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Worm: Babel (Worm/Cthulhu Mythos Crossover)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Baked the Author, Aug 6, 2019.

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  1. Threadmarks: Chapter 1
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author Scion of Nurgle, Verified Consentacle Enthusiast

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    Worm: Babel
    A Lovecraft Mythos/Worm Crossover by Baked the Author

    A Horror/mild!Humor with some fluffyness and mystery thrown in for variety, this story is about a Taylor Hebert who has fallen under the attention of a certain meddling Outer God. Grim as only Worm can be, as disturbing and verbose as Lovecraft's own work, and with a Taylor Hebert who could give Wednesday and Alice a run for their money...

    I hope you enjoy reading this story as much as I have writing it!

    (Currently being crossposted from FF.net)

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    Carpet Disclaimer for all chapters present and henceforth: I make no claim to any of the original works I write about. The Mythos is, as far as I can tell, public domain, and impossible for any singular person to own. Worm and all derivative works thereof are solely owned by Wildbow, who I most certainly am not. I make no money off doing this, so please don't sue. I'd have to pay in piles of interesting-looking but ultimately boring rocks.

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    Worm: Babel

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    "The plan has failed."

    A shift, the sound of not-cloth rustling.

    "Interesting. Usually, these parasites' curiosity results in their termination… Though, I am unsurprised. A departure from the dataset was inevitable."

    "What shall we do?"

    The stars burned brighter, yet the dark shadows shrouding the temple summit only seemed to deepen.

    "…You imply that this outcome is not to my favor? That I somehow rely on your input?"

    "A-Ah, forgive me, my Lord," the messenger pressed their forehead further into the unnaturally smooth floor, "T'was a slip of the tongue. I await your orders."

    Another rustle of not-cloth, the messenger's Lord turning away.

    It contemplated the events of the past moments.

    Long had It hunted the parasites. They were aberrations upon reality itself, leeching off the entropic release of planets, of stars, across space, beyond the streams of time the Universe swam through. More program than living being, they were the final iteration of a foolish race that, many thousands of millions of galactic cycles past, blindly sought immortality.

    'Be careful what you wish for.'

    It was a sentiment It had planted in the minds of every conscious, sapient race hence. A warning. Do not reach, for the result is not one which would be palatable to any thinking being, be they Ghoul or Star-Spawn.

    The parasites were a constant reminder of Its failure to teach this lesson at the appropriate moment.

    That race sought immortality.

    In a way, they succeeded.

    It doubted the smallfolk of that long-changed species would agree.

    Once mere flesh and blood, like so many other beings and species who were content in their momentary existences, now they were slaves to their rulers, who promised the smallfolk a way to transcend their fragile bodies.

    A lie. One It could respect, but the end result irked It to no end.

    Now those smallfolk were the basis behind esoteric functions of those kings and queens. They spiraled through the Ether, seeking out worlds with other conscious life. There they would attach themselves, though quantum entanglement, to the brains of their victims.

    And then they would foster war. They would create works of stone and metal and plastic that would make even those of long-destroyed Yith weep with envy. They would direct their meat-puppets in dances both exalted and macabre that, were these events, these 'Cycles', of Its designs, would please and humor It to no end.

    And when all was said and done, these parasites would collect their data, refine their slaves' abilities so they might better serve and feed their master's endless thirst…

    And then they would wipe the slate clean. Omnicide, across realities and dimensions.

    Ordinarily, It would care nothing for such actions. These parasites would run afoul It's brethren, draw the attention of the Others with their irreverent actions, and they would know how small and insignificant they truly were, before being obliterated for their hubris.

    But this did not happen enough for Its tastes. So, It deployed Its agents. It watched the parasites ply their trade, though Its Thousand Faces.

    And It realized, a very long time ago, that if these parasites were not culled, not exterminated to the least and last, they would either supplant the Others…

    Or they would stumble upon a way to wake Father.

    Either event was not something It could allow. For the first, well, it was not the place of the mortals to reach beyond the Old Ones to become Other. Their purpose was to exist, until Father woke.

    Which led to the second possible event: Father could not wake before the appointed moment. Until that moment, It was required to keep Father's dreams from spilling forth into the streams of time, and it was Its brethren's duty to act as the lynchpins, keeping the full dream of the Daemon Sultan Azathoth from collapsing before the moment was right.

    The parasites threatened this careful balancing act, which the Others and their many glorious children and allies had tended to for time immemorial.

    This could not stand.

    So It began carefully removing these parasites from reality. Oh, it was ponderously, mind-numbingly boring, but It had eternity to contemplate all the ways in which It could fell each parasite.

    Over time, as the parasite's dying screams of terror and madness slaked Its thirst, It found Itself in a predicament.

    It was beginning to enjoy these little dances.

    Carefully setting in motion events which would, ultimately, result in the annihilation of each and every parasite. Plotting how to accomplish Its hunt without alerting the other parasites. Even convincing the pair (for the foolish gestalts always travelled in pairs) to fight each other, their 'love' turned to jealousy and greed.

    A meat puppet, used by one of the parasite's slaves, would stumble upon the Codex Necronomicon, or the King in Yellow, or any of the myriad tomes gathered over the endless eons…

    And the door would swing wide, Yog-Sothoth would open the way, the Old Ones would issue forth, and the parasites, not prepared for this event, having not been forewarned, would die screaming in agonized horror.

    The satisfaction that came at the end of each individual hunt… this was what It was coming to enjoy.

    But now… The most recent hunt was of two entities, calling themselves The Warrior and The Thinker.

    It had deployed one of Its favorite tactics: disguising Itself as one of the parasites, It would give one of Its prey a deadly virus, disguised as a useful slave, something that would aid the victim in it's endeavors.

    Not that It needed to be there personally. No, such grunt work was beneath It.

    However… Its worldly agent, while completing Its orders to the letter, had failed.

    It would not abide failure. It never failed.

    The messenger behind It screamed in agony and wailed in despair as his body was mutated and twisted beyond what any mortal, no matter the dimensional province, would be able to survive. The screams, while delicious, ended as suddenly as they began.

    A glass of black not-liquid, from which the terrified wailing of a thousand million dead worlds issued, appeared in Its hand, for Its current focus was possessed of hands, more for appearance sake than any practical reason.

    Though they were useful for gouging out eyes, or the odd vivisection, novel pastimes for a being such as It.

    The not-liquid swirled as It considered the possibilities before It.

    It could dispatch another agent… but that would take time and (in another fragment of reality, one of Its many faces sighed with one of Its many mouths) conversation, and dealing with Yog's brat or Its myriad cults was ever so boring. Additionally, despite young Whateley's exuberance and ability for mayhem in his efforts to please the Others, it was… not what It needed, not for this particular conundrum.

    Besides, "thought" It, taking a sip of the screaming not-liquid, Whateley had already extinguished eight of the little parasites. Giving the brat the only one that'd ever managed to dupe It and survive

    No, not Whateley. But who?

    Shub? No, the Great Goat wasn't exactly known for her subtlety, and convincing Her would take time It did not possess.

    Carter? No, the lad was in the Dreamlands, and would sooner cut off his own legs than help It. Pity. He was the only interesting human –

    Wait.

    What populated the world this parasite planned to harvest?

    Ah, humans.

    The only beings that'd ever managed to amuse It to no end, and the parasite had chosen them as it's garden. Foolish; for all that they are mere insects, writhing about in their brief lives, the little monkeys were equal parts inquisitive and resilient.

    One would come. They always came, the heroes, to stand before the might of the gods… and fall.

    But not always, and the parasite was no Outer God. Not like It.

    So It looked into the future, seeking an appropriate agent of retribution. Humanity had those in abundance, true, but for a being as admittedly powerful as an "Entity", It felt that a singular champion was more appropriate.

    It saw the conflict begin, grow worse, The Warrior, without it's Thinker, unable to attune the "Cycle" with any sort of subtlety. The parasite encouraged the childish dreamings of the populace, encouraged "superheroes".

    'Perhaps…' mused It, seeing a possible agent for Its will, '…No. Too obvious.'

    It moved on.

    There.

    A child was born. A human female.

    Born beneath a strange sign, she would be obsessed with the origins of language, always striving, with almost manic focus, to find the common root of aural communication, and how this thesis fit into the strange new world The Warrior was foolishly crafting.

    But she would lose this dream as she grew and became morose, as she was stricken with grief and isolation, as she tumbled and fell into despair, as she became a meat puppet for the parasite's slave, and one of the other meat puppets would name her Queen Administrator.

    Already, even as the babe suckled from her adoring mother's breast, her father looking on lovingly… It wondered why Its gaze had been drawn to this human. The languages issue, perhaps. It had done more with less.

    Perhaps there was some potential, here…

    Beyond her reality, It could already see the way she should be groomed, should It wish her to be an agent of Its will.

    But… It looked further into time. Looked at what she would do, were It not to intervene. After all, assuming Its agents would carry out Its will without error was how It had ended up in this pickle to begin with.

    There could be no half-measures taken, not even in the planning phase.

    So It looked further.

    Then…

    It saw something miraculous.

    This girl, this small, insignificant human female… drove The Warrior to suicide.

    This would happen… without any input on Its part.

    A twinge of jealousy flitted through It, and five thousand worlds died, their final, agonized cries of terror a balm to sate Its rage.

    At the same time, It felt a sense of… kinship? No, this was respect.

    An unusual sensation, to say the least; few were the number that could command Its respect, and none of those were mortal.

    Still, credit where it was due; It had never managed outright suicide for these parasites! It was usually easier, cleaner, and far more entertaining, to have the moronic creatures spiral unknowingly into their inevitable demise.

    But this child would slay one, and scar the genetic memory of her entire species, across multiple dimensions, with her beautiful name.

    Khepri.

    And her final reward? Two bullets in the head, then exile.

    A shame, It felt, standing over the female's crib, her parents both asleep and within easy reach of their newborn.

    A shame. Such potential and promise. A possible Old One, or one of Its many masks, tossed aside like so much trash, after a deed so beautiful.

    But the means she used were brutish and unwieldy. That could be fixed…

    Her desire for a root to all language drew Its attention once more.

    It had done far more, far worse, with far less.

    On the summit of Its temple, upon the Moon of the Dreamlands, with a glass of the collected souls slain over myriad eons by Cthulhu and his children…

    The Crawling Chaos, Nyarlathotep, smiled.

    Taylor Hebert.

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    {/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\}

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    In the maternity ward of Brockton General Hospital, swathed in a soft blanket and still feeling the mild aches of her first shots, her first breaths of air…

    A newborn Taylor Hebert's dreams, at first abstract and inscrutable, changed.

    Taylor Hebert dreamt of stars that whispered, and smiled in her sleep.
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2019
  2. Threadmarks: Chapter 2
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author Scion of Nurgle, Verified Consentacle Enthusiast

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    Worm: Babel

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    Once more, last evening, I dreamt of the labyrinth.

    I have dreamt of that place since I was small.

    Sepia stone beneath a starry sky, the strange and expansive place seems endless, and always seems brightly alight despite there being not a torch or lamp in sight, as though the thick clouds that sometimes blot the sky cannot hide the sun that I have never seen, as though the very stars illuminate that endless maze in an equally unending day.

    Once more, I wandered the stone corridors.

    When I'd first dreamt of it, I'd been enamored by the carvings that sometimes decorated dozens of meters of stone. Incredible bas-reliefs depicting strange and fantastic happenings, things that reminded me of the pictures in some of the first books my Mommy read to me: Where the Wild Things Are, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and too many others to think of.

    And stranger still, some that held no sway with my young mind, and yet the stranger the carvings, the more I was fascinated by them. Long nights of restful sleep were whiled away by tracing the odd angles, the mysterious creatures that had no name, as I walked the labyrinth.

    Left, right. Right, left. Alone I wandered.

    Or have I been alone? At times, I hear whispers, as though someone is speaking to themselves, in a corridor that runs parallel to the one I walk. At first, I called out, eagerly, hoping to make another friend, someone who would aid me in finding the end of this strange and incredible place, a final destination.

    But whenever I called, the voices would dim. And if I persisted with my desperate calling, I would feel the pressure of the waking world on my mind like an unforgivingly heavy stone.

    And I would awaken in my bed, disappointed once more, but rested and refreshed, as though I'd not spent countless hours walking in that place most peculiar.

    Alone, once more, I listened for the whispers.

    When I dream of that place, I do not forget a single session; each and every step seems carved into my memories, indelible, eternal. I think it's because I want, even in my subconscious wanderings, to remember these visions, to not have the waking world steal this place from me.

    Because the whispers tell me secrets, mysteries unknown, as far as I can tell, to any other member of humanity. That place, a hidden library and art gallery both, disguised as an unsolvable labyrinth…

    I am not the first to walk it, I found, not long after the horror that fell upon Switzerland.

    After failing multiple times to herald the whisperers beyond the wall, I decided on a different approach: when I hear the whispers, I would instead listen to them, and examine the stretch of wall they come from. Maybe they aren't on the other side of the wall, but are the walls, was my reasoning? Maybe they are the many and myriad intricate bas-reliefs and exquisite murals that decorate this recurring dream most unusual.

    But the language spoken was not one I could interpret. They certainly weren't speaking English, or any of the languages I'd heard around Brockton Bay, while shopping with my Mommy and Daddy.

    Nor were they in any way similar to Spanish, Italian, or German, languages I'd diligently learned in my spare time; where another child might wish to go outside and play and laugh (and I did these things, certainly, but not as often as my dear friend Emmaline), I wished to find some common ground for all languages spoken upon the Earth. We were all one people, once. Maybe that's why the Simurgh's scream drove men mad, my innocent mind mused one morning; maybe it was simply speaking too quickly for us to understand.

    That thought was discarded as quickly as it came, when the feathered horror began working in concert with the other two, joining them in their scheduled genocide of my species.

    I did not discard, however, the possibility that the language spoken in the labyrinth was a language lost to us, and sought it out, with what clues the towering walls of my dreaming maze gave me.

    Defeated but unbowed, I turned my attention to the bas-reliefs and frescoes and mosaics; they were, all and one, unlike any of the artistic expressions I'd seen in the galleries I would visit on scholastic outings with my classmates.

    Perhaps there was a clue hidden in their strange angles, in the odd posturing of beings alien and unusual to my eyes. Certainly, there were words written amidst the dancing, contorting, twisting figures, amongst the streets of cities I could barely think to name…

    Yet the words eluded me, for this was a script unknown to Man. Still I copied some few passages into my dream journal, a letter here, an anecdote there, and sought for a like language in my city's libraries, both in my elementary school and the larger assemblage downtown.

    To no avail.

    Frustrated but still undeterred in my quest for understanding these sporadic yet vividly detailed dreams, for I always had a fascination with language, a study only exceeded by my diligence in maintaining the elegance and grace my ballet teachers always complemented me on, I desperately sought some reference, some essay or text, that spoke of this language most odd, that I hear as hushed and intimate whispers in my dreams.

    To no surprise, I found nothing in the libraries.

    Again to no surprise, the answer was in my dreams.

    For hidden in these walls was the answer: someone, I might never know who, had apparently translated the writings upon the wall and rendered them into Demotic! There they were, carved in a meticulous, careful hand, hidden near the floor, around the edges of the reliefs and murals!

    The mode was ancient, but the Rosetta Stone gave me the key, and I am neither unlearned nor dim. The internet gave me a copy of the Stone upon paper, and one of my Mommy's old college textbooks gave me the English translations of Ancient Greek, the text by which the Stone was translated.

    Methodically, diligently, as a spider spins its web, I set myself to work in deciphering the first such passage. Weeks it has taken, but my diligence and single-minded focus has finally born fruit!

    The first passage I wished to translate was inscribed beneath a bas-relief depicting an enormous step pyramid built upon a vast and barren waste, the stars glistening bright in a dome above, intertwined with strange and fantastic beings. This is what the subtitle said, as near as I could decipher:

    Kadishtu f'gof'nn, phlegeth nog ng'ooboshu, syha'n wgah'n. Throd'hai li'hee'kadishtu, Bki-Trj-Kqpx, nw nnn-nilgh'ri'nglui. Strange were these words written; they seemed to both be above and inside the image presented, but copy them I did, along with a rough sketch of the relief, as best I could, into my marbled journal.

    From that other, nameless explorer who carved his Late-Egyptian letters into these hard stones, I received enlightenment, as I successfully translated the words chiseled beneath that strangely undulating title:

    "Reside for eternity, in the Realm of Knowledge, and know Their Children. Tremble before the Knowing, Nyarlathotep, He Who Is/Protects the Boundaries."

    Fascinating…

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    I fling my pencil to the table and grip my hair, confused and frustrated and perplexed beyond all reason!

    "But what does it mean?" I beg to the air! The name for this being, this so-called 'Bki-Trj-Kqpx'. Is this being, who apparently watches, is or protects some unknown boundary, attempting to contact me? For what reason?

    I have not, as far as I can deduce, violated any boundary with my quest for a common denominator to all tongues spoken and written; indeed, both of my parents have seen this as a high and challenging goal, and have encouraged me to follow it!

    No, I have violated no laws I can imagine, so why?

    Perhaps the translation may be imperfect? The word for Is and Protect is similar, according to the author of the carvings, who included a footnote to this effect.

    But if something Is what it Protects, mayhap there is no difference at all? What a curious conundrum this is!

    The secret must be hidden in that name, Nyarlathotep… Bki-Trj-Kqpx…

    An idea buds and begins to blossom upon the fertile soil of my imagination. Maybe…

    Language is the medium by which we learn; through vibration in the air, from the mouths of teachers to the ears of the student, the wisdom and knowledge of the ages is passed down. It is how we learn to decipher the symbols printed on paper.

    Maybe… the untranslated name… should it be spoken?

    I take up my pencil, and begin attempting to scribble out my ideas as they come. If I speak this being's name, maybe I'll find out why I've been dreaming of the labyrinth more often, of late.

    Not ten minutes later, I grin in self-satisfaction. "Baat'ko'ept," I whisper to the air, hoping my deducing of the phonic subtleties is correct.

    For the briefest of moments, I feel the gaze of something alight on me, the ghost of a hand patting me gently on my slim shoulder, as though in congratulations.

    Turning quickly in my seat, pigtails with blue-gold ribbons (I liked them, and Emmaline approved, last we met) flying about with the movement, I search my room with wide spectacled eyes of darkest green for the one who'd touched me, expecting to find my Daddy, come to rouse me from another diligent cram session.

    But none are present. Only the drawings I'd made of the strange places I'd seen carved and painted in the labyrinth decorate the walls, interspersed with posters of those Parahumans who stand against the Endbringers, and of New Wave. Mom's flute (may her soul rest easy), recently tuned and polished, rests in its well-worn case next to my school bag, which is prepared for tomorrow, where I'll be off to a two-week nature retreat.

    No one.

    Huffing in irritation, I turn back to my journal, and the name within.

    Bki-Trj-Kqpx

    'Baat'ko'ept who are you?'

    "Taylor! Dinner's ready!"

    I smile and shut my journal with a sigh; progress at last, and yet, I've only been given more mysteries to solve.

    Hopping to my feet, I smooth the skirts of my dress (because proper girls wear dresses, no matter the season), and call brightly back, "Coming, Daddy!" and prance and pirouette my way to the stairs.

    It wouldn't do for Daddy to be depressed any longer, or at all; Mommy wouldn't like him moping. So I make sure to smile and be as happy as I can be, and do my best to fill the sharp silence, try my hardest to give Daddy hope, which might see him through the weeks I'll be away.

    He smiles over dinner at my incessant antics, laughs at the jokes Emmaline and I learned and shared over the years. He's made lasagna, for the first time since Mommy died, and it is delicious.

    I kiss my Daddy on the cheek once I'm done eating, leaving a saucy stain which we both laugh and rib each other about, and I make sure his lunch is ready for tomorrow once the dishes are clean.

    We watch some television, a game show, and we have a contest to see who can answer the most questions before the contestants do. If we get one right, we get a caramel candy from the bowl. I win by a narrow margin.

    Daddy bids me be careful while on the nature retreat, and to remember not to wear dresses while walking in the forest.

    I laugh and assure him I won't and hug my Daddy goodnight.

    Instead of the labyrinth, I dream of a strange city upon a strange planet, one I have beheld in fantastic fresco beneath starry sky, which I have drawn and colored and posted on my wall next to a small print of Miss Militia. Yellow skies above yellow plains and yellow mountains, bare and unforgiving in the blistering sun, but I am calmed by the chant that reverberates through the thick air. A warning and blessing and curse, all in one, and it's beautiful to my ears.

    I dance and sing merrily along with the chant, "Ai nafl yaah, ngnah h'ahor nafl'fhtagn! Ah nafl ai, geb l'Carcosa, yaah ah'ehyeah!"

    "Speak not the name, or He shall rise. Do not speak, here upon Carcosa, the name forbidden."

    Such a beautiful language! I can't wait to see what else it can do, besides have ghosts sneak up on me!

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    Nyarlathotep smiled fondly, at hearing the most ancient name for It, for the first time in a blind eternity; It smiled at seeing Its mortal agent, one of the very few It had ever invested such interest and careful planning with, come past the grief of her mother's demise, at her diligent uncovering of the hints He, the Black Pharaoh, had left for her.

    The Crawling Chaos smiles fondly, watching Taylor Hebert dance and sing upon the sands of Hastur's eternal prison, Carcosa, thinking of It's plan to raise Khepri up and slay The Warrior in one fell stroke…
    And It waits. For the time has not yet come.

    'Soon.'
     
  3. Threadmarks: Chapter 3
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author Scion of Nurgle, Verified Consentacle Enthusiast

    Joined:
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    Small warning: violent assault, ABB being ABB.

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    Worm: Babel

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    "I don't need you anymore, Taylor. It's over."

    A thousand barbs tear my heart as I weep miserably on my bed, holding Mr. Squiggles, the stuffed octopus my Mommy bought me as a babe, claimed by 'Rite of Drool' on my infant self's part.

    "She stills sleeps with stuffed animals doesn't she?"

    "Yeah, she's a baby like that."

    "Ha! What a loser!"

    "Why are you still here? Go away."

    Two weeks. I leave for two weeks, and Emmaline, Emma, my best friend for eleven years… has decided to cast me aside, as though our friendship, our sisterhood, meant nothing at all.

    Another round of grieving sobs wracks my being. It is accompanied by anger; I am not a baby! My stuffed octopus is a gift from my Mommy, not something infantile or immature! My dresses and ribbons make me look cute, unique; many of the other girls at camp even waxed poetic on my skill at always appearing clean and well-kempt in spite of the limited facilities available!

    Her change of heart makes no sense to me! And that ruffian she is now consorting with! Oooh, that… that… foul-mouthed, bad-tempered, poorly-mannered tavern wench!

    It must be her! She corrupted my Emmaline!

    And yet… I dared not raise my voice or make a scene; that wouldn't be proper or tactful…

    But what can I do?

    …I am alone.

    No.

    I still have Daddy. I still have my dreams. I have the First Language.

    My sniffles and tears begin to subside. I filled more than a dozen pages of my dream journal with translations and phonic descriptors of the language, written upon the walls of the labyrinth, whilst away at camp. The First Language, the identity of this mysterious tongue, I have since deduced; it has modes and methods that, while significantly different from the linguistics of the present, many of those same languages, spoken in these modern times…

    They all, even the purely phonic tongues of the Far East, take cues from the First Language. That which was spoken in some unknown eon past, immortalized in the terrible and beautiful images writ upon the labyrinth.

    More than this, speaking the names of places while standing before an appropriate image upon the maze's wall allows me to visit them, in dreams. Fantastic and terrible places that are each, respectively, humbling and mesmerizing in their monolithic and fraught beauty.

    I am not alone.

    I have the dreams of Ulthar, where the myriad cats tell stories of places strange and fantastic; I dream of Celephais, a seaside city where many transient dreamers find themselves, where I walk marble streets and wonder at the red tile roofs and windows of many colors; I dream of the cliffs near Leng, and the Nightgaunts that lurk there in the shadows of the day, where I have seen the Shoggoths that crawl across the desert, but always from a far remote vantage point, for to walk the sands of Leng is forbidden to all dreamers.

    But there are other places, realms that are less palatable to a proper, well-mannered young woman such as myself.

    Carcosa, where the name must not be spoken.

    R'lyeh, the corpse city of the Great Old One, High Priest of the cult to Nyarlathotep, Baat'ko'ept, the Crawling Chaos who punishes those who seek to violate the Boundary.

    N'ghftog Lw'shgorrog, lair of the Great Goat of the Stars, mother of the Thousand Young who work Her will.

    Epshuggog, the Underworld, where beasts uncounted, terrifying and beautiful in their countenance, lurk in the dark, protect the hidden ways betwixt the many lands.

    Yet for all their terrible appearance, these places are not all awful; extensions of the library that is the labyrinth, I find other knowledge.

    The song of the Yellow Prison, Lost Carcosa, is rapturously beautiful. The Great Old One's sleeping mumblings speak not insanity, as my mystery translator insinuated, but brings to light the meaning behind the odd and expansive bas-relief writ large upon His great door.

    People and places I have seen, and they are all and one beauteous and humbling.

    Emmaline would never understand, to say nothing of the wench she now consorts with!

    I am not alone, I assure myself, drying my tears with a hanky and taking Mr. Squiggles into the crook of my arm; he'll need to be washed, so the salt of my tears doesn't set in and stain his green fabric.

    Emmaline has cast me aside, but I will endure. I will persevere!

    I will not let this break me; I will find the root of all languages, even the First Language, and speak it for all to hear!

    And, maybe then, I will meet Baat'ko'ept, who is called Nyarlathotep in all of those strange lands, and discover the reason I dream of the labyrinth.

    For if I have learned nothing, I have learned this: to speak the tongue of the gods is to invite their attention.

    To be given this mode of communication... that is irregularity in the entirety.

    But that is a quest for the morrow. Today, I must wash my sleeping companion, ensure my best green dress and ribbons are prepared… and confide in Daddy. I will not go to Winslow, not after this slight most hurtful!

    It is a good thing, I muse while preparing the wash, that I hadn't replied yay or nay to Arcadia, that they assured I had until orientation, this next Thursday, to give them an answer.

    "You know she's bad at math? Can't even do division. Just a prissy idiot."

    Pah, an old defect. Okay, so I have some sort of mental block against arithmetic, but I more than make up for that with my skill in learning new languages! Hardly something that will hold me back in the future.

    She wishes to cast me aside? Very well, but I will still inform Daddy about this development, and Emmaline's new brutish companion; he will surely speak with Uncle Allen, and, perhaps, I'll have some closure as to why my dear friend decided to call me prissy.

    I am a polite and proper young lady, and am certainly not prissy!

    .
    {/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\}
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    It nodded to Itself, 'Not long now…' Idly, It implanted certain 'tastes' into the minds of Emmaline's tormenters. A nudge here, a whisper there.

    At the same time, It reluctantly ensured Taylor would fall into a routine in returning home from her schooling. She would come to harm, in time, but this was all part of Its plan.

    It had been doing this for a very, very long time. She was not the first It had needed to harm to achieve Its goals…

    'Then why do I hesitate?' Nyarlathotep tilted the head of Black Pharaoh in contemplation, observing Taylor Hebert being comforted by her mortal father, and her confession of her recent social troubles. Observing a meeting between the Hebert and Barnes families, the revelation of Emmaline's trauma at the hands and fists of Lung's churls. It nodded in satisfaction as the redheaded girl was mandated to therapy; her mind would heal, but the pain of mental scars inflicted by the meat-puppet that "saved" her would never truly vanish. Much like her friendship with Taylor, Emmaline would never be the same.

    As It intended. So why did It hesitate, knowing the pain Taylor would soon experience will only make her stronger? Again, this was as It intended.

    Therefore, It discarded the hesitation. This was for her sake, for the creation of Khepri, the death of The Warrior. It could not hesitate.

    And yet, with every instance of her incanting the old name for It, Baat'ko'ept, It became more and more fond of this mortal agent It was shaping, of Taylor Hebert.

