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All Alone [Worm AU]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Jun 13, 2015.

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  1. Argentorum

    Argentorum I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    This will end in tears.

    And dead people. Lots of dead people.
     
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  2. Zackarix

    Zackarix ...

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    Danny is almost certainly going to die. It would be sort of funny if Taylor died too and the "All Alone" title referred to Sophia.
     
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  3. Threadmarks: Part Six: The Consequences of Failure
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    All Alone

    Part Six: The Consequences of Failure



    [A/N 1: This chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]

    [A/N 2: This fic is being pulled from the voting round by request, so that it can be commissioned for later chapters.]



    Even before she opened her eyes, Taylor knew that something was badly wrong. Her nose was one huge throbbing balloon of agony and she couldn't breathe through it. In addition, she had a splitting headache, and both her left eye and her mouth throbbed with ongoing pain. The ribs on the left side of her body ached abominably, merging with her stomach and chest. Memory came and went: a shadowy figure, shouting curses, looming over her, kicking at her. Repeated blows, each one driving her closer to the brink of darkness.

    She was sitting upright, she realised, head hanging forward. Her arms were fastened behind her, at an angle which threatened to pull her shoulders from their sockets, while her legs refused to move at all. Her tongue explored cuts on the inside of her mouth then discovered the gaps of two missing teeth. Several more were loose, as she discovered when her tongue moved one and it pressed on a nerve. Involuntarily, she winced.

    “I think she's waking up.” It was a man's voice, unknown to her. It was dull and rough, overlaid by the rasp of way too many cigarettes.

    “Still think we shoulda got some while she was out.” The other speaker was also a man, but his voice was wheedling and unpleasant. It had a breathiness about it, as if he was gloating over a secret that only he knew. “Best way to wake a bitch up.”

    “You'll get your chance. Hey, girly, open your fuckin' stupid eyes.” Suddenly, Taylor's hair was grasped and pulled backward sharply, bringing her head up. She fought to keep her eyes shut—eye, really, as her left eye didn't want to open anyway—but a rough double slap across the face made her head recoil to one side, then the other. Gasping in pain, she opened her right eye; her left was closed to a slit by the swelling, so she gave that up as a bad job.

    “Hey!” shouted the ten-packs-a-day voice. Even if Taylor's head hadn't been ringing too hard for her to focus on them, her glasses had disappeared somewhere and she couldn't see anything clearly. “Where's fucking Shadow Stalker, you little bitch?”

    “Wha …?” she mumbled. She didn't know whether to be happy that they hadn't gotten Sophia or worried that the other girl might not be able to save her. Muzzily, the thought of Sophia abandoning her crossed her mind, then vanished just as quickly. She's not like that.

    “Where's fucking Shadow Stalker, I said!” he screamed into her face. She tried to wince away from the acrid gust of drug-stinking breath and the spray of spittle that came with it, but his grip on her hair prevented her from going anywhere.

    “Right … behind … you,” she mumbled. It was the most defiant thing she could come up with, and she was rewarded with an involuntary curse from the other guy. The one who was holding her hair jerked his head around, making her wish that Sophia had actually been there.

    “Fuckin' clever bitch.” The guy drove his fist into her gut, driving every scrap of air from her lungs and reigniting the pain in her ribs. Agony bloomed out in all directions and she tried to double over, but the bonds held her in position. Coughing, she sprayed what tasted like blood from her mouth. Each spasm jolted her already-damaged ribs, sending iron spikes through her chest. She felt her head grow light from the effort of dragging air into her lungs, only to cough it out again.

    The other guy dragged deeply on a cigarette, then took it out of his mouth and touched the glowing ember to the corner of her swollen left eyelid. He did it so simply and quickly that she had no time to brace for the pain, if she'd even been able to do so. She tried to scream, which was harsher on her throat than the coughing had been, but there was just no air. Choking, she desperately swallowed blood so she wouldn't drown on it.

    Darkness wavered behind her eyes as she fought to draw oxygen into her lungs. The burn on her eyelid shouldn't have mattered so much compared to the rest of her injuries, but somehow it stood out in sharp relief to what had already happened to her.

    “I said, where's fuckin' Shadow Stalker?” screamed the guy into her face. At least he wasn't hitting her, so she was gradually able to get her breathing under control. Talking was still basically impossible, but he must've mistaken her silence for defiance. She whimpered and cringed as he drew his fist back again. Wherever he hit her, he was going to do damage. She wasn't going to survive this, she began to realise. He was going to beat her to death, asking her questions she had no way of answering.

    Before he could land the blow, the other guy grabbed his arm. Through the thundering of blood in her ears, she heard a vague mumbling. She concentrated on breathing, trying not to push herself into another fit of coughing. Gradually, her head began to clear. She refused to be thankful for the respite, seeing how the asshole had burned her eyelid with his cigarette. It stung like a motherfucker.

