This is something I've been working on for a while, and I swear, it was cursed! One of my current ideas for my mega crossover Kingdom Crossvers involves Sierra becoming a Gargantuan Ogre (a fae giant, in other words) and influenced by the Redcap Kith of Changeling: The Dreaming at some point prior to her eventual appearance in that story. I wrote this as a way of seeing just how that might happen in the mainstream TDI universe.
Also, writing this was a pain in my head: darkfic gives me a bit of a headache. Well, maybe this isn't darkfic exactly, but the lighting's quite dim. (It doesn't help that I had to be choosy with dropping terms from Changeling.)
Disclaimer: I don't own anything I don't own.
We all grow up on fairy tales. Our first exposure to them these days is often in a somewhat light-hearted, "child-friendly" form. The good fairies bless the heroes so they can overcome their challenges, and the wicked fairies' curses ultimately come to naught.
Everyone lives happily ever after.
But as we start to find the older fairy tales in their original form, things turn out differently. Blood and sex creep into the tales. People come to bad ends. These stories were told to children not to comfort them as they fell asleep, but as cautionary tales.
Warnings not to stray too far from home. Not to go into the dark woods. Not to wander down the road at night. Stay at home, be good, mind your manners…or something bad will happen to you.
The Good Folk might come and take you away.
-Prolouge to Changeling: The Lost
Change is possible; the potential for a better future exists. However, every victory has it's price. It is our sweat that turns the wheel, our tears that moves the mountain, and our blood that sweeps away the chains. Nothing good comes without a cost, be it hard work, denial, or sacrifice.
We are the agents of our own salvation. The future is in our hands.
-Preface to the Dawn Court, also known as the Bloody Rose, the Auroral Court, and the Court of Salvations
When Sierra bothers to think about it now, she remembers that she has always been hungry and big even before They came for her.
Always hungry, all the time, and she knows all too well that there are hungers far less transitory and deeper then the need for food. The desires to consume, the bone-grinding coldness of complete need go far deeper than that, and she remembers hunger fit to drive her mad. Always hungry, even as a little girl, absolutely starving for the love no one seemed to want to give, for the affection she always felt too small to contain inside herself despite her unsual size. And she always was unsually big. Not just for a girl, but big in general. Big voice, big heart, just big all over. Nowadays, she's not sure what's more integral to herself; being big or being hungry and it bothers her that she doesn't really know who she is in full.
(hunger is like a fire, she thinks sometimes. Drop anything into it and it gets bigger for a moment but it NEEDS more, needs it so bad and it would eat the world if it could, just to fuel that endless ravenous abyss, and oh, now she knows enough of hunger to sympathize)
But that was before, and 'before' is a important term now. There's such a vast gulf between Sierra-that-was and the Sierra-that-is, and it hurts when she remembers. There's a thousand barbs in her memory, ten thousand awful hateful things that whisper behind the voices of strangers and gnash their teeth in empty allies in the dead of night and she doesn't know if they're real or not, but that doesn't matter, she knows better now...
But that is in the past, and that makes it hurt a little less. The thought is only a gust of wind in her mind, a gentle fire that burns away only a little of the remembered horrors that cling to her soul like wicked thorns
(the Thorns, cutting open dripping red tracks in her shoulders and she cries and screams and the claws hold so tight until her shoulder breaks and the blood is everywhere and the Thorns of the Hedge bite so deep into her that she can feel her mind tearing)
and it's still enough to bring her a measure of peace. She survived and escaped, and that's a victory over Them.
(The invaders. The abductors. The dream-born living stories that took her away. Those that are Them and They. The Others. The Gentry. The Masters. The True Fae. They do it for fun. They do it for fun. They do it for fun. This is a vital point, and it scares Sierra half-mad; the nightmares from beyond the Hedge don't have any real reason for falling down to Earth like the things in a cosmic horror story and chewing your soul to see how you scream. They are insane, and they do not require a reason for anything at all.)
She remembers many things. That are not real, but exist. Things glorious and terrible in turn, emotional surges that turn even the worst of pains into experiences so intense that it becomes addictive and almost worth remaining in those faraway places of wonder and nightmare-
Sierra's memories of that place (Arcadia, the name whispers in her brain, Arcadia Arcadia) are fragmented and contradictory. She doesn't know every detail of her awful Durance in that place, her personal fairy tale of brutality and beautiful madness, and what she does remember is not something that she wants to remember.
It haunts her how close she really was to succumbing. (don't let the bastards win, a glowering memory of Dawn tells her, a heat-swelled avatar of Hope, primordial and unshaped. don't even THINK defeat to them, they know you and they smell you and they WANT YOU TO GIVE UP and just thinking defeat gives them what THEY WANT) She was there for too long, so far away from home in that unearthly realm of dreams and nightmares, wonders and horrors, Dreaming and Lost at the same time, imprisoned and broken at that thing's claws and remade into something else-
It is in the past, and that's something she tells herself when she wakes up screaming and crying and absolutely convinced that Cody isn't real and home is a lying memory and it's all a lie that her tormentor has crafted from madness and shadows just to see the look on her face when it's ripped from her grasp...
But sanity prevails. Her own dream has been crafted and it's real; she is home, she is not in Arcadia anymore and she never will again unless it's to tear the whole thing down.
The nightmares don't stop. They may never stop. She's been changed, and it's certain that she is not precisely human anymore
(she's met others like her, her fellow Fae-touched, and they are words for what she's become: words like 'Gargantuan' when they notice her tremendous size and 'Gristlegrinder' when they take note of her montrous appetite and nightmare teeth and there's always the word 'Ogre')
and she will never be human again. It's not that big a deal to her anymore; she is what she is, and she's made peace with that. What she has not made peace with is the reality of the situation, of her torments in that nightmare place, her Durance where she was reshaped by the alien energies of that place.
Arcadia, some called it. The otherworldly domain of the True Fae. Faerie, others said, because the denizens and the realm were one and the same, even if it was not exactly a single place (worlds within worlds, a thousand and more endless domains of madness and whim). Even Rakshastan, according to a few old and strange accounts; a realm where utter chaos met the will of the Others and was mastered to their wills. Sierra didn't have her own name for it, even after she escaped, changed but alive, and she was scared of even thinking about it; words and names have power, and you did not want them to have power over you.
Them. They. The Others. The Gentry. The Fair Folk. The Lords and Ladies. They had so many names given to them by people like Sierra (Changelings, the broken and abused runaway slaves and victims of the Fae, remade and half-Fae themselves) because names had power and They knew when you spoke their names and, oh, They just hated it when you gave them an unkind name. Better to speak a pleasant title, even if it's a sarcastic one, because They don't really get sarcasm.
They were the Good Folk. The Unseelie, the Gentry, the Hill People, the Sidhe (or as Sierra and some of her fellow captives called them, 'Those Asshats That Dragged Me To Arcadia') and a thousand other names given to them. Never speak their true name. It just got their attention, but it was better than saying an unkind name for them. Better to even say 'faerie' instead of any word for the monsters they were: mad bad gods that were vice defined, self-centered matrices of narrative impulse born from the chaotic energies of the Wyrd (and Sierra REALLY doesn't know what that is, only that it is relationship and fate, and of the Dreaming, a aspect of reality linked but distinct from Arcadia, born of dreams and ideas and human creativity and it can't be all bad if the True Fae can only leech power from it) and, all too often, monstrously passionate things whose finest emotion is a species of vindictive curiosity for humans.
Sierra knew all about how fascinating the True Fae found humans. The scars still itched when she touched cold iron, like she was being opened all over again. Oh yes, They just loved their little experiments, loved to take humans away through the Hedge and remake their precious new slaves in their image...
Sierra remembered when she'd had normal human teeth (and she looks into mirriors and sees big teeth like a shark's, in so many rows and gleaming like burnished steel). She remembered when she didn't have to go through her days with a impossible hunger like she wanted to eat everything and not care what it was made of or if it was still moving (and never mind if she cries when she does because the hunger hurts) or when she was tall but not so tall that she only had to stoop to fit into doors sometimes (and now bigness defines who and what she is; she's a giant before she's an Ogre and there's a consolation, because it feels so good to get really big). But all that was a long time ago.