    Yet Nyarlathotep did not discard the fondness. It was too novel a sensation, yet experience showed that this feeling would lessen over the eons that would, indeed, follow this hunt most invigorating. Over time, It would surely come to bore of Taylor Hebert, and look for new or interesting ways to set up her inevitable failure.

    As entertainment, of course. T'was the place of all mortals, after all, to amuse the Others.

    And if It remained fond of her, after she came into her own?

    It shrugged uncaringly to Itself. Masters were often fond of their apprentices, particularly those that impressed them. Only time would tell, whether Khepri would be consistently useful to It.

    .
    {/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\}
    .


    Arcadia is a fine school. Clean and full of well-behaved people, it is certainly a step up from Winslow, which I'd visited in passing some weeks ago.

    There, in the institution Emmaline would have gone were it not for my intervention, were brutish looking persons wearing the colors of the gangs that plagued this city. Nazis and ABB and (hrrk) Merchants. I am glad that I was able to spare my friend that horrible place, and myself as well!

    I am excused from most Maths classes due to my unfortunate mental defect, which gives me headaches whenever I try deciphering the arcane mysteries of arithmetic. I have long suffered with and accepted this facet of myself, and it has never truly depressed me. More time to puzzle out the details of the many languages I can learn!

    Happily, I have neither been judged nor belittled for this 'problem'. If anything, I've been encouraged to join many different study groups and clubs, though I imagine this is more to do with my fashion sense.

    Tis a blessing and a curse, truly. On one hand, I am one of the go-to people when another girl needs advice on the wearing of some accessory or bauble to impress at a formal function. This has ensured me no shortage of acquaintances and invitations to many a function, where adults are impressed by my vocal talents, singing in Italian and Latin, Spanish and German, and my proficiency with these and other languages.

    On the other hand… Victoria Dallon.

    I am not a cruel or callous person, but I dare say I might not shed a tear at the blonde's passing.

    She is loud, obnoxious, and ever seeks to insert herself into any social situation whether she has been invited or not, and no one is offended by these due to the admittedly beautiful girl's Parahuman ability!

    Why, just today, on the last day before Thanksgiving weekend (the first since Mommy's passing; morose are my thoughts, yet I am undaunted in my efforts to keep Daddy's spirits up), I was engaged in a delightful and most invigorating conversation with Amelia Dallon regarding vocal chords and the nuances of aural communication when the bleach blonde rudely interrupted us, blindsiding me with her emotional aura (again!) and hands me an invitation to an early Christmas soiree three Saturdays from now at her boyfriend's house!

    And if this is not enough, not only did my being caught unbalanced by her ambush result in my demure acceptance to a party most merry (presumably; Dean Stansfield is quite the gentleman), but the irritating flying yellow brick absconded with Amy before our discourse could reach an agreeable result, such as a study session at either of our family's abodes or a meet-up over a future weekend of relaxation and intellectual stimulation! Hmph!

    As a summit to all these unfortunate (okay, the party seems like it will be a wonderful romp, and the invitation is quite well-made, as well as addressed to me personally) happenings, her interruption resulted in my having to compose myself, which, as usual, took several minutes, making me miss my bus!

    Therefore, I am irked as I walk my way through less than reputable neighborhoods in my best black-and-white dress, no doubt getting my nice shoes scuffed by the rough, uneven sidewalk, and, as I am laden by my school bag and purse, I am starting to work up a sweat!

    Again, I curse Victoria Dallon, and the way Amy makes doe eyes whenever her sister is in sight, no doubt an artifact of living with the accursed brat.

    I have just made a mental note to find an opportune moment to bring this up to Amy, hopefully without insulting neither her considerable intelligence nor her family, when I am suddenly pulled roughly into a wide alley betwixt two buildings!

    Crying out briefly as I am spun out of my pack's straps, I am thrown to the ground by a burly, cruelly grinning man –

    He is wearing ABB colours! And he is not alone.

    A scarred, frightful looking woman has just rummaged through my purse before tossing it aside with a disgusted scoff; there are two other men with her, one with a crowbar pointed at me, the other flinging my backpack into a pile of refuse after briefly checking it for valuables.

    Quite frightened indeed, I try scrambling back, only to slam my jacket-clad shoulder into a fourth man's leg, "Lookie what we got here: a little lost girl, who's got no money to pay the toll," the scarred woman sneers, before nodding to the man behind me while the others' grins widen.

    I don't like what those grins portend.

    Desperately, I cry, "No!" and attempt to flee through them, but the man behind me snags one of my pigtails in a dirty hand and yanks me back, driving the air from me with a hard, painful blow to my kidney.

    Before I can clear the stars in my eyes or regain my breath, the woman strikes me across the face with the back of her hand, stunning me further.

    I am only dimly aware of something being affixed to my mouth and being dragged further into the alley, only realizing they have taped my mouth shut when I finally try to take breath and cry for help!

    Terror scours my mind clear and I try to fight back, kicking my strong legs at the men and scratching at them, aiming for pressure points and generally making a nuisance of myself.

    Then the crowbar strikes me about the brow, knocking my glasses from my face and me to the filthy ground once more.

    Mocking laughter and cruel words come to my ears as though from down a long hallway, the sight of a torn open garbage bag sideways in my tunneling vision before a worn boot stands on my wrist.

    A hand goes under my dress.

    'No.'

    I kick out, clawing at them, shrieking into my gag, trying desperately to fight these demons off me!

    "Now now," comes the simpering voice of the man over me, pushing my kicking leg aside for another to stand on; my ankle is surely sprained now, "Just lay back and enjoy your toll." The scarred woman appears above me, standing on my left arm, a vicious grin decorating her features.

    She is eager for this?!

    'No.'

    They seek to violate me?! I, who have deciphered the First Language?!

    Tremble at the Knowing, Nyarlathotep, He Who Is/Protects the Boundary.

    My tongue manages to push part of the tape forward at the ruffian above me tries to pull my panties away in spite of my continuing struggles; the woman laughs, playing with a large knife, "Looks like she wants to get her mouth involved too!"

    I have enough space about my lips to speak, I realize through the white-hot miasma of indignant fury that courses through me; they will regret this foolishness!

    "Iä! Baat'ko'ept!" I hiss angrily, desperately, into my gag.

    The word slams through the air, in spite of all worldly laws, rattling through my bones like the vengeful trumpet blast heralding some primordial legion about to lay waste to all it surveys.

    And, with the shocked cries of my attempted violators ringing in my ears… all goes blacker than the darkest pitch of a starless midnight.

    A brief silent moment that seem eternal passes before I behold countless stars.

    .
    {/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\}
    .


    "Oh my goodness!" I declare, finding myself floating in the air and, against all logic but happily, completely unruffled and unhurt from my assault, before looking side to side; to my left is an expansive grey waste and more of the expansive dome of stars that surrounds all.

    And then my gaze is arrested when I see some oddly beauteous constructions to my right.

    An archway of grey, unhewed stone plays host to two gorgeous columns: the left column seems made of mist of every color and hue imaginable, and some that mine eyes have never beheld! They swirl and undulate, ever changing, in forms and patterns that I can only partially comprehend.

    The other column is just as beautifully carved and undulating as its brother, but where there are countless colors to the left, on the right is darkness, pure and absolute; yet the colors of the mists give the near side of the darkened pillar definition even as its shadows seem to steal the colors from the rainbow pillar.

    I have descended to the mirror-smooth ground as I behold these glories; distantly I realize that these pillars were depicted in the bas-relief of the step pyramid, the first image I was able… to… translate…

    Oh. Oh dear.

    "Where the fuck are we?"

    I turn around and find my assaulters standing on the same polished floor as I; the one who holds the crowbar is staring at the pillars with a pale face, the man who sought to rape me is trying to affix his trousers whilst trying to draw a large knife, the third man is glaring around and… drawing a gun.

    The woman is storming her way towards me, spitting tacks, "You're a fucking cape, aren't you, you little bit-"

    Her lower jaw slams into her upper with a crash of shattering teeth.

    I let out a shocked "Eeep!" and cover my mouth in fascinated horror as she falls to her knees in moaning pain, holding her now profusely bleeding mouth with both shaking hands, mewling screams beginning to leave her ruined maw.

    "Mind your language."

    The deep basso words, above and behind me, seem admonishment and dire warning and the promise of violent annihilation by supernovae, but before I can turn to look upon the resonant speaker, I see the ABB goon's weapons suddenly fly from their hands and holsters, before being held by some invisible force above their heads as the bandits themselves cry in confusion and frustration!

    It is now I turn, slowly and, with no small amount of trepidation, behold my savior.

    Robes that are certainly not the gold nor cloth they depict, for neither gold nor cloth moves when there is no wind to influence them. Their hands are clasped behind their back, out of view, as they stride calmly toward me, a crown in imitation of the ancient Egyptians (or is it the other way about?) sitting regally upon their hairless head.

    Their skin would put obsidian to shame with its perfectly smooth darkness, and their eyes are white pits of endless starlight. Those voids regard me, and the skin about them crinkles in a seeming smile; they have no mouth, ears, or nose, and yet I can decipher their expression easily!

    "Hello, Taylor. Quite the pickle you have found yourself in, mmm?"

    There is only one being this could possibly be, and, understandably afraid as the injured woman behind me begins whimpering in earnest around the blood foaming in her barbaric orifice, I sketch a respectful curtsey and greet the being before me, through a throat dry with terror, "Ahem. Baat'ko'ept, I presume?"
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2019
  4. Threadmarks: Chapter 4
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author Scion of Nurgle, Verified Consentacle Enthusiast

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    Worm: Babel

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    "Obviously," drawls Baat'ko'ept as he comes to a halt at my side, gazing upon me with tilted head and raised eyebrow, "After all, you called my most ancient name in desperation. Given the circumstances," here, he looks with narrowed 'eyes' upon the ABB goons, who appear rather dumbfounded, "…I cannot truly fault you, gifted young linguist that you are."

    Gracious, what an unsettling statement! To wit, "Your reputation precedes you once more… Nyarlathotep."

    My lip quirks in small humor at the light wince apparent upon the face of the Black Pharaoh, who I know to be one of the Crawling Chaos' many faces.

    I am unsurprised this being, of all those I have viewed within my dreaming labyrinth, is aware of my existence. To what extent, ah, that is the question.

    As though reading my thoughts, Baat'ko'ept speaks, slowly and carefully, "A necessary intervention, though the underlying details are rather… sensitive. Relating them in full will take some hours, I am afraid, which neither of us has in abundance at this point in time. At your leisure," he looks down upon me once more, "I shall be only too happy to entertain your person and discuss the reasons for my presence in full, though at a later date; I am a busy deity, after all," a smile once more, which I cautiously return, "yet I assure you the information is of significant import to you and your world."

    "Naturally," I allow graciously and with no small anxiety; an issue that has drawn the attention of the Crawling Chaos upon my world, and myself specifically? I must admit to being both intrigued and most unnerved.

    I have concluded, through knowledge gained by my readings in the labyrinth and the statements related to mine ears by myriad dreamers, to say nothing of current events, that Baat'ko'ept has likely manipulated events so I may arrive at this moment.

    He has, of course, promised to elucidate on the reasons at a later date. Insists, even, that the ramifications of his interventions portend some no-doubt dreadful fate that may befall my species; I could even presume that such actions have been necessary, that these events have been done with only the best of intentions toward humanity.

    And yet I cannot shake the possibility, the strong suspicion that has dug into my mind like a tick.

    All I have read of Nyarlathotep tells me that there is some greater, no-doubt nefarious game at play here. The Outer Gods care nothing for the foibles of the mortal races, seeing us as amusing toys or faithful servants at the best of times.

    Of their number, the Crawling Chaos is most well-known and infamous for his callous cruelty.

    The labyrinth, the First Language, the events that have played out through my life… has any of it been my choice?

    Am I nothing but another pawn in the insidious game of a dark and uncaring god?

    A deep sigh interrupts my thoughts, "Were that we truly uncaring," tiredly whispers Nyarlathotep; I look to him out the edge of my vision. The being's countenance gives the appearance of a heavy burden, "Were I so uncaring, Taylor Hebert, were I to care nothing for the mortal races… you would have given up on your quest for languages before your eighth birthday. Aimless, you would have spiraled into despair and pragmatism, finally becoming a monster reviled in the annals of your species, exceeding even the Slaughterhouse and Sleeper in your terrible wrath."

    The Black Pharaoh looks upon my pale, frightened face after that declaration, delivered in a tone of inescapable fact, and speaks plainly, "Are your current fortunes not to your liking?"

    …Well.

    …Shit.

    The reason he has granted me favor must have quite alarming implications indeed; after all, barring my skill with languages, I am but a 14-year-old Honor Student!

    No, I should not look too closely at the doings and thoughts of a god. The reasons will be elucidated in time. I must simply be patient, and use the First Language carefully. It wouldn't do to anger an Outer God, or put myself in harm's way, without taking… precautions… for the latter of course.

    I doubt I'd be able to anything about the former.

    But, first things first…

    My gaze falls on my tormentors once more.

    As Nyarlathotep has stated, we are both busy beings, and there is a matter most diabolical to attend, at present.

    It is now that the man who attempted to violate me speaks up, pointing rudely at me and yelling, "I dunno what you've done, you little bitch," oh! "but you better let us go, right fucking now! Don't you know who our boss is?" and he grins, as though someone as mortal and pedestrian as Lung is more terrifying than the Outer God examining his fingertips to my left.

    I say fingertips, because I am unsure whether or not this iteration of Nyarlathotep is possessed of fingernails. An unfortunate effect when attempting to observe beings of his caliber, I suppose. Tis best not to do so too closely, verily, or so say the cats of Ulthar.

    Additionally, our host must have done something to prevent any word of his revelation from reaching their ears, for them to not be frightened or humbled.

    Nevertheless, this ruffian has dared to try ordering me about, after attempting to violate my person!

    As such, I fold arms about my petite chest to quell my shaking anger and reply bitingly, "With all due respect, sir, and I use that form of address hesitantly, have you have any idea who I am?"

    Before I can elucidate, the man who walloped me with a crowbar sneers amidst the wounded woman's coughing and spitting of blood and saliva, "You're some prissy little girl with powers that got lucky," what is it with people calling me prissy?! Perhaps I should change my style of dress, or mayhap my diction, to avoid further insults, "Once the Oni finds out we didn't check in at the right time, he'll be coming for ya! So let us go or else!"

    And these bandits, save the now mostly toothless whimpering wench, gaze at me with grinning expectantly.

    I have, of course, heard of Oni Lee; anyone in Brockton Bay who values their life has heard tell of the mad assassin's many and egregious deeds. The thought of such a monster calling at my home, or worse, harming Daddy because of my actions, is rather potently effective in raising my dread.

    "Liar." I look to Baat'ko'ept at his humored statement, "You noticed young Taylor here whilst she shopped, two weeks past, at the local goodwill."

    I manage to keep both my composure and dignity apparent on the surface even whilst suppressing a blush of embarrassment at having to resort to budgeting that I may ensure my wardrobe selection does not suffer; certainly, I appear to wear clothes several decades out of date, but I make these outdated styles look good; hence my current appearance resembling a spectacled Wednesday Addams with ribbon-tied pigtails.

    "You, who have between your individual selves captured and sold no less than two dozen girls of Taylor's age into Lung's flesh trade… sought to do the same to one who I find interesting."

    The last word is said with both warm fondness, for myself I presume, and divine admonishment; tis no great mystery who the latter is meant for, and the former does indeed raise my confidence that I shall escape this encounter with my sanity and person intact. I hope.

    Oh, and Baat'ko'ept's revelation has made me even more incensed at these villains, a possibility I thought impossible, given their attempt at raping me.

    Hence my indignant placing of hands on my slender hips and speaking chidingly, "You are slavers?! You sought to enslave me, one of the most devilishly clever linguists in living memory?!" in the corner of my eye, Baat'ko'ept nods in agreement at my personal estimation.

    Happy at my guess being verified, yet still quite livid, I all-but snarl in disgust, "I certainly hope, for your sakes, that you have an excellent explanation for your despicable actions!" And I glare blisteringly betwixt these awful people.

    My implied threat does not go over well. Baat'ko'ept allows these bandits to insult and bluster for five seconds before clapping his hands together. Once.

    A resonating boom that echoes and resounds over the scenery, shaking the floor, is the result. To my credit, I do not relent in my furious glare or stance whilst the four gangsters stumble and mutter mutinously, yet they do not answer my query.

    Instead, the Crawling Chaos speaks once more, his voice, dripping as it is with no small disgust, sending a chill through my blood, "For monetary profit. How… common. Humanity has no shortage of monstrous wastes of tissue such as you. And as for anyone missing your persons," a black chuckle ripples over the gathering, finally bringing the visage of cautious fear to the faces of the ABB braggarts.

    I cannot blame them, as that chuckle was underscored with the chilling, abominable cries of countless souls dying slow, tortured deaths.

    A swell of pity, unbidden, surfaces upon my heart; rather than crush it down, I instead wave dismissively, lip curled in disgust, "Oh, send them to some far country with no memory of their lives! Let them live in the gutter for the rest of their days, begging for scraps. I wish nothing more than to have my person and community be shot of these…" I decide on one of my less… intricate affectations, teeth baring at the now quite pale and obviously fearful persons before me, "…sick churls."

    Around a deep hum that bespeaks the image of deep ocean currents, our host drawls once more, "As you are the wounded party in this unfortunate affair, my dear, I will of course be a gracious host… however," Nyarlathotep's inflection is poisoned steel unsheathed, sudden enough that even I flinch at the vitriol, "I find myself compelled to inform you of a rather… ha… personal affront these churls, as you name them, have dealt yours in the past."

    Looking between both Baat'ko'ept and the shivering and denying gangsters, I give voice to my confusion and interest, "I have never met these bandits before, Baat'ko'ept. Where and when have they wronged me or mine?"

    An obsidian finger points directly at the woman with the ruined mouth, "This she was the leader of the group who sought to harm your dear friend, your sister in all but blood, Emmaline."

    I hiss in pained remembrance, the grief and indignation I felt at Emma's tearful admission before our families.

    "…a woman with s-scars… h-h-hold… holding me down, asking if I want my ears or my nose"

    So… I look most disfavourably upon the disfigured woman, at her quaking in fear whilst covering her bleeding jowls, her eyes watering as they stare upon me, a silent plead for mercy there apparent.

    Mercy.

    Where was Emma's mercy? What did this woman do, when my sister begged for succor?

    That I am their final judge is, to my senses, poetic justice.

    Thousands of appropriate punishments spin through my thoughts, places I can send them, beings I can expose them to. With but a whispered word from my lips in the First Language, their suffering might be endless.

    And yet…

    I level a serious, flat stare upon the people who hurt my Emma; the woman is crying, "Pleash," she rasps out, "Pleash, no."

    The man who tried to rape me glares balefully and growls, "Who are you to judge us? You're just a fucking kid!" the other two men look too afraid to speak, and merely look between their apparent leader, myself, and Nyarlathotep in shocked terror.

    My cold reply is immediate, for I've already thought on this matter most bitter, "Firstly, my dear friend, Emmaline, described someone who looks exactly like her," my voice is a sneer, my head nodding dismissively at the woman, "to our families; your guilt is doubly verified with your assault on my person. Secondly…"

    I swallow my dread, and my shame, and declare with soft heat, "…I am not the one who is judging you. Baat'ko'ept, who Is the Boundary; who Protects the Boundary; who Knows the Boundary… to him I give authority over your fate." I turn away, not wishing to witness their demise, and look upon the calming duality of the pillars.

    The pillars, representations of the Nameless Mists and the Darkness, siblings to Baat'ko'ept; they are so beautiful…

    One of the other men, the one who drew the gun, laughs incredulously, "What? Your power?! That's still you, you stupid little-"

    "Bite your tongue, insect," drawls the Crawling Chaos dryly, "Her 'power' is in the utterance of the First Language Spoken," the shadows lengthen, "the primordial words of command that were bayed on far distant worlds, billions of years before your backwater Sun ever thought to ignite and create your feeble planet," the stars seems brighter than a summer's day, "She holds the Key of Babel, and is both kind and just," the Black Pharaoh's tone becomes amused, to my distant horror, "And she has lain your lives in my hands. Allow me to introduce your judge, and your executioner.

    "I am Baat'ko'ept, Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos, the Eternal Boundary. I am the line that divides Yin and Yang; I was the serpent in the Garden, and it was I who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah; I am the Wolves that devour Sun and Moon; I am the Jokulhaup and the Ragnarok; I am the World-Snake that devoured Atlantis; I am the Herald of the Old Ones, Messenger of the Outer Gods, the Holy Spirit that guides my High Priest, Dead Cthulhu, in his destruction of those who would upset the balance of the Universe, and have been these things and more for eons.

    "I am the Black Pharaoh of the Stars, Baat'ko'ept. Are you satisfied with the arbiter before you," he finishes conversationally, "or would one of my other Thousand Faces set your minds at ease, before I lay down my terrible judgment?"

    "Bullshit," fearfully breathes the goon who'd drawn the gun; I glance over my shoulder to find him pointing at Baat'ko'ept with a shaking finger, eyes and face taut, pale and sweating with denying terror, "Fucking bullshit!"

    Ah, well. I turn back to my ruminations of the patterns apparent upon the pillars before me.

    If they cannot accept the insignificance of their place in the world, who am I to correct or guide them?

    It seems I am not alone in this sentiment, as Nyarlathotep sighs, "You bore me. Young Taylor's punishment seems appropriate, but, as she has lain your fates at my feet, I shall add a qualifier: escape from the Desert of Leng, and you may live out the remainder of your pathetic existences in the shattered ruins of Japan, the memorial to your precious Lung's failure. Toodles!"

    And, with that final, mocking word, there is silence.

    I let it spiral for a moment before speaking once more, "I wish to go home, please."

    "Of course. But, first, a few things I feel you should know before your departure, as our next meeting won't be for some fortnights yet," that deep, resonant voice is tinged with easy kindness, and draws my direct attention to my host. He is looking at me with an inscrutable expression, "Firstly, you have been a Parahuman since birth; no, I didn't modify your person to make this possible," he adds when I open my mouth, seeming to roll his 'eyes', "Honestly, how a newborn hadn't immediately manifested powers before your birth, when one of the qualifiers is extreme trauma, can only be explained by you humans never doing as expected.

    "And while I did modify your power, to reflect your passion for languages, this was, nevertheless, partly to ensure the hospital didn't get overrun by two city block's worth of insects under the control of an infant," well, when he puts it that way, "Secondly, upon your return and at your earliest convenience, I suggest summoning some Deep Ones and a Shoggoth so they might make a base of operations beneath your father's office building; this will also provide you with a foundry where the Deep Ones may fashion for you armor befitting your rank."

    Err, "Forgive me, Baat'ko'ept, but I… don't believe my Daddy will be very understanding at having a race that preforms serial genocide living under the Dockworker's headquarters," I reply with only slight heat.

    Baat'ko'ept shrugs, "If you'd rather he and those who follow him be defenseless, should the various gangs come calling, by all means, ignore my warnings," damnation, he's got me there, "Thirdly… oh, where did I put – ah!"

    And the Crawling Chaos withdraws from his robes a folded slip of paper, which he then hands to me; I open and read the contents whilst he cheerfully explains, "That is one of the better recipes for gravy that I have found in my long existence, and should impress when you go to your Aunt Lacey and Uncle Kurt's for dinner on the morrow. Now, I have kept you long enough, and you have a turkey to baste."

    "Oh, ah, yes! Thank you, Baat'ko'ept," quite thrown indeed at this gift, let alone the gifter, and at the reminder that, yes, the turkey should be thawed and ready for seasoning and preparations...

    I curtsey respectfully once more, "Farewell to you."

    "Good evening," my host bows his head graciously, "Babel."

    {/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\}

    And I am in the alleyway once more.

    Blinking and looking about, I find myself once more in possession of my bag and purse. My clothes are clean and unblemished… and the gravy recipe, for it is indeed a gravy recipe, is held in my hand.

    'I don't think I'll be getting too angry with Victoria Dallon, in the future,' I think numbly, placing the recipe in my purse before exiting the alley; a glance behind me reveals no obvious sign remains of the crime that was nearly committed here, while a quick pan of my vision about the street beyond shows no lookouts or other witnesses to this event most unfortunate.

    After dealing with Baat'ko'ept and those ABB ruffians, being upset about someone as willful as Ms. Flying Brick seems like a waste of my precious time; I shall no doubt have far greater worries in the days and months to come, and being annoyed by the blonde will serve no purpose beyond stressing over something beyond my control.

    Having a lot of that lately, but, well, given the alternative...

    I'd much rather be regularly annoyed by Ms. Dallon's antics, and be happy with my admittedly good lot in life, than experience whatever other fate this world most violent had in store for me.

    Nodding to myself at this estimation, I skip out of the alley and briskly make my way home.

    Upon crossing the threshold and placing my school blazer and bags on their appropriate hooks in the foyer, however, I gasp in horrified realization.

    I have superpowers! Which means I will no doubt be dragged into the intricate and occasionally deadly dance of hero versus villain, become a possible target for recruitment into either camp due to my abilities; oh gracious, I might have to fight Endbringers!

    Oh dear! Oh me, oh my, whatever am I going to do?! How many Deep Ones should I summon to protect Daddy and build a base of operations?! Will one Shoggoth be enough, and should I use Nightgaunts as transport and ambush specialists? Ulthar cats as messengers and diplomats? Gugs as hirable security?

    Oh, there is ever so much to do and so very little time in which to do it! There may be an Endbringer attack at any moment, and dear Amy volunteers for those!

    Maybe she'd like a Nightgaunt, to bring her the wounded? No, I am getting too far ahead of myself!

    I must practice with the First Language, find what I am capable of summoning! I must make lists for all these things, and it is quickly becoming apparent that it will be outright impossible not to get Daddy involved! How else will I learn when to micromanage, and when to delegate?!

    Far worse, Baat'ko'ept's suggestion that I have the brutish and imperious Deep Ones design my armor is not what I have in mind when I think of presenting myself to the populace. Knowing them, I will end up looking like a chitinous bipedal lobster, or some tentacled and scaled horror!

    Oh, by the skirts of Alice and Dorothy, whatever am I going to wear?!
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2019
  5. Baked the Author

    Baked the Author Scion of Nurgle, Verified Consentacle Enthusiast

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    That's all for today. I'll finish crossposting this story tomorrow.

    Oh, and don't be afraid to say what you think! I can take the criticism. Anything... else? Hmm... ah! A few clarifications.

    The Crawling Chaos, despite appearances, is actively and constantly manipulating Taylor for his own ends. This may or may not extend to virtually everyone in the setting.

    After all, if you think Queen Administrator's good at multitasking, imagine an omnipotent cosmic power with 1000 different forms who only has to follow a certain set of obscure rules; Nyarly's a multitasking god.

    The reason Taylor's talking like a prim and proper young woman will be touched upon come next chapter; suffice to say it's both her parent's fault for leaving the old dictionary out, and Taylor's Outer God-manipulated Shard imprinting the first form of diction Taylor had available onto her 4-year-old mind. So Taylor is a little like Bonesaw in diction, but more Alice and Wednesday with a hint of Coraline's temper in her sayings and doings, than Bonsey's willful homicidal psychosis.

    I... think that's it for now! Thanks for reading, and I'll be back tomorrow with the next few chapters of Worm: Babel! Stay classy, QQ!

    (but not too classy. people might get suspicious lol)
     
  6. Cyrus2

    Cyrus2 Getting sticky.

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    Glad to see this again, after you left SB, I'm just looking forward to more of Taylor's whimsy and eldritch adventures.
     
  7. Knightfall

    Knightfall Nui Harime lover, Loyal Slaaneshi.

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    Time for QQ to enjoy the yuritastic adventures of Taylor and Amy poking around with eldritch shit.
     
