Song of the Earth
The Woman in Black
When Xifeng was 12, her 16-year-old brother Chenglei committed suicide—she found him in the bathtub. She would later learn this was due to the influence of the Time Marauder, Joshua.
Xifeng’s first known supervisor is Peter Fischer. When she turns down a request for sexual favors, he demotes her and aggressively punishes her career. She finds herself placed on the 5th degree—a level of warning for Technocrats who are on the outs with the Technocracy for incompetence, untrustworthiness, or some other reason, and at risk of losing their jobs—dangerous for someone who knows as much as a Woman in Black.
Placed in Amalgam AT-12 with Cadence Richmond, Ben Bickley, Russ Jones, and James McAvoy, they are assigned to capture, Achilles (Sonia Farooqi), the teenaged student of Odysseus, who Xifeng would later come to know as Matt Coronas. Their first mission is cleaning up after an excrement deviant attacks a mall—incidentally passing right over an unconscious Sonia.
After the cabal breaks, Xifeng, Ben, and Russ find Jacob outside Sonia’s house. They question him, Xifeng supplying him with her card. Jacob coincidentally points them in America’s direction. When Ben reveals that Jacob is a vampire, he attacks them with an illusionary dragon-woman and tries to steal their car. Ultimately he manages to overpower them and kidnap Russ.
Cadence picks them up, and berates them for fighting. Though she and Ben are together, she doesn’t take Ben’s side, telling him he screwed up. She tells them they have to work together as a team now or they’re going to fail together.
Xifeng meets with America to ask her some questions about Sonia. America tries to flirt with her—which Xifeng finds a little awkward. She is left with the sense of something unspoken, or something she didn’t notice when she leaves America, though.
Later that day, she returns to America’s house, and catches sight of the teen’s terrified face as Sapphira faces her down. She enter’s “Sapphira’s” house and shoots the Nephandus, shooting off her corrupted breast. Sapphira fights her with fire and claws but doesn’t really have any sense of how to move her body in a fight. Xifeng outmaneuvers her and saves America, whose heart has been destroyed by Sapphira’s venom.
From Chicago, Jacob calls Xifeng to aggravate her. She has Ben trace his location while she keeps him on the phone—he “just can’t help himself.” Once they have it, the Technocrats attack, AT-12 plus two rental agents. There they find Jacob, Will, Jahan, Dylan, Kianna, and the captive Russ. Kianna shrouds their escape vehicle in darkness, making it difficult for them to aim without casualties, and they blow out the vehicles tires, creating a stalemate. Kianna pummels them, killing one of the agents assigned to the mission. They rescue Russ, but Xifeng chooses to let the deviants go rather than lose anyone else.
However, as they escape, Jahan tumbles out the back and strikes his head on the pavement.
Once he’s patched up, Xifeng questions Jahan, talking to him like a child, but he closes up. It’s only after James comes in, using his own imagination to threaten and intimidate him, that he opens up, telling Xifeng most of what she wants to know.
During the rescue of Jahan, Xifeng first contends with Jacob’s alligator in the Meshadi’s living room—which nearly takes her legs off—and then Jahan’s mother Tamara. By the time she’s done with these distractions Cadence has already been killed. She runs upstairs to find Jacob holding Cadence like a meatshield, and trains her gun on Will’s already-bleeding body. Jacob draws out her Beast, blanking her out.
She wakes up in the car, attempting to comfort Ben over Cadence’s loss. Before they can return to HQ though, Dylan crashes into them. Chad Smith is attempting to hijack his car so he can kill Will. Xifeng shoots and kills him.
However, Dylan takes her hostage. Will is dying and he will do anything to save him. He wants her to take them to an Empowered doctor. If Will dies, she dies. If she tries anything, she dies. If the doctor tries anything, she dies. If they don’t get out of Davenport, she dies. She stays calm, taking them to James, who fixes Will up. Then the two leave Davenport, taking her along as far as the city’s border.