She still remembers Arcadia, if not clearly. That is a blessing; she's met changelings who remember Arcadia perfectly well, crying in their padded cells and screaming at the phantom scars bleeding without pause, their bodies breaking apart and their tortured essences falling out of the world and going elsewhere; she hopes it's a place of dreaming. Better to dream than the awful reality of Arcadia, she thinks.
(The Fae are dreams, she once thought in a lucid moment. It was a bit inappropiate at the time, given that she was in the process of wrestling a devil-thing that wanted her twitching corpse for an earring. This was after Arcadia, for she and Cody have a decidedly more...interesting life than they did after Total Drama but before she was taken by her captor. Dreams and wonders and all the beautiful things we can think of, but everyone's had a nightmare that makes them afraid to ever sleep again. Nightmares where there's no compassion, no empathy, nothing but self-centered evil and not a speck of humantiy anywhere.
The changelings are better dreams. They can only use the Wyrd and all it's power, because they can't really change. Humans can, and they don't know why.)
Even so, she is a changeling. She's one of the Lost. And there is now going back now. Even among her friends and family. Because she can never forget what happened to her. She can never forget the monster that took her away from her home and into the dream-worlds of Arcadia.
She cannot forget her Durance at the hands of the Fae dragon Dzarumazh the Deathless.
Sierra remembers her abduction.
At least, she nearly does. She knows that it happened, but the details are muddled; many different memories, and plenty of them conflict; she cannot have both been taken from her living room or tricked into a one-sided deal by a scale-skinned man that breathed burning venom when he spoke, but she remembers that and more. Maybe they did both happen. Maybe she's just crazy (everyone always said I was crazy, she laughs to herself and trying not to cry when it gets hard to tell what's real and what's just a figment of her scarred mind and eroding clarity).
But she remembers the cause of her abduction, even if she can't remember how it happened.
There was a name, Dorian Hargrave, and it hid a deeper and dangerous name. It was as much a lie as the human shell he dressed himself in, and she screams at herself for never seeing the scales at the corner of his throat, or the flickers of fire between his teeth or even the impossible shade of red behind his sunglasses. The lizards that followed him like an entourage, the snakes following him like an honor guard; so odd, to have reptiles here in the North.
Sierra doesn't remember exactly what occured between them. She doesn't remember if he offered her a deal coached in langauge too poetic or alien for her to realize the awful terms, or if he simply took a shine to her and stole her away right then and there. (Other changelings were replaced, had a fake person made from sticks and shadows and lies that took over their lives, but Sierra didn't. She's afraid to find out why.)
But it was an unkind thing, however it happened. He stole her, in whatever way it happened, took her away past the world of light and darkness, between the shadows of other places and through doorways that no one should ever see...
Into the Hedge.
As Sierra understands it, the Hedge is a barrier between realities, standing between Earth and Arcadia, if 'between' is really a word that can be applied to the nebulous patterns of reality.
All doors, closed spaces and reflective surfaces are portals to the Hedge, requiring only the right keys to open right into it. No one in their right mind should want to; it's a strange place of vines and Thorns that cut deeper than the bone, shredding body and soul alike, pulling out bits of humanity from those lost in it. A universe of self-aware mazes in constant flux, shifting around with every step you take and no indication of how it's changed, filled with little Hollows that changelings and True Fae have made in it and populated by the hobgoblins (she's been to the Goblin Markets, and she doesn't trust hobs one little bit; they're too mecurial, too unreliable, too Fae) that seem to sprout from it like flowers from a bed of weeds swarming with dangerous stinging things.
This wasn't made clear to her, of course, when she was pulled through the Thorns and shredded so badly that her sanity and humanity gushed worse than the bleeding. Sierra only learned it later, during a brief time having her mind digested by a gigantic living library that shoved a great deal of bizarre lore into her head in some alien understanding of 'payment'. The name seems a bit silly and inappropiate; 'Hedge' was too simple a name for the unfurling labyrinth between worlds, that unending place of thorny vines bigger then cities, the smaller vines branched up until they were taller than skyscrapers, murderous things living between them and tearing off bits of her skin for blankets in the brief time she had literally been dragged through the place.
The vines had moved. The Hedge was alive, and reacted to people, and sometimes it drew people inside itself; every door, every window, every gap was a potential doorway into the Hedge. Do the right actions at the right place at the right time, even on complete accident, and the Hedge would open for you and pull you right in. You might never get out. You might be prey for the briarwolves that hunted there like the werewolves they superficially resembled, dragged down and torn apart so they could eat your last gasps of pain before they ate your flesh.
Or the Lords and Ladies of Faerie could find you and claim you for their own. Under the circumstances, it would seem a good deal; the laws of Faerie are not the same as those of Earth, and without the sayso of the Fae, nothing will help you there. Water will not stave dehydration. Fire will not warm you even as it burns you. Food will not sustain, and it is entirely possible to die of starvation with your belly full of food that just sits there without being digested and rots inside you.
Sierra, unlike so many others she saw there, did not die under the ministrations of Dzarumazh and his monstrous kin. She lived. Oh yes, she lived. Her captor and her Keeper, the thing that called itself Dorian Hargrave for a time, now wished otherwise (or so she hoped) but she lived, and because she was capable of enduring it, she was changed. For the most terrible thing of the Hedge were the thorns. They cut deeper then flesh, deeper than bone, slicing through will and spirit alike and lacerate your very soul, tearing away your very humanity, cutting gaps into your very existence...gaps that the stuff of Faerie seeped right into and filled up, and made it possible for a person to be reshaped into a fae-thing in their own right.
Dragged to an alien place at the whims of a dream-monster, that is clear enough. After that, there are only memories, often faint and distant but clear enough to hurt. Sierra remembers far too much.
She remembers being broken.
She doesn't know why. She doesn't think she ever will.
She doesn't even think that there was a purpose to any of it.
For all of that, Sierra's memories of her first torments in Arcadia are muddled. She doesn't remember much of when she was weak enough to be considered human, but she does remember when her Keeper revealed himself after two weeks of...something, she doesn't remember what, but she remembers blades on her skin and goblin-things with horns and the walls screaming. She remembers the pain getting less over time, of getting bigger somehow, and stronger.
He appeared to her and wrenched her from there, and rvealed himsef in his full glory: Dorian Hargrave was an illusion, a passing fancy, and the Fae lord that has claimed her is no elf or goblin, but a dragon, a massive green behemoth that blots out the sky when he spreads his wings, jaws like the edges of cliffsides, a serpetine body larger than land-bridges and claws that could tear city blocks from the ground. He is a avaricious god in reptilian flesh, greed and vanity given shape, the myth of the unstoppable beast brought to life. He comes to her, acid-smelling fire dripping with every breath, and he speaks to her, surprisingly soft-spoken. "Let us see what I can make of you." He had leaned closer, his face something so awful only the sheer unreality of her new life keeping her from falling to her knees and sobbing like a child. "We have much work to do on you."
"Why?" It's the only thing she can think to ask: Why is he doing this to her? Why did he orchestrate all of this? Why her? And why is he doing this at all?
She never does get an answer.
He takes her and carries her through a dozen worlds, calling in favors, demanding that his newest experiment be treated with all according gravity, and it is unkind to Sierra to be that experiment. She remembers such awful things (and, always, getting ever so slightly bigger and bigger and bigger), and she doesn't remember when she gets used to them.
Her changes are dramatic, when she's aware of them. She changes even more drastically then before, her limbs lengthening as her muscles swell and her body grows ever larger; her musculature becomes dense and Fae magics reshape her ears to angular lengths. (She doesn't know why it does. All Fae things have pointed ears, possibly because humans expect them to. Arcadia is at least partly formed from human myths and expectations, and possibly it just enjoys screwing with people.) And it is all derived from enduring torments that should have killed her.
Massive claws, lashing into her back again and again, her skin knitting instantly but the pain doubling every time; he bit his claws so that his own monster's blood entered her would and joined with her, burning like fire from the inside, seeping into her organs, her muscles, her stomach burning and warping into something like a trash compactor and an incinerator and when he leaves her to cry on that operating table, she has already bled so much that she can slip out without any effort, but she hasn't seen Cody or anyone in so long and she misses them so badly and the hunger screams up inside her; she is hungry like she has never been before, a ravenous aching need and it HURTS and she's chewing on the stuffing of a cot before she realizes what she's doing and when Dzarumazh comes back to observe the results, he laughs to see her sobbing with the pain of her hungers and chewing on a metal pan with bleeding broken teeth and he is pleased, because everything else in the room is gone and she's growing larger than any human could ever be, her muscles swelling and her skin's gone rough where the scars have been.