  8. Baked the Author

    Baked the Author Scion of Nurgle, Verified Consentacle Enthusiast

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    I'm back there too. Yesterday was... Not a good day for me, mentally. I'm over it now, but it'll be slow posting for the next few days, barring the crossposting going on here.
     
  9. Nugar

    Nugar Know what you're doing yet?

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    Glad to see you here. Similar stuff happened to me on SB so I feel your pain there. I think Babel has a ways to go before it really distinguishes itself among worm au fics but there's no reason it can't. Your writing reads perfectly fine and the gothic lolita style for Taylor at least made me stop and look.

    QQ doesn't have the readership of other boards but the community is generally friendly and the moderation is very much everything and nothing. You can write whatever you want, just keep the lewds in the nsfw board, and never ever mention real life politics.

    Rooting for you.
     
  10. randomnbdy

    randomnbdy [stranger:0]

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    Many thanks O'great Sponge-bama san. for your prized words are what we craved.



    a.k.a HYPE
     
    kax321, hillo315 and Baked the Author like this.
  11. Baked the Author

    Baked the Author Scion of Nurgle, Verified Consentacle Enthusiast

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    I aim to please!:D
     
    hillo315 likes this.
  12. Baked the Author

    Baked the Author Scion of Nurgle, Verified Consentacle Enthusiast

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    Good to be here...*glances at Slanneshi idols*...pretty sure some of my other, naughtier works will make it into the nsfw boards at some point. I'm sure I'll find my place here in due course!
     
    hillo315 likes this.
  13. Bobbot

    Bobbot Making the rounds.

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    Hey baked great to see ya here are you also bringing in iron to QQ and also I love this story it has a nice blend with cosmic horror with a touch of cuteness that makes this story very enjoyable for me so god speed your magnificent bastard.
     
    hillo315 and Baked the Author like this.
  14. Threadmarks: Interlude 1
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author Scion of Nurgle, Verified Consentacle Enthusiast

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    .

    .

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    Worm: Babel

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    Interlude 1

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    .

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    Lin Chao was not a good person.

    Given that he was a member of the ABB, one might think this statement redundant. Lung did not abide weakness of the stomach, or any sort of weakness really, and this paradigm was reflected in his unpowered forces.

    Yet Lin was one of those in the ABB seen as a necessary evil, in the eyes of the members of that gang who patrolled their lord’s domain, sold his drugs, and staffed his brothels and casinos. The latter two of those professions needed a steady flow of customers, while the former required more soldiers on a regular basis. The E88 wasn’t known for its tolerance and merciful nature, after all, and the less said about the Merchants being drug-addled trigger-happy idiots, the better.

    So Lin, upon joining the ABB after dropping out of Winslow two years ago, became a ‘recruiter’.

    This is not to say that he went around to bars frequented by men of Asian ethnicity, extolling the virtues and benefits of working under someone like Lung. No, far from it; Lin’s primary duty was in finding vulnerable young women of potentially weak will and pointing Lung’s slavers at them, or deciding which of the latest crop out of Winslow would be best suited for the grunt work of patrolling Brockton Bay’s Docks.

    It was a carefully honed talent, in his mind, being able to get someone’s measure with a quick once-over. He’d been doing it for years, and hadn’t ever been caught; that was another carefully honed talent, being able to blend into the crowd, just another face, no one to worry about.

    The job was thankless, Lin felt at times, especially when he was just starting out and the screams of the women would haunt his sleeping hours. But the pay was good, the women were better, and the screams eventually bored him with their sameness.

    It was around the same time as when this boredom developed that he began joining in with the slavers as they ‘introduced’ their latest whore to the delights of working for the ABB. In Lin’s eyes, it was easier, if he was the one making them scream.

    And, Lin found, he was good at making them scream.

    That the Oni paid well for each young woman he delivered freshly broken to the brothels only helped.

    Business had been slow, though, in the lead up to the American holiday of Thanksgiving; girls were being more careful with their outings in his usual stomping grounds, and winter was coming, which meant more of the little sluts would be covering up, hiding their assets from the world.

    So Lin decided to branch out a little. Sure, the area he had in mind was contested territory, with his own ABB comrades duking it out with the PRT and E88, fighting for dominance of the area regularly, but Lin wasn’t afraid of being found out. He knew these streets, knew where the camera blind-spots were, and knew where most young girls hung out.

    Still, he didn’t think he’d find his next mark at a Goodwill.

    Long fit legs, nice black hair, wide mouth that Lin felt could be put to good use, and graceful in her step. That she dressed like some 50’s church girl didn’t matter to him; all Lin saw was money, and maybe a crack at her, once she’d been working at the brothel for a week or two.

    Because if this white bitch wasn’t a virgin, he’d eat his jacket, and he didn’t like getting his dick bloody; no, Lin felt, it was better to leave this to the professionals.

    So he rang up Clara and Honda, who’d just gotten out of the hospital after Shadow Stalker fucked them up, and told them about the chick. They were eager, but cautious; they told him to stake the girl out, find out where they could snatch her up.

    Lin watched her for two weeks, and found that, some days, she walked through the neighborhood he was lurking in. It was how he learned that the future slut went to Arcadia, and always wore dresses. Stupid white girl. That’d just make popping her cherry easier for Honda, and the big guy agreed when Lin had him over at his apartment for beers a few days ago.

    When he saw her walking home today, he didn’t think anything of hopping on his bike and calling Honda before circling around the bitch’s chosen path.

    Lin didn’t think anything about grabbing her as she walked by, at Clara’s insistence, and tossing her roughly into the alley he and his friends were lurking.

    Chuckling to himself as she was gagged and dragged further into the alley, Lin Chao took up a leaning post at the alley’s entrance, lit up a cigarette, and settled in to listening to the sweet sounds of the bitch’s first time while making sure his friends didn’t get interrupted by some cop.

    He thought nothing of the laughs of his comrades, or the muffled shrieks and struggles of their victim.

    No, Lin was content to keep an eye out and make sure no pigs came calling; not that he was worried. Most everyone was either inside or driving around this less-often used street. By the time he was done with his fag, Honda would be done with the bitch, which meant Mizuki would stick her with some cocktail that’d keep her quiet and hooked, and then Lin and Clara would bring the car around so they could take the bitch somewhere more ‘comfortable’, where’d she be properly trained after being introduced to her new sisters.

    Same song, mused Lin as he took a drag and Clara laughed about something the bitch was doing, same fucking chorus.

    And then it all went wrong.

    Claws of ice raked down his back in the wake of a sound that was not a sound, a deep thrum of the air that rattled his bones like a cannon had just gone off next to him. So surprised was Lin that he dropped his cigarette as he whirled, reaching for his knife and gun, and looked with wide eyes into the alley.

    His mates were gone. The girl was gone, and so were her bags! It was like no one’d ever been there.

    Lin glanced up at the sky, expecting to see some flying cape, New Wave or those toddler Wards carrying his comrades and the little bitch, but there was no one there either.

    In spite of appearances, Lin wasn’t stupid, but the lingering fear of those claws drove him to action. He pulled out his cellphone, a durable clamshell; one call to the Oni and –

    The screen was melted to the keypad. “Fucking bullshit powers,” he swore quietly, chucking the piece of smoldering plastic into the alley and booking it toward the nearest safe house, eight blocks away.

    Lin knew the area, likely better than most others in the gang he ran with, so he took other alleys; he turned his ABB jacket inside-out and walked quickly but calmly whenever he needed to use the sidewalks.

    The girl he’d marked was a cape, she had to be, to not only melt his phone, but she’d done something to Honda and Clara and the others; this was the summation of Lin Chao’s worried thoughts as he made for the last alley. Once he was out the other side, he’d be home free, the safe house only half a block to the left. He’d borrow one of his brothers-in-arms’ phone, let the Oni know about the girl, and then it’d be out of his hands.

    But Lin wasn’t stupid; he kept his hand on the gun tucked into his waistband as he entered the alley. You aren’t safe till you’re out of the open. That was one of the first lessons he’d learned on joining, and it’d kept him alive. Lin wasn’t gonna breathe easy till he was among his mates again.

    He was halfway down the alley, heartbeat finally starting to slow as he relaxed, figuring he was home free, when someone entered the alley and came his way.

    They held a cane of darkened wood, and were dressed in an all-white outfit; a fucking all-white three-piece suit, with matching shoes and fedora. What set off alarm bells in Lin’s mind was that the man’s hands were covered in dark leather gloves, and their sunglasses were red-lensed…

    And the cruel smile on their olive-skinned face was directed at him.

    Lin drew his gun. The man didn’t break stride. Lin flipped the safety off and cocked the hammer, “Get the fuck outta my way, man.”

    The man in white stopped walking, but rather than balk before the weapon, his smirk only grew, “I’m sorry, but this is a dead end.”

    Ignoring the shiver that ran through his bones at that drawled statement, said with a slight British accent, Lin snarled right back, “You see this, asshole?” he jerked the barrel of the gun, the nickel plating flashing in the late-afternoon Sun; but the man in white just continued to smile, pissing Lin off, “Fuck outta my way ‘fore I blow your brains out, bai mogui.”

    This wouldn’t be the first man he’d killed, but Lin felt this asshole was just too calm…

    A niggling suspicion touched his thoughts before being verified by the person(?) before him, “Ah, I don’t think I will,” a soft click came from the cane, “Not after you aided your comrades in assaulting my… associate.”

    Then the asshole revealed that the cane was actually a cane sword; the blade was black as night, and only made the man’s continuing grin look even more sinister.

    Not that Lin was scared; his thoughts on the stranger’s weapon could be surmised as, ‘Who the hell even uses those anymore?!’ As for his actions…

    Lin set his jaw and put his other hand on the .45 and aimed at the man’s center mass; only idiots aimed for the head in tight spaces, and this guy was giving him a real bad vibe.

    But that was because this fedora-wearing idiot was apparently in league with the cape that’d kidnapped his friends.

    Like hell Lin was gonna back down! “Last chance asshole. Walk away or I’ll put a hot one on ya.”

    The stranger’s smile became a showing of teeth, and they were sharp as a shark’s as they readied that weird blade, “To the death, then.” The man in white lunged forward –

    Lin fired off three rounds, the gunshots strangely muffled, but that was the least of the gangster’s worries; all his bullets hit, either side of the chest and one in the gut, but the bastard just kept coming! Still fucking grinning!

    Jumping back so he could avoid a lunging slash, an alarmed Lin got ready to fire again –

    And got the butt of the cane right in his nose, stunning him, the man in white having thrown the sheath.

    Lin’s next panicked shot went wide, the white pain of his broken nose throwing his aim off.

    A stinging pain, above the wrist, and then he couldn’t feel his hand.

    It was then that the stars left his vision, and revealed to Lin that the reason he’d lost feeling in his right hand was because it was gone. The stranger had cut it off, and the limb was now lying behind the softly laughing bastard.

    Mind reeling in terror and excruciating pain, gorge rising as the horror became nauseating, Lin opened his mouth to cry out, or puke, but never got the chance to figure out which his body wanted to do, as the man in white brutally slammed the crook of the cane-sword into Lin’s throat.

    Falling to his knees with a choking sound, unable to breathe and trying to stem the flow of blood squirting from the stump on his arm, Lin nonetheless heard the stranger through the ringing in his ears that followed the blow.

    The obviously inhuman individual that’d just taken him apart like a novice spit some blood to the side before speaking easily, as though the bullets in his chest weren’t a problem, “I must confess, Lin Chao: I find a certain satisfaction in taking someone apart in single combat. Quite the novel activity, especially considering my usual duties don’t allow for such base pastimes.”

    A gloved hand, colder than ice, wrapped around Lin’s jaw and dragged the weakly struggling man nearly to his feet; another pommel strike to his solar plexus cleared Lin’s airway and sent a glob of blood and bile splattering across the immaculate suit of his tormentor, who chuckled dryly and continued, “Indeed, I don’t usually dirty my hands with such lowly grunt work, but, given that your informing your bosses of my associate would render decades of careful planning and prep null and void… let’s just say I feel inclined to indulge myself.”

    Right as Lin regained his breath, and thought to grab for his knife, the stranger sheathed his sword beneath Lin’s diaphragm, twisting the dread blade in the ABB man’s spine.

    Choking in pained horror around the blood filling his throat as he lost feeling in his legs, his subconscious screaming its swan song in his mind, Lin found his face being turned to gaze, through darkening vision rimmed with pained red, upon the visage of his killer.

    Shivering at the vision of those grinning shark-like teeth, a maze of blood proving that his bullets had done something at least, Lin’s last sight was of the Man in White reaching up with a hand to remove his sunglasses.

    And the last thing he heard was:

    “Now look upon the truth of what you tried to kill, Lin Chao, and despair.”

    The glasses came off.

    There were eyes.

    There were teeth.

    There were things that shouldn’t be.

    Things that stained Lin Chao’s soul to the marrow.

    Words that weren’t words, indescribable in their resonant babbling, tore through his mind.

    And Lin Chao’s last thought was that trying to kidnap the dress-wearing girl was the worst decision he ever made, right before the sight of the Crawling Chaos tore his mind apart and his soul was dragged screaming madly into oblivion, feeding the Outer God’s endless hunger.

    .

    {/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\}

    .

    The Man in White chuckled to Itself as the weak-minded ant withered and crumbled before the sight of Its true self. The human was merely a single drop in an endless river that nourished It, sent to each of the Thousand Faces so that they may continue to maintain the Boundary.

    And yet, It had not lied to the little fleshbag; there was a certain enjoyment in completing Its goals personally. From the pruning of Taylor’s mind to ensure her success, to uprooting these weeds from the garden of Its plan…

    All of it would come to a result that would benefit It, and fulfil Its duty. The Boundary would remain firm.

    And Taylor Hebert would be indebted to It even as she was raised up above the rabble.

    Dusting Itself off, the Man in White repaired his suit and the body It was currently using with the most minute flex of will, and collected the sheath of the cane-sword; idly, it recovered the pistol that the insect, the one It’d just eradicated, used to shoot It.

    Knives and swords were the Man in White’s preferred methods, as was the wont of several of Its Thousand Faces, but It might need this weapon for Its next mission, myriad light-years from this world.

    Seven bullets remained, fair condition, no dents, yet the pistol hadn’t been cleaned for some time.

    “Of course,” drawled It disgustedly, looking at where Lin Chao’s body would have fallen… if It had allowed the corpse to continue existing, “Moron. Charlatan. Dolt. A gun is a machine, and requires dutiful cleaning to maintain its accuracy and functionality, as all machines do. Why, I’m surprised it didn’t backfire in your face!”

    Ah, well. It would make better use of the thing. Good thing It was in Brockton Bay at the moment; locating an appropriate holster would be as easy as popping off to the nearest pawnbroker.

    After all, Taylor had called upon It, unwittingly giving the Crawling Chaos direct access to her world. But the best part, the part that sent satisfaction whirling though Its many iterations, was that, due to the Black Pharaoh’s interventions with her power at birth, The Warrior would see everything she summoned as a Master projection, would delight at the conflict she’d undoubtedly bring.

    It was not the first time Nyarlathotep had played such a shell-game with the parasites, nor would it be the last.

    Yet, this time, the end result would be an Old One, a mortal raised up to work Its will.

    It would not be the first time It had done that, either.

    Still, while he was here on this backwater and doomed world, the Man in White mused with a now-mundane but pearly-white smile as he walked away from the empty alley where he’d laid his trap for the unwitting churl… he may as well indulge in the local cuisine.

    He didn’t have to be anywhere for the next few hours, and there were so few places in the Universe that made good falafel.

    Or tea. ‘What is it with Earths and tea?’ ‘thought’ It as it walked, no passerby paying the Man in White so much as a second glance as It walked down the street, cane tapping rhythmically, musing on why dried leaf juice tasted better on the various versions of ‘Earth’ than elsewhere.

    Simultaneously, It laughed, though one of Its other faces, as another parasite was defeated on a far distant world, a Star Spawn tearing into the filthy thing’s redoubt with a whip of Unflame.

    The Star Spawn would die, certainly, but not before opening the way for Shub-Niggurath. Nyarlathotep cackled to Itself in Its temple as the Entity screamed in mind-shattering horror at the sight of the delighted Great Goat and her Thousand Young, come to feast upon it’s fleshy body. The parasite would fight, but it would be for naught. R’lyeh had risen upon the thing’s victim world. It’s fate was sealed.

    Much like Lin Chao’s.

    No police or gangster or bystander arrived to investigate the alleyway the Lin walked into and never came out of.

    Lung knew nothing of the events in either alleyway, whether this one or the other that bore witness to Taylor’s assault, and wouldn’t ever discover them in their entirety.

    No one heard the gunshots, or Chao’s choking gasps of pain, or his dying scream echoing off the walls.

    Indeed, no one paid that alley any mind for the next hour. In time, no one would remember Lin Chao or his associates, their very memory being wiped from human consciousness, those that knew them best eventually befalling some unfortunate fate.

    Such is the ruthlessness of the Crawling Chaos.

    .

    {/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\}

    .

    Danny Hebert sighed in strained relief as he unlocked the door to his house, edging it open with his hip, as his hands were otherwise occupied with the grocery bags he’d hesitantly picked up on the way home from work.

    For his darling daughter insisted, at length and with her usual intricate vocabulary, that they take their Thanksgiving dinner to Kurt and Lacey’s tomorrow night. Her reasoning, which he had to admit was pretty good, was that going to dinner with his friends would brighten both family’s night, as well as give him some company the next morning during Black Friday shopping.

    He’d argued on the last bit, citing the family budget, but he didn’t get very far before Taylor, bless her clever mind, handed him an entire folder’s worth of deals and sales from all over Brockton Bay. Not just the mall, but for what few non-big-box department stores that hadn’t failed in the wake of Leviathan’s ruining the shipping industry, and a few mom-and-pop stores that hadn’t gone under yet.

    She’d even clipped coupons, something she’d always found time to do with… Annette… which, in his latest shopping trip, brought the bill from nearly $80 all the way down to $17. The cashier’s face had been priceless. Danny couldn’t wait to tell Taylor; about the face, not the savings. Even though she understood the principle behind sales, the math wasn’t something she understood.

    Smiling despite himself, Danny hung up his coat and glanced around the foyer, and the kitchen further into the house; Taylor’s blazer and purse were hanging up in their usual spots, and there were a few seasonings out on the kitchen counter, so Taylor had probably already finished basting the turkey before putting it back in the fridge to marinate for the night and keep the oven available, in case he wanted to use it for dinner.

    Her thoughtfulness touched him. Annette had done the same thing, before Danny taught his wife to cook…

    Shaking off the morose thoughts, because if his daughter saw him moping she’d go off on him like a nun from the 19th century, he called out, “Taylor! Come help with the groceries!”

    He had gotten a lot of food this time around, but most of it was canned goods, stuff that’d last so he wouldn’t have to spend too much; it wasn’t like there was a surplus of work for his boys and girls in the DWA, which, to his irritation, made things tight money-wise in the Hebert household.

    But things would get better. They could only get better.

    A startled “Eeek!” echoed down the stairs at his calling, as Danny walked back to the front door, followed by the sound of papers being flung every which way; a rumble of shoes later, he caught sight of his daughter, still in the black and white dress she’d worn to school today, for the first time since he came home.

    He knew something was wrong as soon as he saw Taylor’s pale face: her eyes were wide and rimmed with red, like she’d been crying, her mouth was pulled into a tense, nearly panicked frown, and her breathing was fast and erratic…

    And the way she ran down the stairs carelessly before flinging herself into his arms, gasping fearfully, hit the last of his alarm buttons: something had happened, something at least on par with Emma’s attempted betrayal.

    “Taylor,” he began once her shivering died down a little in her father’s loving embrace, forcing himself to stay calm, “Tell me what’s wrong. What happened?”

    Around a loud sniff, she looked into his eyes tearfully and whispered, “I have superpowers.”

    Danny blinked. Then he patted her gently on the shoulder and smiled, “Oh. Okay. Help me with the groceries, and then we’ll sit down and talk about it.”

    The look of dumbfounded shock on his daughter’s face was almost as funny as the cashier’s at the grocery store, though her weakly croaked, “Come again?” raised his worry a bit.

    Though that was more to the question of ‘What happened to her that she figured it out’, Danny kept calm for his clearly distressed daughter and replied, “Taylor, you’ve had recurring dreams since you were three; recurring dreams that have, apparently, made you a genius at learning any language you come across. You read and memorized a dictionary that was printed in 1911 in eight hours, at four years old.”

    Danny smiled at his daughter as she blushed, probably at the reminder of just why she kept talking like a turn-of-the-century aristocrat, and wiped her eyes, looking a little better now that she was on familiar ground.

    But Danny went on, because, while her mother had mentioned it to her, he hadn’t. And that ended now, “Since then, you’ve used the same outdated vocabulary whenever you meet someone, or go to any type of party or doctor’s appointment; not that there’s anything wrong with that,” he added, raising his hands in placation (he wouldn’t even have known that word, if it weren’t for Taylor) when she glared, “There’s nothing wrong with you being polite with people, Taylor, but your mother and I managed to figure it out when you were eight and speaking German fluently. We figured it was a Thinker power, unless you’ve discovered differently?” Danny hoped it wasn’t anything awful. Taylor was so gentle, and having an ability that could only hurt people would be so unfair to her.

    To his unease, Taylor nodded jerkily, still looking a little pale and fearful.

    Danny just pinched her cheek lightly with a sad smile, making his little girl give a cute pout and slap his hand away, “Help me with the groceries, kiddo. Then we’ll talk about what happened, and just what your power actually does.”

    ‘And whether or not I have to kill someone for hurting my daughter and forcing her to figure it out.’

    .

    {/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\}

    .

    An hour later, with his second cup of coffee (shot of brandy for both cups; he’d needed it after hearing about the Crawling Chaos) held in his angrily shaking hands and his daughter nursing her own tea (two spoons of honey; it’d been a trying day for her), Danny had a clearer picture of what was going on.

    That, and he was contemplating how to murder Lung without leaving his daughter an orphan.

    Three men, and a woman, assaulted her on the way home from school. ABB slavers, she’d said, and they’d targeted her. His daughter.

    Big mistake. Danny scoffed mentally, ‘Big, titanic, fatal mistake.’

    She was a parahuman, but Annette and he had long figured she was.

    What they never guessed was just how her power would manifest.

    Danny would’ve preferred butterflies, or maybe a singing voice that could turn the world into his sunny daughter’s personal wonderland.

    Honestly, he’d prefer anything, even Nilbog’s power, to what his Taylor ended up getting.

    Taylor… his gentle, polite, bubbly, wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly Taylor… could shatter the walls of reality with a word, and bring monsters beyond the blackest imaginings of the worst B-movies of the seventies to life. Things that would make Escher, Nietzsche and King scream with insane horror at their worst nightmares being verified.

    And four ABB gangsters made her use that power. Had tried to rape and enslave her.

    She hadn’t answered him fully when he’d angrily asked what happened to the bastards; instead, she’d just shivered like someone’d just poured ice down her back and squeaked, “Please don’t ask, Daddy.”

    Glancing at the papers on the table, the notes bearing strange and twisting words interspersed amongst his daughter’s shorthand, the pictures she’d made of her dreams, both from her art wall and from the lockbox under her bed where she kept the “less palatable” (her words) images of her dreams…

    Danny could see why she didn’t want to talk about it. The being that’d set his sights on her, the Crawling Chaos, sounded like the unholy marriage of a certain PRT Director and the world’s most devious blood-sucking lawyer.

    Except with terrible cosmic powers and uncounted legions of eldritch abominations at their disposal.

    In other words, exactly as Danny imagined, just scaled up a bit.

    And Taylor, his daughter, could communicate with, and potentially even summon, all of them.

    Taking a deep breath to calm himself, Danny took a sip of his coffee and looked at his daughter; she was staring into her tea like it held the mysteries of the Universe, eyes and face empty of that delighted fire that even the death of Annette hadn’t been able to extinguish. Dim, yes, but put out? Not Taylor.

    A thought crossed his mind then, as he went over her assault once more, counting…

    Oh, damnit, “So,” he began conversationally, looking at his daughter curiously; she flinched and turned that owl-y gaze on him, “One guy threw you into the alley. There were two that checked your bags, one that pointed a crowbar at you, and one behind you.”

    Her eyes widened in realization, then began flicking side to side. He knew this face; she was trying to figure it out on her own. Danny already had a fairly good idea of what happened, mostly because Oni Lee hadn’t come to visit. Yet…

    And then she frowned, before letting out a hiss of… irritation? “Yes, Daddy, I think there were five people in the alley. Yes, only four were brought to the Pyramid,” Danny suppressed a shudder; not somewhere he’d like to take a vacation, no matter how beautiful Taylor said those pillars were, “As for the fifth…” she trailed off with a shrug and swirled her tea, eyes going distant again.

    “Know what I think?” Taylor looked up curiously at Danny’s offering, “Given what you’ve told me he’s capable of, I think that Gnarly-tep guy of yours hunted him down.”

    She blinked in confusion, “How… No, Daddy, that being is cruel, unfeeling even, and subtler than the Devil himself! He would never aid me in such an obvious way!”

    “And yet he’s chosen the most polite and well-mannered girl in Brockton Bay as his agent,” Danny went on calmly, making his daughter blink more, “Not only that, but he straight-up told you he wasn’t here for you, or even humanity, but for something that threatened us. Seems to me,” he looked into his coffee cup as understanding dawned on his Taylor’s face, “that setting you up to fail when you’re just starting out would be… detrimental, to his overall plans. You miss one of the bastards that tried to attack you,” he finished in a light growl, ignoring his daughter’s whispered ‘language’, “so, seeing as having the ABB come calling before you can prepare for them would increase the chances of you dying, Gnarly-tep probably took care of it.”

    That’s how it seemed to Danny, anyway, and the dark being had better have taken care of the missing gangster, or Danny might just have to have words with the being that’d taken his daughter under their wing without his permission.

    Sure, he might not be able to do anything about it, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t make his grievances known.

    Was there a complaints department for caustic, genocidal cosmic beings apprenticing teenage girls? If not, Danny mused while watching his daughter pinch the bridge of her nose dramatically, there really, really should be.

    “It’s Nee-yar-la-th~oh-tep, Daddy-”

    “Poh-tay-to, Poh-tah-to,” he stated blithely.

    “-and… oh, who am I kidding, you are likely correct,” Taylor huffed, pigtails bouncing as she managed to look prim and proper even while pouting and drinking tea.

    “Of course I am,” Danny smiled at his daughter’s raised eyebrow, but went on seriously, pointing his mug at Taylor for emphasis, “I’m older, wiser, and have seen enough crazy sh-crap,” he corrected himself at his now-superpowered daughter’s withering glare, “in my time with the Dockworkers to know how villains think. I’ve had to do so to keep Kaiser off our backs, to say nothing of Lung, and this Gnarly guy sounds like both of them combined, then scaled up to the nines.”

    Taylor’s lips pursed in thought, then she nodded, “Yes, I agree, your judgment of the situation is no doubt better than mine, sorely lacking in experience as I am. But what of that crass, foul barbarian, Skidmark?”

    She hissed the name of the Merchant’s leader with a sour expression that never failed to amuse Danny; the foul-mouthed (literally, he’d seen what passed for the slack-jawed fuck-wit’s teeth, sadly) villain was practically Taylor’s nemesis in every single way one could imagine…

    Except powers. Danny was pretty sure the Triumvirate couldn’t hold a candle to the sheer potential for destruction his Taylor was now in possession of.

    “I think, Taylor, given everything you’ve told me, the Bay’s more at risk of Skidmark offending your delicate sensibilities than actually being a threat to anyone else! I mean, what’s he going to do? Insult your ribbons? Wear a tea cozy as a hat… or somewhere lower?” Danny let out a single, barking laugh at the affronted, scandalized gasp his daughter let out.

    “Daddy!”

