A/N: Was going to put this in A Walk Through Myriad Realities, then decided it deserved its own fic. One-shot, Taylor belongs to Wildbow, Changeling: the Lost belongs to White Wolf / Onyx path, and so on.
Worm/Changeling: the Lost
I felt my blood freeze.
For a moment there was silence, then I heard...her clicking. Echolocation, I guessed from out previous encounters.
Then the quiet footsteps of something that was not quite chitin and not quite mammalian flesh glide across the floor. Thump-click. Thump-click.
I reached for my knife.
I got the flashlight.
The light went on.
There she was, in all her alien glory. Wings that were somewhere between gargoyle and spiderweb were extended threateningly as exoskeleton covered arms with grabbing claws crossed, more scolding mother than fairy tale monster. Two human eyes and six bug eyes gazed at me furiously.
A moment. Then I broke the silence.
"What do you want, other me?"
The shell the Iron Knight left behind looked up from her bed, teeth bared but eyes betraying fear. She knew very well how often I would suddenly pull a scheme out of absolutely nowhere to make every defeat a victory, every cowardly act simply preparation for an act of even greater heroism. I suppose I had to thank him for that - what doesn't kill you...
Makes you wish he had sometimes, but I got strong enough to outwit him anyway, strong enough to overcome the monstrous warrior.
Not the point right now. I hissed at the shell.
"Emma. Explain now."
Okay, now she was confused. "You snuck into dad's house just to ask me about her?"
"Why did you forgive her?"
Both she and I shared the trauma of that day, though mine, even she admitted, was worse. She just remembered being locked up for hours before that janitor released her slightly later than what actually happened, I ran into the woods and got lost...for over a decade in Arcadian time, hiding in the tree roots and cutting bargains with fae insects as part of my scheme to help myself and my friends escape.
But still, that was a bit of a feat unto itself.
Hence the question.
"I was planning to get back at her for Mom's flute."
...Oh. I immediately felt an objection coming on...
Which died when I remembered exactly which Entitlement I was a part of, and what I had done to cement the legend of Skittering Jane, the girl whose mother ate a spider egg.
I still didn't approve of this betrayal, though.
"...You're being like her. If you do...whatever you're planning, you'll prove she and Sophia were right."
"So what!?" The shell rose to her feet. "It's not like you're the one doing it, and you seem to thing you're the real one!"
"And?" I said. "You seem to think you're the real one too, so why are you doing this?"
She looked down, beginning to cry.
"Because nobody else will. Not the principal. Not her father. Not even...not even..."
And now I felt bad for the fetch. "Hey, hey, it's okay..."
She started to cry in earnest. Not about Emma, I think.
I remember the first day I met the other Taylor. Or Ines Allard, as she was insistent on calling herself in front of her friends.
To be frank, it was the worst of a bad week. Up until then, I thought something in me finally broke after...that incident. I suddenly didn't feel like holding back any more.
Well...up until the moment after my revenge plot came to completion, starting with the 'weakest' bully to psych myself up. I underestimated just how many issues Madison was concealing behind that childish facade. Maybe she thought if she pretended she was younger, she would be able to convince herself that...whatever made her attack Sophia with scissors in the middle of a psychotic break didn't happen?
She, nor anyone else traced it to me. I think they thought I would have looked triumphant. Proud.
Silver linings are a load of bullshit.
Then I started seeing her, long before I met her. Today I know she couldn't help it. Autumn Courtiers have that fear as a part of who they are and why they do, no matter how noble they try to be. Double for Scarecrow Ministers, those living urban legends who guarded against the real monsters. It was natural for her to sort through my dreams first, and to shadow me. Studying me.
But then, I thought I was going insane. Especially when she climbed out of the mirror that was now a portal to a strange place of thorns and ivy.
I remember being too scared to scream while she looked me over with those cold eyes of hers. I recognized the wings and claws as those of Skittering Jane, but the face was mine. Mostly. And not due to her new eyes either. Her old ones had a sort of profound sadness I'd expect to see on a soldier tired of war.
"Why did you do it, Taylor?" she asked. "And what should I do with me?"
I still didn't have the answer to that question.
Hell, I wasn't sure, despite all pretense, if I was, in fact, the original Taylor Hebert. The Knight could have easily stolen a bit of the other me (her unwillingness to fight back, I guessed) and fashioned the me-me from it as a slave. Actually, I wanted that to be the real explanation, because then my (our? her?) dad would have had his real daughter, not some Fae-made impostor put there as an afterthought.
The fact that part of me wanted to stand up to the bullies like she did really didn't help.