Being chained to a table and sliced upon by a dozen little lizard-men who knew how to keep her alive and conscious while they opened her up and took her bones out and bathed them in eldritch chemicals before putting them back inside her, sewing in muscles from a dozen gigantic beasts to keep them from bursting back out of her body. She had been awake for every screaming moment of it, and she can feel the essence of those beasts sliding into her spirit and changing her in some fundamental fashion, and she can still remember Cody and her mother and she wants so badly to go home.
(By then, she is already far larger than any human could have ever been, nine feet or more in height, a giant by human standards. It's such a quick change, like being a giant is some facet of her being that was just waiting for a catalyst like this to bring it out. It's not what Dzarumazh wants from her and she feels such stubborn pride in that tiny victory.)
Times passes. She doesn't know how much. She just knows that it's far too much and she's been in this place too long and it's rooted inside her and it's changing her: she suspects that Dzarumazh wants something pretty, a lovely dragon-girl made in his image, with all her attempts to mold her into something beautiful and strong, but she does not satisfy him and turns the changes to her own ends without realizing it; he peers on her one day after he has given her over to the many-limbed oak man with broken babies hanging on chains from his belly and Dzarumazh seems disappointed to see that Sierra, stuck in the pit of meat and bones that chews at every exposed bit of skin, is trying to eat her way out, so ravenously hungry that she's lost her capacity to care about what she puts into her mouth or if it's even still moving when she swallows it, and something in his attitude changes when they throw in her meal for the week - a slithering bundle of rotten meat filled with bones harder than rock, and she's so hungry she chews the cracks open and sucks out of the marrow.
That's not enough and she keeps chewing, not caring when her teeth break or bleed because she's just that hungry; maybe it's the pain of that monstrous hunger fueling the energies of Arcadia, maybe it's some hidden aspect of herself surfacing and given life by her torments, but her muscles strengthen, her jaws distend just enough to shove things down her throat and, after a few days of her jaws hurting, there's a relief of the pain and it stops when new teeth push out the broken remnants. This teeth are inhuman, huge oversized triangle-shaped things like they came from the jaws of a shark, set in many rows and they cut through flesh and metal like they were nothing and it feels so good when the hurting finally stops.
The pit walls stop biting when she starts biting back. Eventually she has to be moved; not because the pit is afraid of her, which it was, but because she's gotten too big to fit in it if she hadn't arleady eaten it. Now she just doesn't care what catches in her teeth because she'll just grow more (Cody did sometimes joke about how she was like a shark) and now she's always hungry and it's hard to care about what she eats-
(Arcadian madness gets into her head quick.)
Dzarumazh does not seem pleased by this turn of events, but Sierra doesn't really care on the few occasions where she is in a position to gauge his moods. (And those times when she is also been fed enough to dull down the ever-present hunger to a dull roar and is capable of thinking straight for a few minutes are rare.) He doesn't seem to approve of her attitude and subjects her to ever greater torments.
She endures, even as her body keeps slowly adapting to her difficulties, defeating them in various ways that drive whatever thing Dzarmazh has cajoled into breaking her to distraction. It gets harder, as her hungers and even more basic urges take a stronger hold on her mind (more monstrous by the day, and the metal and dirt under her feet whisper Ogre and Gristlegrinder to her, of her) but she struggles to stay sane. It's not easy; she sees her share of fellow captives every so often, broken in mind and soul and often body; more changed than her, sometimes less so, but it seems to her that they keep getting smaller and smaller.
It's a shock when Sierra realizes just how impossibly big she's become. She didn't notice her growth, didn't pay any mind to how her muscles grew denser or her bones lengthened or her hips widened to match her larger frame. She's become strong, like an archetypal avatar of Stone; strong, stubborn and unsubtle.
She endures the pain of the change. At times it's almost sweet, every creaking fiber of muscle a testimony to her survival, and other times she feels herself going mad. Her mind doesn't break; it comes close, so very perilously close, when she can hear the whispers of the dying lingering long after they're gone or the walls singing about what really goes into the gruel or why that one changeling boy she was nice to is suddenly gone. Part of it is why she'sstaying sane; they are people waiting for her, once she figures out how to get back home.
A thought is nagging her now. She has time enough to think of the True Fae and the torments delivered on her for no apparent reason, and she has pondered long on how to escape this unending nightmare. It is clear that Dzarumazh has claimed her in some fashion; her mind is sufficiently divorced from the banal bonds of earthly expectations to have no problems grasping this, as much as the premise offends her. It becomes clear in time; slay Dzarumazh, and she will be free. When he dies, she will be able to go home. She does not know how this could be accomplished, or even have any evidence to back it up, but it seizes her mind like a vice-
She's close to going truly mad. Sierra had many facets of being, and some of the worst ones are getting closer to the surface.
In time, as Dzarumazh leaves her to the mercies of many other True Fae to indulge their own twisted experiments, Sierra begins to understand the truth of Arcadia, to know what it really is. Realizing that it's a never-ending realm of unreality mastered and ruled by chaos-beings that dress themselves up in human stories and legends to give themselves proper shape; they are gods here, and no natural law exists that is not perhaps a passing whim of theirs. A place of dreams brought to life in all their impossible, glorious wonder, and also a mad nightmare dragged out of her deepest nightmares, a thousand horrors pulled right out of every dark gibbering dream children ever had to be given forms that cut and scratch and kill...
It's a place of utter madness, but beautiful in spite of that. For every mountain carved by the wind into a fountain that spouts sparkling light glistening with every color under the sun, there are broken babies sobbing for their mothers and making little rivers filled with their tears under their feet, whipped onward by monster-things made from thorns and hangman's ropes.a nightmare. And yet, for every fresh scar on her back made with whips carved from birds made of living glass, there are floating islands in the sky that sing secret songs that call up gentle phantasms that whisper happy thoughts to her in the voices of everyone she's ever loved.
There is some good in Arcadia, for all it's boundless horror. That touches her in a way that it's nightmares never will; hope resides in her soul, and it gives her strength that way Wrath and Sorrow and Desire and Fear never truly will, no matter how much they come to reside inside her soul over time.
And they certainly do as her Durance gets somehow worse. Time slips away and Sierra tries so hard not to forget as what feels like years go by, oh yes; remember, she tells herself, biting down on the before-times hard enough to make her head hurt. Remember who you are. Remember what you used to be. (She looks into a mirror now and see monster's teeth when she smiles and it's all she can do not to cry or laugh and she doesn't know what she thinks anymore.) Remember having friends, remember laughing without being afraid of the beds waking up to eat you in the night, remember when stories were just stories.
She remembers. She remembers those things, remembers the land of sunlight that didn't cook the flesh from your bones when They hooked you into a rack and put up a giant piece of glass so it cooked you alive (just for the smell of her burning or to make her tougher? She never finds out), but she doesn't put half the effort into remembering those things as she does into remembering Cody. She holds tight to his memory, squatting in cells and caves or whatever prison she's being subjected to with her teeth clenched tight, memorizing the way his smile was pinched just a bit to the left and that cute gap in his teeth and how blue his eyes were and how she'd had to pick him up a little bit because of his height when he finally mustered up the courage and dared to kiss her-
She looks up at an alien sky then through a cell window with walls made of crawling meat flaked with rust; for all it's horrors, Arcadia is also a place of wondrous dreams made real, or at least as 'real' as the Fae can understand the concept. The skies in this realm (for there are many that she has seen in Dzarumazh's meandering quest to see how he can break Sierra and reshape her, for whatever insane reason) are like the Northern Lights in effect, made of millions of crystal dragons flying in perfect synchronized orbit so that light flashes through them in patterns like the Lights but even more grand and beautiful, and when the twisting auroras settled on blue for a while, it looks just like the Cody-eye blue and she laughs. She doesn't forget where she is, not for a moment, but just then it doesn't matter.
She remembers what is good in her life. It's the only thing keeping her clarity from slipping into complete madness.