    The guy holding her hair turned back to her. “Okay, smart bitch,” he said. “Who the fuck is Shadow Stalker? What's her real name?”

    Sophia. “S—” she began, then cut herself off. “Shadow Stalker?” she mumbled. “Dunno.”

    “She's lying,” said the other guy, in his wheedling, breathy tone. “Can we get some now?” Taylor heard the sound of a zipper being pulled down. “Hold her still an' make her open her mouth.”

    With a growing sense of dull horror, Taylor connected the dots and realised that things could indeed become worse than they already were. “I'll bite,” she mumbled.

    The other guy's hand moved, and she heard a sharp mechanical click. Something glinted in his hand. Due to the grip on her hair, she couldn't turn her head to look directly at it, even if her one good eye had been able to focus on it, but she already knew what it was. “If you fuckin' bite, girly,” promised the breathy voice, “I'll carve out your fuckin' eyes. Now hold still an' suck what I tell you to suck.” His giggle sent shivers down her spine. “Then I'll get you loose from that chair, an' we'll really have some fun.” His free hand made a cupping motion around his crotch, and for once she blessed the fact that she couldn't see any details at that distance.

    “You and your fuckin' E,” sighed the first guy. “Fine, be my guest. Don't use her all the way up, though. I wanna see the look on her face when—”

    <><>​

    Sophia came in through the window. Some small part of Taylor thought that the entry should've been a lot more dramatic, with splintering boards and shattering glass, but of course Shadow Stalker didn't play that way. Shifting from her shadow form to normal, she straight-armed her crossbow at the guy holding the switchblade. There was a sharp twang and the guy shrieked in pain; a tight, ugly sound. “Get away from her!” she screamed, her voice savage and feral.

    “Keep away!” The guy holding Taylor's hair hauled her head back. “I'll fuckin' kill her!” He fumbled behind him, and suddenly there was something metallic pressing up under her jaw. Not sharp; it wasn't a switchblade. Oddly enough, even in the crime-ridden city of Brockton Bay, she'd never actually seen a gun up close before. But she'd seen enough TV that the metallic click-click clued her in.

    “Point that thing at me, you fucking coward.” Sophia's voice had become low and deadly. She crouched, her cloak hiding what her hands were doing. Taylor knew anyway; she was reloading her crossbow.

    “I'm not fuckin' stupid,” he gritted out. “I point this thing away from her, an' you'll do that mist thing, an' I'm fuckin' dead. Not this fuckin' time, you little cu—”

    On the floor, the other guy stirred, groaning. Sophia's shot had put him down but not out. During their talks, Sophia had complained about how some druggies had a ridiculous capacity for pain. Something to do with the way their habits fucked with their nervous systems. And now this one was getting up again, which would divide Sophia's attention. And it's all my fault.

    Taylor jerked spasmodically. She couldn't move her arms or legs, but her head was only restrained by the guy's hand tangled in her hair. As she wrenched her head around, she felt hairs tearing from her scalp, but Sophia had distracted him just enough that he didn't pull her away in time. The wrist of the hand holding the gun was right in front of her, and she sank her teeth into it.

    “Ahhh!” he screamed. “You fuckin'—”

    As he ripped his wrist free of her mouth—fresh blood filled her mouth as his flesh tore, and a stab of pain in her gum heralded a loose tooth becoming a lost tooth—Sophia came across the room like an avenging angel. Her chair lurched then fell over sideways, tearing more hair from her scalp as the guy lost his grip on her. There was a metallic clatter somewhere out of Taylor's sight, which she hoped was the gun hitting the floor. She struggled to get free of the ropes, but her entire weight was resting on her right arm and there was something wrong with the shoulder. In addition, the impact had made her ribs flare up as well as knocking the breath out of her, yet again. Half-blind, with ringing ears, unable to move, barely able to draw breath, she'd never felt so helpless in her life. Is this what it was like for Emma?

    Behind her, Sophia took on the guy who'd been holding her. Taylor had no way of analysing the sounds of the fight. All she could do was hope that Sophia took the guy down fast. From what she'd seen of the room, Sophia didn't have a lot of room to manoeuvre, and the one opponent was going to shortly become two again. Normally, Sophia would simply have retreated, hoping to draw her opponents into a more favourable battleground. But with Taylor a static hostage, she was being forced to stay and fight where she was. This is my fault.

    She heard several heavy thumps, then a thud shook the floor. “Right,” panted Sophia. “Now, let's—”

    BANG

    Taylor jerked as the shot echoed through the room, almost as if the bullet had torn into her. But while pain still wracked her body, no new indignities had been inflicted on her. She got the vague impression of fast movement behind her, then two more shots were fired. The ringing in her ears faded, leaving behind the sound of Sophia's swearing.

