Mother Of Vengeance
A Worm/Birthright (AD&D) Crossover
I curled up under the covers, still uncertain whether I was awake or in a nightmare. For the love of all that was good and just in the world, I hoped it was the latter.
At the edge of my awareness, I became aware of someone calling my name.
Oh. My dad.
Slowly, I uncovered myself and, with what might have been a ten-ton weight on my chest, got up, fully expecting a look of fear or disgust.
Nope. Sympathy and empathy. My dad was reacting the way I desperately wanted him too. Which meant this wasn’t a dream.
Then the tears started.
I couldn’t think. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t even breathe.
Dimly, I was aware of hot blood traveling down my arm, already cooling. I also became aware of a look of other shock and dismay on the man-lion’s face.
“Damnation. I knew you were a strong one.”
Then, looking more disappointed than anything, he fell over, giving me a look at the deep wound my scissors had inflicted on his upper chest.
The last thing I remembered before I fainted out the sound of lightning and thunder.
I looked up at the therapist. Yamada, if I remembered correctly. Didn’t know why they got her.
“Are you feeling okay?”
“What do you think?” I immediately regretted the caustic aside as it escaped from my mouth. “I mean, no.”
“Taylor, please. You’re not going through this alone.” Yamada gave a comforting smile. “You were scared, you were angry, you saw that monster threatening another student, and you did what you could to defend her.”
“The second, mainly,” I admitted. “Look, I’ll be truthful here-I hate Emma. I hate her with the fury of the sun. I wasn’t trying to defend her.”
It took a second for her to realize what I was implying. “…And you think that you killed the Sphinx for the pleasure of having done so.”
I hadn’t, but I didn’t know what I thought. That made as much sense as any. I felt the pain of tears forcing their way out again, for the fourth time that week. “…Yes.”
“Taylor, I don’t know why you and Emma hate each other-“
“Because she’s a bully!” I screamed, suddenly angry again, but not at Yamada. “She’s a horrible, fucking awful person who has made my life hell for the past year and a half, and that’s after she…after she…”
I looked down.
“Used to be my friend.”
I weight that I didn’t know was on my chest came off. I felt Yamada put a comforting hand on my shoulder.
“And yet what made you angry was the fact that when the Sphinx began to hurt her, you didn't see Emma.”
I looked up at her eyes.
“You saw another student having to suffer her cruelty, and you realized the Sphinx would keep on being a bully, and a murderous one at that. You couldn't stand for that, and that says a lot about you. A lot of very good things about you. Taylor,” she said as she leaned in closer. “You aren't the Slaughterhouse 9.”
I let out the breath I had held for a week. “Thanks,” I muttered
“And that is our time for this week,” she said as she glanced at the clock. “Since your school leave ends next week, how does Saturday sound?”
As I left, I suddenly remembered I forgot to tell her about the dreams. Damn. Oh well, I could get to them next week.
It wasn't like they were of the Sphinx. Or even that nightmarish.
I was dying.
I was dying, and there was nothing I could use in My vast array of magic to heal.
As the armored form of Anduiras strode towards Me, sword in hand, I internally flicked through the scenarios of what plans I could use to escape.
I could exchange My essence with that of one of My generals. Nope, they would die in my place, and I didn’t know if I could plan my way out of a situation I knew nothing about in My current state.
I could distract him and run. Yes, try to fool the god of war into falling for a last-minute strategic feint. That would work. Besides, My workings would probably be destroyed on the off-chance I wasn’t being sarcastic.
So yes, the greatest of the gods was about to die. And My workings would go with me.
I had studied apocryphal stories of other deicides on other worlds in preparation for (what seemed at the time) inevitable victory. I knew that the power of our astral forms would do anything in its power to survive, even past the death of the sapience attached to them. Thus why dead gods could be reborn.
From that, I knew that, frequently, the astral essence of a god would embed itself in those worshipers whose qualities their lords prized, in their very genetic code. This was almost certain to happen, given the direct physical presence of My Army. Probably with My rivals as well.
Normally, said power resulted in either nothing worth noting or slight increase of thaumaturgic aura potential, and thus the ability to take on a proper adventuring carreer…but those instances weren’t intentional.
In the last view moments, I sculpted My essence one last time, as I mentally connected with every mind that had proven itself Worthy to Me. In the space between their souls and consciousness, I spoke one last command as the sword came down, one meant for My essence more than they.