Sooner or later, Dzarumazh realizes what's keeping her strong and stubborn in his breaking of her, and he decides to take them away; it's an awful day when nightmare doctors clothed in the shape of aliens nail her to a wall and open her skull up and peel away her most precious memories to study them like butterflies pinned down. The face of her mother is taken out of her brain, snipped away with scapels and scissors made of gossamer dreams and the whispers of dead children, and they leave her crying on the floor with only the thinnest whispers of her mother's voice to remind her of what they've taken, and yet there's enough yet to grow back over time, the whispers getting loud enough to make her live in those better days.
Something in her wears thin, then. Crouching on the floor in a room that's fifteen feet high and yet seems far too small for her and with only distant memories to comfort her, she realizes that she must endure. She is warped now, mutilated, broken and reshaped into something inhuman, and she hears whispers that she's become just as much a monster as Dzarumazh.
Filthy. Ugly. A brutish everything-eating ogre, and if she ever makes it back to all those things that keep her sane they will push her away from their sight. No one will ever want to touch her or even look at her after what's been done to her...
So she cries in the dark, alone and frightened and so very lost. But she can't bring herself to really believe the voices and she lies that of course her mother and Cody and Izzy and the others will take her back no matter what.
It helps, just a little bit. False hope is better than fatalism, and perhaps that's why she can keep enduring her Durance. The scars mount up and her skin gets tough (she's had so many scars and burns and bites and nastier things that her swelling body, beaten like the roughest of iron, is growing a leathery hide) and she's so big that Dzarumazh decides that the time had passed for the early tests, and now was the time for a proper assesment. He spirits her away once more, this time to a realm of his own dominion and nature: a monstrous desert so vast that it was either infinite or quite close enough. She remembered being dropped on sand so hot that it burns her at the slightest touch and the nightmare that has claimed her descends upon her, wings beating up a gust that froze everything around her for miles. (The thought of the thing that has claimed her is hurtful, but like the sting of a bladed whip. There is pain, but it's laced with hate, and a fury to tear the sun down and hurl it down his vile throat to see him burn)
The whispers tell her that Dzarumazh wanted a Fairest (of them all) and a Draconic Fairest at that, a lovely warrior-maiden in his own image, and what he got was an Ogre with a Gargantuan's stature and Gristlegrinder's dark appetite. Her wrath was ogrish enough, and no sooner had he dropped her than she turned around, the whipping sands burning holes in her skin, and leapt to his neck with the intention of snapping his neck (for she is strong now, very strong indeed, like steel folded over and beaten into shape and melted into spikes and killing edges). Now, she had thought, was where she would escape; kill the monster and go home, kill the monster and go home, KILL THE MONSTER AND GO HOME.
It doesn't turn out that way and Dzarumazh slaps her out of the air, pinning her to the ground beneath one massive claw. Such awful heat radiating from his body, hissing through his scales and scalding her arms. "Know your place," He says lazily, tinged with a trace of tacit approval, and the moment he removes the claw and she stumbles up to do something to make him pay for having the gall to speak to her, he opens his mouth and liquid fire sprays out and hits her, smashing her to the ground again and burning, she doesn't know what that awful smell or that terrible sound past the pain, and she realizes that it's her burning all the way through, cooking alive and she's screaming-
When she opens her eyes, she realizes that she didn't know that she had passed out. Every inch of her body hurts, the remnants of her hair is smouldering, and the air is so impossibly hot that her blood turns to steam where it meets the air. She's burned all over, and it hurts worse because she's been out long enough that dozens of little rabbit-mice things with sharp teeth have been chewing at her elbows and the sides of her torso and all the other places where Dzarumazh's burning breath didn't burn a crisply shell around her. She flails enough at one to scare them all away, and the last thought she has before she notices Dzarumazh's continued presence is that the mice-things are made of meat and she is still so hungry.
Dzarumazh snorts with amusement at her resilience and flies off, hot sand blowing over her in his wake and peeling skin from her body. By the time he is gone to some other place, Sierra is still lying in the sand, making hoarse growls where the hot air slides into her aching lungs.
She does not die there. She doesn't allow herself.
So she endures, as she always has, crawls on her belly and pulls herself by broken arms over these sands that scream like dying babies when she slides over them and pulls herself into the jagged rocks of a cave and stays there for two weeks; her skin grows back, the patches of burned flesh healed over and thickened and tougher all over. She is burned and broken and hurts all over, she still doesn't know why she's here and realizes that she doesn't care any more if she ever did. She makes a weird noise she doesn't recognize after not hearing it's like for what feels like six years. It takes a moment for her to remember that this is was laughing sounded like.
She remembers how Cody laughed when she said just the right thing to cheer him up when they grew closer after the World Tour, even though she doesn't even remember the Tour anymore, or even what Total Drama was. She forgets all the important meanings she attached to all of that for a full week while she squats in that cave, nursing her injuries and scraping worms out of the dirt with bloodied fingers while bits of skin peel off in crusty flakes that dent the ground and it hits her all at once and she almost throws up when she remembers what she's lost, and her stomach hasn't heaved in...in...
She almost throws up when she realizes that she doesn't know how long it's been since she was dragged to Arcadia or how many years have passed since the Hedge tore out bits of what made her human and made it possible for her to be made into a monster.
It must be years. She has been lost for years now, tortured and broken and toyed with by inhuman monster-stories and she can't even remember what her precious Cody smelled like and for some reason it's that last one that makes her realize that if she gives up now it will all have been for nothing.
She weeps a little then, this giant of a woman, her tears splashing to the dirt like the echoes of thunder and making small puddles. She weeps for the fading memories of home (she doesn't attach any faces to Home anymore, no more remembering of when her mother hugged her after all the kids on the playground threw rocks at her and knocked two teeth loose, she doesn't even remember what her mother LOOKED like, but she remembers safety and compassion and nightmares that died when you woke up), weeps for dear lost Cody, weeps for a dozen other things she can't even remember properly except for the holes their absence leaves in her. She weeps for a world without hunger so sharp and biting she would eat the world if it could make the craving and loneliness stop, weeps for memories of her bones not constantly grinding and growing in a whisper that never ever stop, weeps for so many other things she could count them for a month and still never know what they all are.
Eventually, it keeps coming back to Cody. Friend-love-devotion, a dozen more things all wound up in a excitable face with blue eyes and a missing tooth and hair like bundled hay and she doesn't understand why that face makes the tears dry up and half-remembered whispers of better times creep up through the mists that cloud things from before Arcadia. It is like a dream that was so real and beautiful and gone forever and she's never going to see him again if she gives up now.
Her bones creak at this and her teeth sharpen and her entire body swell with something that seems a touch foriegn now. It is a glimpse of the way her world ought to be, and that glimpse pulls together the cracks in her mind.
Eventually, half-crazed with hunger worse than the usual phantom starvation that's plauged her for so long and unable to ignore that wrenched pain of her stomach eating itself, she ventures outside; the sunlight is so bright she goes blind for two hours and her skin starts to burn a little, but she's been burned so many times that, infused with no small amount of Dzarumazh's own dragonish essense, she's gone and become fireproof. She is completely capable of venturing out in sunlight so intense that that it's like being doused with mild acid and it doesn't hurt, even among the multitudes of dangers in what proves to be a endless wasteland of gigantic sand-dunes and enormous mountains, the winds so sharp that they grind away at her like knives on stone and twin suns burning down so hot that vast bolts of fire arise from the ground without warning, and all too often directly upon her.
(Not that it hurts. She's rather too big to be hurt so easily anymore. She's bigger than most hills now.)
Sierra, left to survive in this wasteland, moves on and undergoes more ordeals every day and is increasingly hardened to it. This desert is a hostile place without end or limit, the very sands and winds hating her existence and cutting her whenever they can. A simple trek to an oasis is hard enough with the sands lashing her unprotected back like a whip before the water rises up to drown her. Her life is even more hard and brutal than before, and surviving it makes her strong. She finds a vindictive sort of pleasure in the fact that her previous changes have made her an all-devouring god-monster of a sort, and she's getting bigger all the time.
Left to her own devices, she learns her fair share of what it means to be part-Fae; she has the same dream-power that Dzarumazh and the True Fae have, if for two subtle distinctions. The first is that she lacks their raw power over Arcadia, as she learns when she spies Dzarumazh shaping a mountain into a volcano and throws it at her; she tries the same trick later, remembering how he shaped the dream-energies around them into the very nature of what he desired, and it's a thrill to shape things, but she can barely manage to make crude fantasies and chimeras that fall apart too fast.