    “ … motherfucking kidnapping sonovabitches …” Sophia knelt down behind Taylor, and she felt fingers fumbling at the ropes holding her. “I should kill all those sick fucks. You okay, Night Girl?”

    It took a second for Taylor to register that Sophia was addressing her. The ropes holding her wrists parted, reducing the strain on her left shoulder and providing a welcome relief from a little bit of the pain. “Been better,” she mumbled. “So glad you're here.” Tears spilled out of her eyes and she wanted to cry. Sophia was here. Everything was going to be okay.

    “I wasn't going to leave you hanging,” Sophia said firmly. “Did they … are you …”

    Taylor hissed with the sensation of returning circulation as she brought her left arm around to try to support some of the weight that was pressing on her right. More rope parted, and she rolled away from the chair to lie face-down on the floor. “Hit me a few times,” she slurred, working to get her hands under herself. As much as she wanted to just lie there, she knew she had to get up and move herself. Pins and needles were still sparking along both arms, but only the left one wanted to respond. Any time she tried to move the right, it just resulted in lots of pain. Vaguely, she guessed that it might be broken. Dad is gonna be so upset.

    A strong hand hooked under her left shoulder and gave her a boost upward. With that assistance, she was able to stumble to her feet. “Come on,” Sophia urged her. “If there's anyone else around, they'll have heard the gunshots. We need to be gone now.”

    “My glasses,” Taylor mumbled. “Can you see my glasses?” She knew it was a stupid, inane request, but those glasses meant the difference between being sighted and near-blind to her. Between being helpless and able to run away.

    “Nope. Sorry, but you're just going to have to get a new pair.” Sophia sounded short of breath. “We're going. Now.”

    “Okay. Sorry.” Taylor pushed herself as hard as she could, stumbling along with Sophia to the main door of the hangout. This yielded after a shove and a grunt from Sophia, and they were out in the cool night air.

    Taylor was getting back the feeling in her legs by now. Holding her right arm close to her body with her left, she followed Sophia down a short alley and out on to the street. “Where are we?” she asked, looking around and squinting with her good eye at the patchy street-lighting.

    “Docks,” Sophia said shortly. “Come on.” She picked a direction and led the way down the street, with Taylor following behind. They'd gone about a block before the dark-clad vigilante stumbled and went to one knee before climbing to her feet again. Just for a moment, she stood there, one hand against the wall and the other pressed against her side, swaying slightly.

    “Shit, are you okay?” asked Taylor, coming up alongside her. This close, she realised that Sophia's costume, already dark, was oddly shiny around her lower left side. “Did he hit you?”

    “I'm fine,” Sophia grunted. “I'll be fine.” Then Taylor caught sight of the hand she had pressed to her side. There was a red sheen over the fingers.

    “Sophia, you're bleeding! Did that guy shoot you?” Taylor's right arm was still too painful to use, so she reached out with her left hand. “Let me see.”

    Reluctantly, Sophia pulled up the padded shirt she wore on that side, and Taylor leaned in close. She gasped with horror as she saw the tiny hole, so small she could've plugged it with her finger. Blood trickled from it in an unending stream. “Shit, we need to get you to a hospital!”

    “I'll be fine,” Sophia said. “I'll put pressure on it. I've had worse.” Working one-handed, she pulled a pad and a bandage from a pouch on her belt. With Taylor's help, she put the pad over the hole, then fixed it in place with the bandage, winding it around and around her torso.

    Taylor eyed the way the pad had instantly turned red, and how it was already soaking through the bandage. She didn't like that at all. “We need to get you to the hospital,” she reiterated.

    “Maybe,” conceded Sophia. “But we can't do it as Shadow Stalker and Night Girl. We'll say we were kidnapped by the Merchants and we got away, and I got shot doing it.” She swayed, and Taylor automatically steadied her.

    “Okay, that'll work,” Taylor agreed. She would've agreed to just about anything by now. Sophia had been hurt because of her stupidity, and she was willing to do anything to put it right. She was already feeling bad about losing the baseball bat. “We've got to get rid of the costume stuff, though. So they don't realise you're Shadow Stalker.” She herself was just wearing dark clothing, and the scarf she'd put around her face to hide her identity was looped loosely around her neck.

    “Shit, you're right.” Sophia shook her head and swayed again. “Not thinking straight.” She pulled off the hockey mask and cloak, and Taylor helped her wrap it around her crossbow, the remaining arrows and the utility belt. “Stick it behind there. We'll pick it up in a couple of days.” She indicated an overflowing dumpster which obviously hadn't been emptied in weeks.

    Taylor did as she was told, then turned around to see that Sophia had slumped against the wall again and was beginning to slide to the ground. “Hey,” she said urgently. “You can't pass out here. I've got to get you to the hospital.” She hurried back to Sophia's side and helped her stand up straight again. Ducking under Sophia's right shoulder, she wrapped her arm around the other girl's torso, just above the bandage. “Come on, let's do this. Where's your phone? We'll call for an ambulance.”