Simultaneous to the rescue of Jahan, the Virtual Adepts conducted a raid on the Rock Island Construct. Among the information uncovered in the raid were emails between her former supervisor and another colleague detailing his harassment of her and retaliatory unjust demotion. That demotion is subsequently reversed, and Xifeng finds herself promoted to supervisor. She is moved to Cincinnati—following the trail of Sonia’s cabal—and AT-12 goes with her (excepting, sadly, Cadence).
There are some additional changes. A Virtual Adept captured in the raid, Vic Jacques, will be assigned to AT-12 after being reconditioned as an Iterator. James will become her second-in-command. And she will receive a second amalgam, WU-51, responsible for general RD maintenance in Cincinnati. Zahir al-Shahrani is its second-in-command.
About this time Sapphira begins harassing her in dreams, taking the form of her brother, Chenglei, as well as her former supervisor, Peter.
Xifeng sends Ben and Vic to the Old Man‘s to get a lead on the cabal. Ben runs into Jahan. Among other things, Jahan warns him that Mackenzie is a Nephandus. Ben immediately tells Xifeng, who warns him to keep his mouth shut and not to try to pull the records of Jahan’s conversion.
On Super Tuesday, Xifeng leads both of her amalgams to capture the inhabitants of the chantry. She gets so close. Although Davey uses the mento-intensifier helmet to make her take one of Russ’s concussion grenades and set it off, taking them both out, the majority of the cabal was out by the time the Nephandi showed up. Not hearing from Ben or Vic, she called Zahir to warn him Nephandi were here before Sapphira walked up and ripped her breast off her chest. She was pretty much out of it at that point.
Matt appeared, saving her life and largely repairing the cosmetic damage (that would have to come later, from the Union). He announced that Will and Jacob had been taken by the Nephandi and he needed an investigator to help him find them—Xifeng. When she expressed hesitance, he told her if she didn’t help him he would kill her and her entire team. Reluctantly, Xifeng accompanied him as his hostage.
Matt first takes her to Sonia’s house, where they speak with Sonia’s father, Sharma. Then Matt allows her to experience his perceptions as he uses a deviant ritual to see back through time to Will’s abduction, although the backlash, especially when Will’s resonance touching his, is stomach-turning. Having exhausted their leads, they return to Xifeng’s apartment. Matt is not going to let her out of his sight—in fact, he takes her bed, leaving her no options but the bed or the floor. Not going to be kicked out of her own bed, she takes the bed, affronted.
She awakens to the knowledge that Jahan has shared a dream with Will and he’s in a church. The pair meet with him and interview him, and Jahan shares his sensory perceptions with Xifeng. It helps, but it doesn’t lead to anything concrete.
In the meantime, Xifeng had Zahir researching leads. He finally finds something for her. She arranges him to send an agent to a meeting place. Matt abruptly switches the meeting place to a Kindercare. When Charlotte Bailey arrives, she’s afraid that any sudden action may result in child deaths. They look at the folder she brings and Xifeng recognizes a younger Gavin from her psychic time travel trip with Matt. Charlotte goes back to Zahir for more research, identifying a specific church in Davenport. However, before she can get more clearances, the Technocracy pulls her resources, advising her Odysseus “probably” won’t kill her if she resists at this juncture.
Matt offers her a choice. After much wrangling over where she’d do the most good, she goes with him. He knocks her out. She awakens inside the Hermetic chantry, listening to Matt arguing with another man. When Matt announces she’s a Man in Black, she smells ozone as the man produces ball lightning to kill her with. Xifeng whips off her blindfold to find Matt holding a knife to James Mountjoy’s neck. Matt makes it clear that if she dies, he dies. He backs off and allows them the use of Nadira to teleport to Davenport. Later Xifeng reports everything she knows on the Hermetics and their chantry.
They reach the church, Xifeng and Matt finding Sonia and Alex under attack by werewolves. Xifeng helps rescue them, but her second shot takes Alex in the chest, mortally wounding him. Not even the combined magick of Matt and Sonia can save him. Matt asks for Xifeng’s participation—her belief. Fueled by guilt and driven on momentum, she tries to will the deviant healing along. Alex is saved, but in a coma.
