Ok, anyone reading this who has followed my previous stuff please be aware that I am not dead and have not abandoned any of my fics. I doubt that Fifty Feathers or Ningen will be updated any time soon (Sekirei has drifted away from me and Ningen needs a lot of editing and will then be a big time sink) but they will be updated at some point. In the meantime I'm moving into the Worm fandom for a bit and hoping to use the shift to jumpstart my writing. So here it is, the first of -hopefully- many.
AN/2. Site ate my formatting. I think it should be fine now.
Those hardest to reach, need reaching the most
It was hard to remember how it had happened.
She'd been in the Docks, later than was really wise, and she'd been looking for something. Or had it been a someone? Maybe both? Or had she just been out for a late run?
Though she hadn't forgotten immediately -that much she still remembered clearly- it had faded from her memory when she realised all the other things that she had to make sure not to forget. All the faces and names and places that she could not risk approaching, that she had to keep ahold of if she was to stand any chance at all at staying sane.
Time had lost all meaning for her, but judging by her spotty memory of the event that had left her stuck like this, she estimated at least a year had passed. Probably more. Probably much more. She didn't need to sleep any more, or eat or drink or breathe or any other bodily process. She didn't even blink. So there was nothing at all to measure the time by.
Neither daylight nor darkness reached her brilliantly lit prison. The ceaseless discharge surrounding her didn't leave any objects intact enough to examine, so if anyone had tried to send messages to her (which she wasn't nearly naïve enough to believe possible anyway) she hadn't gotten them. She could at least shape her explosive aura, forming the fury into pictures and figures and forms that felt as much a part of her as her paradoxically normal body.
Unfortunately the shapes only lasted as long as her focus upon them, so her attempts at counting the seconds had met a swift end when her attention wandered away from it and the numbers returned to chaos. Then she had sworn a lot and lost her place, then sworn a lot more.
Her next idea had been to take the fine sand that was all her power had left of anything physical and not-her, then fashion an hourglass out of explosions. It had been a nice distraction at least, as well as showing her that while her power could fuse the sand together. It would re-obliterate the results the moment she stopped shaping it around them.
Trying to shield it with her body, clasping it within her fists, had proved ineffective but had explained how her new body worked a little better. It had been a shock when the glassy shrapnel had emerged from hands that blew apart into wisps of energy, then reformed before she could even process the mutilation. It did explain her survival though, she just looked normal. Really she was no different than her aura. No more human than an explosion.
She was probably going insane.
She was definitely bored out of her skull. She'd actually made a game for a while simply of thinking of all the things she would do for a single decent book. Fuck it, it didn't even have to be decent. She would read Sixty Notes of whatever if she had it. Or those stupid shapeshifter romance books.
If motherfucking Kaiser somehow turned up with a copy of Mein Kampf she would probably thank him for it. Then obliterate the evil bastard, but she'd still have thanked him and didn't that just show how utterly utterly bored she was.
Still, it was better than moving. That was the thought she had to keep fixed in her mind. All the time, every single second she had to remember not to move. Even when she inevitably lost her mind completely, she had to remember not to move. Even if she forgot everything else.
Taylor could feel her aura's full extent. Though she could only really tell what it was touching and its exact shape, towards the centre; she knew exactly where the edges were and how far they extended from her body. So she was aware that they followed her body. If she moved, the aura moved with her. Which meant that the area of destruction moved.
She had already obliterated a two block radius of her city. If she moved...
She had to stay where she was.
She missed her dad.
The only reason she missed him any less than she missed mom was that he was still alive. At least she hoped he was still alive.
After all, it couldn't have been more than a few years yet. He'd still be okay. He might even be happy now he didn't have to deal with her weighing him down. Which was not a very nice thought, but it had a kind of happiness to it. It meant that other people were happy even if she couldn't be. Even if she had to sit here and stay the same, it meant everyone else could be happy and that was something.
It was all that she had, so it would just have to do. Even if it didn't, it would have to.
Taylor idly swirled a bunch of random shapes around herself. Then lay down in the sand, which was pretty comfy as well. Really she didn't have it all that bad, so why get upset about it.
'I suppose the years are teaching me some wisdom.'
Well that was another nice thou-
Something huge smashed into her aura. Blotting it out wherever it touched. Spreading further and further towards her. The shock had her on her feet before she knew she was moving. On her feet and looking in the wrong direction.
She whirled to face it, not that she could see further than a few feet, eye wide and churning with feelings she couldn't even grasp, let alone name.
Was this thing, whatever it was, going to kill her? Was that really such a bad thing? Or maybe this was a rescue attempt? Maybe someone had found a way to do what she could not and turn her powers off. Maybe she could go home.