    “Not … yet,” Sophia mumbled. “Too … close. Those Merchant assholes … come back, we're dead.” Leaning on Taylor, she staggered forward one step, then another.

    The teenage vigilante had been right so far, so Taylor re-settled her shoulder under Sophia's and helped her along. Her left arm and her legs were about the only things that didn't throb with pain in tune with her steps, but she couldn't give up. She couldn't give up on herself, or on her best friend. Down one deserted street after another they stumbled, until her friend's legs gave out and she slumped to the ground.

    “Hey!” Taylor said urgently. “Hey! Sophia!” But the dark-skinned girl didn't respond. Taylor was pretty sure she was still breathing, so she checked the bandage. It was sodden through with blood, and Taylor had the horrible feeling that a lot of it was fresh. “Fuck,” she muttered. “I've got to call that ambulance.” Sprawled on the ground, Taylor realised for the first time that Sophia looked small and fragile.

    It felt weird to be digging into Sophia's pocket to retrieve her phone. Taylor had never used one of the new smartphones, and it took a little bit of fiddling and pressing buttons to make it wake up. Crouching protectively over Sophia's supine body, she awkwardly keyed in 9-1-1 with bloodstained fingers.

    You have reached nine-one-one emergency. Do you require police, fire, ambulance or PRT?” The operator was a woman, and she sounded bored.

    “Ambulance … ambulance, please. My friend's really badly hurt and I think she's dying. The Merchants kidnapped me and she came and rescued me but they shot her and she's bleeding really badly and comehelpuspleasepleaseplease!” Taylor babbled the words out, feeling herself slipping closer to hysteria with each word. Her right arm was still too painful to move, so she pressed hard on the bandage with her knee.

    Honey, I'm going to need you to take a breath. Can you do that for me?” The woman was no longer bored. Her voice was professionally calm. “The best way you can help your friend is to tell me exactly what's going on. Can you do that for me?”

    Taylor dragged a breath into her lungs, ignoring the ache in her ribs. “Y-yes. Just hurry, please.”

    We're doing the best we can. Now, are you injured, and are you in immediate danger?”

    She took stock of herself, then looked up and down the street. “I'm, uh, pretty beat up, but I'm okay really. It's Sophia who's hurt. Um, we're in the Docks. I can't see anyone around.”

    Good. That's good. Can you tell me where you are?”

    “Oh, uh …” Taylor looked wildly around. There was a street sign nearby. Not wanting to be parted from Sophia for even a moment, she nonetheless climbed painfully to her feet and staggered toward it. “There's a sign here. It's been pretty badly vandalised, but …” She squinted with her one good eye. “I think it's Thompson Street and … Davidson? Davison? I can't tell. We're in the Docks. There's nobody around. Does that help?”

    That helps a lot. You're doing well here. Now, I need you to check her pulse and her breathing. Do you know how to do that?”

    “No,” confessed Taylor. “I don't know how to do any of that.” She began to feel more and more inadequate. I don't know how to fight, I don't know how to do first aid. I shouldn't have told Sophia I was ready to do this.

    The lady at the other end of the line never faltered, however. Step by step, she explained how to find Sophia's pulse and to make sure she was breathing. Then she asked Taylor to detail Sophia's injuries. Finally, she explained how to put Sophia into the recovery position. This wasn't easy with one hand, but once she put the phone on speaker she was able to do it.

    “Okay,” she said breathlessly. “What do I do now?”

    Now, I need all the details that you can give me about you and your friend. Names, medical history, anything like that …”

    <><>​

    The police car arrived first. Taylor had expected lights and sirens, but neither eventuated as it nosed around the corner then accelerated down the street toward her. It slowed dramatically and came to a halt a good ten yards away. Two officers jumped out as the ambulance turned the corner. One of them pulled his gun immediately and began to scan the surroundings while the other crossed the distance to Taylor.

    I'm told police and ambulance are on site now,” the lady on the phone said in her ear. “Is that correct?”

    “Yes,” Taylor said in breathless relief. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Sophia would be all right now. It was still all her fault, but Sophia would be all right.

    “Miss Hebert, is it?” It was the officer. “How badly are you …” He trailed off and looked sick as she raised her face toward him. “Oh, shit.”

    “It's not me you need to be worried about,” Taylor said hastily. “Sophia's really badly hurt. She passed out awhile ago, and she's been bleeding badly. I've tried to keep pressure on it, but her pulse is getting really bad.”

    There was a clatter of something metallic, and then two EMTs, or paramedics, or whatever they were called, ran toward them with one of those rolling stretchers between them. “GSW,” the cop said to them as they arrived. “Non-responsive, heavy bleeding.”