    “Also,” he cut in before she could insist upon her own preference for being the eternal Good Daughter, “You’re going to make a list, as soon as dinner’s done,” and the meatloaf was coming along nicely, if the scent permeating the kitchen was any indication, “and while you’re making that list, I want you to think of all the things you should never, ever, in a million years… do with your power, and write them down.”

    She nodded agreeably, eyes wide and serious, “Rules, yes. If I have rules…” she trailed off, glancing at the strange pictures splayed over the table, “…I can avoid accidentally ending the world.”

    Danny hummed and nodded. Just like her mother. “In addition, you’ll show me this list, and I reserve the right to add to it as I deem fit.”

    “Of course, Daddy.” Taylor gave him a watery smile, then darted around the table to give him a crushing hug, which he returned in earnest, “I love you.”

    “Love you too, sweetie.” He kissed her temple; sure, today had been exciting, and the future was uncertain, but he’d help his Taylor see it through. That reminded him, “Oh, and you’re grounded until the New Year.”

    She pulled away from him, “B-But Daddy!

    “No buts, young lady. You vanished four gang members and possibly unleashed an eldritch terror on the city; self-defense, yes, but you’re still grounded.”

    “Daddy, I’m expected to attend a party in the suburbs on the Saturday a fortnight from now! I have an embossed and addressed invitation, from Dean Stansfield no less, and…” she trailed off with a blush.

    Danny lifted an eyebrow in curiosity; had his daughter finally discovered a boy? A girl? It couldn’t be Dean; according to scuttlebutt, he was dating New Wave’s poster child, Glory Girl, and Taylor wasn’t the type to drive wedges between people, “You have a date?” Maybe that Amy girl she exchanged emails with?

    “I’ve already related the soiree’s date to-“

    “Drop the diction, Taylor.”

    She sighed and huffed, upset, but did as she was told, “No, I’m not going on a date. I wanted to go… because Amy Dallon will be there too. I’m… I think I like spending time with her, whether it’s tutoring her in Latin or during lunchtime, and I want to become closer to her, in-in friendship, that is,” she added a little too hastily to Danny’s ears, “Not that I want to replace Emma, she’ll need me once she gets out of the hospital,” she added to Danny’s curious head-tilt, “but, well… I don’t have many actual friends, Daddy.”

    After thinking it over for some moments, mostly to make his daughter sweat at the idea of being denied attendance to a party with her first crush-that-was-possibly-more (because that’s what he saw it as; he’d acted this same way when talking about Annette), Danny smiled, “With the exception of that party, you’re grounded. And you’ll be home by eleven, or you’ll be grounded until the Sun burns out. Clear?”

    His response was a shrill squeal of happiness and another hug.

    She’d be okay, Danny decided as she began thanking him and, to his amusement, began stressing over which outfit she’d wear.

    Taylor was strong, he knew; she had his stubbornness, Annette’s fire, and her own hard-earned cleverness that’d seen her through the years, kept his spirits up after Annette died.

    No matter what happened, Danny would support his daughter, no matter where her road brought her.

    Still… he wasn’t quite clear on just what the blazes a “Shoggoth” was, he mused while getting ready for bed that night, or why was Taylor so excited about giving one to the Dockworkers for Christmas.

    He’d ask her in the morning.
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2019
  15. Threadmarks: Chapter 5
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author Scion of Nurgle, Verified Consentacle Enthusiast

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    Worm: Babel

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    5

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    It is the Saturday of the Thanksgiving weekend, and I am truly in a tizzy, for Amy is coming over and everything must be perfect!

    Fortunately for my frayed nerves, still raw from meeting Baat’ko’ept and condemning four people to a fate worse than death, I have not dreamed of any unusual or looming locales these past two nights; maybe an artifact of being tuckered out due to shopping, and gorging myself on food most delicious, of course.

    Whatever the reason, I cannot complain, and Daddy has been ever so understanding of my plight!

    Although I do wish he would aid me in my tidying of the house, as opposed to sitting at the kitchen table and chuckling at my worried puttering about in my favorite blouse and skirt, a matching blue number with a bronze sash about my waist.

    There is ever so much dusting to do, and I still have yet to put in order the images of the worlds and lands I’ve seen through dreams, scattered as they are about the house from Daddy and I’s brainstorming session after shopping yesterday!

    Though the primary reasons they’ve been scattered are due to: one, Daddy might have gotten rather distressed at seeing my sketch of R’lyeh; perfectly understandable reaction, as even Emmaline got somewhat unnerved on seeing the sketch the day after I’d drawn it, two years ago. Back in the strongbox that one went, but Daddy needed a constitutional to settle his mind afterward.

    It’s also how we discovered that I have an immunity to the thought-scrambling effect the odd angles and features displayed in the labyrinth seem to possess. Still not surprising, given that I’ve not gone completely psychotic with fanaticism for the nigh-incomprehensible beings there portrayed.

    The other reason my notes and pictures are strewn about is that the both of us tend to pace while thinking aloud, and the sheer number of things I can do with the First Language, with respect to the Labyrinth (capitalized by Daddy on the dry-erase board in his study), needed to be thoroughly examined before any experimentation could take place.

    And take place it did, but that was yesterday, and today Amy is coming over!

    “Daddy, could you please stop chuckling at my worrying and sweep up or something?” I ask as I collect six pages from atop the refrigerator, images of the Deep One’s city, Gn’th-Ot-Ah’Lloigshogg, the Dread Sea Citadel, and the quite beautiful constructions of phosphorescent coral, aqueous vegetation and stone they’ve sculpted over the ages.

    It’s actually one of my favorite series of pictures; despite their terrible countenance and generally barbaric inclinations, the Deep Ones do have a grasp of aesthetic beauty that truly titillates the senses…

    Shaking my head to clear the distracting thoughts, curly pigtails with blue ribbons flipping about, I look to my Daddy, who is still watching me with an amused expression, “Amy will be here in,” I check the clock, and feel my heart skip with dread, “two hours. Oh, why couldn’t she have messaged me last night rather than this morning?!” I cry, dashing out of the kitchen to place the decorated papers in the steadily thickening folder on the living room coffee table.

    And the flowers in the vase over by the window need to be changed! Oh, if it’s not one thing, it’s another! I’ll have to put the vase in the curio cabinet next to the entertainment center after emptying it into the flower bed out back, and thank goodness it hasn’t snowed yet!

    “I have to be at work in an hour, honey, and you know how traffic gets this time of year,” Daddy says, obviously apologetic, as I dodge around him with the pottery and dried carnations, he having stood while I was in the other room, “Otherwise, I’d be right here helping you get ready for your day with your friend, rather than steeling my mind for a meeting with the Union President.”

    I silently curse the forces of misfortune that have brought this matter about, and so soon after that terrible day!

    Not that I am displeased; no, I’d much rather converse with Amy than continue to experiment with my powers, which I did last night whilst Daddy watched… at a safe distance, from the top of the basement stairs… with Grandad’s rifle from the Second World War in his hands.

    An understandable precaution, given the being I brought into our comparatively innocent world.

    I’d successfully summoned a Deep One hybrid; specifically, I summoned one of the many servants to the actual Deep Ones (who are large enough that they wouldn’t fit easily in any room of our house), a silver-skinned Steward named Ix, who somewhat resembled a remora, what with his flat-topped head and the black lines running from the outer edges of his fishy eyes, down the sides of his gilled neck and under the… slightly water-damaged tuxedo he wore.

    Returning to the house, I huff at Daddy, “Then could you please wash your mug, at least,” I give a pointed glare to the mug held in his hand, ‘My Other Car is a Dragon-Suit’ in bold letting across the side, “I still have to dust the curtains, vacuum the living room, stairs, upstairs and downstairs hall and my room, light a candle in the lavatory, prepare some snacks and a healthy luncheon for us both, select a movie that will make good background for any conversation we might engage in, and oh goodness what if my powers come up, is she already aware-”

    “Breathe, Taylor,” my Daddy calmly says, placing a hand on my shoulder when my voice gets alarmingly high-pitched in my panic; clutching the clay vase tightly, I listen to Daddy’s soothing words, “I’m sure Amy won’t mind if there’s something you miss, or out of place. She’s your friend, not the Triumvirate. Remember, Rule Number 1: don’t panic.”

    “Yes,” I nod to myself, remembering the first rule I wrote down that fateful night, “Don’t panic. I am in control, this is not a crisis. I can handle this.”

    “Good girl,” he pats me on the back, which brings a smile to my face, though it becomes a grimace at Daddy’s next words, “And look on the bright side, your friend visiting can’t be as bad as what that… Steward, Ix, told you last night.”

    Happily, that discourse was both brief and fruitful, though the details were fairly alarming: the Deep Host had just finished off a world that had, until their arrival, been victimized by some vampiric, multi-dimensional parasite.

    The parasite, whose powers rivaled even those of an Old One, was dead, of course, but the Deep One’s losses were understandably high.

    Given that their preferred tactic is a self-sacrificing mad charge in an attempt to overwhelm their enemies through sheer attrition and as a way to please and summon their gods, Dagon, Hydra and… the other one… the battle must have been horrendously gruesome even by their standards.

    Therefore, their legions were currently licking their wounds, seeing to their children and servants, like Ix, and, as such, their leader, the Overlady Azure, Subordinate-General of the Deep Hosts, answerable only to Dagon and Hydra, would not be able to entertain me for the next week at least.

    Which I am perfectly fine with; I need that time to put together a dress that extols the beauty and subtlety of the sea, as well as some green eye shadow and appropriate footwear, so I may impress this Overlady most imperious who, according to the well-spoken and informative Ix, has never been defeated or slain in combat, yet is both fair and firm with all those who call the Gn’th-Ot home, be they Deep One, hybrid, or mortal servant. But these are worries for another day.

    Amy’s impending visit is the first time I have had the opportunity to entertain a guest my own age since Emma’s traumatic break, and she is a world-class heroine and healer, to say nothing of the friendship I have forged with the amazing girl!

    Everything must be perfect!

    With a breathy sigh, I reply tersely, “That meeting should go off without a hitch, Daddy, so long as the Overlady is willing to listen to our proposal; this day, on the other hand,” my nervousness rises back to its previous tiers of intensity, “there is so much that could go wrong!”

    “Just be yourself, kiddo; if the subject of your powers comes up, just stay calm and explain. Amy’s a hero, I’m sure she’ll understand,” Daddy says calmly, collecting his work bag before looking at me seriously, “Now, remember what I told you?”

    I nod swiftly and recite, “I am grounded, so we are not to go any further from the house’s walls than the backyard, no summoning incomprehensibly powerful eldritch creatures that may or may not be capable of leveling the city, no bringing Amy anywhere in the multiverse where she might come to grievous harm, and only use the DVD player for film-watching, as the Internet is for research and not tomfoolery.”

    “Atta girl,” smiles Daddy, giving me a kiss on the cheek while I give him a tight hug of farewell, worrying slightly for his safety; though he is the strongest man I have ever known, he does work in the Docks!

    As he departs, he informs me over his shoulder, “I’ll call before coming home. Oh, and no calling a Deep One priest to marry Amy’s sister. Or the two of you.”

    “Daddy!” I cry in blushing affront, “W-We are only friends, and-” I trail off at Daddy’s chuckling; must he tease and needle me so relentlessly?!

    “Have a good day, kiddo,” he smiles warmly at my indignant pout, showing that the teasing is just that; I realize now that his ribbing is not only all in good humor on his part, it has also somewhat eased my anxiety over the coming day.

    So I return his smile and bid him farewell, “You too, Dad,” dropping my diction with a force of effort, for his sake more than anything else.

    The door clicks shut, I engage the locks, and turn back to evaluate my abode’s interior.

    My trepidation returns in full force, shortly before, determined, I square my shoulders and make for the foyer’s closet and the upright vacuum within; there is much to do, and less time to accomplish it in!

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    {/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\}

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    Two grilled cheeses are baking in the oven, and Grandmother’s tea set is in full readiness for serving. The house is spotless and at perfect relaxation temperature throughout. Our lavatory smells delightful with the lingering scent of pine needles, and the sounds of nature and woodwind instruments are softly issuing from the stereo.

    Everything is perfect, I decide, falling onto our slightly worn but perfectly serviceable couch with a sigh of accomplishment; I made sure to work quickly yet not so quickly that I’d come down with a sweat or inhale a large amount of dust.

    A glance at the cuckoo clock (Mommy’s Great-Grandfather’s) shows that Amy is due to arrive any moment now, a mere ten minutes to eleven; that will give me time to reflect on my overall situation, and the folder of images and words most unusual resting upon the coffee table before me.

    Such an innocuous and seemingly harmless thing, that folder is, at first glance; a thickly-filled manila binder with sheets of paper neatly organized within, one would not find such a thing out of place in a doctor’s files, or those of a scholastic institution.

    A pair of white voids set in a visage of obsidian flashes across my mind’s eye, bringing a shiver to my being despite the pleasant conditions of the air.

    Innocuous, indeed. I am perhaps the only person, barring Daddy, who knows just how dangerous this collection of paper, ink, crayon and watercolor truly is.

    What will the PRT, the Protectorate, think of my abilities? Will I be touted as a savior, given my power to summon beings that could give trouble to even the deadliest of humanity’s foes? Will I, for I do intend to inform the established authority at some point, be reviled by those who keep the peace in these troubled times, spoken of in the same breath as Nilbog and Bonesaw?

    Should I even care what they will think of me, given that I intend to use my powers for the good of all, to rehabilitate my city even as I turn it into a fortress against the terrors that plague us?

    ‘The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.’ Never has that quote been more appropriate than now; the Crawling Chaos has taken a liking to me, an interest in my actions and deeds, though the reason is still clouded to my senses.

    I must be careful, I decide with firmly pursed lips and a determined nod, gazing upon that folder of wonders and terrors; I must be kind, and generous, but I must remember that many cruel and callous people, or even other people who have only good intentions in their minds, will see my empathic generosity as weakness and either exploit this supposed chink in my person…

    The terrified faces of the ABB gangsters ripples through my memory once more.

    I all but killed them.

    No! They dared attempt to violate the temple of my body, nearly destroyed my dear Emmaline’s faith in others, and ruined the lives and dreams of who knows how many others like us! I should not have sympathy for them!

    And yet…

    I try to keep myself from breaking down and ruining the light makeup I’ve applied, hugging myself in shameful self-loathing, still staring at the not-at-all innocent folder before me.

    I gave them to Nyarlathotep, who delivered them to Leng, a violent, inhospitable hell-scape from which only Randolph Carter, the Dreamwalker, who defied the Crawling Chaos and lived, has ever entered and returned from. Or so my brief visit to the museum in Celephais, while at camp this past summer, revealed.

    That was not responsible or kind behavior on my part, but I’d just been so angry with them! They’d attempted to rape me! They’d nearly destroyed Emma! Their punishment was more than warranted, so why do I regret my actions?

    Is it because it was not my voice which laid down their final judgement? No… I didn’t want their blood on my hands directly…

    But I still all-but killed them, in my delivering them to the non-existent mercies of the Crawling Chaos.

    A shuddering breath runs through me, and a realization passes through my thoughts, revealing the true source of my melancholy:

    I could have done so much worse to them.

    For the briefest moment, I consider retrieving the candle lighter from the drawer in the kitchen and burning the whole folder to ashes. It is only the reminder of what I’d promised myself for this day that stays my hand.

    I need a second opinion on the form and function of my powers, and Amy is both a dear friend and more immersed in the world of Parahumans and capes than Daddy or I. Surely she will have some advice regarding my unenviable situation… provided she doesn’t flee screaming from my house.

    No, that should not happen; Amy is a calm and even-headed, if slightly cavalier, force in my life, has seen the terror the Endbringers can deliver firsthand. My condition will no-doubt seem humdrum by comparison.

    Yet I worry still.

    Truly, my powers are both blessing and terrible curse: there is so much good I can do through these beings most awful at my beck and call, and I know they will listen to me, religious fanatics and slaves to their cruel gods as they are.

    For one of their strongest is assisting me. That if nothing else will assure the assistance of every being I know the name of, from the Ghouls and Gugs to… the Star-Spawn of the Great Old One (absolute last resort, my Daddy and I agreed).

    Yet… I cannot help but wonder…

    What will be the price, the toll, I pay for their assistance?

    BING-DONG!

    “Eep!” my heart leaps up into my throat at the sound of our door chime; a glance at the clock shows it is nearly eleven. Amy is at the door!

    Shoving my insecurities and worries aside, I wave my face to regain my color, having paled with fright at the sudden interruption of my melancholy musings, put on a warm, happy smile, and trot over to the door.

    It swings wide at my opening to reveal Amy. Amelia Dallon, my closest friend at Arcadia, and only surpassed by Emma in closeness to myself; yet I do not think of her as my sister, as is the case with Emmaline, but more of a colleague, an equal in intelligence and diligence, though our fields of study are vastly different.

    “Hello, Amy! Welcome to my family’s house,” gush I, taking in her appearance; she is dressed in a dark purple peacoat and… jeans. Hm. I do think the blue blouse I barely see below the collar, cut to show just the slightest hint of chest, must look good on her; but anything looks good on Amy, just like her sister.

    Her mousy hair looks as though it’s been tamed into a straight curtain about her ears, no doubt by one who works with lions given its usual mousiness, and has been decorated with a Red Cross beret above her left brow, crinkled as those brown eyes of hers are in wry humor.

    She is also carrying a messenger bag, which she shrugs off as I beckon her in; I wonder at its purpose, as it seems laden with quite a few items.

    “Jeez, Taylor, are you ever not politer than a whole nunnery?” she quips with a teasing smile on her freckled face, removing her shoes and slipping into the house slippers I’ve set out for her.

    I roll my eyes and smile, as this has already become an old ritual with us, “As I have related on many an occasion, it’s… difficult for me to use modern diction. Besides, that’s not why you’re here for, is it?”

    “Nope!” Amy smiles brightly, the sight warming me as a summer day while I lead her into the living area, “Like I said in the email, Mom’s got some meeting going on at home today, lawyer thing or something, and told me and Vicky to get out until dinner, and hanging out with you is loads better than watching Vicky and Dean slobbering all over each other,” she looks around the living room curiously, gaze lingering on Daddy’s cacti collection in far corner of the living room and the family bookshelf just to the left of the entryway, while I suppress a wince at her sentence structuring, “Nice house, by the way. Very homey.”

    “I’m sure yours must look better; you are New Wave after all,” a ding sounds from the kitchen, “Oh! Grilled cheese, I hope you like,” I add whilst rushing away, pointedly ignoring the dread folder.

    “You are a saint, feeding me grilled cheese. Vicky’s gonna be totally jealous,” she calls over as she hangs up her coat, while I set some plates on the kitchen table and place the seasoned, triangle-cut sandwiches on two of the everyday plates, adding some chips and a small cup of salsa to each, “And not as much as you’d think, my house that is. Mom thinks every room needs a theme, and, well, with how big our house is, it kinda makes for some confusing chaos. This a real cuckoo clock?”

    I walk back into the room, a plate in each arm, to find Amy looking at the artifact in question, “Oh, yes. It was my Mother’s Great-Grandfather’s; I think he worked for a company that made them,” my friend’s attention is distracted by my setting the plates down near the folder, at which point her eyes widen in surprise. “Something wrong?”

    Then the wry smirk I like so much is back, “You’re spoiling me, you realize that?” she approaches and takes a seat on one side of the couch, her bag between our seats, “Grilled cheese, chips and salsa? Forget being a saint, you’re Elvis.”

    “Well, you’re the first friend I’ve had over since my starting Arcadia. And really, Amy,” I reply around a laugh and smile, finally starting to relax, “Elvis doesn’t hold a candle to my dancing skills,” butterflies successfully calmed as Amy giggles and reaches for a chip, I take a seat myself.

    Then I realize, “Oh, I haven’t even given you the tour!” I’m already messing up, oh no!

    “Taylor, it’s fine,” Amy pats my shoulder, smile still in place, “I didn’t get a chance to eat before coming over. Lunch, then you can show me around your convent,” she finishes with another giggle, to which I reply with a sophisticated sniff.

    “I thought you said I live in a nunnery,” I reply, enjoying the byplay and placing a napkin on my lap; to my pleasure, Amy does the same.

    “Same thing, and you know it, walking dictionary,” I chuckle at her barbless observation and join in tucking into our food.

    Light conversation is made: we touch briefly on the warming of the Earth’s weather due to the interventions of the Endbringers, but segue nicely into discussing Latin class at school, which occupies us nearly through the rest of lunch and my popping quickly away to bring over the tea service whilst my friend uses the necessities.

    Amy actually admires the bone china set that’s likely older than the house we’re occupying, and congratulates me on making tea ‘properly’, as opposed to what gets served at the chain cafés Victoria frequents around the city, much to my private pleasure.

    After dipping and munching down a scone, Amy finally brings up the manila elephant in the room, gesturing at the vile folder with a wave of her cup, “Your Dad leave some of his work out?”

    I stiffen, which makes her look at me curiously, and somewhat warily; steeling myself with a healthy gulp of tea, I set down my cup and give my friend a desperate look, “Amy… does your power allow you to detect whether or not someone’s a Parahuman?” I have my suspicions, given how her abilities allow her to see a person’s internal workings as she does her healing, but I’d like to hear it from the girl herself.

    Not because I don’t trust her, because I do, given the lack of PRT agents calling to try and recruit me to the Wards, but because… I need to know, if she knew about me being a Parahuman before even I knew of it.

    Daddy knowing is one thing. Amy is another.

    That wary frown increases slightly as she gives me a slow nod, “Yeah… I, uh, didn’t want to bring it up, what with the Rules and all,” I can hear the capital letter, but, clearly, my understanding of the world of villains and heroes is lacking on this matter.

    Amy must’ve noticed the confused expression I’m displaying, as she asks curiously, “Um… you do know what the Rules are, right? I mean, you’re a cape-”

    “No, I am not a… ‘cape’, Amy,” I reply tensely; goodness, but I dislike that word, and say so with the addition, “It implies that everyone with powers walks around in costume, and has always done so. No,” I shake my head, before smiling bitterly, “I am not a ‘cape’. I didn’t even know I was possessed of powers before…” a shiver of cold runs though me, “…Wednesday afternoon.”

    I then reach for my tea, for I need to be calm, and remembering the desperate faces of those I doomed is not doing good things for my confidence, at the moment. Tea will help with my nerves, as it has always done.

    Amy, on the other hand, is looking at me with great surprise, “…Wait, seriously?!” she squawks, drawing another confused look from my person, “You… really didn’t know?”

    “No… why? Did you notice me using powers?” I ask, dreading the answer. I dearly hope I have not been using the First Language unconsciously…

    I am assuaged by Amy’s light laugh, “Oh, ha, no, unless you’re a Thinker or something, given how good you are with languages; I figured it was that, but I haven’t told anyone yet. You seemed so… flighty, those first days,” and she gives me an eager look, her tea forgotten. No doubt she wants me to relate my powers to her, to hear of how someone else views the Parahuman condition; aside from myself and her sister, after all, Amy doesn’t have many people to confide in.

    But I still have a query, and ask, “Ah, before I go into details, what are these ‘Rules’?” I presume they are some kind of guidelines all those who go out in costume follow.

    Happily, Amy verifies this! “Oh,” she begins with a dismissive hand wave, “Those are the Unwritten Rules. Basically, it’s a form of common courtesy, guidelines so open war doesn’t break out between the heroes and the gangs. It boils down to: don’t go after civilian identities or family, don’t kill or rape other capes, no rampaging or creating a lot of property damage, no killing kids. Barring the Nine, and Lung… sorta, anyone who breaks the Rules is fair game for everyone else to take down.”

    I tilt my head in confusion, “The… Nine are exempt?”

    Amy nods, grimacing in disgust, “Kill-on-sight. Except Bonesaw. Her body’s loaded with plagues, from what I’ve heard.” Ah. Of course. “And Lung gets a pass on the ‘no rampaging’ rule because… well,” she shrugs with a bland expression, “it’s easier and less destructive to just let him work it off, rather than try to take him down.”

    This fits with what I’ve researched over the years, along with my own experiences; when he arrived here in the Bay, Lung was able to take on the entire resident Protectorate team and rout them!

    Strangely, the revelation that open conflict with the Dragon of Kyushu is being actively dissuaded calms me… slightly. I still worry that he will discover what I’d done to his… men, but I am less worried than before that the terrible man will call at my home; and besides, there are more pressing matters to deal with.

    “And you never mentioned my being a Parahuman because of these Rules?” I ask politely.

    She gives a sheepish laugh, “Yeah. After Fleur,” we share a wince, “everyone takes the Rules seriously. That, and it’s not a good idea to out a cape in the middle of Arcadia,” while I digest that, Amy grins regretfully, “I mean, what if you’d been Purity or something?”

    After an affronted gasp, I join Amy in laughing at the very suggestion of my being a destructive Nazi! Honestly! I have no issue with the color of someone’s skin; we are all human, after all. As for the Empire’s views on sexual orientation…

    I have always been more enamored with the female body than the male, and after making the acquaintance of both my male and female peers, I found I much prefer the mindset and company of girls to boys.

    Emma never gave me trouble for it, and made her own preferences quite clearly known. Not that I’d ever pursue my dear friend; she is more my sister than a potential partner in life and love.

    In plain speak: she isn’t Amy. Not that I intend to reveal my desire for a more affectionate relationship with her; I still don’t know her own preferences, and it wouldn’t be polite or tactful to pry, not this early in our friendship.

    Regardless, I would be a terrible addition to the Neo-Nazis plaguing our city. If anything, I may become their bane, should they try hurting those I care for.

    “Wait,” the object of both my friendship and, hopefully, affection, cuts across our shared amusement and implores, “What happened on Wednesday? Last I saw, you were getting ready to leave school and get on the bus!”

    Ah. And now we come to the edge of the proverbial cliff, where my faith and courage will be tested.

    I will not be found wanting, but goodness, this is going to be difficult…

    “I… ended up missing the bus, Amy,” I admit tensely, looking down at my lap and my hands there folded, “You know how flustered I get when Victoria uses her aura on me.”

    My friend rubs my shoulder encouragingly, “Yeah, and she went a little stronger on you than usual; I laid into her when we got home, and she’s sorry. She was just excited about the party, you know?”

    I nod, shoving dread memories aside and manage to speak around the lump in my throat, “Yes, I deduced that the next day, once my mind had settled somewhat,” I sniff and look at Amy; she looks so very worried, “While walking home, I was accosted by ABB slavers.”

    Her entire demeanor suddenly changes, becoming extremely serious. So shockingly swift is this change, I don’t notice her laying a hand over both of mine, such is my surprise; then she blinks, “You’re… fine. A little too much pumpkin pie a couple days ago, but other than that…”

    “I happen to enjoy pumpkin pie,” I squeak around a bright blush, both from her holding my hands and the reminder that I’d consumed nearly an entire offering of the delectable dish at Kurt and Lacey’s on Thanksgiving night.

    Amy shakes her head, looking mildly frustrated, “But you’re not a Brute, and I don’t see a regen factor anywhere; your larynx is a little above baseline human, durability-wise, but it’s been that way since I met you,” a small smile appears briefly, and she says something too low for me to hear, but I can see the light affection in her eyes before it disappears, replaced with disbelief she meets mine again, “You got away without so much as a light bruise?”

    I take what comfort her hand on mine gives me, and reply after a steadying breath, “Amy…” I glance minutely at the terrible folder before meeting her eyes once more, feeling my resolve begin to crumble, “…the people who… assaulted me…” I cannot say it, cannot give voice to the horror I visited upon those slavers.

    Not to Amy.

    “Hey, Taylor, it’s okay,” another shoulder rub, Amy coming to sit by my side as I feel tears fill my eyes, “Whatever happened, it’s okay. Don’t panic,” I chant those two words, immortalized by Douglas Adams, in my mind while Amy tries to comfort me, though her next words of encouragement are more than a bit flinty, “Whatever happened, if they were slavers, they probably deserved it.”

    Leng.

    “Pleash… Pleash, no.”

    “You’re just a fucking kid!”

