Disclaimer: Guerrilla Games owns the world that they've created in Horizon Zero Dawn up to and including its characters, its rendition of Earth, and all related concepts. With a myriad of writers, artists, and editors, actual rights are a nightmare when you go near a comic book universe. Suffice it to say that Marvel Entertainment LLC owns all of the property printed in their comics, along with the television, movie, and gaming adaptations of said same property. Not mine, don't sue, and so forth and so on.
Summary: "I thought you might be... like me, shall we say. You're not, but you're no less fascinating for what you've turned out to be."
Joe's Note: This one came to me while I was riding in the car and talking with Lexi about the state of the greater Horizon Zero Dawn universe at the end of The Frozen Wild. The story has the ability to be crossed over almost infinitely due to the very nature of the premise: anyone could have been included whole cloth within ELEUTHIA's DNA registry and recreated the way Elisabet Sobeck was as Aloy. So we started brainstorming who it might be fun to see brought back to life and quickly realized that a select few characters would make for some amazing havoc: psi talents. While other mutants - or wizards or metahumans - would come back in similar straits to Aloy and bear only superficial resemblances to their original selves, a psi could have used the astral plane to escape the Faro Swarm, only to return to inhabit a reborn body of theirs. Especially given that she's vivacious, confident, and a born leader... Emma Frost seemed like the natural choice for reincarnation and so this story was born.
Dedications & Thanks: To Nicholas, Howard, Samuel, Alexander, Tibor, Alonsis2, Daniel, Beverly, Daniel, Jade, Robert, Kimeru, Charles, Crygon20, Subtle, Christopher, Stephen, Fablesrogue, Morgan, Janne, Joseph, Jason, bloodylord, Marc, Ziryo, Leigh, Chris, George, Koby, William, Dale, Dimitria, Haematite, Mauday, Ken, Paul, Pat, Edward, Roman, Warren, and Jess for sponsoring me on , and making it easier for me to spend more of my time writing.
"...we have been at peace with the Carja. It is time to restore our bonds of trade with Meridian. These envoys come to us under a banner of peace!"
Standing in front of the matriarch's lodge, Aloy did her best to focus on the speaker instead of continuing to gawk at her surroundings the way she had been for the past hour or so. It was more difficult than it sounded; both Mother's Heart itself and her fellow Nora were just so... fascinating. Despite Teb's thoughtful gift of an authentic Nora outfit, she was keenly aware that she wasn't one of these people. She didn't blend in. Probably because she could spend days, weeks, or even months in the village and still not be used to the sights and sounds. And... oh. Someone new was speaking. A Carja? A strange-looking Carja at that. Not that Aloy had met many Carja in her day, but she'd certainly never seen one who looked quite like that.
Unfurling a scroll of some sort, the red-clad man cleared his throat and began to speak. "An annunciation of gratitude, written by the hand of Sun-King Avad." Whatever the 'annunciation' was, the man never got to finish it as the men and women surrounding Aloy came alive, hurling first insults and then fruit at the man.
"Hey, hey! Hold your fruit! Nora faithful, hold your fruit!" The burley, more heavily-armored man surged forward, positioning himself between the cowering speaker and the crowd. "Now I'm Oseram, not Carja-" Well, that confirmed her earlier suspicions. Good to know that she had a decent eye for tribal origin. "-so I'll put it to you straight: the Thirteenth Sun-King was a murderous bung! He was! A tyrant and a monster! Raided my tribe for blood sacrifice, just like yours! My own sister was taken! I hated the Carja!"
A soft, throaty chuckle from her left gave Aloy a start, making her look to her left at the space that had been unoccupied mere seconds before. Somehow she hadn't noticed the arrival of a... very unusual-looking figure. She was draped in flowing blue robes that reminded Aloy of staring into a lake: medium blue from the shoulders all the way down through the waist before slowing transitioning into a much darker shade of blue. Like the Nora, she wore bits of fallen Machines as ornamentation, including a massive headpiece festooned with ribbons. If those two factors hadn't convinced Aloy that this woman was just as much an outsider as she was, the fact that she had blonde hair and bits of glowing blue machine cable sewn into her shoulders would have cinched it. Although that raised the question of why a Banuk was visiting the Sacred Lands. "I'm here because I've traveled quite some distance to observe your Proving. You're not the redhead I was hoping for, but I'm still intrigued. For now, though, this is an amusing distraction. Erend's not exactly helping his friend's cause, now is he? And here I thought James was terrible at delivering speeches..."