    “Yeah, we got that,” said one of the EMTs. He looked at Taylor, then turned to his partner. “Tell Joe to get the other gurney out. We got two passengers tonight.”

    “What? No!” Taylor winced as the intensity of her protest sent a wave of pain through her body. “Sophia's the one that needs help, not me!”

    “We're going to be helping her,” the EMT said patiently. “But you need help, too.” There was a clatter from the direction of the ambulance. “Has your friend suffered any spinal injuries?”

    “Uh, no, she was walking before she passed out,” Taylor said.

    “Good,” said the EMT. “Excellent. Let's get her on to the gurney.” The two paramedics did something to the stretcher, and it collapsed down to almost ground level. Taylor went to get up out of the way, but he gestured for her to stay where she was. “Miss, don't move. We need to put you on a stretcher and get you checked over.”

    “I don't really need it,” Taylor said. “I'll be fine. Help her, please.”

    “That's our job,” the man said, not unkindly, then turned to his partner. “Okay, on three. One … two … three.” With the smoothness of long practice, they got Sophia up on to the … gurney, that was what he'd called it, then lifted it back up to waist-height with a smooth clattering of metal. Then they started moving it back toward the ambulance, muttering things like “thready” and “expanders” to each other. She couldn't see properly, due to her seat on the gutter, and her legs really didn't want to get up.

    The driver came up with a second gurney. “Miss … Hebert, was it? We need to treat you too.” he collapsed the gurney beside her. She had to admit, the thin mattress looked very inviting. “Come on, I'll help you across.”

    “Okay,” she said dubiously. She forced her legs to move, lifting her up and across on to the gurney, holding her right arm to stop it from moving.

    He helped her ease down on to her back, then frowned. “What's wrong with your right arm?”

    “I think it's broken,” she mumbled. “I fell on it.” She didn't want him to touch it. Even thinking about it made it hurt more.

    “The shoulder looks wrong,” he said. “Could be dislocated. I can try to put it back, but it's gonna hurt.”

    “More than it already does?” she mumbled. She found that hard to believe.

    “For a little bit, yeah,” he said frankly. “The alternative is, once we get you into the ambulance, we can give you some painkillers. When you get to the hospital, they can put it back in and you won't feel a thing.” He clipped something on to her index finger, then started checking her over, asking professional questions about where she was injured.

    It only took a minute or so for her to be loaded into the back of the ambulance alongside Sophia. With the oxygen mask over her face, Sophia looked even smaller and more fragile than when she was lying at Taylor's feet in the gutter.

    “We're going to need a statement about who did this to them,” one of the cops said, leaning into the ambulance.

    “Follow us to the hospital,” said one of the paramedics tersely. “This one needs serious medical care, stat.” He gestured to the driver, who pushed the doors shut. Briefly, he turned to Taylor. “I can put you on a drip—”

    “No!” Taylor said hastily. “Don't put me out. I want to be here for her.”

    He seemed to be about to say something, then one of the machines they'd attached to Sophia went beep, and he shrugged and turned his attention away from Taylor. “Whatever. If you change your mind, give me a shout.”

    The ambulance engine started first, then the siren. Taylor did her best to hang on as the ambulance peeled out of there.

    <><>​

    The ambulance ride was the most harrowing experience that Taylor had ever undergone, and that included the torture session with the Merchant assholes. The pain that still spiked through her body wasn't the worst part. She wasn't getting inured to it, so much as it was becoming her new normal. At worst, it was a distraction from watching what was going on with Sophia.

    Of course, she didn't know what was happening with Sophia. All she could do was guess whether it was good or bad. She didn't know how to interpret the outputs of the machines, and the terse conversation of the EMTs didn't help much either. Their expressions and body language worried her, a lot. But they kept working, which meant Sophia was still alive. Be okay, she prayed. Please be okay.

    Distantly, she heard the wailing siren of the cop car as it sped ahead of the ambulance. It carved through the minimal traffic, making a way forward so the ambulance didn't have to slow down or stop.

    When the ambulance did screech to a halt, Taylor looked around in confusion. “Why are we stopping?” she mumbled.

    “'Cause we're here,” one of the paramedics said. A moment later, the rear doors opened. “This one first!” the paramedic continued, pointing at Sophia. “First name Sophia. GSW, internal bleeding.” The rest was lost as he jumped down to the ground and assisted in pulling Sophia's gurney out of the ambulance.

    Next up was Taylor's gurney. Willing hands hauled it out of the ambulance, even as she was considering scrambling out—as much as she could scramble right at that moment—to see where Sophia had gone. The cops were waiting as she emerged.

    “How soon can we talk to her?” asked the one on the right.

    “Christ, have some sensitivity,” said a tired-looking doctor with wispy blonde hair framing her face. “Her friend's been shot, and she looks like she's been worked over with a baseball bat. Before anyone talks to anyone, I've got to make sure she's not hurt worse than she looks.”

