"What?" Taylor looked at her reflection in the floor-height mirror on the wall of the girl's locker room, side on. "What?"

Sprouting from the base of her spine, where it was several inches thick, and tapering to a blunt point nearly four feet further along, she now apparently possessed a muscular reptilian tail, much like something you'd more normally find attached to an alligator. She reached back with a shaky hand and carefully felt it, running her fingers along the resilient yet tough scales covering the thing.

"What the fuck?"

Gaping, she stared in horrified disbelief, then poked it again. It was definitely real, and just as definitely attached pretty damn solidly to her rear. After a moment or two she tried moving it and found it as easy as moving any of her other limbs. It was remarkably flexible, in fact, allowing her to move it from side to side or up and down easily, or even send a ripple of motion down it like a wave.

Numbly waving her tail around she kept staring for quite a long time, before she shook her head. "But... I thought it was a dream?"

She remembered what she'd seen, the young princess merged with a vast lizard-like creature called the... "Varga?" she said out loud.

"Yes, Brain?" a deep calm voice said inside her head. She twitched violently, looking frantically around the room. There was no-one there but her. And her tail.

"You're... real?" she quavered.

"Of course, Brain. Why would I not be real?" It sounded slightly confused.

'Can you hear me when I do this?' she thought experimentally after some moments of mental blankness.

"Yes." The voice sounded satisfied this time.

"Oh, god. I've got a huge alien lizard living in my head," she moaned, slumping to the floor with her new tail stretched out behind her, the feeling one that she suddenly noticed and found very odd although not uncomfortable.

"I am not really a lizard, Brain," the Varga told her.

"Whatever. You're in my head, right?"

There was a pause. "You may think of it like that if you wish," the voice replied.

"What about the tail? Can I get rid of it?" She looked over her shoulder at the appendage, flicking the tip from side to side.

"I'm sorry, Brain, but your current form is the minimum that can be achieved," the Varga said, sounding a little regretful. "The original bargain made long, long ago insisted the one who wielded the power of the Varga be so marked."

"So I'm stuck with it. Great." Taylor sighed, thinking she was probably going to freak out later when everything sunk in properly. At the moment she was riding the high of being alive after being convinced for hours that she was going to die and was honest enough with herself to realize this. "Dad is going to flip. There's no way I can hide it from him." She looked around the locker room and groaned. "And everyone else is going to see it as well. They'll all know I'm a cape. Or whatever I really am. That's going to be... more than a slight problem."

Standing up, she looked at herself in the mirror once more. She added to the list of weird things the fact that she looked, aside from the tail, entirely healthy, no signs at all of the injuries she was sure she'd incurred during her stay in that damn locker. Her skin was unmarked, not a blemish marring it. In fact…

Taylor held out an arm and flexed it, watching with astonishment the muscles moving under her skin. Reaching over with her other hand she felt her biceps wonderingly. She had actual muscles! Not enormous or grotesque, rather more like the physique of someone who swam or ran a lot, probably for years. Her slightly overweight middle from lack of exercise seemed to have vanished, being replaced by something perilously close to an actual six-pack.

Experimentally bending over she put her hands flat on the floor, keeping her legs straight, then easily resumed a normal standing position. Her flexibility seemed vastly improved as well. She noticed at this point something that should have been obvious earlier, which was that she wasn't wearing her glasses either. Nor, now that she thought about it, had she had any trouble wandering around without turning the lights on. The only illumination in the locker room came from the streetlights outside shining through the frosted glass of the small ceiling level and non-opening windows, the light not enough to do more normally than allow the panes themselves to be seen.

"Varga, why can I see so well now?" she asked curiously. "And why am I so… so toned? I look in better condition than that bitch Sophia."

"The merger repaired any physical defects or injuries you had, Brain," it replied. "A Brain must be in peak condition, obviously."

"And not being able to see in the dark is a defect?"

"Yes," the creature replied. "You have many benefits from merging with me. My senses are hundreds of times better than your human ones. In your current form much of this improvement can't be realized but you will find that a certain amount is available."

"Like being stronger, or something like that?"


Taylor wondered how strong she really was. She didn't notice any difference, although now that she considered the issue, she realized that she actually felt really good. None of the aches and pains that she'd had earlier, most of them from damage caused by Sophia's various attacks over the last few days, seemed to be bothering her any more.