Xifeng’s return to the construct the next day is lukewarm. She is greeted by Syndicate agents, frisked, and interrogated by people with no field experience and no understanding of why she cooperated with Matt Coronas. Then Octavia Debussy appears, removes her, and starts again. Agent Debussy finds most of her story completely rational, but calls her active assistance in a deviant ritual a “poor showing of judgment” and that she may lose her promotion.
Before Xifeng’s final professional fate can be determined, however, the construct sends in thirty agents to flush out the Nephandi. It’s a trap. Twenty-seven are killed, and three are left in critical condition. Now suddenly Xifeng’s record doesn’t look so bad—if they hadn’t cut her off when she was investigating them (on her own) none of this may have happened.
She is not demoted. Octavia recommends a demerit for her record, that she is showing a tendency for impulse over regulation. AT-12 is dissolved and reconstituted into WU-51, primarily geared toward pursuing Nephandi and other deviants. Peter Fischer is removed (he was really only there as a punishment anyway) and put in charge of a prosthetics unit, but they left that on Xifeng’s plate anyway.
Shortly after this incident, Octavia comes calling on Xifeng to beg a favor. When Xifeng confirms one of the Avengers is Davey Darkefell, Octavia tells her he used to be her student. He Awakened at 12 to the Technocratic paradigm, and she gave him age-appropriate materials to prepare him for a career in the Technocracy. Then his sister turned him to the Sons of Ether. While no longer assigned to that cabal, if she has the opportunity to pick him up, she would greatly appreciate it.
Xifeng is assigned a new supervisor, Rick Morgan. She requests a Man in Black to replace Peter, receiving Brendon Bern. Early in her experience with both, Rick calls her to let her know of a disturbance by her apartment, and asks her to get on the scene until the Pan-Dimensional Corps can get there. He has no idea what he’s sending her into, but there are Sleeper cops chasing a drug addict there, and she’s better prepared than they are.
She finds a warehouse full of bees and strange honeycomb. Inside she finds Brendon Bern encased in honey—he tells her that he and Charlotte went looking for her: she’s been gone for hours. He also warns her not to fall asleep, but she does anyway.
This is her first encounter with the Marauder Joshua. She has an almost indescribable experience with him before waking up and acting almost stoned. Brendon takes control of rescuing the Sleepers encased in honey—they still don’t know where Charlotte is. They are interrupted by the sudden arrival of Mr. Kite, who mocks Brendon for trying to shoot him. Kite leaves Technocrats and Sleepers both stranded in time after taking his bees, leaving Brendon to try to find the edge of the time anomaly on his own.
They encounter Joshua one last time, but he allows them to pass. They find Charlotte, who calls Zahir, but neither Zahir, nor Morgan, nor any of the PDC have any memory of the events of the warehouse or the hours after—it simply didn’t happen for them.
Her next encounter would be much stranger. She, Ben, and Vic head out to a carnival for some much-needed recreation. Vic disappears with some of the crowds (and would not be seen again for several months). After heading into a fortune-teller’s tent, Xifeng and Ben suddenly have sex. Xifeng’s behavior is relatively normal after this—and she knows something is wrong—but Ben is bent on impressing her.
They run into Daniel and Jianyu while looking for Vic. At the Circle Most Dire, Jianyu grabs her and spins with her, teleporting them away from the others. Joshua manifests from inside him. Jianyu, by now outed as a Traditionalist (if a baby Traditionalist) tries to warn her he’s crazy, as in MADE of crazy, before Joshua knocks him off the ride. Then Joshua turns her into a housecat.
She flees, running into Jacob. She doesn’t like him, but recognizes the value in allying with the one person who can talk to animals. He coaxes her into using her natural ability to perceive the spirit world into recognizing the center of the anomaly is at the Circle Most Dire, and they lead their party back there to try to shut the Carnival down. They have a confrontation with Joshua, which somehow ends. The Traditionalists let Xifeng and Ben go, but not before reading Ben’s mind and blowing his cover in the Digital Web.