    I extract one of my hands and wipe the unshed tears away, “Amy… have you ever… harmed someone? With your powers?”

    To her credit, Amy doesn’t flinch before shaking her head, though her voice still holds some stiffness, “No… I mean, I can, but it’s one of my rules not to hurt anyone,” she lifts her hand to pat my face, smiling at me, “But if you did, that’s okay; it’s not like you knew what would happen, right?”

    I don’t answer. Instead, I slowly look at the folder on the table.

    Amy follows my gaze after the silence becomes uncomfortable.

    At length, I respond woodenly, “Not only did I know I was condemning them to a fate worse than death, Amy,” now she stiffens, which makes the lump rise higher in my throat, “but… I know, more intimately than I know my Daddy’s face… I know I could have done so much worse to them.”

    For some time, we simply sit there, me softly crying in self-loathing, and Amy hugging me in comfort; Amy speaks soft, encouraging words in my ear, admitting that she’s considered giving wounded gang members cancer or an STD as a deterrent measure to their continuing activities, while I slowly and steadily compose myself, warring with the awful memories from atop the Pyramid of the Moon.

    Eventually, Amy huffs and mutters, “Gentlest girl I’ve ever met, and she’s got some awful power,” then she shakes her head and asks me, gesturing at the folder for emphasis, “Mind if I take a look, Taylor?”

    I take another deep breath to steady my troubled mind, and favor her with a watery smile.

    “Before we go there, Amy, I have to warn you: the contents of that folder,” I stab a finger in its direction with a curled lip, “are dangerous, and some of the images and words portrayed therein will disturb you… but I have dreamt of these things and more my whole life, in a maze that seems an endless art gallery of carved stone, mosaic and fresco. It contains my research into a lost language that I learned in those dreams, taken from the myriad images I’ve seen… and the monsters who invented that tongue to bend, and even break, the laws of reality.

    “So, welcome to the proverbial rabbit hole, Amelia Dallon,” I finish with a quirked smile that may have been slightly mad, given Amy’s returning wary expression, “I suggest not doing an Alice and tumbling down, because you might not survive the unforgivingly hard landing.”

    “…Damn, Taylor,” Amy laughs nervously, giving the folder one last wary glance before favoring me with a smile, “I think… I’d rather take a guided tour, maybe see what else this language power of yours does. I’ve only been a cape for a little over a year,” she continues when I frown in silent query, “and while powers tend to have multiple uses beyond the obvious, like Vicky’s aura and her super strength, this sounds like it’s a little outside my comfort zone.”

    From the small, apologetic smile she holds on her face after this declaration, I know Amy is trying not to freak out or panic, which is what I’d imagine someone not as well acquainted with me might do.

    I nod in agreement, finally beginning to relax, “Yes. Yes, exercising caution would… indeed be better, for both of us,” after her reply of ‘No duh.’ I shake off the last of my stress, and stand, “But first, a proper tour of my house. Then we can tour and test the bounds of reality,” and hopefully avoid any insanity.

    “Sounds like a plan,” my dear friend chirps, joining me after another distrustful glance at the folder, “Let’s see this convent you live in.”
     
  16. Threadmarks: Chapter 6
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author Scion of Nurgle, Verified Consentacle Enthusiast

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    Worm: Babel

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    6

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    The tour went about as well as I could’ve hoped, Amy giggling at my more humorous stories behind the photographs hanging on the stairwell’s wall and sighing in regret at the photo of nine-year-old me at the State Ballet Championships (I’d placed fourth, just edging out of the running for the Regionals).

    “I took dance classes when I was younger,” she’d said wistfully as we moved further upstairs, “I’ve kept up with it, but there’s not many chances to go ballroom dancing with people in our age group.”

    “You… do realize the Swing style can fit with virtually any music if one is determined, right?” was my smiling and barbless riposte.

    Which brought a quirked lip from my friend, “Yeah, but show me someone – besides you, silly,” she put in with a laugh when I swiftly raised my hand, “that can do Swing well.”

    Acquiescing her point, I then wrapped up the tour of the upstairs (“Daddy’s room, you know the bathroom, guest room, and here’s me,”) and let Amy into my room; there was a brief moment of awkwardness when she laid eyes upon my poster of New Wave, in pride of place over my bed, but that was dashed when she spotted the drawing I’d made of the Labyrinth.

    Begun when I was but four and trying to describe that strange place to my Mommy and Daddy, it’d taken me nearly seven years to complete; the perspective was of one standing before a fork in the path, the walls on either side showing some alien forest (I later learned that the forest in question was home to the Zoogs, a race of violent, sapient rats) and a city of black marble towers that I’ve been unable to relocate or discover the history of. The white floor, a mosaic of fractal patterns, rolls away to the fork, above which the stars and swirling nebulae and galaxies stand ever vigilant.

    It is the most detailed picture in my collection, and the one I’ve spent the most time on. Amy was duly impressed by the image… and this led our conversation back to the subject of my abilities.

    Twenty minutes of summarization on my part, sitting cross-legged upon my bed with Amy’s arms folded on the back of my study chair, my friend’s chin resting on her forearms as she drank in every word I spoke, and we come to the awkward silence of the present.

    For Amy has not so much as blinked for the past minute at least, whilst I become slowly more anxious with each passing second; perhaps I shouldn’t have related my plan to summon the Deep Ones to help protect the city right after explaining their chosen profession… or described the hierarchy of the dark gods that sleep until called.

    I am fairly sure I’ll be able to impress the Deep One’s Overlady enough to garner their respect and allegiance, but… well, they are genocidal barbarians, at their core.

    As for the other… well, I only included the Old Ones for completion’s sake. I’m sure she’ll come out of her stupor sooner than later.

    All the same, I do wish Amy says something soon. I don’t know how much more silence my heart can take.

    “Pardon my language, Taylor,” the subject of my thoughts answers my prayers, not moving from her resting position or relenting in her serious expression, “but your powers are complete bullshit.”

    I wince, more from the last words of that ganger on the Pyramid than Amy’s estimation, and manage to reply tersely, “I didn’t ask for these abilities, Amy.”

    “Yeah, I know. No one asks for the powers they get,” she replies quietly, eyes going distant briefly, but then she shakes her head, as though to clear some cobwebs in her mind, and sits up straight, brown eyes fixed on me, “But, with all due respect, ‘cause I know you’re really smart, but I don’t think you’re looking at your powers the right way.”

    I blink in confusion, “But… their function is self-evident. I can summon…” I trail off at Amy’s raised finger; she looks very serious now, even more so than when I revealed the events of three evenings ago.

    After a moment of silence, she speaks, tone as deadly serious as her expression, “Powers never do only one thing, Taylor. Take… Miss Militia for example,” she gestures at the print on my wall. I’m very proud of it, and hope to attain an autograph at some point in the future, “She can make pretty much any weapon you can think of, but she also has perfect memory recall and she doesn’t need to sleep. Or Vicky: she’s got the aura thing, and yeah, I can’t stand it either sometimes,” Amy adds sympathetically at my grimace, “but she also has super-strength and can fly.

    “Legend can do crazy amounts of things with his lasers; Armsmaster can work with near anyone else’s Tinker-tech, but he has his own specialty just like all the other Tinkers; Velocity can run really fast and can dilate his perception so he doesn’t go crashing into walls,” she ticks off on her fingers, but stops and blinks when I raise my hand shyly, for I have a good question.

    “What about your powers?” I ask quietly, “If you don’t mind my asking.” It is most definitely a personal subject, asking another Parahuman to reveal their abilities, but as I’ve already related the bare bones of what my powers are capable of, I’m hoping dear Amy will reciprocate.

    Mayhap I’ll get a better idea of how truly versatile superpowers can be, extrapolate the information and apply it my own powers.

    Amy freezes, looking like a deer in the headlights for a moment, then lets out the biggest sigh I’ve ever seen from the girl, “Yeah… that’s fair, you’ve told me about your power, and damnit if it isn’t scary. Things that can swallow planets?!” she looks at me with an incredulous expression, which I shrug at.

    “The Universe is a vast and unforgiving place, Amy,” I report easily, if somewhat uncomfortably, “It stands to reason there are creatures occupying it beyond our understanding.” Well, everyone else’s, anyway. I am better equipped to comprehend such things, thanks to the Crawling Chaos’ interventions.

    After she nods with an agreeing grimace, Amy looks down and speaks quietly, “You’re not the only one who can do awful things with their power.”

    I stare in shock as Amy confesses to me, “My Striker power doesn’t just work on people. Whenever a single bacterium touches my skin, I notice; my skin is probably the cleanest in the world, because every organism that lives there spends its time eating dust or dead skin and killing any new bacteria that lands on me… but I can turn them into plagues,” she shivers, looking repulsed, “With just a single bacteria, I can create a disease that could wipe out all live on Earth, or combine multiple cells to create a zygote that’ll eventually become an apex predator, deadlier than anything in the world.” Eh, I’ll let her be content in her delusions for the moment, “I have to hold myself back whenever I heal someone…” she looks so horrified, now; is this what I looked like, when I first confessed my full abilities to her?

    Amy sniffs, and tells me why she’s held her power back, “…because I can effect brains. I can change the way people behave, change their instincts, the way the connections in the brain work, to make them better at… everything, more capable of making sensible decisions, reaction times and memory retention… and that terrifies me, Taylor,” there’s tears in poor Amy’s eyes when she looks at me, “because if I change even the slightest thing in a person’s brain, they won’t be the same person as before. I’d have effectively killed them, and I’m scared of doing that and-”

    “But you won’t, Amy,” I say confidently, looking at my friend just as seriously as she looked at me.

    “How do you know?!” there’s some heat in her tone as she wipes away unshed tears, “What if I have to, or-” what a ridiculous, silly girl she’s being. I must stop her before she spirals into depression, or worse, leaves this house in a huff.

    “Firstly, you’re certainly not the kind of person who would do something like that willy-nilly, Amy. I like to think I know you well enough to say I’m confident you’ll hold true to your convictions,” I say, like it is the most obvious thing in the world.

    Perhaps I am biased, considering that I happen to be attracted to Amy, but the sentiment stands: Amelia Dallon would never have become a healer if she were a violent or uncaring person. I certainly wouldn’t be pursuing a relationship of any sort with her, were that the case.

    “Secondly, in the event of an actual apocalypse, or humanity dropping below five-hundred-thousand persons, we will have no choice but to discard our respective rules for the sake of our species,” that is the final rule Daddy and I formulated, the ‘Last Resort’.

    ‘If all hope has faded, bring out the big guns’, as Daddy’s coworkers would say.

    “As the apocalypse is,” I glance swiftly through my curtains, looking outside at the sky and city, just to make sure, and smile in faux-relief at Amy, who chuckles wetly at my antics, “most certainly not happening, neither of us have to worry about breaking our personal rules regarding the abilities we’ve been saddled with.”

    Amy nods, looking slightly assured, but then questions hesitantly, “And… if someone forces one of us to… break those rules?”

    “Well,” I huff, suppressing the horror that thrills through me at the mere suggestion of such a scenario, “in my case, you won’t have to worry long, because the world will end anyway; I do hope you’d either rescue or kill me before that happens, however,” my smile is sad, but resigned, “I happen to like the world; though there are horrors in it, there is much beauty as well,” to say nothing of the freckled young woman before me, “and I don’t want it to end.”

    Another wary nod comes from Amy, though she’s looking at me like she’s never seen me before, “You’d do the same for me? Like… if Bonesaw gets her hands on me?” She shudders at the name; I cannot blame her. The thought of the youngest member of the S9 showing up on your doorstep is, to take an affectation of Dennis Carmichael’s from my PE class, ‘pure nightmare-fuel’ for any citizen in this nation.

    But how to assuage Amy’s worries?

    I smirk, but it is a cold thing, devoid of humor, “I’d like to see that little terror try to lay hands on you. I’d visit such a horrid and dastardly fate on her, they’d be talking about it a century from now.”

    I may not enjoy harming other living creatures (I stepped on an ant once, when I was five, and cried for nearly an hour), but try to hurt someone I care for, and…

    Well, the Pyramid isn’t the worst I can do to someone, or Leng for that matter.

    I could’ve sent them to R’lyeh, or Carcosa, or the Black Wood.

    Around a blink, Amy returns my smirk, “You’re the only person I know who can use ‘dastardly’ in a sentence and get taken seriously… Thanks, Taylor. You’re a true friend,” as I laugh in sheepish embarrassment, my friend waves her hands in the air, “We’re getting off track. Your powers can summon weird stuff, but I bet that’s not all they can do.”

    Curiosity piqued, I reply, “Well… I’m sure you’re correct… but how do we test this?” without destroying the house, city or surrounding lands, but that goes without saying.

    “Yeah…” Amy taps her lips with a finger in thought; I notice now she’s applied some light makeup, to her lips and eyelids, a revelation which sends my heart into a brief flutter, “Most of the stuff you can summon is either too dangerous, from what you’ve told me, or can’t fit into any of the rooms here. How about… the backyard?”

    She already looks like she’s regretting the suggestion when I shake my head the negative, “The most docile of my summons is a Nightgaunt, and even a juvenile is around the same length as a… city bus?”

    Sure, they are flexible enough to fit into small alcoves, seeing as they mainly inhabit the caves dotting the cliffs of Leng and some seaside locales around the Dreamlands, but out in the open, during the day? They will stick out like a sore thumb.

    Also, I don’t believe the cats of Ulthar would like being summoned. They seemed quite prideful when I spoke to them some months ago, and are more likely to do as they please rather than listen to any command I might give.

    Amy grimaces, “Yeah, not what I had in mind…” we both lapse into silence for a brief moment before my friend slowly suggests, “How ‘bout… trying to do something else? Not summoning something, but changing the nature of an object?” she adds when I give her a confused expression.

    Which immediately changes to surprised shock! How have I not thought of this before?! The First Language can alter the nature of the world around it, in its summoning of strange and fantastic beings, or transportation of one or more persons to another locale in space; it stands to reason that, with appropriate focus and an exertion of will, I may indeed be able to change the composition of an object…

    Or… oh dear…

    “Taylor?” Amy asks worriedly, rising partway from her chair. Ah, my face feels cold, which means I’ve paled more than a bit.

    In a whisper, I explain the dark revelation my mind has supplied me with, “It might not stop at objects, Amy. I might be able to mutate or harm a living being with only a word or two! Oh, why?!” I finish with a despairing cry, burying my face in my hands, “Why must I be cursed with this terrible ability?!”

    “Hey, hey, hey, enough of that!” an arm encircles my shoulders, Amy’s close presence calming my shaking horror to manageable levels, “You haven’t even tried something like that yet, so how do you know?”

    In a huff, I slap my thighs and confess, “Because, as we discussed on Wednesday, human beings are as susceptible to the subtleties of vibratory resonance as everything else in the world! Ergo, Amy,” I finish pointedly to the now-shocked-looking girl, though still with despairing tears in my eyes, “my vocal ability to shatter space and time can, theoretically, effect everything!”

    Her shocked expression becomes flat at the end of my sentence, “Taylor, I dunno if you’ve noticed, but you’re literally the nicest and gentlest person in the city.”

    “You’re just saying that,” I moan, rubbing my ear with a frown.

    Amy shakes her head, “Nope. Everyone I’ve talked to says you’re the least likely person to start a fight or harm anyone; tell me, Taylor,” she squeezes my arm and looks right into my eyes, “Have you ever swatted a fly or bee?”

    What?! “Of… of course not!” is my affronted response, “Why would I ever harm a bee, or a fly? It’s done nothing but buzz into my home by accident! A little sugar and a quick breath and it’ll be outside again!” That’s how I always get rid of such flying critters that wander into my home! Whyever would I swat one?

    “There.” She points at me with a victorious grin, “Right there. Barring those ABB guys – and I’m being honest here, they deserved that – you wouldn’t hurt another living creature if you could help it; you are the gentlest person I know. You’re not going to become the next Bonesaw any more than I am. You’re the least likely person to become a serial killer or join a gang,” and she squeezes my shoulder, gently, her next words bringing a small blush to my features, “I wouldn’t be your friend if you were evil, Taylor. Believe in yourself: you might be able to summon monsters, but you’re not one.”

    …She’s right.

    By Alice’s ribbons, she’s right!

    I could’ve surrendered to despair and destroyed the city with a Star-Spawn in the wake of Emma’s betrayal, but I didn’t! I could’ve summoned… well, there’s several hundred things I know of that could annihilate the ABB, to say nothing of Lung, in a matter of minutes, but I’ve summoned none of them!

    Goodness, why I am getting so worked up over this?

    …Ah. Hormones. Puberty. Of course my stupid biology is picking this moment to act up and make me panic. I assuredly will not miss this, once I come of age.

    And is that a cramp I’m starting to feel? Oh by the stars…

    “Err… Amy?”

    She smiles, “Feel better?”

    I nod, smiling back, though it’s a little forced, “Yes. I really needed to hear that,” from someone who isn’t Daddy, “thank you so much. But, ah, if I could ask a small favor?”

    “Sure. Anything.” Her eyes are bright and eager. Oh god, I can’t believe I’m about to request this…

    “…I’d like to be clear-headed for trying… to change the nature of an object, but,” with a grimacing grin, I glance toward my navel pointedly, “…do you, ah, think you could, um, delay something for a few days, just so I don’t get distracted?”

    She blinks, puts a finger on my bicep while I try not to die from sheer embarrassment, and then the freckled superheroine blushes herself, “Oh! Yeah, sure, no problem, done! Vicky asks for that sometimes, too… You, uh, need anything, for, um, testing purposes? Your power that is?”

    Oh by the Ruby Slippers, just kill me now! “A cup from the kitchen, I think,” now that I think about it… my embarrassment ebbing away, I add to Amy, who’s already on her feet, “Oh, and some dirt from the garden outside!”

    Her bright blush fades in the wake of professional interest, followed by a good question, “What’re you gonna make?”

    With a smile, I stand and collect a pencil stub from the cup on my desk, holding it up for emphasis and Amy’s raised-eyebrow inspection, “I’m going to turn this pencil…” pause for effect, “into a flower!”

    Silence briefly falls, then Amy starts clapping sarcastically.

    “Wow, Taylor. Revolutionary. Genius, even. I’ll alert the Nobel Prize Committee.”

    I huff and fold my arms indignantly, “I have to start somewhere! And it’s safe!”

    “It’s not going to start talking or grow tentacles, is it?”

    “Uh,” I look between the pencil and Amy uncertainly, “I don’t… believe so?”

    “Good enough for me. I’ll be right back.”

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    I jam the pencil point-down into the dirt-filled plastic cup, Amy watching from the head of my bed on the other side of the room, her phone out and recording the incipient event for posterity.

    She’s now wearing her coat, as she’s declared an interest, after hearing of my ability to ‘teleport’ to other worlds, in visiting my dreaming labyrinth. After hemming and hawing over the proposal, and trying not to succumb to the puppy-dog eyes of the target of my affection, I finally agreed to try.

    I’m fairly certain, from what Nyarlathotep related on the Pyramid, that the name of my Labyrinth is ‘Babel’. In the First Language, Ai-agl-syha'h, or Realm of the Word. Once this project is over, I shall try bringing Amy there.

    After all, why should I be the only one to personally view the regal beauty of that place most fantastic?

    Also, as I’ve never seen nor heard any other person wandering those myriad corridors, it’s very unlikely either of us shall come to harm, which means I won’t be breaking any of my promises to Daddy!

    But, of course, there is business to attend before going sightseeing; after giving a huff of satisfaction, a thought comes to me, so I look to Amy and voice my query, “Should I remove the eraser?”

    She waves off my concerns, “Your power seems pretty versatile, from what you’ve told me, so it shouldn’t be a problem! Go for it!”

    Encouraged, I pick up the cup and look upon it, focusing. Translating the First language requires a single-minded focus, so it follows that using the language for a base purpose such as this will make such focus essential, to ensure success anyway.

    My only hope is that no change comes over Amy due to my actions; I should be able to reverse them, but I doubt she’ll appreciate being turned into a fern or some such vegetation, temporary or no.

    I discard these notions. I will not allow anything of the sort to occur. My only desire, in this moment, is for this pencil to become a flower! A beautiful flower that will dazzle and impress! Something that Amy herself will be awestruck over!

    With one last deep inhalation, I speak in a steady and resonant voice, “Uln lw'shuggornah hanah'f'n gn'thor! Ai!

    Or: “Become a flower, add water, and prosper! Let it Be!”

    Once more, I feel the vibration within my bones as the words leave my lips; before my eyes, the cup, soil and pencil twist and distort within a circle of light that seems both flat and a sphere, until, with an anticlimactic pop!...

    I am holding a simple earthenware pot, filled with normal soil that’s become thick and dark with moisture, but the small tree-like lotus blooming from the dirt is anything but ordinary.

    Fractal patterns of every hue and shade dance within the petals, shifting with every motion of my excitedly shaking hands in the light filtering through the window; gently, I place the dazzling, dark-green-stemmed flower upon my desk and crouch to eye-level with a happy clap, a delighted grin splitting my face as I crow in victory, “Oh, Amy! It worked!”

    A stumble and soft curse herald Amy’s arrival at my side, phone held closer to capture the beauty of my first ever creation! “Holy… carp, Taylor,” I look at Amy, who’s grinning just as wide as I am, “That’s amazing! Did you visualize it?”

    I shake my head swiftly and look back at the beautiful lotus, “No! I just wanted something… beautiful,” a small blush colors my cheeks, but I say it still, shyly, “Something that you’d be impressed by.”

    “You ham!” my friend nudges my shoulder with her own, turning her phone off in the process; then she looks at the flower and sighs, “You didn’t have to do it for me… but I guess that’s the kind of person you are. Thank you,” and then she reaches out to touch the glimmering, jewel-like petals, her tongue sticking cutely between her lips, “Now, let’s see what we’ve got here…”

    Her finger touches a petal, my heart fit to burst with eagerness! Surely she’ll be impressed!

    Amy’s jaw drops open and her eyes fly open in surprised shock, which slowly turns to an expression of awe; oh no, can she not comprehend it? Oh, I hope I haven’t made my Amy go mad with the complexity of my creation! However will I fix –

    “So beautiful,” my friend breathes in near-reverence, stroking the petal her finger is resting on very gently indeed, “Wow… this is so cool…”

    Mayhap… this was not the best idea; I tap Amy on the shoulder, trying to get her attention, but she swats at my arm!

    “Go ‘way Vicky, I’m busy,” she says distractedly.

    Oh! Really!

    “Amy!” I snap, flicking her ear lightly; this seems to snap her out of her daze, though she glares at me briefly before recognizing her surroundings with owlishly blinking eyes; mildly humored at this reaction, I smile wryly, “Welcome back to reality, Amy Dallon. Did you have a nice journey into the depths of the pretty flower?”

    “Flower…” she mumbles, still looking like she’s getting her bearings. After shaking her head and looking between me and the flower, she says excitedly, “Taylor, do you have any idea what you’ve just done?!”

    I shrug uncertainly, “I… made you a flower?” I honestly don’t see what all the fuss is about; it’s just a flower. Amy’s looking a tad frantic, as well. Maybe some tea will help calm her down?

    She looks at the small yet dazzling plant with eyes shining with excitement, gripping the edge of my desk and babbling, “This isn’t a flower, Taylor, this is artwork at a genetic scale; it’s like… crystal, but alive! It’s so naturally durable I bet it can grow anywhere, except in a vacuum of course, but you could put one on Mt. Everest and it’d thrive! It reproduces by deploying spores, rather than seeds, so it’s more like a fungal growth than a classic plant, despite appearances, and, sure, it’ll only do that once every six months, but it can grow with little sunlight or even heat! Its cellular structure has redundancies, but none of them are set; I can make this little flower do damn near anything! I can give this thing emotional Shaker effects that mimic Vicky’s, or even make it capable of growing a fruit that could solve world hunger! This could have a huge impact on cape therapy and agriculture! It doesn’t even have a life span! I bet it could live for ten thousand years and never wilt, holy shit this is so awesome…”

    As she continues to mumble excitedly, I studiously ignore her use of foul language, more from exposure to Daddy’s friends than anything, manage to preen and, with a small smirk of victory, quip, “So… about that Nobel Prize?”

    My dear friend barks a laugh and replies, “Okay, yeah, you’ve got me. This is incredible, Taylor.” She turns to me and smiles, a glimmer of elation and happiness in her features, “You… made this for me?”

    I nod, so enthused that I drop my diction temporarily so as to get my point across, “Mmm-hmm; I figured, seeing as you don’t like breaking your own rules, you should have something to work on that helps people yet doesn’t have to do with heal – eep!”

    Amy hugs me so tightly I feel my ribs pop, “Thankyouthankyouthankyou, ohmygod, Taylor, you’re the best!” Smiling brightly at her infectious delight, I return the hug in equal force.

    And then, due to our crouched positions, I fall over, taking Amy with me.

    “Eek!”

    “Oof!”



    “Um… sorry?” I can tell she’s not entirely honest with that statement, said from her position of straddling my thighs.

    I must closely resemble a tomato at the moment; Amelia certainly does, “It’s… quite alright, Amy. Please get off me.” Before my skirts start to wrinkle. Or I take advantage of this situation and try something unnecessarily forward, like pull her down and kiss – no, bad hormones! Away with you puberty, nobody asked for your presence!

    A little maneuvering is required before we regain our feet and dust ourselves off; happily, this takes long enough for the both of us to temper our embarrassment and compose ourselves, upon which Amy breaks the awkward silence with a sheepish request:

    “So, uh, how about that Labyrinth?”

    “Hmm? Oh! Yes, of course! Let me grab my coat.” And a scarf that matches my sash, in case the temperature of that place is like that of the Bay, currently.

    That, and it wouldn’t do for me to go gallivanting about in a miss-matched outfit! I have a reputation (of always being well-dressed) to uphold!

    After a pause, I add, “And some snacks and tea.” Best not go hungry or thirsty while there, and the change of scenery may do us some good.

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    {/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\}

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    “Whoa…”

    I nod in agreement with Amy’s awed estimation, holding her soft, warm hand and gazing upon the Labyrinth with my own eyes for the very first time.

    Coming here was as easy as saying the words. The intervening moment, between ‘there’ and ‘here’, was marked by the hue and shape of the world running like an abstract watercolor, before reality snapped back into place with jarring swiftness.

    Now, Amy is grinning in awed wonder at the towering walls about us. We are in a stretch of corridor that has no artwork; rather, it is covered in countless Cuneiform characters, the slashes and wedges of that ancient script making for quite the impressive vista as they relate the birth, life and death of the Lawmaker, Hammurabi, in a poetic Edda.

    One day, I shall have to relocate this stretch of wall and transcribe the priceless history it contains to paper. One day, that isn’t one involving relaxing activities, like holding Amy’s hand (my heart is soaring, oh stars!) and exploring the nicer aspects of my powers.

    At one end, the path forks in two directions. On the other, there is a four-way intersection, the straight path turning right after some distance. Above us, the stars and swirling nebulae are bright and colorful as ever. A keening chime seems omnipresent about our persons, barely heard over our quiet yet excited breathing.

    Amy’s voice is a whisper as she gushes, “Yeah, wow. Now this, this is what I’d expect from you, Taylor. No huge horrors or weird monsters, just a huge palace dedicated to language,” she grins up at me, nearly vibrating with excitement, “So, where to first?”

    I shrug, admitting ruefully, “Honestly, I have no idea where in the Labyrinth we are, Amy!” as she gapes at my smiling face, I explain, “This place is incredibly expansive; I’ve been wandering it all my life, and I’ve never passed the same mural or bas-relief twice.”

    After she looks around in slight worry tempered with a healthy dose of awe, my friend’s gaze returns to me, “So… what? We just walk until we find something interesting?”

    That… could take quite a long time indeed, walking until we find something, though I don’t say so aloud. At times, I could walk for an entire night of dreaming and only come across one or two stretches of wall dedicated to artwork most breathtaking.

