

Alex lingers for a short while before painfully attempting to take cover under a pew. Another visit to the Umbra wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. He’s comfortable there. When he does make an effort to get to safety, he does so while pleading with the earth directly beneath them to be a little less violent.

They just can’t catch a break. The Ecstatic mage quits playing as the tremors begin, the bow and neck of the violin held in one hand so he can move in to help Alex get to safety of the pews. “Sorry, man,” Daniel offers in a pre-umptive apology, in case he causes any more strife to his friend.

Initially, Xifeng gives Matt a blank look, glancing over at Yorick. This is the part she’s still working on, which is no doubt why he’s turning it into a teachable moment. “No more excuses,” she orders the Hermetic. “You’ve been given a chance to find redemption and healing in this life instead of the next one. Take responsibility for what you did, or you’ll waste it.”

Growing up in California prepared her for earthquakes as well; as the ground shakes, she grabs Yorick’s arm to drag him after her to cover. “You get to live with the knowledge that you destroyed that boy’s life for the rest of yours.” Something about saying it immediately doesn’t sit right with Xifeng. Jahan was here to be healed by what her amalgam did to him. Almost as an afterthought, she adds softly, “So do I.”



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