An Essence of Silver and Steel
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
It began with the Outsiders, vast beings beyond the ken of men.
They appeared before our world and studied us, learned our secrets, saw the nature and the limitations of magic and magecraft. They Saw and they Understood the decline of Mystery, the dilution of Power that came from Knowledge, that Progress whittled away the Strength of our Secrets.
With their terrible might, the Order of the World was changed. The final vestiges of Mystery were removed as impediments to the future, and the great powers of the past, even the lingering lineages of Might and Divinity, were erased and suppressed. There was no room in What Will Be for those who clung to long-lost greatness.
Once of the Passing of the Seat of Supremacy was complete, all that remained was the whispered secret of a past glory. The Channels for Power had all been locked away, and the Scars left by the Old Gods were excised like the cancerous growths they were.
But Alaya still endures, watching, waiting, choosing her champions. The traditions of the past are not so easily erased.
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
The Kaleidoscope was what the magi had called the Operation of Parallel Worlds, the miracle of seeing, accessing, and moving to alternate realities. In all realities where the Entities came to Earth and Changed it, Taylor Hebert was bullied and shoved into a locker, and in this locker, she Triggered and awoke the power of Control, the power to suborn the minds and bodies of every bug imaginable, from wasps to spiders to worms.
In some of these realities, however, the power Taylor awoke was something...else. Perhaps she touched upon the Divine and became Exalted. Perhaps she was grafted the mind and memories of a genius superhero. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
In one such reality, the power Taylor awoke was not one of the future, of progress and change. What she awoke was the tradition of the past, of beings so vast and so powerful that the human body could scarcely contain it.
As she struggles inside that locker, waste and filth and grime splattering and sticking and crawling all over, she fears that she might die in there, forgotten and abandoned. The smell of bile and the rancid rot that presses from all sides is suffocating and stifling, and as she screams and tries desperately to force the locked door open, the despair and the anguish coiling in her belly explode into something cold and terrible, because she knows that no one will come to help her, even if someone could actually hear.
All she can think about is how she just wants to get out, how she doesn't want to die, how she wants to be saved —
Something snaps. An onrush of power and fire and strength surges and erupts inside of her, and as she brings her fist forward to pound on the locker door one more time —
Like the crack of a firework, the metal door breaks off its hinges and flies away, tumbling across the floor with thunderous clangs. The mountain of used toiletries, left to rot over the winter break, tumbles out of her locker, and she with them. She falls to the floor, and though she smacks her head off of the hard linoleum tiles, there is no pain, no stabbing spike of agony, only a bone-deep exhaustion that drags heavily at her eyelids. As she lies there and the clap-clap-clap of approaching shoes echoes in her ears, the edges of her vision begin to darken and her consciousness fades like ice in the desert.
Just a little while, she decides. She'll just sleep for a little while.
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
When she awakes, it's in a hospital bed, and the warmth and power that gave her the strength to punch a locker door clean off its hinges is gone. She's back to being ordinary Taylor Hebert, tragically taciturn, bullied, and powerless to do anything about it.
But something in her, an instinct or an ingrained knowledge, rejects that idea. She has power now, it says. She can call upon it again, if she just knows how. She can be more than just ordinary Taylor Hebert.
The next minutes are spent trying to access that power, and as the nurse and the doctor and later her father all appear and speak to her in a blur, she is so focused upon it. She isn't hurt, she takes away from it all. In spite of the vile shit she'd spent (all told) nearly three hours in, there are no infections, no apparent physical injuries, nothing that would be cause for concern. She came away from it all with an understandable exhaustion and nothing else.
They discharge her without pomp and circumstance and remind her to come in immediately if she starts experiencing symptoms of septicemia — she's handed a list of what they are, along with the business card of a local therapist — or other infections. After that, she's taken home.
It's a week, during which there are talks of suing the school and the bullies (which, unfortunately, amount to nothing), before she first discovers an inkling of what she'd done in that locker. It's more than a month before she can get any real handle on it. And when the potential of what she can do really sets in, she makes up her mind.