Reaching up she absently went to adjust her glasses out of habit. She felt her face in wonder, before smiling a little. "No defects..." she mused. That could bear investigating later. Shaking her head she went over to the storage cupboard where the janitor kept all the cleaning supplies, including, she hoped, something to cover herself with. There were no towels lying around the locker room as she'd half-hoped there might be, all the students having either taken theirs home with them or put them in their own lockers. Reaching out she grabbed the door handle and twisted, before grimacing.

'Locked. Of course it is. People around this place would steal anything if it wasn't nailed down or locked away.' Annoyed with herself and everyone who had made this entire situation happen she growled under her breath and twisted harder with irritated frustration, jumping a little when there was a metallic crunch and the knob turned, the door swinging open.

"What the hell...?" She peered at the metal knob, seeing to her amazement it now had distinct marks on it that corresponded to her fingers. She gaped once more. "How did I do that?"

"Even in your normal form you are now much stronger, as I explained just now," the Varga patiently informed her. "It is a benefit of our merger. The last Brain I joined with was surprised by this as well. She found it useful."

"Why do you keep calling me Brain, Varga?" she asked.

"Because that is what you are. You provide the direction, I provide the body and power, when required. That is the bargain."

"But what are you?" She looked back at her tail for a moment. "Aside from a voice in my head and a lizard's tail, I mean."

"My nature is… difficult to explain," the deep voice replied thoughtfully. "Long, long ago, in the world of my origin, there was a battle between two forces. The winners called the losers Evil, and themselves Good. Whether either concept is accurate I do not know. I and my companions were great forces, they called us demons, controlled by both sides at one time or another, but mostly by the 'Evil' side. When they lost most of us were destroyed or locked away. We went from striding the worlds with all before us worshiping at our feet to… useful toys."

It sounded rather sad about this.

"A bargain was made between the ancestors of my last Brain and the so called forces of Good. I was sealed away, to be brought out to fight on their side if necessary, through a merger as has been created between us. Four times over many many years this happened. After the last time, when I was sealed away once more, I believe the secret of my existence was lost. Why I have been brought forth once again and to an entirely different plane of existence I do not know, but then the greater forces are always difficult to understand."

"A demon," she stated flatly.

"Such is what we were called, yes."

"OK, then." Taylor sighed deeply. "I don't just have a giant alien lizard living in my head, I have a giant alien lizard demon living in my head. Just wonderful."

"I expect our time together to be most interesting," the Varga commented, somehow radiating a certain amount of amusement, which made her sigh again.

"And it's a comedian." Shaking her head, she quickly looked through the contents of the cupboard, finding nothing useful except a couple of large rolls of paper towel. Briefly contemplating one of these she looked doubtfully down at herself, then shook her head. 'I'd look like The Mummy, that's going to stand out. And it probably wouldn't work anyway.'

Irritated, she left the storage room and looked around again. 'Guess I could break into some lockers and look for clothes,' she mused. 'If I really am stronger now that should work.'

"I can provide clothes, Brain," the Varga commented mildly.

She stopped dead.

"Why the hell didn't you say so in the first place?" she shouted.

"You didn't ask." It sounded a little smug, making her sigh.

"Well, I'm asking now. Please give me some clothes, if it's not too much trouble," she replied with heavy sarcasm.

"Of course," it responded. There was a flicker of some peculiar energy around her for a fraction of a second, then she felt cloth covering her. Turning to the mirror she stared.

"What do you call this?" she asked slowly, looking down at herself.

"Clothes, Brain, as you requested." The Varga's voice was amused. She wasn't.

Inspecting her reflection, she saw she was wearing some sort of light armor over her torso, a dark metal chest plate and back plate over a cloth backing which was surprisingly comfortable, with articulated shoulder pieces attached at the top. She could move her arms around freely despite the armor.

Lower down, she had boots, apparently made of leather of some kind, metal again armoring them, the entire thing being knee-length. Between these she had on a skirt that came down to about half-way down her thighs, more metal plates attached to the belt holding it up and providing protection to her groin, rear, and hips. Overall it looked more like something made for ceremonial use, rather than genuinely practical armor, although when she flicked the chest plate with her finger she found it made a sound that showed it was probably much tougher than it looked. She couldn't identify the metal, but thought it most likely wasn't steel of some sort as it seemed too light for that.