The homesickness felt like a sucker punch. She barely noticed the strange thing abruptly shrinking. Much of the area where her aura vanished was suddenly clear. Like someone had flicked a light back on. However the bit further in towards her was unchanged, if cut off from the outside world now.
The nearest part of the thing couldn't be more than thirty feet from her. Though her little bubble of clearer space didn't extend nearly that far, she could still feel what she could not see. It was like smoke, thick smoke that seemed completely unbothered by the swirling chaos around it. In fact her aura simply refused to penetrate it, even when she shaped the tiniest sliver for that purpose and pushed it into the thing.
It just vanished on contact.
Either the thing was turning off her power, or it just destroyed whatever touched it even more thoroughly than her power did. However she could think of no way to find out without getting closer to it, which was not possible. Thirty feet might not be much, but for all she knew there might be a whole crowd of people standing just outside her aura. Thirty feet of sudden advancement would be another thirty feet of destruction. So she sat back down.
She felt like she was shattering. Like cracks had to be spiderwebbing through her because after so long in her own little world there was finally something else. And she couldn't do a damn thing about it, couldn't even check what it was. She wasn't alone. She was more alone then ever before.
Of course that was when another intruder from outside interrupted her. This time it didn't make it past the first few inches of her aura. It was too small to get much of a sense, but it definitely felt like an object of some kind. A few more followed it, then one much bigger one that made it a dozen or so feet before breaking up. The vague sense was definitely a physical object this time. Maybe a dumpster?
'Guess I make a pretty good incinerator.'
The thing, she decided to assume it was smoke of some kind, started moving and she decided to focus on it instead of the little intrusions that continued at irregular intervals. The smoke expanded outward, then the expansion stopped for a moment before vanishing in every direction except towards her.
Taylor braced herself for whatever it was as it continued to draw closer to her. Twenty five feet. Twenty feet. Fifteen. Then she finally saw it. Complete and absolute darkness, flattening against the edges of her bubble for some reason, it crossed inside just enough for her to be able to see it. Looking more closely at its shape and how it flowed she had been right to call it smoke. Though darkness seemed more apt given its total lack of colour.
She wondered how long it had been since she had seen darkness. Would it hurt to not see light any more? The mystery of it all would probably have driven her mad had she not had several years of solitude in which to develop patience. As she had developed patience she stayed right where she was and watched it carefully, a little bit entranced by the sight.
Then a hand reached out of it into her bubble.
She shrieked in surprise, barely stopping herself from jumping backwards. There really was a person inside it!
The hand was large and gloved, a constant layer of the smoke rolled off it. Thin enough for her to see glimpses beneath it, but not much more than that. After groping at nothing for a few more moments, an arm began to follow the hand.
Her detached thoughts on someone maybe wanting to hurt her suddenly seemed a lot more important. Especially since the person in question seemed to be able to completely ignore her aura. Still, she had to do something and the smoke pouring off this person gave her an idea.
By the time the rest of the man made it into her bubble, Taylor had shaped as dense a layer of her aura as she could manage, wrapping it about herself as a last ditch attempt at protection. The man himself had her torn between despair at her chances in a fight and an urge to stare that she would later reflect might not have been entirely the result of isolation.
He was covered head to toe, masked as well and wore his darkness like she wore her own power. Gaps still gave her a sense of what he wore, a mask styled after a skull and leathers that put her in mind of motorcycles, though she was more attentive to how he wore it. The guy was big, height combined with muscles to give him a thoroughly intimidating impression.
So a big scary man had just walked into a sanctum that she had thought inviolate. Definitely not bored any more. If she survived this then she might just learn to appreciate the boredom for a while.
Then he spoke.
His voice had a strange echo to it, like it was coming down a long tunnel towards her; however beneath that effect was a warm baritone that felt...nice. Nice enough to defuse her apprehension. Also nice enough that it took her a moment to realise what he'd actually said made no sense whatsoever.
Some kind of new slang? That seemed a bit far-fetched but it was either that or he thought she was this Lisa person. Which was wrong of course, she definitely remembered her own name, so why was he calling her Lisa...
After a few more seconds of staring at each other Taylor finally recalled that she had to say her thoughts out loud if he was to answer them. Her voice didn't come out when she opened her mouth and for a moment she struggled to recall how to talk, then with a small cough she got things in the right order.
"U-um, m-my name isn't Lisa."
There. She had spoken and now he would answer and this was what conversation was like. Like riding a bike. Though she'd never been very good at riding bikes, which might carry over into things that were like riding bikes because he wasn't replying. Instead he just cocked his head and took a hesitant step closer to her.
Then he shouted loud enough to make her ears ache.
"Who are you? Are you the one making all this?"
He gestured around them towards the end but she was too occupied with the pain of his screaming to care. Why the fuck was he being so loud? His next words came out at an even greater volume, driving her to clap hands over her ears.