And yet, for their weakness, they are far more real then anything Dzarumazh can conjure up. He can only imitate dreams and fantasies, steal it from the dreaming unconsciousness of humanity. Sierra has the imagination and creative spark that he lacks as a fundamentally inhuman creature, and she smiles when she realizes that she has power that he does not.
Time and effort, experimentation and struggle leads to a increased understanding of Contracts; the Fae are all about promises, the nature of agreements with reality itself and the power that comes from those agreements. The Contracts, the fundamental Fae powers derived from agreements struck with aspects of reality, and Sierra learns quite a bit from understanding how raw strength works, learning the details of the Contracts of Stone, Fae agreements made with the aspects of Strength incarnate. (It has, oddly, nothing to do with the elements of earth. Those are not innate powers for her.)
The power of Glamour (as she learns it is called) is a marvelous and fascinating thing that leads to many discoveries and potential ways to escape Arcadia, but it is small compensation for the fog that dulls her memory of better times; Arcadia strengthens it's grip on her, and the toll is a subtle and awful one. She forgets names. Places. People. That's something to keep her awake at night with sudden horror when she realizes that, bad as her days are, she's lost something important.
And then, some days are far worse than others, because the skies turn dark and venomous fires rain down from the sky and melt riverbeds down the sides of the mountains before they get up on great stony legs and flee, trailing sandy landslides behind them. Sierra does not run, but simply watches the massive winged shape in the sky come for her, because she's learned that running only makes it worse for her.
Dzarumazh the Deathless comes again and again, and he greets her as before with a gout of fire that could strip the flesh from a normal person's bones. It is a mark of how much she has changed that she does not fall back and scream but barrels right through the flame (such is the nature of her durance that, with the fires of the sun always beating down on her until her skin stopped caring, fire does not hurt her anymore) and punches him right in the throat.
She remembers, but distantly, of once only being strong enough to tear a shark from water. Just the day before, now, she carved a hole through a mountain with her fists, and her punch actually stuns the old monster.
She tries, as she always does, to put the lie to Dzarumazh's title of Deathless; dragon-slaying is a good old story for a reason. And as she always does, she fails, to greater or lesser extents depending on his mood. Some days, he compacts himself to no bigger than a truck-sized beast much smaller than she's become and graciously allows her to get in a few good hits before he tears the flesh from her bones, flips it inside-out and stiches it back on with his claws, snorting bursts of flame that he traps inside her body to burn her from the inside-out until her soul burns so hot with rage that the fires inside her don't even singe. And on the other days...
Well. Mad bad god that he is, sometimes Dzarumazh has bad days and he likes to take it out on Sierra. Sometimes it dawns on her, after she pieces herself back together, trying not to scream with frustration or wish that the magic of Arcadia would just let her die (surely it's not right that someone could survive having all their insides wound out into a whip to scourge them with?), that Dzarumazh ought to have some reason to have bad days. What could give such an unstoppable horror a bad day? Recalcitrant slaves like her, somewhere in this wasteland or some other realm like the ones he dragged her through before leaving her to suffer in this place? Perhaps it's something more personal. She's noticed, after his more vindictive moods lead him to particularly horrible savagings after one word too many from her, that the old dragon is exceedingly arrogant and posessed of immense pride. His blacker moods are like scabs formed over wounds to his ego but suitable to a monster like him; cancerous and cruel and dripping over with venom that poisons everything it touches.
What could possibly hurt the pride of a monster like him? He has little concern for her opinions (not even her existence save as an extension of his own desires and interests), except perhaps when he's in such a bad mood that her words are like salt in his wounds, so she doubts that being insulted or threatened by anyone like her could bother him; it'd be like being mocked by the dirt. The answer seems simple; others like him, godlings of Faerie every bit his equal enough to give him cause for alarm...or more powerful than him.
She has seen him turn this wasteland to ice with a careless beat of his wings. The sands melt when he exhales from the poison of his breath. His claws tear dripping wounds in the air itself, and his passing fancies come to manic squealing life when he does not try to rein them in. He is a god of Arcadia. The thought that there are things greater than him is a chilling one.
And yet, there is hope in that. It implies that he can be beaten, hurt, made to fear. It is possible for him to die.
And yet, she wants to go home more than she wants him to die, but she's having trouble remembering what home is.
Time passes, and things get so hard. Even the memories of better times seem distant; she does not entirely forget Cody and her mother and the very good things, but those memories are hard to hold on to this days, and they slip away when she doesn't focus on them. Sierra holds onto the substance of those long-gone dreams of real things, but it's like looking at distant figures through a thick mist: the details are so hard to remember, until sometimes she wonders if she ever did love someone named Cody and has really been inside Arcadia forever, a self-dreaming figment with just enough substance to be going crazy.
(The sand and the winds and the dead things laugh at her, harsh and wicked voices like tiny echoes of Dzarumazh echoing until the noise is a storm that roars inside her head and blood streams out her ears. She doesn't know why or how but they laugh and laugh and LAUGH even when she shatters them and pulls mountains on them and break them between her teeth and they laugh all the harder.)
She needs to eat; it's not just about staying alive, the hunger that has grown out of her cravings for the love she remembers is a monstrous thing; it feels like a fire inside her, burning her alive from the inside-out and blowing ashes into her brain and melting sanity away and she'd eat the world and everything in it in a single gulp just to make it STOP. Eating (jaws swinging wide and snapping shut with crunching bones and squealching meat and gulps that echo like the sound of dreams falling into the abyss) deadens that unspeakable pain for only just long enough to make her scream at the horror of it and at the things she must eat, but she hunts all the same, whether if they fly on bat-like wings or stalk on splindly legs or tunnel underground when they cannot flee the gigantic worm-things that erupt from the sands without warning. Dzarumazh has no interest in making things easier for her, and so she kills with her bare hands and monster's-jaws.
And when she fights, when she kills, when she wins, she remembers. She remembers outrunning rhinos and pummeling entire troops of friend-stealing baboons in Africa. She remembers being confined to a wheelchair and still dragging man-eating sharks out of the water and hitting them until they throw up what they've taken from her (but she doesn't remember what that was, she cries sometimes). And, yes, she took an exploding plane to the face. Before, she seemed too tough to die. Arcadia makes it so she almost can't, and it's a challenge she takes with all the enthusism she can muster until she goes more than a little insane with it and she realizes all this at once in the midst of running down reptilian giants (giants compared to the landscape, but not much bigger than her and often smaller ) and breaking their bones and squeezing veins on their necks until they burst.
The violence might have sickened her. That was a lifetime ago.
She survives on their meat, thick with grease and richer than any meat she's ever eaten, and it's a chore to skin their leathery hides (so similar to her own) properly with only her fingers, made easier when bones extend from her fingers and harden into horny little claws. She eats every scrap, her furiously greedy stomach ceaselessly consuming everything she can stuff down her throat no matter how vile or even impossible to digest (she has swallowed rocks now without realizing how absurd it is; they taste rather stale) and cracks the bones to suck up the marrow before she eats the bone fragments too and she eats every last bit of monsters bigger than houses and she's still hungry (and still just barely-clear headed enough to understand that it's something else that she wants).
She stitches rough shapes out of their hides to clothe herself with, when she can restrain herself from gulping down every scrap of their remains. It's a neccesary task, and part of her feels ashamed to go without clothing, and one day she is clear-headed enough after eating four mountain-crunching behemoths down to the last scrap of bone to make jewlery out of their teeth and places them on strings of sinew or braids her hair with them and it's nice to have a reminder of what it was like to feel pretty and human. (It is good to make things with her hands; monsters do not craft beautiful things, and it's important to feel human, even after she forgets all the important definitions of 'human' and the urge passes into an obsessive compulsion.)
She goes a little crazy, then, from the things she lives with: never-ending sunlight that bleaches the color from dirt and melts mountains. The hunger that could drive her to unspeakable deeds if she ever met another like her again (she has noticed that when she eats things at a gulp she doesn't notice if it's still moving or not). The pressure of a thousand nightmares welling out of Dzarumazh's vast collection of horrors, each one roughly ripped out of madmen's waking dreams and they scream with all the variations of psychic rape when they scream their pain at her and beg to die-
But it hurts a little less. Sierra can't remember if it's because she got too tough to be hurt so easily or simply got used to the ordeals of that desert.