"Where on earth did you get this from?" she asked with a sigh, then remembered her dream again, which was obviously not actually a dream. Her current costume was a close approximation of what the blonde princess had worn.

"My last Brain thought it was suitable attire," the Varga told her. "Is it not to your liking?"

"I haven't worn a skirt since I was about nine," she muttered, studying her appearance in the mirror. It was embarrassing, but she had to admit it was at least practical bearing in mind her tail. Pants might be difficult now she realized with a sinking heart.

"I can change it if you wish," her new companion mentioned. "I can provide anything you require."

"Anything?" she asked curiously.

"More accurately, almost anything. I cannot form complex machines without detailed knowledge of their inner workings," it admitted, a little reluctantly. "Simple constructions, weapons such as swords, those are easy. My last Brain used them a lot. You will find such skills of hers are available to you, although it will take practice to become proficient in their use."

Taylor froze, staring at herself in the mirror. "You mean I... inherited... her abilities?" This brought up all sorts of possibilities.

"Yes, Brain. Not all her knowledge will be available to you but physical skills should be."

"Oh, my god," she mumbled. After a few seconds of wild thought, she came back to the here and now with a shake of her head. "Too much to think about now."

Poking the armor again, she rubbing her finger on the breastplate curiously, wondering if it was actually bulletproof. "Where does it actually come from, though?" she asked. "I mean, do you have some sort of store room full of this sort of thing? Or did you just magic it up out of nothing?"

"While incomplete, the second statement is closer to the truth," the Varga told her with a sensation of mild amusement. "What you call magic is simply a control over certain aspects of reality which is more malleable than most realize. We are very good at various techniques that match our natures." It paused, then added sadly, "Or, rather, we were. I may be the last one left."

She frowned, the voice seemed depressed for a moment, which was understandable if it really was the last of its kind. She could understand loneliness all too well.

After a second or two, her guest resumed explaining. "The space between worlds is filled with… something you don't have the terms to explain, but let's call it energy. It isn't, not in the way your mind knows the concept, but it's close enough. My kind can pull that 'energy' from outside reality and shape it into forms that are more useful. Such as your clothes, or a sword, or almost anything of that nature. With significant effort such things can be made permanent but are normally temporary then allowed to revert to their original form when no longer required."

Somewhat suspiciously, based on this comment, Taylor asked, "Are you poking around in my mind to learn things?"

"Of course, Brain. We are, after all, one. At a minimum I need to know your language." Once again it sounded amused. She put her hands on her hips and stared at her reflection, somewhat annoyed yet also intrigued.

"Does that mean I get to look in your mind? It's only fair."

"With time, yes. You have already benefited from access to certain knowledge, but I cannot simply connect both of us directly. Your mind is… not as large as mine. Or as old. If we connected like that at the current time I fear you would be overwhelmed and damaged severely." The Varga sounded genuinely regretful and a little worried. "I do not wish that to happen."

Thinking on the words of her new friend, Taylor considered the problems. She could see how a 'demon', whatever that really meant, with possibly thousands of years of experience quite outside her own could easily cause catastrophic damage if their minds joined completely. What would her own fifteen years and change of life be in all that? She'd get overwhelmed like a drop of water in a swimming pool of information.

"No, I think I don't want that to happen either, Varga," she mumbled, shivering for a second or two.

She looked around, then down at the floor, seeing bloody footprints leading from the door to the showers. She wondered whether she should do something about that. Following them back to the locker, she stared at it for some time, her hand over her nose to block the stench, which was a lot worse than she remembered. Obviously her sense of smell had been significantly enhanced as well. After a while she came to a decision and reached out to unlock the locker, opening the door and staring at the contents with a shiver of revulsion and remembrance. Her stomach threatened to rebel for a moment but she managed to bring it under control.

Heading for the arts department, she went in and looked around for a little while before she found what she was looking for. Picking up the battered digital camera which was all the school could apparently afford for their students to use, she checked the battery had a charge, then rummaged around in the cupboard next to where the camera was kept to find a memory card.

She erased it in the camera then headed back to her locker, spending a few minutes photographing the inside of it, including the bloody hand prints on the sides and back, as well as the footprints on the floor. She followed them to the locker room with the flash strobing brightly every few feet. When she'd finished, she returned the camera to its cupboard having removed the card which she kept.