    Taylor wondered about the doctor's sensitivity, but she had other matters to worry about. “Sophia,” she slurred. “Is she going to be okay?”

    “I'm sure she will be,” the doctor said automatically. She picked up the chart. “Says here you've got potentially fractured ribs. Do you have any trouble breathing? Sharp pains when you inhale?”

    “No.” Taylor shook her head, then winced. “My ribs just hurt. Head hurts. Eye hurts. Nose hurts. Face hurts. Mouth hurts. Teeth hurt. Arm hurts.” She twisted her neck to look toward where Sophia had disappeared to. “I want to see Sophia. Make sure she's okay.”

    The doctor sighed and pushed her hair back out of her eyes. “Sweetie, we're not going to know one way or the other until Doctor Branson's had a chance to help her. In the meantime, I need to check you over. Have you been given any painkillers yet?”

    “No,” Taylor mumbled. “I told them not to. They needed to help Sophia. Besides, it's all my fault she got hurt.”

    “Why's that?” asked the cop. “Miss, if you can tell us anything about who did this to you, it would help a great deal with our investigation.”

    “One second, boys,” the doctor said curtly. “Miss … Hebert, wasn't it? Hold still, please. Look straight at the light.” She leaned over Taylor with a flashlight in her hand, holding her eyelid open with one hand. “Okay, I don't want to mess with the other eye until that swelling goes down, but pupil reflex seems normal.” She looked more closely. “Though we're going to have to deal with that burn. Did someone put out a cigarette on your eye?”

    Involuntarily, Taylor clenched her eyes shut, which made the burn—heretofore having merged with the background noise of her ongoing pain—jump all the way to the front of the queue again. “Uh huh.”

    “Can we ask her some questions now?” asked the cop.

    “Might you at least wait until I give her something for the pain?” asked the doctor tartly. Her lips tightened. “This girl has been through the equivalent of a car accident.”

    “Doc, she's a skinny thing,” said the other cop in a reasonable tone. “How sure are you that your painkiller won't knock her out altogether?”

    “Don't knock me out,” mumbled Taylor. “I want to make sure Sophia's okay.” Her guilt swelled again.

    The cop seized the opportunity. “Okay, then. What the hell happened to you, anyway?”

    She almost blurted out the truth, then caught herself in time. “She … we … we were going for a walk. There were some guys, in a car. They came out of nowhere. They grabbed us and beat us up. We got knocked out. I woke up first. We were in some kind of Merchant den. They tried to do something with me, but a cape busted in and beat them up pretty bad. Sophia and I got out, but she got shot. I don't think the cape who saved us knew that. She was gone by the time we got outside.” Her voice trailed off. It was near enough to the truth, and she didn't have to worry too much about recalling awkward details.

    “Jesus shit.” It was the other cop. “Motherfucking Merchants.” He scribbled in his notebook. “You'll be able to show us where this was, right?”

    “Maybe, I guess,” Taylor said. “It all happened pretty fast.”

    The cop nodded and took a note. “Did you at least get a look at the guy who grabbed you? Or the ones in the place the cape got you out of?”

    “Not really,” she confessed. That bit had happened too fast.

    “This cape,” said the first cop. “You said 'she'. Did you get a good look at her, at least?”

    “Who else is it gonna be?” asked the second cop. “Ten gets you one it's that shadow girl. The one with the crossbow.”

    “She kill any of them?” asked the first cop. “I won't be complaining if she has, mind you.”

    “I don't know,” Taylor said, and it was true. She didn't know, but she certainly suspected. Neither man in the hideout had been moving or making a sound when she and Sophia left. Not that this made her feel any better about the whole affair. Quite the opposite, in fact. It's all my fault.

    “So, uh,” said the cop. “I'm just wondering. Your friend got shot, but there's not another mark on her. You look like you tangled with Hookwolf on a bad day. Any idea why they went so rough on you?”

    Taylor was still searching for an answer when another gurney came in through the doors. “Got a bad one!” called a voice. “Crashing hard! Code blue, code blue, code blue!”

    “Shit,” muttered the blonde doctor. She turned her head to look; almost involuntarily, Taylor's eyes followed hers.

    What happened next would be imprinted on her mind's eye forever. The gurney was rushed past with people on either side, a doctor actually performing CPR on the run. An oxygen mask had been placed over the person's face, but that didn't matter. She would've known that face anywhere. Covered in blood, looking as beat up as she felt, she still recognised him instantly. “Dad!”

    “What?” The two cops looked at each other, then at Taylor. “That's your father?”

    “Yes!” Weakly, Taylor began to try to struggle off of the gurney. “What's happening? Where are they taking him?”

    “Emergency surgery,” the doctor said crisply, putting her arm across Taylor's chest to keep her on the gurney. Flicking her eyes to the nearest cop, she went on. “Find out what happened. I'm taking Miss Hebert to an exam room to clean her up and get some painkillers into her.”

