The Secret Garden

Chapter Twenty One: "Loom of Fate"

The Weaver Rises

Part I

The mages attend Jade Kim’s 3rd birthday, having handed her over to her extended family earlier in the year. As they leave, they see a strange young woman unconsciously use magic to avoid a horrendous traffic accident. She wanders off in a daze and the mages follow her. She meanders through Manchester and the mages follow at a discreet distance. They notice that others are also following the girl – a trio of strange figures on the rooftops of nearby buildings. One is a slender Chinese woman in a patterned robe. The second is a cloaked cypher, showing only glimpses of half-rotted flesh. And the third is a bald figure in a black trenchcoat and thick goggles, sporting a pair of revolvers. As this third leans against a stone gable, high above the street, it briefly transforms into wooden hoarding that would not have been out of place above an Old West saloon.

Unsure of what this means, the mages redouble their pace. They catch up with the girl just as she stumbles into St. Ann’s Priory.

In the church, the girl is being comforted by a priest – her priest. He introduces himself as Reverend Williams and the girl as Norna Weaver. He tells the mages not to worry, and tries to lead Norna in a calming prayer. But something about the prayer appals the girl, and she staggers backwards, screaming: “Get away from me! What are you? What the hell are you?”

Norna flees again. Valerie snares the fading echoes of the prayer and hears that Williams was not praying to God, but to something called Cob. She and the others hurry out of the church after Norna. They catch up with her on St. Ann’s Square and convince her that they understand what is happening to her. They believe that she is undergoing an Awakening of sorts. Norna is reassured by their sympathy and Antonio persuades her to join them all back at his Deansgate penthouse.

There they talk to Norna and learn a little about her. Norna’s father died recently, and Valerie is intrigued to learn that he was a colleague of Dr. Himiitsu. Since around that time, Norna has been having strange dreams (largely of spiders) and has experienced some peculiar twists of fate akin to the near-miss car crash earlier in the evening.

During the discussion, the mages note some strange temporal anomalies – Norna drops her glass, but it hangs in the air, then is smashed, then intact, then in her hands again – and guess that something odd is drawing near. Antonio realises that something is coming up to his penthouse in the elevator. Not wanting to see what is about to arrive, the mages take Norna and flee down the internal stairs to the subterranean garage.

There, they bundle into Antonio’s car and race for the exit. They see the bald man with the goggles and the gun and drive straight for him. He leaps aside but, as the car hurtles past, it is briefly transformed into an Old West stagecoach, complete with horses. Then it is a car once more, and racing away into the night.

Something strange is clearly afoot in Manchester, so the mages take Norna back to Thornpetal Cottage in Nantwich, to lie low once more and decide what to do. They think they should probably take her home, back to her mother, but agree that they also need to find out if there is anything unusual about her background. Valerie considers contacting Himiitsu again, but cannot bring herself to go back to Grimsfen after what happened to Terry and Louise. Antonio finishes the evening with the contents of his father’s casket – now revealed to be a gem-studded cross rich with primal energies…

Part II

The mages take Norna home. En route, they are joined by their old friend Joaquin Tarrega, who is – as usual – off his tits on mushrooms. Arriving at the house, the mages meet Norna’s mother and decide that there is something odd about her, but they can’t figure out exactly what it is. While Joaquin scoffs biscuits and chats with Mrs. Weaver in the kitchen, Rodney, Antonio and Valerie accompany Norna upstairs to her room.

There, Norna shows them her paintings and talks more about her dreams. Rodney probes these with greater detail and Norna reveals that she keeps having terrible thoughts about the attic. Against their better judgment, the mages head into the attic. There they make a horrific discovery: the body of Norna’s mother.

Down in the kitchen, Joaquin is still eating biscuits with whoever has replaced Norna’s mother. Growing increasingly creeped out, Joaquin pops out into the garden to smoke a giant doobie. Meanwhile, the other mages and Norna come hurrying back downstairs, trying not to show their panic. They make some hasty excuses and flee, forgetting entirely that they have left Joaquin in the garden. As they leave, they see the mother-replacement making an urgent phonecall.

Norna asks them to take her to Southern Cemetery, where her father is buried, so distraught is she. On the way, a minor earthquake rocks Manchester – Valerie assesses it as arising out of some disturbance in subspace. They arrive at the cemetery and Rodney communes with Norna’s father’s spirit, allowing it to possess him so that the others can question him. The ghost reveals that he was part of a project at GeneTech, overseen by Dr. Himiitsu from Grimsfen. They were trying to assess damage to the local spiritual landscape, specifically a way to heal a powerful entity, named by Himiitsu as the Consensus Operant Bioform. Cob. Rodney suspects that this is actually a powerful Pattern Spider, injured by some previous crisis.