    Rather, I consider what other mode of transportation we might avail ourselves of. The paths here are quite large, and should be able to accommodate most of the creatures and beasts of burden I know the names of…

    Coming to a resolution, I smile impishly at my companion, “Well, yes… unless you’d like to ride a Nightgaunt?”

    This is apparently the correct thing to say, as Amy starts bouncing and grabs my arm in excitement, “Oh yeah! If it’s anything like your flower, I’ll be so inspired!” I’d… best nip this in the bud, before it becomes an issue.

    I mean, Amy’s impetuousness is all well and good, but there is a time and place for experimenting and puzzling out the biology of a creature that isn’t supposed to exist in our home reality. If she was rendered speechless by a mere flower, a Nightgaunt might be a bit much for her mind to handle. Best give her a week before letting her touch one.

    Oh, and when the work at Daddy’s job begins, make sure she stays away from the Shoggoths. I don’t think the PRT would appreciate the world’s greatest healer imitating the Elder Thing’s magnum opus with reckless abandon.

    “Okay, but,” I add the qualifier, visibly tempering my dear friend’s excitement, “You have to put your gloves on; no, Amy,” I continue when she opens her mouth to protest, “You became unresponsive from touching a flower. Imagine how you’ll react to one of my creatures, beings that haven’t evolved on our planet, let alone dimension.”

    Hmm. Odd that I think of them as mine, when they’re technically sapient beings. Something to meditate on at a later date.

    After a frown most adorable, Amy relents, though with reluctance, “Fine,” she plucks a pair of nice gloves from her jacket, adding with playfulness, “But next time we get a chance like this, I’m touching one, or else.”

    “Or else what?” I raise my eyebrow; what could she possibly do to me…

    “I’ll give you 44EE-cup boobs.” My gasp of horror and disgust make my friend grin all the wider, “I’m kidding, Taylor! Haha, your face! Like your frame can handle that much mass! Ha!”

    I sniff and reply faux-waspishly, “Should you ever do such a thing, I’ll turn your sister into a Shantak.”

    “What’s that?” she asks in mild interest, taking my hand again with a smile, shifting her grip so the skin of our wrists touch.

    “You’ll find out some other time,” I say easily while forcing the butterflies in my chest to calm down, “but… very well. I think I know what someone’s getting for Christmas,” I finish in a singsong voice, which makes Amy squee in excitement.

    Now that the girl of my affections is mollified, I return to focusing on my intention: summoning a Nightgaunt.

    The process of deciphering the required words is much easier than creating a flower, I find mere seconds later, and speak with a small bit of happiness thrilling through me, because, to put my musings simplistically, Nightgaunts are so cool!

    Nog, Shaggornyth!

    A shiver and small sigh come from Amy as I complete the short incantation, the sound somewhat… duller, more muted, than the resonating rumble of my other usages of the First Language.

    Given the nature and abilities of the creature, this doesn’t bring cause for alarm in my mind, even as the eldritch creature makes its appearance.

    In the direction of the nearby intersection, swirls of black smoke and shadow ripple into existence, seemingly from a single point, a singularity of pure darkness; the wisps quickly and silently take shape, forming a tall, skeletal humanoid with great wings that span the width of the corridor. Digits ending in great claws as long as my forearms, a faceless head crowned with a pair of thick, curved horns, and a long prehensile tail that ends in a wicked barb, the Nightgaunt shakes itself like a dog and folds its leathery spans, using their elbows to rest itself before us, lifting its legs up into its body and… waves a long-fingered hand in greeting. How nice!

    The great creature is quite large indeed; the body alone, from the soles of its feet to the crown of the head, must be more than twelve feet… I suppose! It is certainly more than twice the height of Daddy, and he is one of the tallest people I can easily remember.

    Blacker than midnight, the Nightgaunt seems a featureless shadow cut into the fabric of reality; their leathery, oily hide only reflects starlight, which is the only reason I can make out any features at all.

    Visual inspection of our steed for this afternoon completed, I return the wave with my free hand and look down at Amy… who has her eyes closed, a contented look upon her face? “Amy? Are you quite alright?”

    She nearly purrs before looking up at me with a smile, “I like the way your power works. It’s like… a pipe organ made of crystals, played by Beethoven… holy crap, is that it?!” She finally realizes the presence of the Servitor of Odens, pointing at the Nightgaunt with wide eyes and open mouth.

    A satisfactory reaction. That will teach her not to call me a nun.

    “Yes, Amy.” A tug on her hand has us striding toward the midnight flyer, who is now looking about with casual interest; Amy is slightly hesitant, gripping my arm and giving the creature before us a distrustful frown, to which I chuckle and try to assuage, “Never fear, Amy: Nightgaunts are quite docile and understanding beings. Aren’t you, big guy?” I finish, looking into the featureless plain of the summon’s face with a winning smile.

    It nods, then makes some gestures and movements, all in silence.

    Body language… hmm…

    “Did… he… just try some kind of sign language? And why can’t I really see it?!” are Amy’s mildly distressed queries as we come within touching distance, tilting her head this way and that, trying in vain to locate a better vantage by which to view our steed.

    “In reverse order: the skin of a Nightgaunt absorbs most visible light. The only reason we can make out any features is due to the low light pollution here allowing the stars to illuminate our surroundings. And… yes. I think it said…” I look at the rather large summon questioningly; it repeats the gestures, “Ah. It is saying, near as I can deduce, ‘You needn’t worry. I will harm neither of you.’”

    Amy gives me a sharp look in reply, “Near as you can deduce?”

    I return Amy’s look with a bland one of my own, “I am a cunning linguist, Amy, and he’s a being that disrupts sound and light wherever he goes, to the point where even his actions are muted,” a shrug, “So, yes, I’m fairly certain that’s what he’s saying.”

    “Fair enough,” she bites her lip and looks up at the Nightgaunt, who, apparently reading our desire to move about easily, lowers a large hand like a platform; Amy looks at it distrustfully, until I give her a light push and encouraging nod, joining her on the impromptu elevator.

    “Huh. I can’t really get an idea of how he’s put together, but the skin feels kinda soft,” Amy remarks, brushing her gloved fingers over the dark being’s wrist as we ascend.

    As we position ourselves upon the Nightgaunt’s back, me in front, Amy hugging my waist, I explain that this is the reason behind both Nightgaunts being rather fast indeed, as well as why they’re so quiet: the softness of their hide causes the aural and lumen oddities that give Nightgaunts their color, a dark so absolute that, in sunlight, they appear flat as construction paper.

    To this, Amy declares, “As soon as I figure out where to grow a bed of those flowers – and we really need to pick a name for them – I want to study one of these Nightgaunts. An ability like that could have a lot of applications, from music to military.”

    “Certainly something to think of,” I reply agreeably and brightly, our steed turning his horned head like an owl to nod quickly in agreement, making us both break down in brief giggles.

    Sobering after a few seconds of humor, I look about for a mural or relief for us to browse; seeing none in sight, I look over my shoulder, adjusting my scarf to cover my mouth partially (I don’t know if a Nightgaunt is effected by wind resistance, so it’s best to not take chances).

    “This is your tour, Amy dear,” the soft blush she’s sporting intensifies, making her freckles stand out in stark relief, “So, go ahead! Pick a direction and we’ll –”

    Mimi!

    Both our heads (and the Nightgaunt’s, though neither of us notice in our shock) whip to face left, the source of a distant but clear cry of desperation and frightful worry.

    Hesitantly, Amy asks, “Uh, didn’t you say…?”

    I finish the statement in a hard, suspicious tone, “Yes, Amy, I’ve met no one else in my travels here.”

    Mimi! Mimi!” the poor voice, sounding like a girl of our own age, seems to be on the verge of tears! Also in pain. Oh goodness, this can’t be good!

    We surely must investigate; after all, Amy is a heroine, and I have aspirations to become the same! A quick glance and pointed nod at my friend has her nodding seriously and gripping my waistline tighter.

    Placing a hand on the Nightgaunt’s shoulder-blades, I point in the direction we heard the cry and say earnestly, “Take us to them, now!”​
     
  17. Threadmarks: Chapter 7
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author Scion of Nurgle, Verified Consentacle Enthusiast

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    }{}{}{}{}{}{}{

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    Worm: Babel

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    7

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    “Hi!”

    Amy looks up tiredly from her lunch. A tall brunette with glasses, ribbons in her hair, smiling kindly. “Uh… hi?”

    “May I sit here?” Her smile turns hopeful, her voice a near-perfect pitch as she makes her cautious request, and wow, that yellow dress really complements her figure… shut up, Vicky.

    “Sure…” Amy tries to smile back, but damnit she was tired. Maybe she shouldn’t have gone to the hospital last night, but… there were just so many people who needed help, and she couldn’t sleep.

    With a small, happy giggle, the girl sits; her every move is graceful, smooth… beautiful, even. Amy sipped her apple juice and wondered who this odd yet pretty girl was.

    The girl smiles at Amy, “Taylor Hebert. This is my first day here.” Oh, a freshman.

    Also, is she blind or something? “Amelia Dallon, sophomore,” she introduces herself and braces for the inevitable.

    “Are you really?” Taylor tilts her head curiously and picks up her apple; no fatty foods on her tray, Amy notices, just healthy options. Huh… “Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Amelia.”

    “Amy, please,” she says automatically, then takes a bite of her sandwich. No need for anyone to get into the same habit as Carol.

    After swallowing a piece of apple, Taylor nods, “As you wish.”

    Her voice is a burr that reminds Amy of the opening to a favorite movie of hers, which causes a brief flutter in her chest, ‘Did… did I just get hit on?!

    A short silence, as both girls eat their lunch, follows; during it, Amy gives Vicky, who’s looking over curiously, a subtle gesture, telling her sister that everything’s fine. In her own mind, Amy tries to figure out just why the well-dressed and sorta pretty girl sitting at her table, eating with impeccable table manners, hit on her… or was she reading too deep into it?

    After all, they’d just met and Amy wasn’t wearing any clothing that flattered her figure and… oh, is that the Latin textbook?

    “I thought you couldn’t take Latin till sophomore year,” Amy observes while picking up a fry.

    Taylor laughs sheepishly and replies, “Oh, well, I’ve already completed the Regents requirements for Spanish, French, German, and Italian,” Amy’s eyes widen at the girl across her, fries forgotten, as Taylor ploughs on mercilessly, “so I was given the option to either attend a second Physical Education period, or Latin,” the kind smile was back, and now Amy saw she had just the smallest touch of makeup on, “The choice was rather obvious. Are you in a second language course as well?”

    After imitating a fish for a few seconds, Amy manages to find her voice, “Ah, uh, yeah, um, I’m taking Latin, too, sixth period,” the bright, radiant look on Taylor’s face makes those butterflies come back; but Amy is virtually immune to them, due to Vicky’s presence in her life. She knows how to deal with them, and snarks at the rather polite girl in good humor, “In your case though, it’s more like, what, eighth language?”

    Rather than get offended, Taylor blushes, “Um… it’s actually my twelfth language.”

    Amy managed not to choke on her juice, “W-what?!” No way. Taylor looks about the same age as Amy! “Are you actually, like, thirty or something? Or do you just not sleep?”

    A sardonic smile decorates the girl’s lips, “Mental condition, actually. I’m incapable of understanding any mathematical equation more complex than simple multiplication.”

    “Oh. Crap, sorry,” Amy wilts, realizing that she just made an idiot of herself, “I, uh, I’ll shut up now.”

    “Oh, I’m hardly offended, Amy,” Taylor smiles again, “C’est la vie. I’ve learned to live with it. And besides,” that smile turns mischievous, “my ability to pick up languages makes for excellent entertainment. Observe.”

    Then, to Amy endless humor and shock, Taylor turns to a nearby table full of boys and says quickly, “Seu penteado faz sua cabeça parecer um ninho de passarinho.

    The boy she’d said that to looks at her weirdly, “What?”

    “Oh, I was just admiring your hairstyle, waxing poetic as it were,” chirps Taylor brightly while Amy fought to keep a straight face; she didn’t know what Taylor said, but it probably wasn’t what she said it was.

    After the jock turns away, muttering about weird freshmen to his agreeing buddies, Taylor turns back to Amy and beckons her closer. Amy complies, and Taylor tells her in a breathy whisper, “I said, ‘your hairstyle makes your head look like a ratty bird’s nest.’ In Portuguese.”

    Once Amy got her breath back, she exchanged email addresses with Taylor; later that night, after school, she told Vicky what’d happened. Carol ended up barging into their room to see why Amy’s sister was screaming, only to find out that Vicky was actually laughing her ass off.

    No amount of stupid chiding from Carol could get Amy down, though. She’d found a friend. A polite, pretty, and weird friend. That was fine, though, she decided while preparing for bed. Amy was a little weird herself.

    That night, Amy dreamt of a seaside city. Taylor was there, dancing and singing in a town square, to the joy of the populace.

    When she woke, she resolved to find out more about Taylor, her first friend… hopefully.

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    {/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\}

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    Three months after that day in Arcadia’s cafeteria, Amy was positive that she thought of Taylor as more than her first and best friend, much to her own pleasant surprise.

    She’d been around Vicky for so long, shamefully lusting after her blonde bombshell of a step-sister, she barely looked at other girls the same way; it was her most private secret, even more closely held than her ability to effect brains.

    Okay, that was a lie. The looking at other girls part, anyway. Amy could appreciate how that girl’s butt looked in those jeans, or the way this woman’s boobs jiggled just right as they laughed or jogged.

    It didn’t matter, because Victoria was perfect.

    Or, so Amy thought, until she got to know Taylor Hebert, walking dictionary and High-Queen of Rockin’ Legs.

    Smart, funny, and possessed of a wit that never failed to get Amy’s spirits up, the girl was a ray of sunshine in the healer’s otherwise dull and dreary life.

    From their Latin class to PE, and everywhere in between, Amy found herself looking forward to each new day in Arcadia, all because of Taylor. And not just because the girl was graceful, pretty, and never seemed to let life get her down; no matter how bad things got, whether it was an Endbringer fight or a Nine sighting, Taylor didn’t cower.

    No, Taylor looked those nightmares in the face and laughed at them. Sure, things are bad, but look at that flower, or that painting on the Art Board! Listen to this song, read that book, and don’t let the ‘dark portents’ get you down! There’s still beauty in the world, and those monsters can’t take it all away!

    Amy didn’t realize how much she’d needed uplifting words like those, until Taylor said them to her face, laughed in the face of humanity’s encroaching night. “Things will get better,” was the Hebert family motto.

    But it wasn’t just this indomitable optimism that endeared Amy to Taylor.

    From the first time she’d bumped Taylor’s arm playfully in Arcadia’s hallways, after one of their quickly-becoming-a-regular-thing verbal spars (it’d started as a ‘who knows the most unused words’ challenge after Latin class one day. Taylor won with ‘sporange’), Amy knew that the tall, graceful girl she’d become fast friends with was a Parahuman.

    Corona pairs, check. No Brute rating, or anything unusual about her body… except her larynx. That was like a palace of crystal, a chalice of perfection that chimed and thrummed and keened with every word spoken. Next to her legs, Amy thought it was Taylor’s best feature…

    At the same time, unknown Parahuman befriending her and Amy being okay with it?

    That raised so many red flags, if Amy’s life was the now-defunct World Cup, no players would’ve been left on the field.

    The thought that Taylor had Mastered her had occurred to Amy, but the thought was discarded after a few days; Taylor wasn’t the kind of person to disrespect someone’s free will, and besides, Amy’s personal M/S checks had all come away clean. The New Wave healer still wanted her sister in the worst ways, true, there was just someone more… intellectually attractive, in her life.

    Mentally stimulating… with legs that would put some runway models to shame, and Taylor was only 14!

    Ahem… anyway, even once she’d discovered Taylor’s age, Amy kept worrying: if she hadn’t been Mastered, then… what was Taylor’s cape identity?

    That’d been the worst week of her life: trying to figure out which cape her friend was.

    Was she Empire? Cricket, or, holy shit please no, Purity?

    Both of those theories were discarded by the end of the week; Cricket, according to PRT intelligence, needed an electronic voice box to speak due to her throat having been slashed at some point in her past. That, and Cricket was more muscular and scarred up than Taylor.

    As for Purity… too short to be Taylor, thank fuck.

    It was the same thing for Shadow Stalker, Parian, and Circus, the most well-known indie capes in the city. Parian and Stalker were too short, and Circus’ body type, while similar, wasn’t the same; Taylor wasn’t as flat as Circus, but, given that binding was a thing, the possibility was still there… until Eric and Crystal came back from a patrol a week before Halloween, blushing like mad and grinning like a fool, respectively.

    Circus apparently did bind… Crystal snapped a picture (quickly deleted once Aunt Sarah found out) after Eric cut the woman’s shirt with a laser during a brief engagement… and wowza, those were some big knockers. Putting those binds on to the point of looking flat-chested must’ve been more painful than the graze Eric gave her…

    So Taylor wasn’t Circus either. But who?!

    Amy wanted to find out so badly, but she also didn’t want to offend or drive off the pretty, gentle, snarky, polite girl who was starting to overtake Vicky in Amy’s nightly fantasies (it was the legs. It wasn’t Amy’s fault! Those legs were works of art!).

    So Amy forced herself to be patient. The moment would come.

    And boy oh boy, did it!

    By the end of Taylor’s halting explanation of her abilities, Amy couldn’t say she was particularly surprised; more like angry as all hell. The fuck was up with this shitty world, that the gentlest, kindest Parahuman (hell and brimstone, the kindest person!) she’d ever met had the most terrifying power Amy ever heard of, barring her own and Nilbog’s that is.

    It wasn’t fair; Taylor deserved a better power than that, something that could uplift and amaze people. Not… this shit with uncaring, cosmic gods that could give Jack fucking Slash nightmares.

    And yet, it was kind of fitting; Taylor loved learning new languages, so it followed that her power would reflect that. Amy liked helping people and biology, so… yeah.

    Fitting, also, because Taylor was fucking scary when she got angry. Polite girl suddenly mad at you? Amy had exactly zero sympathy for anyone who got on Taylor’s bad side; whatever they’d done, they probably deserved the tirade they got.

    …Except now, said tirade might involve being transported to a place that made Hell look like a week in the Bahamas… before Leviathan drowned the place, anyway.

    The weird thing was that neither Taylor nor Amy had any problem stopping the other, should one of them be forced to use their powers for evil. In Taylor’s case, she wouldn’t let anyone force Amy to break her rules; in Amy’s case, it was more holy fuck no, Amy would not let some bastard make Taylor destroy the whole planet for shits and giggles, or any other reason!

    No… it wasn’t weird. It was fucking endearing and if Taylor was any sweeter to her, Amy was going to contract terminal diabetes! Or start puking rainbows.

    Which nearly happened a few minutes later, when Taylor made… the flower.

    It was perfection, possibility given physical presence! A canvas, a mold, a block of marble, all at once, all for Amy to sculpt, knead and paint to her heart’s content; with this one fucking flower, made from a godsdamned pencil stub, Amy could treat Mark’s depression, help Vicky control her aura at home (Vicky uses aura around flower, flower absorbs effect and blasts Vicky with it, Pavlov’s your uncle), make a fruit that prevents cancer and solves world hunger at the same time… the possibilities were endless!

    Taylor made it for her, for Amy, simply out of the kindness of her pure, incorruptible heart; sure, it would cut into her hospital time, experimenting with the small, unassuming (not really, it was one pretty flower) potted piece of vegetation, but Amy was getting burned out from going there every day. If Vicky said she was, if Taylor worried (and she did, remarking on Amy’s lack of sleep whenever they saw each other at school the day after one of Amy’s shifts), then Amy was burning herself out, no matter her own statements to the contrary…

    And Taylor, Taylor, gave her a way out. Gave Amy freedom. A way to express herself, without having to worry about what people would think, because the medium Amy would now work with was so beautiful.

    It was all Amy could do not to pin the tall girl down and kiss her gorgeous, brilliant brains into so much jelly. To fulfil some of her… lighter nighttime fantasies with the girl. The temptation was there. So much that she didn’t try to stop either of them from falling over, with Amy on top.

    But the moment passed. Taylor blushed so hard though! Okay, so did Amy, but Taylor had a gymnast’s thighs, so Amy felt she could be forgiven for wanting some brief, close contact with those long, long legs.

    Yes, Amy decided while they got ready to rip reality a-fucking-sunder and explore somewhere only Taylor had ever dreamt of… she had it bad, and, if her guesses were right, either Taylor didn’t know, didn’t realize she was gay (the sky was blue, Director Piggot was a bitch, and Amy was so gay), or… Taylor wasn’t actually interested, liked boys more than girls (she could be bi, but Amy doubted it… kinda), and Amy was getting her hopes up.

    Or, Taylor did know, and was playing it slow. Which was so sweet and adorable it made Amy want to either squee with delight or throw up in nervousness.

    A date to Olive Garden was in their future, of that Amy was fairly sure. But not with Vicky, oh god, no fucking way; the last thing Amy wanted was to go on a double date with Vicky, Dean, and Taylor. Oh god oh fuck oh shit that would just be the worst thing ever, especially if her sister used her aura at any point in the meal.

    Although… the hilarious mental image, of Taylor angrily shoving a breadstick up Victoria’s nose while Dean looked on in shock, was one which Amy would treasure for the rest of her life, and helped temper her embarrassment after all-but glomping Taylor.

    This was further tempered when her friend spoke a few words that made Amy feel like her bones had been used as a xylophone and rippled over her ears in a wave of flutes and drums…

    And then they were in the Labyrinth, Taylor’s Labyrinth.

    Fourteen-years-old, and with an infinite art gallery as part of her power, in the form of a stone maze beneath the most beautiful night sky Amy had ever laid eyes on… yes, Amy thought as she looked around in curiosity, she could get used to this!

    If only Taylor’s power wasn’t such bullshit, she might’ve even promised herself to tell her family later, but… no.

    Carol would have a stroke, Vicky would be… Vicky, which translated to ‘get underfoot and badger Taylor’, and Mark… well, he might be interested. But no. This wasn’t Panacea walking in this place, it was Amy. She’d keep Taylor’s secret, for now.

    Still, with the way Taylor’s power worked, in a crystal chalice nestled in her throat, chiming and making the laws of reality her bitch… Vicky had nothing on this, Amy had to admit, and that was before she saw her first Nightgaunt.

    The being Taylor summoned looked two-dimensional, like someone cut a piece out of reality, leaving a black… shape. At first, it was an unnerving sight; then the unnaturally silent creature began using sign language to communicate its nonviolent disposition, and Amy realized that Taylor was even more bullshit than she’d originally thought.

    Beings that slept between the stars? Yeah, Amy could get behind that; she’d read enough King and other horror stories to appreciate the fact that human intellect wasn’t the be-all, end-all of what the universe could produce, and the nuances of her power only drove that point home.

    Summoning intelligent beings, though? Ones that might have their own evolutionary path outside anything she’d ever seen?! Actual aliens?! And Taylor could talk to them?!

    Nilbog who?

    Also, Amy had to stop herself from trying to throttle Taylor when her crush denied her touching the Nightgaunt; on the other hand… she was getting one for Christmas?!

    Wrapping her arms around Taylor’s waist (‘Don’t go too low, don’t be too weird, don’t be too forward, OH GOD, she has NO RIGHT smelling THIS GOOD!’), Amy decided that the very first chance she got, she was making an intelligent creature for Taylor; the girl needed protection, and she’d already given Amy a gift, so it was only proper (heh-heh) to return the favor!

    The flower she’d been given would make for a good starting point for the base creature; it was durable enough to take a beating while also versatile enough for her to stack powers for days.

    But… if Amy was going to make a bodyguard for her crush, what powers would it need?

    Amy was just debating whether to give the theoretical creature taking form in her thoughts a Changer ability or a Blaster effect (‘Wait, why not both?! Both would be fun!’), while simultaneously deciding which direction they should explore this strange and beautiful place, when a girl’s cry interrupted her musings.

    .

    {/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\}

    .

    ‘This was supposed to be a day of relaxation,’ was Amy’s exasperated thought as the Nightgaunt she and Taylor were riding surged through the Labyrinth; despite its speed, clearing dozens of meters in seconds, not slowing down around corners, Amy couldn’t feel any inertia. It was like they weren’t moving at all, ‘No heroing, no Vicky or Carol or Mark, just me, Taylor, some tea, good food, better company, maybe a movie, and cuddles. Cuddles would’ve been nice.’

    Cuddles might’ve led to… no. Amy shook her head against Taylor’s back as they turned another corner at blinding speed. She needed to focus on the matter at hand, not how nice it’d have felt to nuzzle up to Taylor during the possible movie and – fucking go home, puberty. ‘C’mon Amy, focus.’

    Someone was here, in this odd yet gorgeous place, where only Taylor had ever been. This someone is in trouble, possibly wounded, if the pitch of their voice was any indication. Whether she wanted to or not, Amy was a heroine, and that meant helping people in need.

    Also, she’d always wanted to save the damsel in distress. It was better than being the damsel, in Amy’s professional opinion.

    One last corner, the Nightgaunt coming to a halt that was smoother than any Amy had ever felt, and the healer realized that… given the fact that Taylor was clearly a powerful Shaker, she should’ve realized that the only way someone other than Taylor could access this place… was if they were also a very, very powerful Shaker.

    Hence why she wasn’t all that surprised to see the Parahuman Labyrinth (‘Shaker 12, mentally unstable,’ Amy recalled from a PRT briefing on exceptionally dangerous capes), in Asylum-issue orange jumpsuit, laying in the middle of the path, a Hellenistic stone archway, bracketed with shield-toting knight statues, in front of her revealing a darkened hallway between its columns, the slight blonde girl bleeding from her shoulder wait what.

    “Let me down,” Amy hissed to Taylor’s back; the Nightgaunt seemed to understand, lifting a hand so they could dismount easily.

    “Who is she, Amy?” asked Taylor, sounding very serious and not at all bothered by the sight of blood. Given that she’d condemned four (deserving) people to a fate worse than death, that didn’t surprise Amy either.

    “Labyrinth,” Amy answered shortly as their feet hit the floor and the orange-jumpsuit-clad blonde girl cried “Mimi!” in a heartbreaking voice; as Amy rushed forward, Taylor jogging at her side and the Nightgaunt loping behind, she explained to her fellow Parahuman, “She’s a Shaker who’s been mentally impaired by her powers. I think they were keeping her at Asylum East.”

    “There’s a Parahuman asylum?” Taylor sounded surprised. ‘Hm. Well, she’s been a Parahuman nearly all her life, so… yeah, I should explain how Triggers work, later.

    Amy simply nodded as they arrived at the wounded, crying girl’s side; Labyrinth looked up at them with a gasp, blue eyes wide and frightful in her pale face. Amy knelt slowly (‘No sudden movements, don’t startle the Shaker 12…’) by her side and said gently with a wavering smile, “Hey Labyrinth, I’m Panacea. Do I have permission to heal you?”

    Labyrinth blinked, looking between Amy and Taylor with obvious shock, and whispered imploringly, “Please, save… Mimi.”

    “I’m going to assume that meant yes,” Amy grabbed the girl’s wrist… and immediately winced in sympathy, “Yep, deep laceration in your shoulder, smaller scrapes, mild sprain in your right ankle, and you’re down to six pints of blood. Good thing we found you so fast, but you’re going to need a lot of water.” Turning off Labyrinth’s pain receptors, Amy healed the damage and went for her bag, collecting the thermos of tea Taylor gave her before they came here.

    Good thinking, there. Amy’d been hoping for a picnic, but, well… there was always next time.

    Then Taylor spoke up from where she was watching the archway with the Nightgaunt, “Who did this to you?” Amy felt a shiver run down her spine at Taylor’s tone; it was wooden, hard, and held the promise of spiteful vengeance.

    She snuffed the fear that followed; Taylor could be scary when she got angry, which the whole school found out when a boy tugged one of her pigtails in the halls, at the beginning of October. Rumor had it the stupid guy’s ears were still ringing from the tongue-lashing Taylor gave him.