Go forth, and continue My Vision, My noble Children. Go forth, and let no other stop You, for you are My Heirs, my adopted Lineage. I leave the future to you.
As My own soul came apart in a great explosion, I sensed My essence embed itself in My Heirs, and begin sculpting their bodies to match their true selves, free of all restraints, even the weak, soft forms that My brethren had given them.
My last act was a grin.
Ooo-kayyy…wasn’t sure if that was a nightmare or not. Nightmares didn’t end with you winning.
I yawned and dragged myself over to the mirror, feeling a lot better than yesterday. Which is to say, not suicidal. I still felt pretty miserable, but I least I was sure I wouldn’t snap and start killing people.
Huh. Parts of my hair had begun to clump together. I lifted my brush towards them sweet merciful Jesus that hurt ouch. I had apparently let my hygiene go more than I realized. Had to get a professional to disentangle that.
I also detected my skin had gotten rather dry on places on my arms, though I didn’t feel uncomfortable. At all. Huh.
I hoisted my backpack, made myself breakfast, made some spare for my Dad (apparently he was still asleep), and proceeded to gather my courage before heading out the door into a crisp night air.
Wait. Back up.
I looked up, and yes, it was still the night. Quite close to being the morning, but it was still technically night. I felt like I had a full night’s sleep in, what, four hours? Even more than that, I kept on registering enough light to see
by, to the point where only the stars and moon told me it was still nighttime.
Now thoroughly confused, I went back inside.
The strange events didn't stop.
Over the course of waiting for school, my hair began to clump more and more, Not wanting to feel like a hot poker was in my scalp again, I tried to ignore it. This wasn't effective, and well-cultivated survival instincts drove me to keep on checking it, trying to prevent the natural braid from showing to the Terrible Trio and give them more ammunition at a very bad time for me.
It was apparently even dirtier than I thought. It felt...unnaturally smooth. And scaly. I could even swear I felt my hand touching it.
Eventually I decided it would show more if I kept worrying about it, so I did my best to will it to be unseen.
I swore I could feel it adjust to be better hidden.
I suppose trying very hard to ignore the sign of potential insanity, and not focusing on the world around me, is what led to Strange Event #2, when Dad woke up.
"Oh, you're already up YOUR HAND IS ON THE STOVE!"
I yelped and drew back from the hot girdle I had decided to make hashbrowns with out of a desire to repay dad for his kindness in comfort food during the past couple weeks...and felt absolutely no pain. In fact, now that I looked at my hand, I only saw what could have been to a mild sunburn what I was to an elephant.
"No, no, it's okay Dad." My own disbelief in the truthfulness of those words shown through as I showed the hand.
He sighed in relief, taking his portion of the hashbrowns. "Look, honey. I know you want to leave this all behind you, but you can't push yourself like this. Frankly, you're under a lot of stress, and nobody would blame you for-"
"Look, I'm okay Dad!" A bit of desperation was in my voice. "It was horrible, I still feel guilty about it, but I have to look forward, I'm okay with it-"
"Taylor, you don't sound okay."
No. No I did not.
I would have probably called to delay school another day, were it not for Strange Event #3 rearing its ugly head. A brief flash of something that wasn't quite smell danced through my mind if I regained my composure.
"Yeah, you're right. I mean, I've been taking it out on my homework, you on the dock workers, we've all been a little....stressed?"
....How did I know that? And why was I so certain?
Why the hell did I think bringing that up was a good plan?
Too late. A look of embarrassment and pain came to Dad's face. "They told you about that, did they?"
I could feel the blood rushing to my own cheeks, combined with the shame of bringing up Dad's temper. "No! I mean, uh, I guessed...which doesn't mean you've been angry with me, no I just thought that...I'm running out of time see you!"
Thus, for the first time in my life, did Taylor Hebert get to school an hour early. Sans backpack.
If I thought any luck with bullies would improve, well it did. Not very much, and now the school was scared of me.
Emma, at least, seemed to get the idea you don’t stab the people who saved your life in the back. The other two thirds of the Terrible Trio? Not so much.
“Ah, so our local murderess shows her face again.”
Screw you, Madison. Screw you.
“If you’re going to pick up the slack for Emma, please remember that I know that she, unlike you, used to have a soul. To me, your words as empty as your head.”