"But the Thirteenth King is dead two years now, and who killed him? The Fourteenth!"
Even as the Oseram continued his speech to the restless crowd, Aloy found her attention captured by her new companion. How had the blonde known what Aloy was thinking? Had she really come all the way from Ban-Ur just to witness one outcast's Proving? And- "If you actually bothered to vocalize those questions, darling, we could have a proper conversation. Since you seem to be struck dumb by my beauty at the moment? My name is Emma, I'm what I suppose you primitives would call a seer, and I did indeed come all the way from Ban-Ur just to meet you." Turning to rake glowing blue eyes up and down Aloy, Emma offered a faint smirk. "I thought you might be... like me, shall we say. You're not, but you're no less fascinating for what you've turned out to be."
"Not because he lusted for power, but because someone had to put an end to his father's atrocities!
Aloy raised a brow curiously at that statement even as she blushed faintly at the frankly appraising look being sent her way. While she was an outcast, that didn't mean she was completely naive or ignorant of certain facts of life. Rost had stumbled his way through several aspects of her education, and so while she wasn't as prepared for... certain types of interactions... as she might have liked? She was at least capable of recognizing that she was being flirted with. "Oh? And what might that be?"
"The message that this poor priest means to read is an apology. Straight from the lips of the Fourteenth King. So please, can't you lend him your ears?"
Reaching up, Emma cupped one of Aloy's blushing cheeks in her hand before shaking her head fondly. "You know, I never did consider you that way the first time around. I was married to my redhead, you were married to your work. This time around... we'll see. Because to answer your question, Aloy? We're both anachronisms, you and I. Neither of us should be here. But the fact that you exist means that maybe I finally stand a chance of finding out why I'm here."
"Tha... thank you. An annunciation of gratitude, written by the hand of Sun-King Avad, Fourteenth Luminance of the Radiant Line..."
Before Aloy could ask - or really even think on - what any of that meant, her Focus chimed and flared to life unbidden for the first time in recent memory. Doing her best not to look suspicious - even Rost had been uncomfortable with her ability to see and manipulate something that he couldn't - Aloy surveyed her surroundings in hope of figuring out what was catching its attention. It turned out to be a stocky bald man standing off to the side of the stage, no more a Nora than the men on stage or Emma. Purple circles of light radiated outward from the center of his head within the Focus's construct, along with a warning of an 'Unknown Device Detected'. "Ooh, a mystery. I'll let you see to that." What? Could Emma see- "I don't need to be able to see what your Focus is projecting with my eyes when I can see it with yours. Like I said, go solve your mystery. I'll see you tomorrow." Winking, Emma blew Aloy a kiss with blue-tinged lips before turning and slipping away through the crowd, singing softly as she went. "There must be some kind of way outta here, said the joker to the thief..."
What a strange woman, Aloy thought with a bemused smile as she watched Emma's retreating back. While logically she knew that she should be unnerved at best by the mere idea of a person who could read her thoughts and downright terrified at worst... for some reason, Aloy just didn't find the blonde threatening in the least. Maybe it was because the two of them weren't really that different after all: Emma could hear thoughts while Aloy could see things that nobody else could see. Or maybe it was because the Banuk's use of her powers seemed grounded in mischievousness rather than malicious intent.
...or maybe it was because Emma was very pretty and seemed interested in her, something Aloy couldn't say about any other human that she'd ever met. Aloy's blush returned as she shot one last look over at Emma's back before shaking her head. Thoughts of telepathy and pretty blondes could wait, she reminded herself. For now, she had a mystery to solve: the bald man with the 'unknown device'. But as she began making her way through the crowd toward the stranger, she found herself mumbling words that were both foreign and strangely familiar at the same time. "I see jokers on my left, thieves upon my right, you'd find me in the middle if I picked a different life..."
Aloy let out a victorious whoop as the Grazer that she'd chosen as her target stumbled and fell, skidding along the ground for several feet and kicking up clouds of snow before finally coming to a stop. While the machines had never directly threatened her or the other teens vying to become Braves, trying to pick off a single Grazer as the herd stampeded and wheeled around them had been nerve-racking. But she'd succeeded in the first step of the Proving; now all that remained was to seize her trophy and move on.