    Taylor struggled weakly, but the doctor flipped the restraints across her and clipped them down with the ease of long experience. With only one working arm, Taylor wasn't going anywhere. Realising that she wasn't getting free in a hurry, she slumped back on to the gurney. “Dad,” she whispered. “Sophia.” Her world was beginning to crumble around her in slow motion. The two pillars of strength in her life—one old and one new—were grievously injured. How and why her father had been hurt, she had no idea, but she instinctively knew it was somehow due to her actions. Did he go out looking for me and get into trouble? She had no way of knowing.

    Once in the examination room, the doctor drafted a nurse into checking Taylor over properly, while she updated the chart. A painkiller and a muscle relaxant were administered, whereupon the nurse quickly and efficiently put Taylor's shoulder back into place. Her nose was likewise re-set, then splinted into place. Careful examination of her eye revealed that while there was a little damage to the sclera from the heat of the cigarette, the major problem from that would come from scarring to the eyelid itself.

    Taylor was just starting to drift in the embrace of the painkillers when there was a knock on the examination room door. The doctor answered it, and Taylor heard the voice of the cop from before. Due to the quiet in the room, she heard nearly every word.

    “ … about eight of them just drove up to the house and kicked in the door. Neighbours called nine-one-one after the ruckus started. He put up a good fight. Half of them are gonna need treatment and there's a couple they don't think are gonna pull through. But they sure went to town on him. Still dunno why …”

    Taylor sank back on to the mattress, the temporary good feeling from the painkillers having altogether disappeared. Oh, god. They somehow figured out who I was, and they attacked Dad over it. Over me. Her mood, which had cautiously begun to elevate with the cessation of pain, plummeted once more. The machine to which she was hooked up immediately began to beep warningly.

    “Okay, thank you. You can go now,” the doctor said hastily. She shut the door and hurried back to Taylor's side. “What's the matter? What happened?”

    “I have no idea,” the nurse said. “A minute ago, she was fine.” She turned to Taylor. “What's the matter, sweetie?”

    “Dad,” whispered Taylor, squeezing her good eye shut and feeling hot tears force themselves out. “I did this. It's my fault.”

    “It's not your fault,” the nurse said briskly. “Whoever attacked your father, it's on them. Not on you.” She reached for the painkiller drip, probably to increase the dose, but there was another knock on the door before she got there.

    “What is it now?” muttered the doctor. She went to the door and opened it. Taylor saw two different nurses' aides standing outside. “Whatever it is, can it keep?”

    Just for a few short seconds, all sound in the room ceased. It was the sort of silence that can fall into a crowded room when everyone pauses at once. Into that silence dropped nine words. Even though they were spoken over each other, Taylor heard them all perfectly.

    “Mr Hebert—”

    “Sophia Hess—”

    “—passed on.”

    “—didn't make it.”

    Dad. Sophia.

    Taylor's world crashed and burned. Every last fragment of it exploded into ruin. Her heart swelled in her chest, then disintegrated in a maelstrom of fury and loss. The machine beeped louder and louder until it was one long unending tone. Every part of her body locked up as she screamed.

    When she opened her eyes again, the world looked utterly different. All was darkness. Mere material objects were ghostly white objects here and there. Colour had fled her world, as had ordinary light. There were four beings clustered around her; one close by, and three a little distance away. More could be seen through the immaterial walls that surrounded her.

    Each of the beings consisted of a white ghostly skeleton beneath a glaring light so bright that she had to shade her eyes and look away. The lights were constellations of supernovae, intricate but still too bright for her to look at directly.

    She sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed. All the pain had gone away, and she felt stronger than ever. Cords attached to the beeping machine impeded her progress. She didn't need or want them any more, so she pulled them all off of her. One was attached to her wrist, but she yanked that one off as well.

    Holy shit!” That was the nurse, but her voice was now much farther away, sounding through an echo chamber. “Miss, you need to get back into bed.” She went to push Taylor backward, but a simple brush of her arm sent the skeleton with its attached light sprawling to the floor.

    “No, I don't.” Taylor moved toward the door. It didn't matter that her glasses were long gone. She had no trouble focusing now. “Take me to Sophia and my father. Right now.” She'd let them take her away from the two people she cared most about in the world, and that was on her. No more.

    Miss—” The nurse, climbing to her feet, tried to protest again.

    Hennessy, keep back.” That was the doctor, her voice also hollow and far away. “Do you see her eyes? Congratulations, you just witnessed a trigger event. Be glad you're still alive. Miss Hebert, can you understand me?”

    “I understand you.” Taylor was understandably cautious, although a little confused. A 'trigger event' was where someone got powers. She knew that much from popular culture. Did I just get powers? Am I a cape now? “Where are Dad and Sophia? I need to see them.”