She's going to be a hero.
The bullying campaign continues unabated, but Taylor doesn't use her power on them, because it's too much. There's no method of fighting back with her power that doesn't end up in dead bodies, and though some vindictive part of her finds the idea appealing, she steels herself with the simple fact: a hero doesn't take revenge like that.
By the time she's finally ready to go out and start her life as a cape, a superhero, she's figured out the basic structure of her powers, though she isn't sure how she rates: she can channel the strength and power of heroes from the past, legendary warriors and kings who did great things and had their names immortalized in song and story. At first, it was instinctual — the hero she channeled and how much power she called upon depended upon her needs and her situation. As she tested it, however, she learned to choose a specific hero and control which of his or her powers she called upon.
In that vein, there are two main facets of her powers: Install and Include. Installing a hero was channeling the full force of that hero's strength, power, and even his equipment, but it was harder on her to maintain and exhausting to use. Including a hero was calling only upon that hero's iconic equipment, the weapon, artifact, curse, or blessing (Noble Phantasm, some instinct had whispered) for which he was most famous, and the skill with which it had been wielded.
That is why her costume is only basic and not particularly memorable. An Included hero, she surmises, is enough to fight and defeat most of the bad guys she might face, and an Installed hero is so powerful that the only things she would use it on are S-Class enemies and things like the Endbringers.
That first night, Taylor stumbles upon the ABB, talking about going out and killing kids. She Installs Hassan i Sabbah, the weakest and least draining Heroic Spirit she knows, and with an ease that almost frightens her, she renders each of the gangbangers - ordinary humans - unconscious. Even though the adrenaline of her first fight makes her arms shake as the power of the Assassin leaves her body, she cannot help smiling at her own success.
But then, trouble arrives. Lung, the most dangerous and powerful of the ABB, appears from out of the night, and eyes her with a fury that nearly causes her to freeze.
But by the time he starts moving, so is she, and she racks her brain for a hero capable of squaring off with a cape as powerful as he's supposed to be.
It comes to her as a flash of brilliance. What better hero to fight a dragon than a dragonslayer?
She reaches out, grasps at the hero she needs, and in a flash of light, Taylor Hebert Installs Siegfried, the greatest hero of Germanic myth, who slew the dragon, Fafnir. She wields the word, Balmung, and her body becomes an impenetrable armor that negates everything too weak to pierce it.
The titanic battle that follows is one for the history books. Taylor is faster, stronger, more resilient, because the power of the hero she wields is something the modern world has lost, but Lung doesn't stay down, doesn't stay hurt, and even though the dragonslaying sword in Taylor's hands slows his recovery, he keeps healing and keeps coming back, stronger than before, more dragon-like.
But as the fight drags on, he begins to weaken - the dragonslaying properties of her sword stunt him, slow his healing and prevent him from reaching what must be his true strength, and it isn't long before she has him at her mercy and knocks him out with one final blow, using the flat of her sword. Discarded limbs that she had lopped off lay around all over.
It's only when Armsmaster arrives to take Lung in that she releases the power of the hero she'd borrowed and sags to the pavement, exhausted.
She's going to get better, she decides as she heads home that night. She's going to get to the point where she can Install ten heroes in a row without being winded. She swears it.
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
So. Yeah. This is my first real attempt at writing the present tense. I think I managed okay. Also, I stopped here, because I know jack-all about Worm beyond this first scene and the fanfiction I've read (I won't read the original; too grimdark with a bittersweet ending. It's not my cup of tea, even if the universe is pretty cool). No point making a complete fool of myself.
This is crossposted on Sufficient Velocity. I never thought my first piece of fiction on SV would be a crossover oneshot that I'm simply incapable of turning into a chaptered story, but there you go.
If anyone likes this idea and wants to pick it up, feel free. I've mostly managed to figure out how these two separate universes could cross almost seamlessly, so if you need help in that regard, contact me about it and I'll lend a hand.