Everything hurts a little less as (days? months? years? Impossible to tell here in Arcadia; time is contracted and expanded and a single hour feels longer than fifty years and she thinks that maybe she's been here for longer than her homeland has been a country) time wears on-
So much time has passed. So much time in Arcadia or Rakshatan or whatever you call the doman of the True Fae. Too much time. Sometimes she remembers a face with blue eyes and a eager smile and a missing tooth but she can't remember why it's important anymore.
Her thinking is simple, as worn away as her resolve is and this inkling that thing used to be better without any things of substance to really remember; no childhood, no early teen years, no brown-haired blue-eyed smaller boys that she loved so much it was like a sun in her belly. There is still enough awareness of what she's lost to keep close to her, and she holds it so tightly that little echoes of that voice (the touch of his hand on her arm, the feel of his skin under her fingers, the sound his lips made on her cheek) follow in her wake and reshape the wasteland just enough to call down Dzarumazh in all his inhuman wrath-
She doesn't care. She lets the old dragon come and torment her. She wants to dream of better times, and dream she does.
She dreams of going home. Why, exactly, or to whom, she doesn't know anymore, doesn't have more than the slightest inkling. Time passes and years go by, and every fading day is like salt in bleeding wounds; it should not be like this, she thinks, and holds that single desire to her like a drowning man clings to an errant bit of driftwood in hopes that it will carry to a island; the chances are slim but it's enough to motivate her and she cannot help but admire how she has adapted to her struggles. She doesn't see scars when she looks at herself, impossible marks of a durance that would break other people; she sees benign mutations, adaptations she has accepted and permitted and in some cases cultivated. Her body, in constant flux though it is, not wholly under Dzarumazh's manipulations and that is a victory all her own.
It's all she's got now. Sometimes, when she sleeps and dreams of blue skies and single suns and things that make her cry, she almost remembers a boy with blue eyes and a missing tooth and who she loved like a fire loves to burn.
A turning point comes when, one day, the thought that Dzarumazh can still be beaten by something keeps her going when he tests her newfound resilence by torturing her with brands of white-hot swords cooled in the tears of the lost children he drags to his realms for his suppers (his teeth are caked with what's left of the memories left from 'Have You Seen Me?' posters). He strikes her again and again, leaving wounds that heal weeks later and harden into shapes like the edges of jagged stone and Sierra never even really notices, too distracted by her own thoughts to pay him any attention. Infuriated by her insolence, he unmakes the swords into liquid metal burning with the fires of their creation and slaps her across the mouth with them, slicing her face from cheek to cheek; he sows them shut with droplets of the blades, the stitches resembling a cresecent. Her breaks every bone in her body so they'll be much stronger when healed and he leaves her to it with a few encouraging words.
When she can move again without screaming, she climbs to a rare oasis and when the serpent-thing that dwells inside rises up to swallow her whole, it realizes too late that it's slightly thinner than her leg and no longer than ther knee and she kicks it across the horizon without a second thought. Her thoughts jumbled and going crazier every day, she glances in the water and a thought rises from the rest; the new scars on her face look like a frowny-face. Not a Glasgow smile, but a Glasgow grimace.
It doesn't seem appropiate, and without thinking about it, with a complete inverse of the forethought that Dzarumazh himself would show, she lightly puts claws to her half-healed scars and gently cuts them open again so she can pull the metal bits out. Not even noticing the blood streaming down her skin, she puts the metal bits back in and stitches her face up in a nice and cheery upwards-arced crescent extending from the corners of her mouth to her ears: still scarred, but it's a happy scar now. Her face always will look happy now and Dzarumazh can't make her sad ever again-
She looks into the water and sees her face clearly, so she stares at her reflection. Her face twitches in a vague frown when she realizes that her face is almost completely unchanged from before; her body so much bigger than before in so many ways but the shape of the Sierra-that-was is clear on her face and form like starlight on still water. Distorted and warped, broken and put back together in so many wrong ways that the knowing of it aches almost as bad as the constant hunger, but she, for the first time in far too long, remembers what she used to be.
A tiny remnant of almost-forgotten beautiful things appears to her, strange in it's clarity and lack of the disjointed ramblings and confusing whispers that have come to characterize her thoughts and Sierra remembers blue. Blue eyes, yes, those, a shade of blue she knew so very well back in the days when her skin wasn't leathery or she had fangs in her mouth or heard screaming nightmares behind the corner of every rock and she remembers. It doesn't come like a blast of fire or the falling of a thunderbolt. It settles on her like the snowy drifts of her true homeland, building up and sinking into her and clearing the mists away for just long enough.
She remembers light blue eyes and a nervously shy smile with a missing tooth. A tender and nervous kiss that he intiated, even if she pulled him into her lap and had hugged him so tight something had popped. Scrawny hands on her shoulders, small and pale and holding to her like the wind might blow her away forever-
Something in her breaks loose and burns when the name Cody and all the important definitions of it come back to her and the reality of home is suddenly so apparent. The home that she has lost in becoming lost, and suddenly seems so far away and her hands, cupping her face, are still wet with tears that have nothing to do with sadness when she drops them. The tears burn away and vapor rises from her hands while her face goes still; the superheated metal grains that they surgically replaced her bone-marrow with heating right through her flesh.
She sits there, against the rock, and laughs and cries. She laughs for things she doesn't understand anymore and she cries for herself and all she has lost. She cries for the life she should have had with precious Cody (they would have had a beautiful wedding, she thinks sometimes when she remembers was weddings are, her mother would have been there and Izzy and Katie and all her friends that are precious in their rarity, and sometimes when she dares to dream her unknown father is there too in a little girl's dream of the most beautiful day ever, though she has never met him). She cries for abandoning him because she had been foolish enough to fall into the clutches of a monster. She cries for the dream that should have been, the beautiful dream that she had been so very close to claiming but lost because of her own stupidity. She cries for those memories of a world that wasn't twisting thorns and insanity and mad gods sculpting her life for their whims. Most of all, she cries for all the things that could have been, that should have been, but are now lost.
She finally sees it, as something bitter and rotten in her falls away forever. She is not merely tortured or abused by a insane dragon-thing. She has been led astray from her life by mischief bordering on the demonic. She has lost her humanity and replaced it with with this half-fae shape. She has lost the life she was supposed to have. She's lost everything, even herself. She is Lost, and the capital letter comes without her thinking. It is so right, so proper.
And yet, she thinks as she starts to grow again faster and greater then ever before, she can still know what she has lost. She knows precisely what she had that made life worth having. Dzarumazh took her when he tricked her, took her humanity when he dragged her through the Thorns, took her sanity when he left her to the madness of Arcadia...but even now he can't take the memories of everything that ever mattered. He can't take her dreams, or the reality of those dreams.
And those dreams and memories, all those beautiful things that seem too fragile to survive reality's banality but yet were so strong it's kept her ability to hope alive this long, are calling her home. They always have been, but it's only now that she is listening.
Sierra sits, daring to smile, honest and happy tears falling down her face and into the gaps of her Stonebones armor. She doesn't notice the mountain under her starting to crumble because she's just so much bigger than it now, and even as she gets up to her feet, she makes a final momentous decision and and in a quiet but firm voice, tells the Arcadia that suddenly seems too small for her, "I'm going home."
She doesn't understand why she does, but she smiles. She forgot things that ought to never have been forgotten. And now her body, the Wyrd evolving it according to her personal story, has seen fit to start her growing in the same way that her mind and heart have been, her expanding frame getting too big for the lies of Arcadia to contain.
And she doesn't stop growing. She just keeps getting bigger and bigger. The mountains seem to shrink around her, jagged bleak peaks that once reigned her in dwindling to half her size and still getting smaller. The growing hurts, it hurts almost as bad as those older moments back in her human days when the possibility that Cody didn't like her back was an awful paranoia that brought bitter tears to her eyes. But then, as now, that had only galvanized her; to greater feats of accomplishment to earn his approval back then, and now, to let her stature keep swelling up and up until the sad ordeals of the wasteland were too small to ever hurt her again-
Her memories call to her, and for the first time in so long, they are clearer than the harsh reality around her.