Privately amazed at the calm way she was dealing with things she went back to the locker room and stared at the closet handle and the impressions in it, before cautiously reaching out, grabbing it, and heaving sideways. After some minor resistance the entire lock mechanism attached to the handle ripped out of the cheap wood, leaving a large splintered hole that looked like someone had gone at the door with a crowbar.

Taking the evidence with her, she headed towards the nearest phone, the one in the secretaries office. Luckily she didn't need to break into this room as it was unlocked. Soon she was listening to the phone at home ring.


"Taylor!? My god, where are you? Are you all right? What happened?" Her father sounded frantic and distressed. Choking back a sob she wiped her eyes, some of the recent events finally catching up with her.

"I'm at school," she said quietly. "Can you come and pick me up, please?" Her tears fell faster.

"I'm leaving now," he replied, sounds of someone quickly putting shoes and a coat on coming to her. "Stay there, don't go anywhere. Are you OK?"

"Kind of," she told him with a half-laugh, half-sob. "I have a lot to tell you, but I need to do it at home. Don't let anyone know you're coming to get me, please."

"The police have been looking for you for hours," he protested. "I'll have to tell them."

"No!" She thought frantically, glancing back at the end of her tail. "Not yet. Please, it's important."

The girl could almost feel her father's frustration over the phone. He sighed faintly, then said, "All right. But you'd better have a good reason."

"I think I do, Dad," she told him, suppressing an inappropriate giggle.

"OK. I'll be there as soon as I can," he replied. "Stay put."

Agreeing, she hung up, then slumped into the secretaries chair, finding that her tail made this a little uncomfortable, but eventually working out how to arrange it to allow her to sit. "He's going to go nuts," she mumbled. Checking the clock on the wall she saw it was nearly one AM. Eventually, after five minutes or so, she rose and wandered to the nearest exit, at the side of the school, looking out through the glass door into the night.

Peering out into the car park she watched as it began raining, the downpour steadily increasing until she could barely see the other side. Eventually, twenty minutes or so later, a set of headlights turned off the road into the car park, approaching as close to the school as possible. "I'm going to get soaked," she sighed, pushing the emergency release to open the door then stepping outside. A sudden weight across her shoulders made her look down to see with bemused appreciation she was now wearing a long cloak with a hood, again based on the one the blonde girl in her dream had used.

"Thanks," she said under her breath.

"You're welcome, Brain," the Varga replied quietly. Shaking her head she ran through the rain towards the car, her father jumping out as she appeared in the dark, running around to hug her so hard she could hear the armor she'd almost forgotten she was wearing creak under the strain.

"Thank god, Taylor," he said, sounding very stressed and very relieved. "I've been so worried. No one knew where you were, the police said you'd probably run away, the school didn't know anything..." He shook his head, his eyes wide behind his own glasses.

A puzzled expression crossed his face. Pulling back a little he looked her up and down. "What on earth are you wearing?" he asked.

Taylor half-smiled. "It's part of the weird story I need to tell you," she said, wiping water from her face with one hand. "Let's get in the car. It's kind of wet."

Almost laughing, he reluctantly released his daughter, then opened the passenger door for her. She slid in, arranging her tail as best she could to allow her to sit, finding it difficult but possible with care. Putting on the seat belt she waited as he got in the other side, taking his glasses off and cleaning the rain off before replacing them and looking at her in the light of the interior lamp. "Where are your glasses?" he suddenly asked, looking both worried and curious.

"That's not important, Dad," she said honestly. "Let's go home and I can tell you what happened."

"Tell me now," he requested.

"If I do you'll be so angry you might have an accident," she replied firmly. He looked unconvinced, but she folded her arms and waited. Eventually, with a sigh, he shook his head and started the car, pulling his belt over his shoulder with one hand as he put the vehicle in drive with the other.

"You remind me of your mother so much sometimes," he grunted, sounding aggrieved yet also slightly amused. She smiled a little, saying nothing as he drove out of the car park onto the road and indicated left, soon heading home.

"It better be a damn good story," he said half-way there.

She sighed a little. "It's not good at all," she told him, not looking at him. "But it's a long one." Both of them fell silent again for the remainder of the journey.