"Can you understa-? Why are you doing that?"
"Why the hell do you think I would cover my ears? Stop screaming at me, please!"
This time he didn't hesitate over stepping closer, though the way he was angling his head was just weird. It was as if-
"I'm sorry but I can't hear you. Could you speak a little louder?"
Belatedly she realised that she had no idea how loud she was being, not after so long with only the background crackling of her aura to judge sounds by. Given he wasn't clutching his own ears that probably wasn't a very loud noise at all. Or she might have super-hearing, though it would be a bit out of place with the rest of her power. Though it would also explain his weird opening line, he'd probably muttered it under his breath without intending her to hear him.
He took another step closer and Taylor pre-empted his next attempt at communication by practically hurling her hand at her own face. A finger to the vague area of her aura-masked lips seemed to get the point across. Feeling a little elated at the successful communication she held the same hand out in front of her, palm facing him.
He got the message, not getting any closer while she slowly worked up to a more appropriate volume.
"Can you hear me now?"
This time he spoke at a reasonable volume, "Ah, yes. I can."
It was a momentous moment, her first conversation in years. She took a moment just to soak it in.
Unfortunately he didn't seem to have the years of patience training that she had benefited from, because he quickly interrupted her with a repeat of his first questions. Which she thought was rude of him and didn't hesitate to tell him.
"D-don't you think it's a little rude to just barge in and ask questions like that?" Taylor's brain caught up to her mouth and reminded her that she wanted to make a good impression.
His sudden laughter -thankfully muffled by his arm- thus caught her off guard. Was he laughing at what she said? At her? It didn't sound like mean laughter, but then she had forgotten how loud to talk so what did she know?
Tall dark and skull-faced got himself under control quickly though, this time he opened the conversation properly. A hint of a smile in his stupid echoy voice.
"Sorry for being rude. I'm Grue and I should really be thanking you. Assuming that all this," He gestured around them, "is coming from you?"
"Yes. I mean, it is. It's my power, I think. Why were you angry at Lisa?"
"Wha-? Oh, you heard that?" He sounded a little panicked, "Could you please not tell anyone else that name? Normally no-one can hear me when I'm pumping out this much darkness so I didn't think."
The babbling was kinda cute, it took some of the sting out of his words at least.
"I can't really tell anyone...You're the first person to..."
She trailed off, unable to keep talking for fear of the loneliness rising up to drown her. He picked up on the silence and filled it where she was not.
"Lisa is my friend. She likes to act like she knows everything, so it gets annoying when she misses something but doesn't tell you she's not sure. Like sending me to check out the source of the Dockside Storm and not mentioning that it might be a person."
"Is that what they're calling me?"
"Dockside Storm?" At her nod he continued, "Yeah, they've cleared everything around you too. You...you can't see outside?" It was a smaller nod this time. "Ah, well, you're probably not missing much. They've cleared everything out for a few blocks to every side, except for the dockfront obviously. To make sure that the drift doesn't damage anything."
Something in what he said snapped her out of her funk. Because it was wrong.
"What are you talking about? There's no drift!"
He took a step back at the force of her words, further from her fixed position. The same position she'd been in all along.
"I've been staying still all this time, and I can feel my aura right to the edges. It hasn't touched anything, not for more than a moment. Not until your 'darkness' slammed into it in a huge great cloud!"
Sometimes she had felt something brushing against the very edge, probably a wall right on the edge of her aura, but she'd also moved back away from it immediately. It just wasn't possible that-
"What about before that?"
"Yeah, I poked your aura with my darkness for a bit. I never went deep into it but that was how we figured out that I could keep us safe inside."
She hadn't felt that. Not even a twinge...she did feel all the way to the edge, right?
"Look, I'm sorry but you've moved quite a bit."
"Well not that far, really. That sounded like more than I meant."
"It's just been a few feet every week or so. Pretty often it, you, go back in the other direction as well, so you're only about twenty feet from where you started."
"That's why they've got the clearance zone so far back. I think there's some kind of automated observation system as well."
He stopped talking, she didn't care.
"That's not... I haven't... If that was true..."
She didn't know what to say, only that it couldn't be true. Not moving had been her mantra. The words had kept her sane. And all this time she- All this time. So much time.
He had said week. And he said how far she'd gone.
"What date is it, please?"
"It's, it's the eleventh of April."
Well that was no help, she had no idea what date this had started on. He hadn't told her the year either. Like it wasn't relevant, but it had to be because-
"If you're trying to work it out, your aura first appeared at the end of February. It's been just under six weeks since then."
It hadn't even been two months.
It felt like years.
It felt like seconds.