Madison looked about as taken aback as I was. Where had that come from?
…I wanted more of it, but still, when had I grown a spine?
“S-So?” She regained her composure. “At least my heart isn’t cut open, bleeding out on the tiles-“
“Oh don’t worry your pretty little head, I only aim for the heart. Given its capacity, I’d estimate, oh, five hours before it pumps out enough blood to cause trouble. Assuming the strain doesn’t cause a heart attack.”
Okay, now I wanted less. That was too mean, even for her. She garbled out something unintelligible that might have been a comment about my weight, before sulking back to Emma. Sophia was still there, though.
“…When did you become a badass?”
…Okay, not what I was expecting. Still, whatever newfound bravery I had driven me to look in her eyes. “Unlike you, I actually have more skills than looking good in a swimsuit.”
“Hey, I can do more than-Ahem. “ She ruffled her hair a little, breathing in a little to gather her breath. “Actually, despite the tag-along loser seems to think, I’m here to apologize.”
“Look, I’m going to give it to you straight. I underestimated you. Moment I saw you, I thought you were weak. A prey animal.”
Prey animal? Huh?
Apparently she picked up on my confusion. “Way I see humans, not all of us are apex predators like we should be. Most? We’re just the herd of people who are, who are strong enough to take life by the horns and be endurance hunters like we’re supposed to be.”
I suddenly understood Sophia, more than I ever wanted to. And understood how loathsome she was as a person. Another echo of almost-scent went through my brain as I gripped my tray tighter
“Good predators? They’re just as cruel as the evil ones, but they take care of their herd. Keep it safe, like a sheepdog keeping dumb ewes from crossing the track and being eaten by wolves. Sort of like you and that man-lion thing.
“So, I was thinking. You aren’t a weakling, so I think if you learned how to stop being scared of hurting other people and show some of those guts with people other than Madison-“
“Everything will be nice and we’ll be friends and it will all be sunshine and unicorns with bloody horns because Taylor and Sophia will be best friends forever?” I didn’t know when I had gotten to my feet. But I was on my feet, almost growling. “Excuse me, but what is the disconnect!? You don’t just get to apologize and erase like, fucking everything that has happened between us!”
“Look, I get that. That’s good, but as hard as it is to believe, I’m honestly trying to help you-“
“I. Don’t. Want. Your. Help.” I spat. “I don’t know exactly what the hell happened between you and your mom’s boyfriend, but it has nothing to do with me, and-“ I stopped. When did I know Sophia had a single mom, and a bad boyfriend for a stepdad?
And when did Sophia drop her tray and look like someone had just stabbed her in the gut?
…Oh God. What have I done?
I stepped back, mortified at the bit of Emma that had shoved itself out of my mouth. Then I became aware of my sprinting to the bathroom.
Scrubbing my hands rapidly and washing my face, I noticed the dry bits had grown a bit, and become tougher. A brief shock of sensation, like smell, echoed through my brain.
Then I heard the sizzling, and saw that the sink had corroded a little under my fingernails (which, I idly noted, needed to be cut). Surprised, I looked up.
My face had changed, even from earlier that day. My features were softer, rounder, and prettier than before. Not by much, but definitely something I would have noticed if I checked. More than that, a strange, greenish substance was drying around my tear ducts. On a whim, I scratched a bit of it off and rubbed it against the wall. There was another sizzle, and the tile cracked.
I was a cape? Well, that would explain the sudden knowledge of Sophia’s family history, but-
There was movement in my hair. I froze.
Said hair parted ever so slightly, revealing an ophidian head with scales the same exact color as my hair. The snake looked around, then tasted the air. I felt the same echo of almost-smell echo through my head, and this time I could make out the individual scents of the bathroom, from the stench of people doing their business to anti-sceptics. Mixed in was the scent of a hundred swirlies, a dozen forced fines to use it, at least a couple assaults.
Had I enough presence of mind to think rationally, I would wonder how the hell I knew what those things smelled like, and why I could smell them. As it was, I was too busy focusing on the fact that a snake now lived in my hair, up until it retreated back into it.
A few minutes later, I became aware I was outside the school, hiding in a bush while breathing rapidly. From how hoarse my voice felt, I think I was screaming for all of that time.
“So, these…changes didn’t start happening until you went back to school?”