Making her way over to the fallen machine, Aloy quickly drew her knife from its sheath on her belt and got to work prying the Grazer's head apart. While most any portion of the machine would do as long as it was distinctly and obviously taken from a Grazer brought down by her own arrow, nothing quite said 'I killed a Grazer' like the horns, Aloy mused. Hell, looking at some of the others around Mother's Heart, maybe she could turn it into headwear after she won the Proving? Cutting through one last bundle of machine cable, Aloy hoisted her trophy high above her head-
She didn't question why she was hearing Emma's voice in the middle of the Proving Grounds. Nor did she question why she was reasonably certain that she'd heard Emma's voice in her head, rather than with her ears. Aloy simply obeyed, dropping to the ground so that the Grazer's body and legs shielded her from three angles. There was the soft whoosh of something passing overhead, the thud that she associated with an arrow striking its target, and then... a grunt followed by a muttered oath? Lifting her head, Aloy peered around curiously. Bast was standing with his bow in one hand, a look of mute horror on his face. Following his line of sight, Aloy found Resh swaying back and forth unsteadily with an arrow sticking out of his right shoulder. What the-
'Resh convinced Bast that he should destroy your trophy to slow you down. Resh is currently regretting that decision.'
'I'll explain later.'
'Please keep moving. I have a not inconsiderable amount of machine cable riding on the outcome of your Proving, and I'm a very sore loser.'
"The Red-Hair dies now! Everyone forward!"
Aloy's eyes narrowed hatefully as the masked man ordered his men onward, leaping down off the ledge he'd been standing on as he pressed the attack himself. She still didn't even know who they were or why she was fighting them; they didn't look like Carja or even Tenakth for that matter. They'd just shown up at the tail end of her Proving and opened fire on them, striking down the venerable female Proctor first before slowly and methodically eliminating the newfound Braves. Vail and Bast had lasted the longest at her side, but even they'd fallen beneath the devastating firepower of... Aloy wasn't quite sure what to call the enormous weapon the one man wielded. Other than perhaps Death.
'It's one of the twin ventral machine guns off a FAS-FSP5 Khopesh... although I doubt any of that means anything to you.' Aloy's next shot went wide to the right as she twitched, Emma's mental voice startling her badly enough to throw off her normally impeccable aim. 'Apologies. At least you won't have to worry about me thinking in your direction for the rest of the fight.' Then a blue-clad figure wielding a staff crackling with lightning came hurtling over ridge, slamming into one of the attackers and driving him to the ground. Pirouetting, she discharged a bolt of lightning into another opponent before smashing the butt of her staff into the head of a third. "Helis! The Red-Hair is mine! Go back and tell your digital master that he can't have her!"
Stepping out from behind a rocky outcropping where he'd apparently been waiting for his lieutenant to finish the job, a large man with a top knot wearing even less than Aloy herself chuckled deeply before cracking his knuckles. "Oh goody, it's the Old One. I'm not sure which will get me the bigger reward: the Red-Hair's scalp or yours."
"You... honestly think yourself capable of taking me, don't you? How amusing." Emma's glowing eyes pulsed brighter and all around her, Aloy's attackers dropped to one knee and bowed their heads in a clear sign of submission. "With what army? This one? Depending on my form, you either can't touch me or can't hurt me. I somehow doubt my scalp is going anywhere anytime soon."
Helis actually laughed at that, the sound sending chills down Aloy's spine. Who laughed in the face of something like that? "You can control them, maybe even me... but what about the men about to crest the ridge with carts full of explosives? Or the ones leading a Corruptor straight toward Mother's Watch? I may not kill you tonight, or the Red-Hair for that matter... but you can't stop all of us."
Stabbing the tip of her spear down into the snow, Emma undid her four-colored twisted belt before shrugging off her robes, revealing more skin than Aloy had ever seen on another human being. Then Emma balled her hands into fists and... shifted... her entire body turning into some sort of glittering crystal. "First rule of villainy, Helis: never challenge a hero to do anything, especially something that seems impossible. They have a way of proving you wrong, often in an incredibly humiliating way. Now... normally I view something as base as fighting to be beneath me, but I do believe that I'm going to enjoy this."
"Archers, focus your fire on the Red-Hair! Leave the Old One to me!"
As Aloy found herself coming back under fire, she ducked behind the rocky outcropping that had kept her safe so far and nocked another arrow. Peering out of cover, her eyes widened as Emma tore her spear free of the ground and leapt down off the ridge, landing in a crouch with a heavy thud. Rising to her feet, she ignored the stray arrow bouncing off of her face as she lifted her spear high and hurled herself forward to meet the charging Helis.