She stands up then, peripherally aware of impossibly tiny everything looks now (the mountain she had been on is no higher than her ankle) and even the sun's heat is, at best, only a mild annoyance; she can't be hurt by the things of this realm anymore, can't be harmed by things too small and dumb to fight like she did when she was small herself. She smiles then, having become a true giant, a change caused exclusively by some mixture of an aspect of herself and a swelling of her spirit; wholly divorced from any ordeal or consequence of Dzarumazh's work. It is her own change, her own evolution.
She feels free.
The ground trembles underneath her feet like the echoes of earthquakes. The whispers of the mad land are more distant than ever before and Arcadia itself quakes at her touch-
She's dreamed of this kind of moment since the first time Dzarumazh tortured her for whatever reasons posesses the old dragon. She's dreamed of being strong, of being mighty enough to crack his bones and drown his fire and end him, but now that doesn't seem important anymore. Dreams of vengeance and Wrath don't seem quite real anymore.
She wants to go home. That dream is far stronger than her desire to burn away her awful hunger with Dzarumazh's broken bones or whatever idea of revenge might take her. Half the time, she's completely oblivious to everything around her because she's lost in remembering what happened before (though sometimes she stubs her toe on a mountain and that's annoying) but it's so beautiful and startling real that even the horrors and wonders of Arcadia don't matter; they are a fetid and tiring fantasy compared to the beautiful dreams that she remembers with ever increasing clarity.
Dreams matter; Sierra is absolutely certain of this as she is certain of so little else. Her dreams of home. Dreams of love. Dreams of being free. One by one, they had knitted a beautiful pattern around her that fueled her transformation into a being of enormous size to contain those dreams, and eventually they are stronger than whatever strange connection she has to Arcadia.
And at long last, her feet sinking into the sands as it bends under her, those dreams woven from radiant memories take her by the hand and show her the way home.
She remembers it in faint glimpses later on, and it is like her abduction but in reverse. She remembers sand flying from her, the furious tidal waves of the earth as her hands crashed into the ground (digging a hole right through the Wasteland? Punching a way out in reality itself? Chewing her way through the fabric of Arcadia? All of those, and none? She does not know and she doesn't care) and the blast of a thousand smells at once alien and so familiar she cries at them, and something stronger than Dzarumazh's hold pulls her right out-
Falling, after that. Tumbling from one thing to another. Out of the wasteland, away from the malefic suns, away from a nightmare world too small for her to tolerate anymore, away from fae experiments and nightmares made real and so many awful things that strip themselves away as soon as she is gone from them. Little threads of Arcadian essence stream out from her and her impossible side becomes more metaphorical as she diminishes to a more manageable stature as she crashes right back into the Hedge again, flattening the Thorns under her and bleeding from their touch and not caring one little bit.
She opens her eyes and sees the twisting alien geometry and a distant path made of silver where no Thorns cover it's trail, a path beaten by thousands of footprints like claws and hooves and other things she doesn't have words for, a path walked by innumerable changelings like herself. She steps onto it, the fae magic of Arcadia bleeding just enough from her to make her aware that she's smaller (not by much, it's an effort to put both feet on the Silver Path and make them fit) and not knowing why she's doing it or where it leads, and she just runs.
Sierra hears the sound of a roar unmuffled by the impossible distance (how far does sound travel between worlds?) and she recognizes what Dzarumazh sounds like when he realizes that he has been well and truly cheated and she just laughs until her throat hurts.
("I think I beat him somehow," she will confide later on, to many safe nods and knowing smirks. It is a marvelous thing, to conquer your Keeper without even laying a hand on it.)
Sierra never does find out what happens after that. She remembered running, running, the Hedge growing bigger as she became smaller (the power of the Wyrd is inherent to her but the might of Arcadia is a distant thing now and she cannot contain the power to sustain her true gigantic size for long), not so small that she could be mistaken for human then but she keeps going and diminishing to nearly human-size as she ran on and on, through the Hedge and the things of that weird world watched her pass and were too wary to even consider attacking her...
There was a door. Her hand-claws, fumbling desperately for a knob or a hinge and tears almost falling from her face at the thought that she was so close but this door would not let her pass, and it opened as she just smashed it open-
She felt something cool and gentle on her face as she fell out of the Hedge and into somewhere else. It took her a moment to remember what good Canadian wind, heavy with the morning's moisture, felt like.
Sierra looked and saw many things. She felt many things. The grass under her knees, soft and cold, a green quilt of many parts so alien after the endless burning sands. The prickle of ants crawling across her skin; like soldiers she had seen and been forced to fight once, but so small and harmless. The impossible coldness of Canadian air, insistatnly sharp against her Hedge-cuts and it hurt but it felt so real, a cold she hadn't felt in so long it actually was nice. Little structures so low and flat she had no idea what they were until the word house edged past her lips with a tremble of questioning.
People, walking around. Actual human beings. Not fae-things wrenched the imaginations of amoral godlings. Not monsters born from the darkest nightmares of all the dreams ever held in the mind's grasp. Not even the vauge visions she remembered from before, but real people, like she had used to be, seemingly unaware that a giant girl-thing had just appeared from nowhere, now easily twice the size of a man and plainly inhuman.
She stood up, considerably smaller than when she had fallen out of the Hedge, her elbows level with the top of the window the Hedge had shoved her through and no one sees past an illusion that she isn't aware is even there, a Mask that makes her look to human eyes as little more than an abnormally large woman with sharp teeth.
Sierra stares up into a sky long since gone dark, standing there in her monster's hides and her hair that's grown past her knees with tangled mats and mummified parasites woven into it and her monster's teeth and giant's body, so alien and different and changed and yet fundamentally Sierra.
She never thought how beautiful stars could be. Little lights, shining in the infinite abyss. Burning forever and ever, and they went out eventually but while they did they well and truly burned. She had forgotten them, like she's forgotten the feel of grass under her feet or the wind on her face or the smells of a place that belongs to humans and is all their own and a thousand other things that means that she is finally free-
Sierra trembles like she hasn't in so very long and she cries, falling to her knees and sobbing like a child and laughing at the same time and it hurts and then she starts hiccuping.
She only cries harder when a passing child comes by and asks what's wrong with her and why she's dressed funny.
The shallow ridges on her cheeks, ancient testimony to long-healed burns from a dragon's mood-swing, provide ample ground for her tears to drip off like rain, falling to the ground with a wet splatter that sounds to her like music because there aren't any insane whispers welling up from the ground, there aren't baby bones swinging in the wind and singing of how they died, there aren't a thousand other horrors and wonders that shouldn't be possible and they aren't there because this isn't Arcadia or the Hedge and she is well and truly home.
Home, she thinks again, the word singing like the most perfect sound ever and she doesn't know if it will ever, ever stop.
This neighborhood is not her own, but it is familiar to her. She knows it, and for all the time she has been gone, so little has changed. She stumbles through asphault streets that crack under her feet (for she is a giant, compressed to human size though she is, and even the tallest man barely comes up to her stomach) and she walks for what seems like forever but it doesn't matter because she knows where she's going.
Sierra keeps going past distant clumps of office buildings and residential areas, passes by bewildered drifters who wonder what she's doing at this time of night, and she finally reaches the certain home of a certain someone.
(She should probably have gone to her home. But this feels right.)
She slams her hand on the door with a terrific bang-bang-bang, and she does it again when there is no answer after a few moments. Again, there is no response.
Fear jolts her down to her very scorched bones (did he move away? She asks herself when her legs start shaking like they haven't in years, and it's stupid because the lights are on but no one is answering) and she is looking at the single car there and wondering if his parents are home and if they're not letting him answer the door or if she was gone for so long that he went to college or moved away or died-
The door opens. Sierra blinks in the sudden light and hears a bewildered exclaimation and she has to look down before she sees a glorious appairation of brown hair over blue eyes and a mouth opened wide in gratified shock (and yes, a tooth is missing) and he's so much smaller than she remembers, barely coming up to the swell of her hips and he is there and he is real and he's looking at her like the sun has been out for years but now a new dawn is appearing right now and chasing the darkness away at long last-
Long-supressed tears flood as Sierra wails like a lost child and pulls Cody, still in his pajamas, off the floor and into a desperate hug that's so hard she can her a small rush of roughly forced air. She hears him gasp, as though from a great distance, that he can't breath but he quiets when she squeezes him hard to her chest and she is still crying so loud that it hurts her throat but she loosens on him, if not her grip (she holds him tight and strong, so that no demon-wind or nightmare-thing will take him away now because would They find that funny?) and she keeps crying and laughing at the same time like she hasn't in years and she covers his face with desperate kisses and falls to her knees, letting him go so she can cover his face with her hands and feel every inch of skin and run her hands through his hair and make certain that he is real but he unexpectedly slams himself into her, his arms wrapping around her body just south of her chest in a mad hug (not very far around her, because she is very big and he's even smaller compared to her now) and she thinks she can hear him start to babble incoherent declarations of relief-
It seems no coincidence that the first light of dawn rises then and there. The long night is over. The nightmare has ended, broken and inhuman and changed though she has become. None of the horrors matter anymore; for that moment, that single perfect moment, there never was an Arcadia, no dragon godlings with inscrutable goals that never became clear, none of those things that once made her almost insane with hate and self-loathing. That's all gone now.