    That, and when Amy got her hands on whoever harmed Labyrinth, someone who was gentle as they come (rumor had it), she was going to turn them inside out and then give them to Taylor to deliver to some blasted hellscape.

    “Who?” Labyrinth breathed, looking at Taylor (who really needed a cape name) and her creature in confusion… and a little awe.

    Not surprising, really. Taylor rocked that blue-bronze outfit, with matching striped knee-high stockings and sneakers, like no one else.

    Looking over her shoulder, the ebony-haired girl’s green eyes seem to sparkle with a smile behind her round glasses, “I’m Taylor. What’s your name?”

    “Elle… Please, help Mimi! She’s in… trouble!” the other Shaker replied haltingly, still sounding a bit weak even after a few gulps of tea, not that Amy cared, as Taylor’d just given her name away, like it didn’t even matter! Then again, there wasn’t much time for figuring out a cape name… damnit, they needed more time!

    “Try not to talk too much, Elle, you’ve lost a good bit of blood,” Amy said briskly, handing the blonde a cup of steaming tea, which she eyed suspiciously, “I’m Amy, by the way. Now, who cut you up like this?”

    Elle pointed at the archway, a thrill of panic coming clear to Amy’s power as the girl paled further.

    Both Taylor and Amy looked in the same direction, the Nightgaunt stiffening and taking a defensive posture near Taylor.

    And the rock of anxiety that’d been forming in Amy’s stomach became a continent.

    Clink… clink… clink…

    Walking toward them, more than fifty yards away, was a caricature of the human form, all white with odd joints; faceless, featureless, and barely illuminated in the flickering lights on the other side of Labyrinth’s portal, it’s feet sporting two blades that doubled as toes, producing the sound as it walks calmly toward the girls –

    Clink… clink… clink… shhhhnk!

    – and the long, bloody claws sprouting from its fingers made a sinister sound when the infamous murderer ground them together, sparks flying and illuminating his hideous form.

    Every hero worth their salt knew this visage, had been warned of it.

    Few who saw it lived to speak of it.

    Amy’s Aunt Sarah had shown her a picture of this villain, not long after her Trigger, and gave her, along with her sister and cousins, a stern warning: “If you see this, you run. You run and you find help and you don’t look back.”

    Sphere, a corrupted Tinker, the most infamous and bitter of all the Simurgh’s hideous works.

    Mannequin.

    The fucking NINE were in the Asylum! ‘Oh, fuck me! Can this day get any worse?’

    As she saw Taylor’s shoulders tense and her hands curled into fists, Amy realized…

    It just might get worse…

    .

    {/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\}

    .

    Amy’s hiss of fear and Elle’s quivering whimper seem to drift to my ears from far away.

    Mannequin.

    Despite what some people may assume, I am hardly sheltered from the awful tales of woe that mark humanity’s recent past, names whispered in the dark that bespeak the evils unleashed upon our world.

    Nilbog. Ash Beast. Sleeper. Endbringers. The Slaughterhouse Nine.

    My Mommy and Daddy made sure I would not be caught unawares, would be prepared, mentally if not physically, should any of these demons visit their unique brand of destruction upon our fair city. There may not be much anyone can do about Sleeper, but the others…

    I know their names, and some of their deeds.

    The being before me is easily the most infamous Tinker in the world… and one of the most dangerous.

    Mannequin.

    The tale of Sphere’s rise and fall is well-known to any who follow cape news; a Tinker specializing in contained systems, he wanted to create a moon-base, to work toward the noble goal of saving humanity from the genocide being visited upon us by the nigh-indestructible terrors, the Endbringers.

    And then the Third Endbringer, the Simurgh, twisted him into her weapon. Mannequin.

    After, he joined the Slaughterhouse Nine. Ever since, he has hunted both cape and civilian, but especially other Tinkers whose dream coincided with his own failed aspiration: to make the world a better place.

    The caricature of horror before me was a man, once. Now?

    Now… as the beast approaches, halfway down the hallway, halfway to Elle’s portal… I see nothing in his bearing that bespeaks compassion or mercy.

    Elle’s condition, related by Amy mere moments ago, only crystalizes the action I must undertake to ensure our survival. He harmed her, attempted to kill her.

    No more.

    Distantly, as I square my shoulders and move to stand between the monster and Amy-

    (“Taylor, help!” ah, she’s trying to get Elle, who is frozen in terror, to retreat. No matter, really. Escape isn’t exactly an option),

    -I realize that, despite my intentions and all my preparations against the mere thought, I have unwittingly placed Amy in danger, and am on the border of breaking my promise to Daddy.

    I shall have to rectify this conundrum post-haste.

    “You’ve made a mistake today, Mannequin,” I declare with venom lacing my tone, keeping the mass-murderer in the center of my vision and ignoring Amy’s fearfully whispered protests.

    The Tinker ceases in his approach. Tilts his head. Points a bloody claw over my shoulder and makes gestures with his free hand.

    Give me the girl, and I’ll kill you both quickly.

    I huff with no small amount of indignation, and reply waspishly, “Is this your form of offering incentive? I feel I must suggest you take classes on negotiation, if killing us is your best offer,” Mannequin twitches oddly while Amy softly curses and Elle whimpers; he did not expect me to understand. Regardless, I shake my head in denial, “Make a better offer, leave us, or face my ire.”

    The final word is inflected so that he knows, without a doubt, that he will not enjoy what I have in store for him. Notice is served, as they say.

    Not that he cares for the warning, if the meaning behind the gestures that follow are any indication:

    Then I’ll have you watch as I skin them alive, after cutting off your arms and legs.

    He tenses to leap forward. Amy and Elle whimper loudly. Next to me, the Nightgaunt (I’ve named him Inky in my head) tenses.

    And I… I see red.

    How dare he suggest such a barbaric treatment of our persons! More than this…

    He wants to kill Amy.

    “Allow me to correct myself,” I say, the cold steel of my voice forcing Mannequin to still once more, “You have made several mistakes… not that you’ll live to regret them.”

    He lunges forward, arms and legs extending on chains to carry him forward faster in a loping, inhuman gait.

    Mannequin never makes it to the portal, for I am ready for him, “Inky, kill.”

    Apparently, whatever Mannequin has done to himself doesn’t allow him to see Nightgaunts, for the Tinker’s loping charge doesn’t cease as the shadowy Servitor moves past me, a silent shadow, and barrels into Mannequin with a muted crash of eldritch leather on Tinker-tech armor.

    Snik.

    In the low light of the hallway beyond Labyrinth’s gate, I see Inky’s black claws pierce, with a quiet sound, through Mannequin’s torso; the murderous Tinker’s limbs spasm and twitch, and several openings appear in his white carapace. Weapons, no doubt.

    He never has the chance to use them, as Inky’s barbed tail twitches swiftly, a blur of black barely seen.

    Snik-Snik.

    The twitches stop, and the openings close. Inky drops Mannequin’s limp form to the ground with a loud clatter.

    There. I exhale shakily, letting the tension of the moment bleed away. Crisis averted.

    Taking a deep breath to steady myself (and hide the forcing down of my gorge, for I just murdered someone!), I turn on a heel and check on my companions.

    Both of them are right where I’d left them, though Amy’s coat is a little bloodstained now, due to Elle hanging on the older girl like a limpet; happily, it seems Elle’s wounds are closed and her other, minor scrapes dealt with, so…

    I clap my hands once, making both gaping, wide-eyed girls jump with the sudden movement, “Well! That certainly happened,” my voice is high and shrill with shame and fear, “Amy, dear, is Elle well enough for travel?”

    A few blinks are required on Amy’s part before her mind restarts, “Uh, yeah! Um, are we g-going back to your house?”

    That statement gets Elle’s attention, as she jerks toward the portal and cries out again, “Mimi! Please… we can’t… leave Mimi!”

    The tone of her voice is torturous to hear, the longing and fear and love that underlie her words tugging at my heartstrings; perhaps this Mimi is a dear friend of Elle’s, or perhaps more.

    Nevertheless, Amy’s grip on Elle’s jumpsuit doesn’t relent, “Uh-uh! You’re not going back in there!” Then both girls pale and gape at something behind me, which makes me turn swiftly, a fierce word of command on the tip of my tongue –

    Clank.

    And Inky drops Mannequin’s corpse, now wrapped in several slightly bloodstained bedsheets, next to Labyrinth’s portal, near the wall of my own Labyrinth, before sliding through the opening with silent smoothness.

    “Ah. Thank you Inky,” I say nervously, even as I wonder what I can even do with the mad Tinker’s body; turn it in to the authorities? Sure, whyever not; I turn back to Amy and the distressed damsel straining against her, “Elle, are the Nine after Mimi?”

    The blonde nods slowly, looking between me and the Tinker’s body with watery eyes and a quivering lip; I return the nod with a curt one of my own, and face the portal, steeling myself once more, “Well then.”

    “No.” Amy growls, drawing my attention; goodness, but she looks quite angry.

    “Um… ‘no’ what, Amy?” I venture, mildly confused.

    My dear friend whips her smartphone out of a pocket and consults the screen; nodding in satisfaction, she turns her hard gaze back on me, “You’re not going in there either, Taylor. It’s the Nine, for fuck’s sake!”

    “Amy! Language,” I chide, looking at Elle; she is surely younger than I, eleven or twelve at the most! Such raunchy epithets aren’t proper for her delicate ears… ah, Elle looks very slightly amused by my statement. Maybe living in a mental hospital has exposed her to such language…?

    “Whatever,” the brunette girl thumbs the screen, hauling Elle to her feet as she does so, and starts typing and talking at the same time, “I have Legend in my contacts, and we’re both not cut out for rescuing someone from the freaking S9. Good thing this phone’s Tinker-tech, or Shatterbird’s special brand of fuckery might’ve interrupted my signal,” Ah. Well, yes, the Triumvirate may be better suited than I for a task such as this, “Sent. Okay, seeing as the Nine are about to get stomped by Legend, now can we go ho-”

    And then the hallway beyond Labyrinth’s gate is filled with red fire.

    .

    {/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\}

    .

    Spilling from the ceiling in an almost-liquid cascade, I am struck, briefly, at the beauty of its formation; like blooming flowers and rapids on an estuary, it swirls and undulates and spreads faster than any natural fire mine eyes have ever witnessed.

    Beautiful.

    Amy doesn’t seem to think so, if her jumping into a clearly unamused Elle’s arms and screaming in shrill terror are any indicator; luckily, Elle falls on her bottom, taking Amy down with her, which causes the shrilling to cease.

    And then Inky’s tail, which darted into the fire between one blink and the next, deposits an unconscious red-headed girl in my arms, sending me onto my bottom with a soft, “Oh!” of alarm.

    An unconscious, red-headed girl who looks to be about my age, with tear-tracks emphasizing the cigarette burn-scars on her poor, pained face.

    Of much greater import, however, is the long, deep and bleeding gash across her breasts, parting her left nipple and exposing her ribs and I can see her heart beating and her lung is bleeding there’s so many cuts so much blood oh my goodness gracious I’m going to throw up.

    “MIMI!”

    “HOLY FUCKING SHIT!”

    I nearly vomit right onto the horrifically injured girl; luckily, Amy is a fast thinker, and places one hand on my neck even as she places the other on Mimi’s chest.

    Like magic, my nausea is suppressed even as my senses are suddenly heightened. Blinking, I glare questioningly at Amy, who is pale faced in her terrified whispering, “If the Nine are after her, they won’t be far behind. I’ve upped your adrenaline production, now please Taylor, I need to focus on healing… Burnscar?” her face twists a little in confusion and disgust.

    “Her name… is Mimi,” Elle insists through her tears, wringing the redhead’s hand with a pitiful expression on her face.

    I shake my head and extract myself from beneath the girl, gently laying her on the ground and stepping over them, so I might give Amy room to work and be better positioned to give Inky orders.

    It is now I find my sash, skirts and dress have blood, ashes and dirt on them! Oh, and this is one of my favorite outfits!

    Hm. Maybe… “Zhro (clean/mend),” I incant, a trill of wind-chimes and whistles against my ears, and my clothes are pristine once more!

    “Whoa!” comes from Amy; looking to her and Elle, I find not only their clothes, but Mimi’s as well, have been cleaned and mended! Amy smiles up at me, about to congratulate me… and then her eyes widen in abject terror at the portal once more.

    ‘Goodness,’ I huff mentally, looking exasperatedly in the same direction, ‘What is it this... oh. That’s the Siberian.’

    Yes, that is most certainly the Siberian, white and black stripes covering her nude body, and, interestingly, her hair, stalking toward a posturing Inky with blood on her clawed hands, grinning an equally bloody, eager smile as her dark eyes lock with mine.

    …But I feel… nothing, when I observe her. There is something… unusual, in her bearing, but I cannot put my finger on it.

    Regardless, I am not about to let the slayer of Hero harm Inky or accost my dear Amy, or Elle and Mimi for that matter!

    So I glare at her, point, and say, “M’gah! (Still/Stop/Cease!)”

    The Siberian stops mid-stride at the sound of a single, sharp drumbeat, not ten paces (more or less) from the archway.

    And… stays there. Unmoving. Unbreathing. Oh, goodness, is she suffocating? Not that I’m terribly worried about her wellbeing; this is the Siberian, after all. But I may need to use this ability on other, less, ah, durable opponents, should I become a hero. Having those I capture suffocate due to my ability wouldn’t likely endear me to the public or authorities…

    No, wait, her eyes are still moving; she… appears to be trying to fight against the word of command I’ve placed on her, given the slightly tense expression in her yellow, glassy eyes.

    “Not so terrible now, are you?” I taunt in a quavering voice; the Siberian’s eyes go hard in frustration and anger, but she is still incapable of movement.

    “Bullshit,” Amy’s voice comes to my ear in relief, “I’ll say it again, Taylor: your power is complete bull-”

    “Amy!” Elle’s young voice pipes up, to my amusement, “Language!”

    A brief moment of silence falls before I huff with laughter, followed by Amy and Elle giggling. Curious, yet not about to take my eyes off the villain who has caused our country such monumental grief for the better part of a decade, I ask mildly, “Amy? How is Mimi?”

    The giggling ceases, my dear friend’s voice clinical and serious, “She’s lost a lot of blood, Taylor. We should get out of here, and quick,” I completely agree, and am about to turn to request Elle close her gateway (I do not want to know what, nor wish to allow, the Nine might get up to in my realm) when a cultured man’s voice calls over from further into the hallway.

    “Oh, leaving so soon? But we’ve only just begun the party!”

    Inky moves closer to me, sweeping his wings about both myself and the three girls I’ve protected; only once I am safely ensconced within his dark wingspan do I see the speaker.

    He is a man of average height, wearing a white dress shirt that is rather worn and filthy; if that is not enough of an affront to my sensibilities, both his jeans and shirt are ripped and bloodstained. A machete twirls in one hand…

    His face, however, is quite fair, and I would dare say he is most handsome with his nicely trimmed hair and goatee; I would say this, were it not for the razor sharpness of his white smile, or the absence of an important aspect of humanity in his sky blue eyes.

    Of the Nine’s membership, there is only one being who this can be, and so I bid him a cold voice, “I’m afraid we have other places to be, Jack Slash.”

    He tilts his head, still twirling the machete, still grinning with that condescending, alien look in his eyes, “I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage, miss…” he gestures with his free hand, as though to prompt me…

    And a little blonde girl peeks around him, looking curious, but her eyes brighten when she sees something, which results in a cheery wave, “Oh! Hi, Panacea! Are you here to join in our game? Burnscar didn’t want to play, but you and your friend look like fun!” Jack Slash nods, but doesn’t stop staring at me; there is a small spark of curiosity there.

    Fantastic,’ I muse disgustedly, ‘I’ve become interesting to another mass-murdering monster.

    “The both of you can get fucked!” Amy roars, more furious than I’ve ever heard her; more quietly, she says, “Taylor, I’m pretty sure the cut on Bur-uh, Mimi’s chest… I think Jack Slash did it.” The hesitancy in her voice when she names Mimi… Elle must have given her quite the admonishing look.

    “Watch your language!” Bonesaw, because it must be Bonesaw, what with the frilly blue (horribly bloodstained) dress and bouncy blonde curls, chides Amy with a waving finger… before gesturing at me, “Can’t you see there’s a nice young lady present? Oh, and,” she addresses me with an imploring tone and too-wide eyes, while I feel my dander rising to unspeakable heights at her cavalier and open attitude, “wherever do you get your dresses?”

    “Now, poppet,” Jack Slash hasn’t taken his eyes off me, or stopped grinning that damnable grin, “why don’t you let her introduce herself first?”

    The little murderer claps merrily, “Oh, yes! Tell us your name! Then we can play! You, me and Amy! Burnscar and Labyrinth don’t want to play with us anymore,” her grin is, if anything, more menacing than the Jack Slash’s, “so I’ll make sure they’ll be together forever!

    By the Cheshire and Oz, I am so very much done.

    “Amy, Elle,” I whisper, hot fury coloring my voice, “cover your ears and close your eyes.” Louder, to Jack Slash, I reply in a tone that bespeaks the indignant rancor that burns in my heart, “You wish to know my name, Jack Slash?” his smile wavers slightly, eyes becoming slightly hard, but I do not care!

    So many innocents, children, dead at his hands and blades, to say nothing of his allies.

    They have threatened Elle and Mimi with fates that would not be outside the King In Yellow’s inclinations.

    They wish to do far, far worse to Amy and I.

    They will not have the chance. I won’t allow it! As Legend has not arrived yet, I will have to be the knife that cuts this… this cancer from our nation, our world!

    “You can ask it from the ferryman,” I snarl, “as he drags your vile soul to Tartarus!”

    The machete twitches.

    Sparks fly from Inky’s wing as he deflects the attack; mere steel is no match for the hide of one of Nodens’ Servitors. Good thing it wasn’t silver, or I’d likely have been beheaded by that attack.

    They will not have another chance.

    I take a breath, amidst more intermittent sparks and the clatter of something metal scurrying toward Elle’s archway; then I make a prancing, graceful leap to the left, putting the Siberian between myself and the other two members of the Nine…

    And speak: “NOG, GOF’NNN OT MGEPO’GHNAHH! (ATTEND, SPAWN OF THE ELDER THINGS!)”

    The words that leave my lips have the flavor of oily bread and stale tea; they sound like the playing of a mad orchestra belonging to some damned and forgotten civilization, along with the baying of some primordial beast about to pounce upon its deserving prey.

    As frightening as the sounds and tastes are, the viewing of the onset of my latest summon is far and away more horrifying.

    Mainly because, as I am willing it to appear in front of the Siberian, the first thing I witness is a black hole appearing, mere feet from the murderous being’s breasts, before a limb of green flesh exits the hole, manifests a mouth of jagged, terrible teeth…

    And it eats the Siberian in a single bite.

    A shiver accompanies the claws that rake down my back at the sound of the Shoggoth singing, a terrible and beautiful aria in a tongue long forgotten issuing from its many mouths, which manifest as more and more and moreundulating green flesh roils forth from the hole in reality; as dark red eyes form on these green limbs and begin whirling about, idly inspecting their surroundings, the fleshy beast’s form filling the hallway and still growing, I hear Bonesaw’s shrill scream of abject, denying terror and Jack Slash’s continuous, fearful cursing, the clanging of blades and stamping of fleeing feet providing a macabre duet with the singing abomination between us.

    Forcing my (perfectly understandable) terror down, and ignoring the empathic shiver of Inky’s own dread as the gargantuan beast begins wriggling its manifold pseudopods, I point and command in a voice that shakes the worlds about us with righteous fury:

    F’ah n’gha, ng nilgh’ri ahf’f’hafh, ng nogephaii Leng! (Kill them, and all who aid them, then return to Leng!)”

    The Shoggoth’s answer is predictable and prompt: a warhorn-like roar leaves several of its mouths to the accompaniment of a thousand voices in every pitch and accent imaginable (some of which are definitely not native to my world) laughing in childish eagerness, along with a single joyful word, crying with unmatched, sadistic glee.

    A word that I’d hoped to never hear at so close a range; there are very, very good reasons why I’ve never wandered into Leng, after all…

    A word that awakens some primal, genetically engraved fear in the deepest portions of my soul, before the Shoggoth races after the fleeing members of the Nine with reckless, insuperable abandon, shattering walls and obstacles as it goes:

    TEKELI-LI!
     
  18. Threadmarks: Chapter 8
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author Scion of Nurgle, Verified Consentacle Enthusiast

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    Worm: Babel

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    8

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    The sounds of chaotic destruction issue forth from Elle’s portal, becoming more distant with each passing second, interspersed with the odd Tekeli-li!’, feral roar, and explosion.

    I, on the other hand, am frozen in awed, numb horror. ‘I just threw a Shoggoth at the Slaughterhouse 9. In an enclosed space, a facility dedicated to the psychological healing of Parahumans… oh my goodness, that wasn’t very thoughtful of me at all!’

    In the future, especially when I deploy the promised Shoggoth for construction/waste disposal purposes at the Dockworker’s headquarters, I shall have to take every possible precaution against the rather potent capacity for psychic trauma this particular creature can inflict! It is good that I warned Amy and Elle, and Mimi is thankfully unconscious, or they would be as fraught and disturbed as I, due to my close encounter with the Elder Things’ slave!

    A bone-deep shiver works its way through my body just as Inky moves once more, smooth and silent as silk, to collect the wrapped bundle containing Mannequin’s corpse; while I am not very concerned, far from it really, about the Nine’s well-being in regards to the Shoggoth’s pursuit…

    This event has truly crystalized my concerns about the catastrophic amounts of damage my abilities can produce. Goodness gracious, I’ll need far more practice and research before trying anything like this ever again!

    CLANG!

    “Ah!” I jump and cry with fright at the sudden sound of the knight statues, on either side of Elle’s gate, swinging their shields together to block the view of the Asylum’s now-quite-destroyed interior; the next moment, the archway and knights sink into the floor of the Labyrinth with nary a whisper, vanishing completely from existence.

    As Inky drifts over to where the portal was located, scratching silently at the white mosaicked ground with a head-tilt of bemusement, I turn about to inspect my companions with wide-eyes.

    Elle is straddling a still-unconscious Mimi’s waist, looking at me with the most soulful, understanding expression I’ve ever witnessed in my life; slightly beyond them, Amy is still rising, freckles standing in stark relief on her pale face, mouth working slightly as she tries to formulate a query or statement, hands shaking as she lowers them from her ears.

    Perhaps I should speak with Daddy about purchasing earplugs. Also, therapy for Amy, Elle and myself… or perhaps our respective parents (and whoever in the PRT acts as Elle’s guardian) may be persuaded into adopting kittens for us. I have heard kittens help those who have gone through particularly scarring trauma, like car accidents, damaging injuries, and unexpected encounters with mass-murdering psychopaths.

    Oh, and it feels as though something is now trapped in my throat, the lump forming at the sight of Amy’s wary expression.

    Clearing it as best I am able, I speak hoarsely, “Are… you both alright?”

    Elle nods slowly, then replies with a small smile, “Thank… you. Taylor.”

    Woof,” Amy exhales in relief at seeing the gate’s absence before touching Mimi on her neck; nodding in curt satisfaction, my dear friend rises slowly and shakily to her feet, clearly trying to get her breathing under control, “God-d-damn, th-that was too clos-s-se!”

    Worried on her behalf, I make two shaky steps forward, “Oh!” before crumpling to my knees in mental exhaustion.

    My vision swims in a twisted kaleidoscope of white mosaics. A pair of pleasantly soft and warm hands caress my face after a moment of this; like magic, my vision clears, and the return of my sense of balance allows me to view Amy’s concerned face.

    She looks like an angel. I chuckle wetly at the mildly delirious thought.

    “Yeesh, Taylor,” Amy states, moving to put my left arm over her shoulder so she might help me stand, “What the heck did you just do? Last I checked,” she continues, in the tone of a mother hen, without pause as she helps me over to Elle, who is now gazing at me concernedly even as she rubs Mimi’s stomach, as though to confirm her red-headed friend’s continuing presence, “you didn’t have such high cortisol levels; that, and whatever you did partially ruptured your eardrums! Your larynx has a Brute rating, not the rest of you!”

    “‘M sorry,” I mumble and slur as she sets me down once more, next to Mimi, “C-couldn’t… think of anyt’in’ else tha’… would’a stopped them,” I make a wretched sniff against the feelings of self-disappointment and shame that war in my heart at Amy’s words.

    “Oh, damn. Taylor, I’m not mad,” assures Amy, voice soft, and then she hugs me, pressing the side of my head into her ever-so soft chest, “Just… please, take care of yourself. When… w-when the Siberian appeared…” her voice fails her, and she buries her face in my hair, whispering in a caring tone, “I don’t want to lose my only friend.

    I return the hug fiercely, wishing that I did not feel so horrible so I might assuage my dear Amy. Instead, I simply tighten my hold on her waist and listen to the sound of her continuing heartbeat, and try not to break down crying. We stay like this for a while: Amy holding me, my clinging to her, Mimi murmuring in her sleep, and Elle humming an odd tune to herself as she picks at stray threads on the bottom hem of Mimi’s shirt.

    The tender moment is broken by the sound of a snarling, furious beast, making both myself and Amy jump and squeak in fright. “What was that?!” Amy demands, head swiveling about just as much as mine, searching for the source of this sound most terrible.

    Elle clears her throat sheepishly, drawing our attention; around a small smile, she pats her stomach, “Sorry. I’m, uh, pretty hungry. The Nine… they attacked before lunch,” her face twists in a grimace, “Not that it would’ve… been really filling.”

    This statement is enough to kick Amy’s mind into gear, as she nods and starts speaking quickly, “Oh! Yeah, neither of you have been getting the right amount of calorie intake for your ages, and all we have on us are salty snacks and a couple pre-packaged muffins… damn, and I’ve got to do more work on Bur –Mimi, sorry Elle – I have to finish getting Mimi back to her former weight, too,” she sighs and looks between Elle and I at our confused expressions while elucidating, “With the amount of blood she’s lost and how deep that gash on her chest was, plus all the other injuries she got from the Nine, I had to shift some of her body fat around, and I really don’t want the mentally unstable pyrokinetic Shaker/Blaster to wake up to smaller boobs. No offense, Elle,” Amy adds at the end with a light wince.

    I nod to convey my understanding of Amy’s statements, as my throat is still sore enough to make the thought of speaking unconscionable; I may not have much in the way of breasts, they are more mildly muscular pectorals than anything resembling the hallmarks of blossoming womanhood, but if I did I don’t believe I’d much appreciate them disappearing suddenly.

    Elle stares at Amy for a long moment following this admission, then slowly looks at Mimi’s chest.

    The shadows at the edges of my Labyrinth’s walls undulate and ripple, the sound of scraping metal brushing against my ears; next to me, Amy shivers as Elle herself turns her gaze slowly back to the world-renowned healer.

    There is no sign of amusement there, in Labyrinth’s piercing stare, but there is little anger either, “Fix… it.”

    Given that she is obviously a very powerful Parahuman, I deduce that her lack of intense ire is a very good thing indeed.

    To Amy, I ask conversationally, “Is there anything you will require, Amy dear?”

    My question causes Amy’s pale complexion to take on a splotchy hue, as though her face doesn’t know whether it wants to blush or not, but she manages an answer readily enough, “Uh… um… yeah, a couple jars of peanut butter should do. Three or four, if I’m being realistic.”

    “Good,” Elle deadpans, not turning her gaze from us, but at least the shadows have stilled, “I liked my Mimi's boobs the way they were, and I don’t want her angry with you.”

    I blush again. Yes, Elle and Mimi are very likely more than simple friends.

    More to the point, I draw myself up and ask Amy lightly, “Do we have any more tea?” at her nod, I implore, “Pour me a cup, Amy dear. I’ll need it to bring us all home.”