She was going to go mad. There was no doubt about it, she had been losing it after weeks so what the hell was she going to be like in a year. She was going to go mad and hurt people without even noticing and she couldn't even die, she was alone and mad and a useless monster and-
Taylor had no idea when she'd fallen to her knees, or how long Grue had had his arms wrapped around her.
He hushed her again, the sound impossibly gentle as it echoed around her. Around her p-p-prison.
She started sobbing. Great heaving sobs that would probably have looked hideous if she had more than just her eyes uncovered. Which reminded her of her inhuman body and made her cry even harder.
It was some time before she came back to herself, her hysterics having died down to a few sniffles here and there.
He was still holding her, though at some point she had thrown her own arms around him as well. Whatever weird power mechanics allowed her to cry after weeks without a drop of water, his jacket certainly wouldn't be thanking them. Not that he seemed to mind, just staying there with her on the ground.
"You're not useless."
"Huh?" was her stunningly intelligent reply.
"You saved me and my team.
I never got around to telling you, but we came in here 'cause we were being chased. We stole from Lung and he came for his pound of flesh. So we ran away and we ended up right next to you. An experiment later and we had a place to hide, so you probably saved our lives."
Her power had saved them?
She practically hurled herself to her feet at that piece of information. Looking everywhere for the rest of his team, who had probably already seen her have a nice humiliating crying session.
"Relax," Grue took his time getting up off the sand, sounding pretty calm himself. "I couldn't keep a full cloud of darkness up this close to you, so they're out there still. Probably not having fun what with being blind and deaf and everything."
She could practically see him hearing his own words, the calm demeanour vanishing like one of her glass creations to be replaced by obvious apprehension. It was enough to draw a giggle out of her, the happy sound strange to her ears. Even before she had started exploding, how long had it been since she'd laughed?
"If I really did save your lives, they probably won't mind that I kept you for so long."
"Do you mind if I tell them that you did? I'm not sure I want them to hold me responsible for however long they've been like this."
"I won't tell them if you don't."
She was smiling beneath the mask. She wasn't suddenly all better, far from it...but after crying so much she felt oddly cleansed. Enough to just enjoy the moment.
But it had to end, and she could practically feel his worry for the state of his team. If his darkness did leave them blind and deaf then she could see why. Still...
"I should probably go, I mean..."
'No. Stay with me. Don't leave me alone again. Please don't leave me alone.'
But a six week eternity was not enough to forget everything about how people worked, so she very carefully didn't say what she was thinking.
"You'd better go."
With that awkward exchange he turned around and walked back out of her bubble.
More of his darkness bloomed around him and the area where his team had been sitting all along. A short while later it extended a thin corridor right along to the edge of her aura. She could practically feel him walking along and peeping out to check things were clear.
"I probably should have asked him a bit more about that whole, 'stealing from Lung' thing."
Things must have been safe, because the corridor widened. After what she thought must a have been a few more minutes the entirety of his darkness within her aura just vanished. Not a trace remaining.
"I wonder how long it'll be before I start thinking I imagined all of that?"
Time passed as it had for weeks, without anything to mark or divide it.
Still she was pretty sure she wasn't losing her grip too quickly. She'd decided to try counting hours instead, of course her estimate of when an hour had passed was probably horribly inaccurate but she could at least remember the count fairly well. In the meantime she swirled her aura and sketched skulls and dragons and piles of gold. Maybe a knight of two.
It had been, by her best guess, about thirty eight hours since she spoke to another human being when an area of her aura vanished again.
Unlike last time there was no hesitation. The cloud moved steadily towards her, not leaving a corridor behind it. It was a lot smaller too, probably not bringing his team with him.
Taylor had the absurd thought that she would have liked to neaten up, then a familiar hand emerged into her little bubble sanctum. It stayed there for a moment or two before she thought to respond, shaping a hand of her own and tapping it against his.
He took the invitation for what it was and she had a Grue standing before her once again. Something very tempting held loosely in his right hand. Tempting enough that she forgot all about asking him how long it had been, or why he had come back, or even thanking him for doing so.
"How are you holding that in here? I thought you said you couldn't protect anything else?"
"Nah, I just can't make any clouds without something in them. I can keep some darkness wrapped around something easily enough."
"I'm not sure I'll be able to touch it though. I might cancel your darkness or something."
"Well," he said kindly, holding up the book wrapped in wispy shadows, "I figured I'd read it to you. I haven't read this series myself yet and..."
He trailed off, maybe realising he hadn't asked her if she even liked to read. Or had she said something about books in her crying? Well whatever.
"I'd love that. If you're sure it's okay?"
He settled down on the ground instead of replying, his grin somehow transmitting right through his mask.
Grue began to read.
It took another three visits before she admitted that she'd already read, and loved, the first two books of the series he was bringing.