Himiitsu had a plan to heal Cob by merging its spirit with that of a powerful nascent mage. When Norna’s father realised that his own daughter was planned for the project, he objected. Himiitsu killed him. The mages tell the ghost that his wife has also been killed and replaced with… something else. The ghost suspects that this is a clone – Himiitsu was well-versed in such technology. He begs them to seek vengeance for himself, and safety for his daughter.

The mages agree, but further discussion is cut short by the arrival of the three strange figures from the previous day – the Chinese woman, cloaked horror, and bald gunslinger. Although these newcomers are apparently mages, they warp reality around them to match their own appearance and behaviour, and are very hard to communicate with. Rodney is able to talk to the Chinese woman, however, who names herself as Miss Zhao, the gunslinger as The Wolf, and the cloaked man as Shade. They have been drawn to Norna because she lies at the heart of a cataclysm that threatens to break the city. She fascinates them. When the mages insist that they leave Norna alone, the trio become hostile and a fight breaks out.

The battle becomes more complicated when a car full of dark-suited men arrives at the cemetery. They claim that they are from the police and have come to take Norna into custody. Nobody believes them, and they join the fight, pinning the mages and Norna down behind the gravestones. With matters growing desperate, Antonio calls for backup. The mages hold out for a short while longer before it arrives in the form of Eddie the Jaw and his enforcers. With their aid, the mages and Norna escape.

Part III

The mages head to Clementine Towers to recuperate from their battle at the cemetery. They talk to Norna, who wonders about her destiny. If the city is in need, wouldn’t it be better to merge with Cob? The mages insist that they will try to find another way to solve the problem. But, whatever the outcome, nobody will force Norna into a choice that is not of her own making.

They head back down into Manchester and decide to return to St. Ann’s to question Reverend Williams. He reveals that he was part of the plan to merge Norna with Cob – known as Project Reincarnate. Before the mages can berate him for his part in this, he unbuttons his cassock to reveal a set of vestigial arachnid arms on either side of his torso. He was the first attempt at healing Cob – an attempt that failed, leaving Williams crippled. The mages accept that he, too, is a victim of Himiitsu, and leave. The time has come to pay a visit to GeneTech.

Valerie carries out several deep-subspace scans and confirms that there is a considerable umbral disturbance in the area of the labs. As the group heads in that direction, another far more powerful quake rocks the city. Valerie confirms that it is due to Cob nearing death from its injuries. They have to hurry.

In the midst of the quake, Miss Zhao, Shade and The Wolf return. This is the cataclysm they have longed for, the chaos they desire. Nothing must prevent Cob’s death, and if Norna can heal Cob, then Norna must die. With the quake growing around them, the mages battle the Marauders (for such they are). They kill The Wolf and Shade and drive off Miss Zhao. Then they make all haste for GeneTech.

Nearing its outskirts, Rodney enters the umbra, while the others proceed into the building. Rodney approach the injured Cob and communes with the ancient Pattern Spider. The entity is dying, but it agrees to whatever the mages can suggest to save it and prevent its death from destroying the city. Rodney communicates its desires to the others. Faced with a catastrophe that will annihilate her home and kill countless innocents, with her family dead and only a terrifying Awakening ahead, Norna makes her decision. She will merge with Cob.

The mages infiltrate the lab and confront Himiitsu. He insists that he did all he could to save Manchester – what other choice did he have? After Cob was damaged by something called the Tunguska Geometrics, such a solution was the only option. The mages neither understand his explanation, nor accept his justifications. Without warning, Antonio pulls his gun, puts it to Himiitsu’s temple and says: “Thou shalt not kill.”

Then he blows Himiitsu’s brains out.

The mages force the other lab techs to activate the arcane machinery for Project Reincarnate. They notice several clone tanks with growing forms inside – some resemble Himiitsu. The mages destroy them all. When the machinery is ready, Norna bids them farewell and steps inside. The machinery transforms her, merging her Avatar with Cob. Norna and Cob both die, but out of their unification arises a new spirit: Weaver.

Although Norna has become a Pattern Spider, the essence of the girl she was will guide the web she now weaves for the city. Now Manchester will enjoy a new path, a balance between Dynamism and Stasis, Wyld and Weaver. A path to guide the city to its Ascension.

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