    Are you sure?” asked the doctor. “You've already been through a lot today. Putting yourself under more stress—”

    Reaching out, Taylor took hold of the door handle. It felt lightweight and flimsy, the type of handle the lowest bidder might put on a hospital examination room. Still, before today, she could not have done what she now did. Taking a firm grip—with her right hand, even—she twisted hard. The snap echoed oddly in her ears, and she tossed the bent metal handle on to the floor. “I'm sure,” she said.

    “ … right.” Even as unused to the hollow tone as she was, Taylor thought the doctor's voice held more caution than before. “I'll take you to see them.”

    “Thank you.” Taylor followed the doctor out of the examination room. She seemed to recall that there'd been a mirror in the room but if there was, it didn't seem to work in the odd shadow-space that her eyes were currently inhabiting. Around them, people kept up the regular business of a hospital, visible through the ghostly walls. “Does this happen often? Trigger events, I mean.”

    Not in the hospital, thank God,” the doctor said. “When they get here, the worst is usually over. Yours is an unusual case.” She made a motion with her too-bright head as if she were looking Taylor up and down. “You're moving much more easily. Did you just heal all your injuries?”

    “I guess so?” Taylor shrugged. “I don't know how this works any more than you do. All I know is that I need to see Sophia and Dad right now.”

    The doctor sighed sadly “I suppose closure is important. In here.”

    An insubstantial-looking door opened before her, and Taylor stepped into a room that felt a few degrees colder. On gurneys in front of her were two skeletal forms like everyone else she'd seen, except for the heads. The constellations were still there, but now she could look at them directly. Moving forward, she stared at them in fascination. Slowly, she put out her hand toward the taller one, who she guessed was her father. The guilt almost drove her to her knees.

    I'm sorry, Dad. I should've been a better daughter. I wish I could change places with you.

    After a few moments of silence, she turned to Sophia. Her miscalculations and idiotic decisions were coming back to haunt her, all over again.

    I got you killed. I'm sorry. If I could go back in time and fix this, I would.

    Silently, she stood there for several minutes, eyes closed, tears trickling out from under the lids and running down her face. There was nothing she could do or say to alleviate the pain she felt at her own inescapable mistakes. The fact that she seemed to now have minor super-strength and weird vision was now just a layer of shitty icing on a horrifically crappy day. I killed my Dad and my best friend, and I got powers out of it. How is that fair?

    With one final sigh of regret, feeling as drained as though she'd just run a marathon, she turned toward the door. “Okay,” she said out loud. “I don't know—”

    Something moved behind her. She turned to look, just as she heard the doctor's almost silent whimper. Sophia had just sat up on her gurney and was looking around. No longer merely a skeleton with a constellation for a head, it was actually Sophia. In this world of darkness, she stood out like a beacon against a black hole. On the other gurney, her father had also just sat up with a bemused expression on his face. The wounds that had been inflicted on him were still in evidence, and his pants were covered in blood.

    “Well, that's different,” said Sophia.



    End of Part Six
     
  4. NavigatorNobilis

    NavigatorNobilis Follower of the Second Star

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    That... Is one hell of a trigger. I mean, they all are, but damn. Kidnapped, tortured, rescued, finding out your dad was also tortured - because of you - and then you find out your saviour and your father both died on the operating table.

    And what is her power even? Bit of brute strength, healing, some sort of Ringwraith shadow state which allows her to see... Minds? I'm gonna say minds... And bring back... Ghosts?

    Very interesting. I can't wait to see the fallout of this.
     
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  5. Dr. Mercurious

    Dr. Mercurious Not too sore, are you?

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    Necromancy.

    You fucking gave her necromancy.

    My god, Contessa's going to invent a time machine so the Kill Order can be written last week. Either that, or she's going to rob Aladdin of his lamp and give it to Taylor as a sign-on bonus.
     
    SamueLewis and Ack like this.
  6. Slayer Anderson

    Slayer Anderson Orthodox Heretic

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    Earth Bet needed a second Fairy Queen that wasn’t limited to parahumans!

    Im sure Emily Piggot will agree after she drinks herself to death and gets raised as an undead minion.
     
  7. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Her power's actually a lot less complicated than that.

    Oh, and Danny wasn't tortured. They just attacked him, he fought back, and went out like a boss.
     
  8. Zackarix

    Zackarix ...

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    For a second I thought this story was to have Taylor lose everyone. But triggering with some type of necromancy? Depending on how extensive it is Taylor could very quickly find herself as one of the most in-demand capes in the world. I curse you for taking this story off the voting list.
     
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  9. GW_Yoda

    GW_Yoda Professional Lurker

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    I asked him to take it off of the voting list so I could commission it. I've always wanted to see more of this since the beginning and I was tired of being patient. Once Price of Blood is finished, we all should be seeing more of this one, as well as DARK.
     
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