Ben waits an entire weekend before taking Xifeng in to see her boss. They are able to restore her, somehow. As a result of Morgan threatening to call Psych Ops on Ben, Morgan becomes suspicious and investigates Ben. The next time he has her alone in a car, he’s staring at her in such a way she is SURE he’s about to come onto her. Instead he asks how many people know Mackenzie is a Nephandus.
The question almost causes Xifeng to have an accident. After some discussion, Morgan enters the conspiracy with Xifeng and Ben. In the process, he admits that he only got his job through nepotism, and he has less qualifications on his record than Xifeng (he checked). He would rather they tell him if he’s making a stupid decision and him be offended than him be dead. With this in mind, Xifeng takes control of the conspiracy, telling Morgan to pull the tapes of Jahan’s conversion and everything else to do with Jahan’s cabal.
Matt has not given up visiting Xifeng’s apartment. He appears on Xifeng’s couch, ordering her to acquire command of the new QH-97 Amalgam specifically crafted to combat Joshua. She confides in him about Mackenzie, and tells him Sapphira is back from the dead, something that actually shocks him.
Xifeng gets QH-97, including Kouamé Bekoe, a Chrononaut and one of the only 5 Adepts of Time in the Technocracy. Matt visits again, on the Day of the Dead, setting up an altar to share memories of the dead, like Sid Sterling, or her brother Chenglei. He gives her a candy skull to eat (with her name on it) and then tells her it was poisoned—he seems pleased when she immediately induces vomiting.
He tells her Sapphira is with the Verbena, who have not killed her. He also shares his suspicions of the Verbena. He spills the beans about Eleanor and Frederick Morris. Over her objections, he spends the night in her chair.
In December, Peter comes to her office to apologize for his past sexual harassment. It’s motivated by Vic Jacques’ ongoing sexual harassment of him. Peter is insistent Vic never disappeared and was in his lab this evening. Xifeng reviews the security tape and sees them, and upon viewing it, Vic appears. They act like nothing ever happened. Xifeng pulled her sidearm, and Vic seemed to take it in stride, saying they’d been traveling with a Time Marauder. Vic offered to to take Xifeng to see her brother, Chenglei, and she accepted in order to collect information on the Marauder. As they left, Brendon Bern tackled them and traveled with the group.
They reappeared some 5-600 years in the future. There is no sign of people and they can’t contact the Technocracy for help—there’s been some kind of cataclysm between now and then that creates too much interference. Vic reminds them they can’t do anything as they are not a Time Mage, that’s Joshua. After Brendon sends him a distress signal, he sends them back to Xifeng’s past. Here she learns that Chenglei committed suicide because of Joshua’s influence.
Back in the present, Vic is dropped in among the Technocrats, but Kouamé and Brendon are frozen in time and can’t help Xifeng. Vic tells Xifeng about all the wonders they have seen before telling her they’re still a Technocrat and grabbing the frozen Kouamé’s sidearm. Xifeng shoots them to protect Kouamé, but as they’re pushing him out of the way, just gets them in the shoulder. Xifeng realizes Vic is trying to commit suicide by cop. Kouamé, unfrozen, can’t stop Joshua from extracting Vic, and Vic can’t stop themself from going back—and doesn’t want to. Looking into Vic’s eyes, Xifeng shoots and kills them.
It’s late December when Xifeng is having lunch at Chili’s with Charlotte. Alex and Nadira come in, highly Arcane, to assassinate them. Charlotte perceives Nadira and flings a plate at her. Charlotte is badly burned in the confrontation, but seeing Alex about to shoot her boss, shoots him and shatters his chest before he can kill her, getting their Sleeper waiter to steady her arm. Nadira is about to incinerate both Charlotte and the Sleeper in retaliation, so Xifeng executes her. Before slipping into a coma, Alex activates the Network and drops the building on the three of them.