Dr. Yamada, bless her soul, was taking in my new body a hell of a lot better than I was.
The mutations didn’t stop over the course of a week. More of my hair clumped and animated into very fleshy snakes attached to my cranium. There were four up there now, each with a mind of its own and constantly tasting both the air and sin unless I told them to stop. The dry parts on my skin had not only completely covered them, but become yellow and very, very tough; I now had bird talons for both my arms and legs now (and thank god for that, as I discovered their toughness as it saved me from a very stupid mistake-the same mistake as to why Yamada’s schedule was now open on a Friday, and why I was now living in a hospital bed). My nails were more claws now-I could cut them, with effort, but they weren’t going to break accidentally now. I also had noticed I only wept acid when I was angry, which was probably a very good thing.
“Yeah.” I scratched a wing. “These came in the day before yesterday.”
Oh yeah. The wings. They weren’t ugly wings, but they were very large, very tough bat wings. Which also grew over the course of five minutes; one second, I was rubbing my back against a wall to rid myself of an itch, the next wet, wrinkled wings were shoving their way, painlessly, out of the nape of said back (which lead directly to Stupid Mistake, as my control over the snakes slipped and I was overloaded by the alley I was in, and had visions of what happened there. When I came to, Dad was confiscating a knife and I had indents on my left talon). I now officially looked like a mythological monster. Three cheers for parahumans.
Yamada sighed. “Taylor, I know you feel like fate is dealing you a bad hand-“
“More like several.” I had long since resolved to talk to Yamada about my newfound anger problems, but that wasn’t a product; I sounded more defeated than anything else.
“…because you have been very unlucky these past few weeks,” she admitted. “After the whole Sphinx fiasco and you show remarkable recovery, you start turning into a Case 53 with no warning, and become overloaded by your new sense of awful things that happened six months ago. I don’t blame you-given what you described, I’ll admit I would have done everything to get away from that too.”
“What? The alley or my life?” I looked up at the roof. “My mother is dead, my best friend betrayed me, I murdered someone, I turned into a freakish monster as my cape power…Doctor, does God hate me?” I chuckled darkly. Really, at this point I wouldn’t be surprised.
“Actually, I’m going to ask something myself first: Can you use those wings?”
I jerked my head back to the therapist. “I…never thought of that.” Which was the truth; I was in a depressed, confused haze for the past day and a half, I never quite realized that parahumans don’t mutate unless they can use those mutations to some effect. “Is it…legal?”
She helped me up. “As long as you’re in here, and I think there’s enough room to hover, at least. If you need more space, I can ask for you to use the grounds.”
Opening my wings, I hummed slightly to myself while Yamada got out of the way, and flapped.
I tumbled over my bed, did a somersault, and somehow managed to steady myself before I impacted the wall, my toe-claws making gashes in the floor as my new limbs beat furiously to keep myself steady.
Yamada had to suppress a laugh. “You…may want to tilt them down next. And not so strong.”
Good idea. I willed my wings to face the ground, and made a much smaller motion.
It wasn’t a hover. More of a high jump, only much less strenuous. I did it again, then flapped in midair to brush the ceiling, before coming back to the ground almost soundlessly.
Slowly, I began to giggle, then laugh. For the first time in at least a month, I felt genuinely overjoyed. I could fly! I could actually fly! Alexandria, Glory Girl, Legend-I was walking in the path of the great, and frankly given what I knew of their pasts, I’m pretty sure that I was the most utterly overjoyed to discover that the ground no longer bound me. Finally, fucking finally, my powers came with something that didn’t screw me over somehow.
Well, unless I got caught in a jet turbine or something. So no capes, unless you counted the way my wings hung when I didn’t use them.
Yamada was beaming. “And look on the bright side! Besides your wings, your other mutations aren’t exactly ugly.”
Which was true. I could will my snakes to hide, and my talons weren’t actually all ugly and monstrous, just hawk-like. And, uh, my face didn’t stop getting prettier. Or other areas. In fact, I was actually quite femininely beautiful now, just…obviously a cape. You win some, you lose some. Everything that had happened, all the hell I had been through since I had developed my powers, didn’t seem so bad.
This high probably wouldn’t last that long, but dear God did I ever need this.
But, one last thing.
“Um, Dr. Yamada? Before you go, I’d like to talk to you about these weird dreams…”