The Autumn King, Lord Coil (and to this day I did not understand the need for nicknames-I could understand not using your real one given the symbolic logic of Fae magic, but aliases worked just as well) told me his fetch lost his conscience. While both were greedy sons of a bitch, I had to agree with my King there. Whatever Coil was, he wasn't the kind of person who would kidnap a young girl and torture her for prophecies (I didn't put it past His Majesty to blackmail a young girl for prophecies, but eh). Mine, on the other hand? Mine began similar and became even more so in the real-world season I was gone.
Could I judge myself for crimes I wanted to commit? Should I?
That was the reason I began these little chats.
And then my life began to really suck.
I learned how to enter the other's dreams from following the way she entered mine. And found out her confusion.
I suppose it could be that she went off the deep end and convinced herself she used to be human, but no. If that were the case, it would be even more of a violation of Occam's Razor; our memories were too similar, our thought processes too alike.
So either I was a fake or I was missing something vital. I honestly wasn't sure which was worse.
And then the hobgoblins came and started playing tricks. Hobgoblins I accidentally drew through little tricks I learned as the other me got stronger.
I remember the day she slipped and called me a "shell" to my face. I didn't hold it against her. I was more relieved to have a word for how I felt.
Hence, why I was here now, preventing my fetch from doing something the both of us would regret.
Mainly because I was drawn by my anger at something I should have really let go of.
The real crime of the Durance, I think, is that you don't grow up, not in emotional maturity at least. I was too terrified of the Iron Knight to try and learn some emotional maturity. Hence why I still thought of myself as fourteen when I got back. Besides whatever temporal weirdness of Arcadia there was, I knew somewhere deep I didn't age a day, physically or mentally.
If only my youth hadn't been destroyed by those play-wars the Iron Knight would make us squires fight in when he found us in his forest, either against each other or his many rivals in the Gentry. Worse, make us lead more human opponents to him to kill or enslave, depending on if they stood their ground or ran to the hollows under the trees, there to lose their light to the starved roots in exchange for secrets of survival in the insane world of Faerie.
I hated her, at least at first.
More than that, I blamed her. I her, and she me. We wanted something other than some impersonal force, whether the fickle whims of Fate or the Iron Knight, distant and impersonal forces that might have as well have been the same thing for all we could do about it.
Over the months though, the anger stopped. Neither of us asked to be put in that locker, neither one of us asked to suffer the whims of the Iron Knight. One did manage to piss off the Summer King of Brockton Bay through no fault of her own, one did draw a malicious monster that tricked Dad into giving up his memories of Mom, but neither went out seeking those things.
Then the pain began, as we slowly learned to talk with each other. The more we learned, the more we came to understand how alike we were. We both were survivors who made the most of bad situations. We both managed to roll with the hands fate dealt us. We both loved the same people, paternally for our dad and romanitcally the leader of her motley (and we both found the threesome jokes from another member got old fast). We both had that desire to still somehow right wrongs that were done to the world, both ourselves and our friends.
But above all else, we realized that both twins were, above all else, damaged.
What a long, strange journey we had.
I guessed the Iron Knight, in his obsession with the concept of bravery, created her as an experiment. Would a girl who acted on the impulse to fight back still be called "brave" by society? Or a coward for choosing the easy or cunning path.
The difference was pedantic, when it came down to it.
We weren't opposites, or even copies. We were a cracked mirror, slightly uneven and jagged.
Stuck reflecting a person that no longer existed.
Now my twin was crying herself.
This wasn't surprising. I knew that cold face she presented to the world was just her trying to be brave. It was my face after all.
I put my hand on her shoulder to show she wasn't alone.
I felt my twin's hand touch my shoulder at the exact moment I tried to comfort her with putting my hand on her shoulder.
We looked at each other with the exact same surprised expression.
For some reason, I found this hilarious.
I fell back on the bed, my laughter joining my twin's.
This was supposed to be the girl I was so different from?
Yeah sure, whatever you say.
I didn't notice her dissolving into hardy wood and steel until I looked up.
And felt the odd sense of two minds in my head.
We looked down at the trinkets.
Well, this is new, one part of me thought.
Could it be what you were made out of?, the other thought.
A better question is, did the human change to look like the fae?
Come to think it, I suppose that would be. That one was stupidly obvious no matter which theory you ascribe to.
Do you care?
And like that, it felt like the mirror's surface dissolved.
The shell was me. The other was me.
And we -no, I- felt whole at last.
The next day, I made breakfast for dad and I, for the first time in years, and the smile I had been wearing for months while doing it was genuine.
A/N: SCREW GRIMDARK, the One-Shot.