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    {/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\}

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    Returning home is as easy as leaving, except this time I am bringing guests; ordinarily, such an event, entertaining this many unexpected guests, would result in my anxiety crashing through the roof as it attempts to escape Earth’s gravitational pull and place itself in geostationary orbit (I may not be able to perform complex mathematics, but the underlying theories are easy enough to comprehend, so long as there are few equations involved).

    The events of today, however, have proven to be anything but ordinary. My largest concern at the moment isn’t even Inky’s presence at the far corner of our backyard, covering the bundle of Mannequin with his body and lounging there, nor is it the two Shakers I have all-but abducted (for their own safety, of course!) from a government facility, or that I shall have to prepare everyone a filling meal once we are settled, as befits my desire to be the perfect host. A frozen pizza, some Texas toast, and a few glasses of lemonade should sate our collective hunger nicely!

    No, the greatest trouble at the moment is far and away more mundane: getting Mimi through the backdoor without waking her up.

    While I am, to brag, rather physically fit due to my ballet and, by association, acrobatic devotions, and Amy is no slouch when it comes to fitness, Biology savant and coming from a family of dedicated heroes as she has, Elle’s power troubles drive the poor girl to distraction, which makes her current mission extremely difficult.

    “The rock on the left, Elle. No, no! Your left,” I insist exasperatedly from where I am holding Mimi’s shoulders, Amy getting more and more visibly frustrated in her holding of the redhead’s knees as Elle, shivering lightly in the late November air, meanders near my backdoor, searching with increasingly visible frustration for the fake rock that hides the backdoor key.

    I add comfortable and warm clothes for Elle and Mimi to my list of items that simply must be acquired. Happily, my house is warm… sundresses, and some jeans, should they have to make their leave; they are under the aegis of the PRT after all, and Parahumans of their caliber will no doubt be missed.

    “Why don’t you just, I dunno, use a word that’ll help her focus?” Amy suggests in what could be misconstrued as a biting statement, but is actually just her becoming more strained as time passes.

    “I’m not about to do something like that without Elle’s consent, Amy, and she’s hardly in any state to give such,” I reply evenly, resulting in an agreeing groan from my fellow Parahuman, while shifting Mimi slightly so her head doesn’t loll too far to either side, patience and strength beginning to run out, “That aside, Inky! Could you – ah, thank you, Inky.”

    Inky’s tail ceases in its meticulous straightening of grass blades (I do not wish to know what that’s about), whips across the yard at my request, upturns the appropriate grey rock and delivers the key to a surprised-looking Elle’s hands before patting her on the head lightly, much to her giggling pleasure.

    “Hurry up already!” Amy demands with a face red from strain and stress, “Before my arms fall off!”

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    {/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\}

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    Twenty minutes and a good amount of Taylor whirlwinding around making sure everyone was as comfortable as possible, Amy’d just finished up with Burn-Mimi’s last healing session, distributing the last of the third peanut butter jar in converted biomass around the redhead’s breasts and polishing off some old hairline fractures, when her phone vibrated with the fourth text since returning from the Labyrinth.

    With a sigh, Amy picked up her teacup and glanced around the guest room the girls had retreated to: Mimi was lying unconscious on the bed in front of her, now wearing one of Taylor’s sundresses, a burgundy offering that provided modest covering while nicely complementing the girl’s short, fiery-red hair. Elle had selected it herself, and did both the undressing and dressing herself, as Taylor didn’t think such an action would be “proper” for her or Amy to perform.

    Amy used the same excuse, even though she wasn’t nearly as embarrassed as her ebony-haired crush; she’d seen people in all states of dress, in her time as Panacea. What held her back was the way Elle looked at Mimi.

    If the two of them weren’t an item, Amy would eat her beret.

    Speaking of Elle, the blonde Shaker was now in a lime-green dress of her own, sitting on the floor next to Taylor with a wide, happy smile shining on her lightly-freckled face as her fellow world-walker regaled Labyrinth with tales and pictures of places and creatures most fantastic. Tea for Taylor, lemonade for Elle, with the girl of Amy’s affection gesturing at something on a sheet of paper excitedly as the two conversed in hushed whispers.

    The sight sent a pang of jealousy through Amy; she didn’t completely understand the way Taylor’s power worked, beyond that it was her voice that made the magic happen, as the saying went. That Elle could, and that Taylor probably could understand her fellow Shaker in equal measure…

    She shoved the jealousy into the black box at the back of her mind, where all the things she didn’t want to think about went to die. Taylor wasn’t Amy’s girlfriend (much as she wished for it, at times), and… well, Elle seemed quite taken with Mimi, so maybe she was reading too far into things again.

    Unlocking her phone, Amy read the text from Aunt Sarah, and let out a loud sigh that drew the other (conscious) girl’s attention.

    The previous texts had been understandably worried, borderline panicked queries into Amy’s well-being and location, with Amy assuring Lady Photon that she was safe and sound, oh, and had she mentioned that her best friend was a Parahuman?

    It’d taken a reminder of Fleur on the freckled healer’s part to keep New Wave from descending en masse on the Hebert household; it irked Amy that everyone in her extended family seemed determined she live as sheltered and padded a life as possible, when, if the mousy-haired girl was being honest with herself, Panacea was easily the strongest member on the team.

    Not that any of her family knew that, Vicky excluded.

    “Something the matter, Amy?” asked Taylor with honest interest, drawing Amy’s attention and derailing her musings. Elle blinked up at her as well, a few of the buds on the rose vines she’d made snake over the walls (no thorns, which Amy took to mean Labyrinth was calm) blooming into multicolored flowers, only some of which were actually roses.

    ‘This is my life now,’ thought Amy, taking a fortifying sip of Taylor’s excellent tea to order her thoughts, ‘Wrangling S-class Shakers and walking through dimensions,’ she paused at that thought, ‘At least it’s not the ER on a Saturday night.’

    Waving her phone for emphasis, Amy replied with an apologetic tone, “It’s my Aunt Sarah; I had to tell her what we did and where we went, but,” she put extra inflection on that ‘but’ before Taylor had a panic attack, the bespeckled girl’s wide eyes widening further a good indicator that her crush’s anxiety was approaching the breaking point, “given that the… incident,” and wasn’t that a gentle way of putting it, “happened in a PRT-managed location, there’s nothing New Wave can actually do about it, so my family won’t be coming over to give us the third degree.”

    “Oh,” Taylor breathed, eyes moving side-to-side in thought for a moment before she gasped slightly, “But… oh, doesn’t that mean we’ll have to report to the PRT so they might debrief us on these awful events?” Elle looked back and forth between the two girls, like she watching a tennis match, idly stroking a page depicting a blue forest as she did so.

    Amy shook her head and spoke in her most apologetic tone, “Not… exactly. Um, on that topic, Taylor: what do you think of ‘Annotator’?” Amy smiled brightly at giving voice to the name she’d come up with for Taylor’s cape identity, that she’d already (kicking herself) told Aunt Sarah to give to the Director…

    The girl in question tilted her head in confusion, blinking those green eyes of hers, “An editor and assurer of grammatical accuracy? Well, it is a fine word, Amy dear,” the brunette’s heart fluttered at the last, even though she suspected Taylor used that form of address with more people than just Amy, “but I am unsure how this pertains to a conference with the Parahuman Response Team administration…”

    “Your cape name, Taylor!” Amy clarified quietly with a fond smile, “You can’t just introduce yourself to the Director with,” she slipped into a falsetto voice that made Taylor’s face pinch in humored irritation, “Hello, Director Piggot! My name is Taylor Hebert, welcome to my convent! Please wipe your feet, and mind the eldritch taxi-slash-guard dog lurking in the backyard!

    “Okay, okay, yes, Amy, I admit, it is a good idea to have an alias,” admitted Taylor exasperatedly, but with a smile on her face, one which was reflected on Amy’s; Elle, on the other hand, had covered her mouth with both hands to stifle her uncontrollable giggles, a few of the strange flowers on the wall turning several shades of yellow.

    “Ah… wait,” oh, so Taylor had caught on, if her paling face was any indication, “When you say, meeting the Director…”

    Amy nodded ruefully, waving her phone again, “I asked my Aunt to contact her, so we can get this out of the way without any fuss, or pulling your Dad away from his job. She’ll be over in about an hour and a half,” and Amy watched Taylor’s posture, wondering how she’d take it.

    If it came to the worst, Amy was willing to go the whole nine yards in helping her polite and pretty best friend get everything ready, to make up for springing this on her.

    But she’d needn’t have worried, as Taylor let out a relieved sigh, “Oh, good, I was worried I’d have to rush to prepare a lunch for many guests. I presume she’ll be bringing a bodyguard, possibly one… of the Pro…tectorate?” the black-haired girl finished in an adorable but borderline-panicking squeak.

    Amy was quick to try and calm her, and did so with a cautious smile and waving hands, “Oh, no! No, if the Director’s coming to a cape’s house, she’ll bring someone else, probably an investigator or, given who we brought home with us, a psychologist, maybe both, and don’t worry about the neighbors; Director Piggot might be… a little rough around the edges, personality-wise, but she’s good at being discrete,” she smiled at Elle and gestured slightly at Bur-Mimiwhen mentioning the possible shrink showing up to take their measure.

    Why was she still getting Mimi’s name wrong? She’d healed the girl’s face, for crying out loud! There was little, beyond however the redhead acted while awake, that would tie her to the infamous Trigger Event that gave her that terrible name, Burnscar.

    ‘Force of habit, or it’s ‘cause I’m a cape, maybe…’

    “So no more than three people,” Amy’s well-dressed crush stated, looking at the door to the guest room like something was about to rip through it, and the only thing that’d stand between certain death and survival would be Taylor herself.

    That she was reclining on a pillow, legs tucked to one side, and still in that lovely dress of hers, looking absolutely snuggable, Amy doubted anyone who tried forcing their way into this house to harm her, Elle or Mimi would think this polite and well-mannered girl was their worst nightmare made real.

    For the first time in a long while, Amy felt… safe. It was hard to judge Elle’s expression, but the brunette healer thought the young blonde would agree.

    Still, Amy nodded in reply, repeating, “No more than three.”

    Taylor nodded back, opened her mouth to say something-

    And a loud buzzing came from downstairs.

    “Oh!” Taylor hopped to her feet and used her hands to smooth her skirts, “The pizza’s ready. I’ll return shortly, girls!”

    “I’ll wake Mimi while you’re gone,” Amy said to Taylor’s back; her crush turned and gave her an approving smile before vanishing through the doorway. With a soft sigh, Amy stared at the wall and listened to the quiet sound of Taylor nimbly making her way downstairs.

    ‘I really hope she likes me like I like her…’ Amy didn’t know what she’d do, if Taylor wasn’t interested…

    “You’re lucky.”

    Amy’s head whipped around to find Elle had silently moved to Mimi’s bedside, on the other side of where Amy was sitting, and was now sitting near the pyrokinetic-Shaker’s shoulder. Elle wasn’t looking at Amy, just lightly stroking Mimi’s cheeks, where the cigarette burns had been, with a sad smile on her young face.

    Blinking, Amy asked, “What do you mean, I’m lucky?” She didn’t feel very lucky; so far, this day had included finding out her best friend and crush had a power that could shake the stars, healing two badly injured and extremely dangerous Asylum patients, and a close encounter with the Slaughterhouse Nine.

    Sure, there was the flower, and Inky, and the Labyrinth, but today hadn’t gone the way Amy thought it would’ve at all!

    Elle’s deep blue eyes rose to meet Amy’s… or, the younger girl tried, but her gaze shifted as she spoke: “You’re lucky. You… don’t have to hide how… you feel, when you look… at Taylor,” the sad smile was held as the Shaker 12 slowly looked back to Mimi’s face as Amy’s heart started pounding loud enough to wake the dead, “The doctors didn’t like how close we got… how we…” that sadness vanished, as though Elle was remembering something wonderful, “kept sneaking into each… other’s beds at night.”

    O-oh! Wow, this really was Amy’s life now, wasn’t it? Gulping back her mild embarrassment, Amy observed, “I… can’t imagine that working. Keeping you both apart, that is. I mean, you’re you,” Amy finished with a pointed gesture and wary smirk, before reaching out and pressing her fingers to Mimi’s wrist; everything looked good.

    A light giggle left Labyrinth’s lips, “Yes. They couldn’t keep us apart. It’s… quieter, in… my head, when I’m around Mimi. And she doesn’t get angry… when I’m with her,” she paused, playing with a strand of Mimi’s hair, and went on, her smile turning into a flat line by the end, “So… they tried to use us, to… control each other… it didn’t go well. Mimi gets angry easily. When one… of the doctors yelled at… me…. she set him on fire.”

    The blonde teen’s lips pursed, unshed tears shining in her eyes, “She burned me, by accident… when I stopped her… I know she didn’t mean to, but… she blames herself. I kept… asking, to see her, so… so I could hold my Mimi, help… help her get better… but I didn’t see her… until today.”

    Amy really didn’t know what to say to that, but she knew what Taylor would do: be positive to the point where rainbows would spontaneously spawn across the sky.

    “Well, it’s a good thing we found you then,” Amy declared in the strongest voice she could manage after Elle’s earnest declaration, “Now you two won’t be apart ever again.”

    The blonde’s head turned quickly, and this time her piercing gaze was unerring in its focus, “How do you know?”

    Knocking that jealousy she’d felt back into its box, Amy smirked knowingly, “Because Taylor’s your friend, too, and no one in the PRT’s ever dealt with someone like her,” she nodded to herself, self-assured, “If anyone can make them see sense, it’s Taylor; she’s got a knack for knowing what to say to get people to start acting reasonable, trust me on that.”

    The Earth Sciences teacher, who’d been fairly annoying and up-himself when she was a freshman, learned that lesson in the first week of having Taylor as a student. And that was just one of the many examples of Taylor’s people-fu Amy could recall.

    “Your Taylor.”

    Amy’s eyes flashed open wide, and she stared at Labyrinth’s knowing smile for a long moment before realizing she was imitating a carp; rallying, she tried to say something in reply, something that made sense, “We-we’re just friends, Elle! And, uh, I don’t even know if she likes girls-”

    “She does,” Elle replied quietly, her gaze sliding to look at something on the floor on Amy’s left, something only the Shaker 12 could see, “She likes you… I can see it. You’re lucky,” those sapphire eyes, older and wiser by far than the girl who held them, met Amy’s again, “You’re free.”

    Everything in Amy wanted to deny that; she wasn’t free. She was “the greatest healer in the world”. So much rode on her continuing to help people, but there were just so many problems she needed to fix…

    The flower.

    Taylor…

    With that flower, and a little work on Amy’s part… she could create catch-all medicines that would heal anyone of any ailment, wipe out cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s! World hunger, malaria and the flu – Amy’s eyes widened suddenly – reforestation! The flower, if she manipulated it slightly, could, over the course of a decade, create aquifers! She could de-desert the Sahara!

    Well, provided someone took care of Ash Beast and the African warlords… maybe…

    It was then that Amy realized, as she found herself planning a day trip that included Taylor, her, Elle, Mimi, and Eidolon heading to Africa to deal with Ash Beast…

    ‘I’m not alone. I have friends now! I can help people, really help them! I can make a difference… oh Taylor, I…’

    That was the one thing Amy felt was holding her back: she couldn’t say, or even think, the three words that would show Taylor how she felt, for giving Amy hope, making her believe again.

    Groaning, Amy looked down at the bed sheets Mimi was sleeping on and said, more to herself than anything, “What do I do?”

    “Show her,” Elle’s voice made the answer sound obvious, and looking at the young blonde’s bemused expression, Amy realized that, to Elle, the answer was obvious.

    Show Taylor how she felt?! “H-How do you mean?” Amy stuttered, a few of her nighttime fantasies flickering through her thoughts and turning her face red.

    Elle shrugged easily, “I dunno. You know Taylor… better than me. Figure out, and do,” she looked down at Mimi while Amy digested that, a kernel of a plan taking root in her thoughts, “Wake my Mimi up now, please.”

    Shaking herself out of the thoughts concerning Taylor, and how she was going to break the flower plan to her family, Amy steeled her mind and got down to business, “On it… done. She’ll wake up in five seconds,” and the brunette girl sat back in the armchair she’d claimed for herself, picked up her teacup, and tried with all her might not to think about running like hell away from the stirring pyrokinetic.

    It helped that a red-faced Taylor chose that moment to come through the door, carrying two plates on each arm, heavily laden with pizza slices, garlic bread, and tall glasses of lemonade, and a roll of paper towels balancing on her pigtails.

    “Amy… help?”

    The sight was so silly and adorable Amy couldn’t help but laugh lightly; she got up, heart slamming against her ribcage at the thought of what she was about to do, “Silly Taylor…”

    .

    {/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\}

    .

    “…you could’ve just called my phone, you know,” Amy says with a small smile on her face, walking toward me gracefully; I take my eyes off her, for I do not wish to embarrass myself by admiring her swaying hips, and look at the bed.

    Mimi is rubbing her eyes sleepily, a jaw-cracking yawn escaping her maw, Elle sitting at her side and looking at the redhead with the most adoring expression I’ve seen that wasn’t on my parent’s faces.

    Feeling as though I am intruding on a very personal moment, I truthfully answer Amy’s question as quietly as possible, “I, ah, didn’t wish to disturb you, dear Amy. You were working,” she takes the two plates from my left arm and sets them on the low table near the guest TV, an older tube model, much to the relief of my overworked biceps, “and you’ve already told me, whilst at school, you don’t like being distract-”

    Amy presses her lips to my cheek. Soft. Warm. A slight wetness. She smells like forest-scented shampoo and minty toothpaste. A chaste show of affection, over as quickly as it happened.

    Has my heart stopped?

    “You’re so thoughtful, Tay. Thanks,” smiling brightly, Amy (who just kissed me on the cheek) takes the other two plates from my statue-still arm, before her smirk turns impish, eyes flicking to the top of my no-doubt tomato red head, “Nice hat, by the way.”

    Blinking, I do my best to cast the embarrassed thoughts aside and formulate a response; I am unsuccessful, only able to make some choking sounds in the wake of Amy’s obvious and clear show of affection and thankfulness, which cause her to laugh lightly and shake her head, before retaking her seat at Mimi’s bedside.

    Yes, thankfulness! She’s is thankful I did not distract her, and, as we are dear friends, her kiss upon my cheek (it tingles with the memory of her skin’s brief and glorious presence against mine) merely an expression of how closely she treasures our friendship; oh, mayhap this was compounded by our recent troubles, a showing of how much she cares for me, after the horrors at the Asylum. Yes, this must be the reason!

    “I don’t want to lose my only friend.”

    Or… oh stars… could… could it be?

    Before I can think on this more or react, Mimi’s eyes, a light brown/hazel, open and look about wildly, “W-where?! What?” Her orbs lock on Elle, and she cries in relieved worry, “ELLE!

    And the redhead goes from lying in a position of repose to hugging the smaller girl, “Elle, Elle, my Elle! I’m s-sorry, I’m sorry-y!” and suddenly she pulls away, looking like she’s trying to get away, “I-I hurt you, Elle! I’m-”

    “Mimi…” breathes Elle while I look on with a smile of my own from behind Amy’s seat, my fellow Shaker’s adoring eyes only for Mimi, a small hand reaching out and taking the surprised and confused girl’s cheek, “No more Burnscar. Just my Mimi.”

    And then Elle kisses her. Mimi’s eyes widen in shock, briefly, and flutter in affection at the continuing kiss, the redhead’s hands rising to hold her beloved’s waist, their kiss deepening with this action, and oh my, should I turn the thermostat down a notch or seven?

    Before I can make any decisions that will facilitate my retreat from this tender, private moment, Mimi pulls back, feeling at her face in clear and obvious stupefaction, “W-what? They’re… gone?” she blinks, a dim horror reflected behind her eyes, the young woman certainly reliving her last, dreadful moments of consciousness before Inky’s rescue.

    Then her eyes see me, and widen in terror, “B-Bone-”

    “I am not Bonesaw,” I manage not to snarl, but it is a near thing; huffing in irritation at the remembrance of the well-spoken but abhorrent little terror, I introduce myself kindly, with a welcoming smile, to Mimi, who flinched slightly in fear at my words, but visibly relaxes as I continue speaking, “My name is Taylor, and this is Amy, who you may know as the world-famous healer Panacea,” my dear friend (but that kiss…) waves happily, if a bit shyly, in greeting, “She healed you of the injuries you suffered at that ruffian’s hands, when we rescued you and Elle from their clutches. You needn’t worry about them pursuing you, as I have dealt with them in a most permanent fashion,” I tilt my head up proudly as Mimi looks to a nodding Elle for confirmation, at which point the redhead seems to relax almost completely.

    Nevertheless, these girls are homeless at the moment, and I am their host, so the words of hospitality must be spoken, “Never fear, there will be time to discuss what occurred at the Asylum later. For now, welcome to my home! Would you like something to eat?”
     
  19. Baked the Author

    Baked the Author Scion of Nurgle, Verified Consentacle Enthusiast

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    And that's all of them, until the next chapter gets written and polished... and I write a little more for some other stories.

    Goodness, it's a good thing I've got a vacation coming up! Writing for everyone!

    Until next time, peoples!
     
  20. Wentley

    Wentley Not too sore, are you?

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    I was looking for this in NSFW, so missed it. Good to see it continue!
     
  21. Zum

    Zum Philosopher to The End

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    Oh man I just read this on SB, so was pretty excited when you said it was going to be on QQ too:D. I really love your Taylor, her mannerisms and way of speaking are just too precious, and make the juxtaposition to how dangerous she is all the better. I’m looking foreword to how the major players react to finding out about the cosmic horrors she can unleash...
     
  22. da3monh0st3d

    da3monh0st3d Эскапист

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    Well, this was most pleasant to read. The Mythos elements are fairly nicely presented, and the byplay between Taylor and Amy is most adorable.

    I wonder, will that Shoggoth be causing trouble? It was loosed with rather permissive phrasing and we all know a certain Dr. Manton was allowed to do what he is doing.
     
  23. Baked the Author

    Baked the Author Scion of Nurgle, Verified Consentacle Enthusiast

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    Oh, thank you! It's a fun story to write!
    I'm going to take my time with answering this question, as it's a good one that caught me in a good mood:

    I agree completely, and even Taylor realizes this, though the welfare of her friends old and new takes priority in her thoughts. Irresponsible? Yes, but, luckily for certain someones, Taylor's power is not only in the letter of what she's doing (commanding, in this case), but also in the intent of her declaration.

    Take the flower she gave Amy: logically, merely asking for a flower and getting a flower, when one considers that this is the Mythos we're talking about, leaves a pretty wide opening through which flowers exotic and terrible may inundate Earth Bet.

    In short: a random Mi-Go "flower" appears in her hands.

    The sheer odds of Taylor getting something awful on her first try are several orders of magnitude better than getting something like the flower she created; her intent, for the received item to be possessed of certain aspects, changed the odds, and Amy's mind got blown by a "flower" that she can manipulate into damn near anything; basically, Taylor gave Amy(who is a biotinker) a self-replicating nanite factory/terraformer.

    It's not a Mi-Go flower, but finding out just what it's based on would take EONS. The Multiverse is gargantuan, after all.

    Likewise, the intent behind her commanding the Shoggoth, concerning aid, can be taken as such: if someone tries to help them get away by attacking Shoggy, Shoggy go Tekeli-li and smash obstruction; someone tries to help the 9 escape by capturing them, Shoggy's job now easier, all targets can't escape Shoggy.

    Barring suddenly!Strider, and the fact that Legend doesn't give two golden shits about Manton because of Hero, Eddy and Alex won't be able to evacuate their pet projects in a pinch without making it look obvious, especially given the situation. Eddy could use one of his powers to capture or exfill Birdy and Manton, but, well, you'll see.

    Now, you may be thinking, 'But Baked, what about Doormaker? Or Contessa?'

    Well... Next chapter will go over the events at the Asylum from a third-hand account (Piggot and Wallis(yes, there's a difference, not a big one, but there is!)), followed by an Interlude.

    I won't spoil much, but I will say this: by the end of the Interlude, you'll have a good idea of what the next story arc is going to contain. Also, you'll pity Contessa. Woman's job is never done, and it has always been unenviable in its difficulty, her work...and it's about to get harder.
     
  24. Zum

    Zum Philosopher to The End

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    I wonder about Path to Victory sometimes, like sure it’s kind of a author hand wave power, but I see it as kind of weaker than it is memetically made out to be. Like sure if you are capable of doing something it can give you the steps needed to succeed, but is still reliant on those steps being something you are physically capable of doing yourself, or getting others to do for you, so time, abilities and intel are limiting factors in its use.

    I also see there being a lot of unintended consequences going on, because while it gives you the path to success, I see it a bit like it’s a monkey’s paw or overly literal so how you word the path will determine outcome. Like I’ve heard shards are not really creative problem solvers or able to really think outside the box at all, why they look for host species in the first place, so I’d make sense that PtV goes for the most literal execution of what’s asked of it. This then leading to refunding path parameters and wording to get desired outcome, but that still might lead to variables outside your perception, or concern, being created and then cause problems down the line.

    Supposing of course that it doesn’t have its own agenda and run PtV In a way to condition Contessa to do what it wants her to.
     
  25. Baked the Author

    Baked the Author Scion of Nurgle, Verified Consentacle Enthusiast

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    Or conditions her to help achieve the Path. Which it does.

    Not that this helps much against the Mythos, but survival is a victory of sorts in this scenario, assuming one can avoid SAN crits.
     
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  26. shiyochan

    shiyochan Getting out there.

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    Welcome to QQ Baked, good to see you here too!

    I'm honestly still struggling to see what the puritans at SB got their fannies in a flap over, but at least you know you won't have to worry about that kind of nonsense here.
     
  27. Sheaman3773

    Sheaman3773 (Unverified Writer)

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    I mean, yes, that is canonical, but in Contessa's first appearance, she dodged her way through a swarm of Weaver-controlled insects. Who, to be explicit, was actively trying to catch her at the time.

    Which is so fucking absurd, I still can't believe that was supposed to be done with a bog-standard human body. At the time, sure, who knows what her power is? Now, knowing? Sheer insanity.
    Baked kept the censored version when porting it over here, which surprised me when I noticed it.

    I assume because it was less complicated that way?
     
  28. Baked the Author

    Baked the Author Scion of Nurgle, Verified Consentacle Enthusiast

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    That, and putting a story that isn't NSFW into an NSFW category for a non-explicit scene that has no bearing on the plot (other than a mildly humorous example of how out-of-touch Elle is) just rubs me as unnecessary and pandering to this ridiculous idea of safe zones for everyone.

    I'll be the first to say that I enjoy my comfort zone, and don't like leaving it unless my darling daughters force me to. But come the fuck on.

    That scene was tame by my standards. Go to FF and read Hunger, SB mods, and see just what I think of "NSFW content". If I'd posted that flaming ice cream truck flying off a cliff into a retirement home, I'd have been instabanned. Babel is a sweet cinnamon bun with a side of cappuccino, and how dare they accuse it of being lewd!

    Why is the original not here? Because I post final drafts, and like the wording in the revised version more. More consistent and displays Elle's feelings without any unpleasantness; this story is, after all, being posted elsewhere, and I've had enough complaints about this one chapter that I should be getting fucking overtime with all these responses I've made.

    And I'm not getting paid to do this. It's a hobby.

    Edit: also, sorry if I seem a little steamed here. Nothing personal or serious, just venting my thoughts.

    Next chapter is in the works, and will be out sometime next week.
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2019
  29. Zum

    Zum Philosopher to The End

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    better to vent when you need to then bottle it up and let have it come out when you don’t mean to. And to be fair I do find what some forums to be “unacceptable” to be rather odd, like you can have a story where children are enslaved, or subjected to death games or other sorts of violence and it’s all fine and dandy. But the moment any sort of sexuality is expressed, and not even explicitly, and suddenly you’re on thin ice...
     
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2019
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  30. Sanbashi

    Sanbashi Getting some practice in, huh?

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    Was this banned from sb?
     
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