Her dream is real. She has come home.
In the weeks and months to come, it is clear that it is far harder to pick up the pieces of a broken thing than it is to break it in the first place, but Sierra manages.
The first and most startling thing is the matter of how long she's been gone. Sierra is initially surprised why Cody looks exactly the same as he used to after so many years; she has been in the grip of Arcadia for at least five years (she's not sure of the timeframe, but it feels right), if not vastly more, but Cody tells her that she has been gone (and oh, he's been so worried) for exactly a month and a half come tomorrow.
(She remembers that many fairy tales have different time-flows in the realms of the faeries. It's still a shock to her.)
Explainations are owed (among them is a proper response to Cody wanting to know why she's suddenly over seven feet tall) and for a long time, Sierra can't tell Cody what happened to her. She can't tell him why she sometimes wakes up screaming in the night. Why the sight of lizards and poisonous snakes and other tiny dragon-things make her go quiet like a little girl that's seen what Death looks like or why deserts make her uncomfortable. Why she's so unbelievably warm all the time (when Cody first mentions and remarks "You've gotten really hot", Sierra smiles the biggest smug grin ever, and it just gets wider after Cody's little awkward smile makes it clear that he meant it both ways) like her blood's on fire. Why he's spotted her eating things that no sane person would ever even want to touch (or, for that matter, why she doesn't seem to bother chewing) and never ever seems to get full. Why a dozen other things that have changed have happened and the big question: Where did you go?
"I was Lost." It's a painfully accurate, if inconclusive, answer. It's worse that it's somewhat untrue. There is no 'was' about it.
(She can never go back to what she was. There is no becoming human again, no reversal or sloughing off the Fae mutations. She is what she has become, and while it may evolve, it can never be undone. She doesn't want it to and she is content with herself.)
Eventually, she tells him. She tells him of her abduction (though she remains unclear on why it happened), tells him of the Hedge. The Thorns, shredding her skin to pieces (and her soul, she's heard). And, it takes so long to allow herself to tell him with the wounds of the place still fresh on her, but she tells him of Arcadia. She tells him everything. Every bleeding-wet awful nightmarish wickedness done to her over the past few years in that time-skewed horrorshow.
Sierra doesn't think it's a good idea, but she tells him anyway. He must know. She needs to tell someone of the torments heaped on her or it will build and build until it consumes her.
She tells Cody about her appetites magnified to inhuman degrees and how it will never ever stop paining her. She tells him about constantly growing until she became big enough to properly contain her love for him. About eating such horrible things to pacify her hunger if only for a little while. About fighting and hurting and oh, she tells him every unspeakable detail to him, unloads the secret of her every wound to him until she aches with it-
She tries not to cry. But it's so hard.
He looks at her, not suspicious or humoring her, and she knows that he believes her. She doesn't know why. But he does.
(Well, they've seen sharks running around and piloting boats. Amoral godlike faeries and their chaos domans don't seem that much of a stretch. Perhaps.)
Sierra knows the power of promises, and she takes Cody by the hand and pledges that he can see what she looks like. Her words are carved into the Wyrd, and the Mask that hides her Fae-changed form vanishes for him.
He sees her, in all her ogrish reality. The leathery consistency of her flesh. Her strong fingers that end with claws. The ridged lines of her face and her impossibly wide grin filled with inhumanly sharp sharklike teeth. Her pointed ears, her dense musculature, the sheer crazy size of how big she really is, a dozen other inhuman details that should make a sane person run at the sight of a monster like her-
"Cool," Cody says, tinged with a touch of wariness at how big and predatory she really is. Sierra blinks at that. An unexpected response, but one she can live with.
Time passes, as it does, and Sierra forgets much of Arcadia. Not as much as she would like; she still remembers far too much for her to ever go back to happy sanity, and since her return, she's seen things that suggest that the world is far stranger than she once thought.
But not quite as bad as it would seem. Awful things happen in a place where faerie-things can abduct people like they did to her, but she doesn't quite live in a world of darkness. She jokes about it to Izzy one time, after she's made her fair share of effort in reconnecting with the other Total Drama contestants that she had some sort of connection with (and evading questions and trying not to sound too much like someone with post-traumatic stress disorder and failing miserably), that "We've got a World of Insufficient Lighting."
Not quite a World of Darkness. But too close for Sierra's comfort.
Dzarumazh, she is sure, is out there somewhere, waiting for her. She doesn't know what he's planning, why he took her or ever what the point of all that was. She just knows that she's still hungry, all the time, and it's all his fault, and that the Fae dragon will quite probably come looking for her, assuming that transforming her in the first place wasn't his goal entirely. She's considered that possibility.
Still. He gave her far too many weapons when he remade her into a changeling, and just maybe, that will be his undoing. She's tough like iron now, and iron undoes all the fantasies the True Fae can conjure up.
It's been a long night indeed, but she's lived to come through the dawn, and she's happy enough to wait and see what happens next.
Everything is beautiful now, she thinks, after the horrors of Arcadia and even it's wonders, which amplify the beauties of Earth by comparision. And she has Cody, and that makes all the difference that can be. (Even if Cody sometimes gets nervous about the way she looks at him sometimes like a shark looks at shrimp. It's, she tells him plainly, a fairly accurate comparision. It spooks him a little, and even she's not sure if she's kidding or not.)
All in all, though, she's happy. She'll stay that way, no matter what may happen next.
She's big enough to handle whatever comes her way (and to hug Cody around his entire body with just one arm) and she knows first hand that no matter how dark or long the night, Dawn always comes.
And maybe it's just Cody being there for her, but she's not so hungry anymore.
A/N: Well. Would you believe that my earlier versions of this story were much bleaker? (Incidentally, I learned something. If you're gearing up to write a darker story of angst and woe, and you watch the finales of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann back to back as part of that gearing up, you are going to fail at writing angst.)
...I don't know why it feels appropiate to make Sierra a giant. It just does.
On that same topic, it's a bit of a story-building idea to have the other Total Drama contestants being other denizens of the World of Darkness, but so far only Sierra has been fitted properly, though I like the idea of making Cody into a Genius (a mad scientist, from the totally awesome fan-game Genius: The Transgression. It's trope-errific!) and some of my earlier versions of this story involving suggesting that he was having a Breakthrough around the time of Sierra's abduction, but I dismissed it to streamline the story a bit. (For those who wonder, I've considered making Gwen a Hollow One mage from the Old World of Darkness, Alejandro and Heather Sin-Eaters, Duncan a Vigil-style Hunter and I've toyed with the idea of making DJ a Promethean who already reached the New Dawn.)
Incidentally, Dzarumazh the Deathless is a antagonist from the Night Horrors, Grim Fears line of supplement books; one of his primary traits in that book is the fact that he's obsessed with making a deal with Iron, as he's been fatally injured with a iron spearblade that's slowly making it's way to his heart. I didn't cover that here, mainly because the focus was on Sierra's Durance.
I realize that the overall structure of this story is a bit wonky; I feel that this actually helps it, as Sierra, being a changeling, is definitely not in the best mental health; changelings tend to be in the grips of mild psychological problems at the best of times, and at worst, are so mentally unstable that they lose the ability to distingusih between reality and their own hallucinations. Given that Sierra's clearly got a skewed mindframe during her Durance, I thought it might help the tone a little bit.
Also...yeah, I just can't write angst without making things a little idealistic. I love idealistic stuff! (I much prefer Changeling: The Dreaming to Changeling: The Lost. Notice the little nods to it here and there!)